December 31, 2010

Dear 2010

Dear 2010,

You and I had some good moments, but I have a confession to make.  I'm glad we're almost through.  It's time we move on.

Yes, I at least owe you an explanation.  So here goes a long one.

You and I started off on the wrong foot.  In January, I was sleep-deprived and exhausted with an 18-month and 3-month-old and didn't know how I was going to survive.   Thankfully, my maternity leave ended, and in February, I returned back to work full-time with my firm in Manhattan (while my children were in the care of my in-laws).  But ever increasingly, I felt a naggingly strong conviction that I needed to be home more often but wrestled with the thought because (1) it would mean a huge financial sacrifice and (2) I wasn't cut out to be a stay-home mom.

Well, you know God wasn't going to let me use those as legit excuses.  As if (although they seem pretty legit to me!).

So ever the negotiator with the Almighty (foolishness, I know), I thought a compromise was in order.  Perhaps I could just work part-time.  Mustering up some courage, I approached my manager in April and we worked out a 10-hour/week consulting agreement (I was hoping for 20 hours but took whatever I could).  It was extra income and would give me an excuse to get out of the house one day a week.  I stayed on full-time until the end of August.

And in September, I thought I was going to lose my mind.  Do you remember that?  I'm sure you do.

Staying home was surely the biggest mistake I had ever made.  My oldest son was now two and terrible.  My youngest turned one and became mobile on two legs.  Combine the two and it meant me running in all different directions yelling at the top of my lungs.  Although my in-laws still continued to come for a few hours in the morning to lend a hand, I was struggling to find a routine, balance, and meaning to this new life at home.  Surely, I could get my job back if I wanted.  But for whatever reason, I stuck it out.  Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment.

And with my husband's permission, I share the following knowing others might find encouragement from it.

It also didn't help that my marriage was going through a rough patch at the time.   Not many would have guessed it, but it didn't slip by you.  Our friends have often commented on viewing us as an ideal couple and how our marriage seemed so perfect.  NEWS FLASH!  No marriage is perfect.  Marriage is not a happily-ever-after fairy tale and if anyone buys into that, they're in for a rude awakening.   One of the books James and I read during our premarital counseling was key in preparing us for this:  Sacred Marriage:  What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than Happy?  I highly recommend it.  Though marriage is a wonderful gift with many blessings, it has a way of revealing the ugliest parts of one self.   It's good to be prepared for that but also to keep in mind this is how God uses marriage and our spouse to shape and refine us to become more like Christ.

Well, it seemed my husband and I were no longer hand-in-hand partners.  Rather, we had become the Divvy It Up tag-team duo.  "Tag.  You're it.  Your turn to take this one out while I stay home during the other one's naptime."  "You're it, your turn to do the shopping while I get some laundry done."  "You're it.  You put this one to sleep while I give the other one a bath."   With overlaps in the boys' schedules, it seemed we rarely spent much time together as a family.  And forget couple time.  By the end of the evening, James and I were so pooped we'd literally pass out in bed.

The transition with me being home also brought about underlying issues that were never quite resolved between my husband and I.  Past hurts and wounds were resurrected, and there was a period we wondered if it was possible to ever reconcile these issues.  We knew we needed help, but asking for it would not be easy.  We shared our struggles with our church small group, and we eventually ended up meeting with our pastor as well.  God is so good.  Through sharing, praying, reading scripture and also reading The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict as a church body, God worked to reveal the sins and flaws in our hearts.  Upon admitting them to one another, it opened up the path to understanding, forgiveness, and wholeness in our relationship again.  This doesn't mean we still don't fight or have misunderstandings, but we're better equipped to address them in a more loving, godly manner.  This will be a lifelong process though (I still prefer the good ol' silent treatment because I'm so darn good at it).     

Then 2010, you threw us for a loop in the latter half of the year as my family came to grips with my grandmother's ailing condition.  On the morning of July 31, my grandmother complained of a stomach ache, went to the hospital, and then was admitted to the ICU once it was determined her intestine had ruptured and infection had spread to her major organs.  She survived that ordeal only then to be diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer so far advanced it was beyond seeking surgery or chemo therapy.  At the beginning of September, she was released from the hospital to spend the remainder of her days at home with family.  On October 16, she went home to be with the Lord.

Death was gain for her (Philippians 1:21).  Despite knowing this, however, the loss for us was difficult to bear.  Namely for my mother.  They were literally the best of friends.   I take that back.   My grandmother's best friend here on earth was her husband of 62 years.  My grandfather, a devout man of God and a retired pastor, misses her ever so dearly.  My heart aches mostly for him.

So do you understand why I'm glad we're moving on?

You and I did share some good moments though, and I will never forget those.

James and I attended IJM's (International Justice Mission) Annual Prayer Gathering in D.C. in April.  We didn't have great expectations.  But of course, God did and He worked in our hearts to demonstrate the importance and power of prayer.  It fueled our hearts to pray for all things at all times without ceasing.   God is working and He gives us the privilege to take part in what He's doing through prayer and action.  My greatest desire is to become a woman of prayer much like my grandmother.  I have a long way to go and will admit my prayer life has been lacking recently.  But He who began a good work will bring it to completion.

This year, I have also seen my husband, the ever-loving father and servant, grow more and more into a godly and wise leader.  On a daily basis, I get to see how God is using my husband's heart of compassion and generosity in big and small ways.  And I am learning how to be more patient and forgiving because my husband is much better at it than I.  And we continue to be each other's biggest supporters and fans.

And as for the saga of being home, I can now see glimpses of the impact it has on my children.   I see transformations taking place in them - not only physical but mental and spiritual as well.  I get to experience the moments when my two-year-old will kiss his brother's boo-boo or say a sweet prayer of thanks or when my boys sing with great excitement, "Happy Birthday, Jesus", on Christmas morning.  I am witness to their joy and wonder in such simple things and am learning to do likewise.   Don't get me wrong.  There are still days (very many) I just want to rip my hair out, but God is teaching me to be more patient - with my boys and with myself.

I also started writing regularly again and I have this medium to thank for it.  This creative outlet, which served as a source of sanity in the beginning, ended up being a way for me to connect with and be encouraged by others.  I am so thankful for that and for the folks I have met.

We also celebrated CJ's 2-year-birthday with a cause, threw an elaborate homemade 1-year bash for Nathan, and got to brag about having our son featured topless in a calendar (every parents' dream, I'm sure).

All in all, 2010, we had our ups and downs.  But I can see God's hand in it in every instance and I am eternally grateful for that.

But I'm eager to say hello to 2011 and see what it has in store for us.

Bidding adieu,

December 27, 2010

Moist Banana Bread

There is truly nothing better than fresh-baked bread right out of the oven (well, actually fresh-baked cookies could give it a run for its money). 

This holiday, I was on a banana bread fix and made 6 loaves over a 3-day span.   I made it Christmas eve morning for the boys and my in-laws, made it for my extended family gathering on Christmas day, and then made another batch for my college holiday gathering on the 26th.  And amazingly enough, I'm still not banana-ed out!

Here's the recipe I use for a moist great-plain-for-breakfast or even-better-when-paired-with-vanilla-ice-cream banana bread.

{ Prep time: 15 minutes; Bake time: 1 hour }

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar (you can reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce (this is key to making the bread moist)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher.  Mix the melted butter into the mashed bananas.  Then mix in the sugar, egg, applesauce, and vanilla.  Mix in the baking soda and salt.  Add the flour last and mix.  Pour the mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch bread loaf pan.  Bake for 1 hour (if your oven tends to heat faster, you should check it at 45 minutes and see if it's cooked - overcooking will dry out the bread).  Keeping the bread in the pan, cool it on a rack.  Remove from pan and slice to serve.
The slice of bread goes perfectly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  You could easily add chopped walnuts or raisins.  But if you're making it for an event or gathering, I'd suggest keeping it simple because (1) you never know if someone has nut allergies and (2) you just can't go wrong with plain banana bread.

December 24, 2010

Ready for the Christmas Festivities!

The banana bread baking in the oven, Christmas carols playing in the background, stockings stuffed with goodies waiting to be opened, and the boys dressed in their Christmas pajamas.  We're ready to get the festivities started!

We'll start by singing "Happy Birthday, Jesus".

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

December 22, 2010

Excellence in Mothering Award Goes to ...

{ circa 1981 in maryland }
My mom who turns 59 today.

I love this woman with all my heart and consider myself amazingly blessed, not only to have her in my life, but to have been raised and nurtured by her.  She has been a beautiful example of a woman who embodies and breathes Christ in her humility, her honesty, her integrity, and her servitude.

When I was a junior in college, I suffered major injuries from a skiing accident that nearly required me to have my leg amputated.  But thanks to good surgeons, several operations and lots of prayers, my leg healed (although not 100%) and I was eventually able to walk again 6 months after the accident.

It left me with huge scars that cover most of my left calf and part of the thigh.  A few weeks ago, my 2.5-year-old saw my leg and stared at the scar for a while.  He wasn't sure what to make of it but finally said, "Mommy has owie."  He then leaned over and gently kissed the scar.  It was the absolute sweetest and most touching moment ever.

But I digress.  Back to my mom.

{ circa 1986 in south dakota }
After being released from the hospital, I was stuck in a wheelchair for months.  My mom flew out from Texas (where my parents were at the time) and set aside her responsibilities at church to stay with me in Virginia for two weeks.  In that time, she cared for me by preparing meals, assisting me from the wheelchair to either the bed or toilet, and even with bathing me. 

I was mortified. 

You have to understand I prided myself on being self-sufficient and independent, not needing anyone to do anything for me.  And here I was a grown woman at 20-years-old, barely able to scratch my back much less go to the potty or bathe myself.  So every other day, my mother would take a wet sponge, lather it with soap, and gently wash my body as I sat feeling helpless in the wheelchair, swallowing every ounce of pride I had.  But she did it with such incredible tenderness, humility, and love that it melted away my shame and embarrassment.

This is the kind of stuff mothers don't get recognized for.  No one hands out a trophy or writes a headline that reads "Excellent Mom Award For Bathing Your Daughter" or "Achievement Recognition for Feeding Your Child".

{ circa 2008:
with my mom and her mom -
 women who inspire me to be a good mom }
But these are the simple acts, generally unnoticed and unrecognized, that stand out the greatest in my mind and have left such a tremendous impression on what I envision a mother to be.  Most days, mothers care for their children's very basic needs and receive no accolades, no achievement awards, no pat on the back or a simple "hey, good job today."

So on her birthday, I recognize my mom for all her selfless, loving deeds and for all that she sacrificed to raise and nurture us.  You are the most beautiful woman in my life. 

Happy birthday, amma.

Is there a mother you'd like to recognize for her achievement and character?  I'd love to hear about them.

December 20, 2010

Peppermint and More Peppermint

{ peppermint pretzels with peppermint cocoa.  yum.  }
Chocolate-covered peppermint pretzel rods drizzled with white chocolate paired with peppermint chocolate cocoa (available from Crate & Barrel).  Could there be a better match?  I think I've died and gone to peppermint heaven.

The pretzel rods were super easy to make!  I followed the same steps as I did for making the chocolate-covered pretzels but made two variations.  First, I added 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract to the melted chocolate to give it a more minty taste.  And then I drizzled white chocolate over the dark (I used a chopstick to do this) to make it more decorative before sprinkling on the peppermint.


Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzel Rods
{ Makes about 24 pretzel rods }

  • 1 package (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package (12 oz) white chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp shortening (this helps temper the chocolate for dipping)
  • 2 tablespoons peppermint extract
  • Bag of large pretzel rods
  • Peppermint candy canes 

  1. Place unwrapped candy canes in a ziploc bag and crush into small pieces with a hammer.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Combine the chocolate chips, the shortening, and peppermint extract in a small pot and stir over low heat.  Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove from heat.
  4. Dip 2/3 of pretzel rod in the chocolate.  Tap the chocolate-dipped pretzel several times to remove excess chocolate, and place it on the prepared baking sheet. 
  5. Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat.  Then take a fork (I used a chopstick) to drizzle it over the dark chocolate.  Sprinkle with peppermint candy.
  6. Place the pretzels in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

December 16, 2010

The Master Plan

I had it all mapped out (and at the age of 10, no less).    

{ illustration by stuart lee }
  • Graduate with honors from high school.
  • Get into a good university and obtain a business degree.
  • Land a good job, climb up the corporate ladder, and eventually start my own ad agency.
  • Travel the world and enjoy all of life's pleasures.
  • If I get married, great, but I'm not counting on it.
I was determined to make my life a success story.

I got up to the part where I was able to get into a good university but soon realized I didn't really care much for business school.  I loved English and enjoyed Religion, but what was I going to do with that?  The practical side of me kept telling myself to chug along.  Stay on course.  Endure the finance, economic, marketing, accounting courses.  Stick to the plan.

So I did.  I graduated with a BBA in Marketing, landed a job with a design/build firm outside of D.C. to start and head up their marketing efforts.  The president and founder of the company not only hired me but took me under his wings and invested time and energy into molding me for leadership and management.   I soaked it all up, worked like crazy, and began laying the groundwork for achieving my success story - all before the age of 25.

Then the quarter-life crisis hit.  While I was sitting in my office at 10pm one evening in early 2001, a moment of epiphany occurred.

"What am I doing?  What's the point of all this?  I've sold my life to this company, and for what?  Will I be 50 and look back at my life and wonder where it all went?  What am I investing my time and energy in?  Am I wasting my life away?"

These thoughts echoed through my head for months as I continued to attend company functions, sit through meetings, work on marketing brochures, schmooze with potential clients.

And then one day, I said enough.

I knew in my heart of hearts this was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  But I didn't really have much of a backup plan.  All I knew was that the master plan was not working out for me.

With great hesitation, I gave notice and quit my job.  And so the journey began.

But I found that I was more hopelessly lost than ever.  Everything I thought I wanted and had envisioned for my life since age 10 had been completely scrapped.  I was starting out on a blank sheet and didn't know what to fill it with.

I began with what I knew best.  Words.

Words, words, and more words.   I catalogued my journey online before the term "blogging" was ever coined.  When I read back on those entries, I can feel the weight of a confused and misdirected 20-something-year-old in search of herself.

Well, it wasn't enough for me to just quit my job.  I decided I needed a change of scenery as well.  So I packed up my things, said goodbye to my sister and brother (who I was living with at the time), all my friends in Virginia, and departed for the Big Apple where dreams come true (or so I was told).

I didn't know anyone.  I didn't have a job.  I searched online for an available space to rent in the NY area and found a small, little apartment in West New York.  I took on temp jobs as an admin by day.  By night, I was either checking out gigs and different musical artists or at home immersed in songwriting myself (yes, aspiring singer-songwriter is filed under the list of plans that didn't pan out for me as well).

And so began my new life as an anonymous nobody lost in the crowd of millions just hoping to make my days count for something.

After 9/11, I landed a job as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of a renown publishing company.  It paid the bills.  I also got plugged into a church and made an incredible group of friends.  One of whom became a close friend and eventually my husband.

James and I got married, and five years later, here we are with two absolutely beautiful sons, living out in the burbs, trying to make our days count for the glory of the King.

This was definitely not a part of my plan.

But God had better ones in store for me.  And I am keenly aware that He has better plans still for me and my family.  We just need to be open to them (that's the hard part).

When people hear my story, they say, "Wow, you were brave."

No.  I was foolish.  Even so, God demonstrated incredible mercy and grace in my life.  He intervened because although "He loved me just the way I was, He loved me too much to let me stay that way" (one of my favorite lines from the film, Junebug).

Now Mary.  She was brave.  She also had a plan.  She was going to marry a nice man, live a nice, quiet, innocuous life in a small, quaint town where everyone knew each other and life was going to be ordinary and simple.

But God had greater plans for her.  Plans to give her a child and save the world through him.  It could very well have cost her her man, her dreams, her reputation, even her very life (they did not take well to infidelity).   But instead, she trusted God and responded humbly with “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled" (Luke 1:38)

Our executive pastor gave an excellent sermon about God's plan for Mary this past Sunday.  I encourage you to listen to it, and as we think about the new year, be open to the wonderful plans He has in store for our lives.

December 15, 2010

Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzels

{ the perfect combination of salty and sweet in really festive shapes }
Some snacks are just dangerously addictive.  Chocolate-covered pretzels are one of them.  It's the perfect combination of both salty and sweet.  I made a batch last week, and while my husband and I were idly surfing the web, we devoured the entire bag within minutes. 

Since you possibly can't go wrong with these, I decided to make them as holiday treats for my office, my husband's, and for my sister-in-law's holiday party.  Yes, that's a lot of pretzels.  

Last night, I went to the local grocery store and spent a while in the snack aisle looking for the right pretzels.

And you cannot imagine my delight when I saw this!

I was so excited, I let out an audible squeal and got some strange looks (always a fun experience at the grocery store).  :)  I ended up buying two bags and hand-dipping each and every tree, bell, and star.  Though this is the simplest thing to make, hand-dipping pretzels is a tedious task.  So be forewarned that if you want to make a huge batch, set aside a couple hours or enlist the help of a few friends and have a pretzel-making party. 

The incentive:  you get to eat all the broken pieces!  Yum!

Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzels
{ Makes about 50 pretzels }

  • 1 package (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips or white chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp shortening (this helps temper the chocolate for dipping)
  • Large bag of pretzel twists
  • Peppermint candy canes 

  1. Place unwrapped candy canes in a ziploc bag and crush into small pieces with a hammer.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Combine the chocolate chips and the shortening in a small pot and stir over low heat.  Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove from heat.
  4. Using tongs, fork, or chopsticks, dip the pretzel in the chocolate.  Tap the chocolate-dipped pretzel several times to remove excess chocolate, and place it on the prepared baking sheet.  The chocolate dries quickly, so you'll want to sprinkle the peppermint while it's still wet.  Dip, place, and sprinkle every 5 pretzels or so.
  5. Place the pretzels in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

I have about 200 pretzels sitting in my kitchen and tempting me at every turn.  These are lethal.

December 12, 2010

Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

{ apologies for making your mouth water }
It's cold and wet outside.

Perfect excuse for spicy tofu soup!  Not that I need an excuse.  This is my favorite dish.  It's called soondobu jigae in Korean.  I could eat this all year round and have been known to (even on sweltering hot summer days).  But this soup is particularly good when it's cold out - it hits the spot and immediately warms you up!  And my personal motto when it comes to tofu soup is "the redder, the better."  I love it extra, extra spicy! 

There is a Korean restaurant by the name of So Gong Dong in northern New Jersey infamously known for their tofu soup.  And for good reason.  It's amazing!  James and I have tried others, and they just don't compare.  There's something about the tofu itself, but we're certain they add some top-secret, special ingredient to its broth.

I was determined to find out what.

So I began my quest by researching recipes online in an attempt to replicate the flavor of So Gong Dong's soup, and nothing came close.  I could never get it right.  I had nearly given up on the idea of ever making homemade tofu soup again.

Until one day at the Korean market, I laid eyes on this:

The tofu broth seasoning.

{ the secret ingredient? }
It certainly couldn't hurt to try.  The package includes 3 packets of seasoning powder and seasoning oil and for only $3.49.  I will preface by saying that I tried following the instructions on the package but found the flavoring pretty weak.  So I had to improvise and try out a few different variations.  And I think I finally found one I like (recipe below).

I'm certain this seasoning mix is not So Gong's Dong top-secret ingredient, but if prepared properly, it's great arsenal for making a pretty decent homemade version.  I always keep some in my pantry for days like this.

There are many variations you can make to this recipe.  I love the seafood tofu soup at So Gong Dong, so in the past, I've added uncooked shrimp and clams (make sure to add these once the soup is boiling and cook until clams open and shrimp turns pink).   Or you can add any of these ingredients:  sliced pork, beef, kimchi, or enoki mushrooms. 
Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

  • 1 package of 1lb soft tofu (I prefer soft over silken)
  • 1 package Pulmone Tofu Broth Seasoning
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 scallion, sliced in small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, uncooked
  • 1/2 tablespoon of beef or fish flavor soup stock ("dashida") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon Korean hot bean paste ("gochujang") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red hot pepper ("gochukaru") - add more to taste*
[*When I first started making Korean food, I asked my mother for measurements in her recipes and she always told me there are no measurements.  You just taste it and add more or less and decide what tastes good.  Of course, this was not very helpful to me at the time, but she was right.  So these are just guidelines; I always end up adding a little more of each).

  1. To prepare seasoning, mix 1 cup water, one package of Tofu Broth seasoning (powder and oil), and hot bean paste in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Cut up tofu into small cubes. 
  3. Place cubes in the seasoning mix and stir gently; be careful not to break up the tofu pieces (I find this step of soaking the tofu in the mix helps ensure the flavoring seeps in).  Set aside.
  4. In a pot, stir-fry the garlic and sesame oil over medium heat until lightly browned.
  5. Add the bowl of seasoned tofu to the pot, stir with the garlic, and cook over high heat for a few minutes; stir occasionally.   (This is another step I take to ensure better flavoring.  I find that if you add all the water right away, it loses some flavoring).
  6. Add 2 more cups of water and cook until boiling (if you prefer more soup, add more water).
  7. Add the beef or fish flavor soup stock and the crushed red hot pepper.  Add more of each to taste if necessary.
  8. Add uncooked egg to the soup and stir until cooked.
  9. Sprinkle with scallion and it's ready to serve. 
You can also make a non-spicy version of this soup, but really, what would be the fun in that?  :)

If you try this, I'd love to hear what you think and what modifications you would or did make.

December 11, 2010

Lights of Jolly

After dinner tonight, we took the boys out for a stroll around the neighborhood to check out the local Christmas decor.  I have to say some of our neighbors have done a fine job decking the town with lights of jolly.   Creates such a festive mood!

Maybe next year, we'll be venturous enough to try it ourselves (just have to work with the one external electrical outlet located in the backyard).  By "we", I probably actually mean "hubby".  He'll most likely oversee the logistical details and provide all the manual labor involved.  I'll just pick out the pretty decorations and admire his handiwork.  :)

December 10, 2010

Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches with Buttercream Frosting

{ cookie sandwiches with peppermint and toffee }
 Although it's hard to find the time with two little ones, I love baking and trying new recipes when I can.  And I love baking even more when my son lends a hand!  Today CJ and I made these delights.  I got the recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book (one of my favorite cookie recipe books).

I love that the cookie itself is soft, chewy, and has just a hint of sweetness (which is perfect for the kids!).  When paired with the buttercream frosting, it gives it that perfect sweet guilty pleasure (perfect for the grown ups!).  The crushed candy adds a nice crunch.  I used peppermint candy canes and Heath toffee bars.

Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches with Buttercream Frosting
(from Better Homes and Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book)

{ Prep time:  30 min  Chill:  2 hr  Bake:  6 min per batch
Makes:  about 30 sandwich cookies }

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Sugar (optional)
1 recipe Buttercream frosting (below)
Crushed candy of choice

1.  In a large mixing bowl beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add the 1 cup sugar, the baking soda, and salt.  Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour.  Divide dough in half.  Cover and chill dough about 2 hours or until easy to handle.
2.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/8 inch thck.  Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out dough.  Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  If desired, sprinkle cutouts lightly with additional sugar.  Bake for 6 to 7 minutes or until bottoms are light brown.  Transfer to a wire rack; cool.
3.  Spread buttercream frosting onto the bottom halfs of the cooled cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Roll edges in the crushed candy.

{ Start to finish: 10 min  Makes:  about 2 1/2 cups }

1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

In a bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.  Add vanilla.  Beat in half of the powdered sugar.  Beat in 2 tablespoons of the milk.  Beat in the remaining powdered sugar until smooth.  Beat in enough of the remaining milk to make a frosting of spreading consistency.

Crush candy of choice (candy canes, peppermint candies, Heath toffee bars).  Easiest way to do this is to put the candy in a ziploc bag and crush with hammer.  Once the cookie is assembled, roll the edges in the crushed candy.

The end result?

An enthusiastic thumbs up from my taste testers!


Through the Muck and Mire

There was a 48-hour window this past week that had me thinking "Why, oh why, do we put ourselves through this?"  ("this" referring to parenting).

CJ, my 2-and-1/2-year-old, was happily eating his pizza during dinner Saturday evening when all of a sudden he started making a gagging noise.  Next thing I knew, a small chunk of his food had come back up.  Then he started to gag again, and I knew I only had a matter of seconds.  I quickly swooped him in my arms and made a mad dash to the kitchen (I wasn't going to make it to the bathroom).  Just a few inches before reaching the kitchen sink, my son threw up his dinner, lunch, breakfast (and maybe even dinner from the night before) all over himself and all over me.  The poor thing was so frightened - he didn't know what was happening.  All the while, I was completely grossed out!  I imagined a scene out of those comedy movies where one person pukes and then starts a chain reaction.  That would have completely freaked CJ out even more, so I had to hold it together.  Well a few hours later, CJ seemed better.  So he had a glass of milk before bedtime, and then it was Daddy's turn to get puked all over.  The next day, CJ was perfectly fine.

Thirty-six hours later, Nathan, our 14-month-old, seemed his happy, usual self.  That was until I noticed him grunting and grimacing.  The poor baby was trying to take care of business and couldn't!  A few minutes later, he tried again.  Standing in the living room, holding onto the edge of the coffee table, he stood, turning bright red in the face as he squeezed with all his might.  But all he could muster was the tiniest and quietest of gas.  He grew irritable and miserable (could you blame the little guy?).

A couple hours later, he tried again to no avail and this time, he cried out in anguish.  So I had to do what any loving mother would do - I had to lie my son down, strip him, open his legs, and help him pass his bowels.  I took a rectal thermometer, lubricated it with some Aquaphor, and started digging.  As Nathan squirmed and cried in agony, I helped loosen the rock-hard stool blocking the passageway and was finally able to unplug the dam.  He was so relieved.

So why share these less-than-pleasant details in great detail?  Where am I going with this?

Well, it made me think about all the muck and mire we go through daily as parents, or just life in general for that matter.  And most days, we find ourselves asking, "What's the point of all this?"

{ brothers celebrating their first
christmas together in 2009}
Well, I'm not really sure.  But seeing these boys at their sweetest just melts my heart and makes it all worth it.  Sure, a lot of details about my daily life are not glamorous, and there are days I'd rather just not deal with the trivial things.  But I've been given the responsibility to nurture, care for, and love these boys no matter what c-r-a-p is thrown at us (sometimes quite literally) or how difficult things get.

I would go through the muck and mire for them every day if I had to.

What greater depths would our heavenly Father go to for us?  Well, He let his Son endure the muck, mire, and wrath of hell so we wouldn't have to.  Now that's real love.

December 9, 2010

Wrapping Up 2010

{ snapshots of 2011 calendar created for
nathan's 1-year birthday signed by
 friends and family }
Still a few weeks left in 2010 but I'm already contemplating what 2011 will have in store.  This year went by so quickly, most of it is a blur.  But here is a summary:

Spent most of the year adjusting (and quite honestly, surviving) as a mom of two.  I tell people the transition from one to two kids is so much harder than going from zero to one!  All of the sudden, your attention is divided between two very dependent, needy children who rely heavily on you.  And there is very little time for yourself with the overlap in schedules and such.  And no quiet, alone time plus a sleep-deprived Rachel is a recipe for disaster!  I don't know how people have more than two children.  God bless you if you do (makes me truly appreciate my parents with three children!).

- Said goodbye (or rather "see you again soon") to my grandmother who passed away from lung cancer on October 16.  It was the first time cancer had hit our family, the first time I saw someone I love dearly suffer in such great pain and yet still bless the name of Jesus, the first time I gave a eulogy, my first time attending a burial, and the first time being with all my family and relatives together in one place in a very, very long time.  My grandmother inspired all of us in many ways.  We miss her dearly.

- I quit my full-time job.  I went back to work at the venture fund in February once my maternity leave was over.  But I soon felt the conviction to spend more time at home.  This was a tough decision for our family.  So James and I discussed it, went over our finances, prayed about it, and learned to have greater trust in the Lord.  I gave my notice in April and finally bid farewell to my job on Park Avenue in Manhattan at the end of August.  Well, it wasn't really goodbye.  I stayed on in a consultant role and still go in one day a week.

- I lost myself only to discover I was on a journey to find myself again.  The first month home was difficult.  If it's possible to experience post-partem depression a year after the baby is born, then I may have had a case of it.  I didn't know how to care for two young children on a daily, consistent basis (especially with one entering the terrible twos!).  I felt overwhelmed, underqualified, overworked (there is NEVER a break), and underappreciated.  I started questioning my role, my identity, my purpose. 

And so I turned to the form of therapy I have always known and loved . . . writing.

- So began the birth of Mother's Mementos.  I wanted a place to jot down my journey as a mom - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I've actually been "blogging" since 2001 (we simply called it "online journaling" back then).  All those entries have been collected and tucked away on another site somewhere on the world wide web.  I wanted this blog to be a keepsake for my boys.  It soon became a creative outlet for me and then started to morph into something more.

I learned people can actually make a living from blogging.  And so I thought this may be a great way to earn a little extra money on the side.  My marketing background shifted into high gear, and I started to think up ways to build some momentum and gain readership.  I registered the domain name, set up ads, created a Facebook page, even signed up for a Twitter account (which I have yet to use).

And with each entry, I started to contemplate whether or not I should talk so much about my faith - it may turn some people off.  If I really want this blog to be successful, then I should try to cater it to a wider audience.

But more and more, I realized there is an audience of One that matters.

So my heart's desire is that whatever passions, gifts, and resources the Lord has given me would be used to honor and glorify Him.  And if along the way, I'm able to encourage, inspire, or make a few wonderful connections (which I already have), I am truly thankful for that. 

I am grateful for this year and all the lessons learned (some very difficult and some still in the process of learning).  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for 2011.

December 8, 2010

The Son's Return

{ the love of a father }
While the wayward child foolishly wastes away all of his Father's riches and inheritance, the Father (broken-hearted but not without hope) calls the son's name and waits and waits and waits eagerly for his son's return.  And when the son finally finds his way back home and is seen from a distance on the long, dusty road, the Father is done waiting.

Instead, he runs and runs and runs with open arms ready to receive and hold his beloved once again.

The Father does not give up on us.

December 5, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Who would've thought a day at the beach in December could turn out to be so much fun? 

Let Us Go! 
(to the tune of "Let It Snow")

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the beach is always delightful
And since it still hasn't snowed
Let us go! Let us go!  Let us go!

We don't really care much for shopping
Instead would rather go hopping
On the beach while the tide is still low
Let us go!  Let us go!  Let us go!

The December wind chill blows in the air
But we simply just don't care
Because we love the sandy beach so
Let us go!  Let us go!  Let us go!

The sun is slowly setting
And, my sons, it's time for getting
Back home before it gets too cold
Let us go!  Let us go!  Let us go!

December 2, 2010

Beginning to Look Like Christmas

It just doesn't feel like Christmas until the tree is up (even if the bottom portion is somewhat bare - we don't want our boys demolishing it!).

{ Cue Johnny Mathis:  "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas / Everywhere you go ..." }

And so begins the season, and December always ends up being a crazy, hectic month filled with holiday parties, church programs, birthday celebrations, Christmas shopping, work projects and so on.  I have a tendency to stretch myself thin, so I'm being very intentional about not going overboard and instead really relishing the holiday for what it is - a celebration of the greatest gift given to man. 

A baby named Jesus.

December 1, 2010

The Joy of Holiday Giving

The thing young kids (and big kids alike) look forward to most on Christmas Day is opening presents, but what about teaching our children the importance of giving during the holiday season?  So many of us in America are truly blessed with everything we need and so much more.  But there are many in this world who go without the basic necessities of life and literally struggle to survive each day.

Our desire is that Christmas would be an opportunity to share the joy, hope, and love of Christ with others.  A very practical and easy way to do that is by purchasing gifts that give back!  If you're looking for presents for your loved ones this holiday season and want to help spread joy to others while you're at it, here's a list of some great gift ideas that help support various charities:

Cards from Africa
A friend told me about this organization, and I had to add it to the list!  Their products are made by hand in Rwanda and help families affected by AIDS and genocide to rebuild their lives.  They offer well-paid employment to those who need it the most, and their business model provides the skills to transition easily to another career or start their own business someday.  The cards are beautiful, and they have them for every occasion!  Perfect for Christmas!
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Where to purchase: http://cardsfromafrica.com/shop.php

Freeset Bags
I received one of these beautiful bags from my best friend for my birthday and absolutely love the product and the concept behind the organization!  Their motto is "In Business for Freedom".  Freeset exists specifically to provide freedom for women from sex trade and allow them an opportunity to restart their lives and regain their dignity. 
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Giving Tree
Giving Tree is a branch of Bread & Water, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by a friend of ours.   It is a fast growing non-profit providing relief in a increasing number of countries around the world and is run entirely by volunteers.  Some of their projects include an orphanage in Liberia, a school in India, and a village doctor training program in a remote part of China.  Giving Tree offers beautiful gifts (many handmade) and 100% of the proceeds go towards one of their designated projects.  We have all the gifts pictured on the left (CJ loves the bear!).
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Where to purchase:  http://www.breadandwater.org/gift_shop/index.htm

GoodShop is a service of GoodSearch - when you shop from the site, a percentage of your purchase will go to the partnering nonprofit of your choice.  If you want to purchase gifts from major retail stores and contribute to a charity while you're at it, this is the place to do it!  I discovered this service through one of their partners, Little Lights, an urban ministry organization I've been involved in and am passionate about.  I'm so thankful to be able to contribute in this way!
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IJM (International Justice Mission)
IJM is an organization my husband and I have come to know and love.  We attended IJM's Annual Prayer Gathering in D.C. this past April (highly recommend attending if you have the chance) and were simply blown away by the justice work God is doing in and through this ministry.  Partner with IJM by sending an e-card or by purchasing the "Freedom" compilation cd featuring artists like Third Day, Jars of Clay, tobyMac, and MercyMe (only $5!). 
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Where to purchase e-card:  https://secure3.convio.net/ijm/site/Ecommerce?store_id=1481&JServSessionIdr004=9o5u7kqu61.app306a
I've always loved the adorable t-shirts made by this company.  And now I appreciate them even more after discovering their line of fundraising products.  100% of the profits from these products go toward The Life is Good Kids Foundation which helps kids overcome life-threatening challenges such as violence, illness and extreme poverty.  What a terrific idea!
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One Day's Wages
James and I absolutely love the vision and mission of this organization and agree that our one day's wage can make a HUGE impact for those who go without each day.  We can make a difference and help battle poverty around the world.   So why not celebrate the holidays by partnering with ODW and raising funds to help those in need?  Get together with your family and friends and start a holiday campaign or throw a holiday benefit party.  What a great way to spread the joy!
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Where to purchase:  http://www.onedayswages.org/community/blog/2010/11/odws-holiday-campaign

OneHope Wine
If you know me, you know I love a good glass (or two) of wine.  So I was excited to find out about OneHope Wine!  This organization was started by eight friends who turned what started as a personal mission to help out a friend with her fight against cancer into a thriving business founded on a very basic, but compelling principle: giving back is good business.  50% of the profits go to one of their partnering charities (like the Fight Against Autism, Fight Against Breast Cancer, and Support the Troops).  This is the perfect gift for fellow wine enthusiasts.
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Where to purchase: http://www.onehopewine.com/

World Vision
World Vision is a Christian organization dedicated to serving children, families, and their communities worldwide to help alleviate poverty and injustice. Through its gift catalog, the organization provides a wonderful opportunity to purchase a gift for a family which will help nourish and feed them.  Purchase a goat or sheep on behalf of someone you love.
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Where to purchase: http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?go=gift&&section=10389

If you think this list would be helpful for someone you know, please feel free to pass it along.  And if you know of any other great gift ideas that help spread the joy in giving, please do share!  I'd love to hear them.

November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Highlights

Thanksgiving came and went just like that.  And this holiday we celebrated the faithfulness of the Father with:

a fire,
a feast,
fanfare for an infant,
and family.


November 23, 2010

The Thankfulness Song

What we're thankful for this holiday season.


November 22, 2010

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

{ rosy and buttery cupcakes }
I am a huge fan of cream cheese frosting because (1) it tastes great, (2) it's easy to make, and (3) you can make countless variations.

But I thought I would be adventurous and try something new and different this weekend.  So I attempted to make swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  This definitely requires a bit more time, but the frosting is so amazingly light, smooth, and buttery.

Since I was going all out on the frosting, I kept the cupcake itself very simple and used Trader Joe's Vanilla Cake Mix (I LOVE Trader Joe's products).  I simply followed the instructions on the box.

Here are the instructions for the frosting.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
(Recipe from Martha Stewart)

Makes about 9 cups, enough for about 28 cupcakes

1. Gather ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 large egg whites
  • 4 cups (8 sticks or 2 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2.  Place sugar and egg whites in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.

3.Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Don't worry if the buttercream appears curdled after all the butter has been added; it will become smooth again with continued beating. Add vanilla, and beat just until combined.

5. Switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets, about 5 minutes. If using buttercream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment. Or transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature, and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.

6.  And buttercream frosting is complete!

I tinted the frosting with Wilton's icing color in Rose Petal Pink to add the pretty pink hue.

I'll definitely be making this frosting again!

November 21, 2010

Love is in the Air

The boys enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon in the backyard after church today.  And love filled the air.  As challenging as parenting is at times, these boys bring us such incredible joy.  James and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The amazing thing is when the Lord looks at His children, He probably thinks the same thing.  Even despite how pig-headed, stubborn, and just plain stupid we are, He is ever so patient with us.  And He loves us still.

Tonight at bedtime, this was our prayer for the boys:


You are good, kind, and gracious.  How great and wide and deep is Your love!  Help us to know this with all of our hearts.  And would you shape CJ and Nathan to become men who follow after you above all else?  May Jesus be their greatest treasure and may their lives exemplify this.  Protect them from the lies that the material things and "stuff" of this world will satisfy.  Protect them from falling into the trap of chasing after the American dream and believing that this is life's chief goal.  It is a mere chasing of the wind.  Let them invest their time, heart, and energy in the things of eternal value.

And we pray humbly that you would start by working in our hearts to exemplify this for our children.

We give praise, glory, and honor to you, the King of kings.  One day ALL men of every tribe and tongue will bow down and worship the name of Jesus.  Oh, how we long for that day.

In Your grip,

November 19, 2010

Easy Breezy Gift Bags

{ gift bags that take less than a minute to make! }
I wanted to find a really simple way to make gift bags - no fuss, no mess.  So I did a search on google for "how to make gift bags out of cardstock paper" and found this at Homemade Gifts Made Easy!  This is truly the easiest craft project ever!  All you need is a square piece of cardstock paper (I personally like the double-sided paper - it gives the bag a nice color contrast). 

The instructions on the Homemade Gifts page are well done and easy to follow, but here's a quick summary:

1.  Start with a square sheet of cardstock paper.
2.  Fold the paper in half to form a triangle.
3.  Take the right corner and fold it so it touches the edge of the paper.
4.  Do the same thing with the left corner.
5. Take the inside of the top flap and tuck it into the outside bottom flap (this is a slight variation from the Homemade Gift site).
6.  And voila!  Gift bag complete.

I embellished the bags with floral fabric applique (available at craft stores) which added a nice decorative touch.  All in a matter of 5 minutes.  It doesn't get any easier than this!   These would be great for party favors.  My two-year-old enjoyed eating popcorn out of them.  :)


November 16, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

{ pumpkin + maple + heath toffee bits = perfect combination for the holidays! }
A few of my favorite things about Thanksgiving involve pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecakes, pumpkin bread . . . anything and everything pumpkin!

So why not pumpkin cupcakes?  I found the perfect recipe from Ina Garten.

But I'll let you in on a little secret.  I cheated and used this:

And it turned out moist and delicious.  So if you're short on time or just like shortcuts, here's the modified and simpler recipe (yields 12 cupcakes):

Pumpkin Cupcakes

  • Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread Mix
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix the ingredients.  Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter into a muffin tin with cupcake liners (I fill the cup 2/3 full).  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Place the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely.  Spread the cupcakes with maple frosting and sprinkle with chopped Heath bits.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (I normally use a little less so the frosting isn't too sweet)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple flavoring and vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Then you can decorate with these.  Enjoy!


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