26 February 2015

Kokeshi Doll Tea Party

"Oooooooooh, Isaac, I do not want to go outside. But I will come out with you if you REALLY want me to." 

"Ok mom, let's do that. Let's have some fun in the snow!" My tot actually said that. 
Over five inches of fresh snow padded last week's snow, ice and slush. I can't see my car's windshield. I am not used to this kind of weather. Norfolk schools have been out for six or seven days this month. What?! 
But snow days mean neighbor play days: Shoveling snow, building lumpy snowmen and snow forts, bulldozing snow off the deck table. I even let three preschoolers and my neighbor watch this ridiculous, snowy, matcha tea-kokeshi doll tea party photo shoot under the snow-laden branches in the backyard. Even though they all looked at me like I was crazy. 

Hey, sometimes you have to strike while the teapot is hot and the rain chain is snowy, you know? 
We've had cozy, HOT HOT HOT tea inside after nap time many afternoons this week. Creme Brûlée tea sweetened by maple sugar cubes with Chris on yet another snow day. A little tea party to discuss four-month-olds, work, and to meet the new neighbor. Getting the preschoolers together to wreak havok on the upstairs and generally have an interesting and awesome time. I have to admit that February is not quite all that I dreaded, even if it started dismally! 

24 February 2015

Tiny Bear's Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

This is it! Five stars for "Tiny Bear's Bible" is written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, the woman who wrote "The Jesus Storybook Bible." I may have thought I was selecting this FREE review copy when I picked "The Toddlers' Adventure Bible," which I rated three stars. 

"Tiny Bear's Bible" is AWESOME! It covers the Old and New Testaments in 11 stories, stiff board-book pages, and a cheesy-adorable fuzzy bear cover. When I was little I would've eaten that up. 

The stories are told in rhyme to Tiny Bear and predictably cover creation, Moses, Noah, Daniel, Jesus' birth. I really like its coverage of Jesus: the stories get across the gist of His message, death, and redirection in a tot-appropriate way. 

I didn't like how the tot Adventure Bible skipped the crucifixion completely. No. Death is part of life and I don't agree with shielding kids from it. And Christ's crucifixion and resurrection is the ENTIRE POINT OF THE BIBLE. 

So far our approach has worked well with Isaac---we just discuss death as we encounter it---and this Bible talks about Jesus' death and resurrection resulting in our living again with Him! Hallelujah! And that's so important, for our kids to know from a young age the hope we have in Christ. Otherwise, death comes along and life seems totally hopeless. 

Anyway, we're also currently watching the Disney movie "Bears" on repeat, to the point where Isaac says, "No, I not a boy! I not a monkey!" "Well, what are you?" "I a BEAR CUB!" So that is another point in this Bible's favor at our house! 

Conclusion: this is a Bible I would buy as a gift for my own kids or friends aged four and under. An excellent first Bible, prequel or supplement to our favorite "Jesus Storybook Bible," also by Lloyd-Jones. 

Clear and Present Danger

Chris carried Isaac up and down all the ladders on ship as he gave his dad and us a tour. Look at us NOT repeating past mistakes! 

He showed us the tower and the bridge. The flight deck was covered in ice and snow. Even the hanger inside was (literally) freezing. Now I understand why Chris needs about two hours to thaw when he gets home from work. Brrr! 

Ice and snow on the waterfront (can you see the cars cocooned in ice?) and military battleship---thrilling all around! 

And no kids tumbled down any ladders. Success! 

Aquarium: 1, Kruegers: 2

"Grandad! Come here! I want to show you something!" Isaac corralled Grandad into the kitchen to show him the awesome cheesy photos of our foursome at the aquarium a couple weeks ago. 

The photos, pinned to the frige with periodic table of element magnets, were a great investment. Isaac points to them while I make dinner and says, "We're in a clam! We're on a stingray! We're on a turtle! I don't like it o-po-pus." 

So Isaac showed these prized treasures to Grandad and told everyone we were going to the aquarium. With enthusiasm like that---and a season pass---who could say no? 

On our way there I asked Chris what his favorite part is. "The bathroom." Eye roll. I turned around. "Isaac, what's your favorite part of the aquarium?" "The turtles and the stingrays." 

I turned back to Chris. "Isaac gave me a real answer!" We saw those turtles! And we saw those stingrays! And Grandad got Isaac another set of photos to admire on the fridge, and Eloise took a nap. 

Little Lady Eloise did unfortunately repeated her nurse-and-blowout routine, so this post almost got titled "aquarium: 1.5, Kruegers: 1.5," but in the end, I claim the day in our favor! 

19 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year!

Chris' parents arrived safely last night and got to enjoy Norfolk's coldest February 19th in over 100 years. How cold was it? So cold that Knitting Mill Creek froze completely over all the way down to the Ladayette River. BRRR!! Chris tossed a huge ice chunk onto the iced expanse. Isaac thought that looked like fun. As he approached the bank, though, he started to slide down the riverbank toward the ice! Just a few feet thankfully, and Grandad helped him back to his feet and across the street to the sidewalk. 

To celebrate Chinese New Year, we got Chinese takeout. My fortune cookie gave the Chinese word for "swimming." Oh, you ironic cookie, you. Isaac's read, "Try your best to avoid arguing with your elders and superiors." Unfortunately, my cookie is the more likely to be accurate. 

Happy Chinese New Year! I hope we have no swimming in the nearby creek or river in the Year of the Sheep! 

18 February 2015

Snow Henge and Other Oddities

This snow is terrible for raising up a snow population. Our attempts at building a snow family peaked with one lone snow mountain man---a man of isolation and mystery. Why does he wear that enigmatic smile? 

But here's what this snow IS good for: SNOW HENGE. The top several inches sort of iced over, then broke off neatly into tablets and stackable slabs when gently kicked. Chris, Isaac and I balanced the satisfyingly solid snow bricks into several impressive towers, the tallest of which was over my head. 

Within an hour of completion the neighbors had texted us a compliment (thanks, Megan!). Snow family's got nothing on that! 
Eloise is not a huge fan of the snow, but Isaac sure is. Tomorrow our low is five degrees. FIVE. No further plans for Snow Henge expansion. 

An aside: the kiddos have been unwell for almost two weeks with a series of coughs, snot, congestion, fevers, etc. After the 100th time Isaac coughed right in my face I, in a fit of stellar parenting, said, "Please try not to get Mom sick. If I get sick, who's going to take care of you?" Isaac thought about it. "Dad!" "No. Dad's gone. I'm all you've got. There's no one to help if Mom gets sick so please cover your mouth when you cough." Isaac seemed unphased by my grouchy scare tactics, but guess what. When I inevitably contracted the crud, Chris got Monday off for Presidents Day, then got two snow days off. After weeks of sleeping 3-4 total hours in 45 minute chunks (one night I was up SEVEN TIMES between the two crying kids sick and waking each other up), I took NyQuil and had a three-hour morning nap. Yay! Dad's home to take care of us after all! I told Isaac I was sorry for saying that and God provided Dad time off to take care of us. Fortunately God is bigger than parenting fails. There's hope! 

Snowflower and the Secret Tea

The first time it snowed I had a fantasy of a delicate cup of tea steaming in the crisp new snow. But...it was cold outside and then the snow melted. Then Winter Storm Octavia gave me another chance! 

Isaac and Chris mounded up a snow mountain man in the front yard, Eloise snoozed snugly upstairs, and I had my hot cup of Marshmallow Macaron Tea in dappled sunlight under the fir tree. 

14 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

We kept it simple this year with a family date to O'Connor Brewing Company, a brewery about a mile from our house. 

We'd heard it was family friendly. With picnic-style benches, dogs, other babies, and a lot of ambient noise, it totally was. 

The brews are charmingly named after local nautical themes. We got a sampler and tried them all! I don't remember which ones were my favorites. We had a great time! 

While the kids and I were staking out a table, I spotted a lady with a half-finished bag of Kroger brand chips and some salsa. I was secretly amused by this; even more so when Chris showed up with the chips and salsa we ordered at the bar...a full, unopened bag of Kroger brand chips. 

"Come on, at least dump it in a bowl!" Chris laughed. Maybe it's a hipster thing. We're a little out of it lately. Or maybe next time we'll just stop at the grocery store on our way in! 

07 February 2015

Kids, King Cake, Chai

I walked into the grocery store and it hit me: not only is there no gaudy display of King Cakes, plastic babies and shiny beads---there's no King Cake in the bakery section at all. What. And they call this the South. 

Well you know what? The one-fifth of my life I've spent in Pensacola manifested itself thusly: I hollered to my kids, got our behinds in the kitchen, and we baked ourselves a King Cake! 

King Cakes are maybe the best thing about January and February EXCEPT HANNAH'S BIRTHDAY. Mardi Gras season starts on Epiphany and lasts until Lent begins. Mardi Gras this year is February 17. 

King Cakes celebrate the Magi's search for Jesus with a plastic baby hidden inside to grant luck to whoever finds it (without breaking a tooth). Perfect for an afternoon's activity with a live baby and tot! 
As I've mentioned, Isaac LOVES baking. He likes to work the mixer, play with water in the sink "washing dishes" (which is actually pretty helpful), sit on the counter, scoop flour, taste the sugar, and generally check the dough a lot to make sure it's good. 

We cooked up a traditional cream cheese-filled version. This recipe uses a lot of yeast and requires a fair amount of rising time, so factor that into your dessert timing. We ended up letting Isaac stay up until 9pm so he could taste the fruits of his labor. And we'd started it right after naptime around 3:30pm. 

As for pairings, you could always enjoy it with coffee and chicory from Café du Monde. I liked it with the French tea company Janat's Everest Chai Tea, a very strong black tea that I impulse purchased because it had a cat and a world map on the tin. Since I was sharing this pot of chai with Chris, I was liberal with the milk and dumped in scoop after scoop of brown sugar. He loved it. 

And while the first cake turned out a bit wonky (this recipe makes two cakes), the second is the picture of perfection! As always, with this recipe I measure things like yeast (science!) but guesstimate and substitute the other ingredients (art!). 

Kid's King Cake

2 cups Greek yogurt or sour cream (all I had was honey-flavored Greek yogurt. Yum!) 
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1/3 cup brown sugar 
2 eggs lightly beaten 
4.5 teaspoons (or 2 pkgs) active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water with 1 T brown sugar) 
6 cups flour 

Mix all the stuff together until smooth, adding the flour a little at a time to make sure it's not dry. Knead for 10 minutes, until stretchy and elastic. My dough was on the very sticky side. Put it in a buttered bowl, cover, let rise 1-2 hours. Punch down (Isaac's favorite part after tasting. He kept looking at me like "am I really allowed to be doing this??"). Divide dough in half and flatten between sheets of parchment paper (Isaac also liked this part. Whack whack!). Ours was super sticky, so the paper was absolutely crucial. Plus I don't have a rolling pin. The pretty, plump cake dough measured about 14x10 at this stage. Remove the top piece of parchment paper before topping the dough with: 

Kid Cream Filling: 
2 packages (8oz each) softened cream cheese 
3/4 cup brown sugar 
1 egg 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Mix it up! Divide in half and spread onto each dough rectangle. 

Roll the dough like a jelly roll, then shape it into a circle. Let it rise another 30 minutes. Bake cakes separately, about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F. 

When it comes out all toasty golden and looking awesome, make it look even more heavenly with this: 

Sweet Baby Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
4 Tablespoons milk (as needed) 

While I mixed that up and poured it on top (half on each cake, of course), Chris and Isaac dyed sugar crystals green (faith), purple (justice), and yellow (power).

"But did you put one of those plastic babies in it?" Chris asked. 
"Noooo," I realized. "But I did lose a lemon seed in the glaze! That can be the baby." 

Chris rolled his eyes. The next day at tea time Chris frowned and reached into his mouth. "What is THIS?!" 
"Hey! Did you find the lemon-seed-baby? Yay! You get to make the next cake!" 
More eye-rolling. I get that a lot. 

06 February 2015

Aquarium: 1 Kruegers: 1

We were not defeated by the Virginia Aquarium this time! How did we swing this victory, you ask? Three easy steps to success: 

1. Chris came! 
2. The stroller did not come! 
3. We went on a Friday, not MLK weekend! 

Walking through the dark, twisting passages this time I realized it was absolute fun suicide to bring a stroller on a crowded day last time. Especially when Eloise just wailed the whole time anyway. Some exhibits are set up to resemble swamps, marshes, submarines, whatever. Those are not places you'd bring a stroller. Or kids I guess. 
But anyway, one passageway was like four feet wide. Today it seemed thrilling and interesting. Last time it felt like Isaac had disappeared while I was stuck in traffic. 

Another crucial fun difference was that Eloise slept the whole time and did not poop all over herself or me. 

In conclusion, we had such a nice time we overpaid like suckers for those campy green screen photos. A family picture where you can see everyone's eyes! On Eloise's Four Month Birthday! I must have it! 
To commemorate Eloise's One-Third Birthday: she can roll from front to back and back to side! She and Isaac laugh at each other all during lunch and dinner. She has a very distinct Eloise Giggle. I go into her room sometimes to find her totally propped up on her arms, looking around, and when she spots me she absolutely lights up in a huge baby grin. She hates poopy diapers. From birth until shortly before Christmas, Eloise slept five to nine hours in one stretch almost every night. I thought I had hit the baby jackpot. 

Then Isaac, Eloise and I all got the flu the week before Christmas and she stopped sleeping completely for the next month. Now she's finally started to do a four or five hour stretch again. One night she did seven. Last night she did about five hours at once. I'll take it. This week she also stopped upchucking every single thing she eats and packed on about 500 pounds and grew about two inches in three days. She's already fitting comfortably in some nine month clothes! But mostly still six month onesies. Three month clothes are totally outgrown. 

Isaac similarly had a growth spurt recently. One day I noticed his 2T pants were finally getting a little short, and three weeks later all his 4T stuff fits and most 3T stuff does NOT. 
I love my kids so much. Especially after a successful visit to the aquarium, a tasty dinner while watching Bears, and some Sauvignon Blanc! 

02 February 2015

The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt

"The mere animal pleasure of traveling in a wild unexplored country is very great."
~Dr. David Livingstone

The British missionary explorer! An adventurous American journalist! The Sultan of Zanzibar! Of course I picked "The Daring Heart of David Livingstone---exile, African slavery, and the publicity stunt that saved millions" by Jay Milbrandt FOR FREE to read and review. I've always wanted to know more about Dr. David Livingstone (I presume). This book was enhanced by African red bush tea and Pounce. 

"We are off again, and we trust that He who rules the waves will watch over us and remain with you, to bless us and to make us blessings to our fellow-men." 
~ Dr. David Livingstone, March 10, 1858, departing England for Africa 

This book is some 250 pages following Livingstone in his African expeditions while touching back on public opinion and fervor in England and abroad, plus some study questions in the back. 

Livingstone was famously mauled by a lion. He discovered treatment for malaria. He failed mightily to achieve exploratory goals set forth by his benefactors. His primary life goal of foiling the brutal East African slave trade was accomplished...but unfortunately he didn't live to see it. Abolishing that slave trade is what the whole book is about, because that's what Livingstone's whole life was about. 

I give this book four out of five stars because it deals with interesting history, is very readable, and contains a lot of sources. It's like you're there! But life in Africa in the 1860s sounds like a real drag. The rivers are all dangerous and unnavigable. Slave traders riled everyone up to attack and sell each other, so living there and traveling both were generally horrific. Rainy season flooded everything and stepping in an elephant footprint would send you floundering underwater. Supplies were constantly pilfered. 

It's a serious read, but worth reading if you're interested in Dr. Livingstone. The best quotes are from Livingstone himself. The man wrote several books of his very own, after all. It turns out anyone can download them from Amazon FOR FREE. 
The guy was relentless in pursuit of his goals, but frequently extremely lost and discouraged. Plus his wife died of a fever in Africa while someone else was raising their kids back in England. Big chunks of this book are kind of a downer, but I guess that's life. 

The author quotes Livingstone making an excellent observation about Christ. Humans value rising above it all, or "lofty indifference to all trivial things." Christ did the opposite, and is instead "minute in His care of all," exercising constant vigilance over us. God cares that I'm changing poopy diapers all day long? That alone made the book worth reading. 

"The day of Africa is yet to come." 
~Dr. David Livingstone 

31 January 2015

Sometimes My Kids Hate Me

Sometimes my kids hate me. Sometimes they both get sick the morning Chris leaves for four days. Sometimes they stagger naps and calls of nature to where someone is always crying and someone is always poopy. Sometimes my kids wake up every two freaking hours all night when they should be sleeping three times that long. Sometimes my kids throw tantrums because the cup isn't blue. Sometimes my kids just hate me. 
But sometimes my son earns two trains back from the time out box and picks only one for himself and gives the other one to his sis. Sometimes my son shares his special blankie with her too, covering her up sweetly. Sometimes my kid pats my arm and says, "I'm sorry Daddy had to go, Mom." Sometimes my kids nap at the same time. Sometimes my kids look identical. Sometimes my kid chooses baking with me instead of playing trains together. Sometimes my kids and I think the exact same things are funny. Sometimes I guess my kids love me. And I guess I love them too. (Especially when they nap at the same time.)

29 January 2015

Oolong Rouge

"Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea."
~ Henry Fielding 

Oolong Rouge Tea is a classic oolong blended with rose buds. I bought in Beijing after a Gungfu Chinese tea ceremony, literally "making tea with effort," on my first trip to China. 

Oolong Rouge Tea is mellow and slightly fruity with hints of rose. Pair it with chocolate covered almonds, strawberries dipped in chocolate, and tea sandwiches spread with a chocolate hazelnut butter and thinly sliced strawberries. 

Whether your tea tastes better with love or scandal is up to you. 
By the by, "voulez-vous boire du thé avec moi ce soir?" is formal French for "would you like to drink tea with me tonight?" a take on the phrase from the song "Moulin Rouge."

28 January 2015

The Aquarium

Our visit to the Virginia Aquarium was a complete disaster. It was ridiculously crowded. Isaac was both tired AND tired of potty training. He decided to forego the toilets and ran around hitching up his soggy pull up. He was overstimulated and I was slow moving---the stroller slowed me waaaay down, stranger's kids kept trying to climb on it, and Eloise fussed and howled. 

"THAT BABY IS CRYING!" said lots of little kids while they watched a crocodile slide by at kid-eye level. 

Adult European tourists blocked off the best views of the tanks while Isaac and other shorties said, "Mooooom! I can't see!" 

Eloise had some lunch in front of the glorious shark tank. That was cool, until she pooped through her onesie, my baby sling, and onto my pants. I always have spare baby clothes and even a spare shirt for me in the diaper bag, but pants? Sigh. I just wiped it off as best I could. 
A huge thanks goes to my long-suffering neighbors for putting up with us that day. They, and the aquarium itself, were awesome, and no doubt our next visit WITH DAD will be loads of fun---we can front-pack the baby and skip the dang stroller. This misadventure is what I get for trying to do something fun with both kids by myself. 

But since our first visit was such a bust, I'm just editing it out of my memory and stuffing our aquariumizing into this trip to the Houston aquarium the rest of the cousins enjoyed last month. Boom---much better. 

A Sailor Went to Tea

"Most navy warships (Depending on the captain, of course) have pretty strict mealtime rules. Carriers not as much because they're so big, but cruisers, destroyers and frigates typically have very specific meal start times where you are in place in the wardroom standing at your chair waiting for the captain. If you're not there or are late, you either ask the captain to join, or you don't eat. 

The chaplain generally blesses the meal, and we wait for the captain to eat first.  And you have to ask to be excused from either the captain or senior officer present to leave as well. 

There is a lot of etiquette and rules governing most of the meal. We have fine china and silverware in the wardroom, with junior enlisted still working on their vocational rating serving the officers.  There's even a dumb waiter going up to the wardroom kitchen from the main galley and mess decks below. 

It's amazing that tradition has held in the face of operational life on a ship with everyone standing watch at different times 24/7, running drills, flight ops, everyone sleep deprived, etc. but I've never had a captain on any ship budge on the pleasantries of it; it feels almost sacred, which is refreshing. 

I think it's held so long because it brings everyone together in a daily forum so that the captain can build relationships. Kind of like families, eh?" 

---Chris, in an email to my parents and siblings as part of a discussion on eating together as a family 

My mom found the USN anchor teacup in a northern CA antique store. The anchor and cherry blossom teacup is a replica of Japanese Navy teacup. Chris and I got it in 2009 at Sasebo's JMSDF Museum.