Thursday, August 30, 2018


While the rest of us have been home enjoying our potty training fun and eating cookies, Matthew and Emma haven't exactly been suffering in Montana. Swimming, boating, fishing, tea parties, plane rides, and lots of playtime with cousins are just some of the highlights of the fun they have been enjoying with the Montana Nistlers. They're not going to want to return home after all their adventures - I certainly wouldn't if I were them!

I feel incredibly blessed and thankful that my children have two sets of wonderful grandparents who strive to give them so much personal time and attention. While growing up, I never had that type of relationship with my own grandparents and it was something I always longed for. I had plenty of friends who would speak excitedly about heading to Grandma's house for Christmas or for a week over the summertime but that was never really a possibility for me nor would I have been entirely comfortable visiting on my own even if it were because my grandparents were largely strangers to me. I certainly admired them and looked forward to seeing them, but other than the initial hugs at the beginning of a visit, us kids just did our own thing while the adults sat in a circle and discussed adult things. Occasionally, one of us would be called over by one one of our grandparents - our Grandpas mainly - where we would be held in a tight "half hug" against our will, half-listening awkwardly to the adult conversation, while glancing over longingly at the other siblings playing freely outside and wishing to be set free. As soon as that arm released even a bit, we could run free back to play!

This is the complete opposite of how my children feel towards their grandparents - they have no qualms with spending an inordinate amount of time with them. They barely miss us! And I love that they feel so secure in their relationship that "Grandma's House" whether it be the one located in Montana or Indiana is a second home to them!

I have been reflecting a bit on my relationship with my grandparents since my Grandma Korson passed away in July. Daniel and I had been scheduled to fly out to visit her for her 92nd birthday party and I had been very much looking forward to it. In the heat wave that hit Riverside, causing the temperatures to skyrocket to above 113 degrees Fahrenheit, Grandma suffered a massive heat stroke, entered a coma, and died over a week later. Daniel and I missed seeing her by a matter of days.

Growing up, I actually feared my Grandmother a bit. She was never unkind to me but I always felt intimidated in her presence. As I have grownup and started my own family, I have come to appreciate her for the remarkable, resilient, intelligent woman  that she was. She raised a very large family and lived through a lot of difficult experiences and still maintained her sharp mind, memory, and dry sense of humor until the very end. During my last phone conversation with her, I expressed how I had a particularly frustrating day with the children and she not only commiserated with me ("Oh how I remember those days!") but also encouraged me to continue doing the very best I can, ending with "And I know you are!" Her last words to me were, "You have a beautiful family and I'm very proud of you. I love you."

Now she is gone - the very last of my grandparents to pass on. The loss of her has hit me much harder than the others because I felt as if I was just starting to become closer to understanding her, to appreciating her, to experiencing a level of comfort with her that I had always desired as a child. I have experienced massive regret that I did not try harder to bond with her sooner through more frequent phone calls or visits because I will never have that chance again. Now I can only pray for her, remember her, and look forward to seeing her again someday in heaven.

I am incredibly grateful that my children will never experience these feelings of regret when it comes to their relationship with their own grandparents. They have an intimacy and level of comfort that will carry through the remaining years they share with them and I hope and pray that they appreciate both sets of grandparents for the wonderful, saintly people that they are! Time is short...but my children have already made memories with their grandparents that will last a lifetime!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

S'Mores Chocolate Chip Cookies

While Emma and Matthew are in Montana with their grandparents, I had the pleasure of spending the entire week focusing on Lucy and Daniel. With Matthew and Emma not around to fill the silence with their endless chatter, things have been much more quiet and a bit more peaceful. Lucy does seem to miss her older siblings but simultaneously is enjoying getting all the attention to herself. As I mentioned earlier, the main focus of the week has been potty training and, overall, things are going really well! Lucy has taken full advantage of the fact her parents are so desperate to get her out of diapers that they are fully open to any bribery necessary to make it happen. As a result, Lucy has been showered with all the sugar, sweets, and ice cream she wants each and every time she successfully uses the bathroom. In fact, whenever she has to go, she normally stands in the middle of the room, in her underwear, and declares loudly: "I need to go pee on the potty right now. And after I pee....I am going to get an ice cream cone." And, of course, since we are beyond desperate to only have one kid in diapers, Paul and I have to acquiesce to her requests.

In addition to dishing out endless amounts of sugar, we also took both Lucy and Daniel to the movie theater to watch Christopher Robin. It was so much fun taking Lucy - she is still mostly unspoiled and so fun to treat! She got a kick out of having the entire movie theater basically to ourselves. We went to one of those nicer theaters that are super clean and have large, reclining seats which made the whole experience very enjoyable because we could cuddle comfortably with the kiddos during the entire film. We made sure to also get Lucy a very large popcorn and an even larger cup full of root beer, the latter of which made us very nervous that a certain type of accident might occur. Thankfully, it didn't and we all enjoyed the movie - it was such a great, family-friendly film with a wonderful message. Go see it with your little ones!

Lucy and I also made cookies together to get ready for the school year. I find it very useful to make a huge batch of cookies that I can freeze and use for school lunches - or work lunches for Paul -  over the coming weeks. It also gives me an opportunity to eat a ridiculous amount of cookie dough while I test out a never-before-tried recipe. Lucy, like her sister Emma, also relishes any opportunity to eat butter by the spoonful. During the execution of this particular cookie recipe, I'm certain Lucy ate her weight in the raw dough since I entrusted her with scooping the cookie dough at one point as I straightened up the kitchen. Ten minutes later, the kitchen was sparkling and Lucy had yet to scoop a single mound of cookie dough onto the baking sheet. However, she was licking her chops and telling me how "Deeeeelicious!" it tasted. After that, I fired her.

But Lucy's right! The raw cookie dough for these S'mores Chocolate Chip Cookies was delicious but the BAKED version is even better. Chewy, thick, full of chocolate and marshmallow bits, and boasting a delectable graham cracker flavor...these are the cookies of which dreams are made. Dorky, but true. This recipe is going into my regular cookie rotation!

S'Mores Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Note: I found the marshmallow bits at Target for a little over a dollar. Check the Target website for local availability as well as for information about where in the actual store it is located. Otherwise, they can also be ordered from Amazon. Regular marshmallows will NOT work. Thankfully, this recipe is worth the hunt! Also, as always, at altitudes above 5500 feet, cut the baking soda in half for higher-rising cookies!

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup (7.5 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (8.75 ounces) all-purpose flour (see note)
1 cup (4.5 ounces) graham cracker crumbs (about 9 rectangle crackers crushed)
2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup (1.75 ounces) miniature marshmallow bits

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

Using an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer, add the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix together until very light and creamy, 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until evenly combined.

Add the flour and graham cracker crumbs and mix until just barely combined.

Add the chocolate chips or chunks and marshmallow bits and mix until incorporated.

Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing at least 2-inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until just golden on the edges and a little crackly on top. Let the cookies sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Avocado Chicken Salad

Emma and I played the most hilariously brilliant prank on Paul the other day. As you might know, Paul is deathly afraid of snakes and spiders. While he has made great strides in his arachnophobia, even killing one now and then without hyperventilating, his fear of snakes is as strong as ever. He can't even watch them at the zoo without shivering in terror and wishing he had a large machete or M-16 to use in self defense. So, when we moved out west, the only thing that made Paul doubt the decision was the fact that our area is known for its rattlesnake population. They are sighted all the time on trails, in backyards, or in the many open spaces. While Paul has been very fortunate to not spot one, I have seen multiple while out and about with the kids. As long as you keep your eyes open and don't try to poke, prod, or bother them, you shouldn't really fear them.

One day, while walking with my daughters and my sister, we came across some very large snake skins that had been shed by some rattlers in the park near our home. One was nicely intact and nearly five feet long. I carefully picked it up and took it home to show to Matthew, who is quite the budding naturalist and would find that snake skin fascinating!

At dinner that night, I mentioned to Paul that I had found a snake skin to show Matthew and he was immediately grossed out. He told me he didn't want to see it, touch it, or have it anywhere near the interior of the house. It was just too creepy. That's when a brilliant idea suddenly came to the devious little mind of Emma. After dinner, she pulled me aside and whispered, "Mom! We should hide the snake skin in the drawer of Daddy's desk!"

Seeing the brilliance of this plan, I agreed. We carefully placed the skin in the top drawer of Paul's desk - the one containing his pens, pencils, rulers, and calculator. It's a drawer that he is almost guaranteed to open if he sits to do any work at his desk. Then, all we had to do was wait.

Well, we waited quite a while. Paul didn't seem to have much work to do because nearly two days went by and nothing happened. I had just about forgotten about the prank when one night, shortly after we had put all the kids to bed, I suddenly heard a cry of terror followed shortly by: "You JERK!"

Out of the office came Paul, beet red and recovering from the shock of discovering the snake skin. I had a pretty good laugh about that. He was so nervous about the skin that he wouldn't even touch it to remove it from his desk. I told him it was Emma's idea and he immediately went upstairs to chastise her (in a joking manner) but she was already asleep. She had to wait until morning to gleefully relish the fruits of her evil plan. She's a funny kiddo.

Speaking of Emma, her and Matthew are currently off in Montana spending some quality time with the Nistler side of the family while I'm back in Colorado caring for the baby and watching Lucy prance around sans pants most of the day. It's potty training time and so far Lucy is actually doing remarkably well. This is probably my least favorite part about parenting, but it needed to be done because Lucy's diaper-wearing is starting to get embarrassing and a bit pricey. When your toddler's butt is getting too large for the biggest diapers out there, it's probably time to bite the bullet and force the potty training. So, I'm here typing this out while watching Lucy ride around the kitchen on her scooter wearing only a Wonder Woman cape and a pair of undies sporting a smiling panda bear face on the back.

Here's a great recipe for warm summer days that is super easy, super tasty, and very filling! This salad is a protein powerhouse - chicken, bacon, eggs, and avocado combine with corn, green onions, and a tangy lemon dressing to create a meal that is light yet will keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours. I found the recipe on the blog Natasha's Kitchen and it is one of her most popular for a reason. I could eat this every day. I like to throw in extra avocado because you can never have too much and serve this alongside toasted bread. Delicious!

Avocado Chicken Salad
adapted slightly from Natasha's Kitchen

For the Salad:
2 large cooked chicken breasts shredded or chopped
2 large avocados
1 cup corn from 1 cooked cob
6 oz bacon cooked and chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 Tbsp Dill chopped, or to taste (optional - I've never thrown it in)

For the Lemon Dressing:
3 Tbsp lemon juice freshly squeezed
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper

Dice or shred the 2 large cooked chicken breasts and place into a large mixing bowl.

Peel and pit 2 large avocados, slice into bite-sized pieces and add to the mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup of cooked corn (freshly cooked corn is best), the hard boiled eggs, the green onion, chopped bacon, and the fresh dill (if using).

Add dressing ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until slightly thick and emulsified. Drizzle over your salad and toss to combine. Serve with freshly toasted bread.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ten Years

How has it been 10 years since Paul and I became husband and wife? Ten years since we started on this crazy, wild adventure of adulthood, parenthood, and life all at once? We were so young...barely out of college and with so much hope for the future. We had no idea what life was going to throw at us or where we would be when a decade passed us by, but here we are and things are even better than we could have imagined. We have four beautiful children that drive us crazy but also make our lives so incredibly rich and meaningful. We live in a simple yet beautiful home near the mountains of Colorado, a place Paul always dreamed about moving his family and, finally, right before our marriage turned 10, we made that happen. Despite my fears about the move, I have fallen in love with the mountains, the sunshine, and the never-ending list of outdoor activities and adventures! We are older, grayer, more tired. Our dreams for our family have become more focused and simple. We are more serious about our relationship with God and becoming detached from temporal things. And, we are more in love than ever before because our love runs deeper than it did when we said our vows on a Saturday in August back in 2008.

Mere words cannot help but fail to describe what this man means to me. He holds my heart, my soul, my everything. And he has given me everything...his heart, his soul, his children.

Being the old, decrepit individuals we have become, we did not plan anything outrageous or sentimental for the day. We had a simple dinner, sans all kids - including the baby! - at a sushi joint. I ate way too many maki rolls and discovered that I really do not like Toro, a supposedly, coveted, prime cut of fatty tuna. Blech! Then, we went home and put the kids to bed. And then fell asleep ourselves. I told you we are old.

BUT there is more! In honor of our anniversary, we wanted to climb a challenging mountain peak. We couldn't wander too terribly far from our home, so no 14er for us, but we decided to hike Bear Peak near Boulder instead. We had heard from the online reviews of the trail that it is quite a challenging, steep, and rocky hike. We got a sitter for Lucy and brought Daniel to carry on our backs because he's a little young yet to leave for the 4-5 hours the hike would require of us. Of course, we also brought Peyton with us.

The trail was gorgeous and honestly not nearly as challenging as the reviews led us to believe. Everyone warned us that the last mile to the summit was a bit technical with the loose rock and steep inclines. It really wasn't bad. I even fed Daniel as we hiked up. The biggest challenge was keeping Daniel warm. On the ground when we started up, it was pretty muggy, warm, and nearly 80 degrees. When we got up to the ridge line shortly before the summit, suddenly the wind picked up and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. It felt great to Paul and I because we were heating up from the exercise, but poor Daniel was chattering his toothless gums together. Paul, being the good father that he is, resorted to removing his own shirt and wrapping Daniel up tightly in it. Daniel immediately calmed down but Paul was left feeling very self conscious at his naked, hairy chest exposed for all the other hikers to see. He wouldn't stop worrying about what a freak everyone else we passed must have thought him to be. "I'm just trying to be a good father!" he wanted to explain. Instead, he did his normal sheepish grin and head nod, " you doing? I'm just enjoying a hike in freezing temperatures...without a shirt."

The final rock scramble to the very, tippy top was a bit too risky to do with Daniel, so we took turns climbing up and taking in the GORGEOUS 360 degree views. All of Denver and Boulder stretched in front of us on one side, with views of the vast mountain ranges, snow-topped 14ers, and the continental divide expanded behind us. Breathtaking. The perfect activity to experience together for our anniversary.

I will climb any mountaintop with you, Paul! Even if you are shirtless and hairy!

Remember how I said we were old? After the hike, Paul had a bit of trouble climbing up and down the stairs for a couple of days. I told him that for our 11th anniversary, I'm going to have to get him one of those chair lifts for our staircase.

Happy Anniversary, my love!