Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Under construction: Mealtime

Now that Justin is home in the evenings (thank the Lord in Heaven above volleyball season is over), I've found that I really do enjoy cooking dinner for my family.  It took a few weeks, but we really have our evening rhythm down now and I can already tell Jackson is catching on.  I love that once we finish dinner he starts getting excited about bathtime - which is followed by pjs, teeth brushing, toy clean-up and books.  He's doing so much better transitioning from one activity to the next now that he has a very predictable rhythm to follow.  Ah, relief.  (Mornings are coming together great too!)

So, with our evenings settling down some, I have been trying to work on improving our dinner selections.  During volleyball season, I was just trying to get something (anything) pulled together and on the table.  We ate way too much Chick-fil-a, Hamburger Helper, and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Before having kids I never expected to feed my children a considerable amount of prepackaged and highly processed foods.  I always thought that I would bake and cook almost everything we ate from scratch.  But then reality of having two young kids set in and I felt like no matter what I did, I was behind before things even began.  Thankfully, with Justin home I feel like I'm FINALLY catching up!  I'm working on planning and cooking much more wholesome foods.  I'm not big on organic foods, but I do want my family eating as many "whole" foods as possible.  I'm trying to get our foods from as close to the source as possible.  If you know of a good, local milk/egg source, please let me know!  I think part of the fun in that would be for the kids to see where their milk and eggs come from.  I'm trying to cut WAY back on our salt and sugar consumption.  I don't want my children to develop a taste for only white breads and high sugar/salt/fat foods.  My next step is to start baking our own bread!  I've always been terrible with bread baking, but I'm hoping I can get better with the right recipes. 

It feels so good to be back on the right track, but I know it's going to take some time for our taste buds to adjust back to a more healthy diet.  Tonight I made beef stew with low-sodium vegetable broth - wow, what a difference the lack of salt makes.  I think Justin might have the hardest time with the changes, but I'm hoping that he and I can set a great example for the kids. 

With the changes comes the need for new recipes!  If you have any websites or cookbooks that you recommend, please let me know!  I still need recipes to be fairly quick, but I do have a little more time now than previously.

Completely unrelated, but here are a few pictures from Thanksgiving! We celebrated in Blacksburg with both of our families. I LOVE having all the grandparents (and a few great-grandparents and aunts/uncles) together for the children. My "German sister" was in town when we first arrived and she was finally able to meet Justin and the kids. It's been about 5 years since we last saw each other since her family relocated to Maine. It was so good to see them all and I hope we see each other again for much longer soon. Summerlin was able to meet her great-grandmother for the first time too! It was a great long weekend - we are incredibly blessed to both come from such wonderful families!

Baby girl faces forward now in the car!  She's 32" and 23 lbs...too tall for the baby seat (the weight goes up to 32lbs)!

 Such a happy girl.  She was all smiles for the camera.
 Family jam session.  Justin's cousin on the guitar and brother on the banjo.
 Banjo man.
 Hello beautiful!
 My handsome little man concentrating on something.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Santa's elves are busy!

This is the kitchen I wanted for Summerlin for Christmas.

 But, as most everyone knows, teachers salaries are not large.  So we oftentimes have to be resourceful and creative.

This is the kitchen we got (for free) from a kindergarten classroom that no longer has time for free play.  (Totally different topic, but one that makes me so sad/angry and I'm sure I'll blog about it later.)

So, Santa's elves have their work cut out for them.  I have a bunch of ideas of how to spruce up the kitchen set.  Today we took off all the doors and started sanding.  I can't wait to post pictures of the final product!

Monday, November 21, 2011

More Thankfuls

Well, today is the 21st and I've only posted 7 things I'm thankful for so far....so here are 14 more.  Some serious.  Some not.

8.  Coffee.  Said it once, saying it again.  I can't live without it.  Lots of it.

9.  Healthy, growing children.  I may go broke keeping them clothed, but I am so thankful that my children are overall healthy and growing like little weeds.

10.  My mini-van.  I never thought I'd like driving one, but it does make like a lot easier.

11.  Being able to stay at home with my kids.  I know not everyone can, but I am forever grateful for a husband that equally values our children and their development over money. 

12.  Getting into grad school.  I'm scared about going back.  I'm not looking forward to being away from my family two evenings a week.  But I'm thankful for the opportunity to start working towards a longtime goal of mine.  (For the record, I still don't really want to go back to work.  I just like school.  And yes, I want my PhD just for the sake of earning it.  I am crazy.)

13.  Such a loving, supportive in-laws.  I love Hubby's parents.  His mom is so helpful with the kids and his dad is the best at getting Hubby motivated to start and finish home projects.  I've never met a more inclusive family and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it!  Plus they are a lot of fun! 

14.  Our house.  It's not new.  It's not fancy.  It's perfect.  It's overflowing with warmth and love.  I like that it's a little on the cozy side.  Sure, I'd love a kitchen (and bath) four times the size of ours that includes a dishwasher, but I wouldn't trade this house for anything right now.  I bought it four years ago when I was a single woman.  I was glad for the extra space - thinking eventually I'd fill it with a family.  Well, that happened much quicker than I ever expected.  I'm so thankful for our huge back yard.  Our three bedrooms.  That we own it and don't have to rent.  The AMAZING deck my hubby built.  The actual laundry room/kitchen extension my hubby also built (It originally had a concrete floor and cardboard walls.  Literally, they were pieces of cardboard instead of drywall.)  But I know that most of the reason why I love this house is because this is where my family started.  This is the first house Hubby and I owned.  It's the house our kids came home from the hospital to.  It's where we're raising our family.  I've never lived in one house more than four years and I know we'll still be here for several more years.  I'm going to be pretty emotional when we leave it...even if it is for our dream "forever" home.

15.  Red wine.  I'm enjoying a glass right now.  It's been a busy, long, wonderful day.  Red wine is a yummy way to relax.

16.  My girlfriends Kendall and Elizabeth.  Kendall and I have been BFF since 10th grade - and now we're raising our boys (that are only 5 weeks apart) in the same town.  It's wonderful.  Elizabeth and I were college roommates all four years and now we too are raising our kids together.  Both of these wonderful women have stood by me through thick and thin.  I know I've been a terrible friend at times, but they still love me (who knows why).  I am eternally grateful to them.

17.  Hubby.  If I was thankful for coffee twice, I get to be thankful for Hubby twice.  I couldn't ask for a better father to my children.  Baby Girl is the BIGGEST Daddy's girl ever - in fact he even had a little chat with her yesterday about not abusing it.  Funniest thing ever.  Little Man looks up to his Daddy so much.  You can just tell he is his hero right now.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  He's the best and he's mine.  :)

18.  Running.  Running comes pretty naturally to me.  It's the best release.  I love the feeling of running.  I love being able to get such a simple form of exercise - just me, my shoes, and the open road.

19.  Debt free living.  If you consider a mortgage debt, then this isn't true.  But I am so thankful we are able to pay every credit card bill in full, we have zero car/school/etc loans, and we have been able to stay this way even with me staying at home.  I don't think we could make it on a teacher's salary any other way.

20.  Our health.  Hubby and I are in shape and healthy.  I was able to conceive and give birth to two healthy babies. 

21.  Date nights at home.  Hubby and I try to have dinner just to two of us about once a week.  We feed the kids and get them to bed early.  I love the time for just the two of us, without having to dress up and pay for a baby-sitter.  Plus Hubby is the grill master.  No restaurant even comes close to some of his creations.  I'm a lucky woman.  :)

Best. Book. Ever.

I'm almost finished with the best "parenting" book I have ever read.  I should probably add, I'm not really into reading lots of parenting books because I find a lot of them very extreme in one direction or the other.  Not this one.  "Simplicity Parenting" is based on the premise that less is more and helps you to think through how you can work to create balance and calm in your home. 

I love it.  Absolutely love it.  I also find it a little funny that I book had to even be written on something like this.  It's how I was raised.  It's how Hubby was raised.  Yet, around the time Hubby and I were growing up, parenting started to change.  More and more moms started going back to work.  Kids started to accumulate MASSIVE quantities of toys.  Kids were involved in multiple activities at the same time.  TVs and video games became much more prevalent.  Due to hectic schedules, family dinners started to lose their importance.  Kids aren't allowed hours of playtime.  Their imaginations aren't being used and grown - therefore impacting their critical thinking abilities later in life.  (Don't believe me on that one?  Spend some time in a high school today.  It's pathetic.)

Hubby and I both had stay at home moms for most of our growing up lives.  We had all we ever needed, but not even close to all we ever wanted.  We had jobs as teenagers.  We had savings accounts.  Our parents worked and saved and put us through college.  We graduated college debt free and aside from our mortgage we have stayed that way.  We drive (nearly) 10 and 15 year old cars.  We do our own cooking, cleaning, and yard work.  We save for our future and our children's as much as you can on a teacher's salary.  We hardly ever go out.  We have almost no plastic, automated toys in our house.  Our children have plenty of clothing, but their closets aren't busting at the seams.  We eat meals that we prepare and I try (as much as time will allow with a one and two year old) to make them as unprocessed as possible.  And for the most part, this all came naturally to us.  It's all we've ever known.

So, back to the book.  "Simplicity Parenting" is basically a book on all the advantages to raising your children this way.  Like I said earlier - it's almost a little funny that someone even had to write a book on this.  But it is so against the norm these days.  It talks in great detail about all the benefits for your children to raising them with little to no television, toys that require imagination, family dinners, plenty of "free" time for play (rather than over scheduling them with lessons and sports teams.

One of my favorite parts so far is focusing on establishing your family's rhythms and the "ordinary" day in your household.  Children need predictability.  They thrive on knowing what comes next.  They are calmer and better behaved when they know that all their needs will be met each day in an predicable rhythm.  You need the majority of your days to be "ordinary" so that the "high note" days stand out as special and they know that the "low note" days won't last forever. 

I love the concept of rhythm - establishing very definite patterns around the more difficult periods of your day.  For us that includes mealtimes, getting ready for bed, and transitions - pretty typical stuff with two toddlers.  I'm working to really hard make these times in our days consistent from day to day. 

One suggestion the book had that Hubby and I really liked concerning mealtime is having each day of the week be known for a certain food.  In our house that's going to look like this:
Sunday - Roasts (Beef, Chicken, or Pork - that part can change, but every Sunday we will have a roasted something)
Monday - Pasta Night
Tuesday - Soup Night (Can also include chilis and stews.  We might switch it to salad night in the summer months - who wants soup when it's 99 degrees outside with a heat index of 108?)
Wednesday - Rice Night
Thursday - Crock Pot Night
Friday - Pizza Night (Homemade pizzas!  The kids will LOVE helping!)
Saturday - Mommy and Daddy's date night in night.  (Cause that's about all we can afford.  The kids will probably usually get leftovers on this night.)
Saturday and Sunday mornings will be big breakfast mornings - with Saturdays usually being pancake morning.
To some this might sound a little rigid, but to me it certainly makes meal planning MUCH easier!  And it lets us all know what's coming up.

Another smaller concept I really liked in the book is that by not over scheduling your child, you're allowing them to create anticipation concerning the one activity that they really enjoy doing.  If they are constantly bouncing from one lesson to the next, they never have anytime to stop and think about what's coming next.  If you only play soccer, and you love soccer, you're really going to look forward to Saturday morning soccer!  Again, this is a concept that I feel like I knew this without reading it, but it really helps to affirm it in my mind now that I have read about it.

I know I jumped around a bit with my thoughts, but there are so many other wonderful things to think about in the book.  I would write more and try to better organize my thoughts, but my beautiful children just woke up.  Hoepfully I will post later today with more thoughts from the book and to catch up on more of my things I'm thankful for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Funny little happenings...oh and Little Man is still sick

Today we were at the doctor's office (for the fourth time in a little over two weeks).  This appointment was for Little Man's skin, which looks HORRIBLE.  Every time the doctor came near him, Baby Girl started (screaming) crying.  Apparently she remembered how much she hated the doctor examining her last week and felt the need to protect her brother from the same.  Silly girl.

Earlier in the morning we were all brushing our teeth.  Little Man started whining.  I asked him if his "boo boos" hurt (referring to his terrible looking skin).  No.  I asked if anything else hurt.  No.  I asked why he was crying.  No.  I asked if he was crying just because he liked to cry.  Yes.  Well, at least he's honest about it!

Little Man loves to tell me I have three babies.  When he did so this morning, I asked him who my three babies were.  He said "Me!  Baby Sissy!"...pause...Baby Girl chimed in with "DaDA!".  She's learning early.

I'm already starting to be amazed at how much Baby Girl understands.  If you ask her to find a ball, she does.  If you ask her to go get her doll, she does.  The other night, I mentioned it was time to brush our teeth and she walked to the bathroom door and tried to open it.  Smarty pants!

So, in case you're keeping up with our endless saga of sicknesses...Little Man's diagnosis today was Impetigo and Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.  He was cultured for bacterial infections because his butt and throat are pretty red and there are some sores in his mouth that don't look like typical Hand, Foot, and Mouth.  We'll find out tomorrow or Thursday if any of those come back positive.  Yuck, yuck, and yuck.  Looks like we're avoiding other children for another week.  And I'm Lysol/bleaching EVERYTHING in an attempt to keep Baby Girl from getting it.  Of course, she's already been exposed to it for a while now, so there's a good chance no amount of cleaning will make a difference.

In case you're curious, here are some pictures of what Impetigo and Hand, Foot, and Mouth look like when they combine forces. In one word, AWFUL.  This isn't even showing the worst places - his knees, ankle, butt, and elbows.

And a picture of sweet Baby Girl "reading" on the couch.  She climbs up there regularly now and jumps off - literally jumps, not climbs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keeping it in perspective

What a day.  What a week so far. 

We were supposed to have a playdate this morning, but I canceled because Little man still has some sort of stomach/intestine bug and a mild fever.  Baby Girl was insanely fussy...probably because I forgot to wake her up to take her antibiotics last night (for a double ear infection).  Both kids had multiple full out meltdowns by 9:00.  I decided we needed to get out for a walk.  Maybe a little fresh air would help us all out.  Another friend decided to join us with her daughter.  Getting the babies ready and out the door was far more difficult than I expected - more meltdowns, including a full-out clothes boycott by my super independent two year old. 

So, finally we make it out the door and on our walk.  Victory!  Trying to think ahead, I remembered to put the diaper bag in the stroller.  Unfortunately I forgot the wipes in the car.  And of course, Little Man had a blowout during the walk.  Thankfully, we were near Food Lion, so I took him in, grabbed wipes off the shelf, cleaned him up in the bathroom...and then came the mother's version of a walk of shame.  Walking my two year old child with shirt, shoes, and NO pants out of the store - stopping to pay for the pack of wipes on our way out.  Thank you thank you thank you to the sweet, understanding older woman in line in front of us. 

Finish up our walk, get back home for lunch - more meltdowns, get everyone down for naps....sigh of relief.  But then I realize we didn't make it back with Baby Girl's new favorite doll.  Get the kids out of bed (Little Man fell asleep very quickly, so carried he slept through most of this in his carseat) and into the car.  We spent the next hour retracing our steps - back to Food Lion, check their lost and found (this was the last place I KNEW we had the doll).  From there I tried to check our route as best I could without putting the kids back into the stroller.  If Little Man had been awake, I probably would have retraced our route on foot (which probably would have been easier and faster).  Anyways, we never found the doll.  It wasn't an expensive doll, but she just got it for her birthday on Saturday and she LOVES it. 

Back home again - Little Man woke up as I was carrying him into the house.  Grr.  I hate it when naptimes get cut short.  I tried putting him down, but he never went back to sleep - which means his usual three hour nap was cut to about one hour.  Not good.  Baby Girl put up a good "fight", but eventually she fell asleep.  I'm not sure what it is, but I get grumpy when simultaneous naptimes don't happen.  I had a three tier wedding cake and groom's cake to bake.  Then Hubby told me he was tutoring, which meant he wouldn't be home until at least 5:30 (not late, but later than I was hoping because of all the baking I wanted to get done).  Meaning, making dinner would be much more difficult.

I'm not sure what it was about today, but by 4:00 I was exhausted and grumpy and trying to decide if I should drink a pot of coffee or a big glass of wine...or both.  It wasn't a terrible day, but there were a few frustrations (losing the doll and no naps) that seemed like mountains, rather than molehills, because of all the temper tantrums and meltdowns I had to deal with. 

Then, all of a sudden I realized my life is pretty darn perfect.  This is a bad day?  Really?  What am I complaining about?  At least I have two healthy children (aside from ear infections and diarrhea) - easy pregnancies, healthy births, and no major defects.  They are sweet, loving, and absolutely perfect to me in every way - 2 year old independent streak and 1 year old sass included.  At least I have a husband, who is home every night, and who adores all of us.  Who provides for us and puts us first.  Messy house with piles of dishes?  At least I have a warm, cozy house with electricity and running water.  And at least my kids have toys to play with.  Coffee or wine?  At least I'm able to have that choice.

So I chose coffee - two cups at that.  Stay up a little later.  Bake the cakes when I can.  Wash the dishes when I can.  Throw five random ingredients in a dish and call it chicken casserole.  Fold the (never ending) laundry after the kids go to bed.  Life is perfect - just like this little sassy cutie (and her overly independent brother).  And I am incredibly thankful to a gracious God who has blessed me so richly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bountiful Blessings

I've noticed a lot of friends on Facebook posting daily thanks this month.  I meant to join in, but I'm very late doing so now.  So I thought I'd do a weekly version here instead.  Each week this month, I'll list seven things I'm thankful for.

1.  Hubby.  I am so thankful to be married to my best friend.  I am incredibly thankful that even though it makes money tight, he supports me in our decision for me to be a stay-at-home mom and that he gets up every morning to go to a very difficult job in order to support us.  I love the wonderful father that he is to our sweet babies.  I love all that he does to help fix up and keep our house nice.

2.  Little Man.  I love the active, intelligent, independent, curious, helpful little man that he is becoming.  He constantly surprises me with the things he knows and can do already.  I'm thankful that he is so full of hugs and kisses for all of us.  Yes, he can be wild at times, but I wouldn't take him any other way.

3.  Baby Girl.  I am so thankful for this sweet, happy, full of smiles, snuggly little princess.  I love the intelligence and understanding she is starting to display.  She definitely has her daddy wrapped around her precious little fingers.  I am thankful that I get to be the proud mama of such a cheerful, easy going (most of the time, she does have a touch of drama queen) little lady.

4.  Brady.  He's a MESS.  He's 95 pounds of loyal guard dog.  He has nothing but love for this crazy family.  Granted, he barks at almost everything that goes past our house, but he makes me feel safe!

5.  My parents.  I am so thankful for the example of love and parenting they provided for me.  My mama is one of my best friends.  My dad is probably my biggest cheerleader.  I am so thankful all the support they have given me throughout my life.  They did an excellent job of teaching me life lessons and raising me to be prepared for adult life and the real world.  Thank you so much for not giving me everything and teaching me how to work hard.

6.  Coffee.  I drink lots of it these days.  I don't know how I would survive without it.

7.  Chocolate.  No explanation needed.  :)  I just love it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Baby Girl is ONE!

A year ago today I was holding my very newborn baby girl.  I blinked and now she's one.  ONE.  Why are my babies growing up so fast?!  Not all that long ago I posted about how I didn't understand why moms get emotional when their kids graduate preschool/kindergarten.  Then my baby girl's first birthday got close and all of a sudden I understood it.  I love all that she can do and the little girl she is becoming, but I know that she is my last baby and she's not that much of a baby anymore...and that makes me sad.  And I know that everytime she reaches a "growing up" milestone I'm going to struggle with it knowing that my children are growing up and it's happening WAAYYY to quickly for me.  I know newborns are exhausting and involve lots of work.  But they are your precious babies and are worth every single sacrifice.  While I'm so excited for Baby Girl, I am sad that she and Little Man are growing up so quickly.  I'm a Mama and those beautiful children of mine hold my a big peice of my heart.  I loved all their baby snuggles and as exhausting as it can be, I like their dependency on me.  I have been so blessed with the most wonderful children I could have ever asked for and I wish I could slow down time to enjoy every single moment of their childhood just a little longer. 

So, enough of being emotional.  Here are a few pictures of my little girl's big day.

Pretty birthday girl in her birthday hat!
Big brother and buddy Braden helped with the icing and blowing out the candle.
Big kids enjoying cupcakes on the floor (on a plastic tablecloth to protect the carpet from
all that colorful icing!).
Treat table - sugar cookies, cupcakes, cake, chocolate cake balls - yum!!!