My husband got a new job—a great job—one that would move us closer to our families, eliminate his weekly travel, and provide stability where we hadn’t had any.
Read the full post at Grace for Moms...
Lately I’ve been wrestling with the concept of “home.” Is it a place? A feeling? The presence of those you love? We’ve moved three times in three years, the last two of which have been interstate re-locations. We moved from bustling urban life in Maryland to a picturesque suburb in Middle Tennessee to a sprawling coastal city in Virginia. And yet, at the moment, we find ourselves without an actual home.
My husband got a new job—a great job—one that would move us closer to our families, eliminate his weekly travel, and provide stability where we hadn’t had any.
Read the full post at Grace for Moms...
So the travel is done, the company has departed, the bank accounts are empty, and we are "home." Grounded, as it were. We've been back and just us for about 10 days now. Strangely, Daniel hasn't been traveling and won't really be until next week. Things are "normal," I suppose. Though I don't really know what normal is for us. Which is kind of the thing.
The morning after we returned from Hawaii, Mirabella started preschool (which is another story, coming soon). So we now have a place to be twice per day, twice per week, which is new. The unfortunately-named MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) starts this week, twice per month. I am told that, as a stay-at-home mother to preschool children living in a new place, this will be my sanity. So this week we have school Tuesday and Thursday and MOPS Wednesday, and somehow this seems to me to be a "busy week." Keep in mind that not so long ago I worked 4-5 days per week and raised my kids and managed my house. But we are disoriented.
I have been doing a bit better at settling into this new role, this new stage of my life. Initially, it was so intoxicating not to set an alarm for 5:25 each morning that I let my kids wake me up. There is a serious flaw in this plan: My children love waking up. I do not. So they would burst into my room, all fuzzy and warm and excited and I would be upset with them, simply because they were awake. Friends, this is not the best I can do.
So I have been setting my alarm, working out, showering and starting my first cup of coffee before the children wake up. I will not tell you I have been enjoying it, but I am certainly kinder when they wake up, which is a start. The other stuff-- the endlessness of the home management tasks, the incredible shift of responsibility now that it's actually my job-- still overwhelms me. I do not often sit still. But I recently devoured Jen Hatmaker's book Out of the Spin Cycle, which is really helping me to rethink and reframe (and in some cases, release) some of the baggage I've brought to my latest assignment. Until Friday when I might have melted down a little in front of my startled husband because I just had to go somewhere-- anywhere-- where people other than the ones I keep alive were. Even if I didn't talk to them. Just to get out of my neighborhood. It wasn't pretty. And so, I'm a work in progress.
I remember telling a friend in Maryland right before our move that we really wouldn't "settle in" until September, since we had so much summer travel and company planned. I said it casually, as if I had any idea what I was talking about. I was actually right, but I'm still a little itchy that this (whatever this is) is taking so long.
I am anxious to nail things down that don't work that way. Babysitters. A church. Friends. Old haunts. Familiarity. Things that just take time. Previously, I thought I'd have "arrived" when I could get through a day without GPS. Since our GPS came with our (2005) vehicle, and our neighborhood is newer than that, I had to ditch the GPS sooner than I'd planned. It can get me most places, but it can never get me home. So it turns out, I think, that the real sign I have acclimated will be when I can get through a day with fewer than 75 Google inquiries about things around here. Google, at the moment, is my best friend.
The travel and busyness of this last season made it easy to be preoccupied-- easy to blame our lack of connections or roots on the circumstances. But even I'm surprised when I say we've lived here two months. It sure doesn't feel like it. It doesn't feel like we have much to show for it.
And so, it's time to begin.
It's time to take the girls outside to play when the neighborhood kids are out there. It's time to stand awkwardly with my neighbors until maybe it's not so awkward anymore. It's time to look up from my children-- at preschool, at events-- and try to talk to the people around me. I'm not sure how this happened, but I tend to hide behind my kids because it's easier than talking to so many strangers. Which is why Wednesday's MOPS will be good for me (though please note I didn't say "lots of fun," at least not at first). It's time to return to the (massive) list of churches-- weekly if we have to-- until we find The One. We've been to three so far. We have been trying to adjust our attitudes, to be open instead of judgmental. To try to learn from the people at each place. Each of the three have been good, but we are looking for home-- so far away from ours. It feels strangely like dating, the hope and the disappointment we've felt. And, of course, the Google searches.
It's time to find all the things I took for granted in Maryland-- the listservs, the farms, the stores, the doctors, the cheap places to eat and play. It's Time.
I've heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I think it might actually be something else. For example, maybe it's driving from middle Tennessee to mid Maryland with two pre-schoolers. By oneself. Then driving on to Connecticut. Then coming back just a few days later (husband in tow, necessitating speedier travel). Two weeks after relocating, long before the last box is unpacked, and right before one's husband embarks on three consecutive weeks of travel. CRAZY.
Hi. We've been here two weeks now. That is long enough to unpack a lot of boxes, long enough to meet a few (awesome) neighbors and to discover those peaches on the tree in our yard are not for eating and definitely not for putting in my children's pancakes. It's long enough to get a new library card and find a find killer indie rock radio station (we are Music City adjacent, after all), long enough to visit a new vet and the same church twice, long enough to make my first antique store purchase, and long enough to find I really miss Trader Joe's and can't afford to shop at Whole Foods.
But really, it hasn't been long enough. It hasn't been long enough for any of us to find our place, for me to make any friends, to figure out a routine, how to work out when I am always with my precious children, or to determine what exactly my job is. It hasn't been long enough to find a preschool or my kids' coloring books.
It has been just exactly long enough for Daniel and I to realize that it's easy to take our fears and frustrations out on each other, but that it doesn't do either of us much good since we're all we've got down here.
Despite our being decidedly unsettled, tomorrow we ride. Daniel is headed to Atlanta to meet his new team, then on to meet us in Connecticut. The girls and I are headed to Maryland with every intention of driving straight through and with a brand-new, dual-screen DVD player that totally doesn't work. (But we've got audio books! Who are we, the Waltons?) Mosotos, the aging puggle, is headed to what I am calling summer camp. We'll see if he agrees.
In 7 days, we will travel roughly 2,000 miles. Having just made one leg of this journey a couple weeks ago, albeit with much more back up, I have packed loads of healthy food and drinks. May we happily drive by Sonics, McDonald's and Waffle Houses in at least five states. My goal is to stop only for coffee, to stretch and to pee. I haven't tagged up with the girls to see if they concur with this plan. I have packed dry erase boards and finger puppets, glow sticks, Leapsters, cookie sheets and magnets. (Incidentally, if you have any great ideas for how to keep 2 and 4-year-olds occupied on long trips, please send them my way.)
We are so caught up in the logistics (what? Me? Never!) that we might have forgotten why we're going. One of Daniel's best friends is getting married to a girl we adore. We couldn't be happier, and we couldn't miss it. And in the process, we will get to see my parents, one set of his, and most of our siblings. I'll get to be there the day of my little sister's latest (and last?) knee surgery. My little girls will get to see their precious Aunt Nae. It's a whirlwind dose of the familiar, which we desperately need. We haven't been able to find that in any of our boxes.
Tomorrow, if you think of us and our first-world problems and you're the praying kind, please pray for open roads and hearts, for perspective and redeemed time.
Disclaimer - This post was written in the middle of the night, but I did not have the presence of mind at that time to locate photos, so I'm posting it now, when I'm slightly more awake.
It's nearly 4:00 AM Central time, and I can't sleep. I've been awake for about an hour and a half. Unaccustomed to insomnia, I have tried everything. Changing positions, nudging my husband back to his side of the bed, then surfing on my phone. I have trolled Craigslist, and in an unrelated train of thought, diagnosed myself with gallbladder disease. If I know you, chances are I have prayed for you tonight. I have prayed for myself, my husband, my children, and most of my friends and family, in detail. I am supposed to be up at 7:00 to workout at the pool before our day starts in this new, strange life. But I just can't sleep, so here I am.
We've been in the new house for a week now, but it doesn't feel like it. We stayed with my parents for several nights before making the trip. It was-- say it with me-- bittersweet. It felt very strange to be between homes. Emerie, our little homebody, kept saying (as she often does), "Okay, Mommy. I ready a go home now." I wonder what place she envisions when she says "home." I wonder if this feels like it yet.
We said good-bye to our old house and finally started our journey to Tennessee a day later than planned in 104-degree heat with two vehicles, three adults, two kids, a dog and a lot of toys and snacks. The movers did not call to tell us what day our stuff would be arriving until about halfway through our first travel day. It was days later than they had initially promised. Daniel, ever our advocate, helped them to rethink their timetable. Ahem.
Traffic was terrible that first day, and with no reason to make it all the way there, we stopped in Knoxville. It's not easy to travel long distances, especially in extreme heat, with a dog. There are not many places you can go where everyone can be together, and not many places you want to go that offer outdoor seating on 81. So I had my very first Sonic experience.
That night we found a pet-friendly hotel suite that had two rooms. Mirabella slept in the closet (both children actually fought over that honor). Our goal for the kids has been for them to find this whole experience to be a great adventure. That night, we succeeded. We ate from the sparse continental breakfast in the morning and played in the small outdoor pool before heading the rest of the way to our new place on the southern side of Nashville.
As we approached Nashville, Mirabella asked me to tell her a story. I had been in the habit of telling her stories about a girl named "Pinky" (she chose the name). Pinky, as it turned out, was also in the process of moving with her family to Tennessee. She just so happened to be getting ready to see her new home for the first time on the same day as Mirabella. "How do you think she might be feeling?" I asked her.
"Like she wants to be in two places at once," she replied.
"Where?" I asked.
"Maryland and Tennessee."
"What else might she be feeling," I asked, cringing.
"Like maybe this might start to feel like home, after a little while."
When we finally arrived, the kids explored and ran circles around every empty room. Daniel set up their tent in their room. We unloaded the car and cranked the air conditioning, then went to dinner downtown. We stumbled upon a local place with fantastic food, a great band, and room for our girls to dance. I watched them twirling and whispered to Daniel, "This might be okay." We slept on air mattresses that night and awaited the delivery of over 385 boxes the next day.
When the movers arrived the next morning, Amy and the kids and I ran errands, delivered lunch, then went to the pool. It's hard to keep two preschoolers out of the way. When we got home there were boxes everywhere. Professional movers do not pack the way you do. One four-foot-tall box labeled "Kitchen" had three shelves in it (destined for the garage) and roughly 200 sheets of packing paper. Some rooms were more straightforward than others, but there really was no systematic way to unpack, and the boxes seemed to multiply. In those first days we met new neighbors, but unfortunately, only the ones who are on their way out of the neighborhood and wanted our empty boxes.
Thanks to Daniel's gracious boss and colleagues allowing him a laidback holiday week and Amy's selfless help, we are now unpacked in all the places that matter most. We spent the Fourth of July at a fabulous festival in our new town, watching the fireworks from an expansive open field. We have been to the pool most of the days we've been here, we took the girls to see Brave, and tonight, after playing out back with our nextdoor neighbors' six and nearly three-year-old girls, Mirabella prayed, "Thank you for my new friends and for letting us move here."
I've been to two new grocery stores, two farmer's markets, two new restaurants, a frozen yogurt place, and a new church. We have endured 109-degree heat, anxiety over lack of familiarity, money and routine, countless meltdowns from our little ones, and a couple from their parents. Saturday after we dropped Amy off at the airport, it started feeling more permanent. Today we were both out of sorts. Unsettled, I guess.
And now it's nearly 5:00 AM, and I sit wide awake at a computer that's stacked on top of three cardboard boxes. Send your prayer requests my way. In a strange turn of events, I've got nothing but time.
The view from outside church Sunday
Tonight is our last night living in Baltimore, at least for now. For the next two nights, we'll have sleepovers at my parents' house that the girls are really looking forward to. But tonight is our last night as residents.
Johnny, Jeff and Nate, the movers, arrived at 8:30 on the nose this morning. We had spent the last couple weeks organizing everything. Every puzzle had a baggie affixed to it containing every piece. My friend Connie came over for the sole purpose of helping me organize the pantry. It was serious.
The pantry, post Connie
Our goals were twofold: 1. To be as organized as possible, to minimize the pain of unpacking, and 2. To be the movers' favorite. I can't really articulate the why behind number 2, except that I wanted to them to feel we had looked out for them. And also, I am very competitive. So when Johnny, the foreman, told Daniel we were his easiest customers yet, I was stoked. We won!
The organizing was the easy part, though. The good-byes have been much harder. Over the last few weeks, we have been ticking off items on our Baltimore Bucket List-- places to visit, people to see. Daniel took Mirabella on a date to an Orioles game (we are going to miss being so close to a major league team! And right when our O's are doing so well!), we had a small group over for a cookout, I had lunch with a couple friends, dinner with another group, a night out with my sister-in-law during Sailabration, a final downtown date with Daniel, and a last Baltimore visit from my Connecticut in-laws (which featured a rainy O's game for the over-two crowd, and a trip to the Rawlings Conservatory and the Nature Center for our very excited little girls and their sweet grandparents). The girls and I went to our last small group, and Sunday was our last at our church.
Emerie with my sister, Sarah
Saturday my parents threw a family party for us and rented an 18-foot waterslide. I can't decide who had more fun, Daniel or Mirabella! I had to force Mirabella to change out of her bathing suit because her lips were blue and we had to force Daniel to stop sliding because the guys from the rental company had come to dissassemble and collect it. All of these events, in and of themselves, have been wonderful. We have loved spending time with our family and friends and are so grateful for them. But, inevitably, the events all end. And it's awkward. And sad. And heavy. And I'm starting to get a little tired of those feelings.
Tonight, after a busy day of directing other people in the packing, lifting and loading of our belongings (for Daniel) and of running the children to our dear friends' house so they could have a fun day instead of being underfoot, spending too much money at Target, and buying a bunch of food for our wonderful movers (for me), we had to go out for dinner. Nearly our entire kitchen had been packed, along with most of the rest of our house. I wanted us to go out in our old neighborhood once more. Daniel was too tired and the girls were hitting their limit. We stayed local and decided to try to use up our fruit and empty our freezer by making chocolate banana peanut butter milkshakes at home (they hadn't packed our blender yet!).
We sat on the porch while the girls oohed and ahhed over fireflies and asked if we would have them at our new house in Tennessee. Daniel taught them how to catch the bugs and they ran around in the yard, barefoot, chasing them. I sat on the porch and took bad iPhone photos and sighed. We came inside, where the girls marveled over their empty room and being allowed to jump on their beds, which are, for tonight, just mattresses on the floor. It was a good last night.
Lately I am overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. I am excited for a fresh start, humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be home with my babies while-- maybe-- working at something I actually love, anxious about so much that is unknown, and profoundly sad to be leaving my home and some of my most-loved ones. I am all of those things at once, and I am not looking forward to parts of the next couple days. I am preparing myself for tears. But tonight, watching our little girls' wonder while they played, I was at peace.
It's dangerous to judge a job by its first few days. There have been not a few jobs I have started in tears that turned out all right in the end (ahem, my last one included). So, maybe it's too soon to tell.
Monday was my last day at work. It was surreal. Of course, I didn't have time to get done everything I would have liked to, didn't leave things (documentation, my desk, all the program knowledge I have in my head) in the shape I would have liked to. There just was never going to be enough time, so there certainly wasn't time or space for emotional good-byes, though I was emotional about it. Typically, when leaving a job, the good-byes feel less permanent, even if they're not. There is usually at least a possibility we will meet again. But this time, since I'm not just leaving a company but leaving an industry and geographic location, it's possible I will not see many of my co-workers again. The finality of this last day struck me, but I didn't really have the time or space to process or confront it. Instead I did the best I could, was grateful for my send-offs and good co-workers, and promised to keep in touch (on Facebook, or via email, or with pictures of the girls, or with one final last happy hour).
When I got home to Daniel and the girls, I was spent. They, with the help of Danielle, had decorated the house with a homemade heart banner. They shrieked and jumped up and down when I walked in the door. It was all very comforting, but my eyes stayed dry until I saw Mirabella's easel. It brought rushing back the tears, the conflicted feelings, the days of explaining why mommy had to go to work, the countdown the kids have had for the last month-- all of it. And though this is a huge transition, I am so excited about it.
"Mirabella," I said, "when we get to Tennessee, do you think I should look for a new job?"
"No, I think taking care of us should be your job," she said.
"But who will pay me?" I asked.
"We'll have to talk to Daddy about that," she said.
Daniel made us dinner and had a bottle of champagne chilling for after the kids went to bed.
I awoke Tuesday, my first day "at my new job," excited. On my first day, we took a walk after breakfast, I took Mirabella to the dentist without moving heaven and earth, we did a craft, and I was able to say yes when a friend asked if she could come over in twenty minutes. I did not: do any laundry, clean anything but the kitchen, or do any real cooking.
The next day we spent the afternoon at the zoo, where I promised myself I would not rush my children. We have never managed to go there without being pressed for time, so even though it meant no naps (and a couple meltdowns from the two-year-old), we saw every animal in the zoo. The girls were ecstatic, and when we got home we were all exhausted. Thursday we met friends at a park for a picnic, and it was about this time it occurred to me that we might want to learn how to put the "stay at home" in stay-at-home mom. The house was a mess!
Friday we ran our typical errands and I was forced to confront the truth that we are going to be moving in about three weeks. So I acknowledged it internally, then set about making homemade crayons. That's what I said.
So now, at the conclusion of my first week on the job, some initial lessons learned from my first few days of stay-at-home motherhood:
1. There are still not enough hours in the day. No matter whether I work at home, for home or from home, I still can't do it all.
2. I sometimes feel I am constantly bent at the waist, picking up toys, pillows, what have you, and at the end of the day the house still isn't clean.
3. I haven't properly done my hair at all in the last week.
4. Practicing yoga with children is funny, but not necessarily effective.
5. It's much harder to stay on top of an email inbox when you're never in front of a desk.
I know this first week wasn't the way it will always be. The excitement-- theirs and mine-- may fade. The list of things we have to do will impose on the want-to's. My motivation to be super mom will come and go. But I do think it's worth noting that the first few days on the job were, for the most part, awesome.
First, an apology: To anyone who read the last post and got scared that something big was wrong, I am sorry! A beloved and frightened friend just accused me of being a drama queen for writing it, which is probably about right. I just couldn't write the whole thing until it was in the past (if only the very recent past). I will soon return to my more level-headed self. Soon.
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I always knew I wanted to be a wife and a mother, but I never really considered the parameters. I just didn’t give it any thought and figured I’d know when the time came.
When the time did come, it became evident to me that a little foresight would have gone a long way. But I was conflicted, and I wrestled with it loudly and often. I worried over my identity. I lamented my lack of balance. I feared my life would never change. Then I was concerned that if it did, I’d regret it.
I felt I was never fully anywhere. I couldn’t honestly say I only worked because I had to because there have always been aspects I really enjoyed: I have always liked making money, contributing to a team, being an expert at something, interacting in a professional setting, and getting up and putting on big girl clothes and heels. I still do.
But whereas I thought getting up and leaving my babies for 10 or more hours per day would get easier as they grew, it has not. It has gotten progressively harder. For the last couple years, we have been working toward the time when we might have options. I wasn’t sure what I would choose, just that I wanted to have a choice.
A few months ago I started a consulting firm that I can grow at my own pace. We have been looking forward to a series of dates that have scaled back my work and that, eventually, would end my day job. It never seemed to come soon enough.
And then, Daniel got an offer-- a ridiculous and generous offer. We planned to take it, until it seemed there may be another one. It's not yet resolved, but we are moving. We don’t know where, though it is most certainly somewhere south of here. We hope to have an answer in the next couple days.
Despite this uncertainty, I quit my job today. I have been a nervous wreck, because it’s not like I just quit a job to start another one. I quit my job to stay home with my children. To devote more time to being the mother I want to be.
And before I say any more, please really hear what I’m saying: I don’t think there is one right answer for everyone. I wholeheartedly don’t. There is no judgment in this decision, no feeling that everyone should someday come to this place. What there is: 100% certainty that this is the right decision for me and my family.
Today I felt nervous about letting people down. In a month, when I actually leave, I will be sad to say good-bye to a team I’ve known for five years, to a company that has been wonderful to me. I know there will come a day in the not-so-distant future when I long to get up and put on a cute dress and sit at a desk all day where all I’m expected to do is work and I can go to the bathroom (alone) whenever I please, and then they’ll pay me. I am undoubtedly going to miss the grownups. But I made a huge step today, I have thoroughly counted the cost, and I have no regrets.
One morning last week as I prepared to leave for work, Mirabella said, “I don’t want to you to go to work.”
“I know,” I said. “What if, pretty soon, I didn’t have to? What if I could stay home?”
Mirabella cocked her head to the side, “For how many days? Fifty-five?”
“Every day,” I replied.
“MORE than fifty-five days? I think that would be GREAT. When can we do that, Mom?”
It had never even occurred to her that it could be different than it’s always been. And I found great comfort in that. I have always consoled myself that my children know only me, that they do not compare me to other moms or wish things were different. They simply need my best. For the last four years, I can confidently say I have given that to them. And now I am excited, nervous and hopeful as I look toward a very different-looking future.
But I'll say to you what I said to Daniel: In this brave new world, if you see me start to wear yoga pants every day, it's time for an intervention. I mean it.
With our little girls on Christmas Eve
Is January 10th too late to be talking about Christmas? Not at Smarter Ardor! This year I ventured where I had not gone before...to make homemade gifts! Sure, I've done collages, calendars, baked goods, and pictures in frames (and this year did feature some framed photos too), but this year I tried some new things. Some were successes, some were failures. The biggest failure is probably that I did not take photos of the successes! Alas, here's what I did, what worked, and what didn't.
1. Apple Butter
I adore apple butter. I have on many occasions eaten it from a spoon. After I got my tonsils removed, when I was six, bread with butter and apple butter was one of the only foods I would eat. It is a comfort food for me, and I have had it done well and done poorly. I searched high and low for a no-sugar-added apple butter recipe, often encountering what I considered to be overcomplicated processes. So, in the end, I made up my own and, happily, it worked! The only two issues are:
1) I did not take pictures, and
2) I did not save any for my family! I'll have to make a new batch soon.
Slow-cooked Apple Butter
Makes about 3 wide mouth pint jars (could be scaled back as necessary)
What You'll Need:
A 7-quart slow cooker Immersible hand blender or whisk
8-9 pounds of apples
1 1/2 cups apple cider (or unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice)
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp allspice
1 Tbsp nutmeg
What to Do:
DO NOT PEEL APPLES (doesn't that make you happy?).
Core and chop apples (I used an apple corer) -- no need to chop much-- and add them to the crock
Pour apple cider over apples
Sprinkle in the cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg
Cook on High for 1 hour Cook on Low for 13-14 hours.
At the end of 15 hours, your house will smell DELIGHTFUL. You may want to take the lid off and let the apples cool a bit. They will be dark brown and have turned to mostly mush. Blend with an immersible blender until smooth. If it is too liquidy, continue to cook it a while with the lid off. If you don't have an immersible blender, you could probably use a whisk, but the result would be chunkier than I like mine. I suppose you could also use a regular blender, just be careful not to burn yourself with spilling or steam.
Packaging- This was also our first foray into canning (without any special equipment). We used wide mouth mason jars, an 8.5 qt dutch oven with a towel on the bottom, a boiling water bath, rubber tipped tongs, and a patient husband to can ours. Then we applied these cute personalized labels I got from StickerYou. If you can't or don't want to can, you can just seal it and keep it for a couple weeks in the fridge.
Survey Says- This is totally delicious.
1.b. In most cases, I gifted the apple butter with the granola (or with the other food items in a mega basket), but when I ran out of granola, I made... Whole Wheat Pound Cake
Packaging- I baked these in mini tins, removed them, wrapped them in plastic wrap and tied red ribbon around them.
Survey Says - It was moist and delicious and went very well with the apple butter.
For the granola, I chose a recipe I found online, and tweaked it. My recipe looks like this:
What You'll Need:
3 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup coconut flakes
3 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 cup mixed nuts (I used a mixture of pistachios, slivered almonds, and cinnamon almonds)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries, raisins and blueberries) You might like more fruit, and that's okay.
What to Do:
Preheat oven to 375. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Combine all ingredients except for fruit and spread evenly on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 (this is really important-- I had a throwaway batch the time I forgot to stir!).
Packaging- I bought these bags from Sunburst and tied them with raffia bows then affixed a little personalized sticker from StickerYou. They were really cute. I gave these in conjunction with the apple butter.
Survey Says- Pretty good. I didn't love the addition of the sesame seeds (but you might) and I'm not crazy about super fruity granola, so I cut the dried fruit from 2 cups to 1. You should make yours however you want.
3. Lemon and Rosemary Infused Olive Oil
This one is really easy.
What You'll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary, dried (I'll explain)
DRIED lemon peel
IMPORTANT TIP: I learned while researching infused oils that it is essential to ensure no water gets into your oil because, while bacteria will not grow in oil in and of itself, it WILL grow where there is water. So I dried my fresh rosemary for a day or so and didn't risk it with the lemon peel, opting for the dried variety.
What to Do:
Arrange rosemary in your container of choice. Sprinkle in the lemon peel to your liking . Carefully pour the oil over the rosemary, taking care to leave space at the top to close your container. Close your container and let sit for about two weeks before using.
Packaging- I bought these containers at Michaels. I was not in love with them, though, because their seal is a bit iffy. Would be better to have a latch of some sort. I wrapped a ribbon around the necks of the bottles (like a scarf) and secured them with small round labels. My preprinted labels didn't fit on the bottles, so I hand wrote the contents in permament marker. They were cute, but not as cute as the other gifts.
Survey Says: To be totally honest, I didn't get a chance to try these, but I imagine that they are pretty good.
4. All Purpose Spice Rub
Thank you, Martha for this one!
Packaging - I bought these spice containers and rubber tops from Sunburst and labeled them with more cute stickers from StickerYou.
Survey Says: I gave these all away (in conjunction with the olive oil). I just made this one for posterity and am looking forward to trying it soon.
5. Sugar Scrub
I also tried my hand at homemade cosmetics.
What You'll Need:
1 1/2 cups sugar (I used turbinado sugar, but any kind will work, depending on how coarse you want the scrub)
1/4 cup oil ( I used olive oil, but you can use sweet almond or any other carrier oil)
Essential oils, for scent (I used some kind of orange/pomegranate blend)
What to Do:
Combine all ingredients.
TIP - splurge on an essential oil you really love. Mine was just okay and that, combined with using olive oil, which has its own aroma, made for "eh" scented scrub
Packaging- I ordered plastic tubs from Sunburst, but a variety of containers would work fine. But I'd stay away from glass. I used customized labels for these, that worked well.
Survey Says- This works beautifully (I actually saved some for myself). I like the coarser scrub, because it exfoliates longer before melting away and leaving the super moisturizing olive oil behind. The scent wasn't my favorite and, when I brought it as a gift for a white elepant exchange, my aunt sniffed it and called it "weird."
6. Chocolate Peppermint Lip Balm
This sounds harder than it is, but admittedly will require a trip to a special health food store or purchase online to get a couple of the ingredients. This is adapted from a recipe by Crunchy Betty
What You'll Need:
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp beeswax pearls
1 Tbsp honey
3 Vitamin E capsules, squeezed
7 drops Peppermint essential oil
1 tsp cocoa powder
What to Do:
Warm the oils, beeswax and honey in a small, stainless steel bowl over a pot of hot water. Be sure to warm it on VERY low heat. Stir until the beeswax is completely melted. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in the essential oil, vitamin E, cocoa powder, and colored lipstick. Place the bottom of the bowl into a shallow pan of ice water and continue whisking quickly as you add the honey. Once the honey is incorporated, quickly transfer the balm into your lip balm container (tube or tin) and allow to set for 3 hours.
TIPS: DO NOT TOUCH for three hours The bowl you use will be very challenging to clean. I have not figured a way around this, just letting you know.
Packaging- I used these lip balm containers from Sunburst, which work fine, but I would have preferred larger, shallower containers. I couldn't make small enough labels on StickerYou, so I had to cut them to make them fit. They looked okay, but not great.
Survey Says - This smells great and works really well, and people seem to be impressed that you can make your own lip balm. Still, I wish they were a prettier color. I used some Burt's Bees lip balm for color, and mine turned out way too brown (though it goes on pretty clear). Next time I might also cut back a bit on the cocoa powder. I gave these out with the bath scrub and a scented candle (not homemade; I am only one woman).
So all in all, I think our first homemade Christmas went well. Daniel accused me on several occasions of turning our kitchen into a general store (I liked to keep all my jars and containers stacked in there so I could look at their cute little labels and feel proud of myself), but I think for the most part, it was good. Of course, who knows what the recipients think. Everyone might not be as excited about homemade gifts as I was!
Regardless, Happy New Year!
Both sets of my in-laws, almost half of our siblings, and many of our closest friends live out of state, so we host a lot of overnight guests. I cannot overstate how much easier this is now that there are more than two common rooms in our house. But juggling the kids and jobs and Daniel’s sometimes aggressive travel schedule with the kind of preparation required for hosting houseguests can still be daunting. Thus, I have embraced being the good-enough hostess.
What does it take to be good enough? Thankfully, not all that much.
1. Consistently keep things picked up. Since we listed our former house in the spring, we have tried to hold on to some of the good habits required to keep it show ready. I am training the kids to pick their toys up before we go downstairs for the day, before nap time/bedtime, and before we leave the house. So this discipline, paired with the existence of a playroom, makes a big difference. Now, one toy on the floor does not a clutter emergency make. Keeping the house “picked up” most of the time helps immensely, especially in a neighborhood where people are prone to drop by. We want to be the kind of people who welcome family and friends for impromptu dinners, happy hours or playdates, and if the house is continually picked up, I don’t have to turn down company because my house is a disaster. The downside: I am almost constantly cleaning something.
2. Clean a little at a time. We have no carpet in our current house, just area rugs, tile and old hard wood floors, so I bought a Swiffer Vac to keep up with the dust and dog hair. I use it on an almost daily basis. Downside: there aren't many times when every inch of my house is clean, but this also means my house is rarely out of control and I don’t have to spend a whole day or weekend cleaning anymore. I am okay with the tradeoff.
3. Only deep clean when necessary. At our house, toilets and tubs are cleaned about once every other week. Wood floors are swept every couple days. Kitchen surfaces are multiple times daily, rugs and dusting once a week. The point: everything does not require the same cleaning frequency, so embrace it. An example: I clean our unsealed hardwood floors with a vinegar and water solution. Downside: this is best accomplished on hand and knees. Upside: I only have to do it once or twice a month at the most because it just doesn’t get very dirty. This is obviously helped by my frequent sweeping, but I can handle it if it’s only every few weeks.
4. Shop and plan with company in mind. Whether it’s out-of-town company coming for a weekend or more or a spontaneous dinner invite, I like to have the flexibility to be the go-to house. I plan my meals and shop about a week at a time. I know people who go far less frequently—even once per month! Though I am impressed, this is not something that would work for me now. From June to November, we get our produce once weekly, and I just don’t love freezing everything else. So I plan weekly meals, but with flexibility built in so it’s not a big deal to invite someone over for dinner on a whim. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and knowing how to cook several meals from scratch and memory helps here, because then it’s not necessary to stick to strict recipes. When guests are coming for a weekend or more, I plan for meals in and out (more in than out, since this enables me to visit with our guests too, instead of chasing my restless toddler around the lobby). That said, there is also absolutely nothing wrong with a pizza party or takeout. It's not only about the food.
5. Master a few good breakfast items. My Connecticut contingent taught me how to brunch, so I typically cook breakfast each morning we have guests (with the exception of long-term stays when I am working—sorry, dear mother-in-law!). I am not a short-order cook, so one morning might be honey banana oat muffins and yogurt parfaits, another might be cinnamon raisin French toast and turkey bacon, another might be western omelets or biscuits and gravy. I have a mental block against any sort of breakfast casserole—I have never once accomplished it successfully—but if this is not your Albatross, by all means, cook ahead of time.
6. Create an inviting space. This doesn’t require purchasing more stuff. Make sure you have seating in multiple rooms (that is, if you have multiple rooms), and outside if possible. Leave throw pillows and blankets on couches. Fresh cut flowers, music and candles work wonders. In the case of impromptu company on a day when the Swiffer isn’t charged (and there are dog hair tumbleweeds blowing across the floor), I hope attention will be drawn to my lemongrass candle and Mason jar of Gerbera daisies and not my lax cleaning schedule. Or the wall paper on my kitchen ceiling. You heard me.
7. Let go of the need to be perfect. I struggle with this one. I recently had ten people sleeping at my house—some of my very favorite people. Though I prefer smaller groups that are able to be contained in my guest room with its comfortable bed and flowers on the nightstand to children sleeping on the floor and friends with old comforters on pull-out sofas, the people should stay the focus. I want them to feel welcome in my home, of course, but mostly I just want them to know they are loved. And if I am frantically running around picking up toys as their children happily deposit them on the ground, I am not showing my love. So sit and enjoy your friends. That’s what they really want anyway.
See how okay I am with imperfection? This how-to list only has seven items, and it is not bothering me. At all.
Christina | Virginia Beach
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