Monday, December 31, 2012


Every holiday, Eric and I make it a priority to visit with both sides of our families. We alternate every year as to who gets to celebrate on the actual day. So this year, we went down to visit my mom and dad a little before Christmas, and came back up for Eric's family Christmas Day. All in all, Nora wore the same red Christmas dress about five times in a row, including the two separate nights it took to take these few pictures of her in front of our tree. When it was all said and done, this dress needed a wash like none other! At least we can say we got a good amount of use out of it.

To take these pictures, I set Nora in front of the tree and used my lens with the lowest f-stop, 1.8G. I set the ISO to 1600 and the shutter speed to 1/40. After a little bit of editing in Lightroom (thanks for the Christmas present, hubby!), these are a few of my favorites:

(the editing is not nearly perfect. still learning the ropes.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Girl is ONE!

My baby girl is one, and I don't know where the time has gone! At her birthday party, I hung several lines of pictures from this past year. She's had a pretty amazing first year of life, if I do say so myself. 

A look back on Nora's first year: 

- Born Dec. 3, 2011
- Went to Florida for an extended family vacation
- Traveled to Pawley's Island to play on the beaches and take my first bike ride
- Chased my family's dog, Sandy, all around the kitchen and yard
- Went to see my first Musical in the Warner Theatre in DC
- Attended several weddings with Mom & Dad
- Went to Christmas Town in Busch Gardens with family 
- Went to the Zoo twice (and completely slept through my first visit) 
- Fell in love with my cousin, Olivia. 
- Sat for mom through several photo shoots
- Played in Fall leaves
- Swam in Grammy's neighborhood pool
- Enjoyed countless times on the playground swing
- Went to Charlottesville for apple-picking
- Explored several museums, Children's, Living, etc. 
- Went putt putt golfing
- Attended two of my aunt's graduations from college
- Went to see the DC Christmas Tree
- Visited Mom's old work in DC
- Met the Pioneer Woman for her book-signing (and she fell in love with my red hair!) 

With such a good year, no wonder Nora never stops smiling!! 

December 3, 2012
She knows she's a big girl!

We can't forget Lambey, who contributed to half of the smiles she gave for the camera.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Challenges of Parenting

So, it's finally happened.

The thing I've dreaded (and, at times, fancied myself immune to) for months. Maybe even years.

It's a scene we're all familiar with: a haggard mom is desperately trying to rein in her wild children while out shopping, seeming to need at least another pair of hands (or two). And we all look on with a mix of pity and haughtiness, imagining that if those were our kids, they would not be acting out in such a way. At least, I have done this numerous times in the past - and now all of my ignorant ways have caught up with me.

Nora will turn one year on December 3rd, and for the first time on Monday, I was a bit embarrassed by her behavior while I was out shopping at a local craft store. She was impossible to calm and was throwing full-blown temper tantrums when she didn't get her way. Which, for her, was basically that she wanted to practice her walking or get out of the shopping cart. Still. I can't believe that I'm already in "that stage" of life, and how did it come so quick?

On the one hand I greet this phase with excitement. My Nora is growing up, and with that, she is becoming her own person. I am already seeing her personality start to shape. A few things I already know: 1) She is stubborn. She will force you to help her walk around the kitchen table thirty times, and if you dare stop, she then proceeds to flop to the floor, throw her head back (thereby hitting the floor), and then cry even harder. The little spitfire. 2) She is insanely joyful. The girl never stops smiling, and when my husband or I (or really, just about anyone) walks into the room, she greets you with her greatest smile, no matter her mood. Just today, her charm worked its magic and won me a free drink at Starbucks. The man behind the counter didn't stand a chance against her happiness. 3) One more thing that is worth noting (although, if I could, I'd write sweet things about her all day), she's a bit sassy.

This leads me into the second emotion that I am wrestling with. It is one of gravity. I am slowly becoming more and more aware of this new job title I've been carrying for a year and all of its responsibilities. I'm a mother.

When someone asked me how motherhood was treating me, for the longest time I would answer that it was perfect because I was essentially Nora's buddy. I wasn't disciplining or correcting her. She didn't do anything worth correcting. She ate, slept, played a bit... That was essentially it. So I just kept her company.

But now I am entering into the next phase. This phase will see several different faces, I know. I will have to grow and adapt and humble myself. And mostly, pray. Each day will present a new challenge as my husband and I try to discipline and instruct Nora in the ways of the Lord. And it is more than just a bit daunting.

But mostly, as I said, exciting.

I believe and pray that God will do great things through her. She is strong-willed and spirited. And as her name means honor, so I believe she will have to be those things in order to be honorable in a fallen world. She must have strength of will and character to hold fast to her convictions.

As I am struggling to harness some of her sassiness, I don't want to break her spirit. I know God gave it to her for a reason. Join me in praying for wisdom and discernment as we raise our children. Without God, we would fall short each and every day. Thankfully, he is available as our greatest resource.

Praise God!

Friday, November 9, 2012

India: Book 2

If you've read my previous post about my writing, then you know that I am currently waiting for Zondervan to decide whether or not they want to publish my book! Still can hardly wrap my mind around that----in fact, I'm trying not to think about it too much or else I'll have a panic attack. In the meantime, I am beginning to write my second book in the series.

Planning a book, especially a historical novel, requires a lot of time researching on the internet. Something that I do not feel very competent in (do they have a class for that?!). I am finding that books are still the way to go. Crazy, eh? In this day and age, with countless resources online, I still find an old-fashioned book the best tool.

In this novel, the heroine is a young woman who wants to pursue nursing. In 1820. Not only is a career for a woman practically unheard of, but, in this time, the only people who cared for the sick (outside of actual physicians) were prostitutes and criminals---as punishment.

Eleese Roscoe comes from a prominent family in England, and therefore her father refuses to allow her to partake in something so scandalous. So she convinces him to allow her to travel to the family silk plantation in India, where her grandfather is the burra-sahib ("great man"). Her intention is to secretly care for the workers and orphans who live on the plantation, but when she arrives, India is on the verge of a Cholera pandemic. Leesa quickly learns that she is in over her head and must rely on the Lord to sustain her---not something she does easily. But then, how often are we good at that?

On top of all of that, her father entrusts her care to the man she despises most: Captain Jack Connor. (What is a story without romance, really?) Jack must give her passage on his merchant ship to India and then guide her through the jungles of India to the plantation. And this journey is not an easy one, for countless reasons. But you will have to read it to find out (I'm hopeful it will be published, am I not?).

As you can see, I have a lot of research to do! India, ships in the 1800s, East India Company, a bit about China... etc., etc. My workload is cut out for me, but I must say that I love this part of plotting. Most of the time, when I'm not really thinking about the particulars (like the fact that most people only bathed once a week, if that), I wish I lived in another century. Nothing too barbaric. Maybe just the 1800's. Where I could wear pretty dresses and ride horses everywhere I went. If someone invents a time-machine, I'm all over that. Anyone else with me?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Family Fall Mini's

As you may know, I have been playing around with photography, trying to expand my knowledge and grow my skill. So I asked a few of my friends if they would be willing to do a mini family photo shoot before it got too cold. I picked a day that the weather forecast looked good and everyone was free, and then scheduled it. Poor kids, it actually turned out to be a pretty dreary day with bitter winds. In a few of the pictures, you can see how cold they were from their red noses! But they are oh so cute!

This time, I downloaded a trial for Photoshop and I am trying to decide if it is worth the purchase. As of now, it's on my Christmas List because I have really enjoyed working with it so far. The photo editing website, PicMonkey, does a pretty good job too (though I have run into more than a few problems with it, so you can't count on it to be consistent), in case you are looking for something free.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorites. I love fall and this brother/sister duo:

Aren't these sisters the sweetest? Their smiles are so full of joy!

Happy Anniversary, Maurice and Michelle! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Newborn: Caleb John Tobias

One of my close friends and neighbors recently welcomed a third addition to her family, baby boy Caleb John Tobias (I love how each of her children have two middle names). And he is perfect. Autumn and Gideon have two other children, little girls Rachel and Michaela, and let me tell you, those girls love their new brother! At every opportunity they ask to hold him, hug him, and kiss him.

He is one well-loved baby. 

Because Autumn is a neighbor, I was able to go over to her house twice to make sure we got all the photos we wanted. As I'm learning with newborns, you need a lot of patience and time to get the pictures you want. And that's even with a sweet, happy baby like Caleb. There are still necessary breaks to change diapers, feed him, and comfort him. What new baby wants to be put down and posed, instead of being held by mommy? 

Thankfully, this time, I brought a space heater and that really seemed to help. He seemed to just sink into the heat and fall into a sweet slumber--which, unfortunately, we woke him up from every now and then to reposition him. Poor baby! But he did so well, the little trooper. 

Here are some of my favorites from the shoot: 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apple Picking

I love traditions. Besides holidays and birthdays, having traditions in your family gives you things to look forward to during the year. In my opinion, you can never have too many traditions. 

Eric and I have a few with our family, things like having a pumpkin carving party every fall, making monkey balls every Christmas, etc. With my extended family, we have more than a few. We go to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens every year, have a Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt every year, etc. 

Another one of our traditions for the Fall Season, is to go apple picking. Since my parents and one of my sisters live about two hours away from me, we meet in the middle at a nearby orchard. We pick apples, sip on apple cider and eat amazing apple cider donuts. If you've never gone apple picking, you ought to, if only for those donuts. As far as I know, they sell them at every orchard. Or should. Yum! (They also have puppies that are up for adoption at our particular orchard. Yes, every year, we debate whether to adopt. I'm pretty sure that, if not for the men in our families and their voices of reason, we would adopt every single one, every year, and have a doggy farm overflowing with four-legged friends. Nora would be in heaven.) 

Another perk to this trip is that we are able to visit one of my cousins, Becca, who lives right by the orchard. She invites all of us over and feeds us chili before we head back home. And her chili is always the tastiest thing in the world. Especially when you're sugar crashing from all the apple cider and donuts you just ate. 

You still have time! If you live near an orchard, it's still apple-picking season until early November. Last year, we went late in the season when Pink Lady apples were at their peak. My favorite. Here is a pic from then, when I was 9 months pregnant with Nora.

Last November, before Nora was born!
Our family of three!
Nora's first time picking an apple.
Eating an apple, right off the tree. 

Showing Nora the proper way to eat an apple.

 If you have any fun family traditions, please share them with me! I am always looking for more.

Mini Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Muffins

Alright. If you've been following my recent posts, you've read all about our Pumpkin Party. I posted reviews on several other recipes I tried (go to the Recipes I'm Trying page for more info), and this will be my final post. I simply could not leave you without this recipe. Amaaaazing.

These mini-muffins were insanely easy to make. Seriously, the hardest part was waiting for them to finish baking. In the recipe, you dip the muffins in butter and then cinnamon and sugar after they cool, but you could just as easily leave that off if you wanted to. They are tasty on their own. Although, why you would want to is beyond me.

These little buggers went so fast at the party, I was almost disappointed that I didn't stockpile some for myself before anyone came over. If you want to make them for your own festive party, click on this link. You still have plenty of time in the season to enjoy these. They would also make a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving pies, because, let's face it, there is no such thing as too many desserts on Thanksgiving Day.

The only critique for this recipe is in their name, because these muffins are really more like little donuts. Their name should be Mini Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Donuts (quite the mouthful). Except they're healthier, because they're baked - not fried. Except they're probably not really healthier, because they are doused in butter and sugar. But, why are we wasting time debating that? You need go to your kitchen and make these right now.

Pumpkin Pillow (Wontons)

Oh. My. Goodness.

This is my new favorite recipe of all time. I seriously think that I will have to make these every Fall for the rest of my life. In fact, that might not be often enough.

I made these for my annual Pumpkin Party, going for all-things-pumpkin. I cannot think of anything bad to say about them. So, you just have to make them yourself. That's all I can say.

A couple of tips: When I went to the grocery store, looking for the wonton wrappers, I couldn't find them among the prepared biscuits/pizza dough, etc. You know the aisle, over with all the Pillsbury stuff. And this is where I made my mistake. I didn't ask any of the store clerks for help. Turns out, they are apparently in the frozen section of the store. I was told this by a friend, I have not actually seen them myself. But I have no reason to believe otherwise.

But since I couldn't find them, I bought some Pillsbury croissant dough, thinking that would be pretty close to wontons, right? My husband disagreed. And I'm glad he did. Because when I came home, ready to make these pumpkin pillows, he suggested that I look online for a wonton dough recipe. I found this.

Making this dough from scratch kept me up baking much later than I'd intended, but it was well worth it. I don't think these pillows would have been the same in a croissant. Plus, it was fun to try something new. I'd never made wonton dough before. You only need four ingredients, and one of them doesn't really count because it's water. If you make your dough from scratch, be prepared to think that you made it wrong. The dough was a lot tougher than I expected and I almost threw it out. But my husband convinced me that it was supposed to be that way - so I rolled it out nice and thin on my table, and sure enough it ended up being the perfect consistency. We sliced it up into triangles, dropped a dollop of the pumpkin goodness inside, and then folded it over to make the little pillow. We let them sit overnight in our fridge before deep-frying them the next day, just in time for the party.

The only other thing that I would say about this recipe is for the dip. It's very simple: you melt about 15 Kraft caramels in the microwave and mix it with sour cream. When I did this, though, the caramels hardened back up very quickly and didn't want to melt into the sour cream. I ended up having to microwave the mix slowly (because I didn't want the sour cream to react funny to the heat), and the caramels finally melted enough to mix in to the sour cream. I think that the problem is that the sour cream was so cold from the fridge, it made the melted caramel harden back up. Another option might be to melt the caramels on the stovetop, and then slowly add the sour cream. That might work best.

No matter how you make the dip, when you eat it with the pumpkin pillows they are little pieces of heaven. Literally. (And now every person who has ever watched and loved Friends should be thinking about the time when Monica made candy for her neighbors.)

Try this recipe. Today.

Doesn't that look like the most appetizing thing you have seen, ever?

Pumpkin Monkey Bread

So, Eric and I had our annual Pumpkin Party to celebrate the Fall Season, and the coming holidays! We invite all our friends to bring over their pumpkins and carve them together. Then we serve tons of pumpkin snacks and pastries. My house smells amazing.

This year, I picked out a ton of recipes that I'd pinned on Pinterest (if you don't know what that is, you need to. Look it up and create yourself an account), and saved them all for baking the night before the party. So, my husband and I stayed up until 2am baking. This hardly ever happens anymore now that I'm a mommy. It was a bit nostalgic for me, reminding me of my college days. And somehow, between all of our clattering of pots and pans, Nora stayed asleep. Still amazed by that.

Anyway, one of our picks was to make Monkey Bread. If you've never had it before, you need to buy yourself a bundt pan and make this recipe (assuming you don't already have a bundt pan). For the normal version, click here. For our party, though, I decided to make it with pumpkin. This meant that, instead of buying the already prepared Pillsbury dough, I made it from scratch (only one of the reasons why our night went so late). I got the recipe from this blog.

Before I critique it, you must know that all monkey bread is delicious. So, you really can't go wrong however you make it. However, I was a bit disappointed that that pumpkin flavor was practically nonexistent. The whole reason why I made it from scratch, and I couldn't really taste any of the pumpkin. I even asked some of my guests if they could, wondering if it was just me, but none of them knew it had pumpkin in it either. I don't know how this would change the consistency, but if I had to do it again, I would use more of the canned pumpkin. Maybe even add some pumpkin pie spice to see if that "spiced" it up. :)

In the end, I think that I was the only one disappointed in it, though. The monkey bread disappeared without any prompting. So everyone else seemed to enjoy it just fine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review: Don't Make Me Count to Three!

I've just finished reading a fantastic parenting book called Don't Make Me Count to Three. It was so good, I have to share. Trust me, you will appreciate this post.

My whole life I've been around a lot of young kids -- babysitting, cousins, church... I've seen a lot of different types of kids, and a lot of different parenting styles. I've seen some parents discipline in ways that really seemed to work, and others... not so much. I don't believe that this book is the only way to discipline, but there are so many profound truths that I think we, as parents, need to be teaching our kids. And, I am sorry to say that if I hadn't read this book, I would probably not have thought to use these tools.

There are so many aspects that I love about this book, and so I'll only share a few. But the main point the author makes is that the Bible tells us to "discipline and instruct our children in the ways of the Lord." As parents, we can't just discipline our kids without instructing them -- without telling them what they should be doing. If your child hits another kid out of anger, instead of just telling them that they shouldn't have struck out in physical violence, we should be teaching them how they ought to have handled their frustration. Kids - young kids especially - don't understand their own hearts half of the time. They know that what they did was wrong, but they don't know why they did it. It is up to us as their parents to help them understand their own hearts.

The author uses an analogy in the book that really resonated with me. She explains that when you are potty-training your dog, you might smack him on the leg and tell him that he did a bad thing when he does his business on the carpet in your house. So, the next time he has to go, he goes in the corner of the room - a less visible spot. But when you find it, you bring him over and rub his nose in it, telling him he is a bad dog. So the next time your dog has to go, he does it in a very private spot and then hides under the bed as he waits for you to find it.

The problem here is that you are telling your dog that he should not be going to the bathroom inside, but you are not teaching him where he should go. In the same way, without that instruction (the second part in the verse), a child will likely struggle with understanding the heart of the discipline.

The author mentions several worldly methods that many parents, even with the best of intentions, have fallen prey to. Tactics such as bribing, threatening, scolding, etc. The author makes the argument that our children should obey us because God tells them it is right. Not to get a lollipop, to avoid time-out, or any other reason. It is our job as parents to help shape and mold their hearts to be receptive to God's word, even at a young age -- especially at a young age.

Trust me when I say there is so much more to this book. Simply too much to write in a blog post without making it entirely too lengthy.

I'm not speaking from experience yet so don't think that I am preaching from a pedestal. But I think there are a lot of truths exposed in this book that we ought to be learning/remembering, so that we can be intentional in our parenting and disciplining.

I'll come back later to share how this all works on Nora. That journey will be interesting, I can already tell. My little peanut is already learning to exert her will. When seven laps around the kitchen table just isn't enough and she wants to keep practicing her walking, she crumples to the ground and throws a mighty fit. Right now, it's pretty darn cute actually. But I try very hard not to laugh (quite the task), because I know in just a little bit those tantrums will not be quite as darling.

Hence, I ordered a walker for her today to give mommy's back a break. :)

Here is the link to the book if you're interested: Don't Make Me Count to Three! by Ginger Plowman.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread

I had a friend over this morning to talk about photography - swapping stories and tips. Before she came over, I scoured my pantry for something to make since I knew that we would be hungry. I was in a Fall mood, so something with pumpkin sounded especially pleasing.

I found several recipes that required a yellow cake box mix which I didn't have (although, one of the many lessons I learned this morning is that I should always have several boxes of that cake mix! It was in 9/10 of the recipes I looked up!), but I finally found this recipe. A pumpkin cream cheese breakfast bread. Oh wow. If the picture itself didn't sell it, the scrumptious aroma coming from my oven sure did... but that's jumping ahead.

I had all the ingredients and so I set about making this only an hour before my friend was to arrive. If you read my post about the Andes Mint Chocolate Cake, you will begin to notice a trend. My spontaneous nature can bring a lot of unexpected joy to my life, to be sure. But on the other hand, my lack of planning almost always comes back to teach me a lesson. One that I fail to remember time and again, at least, where baking applies. :)

I followed this recipe step by step, but I was rushing. So when the recipe asked me to split to ingredients in half for two different bread pans (can I just note that this whole fiasco could have maybe been avoided if I had had two bread pans), I didn't stop to take the time to actually measure out half. Perhaps, if I had had two bread pans, I would have been able to see right away that I was putting way too much of the mixture into the pan. So then it was time to add the cream cheese part. Once I did, it was glaringly obvious that I had put too much in -- and I still had to layer it once more with more of the mixture, covering the cream cheese with more pumpkin bread. I knew just from looking at it that it was going to be bad once it hit the oven. But I didn't have time to fix it, and plus, the layers were already set. So I just forged ahead and hoped for the best.

Ten minutes in, it was already overflowing off the top and falling into a heap on my oven floor.

Of course, if you know me well, you would probably expect to see that picture. It would be more shocking if my experiment turned out exactly as it should. Needless to say, my kitchen is a mess and I should probably stop writing and go clean it up. But, as I am, I fully intend to enjoy a huge slice of this pumpkin bread. Because even if it looks atrocious, it tastes divinnnne.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Me & My Girl!

Photography lesson time!

Let me be frank. I am learning photography. I am certainly not a pro -- yet. :) But I thought that I would teach/show a few things as I go, in case it might mean something to you. And for any of you real pros out there, feel free to correct me if I'm way off.

I'm going to use a recent photoshoot I did with my daughter.

The important lesson here is about lighting.

The first thing to notice about these pictures is that I am in the shade. When you go outside to take pictures, unless it's early morning or late afternoon, you want to find a shady place. If the sun is directly above you, it will cast unsightly shadows all over your face.

BUT, it's fun to find a place where some of the pretty sunlight is filtering in for some dimension. Just make sure that there aren't holes of sunlight on your face.

Pick a place in the shade where there isn't overwhelming sunlight behind you or else your faces will be too dark. It's similar to standing in front of a bright window inside a house. Your face will be completely lost, and all you will see is the window. I've learned this the hard way. 

See the pretty lighting in this one? Some sun filtering in through the leaves on the trees, and also puddling on the ground.

That's it for now, folks. Hope you learned something!

Katie Vogel Media

Katie Vogel Media