Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And We're Off!

We leave later this morning for Christmas.  I can hardly believe it's here. I certainly cannot believe that everything is done, the prep relatively painless and smooth.

We are leaving a day early, hoping to get out before the storm they predict for this evening and tomorrow.  Perhaps Chicago will have a white christmas after all?

We'll pack up the final goodies this morning while Ainsley is at school, then all drive over to celebrate her 4th birthday with her 9 best buds at preschool.  She's ecstatic for her green smoothie and vanilla cupcakes from Trader Joe's.  I'm exited we were able to dig Betty Bear's Birthday out of the abyss for the occasion.  I'm bringing Bruno the Baker to read too.  One can never have too many birthday cake themed books.  And then?  we're off!

One major perk to almost always traveling on my own with the girls is that when Ian's along for the ride it's like a holiday the whole time.  Especially now that my belly is big enough to necessitate that he drive most of the way.  Well, that and I need the time to finish a few Christmas surprises in the car.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, joyous time off with family and friends, and lots of thankfulness and love.

I guess this is as close to a real Christmas card as we're going to get this least we tried!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best Day, Sad Day

I find I'm at a complete loss of words, yet really needing to write.  I guess we'll see how this goes.

Yesterday was such a big day.  I know three weeks ago seemed like "the big day".  The thumbs up for the PhD.  But yesterday was the last big day.  The official day.  The LONG day of defending publicly, then being grilled by his committee one final time, then signatures on a piece of paper and ta da!  Ian's a doctor of philosophy, neuroscience style.

I was so incredibly thankful to get to be at his open defense.  It's been so long since I've seen him "do his thing".  I remember studying with him in college, listening to brief presentations on summer research and proof reading his papers (what a joke that was, I didn't even know half the words he was using).

Going into college I remember thinking I was smart.  I got good grades, school felt pretty easy, then I met Ian and got it. Oh, this is smart.

I truly have never met a person so thirsty for knowledge, so driven to understand concepts and find solutions to problems.  It's one of the things I love most about him, this drive and hard working demeanor.  It was such a privilege to get to see him display that yesterday and to be received so well and rewarded by the academic and scientific community.

Then I left Loyola to go pick up the girls.  We bounded home excited about the full afternoon.  As I walked in the door I got a call from my friend who'd been watching the girls.  She warned me that there was a disturbing news story on and to not turn the tv on for the girls.  She'd flipped on PBS for her son and they were greeted with the special report of the horrific school shooting in Newtown.  I thanked her for the heads up, went about with getting the girls settled, then looked up the news for myself.

And here is where I am at a loss, because is there really anything to say about such an awful act of inhumanity?  I have found myself to be profoundly affected by the unacceptable amounts of mass shootings that have taken place over the past decade, but this?  the children?  I truly cannot begin to comprehend the horror.

My first reaction was to turn off the TV, shut the computer, and pray.  I honestly don't even remember what the prayer was for.  Peace for the families is unfathomable, yet still I found myself searching for it, because of course my overwhelming emotion was and is of fear.

I look around me at this world we live in and I see so much hate and evil and it scares me.  I choose not to read the news most mornings because when I do?  It's almost all bad.  A shooting in southside Chicago, a child gone missing, some horrific case of abandonment or abuse.  I'm not naive to these things, but I find to dwell on them only increases the fear and makes less room for all of the good in this world, because of course, there is so much of that too.

After shutting the news off yesterday and giving a piece of my heart to those families, those precious children who's lives ended far too soon, I still had to be a mom, and a wife.  I had to put on a smiley face and pretend for a moment that this world doesn't frighten me.

My girls pulled me up as they always do.  I sat between them as we watched a classical baby and just drank in their sweet smells, warm bodies, and snuggles, feeling simultaneously so blessed and lucky and so so sad.  I can't imagine something ever happening to them, it is physically not possible for me.  I just cannot fathom what those parents are going through.

Then we got the call from Ian at 2:15.  He'd been grilled, he'd passed!  Ainsley waited anxiously by my side knowing exactly what that call meant. "Did he get it mommy?  Is daddy a doctor of science?!"  "Yes Ainsley girl! Daddy got it!"  "Yay mommy!  I'm SO HAPPY!"  Ainsley leaped into my arms with a big genuine hug and smile.  I so wish Ian could have seen her reaction.

We quickly piled into the car with some fudge and peppermint bark and arrived at Ian's lab for a celebration.  There was champagne and toasts, treats and friends.  Ian's new boss, with whom he'll start working for in Januraury, talked my ear off.  She is so delighted to have Ian (well, us all she said) in the lab.  She is so excited about all the work they'll be doing, the papers they'll be writing.  When I told Ian how excited she was about him being in her lab his calm reply was "yes, well, she let someone go so I could join."  I think it's going to be a great year for him.

After the fete we all drove home together, Ian calling family along the way to share the good official news.  We relaxed for a bit then headed out to a fancy dinner and the new 007 while Sonya watched the girls.  It was such a celebratory wonderful evening.

Upon our return home, the girls in bed, Ian learned of the tragedy that took place earlier in the day. His face fell, I could almost see his stomach turning.  I'd hoped to keep the news from him for just the day, let him fully enjoy his success, but I guess it was inevitable.

We spoke of it briefly then headed to bed.  It'd been a long long day.  As we crawled into our flannel sheets Ian's face was still awash with grief.  "There is too much evil in this world."  and I, without thinking, nuzzled into his neck and said "but there's so much good too".

It may be cliche.  That in the wake of a tragedy we don't really need a pollyana.  We need time to grieve, blame even, attempt to make sense of the senseless.  But yesterday I did see so much extraordinary good.  I saw scientists and researchers striving every day to cure horrible diseases and ailments.  I saw people who dedicate their lives to being good and kind and useful.  I saw a generation of people calling for change, so hopeful and determined.

This morning Ian and I both avoided the news.  Any developments in the story won't change what happened.  In lieu of reading the endless updates I watched a brief clip of Fred Rogers speaking to parents about how to talk to children about a tragedy.  He said that most times, children just want their fears heard.  Then it is our job to assure them that we are taking the best care possible of them.  The message was so simple, but put even me at ease.

There is so much unknown in this life, so much out of my, our, control.  It pains me to have to let that go, to focus on what I can do for certain, which is to keep my girls safe as best as I can, to show them the good in this world, while keeping them smart about dangers.  To love them to pieces in each moment because life is so so precious.

I had hoped to keep Ian's PhD and this tragedy separate on here, but perhaps it's fitting that they find themselves intertwined.  One of the best days for our family in the last 5.5 years was also one of the worst in our country's recent history.

Our little family is moving forward, excited about the year ahead, and so thankful for well earned accomplishments, and all of our blessings.  It is with these thoughts that I try to move forward, with the hope and knowledge that even with evil present, there is so much light and hope and good all around us.

Peace to you all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great Week

I had every intention of using this hour and a half of mine WELL this morning.  I came home and got all set up with my second tiny cup of coffee, leftover scone from yesterday and some embroidery in desperate need of finishing.  Then, I sunk into this deep double chair and decided any "work" could wait, and what I need most this morning is to just sit and waste a little time.

This week has been so good, SO full.  I've been feeling amazing.  The only real indication of this little banana sized person I'm carrying around are the many kicks and tight shirts.  I have energy and stamina and motivation and patience.  I'm soaking it in while I can.

Then last night while we took our last bites of tuna pasta Ian and I both glanced at each other.  We need a night off.  

To stop and think rationally about the last 6 months of our lives is to acknowledge all the craziness.  The late nights and early mornings, long long days in between and two little girls who are thriving and growing, not ever knowing how tired and worn out their parents are.

Ok, perhaps they're a little worn out too

So we took a night off.  I watched some half hour show WITHOUT knitting or needlepoint on my lap, then went to bed at 9.  Ian went over his talk once in the basement then joined me for early slumber.  We both slept so deep and long that the girls' arousal at 7 seemed shockingly early.

I find myself still in the "off" mode.  My body and mind feel tired.  Still, there is much to do and lots of fun to have.  My overwhelming emotions right now are contentment and thankfulness.  Tomorrow my boy defends his research for the final time and I'll get to be there to hear him speak on his expertise.  We celebrate tomorrow night just us two and this weekend?  Well, I see lots of deep sighs and happy grins in our future. Oh, and of course lots of "hey they Dr. Vaagenes." "How are you Dr. Vaagenes?" "Can I get you anything Dr. Vaagenes?" Because that long awaited title is too fun not to overuse.

Then next week we pack up and ship out for the holidays.  My delight and joy in making every single thing we're giving is overwhelmingly wonderful to me.  That I've planned and worked hard enough that this last week can also be filled with lots of "normal" and fun?  Amazing, and VERY unexpected.

Thankfully there's been lots of normal in our days lately, woven in with the festivities and extraordinary fun.  This time of life for our little family is so special and so filled with change and emotion.  I know I'll always look back on it with great fondness.

crafting for the girls' advent stockings, one of my new favorite nighttime activities

decorating an edible christmas wreath (that lasted all of 12 hours)

helping daddy with his own elving, a little circuit lesson thrown in for fun

elf hats and kittens on auntie sonya's phone

indoor rollerskate practice

post jammie walk smiles

post jammie walk cocoa and tree smiles

mama's little helpers, excited about a new project

all ready for school, but first?  a little fun by the tree

Ah, this tired.  It's a good one.  A well deserved, contented kind of tired.  I've had such a wonderful week with the girls.  They are so big and delightful my heart bursts nearly every moment.  I can't wait to celebrate my boy's PhD tomorrow, to spend the weekend sewing final seams and wrapping wrapping away.  I am so excited for next week.  Christmas parties and birthday celebrations for my girls, a viewing of our newest little one for the first time, then a long joyous trip north to celebrate my favorite time of the year.

I feel like I need to be pinched.  So much joy.

in case you wonder how I'm able to get things done... 

why, I'm just blessed with two little girls...

who are SO very good at keeping themselves entertained :o).

I hope you're all having a great week!  We sure are.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Cost Of Christmas

This happens almost every year.  Just as I start seeing uber organized parents/people proclaim "all done with shopping!  Presents all wrapped! Time to sit back and enjoy the season!" I go into full panic mode.

It's not really that I have so much left to do.  Plotted out and evenly spaced in the 2+ weeks I have left it all seems very manageable.  But then there's the kids, and the house, and this baby I'm growing and well, it's all feeling like a bit much.

So last night, half to motivate me, half out of sheer curiosity I decided to determine how much this "making stuff" for Christmas is saving us this year.

I started with last year.  Oh boy.  Even though I already knew the number it was shocking to see it again.  And it's not really like we went overboard.  20+ family members, a husband, two kids.  Christmas cost us a LOT.  Then add printed Christmas cards, a fresh tree, a few new sparkly duds for the occasion, and all that butter for delicious baking?  you've got yourself one ginormous splurge.  Oh and lets not forget the cost of wrapping all these gifts.  These things matter.

So this year I was really excited about the prospect of saving lots while still maintaining that awe of the holiday.  I still wanted gifts to be good and wanted, delicious food and fun new clothes.  But I'm not naive to the costs of crafting.  Have you ever splurged at michaels?  bought yards and yards of fabric and notions at one time?  It's EXPENSIVE.  Even with coupons and discounts we're talking lots and lots of money.

I won't lie, it hasn't been easy.  While there have been times where I'll splurge on some really nice fabric for the girls, or go buy a few notions at our local fabric store, REALLY saving money by making things takes a lot of planning, and patience.

But apparently all that work paid off.  Because this year?  Our Christmas grand total is around $400 (less than half of what we spent last year).  And this INCLUDES that amazing dollhouse, furnished with goki wooden furniture and custom handmade dollhouse dolls. (the dollhouse has since gone a bit up in price, we paid $80 plus $15 shipping and I got the furniture on a cyber monday sale for over half off).  Our average spent per person plunged from $20 to about $5, with some gifts coming out FREE thanks to my well stocked fabric closet.

And as for those splurges?  I'm only human.  But all this savings makes those cute new outfits for the girls worth it (I can't recall the last time I shopped at a retail store for clothes for the girls), and makes a few new hardback books from our local shop possible.

So just as I was starting to proclaim I'll never do this again!  This is too much work!  WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?! My faith and motivation have been fully restored.  Plus?  I'm REALLY excited about everything I'm making.  And can't wait to share once the gifts have been opened. 

So, the cost of Christmas?  Not really so much this year.  Lots of time and love surely, but isn't that really what it's all about? and in my humble opinion? makes for the best and most meaningful holiday.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Recipes, Planning and Feeling a Little Bit Pregnant

This morning I joined a moms board on babycenter, for the first time, ever.  For whatever reason I never really got into the online pregnancy/mom community before.  I still don't know that I will do much with it other than check into the homebirthing/moms due in Aril 2013 group every now and again.  For now it's nice to be reminded that I'm not alone.  That as wonderful and blessings-ful as pregnancy is it's also really hard, and painful.

After my run yesterday I was flying high.  Every time I set out to run I wonder "will this be my last until the baby comes?" " is THIS the time I wet my pants?"  Haha, thankfully yesterday was neither of those.  It was great.  After getting home and doing some fun stretching and arm dips and squats and sit ups with Ainsley I still felt good.  Then last night and this morning?  SO INCREDIBLY SORE.  I even took some tylenol this morning hoping to alleviate some of the pain in my lower abs and groin.  This round ligament pain is no joke.  Toting the girls to and from activities all morning plus hauling groceries and 12 dozen cookies around town?  double, no triple, no joke.  I'm beat.

Last night I whined a bit to Ian.  "I'm sore.  I FEEL pregnant."  "well, that's good right?  the feeling pregnant part?"  Yeah yeah I guess so.  But it doesn't mean it's not hard to always feel a bit off kilter.  Sure the kicks and pokes from our little one will always remain wonderous.  But the not sleeping on my tummy, no wine when I REALLY REALLY want it, terribly sore mid-lower section of everything on my body, growing bigger and bigger AGAIN?  I think it's ok to be whiny about that stuff every now again.

So I whined.  I took my tylenol.  I exploded a bit to the girls in the car this morning that MOMMY IS PREGNANT! AND TIRED! AND SORE! AND YOU NEED TO BE GOOD HELPERS!  Sooo effective right?

They've actually be great, especially Ainsley.  She is such a good big sister, I really couldn't ask for more.  And sweet Louise?  Well she's pretty great too, but she's two and likes being the baby and I'm trying to let her be one while she still can.

But now onto the fun stuff!

It's been a while since I've shared a meal plan, mainly because there hasn't been one (other than Thanksgiving week) in quite a while.  Cooking is still really hard for me and rather than fight it I'm just letting it go.  This is when I'm thankful that i've been so good on our food budget for so long.  That if we have a week (or 4) when we eat take out or freezer meals more than homemade we're all going to live and so our our pocketbooks.  But the bug still does itch me occasionally and this past week it was full force and I just have to share some new great meals.

Jamie Oliver's Overnight Slow Roasted Pork

This is the best thing I've made in a very very long time.  It was SO easy, SO cheap ($12 for that 7 lb pork butt!) and left us with SO many leftovers that we ate it all weekend and still have more than enough to make some BBQ pork sandwiches on some brioche buns tonight (because once you've had brioche, you can't go back).

one 11-12 pound bone in pork shoulder (this is a HUGE piece of meat and I'm told a special order size, I found a 7lb pork butt (apparently the same thing?) and it worked wonderfully with a half recipe

1 large fennel bulb trimmed and roughly chopped
4 big carrots peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 big onions, peeled and roughly chopped
a big bunch of fresh thyme

2 T. fennel seeds
1 T. kosher salt

1 bottle white wine

crush the fennel and salt and rub all over the pork, place veggies and thyme in a big roaster and place the pork on top

Roast on the highest temp on your oven for a half hour or so, until the pork starts to brown, then cover and roast at 250 for 9-12 hours (I did 6 for our 7 lb butt).  In the last hour pour the wine in and baste the pork a few times with the delicious sauce.  When the pork is pull apart fabulous, remove it from the pan and let it rest covered in foil.  Strain out the veggies and reserve the delicious sauce.  I served this with sauteed spinach, the veggies and mashed potatoes.  Its was AMAZING.

The other amazing recipe I made this weekend was Jamie Oliver's Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni.

I've made lots of filled pastas and this one was my favorite so far.  Pretty easy and SO good and again, made lots.  I did make a bechemel in lieu of the creme fraiche sauce because I couldn't find that at the store we went to (and I love a good bechemel).

So for food this week I'm relying heavily on all the leftovers.  Pork sandwiches with corn tonight and the rest of the cannelloni at some point later this week.  I found some frozen pierogies at the new store we tried last week and am excited to try those for the first time.  I'm also going to try out a wild rice meatloaf recipe after seeing one on the menu at a restaurant we're planning on trying in Duluth.  I'll let you know if it's any good!  I'm also going to make a basic margherita pizza with the amazing leftover mozzarella from the canneloni.  It's the best I've ever had.  I'm excited for the first time in a LONG time for the food this week.  Yay!

And about that trip to Duluth?  I am SO excited.  I'd originally set out to plan a ski trip for Ian as a little You're Amazing!  you have your PhD! present.  Then dates didn't work out with his new job and I had to reboot.  Slowly the idea formed in my head.  A couple of night, just us, somewhere we could drive to from our parents houses over the holidays where our girls would be taken care of so we could just relax and unwind and enjoy being us two for the first time in  4 years.  The more I plan the more excited I get.  We're staying in Canal Park, planning on eating pretty much the whole time we're there to get in on all the amazing food we hear is there, and the rest of the time?  I don't even care.  My boy and peace and quiet?  Ah.  I can't wait.

And lastly, some more Christmas planning.  The girls and I made some wrapping paper this afternoon.  Cookie cutter stamps, potato stamps, wine corks as stamps, q tips as paint brushes.  They had a blast.  I think it turned out super cute.  Now how to fill the rest of the gigantic butcher block roll?  Oh boy.

::making the "stamps"::

::Louise worked so hard on that tiny corner of paper, I'll have to find a way to make it take center stage on a gift::

::post crafting, eating oranges and reading books on the couch (and yes Louise is naked, has been for nearly two straight days, we're in potty training mode over here, it's going so well!)::

::so many uses for those art clips::

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Spirit

The Christmas Spirit has infused our little family and I'm soaking in every drop.

::the girls making "christmas cookies" out of playdough::

::she really was a happy little reindeer until she saw my camera::

::watching their Santa videos over and over (thanks again Auntie Sonya!)::

::double gingerbread houses, hmm, I wonder who's has all that candy missing from the eaves?::

While keeping up with old traditions, we're finding some new ones too.

:: the new  thrifted Find, wooden candle carousel just in time for the holidays::

First morning of the calendar advent.  This morning found that first stocking heavy with two wooden stamps (thrifted for 25 cents each).  Just the thing to get December started right.

::Ainsley promptly switched their stamps. 
"Oh Louise! here!  you get to have my froggy stamp!"  
"Oh thank you Asee!" 
"Mommy, you know what?  the owl stamp really is so much better."  
Ah, the power of negotiation.::

::Louise didn't seem to mind::

::tiny lit up houses all over the house, compliments of Ainsley::

I am so excited about the new stocking garland tradition.  It's nothing fancy.  24 painfully simple felt and sweater stockings hung from a red cotton ribbon with red ric rac.  It's presence in our home is cheerful and homey and I'm looking forward to getting creative with the treats to fill each day for my girls (temporary tattoos and stencils, candy cane shaped pencils and real candy canes, tiny knitted treasures, coupons for fun outings and special crafts with's going to be grand!)

But what I am loving most?  That my whole family is in this with me.  Louise joined me at the art board for sharpie board book fun (ooh I'm excited about this project of mine!), Ainsley pulled out her crosstitch after months hiding in the yarn bin, even Ian was working away, pulling apart electronics for parts for a bit of his own Christmas magic.  It was a wonderful afternoon.

And ah, the projects.

::the new favorite carol, for both big and little hands::

There is of course still lots to do.  So much in the works and patiently waiting in not so neat piles.  But bit by bit it's getting done, with each stitch, slip of the needle, tread of the peddle, yard of fabric, and swipe of glue.

I look forward to this exact time every year.  There is never a time so filled to the brim.  The anticipation, the togetherness, the making and the joy.  It's all so saturated and huge and wonderful.

Happy December to you all!