Saturday, May 17, 2014

I've Moved!

Hey friends!

I recently switched my blog over to WordPress. Here is the new link:

Feel free to continue to follow my posts there!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Exchanged Life.

Truth be told, I'm not much of a reader. I really enjoy reading when I find something that sparks my interest, but otherwise, my motivation to read on a consistent basis is low. Very, very low. So when I told Brian last night that I wanted to read our respective books together in the living room (as opposed to watching the House season 5 finale on Netflix...gasp!), he about fell off his chair.

It was a good rainy night. The kind that made me want to curl up on the couch with a good book and listen to the raindrops fall on the pavement outside. Those nights don't come often.

So, I picked up a book I've been working my way through for 8 months now: Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret. I was about 2/3 of the way through--all of which I had read in about two sittings total. It's a fantastic book, but for some reason I would read 70 pages in one sitting and then put it down for 4 months. Well, last night I was determined to finish it. And finish I did.

And what a blessing! I mean, the first two-thirds of the book are great, but the last third--it's "holy cow, rock my world, thanks be to God" awesome. It reminded me of why we chose Hudson as our son's middle name.

I had known snippets of information about Hudson Taylor prior to naming Levi (Brian knew a lot more), but what an incredible follower of Christ he was. God placed a heavy burden on his heart in his teenage years--to bring the good news of the Gospel to the unreached peoples of inland China. His perseverance and steadfast faith as the pioneer missionary to China was remarkable! After 50+ years, filled with famine, sickness, death of his wife and children, plus countless financial obstacles, Hudson Taylor was finally able to see that vision come to full light.

Here is an excerpt regarding the character and spirituality of Hudson Taylor:
It was the exchanged life that had come to him--the life that is indeed "No longer I." Six months earlier he had written, "I have continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master." There was no thought of imitation now! It was in blessed reality "Christ liveth in me." And how great the difference!--instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Another. So great was the deliverance, that from that time onward Mr. Taylor could never do enough to help make this precious secret plain to hungry hearts wherever he might be. 

Not only did this biography spark within me a reignited call to mission, it did something more powerful. It reignited within me a call to Christ. It reminded me that despite my shortcomings and my doubts on a daily basis, my God is ever-present and He longs for me to know more deeply, more fully, and more joyfully the secret that can never stay hidden. Hudson Taylor explains how true communion with God comes from resting in Him:
But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One..."Ah, there is rest!" I thought. "I have striven in vain to rest in him. I'll strive no more. For has not he promised to abide with me--never to leave me, never to fail me?" And...he never will.
I can never work hard enough, read my Bible enough, or pray earnestly enough to be considered faithful. I don't have it in me. No one does--for none is righteous and none is able to cling to Christ 100% of all time. Thankfully, my God abides with me. He came down from the glory of heaven to dwell in me. Truly, we can rest on this promise today.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Summer Bucket List.

My sweet friend, Brigette, is a fantastic graphic designer and the inspiration for this little post of mine. She, her husband and her beautiful little girl, Ella, live in New Orleans, where they are currently working their way through seminary (sound familiar?). Ella and Levi were born just 2 weeks apart, so besides both being USF alumni and having husbands in seminary, Brigette and I have a lot in common!

Recently, Brigette shared this printable Summer Bucket List, so I decided to create one of my own. I used her design (cute, right?!), but just digitally edited it instead of printing it. Check out the other adorable designs in her Etsy shop as well!

So, without further delay, here is my list of things to do on my own or as a family this Summer:

I have a hard time motivating myself to read. To be honest, I'm still working through some of the books from my reading list LAST Summer. So, I felt like one book per month was more manageable and less overwhelming.

I've been wanting to start a 365 project for months--since I got my DSLR for Christmas. I need to just do it already.

We're thinking about taking a one-night trip to St. Louis or Indianapolis in late July or early August! Get some good family time in before the busyness of the Fall semester hits us hard like it does every year.

I may start Couch to 5K again...or I may try a new aerobic routine I found recently (Bikini Body Mommy). The name sounds really silly, but it's really appealing because I don't have to leave my house to do the workout. That hinders me from working out a lot of the time, especially with a little guy to take care of!

We are loving the SBTS Pool, Louisville Zoo and Shelby Park these days! A major perk is they are all "free" to use (since we bought a zoo annual pass this year).

Sometime this Summer, I am determined to finally hang our missionary prayer cards on our hallway wall. Just gotta get the supplies and set the date!

Dairy Kastle soft serve sprinkle cone. Enough said.

I want to start implementing some of the principles of the "100 Days of Real Food" challenge in our household. We don't eat a ton of processed food, but I would like to cut back what we do eat even more. Clearly, trips to Dairy Kastle will be omitted from this challenge.

U of L Baseball games are FREE to the public! No reason not to check one out.

Maybe sometime this Summer, Levi will finally start to walk! We are going to help him in whatever way we can...even if that means hosting the "baby Olympics" every evening in our home (a.k.a. helping him walk up and down the length of our house 5-10 times).

I've heard the Louisville Science Center is fun! I would love to take Levi there one day, after he learns to walk, so he can explore at his own will.

We'll be in Florida in TWO WEEKS. So much excitement about that!! Most of our time there, we'll be at the beach, so I really want to teach Levi the art of building (or smashing) sand castles.

4th of July BBQ's make me so happy. Nothing like some burgers, corn on the cob, and fireworks to bring out the patriots.

I have to remember to water my flowers everyday. If I do well with that, I may plant some herbs in a month or so.

We have met several more of our neighbors within the last two weeks! It is amazing how some nice weather can bring everyone out of their homes. I want to be more intentional this Summer about connecting with even more of our neighborhood.

So that's my list! Brian is taking his last exam of the semester as we speak, so once he gets home, it's GO time. Oh, Summer, how we love you.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Levi: 17 Months

It has been a great month for Levi--especially compared to last month. I'll delve right in...

No change in the amount or frequency of his milk drinking. About 5-6 oz every 4 hours.

Levi didn't try too many new foods this month, if any. He continues to be a great eater! He'll at least try just about anything. One thing that he did really love eating this month was anything including rice. He also really started liking broccoli florets, which surprised me. He still refuses to eat almost any type of sandwich--he doesn't like the bread or lunch meat at all. Even PB&J, which he loved the first time I offered it to him, he pretty much refuses now. But, if sandwiches is the only "pickiness" we're dealing with, I can definitely handle that!

Our big boy still devours smoothies for breakfast or his afternoon snack. I started sitting him on the counter so we can make the smoothies "together" and he is loving it! I'll hand him the ice cubes to throw in the blender, let him add the spinach leaves, and he even knows which button to press to start it! We are having a lot of fun with that.

Not too much of a change here either! Levi still goes to bed at 7 PM, but has been sleeping until anywhere between 7:45 and 8:15 AM. He sure does love his sleep!

The beginning half of the month, he did have some napping trouble because we had some company in town. But the last half, he has been napping really well--usually 1-2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. That makes me think he probably isn't ready to drop his first nap quite yet, which is totally fine with me.

Levi has been LOVING time outside this past month. It has been warm enough for him to sit outside and explore! Since he still doesn't walk, he mostly likes to stand while holding onto a flower box that we have. He'll just walk around and around that thing, playing with his sticks and trucks in the dirt.

A couple of times per week, we have also been walking to the park, swimming in the seminary pool, or heading to the zoo! The weather has been so beautiful and Levi has been loving these little field trips. He is much more aware of what is happening around him (as opposed to last Spring)--saying "doggy" when he hears a dog barking or looking up into the sky when he hears an airplane overhead. This has been tons of fun!

Throughout the day, I usually clean up Levi's toys as he is finished playing with them or before his naps, to prevent our house from being an absolute wreck come dinnertime. I have been including him more in this, so he learns how to clean up. He is doing SO well with it! I sing the "clean up" song as we go and he knows to throw his toys back in the baskets or put all of our cosmetic items back under our bathroom sink (he takes everything out of the cabinet while I'm showering and getting dressed in the morning...sigh). I've actually been including him in the "clean up" for months now, but this month I definitely saw him catch on, so I wanted to note it!

Still not walking, goodness gracious! He just sees no need for it whatsoever. I feel differently about it, obviously--I'm tired of carrying him. We are trying so hard not to carry him much anymore and to help him walk to wherever we are heading. Sometimes, he is enthusiastic about it and will walk like a champ (while we hold his hands), but other times, he will have a fit and literally throw himself on the ground.

He does use his walker a lot more now! He'll actually get it out of his room all by himself and walk up and down our long hallway with it. So that is encouraging, at least. We are also trying to only hold one hand when we walk with him now, to get him more used to balancing himself. Most of the time, he is still very nervous when we do this--like he wants the extra hand for support.

Levi figured out how to climb stairs this month! It all started when we visited the mall playground a few weeks back. He learned how to climb the stairs to the slide while we were there. Now, he is working on figuring out our spiral staircase...which makes me just a bit nervous.

Levi learned a few new words this month, including:

"Daddy" (he says it perfectly now)
"Yes" and "No" (he'll also shakes his head for these now)
"Side" (for "outside")
"Lion" (mostly just sounds like "Zi-uhh")
"Yay!" (he says this in the most unenthusiastic voice. it's hilarious)
and "Ma-ma"

Yes! He has said ma-ma. Only like 5 times, not on a regular basis by any means. And most of the time it's when he is mad about something or in a voice that sounds like he is dying--but it's progress, right? He also knows a lot of words, but just can't say them yet. Most of them are food-related (I'll ask him if he wants some strawberries, and he'll say "yes" or shake his head, etc.).

We're still working on the screaming I talked about last month. He doesn't usually wake up like that anymore, but he does have screaming fits throughout the day--most of the time when I need to change his diaper. Grr. He'll now throw himself on the ground or bury his face in the floor and scream if something isn't going his way. Currently trying to figure out how to discipline in this area! He is completely stubborn. Levi does understand when I tell him to "look at me" and he'll look me square in the eye. At that point, he knows he has done something wrong. I try to stay as calm as possible with him, because if I yell, it really just escalates things and doesn't teach him that he shouldn't yell.

Lastly, our big guy learned a few new "tricks" this month! He has mastered high fives, fist bumps, head butts, lip smacking, kissing, saying "ahh" after drinking something, and mimicking several other sounds. Writing that just made me so appreciative that I have a boy. We are working on animal sounds as well!

The hemp inserts are working great! His diapers are still sopping wet every morning, but leaks are pretty rare (unless he had a lot to drink right before bedtime). Yay!

Last week, Levi was stirring throughout the night much more than usual. He also was in a super grumpy mood for a few days, but I just assumed it was because we were out a few nights past his bedtime. I just so happened to stick my finger in his mouth to feel around for teeth and lo and behold, he already had two new top molars! They had already broken through.

This week, he has been a little more picky with his eating--he mostly wants softer foods. And one molar was bleeding a bit the other day, so my guess is they are giving him some pain now. I just give him 1-2 teething tablets throughout the day, and he is usually back to his old self. Total teeth count: 12.

Earlier this month, I was getting super stressed because Levi was not napping as well--therefore, I wasn't able to work as much as I need to. But halfway through the month, everything changed when he put himself on this schedule. It has been the weirdest thing. He has been napping well and actually wanting more sleep. So here's what the last few weeks have looked like for us. I am definitely not planning to wean him from his morning nap anytime soon. In my opinion, if he still sleeps for at least 1.5 hours every morning, he still needs that nap.

8:00 AM- Wake up, milk, breakfast
9:15 AM- Nap
11:00 AM- Wake up, get dressed, playtime
12:00 PM- Milk, lunch
1:00 PM- Nap
3:00 PM- Wake up, run errands or do something fun
4:00 PM- Milk, snack
5:00 PM- Levi plays in the yard or takes a bath while I get dinner started (we switched to daily nighttime baths, since he is outside a lot more now)
6:00 PM- Milk, dinner
6:30 PM- PJ's and wind down
7:00 PM- Bedtime

Whew, this has been a long post! Here are a few highlights of Levi's 16th month of life.

We celebrated Brian's 27th birthday! What an oldie he is ;) We went to the mall to try to find him a bathing suit (and didn't end up finding one...bummer). We found Levi a mini-skateboard while at Tilly's and he thought it was the best thing ever. So did Brian. They were both in heaven, my little skater dudes. And then we looked at the price tag...and put the $125 tiny skateboard back on the shelf. We closed out the night by eating at El Taco Luchador for dinner. Yum!

The Crowders came to KY for the Together for the Gospel conference! They stayed with us for a few days and we had such a great time together. Levi and Norah really hit it off this time around! They had lots of fun adventures, including a trip to the zoo.

My 23rd birthday was this month! We didn't do too much, since we already had a packed week. Just went to the park and relaxed at home.

We celebrated Easter as well this month! Levi helped with dyeing his first Easter eggs (he LOVED it!) and then we made Easter bread together. I gave him some raw dough to play with/roll out...pretty sure he ate about half of it. Oops. He also loved to watch the breads bake in the oven!

The day before Easter, Brian ran the Derby Half Marathon! He finished within the pace he wanted and Levi and I had a wonderful time cheering him on. It was a gorgeous day for the race!

Lastly, Easter was on April 20th of this month. It was a beautiful day with family and friends, celebrating the life of Christ and his fulfilled promises to us. We started the day with Levi opening his Easter backpack, filled with all sorts of goodies. He received the backpack and bathing suit from us, a toy camera and Jesus Calling Bible from his Grammy and Papi (my parents) as well as an early Easter present of two adorable outfits from his Grandma and Grandpa (Brian's parents). It was such a treat for him!

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching babies in the nursery and then heading to our CG dinner, where the kids had an egg hunt. 

Thanks for reading up on our Levi, friends! Until next month.

Friday, April 25, 2014

15 Ways To Save When Money Is Tight.

My husband, Brian, and I have never known a relationship apart from one or both of us enrolled in school. We were both still finishing up our undergraduate degrees when we were married in 2010, and now Brian is working to complete his Masters degree. Since that has been the case, we have each (at one point or another) had to hold flexible jobs that could work around a school schedule, meaning that hours at work were limited because of those darn things called classes.

Over the course of these years, we have made enough money to pay our bills, but there have been times of little to no excess beyond basic necessities. It has been through these years that we have learned to save money in certain areas, most often so that the same money can be put to use in more crucial areas. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. We are learning to steward and make wise decisions with our resources.

Every once in a while, Brian and I will talk about a day when we can live more "comfortably." But then we are always brought back to the idea that comfort is so relative. God has provided for us every step of the way these past 4 years, and while at times we can feel a bit [a lot] anxious about our finances, He has truly lavished so many blessings on us. We do live comfortably, compared to the majority of the world, and we always try to guard our inherent desire for more, more, more. We know that without Christ as our center, we will never learn true contentedness.

Okay, enough of my ranting. I wanted to share a few practical tips for how we, personally, save money on a tight budget. Most of these are nothing new--people have been practicing them for decades. But it is simply a resource I would like to share with anyone who cares to read (listed in no particular order):

1. Skip cable and subscribe to Netflix.
This gets hard at times, I will admit. Especially when there is a live show on television that you are just itching to see. But, with saving at least $30 per month and learning a bit of delayed gratification, I'd say it is worth it.

2. Stock your freezer with meals on a weekly basis.
I started making freezer meals when we moved to Louisville about 2.5 years ago. But I didn't do it in the typical sense of setting aside a full day to make 30 meals to stock my freezer--that never really appealed to me. Instead, I just choose 1-2 meals per week that are freezer friendly and I freeze the leftovers. (Usually, I don't even have to double a recipe to do this, since most recipes feed 4-6 people.) Then, another 1-2 nights per week, we eat from the freezer. Therefore, we don't have to buy groceries for dinners for those nights--plus they require little to no cooking on my part (score!). It's just a continuous cycle of eating and restocking.

This step also implies that you'll plan your meals for the week ahead of time--also a money saver. I use a great app on my phone called "Food Planner." It allows me to input an approximate cost for each item, so I go into the store knowing how much I have allotted to spend on each thing and also how much "wiggle room" I have before we meet our maximum grocery budget for the week. I love it because if I stick within budget for all of my crucial items, I can use that extra "$5" left in my budget to purchase something I wouldn't deem necessary.

3. Have a baby or toddler? Use cloth diapers.
I know this isn't for everyone, but it has truly saved us a load of money (nearly $500 this year!). I wrote more about Levi's cloth diapers and our process here.

4. Forget that you have a dishwasher--hand wash dishes.
I'm serious on this one. Our dishwasher runs for at least 2.5 hours per cycle--run it everyday and think of how much water and electricity you're consuming. Now, I totally understand this isn't feasible for everyone. Maybe if we had more than one child, I would think differently about it too. But at this stage in life, this is doable for us. We'll still run it 1-2 times per month when we have company over or I'm feeling especially worn out, but usually I hand wash everything. Even if we are using more water in the long run, water is still way cheaper than electricity.

5. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or buy produce at a Farmer's Market.
You can get fruits and veggies for considerably cheaper if you buy directly from the farmer and even more so through a CSA (where many families pay a share to support a specific farm). Just think about it--you are eliminating the upcharge that comes with buying from a grocery store altogether. During the Winter months, we definitely buy produce from the grocery store, but otherwise, we like to shop for seasonal produce at a market or have it provided through a CSA, adjusting our normal grocery budget based on how much we spent in these areas.

6. Buy less meat. And limit junk food.
Cooking a vegetarian meal once or twice a week is a great way to save money as well. We love our meat, but it sure does rack up the grocery bill when we buy it for every dinner that week. I've learned to make more bean and veggie based recipes. And we usually have a pasta night once per week as well.

Junk food (cookies, chips, sodas, etc.) is expensive! For that reason, and the fact that it has no nutritional value, we try to limit it as much as we can in our home. Both Brian and I really love sweets, so we do admit it is nice to have something sweet on hand at home when we get a craving. But we try not to overdo it! I may buy a "special" pack of cookies once per month (for us, this would be Oreos or Chips Ahoy, etc), but otherwise to satisfy our sweet "teeth" I'll get animal crackers or vanilla wafers or another more inexpensive option one other time that same month.

7. Men, invest in a safety razor.
For Brian, a safety razor has been a fun and cost effective alternative to disposable razors. They are definitely more of an investment up front--usually about $50-60 for a beginning "kit"--but once that purchase is made, the savings begin. Most disposable razor blades cost about $2.50 each, whereas safety razor blades cost about $0.25 each. Brian has really been enjoying this old-school gadget and he always notes that the closeness of the shave on his face is unmatched by any disposable or electric razor yet.

Side note: that brush Brian uses is made out of hog hair. Whenever he shaves, he makes sure to always remind me of that little fact because he likes to get a reaction out of me. My husband's face comes in contact with the hair that was on a disgusting, wild hog. Gag.

8. Make your coffee at home (or marry a professional barista).
We love going out for coffee--it has been our "thing" since before we were even married--but man, it adds up quick. We limit our coffee dates to once per week. Any other time we want coffee, we make it at home or Brian brings us a drink from work to split (a little perk of his employment).

9. Limit your meals out.
Of all of these practices, limiting our meals out is probably the hardest for us to stay disciplined in. We try to stick to our budgeted 3-4 dinners out per month (I look forward to that time out with Brian or as a family), but the restaurant styles we choose do vary from week to week. For example, we usually would not choose a place that requires a tip more than twice per month. Substantial tips can add up very quickly! The other 1-2 times per month, we intentionally choose a cheaper spot like Qdoba or Panera or the like. If we plan to only have three dinners out one month, the fourth week we'll try to do a "date night in" where I'll make a dinner that is more special than normal or have friends over that night.

10. Turn off the heat or A/C and utilize natural light.
Obviously, everything in moderation, but it helps to use your heat or A/C as little as possible, while still staying comfortable. We'll bundle up while indoors in the Winter or use ceiling fans more during the Summer. This crazy long and harsh Winter we just had made this extremely challenging!

Also, since I am at home with Levi during the day, I try to limit our electricity use as well--which used to be the case when I worked outside of my home everyday. If it is bright enough outside, we can sometimes reach late afternoon before we even flip on a light switch.

11. Invest in Norwex cleaning products.
Norwex cleaning products are not only an effective way to sanitize your home, they only require water to do so! I have been using Norwex products almost exclusively to clean our home for nearly 2 years now. Literally, one $16 microfiber cloth and some water could be enough to clean everything you need--although they do have many other more specific products as well. We have saved so much money by eliminating our need to buy chemical cleaning products on a regular basis!

12. Shop consignment for some clothes. Or buy out of season.
I shop consignment (or accept gently used hand-me-downs) for most of Levi's wardrobe and have saved tons of money doing so! My favorite consignment store in Louisville is Buttons, Bows, and Britches--they regularly have fantastic sales on top of already low prices. I mostly look for name-brand, unstained items to get the most bang for my buck. Recently, Levi was in need of some warm weather clothes and I was able to get him two complete outfits (shorts + shirt) plus four additional shirts for $13 on consignment. I'm quite the sucker for Target baby clothes, but I likely would have spent that much for one item had I bought it new.

Another thing we try to do, regarding shopping for the entire family, is to buy clothes out of season. Clearance racks are a great way to stock up on perfect items for the following year.

13. Skip "for-baby-only" snack items, when possible.
Unless we have a coupon (and we do get great coupons on occasion) or we are going on a trip, we do try to avoid buying "baby only" snacks (ie. Gerber yogurt melts, baby cookies, etc). Those things are crazy priced for the actual number of servings you get out of one bag. Instead, we buy snacks that we can all eat and enjoy--fruits of all kinds, goldfish or cheese crackers, mozzarella cheese sticks, applesauce or yogurt cups, or small(er) sized cookies. We did buy fruit puffs pretty regularly when Levi was first transitioning to solid snacks, but we usually just stuck with the store brand for those.

14. Stock up on hygiene items when they are on sale, or buy in bulk.
If I come across a good deal on shampoo, face wash, or toothpaste, I'll often buy several to stock up. We'll always use these items, so why not take advantage of the sale! [The trick is not to forget about the stocked-up items under the bathroom sink...and then proceed to buy more.] Buying in bulk at Sam's or Costco is a great idea for these types of items as well.

15. Take advantage of free entertainment in your city. 
We have a ton of beautiful parks here in Louisville, a huge walking bridge, a major university that offers free admission to many sporting events, several free art museums, and even historic cemeteries to peruse. On days where we are looking for something to do as a family or with friends, we like to consider these options first! We don't always choose one of them, but we can save money when we do. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to browse Barnes and Noble. Rarely do we ever buy anything, but both Brian and Levi love to look at books for hours--so it makes for a nice family outing!

Like I mentioned before, I am definitely not an expert in this area. And I'll be the first to admit that some months we are more disciplined than others! But over the course of our married life, we have certainly learned some valuable lessons and tips on ways to steward and leverage our money. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope you found it helpful (all 6 of you that actually read my blog)!

I'd love to hear from you -- what are some ways that you regularly save money?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)

To celebrate Easter this year, I decided to make some traditional Italian Easter Bread (baby fingers not included). I wanted to deliver sweet treats to our neighbors and also invite them to Sojourn for our Easter service, but I also wanted to make a recipe with some significance. Growing up, we would eat Pane di Pasqua every year at Easter--not usually homemade (my mom wasn't much of a baker), but I found the store-bought version to be just as tasty. Thank you, Publix. I will forever miss you.

I found a recipe online that I liked, but I wasn't quite sure if I could use it, since I don't have a stand-mixer with a dough hook attachment. So I called up my grandfather to double check. His response: "Ash, did your great-grandmother have a fancy mixer to make bread dough in the countryside of Italy?" Touche, Pepa, touche. Levi and I would go old-school and mix by hand. 

I tweaked the recipe just a bit, since traditional Pane di Pasqua usually includes a citrus flavor, as well as some anise. I didn't have any anise on hand, so I used a splash of vanilla extract instead. I also chose to add some orange zest to my dough, to follow tradition.

Here is what you will need to make 6 individual loaves:
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1.25 cups scalded milk, cooled to room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest of one medium orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups flour (approximate)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
  • 6 dyed Easter eggs
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • sprinkles
Tip: the Easter eggs do not need to be hard boiled. They cook when the bread bakes. Levi and I dyed the eggs right out of the fridge, without hardboiling them. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, warm (not hot) milk, salt, butter, eggs, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract. Add about half the flour and beat until smooth (either with a stand-mixer or by hand). Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Don't worry about how much flour it ends up being, just keep adding until the dough is not sticky anymore.  Knead until smooth with either dough hook attachment or turn out on floured board. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2-3 hours (if you use Rapid Rise yeast, you can cut this time in half).

I also have to give some mad props to my great-grandmother, Angelina. Mixing dough by hand is not easy work--it requires some muscle. I couldn't imagine having to do so multiple times per week for a family of 6.
The dough before resting. After rising, it nearly filled the bowl.

Once it has risen, punch the dough down and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1 inch thick rope about 14 inches long and, taking two pieces, twist to form a "braid", pinching the ends and looping them into a circle.

(It might also be helpful to recruit a 16 month old to make a floury mess and taste test the raw dough.)

I doubled the recipe to make 12 loaves--enough to give to neighbors and friends. Worked great!
Place on a greased baking sheet or line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Cover and let rise until double, about 2 hours again. Brush each bread with beaten egg wash. In the middle of each bread ring, gently place an Easter egg. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden in color.

Meanwhile, combine 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1/4 cup of water in a small saucepan. Heat on the stovetop until the sugar is melted and smooth. Once the loaves are removed from the oven, immediately drizzle the sugar mixture over the top and add the sprinkles. 

That's it! Italian Easter Bread. 
Happy Easter, friends! May we never forget the living Christ who gives us reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Levi: 16 Months

What a month, what a month! We have been hit with sickness after sickness all month long. First Levi brought us a nasty cold (turned sinus infection, for me) and then a stomach bug. Then he moved on to a bad vaccine reaction and molar related clinginess and crankiness. Oh, joy! Luckily, he is back to his normal happy-go-lucky self and he is definitely making up for the previous weeks. Here is a recap of his 15th month:

Milk drinking has stayed the same. I no longer warm his milk--he drinks it straight from the fridge.

This month, foods he tried for the first time:
Grapefruit (oddly, he loved it)
Italian Wedding Soup
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Smoothies (these have become a breakfast staple and they really help soothe his gums)
Thai Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles
Campbell's Chicken and Stars Soup (this was just about the only thing he would eat when he was sick!)
Still-Frozen Waffles (a friend gave me this tip for teething--works like a charm)
String Mozzarella Cheese
Instant oatmeal (instead of baby oatmeal)

For a month that Levi had a very low appetite because of his sickness, he sure did try a wide variety of new foods! Once his stomach bug had run it's course, he was back to wanting to eat for every meal, but he still was having trouble because his molars were paining him. Enter smoothies. Healthy, delicious, and who doesn't want to drink out of a fancy Starbucks cup every morning?

Levi is also doing really well with using a fork. He is getting more methodical about actually stabbing the piece of food he has his eyes on--instead of just chucking his fork all over his tray and hoping he ends up with something on it.

The time change this month definitely threw us all off for a couple of days, but Levi bounced back rather quickly. He has been sleeping from 7 PM - 7:45 AM, sometimes even 8 AM. It has been awesome! His meal times have shifted a bit, since he is waking later. I'll note that below. 

2-3 nights a week or two ago, Levi had some trouble sleeping. It was the days just before I figured out he had some molars coming in. But once we figured that out, I made sure to give him some Motrin just before bed and he was back to his sleepy self.

The past few days, he has had some trouble napping and has wanted to play or talk in his crib longer than normal. I'm watching for signs of his readiness to drop his first nap of the day. I'm not ready for that--but he is getting there, I think.

Of course, books are still high on the list of things that Levi adores! Also, he has gotten super attached to his blanket this month, even wanting it outside of his crib, which is a change. When he was sick, that was the one thing that could keep him calm (and snuggly). But, we're trying to break him from that new formed habit and only let him have it during nighttime or nap time. 

Another of his favorite activities is to stand on the couch and look out of our living room window. We live on a busy road, so there are always cars flying by or people outside. He loves to observe it all!

Since we had a few warmer days this month, we also were able to head to the park or play in our backyard. Levi has always loved to be outside. As a tiny baby, a walk outside was the cure to any screaming fit we couldn't find the solution to. And it has been so fun to watch him outside now that he is more mobile and curious! He loves to play with sticks, dirt, trucks and balls outside--typical boy.

We've been practicing with him more, but still no walking from Mr. Levi! Our prediction that he would be walking by 15 months is long gone. He is a bit more fond of walking when we help him now (which is big improvement), so we are at least happy about that.

Levi  learned how to say "more" this month and he has perfected his pronunciation of "daddy". He says daddy so well and often, yet he still refuses to work on "mama". I'm not bitter or anything ;)

One thing that has majorly changed this month is his non-verbal communication, a.k.a. screaming and yelling. Oh boy! This seemed to really begin and coincide with the weeks he was sick--he would wake up feeling cruddy (or with puke all over him) and just make these frantic high-pitched screams until I went to get him (understandably so). But then, this trend continued even after his sickness had ended. It was like he realized his capability of shrill screaming and didn't see a reason to stop. So now, instead of talking in his crib when he wakes from a nap or expressing his disapproval in a more subdued way, he resolves to screaming. 

When he does that, we've been trying to make him look at us and sternly tell him no or we will give him a gentle pop on the hand, but nothing seems to be breaking him of the screaming. I don't want to resort to excusing it because he is a toddler, but I think that has a lot to do with it. He certainly has strong opinions on things now (boy, he's just like his daddy!), but he isn't to the point yet where he can communicate with words. So, it's just a phase we're all going to have to work through together!

Another form of communication that Levi has mastered is kissing! He gives kisses on demand now (or just on his own), which is pretty much the best thing ever. He'll even pucker his little lips. We've also taught him how to (gently) head-butt when we say "noggin"--he's such a cool kid.

Welp, my plan for nighttime diapering that I mentioned in my previous post worked for several weeks. But now, for some reason Levi went back to being wet most mornings. Even in a disposable diaper! A friend recently recommended hemp inserts to me, so I bought a few of those. He wore one last night for the first time and woke up completely dry--so I think we have finally found a solution!

Levi got two molars in this month, both of which have slightly broken through his gums. Total teeth count: 10.

I mentioned above that our schedule has recently changed a bit. Here's a rough view of most days:

7:45 AM- Wake up, milk, breakfast
8:30 AM- Levi watches cartoons or plays while I get to work
9:00 AM- Nap (most days)
10:30 AM- Wake up, bath every other day, play
11:45 AM- Milk, lunch
12:30 PM- Nap
2:30 PM- Wake up, run errands or get together with friends
3:30 PM- Milk, snack
5:00 PM- Levi plays while I get dinner started (sometimes he will still want a 20-30 min nap during this time)
6:00 PM- Milk, dinner
6:30 PM- PJ's and read a book
7:00 PM- Bedtime

Levi had his 15th month well check this past month! He weighed 21 lbs (15th %) and was 31.5 inches long (55th %), so he is still pretty tall and lean for his age. Brian has been joking with me for a while that he couldn't wait for the day that Levi was half of my height--well the day came when he was 15 months old. Levi got two shots at that appointment, one of which was his first MMR shot. About a week afterwards, he started running a 103* fever and developed a bad measles-like rash in reaction to it. Apparently, that only happens with 1 in 20 people, so our little guy is quite unique!

With some nice weather this month, we took our first family walk in 2014 across the Louisville pedestrian bridge. It was so great to enjoy the weather and the beautiful scenery again! This was the best picture we could get of our excursion:

We also celebrated Levi's buddy, Seth, this month as he turned 1 year old! Cherish and I took the boys to the zoo recently and they seemed to have a nice time. Both of them are still a bit clueless about the animals, but they do love the time outside. We're hoping those two stay buds for a while! 

Lastly, I went out of town for 2 days towards the end of this month, to run a marathon booth in Lexington. That was the first time in a while that I have left Levi with anyone during the day, but he did really well! He played at the Fisher's house the first day and at the Tweito's the second day. Both said he was a happy guy, but he did have some trouble napping. I was really proud of him though!

If you made it this far down, you are a true friend! Thanks for reading about our little guy.