Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of 2012 Can Suck It

Seriously, Universe? Throw me a bone. The last week has been the worst. Andi left for an 8 day work trip the afternoon of Christmas Day, Tory hasn't slept for longer than 30 minutes at a time since he's been gone (no lie) and now we're both battling colds. To top it off, Tory caught pink eye so we spent much of our afternoon at Urgent Care being seen by basically the only doctor working in the Twin Cities on New Year's Eve Day. Bah humbug and all that jazz. I don't mind Andi traveling for work but the sickness, no sleep, no time to myself and general fussiness of my toddler are driving me to drink. (Which I would do if my throat didn't hurt to swallow).

Tonight I ran to Wal-greens to pick up Tory's antibiotic and I noticed the end cap of New Year's Eve party favors wiped clean. "Huh, it's New Year's," I thought to myself. Never have I felt more out of the loop. I will not be ringing in the New Year at some fancy party tonight, nor do I plan to watch the ball drop at Midnight. My husband is in the desert somewhere in California and I'm at home with a sick little kiddo and a box of Kleenex tucked under my arm. I'm crossing all my fingers and toes neither one of us is awake at 12:01am to welcome in 2013.

Perhaps January 1 will usher in healthier bodies for Tory and I and we'll be able to coast through the last few days until Andi returns home. I'm looking forward to nuzzling my nose in the crook of his neck, having his arms wrapped around me, and feeling like this horribly long week is in the past. The downside of a husband who travels for work is when solo parenting gets hard, it gets really hard. I'm tired. She's tired. I'm sick. She's sick. I need a break and there's finally some relief on the horizon. Here's hoping 2013 brings it.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Letters To Tory: 16 Months


Happy 16 months! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind with Christmas festivities, a week-long trip to Nebraska and many changes in your physical and emotional development. We've been so busy, I didn't even take the time to jot down little milestones throughout the month so I hope my memory serves me well.

Overall my little bean, you bring so much joy to our lives. When you're happy, you fill an entire room with light. You're energetic, curious, funny and loving. This month, we're also seeing another side of you - a much less desirable side - as you begin to discover your individuality. Toddler tantrums are quite normal around our house these days and unfortunately, I think the meltdowns are here to stay. We've taken to nicknaming you "Tasmanian Devil" (because you can be completely uncontrollable in public places), "Blade" (if there's a sharp object in the vicinity, you'll find it) and "Gremlin" (daddy's favorite moniker due to your generally feisty attitude). You are a very strong-willed little girl (I just can't understand where you inherited that trait, *wink wink*) and become frustrated very easily when something doesn't go your way. All the experts say this behavior is right on target with the average development of a toddler your age and like all stages, I know this will also pass.

This month, you're also experiencing a mad case of separation anxiety. Most days you cling to me for dear life and while I love you to pieces, little girl, it would be a little easier on me if you weren't attached to my hip 24/7. Your temper tantrums often occur when I'm not giving you 100% of my attention. This is also part of your development and I know it'll get better as your mature, so in the meantime I try to be present in the moment and give you the attention you crave when you need it most.

Fortunately, your communicative skills have blossomed this month allowing you to better express your wants and needs. You're saying the following words: mama, dada, hi, bye, uh-oh, up, "here it is" (when you discover something) and "ho ho ho" (for Santa Claus). Almost all of these words were learned in the last few weeks. You smile when we say "cheese" (when taking your photograph) and flash us the same goofy grin when I ask you to say "thank you."

You currently weigh 19 pounds and measure 29 inches tall. Everyone comments on what a little peanut you are, especially when they see how fast you run and climb. It hardly seems like a little girl your size should be able to do so much! You're now moving into size 18 month clothes, mostly for the length in the arms and legs. You're also wearing size 4 shoes which catapults you into toddler shoes - wahoo! For Christmas, I bought you some pink boots (because every Minnesota girl needs a good pair of boots!) and they are so adorable. It makes me smile every time I see you wearing them. This month, your hair has really started to grow. I think that every month and then I look back at photos and you seem so bald compared to the present moment, but this time it's true! You're starting to wear bows and clips in your hair (hair pretties, we call them) and we even have to brush your unruly hair in the mornings.

You have the warmest heart, Tory Bean, and love all kids. Anytime you see another child - whether it's a friend or someone you're meeting for the first time - you give them a great big hug. You're generous with your toys and happy to play along with any kid who will have you. Your nurturing side is evident by your love for baby dolls. This Christmas, you received a baby highchair, cradle, baby carrier and shopping cart and are often tending to your babies needs in pretend play.

You're very good at maneuvering a fork and spoon, and have even graduated to using a plate. Your favorite foods are macaroni and cheese, string cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt (see a dairy theme emerging?) but you have a slight dairy intolerance so I have to limit how much you consume daily. You still have a difficult time chewing complex textures like meat and grapes and show little interest in vegetables. Perhaps this is because you only have 11 teeth thus far. Teething is slow going for you and it seems like you're always working to pop another one through your gums, but every time I check your mouth there's only 11 teeth in there. One thing you have no trouble consuming is sweets. During the holidays, I had a bowl of M&Ms on the counter and you became quite obsessed with them. Often you'd walk up to the counter top and point saying, "uh! uh!" until we'd give you a M&M (Daddy) or divert your attention elsewhere (Mommy).

In celebration of the Christmas holiday, I created a list of advent calendar activities for you and I. Each day this month, we baked, crafted and spent quality time together as a family in honor of the holidays. Though you're too young to remember, I cherish the traditions we started and look forward to many more holidays with you.

Another month older and growing by leaps and bounds. Life with you, Tory, is always interesting and oh, so wonderful. Keep on being you.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Days 17-25

Once Tory and I left for a week-long trip to Nebraska on December 17, our Christmas advent calendar kind of flew out the window. I had the best of intentions to continue throughout the month and even programmed the daily activities in my phone to serve as reminders, but the exhaustion of traveling got the best of me. Plus, it's difficult to conduct an activity when you're not in control of your day. I'm sure I could've made something work, but family time and seventeen trips to Wal-Mart ruled our days. (Because obviously, that's what you do in a small town. Hit up Wal-Mart as much as humanely possible. No time for anything else).

Upon our return home, I looked back at my list, certain there was something we checked off the list, but ... nope. Nothing. On Saturday (Day 22), I asked my mom if we could make a special holiday breakfast for Nana and Papa as this was part of our advent calendar activities, and she informed me she'd rather us not mess up her kitchen. Well, ok then! In her defense, she was preparing us a big Christmas dinner later that afternoon.

While visiting my friend Ashley's house earlier in the week, we did make these adorable Holiday Bugles. Ashley saw a recipe somewhere online and thought it'd be something fun for us to do while we chatted one evening. We had a surprisingly difficult time finding Bugles in the store (merchandised only in the dollar section at Target) but putting them together was so easy.

Bugle Bites
Red and Green M&Ms
White Almond Bark

Melt the almond bark in the microwave or double boiler. Dip the open ends of Bugle snacks into the almond bark, then stick a M&M in the center. Let dry on a piece of parchment paper.

The combination of salty and sweet was pretty fantastic and the snacks looked adorable tied up in cello bags with a bow. Ashley sent some home with me when Tory and I visited my parents, but I may have eaten them all by the time we arrived. Oops!


Having an advent calendar this holiday season was as fun as I had hoped it would be. Our daily activities helped get me into the Christmas spirit early in December and gave me something to look forward to each day with Tory. Although I planned an activity for each day until Christmas, I was flexible when things didn't go quite as planned. Shuffling "playing in the snow" to the day after a big snowfall or making a frozen sun catcher during an impromptu trip to the cabin -- the point was to spend time together, making memories and celebrating the season. Our Christmas advent calendar did just that.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Minnesota Christmas 2012

Andi, Tory and I spent the Christmas holiday with his family this year. We alternate celebrating in either Minnesota and Nebraska which keeps it fair for everyone.

When we arrived home from Nebraska on Sunday afternoon, my mother-in-law Janie came over to watch Tory for a few hours so Andi and I could run to the grocery store and pick up last-minute groceries for Christmas Day. This is the first year we hosted the celebration at our house which was very exciting! We ended up shopping for groceries at Target and as nutso as the store was in the days before Christmas, I was completely relaxed and in my happy place having a few much-needed hours away from Tory. I love my little girl to pieces, but the constant whining and attention-requiring during our trip to Nebraska had me on my last nerve.

I spent most of Monday (Christmas Eve) readying my house for company. Having been gone for a week left piles of laundry, gifts to put away and a general need for cleaning. I used every minute of naptime to power clean our house from top to bottom. Andi's sister, Lindsay, came over in the afternoon and played with Tory which was awesome in helping me pull everything together.

Monday evening, Andi, Tory, Janie, Jim, Lindsay and I attended Christmas Eve service at Andi's family church. I was nervous about taking Tory to another church service after her Tasmanian devil behavior at Brookie's Christmas program, but she was very well behaved. Janie and Andi took turns walking around with her when she became a little stir-crazy and I was able to participate in the entire church service - a Christmas miracle!

Tory in her 2012 Christmas dress

After church, we spent the evening at Andi's Grandma Marion's house for a big celebration. His side of the family is quite large and growing more every year, so every inch of the house was bustling with Christmas cheer. Tory was such a good little girl all evening and played with Andi's cousins Kiera and Mia. There were a few times Andi and I both looked at each other and asked "where's Tory?" because she was being so well-behaved playing in the other room with the kids. It was fantastic.

I love this out-take photo of our family taken Christmas Eve
Andi's 2nd cousins: Kiera, Mia, Ellie and Kylie (top left)
Grandma and Grandpa with Tory, who doesn't always want to have her picture taken (bottom left)
Andi's cousins Shelly and Laura (right)
We left Grandma Marion's house around 9:30pm in the sweet spot moment -- hours after Tory's regular bedtime but minutes before she completely melted down. Tory was asleep in the car before we even pulled away for our drive home. Andi and I set out his camera equipment and finished preparing some breakfast items for Christmas morning before calling it a night ourselves. Santa was due at our house any minute.

Santa came! Santa came!

Santa gave Tory a PBK Anywhere Chair, Radio Flyer wagon, personalized backpack, farm puzzle, Play-Doh, school bus, a talking remote control and magnetic letters. Andi and I thought she's be excited over her chair but surprisingly the puzzle was her favorite toy of the morning. Well, she had fun being towed around the house in her wagon by Daddy, too.

Andi's parents and sister arrived mid-morning for our family Christmas celebration. Janie, Jim and Lindsay were so gracious in allowing us to host Christmas this year. Since it was Tory's first visit from Santa and Andi had to leave town the afternoon of Christmas for work, I really wanted to spend our time at home. I kept the menu simple for breakfast (my friend Julie's delicious egg bake recipe, croissants and a cheese plate) so we wouldn't be stressing over food; we could just enjoy each other's company. We opened gifts and played with all Tory's new toys. Later in the day, Janie made a tasty baked potato soup and tomato bisque and Lindsay made a Brussels sprouts salad for lunch. It was the perfect day (minus the part where Andi had to leave for the airport). Thankfully, Janie, Jim and Lindsay stayed until 6:30pm so Tory and I weren't alone on Christmas. I really have the best second family.
Tory opening her Christmas stocking from Santa (top left)
Grandma Janie and Grandpa Jim with Tory opening a Christmas present (bottom left)
My Christmas tablescape (right)
Once again, we received the most thoughtful Christmas gifts from our family. Andi gave me a hard-cover book containing every blog post I've written about Tory to date. It is so special - I love it! Andi's big gift from me was a hand-carved sign for the cabin that says our last name. Tory received too many gifts to mention including a hand-sewn personalized library bag and shopping cart from Lindsay, a toy vacuum and tricycle from Grandma and Grandpa and more adorable clothes.

My blog book of Tory
Another Christmas has come and gone. I like to think I'm always aware of just how lucky I am to have loving and healthy family and friends around me. I try to thank God for my blessings and tell those people how much they mean to me throughout the year. This time of year though - the holidays - add an extra shimmer of wonderful to everything. A fabulous Merry Christmas we had.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in Nebraska 2012

Another Christmas has come and gone. Today, I took down the tree and packed away the decorations. Usually I'm one to keep them up through January to extend the holiday cheer as long as possible, but this year I'm ready for things to get back to normal. We had a great holiday and now I'm simply exhausted.

Tory and I spent the week before Christmas in Nebraska. Our flight there was an easy one; Tory was such an angel on the plane ride but traveling solo with her is becoming a logistical nightmare. I wore Tory in the Baby Bjorn on my front side (even though she's really too big to be carried in there anymore), had the car seat strapped to my back and pulled one giant suitcase full of a week's worth of clothes for her and I and a few Christmas gifts stuffed inside. I think I was the laughing stock of the airport. People literally stopped and stared.  

My childhood best friend, Ashley, has a newborn baby boy so I wanted to take the opportunity to see them while I was in the area. Tory and I flew into Omaha on Monday and Ashley and Baby Easton picked us up at the airport. When Tory was born, Ashley visited us in the Twin Cities for a weekend and helped cook and care for us. I'm not sure I was as helpful in returning the favor, but I tried my best. Managing both Tory and Easton for short intervals while Ashley took a little time for herself definitely gave me a taste of what life would be like with two kids under two. Whoo boy! Essentially, I learned I'm not ready for it. Tory is so demanding of all my attention. Her behavior during our time in Nebraska was especially exhausting because she was out of her comfort zone for an entire seven days. 

I think it's been 15 years since Ashley and I had the chance to just hang out with no agenda. We relaxed in her living room (as much as two women do with a toddler and newborn in the mix), watched reality television and talked about anything and everything. On Tuesday, Katie, my longtime friend from college, stopped by Ashley's house with her little boy Cruz. It's been years since I've seen Katie so I really enjoyed visiting with her as well. Cruz and Tory are 2.5 months apart in age and they had the best time playing together. It's these moments which make me miss living back home!

Tory (15 months) and Cruz (13 months)
On Wednesday, my parents picked Tory and I up in Omaha and drove us back to my hometown for our family Christmas celebration. Tory and I spent the day hanging around my parent's house. This trip really threw Tory for a loop and she was so not herself. Every nap time/bedtime involved a full-on 60+ minute kicking and screaming fit. Of course, sleep was essential to her overall well-being so the less restful winks Tory got, the more of a wreck she was. I think it was the first time Tory fully realized she was in a new place and an unfamiliar bed, coupled with a mad case of separation anxiety. She wanted to be held every second of every day we were visiting. There wasn't anything I could do alone - take a shower, use the bathroom, sleep, eat, etc. - and Tory wouldn't allow any consoling by my parents who would've gladly assisted. There were a few glorious times where Tory agreed to play with my niece Brooke. Only a few minutes of spare time is exactly why I only took one photo until my photographer husband arrived to save the day.

Brooke (5 years) and Tory (15 months)
Brookie's Christmas program was scheduled for Wednesday night, but a big ice and snowstorm blew through town and caused the event to be rescheduled for Thursday. I was so excited to be in town and able to attend this year. Brooke looked so adorable in her Christmas dress, signing carols with her classmates. Unfortunately, Tory acted like a Tasmanian devil through the entire service. More of her refusing to be held by anyone but me, lots of throwing herself back on my lap and refusing to sit down, compounded by the fact that church was completely packed with people and nothing in my bag of tricks was entertaining her. I was the lady with the kid who throws their bottle of milk at the people sitting in the pew behind us. So embarrassing!

Brookie at her church Christmas program
Andi arrived in from the airport Thursday night and I was so happy to have him there. I missed him, of course, and I was also glad to have someone to tag-team care for Tory. She just wasn't herself during our entire visit to Nebraska and by the end of the week, my patience were growing thin. Friday, my parents took Andi, Tory, my brother Adam, and I out to lunch and we spent the rest of the day hanging around at home. 

Saturday was my immediate family's Christmas celebration. My mom made a big holiday dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, homemade pumpkin pie and German chocolate cake before we opened boatloads of presents all afternoon. Tory was the calm and well-behaved one during our afternoon of opening gifts. It was Brookie who was over-tired and in need of a few reminders that Santa was still watching to see if she was being a good girl.

Tory (15 months) opening her stocking from Santa (left)
Brooke (5.5 years) with her new PBK backpack (top right)
Neeley (4 months) by the Christmas tree (bottom right)
All the grandkids together
(Caleb, Neeley, Tanner, Tory and Brooke)

Tory received tons of toys and cute outfits from my parents, sister, and extended family, in addition to an adorable personalized pillowcase, Christmas tree ornament, personalized rag doll and a table and chairs for her playroom. I received personalized wine glasses (which I've already put to very good use), silicone cupcake liners, a card table and chairs, a gift card to Victoria's Secret and Target, kitchen knives, a cookie press and a holiday cook book. The amount of presents that filled the living room was almost obnoxious, but it also feels so great to see someone's face light up as they open a special gift chosen just for them. We are truly so fortunate.

Andi, Tory and I left for home Sunday morning and spent Christmas Eve / Day with his family in the Twin Cities. We had a great time in Nebraska celebrating with my family, albeit a little tired from the commotion of travel and sleepless nights. I hope my new stay-at-home-mom gig provides me the opportunity to travel home to Nebraska more often to see my family and friends in 2013. I love them all so much.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Pooch!

Today's Chloe the Dog's 8th birthday!

It's hard to believe I've been a mama to this little pooch for EIGHT years.

Poor Chloe doesn't often get a lot of blog attention these days, but I still love her just the same. I'll never forget the day I brought her home. It was one of the first big "adult decisions" I made for myself in the first years of living on my own. Life has changed quite a bit since the days we spent driving across the Dakota's for my job or trekking back to Nebraska. She was my pride and joy, then a sidekick in Andi and I's relationship, and now a big doggie sister to Tory who are learning to love each other more every day.

Since we traveled back to Nebraska this week for Christmas and spent most of Chloe's birthday week apart from her, Tory and I decided to make homemade dog biscuits for Chloe the other day. I found a dog biscuit cookie cutter in the dollar bin at Target and it seemed like just the thing to do for her. Here's the recipe I used:

Peanut Butter Dog Treats

1/2 cup water (more as you need it)
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
3 tbsp. peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cups oats

Blend wet ingredients together. Whisk dry ingredients together and mix into wet mixture to form dough. Roll out and shape. (No need to flour the working surface). Place on a non-stick lightly greased cookie sheet. Cook 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Sous Chef Tory helping in the kitchen
(Would it be so hard for this kiddo to smile once in a while for a picture)?

The dog biscuits turned out great and Chloe loved them! I made extra, wrapped them in cello bags, and gave them to all the special doggies in my life for Christmas presents.

The biscuits were cooling on the countertop when Andi arrived home from work and suddenly I heard him shout from the kitchen, "Hey! Are these dog treats?" I had to laugh as I shouted back, "Yes! The DOG BONE shaped ones!"

Take it from Andi ... these tasty treats are best left to the dogs.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Santa Traditions

We're a pro-Santa family and this is the first year the jolly ol' man is making a stop at our house. Andi's parents and sister were gracious enough to agree to a Christmas Day celebration at our house this year, so we can truly enjoy Christmas morning with Tory without rushing out the door with somewhere else to be. I'm dreaming of sitting in our pajamas, opening stockings in front of the fireplace and playing with all of Tory's new toys from Santa. It's going to be magical.

Being the first year in our tradition, Andi and I have had a few conversations about the method by which Santa will do his business. It's interesting how every family has their own Santa traditions, which are assumably passed down through generations. In Andi's family growing up, Santa's gifts were wrapped in special "Santa wrapping paper" and displayed in front of the tree Christmas morning. Stockings were laid out underneath the mantle, with some items also wrapped inside.

In my family, Santa's gifts were prominently displayed - unwrapped and out of boxes - in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Each of our stockings were laid before our pile of presents and that's how we knew which gifts were ours. All of Santa's gifts were toys, especially the one we wanted more than anything that year.

Now that we're parents, Andi and I were discussing which tradition to continue into our own family. We decided to go with my family's version of Santa Claus, if for no other reason than the simplicity factor. Why spend Christmas morning untwisting ties and opening packaging from hell when you could knock all that out beforehand? Andi thought my logic behind it all was comical - it's because Santa made the gifts in his workshop so they don't come in boxes, of course!

We'll carry on his family's stockings tradition. Our gifts will be wrapped in special "Christmas stocking paper" and include a mixture of gifts, snacks/treats and toiletries.

More than anything else this season, I'm anxious to see Tory's face light up when she sees Santa's presents displayed before the tree on Christmas morning. We're sprinkling reindeer food on our lawn the night before so he'll know just where to find us.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Days 15 & 16

Tory and I are packed and ready to travel to Nebraska tomorrow for Christmas celebrating with my family and friends (Andi will join us later). Christmas is finally here for us! Wahoo!

I purposefully planned all our baking and crafting advent calendar activities at the beginning of the month, knowing I'd be traveling the week before Christmas. Setting the days up that way has made the first week of December fun! and exciting! and holiday spirity! This past few days were simpler and less   jolly.

Andi's grandma passed away on Tuesday and that probably had something to do with it, too. The funeral was Saturday and we spent much of the day with family. Our advent calendar activity called for a picnic under the Christmas tree, but there wasn't really time. After we put Tory to bed, Andi and I popped some popcorn, laid out a blanket and talked under the glow of the tree. It wasn't quite the picnic I'd envisioned with Tory involved, but it was still a special moment between us.

Day 16 was "play in the snow" which we'd moved up to last weekend when Minnesota weather dumped a foot of powdery white stuff outside our window. Rain and above-freezing temperatures this past week left us with little snow on the ground, so I'm glad with took advantage of playing in the snow when we had the chance.

Today, I let Tory open an advent calendar Christmas present instead, which she was more than happy to do. (Good thing I bought and wrapped an extra gift)! Tory received a new pair of slippers that fit her perfectly. I've been looking for a good pair of slippers for her - ones that conform to her feet a bit because she still has trouble walking in some shoes - and found the perfect pair at Old Navy a few months ago. She loves them and wore them around the house all afternoon.

Tory was so excited about opening an advent calendar present, she marched right back to the Christmas tree and found another gift to open. Until today, she hasn't shown much interest in the Christmas tree or the presents underneath it so I had to laugh a little at her enthusiasm. I did have one more advent calendar gift under the tree (for Day 19) but I caved and let her open it today. How can I say no to that little face? She slowly ripped off one little piece at a time and handed each one to Andi. It was too cute. Tory opened a Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer book and promptly threw it down on the ground. Apparently, she's more interested in the opening of the present and less excited about the actual gift.

Tory's been talking/babbling up a storm the last few days and today was the first time I'd heard her say "this!" She pointed to anything she wanted (her cup for a drink, the candy bowl, her shoes, etc.) and said "This! This!" Andi had been secretly sneaking her M&M's and she knows right where the candy bowl sits on the counter. Several times a day, she walks right over to the exact spot, points and says "this!" Little stinker.

Tonight I was putting away some laundry and Tory saw one of her presents on top of Andi's dresser. It's a Pottery Barn Anytime Chair and it's been sitting up there for weeks, but she's never noticed it until tonight. All of a sudden, Tory got really excited and pointed to the chair saying "this! this!" She wanted that chair down so badly and just couldn't understand why I led her out of the room to find another distraction. It took all my willpower not to let her play with it tonight because I know she'll love it, but I have to wait a few more days until Christmas morning. It's so tough! It's also kind of awesome how we can leave Santa presents out in the open and Tory doesn't know the difference. I think this is the last year we'll probably be able to do that.

Tomorrow begins the celebration of Christmas and I'm so excited I can barely stand it. Bring on the family, friends, cookies and presents.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 14

Like many across the county, Andi and I had heavy hearts yesterday as we began our Christmas advent calendar activity for Day 14.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by the CT tragedy.

By coincidence, I'm glad we had a family-friendly activity on the docket for yesterday's advent calendar. As soon as Andi arrived home from work, we loaded up Tory and Chloe the Dog in the car with hot cocoa in hand to drive around and look at Christmas lights. This is an activity we used to do as a family when I was a little girl and a tradition Andi and I have continued into our life together. Having a toddler in the mix does change things a bit. We were running against the bedtime clock so instead of driving around slowly gawking at any and all holiday lights in random residential neighborhoods, Andi found a big lights display near our house via The Google. We opted for a one-and-done situation which was perfectly fine for us.

Turns out, we visited this Christmas lights display last year, but didn't recognize it until we arrived there. I can't imagine putting this many lights up on my house, nor being this guy's neighbor and having a parade of cars and blaring lights outside my window. Although, I'm glad someone else does it because it's sure is fun to look at when it's not on my street!

Since we were parked on the side of the road, I took Tory out of her car seat so she could see the action up close.

Tory thought the lights were nice, but was even more interested in Daddy's steering wheel. It was blowing her mind big time being somewhere other than in her backward-facing car seat.

We made it home just in time for bedtime and had a perfect evening with our family. I cherish every moment we have the opportunity to do so.

Friday, December 14, 2012

HBD & Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 13

Yesterday was Andi's birthday and for a man who prefers little hoopla around his special day, I think he celebrated a pretty good one. My first birthday rule: you never work on them, but someone has to bring home the bacon around here so to work he went. His co-workers brought in Taco Taxi take-out for lunch (Andi's favorite) so that made his afternoon. Then, Andi's mom volunteered to babysit so Andi and I could enjoy a nice dinner out together at Pittsburgh Blue. As far as suburbia restaurants go, it's right up there with the best. Andi ordered his all-time favorite meal - crab legs - which they shuck for you table side. I had a tasty blue cheese-crusted fillet and French onion soup to die for. The waiter even brought Andi a red velvet cupcake with a sparkler on top for dessert. I didn't even tell them it was his birthday!

This week I've been thinking back to all the birthdays we've shared together. It's fun to remember our days pre-marriage or pre-Tory and the road we've traveled to get to here. I truly feel fortunate this man chose me to share his years.

Tory made her Daddy a birthday card for his birthday gift. It didn't come easy; Beanie does NOT like her feet painted. You'd swear someone was holding them to the fire instead of a piece of paper.

I made Andi a homemade ice cream cake (recipe here) and I have to say, it was delicious. I altered the recipe a smidge, using only 1 gallon of ice cream instead of the recommended two. I'm not sure I own a bowl big enough to hold two gallons of ice cream, nor should we eat that much.


Because it was Andi's birthday, I kept our Christmas advent calendar activity simple for Day 13 and gave Tory a present to open. She knew just what to do and sat quietly in front of the Christmas tree unwrapping her gift.

2011 me was smart and snagged these Christmas pajamas on clearance last year. Of course, Tory was more interested in the wrapping paper than the pajamas, but she sure looked cute wearing them to bed last night!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I present to you, our 2012 Christmas card:

This is one of my very favorite photos of Tory from our September 2012 family photo shoot. It's also one of the only photos we have of her smiling. Tory Bean's smile is hard to catch on camera these days. She is not a fan of having her picture taken.

Never mind that you basically can't see my face on the card. Everyone knows it's all about the kiddo anyway, right?

I just love watching the Christmas cards roll in this time of year. I made a card display on the back of one of our doors to showcase them. It's cute, but the cards aren't sticking to the ribbon very well. Almost every morning, I pick half of them up off the floor. Oh, well ....

Happy holidays from our family to yours!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 12

Santa Claus. Oh, Santa Claus. You look so warm and jolly and yet, our little Tory Girl wanted nothing to do with you today.

Looks like Mommy got her picture taken with Santa, too.

I really (really, really, really, really) didn't want to have my photo taken with Santa. Ugh! But, I guess the same could have been said for Tory.

Today, Tory and I met Andi at the nearby mall for a visit with Santa and lunch together. It really meant a lot to me that Andi took time out of his busy work day to meet us at the mall and see Santa together as a family. I don't know why it's so important to me, but it just is. There's something about the tradition of seeing Mr. Claus. Our little girl will only be this age for so long.

Remember what a cluster last year's Santa visit was? Turns out, visiting Santa on a week day is the way to go! There was no line today. No waiting 2+ hours to see the jolly man. We walked right up to have our picture taken with the Santa. Before we approached him, I warmed Tory up a bit to the situation, thinking that might help her acclimate to sitting on his lap, so we watched a few other kids taken their pictures with him and waved to Santa a few times. Tory was so excited to be in Santa's area and was perfectly happy until the moment I set her on his lap. Enter: Scream Fest.

The Santa workers weren't in a big rush, which was nice I guess, so they tried to warm Tory up to the idea of sitting on Santa's lap with toys. It wasn't the kind of situation where the photographer was willing to stick a screaming kid on Santa's lap, snap a pic and move on. So long story short, the only way we were going to get a picture without a screaming child was if I held her in the photo. Had I foreseen this happening (me in the picture, not the screaming. I expected that part), I probably would've dressed a little nicer. Oh, well ....

Afterwards, Andi and I took Tory to the sushi restaurant attached to the mall. It was either that, the pretzel place or Chipolte (which I had for lunch yesterday). This was Tory's first time at a sushi restaurant (fancy baby!) and she behaved fairly well. It's not very often we see Andi during the day so today was a nice treat.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Days 10 & 11

Make a gingerbread house. Sounds simple, right?


Yesterday's activity called for gingerbread house making, so I bought a kit from Target (basically this, but on sale for $8) to do just that. I found a few ideas online showing how to build a gingerbread house from scratch, but for $8 I couldn't have bought all the ingredients, frosting and candy to decorate it as inexpensively as this project presented itself.

Truth be told, this activity was mostly for me. I've never made a gingerbread house before and it looked fun! Plus, I thought the finished product would look so adorable on my dining room table. Obviously, Tory wasn't going to be much help so I planned to get the base of the house built and let her help decorate the rest. I set to work.

During Tory's afternoon nap on Monday, I put together the house frame, just as the package directed. It was simple enough and I waited the recommended time for the frosting to dry. Everything seemed to be coming together nicely, so I frosted the roof and gave Tory a few candies to add on top. She proceeded to shove two gumdrops directly into her mouth. (Which resulted in a trip to the sink where I squeezed her cheeks and pried the candy from her teeth. Girlfriend has a serious sweet tooth, just like her Daddy).

Half-way through decorating, the roof began to slide off and ruined our masterpiece. Darn it! I tried to re-apply it using more frosting, but it just made a big mess. Once Tory realized she couldn't eat any of the candy, she was over it and so was I. Into the trash our gingerbread house went. Project FAIL.


Today's advent calendar activity was a much better success. Tory and I visited the Mall of America for Wonder Pets! Save the Nutcracker. We've never actually seen the show Wonder Pets!, but I thought it seemed like a fun Christmas activity to check out. Plus, it's free as part of the mall's Toddler Tuesday events. I invited my friend Val and her kiddos Kasen and Linden to tag along with Tory and I.

We were graced by a visit from Linny, Tuck and Ming-Ming in the flesh. They took photos with all the kids at the event, but I didn't push Tory to get one. She seemed a little nervous when we got close to them and (spoiler alert) we're going to visit Santa tomorrow so I don't want her to be too afraid of strange people/characters.

There were also coloring stations for all the kids which Tory and Kasen enjoyed. It's an amazing luxury to be able to experience all these moments with my little girl. She really had a lot of fun.

We ended our holiday play date with lunch in the food court where Tory sat with her buddy Kasen and ate a cheese quesadilla. My little girl is growing up so quickly. She sat at the table (mostly, when she wasn't crawling on and off the chair a hundred times) and ate her meal so nicely. I was so proud! It's becoming easier by the day to take her places like this and she really enjoys the social interaction. We'll definitely be back to check out another toddler activity at the mall.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Heather the Homemaker

I was at the bank the other day and the banker asked me to update my account information. "Do you still work at XYZ Company," he asked? "No," I replied, "I'm a Stay-At-Home-Mom now" as I gave Tory a big ole' squeeze signifying just how lucky I am. The banker updated my information, then asked me to review it in the system. It was in that moment I saw my new job title staring back at me:

Heather LastName
Occupation: Homemaker

Homemaker? For real? I suddenly felt like June Cleaver wearing a 1950's dress in a black and white picture show. The word homemaker sounds so inferior, like I've taken a giant step backwards from being a strong, college-educated woman.

I know this is such a silly thing and most people don't view me this way (including myself or my husband), but come on Bank, get with 2012! Can't you update your computer system to list an alternative occupation to homemaker? One that more accurately depicts my new role? Perhaps Household Manager or Chief Household and Child Director?

My first few weeks as a homemaker has gone fabulously well. My house is clean, my child is well-fed and entertained. I've baked and crafted for the holidays so much I'm brimming with cheer. I've cleaned poop out of the bathtub - twice. (Hey, no one ever said this job was glamorous).

I've learned quickly having a project each day helps me stay focused and feel accomplished. This month's Christmas advent calendar activities add a fun element to each day. Most importantly, I'm enjoying spending time with Tory. There's so many things I've learned about her this week, specifically the non-verbal cues she gives to signify her wants and needs and words she's beginning to say (although they're not actual words yet, just sounds and tones of them). I love rocking her to sleep at nap time during the day and not feeling rushed or exhausted. Today, I held for an extra 10 minutes and just watched her sleep. I haven't done since she was a baby.

Often when people learn of my new profession, they caution me to "stay involved" for fear I'll be a lonely mess at home in a few month's time. I understand where they're coming from (a loving, well-meaning place, I'm sure) but honestly, I'm not worried. I like being at home. I love being with my daughter. I feel like I've been training my whole life for this gig and this is right where I'm suppose to be.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 9

Six inches of snow has fallen in our neighborhood since Midnight and according to weather reports, there's 15" of snowfall at our Wisconsin cabin. I'm glad we decided to return home late last night and have a chill day in the comforts of our home today. The snow is a beautiful sight when you're not white-knuckling it on the freeway somewhere. 

For breakfast this morning, Andi made holiday pancakes for his girls. He used cookie cutters to make Christmas trees, stockings and snowflake shapes. It was something super easy and fun to do and the pancakes were the perfect size for Tory. She gobbled them right up. (Tip: spray the cookie cutter with cooking spray before adding the batter inside or it's hard to flip the pancakes on the griddle).

Later today, Andi and I decided to bundle Tory up in her snow suit (for the real deal this time!) and play in our snow-covered backyard for Day 9's Christmas advent calendar activity. Originally, I'd planned for us to visit a live nativity scene today, but the fresh powder in our yard was too pretty not to play in. Plus, the weather says we're suppose to get 10+ inches by the time this storm is done and in addition, the wind's suppose to pick up tonight causing white-out conditions. Sounds like a perfectly good excuse to stay safe and comfortable at home.

Going outside to play in the snow is no easy feat. It's a 15 minute process getting all three of us dressed in hats, mittens, coats, snow pants and boots. When we were all ready, I stepped outside on the patio deck, placed Tory down in the snow and she lost it. Full on scream-fest. Apparently, it's a little intimidating standing in snow up to your thighs for the very first time. So, scratch the idea of "playing in the snow" off the list. Tory stopped crying if I held her, so we snapped a few photos of us together in the snow instead of playing in it.

Goofy Daddy started throwing snowballs and the watering can at the tree, causing big clumps of snow to fall off its branches and that seemed to warm Tory up to the idea of being outside. She still didn't want to stand or play on her own, but we did hear a few giggles out of her.

Just look at all the snow on our deck railing and it's still falling as we speak. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Days 7 & 8

Friday's Christmas advent calendar activity called for delivering holiday goodies to the neighbors. Which, coincidentally, arrived just in time as I'm all too tempted to eat everything myself.

On our way to the cabin Friday afternoon, Andi and I swooped over to each of our neighbor's houses and delivered tins of treats to them. It's a good feeling to see each of them so surprised and happy to see us. This little good deed goes a long way in developing a relationship with our neighbors and making this a better place for us to live all year round.

On Saturday, I'd originally planned for our family of three to go to the Holidazzle parade in downtown Minneapolis but our weekend trip to the cabin changed our activity. Tory might be a little too young for the parade anyway (maybe it was me who secretly wanted to go!) and Andi and I both feel the need to jump on any open weekend to get to the cabin. The weather was crisp and sunny Saturday afternoon, so Andi and I took Tory on a nature walk in the woods. We decided to make a frozen sun catcher as our advent calendar activity instead.

Before we went outdoors, Andi and I decided to dress Tory in her new snow suit. The outdoor temperature was about 32 degrees so the full garb probably wasn't needed, but it's so adorable we just had to try it. Tory wasn't sure what to think of the dusting of snow on the ground. I suppose she doesn't remember experiencing snow last winter so it was like she was seeing it all for the very first time. Every time she tried to bend down to touch it, she'd lose her balance due to her thick pants and big ol' snow boots. When Tory's hand filled with snow, she'd shout "uh oh!"

We were having such a fun time enjoying the outdoors on our nature walk until I let Tory down to walk along the trail. Stupid me for letting her walk on uneven ground - Tory's feet weren't steady enough in her snow boots and she fell face-first, right on her nose. She only cried a little, but earned herself a goose egg on her forehead and a scratch on her nose. Andi and I felt horrible, so we high-tailed it back to the cabin.

Like the good daddy he is, Andi finished collecting items for our frozen sun catcher project and brought them all into the house so we could assemble it together. Doing a craft activity with Andi is so different than if I'd done it on my own with Tory. He created a special loop for the sun catcher to hang from a tree branch and clipped it to the Tupperware bowl with a clothespin to hold it in place. I would've just draped a string over the side of the bowl!

Nature items ready to assemble in a bowl full of water

Andi and Tory worked to place all the nature items into a bowl of water. He talked to her about each item and where it came from outside. My heart was melting as I snapped a few photos of the two of them working together.

Andi and Tory making a frozen sun catcher

When they finished, Andi placed the Tupperware bowl in the freezer. Tory really enjoyed this activity and kept signing "more" to do it again. I think she liked playing in the water the most.

Nature sun catcher ready to be frozen

Unfortunately, a big winter storm is heading our direction and at the last minute tonight, Andi and I decided to pack up and head back to the Twin Cities before it's arrival. As Minnesotans, we're definitely not afraid of a little snowfall, but having Tory in the mix changes things. Andi and I thought it best for us to be home safe instead of taking our chances on snowy roadways tomorrow.

We didn't have a chance to see our frozen sun catcher as a finished product, but it'll be waiting for us when we get back to the cabin next time. I can't wait to hang it from a tree branch in the backyard and watch it from the cozy living room window.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sugar Cookie Secrets

I love sugar cookies around the holidays, but they're an awful lot of work to make. Make the dough. Refrigerate it for two hours. Roll the dough on a floury, messy counter top surface. Cut the dough into shapes. Bake. Frost. See? Lots of steps. Therefore, as much as I love them, I usually leave the difficult baking jobs to my mom. She'll save plenty of cookies for me to devour at Christmas.

This year, however, I made a boatload of sugar cookies for my Christmas Cookie Swap at the beginning of December. I spent an entire day making unfrosted cookies for the kids' frost-your-own-cookie table thinking they'd go nuts with the activity and I'd need lots of cookies. The kids did have fun, but I didn't need nearly as many cookies as I thought. After the party, I was left with two Tupperware containers full of unfrosted sugar cookies.

What I've since discovered are a few tips to frosting sugar cookies:

1) Frost sugar cookies when you're not burnt from baking. I sat down at the table the other day during Tory's afternoon nap, laid out all my frosting ingredients and wax paper and JUST FROSTED COOKIES. It was relaxing. I listened to Christmas music and took my time decorating lovely Christmas cookies for our friends and neighbors. Usually, by the time the frosting part of sugar cookie making rolls around, I'm so over the whole process I'm just trying to get it done. From this point forward, I'm always going to frost another day when I'm fresh and engaged in making them.

2) For the Cookie Swap's frost-your-own-cookie table, I bought these squeeze bottles for the frosting. (I'm sure I could've found them even cheaper at a Dollar Store, but I'm lazy and I like things shipped directly to my doorstep in two days or less). Images of little kids slinging frosting across my dining room entered my brain and I knew I needed some way to contain the temptation. Enter frosting in squeeze bottles. Before the party, I snipped the tops of each bottle to allow more frosting squeeze ease.

Since I had the squeeze bottles on hand, I used them to decorate my sugar cookies this year. BEST. IDEA. EVER! I will forever and always use squeeze bottles to decorate sugar cookies because it made decorating so easy and precise. I filled each squeeze bottle with a frosting color and popped the entire bottle in the microwave for 20 seconds. The result was the perfect consistency of icing in an easy-to-control container for decorating. Each time the frosting thickened enough to cause difficult squeezing, I re-microwaved it for 20 seconds.

My cookies turned out so beautiful, I'm having a hard time eating them! (Naturally, I'm eating all the ugliest ones first).

3) Keep the sprinkles simple. Unless you're a kid, no one really likes to eat a mouthful of crunchy sprinkles, do they? I tend to prefer the cookies with only frosting. The Christmas trees pictured above have a M&M for a the tree topper, which I'm fine with consuming (for artistic purposes, of course). I use sprinkles as a last resort to cover up an already ugly decorating job or when I have no idea how to decorate a cookie. Stars were like that for me this year. Every design I tried looked ugly, so frosting with sprinkles they became.

4) Finally, a little mess is okay. Aside from the flour mess I created in the kitchen in the actual baking of the cookies, frosting them also proved to be on the messy side. Damn those rolly sprinkle balls! I'm still sweeping up sprinkles days after the frost-your-own-cookie table and despite my own efforts to use a plate when sprinkling cookies, I also dropped a few sprinkles on the floor. Eventually, it'll all clean up. Or, the dog will eat it. Or you'll have sprinkles stuck in the crevasses of your table until Easter. It's all part of the art of making sugar cookies.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas Advent Calendar: Day 6

For today's Christmas advent calendar activity, Tory and I took part in a holiday tradition on Andi's side of the family: we made lefse.

Lefse is a traditional Scandinavian recipe made simply of potatoes and flour. The actual technique of making it is much more complicated than the ingredients would suggest and you need lots of special tools to prepare it. Andi's mom, Janie, learned to make lefse from her grandma when she was a little girl. Andi's sister, Lindsay, has been making lefse since she was two years old and today was Tory and I's first time making it, too. This recipe and the tradition of making lefse around the holidays has been in the family for generations.

Janie and Lindsay ready to make lefse

Janie gave us a cheating head-start in our lefse making today by preparing the dough ahead of time. Combining the potato and flour mixture sounds like the messy part, so I was glad to forgo participation in that step. When Tory and I arrived today, Janie presented Tory with her very own lefse stick - with her name and the year printed on it to signify her very first time making lefse - and an adorable Santa apron she'd made. Of course, Tory couldn't actually help prepare the lefse so Grandpa Jim kept Tory entertained in the living room while Lindsay, Janie, Andi's Aunt Carla and I got to work.

Tory and Grandma Janie in their Christmas aprons

The first step is to roll the lefse dough onto a floury surface, using a rolling pin. When the lefse dough is very flat and round, take the lefse stick and gently slide it underneath the dough to pick it up and lay it flatly on the lefse griddle.

Aunt Carla and Lindsay rolling out lefse dough

Lindsay, Grandma Janie and Tory making lefse on the griddle

Use the lefse stick to pop any air bubbles that arise while the lefse is cooking. (It's a good way to take out some frustration - SMACK)! Flip the dough over half way using the same technique with the lefse stick, then remove the lefse and place it between a piece of cloth to cool.

Most people eat lefse with butter and sugar spread on top. I can't wait to have mine for breakfast tomorrow morning - YUM!

I'm so thankful for Andi's amazing family who share their holiday traditions with me. We had a ball making lefse today. Can't wait until next year!