Tag Archives: Rants & Raves

It Takes a Village…

neighbors

When we bought the Pig House, we had no idea how much of a blessing that decision would become. You can view the home’s structure and the landscaping and even the layout of the street before you close the deal, but there’s no way to really know what your neighborhood will actually feel like.

It took me most of the winter and even the early spring of last year to work through the grief of leaving our last home, but when I did, I emerged to find a set of neighbors that I now call friends.

Our children feel at home not only in our house but on the entire street.

Light Sabers on the Street

There are kids everywhere. They pour out onto the street every afternoon as soon as school is done. In the summer, they hardly go inside at all. Age makes no difference. The older ones look out for the younger ones and the little ones look up to the older kids. They are creative and active and enjoy running around exploring the world together. When squabbles arise, they work it out themselves.

I’ve never known all of my neighbors before. It’s both a foreign feeling and one so easy that I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to find such a sense of community. One neighbor opens her garage to the best playroom you can imagine. Another neighbor holds weekly Friday/Saturday night garage movies. Others let Jake and Joe follow them around in their gardens, “helping” them water and dig up worms. Conversations are frequent and easy and there always seems to be some excuse for a party.

Labor Day BBQ

When we told them all that Maddie would need this surgery, every single one of them immediately offered help. They’ve provided meals, babysat the boys, come to visit in the hospital, given numerous gifts, prayed for us, and have otherwise been an unbelievable source of support.

Warren, Jake, and Joey are feeling the stress of this situation and miss both Colin and me when we are gone but they are able to find peace in the normalcy of life on our street. Our good neighbors have looked out for them and cared for them throughout these last few days and everyday. We are so grateful to know that they are happiest when they are home.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” the old adage says. Or four, in our case. And we couldn’t have found a better one to raise ours.

Everyday Cooking with Maddie & Jeannie

I don’t really know how we stumbled on it but Maddie and I have become quite fond of watching Everyday Food with Sarah Carey cooking videos. It was probably because I was looking up some recipe and Maddie spied the video icon while glancing over my shoulder. The girl cannot resist media in any form. She begged to watch one and one turned into three and three into six.

Pretty soon we’d seen nearly all of the recipe demos. But that doesn’t stop Maddie from asking for more almost daily. I don’t mind, though. I enjoy Sarah’s style, she’s quirky and fun, and I find her recipes quite tasty. I’ve made several after seeing them on the screen. Our favorite has been the Bacon and Escarole Pizza. Oh, mama! Bacon? On pizza? Yes, please! Other goodies are the Vegetable and Tofu Pad Thai, the Beef Skewers with Scallions, and the Croque Madame Sandwiches.

Many times, after we’ve watched one together, we’ll head over to our kitchen and try an easy one out or just make an old stand by that we love. Usually a cookie one because who can resist making cookies, really?

Cooking with Maddie and Jeannie

I love this little pastime we’ve started together.

Apricots

Glorious, glorious apricots!

One of my absolute favorite aspects of living in California is the glorious produce we grow here. I’ve mentioned my love of strawberries. Lemons, oranges, and avocados are just a few of the others that make me happy. Apricots which, in turn, become apricot jam just seal the deal.

So when our friends bought a house in town with a yard overflowing with fresh fruit and graciously asked if we wanted to glean some of the apricots that were bursting from their trees, we rushed over to collect.

I found a recipe for apricot jam that I must say was a little slice of heaven. Oh, sweet fruity perfection! I could gobble the entire batch down myself, but I did try and share.

Summertime is wonderful anyway, but tasty fruit like this just take it to a whole new level.

Thanks, Annie and Alex, for sharing your bounty with us!

We Are Jerks

Approximately three weeks ago, the house next door to us sold and new neighbors moved in. Every day since the U-Haul truck drove away, I thought to myself, “I need to go knock on the door and say hello.” We kept saying our family should make them a treat and welcome them to the neighborhood. But did we ever get around to doing so? No.

As we were playing outside in the backyard this afternoon, and I was dreading preparing dinner, I heard our doorbell ring. Our new neighbor had come to introduce herself and asked if we liked carnitas and could she bring some over to us. Ten minutes later she came back with a plate full of pork, rice, and hot tortillas along with two types of spicy salsa and a whole fresh lime. Yes, our brand new neighbors, who are probably still in the midst of unpacking, brought us dinner. And it was fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I felt so ashamed.

Did our meager plate full of chocolate chip cookies make up for how ridiculous we are? No. No they did not.

We have some serious repenting to do.

Lasagna with Béchamel Sauce

Trust me on this one, friends. Forget ricotta. Forget cottage cheese even. The best creamy layer for lasagna is a good Béchamel sauce.

Please don’t be frightened by its Frenchy name. It’s quite easy to make, really. Just some butter, flour, and milk, with some garlic and a dash of nutmeg.

I came across a recipe for Lasagna Bolognese from Smitten Kitchen which sounded divine but more than what I wanted to accomplish. But the Béchamel sauce. That’s what intrigued me. I’ve never loved the ricotta texture in lasagna, but the cottage cheese substitute wasn’t the final answer for me either. I knew I had to give this white sauce a go.

In love. That’s the best way to put it. We’ve made this dish three times in the last month and a half. That can’t be good but I don’t care.

I’ve modified the original lasagna recipe here, but not the sauce. I’ll be honest, it’s not the cheapest version of lasagna around, with the heavy dose of shredded parmesan and all that wonderful whole milk. But I regret nothing.

Some day I may try making my own noodles and slaving for hours over a meat sauce, like the original recipe suggests. But for now, I’ll stick to the rich, creamy goodness of this Béchamel sauce with tomato basil and spinach thrown in for good measure.

Lasagna with Spinach and Béchamel Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 lb. package of lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
28 oz jar of tomato sauce (I use Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil)
10 oz package baby spinach
4 cups Béchamel Sauce (see recipe below*)
1 2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the bottom of a 9×13 pan, spread about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce (to prevent pasta from sticking) and place a single layer of noodles on top. Pour 1 cup tomato sauce over the noodles, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle a generous handful of spinach leaves over the sauce. Spoon 1/2 cup béchamel over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the layer with 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. Repeat this process 3 more times: pasta + 1 cup tomato sauce + handful of spinach + 1/2 cup béchamel + 1/3 cup parmesan. You should have 5 layers of pasta total.

On the final layer of noodles, spread 1/4 cup béchamel, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake lasagna for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly all over and browned on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

*Béchamel Sauce {Smitten Kitchen}
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, warmed (I microwave it in a glass measuring cup for 2 minutes)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 clove minced garlic
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir it into the butter with a whisk until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Slowly pour in some of the milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to pour small amounts of the milk in until the mixture has become more of a thick sauce or batter then you can start adding the milk in larger amounts. Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg and black pepper. Bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

My Happiness Project

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Back in high school, my friend, Nicole, gave me a book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. In it, the author recorded all of the little things, sometimes just one word or a picture, that she could think of that made her happy. I’m sure the list was not exhaustive.

I remember reading through and relating to some of the things she listed, and some I had never experienced so they were glossed over. But it prompted me to start my own list which I kept in a little notebook and added to whenever it crossed my mind. I fell out of the habit and years later I have no idea what happened to that notebook. What a shame since I would love to see what made my teenage self happy then and how I’ve changed.

Last week, I read a blog post about a recent TED Talk that left me inspired. The gist is, “Happiness does not come from success. Success comes from being happy.” Coupled with my friend Jodi’s recent efforts, I wanted to find more ways to recognize the happiness in my life. I felt certain that the findings were true: recording your blessings would lead to a greater sense of gratitude which, in turn, leads to happiness.

The speaker in the TED Talk stated that writing 3 things down that you were grateful for over the course of 21 days would make a difference in your attitude. I decided to give the challenge a try.

I started a blog I’m calling The Happiness Project (though I’ve yet to read the book) because I’m convinced that recording my blessings daily can only lead to a greater sense of happiness.

So, I invite you to peek at my gratitude journal, though I’m sure it won’t be as meaningful since they’re my experiences. But all the same, I hope it inspires you to write down your own blessings. Like President Thomas S. Monson so beautifully said,

” …to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.”

We can be happy in this life, despite whatever may come our way. It’s a choice that begins with recognizing what we already have.

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Who else is up for the challenge?

 

White Suits

Did you catch those adorable white suits that Jake and Joey wore at their temple sealing? Those were sewn by Grandma Tuki, seamstress extraordinaire. As soon as she knew that we had a date for the temple, she offered to make these outfits for the boys.

Just look at the buttons on the vests.

She is so incredibly talented. Thank you, Tuki, for making these for Jake and Joey!

6 White Balloons

My kind, thoughtful, amazing friend, Nanci, dropped by with a surprise gift for our family. Six white balloons– one for each member of our family– and sugar cookies cut into the shape of a temple for our Family Home Evening treat. Just because. Just to celebrate our recent happy events.

Such a simple gesture but one that made us, especially the youngest four, very happy.

I hope someday to be as giving and compassionate as Nanci.

Pink Chonies

Toilet training. It’s the one part of parenting where I wish I could close my eyes and fast forward past the phase to the point where it’s all done.

We have not pushed Maddie whatsoever toward toilet training. We’ve let her completely set the pace. She’s been using the toilet off and on for several months now but it’s only been in the last week that she’s understood when she needed to use it. But she refuses to go #2 on the pot. Refuses. She’s afraid, I guess, even though she knows she will get gum if she does it. Oh yes, we’re going there if it means results.

After a few days of success where her diaper stayed clean and dry, she had an idea.

“I can wear my chonies now!” she exclaimed. “Pink ones!”

Her “big girl” underwear (“chonies” as Kelley called them when Warren first started wearing them) have been sitting in her drawer waiting for the day when she was ready to ditch the diapers. She wants desperately to be like Big Brother Warren and wear her own chonies, but we had laid down some stipulations to the transition. She had to stay clean and dry and she had to start pooping in the toilet.

Colin and I looked at each other. She hadn’t reached the second part of deal yet, but she was definitely making progress. We decided to give it a go.

She was so proud. She was beaming.

She went the whole day clean and dry. Even overnight she was clean as a whistle. But she still wouldn’t go poop in the pot.

On Day 2 of underwear, we asked her if she needed to go poop on the toilet. She hesitantly said yes. When she got there to do her business she stopped and looked up at us. “Maybe not,” she said backing down from the challenge. But she still went pee, so we kept her chonies on.

But by the end of the day she still had refused to go #2 in the toilet. She started asking for a diaper so she could take care of business. We told her she’d have to put the chonies away for the rest of the day.

“Maybe I can wear chonies when I’m pooping in the toilet,” she renegotiated.

Off and on she’s been like this: wearing her underwear for most of the day, but requesting a diaper for pooping purposes. She even wore her pink chonies to church. She’s so close, she just doesn’t know it.

We’ll get there. Could someone just wake me up when it’s over?

Mr. Mom

I love my husband. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s worth saying a thousand times over. He is a remarkable companion and a remarkable dad.

Colin has been home doing my job for the last 4 weeks, only it’s much harder because he’s flying solo. I can’t really do much of anything to help. He’s there, everyday, in the trenches working hard to care for the kids and for me.

As any stay-at-home parent could tell you, the job is rigorous. It’s exhausting and physically intense, especially when you have three in diapers. It’s managing schedules, and cleaning, and preparing food, and endless driving, and resisting the monotony, and thinking beyond yourself. But Colin stepped right in and took it all up like he’s not used to sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day. And he did it almost without complaint. Almost.

He’s also found the joyful aspect of the job, too. The funny, creative, rough and tumble, curious, adventurous, nurturing side of the everyday tasks, as well. He’s playful with the kids and finds ways to make them laugh. He gets in there and colors with them. He let’s them climb all over him. Not that he didn’t do all these things before. It’s just now he gets to do it all day long. It’s been good for me to observe, reminding me to find balance throughout the day. Sometimes I let the aforementioned chores bog me down. I appreciate his approach.

But let’s not be fooled by the title of this post. This is a dad we’re talking about. Let’s put the manliness back in the role with some stats from the last few weeks:

  • 11 poopy diapers changed in one day
  • 1 kid out of diapers (Possibly, maybe for good? Post to follow.)
  • 9 wrestling matches of 4 on 1
  • 8 trips to Costco with all four kids
  • 15 school lunches prepared (always the worst part of my day)
  • 3 times starting the day with all children awake before 6:15AM
  • 100 times feeding twins by himself (3 meals and 2 snacks a day)

I’m going to be sad to see him go back to the office at the end of my recovery. Not just because I’ve appreciated all his hard work (which I have immensely) and will be longing for his daily help (which I definitely will), but because I will just plain miss having him around.