Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Favorite Stories from the Week

I have a few favorite stories for this week and if there's anything working on the kids' photobooks has taught me it's that I will remember NOTHING that isn't on facebook or captured in this blog (and the blog is easier to search later). And sometimes pictures just aren't enough to capture the moment.

~ ~ ~

Being a third baby, Cora frequently has to fend for herself (or thinks she does; she has a lot of initiative). On Sunday when we were working on the girls' rooms I came out to the kitchen to find Cora sitting nicely in her booster chair politely snacking on animal crackers she'd retrieved from the pantry and poured into a little bowl she'd gotten out herself. She'd even put the container back with its top on the shelf where it belongs.

I felt like I should say something- the kids have to ask us before getting snacks- but the big kids weren't around and I had a lot to do, so I just quietly snapped a picture and exited the kitchen to return to my projects. Third babies are the best.

~ ~ ~

On Wednesday, Cora woke up super early and James was at swim practice, so I let the girls get in bed with me while I clung to the 20 minutes I had to go before my 7:00 alarm. Claire brought books and they I read some by magic with my eyes closed.

A little while later, Landon came in, fully dressed for school and exclaimed, betrayed and aghast, "How long has THIS been going on?!!"

~ ~ ~

Claire's teacher sent a note home last Friday informing us of a new assignment- each kid was to pick an animal and learn something about it and then present it to the class on Friday in whatever way they wanted. Landon was SUPER excited for Claire to have this glorious opportunity and immediately pulled out his animal encyclopedias, tempting her with creatures like the red tailed hawk and various jungle cats, but Claire, immune to his excitement, announced her intention to "do either an elephant or a cat. A REGULAR cat."

We had a few busy evenings, so Thursday night rolled around and I asked Claire about her research project. "Oh, it's done!" she said brightly. I was skeptical, but our after school nanny is awesome and supervises homework, so it was possible that she'd overseen the project's creation. I asked Claire to bring it out and she proudly unfolded an 11x17 piece of paper on which Landon has obviously drawn a sea turtle, fish, birds, and even titled it "Loggerhead Sea Turtle" in beautiful letters.

Me: Claire, what is this?
Claire: A turtle!
Me: What kind of turtle?
Claire: ... a turtle that swims??

Me: Did Landon draw the turtle for you?
Claire: YES!

And so we discussed with both of them the importance of doing our own work, particularly with school work, and got out a new piece of paper to restart the project. James and I are both super opposed to parents doing projects for their kids (one of the kids in Claire's class had a 3-D diorama that there is no way his little Kindergartner-hands had anything to do with assembling), so it was hilarious to me that we have a cheater threat embedded in the affable and easily manipulated older brother. She drew her own turtle and James helped her look up and write three facts (it's a reptile; can weight 1,000 lbs.; and lives in oceans) to share with the class after I had to run off to teach barre. I found the end result adorable.

In the morning I asked Claire about her project and facts, "It's a LOGGERHEAD SEA turtle!" she exclaimed in my bathroom while I was getting ready. "And it can weigh ONE MILLION POUNDS!" she added with the confidence of a newly minted sea turtle expert.

Her teacher texted me the above picture of Claire giving her presentation, and though Ms. C said Claire remembered all her facts, I can totally see her confidently stating in this moment, "And it weighs one MILLION pounds!"

~ ~ ~

Yesterday was Cora's Halloween carnival at school. We were so excited for her to carry on the proud dragon tradition of her older siblings, but that didn't work out.

I switched her into a back-up Anna dress from Target that is a completely normal dress, plus a cape.

Like Edna Mode, Cora says, "NO CAPE!".

Cora also failed to recognize the daycare she's been at for 21 months and refused to let go of my leg, play any games, or make eye contact with any of her now unrecognizable teachers and friends running around in their animal and superhero costumes like that was fun and normal.

And so cake has a new partner at the top of Cora's personal shit list. Halloween, you are the worst.

~ ~ ~

Not really related, but the highlight of my week- I bought rain boots! I've never owned any and our driveway makes a lake every time it rains and we have to park in the middle of the lake so every rainy day for 3.5 years I have worn flip flops to my car, carrying a towel and my real shoes and getting my poor feet soaking wet and cold, and then dried them off and changed shoes once I'm in the car. And then I have to do the same when going back into the house. 3.5 years! But now, thanks to my last barre paycheck, I have rain boots and they are warm and comfortable and GORGEOUS and yesterday I pretended like they were appropriate work shoes and wore them all day, finally pulling them off at 10 p.m. after standing in the kitchen for hours making our Halloween snacks for our party tonight.

And right then, after a rainy yucky day and 15 hours of wear, I think I loved them even more than my rainbow heels.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Landon, Apt. 8

So, I finished Landon's room! Actually, there's one project left to do, but it's not urgent and we're calling it done because if we have another weekend where I present James with a 27 item to do list and then yell at him anytime he strays off task, I'm going to leave myself. I seriously underestimated the amount of work involved in switching around/replacing 100% of the things in two rooms between three children. But I love LOVE the results and it was totally worth it. James will agree with me in a few more project-less weekends.

Landon is now in Cora's old nursery, which was our former guestroom. We think it's the former master bedroom from when our house was a 2-bedroom bungalow in the 40's. The room isn't very big, but it has it's own en suite bathroom which is perfect for guests and will be great for a big brother escaping from the hall bath shared by his two sisters.

At 8 Landon is WAY into animals. Real animals. He spouts facts and habitats and endangered status for all jungle, safari, and plains animals and he walks around holding open National Geographic Kids magazines reading to you all the FASCINATING pieces of information while I chop onions and half-listen to the child-rearing habits of the loggerhead sea turtle. Big cats are his favorite- cougars, jaguars, leopards, etc. and it is a big deal to him that his animals be accurate. No cartoons, no stylized drawings, and no camo print (we're not hunting them mom). Just animals.

And so.

I went with colors of olive, khaki, and brown, with pops of orange. My favorite part is this set of canvas prints I had made from photos a friend and law school classmate took on an African safari after the bar. I remembered her facebook post from a million years ago and emailed her to see if she minded my using some of her images in Lanman's room. She enthusiastically agreed and sent me several favorites- all of which I immediately printed out for Landon (and then he immediately made research posters for, just for fun), and three of which I printed up as a surprise. I love them and I love that it's my friend who took them.

I shopped around for a long time for his room. I didn't want to get stuck too narrowly in my chosen colors and I wanted the animal theme to be very present, but also easily switched out later when he likes something else. I found this 5x7 rag rug at Ross for $15 (!) and the elephant print on clearance for $35. I love the color and texture they add to the room.

The desk with hutch was a neighborhood buy/sell page find for $30 that I scrubbed with a magic eraser and wood conditioner. Landon loves it. The animal storage hanger and desk chair are from Ikea for $4 and $30 respectively. The bulletin board gives him a place to hang his current research projects and favorite animal pictures, and then to-be-completed project will be a peg board mounted above his desk to hang his swimming ribbons and other treasures.

I switched out the curtains, bedside lamp, linens, bathroom towels, bathroom rug, bathroom wall art (more pictures from my friend, with Cora's old nursery frames), and all the rest of the bathroom details.

The dresser is from his old room, the one hand-me-down (this one, from my parent's old lake house) remaining after my big furniture switch out. The mirror with drawer was mine in high school and picked up in an antique shop in Wisconsin.

He picked out his favorite of our vacation pictures for his frames and the elephant hanger is for his backpack.

I loved getting to pick out little animal details, and he loves having his own space. I mean, I think he'd still prefer to sleep in the girls' room with them, but he enjoys that his room is his and he takes its theme and bulletin board decor very seriously.

I made a little frame with his birth announcement and NICU pics and I can't believe that little guy is now 8.25, reading like crazy, making the spelling bee, and climbing trees like a long lanky monkey.

He's a special kid, an atypical oldest child who's crazy smart but super mellow. An incredible big brother who shares everything and delights in his sisters' and genuinely wants them to do everything he does and play with everything he owns.

If it were up to him, we'd have a dozen babies. And also eat pizza for dinner every night. It was fun making a room just for him.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Recommendations: Books and Soup

It's been raining for three days and the weather has finally dropped below 90, so we're eating all the soups and I'm making all the photobooks and wishing I had a new fiction book to read instead (I adore those books when they're done, bu MAN hey are a beat down to create). So in the interest of making even more soups and reading even more books, I thought I'd share a few recent recommendations of mine and solicit everything you've got.

Food from the last week:

Lasagna soup. One of my absolute favorite recipes. I use beef stock, a full small can of tomato paste (recipe calls for 2 Tbl), regular diced tomatoes, and chicken Italian sausage (often combined with a pound of ground turkey), and I mix the shredded mozzarella in with the ricotta and other goodness to make the cheesy yum for the bottom, but none of my changes matter because you can't mess up this soup and it is DELICIOUS. So, so hearty and satisfying and good. Go make it. The cheesy goodness at the bottom makes my soul happy.

Chicken noodle soup. Traditional classic and the first thing I made when our downpour began. I minimize the celery, maximize the carrot, use chicken breasts in lieu of a whole chicken because bones scare me, and sometimes make a roux to add in at the end if I'm craving something a little thicker and creamier, but almost any standard chicken soup will do. Thursday night seemed to call for crackers and cheese on the side, but we often to a big loaf of crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches. James needs a lot of carbs.

Spaghetti sauce in crock pot. New discovery! Super delicious. The recipe calls for you to cook the noodles in the crockpot too, but the risk of coming home to find them turned to mush seemed to high and I wouldn't have been able to bear it. I used 2 jars of Trader Joe's tomato and basil sauce, the pound of ground beef browned with onions and garlic, 4 oz. cream cheese, with the second can of spaghetti sauce on top. It all came together way better than it had any business tasting and this will be a go to recipe when we want something heartier than our usual tomato cream sauce but lighter than my mom's awesome but work/flavor intensive meat sauce.

Quinoa Enchilada Bake. A forever favorite, I change up this recipe too (no adobe chiles, double the tomato sauce, add chili powder, double the black beans, omit the green chilies; why do I even pretend I'm following these as written?), but I don't think you can go wrong. We serve it with tortilla chips and diced tomato and avocado on top. The whole family loves it.

I have other soups and stews that I love, but I'm always looking for more! Hearty, crock-pottable recipes preferred, but there's not much soup-related I don't enjoy.

~ ~ ~ 

And now to the important part, new books!

(The girls' room is still under construction, but their new reading corner is open for business!)

As I mentioned a time or three, I finally followed my friend's recommendation and downloaded the first Kate Daniels book by Ilona Andrews and O.M.G. I read 8 books in 12 days. I didn't sleep. I didn't go to barre. I was addicted and I LOVED it. I've read tons of paranormal romance, but urban fantasy is a new genre for me. Kate is one of the best heroines I've ever read- emotionally strong, physically capable, super skilled (and not just because she was born special, but because she trained her ass off), but also kind and human. I love her. She is proof you can have a character who is not whiny or full of constant and seemingly baseless self-doubt (ahem, Rachel Morgan in the Holllows) or just annoying inner monologues that go on forever, retread the same ground, and lead to no action at all ever (MACAYLA LANE, Fever series)

Anyway, the Kate Daniels series is incredible (though admittedly the first book starts off a little hard to read and remains my least favorite in the whole series; just keep going, trust me) and I need 10,000% more of it. I saw on the authors' website that two more books are under contract and I need them to come out right now. But in the meantime, I'm looking for more.

First, here are my recs:

The Tranche of Excellence:

Kresley Cole- my gold standard. Love all of her books and I start reading anything new of hers at midnight when it comes out.
- Immortals After Dark: paranormal romance. LOVE. We're on book 14 or so and they continue to be awesome and fun and all the storylines are beautifully woven together.
- Game Maker series: Book 1 (The Professional) was full erotica and it was good (apparetly she wrote it forever ago but didn't think she could release it until 50 Shades of Grey came out and her publisher encouraged her to), but Book 2 (The Master) added in more of her awesome storytelling and I ADORED it. I think I've re-read it a dozen times. Looking forward to book 3.
- The Arcana Chronicles: Young adult fiction. LOVE SO MUCH. Books 1-3 are out and I have a countdown in my phone until book 4. Apparently book 1 just got optioned to be a movie. Love, love, love this series and its novelty (it involves teens who are the living Major Arcana from the Tarot cards) and characters.
- MacCarrick Brothers Trilogy: one of her earlier works and the books that started me down my "download everything Kresley Cole writes" path. I still re-read these books all the time.

Larissa Ione- Demonica & Lords of Deliverance. Gold standard #2. Start with her Demonica series, but her spin-off Lords of Deliverance books are even better. She ended up writing about 9 of those and they are all SO good. Dark, but sexy and funny and action packed. I think she's finished the series up fully now and I'm very sad about it.
- Moonbound Clan series- a new one for her, totally separate from Demonica, but honestly not as good. I'll still read them all, but they're a step below (to be fair, I'm not sure how you'd go a step above).

Ilona Andrews- Kate Daniels series. My first addition to my upper echelon of authors in about 5 years. It gives me hope there's more out there I could love as much that I haven't discovered yet.

The Tranche of the Very Good:

Patricia Briggs- Mercy Thompson series. A reader recommended these after I glowed about Kate Daniels and they are quite good. Mercy is great, the stories are great, and I recommend them all. I do wish they spent a little more time with Adam (and with Mercy & Adam), but that's more of a comment than a criticism.

Karen Marie Moning- Fever series. Also very good. Her world building is simply amazing and her characters are so intriguing I will read anything she writes instantly even though I can't stand Mac (female lead) about 50% of the time. Mac spends A LOT of time in her head telling you stories about the old south that have literally no relevance in modern day fae-infested Dublin and even more time making grand statements in her mind that very rarely result in any actual action on her part. But it doesn't matter, the fever world is so good I'm looking forward to Feverborn's release in January more than anything else on my to be released countdowns.

Kim Harrison- The Hollows series. Frequently recommended and highly rated on Amazon, I enjoyed the first several books very much, but ultimately got too annoyed with Rachel's constant self-doubt (she spent like 7 books kicking ass and then the last book whining about how she's dragging down her boyfriend and doesn't deserve him and ohmygod you saved the world like a million times, you're pretty great) and Ivy's moodiness (I never understood why I was supposed to care about her at all).

Jeaniene Frost- Nighthuntress (Cat and Bones) series. LOVE these. The last book was my least favorite, but the first few are wonderful. They're a great couple and Cat is one of my favorite heroines. The spin-off books are also great.

Darynda Jones- Charley Davidson series. LOVED the first few of these, then got annoyed as the Charley character, who started out super smart and quirky but awesome, seemed to devolve into just being annoying and super quirky. I'll read the last one when the library has it for free.

I googled around last night and found two more series people who liked Kate Daniels recommended (Street Magic/Black London by Caitlin Kittredge and Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep), so let me know if you've read them and I'd love to hear about more!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Birthday Projects

The non-stop fun/overwhelming to-do lists of the Great Room Switch of 2015 is nearly complete. It was significantly easier to move here from Austin than it has been to switch two kids' rooms around, but they look amazing and someday James will have a night without assembling furniture or hanging a picture frame with unnecessarily difficult to line-up brackets. After two weekends of projects, I wrote one final 50-item to do list on Friday to wrap things up. Maybe 52-items. By Sunday morning, Landon's room was DONE and the girl's room was close and it was James's birthday so I put away the electric drill for the rest of the weekend.

But first, on Thursday I took my millionth trip to Target, this time JUST for laundry soap and came home with this unicorn riding shot gun. (With the laundry soap.)

I made eye contact with him across the store and knew that Cora needed him, what could I do? She's turning 2 soon. 2 is the birthday for unicorns.

Also on Thursday, James and I went out on a date for his birthday! We went to one of those Brazilian steakhouses where you eat lots of steak and drink caipirinhas. It was delicious and super fun. I posted this picture on facebook noting that my beloved was turning 33 and I didn't realize until 3 days later when I wrote in his birthday card that no, he's turning 34. Not 33. He's 33 right now.

I may have also bought two "3's" to put on his cake. He just seems so young at heart.

making birthday cards for dad, probably with the right age

I've decided that Cora's style is tutus and tees. She's rough and tumble and busy as can be, but she's way into accessorizing and always has a purse (or three) on her arm. This just suits her, I think.

All of her shirts must have animals on them and she points them out to you all day. It's adorable. All of her new winter jammies also have animals, thank you Carter's, and she is totally delighted by her big girl nightgowns.

Her and Claire's room isn't quite done, but they do have their new reading nook. Both of them spent a lot of time there on Saturday morning and I love it so much.

I will love it even more when Cora gets her PBK chair for her birthday in a coordinating lavender.

But back to James's birthday. I nearly ruined it when I got up with the kids and spent 90 minutes staring at piles of donation stuff, piles of empty boxes, and seemingly endless piles of stuff still to do and clean and hang up on walls. The kitchen had tools all over it and the playroom was a mess because we were reorganizing the toys and when he came out at 8:30 all bleary eyed and smiling at the decorated birthday table the kids had set for him (they get up early on our birthdays to set a surprise table with us, with MUCH earnest deliberation over which random leftover birthday supplies to use based on our favorite colors and the time of year and it is adorable and so sweet and one of my favorite things they do), I basically yelled into the air and nearly started to cry instead of saying "happy birthday!" because there was still so much to do and I didn't want to make him do stuff on his birthday but there was SO MUCH TO DO. So he canceled his run with Landon and cleaned things and then I felt like a monster, and then felt equally better/worse when like 30 minutes of combined effort made the house look great and there was really no reason for the yelling and crying and he said he didn't want to run anymore but I guilted him in to it by talking up how much Landon was looking forward to their tradition and bam, the day was back on track, and it really was lovely for the rest of it.

No more home projects for a while.

We went on a walk, ate everything at our favorite fancy brunch buffet, played with the kids outside, yelled at Landon to get off the roof, and played more outside. Later, I ran errands while James watched a movie with the kids and Cora napped (watching movies is in the James top 5 list of favorite things to do), and then we all went to Cheesecake Factory, because eating enormous quantities of food is really the prefect celebration of him.

The kids made him a million cards (almost literally; they kept multiplying throughout the day) and I made a double dark chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and sprinkles.

We were too full to actually eat it, but made up for that tonight with double servings.

He's an amazing guy and incredible dad. As I wrote in his card, May 33 34 be another year of our kind of wonderful.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Family Portraiture

So as I mentioned earlier, we had our family pictures about 10 days ago. I booked the session back in March when I realized we hadn't had pictures in nearly a year, but I didn't want summer pictures when it's a million degrees outside and everyone's hair is bleached and skin is shiny with sunscreen. October sounded nice, so I set the date with the photographer (the same one who took last year's) and wrote the date on my calendar. October was a decade or so away and I pushed it from my mind.

Until late September when I flipped over my adorable Shutterfly calendar to write in a doctor's appointment and saw "family pics" on the first Sunday of the month. In 8 days. Oh. It was still in the 90's (high of 98 today WTF) so it didn't feel like fall, but off to Target I went hoping to magically find the perfect fall-ish, coordinating but not matching ensembles that also perfectly captured the individual wearer. A tall order for a lunch break on a busy day.

But I found them and I LOVE them. I got to wear my favorite dress ever. James wore a shirt I forced on him when I gave away all his old ones. Landon got to wear a shirt I'd bought at Gap and then felt guilty for not returning because he wears uniforms every day and really doesn't need a button-down shirt. It all just came together.

Then came actual portrait day. This was the weekend I decided we should clean the garage and also our entire house and go to Ikea at midnight the night before, so things were a little harried. I'd eaten a large number of Swedish fish. The kids only wanted to take pictures in trees and princess chairs. Cora woke up grumpy when she ALWAYS wakes up happy, and she stole two purses and two plastic phones on the way out of the house and then refused to put them down for most of the shoot. We took the pics at our favorite park. It's three blocks from our house, with paths and bridges that go on for a nearly a mile, that we come to at the end of our traditional 3-mile weekend walk. It's the park we discovered accidentally after going on a long, aimless walk during our first weekend in this house and were so thrilled to discover. We were missing Austin and it felt like we'd found a bit of it here. It's across the street from the kids' elementary school and it's a very special place for me.

So here we are, with captions, obviously:

Cora just woke up from a 4 hour nap and would like to know WTF is all this cheese you keep talking about.

unimpressed with your peek-a-boos

Ha! Tricked her into showing us what she really does look like most of the time. Family portraits FTW!

party pack!

Absolutely will not put down her purse, despite me showing her that I put mine down about 100x. Just because I'm a fool doesn't mean she has to be. But then we were walking further back into the park and I quietly asked the photographer if she could capture this moment and I will love it for all time. The purse dangling between them makes it for me.

looking for cheese

We paused at a bridge for an attempted family shot. Claire was certain she was about to plummet into the empty creek bed a whole 8 feet below, so her smile is a little strained, but she willingly suffered for art.

In search of safer ground, we sat on the rocks in the creek bed. Cora forgot who we were and had further questions about the cheese.

Claire had been asking to sit in the princess chair since our photographer pulled it off her wagon, so into the princess chair she went.

nailed it

Landon scampered about the rocks, heedless of the dust he was getting all over his clothes, so it seemed like a good spot to make him get an individual shot.

did you know he's moved out of the nursery?

Cora then tried to escape, so the kids ran up to hold her hands and boom, one of my other favorite pictures was born.

"It's okay Cora, sometimes we have to take pictures for mom. But then we get candy!"

But I hate candy! Hold me.

Cora then spied the stool the photographer had set aside, so she ran over, picked it up, and ran off with it. Our photographer followed and when Cora set it down, she climbed aboard and became the very essence of Cora and I love this shot so very much. This is Toddler-Cora. Crazy, feisty, adorable, loving, joyful, highly motivated by cheese. I love her so much it makes me ache.

Cora took a moment to reorganize her purse, so James and I stood behind and got another familyish shot. I must admit I really like it.

The kids were now over it, so they went to sit on a bench. Cora was all, when's the bus? We're getting out of here right?

will not have exact change

I tried to get a picture holding Cora, but I foolishly attempted to move her purse out of the frame and she yelled and cried and I gave her a hug and the photographer just happened to capture what I feel like is my "what am I going to do with you? / oh my god I love you so much" face. I wear it a lot with her.

Since the kids were tired and I'd promised myself I would just let the hour unfold as it was, I asked if James and I could get a few pictures alone. Engagement photos weren't really a thing when we got married and we couldn't have afforded them anyway, so here we are at 10 years and not to get too sappy, but I love him way more than I ever imagined possible 10 years ago, so why not get some anniversary portraits? We're the foundation of this whole enterprise.

This picture is now on my desk at work in the one frame that faces me at my computer. The kids are in my heart, but he's in my soul.

We wrapped our pictures up and came upon a Landon who had been patiently waiting in a tree so we could get a shot of him in his new favorite element.

Claire then needed one too, obvi.

We looked around for Cora and found her many yards ahead, heading off into the unknown to find all the cheese. Like Christopher Columbus, but not a genocidal asshole.

busting this joint

And so the 2015 family portraits were complete. Given how the hour unfolded, I can't believe how much I love them and how well they managed to capture us, the kids, and our family as a whole. Now I just have to pick which one goes on our Christmas card! Somehow this has turned into a tougher project than getting 3 kids to take the pictures in the first place.