Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Cookies, Cards & Campouts by the Fireplace

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
White everywhere..
In my house. 

Those are the thoughts that transpired in my mind a couple mornings ago, as I hastily threw together butter, sugar, peanut butter, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and flour - lots and lots of flour, which mind you did not all fit into my Kitchen Aid standup mixer. Looking back, I shouldn't have doubled the already-big cookie recipe. Three dozen was more than enough. Six dozen, well, that's just plain ridiculous, especially at 6 a.m. in the morning - on a weekday no less. But, being me, and perhaps being a bit unrealistic toward my own limitations in this stage of pregnancy, I went for it. And, boy, was I exhausted when those batches finally finished baking. It took awhile to clean off all the flour that had spilt on the countertops and appliances, and if I'm truly honest with myself, there's probably more cleaning still to be done.

Christmas-time is a wonderful time of the year, and the snow glistening in the sunshine in our
backyard reminds me of that. It's so cozy to be indoors by our wood-burning fireplace, stretched out on the futon couch alongside Penny, our border collie, while we take in the soft glow of the mini lights on our first-ever fresh cut Grand Fir Christmas tree. Ken and I are blessed to spend the holidays in our sweet little home here in Alaska - the first house we've ever shared together. It's a season of firsts for us - in owning a home, adopting a dog, and becoming pregnant.

There's so much joy in this place we find ourselves, and it comes first and foremost from our hope in Jesus. Praise God for giving us a tangible hope in the form of a Savior who came to earth to be our Immanuel (God with us). As I reflect on recent trials and challenges, I'm reminded that God has overcome the pain and suffering of this world through His Son, Jesus, and I choose to put my hope in Him and draw strength from Him. Christmas would have no meaning for me apart from Jesus. Kind of like life, I suppose.

I'm so thankful for what Christmas represents.

This week, I've enjoyed compiling and mailing Christmas cards and cookie care packages. These are two of my favorite holiday traditions! Anything snail mail-related always gets me so excited. I see it as a unique opportunity to share my heart with friends and family.

Here are a couple photos of the cookies I've been baking and mailing:

A month ago, I scoured the internet for some amazing deals on photo cards and ended up paying less than half the normal cost for most of my cards. I also scored a coupon for a bunch of free Christmas cards and saved nearly $40 on those alone (yes, I have expensive taste, and went for the nicest cards I could get for free.) In the end, I settled on two different Christmas cards - in total about 85 cards. Teaser alert: I apologize in advance to those who may not have received their cards yet and are now viewing these photos. Here are the two designs:

Design #1
Design #2 (Front)
Design #3 (Back)

When I finished addressing each card, I also took some time to melt wax and seal the cards up that I was sending in cookie care packages. (Thank you, again Grandma Dorothy, for the lovely wax seal stamp set from Italy - I've enjoyed using it these past couple years!)

Photos of the wax seal process:

Last week, Ken and I also camped out in the living room on the couch by the fire a couple nights. My back was bothering me an awful lot the second night, so we headed back to our bed around midnight. At that point, Penny moved in and took over the sofa. She's been sleeping in a lot lately, and making herself quite comfortable around the house. She must be feeling right at home...

I suppose that I'm feeling right at home as well, settling into winter here in Alaska, with the hope of spring right around the corner. I can't wait to welcome Baby Crewdson home in just a few short months!

Thanks for stopping by, and I pray that you are having a blessed and joyous Christmas season!

With Love,

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Greetings from Mexico!

Mexican Babymoon!
Buenos Dias, Amigos!

Greetings from the tropical seaside town of Riviera Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I'm watching the sunshine envelope the sky, as I glance out our balcony doors, and enjoying the swaying palm branches as they dance in the morning breeze. It's a little below 70-degrees outside, and we're gearing up for another 85-degree day here in Mexico.

Ken and I stumbled upon this Costco destination package a few months ago, after reaching the disappointing conclusion that it was too expensive to travel to Maui this winter to see my family. It's ironic to me that visiting another country would be cheaper than visiting my own. And yet, in needing a hefty dose of Vitamin D (in the form of sunny skies and warm beaches) after living more than a year in Alaska, we decided to try out a place new to both of us: Mexico.

Together, Ken and I have traveled to eight countries in the past four and half years of marriage, which includes Western Europe and Canada. Before meeting each other, we had separately visited countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia, Africa, and Iraq. Somehow, neither of us made it to Mexico - we hadn't really thought of going there. Particularly since I was from Maui, and Hawaii is a tropical paradise in and of itself, I never thought of Mexico as anything new. Also, with all the border issues and drug cartels I’d seen in the news over the years, I was also very hesitant to travel to a politically/socially tense environment.

And yet my perspective has shifted greatly in recent months. Yes, there are dangerous places in Mexico and yes, it’s probably best not to travel to those places as a tourist – but there are also very tourist-friendly cities, that thrive off of tourism in the same way that Hawaii does. In researching and preparing for this trip, I noticed that Mexico has so much beauty and richness, culturally and physically. The beaches are lovely, and much like Hawaii’s. The people I’ve come across are overall, warm and welcoming. They are also fascinated in finding out that we traveled all the way from Alaska.

“Alaska es muy frio!” We hear that a lot.

While I’m not sure when we will journey back to this area, I’m so glad that we took this opportunity to have our “Babymoon” getaway here. It reminds me of how much I love different cultures and people groups. What a diverse world we live in!

Here are some photos of our time here in Mexico. Ken and I have spent our time here relaxing, swimming, kayaking, body-boarding, eating fresh fruit, walking the beach, and exploring the local towns.

For now, adios!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mile Marker: 22 Weeks & Counting!

Today marks Week 22 for me! With only 18 weeks remaining until my expected due date (roughly 4 1/2 months), I'm more than halfway through pregnancy. Praise God for this marvelous event taking place before my eyes! My belly is growing fast, which is a tangible representation of the baby forming even quicker inside of me. Our baby girl is now roughly the size of a spaghetti squash, weighs about one pound and is 8 inches long, according to my go-to baby book, What to Expect When You're Expecting. 

Here, Ken holds a spaghetti squash we got from the grocer recently. We both agree that baby girl is most likely not this big...

She is developing her sense of touch in utero, along with her ability to distinguish between light and dark. Baby girl can also hear my voice now, along with my heartbeat, my constant stomach growls, and the sound of blood swooshing through my body. Crazy, right? I'm amazed and astounded at the incredible beauty of new life as it grows and develops in my belly. She is a live being - a picture of a Creative Force at work in me and the world around me. 

Honestly, I'm blown away by this whole process.

My body is going through many changes right now. Besides the typical increase in swelling and inflammation in my body from pregnancy, my feet seem to be 1/4 inch bigger! All my cute heels, pumps and wedges that were a 'perfect fit' a few months ago, now feel a bit snug. While I ditched my favorite form-fitting, bodycon work dresses weeks back - which seemed normal - I can't get over the need to start wearing bigger shoes. But, for baby girl, I'll do it! I'm becoming more relaxed with myself when it comes to changing shapes and sizes, and I want to continue to embrace this new season in all of its intricacies.

I've also received quite a few remarks about the new ring I'm sporting on my wedding finger! Coworkers, along with random people I meet while out running errands, stop to ask me about my cushion-cut aquamarine 'bling'. Thankfully, I have this white gold stand-in that Ken gave me for our anniversary to take the place of my preferred yellow gold diamond wedding band, while my fingers are larger than ever from swelling. Although I like this new ring a lot, I feel so weird without the ring I've worn for these past four and a half years. I look forward to switching back to my primary ring after baby arrives.

These days, my focus is shifting from "What can I wear?" to "What will baby girl wear?" As a special present to myself, I decided that once we found out the baby's gender, I'd buy a few little outfits for her/him. Which, I should add, was ridiculously fun. My mother-in-law and a couple coworkers blessed me with a few baby outfits, and then I picked out a couple sale items at my favorite stores in town. I'd love to share those with you! I'm finding that I really like soft fabrics, sweet details (like ruffles), and standout prints - case in point: the baby pink whales, flowers, foxes, and popsicles you'll see below.

What do you think?

God continues to reveal His grace for me, as I learn and grow in this season. I'm so excited for the unique blessing of becoming a mom, and pray that these next 4 1/2 months will continue to go smoothly, as I practice love for myself and care for this baby developing in my body.

Thanks for sharing in this journey with me, and Ken, and baby girl.

~ m

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Baby Girl

I am my worst critic.

As I ponder those words, I can't help but notice my shoddy nails - overgrown cuticles, picked-at fingers, short nails exposing an underlying anxiety. The "click-click-click" of my typing momentarily moves my focus from my fingers to the dry skin patches on my hands, and then onto the tiny, interspersed nicks I've gained from paper cuts and playing rough with our dog and her giant chew toys.

My eyes glance at the growing protrusion that is now my belly.

I've never been this big in my life, I think to myself, as I consider whether to reach for a cookie or the giant plastic water mug in front of me. In addition to being larger than I can often emotionally grasp, I now have an increased appetite and bouts of weepiness. Out of a desire to placate my low emotional reserves, and keep from crying, I decide yes to eat that cookie.

As a child, my favorite character on the PBS series "Sesame Street" was the Cookie Monster. His blue, longhaired fur made him seem like a gigantic stuffed animal. I wanted to hug him, repeatedly. And climb on him. And eat his cookies. Or rather, eat cookies side-by-side with him. I also wanted to teach him how to eat a cookie properly - specifically, in a way where the cookie pieces actually broke apart in his mouth, rather than flying all over the room in mashed-up chunks. (Eventually, I realized that the Cookie Monster was in fact a puppet and therefore, unable to actually eat the cookies. That's why they flew everywhere.) I could relate to the Cookie Monster - a bigger, furrier creature who loved food.

Growing up in a more challenging family situation, food was a comfort and security blanket for me. Likewise, biting my nails gave me a way to tangibly portray my stress triggers. When my parents struggled with finances, and fought, I carried the burden by overeating and biting my nails. It was how I processed through my fears, or managed to live with them, I suppose. Years later, around the time I graduated from college, I started learning how to make healthier eating decisions and to stop using food as a coping mechanism for pain. That was the beginning of a long journey for me - one which included Weight Watchers, counseling sessions, dedicated exercising, and prayer. Around age 22, I lost nearly 12lbs and that was a huge victory for me. It look patience, resolve, daily exercise, and eating lots of vegetables and fruits in place of bread. I kept the weight off for almost six years. Then, in the summer of 2013, Ken and I spent a month traveling throughout Europe - wining and dining on local fare, daily gelato (and desserts!), and gourmet, five-course dinners. It was food heaven. I gained five pounds that summer and when we moved to Alaska following that trip, I couldn't seem to lose the weight.

It continued to get harder, as my increasing weight paralleled my increasing depression over moving to such a cold climate. My first year in Alaska was extremely difficult, and not at all like I had imagined it. Marked by the loss of Ken's grandma Alice, then the months it took for Ken to secure a job, along with missing my dear friends and community in Seattle - Alaska felt like anything but "home." A couple months after we got here, we almost resolved to leave.

In faith, though, we chose to stay and while I can't say that decision made it any easier to live here - that commitment, has over time, started to root in me. My weight began to steadily decrease in the months that followed, around the spring of last year. I also got back into running and met some amazing goals I had set for myself. An 11-mile run now seems like a manageable hurdle with discipline and faith.

Suddenly, I feel the smallest semblance of the baby kick within me. I'm instantly tuned in to the incredible event unfolding before me and I realize, once again, that I'm pregnant. In my excitement, I pick at my nails and half-giggle at the thought of being caretaker to a growing human. My body, in all its imperfections, is once again made 'perfect' and 'beautiful' and 'lovely.' It houses a baby. How incredible is that? I smile and think to myself.

In reflecting upon my struggles with my body and the vast changes it's been through all these years, I'm awestruck by this new season I am embarking upon: parenting. I wonder what my baby girl will be like and how I can embody to her what true beauty looks like. With so many failings of my own, how can I be an example of a godly woman - whose heart is set apart and not fixed on trivial things?

The culture and society I find myself enmeshed in values physical beauty, luxe fashion, charm and extroversion, power, and financial gain - many times at the expense of quiet mindfulness, contentment, generosity, inner beauty, and stewardship of resources. Honestly, as I find myself skimming Facebook status updates, Instagram feeds, and news headlines, I notice a marked difference in my level of satisfaction. I become envious of others. Jealous, resentful, discontent. The longer I browse these social media platforms, I lose sight of my worth. Somehow, multiple page and photo "Likes" equals popularity, and a false sense of superiority. At what point is it unhealthy and how can I continue to move in a direction of true relationship, where I place a higher value on meeting people at a heart level, rather than a page "Like"? These are the questions I ask regularly, in seeking to live intentionally. Rather than allowing a shadow of reality consume me.

And herein lies a unique opportunity for me to live differently. Set apart. For my daughter, and for myself. I want to introduce my baby girl to all the things that I hold dear to my heart, like my love for writing handwritten notes and cards. Postage stamps and penmanship and walking to an actual mailbox rather than just writing text messages.

I want my baby girl to understand how meaningful it is to give generously - not just when it's easy or convenient, but when it's hard, too. Likewise, I want to teach her discernment and setting healthy boundaries, so that she can bless others out of a place of strength, as opposed to being motivated by guilt or a sense of obligation.

My desires for my daughter include encouraging her to build her strengths as well as weaknesses, and giving her freedom to fail or struggle, knowing that her true sense of worth will never be wrapped up in her career choices. She is not just a pretty face. She is intelligent, capable, competent, and strong. True feminism is modeled by respect and love for others. I want her to know that.

I also hope to impart upon my baby girl the unique gift of listening to others, and carrying on a conversation. Without a cell phone blinking in the background (or foreground) and constant interruptions from text messages. I think about the friends and family I know who still value quality time, and honor the sacredness of uninterrupted fellowship. They inspire me. My Mom would never rush to take a phone call when we were spending time together (granted, cell phones have become a much bigger deal in the last decade.)

On that same note, Ken makes it a point to engage in quality conversation or quiet time together, during meals and dates. He helps keep me focused on the importance of living in each moment, rather than constant photo uploads to Facebook, alerting everyone to what we are up to. We don't really "check-in" at places online, we check-in with each other and how our days have been and where we are at emotionally. What a gift.

As I write this, I'm reminded of a conversation Ken and I had a couple years ago. In talking about having children someday, I asked him, How can we teach our children to live differently? How can we help them to be healthy - emotionally and physically? Ken's response surprised me, as it was marked by a sense of personal responsibility that I had never considered.

"I think that whatever we want our kids to learn, we need to model ourselves, in the way we live," he shared.

That makes a lot of sense.

I want to model to our baby girl all these things I've shared, and continue to seek God's grace when I can't do it on my own. In reality, I'm so flawed and imperfect and yet in Christ, I am made complete. Praise God. 

In faith, I will be a great mom to my daughter. 

I look forward to meeting you, baby girl. 
I already love you more than I could ever imagine. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

With the gift-giving season upon us (along with Christmas parties, cookie exchanges, and looser clothing choices), I wanted to take a moment and share my all-time favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe with you. Occasionally, I make giant batches of these cookies to share with neighbors, coworkers, and church groups. As a child, I loved baking this recipe and bringing in about 30 twist-tied packages with red ribbon finishes to my friends at school. I carried on this tradition throughout my teenage years and now make small little tags and stickers attached to the cookie bags, when I think of it. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Note: Please keep in mind that if your kitchen gets warm quickly - as mine does - make it a point to refrigerate the dough between batches. That way, the cookies keep their shape better. Also, feel free to double or triple this batch if you have friends who like cookies. 

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Adapted from Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels 
1 cup Milk Chocolate Morsels 

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Here are some photos of the process:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Oh Baby! Gender Reveal Time!

It's official, folks...

Ken and I are celebrating this special news and rejoicing over our healthy 20-week-old daughter. Baby Crewdson is now just over 11 ounces and the length of a medium banana. Her fingers and toes are formed and so cute! We got to watch her dancing in utero a couple days ago. I love her so much.

At Ken's 30th birthday party on Friday night, we revealed the baby's gender to family and friends with a 'gender reveal cake.' Being of the mindset that I wanted to bake an extra-special homemade chocolate cake for Ken, I spent nearly four hours in the kitchen baking two separate cakes - first a pink strawberry cake that I used as my base for cutting out little pink hearts, which I then placed into a double-chocolate cake batter prior to baking. I topped the six-inch tall layer cake with a chocolate-ganache-meets-buttercream frosting crafted from scratch and "Ta-da!" it was ready to be devoured. My only hope in making this rather difficult cake was that I wouldn't need to upload a photo online with the hashtag, #PinterestFail. Needless to say, it tasted incredible and there were some traces of pink hearts in the final product. In the future, I think I'll approach all swoon-worthy Pinterest photos that consider themselves 'super easy to recreate' with much more suspicion.

Here are some photos of our Gender Reveal Cake surprise. Enjoy!