Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sharing the Love: Cavatappi Carbonara

I have previously shared my recipe for spaghetti carbonara, but I made it a little different this week.  This one knocked my socks off (if I must say so myself).  Try it and report back.



Cavatappi Carbonara with Asparagus

1 box cavatappi
1 lb bacon
1 small onion, chopped
4 eggs
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces
1/2 c shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook cavatappi according to package directions.  While noodles are cooking, cut bacon into pieces and fry.  Drain all but 1T bacon grease.  Add onions and cook until opaque.  Remove from pan.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cook over medium heat until tender, about eight minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and 1/4 c heavy cream.  Add remaining ingredients (drain but do not rinse the pasta).  Drizzle remaining 1/4 c heavy cream over entire dish and mix gently.  Pour into large casserole dish or pasta bowl.  Heat in the oven for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.

Enjoy!

*I don't really measure the cheese; put as much as you like.  I usually put a large handful.
** You don't have to heat in the oven; I just think it helps the eggs set up just a bit before serving.
*** Fresh or frozen peas are a good substitute for asparagus

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sharing the Love: Sloppy Judies

This is my aunt Tricia's recipe (page 134 of the Torola cookbook).  It's drool-worthy, and the perfect dish for a large group.  Half it if it's just for family or you'll be eating it for weeks!

Sloppy Judies:

3 lbs ground beef
2 cans tomato soup
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c ketchup
1/4 c mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 T chili powder

Brown ground beef, onion, and celery.  Drain juices.  Add other ingredients and simmer or cook in crockpot.  I have frequently mixed this up the day before and then just simmered in my crockpot the day I serve them.  Delicious.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pizza Pie

In my hometown, there's this pizza place called Pizza Factory.  They have thin crust, and amazing sausage, and nothing beats it.  I grew up on Pizza Factory pizza, and it set the bar high for me.  When we moved into our neighborhood, I was so pleased to find out that there was a little pizza place called Marcellos that rivaled that sausage Pizza Factory pizza.  They didn't deliver, but we loved to go there and sit in the same booths the captain sat in when he was a kid, eating there with his parents.  A couple years ago, Marcellos closed down, because the strip mall they were located in was bought out.

My family loves pizza, particularly the captain. I don't love pizza, but I tolerate it.  But I'm a pizza snob, it turns out.  After a couple years of mediocre pizza delivery, I got an issue of the Mpls/St. Paul magazine Best Pizza in the Twin Cities and we made a family decision. We'd try all of those places.  They get their pizza fix, and I don't have to settle.  It's been pretty fun.  Here's a rundown of some of the places we've tried.

I'm starting with Pizzeria Lola.  It's a little restaurant in South Minneapolis that has exceptional pizza.  I discovered it a few years ago when it was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  MAN I LOVE THAT PIZZA.  The kids still haven't been there, but if I find myself in the Crosstown/Xenia area, I always pick up a Ma-Sharoni to go.  Mmm...

We tried Red's Savoy in Uptown.  Good pizza, but bad service, and it was about a million degrees in the restaurant.  I wouldn't go back.



We found a place we love, Detellos in Eden Prairie.  It's actually the same owner/recipes as Marcellos, and I was very pleased to find it.  It's a little drive, but worth every mile.


Lookit that cheese!

I've been to Black Sheep Pizza in downtown Minneapolis, and the mushroom pizza there is to die for.  I have discovered that some of my aversion to pizza is red sauce (I know...what??), so that mushroom pizza with loads of garlic is the bomb dizzle.  I also love the Mimi pizza at Punch, as well as the Nutella dessert pizza (YUM!), sauceless wonders.


We went to Mozza Mia in Edina.  Liked, not loved.  The sausage has tons of fennel seeds, which I love, but was so reminiscent of a Totino's Party Pizza that I couldn't get passed it to find out if it's really that good.  I did discover, by happy accident, that kids eat free on Sundays.  Might return just for that.  They have house-made mozzarella that is divine, also.



Tonight I picked up Latuff's, which is a great place right in Plymouth.  It's been here forever, and a fan favorite.


There are more on our list.  Pompeii Pizzeria in Elk River is next on my list.  It's a fun adventure.  Matthew thinks that next we'll have to try the best hamburgers.  I am lucky to live in an area where we have the opportunity to try this kind of food journey as a family.  I hope my kids are enjoying it as much as I am!  Would love more recommendations from my local readers if you have some.  What's your favorite pizza pie?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vacation

Me and the captain are such a good team.  I think that a lot.  We balance each other out.  I'm kind of a pushover; he's a little too strict.  He's kind of private; I am...not.  He's my yin to my yang, and I'm grateful.  But here's what we're really good at.  Seriously, awesomely simpatico:  packing for vacation.


I'm good at the week-before prep. I make lists and pack clothes, and swimming stuff, and beach gear.  I organize meals, and pack the right seasonings and tin foil, and baggies.  I make sure the laundry is clean and put together.  But I swear, he picks up everything I leave off.  All electronics.  Nightlights. Fans.  My pillow.  All the last minute stuff.  And he can pack that car like a boss.




We had such a great vacation this year.  Dreamy, really.  Here's what I did:

Watched my kids swim.
Watched my baby splash in her baby pool.
Eat lots of food, including locally-made summer sausage and my own homemade guacamole
Read three books:
The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (five stars!)
Bad Monkeys (highly recommended by my cousin Chris on his blog The Gamer Cave) (four stars -- it got a little sci-fi for me in the second half!)
Insurgent by Veronica Roth (still reading)
these were amazing summer vacation books.  happy sigh.
Spent quality time with my husband
Spent a little time working; sold a house remotely!
Floated on the lake
Slept in
Took 200 photos.




I wish I could do it all over again.  It was pure perfection, even the vicious mosquitoes and deerflies.  Perfect Up North vacation.  Can't wait for next year!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Village: Lindsay


When Jack was a baby I found a laminated note in my mailbox, bright with different color markers.  It read:

Need a babysitter?
Hi!  My name is Lindsay!  I'm almost 13 years old.
I've been babysitting for three years.
I love kids.
I'm free whenever, so please give me a call.
AND...I'm VERY responsible!  
XOXO

Jack was only a few months old, so I tucked it in my cupboard and thought I'd call her when he was just a little older because she was so young.

The next spring, we were garage saling in the neighborhood.  I stopped at a sale, and did some shopping with Jack on my hip.  A young girl comes out of the garage and says, "Ooooh.  That baby is so cute!  Can I hold him?"  I tossed him over to her and said, "Sure!  Do you babysit?"  And she responded, "Yes...my name is Lindsay."

I swear if that wasn't just one of the most important days of my parenting life.

Lindsay began watching my kids when Jack was one, so five years ago.  She's one of those rare gems who isn't only good with kids, but genuinely loves them.  She's social, and kind, and thoughtful, and super responsible. She always shows up when she says she's going to, and my kids adore her.  Kids are very good judges of character, and they get positively giddy when she's coming to watch them.

She hasn't had an easy few years.  Her mom was sick, and she passed away two years ago.  Lindsay took excellent care of her mom when her health was failing, and really stepped up to the plate during her care at the end of her life.  It was more than anyone could expect of a sixteen year-old, but that's how she is, and I'm wasn't one bit surprised when she performed as an adult, mature beyond her years.

She missed her mom, and she had a hard time finding her footing after her mom passed away.  I'm so damn proud of the adversities she's overcome.  She's an absolute inspiration to me.  This week, she graduates high school and will be going on to live the next chapter of her life.  I have no doubt that whatever she decides to tackle, she'll do it, and she'll do it well.  Whoever she touches will be blessed with her presence and I can't wait to see what adventures lie ahead for her.


A lot of seniors put on their cap and gown and can feel proud of their accomplishment, as they well should.  But Lindsay, she's worked extra hard to earn it and I'm sure her momma is smiling down from Heaven with pride.

I am thankful that she's been part of my family these past five years. I know that she'll still be here for me and my kids for awhile, but her journey will take her further away from our family, and we'll have to find a replacement for her.  That will be difficult.  She's one of a kind, and I don't take for granted the gift we've had in her.

So I'll end by saying to you, dear girl, that I am so proud of you.  I'm thankful for you letting me into your life and letting us all be part of it.  I'm so thankful that when life was hard, you made good choices and you leaned on people who wanted to help and found good, positive people who encouraged you to stay the course.  We learn the most from the hard stuff; embrace struggle and know that you'll come out on the other side of it better, stronger, and wiser.  You are a treasure and I love you!

Friday, May 31, 2013

The First Decade

Cory works 24-hour shifts at his full-time job so we don't go to bed together about 30% of our nights.  When he's gone, I crawl into a rumpled bed because making my bed is one thing I almost never do (blush).  But when he's home, I never have to.  Prior to crawling in, Cory always makes my bed.  And not just makes it, but makes it exactly how I like it.  He pulls the fitted sheet super tight, like a hotel bed.  Then he puts on the flat sheet, then my electric blanket, and turns it on to level four.  Then he double folds the comforter so all of my covers are heavy.  And I swear to the heavens, when I crawl into my bed, I feel so loved and cared for.

I'm a strong, independent woman.  I can manage the household, work my job, debate the issues of the day.  I can teach and raise my children, and care for my husband.  I cook dinner every night and keep the laundry done.  But there is something deep inside me that absolutely loves being cared for.  

Cory and I are celebrating our ten-year anniversary today.  We are blessed to be in a marriage that isn't perfect, but is darn good.  And relatively easy.  Even though we fight, we almost never go to bed angry.  Cory works hard to support us and is an exceptional father.  And we work because we're respectful of each other as human beings, we are excellent communicators, and we love each other deeply.  And there may be grand gestures in our marriage, but the little stuff -- like the made-up bed -- are the best parts.  

Life is busy, and can be painful.  Parenting is sometimes overwhelming and so much work.  So today I am taking a moment to be thankful that I have a partner who loves and appreciates me like Cory does.  I wasn't looking for him when he came into my life, but God knew I needed him for the rest of my life.  Thankful for this first amazing decade and looking forward to many more ahead of us!

video

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Daisy

When Matthew was two, and Jack was a baby, I lost him at the mall for about 20 minutes.  At Ridgedale, there is now a Chipotle where an Arby's used to be.  I had gone in to review some photos at a studio in the mall and on the way out, I was grabbing lunch for Cory and Cole.  There is a stroller-rental right outside the restaurant, and Matthew was playing on those strollers.  I was looking at the menu, and when I turned around, Matthew was gone.  

It'd be hard to me to put into words what happened then.  I had Jack in a stroller.  I quickly scoured the area and went into an instant panic.  I've not felt something like that since, or before.  My whole body shut down. I ran into a tailor shop, pushed my stroller all the way to the back and asked the seamstress if she had seen a little boy.  I called Cory, freaking out.  Someone must have called a security guard because one showed up.  The area is right by the exit and all I could think is that someone had taken him and walked right out of the mall.  My whole body shut down.  I kept thinking, "My life will end today.  If someone took my baby, my life is over."  I couldn't think.  I didn't know what to do.  The security guard assured me that this happens daily and assured me someone would find him.  I was in shock, and could hardly move, and at the same time I couldn't move fast enough.  I needed someone to take my stroller so I could move faster.  

Only a short time passed before they told me that someone found him in JCPenney, in the homegoods section.  He came walking out with a security guard.  I dropped to my knees and started crying.  I hugged him and hugged him and when I leaned back, he was looking at me, puzzled.  He still remembers it.  That unbelievable relief after sheer panic.

This week, there was a news story about a family that went camping and lost their two-year-old.  For 48 presumably AGONIZING hours, they couldn't find their baby girl.  Since I heard about it, I have had a tightness in my chest. A feeling of guilt because my life just continued while theirs absolutely stood still. Because that happens.  People, awful people, steal other peoples children.  Who would do that?!  Unfortunately, they have found their daughter, in the lake.  She isn't here on earth anymore. And I'm sure their pain is awful, and my heart is broken for that mother.  It happens so fast.  It's no one's fault.  But they will grieve the loss of their precious daughter their entire lives.  God.  So sad.  And yet, I'm glad Jesus got her, and not some awful human on earth and they won't have to spend the rest of their lives wondering where their child is, like so many unfortunate parents the world over.  I cannot imagine a greater horror.  

I'll keep that family in my prayers as our lives continue.  And all families who lose their children too soon, in any manner of death or loss.  It must be unbearable.  Today, I am thankful that my babies are all under my roof safe and sound.  Pray God keep them safe and secure every day of their lives.

And if you ever see a panic-stricken parent in a public place whose little one has wandered off, stop what you are doing and help them.  They will appreciate it.  Our sole purpose as parents is to keep our children safe, and when we are unable or have failed, life stops for a moment.

To Daisy's family:  I'm so sorry for your loss.  Parents everywhere are grieving with you.  God wrap his healing arms around you and give you peace.  Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Oh, brother.

Matthew and Cole have had an interesting relationship.  Historically, I've always felt like Matthew was annoying to Cole. I feel like they fought a lot.  I have often said to Cole, "You are eight years older than him," or "He's four. You're twelve," or whatever the age they were when they were fighting.  But suddenly, it's not like that.

Cole has started talking about his future.  His current plans include leaving us after high school.  Like, really leaving.  And we'll encourage him to chase his dreams, and be all that he can be (ahem. subtle hint.).  Whatever he decides.  But then, tonight, I had this realization:  His leaving is going to crush Matthew.  It is going to be very, very hard for him.


They have become such good friends.  If you walk into my house at any given time, you might see Cole doing arm curls with Matthew in his arms (he calls it his Home Gym).  You will see them wrestling (and the baby freaking out because she hates rough play).  You will see them on the trampoline.  And however you find them, you will find Matthew in fits of hysterics.  He's a stoic kid, primarily.  But he thinks his big brother is HILARIOUS.

I was thinking of it through Matthew's eyes.  You're eight years old.  Your big brother is 16, has muscles, sometimes has girls over, and he burps super loud.  He comes up with ridiculous nicknames for you, and regularly calls you "sweetheart," and refers to you and your little brother as "ladies."  "Good night, ladies," he'll say to them, "Sleep well!"  You just might have a love affair with your ever-teasing big brother.  

I guess this realization, while difficult, might be preparing me too.  I know how fast the next two years will go.  I know the changes we'll go through during them.  I know that we have to start preparing for the bird to leave the nest.  Change is inevitable.  It's exciting.  It's hard.  Pulling deep into this mother's heart to remember that they'll be brothers first, and brothers forever.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

16

I've been telling Cole that I'm going to send a singing telegram to school for his 16th birthday.  And if they won't let me do that, I'll just make an announcement over the intercom:  "Happy Birthday Cole!  We love you SO MUCH and are so proud of the young man you are becoming!".  He told me that if I did that, he'd run away.  Or kill me.  But today, when I asked him if he enjoyed the telegram (that I didn't send) he told me that he was nervous all day, and he said he actually wouldn't have been that mad.  He wouldn't be that mad!  So, next year, he's getting a very special singing visitor at school.  With no warning.  Because that is what I took from the conversation.

It'd be pretty hard for me to describe how amazing my kid is and how much I love him.  I've known Cole for eleven years now.  I doubt he remembers a time when I wasn't part of his life, and if he does, he probably hates that part.  Okay, that was a pretty risky assumption, and probably isn't true, but you know what I'm saying.  When I met him, and he was five, I couldn't imagine this part of life.  I didn't know what kind of relationship we'd have.  I couldn't have imagined that a decade could transform a relationship from a stepson and a stepmom into one that transcended all odds and became something so completely remarkable.  He's not my flesh and blood, but he's my heart.  I am so proud to be his mom, and thankful to all the people who allowed and encouraged me to be here for him and let him be a whole part of my life.  No stepparent could wish for better than I have it now.

That shirt?  It's called a bro-tank. 
 Don't call it bro-stupid; he won't appreciate that.

One thing I've learned about life is that nothing is perfect.  Life is messy, and parenting is no exception.  Parenting your first child is particularly difficult, because you're doing everything for the first time.  I'm sure Cole would agree that I've not done everything well.  I don't always know what to do, or what to say, and I second guess myself.  But here's something else I've learned:  You gotta talk to your kid.  Talk about everything, even (especially!) the hard stuff.  If you come up with a good communication system, the rest will fall into place.  I think talking is one of the things we do best.  

And this kid, he talks to me.  He flaps on about nothing, and he asks me questions about everything.  He asks for advice, and he sometimes even takes it.  I am most grateful for that gift, even when it's noisy and chaotic.  My deepest prayer is that we can continue to communicate his whole life.  Please keep talking to me, G.

This week, he got his first job, celebrated his sixteenth birthday (today!), he gets confirmed tomorrow, and takes his driver's test Friday.  It's a big week.  It's a big life.  It's the beginning of what will be a remarkable adult life for him, and I cannot wait to walk with him the rest of the way to adulthood.  I cannot wait to see what he does as a man in this world and what kind of choices he makes.  He's going to be amazing and I am so so proud to have played a part in what he is becoming.

This blog post would probably embarrass him, but not as much as a stranger singing Happy Birthday in his lunchroom at school (I think.  Stay tuned for next year's birthday blog entry).  So I'm going to publish it at the end of a really amazing birthday, in the midst of a really amazing life.  Today, I'm celebrating the things that are easy about parenting -- not the least of which is loving my son.  Happy Birthday, Cole!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Crown for the Princess

My baby had to get a cranial remolding helmet.  She has a flat spot on the back of her head, on the right side.  I bottle fed her, and shamefully, I only fed her in my left arm, with my right hand.  So, naturally, she turned her head into my breast on that side.  It affected her torsion and when she slept, she also turned her head in that direction.  Because babies have such soft skulls, and we primarily sleep our babies on their backs, it's common for this to happen, and for flat spots to develop.  Matthew had one too, but as he learned to sit, it naturally took care of itself.  Clara's did not.  I wish I had taken her in a couple months ago, but we are where we are.  The guilt runs deep, and I know it's not rational, but I still wish I had done things differently.


Other than Jack's broken arm at birth, this is the hardest thing I've had to do as a parent.  Oh, sure it could be worse.  It could be a life-threatening injury or illness.  But it's still really hard to look at my baby in her little helmet and not see her eyes easily.  It's hard to lay her on her back and hear her whimper.  It's hard to hold her on my lap and not be able to snuggle the top of her soft head.  Yesterday, I took it off after two hours and her head was soaking wet and I just started crying.  She seems happy enough when she's sitting up, but tomorrow we start sleeping her in it.  In a few days' time, she'll be wearing it for 22 hours a day for four or five months.  Sad.  She's such a good sleeper!  Right now she sleeps for 12 - 14 hours a night and I just don't want to disrupt that.  Can you imagine sleeping in this thing?!

I know we'll get through it.  I even know I'll get used to it.  I know she'll get used to it.  And the time will pass and we'll be on to bigger and better things and I will be happy for her nice round head.  And I will be grateful for modern medicine that we can correct this problem while she's young and doesn't know better.

I'll take my moment to be sad, and then I'll press on.  My family has been ridiculously supportive.  Thankful for my mom who has given me license to feel sad.  A couple days ago, she sent me this text:  "It's hard, honey.  My heart hurts twice.  Once for you, and once for Clara."  And from my younger brother who said, "Whew.  I was worried she wasn't going to be a hockey player.  She's awesome."  And for her dad and her brothers who continue to shower her with love and attention.  I am so lucky to have the love and support of all of you on this journey.  Particularly now, but always.  Every day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Crying a River

Earlier today, when I was watching the coverage on the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, I was struck by how young Dzhokar Tsarnaev is.  He's a kid.  You know mine is almost 16, and that's hardly younger than this guy was.  The news stories are probably unreliable at this point, but it appears he was in the United States with his older brother, and his parents haven't lived here (but in Russia) for at least five years.  So he was without a parent from ages 14 - 19. Yikes.  You don't have to know a lot about teenagers to know that they need parents at that age.  Desperately.  And of course all I can do is speculate how he got from there to the terrible events of last Monday, but whatever happened in his life that charted this course breaks my heart.  He's someone's son, and someone's brother, and someone's friend.  From all accounts, he appeared to be a really nice kid, by those who knew him, and many were shocked that he was capable of such atrocity.

Dzhokar and his brother hurt a lot of people, and I have faith in the justice system that he will pay for his crimes.  He may feel remorse, or he may not.  Whatever poison he feeds on may have already destroyed his conscience.  I most likely will never know.  Doesn't mean I can't pray for him.

I grieve for those who are injured and have lost their lives.  I laud the first responders who worked tirelessly to keep their city safe.  Their systems appear to be absolutely flawless; they executed this beautifully.  They turned around the situation inside of four days.  That's incredible and I am in awe, and appreciation, as is the rest of the country.

I feel pretty comfortable with all the thoughts I just shared with you.  I have learned that my heart is divided into emotional chambers.  There is room for kindness, and appreciation, and compassion.  But for some reason, there is very little room for anger, and almost none for vengeance.  I don't feel those easily and they are often shoved out by sadness. And because they have such a small chamber, I feel it quickly and express it and move on.

I am not telling you this because I'm looking for affirmation.  I'm not telling you this because I need to be reassured.  I don't want you to tell me that I'm anything special.  I am simply who God made me to be.  And I live my convictions pretty loudly for one reason:  Jesus loved everyone and He told me to as well.

I tell you all this because all of that empathy gets me into a lot of trouble.  Man.  Some people do not like the construction of my heart.  And maybe because I don't get angry, they assume that I don't get hurt.  They would be very, very wrong.

I just spent 15 minutes sobbing in the captain's arms after I received a hate-filled message from a facebook friend, in which he swore at me and told me, among other things, that I'm what's wrong with America.  I've been called many names in my life, and I know I'm a liberal progressive.  I know sometimes people mean that as an insult, and I've taken it that way when expressed as such.  But I sort of love being that, you know.

I love politics.  I think that civil discourse actually leads to resolution.  Not always, but often enough that the conversations are worth having.  I realize that I put myself out there.  It's worth it.  So many people have taught me so many things.  Knowing a lot of different kinds of people has forced me to be more tolerant.  I plan to continue having those conversations in the future, so here's what I want you to know:  You are free to leave.  No one is obligated to be my friend, either in real life or virtually.  If I am a negative influence in your life, please, please walk away before you hurt me.  I'm not saying this because I am being a baby.  I felt critically attacked several times this week, and I really don't want to do it again.  I will miss you, but I respect your decision.  If you don't believe me, ask the number of people who have previously taken advantage of this invitation.  No hard feelings, baby.  No regrets.  (Wait.  Never mind.  You get my point.)

Seriously, no apologies.  I hope I don't make things worse.  I sure like you people and my life would be so much different, and so much more boring without you.  Please keep sharing your thoughts and challenging me.  You make me better.  Thank you from the bottom of my emotional heart.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Sixter

Six years ago, we had a winter like this one.  We had two weeks of below-zero temps in March and on April 12, there was fresh snow on the ground.  I know because it was the end of a very long pregnancy.  I have told that story before but I wanted to take a minute on the eve of his sixth birthday to tell you a little about my very special Jack.



He is so studious, this one.  He follows the rules and takes great care with his schoolwork.  He's been known to wake me in the morning, urgently reminding me that there's something very important in his backpack that has to go back today.  Frequently, it's due in a week.  But God bless him for being the only child in this whole house who can keep track of his responsibilities.

He's kind of an anxious kid.  He is pretty sure he won't be able to go to first grade because he doesn't know how to read.  1) He reads above grade level and 2) they will teach him.  Usually he is still consoled by my reassurance, but sometimes he just gets nervous.  A couple years ago he was watching a movie about a magic gourd.  At its finish, he came in to tell me about it.  As he was telling me, he started sobbing.  Yeah.  This one's mine.

He's also sweet, and protective, and kind.  He donated his dollar from the tooth fairy to the hunger drive at church.  He chose walking tacos for his birthday dinner instead of rice because Matthew likes it better.  He adores his baby sister and will do anything for her.  One day she got a hold of a juice box, which she clearly cannot have.  But when she cried when he took it, he not only gave it back to her, he put the straw in her mouth so she could drink it.  Uh...it's okay if she cries, Jack.  He's very sensitive and I feel lucky to have his little soul in my daily life.

I just realized that he can build a lego set (Matthew has neither the organization nor the attention), and that might turn out to be a really great hobby for him.  He wears this vest all. the. time.  In this photo, he had put it on after a bath, which is standard operating procedure.  He's smart and funny and is a light in this family.



Before bed, I told him to "say good-bye to five!"  And he did.  Tomorrow, in the middle of a snowstorm, my boy will turn six.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goodreads

If you're a reader and aren't on Goodreads, you're missing out.  I know because I just finally joined it this week.  Heh.  But still.  What fun!  What good fun!  I was able to rate the books I've read and meet up with a bunch of friends so I can see the books they have rated highly.  What fun!  (I don't know if my auntie Anne reads my blog, but if someone who knows her does, tell her to find me.  I know she loves to read and I'd love more of her recommendations.  Also, Elizabeth!  Are you on there?)

Anyway.  In the process, I realized a few books I recommend that I may not have previously:

Snow Flower and Secret Fan by Lisa See
Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Angels & Demons and Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

These are some wonderful reads.  I wish I could pick them up and read them again for the first time.  Except Snow Flower. That book is kind of sad.

Man, I love to read.  Find me on Goodreads!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Remembered one!

Two Kisses for Maddy by Matt Logelin.  Grab this book and a box of Kleenex.  It's a heartbreaker of a memoir, but its an inspirational love story.  Worth the day it'll take you to read it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

(Long Overdue) Reading Update

It's been 18 months since I updated.  I will never remember everything I've read since the last one, but I'll try.  And I'll update when I think of more.

Fearless by Eric Blehm.  My friend Chuck made me read this book (Hi, Chuck!), and I'm glad he did.  It's a weighty one, yo.  It's about a fallen Navy SEAL who was so far above extraordinary, there almost aren't words for it.  And his journey is pretty incredible.  I basically cried my way through it...I am in awe of other peoples' journeys.  And it personalized servicepeople a little, which is never a waste.

Seriously, I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres.  Just read it.  You will thank me.  I read it on the plane to LA and my seatmates thought I was crazy.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.  If you love Tina, read it.  I loved it.

Stories I Only Tell my Friends by Rob Lowe.  If you love Rob Lowe, read it.  I thought his was a great read!

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Young Adult.  It was a book I was excited to get to each night.  But nowhere near as good as The Hunger Games.

The Last Word:  A Spellman Novel by Lisa Lutz.  The latest in one of my favorite series; the Spellman books.

Game of Thrones series by George RR Martin.  Not something I'd typically choose, but I had heard such great things about it.  I read the first two books in the series and loved it.  Then it got kind of heavy, so I'm taking a break.  May resume the series one day.

The Century Trilogy (Fall of Giants and Winter of the World) by Ken Follett.  I'm just starting the second book (the third is not yet released).  I enjoy this series, but they're no Pillars of the Earth or World Without End.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sharing the Love: Pizza Bread

I got this recipe from my friend Jill years ago.  It's so easy!


Frozen bread dough
Mozzarella cheese
Pizza toppings

Thaw and let the bread rise per the instructions on the package.  When it's risen, spread it on a floured surface and roll it into an oval.  Top with cheese and whatever fillings you like (I'm partial to pepperoni, green pepper, mushrooms, and tons of cheese).  Roll from the bottom to the top so it ends looking like a log.  Pinch the seam shut.  Place seam-side down on a greased baking sheet (you might need to curve it to make it fit).  Bake for 350 for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Slice and serve with pizza sauce for dipping!

*Use your imagination for other variations.  Jill used to make a ham and cheese one where she's smear some Dijon mustard on the bottom, and then layer ham and cheese, and roll up.  Yum.  I need to make that one again soon.

**The Sandwich King has a variation that he calls Sausage Bread.  I made it, and I used the leftovers for the brunch dish with asparagus and egg.  That recipe here.

Enjoy!

Getting it Done

It's not that having four kids is super special or that's it's a ridiculous number of children.  My mom raised eleven for crying out loud.  But here's the thing.  I have a teenager, two school-aged children, and a baby.  Three very types of parenting up in here, and it makes my head spin some days.

The teenager is a breeze logistically.  If I never made him another meal he wouldn't starve to death.  If I didn't do his laundry, he'd find clean clothes to wear.  He could virtually survive on his own if he had to.  But here's the thing:  I'm not done teaching him.  It would be really easy to give him the least amount of attention because of said independence.  But there is a lot of stuff to pay attention to now:  girls.  schoolwork.  college options.  girls.  getting to know his friends.  teaching him lifeskills.  re-teaching him lifeskills.  girls.  I mean, a lot of stuff.  And I cannot tune out right now.  I never want to look back and wish I had said more, wish I had been more involved.  I feel like I have about an arms-reach of talking left to do and he has about a finger-pinch of listening left.  Gonna try to squeeze it in.

Look.  One has his arm around her. The other is holding her hand. Smitten.

Then I have those two adorable school-aged rugrats.  They're easy, man.  I can still put them on my lap and fix most of their problems.  I can reassure them, and they trust me.  They still think I'm right about pretty much everything.  They love to snuggle with me and watch a movie or read books.  I monitor their homework, and make sure they're learning and volunteer at the school when I can.  We go to the library and the pool and they're pretty stinking happy and secure.

And then I have a baby.  And GOOD LORD.  I am thankful for that baby.  She brings more joy here than anything in a long time.  But, if I'm being honest, she's a lot of work.  She's at that stage where she's not mobile but she needs a lot of stimulation, so I'm kind of moving her around all day.  Jumperoo, sit and play, Bumbo, tummy time, feedings, nap, feedings, Jumperoo.  You get the picture.  And she's a super awesome nighttime sleeper (12 - 14 hours most nights) but she's not a great napper -- probably two - three hours a day, so there's not a ton of downtime.

Add in working, managing the household, and all that entails, and trying to find a quiet moment for myself once in awhile...yeah.  That plate is full, dude.  Full of really really great stuff, but full nonetheless.

I'm no supermom.  I'm no different than millions of other moms the world over.  And I have the support of the kindest, most loving man on earth who is the best papa to his kids.  And somehow, it all gets done.  Every night I have this moment where I think, "Huh.  I got it done today."  And I will tomorrow, too.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Marble Jar

At the beginning of this school year, I had a couple glaring parenting flaws.  One, my expectations for my kids were too low, and secondly, that I nag too much.  The second was probably a consequence of the first, and I decided that I still had time to fix it.  I'll sound like almost every parent when I say that sometimes, it's just easier to do household tasks myself.  But its an actual parenting goal of mine to raise men who don't depend on women to take care of them.  I want them to be able to pick up after themselves, and clean, and cook and be self-sufficient. 

When I look at my siblings' families, I realize that our generation is pretty cool.  Moms aren't the only caretakers, and dads aren't the only providers.  Cory and I have a pretty traditional relationship, and there are maternal roles that I carry well, and Cory has many strengths as a dad.  But we're really a team.  Where I am a pushover, he is strict.  Where I am weak, he is strong, and vice versa.  But he supports me as a woman, and a human being, and not just as a wife and mother.  And I support him as an individual, with dreams and hobbies, even if I don't share all of them.  I find that one of the strongest components of our relationship.  My hope for my kids is that they don't expect their wives/husbands to take care of only the traditional roles, but the roles for which their skills and personalities are best suited.  Therefore, in this house, the boys will learn all household skills, as will the little girl. 

I was finding that I wasn't keeping that goal in focus.  It was easier to put away their laundry, and pick up their toys, and cook and do the dishes, and when I would ask them to pitch it, it was met with whining and fussing.  And I'd get frustrated, and found myself nagging them.  WHICH I HATE.  So I came up with two separate systems.

I bought a white board, a couple Mason jars, and some decorative rocks (marbles) and implemented my plan. And it has worked pretty well.  WAY better than then non-system I was using.


Each boy has daily activities they don't get rewarded for (well, they don't have to buy groceries or pay rent.  That's a pretty good reward.).  Matthew and Jack have to set/clear the table, and Cole has to do the rest of the dishes after dinner.  They have to make their beds, brush their teeth, put their clothes in their laundry, and put away their own toys/homework/projects.  But on top of that, each day, I put a chore on the whiteboard.  They are fairly easy (20 minutes to complete or less):  clean the livingroom, vacuum, sweep the floor, clean the entryway, put away laundry...etc.  They come home, understand clearly what the expectation is and get on with their day.  The implementation was a lot smoother than I imagined, and I found it startlingly easier to keep up with household chores. Huh.  Who knew?  ;)

The second thing I did was for a specific purpose. I was finding that there was so much negativity flying around in the form of nagging.  In order to keep them on track, I was focusing on the things they had to do and the things that they were doing wrong.  I wanted to actively focus on the positive.  So I started marble jars.  I don't know how many it'll take to fill them (a lot) but when it reaches the top, they get $10.  That's a lot of money for my little rugrats; our version of their allowance.  But it's fairly easy to get marbles.  I give them for all kinds of things, to remind them that they do a lot of things well.  They get them if they give the baby a bottle, or do a chore without being asked.  I've given them for treating each other well.  If Matthew plays a game with his brother.  Or Jack was particularly polite.  One day they were at the table, doing projects and I said, "I'm going to give you each a marble.  Just because I love you so much."  The specific purpose was to interject positivity into our day-to-day lives and I am finding it very successful.  It's hard for them to be patient to fill them up, but they are really enjoying getting them.  The little tink of that marble falling into the jar always makes them smile. 

It's a long road to adulthood.  But I look at Cole and realize that it comes faster than you think it will.  And these lessons, they have to be intertwined with everyday.  Because waiting for a special opportunity to teach them is a risk I'm not willing to take.  Parenting is hard.  It's tiresome.  But if I don't do this job well, nothing else will matter.  This system is working well for their current ages, and I hope I can remember as they get older to tell them how wonderful they are, so they remember that every day of their life.  This is so much bigger than that little marble.

And I won't know the real results of this process for many years, but I'm trying.  And in the meantime, I get to remind my rugrats that they're good, and kind, and special.  That, my friends, is a reward for me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Daughter Mine


Clara is only just a smidge over five months, but she's already expressing herself as her own person.  She's starting to show her personality and I am in awe of her. 

I thought my boys were so loud.  They'd bang on things, and throw their toys around, even from a very young age. Guess what?  SO DOES SHE.  This one, she loves loud noises.  She bangs her rattles around in pleasure.  And I just stare at her, because I was sure she would be my peaceful, calm little girl.  Jack walks in and shriek in a high voice and she loses it in a fit of giggles.  So, he does it again.  And again, and again, until she too, follows his lead in shrieks.  Lord, help me.

One way she's very different from the boys is she is very shy.  She won't stay for a sitter, and even gets nervous around family.  Not us, of course.  She's enamored with her papa, and her brothers (thank GOD), but now I know the reason we didn't commit to a couples vacation just yet.  I can't bear it when she cries when I leave her.  So, I'll stay.  Except sometimes I have to go to the store alone.  A momma needs a break, Clara.  Geez.

I am thankful for my sister-in-law, her Godmother, who keeps trying.  And for her grandparents, who adore her anyway.  And I'm thankful that today, she seemed to do better with them.  Because I want her to share her smiles and her giggles with everyone because it's the most endearing thing.

The past week or so she's taken to whimpering when I leave the room.  So we're in that stage, just like that.  Funny how each developmental milestone just creeps up on you.  And it's amazing how she's learning and progressing and even though we've been through it before, it isn't less facinating to watch. 

There are so many things I love about parenting this baby.

I love watching her grow.  I love watching reach for her toes, and get excited when I hand her a spatula while I'm cooking.  I love how her little legs tense up and then start kicking when she sees her papa or her brothers, home from school. 

I love when the teenager says, "Hi, Clara!" and picks her up and throws her in the air.  And when I have to run to the store and he's playing video games, and I plunk her on his lap, and he just lets her play with him.  I truly love watching all of the relationships here develop, but that one?  That one is so special. 

We love her, that little one.  So we'll put up with the shrieking and the banging, and keep the coloring books and teddy bears right nearby, so when she decides she's ready to settle down and be my timid little girl, I'm good and ready.