Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Wreath and a Nativity

(pictures from last year, because we're in the process of decorating!)

Did you know that tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent?  It is among my favorite times of year (maybe even my favorite time of all!), and I truly believe it is among the easiest season to teach a child about the wonder of God's incarnation here on earth.  The amazing thing is that even very small children get it with a minimum of effort on your part.  We love Advent so much that we have developed our own set of traditions to celebrate the season, rich with warmth and good food and anticipation.  The richness of the Advent season make secular attempts at "celebrating the season" (ahem... elf on a shelf... ahem) seem quite empty and trite in comparison (because the underlying message of Advent is much more miraculous and incredible than some little man who sits on your shelf and makes sure you've been good.  It's about God loving us fully and unconditionally regardless of how naughty we've been.  It is about love as a free gift.)

So, even if you've never celebrated Advent before, I invite you to do two things this Advent season.  Two things that will capture the imaginations of your children (along with yours!) and make it a meaningful and memorable season.  Make an Advent wreath and buy a nativity set.  Your wreath can be as simple as a few evergreen branches and four candles, or even four candles themselves on your dining room table or mantle.  And your nativity can be fancy, silly, playful, or very simple.  We have gathered a few over the years because I love them so, but you could even make one out of wooden peg people and paints, or print one out and make a shoebox house.  In the age of pinterest, there are a million ideas about how to be crafty!  Start with what you have.  

These two items can help you develop your own Advent rhythm.  Ours always, at the least, consists of gathering around the wreath every night, lighting it while we sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel," saying a few prayers together and singing a few Christmas songs.  Over the years, our tradition has come to include a special treat, like a cookie or hot chocolate, an Advent calendar, and an ornament taken from a bag and placed on the (at first) sparsely decorated tree. We now have a custom of often including family and friends in our Sunday celebration, and doing something even more elaborate and special (and tasty!).  But all of these things are extra.  All you really need is the magic of coming together and awaiting the arrival of Jesus in our midst.

The children are free to play with the pieces of the nativity throughout Advent.  We do remove the baby Jesus until Christmas proper, but that doesn't stop the kids from making their own babies, so I'm not really sure how important that part is.  :-)

Oh, and then tell the Christmas story again and again and again.  You can say it in your own words, read it from your Bible (or, better yet, for small children, from this bible), or read one of the many wonderful Christmas books available.  There are many at the library, and I have found that the single best place for children's Christmas books is the thrift store.  Here are some of our favorites (I'm just pulling out books, so I'll add more as I remember them!)

Praying for Christmas (this one is a great "devotion book" for the littlest members of your family)

And one of the amazing things about celebrating Advent together as a family is that you, as the Adult, are also preparing to welcome Jesus into our midst.  Ben and my favorite book to use together is this one by Henri Nouwen.  We might need to switch books this year, because I believe we've used this book for eight years straight and can recite most of the passages by heart.

Have a joyous Advent season!  And if you get a chance will you please prayer for my friends Meg, Rosie, and their mom Melissa, who just lost their father/ husband yesterday?  My heart and thoughts are with them today.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Some Thanksgiving Ideas

Are you staying put for Thanksgiving and looking for a few activities to occupy the kiddos while you do some cooking?  It's been cold and rainy for a couple of days now, and we've been in full-on Thanksgiving mode.  Here are a few activities we've enjoyed (which basically only require things that are already lying around your house!).

We made these pilgrim hats for the kiddos, and at least one of my children has not taken hers off since (can you tell which one based on the pictures?).

Are you looking for a good book for kids 4-8 or so that explains the Pilgrim's journey and the first Thanksgiving?  Ben, the kids and I loved reading through this book, and I think we all learned something.  We found it at the library, and I imagine you could, too.

We happened to receive an Amazon shipment in the morning, which means hours of blissful cardboard box play.  We fashioned a Mayflower of our own, complete with a separate boat (read, another cardboard box) for the livestock, which, apparently, was how it actually transpired.  A cardboard box must go down in history as one of the best children's toys invented.

Each of the kids was also rationed a small jar with a few seeds for the new world, and then proceeded to "plant" their crop and use their jars to create "medicine," (aka: water) to help save the ailing pilgrims and Indians.

And if you're looking for a good educational video, there's a great Charlie Brown video available for streaming on Netflix called "The Mayflower Voyagers," which presents a great outline of the story!

Happy cooking, safe travels, and enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

34 Weeks Pregnant With Twins

(two pictures, because I never know what to do with my hands in these!  Hugging the belly?  At my side?  Oh, I make a hopeless model).

We are at 34 weeks, friends!  It is hard to believe, because in truth, I could never really imagine being this far along with twins.  In my lack of experience, twin pregnancy just seemed so incredible and extreme and impossible, really.  It almost seemed like I would turn into a pumpkin at 30 weeks or something.  But in the end?  Being 34 weeks pregnant with twins is really just like being really pregnant with a single baby.  True, I've been idling here for a while (the last few weeks I've just sort of remained really pregnant, and I imagine I will remain here for the next few weeks too).  There are no fireworks, no magical transformations, no exponentially growing belly.  Even more so than with a singleton pregnancy, growth slows way down at the end here, and so I'm just hanging out with two little babies kicking around.  And I've actually found my groove in this, and am pretty comfortable rounding the bend of our final lap.

Blessings of this stage of pregnancy include that I have been sleeping really well, that my appetite has decreased and a normal amount of food feels sufficient, and that since I'm home, I can adjust my activity level if I'm feeling burned out (which, let's face it, is often!).  We saw the babies in an ultrasound last week (with Zosia, my midwife in training), and they are doing wonderfully.  Both nice and big for twins, and just the same size as one another.  And the sonographer predicted that they will both have full heads of hair, which made us all smile (Does anyone remember when Hugo was born?  Our first baby with hair!).  It's so wonderful to think about such concrete things about the babies.

We have been shifting things around in the house (which I'll share as soon as I've taken pictures!), and as of this weekend, I can say that were the babies to come, we would be ready.  They have a crib to sleep in, washed and folded clothing waiting for them, and two carseats ready to take them home from the hospital.  Of course even though we are ready in theory, I would still be utterly shocked for the babies to come anytime soon.  In my mind, we have a few good weeks left of this pregnancy, and we are all occupying ourselves with the Advent in our own family along with the beginning of our liturgical Advent, both of which feel so intertwined this year.

I am focusing in on mentally and emotionally preparing for this birth.  More so than with any of my other births, I am going to need to create a calm and peaceful space for these babies.  That takes breathing, prayer, and a lot of relaxation.  These next few weeks are my time to go deeper into my own birthing body and start preparing for something wonderful.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Midwives and Babies

Our imaginary play can be categorized into one overarching category these days: playing midwives.  There's the fact that these children's mama is a birth instructor, that they have been around for a couple of homebirths, and that they routinely accompany me to the midwife.  And of course midwives tend to be amazingly kind and sweet, and always make sure to invite the children to help measure my belly or listen for the babies' heart beats.  On top of it all, I really believe that children intuit when something is incredible and sacred and just magical.  So playing midwives it is, with my three children cast in three roles: Zosia, the midwife; Lily, the pregnant mother; and Hugo, the baby.

I giggle so much listening to snippets of the conversation.  "I have three babies in my belly!"  Lily might say.  Or "This is a beautiful placenta.  The umbilical cord is attached very strongly," from Zosia.  Hugo seems to be tickled to play the baby, as always, and has taken to calling Lily "Mama" just any old time of day.

Who knows, maybe we have a future midwife in the family?  It would make me thrilled.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Polish Turkey Recipe For You

Just a quick wave hello to say we're still here!  Please picture me crawling along at a snail's pace, with a hugely pregnant belly and three lively children hopping around me.  That is pretty much true to life.  Whew, I am slow these days, but everything is going smoothly, the kids are great, and the babies are thriving, and we are so thankful for that.  I can do slow for a few weeks.  This weekend, I'm looking forward to sorting through some pictures and thoughts from the last two weeks and sharing them in this space.

In the mean time, if your plans for the weekend look anything like mine, you will probably be shopping for Thanksgiving.  And perhaps you're an adventurous cook, or looking for a delicious new way to prepare a turkey.  I wrote up my mom's turkey recipe last Thanksgiving so that I will remember it, and, surprise, surprise, I will be searching my own blog for "turkey" on Wednesday to find the recipe once again (we are actually going over to my parent's house for Thanksgiving, but this recipe is so good that I make one every year, even if we're out of the house for the holiday).  Seriously, this turkey is amazing.  We have tried many recipes, have tried deep frying, etc, but nothing else comes close!  It is just the best.  So, without further ado, here is a delicious turkey recipe for you to enjoy, as written up by me last Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  Just in case any of you are standing in your kitchen staring at a large bird and scratching your heads wondering how to exactly to cook this thing (Or more realistically, so I don't have to call my mom next Thanksgiving morning, as I do every year, to ask for her turkey recipe), this is our family's beloved turkey recipe, handed down from my Babcia Zosia to my mother, down to me and hopefully down many more generations.  In Poland, poultry is often served with apples (duck and apples is a regional specialty), and this recipe creates absolutely the most delicious dark, salty, and slightly sweet sauce that will make you rethink turkey entirely.  The result is incredibly juicy and moist and not even a deep fried turkey will come close.  We like to use a brined bird, which we have found is juicier and more flavorful.  And I usually try to choose the smallest turkey that is available (ours is 14 pounds or so), if necessary cooking two turkeys rather than one larger one (but we are fans of dark meat around here).  Okay, so here it is!

For this recipe you will need:
one small to medium sized brined turkey
10 small apples (my favorite for baking are granny smith)
two cups of pitted prunes
ground sea salt (about a tablespoon)
a few teaspoons of soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons dried marjoram
a few pats of butter (about a quarter cup, or half a stick)

That's it!

Once you have the ingredients, assembling the turkey is simple.  Wash your turkey and pat it dry, placing it breast up in the pan, and making sure to remove the giblets and save the liver to fry with some onion for a snack for lunch (there is nothing like liver to keep your iron levels up, especially for women, so eat up!). Slice the apples (unpeeled) and if you like, cut out the seeds (my mom never does this, and it doesn't really matter in the end).  Scatter the apples and prunes around the turkey.  Place the pats of butter around the turkey, sprinkle a few teaspoons of salt and the marjoram all around the bird.  Finally, pour the soy sauce on the bird, and that's it.  Place the bird in an oven heated to 325 and now wait, which, by the way, is exactly what I am doing at the moment.  Your turkey should read a minimum of 165 internally, which should take about 3 and a half hours for a 14 lb bird.   You will probably want to cover the turkey about half way through, and baste every 20 minutes or so!

Once complete, you can either strain the sauce through a sieve making sure to get as much of the cooked fruit as possible, place it in a food processor, or simply serve with whole chunks of fruit, which is usually how we do it.

I am actually making an extra turkey, as we're going to my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner, but once you make this turkey you will understand why!

Here it is!  I just went back and made a few changes (decreasing the salt slightly due to the fact we used a brined turkey, noting that the turkey should be covered half way through).  I know it is cheating to try the turkey before the actual dinner, but I am never good at waiting, and it is delicious!  Have a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude

This weekend we set up our little gratitude tree: a bunch of branches in a vase, with a basket of "leaves" on which to write things for which we are thankful.  It's one of those pinterest ideas I've always intended to put into practice, and this year the stars aligned.

And we do have so much to be grateful for.  Ranging from Hugo's "Jumping!  Jumping!  Outside!" to Lily's very serious and theological "I am thankful that God died on the cross," we have many more things to be grateful for than we could possibly count.  So it seems fitting to expand the thanksgiving from a single day on the cusp of Advent to a full month of remembering God's goodness in our lives.

Today, we have colds, the kids are a little stir crazy, and even amid the little aches and pains of the final weeks of pregnancy, I can think of dozens of gratitudes off of the top of my head.  A kind family member who offered to pick up groceries.  The sound of Ben bundling the kids up to send them out to the yard to run off some energy.  A six year old who asked for a nap, and then was utterly surprised by how refreshed and rested she felt afterwards.

I am so thankful for it all.

Monday, November 11, 2013


We had some good friends visiting last weekend from Seattle.  Friends whom we hadn't seen since their wedding five years ago, which is sort of a crazy amount of time, considering that during that time their family grew by two daughters and ours grew by one daughter, one son, and then now two more daughters.  Close friends we came to know when we were all living in Boston, and who have known our family since it was just me and Ben and a great deal of yearning for something more.  I think at that time the yearning was for a bunch of kids and a farm.  I think we can check the bunch of kids box, much sooner than we ever imagined, actually, and our farm dreams have subsided for the time being, so there you go.

Since those Boston years, Rachel and Sean have gotten married, pursued their calling on a different coast, and chased their own dreams, such as living on a tiny island in the Puget Sound.  Doesn't that sound so magical?  They are both ministers, and have such a thoughtful and authentic presence.  We spent time together talking about parenthood and marriage, and faith and our hopes and dreams for the future.  It is such a comfort and joy to be in the company of good friends, and they are not easy to come by.

I loved seeing our kids discover one another in play, and watching Rachel and Sean parent their daughters.  Isn't it incredible to see friends transition into such a unique and intimate role?  And when I rolled out of bed one morning to see all five kiddos sitting around a long table eating oatmeal with Sean, it made my heart so full.  For friendship and love and all of this abounding new life in our midst.

And thanks for the cow costume, guys.  Hugo has been wearing it since you left.

And as always whenever anything good is happening, I majorly forgot to take pictures, but we did take a meandering walk down to the creek with Rachel and Junia while Miriam napped and Sean made some dinner.  Ben wanted to take my picture to prove that I do sometimes leave the house.  Sometimes.

Friday, November 8, 2013

30 and 31 Weeks Pregnant With Twins

The last few weeks have been flying by!  There's something about being past 30 weeks pregnant that makes birth seem very imminent, especially when it is quite likely that you will not go to 40 weeks.  And here I am, right on the cusp of being 32 weeks pregnant.  The past few weeks have found me craving ice like no one's business, realizing that most of my maternity shirts no longer cover my belly, and starting to think about how to concretely prepare for the birth of the babies.

We had an ultrasound a few weeks ago which showed that Clara and Dorothy are super stars.  They're still measuring within 2% of one another (that's the big worry with twins that share a placenta), and are apparently huge for twins-- and would even be nice and big for singletons.  That's great news, especially considering that our ultrasound came at the end of a period during which I was quite sick, not able to eat very reliably, and worried about the babies ability to grow and thrive.  Ben and I skipped out of the ultrasound knowing that everything is just fine.  It was truly an answered prayer!

 I'm still learning to take it easy, and generally don't realize I'm doing too much until after the fact.  Ben has wisely suggested that I no longer schedule things out of the house, which is quite reasonable considering that we're in the homestretch here and I seem to do much better with the option of lying down for a bit and grabbing a snack.  And of course I'm still doing little things out of the house, like taking Lily to preschool, puttering around the block for a sloooow walk, or taking the girls to a playdate.  And maybe it's because I'm a homebody by nature, or the fact that fall seems to invite one to stay close to the hearth, but I don't mind it!  In fact, the days that the kids and I are staying close to home seem to go most smoothly for everyone.

Ben, on the other hand, has been doing exactly the opposite of taking it easy, as my limited repertoire of activity has landed him with a heavy load of housework.  Things that I've always done easily during the week, like grocery shopping, laundry, housecleaning, and even sometimes meal prep are now often outside of my capabilities.  Evenings and weekends have been  busy for him, and we've been struggling to find a sense of balance.  Between trying to do things more efficiently, letting some things go, and lowering our standards (and accepting help from sweet friends and family members), I'm hoping we'll be able to make it through the next few weeks without burnout on anyone's part.

It is absolutely crazy that the babies could be here as soon as 4 weeks from now!  So exciting!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

and baby a will be called...

We have loved the name Clara for years: Lily was almost named Clara, and I think that if Hugo were a girl, he quite likely would have been named Clara too.  It means "clear, bright," and St. Claire is an incredible saint with a beautiful story.  So baby A, who is lining up to be born first and who is on the left side of my bellybutton, will be named Clara.

In our family, we tend to go with a name we love, no matter how unusual (Zosia, which is Sofia in Polish, Hugo, which is still a fairly rare name).  But with the twins, we knew from early on that we wanted names with a ring of familiarity.  Maybe it's because these two will spend the first decades of their life being very unique inherently because of their status as identical twins?  And in the end, despite our attempt to be totally conventional, both Clara and Dorothy are actually quite unusual names!  So there you go.

Middle name, just like her sister, to be announced at birth.

Monday, November 4, 2013

and baby b will be called...

When we set out to name these twins, we knew that we wanted to find two names that we loved equally, that went together nicely and whose meaning resonated with us.  Since baby B (formerly known as Veronica, for those who remember our rhyming daughter-given names) will be coming into the world second, it seems only fair that we announce her name first.

Both Ben and I love the name Dorothy: it is so sweet and old fashioned, carries a beautiful meaning and has many possible nicknames.  We have known from the very moment we found out we had two babies on the way that they were a gift from God.  That is perhaps the most notable thing about these babies in our mind.  We have celebrated them with joy because we have known so deeply that they are an incredible gift.  It feels perfectly fitting that one of them carry a name that means "God's gift."

We cross-checked Saint Dorothy, and learned that she is the patron saint of "horticulture; brewers; brides; florists; gardeners; midwives; newlyweds; love," which in our minds were all pretty awesome things.

And we have already chosen a really beautiful and meaningful middle name for Dorothy, to be announced at birth, because we all need a little surprise, don't we?