How I Met My Sister-In-Law

Jacoby Cousins

Photo credit: Beth Nyhart (bethyherself.wordpress.com)

Last week, we packed up the dog, the babies, and a metric ton of accoutrements and road-tripped it down to Gettysburg to visit the in-laws. This might be stressful if you have any in-laws other than mine. When it comes to in-laws, though, I pretty much won the lottery.

The first time I met Beth, Manny’s sister, I was sleeping on Manny’s sofa in Guam. She had no idea where her brother had picked me up, and I had no idea that she didn’t know I was coming.

It had been a couple of weeks since I met Manny for the first time on the neighboring island of Saipan. He invited me to spend a few days with him and his sister, who was visiting for a few months, on my way back to the states. I switched the first leg of my plane ticket to a few days earlier than planned so I’d have three days in Guam on the way back home. On the day I flew in, he had to go to work. So he picked me up at the airport, dropped me off at his house, disappeared to change into his uniform, and left.

I hadn’t slept the night before. Literally at all. Because the powers that be at the school in Saipan had ruled that no one should have to get up at 4 a.m. to take me to the airport, they had dropped me off at 11 p.m. the night before. I arrived in Guam a cranky mess and passed out on Manny’s sofa before he made it out of the driveway.

When I woke up, Beth (who blogs at Righteous Tree) was sitting on the chair opposite sofa Indian-style with her Macbook in her lap. She peeked over the top of the screen at me a little quizzically. At first glance, I noted that Manny had lots of books–two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full, which endeared him to me at once. I also noticed that Beth was the kind of person who had a Giving Tree decal on the back of her Macbook pro, which rendered her definite Friend Material.

We introduced ourselves and talked about Guam, about Saipan, about Christian colleges, about life. It wasn’t until around noon, when Manny came back for lunch, that I realized he hadn’t said a word to Beth about my visit.

She was just cool enough to act like it was completely normal to wake up to strangers on the living room couch and to make them feel at home (in a home that wasn’t even hers).

A few months after Manny and I married, we crashed Beth’s wedding on a whim–flew in to see her with no prior notice, surprising her a couple of days before the ceremony–and I had the honor of being a very last-minute bridesmaid as she exchanged vows with the love of her life.

Fast-forward four years, and we’re all on the lawn outside Manny’s parents’ Gettysburg home, wrangling our twins and Beth’s toddler with the parents’ help in an attempt to get a good photo of all three. And it occurs to me that, of all the bizarre family dramas I’ve experienced, I’m very, very thankful that my in-laws aren’t one of them. I’m also thankful for the very cool sister I never saw coming.

I’m backing the blue (and camo) because I’m not willing to do what they do.

I’m not willing to die for my country.

I’m not willing to take the oath. I’m not willing to go to war for the constitution, for the political freedom of others, or for patriotic sentiment. I’m not willing to consign my life to the federal government–and that’s not just a statement about the current political situation.

Maybe it’s a statement about my own ungratefulness, selfishness, apathy, or fear. I should be braver, stronger, more of a patriot, etc. But that’s just how it is.

I do solemnly swear that…I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.

On my honor… I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions.

-Excerpts from the Armed Forces’ Oath of Enlistment and the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor

I’m not willing to die for my country, but I’m married to someone who is. I’m not willing to die for the safety of my town or county, but I’m so grateful for the law enforcement officers who put on blue every day and go hold others accountable for their actions.

Whether they see it as a personal challenge, a legacy, an obligation, or just a job with decent benefits, our military and our law enforcement officers–every single one–have jumped through countless hoops to earn the right to work and fight for us.

Every single one has sworn to protect their badge or their country at incredible personal sacrifice.

They have trained, they have studied, they have left their homes, they have been poked and prodded, they’ve waded through the bog of beaurocratic stupidity along the way, they’ve been insulted, they’ve been treated like children, they’ve tested themselves and been tested–repeatedly–all the time, in every way.

All for a less-than-stellar paycheck and for people who aren’t willing to do the same. That doesn’t make them all superstars. It doesn’t even make them all heroes. There are selfish, power-hungry, immature, irresponsible, bigoted jerks in the military and on police forces all over the country, and pretending there aren’t does a disservice to those who do bring integrity to the job every day.

Not every police officer or soldier is a shining star in the community. But the fact is, they were willing to take the oath. They were willing to do what it took to earn the right to sacrifice themselves. And every day, they’re willing to get out of bed and do it again.

They deserve all our support until they’ve demonstrated otherwise. We can and should back the men and women in uniform until those individuals have proven that they don’t deserve to put it on.

It’s time for us to pause at both the gross injustice that has been inflicted on Black people and the sacrifice of those willing to die for people (like me) who wouldn’t do the same.

And now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m going back to my knitting, copywriting, and momming, because thanks to my husband and people like him, I have the freedom to do so.

Divine Cheesecake


Handwritten Cheesecake Recipe
The world’s food occupies two major categories. 99% is what we eat every day. It’s (hopefully) both somewhat tasty and nutritious. Then there’s the other 1% that we dream about–the higher plane of food that demands you stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and fully savor everything about the moment encapsulating that bite.

That’s this cheesecake. This is easily the perfect cheesecake recipe, straight from one of my Grandma ‘Cille’s 60-year-old cookbooks. It takes time to prepare, but it results in a spectacularly creamy, not too dense but not too fluffy New York style confection that hits the higher food plane every time.

This cake has been a birthday cake many times because even when I was a child, I understood that cheesecake is far superior to more traditional options. It’s my go-to when I want a dessert that makes people think I’m a better cook than I am. And it’s the natural choice when I’m walking through Costco, see a gorgeous cheesecake in the bakery, and think, “homemade would taste 10x better.” A former college roommate is visiting this week, and we both had that thought when we made the mistake of walking through Costco while hungry the other day.

So this cheesecake was made, with no occasion for it other than the fact that sometimes you just need some of that 1% food.

When my friend asked for the recipe, it occurred to me that the only copy I know how to find is the handwritten one in my cupboard. So if, heaven forbid, my house burns down, the zombie apocalypse happens, or someone breaks in and robs me of my cookbook collection, that tragedy would be compounded by the loss of this cheesecake. I can’t deal with that, so I’m immortalizing it here for future post-catastrophe use. IMG_6878

This is the 10pm, kids-are-in-bed-and-I-can’t-wait-to-have-a-slice pic, which is real life but doesn’t quite capture this cheesecake’s true glory.

Divine Cheesecake

Graham Cracker Crust

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3 T. sugar

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

3 T. butter

  1. In a small bowel, mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon.
  2. Melt butter and add to the crumb mixture.
  3. Mix butter in thoroughly with fingertips.
  4. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan.
  5. Put crumb mixture in pan and, with hands, press some of the mixture evenly about 2″ up sides of pan to form a thin crust. Press the remaining mixture onto the bottom of the pan.
  6. Run finger around inside edge of pan to even off the top edge of the crust.
  7. Set crust aside while preparing the filling.

Cheesecake Filling

1 large lemon

24 oz. cream cheese

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

5 large eggs (NOT medium or extra large)

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Zest the yellow part only of lemon rind and measure 2 tsp.
  3. Put the grated rind in a bowl with cream cheese and beat at medium speed until creamy.
  4. Add the sugar, salt, and eggs to the cream cheese mixture and beat at medium speed to blend ingredients, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula several times.
  5. Beat at medium speed for 10 minutes or until mixture is completely smooth and lemon-colored.
  6. Pour filling into the crust-lined pan.
  7. Make sure your oven rack is centered in your oven and bake 45 minutes or until cake is set (this almost always takes me closer to 1 hr. 15)
  8. Remove cake from the oven and let cool 20 minutes before moving on to the sour cream layer.

Sour Cream Topping Layer

1 1/2 cups dairy sour cream

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 T. sugar

  1. Beat all ingredients for 1 minute or until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Pour over cake and carefully smooth with a spatula. Put back in oven and bake 10 more minutes.
  3. Remove cheesecake from oven and let stand in pan on cake rack until cool, then chill in refrigerator at least 2-3 hours before removing the outer ring of the springform pan and serving.
  4. To remove from pan, first run a knife around the top of the cake, then unfasten the clamp of the springform pan.
  5. If desired, top with strawberry or cherry sauce, curls of chocolate, or toasted almonds.

 

Twin Summertime

The first time Davey tore a piece of paper in half, I was enthralled. My tiny human being who weighed 4 pounds yesterday managed to impact his environment enough to actually destroy something. The feat seemed magical at the time.

Today I have one baby crawling, one baby just a hair shy of crawling, and two babies capable of wreaking a great amount of havoc. I’m convinced that if I left them alone long enough, I’d come back to find an entire room reduced to dust.

Sometimes life seriously feels like just putting out fires. Feed one baby, feed second baby, change diaper 1, change diaper 2, comfort Davey because he faceplanted (again), comfort Micah because Davey touched him.

Today, the babies woke us up at 3am, 5am, and, ultimately, 7am. Because I’ve decided that my Life Plan involves torturing myself on the premise that it’s good for me in the long term, I went on a run. Then I came home, packed my backpack, and headed to Starbucks to finish a couple of marketing articles with approaching deadlines.

Hitting my deadlines means leaving babies with Manny a few times a week so I can head to the coffee shop. If coffee shops disappear tomorrow, so will my copywriting career. They’re that essential.

Manny took both babies to a squadron picnic, and I picked them up from base a couple of hours later. While I was putting in my coffee shop hours, we also heard that Manny made tech sergeant this year–despite twins and all that they entail. That’s a feat, folks.

I came home and scrubbed the upstairs bathroom to celebrate.

At the end of the day we put the tiny humans to bed. I scramble to make the living room floor look less like it was bombed by Toys ‘R Us. I wash the dishes if I’m motivated, pawn them off on Manny if I’m not, drink a cup of tea if I have the energy to boil water, and pass out around 11 or 12.

We work adventures in somehow. Like excursions to Old Sturbridge Village, or a drive to New Haven experience the wonders of Ikea that I’ve heard so much about.

When a living history exhibit and an oversized department store are the most exciting things you do in a two-month span, there’s something wrong. Thankfully, the rest of the summer is looking up.

This weekend, we’re dog-sitting two of our friends’ dogs and one of my roommates from college is bringing her one-year-old to visit for a few days. We’ll see how much the crazy escalates when you add another tiny human and two more pups to the mix.

The weekend after that, another college friend and her husband are coming to stay for a few days (this must be the month for mini-reunions!).

The weekend after that, we’re heading down to PA for a get-together with an amazing group of twin mom Facebook friends I’ve never met (more on that later).

Sometime in September, a Costa Rica (or Colombia, or possibly Ecuador) trip is in the works for myself, my mom, and one baby who gets to go on his first ever international expedition, while his brother enjoys a staycation with his dad.

Things are happening! I’m going to need a lot of coffee to make it through the next several weeks, particularly if Micah keeps trying to climb everything in sight. But things are happening. I’ll take it.

I Calculated The Value of a (hand knit) Sock

I’m pretty sure my blog is schizophrenic. One minute it’s a parenting blog, then a diet blog, then a travel blog… I originally wanted it to be a “look at the fascinating/exciting things I’m doing and places I’m going!” blog, but I don’t do enough fascinating things for that to happen, so what you see is what you get.

Brace yourself, because I’m going full-on knitting mode.

Hand Knit Sock In Progress

I promise I’ll try to make it interesting, but if making amazing things isn’t your  jam, feel free to skip this one.

We recently took the boys to Texas. They experienced their first flight, a series of long road trips, and two weeks of visiting and sweating (June in Texas is no joke, y’all). The longest we spent in any one place during the whole trip was three days. Throw eight-month-old twins into the mix and that’s a recipe for crazy. BUT I had plenty of road trip time to knit socks.

The most knitting I get done lately is in the car, when we’re in transit. That’s the only time the boys are guaranteed to be safe (and likely asleep) that I don’t also have other pressing responsibilities. So I use that time to make things. I knit. And the very best travel knitting is sock knitting.

Hand Knit Socks Cascade Silk

I did some math. One pair of socks includes well over 20,000 individual stitches, and depending on the pattern, takes me about 10-15 hours to finish.

Which is why I laugh when occasionally (very occasionally) people ask if they can pay me to knit them socks.

The yarn for a pair of hand knit socks costs $20-$30. There’s cheaper sock yarn out there, but I won’t knit with it. If I’m going to spend 10-15 hours of my life running the stuff between my fingers, it’s going to be soft and beautiful.

Hand Knit Socks Araucania Huasco

At a modest rate of $10/hour plus yarn, a pair of handknit socks could easily cost $150 or more. But that’s assuming I would be willing to work for $10/hour. I probably wouldn’t.

This is why hand knit socks are special. You can’t buy them (unless you’ve got a pretty hefty sock budget). You can bribe a knitter, but if that knitter doesn’t already like you a lot, it’s just not going to happen. In fact, if someone gives you a pair of hand knit socks, you should reevaluate your relationship with that person and consider thanking them with coffee. Or chocolate. Or a sports car. Because they gave you a pair of priceless socks and they probably deserve it.

You can go to the store and get perfectly serviceable socks for a dollar. You can get high-end Smart Wool socks for $20, if you want to be fancy. And neither of these options requires hours of running yarn between your fingers, rubbing needles together, putting to use all the skills learned over many years of trial and error and how-to videos.

That makes it crazy to knit socks, right? I mean, who does that? Why do that? If you realize that time is the most valuable currency, why knit anything–let alone socks?

Hand Knit Socks KnitPics Stroll

For me, knitting doesn’t replace other things I should be doing (most of the time). It is my entertainment, the thing I do when I would otherwise be sitting motionlessly watching Netflix, listening to an audiobook, or riding in the car (and I’m not good at sitting motionlessly). It’s an activity I enjoy that results in actual things I can keep or give to someone I really, really like.

You can’t pay me to knit socks or much of anything else. I have no desire to open an Etsy shop to sell the things I’ve made. I can make better money taking on extra writing work.

It’s about watching that beautiful yarn run through my fingers until something priceless comes out. Watching actual things come out of those little snippets of time is fun. It’s my version of PC gaming, movie watching, music listening, time-wasting amusement. And though I’m a little biased, I consider it superior to all of those–if only because in the zombie apocalypse, I’ll be able to enjoy myself and clothe my feet.

The Brain on Twins

Twins are like very cute little reality-altering drugs.

FullSizeRender-6

If pregnancy brain is a thing (studies say it isn’t. I say the studies are stupid), twin brain is an even bigger phenomenon. Twin brain has very real, sometimes very disastrous results.

On twins, my brain does improvident things it never did before.

My brain leaves bags of merchandise sitting on mall benches while I rush away to feed a child.

My brain throws cell phones against walls.

My brain forgets a $600 jogging stroller in the middle of a public parking lot and drives away without it.

My brain forces me to laugh at my husband when he’s trying to make a very serious point.

My brain takes me to the store without my purse. Multiple times. In one week.

My brain forgets how to talk to normal adults that aren’t my husband, because I don’t do that anymore.

My brain sends emails, Facebook messages, and texts to the wrong people.

My brain makes me crave another baby when two is twice as many as I thought I wanted.

Twin brain also has its benefits, though. Having twins makes it easier to separate the important things from the things that don’t matter. Showers? Important. Coffee? Important. Fixing hair and wearing a bra? Not so important.

Waking up too early has never been so rewarding. The walk from my bed to the boys’ room at 3 a.m. might be agonizing, but seeing their smiles when I get there fixes that.

Twins make me brave. I can’t be self-conscious when the babies just need to be fed or to go on a walk. I can’t maintain a bad attitude for long when they grin at me every time I look at them. I can’t be the same kind of selfish I once was when these two little people need me for everything. Twins make all the excuses for not really living look absurd.

Twins make me want to be the very best version of myself possible. They make me want to spend hours outside. They make me want to learn so I can teach them. They make me want to explore more, to get out of my comfort zone in ways I would have hesitated to before. They make me want to go to Iceland, to run a half marathon, to dye my hair purple, to wear tie-dye and macaroni necklaces. Twins make me want to take very long naps.

So. My brain on twins? Sometimes rather expensive and potentially embarrassing. But not so bad.

 

Whole 30 Recap

For those of you who are at all curious, we finished the Whole30. No bread, sugar, legumes, dairy of any kind, or pizza.

Okay, so… 28 days. Does it make me a failure if my Whole30 was a Whole28?

On Saturday Manny and I ended up an hour from home after a day of wandering. We had walked a few miles scouting yard sales. We attended our local(ish) Tula Love Play Date, a babywearing meet-up that turned out to be amazing. And we hit up the Webs Tent Sale, a once-a-year yarn sale in Northampton that I couldn’t miss, despite the fact that my yarn connection rivals that of some small yarn shops.

After all that, mostly wearing babies, we were both starving. And there was a Five Guys Burgers & Fries. I’m sure you can imagine the rest.

I started the Whole30 as a diet reset. And it did that. It changed our normal and forced us to think of food differently. I lost 15 pounds over the 30 (ahem, 28) days without changing anything but my diet. I felt better, had more energy, and suffered from absolutely NO food guilt during that time.

I’m suffering from food guilt now. That hamburger doesn’t feel as great as it tasted. So the Whole30 challenge didn’t fix everything. It was still one of the best things I could have done for myself post-twins, and I wish I’d done it sooner.

After a lot of soul-searching and talking to Manny, I’ve decided to keep eating a mostly Whole30 diet from now on. I’m going back on the Whole30 completely for a few days to bounce back from the food I shouldn’t have eaten, then reintroducing a bit of milk and agave nectar in my coffee/tea (one thing that I really have missed!).

I’m also going to start adding in deliberate workouts (as in, something other than just weightlifting twins, which counts for not much). A friend in my Mothers of Twins group shared that she had great success with the much-acclaimed Mommy Trainer 15-Day Challenge. So I’m going to give it a try–it’s a good fit for the timeline I have between now and our two-week trip to Texas.

It’s a process.