Christmas Spirit and A Delicious Chocolate Cake

Normally I am a proponent of holding off on decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but this past weekend I started looking at our busy schedule for the next few weeks. That led to hauling the decorations up from the basement, putting everything up, and baking this delicious cake featured in the gorgeous winter issue of Magnolia Journal. The girls even napped to Christmas music while I scurried about cleaning up glitter and cocoa powder.

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Three years old might be the most magical age when it comes to enthusiasm for the holidays. I want to bottle every moment with my oldest daughter. OK, maybe not the occasional tantrum, but you get my drift.

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We put the tree in the dining room this year, mainly because my youngest daughter just started crawling so finding a safe spot in the living room proved to be a challenge. However, I really like it in this spot. It is great to enjoy it during dinner, and it happens to be in front of a window that faces the street.

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The magic of the holidays is in the air. The time between Halloween and New Year’s goes so quickly and seems to fly even faster now that I have two children of my own. I’m trying to focus on work-life balance as much as possible so I don’t miss the special times attending my daughter’s Thanksgiving lunch at preschool and helping with the church Christmas program.

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The recipe for this delicious cake is below. It would make a great treat to share as a holiday gift or to serve at upcoming gatherings. Hint: It doesn’t hurt to pair it with a dry red wine.

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Recipe:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups water

 

  • Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Let the butter and eggs stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, generously grease a 10-inch Bundt pan. Add cocoa powder. Shake and tilt pan to generously coat the bottom, sides, and tube. Shake out any excess cocoa powder.
  • In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  • In a small bowl, microwave unsweetened chocolate 1 to 2 minutes or until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool slightly.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Add both sugars. Beat until combined, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate and vanilla. Beat until combined.
  • Alternately add flour mixture and the water to the chocolate mixture. Beat on low after each addition until just combined. Pour into pan, spreading evenly.
  • Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  • Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Sift powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder over the cake.

The Bond of Sisterhood

Almost exactly a year ago I found out I was expecting my second daughter. This news delighted me, and I could not wait to watch my daughters begin to develop what I hoped would be a lifelong friendship. Having no sisters of my own, I am fascinated by the strong, sometimes-tumultuous, fiercely loyal bond between sisters. Even as young as they are, I can see this between my girls.

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(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

I am so fortunate to be the person who, along with their Daddy, gets to nurture their independent spirits and help them find their own distinct personalities. I hope that even when they argue, and I know they will, they will always love each other and be there for one another. They are each individuals, yet compliment each other so beautifully.

No one makes my youngest daughter laugh the way her sister can. My oldest is a genuine protector of her baby sister, a characteristic that was present instantly the moment she met her in the hospital room. Both girls light up our world just by being in it.

Those of us without biological sisters find our “sisters” throughout life. I am blessed to have some very close friendships that withstand time and distance. These relationships sustain me when life gets tough. Those ladies are my sisters, not by blood, but by memories, shared laughter, and countless conversations. Whatever sisterhood means to you, there is no denying it is special and something to be cherished.

 

 

 

Don’t Forget Thanksgiving

I know a lot of people are getting excited to start decorating for Christmas, but first comes my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving! This year my husband and I will load up the girls and make the long journey (eight hours) to my mother-in-law’s. Even though I’m not hosting the feast, here are a few items I would love to incorporate into the Thanksgiving celebration.

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1. This sturdy-yet-beautiful trivet would dress up the Thanksgiving table and come in handy throughout the year. (Crate & Barrel) 2. Sweater dresses are a great go-to for looking put together while also being forgiving when the second helping of pumpkin pie can’t be resisted. (Loft) 3. These napkins are simple, elegant, and offer a lovely reminder. (Pier 1) 4. This huge Fiesta platter in Tangerine would look great on any table. (Kohl’s) 5. These adorable turkey salt and pepper shakers would make a lovely hostess gift and are on sale for $14. (Pottery Barn) 6. This throw pillow would dress up the living room couch and come in handy for the inevitable post-turkey nap. (Target)

 

 

The Perks of Being a Working Mom

Any mother who has left a baby in daycare to return to work after maternity leave knows that dagger-to-the-heart feeling. I felt it with both my daughters, too, and occasionally still do, but now nearly four months have passed since I have been back to work and I’m hitting my groove. I’m also reflecting positively on being a working mom. There are days when I definitely feel guilt, exhaustion, and the desire to clone myself a few times just to get everything done, but the reality is there are good and bad elements of everything. Today, I’m focusing on the good.

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(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

I firmly believe that we, as mothers, make our decisions with our children’s best interest in mind, and not something we take lightly. Choosing to be a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, or something in-between, can be one of the most difficult, guilt-inducing dilemmas we face. Sometimes circumstances make the decision for us. Further, none of it is necessarily set in stone.

My positive feelings are greatly because I enjoy (usually) my current job and love the daycare/preschool our daughters attend. Would I reassess things if that wasn’t the case? Absolutely. But we can also choose to be thankful for the path we are on and the blessings that come with it.

Here are a few of the great things I have experienced because I am a working mom.

My children meet and make friends. Watching my oldest daughter develop friendships at daycare over the past couple of years has been so heart-warming. I love that she’s only three, yet has already experienced many close friendships.

I, too, meet and make friends. Just last weekend my husband, daughters, and I spent a fun afternoon with a great family we met through our daughters’ daycare center.

Unapologetic quality time. Not seeing my daughters as much as I would like during the week means I allow myself to make at least one day each weekend all about fun. Whether we take in a fall festival or just watch princess movies and make cookies, intentional effort is made to engage in quality time, laundry pile be darned.

Using a variety of skills. I will probably always be better at analyzing a budget than at singing a lullaby. And that’s OK, but I get to do both and how cool is that?

Feeling valued. Moms, you (we) should all feel valued and appreciated all the time, but that’s not necessarily reality. Sometimes our coworkers are better at expressing appreciation than Toddle

The satisfaction of completing a task. Sometimes just cleaning the bathroom with my daughters around seems like it takes 17 times longer than it should. At work (on a good day) I can crank through a to-do list and at least have a few legitimately completed tasks by the end of the business day.

The end-of-day pick-up. You guys, there is absolutely no better feeling than how happy my girls are to see me when I pick them up at daycare at the end of the day. It never gets old.

Halloween Fruit Dip

I love this easy and delicious fruit dip that can be dyed for any festivity. Of course I have been doing orange lately for my little goblin.

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It’s just one softened brick of cream cheese beaten together with one 7-ounce container of marshmallow cream. Then dye the dip according to your food coloring instructions.

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Serve with your favorite fruit.

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It’s the perfect snack for a girl watching college football with her daddy.

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Mommy Needs Alone Time (But Only 10 Minutes)

I fantasized about my kid-free weekend for a month. I would read, enjoy a quiet anniversary dinner with my husband, and maybe even find time for a manicure. There would be no diaper changes, no Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and, perhaps most enticing, I would sleep past 6 a.m!

But guess what, as soon as I dropped my daughters off at my parents’ house and pulled out of the driveway, I missed them. Like immediately. I felt like a little piece of me was left behind in my parents’ living room. How could I miss them instantly when all I had wanted for weeks was some alone time?

“Any update on the girls?” My husband asked me as we sat down for our quiet, romantic dinner. Apparently, he, too, was missing our little ladies. My mom texted us a couple of photos of them for us to swoon over.

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(Photo by Alyssa Crawford Photography)

For parents with young children, it is a tremendous help to have people we trust to care for them overnight or even for a short evening out. These relationships and encounters benefit the parents, the care-takers, and, most importantly, the children. Despite missing our daughters, we had a couple of great child-free days catching up on yard work, enjoying quiet meals, and sleeping in (until 7 a.m.)

I think it is healthy for parents to want (and take) some alone time now and then. It’s also healthy for us to miss them while we do that. We love them.

Parenthood is a mixed bag of emotions. We are stressed, blessed, annoyed, amused, elated, and exhausted all at the same time. That’s OK. So take a little alone time, even if you spend most of it looking at pictures of your kids on your phone.

 

To the Guy Who Might Not Read This

Reading blogs isn’t really your thing, but tomorrow we will celebrate four years of marriage and I just want you to know I still think you are awesome. We haven’t had much time for each other lately with work demands and raising the girls, but my love for you is stronger than ever. Whether it is an exciting adventure or a random weeknight doing laundry and changing diapers, I love every day with you.

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(Photo by Mist and Moonlight Photography)

I often write about spouses appreciating spouses and the importance of making time for one another, but I have been horrible at those things lately. You bear with me, and roll with the drama the three of us girls are capable of producing. You are tender, kind, and a wonderful example to our daughters.

I love that you get excited about college football and pheasant hunting while also applauding our daughter’s “beautiful princess” dances and helping dress Barbie dolls. Thank you for being the steady, patient presence in our little family. Happy anniversary!