And then they…

the things we do to live a better life.

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

One Little Word – Gratitude

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I have done Ali Edward’s One Little Word project in the past, but I’ve never really done much with it.  In 2009 my word was FOCUS because I was in grad school and knew that I needed to focus on my schoolwork, my marriage, my friends, whatever I was doing.  It worked for me that year.  Since 2009, I can’t remember if I ever picked a word.  Obviously it didn’t leave in impact if I did.

Every November, I like to do the 30 days of Thanksgiving, or 30 Days of Gratitude on Instagram.  It is fun to intentionally think of something everyday that I was thankful for.  It was often little things, but those things are important, too.  It feels so good to pay attention to, and acknowledge the things for which I am grateful. I want to feel that way the whole year.

For 2014, I want to really focus (there’s that word again) on being grateful.

Here’s a confession: Being home all the time with Alma and Harriet is really hard.  I spend a lot of time calculating how much time until Jesse comes home, we have a play date, my parents are coming over, nap-time… I don’t know that I am the kind of person who thrives being a stay-at-home full time parent.

That isn’t saying I don’t enjoy my kids, or my time at home with them.  I really love them, and get a lot out of being with them.  While it is hard being home, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to leave them (especially Harriet right now) somewhere else, or with someone else.  Whenever I do get a break from them, I find myself rushing back home to be with them again.  And boy do I miss them when they’re sleeping.  It’s a confusing feeling… when they’re awake I can’t wait to get them down, but when they’re down, I just want to hang out with them.

Anyway… I want to be grateful for this time.  I want to be more grateful during the time I have with my daughters.  I will never have kids this age again.  Alma is so funny, and I love watching her learn new things.  Harriet is just waking up to our amazing world.  I also want to be actively grateful for other things in my life.  I really am very lucky to have such a full life, I want to give thanks for it.

Gratitude. 2014, bring on the things for which to be thankful!

Christmas in Azerbaijan

ImageI have to say that the Christmas we spent in Azerbaijan is one of my most memorable Christmases.  I’m sure that’s because most of my Christmases are more of the same, and this one was wildly different.  But I think there’s something more than just that.  Jesse and I had been married only two years, and the whole Peace Corps experience was great for helping us figure out how to navigate the world as a twosome (instead of solo, or with the direct help of our families… we were pretty much just us).

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Here’s how our holiday season went down.  Since Azerbaijan is a former Soviet Republic, they have a pretty big Russian influence.  Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, but in December, a bunch of ‘Christmas’ decorations, and Santas started showing up.  To Azeris, these were New Year’s decorations, and Santa was Shaxta Baba and Qar Qiz.  Shaxta Baba means grandfather frost and Qar Qiz is snow girl.  Because of this leftover holiday influence, we were able to buy a metallic tree at the bazaar, and my sister, Jen, sent us some ornaments.  These are still some of my favorite ornaments.

ImageOn Christmas Eve, we went to the capital to meet up with some other volunteer friends.  If you haven’t been in the Peace Corps, you might not understand how the other volunteers truly do become family.  It is the sort of shared experience that brings people together quickly and (I think) permanently.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a Filipino band singing classic rock hits in Santa costumes.  A far cry from our typical Christmas Eve feast.

After dinner, we wandered all around Baku singing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs.  Normally, we would try to blend in and not call attention to ourselves.  This night, we needed to assert our otherness.  I didn’t feel at home, so I didn’t want to act like I felt at home.

ImageWe found an English language church service (although the priest pronounced manger as mang-er, rhymes with banger) and we took up a whole pew.  It was then that I felt my first real pang of homesickness.  I remember a family with two young children sat in front of us.

The next morning was Christmas.  Since we were poor volunteers, we packed seven of us in our hotel room with one full size bed.  When everyone woke up I had put Pop Keks and mandarins in everyone’s shoes.

We weren’t at home, with our families.  But we sort of were.

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“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

It’s that time of year.  In fact it’s been that time of year for a couple months around here.  The time of year when pretty much the only music I have playing is Christmas music.  I have my iTunes all set up so my favorites are at the top of the list.  This list is basically the same every year, but it tends to be a bit fluid in the order of songs. 

The song that is always on the top is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Always and forever. 

This song became a favorite the year I spent Christmas in Azerbaijan during Peace Corps.  The line “through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow” hit home, since I wasn’t at home. I plan on writing more about my Azerbaijani Christmas next week, so check back for more about this.

Not only do I have that on the top of my list, but I also have an ordered list of my favorite versions of the song.  Here they are (please note that I am embedding videos here and that they might not show up on all viewers):

1.  Bright Eyes

I love the almost melancholy take that Bright Eyes has on the song.  “Let your heart be light, from now on our troubles will be out of sight.”  They way they sing this line just gets me.  It’s a mixture of hope and sadness.  Good stuff.

 

2.  John Denver and the Muppets, or more specifically, John Denver and Rowlf.

John: “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.”Rowlf: “That’s nice…”

It really is nice, Rowlf.  It really is.

 

3.  Judy Garland

The original.  “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”  So beautiful.  So unique. 

 

Then there are all the other greats.  James Taylor, John Denver (without Rowlf), Frank, She & Him.  Oh man.  So good.

Easy Homemade Beer Chili Recipe

Chili

This recipe is something I’ve eaten my whole life.  My strongest memories of it are on winter days, sitting at the tile table my dad built, after my mom came home from teaching skiing.  I’m not entirely sure of the accuracy of this memory, but that doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that this is my comfort food.  And it’s really easy.

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Beer is key.  I love the subtle beer flavor that this chili recipe has.  It really makes it taste like chili to me.  I’ve made it before when we didn’t have beer to add, and it just wasn’t right.  This time, we had some Baltika 6 hanging around, so I threw that in.  This is a fun beer because it is a throwback to our time in Peace Corps, Azerbaijan.  I was even able to find all the ingredients to make this chili while we were in Azerbaijan.  I digress…  So without further ado…

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 Tbs chili powder (more or less to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Beer – 1 can, or bottle, or half a 20, or however much you want to use.  I usually just use whatever we have around
  • 1 cup beef broth (I use a bullion cube and a cup of hot water)
  • 1 large can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 extra-small can (4 oz) diced green chilies
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz) red kidney beans, drained

Directions:

  1. Brown and drain ground beef over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onions and saute until they begin to get soft.
  3. Add cumin seeds, chili powder, salt, and pepper and saute until aromas start to smell good.
  4. Pour in beer and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients except the beans, and simmer for at least 1/2 hour to let the flavors meld and develop.  The longer the better on this.
  6. Stir in beans when almost ready to serve.

When I was little, we would eat this chili with wheat crackers, so that’s what tastes right to me.  My husband prefers cornbread, so we have that sometimes.  Enjoy!

Eggnog Pancakes

eggnog pancakesHere’s a really good recipe for you to try!  It feeds one toddler and one mommy.  Maybe more if your toddler doesn’t eat spoonfuls of the flour mixture.  You can double it if you have another parent or toddler who will be eating with you.

Here are the directions (more detailed directions and ingredients can be found at the end of the post):

Mix ingredients.  These are pancakes, so it doesn’t really take a lot a skills.

stirrinPour batter onto a hot griddle.

cookinFlip pancakes.

flippedRealize this would be easier (and safer) if you put the baby down in her bouncy seat.  Put baby in her bouncy seat (that doesn’t look super safe on the table, but know if your heart that it is).

Baby in SeatFinish cooking and eat.

PancakesMake sure baby falls asleep while you and your toddler enjoy your pancakes.

SleepingDone!

Now here’s how you really do it…helpin

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup eggnog (I used light eggnog, but I suppose you could use regular)
  • 1 egg
  • 1Tbs oil

Directions:

  1. Get a toddler.  You can skip this step if you want.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Try to stop your toddler from eating spoonfuls of flour and baking soda and salt.  Gross.  You can also skip this step, especially if you skipped step one.
  4. Mix wet ingredients.
  5. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir well.
  6. Cook pancakes on hot griddle until bubbles form and pop.
  7. Flip and finish cooking.
  8. Eat.  We ate them plain, but I bet they would be good with your favorite pancake toppings.  Especially whipped cream and a little nutmeg.

Enjoy!

 

More December Snow

Here are more of my photos from our snow week.  It is still hanging on out there, and actually creating some slippery ice as it is melting.  I still think it’s beautiful!

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Go Nads!

On Saturday I woke up bright and early (4:40am) to help my friends do a race in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We met some great friends in our birth class when I was pregnant with Alma.  We have loved having such a wonderful group of friends who all have kids within a few months of each other.  One of the dads from this group does these races that are sort of hard to explain.  It is sort of like the show The Amazing Race.  Tyler has a team (go Nads!) that competes all over the country.  And they usually win.  It’s pretty cool.  I have started helping out with the races by doing clue solving with some others.  It is really fun, and really intense.  They get the clues and send them to someone, then we all get the clues and solve our assigned ones.  Then the racers on the ground have to run around, and complete challenges at each of the locations.  Makes perfect sense, right?

I have helped with races that were in New Orleans, Portland, and now San Juan (maybe Denver, too?).   Anyhow, on Saturday, the championship race was taking place in San Juan at 9am, which meant that I had to be up to help with clue solving by 5am.  No big deal, I’m up then anyway (thanks, Harriet).  My clues were super easy and I was confident with my answers.  This is a huge relief, because I would hate to send the racers to the wrong place.  In a heartbreaking turn, the racers didn’t make it to the final round, despite being very fast and generally awesome.

The final round was going to happen at about 10 am our time, and Tyler and I agreed to help with the clue solving for another couple teams.  Tyler and his family decided it would be more fun to all be together for a clue-solving-toddler-and-baby-wrangling party, so they braved the snow to come over to our house.  Tyler and I were on clue duty, while Jesse and Leia were on kid duty.

Clue Solving

The clues for the final round were a lot more difficult than the ones from the preliminary race earlier in the day.  There was one clue that included an audio/picture file that had us totally flummoxed for awhile.  The teams we helped came in 4th and 5th, so it was a bit of a disappointment.  But still fun, and I think Tyler really enjoyed the beer he drank shortly after I took this photo of him in our clue solving room.

Jesse and Leia had a more successful kid wrangling time.  How could they not with these adorable babies and toddlers.  Leia and Tyler are just as awesome as we are (some would say crazy, others brave, I say awesome), and they have two kids under two just like us!  Max is a couple weeks younger than Alma and Desmond is about 5 weeks younger than Harriet.

IMG_8301 a IMG_8307 aI love how the babies are being perfect models, while their big siblings are being typical almost-two-year-olds.

While the race results were sad, it was still a fun day of clue solving and hanging out with our awesome friends.

Christmas Tree Hunting

It is becoming a tradition to go cut down our own Christmas tree.  I like this for a few reasons.  First, it’s fun to get out in the middle of a muddy field, look for the perfect tree, and find it.  Second, I love that Jesse can show off his man-skills by cutting down the tree.  Third, we like trees that are little more sparse so there’s room to hang the ornaments, and it’s often hard to find these at Christmas tree lots.

Last year we with with my dad and step-mom and had quite an adventure (including our trailer un-hitching from the tractor and the tractor driver not noticing).  This year we went with my mom and step-dad and had a less eventful, but just-as-fun time.

This year we went to the bargain field (which is actually the same field we found our full-price tree in last year, just way more picked over this year (obviously)) and found my favorite tree we’ve ever had.IMG_8008a

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Snowy December Day

We don’t usually get amazing amounts of snow here in the Willamette Valley, but this week the weathermen were predicting snow.  We have learned never to trust weather forecasts (unless the forecast says rain), so we were all skeptical.  When I woke up on Friday, I was amazed to see that it had snowed a couple inches, and that it was still snowing!

It ended up snowing all day long, which is even more unusual.  If we get snow it’s usually gone by the afternoon.  I remember one day in high school where they cancelled school, and the roads were completely dry by 10am.  I watched movies at a friend’s house that day, and it was amazing.   Anyhow, this time, not only did the snow stick around, but it just kept falling.

It was really beautiful, and I only had to venture out in it once.  Jesse had to work (and actually came and got Harriet and me for our outing), but got to come home a little early.  It was fun to get to play in the snow as a whole family.  Alma’s friend, Rory, and his family met us on the street for some sledding.

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Harriet's Angel

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We got out Jesse’s old sled and he pulled the two old kids around in it for a long time.  Alma and Rory loved it.

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Christmas Traditions (for the future)

Making Christmas More About Giving than Getting - andthenthey.wordpress.com

I have been thinking a lot this year about how to make traditions for my daughters.  I know that it is very important that they grow up with special traditions – especially at Christmas time.  We already have some fun traditions, like going and cutting down our Christmas tree, doing Advent calendars, eating dinner by the light of the Advent wreath, going to the Festival of Trees, looking at Christmas lights… there are so many ways to build traditions.

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One thing I want to do is create traditions that are focused on giving to others.  Most of these won’t work until they are older, so I thought it would be good to put them in writing so I won’t forget about them!

Here are a few things we’re going to do:

1. Christmas Stockings:  I want this to be more concretely connected to Saint Nicholas.  Instead of filling my daughters’ stockings with little toys and candy, I will fill it with gifts for others.  Some ideas I have are putting in a roll of quarters – they can keep half, and give away the other half.  They can leave them on a playground and watch as other kids find the small treasures, they can leave them in the offering plate at church, give them to homeless people, whatever they want as long as they are giving them away.  Another idea is to put a gift for their sister in their stocking that they will give when they notice their sister doing something nice or generous.  The other idea I have is to buy a small ($10 or so) gift card to our grocery store that they can give to another shopper on our next shopping trip.  I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the years, but that’s a start.

2.  I want to do something for the homeless on the day of the Feast of Stephen.  What better way to unwind from the craziness of Christmas than by helping out those who are less fortunate the following day?  I’m sure this will change as the kids get older, but it will always revolve around helping homeless people.

3.  We are going to do the Something you want, Something you need, Something you wear, & Something you read gift giving idea.  I love this to stave off some of the hyper-commercialism around Christmas.

4. Kindness Elves.  The idea of Elf on the Shelf never really felt right to me.  I don’t like the idea of having an elf come into our home and be a bad example for my kids.  This idea of kindness elves feels right to me.  They come and give ideas of how to be nice and helpful.  They compliment my kids on being nice and helpful!  What a lovely idea for Christmas time!

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