May 20, 2013
The Coolest Sandbox Around
Brent and I decided early on that we wanted to get Arlo a sandbox for his second birthday, as he and Everly always enjoy playing in the ones at our local parks. Late last month, I spent some time researching options online looking for one that would fit our needs. For aesthetic reasons, I wanted a wooden sandbox since it would be in our front yard. I also wanted something that would keep Arlo shaded and I kept thinking that if it was mobile, it would be nice not to have to kill what little grass we have (and the green weeds that we like to pretend is grass).
I really loved the design of the Badger Basket Sandbox because it features a lid that covers the entire box but plays double duty as it folds up into two bench seats. I looked at a lot of different models, but the functionality and price ($119) for this cedar model was my favorite. We purchased the kit to build our own and sent mama the dimensions and asked her if she could design a way to make it mobile.
She drove down to Raleigh for Arlo’s birthday party and when she showed me what she had made, I was absolutely thrilled. Her design has five wheels and a long tow rope so that we can move it around the yard. She painted the base bright red to give it some color. She put the sandbox kit together and then attached it to the base with L brackets. Before we added the sand, we drilled holes in the platform base, and then added a layer of mesh outdoor gardening fabric so that water could drain through, but the sand would stay put if it rained.
(Mama and her finished sandbox)
The result was a beautiful sandbox that can be wheeled around to shady parts of the yard as the day progresses that won’t destroy the ground cover underneath. It’s heavy with the sand, but it works great!
At Arlo’s dinosaur party on Saturday (a post to come on that tomorrow!) we filled it full of plastic dinosaurs and dino skeletons and it was a huge hit with the kids in attendance as they practiced being little paleontologists. Some of them stayed put for thirty minutes or more as they happily dug!
The only downside is that now I’ve got to learn to come to terms with the layer of sand that I’ve found in the house since it arrived!
My mom can build anything out of wood. Our house is full of tables and shelves and bowls and even cupcake stands that she has made based off a simple photo or idea I sent her way. She’s like my own personal Bob Vila!
I was just so proud of this that I wanted to share it on my blog.
May 19, 2013
(On a trip to Target to pick out a special prize for being well behaved. Arlo had already chosen a toy motorcycle and we were browsing the doll aisle)
Everly: Mama, instead of a toy, can I pick out a new pair of shoes?
Me: Shoes instead of a toy? Are you sure?
Everly: Yes. Sparkly ones. They need to have sparkles.
Me: This is proof we are soul mates.
(While watching a Disney commercial that featured a little boy who was talking about his heritage. He looked into the camera and said, “I’m Native American, Irish American and African American”)
Everly’s response: Whoa! That’s a lot of Americans!
May 17, 2013
Happy birthday to my dream boy. My great adventure. My gentle spirit. You are everything and more that my heart could ever desire in a son. I thank God for every single day of these precious two years I have spent as your mother. May you continue to grow and thrive in the days and years ahead. I love you so much Arlo!!!
May 16, 2013
(Song: Catch the Wind by Donovan)
When Seventh Generation asked if I would like to be part of their Toxin-Free generation campaign, I jumped at the chance. We have been using their products in our home from the start. We wash our clothes and dishes with their detergents, clean our counters and surfaces with their cleaners and have used their wipes and diapers with our children. Beyond the peace of mind I get from knowing that I can clean and care for our family and home without the use of harsh chemicals, I love supporting a company that has consistently been rated as one of the greenest in the United States.
Seventh Generation asked me, “What is your child’s view from 36 inches?” For every person who uploads a photo or video answering this question to their website , they will donate $1 to Women’s Voices for the Earth (an organization that works to educate and advocate against the use of harsh chemicals)
Everything looks different from Everly and Arlo’s level and the way we think about how we keep them safe and limit their exposure to toxins changes when we see the world through their eyes.
I strapped a camera to the top of the kid’s helmets to get a better understanding of how they experience the world, and the results had me smiling. I plan to do this more often, as I truly loved seeing the world from their perspective.
Enjoy the view from 36 inches!
This Post sponsored by Seventh Generation. To learn more about their Toxin-free generation campaign, visit their website .
May 12, 2013
My Mother’s Day
This morning, with my face smushed in a pillow, a three year old raked her fingers through my hair and said “Mommy. Daddy said to let you sleep in. Are you sleeping?”
I said yes.
And she said “OK. Tell me when you wake up.”
Some time later, Brent set a cup of coffee on the night stand.
I yawned, grabbed my bathrobe and Everly and I made biscuits for breakfast.
We took advantage of the sunshine and walked to church. This week, there was a mandolin and a bongo in the band and we sang my favorite, “How great thou art.”
We ate lunch with family.
Arlo and I held hands and admired the flowers in grammy’s garden.
We came home and planted my Mother’s Day yellow rose bush in the front yard.
Brent painted our front door red.
That’s what I asked for. A red door.
And while I washed the babies and put them in their jammies, he put on the last coat.
Then we all stood in the front yard, eyes towards our house, admiring it.
After bed time stories and bed time prayers, I laid in bed with Everly for a little while. We do this thing, where she will wrap her arms tightly around my neck and refuse to let go when it’s time for me to say goodnight. She always says “I’ll never let go!” and then she waits for me to say it back in my dramatic movie voice “I’ll never let go, Jack!” and then she says it that way too and we both giggle.
Tonight, I promised to let her watch the movie Titanic when she is a teenager so that she will one day understand the reference.
coffee. hymns. family. a red front door and my favorite goodnight ritual.
I can think of no better day to celebrate this day.
Happy Mother’s day!
May 10, 2013
A Mother’s Day Tea Party
(Practicing our proper curtsy technique before I left for work)
Last week, Everly came home from school with a construction paper card she made in class, inviting me to attend the Mother’s Day tea party at her preschool. Her smile was huge as she proudly presented it to me and after I read it and told her I would be honored to attend, she whispered, “Mama. We’re gonna have sweets! Cookies and everything!”
All week leading up to it, she would tell me at random times, “Happy Mudders day!” and sing parts of the songs that her class had been learning for the occasion.
Wednesday morning, we took the opportunity to dress up a bit and gave her a big hug before heading off to work for a few hours. I’ll see you soon, I promised.
I flew into the parking lot of her school at 11:14, rushing to get inside before the program started. I had been on back to back conference calls all morning and had scrambled to make it from my office to her school for the 11:15am start. My heels clicked loudly on the wooden floors of the quiet sanctuary, full of other mothers waiting for the program to begin. A few turned to look at me and I tried to hide my flushed face behind my hair. I felt a little embarrassed that I was the last one.
Everly searched for me as her class filed in, and waved proudly once she spotted me. I may have just barely made it, but as long as I was there in enough time for her to see me sitting in the pew, I was happy. She sang all of the songs, complete with hand motions, until they reached the second to last song. At which point, she just burst into tears and started crying ” Mommy! Mommy!” in the middle of the group.
I stepped to the side of the aisle and her music teacher picked her up and brought her over to me. “She’s usually one of my best singers!” her teacher said. Once she was in my arms, she immediately wiped her tears, smiled and said “That singing was taking too long.” I had to stifle my laughter when I realized her dramatics were because she was tired of singing and was ready to hang out with me. This little rascal of mine!
She laid down in the pew next to me, looking up at the cathedral ceilings and listening to the other children sing. “That was beautiful!” she announced at the end of the last song, and clapped along with me.
From there, we walked hand in hand to her classroom, where her teachers had prepared a delicious spread of chicken salad sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit, and crackers.
All week, Everly and her classmates had been working on all sorts of crafts for Mother’s Day. She gave me one card to open there, one to save until Mother’s Day on Sunday, and a little container she decorated full of hershey’s kisses. “We’re gonna share this, right mama?” she asked as she handed over the candy.
We ate our lunch together, cheersing her pink lemonade with my sweet tea and chatted with some of the other families in attendance. It’s always such a pleasure to sit down and talk with Everly’s teacher as I don’t get to interact with them much since Brent takes her to and from school most days. I am just so proud of my little girl and the kind comments I received from her teachers and friends.
Brent and Arlo met us at the end of the party so that he could carry her home and I could head back to work. I left with my arms full of beautiful, construction paper gifts from my sweet girl.
The rest of my day at the office was just as hectic as my morning, but that precious hour I spent with Everly, watching her sing and crouched next to her in a tiny classroom chair as we shared lunch, kept me smiling.
So much of my life is a balancing act, a constant attempt to keep everything moving forward and on track. It’s nice every now and then to take some time to be intentionally slow and purposeful. To nibble crackers with my daughter and wipe strawberry juice off her chin or allow myself to be a few minutes late to an afternoon call because I was pinning up her new artwork at my desk.
It’s those breaks in an otherwise full speed day that help me to take in the goodness I have in my life. I’m so thankful to be a mother and to have a job I love and a family who supports me while I find the balance in both.
May 9, 2013
(A silly family portrait, snapped this week after brushing the children’s teeth before bed.)
Brent is in the middle of reading Here and Now by the great, modern spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. He met me in the kitchen as I was fixing a meal and told me he would like to read me a passage from the chapter on family. It was so perfectly stated that I felt compelled to share it here as it sums up so much of the journey and struggle of parenthood.
Children are a gift.
Being a parent is like being a good host to a stranger. While we may think that our children are like us, we are continually surprised at how different they are. We can be gladdened by their intelligence, their artistic gifts, or their athletic prowess, or saddened by their slowness in learning, their lack of coordination, or their “odd” interests. In many way we don’t know our children.
We didn’t create our own children, nor do we own them. This is good news. We don’t need to blame ourselves for their problems, nor should we claim ourselves their successes.
Children are a gift from God. They are given to us so that we can offer them a safe, loving place to grow to inner and outer freedom. They are like strangers who ask for hospitality, become good friends, and then leave again to continue their journey. They bring immense joy and immense sorrow precisely because they are gifts. And a good gift, as a proverb says, is “twice given.”
The gift we receive, we have to give again. When our children leave us to study, to look for work, to marry, to join a community, or simply to become independent, sorrow and joy touch each other. Because it is then that we feel deeply that “our” child isn’t really “ours” but given to us to become a true gift to others.
It is so hard to give our children their freedom- especially in this violent and exploitative world. We so much want to protect them from all possible dangers. But we cannot. They do not belong to us. They belong to God, and one of the greatest acts of trust in God is letting our children make their own choices and find their own way.
And so, I will leave this here. As a reminder to myself and to all of us, that we are raising citizens of the world, each with a purpose and a path that will one day diverge from our own. It is a wondrous and heart wrenching predicament, to dedicate yourself to growing and loving another soul so successfully that they eventually establish their own independence. It is the great conflict of parenthood, wishing that they would never change, but celebrating each new step they take towards autonomy. A gift given and received, over and over again.
May 8, 2013
Sunday Morning Biscuits
The morning I learned that my grandmother had passed away, I emailed my cousin Katie and asked if she would send me grandma’s famous biscuit recipe. I had it, written in grandma’s shakey handwriting on a notecard, but with so many moves in the past few years I couldn’t seem to put my hands on it.
Katie’s reply was along the lines of a lot of recipes in my family with no precise measurements. So much of our cooking and baking is done from memory, sight, and feel. I have always cooked this way and it’s the main reason I don’t share a lot of recipes on my blog. I’m not precise about anything - I just do a pinch of this, a scoop of that and cook it until I know its done.
The morning of grandma’s funeral, I baked her biscuits and served them to my family on the delicate, rose printed china she had handed down to me when I got married. It was just a small thing I wanted to do in her honor.
Since that day two weeks ago, I have made her biscuits four more times, learning to do it by heart and feel just like my grandmother always did. I’ve been tweaking her recipe some to make it a little healthier and I wanted to share it here. I tried to measure things out so that I could share it here, but don’t be afraid to make your own adjustments. This recipe is very simple but evokes all the warm, loving, comfort-food related memories of my childhood.
4 cups of self rising flour
1/2 cup of coconut oil (grandma’s recipe called for crisco, but I wanted something a little lighter and the results were delicious!)
2 cups of buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425*F . Sift the flour into a large bowl. I don’t currently own a crank sifter, so I just used a colander and a wooden spoon to sift, like this:
(A tip from a reader: a remedy for no-sifter-ness that may be a little less messy than my verions is to use a whisk on the flour to “lift” it a little. Thanks Stickyheel5)
Before adding the coconut oil to the flour, use the back of a spoon to mash the coconut oil into a paste and remove any hard clumps.
Add the coconut oil to the flour and mix with a chopper like I have pictured here. This one was handed down to me, but if you didn’t have one, a plastic cup with an air hole punctured through it would probably do the trick.
Continue to combine the two ingredients together with the chopper until the texture becomes piecey. My cousin Katie described it as similar to “mealy grits” but unless you are from the south, you probably have no idea what that means. I can think of no better way to describe it than she did, so I included a photo for reference:
Make a hole in the middle of the flour mixture and slowly fill with buttermilk. With a large spoon, combine ingredients until they form a dough. Add a little more flour or milk as necessary to achieve a dough consistency.
Flour a flat surface and roll out your dough to about a half inch thickness. I use my chopper to cut out the biscuits, but again, a cup with a hole punctured in the bottom of it will suffice.
One thing my grandma always made for us were “funny biscuits” where she would take the last remaining pieces of dough after all the rounds were cut, and clump them into little piles on the baking sheet. These lumpy, odd shaped biscuits used to delight us as children -and we always ate them first. I learned at her funeral that she actually adopted this tradition from her mother in law, so making them for my children means there are at least three generations of my family who have grown up with funny biscuits.
Place biscuits about a half an inch a part on a non-greased baking sheet or baking stone and place in oven. And here’s the part that you’re going to have to “eye ball it” as we say in our family. They will need to bake for for 5 to 10 minutes. I have a hard time getting the tops to brown (A reader shared with me it’s because of the coconut oil), so I use a spatula to check the underside of a biscuit - when it’s golden brown, it’s almost done.
My favorite addition to grandma’s recipe is brushing the tops with a mixture of melted butter combined with either maple syrup or honey. It helps brown up the tops and the faint sweetness pairs so nicely with the hint of coconut in the biscuit.
(note the “funny biscuits” in the middle of the tray)
Let bake for another minute or so to caramelize the butter/honey mixture, then remove from oven and transfer to a basket where you can wrap them in a cloth to keep warm. The time in the oven keeps the top mixture from being sticky, so it’s fine to pile them on top of one another.
I love to serve mine with butter and jam, sharp cheddar cheese, or a thin slice of salt-cured country ham.
These biscuits are quick and easy to make and can keep for about a day on the counter (pop in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm them up!) I grew up on these biscuits and it makes me happy to know that my children will too. We’ve deemed them our new Sunday morning tradition!
May 6, 2013
Blooming and Growing.
When we bought our house, there was very little in the way of mature landscaping. The yard had a large camilla tree and a few azalea bushes, but other than that, there were only a few small bushes recently added by the seller against the house’s foundation in an attempt to improve curb appeal.
Brent and I spent a lot of years with out a real yard. When we were first married, we owned a townhome where all of the shared common lawns were managed by a landscaping company. In San Francisco, we called a tiny concrete walkway our “yard” and when we first moved back to Raleigh, we rented at house and didn’t want to invest much money in a yard that didn’t belong to us.
When we bought our house in December of 2011, the yard, much like the house itself, was a blank canvas. Since then, we have added dozens of new plants and bushes. We have dug up trees from one area of the yard and moved them to another. We’ve ripped out huge patches of unruly monkey grass and put in flowering plants and nearly a dozen rose bushes. Last year we put up a picket fence and recently we created new flower beds down the front.
We know very little about gardening. In the beginning, Brent and I just picked plants without paying much attention to how big things were supposed to grow. This meant that some of last year’s plants had to be dug up and replanted in a better spot this year as our beds became crowded. Last week, I bought a climbing plant that I later learned (only after it was already in the ground) was an annual and would not survive the winter outside. We are still very much novice landscapers… despite not even knowing half of the names of plants we’ve put in our yard, we are learning and having so much fun along the way.
I’ve discovered that I love pulling weeds and pruning and tinkering in my beds. I love watching our plants grow and bloom. I love seeing what was a tiny plant last year, double or triple in size this year.
Giving our yard a little personality has been one of my favorite parts of home ownership and we reap the rewards daily. So much of our time is spent sitting on the front porch, watching the children play in the yard and feeling pride that it belongs to us.
Almost every day when I pull up after work, Brent and the kids are playing outside. It never fails to hit me with a rush of gratitude. I still can’t believe sometimes that we own a house. That we have our own yard. That it is truly ours!
We have plenty of weeds yet to be pulled, the fence we put up is a bit crooked (we learned many lessons on that one!) and and there is so much left to do, but I love this little yard so much. Things are blooming and growing here. Our yard and our family. I’m so thankful we get to call it home.