Sunday, April 29, 2018

Just a Nice Little Saturday (and Thursday, and the other days too)

I'm sitting out in the front yard right now because it is beautiful outside and I spent the morning at yoga and then rage-cleaning out the girls' closet (zomg my adorable little pack-rat hoarder middle child OMG) and now need fresh air to balance my soul. There is a gentle breeze and the temperature is 80 degrees. I can feel the balancing.

The kids are playing in a mud ring they've created around the base of our giant tree because "playing with dirt" is now Cora's FAVORITE activity and she's good at making the big kids do whatever she wants.

Yesterday was a great day. Full and busy and a good snapshot of life with 3 bigger kids. It started with lounging a bit in bed with James while the big kids watched a show and Cora read books in her room because she threw a fit for our nanny on Thursday afternoon and that is a big no no and missing out on Saturday morning shows was the worst punishment we could give. We emerged about 8:00 (I remember when getting up at 8 on a Saturday was early, now it's the hard-earned victorious result of big kids getting old enough to make their own breakfasts and turn on the TV and a toddler feeling penitent and staying quietly in her room) and James made French Toast while I planned our meals for the week ahead and put together the grocery list. At 9:15 James and Landon headed out for his swim camp while the girls and I ran to Target and Trader Joe's before stopping back home to put away the food, make some light lunches, and get Claire changed for soccer. At 11:15 Claire declared her red soccer shorts missing and after 15 minutes of searching, we threw her in a black skort over leggings and headed late to the fields. When your child never wears shorts, you don't own any shorts except the one pair that came with her pricey soccer uniform so it's really bad if she LOSES THEM somewhere in her hoarder's hoarding space I used to call a closet.

The game started at 12:00 and we got there at 11:50. James and Landon rolled up at 12:01 and we all watched Claire play. She continues to love the game and is getting more aggressive and it's so fun to see. The kids all switched over to James's car on the way home so I could stop for two quick errands and he could take them to get hair cuts on the way back. I ran in the house at 1:30, dumped the results of my errands (birthday gifts for my niece!) on my bed, changed for yoga, and ran back out for the 2:00 class where I did many handstands and sweated A LOT. James and the kids got home around 2:30, half of them with new haircuts (Cora was not part of that half, much to her chagrin and oft-repeated insistence that "my hair is getting bigger mom, it IS.") and they played and engaged in general shenanigans while he worked on summer swim lesson registrations.

At soccer, still wearing her Disney braids

I got home a sweaty mess at 3:15 in time to eat a late lunch and shower before our final Casa Manana children's play of the 2017-2018 season - Beauty and the Beast! I even blow dried my hair. Theater should be fancy.

It was a FANTASTIC show. The final one of the season is always particularly wonderful and the kids declared it the best one yet, which is saying something after 4 years and 20 shows. Cora did fact check it throughout and was disappointed by several errors, "Mom, my Belle is carrying a RED book, but it should be a BLUE book." Don't mess with Cora on princess plot points.

Landon had a birthday party down the street that started at 6:30 so he was most eager for Belle and the Beast to finally get together at the end. As soon as the actors took their bows, he was racing up the aisle and we had no choice but to follow, though without car keys or the ability to drive I'm not sure where he thought he was going. Once home he ran in the house, changed, and then raced off to our friend's house for the 10th birthday celebration before we'd even walked down the driveway. Many girls and one other boy were in attendance- Landon had a blast. We headed the opposite way down the street to another friend's house for an impromptu fajita cookout with homemade cucumber margaritas. I threw some items from our pantry that seemed appropriate (black beans? margarita mixer? half a bag of chips?) into a bag and the girls took off on their scooters.

Everyone stayed up too late and had an excellent time. I walked over to collect Landon around 9:30 just as the girls were moving on to the pillow fight portion of the sleepover party. Someday he'll be really sad he missed out on that. As it was he talked nonstop for the whole 3 minute walk home about something something lattes something water balloons something something really good burger. So it was a good time.

And that was Saturday! I remember when the kids were busy little toddlers I thought that having independent bigger kids would mean a return to lazy weekends. But no. Bigger kids and no naps just means you can do stuff all day. You don't have to- and we certainly still have many days with little on the schedule and much lounging about, but I love the crazy days. Interacting with as many as people as possible in a day is me living my best life.

Speaking of life- let's go back to Thursday and Take Your Kids to Work Day at the SEC!

It was our 6th year participating at the SEC and the kids' understanding of my job remains vague and murky, but their understanding of the awesomeness of elevator buttons, picture ID entry cards, and the park by my office they think I play in every day remains crystal clear.

2013: Look at those cheeks!

2018: Now with an extra helper!

The view from my 19th floor lobby was declared "amazing" and I can't wait to see what they think of downtown Chicago next week.

This year the kids toured the fire station near my office, so rather than figuring out what federal securities lawyers do, they're just going to be firepersons instead.

They only participated in the morning events (breakfast, fire station tour, park playing, and pizza) before James picked them up to go back to school so they could attend a big party they earned as part of the school fundraiser. Tough day for them.

I got a little work done in the afternoon before heading to my second job teaching barre at TCU while the kids went to James's job for swim lessons. Shift change!

On Friday I got to do a little job shifting again when I subbed for an early morning barre class at my old studio. I have exciting news brewing for teaching a new class at the studio, so I borrowed James's tiny tripod and got a few quick pics while the studio was empty and the sun was rising. I took my first ever barre class in that studio and that barre will always be home for me.

The rest of the day was good and then made better by a date night at one of our favorite local restaurants HG Sply that night. I had been forced to smell its deliciousness as I went to late night yoga the Monday before and had been thinking about it all week. HG has the most beautiful food right on the river and it was such a perfect bit of escape together at the end of the week.

James ordered a roasted carrot hummus and pulled pork nachos to start. I don't like hummus, but will admit that one was pretty good, and the nachos were fantastic. James went with the burger entree (delish and sufficiently filling for my Phelpsian eater) but I got the true star of night: Beet Poke (ponzu marinated beets, avocado, cucumber, carrots, edamame, watermelon radish and green onions over toasted sesame kale & white seaweed salad topped with crispy rice).

SO GOOD I just cannot even.

Dessert was Banana Nut Bread Pudding (banana-walnut bread pudding flash fried in coconut oil, topped with almond milk ice cream & candied walnuts over caramel and bruléed bananas) and it was delicious. (Though not as delicious as my magical beet poke.)

The evening was gorgeous and we walked along the river for a while, stopping at a food truck spot to read menus and make plans for a family night there soon. I love this town.

Friends are about to come over to swim. The pool is going to be freezing, but the kids insist they won't care and the margaritas I'm about to make will taste delicious as I sit on the side not even pretending I'm willing to get a toe wet yet. I've got Chili Rubbed Pulled Pork going in the crock pot and a short week ahead before we head to my favorite city in the US Thursday morning. Happy Sunday to you all!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Giraffes and Toddlers

The weekend already feels like so very long ago, but let's start there anyway. On Friday night Landon went to watch a friend's brother's baseball game and then joined Claire who had gone with other friends to watch all our adult friends play in a softball game together. We did not go because (1) I'm not on the team because I'm afraid of sports where things can hit my face; and (2) we couldn't spectate because I had a headache that was trying to KILL ME. I lay prone on the couch from 6:30 until 10 p.m. having taken two of the only pills that sometime work and out of other ideas. It went away sometime around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, or so my dreams that transitioned from me getting thrown onto a rock to us at Disney World lead me to believe.

There are no headaches at Disney World.

A non-headachey night

On Saturday we woke to cold temps, wind, and threats of rain. We did not wake to a cancellation notice for Claire's soccer game. The big kids, who had played hard at the softball game the night before were still dead asleep at 8 a.m. when I went to rouse them. Landon in particular was exhausted- apparently he played intense games of tag for about 3 hours and had not consumed NEAR enough calories to be able to handle that. But after we stuffed him with a few granola bars he was ready to face a new day.

Claire's soccer game was frigid and drizzly and terrible. For me. Claire had a great time. Landon and Cora camped out inside my car, joined by two other sibling friends, and never emerged, so I'm pretty sure they had a good time too. We got home and I changed into everything I own made of fleece and fired up the TV for a Zac Efron movie marathon. We started with Greatest Showman (ALWAYS) and moved to High School Musical. I'd never seen the latter and found it adorable. The day remained gross, so we pressed on with Wonder Woman (Cora's choice) and the kids LOVED it. They've been playing Wonder Woman nearly nonstop since.

Fleecy movie snuggles are the best snuggles

The rain stopped and the sun finally broke through in the evening while I made our veggie chili mac. Inspired by the adult softball game from the night before the kids asked to play baseball (or basketball, as Claire insisted on calling it), which is really just catch and some monkey-in-the-middle with a baseball and gloves.

I love a beautiful evening full of family and games and fresh air.

It's like everything I hoped having kids would be. As long as I'm not the one having balls thrown at me.

Sunday was finally a beautiful weekend day. There was more baseball, some yoga, a family walk, prepping of the crockpot pea soup, and then more baseball. We decided to drop in our fabulous neighborhood zoo to see the new African Savannah exhibit that had opened Friday. We knew it would be crowded, so we waited until the last hour before close, zipped right in and grabbed someone's recently vacated front-row parking spot and hopped right over to the new area.

And it's AMAZING! I couldn't even get Cora to turn around for a picture!

All the Savannah animals roaming together right in front of you. You can walk all the way around the entire enclosure- an enclosure that puts the animals SO much closer to you from all angles, and even feed the giraffes! At least when they aren't already stuffed full.

It got 2 thumbs up from all members present. It was so great to see the animals mingled together- zebras, giraffes, ostriches (Claire's nemesis), birds... this giraffe and pelican got into a fight while we were there. It appeared to be over a certain spot of dirt. The giraffe, failing to understand his vast size advantage, lost and moseyed away. I'm sure there will be a rematch.

The meerkats have also been relocated and Landon requested "a copy of the picture of me and my meerkat, so I can put it in a frame in my room." It is also now his iPhone background.

The hippos have a new home and the rhinos and there are plans for many more new habitats and exhibits. The last phase is scheduled to be completed in 2025- "I'll be 18!" exclaimed Landon. "Holy crap" muttered James and I. At least I have no doubt we'll still be going to the zoo.

We ate our pea soup and the kids still seemed to have energy (probably stored up from our rainy day movie marathon the day before), so we went out on one final walk. I think we finally got them tired because James had to tow them up the last hill on the way home.

I simply love this image.

The week began with me skipping lunchtime yoga on Monday because I needed nachos and so dragging myself to 8:15 p.m. yoga that night. It's a gauntlet: first I have to watch my family eat delicious food I have prepared but now can't eat because I'd throw it up on my yoga mat, then I have to walk by my FAVORITE bakery that is located next door to the studio, and I have to smell the delicious smells of one of my very favorite restaurants that is located directly behind the studio. It's a feat of mental and emotional strength just to get yourself on your mat at 8:15 p.m. after a full day of work and knowing your kids are tucked in their beds at 8:01 p.m. and you could be sitting on the couch luxuriating in that fact. But it was such a great class. I wanted the yoga so very much and getting home to a scalding hot bath, glass of wine, and reserved plate of dinner felt *amazing.* So amazing I might even one day do nighttime yoga again.

That sweaty post-class glow

I have since made a reservation at that restaurant for James and I Friday night, with plans to stop at the bakery afterward. I'm playing the long game.

Speaking of Wonder Woman (because I did, a few hundreds words ago), Cora is completely obsessed. This is how she presented herself before school yesterday, before I told her she needed to leave the headband at home.

This morning I left for work super early so I didn't see her chosen ensemble until I got this picture from her teacher today. It was captioned, "Wonder Woman kept us all safe on the playground!".

She is my first child to find four hard (sometimes so very, very hard), but she remains SUCH a delight to us all. She's really turning into her own person and it is such a joy to watch. There is never a morning when she sees me getting ready for work that she doesn't tell me I'm "so beautiful." She always wants a hug or a little cuddle and she still loves sleep more than anyone else in our house. She's tall and athletic and crazy strong. She loves her siblings fiercely but is by far our most independent child. She loves her "hard work" at school and her playtime at home.

Earlier this week when a friend took Claire to soccer with his daughter #2, daughter #3, who happens to be one of Cora's besties, stayed over with us. The girls had the BEST TIME. Landon was at a different friend's house (our house is just a way station from 3 - 5 p.m.), so it was the two third babies all on their own with all the toys and they tried to play EVERYTHING. Eventually they settled in the bathroom to play with friend's new makeup kit she got for her birthday.

I couldn't help sneaking in for a few pictures.

When we first moved here, a neighbor across the street told us that she was best friends with one of the girls who grew up in our house and that they got ready for prom in what is now my girls' bathroom. I was thinking of that story as I watched these two little ones giggling over their makeup together and thinking, I bet that will be them in another 13 years or so. And it made my heart so happy I almost started crying crouched in the corner of the bathroom snapping pictures with my iPhone of two almost-big-girls playing with a Trolls makeup kit.

I struggled a bit last week with the idea that I don't have any babies in toddler sizes anymore. Cora is so tall she's a solid Girls size Small (as is Claire, actually), so those adorable Toddler sections of all my favorite kids' clothing websites are just done for me now and that's so hard to believe. I have LOVED having toddlers in my house. Chubby, round, excited-about-life, bursting-with-love little toddlers. But I look at these increasingly bigger kids and think of the increasingly bigger adventures we get to have and the increasingly big world we get to help them navigate through (along with wine and good grown-up friends) and I'm just so full of love and excitement for the years we have ahead. Cora is now older than Landon was when we moved from Fort Worth to Austin. How is that possible? We didn't even know we'd have a Cora yet back then! (And how is it possible we ever doubted that we would?)

I had no idea the Trolls makeover and a change in Old Navy clothing sections would bring about such introspection, but I think it's good to linger in the bittersweet, to feel those feelings while still looking to what's ahead with a smile. It's been nearly 11 years of babies and toddlers and now we have kids and tweens. What an adventure it's been and what an adventure it's going to be!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shopping, Chefing, and All The Emojis

It's not been all closet clean-outs and margaritas with friends over here the past few weeks. I have also cooked things and bought things and contemplated buying more.

But first, something I forgot to add in my last post - thanks to a friend with season passes who knows my love of plays and musicals, I'm now the proud owner of a ticket to the Dallas tour of Hamilton!!! A fellow musical-loving friend is going to be my date and I am SUPER excited about this. After an intense internal debate that was settled by a facebook poll, I have decided to start listening to the soundtrack so I can have it all memorized before the show. The show that will be April 27, 2019. So I have some time. The countdown is already on my phone. (372 days! SQUEE!)

Other things I've bought in the last two weeks that I love:

This dress. It's for my parents' house re-opening thank you party they're hosting for everyone who helped them during Harvey. I LOVE it. I love it more than anything else in my closet. I want to wear it around my house all the time every day and swish my skirt at every opportunity. I got it on clearance for $50 at Nordstrom Rack and that makes me love it EVEN MORE.

Now I'm just searching for the right necklace and earring. Something fun and casual to keep it all from being too dressy. The top part of the dress is a simple navy jersey material so I'm thinking a chunky pink necklace or gold necklace with fun tassel/beaded pink earrings. I don't know. I'd probably decide better if I was wearing the dress right now.

This dress! Also Nordstrom Rack. I'm trying to revitalize my work wardrobe a bit. $40, fits perfectly, and I'm obsessed with the color.

I sort of forgot Nordstrom Rack existed until 10 days ago (we don't have one here) and it's been an exciting rediscovery. I got my swim school date night dress there:

and this other one for work:

I love it all and I'm done now. Party dress, two work dresses, and a new date night dress - my whole closet feels revitalized and it finally allowed me to get rid of a few work dresses I bought in 2009 that I adored but were sad and worn (but oh so trusted and familiar!) New dresses, you have big shoes to fill.

Moving on. Has anyone tried these Heliocare pills? My dermatologist recommended them for daily sun protection. Since I'll do anything to keep my skin from doing its usual "burn in 10 seconds" modus operandi, I'm giving them a whirl. I like the idea of a layer of protection I don't even have to remember to put on, but we'll see. I haven't been in the sun enough yet to know if it's working.

Next, do we like these shoes? They're more than I would usually spend, but I don't own any neutral/light colored heeled sandals anymore and I've had a surprisingly hard time finding some I like at my usual discount haunts. They're super comfy and not too high for long outings.

Who am I kidding? I'm totally keeping them.

And lastly, do you use packing cubes? I bought a set at TJ Maxx 5 years ago and LOVE THEM. Living in Yellow, a blog I need to stop following on facebook, recommended these and they are so perfect. I'm donating my old grey ones to the kids because I love color and polka dots and my suitcase is a boring silver and these help spice it up. This set has 5 pieces and are way higher quality than my old ones. I used them on my work trip earlier this week and can't wait to pack to go somewhere to use them again!

Now for food! First, a PSA: Have you been using your KitchenAid to shred chicken? I only discovered this a few months ago and keep meaning to share the genius. Unless all of you already knew and never told me, in which case, this is a very random picture of shredded chicken and I'm mad at you, but if not - use your KitchenAid to shred your chicken!!

Just stick your cooked chicken breasts in the mixing bowl, turn it on low with the paddle attachment, and 15 seconds later, they look like this! It's the best. No more shredding with forks that always makes my fingers feel tired!

(This was from my bbq chicken two weeks ago; 4 large frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot, half a bottle of bbq sauce and a generous squirt of Italian dressing, cooked on low for 8 hours. Use for sandwiches, Claire's beloved quinoa salad, enchiladas, anything!)

And a few good recipes from last week and the plan for the week ahead:

Wednesday: Greek Farro Salad (my recipe here)

Thursday: Amped up TJ's Chicken Chow Mein (2 bags of the TJ frozen chow mein, plus a big bag of fresh broccoli chopped up, handfuls of shredded carrots, sliced baby bok choy - stir fry it all for about 10 minutes = delicious!)

Friday: Pesto Chicken Gnocchi (broil TJ's pesto chicken, mix with gnocchi, kalamatas, sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto). Cora's absolute FAVORITE meal.

Saturday: Cheesy Vegetarian Chili Mac. Love this one; haven't made it in a while and seemed perfect for a forecasted rainy day.

Sunday: Pea Soup (I wrote out my recipe here); cornbread (love the TJ's box mix).

Monday: Chicken Rollatini with Prosciutto, with Broccoli Fettucini Alfredo

Tuesday: Vegetarian Tacos, toppings, refried black beans.

Wednesday: Shakshuka! The exclamation point is because I like saying the word and I've been wanting to make this forever and have finally decided this is the week. Served with naan bread.

Thursday: Crock Pot Creamy Chicken Enchilada Chili. Family favorite. (Totally use the KitchenAid to shred the chicken for this now - I just put the frozen breasts in with everything else, cook all day, fish out with tongs before serving, shred in the mixing bowl, and dump back in. Ta da!)

My lunches for the week: Asian Quinoa Salad (generally based on this recipe except I skip the cabbage and add avocado when I have it, also sometimes mandarin oranges). For the 3 days I do yoga at lunch and eat at my desk after. I like having something to look forward to and this is a fave.

Lunch last week: TJ's cruciferous crunch bag salad (shredded kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red cabbage), sweet potato ribbons, farro, fresh Green Goddess dressing. Delish!

And finally, I'll leave you with a recent message from Landon. We recently ("FINALLY," he would tell you) powered up an old iPhone of mine, got him an icloud account under mine, and gave him access to iMessage to text friends (the 4 who also have icloud accounts on old non-phone-phones) and my family. He also has the camera, calculator, and weather apps, all of which are adored, and nothing else. Oh and the calendar, which he hilariously updates daily with his comings and goings- I get copied on all of them since his username is under mine and I giggle every time a new one pops up ("this is when I go swimming" was yesterday's 5:00 entry). The "phone" has no data plan, doesn't leave the house, and charges in our room at night. He loves it. And I must admit, I have loved being able to get glimpses into his heart and day when he messages me every day when they get home from school with our nanny.

On Monday night while I was away for work, he sent this just before bed:

It just warmed all of the cockles of my heart. I love his exuberant use of emojis. It was like getting a hug through the phone and made me laugh out loud and want to hug him back. Between the phone and his recent discovery of the delights of boxer briefs ("Mom, they can go UNDER my real shorts. Like during the day. UNDER them."), growing older has been a lot more fun lately.