Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gardens, Good Things, and God

With lots and lots of help from David, I was able to accomplish May's goal of getting our garden started. We planted 4 rows of lettuce, 1 row of carrots and have tomato and eggplant seedlings growing on our porch. So far, I've killed one entire row of lettuce by forgetting to add potting mix and sticking the seeds straight in our rocky, clay-like soil. The rest of the garden has survived two hail storm assaults and a week of neglect while we were in Baltimore.


It's so exciting to come out each day and see plants that have literally grown over night. Caleb enjoys "helping" me water (eg, he's obsessed with the hose) and David is always willing to dig yet another row. It really has been a team effort. It's also reminded me a lot about how growth takes time, patience and nurturing. A good reminder for me in my new role as "mom".

The lettuce is almost big enough to be thinned again

Despite the 90+ degree weather, spring remains in full force in our yard thanks to a wonderful large Maple tree that shelters the smaller bushes from the sun's relentless heat. Red, pink and yellow knock-out roses are in full bloom and making their best effort to take over our back patio, the wisteria survived two rounds of hail and some lovely purple flowers have appeared on an unnamed bush towards the back of the yard.

June is already looking like a busy month with a cook out, a yard sale, a visit from David's brother (woo-hoo!) and a very special first birthday on the horizon. In light of all this, my only "goal" for June is that rather than using these things as a means of avoiding God because I'm "busy", I would spend much needed time in communion with Him.

It's so easy for me to think God's plan for me is to be a "good wife" or "good mom" as if those things are all he created me for. And while those things are wonderful and important, I am made for so much more. Caring for our home and son are just a few means of bringing God honor. When I'm not communing with God, even those things become means of avoiding Him and I miss out on touching base with all the other things He's created me for as well. I forget that my role isn't just to meet my families physical needs, but their spiritual ones as well.

So in this busy season of gardening, farmer's markets, hospitality, birthdays, diapers and dishes- I want to remember that life is about even more than all of these wonderful things.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Random Mommy Thoughts

Caleb has two speeds:

fast and "can I crawl fast enough to get into trouble before mom stops me?"

He is so smart. He knows several things he is not aloud to touch and if he hears me coming he will kick on what David affectionately calls "the afterburners". If it becomes clear I will intercept him, he immediately changes direction as if to say, "Just kidding, Mom!" I am in big trouble.

Who me?

Motherhood inhibits your ability to decipher certain things. Caleb was in bed. I was feeling lost, cranky, and unsure what to do next. I didn't want to do chores, I didn't want to relax, but there was definitely some unhappy feeling in me that needed attention. Oh yes, I finally recognized it, I am tired. I should take a nap. And I did. Who knew 20 minutes could change the course of the rest of the afternoon?

There is nothing more wonderful than watching a child discover something.

This week I watched Caleb:

clap his hands while standing on multiple occasions.

crawl to a book when I told him to, "go get a book."

practice his new skill of putting toys "up high". In his play pen, on the couch, into mommy's hands. His new favorite game is putting a toy some place that's "up" instead of just dropping it on the floor.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than the "I'm hurt and in pain" cry

Caleb and David were wrestling a couple days ago when Caleb decided it would be a good idea to dive over daddy. The poor guy landed face first into the floor. At first, I thought he was just in pain, but not injured, then I saw blood coming out of his mouth. Instant tummy flip flop.

He'd somehow cut his top gums with his bottom teeth. David had the presence of mind to pull out out the baggie full of frozen corn I keep just for Caleb injuries and I wrapped it in a cold wet wash cloth. After a couple of minutes the bleeding stopped, the crisis was passed, but I wonder if my mommy heart will ever get used to this!

Every week contains so many small memories that are hard to capture in writing. Caleb and I dancing around the living room to toddler friendly tunes, watching the rose buds unfold into full bloom, Caleb throwing his food onto the floor, but eating dirt and leaves, watching him giggle as I tickle him on my lap, family snuggles as we read a few stories together before bed...life as mom certainly has it's challenges, but I don't think I've ever been happier!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

11 Things That Change When You're 11 Months Old

If someone asked me to sum up a baby's first year of life in one word, change would definitely be it. This has been a month full of changes and "firsts" I want to remember.

Now that Caleb is 11 months old...

...He's big enough to play at the Roller Rink during toddler time. He had a blast pushing around balls and chasing after bigger kids, who surprisingly, all wanted to share with "the baby".

...He's too big for mommy to carry around all the time so for longer trips he rides in the stroller instead of his preferred method of transport- the baby carrier.

Investigating the stroller

...Finger foods are still for mommy to put in his mouth, but he's begun trying to sign "more".

Yeah, I know I already posted these pictures, but it's just so darn cute!

...If he's happy, and he knows it, he can clap his hands! He loves to clap in the car seat to get mommy's attention and recently began standing and clapping. He also claps when he's done nursing sometimes, it's so precious!

...He can pick out his own books. This month we took our first trip to the library. He loved pulling all the board books off the shelves (which is actually encouraged at our library! They just ask you put them back, but they're not kept in any order).

David reading one of Caleb's favorites

...He's officially attached to his lovey. David sweetly sent me on to Bible study one week while Caleb was crying himself to sleep. We'd already done two check-and-console's. Eventually, David decided he needed to be checked on a third time. Normally when we walk in he is staring at the door, just waiting for us. Instead, he was flat on his tummy, reaching through the bars of his crib to where his lovey was lying on the floor. David said he felt so terrible! He restored the lovey, put a second one in the crib for good measure and didn't hear a peep out of him the rest of the night.

...His receptive language is expanding each week. His new favorite game is "Where's the fan?" He looks right at it every time!

...He's beginning to sleep through the night. For various reasons, I haven't pushed night weaning. He's gradually gone from 3 wake ups/night at 4 months, down to 2 around 6 months, 1 at 8 months and now, for the past two weeks, none at all. I hope I'm not jinxing it by writing about it!

...He can eat dessert. Mommy caved in and gave him his first sweet treat- bits of whole wheat banana muffins I made. He enjoyed mushing each bite we fed him in his mouth, but still stoutly refused to pick any of the pieces up.

Photos from the day he decided to feed himself some banana

...All 6 teeth are here. No more lopsided smile. There are now 4 on top, which came in from left to right and 2 bottom teeth, which came in from left to right also. Maybe it's from all the reading...

You can see the bottom two as he uses his sunshade to play peek-a-boo with mommy on the way home from Baltimore

...He has several new favorite books. The top two at the moment are "Go, Dog, Go" and "Blue Hat, Green Hat". He cracks up when David or I read "Oops!"

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Week Full of New (Simple) Recipes: Lemon Oregano Chicken

For weeks the farmers market has been promising free range chickens and I've checked eagerly each week waiting for them to arrive. In the meantime, we've eaten lots of vegetarian as well as most of our supply of meat in the freezer. This week, the promised free-range birds were finally available. I must admit, I was a little sad to see they were all about 2.5-3lbs, but I eagerly took home two and decided I'd find something special to do with them.

While trying to find something for dinner Saturday night, I found this incredible recipe for Roasted Lemon Oregano Chicken. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I did substitute dried oregano for fresh.

I felt like such a chef rubbing the marinade underneath the skin of the chicken. David didn't share my enthusiasm when I called him in to take a look. I believe a direct quote would be, "Gross honey, it looks like you're wearing a chicken glove." Ah well, I knew he'd appreciate it when it was all cooked!

The Finished Product

To say we both devoured the 2.5lb chicken might be an understatement. The skin was so crispy, the meat so juicy and flavorful. I sauteed up some local asparagus to go with it and it was perfect.

When I went to pick the bones for soup pieces I was only able to get a small handful of chicken. So today, I processed it up with some peas and fed it to Caleb for lunch. He loved it!


Caleb Signing "More"

This was such a big hit, I think it will be a while before I make chicken any other way. Tonight I'm boiling the bones to make broth. Yum!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Week Full of New (Simple) Recipes: Tex Mex Mac and Cheese

Although I make it my goal to attempt a new recipe each week, there are seasons of life where we eat a lot of the same things over and over. I can always tell when we've been doing this because suddenly, making a grocery list is hard. Nothing I've been eating sounds good any more. I don't feel like cooking. In short, I'm in a rut.

It's easy to blame these ruts on sticking to the budget or having too little time. However, if I were to be honest, there are plenty of frugal and simple meals beyond tacos and spaghetti...they just involve me getting out of my comfort zone. And I dearly love my comfort zone, especially in the kitchen. Which is why I typically only try one new recipe each week. It's enough to inspire me, without overwhelming me. This week however, I plan to try 3 new recipes, which I thought I'd share.

Saturday night, realizing I hadn't planned for dinner, I found a delicious sounding recipe for Lemon Oregano Roasted Chicken. However, it required marinating time, so I decided to try the recipe the following day and take my time with our first free-range chicken of the season.

That left me with nothing for dinner however so it was back to the drawing board. I needed something quick, vegetarian (since I had no meat defrosted) and requiring only the ingredients I had on hand. A quick look at food.com led me to a tex-mex mac and cheese recipe that looked intriguing but used Velveta. I decided to adapt it to my usual mac and cheese recipe and it was a big hit with David. Here's what I did:

Tex Mex Mac and Cheese

Boil ½ box of macaroni noodles, drain and pour into 1.5qt. casserole dish

Combine over med. heat, stirring until mixture is melted and bubbling slightly
2 tblspn corn starch
2 tblspn butter
1 tspn taco seasoning

then add
2.5cups milk

Bring to boil over med/high heat stirring constantly. Let boil 1 min.

Stir in
1.5 cup cheddar cheese
.5 cup pepper jack

Stir until cheese is melted
then add .5 cup of salsa

Stir until combined

Pour cheese mixture over noodles, stir until all noodles are coated.

Sprinkle top with cheddar cheese and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

I served it with a side of oven-baked sweet potato wedges and we were both stuffed! Next time, I plan to cook up some taco meat and add that to the mix as well. As usual, I forgot to get a photo and we devoured the left-overs at lunch today.

The Lemon Oregano chicken is marinating in the fridge as I type...but that's another post.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How Mommy Got A Vacation for Our Anniversary

As many of you know, David's job involves quite a bit of travel and it's not always at the most convenient time. My first taste of this was when I put David on a plane to Hawaii 3 weeks after we said "I do." Buying a ticket for me to go with him would have set us back a whopping $2500. So, having lived in my new state, 1000 miles from everyone I knew for just one week (the first two weeks were the honeymoon), I dropped my husband off at the airport and for two weeks spoke to him for about 20 minutes at 3am (eastern time) after he finished his 12 hour work day. Fun times.

Then there was the time work sent him on a week long trip and I was alone with a 7-week-old who was colicky and waking every 45 minutes all night long...or the 6 month move we embarked on two months after that (and yup, Caleb was still waking every hour, but at least the colic was improving). I don't say this to complain. I feel so proud to have a husband with a strong work ethic, blessed to be able to be a stay at home mom and completely support him in his work. I do say all this, so that when I tell you what a completely fabulous week I've just had, you'll know this coin has two sides : )

A few months ago, when David told me he'd need to attend a conference on our anniversary week, I was pretty bummed. I was relieved to hear it was in Baltimore, so Caleb and I could go with him. As the time drew closer and plans solidified, I found out I'd be spending our anniversary week in a suite on the Inner Harbor and that another coworker's wife and 9 month old son would also be coming. Now I was really looking forward to the trip. No cooking, no cleaning, beautiful places to see in easy walking distance and another mom and baby to hang out with while the guys were at work...perfection!

The view from our window

Skyline views from the hotels roof top garden. I wish our camera had panorama capability!

The week has been every bit as amazing as I was hoping it would be. These trips can be lonely during the day, but getting to know Melissa and her baby boy Braydon this week has been such a joy. Caleb is slowly being taught the meaning of the word gentle (he wants Braydon's hair so badly...) and I'm loving having another mom to fellowship with. We've walked (and pushed strollers) all around the inner harbor, met our husbands for lunch each day and gotten to rest during naps times- an unusual occurrence! In the evenings the four of us played Settlers of Catan together after the babies were in bed.

Boys attacking David together

I won the first game of Settlers. David has taught me well!

We've also been able to trade off babysitting for one another, and each took a date night to the Cheesecake Factory. Drew and Melissa surprised us with a Starbucks gift card for our anniversary. We never go out for coffee unless we have a coupon or they are running a special so having a gift card is a real treat!

Caleb did NOT like sharing mommy during Drew and Melissa's date

As the week drew to a close, yet another small surprise sat buried in my wallet. One of my favorite places to visit on the Inner Harbor is the gigantic Barnes and Noble that was built inside the old power plant. On our second to last day, I discovered a gift card for B&N tucked away in my wallet. It had enough on it that I was able to purchase 5 new books for Caleb. We now own Clifford, The Mitten, Go Dog Go, Pat the Bunny and yet another Boynton book (he loves her writing and rhymes!).

Barnes and Noble- Inner Harbor style

Inside the old smoke stack at Barnes and Noble

I was so excited to get to add some more classics to his collection, especially since flipping pages and being read to are some of his favorite things. I had hoped to get him a set of Beatrix Potter books, but the only treasury they had was a giant, heavy single book. When I was little I had a set that was the perfect size for children's hands and each story was separated into a tiny book of it's own. Publishers just don't think of these things sometimes.

Of course, while I was exploring and shopping, David was spending his days learning more about his favorite topic- Computer forensics. He really enjoyed this conference and came home with a smile on his face. Wednesday, I noticed that smile was a little wider than usual. He tossed me a coin (which usually signals someone thought he did an outstanding job) and proceeded to tell me the story of how he plowed through a forensics challenge and became the first to actually solve it in class. This earned him a coin bearing the title: Lethal Forensicator. A little long for a super hero name, but I'll go with it : )

It's been an awesome week of connecting with my husband over lunch, getting to know new friends, not having to cook or clean and spending time exploring a historical part of our nation. Despite all that, there really is no place like home.

A few more photos from the week

Our hotel room

The kitchen became Caleb's nursery

Goat cheese, sun-dried tomato, arugula, and prosciutto pizza...Mmmm!

History Abounds

This ship survived Pearl Harbor

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Husband, My Hero

Before we were married, I was sure I'd be the perfect housewife. David would come home to a spotless house, a warm dinner and not have to lift a finger, except maybe to mow the lawn. Never mind that I've never been one to notice a mess, could make approximately 2 "real" dinners when we got married, and quite honestly have a lazy streak. Needless to say, our first few months were not the wedded bliss I had imagined. Not because David wanted me to be the housewife I'd envisioned, but because I constantly felt like a failure because I wasn't.

I've grown a lot since then. Yes, I'm neater and a much better cook, but more importantly, I've learned that being super-wife (or mom) isn't the key to a great marriage. If I had to choose two words to describe what has made the past two years great, they would be selflessness and grace. Today, I want to give David some public recognition of all the ways he gives to our family.

Back when I was trying to be super-wife, I was constantly overwhelmed because I couldn't "do it all". David came along side me and took over the household tasks that really bogged me down. To this day, I've (*gasp*) never ironed, rarely mop or scrub the tub and only vacuum about 50% of the time. Basically, I learned I needed his help for the "deep cleaning" and I take care of the day-to-day chores like laundry, dishes, cooking, picking up, errands, etc. Of course, David helps in these areas also, but to a much lesser extent.

While the help I receive around the house is wonderful, David blesses my heart daily in the time he takes to hear about my day and to play with Caleb. The hours he is home before Caleb goes to bed are joyous ones. He and Caleb wrestle on the floor and he and I pass back pieces of news during the lulls. Then we go on our family walk. This is David and I's time to really connect as Caleb checks out the scenery whizzing by.

I know he see's my role as Caleb's mom as a full time job. David always seems to be looking for ways to give me breaks since he knows I'm on duty 24/7. Recently, he's shooed me out the door for small group, even though it was his turn to go (we switch off who goes each week). These not-so-small gestures tell me how much he values those middle-of-the-night feedings and the energy it take to keep up with a little guy who is full-steam ahead all the time.

I don't think a blog post can successfully capture the joy I feel in our marriage, but I hope I've been able to share a snapshot of our life "behind the scenes". Of course we have bad days and times where our selfishness is painfully evident, but, as cliche as it might be, these two years have been the best of my life.

Through every high and low, I've been blessed to have a husband who prays me through, points me back to the only One who can give me the security my anxious heart desires, bears with my selfish times, laughs with me at my quirks, delights in my strengths and encourages me to grow daily.

Thank you David, for all the ways your truly are my hero.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Growing Bacteria in My Kitchen...On Purpose.

Doesn't that title just make your mouth water in anticipation of a dinner invite from our family?

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at a new kitchen adventure: home made yogurt. Now, you may be asking yourself, "Why would someone want to make yogurt, when there is perfectly good yogurt you can buy at the store?" I know there are people asking themselves this, because those were the exact words that ran through my head when a friend offered me a yogurt maker 4 years ago. I ended up passing it on to my mom because, "she does weird things like that" and never gave it a second thought...Until I had a 10 month old who is consuming yogurt at the rate of 2 quarts/week. You read that correctly: 2, $3.50 quarts of yogurt per week. That would be $28 dollars in yogurt/month, $336 in just yogurt/year. Ouch.

Milk however, is $4.00/gallon from a local dairy here. So yesterday, with the aid of my favorite kitchen appliance the crock pot, I turned 2 quarts of milk into 2 quarts of yogurt. Each quart of yogurt now costs ~1.00, a savings of $240/year. Not too shabby.

Without further ado, here's how I grew bacteria in my kitchen on purpose:

First, I poured 2 quarts of milk into the crock pot and set in on low for 2.5 hours. The milk is heated for sterilization purposes, since you will be leaving it at room temp for quite a while, you only want the right kind of bacteria growing.

Next, I unplugged the crock pot and let it sit (lid on) for 3 hours. The milk must cool to a good incubation temp for the bacteria, somewhere between 90 and 110 degrees.

Then, I wisked in 1/2 cup of plain yogurt with active bacteria (I just used the bottom of the tub from the store) and let it sit, wrapped in a towel for 8 hours.

Honestly, I was a little skeptical. Could it really be that easy? At 10pm last night, I unwrapped the crockpot and found...yogurt. It tastes like and has the same consistency of the store bought yogurt for a fraction of the cost.

It's probably not something I'd bother with if I didn't have such a voracious yogurt eater, but I have a feeling I'll be making quite a few batches during this season of our lives.

Caleb wasn't so sure about his first bite of yogurt way back in March, but now, it's a breakfast staple

Friday, May 6, 2011

Adventures in Gardening

Isn't it funny how once you're out on your own, your parents suddenly get even smarter? When I was in high school, my parents grew the most incredible garden in our side yard. I was usually too "busy" with homework to help (it's such a convenient time to do homework when your parents are slaving in the hot sun to weed and manure the garden...). Now that I'm out on my own, paying for my own groceries and missing the taste of fresh vegetables...lets just say I wish the homework had waited. So, despite the fact that my parents are wonderful gardeners, I'm totally making this up as I go.

Our fist major gardening challenge is the fact that we only have a 10' by 20' rectangle of our yard that gets full sunlight. The rest is shaded by a gorgeous maple 95% of the day. Now, this may sound like a decent sized garden, until you consider much of it was already planted with flowers and bushes by the previous owners. I realize we could just rip those things out, but I happen to think they're beautiful so we're trying to co-exist.


Our tangible journey towards gardening began about a month ago when Money Saving Mom featured a deal where you could pay $5 shipping and receive 30 random seed packets from an organic seed company. Sold. Our seeds arrived with about 10 packets of lettuce, another 10 of an assortment of veggies, 5 packets of herbs, and 5 flowers. Apparently we would be growing lots of lettuce. I know nothing about growing lettuce. So I went to the most reliable information source, the internet, and did some reading. These are the basics I came away with: sow 2 lettuce seeds/inch, water consistently, and thin out the plants as they pop up so you're heads grow 8-12 inches apart (thinnings can be used in salad, yum!).

So armed with that mighty body of knowledge I had David dig up the grass in the yard, dig a few trenches that I filled with potting soil, dug an itty bitty trench with my trowel, dropped the seeds in, covered them up and watered them. Are you aware that a lettuce seed is about the size of the period at the end of a sentence? I found it almost impossible to drop only 2 per inch. I was lucky if there were only 3. It's survival of the fittest in our garden for sure.

Breaking ground on our garden

Planting. And yes, I am wearing ear muffs. It was 65 degrees and crazy windy. I have sensitive ears, ok?

Finished. Check out my awesome sticks marking each row. I'm planning to replace those with Popsicle sticks with the lettuce type's name on them. Each row is a different type.

The heads won't come to maturity for about 2 months according to the back of the seed packet, but I'm sure we'll have thinnings to eat on before then. Assuming anything grows that is.

Here are some more pictures of the project (and of our littlest big helper!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May: New Goal and a Caleb Update

May has arrived (though I'm still not quite sure how we are nearly halfway through the year already) so I guess I ought to set a goal for this month...

To recap, in January my goal was routine. Specifically, to take time in the morning to eat breakfast, exercise, shower, dress for the day and have a quiet time This has been a little sporadic with all the moving, but I'm finding my groove again : ) Though things like exercise have moved to the evening as David and I are taking our daily walk or gardening almost every day.

In February, I wanted to focus on being more loving both in the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth. It was an eye-opening and transforming month that I'm thankful to say has had a long term effect. David was and is amazingly helpful at keeping me accountable in this area.

During March I followed along with Simple Mom's Project Simplify and in April I took a break to focus on moving and Easter.

I've also achieved some mini-goals of mine along the way. Two weeks ago my friend Jen agreed to be my guide at our local farmer's market (somewhere I've been meaning to visit for quite some time). I was amazed at the variety of produce, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese and meat...80% for far less than I pay at the grocery store. I guess that's the beauty of living in Amish country. I'm totally hooked.

Along that line, another mini-goal I've just started is using cash to pay for our groceries. Partially because I'm buying so much at the farmers market now, and they don't exactly take debit, but also because I've heard so many people swear by how much less they spend when they can see the cash leaving their hands.

Yesterday was my first experience of handing over cash at the grocery store (yes, I still shop there too!) and I can definitely say there is something about parting with a portion of money from an envelope that is far more real feeling than just swiping a card. I'm excited (and nervous) to see what's left in our envelope at the end of the month!

My big goal for May however, is to get our garden going. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I've heard the best way to learn is by doing. So, with a few basics in mind I'll be planting lettuce this week and tomatoes after we get home from a week long conference in Baltimore for David's work.

I would put off planting in general until after our travel, but with David's schedule that would probably mean not having a garden at all by the time I put it off for a week here or a week there. Hopefully one of our neighbors won't mind getting paid in vegetables in exchange for doing a little watering while we're gone. If not, it'll be survival of the fittest : )

Last, but not least, a Caleb update! As I mentioned in an earlier post, he hasn't been a big fan of finger foods thus far. I decided to just offer them each day, encourage him to pick them up, but not to push the issue. After a week of alternately smearing the food and completely ignoring it, Caleb has decided it's kind of cool to put food in his own mouth.

Yesterday he fed himself several chunks of banana covered in rice cereal (to stop it from slipping out of his fingers so easily). Then today he ate chunks of mushy carrot and even tried a cheerio (though after he gagged on that I decided I'd either spray them with a little water first or wait a bit to introduce them again). I wish I'd gotten a picture, but I couldn't find my camera. It was a beautiful mess! It's so incredible to watch him grow and change each day.