D is for Dress

Every day in April, I’m blogging about Adjusting to Life with Baby Number 5.

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

P1070745Last Saturday we had our sweet Sophia baptized. It was so beautiful and such and amazing day! Almost as beautiful as the rite itself was the GORGEOUS dress my sweet girl got to wear.

Her godmother bought her a gown and it is simply EXQUISITE! Seriously, it is prettier than my wedding gown. Her godmother found an amazing woman on etsy that made her dress by hand!

I’ve never seen a prettier dress in my whole life. It’s a traditional baptismal gown, so it’s incredibly long, and, with all the layers, it’s quite heavy. I joked that the gown is heavier than the baby. It really might be.

When her godmother brought the gown over to me, I was blown away. I knew she was getting a gown, and I knew it would be lovely, but I had no idea it would be this grand. I told her it was way too much, but Tammy said she wanted something heirloom quality. She said, “I wanted something she could pass on to her daughters. And if she has a religious vocation, we’ll just find a way to sew it into her habit.” I was all teary-eyed at the thought.

2014-04-03 20.15.24I’m going to take the dress back to Tammy and she’s going to stitch Sophie’s name and baptismal date into the gown. Then, if Sophie is blessed with daughters and granddaughters, they can be baptized in the same gown, and their names and dates can also be stitched in. What an amazing gift!

I didn’t get any great pictures of Sophie in her dress on her big day. I keep meaning to put it back on her and pose her for a few shots. Maybe I’ll finally get around to that today. These pictures don’t quite do it justice. You can tell it’s lovely, but it is simply breathtaking in person.

Obviously, the dress wasn’t the most important part of the day, but it did make the day a little more special. Especially when I thought about the possibility of seeing my grandbabies being baptized in that gown…or seeing my girl take vows, knowing there are pieces of her baptismal gown hiding under her habit.

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Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner

In Texas, tamales are a Christmas tradition. Two years ago, Josh and I decided to give this tradition a try, in part, to stabilize and fortify our fairly new Texas roots. We had a blast at our first tamale dinner and decided to make it a family tradition. Even if we ever move away, we plan to continue the tradition as a tribute to our time in Texas. Currently, we’re in the midst of preparing for our 3rd annual Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner.

Because we aren’t hispanic, or even true Texans, I have no idea how to make real tamales. I’d love to learn one day, but, for now, we simply order the tamales. I make several sides to go with them, and anyone who attends is welcome to bring a side or dessert if they wish.

I’ve been swept up in the chaos of finals and whatnot, so I’m just getting around to menu planning for our big celebration. I figured I’d take a similar approach to my Christmas morning planning and collect interesting recipes here while I try to decide what I want to serve. The final decision will partly depend on what we get in our produce basket from our coop this week. I ordered extra Mexican veggies, but you can never be quite sure what you will get until you get it. We’ll definitely be serving lots of peppers, because I already have a fridge full of Anaheim chiles and will likely get more in the basket on Saturday.

So far, I don’t have many recipes I’m interested in. I need to get busy looking for more!

Watermelon Salsa

watermelon salsa

This is already a definite yes! It will be on my table on Christmas Eve. The colors are perfect; I can use an Anaheim Chile; I adore sweet & spicy salsas. I don’t think I could possibly find for a more perfect dish!

Mexican Rice Casserole 

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This looks yummy and easy. Plus, it’s a PW recipe. I have never, ever gone wrong, been let down, or even remotely disappointed by the fabulous Ree Drummond. I have no fear of making her recipes for guests without trying them out first.

Stuffed Anaheim Peppers

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Oh I think I’m going to make these right now! They look so yummy!

If I do get more peppers I think I’ll make something similar to this for the party. I don’t know that I want a rice stuffing, since I’m probably already going to be serving the rice casserole above. I’m thinking black beans, cream cheese, and….something else. Maybe shredded chicken? Maybe bacon? Or SHIRMP?? Oh the possibilities!

Baked Shrimp with Tomatillos

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I’m not so sure about this, but I have a pound of tomatillos to use. It looks interesting enough that it might just be yummy. Or not. Either way, it’s going on the table with some fresh tortillas on the side. *Fingers crossed.*

Guacamole Salad

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Yes, yes, yes! I was already planning to make some guacamole, but this will just have to be there too. It looks like a party in a bowl. And I can’t wait to taste the lime vinaigrette!

Christmas Morning Menu Ideas 2013

This post is a work in progress.

As you may already know, I’m a list maker. I’m not usually an electronic list maker. I like paper lists. Only very recently (like 6 months ago) did I finally cave and start using the calendar on my phone instead of my tried-and-true notebook style calendar. My phone calendar still poses some limitations for me, but I really like that it’s available to both Josh and me no matter where we are. But I digress…

Anyway, as I’m planning for any special occasion, I begin saving ideas. My favorite format ever used for this endeavor was some app/website that a friend recommended. But I can’t remember what that was. Or even what friend suggested it. It was fabulous. I could save websites in “notebooks” and add my thoughts and whatnot. It was the easiest way I’ve ever gathered recipes for our Christmas Eve celebration.

But, since that website doesn’t seem to want to be part of my life this year, being that it’s hiding from me in some distance recesses of the internet, I needed somewhere to save my thoughts. Somewhere that I would remember where it was. Somewhere that wouldn’t be turned into a coloring sheet or craft project. Thanks to my inability to remember where I put *anything* these days, my blog seemed like the most logical choice. So here I am.

This post will change and be updated as I discover more. Feel free to disregard it or share your thoughts with me. Either way, I’ll know where my recipes for Christmas morning are.

Just in case your curious, we have Christmas morning at our house with just our family. The meal is usually more of a brunch than a breakfast. It also needs to be somewhat easy, very yummy, and kid (and Josh)-approved.

Cranberry, Orange & Pecan Coffee Cake

cranberry orang pecan coffee cakeThis is really high on my list. In fact, I’m not sure I can imagine a more perfect coffee cake for Christmas morning. I suspect Andy and Josh will not agree. I think I may have to make it anyway. We shall see…

Sausage Balls

sausage ballsI used to make sausage balls somewhat regularly when were were first married. They remind me of my sweet friend Ginny from high school and her mama. Her mama always had lot of yummy treats in her kitchen and she almost always made sausage balls  for breakfast after sleepovers. I don’t think I’ve made them in at least 5 years. I think it would be an exciting Christmas morning surprise for Josh.

These aren’t linked to anything because it’s just a 1-1-2 recipe. (1 lbs sausage, 1 lbs cheese, 2 cups bisquick. Combine. Bake. Viola.) However, I just discovered there is a cream cheese variation. That just sounds scrumptious. FYI: healthy eating rules don’t apply on Christmas morning. ;)

Overnight Blueberry French Toast

blueberry french toastThis looks so yummy! It will definitely be easy because it’s an overnight recipe. The only down side to that is we host Christmas Eve festivities, so I don’t know that I’ll have a dish to spare. I suppose I could make it after the party winds down, just before we’re getting ready for midnight Mass. Can I serve this and the cranberry coffee cake? That’s probably overkill for just our family. Hmm…I suppose I’ll have to choose.

Also, Andy won’t eat this. But I don’t think he’ll eat any of what I’m thinking about so far…

Cheesy Apple Bacon Brunch Casserole

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This would be fun and different. I like the idea of the biscuity apple crust. Based on reviews and instinct, I think I’d double the apples (because that’s what really excites me about this recipe, so I want to play it up) and the eggs (because I want it to be more of an egg dish than a biscuit dish.

Breakfast Sausage Casserole

Breakfast-Casserole-Trishas-Southern-Kitchen_s4x3_sm (Boo for little pictures.)

This is a good option, too. I don’t like the idea of white bread on the bottom. I think it would end up pretty mushy and that’s not what I’m going for. But I think I could do something really similar with some cubed potatoes on the bottom. And I think I’d use spicy sausage because this family likes a little kick in our food.

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That’s it for now. I’ll keep adding more recipes and ideas as I find them.

Thanksgiving, Traditions, and Itineraries

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Thanksgiving 2007. We hosted my side of the family in our Cordova apartment. Somehow I made everything using the stove, our single oven, and a crockpot.

This morning, my parents finally chose a time for tomorrow’s big family dinner, so now I’ve finally been able to put together a timeline for my family’s Thanksgiving festivities. I was getting really frustrated trying to come up with multiple “what-if” scenarios based on various times they could wish to serve dinner. One of these days I’ll learn to stop doing that to myself and do a better job rolling with the punches. In the meantime, I’m a planner, and I want a plan in advance.

I know that to some, or maybe even many, my desire to plan out events may seem extreme or like it’s a waste of time. But, I truly believe that family memories do not (in most circumstances) make themselves. This is certainly true for my little family. In the absence of a plan, we end up sitting on our behinds and doing a whole lot of nothing. If I failed to plan tomorrow in advance, we would all sit around until the last possible minute, get ready, and head out the door to go to my parents’ house. Downtime is certainly good, but who wants to look back at a life full of downtime? I want to make some memorable memories!

My plan for tomorrow isn’t particularly memorable because it includes anything fantastic, rather, it is going to be special because it contains all the things I love about Thanksgiving. You see, I’m a sucker for tradition. I’m not the type that wants to go to to Florida for Christmas or go skiing for summer vacation. (I suppose if those things were our tradition, I’d feel differently. But they’re not. So I don’t.) I like to stick with the tried and true. I don’t think that’s boring. I think that’s meaningful. This certainly doesn’t mean there’s no room to add new traditions or do away with empty routines that have been substituted for traditions, but, in general, it means I like organic growth and development when it comes to the way I celebrate my holidays.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh's parents' house.

Thanksgiving 2011 at Josh’s parents’ house.

When I think of Thanksgiving, several things come to my mind: THE BIG MEAL, cooking all day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Mass, and family expressions of thankfulness. Some of these, like the parade and the meal, are rooted in my childhood experiences, but most of these stem from who I am today and why I believe Thanksgiving matters. Regardless of where my holiday notions stem from, this is my jumping off point for creating all of our family’s traditions. Josh and I compare our lists of what we equate with any particular holiday or event, evaluate what is the most important, decide if there’s anything we want to add, and, VIOLA…we have our little family’s traditions.

Despite the fact that we have been married for nearly 8 years, we still often have a hard time helping our parents’ understand that their ideas and traditions aren’t number one anymore. This is often uncomfortable and results in strife, sometimes between Josh and me, sometimes between us and either or both sets of our parents. Either way, it’s no fun. Needless to say, we’re still a work in progress. (Which, by the way, is how I ended up waiting on my parents to select a time for Thanksgiving dinner before I could solidify our own plans…)

So, what will tomorrow look like for my little family? I’m so glad you asked!

6:30-7:00AM – snuggle and drink coffee until I’m conscious.

7:00-7:45 – shower and get ready while the kiddos play or watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving or Madame Blueberry or something else keeping with the spirit of things.

7:45 -8:00 – Start cooking! Our breakfast first. Our family always has some kind of yummy (and incredibly unhealthy) egg & hash brown dish. I’m still working on the specifics, but I’m pretty sure it will involve ham this year instead of bacon.

8:00-9:30 – Turn on the parade and watch while we cook and maybe even leave it on in the background while we eat. (We’re such rebels!)  The kids also have to get dressed during this time.

9:30 – Leave for Mass

10:00 – Mass!

11:30ish – Get home from Mass. I’m going to have apple cider waiting in the crock pot to warm everyone up. While I’m drinking, I’ll get back to work in the kitchen. Josh usually helps too. We’ll coax the kids into a nap or, at the very least, a little rest of some sort to help curtail cranky moods for the rest of the day.

I’m sure Gone with the Wind or the Godfather will be on during this time, so that’s probably what we’ll have on in the background while we cook and chat and catch up. (I really love cooking with Josh. We ought to do it together more…)

Sometime before 2:30 – I hope to lay down or at least put my feet up; I’m so exhausted with this pregnancy!

2:30PM – load everyone up again. To Grandmother’s house we go! We’ll likely talk about what we’re thankful for in the car on the way there. Maybe I’ll even come up with some kind of cute activity to make that more fun. I’m curious to see if the kids simply say the same things they wrote on our Thankful Tree or if their responses will vary somewhat.

From 3:00 on, we’ll be at the mercy of my family. I’m hoping between my newly evaluated expectations and some kind of Thanksgiving miracle, it will be an enjoyable evening. If nothing else, the food will be delicious. At the very worst, I can suddenly become some kind of football fanatic and pretend I’m completely engrossed in a game. ;)

If we get home before it’s too terribly late, we’re going to watch the Wizard of Oz. We recorded on the DVR a few days ago. The kids have been dying to see it, but we haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet. If it is late, we’ll just watch it tomorrow while we all lounge around waiting for my grandmother to arrive from Atlanta.

Thanksgiving 2005. Our first "family" Thanksgiving picture! 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

Thanksgiving 2005 outside our apartment in Bartlett. Our first “family” Thanksgiving picture! I was 9 mos preggers with Andy. :)

I must say that, if it were entirely up to me, all holidays would involve a little sleeping in. But, alas, that’s not realistic for our current season of life. Ben will be up by 6:30AM, regardless of when we put him to bed tonight, and I want to spend every holiday minute with my littles.

I know our plans aren’t particularly glorious or magical, but I’m happy with them. I’m a little disappointed that I played the “let’s just make everyone else happy game” but I’m quite pleased with the way it’s all going to come together.

It goes without saying that tomorrow will not work out exactly as I imagine. That’s why the schedule isn’t broken down into more specific time chunks. That would never work for us. Other than that, I’m just going to have to remember that each moment is a gift, and sometimes gifts aren’t what we were expecting, but gifts are always wonderful.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Thankful Tree

2013-11-20 18.22.05Every year, I make a really big deal about the “thankful” aspect of thanksgiving. I work really hard to help foster a spirit of gratitude in my littles, and a national holiday that can back me up in that endeavor is too good to pass up. One could certainly argue that the thankfulness is missing from the holiday at large, especially with the materialism of Black Friday nearly eclipsing the family feasting, or that the history of the event should play an important role in the focus, but I say I’m gonna take what I can get. It’s a rare occasion that society backs me up in my parenting philosophies, so, when it does, I’m going to run with it.

In years past, I’ve had the kids make “thankful turkeys” in preparation for Thanksgiving day. They would trace their hands on red, yellow, orange and brown construction paper. Then, I would ask what they were thankful for and record their answers on the turkeys. I really liked this activity because it captured the size of their little hands along with the dates and adorable things for which their little hearts were thankful.

There was only one downside – I never found a way to display the “thankful turkeys” that I really liked. Most years, they simply got taped to the kitchen cabinets. One year, I tried to arrange them in a dish to make a centerpiece. On the cabinets, I usually ended up viewing them as clutter, which took away from some of the heart-warming quality. Plus, they usually got wet, bent, or knocked down in the chaos of daily life. The centerpiece thing was ok, but you couldn’t really read their sweet thoughts. The display issue wasn’t really a major one, but, nevertheless, I found myself itching to do something different this year.

While perusing the Oriental Trading catalog, I saw an an adorable tree meant for bulletin board display in a classroom.  When I first saw the tree, I thought we’d just make our own, but who am I kidding? I ordered the tree from Oriental Trading. The tree did come with precut leaves, but we didn’t use them. The kids really like to trace and cut and glue, so we made our own leaves just to make the project a little more hands on. (We actually intended to add glitter, but we never got around to that… There’s always next year, right?)

So here’s what we did.

Each person in our family was told to make 6 leaves, except Leila. She was exempt this year. Ultimately, the kids decided to make leaves for Josh and me, so pretty much the boys just made 30 leaves. They used the original leaves as templates. Their little hands were tired after that, so that was all for day one.

P1060718The next day, they were assigned the meat of the project. They were to address one leaf to each member of the family, sort of like a valentine. On the flip side of the leaf, they were to write why they were thankful for that person. On their remaining leaf, they were simply to list all that they were thankful for. (Major bonus: this also killed lots of educational birds with one stone! They were writing, spelling, forming thoughts into concise, leaf-sized statements, etc. They were very pleased to learn that there was no copy work/dictation, handwriting, or spelling assignments while were were working on the leaves.) It took a few days to get everyone in the family to complete the assignment, but, finally, they were done.

Once all the leaves were completed, I had the boys sort them into piles by addressee. They passed them out one night after dinner. We all took turns reading the leaves addressed to us. Then, at the end, read the leaf that we wrote listing all we were thankful for.

The part where we read what each family member wrote about us was truly magical. The boys beamed as they heard leaf after leaf acknowledge and recognize their value. It could have been the hormones, but watching them react to their leaves was priceless. Of course, I cried.

Finally, after all the leaves were read, we attached them to our little tree. To concretely connect God as the giver of all these good things, I wanted to place the tree on the wall by our “home shrine” (which is just our little prayer corner), but the wall wasn’t big enough. Thus, our tree stands proudly in our foyer. I passed out the tape, and the kids attached their leaves. It was almost as fun as decorating the Christmas tree.

Next Friday, after the Thanksgiving festivities are over, I’ll take our tree down. I’m going to place all of this year’s leaves in a page protector, which will eventually be collected in a binder. I’m going to put what’s left of the thankful turkeys from years past in the binder, but, sadly, many of them haven’t survived. What a treasure it will be to look back at all we’ve been grateful for over the years!

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Thanksgiving and High Expectations

Thanksgiving2Recently, thanks to the encouragement of my sweet hubby, I’ve been working really hard at setting realistic expectations. See, I’m a perfectionist, I have a very active imagination, and I put great importance on creating wonderful family memories. These three combined often make for highly fantastic fantasies and deadly disappointing realities, especially related to holidays, vacations, and any other large family events.

Moments ago, I was entering an amazing giveaway over at the Pioneer Woman’s website. (Oh, how I love her!!) Realistically, I have no chance of winning, as there were nearly 14,000 entries when I left my comment and only 3 available prize packages, but the prize was too amazing not to give it a shot. But I digress…

Back to my point.

To enter the giveaway, I had to leave a comment with my Thanksgiving plans. I started to write something about how we were going to my parent’s house this year, but I always come away disappointed, so we’ll likely have another Thanksgiving at our house on Saturday and invite some friends or whatever family wants to come so that I’ll have the opportunity to do it right. But that just seemed to negative to leave on the fabulous Ree Drummond’s site. So I sat for a moment and thought about what I could type that was both honest and uplifting. Suddenly, I had a beautiful moment of clarity. The truth, just as it is, is beautiful and uplifting. It’s only my bad attitudes and unmet expectations that spoil the beauty of the day. I wrote:

“We’re taking our four kids and joining my three siblings and their kids at my parents’ house. My mom does the turkey and the pies and we all bring the sides. I’m hungry just thinking about it!”

It’s simple. It’s true. And it provides all of the makings for my wildly fantastic holiday fantasies.

So why am I dreading it?

As I’ve already given away, the problem is me and my expectations.

While it’s true that my mother will likely do something (or lots of things) that annoy me, and my brother and his girlfriend will likely get in a “disagreement” at some point, and my kids will likely get in trouble for something that’s not really their fault, and my kids will likely do something horrific that is their fault, and my sister will try to disappear to sulk about some comment my mother makes to her…. (Sadly, I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.)  None of this really matters. If I could just let that stuff roll off, it wouldn’t define the day.

But, unfortunately, I do the same thing every time. I arrive hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and right away I start keeping score. Each time something less than ideal happens, it impacts my hopes for the whole day. Usually, after I’ve been there for about 30 minutes, I’ve gathered enough evidence to decide that, once again, my holiday is going to be ruined.

And, if that weren’t bad enough, I walk in the door loaded down with all of the baggage from past ruined events. This means that I view little things as catastrophic because in my heart and mind I’ve combined their minuscule hurt with all the hurt experienced in the past. Suddenly, and before I’ve even had time to realize what happened, I’ve got a mountain where there was really only a molehill.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how horrified I am to realize that I am the source of most of my holiday pain and frustration. But, more than that, I’m grateful. Relieved. Liberated. Hopeful. Maybe, now that I’ve gained some much-needed perspective, I can actually get around to creating some of the wonderful family memories I long for instead of grieving for unfulfilled fantasies and aching over wounds from the past.

This year is going to be different. This year is going to be wonderful. And it’s all going to start with me and my newfound realistic expectations.

(Is it just me or is this a great time to cue up some Michael Jackson??)

Getting Hands-On

One of our (both mine and the kids’) main goals for this school year was to get more “hands-on.” Several years ago, when I first began envisioning our homeschool, it was incredibly hands on. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, this is one of the elements that weighed heavily on my decision to stop working outside the home. It seemed absurd that I was making the effort to homeschool, but my efforts were limited by what I was able to cram into a given day. My employment was governing my home life, and I simply couldn’t make peace with that. But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yes, hands-on.

Step one was getting a few curriculum pieces that would make this transition easier. Since we were accustomed to primarily bookwork, I figured I needed a little inspiration to turn the tide. Catholic Heritage Curricula is where we found many of the books we were most excited about. I think they do a great job of bringing lessons to life through hands-on activities. As such, I get to integrate more of the hands-on learning I was longing for, but I don’t have to worry about getting too creative, since the lessons come with suggested activities and supply lists. We just did the cutest little “experiment” in Jack’s science class. He’s learning about seeds (Every seed is a baby plant!) so we soaked some beans and split them open. Lo and behold – there were little plant sprouts on the inside! So much fun!

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Step two, as suggested by Jack, was to add an art class. I am not artsy. I am not crafty. The thought of this made me cringe. Yet, he was insistent that he needed to take art. I looked through endless art books, hoping to find something I could work with. A lot of art books that I saw were geared more toward art appreciation – looking at and studying great works. While this certainly has merit, I knew what he meant. He wanted arts and crafts. He wanted to cut and glue and play with paint and glitter. Finally, I went back to one of the first books I looked at (and initially disregarded due to the certainty of very large messes) and bit the bullet. We became the proud owners of Art 1 for Young Catholics. This book offers several projects each month based on the liturgical year, and it is truly a gem! Even Andy, who initially declared that he would NOT be participating in art under any circumstances, loves the projects and activities. Today’s project was in honor of Mary’s assumption into Heaven and it came out oh-so-cute.

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I never have any trouble getting my kids to tune in when we’re doing catechetical lessons. Their sweet little hearts are truly eager to learn more and more about their faith. But when the kiddos discover that today’s lesson came with more than just stories and discussion, they were elated! We all had so much fun that I don’t even mind that my kitchen floor is covered in glitter.

To help make sense of our art project: Today is the feast of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you don’t know what that means, but would like to, visit here to learn about the feast in 12 little Q & As

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