Annual Apple Picking

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Last weekend we made our annual trip out to Peace Valley orchards. I thought Sophie would enjoy it more, now that she is a little older, but my little grumpy girl had just awoken from a nap as we were arriving. Cora on the other hand was thrilled and excited by the sensory overload.

She could not stop touching all of the gourds! Sophie preferred to stay in my Mother-in-law’s arms.

They didn’t only have apples in the country store on the property, but lots of other locally grown vegetables. We picked up an eggplant, [for the delicious ratatouille I’ve been making lately,] an onion, plums, and 2 peppers in addition to our bag full of apples. Of course, I couldn’t resist letting Cora pick a gourd since she had become so fond of them.

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It seems silly to drive 45 minutes just for some apples, but i enjoy driving the country roads and the atmosphere of the orchards. It really makes me feel like fall is approaching, even if the weather has still been hot and humid.

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I am so excited to share the holiday season with both girls. Sophie is getting older and subsequently more curious and excited about new traditions, while Cora has a curious nature in general. I love watching them explore and experience new things.

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In a few weeks it will be time to find a pumpkin patch, but for now, I need to come up with some truly delicious apple recipes. I have plans for some delicious pork chops and apple hand pies.

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Thanks for reading up on our apple picking adventure!

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A Mommy’s To-Do List

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Last night, for the third night in a row, my big toenail caught on the sheet as I slid into bed. Oh yeah, I meant to cut that yesterday, well — really, I meant to cut it 2 nights ago. I should put that on my to-do list.... and as I talked to myself about my toenail, I began to laugh. My TO DO list?! Really, I need to write it down on a list for my toenails to get cut? What has become of my personal hygiene? So I decided to take a screen shot this morning, of my to do list. I make a list every week of the things I hope to accomplish, and it is usually some variation of this list.

Typically, there are three components to my list: stuff for the girls, chores, and personal hygiene.  Never in my life would I have thought that personal hygiene would end up on a to-do list, but until you’ve been a parent you just don’t realize how much of your time caring for children takes up. And if you think that’s gross, then stop reading here because I’m about to explain item #1 on the list…

“Soak Cora’s clothes” you know what that means? Whenever Cora has a diaper blowout, I try to soak the poopy clothes ASAP. Some times we’re out shopping when this happens, so the soiled outfit gets wrapped in a bag and thrown in my purse. (yep, that’s another thing I never thought I’d do…. carry poop in my purse.) So at some point during the week, I have to gather up all the soiled clothes, pre-treat them, and then soak them because they literally have been soiled for DAYS and I’ve either forgotten about them, or they honestly got lost in the abyss of my enormous diaper bag.

Now chores are what you’d expect to find on a to-do list. These chores are pretty run-of-the-mill, but notice how there are no deep cleaning chores such as “clean base boards” or even “dust.” It’s a miracle that week old poopy clothes get washed and not just thrown out, ok? In addition to all the other BS on my to do list, I am keeping my babies alive and happy, while also trying to keep myself alive and happy which takes roughly the same amount of effort.

 

The Sunshine State

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You may have noticed I was pretty much absent last week. That is because we took a family vacation to Florida! I didn’t necessarily want to announce to the world that we’d be gone, but if you follow me on Instagram, I’m sure you noticed we were in Orlando for most of the week. Of course we did all the stereotypical things like Disney, swimming, Universal, and Seaworld… AND I LOVED IT.

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Seeing Sophie experience all the stimulation with her new, more developed consciousness was an amazing thing to witness. She is so much more involved and communicative this year! Her favorite activities [I think] were The Little Mermaid ride in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and Seaworld. (She’s really into fish right now; can you tell?) She kept asking to see “moooe fish!” and asked to ride The Little Mermaid 3 times in a row. She actually asked to go a 4th time, but it was almost 10 pm at that point, and we decided to call it quits for the day.

 

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Cora was an angel during all of these adventures. The only time we had trouble was pretty much any time we were in the car. There were also a few colic fits in the hotel, but for Cora that was good behavior. I liked being able to bond with her a little while my in-laws played with Sophie. Watching her react to her vibrant surroundings was entertainment in and of itself! While Cora won’t remember the trip, we have fun photos and stories to share with her when she gets older.

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This trip was a milestone, because it is the last time we got to travel with Sophie as a “lap infant.” Once a child turns 2 they need their own seat on an airplane and are obviously not considered to be babies any more. Even though I have a new baby already to “replace” whatever baby aches I may be having, it still makes me sad to watch Sophie transition into this independent little girl instead of the baby who would quietly cuddle in my arms for hours on end.

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All in all, we had a few bumps, but no major problems while traveling. I’m considering an updated post for my “Traveling Parks with Babies” series that focuses on traveling with 2. Be on the look out for that and other Spring/Summer inspired posts in the coming weeks!

Sister, Sister

I can’t tell you how much time and energy I invested worrying about how Sophie would transition to having a newborn around. Would she act out angrily? Would she be devastated? Well, so far she just seems indifferent

She was a little confused when she walked into my recovery room, early on the morning I had given birth to Cora. Everyone was eagerly watching her reaction to the bundle in my mother’s arms. Sophie walked up, and ever so sweetly leaned in and pursed her lips. My mom lifted Cora up so Sophie could plant a nice little kiss on her forehead. After that, it was business as usual. She wanted to play on some one’s cell phone and eat a snack. That trend has continued ever since the first day and I have to say, I’m quite relieved.

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Every once in awhile she gets curious, or concerned when the baby is crying, but otherwise she doesn’t detect any reason to act out or think that anything is different. She’ll approach this little rock ‘n’ play cradle that we keep by the window and say “oh, bebe!” or some times she’ll gently rock it, wanting to “help,” and those are the moments that melt my heart. Hopefully, her love and interest will only grow and we will continue to have a smooth transition. I truly believe that having the girls close in age will help, as Sophie will never quite feel “dethroned,” in fact, I think very shortly she’ll hardly remember a time without her baby sister.

The Role of Grandparents

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Grandparents are super special, super important members of the family unit. It takes some figuring out, as you yourself are trying to learn and develop your own parenting style while also trying to take pointers from your own parents and then juggling in laws on the side. If you’re lucky like me, then you have grandparents who want to and enjoy being very hands on. For me, this set of grandparents happens to be my in laws. If we were on the other side of the country, it would probably be my parents, as geography would have it. Some couples live far away from both sets of grandparents, which is tough, but this post is for those of us who have grandparents in our child’s day to day lives.

Now, why does that matter? My kids will spend a lot of time with my in laws. Sophie has already had numerous sleepovers with them, and even when we’re in California, we stay with my parents, giving her 24/7 access to gramma and grandpa’s love and spoils. So, how do you keep a child from being spoiled, when they’re spoiled with the attention of doting grandparents? What is the role of the grandparents who see your kid on a weekly or even daily basis?

It seems like a simple question, but it’s one I really wrestled with at first. I mean, I was spoiled by my grandparents, and they hardly [if ever] disciplined me. Then again, I didn’t see them as often, nor were they “go-to” babysitters or in any other role that may have required them to actually help raise me instead of just dote on me. So what does this mean? Am I to instruct my in laws on how to discipline my child? That’s awkward.

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No, instead I’ve decided that a balance is best. The grandparents’ role is not to be a disciplinary, they have already traveled that road once. The grandparents’ role is to correct. What’s the difference? Discipline requires some sort of action: a spank, a time out, a punishment. Correction demands that the bad behavior be acknowledged, and that good behavior is instead encouraged. If you think this is “too soft” of an approach, let me tell you I have witnessed Sophie take the things her GG says under advisement, when normally it would take a punishment from a parent to get the same reaction. There is a certain amount of respect and fear of disappointing the beloved grandparents that fuels my child to listen to a correction from them. With me, Sophie will risk my disappointment and a punishment to get what she wants [which some psychologists contribute to the child knowing that they are unconditionally loved by the parent, and know also that the disappointment is only temporary]. Additionally, when we do indulge in rare visits to see my parents in California, we want them to have fun spoiling our kids. The last thing I’d want to do is taint an opportunity for my kids to have fun with my parents by having my parents punish my kids. Even if they are genuinely naughty, a grandparent can encourage better behavior with their grandchild, and then continue doing whatever fun activity they were doing. If a problem persists, then you as the parent can step in, or take some thing away from them as punishment later.

So, do I cringe when I see my child throw a toy inside her GG’s house? Yes. Do I want to take disciplinary action right then and there? Totally. When I see my child fussing, do I some times wish my in laws would just put her in time out already? Some times! But I know that when GG, Pap, Grandma or Grandpa gently remind my child that she shouldn’t act a certain way, that wisdom is being imparted on my child by her elders and it is an appropriate way for a grandparent to be involved of the shaping of my child’s temperament, while also still getting to be the fun-loving grandparents they’ve always wanted to be.

Our Last Date

The week Sophie was born, I have a very distinct memory of Justin and I going to see whatever X Men movie was out at the time. Despite my love of Hugh Jackman, I wasn’t eager to go being a few days over my due date, but my mom convinced me saying that the time of “just the two of us” was limited, and I should take advantage of the “extra” time I was given, being past due. Its a find memory that J and I recalled frequently during tough times during our first year with Sophie.

At 38 weeks, J lured me up to Pittsburgh to go to The Cheesecake Factory, with coupons for 2 free slices of cheesecake. There was no blizzard like we’ve had the past week, the sun was shining, and it felt so nice to get out of the house.

Now, I recommend a small date or even full on “babymoon” vacations to other women I know who are pregnant. The third trimester is tough, and little outings like this help the end to be a little more bearable! My mom comes in this weekend and I can’t wait to see her. It will be nice to have the extra help and maybe get to sneak in another date before baby arrives.

Christianity, Advent, and Family Traditions

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Most people think that there isn’t anything special going on between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most people would be wrong. There is a whole season, rich with tradition, whose whole purpose is to prepare us for Christmas. I was raised in a Catholic home, but you may be surprised to hear that Advent isn’t exclusively a “Catholic thing” [though like Lent, it often is associated with our church]. In fact, more and more I am seeing evangelical and non denominal bloggers encourage Christians to celebrate Advent. 70% of Americans say they consider themselves Christians, so why don’t they know about Advent? What even is Advent?! The word “advent” loosely translates from Latin to mean “arrival,” pointing to our anticipation of the arrival of Baby Jesus at Christmas. So, we have a whole season dedicated to waiting for Jesus, and that makes sense right? I mean, we all except the secularized version of waiting for Santa to bring us gifts. But what is the difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting for presents?

Preparing ourselves for presents usually involves making a list of our wants and needs, lusting over beautiful items in store windows [or online…], saving up money to buy things for other’s, and anticipating the arrival of these things. Preparing for a person is much different. Typically you clean your house, make sure you have food to offer that person, and if they’re some one you love, you are excited that they are coming over! Advent allows us to clean up our hearts by focusing on how to improve ourselves and how we can be more charitable. Like the anticipation of company, the anticipation of Jesus warrants a whole tradition of special recipes; there are many traditional advent dishes I never knew existed, but fasting or abstaining from eating too many sweets is also a tradition people used to practice to ensure they had plenty for a Christmas feast. And of course, we wait in joyful expectation for the birth of Jesus on December 25th. See the difference?

When we had kids,  my husband very definitively said he did not want Santa to be apart of Christmas with our children. At first I was taken aback, but now I see the wisdom in this position. Of course, let me just say I don’t condem the practice of “Santa” he is a saint after all, and his bringing of gifts is arguably a Christian tradition. However, the way I want my children to view the Christmas season is more easily communicated, by me to our kids, when the focus of getting gifts and magical men in the north pole are absent from the equation.

Still, that left me wondering How do I get them to participate in Advent? Advent, though it starts long before Christmas, [it begins Nov. 29th this year…] does not warrant the halls to be decked with any sort of seasonal dressings. In fact, advent calls for us to abstain from most “Christmas” related activities until it is officially Christmas. As hard as this sounds, it is meant to intensify our anticipation of the coming of Jesus. So again, I’m left with the question, How do I celebrate advent? Well thanks to Christian bloggers everywhere, I’ve collected many different ideas and been inspired to create a few new traditions of my own.

Decorating even though “Christmas” decorations aren’t encouraged, the church is typically decorated with purple cloths, an advent wreath and candles. I plan to wrap the pillars on our front porch with purple tulle from the craft store, and hang a simple wreath on our front door, which will be symbolic of an advent wreath. Inside, I will have our actual advent wreath on our coffee table.

Music I know it’s hard not to bust out the Christmas music as soon as department stores begin playing it and putting up their festive decorations you know, the day after Halloween?] But did you know there is such a thing as advent music? Some songs may even be familiar to you like O come, O come Emmanuel. Songs about the joyful longing we have for Jesus can work as advent songs in addition to music about prayer, hope, and preparing the way of the Lord! That gives you a lot to work with in terms of songs you can listen to, leading up to Christmas day.

Traditions Lighting the candles on your advent wreath is the most common tradition, but advent calendars are a great way to get kids to participate! Also, making what is called a “Jesse tree” is another tradition that is new to me, but a great way to get little ones participating! You make ornaments that symbolize each of Jesus’ forefathers, and also important moments in salvation history. So one day you might hang an ornament of baby Abraham, and the next day you’d hang a rainbow ornament symbolizing Noah’s ark.

Feast days This is something that is definitely more geared for Catholics, but can be celebrated by others as well. St. Nicholas [aka Santa…] actually has a feast day in the church dedicated to him already. It’s on December 6th, and the tradition that goes with this feast is reminiscent of our Christmas stockings. You are supposed to leave your shoes out, and St, Nicholas will come and fill them with treats. This tradition came about because St. Nicholas would anonymously leave riches and food for the poor by placing the items at the doorstep, or in the shoes of the needy while they slept. Having grown up in San Diego, I know the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec 12th, which would be a great day to tell the story of Our Lady and St. Diego over a nice mexican food dinner. The next day, St. Lucia is a feast that’s popular in Sweden and Italy. Having lived in Italy, St. Lucy brought food and drink to her Christian friends, who were hiding in the catacombs from the Romans [it was not popular to be a Christian in her lifetime]. In order to light her way and still be able to carry the food and drinks, she places candles on her head. I’ve heard of some families who pick this feast day to put up their Christmas lights in honor of St. Lucia lighting her way to help the Christians.

The Nativity This is actually a festive decoration you can justify having out during advent, but there is a fun activity that goes along with it. Whenever one of your kids does some thing charitable, they get to place a piece of straw [or yellow yarn] in the manger, so that it will be nice and soft for Jesus when he arrives. Of course, this means you have to leave Jesus out of the nativity scene to get the full effect of this activity… but I love it!

Meditation Catholics are encouraged to go to confession in order to be pure of heart when Jesus arrives on Christmas, but even if you’re not a sacramental Christian, you can still prepare your heart by being prayerful until Christmas day. As mentioned above, you can use the season of advent as a time to work on a “new year resolution” ahead of time. Think about things you need to work on. Maybe take time to forgive some one you’ve been holding a grudge against. If nothing else, take time to relax and spend time with family instead of participating in the notoriously busy “christmas” that is advertised and pushed in secular society.

Sacrifice I know this one sounds scary, but I bet you do it already, even if you’re not a Christian! More people sacrifice entire paychecks to buy nice gifts for friends and family. Charity is a big part of preparing for Jesus. Whether you spend a little extra on a loved one, donate gifts to children in need, or offer your time to help the homeless, any sacrifice is a good way to honor the season of advent.

Did you know Christmas only STARTS on December 25th? That’s right, traditionally the Christmas season doesn’t even begin until AFTER December 25th! You know, the 12 days of Christmas? I think you’ve heard of it… Anyway, everything before December 25th is technically advent. So, while it’s tough to remove yourself from the green and red bonanza that begins November 1st in the shopping mall, give celebrating advent a try this year instead.