Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First Days. Bittersweet.

As promised sappy post.

Today was the first day of school for my girls.  First and third grades.  Kind of a big deal.

I find the first day of school each year to be very bittersweet.  Sweet because I am filled with mama pride as they walk into the big world of school.  Happy, smiles, maybe a few hidden nerves and ready to take it on.  Bitter because it means the end of our lazy summer days together.  It's like working really hard at a job and suddenly getting a demotion and someone else gets your job for hours each day.  Kinda unfair.  Don't get me wrong...I could never do what teachers do for my children...they just get them for so many hours.  This year I decided I must be getting better at this because there were no tears on my part as I walked home.  Simply a quiet, sad and a little empty feeling as I took that walk.  Walking into the empty house didn't help.  No background noise of little girls trying to decide what to play for the day.  No doors slamming and running feet as they go from room to room.  Silence.  Except for the ever faithful Sadi greeting me and being extra attentive as she must have sensed my somber mood.  I distracted myself with cleaning.  The last few weeks I've neglected housework in favor of the business of summertime playing.  Three hours later my house was freakin' spotless.  The quietness remained.  For some reason even the noise of Top Chef reruns couldn't drown out the lack of kids giggles.  Matt came home and took me out to lunch.  A nice treat we did occasionally last year...middle of the day date with no need to plan a babysitter.  It was fantastic but there are still two hours until I get to pick up my girls and welcome the noise of hearing about their days.  

It will get easier as we find our new routine.  It's always the beginning that is the roughest.  It can't help but be that way...all summer long we were together every day except for the few hours I work.  It's hard for me to know they are going about their days with other people and doing their own thing.  Please don't get me wrong...I know this is the way it's supposed to go.  Slowly, day by day, we learn to let them go.  Independence growing each year and finally they are young women out in the whole wide world doing their thang.  These are my dreams for them.  The process of it, however, is a bit rough.  I suppose that is why it is a gradual thing.  Today I will pick them up and they will be full of stories about their days...wanting to fill me in on everything.  Each year this may change as the people they want to tell everything to will be friends.  Lives will get busier, things change...little birds test their wings more and more and then fly away.  Our job is to love them up, teach them and help them during this process.  First days are a hard part of this process for me.  

School brings on new worries for me as well.  In the safety of summer months there are no pressures.  Life is simple.  There is no who to sit with at lunch, which friends didn't want to play at recess, no stress of school work, no who is doing what.  It's more like which park should we picnic at and should we invite cousins to join us.  As a parent I worry so much about the girls happiness.  How are they feeling at school?  Are they feeling involved or excluded?  Are kids being nice to them?  Are they being nice to other kids?  How will these days shape the women they grow up to be?  My girls are quite different when at school.  Layla- the social butterfly was dressed, hair done, teeth brushed and ready to go by 7 am this morning.  Ava dragged...reluctant to give up her summer.  She hung back and voiced her nervousness about starting a new school year.  Where Layla has a tight group of little girls she plays with, Ava hasn't found that.  A friend to all, but no one in particular she couldn't wait to see.  Preferring at the end of the school year last year to read rather than play during recess.  My sweet, quiet girl who doesn't seem bothered by this in the least.  I think it is I that worries about her and that she is missing out by not running around with friends.  When I stop myself from these thoughts I realize she is happy just being herself and I remind myself to embrace her for who she is.  To do this with both girls.  Layla in her fiery, outgoing spirit that at times can make me crazy also makes her amazing.  And, Ava...happy with just doing her thing and not needing a bunch of friends to justify it.  My hope for this school year is to remember this.  To let my girls truly be who they are.  Not to influence them so their own personalities can shine through.  They both have so much to offer in their individual way.  My goal is to nurture it and not get caught up in any school or social nonsense that can be hard to avoid during the chaos of the year.  By doing this we can keep the summer spirit we crafted so well long into the winter months.  

To conclude the sappiness that this has been, I will end with a trip down "first days" memory lane. Why not, right?

Little miss Layla...pre-school...are you kidding me with this sweet face???

Second year of pre-school...still baby faced.

Kinder.  Turning into a big kid.  

And Ava Grace...pre-school.

Such a happy go lucky girl...first day of kinder.

First Grade.  

Totally forgot to pull her second grade photo, but you get the idea.  They grow ridiculously fast.  This is good and bad.  Bitter and sweet.  Bittersweet.  Yep, that describes my feelings quite well.


Monday, August 26, 2013

13 Years and the End of Summer Vaca.

Thirteen.  A number I occasionally consider bad luck.  I'm not an overly superstitious person, however I am always aware when it is a Friday the 13th.  This year marks our thirteenth year of marriage.  All I feel is luck and goodness about this.  Luck in that I was fortunate to marry my best friend all those years back.  Goodness in that we have our struggles and ups and downs like any relationship, but mainly there is goodness.  And a lot of love.  And laughter.  And hopes and dreams.  And companionship.  And so very many other things.  There was no bad luck around this thirteenth year celebration.  Except maybe the hail storm we encountered while camping.  In a tent.  
We decided to stick around close to home for our anniversary this year.  The girls spent the weekend with family and we went to camp one night and then a night on the town the next.  This embodies us well.  Part of the time, cooking over the fire, chilling and enjoying some nature, the other part dressed up and on the town.  I love it.  We tried a new place to camp this time and let me tell you, it was pretty awesome.  

Right on a secluded mountain lake.  We love camping and we love being on the water.  We usually do these things separately.  Here we found the combination of both.  This will be the first of many times we'll go to this little slice of heaven.  I mean, come on...

The reflections on the lake were ridiculous.  Clear, glass-like water that you could see to the bottom of.  I paddled to the middle, laid down on the board and took a nap.  So peaceful.  And beautiful...

A little hazy from all the forest fires, but still beautiful nonetheless.  

Camping with our girls is amazing.  They explore, we laugh and fun is had by all.  Camping with just Matt is equally as amazing.  We take strolls on the board and simply relax.  My idea of relaxation?  The 700-page fall issue of my fashion magazine and a cocktail on a lake...

We also eat well when it's just the two of us.  No hot dogs over the fire.  It was quite a spread...

The next afternoon we packed up to head to the second half of our anniversary celebration.  Before getting home and cleaning up we decided to slum it a little longer with lunch at a small town, roadside bar.  

The beer was cold, food was good and service slightly skeptical of us as many in Montana small towns can be during tourist season.  Feeling us out...seeing if we were worth bothering with. I think we won them over.  

The rest of the evening turned into quite a comical event.  Walking downtown so we didn't have to bother with a car for the evening and getting caught in a wicked rain storm, bar hopping, dinner, getting on the wrong bus home and ending up walking most of the way.  Acting like a young couple out on the town without any responsibility of children only to be reminded how old we are when the "kids" on the bus were heading downtown while we were heading home.  We laughed a lot.  It doesn't matter what we do or where we go...together we can get through anything and have a good time doing it.  And the best part is, he totally loves me for me.  So cool.  Take that unlucky 13.  

Of course by Sunday we were missing our girls.  Although we got a little piece of them with the sweetest notes they had hidden in our overnight bag.  Seriously, these girls are something else.

They may not have been with us but they were in our thoughts.  Especially because where we camped we discovered, no joke, thousands of baby frogs.  It actually looked like the ground was moving as they hopped around.  The edge of the water in this little bay was full tadpoles in various stages of the process.  It was the creepiest but still coolest thing.  

All those black spots are frogs.  Since the girls weren't with us we caught a couple and brought them home.  We could have brought hundreds, but settled for three.  After showing them to the girls and all the cousins we let them go in a nearby stream.  But, before we did the kids named them...Climber and Bimer.  Climber because he climbed the side of the dish and Bimer "cuz it rhymes".  The third we gave to the neighbor girl before or it could have been named Limer or Dimer.  Layla kinda wanted to keep one, but I didn't think it was a good idea.  Pretty sure I would kill a frog...I hardly remember to feed the fish most days.  So...farewell Climber and Bimer...

Changing subjects.  There is still a good month left of growing season here and our garden is exploding.  Add to that my sisters garden that is four times as big as ours is also exploding.  We have been eating good.  A couple of my favorite go to summer meals this time of year.

MT Garden Pizza-

Basically I make my usual crust and sauce and then add whatever veggies I have gotten from the garden that day.  For this particular one I put zucchini, baby tomatoes, banana peppers, chives, basil and one not-from-the-garden-thing, artichoke hearts.  One day we will live someplace we can grow artichokes but for now I have to settle for out of the jar.  Can't have it all.  This pizza was awesome.  

Another go-to summer dish I make is grilled potatoes and beets.  I am not a huge beet fan.  Ava and Matt are and I am a fan of cooking with any fresh ingredient.  I take potatoes, beets, onions and some fresh herbs.  All diced, thrown in tin foil, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.  Fold it up, put it on the grill...40 minutes later remove and enjoy.  Anything I can throw in tin foil and put on the grill is a winner to me.  Bonus?  No clean up.

After making this dozens of time these past few summers, I have to say the beets are growing on me.  And, they are just so pretty.  

Tomorrow is the official last day of summer vacation.  And since we have to go to the school to drop off supplies and meet our teachers it isn't a true day of vacation so we considered today to be.  I didn't feel crazed to fit a bunch of things in, but did make a point to do a few of our favorite things.  We took an early morning hike.  Chatting up the  mountain about such things as what happened on the latest "Horseland" episode to why running down the hill feels like flying.  We came home and splashed in the pool in the backyard that is up for it's final days.  We finished painting our bench.  A project we began at the beginning of summer and have been working on throughout...a little here and there.  Today we completed the project-

And, I may or may not have gotten a bit over zealous and continued my painting onto other things.  

We baked.  One of my all time favorite things to do with my girls.  Apple strudel muffins.  Just because.  We ended the night with a bike ride.  A final night before bedtimes are enforced.  

There was also a little more fighting.  A little more whining.  All indications that it is in fact time for a change of routine.  As much as I wish summer could on and on, it has to come to an end.  We can tuck it into our happy memories file where it will be appreciated it.  If it continued on it may creep into the take-it-for-granted folder.  I will cherish the summer moments we have had.  The happy and the whiny.  You gotta embrace it all.  When camping I found this old tree stump with gnarled up roots spreading everywhere.  Some may think it an eye soar.  I found it the coolest thing.  It made me think of embracing everything...the beautiful and the weird.  I wish I could move it to my backyard.

Happy day to ya.  Next post promises to be super sappy as my babies will be back in school.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Happy Place.

Summer is coming to an abrupt end.  This does not please me in the least.  I am so not ready for school to begin.  I am not ready to trade our care-free days for schedules, lunches and homework.  I am not one of those moms who begins to count the days until school starts with eager anticipation to be rid of the kids all day.  I will miss them.  We have had such a lovely summer.  Even the days we were doing things at home or running errands, I have loved having my girls around.  It is such a bummer it has to come to an end.  But, alas it does.  I've been trying really hard to not be to bummed about it and instead soak up these last bits of what we have.  I would say we have done a pretty good job of it this past week.  Beginning with a mid-week trip to the river with my mom, sisters and the kiddos.  None of us were working, kids are not in school...why not go spend a random night at the river?  In fact, why have we not done this before??

Kids played hard, splashed in the water and enjoyed their last few days of no school worries.  My mom, sisters and I relaxed and laughed a lot.  That good, makes your stomach hurt laughter.  The kind that we always joke will age us because of the laugh lines, but are good for the soul.  It was really great.  There are often times I wish to live someplace else...someplace warmer, near the beach, someplace new.  But, then there are times I know I am right where I belong.  My girls being a part of their cousin and aunts lives.  Growing up together.  Family.  Memories.  These things tend to trump to other things.  

Things like searching for fish off the dock...

Gathered around the kitchen searching for scraps as dinner is being prepared...

Happy togetherness...

And, pregnant sista trying her hand at paddle boarding, much to our mothers dismay... 

Yes, it was a very nice couple days indeed.  Time with women and kids I love very much. The scenery didn't hurt either.  

After being back for a couple days, we packed the Subaru back up, this time with Matt and Sadi and headed to the mountains for what will probably be our final camping trip of the season.  Camping is one of my favorite activities for the pure simplicity of it.  There are no pressures when camping...nothing that you should be doing.  Everything we need for the weekend is packed in our little car.  There is nothing to do but enjoy the mountains around you, the sound of the stream and gettin caught up in the imagination of little girls free in their own little world.  

They explore the woods and the creek.  Digging a hole with the shovel makes for hours of entertainment.  Searching for berries and moss to add to the fairy houses they make for the "camping fairies".  Playing in the stream.  Making a dam...

And, I am thankful to say my husband refrained from his usual "take all the dam pictures you want" line.  

It really is glorious up there in the middle of nowhere.  Everything we eat is cooked on the fire.  We all sleep snuggled in the tent to stay warm.  Kids play, Matt naps, I read...everyone together, but happily doing their thing.  It was a good final camping trip.  
Ava stole my camera for a few shots...

Chocolate-less s'mores because I left it at home...

Card games and beers around the fire after little girls crashed out...

 Happy Campers indeed...

I really love this place.  It brings me a sense of calm.  I feel very present when I'm here.  

Today when we packed up and left I didn't feel sad about it being the last time we'd be there for awhile like I usually do.  I felt fortunate to have been able to be there.  I've gotten a lot better about that this summer.  Instead of thinking about something ending or not getting to enjoy it anymore, I've been trying to really soak it up while in the middle of the experience.  I have found by doing this when something comes to an end, such as summer, I feel content with how I spent my time.  Like I really lived it up and have no regrets.  The next step can have its turn.  It's about living life in the moment...not the before or after.  I like this.

Other bits of summer moments-

Bike rides.  The girls ask on almost a daily basis to go on one...

Ice cream at the Farmer's Market...

Cooking Love...

This was a garden veggie spiral.  I sliced potatoes, zucchini, beets and some other sort of summer squash we got.  (I call it spaceship squash because it looks like a UFO).  Then I sauteed onions and garlic in butter and oil for around 10 minutes.  I put that on the bottom of a round baking dish and then spiraled the veggies.  I drizzled it with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and thyme.  Cover with foil and bake at 350-degrees for around 30 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and bake for another 25 minutes.  I love vegetables so knew I'd like it, but you know it's good when Matt said numerous times during dinner "This is really good".  He said it in a surprised way, like he hadn't really expected to enjoy it that much.  Further proof of it's nephew stopped by later and we gave him the leftovers.  This kid is not the biggest veggie fan but also commented how good it was.  It goes to show you fresh veggies topped with Parmesan cheese is always good.  

A week and a half left until my babes begin school.  Enough time to squeeze a little more of summer out.  I know warm weather will continue for awhile still.  It's not like school begins and it's winter.  But, things will change.  Staying up late, leaving for weekends and picnics at the park will be replaced with schedules, homework and weekends at home because kids are wiped from the week.  This kinda sucks.  But, it is also okay.  We took full advantage of summer vacation.  This should hold us over for the school year.  

I end with a throwback photo.  It's from our camping spot where we were this past weekend.  Four summers ago...

Little Layla toddling along.  Where does the time go?
And now...
Ava, running ahead...exploring, full of questions and such a very big kid.  

I feel very content, lucky and happy this evening.

Happy week.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Memories. A Quick Weekend in Review.

I feel a bit like a rerun writing lately.  Our summer is getting repetitive with various types of playing in water, hiking, camping or our new family favorite of paddle boarding.

These are repetitive things I never get sick of, but may not be the most interesting topic for reading.  However, when I began this blog one part of it was as a memory keeper for my girls to read one day and be reminded of their childhood.  Our memories are a funny thing.  Details and moments get forgotten but something about them sticks with you and shapes you.  Earlier this summer I was sitting around a camp fire with my dad and we were reminiscing about camping trips from my own childhood.  He was asking about a particular incident that I had zero recollection of no matter how hard I racked my brain for a trace of the memory.  I made the comment of how parents do all these things with their kids in hopes of making wonderful childhood memories for them and yet so many get forgotten.  My wise old dad replied..."But, some form of the memory stays with you.  Those times instill something in you that you keep.  That is why now you take your own kids back to the same places of your childhood memories when you camp at our old spots."  This all made so much sense to me.  It doesn't matter that the Disney World trip from two years ago is a blurry memory to the girls or the hours and energy put into birthdays and holidays are captured in photos but may not be cemented in their minds.  All these pieces help create a happy childhood for them and some part of it will stick with them.  My hopes of documenting  moments are to stir these memories later on in life.  None of us will remember exactly what happened this past weekend.  The jokes we laughed at, the food we ate, even the place we were...these things will be lost.  But, by reading this later on maybe we can go back to it briefly.  Even if we don't remember the details, we will remember it was a good time.  

With all that being said.  A quick weekend in review.  One for the memory books.

Matt on the board, Ava in the water and Layla planning on digging a huge hole.  It didn't end up very big.  

The girls LOVING the mud hole they found.  They were a mess.  Their laughter made it matter not at all.  

Little sister becomes the taller sister...

We ended up at this little lake because my sister has gone their a couple times.  We liked it very much.  We settled on our area of the beach...chairs out, cooler full and we stayed there for the remainder of the beautiful, warm day.  Taking turns on the paddle board, jumping in the water to cool off.  Everyone relaxed and content doing not very much.  It is such simple enjoyment.  Sun + Water.  

Today we set out to have a copy of the previous day.  This time at a lake closer to home and with our dear friends.  We haven't seen them much this past month so a catch-up was long over due.  We settled chairs, beach buckets and towels...ready for a day in the sun...splashing, paddle boarding and hanging out.  Our lovely Montana weather had other ideas and cut our day short with a thunder storm.  We very optimistically tried waiting it out.  I was willing the dark clouds to go the other way and the blue skies to come back.  They didn't.  A giant lightning strike had us finally throw in the towel.  We gathered our things and sadly left.  The day was not a loss.  We managed to squeeze in some fun those first couple hours before the storm hit.

We will have a do-over with them.  

Another hit from the weekend was some homemade apple pie...

It seems so wrong to be baking a pie in August, but it tastes so right.  My parents apple tree was bursting with apples and we brought home more than our fair share.  Friday night was just cool enough to justify turning on the oven for baking.  It still seemed all pie goes hand in hand with leaves changing colors to me.  I decided the best way to push thoughts of fall from my head while doing this was to make homemade vanilla ice cream to top it off with.  Ice cream is very much summer so it balanced it all out...

And I will say tastes SO good.  When you have apples falling from the tree you have no choice but to make a pie.  No matter what season it is.

Speaking of the apple pie reminds me that there is still half of it left that I should go tend to.  

That's all I got.  Short, sweet, weekend in review...for memory making.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer Things.

At the beginning of this week I felt a panic rush over me like it always does the first week of August.  A panic of summer coming to an end.  Counting only three more weekends in my head before school begins and thinking...oh no...we need to go camping once more, and to the river, and swim and we didn't get to that park or do that hike and we only went to the splash park once and we only had ice cream three nights this week...and so on.  I start to wonder how we can possibly cram everything in the few short weeks left.  Maybe if we got up an hour early and tried to go to three parks a day we could squeeze in some more summer fun.  I'm only half kidding on this.  I allowed a few minutes of panic before I told myself to chill out.  I can be very bossy with myself and seeing how serious she seemed I decided to take a breath and actually chill out.  Instead of worrying about the last few weeks flying by, the reasonable part of myself decided to soak it up.  To remember the main reason I love summer is enjoying it with my babes so I got around to the business of doing just that.  I'm really glad the reasonable part of me won this argument.  Instead of panicking, we simply did summer things.  Things like...

Stop by a park just because it's on the way to store...

No grand plans...simply taking the opportunity to say "yes" when driving by a park and little voices from the back ask "can we play there?'  Bonus points for not once saying, "Okay, ten more minutes then back to errands."  Nope...I waited until Layla said "I'm hot, can we go now?"  And then...

Cooling off from said park trip with yogurt-

In a few weeks there will be no yogurt outings on a random Tuesday afternoon.  Gotta soak it up.  And who doesn't love a place where you get to swirl your own yogurt and put your own toppings on?  Not gonna lie...I have to back off because my days working at TCBY make me really want to show them the "right" way to swirl their yogurt.  I've got a lotta experience working those machines.  Made $4.05/hour doing that...oh yea.  

Hiking Adventures with Cousins-
My girls seem to enjoy hiking on there own, but you throw their cousins in the mix and it become a favorite hobby.  Suddenly they are all "adventurer's"...checking out bird nests, moss and bugs.  At the top of this particular trail there is a fort which became their own playhouse.  First they were bears in a cave, then foxes, then homeless people looking for a place to stay and finally cheetahs.  I sat on a rock looking at the view from the top and listening to their imaginations run wild.  Back towards the end we came back to the creek and littles begged to put their feet in to cool off.  Who was I to say no to anyone requesting to play in a mountain stream?  They are quite the gang these four...
This photo makes my heart feel very, very full.

A new found love of bike riding...
We have not been the best parents when it comes to the job of teaching your kids to ride a bike.  I remember trying with Ava during Kindergarten.  She didn't catch on right away. She got frustrated, I got frustrated.  I thought, who needs to ride a bike anyways and they got tucked back in the corner of the garage.  However, the old "Friends" episode where Phoebe doesn't know how to ride a bike as an adult creeps back into my head and so each summer I vow that this will be the summer they learn.  During my panic moment earlier this week I realized the bikes have not been out all summer so I was determined to let Layla give it a try.  Ava really didn't want to seeing as all her attempts have only been mildly successful.  I cheerfully said we would just give it a try and I am so proud to say these girls not only rocked it, but have begged to go on a bike ride every day since.  Even this one.  We can add a star to our parenting sticker chart.  
For Ava, it suddenly clicked and she was off.  Enjoying the freedom that comes with flying down the road on a bike, wind in your hair.  Layla, our spirited child, was so determined to figure it out.  She concentrated, tongue out, listened to everything Matt said and within ten minutes she had it.  Anytime she stumbled, she jumped back up and tried again.  Her determination and stubbornness is admirable and although it may frustrate me at times, this girl is gonna go far in life because of it.  I have been filled with parental pride with these accomplishments.  Although I can't take any credit other than being a good cheerleader...Matt is really the one who taught them...totally not my forte.  But, I can cheer them on.  Yes, yes I can do that very well.  (Insert spirit fingers and toe touch)

Summer's Bounty...
This is just what I came home with from my sisters garden.  Between her beautiful garden, Matt's here and our CSA I officially haven't bought a vegetable in a month.  I love it.  There is nothing like cooking with fresh ingredients.  Fresh like, I picked the zucchini from our garden five minutes before I chopped it and threw it on the grill.  Fresh like those potatoes up there turned into this for dinner...

And, I made my first attempt at canning...
I've thought about canning before.  Especially at the end of the season when we have more produce than I know what to do with.  I've researched it a bit and always decided it seemed like way to much work.  I go the lazy girls route by shredding and freezing zucchini.  Slow roasting and then freezing tomatoes.  Anything you can just throw in the freezer is my speed.  This week I got inspired by our vast amount of raspberries and by the oh-so-yummy homemade strawberry jam my sister gave us.  I thought...I can do that. After probably way too little research and some experimenting in the kitchen I got this...
They look good which is a start.  We'll see how they actually taste tomorrow.  And, I'm a little worried that maybe I should have researched a bit more after talking with my sister.  Now things like "bacteria" and "not sealing" properly are in my head.   I may stick to my freezing method.  Or, I'll actually have her teach me.  We both decided canning would be much better if we did it together.  Preferably on a cool day, not a hot summer day.  And without kiddos around.  And with a cocktail.  

Today the girls and I took a bike ride for a picnic by a stream.  It was simple and lovely.  We passed by their school and talk of school beginning came about.  I didn't panic over the end of summer coming, I simply soaked up the time I was having right there with my girls at that moment.  The panic may try to creep in but I make sure to keep it in check.  There are many, many more summer moments to be had.

Summer Lovin'