Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Love and Life

Enjoyed my boys more than usual tonight. It was another "boys cook" night (hamburger helper, grapes, garlic toast, S'more dip, and carrots, of course). Calvin and Max had a weird galactic music (from this book's CD) dance party in our bedroom in front of the mirror. Reed filled us in on all the social gems from middle school. Apparently every boy in 5th grade has a girlfriend. Max recently told us that he has two! Not Calvin, though. Homeboy is holding strong as a bachelor.

Calvin: I got another stupid note this year! I don't know why Mrs. Johnson has us do those notes every year. I've gotten one three years in a row!

(Mrs. Johnson is the counselor, whom Calvin really likes. Apparently, though, he's not a fan of the self-esteem building activity she does where the students go around and write compliments on each other's papers)

Me: What was the note?

C: (after much hemming and hawing, hiding under the table and generally dodging the question) "I like you!"

Me: Well, maybe it was a boy who just likes you because you're a friend.

C: It was pink!

Reed:  You can't argue with that.

C: There were only three people using pink and it was in NEAT handwriting! (strongest evidence for NOT a boy)

R: Calvin told me that he acts stupid so that no girls will like him.

Great strategy, bud. Now let's see if you can get Reeco Suave and Two-timing Teddy to start acting stupid, too...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Substitutions

Last night was another one of my favorite dinner nights - boys' turn! Calvin, as promised, made macaroni and hamburger (I'm starting to worry that he's going to try to work macaroni into his dessert turn somehow...) Max was low on inspiration after selecting carrot sticks for one of his sides. I abandoned my non-orange vegetable edict, suggested garlic toast and he went for it. And then Reed totally got the shaft! 

When I went grocery shopping last week, Reed was at church camp. I thought I remembered him saying he wanted cherry pie for dessert, so I picked up ingredients for that. When he came home and I found out I was wrong, I decided to make the cherry pie as a welcome home dessert (I can create dessert-worthy occasions like a boss!) I sort of forgot about his dessert until the day he had to bake it. Reed wanted to make a recipe of my Grammy's he had recently tried, but I knew we were missing a key ingredient. I called my mom to ask if poppy seeds were necessary for poppy seed bread. We decided it should be ok. An hour and a half later, I got off the phone (we can yak with the best of 'em) and texted her a reminder to e-mail me the recipe in case she had forgotten the reason I'd called (she had). I glanced over the recipe to see if we were lacking anything else, checked the egg carton to make sure we had enough eggs, and texted my mom about one more substitution. She thought lime juice instead of orange juice would actually be pretty good. I sent a joking text to my mom asking if subbing salt for sugar would work, but Reed and I had already decided to go for it.

Turns out, I should've checked more than the egg carton. My salt-for-sugar joke wasn't far from the truth! This event happened to fall the day before we were getting groceries. Since being on the Dave Ramsey plan, the cupboards are pretty bare until grocery day. Anyway, in addition to being out of poppy seeds and OJ, we remembered along the way that we were out of milk. No problem - I had powdered milk on hand, so we just mixed up some of that. Then, we realized the recipe called for butter flavoring, not butter. I didn't have any of that, but we just put in some extra almond and vanilla flavor. Crisis averted. Reed mixed up all the wet ingredients and then went to add the flour. Oops. We only had half of the flour we needed. He was pretty exasperated at this point! I scrounged around the pantry and decided cornmeal was probably not going to cut it, but maybe oat flour would work. We didn't have any, but we did have oats. So, I blended up a cup and a half of that and we were on our way, Reed declaring over and over how bad this concoction was going to taste, and me optimistically prophesying that it might be the best dessert ever (and the desperately praying that it was at least edible).

After Reed mixed it all together, we got the pans ready. Grammy's instructions were to line the pans with foil. Reed started to pull a sheet of foil out and was stopped after about six inches. We were out of foil. "Ahh, COME on!" was his response. I told him the foil was probably not that important, had him spray the heck out of the foil-less pan with vegetable oil, and tried to quickly move him toward the next step - pouring in the batter.

At this point, I noticed that the batter was extremely thin. I was already worried about how this all was going to shake out, so we decided to call my mom yet again. I told Reed it would be "fun" if he would be the one who would talk to Mimi. He didn't agree, but did it anyway. It was super fun for Mimi, but Reed was rolling his eyes at me the whole time. He was a bit embarrassed that HIS dish was turning out to be such a fiasco. Mimi informed us that the batter should be as thick as pancake batter. It was more like chicken broth. Then, she suggested we add pancake mix. We DID have some of that on hand. I laughed with my mom in Reed's ear, we hung up, Reed asked me WHY I thought that would be fun, and we moved on. "How much of this stuff should we put in?" he wondered. My response? "Let's just dump some in. At this point, I don't think we could really make it worse!"

With the bread pans in the oven, I could return my attention to the other little chefs. During all the poppy-less bread drama, Calvin was learning how to brown hamburger and Max was dumping exorbitant amounts of garlic salt on un-buttered bread. It was my most interesting boys' night, to say the least. But the meal turned out good and dessert time rolled around. Reed whipped up the lime-instead-of-orange-juice-and-extra-extracts-instead-of-butter glaze and meticulously drizzled it on each loaf. I held my breath while everyone tasted the bread. Reed was disappointed, but not dejected. "It's ok, but NOT as good as Grammy's recipe." I tried for myself, and...


It was great! No, it wasn't poppy seed bread, but it was sweet and fluffy and had a little sour kick to it that added something extra. I had given Reed the heel (we always fought over the heel of Grammy's bread - it's where all the glaze ran and glopped up), but it was a little tough. I had him try a bite of my piece instead. "Hmmm! Actually, it's pretty good!" Phew! Then, in typical Reed style, he had to brag and trash talk about his superior baking skills. Then we had to name the concoction. Below is Grammy's original recipe, with our suggested substitutions:

POPPY SEED BREAD
by Winnie Teeter a.k.a. Grammy

OR

LIMEY, WITH A CHANCE OF TASTING GOOD (Reed's name)
a.k.a. SWEET AND SOUR BREAD (Mom's name)
a.k.a. MADE BY CHANCE BREAD (Calvin's name)
a.k.a. LIMEY AWESOME BREAD (Max's name)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 loaf pans with foil. Or line one pan most of the way with foil and PAM spray the heck out of the other pan and hope for the best.
3 C sifted flour (or 1 1/2 c regular flour, unsifted + 1 1/2 c homemade oat flour + random amount of pancake mix) 1 1/2 tsp. salt 1 1/2 tsp. (heaping) baking powder 2 1/4 C white sugar 1 1/2 Tblsp. poppy seed (or not) 3 eggs 1 1/8 C vegetable oil 1 1/2 C milk (or powdered milk made into regular milk) 1 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring 1 1/2 tsp. butter flavoring (or substitute extra almond and vanilla extract) 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Put all ingredients into mixing bowl and beat for 1-2 minutes. (Do not overbeat.)
Bake for 1 hour. Let cool slightly then poke holes in bread with fork. Pour glaze over bread.
GLAZE: 1/4 C orange juice (use highly concentrated: 1 can frozen o.j. to 1 can water) (or lime juice) 3/4 C white sugar 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring 1/2 tsp. butter flavoring (or substitute extra almond and vanilla extract) 1/2 tsp. vanilla
When cool, lift from pans by foil, wrap until ready to serve. (Freezes well.) Cross your fingers and pray to the good Lord above that it's decent so you don't crush a boy's spirit or, worse, turn him off to cooking.

This boy had his face buried in the glaze bowl throughout much of kitchen duty time!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tiny Blessing



Today was great. I went for a run, worked on back-to-school stuff, made plans for the new youth track team we're starting this fall, played Blokus with the boys, and ate supper with friends. But today was supposed to be so much different. Today, I was supposed to be having a baby.

We really thought we were done after Max. I was even OK with it, despite thinking that I'd always want to have "just one more." After Max, I felt like our life was complete. I even said, "Heck no!" when people asked if we were going to try one more time for a girl. So, when I called my doctor to ask about some weird period issues and she told me to take a pregnancy test, I was sort of filled with dread. I drove to a different town to pick up the pregnancy test, not wanting rumors to get started in our small community. Wouldn't you know a former student was working the counter. And that pregnancy tests are frequently stolen (I sort of see why now) so now you have to ask for them. Awkward! Anyway, after giving her a clumsy, TMI explanation, I drove home, anxious to take the test to confirm that I was NOT pregnant. After all, I had just bled profusely a few weeks ago. But of course my mind wandered to the what ifs. What if I really was pregnant? We did NOT need a baby right now! Plus, that bleeding couldn't have been good.

I took the test with shaky hands and when I read the results, the word I muttered under my breath was not a nice one. I broke the bad news to Ryan with tears and fears. He was amazing. He right away said, "This is a GOOD thing! We'll be fine." That made me a little hopeful, until I remembered that I'd bled twice recently, once a LOT and with clotting. We decided to try not to get ahead of ourselves. We just prayed and waited. Well - that and I talked out every single possibility ad nauseam.

While I tried to process everything, I made five trips to the doctor in a little over a week's time for blood tests, ultra sounds, results, etc. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least. At first, I really didn't want the life-altering event of another baby. I couldn't coach track for several years! We'd have five more years of driving to--and paying for--day care! We wouldn't be able to pay off the house as quickly as we had planned! I was going to get fat and stretched out again! And then I saw the baby for what it was - a precious life. Another little Reed or Calvin or Max or maybe a little Ella Raney! Then, I desperately wanted the baby to be all right. And I had a lot of guilt about my reaction when I first thought I was pregnant. The unexpected had brought out an ugly side of me. Things like finances, schedules, coaching, and my body were more important to me than a life. I was sort of brought face to face with my selfishness.

For most of the time, we thought we were dealing with a miscarriage and preparing to process everything when it was all over. I prayed for strength to handle either a miscarriage or a baby (both equally scary possibilities) and I also prayed that God would use this uncertain time as a "reset" button for me. For years - probably every since becoming a mother - I have prayed for the ability to "let go" of so many things, most of them completely stupid. Laundry, cleaning, school work, perfectionism, and unrealistic expectations kept me from enjoying a large percentage of my life. I felt really blessed and life was great and all, but I always carried a lot of stress around. I was so high strung that I rarely FULLY enjoyed the moment - or the people sharing it with me. While I was praying for forgiveness for placing stupid priorities over the life of my baby and asking God to give me a chance to right that wrong, I realized that I had three "babies" already who deserved to be more of a priority in my life. Whether I got a chance to cherish this baby or not, I could start treasuring the children I'd already been blessed with.

After a second ultra-sound, we were told that our dates were wrong. The strange bleeding that I thought was a period was probably oddly-timed ovulation bleeding, not related to the pregnancy. It explained low HCG levels and an undersized embryo at our first ultra sound. It explained how I got pregnant in the first place. The baby was probably fine, just a little younger than we thought. The doctor still wanted to watch closely, but she was confident waiting a month before checking in again. I was so relieved and, just like that, my fears vanished, and I became  so excited about a new little one. I started a secret Pinterest board and reconfigured our house and my schedule and our budget to make room for another little Layton. Ryan settled into cautious optimism, not wanting to get too excited in case things were still not right, but we decided to go ahead and tell the boys on Christmas Eve. They were THRILLED!

After Christmas, we headed to visit my family in Kansas. I started bleeding lightly the night before we left. I cried. We prayed. And we left the next morning, not knowing what else we could do. I bled all the way to my parents' house, dreading every pit stop. It stayed light, but it never really stopped. It continued through the next day, my Dad's birthday. The day after that it got worse and we were pretty sure we knew what was happening. I very much wanted to miscarry on my own--not in a hospital, so I just called the doctor to ask what to expect. Ryan took me to Wal-mart to get thicker pads, and when we got back I decided to take a shower. Within seconds of stepping into the shower, I passed the baby. It was the most awful thing I've ever experienced. I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out and Ryan came to check on me. We cleaned up and I crawled into bed, exhausted.

Awful as it was, it was such a blessing to be where I was. The boys had no idea anything was going on until we told them. They were sad, but they quickly had lots of people to take their mind off of the sadness and keep them occupied. Ryan was able to be there for me without having to worry about distracting the boys. My sister had suffered a miscarriage about a year before and it was so comforting to have her here. We ended up seeing my aunt who also had a miscarriage years prior and she could speak from experience on the grief.

And God's timing was so evident through the whole ordeal. If I'd lost the baby right away, I would have really struggled with guilt over not wanting him or her. We "had" this baby long enough to want and love it. If I'd lost the baby just a few days into knowing about it, we wouldn't have told the boys. Even though it was hard, I think our family is stronger because of going through pain together. And I don't want to keep a secret like that from them. It could have happened before Christmas break while I was at school. It could have happened while I was at home alone with the boys. It could have happened a few days before we left, when our water heater conked out and we were without hot water for a few days. Or on the road between Missouri and Kansas. Or on my Dad's birthday. Even just twenty minutes earlier and I would have been alone in a stall at Wal-mart.

But it didn't. This fallen world throws some ugly stuff at us, but God gives us what we need to withstand it. I am so glad I was already in the privacy of the shower and Ryan didn't see me go through the loss. For some weird reason, I'm really glad it was just me and God in that awful moment. I was in a warm, soothing place, alone, but surrounded nearby with people who loved me, knew me deeply, and could also distract me and my family from our sadness. Even the date has significance. New Year's Eve. The next day I sort of felt like we could box up the ordeal in 2015 and start 2016 with optimism instead of uncertainty.

And then we headed back to Missouri. Now I realize that our visit delayed the grief a little, because it hit pretty hard after we left. Ryan and I processed it more fully as a couple on the drive home. And then we had a day or two at home before we had to go back to work. Those were the hardest days I think I've ever experienced in my life. I felt so alone in my pain. Sure, Ryan and the boys were sad, but the baby was just an idea to them. I felt like I was supposed to protect and nurture a life, and my body failed.

But I'm grateful God provided those last few days to grieve and pray--and go on a long sobbing walk and then try to croak out the chorus to "Praise You in This Storm" in the shower. I needed that time. And then the real world returned even though I didn't feel ready for it, and going back to work was exactly what I needed to move on with life.

It's strange now, because in some ways it feels like it never happened. And yet God has used the few weeks of that baby's life to change me. I have tried to let go of stupid stressors for YEARS and just couldn't do it. Now, I can't believe I ever worried about some of the things I did. My house has been messier and I've been more relaxed than ever. Oh sure, I freak out every once in awhile, but then we give it a 5-5-5 and I'm good to go. And, I'll be honest here, around the time this all happened, I was to the point where the very presence of my children (and, quite frequently, husband) annoyed me a good portion of the time. I loved them, sure, but more than anything I just wanted them to go away and leave me alone! I won't lie and say I don't still feel like that from time to time, but it's much less often.

And the parts of my life that I thought were going to be "messed up" by a baby I regard with new gratefulness. We enrolled in a Financial Peace University class through our church and are buckling down with our finances. Coaching track this season was so amazing! And I've been eating a little better and exercising a lot more and feel better physically than I have in awhile. I told Ryan that I feel a little guilty about being so happy about the very things that were going to be "ruined" by a baby. But he pointed out that those are the silver linings to our loss, and I shouldn't take the blessings for granted. The other thing that this miscarriage has changed in me is a yearning for heaven. No, I don't want to die young, but I guess I see more clearly what I always knew--that this life is fleeting. We weren't meant for this world forever. And someday, I'll get to hold that baby. The one that I thought was going to "ruin" my life, but whose tiny existence ended up making mine so much sweeter!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Apprentice Chefs

My master plan is finally coming to fruition! Over two years ago, I said I would steal my friend's brilliant idea of having her son cook one night a week. I can't believe my boys are old enough to start, but pinch me! They are!

We started with a stromboli contest. Each boy seasoned and stuffed their own roll of frozen bread dough. I gave instructions, but the only physical help I gave was flipping Max's dough over onto the pan. They rocked it! And they were so proud of themselves! And so eager to find out who "won" the contest. I made up some lame "everybody gets an award" title for each boy, but I'll tell you who won that contest! This mama did! The boys loved it and immediately begged to do it again. After they made three large pizzas the next week, we decided that contests were not sustainable. We didn't want three days worth of leftovers every time they cooked! So, Calvin suggested that one boy be in charge of the main dish, one could make "side options," and one would tackle dessert. Best. Plan. Ever. Now, once a week, the boys are responsible for picking out and making a meal. They get super excited about it, and they're pretty stinkin' good! It's fun for everyone and they learn a new skill almost every time. The other night I was in a pinch getting an omelette roll ready, so I asked Calvin to fry the bacon and Max to crack a dozen eggs. They didn't need any help at all because they'd been trained the night the boys made "brinner." Fortunately, this time Max picked eggshell out of the bowl so we didn't find it in our food.

Some tips I've learned while training my little chefs:

- Kid cooks are super messy! I try to roll with it. If it isn't fun, they won't want to keep cooking.
- I don't hold a spoon much, but I'm needed for advice and instruction constantly. These aren't nights off, but I'm training them so that some day I have three adept chefs (and three nights totally off from cooking!)
- Macaroni and cheese and carrot sticks are apparently the only acceptable side options to my youngest two. Last week, I told them they had to make a vegetable that wasn't orange. Reed shocked me by suggesting steamed broccoli. Calvin decided that on his main dish night he'd make macaroni and hamburger. Baby steps.
- Nothing is perfect, but it's totally worth it. Biting into a few eggshells in our breakfast casserole is a small price to pay for the boys to develop a sense of pride, ownership in family chores, and to be able to feed themselves something other than pizza when they move out. Plus - THREE NIGHTS A WEEK WITH NO COOKING ARE IN MY NEAR FUTURE!!!!!!



P.S. The friend who inspired this idea isn't the only genius in my life. My high school math teacher's wife wrote a book about the concept! Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner: A Team Approach to Getting Dinner on the Table

Monday, July 4, 2016

Project Photo Dump

Here are a few projects I worked on since I've been "off the grid."


About 20 origami stars. This was my "car craft" on the way to Kansas for Christmas. I used this tutorial from Charming Imperfections. I can't wait until next year, when I get to put them on the Christmas tree!


The notes behind the star are for closet shelves I installed FOR FREE in both of our boys' rooms. I used old trim for supports and old tile boards for shelves. They're not pretty, but let's be honest, the boys' closets are never much to look at anyway, so... I also put in a rod drop so Max can reach hung up clothes. No more dressers in the boys' rooms! They're all mine!




I made a light fixture from an old lampshade. I stripped it down to the frame, then wrapped it in random strips of fabric. I used an Ikea lamp cord and a cool Ikea light bulb.


We got new floors! Goodbye Barney pink carpet! I rearranged the furniture, sewed a table skirt to add storage under a desk, whitewashed the brick around our fireplace, and sprayed the ugly gold away with high heat fireplace spray paint.


Before


After



I sewed new kitchen curtains. They're exactly like the old ones, but a little larger check. The old ones looked pink from a distance. They'd bugged me for years, until I happened to find a cheap sheet set of larger check gingham at Ikea. The sheet was way cheaper than the fabric would have been, big enough for all new curtains, and bonus! I have a gingham pillow case, too!


Here is last Christmas's car craft: I punched a bajillion circles out of an old book, glued them back to back along thread, then tucked them into a drum shade I got at a garage sale for $2. I used another Ikea light cord to light 'er up. 


I used ping pong balls to make a cute light strand. Reed uses it as a night light.


Our plain red shower curtain finally got an update! I bought a polka dotted sheet at a garage sale for $1, and cut a strip to make sort of a valance at the top. Then, I tied different ribbons around the shower curtain hooks for a little extra somethin' somethin'.


I used the same sheet to make a little curtain for our laundry room window.