Saturday, February 27, 2010

Butterscotch Blondies

If I start looking a little thick around the middle, I'm going to blame it on our new obsession with butterscotch blondies.  I made them three times within the space of a week.  Yeah, yikes. Although the recipe calls for different kinds of chocolate and white chips and toasted pecans, I usually ignore all that and just make them with chocolate chips.  A few weeks ago I made half with chocolate chips and half with butterscotch chips.  I was very surprised when Ryan and I both voted overwhelmingly in favor of the butterscotch.  As he put it, it keeps them blond.  Whatever it is, we love them.  Ryan usually leaves the house with 1/4 or 1/3 of the pan left and comes home to an empty pan and says, "What happened?"  Well, nothing but me at home all day with these staring me in the face.  Luckily one night there were still some left and after going through 1/4 of the pan himself he said, "Wow, these are addicting."  Anyhow, it's also fabulous because it's a really simple recipe with even less ingredients than brownies. Here's the blondie recipe as written from The New Best Recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and I'll mention some of my adjustments after.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups packed (10 1/2 oz) light brown sugar
 2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarse

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the semisweet and white chocolate chips and the nuts and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, 22-25 minutes.

I don't feel like it's all that big for a 9x13 pan, so I usually do 1 1/2 times the recipe (so like 2 1/4 cups flour...) and then it usually needs a bit longer in the oven, so I check it at the right time, then a few more minutes, then a couple more - we like them gooey, not cake-like, so as soon as the center looks set and like it's not jiggling anymore I take them out and they sort of fall a bit into a lovely golden, gooey, buttery yumminess.  And I swap out all the other chips and nuts and just use butterscotch chips. Usually just a cup or so.  I guess I could try more.  I have tried playing with the temperature since it's larger than the usual recipe - like turning it down to 325 and cooking it a little longer, sometimes I remember and turn it down half way through - maybe someone who understands the science of baking  better could figure it out, but it also seems to work fine at 350. Once I did put some foil over the top the last couple minutes when I didn't want it to get any more brown.  Anyway, if you need a quick treat to take somewhere, or you have a fondness for butterscotch (even if you don't) give 'em a try! It's my old standby.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Happiness Project

That is what I have entitled this chapter of our life.  While I just realized it is also a book, and I should probably read it for insights, it's what I've thought aptly describes the ongoing work-in-progress that is our life.  I've thought a lot about it because, believe it or not, I am always the happiness cheerleader of our family. (I know, from the dreary posts you read on here it's hard to believe!) I understand the theory that life is a journey, not a destination and all that business.  I'm not saying I'm good at it, only that I get the idea, so when I see a constantly harried and worn out husband, I try to remind him that, hey, this is our life.  It's not so glamorous, but it's what we've got, so we might as well enjoy it.  After a slew of unpleasant evenings with him, I finally sat down next to him one night while he was on the computer.  I waited until he actually looked up at me, hesitated, and then asked softly, "When is happiness?"   He thought about it for a long time.  It was probably the most thought-provoked I've seen him in a long time. (Because frankly, he's usually too worn out to provoke many thoughts aside from those that have to be there.) He finally responded with an, "I don't know."  To which I responded, "Because in 15 years, I'll just be uglier and the kids won't want anything to do with us."

He may feel weird having me be so candid about him; usually I try to keep it just to my own ramblings and issues.  But I know it's something he struggles with, and I do as well. And frankly, my cheerleading came to an abrupt crash this weekend.  See, the past few months Ryan has had to go in to work to do rounds every Saturday morning.  Then the first week in February he was on call in the hospital.  Then the next week he had a big presentation he had to get ready.  Come last Friday night. He got home, and after a while, I sighed happily as I realized, "Finally!  A real weekend!"  To which he responded, "Oh, I have a conference all day tomorrow."  I was crushed.  I felt my soul melting.  This coming only days after my last post. (Does he not read the blog?!  Did he not realize another Groundhog Day alone with the kids would put me over the edge?!?)  But alas, Saturday came, and I was alone with the kids while he was gone until 7pm.  And not only that, but the diarrhea came.  And came.  And came.  And poor little Ashton just pooped and pooped the day away.  Every episode soaked through all his clothes.  And whatever happened to be nearby. I spent the day cleaning couches, high chairs, carpets, and changing clothes and more clothes and diaper after diaper.  Then came the phone call that there was actually a fancy dinner that night that spouses were invited too.  I was dying to go.  I wanted so badly to get out, to have a reason to get dressed and talk to adults.  I even knew exactly what I wanted to wear. I tried to find a sitter, but when it wasn't working, I realized I couldn't leave anyone with Ashton anyway.

And that's when I shut down. And the happiness left. And I went into autopilot and all life was sucked out of me.  I was an emotionless robot by the time Ryan got home.  And guess what? Sunday I did it all.  Again.  By myself, so Ryan could go do what he needed to do at church.  And then he could come home and sleep. Sunday night the utter meltdown came; floodgates let loose and I bawled my eyes out. Not only was I so burned out from the kids, but the only person I talk to most days is an over-worked husband who really has no energy left for anything or any interest in conversation by the time he gets home.  And here I am in a city I don't love, far away from family... and you know, poor me.

That was the low point.

I can say Monday I tried my best.  I took the advice and actually got up and showered before the kids.  I got all ready.  I was on top of the day.  And then I realized - it's raining and I have a sick child.  And I got back in my pajamas.  But.  We got out old toys we haven't played with in a long time.  We made a picnic for all the stuffed animals.  I even made a really good breakfast and lunch and the kids ate them. I spent a long time telling finger puppet stories to Cash. I didn't even take a nap. I made an impromptu meal for someone I had just heard had a baby.  And I don't even know her very well.  And I didn't knock myself out doing it, and over-doing it like I usually do.  It wasn't my most proud meal, but I felt good that I tried, and didn't kill myself going overboard and trying to be perfect like I usually do.  I had dinner ready ahead of time.  And we even had a good family home evening that the kids even sort of paid attention to. And I exercised.

Then I read my scriptures.  I was reading in the Book of Mormon, in Alma where it talks about however we were in this life is how we'll be in the next life: "...and if there works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil....all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame....raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil..."

And then I hit this line: "The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness."  And I didn't read any further because I just sat there and thought about that for a long time.  That, hmm, is it possible that if I don't learn to be happy in this life I may never learn it?  It's probably not just desiring happiness, because I could be always desiring happiness and never feel like I had it. I realize there will be a lot of things different in the next life, that there may not be so many things that burden us as now, but if I'm someone who is constantly unsettled and always looking for something else to make me happy now, I will probably be so then too.

So I realize, that is the point of this life.  To be faithful no matter what life throws at us, and to find happiness. But more accurately, to learn happiness, and to create happiness. Because I have a feeling we don't find happiness the way we would happen to find a coin on the ground. More likely the same way we "find" an elephant by looking at the clouds in the sky, piecing together oddly shaped bunches until we make something of it. I think for a lot of us happiness is a learned behavior, one that takes more conscious effort than we would wish.  It's obviously that way for me.

I know there seems to be a never-ending tone of desperation and despair to my ramblings.  I do hope the underlying theme shines through - that humor seems to be the key to my sanity. I definitely don't take myself too seriously and hope anyone else finds amusement in my anecdotes and predicaments. I know people tell me in person that they're always amazed by how calm I am.  I figure if I have to spend hours at the doctor's office with three screaming children, I still have to do it whether I'm frantic and frenzied or whether I'm laughing about it, so might as well just let it roll off my back.

But I do get the big picture.  I know how fortunate I am, and I do realize that happiness is right under my nose. When I look up at that family picture in the top left corner of the blog, I realize - it literally is right under my nose. It's just all those little clouds that make up my day to day life that I'm trying to piece together to see that elephant. So for now, I am, and we are definitely a work-in-progress. Which today, and for probably a long time to come, we will term the happiness project.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Day in the Life

I often wonder what other mom's days look like.  It's probably just typical insecurity that I feel like I spend less time stimulating my kids little minds than other moms, my kids watch more tv than other kids, I'm not as fun and creative as other moms, and I selfishly try to steal away whenever I can from my kids to get some time on the computer or just to myself certainly more than anyone else does.  I like to think that I'm just so busy doing all the stuff it takes to care for all these dependent children that I have less time for creativity and one on one time than other people. Or, that and I like naps more than other moms.

While this may be the lamest subject I can think of to write about, the monotony has really been eating at me lately and it's what's on my mind. Plus I'm camera-less and without inspiration. So should you wish, read on, and I'll detail a typical day around here, one where we don't have anywhere in particular to go.

7- 7:30: The household alarm that is Phoenix wakes up.  Could be earlier than this, but is never later. (Ryan is long since gone at this point, of course.) In my usual tired, hoping-for-more-sleep state, I go take a bottle in to the twins, hoping to detain them a bit longer so I can doze for a few more minutes.  (If I was wise, I would actually use this time to get myself showered since it's always a battle once everyone is awake.  I am almost never wise.)

8am:  I hear "Pik-ews! Pik-ews!" as two little people enter my bedroom, Phoenix ecstatic at having found a jar of pickles under one of the cribs after he climbed out of his crib as usual and went exploring. (I can't help but chuckle, as always, at the insane amount of energy Phoenix has in the morning. I try to enjoy it, knowing it will wear off and by 10 am he'll be a screaming mess.) As usual, they finally woke up Cash with all their squawking and Cash let him out of the room.  Chubs is still stuck in his crib since all the extra girth makes him not quite as spritely as his brother.

Go rescue Chubs and everyone gathers around eagerly for pickle distribution. Pickles this early?  I try one.  Yech. They each eat about 10.

We get going slowly, as always. Diapers changed, dishes put away from yesterday, breakfast served.  I steal away while they're finishing their breakfast.  Probably to the computer.  Possibly to shower, but most likely not.  Splash, splash. Dang!  Just like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that I forget and I leave them too long and now they are delightedly splashing around in the remnants of their cereal bowl.  I jump up and quickly remove the cereal bowls.  I get down on my hands and knees to clean up the mess that has hit a 10-foot radius, and as always, the boys grab my hair with their grubby cereal hands when I'm within reach which irritates me, as always.

10am: Wow.  How is it already 10 and I feel like we finally just got breakfast cleaned up?  I finally go back to finish up the email I was sending.  Someone is at my side begging for help to finish taking all their clothes off.  Within seconds the other twin is at my side requesting the same.  I get distracted checking blogs and emails and soon realize it's been a good while and I still have two naked boys running around.  Better go check the floor for puddles. The tv stand seems to be a particular favorite and has taken another hit today.

Get everyone dressed after tantrum-throwing when clothes had to be put back on. Maybe we should go somewhere now. Oh, except me - I didn't get ready yet. Let me just go check the computer again real quick before I get in the shower, see what the weather is going to be like today. Too bad, everyone suddenly is crying and all need attention.  Ok, let's build some train tracks.  Wow - how did all these toys come out in a matter of seconds? I think as I pass by on my way to get the train set.

I build a wicked cool track as usual.  We sit and play.  I finally think, hey everyone is content, let me sneak away and get something done, or oh yeah, finally shower.  I get away for a whole 18 seconds before I hear, "Oh no!  Oh no!" And someone is running to me with little tracks that have been disassembled demanding that I "Fiss-it!"  This scenario repeats about 10 times before I finally manage to close the door to the bathroom before someone finds me.  I do however exit the shower to find an assortment of toys shoved under the bathroom door.

I come out to find the tornado of toys and junk that has hit the house five times worse than before.  Maybe we can finally go somewhere.  Oh, now it's too close to lunch and naps.  Guess we're not going anywhere.  Break up fights, calm crying and try to entertain for a while since the twins are almost never able to self-entertain for more than about 1 minute.  As usual.

12-12:30pm.  Aaaahhhh.  Nap time. My favorite time of day.  The morning has left me exhausted.  Clean up. Try to spend a few minutes alone with Cash, but soon my eyelids win out and I'm off to take a nap.  Too bad Cash doesn't nap anymore, but at least he'll sit quietly and watch a movie or play with toys while I do.

12:45:  Drat.  I've only slept for 10 minutes and now have been woken up to snickering over the monitor.  That little rascal is out of his crib again.  I go put him back in with a bottle and try to go back to sleep.  I try for a really long time, but my efforts are futile because once I get woken up I can't sleep again.  Maybe today would be different, I hoped. But it wasn't.  I can't go back to sleep, as always. Post-nap chocolate time.  I always need a pick-me-up when I'm groggy and wish I was still sleeping. At least half the time this is when showering actually happens.

4pm: Finally get out of the house to go somewhere!  Go to the park.  This lasts until one of three scenarios ensues:  1. I can no longer keep the twins away from other people's food/drinks/toys. 2. They've remembered which of the three gates doesn't latch and I can no longer keep everyone in one area and the playground is too crowded to see them all easily.  3. They've gotten too comfortable there and the twins are both trying too many dangerous stunts on equipment they're not big enough for and I can't get to both of them at the same time. A broken appendage is only seconds away.  Pack up everyone screaming and have the whole playground watching us/sympathizing with us/clucking to themselves that I'm way in over my head as we leave. Typical.

Walk home through the park stopping for everyone to talk to me about my stroller and my kids; pause for Asians to pose for pictures with them. As usual.

5pm: The witching hour.  I loathe this time in our house.  From about now until bedtime.  Get home to find the mess still waiting for me. Try to make dinner.  Kids won't leave me alone.  Everything I pull out of the fridge they steal off the counters and run off with.  They bring more and more toys into the kitchen.  Still trying to make dinner while stepping over cars, blankets, a large mobile car, the chair they've pushed into the kitchen to stand on to aid in thwarting my dinner preparation, and every letter of the fridge alphabet magnets.  All while tripping over the crying kids hanging on my ankles.

5:30pm: I finally lose it, freak out and yell at everyone to get out of the kitchen and leave me alone.  I give in and turn on a movie, although they're so crazy at this point it doesn't hold their attention.  Listen to screaming and wailing as Cash goes wild bouncing off the walls and torturing the twins. Flinch at the crashing noises cringing, realizing Cash has found the footstool and is pulling everything out of all the closets in the house.

6-8pm:  Anywhere in that time frame Ryan gets home. Asks his typical question: "Why is everyone so ornery?" I give the typical answer, "I don't know.  Maybe they're teething. Maybe it's just more likely that this is their personality because our kids cry all the time and this is actually pretty much what they do all day." Anyhow, no matter what time he gets home, I have this theory that it's always about a half hour too late. I was holding it together until just about a half hour before when I couldn't take it anymore.  I was also trying to keep the house clean until about a half an hour ago when it all went to pot. If it's a particularly bad night I may even shove the kids on him and go hide in the bedroom to fume by myself.  May even take my own plate of dinner so I can have 5 minutes to eat in peace.  More commonly, however, the twins are freaking out and hungry so I put them in their high chairs and starting feeding them dinner as it's ready, so by the time I'm ready to sit down and eat, they're already done and screaming to get out. I shove a few bites in my mouth standing over the counter as I start to clean up. Lovely.

8pm:  Sit down with my hands in my head as I survey the damage after the bed-time frenzy.  Will my weary soul to get up and start chiseling away at the disaster.  I must, as having a clean house at the end of the day seems to be the last thread of sanity I cling to. Start hearing the "I'm going to bed" threats from my husband.  These will be repeated in about 5 minute increments until they are actually fulfilled, anywhere from 8:30-10pm.  I try to get over the shock of him actually going to bed by 8:30 but it still manages to surprise me that someone goes to bed that early on a regular basis.

8:30pm:  Chuckle as I hear what sounds like a really close, "Ha-woah????" Phoenix is out of his crib of course, his little lips practically pressed under the door frame as he lays down to watch the passing feet and yell out to whoever might possibly rescue him.  Ashton is screaming in frustration that Phoenix gets to run around and have all the fun, watching under the door, stacking cans of mandarin oranges against the door.  This lasts up to an hour and a half before blessed silence finally prevails.

9:30pm: Finally all my have-to duties are done. I'm exhausted, but the thought of going to bed just to get up and do it all again tomorrow without some sort of restorative time for myself is soul-crushing.  Ryan will ask why I'm not coming to bed now, but I just can't.  So I finally do something I want to do, but more likely realize I need to exercise and so I do that instead.  After that seems to be the only time for some back therapy and scripture reading and I finally roll into bed sometime around 12:30am, tired and sighing that it's so late and the kids have all slept for a few hours while I haven't, yet somewhat refreshed that at least I got to be me for a few hours. BY MYSELF, most notably.  Remember that Phoenix is still in a ball on the other side of the bedroom door and get back up to go move him to his crib.  Have to push the door and his little body just enough to shimmy my way in and pick him up. NOW to bed.

1-2am: Finally turn over ready to yell at Ryan for the ridiculous amount of movement that has allowed me zero sleep up to this point - only to find he is blissfully unaware of it all as he is dreamily conducting a symphony in his sleep.  Or performing surgery.  Or making a couch.  Or fighting a superhero battle. All common events based on the feedback I can elicit when I'm on the right track asking the right questions.  I may give in at this point and just go take some Ambien.  Cause heaven knows it's all going to start again in a matter of hours.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random pictures

It hasn't been our best week.  Besides getting sick, in the space of about three days, we realized both Ryan's Ipod (that he has all his medical stuff loaded on) and our camera were missing.  We have no idea how, or if they're in some black hole only the twins know about.  All I know is my house has never been more clean and we've looked under every nook and cranny in the house.  And I missed some great photo ops this week!  So in fond remembrance of when we did have a camera, here are just some random pictures from the last month or so.

Here's me trying to take some self photos with Cash.  Even though they're not great shots, I love their candid nature, and how true they are to trying to get pictures with my kids!

I had said it would be a good family photo day since we were all ended up in coordinating colors for church, but this was about as far as we got since no one's much in the mood for anything by the time we're done with church.

Then we found some mice in the house that seem to be really fond of the whole Costco-sized block of cheese.  It must be way better than a single piece by the fits they throw when we try to take it away from them.

Sometimes I have to stop and remember to appreciate how pretty it is here - like the view from the playground right outside our house:

It's even more blissful now that they put a fence around it!  It was pretty hard before to relax at the playground since it was so hard to keep my children contained, or even wandering in the same direction.  I even called the man in charge of our park just to thank him.  He was a little confused.  Guess that doesn't happen much here.  :)

We also love going down to the park at the tip of south beach - I always try to time it when the cruise ships go out cause they come so close and it's so fun to see them leave.


 We were telling our friends what a gorgeous park it was and how much fun it was - and then of course by the time they got there it was cold and raining!  But it was still fun and I think the boys thought it was a pretty novel and cool concept to be playing out in the rain.  Besides it being novel for it to be raining in Miami and not downpouring in the first place. And they looked kind of cute all soggy. 


And then there's the naked obsession that I mentioned before.  Pretty much anything that can be done naked is done naked around here (bum shot warning).

(Notice how in the last picture, the two are playing and chubs is finding leftover pizza, of course.)

Let's hope we find our camera or I may not be inspired to post for a while!

Friday, February 5, 2010

I wish upon all of you...

A child as sweet as this little boy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

So behind

I've been trying to figure out recently what I'm going to do about the voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) program here in Miami. Kindergarten here is a full day, and the government here will put money towards a pre-kindergarten program for you. For some schools it covers the whole cost, for others it covers part of the cost, and then there are some programs that don't participate. So it's been a real challenge trying to figure out a decent one that isn't so far from me, that we could afford, isn't in the ghetto, and come on, at least has like one other white kid.

So I had heard from multiple people about this United Way one that is about 15 minutes from me, and one day a friend of mine told me they were having their monthly tours the next afternoon. To my credit, I really did try to find someone to watch my kids, knowing how ridiculous it is to try to go anywhere with them by myself and how little they listen to anything I say. And the tour lady had told me not to bring strollers. But I couldn't find anyone, so whatever, they only have it once a month, the waiting list is usually at least a year, so I knew I needed to get going on it, and I'm getting used to just doing what you have to do.

So I show up. There's about 15 moms on the tour. I look around and say kind of jokingly, and somewhat apologetically, "Hmm, so nobody else had to bring kids with them I guess?" They all laugh a little, but are nice about it. Then as the tour starts, I notice - they're almost all pregnant. Oh, so this is when you sign your kids up for this school - while they're still in utero. So me showing up with three already birthed, I'm way behind.

My discouragement grows, but since they were talking so much about all the younger programs, at one point I try to ask, "So the VPK program goes from 9-12 right?" She say yes. Then after a moment, she turns back to me and adds in - "Yeah, but you can't just do 9-12, you have to do the whole day." Ugh. Discouragement growing even more. Why am I even here? I talked to the woman on the phone about the program and she didn't mention that before. Not to mention - my kids are a disaster. Multiple people have been trying to help me herd my kids along. They're not following. They're running up and down stairs. Disgruntled employees from far corners of the building come carrying in my kids wondering whose wayward children these are. We keep going on the tour. I'm halfway listening, halfway trying to control my wild children, who have taken their shoes off somewhere on the tour and everyone keeps pointing out that my kids are barefoot. I pull out some M&Ms (gasp - are those organic?!) to try to occupy them for a while. We go outside to the play area. Oh man, things really go downhill out here. Tour is still going, concerned parents and finicky mothers are asking ridiculous questions. I look over and my children have found the child-sized sink. The water goes on. I step over and turn it off. It goes back on. I turn it off. I can hear we're nearing the end so I venture back to the group to ask my final discouraged question: "So if all these people are getting their kids on the waiting list before they're even born, is there any chance my 4 year-old will even get in? I mean, they all just keep moving up to the next age level, right?" She gives me a yeah, you're kind of right look, but says, "Well, there's always a chance they could get in." Sigh. Why am I knocking myself out to be here? Especially when - oh my. I look over and the twins are dunking their heads under the running water, howling in delight as they fling their heads up out of the sink and send water spraying over the crowd. Repeatedly. They look wild. Seriously wild. Like two crazy guys at a wild keg party or something. They are sopping wet. I hurry over and yank them out of there (screaming in protest of course) and try to head back in to the building with the group - with my soppy, dirty, shoe-less, screaming little hooligans. With all the composed, signing-their-unborn-children-up, career women looking on. I am so not the picture of graceful motherhood. I am pretty much their worst fear - and the reason they all asked how soon after having their babies they could put them in the school (6 weeks).

I stopped and talked to the woman again when we were finished. "I'm a little discouraged," I told her. "I feel like you just cater to working mothers here. I feel like I'm trying to do something good and stay home with my children - I don't want to stick him in here all day. I just want to do 9-12 and get him a little exposure to school." She was sort of like, huh, that's an interesting idea. We haven't come up against that before. She said she guessed I could pull him out at noon if that's what I wanted - as long as I paid for the full day.

Sigh. I did end up getting him on the list. It caused even more shenanigans as I had to fill out the 4 page application form with the soggy spaz-cases running all over the building, but I figured I better try for something since I've been coming up with all dead ends. It really was a great facility. I think because they're United Way they get a ton of funding, and even though the VPK voucher doesn't cover all the cost we might even qualify for additional financing. So whatever, if he gets in at some point, maybe we'll do it. Maybe I'll find something else. Maybe I'll just keep him home one more year and be fine with it. Maybe I'll be more on top of it next time and get in there while I'm still pregnant.