Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Christmas Tree Tantrum, and Mittens



I've long said that our fake Christmas tree of the past 10 years has many times saved my marriage.  Long gone were the fights about how many lights to put on the tree, finding the 'perfect' tree, and what size would actually fit into our house.

Something nostalgic about having a daughter all grown-up possessed us to go cut down a real tree.  Our kids were thrilled, however, after getting it into the house I was reminded of all the reasons why we had a fake one in the first place.  I hated it, and threw a tantrum just like my two-year-old.  I wanted it to be perfect! It was not.  It wasn't full and even.  There was a large gap on one side, not hidden by turning the tree.  To fit it into the house, we had to cut off all the bottom branches, where the fullness had been.  It bothered me for days.  What I didn't realize, was that after all the lights were on, and the ornaments in place, it's natural beauty would shine through.  The imperfections of a real tree, of course, become part of it's charm.  It did finally grow on me, until I loved it, and I learned an important lesson, I think.

The 'perfect' tree, however, ended up being a tiny, two and a half foot, ugly, artificial tree in our son's hospital room this month.  We brought it with us, and hung some mini-lights and ornaments on it to cheer the space. It brought comfort to us, as well as joy to doctors, nurses, and visitors that came by.

Image may contain: plant, christmas tree and indoor

I had never imagined or thought about what an extended stay in a children's hospital could be like in the month of December.  Our son had a scheduled, expected, procedure that went well, however as the days passed, I saw many things that opened my eyes and my heart: cancer patients in pain, little babies hooked-up to tubes and alone, and the best, most patient, nurses in the whole world.  I met mothers who had been in and out of the hospital for months with their little ones.

During my stay there, I managed to finish some knitting projects: some gnomes and some booties.  I ran across a baby Norwegian cap I had knitted this summer, and as you know if you are a knitter, all baby hats are cursed; this one about two sizes too small for a newborn.  It was stuffed into the bottom of the knitting bag, having been forgotten.  I know God puts us in the right place at the right time though, because that little hat sized for a doll, made it's way down to the Neo-natal ICU, where it was very gratefully accepted.  So, I knitted on, finally finishing my very first pair of Norwegian mittens.

They were hard, not so much because of the knitting, I'm sure I could make them again, but because all the tedious pattern following.  Keeping my place on the chart with all of those little squares, while keeping the momentum of four small needles going was tricky.  I could not have done it at home with a two-year-old tugging at me, and while I had imagined a garland full of different Norwegian mittens, this one pair may be it. As I look at them I will always remember the kind nurses and staff at the hospital, that commented on my knitting, and watched my progress, some saying, "I always wanted to learn to do that!"   I am convinced that all the best Christmas angels work in children's hospitals.

We were released just three days before Christmas.  By then, most of the rooms had emptied, except for the few patients that would probably be staying there over the holiday weekend.  The day we were to go home was such a joy for us, but I found myself praying for all those we left behind. I left a part of my soul there.  I came home a little different: a little more grateful, a little less selfish, a little more aware, I hope.

Our Christmas was lovely.  Our Charlotte wanted "those things that farmers wear" and put her new overalls on right over her polka-dot sleeper pajamas.  Our Cookie got a teddy bear bigger than she is, and cuddled right up.  Our boys got new minky-soft blankets.  Our oldest got a vinyl Heart record and a guitar pedal.  It was a Christmas I won't soon forget, one where my own heart grew a few sizes bigger. 

Merry Christmas to all of our dear friends and family, we love you so much, and we wish you the most Happy New Year!

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Annual Sisters Pumpkin Challenge

For the past couple of years or so my Sister and I've had a friendly little Fall challenge.  Our Dad used to haul freight and came home once with a case or two of Libby's pumpkin puree.  Of course, these were not the cute little cans from the grocery store but #10 cans full!

It's a little tricky using up all that orange goo once you open the can, but my sister and I decided to have fun with it all and our Annual Pumpkin Challenge began - Completely unofficial though right? The Challenge ends when the puree is gone, or before it spoils.
Here are some pics and recipes if you'd like to see what we've been making.

Easiest Ever Pumpkin Muffins - From My Sister

This pumpkin cookie/muffin recipe is ridiculously easy and a great way to start baking with pumpkin puree. Despite all common sense, this recipe doesn't need any eggs. This recipe is our go-to when we want a quick fall baking fix.

1 box spice cake mix
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 bag of chocolate or cinnamon chips
Mix and drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet or into muffin papers in muffin tin. Bake about 17-18 minutes @ 350*

Pumpkin Chicken-Noodle Soup

Mire-Poix (1 cup each of diced onion, carrot, and celery)
One diced leek
salt to taste
1 bag of egg noodles of choice
1 box or container of chicken broth
3 chopped cooked chicken breasts
1/4 to 1/2 pound of chopped cooked sausage
1 to 2 cups pumpkin puree
dash of pumpkin pie spice or more to taste
Heavy cream or evaporated milk

In a large pot, sautee vegetebles with some salt until soft.  Add broth and water as needed.  After the soup comes to a boil, add noodles and cook until soft.  Add meat, pumpkin, and puree.  Add about a cup or more of heavy cream or evaporated milk.

Pumpkin Pancakes - From my Sister

Sometimes in our haste to use up the stuff we just throw pumpkin puree into what we already have going.  Like about a half a cup into these yummy pancakes.

You Had me at Hello Fall Cookies

Don't be tempted here to add more pumpkin.  To get the right texture, this cookie recipe can only take so much on the wet stuff.  You'll taste it though, I promise.

1 pound (4 sticks) of butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
1 scant cup pumpkin puree (sometimes less but never more)
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops yellow food coloring
7 cups flour
1 bag white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter.  In the bowl of a mixer, measure out sugars, add butter and mix.  Add other ingredients, except flour and chips and mix.  Add flour and chips and mix.  Using a scooper, measure out scoops onto a cookie sheet, lightly sprayed or onto parchment.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until just barely done.  Makes between four and five dozen for me.  These look and have the texture of the Pepperidge farm ones, but taste so much better!

Part Two!

After a few days my sister socked-it-to-me, with:

Our Favorite Pumpkin-Cinnamon Rolls

This one has been a favorite of both my sister and I for a few years.  She adds 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes to her dough.  Here's the recipe

So, I decided to have myself a Friday night Cook-a-thon, and pumped out the following:

Spicy Pumpkin Warm-up Drink

We sub out some of the heavy cream for evaporated milk. 

Crockpot Pumpkin French Toast Casserole

I used this recipe and added in quite a bit of pumpkin to the egg mixture.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

This one has been our family favorite for about 5 years. Seriously, it's so good.  I got the recipe here.

This got me, almost, to the bottom of my can!!
Then my sister had to up her game, and came back at me with:

Pumpkin Fettucine

Pumpkin Raviolli

(She always gets me with the homemade pasta)

with Pumpkin Filling

and Gorgonzola Sauce

and then she used the filling to make:

Pumpkin Pizza!

She used the filling for the ravioli as the base, and topped the pizza with sautéed onions,  fresh mozzarella and sage leaves. That finished up her can, making the men at her house grateful to finally have a break from all the orange. 

Not to be outdone just yet, I finished, yes finished,  off my can by making:

Sausage-Pumpkin Soup (NOT to be pictured here)

This was a very great mistake, according to all who eat here at my house, so I won't post the recipe here.  I did end my canned experience on a more positive note, with what ended up being our favorite thing to make, and eat:

Pumpkin Cookie Butter!

We bought a jar of this stuff at Trader Joe's on a whim (isn't that how it always starts?), and it became our favorite thing recently for sandwiches and whatever else.  I came across this recipe online, and when I saw how easy it was to make (three ingredients, seriously) I decided to give it a whirl.  The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute 1/2 cup pumpkin puree for the 1/4 cup water. (In the future I will try coconut oil instead of vegetable) We used ginger snaps for the cookies, for a nice dark spread for toast and weekday sandwiches.  Oh yeah, and dip some apple slices into it! This stuff is seriously addicting.

My house is now a mess, but at least it smells really good here, and it was a whole lot of fun.

This competition is now finished, and I found a good use for my can. Happy Fall!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

There was always another baby.....


In 2005

I have tasked myself most-recently, in the wake of my oldest child's eighteenth birthday, of going through and organizing all our family photos.

The birthday parties.
The goofy moments.
The toothless faces.
And while looking through everything, I am seeing something in a different way.

There was always another baby.

I remember scrambling to pull off a summer zoo trip with the kids, my bump in the way, always in the way, and then baby pics to follow. The bump in the pictures doesn't always tell the real story - of morning sickness, of exhausted days, of illness, of waiting.
There was the kitchen remodel.  Garage racks full of our dishes and pots in the living room, kids playing around everywhere, and there, another newborn baby in the middle of the mess.
I went through a lot of pictures last week to find some for my husband's cousin, who was visiting.  He remarked that every time he came back to see us; 

There was another baby.

It hit me.  It's true.  I had never thought about it in quite that way.  We got pretty good over the years of making room for another little one, in some ways, even being pretty cavalier about it: by the time our last little one, #6 came, I was unworried about just about everything - where to put the baby, what they baby really needed, what the latest gadgets were (who cares?) etc. 

But, looking through all those pictures, I know that even in the middle of the tough stuff, I loved every single minute of it all.  Every baby smile, every first step, those little words, those first teeth, those school field trips.

Then later on the music concerts, the soccer games, the summer car trips.
Now it's the driving lessons, the dating scene for my older kids, marching band, and watching them become these amazing people: with the best and worst of you somewhere inside of them. 

There is so much craziness.  The full calendar, the occasional fights, the clothes that they will outgrow in a just month or two, the fridge that empties itself magically every couple of days. 
Sometimes during the stress of all this teenager stuff, I dry my tears while snuggled-up to my two-year-old, and remind myself how fast it all goes by.

Thank goodness, there's still another baby. 

I'm so grateful for this extraordinary, jumbo-size family and larger-than-life experience.  But after writing this, I suddenly feel like I need a very long nap.

Happy 18 Naomi. Every day with you was a cherished privilege, and I can't wait to see what you'll do and where you'll go.  And as you break my heart by growing up and moving on, thank goodness:

There's still another baby.