muffin monday: apple cinnamon muffins

One of the things I love about fall in the PNW is our super yummy apples. We always go apple picking, and I put them up as applesauce, dried apples, and apple butter. We also get a big bucket purely for eating, and I decided I better hit it up for some apple muffins before they completely disappeared.

A friend sent me this recipe, and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to try it because it was a bit more work than I typically feel like tackling at 6:30am on a Monday morning. Alas, it sounded so good that I couldn’t resist. And they were SO good!

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I didn’t adjust the recipe at all, I totally embraced it in all its butter and sugar-filled glory. And it was pretty much apple pie in a muffin. Or a cross between apple pie and coffee cake. Luke thought the apples “looked so gross” while cooking, but in the end he tried to sneak a third muffin because they were so yummy. Thanks for a great recipe, Morgan!

 

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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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farewell, summer

20160824_162705My facebook feed has been flooded with back-to-school photos for weeks, my son starts back at preschool next week, and we’re a good week+ into September. I admit that I was not ready to end our summer, but it seems that the weather turned cool and fall-ish the moment we switched the calendar to September, so now I feel more ready. But what a summer it’s been.

We didn’t doing anything especially cool or unique – no family trip (we had an awesome trip to Maui last January), no big events – just lots of full, rich summer days. I admit that last spring I felt a lot of trepidation heading into a summer with no preschool and lots of days that were blank slates. My sweet boy is pretty much the exact opposite of myself when it comes to social needs. Since he was around 18 months old, he wakes up every morning asking “Who are we seeing today? Where are we going? Is anyone coming over?” While I don’t relate, I recognize his need to be with people, and I have done my best to meet those needs (for everyone’s sake) as he’s grown up. Preschool has been a great way for him to connect with friends and have some independence from me. Last spring, it seemed like his social needs were increasing, and I worried how our summer would go. I prayed and I plotted, and what I came up with was the weekly calendar:

20160826_190034A sheet of dry-erase poster board that hangs on the kids’ door with a full view of the week ahead. Each Sunday morning, the new week is revealed, and Luke has been known to ask about it as early as 2am in the morning. With our highly spirited boy, you just never know how an idea like this will go over. We’ve done visual schedules in the past, but he’s never fully embraced them. But this one was a winner. And it has greatly reduced the number of meltdowns regarding “What are we doing?! I don’t want to stay home! Who can come over?!” Now he can see the mix of outings and friend time and time at home, and is more accepting of the big picture. Which is not to say that I never heard him complain about wanting more social time, or asking “Is this a ‘down day,’ mom?” with a sarcastic tone (gotta admit, I feel a glimmer of pride that I can almost hear his use of air quotes – soon I’ll teach him my signature eye roll) – but overall, it has been a great success for both of us.

And we were busy. So many fun outings and playdates. Parks, berry picking, hikes, zoo days, riding the bus, spray parks, camping locally with my parents in their camper, the marine life center, and tons of picnics – just lots of fun enjoying our lovely PNW weather.

These two kiddos are at such a fun age for all these little adventures, it was really a blast.

And when we were home, I tried to sprinkle in some “scheduled” activities, which made Luke feel better. I’m a big fan of open, self-directed play (especially now that Luke and Gracie are such awesome playmates), but mentally Luke likes more structure. Often, he would get so caught up in playing that he would forget about what was on the calendar, so we would just skip it. If the kids were having a hard time playing together, it was nice to already have a planned activity to whip out and turn everyone’s attitudes around.

Mostly we did “craft time” and “school time.” Crafts were easy – the kids love painting, so we’d do that a lot. Chalk paint was a big hit for everyone. School time was my way of sneaking in extra OT work for Luke. They would each get ~15 minutes of tablet time with the ABC Mouse program, which was super exciting for them because they didn’t even know we owned a Kindle. While one was working on that, I worked with the other one on a hands-on project. I got so many great ideas from my friend Stacie’s Fine Motor ABC book, and the kids usually loved getting to do this part of school time. It was fun to come up with different activities (like the awesome 50 cent lacing cards I found at a garage sale!) and surprise them with it.

And can I just say? My boy has come so far in the last 6 months! It’s probably a post for another day, but I am just so thankful for our time in occupational therapy. Not many people know about Luke’s challenges because they are so easily masked by his super energetic and social personality. But he has to work so hard in a lot of areas – most fine motor tasks like writing and cutting are really challenging for him, as well as some gross motor planning (he wasn’t even able to pedal a tricycle or use a balance bike until a couple months before his 5th birthday, which I’m sure would be super surprising to a lot of people). I am so proud of how far he’s come, and how hard he has worked. “School time” was a big breakthrough for us, because previously he had been unwilling to work on these often frustrating tasks while at home with me.

Overall, it has been a great summer. I love cozy weather, so moving into fall is not too sad for me, though I will miss this particular season – the sweet sounds of my 2.5 and 5 year old playing together, and finding delight in the simplest activities. So long, sweet summer.

sIt WIISave

we have a five year-old

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How this boy got to be five years old, I don’t know. He was SO excited about his birthday this year. He had his first “kid party” with some of his friends from preschool and church. We had a “wild animal” theme (no surprise with this kiddo), and everyone had a blast. It was just Ian and I leading a dozen kiddos through animal activities, so I didn’t have time to take any photos!

We made him a lycra hammock for his swingset, because he loves the ones at his OT sessions. He and Gracie love it and have already spent a lot of time hanging out in there.

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On facebook I posted this on his birthday:

5 years old! I don’t know what is crazier – how much you have learned and grown into the boy that you are now, or how much I have learned and grown over the last 5 years in being a mother to you. You are a flame that burns brightly – sometimes it’s a flame that dances joyfully and lights up the world all around you; other times the power of that flame overwhelms you. My own flame tends to remain pretty steady, and you’ve challenged me as we’ve learned how to tend to your fire; rejoicing in your zest for life and your love for others while learning when and how to quiet the flame when it grows too large for your little body and mind to handle. We are in this together, and we learn more together every day. Happy birthday!

It’s a work in progress, learning to parent this little boy who is so different from myself. The day after I wrote this, he had his party. His party that he had been counting down to for a month, and talking about even prior to that. His party that he had planned and wished for and was SO excited for. And I think it was close to everything he imagined. He was so happy to be surrounded by all his friends.

His pure joy is electric, his smile is contagious, and his giggle is one of my favorite sounds. His highs are so high; they are thrilling. And of course the flip-side is that his lows can be pretty low. We knew he would come down pretty hard from his party, and he did. There wasn’t even much sugar involved, but the excitement of it all took a toll on our sweet boy, and the rest of the day was one big roller coaster of emotions. No amount of hammock time or running on the track or reading on mom’s lap could make it right. The day finally ended with him laying in bed, a cool washcloth on his forehead, surrendering to sleep as Ian sang “Trust in the Lord,” the song we’ve sang to him at bedtime since he was an infant.

This last year of him being 4 was hard. 3 was hard. 2 was hard. His feelings are so big, and sometimes his body sends him mixed signals about things. We are learning alongside of him how to regulate these feelings and sensations. I am thankful for his occupational therapist, and the great insight she has into what may be going on inside his little body. And immensely thankful for the grace that Jesus has granted me as his mama, and for the work that he has done in my own life amidst these challenges.

I do see so much growth, and so much potential – I feel like we may be at a turning point in his development. Or soon, anyways.  I feel relieved that he can do one more year of preschool; I want him to go into kindergarten feeling confident of the skills he will need there. Most of his classmates wrote on the cards they included with their presents – seeing their wobbly handwriting made my mama heart sink a little bit. Not because I’m sad that Luke isn’t there yet, but because I know that he notices that they can write their letters. He told me one day that he knew he couldn’t go to kindergarten because he didn’t know how to write his name (I know, not true – clearly something that another kid told him) and he said it with such sadness. I’m glad that he’ll have another year to practice skills like this that seem so difficult for him.

Our boy is so exuberant and social that most people don’t realize his own personal challenges. As his parents, we get to see the full spectrum, of course. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a change in how I view his behaviors and emotions. For so long my internal reaction was often, “why can’t he just…” whereas now I often – not always, I’m not perfect! – feel empathy towards him and think, “it looks like he needs…” Instead of wanting to shut down and distance myself from him, my mantra is “get closer.” And it has really paid off in our relationship.

So here’s to this next year of parenting a 5-year old. May we grow more, reach new stages, and find meaning and joy in this season.

these days

This is a lovely season for me, this mostly stay-at-home-mom season. Of course there are days that I wish I could escape to a full-time job, and usually my one full office day each week feels like a mini-vacation. But even in the midst of tending to the endless needs of tiny ones and the messes they create, I feel content and happy in this season.

Sometimes I go through days where it feels like nothing has been accomplished, and I’ve had no personal space to breathe. But other days – like yesterday – it is a perfect mix of all the things that bring me joy.

Yesterday morning, while Luke was at preschool, Gracie took a long nap (she prefers to nap while he’s gone – I think that she likes knowing that she won’t miss out on any fun! And it’s a win for me, since it means an easier bedtime later.) – and I had a blissful time to myself. I listened to Sara Groves while getting my “real job” work done, then I had time to finish up an order for my Etsy shop. Productive, quiet, life-giving time. I was so thankful.

I admit that during that time, I wondered what my afternoon would hold – sometimes God gives me those glorious pockets of alone time or an unexpected nap, and it turns out that I really needed that gift in order to survive the challenging day ahead. But you know what? The afternoon was pretty blissful too; the sun was beautiful and we were out in the yard all day. I accomplished so much weeding and yard work while the kids happily entertained themselves. All the “Mommy! Look what I can do! Watch this!” and “Worm! Biiiiiig! Daddy worm!” were sweet little reminders to look up from the task at hand.

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Those beautiful, perfect days have a way of nestling themselves right in my heart so that I can revisit them on the tough days. I am so thankful for this season in our family.

april

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Every April I get all the feelings.

In April 2011, our adoption homestudy was completed and we were officially “waiting” for a baby. I started readying my heart and home for a baby – it was such a unique season of anticipating and waiting with such uncertainty as to when we would become parents. I made this adorable little stork for our future baby’s bedroom.

Every April, I revisit those feelings and stand in awe at all that has happened since then. That April, I didn’t know that we would have a son two months later. And that two years after that, I’d be longing for another baby – not yet knowing that I was newly pregnant.

And this year? These two are no longer babies, but we are in a sweet season. They are best friends, and my heart is so full.