Monday, December 31, 2012

our 2012

I had a really hard time choosing a photo for each month—there were just so many good moments this year!

Some of my best days in 2012 were spent:
1. Traveling to Arkansas in April to meet our 3rd niece.
2. My friend Emily’s wedding in Kennebunk, Maine in June.
3. Countless trips to visit Nolan’s Grandmas and Grandpas.
4. Our friends Kevin & Julie’s July wedding in Cleveland.
5. Nolan meeting 5 great-grandparents.
6. Celebrating our baby boy’s first birthday in September.
7. Attending the dedication for my sister’s memorial in Chicago.
8. Flying to Minnesota for Thanksgiving with my family.
9. Spending Christmas at home, and then with our families in Indiana.
10. And of course, enjoying each day with Nolan—teaching him, feeding him, loving him, and watching him quickly grow into an amazing little boy!

Thanking God today for this wonderful year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! May the new 2013 bring many blessings to you!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

designer desserts

My mom’s side of the family is rooted in Valparaiso, Indiana (a nice town 60 miles east of Chicago), so that is where we headed the day after Christmas. We ended up in a hotel in Cleveland that night (still 5 hours from destination) since Winter Storm Euclid hit hard, and the Ohio turnpike was not plowed. But we still made it to family Christmas on Thursday night!

Yesterday morning, my aunt insisted that we make a second visit to the local cupcake shop “Designer Desserts” in downtown Valparaiso.

Two photos from our first experience back in September:

I was excited to see how they decorated for Christmas, and they did not disappoint.

And these were the cupcakes we devoured yesterday:

My cousin-in-law’s sister Sarah, my cousin Dayna, and my Aunt Lori

Dayna, Grandpa, me, and Lori

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I think we’ve started a new tradition every time we come “home” :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

our Christmas photo + outtakes

the one that I love most (that we sent out).

the chair idea didn’t work from the very beginning.

laughing at how difficult it was to take a photo on a timer, with a tripod, and get a dog and a baby to cooperate.

when I ran back from the camera and sat on the chair, it sank into the ground, and I thought we were falling over backwards.

okay, good shot, but dog not looking.

joyful photo
I won a giveaway for this etsy design.

oh, and a cute shot of just the two of us.


Monday, December 24, 2012

a Christmas Eve engagement story

Steve’s and my relationship was mostly long-distance. I was in college in Chicago, and he was in college in Pennsylvania. Christmas break was exciting because we could live in the same town for three weeks, and see each other every day. On Christmas Eve 2008, Steve spent the majority of his day last-minute shopping. He asked me if I would like to go out to dinner, or get dessert with him after church that evening. We had been dating for a year and a half, and he had never asked me to a late night dinner before. So, like any other girl with a serious boyfriend around the holidays, I began wondering, “Is this the night?” We met up at our cozy little church at 7 pm, where we listened to the story of Jesus’ birth, and sang “Silent Night”, everyone holding tiny lit candles in the dark.

When it was time to go, my family was heading out to one Christmas party, while Steve’s family was leaving to go to another Christmas party. Though we were invited to both, I still had my mind set on Steve and me going to a restaurant by ourselves. (If he was going to ask me an important question, I thought it would probably happen when we were alone.) Unfortunately, we didn't realize there are no restaurants open after 8 on Christmas Eve. So we ended up in Steve’s parents’ house, babysitting his 5-year-old niece while she slept (so her parents could go to the first Christmas party), and we played Guitar Hero—not exactly what I had in mind. At this point, I gave up on the idea that it was “the night.” Steve’s family came home from the party, and we left for my mom’s house. 

It is Scandinavian tradition to have Christmas dinner and open presents on Christmas Eve. It is something we’ve done my whole life, and I love it. My mom, my stepfather, my stepfather’s son Tim, Steve, and I gathered around the tree, distributing the gifts, and taking turns opening them. Once everything was unwrapped, Steve said he had something in the car, and asked if I would come down to the basement. He went out the front door, while I watched him from the window. There was a lot of ice out that night (his car actually got stuck to the driveway when he left, and had to be pushed out of its spot), and he fake-skated his way to the car to get a laugh from me. 

When he came back inside, he had a medium-sized gift bag in his hand, and we went downstairs. We sat down on the couch, he handed me the bag, and inside was a little photo album. I began going through the pictures from our whole relationship, while he told me the story to go with them. It began with, “This is a story about a boy, who fell in love with a girl beautiful beyond belief…”

After many pages, I found photos of us that we had taken in front of different bodies of water. Two of our very first pictures together were self-shots on Lake Chautauqua and Lake Erie. After that, we had started a little goal to take photos of ourselves in front of every lake, river, or ocean we visited—us by Lake Michigan, us by Niagara Falls, etc. 

After those photos, the album went blank. Steve began to ask, “But where is the Atlantic Ocean? Where is Lake Superior? Where is Lake Ontario, the Pacific Ocean, the Finger Lakes?” There was then a photo of us making disappointed faces. 

He told me, “It is going to take a long time to travel to all of those places.” I turned the page again, and there was a photo of the brand-new chapel at the camp that we both worked at for many summers. 

He got down on one knee beside the couch, pulled out a ring, and asked me, “Rachel Julia, will you marry me?” 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

can’t leave alone bars


I found this recipe four years ago in a Gooseberry Patch Christmas cookbook that I borrowed from the library. They taste like a yellow cake meets a chocolate chip cookie, with a brownie texture! I put these bars and some other sweets on a tray for my (then-boyfriend) Steve’s family. I think that cookie platter was the reason they decided to keep me. ;)


18 1/4 ounce package white cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, sliced


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cake mix, eggs, and oil in a bowl; mix well. Press two-thirds of the mixture into a greased 13x9 inch baking dish.

Combine condensed milk, chocolate chips, and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH for 45 seconds. Stir, and then microwave again for 45 to 60 seconds, or until the chips are melted. Stir until smooth—then pour over cake mixture in pan.

Drop remaining cake mixture by teaspoonfuls randomly over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until light golden. Let cool before cutting into squares.

Makes 3 dozen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nolan’s birth story

Today Nolan turns 15 months-old!

12 2012

I never blogged about the day that Nolan first graced us with his presence. I have many friends who are pregnant now or who have yet to have their first baby, so I wanted to write this for them. When I was pregnant, it helped me to read other people’s baby stories to prepare for my own big event.

My due date happened to be my birthday. A few days before, at my doctor’s appointment on August 26th, my doctor said that the baby’s head had dropped, and I was 2 centimeters dilated. He told us that he would be surprised if I made it to our September 1st appointment. I had a really good pregnancy, and I was fine waiting 40 weeks, but once that due date passed, some impatience set in. September 1st came and went, with no changes in my dilation. I didn’t have anything to do besides hang out at our home (in our new town that we had only lived in for two weeks) waiting for the baby to make his appearance. I had two nights where I felt irregular contractions, and by the time I woke up those next mornings, the contractions were gone. So finally, at my September 8th appointment, the doctor told me I would come into the hospital the next morning to be induced.

The hospital was a five-minute drive away on that warm, rainy morning, and we arrived at 7 a.m. to Labor & Delivery. I was able to go straight to the delivery room, but it took about two hours to answer questions and be officially admitted. At 9 a.m. the fun began. Someone came to draw blood. Then the nurses had to try 3 times to get the IV started. Next, my doctor broke my water. And, I was started on Pitocin—all within a half hour. The nurse continued to increase the Pitocin every time she came in the room. I was hungry, and I tried filling up on ice chips and Jello. I began to feel intense contractions at 10 a.m. At 11, I started to get nervous about how much more I could take. (Steve was watching the tocometer (contraction monitor), and the contractions were just as big then as they were at the end, just further apart). Anyway, I sat on the balance ball, trying to breathe and relax. The nurses didn’t check to see if I was dilated any further, and they said my doctor wouldn’t come until lunchtime to check. Luckily for me, the anesthesiologist was about to leave the hospital, and he was wondering if I was ready for an epidural. The nurse didn’t think I was, but I thought otherwise. (I’m not sure if I would have gotten one had he have left. Small hospital.) They checked me at 4 cm, and the anesthesiologist started the epidural. I thought it was quick and painless. He said it would feel like three bee stings, and that was true. He complimented me at how well I was handling the contractions (he said most women were shouting obscenities at that point).

Once I had the epidural, I was completely numb on my left side, and had little feeling on my right side. I felt great. The baby’s heartbeat dropped significantly every time I laid on my right side, so they gave me oxygen for a little while. I stayed in the bed from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., feeling easy contractions. Something that bothered me almost worse than the contractions—I was attached to a blood pressure machine which would squeeze my arm every ten minutes or so. The places that the nurse had failed at getting the IV in would throb painfully when the arm band would squeeze me—awful. At 3, my doctor was pleasantly surprised that I had dilated from 4 to 10 cm in that short amount of time. He told me that I would get a hug and a kiss afterwards for being such a good girl (this was out of character for him to say!) They turned off my epidural so I could feel more, to help with the pushing. The nurse started some practice pushing with me, which soon turned into real pushing as she called the doctor back in.

The nurse and Steve were very encouraging, and soon they were telling me to open my eyes because the baby was about to be born. The doctor used forceps to straighten his head (he was coming down slightly crooked which had caused the heartbeat to drop when I was on my right side before). I took my first glimpse at the most perfect, beautiful baby.

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He had a lot of dark hair, a sweet squishy face, and his hands were so big and purple! He started crying right away (a huge relief, and an incredible blessing to hear his little voice for the first time!) Instead of whisking him away and cleaning him, they laid him on my chest. I couldn’t believe how amazing it was to hold the baby who had been inside of me for nine months! He was healthy and perfect. His eyes were wide open and they were a dark gray. Steve and my mom (who was also in the room) were in awe. He was weighed at 8 pounds, 2 ounces, and he measured 20.5 inches long. After a while, they left Steve and me alone with him. It was at this point that we told him his name: Nolan Bruce. We called family to tell them the exciting news, and we continuously thanked God for giving us a brand new life.


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I have more to say about the rest of our time in the hospital—the breastfeeding, the circumcision, the sleeping, the recovery from stitches, life with a newborn, my surgery 6 months later, etc. but we’ll save that for later (if there is any interest in that).

Here are two articles I read about having babies that I wished someone had told me ahead of time:

list of things to do in the last weeks of pregnancy via “dear baby blog”

postpartum rest and recovery tips via “keeper of the home”

Saturday, December 1, 2012

brownies with pumpkin

I had to try these for myself after I found the easy recipe for adding a 15 ounce can of pumpkin to a {family size} box of brownie mix and baking it (350 degrees for 25-30 minutes) in a greased 9x9 pan.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed at how much of the pumpkin taste comes out in the brownie.  But it was a great texture, and it definitely felt healthier sneaking a vegetable into my chocolate.
To make it more tasty, Cookies & Cups suggests adding a frosting.  Cream 1/2 cup butter with 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, and slowly beat in 2 cups of powdered sugar until it becomes fluffy.
A very similar recipe--Chocolate Muffins: A favorite recipe of mine is mixing a 15 ounce can of pumpkin with a box of chocolate cake mix.  Spoon into 18-ish muffin wrappers and bake in muffin tin at 350 for 30 minutes.  I think this recipe masks the pumpkin better.  When my mom makes them, she likes to throw in an extra-ripe banana for a fruity taste.  (Yellow cake mix & pumpkin is delicious too!)  Enjoy! 


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