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pARTy down!

April 14, 2014

Last week, Lila turned two.  This weekend, we rolled up our sleeves, prepared to get messy, and welcomed a pack of two-year-olds into our house to create some art:

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I ordered the invitations from minted.com—aren’t they cute?!

We tossed around a few different party ideas before settling on the idea of an art party.  Lila is in a major art-loving phase right now, so I knew she would be into it.  I also liked the idea of having an activity to center the party around, and because her birthday is in mid-April, I hoped that we’d luck out on the weather and get sunshine…and we definitely did!

As you can see from the invitation, we warned our guests ahead of time about what we had planned, so all of the kids (and adults!) came in appropriate clothing.

Each kid got their own big canvas to paint, and we set up a paint station with tons of paint, brushes, sponges, water buckets, and paper towels:

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…plus an encouraging sign. Winking smile 

I know it looks like a lot of stuff—and it was! But, when we decided on this party theme a few months back, our nanny tipped me off to the Hobby Lobby app—you put it on your phone, and they tell you about all of the deals/discounts that are available from week to week.  Plus, every single day, you have a 40% coupon that you can use on almost any item.  The canvases that we got for the kids were all buy one get one free, and combining that with other deals and the 40% off coupon meant that buying the supplies wasn’t too expensive.  Plus, we have a lot left over for future projects with Lila. 

We set down drop cloths in the backyard, and when the kids arrived, they all got busy painting their canvases.  I told the other parents about a Pinterest idea I’d seen where you outline the kid’s initials (or first letter of their first name, or their entire name, etc.) with painting tape so that the kid can paint around it and when you peel the tape off, they have a customized piece of art.  Pretty cool idea! 

Here are some pictures of our little artists in action:

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So. Much. Fun.

My biggest worry with this party was that two was too young, and that the kids wouldn’t really get into the painting.  But they totally did—they loved it! It was so fun watching all of them create their art together.

As I said, we really lucked out on the weather.  It was sunny and 75, so we were outside the whole time.  We had about 15 kids total, and they all kind of went back and forth from painting, to playing in the backyard, to painting again.  Having the party all outside meant that our house stayed nice and clean—not a big deal, but it is kind of nice to not have your house wrecked by a posse of wild toddlers. Winking smile

In the end, their paintings looked great:

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And indeed, the kids did get messy.  In fact, someone ended up blowing out her birthday candles in the buff:

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…which I think is the sign of a great party.

We kept the food simple—pizza, fruit salad, and goldfish.  But I am pretty proud of our favors:

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…which my mom really helped me with.  If she hadn’t been around to help, I probably would have just given each kid a crayon or something. Winking smile 

We found this stuff, again, at Hobby Lobby.  Little multi-colored buckets (paint pails?), filled with crayons, paint, a paint brush, noise-maker, and m&m’s.

And that, my friends, is our art party!  It really was a lot of fun—if you’re trying to come up with a good birthday idea for a little one, I’d recommend this one!

Hope you had a great weekend!

Thinking about Two

April 9, 2014

Guess who turned two this week?

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You know who.  Winking smile 

I know all parents say this, but it really is crazy how fast the years go by.  It really doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were bringing her home for the first time:

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…and now she’s a walking (running), talking (sassing) two-year old.   I’m excited about two.  She’s already started testing her limits more and more, and definitely frustrates us on a daily basis.  But, at the same time, she’s like a little sponge at this age—soaking up new information, spitting out new phrases left and right—she’s become our little parrot!  Two days into it, two is fun in ways that babyhood never was.  I’ve always been up front about not loving the infant stage, so crazy as it might sound, I have high hopes for toddlerhood. 

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Lila seems to be going through some sort of a sleep regression—after months (years?) of sleeping peacefully through the night, she’s started waking a few times a night over the past month or so—screaming out for her pacifier, asking to be rocked, and—this morning at 5:50—asking to be sung to.  Puff Dragon and the Winnie the Pooh theme songs are common requests, which is cute, but not in the middle of the night (or before dawn).

We got her a night light which has helped some.  I think it’s mostly just a bit of good old-fashioned separation anxiety.  Plus, they say that kids can start having nightmares more at this age, and I do think that sometimes she wakes up in the dark, can’t find her paci, and just freaks out.  Thus, the night light.

Still, it’s frustrating.  One week, she woke up three nights in a row, and I thought—we haven’t had to deal with this crap since she was an infant!  It’s hard when you think that you’ve worked through something, only to have it resurface again.

In addition to Lila turning two, we’re thinking about two in other ways—two kids. We’ve always talked about spacing our kids out by about 3 years…which means that with Lila turning two, trying for a second baby is right around the corner.  Honestly, my thoughts on having a second kid are more complicated than I thought they’d be.  I never thought I’d only want one kid. I love having a sibling, and I think it’s something that is…well, I guess I think it’s good for kids.  I’m not trying to dis only children, because I know some great ones, and obviously the choice of how many children to have (if any) is one that each parent must decide completely on their own.  But with a sibling, you learn how to share.  You learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around you.  Plus, you have someone to commiserate with and scheme with and laugh with, and when your parents get older, you don’t have to bear that brunt all on your own.

But.

Lila is just so god-damned easy these days.  I mean, yeah, she throws fits, and yeah, we have our moments—but compared to the struggle we went through with a newborn?  It’s nothing.  Lila naps for 2-3 hours a day.  She’s on a regular schedule most days.  She’s a happy kid.  Plainly put, while I would never say that Lila was an easy baby (hello, bouncing her on the ball with the hairdryer going for hours at a time!), she is a pretty easy kid.  We love her.  We’re having so much fun with her.  And so, a part of me thinks—why mess with a great thing?  Why ask for more?

Of course, we will.  Or at least, we’ll try.  Not wanting to return to the hell of the first three months of having a baby isn’t enough to deter me from what comes next—the smiles, the giggles, all of the first moments.  I know more than ever now how short the baby phase is—and lest you think I was a miserable shrew during that entire time, let me be clear that there were some things that I loved about infanthood.  You really just can’t beat a baby, drunk on milk, passed out on your chest.  #scientificfact  Plus, a part of me wonders how much of our rough first three months was just the difficulty of a first baby.  I’ve heard my friends with 2 or more say again and again that everything is so much different (and usually easier) the second time around.

Any words of wisdom for me on going for number two? Or for the “terrible” twos?  Winking smile

Jade Cove: Wednesday in Big Sur

March 27, 2014

Greetings!  We’re about to call it a night—our last one here in Big Sur.  Sigh.  I’m sad that our trip is coming to an end…although I am *very* excited about seeing our sweet kiddo tomorrow.  Travel is definitely a different experience after you have kids—I had so much fun relaxing on this trip and reconnecting with Ryan as two adults (as opposed to MaMa and DaDa Winking smile ), but I’m so ready to get back and be with Lila again. A part of me really has felt kind of…well, empty without her. 

But.  That being said—this trip has been awesome and we’ve enjoyed every second of it.  Today, we booked massages at the hotel spa—perfect timing, as the morning was gray and rainy.  Apparently this was the first bout of rain Big Sur had seen in quite some time, but honestly, we didn’t mind—it was great spa weather!

After our morning at the spa, however, we *were* ready for some action this afternoon, so we headed out on a drive.  We started off without a real goal in mind, just out and about, exploring the beautiful pacific highway:

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…but we found ourselves at Jade Cove, a beach spot famous for its jade rocks and beachcombing treasures.  The hike down to the beach was actually a little treacherous—the trails were pretty muddy from the earlier rain:

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But once we got down there, it was worth it—beautiful views, and lots of beach for exploring!

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Poor Ryan—I can literally beachcomb for HOURS, so he basically had to drag me out of there.

All in all, it was an amazing final afternoon for our trip.  The sun came out as the afternoon wore on, and we headed back along the highway for one final beautiful drive:

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I don’t think I could ever get sick of that view.

That’s it for California for us—next time I talk to you, we’ll probably be back in the Southland. Winking smile

Big Sur’ing

March 25, 2014

Hi friends!  Greetings from sunny Big Sur!

Some of my favorite posts to look back on are the ones from our travels.  I love being able to trace the days—what we did, things we saw, places we ate…it’s so much fun to have a little travelogue to look back on!

So, for posterity’s sake, here’s some of what we’ve been doing here in Big Sur.

We actually flew into Monterey, California.  We were hoping to spent the afternoon and evening there on Saturday, but our flights were pushed back so far that we ended up getting to our hotel room at 10:30 pm and just crawling into bed and crashing.  The next morning, however, we got to explore a little, and also went to the world famous Monterey Aquarium, which is worth all the hype (and steep admission price):

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Beautiful!

With that, we were on our way south—ready for Big Sur!  I’ve driven the Pacific Coast Highway before, on a roadtrip with my gal pals.  Even though I’d driven it before, it still took my breath away.  That stretch of highway has to be the prettiest in the country—we had to be careful not to veer off the road, taking in all of the amazing views!

We stopped along the way to take pictures at some look-out points—it’s just too hard not to!

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Once we got checked into our Big Sur hotel (ahhhhhmazing), we headed out for a hike—gotta take advantage of our time while we’re here!  On Sunday afternoon, we “hiked” to McWay Falls—I call it a “hike” because it’s really nothing more than a short walk on a paved path.  But the path pays off with one of the prettiest views in Big Sur—a waterfall cascading directly to the beach below:

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Just across the highway, we also started on the Ewoldsen Trail—a trail that took us through beautiful redwood forest:

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Continuing our hikes, yesterday (Monday), we explored Andrew Molera State Park, which had a nice variety—one easy, relatively short trail led to a stunningly rugged beach (which we explored for about an hour); another one took us high to a bluff, which gave us a beautiful panoramic view:

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And that brings us to…today! Today, we explored Pfeiffer Falls, in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  Again, amazing views!

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We also ate a picnic lunch a Pfeiffer Beach—same name, different spot.  This beach was small, but really dramatic—waves crash through huge rock formations and cliffs.  Pretty incredible.

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As you can tell…we’ve been enjoying ourselves. Winking smile  We thought long and hard about where we wanted to go for this trip, knowing that trips like this with just the two of us will probably be very few and far between for the next, oh, eighteen years.  I think Big Sur was the perfect choice—we’ve been able to relax (yay, naps!), but also get out and hike all morning.  It really has been the perfect blend of active and lazy.  Smile 

Hope you’re having a good week!  I’ll be back to check in before we leave…sadly, tomorrow is our last full day.  Sigh.

And in case you’re wondering…yep, we really, really, really, REALLY miss Lila.  Although word on the street is that she hasn’t asked about us once, haha.  I think she’s having so much fun with Honey and CooCoo, she didn’t even notice we’ve been gone.  Smile

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Spring Break! Woooo!

March 24, 2014

I mentioned in my last post that I was *very* excited for spring break (which starts officially tomorrow).  I’m always happy to have a bit of a break, but this break is especially exciting because…we’re traveling! We’re actually in our California hotel room as I type this post, ha.

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As Arnold says, “Welcome to California!”

This trip is kind of a big deal because it’s the first trip we’ve taken away from Lila together.  We’ve both traveled separately since she’s been born, but one of us (whoever wasn’t traveling) always stayed with her.  She’s with my parents right now, having a ball– probably eating ice cream for dinner, watching cartoons late at night, and developing all sorts of bad habits that we’ll have to break when we get home. ;-)

As for us?  We’re in Big Sur, and will be here for the next four days:

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Hiking…good food…a few trips to the hotel spa…it’s basically heaven.  I miss Lila a ton, but…well, maybe they can just send her out here and we can all stay?

Happy Spring Break!

Two Years In: Thoughts From a Working Mom

March 20, 2014

A few days ago, I rushed to campus to teach my morning classes, then rushed to the gym to fit a workout in, then rushed home and started making dinner for that night (a dinner I would leave at home for Ryan and Lila, as I teach on Monday nights).  I like to listen to podcasts when I cook, so as I threw together the ingredients for the cucumber salad and meatball muffins (yum, right?), I listened to Terry Gross interview author Bridget Schulte on Fresh Air.  Schulte, who worked at the Washington Post while raising her kids, is the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, a book that focuses largely on working moms, and our tendency to try to do everything and do it well…and what happens when we inevitably fail.  

She writes that the balance is particularly hard for working moms because you’re working within multiple spheres.  For instance, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you have one sphere: the home. If you’re a working dad, you typically have one sphere: work.  Working moms, on the other hand, are expected to somehow master both.  I think that pressure often comes most strongly from the mother herself, but there are external forces at work as well.

I can say without a doubt that this has been one of the biggest struggles for me.  I definitely feel all of the pressures that go along with my job—papers to grade, classes to prep for, meetings with students and my superiors, etc.  And, for me at least, I would say that the pressure to be a very present mother is also still there—on days when I’m not teaching, I fill my hours (and Lila’s) with playdates, toddler gymnastics, and crafts.  My to-do list for work is as long as my pinterest “crafts to make with Lila” board—and neither is ever really tackled entirely.  Especially the crafting board, ha.

I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say that, almost two years into it, balancing the work and motherhood thing is hard.  When I’m teaching my classes, I feel like I’m missing out on key moments and milestones with Lila.   When I’m with Lila, my mind is running 100 mph, mentally going through everything I still need to get done for work.  These days, I find it incredibly difficult to just be…present.

Interestingly, the stay-at-home moms that I tend to hang out with are incredibly open about the struggles that they’ve had with motherhood.  And believe me, I know that being a stay-at-home mom is not without its own unique difficulties.  The moms I work with, however?  Not so much.  I think the pressure is there, and is very real, for the working mom to at least appear to have it all figured out and to appear very “together”—complaining about the work/life balance might be seen, after all, as a sign of weakness, or a sign that you can’t handle the work at hand.  I work in a very friendly, supportive department—but in a way, I still worry that if I were to start complaining about my workload, or my inability to balance work and motherhood, that it might…I don’t know, come back to be used against me, somehow.

The irony that I was listening to a podcast about working mothers trying (and failing) to do everything as I frantically attempted to make dinner before leaving the house to go back to work…well, it doesn’t escape me.  And I ended the podcast feeling…not depressed, exactly, but like I still didn’t  have a concrete answer for how to strike that “balance” that self-help authors love to talk about.  And I don’t have one—an answer, that is.  There are days when I love my job.  There are days when I wish I could stay home with Lila. And that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

I will say that I think I’m getting better about learning when to just let certain things go.  Our house isn’t the cleanest, and there are usually dishes piling up in the sink, and the other day I realized that Lila was wearing her pants on inside-out.  It happens.  I let it go. Schulte also talked about the “mommy martyr” figure—you know, that mom/wife who complains about having to do everything around the house…but then when the husband does the laundry, she complains about how horrible he is at folding clothes and finally just insists on re-folding all of the clothes herself?

Not that I would know anyone like that. Ahem.

But in all seriousness, I’m getting better at it.  Ryan might fold laundry differently than me, but hey—clean underwear is clean underwear, am I right?

Yesterday, I found myself feeling guilty about my busy schedule as of late.  So when Ryan went up to campus, Lila and I spent the afternoon baking cookies…and watching The Little Mermaid…and eating dinner on the couch.  I just wanted an afternoon where I felt like a good mom.  And you know what? I did.

Easy Oatmeal Spelt Cookies

1 stick butter

1 egg

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3.5 cups oats

1 cup spelt flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup raisins (optional)

In a standing mixing bowl, beat together butter, egg, and sugars until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Add to mixing bowl and beat slowly until combine.  Gently fold in raisins, stirring until incorporated.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Careful not to overbake!

Eat while watching Ariel sing about gadgets and gizmos a’plenty.

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Mediterranean Meatball Muffins + Cucumber Salad

March 18, 2014

Yesterday, I was really on top of things.  Don’t you love days like that?

After teaching my morning classes, I went to the gym, which I hardly ever do—I just feel so pressed for time on Mondays that it usually becomes a non-workout day for me.  But yesterday, I made the time.  And then on top of that, I made dinner when I got home—five hours early!

I teach on Monday nights, but when I can, I like to cook in advance and leave something for Ryan and Lila to have while I teach.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes they’re on their own. Yesterday afternoon, I made these two dishes before heading back up to school again:

Mediterranean Meatball Muffins (based on a recipe from Cooking Light)

1 package (1.25 pounds) ground turkey

1 egg

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried basil

1/3 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in pan.  Add onions and cook for 10 minutes, until soft.  Add oregano and basil. 

Dump the rest of the ingredients into a separate mixing bowl.  Once the onions have cooled off a bit, add them to the bowl, then mix until well-combined (doing this by hand is messy, but it works the best).

Drop the meat mixture into a standard-sized muffin pan, filling almost to the top:

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When cups are filled, place pan in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until the tops are browning.

And done!

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While the muffins were baking, I also whipped up this easy cucumber salad to go with them:

Cucumber Salad

1 cucumber, chopped into thin half-moons

1/4 red onion, minced

1/2 cup feta, chopped or crumbled

5-6 cherry tomatoes, quartered

juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 tbsp. greek yogurt

1 tsp. dried oregano

salt to taste

Directions:

Combine ingredients and mix well, tossing to coat.

Pretty easy, right? Winking smile 

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These were great to come home to after a long night of teaching.

Happy Tuesday—have a great day!

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