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Trains & Trolleys & 2 Two-Year-Olds

Yesterday was a big day over here. Hadley turned 2 and all of our local family came over to celebrate her and cousin Henry, whose birthday is exactly two weeks before. It seemed too cruel to subject our family to two toddler parties back to back, so my sister and I decided to combine them. Since Hadley loves all things Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with a specific obsession of trolley and Henry loves trains, we picked a trains and trolleys theme. Hadley has been talking about her “try-try” party for weeks. As my dad pointed out several times, a two-year-old might never remember the grand efforts made by their mothers (in fact, this morning Hadley mostly only recalled that she had to share her balloons with her cousins, lovely toddler that she is)…. and for this reason, I took lots of pictures.

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Happy Birthday to our sweet Hadley girl. You make life so much better.

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A Day at Gettysburg: Proof That I Love My Husband

One of the really fun things about Hadley getting older is seeing her world of people expand from me and Josh to so many others that love her. Of course, those people have always been there but for a long time she was pretty much just really into her mom and sometimes her dad. Saying that she had separation anxiety is putting it mildly. Not only would it upset her that I left, she would be upset whenever I started to walk away from her. And continue to be upset until I picked her up and held her. Of course it’s nice to be loved and needed, but it can also be exhausting (especially when your little one is 25 pounds). So now I am all the more grateful to see her LOVE going to nursery (she actually cheers “Church!” “Church!” as we near the building), and watch her develop bonds with other people. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t want to talk about them, especially her many cousins, aunts and uncles and of course, grandparents.

Now that my parents are ten minutes away, she gets lots of time with Granddad and Sue Sue, which is really fun. This past weekend, we all took a trip up to Gettysburg. NOT the most toddler friendly place (or Erin-friendly place) in the world, actually pretty much the opposite, but we somehow still had a great time. I kept the one-year-old entertained so the other adults could soak up the history of the place. I loved how beautiful it was and that Hadley could run around the countryside. I cared less for the thorough history lesson, but was happy to make my military-obsessed husband happy. He is already excited to go back, sans me and the baby next time I’m pretty sure. 

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And before you start to think I’m the worst mom in the world, that is a GINGER beer she is chugging in the last picture. I am pretty sure she thought it was beer though. 

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Spring, Please Come Back

This past weekend pretty much embodied what a rollercoaster this spring has been. We spent Saturday outdoors, grilling steaks in the sun, finally remembering what it was like to not need a heavy coat, not even a jacket. And then just a day later, we sat inside a winery tasting room and watched as snowflakes fell. Ugggghhhhhhh.

You would think that with all the time we’ve spent indoors as of late, all the hours spent wondering how we should stay productive and NOT rot away in front of the television that I would have gotten a few more blogs posted. But this brutal winter has made it REALLY difficult for me to find motivation to do anything except gut it out. Instead of continuing to whine about how we still have scarves and furry hats out in at the END of March or that there is still a bag of salt sitting out of the front porch because they’re again calling for snow tomorrow, I’m trying to think about all of the things that I will look forward to when the sun returns.

  1. One less thing to say no to. I have a nineteen month old. She happens to love the following: pulling open every drawer, dumping out every bag she can get her hands on, pouring milk out of sippie cups, and just generally making messes. I really hate messes. I also really hate how often I find myself saying no to that curious little one. And almost every day this winter we’ve been going through this little dialogue. Mama? Outshide? Snow. She shuts down her own question before I can even answer. I mean really my one-year-old must think she’s being raised in Siberia. But someday soon I’ll be able to respond YES everyday to that sweet little request!
  1. Walks. I love being able to walk places. Especially with a baby, it’s a huge pain to load them up in the car and have a destination point in mind. I like to wander, get fresh air, exercise without thinking about it. Plus Henry is getting a little chunky, poor little guy has been so cooped up and sedentary.
  1. Seeing green. I lived in Utah for eight years. While the west has it’s own kind of beauty, my heart always longed for the rolling green hills of Virginia. I NEED GREEN, please. I’m sick of bare branches and a world covered in snow or mud.
  1. Seeing people. I literally haven’t seen most of my neighbors since November. I mean are we bears?!!
  1. Shower beer. Don’t judge and definitely don’t knock it till you’ve tried an icy cold beer in a steamy shower on a hot summer day. Literally. Nothing. Better. These days all I want is red wine, which basically just means I’m really cold. 
  1. Sandals. I never thought I would say it, but I’m SO sick of boots. My feet need to breath, my toes need to be seen again.  
  1. Tan line. I need one. That’s it.
  1. No longer resenting my dog for making me walk him first thing in the morning. I mean it’s not Henry’s fault. Really I should think less about how mad I am for having to bundle up and go outside and more about how much it would suck to have to poop in snow.
  1. Less bronzer. Can I please just have some sun-kissed cheeks? And really, at this point bronzer only works so well on skin this pale.  
  2. Goodbyes to layers. I’m all about effortless style. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t have the whole morning to accessorize. Instead of pulling my socks on BEFORE my jeans so they don’t get bunched up under my boots, figuring out what scarf to pair with my shirt and what purse will go with the scarf AND my coat, I’m dreaming of the day when I simply slip into sandals, pull on a sundress and GO. The only layering I want to have to think about is which dress to wear over my bikini.

Hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer for these small dreams to come to life. I mean spring HAS to come at some point, right? Are polar vortexes possible in April? Don’t answer that. Here are a couple (ONLY a couple) of rare moments we’ve been able to enjoy outside this spring.

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Pad Thai at Home

There’s one thing that’s really hard about living out here.  Welllll, Josh’s long commute might make it two things. But the more difficult one, the one that impacts our everyday life and compromises my general well-being? We don’t have an awesome go-to Thai take out place.

I know, it’s been a huge sacrifice.

And it has also driven me to make my own Thai concoctions, something I was never really tempted to try to at home because how can you beat good take-out Thai?? You can’t. Or at least I can’t.

I did, however, make AWESOME Pad Thai for my husband one night. And then when I tried to mimic the meal for his family over Christmas, well it turned out pretty good. Not take-out caliber, but it was yummy. Somehow I can never really nail a recipe when I’m cooking for a bunch of people. Under pressure cooking just makes me flustered. Ever notice how serene and smiley those women are on the Foot Network? That’s pretty much the opposite of me when I’m cooking for a party of 4 and up.  I’m usually schlepping a beer and prematurely making excuses for the outcome of the meal. Blaming the pans I have to work with, or they didn’t have the ingredient I always use at your grocery store, orrrrr I am just nervous to cook for everyone after raving about how good this turned out the last time.

But my Thai-loving family flattered me greatly by asking me to post this recipe for them. I was really just happy to have my two-year-old niece Sophie’s approval – girl had multiple bowls and she is the Pad Thai master.

So this is for you, Soph!

Chicken Pad Thai   *a variation of Food & Wine’s Quick Shrimp Pad Thai

pad thai

1 lb chicken tenderloin

8 ounces pad thai noodles

4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

4 tablespoons chili garlic sauce

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons peanut butter

1 serrano pepper with seeds, stemmed and thinly sliced

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil

3 large shallots, thinly sliced (1 cup)

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 large eggs, beaten

4 scallions, thinly sliced

Toppings:

Roasted peanuts, crushed

Chopped cilantro

Bean sprouts

Lime Wedges

For the marinade:

To prepare the chicken, combine the 2 tablespoons chili garlic, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, ¼ cup lime juice and 2 tablespoons peanut butter in a medium bowl. Whisk together until mixed well. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.

Pad Thai:

1. Sautee the marinated chicken in a large skillet over medium heat. Once cooked through, transfer to a plate.

2. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover entirely with very hot water. Let soak approximately 5 minutes. Do NOT cook them completely. Otherwise they will become mushy by the end of the process. Mushy noodles are the worst.

3. Meanwhile, whisk 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, ¼ cup lime juice in a bowl.

4. In a large skillet or wok, heat about 3 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over high heat until tender and lightly brown, about 4 minutes.

5. Add the pad thai noodles and stir-fry until heated through, about 4 minutes. Scrape the noodles and chicken to one side of the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the empty side of the skillet. Add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly set, about 1 minute.

6. Add the cooked chicken to the skillet.

7. Add the scallions and toss everything together, keeping the eggs relatively intact. Add the fish sauce mixture and stir-fry until the noodles are evenly coated. Transfer the pad thai to a platter.

8. Top with peanuts, cilantro and bean sprouts and serve with lime wedges.

 

Enjoy!! This is really pretty good and typing this all up is makes me want to try it again. Oh and Joni and Damien, don’t forget to leave out the shallots when you make this at home J

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Christmas: Part Two

As usual, I was stressed about all the wrong things this Christmas. This should be a lesson to stress less in general but… I think it might just be who I am so I’m going to let it go for now. As you know, I was really nervous about the long car ride with a seventeen month old who protests the moment she SEES her car seat. But in spite of that, we had a couple of things on our side this time. Normally our trek through the mountains of West VA involves some kind of precipitation in various form of ICE, gusting wind, semi-truckers who don’t seem to have a real grasp on how massive they are, and of course, the road to get there is windy and treacherous. Josh LOVES driving next to his anxiety-ridden wife, especially when I gasp and grab the Oh shit handle as we pass trucks, or when I demand that we never drive behind anything carrying logs, and the best– pointing out the dumb asses who are texting while driving. I seriously want a sign that I can hold up to my window, calling these people out for their recklessness. I mean do you drivers not see the perilous CLIFF to our right?? Or your kid in the backseat? And my BABY in my backseat? Okay, I’ll simmer down. Our drive was pretty easy. For starters, it was a balmy 65 degrees meaning no ice, no crazy wind. Also on our side? A happy baby. Hadley didn’t sleep at all, but she also didn’t scream. We DID listen to the Elmo CD for an excruciating seven times on repeat, but you do what you gotta do to keep the kid content or at least quiet.

I was grateful that we arrived without incident or major stress, and even more grateful that we got to spend a relaxing week with Josh’s family. His parents are so great about giving us a break from the baby so we can do exotic things like have a meal at a restaurant, go see a movie in the actual theater, and shop without worrying about when Hadley will get tired of being strapped in a cart. Last year Hadley was only five months old and still refusing a bottle, so leaving her was difficult and stressful and not really worth it. Now she is more than happy to hang out with Nana and “My Bumpa” as she calls them. 

I love the Christmas Eve service at the church. Simple message, beautiful music, and the peaceful lighting of the candles. I remember last year my sister-in-law Joni and I were SO stressed about bringing the babies to the service. Any church service is stressful with babies, but particularly the quiet and peaceful ones involving open flames. Of course, since I was worried about it, infant Hadley was absolutely fine. And consequently, I wasn’t stressed about it at all this year, and toddler Hadley was the opposite of fine. At the start of the program, she decided that she needed to be part of the nativity display at the front of the chapel. If a seventeen-month-old blond baby jabbering to the animals in the stable weren’t distracting to the rest of the congregation, the moment she shouted “BUMPA” to her grandfather giving the sermon certainly was.

So here’s where we spent the Christmas Eve service. 

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                                       Thankfully, she found another nativity display to mess with

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                                                      Please can’t I go inside and see my Bumpa?

 

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                                                                            She eventually found him

As much as I was convinced that Hadley wouldn’t really understand what was going on Christmas morning, she picked up on the present thing pretty quickly. Since she (we) love accessorizing, one of her stocking gifts was a pack of hair bows. A few presents later, she got another hair bow from Josh’s mom. She looked up at me and said “More?” Yep, baby girl, that’s pretty much how the day will go. Followed by the inevitable overdosing on food, and the subsequent falling asleep in front of the television after dinner. 

We spent a lot of time just watching Hadley and her cousin Sophie interact. Some of my best childhood memories are vacations with my extended family, and I LOVE it that Hadley is always surrounded by her cousins. Built-in playmates for life. Always someone to do Ring Around the Rosey with and for Hadley, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

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My Apologies to the Dog

I’m having some guilt. You see, I meant to have professional pictures of our family taken this year. Then I got a little distracted with moving, settling into our new house, hosting lots, not to mention the other huge blow to my productivity aka Hadley Magnusson.

So the pictures never quite happened. And when you don’t plan ahead of time to take a family shot of everyone, it doesn’t happen. Or when it happens that someone else is available to take a picture of your family, my hair is a mess or outfits just aren’t right OR the dog (who is an important member of our family) isn’t with us.

Before I knew it, it was two weeks before Christmas and the only acceptable Christmas card candidate was a picture that my sister Tori had snapped of us playing in the snow in early December. And by us I mean Josh, Hadley, and me. Henry, my first baby, was somewhere nearby, roaming the winter wonderland. Completely, blissfully unaware that the family photograph of the YEAR was happening without him. If he did know, I’m pretty sure that all of the insecurities he has felt about being replaced by Hadley would be confirmed.  Or maybe I’m projecting human emotions on my dog again.

Regardless, I feel bad that the combination of my procrastination and photogenic issues have led to Henry’s absence in our 2013 family portrait.  So I feel the need to publicly apologize to our precious Henry, who in case you were wondering, is still very much alive and well.

Sorry, Henry. You’re still our number 2.

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Lessons in Hosting

When we moved to our new house, one of the things we were most excited about was being able to properly host. Our old house was fine for just us, but our teeny tiny combination living room, dining room, kitchen could be easily filled with a handful of friends. We never even really had my family over because there’s just too many of them. And then once we had Hadley, having people over was even more stressful. Nothing makes you feel more like a hosting failure than shushing your guests for laughing too loud when your baby is trying to sleep just a few yards away. 

Now that we have more space, and a basement with a guest room and sleeper sofa, we have been making up for lost time hosting. Since moving in five months ago, we have had either family or friends staying in our guest room on eleven different occasions! And that’s of course not counting the dinners, birthday parties, and family get togethers. It’s been really great to spend all this time with our loved ones, and I love how Hadley is used to having adoring grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends surrounding her. And I think I am getting better at it. It certainly does not come natural to me. As the fourth of six children, I’m not used to being the one who takes charge. Now that I’m a mom, I am always leading and thinking about someone else’s needs before my own. So I’m trying to learn this skill, and also the skill of NOT trying to perfect everything. Because as soon as my house is spotless, people come and live in it and it’s messy again. So, really it’s okay if my mother-in-law sees that sometimes my refrigerator is not completely wiped down and organized. 

For Thanksgiving this year, Josh’s family came from West Virginia to stay with us for a few days. It was bitterly cold this week, but luckily Hadley and her cousin Sophie keep each other entertained. Those little blondies could be sisters with how much they resemble each other, and they get along really well which is nice. And plus they are just SO sweet together. Lots of kisses, cuddles and fun in the bath together. 

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I was a little nervous about hosting the mother of all meals at my house. It was added pressure for me since we were really hosting for the whole week, not just the meal, and my sisters were coming over for dessert with their families. The day before our West Virginia family arrived, I went shopping to scrounge up some last minute Thanksgiving decor. At Hobby Lobby, I learned that I am a deadbeat crafter because the rest of the world has already moved on to Christmas. Three days before Turkey day, and there was one measly aisle of Thanksgiving decor left. The upside was that everything remaining was 80% off. So I grabbed a couple of florals to potentially arrange into name card holders, chargers, and of course some burlap. And then at the last minute I decided to stock up on wrapping paper to avoid feeling like a procrastinator again for the next holiday.

Good news is everything came together really nicely. It was actually one of the most civilized Thanksgivings I’ve been a part of. We all contributed a couple of dishes, and having two ovens is simply a game changer. And the best part for me? Hadley napped through the whole meal so I got to eat a hot meal without sharing a bite. For that I was most thankful. 

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