Waiting for Santa Claus

Twas the night before Christmas
When a family took pause

To lay out cookies and milk
For dear old Santa Claus

Then a sweet little boy
Wore his new pajamas to bed

While visions of Christmas decorations
Danced in his head ...

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie

No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without pumpkin pie, so when I was assigned to make a dessert for this year's Thanksgiving feast at Conservative Mom and Dad's house in Georgia, a pumpkin pie seemed like a no-brainer.

But I resisted the idea of making a traditional pumpkin pie because I also firmly believe that no dinner is complete without chocolate. Or any meal, for that matter. Even, some days, breakfast.

So when I came across Southern Living's Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie recipe in the November 2012 issue, it seemed like the ideal solution. Pumpkin? Check. Chocolate? Check. Plus toffee and pecans thrown in for good measure. What's not to like about that?

Making the pie turned out to be quite a process. First I burned a batch of pecans so had to redo them. Then nearly every step required some cooling or chilling time in between. Fortunately, we didn't have a big agenda over Thanksgiving week, so we ended up finishing it with a few minutes to spare. (Though we almost had a disaster and ran out of whipped cream at the end, hence the rather decorative effect and lack of full coverage atop the pie.)

The interesting thing about this particular pie is that the pumpkin layer isn't your traditional pumpkin texture or flavor. It ends up being more of a creamy custard layer with just a hint of pumpkin. For those in the crowd that aren't hard-core pumpkin lovers, it was a nice, subtle nod to a Thanksgiving staple. But I think if I made it again I'd either increase the amount of pumpkin or replace that layer with a more traditional pumpkin pie filling.

The other interesting thing we discovered is that this pie actually tasted better straight from the fridge the next day. I'm not sure why, but I certainly didn't complain about that!


A Little Tree

This year, I skipped putting up the full-size fake tree I've dutifully assembled every Christmas since I graduated college. The lights, the ornaments, and the branches wouldn't stand a chance against a certain curious, on-the-go elf.

So instead I bought a tiny tabletop fir tree, which now sits perched atop our wine rack. It allowed me to fill the house with Christmas spirit (and the beautiful smell of a fresh fir), while keeping our most precious ornaments and the twinkling lights well out of Little Man's reach.

And I didn't even have to bother with buying a tree skirt—three festive napkins worked just fine. I do, however, need to find a star for the top of our tree, because the big golden bow I use atop the full-size tree would've looked awfully funny on this little one.


Her Friends' Recipes

Way back in October, I turned the big 3-0. And, lucky me, it just so happened that my birthday fell on a girls' weekend, when a group of my best college friends were all gathering in the Milwaukee area for a baby shower for one of my dear pals.

In their typical fashion, my friends sprung a lovely little party on me (and two other fellow October birthday lovers), complete with a beautiful cheesecake, a variety of 30-themed treasures and, best of all, a cookbook!

But we're not just talking a run-of-the-mill cookbook. We're talking a special cookbook made just for me and filled with some of my friends' favorite recipes.

You can check it out yourself and download a free copy, if you wish.

(The cool thing is, 47 other people people have downloaded it, though we haven't promoted it at all. I hope they are enjoying the recipes as much as I am!)


One Year with Little Man

I still can't believe that Little Man turned one on Nov. 19. It seems like just yesterday he was a tiny bundle in the hospital, looking up at us with as much confusion as we looked down at him with.

I'm in awe of how much babies change and learn and move and become their own little people in the span of a year. There's no other point in life that is so filled growth and development. It's simply amazing.

Of course, Little Man has run the show from the very beginning, when our little breech baby decided he wasn't going to wait for our 6 a.m. appointment with the doctor to try to turn him on Nov. 19. Instead he got the show going himself just after 2 a.m. and arrived shortly after 4 a.m.

It's been the same ever since, from the first few days home when he decided he would fight his hardest to get out of his swaddling to the 8 1/2 months he refused to sleep through the night. Not that I counted or anything.

 By 3 months, he was standing on our laps, the better to get a good look at the world around him. At 4 months, he insisted he was going to take his first bite of food, and when he did it he was going to hold his own spoon, darnit. By 5 months, he was rolling and wiggling all over the place. When his teeth started coming in at 7 months, he wasn't happy to welcome them one at a time. Instead, they came in droves. (Right now, we're dealing with three molars at once.) At 7 months, he started employing a rather unorthodox crawling style that got him around well until he was ready to zoom on nearly all fours. By 11 months, he wasn't just walking—he was practically running.

Now he's more in charge than ever—running around the house terrorizing Butter (or "petting" him, if you can call it that), shooting baskets nonstop in the little hoop his dad bought him for his birthday, carrying objects that are way too big for him around the house just because he can, letting us know exactly when he wants to read books and when he could care less about them, saying "hi" to everything and everyone he sees (but most especially his reflection or pictures of himself).

As long as his teeth aren't driving him nuts or he isn't hungry (yep, got that from me), he's a smiling, giggling, playful little imp who goes 100 miles per hour from the moment he gets out of bed until he falls back into it at night.

Someone told me once that when your children are young you'll think every stage of your child's life is the best one yet, that it can't get any better. I see now exactly what she means. It seems like our Little Man can't possibly be more fun than he is right now, but then again I know next month he'll be doing something new and different and keeping us on our toes even more.

I can't wait to see what adventures the next year brings!

(The photos, you may have noticed, are from Little Man's first birthday party at the Lake. It was a terrific shindig at My Parents' house. Little Man, of course, loved being the center of attention and played with his toys until he literally laid down on the rug in the middle of everyone and almost fell asleep!)


5 Little Penguins

Five little penguins sat in a garden bed.

The first one said, "There's a hat on my head."

The second one said, "There are snowflakes in the air."

The third one said, "But we don't care."

 The fourth one said, "Let's slip and slide and skate."

 The fifth one said, "But we can't be late."

 Jingle went the bells and on came the lights ... 

 And the five little penguins lit up the night.

(I created this silly little story for Little Man while we stood at the front window today looking down at the five little penguins in our planter box. It's adapted from "Five Little Pumpkins," one of Little Man's current board books of choice.)


Chef's Dinner at Waterside

Three years ago on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Conservative Hubby and I were married at Reynolds Landing at Lake Oconee.

This Friday after Thanksgiving, we celebrated in a very special way: With a private, 6-course meal prepared by one of the chefs at the Waterside Restaurant at Cuscowilla, down the lake a ways from where we were married.

My Dad won the meal for four in a golf tournament, and My Parents were kind enough to invite us as a way to celebrate our anniversary.

It was quite an affair, with a special menu prepared exclusively for us and different (delicious! out of my price range!) wines paired with each of the six courses. The chef would come out with each course and explain exactly what we were eating and which wine we were drinking next.

We started off with a crab and tuan martini over cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions with an English cocktail sauce. The pieces of crab were huge and the sauce was delicious. This, of course, was paired with a refreshing Italian proseco.

Next we moved on to what I think was my favorite course: Brown butter sea scallops with creamy white organic grits, gala apples, and crispy bacon. Rich, delicious, to-die-for. Served with a Sean Minor Sauvignon Blanc. (Pardon the photos. I snapped them hastily with my phone before diving in to each course.)

This alone was enough food for a meal, yet we were only just getting started. Next up came petite pork osso buco with creamy Italian polenta (with mascarpone), red wine pan jus, and some veggies, served with La Crema Pinot Noir (an awesome vino). The pork practically melted in our mouths.

After that, we had to take a break for a few minutes. We were seriously full, but still had one main course to go. Each of these courses was large enough to be a meal on its own. I was incredibly glad I wore a dress; otherwise, at this point, I might have had to unbutton my pants, which may have been a rather unladylike thing to do for such an occasion.

Next up: carved smoked tenderloin of beef with potato dauphinoise, mushroom demi glace, baby carrots, and asparagus, served with a Trincharo Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of us couldn't finish all of this course, but Conservative Hubby was a trooper and soldiered on through every last bite of the meat and potatoes. (He did leave a few asparagus spears behind though.)

Next came some lighter fare: a tray of Spanish Manchego, aged gouda, English stilton, and assorted fruits and jams, plus fresh honey and honey comb. I figured one tray would be for the whole table, yet we each had our own. We all nibbled on everything as best we could but ended up boxing up most of this deliciousness to take home because we barely made a dent in it.

During this course, we each were served a glass of Sandman's 10-Year Port, and so we retired outside by the lake and pool to sip our port and enjoy the pleasant weather while the men smoked cigars. This interlude was necessary or there would have been no way we could have enjoyed our final course.

Then it was back inside for the grand finale: chocolate flourless tort with a raspberry drizzle. Divine.

The dessert was served with our choice of a chocolate Godiva martini or decaf press pot coffee. I'm sure the coffee was delicious, but we wouldn't know, because of course we all had to have a chocolate martini. It was Godiva, people. What do you expect?

Our nearly 3-hour dining extravaganza was absolutely amazing. We all came home stuffed and satisfied. It was a wonderful evening, and I'd highly recommend the experience to anyone visiting My Parents at the lake. It can be yours for only $100 per person, which is an incredible steal considering how much food and wine we consumed.

I'm still full, actually. Although I did find room for a piece of leftover Thanksgiving pie for breakfast this morning. Why not continue with the gluttony for another day?





The Pumpkin Patch

Remember back in October when we made our annual pilgrimage to Gail's Pumpkin Patch?

Oh, right. Why would you remember it, when I never remembered to tell you about it? Oops.

I suppose it's OK to go ahead and update you now, despite the fact I'm delinquent. Our pumpkins are still sitting out front so it's acceptable to write about them, right? (Besides, the pumpkins aren't carved, so technically now they're a Thanksgiving decoration ... er, at least I hope. But I guess maybe the Halloween ghost next to them needs to go.) Anyhow. As usual, I digress.

This trip to the pumpkin patch was particularly special because it was Little Man's first visit. He had a great time, as you can see. There was plenty of posing to do. Plus rocks to pick up and (attempt to) eat. And swings to try out.

Of course, we picked out our pumpkins, too.

Little Man found a gourd he was particularly fond of. Mostly he just wanted to slobber on it. Fortunately, the gourd didn't seem to mind.

All of these seasonal adventures are so much more fun when you're with a little one who thinks everything is so interesting and exciting and drool-worthy.

Unfortunately, we didn't do much Halloween celebrating around here because Little Man was sick, sick, sick. But next up is Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know I can't wait.


Letting Butter Talk

Hey blog readers. It's me, Butter. I know you haven't heard from me in so long you probably thought I disappeared. But nope, I'm still here. I've just been really busy lately. And a bit down in the dumps, too.

You're probably wondering why.

It's because in addition to guarding the house from mailmen and other potentially evil intruders, going to work with Conservative Boy every afternoon, and barking at squirrels in the backyard, I now spend hours upon hours each day running away from this little creature Julie and Conservative Boy brought home 10 months ago.

I don't know where he came from or why he's here, but he can leave at any time. Seriously, this kid drives me crazy.

It was bad enough when he was really little. He didn't move or  do anything interesting back then, except it seemed like he cried all the time. He'd cry when we were awake and he'd cry when we were asleep and I never thought I'd hear the end of it.

But then I realized maybe that wasn't so bad. Because now he doesn't cry so much, but he jabbers and yells nonstop. This kid never shuts up.

Plus he doesn't just lay around anymore. He chases me everywhere I go. I can't get a moment's peace when he's around, because he's always trying to steal my bone or grab my tail or pull on my ears. I get up and move and he just follows me.

 He's also always trying to get my water bowl in the bathroom and my food dish in the kitchen, so most of the time I can't even get at these things anymore because Julie puts them up on the counter so they're out of the little monster's way.

And don't get me started on the fact that now he's trying to share space in front of my window. My window, people. This is getting out of hand.

As if things couldn't get any worse, there's also the fact that all the people who used to come over and see me and shower me with attention hardly notice me because they're too busy holding the little monster and kissing him and saying how cute he is. And Julie probably spends one fourth of the time she used to petting me, because she's always making food or chasing the baby around or rocking him or doing a million other things that don't have to do with me.

On the bright side, we do all go for walks together most evenings, and when the little monster is in his stroller he's not so bad. And maybe someday if he learns to pet me rather than just grabbing my hair, I won't mind him quite so much.

Julie keeps telling me that someday soon we'll be lifelong friends. I just don't know if I can believe that. This kid has totally changed my world. That much change in less than a year just can't be good for a dog.


P.S. If this sad tale has anyone wanting to come over and make me feel better, please try to stop by on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday mornings. That's when I am home guarding the house and the little monster is at day care, so he won't get in the way.


Sharing Baby Musts

Sooo ... I've been meaning to do this for months. But then again I've been meaning to do a lot of things for months.

Like actually writing complete sentences in little man's baby book, rather than just making random notes here and there.

And refinishing the front windowsill now that both the baby and the dog like to sit there and survey their neighborhood (and drool). After four years of dog slobber and clawing when the mail man walks by, it's seriously disastrous. Don't worry, I'll show a photo of it soon enough. (Maybe. If I actually get this project done.)

And making homemade ice cream, which I failed to do even once this summer.

And showering.

Just kidding on that last one. Kind of.

Anyway. I didn't even get out of the gate on this post before I got sidetracked. Back to the task at hand.

I've been meaning to post a little list of our basic baby must-haves for months, because we have a lot of lovely friends who are having babies soon and have asked for recommendations. And I'm sure the rest of you have just been anxiously waiting to hear this list too, right?

There's so much to choose from out there in babyland, registering and shopping can be seriously overwhelming. I knew it was for me, and I found blog posts like this helpful.

That being said, I also discovered early on that something that works really well for one baby and family might not work at all for another, because every little one is so different. So just, you know, ignore me if you want.

First, the must-haves we would buy again in a second and can't (or couldn't) live without ...

Car Seat
Probably one of the most overwhelming things to figure out. We went with the Chicco KeyFit 30, which means we've still got about 10 pounds to go before we have to buy a new one. Lugging any car seat around is going to be a pain in the butt, but this one has held up well to lots of spit up and still looks good, is easy to get in and out of the car, etc. We bought an extra base for Conservative Mom's car, although we also discovered that you can hook in the car seat just using a seat belt, which is swell for when you're traveling or in someone else's vehicle with the baby.

Also super overwhelming. I decided pretty early on I didn't want to hassle with the whole "system" you can get to go with the car seat, because I didn't want a big, unwieldy stroller and didn't really think I needed all the bells and whistles. I wanted something lightweight, easy to fold up, yet durable. I ended up deciding on the Chicco Liteway stroller and am incredibly happy with it. It is all the things I mentioned two sentences ago, and has held up really well to almost daily walks on bumpy streets and uneven sidewalks in L-Town. I even did a bit of jogging with it on a smoother sidewalk and it was fine, though it's not really cut out for regular runs. It has the basics—a cupholder, storage underneath the seat (that actually becomes a little backpack if you need it, and is big enough to hold most things I buy at the farmer's market), a rain cover.

However, before our first flight to Georgia, My Mom convinced me that we needed the Chicco KeyFit Caddy Infant Car Seat Carrier. If you plan to do much traveling with your baby, this is worth its price. We've used it on five different flying trips now and it has been awesome for getting through the airport and on the plane and going for walks while at our destination. You can fold it up with one hand when you're going through security or leaving it plane-side, and there's room underneath to stash carry-on bags as you're making your way through the airport.

Bouncy Chair
This doesn't have to be a fancy or expensive one. The one we ended up using repeatedly was this very inexpensive, basic model. But it was a lifesaver, first as a place for our sweet little man to sit and relax so we weren't holding him nonstop. And then we discovered he actually slept better when sitting up, so for quite some time he slept swaddled in his bouncy chair. (No one tells you this is an option if your baby can't handle sleeping laying down, and I am still bitter that I did not know to do this for the first few months of little man's life. But that's another story ...)

Video Baby Monitor
I registered for one with audio but not video, but was very fortunate to get an upgraded one for a shower gift. Having video has been a lifesaver so we don't have to go in and check on the little one repeatedly. I can't actually find our model online, but it's a Summer Infant one with a handheld monitor. We even pack it when traveling now. Worth it.

High Chair
You won't need this right away, of course. But when you do start using it, it will be a big part of everyday life. This is actually one I got wrong. I picked out this super fabulous-looking high chair that I thought would look nice in our dining area. Only it was a pain to put together, wasn't really all that comfortable or functional for the little guy, and when Conservative Hubby tried to adjust the seat he ended up breaking it. Oops.

So now we have a very basic, inexpensive high chair that took about two minutes to put together and will fold up should we need to take it with us somewhere. It's sturdy, has an easy-to-remove plastic tray and a high back, and is very easy to clean. Live and learn. 

The Little Things
I love the aden+anais swaddle wraps. They're big and easy to wrap around a little wiggler. Plus they work well for a light blanket, a burp cloth, or whatever you need them for. Our little man figured out how to bust out of them pretty early on, though, so then we switch to Summer Infant SwaddleMe for a while, which worked well until he developed super human strength and not even the tight velcro wrap stopped him.

 Get bibs. Lots of soft ones; not the ones with plastic backs.

Little burp cloths are worthless if you have a Spit Up King (or Queen). We have two packs of Koala Baby cotton flannel blankets that are our burp rags. Invaluable.

Buy extra crib sheets. You'll need them.

For diapers, we used Pampers Swaddlers at first, as that's what we used in the hospital and they seemed to do the trick. However, since for a number of reasons I decided not to do reusable diapers (another story for another day), I have since switched to the Seventh Generation diapers because they are more environmentally friendly. I love the dipes and the wipes, and if you sign up for Amazon Mom (do it!), they're actually not that much more than other diaper options.

Lots of babies sleep better early on with white noise. But you don't have to buy a special white noise machine or anything. I just put my little Tivoli radio in the nursery and downloaded a few white noise tracks to play on repeat on the iPod each night.

Once I went back to work, the Medela Pump In Style double pump was invaluable. And the little man has done well with the Dr. Brown's bottles (I tried a variety of kinds first, but Dr. Brown's won out). Buy the 8.5-ounce ones if you only want to buy a few. I bought the 4-ouncers, which were great for a while, but then I had to go buy a whole new batch once the little man started eating more than that.

I like Burt's baby care stuff. 

Since winter is right around the corner, I recommend the BundleMe car seat cover. Things like snow suits and coats are cute but a pain in the butt. This cover stays on the car seat all winter and keeps baby protected and warm.

I went for a plain, black, practical diaper bag so Conservative Hubby would carry it too. This Skip Hop one has been great.

Little man will not let his lovie out of sight. I'm not quite sure how he ended up loving his little giraffe so much, but it was a terrific shower gift. We now own three and I'm contemplating buying another because he sucks on them nonstop when he's teething, wants to carry one around while crawling, and will not sleep without one.

There are some things that were super handy even though we didn't use them as long as I expected. Early on, our wonderful baby swing kept little man calm and even helped him take brief naps when he wasn't sleeping much at all.

The Baby Bjorn and a beautiful sling I have were also handy, but saw limited use because wiggle worm does not like being contained. I regret not getting the sling sooner and getting little man used to being carried around in it, as I think it would've made the first few months much easier for both of us. The Baby Bjorn has been great for walks but hasn't gotten much use the last few months because it has been too hot.

I used a Boppy pillow for nursing early on, and it was incredibly helpful.

Finally, little man has this jumperoo, but doesn't use it a ton. I know other babies that play in theirs for hours, but he gets impatient being contained and just wants to crawl around, so now it's mostly gathering dust.

I'm not even going into toys or clothes here because that's a whole other ballgame. Although I will say little man has gotten a lot of use out of his activity gym.

Oh, and it's almost out of season now, but I highly recommend this swim diaper rather than doing disposables. We had zero pool incidents this year.

OK. You're probably sick of reading at this point. And I'm totally exhausted from writing this post. I'm sure I forgot a million things, but there you have the basics (and then some) that have helped us survive the last nine (nine!) months.


New Adventures

Once upon a time I graduated from Drake University and began working for a wonderful little publishing company in Des Moines. I worked there for a number of years. I learned all sorts of terrific things about being an editor and had the opportunity to work on some really stellar projects. I also did some freelance writing and editing on the side, just because I like being busy.

Then a certain Conservative Boy graduated law school and we took off for the wild world of L-Town, so he could become a small-town lawyer.

For a while, I kept working for that wonderful (no longer quite so little) publishing company. At the same time, I had the opportunity to teach a few first-year writing classes down the road at a small, private 2-year college here in L-Town. So I juggled the teaching and the editing and the freelancing.

And then I decided to pursue my master's degree (in environmental studies and journalism), so I started taking classes down the road about 45 minutes away at the University of Illinois campus in Springfield.

And then I was really busy.

Then I realized that the publishing company in Des Moines needed a managing editor who was actually in the office, and I needed to set out down a new path and try things out. So I became self-employed and worked as a freelance writer and editor, took a graduate assistantship at UIS, and worked on finishing my master's degree.

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all that Conservative Boy and I got hitched.

Then, when all I had left to do was my thesis, I started job hunting. I applied for a full-time teaching position at a fabulous private university down the road a different direction, in Decatur. I was one of two finalists for the position and, I thought, nailed my teaching and research demonstrations. However, I had a big strike against me: I didn't even officially have my master's degree yet. And the other candidate already had a PhD. Bet you'll never guess who got the job.

But that's OK, because shortly thereafter I landed a swell position, overseeing campus and community sustainability initiatives and education at a community college back down the road in Springfield.

It was a terrific position in which I got to do a crazy variety of sustainbility-related work: working to increase environmental awareness on campus and in the community through special events, workshops, speaking engagements, etc.; helping college operations become more sustainable; developing renewable energy and green construction certificate programs; running all sorts of grant-funded projects related to raising awareness of local food, training people to grow local food, starting school gardens at local elementary schools, and more; collaborating with other sustainability professionals across the state. I probably forgot at least 30 other things I had the pleasure of doing in that position but, alas, you get the idea.

And then I got pregnant.

And then a certain little fellow you may have heard of once or twice came along.

After my maternity leave, I went back to work full time. But after a few months, I realized things had changed. Not only were my job duties shifting as a result of changes in grant funding and priorities at the college, but I also was starting to wonder what it really was I wanted to do. I loved much of my work in sustainability, but I was also missing the freedom and creativity of the freelance life and the opportunity to teach and closely interact with students on a regular basis. (Surprisingly, considering I was working at a college, my interaction with students was incredibly limited.) Plus, my personal priorities were shifting.

I struggled with being gone for long hours all day, driving 40 to 45 minutes each way, and hardly seeing the little guy. (Look at this face. Can you blame me?)

After he'd go to bed at night, I'd be crazed trying to keep up with things around the house. There was absolutely no balance in my life, and it started to stress me out.

It was time, once again, for a change.

Fortuitously, this realization struck me right about the time a couple of local colleges and universities were looking for English instructors. So I applied for a few positions, just to see what would happen, and ended up getting asked to teach a few classes here and there. So after a lot of thinking and figuring, we decided I'd leave my sustainability position to jump back into freelancing and teaching as of Aug. 2.

It has been a whirlwind of a month planning for four different classes (writing fundamentals; critical writing, reading, and research; web publishing; and an environmental service-learning class) at three different campuses, ramping up freelance writing and editing again, and figuring out a new schedule.
But so far I am loving every minute of it. Three work days a week, I immerse myself in teaching and planning and freelancing. Two work days a week, I'm home full-time with the little man. We have lots of time to play and read books and explore and cuddle (not that he really sits still for cuddling, but I keep trying). And when he naps, I have time to get work done on those days, too.

(Oh, and lest you think I have abandoned my interests in sustainability, never fear. Obviously we focus on the environment in my service-learning class; but it's also the focus of my critical writing, reading, and research class. Fun.)

Sure, things will get incredibly hectic at some points, when freelance projects come in at the same time that I'm trying to grade multiple classes' worth of papers. But that's OK. I don't mind. It's a new adventure, one that's allowing me to get back to some of my passions and spend more time with my family.

Plus, you know I thrive on being busy anyway.