The Dating my Husband Experiment

2016 August 8
by Jennifer

As I was looking through old photos in preparation for My Man’s most recent milestone birthday, I stumbled upon a stack of pics from our dating days.  We looked so young and so smitten.  Man it took me back…

dc dating

We started off dating long distance, swapping weekends between Atlanta and DC.  I recall many tearful Monday mornings after parting ways at the airport, tears running down my cheeks that were sore from smiling so much.  Our weekends together were a blast.  We played tennis, took long walks, went to concerts, and danced at weddings.  We talked for hours over dinner, drank wine on back porches, took road trips, and got to know each other’s friends and families.  He taught me how to play guitar and talk intelligently about Braves baseball, and I taught him how to lose graciously at Gin Rummy and appreciate The Bachelor (Brad Womack round two).  We publically displayed boatloads of affection, wrote love letters and mailed each other mix CDs.

Dating the person you are going to marry is the very very best.

dating hocutts

Then we got married. And that sentence should definitely end with an exclamation point because our marriage has been pretty dreamy.   I have to say that I absolutely picked the right one.  We just fit.  Of course we are two imperfect humans, sharing a life with bills and babies and a mortgage and car maintenance–and one of us can never find her credit cards and the other of us gets irrationally aggravated with a losing baseball team and being on hold with the cable provider—so naturally we have occasional squabbles and attitudes, but things on the marriage front are good. Like really really good.  Lo these many years later, I still have a huge crush on him.  Our marriage is not full of tension or endless compromises and negotiations.  We are great friends who love spending time together, more alike than different, and so secure in each other’s love.

But because things in our marriage are “easy,” it makes it easy to get a little lazy.  Many days I go straight from workout clothes to frumpy PJs with white dabs of zit cream dotted on my face.  I confess that I sometimes save my most charming and engaging side for other people, my most serving and selfless side for my children, and he ends up getting whatever is left.

When I reflect back on our dating life, which seems like ages ago, I think what I miss most is the dating version of me.  It was me who was different—well not different, but definitely letting my sparkliest sides shine.  And falling in love brings those sparkles out, doesn’t it?  I recall one specific instance that pretty much encapsulates the whole thing.  It was the time I woke up at 5am on Thanksgiving morning to join him for the last few miles of a half marathon he was running.  Together we ran 5 miles uphill in the dark cold pouring rain.  Everything in that last sentence is just plain wrong.  But this was love and we were dating and that is the kind of thing you do without even a complaint or second thought when you are dating.  It wasn’t that I was selling him a bill of goods or baiting the hook—I was just all in. I had that insatiable desire to be with him and make him happy and if that meant being cold and physically exerting myself before sunrise on a holiday intended for sloth and gluttony, then damnit, let’s do it.

So today, on the eight-year anniversary of when we got engaged, I want to commit to dating my husband.  Not necessarily planning romantic rendezvous and epic dates per se, though that would be nice too, but more so being the version of myself that I was when we were dating.

young american kids

Sure, I got this thing on lock, but I want to try harder…

I want to put a little more effort into my after-hours appearance.  I want to try to sparkle a little more.  More talking, more togetherness, a touch of flirting, occasional eyeliner.  I want to continue to get to know him—to ask him questions and to understand him and care more about the things he cares about.  I want to compliment him and cuddle with him and go out of my way to do kind things for him.  I want to (metaphorically) say yes to running together, uphill in the rain.

Let’s see if he notices.

Off to make My Man a mix CD.

guitar lessons

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Build a Better Baby Shower

2016 June 24

I am of that golden age where if you only have one glass of wine, people immediately start passing pregnancy rumors.  Because my pals are popping out babies left and right, I have had the distinct honor of hosting and attending my fair share of showers.

We can all agree that the best part about baby showers is the mimosas.  But what’s the worst part?  The creepy games? The mayonnaise-centric menus? Indeed, those are definitely low-points, but in my humble opinion, the gift opening marathon is THE worst.

Traditionally, everyone gathers round and watches the mom-to-be open the mound of gifts selected by friends, colleagues, and distant cousins.  So as not to seem greedy or ungrateful, pregnant mama opens each gift painstakingly sloooowly without ripping the paper.  Then she must come up with creative and gracious commentary about each burp cloth and nipple shield and off-registry wildcard to entertain the onlookers.  Meanwhile, the guests have to react to each item with equal reverence whilst engaging in polite whispery conversation with whomever they are seated next to.  Guests watch as each gift is unwrapped, appreciated, discussed, passed around, re-boxed, and recorded.  At small showers the gifting bit is no big deal, but at large showers, the gifting process can last for days.

No one and I mean no one likes receiving gifts more than I do (hint hint hint), but being on stage in such a manner was a mildly uncomfortable spot even for me.  Here is a montage of my Oscar-worthy performance of oohs and ahhs at my own baby shower way back when:

shower gift opening

The traditional gift-opening approach is more than a smidge uncomfortable for the gift receiver and can be like watching paint dry for the gift givers.

But guess what?  There is a better way!

host a beter baby shower

Next time you host a shower, try this alternative gift opening method:

The Group Gift Opening Extravaganza

Step 1: Randomly pass out one wrapped gift to each shower guest and the remaining gifts to the Mom-to-Be.

Step 2: Everyone open the gifts at the same time.

Step 3: One by one, go around the room and have each guest give a quick show-and-tell about the gift she opened.  Hold it up, show off the cuteness, and say who it’s from. For example: “A Pack N Play from Patricia.”  “It’s a swaddle from Susie.” “A WubbaNub from Winnie.” Etcetera.

Step 4: Refill your mimosa glass and get on with it.

This is a fun, fast way to make the most yawn-inducing part of baby showers a breeze–and, dare I say, even fun for the whole group.

At my sister’s baby shower which *gasp* included men, they actually had the guys open the gifts and do the show-and-tell.  It was pretty dang entertaining to watch the single guys explain the baby paraphernalia that can make even mothers blush. (like this. and this). Fun times.

A few weeks ago, I was part of the hosting team for a baby shower honoring a pair of pregnant sisters.  Adorable.  But had we done the present process the traditional way, we would have had to have a medical team on-hand to deliver the babies who would have been born before the girls were finished opening.  Fortunately we had the foresight to shake it up and opted for the mass gifting extravaganza.  Try it at your next baby or bridal shower and be a hosting hero.

I will leave you with this easy recipe for a delicious champagne cocktail that can take any baby shower or average Tuesday to the next level.

mr funk champagne cocktail

 

Mr. Funk of New Orleans (for a group)

  • 1 bottle champagne
  • 2 ½   cups Cranberry juice
  • 1/3  cup peach schnapps
  • Raspberries to garnish

Mix it up and serve chilled in a champagne glasses.  Garnish with a raspberry or two.

Mr. Funk of New Orleans (for one)

  • 3 ounces champagne
  • 2 ½ ounces cranberry juice
  • ½ ounce peach schnapps
  • 1 raspberry

Pour the champagne into a stemmed glass, then add the cranberry juice and schnapps. Garnish with a raspberry and serve.

Happy celebrating.

 

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Things that Make it a Little Easier

2016 June 10
by Jennifer

Every parent has a few go-to tricks and tools that they rely on.  Here are a couple of mine.  The following list includes some of the things that make my day-to-day easier, happier, and more enjoyable:

Vodka.

UberEATS.  We all know and love Uber, but until recently, I had no idea of the convenient little wonder that is UberEATS. They offer food delivery from lots of local restaurants and it is just plain awesome.  The timing of this discovery was fortuitous for our foursome given that our microwave has been broken for the past month and its replacement is on backorder.  It’s positively medieval over here. UberEATS just rolled out their family style program that offers larger portions for two or four.  Just type “family style” in the search bar and choose what looks good.  ((When you order, use the promo code EATSFAMJH and it will get YOU 50% off your first order, up to $15. Three cheers for delicious discounted food delivered hot to your door.)) Pro tip: order in secret, plate on your own china, and dispose of the evidence. Take all the credit knowing full well you didn’t have to dirty a single dish.  Check out the deliciousness delivered to our house Monday night served alongside The Bachelorette: 

uberEats delivery

 

Amazon Prime.  For $99 a year you get two-day or even two-hour delivery on all orders, access to an online on-demand media library, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  Diapers, books, and miscellaneous baby paraphernalia magically appear at our door mere hours after they’re ordered.  Good luck convincing me that there aren’t little elves living under my house anticipating my every need. Last year, one of those little elves delivered a Fire TV Stick that makes watching all sorts of streamed content (Netflix, Prime, HBO, etc.) a breeze.  Prime’s streaming picks are also pretty great too.  They have a decent library of movies, a better selection of shows, and some stellar original content for your viewing pleasure, (The show Catastrophe is a solid choices for your evening entertainment)

Common Sense Media.  A list about awesome stuff that helps this mom survive and thrive would be incomplete without some mention of television. This summer, when your children take a break from their sensory boxes, wooden toys, and mom-made Spanish scavenger hunts, you want them to watch something with at least a tad bit of redeeming value.  The good news is that there are so many great shows and movies out there for kids these days—shows with serious educational value and moral lessons.  Bad news? There is also some total garbage.  How is a parent to tell the difference without having to personally vet every episode of every show?  I’ll leave that to CommonSenseMedia.org.  It is my go-to tool to decide what shows and movies are appropriate and edifying for the young audience in our home.  Type in any movie or show in their search bar and you will see a great rundown of what to expect.  The write-ups start with “parents need to know that…” and each program or movie has a recommended age and is rated on criteria including Educational Value, Violence & Scariness, Positive Messages, and Positive Role Models.  You know your child and your standards, and this will help you determine the right watch for your family.  See also: My love song to Daniel Tiger.

common sense media image

Instacart.  Do you want to schlep cranky children across town in the cold, rain, heat or snow to buy in bulk? Me neither.  Enter Instacart.  You simply choose your store (Publix, Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger, etc.), put items in your online cart, and schedule delivery.  Just today I had a Costco order delivered to my door.  Magic. There is a small fee for delivery and some stores markup items a tad in exchange for the service, but there are days when it is most definitely worth it.  And I figure we actually come out ahead financially because the possibility of impulse purchases is virtually eliminated.  The only person who is sad about the invention of Instacart is my 4-year-old, whose first word was literally “sample.”

instacart costco delivery  

The YMCA.  I have to include something on this list that requires leaving the house so here it is. The wondrous haven that is the YMCA has been a godsend to me since I became a mother.  Some days I go for the exercise. Other (most) days I go for the childcare. Every mother needs the occasional break from her children shelovessomuch, and this is much needed me-time disguised as something virtuous.  Whether I am taking a calorie torching class like Turbo Kick or reading mags and watching Bravo while “exercising” on the elliptical, I know my children are in the loving hands of trained YMCA professionals.  The best part is so many of my friends are members that we get to enjoy some quality time together while our kids play with their little friends in the play center. Everyone wins.

I’ll leave you with a pic I snapped at Harper’s YMCA swim lesson a few weeks ago.  We are hoping that her actual swimming ability will soon catch up with her off-the-charts confidence.

harper at the YMCA pool

So what tools and tips and tricks and services and solutions have you been loving lately that I need to know about?  Wonderful websites?  Awesome aps? Favorite products? Other things that can be delivered to my door?  Enlighten me!

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The Other F Word

2016 May 4

I don’t know how it is where you are, but around here “breast is best” is tattooed on our bosoms. And it’s true that breastmilk is amazing for babies.

But you know what else is amazing for babies? Formula.

I said it. The F word.

((Before I continue, I want to remind you that this entire post is watermarked with Do Whatever Works Best For You. Only you can decide that for yourself and your children. And in case no one has told you lately, you are a really really good mom.))

Let’s continue.

The logistics worked out for me to breastfed my firstborn for seven months. I’m not going to get into nipply details (I elaborate a little more here), but it was tough for both of us.  Many women are teary and nostalgic during their last breastfeeding session, but I wanted to sing Jon Secada’s Hallelujah Chorus from the rooftops once my baby was fully weaned.  I felt free…but I also felt like a quitter for not making it to the one-year mark and guilty for not loving it every step of the way.  In retrospect I realize that I was wishing away precious moments of my baby’s infancy ticking away at an arbitrary deadline (I set for myself) for when I would stop breastfeeding. I wanted things to be different the second go round.  I wanted to silence the shoulds swirling around my head and not let them dictate my feeding choices or my feelings surrounding them.

So approaching the birth of my second child, I took the pressure off myself and my boobs and I held the whole experience loosely. I didn’t want that pressure to breastfeed to rob me of any of the joy of parenting. Here was my plan: If breastfeeding was making me and my baby happy and working out well for the other members of our family, then I would stick with it. If it wasn’t, then I would give myself permission to stop.

Things were going okay at first, but it wasn’t long before I started dreading every feeding. I was also dizzying myself with juggling the timing and logistics of nursing the baby while availing myself to lovingly parent the three-year-old. Before or after carpool? At the park? Leave now for the pool, or nurse now and tell big sis she will miss out on swimming with her friends?  How much should I let what is “best” for one child dictate the program for the entire family? The struggle was real.

I knew our nursing days were numbered when I said the real F-word three times before 7am while that sweet baby and I both sobbed topless in her nursery. That day I ditched the all-or-nothing mentality. From then on, my daughter got a mix of breastmilk straight from the source, pumped bottles, and bottles of formula. By month three, my sweet baby was getting all bottles all the time and all of them were filled with formula. She was thriving and so was I.

baby loves botle

It turns out that the alternative to breastfeeding is not poison. And you know what else I discovered? Formula is not made of tiny shards of glass and arsenic! It is actually full of good things that babies need. Feeling the freedom to feed Hallie formula has made her first year downright damn near delightful for our whole family.  I am a happier, more present, more joyful parent to both my children (and a more pleasant wife and human) because I stopped breastfeeding when I did.  And I would argue that giving my girls the gift of a happy and available mother has far greater benefits than any amount of breastmilk.

If breastfeeding is working for you, then stick with it! You are an awesome mom.

BUT if it isn’t working for whatever reason, or just plain isn’t an option, you are still an awesome mom.

Maybe you are going to great lengths to try to make it work when it just isn’t. Maybe you dread feedings because each one is excruciatingly painful and time-consuming. Maybe you aren’t producing enough milk. Maybe you have had to make extreme modifications to your own diet because your child has an allergy. Maybe you have to head back to work.  Maybe you are feeling guilty for quitting breastfeeding when there was more you could have done. Maybe the sacrifices you are making to breastfeed outweigh the supposed benefits of breastmilk. Maybe breastfeeding just wasn’t an option because you are an adoptive parent. Maybe you are the mother of quadruplets and breastfeeding is logistically impossible. Or maybe you just plain don’t like it.

If any of the “maybes” mentioned above sound familiar, give yourself permission to try something else.

Pop Quiz!

Question 1: Can you tell which of these adorable children received the most breastmilk?

two cute babies in the bath

Answer: Me neither. And no IQ test, blood test, juggling contest, spelling bee, regatta or footrace would tell us either.

Question 2: Can you tell which well-adjusted adult in the picture below was breastfed?

formula fed sisters

Answer: Neither. That’s me on the right and my younger sister on the left. My sister and I didn’t get a drop of breastmilk and we both grew into happy healthy adults who enjoy an extremely close relationship with our amazing mother (who still buys us matching clothes). I turned out OK, but my sister turned out great. She is a gorgeous, non-obese, valedictorian, athlete, gourmet cook, mother, and all-around gentle, generous, beautiful soul, M.D.   She is a shining star—and a walking endorsement demonstrating that formula fed babies experience zero long-term side effects.

*       *       *      *      *

The decision to breastfeed is personal to every mother. We all have hopes and expectations going into motherhood about how it will go. We all have histories and convictions that make us more or less determined to make it work. And we all want to give our children the very best. But what if the “best” means different things to each of us?

There are so many choices we make as mothers—and I am here to say that breast or bottle is not the most important one. Not even close.  It is so hard to remember that during the throes infancy. As mothers we have to make a lot of decisions regarding our children, decisions with actual long-term impact, and I know the stakes will only get higher as our children grow. So let’s take the pressure off of ourselves and each other about this one.  Okay?

I’m awesome. You’re awesome. We’re awesome.

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OK to Wake Clock: A Love Story

2016 April 18

I was hesitant to transition our daughter from the confines of her cage–oh, sorry.   I think the politically correct term for that is crib. Crib. Let me start over.

baby cage

I was hesitant to transition our daughter from the confines of her crib to her big girl bedroom.  I feared that my years of controlling bedtimes and wake-times would be over. Would she be roaming the halls drawing on the walls, playing with knives, and lighting matches in the middle of the night while the adults slept upstairs? Or way WAY worse: would she wake us up before 8am?

In efforts to quell those fears, I bought this AMAZING clock and put it to use the day she moved out of the crib and into her new room.  It has worked like a charm.  The light on the clock turns green when it is time for her to wake up—a time I decide and set.  Then, and only then, she calls us enthusiastically, “Mommy, Daddy, Baby Sister, my light turned green!”  And the day begins.   My studies have shown that, like dogs, young children have no real concept of time.  You have to be the one to guide them if you don’t want the bedtime/waketime situation to become a GD free-for-all.

Ok to wake image

 

A few tips for making the green light work:

  • The key to making this clock system work for you and your child is to set the rules and enforce them. Your house, your rules.  At our house, our daughter is not allowed to come out of her room on her own accord after we tuck her in for bedtime.  She knows she has to stay in her room until morning when her light turns green.  If she wakes up in the morning before the green light, then she is free to quietly read, play, and explore the recesses of her imagination in her room.  We euphemistically refer to whatever the heck goes on in there before her light turns green as “Independent Playtime.”
  • Consistency is key. Clearly set and enforced boundaries benefit the whole family.  A few times in the beginning Harper would call us in the morning before her light turned green. Knowing that she was safe and not being attacked by a tiger as she claimed, we waited until the green light to go get her. Then we lovingly reminded her of the rules and we did our best to follow them too.  Do not cave!  Kids Can Be Tricky Little Tyrants. (←working title of my forthcoming parenting book).
  • Both parents must be on the same page about the ultimate authority of The Green Light.  Even the softer, sweeter parent needs to be totally bought into the system. There is one in every parenting duo. I’m not going to name names, but if I were to translate the name of the somewhat softer member of our parenting partnership’s name into Spanish, it would be Juan.
  • Pro tip: I set the clock for one time on the weekdays and usually a different, slightly later time on the weekends. If it’s been a late and wild Saturday night for the adults, we tick that clock back so that we can get some extra sleep in the morning.  Say it with me now, independent playtime.  Big sis is nonethewiser and usually sleeps in a bit on the weekends anyway.
  • We keep the clock on the highest shelf in the room so that our daughter can’t tinker with it and mess with the buttons.  No touching the clock allowed.
  • When our children spend the night with my parents or when we go on vacation, the clock comes along. It is just part of the routine around here.

In conclusion, if our house was on fire and I could save one thing from my daughter’s room, it wouldn’t be the heirloom dresses hand-smocked by her great grandmother, or her woefully neglected baby book, it would be the OK to Wake Clock.  It is a tad more expensive than your typical alarm clock, but after seeing how well it has worked for our family, I would happily pay ten times what we paid for it—the peace of mind and sleep it provides are priceless.

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Wise Words

2016 March 21
by Jennifer

 

I wanted to thank you for your sweet response to my last post sharing about our loss.  Each and every note and email and comment you wrote meant so much. Thank you.

erin gregory flower painting

A wise friend encouraged me to be gentle with myself during this time while I heal emotionally and physically. Be gentle with yourself… what wonderful advice. I loved that and it really has been such a healthy mindset—and not a bad way to live period. Here is how I have been being gentle with myself and what I have been doing lately to help the fog lift:

  • Doing the things that make me happy. Long walks, takeout, crosswords, music, magazines, Netflix, and spending time with friends.
  • Doing things that make my children happy. I have been especially grateful for my little chickadees these past few weeks, and as a result I’ve been more indulgent (and more patient) than usual. Extra ice cream, park time, play dates and movies for everyone.
  • Feeling the feelings, talking, writing and sharing.  I was nervous to press publish on that last post. But it turns out that it was quite cathartic to put it all out there. So many of you have experienced the same sort of loss, and it has been so helpful to share my story and to hear yours.
  • Getting back into the flow. After a few days of weepy wallowing, it was time to rejoin society. Returning to regularly scheduled programming and a routine that includes showers, under-eye concealer, real clothes and leaving the sofa is a good thing.
  • Saying yes. So often in life we say no when someone offers to do something nice for us because we don’t want to be a burden or an imposition. But when I was recovering from the surgery and the physical portion of all of this, I just said yes. Can I pick up dinner on the way home? Yes. Need anything from Costco? Yes. Can Harper come play? Yes. Another brownie? Another episode?  Another glass? Yes. Yes. Yes.
  • Saying no. Sometimes no is the best answer. Spin class? No. Conference call? No. That thing you invited me to that I don’t feel like going to? No.
  • Buying things. Contrary to what a professional therapist may lead you to believe, retail therapy may actually be helping. I bought a couple dresses to spice up my spring wardrobe, among other things. Since there has been a sudden spike in spending, I was not at all surprised when SunTrust called to see if my credit card was stolen. But it turns out that my card number actually was compromised. Some crook Ubered all over Miami, went on a shopping spree at Zara and made a series of charges to an online dating site for single parents. The jig is up, my friend. SunTrust is coming for you.
  • Reading my reads. Currently reading and thoroughly enjoying this book and this book.
  • Watching my watches. A friend who knows me well and loves me well recently gave me her HBO Go login information. She knew just what I needed in my time of need. I have been catching up on Girls, Togetherness, Veep and Olive Kitteridge.
  • Going to church. We took the family to church the Sunday after everything. We’ve been trying to lean in and worship even though it aches a bit. It was good to be surrounded by friends and a community of people who are all trying to believe. It was like every song we sang that day was chosen especially for us and our situation. This song and this song really got me. I ugly cried pretty much the entire service. It was humbling but quite healing.
  • Not going to church. We made the obvious choice not to go to church on daylight savings Sunday. That day, being gentle with myself meant sleeping late and not rushing out the door. Instead we had a leisurely family breakfast and went for a stroll together on a nearby trail. The sun was out and my heart felt full of joy and peace and gratitude for the first time in recent days.

The fog is indeed lifting. I knew it would. There are still sad moments but the sting is gone. Time and distance from all of this is healing.  And I think I will continue to put things through the being gentle with myself filter. You should try it.

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Monday Mourning

2016 March 7
by Jennifer

 

“There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”

The ultrasound technician left the room and went to get my doctor. I lay there alone in the dimly lit room and felt my heart sink through the floor. The tears came and wouldn’t stop.

*             *             *

I found that I was pregnant the day after Christmas. I was shocked when I saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test. I shared the news John by hiding the positive test for him to find among the ornaments as we undecorated our Christmas tree. He was even more surprised than I was.  Getting pregnant with Hallie and Harper took years and tears and a whole lot of trying. Now we were one of those “whoops, we’re pregnant” couples that I secretly envied.   We definitely weren’t trying for a third child just yet, but once the shock wore off, the joyful anticipation set in.

When I went in for the first ultrasound at six weeks all was well. Flickering heartbeat, due date set for September 7th. We began to dream about having three children, and envisioned what it would be like with the last two being so close in age. Whoa. Sixteen months apart. Crazy, sure, but also ripe with joyful and exhausting chaos.

I had a second ultrasound at around ten weeks and all was well. Growing baby, measuring on time, strong heartbeat. We were excited and shared the news that we were expecting #3 with friends and family. Together we were not-so-secretly hoping for a little boy to complete our family of five.

Then another ultrasound at thirteen weeks.

Silence.

The days that followed have been the longest of my life. The news, the wondering, the waiting, the painful procedure, the emptiness. The moments in between  passed painfully slowly. And the nights were the worst. Darkness and sadness covered me, covered us. I tossed and turned, unable to get the image I saw in the ultrasound out of my mind. My precious, silent and still baby boy, a treasured life lost.

Known-III-•-9x12

My doctor said that, depending on who is counting, the odds of having a miscarriage are 1 in 3 or 1 in 5. As you and I sit here and do the math among ourselves and our friends, we know that statistic is tragically true. That is why I share something so private so publicly. Too many of us are members of this sad sorority. It is heartbreaking that something so painful is so common.

It doesn’t matter how far along you are when things go silent–three weeks, thirteen weeks, thirty-three weeks. The moment a woman sees that positive sign on the pregnancy test, we are already connected and in love with the child growing inside us.  Our heads and hearts are already a million miles down the road.  When things go wrong we grieve what could have been and mourn the loss of the family we imagined.

david arms painting

John has been amazing through this, comforting me while he walks through his own grief.  And our friends have been incredible—many of them have experienced this kind of loss, and some have tragically been through far, far worse.  Their unshakable faith and their encouraging words have been our comfort.  Over the past few days, friends and family have called and written, sent food and flowers, and taken our oldest out for adventures. We have been covered with love and prayer. We felt those prayers and believe in their power. God is still good.

And what if, what if this was God’s best for us? What if this was His best for our sweet son? I have to believe that He has the aerial view while we sit down here, trying to make sense of the blur with our noses smashed against the screen.

I am grieving but I am also grateful.  I have two precious girls. Two!  My healthy, happy, hilarious children are the greatest gift I have ever been given.  I have been squeezing them extra tight.  I know that I am beyond blessed.

But still, my heart hurts.

I know that time and distance from all of this will be healing.  So I sit here waiting for the fog to lift. I know it will.

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Mommy, I have a question

2016 February 29
by Jennifer

I love seeing my three-year-old daughter’s little wheels turn as she tries to figure out the world around her. Much of that churning comes in the form of a barrage of questions, aimed at me, over the course of the day. At home, in the car, wherever we are–I am peppered with questions asked by a curious girl with the sweetest little raspy voice.

magna master

Just to mark this moment in time, I wrote down a portion of the questions I had to answer yesterday. Between our house and Target.

  • Can cats swim?
  • Can dogs swim?
  • When can we get a cat?
  • Why can’t we have a cat?
  • Does everyone in our neighborhood like rainbows?
  • Can I have six brothers and six sisters?
  • Can I watch something before my nap?
  • Was I born in a stable?
  • Who is my fairy godmother?
  • Can I have a snack?
  • So what do you think daddy is doing right now?  How about right now?
  • What do seals eat?
  • Who eats penguins?
  • You don’t know much about polar bears, do you mom?
  • What is heaven like?
  • Do I have to take a bath today? And tomorrow?
  • Where is Cinderella’s real mommy?
  • What happened to Anna and Elsa’s mommy?
  • Today would be a perfect day for a picnic at the beach, right mommy?
  • Should we use some tape to make Hallie’s socks stay on her feet?
  • What are birds afraid of?
  • Does Jesus live in Winnie the Pooh’s heart?
  • Why did you honk?
  • Where is that car going?
  • Well do you have a guess?
  • Why are we going this way?
  • The Big Bad Wolf wont be able to blow down that brick house, will he mom?
  • Macaroni is healthy for you, right mommy?
  • What are we going to do after my nap?
  • Is tomorrow the weekend?
  • So what’s our plan?
  • When will I be 4?
  • Mommy, am I pretty special? (yes. definitely yes)

Know that this is just a tiny fraction of the questions I am asked daily. Sprinkle in a few dozen “what does that sign say,” “how do you spells,” “where is my,” why can’t I”…as well as some clearly erroneous statements followed by “right mommy?” and you get a more accurate picture of the sheer quantity.

…And if I answer, “I don’t know”  she ALWAYS follows up with, “Well, do you have a guess?”

Having little babies is obviously physically exhausting. The wrangling, carrying, dressing, schlepping and cajoling to get little ones from point A to point B is quite draining. But by three, the physical demands on the mother have been replaced with verbal demands. By the end of the day I am verbally exhausted–though completely and thoroughly and utterly entertained.

 

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The Question Game

2016 January 29
by Jennifer

Recently, My Man had a milestone birthday—the kind of birthday that called for mild consoling, a new level of intimacy with his primary care physician, celebration and chocolate cake. We hosted a casual dinner with some close friends to mark the big event. It was a wonderful night full of good food, good friends, and good conversation.  Our friends are all decent excellent conversationalists, but sometimes at a big table you end up only talking to the person seated beside you.  Ever advocates for the unified larger group conversation, we had our guests play The Question Game.  It is not a game really, but a surefire way to facilitate quality convo at dinner parties. This is great to do with new friends and old friends and strangers and family members and strange family members.

the question game image

Here is how it went down:  Before the party, I came up with a list of questions and wrote each one on a sealed post-it. I put all the post-its in a vase and placed the vase (and a few bottles of wine) at the center of the table. Each person took a turn picking a question to answer. There was depth, there was laughter, and I learned something new about even my oldest friends.

I have written my questions out below. You can use them as a jumping-off point to draft your own, or simply print these, cut them into strips, and pull them out at your next dinner party. Everyone can answer the same question or each person can answer their own. You are a grownup and you can make your own rules.

THE QUESTION GAME

  • What are you freakishly good at? What are you embarrassingly bad at?
  • What are two things you are looking forward to this year?
  • If you had an extra $200 a week to spend on yourself, what would you do with it?
  • What was the best book you read last year? What are you reading now?
  • Who is someone in your life that you wish you could spend more time with?
  • What was your proudest moment from the past year?
  • Name three people (dead or alive) that you would like to have dinner with and why.
  • Name something you would like to do, but are scared to try.
  • What is the best gift you’ve ever given? What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • What is your biggest fear? What was your biggest fear as a child, teenager, young adult?
  • If all of your friends and family members were asked to describe you, who would provide the most accurate description (excluding your spouse)?  What would they say that not many people know?
  • Describe your perfect day.
  • What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? Your 25-year-old self?
  • What was the worst date you’ve ever been on? Best date?
  • Is there something in your life you hope is different this time next year?
  • Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that has changed you or your outlook? Has a book or movie ever made you change a behavior?
  • What is one trait of yours you hope your children inherit? What is one trait of yours you hope they don’t inherit?
  • Have you ever totally changed your mind about something?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • Have you ever done something you said or thought you’d never do?

the question game

Go fourth and get talking.

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What the Children are Getting for Christmas (shhhhh)

2015 December 18
by Jennifer

It’s Christmastime in America.  That means it’s time to gather around family and friends, share traditions new and old, retell the incredible story of the Christ Child born in a lowly manger, count our many blessings…

AND BUY STUUUUFF!!!

I am caught somewhere between wanting to de-emphasize the materialistic overtones of the holiday—-and wanting to absolutely blow my little one’s mind on Christmas morning.  After all, she has been an angel this year.

my angel

‘Tis the season for giving, and I try to be thoughtful in selecting the gifts I give my children and the other children in my life.  I want to get toys that will actually be played with and hopefully enjoyed for years to come. Here is a snapshot of what the kids in my life are getting for Christmas.  These are the things we are giving our daughters, nieces, nephews, and godchildren, and the things we have requested when Santa and generous grandparents have asked.

IMG_0372

((And please let me spare you from losing precious time to the AmazonReviewVortex.  I did the research so you don’t have to. These gifts all get stellar ratings and reviews from the dear souls who actually take the time to write them.))

Games. I love games and my oldest is juuust getting to the age to start playing. Gifting games to families with multiple kids is great because by nature, they have to be shared to be enjoyed. Give a game and boom! You have facilitated family fun. I have done some serious research, and these are some of the most highly recommended per age group.  Thinkfun Roll & Play Game  (age 2+) | The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game (age 3-7) |  Zingo (age 4-8)  |  Camelot Jr (age 4-9)  |  Qwirkle (age 5+)

games

Easel and Art Supplies. We bought an easel from Ikea, but if you or your marriage can’t withstand a trip to Ikea during the holidays, I hear great things about this Melissa & Doug easel. We purchased some paints and other supplies to go with it.  (Kid’s scissors will also be in the stocking because Harper got a P on her 3’s report card in the scissor department.  P=needs practice. No more 90210 until she gets that grade up.)

melissa and doug easel and art supplies

Magna-tiles. Yes. They are crazy expensive but any family who has them will tell you they are worth the investment. Looking to save a quick buck, I offered to buy used magna-tiles from my sister-in-law but she said her older kids still play with them.  I hear the similar (and slightly more affordable) Magformers are and Stick N Stack Shape Mags are also great.

magnatiles

Lego Chain Reactions Kit. This is what I am giving the little LEGO lovers in my life.  It helps turns ordinary LEGOS into a rube goldberg project (AKA mousetrap). According to the manufactures: “LEGO Chain Reactions is packed full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for 10 LEGO machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop. Each machine alone is awesome, but put them together and you get incredible chain reactions.” Sold.

lego chainreactions

Magnetic Pattern Board. Because this seems like the sort of toy future Harvard alumnae would play with. This one and this one get good reviews.

magnetic pattern board

Princess First Aid Kit. This is what Harper asked Santa for when she sat in his lap. Lucky for us him it costs $8 at our local drugstore. Basically it is a box of princess Band-Aids and Neosporin. A perfect gift for our household hypochondriac.

princess first aid kit

Story Cards. Harper is really into being told made-up stories right now. Awesome! But that is a lot of pressure on the adults in our family to be endlessly imaginative at a moments notice. These cute and inexpensive cards will help her start telling stories of her own and help us as we are forced to be creative in the wee hours of the morning.

eeboo-tell-me-a-story-creative-story-cards-

Ariel  Doll Water Toy Thing. Harper saw a commercial for this water-loving doll and can’t stop talking about it. I am usually not a fan of the one-note plastic toys, but it’s Christmas and I’m pretty sure Harper will freak the H out when she unwraps this on the big day.  (And three cheers for long baths!)

ariel water doll

PJs.  Because new pajamas are a time-honored Christmas tradition. Hannah Anderson PJs on little people make my heart sing and these Christmas pjs are precious too.  I am also loving these, and these too. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

striped pajamas

 

Oh.  There was one more thing.

A Magnifying Glass.  Let me transcribe a recent exchange I had with the 3.5-year-old.

Me: “Harper, what do you want for Christmas?”

Harper: “A magnifying glass.”

Me: “Oh? What are you going to do with a magnifying glass?”

Harper: “Look for clues.”

Me: “Like what?”

Harper: “Clues like footprints.”

Mimi, Nana, Santa, SOMEONE get this child a magnifying glass.

She is going to find El Chapo and we’re all going to be rich.

 

It is going to be a very Merry Christmas.

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Toys that Get Played With

2015 December 14
by Jennifer

toys that get played with

Before having children, we all have grand ideas for them as far as playtime is concerned. “They will play outside and use their imaginations,” you say. “They will make up their own games and we will have no need for TV. The playroom will be filled with books and perhaps one wooden toy per child.”

Hilarious.  I blinked and ended up with one of these smack dab in the middle of our living room.

In my experience you can only defend your home from the toy invasion for so long. Little by little the plastic (and the princesses) creep in. Some of it is indeed crap, but some of it is solid gold—things that can entertain your children for hours.

Here are some of our favorite toys. These are the toys that actually get played with at our house. These are the toys that our oldest child and her playmates have loved and that won’t be outgrown anytime soon.

best toys for preschoolers

1.  Blocks and building toys. These are what our Montessori friends call manipulatives. Building toys are great for creative open-ended play for kids of all ages. We love these, these, and these.

2.   A to Z magnatab. Great for letter recognition and learning to write.

3.  Magic moves wand. This is exactly the kind of toy that you think you would never buy for your child. It’s plastic, lights up and makes noise. But! This is awesome and has provided our daughter hours of entertainment. She plays with it alone and it’s fun to pull out when she has friends over. It is like a Simon Says game with music and instructions–a big hit with boys and girls of different ages. Gold I tell you.

4.  Tunnel. Who knew that this would be such a hit?! We have one from Ikea but this one is similar. It scrunches up for easy compact storage.

5.  Art supplies. Especially washable ones.

6.  Magnadoodle. Awesome to play with at home and we always pack ours for road trips.

7.  Puzzles. Big floor puzzles are great for young puzzlers.  Here is a good one for younger kids and here is a good one for older kids.

8.  Doctor Kit and Dress-up Costume Aim high, little one.

9.  Wooden School Bus Set.  Wooden toys for the win.  This set is precious.

So there you have it.  Most of these toys foster creativity, are great for independent and collaborative play. I hope they bring your little ones hours of (unsupervised) fun.

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Our Favorite Children’s Books

2015 December 8

our favorite childrens books

Reading to my little ones is one of my favorite things. We have a great collection of books at home and we make a point of regularly going to the library to get a big stack to keep things fresh for the reader and the read to. Over the years I have read hundreds of children’s books, and as the reader, I definitely have developed an opinion on the subject.

To me children’s books fall into three categories:

  • Really. How did this get published? I’m not going to name names, it just wouldn’t be nice.  And I wouldn’t want the author of  Gulp! or Crocs! to beat me up in a back alley. These books make you want to quit whatever it is you are doing and start writing children’s books because anyone could do it better.
  • Um, okay. I guess. Average blahness is by far the most plentiful category of children’s lit. So many books just make you shrug your shoulders and say meh. Even some books hailed as “classics” make you go hummm.  The message may be odd or off, morally questionable, too wordy or just plain boring.  These are the books I am most likely to hide in a drawer or donate. (Our copy of Titanicat may be available at a Goodwill near you).
  • Treasures. Let’s read that again. Real gems with either great stories, classic characters, valuable lessons, beautiful illustrations, or all of the above.

The list below are treasures and represent some of our very favorites.  These books are proud members of our permanent collection that the children and adults in our family love to read and re-read.

most loved childrens books

Now the breakdown  (book titles are amazon links):

 

best childrens books 1

 If You Give a Mouse A Cookie  (and others from the series)

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Fix-It Duck  (and others from the series)

Madeline

You are Special

best childrens books 2

I Had a Favorite Dress

The High Street

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Smile!

Amelia Bedelia

best childrens books 3

Miss Nelson is Missing

Fancy Nancy (and others from the series)

What Time is it, Mr. Crocodile

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Llama Llama Red Pajama (and others from the series)

best childrens books 4

Press Here

Big Words for Little People

The Gruffalo

Each Peach Pear Plum

Angelina Ballerina (and others from the series)

What are your favorites? We definitely want to add some new books to our collection so I am taking suggestions. I know I appreciate it when my children are gifted books just as much as they do.

 

P.S. Need a break from reading to your children? LeVar Burton is fully qualified to take over.  Reading Rainbow is now available for streaming on Netflix.

***

OH AND! My Man was proofreading this post (blame all grammatical errors on him heretofore) and we were revisiting the topic of favorite and least favorite children’s books.  Had to add a few more before pressing publish!

best childrens books 5

Ox-Cart Man

Give Me Grace

Falling for Rapunzel

Go, Dog. Go!

Do you see a Mouse?

 

 

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The Mighty Mighty Fireballs

2015 November 30
by Jennifer

This fall we signed our 3-year-old daughter up for soccer, her first organized team sport. Some friends put together Team Fireballs to play in the 3s and 4s co-ed league, and we all thought it was a grand idea to have our kids play together. “This is going to be SO MUCH FUN,” we assured our children. “They are going to LOVE this,” we told each other.

IMG_5157

Two dads dutifully volunteered to coach the team, a brave undertaking considering many of its members had never touched a soccer ball before–if they had, it was with their hands which are not allowed in the game of soccer.  That was Lesson 1, and we were starting from the very beginning.

coaches

I had big expectations for the Fireballs, but they were certainly tempered when I showed up to the field just before the start of the first game. The coach’s daughter had already completely removed her uniform; two girls were fighting over a hair bow; three children refused to set foot on the field, and only a handful actually made it to kickoff.  My Fireball made a few kicks but burst into tears every time the other team got the ball. Another Fireball, whose father played collegiate soccer, cried the entire game.  The other team scored their first of nine goals moments after the whistle blew.  Our team just looked emotionally distraught, disinterested, traumatized, or just plain confused by the whole soccer experience.

some confusion on the field

In their defense, the Fireballs had three things working against them this season:

  1. Our teammates were mostly 3-year-olds and the other teams were mostly 4-year-olds about to turn 5. BIG difference. Our opponents were clearly more physically dominate and emotionally stable. opposing giants
  2. Some games were played on a big field right by one of the very best playgrounds in town. The lure of the slide was a constant distraction to our team and certainly didn’t set us up for success. It was like having AA in a bar or Weight Watchers by a Waffle House. Each week we lost a handful of key players who simply weren’t strong enough to resist the temptation. stray fireballs stray ball
  3. Games took place at 2:30pm on Sunday afternoons. Smack-dab in the middle of nap time for members of our young crew. Clear disadvantage.

napping

Over the course of each game, my Fireball displayed the entire spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes she was all in, happily chasing the ball and defending the goal (our team was mostly on defense).

playing

Other times she was crying on the sidelines, moping in the middle of the field, or bolting towards the playground.

emotions on the field

In a single game, we had to utilize every tool in our parenting toolbox: We bribed*, threatened, praised, pep-talked, punished, manhandled, encouraged, and incentivized in an effort to get her to just keep it together out there. I had no idea that a simple Sunday soccer would require so much parenting. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the time there were at least as many parents on the field as players, each of us whispering some sort of something to our children.

pep talks

The first few games were just emotional games of dress-up for the Fireballs. Lots of tears were shed and not a single goal was scored. But boy did they look cute in those uniforms.

IMG_0811

Where our team consistently shined was during the pregame cheer and during post-game snacks.

IMG_0122(1)

The next couple games got rained out, and I think all the parents were relieved. Fortunately the rain-outs set the reset button for our team and from there the season seemed to take a turn.

IMG_0119

The Fireballs scored one goal during one game this season, but unfortunately we were still six goals short to pull-off the win that day. But BUT the final game was our very best. Most Fireballs played, many made contact with the ball, no one cried, and no goals were scored…by either team!

harper in the goal

We tied that last game zero-zero , but to us, that was a HUGE victory. I’m pretty sure the kids even had a little fun out there too.

team cheer

And as is custom with this generation, every single “player” got a trophy at the end of the season.  And a cupcake.*

trophys

The Fireballs will be back next year–and next year we will be the giant, emotionally stable 4-year-olds.  Watch out.

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Grateful

2015 November 29
by Jennifer

I had to pop in to let you know that we did it. We hosted our first family Thanksgiving and I think everyone left feeling full of gravy and gratitude.

Here is a quick rundown, by the numbers:

  • 2 turkeys, one smoked one roasted
  • 8 side dishes

the spread

  • 6 miles walked in circles around my own kitchen
  • 3 delicious desserts

desserts

  • 12 sticks of butter
  • 2 kinds of potatoes
  • 5 children, 3 with teeth eating at the kids table

kids table

  • 1(minor) head injury to one child (mine)
  • 2 bottles of bubbly and way more than 2 bottles of wine
  • 9 adults sitting around the dining room table

thanksgiving table

  • 18,263 hours spent doing dishes
  • Amillion things to be thankful for

As the last guest walked out the door, I closed it, exhaled…and started singing this.

 

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Recent Reads and Watches

2015 November 23

It’s officially snuggle season.  This time of year, there is nothing I love more than putting on my loungeabouts and my new slippers, turning on (I mean building) the fire, and cuddling up with some quality entertainment. Here are a few of my recent reads and watches that I think you’ll enjoy as you hibernate for the long winter ahead.

READ:

recent reads

  • Friday Night Lights. Did you know that our beloved TV show was based on a movie and that movie was based on a book and that book is a true story? Me neither. Author H.G. Bissinger spent a year profiling the town of Odessa, Texas and their heroic high school football team, The Permian Panthers (AKA Dillon Panthers).   The book won the Pulitzer the year it was published and it was a truly fascinating read. They just published a 25th anniversary edition that checks in on the Panther players and tells you what has come of them since the book came out.
  • For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a Word of Impossible Standards. Jen manages to be honest, vulnerable, and funny, while also hitting on deep spiritual truths and insights. Her theology is practical and her expression of faith is accessible and attractive. Each chapter stands alone making it easy to read in small snatches. I was laughing, learning and nodding in agreement saying “amen sister” along the way.
  • Why Not Me.  I love Mindy Kaling. She is one of the (many) celebrities that I feel like I would be friends with in real life. It was such a quick and delightful read and now I love her even more.

 

WATCH:

recent watches

  • 112 Weddings. Years after filming their weddings, a wedding videographer checks in on couples to see how it went since they said I do. In the words of the filmmaker, “this is a film about the mystery of marriage. What we enter marriage thinking it will be and what it turns out to be.”
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. This is a documentary about the history and mystery of Scientology. All I can say is that this sh*t is BANANAS. Such a fascinating watch and I’m still thinking about it. (Side note: Shortly after watching Going Clear I stumbled upon the doc There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Dianne . Whoa.  If you happen to catch them both, there are some striking similarities between the two seemingly unrelated films that we need to discuss.)
  • Tig. I first learned of comedian Tig Notoro when she was featured on This American Life. I loved her unique style of comedy and her candor and humor when confronted with cancer among other major life events. This a film about her life and comedy the year after her cancer diagnosis. It is so very watchable in the very best way.

Now it’s your turn. What’s worth reading and watching these days? Specifically, what should My Man and I watch together next? Ideally something that can be streamed on-demand on Netflix or Prime because who has the time or patience for anything else.  To give you an idea of our shared tastes, the past few series we watched together were Bloodline, Broadchurch, Narcos and The Killing. As I type those out, I’m noticing that we tend to mutually gravitate towards murderous serial dramas.  Whatcha got for us to watch next? Bonus points for British accents.  Go!

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New Classic Thanksgiving Desserts

2015 November 16
by Jennifer

Buying a house, refinancing a mortgage, and having children were all small indications that I may be en route to becoming a real grownup.  But nothing has made me feel like more of an adult than hosting this year’s Thanksgiving festivities.

In a few short days, both sides of the family will be coming over to our house for turkey and all the fixings.  HELLOooo DRAMA!  Kidding. The in-laws get along swimmingly.  The only drama will be trying to pull off the highest-stakes meal of the year with a single oven and a smile.

retro thanksgiving

If there was ever a time to hire a caterer polish up Mema’s silver and unbox the fine china, this would be it.  Honestly I can’t quite remember what my china looks like since I added it to my wedding registry eight years ago, but I’m crossing my fingers that I had the good sense to register for something tasteful and timeless.

There’s a lot to do between now and then, and according to Pinterest I’m already way behind in making preparations for Thanksgiving 2018. Though I haven’t quite nailed down the entire menu, I have made two key decisions:

  1. I’ve outsourced the preparation of the turkey. (I’m extra thankful for you this year, Dad.)
  2. I’ve planned out which desserts to bake and serve on the big day…

Now this may be a tad scandalous for my first Thanksgiving, but I can tell you what won’t be on our Thanksgiving table: Pumpkin Pie. In its place, I’m serving THE BEST PUMPKIN DESSERT EVER, Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes. I posted this recipe years ago but it bears re-posting because it is so dang delicious. I brought a batch to a Friendsgiving celebration a few weeks ago and have received multiple requests for the recipe since. Be a holiday hero and make these for you and yours:

best pumpkin dessert

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1  box yellow cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar – equivalent to 3 3/4 cups (reserve 3 Tbsp for dusting)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine the bag of cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13x 9-inch baking pan.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes.  Check on them after about 35 or 40 minutes so you make sure not to overbake them. The center should be set but a little gooey.   Let the pan cool completely before you cut the squares. You could even pop the cooled pan in the fridge before cutting them to get extra clean cuts.  Dust them with powdered sugar to make them extra pretty before serving them. Enjoy and prepare to be praised.

gooey butter cakes

The other desserts that I’m making are the Fresh Apple Cake from my mom’s vintage copy of the Tea-Time at the Masters Cookbook and a Chocolate Chess Pie. It tastes like the best brownie ever but in pie form, and like most desserts, it is best served warm with ice cream.  That recipe hails from an old issue of Southern Living Magazine:

chocolate-pecan-chess-pie-m

Chocolate Chess Pie with Pecans

Ingredients

  • 1 packaged uncooked refrigerated pie crust (like this)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 (1-oz.) unsweetened chocolate baking squares
  • 1 (5-oz.) can evaporated milk (2/3 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves and pieces
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Roll pie crust into a 13-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate; fold edges under, and crimp.
  2. Microwave butter and chocolate squares in a large microwave-safe bowl at MEDIUM (50% power) 1 1/2 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in evaporated milk, eggs, and 1 tsp. vanilla.
  3. Stir together granulated sugar, cocoa, flour, and salt. Add sugar mixture to chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared crust.
  4. Bake pie at 350° for 40 minutes. Stir together pecans, next 2 ingredients, and remaining 1 tsp. vanilla; sprinkle over pie. Bake 10 more minutes or until set. Remove from oven to a wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour). *Extra delicious served with ice cream.

Chocolate-Pecan-Chess-Pie

I figure as long as there is good wine, good music and good desserts, everything that happens in between will be forgotten or forgiven.

Gobble gobble.

 

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Second time’s a charm

2015 September 29
by Jennifer

Having my first child three years ago turned my world upside down. Suddenly I was responsible for this crying, screaming, not sleeping barnacle baby feeling like I must be crazy because strangers in the grocery store were telling me to love every minute. Of course I loved many of the minutes, but definitely not every single one. For me, those first few weeks and months were full of joy but not much fun. The sleepless nights and topless days made me miss our DINC pre-child life (what we lovingly call our “single” life) which at that point was not such a distant memory. I fantasized about the old days when we woke up in the 10s on a Saturday filled with possibility, discussing things like whether we should play tennis before or after brunch. I missed the luxury of untethered spontaneity and mourned the end of the getting to do what I want to do when I want to do it era. I craved having time alone or time just with my husband—something that was once in such steady supply that I hardly noticed it was there.

Thankfully it wasn’t long before I got my bearings and began to embrace and enjoy my new normal. I fell deeply in love with that baby and delighted in watching her discover her world. I lost track of time just staring at her and marveling at her squishy-ness and the tiny little dimple on the top of her cheek. Then I blinked and that baby grew into a hilarious adorable little person who makes me laugh every day and whose round little face I just want to squeeze because it is my absolute favorite face in the world.

sixteen - Copy

We were in such a great groove with only child Harper before Hallie was born and as much as we wanted #2, I worried that the birth of our second child would turn everything upside down again. This time strangers in the grocery store were warning me that two is waaaay more than twice the work and telling me to buckle up because going from one to two is when your life really changes. I feared I would experience the same whiplash that happened when I first became a parent and I braced myself for the impact…

photo(37)

But you know what? Going from one to two has been really really good. Actually, it has been great. For starters, knowing what to do with a baby is a skill I already have so I got to skip most of the asinine Googling that went down round one. This time I am not constantly wondering if I am doing it right and giving myself heaps of grace when it comes to things like breastfeeding which certainly threw me for a loop as a brand new mother. Because this time I know a) what I’m doing(ish), and b) how fast it goes, I have been enjoying each day with the baby for what it is and soaking up these sweet days while my littlest is so so little.

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And my world hasn’t been turned upside down because that already happened three years ago. We are firmly planted in the world of naps, parks, playdates, diapers, Daniel Tiger, timeouts, chicken nuggets, car seats and sippy cups. And I am surprised and delighted by how much I love it here. So adding another little one to the mix isn’t as big of a lifestyle upheaval. Obviously going from one to two hasn’t made my life easier or given me more free time or improved the quality of my sleep or deepened the grooves between my abs, but it has been pretty dang awesome. Our family life is richer and I am already getting small glimpses of what it will be like for those sweet sisters to have a relationship. The more the merrier. Seriously.

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That being said…

The other night My Man was putting the finishing touches on Harper’s (12 step) bedtime routine and I was in the nursery bundling Hallie up and putting her down for bed. Lights off, sound machines on, doors closed. At the same time we walked out of their respective rooms, met in the hall, and high-fived as we walked downstairs together to begin the adults-only portion of the evening. Did you catch that? Instinctively we high-fived.

Bedtime with two children fees like crossing a finish line. No matter what we are doing, those divine hours between their bedtime and ours feel precious and sacred. Kicking our feet up and relaxing on parallel sofas is a well-earned luxurious indulgence. I treasure that unstructured time in the evening with just My Man when no one needs me. Ahhhh, to be single.

But sure enough I can’t turn it off.  Each night before I go to sleep I go peek in on my sweet sleeping children. I re-tuck Harper who has managed to fall asleep coverless and apparently in the middle of a game of Twister, her appendages strewn awkwardly between the wall, the bed, and the floor. I kiss her sweet dimple and simply stare at her.  Next I go in baby Hallie’s room, pick her up out of her crib and let her sleep in my arms for a few minutes before putting her back down.   I breathe in her smell and say a silent prayer of gratitude that she is mine.  Then I get into my own bed, my heart so unbelievably full it could burst.

Two is definitely better than one.

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The Sitz Bath Diaries

2015 July 10
by Jennifer

We have officially entered month two of life with a newborn, so allow me a moment to reflect on month one.  Let’s go back to the very beginning…

There was joy! There was love! But humm, how should I put this? …the first week home from the hospital was downright rough.

The miracle of childbirth did a number on my downbelow, so each trip to the ladies’ room took an entire CVS aisle of paraphernalia. My boobs grew two cup sizes overnight, which is not as sexy as it sounds since it comes with an immense amount of pain and a little leakage. And the night sweats. Why does nobody talk about the night sweats?

To make things exciting, the baby had her AMs and PMs completely confused so each day felt absolutely endless. She would sleep all day and be wired, wide awake and absolutely starving all night, so there was not much sleeping for me. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Ha! Arguably worse than not sleeping at all is finally falling asleep once the baby is quiet, only to be woken mere minutes later by a screaming newborn. Over and over again.

And holy hormones. Man did they play some tricks on me and my mental stability. One minute I would be fine and the next I was a puddle of tears, dreading what would surely be an entire lifetime of sleepless nights and endless feedings. I remember walking by the dishwasher in a sleep-deprived hormonal stupor, wondering if I would ever EVER have enough time or energy or desire to empty it. True story.

That was week one. But week two…

Week two was better. Physically I was on the mend, so my “free time” wasn’t spent on the sitz bath. The baby sorted out her days and nights so everyone was sleeping more, and praisethelord and thankyoujesus the wacky hormones night sweated their way out of my system. The question “how are you doing?” no longer brought me to tears. Victory!

Week three was actually pretty great. We went out for dinner and saw friends and went to the pool and the park and out on a date. On multiple occasions I even managed to get everyone fed, clothed, cleaned and out the door and to our destination practically on time. And there were even days when both girls took long naps at the same time. Mission accomplished, right?

By week four I saw glimpses of something resembling solid sleep for me and something resembling a smile from Hallie.  Be still my heart. I even felt up for dipping my toe back into the working world, mostly just to prove to myself that I could do it. So what if I had to mute my conference line to ssh and soothe a SCREAMING baby.  The others on the call were nonethewiser. I totally got this thing. (Mostly)

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Oh…am I making it look too easy breezy? You are catching me on a good day after a full night of sleep. So there’s that. Not to mention the illusion of the internet–hiding the cast of characters, conveniences and comforts that have helped me get to this point:

caffeine, my parents who live 10 minutes away, under-eye concealer, my awesome neighbor friends who make me laugh while our children entertain each other,  my hands-free breast pump bra, the MealTrain deliveries that make me so excited about not cooking dinner every night,  Harper’s bevy of summer camps that keep her out and about and entertained from 9am-1pm most days, occasional supplementation with Earth’s Best formula, Netflix streaming service, and especially My Man who is ALL IN.

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I feel like we are over the hump and doing more than just making it through the day. Things around here are actually pretty dang good. Tiring, but good. Maybe it is because this go round I know that this stage doesn’t last long– a perspective that helps me grin and bear it when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted, but also gives me the desire to appreciate and soak up this sweet newborness that will be gone so so fast.

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The Story of Her Birth

2015 May 31
by Jennifer

This is my birth story. It will not include the words dilated, cervix, placenta, perineum, mucus plug, sutures, or amniotic sac. You’re welcome. There are plenty of those on the world wide web, but I wanted to document the less graphic, family-friendly version for posterity. If you want more details, I’m happy to send you a copy of the video.*

*Aren’t I funny on four hours of sleep?

Off we go…

My contractions started on Saturday night, while attempting to do some semblance of dancing at a wedding. At 40 weeks and 4 days pregnant, I was beyond ready to get the show on the road so I was delighted when they began. Weeks before, I had a few little moments where I asked myself, “was that a contraction?” I was reminded that night the answer was no. You KNOW when you are having a contraction, if you have to ask it doesn’t count. I spent the night tossing and turning in between painful contractions, excited and anxious knowing this could be it. I finally gave into not sleeping and got out of bed at 4am. I went downstairs and laid on the sofa, timing contractions and excavating treasures on the DVR as the sun came up and the rest of my family slept upstairs.

It is a crazy thing to be at the precipice of such a huge life change, to know and hope and pray that what you have waited for and wanted for so long is soooo close to happening you can taste it…but to not yet know the outcome, if all will be well and the baby will be healthy. My anxiety and excitement increased the closer I got to my due date, but that morning I felt a sense of peace.

I took those hours before the house woke up to write a letter to each of my daughters. I wrote one to Harper telling her all sorts of things about what I loved about her, prayed for her and hoped for her and what she meant to me. I also wrote one to baby #2– a letter telling her about how badly we wanted her and telling her how loved she already is. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, and that Mother’s Day morning, the morning after Harper’s third birthday and the day my youngest daughter would be born seemed like the right time.

I was happy to hear Harper call me in the morning when her light turned green, knowing it might be her last day of being my only one. I went into her room and told her today was the day she would become a big sister. She was SO excited, and bounced in her bed saying “today? Really? Today!?”

Harper ran down the hall and into our bedroom to wake up her daddy to tell him the news. When I told him my contractions continued all night, he slightly panicked and said we should go to the hospital.  I said we should go out for breakfast. Priorities.

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The three of us carb loaded for the day ahead, using a contraction ap between courses to see if my contractions were getting closer. They were. Yowza! Pancakes helped with the pain.

After breakfast we hurried home to pack our bags. My parents came to pick up Harper and take her back to their house and My Man and I headed to the hospital.

Once we were at the hospital, we settled in and it was confirmed that yes, I was in actual labor. This I knew, but the doctor had to check and see for herself.  The pain was getting intense.

((As I lay there trying to get a camel to go through the eye of the needle, My Man complained of a recent golf injury and buzzed the nurse for an icepack and some Advil. Hummm. ))

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Meanwhile, I outlined the intricate and extensive details of my birth plan to the nurse who recorded it on the whiteboard in our hospital room.

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It took what felt like fooorrreeevvveeerrr for the epidural to get administered and activate, but once it did, we could all breathe a little easier. Before the wondrous meds worked their magic, I felt like I had been flying cross country, bouncing around with the cargo. Getting the epidural upgraded my flight to coach, perhaps even business class. I was still very much a part of the flight and I arrived at the same destination, but I was able to enjoy the view and have polite conversation with my travel companion.

My travel companion (AKA my birthcoach AKA the baby’s father) got off WAY easier once I was medicated than he would have if he had to talk me through each contraction—getting his circulation cut off by hand squeezes and perhaps being the scapegoat for pain-induced verbal assault. Instead, we actually enjoyed the time together in that hospital room as we waited for things to progress. We listened to some great music, rested, read, prayed, and discussed some possible names for baby girl. It was actually pretty special.

It wasn’t long before I started feeling some moderate pressure and called the nurse to see where things stood. After a quick check the nurse immediately said, “freeze! Don’t laugh, don’t cough! Let me get the doctor.” Six minutes later, she was here!!

jdh phone 452Experiencing the LITERAL MIRACLE of life and holding our healthy warm baby on my chest is a feeling I will never forget. There were tears.

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Big Sister came to visit me in the hospital and meet her baby sister the next day. I had picked out a dress for her to wear and envisioned a magical moment when the two would meet for the first time. Things didn’t quite go as planned. Harper was like a bull in a china shop that day. She busted in, thrilled to meet her baby sister, but got really frustrated when we wouldn’t let her hold the baby allbyherself, or carry the baby allbyherself, or poke the baby’s eyes or take the baby’s clothes off. Her love, in those first moments, was slightly aggressive but entirely sincere. A good foundation for a best friendship, I think. This is the best we could do for a photo of the magic moment.

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The baby didn’t have a name till day three. This drove My Man and I both crazy and was not the least bit amusing to our family and the friends who kept asking. We weren’t trying to be dramatic, but naming a person is HARD. We had it down to four names going into the hospital, then down to two after she was born. Seeing that sweet angel face did not help make the decision for us. Brand-spankin-new babies, on the whole, look more like aliens / velociraptors / old men, and not quite like Julias and Mollys and Kates. In the eleventh hour, we finally we signed the official papers and named our little girl Hallie. We think it is precious and will serve her equally as well as the CEO of a fortune 500 company and as an Olympic athlete as it will as America’s Next Top Model.

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And just like that, our family of three is now a family of four. Bringing home our second daughter and placing her all healthy and bundled in her crib made our joy complete.

 

 

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She’s Here!

2015 May 26
by Jennifer

It is with great joy that we announce the birth of our daughter Hallie. She made her grand entrance on Mother’s Day. What a gift!

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More details to come, but pictures will have to suffice for now. Putting letters together to make words and then form sentences is a high-wire-act when running on so little sleep…

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…but so much love.

 

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