Winter in My Body

As we drove back north after a family visit to Iowa, I couldn’t help but notice the quiet beauty of the landscape, mostly flat fields and farmland. The trees, their leaves long lost, reminded me of the sticks my children poked into our own sandbox. I admired the bold, dark forms against the clouded sky. The fields were blanketed with snow now, beautiful in their neutral simplicity. It was a striking palette, all white, slate blue, dark brown.

This is not a time of year typically associated with beauty. Nobody cheers for February’s arrival. The buds of spring, fall leaves, and even the first snow are all greeted joyfully, but February is something to be endured. Living in the Midwest, no one really wants it to snow anymore, but winter isn’t truly over yet either. It’s a sort of no-man’s-land between winter and spring.

I enjoyed it, though, during our drive. Maybe it was because we had the first real glimpse of sun in a run of too many cloudy days, maybe it was because all the kids were napping, or maybe it was because neutrals are the “in” colors right now, but the scenery felt soothing and peaceful.

I realized on this drive that while late winter often does feel like something to be endured, I also felt that way just because it’s what I’d always been told. Once I appreciated it on its own, for its own sort of beauty, my perspective shifted.

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I’ve been grappling with my body these days. We’re not exactly friends. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me: from the outside I appear trim and healthy. I’m blessed with good genes or a good metabolism or both. My shirt size hasn’t changed since middle school (though I’m shopping at different stores now, I promise) and it’s hard to find pants to fit my petite 5-foot almost-2-inch frame. People are routinely surprised my body has carried and borne three children, especially a set of twins. While those numbers on the scale haven’t shifted much, that’s about all that has stayed the same. This body ain’t what it used to be.

Read the rest about my views on this late winter season and my body over on Kindred Mom.

A Super Birthday Party

It began last March-ish. Maybe slightly earlier. I actually think the superhero obsession began right around the time of their birthday party last year. I remember thinking that it was too late to change the theme. Gifts and decorations and cakes had already been bought.

“We can do a superhero party for your birthday next year,” I remember saying. In March. And in May. And in June, July and August. And in November. And now, here we are.

If you still like superheroes, I would think. It was the asterisk, the subtext of my promise to throw them a superhero party. However the kids who planned out their Halloween costumes seven months in advance without ever once deviating (as superheroes, of course) didn’t let me down.

It’s official. They got their superhero party. And I see no end in sight to this particular obsession…

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Cupcake sprinkles.

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Superhero clipart. Decorative fans. Batman garland (an ode to the superhero who started all this.)

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Superhero birthday shirts.

My “sheroes” sweatshirt, now officially my new favorite piece of clothing.

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The price of admission this year was a present. “Did you bring us presents?” was how they greeted everyone at the door. I’ve said it before, but just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet please remember that subtlety is not their specialty.

It was the first year in the past five where I didn’t have to watch the cake table like a hawk the entire time (though Nolan got a few frosting swipes and sprinkle steals in). They kind of ran around and did their own thing and opened presents and ate cake like it was their jam. And, at five and three, I guess it is.

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It’s officially birthday week in the Williamses house! And as hard as it is to believe we’re quickly leaving behind the years of toddlerhood, it’s also makes perfect sense as I see how far we’ve come. Here’s to three of the craziest, most loving, most talkative, smartest, most adventurous, and least subtle (almost) three and five-year olds around.

Forget Later

We’ve all heard it. Too many times, probably. Maybe as soon as we pushed those babies out of our bodies or welcomed them into our homes.

They’re only little once. Enjoy it. You can clean the mess later.

When exactly is later? I wonder, as I load up the dishwasher with the things we’ll need if we want to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner again tomorrow. In my head I picture a very literal “later”: a kitchen overcome with over a decade’s worth of dishes to tackle, after my youngest has presumably left the house. Twenty years worth of encrusted grime. Maybe we could use paper plates, but then who would take the garbage out? (Also: the environment. Not good.)

I think of the kids’ bathroom wedged between their bedrooms. How can I possibly clean this later? I can’t do it even after they’re all asleep. The sound of the toilet flushing would wake up the twins on the other side of one wall; running the water to scrub the bathtub would wake up the third on the other side of another.

I look around the playroom after a joy-filled afternoon of play and sigh. The last thing I want to do is deal with this later. It’s a disaster. Absolutely worth it, since all three kids played together so well with everything from puzzles to their play kitchen. But still a complete and total watch-where-you-step-because-you-can’t-see-the-floor disaster. It’s not fair to expect me or my husband to clean this all up later when we didn’t make one iota of this mess. To excuse the kids from their part in this so we can “enjoy them now and clean up later” seems absolutely absurd. And exhausting.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Notes From a Polar Vortex

I saw it coming late last week when I looked at my weather app. Wednesday loomed large, -16 for the high. Yikes. School would certainly be cancelled since the windchills were predicted to be more than 50 below. Yuck, I thought, I guess winter is finally here.

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The last time we left the house was Sunday afternoon. We saw The Little Mermaid, went out for dinner. There was a winter storm warning, we were supposed to get a snowstorm before the deep freeze hit, though the sky was still sunny and clear when we drove to the movie theater. By the time we left dinner it was dark, about 6:00.

“Let’s swing by Target,” I told Tyson, “I’ll just run in quick. We could use some things to get through the next few days if it’s really going to be as bad as they say it is.”

I ran into Target, threw some necessities in the cart: bread, eggs, marshmallows for hot chocolate, stickers from the dollar section, a rotisserie chicken for soup.

By the time I walked out 15 minutes later, it had started snowing.

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Monday would have been the day to leave the house. It wasn’t that cold yet. The 6-10 inches of snow predicted petered out to a measly 4-5. But school was cancelled. I’d been prepping for Wednesday in my head, but Monday was called off already by late Sunday evening. I heard it was because the Department of Transportation wanted the roads as clear as possible - the more traffic the more the fresh snow would get packed down on the roads, making it impossible for the plows to clear, and impossibly slippery as it got colder. Salt wouldn’t work to melt the ice with the subzero temperatures headed our way.

Because of that, we stayed home, off the roads. We had a couple of playdates, went outside three separate times to play in the snow, drank our hot chocolate. Let the adventure begin.

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That was my first thought: this was all some big, grand adventure. Except instead of being really exciting, the adventure was survive being trapped inside your house for a bunch of days with three kids under five.

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My next thought was to wonder about the homeless. Where would people go? There’s no way to survive this, not without shelter. My heart and mind kept turning back to them. I did hear that shelter workers were out, full-force, to help and encourage people to find shelter. And that city buses and other public transportation would be running all night as a place for people to find refuge from the cold. It made me feel a little better. But only a little.

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I raided my drawers for my coziest sweaters. If we were going to be trapped inside, I was at least going to look the part. Maybe this wasn’t an adventure so much as the ultimate hygge challenge. I made plans to hygge the shit out of this thing: I pulled out our warmest blankets, drank hot tea and coffee, sat in front of the fireplace, planned my baking schedule.

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Tuesday we walked over to a neighbor’s house for a change of scenery. We bundled up: inner fleece jackets zipped into the outer waterproof ones, snowpants, boots, our warmest hats and mittens. All for the 2-minute walk four houses down and across the street. I warned the kids that we couldn’t stop to play; we just had to walk straight over and go inside. I told them how dangerous this cold was, tried to explain frostbite.

“Do bugs give you the bites?” Brooklyn wanted to know.

“No,” I told her, “The cold does.” It was very confusing.

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It was weird that we couldn’t leave the house, a sort of forced confinement. I mean, we could have - and eventually did - but we were strongly advised not to. And with all the reports of cars not starting I didn’t exactly want to successfully leave the comfort of our home only to risk the car not starting to return, leaving me stranded with three kids. Not to mention the cold just plain hurt your face.

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It felt sort of like a holiday, except not. Everyone was pretty cocooned up in their own houses. And Tyson still had to work (maybe a downside to working from home?). My motivation went to nil, just like it does between Christmas and New Year’s. I could’ve/should’ve written more, prepped more for the kids’ upcoming birthday party, maybe even cleaned my house. Instead I embraced my cocoon, more often opting for books and blankets than not.

(I finished this book in just a couple of days, and made some decent headway into both this one and this one.)

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Besides the homeless, I wondered about employees missing work because their businesses were closed, or parents who still had to work but suddenly had children to take care of for four straight days. So many businesses were (justifiably) closed, but what if their employees couldn’t afford to miss work, even for a day? I viewed this all as a lark, my grand hygge adventure. I winged up prayers for those who thought this was anything but.

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By Wednesday I was over it. We all were. Wednesday was the worst day of all. We’d already been through two days of this and then Wednesday rolled around. I mean, the entire state was shut down. Schools, restaurants, stores. Even mail delivery was suspended.

In my own house, there were more tears, yelling, and tantrums than the previous two days combined.

“DON’T PLAY WITH A TOY BY YOUR BROTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT HIM TO TOUCH IT!”
“HE WILL STOP CHASING YOU IF YOU STOP RUNNING.”
“RESPECT YOUR SISTER!”

Angry mom came out on Wednesday. She enforced an unprecedented 11:00 am quiet time because we could no longer all be in the same room together. She shook her fist at the heavens for allowing such a thing as a polar vortex to exist. She self-medicated with strong coffee and cookies.

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Monday we baked chocolate chip cookies. Wednesday we made compost cookies. Today we made granola muffins.

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Generally speaking, I noticed a pretty clear divide in the emotions of parents whose kids were home all day every day for four straight (week)days.

The parents whose kids were usually at school (and could easily be home to accommodate this change in schedule) seemed thrilled.

Those of us who are usually with our kids for the bulk of the day anyway: not so much.

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Wednesday afternoon some neighbors came over.

“I hope they don’t get any of those bites!” Brooklyn said when I told her they were on the way.

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Thursday, we left the house.

We had to. We were desperate for groceries and a change of scenery. There was the sense that the worst was over. I loaded everyone up in the car (noting the -26 degree temperature displayed on the dash) and just prayed we would make it back home. (Spoiler alert: we did.)

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More polar vortex recipes: chicken and dumpling soup. Swedish meatballs. Pasta alla vodka.

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Well, that’s one way to close out January.

Godspeed tomorrow, preschool teachers. They’ve been home with us all week. TGIF indeed.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake

Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?

Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.

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Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.

I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.

I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.

Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
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Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • zest of 2 lemons

  • juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.

  • Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)

NOTE

  • I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.