30 April 2017

Welcome to Existence

Welcome, Zoey! 
Whenever a new baby is born, it always makes me think of the lyrics from Switchfoot's Dare You to Move, that begin with Welcome to the planet, Welcome to existence...last Friday, Jack and I did just that with our newest daughter.
Hope you had a fantastic birthday, Stoney boy! I'll give you an extra treat when we return.

With an original due date of April 16th (it seems like all of our kids are due around major holidays and this year it was Easter), I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that I made it two weeks past, because A) nobody tells my daughters when to show up (not one of them has come on or before their due date, hopefully not an omen for them being perpetually late to everything...) and B) I'm living proof that it's an Old Wive's Tale to think that just because you've had multiple other children, it doesn't mean that your body or babies will know to show up any earlier. Oh, well. I got lots of stuff done around the farm while waiting for (and trying to get) Zoey to come out--seriously, I painted, I cleaned, I washed sheets and winter coats, I planted a garden and pulled weeds, I cleaned out the car, changed door knobs and hinges, and I mowed and mowed and mowed (our yard was  the most immaculate it's ever been!) but she still wasn't ready to come. It wasn't all terrible though. Other than being unable to bend over or sleep through the night, pregnancy, in general, is pretty easy for me. Plus, to add special meaning to Zoey's induction date, it was also Stoney's 21st birthday. I hope she doesn't mind being forever associated with my favorite old gelding because too bad, she is.
Jack shooting me a silly look...he doesn't get near as crazy as when babies are born in the middle of the night.
We went in to the small town hospital where Henry was born and got the process started. They tried breaking my water but apparently, that wasn't the route meant to take, so I had to start on the dreaded IV pitocin. It's not my first rodeo with the synthetic hormone, so I knew just how intense labor was going to be. About an hour on the stuff and I decided to have an epidural which is a merciful invention of modern medicine. It worked its magic and though I walked into the hospital already dilated to 5cm (seriously, I don't know how the baby didn't fall out at home two weeks earlier!), within 25 minutes, I was to 7cm and within an hour, I was ready to push. Two pushes and three minutes after starting, Zoey made a very quick and easy entrance into the world. I always forget how tiny newborns are and assumed she was smaller than her sisters, in part because of how quickly she showed up. I was incorrect. At close to 8.9 lbs and 21.75 inches long, she's right up there with all her sisters' stats.
Jack's first turn sitting down and holding her.
Since it was the first time that I've had a baby at a reasonable hour, the kids were able to come and visit their new sister the day she was born. They were so excited they even hijacked the babysitter's phone to call and ask if they could come see her. How could we say no? We (and everyone else) were interested to see how Henry, in particular, would react. He understands the concept of babies but it was doubtful that he knew he'd no longer be the youngest. Well, he walked into the room, took one look at Zoey, and begged to hold her:
Jack: Who wants to hold her? Henry: Me! Me! Me!
All of Zoey's siblings love her. Evelyn's an old pro...
Evelyn already asked if we could bring her to school to show her friends.
 ...Kate is looking forward to being the big sister at home to help with Zoey...
...Claire is looking forward to showing her new sister the ropes...
...and Henry? He just really, REALLY loves his new sister.

To the point that he screams and growls when anyone else wants a turn to hold her.

We'll work on sharing later...
I know I obviously do most of the work when it comes to having a new baby, but I do have to tip my hat to Jack for all that he deals with during the time I hang out at the hospital. Not only is he at my every beck and call when he's with me, he keeps an eye on all the kids, chauffeuring them from restaurants when they're hungry to parks to keep them from being bored to making sure they keep their little fingers off the nurse's call button in my room and ensuring they, too, still feel special by small gestures, like letting them pick out their own inexpensive umbrella to use as they walk from the parking lot in pouring rain. He's one heck of a husband and father!
Lucky for us, there's a little playground right outside my window! 
To top off a lovely weekend (if you discount the soreness and being up all night kind of stuff), the irises, my very favorite flower, are in bloom at my house. It's kind of miraculous any of them survived since Henry couldn't contain his curiosity and had ripped several of the plants to shreds before anything even got to bloom. So, in keeping with tradition, Zoey's middle name will be a flower, just like her sisiters'.

We're all so thrilled that Zoey (and one of her cousins, only a few hours later) have arrived safely and are looking forward to getting to know them as their personality unfolds. We adore her already and she fits right in, as if there were ever any doubt.
Henry's the protective big brother already!
 Welcome to the planet, Zoey!
Who does she look like? A little bit of everyone, I think.

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26 April 2017

Chocolate White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I feel like I've been sharing a lot of cookie recipes lately but what can I say? I'm two weeks overdue and when I get a craving, there's no stopping it. But, I like to change it up once in a while and this one hit the spot.

Ingredients:

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a baking sheet, setting aside. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla until smooth. Sift together the dry ingredients and add into the moist, combining until well incorporated. Fold in white chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool a few minutes on a baking sheet, then finish cooling on a rack.
Enjoy!
Thanks to Broma Bakery for the recipe inspiration!

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24 April 2017

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

When I can use whole wheat in a recipe, I do. If it tastes delicious, too, that's even better. These blueberry muffins hit the mark!

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or plain (not Greek) yogurt; or 1 1/4 cups liquid whey

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a muffin tin with paper cups, then lightly grease them. Whisk together all of the dry ingredients, including the blueberries. In a separate bowl, whisk vanilla, vegetable oil, and buttermilk/yogurt/whey. Mix all the ingredients together, until just combined. Spoon equally into muffin cups and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for five minutes and move to a rack or serve warm.
Enjoy!
Thanks to King Arthur Flour for the recipe inspiration!

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20 April 2017

Celebrate Ability

The artwork from the Easter Seals Crossroads patrons up for auction.
A few weekends ago, Jack was offered a pair of tickets for a charity dinner for an organization that he serves on the board for at work. We jumped at the chance for an official date and something a little more upscale than we usually do. So, we got all primped and preened in cocktail attire. Not that it probably mattered much, seeing as I have about two dresses that fit, being nine months pregnant, and Jack's face was pretty darn gnarly after being stung by one of his bees right by his eye. I guess that's the best we can do, coming from off the farm.
The organization, Easterseals Crossroads, serves individuals and families with all types of disabilities and helps them be as functioning as possible, focusing on what they can accomplish, rather than what they cannot.
We wandered the Union Station hotel, which was not too long ago, the train station. The hors d'oeruves were delicious, the artwork up for auction was beautiful, the people watching was entertaining, and the architecture was stunning.
The dinner was fantastic, although when it comes to someone cooking, serving, and cleaning up, I'm not very picky. While we ate, we caught up with a few of Jack's co-workers and enjoyed the time spent with adults.
Jen Bricker sharing some of her fascinating life story.
While I enjoyed the presentations, Jen Bricker was by far my favorite. Born without legs, she was abandoned at the hospital and eventually adopted by parents in the United States. They never held her back from anything and she participated in sports, from softball to basketball to gymnastics. I loved what she shared about finding out her sister is Dominique Moceanu, her childhood idol. Now, Jennifer is an accomplished aerialist, author, and motivational speaker and does a fantastic job showing that one can be successful in life, regardless of physical or mental capacity. Everyone has worth.
Then, she performed a pretty amazing acrobatic routine before we were turned loose. It would have been fun to stay longer but, as it always is with little kids waiting at home, we had to rush out. It was really a spectacular and special night out. I hope we get to do it again sometime.
A fantastic evening celebrating ability.

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17 April 2017

Prince of Peace

Happy Easter from the Elikers!
As usual, this weekend was quite busy.
This past Monday for family night, we dyed eggs for our activity. It's one of those things that the girls had been looking forward to for weeks and could barely contain their excitement. Everyone got their own dozen and quickly went to work creating beautiful masterpieces.
It goes without saying that Henry had a FANTASTIC time coloring eggs, especially when he tried a new method with Jack involving shaving cream. Those boys were in heaven, making a quite impressive mess.
Ah, Henry watering the garden means he's dirtier than the garden beds when he's done.
Jack had Friday off for Easter and we enjoyed spending the extra time with him. We ate lunch with the girls at school, ran a few errands and got a good start planting the garden. Speaking of messes, Henry was particularly "helpful."
The horses got their first turnout on the green pasture. They thoroughly appreciate more space and scrumptious grass and run to greet it.
In the evening, some of the Boy Scouts from church came over to camp. Since we usually have pizza and movie night, we conveniently transferred everything outside. Jack cooked everyone their very own pizza in his beloved cast iron pans and instead of a movie, they were happy with roasting marshmallows and playing in the hammock. Henry and I headed to bed inside, while Jack and the girls spent the night in our new mansion tent.

Come to think of it, I kind of like camping where I get the s'mores and the bonfire without having to wake up sleep deprived and on the lumpy, unforgiving tent...
Found one!
Saturday was filled with cleaning and chores and fun stuff before retiring to bed early to counter the crabbiness from their late Friday night camping. Despite me encouraging them--no, pleading with them--to sleep in, they were up at the crack of dawn to search for their Easter baskets. We got ready for church, Kate gave her first talk in primary, I was able to keep up with the kids in nursery for one more week, and we came home to find the Easter bunny had hidden the eggs up front this time instead of in back.
Who needs to go to a public egg hunt activity when you can have a massive one in your very own front yard? The kids happily ran off and found eggs, eggs, and more eggs!
Kate getting creative when she spotted an egg atop the last round bale.
For a good half an hour, the eggs were pretty easy to find but they eventually became harder and harder to spot. Inevitably, we can never find them all though out of forty-eight hidden this year, we found forty-six of them. The silly Easter bunny should really make a map of where they're all hidden because even he can't remember where he put them (ahem, Jack).
Um, let's try that again.
Though the eggs and candy and bunnies are all good and fun, I'm grateful for the true meaning of Easter, at the heart of which is our Savior. He is the Prince of Peace, who conquered death and offers His grace, love, and atoning sacrifice to all. We're grateful for Him and all He has done to allow us to find joy in this life and everlasting life in the next.

Hope you all had a fantastic Easter with family and friends!
(And happy due date to me--wish me luck!)
Now everyone's happy!

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15 April 2017

The Grand Staircase

They're so pretty!
Because nesting is in full swing but it's getting difficult for me to do some of my normal activities (while trying to keep an eye on Henry, who is a fearless wanderer), I decided to tackle something that would be a bit more accessible and not require lots of backbreaking work. So, I set my sights on the great room stairs, now that it's been painted.
First, I put in a few more balusters so that the stairs wouldn't be oozing kids. I know for a fact someone would've slipped through and landed on the unforgiving concrete floor beneath had I not. Now, the trouble is keeping them from sliding down the banister...really though, is there any way to keep the kids from doing that? Probably not. Then, while my in-laws were visiting during and after our cruise and they volunteered their help, I happily asked if they'd mind helping Jack put in the newel posts at the top and bottom of the stairs.
Raven wasn't thrilled at the sound of the tool Jack had to use to put the newel post plate into the concrete floor. It basically sounded like a shotgun, which is Raven's worst nightmare. She did her best to hide.
Poor girl.
Raven survived without having a heart attack and the banister was put together beautifully. Then, it was up to me to make the grand staircase really shine. When we moved in, the stairs were hidden by a rather disgusting brown carpet, which was one of the first things to go. Underneath was a decent set of wood steps that I could imagine looking really gorgeous, though there were some gaps to fill and unevenness that'd have to be addressed. I considered tearing out the tread and replacing it or covering it with a veneer but in the end, it was easiest to sand and redo them.

I should really say, "easiest."
So many stairs to sand...
I don't know why but I always imagine projects going a lot faster than they do, in part because I don't take into account that I'll become bored or Henry will wreak havoc and I'll have to stop or that it will just take time to complete. The steps were no exception by any means. I think at one point, I had definitely decided to cover the tread but it took me one try to discover I'm not that meticulous of a table saw user, which made me immediately regret slopping paint on the steps when I painted the balusters and risers. After several attempts at getting the paint off and out of the corners, I finally came up with a halfway decent solution involving chemical paint stripper, paint scrapers...
...a rotary tool and belt sander...
...and detail sander and maybe some child labor. Willing, not forced.
By far, the sanding took the longest--I'm talking weeks. But, I persevered and didn't bother trying to make anything perfectly smooth. Every time I leave a hammer accidentally lying around, Henry's the first to pick it up and start whacking on the closest thing, including my newly sanded stairs. Rustic-looking is in, right?
Staining was less than an hour job but there was no way to not slop in on the risers. Gah! Back to smacking myself for getting ahead of myself and painting in the wrong order. Lesson learned.
Then, it was a bit of caulking, a couple coats of polyurethane, and fixing a few risers, then repainting the risers.
Oh, and cleaning up when Henry tried to "help" paint the steps. Except he got it wrong and painted my newly refinished treads white. And got paint on his clothes...just part of the risk when working home improvements with kids who want to help. Thank goodness for baby wipes.
Yes, I need that jumble of tools at the bottom of the stairs.
The banister was the last step (heehee) and was more of the same. Sanding, staining, varnishing and touching up paint. Then, we were done! Except, we weren't quite. Those beautiful stairs were a bit slick so we got some tread tape and slapped it on to keep anyone from slipping. So far, so good! 
Thanks for the help, Kate!
Everyone got to pick out their own picture frame and we printed off a cute photo of everyone to adorn the stairs. Now, the staircase is complete!

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