Sunday, September 29, 2019

Big Kid Busyness

Hello again! September ends tomorrow and I feel like it's barely begun. Life is just so full and busy- super fun and often surprisingly relaxing- but full and not as conducive to pauses for reflection as it used to be (oh, naptime, may you RIP). Before we pass out at night, James and I have been reflecting lately on life with big kids versus little ones. We seem to be the rare souls who found life with toddlers to be basically the greatest thing ever (we had very agreeable toddlers) and we miss it terribly. Don't get me wrong- we LOVE having big kids, but I think what made Cora's first few years with us so damn magical was that we had the big and medium kids with their helpfulness and independence and solid sleeping schedules AND the baby/toddler with the chubbiness and laughs and bodies exploding with joy anytime you walked into a room. It was a nice little combo for many years and, though I think we savored it as much as you can savor anything while also living it, and we are also enjoying the phase we're in now, we both miss that toddler time in our lives an awful lot.

Now our kids spend most of their time scattered in various directions and the days of a hard stop on the parenting at 8 p.m. and James and I getting to hang out alone until 11 are long over. For example, last Friday Cora got to return to her old preschool for a parents night out from 5:30-8:30 (the owner of the school is her best friend's dad, and he thought her bestie would enjoy having Cora there to play with and Cora LOVED the chance to return to her old stomping grounds and made cards for all her old teachers before leaving), Claire had a Friday Fun Night at gymnastics from 7-9:30 (she'd won three free passes in class and brought along her two best friends and they had the best time), and Landon had his first Cotillion dance from 7-8:15 with an after party from 8:45-9:45 and pictures beforehand at a friend's house at 6:15. James and I had a birthday party at a brewery from 6-9. The kids were also welcome to attend- and we'll definitely go back to the brewery because it was awesome, but they were too busy to join us.

The logistics were daunting, but thanks to friends and carpools everyone got where they needed to be and had a fabulous time. Even Landon, who had been dreading Cotillion and REALLY dreading wearing the pants (PANTS!!! he would exclaim if you were here to hear him) and button-down shirt that were required. It was the first pair of non-ski pants I'd bought him in 3 years (not at all exaggerating, he hasn't worn pants in Texas since 3rd grade because he is ridiculous and stubborn and exactly his dad) and I had to stay in his room while he dressed so he wouldn't run away and hide like he'd already tried once. Then I had to use a knife to add a hole to his belt because apparently he has the tiniest of hips.

But look how handsome!

My baby boy, all fancy and trying to pretend he isn't a little excited about the coed dance situation before him. We met up with friends for pictures- we've known these kids since Kindergarten and oy I can't believe we're all in middle school.

And then another friend transported to the after party where everyone got to run around and play dodgeball and tag for an hour.

When Landon got home we got all the details, James and I hanging out in the kitchen with our big kid at 10 p.m. while the girls slept nearby, learning that Cotillion "wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be" and "the box step is actually kind of fun." Other tidbits: "when a girl asks you to dance you kind of have to say yes," "I just asked the girl who was right in front of me," and "the after party was the best part, because of all the dodgeball." He and James box stepped around the living room the next morning and it reminded me so strongly of all the times James tried to teach me to waltz in our kitchen. Sadly, I remain a hopeless case.

Also last weekend we went to a Bulldog Bonanza event hosted by the wonderful rescue organization that saved our Maggie. She made some new bulldog friends and generally enjoyed being fussed over by all the attendees.

Maggie loves any outing she gets to go on with the family and we're all waiting for it to (FINALLY! maybe! someday!) get cooler so she can join us on more. We were at the event for about 20 minutes, just long enough to buy some raffle tickets and take my new favorite picture of all four kids, and then she was hyperventilating. 100 degrees this late in September is just mean.

But still, Maggie was so happy to be there. This was her face when we got home and I told her to exit the vehicle.

I guess I do sort of still have one toddler.

I love her an absurd amount.

(I feel like she's laughing at me in this picture and I love it.)

(Except that Maggie would actually never laugh at you and just wants you to know you're loved.)

Other random highlights that I can still remember from the last week:

Night out with my mamas at the byob restaurant down the street:

This drawing by Cora that I found on the counter:

Super hot baths with a really good book (thanks to my favorite kindle hack) after teaching a really hard evening barre class:

Breakfast tacos for dinner, a childhood favorite of mine I'm bringing back:

Picking up the girls from school on Friday with Maggie's assistance:

Attending Landon's Open House and finding a piece of his artwork on the wall:

Orangetheory, surprisingly. I'm really enjoying the cardio and heavier weights and feeling sore again. (Although, this was an endurance day and clearly cardio endurance is something I do not have yet! #RedZoneAllDay)

Enjoying a ladies lunch with the girls on Saturday while James was at a swim meet and Landon was at a friend's.


I mean, just always.

In thinking about big kids, I'd say another general highlight is added ease to our days and weekends. No longer do James and I need to map out our plan for the day to ensure that the kids always have coverage. Now, at least one kid is probably at a friend's house and Landon can watch the girls during any gaps and it all just sort of ebbs and flows throughout the weekend.

Maggie: Where are you going? Can I come?

Except on a Sunday morning when both big kids are at sleepovers and Cora knocks on our (locked, thank god) door at 7:30 a.m. because she's awake and there's no one to hang out with her or get her breakfast or turn on the TV. One more interrupted attempt to rekindle our Sunday morning later and we've decided only one big kid can be gone at a time. The combo package is really where it's at. Maggie, whose morning routine was also interrupted, agrees.

The week ahead is going to be quite busy. I'm subbing my second ever yoga class at TCU tomorrow (squee! I've been studying up this weekend), teach my usual TCU barre class and then a PTA Board meeting after work on Tuesday, fly to DC on Wednesday, attend a conference all day on Thursday (with AG Bill Barre as keynote speaker, which should be... interesting) and fly home late Thursday night, go out to celebrate a friend's birthday Friday night, and go see Phantom of the Opera with another friend Saturday. Cora is still in gymnastics, Claire has started volleyball, all three kids are swimming 2x a week with James, Landon finally actually has homework he has to do at home, and there is a lot of texting of logistics to our after school nannies. It all works- and will work- and man does it go by fast! Pretty soon no one will want to go to Trader Joe's with me to color on the white board or request 600 games of Uno in a single sitting. I'm just trying to soak it all up as we go.

On to food! One thing that helps with the savoring and keeping life from feeling too scattered is sitting down for dinner together every day (with everyone's presence mandatory Sunday - Thursday). We eat late - about 7:30 so we can all be together, and Cora goes to bed immediately after, but it's a routine we've had since before Claire was born and it's the calm in the crazy. The menu from the last few days and the week ahead:

Thursday: Crockpot Red Beans and Rice (we sub in smoked turkey sausage and use Trader Joe's frozen brown rice)- delicious!

Friday: Verde chicken enchiladas (prepped before we had friends over to swim, this recipe is about as easy as possible: mix shredded rotisserie chicken and 1 cup of Monterrey jack cheese, roll into a dozen wheat/corn tortillas, top with verde enchilada sauce and a little more Monterrey jack cheese, refrigerate as long as needed, bake for 30 mins at 375, enjoy!), with refried black beans and Mexican rice with an extra bag of steamed frozen mixed veggies mixed in.

Saturday: This whole wheat pizza dough to make this stromboli and these pizza rolls. Delish!

Sunday: Flank steak (with TJ's coffee dry rub that is amazing and somehow not ruined by containing coffee), roasted potatoes, carrots, and broccoli.

Monday: Chicken stew, with added shredded cabbage and cannellini beans. Top with parmesan!

Tuesday: Salmon cakes (these are SO good!), mashed potatoes (with mashed cauliflower mixed in), salad.

Wednesday: My mom's chili (2 lbs. ground beef cooked with diced onion and garlic, with 2 cans tomato soup, 1 can red enchilada sauce, 1 can diced tomatoes, 2 cans Ranch style beans, 2+ tsp chili powder) prepped and put in the crockpot before I head to the airport. Served with corn chips and cheese.

I'm out for dinner the rest of the week, so James will be in charge. I predict a lot of pasta and probably tacos and the kids will love it.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Birthdays, Bulldogs, and all the Recipes

So, now back to the recap I intended to write before I got distracted by my end of year love affair with Shutterfly -- a recap of what has apparently been 14 days!

A diet/exercise update: I'm greatly enjoying my 2-3x/week Orangetheory, even as it makes me sweat a lot and wake up sore in new places. I'm eating less food and drinking more water and wondering why my 2 week commitment hasn't immediately melted away 18 months of frozen margaritas and queso. In the meantime, I'm to appreciate my body and focus on the fact that I'm the strongest I've ever been and the cardio my body has clearly missed feels amazing. Little, sustainable changes is where we're at right now. Or we were, until we had a mama's night out with my besties last night at a BYOB Italian restaurant to celebrate our three September birthday. Worth it.

Also on the fitness front, I subbed my first ever yoga class this past week! I was so nervous and man, the nerves were justified. One month after graduation and so many things have already left my brain. I wrote out a 45-minute flow and practiced it ahead of time, and overall I think the students all thought it went well, but I know I had so many more cues on the tip of my tongue just 30 days ago. I did get all the breath cues right, which I'd been worried about, but I didn't adjust a single person- the idea of adding adjusts to the breath-posture-cuing I was already straining to make sound natural was just too much. But I did it! I sweated through my yoga pants, but I did it. I sub again in another week and then I start my very own class at Urban Yoga on October 6th! I have a lot of review work to do before then.

Nervous sweat = a faux healthy glow on the skin!

But back to where I left off two weeks ago when my mom was driving up from Houston for her birthday! My dad was out of town for a golf trip so I wanted to surprise her with ALL our Lag Liv family traditions:

A decorated table, pictures, animal candle holders, a rainbow theme- all our favorite family things! and she was SO touched and so excited. I loved doing it for her.

I also made a homemade ice cream cake, keeping the flavors as simple as the Gigi prefers them. Chocolate cake, hollowed out and filled with Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream and mini chocolate chips, covered with homemade chocolate buttercream. It was delicious and she loved it.

But before we could enjoy cake and a birthday table, we headed out for the traditional birthday shopping. My last time in stores was during her last visit in May and I feel certain the clearance Dillard's missed us.

Gigi was being very practical, focusing on cozy boots and clothes for her upcoming Colorado retirement. Like here, a simple cozy house boot.

(She actually didn't get that one, but it still makes me giggle when I see it because it's so very her.)

On our 5th time through the dressing room, I had long stopped bringing in items and instead attempted to recharge by sitting in a nearby chair.

Gigi, of the endless energy, showed no signs of slowing down.

Finally, as I limped to accompany her back to the dress section a final time, dehydrated and starving, my body no longer sure it was the same day as when we entered, she declared herself to be done with this store. We each had a little basket of items we were immensely pleased with (like the gorgeous tall leather boots I got for $32 that were originally $400) and we emerged from the Dillard's doors, relieved to see it was still daylight outside. I love this photo- I look exhausted and Gigi looks spectacular and ready for more.

But we opted to go home and fill her birthday girl glass with chardonnay instead. I'm wearing a new dress ($8!) and the kids were excited to see the birthday girl.

We ordered Gigi's favorite local pizza, enjoyed the very tasty cake, and played MANY rounds of Uno. It was a wonderful celebration of our Gigi.

The rest of the week is something of a blur of the busy, happy, and mundane. The girls are in gymnastics, everyone is in swimming, Landon is still working through Don Quixote.

I bought this print on our neighborhood resell page and I absolutely love it in our bathroom. It's huge and a signed, original print that was originally hundreds. I got it for $40 and the colors are perfect! At this point I think half our house is from the neighborhood buy/sell page and I delighted the people around us seem to redecorate often.

Claire had a fever earlier in the week, so I worked from home for the second half of the day. After working in a few rounds of Uno with my subpoena drafting, I finally took a break and taught her Solitaire. She LOVES it and we both worked happily side for side for another two hours. When Cora got home from school she immediately got to her homework (I can't imagine why Kindergartners need homework, but Cora absolutely loves it and feels very grown-up while intently filling out her pages) and Maggie watched over us all, probably wondering when it would be time for dinner and/or petting.

Oh! Another highlight my phone's photoroll has found for me- Cora requested a side pony tail one random morning and was SO EXCITED about the result. The poor girl still despairs of her hair (while we and literally everyone else who sees her loves it!)- she had a full on sobbing meltdown one morning because she just desperately wants long hair and her hair is so curly and it makes her so terribly sad. But! she loved the side pony and I was glad she found some joy in her beautiful hair, even if it did apparently fall out by recess.

Maggie got a few new outfits for the changing seasons. What bulldog doesn't need a new tee or buffalo plaid puffer vest?

I got a small (but much appreciated!) year-end bonus at work this past week and so finally pressed checkout on the dog stroller of my MUCH researched dog stroller dreams. It arrived on the same day as Maggie's new pj's and I think it was all meant to be.

Maggie isn't quite sure about it, but I know that once it cools off and we can take her outside she will LOVE getting to join us on our long walks on weekend mornings. She loves being with us so much and I feel so badly when we leave her behind (because her max walking distance is about 0.1 miles as opposed to the 3.0 miles of our favorite neighborhood loop). I am 100% ready to be a person who pushes her dog in a stroller, and someday when James and I buy each other bikes for Christmas, the stroller converts to a bike trailer!

Maggie's chariot awaits.

[Full disclosure, the brakes didn't work right when we set the stroller up so after some back and forth with customer service it was determined they're defective. We got it back in the box to ship back and they're sending a replacement! It otherwise feels very solid and well-made and fits Maggles perfectly.]

Speaking of Maggie (always), Landon takes her on a walk every morning before it gets hot. The tradition started in May as it started to get hot outside and Landon was always ready for school at least 10 minutes before his sisters. He walks her up and down the street and then she takes an 8 hour nap.

The tradition has continued and now if anyone else puts a leash on her before 9 a.m. she just sits at the top of the driveway and refuses to move. When Landon spends the night at a friend's house she just skips her morning walk because she absolutely will not be budged until her boy comes out to join.

James takes the girls to school at 7:30 and now that Landon doesn't leave for middle school until 8:30, that's when he walks Maggie. For the last few days, he's asked me to join and it's such a lovely way to start the day, strolling up and down our street with my favorite boy and bulldog before climbing in my car and heading off for the day.

Yesterday he was telling me chemistry jokes and stories from his favorite class (English) and why he thinks he shouldn't have to start Cotillion tonight (largely based on his dislike of pants). 12 years old has been such a delight- it's a sweet spot between teen and child, chatty and funny and very interested in what James and I think about things he's thinking about. It's emotionally calm and physically looking ever older. He's absolutely rocking middle school and we're just so enjoying this phase right now.

And now, ending as I often do, with food! Our menu from the last two weeks:

Saturday: King Ranch Chicken Casserole (this was great! a childhood classic, remade without any canned soups and with a lot of flavor. I saved it for a night Landon was away at a friend's because you really can't make this one without the cheese).

Sunday: Slow Cooker Rosemary Garlic Beef Stew, crusty rustic wheat bread. James's favorite kind of meal, it was cozy and comforting, as long as you ignored the fact it was 100 degrees outside.

Monday: Skillet Taco Cauliflower Rice, black beans, and the usual taco fixings; James and the kids ate this in tortillas, I ate it as a taco salad with a big bowl of lettuce and it was delicious.

Tuesday: Minestrone Soup, made over the stove top with 2 cups less water than directed and I used farro instead of bulgur (I cooked 2 cups of dry farro in a separate pot and then drained and dumped it in), and this was INSANELY GOOD. My new favorite soup for sure; the farro was filling and hearty and perfect and the soup had a ton of flavor.

Wednesday: Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo with Prosciutto and Peas (prosciutto leftover from our anniversary wine and cheese night, this is probably our favorite way to eat it). I just follow the fettuccine recipe, add the frozen peas in at the last minute of boiling the pasta, and toss in sliced up prosciutto at the end.

Thursday: Surprise night out! We needed a celebration of the kids' amazing progress reports after the first 3 weeks of school and we hadn't eaten out as a family in a long time. It was a really nice evening for once and we sat outside and enjoyed the not cooking and not cleaning.

Friday: Parent Mixer for the middle school! Landon babysat and the kids are mac and cheese before we left.

Saturday: Greek night! Gyro strips (from Trader Joe's), naan, sliced tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper, tzatziki sauce, feta, Kalamata olives. Roasted potatoes.

Sunday: Broiled salmon, kale radicchio salad with lemon miso dressing, and roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

Monday: Meatloaf (I also added some cooked, diced onions), cauliflower mashed potatoes (frozen from TJ's, I mix one bag frozen mashed potatoes and one bag frozen cauliflower mash), roasted carrots.

Tuesday: Avocado Ranch Chicken Salad- so good!! (I used two cans of chicken, doubled the Greek yogurt and avocado and halved the ranch), served with crackers, toasted wheat bread, sliced cheese, tomato, and cucumber, chips and sliced apples on the side. The kids really loved this and me think I should go picnic-y more often.

Wednesday: Fried Rice (I made this up: ground turkey cooked with diced green onion, then added a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, a bag of shredded cabbage, and two bags of cooked brown rice, scrambled egg, and soy sauce), frozen dumplings from Costco on the side.

Thursday: Mama's Night Out! James and the kids made pasta with tomato cream sauce after swimming.

Friday: Every kid has an activity, but they all begin and end at different times (of course!), and we have a grown-up friend's birthday at a brewery with bbq, so we're trying to work that in with the car pools. I'm pretty sure I'm not cooking though! (Though I did make these Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal Bars this morning and they're great!!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I Started a Different Post but Ended Up Talking All About Photobooks

As the title implies I started a nice recap post (still coming!) but ended up rambling so much in my opening paragraph about photo books that I decided to post about that instead. I know I've gotten questions in the past on my approach to them, so if you're interested- here we go! (And if you're not, this is going to be super boring so I offer you this picture of Maggie wearing the outfit she picked out to pick the girls up from school on Friday- until next time!)

So, as I started writing in the last draft - helloooo! Sorry it's been so long, life continues apace and I'm working on the kids' photo books for the 2018-2019 school year (which they receive as a Christmas present every year), so I've spent 2-3 hours a night doing that. I'm done with August through November (including Costa Rica which took me FOREVER to condense down in a meaningful way, my goodness that whole trip was incredible) and up to Christmas in December, so I'm feeling good about my progress.

These damn books take me about 100 hours (actually probably 200... maybe more, I probably don't want to know), but my kids pick up one and read through favorite parts at least once a week for the rest all year. Just the other day Cora ran to grab her first year book to determine whether "babies where shoes" (no idea where the question came from, but she knew just where to find the answer; turns out they do "sometimes" but not "most of the time"). Last night Claire was reading through her Year 3 book after dinner and laughing at all the funny quotes I'd put in there with stories about her and her brother back when they were truly each other's very best friend.

The words are what take forever- I go back through a year's worth of blog and facebook posts and copy favorite snippets over to a Word doc I then slowly add and edit into the photo book, but they are BY FAR my kids' favorite parts. They see pictures all the time- hearing the story of Landon's response when he found out I was pregnant with Cora or reading their funny toddler phrases and stories are what they open the books for. And I love them too, which is why every Fall, I start again on page 1, find an old chick flick on TV, and start photobooking away.

I make our books on Shutterfly. There are lots of great sites out there, but I've used Shutterfly for years and will probably stick with it just because I know the interface and all my books match. I've had great experiences with their customer service, getting books re-printed for free if some colors are off or a page didn't print as shown on the computer. They also have unlimited photo and project storage, allowing me to go back and re-print something years later if needed.

ALL the books, in the living room, where they are read ALL the time

Back when I first started making the books you had to stick with the preset templates offered by Shutterfly, but now you can change absolutely everything. This means it takes a million times longer for me to do the books, but it also means I don't yell at the screen that I "just want to add a text box right there!". You can add backgrounds, stickers, ribbons, text boxes, and all the photos you want. (Except not really, as I learned last year- you're maxed at 110 pages for the book, which has never been a problem, though I'm getting closer, and 1,000 photos- a max I hit last year! Turns out with 5 people, several vacations, and 12 months of time, 1,000 pictures are needed to capture it all. But my older books are like 45 pages and 300 pictures.).

As I mentioned above, my goal for the books is to be the time capsule for each year (August-August; measured by the school year). I include stories from the blog, funny quotes and questions from the kids, letters from me, pictures of special school work, art work, writing journal entries, the year-end report cards, pictures of them in their bedrooms- the mundane, the vacations, the extended family, the just hanging around... literally everything. And then it's done!

I used to do different books for each kid back when I had only had two and our years were way less full. But then I was ordering two copies of each book- one for me, one for them- and quickly decided that wasn't sustainable. Plus, and most importantly, I realized when looking through some of my parents' old photo albums, some of what was most then fun to see was the pictures of my siblings and parents at all their different ages doing all their different activities. The pictures of me were actually the least interesting. So, four years ago I decided I would make one book- a Lag Liv family photo album that included everyone and every thing our family did that year. So there's a page for Landon winning the spelling bee, Claire playing volleyball, Cora's funny toddler quotes and questions, James and I dressing up to go out for our anniversary or hosting a wine party with all their friends' parents... it's all in there. Then I save that four times and create individual covers and title pages for each kid. Then we just have one family book and each kid gets theirs with a special first page with a letter from me capturing what I remember most about them in that particular year.

Landon's cover, title page, and back cover pages

It's working great and is the only way I could possibly have kept up! (Though I should note that Cora also got a separate "First Year" book because the first year is so special and full of milestones and stats and other unique things to capture.)

Other random thoughts/process notes:

- If you use Shutterfly, save your book when you're done and then wait for the "unlimited free pages" promotion. It's by far their best offer for photobooks because you just pay for the base book ($20 or so) and add whatever additional discounts you have. So last year I ordered FOUR 103-page full color, hard-cover books for a grand total of $106, which is completely ridiculous.

- To get started, I go back through my photos from the year (which I already cull way down after each month), selecting the ones that stand out or I think tell the story of each month, and export them to a new folder on my desktop labeled Aug-Dec; Jan-Apr; May-Aug. Then I upload one tranche and finish those months before adding the next set of photos. It keeps things feeling manageable. When I'm done with one tranche I delete all the photos I didn't use from the project to start with a clean slate for the next.

- I used to use the storyboarding feature, but now I just make each page as I go in general chronological order. I break the order based on subject matter, for example, this year I had the Spelling Bee on a page in December but added the photos from the Regional Bee in January to complete that page and overall event. Same thing for swim team- I do one page for the summer with my favorite pics from the whole season.

- Each kid always gets one page dedicated to their random quotes, successes, and favorite things/pictures of that year. I spread those out throughout the book.

- There's also always a End of School page for each kid with their awards ceremony, a picture of them with their teacher, a screen shot of their end of year report card, and pictures of my favorite of their school and/or art work from the year.

That's all I can think of! I did make each kid a book from our Disneyworld trip because we had like 2,000 pictures and it was such a fun, special week, but other than that, I just include any vacation pages as part of the overall year. They're already going to graduate from childhood with a foot-long boxed set of 18, we don't need more!

And so, back to photobooking I go.