Monday, October 5, 2015

birthday weekend get away...

Last weekend, my husband and I were able to go to the beach by ourselves.  Alone.  Without kids.  For three days and two nights and it was everything I wanted it to be and more.   Mark and I are both beach people and we live within 2 hours of the beach, so it was easy to decide where to go. 

I literally started planning this weekend in January.  It's important to us after 16 years of marriage to continue to sow into our marriage.  We know that in order to have a strong marriage, we need to spend time together alone.  Since we don't have family that is able to easily help us for more than an overnight and I really wanted to be away for two, we started asking everyone we knew if they knew anyone that could watch our kids for us.  We found someone who was willing to help us out and seemed to mesh well with our family.  I confirmed in June that she was good for this weekend and was able to handle the puppies too. 

I joked with Mark when we adopted the puppies in April, that there went our weekends away.  But in reality, it's not the puppies that concern most people about watching our kids, it's Grace and her special needs.  But we were blessed to find a young woman from our church who not only works with special needs kids but likes dogs. 

I told Mark that this birthday was making me feel like I was having a mid-life crisis.  But not in a bad way, more like I have this strong desire to do stuff.  I want adventure and to experience new things.  I also want to travel but that's not in the cards for us as a family right now.  With that in mind, I asked him if he would go Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) with me.  He easily agreed, so I booked it for the Saturday we were going to be at the beach.  The company called and said that Saturday's weather looked bad and rescheduled us for Friday.  I'm so glad they did, it was too windy and cold to go on Saturday.

It turned out to be just Mark and I and the guide on our SUP excursion.  He gave us some instructions on land and then we boarded our boards.  My biggest concern was falling into the water.  The canal was only 3-4 feet deep, so it wasn't because of the water.  It was more because I, pridefully, didn't want to fall off my board.  This caused me to clench my feet on the board, which made them ache something awful by the time we got half way.  But overall it was really fun.  Once we made the turn and I was able to stand up again on the board I was able to relax a little bit.  I think it would be fun to go again.

The weekend weather wasn't that great, it was windy and cold so we were unable to sit on the beach and read.  But we were able to walk around the town and do some shopping.  I even picked out a new house for us.  It should be ready soon...

It was awesome to sneak away with my sweetie and get some us time. We ate in restaurants that we wouldn't take our kids to and took naps in our hotel during the day.  I can't wait to get away again with him.


Monday, September 21, 2015

chicken tortilla soup {paleo and gluten free}...

I woke up today and it felt like fall.  There was a nice crisp feeling to the air and it was 58 degrees.  So I decided to make soup to celebrate the fall-ish weather.  By the time I finished making my chicken tortilla soup, it was 78 degrees and I had shed my yoga pants and jacket for shorts and a tank top and was contemplating putting on the a/c.  It's not uncommon here in the mid-atlantic to have a 20 degree change in the weather during the change of seasons, it makes dressing the kids for school challenging.

This recipe is so easy and it comes together in under 30 minutes, including chopping and dicing time.  Plus it's chock full of yummy, healthy veggies.


Chicken Tortilla Soup


1-2 T coconut oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced or mashed
1 jalepano pepper, seeded and diced (leave in more seeds for more heat)
1 T chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
2 cans of diced tomatoes (no sugar added)
1 box gluten free chicken stock or 4 cups homemade stock
1 cup cooked and diced chicken


1. Add coconut oil to soup pot over medium heat, when melted add diced sweet potatoes.  Stir often so potatoes don't turn brown, add more oil if you have to.
2. When sweet potatoes have softened, add green peppers, onion and garlic.  Stir frequently, so garlic doesn't burn and until onion is translucent - about 5 minutes.
3. Add in spices and stir to coat all the veggies.
4. Add in tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste it at this point and see if you need to add in more salt.
5. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to blend soup.  I like my soup with small chunks of veggies, so I pulse half of it and puree half the soup.  Be super careful when putting hot soup into a blender, it may explode on you and burn your hand if you're in a hurry and fill your blender too full.  Ouch!
6. Add soup back to soup pot and heat on low until ready to serve.
7. Top each bowl with cooked chicken.


* I'm not sure why I called this chicken tortilla soup, since there's really no tortillas in it but I guess the recipe I modeled it after had tortilla strips as a topping.

* If you want you can top with sour cream, shredded cheese and tortilla strips.  Of course, this depends on dietary restrictions you may have.  Since I'm eating paleo-ish, I just top it with the chicken, but I serve my husband's with shredded cheese and the chicken.

* I sometimes eat this without chicken, it is super flavorful and doesn't require the chicken to be filling.  In fact, you could make this with veggie broth for a vegetarian soup.

* I often make this with a can of rotel tomatoes, which already has the jalepano in it.  So if you use rotel, skip the jalepano.

* This soup freezes really well.  I freeze it in 2 cup servings, for an easy lunch when I'm busy.


Monday, September 14, 2015

family portraits...

My mom has been talking about getting family portraits done with my whole family since we got ours taken in 2011.  I can't believe it has been 4 years.  Look at my babies.  Look at how young I look.  Sigh.

For whatever reason, we never took the time to plan it and with four families and fourteen people it does take planning.  Due to a variety of reasons, my dad has bladder cancer being the main one, we decided that we were going to do it this year.  We checked everyone's calendar and found one Saturday in the whole summer that worked.  One, for goodness sakes.  So we contacted my friend Becca, Becca Neufeld Photography, from church and we booked it.

We originally thought of having our pictures taken in a park but then decided on the University of Delaware's campus.  My parents have lived in Newark Delaware since 1968, my dad taught at the UofD for 38 years, my sister, her husband and I all graduated from there and my nephew is attending there right now.  So it is part of our family story.  Plus it is so beautiful.

Prior to the shoot, we sent Becca a list of the poses that we wanted and combinations of family or people in each picture.  Becca was so great to work with and was able to accommodate all of our requests.  I'm so glad we finally managed to get this scheduled.  Now I'm going through the pictures trying to determine how many is too many to order.


Aren't my parents cute?  They have been together for almost 60 years and married for 53.  I just love how she captured them together and with all their grandkids.  And I just love the one of me and my sisters all throwing up gang signs.  It was totally spontaneous and got an 'Moooom' from all the older kids.  Too funny!

There are so many amazing pictures from this photo shoot that it was hard to pick from the disk she gave us and come up with just a few of my favorites to post here.  I love them all so much!  It just makes me happy to have actual portraits of my entire family.  I do love candids but there is something special about memorializing your family in portraits.  And I'm so glad that you no longer only have one indoor option, while I'm glad to have the totally staged Olin Mills pictures from my childhood, it's awesome that talented women (and men) will do location family shoots.  We can't recommend Becca enough.  If you are local and in the market to have professional portraits taken of your family, I urge you to go check out her website, Becca Neufeld Photography.  She posted a mini photo-shoot special on her facebook page the other day and I actually checked the calendar to see if we could fit it in our schedule. 

This last photo is hands down my absolute favorite.  I've already ordered a large canvas of it to hang in our living room.  I just love how she captured our family.  It makes me smile to look at it and see that Becca was able to capture all of our personalities in one picture.  It is also a gift that everyone is looking and smiling.  Which is not something I can ever take for granted being the mom of a special needs child.

Before the photo shoot I sent everyone an email about Grace and the fact that if you were in a picture with her it was not your job to make her smile and / or look.  But that you should hold your pose and let the people outside of the picture attempt to get her attention.  As you can tell by the photos, Grace did an amazing job during the entire photo shoot. 


Friday, September 11, 2015

back to school...

First before I get to the pictures and updates, I want to acknowledge that it is 9/11.  John came home from school yesterday talking about the conversations they are having in his history class about the attacks.  And as he was sharing the stories with me, I teared up.  When he asked me why, I said 'Because I remember.  I know exactly where I was when I saw the second plane hit the tower.'  I will never forget.


I'm so glad that my post 9/11 children are learning the stories of the brave men and women who gave their lives to save others, of the regular people who went to work not knowing it was going to be their last day and of the people that rallied around coworkers to ensure their safety.  And I pray that it is only a history lesson for them, not something they live through and can't / don't want to forget.

The kids have been back in school for two week as of today and it has been an adjustment getting back into the swing of things.  We were all glad when school started but getting back into the practice of getting up early and doing homework is not fun.

This year we have a middle schooler.  John is in 6th grade and that means there are a LOT of changes for him at school.  He has a locker, which is cool but it comes with a lock that caused him (and every 6th grader everywhere) stress.  He has multiple teachers and classrooms to go to. He is no longer being told what to bring home for homework but having to depend on himself and his notes for that.  And he has two electives, that he selected with my approval.  He is taking cooking, which he loves and makes my heart happy and carving, which concerns me (there has already been two incidents where boys have cut themselves with their knives during carving class).

Luke is in third grade this year.  He was ready to go back and see all his friends.  He is not ready for the extra work that comes with being in 3rd grade but he loves the fact that they now get to play gaga ball during recess.  He is off to a great start with homework and assignments.

Grace is back to the same school which is a great thing for our girl.  She has the same teacher and we are super excited about that.  Grace is evidently excited too because I got the following email from her teacher this week:

Grace had such a great day!!  We had music first thing this morning and she just loves music!!  I was working with her right after lunch and she was imitating me counting 1, 2, 3 and 4 (in my off key sing- song voice)!!  Grace was handing toys back and forth with me, making eye contact and 
I said "Thank you" when she gave me a toy that I asked for and she replied "Welcome".  She also said "9".   I think she missed me just as much as I missed her this summer!!

I hope your school year is off to a great start!


Monday, August 24, 2015

puppy update...

Our little puppies

are now big puppies...

Can you believe how much they've grown?  I used to be able to carry both of them at the same time. They are now 6 months old and we have had them for four months.


They wrestle and play for hours at a time.  It is so funny to watch them interact.  Each one has his / her own personality and they are funny.  One thing we love is having a fenced in back yard.  The puppies spend hours a day out there playing, wrestling, digging and defending our yard by barking at everything.  Seriously, they bark at everyone and everything.

I spend my morning coffee time out on our back deck under my pergola, watching them play.  It is so peaceful and I love our backyard.  However, the puppies are still a lot of work.  Way more work than we realized before we impulsively got two.

The puppies chew on everything.  They really do.  I have always heard that from puppy / dog owners but until you live with it, it's just a concept.  We are getting very good at putting everything up high.  Just like when we baby-proofed our house.  They are also not house broken or potty trained.  For the first few months it was ridiculous, now it's down to just annoying.  Truth be told, we are going to have to replace our carpets.  Which was something we have always wanted to do, but we were thinking it would be a few more years before we took that step.

We hired a local trainer to help us, well, train them.  Just like raising children, training the puppies is all about consistency.  And, we've learned that we're just not that consistent.  Plus, I think, having two makes it more difficult.  But that can just be me making an excuse for why they aren't better trained.

Kenzie (our all black girl) is so ornery and instigates many of their wrestling matches.  She is also the most affectionate puppy.  She loves cuddles and will sit on or next to us all day long.  Every night when Mark comes home from work, she meets him at the door and her whole body wags.  She acts like it's been eight days since she last saw him, not eight hours. 

Parker (our white and black boy) is just plain funny.  He acts like an old dog until he gets the sillies and then he is all puppy.  If I am showing any attention to Kenzie, he will walk up and body block her out of the way.  He was the runt of his litter and that is why we picked him.  Mark felt bad for him getting stepped on by all his siblings.  He is now close to 25 pounds and bigger than Kenzie.  I have to be careful getting him out of his pen because of the height of the gate and his weight put be off balance and I'm afraid I'm going to pull a muscle in my back.

He will also come up to a chair or couch (yes, we let them up on our furniture) and put just his front paws and top half of his body on the chair.  He waits like that until I notice him and lift his back end and hind legs up onto the chair for him.  I'm serious, this dog is so crazy.  That's what he is doing in the picture below.
Grace is warming up to the puppies, since they have settled down a little bit and no longer puppy pile her when she's on the floor.  She likes to pet Parker the most and when he sits next to her she will pet his back.  Which I just love to see since one of the reasons we got the puppies was because of Grace's love of dogs.  They also love to sit at her feet when she is eating.  Seriously, as soon as I take the tray out of her high chair they run over and sit next to it.  We are trying to train them to stay out of the kitchen when we are eating, but Grace is not making it easy for us.  If she is having a snack and the puppies are next to her, she will feed them.  It is so cute to see.  And since it's a typical child behavior, I love it.
We also went out and bought them a baby pool so they could enjoy the water.  I know, I know, we are spoiling them.  But baby pools are on sale now since it's August and they had to make room for the Halloween stuff.  We all thought that Kenzie would be the one to love the water.  But as it turns out, Parker is our water loving dog.  The boys want us to put an in-ground pool in, so they can teach Parker to swim.  It's a great idea and I would love it, but that is totally not in our budget right now.

I totally love these two mutts!  It's true what they say about pets giving you more than you give them.  Our family has been enriched by having them.  I just hope I feel the same way in the winter and I have to walk them in freezing weather by myself...


Sunday, August 16, 2015

eight years ago...

Eight years ago this weekend, Mark and I were in Guatemala finalizing Grace's adoption.  This precious little girl rocked our world and enriches our lives every day.  It's hard to imagine our family without her.

Grace has recently started to come up to Mark and I and give us hugs.  This might seem like a minor thing for most children, but when she comes over to give me a hug with a big squeeze, I have to hold back the tears.  My heart couldn't hold any more love for Grace than it does.

But that doesn't mean there aren't still days that I wonder what it would be like to have a typical 8 year old girl.  That I don't long to have conversations with my daughter.  That I don't want to hear her voice.  That I don't start crying when she does because I just don't know why she's crying.  I feel so helpless that I can't help her because she doesn't have the ability to let us know what has upset her. 

Sometimes, I long for my boys to have a typical relationship with their sister.  I wish my parents had a typical granddaughter, Grace is the only girl on my side of the family.  Sometimes, selfishly, I wish it wasn't so much work to have a daughter like Grace.  That it didn't stress me out and stretch me beyond my patience.  That I was able to spontaneously go places and do things with all three of my children.  But as I told my friend recently, I can be spontaneous with enough notice.

My wishing and longing are hard feelings to have.  I have done a lot of reading on grief and I know that I will likely grieve in small (and big) ways for the rest of my life with Grace.  Some days I am more okay with that than others.  But through all these feelings, I'm so thankful that God placed Grace in our lives and allows me to be her mom.  I get to glimpse a little bit of heaven every time Grace looks me in the eye and smiles.

Happy Family Day Grace!  We love you more than you will ever know...