Monday, February 24, 2014

Faux Spring (+ more recipes)

Reading: I'm now 126 pages into Wilkie Collins The Woman in White (out of 627 small print pages). It's got just enough thrill to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but not too much that I can't sleep at night. :)
Watching: Nothing, I've been too busy doing some editing this weekend and this book ^^^ is just too good!
Listening to: Bay Area Worship Song Rotation (bayareaworship) on Spotify. This is our church's playlist of whatever songs we're singing. My favorite on here right now is For the Sake of the World. We just sang it while visiting our church in Pennsylvania too.
Can't get off my mind: Wellies. With this thaw and all the mud, rain boots are on my mind. Mine are disintegrating, Jack's have a huge crack in them, and Lia is squeezing her toes into an old camo pair of Jude's. So my goal this month is to get us all a good deal on new boots so we can go on plenty of woods walks!------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello, heat wave!  The thermometer has been skimming 60 degrees all weekend and we're welcoming the sunshine with open arms!  There are still a few patches of snow in the yard.  But we actually had the windows and doors open yesterday.  I just love that fresh air smell in the house!

A tiny snowball!
On Friday I woke up relieved that we had nowhere to go -- a bona fide home day.  Two hours into that day I was dying to get my four kids back OUT!  So we packed a lunch, grabbed some "treat drinks" at Seven Eleven and headed to "The Meadow" in hopes of finding a semi-dry place to run.

It was overcast and dreary but warm enough that my boys felt comfortable refusing coats. :)  And we walked, and walked, and walked ... until the baby couldn't keep her eyes open anymore and Lia couldn't lift her legs another step.

What will I do when I no longer have sleeping babies to capture?!?
At one point a group of five (foreigner) adults walked by.  The one man pointed to my brood and said "All you?"  "Yes, they're all mine" I responded with a smile.  And then he gave me a round of applause.

I love when strangers take joy in my [somewhat] large family.  Although I wasn't feeling much like clapping when, about 30 minutes later, Jude decided to sprint down the path, around the bend, and completely out of sight.  So I start pushing the stroller faster to catch-up, and Lia starts pounding the pavement slower and whining that she's tired.  I sent Jack ahead to find Jude, right about the time a man walking all alone passed us, trekked back to the 2-year-old, hiked her up on my hip, and tried to push us all up the hill and around the bend to find the boys.  But they're nowhere in sight.  We round the next bend, me out of breath, Julia uncomfortable, Joci thankfully still sleeping.  Still no boys.  Meanwhile, I'm praying that the man that just passed us is simply a kind stranger and not some child-snatching creep.  And then I have to be the crazy mom yelling J names at the top of my lungs, holding a toddler on one hip and using the other hip to push a stroller as fast as I can.

In which we "read" - d-o-g w-a-s-t-e b-a-g-s.
It's situations like this where I realize having a large family really does have its drawbacks... and how vulnerable I am when I try to take all four of my kids out on my own.

No worries though.  I reached the top of the last crest, rounded the final bend, and saw both my boys sitting on the bench by the car just as the stranger walked by with a wave.  Evidently they were too engrossed in the melting snow to respond to my yelling.  Oh, motherhood!

She was still sleeping when we got home, and stayed asleep for all of 3 hours!!
It may be a while before I work up the courage to do another walk in the park.  Which is fine, because the colder temperatures are making their way back to Maryland and we're enjoying a cozy, quiet Monday with nothing to do but watch the dump truck refresh our firewood stash!

Here's some of the food we enjoyed the last week of January!

Fresh Cranberry Scones
These are my go-to scones.  They always turn out flaky and delicious!  I like to buy up a bunch of cranberries when they're in season (and on sale) and then keep them in the freezer for when the mood strikes ... or these scones.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Bread
I love The Pioneer Woman's style of food-blogging - the step-by-step instructions, minute-by-minute pictures, and laugh-out-loud writing.  I just wish her recipes were a tad bit healthier.  But she's generally my source for back-to-basic cooking.  This was my first attempt at cinnamon raisin bread.  I followed this recipe, but used half whole-wheat flour instead of all white.  And raisins too.

Normally we make this with all purple cabbage, but I only had green on hand this time.  It's so much prettier with purple!
Crunchy Cashew Thai Quinoa Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing
I LOVE this salad.  Jon's a big fan too. We've made it a few times this year and it's caused me to discover a newfound love of Thai food.  Fun fact about my homemade peanut butter that I used in this: the blender ate my spatula in the middle of making it.  So I'm now picking out tiny rubber bits from my most recent batch.  Thankfully, it did not appear to impact the deliciousness of this salad!

French Dip Sandwiches, Roasted Carrots, Salad, Peanut Butter Pie
It's baby season in our MOPS group!  I made a big batch of these in the Crock-Pot one snowy day and split it between our family and a new mama's.  I packed up the filling along with some rolls, provolone cheese, an extra container of sauce, side salad, and roasted carrots (baby carrots + olive oil + oregano --> bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so).  My mom has a recipe for peanut butter pie that is my favorite!  I've been craving it and figured this was a good excuse to make it.  I messed up the crust, though, during pre-baking.  So this ended up being a "deconstructed peanut butter pie" with crumbled pie crust on the bottom, followed by a peanut butter/confectioner's sugar crumble, homemade vanilla pudding, and whipped cream.  At least it still tasted the same!

Teriyaki Chicken Pizza
I wish I would have taken a picture of this because the one on All Recipes simply does not do it justice!  This was a winner with the whole family, I'm sure the pineapple helped.  I made my own pizza dough earlier and had it in the freezer for a quick dinner!

Vegetable Pot Pie -- I did not trim the crust because crust is my favorite. :)
Vegetable Pot Pie
Way back when I was pregnant with Julia, we took a tour of the Birth Center.  And that's where I met fellow mama and Navy wife, Sarah.  I only knew Sarah and her family a few months before they moved to Japan, but the second time I ever saw her was when she brought us a meal after Julia was born - this delicious pot pie!  It's the perfect winter comfort food!  I didn't follow this recipe exactly -- I didn't have Pernod or saffron threads, and I also made a whole wheat pie crust.  There were so many veggies leftover that I made a second pie and froze it for another military friend that is getting ready to move.  I think this pot pie is totally for spreading love and paying it forward!

Cheddar Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms [FAIL]
Oh, these were terrible, just terrible.  Even thinking about them makes me shudder.  My poor children.  After choking down my portion I cleared their plates and gave them cold cereal instead.  To be fair, I don't think it was the recipe's fault, but perhaps I just did it wrong.  I've been told the key to portobellos is to caramelize them.  So I won't write the idea of a mushroom burger off, it just might be a while before I work up the nerve to try them again!

Cuban-Style Pork Roast
Black Beans and Rice
Mango and Avocado Salad
Dulce de Leche
Family favorite here folks!!  We had friends over for dinner (I'll try to cut back on words starting with "F" now) and decided to go with a Cuban theme.  I did not have high hopes for this recipe the first time I read it, but trust me, it is soooo GOOD!  And since it's in the Crock-Pot, low maintenance too! Which means more visiting with guests!  We served it up with the black beans and rice - great for kids and for soaking up the pork juices.  This was our first time trying the mango salad and we'll definitely be having it again!  Jack requests mangoes from the grocery store every week now!
My friend, Eileen, brought dessert - homemade dulce de leche from Smitten Kitchen. I did not make it myself, but I did eat it, and can attest to it's wonderfulness!

Meatloaf (made with Oatmeal) and Quinoa Spinach Mac and Cheese
This is my favorite meatloaf recipe.  You know who else loves a loaf?  Julia.  And since she doesn't like much of anything these days, I knew we were due for this meal.  Instead of a "loaf", I form mine into eight balls because I love a crispy outer edge.
This is my healthy substitute for mac 'n cheese.  The crispy breadcrumb topping does the trick!  As a side note, I have not idea what "Panko" breadcrumbs are, but I always see them in recipes.  I like to take leftover bread, toast it, throw it in the blender, and then keep it in a container in the freezer for any recipe that calls for breadcrumbs.  I don't know if that's "Panko" but, so far, it's worked just fine!

Whole-Chicken in the Crock-Pot and Asian-Style Cobb Salad
Everyone once in a while, I make this whole chicken in the Crock-Pot.  I use some of the meat for a meal and freeze the rest.
In our family, the key to salads is letting the kids make their own.  I just know I have to make extra of their favorite ingredients.  In this case, we quadrupled the oranges!

Overnight Chicken Stock in the Crock-Pot and Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
After making Whole Chicken in the Crock-Pot, I take the leftover bones and "stuff", throw in some veggies and herbs, and let it cook overnight again for homemade chicken stock. The next morning we wake up to the smell of chicken soup.  I freeze it in one-cup portions to use for cooking rice or quinoa, and in any other recipe that calls for chicken brothe.  And especially for homemade chicken noodle soup!  We made this one with homemade whole-wheat noodles, lots and lots of noodles for the kids' sake!

Sante Fe Turkey Stuffed Peppers
Saw these on a friend's Facebook wall and they were really yummy!  Joci was having a tough day, so I made them entirely with a child strapped to my chest.  I did not pour water in the bottom of the dish because I didn't want them to get soggy.  All in all, it was a nice twist on traditional stuffed peppers!

Copycat Chipotle Barbacoa Tacos
Cilantro Lime Rice
Vegetarian Black Beans
Mild Tomato Salsa
Corn Salsa
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Oh friends, am I sharing a secret with you!  Okay, not really, since it's all over the internet and it's not my secret, but still -- copycat Chipotle!  This is exactly what I order when we go to the restaurant - barbacoa tacos with black beans, two kinds of salsa, lettuce and cheese.  I would get the guacamole too but I'm too cheap to pay extra.  We like to make this meal for guests.  In this case, I was bringing another MOPS mama dinner.  This almost tastes like the real thing.  But I must admit, there is one advantage that Chipotle has over these recipes and that is no prep and no clean-up.  This meal takes a lot of time, which is why we reserve it for special occasions!
And I'm including the peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies because I have NEVER made a good chocolate chip cookie.  Mine always turn out thin and crispy.  But these, these actually came out just right.  And to celebrate that I thought I'd post them here!

One last recipe: hummus for when we hosted our small group.  I've been trying to perfect my hummus recipe for almost as long as I've been married.  Jon and I love Sabra hummus, so that has been my goal.  But I've never been able to get the texture just right.  This time, I may just have it.  The secret is to cook and peel the garbanzo beans.  Unfortunately, I think the flavor was lacking.  So it'll be back to the drawing board.  But I feel like we're getting one step closer.  And lastly, if you have time, check out more of the Desert Candy blog.  She's an ex-pat living in the Middle East and, well, she just makes Middle Eastern cuisine look like something I'll have to start adding to our menu!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Like waves in the ocean

Reading: Wilkie Collins The Woman in White - The world's first English detective novel by a phenomenal author! I'm only about two pages in so I can't attest to the actual story. :)
Watching: I must confess, I hardly watched a moment of the Olympics. I feel so unpatriotic. What I have been watching is When Calls the Heart, a television series based on the books by Janette Oke, although I've read the books (a long time ago) and the shows don't seem to have the same storyline. It's a Hallmark show, which means it's a tad cheesy. But when you're in the middle of a heavy dose of reality, cheesy isn't so bad.
Listening to: In Reverence by David Tolk ... it kinds makes me cry.
You know when you're swimming in the ocean and a huge wave comes along and knocks you under? You're stuck there, under the surface, bubbles roaring in your ear, salt water gushing up your nose.  It's not even scary, since it's happened so many times before.  You know that if you just let go, don't fight it, that eventually you'll be tossed onto the warm sand under a golden sun.  But goodness, how those few seconds between "wave" and "beach" can seem like an eternity!  Well, that's where I'm at now.

First of all, thank you SO INCREDIBLY MUCH for all your comments, texts, emails, calls and hugs.    The difference between where I'm at now and where I was a week ago is huge.  Your encouragement played a large part in that.  Someday I'm going to share it all with my girl and say, "Look, just LOOK at all the people that love you and are cheering you on!"

I started this blog over six years ago (!!!) with the intention of using it as a way to keep our friends and family updated on our little lives.  As a military family, there's just no way we can call/email every single one of our favorite people, especially when that number keeps growing every year and with every move.  But I realize that more than just friends read this blog.  And I also realize that the same stories I'm sharing with our parents in this space, I'm also sharing with people I've never even met, let alone know.  So sometimes I wonder if I say too much, or did I bring it up too soon ... And there's no right answer.  For some people, silence is golden.  For others, sharing is caring.  Obviously, I fall in to the second camp.

Weird week. No coats, but still lots of snow.

Social media - Facebook, blogging, Instagram, Twitter - can sometimes get a bad rap for increasing the quantity of our relationships, while decreasing the quality.  We can now move in some very shallow networks.  And sure, there are negatives to that sort of lifestyle.  But as a military spouse who moves every few years, and as a mama who spends most of the day within these four walls surrounded by my own four little ones, social media is often the only socialization I get.

I'm not the only one who likes my phone ...
I felt a little like the infamous "iPhone mom" these past few days - responding to a text while my kids raid the treat rack in the Target checkout, snagging a few extra minutes in the preschool parking lot to check Facebook, and even reading Google articles while my kids throw food at the dinner table ... but when your daughter gets diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and 12 hours later you find out the Coast Guard wants to move you 400 miles from your first "real" house, the iPhone starts to look a lot more like a life preserver.  So friends, thanks for clinging to me.

Building snow forts with Uncle Micah ...

Pennsylvania has better snow than Maryland!

And snow is even more fun when you're sharing it with cousins!
We made it back to Pennsylvania this weekend for a handful of family birthday celebrations.  As usual, the whole time we're packing and the entire snowy drive up there, we are regretting our decision.  But once we arrive, it's always good.  Because as much as I love social media, at the end of the day you just can't beat a real hug.  And between both our families and our church friends, Joci got her fair share of those! By the time we left on Monday, I was feeling so much more at peace - about Joci, about our next move, about whatever may happen.

Chilling out with the birthday boy!
And the Little Miss is doing just fine.  She's getting over her cold and I'm getting over worrying about her every rattled breath.  She's gone from waking three times at night to only two.  I don't mind getting up to feed her at all.  But I do mind not being able to put her back to sleep.  It doesn't matter how long or how hard she's been sleeping in my arms, the minute I lay her down she's awake and protesting.

It's exhausting, and rather than fall asleep in the rocking chair, I usually put her in bed with us.  And I love sleeping next to her, I really do.  She's so sweet and loves to be close.  She's asleep in seconds and any time she stirs in the night she just lifts her chin or sticks out her arm until she finds me and then settles right back down again.  I know this because I'm awake most of the time.  Which is why I don't really like having her in bed with us.  I would say it's uncomfortable too, but thanks to my postpartum carpal tunnel, I'm mostly numb at night anyway.

Naps were tough this week too.  Of course she WOULD fall asleep on me right about the time I desperately need to use the bathroom ...
 This week has been a good distraction.  Unpacking and laundry.  Preschool and MOPS.  Snow delays and 60 degree weather.  Real life taking our attention away from reality.  ... And no phone calls from the detailer about the big "move."


Jack loves watching men's gymnastics on YouTube.  We use the 2012 London Olympics promo as a reward for good behavior. ;)

"Mom, take a picture of me under the chair holding this ball, and Jude on top of the chair ... did you get it?  Did you get it, mom?"
We didn't see this wave coming, but we know how to tuck and roll.  We'll soon have our feet on the sand again.  Actually, solid rock would be much more preferable, but in this thing called "military life," sand is the best you can ask for!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


We're snowed in for Valentines' Day!  And I don't mind a bit.  Lighting a fire, baking lots of goodies, snuggling close ... we're feeling the love!  The only downfall is the boys' Valentines' party at school was postponed.  So we'll have to wait a few more days to trade preschooler love notes.

Free printable from + leftover glow sticks from trick-or-treating.
Hearts are everywhere this week.  We had heart egg-in-a-nest, heart toast for our tea party, and I never realized how many of my girls' clothes have hearts on them as well.

Heart egg in a nest.

Tea and heart toast.
Heart scavenger hunting courtesy of Marmie and Poppa's mail package!
Yes, hearts are especially on our mind this week because on Tuesday Joci was introduced to her cardiologist.  At her 6 month check-up in January, the pediatrician detected a heart murmur and referred us out for further investigation.  I wasn't too concerned.  I had Julia with me and she was running around, touching the computer, playing with the blood pressure cuff ... so I just said, yup, okay, we'll get that checked out.  She's healthy and growing and it's probably just her heart trying to catch up.  Plus Uncle Micah has had a heart murmur all his life, and it's not a big deal.

I had to bribe them to stand still a minute after church before rushing off to put on their "comfy clothes."
So we scheduled the appointment for a late afternoon in February when Jon would be able to stay with the other kids and Joci and I could get a little time to ourselves.  A lot of time actually--the appointment ended up being over two hours.  I mean, picture trying to get the blood pressure of a 6-month-old who is in to grabbing everything.  Thankfully, we had a cheerful nurse who obviously enjoyed kids and was absolutely smitten with our girl.  We were able to keep her distracted with tongue depressors for the EKG.  We went through a lot of tongue depressors that day.  And then next was the ultrasound.  Another great tech, who happened to have a child herself so she had the room all set up with a Baby Einstein video for Joci to watch during the sonogram.

Julia wanted in the picture.
Jocelyn wanted Julia out of the picture!
Joci was a rockstar. Thirty minutes of lying naked on an exam table with a stranger running a wand over your heart, neck, and belly.  Thirty minutes of being next to Mommy but not being held by her.  Thirty minutes of tongue depressors, playing with cords, and smearing fingers in jelly.  And only about 5 minutes of crying.

It all brought back vivid memories of my many meetings with an ultrasound.  The dark room, the smell of that jelly, and the "whoosh, whoosh, whoosh" of a baby's heartbeat.

Finally, the tech finished, I scooped my baby back up in my arms, and she did what she always does when she desperately wants to be held and Mama finally responds -- wraps her left hand around my arm, circles her right arm around my neck, grabbing a handful of skin with her nails, and buries her head in my shoulder.  And then we hung out in the examination room, went through every toy in my bag, a few more tongue depressors, nursed, and waited.  I could hear the tech talking to the doctor next door, but not what they were saying.  But it was certainly a lot.

Finally, the doctor came in to discuss Joci's  history.  How often she eats, does she take a bottle, has she ever had any other medical problems, what about other members of the family ... Then she started  talking about heart murmurs.  How many are "innocent" but others are the symptom of a more serious condition.  And that's when I started to realize the latter part of that statement was referring to my baby.

Joci has a hole in her heart.

The medical term for this is atrial septal defect. It means that the "wall" between the left and right atria of her heart did not completely close after birth as it should have done.  There are many different kinds of "holes-in-the-heart" but in Joci's case, as she grew and more blood started pumping through her body, the hole got bigger (there are small, moderate, and large holes and Joci's is "large.")  As the hole got bigger, more blood from the left atrium flowed into the right atrium, which increased the amount of blood flowing toward her lungs, which in turn caused the heart murmur.  In addition, this put more pressure on the right side of her heart, causing it to dilate.

[For visual learners, you can see a full diagram here.]

Watching the snow fall in wide-eyed wonder.
At this point, I'm still tracking with the cardiologist.  We have a few friends who were born with small holes in their hearts that closed on their own eventually.  This isn't anything I haven't heard of before.  But then the cardiologist says that Joci's condition will not improve on its own and that we will have to do something to close the hole off before it gets worse.  Thanks to modern medicine, there are two ways to do this:

(1) insert a catheter into her thigh through which to transfer a small clamp to her heart, shutting off the hole.  (I don't fully understand it, but it amazes me nonetheless!)  Or

(2) open-heart surgery.

Although both would require her going under anesthesia and staying overnight at the hospital, the first would be much less invasive.  We would certainly prefer the catheter but the cardiologist wasn't sure if she'd be a good candidate because of not having enough "tissue" on the left side of her heart.

I was doing okay up until this point.  Joci was pulling my hair, grabbing my face, and trying to give me kisses.  Meanwhile, I'm nodding my head, filing it all away to tell Jon later.  I didn't want to think about it.  I just wanted the facts and then to get home and process it all in peace and quiet.  But when the cardiologist started talked about anesthesia, and overnight hospital stays, and that I wouldn't be able to hold her for a little while afterwards, much less breastfeed for a day or two ... well, that's when it started to hit me.

So that cardiologist stopped talking, patted my knee, and said look Jocelyn.  She's still a healthy and happy baby. And she's right, despite being long overdue for a nap, Joci was her smiling, giggling self.  Nothing had changed, but everything was different.

We made it home, though I barely remember the drive.  She passed out before we even pulled out of the parking lot.   Naturally, Jon wanted to know how the appointment went as soon as I walked in the door.  But the other three kids were extra-excited to see me because it meant they could finally open their Valentine treats that Marmie and Poppa had sent.  So I shared bits and pieces of what the doctor had said in between screaming children and flying paper.  Because that's just the way our lives are right now.

The doctor would be meeting with the whole cardiology team on Friday and they would discuss Joci's case then.  We were to find out Friday night just when to expect the surgery to take place and whether or not she'd be a candidate for the catheter procedure.  It was a torturous 72 hours.

Overall, we're doing okay.  Joci was up most of the night on Tuesday with a fever and stuffy nose.  So she slept in our bed.  She hasn't been sleeping well all week actually.  It's starting to take its toll.  And I'm stuck in the middle of "don't want to create bad habits" and "I just got hit with such a heavy dose of reality that I never want to stop holding my baby."  While she has been symptom-free up to this point, one of the things they said to watch for was respiratory distress or difficulty breathing while nursing/doing strenuous tasks.  So, of course, I now think that any weird noise she makes means she's  not breathing.

On the plus side, it's easy to be distracted in this house.  Hours can go by without me even thinking about it.  But then we slip into the nursery to settle into the glider together and I'll start mulling it all over, trying to picture just what exactly it feels like to put your daughter's life in the hands of a surgeon.  It's hard.  I mean, when it comes to my babies I work so hard to stay out of hospitals, avoid medical interventions, to let them thrive off of breastmilk, never have to take a drop of medicine ... And to say that's going to change is quite the understatement.  But the worst, the absolute worst, thing in my mind is letting her go.  Sending her off to go through one of the most significant ordeals of her life and not even being there to hold her.  It absolutely crushes my mama-heart.  So we've had a few low moments over the past three days, and by "we" I really mean "me" because Joci hasn't a clue what's going on.  She just knows that all of a sudden Mommy and Daddy are hugging and kissing her just a wee bit more.  Eventually, instead of dwelling on my fears, I began using our nursing time to make a list of everything we're thankful for in the midst of all this:

  • We caught it early.  Many children don't find out they have ASD until they are older, some are even in their teens.  We're thankful for a good pediatrician that heard the murmur and had it looked in to.
  • That it's completely curable!  Heart defects are scary, and open-heart surgery is serious, but once the hole is patched she's considered "cured" and we won't have to worry about this ever again!  It also won't impact her life in any way, so she's free to play as many sports as she likes. :)
  • Joci's a healthy baby.  She's strong, the fact that her heart is working harder hasn't yet affected her growth, and we're not dealing with any other issues or diseases.  She should have a complete and fast recovery after surgery.
  • We currently live close to a great hospital.  Right now, we're working with the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Cardiology team.  I'm not sure it gets much better than that!  Furthermore, our military healthcare covers 100% of our medical costs.  I just can't imagine going through something like this with the added burden of finances.

Friday came and the cardiologist called earlier than expected, right at the same time that Joci was crying, Julia was whining for a snack, Jack was beating up on his brother, and Jude was not happy about it.  So I ran upstairs, through my room, to the bathroom, and locked two doors behind me.  Thankfully, it was a short conversation.  The team decided that Joci did not need surgery right away and that we should wait until she's a little older and bigger.  So we're to bring her back in this August to have her heart checked again to make sure the hole is not getting worse.  I suppose we'll find out what's next at that time, but for now, we're not looking at surgery for at least another year or so.  Also, the catheter interventionist thought that Joci may be able to have that procedure (rather than the open-heart surgery) which is excellent news!

I confess, I'm a mix of emotions.  On one hand, I'm grateful that she'll be a little older and being separated for hours on end won't be as big of a deal.  But on the other hand, she'll be much more aware as a toddler.  Also, I really just wanted to have this over and done with so we could move on.  I'm not looking forward to spending the next year or so with my daughter's health constantly in the back of my mind.  But I trust that the doctors know what's best.

All that said, we do have a few prayer requests for our sweet, little girl:

  • Complete healing.  I believe that God is the Great Physician.  He formed Joci in my womb and he can continue to form her out of it.  I'm praying that when she has her next appointment in six months that the hole will be completely gone!
  • I also know that God can work miracles through people.  The first infant heart surgery took place in 1944.  If we were living more than 70 years ago, there would have been no cure for my girl.  So I'm thankful for the miracles of modern medicine.  If it is God's plan that we walk through this, I'm praying for wisdom for the doctors--especially for decisions regarding the type of procedure and when it should take place.
  • That Joci, and the rest of our family, would be a blessing to the doctors and other hospital staff and a testimony of God's love and grace.
  • For peace for our home.  That there would be no fear or anxiety during these next few months of waiting.
  • And finally, for our upcoming orders.  We are literally in the "we should hear any minute now" phase of transfer season.  We want what's best for Jon's job, what's best for our family, and what's best for Joci.  We're considered "special needs" at this time, but we have no idea just how exactly that will impact our next move (or "not move").  I would say the waiting is tough, but as long as I don't know I can pretend it's not going to happen. :)

I'll close now.  Thank you for indulging me.  And thank you, in advance, for your prayers and support.  Valentines' Day 2014 will certainly hold new significance now for our family and our little heart baby!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winter Blues (+ a few more recipes)

Reading:  Finished Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck.  In the middle of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and skimming through/taking notes on Growing Kids God's Way.
Watching: Well, now that Sherlock is over, I've turned to Britain's fabulous Endeavour.  Creepy murder mysteries aside, I can't get enough of the 60's costumes, period props and stunning views of my beloved Oxford!!
Listening to: Meredith Andrews Not for a Moment -- did you know she had her second baby in the bathroom almost a year ago?!?  As a fellow "didn't make it in time" birther, this song takes on extra-special meaning for me.  Also, while not a recommendation, I did try to listen to Pandora's Love Song station yesterday to get amped up for the holiday.  Didn't do it for me.  Instead, I felt like I was trapped at senior prom with a bad DJ.
Not much to report here.  You know it's been a slow week when you pop your SD card into the computer and only four new photos appear.  The cold is starting to get to me.  All the storms in our forecast ended up being rain or ice, which is absolutely no fun at all.  Especially when you're running behind for preschool, get four kids out to the door, and realize the minivan doors are frozen shut.

I delayed hanging the snowflakes this year because there was so much natural beauty outside ... but not anymore!
Naturally, all this time indoors has resulted in just a few more messes.  In one morning alone, the three oldest played train, ship, airplane, babies, restaurant, and Legos ... lots and lots of Legos.  I really like Legos myself.  I just hate when they ask me to build them something, and then I can't quit until it's finished... no small feat when dealing with a box of thousands and thousands of pieces.

This girl LOVES Legos too!  Her favorite place to sit is right next to the box so she can run her hand through all the pieces, while simultaneously chewing on another one of course.
The boys' newest activity is "booby traps."  They were setting them up for Julia yesterday.  I tried to have a serious discussion about the difference between having "fun" and intentionally trying to hurt someone.  It ended up with Jack getting mad that I had dismantled all his laundry room booby traps (hello, do you want me to wash your clothes, kids?).  He then told me that he was going to set 50 booby traps for me in the laundry room and I wasn't allowed to come in.  And to ensure that, he set to work making a sign.  So he asked me how to spell "No grown-ups allowed."  I just couldn't resist...

But then I felt bad and, finding the situation entirely more humorous than anything else going on that day, I gave him the correct information.  I have no idea why it's written backwards.  His first three attempts were written correctly.  Must be practicing his Hebrew.  I'm leaving the sign there for now because it makes me feel all rebellious every time I do another load of laundry.

Of course, after all this time confined together in the house, I was practically giddy when Jude ASKED to go outside yesterday.  And not wanting to be left without his "best buddy", Jack was right behind him.  And Lia is in this entertaining stage where she just wants to do what everyone else around her is doing.  So I had a lovely moment in the afternoon of peace and quiet while my older ones played in a half-frozen sandbox (or so I thought.)  I thought I heard water running but assured myself, certainly not!  I sneaked into the laundry room (ignoring Jack's sign) and I heard some voices outside the lower-level door.  When I peaked out the curtain, there was Jude, face-down at the bottom of the outside steps, pants around his ankles, presumably peeing down the drain.  But that wasn't the worst of it.  When he stood up, I saw he was soaked up to his armpits.  Turns out, that noise was the outdoor spigot and Jude had been playing in a homemade fountain.

She's not really drinking, just chewing.
He couldn't understand why I made him change out of his wet clothes in 37 degree weather.  And he was thoroughly upset when I made him take off his "home pants" in the middle of the day.  Boys!

That's a cracker on her chin.  She doesn't eat them, just gnaws on them and lets the crumbs fall all over her shirt.
Seriously though, the boys are not my biggest issue.  It's just that one girl, in the throes of her 2's, the one that empties all my drawers, floods my bathrooms, crawls on the counter to dump a box of sprinkles on her scone, empties my food dye containers into her palms, and SCREAMS "hold you!! hold you!!!" while lying on the floor several times a day.

You know it's bad when she refuses to look at me.
Speaking of sprinkles and dye, let's move on to the latest meal plans.  Actually, no.  These aren't the latest after all.  I think these are from back in January.  No matter!

Yogurt Molasses Bread 
I came across this recipe while scanning Food52 during one of my many nursing marathons. It struck me as odd, so of course I had to try it.  I've never had anything like it, and I mean that in a good way!  I thoroughly enjoyed it but I'm not so sure the kids were into it.  And I don't even think Jon ate a piece.  Which meant a lot of leftovers that didn't get consumed.  I'd make this again when company comes, or at least, company with eclectic taste.

Ricotta Raspberry Scones 
After the previous week's stuffed shells, I had some leftover ricotta to use up.  I did have a little on the side with my molasses bread, but the rest went into these scones.  They're from Smitten Kitchen, need I say more?  Okay, if you insist.  These were delicious.  Quite possibly the best scones I've ever made.  But that's not saying much.  My scone-making abilities rank right up there with my crust rolling skills. As a side note:  I make my own ricotta.  So easy.  Just Google homemade ricotta and choose one of the many recipes!

Whole Wheat Honey Pecan Pumpkin Muffins 
I'm always drawn to recipes that spell out just about every ingredient in their title.  Okay, not really.  These have been a family favorite for a few years now.  My mama sent down some pumpkin for my freezer after Christmas so these get made regularly in our house!  I don't do raisins, because I hate raisins in baked goods, and I cut back on the sugar a tad.  Funny how "sugar" never makes it in a recipe title.  Well, except for sugar cookies.  I digress.

One Pot Mac n Cheese 
This recipe was shared with me by my friend Jen.  We met during our last duty-station.  (Jen, you're my favorite part about Southern Maryland!!) You'll be seeing more of Jen's collection in upcoming meal plans, she sources a good portion of our menu!  Anyway, this is a homemade alternative to the "blue box" mac and cheese.  I usually make it with whole wheat macaroni because it makes me feel like a good mom.  Just kidding.  [Oh, and speaking of duty stations, STILL do not have orders for this summer.  Any day now.  Or not. Argh!]

Oatmeal Smoothies, Popcorn 
Oh, you know oatmeal would have to make an appearance.  I like this because, back when my kids wouldn't touch oatmeal, I was still able to sneak it in their diet.  It's addition here makes this smoothie extra-filling!  We love popcorn and in this house, it's not just a snack.  It's a whole grain, people!  And full of fiber and antioxidants.  We either make ours on the stovetop or dump 1/3 cup in a paper bag and microwave it for 2 1/2 minutes.  Sometimes I spray it with olive oil and sprinkle on the salt.  But we much prefer melted butter!

Pulled Pork and Apple Cabbage Salad 
Oh, Sunday afternoon's how you tease us!  We go to the earlier service which means we're often home a little before lunch, and yet my kids want to eat the moment we walk in the door.  But after the effort that is getting a family of six ready and out the door for church, and then back again, I rarely feel like making a meal moments after walking in the door.  Nor cleaning it up afterwards.  Which is why Sunday afternoons are our favorite time to play our eat-out card.  But that's not good for the budget.  So this particular day I had pulled pork pulled ready to go in the crock-pot.  I like this recipe from 100 Days of Real Food because it uses all "real food" ingredients - no bottled stuff!  The apple cabbage salad was good but made entirely too much (my kids ate apples and raisins, not the salad) and I really can't stand fennel.  Which is too bad because ... wait for it ... fennel is a galactologue.  There's that word again.  I don't mind drinking it in tea but, please, not on my slaw.  I'd make this again minus that ingredient, and only half a recipe.

PF Changs Lettuce Wraps 
Heaven and earth, these were good!  I don't know if they're a "copycat" recipe since she says it's a "lighter version."  Also, it's been so long since I've had a PF Changs lettuce wrap that I wouldn't be able to have an opinion anyway.  I've steered away from making these in the past because half the ingredients were "weird."  But since branching out in my cooking, I have more and more of these items in my pantry.  If you don't have this stuff, it's going to be expensive to make this.  But just know that you'll be making them again, and again, and again.  So it's worth the initial investment!

Spinach Walnut Ravioli 
These sounded so good, and they tasted so good.  But unfortunately, they didn't look so good.  It was my first time making homemade ravioli and, to begin with, they weren't very uniform (I've since ordered a ravioli stamp from Amazon), but to make matters worse, I piled the finished ones on a plate and let them sit there for a while.  So when it was time to cook the ravioli they were all stuck together.  Which meant a boiled mess of pasta.  I've learned my lesson, so I'll be giving myself a second chance on this recipe in the future.

Mexican Meatza 
We're not paleo by any means but for my husband's sake, I am trying to do more low-carb dinners.  This sounded interesting, so we gave it a try.  It was good, but a little tough for the kids who generally struggle with red meat no matter how I serve it, as well as peppers, onions, and salsa.  Oops.

Mushroom Pasta 
Now that I've mentioned cutting back on carbs ... another pasta recipe.  But is this an amazing dish!  I'm not even kidding, this could be one of my new very favorite meals.  As in, you could make this for my birthday if you wanted.  This is coming from a girl who would pick mushrooms off her plate a few years ago!  Phew, just typing out this make me want make it again!  Okay, so we used homemade pasta because that makes everything taste better.  But the real pièce de résistance are the caramelized onions.  I feel like I never truly knew how to caramelize onions until I made this dish. Long story short, I had three helpings, and I raced through the first two in order to beat my husband to the last scoop!

London Broil, Rice Pilaf, Brussel Sprouts 
I happened to have a London Broil in the freezer.  My in-laws make it often, it's the main course at our Christmas dinner.  And since Christmas wasn't so long ago I decided to try a new recipe.  It was husband-approved!  Rice pilaf, because I'm always looking for ways to make rice exciting.  And brussel sprouts, how I love thee! My earlier memories of brussel sprouts are not good.  I distinctively remember holding my nose while choking them down before the timer ran out (my parents had to regularly set the timer for me as a child!)  As an adult, I've learned the secret to brussel sprouts is how you cook them.  They really don't require much in the way of ingredients, salt and pepper, a little oil, Jon likes to add a splash of balsamic vinegar.  But they should be roasted until browned and crispy.  I've also sautéed them with mushrooms with great success!  We love brussel sprouts here!

Crispy Nut and Herb Fried Chicken, Warm Orzo Salad with Beets and Greens
We don't do fried chicken very often, but this was a nice twist to the traditional breadcrumb topping.  Crispy, but with more depth of flavor -- we did pecans and parsley.  Beets rank right up there with brussel sprouts in the "food I used to hate" category.  I love how this recipe also includes the greens.  But I have to admit, the real reason I gave it a go was for the feta.  My gang loves cheese, and feta tops our list!  The kids actually do fairly well with this salad, I think the pasta and feta play a large role in their acceptance!

I don't always put so much effort in to plating my kids' food, only when they're being occupied by the TV and I'm trying to stall dinner until Daddy gets home ...

Thai Style Chicken Burgers, Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook "It's All Good."  The irony is that, according to Gwyneth, it's really not all good, as so many of the foods we're used to consuming are not allowed in her diet.  But that doesn't negate the fact that there are some positively beautiful and tasty recipes in her book.  This is the first one we tried, based on Kate's recommendation.  I thought it was delicious, although I don't think Jon appreciates it when I mess with the traditional burger.  For his sake, I included a Japanese salad with ginger dressing which is also in the cookbook.  Unfortunately, my grocery store did not have miso paste, so I had to improvise, i.e. Google every recipe until I found one that didn't call for miso paste.  I think that's why my version didn't go over as well.

Pork, Sauerkraut and Mashed Potatoes
It's not officially a new year until we usher it in with some pork and sauerkraut.  As a kid, we used to go to my Great Aunt Jane's cabin every New Year's Eve for games, ball dropping fun, and sauerkraut.  Loads and loads of sauerkraut.  Aunt Jane's cabin and sauerkraut just go together.  In fact, we visited her once in the summer and I swear her home still had a faint cabbage-y smell.  Anyway, I keep hearing about how easy homemade sauerkraut is, and how, as a lacto-fermented food, it's so darn good for you!  So I decided to try my hand and sure enough, easy-peasy and oh, so good!  I like my sauerkraut with a little crisp and that's exactly how this turned out.  There are recipes out there that suggest fermenting in a mason jar as well, but I wanted to try a "crock" version.  I don't have a crock, so I used my slow-cooker insert instead.  But then I needed it for another meal so I switched it out to the Dutch oven.  All that to say, making homemade sauerkraut is not as involved as you may think!

Green Beans with New Potatoes
And finally, while we're on the subject of food and relatives, this dish always brings back memories of my Grandma.  I miss her most when I'm in the kitchen.  When I got married, that's when I would talk to her on the phone, while cooking.  Because inevitably I had a question and she was better than Google.  When we were younger and my mom went back to work, my Grandma used to cook our family dinner every Thursday.  It was a meal I made sure I never missed.  "Ham and Green Beans" was one of her frequent dishes.  A frugal and filling meal.  This is Paula Deen's version and although I hate to admit it, I think I like it a touch better than my ancestral one.  Probably because of the butter.  Yeah, that's a lot of butter.  But I'm of the mind that butter ain't so bad, and Weston A Price agrees.

So that was our menu in January.  What about you?  Any good recipes to share?
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