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Friday, September 6, 2013

Summer catch-up

Well...the summer is over and I only updated this blog once! We really had some great adventures and made some wonderful family memories with Norah, now that she is getting old enough to actually talk about and recall things that happened longer than 20 minutes ago.

We took a family trip to Boyne this July and Norah absolutely loved every minute of it! Rather than re-upload 800 pictures, I'll share the link to our photo album and if you want to flip through feel free :)

We have pent lots of time outside, riding bikes, playing on her slip n slide, taking walks, going to "the blue park" and generally soaking up as much childhood summer whimsy as we can. Mostly I've had my iphone handy for taking photos, so these shots are the best I can do for a taste of our summer:

S'mores by the bonfire

ice cream dates with mama

Down the slip n slide

and a duck! 
So many bubbles! 
On my head!

and a beard! 

Daddy's birthday cake 
Being a doggy doc

new leotard for gymnastics, won't take it off (even slept in it)
Elbel Field band practice 

First game day, waiting for the band to march by
there they are! 

so excited!

hairuts, haircuts! all around!
tea party with Mary Read's vintage tea set (she was like a grandmother to me growing up!) 
tea party with Julia

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strawberry Jam 101

So, after picking 23 lbs of strawberries, one must decide what to do with some of that beautiful bounty. They were almost too pretty to cut up, but once I started I was on a mission. 

The first step in making jam (or canning anything) is to gather your supplies. You need: 

a large canning pot (preferably with a canning rack inside)
jar lifting tongs 
clean mason jars with lid rings and new lid inserts  
whatever you plan to use to fill the jars. I didn't have a wide mouth funnel, but using a 1/2 c. measuring cup worked just fine.  

You need to sterilize your jars and utensils to be sure no bacteria gets sealed into your jars and ruins your jam (that would be a complete travesty!).  I threw everything I would be using into the dishwasher and set to the sanitize cycle.  

Next, to start making your jam, you have to make it in small batches or it won't set.  I followed the proportions from the original Ball Canning recipe.  

Per batch:

5 c. mashed strawberries 
1 box Sure-Jell pectin
7 cups sugar (I know!)
4 T. lemon juice
1 t. butter

Start by mashing up your hulled strawberries with a potato masher until you have 5 cups of fruit. Pour that beautiful mess into a large saucepan.  

Add a small pat of butter, which helps to reduce the foam produced as your jam cooks (which you will have to scrape off later, but this decreases the work at that step)

Pour your pectin in, and whisk to be sure all clumps are dissolved.  Add the lemon juice.  Now get that strawberry pulp boiling! It needs to get to a rolling boil for at least a few minutes - the longer you boil it the more the fruit breaks down so if you want chunkier jam just let it go a few once it gets up to a rolling boil (this means you can't stir it down, it just keeps boiling despite stirring).  Then it's time to add ALL that sugar...there are recipes that call for less, and you have to use a special low-sugar pectin, but for my first try I thought I'd go old school and do it the way our grandmas all did. I mean, jam isn't supposed to be sugar free, right?

Once you add the sugar, bring it all back up to a rolling boil again. Let that go about 1-1.5 minutes once it gets there, and then turn off your heat. After it cools a few minutes, scrape off any foam that formed (but don't throw it away! It's still delicious, just doesn't look so pretty in your jars of jam. Just think of it as a sample.)

While your jam is cooking, you need to multitask to prepare your jars.  Get enough water in your canning pot to cover at least 2 inches above your jars. Put the sanitized jars on in there, and get the water simmering. This is to ensure that the glass and the jam are about the same temperature so when you fill them they don't burst! 

In another pan, get your lids in simmering water as well. The sticky part of the ring needs to heat up to get gummy enough to make a good seal.  Be sure you have some metal tongs or a special magnetic wand to lift them out of the water when you need them.  

Ok, so when your jars are ready, your jam is ready, and you are ready, it's time to fill them up and get canning! One at a time, take a jar out of the large pot using your jar lifter tongs, drain the water back into the pot, and set on the counter. Fill it with jam, then wipe the top of the ring off to be sure you catch any drips.  If it seems like there are bubbles in there, you can tap your jar on the counter, but be careful because it's hot! Or, you can slide a knife around inside the jar.  To be honest, I skipped both of these steps and it turned out fine! 

Next, get a lid out of the pan, center it on your jar, and put a ring on, screwing just enough to get some resistance (i.e don't screw it on super tight or you'll never get it off!).  Repeat with all your jars until your jam is used up.  Place them back into the large pot of boiling water, and be sure they are all upright and covered with water. Cover the pot and boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, and then take the lid off, letting them sit in the water for 5 minutes before removing them to equalize the pressure.  Then carefully using your jar lifters, take each one out, and set it on your counter. Do not mess with the jars, they will seal and you will hear "pop-pop-pop" as those lids seal while the jam cools! Music to your ears after all that work :) If any don't seal, don't worry, just toss them in your fridge and they will last for weeks...if you don't eat it first. 

Strawberry Picking

We are in peak strawberry season in Michigan right now, and there truly is nothing sweeter or more perfect than a sun-ripened strawberry picked and eaten right there in the field.  We decided to try and take Norah to the u-pick farm near us and see how she did this summer, and it was an absolute success! We went to DeGroots Farm in Gregory, MI and the picking was good, prices were great ($1.58/lb!) and the atmosphere was friendly and low-key.

 It seems that two years and two months is the perfect age for strawberry picking - she enjoyed eating the fruit, helping us load up the carton and dump it into the flat, she didn't whine about the heat or having to go potty or how tired she was or that her legs itched or... (like a few of the older kids in rows near us).

Looking for the red ones

Dedication to the cause, right there

SO juicy Mama! "Dis 'trawbewwy yummy!"

She also loved the small farm animals area with goats, baby pigs, chickens, and peacocks.  
They had 9 baby goats, and she was thrilled to be able to feed them! 

These guys are LOUD! One little girl near us goes "Hey, it's Kevin!" (if you've seen Up, that's the crazy bird they meet...peacock yelps totally sound like Kevin!)

These goats just climb all over the place, Norah found it quite amusing! 

We ended up with nearly two flats - 23 lbs of berries! I'd say that's good work for two adults and one toddler in an hour and a half! 

Next up - my first canning adventure and making strawberry jam! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The word carries differing connotations depending on the words we use surrounding it. This week, to me, it best describes the weight I sometimes feel is carried in my heart, just by loving my child so fiercely. Motherload. The load of the emotions I have for my family is so great, so beautiful, and yet so completely overwhelming that when the world around us seems so ugly and uncertain, the load of my love can almost feel crippling. I'm not a religious person, and I don't even think I have a strong belief in whatever I might call my own spirituality...I generally feel that in raising my daughter I want to teach her through my words, my actions, that we treat one another with grace, dignity, love, and we will see the same in return. But then. Then, these things are proven wrong, again and again. Bombings, shootings, accidental explosions. Innocent people, doing the things they feel to be fulfilling, productive, loving, taken too soon. And sometimes, it just feels like too much for my mama heart to hold, this notion that I can't protect my child purely with love.  That even when I do the things I believe to teach her about good, the slinking shadow of hate may still show its face at any given moment.

I've read many bloggers' accounts and thoughts this week following the Boston Marathon bombings about parenthood in this world as we know it. I've been inspired, and brought to tears, and reminded that more than hate, there is love. And I have tried to let it prevail for myself this week, and not to let hate swirling around weigh down my heart. Last night after Norah was asleep, I laid my hand across her chest, feeling the strong, quick beats of her tiny heart. I was overcome by the feeling that from my own body came this perfect creature, so pure and full of promise, so very loved, and so vulnerable. How do we as mamas, carry on, knowing that these little beings we literally grew within our own bodies, are out in the world?  I know this is no unique plight, but rather one that I'm sure has weighed on the hearts of mamas for all of our existence.

Mama friends, how do you carry on? What do you talk to your children about if they are old enough to ask questions when things like this happen?  I feel like I'm needing my village right now, to share some of the Motherload.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

3 minutes...

That's all the time it took to "lose" my daughter last night. We were re-making the bed after the previous night's multiple rounds of having a pukey child sleep with us, and she was happily playing with her animals and having "tea" in her playroom right next to our room. I snapped the last pillowcase on and walked around the corner to get her for bed...and she wasn't there. I called her name, and no answer. I went to her room, not there in the chair or the bed (which is currently hiding under a "tent" of sheets strung from the ceiling). I walked out to the living room, dining room, kitchen. Calling her name. Looked under the table, in the lazy susan (where she sometimes retreats to sneak a snack or swipe sugar from the canister). Not there. I started to get a little concerned that I could not find her, and asked Matt to come help me look. The gate to downstairs was latched, but the front door was unlocked, having just let Lainey out one last time for the night. She still stood on the porch, looking out over the dark, rainy yard, probably sizing up what lovely thing she would like to roll in.

We did another, slightly more frantic, walk through upstairs, calling her name, looking again in all the same places. Bathrooms? No. Bedrooms? No. Kitchen, dining room, living room, front hall closet? No. Garage? Not that I could see. Suddenly, I had the sinking, awful panicky feeling that she had gone out the front door which I had left unlocked, into the dark night. I raced outside, and started calling her name, my voice loud and uncertain, my mind starting to conjure horrible images of the possible scenarios in which I suddenly felt I could very realistically find her.

I ran through the front yard, not seeing her, hoping if she'd gone to the road someone would have seen her before the unthinkable happened and come to knock on our door. Then, it hit me. The pond in the backyard.  At dinner she was standing by the sliding glass door, looking out into the dusk and saying "Go see water". We said "No, not tonight. It's too chilly/wet/dark. It's bedtime". I thought for sure she must have wandered to the back to check it out. I raced down the wet grassy hill in bare feet, catching my shins on the prickly wild raspberry bushes growing along the treeline. Calling her name into the dull silent night, with nothing but raindrops answering back. I ran back up to the house, hoping Matt had found her. My mom was just getting home, pulling her car in the driveway, and Matt was at her car door, telling her we couldn't find Norah.

My heart started to sink with the feeling that it had been too long, too many minutes now, if she was in the water, or wandering into the dark, or in the road. Too many horror stories in my head, so many awful things imagined in those seconds. The instant guilt of failing as a parent, I didn't keep track of her, I was responsible for whatever I was going to find. I raced again to the pond's edge, and very nearly jumped in to start looking for her in the murky water, my throat seizing up with fear as I struggled to keep calling her name. Hearing my mom's frantic voice calling her name up and down our street out front.

And then, Matt's voice. "I've got her! She's OK".  I nearly collapsed, and called out to my mom that he had her. And ran back up the hill to the shape of their two bodies silhouetted in the doorway, slipping on the railroad tie steps slick in the rain.

She'd gone downstairs, the gate must have been open after bringing up the clean bedding, and she closed it behind her. She hid under a blanket on the couch in the dark, not moving or answering the multiple times Matt ran down there to look for her. Then he glanced that way and thought to pull up the blanket, and there she was, happy as can be, no idea what we'd just gone through in the past 3 minutes.

I know that she is OK, and she was never really in any danger at all. I know that I'm not a bad parent, and kids wander and hide and play games all the time. But my heart did not stop pounding, and the tears did not stop falling, my hands shaking, for at least an hour.  Knowing that this is exactly how accidents do happen. The unimaginable becomes real in a matter of seconds or minutes. The scenarios I saw flashing through my mind in those moments racing through the rain, they are so horrifying because they have been another parent's reality. I know I cannot blame myself or feel guilty for making the bed while my child played in the room next to me. But I do know that the experience makes me want to hold her closer, not let her out of my sight as often, safeguard our home even more...

I'm sure she won't mind if I just come to college with her, too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What's wrong with this picture?

It's 1:30 in the morning, and my child is asleep while I'm wide awake. There's just something so wrong about that, seeing as how I'm supposed to be up for work in a matter of hours. Needless to say, this is why people refer to having "a case of the Mondays"...

Anyway, while there hasn't been much to report lately, the biggest news is that I've once again been knocked flat with muscle spasms in my lower back. Nothing like ringing in my 30th year like a legit old lady. Last Saturday I was, I shit you not, throwing out a kleenex when my back just seized up and I could hardly breathe. I spent the better part of the next 4 days lying on the floor of the living room while Norah went between destroying the house and enjoying insane amounts of "screen time".  I missed two days of work and let the rest of my responsibilities go to pot in the interim. We are now dealing with undoing the TV/ipad monster I created and trying to wind our way down from hideous tantrums about "watch agin, Einshines".  Poor thing has a cold and terrible cough to go with it. Lovely :)

It's definitely still winter around here, and we're in for another winter storm this week it seems. Everyone in this house is starting to show signs of cabin fever (and that extra layer of winter padding we all seem to feel the need to acquire like we live in the arctic or something).  We are yearning for the telltale signs that spring is around the corner - just a peek from a crocus shoot would probably improve my mood for days! What are your best tips for end-of-the-winter blahs, especially with kids/dogs?

Here's a quick peek at Norah from this weekend - she is growing up faster and faster every day I think...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Catching Up

Well, clearly since the last time I updated was in November and we are indeed all over the wretched gastro's time to catch up with more enjoyable news. There's way too much to include in one update, but I'll start with what's shakin' these days.

Norah is talking, talking, talking and is *thisclose* to really communicating in full sentences. She repeats anything we say, and new things are overheard every day around here.  *Note to all, keep it clean up in here, as we've definitely heard "aw f&*^" once! I love toddler language, and some of my favorite things she says right now:
"Line Cones" - Lion King, which she says for just about every lion
"Okhay" - her preferred affirmative statement
"Comfy" - comforters, blankets, or just literally to mean gettin' comfy
"Laff" - giraffe
"Ah-shines" - Einsteins (one of her Disney Jr. shows is Little Einsteins)
"Sofa" - Sofia (from another Disney Jr. show)
"Pulair" - polar bear
"uh-her one" - other one, another, the other
"love you much" and "kank you much"
"lil bit"
"Entent" - elephant
"Wah-wah twy" - Norah try

"pa-cakes" - pancakes or cupcakes
typical, refusing to put on pants, she says "nakey minute"

While it's so amazing and rewarding to watch her learn about the world and put language to the people and places and things she sees, it's also a little bit sad for me to suddenly realize that the adorable words she used to use for things are replaced by words that are closer and closer to the real ones.  She no longer calls coffee "waff", or "ma-churs" for markers.  Language acquisition is probably one of the most incredible things to witness so far in development. I'm amazed every day at how well she can communicate with us.

more dip! gwapes! 

loves yogurt, and chicken-dip (chicken with ranch)

sorting mail in her mailbox
DIY felt mail

I was talking to a close friend last night who has a little boy who turned two in January, and we were noting how each child is just wired in such a unique and mysterious way.  It just seems they have traits that are innate, no matter what we think we do to provide them with certain unbiased non-gendered play options.  Norah mothers. She mamas her stuffed animals and her baby dolls. She diapers them and feeds them and snuggles them. She rocks and walks them. She covers them up with "comfies" and pats them to sleep. She "cooks" food and feeds us her tasty treats.  She loves to make little stories up with her animal figurines and stage interactions (that only she knows what is going on).  She plays house with the "little people" in the old plastic dollhouses my sister and I used to play with, placing the people in their rooms and driving them around in cars, and making them give each other kisses and hugs.  My friend's son, well, he likes wheels and gears and trucks and diggers. He is obsessed with the blender, and wants to watch how it goes on and off, over and over. Of course, some of these things are learned about in their daily lives and picked up on from influences they are (maybe subtly) exposed to...but I do think that males and females are just wired differently, and it's incredible to see it from the very start.

Having some tea

Making cookies
Unbeknownst to me, she is aware of her shapes. My father in law discovered her sorting through a bag of foam shapes and putting them into piles by shape and color one day. She has been labeling colors accurately for at least a month or so, with the exception that yellow often gets called "pink" (which is funny, because for a long time as a kid I called yellow "lello-pink").  At the store yesterday, she said as I picked out some produce "Two red peppers! Gween pepper too!" She also surprised us by counting to ten recently...I tell you, this child hasn't stop amazing us yet!

Sorting shapes at the Hands On Museum

She has been into trying out playdough a few times, but is still tempted to eat it quite often. This recent batch I made was a new recipe, and definitely NOT tasty (2 cups baking soda, 1 c cornstarch, 1.5 C water, plus I added maybe 3 T oil and some jello to color it).  She does like the feel and squish of it, though.  

She is strong-willed and opinionated, and isn't shy about expressing herself! She must choose her own outfit (ok, sometimes 3 outfits before getting it right) and usually it must include purple. She'd wear her "pa-cakes" shirt every day if we'd keep it clean (has cupcakes on a purple long sleeved shirt).  She chooses what she wants to eat (has been "chicken-dip" for breakfast the past two days).  I guess this is what the professionals refer to as a "spirited child", and we wouldn't have her any other way! She keeps us challenged, both in patience and intellectually, she is outrageously cute (of course we aren't biased), and she drives us crazy on a regular basis. We are so enjoying having the privilege of watching her grow, and recognizing that we are so in for it for the foreseeable future! Norah Annabel,  you warm  our hearts :)

home for a rare Mama-Norah day!