We have returned from our epic Northeastern vacation. Hopefully you were able to follow along on Instagram or the photos on my sidebar to the left. We spend 10 days traveling and visiting friends and family in New York City, upstate New York, and Cape Cod. The kids were amazing and I can't wait to share little snippets of our time away. But there's 1000 photos that I need to sift through. I truly believe this trip was once in a lifetime and it would be impossible to duplicate. For now, we are all holding on to our memories. In the meantime here's my three and how I'd like to remember them on vacation...
For Greta's class, the room parents threw a little Welcome to Summer class celebration. I packed up these little goody bags for each kid, and a mom included a summer workbook for entering second grade that the kids could work on over the break. I packed up little items like bubbles, a shovel, a ball for water play, a few animal figurines, tattoos, fruit slice candy. You get the picture, all things summery. We did a little craft making fish out of cds, and then enjoyed popsicles outside. It was simple and fun, and just what this over-scheduled mom had hoped for.
Seven never looked so old. And sure it has never looked so cute. Oh my Grets, seven whole years.
I write this as you are at school, on your very last day as a first grader. You love school, you love your teacher, and you love your friends. This year you have come out of your shell, not that you ever had difficulty doing this at home, but at school you were always a little timid. A little shy and nervous to express yourself to our kids and your teacher. You've grown so much this year emotionally. You are still so responsible, so aware and careful of your obligations at school, for homework, papers to be turned in, sweaters to be brought home.
Every day after school you beg me to stay a little bit so you can play Four Square on the yard. Oh do you take that sport seriously. I watch you play with girls your age and older, and I smile at how sporty you are becoming. You prefer to wear shorts instead of skirts, sneakers versus sandals, and ponytails to barrettes. You come home and practice hand ball with your brothers, and you ask Gunnar to teach you how to catch a football. This makes all of us smile.
You are honest and truthful. If you did something, you will own up to it, but if you didn't you are very clear about that. You are sensitive and still can be brought to tears if daddy or I raise our voice. Yelling is your kryptonite. It paralyzes you and because of that I work hard not to raise my voice. It's been good for both daddy and I.
Daddy is still wrapped around your finger. Each night he puts you to bed, he reads to you from The Little House on the Prairie series, gives you a bedtime snack, sometimes a cup of tea. You prefer daddy to always put you to bed. I get it. He treats you like the only little girl that matters, and I think that's pretty much exactly who you are to him. He's tender and kind with you. I hope you see your dad as I saw mine. A person with the qualities that are important, and one day look to find those qualities in someone you love.
You lost your top two teeth this year, for a grand total of 4 teeth. These photos of you with your missing teeth will remain my favorite photos of you of all time. When each of your brothers lost their top teeth, I couldn't make them smile enough, take enough photos, close my eyes enough to take a mental photo of that toothless smile. There's nothing better.
Reading has become a wonderful skill this year. You read so beautifully and so well, and it makes you proud. It makes you smile that you can read directions and paragraphs, scriptures and lyrics. You listen to music now. I swear you look 16 wearing headphones listening to Taylor Swift on the iPad. I get flashes of you as a teenager. But then I pause in front of your bedroom door and quietly watch you play with your dolls and Barbies. Savoring your child-ness, your playfulness. It's fleeting. Oh I know it's fleeting. And hard as I try, I just can't slow it down.
When daddy or I read Little House (currently we are on The Long Winter, and boy is that winter long!) you want to know all the details and explanations of words you have never heard of before. The other night I had to act out what a "lean-to" was, and then "snowbank". You want to be fully informed of all things new to you. You say certain words in your own way or accent. No matter how many times your brothers correct you, the donut shop on the corner will forever be "win-chiells". You play games in the car with Sawyer that make me giggle. It goes something like this "you say pep, I say boys" and then you two go back and forth for a few seconds, followed by "you say star, I say bucks" and on and on until we've reached our destination.
I have no doubt you are becoming a lovely lady, learning along the way important lessons on kindness, honesty, love, and compassion. We love you Greta and can't wait to see what seven brings.
The other evening I was thinking how I really don't get too personal on the blog much anymore. It's hasn't been all that intentional, it's just sort of slowly progressed to that place. That place of a little distance, a little vagueness. Maybe a little uncertain because a lot more people read this blog every day than I ever imagined would. People come here to check what our urban family is up to. What my kids are doing. What I am doing. What we are making. What we are planting. What we are watching, eating, and reading. And I thank each and every person who stops here. Last month alone there were over 4,000 different visitors who came to this blog. 4,000 different people!
You know when you land on a flight and the flight attendant thanks you over the loud speaker for choosing their airline because they recognize there's a lot of airlines you could've picked? That's what I want to say, thank you, there's a lot of blogs out there. I never really had many expectations for this little blog, but whatever they were, they've been exceeded. Expectations are a funny thing aren't they. They could be the best of things and the worst of things.
How so? I wish I could articulate this as well as my friend Jane does. She often gives me little pep talks. We give each other a lot of pep talks actually. They usually come in the form of texts late at night, or at random times when someone is in need of one. In line at the grocery store about to pay? Hold on a minute! I need to reply, this is important! She explains really well how expectations of others often lead to our own disappointments in life. Reality is when our expectations are not met, you take those expectations in others, subtract the disappointments, and there, that's reality.
See? I told you she could probably explain it better than me. But I am hoping you get the gist. I have learned to live my life with as few disappointments as possible. It isn't because I expect nothing from others, no way! That'd be sad and pathetic and be giving up on the human race. I have learned, and let me tell you, still learning, almost 33 years in and I can still do better. I have learned to expect from others what they are capable of. Years ago I had expectations of my friends, family, people I knew and loved, I expected that they would reciprocate in equal amounts whatever energy, time, thought, whatever it may be, that I put into the relationship. I expected this give and take in the relationship. That is not reality. What some are capable of doing, others are not. What some are capable of feeling, others are not.
This realization was a big turning point for me as an adult. I no longer took personally the actions or feelings of others. Just because I work really hard to be a supportive person and someone who cheers people on from the sidelines, who am I to expect that of everyone else? Who says that that is reality? Instead I have embraced that we all are very different. We all may not be able to be happy for someone else. We all may not be able to watch and feel joy when something good happens to someone else. And this. This right here helped me no longer feel disappointment in the same scale I once did.
I don't give it much thought to be honest. But recently Aaron has brought up this "unaffectedness" as he likes to call it. Here's the usual scenario. He's affected by something, looks over at me on the couch as I fold laundry or read or watch TV and he gets mildly irritated at my unaffectedness. I really hope that's a word because I'm using it quite a bit.
So it got me thinking. I don't get my feelings hurt often, not because I don't have feelings, but I really don't think people willingly hurt one another all that often. So if the intention is not there to hurt, why would I let it hurt me?
This brings us to the reality of people wanting to get back what they've invested in a relationship. Well, again I come back to the capacity of people. Maybe their "all" is what I'm seeing. Maybe their heart and soul is on my kitchen table. Who am I to say it isn't enough? Sure it'd be nice to feel supported by all the people I love. But do I really need all that? Is that realistic? One thing huge that marriage has taught me is we are all who we are because of what we experience in life. Who raised us. Where we lived. What we saw. The hurt we carry. The love we hold. We are molded by our past. Maybe some people carry more than others. Maybe some people never saw what support is. Maybe some people don't know how to be any other friend than the one they are. This reality, this expectation, is one that I live with. And it doesn't steal my smiles. It doesn't lessen the joy I feel. It doesn't take away the goodness around me. It doesn't disappointment me.
How's that for getting more personal on this little 'ol blog of mine? Ha!
This space will be a little quiet over here for a week or so. Gunnar graduated elementary school and now we are taking our family on a little adventure, but when we return I'll have lots to share. If you'd like to follow us on our adventure you can find us on Instagram, my username is @mylifeatplaytime.
I discovered these shoes a few weeks ago, and well, they make me smile. And when something makes me smile I want to share it with all of you. I must've missed the boat in junior and high school, but I never owned a pair of kork-ease. Until now.
I am now a happy owner of the Ava sandals in natural...
I know, I was a little put off by the price. But now that I have them on my feet, I get it.
One part of summer that I look forward to every week is the reading. The trips to the library, the afternoons in the hammock, staying up a little later than normal in bed reading. Watching my kids read, it makes me smile. Here's what we've been reading:
How to Train Your Dragon series- not to be confused with the movie, although there are some overlaps of characters. But this series is way longer and different. Sawyer is flying through them.
What Was the Battle of Gettysburg?- Gunnar is still a huge social studies nerd. We love it. He's just like his dad. He can't get enough when it comes to history. This series is so great, they can be read in a day depending on their reading level.
What Was the Gold Rush?- This book was a nice follow up to a field trip Sawyer had last week at the Gene Autry Museum.
The Long Winter- Aaron still reads to Greta before bed from the Little House on the Prairie series, they are in this one, which Aaron says is pretty sad and dreary. Ma and Pa and the girls are starving through winter, he can't wait to finish this one. But Almonzo is in the picture now and they both are looking forward to the next book.
Happier at Home- This is on my nightstand, a companion to this book, I am curious what tips and tricks she has for home organization in this book. I haven't had a moment to read the last few months, so this summer I am also looking forward to slowing down a bit and spending some quiet afternoons with a book.
What are you reading? Anything you are dying to get your hands on? I recently recommended Divergent to a girlfriend, she wanted a "can't put it down" series. And well, that one fits the bill for sure. Did you hear they are filming the movie? Oh and the third book in the trilogy comes out this fall. I already have it on preorder. But who's counting. (October 22 just fyi)
Gunnar's fifth grade class had their drama performance a few weeks ago, they've been working on the musical Footloose all year. It was surreal to sit in the audience and watch my son perform on the same stage I had my own fifth grade drama performance. To say he made me proud would be a gross understatement. He was Willard, and he was amazing. The southern accent, the solos sung. I melted into the chair right there. The entire class was amazing. Watching these 10 and 11 year old kids get up there and sing and dance with all their heart, there was nothing better.
The following week the fifth grade had their Talent Show. Gunnar was the emcee for most of the night, and the poise he had, the maturity he demonstrated, he was so comfortable being up there and talking to several hundred people. He introduced his friends, he made jokes, he was funny!
He has his fifth grade year book signing and then culmination and then it's over. I will have a middle schooler in my home. It sounds so cliche, but really I feel like it was just yesterday that I was walking him to his kindergarten class. And now he's done at the school. I know he will be great. I know he will always make us proud. But I don't know if I'm ready yet for all this...
A girlfriend made the most delicious ceviche and she was kind enough to share the recipe. Thank you Summer!
1 1/2 lbs shrimp
1 1/4 lbs bay scallops
2 red onions
2 red bell peppers
3 jalapeños (seeds removed)
2 1/2 cups lime juice
1 cup lemon juice
zest of 1-2 limes
Summer emphasized the importance of getting the freshest fish possible for this dish.
Cut the shrimp and scallops into even pieces and place them in a glass (or nonreactive bowl). Pour 1 1/2 cups of lime juice and 3/4 cup of lemon juice over the fish, making sure the juice completely covers the juice.
Refrigerate the fish while you cut up the onions, peppers, and jalapenos. Chop the avocado and keep it in a separate bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of lemon juice over avocado and toss.
The fish should "cook" for 30 minutes-1 hour. Take it out of refrigerator and check to see that the shrimp is pink and appears cooked. If it looks pink, drain most of the juice.
Add the vegetables to the fish, along with 1 cup lime juice. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle lime zest over the top and serve.
Each time I head out to the garden I smile. I smile when I see the bees, butterflies and ladybugs all happily flying about in the garden. This ladybug above was having a buffet feast on those pesky bugs.
The tomatoes are getting bigger and bigger. The romas are looking huge already, and the heirlooms are coming in all over. I can't tell you the level of anticipation in this house for the first ripe tomato!
I see the kids every day or so picking blueberries here and there from our two bushes.
Our peppers are looking super cute! We have at least 2 blossoms on each plant and I can't wait to try them.
Do you see the little cucumber sprouts in the above photo? Just below the yellow flowers. I think cucumbers are going to do very well this year. The snap peas were taken over by some type of bug and they've eaten up almost all the leaves and blossoms. A few have been saved but not many.
Overall our garden is doing pretty good. Now we just wait until it's time to harvest.
This kale salad will rock your world. No joke. It's delicious and Aaron and I eat it multiple times a month as dinner/lunch/snack, I can't get enough of it. The salad dressing is super easy too. It's a lot of chopping, but once you chop everything it's only mixing.
For the salad dressing, you will need equal parts lemon and grapeseed oil, and chopped garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and shake.
For the salad, we don't follow a strict recipe, we kind of throw in more depending on how many we are serving. But here's what you will include in your salad:
kale-we usually add purple kale and green kale, chop the stems up as well and throw them into the salad. Very important to keep the stems.
grated parmesan cheese
shredded roasted chicken
Be sure you follow the instructions on the package of orzo pasta, prepare that ahead of time and set aside, so it cools before tossing. You can place it in the refrigerator too if need be.
Chop all your veggies, tomato, etc.
Shred your roasted chicken. We usually buy a chicken from Whole Foods and just use a fork to shred.
Toss all your ingredients together and coat with dressing. Enjoy!
I haven't posted a "skin" Q & A on the blog for awhile. So if you'd like to discuss something in particular, please shoot me an email at amharju at gmail dot com. Or leave a comment here with the burning question that you'd really like to know more about! In other exciting work news for me, we just received a huge shipment of summer sun hats! A ton of new colors, lots of neutrals. If you are a Facebook fan of Skin By Deborah, you've already seen photos of the new colors we have in stock. If you aren't on Facebook and would like to know the colors we have in stock, again just email or text me.
If you'd like to be added to the newsletter email list, don't be shy, I have women from all over the country, and even out of the country that I send this too. It's just a newsletter I put together every few months with little tips and news on skincare. All my clients receive this, but it's not just for my clients. You can leave your email address in the comments, or email me and I'll send email you your own copy.
I hope you all are enjoying your long weekend. I know I am!
This artichoke dip is a crowd pleaser. It disappears very fast, just a warning. I did this recipe times one and a half because I was making this for the shower and was expecting a lot of people, so that's why the measuring cups you see in the photos won't necessarily match what the recipe calls for. Here's what you'll need to make this:
16 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts-drained
1/2 cup of mayo
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic-pressed
1/4 cup of bread crumbs
Start with drained artichoke hearts in a bowl, and coarsely chop with hand blender, you can also do this in a regular blender as well. Then combine rest of ingredients and blend again.
Once blended but still on the chunky side, place in oven safe dish and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Serve with sliced bread, and don't be surprised when you're asked for the recipe multiple times!
For the food menu I knew I wanted a variety of choices, vegetarian and not. After thinking for a long while this is what I ended up serving:
~Kale Orzo Chicken Salad
~Smoked Trout and Cheddar on Crackers
~Vegetable Spring Rolls
~Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche
~Artichoke Dip and Sliced Bread
I made all the food except for the Ceviche, and my girlfriend is sending me the recipe for that, so I will share as soon as I can. *Aaron cooked and chopped with me all morning too, the salad is his specialty!*
For the smoked trout bites, I used the canned smoked trout from Trader Joe's, sliced Cheddar into triangles, then the bottom layer was a triscuit type cracker, sprinkled with pepper. Easy and so tasty.
For the Spring Rolls I used rice paper wrappers from Whole Foods, you dip the wrappers in water, then fill them with veggies. I used sliced carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and mung bean sprouts (also from Whole Foods). By the time you are done filling them the wrapper is soft and ready to be wrapped. I sliced them in half and served with a little side of Ponzu sauce. The key was to keep them moist, so I served them on top of wet paper towels you can see a little in the photo below. While prepping the rolls I also always had a wet paper towel over them until I brought them to the table to serve.
The artichoke dip and salad will each have their own separate posts with instructions and photos. Along with the ceviche. Stay tuned this week for those posts.
The chocolate covered strawberries were made by a friend, and I still am savoring how delicious they were. They are a great dessert to serve because you can prepare them ahead of time, keep them chilled in the refrigerator, and just take them out when it's time to serve.
With the end of the school year comes so much busy-ness. More so this year than usual having a fifth grader. Orchestra recitals, spring music concerts, drama performances, fifth grade talent show, graduation, yearbook signing, I could go on and on.
This year Sawyer was the only one of my kids in the Spring Concert, it just worked out that year with the grades the other kids are in. It was so nice to get to sit there and give him our full attention. I had no issues with deciding where to sit, would I see one kid and not the other? Will one kid not see me?
He was pretty proud of himself. Especially during the Indian "bollywood" dance number. This kid slays me. Check out the tongue in the last photo.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I have so much that has been happening with the kids and I can't wait to fill you in. Between school performances, drama shows, fifth grade talent show, it's been non stop. And culmination will be in only 3 weeks! It's just racing by. I wish I could press the pause button to savor it because it's going so fast I haven't been able to catch my breath.
Tonight I watched my fifth grader emcee his school's talent show and I was floored at how comfortable and confident he is on stage in front of a few hundred people. That boy, he makes my heart swell.
What are you doing this weekend? Anything fun? I will be helping host a lemonade stand for the fifth grade students as part of their community service project. A few kids need a couple more hours to fill their commitment, and all proceeds are going to pediatric cancer research through Alex's Lemonade Stand. If you haven't heard of the program, check it out! Anyone can sign up to be a part of it.
And just because a post is so much more fun with a photo, here's one of my Greta at her International Festival Parade. Her class studied all about Italy and learned about the great Italian artists, the amazing olives they grow there, and they even had a gelato tasting lesson. Here she is as an Italian painter for the parade.
Champagne was a must this time through request of my sister, interesting since she can't drink! But it was fun to pop those bottles of champagne, I must admit. To dress up the glasses I threaded embroidery thread through a needle and then strung it onto a felt ball, then wrapped and tied each ball on to a glass. It was nice to keep track of glasses this way too, just remember your color!
A friend made the non-alcoholic drink we served, which I have no photos of! By that point I was running like a mad woman making sure all the food platters were filled, trash was emptied, and making spring rolls. But it was a delicious pomegranate green tea punch. I served it in a glass dispenser decorated with a little matching felt ball garland.
This week I am over on Classic Play making these really fun Native American Talking Sticks. The kids loved this project, it's a perfect lesson to do outside, and the outcome is so fun and colorful, we keep it in our living room now. It's a really great lesson for third and fourth graders especially, as they are learning all about the settlers and Native American history in social studies.
My sister's beautiful baby girl will be here in a number of weeks, and this weekend we celebrated. Having thrown her last baby shower for my nephew, I was worried I used up every last good idea in my brain. Good thing ideas don't work like that. Phew.
Early on I found this fabric from Spoonflower as the inspiration for the invites, colors, and table decor. My sister knew one thing for sure, she wanted hot pink and emerald green to be the colors. I ordered several yards of the fabric and hemmed the edges with iron on hem tape, and used the fabric as the table covering. And from there everything fell into place.
My husband was kind enough to cut the stumps himself with a chainsaw, and then he used a belt sander to smooth the tops. He also cut smaller pieces of wood from a small branch that I used as menu labels.
I tied a little felt ball on embroidery thread to each champagne glass, hopefully to help people keep track of which glass is theirs, and it was bonus that they looked so festive!
The dessert table was set up with chocolate covered strawberries and cupcakes from Vanilla Bake Shop. If you are in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and visit!
I am working on a separate post with menu items and a few recipes for those that requested.
*and now all we need is to snuggle that baby in our arms...
Saturday morning Aaron woke up and as usual, went downstairs and headed for the espresso machine...where I carefully taped a little card the night before asking to be opened immediately. Inside he was informed to pack his bags and be ready by 10am.
Kids were already packed the day before and my parents picked them up at 9:30am. He was in for my very first surprise-planned weekend away. Can I just stop here for a moment and tell you how stressful planning a weekend away is? Months ago I had this idea and had to check with his boss to make sure he wasn't on call, my parents to make sure they could take the kids, the calendar to make sure there wasn't anything important happening. And then there's the whole choosing the place, activities and restaurants. Phew. It was nerve wracking but it was a success. I give major applause to my husband for having done this twice in the past 13 years. Once, I was about 7 months pregnant with Gunnar and he whisked me away to a B&B in Summerland just outside Santa Barbara, and the second time about 18 months ago when we went to Paso Robles. Planning a surprise trip, no matter the length you plan to be gone, is a lot of work. But oh so worth it.
We drove north and stopped in Santa Barbara for the farmers market and lunch before heading north some more. The farmers market was wonderful, and we got to browse and stroll together, picking out little goodies we knew the kids would enjoy like homemade jam for Greta, pistachios for Sawyer and fresh cherries for Gunnar.
We stayed overnight at Sycamore Mineral Springs. Our first mineral spring experience. Aaron is definitely a hot tubber, did you know that's a verb? Oh it is. See for yourself.
The setting was very lush and pretty. The rooms weren't anything too special, clean and basic, but we had great massages at the spa and enjoyed our own private mineral pool for about 45 minutes before our spa appointments. Aaron couldn't get enough of the mineral springs. Every room has a tub on their front or back porch, you open the valve and hot spring water comes shooting out. He was in there a lot, before bed, when he woke up. I was so happy to see him so relaxed and happy. We had wild turkeys right outside our hotel room too, they freaked me out just a little.
That night we headed north to Santa Margarita thanks to a friend's recommendation. We ate at a great steak place called The Range. They take no reservations, and no credit cards. It's located on a two block "town" and you know when you pull up it's going to be good. Aaron ordered a coffee crusted ribeye and pretty much every single thing we ordered was amazing. If only we were there during the day and could pop in some of the antique stores in the area!
The next morning we took our time getting packed and headed to San Luis Obispo for brunch. We popped into Kreuzberg for some coffee first, my husband has a knack for finding the best coffee house in any city.
We had brunch at a great place called Novo, great setting, awesome food. If you go be sure you get reservations to sit on the patio which is overlooking a little creek. There we met up with very good friends of ours from New York. They just happened to be working in San Jose that week and were kind enough to drive down to see us. It was hard keeping this part from Aaron too! I tell you, brunching with friends that you rarely get to see, without having to take little ones to the bathroom or cut up anyone's food, it's special that's for sure.
And there you have our little 36 hour adventure. It's amazing what that short amount of time can do for the soul. It's not long lasting where it stays with you for days and gives you peace when you're home. No, within 5 minutes of being home you are right back in the fire. That's not why we go. It's for the moments that we have when we're away, the hours we get to spend uninterrupted with the one we love. Having the conversations we need to have but don't really find the time to have them back home. The deep breaths and slow walks. The opportunities to just "be".
*I'm checking out from the blog for a few days, I have an art lesson to photograph, and a special sister's baby shower to create, I'll be back next week with hopefully lots of photos of the shower
The second teacher appreciation gift we did this week is pretty simple. Again, I had everything on hand. But the outcome is cute and it's practical at the same time. I tend to steer clear of too personal or kitschy gifts for teachers. How many mugs can they really own? Or do they really want that painting from my kid? A handmade card to go along with a gift is plenty cute and personal from my kids if you ask me.
For this one you'll need: fresh flowers, a few different colors of twine, double sided stick tape, drink dispenser or vase
I bought a few of these drink dispersers from Ikea, but I've seen them lots of places, such as at The Container Store, Cost Plus, etc.
I didn't photograph how I started to wrap the twine, but I took a small piece of double sided sticky tape for the beginning of the twine and just wrapped. When I switched colors, I tried to keep it in the same area as where I began the last color so that if you turn the bottle, everything looks pretty and you don't see the starts and stops of twine.
And there you have a super easy, practical and yet pretty gift.