muffin monday: pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

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I am so pleased that we pulled off Muffin Monday last week – we returned from our church retreat on Sunday afternoon, and all of us were in some stage of fighting a cold. I managed to print off this pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe (recommended by a friend) before bed on Sunday night. I was in the mood for some pumpkin, and I knew we had all of the ingredients on hand.

I had an excellent helper on Monday morning, and these muffins turned out super yummy. I think I added extra chocolate chips, and I probably reduced the sugar, because I almost always do. It’s all kind of foggy now.

Also, I forgot to mention last week that I tried out my new silicone mini muffin liners, and they are awesome! I hate cleaning the mini muffin tin, but when the liners arrived in the mail, I panicked a little – what had I done?! Did I really want to clean 24 little liners?! I’m happy to report that they clean up like a breeze, and the muffins come out of them easily. I’m very happy with them.

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Anyways, these pumpkin muffins were enjoyed by everyone in our family, and we’ll be keeping the recipe around.

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the gift of occupational therapy

Today was my boy’s last day of occupational therapy. We have spent an hour of almost every Thursday for the last year and a half with our beloved occupational therapist, Eileen. Some days Luke skipped out of there, happy as a clam after getting to play so many fun games. Other days the reality of the hard work of OT was more apparent, and I carried him to the car as he thrashed and kicked and tried to bite me. But no matter how it ended, every session was a gift.

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Luke was pretty young when I had my first hunch that something was a little off in his development. But the toddler years are crazy for every kid, in one way or another, so I pushed it to the back of my mind as much as I could. I read and re-read Raising Your Spirited Child, because that book described him so perfectly, and it was so helpful in understanding him and being able to empathize with the way his mind and body work.

Yet, at his 3-year old well check, I brought up my concerns – he had no interest in using any sort of ride-on toys/tricycles/etc, couldn’t dress himself, had no interest in using crayons, would run endlessly, was easily overstimulated, and any sort of transition was clearly the end of the world for him. Our doctor (who we loved) was very much in the camp of “there is a wide spectrum of typical development” – and so he was not concerned. And when I read over this list (of the things I actually remember, I’m sure there was more) – I agree that so much of it is all over the map for typical 3-year olds. Luke has always been extremely verbal and social, so by all appearances in that doctor’s office, he was flourishing. But it was that mama’s hunch that kept me concerned.

We took him to a free developmental screening that fall. He charmed the volunteers and just slipped through each test. We walked away with a referral for 9-month old Gracie’s speech, which I (rightfully) discarded. I was completely discouraged.

If he had been my second child so I had more of a developmental frame of reference, or maybe if I wasn’t sleep-deprived at the time, I would have pursued answers. But I tend to be pretty submissive to those I perceive as experts or authorities, and they all said he was fine. If he had gotten a full occupational evaluation, I’m positive he would have qualified for services. But we went on, and it was probably the lowest time in my parenting experience.

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At his 4-year old well check, I walked in with a complete written list of all my concerns, which had grown. They included things like not being able to ride a tricycle, still scribbling, and not able to completely dress himself. Our doctor didn’t even get through all of them before he quickly agreed that further evaluation was needed. Apparently he had fallen off the typical spectrum enough to warrant a second look. I felt a glimmer of hope, which was enough to sustain me through the next 6 months that it took to get the referral and move through the waiting list for an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist.

I almost cried with relief (maybe I did?) when I got the phone call in the parking lot of Fred Meyer the same day of his eval. He scored very low in visual motor integration and fine motor skills (7th and 9th percentiles, I think) along with concerns about sensory processing and proprioception. It meant that we qualified for a spot in therapy, as soon as one opened up. I was relieved that we would be getting some guidance in helping him. And I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy, and wasn’t an entirely inept parent.

Our weekly visits with Eileen have varied in content, but they’ve always been jam-packed with activities that have helped Luke build his skills, and grow more comfortable with how his body works. As a result, his skills at school have improved, he’s become more comfortable in play, and do things like completely dress himself. I am so happy that we were able to get into therapy when we did – just at the end of last year he told me, “I can zip my coat up, and Gracie [2 years old at the time] can’t do that. But she can put her socks on, and I can’t do that.” I knew he was becoming more aware of some of his challenges, so I’m glad that he’s made so much progress before entering kindergarten. And yes, he can even put on his socks now – with fine motor + sensory issues, that a big accomplishment!

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I am so, so proud of this kid. His confidence is definitely blossoming in areas it hasn’t before, and he is much more willing to practice things that are challenging. Two years ago I just felt so unsure about so many things, and now, I’m just hopeful for what is ahead. And I will be forever grateful for the gift that OT was for our family.

saint patrick’s day 2017

I have never been huge into celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but apparently my kids are pretty into it. Ian had the day off, so we had a fun, low-key family day filled with lots of green.

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A few days ago the kids painted coffee filters green, and today they were transformed into shamrocks that adorned our windows and cupboards and walls. They HAD to be hung at 6:45am, because of course they did.

Next up were these yummy green muffins (secret green ingredient: spinach).

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Our next activity wasn’t exactly St. Patrick’s Day related – we walked down to our elementary school to register Luke for kindergarten! I gotta keep it real, it was not the highlight of the day for me. I am already apprehensive about entering into the public school system, which is completely new to me, and this initial encounter with the front office staff was less than stellar. At one point I hissed through my teeth at Ian, “you know how all of this makes me feel!” as I fought the urge to grab my kids and get out of there. I will say that the principal happened to walk by while we were there, and he was super friendly and quickly got down on Luke’s level to introduce himself, so I’m trying to cling to that bright spot. I feel a million different emotions about sending our boy off to kindergarten in a public school next year, and I’m praying that when I look back at this post in a year or two, I’ll feel quite differently.

Back to Saint Patrick’s Day.

Lunch was not noticeably green, so nothing to report there. We watched a Veggie Tales episode that tells the story of Saint Patrick, which would have been fun if not for the fact that Gracie got the theme song stuck in her head all day. She continually belted out “celery!! …ery… ery!!! Veggie Tales!” for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

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Then of course there was green play dough.

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Luke has seriously been requesting green waffles since I made it on a whim last year for St. Patrick’s Day. Today was his day: we had waffles for dinner and he reveled in the greenness of it all.

Family selfies in our green attire. Um, don’t my kids look like twins?! How is this?!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

due dates

3 years ago today was Gracie’s due date. A couple days ago, I realized it was approaching and I felt nostalgic. I knew that the Facebook “On This Day” app would show me the photo that Ian posted 3 years ago – a pink Seahawks onesie resting on my pregnant belly, Luke in his footie pajamas giving my belly a kiss. I knew I would indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering all those winter walks to our neighborhood park Luke and I took in those last few weeks – hoping to encourage labor, but cherishing the last bit of my pregnancy. Sure, Gracie wasn’t born until 10 days later, but the due date of January 11 will always stick in my head.

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Today I woke up expecting that my grandmother would pass away. A different sort of due date entirely. She suffered a massive stroke yesterday, and at 8am this morning, our family planned to gather at her bedside as the breathing tube was removed. They had done a trial removal last night, and she wasn’t able to breathe on her own at all. So it was time to say goodbye.

Fourteen of us crowded together in her small critical care room. My dad’s family is notorious for being chronically late as well as “not morning people.” Yet, all of us were there on time. Whispering, holding my grandma’s hand, occasional jokes, tears. As these things go (waiting for the respiratory therapist… all out of morphine on our floor…), the event we were all waiting for didn’t happen until a couple hours later. We all huddled a little closer as the breathing tube was removed – just 3 or 4 minutes, he said it would take. It came out smoothly, my grandma was peaceful… and still breathing. The machine monitor switched from recording her breathing to the word “STANDBY” – which is what we did.¬† In fact, as I write this in the evening, she is still breathing and resting peacefully, with family standing by. We know it won’t be much longer, but it may or may not be today after all.

Soon after the tube came out, a hospital chaplain popped in to offer her support. We were all sort of in shock that gram was still breathing, so it was super quiet and none of us really knew how to respond to the chaplain. I’m sure she’s used to these sorts of awkward situations, so she gracefully made her exit. But before she left, she noted “Isn’t it wonderful that you are all here? It’s a “thin place,” as some people call it. Yes, an important time.”

Yes, I thought. My pastor sometimes uses the phrase “thin place” when we come to the communion table. Those places where heaven and earth seem just a little closer.

Yesterday was supposed to be my office day at work. Every Tuesday my awesome dad comes up and watches the kids so I can go into work. My grandmother was transferred from her assisted living facility to the hospital sometime during his 50 minute drive to my house. He visited the kids briefly, then turned around and drove to the hospital. I worked through the morning while Ian could be home with the kids, then came home when Ian had to go to work.

I’m not sure if it was the break in routine or my heart worrying about my grandma or the freezing cold, bright, sunny weather – but whatever it was, yesterday afternoon felt a bit more sacred than normal. I didn’t have a household to-do list for the day, and I knew I couldn’t tackle my work with both kids in my watch; so I was simply present. Yes, my thoughts wandered often to my grandma and the uncertainty there, but it was such a sweet afternoon with my kids that my frail heart felt suspended in time.

I wanted to soak it all in forever, so I snapped photos¬† as we flitted from activity to activity. Occasionally my eyes would rest on the chalkboard in our dining area, which I had spontaneously written “’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” last Sunday. I breathed deeply and held my babies close. I dare say it felt like a bit of a thin place in its own way.

Unease crept in shortly before we left for our evening small group; a phone call with my mom left me a bit of a hot mess. My loving extroverted son proceeded to “cheer me up” by talking nonstop on the way to small group, starting with bizarre “cheerful” statements such as “I want to die at the zoo. You can do that, right?” to his complete theology of heaven, 5-year old style. At small group, I settled into the rhythm of good friends and conversation; at home I talked to my mom again – a plan was in place: 8am in the morning. Yes; a chance to say goodbye, a chance to be in that thin place together.

So, here I am. Babies tucked in bed (will they always look like babies as they sleep, even as teenagers?) and sorting through my thoughts. It seems like another due date will pass without the expected event actually happening. Like I was 3 years ago, I’m okay with that. I feel settled about how I left my grandma today, and I know that the Lord will call her home when it is time. Until then, she will rest as best she can in her 87-year old body. And if she’s like my grandpa, she’ll let everyone keep vigil over her for awhile, then slip away when everyone goes off to lunch together.

And I’ll keep this date tucked away in my heart, more complex than it was 3 years ago, but perhaps more rich and full.

advent this year

I’ve always loved the season of advent, though my experience of it has varied pretty widely since I became a parent. Some years it was more sweet than I ever could have imagined, like Luke’s first advent or the year I was pregnant with Gracie. Other years it was chaotic and rich with grace. This year I think we are somewhere in between. It’s been a joy watching the kids anticipate Christmas through their advent routines each day, but I haven’t felt as grounded in my own personal anticipation. Quiet mornings of solitude have been hard to come by thanks to a couple weeks of 5:30am kid wake ups (WHY, children? It’s the darkest time of the year!). Nevertheless, advent marches on, and I’ve tried my best to prepare room in my heart for the coming of Jesus.

This year I decided to incorporate four advent activities into our daily routine – each day the kids would get to take the lead on two of them, then they’d switch the next day. In the morning, we take out a new character in our nativity advent and then unwrap a Christmas book.

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This nativity calendar was a new gift, and it has been a big hit with both kids. It’s a little tricky to me, because how do you put things into order? It seems like baby Jesus should be last, but it’s a little awkward to have everyone – including the wise men! – showing up before him. Alas, that’s what we did. I think it’d be too confusing to run this calendar mid-December through Epiphany, so it is what it is. And as you can see from the picture, the kids have fun playing with it and rearranging it each day anyways.

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Also new this year is our book advent. I realized that we had accumulated a bunch of Christmas books that I put away each year, so it’s pretty exciting when they come out. I decided to make it a little more special by wrapping each one so that they could take turns opening one each day. I mixed up the order in the basket, so Luke has to find the right number each day, which is good practice for him. Some are simple board books, but they’ve all been well received. I didn’t quite have 24, so I supplemented with a few dollar store coloring books and stickers for a few days. We’ll definitely be doing this again, the kids have loved it.

In the evenings we focus more on the true meaning of advent. After a couple years of trudging through “family” advent devotionals that were still going over Luke’s head, I brought it down to a better preschool- and toddler-friendly level.

Before dinner, one of the kids helps light the advent candle(s) and opens the door on our little Precious Moments advent calendar from my childhood. Each day gives a snippet of the Christmas story – 1: “Long ago in the city of Nazareth…” 2: “Lived a young woman named Mary.” It’s perfect for little ones.

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After dinner, we read a story from the Jesus Storybook Bible. This has by far been my favorite part of advent this year. My kiddos have always had a hard time with “Bible reading” – as soon as they see their Bible, they ONLY want to read the Noah’s Ark story. Not even joking. But suddenly we’ve had a shift, and they (well, mostly Luke) are engaging in each story. A big help in that has been coloring sheets. Each day I print out a related coloring page, and they color it while I read the story. It helps to have busy hands, and Luke got interested in coloring about 5 minutes ago, so the timing has been great. Hearing him ask questions and seriously coloring his page has filled my heart. And the Lord knew I’d need that, because Luke always has a really rough growth spurt around his half birthday (December 10). His behavior and emotions have been a roller coaster, but doing this Bible reading together has been a true sweet spot. Often he wants to keep coloring after the story is finished, so I sit and color with him, which is bliss.

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Zondervan Publishing actually offered free printables for the the advent reading plan this year, so it’s been fun to use them. The kids take turns pulling the next one out of the basket, and after our reading is done, we hang it up with a little clothespin. I love the Jesus Storybook Bible because they make such an effort to clearly show how each story “whispers His name” – getting to dialogue with Luke about this, and starting to expand his understanding of Jesus’ birth has been awesome.

So that’s what we are doing this year, with Luke at 5.5 years old, and Gracie at almost 3. I’m excited to see how our celebration will grow and evolve over the years!

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adoption finalization – five years later

Around 2am this morning, Luke called for me, as he does most nights. He wanted to move to “daddy’s bed” – weeks where Ian works the late shift make this boy crave extra time with his daddy. So I settled him with Ian and crept off to the guest room to get more sleep.

As I lay awake in the middle of the night, I thought back to this day five years ago: Luke’s adoption finalization. I was up at the same time, feeding Luke a bottle. After he finished, I jumped in the shower and got ready for the day. Luke was born a few hours south of here, so that was where we had to go to finalize his adoption. It was an early morning for sure, but an exciting one.

I remember being nervous about how Luke would do – putting him in the car so early, and having to stop on the way for another feeding. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot and fed him in the car. He was so super smiley and happy – it’s one of those moments that I’ve tucked away in my heart for forever. I remember his soft jammies and his fuzzy bib. His gurgly smile and bright eyes. I remember thinking that no matter if he screamed in the courtroom, this was our happy boy, giving us the gift of a perfect family moment.

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Now that baby is five. I was never sure how or if we would celebrate his finalization anniversary each year. We have always been open with Luke about his adoption, but thus far he hasn’t been super interested. And that’s fine. We’ll keep bringing it up now and then, so if/when he is ready to explore that part of his story, he’ll know that he can ask us.

So today I remembered that special day on my own, and thought about how far we have come. How we know our boy so much better than we did back then, and how we’ve grown into parenthood with him. Often friends or family say something like “God knew you were the just the right parents for him.” So often I feel unsure of how to parent our bright, spirited boy that their statement feels untrue. But I do trust that God wanted to call us to grow into the parents that Luke and Gracie need us to be. The promises that we made in the courtroom five years were just the beginning of this calling, but it was a day that will always be tucked away in my heart.