Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cookies for International Justice Mission: Take II

Greetings!

This is the second year I've undertaken to raise money for International Justice Mission via baking and selling ten boxes of my very best, all-time favorite cookies.  Each cookie is hand-made using only the finest ingredients - Valrhona feves, Guittard cocoa, Nielsen-Massey vanilla, and more.  If you're viewing this because I advertised locally, thank you, I hope you will consider a box!  If you're a regular blog-reader, family member or friend I am sorry that I am *not* shipping this year, but if you have even just $1.00 to spare please view the video on my campaign page, by clicking HERE, and consider donating to help fight the most oppressive of human rights abuses.

About IJM:
  • IJM is a U.S.-based non-profit human rights organization that rescues victims from the most horrific and oppressive of human-rights abuses, such as: Child Sex Trafficking, Adult Sex Trafficking, Forced Labor Slavery, and Justice System Oppression (e.g., illegal detention, trial without counsel, brutality, land seizure).
  • IJM's focus is four-part:  (1)Victim relief; (2) Perpetrator accountability; (3) Victim aftercare; and (4) Structural transformation.
  • IJM is a faith-based, Christian organization but it does not engage in proselytizing activities.  
  • IJM is a highly effective, highly rated charity; I've done the research you don't have to!
  • Click here to watch my campaign video and learn more about IJM's amazing work.
About the Cookies:








(4) Korova Cookies.  Straight out of a Parisian bakery, ultra-intense dark chocolate fished with a hint of sea salt.  Made with Guittard Cocoa Powder and Valhrona feves.

Photo Credit:  OneCakeTwoCake.

(5) Soft Almond Sugar Cookies with "Sprinkles" Cream Cheese Frosting.



Each box will include 3-4 of each type, other than the sugar cookies of which there are just two.  Thus each box includes a total of about 15 cookies.  Within the box, each type of cookie is kept in its own bag until you choose to arrange them for service, to avoid flavor transfer.

To secure a box, I ask for a $30 minimum donation.  For anything $50+, I will deliver to your porch if you're in Arlington!

Thank you!  Even if you can't take a box, please help me reach this year's goal of raising $500!

Think about it:

We can help innocent children who are being raped every day.

How can we not help them?

Click here to view the video and/or donate.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Swedish Cardamom Coffee Bread

Thank you to Kathryn for inviting me to do a guest blog on her "Scandinavian Christmas" series - you can find and follow the series on her blog "The Pickled Herring."  She is my husband's cousin on his Swedish side... and if you've ever wondered what Scandinavian cooking, crafting, and fika-ing is all about, look no further than her blog!

I've actually written before about how I'm a Scandinavian poser. I love the food and I look the part but I'm actually just a Euro-mix and there's nothing Scandinavian in there. Hasn't stopped me though.    I went to a Norwegian (affiliated) college and married myself right into a culturally Swedish-American family.  My husband's family lives near the Swedish area of Chicago. They are ECC Christians and most attend college at North Park University (both Swedish-affiliated). They have a massive "smorgasbord" on Christmas Eve, and some of the nuttier ones actually wake up at dawn on Christmas morning for a Julotta service. (Never.  Again.).

Me, I'm just in it for the food.  (And the excuse for extra cute Christmas decor in our apartment).  One of my absolute favorites is a simple, moist, sweet, little-something-extra bread.  I have no idea how my MIL keeps it stocked at the epic Murakami Christmases, where seriously like 30 people (more one year!) stay in the same house and never stop eating this bread.  She must make like 20 loaves of it and freeze them all or something.  But it is THE staple of Christmases I've come to know and love over the past 15 years and it's just perfect - you'll never tire of it.  So if you're all snowed in or you have a day you can spend relaxing at home, I highly recommend Swedish Cardamom Coffee Bread.  The recipe makes four loaves - perfect for sharing or freezing!  My husband's family members are most likely to be found eating a slice toasted with butter, cinnamon, and sugar or plain with a slice of jarlsburg cheese.  I like it just straight up - so moist.



Swedish Cardamom Coffee Bread

1 slightly rounded Tbsp. dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp. sugar

2 cups warm milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp salt
2 eggs plus 3 egg yolks, well beaten
7-9 cups flour (all-purpose)
2 Tbsp ground cardamom
Pastry brush or other tool to smooth on egg glaze

Cinnamon and sugar mixture (to taste - about 1-1.5 cups)

Stir the first three ingredients in a bowl to prepare the yeast.

In a mixer, mix the butter, sugar, and salt.  Add the warm milk - to melt the butter.  Cool to lukewarm (so that you don't cook the eggs when you add them).  Add the cardamom.  Add the beaten eggs and egg yolks.  Add the yeast.  Mix.  Mix in 6 cups of flour and beat until smooth.  Turn out batter onto a floured (1 cup) board.  Gently kneed in the balance of the flour with greased hands for 5-10 minutes.  Place in a greased bowl.  Cover with wet towel.  Let rise until doubled in a barely-warm oven with a pan of water - should take 1.5-2 hours.

Having a blast with the lady herself - people who see pics ask  me if she's "the Asian one" - no, she's Swedish.
Turn the risen dough out on a lightly floured board.  Kneed for about half a minute.  Divide into 4 equal parts; these will be your loaves.  Working with one part at a time, divide that part in 4 again and roll out into 4 ropes.

And now I'm a real poser - this was 2009 so I was  29 here.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Gather 4 ropes at one end and press them together.  Braid by starting with the rope on the right and weaving it over to the left, under-over-under.  Repeat with the rope that is now on the right, always weaving right to left.  Pinch the ends together.  It doesn't have to be perfect - mine never are.







Place the braids on greased cookie sheets (2 braids per sheet) and cover with another wet towel.  Let rise until double (45 minutes - 1 hour).  Take one egg, add a tsp of water, beat, and smooth it over the top of the loaves.  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top of each loaf, just cram it on

Mine.
MIL's.  Hers look way better but you can mess it up like I do and it still tastes great!
Bake 1 pan with 2 loaves at a time for 20 minutes.  Check and add 1-2 minutes as needed.  Check the bottom along the edge to avoid blackening.  The top and bottom should be browned.  Cool on racks if possible.

Pretend you're 29 again as soon as these come out of the oven.   That way you can eat twice as much!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies: An All-Time Fave.

Soft, chewy, slightly crisp on the outside and super intense in flavor, these are always a hit.
When a recipe gets five full stars from over 2,700 reviews on allrecipes.com, you *know* it's a keeper.  I didn't alter much here but the change I made is, in my humble, dark-chocolate obsessed opinion, pretty significant.  If you swap out the standard Reese's cups for Trader Joe's dark chocolate version, your final product will be ever-more intense and you'll spend a fraction of the time unwrapping.  I also skip the whole "mix the dry stuff separate first" - is that ever really necessary??

This recipe looks tricky but it's actually not.  It's perfect any time but we especially love the colors for fall and winter.  

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

1 stick butter, room temp or softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp milk
1 3/4 cup flour
1 package Trader Joe's dark chocolate peanut butter cups.  Minus a few you snacked on.

Unwrap your peanut butter cups.  Stick them in the freezer.  Preheat oven to 375.

Mix the butter, sugars, and peanut butter together until fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla, salt, and baking soda.  Add the flour and milk, alternating a little if you can.  

Scoop into ungreased, nonstick mini muffin tins.  Super easy if you have a cookie dough scoop - it's just the right size if you level it off.  Bake 8 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and immediately press a peanut butter cup into each "muffin."  Let cool until easily removable from pan (10 minutes)?  Remove from pan with fingers.  Voila.  

So easy, especially if you have a cookie dough scooper - no need to grease pan.

What's not to love?

They pop out easily after they've cooled.
Intense, melt-in-your mouth, sweet and savory perfection.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How "The Marriage Course" Saved My Marriage

Click HERE to find one near you.

UPDATE:  You can also now order the DVDs on Amazon.  Click HERE for the DVDs - the listing says "paperback" but it's DVDs and two workbooks, one for each partner.

__________________
We've all heard it before, right?

"Marriage is work."

Everybody says this - speakers at weddings, little old ladies, your mom.  Your dad.  But nobody ever explains what the heck it actually means.  Is it just a vague FYI that marriage isn't all fun and games... at least it wasn't for the speaker?  Or is the speaker advising you to full-on adopt a grin-and-bear-it attitude, lest your marriage fail for your own naiveté?  Do all marriages take "work"?  What type of "work"?  How much "work" is too much work?  And what if you're the only one doing any work??

Last February my husband and I did something that literally changed our lives.  And by changed our lives, I mean to tell you that the life it enabled us to have is literally *infinitely* more rewarding as the life we were otherwise living - a night and day difference.  It's quite likely the single most important thing either of us have ever done:  We took "The Marriage Course."

I really didn't expect a "course" to help; I thought at best it would be a band-aid to get us through to when my husband had the flexibility in his schedule to allow for real therapy.  My mom is a PhD family therapist, so the idea that family dynamics could improve through a "class" was something I truly doubted.  Plus, the class was offered through our church.  I love our church; women can be pastors (and elders) and sermons sometimes extoll the virtues of gender equality.  But I had no idea what to expect and past experiences in other religious settings had me fearing we'd be hearing some trite, sexist, hopelessly simplistic message about "men needing respect and women needing love."  I was practically rolling my eyes as we walked through the door; we needed something that would actually work.

***You do NOT need to be Christian to take this course - my atheist friend and her atheist husband LOVED it.  Gay couples could also benefit from it, IMO.  It is often offered via churches and the couple who started it is clearly Christian but the web description says that the course is for couples "with or without a Christian faith."  Gender roles are not mentioned (other than a bit on the lesson on sex).  It's all about individual personalities - as anything that actually works would have to be.***  

Our history...

We had dated for five happy years (all through college) and then been married for a few more before things really started unraveling.  Back then, the thoughts keeping me up at night included "Oh my gosh, someday we actually will have to say goodbye to each other... as in for real, for the last time... and what if, God forbid, it's tragically early?!"

Happier times, 2003

But then along came some really rough times for us.  And I'm not too proud to tell you that they didn't involve terminal illness, or paralysis, or (complete) economic ruin.  In the interests brevity and universality, I'll try to keep this as simple as I can:  By the time my husband had finished medical school and all 4.5 years of his post-medical school clinical training (residency and clinical fellowship), our relationship had devolved into a tension-filled, adversarial dynamic in which affection (if not love) was all but gone - really, truly all but gone.  The thought keeping me up had become this: "I'm not giving my children the happy, secure family life that my parents gave me, and there seems no possible way to change this - what am I going to do???"  I was completely miserable.  I remember crying on the treadmill at the gym (not recommended; far from practical) when "Runaways" would come on my playlist:

At night I come home after they go to sleep
Like a stumbling ghost I haunt these halls
There's a picture of us on our wedding day
I recognize the girl but I can't settle in these walls.

My husband seemed like he was a ghost to me.  The sweet, loving young man I'd married a decade earlier had been stolen from me slowly, year by year, for many years at that point; it seemed pretty irreversible.  Part of it was prolonged sleep deprivation, part of it was depression (triggered by sleep deprivation), part of it was family history, and part of it was an intense passion and idealism turned just just as intensely into cynicism as revisions to residency regulations fell largely on the backs of my husband and his classmates, young patients couldn't be saved, coworkers weren't always competent, and sometimes the system(s) failed people.  Our college friends would marvel at how much he had changed from the sweet, crazily hardworking, always ethical perfectionist who had been elected co-captian of the track team in college.  "A completely different person," they'd say.  "So jaded!"  "So cynical!"  So you can see why I thought this "marriage course" was just going to be a band-aid.  I told a friend that I felt like maybe there was one tiny glowing ember left, but that that ember was about to go out - forever.  "Real" marital therapy seemed my last remaining hope.

And yet, to my complete shock, the course did fix everything.  It somehow broke down all our walls - even walls we didn't know we had - and found that ember.  It sheltered and nurtured the ember and allowed it to grow again into a healthy, vibrant, dynamic fire.  The thought that keeps me up at night now is this:  "I have two amazing kids and an amazing marriage, this is too much, something terrible must be about to happen, what could it be??"  Hey - I never said "real" therapy doesn't still have its place!!

I've wanted to blog about this for awhile now because the course we took is national and it's probably offered near you.  I have a lot of medical-spouse readers (and plenty of medical readers), and I know from feedback that my experience and struggles, while not universal, are far from uncommon.  But even if you're not in a medical marriage and even if your marriage is already good, I would still recommend this course to anyone!  It's fun and enjoyable and the bottom line is this:  There's no possible way it won't make your marriage even better - and that means your entire life will be better, every single day.

It's hard for me to explain why or how the class worked for us; each of the seven sessions was filled with so many different "Aha!" moments, I can't capture it in a blog entry.  Instead, I'll briefly explain the structure of the class, and then I'll relate to you some of the biggest and most notable ways it helped us.

The Course
The course is a series of seven "date nights."  It's very private; the only person you ever talk to is your spouse.  You show up and grab a table for two.  A host or host-couple introduces that week's topic and plays a two-hour video.  The video consists of information and illustrative anecdotes from the main video couple (and other diverse couples the videos follow), and mini-breaks during which you and your spouse are instructed to discuss a certain topic, or rank certain values, etc.  It was actually fun!

Examples Of How It Worked For Us
Each marriage is different and the particular things in the course that worked wonders for our marriage are probably different from those that would work similar magic for others.  Money, for example, is a major issue for many couples and an entire session was devoted just to money.  But all we got out of that session was a confidence boost; it turns out we already see eye-to-eye on spending and saving.  Here's what was really beneficial for us:

(1)  The couple leading the video served as a compelling example of a good and functional marriage, and they made such a marriage seem both desirable and attainable.  So too did the host couple from our church and many of the other couples followed in the videos.  Because my husband and I are both idealistic perfectionists, we really needed to see that having struggles in a marriage is normal, and does not preclude you from having a happy, fulfilling marriage - it's still worth fighting for, with the right "work."

(2)  The very last session, "Love Languages," was key for us; it literally unlocked our communication.  We learned that my love language is words (could you tell?) and that means that I have a hard time feeling loved unless I actually hear or read it.  Gifts, for example, don't have any emotional significance to me at all.  It also means that I'm extra sensitive to critical words - I can accept criticism but it has to be gentle and couched in love or I feel completely rejected.  Alas, the medical school and residency years were a time (a loooooong time totaling 8.5 years) during which my husband was too mentally distant and too emotionally drained for positive verbalization, and logistical stresses too frequently made for mutual criticisms.  Now my husband verbalizes his appreciation for a good dinner, for my parenting, or even for a cute outfit, etc., and approaches criticism gently.  And he wrote a lengthy ditty in my birthday card.  For me, this is night and day.

Also included in that birthday card was a very generous spa gift certificate; one that, when I received similar last year, I was unable to enjoy because we really couldn't afford it.  This year though, I understand that my husband's love language for giving love is gifts.  So rather than feeling like "this is an impractical gift we cannot afford, I wish he hadn't done this," I now see it as "My husband really loves me!  I'll enjoy this love!!"  As with me and critical words, my husband is extra sensitive to times (in the past) when I haven't fallen in love with a gift.  And now I know why:  He processes my hesitation with or rejection of a gift as hesitation or rejection of his love.

Last, my husband's love language for receiving love is practical help.  He feels most loved when I make a tasty, healthy dinner or when the house is organized (pretty sure he doesn't care and can't even tell whether it's actually clean, thankfully!).  I had no idea he felt that way until we took this class, because like I said, he's not a naturally verbal person.  So now both of our daily lives are better - I enjoy my work at home much more knowing that someone other than me appreciates it, and our house is less of a disaster, which we actually both enjoy!

(3)  On breaking down walls, I would recommend one of the first session's activities to anyone.  Each of us had to make a list of six things that we appreciated about the other.  At the time, our marriage was in such a bad spot that I seriously doubted either of us could do it (really, really sad to look back on).  But when I read what he had written, I was shocked and moved to tears:

  1. I appreciate that you make everything work in our family and at home when in difficult circumstances.
  2. Our children couldn't have a better mother.
  3. I appreciate that you frequently have pleasant surprises at home like new dinners or baked goods.
  4. I enjoy your spirit when you advocate for your opinion on your blog.
  5. I am impressed by your adoptability/versatility with all the changes in our life.
  6. Thank you for making me invest more and have higher standards for our marriage and family life.

I had no clue that he thought any of that; like I said, he wasn't verbal and I didn't gather all this from the spa certificate!!  Meanwhile I'm sure he was pretty surprised to hear some of what I had to say about him, too.  I don't have his list but for example, even with all his career successes (and there have been many) I had never once told him that I found any of it impressive and really admirable.  That might sound crazy but in my mind, my role was to downplay the importance of career success in an ever-present bid to remind him that career success is not of ultimate importance; I was protecting my children because in my book, they are of ultimate importance, and I knew he'd always be trying to balance and juggle family with a mega-career.  Ironically, my strategy could only have backfired.  An unwillingness to speak appreciatively of things one's spouse has worked hard on doesn't do much to entice them back into the home.  That's not to say that there's no room to remind a driven spouse that family is important too.  There's room for both - in fact, the reminders will actually be better received if appreciation for the work is also expressed.  Plus, it's the truth!  I'm so glad my husband got to hear that I'm impressed with him (and I think he's hot - another thing I listed) while we're still sort of young!

(4) As I mentioned above, we learned we see eye to eye on money; where to spend, and where to save.  This wasn't surprising but it was surprising to learn that the only financial sticking point we've ever had isn't even a sticking point at all.  Because our dynamic had devolved into "preparing for battle," each of us had taken an extreme side of the college savings issue.  It turns out we both really value sending our kids to good schools, and we're willing to sacrifice to make it happen - but neither of us is willing to sacrifice everything to make it happen.  (Before the course, I thought he basically didn't want to save for college since college has so outrageously out-priced itself, and he thought I'd be happy with nothing less than sending our kids back to our now-$$$ alma mater).

(5) Finally, if you and/or your husband does well or tends to be competitive in "class" settings, well, the class setting is actually really helpful.  It was perfect for us.

Whew!  Sorry for such a lengthy entry but this course really changed our lives and I both want to document it to look back on someday and I want to encourage you to go take this course!  Click here to find one near you.

Do it for your kids, if not for yourselves.
For $340 ($40 + babysitters) we gave our kids a far better present than a pricey college:
We gave them a happy family.

____________________________

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life Lately.

Hi all.  I haven't blogged in awhile ... I have big plans to gear back up for more medical/parenting topics,  but for now I just want to capture a few memories...  So on a personal note:

Summer is fading into autumn over here and it all has such a different feel with Matthew having started preschool (and swimming and t-ball!).  And I just have to say ... I love it.  As much as I will always cherish the four years we spent of sweet, schedule-free, together-all-the-time baby days, we are definitely both ready move on a little, and to grow and change.  Matthew is having a blast at school - he loves his teachers and his friends and he especially loves the days he gets to stay for "lunch bunch."  Oh my gosh it is so cute hearing him excitedly tell Mark what I packed for him that day!!  Not a single tear has been shed at drop-off (from either of us!), not even on the first day.  It's probably partially a benefit of a September birthday... he turned four the very first week of school, meaning he's a little more mature than he otherwise might be and I really did have four years at home with him already - a long time(!).  I've been loving a thrice weekly break, and it's been so special to finally have some one-on-one time with Claire.  Tellingly, Matthew decided on his own that he wanted to be called "Matt" at school.  "Matt Murakami" was always the plan... we'll still call him Matthew at home but I love thinking about my sweet, not-so-little Matt.

Meanwhile Mark is finally up and running in the lab, which has been an incredible change for our family.  To explain:  He finished residency two years ago and is now about two years into his oncology fellowship.  The first 1.5 years of fellowship were just like residency (read: outrageously grueling hours) except that he was able to practice his speciality (oncology) rather than general medicine.  So at this point we are SO GLAD to finally be DONE DONE DONE with all the *truly* crazy (as opposed to just sort of crazy) hours.  I can't even begin to describe the relief and the impact this has had on our family... that'll have to be another blog entry.  Mark is also clearly very happy to finally be able to focus more on what he really wants to do - the research.  Things are going well for him so far; we probably have another 3(+) years until he can get enough grants and publications to start his own lab, but that's fine with us - we love it here, for now (could use some drawers and counterspace in the bathroom, but otherwise, it's really pretty perfect!).  Blood cancers (leukemias, lymphomas, etc) are his area and his research is pretty exciting if you ask me!

We had a fabulous but crazy-busy summer, I barely had time to blink.  A few highlights:

Florida with Nana.  Nautical Janie & Jack romper off Ebay.
(1) We kicked it off right with a trip to visit my uncle in Florida (me, the kids, and my mom), and some time in Madison with my parents.  We managed to work in a few Chicago days with my in-laws and I even escaped sans kiddos to a girls' weekend in Minnesota, visiting two of my oldest and dearest friends!
Three times a lady.
Back home in Madison:  Papa's yardwork helper.
Museum of Science and Industry with Mo - watching the moon landing video.
Same trip:  We also made it to Geneva, WI for my SIL's baby shower.  I got to spend time with my beloved Aunt Nancy who, I should note, has the same gray streak but with more strategic parting.  We both got it from my grandmother :)  Pretty sure Claire will have it one day too, check it out:

Hard to capture on film but she has one streak of much lighter hair, right in that same spot.
She'd colored it here.
I still miss her all the time.
(2) We loved having our "third college wheel" (my BFF Hillary) and her family nearby for the summer.  Getting our kids together is nothing short of trippy - if someone could have shown us these pics back in college, all three of us would have just about died.  How did this happen?!
Our Mini-Me's.  Stay tuned for "Ellingson Hall: The Sequel."  In theaters September of 2030.  If we can afford it.
Hillary/Annabelle:  "No, I didn't find the results surprising.  I'd long since suspected I was right-handed in a MAJOR way."
Lisa/Claire:  "I might even stop saying 'dude.'"
Mark/Matthew:  "Y'all want to to go to Hardees after this?"
Their destiny:  Megadorks!
Currently:  Dressed to impress.

(3)  We rocked some seriously great outfits, I can't wait to resell these next spring.

"Could Mine" brand patchwork/rainbow tunic and leggings, off Zulily
LOVED this outfit.  Already resold!
Matilda Jane.
Matilda Jane.
Adorable Hartstrings go-go style dress bought on flash sale at RueLaLa.
"Baby Whale" nautical searsucker bubble/romper with long ribbon ties by Classy Couture, from Zulily.
Gymboree on the boy.
Janie & Jack.
Someday she really will be "sophisticated."  Crazy!
(4) After so many years of not being able to go, we finally made it to Mark's family's "family camp" (Portage Lake Covenant Bible Camp) in Michigan.  WHAT A BLAST!  There was no end of fun stuff to do both at camp and in the general area, and certainly no end of family members to hang out and catch up with.  This kind of trip is right up my alley in terms of family, tradition (my kids are 4th generation at this camp!), and fun, and between camp and the epic Murakami Christmases I am really pretty excited to have married into the big family experience.    

Allllllllll the Murakami cousins.  So far, anyway!  (NO plans to add to this... but would be thrilled if someone else did).
Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

(5) My parents also came out here for their annual visit; we can't host them in our two-bedroom apartment so - oh darn - they always rent a place in Cape Cod.  Cape Cod is such a fairytale and I feel so lucky to experience it every summer.  It's New England at its absolute finest:  picturesque natural beauty, quaint little cafes and creameries, and a fabulous historic feel.

Babes on the Cape.
Hanging with dad.
Our local BFFs came up for a night... cutest crew ever!
Add a visit with some dearly missed friends who moved away a year(+) ago = a perfect week.

(6) Annual blueberry picking at Parlee Farms - can't miss loot this good!


Dressed the part.  Of course!

(7) We barely used our trusty bike trailer this summer, we were just THAT busy!  But we did make it downtown.  Once.  !!!

Boston Commons.  Fave new outfit for Claire by Persnickety.

(8)  I discovered Persnickety.  My current favorite brand EVER.  (yes, I know... but that's exactly what I mean).


(9) Overnight trip to scenic Connecticut to visit the Whites ... late-night chatting and breakfast at "The Coffee Farm," yes please!

I only contributed two of these kids.  Ever in awe of the amazing parents that Jen and Topher are.

(10) Matthew turned four.  Four!!!  He wanted a yellow cake and an excavator for his birthday.  This is about as creative as I get, and I don't think I'll ever pull it off again.

Saying prayers that night with Matthew I prayed for him "... and thank you for my yellow birthday cake with the excavator on top..." before I could go on I saw this sweet little smile creep across his face and he said, in a gosh-you're-so-silly tone, "It was a backhoe."  And...
He was RIGHT.  lol.

And two bonus snippets as we move into fall...

(1) Our first-ever after school snack of home made chocolate chip cookies and milk.  Been dreaming of this day for how long????

Seriously, if you haven't tried this cookie recipe I IMPLORE YOU!!!!!!

(2) Shots from some mommy-and-me time with Claire.  And ... more Persnickety :)

Pink "Knickers."  LOVE.  This has become a hobby and an artistic outlet for me.
Love her.
My sweet, goofy, outrageously brave, fun-loving girl.

So that's that, I just wanted to capture a few moments before they got away from me.  I can't believe how the last several months have flown by.  Here's to hoping for a fun-filled, productive fall, with lots of happy autumn memories and maybe a little more blogging!