Pumpkins

A few days after Halloween my parents invited the kids over for pumpkin picking in their garden. We came home with plenty for baking plus enough to share with a neighbor. In addition to a traditional pie I made pumpkin bread. While The Man and I are not usually pumpkin-flavored food fans we all liked this recipe. It’s moist and fragrant, not too sweet, with more of a gingerbread flavor than a pumpkin taste. I roasted and pureed a pumpkin the kids picked instead of using canned pumpkin, reduced the sugar to 1.5 cups, and baked it in wider shallower loaf pans for about 50-55 minutes. It’s a great way to use up pie pumpkins before Advent. Enjoy a golden slice with butter and a steaming cup of tea.

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Day in the Life

I’m always glad when I scroll back through my posts and drafts and find old Day-in-the-Life notes. A day was so different with infant twins and a husband worked long hours in the Army, with four kids two and under, and now with two kindergartners and two preschoolers. Those snapshots in time have turned into unexpected treasures for our family, although probably boring to others! There’s no such thing as a typical day here; the Man works an irregular schedule, some days are for errands, some for school, and on some days we have appointments or therapy. This, though, is one day in our life right now.

5:30 The alarm goes off. I like to be up well before the kids. This introvert has a much better day when it starts with some quiet time before my crew spills down the stairs. The Man is sick but thankfully doesn’t have a shift today so I get up quietly, dress in the dark, then head downstairs to make myself half a bagel and tea. I start to lay out the kids’ breakfast at the same time.

5:40 Sit down at the table with my breakfast (or half of it – I’m saving room to eat a bit more with the kids). I start with Bible (Psalms, right now), then catch up on Facebook, email, and my blog feed. I realize it’s September 11th when I see someone else’s post. Seventeen years later and shock still lingers at the edges for most of us. I don’t know anyone in this country who can’t remember where they were when they heard the news, and almost all of us know someone who escaped that day, or someone who died, or someone who lost or nearly lost a relative or friend. It changed my husband’s life (he joined the Army in the middle of med school) and mine, as well as our nation’s course, for better and for worse. There’s also lots of news in my feed from friends in the Carolinas preparing for Hurricane Florence. After catching up on internet news I read my current book (Dinner, a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach), preheat the oven for breakfast, meal plan, and place our Walmart grocery order.

6:45 Mix up a baked German pancake and pop it in the oven.

6:50 Get kids up, help them potty, wipe down, lotion, dress (we lay out clothes the night before), and brush teeth. Jack is pretty independent (albeit reluctantly so) about getting himself ready, the others all still need a lot of help.

7:10 The Man is up, though sniffly and tired from poor sleep. He takes over the last of the kid prep while I finish making breakfast and put the dining room to rights after last night’s cleaning. I print a picture for Annie to share with her driver, pack the last cold items for her lunch, and do a final backpack check.

7:25 Kids are in chairs at the table for a breakfast of apples, German puffed pancakes, and milk. They listen to the Same Page podcast for Shakespeare, poetry, scripture, and presidential facts, then listen to the first half of the Wizard of Oz, Chapter 10, from the same podcast. I sit with them to eat a slice of pancake. Carl reads Genesis 3. One child heads to timeout for relentless interrupting. I unload and load the dishwasher then read a picture book to Annie, who is done with breakfast before the others, and put on respectable clothes (see “dressed in the dark” above) to take her out to the bus.

8:00 Out the door to wait for the bus. Annie rides her bike for a few minutes. The bus is early.

8:05 Text a neighbor to see if she and her kids are free to play this morning. They’re busy. Respond to a teacher’s email. Meanwhile the Man clears the dishes, tidies the kitchen and dining room, and sits down to read a stack of picture books with Jenny and Josie.

8:20 I do a reading lesson with Jack. Could’ve taken 10 minutes, takes 22 due to bouncing, sulking, and a tantrum 🙄. I release him for a couple minutes then call him back for:

8:47 Right Start Math. Jack does two lessons with me. The Man is still reading a stack of picture books to the little two, then switches them over to Magnatiles. Schoolwork is so much easier when there’s another adult in the house for crowd control! If he’s not around I put the little two in the sunroom with blocks or trains.

9:17 Little ones playing with Magnatiles. Jack joins them and I free the sneezy Man from kid duty to go rest again. I pull out art supplies and a book and prep the kitchen table for painting with a wipeable plastic table cloth.

9:30 I call the kids to the kitchen for a book and painting. This activity comes from A Year of Playing Skillfully. We read He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by the fabulous Kadir Nelson. Then the kids make their own “worlds” by using pipettes and dripping blue and green liquid watercolors onto coffee filters. The kids love it. I’m not much of an arts and crafts mom but my kids adore painting and creating so I appreciate that AYOPS provides a steady supply of great process-oriented art projects for our kids. After painting the coffee filters they switched to paper towels and had fun watching the paint absorption patterns. Jack has been in a bad mood all morning, but as I’d hoped working with his hands settles him and snaps him out of it, as it usually does.

That child on the end isn’t smiling, she’s tantrumming because she can’t get her dropper to suck up paint. Thankfully, big brother to the rescue:

10:00 The kids wrap up painting. I help them scrub up and change out of painting clothes, then wipe down the table and put away the painting things. As the kids hit the restroom and put on shoes I clear the fridge a bit for groceries and grab a quick piece of cheese for each kid.

10:25 We’re on the road for the park a bit later than I’d like. The Man woke up from his nap right before we left and agreed to finish clearing the fridge and make lunch for everyone while we’re out. As we drive the kids listen to Mozart and I listen to my current audiobook, Just Open the Door. It’s so-so – some good ideas on hospitality, but with a “hey, girlfriend!” tone that is not my cup of tea. The statistics are what strike me most. A full 1/3 of all Americans don’t know their neighbors at all. About half of all American children eat fast food for at least one meal a day. Most American families only sit down to a meal together once every five days. It’s so foreign to the way I grew up and the way we run our family. [For really thought-provoking writing on hospitality I prefer Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key, read earlier this summer. Butterfield is definitely stronger with narrative than with explanatory/connecting sections but there’s a lot of meaty food for thought in her book.]

10:45 Park. I run into a lady I know casually. There’s the usual assortment of young moms with preschoolers and babies, one in snow boots because his mother has wisely chosen to pick her battles, 75 degrees or not.

11:04 The grocery order is ready. We leave the park to pick it up. More reading time via audiobook for me.

11:11 Arrive at the grocery store, wait for our order to be brought out.

11:18 Done and on our way with a week’s groceries in the trunk. Hooray for online grocery shopping! There’s no fee and I find I save money because I don’t make impulse buys as I walk through the store. The drive home is beautiful – blue sky, golden-brown corn and soybeans, and early fall colors on the trees.

11:30 Home. The man and I unload and put away groceries with varying degrees of “help” from the kids.

The Man sits down to eat lunch with the kids while I keep going to get all the food unpacked and put away. Once they’re done with lunch the kids go down for naps just in time for me to…

12:16 …Step out to pick tomatoes and wait for the bus. I say hi to the driver, spend a few minutes with Annie, then leave her to ride her bike on the driveway for a bit before nap. We’ve found the transition home goes much more smoothly when she has a few minutes exercising outdoors before coming in. I step inside to put some soup in the freezer and unpack Annie’s backpack. The Man heads up for another nap himself, feeling no better. I bring Annie in to wash her hands and get ready for nap, then read her a book (Ox Cart Man). Annie goes to her room for quiet time with a stack of books and a box of wooden trains.

12:40 Everyone in bed at last! I slip down to the kitchen to make my daily hot cocoa. Jack pops out of his room. I return Jack and sit down at the table with a book. Annie pops out of her room. I return Annie and sit down at the table. Jack pops out. Annie pops out. Finally, all children are back in their designated quiet time spaces and peace reigns. I sit down (again) with cocoa and Dinner, a Love Story, check the internet (still there…), and update this log.

1:40 Prep dinner and collect library books to return.

2:05 Kids still napping except Annie who is loudly singing in her room but playing independently, so good enough. I hand off the last bit of veggie chopping to the Man and head to the library to drop off books and pick up our holds. One the way home I pull through two grocery stores hunting for an elusive ingredient. No luck.

3:05 Home. Wake any still sleeping kids and help them with toilet, socks, and shoes. The Man buckles everyone up as I quickly whip up a pie crust and put it in the fridge to chill.

3:30 We hand the kids their afternoon snacks and waters in the car and pull out for a family hike. On the trail there are early fall colors, lots of races, rocks thrown in the creek, near misses with poison ivy, and a peaceful trek back to the car.

4:45 Home. I go in to get dinner in the oven (thank goodness we prepped in advance!) and assemble an apple pie with apples from our orchard trip the day before. The Man supervises the kids while they bike on the driveway.  I enjoy listening to a podcast while I cook and work on dishes. The Man brings the kids in and changes them into pajamas as I cook since dinner will be later than normal.

5:30 Dinner. It’s Arroz con Pollo from Dinner, A Love Story. I increased the quantities so we’d have enough for two nights. The Man and I plus two kids like it. One more kid tolerates it, and the fourth resists but eats politely enough when reminded there’s fresh apple pie for dessert so it’s a net winner on the family dinners front.

6:00 Dinner is done. We hand off back and forth with wiping up kids, brushing their teeth, doing dishes, and packing up food. One twin is assigned to wipe the table and chairs with the little two while the other twin vacuums the dining room. They’ve gotten a lot better at it over the summer! I check last minute to see if my parents can drive over for pie but they’re busy. The kids are getting antsy as warm buttery cinnamon smells waft out of the oven. The Man reads the kids some bedtime stories early since the pie is still finishing in the oven: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and The Apple Pie that Papa BakedBoth are fall favorites around here.

6:40 Pie! And vanilla ice cream! And paper plates because Mommy and Daddy are tired of dishes!

7:10 We clear dessert dishes. The Man takes the little two up for bed while I pack lunches for the next day. In addition to Annie’s regular school it’s co-school day for the other three. I start reading picture books to the twins.

7:35 I run out to drop off unused extra diapers at a donation drop in the next town because the Man feels too sick and tired to drive. The Man takes over story and hymn time for the twins.

8:03 Home, help put the twins down for bed. The Man and I finish packing school lunches, changes of clothes, etc. as well as doing final tidying around the house.

8:30 I join the Man at the table with a cup of tea and a book. We both read a bit and chat about the next day’s plans, then he keeps reading and I fill out paperwork for Lucy’s school.

9:00 I check that doors and windows are locked and close down the kitchen. We get ready for bed a bit earlier than usual since we’ll need to make an early start to get everyone out the door for school in the morning. We read a bit. The Man checks kids one last time before lights out at 9:40. 

Eating Outdoors

Winters here are long and hard. In summer, we soak up the good weather.

We try to live seasonally as a family. One way we embrace summer is by eating outdoors. However, it’s time-consuming to haul booster chairs and trays in and out for every meal, and squeezing into the kids’ picnic table or balancing plates on our laps gets old. A few weeks back we found a nice outdoor table, chairs, and bench for a steal on a local Facebook sale page. Our house has a nice deep porch on a hill that always catches a breeze so we’ve been eating out there rain or shine for three meals a day ever since.

Berries from our woods, basil and zucchini from the garden, mititei, and juicy summer tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.

Picnics are also working well for us this summer. Last summer picnics were still…not remotely fun. Little children constantly slipped off the benches or kicked over dishes on the picnic blanket, food went flying, toddlers dumped drinks on themselves, preschoolers bolted toward danger, and the parents longed for home. What a difference a year makes. We grab something easy like good thick bread, butter, cold cuts, fruit, and cheese, then head to a park after naps. There’s time for the kids to play, a supper with no cooking and easy cleanup, a walk, then home to put tired children to bed. Another easy picnic option when we’re unprepared is packing water bottles then pulling through the grocery store for some fruit and a pre-made sub sandwich to split. It’s cheaper and healthier than takeout but prep-free on our end.

Martha Stewart is so jealous right now.

Eventually cold weather will come again. On bitter days when darkness falls by mid-afternoon we’ll be happy to eat inside by candlelight. For now, we’ll revel in summer.

Campfire Nights

The Man often comes up with fun variations on our regular routine. I can get into “systems mode” where I keep doing things the same way just because change sounds exhausting. Habits are helpful, but only when they don’t keep our family from better things. Case in point, The Man came home from the grocery store a couple of weeks ago with hot dogs and fixings and suggested we let the kids roast hot dogs over a campfire for dinner. My internal monologue went “Gah! It’s so much extra work! We have to haul everything outdoors. We have to build a fire. The kids always try to climb into the fire so it’s stressful for the parents. They’ll smell smoky and need baths. I just want to have a routine dinner and put the kids to bed so I can get some rest!” Externally I said “Okay.” He was right, of course. The kids were over the moon with joy, and we all had a great time. They’ve matured a great deal since last fall, so we did not spend the entire time chasing children off the edges of our fire pit.

After dinner we invited our next door neighbors over for s’mores. Like us they are Christians, have four kids and do a mix of private school and homeschooling. We love chatting with the parents. Their teenage son mows our lawn, their teenage daughter sometimes babysits for us, and their younger two happen to be adopted just like our kids. The twins worship the ground they walk on. Jack (4) frequently tells us that he will marry their youngest daughter when he grows up.

Asking folks over for s’mores by the campfire is my favorite form of hosting friends. There’s no advance tidying, no food to prep, and after you gather up the chocolate wrappers and put away the chairs cleanup is done. My other favorite easy hosting option is breakfast or brunch. We stick with a simple meal like waffles cooked at the table, fruit salad, and bacon or sausage cooked in the oven (switched to eggs when we had Muslim friends over, of course!). Baked french toast would be another great option. Our kids are often in their best moods in the morning, and everyone likes breakfast foods. In addition, guests don’t have to wait around for an hour and a half when we transition straight from dinner to bedtimes for cranky little kids. Welcoming a mom for tea or coffee is another easy one. This summer we’d like to make a big batch of lemonade and cookies or watermelon and just have neighbors over to chat on the porch. What are your favorite simple ways to be hospitable without over-complicating things?

We repeated the meal a week later and plan to continue the fun over the summer. We’d like to add in other campfire cooking options like dutch oven/foil packet meals or bratwurst.

Easter Sunday 2017

Easter Sunday fell in the middle of an ICU night call stretch for the Man. He spent all night working in the ICU, needed recovery sleep for most of the day, and had to go back in to work on Easter night. We all had the stomach flu last Easter so it was a bit of a bummer to miss church on the biggest feast day of the year again. Still, we can’t complain since he had both Christmas and Thanksgiving off this year. That’s only happened a handful of times in his whole medical career!

The kids and I had a lovely start to Easter itself. The kids woke up to chocolate rabbits and a new book each (The Easter Story from Scholastic, The Twenty-Third Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tim Ladwig, and When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner). We don’t do filled Easter baskets – not for any deep philosophical reasons, just because I didn’t grow up with them and them seem like another parental obligation resulting in junk and sugar all over the house ;). These cinnamon rolls from Smitten Kitchen turned out perfectly for breakfast and we all loved them. I only noticed her note about switching to a different recipe after making the original, but I have no complaints about using the old one. It was great! I sang Easter hymns at the table with the kids and read the Easter story. The Man arrived home from the hospital after breakfast, stayed awake long enough to gulp a cinnamon roll, and stumbled upstairs to sleep. The morning went a bit downhill from there – overexcited kids on sugar highs, food to prep, girls’ hair to do, and four wiggly people to wrestle into their Easter finest. It’s possible some maternal yelling occurred. Maybe. Likely. Definitely.

My brother and sister-in-law invited us for our nephew’s baptism, followed by Easter brunch at their house. Knowing one of our kids really could not handle that much extra stimulation in one day we limited ourselves to brunch. We were bummed to miss the baptism, but the great surprise bonus was that the Man woke up just in time for lunch and was able to join us at the last minute. We had a delicious and fun meal with our relatives, my sister-in-law’s family, and some of their friends. I can remember Easters with snow on the ground during my childhood so an outdoor lunch with sunny warm weather was a nice treat! My Dad took a few family photos for us. We’ve never yet caught a family photo with all six of us smiling and looking at the camera. This day was no different, but at least we’re all in the picture.

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I thought my brother did a brilliant job coming up with a make-ahead brunch menu. He picked items that required minimal attention during the quick turnaround between church and 20 people coming right over after the service. He had quiches and ham waiting in a warm oven, cold asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette, scones, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella, a fruit salad from my Mom, and deviled eggs from me (I used the Joy of Cooking recipe for the first time and brought the filling in a ziploc so I could just snip the corner and pipe it in on arrival – it was much better than my usual slapdash version). They served pre-made cakes from the grocery store and had juice, mimosa fixings, and water steeped with berries all prepared in advance. Definitely a menu to copy if you want a fabulous brunch that lets you sit and talk with your guests rather than fluttering round the kitchen.

On the longish car ride home we bribed the children with the promise of a bear cracker at home if they managed to stay awake. Over-sugared and oversocialized small children + no nap for kids + no sleep for Daddy before another night of ICU makes a scary math problem. Luckily three out of four made it and went down peacefully for naps (the fourth played quietly in her room, so success all round). The Man also went back to bed and slept for most of the afternoon in preparation for another night at work. After their nap the kids and I took a long neighborhood walk to keep the house quiet for him until dinner time. We got back just after he’d woken up and headed down to the basement to exercise: “It’s Daddy!”

This was our second year observing the liturgical octave (eight days) of Easter, building on our long-standing tradition of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas and, of course, Lent and Holy Week. This post from Better than Eden summarizes my growing appreciation for the drawn out holiday octave. It is so much more relaxing and meditative as the parent of many young children when you can enjoy Easter at a leisurely pace instead of cramming everything into one day and never getting any rest yourself! We went to bed knowing that Easter had only just begun. Seven more days lay ahead for Easter hymns, Easter stories, special foods, family fun, and secular traditions like an egg hunt.

A Hike at the Old Farm

The Man spent large chunks of Holy Week and the Easter Octave on call in the hospital but we still squeezed in lots of outdoor time in the sunshine. This week we tried a couple forest preserves we’d never visited before along with low-key walks and playground visits. These pictures were all taken on a walk at a local farm that the local conservancy bought for public use. It felt like we should be filming a BBC Jane Austen production in this scenery.

By some miracle not a single child fell in the creek (though someone did throw themselves down in the mud during a tantrum). Jenny completed the entire hike on her own two legs, a first for her. Thanks to her start as a micro-preemie she’s tended to meet physical milestones a bit later than normal but we’re seeing huge progress as she approaches her third birthday. She graduated from feeding therapy last week, too! At one point she balked in the trail, terrified of a dead tree trunk up ahead. Before I could help her Jack (4) stepped in, took her hand, and walked her safely past reassuring her that it was just a tree as they went. It’s a sweet moment to remember in the midst of the raucous sibling battles that sometimes break out around here.

 

Fireside

It may be spring, but most days are still gray and drizzly with a blustery chill that seeps in around the windows. We’re making frequent fires in the fireplace to cozy up the house before the nights become too warm. Last night the Man suggested pushing back the couches and moving the table into the living room for a fireside dinner.

Our vent fan is out of order so dinner itself was all simple oven-friendly or raw foods – salad, roasted chicken thighs, and quick homemade biscuits. Bless whichever previous owner planted daffodils all through our yard and woods. I’m forcing forsythia blossoms on the mantel and keeping cheery daffodil bunches on the table for meals. As soon as the marauders  kids are released after dinner the flowers go back up to a safe high shelf. Decorating magazine dreams and small children are not easy friends.

Our current read-aloud is Charlotte’s Web. I usually try to keep a chapter book going with the kids. Last night we read a bit more after dinner. It’s largely over the little ones’ heads, but the twins are at the age where they can track with chapter books and enjoy stories with fewer pictures. Jack, especially, listens closely and leads his siblings through all kinds of imaginative play scenarios inspired by our reading. Little House on the Prairie led to lots of wagon rides and playing in the cabin. We’re also reading through a children’s Bible with the kids right now. The other week, Jack announced he was going hunting, disappeared into the mudroom, then emerged with an imaginary bowl of soup for me a la Jacob and Esau. I’m not sure what birthright he was trying to trick out of me; he’s already the eldest.

I’m eager for warm weather, hiking, and swimming but I’ll miss cozy evenings cuddling babies by the fire and reading with the Man after the kids are in bed.