Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!



My Super Heroes, Batman and WonderGirl. 


I've been holding back the kids' costumes for weeks now, trying to ensure they won't tire of them (and destroy them) before the big day. On Sunday I gave in and let them see their costumes for the first time. We had a Halloween party to go to that evening and I figured they'd waited long enough.


Batman quickly got in character. Serious and intense.



For some reason WonderGirl was really interested in sweeping the sidewalk. Perhaps it was the swap of her red boots for pink slippers, she thought she was Cinderella.




Still in character, Batman and CrazyWonderGirl.



Showing me their magic cuffs and gloves...



I have to say I feel a little like WonderMom, getting their costume pieces collected and assembled a good week in advance.I even found Batarangs for Charlie! Time to trick and treat...   

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mudroom Inspiration


We've been in our new house since the end of June, but it is far from complete. After the rush of finishing up various aspects of the construction (installing vent grates and floor trim, hardware on closet doors, etc), it is time for the fun stuff and adding the finishing touches that make a house a home. We're tackling room by room. We're not going out and buying new things all at once to fill up and finish the spaces. We're slowly finding inspiration and only purchasing things we truly love. It isn't a fast process. But the upside of taking our time is that we've found new uses for furniture and objects we already have - putting them to a different use in a new space is a win-win. And the best part about being slow and deliberate with each space is that you end up with a design you really love.

With the cooler weather and the need for coats, hats and gloves, the mudroom has become our priority. We don't have a coat closet on the main floor and the pile of sweatshirts, shoes and socks inside the front door is not working for anyone. We imagined a mudroom with built-ins and locker spaces for each of us, but that wasn't in the budget. The mudroom is actually the hall space just off the garage door and there is enough room for a bench, wall hooks, and a few bins to keep loose items organized. We need a spot for keys and phones, preferably something hidden. The mudroom area has a huge window that lets in natural light and really high ceilings. One of the perforated steel screens borders one wall of the mudroom giving it visual interest. As the hub between the garage, basement and kitchen, this space will get lots of traffic. Here are some ideas we're considering for the mudroom:

1. Metal locker bin, Land of Nod 2. Dot coat hooks, CB2 3. Sassy Green paint, Sherwin-Williams 4. Rustic Bench, West Elm. 5. Dark gray floor tiles, Architonic 6. Custom perforated-steel panel, Hufft Projects 7.  Fiddle Leaf Fig  8. Hide n' seek storage shelf, CB2

Friday, October 25, 2013

Back in time


I seem to have turned back the clock this fall to 1988, 1993, 1996...It started with a fun trip to see my best friend since junior high (aka middle school, that alone dates me!) and her family in their new home on the East Coast. We decided a trip centered around a concert would be a good excuse to pick a date - and it just so happened that our favorite band OF ALL TIME was touring....what luck!

I had high expectations for a fun weekend in NYC with Ryan and seeing my friends, but I was somewhat indifferent about the concert. I knew it would be fun because we were all going together, but I hadn't seen this band in concert since 1993 and 1994 (scratch that, in full concert since 1994. I saw them in 2006 and they cancelled the show after 4 disappointing songs..I was crushed.). And let's face it, they are getting up there in age - Dave and Martin are 51 and 52. As a loyal fan, I was looking forward to the show, but I didn't have high hopes. 

I was completely surprised. They were just as energizing and dynamic live as I remembered them - maybe even better. I became a devotee all over again.  


There are some bands that just come alive on stage and Depeche Mode is one of them. Dave Gahan has to be one of the best at working the crowd...if you haven't seen them live, you will have to take my word for it.

My parents used to worry about me and this music and the strange looking men staring out from the almost life size poster on my bedroom wall as a teenager. Admittedly, some of the songs are a bit dark. But some of them are really fun and upbeat, too. The feel of the music always spoke to me more than the words. And although Dave has lived at least nine lives, he still seems to love what he does. It is amazing to watch.




For one night, we were 16 again, singing our hearts out and dancing like no one was watching (except our poor unprepared spouses!). And we were 20 years old again, driving from Kentucky and Kansas to meet in St. Louis and see our favorite band - driving the long road back home the same night as only 20 year-olds can do. 

Sometimes you can go back in time and find your memory holds true. What joy, relief even, to discover the present matches your expectation of the memory. You can rewind the music and hear it sound reassuringly the same. The same, but better. And you can discover that you, at 40, are the same person you were at 20. The same, but better.


I went back to 1988-89 for a reunion of our high school girls' Back to Back State Championship Basketball teams. I actually took to the old court and played once again with teammates I hadn't seen in 25 years. It was surreal. And better than I imagined it would be - we had so much fun celebrating the wins, reliving the memories, recounting the highs and lows. Charlie and Izzy yelled "Go Mom!" from the stands and gave me high fives down on the court. This world  - the court and the personalities it contained - is a part of me that I had forgotten.


The experience transported me immediately back to my 16 year-old self (again), living with the intense focus of improving in practice every day, of learning and striving for excellence. It was a time in my life when the measure of success at the end of the day hinged on getting the ball in bounds, and on making critical free throws so the whole team didn't have to run at the end of practice. I was reminded of the mixed tapes that Susan would make for me before a big game - always including Depeche Mode, of course. Mixed tapes!

There were many tears of frustration surrounding those years. The resounding feeling that surfaced during the reunion was that I never quite measured up. I was never as good as the team needed me to be.

But then there's this - I played with All-Americans and future Division I athletes; I had one of the best coaches a high school student (or parent) could ever hope for; I learned just how hard you have to work to be successful in life. 

I didn't have much talent, but I know I worked as hard as I mentally and physically could. I left it all on the court. And the court, my teammates, and my demanding coach left an imprint on me - shaped my will and desire, and dictated how I respond to adversity in my life today. We are a sum of our experiences and our interactions. 

Ryndell and I were co-captains our Senior year. Coach left after we graduated and has been coaching boys ever since. Because boys don't cry.


And finally, a few weekends ago I went back to 1996 and my rowing days at KU. Through rowing, I erased the basketball demons and finally felt like I measured up. By all intents and purposes, I am not built to be a rower (nor a basketball player, for that matter). The rowers on the team today stand a full foot taller than me. I wouldn't be able to compete with them if I were a college student now.

But my timing was just right almost 20 years ago. I put in three years when the team was a club sport and did all our own fundraising, sleeping on gym floors if it meant we had the opportunity to race. Then by some miracle (aka Title IX) we were granted Varsity status and I was a co-captain on the first NCAA-sponsored KU Women's Rowing Team. This time, I laid it all out on the water instead of the court.

I loved every minute of the early morning rows on the water, the off-season stair workouts at the stadium, erg workouts in Allen Field House. I was in my element and it was as close to a perfect year as I can imagine. Rowing, reading Shakespeare and Flannery O'Conner, and pushing my body to the limit. I wouldn't trade that year of my life for anything.


The team is much bigger now, has an amazingly beautiful boathouse, and I know the sport is much more intense and time consuming than what we experienced that first year. Some aspects haven't changed - same coach, same Game Day design on the oars, same stretch of river to row on.


The crowds are bigger now, and I can't say the band, Jayhawks and cheerleaders ever came to one of our regattas back in the day. In many ways, the program is the same, but better. And seeing it through my children's eyes made a once familiar routine look brand new again.

They say you can't ever go back. They say going back can be disappointing, stir unwelcome memories or reveal details you were better off forgetting. But going back can also be rewarding, bring clarity, and offer insight and perspective. Going back can give you fresh eyes through which you view your past, your present.

We are the sum of our experiences and our interactions. And I'm glad for it.

One more for the road...this one just makes me smile.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the weekend mommy

Some weeks I feel incredible satisfaction at work and in my profession. I feel like I am making a difference and accomplishing many things - things that matter. Some weeks I am inspired and excited about the work I do, the people I get to work with. There are times when I feel I have the world on a string.

Not this week.

Perhaps it's because our new house is feeling more and more like a home and I just want to spend more time there - with the kids. Perhaps it is because very soon I will be signing Charlie up for kindergarten, and the many years of school that will quickly follow frightens me. My babies aren't really babies and I'm missing so much. Perhaps it is the fun of Halloween and the desire to make ghosts and spiderwebs and carve pumpkins. Lately, the weekends just don't seem like enough time. 

Perhaps it is because I want to try something completely different with my career. Find a new challenge and a new form of inspiration - one that fits more comfortably with raising a family. I'm not sure such a career exists, nor if I have the nerve to find out.


Our house is full of toys the kids only get to play with occasionally. They spend 40+ hours a week away from home, just like I do. They rarely get to spend a lazy morning in their pajamas playing on the floor, watching Sesame Street. Kids should get to watch Sesame Street. It is a right of passage, one my children barely know exists. 

I want to have time to take them to the library, not just at 6:00pm on a Tuesday when we have to rush to get home and make dinner, but for Story Hour on Thursday mornings. I want to take them to museums and the occasional movie in the afternoon, to visit Dad's office, to the park for a picnic lunch. 


I'm tired of being the weekend mommy, when park visits and puppet shows have to play second fiddle to cleaning the house, doing the laundry, going to the grocery store. Because all those chores have to get done by Sunday evening. Monday morning we all head back to work, to daycare.  

I know my children are exposed to amazing people and experiences in their current daycare. I know they are loved and well-cared for every day. They are learning. They are thriving! But I am not with them for the majority of their day. I am not teaching them new skills. I am not there to see their smiles, their tears, their struggles and victories. I am not there.

Maybe things will get easier when both kids are in school. I've heard the guilt subsides somewhat - all kids go to school, after all.  Maybe I can find a way to fit my work into the span of a school day. That would be ideal. Until I find my ideal, I'll cram as much as I can into the weekends and strive for early pick-ups once in a while. 

I have no plans to quit my job anytime soon. I know the grass is always greener and the ideal work/home situation is a moving target.  For now, I'll take it one day at a time. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing, yes please!


I've had this recipe saved in Evernote for a long time and have hesitated to make them because the recipe calls for piping the dough onto the cookie sheets. Just seems like a lot of work for cookies (also why I typically don't use Martha Stewart recipes). When I bake, the recipe needs to be quick and kid-friendly (i.e. there is some margin of error with the recipe as I can't keep track of exactly what the kids are adding and subtracting from the mixing bowl when my head is turned). 

I finally made these cookies last night, with the kids, and it was well worth the effort. They are easy to make and the piping just adds a little more time, really not as bad as I thought. Although Martha would not be impressed with my piping technique. If I make them again I might live on the edge and skip the piping. They will still taste delicious and that's what counts in my house.

Note: I used a pastry bag without a tip as I don't own any. I've had luck asking the bakery at my grocery store for a piping bag now and then if you aren't sure where to find them.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies -you will have some to share with friends, neighbors and the mail man. 

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing 

Ingredients:

FOR THE COOKIES
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (14 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
FOR THE ICING
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon evaporated milk,
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

(Makes about 6 dozen)

Directions:

  1. Make cookies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla; mix until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; mix until combined.
  3. Transfer 1 1/2 cups batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip (such as Ateco #806). Pipe 1 1/2-inch rounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until tops spring back, about 12 minutes. Cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely.
  4. Make icing: Put confectioners' sugar in a large bowl; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Immediately add butter to confectioners' sugar, scraping any browned bits from sides and bottom of pan. Add evaporated milk and vanilla; stir until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon icing onto each cookie. If icing stiffens, stir in more evaporated milk, a little at a time. Cookies can be stored in single layers in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.
Find the original recipe here

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lately when it comes to exercise, snuggles trump goals. What to do?

I've talked about Exercise is Medicine on Speedbump in the past here (and a series of exercise posts can be found here). It is something I am increasingly passionate about, both personally and professionally.

I've always been an exerciser - whether through sports, running or yoga. I like to exercise. Exercise makes me feel good about myself. My body feels 'right' when I'm exercising regularly. I don't relate well to those that don't like to exercise, that hate to exercise. I know those people exist and I try to remember that when sending out messages about exercise.  But I don't get it. 

My problem is not that I don't want to exercise, it is that I find it harder and harder to find the time. 

And I think that is the case for most people. Even those that hate to exercise know they should do it, and time is also a hindrance for them (a double whammy - to hate something and not have the time for it - no wonder so many people don't exercise!).

Before I had kids, my life was busy and I had responsibilities. But I could fit in exercise whenever I wanted. I made it a priority and it happened. First thing in the morning is always the safest bet and I've been getting up in the dark to exercise since college crew. Before kids, my biggest concern most days was what type of exercise I should do and for how long. 

It isn't as simple as making exercise a priority anymore. When I've been away from the kids for 9 hours, fitting in a 30 minute run loses its importance. Even when I plan to run in the early morning I might be stymied by a sick kid, or a kid already in my bed that wakes up and cries the minute I pull back the covers. As much as running does for my attitude, psyche and health, pounding the pavement on a cold, dark morning just can't compete with sweet snuggles from a sleepy toddler. I am human. And becoming a mom has rewired my brain in too many ways. The brain-exercise connection that once had me completing detailed training plans and running 60 miles a week is not as strong and compelling as it once. Snuggles trump goals some days. 



But yet I know Exercise is Medicine. I want to be healthy. I want to be strong and fit. I want my snuggly toddler (and her not so snuggly, but equally sweet older brother) to see me run and to know why I run. It is a priority that I want to pass on (like my parents did for me) and so I have to figure out how to make it happen in my life in a way that keeps me healthy, and at the same time - not guilty for the time it takes away from my kids. There has to be a happy medium. I am going to find it. (The first thing I need to do is fix the broken wheel on my double jogger! No more excuses)

At work, I am advising a student Exercise is Medicine group and they are helping me find the inspiration at home. They are future doctors, nurses, physical therapists and researchers. They are going to help all of us make exercise a priority, and someday convince the medical community that exercise is the best preventative medicine available. 


This video does a good job of spelling out the benefits of exercise on our health, and also gives good examples of just how much we need - not much, just 30 minutes a day. Can you find the time? I'm going to keep trying.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

P is for Pumpkin


We spent a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Schaake's Pumpkin Patch in Lawrence last weekend. Perfect weather, happy kids, awesome selection of pumpkins.



How tall are these two? More importantly, what are they staring at so intently?



There were chickens and pheasants to check out...


and calves to pet.




There was a pumpkin slingshot (these are the targets above) that Charlie will definitely get to do next year (we did not come prepared with cash on hand for sling shot tickets, oops. All the other activities at the patch were completely free and that was very much appreciated).



Both kids liked running through the maze in the hay bales - just like Curious George (have you seen that one? I've seen it about 200 times).






The pumpkin patch was close enough to walk to, but we could take the tractor back when loaded down with pumpkins. We actually made two trips to get a second batch of pumpkins. It was fun to see how many different ones we could find - white, red, green, yellow, striped, big, small....







The tractor and the wheel barrow were Charlie's favorites...



Izzy liked the pumpkins best.


Weighing our pumpkins...




Happy Fall!