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Dough Day

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I have a confession to make: I am not actually naturally a great baker.

I’m not patient or particularly careful when I cook. I tend to improvise instead of sticking with a plan. And I hate, hate, hate reading and following instructions.

Seriously, I was a party pariah in the late 90s because I decided Cranium, which was all the rage at the time, had Too Many Rules.

This is also partly why it took me so long to learn to drive, but I digress…

All of these personality traits might be considered personality flaws, but for the most part, I have decided to embrace them, and as a result, I have not historically been very successful at baking.

That being the case, it is sort of mind blowing how much time I’ve spent baking recently, and how much I’ve enjoyed it.

The day I lost my job, I stayed up all night. I couldn’t sleep with all of the various financial scenarios and “I wish I’d said”-type thoughts running through my head. Work has been so much a part of how I define myself for so long, and this job – the one I took a big risk and a big pay cut for, the one that I thought would be an amazing learning experience, the one that was supposed to be all about work/life balance – had been a complete disaster almost from day one. I was regretting not just the layoff but the hours I put in round the clock, the effort I made in good faith, and the complete BS I convinced myself to swallow in order to try to make a terrible situation work.

I was, in short, Freaking Out and feeling pretty spectacularly useless. I needed a project, something accomplish-able but challenging, or I was going to sink into some serious wallowing.

I’m a big fan of the musical Waitress, which is about a woman who bakes pies that express her feelings. (Um, that is a terrible summary of a great show – please dig deeper if you’re interested!) So, I thought I would bake a cake in honor of my layoff.

Around 3:30am the following morning, I found myself on Pinterest, where I stumbled on a cake that looked like a big cake donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. That’s Ella’s favorite donut, and by the time she was up the next morning, I had the ingredients ready to go.

I spent my first jobless morning making a donut cake with my daughter, and it was awesome.

So I’ve kept it up. When you’re home all day and most of your duties are kid-related, it can be hard to quantify just what you’ve accomplished.

But with baking, I can point to the thing I made that day and know for sure I did it. It’s incredibly comforting, and I think I’m getting better at it, too.

This is basically why it seemed like a good idea to designate today “Dough Day,” and to spend eight or so hours making dough for next weekend’s open house.

Guys. It was a great day.

I queued up some recordings of old voice lessons so I could sing while I worked. I’m getting ready for an audition in a couple of weeks, and I find it much easier to vocalize while I’m moving around. Plus, Ella wasn’t home to tell me, “Too loud, mumma!”

And then I whipped up all of the dough I need for four flatbreads, two tarts, a big batch of hand pies, and a few dozen fall-spiced sugar cookies. It’s all there, lined up neatly in my freezer, so I can just thaw and roll it out when I need it. It’ll take the pressure off next week, and in the meantime, it’s so satisfying to see it all bagged and labeled. It’s the little things, really.

Thank you, God, for the little things: the smell of pizza dough rising, the taste of sugar and butter creamed until fluffy, the texture of pate brisee just before you add the water to make it all come together. Thank you for a day spent making things. And thank you for my husband, who always helps with the dishes.

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Making Plans

My Plan

It’s a totally good idea to throw two big parties the week of Thanksgiving when you are approximately 100 years pregnant, right? Right?

…crickets.

We Griggses apparently don’t like doing things the easy way.

We decided last year, after shelling out for a super fun but pretty pricey 3rd birthday shindig at Ella’s gymnastics studio, that we’d try to get on an every-other-year schedule for splurging on party venues that aren’t our house. So we planned months ago to have an at-home birthday for Ella this year. That’s up first, this Saturday, and the theme she requested was “rainbow tea party.”

We also decided, for some reason, that we should have a post-Thanksgiving open house. We’re not hosting turkey day this year, and we wanted our extended family to get a chance to see the new digs.

And you know, of course, because we aren’t hosting the big meal itself and I hate missing out on days of leftovers, we decided (…ok, fine, *I* decided) to make a little mini Thanksgiving ahead of time so there’ll be plenty of tryptophan to go around.

In all three cases I promised my husband I would keep it simple. We’ve been together for a decade, so by now at least he knows never to believe me when I say things like that.

Here are the current plans for each occasion:

Tea Rainbow Tea Party Menu
Juice “tea”
Rainbow fruit pizzas (sugar cookies with frosting and fruit)
Rainbow Rice Krispie treats
Rainbow sprinkle pretzel wands
White chocolate covered strawberries with rainbow sprinkles
Rainbow veggies with dip
Rainbow cupcakes
Also, activities: decorate your own teacup, pin the rainbow on the teacup (yeah, I know, it’s a stretch), and a rainbow heart piƱata

Faux Thanksgiving
Bone-in turkey breast
Stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Green beans
Cranberry sauce
Probably some root veggies that I’ll panic-buy next week
Gravy

Open House
Mulled cider with optional rum
Maple Bourbon Old-Fashioneds
Beer
Wine
Tea and coffee
Impressively elaborate cheeseboard
Butternut squash soup
Flatbreads: squash and Gorgonzola, fig and goat cheese
Apple cheddar tart
Poor man’s cheddar mustard fondue with potatoes, Brussels sprouts, rustic bread, apple sausage
Chicken pot pie hand pies
Devils on horseback
Tiny cakes in adorable fall cakes: apple cider with salted caramel filling, dark chocolate with buttercream filling, sweet potato with chai buttercream filling
Pumpkin cheesecake with ginger snap crust and cinnamon whipped cream
Carrot cake (Ella’s request) with cream cheese frosting
Cinnamon sugar cookies with browned butter frosting (for favors)

That… is a lot of things. I have a game plan. I have many lists and several spreadsheets. I will share them, in case it’s of interest (also because it’s basically all I’m doing in my “spare” time for the next two weeks).

But for tonight, I will leave it with:

Thank you, God, for the Wunderlist app and Google sheets. Thank you for Pinterest recipes and Nordic ware pans. And thank you for my bread machine and Kitchenaid mixer, which will, I trust, be doing most of the heavy lifting.

 

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Shopping Buddies

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Today I did something completely insane.

I went to five stores, three of the grocery variety, the week before Thanksgiving.

I did it with a four year old in tow. And not only did we both survive – we actually kind of enjoyed ourselves.

It didn’t start out great. After getting out of bed at 6am and demanding immediate pancakes (which she then refused to eat), Ella stretched out on the couch and began yelling, “I DON’T WANNA DO ANNNYYYYFING” on repeat for a good 40 minutes.

She hadn’t actually been *asked* to do anything at this point, but given the gargantuan list I had for us today, I was not super optimistic.

We managed to get out the door – much later than I wanted but basically without incident – after a rousing game of Memory, in which Ella kicked my butt.

We made Target our first stop “because you need coffee, mumma.” She is rarely wrong.

There were a couple of false starts.

First, I talked her out of one of those horrible, giant double carts that are impossible to steer. We got as far back as the women’s PJ area before it became clear that a regular cart was not going to cut it.

Then we went back to get a double cart, since I figured I was asking a lot of her little self to ride along for all these errands and it would be in my best interest to get us off on the right foot.

But when we got to the cart area, I realized I had to pee. Right away. Ella did not, she was 100% sure, have to go potty.

Ok, with Ella and her baby doll strapped into the Mack-truck-sized cart, we made our way out to the men’s flannel section. I was debating whether the standard fit XL flannel would be slim enough for my husband, when Ella informed me she needed to pee. Right away.

Back to the entrance area restrooms we went.

THEN, on our return trip to the flannel area, Ella announced that she would like to walk now.

The final cart switcheroo was my idea. Because seriously, I am not pushing that monstrosity of a double cart around with just a baby doll strapped into it while my daughter skips freely alongside it.

This was the first hour and a half of our Target trip. Our cart was still empty, and we had FOUR more stores to hit after this one.

It was not looking good.

But the thing is, I so rarely shop without Ella that I get bored when I run errands by myself.

She picked out a sleep set for the baby. “Look, it has a little baby fox on the front!” she squealed.

In the Christmas section, she ran from item to item, exclaiming things like, “a light up necklace! I don’t believe this!!”

We danced in the aisle at Market Basket, even though it was crowded with very grouchy people who were not amused by us At All.

Later at Whole Foods, she had the guys at the butcher/seafood counter in hysterical laughter because, when asked if she ate fish, she responded, “I eat goldfish. The cracker kind.”

Things got a little hairy between Staples and Trader Joe’s, but after six hours of shopping, when I felt like acting out a little.

When Jon gets home, she’s all daddy all the time, but my girl does love to shop with mumma. I’m sure there’ll be a day, maybe not too far in the future, when she doesn’t want to spend a day running boring errands with me. And there’s definitely a day coming in our immediate future when it won’t be just me and my Junebug anymore.

So for now, I will say:

Thank you, God, for my shopping buddy. Thank you for all the mundane, glorious moments while it’s still just the two of us. And thank you for helping us find room in our routines for one more.

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Out, out damn spot!

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I had the first total meltdown of this pregnancy today.

To be fair (to myself…), I sort of can’t believe it didn’t happen earlier. I did not have a meltdown during 15 weeks of morning sickness so severe I lost 9 lbs. I did not have a meltdown during a very stressful move and all the fun that goes along with that. I did not have a meltdown when I had to work over my vacation. I did not have a meltdown when that job then laid me off with no notice and almost no severance right after that vacation.

So… maybe I’m owed a little toddler-like tantrum? And should cut myself some slack?

But honestly I feel pretty ridiculous about it.

We were at a used furniture store. We were there because we are in need of a dresser, for super cheap, to function as a changing table and baby clothing storage. I’ve been trying to thrift this dresser and a bar/desk situation for our dining room for months, and I had it in my head that this weekend was THE weekend to either get one or both or give up on one or both. I even went so far as to drag all the baby stuff out of the attic in anticipation of bringing home said dresser.

I also had it in my head I needed to finish hanging all the art for the house, surface clean the bathrooms and living/dining rooms, and deep clean the kitchen, which has been sorely neglected since we moved in (and, judging from the state of things in there, for a lot longer than that!).

But my morning was a comedy of errors (although I did not personally find it very comedic…), so we got to the store later than I wanted to with a cranky threenager in tow.

I could barely see the furniture we were looking at because the various dirt traps in my house were running through my head on loop. I just wanted to buy a dresser, any dresser, and get home so I could start cleaning.

If you’re someone who knows me in real life, you’re probably going, “Danielle? Anxious to be cleaning?”

And that’s totally fair. Ella as a young toddler pointed at a vacuum in the store and said, “Daddy’s ba-kyoom.” I have not historically been much of a house keeper.

But things have been a little off-kilter in that department as of late.

To start with, I’m pregnant. With a first baby, a lot of your energy goes into thinking about things like showers and registries and finding childcare. With this second baby, I seem to be channeling that energy into homemaking, via cooking and cleaning.

There’s also the fact that I’m home all day. I used to leave the house around 7am and get home around 6:30pm, five days a week. Of course I didn’t notice the house needed dusting – I was never there! Now it’s in my face all day most days, and as it turns out, I am a bit of a perfectionist.

And then there’s the other side of the “home all day” coin. I’m home. All day. What am I contributing to our little family, beyond my meager unemployment check, if I’m not helping our life run more smoothly? And how can our life run more smoothly if the house is in total disarray? And whose job is this, if not mine?

Rationally I know this is not something to worry about. And I also know this is a totally normal concern to have when you’re adjusting to a new role. And I also REALLY know I’m lucky to have a spouse who would never put this kind of pressure on me.

But the tiny smidgeon of guilt I have about contributing less to our family financially right now has turned me into a deranged sort of Housewife Lady Macbeth. I’ve become relentless about clutter and cleaning, as though I have to make up for not having a job outside the home by being the most aggressive homemaker in the history of the world.

As that famous burst of second trimester nesting energy fades out, I’m going to need to start letting go of these things. And I have a feeling, based on my toddler level behavior today, that I’m going to need a little help with that.

So I will be saying:

Thank you, God, for my patient, progressive husband, who would never try to make me feel solely responsible for the running of our home. Thank you for helping me find grace as I settle into this role – spots and all. And thank you also for Clorox antibacterial wipes, which are a wonder in the kitchen.

 

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Boxes of Memories

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I’ve had “go through Ella’s baby stuff” on my to do list for about six months. I meant to do it before we moved in July, because it seemed crazy to move with a bunch of disorganized baby boxes.

But of course, the actual packing and moving took precedent and I never got around to it. And things have been just a little chaotic since then.

So it wasn’t until this morning after Ella’s dance class, with my sister there as back up, that I finally dragged my poor husband around the attic to point out which boxes needed to be lugged downstairs.

Spoiler alert: it was A Lot of boxes. He’s a good sport.

There was a box of stuff just related to feeding – bottles and attendant parts from maybe four different brands and styles, bits and pieces from my breast pump, nipple shields (ACK! WHY DID I SAVE THESE) from the first month or so of my horrible breastfeeding experience.

One nice thing about doing this the second time around is that I know what works for us. The new baby might have other ideas, but at the very least we know there are some bottles we can just skip past. It feels pretty good to go through and weed out things that I know won’t be useful.

But it’s hard to weed out much when every single item has a memory or ten attached to it.

The Christmas PJs Ella was wearing the first time she smiled.

The bright green cardigan that made her blue eyes even brighter. She wore it everywhere.

The little striped hat with the ears that she wore the first time we took her to our favorite restaurant, just a few days old.

The only newborn sleep set that was small enough for her tiny self to wear home from the hospital, the one she wore during her first few waking hours. We propped her up in Jon’s lap in the reclining chair next to my hospital bed. Time stopped while I watched those two staring at each other. She’s been daddy’s girl from literally day one.

I don’t know where that baby went. At dance class today she looked like she was ready to jump into Swan Lake. She’s so tall, and I can already see how graceful she’ll be when she grows into those limbs. I can’t believe that girl was once too small for her coming home outfit, and neither can she.

“See, Ella?” I said, holding a tiny white onesie up to my belly. “This is how little you were when you were born. Can you believe it?”

She eyes me suspiciously. “Is this how big our baby will be?”

“Probably,” I tell her.

“Ohhhh,” she sighs. “I can’t wait to share all these clothes with her.”

Neither can I. Because these boxes hold other memories, too.

I remember very well how panicked I felt looking at these clothes in storage when I wasn’t sure we would get to use them ever again. These boxes felt much heavier when another baby was beginning to feel like an improbability.

So while I’m organizing and washing and nesting, I’m going to say:

Thank you, God, for these boxes of memories, precious and painful. Thank you for these reminders that we have been incredibly blessed. And thank you, thank you, thank you for our beloved little girls.

 

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Under the Wire

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Oh my goodness, it’s almost 11pm and I basically completely forgot to write today. Just sneaking this post in under the wire. I don’t even have a great excuse – we had a pretty standard Friday except that my sister is sleeping over.

She moved home from St. Thomas, USVI about a year ago, and although it’s been a huge relief to have her close to home again, we both have such busy schedules between work (hers) and kids (mine) that we don’t get to hang out much. We got carried away cleaning out my chocolate cookie stash and watching Parks and Rec and suddenly it’s bedtime.

And I. Am. Beat.

Have I mentioned about 100 times yet that I had a sinus infection this week? I’m not usually this wimpy about common cold type stuff, but man, this dumb infection took a lot of me. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sinus issue before this pregnancy, and suddenly I’ve had three sinus infections. This one was a doozy – if I hadn’t had my wisdom teeth out earlier this year (super fun! Kids: don’t wait until you are a grown up to take care of this stuff, it is way way worse as an adult…) I would be convinced I was having impacted wisdom teeth problems, that’s how painful my sinus area has been.

So between being sick, not feeling well because of the crazy antibiotics I’m on, and being, you know, massively pregnant, I’ve really struggled to keep moving this week. I missed yoga, I accidentally took a three hour nap while Ella was at school, and tonight I’m going to take it easy and just say:

Thank you, God, for the flexibility to be gentle with myself when my body has so much going on. And thank you for motivating me to start fresh tomorrow, so I can keep this commitment, which means so much to me, going for the whole month.

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How I Got Played at Home Goods

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Like most parents of young children I know, I’m in a constant struggle against the Tyranny of Stuff. Every gift given in well-meaning generosity, every beloved hand-me down, every thoughtful goody bag – it’s all Stuff and it ends up in my house where it begins to slowly suffocate me.

I spend a hilarious amount of time decluttering, pruning, and reorganizing. The Stuff… it overwhelms me.

This is particularly true in November, when I have Ella’s birthday and Christmas looming. We’re already drowning in Stuff, and I know there’s going to be a fresh, new crop coming in giant waves over the next month and a half.

For this reason, I’ve tried to be really strict with Ella about buying things. She’s only almost four. And she wants All the Stuff. She’s also in major meltdown territory, so most of the time it’s actually easier just not to bring her into stores.

But today, we needed to go pick out a present for her cousin Vivi, who turned five today.

“Ella,” I told her, “remember we’re here to pick out a present for Vivi. We have to think about what kinds of things Vivi likes. And we are not buying anything for ourselves, because your birthday is next week, and Vivi’s birthday is tomorrow.”

We had this heart to heart on the sidewalk outside the Home Goods, with me kneeling down to meet Ella’s eyes.

“Do you understand?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said solemnly.

And then we went inside.

Vivi is a girl, all the way. She likes sparkly things, leopard print, princesses. Ella’s initial suggestions were:

1. dinosaur puzzle for ages 2+
2. label maker like daddy’s
3. play construction set
4. convincing toy calculator

Every time, we repeated the conversation about choosing something that Vivi would like, not something for ourselves. It was shaping up to be a long visit to Home Goods.

But then we reached the baby doll aisle.

“Oh, mumma!” she gasped. She’d zeroed in on a particularly small, squishy, wrinkly baby doll, which, yes, okay, fine, looked just like a newborn.

“Dis is EXACTLY what our baby will look like,” she said, hugging the baby, boxy packaging and all, to her little self.

“Ella…” I started to warn her.

“But mumma,” she said, “I can practice to be the BEST big sister!”

I’m not crying, you’re crying SHUT UP.

We bought the damn doll. And right now it and all of its paraphernalia are laughing at me from where they are strewn across my living room floor.

Tomorrow the fight against Stuff continues.

Thank you, God, for the privilege of having enough stuff to sort of hate stuff. And thank you for giving me a sense of humor – I have a feeling I’m going to need it.