Friday, June 1, 2018

And then they were NINE!

There was a time when I thought I would dread my children outgrowing the "early childhood" years. And somehow, despite my best efforts, they did. Somehow, they stopped looking like this:

And started looking like this:

Nine years old. Fourth grade. Riding bikes and taking walks around the block...without me. Sitting in the cafe at the grocery store, reading books while I shop instead of riding in the cart. Oh, girls... You are bright, independent, out-going, creative, and loving young ladies. 

Elise... your nine-year old spirit shone this past school year and made me so very, very proud. You became bonded to a classmate with pretty intense behavioral needs. A classmate who had outbursts and aggression and a frequently disagreeable nature. But none of that phased you - you would tell me "mom, I can see that look in his face when he's getting mad, and I'd just leave him alone but he's one of my best friends". You chose this classmate to play with at recess... he chose you for earned lunch buddies with teachers. Your gooofiness is strong right now but your acceptance of twists and turns along the way is equally as strong.

You are rarely far from colored pencils and paper... drawing, tracing, detailing somebody and their fashion. Speaking of fashion... you like crazy prints and mismatched socks... styling your own hair in anything from a bun on top of your head to pigtails. 

Abby... your nine-year old spirit shined bright this year and made me so very, very proud. As your piano recital approached in May, you started to stumble. Your songs tripped you up and the day before the recital you insisted that you couldn't do it, that maybe I should let you sit this one out. But guess what? You didn't sit out and you played beautifully and flawlessly on stage in front of a crowd. Your emotions are powerful right now but your courage is equally as strong. 

You love your pens and, at a moment's notice, are fast at my side when I sit down to practice handlettering. You can be quiet and serious, carefully forming letters or coloring minute details on a picture. Your methods are precise and necessary - the nightly straitening of your quilt and blankets is clearly memorable however slightly maddening. ;) You like your hair pulled back and tidy - however the "messy bun" has become a go-to style this summer and I couldn't love it any more. 

Happy Birthday, sweet baby girls! You are so loved by so, so many! 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

And then she was THREE...

For so long, we've talked about the "baby" or the "toddler". It's been such a norm around here that even Anna refers to herself as "the toddler" . But just like that, she's not the baby... she's not even the toddler. So on the day of her third birthday, when I asked her why she drank bath water (a serious pet peeve of mine in the parenting world) and she replied "that's just what toddlers do" and I reminded her that she's 3 now... Anna shrugged her shoulders and said "that's just what 3 year olds do".
Anna baby, for your third birthday you allowed us to call you "Anna" instead of "Goldilocks", which is how you've been introducing yourself to friends and strangers for weeks. You requested an ice cream cake and you blew out the candles (twice, because we ate cake and sang two times) like it was your job. You wanted polka dot pajamas, striped clothes, and a big girl bed. All were granted. Regarding the bed, we took down a crib that you never climbed out of, never even attempted. In fact, you've been sleeping in your big bed for a full week now and are yet to even get out in the morning without permission. By comparison, your big sisters not only bent the metal frame of their crib from jumping so forcefully but they also got big girl beds at 22-months because of the stunts taking place in, out, and between. It is amazing that you have never tried to frolic about after bedtime because if ever there was a night owl, it's you. Whether you have napped or not, had a busy day or a lazy day, bedtime always consists of phrases like "but it's my choice to stay up all night!" and "what will happen if I never close my eyes"... you then lay in your bed for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half blabbering on and on and on. You asked for a trip to Pet World on your big day to see the aquariums and the panda hamsters. So that's what we did! It was a sweet, sweet day.
I hope the 3 year old you takes awhile before "Thure!" morphs into "Sure!" and before "Thorge" becomes "George". Keep on counting just like you did today: "one, two, three. four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, sixteen, eleventeen, twenty". Never stop saying "Daddy, guess what? Pickle Car!" or "Daddy, guess what? Blukle Fish"! ("blukle fish" is your amazing made-up animal that started as a play-doh creation). 
You LOVE books (current faves are Peppa Pig, Eric Carle, Pete the Cat, Dog's ABCs, Olivia, and any number of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears versions that we've checked out), you've started asking how to spell certain words, you recognize all the letters of the alphabet and know what sound each makes, and a couple of months ago the concept of rhyming words clicked: you started saying things like "Mom! 'Feet' and 'Seat' sound the same!". You love to "put on a show", standing on my big gray cutting mat, and singing "Madame Gaston", "Lost Boy", or "Mrs. Murphy's Chowder". While you know certain characters or songs from movies or TV, it's only from books or listening to soundtracks as you still haven't watched but a single episode of Olivia and an attempt at Mary Poppins, which didn't suck you in even a smidge as much as your sisters at that age. 
Your belly is so round that all of your pants have to rest below it's curve and your big sisters crack up at the sight of me trying to pull actual pants or shorts up around it. You wear a lot of dresses to compensate. ;) I hope your 3 year old self keeps it real, like your toddler self did:
Me: "Well, we wear pants so our legs don't get cold"
Anna: "That's right, Momma! And we wear underwear so our vaginas don't get cold!"
I love the way you ask me questions or tell me to repeat phrases and then you say "Good 'thob' (job), momma!". You are quick to shout "Daddy! I'm so glad you're home!" when the garage door slams. On the way home from school pick-up, you often say "How was your day, Abby?" or "Elise, did you have art or PE today?". Maybe the 3 year old you will stop making all your toys sleep face-down or will require fewer tiny, little people/critters/beads/trinkets to scatter about the house all. day. long. Or maybe not.
No matter the question, you often reply with "I'll try!", whether we're reminding you to stay quiet at naptime or to be careful around Gran and Grandpa's pond. When given your choice of a snack, 99% of the time you request dried pineapple and seaweed. No joke. When those aren't available, you are always happy with "cathews and cranberries" (cashews). You have an air independence that suits you perfectly - just yesterday, you propped yourself on the edge of a pool chair beside a threesome of young girls and I don't know what you were saying, but your hand was gesturing, your head was bobbing, and your audience was captivated. So, with that, welcome to THREE, my littlest love... our days of calling you the toddler are over but you're going to be our "teeny" forever. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It's all about the LOVE

Over the weekend, Abby and Elise had a little Valentine's worksheet that involved defining "love" according to the dictionary, their parents, best friend, and on their own. They included Anna in this exercise and her response left us all smiling in agreement: "it just makes your heart feel better". 

You're nodding aren't you? Right?!?!?! Toddler speaks the truth... she also takes great pride in her flamingo pose.

Abby and Elise spent the last several days carefully crafting Valentine's for everyone in the family: Anna's had the little pig characters from some of her fave books drawn on it; John's was decorated with pants and referenced reading Harry Potter together; mine had a ball of yarn and crochet hooks. As I was sitting here typing, John walked in the door with handmade dark chocolates and a cherry sour beer from a local brewery. That is love. 

Happy Valentine's Day from our hearts to yours! May you find/do/be/say/see/make something, just even a little something, today and everyday that you LOVE. And, while you're at it, feed your body a little something it will love, like these super tasty and new favorite breakfast cookies!

Crisp and Delish Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from My Darling Vegan: Gluten Free Breakfast Cookies

- 1 C organic rolled oats
- 1/2 C organic almond flour
- 1/2 C organic unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 local eggs
- 1/4 C melted coconut oil
- 1/3 C organic creamy peanut butter
- 1/3 C maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 C raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 C dried fruit (I used chopped pineapple but cranberries would be great!)
- 1/4 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredents; in a separate bowl mix wet ingredients; add wet to dry and then fold in dried fruit, seeds, and nuts.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until browned a bit - I made approximately 18 cookies out of this recipe. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Our favorite tiny muffins

The past year has given me a great sense of stability and order: Abby and Elise are settled into school, we have committed to staying in this house to allow them to finish elementary where they started, John's job is a nice balance of work-at-home and out-and-about, Anna is getting great variety in her week with playtime at home, library storytime, playdates, and dance class, and my Baby Sing and Sign gig is strong and steady. With all of those ducks in a row, it allows me the time and mental energy to focus on hobbies and activities that I love... one of which is experimenting in the kitchen. My desire to feed my family real, whole foods never sleeps. ;)

The biggest changes that I've experimented with are using a bigger variety of nut/seed blends and increasing fermented food/drink consumption (lots more to come on that one). I want to share this muffin recipe that has become a staple in the breakfast routine and a favorite among everyone! Abby is not a muffin-eater - she prefers crusty breads and drier baked goods like scones or biscuits. But that kid will eat these muffins until we cut her off!

Pecan Coconut Muffins
Adapted from Deliciously Organic's Pecan Coconut Muffin recipe

- 3/4 C almond flour
- 2 T coconut flour
- 1 1/2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
- 1/4 C coconut sugar or sucanat
- 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
- 5 T unsalted butter
- 1/4 C maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1 C pecans (chopped or I toss them in the Vitamix until they're crumbly)

*all ingredients are organic and/or local, if possible

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease mini-muffin tin with coconut oil; this recipe makes 24 mini muffins and I typically have enough batter left to fill a single regular sized silicone muffin liner, which I just set in the oven beside the muffin tin
- Mix dry ingredients (except pecans)
- In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients
- Add wet to dry; stir in pecans
- Bake for 11-13 minutes

Thursday, February 2, 2017

New year, new pictures.

As I slowly try and reincorporate blogging into my routine, I'll try and catch up with a few fave photos from the past months... from starting soccer to the annual monarch butterfly crop to a family road trip (Lawrence to St. Louis to Indianapolis) to Halloween shenanigans to holiday traditions.

Abby and Elise LOVED playing soccer and are eagerly awaiting the start of the Spring season. They continue to excel at piano (Elise keeps us moving with "The Entertainer" almost daily and Abby has mastered "Colors of the Wind" with such emotion)... Speaking of piano, I missed their last recital as a certain someone couldn't stay quiet for even 30 seconds and we spent the next 35 minutes in the car. Four of us (sans Anna) read The Hobbit together and then enjoyed movie nights to see it in action - A and E are now working their way through the fourth Harry Potter with John as their nightly read-aloud. They joined student council at school and we got to enjoy a proud parent moment when a teacher from STUCO emailed and used the words "kind" and "mature" and "amazing". Speaking of teachers... third grade will be hard to beat. I practically have to drag Anna away each morning because it is the most inviting, nurturing, and upbeat learning environment (they are in the same class again this year) - the girls have each missed one day of school and even that was too much, in their opinions. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have NOT done Abby's pigtail braids for school; I can probably count on one hand the number of times I HAVE helped style Elise's hair for school. When fixing lunches each morning, no matter the question ("Do you want a cheese stick or a babybel?"), Elise always answer "I don't care". When Abby is asked, she always answers: "What kind of cheese stick? Is it a white cheddar babybel? Actually, do we have any of the cheese I like from the Merc? Can I have slices of that instead?". This. is. them.

Anna continues to serenade us with "The Twelve Days of Christmas", sometimes loudly in the shopping cart at the store, sometimes quietly through the monitor at night as she yammers endlessly before falling asleep. She was caught marching around Gran and Grandpa's coffee table just last week, chanting "Organize your life! Organize your life!", which is a perfect example of her charismatic personality - she listens to everything around her and we are so entertained by her selective use of certain bits she's heard. I am happy to report that Anna's back-seat driving has subsided... while I thought I was enriching her world with colors and information, little did I know that tuning her into stoplights would result in nonstop directives from the backseat: "Mom, it's green. GO!"... "There's a green arrow. YOUR TURN!"..."It's RED! You can't go on RED!". The latter was the most difficult - toddlers don't seem to quickly grasp "right on red". Sigh... Over the holidays, the official "first movie" was enjoyed and, if you've been with me for awhile, you might remember that Abby and Elise's first movie was "Mary Poppins". While I continue to hold steady on limited to no screen time, Anna's first movie was "Elf". Yes, Will Ferrell. She loved it and told everyone after "Buddy - that's a good name for an elf". At least it followed the real-people rule instead of animation, right?

We took a road trip in October - first stop in St. Louis to see Crazy Uncle Cousin Scotty, Traci, and Uncle Bob. A and E LOVED the apartment John booked for our night there - bunk beds and all... which I think made up for the fact that they had to endure a carsick little sister in St. Louis rush hour traffic shortly before arriving. It was a one-and-done incident, probably thanks to the help of Dramamine thereafter. We hit Fitz's for the world's biggest root beer floats and then spent a good portion of the next day at the zoo. My cousin Scott was a wonderful tour guide and provided unlimited laughter and entertainment.

From there we headed to Indianapolis to see Cousin Mark and Lisa. This was our third trip with Abby and Elise and Anna's first. It is always a weekend of relaxation, wonderful company, fun outings, and 5-star treatment. We went to the Children's Museum, found a couple wonderful playgrounds, and carved/decorated pumpkins.

Halloween brought us Hermione Granger, a Dark Fairy, and a Cat Ghost - how can you argue with those choices????

We are fortunate during the holidays to have ample time free of commitments - with family nearby, we don't travel... John's job allows him to have at least a week off... and we just roll at a steady and slow pace. Anna loved the lighting the "benorah" each night of Hanukkah, she STILL asks to see Christmas lights when we're out after dark, and the taking-down of our tree triggered a meltdown of epic proportion. I think she actually went through each stage of grief over the course of her hour-long episode: sadness, denial, anger... as she was finally calming, I said "I love you", to which she replied "I love you too but I can't talk right now". Tree-trauma aside, 2016 ended quite peacefully.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Continuous Brew Kombucha

Where to even begin... life has been wonderfully full. I'm hopping on here to provide several friends with a kombucha brewing guide, as this has become an important and exciting part of my kitchen. Maybe this little blog bit will bring me back, as I miss this place and would love to return. Until then, ferment and be happy!


- Scoby
- Starter fermented tea (at least 1 C of kombucha that has been first-fermented but not flavored)
- Glass brewing vessel: For continuous brew, I use this Glass Jar with a Spigot, which I then replaced the spigot with a Stainless Steel Spigot
- Tea - I use loose leaf but bags would make it even simpler as you wouldn't have the added step of straining out leaves (see below)
- Filtered water - I use reverse osmosis filtered water
- 1/2 Gallon mason jar (used to cool tea after it's brewed)
- Pot, strainer, coffee filters, bamboo chopsticks (used for stirring when needed - do not use metal in brew vessel with the scoby)

Step One: Make sweetened tea (which will be added to brew vessel to replace kombucha that is bottled for second ferment - I make 1/2 gallon of sweet tea at least once per week, sometimes twice
- Bring 7-8 C filtered water to boil
- Add 3 T loose leaf tea (jasmine green is my fave)
- Remove from heat, stir (I use a bamboo chopstick), and let steep for 4 minutes
- Strain out leaves - I pour the entire contents of the pot through a strainer first into a large pyrex measuring cup
- Then I pour that through the strainer with a coffee filter in it to ensure that small tea leaves are removed
- This final tea is then poured into a 1/2 gallon mason jar, with 1/2 - 3/4 C organic cane sugar in the bottom, which I swirl as I pour to dissolve the sugar
- Allow to cool to room temp before adding to brew vessel (I often make mine in the evening and let it sit over night)

Step Two:

- Clean glass brewing vessel, rinse with vinegar, rinse with filtered water, dry.
- Rinse hands with vinegar before handling your scoby 
- Place scoby, 1 C kombucha (plain, not flavored), and 1/2 gallon cooled sweetened tea into brew vessel
- Cover top with dishcloth and secure with rubber band 
- Leave, undisturbed, for 5-7 days
- This is part of the initial, first-time set up process

Step Three:

- After 5-7 days, add another 1/2 gallon sweet tea
- Cover
- Leave, undisturbed for 5-7 days
- After a a total of 10-14 days, begin tasting for level of sweetness versus fermented taste
- This is part of the initial, first-time set up process

Step Four:

- Once first ferment has reached your preferred level of sweet versus tartness, it is ready to second ferment
- In a 16 ounce swing top bottle, add desired flavor. My favorites include:
  • 1/4 C fresh organic lemon juice (second ferment 3-4 days)
  • 1/4 C fresh organic grapefruit juice + 1/2 tsp organic cane sugar (second ferment 2 days)
  • 1/4 C fresh organic lemon juice + 1-2 organic strawberries, quartered (second ferment 3-4 days)
  • 1/4 C thinly sliced fresh organic pineapple (second ferment at least 24 hours)
- Using a bamboo chopstick, slide in beside the surface scoby and stir like crazy! Churn up all the yeast that has settled on the bottom so that some of it pours out each time you fill bottles thus ensuring that you don't get too much yeast build up in the brew vessel
- Fill bottles within 1 to 1/2 inches of top
- Seal and place in a cabinet until ready

Step Five:

- Brew sweetened tea in the amount that you removed and fill brew vessel once cool: if I fill 3 bottles, that is equal to 1/2 gallon so I pour the entire 1/2 gallon mason jar into the brew vessel. You can just pour this into the top, over the scoby. I sometimes use a bamboo chopstick and give it a stir just to incorporate
- Once your brew vessel has been going for a bit and the kombucha is strong, you can taste after 2-5 days and bottle again as soon it reaches your liking


- Again, no metal should come in contact with scoby or the kombucha in the brew vessel (except stainless steel spigot)
- Rinse hands or containers with vinegar before handling the scoby
- Always remember to stir the kombucha in the brew vessel before bottling - really give that settled yeast a good whirl each time
- Second ferment: you can "burp" bottles by opening slowly and releasing pressure either to check if they're ready or to just know how much they're going to explode when opened! 
- Second ferment: refrigeration will stop fermentation, which means flavor will remain as is as no more sugar will be consumed by the bacteria HOWEVER refrigeration also halts carbonation because yeast activity stops. If you refrigerate, bottles will re-carbonate if removed and set at room temperature for an hour or so before opening. I rarely refrigerate - I typically drink half of a 16 ounce bottle per day and place the remaining back into the cabinet. Some flavors will build a great deal of pressure in 24 hours and some will be fine for 48 hours. The more open space in the bottle, the greater the pressure that can build because of the sheer air-space available for carbon dioxide to fill.

Once your system is up and running, it is so. simple. Brew sweetened tea and let it cool. Fill swing top bottles. Top off brew vessel. Drink after second ferment. Repeat. My continuous brew jar has been going for 6+ months now and I have not thinned the scoby or emptied/cleaned the jar - I may do that soon but everything is happy and delicious for now. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Off they go - THIRD grade!

These two celebrated their 8th birthday last month. And now on the eve of their first day of third grade, not a day passes that I don't catch them intertwined in each other's business. They are like magnets - sometimes repelling each other with great intensity but, in an instant, drawn back together where they happily remain.

Abba Zabba... You have spent countless hours over the past year perfecting your handwriting. It's really lovely. You read faster than I can do anything. Really. The minute anything starts happening in the kitchen, you are underfoot: "Can I help???". You have mastered the new espresso machine and, while your energy level is absolutely fine uncaffeinated, Daddy and I are enjoying your budding barista services. You read Anna 14 books straight one night so I could finish dishes and take a shower. And that's not an unusual occurrence. Your hair is long and you like pigtail braids almost everyday, unless I'm willing to blow-dry/straighten (which I've only done twice. ever.) because you really wish your hair was straight. You asked for Gran to make crab legs for your birthday Sunday dinner - the amount of crab you cracked yourself and consumed was incredible. Well done. Anna's trip to the potty, the date/time of my next Baby Sing and Sign class, Elise's scraped knee, Daddy's work schedule... EVERYTHING concerns you. ;) Your latest daily activity involves keeping a detailed record of each day - no minute shall go undocumented with you around. That is the epitome of YOU: attentive and particular with a side of sensitivity.

Elise, aka "Huggy Bear"... Your dedication to making rainbow loom bracelets/pencil toppers/macarons/poptarts/dancers has blown us away. We should be selling your goods. ;) You are reckless in ways that lead to frequent scrapes and bruises but also in ways that give you the needed gumption to leap off the diving board like a pro. You are the current go-to in the car to ride beside Anna - she's not always the most polite of little people as a passenger and we appreciate your ability to ignore as needed, even when she's digging her toes into your arm. Sorry about that and thank you. You are in a cheeseburger phase of life and we dined out for your birthday at a restaurant chosen specifically for the burgers. That choice, combined with your recent affinity for making up knock-knock jokes ("knock, knock"... "who's there?"... "oliver"... "oliver who?"... "oliver our lights are on!"), proves that you are your Daddy's daughter. ;) Your drawings of characters are becoming detailed beyond belief, with such intricate lips and names like "Kukaquola Tamata".
The entire family has recently started busting out your amazing happy dance and it's the epitome of YOU: confident and carefree with a side of silly.

What I want you both to know is that, because of you, I have all but forgotten what it feels like to be lonely. Just your absence when you spend a night at Gran and Grandpa's changes the entire feel of our house. As you head off to school tomorrow, you will be so incredibly missed. I am not in a season of life right now that craves "me" time. I crave "us" time. And because of that, this summer was damn near perfect. Daddy's flexible work schedule combined with our commitment to under-scheduling gave us family time at the pool, family time at the library, family time at the farmer's market, and slow mornings, lazy afternoons, and dinner around the kitchen table together nearly nightly.

It was the summer of Ace of Cakes during naptime, memorizing Go Away by Weezer, handstand competitions at the pool, hosting your first slumber party (the two of you plus a friend), and reading The Hobbit with Daddy.

My mama heart swells with happiness knowing that you'll be in the same class again together. You both have the ability, like magnets, to break free and stand on your own with such power but when you are reunited, it is a force to be reckoned with.

Off you go my third graders! Do your thing and then hurry home... "We" are incomplete without you!