Friday, February 21, 2014

Pigtails and Personality

I am thrilled that Abbey's hair is finally to the length that allows a couple of cute little pigtails.  Her hair has been slow to grow and fill in.  But, now that is has begun growing, it is really picking up some speed and making up for missed time.

In the past, anytime I have fixed her hair up really cute, it has only lasted for a short period of time before she undid my work.  I was pleasantly surprised that the pigtails lasted a long time.  That is, until we got into the car.  When we get into the car, Abbey's routine is to remove every article of clothing and accessory possible.  This means socks, shoes, and hair accessories.  So, as soon as we got outside of our neighborhood and I looked back at her, I noticed she had no shoes on and her cute little pigtails were no more.  Oh well!  We are going to keep trying them so she can get used to them, because they are just way too stinkin' adorable.

Here are just a few photos I took the other day that show her pigtails, and, of course, her big personality!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Boy and His Balloon

We visited Central Market yesterday.  I say that like it is an event, because if you live in the Austin area and have kids, it actually can be something to "do."  It's not your typical grocery store.  First off, their produce section is A-Mazing!  In my opinion, their produce department is better than whole foods'.  I would define Central Market as an upscale, health-i-fied, H.E.B. (an awesome grocery chain here in our area).  But, they also have a cool restaurant, food bar, gelato bar, a beautiful, huge, tree covered patio complete with playground, free concerts, the coolest tree ever, walking paths and a turtle pond.  Oh, and I cannot forget to add that kids eat free on Tuesday nights. What's not to love?

This photo is from last year.

We noticed when we visited that some of the kids had balloons.   I knew that not much time would expire before Luke would be asking for one of those balloons.  Anyone who knows me well knows I have only two real fears:  balloons and rubber bands.   Strange, I know.  But, regardless, those are real fears.   I will have to touch on the rubber bands in a separate post.  The fear of balloons I believe began after playing one too many of those relay-type games where you take turns running to a chair, that has a balloon sitting on top.  The goal is to sit on the balloon to make it pop, and then run back to your team's line.  It was the anticipation of the loud pop that initiated my early balloon fears.  There were other incidents that increased my fear--namely some interactions involving the huge punch balloons.

Inevitably, when we got a shopping cart for our Central Market shopping adventure, the stash of helium-filled balloons just happened to be located nearby and were spied by Luke.  Of course, they were free for the taking, so I really had no excuse to say "no" to Luke.  So, he wanted a balloon.  After Abbey saw he got a balloon, then she wanted one also.   I began having flashbacks to those trips to HEB when Luke was little.  Back then, cashiers gave out balloons to little kids at the check-outs.  I planned most of my trips for later in the day, when they would possibly have run out of the balloons.  But, usually I was not that lucky.  Instead, I drove on edge, my heart racing the whole way home as Luke scraped at the balloon.  I was always so worried the balloon would pop and make me jump, jerking the steering wheel and wrecking the car.  Y'all--I'm really not kidding about this balloon fear.  It was a glorious day when I found out they discontinued giving out balloons to kids.  But, back to our central market adventure.   We got our groceries and headed home, balloons in hand.  Luke, now 4-years old, understands that you aren't supposed to scratch at the balloon if you want it to stay inflated.   This was a new concept for Abbey, as she really hasn't been around balloons very much.  Most of the whole, LONG, drive home, Abbey was scratching at her purple balloon.  I praised God when she got distracted and decided to take her shoes off in the car (she usually does this instantly when she gets in the car, but I usually don't praise God about it).  When she did, the balloon wandered away from her, out of her reach.  We arrived home safely.  Both balloons survived.

Luke loved his green balloon.   I guess since they are never around balloons, they are a treasured thing.  This afternoon, I journaled a little bit of Luke and his balloon companion.

The balloon got a little sad today as it lost it's helium.

But that didn't keep Luke from treasuring it.

The boy took that thing everywhere.

He placed it in his play house and instructed me not to open the door.

The balloon was taking a little break.

It was fun to watch Luke do some little experiments with the balloon.  I could tell his mind was really thinking!

As it finally lost most of its helium, Luke asked me why it would not float even though it seemed to have air in it.  So, I explained to him the principles of the weights of different gases.  He searched the house for different objects that could possibly pump more air into the balloon.  It was precious, even though I knew none of the ideas would work.  I still let him experiment.  I eventually did explain to him that none of the tools added helium, which is what we needed.  I love this kid's curiosity, imagination and creativity!

You want to know something funny?   As afraid as I am of balloons, a little piece of me became sad also when that balloon finally died.  Seeing his little heart break just a little bit and try desperately to save that balloon made mine break a little too.  I guess that right there is some true empathy, folks.  And I am just going to go out on a limb and say that I am sure this is not going to be one of the last times my heart breaks when his breaks.   I just love him so much and thank God for this amazing boy each and every day!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Our First "Real" Garden

We are finally beginning something that I have wanted to do for a LONG time.  We are going to be growing our own organic fruits and veggies in some raised garden beds!  Last year, we did a little trial gardening in some pots on our patios.  Honestly, I don't think Drew was ready to commit until he saw that I was not just excited, but also committed to gardening, and that we could actually keep some things alive.  Our first gardening season in the pots went really well.  Any problems that arose I attribute to drainage issues with the pots and soil nutrient issues.  These are things that will be resolved with the use of our new raised garden beds.  Last season, we loved being able to go outside each day and use some of our fresh herbs or veggies for dinner.  Also, I felt like a kid checking on the plants each day to see if there was anything to pick.  It was so exciting to me.

I am excited to teach our kids about food and how it grows from a tiny seed into something that we eat.  I want them to know where our food comes from and appreciate the process.  My parents and maternal grandparents always had a garden, and I have such fond memories of helping care for the fruits and vegetable plants.  My fondest memories though were picking the ripe fruits and vegetables and then, of course, eating them!  How rewarding it was to watch the plants grow, and then produce something that I could eat.  I think watching the fruits or veggies grow, and appreciating how long it took to produce them made them taste even better.

So, this year we are diving in a little deeper.  We began our journey by doing a lot of research into how to create some raised beds in the most economical way possible.  We considered using some old fence pickets that we had, but instead decided to wait until we saw what was available at our local Lowe's (and also see how much it would cost us).

But, before we visited Lowe's for materials, we had to plan everything out on paper and then prepare the space.  After measuring our space, we decided we would build two garden beds, each 4 feet x 5 feet in size.  So, my handy husband removed enough sod in the area where the two bed would be placed, allowing 18 inches of walking space between each of the bed, as well as some space around each of the bed.

It was a lot of work.  Drew reminded me that this was my Valentine's gift.  Ha!  I will take it--a pretty awesome gift if you ask me (and a gift that just keeps on giving).

So, now we were ready to go to Lowe's with our blue prints in hand.   I ended up spying a cart full of random pieces of wood in the center of the big lumber aisle. I immediately found an employee and asked about the wood (whether it was discounted).  He told me that they typically just put the entire cart out front and ask someone to buy it (at a discounted rate) all together.  But, he told me he would be willing to work with us if there were pieces that we wanted.  Well, we hit the jackpot.  We got all of our pieces in this little cart.  We ended up using 16 cedar fence pickets (5.5 inches wide x 6 ft long x 5/8 inch thick).  Cedar is great because it is naturally weather resistant and should last us forever.  We decided we would stack them (two pickets on top of each other) so that our beds would be about a foot high.  We got them for 50% off, and the helpful Lowe's associate even cut them for us in the 4 foot and 5 foot lengths we desired.  We also purchased one other 8 foot post for about $3, that we cut and used to secure each of the corners.  We ended up spending about $20-25 for the materials for both beds.

When we got home with the materials, Drew had a little helper to assist in the garden bed assembly.


We ended up using a couple of extra fence pickets from home for supports along the sides.

Fast forward a couple hours, and here is the finished product, in place:

I think that is quite a bit of gardening space and I am excited about what all we can grow here.  Luke and Abbey have been "pretend gardening" the past couple of days, and it is adorable!   Luke gives her instructions on what to do and she does it.  Here, they are "preparing the dirt" for our plants.  Our next "real" step is to put down some cardboard at the bottom of the boxes to help prevent weeds,  get some really good quality soil and compost, and then plant our seedlings!  I am so excited!  We are also going to try to figure out how to automatically irrigate the boxes.   I almost forgot though--before all that, we are going to install some pvc pipe on the sides to allow us to put some covers on the beds for freezes or to protect from little pests (like birds or small animals)--see photos below.

photo credit:

We are also planning on planting some chard and lettuces in our yard where we currently just have bare mulch.  Chard is beautiful and really can be grown year-round here.

So pretty (and delicious)!
We figure we may as well have some beautiful greenery that we can also eat!  I think we are at a pretty practical stage in our life right now.  If we are going to buy a plant, it better serve more than one purpose!  In other words, we better be able to eat it.  :-)

I really enjoyed my Valentine's weekend with my wonderful hubby.  I really did hit the jackpot when I married him!

We had so much fun working on this project this weekend.  Plus, it felt so good to be outside and enjoy the absolutely beautiful weather that God gave to us.  I love that Drew and I enjoy the same things.  I'm not trying to be cheesy, but this really is a match made in heaven!  I just love him so much!

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Funny Valentines!

Do you want to see pictures of a couple of my valentines?   These are a couple of little people with whom I spend a majority of my time.   You probably guessed who my funny little valentines are this year:

My Handsome little man.
Enough of the pictures mommy....time for silliness to ensue....

Luke and Abbey were eating bananas.  I told them they were my little monkeys.  So, of course, she had to start stomping around, and making monkey sounds.
And then, the pretty outfit came off...

Luke thinks Abbey is pretty funny,
And she snuck in a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich between pictures somehow.  I am not sure how much of it ended up in her belly, as you can see much of it is on her face. 
silly girl
Luke then decided he wanted to change into a new outfit.  This is what he selected.  

Perhaps he is trying to bring back the 80's tall sock look. funny valentines!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Making the Most Out of a Single Organic Chicken

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know I don't like to waste anything.  This even extends to scraps of food.   Recently, I set out on a mission to see just how many meals I could get out of one rotisserie chicken.

Probably what sparked some of my interest in this little adventure was the fact that our new Whole Foods that opened nearby advertised free rotisserie chickens if you spent $25 there.  Of course I can spend $25 at Whole Foods. I love going to Whole Foods.  It is actually a fun event to go there--the kids even love it because of all of the wonderful samples they usually give out.  So, we went and I got a free organic rotisserie chicken.

First, after arriving home, I pulled off all of the chicken.  I used half of the chicken to make yummy tacos that night for dinner.  (I used this recipe and replaced the grass-fed beef with the chicken).  Since the chicken was already cooked, I simply spiced it up with some cumin and turmeric over low heat, and added in some Muir Glen Black Bean and Corn Salsa.  Complement those tacos with some chips/salsa and salad, and boom, meal number 1 is complete.  We actually even had leftovers for the next meal.

Later that night, I placed the rest of the chicken carcass into a crockpot, along with some veggies and water and made some overnight chicken stock.  If you have never made your own chicken stock, let me tell you something:  you are missing out!   It flavors recipes SO MUCH BETTER than the stuff you buy in the store.  Plus, the stuff you buy in the store is usually full of junk, some of which a normal person can't even pronounce.  I have tried a couple of different recipes for it.  The best one was the one I made with a whole chicken I roasted at home.  I think the difference was in the spices used to roast the chicken.  I seasoned my roasted chicken with rosemary, and it ended up making the chicken stock very delicious.  The rotisserie chicken from whole foods also made flavorful stock, but it was just a different flavor over the other.  Otherwise, there wasn't much different in the recipes I used.  So, you can use this super-easy recipe for overnight crock pot chicken stock from the site and have a delicious stock, no matter what chicken carcass you use.  Click HERE for that recipe.

The picture above is just about half of the stock that this recipe made.  I placed the other half into the freezer to use later.  I have used the stock to make homemade chicken pot pie (a healthy from scratch version, of course, with homemade whole wheat crust), and several different soups which have become our favorites.  Soups are just perfect vehicles to sneak some veggies in your diet.   So to recap--this particular round of stock help make the chicken pot pie,  chicken tortilla soup (also using the rotisserie chicken), a La Madeleine's Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, and a yummy lentil soup.  So,  if you are counting, that one rotisserie chicken help to make 5 meals.  Oh, and I ran back to whole foods yesterday and I picked up another one of those chickens (yesterday was the last day of the special deal).  So, we had some soup and some chicken/cheese paninis for dinner last night and tonight.
Before I finish this post, I am going to leave you with one of the soup recipes.  If you want any of the other recipes, let me know and I will be happy to share!

La Madeleine's Creamy Tomato Basil Soup


4 cups fresh tomatoes, cored, peeled, and chopped (8-10) or 4 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed
4 cups tomato juice (or part vegetable or part chicken stock—I used half, or two cups, as chicken stock)
12 -14 basil leaves, washed fresh
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb sweet unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
lemon juice (optional)

  1. Combine tomatoes, juice/and or stock in saucepan.
  2. Simmer 30 minutes.
  3. Puree, along with the basil leaves, in small batches, in blender, food processor (or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the cooking pan). Return to saucepan and add cream and butter, while stirring, over low heat. Garnish with basil leaves and serve with your favorite bread.
(This recipe is excerpted from an article by Beverly Bundy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram around May 20. 1994.  She wrote, "Once a year, in January I run a column of our most requested recipes -- This year, that column included the recipe for La Madeleine's popular tomato basil soup. I continue to get at least 10 calls a week asking for the recipe. So here it is, once again -- ").

This soup is delicious!  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cherishing the little moments

I mentioned in my last post that one thing I have really learned from the cancer that has shown up in my life and the lives of loved ones is that we should not waste any of the precious time we are given here.  It was so bittersweet being away from my family for 5 days while I was with my Oklahoma family.  It was bittersweet because I was SO happy to be there, and ecstatic to be able to spend some quality time with my family and serve where needed.  But boy did I miss Drew and the kids.  I really had no idea how much I would "miss" them.  But, when you really stop and think about it, I usually spend almost every waking moment with the kids.  And yes, while it was a bit nice to have a break from kids and being "needed" non-stop, I also missed it after just a few hours away from them.

So this past week, I cherished even more than usual the special little time I get with them.  I loved the simple moments every day together.

raiding daddy's closet and huge shoes.

Last week I was also reminded about how cancer is always going to be a part of my life.  First off, I have to have regular doctor visits (currently every 3 months with my oncologist).   I also will likely need physical therapy most of my life (to manage issues related to having my left axillary lymph nodes removed).  In addition, any new symptom is something that sets recurrence alarms off.  While I was at my parents' house, my neck really began hurting.  Then, I noticed that both of my mastoid processes (the little bony areas behind the ear) began hurting (were tender to the touch).  I honestly just thought it was all due to my neck muscle pain.  But then my ears also began feeling "full" or like there was a lot of pressure inside.  A few days later, headaches began.  OK, I figured it would probably be a good idea to mention it to my oncologist's nurse to see how she recommended I get it checked out.  Perhaps it was just an ear infection, I thought.  Well, a few minutes after emailing her, I received a return email saying my oncologist wanted me to have a brain mri.  Just hearing those words, "brain mri" made little cancer recurrence thoughts creep back into my head.  I started going through all of the "what ifs" in my head, until I realized yet again that this is how satan has figured out he can try to gain ground with me.  It was a constant battle until I finally was able to go get that scan, a day later.  I prayed the entire time I was in the scanner.  Shortly after I arrived home from the scan, I received an email from the nurse stating my scan was completely normal.  Praise the Lord!  That was on Tuesday.  So, the pain was a mystery.  The pain has finally begun to subside and I am back into my every day normal.  I believe this is yet another way God has taken something meant for evil and turned it into good.  I got that news and found a renewed joy.  It is the moments like these that make you not take your life for granted.  Between that and the time away from my family, I have found myself cherishing every.... single..... moment with them and contemplating what God would like for me to do with the time he has allotted for me here on earth.  

I noticed myself getting the camera out a lot last week as I hung out with the kids.  They would do something that would make me smile, or just amaze me.  Here are a few moments and snapshots I want to remember.

I was changing Abbey's clothes one morning and she ran away from me, wearing only her diaper.  She ran to her baby doll bath tub, grabbed her baby doll shampoo bottle and told me she wanted to take a bath.

I feel like Abbey is growing up so quickly.  It's so hard to keep up with her.

Doesn't she look older in this picture?
Tonight, I was vacuuming.  Abbey asked for the Ipad and went into our bedroom.  She pulled up a game, which we love (Endless Alphabet), and began playing by herself.  I was sneaky and took a phone video of her playing the game.   Abbey loves to learn.  Last week when I was homeschooling Luke, she was learning right along with him, answering my questions, etc.  I saw a little bit of competitiveness between the two of them come out.  Hmmm....homeschooling could be very interesting with these two.  Anyway, below is a short video of Abbey and the Ipad (or click here).  

And this guy couldn't be any sweeter.  He asked to sit on the couch with me, cuddle and hold my hand every day this past week.  He also told me every day about how he missed me when I was gone.