Goodbye 2014 | Hello 2015

It's another New Years Eve and 2014 feels like the blurriest, fastest year of my life. It was a great one with Porter's birth being the most gigantic event in the past twelve months, and it sort of feels like his year. Year of Porter, indeed. Adding another healthy, happy baby into our family really trumps everything else that 2014 could produce in a year end review.

But believe it or not, other things did happen besides Porter. We celebrated seven years of marriage and twelve years as a couple, we bought my beloved mini-van, celebrated Truman's fourth birthday and four years as parents, celebrated Miss Cecelia's second birthday, a new job for Nate, a great maternity leave for me, and first day of school for Truman. We finally finished our DIY basement renovation and I focused a lot of my 'home project' energy on nursery decorating. There were countless visits from my Mom and Memaw, time spent with Pepaw, my dad and my brother and Nate's brother---all of our favorite out-of-state family members made memories in Wisconsin this year, which is something we do not take for granted!

This blog became a place for moms making it work with my guest series. I posted my face off during the first half of the year and am now adjusting to very infrequent updates on the old bloggity blog, although I miss it dearly.

Looking back at my pictures from 2014 made me realize that there were some undesirable health issues in our family, nothing too serious but just enough to make us grateful for ordinary, healthy days. Truman and I both had strep throat and also pneumonia at different times: he had both simultaneously and my go rounds were separate but during pregnancy so therefore less than fun. Truman had his first trip to Urgent Care because of that double whammy and Porter brought our first trip to Children's ER with a virus and fever right at his two month birthday. Both Truman and Cecelia had plenty stomach bugs and I cleaned up my fair share of kid puke this year, something I could certainly go without in 2015 but I'm sure the fun has only just begun with three kids.

Nate and I both turned thirty-three this year and I'm definitely reaching the age when each birthday feels like a gift. Each new year brings the promise of a fresh start, another chapter in this amazingly hectic and wonderful life. 2014 was the year of Porter and each even-numbered year since 2010 has been the year-of-the-newborn-baby. 2015 will be an adjustment year: no new baby, no big changes planned, but a time to settle into a routine as a family of five. I can't predict how next year will treat us but we can only hope it will be as fabulous as 2014. Minus the kid puke, the strep and the pneumonia, of course.

One picture per month, real camera only...


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Pretty awesome year, for sure.

Slideshow that represents the entire year of photos in 1:30, set to music, which makes me cry: (and link here if it doesn't show up in the post)

Happy New Year, dear blog readers. I hope 2014 was kind to you, too.

Year End 2013
Year End 2012
(skipped 2011 and 2010 apparently)
Year End 2009
Year End 2008

The Most Wonderful Time

I think I enjoy the anticipation of Christmas more than the day itself somehow. Not that Christmas Day isn't awesome but it's just a lot of preparation for one measly day, you know? Getting ready for Christmas is my favorite though and something about this year being our first with three kids makes it seem extra magical. So a big Pre-Christmas blog update is a must, as it's really my most favorite time of year (besides glorious, glorious summertime and all of it's excessive sunshine).

Buying our tree was one of those fiascos that sounds really fun in theory but was sort of painful for all involved in reality. We went for the real deal two years in a row, so our well-loved fake will stay in the attic indefinitely in favor of the messy, aromatic Frasier Fir. Tree-purchase day was cold and windy and the kids were underdressed and cranky. We didn't go ALL out by cutting our own tree down at a farm because we stuck to our favorite local gardening store. We discovered The One after looking through two rows of trees and declared, 'It's good enough!' I wanted to strap the beaut on top of the van for effect, since it would be the first time the van could participate in our Christmas memories. And can you imagine the perfect Instagram shot, tree on top of the van and three smiling semi-tolerant kids standing in front? But alas, Nate didn't want to scratch the roof since we don't have a rack up there and we rearranged car seats to allow for the tree in the trunk/third row/part of the second. Truman was devastated to sit next to the tree because 'I want to sit next to my sissssssterrrrrr!' Of course he did.  Both he and Cecelia were sobbing on the way home from The Tree Experience, so that was fun. Making memories!!


We decorated the inside and outside of the house the same weekend that we got our tree---right after Thanksgiving. I'm still mildly obsessed with decorating this house for Christmas. The red and lights and sparkly things make me happy, although I'll be more than ready to ditch it all after the new year. For now? I love it. It's cozy and fun and I only bought a few new things to spice up our tried-and-true Christmas decor.






We didn't actually decorate the tree until a few days after it took up residence in our front room. Again, an ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? kind of moment that was 50% fun and 50% chaos, and also ended with tears from at least one child---cause unknown. But one thing that makes me incredibly happy is our ornament stash. Both Nate's mom and my own gave us a yearly ornament growing up as kids, and since we've gotten married we have one per year as a couple. And you better believe we are carrying on the yearly ornament tradition with our own kids, which means...TONS of ornaments on our tree. I just love the vintage ones from the 80s (yes, vintage ornaments, since we are the opposite of young anymore) combined with little ultrasound pictures of the next generation, keys from our first home together, baby pictures, newlywed pictures....such symbols of different life events hang from that needle-dropping Fir. I think only two ornaments have been shattered this season which is a pretty amazing record considering little curious hands that just cannot get enough of the most breakable ornaments.




Of course, every single strand of lights we had from last year's tree refused to shine when we were finally ready to light it up. All four strands were half-lit so Nate begrudgingly went to Walgreens and bought highly overpriced LED strands in white, green, and red. That solves the popular question of all white versus multicolor! Just go for red, white and green for total Christmas saturation. Really a big fan of his choice in lights this year.


Nate helped me wrap presents, too, and so I'm officially done with that task thanks to him. I don't know why but must wrap presents, must wrap presents, presents aren't going to wrap themselves and they are multiplying rapidly down there hung over my head this year until it was finally complete. Nate saw that I was unusually stressed out about this ridiculous To Do (I mean, really? Talk about a first world problem, right?) and we kept it simple without pretty bows and name tags, in the name of sanity. As if the children and our family members will care, right? I secretly miss my elaborate bows and tags but we are calling this a major win since it's done and does not really matter. Taking it down a notch with my need to beautify everything at once!

Because I know of a few reasons to be thankful this time of year and always. Hint: this is the part of the post when I really just want an excuse to show you cute pictures of my family. Let's pretend these images fit in nicely here, alright?

Little man is our most favorite 'present' of the year. Seriously, best gift ever.

As far as actual presents go, we did a lot of online shopping as always, but also got a few things in stores. In fact, Nate and I went shopping together, alone, at Target on Thanksgiving night---aren't we wild? When you ask Truman what he wants this year, he will reply, 'Telepods and Mr. Peabody and Sherman DVD.' Do you have any idea what telepods are, dear readers? I didn't either and I fear that I'm reaching the mom-of-big-kids stage when I'm clueless about what is cool. Not that I've ever been at the pulse of little children and their desires but now I'm really out of the loop. Telepods (as best as I can tell) are some sort of little figurine that goes with the iPad game of Angry Birds (his ultimate favorite thing in all of the world). We also got Truman an XBox 360 as his 'big' gift, and Nate sold me on this gaming system because apparently it's somewhat active and not just one more screen to battle over all day long. I guess we got a few games for the XBox that make the player jump up and down, play sports as the controller (without sitting down to hold a controller the entire time), and we even got a dance game which I'm especially excited to try. Because I am an awesome dancer and my children need to learn this about me. Sarcasm. Anyway, the XBox and games, telepods, and his Peabody DVD will be the biggest hits for Truman, I hope. He's getting a few other smaller items but I'm blanking right now, since I think the XBox will be an immediate hit and I picture our entire family down in the basement dancing playing away. If you are lucky, videos will follow for your pleasure. OH, and speaking of videos, Truman had an adorable Holiday Sing at school last week. I videoed all of the four songs and they are adorable.

Cecelia is a whole different story since not only does she suffer from Indifference of All Television Shows, but she also doesn't care too much about toys. Who is this child?!?! When you ask her what she wants, she will promptly tell you, 'That giant Hello Kitty at Michaels, and stickers.' I'm sure you weren't aware that there is a 12" Pez dispenser with a huge Hello Kitty head on top sold for $30 at Michaels, because I had no idea anyone would make such an odd plastic creation either. Freaking thirty bucks. For a weird candy holder. It holds entire Pez sleeves, still wrapped, so the candy itself is not giant but the Hello Kitty sure is. When shopping with CC and Porter one day, Cecelia saw this monstrosity and lost her mind over how much she wanted it. I talked her down and pinned responsibility to produce this mammoth Pez right on Santa's shoulders. Thankfully with a 40% off coupon to Michaels, the punch was a little less severe as I purchased the beloved HKP (Hello Kitty Pez, as it shall be called from here on out) in Santa's honor. The 'sticker' request comes from another shopping trip with me when she saw some reusable Melissa and Doug stickers at the check out and again, had to have them. Pretty sure I'm just going to skip over those and pray she doesn't notice, though. She is getting a lot of other 'fun' things  from us that she didn't request: a wooden easel, this tent making set of giant Tinkertoy-looking sticks, a Dora microphone and doll, and a flap book--her favorite.

Sweet Porter is getting his yearly ornament and he got two new pairs of pajamas from Hanna Andersson. That's it! We still love you Porter, don't worry, but you obviously do not care yet and we will enjoy that part of having a baby while it lasts. Your first Christmas will be cool by you as long as we change your diaper, feed you bottles frequently, and interact with you. Fine by me!

(splurged on their yearly ornaments this year, from Etsy seller Lily Reed)
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Giving gifts to our family this year entailed a few Kids Craft projects…thank goodness for Pinterest!
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One final pre-Christmas notable: we have never 'done' Santa in this house before. Not because I'm totally anti-Claus or anything, although we didn't really do Santa growing up in my house, either. But Truman has always been really really scared of the big guy in red, saying, 'I do NOT want him to come into my house, I only want presents from Mommy and Daddy.' Just walking within 10 feet of the Santa line at the mall would mean a quivering lower lip from my eldest. So forget it, not worth trying to force Santa on him when I didn't ever fully believe in him myself growing up. But this year Cecelia has been really intrigued with all things Santa and Truman seemed to be more accepting, too. I think it's fun to have Santa as a part of Christmas with little kids while still stressing the real meaning of Christmas. Which, obviously we are doing a great job instilling Baby Jesus' birthday into Truman because this was his response when I asked him why we celebrate Christmas: Because we need more presents? It took every ounce of my willpower to avoid spouting off dialogue about how privileged he is and how some kids have get any toys, and how he has no idea what the concept of NEED really means. Instead, we took a second to revisit the Christmas story and played with the Nativity scene to be reminded of Jesus. Truman then asked, 'Well if his birthday is on Christmas, how old is he?' I told him more than 2,000 years old and that sort of blew his mind, or just further confused him.

Anyway. Santa. We took the kids to the mall last weekend for our first Santa experience and it was pretty awesome to see their reactions. Truman was super nervous waiting in line and said he only wanted to stand next to him, but not on his lap. Cecelia seemed excited and said, 'Santa is a super nice guy, right?' Porter had no clue but was content to chug a bottle while in the Ergo so that he could put his best full-belly up against the big guy. When it was finally our turn, both big kids went up and sat next to the nicest-ever Santa willingly. He also held Porter and nobody cried! Major success in my book, even if Porter does look totally stunned/milk-drunk in the (overpriced) picture. I was so proud of them as they told Santa what they want (Giant Hello Kitty and Telepods, of course) and wished him a Merry Christmas. Seriously that mall Santa is the sweetest and I hope we make it a point to go each year for comparison purposes.


Getting ready for our outing---kids looking mighty cute.
And waiting in line. A little more nervous now.

So this week will be full of family visiting from out of state, which makes the holiday that much more fun. Nate's brother Jon and his girlfriend will fly in from Oregon tomorrow. My mom, dad, and brother all fly in from Colorado late on Thursday night. They will all stay until next Friday, and we'll house my family in the basement. It's going to be so much fun to have our big extended group together and although I worked yesterday (Monday), I don't go back until Friday so we plan to enjoy these three days like crazy. With my shopping, wrapping, and baking complete I am feeling myself relax and chill out a bit more---which is very necessary if you ask dear Nathan;) We have some plans for the next week-and-a-half with our visitors but I'll hit those in a post-Christmas review.

(Facetiming my parents to thank them for the matching Christmas hats. Technology is wonderful but we are so grateful we'll be seeing our family in person soon!)

(aren't the hats cute?)
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For now I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas full of magical moments. If that can't happen, I hope we all just maintain some sense of sanity while eating and drinking in excess. Dream big, right?

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Christmas Cookie Extravaganza

I have so many Christmas-y and Life-y things I should probably contain within a blog post, but for now just one of the Christmas-y things needs a moment.

COOKIES!!! (said in Cookie Monster's voice, please).


I've mentioned my method of Royal Icing for cookies a few times on this blog, and added the label of 'royal icing cookies' to those posts so you can look at all of them if you really want (click the label at the bottom of this post). But after Instagramming my giant Christmas Cookie Decorating-a-thon from this year, there were a lot of common questions that I figured I should tackle back here. Such as: how do you do this? What is your recipe/what tools do you use? How long does it take you to do this? How in the heck do you find the time to do this? Etc. Etc. (Nobody flat out asked if I am crazy for taking so much time to do them, but to answer that: yes, I am a little crazy for these cookies.) It seems like a lot of people want to try to make Royal Icing cookies but it feels intimidating, so maybe this will make it more doable. Or maybe it will make it seem ridiculous and not worth your time at all, since it really DOES take many many hours for this process. Luckily, it's a process I really do enjoy or there is no way I'd put forth the effort and prioritize it in the list of things To Do!

My 'method' for Royal Icing is really Annie's Eats' method. Not only do I use Annie's icing recipe and technique, but I also love her sugar cookie recipes: both for the vanilla/almond flavored version and also her chocolate sugar cookie version. I haven't ever substituted the almond extract for her preferred lemon zest since I'm a sucker for all things almond and not so much lemon. But these cookies seriously do not disappoint, and the first time I tried her chocolate version was for Thanksgiving: a big hit. So big that dear Henry decided to get the first taste of this chocolate divinity while I was putting all three children to bed alone one night, cookies ready to be frosted placed directly in the middle of our kitchen table. You know, to keep Henry away from them. Which obviously didn't work because the jerk JUMPED ON TOP of our kitchen table and went to down on my beloved cookies. I only knew this because I heard something fall off the table (a discarded McDonald's Happy Meal toy that apparently stood in his way), and so I flew down the stairs and found Henry jogging into his crate. Licking his lips defiantly as I locked his crate door. Pretty sure he 'only' ate 3-4 cookies and they weren't even frosted yet, but still---we had to watch him for a few days to make sure that poisonous chocolate didn't kick his butt harder than I planned to do.

But I digress. (Henry was fine and I still had a decent plate of Thanksgiving cookies as my contribution to the day). I really do love the dark edge of the chocolate against the bright icing.
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Back in my original 'how to' post about RI cookies, I mentioned that I had made these bad boys six times. I think I'm up to nine now but no matter what, I want you to know that I am NOT a professional by any means. There have been a lot of really nice compliments about how nice my cookies look, but if you compare my 'work' to the likes of the REAL pros (like Sweet Sugar Belle or Annie's Eats) you will agree that mine are totally 'beginner status'. And I'm fine with that since it's just for fun anyway. I think the reason people are so 'wowed' by these cookies is because the royal icing itself is so freaking pretty and smooth and hard. The colors are saturated and fun, which is right up my alley of course. It's really not TOO difficult to make a batch of RI cookies but girls, it's really really time consuming. I cannot stress this enough.

This year I was really excited to make a ton of Christmas cookies. I knew it would be a challenge but I wanted to make little plates of pretty cookies for our friends this year. So beginning on Tuesday morning, Cecelia and I made two types of cookie dough while Truman was at school and Porter watched from his play yard/napped upstairs a bit. We doubled the recipe for the chocolate dough and also doubled the usual vanilla/almond recipe. We put both dough balls in the fridge to chill and CC declared that the chocolate was her favorite dough, of course.

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Then later that day, while CC was napping and Porter napped on and off, Truman helped me roll out, cut out and bake the cookies. We ended up with about 2 dozen chocolate cookies and 4 dozen vanilla cookies. Truman declared the vanilla his favorite and he loved choosing which cookie cutter we used over and over again. ;)
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At this point, I felt very accomplished for baking and then storing 6 dozen cookies in one day. I'm guessing this part took about three hours total broken up into two sessions, if you will. I was pleasantly surprised that both of the big kids were such great helpers and it was not as stressful as baking with children usually is for me. So that evening I took a break from the cookie process because I knew the icing part takes even longer, and twice as much focus on my part.

The next morning (Wednesday), before work but after all of the kids were out of the house, I had about an hour before my first patient. So I mixed up the Royal Icing, divided it into my containers, but I didn't add the food coloring gel or any water---so this was the foundation stuff I'd have to mix further later on. This part took me 45 minutes somehow.

That night, after all of the kids were in bed, I added the coloring to my containers plus a bit of water to make the icing appropriate for piping. This took me another 45 minutes since I wanted to use 5 colors. I went to town decorating the first 30 cookies, since my main goal was to have a good batch to give to Lori on Friday. I seriously love this part of the process: I could do the actual decorating all day long and not tire of it, but the baking and mixing up icing and cleaning? Meh. Not my fave. Anyway, I spent about 2 hours decorating that night, then finished the final layer of icing on Thursday during CC and Porter's nap. That ended up being another 2 hours for decorating, so four hours total just for decorating 30 cookies (not including the baking or preparing the icing). I know. It's a lot.
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But so pretty!


Black/chocolate Santa is a favorite for everyone. And I bought the black for Santa's belly belt separately, in a tube and it's really shiny/hard to dry. Didn't use the black for my second round, too annoying to deal with.
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Most of them, anyway. Some were duds and I offered those to Nate and the kids immediately since they still taste great even when they don't look so pretty.
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So yay, as of Thursday afternoon I had my Lori cookies ready for Friday morning. But then Thursday evening after bedtime for the kids, I wanted to barrel through the rest of my cookies since we still had about 3.5 dozen left. I mixed up a half batch of additional icing, since my original amount was dwindling but still enough to use on SOME of the remaining cookies. I chose to do more white, then a light blue and a light green in this new batch to add to my existing red, green, yellow, brown, and white. Pinterest is my friend when decorating these cookies, and I had spent a solid amount of time rocking Porter to sleep while browsing ideas for Christmas cookies. So many ideas, so little time!

Thursday night I spent about 3 hours getting the remaining cookies decorated, and then another 3 hours on Friday morning before work---since I didn't have a patient scheduled until 12:00 randomly. So six hours spent decorating the last 3.5 dozen cookies. Love the blue and light green additions here and my little round snowmen! I wanted a more simple looking Santa, too, and think I achieved it this second time around. I played around with my trees and candy canes because practicing never hurts in cookie decorating!

(after the first evening with my second batch, note the number of Christmas cards we've already received. Love this time of year so much!)
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Then once they were all finished, Friday morning. Ta-Da!

You'll notice that I can't ever make two cookies exactly alike. I get bored and like to change things around between cookies!
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My 'simple Santa' with gray eyes, instead of black--using the tubed black mixed with white icing.

I feel like the pros always have SUPER thick cookies, so I tried to keep mine fatter this time around. Yum.

Snow on the light green tree--a favorite.

First batch:

Second batch:
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Clean up is not so fun and my fingers are still stained pink from washing everything.
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I gave Lori her 30 cookies on Friday and have another 24 boxed up and ready to deliver to our neighbor friends. The rest just might end up in our own bellies!

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So to answer all of the questions on IG:
-If you want to read the details on how I made these and what tools to use, read this post.

-It took me four days and 14.5 hours total from start to finish with 6 dozen cookies. OMG. I know.

-I found the time by making it a priority during naps, before work when I had a bit of time before patients, and after bedtime. Our laundry mutated into a Dangerous Venture while I stared into the brightly colored frosting for hours. I didn't return emails or check blogs or clean the house, but hey! I did make cookies! ;)

-And I'm not a professional by any means, and most of my creativity was stolen from Pinterest. But I do really love decorating cookies because this type of thing plays into my love for sweets, bright colors, and the process of creating something somewhat artistic. I wouldn't say I'm an extremely patient person but for this type of activity? I love the tedious, detailed part of it so I guess I do have patience for the process.

Any other questions?
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