Friday, October 24, 2014

Tis the season for pumpkin swirl chocolate brownies

We're in a time of our lives where it's pretty easy to feel sad. While we have a lot to look forward to, this limbo is not treating us very well. I won't get into the details because they're boring and so small in the grand scheme of the big world, but I will say there are many tears from many eyes and lots of time spent sitting in my lap. Then, once the kids are in bed, there's lots of soul searching as I pray we made the right decision and that things will get better once we're settled. Sounds fun, huh?

In an effort to amuse, distract, and entertain ourselves, we take field trips to check out local hot spots and we dance in the living room and we wear our Halloween costumes whenever we want to and we make brownies! Today started out dreary and gray and Isaac asked about making more of the pumpkin cookies I made earlier in the week that we may have inhaled without even chewing. Mmm mmmm good. We are out of chocolate chips so he thought of another recipe to try. He asked for pumpkin brownies and I said we'd have to look online for a recipe because I didn't know anything about pumpkin brownies.

To Pinterest we went and we found a tasty looking recipe with one problem: 9x9 inch pan. There are six of us in our family. Minus the baby who we have yet to introduce to the ooey, gooey, delectable dessert known as the brownie. Don't worry; he is not wasting away.
9x9 pans of brownies are gone in one setting and this is not okay with me. We decided to double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan to guarantee leftovers.

List made and to the store we went.

Here's what you'll need:
 Here's the lowdown. We eat pretty well. Case in point: The other day Isaac asked why other kids don't think broccoli is good and Audrey raved about brussel sprouts and Elliot's favorite food is smoothie with spinach and flax seed. Brownies are a variation from the norm and they aren't healthy. We don't have canola oil so I used coconut oil and we always just have organic eggs and sugar. These are still really unhealthy and I'm okay with that every once in a while.
 This little choochie face was supposed to be napping, not walking around with a frying pan while pushing a laundry basket. Aaah, the best laid plans. . .
 There was deep concentration as cans were opened.
 This is what pumpkin puree, cream cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, and sugar look like.

 Action shot of measuring, stirring, and egg cracking.
 This is what pumpkin puree, etc looks like after being whipped up with a fork. This recipe calls for a mixer, but we don't have one in our rental house so we all took our turns whipping the heck out of it. The cream cheese never got entirely smooth, but that's ok. Still tastes good.
 You make the brownies according to the box and pour 3/4 of the batter in. Audrey asked, "How do you know what 3/4 of it is?" I let her know it's okay if it isn't perfect. Just pour and guess and it'll taste wonderful.
Then you pour the pumpkin puree mixture on top. Can you tell which kid is hungrier?
Add the remaining 1/4 (give or take) of the brownie mix on top and swirl to make it beauteous. Then stick it in the oven.
Let Audrey take your picture with your littlest sous chef.
F for presentation. I can never get the presentation right. I promise they looked better in real life and they taste fantastic!

Three kids, one sleeping baby, brownies, and Muppets Most Wanted. It's a good night, people!

You want in on the brownies? Here you go.

Easy Pumpkin Swirl Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients for Pumpkin swirl filling:
6 oz softened cream cheese
1 c. canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) It always says this on recipes. Must be important.
2 eggs
6 TBSP sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

9x13 brownie mix
eggs, oil, and water as directions state on box

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
Beat pumpkin filling ingredients on low speed until mixed or use your big muscles and whip it up! Set aside.
Prepare brownie mix according to directions on box or your favorite homemade recipe.
Pour 3/4 of brownie batter into prepared pan. Or, you know, around 3/4 of it. Pour all of pumpkin filling mix on top. Add remaining brownie batter on top and swirl with a knife to make it all pretty and fancy. Clearly I'm all about the fancy.
Bake for 45-50 minutes and check with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean.

You can find the original recipe here. Obviously my brownies are healthy since I used coconut oil and did a few yoga moves while they baked. (That last part is a lie. So is the first part. The middle part about coconut oil is true. Glad that's cleared up.)

It's Friday. Hallelujah! Are you turning on the oven to bake anything this fine, fall weekend?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nothing much. Just everything.

My brain has been in some deep, ugly places lately. I'm lonely. We're all lonely. We don't have a place to call home or people to call ours. I click on here to write and my gut seizes up and I think of all the people who use all the right words and I just click the red x. It's ridiculous. I know it.

Today I'm not going to spend the night psychoanalyzing myself. I'm going to dwell on a beautiful autumn afternoon spent outside. 

(Am I the only one who thinks that the word autumn fits the feel of this season so much better than fall? Probably. Yes? OK. Just me.) I'm going to post a bunch of really cute pictures of my really cute baby boy who is 14 months old today. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

On Monday, Isaac, Audrey, and Elliot were at the pumpkin patch with their aunt, uncle, and cousins visiting from Michigan. Jim was at work. Asher and I were enjoying the heck out of a rare, just the two of us day. We'd gone for a run, had lunch, read books, played ball ball, practiced walking, and really anything else he wanted to do. We both had lots of fun with no school schedule and nowhere to be. He was ready for his afternoon snack around 3 so I scooped him up some plain yogurt.

We don't have good bowls at the rental house for him to practice feeding himself, but that day he decided he was going to give it a try. His first attempt involved picking the entire bowl up to drink it. The only thing he got from that endeavor was a forehead and hair full of yogurt. Then he got inventive with the spoon and I just clicked away with the camera because it was just the two of us and I could. 

Here's how it went down.

ooh. what have we here?

This is fun already.

I'll give this a whirl.


Seriously, did you see that?

Watch. I'm going to do it again!

Still so funny. 

Wait. Guys. I'm tired. Like, reallly tired. MAMA!

I need you!

Much better. ZZZZZZZ.

This boy, along with his big siblings, reminds me of life's simple joys every day. His snuggles make me smile. His laughter fills my thankful tank to overflowing. 

We're in the middle of a lot of crazy, but moments like these remind me I'm right where I need to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

when adventure in theory is better than adventure in practice

At least once a day someone says, "I wish we didn't move, but I'm excited to move." Or something along those lines. Yes, sometimes those words come from my mouth. And sometimes they are said with sadness pinching the speaker's throat tight and sometimes they are said with tears streaming.

We were sad to leave our home, neighborhood, and friends. Really, really, REALLY sad. We are excited to get to Colorado. This in between part is not our favorite.

When one of our kids says they wish we didn't move or they want to go to Colorado now or something in that vein, I usually respond in this way. Or I really try to. I try to give it the time, attention, and energy it deserves because these kids are doing hard things.

I go to where they are and I hug them. Usually a head rests on my shoulder. I tell them this is harder than I thought it would be. I ask what's hardest for them and I tell them what's hardest for me. I tell them what I'm learning from this crazy time in our lives that not many people get to experience. I tell them that God has this road figured out for us, even when it feels bumpy and uneven and really, terribly hard. This week I remind them of that magnificent mountain house in Evergreen just waiting for us that we couldn't have had if we'd moved straight to Colorado. I tell them about the ways I see our family working together and treating each other well even when we're sad or nervous or worried. I tell them how hard that is and how proud I am to see that.
Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
We sit in the quiet of our thoughts for a while and then we talk about the fun stuff we want to do in Omaha. We try to plan one fun, inexpensive jaunt each week to give us something to look forward to. Then we talk about what we're excited about in Evergreen.

I don't sugarcoat it. I don't pretend it's easy. I also don't wallow in sadness. None of those options are helpful to the real lives we have before us waiting to be lived bravely and with love and joy.
You don’t take things for granted. You know how to appreciate the good in life, and how to enjoy it come what may. | Community Post: 15 Perks Of Being A Middle Child
We named our school Brave Boulders. Sometimes when things are hard we joke that we didn't call it Weak Pebbles for a reason. Actually, Elliot thought of that and I think it's really quite clever for his 6 year old mind. Sometimes we want to give up on school because the numbers feel jumbled in our heads or the words in the book don't make sense. Or maybe we want to give up on making friends or on making the most of this adventure. But we don't. We hug and go to the park and read a book together and dig in to this delicious life.

Con estas palabras os deseamos FELIZ FIN DE SEMANA!#weekend  With these words we want to wish you a great weekend!   [PHOTOS] The 80 Best Adventure Quotes Photos Ive Ever Seen

Some days that is easy. Other days it's really hard. Other days it just doesn't work and we resolve to try again tomorrow. 

What if I fall? Oh my darling....“The problem with thinking that you are the absolute best, is that it leaves no room for you to become any better and while you live life thinking that you're the best, truth is a lot of people around you are already better and becoming even more better.” ― C. JoyBell C.
It's really all we can do. It's really all any of us can do. 

Here's what we have waiting for us. Here's the prize we keep our eyes on. Here's where we hope to fly again.
first family photo in Evergreen, picnicking at Lake Evergreen

Displaying IMG_20141009_094552231.jpg
This is a view of the mountains from Evergreen
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The elk make themselves right at home in town
It's Wednesday. Let's finish our week brave and beautiful and with more faith than fear. Let's live. Let's fly. I'm sure going to try.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

on babies walking

Asher is learning to walk. He took his first step a few weeks ago and then decided crawling was really much faster so he let it go for a while. On Friday he started stringing those steps together into real walking, right there on the hardwood floor of my mom's kitchen. Six grandkids and she finally gets to see one learn to walk. Toes curled, trying to grasp any inch of real estate he could find, he'd walk from me to Jim to me to Jim over and over. He would stumble unsteadily between us as we held our arms out wide and called his name and smiled our biggest, proudest smiles as he landed in our arms, got the required hug and multiple forehead kisses, and headed out again. Three siblings were there to shout and applaud and kiss and hug and generally treat Asher like the rockstar they think he is. Now he is in the stage where he practices walking, but if he really wants to get somewhere he drops down and crawls.

I am proud of his walking and so excited by his discovery and so amazingly overwhelmed by his healthy, strong body.

I am also the mama of a 10 year old, not to mention an 8 and 6 year old, so I know how this is going to go down. This mach-speed passage of time. This blink and ten years passes. This yearning to go back and this excitement at what's to come.

My mind is constantly flashing back to itty bitty squishy Asher learning to roll over. Sweet chunky monkey Asher doing plank, then rocking on all fours as he learned to crawl. Brave strong Asher cruising along the couch. Curious Asher grasping so very tightly to my fingers as he took a tentative step.

Now sometimes he lets go of my finger.

I hate that. And I love that.

Which doesn't make any sense until it makes perfect sense.

Like so many other moments in my life as a mama, I want time to freeze. I want to press stop and live forever in this time where I have a baby boy who delights in bathtub splashes and mama forehead kisses and peek-a-boo with siblings.

But I can't. And darnit if that doesn't just break my heart sometimes. So I do what mamas do. I hug him and whoop and celebrate his discoveries as he toddles to me with his arms stretched wide, ready for the fall, and a smile as bright as the sun and it's love. It's so much love.

I catch him when he falls. Then I help him back up so he can do it again. Even when I want to just hold him there.

When he drops down to crawl, I watch him intently, soaking it up, memorizing the wiggling bottom and quick arms, the way he holds one leg straight out, like a pointer dog, when he's looking for something.

All I can do is watch and wonder at what adventure he has planned for us next.

It's love. It's so much love. Sad, happy love. You know the kind.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When a house is a gift

Here's the truth. This time in Omaha has been rough and I've second guessed our decision to move many times every day and thought maybe I was ruining everything. I know I don't actually have that kind of power, so maybe it was more like I was ruining almost everything. Yes. It's been really rough.

We woke up to the sound of Asher at 5:30 am on October 8 and decided since we were up we might as well start driving. We got the kids up and dressed and headed out to see the stunning "Blood Moon," caused by the lunar eclipse. The kids traveled like superstars, even Asher who only took two 20 minute naps, but didn't cause a big fuss, and we made record time. As soon as we hit the Colorado border, Elliot started looking for mountains. Once he finally discovered them there was squealing from every row in the Suburban. Yep, I was the squealer from row 1.

We got to Denver in time for dinner with nana and babu. One of the things I am most looking forward to is being close enough to them that we don't have to try to cram three months worth of love and fun into each short visit. So they read them the funny Mad Libs we'd done in the car and we cooked and shared a meal together and we played with the dogs and talked and laughed. It was something special.

Today Audrey went to work with my mom, Isaac and Elliot played video games and went monster golfing with babu, and Asher headed to Evergreen with Jim and me. And fear not. Audrey did not draw the short straw. Spending time with nana in a grown up setting is about the ultimate fun for that hard working girl.

We were scheduled to see four houses in Evergreen today and then a few more in Erie and Superior tomorrow. At the first house of the day, the realtor was a no show. This was not off to a good start. The next house was not a good fit for us. The third house was up some very tight switchbacks and has a really unique floor plan, but we loved the views of Evergreen, the proximity to the downtown area, and the quirkiness of the place. (I use the term downtown loosely; Evergreen has one stoplight!) The tight road up to the house, the lack of neighbors, and the age and wear and tear on the house were drawbacks, especially with Jim traveling so much for work and Evergreen being at 7,400 feet. In other words, this place gets piles and piles and PILES of snow and I would have to deal with it when Jim was out of town. Even with those drawbacks, it was a definite possibility for us.

Then we went to hang out at the library to get a feel for the place. I'd already checked out their website and watched their video online because that's the kind of geek I am. We walked in right as toddler storytime was starting and Asher crawled over, mesmerized by the story, and listened to the story and danced to the songs. It was just so sweet. After story time I checked out the rest of the library and then went back to the kids' area. I talked with some librarians and then struck up a conversation with some moms and grandmas. Everyone was so friendly and the librarians told me all about the book club for 8-11 year olds and said they hope to see our whole family there and talked about the great school district and the strong homeschool community and went on and on about how family friendly Evergreen is and how there were hiking trails that started all over right in town.

It was a dream come true. Well, it is a dream come true in the stretch me totally beyond my comfort zone kind of way. I know houses with trees on flat plots of land with neighbors on all sides. Not houses built into the side of a mountain up switchbacks in little towns with one stoplight.

Here's what we wanted. A mountain town with a grocery store and library and enough "stuff" to make life easy. A town with a strong sense of community. Many easy options for hiking, mountain biking, skiing, running trails, etc.

We really felt like we'd found the town, but there are not many rental options, especially in November when most people are settled and the homeowners are waiting until spring to find buyers/renters.

Here's where it gets creepy/serendipitous/divine.

I started chatting with someone who recently moved back to Evergreen and she was talking about how family friendly the town was and then said the other woman, someone she'd just met, had lived here her whole life and would have more information on the town. We talked a bit while Asher played peek-a-boo and crawl tag with her granddaughter, Caroline. She said we'd love it in Evergreen and asked if we'd had any luck finding a place. We told her we kind of liked a place with the rental company we'd looked with, but weren't sure.

She said that she didn't have anything bad to say about that company, but that her friend was from Evergreen and had been in real estate with her husband for years and she thought maybe we should stop at her office. She said they sell and rent homes so she might be a good resource. She gave us directions and said, "I just feel this nudge to tell you that and I really try to listen to my nudges." I told her I believed in the power of nudges and she smiled and said good.

We finally got Asher out of the library; he was reveling in his chance at being the only child, even if only for a day. After lunch at the tastiest, tiniest, quaintest little local restaurant, we went to the realtor's office. We told the woman what we were looking for and she said she only had one place available in our time frame and it was out of our price range, but that the people currently renting might be able to kick in some of the rent each month. They had a rental agreement through May, but bought a house and needed to find someone to finish out their lease. We want to rent until May because want to buy this spring. They would close on their house on November 5. We'll be getting to CO for good on November 11.

The house is amazing. The for sale price is miles outside of our price range. It's gorgeous and on a mountain, but the road up is much more manageable and if you take one route down you're in downtown Evergreen and if you take the other route down you're on the road that leads to the highway. It is in perfect condition and it has three, yes THREE, fireplaces and a firepit in the back yard and oh it's just stunning. I wanted it on the spot, but, again, price range.

The realtor could tell we liked it a lot and said she'd talk with the renters about how much they'd kick in. We drove away wishing we could rent that house, but knowing it probably wouldn't work. By now we had checked out the library, rec centers, parks, and Evergreen lake area and were in love with the area. We were going to keep our Friday appointments just to cover our bases, but we couldn't imagine loving a community more than Evergreen. On the drive back to Denver, we talked about making it work and being fine with the quirky house because it was in our price range, but really, really hoping that the other one would somehow work.

Then we got back and started gushing about the two houses and the town and the hiking and the 50 + elk we'd seen right in town and on and on we gushed.

Then the realtor called and said they'd kick in enough each month to put it in our price range.

That actually happened. So, we said, "Heck yes, " and canceled our Friday appointments.

I don't know what you believe about life and how things come to pass, but I believe some things are just breathed on by the sweet breath of God and sent down, or up or sideways, from heaven as a gift for us.

This house is a gift for us. We know we won't live here forever. Our lease will be up in May and we'll buy a smaller, older, dumpier house and we'll be just fine with it. But this house, this community, feel like home for right now and I needed something to feel like home so badly.

We met a random woman at the library, because I hang out at the libraries of prospective towns, who felt a nudge to tell me about her realtor friend who had one house not in our price range that is now in our price range.

Maybe you call it luck or chance or karma. To me, that's God. And I'm so thankful.

I didn't ask the woman at the library what her name is. I want to thank her. But somehow I feel pretty sure that we'll see her at the library someday and I'll be sure to tell her how thankful I am for her nudge.

Monday, October 6, 2014


It seems to me that I have two choices. Ebola or Enterovirus. These are the things I should currently be stressing about until I go stark raving mad. They're more important than ISIS or Syria. And those two are more important than Russia and Croatia. (Remember Vladmir Putin? He was the bad guy from a few months ago.) Which are more important than Guantanamo Bay and the immigrant children on the Texas border. Which are more important than cancer. Although it is October so we have to save the tatas. But now we have pumpkin spice latte, which is made with coffee, which is or is not terrible for your health depending on the latest study.

Thank you, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, BBC,, and allthesocialmedia. We truly appreciate the ulcers and never ending sense of panic about things we can't really do much about.

And that's just the big, national or global stuff. There's also the family, life stuff. The getting the kids up and dressed and out the door for church or school, moving across the country, trying to teach kids to be safe and responsible in an always connected world, making the paycheck stretch enough to actually save for college/retirement/emergencies. You know. That stuff.

So sometimes I'm overwhelmed. I hate grocery shopping because the labels lie and the companies cheat and the government supports them and I just want to buy healthy food for my growing family. I hate politics because I struggle to find a few faces in the crowd who are actually in it for the right reasons instead of there to gain power and squash the little people and push their agenda set by the lobbyists with the biggest wallets. I hate the news because it is one story after another of violence and hatred and anger and hurt. I hate the gas station with their 77 different options of fountain drinks, as if we will be fulfilled and joyful humans if we just get the right combination of carbonated drink. (And lest you think I'm joking, I counted the slushy/coffee/pop choices at the kwik trip in Omaha. Seventy-seven. Seriously.)

I don't want to live with my head buried in the sand. I want to be a smart citizen and make informed decisions about things that matter in my life and my neighborhood and my country and my world, but I really can't know all of the information all of the time without freaking out. Without getting overwhelmed.

I feel it in my shoulders. The always tense, always hunched over stress that I carry there. I feel it in my chest. A heaviness that seems to weigh me down. I feel it when the joy and laughter of life seems to go on around me, but never settles into my soul. I've been feeling that lately.
You know that feeling, right?
A few days ago we were driving in the car and I heard the song I'm Overwhelmed by Big Daddy Weave. It took that word, overwhelmed, that I can feel so often in my shoulders and chest and gut and turned it on its head.

I see the work of Your Hands
Galaxies spin in a heavenly dance oh God
All that you are is so overwhelming

I hear the sound of your voice
All at once it’s a gentle and thundering noise oh God
All that you are is so overwhelming

I delight myself in you
Captivated by your beauty
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by you

Haven't you ever looked out of the window and seen a sunrise over a forest of fall trees and just been overwhelmed by the beauty before you? Haven't you watched a baby discover the fun of popping bubbles and been overwhelmed by the simple joys of life? Haven't you ever cuddled up under a thick, fuzzy blanket on a cool, fall day and lost yourself in your favorite book or movie and been overwhelmed by the quiet goodness of life?

I remember visiting the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in the spring a few years ago and being absolutely overwhelmed by the myriad of green colors on display. I remember wondering how God thought up all of those different shades of green and accepted it as a beautiful gift to unwrap like all the layers of my warm winter woolens.

That's the kind of overwhelmed I want to be.

That's the kind of overwhelmed I am when I spend more time outside and less time indoors. When I read more books and less facebook statuses. When I appreciate my kids more and compare my kids with others less. When I exercise more and eat less junk. When I read the bible more and make fewer excuses about how busy I am. When I pray more and whine less. When I compare myself to others less and live the life my heart tells me to lead more.

It's not exactly hard. It's just kind of difficult.

I get overwhelmed. I get weary. Maybe you do, too. In fact, I bet you do.

Maybe we can be overwhelmed, in the good way, together. Maybe we can share the beautiful pieces of our lives that get us through the rotten parts. It's not about putting on a facade and pretending that the life that goes on within these four walls is perfect. It is not.

I lost my deodorant. (If you must know, I blame the baby.) I have put it on many times in this house, but for the last two days I cannot find it. So, yes, that's me smelling like a man's armpit since I'm using Jim's. I mean, who does that? Clearly only someone who does not have it all together. I shout at my kids sometimes and then feel a whole world of regret. I forget to be the adult modeling appropriate ways of dealing with anger and frustration.

So, no, life isn't sunshine and ice cream sundaes every minute of every day.

But it's still beautiful. It's still a gift. It's still glimpses of glory in the midst of mud puddles. It's still overwhelmingly good. It's still pumpkin patches on a glorious fall afternoon.
And that's pretty darn good.

What about you? Are you overwhelmed in the good way or the bad way today? Here's to a calmer, less Ebola, more enjoying the fall foliage kind of day for all of us.