Thursday, October 29, 2015

The many faces of Ella James

This pregnancy is coming to a close and soon Ella will no longer be the only cute one running around here.  We're getting ready to make room for another sweet one, so our days have been a busy and sometimes long.  One afternoon this week, Ella and I were taking a rest together when she started running around and playing with toys like a baby does.  She was looking particularly cute, so I whipped out my camera and decided to capture some moments.  It wasn't extravagant, but it was just us, just me and my sweet first on one of the last days we'll have together in the world before our family goes from three to four.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I've Learned: Getting married and having kids young

When I was in my rebellious teen years, I had very strong opinions on getting married and having kids at a young age.  I didn't understand why anyone would "waste their 20s" and "settle so early" when clearly that's what our 30s were for.  Climbing the career ladder, working to build a well-rounded résumé with volunteer and activist work, casual dating, and nights out with friends seemed like a good recipe for my 20s.

As I went down my path and met the guy who'd become my husband and we had our daughter and are now gearing up for the arrival of our son, I've learned so many things that have proven my past opinions to be a little naive, and frankly, wrong.  Just two years into marriage here's what I've learned:

It's about the guy, not a relationship.  Floating around our society, there seems to be this I-don't-want-to-be-bogged-down-by-a-guy mindset.  Too much responsibility, too much work, too much of "I'm way too big a feminist", whatever it is, we think we're better off on our own (or without a marriage license).  We think we can accomplish more on our own when we're not "tied down".  If I've learned one thing it's, if we feel "tied down", then we're with the wrong guy.  Tim and I went into marriage on the same page.  We're a team and we operate as one.  We both get up in the middle of the night, we both do dishes, we both clean.  I'm supportive of his career, and Tim's been the first to encourage me to do what I love and reminds me if I want to go back to work, we can make it happen. When with the right teammate, we can grow and flourish and see potential in ourselves that we may have never seen, because we have our biggest fan next to us challenging us and cheering us on.  And that's pretty damn cool.  

Life doesn't end with kids.  When I was younger, I thought life ended with children, that the mom more often than not had to hang up her hat and stay home with the kids, mom jeans and all.  Sure, for those who purposely waited until their 30s or 40s to have kids, careers or passions or high heels might be traded in for baby music classes, sweats, and all things baby all the time.  Why?  Because they had "their time."  Since Tim and I started our family at a younger age, we have a very different mindset about having kids.  We didn't find it necessary to wait until we had the money to afford a playroom dedicated to all the latest kiddie gadgets and toys, (because kids ultimately don't need a million and three toys).  We're comfortable with Ella being babysat and going out.  We're open to the idea of daycare or a regular babysitter.  We both have dreams and passions and ambitions individually and as a couple that we'd like to pursue and achieve. There are places around the world we'd like to visit and things we'd like to experience.  Kids aren't holding us back, if anything, they're moving us forward.  We're more grounded, we have our priorities in order, our time is spent wisely, and we're always working towards the next goal we want to accomplish.

Our 20s are for figuring it out.  During our 20s is precisely the time when we should have our future at the forefront of our minds.  Our twenty-something years aren't as disposable as we think they are.  These years should be used to figure out what direction we want to take in life and then to start walking in that direction.  This doesn't mean marry the first guy you see so you can start popping out kids or to settle for a sub par job simply because it pays well.  It means setting goals, working towards the goals, and consistently reevaluating progress.  So maybe this means not wasting time on a relationship we know isn't going anywhere or actively looking for (and working toward) the job that will suit our passion, has a future, and will help fill that savings account (and pay off student loans).

Identity isn't lost when you become a parent.  I'm pretty passionate about this topic.  I believe every mom should have an identity separate from her kids.  It's healthy for the mom, it's healthy for her husband, and it's healthy for her children.  (A dad should as well; I happen to be writing from the at-home parent's perspective.)  Whether it's fitness or teaching a class or writing or photography or interior design or simple girl time with old friends, we moms need time for ourselves.  Just us.  We need to be able to walk away, reset, and come back to our responsibilities with a clearer head and refreshed mindset.

It's on us to keep growing as individuals.  I really have my husband to thank for this lesson.  When we were in college I'd often complain to him about the fact that the Journalism program I was there for wasn't as established as promised.  He, being in a similar situation himself, would often ask what I could do about it.  (We weren't exactly in the position to simply drop out, mind you.)  By his example of forming independent studies and going to conferences and meetups for people in his industry, I took my education into my own hands and ultimately landed an internship at an ABC affiliate.  I say this because as parents (just as students) we can get lost in the grind, what's in front of us, and lose sight of our big picture goals.  But it is on us to keep growing as individuals.  For example, a mom or dad taking time off from his/her career because it's the best decision financially for the family could be a great sacrifice.  The now-parent could have really loved the work, the routine, the intellectual stimulation.  Instead of totally losing themselves in diapers and toy maracas, they can take some time to write, read articles, stay up to date on the industry, meet up with friends in the industry, etc., etc., etc.  The possibilities are endless.  We may say we don't have enough time.  And sure, we may not have as much time as often as we'd like.  But if it's really that important to us, we'll make some time. And if that means getting up extra early before our kids to get a blog post in, then so be it.

Time moves faster than we think.  Time is no joke.  It's limited,  It's fast moving.  And it often escapes us.  If we don't take control of the years we have, they could slip by us without us noticing. We should value our time, respect it, and make the most out of what we've been given.

A little sacrifice ain't ever killed nobody.  When I was younger, the hardest thing to accept about the notion of getting married and having kids young was it wasn't just about me.  Without strings, I could do what I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted.  The reality?  That mindset doesn't yield good, kind, successful people, because it's never about "just us."  Any good commitment and relationship takes sacrifice.  It's a simple fact.  Is it always convenient or the most fun?  No.  But that's a good thing.  

I think back to when I was younger and have no choice but to laugh a little.  Is having a family a huge responsibility?  Yes.  Is parenting challenging?  To say the least.  All I know is what I used to think would slow me down and take life away is the very thing that has grounded me, made me a stronger and better person, and put me on a path that I love.   I've learned it's about balance, mindset, and choosing your partner wisely.  Yes, everyone has a different path, moving at different paces, for different reasons.  But we need to take the negative air out of thinking about marriage and family, because marriage and family sure isn't the end.  It's only the beginning.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Buying for the bump

When planning and preparing for having a baby, our thoughts immediately go to the cost of having the baby.  And we usually start budgeting and saving accordingly.  What we sometimes overlook is the cost of pregnancy - body pillows (if you're having back problems), better and more supportive shoes (if you're having foot problems), pre-natals, doctors visits, labs and ultrasounds, and the clothes. Maternity clothes are expensive.  And I'll be honest, often not too cute.  It seems as though if we don't want to completely sacrifice our style in exchange for maternity sweats, then we have to have a large disposable income that we're able to spend on clothes alone.

I'd like to think that one day I will be in a place where I'll be able to spend a little extra on maternity clothes.  But as a young couple just starting out, I've had to get creative in dressing my growing bump (and shape) over the 9 month pregnant period.  Here's what I've learned:

Invest upfront in one good bra.  There is nothing worse than an ill-fitting bra, am I right ladies? Depending on how you gain weight, this may not be an issue for you.  But for some ladies, those chests just expand and there's nothing we can do about it.  With my first pregnancy, I measured myself, went out on my own and tried on different styles, but ultimately left in tears every time.  I never found something that fit well and made me feel good, which set me up to feel sub par no matter what outfit I had on.  With this pregnancy, the very first thing I did was go to Victoria Secret, got measured, and asked about styles and fits.  I went home, found a promo code, and bought a good bra on sale for around $50.  Yes, it was a little pricey.  But it was the best decision I made, and I haven't regretted it for a second.  (If you're going to invest in a little nicer of a bra, be sure to take good care of it - seldom wash, use lingerie bags, wash on delicate, etc.)

Find the good sales and search for promo codes.  Old Navy's maternity selection is reasonably priced, so their sales tend to be good deals.  Google maternity clothing and look for sales.  Asos sometimes has great sales on maternity clothing.  PinkBlush Maternity has flash sales every so often. I've found to have better luck with Kohl's online than in-store.  Find a promo code and you're golden.

Buy the basics overtime.  Neutral colors, layering tanks and tees, dark wash jeans.  They are your friends. You're able to intermix your pieces making for many outfits from a limited selection.  Buy a couple basics as you grow so 1) you're not dropping a lot of money at once and 2) properly buying for each trimester.

Don't be afraid of consignment shops.  I found a local baby consignment shop that had a maternity section.  I found a high-end pair of flare jeans and a couple tops for 15 bucks.  Yes, please! Consignment shops are especially great for women who are working and finding themselves needing to buy a work wardrobe to accommodate their bump.

Forever21 is your friend.  Forever has Tees, and tanks, maxi dresses, and over-sized sweaters that are all decently priced.  I found a tee that would look good if I got a size or 2 bigger and bought a couple in black and grey for no more than 10 bucks (each).  They've lasted me well and I can wear them post-pregnancy.

Look into renting.  Did you you know you could rent higher end maternity clothes?  I sure didn't until I saw a spot on Good Morning America.  (Thanks, Ginger!)  This is a great option for women who are planning to work throughout the nine months and need to have a variety of pieces.  It's the perfect option for finding a dress for a holiday event or your baby shower.  Or you simply want to get a couple pieces that make you feel good without breaking the bank.

Get creative with your husband's wardrobe (Great for first months of pregnancy and postpartum months).  I took an old pair of my husband's jeans, cut off the bottoms, gave 'em a cuff, and claimed "boyfriend jeans."  I've also worn tees of his getting away with the over-sized look.  He's been generous and patient with me.

Towards the end, opt for accessories.  When you're nearing the end, there isn't much left to do.  Not only are you dealing with the weight gain and big bump, but you could be puffy or swollen only adding to the discomfort.  On top of that, you don't want to spend any more money on maternity clothes because you're "almost there."  This is also when the wardrobe can feel exhausted, so if you're feeling like you need to spruce it up, get a scarf or watch or bold necklace or even a lipstick.  You'll freshen up your look for a limited cost and you'll be able to use it after you have your little one.

I've dressed a bump as a full-time employee and as a stay-at-home mom.  It's without question easier to buy for and dress the growing shape while at home.  There are some days when I opt for the sweats with no regrets.  But it is possible to keep personal style and stay (relatively) comfortable without spending a great deal of money.  Planning, researching, and buying over time is the recipe for success.

Friday, October 23, 2015

From around the house

I feel my best when I feel good in my space -- when my home is clean, when pictures are on walls, when candles are nicely placed and lit, when my place is filled out with furniture and accent rugs.  But getting married just out of college, starting out from scratch and needing to be crafty with our budgeting and with having bigger priorities like saving for a baby or a move or paying down debt, we haven't always been able to afford the accent chair or floating shelves or coffee table that'd we'd like. No, in the grand scheme of life, these little things don't matter.  But they help to make a space feel complete, cozy, and homey which in turn makes me feel good.  Slowly, we're building our new space into the home we as a family feel comfy and content in.  It's a relief to finally be out of the perpetual apartment hunting mindset. During this process of getting settled, I've at times grown impatient, but I've also been reminded of what really makes a house a home.  So in a recent effort to take in this process with a little more gratitude, I went around our cozy, little space and captured a few of my favorite things.

Peaceful lighting shining bright.

A fall centerpiece that makes our home smell like the season.

New candles, a sweet housewarming present.

A random bookend we picked up at Homegoods next to a picture of a few of the ladies I miss most.

A stack of warm chocolate chip cookies piled high.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Scones

When you go to make scones, it's always a bit of a commitment.  But are they worth it!  I'm so happy I'm decided to "whip up" this batch after Sunday morning Mass.  I took an original recipe and made some modifications.  I turned the recipe gluten-free, added chocolate chips, and opted out of the pumpkin frosting.  The original can found here. Here's what I did:

What you'll need:

2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup packing light brown sugar
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp pumpkin puree, chilled
3 1/2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp half and half

For the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp half and half


For the scones:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a food processor pulse together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, brown sugar and granulated sugar until well blended (or whisk by hand).

I then poured the mixture into a bowl and added the diced butter a few pieces at a time and mixed the butter into the flour mixture by hand.  Make sure the butter is no longer visible and well mixed.

Create well in the center of the bowl.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together chilled pumpkin puree, buttermilk, egg, vanilla extract, and honey. Pour mixture into well in flour/butter mixture.  Stir mixture with a wooden spoon to incorporate, then knead in bowl by hand several times to bring mixture together.  Dust a work surface with flour then invert dough onto surface.  Pat and shake dough into an even 8-inch round.  Using a large knife, slice into 8 equal wedges.  (You'll need to dust the knife with flour many times as the dough will be very sticky.)

Transfer scones to greased baking sheet.  Brush tops with 1 Tbsp half and half then bake in preheated oven for 13 minutes until tops are golden brown and toothpick comes out clear.  Transfer to wire rack and let cool.

For the glaze:

In a mixing bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and half and half.  It should be fairly thick.  Spoon and spread mixture on to the tops.  Let sit.

Enjoy!  We sure did.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pregnancy style

I'm currently working on a "buying for the bump" post, so I thought I'd take a look back over the past 9 months and share a few of my pregnancy looks.  Styling is a passion of mine and I find a bit of joy in the sometimes challenging process of finding good, flattering pieces for my growing bump and shape.  My tips on buying for the bump will be up next week!

Many of the pieces featured below are older and non-maternity, but if you're interested in a particular piece, leave a comment and I'll give you more info.

Monday, October 19, 2015

From the weekend

The Polish heritage will never be forgotten.  Love me some good Polish cookin'!  (Clearly, Ella does, too.)

A few picture-perfect Fall snaps from a little town called Camas. 

Sunday pumpkin scones.  Recipe coming soon!

I mean....

Pulled BBQ for Sunday dinner.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Milestones and good friends

This week was full of pregnancy cravings, reaching milestones, and visiting with good friends.  I'll let the pictures do the talking.

It's time for November 20th to arrive.  Though it's only 5 weeks away, I'm pretty confident I could eat my weight in ice cream.  No regrets on this purchase though, it hit the spot!

And then there was this moment.  Just the two of us going out.  That was a milestone.

Cute new kicks for my cute girl.

An evening spent with friends!  There's something about being reunited with good friends that rejuvenates the soul.  These two newlyweds' honeymoon happened to take them through Portland, so we were able to get dinner, catch up, and get some good dessert. 

Reached 35 weeks!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Parenting and bad habits

Our little helper.
Ella has been growing like crazy lately.  And recently, she's adopted this expressive "ugh" when she's frustrated.  At first, it was pretty funny.  But after a week or two, I started to question where she got it from.  After all, neither Tim or I let out some over-dramatic "UGH" every time we can't get a bottle open, so I was left wondering.

Then, I realized.  Oh hey, I'm pregnant.  And when I'm pregnant, I'm vocal.  And I'm usually oblivious to the occasional "ugh" when trying to bend over and pick up a dropped pen.  I'm so totally oblivious to it, that Tim has asked me if I'm okay when I'm just getting up from the couch.  What can I say?  Maybe some handle it much better than I, but when you've got extra weight on your bladder, lungs, and ribs sometimes letting out a sigh when trying to get up off the floor, to me, is simply inevitable.  

When I realized this,  I turned to Tim in the car and said, "Oh my God.  She got it from me!"  And that's when I started thinking about how parenting is truly no joke.  It's serious business.  Sure, I knew this already.  I'm well aware of the whole kids-pick-up-on-our-habits thing and if I'm sitting and grazing on sweets that my kid will ultimately have an uncontrollable sweet tooth.  I've made a conscious effort to be aware of my own habits and behavior around my daughter down to how I react when someone cuts me off on the road or opting for an apple instead of a cookie.  But none us are immune to the human thing. We all have quirks, habits we need to kick, and say things we immediately regret saying once they've left our mouths.  Our little ones pick up on those things.  And that's a little scary - to realize that our little bad habits and quirks can be so ingrained in us that we often don't even realize the potential effect our behavior is doing to someone else.  

Needless to say, this has taught me a few things:

Communication will eventually and ultimately be key.  I get that I'm not going to be the perfect parent.  It won't be due to a lack of trying, but let's all acknowledge now that the perfect parent doesn't exist and we'll be better off.  This is where communicating comes in.  As she gets older, I'll be able to break down a situation for her.  So if I'm having a day and a guy decides to cut me off on the road and I lose it, I'll have the opportunity to cool off, apologize, and explain to her how I should have reacted.

I'm a little less quick to judge.  When I was pregnant with Ella, Tim and I were out shopping picking up a few things in preparation for her arrival.  I was at Target in the infant clothing section which is super close to the toddler clothing.  A girl was perusing a rack of clothing with her dad when she dropped a piece of clothing a let out a bold "f***."  I was horrified.  Nothing is more jolting than that word coming from what couldn't have been a girl older than 7.  Of course the dad was quick to reprimand her, but I remember thinking almost immediately, she heard it from somewhere and it was probably home.  I don't say that word, I used to all the time and thought I was super cool.  Call me old mom now, but I think it immediately makes a person less attractive when it comes out of their mouth.  I do, however, let out the occasional cuss word when frustrated, and when Ella expressed one of her "ughs", I was immediately brought back to the baby clothing section in Target.  Sure, the Dad could have a complete foul mouth or she could have been in the car when he was a little too frustrated on the road -- something we're all guilty of.

We need to be constantly bettering ourselves.  There's no magic show or book or school we can give to our kids and expect them to turn into little kind, well-rounded souls.  It starts with us and that means work on our part not only to insure we're providing our kids with quality entertainment and an environment, but also to be regularly looking inward at ourselves and improving what we as individuals need to work on.

There's a good side to this.  Just as our kiddos pick up on our reaction to stubbing our toe, they also pick up on our good habits.  When we sit down to eat, we sit down as a family and say grace.  Now when we sit down with our food, Ella is usually the first to fold her hands and wait for prayers to start.  She puts her bowl in the sink when she's finished.  She puts her toys away before she takes new ones out.  She helps unload the dishwasher.  If we forget to close a drawer all the way, she'll go behind us and shut it.

Parenting is hard work not because we're pulled and strained and tested on a daily basis, but because we have to be simultaneously challenging ourselves to be who we want our kids to be while we're teaching them.  And that's no easy task...especially when we're being pulled and strained and tested. Let me take a step back in saying parenting is a gift and a joy I've been blessed to encounter.  The last thing I want is to make this post sound like parenting is the biggest drag known to man.  What I do want to pose is we have to speak 10 times louder with our actions than with any word that exits our mouth.  And we all should be a little more empathetic and patient with parents.  It's takes constant, undying effort every day to wake up and choose to be a good example.

Monday, October 12, 2015

From the weekend

This felt like the weekend that kept on giving.  Between the rain, driving, doing some projects around the house, a family trip to a pumpkin patch and my husband's 26th birthday, this weekend was wonderfully busy.

Let's talk driving.  I've driven once by myself in the past year.  In a turn of events, I learned that I did not need to take all the testing again after all (long story).  So I renewed and promptly put myself in the mindset of "I'm going to do this."  I drove to Target, of course.  I nearly wept at the amount of freedom I felt.  The weight that's been on my shoulders for nearly a year and a half lifted a little and there's simply no feeling like that.

Sunday?  A family outing to the pumpkin patch and my husband's birthday!  We headed out to Lakeview Farms in the morning ready to pick the best pumpkins.  We got there, road a boat, road a train, picked a couple pumpkins, and watched Ella experience haystacks and fog and all things October.  It was wonderful.  So wonderful that we came home and napped for the rest of the day until it was time for Mass.  After a dinner outing, we came home and indulged in my husband's birthday dessert of choice - homemade apple crisps.

We have some (wonderfully) busy days ahead.  We're still in project mode around here - moving things around, redecorating, figuring out how to best organize our little guy's things.  We're expecting a visit from our close friends, (a of couple of newlyweds!) which we're so excited about.  And another doctor appointment is on the itinerary (almost there!  Kinda).

Rain, rain, rain.

Goal achieved.  #fightanxiety

Movie night!  Finally saw Selma.

Rainy day bump style.

Oregon fog.

Let the festivities begin!


Yeah...I never turn down some homey caramel corn.

Washington the beautiful.