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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hello Baby

Hello Baby.  I am your Momma.  Your Daddy and I affectionately refer to you as "Jenerik."  We have called all of our babies by this name during your growth in my womb.  It started with Walker because that year, it was very popular for parents to combine their names to create a name for their baby.  So we combined our names and this is what we came up with.

People constantly want to know if you are a boy or a girl - and they usually ask me, "Do you know what you are having?"  and I tell them, "A baby."

 I feel like I've been neglecting you the last 18 1/2 weeks, but I talk to you and about you every day.

I explain to your big brother, Walker, that despite the fact that he says he will "bust you in the face" if you are a girl, he will love you and find you adorable.  If, however, you are a girl, I will be sure to provide you with the appropriate head gear for your first month home.  I'm pretty sure he won't bust you in the face, but I can't be certain.  This boy is in the big K now and his loyalties are a changin'.  We find it ironic that he says he doesn't want a sister because all of his short life, his friends have ALL been girls.  Even now, when we ask him who he plays with at school, he says, "Lindsey and Lauren."  Twin girls!

I tell your Daddy how happy I am that we decided to add to our family and that yes, things are going to change, but they will be a good change and we will adapt to a family of six quickly.  Sure, we may need to invest in a bus to get places requiring any luggage, but we're Schwalm's and your dad will use his McGyver like skills to rig up whatever we need.  I tell friends and strangers that pregnancy is treating me well (except for the constant swelling of my nasal passages) and that no, I don't feel sick, haven't had any morning sickness, and other than my pants getting tighter and tighter, everything is great.  Some people respond happily to that information, others look a little disgusted.  Either way, it is the truth and I'm proud of it.  Daddy says I was built to be barefoot and pregnant.  I tell him he's lucky we don't live in a different time period or you probably wouldn't be our LAST baby - we'd just be getting started.  

The next 22 weeks are going to be long - but the reward is going to be worth the wait.

The first three sure were - and I know you'll be no different!

Can't wait to meet you!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Great Debate

There comes a day in every mother and daughter's relationship when they must have a discussion. It is a matter of infinite importance and its aftereffects can be monumental. It is of great risk, but also great reward if it is done correctly.

That issue? Hair.

Maggie's hair has grown quite long and we are approaching a crossroads. It is still in that state where when it is cared for and groomed, it looks beautiful. She has the hair I long for - straight, thick, and takes curl.  Even when it hasn't been washed in a few days (or a week) it is healthy, shiny, and pretty - you can just brush it and it looks beautiful.   I refer to it as Breck hair.  However, it is starting to require more and more care. Gone are the days of once a day brushings and let it go. If I don't brush it as soon as she wakes up and put it in some sort of style, pig tails, pony tail, etc., it gets wild and unruly and ugly.  We have to use leave in conditioner or a spray detangler to get a comb through it after it's washed, and let's not get into the rats nests we deal with in the morning.  Needless to say,  I now understand why women in pioneer times wore their hair in braids to bed and wore a bedcap.

But, I am able to do so much with it in its current state.  I can curl it, put it in cute long pony tails, French braids and decorate it with all kinds of bows and barrettes. It's to the point now, where I think if I let it grow a few more inches, what we cut off could qualify to be sent to Locks of Love, a charity that collects hair to make wigs for children undergoing medical treatments that cause them to lose their hair.  But, it would take another six months at least to grow it to the ten inch length that is required.  Shorter hair is accepted, but it is not as desirable as the 10" lengths.

When Maggie was just two, I took the bull by the horns and cut off all of the wispy baby hair she had straggling down her back leaving a cute little bob. It fell just to the bottom of her ears and was adorable. I was looking back at those pictures today and debating about what to do.

Here's her hair the summer after I cut it, over a year and a half ago.  The front is a little messy, but the back - oh, the back.  How cute is that little flip?

And as it grew out just a bit in the Fall and last winter, I had was still able to put it in pig tails and hair bows.
I was always able to pull her hair to the side and put a little bow in it.

I love this photo - she reminds me of the character Darby, on the Playhouse Disney show, My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

But then, I guess length of hair has nothing to do with how cute it looks.

In my defense, I do believe this was taken AFTER a nap.

Last February, my niece, Taylor, got this adorable wedge bob.  It is super cute, and Maggie has said since then she wanted to get her hair cut like that.  I'm not sure if I want to go for the wedge for Maggie.

Hair now:



Potential hair if we do a bob:

The great debate remains.  What to do?

I'd love to hear from you.

Seriously . . .  tell me what to do.  I can't make the decision myself.  This is one area where I am indecisive.  I can't help it.  I have horrible pictures to prove what the wrong haircut can do.  Thankfully, they are at my moms house and I cannot post them here.  What a relief.  But trust me  they are horrendous.  Let's just say the "pixie" cut was not an attractive look for a chubby, early developing girl.  No matter how much pink you wear, you know people are wondering if you are a boy.

See why I am so conflicted about what to do?

Help me.  Please!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Birthday To My One and Only

Today is my better half's birthday. I won't divulge his age, even though he's not embarrassed by it. I'll just say that he is two years older than me.Erik and I had a whirlwind romance. We met the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2000, were "pre-engaged" by Valentines day of 2001, officially engaged by June of 2001 and our wedding was December 29, 2001.
Let me say that in general I do not believe in nor am I a fan of pre-engagement. I think it is silly. Why would you promise to get engaged to someone - just get engaged. So, in my mind, we were engaged by Valentine's day. That Valentine's Day we didn't do anything special. Erik was doing snow removal way back then and was usually up early in the morning, helped deliver food at his brother's restaurant and very tired by the end of the day. I worked full time, so I wasn't available during the day to do anything so he had just come to my townhouse that night and we cooked and hung out.
At some point in the night, Erik brought out a ring he had purchased in Israel. It was a silver ring and in Hebrew, the ring was engraved with a verse from the Bible, "I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine" - Song of Solomon 6:3. He told me that he purchased the ring with the intention of giving it to the girl he intended to marry someday. Sweet, right? Ten months later we were married. It feels like it's been a whirlwind eight years too. Happy Birthday, Honey. Hope all your dreams come true!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Years resolutions

I'm not really very good at keeping New Years resolutions.  I like to pretend that I am by setting goals and devising a plan, but usually something happens along the way and I either don't start working towards the goal at all or I start working towards it and I don't finish the project.

It is a cold, frigid, blustery, single digit day here in Western PA so I decided to work on one of my goals for the New Year.  My first goal for 2010 is to cook a meal every single night.  During the month of December, Erik and I get very lax about eating out.  With shopping, preparation for our open house, Christmas Eve, and traveling to my hometown, preparing meals falls to the wayside.  The kids live on PB&J, mac n cheese, spaghetti and ravioli.  Erik and I eat whatever is left over in the fridge.  In fact, we are still eating some left overs from our parties and gatherings.

We've all gotten tired of eating this way, so it is time to get on a real meal plan.

My mother in law got me a beautiful cast iron enameled dutch oven, so I broke it out today to make chili.  After getting all the ingredients into the dutch oven, I sat down to devise a meal plan for the coming weeks.  My goal was to plan meals up to Valentine's day.  I don't really plan breakfast or lunch because those things are relatively easy to throw together.  My kids usually eat oatmeal, cereal, eggs, pancakes, etc. Breakfast is ALWAYS the easiest meal at our house.  Lunch is sometimes trickier with juggling Walker's appetite and his Kindergarten schedule.  Walker is (and has always been) a late sleeper and he doesn't really like to eat breakfast right away.  The other two are early risers and wake me up each morning by saying, "Morning, Momma.  I'm hungry."  Overall, lunch is easy compared to supper.

Over the last few days, I have been collecting meal ideas on a note pad.  (This photo was taken after I had already started crossing off my list).

Basically I did this by first writing down all of the main courses I could think of.  Then, I asked Erik and the children to fill in with their opinion on their favorite meals to eat.  From that list, I then filled in my weekly meal planner (a small note pad that I found at Michael's last summer, but previously I just used one of the many free calendars we get in the New Year).

After I got the main courses in, I go back and fill in my side dishes.  I am not very creative about side dishes.  I'm basically a two  item kind of chef.  You have the main dish, usually a meat, pasta or fish, and then a side, which is usually just a vegetable.  I'm not creative that way and I don't really like to experiment with side dishes.  I am a "Plain Jane" in terms of food.  I don't like to take away from the true flavor of the food I am serving.  I'm not really much of a casserole person either - I like things plain.  I'm sure to some people this seems boring, but it makes meal time a lot easier.  Erik jokes about the fact that pretty much the only seasoning I use is garlic salt.  I have recently managed to expand my seasoning use, but I like to keep it simple.

The one thing I had to plan for specifically is that getting vegetables into my children has become a challenge.  Walker actually does very well with plain veggies on his plate, but the younger two often refuse to eat them.  A year ago, I really got into a philosophy of cooking loosely called "deceptively delicious."

Jessica Seinfeld, wife of the famous comedian, Jerry, wrote a cookbook of that title offering recipes in which she added 1/4 -1/2 cup of pureed vegetables or fruit to a recipe to enhance the nutrient content. In the book she also discusses whole foods, fresh produce, etc.  It is a nice little cook book.  My only complaint is that it doesn't really break down what produce works best for items not discussed in the cook book.  For example, besides the recipes in her book, what other foods can you hide beets in easily?  She lists all the fruits and vegetables she regularly purees and adds to her recipes, but I would have liked it if she also listed what foods the flavor profile works with.  I guess it is pretty easy to figure out on your own, but I like to have someone else test it before I go for it.   My only other complaint is that she has several recipes for "kid" foods as main dishes for the family meal - dishes like chicken nuggets - things I don't really see as acceptable for our family meal time.  I feel it is important to expose our children to "adult" meals and once our children started eating solids, they ate whatever we were eating.  I am not a short order chef and I do not make two entrees at each meal.  What I cook is what is available.  If you choose not to eat it, that's fine, but if you get hungry later, fruit is pretty much your only option.

So, what does my meal plan look like?

January 3-9:
3 -  Chili loaded w/ black beans, kidney beans and veggies.
4 - Alice Springs Chicken (I found the recipe for this meal online because this is one of Erik's favorite meals at The Outback Steakhouse and the 4th is his birthday) with Caesar Salad (Erik's favorite) and mixed
5 - Chicken Salads - Tuesdays are easy nights!  Erik and I usually eat alone because we have Youth Group this night and the children eat at my in-laws house.  This is when we get to eat stuff the kids normally don't eat.  If I was making a salad for a different night, I usually just keep some chicken set aside for the little two.
6 - BBQ Pulled Pork.  We'll either eat this on whole wheat buns or just by itself with green beans and a salad.
7- Slow cooked roast beef with potatoes and carrots (a lot of people call it pot roast).
8 -  Beef and Chicken Fajitas with corn and Spanish rice.  I'll use left over chicken and roast beef from the previous meals to make this.
9 -  Beef Vegetable soup.  I have a batch of this frozen in the freezer from earlier this fall.  I'll serve it with some crusty bread - yum-O!

10 - Ribs.  We got kind of tired of ribs after our cook off this summer, but it's time to start practicing again!  I'll probably serve Baked Beans and Coleslaw with this.
11 - Spaghetti with meat sauce and veggies
12 - We'll be eating whatever is left over from the previous week.  We're leaving the 13th for Harrisburg and the PA State Farm Show, so the next 5 days we'll be combining eating out with my plan for saving money by bringing food to make lunch and avoid the food court temptation at the Farm Show.  Trust me, we'd love to eat all of our meals at the concessions - the various food councils - beef, pork, poultry, etc., all have exceptional food booths providing delicious meals, but, like all concessions, they are a bit on the pricey side, so I try to bring sandwiches for our main lunch then allow for a concession treat.  One of our favorite is the fried mozzarella cubes - I look forward to those every year!  Another way to save money is that we get our hotel online through and choose a hotel that provides breakfast.  We're able to eat a great breakfast and usually I can take some yogurt and fruit from the breakfast buffet for snacking at the farm show.  Another great trick is to take some plastic spoons and those little single servings of peanut butter that they provide at the breakfast buffet.  My kids love to just eat peanut butter on a spoon - this way takes a little longer because they have to dig the peanut butter out of those little cups.

Anyway, this meal plan goes on and on - I was actually even able to plan through February 27th!

A couple other tips that I'll share that have helped me with meal planning:

1) if you have a lot of cookbooks, go through the cook books searching for recipes your family would enjoy.  In a journal or notebook, divide the book into sections - appetizers, soups and salads, main entrees, side dishes, desserts.  As you find a recipe your family would enjoy, instead of recopying the recipe onto a card, in the notebook under the appropriate section, record the title of the recipe, the name of the recipe and the page number the recipe is on.  You only have to go through a cook book once to see if there are any good recipes.  I've done this for myself in a small journal:

2) If I have a great recipe I found from the internet or have gotten from someone else, I put the recipe card into photo albums.  It makes it easy to find and you can leave the card in the plastic cover so you don't spill on it!  I have one large album I use for recipes I make a lot/recipes I know are tried and true family favorites.  I also have several small photo albums that I use.  Each one is labeled for different purposes. One book  is for cookies and desserts, one for recipes I've been given that I'm meaning to try.  I also have books specific to birthday parties or holidays.  Those are filled with both recipes and craft and game ideas.

Whenever possible, I try to buy and serve whole foods.  We do still enjoy our processed foods too - blue box macaroni and cheese and the like, but while I'm not perfect at it, compared to a lot of America, I'm cooking healthier than most.  Additionally, we have the advantage and privilege to have two freezers full of home grown or locally grown beef, poultry and pork.  I'm not even going to go into it in this post, but if you want to improve your health, your community and the world, start investigating local farms and purchasing "freezer meats."  There are several farmers I know of just in the South Butler area that offer beef for sale.  My brother in law raises and sells pork this way as well.  We have been raising our own poultry for three years now.  Yes, purchasing meat this way can be more expensive, but the health benefits are more than worth it.  There is a lot of controversy whether you should be buying organic or not, but for now, I think it is more important to buy locally.  Small local farmers do not have the need for antibiotics, growth hormones, etc., that mega farm feed lots do.  The cows are born in healthier environments, raised in healthier environments and are treated better.  Same goes with chickens, turkeys and hogs. I do not have a garden and I do not "put up" my own vegetables.  I am not a dedicated gardener and year after year my vegetable garden falls to the weeds.  However, I have discovered that during peak seasons, my favorite local produce market, Ambrose's, has a wide variety of produce available for purchase in bulk and the prices are so reasonable it makes it silly to have a garden of my own.  I just buy, blanch and freeze locally raised beans, corn and whatever else is looking good.  I'm also a fan of the frozen produce at the grocery store.  The prices are reasonable and most products are flash frozen within 24 hours of being picked, so in the winter, buying frozen vegetables are really the best way to get the bang for your buck.

Hopefully this inspires or helps any of you wanting to get your meal strategy in place for the New Year.