Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I couldn't resist

Handmade pottery has become a weakness of mine, especially when I find a good deal. And Sunday, I found a GREAT deal. I'd come across a posting that there was to be a student sale at the pottery studio/shop in my neighborhood and made a mental note not to miss it. That's the kind of mental note that usually bears no follow-through, but this weekend was fortunately an exception. While sitting across the street having coffee with Paul and the kids, I saw the sign for the sale and remembered! Just a few minutes after it'd started, we went in and found LOADS of beautiful pieces. I seriously could've spent WAY more than I did, but I had to be responsible and settle on these few gorgeous pieces to enhance my smallish but growing collection.
What I love about pottery like this is knowing that someone sat down at a wheel and labored, probably intensely as these are students, to create each piece individually. He or she had a vision and manipulated the clay for each piece to come into existence. Every piece is different, even within a set. They are useful as well as artistic. Practical and beautiful.

I purchased all of these for about $40:

Charlie picked out this mug for herself:
Now I can't wait to use them!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What's new at Joyful Gifts

Today we've spent a lot of time in the car, which has actually been kind of nice. Except for the traffic, things started out fairly relaxing. I had to drop off some of my inventory at ArtSpring, where I sell wine gift bags, blankets, and burp cloths. I've been sewing like crazy for the last two weeks so that I could get things stocked up and hopefully start making a little money again. I so enjoy sewing, and the fact that I can bring home a little profit makes it that much more enjoyable! Here are a few photos of my things that are available at a few stores, as well as at my Etsy store, JoyfulGifts:

Security blankets with wooden teething ring

Burp cloths

Baby blankets and XL baby blankets

Wine gift bags

Paul and the kids were kind enough to accompany me on my trip to Silver Spring, MD, which is only about 10 miles but an hour's drive from home (such is life in this city). Just after we'd dropped off my inventory, we headed into a nearby restaurant for a quick lunch, only to glance at Judah and find him waste high in vomit. The poor thing. We headed outside and got the sick little one all cleaned up and wrapped up in Paul's T-shirt, and then he got sick again about 20 minutes later. After cleaning up Judah again and dressing him in ridiculous scraps of whatever clothing we found in the back of the car, we ended up at Whole Foods (lately, my home away from home) for some great takeout, which we spread out as a car picnic on the side of a very busy street. Then headed home, while Judah slept, Charlie daydreamed, and Paul and I talked to each other and enjoyed each other's company for the long ride home through nasty traffic, scary neighborhoods, and crowds of tourists.
I really love my family. I love that a day like this is actually somewhat pleasant. It reminds me how much times have changed--that a day in the car and cleaning up puke can be nice. Maybe I'm just old and my standards have dropped, or maybe I'm wiser than ever and I'm learning what's important. Some might say, "Six one way, half a dozen another."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Melts my heart

I don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to get this photo up as soon as I could. Judah has taken quite the liking to Charlie's little baby doll, and this afternoon he brought me Charlie's baby sling and asked for help getting it on him. Then he brought the baby doll and asked for help. Just take a look:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great Outdoor Challenge

Because we live in the city, we don't see too many wildflowers besides your basic dandelions, which can grow even in the middle of a sidewalk. Even those get mowed down so often that we really don't see as many as some of you country folk. :) So this challenge has us looking high and low at what little nature that does surround us. It's inspiring!
Here are just a couple pics of some beautiful things we've spotted close to home:

This gorgeous wisteria

These Star of Bethlehem that Charlie wanted in a vase in her room:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Finding Peace

People have different ideas about the definition of peace. For me, peace might entail having my work done for the day (laundry done and put away, the house is clean and fresh, the kitchen stocked, and maybe dinner is ready to go into the oven), children playing quietly and happily, husband happy and satisfied and on his way home, money in the bank to at least cover this month's bills. Everyone is rested and purring like a cat sunbathing in the window.  When life occurs this way, I feel peaceful. Except that I don't. Or maybe I do, but it's quite temporary.
The fact is that things rarely go as we like. And when there isn't enough money in the bank, and I haven't had a full night's sleep for months, and nothing in the world is going to make a fussy Judah happy, and the house is really not up to my standards--if my peace is coming from the wrong place, I'm quite dissatisfied.
While I'm writing this, I'm thinking about how rare it is to find a blog about this sort of thinking. Somehow you always see pictures of my smiling babies and a beautiful (if I do say so myself) chicken pot pie coming out of the oven, but honestly, such a small portion of my life is represented in those photos. Sometimes I feel like I live the rest of my life preparing my kitchen and my kids so that I can take a quick shot of everything looking perfect so that I can post it on my blog. As a matter of fact, at this moment, I'm listening to my kids fight on either side of the bedroom door--Judah trying to get in, "Sissy" not letting him in, Judah screaming, "Sissy" yelling back, etc. I should probably go intervene. Blogging to resume shortly.
Okay, I'm back. Where was I? Oh yes, peace.
In my circles growing up, people always liked to say things like, "Just give it up to God." And what exactly does that mean? When I was pregnant with Charlie, Paul and I attended a Bradley class on natural childbirth. The Bradley method stresses normal breathing and relaxation. When in labor, I found out just how difficult it can be to relax when you feel like your uterus has turned against you and you just might actually die of pain. But even if a woman can't relax, her uterus is going to contract over and over again until that baby pushes her way out. The fact is learning to just give in to the contractions and letting go of all control is the easiest path through labor. My midwife, when watching me struggle through the most painful part of labor, gave me the instruction to just press my body into the mattress and relax. It was such a new feeling--this ACTIVE relaxation. The idea of "giving it up to God" feels very similar. It's not just passively giving up and caring less. Instead it is handing things over to God and then actively following his will, confident that His plan is best.
So I write all of this to say that peace is not in our circumstances. We are not promised happiness in this life. There will be financial struggles, there will be fussy kids sapping the last of a mom's energy, there will be cancer, there will even be death and loss of loved ones. There will be many unexpected heartaches. But there can be deep peace and even joy through our struggles. Peace is an inward understanding of who (and what) God is. My peace today comes from a God who loves me. Knowing peace is knowing that no matter how I fail, God loves me just as I am. It's knowing that God delights in me--that He created me with my quirks and that He actually loves them. That I don't need to earn His love--it's freely given. That even when I'm not looking to Him for peace, He is there to provide it. It's knowing that I have a home in Heaven, when this life is over. First John 4:8 says very simply, "God is love." That means that God loves me because it's what He is! He can't NOT love me!
How can I now be overwhelmingly ecstatic?!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My big little girl and some thoughts on schooling

Charlie is learning to read! I'm so proud of my little girl, and so happy that she is discovering the world of reading. And I must admit, I guess I'm a little proud of myself, too, for learning how to teach her. :) Paul and I'd decided a long time ago that we want to homeschool, but I have to tell you, as resolved as I am, the thought seemed more than a little daunting. We have this book that I've been very happy with:
Every day we do our lesson together when the little kids are sleeping. It takes about 15 minutes or so, and it's a very special time for us. Charlie is getting quicker and bolder every day. I'm learning how she learns, and I know that is going to be immensely helpful once we start the real deal.
We're not going to start "officially" homeschooling for a little while. Charlie turns 5 in September, and as far as we're concerned, there's no need to rush her. We'll start kindergarten some time next year.
The further along we get in our parenting journey, the more I know that homeschooling is the best choice for our family. I know that we all have different preferences and needs, and I'm not at all going to question anyone else's choices. I just know that I can teach my kids better than anyone else can. I like the flexibility that homeschooling offers--both with our schedule as a family and also with the pace that our kids will learn. Homeschooling also offers the opportunity for a parent to immediately see where a child is excelling and should be encouraged and also where that child is having trouble and needs a little reinforcement.
For me, though, one of the biggest reasons for homeschooling is the socialization. Ironically, for some reason, this also seems to be many people's reasons for NOT homeschooling. I don't mean to sound morally superior, but sometimes I see the way kids of all ages are acting, and I just can't believe it. So many kids are rude to adults and their peers, materialistic, hyper, uninterested in learning, aggressive, dishonest, and self-destructive. I personally don't want my kids to be "socialized" in this manner. It's really the blind leading the blind. Kids NEED to be taught by adults how to interact in the proper way. Having them at conventional schools puts kids in a room full of 30 other kids their same age (that are also learning how to behave) and one adult (unless, of course, we're talking about a montessori or other learning establishment). I know that it's not all kids that are misbehaving, and I also know that putting kids in conventional schools is not necessarily going to ensure that they have behavioral problems or that homeschooling is going to ensure that they don't. But I DO know that if my kids are home with me, I will be the primary source of information that they receive and the eyes and ears of how they are behaving. 
I should also mention, regarding the socializing, that there are really good homeschooling communities and co-ops in most parts of the country. Homeschooled kids get lots of opportunities to socialize together, do field trips, and learn in many different environments. I know that I will be doing my best to capitalize on these opportunities once we get started!
Talking to opponents of homeschooling, one might hear something like, "I just don't want to shelter my children from the world." I don't understand this philosophy. Why is "sheltering" our children a negative thing? We SHOULD be sheltering them. There are so many negative and even (dare I say) evil things that can influence these little people at such a vulnerable stage in life.
Again, I'm not judging anyone else's choices. I know many children that are in good homes and are being taught wonderful things at home and at conventional schools. These kids have received great foundations at home and have parents that they know they can openly communicate with. Their parents have made the best choices for their own families.
These are just my thoughts regarding my own family. We all have to do what is best for the little ones that we've been entrusted to raise and turn into responsible big people. We get only one chance to do it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Our Great Outdoor Challenge

We've joined the Great Outdoor Challenge! Around here, we usually do a pretty good job at getting out of the house around lunchtime, but I have a hard time with the hours towards dinnertime and the later part of the afternoon. I'm cooking dinner, getting kids ready for bath- and bedtime, and usually someone is fussy. I'm oftentimes just hanging on until Paul can get home. Anyway, yesterday we'd done our usual midday trip to the park, but just before dinner, keeping the challenge in mind, we decided to head outdoors for a little more nature. So, I slid dinner into the oven and headed out with these two very grateful kiddos. These kids just thrive on being outside! I realized that getting them outside and giving them some fresh air and a change of scenery is an excellent way to distract them and lighten the mood while we wait for dinner and head into the last stretch of the day.

Look at those monkeys!

My nature princess :)
I had a really hard time getting them to stay still for a picture:
A jumping nature princess:
I guess he's taking a rest from all the running!

After a while, I got tired of chasing them, so I just plopped down and took a few pics of what I saw right where I sat. Remember this tree from the blizzard pics?
Right above my head:
And just for fun:
Thanks, Lisa, for the great challenge idea! Everyone else, please join at: 5 Orange Potatoes!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pie's not just for dessert anymore

If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to a woman's heart is to compliment her cooking. I've said this to Paul many times. Not that I'm fishing for compliments. I'm really just trying to make things easy for him. ;)
Today I ventured to make a chicken pot pie from scratch. Okay, I used frozen veggies instead of shucking my own corn, chopping my own carrots, etc., but the sauce and crust were entirely from scratch, and I used leftover chicken that I'd roasted a couple of nights ago (yet another way to stretch your roasted chicken).
I'd never before made a chicken pot pie. In fact, I didn't think I liked chicken pot pie, but as it turns out, I must not have rememberd it very well. It has been a long time. So, I turned to the Internet for an easy-looking recipe and didn't like any that I found, so I just made my own. And, if I do say so myself, it was undeniably delicious!

Jenni's Chicken Pot Pie

Pie crust (see link)
I followed these directions exactly except substituted butter for shortening. You really, really need to make your own pie crust for this recipe. Seriously. Do it. If you don't, it's just going to taste like you bought the whole thing in the freezer section.

3 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks celery
1/3 C flour (I never really measure stuff, so I'm just guessing, but that seems about right)
2 C chicken broth, heated
1/4 C heavy cream

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and celery. Cook until soft. Now add flour to make a roux. Once you've got that stirred and smooth, add broth. Stir and cook until it's thickened to a gravy consistency. Add cream and stir.

The Rest
1 bag of frozen mixed veggies (I used a bag of peas, green beans, lima beans, corn, and carrots. You could always chop your own and just throw in whatever you like, but if you're using fresh, be sure to steam them first.)
About 3 or 4 Cups of cooked and chopped chicken (ahem--Leftover roasted chicken is amazing here.)

Take half of your amazingly buttery from scratch pie crust and carefully place it in your deep dish. I think that those big Corningware casserole dishes will be too big, but a regular pie dish will be way too small. You need something in between. I used a medium casserole dish that was just perfect. Toss in your veggies (right out of the bag) and chicken. Pour your sauce over and carefully stir everything so that it's evenly mixed. Now lay the other crust on top, pinch the edges together, vent the top. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour. Let it sit for a few minutes before you dig in. It's seriously worth the wait.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter 2010

Did you have a good weekend? We sure did. Praise God for the incredible sacrifice of His Son, Who rose from the dead so that we could be with Him in glory one day! What wondrous love. I hope that you were able to worship today, and that you will every day.
What a lovely Easter. It was the warmest that we've had in years. Paul's parents were here for the weekend, which was such a great treat for us and the kids. We used to travel to South Carolina just about every holiday to visit with both of our families, but the last year or so we've found it just too taxing to be in the car for that length of time with two kids. It's really great to have family come up our way for a change.
This morning we woke up bright and early and hid the kids' Easter basket (yes, basket--they shared. they will each get their own starting next year, once judah is a bit bigger). I don't know if everyone does that, but in my family, my parents always hid our baskets and let us find them before church. I love this tradition! Anyway, we went to the early service with Paul's parents and then to brunch with good friends, Micki and Parker (pictured in the previous post on the egg hunt yesterday). Then we had some play time the rest of the day and were able to visit Benjamin's grave, too.
I've been reminded lately of how much life changes once kids are in the picture. Our weekends totally revolve around these little people and Charlie's ballet class and Judah's naps and what we can do that would be fun for them. Short of necessary errands, there are very few activities that are not about the kids. It's exhausting, but oh so rewarding. It's so interesting to view life from this perspective and to know that this is why my parents did so much for us when we were little. I remember our egg hunts (then again, my parents still have egg hunts for their adult children--I'll tell you about this sometime, but it's awesome!) and our trips to Disneyland and the pool we had in our back yard and so many other fun things. I never really thought about it then, but I get it now. For all the effort that goes into a really great surprise or fun trip, etc., the joy on my kids' faces is so worth it.
I'm also impressed with the daunting task of teaching my children about God. It's such an incredible calling, and it's certainly one that I never gave much thought, until Charlie was born. I pray many times a day that they will grow to love God and to love others. I know that God loves my children more than I am able to and that He will raise them to be the people that He wants them to be, but we have such a responsibility as their parents to teach them consistently.
And now the little ones are tucked into bed (at least one is asleep already), and Paul and I are going to have some quality time with a movie and then go to bed and get ready to start the new week. What a wonderful life.

Charlie blew some bubbles to Heaven for her brother, Benjamin:
I promised Mom that I would send post some photos of the dress and hat that I made for Charlie:

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Egg hunt

Oh, another glorious day in the DC area! We had some friends over today for an Easter egg hunt in our condo's courtyard and then a simple lunch of salad, sandwiches, fruit, and yummy desserts. It was such a nice, relaxing, and fun time. The kids had a ball. Here are a few pictures:

Judah has taken such a liking to his Pa pa. :)
Did you notice Charlie and Judah's handmade Easter totes? ;)

We're really looking forward to celebrating our Lord's resurrection at church tomorrow. A happy Easter to all of you, and God bless.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rant Friday

I'm really tired and on my way to bed, but I really wanted to post another short rant. This post is for the guy sitting next to me, or in front of me, or somewhere obviously within earshot even though I can't necessarily tell exactly where you are, while I sit in my minivan at a red light listening to Vivaldi or Mendelsohn or even REO Speedwagon on occasion and you are interrupting my Four Seasons or my "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" with your RIDICULOUSLY obnoxious bass-pumping bad music. TURN DOWN YOUR RADIO!!! I do not want to hear your crap that you call music, do you understand? I know that I sound really old and really whatever, but seriously. It's soooo obnoxious and rude. Nobody needs to listen to music at that volume anyway, okay? So, if you're not going to pay any mind to the damage that you're inevitably causing your fragile eardrums, please respect the air space around you and recognize that it's just not okay to impose your bad taste on those around you.
Whew, glad I got that off my chest. Now, good night and pleasant dreams to you all. :)

Cherry Blossoms 2010

Every year we try to see the cherry blossoms, and every year we drag a kid or two and a stroller down to the Tidal Basin at the same time that the rest of the country seems to be in DC to do the same thing, and I complain the entire time that there are just too many tourists here. This year, I thought we'd do what the locals do. So I dragged the family down to the Tidal Basin VERY early in the morning on a weekday to avoid the crowds. It turned out to be a really beautiful day with the temperature and the sun and the peaking of the blooms. Just perfect. We grabbed breakfast on the way into town and sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with our bagels and egg-and-cheese sandwiches, and then made the mile-and-a-half hike over to the trees.

Awwwww . . .

Here is Judah breaking rule number one, the little rebel that he is:

Charlie took this one of us: