Monday, January 28, 2013

hello blog and hello baby!

Well, surprise!  I announced on Friday that I would be launching my new blog today, but little did I know I would also have a new baby by today!  I wrote that blog post around 2pm on Friday, got a call at 4pm from my OB that I needed to be induced, and by 7:15 I was in the hospital watching Pitocin drip down an IV and into my arm.  Our son was born about 4.5 hours later, healthy and hearty and crying oh so lustily!

Anyway, there is obviously so much more to say, but from now on I'm excited to announce that I'll be saying it on my new blog:  I have lots of photos, the promised giveaway, and more details about our baby's birth and name to share later this week. 

Please update your Google Reader with my new blog address and join me over at the new Making Room blog!

Friday, January 25, 2013

new blog launching on Monday!!!

Completely unrelated photo of my sister Emily with little one-month-old Lena... 
because I can't stop looking at baby photos these days! 

Well, my friends, the day is almost here!  As I mentioned in my Goals for 2013 blog post, I have been working hard to build a new website up on a self-hosted Wordpress site.  Finally I think I'm ready to reveal this little baby of mine to the public eye... and have chosen Monday to be the day.  Good news for you: the blog launch will also come with a wonderful, very Italian giveaway.  Thank you for being such faithful, thoughtful readers!  I'm so excited for this new step!


P.S. What about the other baby, you say, the baby in my belly?  Sadly, no baby news!  I'm 39 weeks and 2 days today.  I hope there will be an announcement about a newborn in our arms very soon!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

customized board books for your baby

I've been eying these customized photo books from Pinhole Press for awhile.  Plug in photos of family and friends, press "order," and in no time flat you'll have a way to enjoy the faces of loved ones with your baby.   Especially since we live in Sicily and Lena's entire extended family lives in Virginia, this seemed like a wonderful way to help her remember their names and faces.

However, as with most things in life that cost money, I just looked.  I did not do.

And then what should my mother-in-law get Lena for Christmas but a customized photo book!  It came from a company called Pint Size Productions.  After browsing around, I really like Pint Size because it's much more customizable and they also offer many more book options.  I'll be going to them with any future board book orders, I think.

Lena's Marmee (which sounds like "Mommy" when she says it these days) put together a beautiful book with all Lena's aunts and uncles from Elliott's side of the family.  She loves it!  Below is a little video I took of Elliott and Lena reading it together on the night she received the book.  Makes me want to make one for my side of the family!

Have you ever made a customized photo book?  Or a board book?  What's your favorite online resource/company to use?

P.S.  This is not a sponsored post.  
The day when I am actually cool enough to have a sponsor, I might dance a little jig and post a video of that!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

3 "holiday" desserts you should make year round

It really is a shame that some of the very best treats and sweets are intended for just one month of the year!  The reality is, though, that many of these delicious goodies can be made for other occasions, especially for ones that involve red and white (like Valentine's Day, which is just around the corner).  Here are a few suggestions from my holiday list of favorites...

... and then it's your turn!  What are your favorite "holiday" desserts that you can (and do!) make even in the spring or heat of summer?

{pictured above}
Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
Original recipe from my friend Joy.  These cookies are amazing.
  • 3/4 cup butter softened  
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla 
  • 3/4 cup cocoa 
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour 
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 
  • 3/4 tsp salt 
  • 12 large candy canes or 6 oz. peppermints crushed into pieces (make sure not to crush too much or it will become powdery) 
  • 1 (12 oz.) bag white chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350.  
  2. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, beating until blended. 
  3. Combine flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. 
  4. Beat in candy canes and white chocolate chips just until combined. 
  5. Drop using a 2 tbsp. scoop onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake 10-14 minutes. I bake them 12 minutes. 
  6. Remove to wire racks and cool completely (about 15 minutes). 

Mini Cheesecake Petit-Fours
Original recipe from paper{whites}.
Makes 24 petit-fours. 
  • 1 8-oz. 'brick' of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 6 double squares of graham crackers, roughly broken up
  • 1 can cherry pie filling 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line mini muffin tins with liners. 
  2. Place graham cracker pieces in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until they break down into fine crumbs. Melt butter in a medium-sized, microwave safe bowl and add the crumbs to the melted butter. Mix until well combined. 
  3. Using a 1/2 teaspoon, spoon the mixture into the lined muffin tins and use your fingers to press lightly to mold them into the bottom and sides of the tins to form a crust.
  4. Mix the cream cheese with the sugar until silky smooth (get rid of all the lumps!). Add vanilla, and then the eggs, one at a time. Scrap down the sides of the bowl as you mix.
  5. Using a teaspoon, spoon the cream cheese mixture into the muffin tins to about 2/3 full. 
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes and cool in tins for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before refrigerating at least 2 hours. (Note: when you pull the petit-fours out of the oven, they'll look underdone, but they'll firm up as you let them cool.) 
  7. Immediately prior to serving, top each petit-four with a cherry.

    Caramel Pecan Shortbread Pie Bars
    Original recipe from
    Makes 48 small squares, or 24 larger bars.

    • For the base 
      • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
      • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
      • 2 cups flour (+ 1–2 tbsp)
    • For the topping 
      • 2 cups of pecan halves, roasted
      • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 
      • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
      • 1/3 cup honey
      • 2 tbsp cream
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F) and line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with baking paper.
    2. To make the shortbread base:
      1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour and mix on a low speed until a crumbly mixture forms. If it is too sticky, add a couple more tablespoons of flour. It should be crumbly but stick together when pressed.
      2. Press the shortbread into the base of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until the top is dry and slightly puffed.
    3. While the crust is baking, make the topping. 
      1. In a medium saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, honey, cream and salt over a medium heat.
      2. Bring it to a simmer and let it bubble for about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Mix in the pecans and vanilla.
    4. Pour the pecan caramel mixture over the hot shortbread base and spread out the pecans as evenly as possible.
    5. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes, until evenly bubbling all over.
    6. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

girls' getaway to Taormina

Welcome back from MLK Day weekend, everyone!  Hope you kicked back, relaxed, and enjoyed the weekend wherever you are.  We laid very low here at home other than a couple of hikes into the valley and some evenings with friends.  And we twiddled our thumbs and waited for this baby to come, but... he's staying put for now.  Oh well!

I've been wanting to share these photos with you from now two weekends ago.  It all started when I woke up on Saturday morning and saw an email from my friend Emily, who was on her way to Florence with her family and wanted advice about flying with a runny-nosed toddler.

I turned to Elliott and sighed, "We don't travel anymore!   We used to go somewhere every few weeks but now we just stay at home.  Which is fine with a baby due any day, but... I miss it."

"Well," replied my husband, with a twinkle in his eye, "what if I told you that you were going on a trip today?  That your friends are whisking you away for a girls' weekend in Taormina?  That you are going to spend the whole day shopping and eating in nice restaurants and getting a massage at a spa... and that you're staying overnight in a hotel there, too?"

Umm... whaaaat?!

But he wasn't kidding!  My friend Bethany had secretly arranged to take her two pregnant friends--me and Becca Arthur--to Taormina for a little last getaway before both our babies are born.  (Becca is due in May with her fourth child, a girl!)  Bethany had arranged the whole agenda herself and would be picking me up in about 2 hours.  Time to pack my bags!

We spent the whole day just as Elliott had promised: wandering around the beautiful Sicilian town of Taormina (which I have blogged about before here and here), eating delicious food, and browsing through stores that we would never enter with our rambunctious toddlers!  It was a beautiful gift of a day with two dear friends.

We shopped for pottery in our favorite artist's studio.

Fruit made entirely out of marzipan!  Better to look than to eat.

I love these hand-painted tiles for each profession!  I am "la mamma," Elliott is "il veterinario."

Mini cannolo with pistachio cream.

Cool design idea: display your wine bottles on old roof tiles.

Sicilian ceramics.

Becca and me at lunch in a lovely little restaurant overlooking the water.

 Later we ate granite at our favorite little shop.  We chose mandarin and raspberry.  So fresh and fruity!

The photos ceased after this as we left Taormina to drive to our hotel, where we relaxed that evening and all got amazing massages.  Later we went out for dinner, but unfortunately at this point I was starting to feel ill.  I had no idea why, but then around 1am I woke up and made a beeline for the bathroom to upchuck.  Sadly for me, the stomach virus (which has been ravaging our whole community these past few weeks) appeared to have struck at the worst possible time!  I took this photo from bed in our hotel room the next morning as I tried to keep a cup of tea down and read a book while Bethany and Becca enjoyed breakfast downstairs.  

Bethany got a call from her husband that morning and learned that her own two boys were also losing their breakfast from the same bug!  Oh well... it was home and into survival mode for our two houses for the next couple of days.  An adventurous end to a relaxing weekend!  Thankfully it didn't dampen the spirits or mar the memories for me.

Thank you so much, Bethany, for arranging such a fun weekend for us! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

searching for bugs

Elliott has a four-day weekend starting today (hip hip hooray!), and so we decided to kick it off with a hike down into the valley below our house.  Lena is lately obsessed with bugs, which you might remember from a recent post about our walk to the orange groves.  Here's a little video that I took of her searching for bugs while Elliott and I relax on the picnic blanket with our books. 

And yes, it's chilly here!  Clear and cold, a perfect day for blogging by the fire with some hot chocolate after a beautiful hike.  Of course I also have a huge pre-baby to-do list, so it won't be all relaxing around here this weekend!

What are your plans for the weekend? 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

itchy feet, baby kicks, and still waiting

Back in the day: 2-week-old Lena.  *cue heart melting*

Well, based on some excitement this morning, we thought today might be the day that our little boy would be born!  

But it wasn't.  I'm still pregnant.

It all started last night when I yanked off my slippers and told Elliott, "My feet are so itchy.  Why is that?  So weird."  That night the itching continued and even got worse.  The soles of my feet and my hands both itched, at times so much that I couldn't sleep.

When we Googled these symptoms in the morning, we learned that they are related to cholestasis of pregnancy, a condition in which bile flow from the liver slows or stops.  "Cholestasis of pregnancy," says the Mayo Clinic, "poses no long-term risk to the mother. Cholestasis of pregnancy can be dangerous for a developing baby, however.  Early delivery is usually recommended."

Ummm... yikes!  

And when I called my OB, she thought so too.  We spent the morning at the hospital for a non-stress test, amniocentesis fluid level test, and several labs.  The results of all of those so far show a happy, healthy, kickin' away baby who has plenty of resources in there to keep hanging out for awhile and no apparent distress.  They sent us home, all smiles, and told us to come back if the itching got much worse.

So no baby today.  And thank the Lord, frankly!  When I got off the phone this morning and we knew we had to go in to the hospital (and might come back with a baby), I looked around the house and felt bubbling concern.  I'm not ready to have a baby!  There is still so much to do!  I have to organize his clothes in his room, I have to put our files in order, I have to clean the kitchen.  I still haven't packed my hospital bag or frozen a single meal!

"And," I said to Elliott.  "It's January 17th!  I don't want to have a baby on January 17th!"

"Why not?" Elliott said, unperturbed by the possible new birthdate of our baby.  "Let's see, one-seventeen-thirteen... that adds up to 31.  31 flavors of ice cream.  It would be a good birthday."

Thank you, honey.

So not today.  A little more time to prepare.  A little more time to look at the mess in my house instead of look down at a little bundle in my arms.  A little more time to plug through a to-do list (which will be just as long when the baby comes anyway).  A little more time to realize I am worrying about the wrong things and to thank God that this--the timing, our health, our baby boy's birthday--is all in His hands. 

Did you feel ready when your baby arrived?  Or were you overdue and more than ready?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

these final days

I had my 38-week appointment today for our little babe.  Hard to believe he could arrive any day!  The news from my doctor is that he doesn't look that ready to come out yet (can't blame him) and so we've probably got another two weeks to wait here... at least.  Maybe three weeks.  Maybe four.

Or maybe he'll come tomorrow.

In the meantime, life as it is has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  These days are limited.  Change is on the horizon. 

What will he be like?  Quiet and chill?  Anxious and colicky?  A good eater?  A good sleeper?  Mothers tell you they are so excited for their new babies--and they are!--but they are also full of apprehension about what this unknown creature will be like.  In some ways a mother already knows her unborn child better than anyone, for he came into existence and has grown inside of her for nine months.  Yet in most ways everything about him is a complete mystery.

My response to the unknown has been to worry, which is foolish, I know.  Worrying will do me no good!  But my other response has been to slooooow down and take a deep breath and savor.  Life right now is not perfect by any means, but it is good and it is full of beauty.  I want to treasure these days up in my heart, locking them away to ponder over and remember forever.

Most of all I want to remember my quiet days at home with Lena.  Our days are fairly routine here: awake by 7-ish, breakfast at 8-ish, goodbye to Daddy at 9-ish, nap at 10, lunch at 12, another nap at 2 or 3, and dinner prep starts at 5.  In between we go on walks around the neighborhood or I push her stroller into town for groceries.  We bake cookies for Daddy.  We sit on the rug and play with her puzzles, her baby doll, her blocks, her paper and crayons.  We read books before her morning nap, before her afternoon nap, and sometimes in between, too.  She occasionally helps me with cleaning, like turning the vacuum switch on for me or dusting side-by-side.  We practice words.  We dance.  We change diapers, we change clothes, we wash diapers, we wash dishes, all day long.

In this world, my daughter is my constant companion, my chatty little shadow, my ever-present friend.  When she is napping and I am putting together a blog post and I see a picture of her, I actually miss her.  And she's only been asleep for 30 minutes!  And I need the break!  But I look at her--her huge blue eyes, her curling brown hair, her petite little hands, her beautiful little body--and cannot believe she is our daughter, and how pretty and sweet she is, and that she exists in this world and loves us more than anyone and calls me, "Mama."

As some of you know or remember, I've felt a great deal of emotional conflict about being a stay-at-home mom.  As a result, I am spending a lot of my spare time trying to develop talents so that I can work from home.  Yet in this past year I have also fallen in love with this new job of staying at home with my child.  I wake up each morning and look forward to the day.  (And that is saying something when you consider other things that have happened in our lives this past year.)

With a new baby due any day, I feel a great deal of apprehension about the changes ahead.  Apprehension... excitement... thankfulness... and just a bit of fear.  And that is why I savor my life as a mother just as it is right now, savor our quiet and uneventful days together, savor today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dutch babies + pigtail buns

Saturday morning usually means piping hot whole wheat pancakes (< they're so good that I'm proud of them even though they're not from scratch!).  Every now and then, though, it's fun to try something new.  I had seen a recipe for Dutch babies on one of my favorite blogs and decided to give it a try.   I went to work with a very cheerful assistant.

Moments later we sat down to Dutch babies dusted with powdered sugar and sprinkled with lemon.  Although I did like them, I'm not sure I'd repeat the topping combination, because the flavor of egg was too strong for me.  I might prefer them with pure maple syrup, like we eat on our pancakes, or... Nutella and bananas?

Because everything is better with Nutella.  Can I get an amen?

Dutch Babies 
serves two
adapted from Elephantine
  • 2 room-temperature eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Toppings
    • lemon slices
    • powdered sugar for dusting
    • jam
    • maple syrup
    •  Nutella!
  1. Place an oven-proof skillet (mine is 10") into your oven and heat to 425˚F. 
  2. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a whisk until light and frothy. Add milk and stir. Gradually whisk in flour, nutmeg and salt. 
  3. Remove skillet from oven. Melt butter in the hot skillet, rotating to coat. Pour the batter into the skillet and return skillet to oven. 
  4. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. 
  5. Remove promptly, slice into quarters and squeeze lemon slices over the pieces, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Monday, January 14, 2013

life lately

I haven't shared bits and pieces of our life for awhile as captured on Instagram. It's always so much fun to go back through the images and remember all those random memories I captured spur-of-the-moment!  Here some snapshots of the ordinary and the lovely in our home:

Enjoying her beautiful alphabet magnets from her grandparents.

I love the ferns and cyclamen in the window boxes in this beautiful house
& post-bath tickles

Everyone in this house loves our new blocks (thank you, Anthony and Laura!)
& goofy girl

Modeling a sweater knit by her Aunt Eden and a bonnet knit by me
& lovely afternoon light over our town

Hours of fun with this reusable sticker pad
& admiring our finished Advent calendar: a tree full of birds

at a restaurant in town, the chef working the stone pizza oven always lets kids make their own pizza
& tired wreath on a worn door in our town

our neighborhood (Vecchia Matrice) wishes you happy holidays
& putting baby Jesus in his manger from our nativity set

I'm trying to use this purse as much as possible before I need to go back to a diaper bag in a few weeks...
& got a little growing to do into the apron her Aunt Jess gave her

my big girl on a playground on base one morning after we took Daddy to work

stories and baby bumps in bed before naptime
& not sure what she thinks of Siena helping her color

first pair of big girl undies! 
& her new favorite breakfast: Greek yogurt and Charlottesville Farmer's Market granola from Aunt Jess

sleepy kitty
& isn't she pretty when she smiles!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

guest post: DIY bean bags on Imperfect Homemaking!

I'm so excited to announce my guest post on The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!  I've been reading Kelly's blog for awhile and love the easy-going style and helpful advice packed into every nook and cranny.  It's a big honor to be sharing my own tutorial over there: how to whip up some bean bags. 

Head on over and check out Imperfect Homemaking.  I especially recommend her posts about 99 Ways to Simplify Life with Kids and her Homemaker's Cheat Sheet

And then make some bean bags for your kids... or (if kids are still in your distant future) sew some up for an awesome game of cornhole!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Year's Day in the orange groves

On New Year's Day we took a long hike down in the valley below our home.  We were tired when we started out, discouraged from an argument, wearily determined to turn the tide for 2013.  I hoped the blue-sky day and the outdoors would refresh our souls.

And, amazingly, that happened.  I guess sometimes you don't know how soothing an afternoon will be to your soul. How quiet hours can reset you when you spend them lying in the grass and eating oranges... and talking or not talking... and just being still.

^ Lena has become especially attached to these shiny black beetles lately.

^ more bugs

^ 36 weeks pregnant, Lena's first orange of the day, and our town in the background on the cliff's edge

^ picking olives and clutching her prize

I love these photos because they capture a moment in our lives, a moment that will soon be past when our little boy arrives in just a few weeks.  They also capture so much of what we enjoy right now, from the Sicilian oranges hanging from the branches to Lena's complete fascination with bugs to the hugeness of my belly to Lena's love to snuggle on top of us whenever we lie down.

They also capture my husband in so many ways as a father: the way he is completely at home in the outdoors, his playfulness with Lena, and the quiet way he encourages her to explore creation: to hold bugs, touch amazing plants, pick olives straight from the trees, and sit peacefully in the grass watching bees buzz from flower to flower.

Our lives are so complex.  Yes, there is eager anticipation.  Yes, there is crippling sorrow.  And always there is deep, abiding joy.
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