Monday, March 26, 2012

Four Under Four

No, I'm not pregnant with twins. (Not pregnant AT ALL, as a matter of fact. But thanks for asking.)

We are coming off the high that surrounded our house this weekend due to some great friends from Chicago who came to visit. And by high I mean the over-energetic, over-stimulated, over-excited, over-tired tornado of toddlers who blew through or house. Not to mention the four bleary-eyed parents who somehow made it to the end of the day on adrenaline and coffee just to stare blankly at each other across the room.

Needless to say, it was a blast. (No pun intended.)

Considering this is not much different than how normal days go for us, we were thrilled to have others around to share in the experience!

The only one with all four looking in the direction of the camera.

Three out of four smiling.

(Note the girls' fancy shoes and the fact that three out of four are also holding hair accessories.)

Maggie (2.5) and Ellery (3.25) got along splendidly. It was such a joy to watch our two little girls share in conversation, laughter, reading, play and stubbornness. They have been "growing up" together for several years now - it was really fun to see them at this stage where they were really interacting as little people.

Flashback: (only 13 months ago!)

Howie (11.99999 months and 18 pounds) and Levi (10 months and 26 pounds) I'm afraid have parted still not knowing what to think about each other. I think that Howie spent most of the time trying to make up for his lack of size in orneriness. Levi spent most of the time (very wisely) sitting back and observing the chaos that ensued from the girls and the H-Man.

The moms spent the days quite happily in pajamas, thankful to have some company and support.

The dads enjoyed some rare and lengthy bike rides, also thankful to have some company and support.

We continue to be ever grateful for those God has placed in our lives (both near and far) who can relate to and enjoy this crazy stage of life we are in right now. It was such a blessing to share this weekend and to continue to share our lives with these dear friends...who re-affirmed for us at the end of the day, no, we really aren't alone and yes, we really are tired.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Good Food: Oatmeal Whole Wheat Quick Bread

I am having a hard time writing this post right now. Literally. I can't put down this piece of bread long enough to manage typing with more than one hand.

This is by far, hands down the EASIEST and QUICKEST bread recipe you will EVER find. I'm not talking quick like mix the ingredients together and then let it sit for some obscene amount of time like 18 hours (because let's be honest, when my family needs bread, we NEED it. NOW.) I'm talking 25-30 minutes TOTAL. Start to finish. No needing, no rising. It's really remarkable and should probably have a different name like "Miracle Bread."

Part of my gushing is a result of a long (and unresolved) conflict with my bread machine. The other part is a result of a long (and unresolved) passion for things involving carbs and butter.

I don't think this bread would be great for sandwiches (meaning the bread machine battle still really needs to come to an end), but it IS great for a last-minute side for dinner, or when you just want that delicious smell of fresh bread to fill your house (good news for my latter conflict).

So here you go. In the amount of time it has taken you to read this post, you could already have a loaf in the oven.

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Quick Bread
via New Nostalgia

1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used olive oil, the original author used coconut oil. It's such a small amount I think you could probably use anything.)
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees

2. Grind oatmeal in a food processor or blender.  In a large bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, dissolve honey in oil, then stir in the milk (if using coconut oil you may need to microwave).  Combine both mixtures and stir until a soft dough is formed.  Form the dough into a ball (I had to add a bit more flour) and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

I do NOT recommend having your 2-year-old form the ball.

3. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

THAT'S IT! I'm not kidding. I would not joke about something like this.

Oh, and did I mention that it is also delicious?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Liar, Liar

While attempting to keep up with Howie physically, we may be struggling even more to keep up with Maggie mentally. I'm not quite sure how to begin describing this, but these pictures do a pretty good job:

She can go from this:


to this:

faster than you can blink. (And vice-versa)

The girl has an attitude and vocabulary that leave me perplexed most days whether she is two and a half or twelve and a half.

Every day she insists on wearing a pink shirt, pink pants, a pink skirt, and often her "pink light boots" (light pink cowgirl boots - not to be confused with her "cowboy boots," which are really her galoshes). Most days she tries to convince me to wear her "big pink skirt" (a tutu). Unfortunately, she only has one "normal" pink skirt (and by normal I mean velour, so not that normal), so lately I've felt like a mom dealing with school uniforms in terms of laundry. Most of the time I don't mind at all - as long as I can have somewhat of a say in which pink things we pair together - after all, she's only two once, right?

My favorite phrase she says right now is, "Are you KIDDING me??" She nails it in both context and intonation, and it kills me almost every time.
"Hey Mags, if you stay in your bed all night you can have a pink M&M in the morning."  
"A pink M&M?! Are you KIDDING me??"
"Hey Mags, we're thinking about going for a little walk right now."
"A little WALK?! Are you KIDDING me??"

The most recent thing that may drive me out of my mind is her talking baby talk or gibberish. Within our house, it's just plain annoying:
"Maggie, what do you want for lunch?"

Unfortunately, she also loves to do it in public - mostly with people we don't know - making already awkward toddler introductions just plain painful:
"Maggie, can you say hi?" 

She could be a character out of a Bronte/Austen novel with the amount of brooding she does. Some days I find her walking around with her eyes covered saying, "I just want to CRY as much as I want to!" This week she did something nasty to Howard and I told her quite sternly,
"Apologize to your brother RIGHT NOW." 
"OK! OK!!! Just give me a minute to be SAD!!!"

The other latest development is the knowledge of and the ability to lie. Two situations that still make me laugh/blow my mind:

1. The first week of the big girl bed included a lot of getting in and out of bed, as well as appropriate consequences. One night Gary and I were downstairs and he looked over at me and said, "That was a door. And those are footsteps." Before the sentence was out of his mouth he was up the stairs like a shot. He reached the top of the stairs in time to hear the pitterpatter of little feet and see her bedroom door slam. When he got to her room, he found her lying in bed, eyes closed.
"Maggie, what were you doing??" 
"I'm sleeping." 
"No you're not."

2. Getting breakfast into her is often a challenge. One day was particularly hard and as she danced around the living room I told her I wanted her to eat another bite.
"But I did eat a bite!" 
"No, I want to see one in your mouth." 
"But I DO have one in my mouth..." [fakes chewing]

How does she know???! This whole development is more fascinating than sad to me at this point...And right now her ability to manipulate a story and a situation is making me think she would make a fantastic lawyer someday.

Between the hair, the pink tutu and her propensity to tell tales, she could double as Jim Carey. (Sorry, Dad...and future Mags...)

Bottom line: even on the days when we want to pull our hair out, we are so thankful for our kids, for their personalities and for the joy and laughter they bring to our lives!! Yesterday Maggie was running up the sidewalk ahead of me and H talking and singing and jumping and I suddenly heard her shout as clear as day (to no one in particular):

"I'm the happiest little girl in the WHOLE world!!"

Which pretty much made me the happiest Mama in the whole world.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Boys Will Be Boys

Howie's increased mobility is making me more and more aware of the differences between boys and girls. He is keeping us on our toes, to say the least. According to Gary's grandfather, "He's just a DUDE." Couldn't put it better. He is ALL boy.

He has finally popped up from scooting on his belly to a full-blown hands-and-knees crawl. Between crawling and cruising the furniture, this kid is FAST. And destructive.

Unlike his sister, he has no boundaries. I find him under and on top of anything and everything. He has perpetual rug burns on his knees that I fully anticipate to turn into permanent scrapes and scabs as he gets older.

He loves cars, trains, balls...and his sister's baby (REALLY, Howie?? Of ALL the babies in the house, you have to choose to be obsessed with Allison??!). To be fair, he is obsessed with real babies, as well.

Watching the trains in the backyard. "Train" is one of the only words he responds to right now other than his name. Whenever we say it (or he hears one go by) he whips his head around and sets off on a dead sprint for the back door.

EVERYTHING goes in the mouth.

Either I need to do a better job cleaning the floor, or embrace him doing it for me!

Hitting the weights.

Despite their differences, he ADORES his sister. He won't even put his head on MY shoulder!

At least he's easy on the eyes.

And fortunately for me, girls will be girls...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Good Food: Aussie Bites

In an attempt to eat healthier (mainly less processed and more whole grain), I've found one of the biggest hurdles to be snacks. This is especially challenging with a very active and constantly on-the-go man in the house...not to mention the kids, whose eating preferences seem to change faster than their mood swings. So I've been experimenting a little - both with store-bought and homemade solutions.

One of the healthy* snacks that we just can't get enough of are Costco's Aussie Bites. But I've found that I simply cannot make it up to Costco frequently enough to match the supply with the demand. So I thought to myself, I've GOT to be able to find the recipe for these! And sure enough, I did.

Aussie Bites
Adapted from Costco...via Little Blue Hen
Makes approx. 50 mini muffins

(Do not let the Costco-sized batch fool you...these will literally fly off your pantry shelves. They also freeze well. I divide the batch into 3 or 4 zip lock bags, put one in the pantry and the rest in the freezer, then they are ready to go as-needed.)

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup brown sugar**
1 1/4 cups shredded coconut
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup flaxseeds
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 cup finely chopped dried fruit (apricots, raisins, dates, figs, cranberries, etc.) - I suggest using currants...mainly because I'm lazy...they are small enough they don't need chopping!
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons hot water
3 eggs, beaten

**Note: The first time I made these I overlooked the sugar. I'm pretty sure that it altered the texture more than it did the flavor - the sugarless batch still got devoured. Just wanted to mention it for those who want to make them even healthier...

Preheat oven to 350F.
Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl.
Melt honey and butter together. Mix baking soda and salt with hot water and add to butter mixture. Stir in vanilla. Combine butter mixture with dry ingredients, add eggs, and mix well.
Use a tablespoon (I found a melon-baller to be the perfect size!) to drop the batter into lined or lightly-greased mini muffin tins. Flatten the tops.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350F or until golden. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 minutes; finish cooling on wire racks.

*Disclaimer: The term "healthy" is relative. These little morsels are healthy in terms of nutrition/whole foods. They are NOT healthy in terms of fat and calories. They are DENSE...a good replacement for an energy bar, etc.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Right Back Where We Started From

I think subconsciously I've been procrastinating writing about our trip to California because I don't want to think about how wonderful it was. I am still waiting to take a trip out there where Gary and I do not spend 90% of our conversations in the subject area of, "WHY do we not live out here??"

For example, this is a picture Gary took on one of his bike rides:

We're not in Ohio anymore, Toto.

It was one of our best trips out there to date, as well as a very fun "family" vacation. Considering Gary began commuting nearly two years ago, and a year ago saw us moving (!) and having a baby (!!), vacations are not something we see much of in these parts.

We loved introducing the kids (especially Howie) to their other great grandparents.

Maggie particularly hit it off with Great Gramma. She was constantly asking for her when she wasn't around, and when she was, the two of them were almost always in constant conversation.

And OF COURSE Aunt Charlotte! (Uncle Joe unfortunately escaped from being in a picture)

I think Maggie would have played at Aunt Charlotte's house every day if she could have. She particularly loved the fountain in her backyard.

Vacations with young children take on a whole new meaning. As in, they mostly consist of "typical" days...just in a new place. We all enjoyed laying low and exploring some new parks, walks, and of course, seeing the sun.

James Way...If only there were a less steep way to reach the park.

Maggie loved hanging out in Great Grandad's spot - the swing on the back porch. It's pretty rare for her to wander off anywhere by herself, but we found her out here multiple times each day.

I suppose Maggie wasn't really ever ANYWHERE completely by herself...
Baby Allison was always (as usual) in tow.

Even when she wasn't on the porch she was thinking about being on the porch.

Our two big outings were to Avila Beach and to the Pismo Beach Pier.

The beach was not as great of a hit as the nearby playground. Shocker.

Howie was pretty much content wherever.

The walk down the pier was going smoothly until Maggie discovered she could see the water below her feet between the slats. We conquered this problem/fear by jumping from slat to slat. The walk back took quite awhile...

Between the glasses and the hair she seriously could be an 80 year-old woman.

The surfers were a HUGE highlight. She loved watching them get "smashed" by the waves.

She SO belongs out there!!

The ONLY picture of all four of us from the entire trip. A typical family pic for us. I'm seriously contemplating dressing Maggie as the Mayor of Whoville next Halloween.

After our walk on the pier, we discovered a new favorite local joint - Pismo Yogurt!

We were thrilled with this discovery. Maggie was thrilled with the sprinkles.

And THERE you have it! I apologize for the slew of many great memories, it was hard to pick. I can still feel the sunshine on my face and smell that wonderful salty air...