Posted in family life, musings

brotherly harmony

I’ve had a lot of ideas for blog posts – and inspiration always seems to strike when there’s no chance to write, and then disappear when I actually sit down with a free moment!

Lately I’ve been thinking about Psalm 133, in the context of the affection between my own two boys.

How good and how pleasant it is,

When brothers dwell together as one!

Like fine oil on the head,

Running down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,

Upon the collar of his robe.

Like the dew of Hermon coming down

Upon the mountains of Zion.

There the Lord has decreed a blessing,

Life for evermore!

The analogies amaze me, as I come to understand them more deeply (oil running down someone’s beard was admittedly a strange image before I learned more about it!). The harmony and unity of brothers (whether actual brothers or spiritual brothers) is compared to the oil of consecration used to sanctify and set apart the high priest, and to water in the desert. In other words, it isn’t a trivial or an inconsequential thing, but rather one of the sources of life and flourishing.

Earlier this evening I told Rondel that I was going to wash up the dishes before bed, and that he and Limerick could either play alone or play together while I did that. Instantly, he replied, “Play together!” and to make sure he realized I wasn’t going to be playing also I queried, “You want to play with Limerick?” Again instantly, he answered, “You do!” (meaning “I do!”). And off he went to find Limerick and play with him.

While the boys have the inevitable quarrels that any two people have, when different goals and ideas collide, they play together remarkably well (especially considering all the sibling horror stories I’ve read about). They would almost always rather find a way to work out their differences and come to a renewed unity than take the easy route of just playing individually, and I love that about them. I love how Rondel, after losing his cool with Limerick and yelling at him about something, will feel the tension in the air and seek to heal the relationship by giving Limerick a gentle hug and kiss. I love how Limerick will imitate Rondel’s play even when he doesn’t fully understand it, just so he can be a part of what Rondel is doing.

And my hope is that their growth in unity now, together, will prepare them for the difficulties of community throughout life and for holiness – that it will equip them to be a source of pure water in the dry and thirsty land they’re growing up to inherit, where relationships are utilitarian, selfish, and broken.

Posted in family life

a little bit of normal life: gardens, dirt, and popsicles

Well, our sweet potato growing experiment failed.

I know some varieties of sweet potato can grow in Arizona, but the microclimate of our backyard is warmer than average due to heat radiating off the walls, and the copious amounts of water we gave the plants just barely managed to keep them from dying for the past couple months. Compared to how sweet potatoes should look after that much growing time, they were small and sickly. And all the purple ones died after a particularly hot and dry week in July.

However, we took advantage of the garden being empty of plant life to completely rebuild the frame for the raised bed, since the old one had succumbed to weather damage and splintered apart. My husband did an awesome job with it, and found an environmentally-friendly water sealant to protect the frame so it should last for a while – and the boys have been loving the chance to play in the dirt before it’s time for our fall planting.

Rondel prefers to sit outside the bed and use his construction trucks to dig; Limerick had more fun climbing right in and burrowing into the dirt with his hands.

Since the soil hadn’t been watered for a few days in preparation for moving it out of the old frame and back into the new one, it was blowing all over us like dust – so I turned the hose on to a trickle and added it to the fun🙂

Limerick was incredibly focused on the dirt/mud. I don’t think he smiled once… he was too busy investigating the different sensations of dusty soil, wet soil, and puddles in the soil. It amazes me how dirty he can get when he’s intent on experiencing or exploring something! I had to spray him down before we went outside and it was surprisingly difficult to get all of the dirt off of him. But it was worth it – if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know what a fan I am of messy/sensory play!

And then (true mom confession) I fed them homemade peach popsicles for dinner with the excuse that we were all too hot from being outside to eat anything warmer😛

Posted in musings

Remembering grace in a busy season

It has been a long summer.

Work has been a lot busier than normal, and my supervisor has been out for most of the summer, so I’ve been working pretty substantial amounts of overtime most weeks. While I really do enjoy my job, it is hard for me and for Paul when I need to put in extra hours – it cuts into our time together and our time for sleep, leaving us feeling tired and overwhelmed.

On top of that, I’ve had trouble keeping up with my body’s changing demand for thyroid hormone, as I’ve hit the second trimester and my weight gain has accelerated. Every 4 or 5 weeks when I go in, my dosage has been increased – but my lab results don’t look any better (and even look worse) the next time around. So my mind and body have been operating at a slower speed than normal, and by the time dinner is done I am ready to fall asleep. All my normal “leisure activities” (like reading, writing, photo-editing, and crafting) have totally fallen to the side!

And along with the boys I’m starting to have a bit of cabin fever from being cooped up from the heat. This must be how Northeasterners feel at the end of a long winter… but honestly I’m just tired of having to do some sort of water play to make even the mornings bearable. The boys have so much energy all the time; Rondel especially just wants to run and run and run. So we go out early in the morning and again before bedtime, and I try to take them to spashpads, so they can move as much as little boys need to move. It has been nice lately that the monsoons are coming in, and the rain has cooled everything down a bit (at least for a few hours at a time, anyway).

I suppose all of this is just meant to be an excuse for not writing as much lately… it’s really been a good time, just a busier time than normal🙂 I’ve gotten to learn and stretch myself a lot at work, we’ve introduced puzzles with the boys to their great delight, and my husband has still managed to do really well in his classes and network with his professors. I’ve still had good time for prayer and Bible reading, thanks to the light rail, and that has been a huge blessing and a source of strength when I’m really tired.

So there is a lot to be thankful for! And this is what I’m going to try to remember, and focus on, when I’m worn out and another day of responsibilities is starting: that God’s mercy and compassion are also new every morning, and that His grace is sufficient for my needs.

Posted in family life

conflict resolution in the eyes of a child

At the children’s museum this weekend, a brother and sister were building a fort together with the large blocks in the toddler/preschool area of the museum. They were a little older – the brother was maybe 8 years old, his sister maybe 4 or 5. Rondel, who’s been in a bit of a tower-destroying phase in general, was really drawn to that fort, and not in a way much appreciated by its builders! But I was incredibly impressed with how they handled the potential conflict.

First, they asked Rondel very politely not to knock their fort over, explaining that they were still building it. Next, the brother went over to his dad and asked his dad to build a separate tower a ways away from the fort. Finally, when that tower was complete, he came back to Rondel, asked him what his name was, and then told him that this other tower was built just for him to knock over. To top it off, both the brother and the sister came with Rondel over to the new tower, watched him knock it over, and cheered gleefully with him over its demise. Over the course of the next 15 minutes or so, as their dad and I continued to build towers for Rondel to knock over, this little boy kept bouncing back out of his fort to cheer for Rondel every time he brought a tower down.

His other-centered attitude, his ability to see a mutually positive solution to their conflict, and his proactivity in making that solution a reality blew me away. I hope Rondel and Limerick can grow into that kind of maturity at that early of an age as well!

Posted in recipes

Mac and Cheese!

One of my consistent pregnancy cravings is Kraft macaroni and cheese – it’s not a particularly appealing food to me most of the time, but I really really want it in that first trimester! It probably helps that it is quick and easy to make if I’m feeling worn out from the hormones and just need something fast to feed the boys for dinner… but I feel somewhat guilty every time I make it, and I wanted to find an alternative that would be healthier for the boys as they’re growing and for me as I’m helping a new baby grow. I’ve had a great baked mac and cheese recipe for a few years now, but it is a labor of love and a misery in the summer (three burners and the oven on all at once in a tiny heat-trapping kitchen – not enjoyable).

Well, somewhat on a whim a couple weeks ago, I wondered if I could adapt that baked mac and cheese recipe to a stovetop recipe and still retain that rich, smooth, cheesy texture and flavor. I was doubtful, remembering many grainy cheese sauces from my mom’s attempt to replace the Kraft mac, but I decided it was worth a try. And to my great surprise and the boys’ great delight, it worked! We’ve made it at least four times since and Rondel’s asked for it for dinner, lunch, and even breakfast many more times than that.

Essentially, I make a simple roux with butter, flour, and milk – about half the milk I needed for the baked mac – add some shredded cheddar, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and maybe a touch of salt, and then mix the drained noodles with the sauce after the cheese has mostly melted. Some keys are:

  • make sure the flour cooks sufficiently before adding the milk
  • avoid over-browning or burning the flour
  • stir thoroughly while adding the milk so no grainy floury pockets are left unmixed
  • keep the heat low so the dairy doesn’t scald or develop a skin
  • use a noodle with lots of texture to hold the sauce
  • don’t skimp on the cayenne! The dairy mitigates the spice, but the pepper still manages to make the cheese taste sharper than it otherwise would, and enhances the cheese flavor that might otherwise be dulled by the milk, flour, and pasta.

I think high heat and insufficient whisking of the milk into the flour-butter mixture were at fault the one time our noodles were a bit on the grainy side.

We’ve been using a tri-color rotini noodle we found that apparently will provide about half a serving of vegetables in a normal child-sized amount of pasta – so the colors make the boys excited, and the added health benefits make me excited!

Anyway, for 8 ounces of pasta, here is the recipe I’ve settled on:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 lb shredded sharp cheddar cheese (approximately – I just fill a bowl)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • pepper and salt to taste (I usually omit the salt)

If you know how to make a roux, this will be a piece of cake. If you don’t, the technique is pretty simply to learn. Start by melting the butter at low to medium-low heat, then mix in the flour. Let the flour and butter mixture cook at low heat for at least 5-6 minutes, until the flour starts to brown (if it browns more quickly, turn down the heat!). Slowly, stirring constantly, add the milk to the browned flour-butter mixture, making sure to fully incorporate all the milk as you go. Finally, add the cheese and spices!

The whole sauce is then stirred into the cooked pasta and everyone can enjoy! If I make the sauce while the pasta is cooking (and the water coming to a boil), I find it doesn’t take much more time than the boxed mac and cheese, although the clean up is a bit worse – and the taste and nutrition are far better.

Posted in family life

water balloons and popsicles

The boys’ cousins came over this weekend for a play date and we went all out preparing for the fun – because when you live in a small house you don’t want to keep four toddlers and a baby cooped up in it all morning, and when it’s summer in the Valley of the Sun you can’t just casually go outside to play (especially when the raised bed catastrophe in the back makes it into a child safety hazard – exposed nails, anyone? – so the moms have to be outside in the heat too!).

So, to make sure we could handle both the crowd and the weather, we made popsicles (for the first time for my kids!) and water balloons (also a first!). Rondel and Limerick were absolutely enthralled by the water balloons, and couldn’t keep their hands off of them while I was filling them up, although they did try their best to be gentle and save them for when the cousins arrived. Their look of surprise the first time one popped in their hands was priceless🙂 And of course, when they finally did get to start throwing and deliberately popping them later in the morning, they were completely into it. I think the approximately 100 balloons survived about ten minutes into the water play…

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selecting balloons from the bucket (which was almost full at the beginning! The kids didn’t leave me much time to grab the camera)

The popsicles were an equal success with the four toddlers, and a much greater hit with the baby, who obviously couldn’t share in the water balloon fun. I had made two types, one using watermelon and lime and another more creamy variety using strawberry, banana, and milk. While the strawberry-banana popsicle was the first to be claimed and devoured, everyone went back for seconds and ate up the watermelon popsicles without any complaint. I only tried the watermelon and was surprised at how refreshing it was, and how well the lime complemented the watermelon flavor. And everyone took a turn feeding their popsicles to the baby – I wish I could show you all those pictures! My nieces and nephew are really quite adorable🙂

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And in between the water balloons and popsicles, the kids played with a hose sprinkler, a plastic slide, a kiddie pool, and a lot of different cups and bowls – the standard water play setup for our house. But everything is more exciting when you have a friend to share it, even if it sometimes means waiting a while for the slide, or being crashed into at the bottom by an overeager cousin🙂

Posted in family life

toddler potty humor

It starts young…🙂

I was putting some dirty diapers in the diaper pail this evening and came across a poopy one, so I commented, “Eww, a poopy diaper!” Well, Rondel heard me and replied, “Limerick is a poopy diaper!”

And then he just about fell over laughing (Limerick was rather oblivious, fortunately).

I suppose I’ll have to add “Please don’t call your brother a poopy diaper” to the list of things I never thought I’d say, and then try to explain to Rondel that it isn’t very kind to call someone names of that sort, even if they don’t seem to mind. (I can hear him now telling me that Limerick wasn’t sad about it so it should be ok…) He just has a toddler’s keen eye for incongruity coupled with a toddler’s immature sense of empathy!