Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Little Christmas Town

My mom has always been one to really welcome whatever season it is into her home.  I remember vividly coming home from college for fall break for the first time and seeing that she had "autumnized" the house in my absence; it was a stark realization of what I was missing back at home, and it made me more homesick than I thought I could be.

But I digress.

My mom is an awesome Christmas decorator by nature, and even though there are small children (who could break just about anything) around now, she still welcomes the Christmas season into every nook and cranny of her home.  Baylor was particularly fascinated by one such decoration this year; he got to help Mom line up her Cat's Meow village on the dining room window sills.  I didn't realize that these little painted blocks of wood could be fun for a child, but that just goes to show you how our imaginations change as we age.  Baylor could see endless fun in this tiny town, and he took full advantage of it.  

It's amazing how someone so small can change how you see an object you've known almost your whole life.

Like Father, Like Son

Weeks ago, Lego-mania took over our house and since then the boys (Bryson and Baylor) have enjoyed a few sessions of Lego building time.  The second session took place upstairs, with Mollie and me present, so I snapped a few pictures of the momentous event.

Mollie, for her part, wanted so badly to join in the fun.  Unfortunately, at one-and-a-half years old, she is just too young yet.  Instead, she got to go crazy with some washable markers and stickers.  While photographing, I got a lot of this ...

... which can be interpreted as, "I have green on my hand, Mom!  Please wash it off!"

The boys barely noticed we girls were there.

Yes, that is a pretty intense Lego set you see there.  It is actually one of Bryson's from when he was a Lego-loving kid!

Mollie really went to town with the stickers and markers, then distracted herself a bit with a coffee filter she found laying around.

Baylor really started getting the hang of counting out the spaces and figuring out where each piece should go.  I'm not sure Bryson could have been more proud or excited.

Without a doubt, these images are likely to be repeated time and time again in the future as Baylor's love of Legos grows and develops.  He even got two of his own Lego sets for Christmas, courtesy of Aunt Christine!  Now we just need to get Mollie to learn to not break them apart the minute she sees them.  *sigh*

All in good time, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dad's Birthday (A Month and Three Days Late)

Yup, things have been a little busy around the house and in my life lately, and I have neglected my writing space here on this blog.  (Oh, and in case you were wondering ... it has taken me a week to get this post up and going, hence the miscalculation of time since my dad's birthday.)  Hopefully this post will mark the return to regular blogging ...

Dad's birthday was on November 18th, and we all got together to celebrate it.  Baylor helped me wrap Dad's gifts, though I questioned his choice of wrapping paper.  

I think he liked it because it had words on it; he's never really heard the word "naughty" before in his life, and I actually had to explain the meaning of it to him.  (I have never told him he is "naughty" because I feel like, when you start saying things like that to your child, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And he's not naughty, so why start saying that in the heat of the moment when it isn't true?)  Regardless of its meaning, he still wanted to use the paper.

He also "helped" me with the ribbon, unspooling as much of it as he could before I got to him.  Thanks, buddy!

We went to Bobarino's in downtown Grand Rapids for dinner.  Mollie had just woken up not long before we left, so she still had puffy baby face.

And Baylor still had bed head.

Baylor got to sit next to the birthday boy.

And had every one's attention for most of the meal.

After they were finished with their meals, Baylor and Grandpa E went for a little walk around the BOB.  I believe it was during this walk that Baylor fell in love with the place; he has repeatedly asked to return there for dinner since that night.

Mollie decided to be a finicky eater that night, so she got to hang back with the ladies.

Back at my parents' house, Baylor helped Grandpa E open his gifts.

And while everyone was focused on the gift opening, Mollie decided to take advantage of the lack of supervision and get into my parents' DVD cabinet.

Then, after her brother decided to run around pants-less, she went over and practiced her self-dressing skills and put them on.

After all the gifts were opened, we decided it was high time for pie time!  (Yup, my dad requested an apple pie in lieu of a traditional birthday cake ... awesome sauce!)  Baylor, lucky guy that he is, got his own piece of pie and his own bowl of ice cream.

We're so lucky to live so close to my parents that we're able to celebrate all sorts of milestones with them.  Happy (very belated) birthday, Dad!  I hope it was a great one and that you have an amazing year to come!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Loves Music, Loves to Dance

Baylor just started dancing more this week, and it makes my heart sing to see him so happy and free.

Sorry this last one is so blurry, but I had to share it ... it was too cute not to!

Have a wonderful, dancing day!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Diagnosis

As you may have noticed, I have been a bit absent lately.  There are many reasons why this happened, from a brief-yet-efficient obsession with Christmas gift shopping to Mollie getting up way too early every morning to getting behind on photo touch ups and organization and letting that overwhelm me.  But another reason is that there is something I have wanted, and needed, to write about but haven't really known how to.  Or even whether I should.  Having thought about it for a couple weeks now, though, I think that talking about it is better in the long run because it will increase awareness and understanding.

What I am putting off saying is that Baylor was recently diagnosed with an early childhood developmental delay; more specifically, were he having difficulty in a school setting, he would have been diagnosed with either Asperger's Syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS).  I'm doing all I can, with the time and attention I have, to learn about each of these issues, both a part of the Autism Spectrum, and to figure out what I can do to help him.  Since he was diagnosed by people in our school system, they are providing us with assistance according to Baylor's individualized education program (IEP).  Still, though, I feel like I need to learn more, do more to help him out.  I have had a suspicion that there were issues here for a while, and now that I have an idea of what they might be I both notice them more and feel a sense of urgency in working to help my little man adapt to his surroundings a little better.

Does this diagnosis change how I feel about my son?  Hell no!  Absolutely not.  Is this the end of the world?  Not in the least.  There are so many people who have much bigger problems than this.  But it does give me an awareness of how everyone else might see my son and how his future social interactions may play out.  And because of that I feel moved to action.

I hope to write more on this later as I learn about these syndromes/disorders, but I just wanted to share this with you now.  You who read this blog, how ever many people that may be, are a part of my life and, as such, I wanted to clue you in on what is going on in my life right now.  And to those of you who know and love Baylor, I hope that this provides you with at least a little insight as to his ... quirks, for lack of a better word.  Have patience with him, and hopefully after more research I'll be able to share with you how to better interact with the little man.

I hope all is well with you.  Happy holidays!

Scrumptious Sunday: Homemade Applesauce

Lately I've been into making homemade applesauce.  It tastes WAY better than anything you can buy in the store, and I like the consistency of MY applesauce better than the jarred stuff; it's thick and creamy, almost like pudding or yogurt.

So what do you do to make homemade applesauce?  Well, you take a whole bunch of apples and peel and core them.  (This part of the process is made much easier if you have a contraption that peels, cores, and slices all at the same time.  Like this one!)

(It's even easier if you have your husband do it.)

Once the apples are peeled, sliced, and cored ...

... make sure the majority of the rest of the peel and core are removed, then slice the apples in half for easier cooking.

Put them in a pot that is big enough to allow you to stir them frequently without having to worry about them spilling over the edge.  Add a small amount of unsweetened apple cider (about a cup or so), then start heating it over medium to medium-low heat.  It might take a while doing it this way, but you end up running less of a risk of burning the apples at the bottom.

Stir the mixture frequently, chopping up the apples with your spoon as you go.

Once the apples start to get really mushy, much like in the picture below, get out your immersion blender and start pureeing the apples into applesauce.

Mine is typically the consistency of a thinner pudding with very few chunks, but when you make it yourself your applesauce can be just to your liking.

After getting it to your desired consistency (chunkiness, thickness, etc.), cool it down either in its original pot or by pouring it into glass or ceramic bowls.  We chose the latter because it helps bring the temperature more quickly.

Once it has cooled to about room temperature, you can either put it into Ziploc freezer bags for freezing, or just cover it and store it in your fridge.  If I remember correctly, a bushel of apples made five gallon-sized freezer bags (not entirely filled)

We really enjoy homemade applesauce, much more than Mott's even, and it's awesome to be able to enjoy it all year round!  I hope you enjoy it as well!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday: Apple-Molasses Spice Cake

(image via Real Simple)
I saw this recipe in November's issue of Real Simple magazine, and I knew this was something I had to try.  While I was planning on giving it a go for the first time for my husband's family's Thanksgiving festivities, I ended up trying it a little sooner when we needed to bring a dessert to a gathering with friends last weekend.  (It doesn't have any dairy products in it, so it was perfect for the occasion since our friend is highly lactose intolerant.  Hi, Tim!)

It was relatively easy to make and even though I made it a day ahead of time, it was insanely moist when we ate it.  I thought I'd better post this now just in case y'all needed ideas of what to bring over the holidays.  Hope you enjoy it!

Apple-Molasses Spice Cake
(from Real Simple magazine)

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt  (we used regular salt and it tasted just fine)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger  (we used 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried ground ginger instead - and add to the dried ingredients)
2 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces  (we used Jonathans and it was great)
Confectioners' sugar, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oil a 9-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a parchment circle, oil again, and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.  (You cannot oil this too much; you want the cake to slide out easily.)  Start some water boiling; you'll need a 1/2 cup in the next step.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, molasses, brown sugar, egg, ginger, and 1/2 cup boiling water.  Add to the flour mixture and whisk until just combined (do not overmix).  Fold in the apples.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.  Before serving, dust with the confectioners' sugar.

To make ahead:  The cake can be made up to 1 day in advance; keep at room temperature, tightly wrapped. Dust with the confectioners' sugar just before serving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Photos from Recent Times

I know I haven't been good about blogging lately, and it seems I have slacked off a bit on taking pictures regularly as well.  So, without further ado, here are some random photos I have taken recently that do not necessarily go together.

My mom bought the kids a foam floor mat/puzzle at Costco recently, and I discovered you can make them into fun cubes.  And Baylor discovered he can fit into them.

Mollie has decided that she is old enough to determine what she wants to eat, when she wants to eat it, and will retrieve it from my mom's pantry when she so chooses.

My sister made eclairs recently.  Like homemade, honest-to-goodness eclairs.  I didn't like eclairs before but said I would try them anyway ... I ate two.

Aunt Christine and the kiddos flexed their muscles.

And smiled with the little man.

I turned thirty on November 7th.  This is one of two pictures of me on my birthday; I thought Baylor had gotten jelly on my sweater.

Baylor has taken to pouring over all the toy catalogs my parents have been getting in the mail lately and has fallen in love with a parking ramp race track from Toys to Grow On in the process.  Oh boy!

The kids had me build a restaurant for them out of foam blocks and pillows the other day.  It was quite adorable.

Baylor got to watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and he quickly fell in love with Snoopy and Woodstock's antics.  His screeching laughter was quite infectious.

My mom, always a fan of the Christmas season, busted out How the Grinch Stole Christmas the other day, and Baylor got to snuggle with Aunt Christine while she read it.

Baylor's love for ice cream has taken hold of our little family and now, more than ever, we've been enjoying dessert after dinner.  Here I am, all done with my ice cream.

There's Baylor, halfway through a bowl of "green" (mint chocolate chip) ice cream.

And there's Mollie, hamming it up for the camera while eating her ice cream finger-lick by finger-lick.

The kids also got to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas on DVD this week (three times, so far, to be exact) and they are both in love with Max, the Grinch's adorable, lovable dog/reindeer.

So there you have it.  A weird little mash-up of some of the things we've been up to lately.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Halloween 2011: The Full View

So here is the full pictorial of what we did this Halloween.  I hope you enjoy it!

The day before, we decided it was high time to carve the pumpkins that had been sitting on our front porch for weeks.  The kids did their part by inspecting all the votive candles.

And arranging them just so.  (Now that I look at the picture below, it kind of looks like Mollie's dolls o.d.'d on giant marshmallows.  Too cute!)

I was more than happy to do the dirty work of scooping out the pumpkin innards, but all of a sudden I noticed that the insides didn't look quite right.  As it turns out, one of the pumpkins was starting to rot on the bottom.  The smell was awful and I politely asked/demanded that my husband take over for me.  He obliged but soon understood why I had to bow out.

The kids looked on, unimpressed.

Bless his heart, that stuff was disgusting!

Baylor and Mollie apparently couldn't smell it (or didn't mind the stench) and had fun goofing around at the bar.

We finally got the whole of it scraped out ... yuck.  Luckily the second pumpkin was just fine, and both ended up looking really nice all lit up.  (Of course, do you think I got a picture of that?  *sigh*)

The next day, the kids were in a bit of a funk so I introduced them to Garfield's Halloween Adventure and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

After naps, my parents and sister came over to help hand out candy and enjoy the festivities, a real help to me since it was Bryson's class night.  Baylor was quite confused as to why we were going to give other kids any of this giant bowl of candy we had.

Then we had my mom play a game.  She closed her eyes and we put two kinds of candy in her hands to see if she could guess what they were.  She was surprisingly good at it.

Baylor actually did get a little upset about the candy having to go, but he calmed down soon enough.

Before the trick or treaters started arriving we scarfed down some pizza.

Then the kids got dressed, though neither wanted to.  Mollie was Olivia the pig, from the television show.

And Baylor was a cowboy just like he was last year.  Seriously, same costume!  It actually fit much better this year, so that was a welcome surprise.

Unfortunately, we had to bribe the little man to even get him dressed.

But he ended up really enjoying his first Sour Patch Kids straw, so I guess that was a plus.

Okay, it is kind of a weird holiday, getting your kids dressed up in bizarre clothes so they can go essentially beg for candy at strangers' doors.

But we did it anyway!  My dad came with us to help out, while Mom and Christine stayed back to hand out candy and stay warm.  We first went to my in-laws' house, then their neighbors' place, then our neighbors' place, and all the while Baylor was begging to go home.  I knew these people wanted to at least say hi to him, though, so I kind of forced him to trick or treat against his will.  But then, without any cause, he started LOVING it and wanted to go everywhere!  So that was awesome.  And, as usual, Mollie was game for whatever her brother had in mind.

They even let me snap a cute picture of them with Grandpa E!

When Mollie saw Baylor carrying his own bucket, she insisted she carry her bag all on her own, even though it was probably way too big for her to realistically handle.

She got a little distracted when she noticed that the moon was out, but she really did a great job keeping the bag from dragging on the ground.  (Which was important to me, since that was the bag I used to carry when I was a little girl.)

We hit every lit house on the sidewalked area of our neighborhood, then headed back home to warm up.  Oma and Aunt Christine were shocked and concerned at how cold Mollie was when we returned, and they promptly bundled her up in a blanket.

Of course, she didn't mind being cold and soon wanted to get down and inspect her candy like her brother was doing.

Sometimes you need to get really close to it to understand what you've got, you know?

Unfortunately, she didn't quite understand that you need to take the wrapper off before you try to consume the candy.

Baylor's favorite treat this year was a mini bag of microwave popcorn one house was handing out, and he was pretty excited to eat it once we got home.

Upset that she didn't get to partake in the popcorn (she's still just a little too young), Mollie decided to suck on Olivia's snout instead.

Once he'd finished his popcorn, Baylor actually helped hand out candy!

He was very precise about it all, counting out each piece for the trick or treaters.

Unfortunately, a group of high school boys dressed as skeletons and monsters scared him, so he ran back to the living room to join the rest of the group.  And, of course, to tell stories as animated as he possibly could be.

All in all it was a really fun night!  Hopefully the kids will enjoy it even more next year!