Friday, December 19, 2008

The Immaculate Labor and Delivery

Eva helped me set up our Christmas decorations yesterday- the few we plan on using this year. I plan to keep them up for at least a month, in case you were wondering... better late than never, right? Within the totes of decorations live many books about Christmas. I'd like to say they are all very Christ centered, but that's just not true. Lots of Santa, Christmas mice, Dr. Seuss, and of course Baby Jesus find their way onto the bookshelves this time of year. The books are a lot of fun, so we sat down right away and read several. I reminded Eva a few times why we really celebrate Christmas- because Jesus came to earth! She knew that answer right away.

Later in the day, I was invited back to Eva's bedroom to play the role of Joseph. Eva was laying on her bed holding her tummy, and informed me that she was going to have a baby soon. I asked what we should name him, and she responded, "I don't know. We'll see when it comes out." Then I asked, "What would you like me to do for you, Mary? Hold your hand while you push him out?" (what was I thinking??? I was not in the mood for a conversation about the facts of life... pushing babies out of our lower regions... and I certainly didn't want to start explaining any other details about babies or how we get them) Anyway, Eva responded, "No, he'll come out on his own while we're sleeping." And very matter of factly, "So, snuggle up!"

He did come out on his own. In fact after a few moments, we got up and did a thorough search of the girls' room, looking for baby Jesus. Turns out baby Jesus had somehow made his way under the bed and was actually not human flesh anyway, but was plush and sporting moose antlers.

I've decided I'm going to adopt Eva's chill attitude towards childbirth on the next go-around. However, hopefully I won't sleep so long afterward that I have to go looking for my child. And for that matter, hopefully my baby will have two legs, not four. But you get the idea...

And one more thing. I got to thinking about the real arrival of the real Baby Jesus. If pain in labor is a result of the fall (sin), then was Mary's delivery painless? I mean, Jesus was without sin, and the conception was immaculate. Hmmm, I'll ask Mary some day I think.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas letter, 2008

The holiday season is well underway as evidenced by my unending to-do list and my unkempt house. That means it's time for another Christmas card and letter (even if it's the only thing I check off my to-do list today!). But this year, we're trying to simplify... hoping to save time, money, and energy we sent out our first annual Christmas postcard. And now that I'm blogging, we'll post the Christmas letter here, in my own little virtual space. Fun, eh?

I'm suspecting that there might be some readers of this Christmas letter who have never ventured into the blogosphere until now. Let me say, Welcome! Thanks for trying something new in order to read about us. I hope you'll leave a comment to tell me of your adventure. I'm glad you're here!

Now, for the meat of the letter. Eric and I had a short brainstorming session in hopes of coming up with something really creative and fun for this year. But alas, we're quite unoriginal, so you'll have to put up with the same old layout as before.

This year has been unusually quiet for us. We have not had many changes, no new babies, no employment changes, no big surprises. We continue to live in Richfield in our little house that is now completely finished. All remodeling endeavors are done, and we somehow managed to free up enough space in the garage to park a car. We have thoroughly enjoyed the second bathroom during all of our many opportunities for hospitality, including Eric's custom built and tiled shower (he's put a lot of sweat into this humble abode!).

We continue to love our church family; it seems like each year we see God's grace poured out more and more. Eric really enjoys mixing the sound for Sunday mornings and may start playing piano on the worship team again soon. I have pulled back some in my serving so that I can serve our family better, but I continue to help with Children's Ministry. We spend quite a bit of time with our small group helping each other along in this crazy life!

Our daily work continues to go well for each of us. Eric is in his second year at General Mills, Inc. and seems to really thrive on the competitive corporate environment. His job requires lots of problem solving and thinking on his feet, and he really enjoys the variety of things he does as well as the people on his team. I continue to stay at home, doing lots of problem solving and thinking on my feet too! In August, I started watching another baby four days a week. Ella is 7 months old now, and the daughter of one of Eric's Marcoux Corner partners. It has been an adjustment to learn how to manage three children, three years and under, but I think I've finally got the hang of it (famous last words, right?). Ella is a very content baby and has found a place in all of our hearts- especially Hope's, believe it or not!

The girls are growing fast and full of mischief, as proven by our many attempts at a Christmas picture. Eva is 3.5 years old now and learning constantly. She is a wonderful helper to me (most of the time :), and really loves to teach Hope and Ella practically anything. Her passions include reading books, trying superhero stunts off her bed or the couches, watching Little House on the Prairie with Eric, playing any kind of pretend, dancing, and planning the rest of her life. She is eager to grow up and spends lots of time asking questions to get the many details of life figured out. Eva is enamored with anything "pretty," whatever the flavor of the day might be. I very much enjoy having her as my little sidekick.

Hope is a bundle of energy! She is almost 15 months, and is really starting to be her own little person. It is so fun to see her practicing walking and talking- it seems like she has a new word every day. She is fascinated by anything she can open and close, climb on, or taste. Dogs and her Daddy make her shriek with glee, and it is very fun to watch her and Eva enjoy playing together already. Food allergies reared their ugly head during the summer and fall, but we're thankful that she seems to have outgrown most of them. "Hopers" is silly, giggly, cuddly, and a little impatient. Just today she started giving everyone kisses, with lots of noise and a big open mouth!

With Eric on the road very little these days, it seems that our life has a steady rhythm to it. Regularity has had a noticeable effect on our marriage and time with the girls, and we are so thankful to God for health and time to enjoy it. We road tripped to Montana with friends last spring, and enjoyed camping together with my family and several fun weekend trips this fall. Even as I write this, I am overwhelmed by God's goodness to our us.

We're off to Crookston this year to celebrate Christmas with the Patenaudes, which is sure to be a big, lively adventure! We sincerely hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and experience God's peace in the coming year.

With love,

Becca (for us all)

PS) If you came to this site just to read the Christmas letter, please leave a comment and let me know how it worked for you. Thanks!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday, December 15th


I am listening to my longtime favorite Christmas album.

I am resting between flurries of holiday company. We have no agenda today, but I am slowly addressing Christmas postcards, formulating a game plan for a final shopping mission, eating leftovers, admiring laundry piles.
I am enjoying watching the neighborhood dig out after a windy snowfall. I take particular interest in watching Jim do his part. He is a bachelor, fifty-something, lived in the same house since he was born. He dons navy blue Dickie overalls, brown Elmer Fudd hat, and a beige corduroy barn coat. Smoking a cigarette, he walks down to the corner convenience store with his red gas can, coke bottle glasses fogged up. We see him walk back, 15 minutes later, gas can full, cigarette expired. Soon the cold winter silence is broken by the noisy grind of a two stroke snow blower engine as he begins to clean the street in front of our house- just the edges where the city snowplow didn't do very well. We, and our neighbors across the street are the recipients of his special attention. Eric shoveled us out before leaving for work this morning, so Jim must only address the needs of the street out front. It is like a game of hide and seek- sometimes we see him, sometimes he is hidden in the geyser of snow coming from the snow-clearing machine. Later I notice him across the street with a shovel, his portly shape stands straight, only his arms moving. He has already carefully groomed the driveway of our elderly neighbors, now beginning the many steps leading to their front porch. After a few minutes, he exchanges the orange bucket like shovel for a wide, blue, metal snow pusher. Several pushes and he has put the finishing touches on their white washed yard. He retires home for a cup of coffee, or if it were summer, a can of Mountain Dew. After lunch he'll leave for his 2nd shift job, operating large machinery. The rhythm of his life changes little, and for this he is a comforting fixture on our block.
I am feeling thankful for days like these and these good gifts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mountain Dews and Don'ts

Eva: (taking a sip of Daddy's Mt.Dew at lunch) When I'm a mommy, I'm going to drink pop every day.

Eric: Well, pop isn't very good for you. See how Daddy is a lot chubbier than Mommy? That's probably because I drink so much pop and mommy eats only bean sprouts and hummus.

Eva: Well, I want to be chubbier than my husband. I'm going to drink pop every day so that I am much chubbier than my husband. -big smile-

Friday, December 12, 2008

Date with Mom

We were gifted with tickets to Disney On Ice this week. Since Ryan, Stephanie, and Baby Thor are visiting, Eric decided to take the day off on Friday. This allowed Eva and I a chance for a little mother-daughter bonding, and a very memorable adventure.

I would have laughed at you earlier this week if you had suggested I would take my daughter to such a frivolous event as this. In fact, I wasn't even sure if Eva would like it. I was worrying, would we be too far away from the ice to tell what was going on? Would she get bored? Would I want to gag because it was so cheesy? Would she be confused about the stories? We don't really watch kid's movies around here, so the only Disney show Eva has watched was "Cinderella" at Grandma Patenaude's house. Sadly, Cinderella was not a part of this show.

I learned something new about Eva during this excursion: she does not like surprises. I told her before she went to bed on Thursday that we were going to have a very special date the next day, and that it was a surprise. She came to breakfast crying (really, there were tears!), "Mommy, will you please tell me what we're going to do!" I explained the idea as well as I could, but she still was a little fuzzy on the plan. As we hurriedly walked down the huge concourse to the auditorium, she just sat down. "My tummy hurts. I just want to go home." Wow! I thought her curiosity was stronger than her desire to know what is going on, but apparently she really likes predictable situations... or at least having Daddy present when things are out of the ordinary! I carried her most of the way to our seats, but the show was starting just as we walked down the stairs into the venue and I could feel her anxiety lift as she saw Mickey and Minnie skate onto the ice. Relief.

Can you tell she's not too sure about this? Really, she's just irritated because I refuse to buy Disney JUNK to decorate the floor of her room!

There's a mermaid princess! And wouldn't you know it? The man of her dreams is Prince Eric.

I couldn't walk in those costumes, much less propel myself across ice!

I will leave the details to your imagination (just this once though:), but it is suffice to say that both of us LOVED the show. When I asked Eva what her favorite part was, she responded, "When the lions fell in love and when Peter Pan and Tinkerbell saved the day." In my opinion, the best part was watching the incredible skating. I was shocked that the skaters could do axels, spins, and jumps while wearing ridiculous, animated-character costumes. The skating was really fun to watch! However, the very, very best part of the day was sitting with Eva on my lap, and feeling her shiver with excitement, completely mesmerized by the sights and sounds of a big show.
What a treat!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Best Cake Ever

I thought I'd post the chocolate cake recipe I used for Eric's cake this year. Actually, I used this recipe last year too. You might recall that this year the cake was a sorry 1/3 of a triple layer cake. But last year, it was an extra wide, double layer cake... in the shape of a heart. And last year there were many more people here to celebrate with us. The cake received rave reviews both years, so I figure the recipe must be worth passing on.

Mocha Layer Cake

prep: 40 min.
bake: 30 min. + cooling

1 c. butter, softened
3 c. packed brown sugar
4 eggs
3 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. flour
3/4 c. baking cocoa
3 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brewed coffee, cooled
1 1/3 c. sour cream

2- 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
8 squares (1 oz. each) unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 c. brewed coffee, cooled
3 tsp. vanilla extract
6 c. confectioners' sugar

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with coffee and sour cream. Pour into three greased and floured 9- inch round baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Beat in the chocolate, coffee and vanilla until blended. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar. Spread between layers and over top and sides of cake. Cover and refrigerate until serving. 14-16 servings (but I think it could serve at least 20, depending on how you cut it!).

And from last year, 29 candles on that cake-

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Wait, How Old Am I?

Sunday, December 7th was Eric's birthday. It was the big THIRTY. Wow, writing that just really brought it home for me. We are no longer young. But this doesn't give Eric pause at all... he will remind you that he has a wife, 2 kids, a mini-van, and a real job. Of course he's 30. Eeeek! And it's been a few years now since he could remember for sure how old he was anyway. Am I 27 or 28 (mental subtraction ensues)? Hence, the title of this post.

The saddest part isn't that he turned 30. We all like change. The lamentable part was the way we practically didn't celebrate at all. I had planned a fun bowling party with a nice crowd of friends to surround my husband, but then we started discussing the coming week and realized it wouldn't fit. As is typical of us, we had a busy calendar, but hadn't communicated much about it. Eric actually had a singing gig on the night of his party, so the party was nixed. And there isn't another open weekend until January, so there will be no large scale celebration of the big 3-0.

On the actual day, we went to church and then Eric invited some friends and family over for the Vikings game and pizza. That was fun, and the Vikings won. In the late afternoon he went to his Uncle Tim's house to help with a remodeling project. They worked hard, played some cribbage, ate some venison jerky, and then Eric came home and went to bed. No cake, no presents, no singing. What kind of a wife am I???

The next day, Monday, I realized that Eric's brother-in-law, Brian, was coming over for dinner. More accurately, he was buying us dinner with his unused travel stipend. Sweet! With one thing less to do in the day, I decided I could bake a cake. So I made 1/3 of a triple layer cake, which turned out delicious. I also remembered the present that Eva and I had painstakingly wrapped a few months ago and hidden in the back of our closet. I knew Eric would be needing a nice computer bag soon, so I jumped on the deal when it was fresh, back in October. Not romantic or interesting, but useful. Suddenly, a pleasant birthday celebration was taking shape.

However, to be honest, the party was still a little lackluster. I ended up asking Eric to make a grocery store run for frosting ingredients for his own cake. And he had only one guest. And he had 5 candles, not 30, on only 1/3 of a triple layer cake. And he lit his own candles. And the harmonies were less than ideal between Eva and I as we serenaded the birthday boy (but Brian's voice was beautiful...). And Eva accidentally blew out all the candles right before Eric tried to do so. And after opening the gift (which Eva had told him about immediately after wrapping it), he determined that it wasn't really what he was looking for. And in our after dinner game of Settlers of Catan, Brian came from behind and stole Eric's birthday victory. And Hope missed the whole thing, due to her early bedtime. We employed our good senses of humor though, and we were happy to be together and happy for another good year. And speaking for myself, this is a birthday party (fiasco) I will always remember!

Eric Hansen Patenaude, I love you! Happy 30th Birthday! I'm looking forward to your 31st year, by your side.
Nice job lighting your own candles, man!

Thanks for blowing out my candles, Eva!

Eva and Uncle Brian enjoyed their cake (and Brian was kind enough to score some ice cream!)

The rollicking game of Catan. Eric is big blue, but ominous orange was the victor.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fluffy Snow + Sand Toys =

The hardworking builder

Trying her hand at artistic road construction

Chauffeuring the queen back to the castle

Additionally, fluffy snow + sand toys =

cold hands
and a rosy cheeked mama
who is happily avoiding this:
That pile stretches all the way around the box, past the furnace... can you tell we had a busy weekend?

PS) Since we were so hard at work building, Eva gave us pretend names. Construction worker names, she said. Mine? Freddie Mac. Hers? Fannie Mae.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Una Receta

First, I assure you all that we survived our chilly yesterday. The high temp. for the day was 13 degrees, and the over night low was below zero. But our furnace was fixed by 5:30, so these pioneer women are no worse for the wear.

Now, per one person's request after my rambling Thanksgiving post, I will share a recipe.

This is actually a crock pot recipe, but I've made it in the oven as well. I'll list my substitutions as well (you didn't think I could stick to the real recipe, did you?!?).

Mexican Meatloaf

"Here's a moist meat loaf with loads of flavor. The toppings, while not essential, lend a festive air to this comfort food classic. I like to serve this with mounds of steaming hot mashed potatoes or a seasoned rice."

1/4 cup long grain white rice brown rice
1 c. boiling water
2 lbs. lean ground beef 1/2 ground venison
2 onions, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. tomato salsa of any variety
1 c. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese or whatever you have on hand
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
salsa, optional
sour cream, optional
finely chopped red or green onion, optional

1. Soak rice in boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and discard liquid. Set aside. When I use brown rice, I cook it completely on the stove before tossing it in.

2. Fold a 2-foot piece of foil in half lengthwise. Place on bottom and up sides of slow cooker stoneware. Or grab a loaf pan if you're using the regular oven.

3. In a large bowl, combine rice with remaining ingredients and mix well. Shape into a loaf and place in middle of foil strip on bottom of slow cooker stoneware. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on High for 4-5 hours, until juices run clear when meat loaf is pierced with a fork. Lift out loaf using foil strip and transfer to a warm platter. If you're using the oven, cook at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. Serve with salsa, etc. if desired.

serves 6-8

****when I make this to freeze, I usually find that a tripled recipe ends up making four nice sized loaves. Also, if you are trying to use up ground venison, this is a perfect recipe. The intense tex-mex flavors mask any gamey taste!****


Thursday, December 04, 2008

A chill is in the air...

Little House on the Prairie is a frosty place to be today. Apparently Pa (or perhaps Ma) didn't chop enough wood this summer because this little shanty is downright cold! Oh wait, we don't have a wood burning stove... we have a gas furnace- a newfangled contraption, for those of you who haven't caught up with the industrial revolution. Truth be told, this newfangled contraption isn't working. I woke up to lovely snowflakes falling outside, and temperatures falling inside. We are currently at 55 degrees, or so. Depends on what part of the house you're in, as we only have one space heater. A trusty friend from church is stopping by in a bit to start the repair process. Let's hope we get some heat by this afternoon. Otherwise, we might bring this cozy pot in from the patio and start burning wood. Or if we really lived on the Prairie, "cow chips". Ewww.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Snow Day on the Prairie

The appearance of Patenaude family faces could be described using any of the following adjectives: frumpy, dumpy, pasty, pale, washed out, sallow, colorless, whitish, fair, ashen, pathetic, faint, anemic, limp. I won't even bring up the adjectives used to describe the other parts of our bodies (at least the adult's bodies...)!

No, it's not really that bad around here. But winter takes it's toll on our overall vitality, and I'm feelin' it today! I recently noticed that the only color on Hope's face was due to her wind-burned cheeks. And Eva's eyes have darkish circles under them, apparently a permanent winter fixture.

Today we were playing yet another imaginary game of Little House on the Prairie. Laura (aka Eva) started to head out the front door to school while Carrie (aka Hope) snuggled with Jack (aka fluffy stuffed dog) and Mary (aka Ella) sucked down her bottle of formula. By the way, did they have infant formula in the 1880's??? Anyway, it occurred to me that the day was gorgeous and bright outside, albeit a little windy. A perfect day to get some sun! I suggested to Laura that she actually put on the many layers of required winter apparel and get some exercise. To my surprise, she accepted the offer. So after 15 minutes of rounding up the appropriately sized winter gear, readjusting all the buckles and Velcro for this winter, and discussing the playing-outside-alone rules, she was off. Slamming the door behind her, she yelled, "Bye Pa (aka me)!"

A wonderful thing about 3.5 year olds, is that they actually have some memories. For example, Eva needed no reminder about snow angels, or shovels, or eating (clean) snow. She played happily for a half hour or more, her face soaking up all that beautiful sunshine!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mommy's Little Helper

Hope is solidly in what I call the "Dump and Fill" stage. Child development experts might use a particular phrase to describe this phase, but in my limited experience of 1 year olds, -dump and fill- fits perfectly. Opening drawers, doors, containers. Emptying drawers, shelves, containers. Filling drawers, doors, and containers back up again. This is Hope's current passion in life.

On an unrelated note, most every child who crosses our threshold discovers our home's greatest amenity: the laundry chute (the laundry chute would lose that title to a dishwasher, if we had one). I have found every imaginable object in the laundry basket under the chute...

In my only act of sheer brilliance this week, I've combined Hope's passion for "dump and fill" with a little housework. Here she is, with great determination, helping me unload our suitcase of dirty laundry from the holiday weekend. She is very pleased with herself when she has managed to "disappear" a big pile of clothes!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Presents vs. Presence

I saw this video posted at least 5 times today as I took my daily dose of blog reading. Finally I clicked on the play button and watched. I was impressed, inspired, convicted. Every single Christmas since we've been married, Eric and I have embarked on a journey to create Christmas, the right way. To date, we haven't arrived at the perfect blend of tradition, creativity, generosity, single-mindedness, worship or spontaneity that is our goal. But, we're on the road, and to quote one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, "We get to have some answers when we reach the other side. The prize is always worth the rocky ride."

So, we start the conversation again... I showed Eric the video. He said, "That's cool. Really cool. But we already spent our money." Which is true- I say with relief, "I've finished our Christmas shopping for the year." As I said before, we've been on this road for awhile, hence I did make a point to go pretty simple this year, and we did not spend gobs of money. So, to some extent, I am satisfied.

Satisfied, but not at peace. Could we give some of our presence? Perhaps we could give some of our time. Some of our relational nature. I loved Carrien's post on this topic. We talk about this sort of thing every year, and still haven't made significant changes. We are sluggish, meanwhile our souls are growing brittle and there is work to be done.

This video isn't the same ol' "Reason for the Season" stuff. I like it a lot. A plan is formulating in my head... maybe it'll spill out onto the keyboard one of these days. Until then, I'm curious- how do you make the Christmas season worshipful? How do you fight consumerism? How do you rethink Christmas?

And I remind myself, life is the journey, the rocky ride. So lets go forward on the road, reworking and fine tuning as we go.