Archive for January, 2014

Wintertime always throws me into a baking kind of mood.  I love how the oven makes the house extra-warm, I love the smells of browning butter and sugar, and I really love having a little treat with my morning cup of coffee.  However, I’m trying to keep my goodies on the healthier side these days (and I use the word “healthy” very liberally), so I’ve tucked away my recipes for butter toffee and chocolate espresso bombs and have tried a few new things in the kitchen this month.  Such as:

caveman cookies (original recipe by George Bryant found here)

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This is about as guilt-free as a cookie can get.  Which I why I was compelled to dip them in chocolate.  Let’s not go overboard with this health thing.

2 eggs
1 cup roasted almonds
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Roast almonds for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Place your roasted almonds, blueberries, apricots, and shredded coconut in a food processor and continually pulse until all of it is minced.  Turn your food processor on low and let it run while you slowly drizzle in your EVOO.  Transfer this mixture to a mixing bowl and mix well with the 2 eggs.  Using your hands, form thin patties about 1/4 inch thick.  Place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate if desired.


coconut macaroons (original recipe by David Lebovitz found here)

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I’m on a coconut kick as of late, and daaaaang, these are good.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle, packed with good coconut flavor.  I dipped some of them in chocolate, but found I liked the plain ones better.  You know a cookie is extra-good when I actually prefer it without chocolate.

4 large egg whites
1¼ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
2½ cups unsweetened coconut
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large skillet, mix together the egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut and flour.  Heat over low-to-moderate heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom as you stir.  When the mixture just begins to scorch at the bottom, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.  When ready to bake, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch mounds with your fingers. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until deep golden brown. Cool completely.


thumbprint cookies (original recipe by Ina Garten found here)

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Ok, so I’m not even going to pretend this one is good for you, but I’ve got a soft spot for butter-packed shortbread, plus these are really pretty, so I’m breaking the rules.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
raspberry and/or apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla.  Separately, sift together the flour and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar.  Mix until the dough starts to come together.  Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls.  Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut.  Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger.  Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown.


banana nut muffins (original recipe found here)

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Since I can’t shouldn’t eat cookies for breakfast every morning, I’ve been looking for a healthy bread or muffin recipe.  I’ve had a few fails, in the form of a coconut banana bread that even chocolate couldn’t save and a batch of spongey apple muffins, but these grain-free banana muffins are pretty good.  I pulled them from the oven a couple minutes too soon and the tops sunk in, but hey, they’re extra-moist!

1½ cup almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 bananas
1 tbs raw honey
1 egg, beaten
5 tbs butter, melted
â…“ cup raw pecans, chopped
several dashes of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Mix the almond flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and mix in the honey, egg and melted butter.  Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Fold in chopped pecans.  Spoon the batter into paper lined muffin pan cups.  Sprinkle tops with cinnamon.  Bake for 20 minutes or until tops turn golden brown.
Happy baking, folks!

I went into my office last week to start discussing the terms of my return to work in March.  Our preferred daycare has confirmed that they have an opening for Juliette, and our deposit is due on Friday.  Gaaaaahhhhh!  Where did my maternity leave go?  Is it really ending so soon? The past few months have flown by.  But in that funny trick that time often plays, it also feels like a lifetime ago that my days revolved around work rather than baby.

The question over when (or if) to return to my job has been a tough one.  When we decided last year that a March start date seemed right, Juliette was still just a fuzzy little blob on an ultrasound screen.  Now she’s here and she’s beautiful and fun and knocking-my-socks-off sweet. And she’s still so small, so reliant on me.  I know, many women don’t get anywhere close to six months of leave and I’m so, so thankful that our savings and Shane’s job have given me the opportunity to take this extended time off.  Yet…I want more.  More time with my baby girl.  More morning snuggles and afternoon walks.  More play dates with my mom friends and their little ones.  More goofy, toothless smiles.  Oh, that girl has some wickedly powerful smiles – those smiles had me wondering if it was time to put an indefinite hold on my career.

But damn, it’s complicated, because I’m fickle and non-committal and maybe a little greedy.  Because while I’m loving this time at home, I also want to keep my professional momentum going.  I want to utilize my skills as a designer and experience the sense of accomplishment that comes with a problem solved or a deadline met.  And I know this is pride talking, but I still want to call myself an architect and I still want to bring home a paycheck.

More than anything, I want to do what’s best for Juliette.  Initially I thought nothing could be better for her than unlimited access to mama; I love her like no one else can, I’m her sole source of nourishment, I know which books are her favorites and which songs she likes best before naptime.  But is there more out there for her?  What if she ends up loving the chance to spend some of her days with other babies at daycare, with other grown-ups who will surely come to adore her?  What if a little space from her dad and me allows her to be more confident, more secure, more adaptable?  And long-term, how can I best encourage and motivate her to pursue her dreams?  I received a magazine in the mail last week from a contractor I’ve worked with for several years, and as I flipped through it with Juliette on my lap, we came to a spread on a project I worked on recently.  I pointed to the glossy photos of the shiny new building and exclaimed, “Look, baby!  Look what Mommy made!”, as if I was expecting her to pat me on the back for a job well done.  Clearly, it will be awhile before she’s able to appreciate the merits of sustainable architecture, but someday I hope she’ll be inspired by the fact that her mom has worked very hard to create beautiful buildings in this city that we love.

Am I over-rationalizing, trying too hard to convince myself that my return to work is what’s best for our family?  Probably.  I’m an excellent rationalizer.  But I’m also a pretty good architect, so I’m going to be spending three days a week in the office while Juliette thrives (fingers crossed) in her new daycare environment.  We’ll ride the train in together in the mornings and I’ll go visit her at lunchtime, as she’ll be just a couple of blocks away from me.  And then I’ll go pick her up at the end of the day, and she’ll smile at me as I scoop her into my arms and my heart will just about break with how good it will feel to hold her.  Because I’ll still be mama to this little goofball above all else.

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I knew that having a baby would change our sleep habits.  I knew I wouldn’t be staying in bed until 9:00 on Saturday mornings.  And my 2-hour Sunday afternoon snoozes?  Sayonara to those.  But I wasn’t prepared for how completely consumed I would become by sleep.  I didn’t know about the anxiety that comes with going to bed at night and not knowing if I’d be woken up in thirty minutes or five hours.  I didn’t know how quickly my day would come to revolve around naptime, how intensely my mood (and the baby’s mood, more importantly) would be affected by how much she slept.  I shared in her four-month update that I wasn’t loving the whole go-to-sleep song and dance.  I was so tired of the bouncing, so tired of the too-short naps, so tired of feeling like I was spending just as much time trying to get her to sleep as she was actually sleeping.  And so we decided it was time for…dum dum dum dum…sleep training.

There are few issues more hotly debated in the parenting community than the question of how to teach your baby to sleep well.  There are the fervent no-cryers, the cry-it-out evangelists, the co-sleepers and anti-co-sleepers, and the scores of moms and dads that are simply exhausted and overwhelmed.  After reading a couple of books, talking with several of our parent friends and consulting our doctor, we decided on the method outlined in The Sleepeasy Solution – establish a quiet, calming pre-bedtime routine, put the baby in her crib while she’s awake, and let her cry, checking in every five to ten minutes to verbally soothe her as needed.  We settled on Saturday night as our sleep training kick-off and I wrote out our plan, reviewing it with Shane in great detail.  And then, as Saturday drew closer, I started to falter.  I flipped back through The No-Cry Sleep Solution, in which Pantley states that, “To allow a baby to suffer through pain and fear until she resigns herself to sleep is heartless, and, for me, unthinkable.”  Yikes.  I started researching the pick-up/put-down method, in which you pick your baby up to soothe her if she’s crying and put her back in her crib once she’s calm, repeating the process until she drifts off to sleep, going dozens of rounds if necessary.  I got lost in the tangled web of online sleep training forums, seeking advice and encouragement but finding more judgement than anything else.  I waffled and wavered and finally ended up reverting back to our original plan, believing it was the best option for Jules and for us.

At 7:00, we carried Juliette up to her room, zipped her into her sleepsack (good-bye, swaddle blanket!), and I rocked her and read to her, all the while crying my eyes out.  I turned on her white noise machine and laid her gently in her crib and kissed her little forehead, explaining to her through my tears that it was time for her to learn how to put herself to sleep, that mama couldn’t bounce her anymore.  She looked at me with her eyebrows raised, probably more perplexed by my meltdown than she was by the change in routine.  And then Shane and I went downstairs, turned on the baby monitor, and waited, sitting on the edge of the couch as if we’d need to spring into action at any moment.  Juliette started crying after a minute or two, clearly wondering why she was being asked to go to sleep without someone’s arms wrapped tight around her.  Shane went up five minutes later and leaned into her crib to tell her that we love her and assure her we weren’t far away.  Ten minutes after that, she was still wailing and Shane was telling me that he would take over all the put-downs and night wakings from now on, that he would do anything to be allowed to just go pick her up.  I asked him to give her just a little longer, and then, just a minute later, she stopped.  She sucked her fingers a bit, she rolled her head from side to side, and then, she slept.  Praise Jesus, she slept!  It took eighteen minutes of crying, but she figured it out.  She woke and fussed a couple of times throughout the night, and I got up around 2 am to feed her, but she’s a fast learner, that Juliette.  Naptime went great on Sunday, as she went down each time with no more than a few minutes of whining, and that night she fell asleep five minutes after we put her in her crib!  We’re still working on stretching out the length of her naps, and I still get a pang of anxiety each time I say goodnight, but it seems that we’re on the right track.

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Our sleep training success doesn’t change the fact that walking out of her room on Saturday night was one of the toughest moments I’ve experienced as a mom.  Partly because I didn’t want my baby to feel confused or lonely, but also because I felt like I was saying good-bye to the newborn that would crash out on my chest after each nursing session.  Juliette is growing up so fast, becoming more independent with each new milestone.  And while these changes are wonderful and freeing, and while I’m pretty stoked about deflating that exercise ball, I still look back on those first months with our needy little girl with plenty of fondness.  So I’ll be sneaking into her room for a couple of extra kisses when I head to bed in a bit.  Sweet, sweet dreams, baby…

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Four months!  Baby girl is gettin’ big, tipping the scales at just over 15 pounds, nearly busting the waistbands of her 6-month leggings.  Parenthood continues to be a roller coaster – during the wee hours of Saturday morning, when Jules had been up for two hours while we desperately bounced/shushed/nursed/pleaded, Shane was vowing we would not be having any more children; the next night she was back on track with only one short wake-up and I was lovingly stroking her silky-soft hair as I laid her back in her crib.  She certainly keeps us on our toes, but there’s no shortage of stuff to love about Miss Juliette:

She’s getting better and better at entertaining herself when we need a break, and she’s more and more fun during our play sessions.  Favorite activities include reading (she digs that Very Hungry Caterpillar), grabbing my hair while I blow raspberry kisses on her belly (ouch!), and putting her mouth on anything and everything (check out the latch she has on that giraffe’s leg!).

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She’s still teasing us from time to time with her mini-giggles, hovering on the verge of a full-out laugh.  She had a diaper blow-out of epic proportions last weekend, and as Shane peeled off her poopy pajamas, I filmed her slightly distressed chuckle.  Can’t really tell if she wants to laugh or cry here, but either way, it’s pretty cute.

I know, I’m slightly biased, but isn’t she pretty?  I assumed her gray-blue eyes were just part of her newborn coloring and that they would eventually turn a shade of greenish-brown to match her mom’s and dad’s.  But they remain a lovely deep blue, set against her perfect fair skin.

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I obviously hate seeing her cry, but I’ll admit that I kind of love her pre-tears lip quiver.  We were goofing around last week, snapping photos, when my high-pitched coo struck a sensitive chord and she looked at me with her sweet, tragic little pout – I know, not nice to photograph a sad baby, but she was really workin’ it and I couldn’t resist.  And rest assured, I quickly turned that frown upside down with a big, loud smooch, placed smack-dab on each of those chubby cheeks.

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Her hair is getting long and swoopy and increasingly unruly, so yesterday she sported her first pigtails.  Shane thinks I should just let her wispy hair do its thing, but hey, she patiently hangs out in her chair each morning while I go through my blow-dry and flat-iron regime, so I feel like it’s only fair that she get some stylin’ time.

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Bummmmmbo!  Her head control seems to get better day by day and she loves sitting up (with help).  It’s so nice to be able to hold her with one arm without worrying that her head will roll off!

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She still loves her bathtime, with the new addition of sitting in front of the mirror while she gets her hair combed.  I suppose she’s admiring her girlish figure (those rolls!).

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She’s pretty great, right?!  But, if I’m going to make this a true snapshot in time, it’s not all giggles and pigtails.  She continues to have some belly issues and spits up a lot, generating a mountain of dirty laundry that seems endless.  This also means she often smells like day-old mac and cheese as milk crust lodges itself in the folds of her neck (thank goodness she likes baths!).  Napping is another struggle, as she won’t stay down for more than 40 minutes at a time these days.  I can usually get her back to sleep after that first stretch, but it requires quite a bit of effort (gah!  the incessant bouncing!), and that effort is taking a toll on my back.  I decided on Monday that we were done with the exercise ball, that she would just have to get over it, but after 30 minutes of her screaming while I rocked her in our comfy glider, she won and I was back on the ball.  I swear she was smirking as she drifted off to sleep.  She’s cute, but dang, she’s stubborn.

Anyhow, happy four months, little one.  Milk crust and marathon bounce sessions aside, I really, really love this wild ride we’re on.

Here goes it – settin’ the bar for 2014:

Read to Juliette every day.  It’s my dream that one day Jules will be a reader like her dad and me, that she’ll appreciate the magic of a good story.  I hope that we’ll spend Sunday afternoons snuggled up on the couch together with our books, that eventually we’ll even share book recommendations and call each other to gab about the great novels we just finished (yeah, I’m flashing waaaay forward here, but it’s a fun thought).  So I’m planting the seed now, and our reading time has become one of the best parts of my day.  Juliette will snuggle into my lap and look at illustrations while I tell her about Clifford the Big Red Dog’s shenanigans, and she’ll help me flip the pages and maybe even smile a little at my exuberant animal sounds.  I am so looking forward to keeping this resolution for several years to come.

Limit all non-essential purchases to things that I truly love.  This applies to clothes, toys, home decor, pretty much anything not on my grocery or Target shopping lists.  Quell the voice inside of me that whispers things like “but it’s such a good deal” or “it will fit eventually” or “no one can have too many boots”.  I’m convinced that we already have an obscene amount of stuff crammed into our closets – there’s no sense in adding to the excess with items I don’t fully appreciate.  To keep myself honest, I’m keeping a log of all my want-but-don’t-need purchases.  It will be interesting to look back on it at the end of the year and evaluate the quality of the stuff I bought.

Limit my time on Facebook (check it no more than once a day).  Since I’ve been on maternity leave, and since I’ve had “idle” hours to pass each day while Juliette nurses, my iPhone has nearly melded into the palm of my hand.  I quickly fell into the following feeding-time routine: get the baby settled, grab my phone, check Facebook, check Instagram, check email, check Feedly, and then maybe check Facebook again, just in case someone posted something new in the past ten minutes.  Some days I caught myself reading the same status updates a dozen times.  That little “f” icon had become the ultimate time-sucking vortex.  I thought about going cold turkey and getting off Facebook completely, but dang, I really do love the little glimpses into the lives of those friends and family that I don’t otherwise hear from, so instead I’m cutting back, checking it only once a day for a quick rundown of the latest posts.  My hope is that I’ll fill my newfound free time with books, with real news stories, with quiet moments where I just shut my eyes and revel in the goodness of this special time with Juliette.

Get back into a regular exercise rhythm (walk/run at least 365 miles this year)*.  Now that Juliette is almost four months old, I don’t believe the “I just had a baby” excuse is legit anymore – it’s time for me to get my butt in gear (and back into those skinny jeans)!  My hope is that I’ll walk or jog at least three times a week, and I’ll be tracking my progress on Runkeeper.

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*My new favorite exercise partner.  But is she cheering me on, or laughing at my huffing and puffing?

Let’s do this.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my list of 2014 resolutions, but before I jump into this year’s aspirations, I’m taking a minute to look back on how I did on my goals for 2013.  And…you win some, you lose some.

Sabbath more intentionally.  There were a handful of Sundays when I really made a point of resting, of putting away my to-do list and focusing on my relationship with God, with Shane, with family and friends.  There were also a handful of Sundays when I was downright lazy, but not in a Sabbath-y sort of way, more in a “can’t. get. off. the. couch.” sort of way.  And then I went on maternity leave and Juliette came along and all the days of the week sort of started to run together.  Now, rest is something I grab in 45-minute increments, whenever it’s available, during naps or Jules-and-Shane time.  So I’m trying to figure out what a set-apart day of Sabbath looks like with a baby – maybe it means that rather than flipping on the TV after bedtime, we keep the house quiet and read or talk or…gasp…just be still.  I’ll keep working on this one, because I still believe it’s important to mark a regular day (or evening, or hour) for deep restoration.

Be more involved in managing our money.  Fail.  I really dropped the ball on this one.  I don’t think we sat down once together to comb through our spending and investments.  I can’t blame Shane – that poor guy tries his darnedest to get me involved, but I hear words like “deferred compensation” and “diversification” and “buy less shoes” and I completely zone out.  I got a text message from him last week letting me know that he had logged into the website for my 401K account and rebalanced my asset allocation.  I responded with an icon of a goofy-faced girl giving a thumbs up.  And that is how our conversations about finances usually go down.  Despite my lack of interest in IRAs and 401Ks and 529s, I do believe I was more mindful of my spending last year, cutting back on both coffee and clothes. I just need to step it up, to answer two important questions: How much less? And was it enough? We also did made some good decisions together about our giving in 2013. But again, was it enough? Are we being good stewards of the money we’ve been blessed with? I…think so? These are questions I should know the answers to.

Make art.  Regularly.  I did alright on this one – I wasn’t as consistent in my art-making as I’d hoped, but there were some very fulfilling creative spurts.  Learning how to screenprint was huge in inspiring all kinds of new projects, and I logged some really, really fun hours in the print studio.  Looking forward to getting back in there sometime soon(ish).

Cook dinner at least four nights a week.  Success!  We rarely have cereal for dinner anymore.  In fact, since I’ve been on maternity leave, we’re eating home-cooked meals six or seven nights a week.  Big pots of soup, crock pot roasts, hearty salads – I’ve been on my A-game in the kitchen these days.  Since Juliette is essentially eating what I’m eating, I feel like it’s extra-important to feed myself well.  Those chubby, roly-poly thighs of hers weren’t grown with Raisin Bran!

As per usual, I didn’t ace my resolutions.  But onward and upward – I’m nothing if not a work in progress!

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Rather than host our annual New Year’s Eve bash, we rang in 2014 with takeout pizza and our latest Netflix rental.  Ok, so technically I rang in 2014 with a bunch of Z’s, as I had already been in bed for an hour when the clock struck midnight.  I wished Juliette a slightly belated Happy New Year at 3 am when she awoke to eat, and then muttered the same to Shane when I slipped back into bed.  No champagne toasts, no fireworks, no Carson Daly…I missed the fanfare a little bit this year, but our quiet nights at home hold their own kind of charm.

We brunched with the gang yesterday to kick off the year, gathering at Jason and Nancy’s for buttermilk waffles and a walk around the park.  So I guess we party at 10 am now, instead of 10 pm.  No shame in that!

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We spent the rest of the afternoon at home, playing with Juliette and then dozing during her afternoon nap.  Jules has teased us with a couple of brief giggles lately and seems to be on the verge of all-out laugher, so we’re constantly making fools of ourselves in front of her, trying to elicit a chuckle.  Despite all our dancing and blubbering and raspberry kisses, she held out yesterday, but her smiles were a pretty great consolation prize.  And Shane and I certainly do plenty of laughing at each other in the process, so there’s that.

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The year is off to such a joyous, cozy start.  And yet, there’s a part of me that’s a little melancholy.  2013 was so, so spectacular – will it ever be topped?  I mean, there was this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this, New Years Day 2013, when we toasted to the good news I’d just received from the doctor’s office: lil’ Schnell was on her way!

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I’m sure 2014 will hold adventures of a different sort.  I don’t foresee any helicopter rides over Kauai, and camping might be tricky, but there will be excitement in watching our baby grow, there will be precious time with family and friends, maybe a mini-getaway or two.  And there will be laughter.  Lots and lots of silly, unbridled laughter.  Happy, happy new year!