Friday, March 21, 2014

First Day of Spring

A couple weeks ago I started planning a little celebration for the first day of Spring with Avery. Ryan and I decided that for our family, we would rather take the bunnies and eggs and activities that are usually associated with Easter and enjoy those at another time instead. The first day of Spring seemed like a good time to do that. And now Easter is reserved to celebrate Christ's resurrection and focus on what that day means for us.

Since Avery loves helping me in the kitchen, I knew she'd enjoy baking cookies. I also found a couple cute crafts to keep her busy throughout the day.

For breakfast, we made banana whole wheat pancakes shaped like butterflies and flowers. I only had one cookie cutter of each shape and I didn't have the patience to make pancakes for hours, so there were three cute pancakes, and the rest were normal-shaped. But Avery loved them and ate all three of her "special pancakes."

After breakfast, we started working on a batch of sugar cookies. We had made the dough the night before so it could chill overnight. Avery loved using the rolling pin and helping to cut out the cookies. I also caught her sneaking quite a few little bites of cookie dough. Like mother, like daughter! I had bought a box of gel-based pastel food coloring for this project. Apparently I used a little too much of the gel because the colors are obviously not pastel. I guess it's better than Christmas colors, though.

While the cookies were cooling, we dyed eggs for our table centerpiece. I removed the tops of 6 eggs, cleaned out the insides, and placed them in a bowl of water with purple food coloring. The eggs ended up being more of a mauve color, but Avery thought it was the coolest thing to see the eggs turn a different color. She even brought one of her bowls and her pretend eggs into the kitchen and told me she was coloring her eggs as well.

Once the eggs dried, I placed them in my brand new porcelain egg carton that I found at Bed Bath & Beyond for $1.99. We filled the eggs with water, placed a small flower in each one, and spread moss around the edges. It turned out to be a pretty and inexpensive spring centerpiece for our dining room table.

While Avery napped, I worked on the next baking project - coconut "nest" cookies. When Avery woke up, she helped me fill the nests with homemade nutella (which, by the way, was super easy and delicious) and peanut butter m&m eggs. Avery was very particular about which colors she used. But I think her favorite part was licking the nutella off her fingers.

Our final craft project was making small stained glass window pictures. The night before, I ripped up colored tissue paper into small pieces. Then we spread Elmer's glue on a piece of waxed paper and let Avery place the tissue paper pieces on the glue. After gluing another sheet of waxed paper on top, we let it dry for several hours. Finally, I cut various shapes out of dark purple card stock and glued the waxed paper / tissue paper to the templates. They are currently hanging in our dining room window. I couldn't believe that they actually looked like stained glass when the sun shines through them!

We had planned to have a picnic in the park for dinner, but the weather was a little too chilly and windy to eat outside. But before dinner, Avery got to open a few gifts. Grandma and Grandpa even sent her a special surprise. We gave her a necklace and bracelet, lip gloss, and a new Madeline movie (mostly because I was tired of listening to the same ones over and over in the car). Her grandparents gave her an adorable stuffed bunny, a new book, and a pair of orange jellies. She was in heaven!

After dinner, Ryan and Avery brought the baked goods to our friends and neighbors. The best part of enjoying the fun of baking all day is sending it all away so I'm not tempted to eat it all!

I think Avery enjoyed our new springtime tradition. I know I'm already looking forward to next year!

Friday, October 11, 2013

15 Months Old

I thought that after Avery turned one, I wouldn't post monthly updates anymore. But I found that I looked back at this blog often to remember little details about her life that I otherwise might forget. So while these posts may not be strictly every month, I will try to update as things change (or as I have time).

She has turned into even more of a chatterbox than she was before (if that's even possible). We hear non-stop babble most of the day. She loves to pull toys and books out from her bins, and usually will put them back in if we ask her to. Her favorite thing to do these days is carry things from one room to the other. I found a sweet potato in her room yesterday when I put her down for a nap. And I often find clothes from her hamper in other parts of the house.

Avery's favorite time of day is if I let her watch Barefoot Contessa while I'm getting dinner ready. She gets so excited, yells "Ina!" and will watch an entire episode. If I am in the kitchen cooking, she has to be right in there with me mixing and stirring with bowls and spoons as well. If she sees me near the oven, she will bring me an oven mitt. I can't wait to start baking and cooking with her! We might have a little chef on our hands.

She also loves to eat, and has a pretty sophisticated palette. She prefers sweet potatoes roasted with paprika and garlic to plain baked sweet potatoes, and loves a mushroom, onion and Swiss frittata instead of plain scrambled eggs.

Avery can say "grandma" and "grandpa" and knows who they are. I showed her a picture of my parents the other day without saying their names, and she pointed to them and correctly identified them. She can also say "Rachel" and "Beka." Her favorite food to say is "apple." And while she can say words for milk, banana, applesauce, yogurt, etc. they don't sound quite like they should yet. When we read her Bible story each night, she says, "Jesus." She has been doing the signs for "please, more, and all done" for quite a few months now. It is extremely helpful to cut down on some whining and interpret what she is asking for. She tries as hard as she can to imitate what we are saying. She can usually get the right inflection and the right number of syllables. I'm sure we'll start hearing more real words in the next few months.

The memory and imagination of a 15-month old never ceases to amaze me. She walks around the house with her play phone saying "Hi, Dada." And she often puts bowls or clothes on her head and yells, "hat!" My mom sings "Jesus Loves Me" to her all the time and has been teaching her the hand motions. It's been a few weeks since she has heard it, but yesterday I asked if she wanted to sing a song (she loves singing solos) and immediately started singing something that clearly included the word "Jesus" and pointing to herself.

Avery constantly makes us laugh - more often on purpose these days. She has discovered she can be the center of attention, especially around strangers. She is becoming less and less shy and will wave and smile at anyone who talks to her.

She is still an excellent eater and sleeper. She often sleeps over 12 hours at night, with a 3 hour nap in the afternoons, and she'll eat almost anything we put in front of her. We have been blessed with such a good, easy baby, and yes, we have been warned that we might not get this lucky with our next one. Avery, thank you for the best 15 months of our lives! We love your silly personality and the slobbery kisses we get many times a day.

Weekend Trip to PA

My Mom flew home with us from SC to NJ in September and was able to spend a couple extra days with us. She was scheduled to speak at a ladies' meeting in PA on Saturday, so Avery and I drove down with her to see some of our family that lives in the area. Ryan was in the last couple days of his studying, so it was perfect timing. We drove to Mom's cousin's house for lunch. This was Avery's first time meeting her, and she loved chasing the cat around! Carol made a delicious meal for us, and it was wonderful catching up with her again. We're looking forward to her staying with us in November while she is in town for the weekend!

From there we headed to my Dad's aunt and uncle a few minutes away. Avery went down for her nap shortly after we arrived, and we relaxed with a cup of coffee for the afternoon. After dinner, Mom took us to one of her favorite stores in Pennsylvania. Avery's grandma spoiled her with lots of yummy treats for the weekend!

The next morning, we drove to our friend's church and had a wonderful morning with her and the sweet ladies we met. It was a beautiful fall day with cool, crisp air, and great fellowship. Shortly after we arrived back at home, Ryan finished his 8-hour long test and arrived home as well. Mom had offered to babysit Avery so we could go out for dinner, but we opted to order sushi and watch football at home instead.

Our little weekend away was the perfect ending to our vacation!

Our Month Away

Avery and I recently spent about 4 weeks back home in Greenville during August and September. Ryan completed his third year of medical school in August and then studied hard-core for his Step 2 exam in the middle of September. During that time, we decided it would be better for all of us if Avery and I were out of town. Ryan had a great study plan lined up and met with a couple classmates every day to study for 10-12 hours. He didn't need the distractions of having us around, and Avery and I needed a little more activity. I baked and cooked for a couple days before we left and loaded him up on lasagnas, casseroles, chili, bread, cookies, and tons of snacks.

I just have to say how thankful I am for my super easy (and adorable!) travel buddy. Avery has flown 8 or 9 times already (most of those with just me) and has never had a meltdown. When she was a little younger, she slept for all the flights. But now that she thinks she's a big girl, naps are no longer a guarantee. Thankfully, she was content to sit on my lap, read books, eat Cheerios, and look out the window.

Those weeks at home were some of the best we've ever had. Avery is just crazy about her grandparents and aunts. She is happy to go to them immediately without any crying or hesitation. In fact, she often would rather have them hold her than be in my arms.

With all the family around, I never had any lack of babysitters. My mom offered to stay home with Avery almost every day during her naps so I could go out shopping by myself or spend time with friends. Rachel came over most days during her lunch hour to play with Avery. And Rebekah and Dad spent hours with her in the evenings and weekends. She is one blessed girl!

Shortly after we arrived, Avery learned the word "apple." So naturally, Dad decided he wanted to take Avery to the mountains for apple picking! That weekend we had the most beautiful weather, so Dad, Rebekah, Avery, and I headed up to NC for a fun morning together.

The next weekend, Avery and I spent the morning at the pool with other moms and kids from church. We had such a great time together. Avery loved the pool, and is always happy to spend extra time with her sweet cousin, Halle.

While we were home, Avery also learned how to go up and down the stairs at my parents' house. We don't have steps at our house, so she has never tried them. But one evening, Rebekah and I realized it had been a few seconds since we'd heard from her, and when we found her, she was half way up the steps! After that, we kept her safe with a baby gate, but when we allowed her to go up, she acted like she had always been doing it! She loved to say "up" and "down" as well.

One weekend, we celebrated my mom's birthday with a surprise party at our friends' house. We had the best time with all our friends and family, and Mom was so surprised! Avery got to stay up way past her bedtime, but was so sweet and happy the whole time. She walked all around the house "talking" to people and not the least bit concerned with where I was. Several times I looked over at her and she was being held by different people. At the end of the evening, we sang happy birthday to Mom. After everyone stopped singing, Avery began singing, looked around at everyone (looking at her) and proceeded to clap for herself. She certainly loves attention!

The weeks were full of evenings with family, lunch with friends, and lots of food, as they always are when we're at home. Avery and I missed Ryan, but we loved every minute we got to spend with loved ones.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Three Down, One to Go

I realized it's been a little while since we've updated you on where Ryan is in the medical school process. It's exciting to see his progress and to realize there really is an end to all this schooling! As of next Friday, Ryan will have completed his third year of medical school and his first year of clinical rotations. He will take the next four weeks off to study for and take his Step 2, the second part of his boards. During that time, Avery and I will be spending a few weeks with my family in Greenville. A small apartment with an active one-year old does not provide the best study environment for Ryan, so we'll get out of his way. He has a good study plan in place with his friend, Neil, and I know they are going to do great. I'll be sure to have plenty of food for him. And my mom has already loaded him up on snacks for those weeks.

Once the test is over, Ryan will apply for residency programs. This fall will be extremely busy as he flies all over the country (hopefully just the east coast) interviewing at various programs. During that time, he will also be completing elective rotations in different specialities, including ones that he is interested in pursuing. We have a weekend trip planned to NH in October with my family to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the church my Dad started in Dover. We also plan to be in Greenville just a few weeks later for Thanksgiving and my 10 year high school reunion. After Christmas, we'll have a couple weeks of vacation during one of Ryan's less-stressful rotations. I think a beach trip with my family is on the schedule, as well as maybe some sight-seeing in Washington, DC.

Ryan will find out where he matched for residency in March of 2014. Just a few weeks later, he will complete the remainder of his rotations, and we will move back to Greenville until he begins residency. Those couple months will be quite busy as we search for a place to live in our new location, move all our things, take an incredible trip to Turkey with my dad, plan an amazing graduation party for Ryan, and fly back to NYC for his graduation in June.

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. We would greatly appreciate your prayers for Ryan and his Step 2 on September 14. We're so excited for the next step in this journey.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

12 Months Old

Today our sweet little baby turns one! They aren't kidding when people tell you how quickly the first year will go. We love looking back at how Avery has grown and changed in this past year. I can't say that I remember all the little moments throughout the year, but I have tried to consciously enjoy them at the time. She truly is such a joy to us, and we love seeing more of her fun and silly (and often quite strong-willed) personality.

In the past month, she has really mastered the art of walking. This skill was perfected at my parents' house for the two weeks we were there. Within a couple days of being home, she was done with crawling. She loves playing outside and wants to walk everywhere we go. This presents a few challenges in places like the grocery store, or when we're running late for an appointment. She has also moved on to running (usually when she hears her Daddy in another part of the apartment).

Avery is eating a lot more finger foods, including chopped-up versions of our meals. There is not much she has tried that she doesn't like. She loves drinking milk at her meals and sipping on water throughout the day. She knows the signs for "more" and "all done" and uses them quite effectively.

She can point to her own hair, tummy, and toes, and ears and nose on someone else. In addition to saying "mama," "dada," and "amen," she can also say "doggie." She says the "sh" sound for shoes, and is quick to point out shoes anytime she sees them. She also tries to say the "s" sound, but it comes out sounding more like "sh" again. We'll often see her play with her hair if she hears us mention that word in passing. When we were at home, my dad made some comment about milking a cow, and from across the room we hear Avery start "mooing." Last night when I prayed with her before bed, she tried to repeat the word "sins" when she heard me thank Jesus for dying on the cross. It still surprises us when she understands what is being said, even when it is not being said directly to her.

We love watching her entertain herself either by reading books (usually out loud) or carrying items around the house from room to room. I often hear her in her room making herself laugh.

We love you so much, Avery, and we thank God for every day that we get to spend with you. Happy first birthday!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Food Obsessions

I have recently started buying and eating more avocados than I have ever eaten in the previous 27 years of my life combined. It started out as an easy baby food for Avery a few months ago, and then became our first homemade guacamole. After that, we chopped avocado onto a spinach salad with strawberries and balsamic vinaigrette. But then I was kind of stuck. So we ate a lot of guacamole.

Then I saw a recipe online for an avocado key lime pie. I usually have a bag of limes sitting on my counter because I love squeezing a slice into a glass of water or adding fresh lime juice to chicken. And key lime pie is one of Ryan's favorite desserts (and it has been an embarrassingly-long time since I have made him one). So last week, Ryan had to work the evening shift in the pediatric ER, and I got to work on the pie after putting Avery to bed.

The avocado pureed with yogurt makes for a thick, creamy base, and gives the pie a beautiful green color without adding food coloring. The addition of the chopped almonds to the graham cracker crust was amazing. In the end, you taste a creamy, tangy lime pie that is secretly a little richer and healthier thanks to the avocado. This is a must-try recipe!

Thanks to that recipe, I have tried a variation on the avocado-yogurt combination for a couple other dishes. First, by adding a little chopped cilantro, garlic, and lime juice, we made a cool and tangy topping for sweet potato and black bean enchiladas. And we improved our guacamole recipe by adding Greek yogurt to the avocado.

But back to the enchiladas...I can't remember where I heard about this idea, but we added baked sweet potato (mashed) to refried beans, black beans, and salsa to make a delicious filling. Ryan and I both loved it, and Avery even enjoyed a few bites.

Sweet potatoes are definitely our other newest obsession. They are pretty inexpensive up here in NJ. It has literally been months since I've bought or eaten a white potato. We have made sweet potato hash browns (saute the potatoes with onions then add a little crumbled bacon and a dash of maple syrup just before serving). And a couple nights ago, I added caramelized onions, crumbled goat cheese, lime zest, and garlic powder to mashed sweet potatoes and stuffed jumbo pasta shells with the mixture.

So here's to a summer of new twists on old classic recipes and trying something different for dinner tonight!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Avery's First Birthday Party

While we were back in Greenville a couple weeks ago for my sister's wedding (post coming soon!), we decided to squeeze in a birthday party for Avery. Ryan was only in town for a couple days, and my family from MA was in town, so it seemed like a good time to do it. It made for a busy weekend, but it was so much fun to spend extra time with family and close friends.

I decided to go with a nautical themed party in navy blue and hot pink. My sister, Rachel, designed these gorgeous invitations for us.
Over the past couple months, I had been finding little things online and sending them to my parents' house where they were waiting or me when I arrived. We ended up having the party in the fellowship hall of our church because we needed a large air-conditioned space for 45 people! After the wedding reception, Rebekah and I dropped Avery off at home with Mom & Dad and headed down to the church to begin decorating. My sweet cousins, Jason, Olivia, and Meghan came and helped us as well.

I found an inexpensive pink and white banner with stickers to let you personalize the words. The navy blue and white chevron fabric was a steal off eBay.

The silverware was rolled up in navy and white striped napkins tied with string and a white lifesaver candy.

The photo collage was an idea I found on Pinterest a few months ago. And it is hard to see in the picture below, but we had the cutest navy/white and pink/white straws on the drink table.

Avery and the other little kids loved playing with the balloons before dinner. Grandpa is never far away!

We were so happy to finally meet Rebekah's boyfriend, Brett. Ryan and Brett were able to go golfing together after the reception and before the party. Avery loved Brett and actually put out her arms for him to hold her (a rare occurrence for her).

A sweet friend from church offered to come cook hamburgers and kielbasa for us. Everyone brought delicious side dishes, and the meal was absolutely delicious!

We had a small cake for Avery, and she actually blew out her candle after we sang to her ... and then clapped for herself! We decided to forego letting her smash the cake and eat it, mostly because it was the end of the evening and I didn't want to clean up bits of cake and frosting from the carpet for the next several hours. Plus, she hadn't slept much during the day, and I didn't need all that sugar interrupting her nighttime sleep. :)

I tried a new technique called the Frozen Buttercream Transfer method to decorate her cake. It obviously needs some more work, but it made for an inexpensive, personalized cake.

For everyone else, we served frozen raspberry lemonade pies (with cute wooden spoons) garnished with raspberries and fresh mint, and mini fruit pizzas (sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting topped with blueberries, strawberries, and kiwi).

This was the first time that all the great-grand kids on my side of the family were able to be together. Tanner, Halle, and Avery are only 6 months apart, and I know they will continue to enjoy playing together and become great friends!

We are so thankful to everyone who came to celebrate with Avery and for the impact that they have on her life already. I had little cards for everyone to write a note to Avery since she won't remember this birthday. She has the sweetest collection of memories and prayers for her to cherish as she gets older.

Monday, June 3, 2013

11 Months Old

We've almost made it to a year! It's hard to believe how many changes have taken place in our lives over this past year. And even more amazing are the changes that Avery has experienced this last month. I feel like I say this every month, but she really seems to have grown up so much in the last few weeks.

First, she finally learned how to eat small finger foods. I'm not sure what finally worked, but I think I just started giving her a couple Cheerios each day, and she eventually picked it up on her own. Once she learned that skill, there was no stopping her! She loves eating peas, pieces of whole wheat bread or pasta, scrambled eggs, cheese, bananas, and of course, Cheerios. She's really good about eating one piece at a time, but she usually doesn't eat enough finger foods for a whole meal. So I still give her mashed sweet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, beets, plums, etc. I found that turkey meatloaf was a healthy finger food option for her which she loved.

Avery also started walking this past month! She has been pulling up and cruising around on the furniture for about 3 months now. We continued to encourage her to let go and walk on her own, and eventually she realized she could do it. She usually gets going so fast that she trips herself up, but she is getting much braver about letting go of the furniture on her own and takes many steps each day. She has even started standing up on her own or bending down to pick up a toy and standing back up again without holding on to anything. I have a feeling that once she gets more proficient at walking, she'll be running all over the apartment!

Avery also had four top teeth pop through this month. I'm so thankful to have such an easy teether. For each tooth so far (or group of teeth), we notice one or two days of clinginess and being a little more sensitive than usual at random times. For example, a couple weeks ago she burst into tears when the ball rolled away from her. But other than that, it doesn't seem to affect her eating or sleeping.

She is still sleeping 12 hours at night. I thought she was about to give up her morning nap, but this past week, she's back to sleeping for about an hour in the morning. She sleeps from 2-3 hours each afternoon, depending on whether she's had a morning nap or not. Thankfully, she is very flexible and can easily skip her morning nap without any fussiness if we are out somewhere (shopping, at church, etc.).

Speaking of church, she has recently started letting anyone take her from me or pick her up from the nursery. Several of the teen girls love bringing her down to the nursery or getting her for me, and Avery loves it, as long as she doesn't see me. I'm grateful for such sweet girls at church who take good care of her.

Avery has become much more vocal this month, and talks almost non-stop throughout the day. She laughs often, and enjoys playing and "wrestling" with us on the floor. She still loves looking at books and will pull them out of her bin and look that them by herself for quite a while. I love hearing her giggle as she pulls off all her stuffed animals and pillows from the top of her toy chest. She will say "Amen" at the end of our prayers, and does her best to copy sounds and words that we say. She can usually say the correct animal sound for the cow, sheep, and owl. And she knows the motions to "If You're Happy and you Know it, Clap Your Hands" and "This Little Light of Mine." I am so blessed to get to spend my days playing and laughing with her!

We're looking forward to celebrating her first birthday while we are home in Greenville with family in a couple weeks. But for now, we are truly enjoying each moment and trying to hold onto the memories of this stage of Avery's life.

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