Friday, September 6, 2013

Settling in

It's September 6 and the high today is supposed to be 85 degrees. But I still got myself my first pumpkin spice latte on the season. Mmm-mmm, bring on fall.

When Jeremy and I were house-hunting in the spring, I reflected that there is only so much research you can do on an area - the schools, amenities and property taxes. But your neighbors - well, only time will tell.

Blessedly, we landed in a very warm, community-oriented neighborhood, anchored by a one-lot playground. On school mornings, the kids parade down the streets, walking to the elementary school. Friday evenings, there are pizza parties on the playground. We had our block party last weekend, where Jeremy and I got to meet more people. One woman noted that the house really becomes your own when you start cooking and baking your favorite recipes, perfuming your house with those wonderfully comforting, familiar smells.

I thought of her as I prepared our Rosh Hashanah dinner this week. We had what are becoming our traditional dishes for this holiday - Italian-style brisket and apple cake; I had my little baker at my side.

And we added some new side dishes; all from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust:

Provencal cherry tomato gratin

3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cups coarse bread cubes from a country bread (crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a 9x13-inch ceramic dish. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss together. Spread the tomatoes evenly in the pan.

Place the garlic, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Add the bread cubes and process until the bread is in crumbs. Add the ¼ cup of olive oil and pulse a few times to blend. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake the gratin for 40 to 45 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the tomato juices are bubbling. Serve hot or warm.

Potato celery root puree

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (4 leeks)
4 cups (1½ pounds) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into ¾" cubes
4 cups (2 pounds) celery root, peeled and diced into ¾" cubes
3 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter over medium heat in a large (8" to 10") saucepan or Dutch oven. Rinse leeks well in a colander, spin dry in a salad spinner, and add to pot. Sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Add potatoes, celery root, cream, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper to the pot, stir, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to very low, cover pot, and simmer gently 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Be careful—don't let the vegetables scorch on the bottom of the pan! In batches, pour mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until coarsely pureed. Taste for seasonings, return to saucepan, and keep warm over very low heat. If mixture gets too thick, add a little more cream.

Green beans gremolata

1 pound French green beans, trimmed
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and blanch them for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still crisp. Drain the beans in a colander and immediately put them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and preserve their bright green color.

For the gremolata, toss the garlic, lemon zest, parsley, parmesan, and pine nuts in a small bowl and set aside.

When ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Drain the beans and pat them dry. Add the beans to the pan and saute, turning frequently, for 2 minutes, until coated with olive oil and heated through. Off the heat, add the gremolata and toss well. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and serve hot.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First day

This moment is a good moment to shake me from my blog-writing coma. 

Today is Jack's first full day of kindergarten. Yesterday, we had an open house for students and their parents, but today is the real deal.

Jack, Jossie and I were a few steps behind our neighbors as we walked to the school. We quickened our pace to catch up. Jack ran ahead and fell in line with two neighborhood boys. I was okay until that point - I watched how Jack tried to match their steps, readjusting his new backpack on his shoulders. He was looking to them on where he might fit in. Just a block or two away, all three boys were laughing together, blended together.

We hit the school grounds just as the first bell rang. Jack ran ahead, but then double-backed. He grabbed my hand, and I did my best to not cry. I grabbed Jossie's stroller and we pressed closer to the door, through the crowds of parents and students. "Where do I go?" Jack looked at me. I reminded him of what he needed to do and knelt down to hug and kiss him. Our new neighbor and friend, Annie, pressed her son's hand into Jack's hand, and together the boys walked into their classroom together, holding hands. Annie and I stood side-by-side, watching her youngest and my firstborn as they disappeared. I think we were symbolically holding hands too.

This is a big step for our boy, and I am very excited for this new journey. But for now, I think I just need a good cry at this milestone moment.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Taking stock

There are a lot of cries bigger in this world than me being anxious about moving and finding a new caregiver for the kids. But it's all weighing me down. I sought peace at church this warm summer morning, and I brought Jossie with me. She held my hand with one chubby hand, and held her Minnie Mouse Lip Smacker in the other. She noted we were both wearing pretty dresses.

Church was at its best; the choir was all-women, and we sang comforting hymns. We sang my favorite hymn in fact. We had it at Jeremy's and my wedding.

For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light, Lord of all…

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled, Lord of all…

For each perfect gift of thine
to our race so freely given,
graces human and divine,
flowers of earth and buds of heaven, Lord of all…

For thy Church which evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love, Lord of all…

We packed this afternoon. As I lowered plastic boxes of Legos into a moving box, I thought I'd get Jack's thoughts. "I think these Legos are a little nervous to move, Jack," I said. "What do you think I should tell them?"

He thought for a second. "How should I know, Mom," he answered. "I don't speak Lego."

Happy week ahead, friends.

Friday, May 31, 2013


We have a lot of catching up to do, don't we?

Right now, I'm living in-between. I'm still a city dweller with a husband, two kids, and my non-profit job. But a month from tomorrow, I will be a suburban mom with a husband, two kids, and my non-profit job.

I grew up in the suburbs. This should not be new to me. But I've spent my adult life as a city dweller. Though I never think of myself as a city person.

I am rambling.

We are moving. To a 1908 house with a white picket fence in a lakeside community. It is a foursquare house with a smooth stucco finish. Frank Lloyd Wright fancied stucco finishes.  It it not big but it is perfect and charming. Perfectly charming. That's why Jeremy and I wrote an offer for it in the back of our broker's car the first time we saw it.
This house feels right to us. Since the offer was accepted, we've had a chance to meet the mom of the house. She clasped my hands and told me we were just the family she wanted for this house, and I told her we would take good care of it.

Our new neighborhood is full of children, and there is a park that serves as a community gathering place down the block. We can walk to Jack's school, two different business districts, the library, the grocery store, the commuter train and Northwestern football games on autumn Saturdays. Every time we visit, the realization that this is a very good idea for our family sinks in deeper and deeper.

And back in the city, I think about what we've had here. I think about it a lot and how things will change. Jack at five years old can hail a cab. Our favorite lunchtime spot after Jack's school day is in the seventh tallest building in the U.S. Jeremy and I can be home from work within an $8-cab ride. We can sit on a 4th-floor porch and take in the Chicago skyline. I know to do my errands either on a weeknight after 8 p.m. or on a weekend before 8 a.m. to avoid traffic.

In the city, we can be part of communities - work, school, church - but we can also walk down the sidewalk in the anonymity of the city. Already in our new town, I visited a preschool where the director not only knew the family we were buying from but also knew the family of the house our sellers were buying, if that makes sense.

So this is my toe-touch in May to this beloved blog of mine. More to come; I promise. Happy weekend, friends.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Common good

This week has reminded me of the hurt in our world. There’s a lot of it.

I still believe – I have to believe – that there is more good than bad in our world. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder.

Openlands, where I work, believes there is value in the common species in nature. While the rare is beautiful and important, we do not solely focus on it, which runs counter to conservation thinking. We want to connect people with nature, and nature means many different things to many different people. We recently started a program for 2nd to 5th graders that helps them identify the everyday birds in their backyard. Through the program, it’s our hopes that the schoolchildren gain an appreciation for nature, even through a humble connection to a sparrow, and someday will become conservation stewards themselves. “Common” birds are an important tool to our process.

Processing all of the news of this week, I slipped into Jossie’s room Wednesday night and picked up my sleeping toddler. I brought her back to my bed, and I pulled her close.

This act was not a protective one. It was for me; I needed to feel her good, innocent truth. The sense that I am raising Jossie and Jack in a world where Jeremy and I can keep them safe is not a given.  How can I protect this cherub who looks at me with trust as she warbles, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine”? How do I trust my prayerful requests at night to keep my family safe?

Rare are the heroes of this week – the people who ran into harm’s way to help others.  Common are the good people in our lives every day. For me this morning, it’s the drugstore manager who wears a tie and helps his customers. It’s the engineer in my office building who tries to fix a stuck door. It’s me; at least I hope it is.

Perhaps it’s time to think about how common can do rare things. I feel very blessed in my life to have all I have – a home, food, my faith, and healthy family and friends. I treat people with respect and ask for the same in return. There has to be a place for me to act.  I know in my heart that I need to act by speaking out more for the benefit of children and giving them all they deserve – confidence, a sense of value, and, above all, safety.

That is a tall order for the common. But we must start somewhere.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Saturday morning, I tried the trick of warming vanilla extract in the oven to give our condo a welcoming scent for visiting house hunters. It's two tablespoons of vanilla extract in a mug, warmed in the oven at 300 degrees for 30-60 minutes. The results were so-so, in my opinion.

Sunday morning, I came to my senses and perfumed the house with something much more inviting.

Classic blueberry muffins
From Cook's Illustrated

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, preferably wild

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl until combined. Whisk egg in second medium bowl until well-combined and light-colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar and whisk vigorously until thick and homogenous, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 2 or 3 steps, whisking to combine after each addition. Add sour cream in 2 steps, whisking just to combine.

Add frozen berries to dry ingredients and gently toss to combine. Add sour cream mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together and berries are evenly distributed, 25 to 30 seconds (small spots of flour may remain and batter will be thick). Do not overmix.

Use ice cream scoop or large spoon to drop batter into greased muffin tin. Bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Invert muffins onto wire rack, stand muffins upright, and cool 5 minutes.

In the afternoon, we drove north with our sights set on a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Jossie fell asleep as we neared the garden, so we traveled farther north instead. We ended up in Lake Bluff, a sleepy (and wealthy) village along the shores of Lake Michigan.  Jack's first school friend - Charlie - and his family had moved to Lake Bluff in the past few months, and I regretted not having their contact information to reach out to them for a last-minute visit.

Jeremy and I love the cafe Wisma, which also has a location nearby his office downtown, so we stopped in for a cup of coffee. If you're ever there, try the butternut squash soup - not a touch of dairy in it but yet so heavenly and creamy.

So - lo and behold - as Jeremy and I are oogling the prepared food and wine selection, Jack looks out the window and nonchalantly says, "Hey...there's Charlie." I wave frantically at Charlie's mom to get her attention and they bound into the little shop. Lots of big reuniting ensues with hugs and laughter. Jossie and Charlie's little brother, both 2, escape us and start making mischief, running their chubby hands against the hanging wine glasses; the glasses twinkle like wind chimes.

Charlie's mom invites us back to their house so the kids can play. We head out together. The kids wreak havoc while the parents drink wine; the waning afternoon sun spills through the windows as we talk.

A writer I admire talks about the "daily surprise." I like the idea of that - opening yourself up to an element of surprise each day. It's liberating, really.

And this was truly ours - our surprising luck in running into dear friends. No telling news yet on any pending sales of our blueberry-scented condo, but if all of our luck had to be expended on this happy reunion and the accompanying good memories this St. Patrick's Day, I'll take it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Here I am

Am I tired?

Jack looked at me tonight as I gave him his bath and said, "Mommy, your eyes look cracked."

Yes, I'm tired.

It's a good tired from a busy week. We listed our condo Monday and by tomorrow night, we'll have had at least 16 showings. That is a lot of rounds of sweeping up crumbs, putting out the "show" towels and cleaning off the counters. I'm also trying to give work its due attention as things heat up there and have even scheduled some much-needed friend time. And I'm doing our income taxes. Fun.

Our week with the kids has taken two paths. One path is the refugee one - spending hours at a time away from our condo, packing our car with the essentials (snacks, water bottles and diapers) and the not-so-essentials (a bunch of Jack's art projects and Jossie's baby doll collection). The other path is time spent at home, trying to stick to routines, wash laundry, wash babies and eat plain meals to combat the restaurant meals we are eating otherwise.

So that's me on the Saturday night of St. Patrick's Day weekend in Chicago. The river is green; revelry is in the air; and Jeremy and I are at home with two sleeping babies after an early dinner with good friends. More to come.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My shoes

At best, my wardrobe has always been conservative. I have never been that interested in fashion; I have always worn my hair down. My jewelry is pretty straight-forward, when I wear any. My make-up is the same for day and evening.  This morning, I put a bit of lip gloss on, and Jack actually asked what was different about my face.

This past weekend, I was going through my closet and pulling out things to donate, and Jossie surveys my shoes, her baby doll clutched in her hand. She pulls out a very worn pair of Cole Haan flats. She sets them on the floor and says, “pretty shoes,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.

She slips her feet into them. My heart melts a little at this moment of my daughter trying on my shoes.

But I almost feel sorry for Joss. Her mama doesn’t own glamorous high heels. Or even some good sparkly shoes. Or shoes that aren’t black.

But they are mine.  I have walked miles in those shoes. I have felt sad, happy, proud, and disgruntled in those shoes.

And she is mine. For now.  She doesn’t look at me with adoration or disdain. Right now, I’m just the Truth – mama, protector and provider.  These are my shoes and they are pretty because they are her mama’s, and that is good enough for now.

Monday, February 25, 2013

In place

After much complaining and chocolate, I am making my final ascent of Mt. Junk.

For the past few weeks, Jeremy and I have been slowly and painfully clearing out our 1,300-square-foot condo to prepare it for listing. Having two small children makes things that much more difficult. For example, after I pulled out the Easter baskets from my closet, then I had a bazillion plastic Easter eggs all over the house. Some even made their way into the car. I have tried to surround myself with a lot of patience.

And chocolate.

We are so close to being show-ready. I can see the summit. I am so grateful to my parents and to two of my best friends for storing an embarrassingly amount of our stuff in their closets and basements. We have made three trips to the Salvation Army; I promise we didn't donate Jossie.

I cannot begin to describe how happy I feel in my walk-in closet. Seriously. The clothes - that we actually wear - hang neatly. The floors are not covered in shoes and toys. Jack and Jossie have a greatly reduced number of toys in their toy bins - toys they actually play with. It amazes me at how much "extra" we allow in our lives and once you weed through, how much easier things become.

Though as we clean and plan and think about moving, I just smile. We all think we can make a plan but we know life doesn't always follow accordingly. So here I am - trying to muster what control I can over my life - donating five dozen plastic hangers and packing box after box. Waiting for and wondering about the next chapter. More to come, my friends.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Legos and love

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I love the day for showing appreciation for our friends, family, teachers and colleagues. It's not really a day of red-hot love (sorry, Jer) and, anyways, I'm thankful for a husband who shows his love in thoughtful ways here and there throughout the year, rather than saving it for February 14. (Though I never mind a nice bit of chocolate or some bubbles...)

My blog is a little bit of everything as I chronicle life with two small children, a loving husband and one fat cat, living, working and playing in Chicago.  So that said, I present to you: Jack's valentines project.

After Jossie's birthday bash, Maria offered to help Jack with his valentines. I was grateful for the break from being crafty. And then I pushed myself into the scene in typical me style.

Maria made Lego-themed valentines with Jack, and God bless her patience for gluing all of those itty-bitty hearts onto the cards. We found creative sayings online.

(Gratuitous Pinterest moment.) Then I threw in the Lego-shaped crayons idea. I have five years' worth of crayons from restaurants, and I bought a Lego mold. A silicon mold is key to this project.

Before we go any further, I might suggest you step away from the crayons and call me, and let's get a drink instead. I'll go grab my purse.

You're still here? Okay onward to the project.

After the painful task of peeling the wrappers off of the crayons and chopping them up into uniform sizes (no one ever tells you what a pain this task is and how you're probably going to ruin your cutting board), we filled up our molds. Jossie loved helping with this, with her chubby little fingers. I adore those chubby little fingers.

Put the mold on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes or so. Let stand for a few hours and then peel the silicon mold away from the crayon. I found little treat bags for the crayons and used my new love - paper (or washi) tape - to affix them to the little red envelopes. And voila! Jack's classmates can now give me the stink eye for giving them crayons instead of candy this Valentine's Day...


Monday, February 11, 2013

Getting my act together

We are going to list our condo in a few weeks. I have been lacking the motivation and the focus to get our condo show-worthy. Part of me doesn't want to pull our stuff out, looking at everything we have that we don’t use. Part of me doesn't want to run my hands over my chipped dinner dishes or look over my old wrinkled clothes, feeling like I should replace them and feeling wasteful at the same time. But mostly, I don’t want to add more work to my plate – more work that doesn't involve the kids. I want to push the moving boxes aside, grab Jack’s and Jossie’s little hands and head straight to a museum. I don’t want to worry about packing, finding the right house and, frankly, reorienting my life.

I like my city mama life. I have a well-worn path between my condo and my workplace. We have a trusted and loved daily caregiver for the kids. And I love the kids’ schools, pediatricians and classes. I have my grocery stores. I have my shortcuts and my ways. Life is working.


Sunday afternoon, our family attended a brunch/art project for current families in the Prentice NICU. We've thanked the nurses and doctors and celebrated with NICU grad families, but this was my and Jeremy's first experience with direct services with current families.

Given my hesitancy for change, this was a good reminder for me. The biggest change of my little life so far has been motherhood, and in the case of being a preemie mom, you’re thrown into the deep end before you even expect it.

Granted – the group who attended the brunch were self-selected – but I was impressed with the handful of mothers I spoke with and their willingness to work through the change they have been given. They were ready to learn, to share with others about their experiences and make Valentine’s Day artwork for their little ones’ pods. One new mom just had her baby the day before! I was only with them for an hour but was reminded of my own changes in my life and how they weren't solved overnight – there was a period of transition and hard work.  In respect to the NICU, each day Jossie was there felt like an eternity. And besides the whole leaving my newborn there every day for 22 days, there were also the grody tasks of dealing with insurance, figuring out what to do with work (since I left early) and childcare for Jack. And now it is but a brief memory.

Jossie and Jack are my beautiful rewards of Jeremy's and my hard work. One current NICU mom kindly squeezed my hand and told me that seeing a healthy, lively Jossie “made her day.” (This was on our way out the door – if I had known that sooner, I would have asked Jossie to count to 10 and run backwards to show off her skills.) The NICU receptionists sang the kids’ praises. Two years ago, I couldn't envision today – and I wish I could have.

And so back to that darn stuff in my condo. It will get organized and packed. The toys that stay will be stored in clever ways to hide during showings but to also remain accessible to the kids’ whims. And getting my act together at home and making hard decisions about our move with Jeremy will be part of something bigger. It will allow us to move to a bigger space. To join a new community. To host more family and friends. To create a home for our family. Thinking about the bigger goals of tomorrow makes the finite tasks of today much more manageable.

And that, I suppose, can apply to all levels of our lives. Happy week ahead, my friends.

What do you think? Please hit "comments" below and post your thoughts. Readers' comments are important to the value and relevance of a blog!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


After weekends of planning for fun and having planned fun, this was a weekend of living-in-the-moment fun. It's exactly what we needed - a Saturday of part-exploring/part-errands and a Sunday where the weather is predicted to be icy rain so we are staying tucked indoors.

Saturday was a brightly sunny and chilly day. Our morning started at the children's photography studio jookie. The owner Jill is a Northwestern alum as well. In 2008, she photographed a one-year-old Jack.

We were thrilled to give back through her Valentine's Day fundraiser. We are excited to see the images she captured, which we'll share. Jack, per usual, did not want to go, and as soon as we got there, while I was still fussing with Jossie's hair, Jack was already in front of the camera, giving Jill adorable smiles. 

jookie is located in my BFF's old neighborhood, Chicago's Lincoln Square. We never go there anymore, so a trip up there warranted some time walking around the neighborhood and poking around the many locally owned shops. Timeless Toys has all of the requisite Melissa & Doug and Playmobil gear, but they also have a great selection of lesser-known board games and dress-up clothes. Gene's Sausage Shop is just as amazing as it sounds (besides smoked meats they have a nice selection of specialty ingredients, like fine sea salt). And Merz Apothecary has a variety of natural health and beauty products, including my new favorite, friend-recommended hand cream, Lotil

Our outing also included brunch at Cafe Selmarie, where we ran into college friends and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of multi-grain pancakes, scrambled eggs and chicken sausage. We rarely brunch anymore, with having the two littles, so this was a treat. I may have ordered myself a mimosa. It's very Middle America there - patrons dressed in oversized sweaters, jeans or leggings and snow boots. Little ones are rapping silverware against the tables, their hair sticking up from their mamas pull wool caps off of their heads. Local watercolors adorn the walls and are sale for purchase. The servers are all twenty-somethings, wearing their funky eyeglasses while serving up creative dishes like cinnamon roll griddlecakes. 

I like to record these outings - this moment in time while the kids are little, and we're city dwellers enjoying Chicago's treasures.  I sometimes think the story of my blog is this story - Chicago living with young children, making a home in 1,300-square feet of condo with the city as our backyard.

And today is Sunday. Everyone was in bed until 8 a.m., which is unheard of. I made waffles. They were not overly sweet but do have a hint of cinnamon warmth. To make them appealling to kids, add some maple syrup, fruit and/or a dollop of whipped cream.

Buttermilk waffles

2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable (or canola) oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt (did you notice the foreshadowing above?)

Preheat a waffle iron. In a large mixing bowl, using a sturdy whisk, beat the eggs until evenly mixed. Add buttermilk, oil, sugar, cinnamon and baking soda. Whisk together until well combined. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until just the large lumps disappear. The waffle batter should be a little thicker than heavy cream. Transfer the batter to a large glass measuring pitcher (I used a four-cup measuring glass).

While the waffle iron is hot, pour some batter evenly over the center of the grid, easing it toward but not into the corners and edges with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula.  Close the iron and cook for 3-4 minutes. Enjoy!

And that's it - just a bunch of relaxing and some cooking for the rest of the day. Happy relaxing Sunday to you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

All you need is...

Jack's preschool teacher is fond of reminding the students that if you are nice to the class bunny, then Ms. Hopsy Cabbage will be nice to you. A loved bunny is a happy bunny.

I have two some bunnies who were driving me crazy at home tonight. After our holiday weekend of fun, it was back to work today. When I got home at 5 p.m., toting my Target purchases and trying to shake off the chilly Chicago temperatures, I had no break. There is no happy hour. No civility. It's right into mama mode, making dinner, negotiating squabbles, giving baths and brushing the teeth of a thrashing toddler.

The end of the night was laughably bad - Jossie and I had toothpaste all over our clothes and the bathroom floor had large puddles of water. I asked Jack the same question about seven times before he responded; he was too busy hopping around our living room, which was strewn with toys. I was tired.

Lately, I've had tiny triumphs at work - shared and personal. Even just tonight - while the crazy ensued at home - my boss emailed me about two major gifts coming our way. And as a fundraiser, I'm constantly thinking about my organization's outcomes and how we can accurately show progress to our donors.

Successes at home are a lot harder to measure, which is hard for my Type A brain to comprehend. Success comes in different ways - me keeping some bit of calm rather than reaching the end of my rope tonight is a tiny success. Me reading to the kids and them settling down to enjoy the stories is a tiny success. Jack and Jossie both falling asleep in my arms, all of us cuddled in Jack's twin bed is a tiny success, with a little heavenly intervention surely thrown in.

I'm never going to be a perfect mom. I will lose my temper from time to time. I will lean on TV - dear sweet TV - to entertain my kids while I make dinner. And I will wish I could just have some Peace and Quiet once in awhile.

But for now - these little bunnies are little. And needy. They need me and my love and the structure I bring to our home. I know they will benefit from what I'm trying to do here - for them to know they are loved above anything else.

A loved bunny is a happy bunny.

What do you think? Please hit "comments" below and post your thoughts.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pretty in pink

While the gala season may start in September and end by Christmas, my family's party season extends from Halloween to mid-January. Instead of formal dress, passed appetizers and open bars, our season includes presents, homemade cookies and lots of laughter.

Since October 31, my family has donned Halloween costumes and eaten candy, sang happy birthday to Jack, saw the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in person and eaten turkey in New York, lit eight nights of candles for Hanukkah and celebrated with Jack's preschool class, awaited Santa's visit and played in the snow in Cleveland, toasted 2013 with Champagne and sparkling cider, watched the Northwestern Wildcats finally win a bowl game, and - just this past weekend - end our party season with a family weekend for Jossie's second birthday. 

It was the first time since Jeremy's and my wedding that we had all of our siblings and parents in one room, which was a treat in itself. Throw in a few best friends and their families along the way, and our 1300-square-foot condo was quite the party. 

As usual, the best moments of this weekend were the unplanned ones. My parents and Jeremy's parents sitting at the dining room table Saturday night chatting; my sisters, all of our kids and me sitting in the living room; and my mom likening Jossie's behavior to mine (we both sucked our index finger as toddlers) and Jeremy's mom likening Jack's behavior to Jeremy (both hummed constantly while playing toys as preschoolers).

Jossie and Jack had big smiles on their faces all weekend. As we toasted Jossie Saturday night, surrounded by our loved ones, I noted how lucky she was. How lucky we all are.

I unabashedly did everything in pink this weekend. I bought a few things from the Martha Steward Vintage Girl line to help decorate and found inspiration from Pinterest. My sister made some tulle pom-poms that I will reuse in Jossie's future playroom.

I made a birthday banner to celebrate Jossie's past year of life.

The food was simple breakfast foods; besides me baking the zucchini and banana breads and my mom cutting up the fruit, we bought everything pre-made. Easy! Sparkling pink lemonade and pink and white striped paper straws were highlights.

My sister, mom and I baked cookies, and I bought pink candy (benefiting from Valentine's Day, which is right around the corner) for a sweets table for our guests' party favors. I found small clear plastic scoops at The Container Store for the candy.

One of the cookies I baked was a crisp chocolate chip cookie:

Tate's Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies
From Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted butter, 2 sticks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt.  In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars, then add the water and vanilla. Mix until just combined.

Add eggs to the butter mixture and mix them lightly.

Stir in the flour mixture. When flour is mixed in, fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop 2 tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough 2-inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Make sure the cookie sheets are well greased. I like to use parchment paper.

Bake for 12-17 minutes or until the edges and centers of the cookies are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks.

Personalized stickers from this Etsy seller adorned the empty bakery boxes, waiting to be filled with sweet treats.

We had light pink and white flowers from A New Leaf and a confetti birthday cake from Sweet Mandy B's.

It was a perfect weekend for our family and our sweet girl. Many thanks to our family for making the trip. It meant the world to us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Happy birthday to Jossie

Jossie was born at 12:33 a.m., 33 minutes into her 33rd week of gestation. God graced me with the gift of a suit of armor that lasted for 12 hours or so after her birth. I only felt elation, adrenaline and relief for her safe and healthy birth. She was breathing on her own and regulating her temperature well. We knew each other the moment Jeremy brought her to me. Daughter and mother. Joy. It would be a little later on that doubt, regret and worry would sneak in, but blessedly only temporarily in the grand scheme of things.

And today is her second birthday, and she is our beautiful, determined little girl. The sun shines brightly today, a stark contrast to the bitterly cold temperatures, as it did two years ago. The happiness that surrounded us during those early moments surrounds us tenfold today.

Happy birthday to our dear Jossie.

Jossie, you have much patience living in a house full of firstborns - your mother, father, and older brother. At an early age, I see you learning the art of negotiation. When Jack was 2, he would ask for a TV show, and I'd happily oblige. When you ask for a show, you say, "Elmo show first," giving Jack a watchful eye to see how he'll respond.

You are our quiet observer and you have always been that way. Even as a newborn, you would look deeply into the eyes of your doctors and nurses, trying to figure them out. I see you do that in every new situation you're in, taking stock of the scene before delving into action.

You are happy to amuse yourself. When you wake up in the morning or after your nap, you're more than happy for one of us to put a few books and a comfy pillow in your crib for your quiet time.

You are a self-proclaimed "Daddy's princess" who loves horses, puppies and baby dolls. But you also love watching football, playing hallway soccer with Jack (which you call "hallway balls"), and a good pillow fight. I hope you always keep them guessing, Joss, and keep your interests diverse.

And though she be but little, she is fierce.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I resolve

I have been meaning to write a resolutions post for the past week. One of the lessons learned in 2012 was if you write something down, there's already something to it.

But 2013 has been one of those sneaky ocean waves for me so far. You're walking toward the sandy shore, and it catches you, knocking you down. You get a bit disoriented, your hands and knees dug into the sand and broken shells, and you try to stand up, only to be knocked down again.

But is it really that bad? You're still at the beach and probably someone you love is watching from the shore, having a good laugh at your poor expense.

Anyways, 2013. 2013. 2013. Had a few work headaches and illness at home to start off this new year. Like multiple people throwing up on me. I've taken to listening to the 40s XM station in the car and this song came on when I was feeling particularly low. Someone up there has a great sense of humor.

Don't lose your confidence
If you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off
And start all over again.

We are all getting better and I have a quiet moment to list off my resolutions.

1. Live generously. This essay describes it beautifully. As the essayist states, "...I believe I’ve been given much, so much is required of me." My family is healthy; Jeremy and I have a lovely network of supportive friends; and our jobs allow us some flexibility (the flip side being we work on off-hours sometimes). We're thriving on this as long as we can - volunteering in Jack's classroom and I am enjoying my work through the March of Dimes, which is mostly therapy for me.

2. Self compassion over perfectionism. This is taken directly from the book, Daring Greatly. Perfectionism isn't attainable. Tonight I'm choosing some sleep over running errands. It feels good.

3. Respect myself and protect my health for my kids. My youngest sister has challenged my middle sister, my mom and I to run/walk a marathon each month - meaning adding 26.2 extra miles into our daily activity over a month's period. Mine has been simple - instead of catching the train to work, I walk the 1.9 miles daily. I also am trying to skip cheese for the month of January. We'll see how long that lasts. (Reference resolution 2).

4. My ever-present goal of being present. Today of all days, I had a choice. I could go to work and dig in, or I could rearrange things to attend Jossie's first-ever music class. I'm so glad I made the choice I did. Jossie might never remember this day, but I will. No regrets. The love continued with Jeremy and Jossie dancing around the kitchen at dinner time. No TV, no iPads or iPhones, just us.

I say it often but here's to writing the best stories we can in 2013.