Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Messengers of faith

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT we have been filled with a variety of emotions.  The closeness, the raw footage, the precious faces.  There are many perspectives to take on this-a strong stance on gun violence, a call for greater mental health intervention, an awareness of the threshold of trauma that children are experiencing these days.  While I have been sneaking updates from the media, I have kept the television off in an effort to not expose the children to unneeded anxiety.  It's the social worker in me, I utilize teaching moments (what is safe? what feels unsafe?), but mostly just maintain the perspective to keep them sheltered while they are still little enough to do so.
What hit me the most were the phone calls that we received from family and friends who do not have small children at home who just wanted to hear Julia's voice.  There is something peaceful in hearing her giggle and her innocence when the world is experiencing such sadness.  As the weekend unfolded, there were several encounters that reinforced the power that children have to heal and to change ones perspective.  The following is an excerpt from an email that I sent to our pastor after some amazing encounters with some of the youth in our church this weekend.  It was an email emphasizing the power of the calling of our youth - a calling that is happening today, not one that they are waiting to grow into.  This story underlines the influence of our children, powerful messengers of faith: 
Yesterday Julia embraced the wrong person when we were in line at Starbucks. It was an innocent mistake-(the woman was right in front of me and Julia was so busy looking at all of the trinkets around her that she didn't look up to see whose leg she was grabbing). Instead of releasing Julia from her leg, the woman began stroking Julia's head and let her stay there for a moment. The woman turned to me and introduced herself as Sister Mary from St. Michael's church in East Longmeadow. She said, "With the tragic events from this week, this little gesture was exactly what I needed, a hug from a small child". As she was saying this to me, Julia realized that she was in the wrong place, but instead of embarassingly drawing away, she stayed there and enjoyed Sister Mary's gentle touch. All of us experienced the great blessing in this moment. 
In a season of hope, I am grateful for moments like this.  Sometimes it takes big events to rethink our perspective, though often the smallest ones reignite our flame.
But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." - Matthew 19:14 NLT

Friday, October 26, 2012

Earning my stripes

I am having one of those days. 
One of those days where I can't believe the words that come out of my mouth.  In the midst of a fort building afternoon (which proudly leads me to believe that Julia will be an amazing architect who will design me a house with a view one day), I heard a muffled cry from Charlie.  Since my hands were full with wet towels mopping up an, "Oops, I didn't make it to the bathroom because the fort holds me captive" potty moment, I realized that I didn't have the resources to save Charlie, so I simply shouted, "Julia, can your brother breathe?  Just make sure he can breathe!"  She assured me that Charlie could breathe and in a few moments he came toddling toward me for the added piece of mind that he was freed from the fortress. 
While I don't promote trusting a 3-year old to look out for the wellbeing of a 15-month old, I realize the daily need to triage much of what's going on around me.  It's the reason why nothing in my house gets put away, it just gets placed somewhere else while I have to throw it to the side to grab Charlie from his summit on top of the dining room table.  It explains why Julia's new phrase is, "Will I have to ask you again in 5 minutes?"  The bottom line is that most of the time I see the tasks ahead, but I can't get out of my own way.  Life feels like an obstacle course right now, the kind that you look at from the outside and think that it's simple but once your doing the army crawl you realize that you weren't quite cut out for this. 
Sometimes it takes a phrase you never thought you say coming out of your mouth or a humbling scenario that makes you wonder who is in charge.  These precious cherubs fill me unlimited joy and a dose of hair-raising reality.  Well, today I have earned my merit badge.  The one that involves Tent Making, Teaching Children to Follow the Rules, Home Organization, the ever so coveted Baking Badge (for multiple Halloween parties), Potty Training 101 (when I thought we had accomplished this one months ago), Teaching a Teething Toddler not to Bite, and How Long Can my Dog Last before I have to Pack Everyone Up to Take Her for a Walk? Badge.  The ones I never cared about or acheived as a trusty girl scout.  On days like this I wish I'd focused a little bit more on that Survival badge years ago.
Don't let these little faces full you parenting is not for the faint of heart.  :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The world according to...

Along with bath, books and brushing teeth, we have added some storytelling to our bedtime routine.  Julia is not afraid to let me know that Daddy is so much better at this than Mommy.  I'm okay with this reality most of the time.  Other times I am told mid-story how the rest must go and how Daddy would have done it better.  Yes, I take my direction from a three year old. 
When I let Julia take the lead we are often in for quite a fairy tail.  It ALWAYS begins with "Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Julia Claire Gray..."  Julia is ALWAYS joined by her best friends, which vary between her many "real" friends, a pet squirrel, and sometimes Jesus.  This is where I jump start into the story, but I have to be careful to say the right things.  I have quickly learned that Julia must ALWAYS be strong, the scary parts must quickly be remedied, and Julia ALWAYS wins in the end.  Without that framework these stories become "horrible" in Julia's eyes.   As we have dreamed up incredible feats for Julia, I am struck by her very own storytelling skills.  Since this has become such a big part of our routine, Julia's imagination comes alive as she slays the fire breathing dragon with the "King Daddies" and realizes that the dragon was always very nice (he just talked funny) and he comes to live with her in the castle where he eats popsicles to fix his fire breathing problem. 
Needless to say, bedtime is always entertaining. 
There are so many outlets to treasure these moments with my children.  About a year ago I wanted to extend beyond the blog and create a keepsake that is more personal for Julia and Charlie.  I found the perfect way to do so when I was searching for Christmas gifts on Minted.com.  I found personalized journals that were a perfect way to jot down some notes to Julia and Charlie on special occasions and on regular days when their personality shines through and I want to capture their reaction or statement.  I have been writing periodically in these journals - one each for Julia and Charlie.  When they are older they can enjoy the emergence of their personality inked with insights about parenting, prayers, and pieces of advice along the way.  After every entry in Charlie's book I find myself telling him to never let go of his kind heart and soft affection. His latest involves his refusal to say many words so his "yes" is a huge giggle.  I look back on my notes for him and I see such a sweet boy unfolding.  I wonder how that sweet boy will take in these words when he reads it years from now.   I am often laughing when I look back on my notes to Julia.  She is the only 3-year old I know who can be fiercly feisty, yet incredibly nurturing and in tune to the needs around her at the same time.  Life for her could be an ongoing musical in which she is the main character and singing permeates each scene.
Whether our days are filled with phrases that cause Charles and I to laugh uncontrollably, stories of the latest and greatest from Princess Julia, or tender moments that can never be replicated, my hope is to take a small piece to preserve this time. 
And as of tonight in the world according to Julia, her prayer is that everyone should love pink and glitter and live happily ever after...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

C is for....


and coughing
and cloudy days
and cinnamon bread

When it rains, it pours. Not only were we stuck inside most of last week due to the weather, the children's colds evolved into a hearty case of bronchitis for me. Here are some of our outtakes from our week inside. My sanity remains intact thanks to a quick but well timed visit from my mom!
I can usually take on project that requires 10 minutes or less due to the overlapping of naps that occur in our house.  As Julia becomes easier to occupy, Charlie rarely sits still.  His latest accomplishments?  Climbing on TOP of our dining room table, spreading powder throughout the house, and becoming a fearless flyer on top of the couch.  He requires constant supervision and if I could grow an extra set of hands, they would be dedicated solely to him.  Here is my latest "10 or less" project.  The inspiration came from the simple fact that I'm not a huge fan of my child being a billboard for a brand of clothing.  Therefore, I added own twist to this cute little romper.  The letter "C". 
He wears it quite well. 
"C" also stands for "climber".  Crazy climber.
With my mom's help, I was able to steal a little time to bake bread.  It is honestly one of the easiest tasks since you can leave it to rise and pay attention to it in shifts.  Bread is my latest baking obsession and I am justifying the unlimited carbs filling our house with the fact that all of this 1/2 marathon training needs some fuel.  These little adventurers need quite a bit of fuel too!

Given the simple fact that "powder play" occupied about an hour of their time today, it's an understatement to say we need to get out.  
"C" is also for Counting down to Florida...it can't come soon enough!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

FIRST day of preschool

 Today marks the start, though Julia's preschool career comprises only a few hours of her entire week, this is her entry into the world of school.  She was ready for this a long time ago! 
She couldn't get there fast enough. 
 I made her wear a jacket (despite the 80 degree weather) just so she could use her cubby.  That darn cubby.  There is something about it.  Maybe it is the books that I grew up with that talk about the cubby at preschool.  Maybe it's because I still remember my own red cubby from preschool, this moment made me tear up.
 Once we were in her classroom Julia was ready to go.  Picture every other child still clinging to their parents.  Julia hit the ground running - she had figured out each of the craft stations before we left her.
She was mighty content on her own and in awe of her classroom.
Even Charlie pulled up a chair and decided he'd like to stay. 
No way Charlie, we get some precious 1-on-1 time now!
And this is how I left her.
There are so many big things happening in Julia's world.  Each reminding me how much she's growing.  This morning I asked her what she would like to be when she grows up just to document it on this day (and hopefully each of her first days of school).  She replied that she'd like to be a dentist.  We're not really sure where that one came from!  Later today she snuggled into my lap and quietly announced, "Mommy, I changed my mind.  I want to be like you when I grow up".  I asked her what that meant.  Without a thought she quickly replied, "I think it means I love you!"
I will take these moments and bottle them up.  Though she asserts her independance on a minute to minute basis, she reminds me how much she needs a solid foundation.  She's ready and eager, but needs some reassurance. 
Welcome to the world of preschool. 
Fun times are ahead.
"Blossom of snow
may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever"
(my favorite song that I learned in preschool)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Honey Girl

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Pennsylvania without an agenda.  It doesn't happen very often.   Agenda-free typically turns busy pretty quickly, but my mom and I were able to steal away some time to cook together.  In all honesty, I get the better end of the deal when the two of us are in the kitchen.  There are just some things she does better - even the simple art of sauteeing garlic.  I get to pick up her cooking tips and we mostly (with only a few interruptions) have an opportunity to listen to Sirius radio and talk about our world. 
While embarking on our Bon Appetit weekend, Julia, my mom and I happened upon the Farmers Market at Winterthur (the hilly fields of the estate where Charles and I were married).  This wasn't just any Farmer's Market.  Yes, we found our vegetable selection, but we were also entertained by a man selling fudge along with birdhouses (an interesting duo), a dog centered "au natural" mecca, and a honey girl equipped with a fabric hive to show off her sweet arrangement.  Julia was immediately enthralled by the Honey Girl.  It may have been partially due to the fact that this girl was beautiful and had a captivating voice, but the simple fact was this 19-year old and her whole display looked like it had been clipped out of an Anthropologie display window.  Honey Girl began spouting off bee facts to a mesmarized Julia.  "Do you know that it takes 10 bees their whole lives to make just one tablespoon of honey?"  Julia was sold.  We would not be leaving the Farmers Market without some honey.  We bought Julia a $2 tiny bottle, which was probably the best money I've ever spent on something that has captured my child's attention.  Julia's honey became the most popular "prize" of the weekend.  She thought a dab of honey would make everything taste better and it was true.  We managed to fit some honey into several of the recipes when we barbequed later that night - peach crisp drizzled with honey, a splash of honey here, a dab on her burger...it did get a bit out of control.
Since our trip home, Julia's little honey bear sits on the counter like the key antecdote to her medical kit.  According to Julia, a little honey will fix anything. 
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, so I agree and we have incorporated honey into much of our cooking lately.  From marinades to dessert, it is the perfect natural sweetner.  Maybe my small affection for bees has rubbed off on my little girl. 
You know, it does take 10 bees their whole lives...(I think those bees would be proud that someone is cherishing their hard work!)
The following recipe has been our staple, simple homemade freeze pop recipe - made with our favorite fruits and, of course, honey. It was inspired by Coastal Living, with a few of our own variations.
Pineapple/Blueberry Pops
2 cups fresh pineapple
1/4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice or whatever juice is in the fridge (usually lemonade)
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup fresh blueberries
1. Combine first 3 ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth. Pour mixture evenly into 6 (3-ounce) ice pop molds, leaving about 1 to 2 tablespoons purée in blender.
2. Add blueberries to blender with reserved purée. Process until well blended; pour over pineapple mixture in ice pop molds. Insert wooden sticks, and cover if necessary to hold wooden sticks upright. Freeze 4 hours or until firm.

And for an icepop recipe that requires a little more work, but will send you into a blissful summer state with just one bite, check out this blog - Arts and Lemons for the Strawberry Yogurt Pops (and you won't have to look very far for further eclectic culinary inspiration!) 

So today we squeeze out our last ounces of summer.  A few more pops sit in our freezer awaiting another hot night.  It is likely that our honey recipes will take a pumpkin filled turn. 
Until then...keep busy bees.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Relishing the moment

Yesterday I received an email in my inbox that scared the heck out of me.   It was an email confirming some details about Julia's preschool start just a few weeks from now.  If I hadn't filled out the application myself, I might have deleted the message with the words, "I am so excited to have Julia in my class this year..." thinking it must have been meant for someone else.  Those words looked foreign in front of me.  My child?  Old enough to attend school?  
Preschool is right around the corner.  While it only comprises about 7 hours of her week, this is her introduction to school.  
It begins.  
We talk about it every morning.  We discuss what her first morning will look like and who will be in her class with her.  We pass the church everyday that houses Busy Bee's and she proudly announces that this is her school.  We have bought a new pink lunch bag and have scheduled a hair cut.  Julia has decided that she would like to eat "Rice Krispies and pumpkin pancakes" on the morning of her big day.  Though that breakfast is 3 weeks away, I have already bought the ingredients.  Mimi has bought her a new book on the transition into school and we tell stories at night about what she will learn in her classroom.  I keep telling myself that all of this preparation will make the first day (and every subsequent morning) go smoothly.  As the time draws near, I realize that as much as Julia requires the preparation for this milestone, we need a crash course in sending our child to school.
I think this is going to go a lot easier for Julia than it will for me.  
I have watched others send their children off to school.  When your children are young it is difficult to imagine that they will ever be ready for "big kid" milestones.  When diapers and sleepless nights are the only tangible measures in sight, buses and friendships do not enter into any kind of reality.  One day they just seem to arrive at your doorstep without much announcement.  We are forced to acknowledge that times are changing, our children are growing.  
Julia reminds me everyday that she is growing.  She wants to be big enough to go on the waterslide at "Mimi's club".  She has a few years to go on that one, but every morning she asks if she is big enough.  She reminds me that she is ready for preschool and ready to learn.  She holds conversations with me that surprise the heck out of me, like when she asked the other day how Jesus can fit inside of her heart since we describe Him as "so big".  All of this growth is so exciting.  I have resolved that it is inevitable and therefore it's best to embrace it.  I have found that the only way to preserve any ounce of this fast paced scene is to document it.  I wish that I had the luxury of taking family photos at a certain time every year.  Though it does't seem to happen often enough, it is so important to capture these times. 
The following photos were taken by Becca Neufeld (best photographer ever!) on Charlie's first birthday.  I cherish these pictures - this is truly Julia and Charlie.  We were also able to capture the 5 generations in my family.  
On Julia's first day of preschool, the plan is to walk the 1/2 mile to Busy Bee.  I like the thought of drawing out every moment of this morning :) 
I will be walking behind Julia with my camera in hand, snapping photos of every step.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blues are back!

We admittedly have a stash of blueberries in our kitchen at all times.  They are the perfect snack for every member of the family (except Scout, she steers away from fruit, but will gladly partake in any other morsel).  We have them no matter what the season.  The problem?  When you taste fresh blues that are in-season, picked straight from the vine, it is difficult to ever imagine buying a carton in the grocery store mid-January.  They'll be there, but the freshness can never be replicated.  There is nothing like a true blue.  
Today we went blueberry picking.  It was bright and early - our first task of the day.  Even Julia had her own half carton hitched to a rope that set conveniently around her neck for free hands.  Charlie was content to pick his own from the comforts of the Boba carrier.  He had a perfect angle and a mighty appetite.   The other pickers thought he was quite hysterical.  Something about this simple task of picking our fruit made my heart quite happy.  I am thankful that I live just minutes away from farms that help teach my children the value of local produce.  We are blessed to experience the abundance that we have around us.  There are so many lessons involved for Julia and Charlie.  The best part of the whole experience was the sense of accomplishment that Julia felt as she picked her own bucket.  The blueberry muffins that we made later today tasted so much better with the our morning's work added to the mix.  It helped that this was the BEST EVER blueberry muffin recipe...the secret is in the "burned butter".  
Blueberries for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We will all be dreaming in blue tonight.
It's true, she picked almost all of them on her own (besides the ones that she stole from our buckets when we looked away)...her giggle is a precious give-away.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The way life should be.

 Where we pick our favorite lobsters straight from the docks, we're serenaded by an old man playing the accordion at the local farmers market, the kids are lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean, and "a double scoop of chocolate" is a daily order. 

I picked up this adorable fabric in Portsmouth, NH on our way home.  I couldn't help it, I'm on a lobster kick.  The one on top is for Charlie and the crab is for Charlie's new baby cousin who will make his appearance in January (he'll need some beach inspiration mid-winter!)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cowboy Charlie's First birthday

With the combination of a well timed vacation and an opportunity to take part in one of the greatest weddings ever, we just so happened to celebrate Charlie's birthday in Pennsylvania.  When we knew we were going to throw him a party here, a cowboy theme fit perfectly.  Mimi and Papa's home in the country surrounded by horses provided the best backdrop and Papa is a true cowboy, so we had plenty of western decorations to fit the theme.  We just added a few bales of hay (which works well for toddler containment), a "watering hole" water table, some squirt guns, some sheriff banana cupcakes, and a real deal BBQ and we had ourselves a wild west extravaganza! 
12 months of Charlie birthday banner

The growing bunch of future best friends
Babci got really into the squirt guns.  She's a quick draw and did  not hesitate to take down her great -great granddaughter!
A make-shift (free hand) horse cake.  It was an interesting endeavor with limited baking utensils...
For the favors I made some "Little Buck-a-roo Trail Mix" - perfect for little ones.  It was an inexpensive and cute favor idea!  
3/4 box of Honey Graham squares 
1/2 bag mini Marshmallows
3c. Cheerios
1 bag Craisins
1/2 bag wagon wheel pretzels
Mini Chocolate Chips (optional to keep this baby centered you can forgo the chips, but every trail mix needs a bit o' chocolate!)
Mix in a large bowl.  If you have a toddler, this is the perfect activity!  If you are feeling extra creative, wrap them in a bandanna, add some labels, and/or attach a harmonica.  We were going to add the harmonicas, but they went missing for a few hours.  The favors were just as cute (and less noisy) :)
Despite the photo, Charlie and his cowboy friends had a blast!