Three (Simple) Ways We Care for Our Marriage

anniversary

This month Ben and I celebrated nine years of marriage. Nine years! Holy smokes . . . when did we get so old?

My husband and I are both super-not-romantic. We don’t buy each other gifts (for any occasion) or write love notes. He never gets me flowers and I really couldn’t care less.

I still don’t consider it a lot of “work” to be married. We’re friends. I enjoy his company. We like watching the same TV shows and have a lot of the same life goals. He likes my cooking, and I appreciate all the work he does around the house and yard. Sometimes we argue about housework, but overall, I feel we contribute equally so there’s not too much to get upset about.

Since having a kid, though, I do find we need to make a bit more of a conscious effort to stay connected, since our daughter is ALWAYS awake and ALWAYS around us. Sometimes we need to set special time aside to care for one another and just enjoy each other.

In honour of our anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of the simple ways we care for each other and our marriage.

Monthly Date Nights

I know, I know, I know. SO cliche.

We were never really into date nights before we had a kid because, well, we were already always doing things together. Having dinner, going for walks, watching movies. It seemed kind of pointless to label one of these nights “date night.”

But these days, we spend SO much of our shared energy on parenting. Our conversations are always being interrupted. We’re constantly answering questions, taking her to the potty mid-meal, telling her not to climb on the furniture, taking her off of furniture, etc. Weekdays, weekends. Morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime. ALL. THE. TIME.

So we make an effort to get a babysitter once a month (usually the first weekend) and just hang out together for an evening.

For special occasions (like birthdays) we’ll get dinner and/or a movie, but other times we’ll just get ice cream or go shopping together. Not even for sexy or fun things — I’m talking a new mop or underwear. (And by “underwear” I don’t mean lingerie. I mean a three-pack of cotton Hanes hipsters. Those are the best.)

Our goal is just to be together and have uninterrupted conversations. On the drive to the city we might talk about stuff we did before we met each other or chat about bigger purchases we want to make. Occasionally at our destination we sit across from each other and set formal goals together. Just something where we can relax and be ourselves, just the two of us. To remember that we’re a team and that we’re friends.

Stratford

Expressing Gratitude

This one we do a lot less consciously, and I have to credit Ben for starting it: we regularly take a moment to thank each other for the things we do.

Thanks for taking care of that.” That’s probably one of the most common sentences we say to each other, and it has enormous positive consequences for our marriage. I’ll say it when he takes out the recycling, when he plays a game with Lydia so I can write, or when he cleans up the kitchen after dinner by himself while I dash out to quilting. It’s become kind of automatic, though no less sincere. I just want him to know that what he’s doing is making my life better.

Likewise, he thanks me for making dinner or baking muffins, for organizing a social event or mopping the floor. He actually notices when I do that stuff and appreciates it. I love it. It makes all my work worthwhile.

As a woman who does mostly traditionally-female work (which has been historically undervalued), I appreciate that he constantly validates the work I do as important, challenging, meaningful, and life-enhancing.

He doesn’t have to get me flowers to tell me I’m special; he just has to let me know that he sees my work and it matters to him. That’s all I want, really.

And to occasionally hear that I look good, too.

Mutual Submission/Service

Neither of us is “boss” or “head of the household.” Neither of us “wears the pants” (although I really do love dresses and skirts.)

Instead, we both take seriously Paul’s injunction to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) and to “use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13). We try to take Jesus as our example and use our power and freedom to serve one another. I try to put my husband’s needs before my own, and vice versa. (In fact, the same goes for Lydia. We are her servants. I know that sounds zany but it’s true. Sometimes we have to tell her she can’t have a snack because it’s almost supper or that she has to brush her teeth, but our job is to serve her. We pray that she will grow up following our example and serve those around her, too.)

Of course, this only works if both members are committed to putting the other person first. It falls apart if it’s only one person doing all the serving. I feel so blessed to have a partner who feels the same way I do.

Obviously, we suck at this most of the time. I hate giving him back rubs and he absolutely loathes putting Lydia to bed, even though I usually spend the whole day with her. We get grumpy when one person wants to use the computer at the same time as the other.

But we both see our roles to one another as that of a servant, and pray for the patience and positive attitude to actually fulfill that role. Overall, I think it works out quite nicely.

Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey it was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from Nigella.com and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet — I could have done even less, if it was just for our own family. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one (I wasn’t using beets in the rest of the recipe and didn’t want to heat up a whole oven for one beet.) The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

In a small food processor, blend together the grated beet, milk, and a small amount of the butter and cream cheese. This is just to get the beet ground up really fine. I didn’t want any of Joy’s “beet sprinkles” in my frosting.

Put the remaining butter and cream cheese to the bowl of your mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy and smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beet mixture, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

finished birthday cake(I am not a pro at frosting a cake but I got the job done!)

Lydia’s (Handmade) Third Birthday Party

Ideas for a handmade birthday party - homemade crown, cake, and banner

This weekend our Lydia turned three.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going around telling people what an absolutely delightful age this is. Lydia is utterly hilarious, imaginative, talkative, and smart. She’s been going to the potty all by herself, dressing herself, napping predictably, eating well, playing quietly and independently for hours on end . . . it’s been heaven with her. I couldn’t believe we finally hit our Golden Age.

And then this last week she decided to show us that three isn’t all cute conversations and walks to the park and pretty sundresses.

It’s also climbing onto the roof of the van in busy parking lots; refusing to nap and being miserable for the rest of the day; refusing to eat beloved meals and then complaining about being hungry all day; stealing snacks from friends at the park (and maybe hitting them a little bit when they don’t want to share); and wanting to sit on my lap every second of the day.

So just like every other age before it, three is full of delight and wonder and frustration and exhaustion. And I still wish she slept more.

Anyway, here’s how we decided to celebrate this snuggly, infuriating, energetic, independent, creative little girl.

I wanted to keep it simple, surrounding her with the people who love her most, and making her feel special with carefully-chosen items made with love.

Because it was the weekend and summer, we had our families over for a barbecue, as well as another young family. So grandparents, aunties and uncles, one little cousin and one little friend were all there to enjoy grilled kabobs, salad, and watermelon from my parents’ garden.

About a month ago, I started putting together some reusable, handmade birthday items in order to begin some birthday traditions which I hope we’ll carry out for years to come. Among these items were a personalized felt crown and a fabric birthday banner.

I’m really drawn to many elements of Waldorf education, including the traditions and overall aesthetic. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the felt birthday crowns I’ve seen from families with similar inclinations.

For the crown, I ordered a wool felt bundle online (I’d never used wool felt before, and it was HARD to find it in dimensions large enough for this project) and did some searching on Pinterest for ideas. I used the template found in Amanda Blake Soule’s The Creative Family.

I wanted something that wasn’t too childish or girlie, so she’d still like it in future years despite inevitable changes in taste. I also wanted the size to be adjustable, to be used (hopefully) for years. I liked the idea of using elastic in the back. Here’s what I came up with:

Felt birthday crown

felt birthday crown with elastic back

I wanted to include the letter L to personalize it. I added yellow flowers with black button centers after the black-eyed susans that are always blooming around her birthday. It’s not NEARLY as charming as many that I’ve seen, but I’m new at this. It made her feel special, so that’s the important thing.

birthday girl

Next on the list: I wanted to make a reusable fabric birthday banner. I was inspired by a friend’s Instagram picture of one such banner, and immediately set out to create one just like it.

Reusable fabric happy birthday banner

After I’d made it, I discovered the original designer was Marissa, an online friend who is a thousand times more talented than I am. She gave her blessing for me to offer a tutorial on how I made it, which I’m hoping to put together later this week (if folks are interested!)

And then for the gift.

I’d been planning on buying Lydia some art supplies from Hobby Lobby when we were in the U.S. a few days prior (I wanted to get liquid watercolours and some big watercolour paper), but it didn’t work out. So when my mom offered to watch her for an afternoon, I decided to sew a new dress for her Waldorf doll, Etta.  I picked out some cute fabric from my pile of quilting scraps. I didn’t have a pattern to go by, so I had to make up my own. Because I am slow, meticulous, and inexperienced, it took me five hours to put this together:

waldorf doll dress(If anyone is curious, this is a Bamboletta Little Buddy, which Lydia got for Christmas. I am completely IN LOVE with their dolls.)

I also threw in a couple of thrift store dresses I’d recently bought. So I spent a total of $3 on her birthday present this year. But she was thrilled, especially about the doll dress, and immediately got up to go put it on her.

new dress

new doll dress

And then came the cake!

If there is one thing that is overrated these days, it’s professional cakes. TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED.

Instead, I wanted something reasonably healthy and not too sugary. No artificial food dyes, either. These are little kids we’re talking about. Their behaviour gives us enough trouble when they’re functioning perfectly.

I went with a grain-free chocolate cake that I love (made with chick peas and sweetened with honey!) and a low-sugar cream cheese icing . . . dyed with beets!

birthday cake

birthday cake slice

I loved the beautiful magenta colour I got.

Again, I’m hoping to share the recipe later this week. You can find the recipe here! It was a big hit. No one could tell there was anything unusual about it — in fact, they raved about how moist and dense and chocolatey it was. I will definitely make it again.

Another blessed year with this beautiful and maddening little girl. I am blessed beyond measure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA