October 31, 2023

The Lost October

The past few weeks have been timeless for me, and not in a good way.  Is it Tuesday? How long have we been in the hospital?  Did I have a dentist appointment today?  Did we miss Halloween?

In fact, I've lost October.  It's disappointing because it's my favorite month--the leaves are changing, pumpkins are tucked onto porches, we celebrate our wedding anniversary, and of course Halloween.  Why couldn't it have been January?  In the days I spent in the pediatric ICU, I charted the autumn days by watching a tiny maple outside my window turn from green to orange to red to bare branches, which was a small but hopeful thing.
This year, October is bittersweet, still tinged with the memory of being in a hospital unsure of whether my eldest would be permanently absent from our family.  But October is also filled with gratitude for finally being able to bring him home.

Our homecoming was fraught with drama, as Hurricane Sandy slammed into our area.  We just made it out of the hospital before the heaviest rains and winds rolled into Pennsylvania.  I repeatedly told people that after the last few weeks, I've had enough of adreneline.  I did fill up a few jugs of water and bought some groceries just to get by, but I just couldn't allow myself to be sucked into the panic.  Thankfully, I didn't have to, since our area was only mildly affected, despite the eye of the hurricane moving just to the south of us.  We're SO grateful things were fine for us.  I feel for those who've been affected more severely, either by life or by property.

This ordeal has churned up so many things I've wanted to say, so many emotions I've wanted to chart through this blog and other outlets.  From straight-up fear to guilt over not spending a lot of time with Jude or Chris (we did the switch-off each day, where one of us stayed at the hospital and the other went home) to imagining what life would be like in our home without Soren.

One of the most surprising emotions was related to Jude.  While cuddling him, I couldn't focus just on loving him because of the intense longing I had for Soren.  I wondered if siblings of deceased children feel like they can never break free from the shadow of their lost brother or sister, that they can never live up to the child who is gone.  In my pre-hospital mind, I would have thought that parents just transferred all of their love and good intentions to the remaining child, as sort of a family savior.

Anyway, I hesitated to write much here, not only because it was difficult to do on a phone or iPad in the hospital, but I'm not sure how much I wanted to violate my son's privacy.  It's such a grey area, wanting to share updates but not wanting to be the mom who's constantly taking photos of her sick child and posting them for the world to see.  Somehow it just doesn't seem right to me.  On that note, I did have permission from S to share a more recent photo, taken on the morning of our departure and the beginning of happier times.
I'm managing to find our way back to normalcy this week, but it's been hard with dressing changes, meds to be given, hospital smells still on my son's skin, and a week of weird weather that has closed a lot of things in town, including the schools.  But we're taking baby steps, just like my boy who's learning to be steady on his feet again, after a long week of stillness in bed.

Thank you all for your prayers and support during this difficult time.  It truly means so much to myself and my family.  May you be blessed.

October 20, 2023

The Best and The Worst

Let's start with the worst.  My baby is still in the hospital.  How do you come home to a house empty of his presence, one strewn with his Lego creations, half-eaten cheese stick in the fridge and his dirty clothes?  Coming home even for brief periods of time is the hardest.  I think I've shed more tears here than sitting by his sick little body.  But it's necessary to come home, to hug and love Jude and just to get some horizontal sleep.  Those hospital "bed" chairs are rough.

It's also a chance to just forget about things a bit, hence I'm spending time catching up with stuff online.  I've got some coffee in hand, and no tears in it, for once.

Soren is very slowly recovering, but like any road to health, it often comes with some bumps.  While I won't get into the details, he basically came down with a staph infection that caused his skin to become inflamed and peel (scalded skin syndrome as a result of a staph infection is his diagnosis).  His skin looks much better, but he is still sedated until it's not so painful.  And with sedation comes other complications, which the doctors, nurses and staff are so marvelously keeping under control.  What an incredible age of science and medicine we live in, truly.

So Chris and I will be muddling through another weekend in the PICU, cautiously optimistic, hoping and praying for the best.  I want to thank you all for your prayers, especially since it's impossible for me to personally thank each one of you.  It means a lot, this network of "real" and virtual friends we have.  It certainly keeps our spirits up, knowing there are so many people we can lean on.

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers.   You're the best!  May your families be well.

October 15, 2023

Every Parent's Nightmare

This weekend we've descended into they abyss of every parent's nightmare--seeing your child in a hospital bed with a life-threatening illness.

Soren has had a severe reaction to a croup virus (paraflu) and is currently in the pediatric ICU.  We're praying and worrying and crying and thinking, and I just wanted to let my readers know that it will be a while before I am on a regular posting schedule.  His recovery is expected to take 2-3 weeks, as his skin has many burn-like lesions on it due to the reaction and they can take a long time to heal.

Please pray for my dear Soren and keep your own children close and covered in kisses.  This came on like a flash of lightning for our otherwise healthy and boisterous son.

October 13, 2023

Sewn Paper Halloween Bunting

I'm sure you're tired of hearing how much I love Halloween and fall; forgive me for indulging too much with my favorite season.  Actually, our wedding anniversary is this weekend (couples massage and fancy dinner, yay!) and I always knew I wanted to marry in the autumn, so October brings with it some special memories.

But I digress.  I do think my groom is weary though of all these Halloween decorations.  As a man who'd love nothing more than to live in a stark white room with a chair and a bed, he got more than he bargained for when he took me as his bride.

Latest on the decor menu is a paper garland/bunting/whatever you call it.  I always have lots of scrap paper, including the innards of old books to use for paper crafting, so I pulled those out and created a bat and skull bunting.
It's sewn together with a sewing machine (have you ever sewn paper? It's quite fun) and took me about a half an hour to make two garlands.
You could probably get away with stapling or taping string or pretty ribbon to the paper to make one too, or even punching holes and weaving in an out.

I started by making the skulls from book pages.  I stacked a few sheets, then cut them in half
and folded them in half.
 Next I rounded the edges to form a skull shape
 and trimmed out a mouth and a nose from an upside down heart.
For the eyes, I folded the paper in half near the eye areas and cut out a circle.
Don't fret if it's not perfect.  Most likely you're a caregiver to young children and you have more important things on your mind than paper skull eyes.

Next, cut out the bats in the same way, kind of like Halloween snowflakes.
Lay out your design however you want.  I did bat, skull, bat, skull, etc.
Then load up your sewing machine with whatever color thread you'd like
and sew a few inches to create a thread to hang it from.
Then start passing your papers through, leaving space in between.  Just keep the needle moving in between depending how much room you want.
They're a bit addicting to make, once you have all the pieces cut out.  I imagine a Cricut machine would make it even easier.

Hang and enjoy! Happy weekend!

October 12, 2023

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

It's been nothing but fall victuals in the kitchen as of late--butternut squash, kale, sage and pumpkin.  I always keep canned pumpkin on hand to thicken soups and of course for baking.  Yesterday was the initiation of the oven on my new Maytag Electric Range that I am testing out as a Maytag Kitchen Moms Ambassador, so I decided that some pumpkin chocolate chip bars were in our future.
I found the recipe via some Martha Stewart publication years ago and thought I'd revisit it.  As per Martha, it calls for 2 sticks of butter, but I'd like to avoid all that cholesterol so I used coconut oil in place of it.  The results were no different, at least from my memory of the bars I made last year.  And the coconut oil added a subtle taste of coconut flavor to the bars, which was delightful.
(adapted from Everyday Food)

1 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup coconut oil (or 2 sticks of butter, your choice)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray and flour a 9x13" baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (spices, flours, baking soda, salt).  In another larger bowl, beat the sugar and coconut oil or butter, with a mixer, then add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully combined.  Add the pumpkin, and beat on low until combined.

Add the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time, beating on low, then fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread it onto your pan, making sure it is pushed into the corners with the spatula.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean in the center (crumbs but not wet).
Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into bars.  Enjoy with coffee, hot cider or a glass of milk.
As for my first time using the Maytag range, it was great!  No worries about burnt bars, and the full door window allowed me to keep a close watch on my baking without having to open the door and let out any hot air.  More official updates on the appliances will be coming over the next few weeks.  Happy baking!
Disclosure: I wrote this post participating in an Maytag Moms Dependable Kitchen Ambassador program by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Maytag. I was provided with a Maytag kitchen appliances set, including a refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, and range to facilitate my post.

October 11, 2023

Updating the Bathroom {and an Uncommon Goods Giveaway}

We've been enjoying our upstairs bathroom for a few months now, having had it gutted and renovated over the summer.  It's so nice not to cringe when taking a shower and having to avoid touching the walls.
However, our downstairs bathroom was feeling a bit left out.  While we don't have the budget to do a complete renovation right now (which like its upstairs sibling prior to the summer, it desperately needs), I do like to update it now and then with fabric and accessories (and paint, if I'm feeling especially ambitious).  I might have even mentioned in a past post the I covered up its ugly yellow tiles with contact paper. 
To spruce up this bath, I made a simple pleated sink skirt for our lovely old sink (it really isn't so lovely underneath it), and actually gave the basin a good cleaning with Bon Ami.
I found the fabric a while ago at Joann and it's been waiting to be put to use.  There was enough to make a simple no-sew valance too.  Stitch witchery is your friend.
As usual, I shop around the house changing out wall art and other things when I feel the urge to feather the nest.  I scavenged the Ikea tray and tin animals that hang on either side of the mirror from Jude's nursery.
Rather than the usual cardboard box of tissues, I decided to forgo the patterns (tissue boxes really have come a long way design-wise, huh?) and use a neat-o modern Paper Pot from Uncommon Goods.
Have you ever checked out their website or catalog?  It's pretty incredible, the unique and useful things they carry.

The Paper Pot is a contraption that holds your tissues or toilet paper inside a funky ball.  You unscrew the two parts, then lay your tissues on top of the roller bar or slide the bar through your toilet paper roll.  Then out pops your paper.
It comes in five colors (I really should have chosen blue or orange, but thought that white would go with anything) and is really eye-catching in its minimal design.  I hope the manufacturer adds some more colors, like yellow or grey to the mix.
It's also functional in that when I pull out a tissue, the pot doesn't move like tissue boxes often do.  And so far I haven't had any clumps of tissues come out the way I often do with the paper boxes.  But mostly, it's just looks really cool in the bathroom.  I'd love a few more throughout the house.  It would actually make a great Christmas gift for me (hint hint), as would many of the other items that I found here.

Uncommon Goods has so many other home, office and personal goods.  I'm eager to check out some ideas for Christmas gifts too, which you can find HERE.  I always have trouble picking out items for girls, like friends' daughters and nieces, so I'll definitely be checking out the suggestions for girls that at Uncommon Goods.  Uncommon Goods is a website you could browse for a long time and still have trouble picking a favorite item.

One lucky reader will win their own Paper Pot!  Please enter via Rafflecopter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received an item of my choice from Uncommon Goods for review.

October 10, 2023

Blue Clouds from Elizabeth Mitchell {Giveaway}

You may have heard here before about how much we enjoy Elizabeth Mitchell's music around our home and in our car.  I'm excited to share with you my thoughts on her upcoming CD, Blue Clouds, which is being released by Smithsonian Folkways on October 23d.
We're fans of Elizabeth's music in our house (well, except for the Mister, but he's more of the Slayer type anyway) and her soothing and upbeat songs pass the miles when the boys and I go out visiting.  We even have a Pandora channel centered around her music, in addition to many of her wonderful CDs.  Her music feels like home to me.

Blue Clouds is no exception--we love it!  Soren especially likes "Hop Up, My Ladies" (over and over and over) and the Partridge Family-sounding "Kooks".  I was surprised at how quickly he learned the lyrics to sing along.  I personally love her version of Van Morrison's "Everyone" (I loved that song at the end of The Royal Tenenbaums, one of my favorite movies) and its message of inclusion and hope.

I'm fond of how Elizabeth Mitchell brings a fresh perspective to traditional folk songs, introducing them to a new generation.  Her music has a way of erasing the smudges of a bad day.

You just might be able to catch her on the accompanying tour,particularly if you live in the Northeast, set to hit these cities:

Date                City                             Venue
10/10/12          New York, NY             Hudson Guild
10/13/12          Olivebridge, NY         Ashokan Center
10/21/12          Chicago, IL                Old Town School of Folk Music
10/28/12          San Francisco, CA    San Francisco Public Library
11/3/12            Seattle, WA                Town Hall
11/4/12            Portland, OR              The Village Ballroom
12/8/12            Portland, ME              One Longfellow Square
12/15/12          New York, NY             Symphony Space

One lucky reader will win a copy of Blue Clouds.  Please enter via Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a copy of Blue Clouds for review.

October 9, 2023

I Can't Believe It's Butternut Squash Pizza {Giveaway}

You might remember my prior post using Hodgson's Mill products, the Summer Pastabilities Challenge?  Well, I don't think I mentioned that my recipe, the Spaghetti Southwestern Pasta Salad, which was tested out by professionals, actually won second place! 

So here I am again, competing in another blogger contest with Hodgson Mill, this time in the Build a Better Pizza challenge.

It's fall, and the craving for fall foods like pumpkin bread and apple cider have kicked in.  But for me, I really have been smitten with butternut squash and kale, so I thought I'd create a pizza around those toppings.  Add in some sage and some late summer roasted tomatoes and you have the makings for an unusual and hearty pizza.
(makes 2 10" pizzas)
For the Pizza Dough
1 c warm water 
2 tsp. olive oil 
1/2 tsp. salt 
For the topping
1/2 butternut squash, sliced into 1/4" pieces
3 plum tomatoes, cut into 1" pieces (I used small whole plum tomatoes)
6 large kale leaves, de-stemmed and chopped
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
small bunch of fresh sage leaves (I used 8) or 1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz smoked cheddar, shredded

Combine the water, yeast and 1/2 of the whole wheat flour in a large bowl. Add the remainder of flour, oil and salt. With hands, a large wooden spoon or a mixer, work the ingredients together until the dough holds its shape.

You may need a bit less flour, so add the last of the flour gradually. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic-about 8 to 10 minutes. If the dough becomes sticky, sprinkle a bit of flour over it.

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled 2 qt. bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rest until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare your topping.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and toss the butternut squash and tomatoes with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast for 45 minutes or until tender.  In a pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the sage leaves and onion and cook until soft.

Add the garlic and kale and sautee until softened.  At this point, I added the roasted tomatoes (they were already finished roasting, as I started the sautee a few minutes before the roasted vegetables were done), then mashed them with the back of a spoon. 
Add the teaspoon of sugar and the teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and cook for a few minutes more.  Set aside to cool.

When the dough has risen, place on a lightly floured surface, divide into 2 or more parts and roll into balls. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15-20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked.   Preheat the oven 425 degrees F and flatten the balls into pizzas.  Add the topping, layering the butternut squash on top.
Top with the shredded cheddar, and bake at 425 degrees F. until cheese is melted and crust is browned.
Delicious and a perfect way to usher in a fall evening.  And please VOTE FOR MY RECIPE in the contest on Hodgson MIll's Facebook Page!
Hodgson Mill is giving one lucky reader the ingredients to build a better pizza with a $25 pizza prize pack with the flours and yeast you'd need.  Enter via Rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received flours and yeast from Hodgson Mills to facilitate this post.

October 5, 2023

Unfinished Business

Who would have thought that the transition from two boys to three would be so tough?

Between the diaper changes, fussy teething, and the competition over who's going to sit in my arms, the only 5 minutes I've had to myself today was when I sat down to write the post, when blessedly, the two babies were napping (at the same time! Can you believe it?) and Soren was watching The Magic School Bus.

Things are a-shambles around the house, between the finishing touches in the kitchen before the Maytag appliances arrive on Monday (I was chosen to be a Maytag Kitchen Ambassador, which I'm really excited about).
The dishwasher will go where the chair is above (chair is preventing the babies from picking at the plaster walls).  I'm looking forward to less handwashing of dishes.

There are so many half-finished projects and thoughts around here, things that get started then dropped when one of the kids is in need of something, whether nourishment or comfort or entertainment.

I finished up the tiled backsplash this past week, in between naps and in the evenings.  I just have to give it a good cleaning to remove any haze and residue.  I'm happy how it turned out, especially that it was my first attempt at tiling.
Meanwhile, the contents of the kitchen, specifically my pot rack, are sprawled in our laundry room and bathroom.
It will all be worth it, I'm sure.  But as someone who has difficulty dealing with chaos in my life, it can't be soon enough.

And as someone who is constantly in need of a project, I have about 5 of them going on right now, including finishing this chalkboard wall at the top of the steps.

I imagine Soren will like to have this place to express himself, at least in a containable way.  And hopefully not with snuck-in crayons.
There's also the project of painting his bedroom, which has been in the works for, well, over a year now.
But I did get around to filling the holes in the walls.
There were lots of them, courtesy of my penchant for redecorating when I'm in need of a project.

And of course, there are just the random things that we don't get to, like moving air conditioners to the attic.
Some day it will all get done; hopefully I'll live to see it.

Happy weekend!  Hope you can check a few things off your list.
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