Slow Cooker Pumpkin and Bean Chili Recipe

I love my slow cooker. I use it every night. It’s the only way I have found that I am able to handle everything I need to do during the day. This Slow Cooker Pumpkin and Bean Chili is one of my favorites. As soon as it starts to get even the slightest bit cool I run for the pumpkin and throw together a big batch (that never seems to be big enough). In case you are wondering about the pumpkin, no your chili will not taste like pumpkin. I had to argue with my Grandmother about this. I’m not exaggerating, it was an argument about whether I could or could not put pumpkin in my chili. It was like we were debating politics! But as a Southern Grandma she takes her chili very seriously. She has been converted BTW. The pumpkin adds an amazing creaminess to the dish. It is also probably a bit healthier, I don’t know the exact breakdown of vitamins in pumpkin but I always assume that the more veg in any dish the better.

This pumpkin chili checks all the boxes. Its rich and thick and filling. I know it’s very un-Texan to put  beans in my chili but considering I don’t eat meat I’m willing to break with tradition. I will occasionally  add shredded goat cheese for the kids (this make it no longer vegan) but they prefer it with cheese and if it helps them eat their dinner I’m fine with it. This chili is my daughters favorite meal so we have it often. I’m totally fine with that It is so comforting and warm. The perfect thing for a cold, rainy day. It’s also thick enough for a 1 1/2 year old to eat with a spoon on her own.

I prep all of the fresh ingredients ahead of time and add the canned or tinned food on the day.

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Ingredients:

  • pureed pumpkin: This was a really big one so I only used half but with a small one I would use the whole thing. If you live in a place where you can buy a tin of pureed pumpkin you can use this instead but fresh will always be better
  • 2 onions
  • 2 bell peppers
  • beans. here I used about a cup of black beans but I have also used black eyed peas and it worked very well.
  • carrots. I love these bit winterpeen carrots for cooking. Probably because I hate peeling carrots and, therefor, the bigger the better.
  • zucchini or courgette (same vegetable but called different things depending on where you live)
  • garlic
  • 1 can tomato cubes or “blokjes”
  • 1 container of pureed tomato
  • 2 peppers (use whatever one will give you the “heat” you want)
  • 1 tbs Coriander
  • 1 tbs Cumin
  • 2 tbs soy sause
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • bullion cubes ( these are my “dirty little secret”. I put them in everything.) I use the Zonnatura brand because they are organic

 

Start by prepping your veg. I shredded 2 big carrots and 1 zucchini. I baked 1 pumpkin and used half. I cut the bell pepper and onion into chunks. I also cut up about 3 cloves of garlic and 2 chilli peppers but use as much as you like! If you prefer your chili more “chunky”cut up the carrots into chunks instead of shredding them.

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I also added 2 bullion cubes and the spices.

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This is half of the baked pumpkin.

Then it all goes into the slow cooker.

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Starting to look pretty!

Now add in the tomato blokjes, lime juice, soy sauce and puree.

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Give it a stir

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I set mine for 8 hours. This machine will automatically switch to “low”after that time.

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After it is done you will have the most amazing vegan chili EVER!

I will say that it is not spicy at all. My kids don’t like very spicy food so I keep it mild and add Tabasco to my bowl. It would be very easy to add chili powder and such if you want it hot.

I like to add avocado and grated goat cheese. No longer vegan so decide on toppings based on your own diet.

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This is my daughters favorite meal. When I put it in front of her I got a “hooray for chili”

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The really nice thing about this recipe is that it is truly adaptable. If you don’t have pumpkin, use a squash, or sweet potato puree. It’s for thickness and added nutrition so any thick puree would work. Like yours spicy? Add some chilli powder. Use whatever bean you have on hand. Or no bean. Or lentils. It’s a very forgiving recipe! Perfect for a “throw together” weeknight meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Least Favorite Toddler “Games”

I used to get very “sanctimomy” with people who would complain about their toddlers, or their kids in general really. I’m brave enough to admit it. I used to think things like “how can you say such things about your kids? They are a blessing!” “But they are so sweet.” “It can’t possibly be that bad. Maybe you should just learn to relax”.

Oh. Did. I. Learn.

Toddlers are hard. Very hard. It’s like they go from a sweet little baby to the exorcist child over night. People say “the terrible twos” but I think it starts much earlier. And lasts much longer.

Here is what I have learned:

Yes. It is a magical age when they are just discovering that they have opinions

Yes. They are trying to express themselves but don’t have the language skills yet

Yes. They are exploring the world

Yes. They are gaining independence but still need help, but don’t want help

Yes. They are trying to understand very big feelings that they really don’t understand

 

I know all of these things and I understand and agree with all of them.

But toddlers are frustrating and anyone who says they aren’t either doesn’t have kids or had them so long ago that they don’t remember. For all the reasons why this is such a magical and exciting age, this is also the most frustrating (My oldest is only 3 1/2 so I understand I still have allot to experience).

Because this needs to be written down, here are my least favorite toddler games.

  1. The “up and down the stairs game”. I swear they don’t want anything, they just want to go up and down. All Day
  2. The  “shoes on shoes off game”. This also works with socks. My toddler will cry holding one foot in the air insisting that I put her shoe on or take it off every few minutes until I hide all the shoes.
  3. The “lets go into the kitchen and point at things that I may want but actually don’t” game. Because what they actually want is a cookie, and there are no cookies because I got tired of all the tantrums over cookies and cut my family off.
  4. The “I’m starving but I don’t know what I want so we are going to try everything” game so I will take one bite out of everything you offer me and scream.
  5. The “I don’t want my diaper changed” game. This can also be called the “look how much poop I can get all over everything” game.
  6. The “I can take off my own diaper game”. This often has a very similar outcome to number 5.
  7. The “throw bunny (substitute any very special thing that the child can not live without) out of the stroller constantly” game.
  8. The “I don’t want this so I will put it down mommy’s shirt” game. It’s like a fruit salad in there by the end of the day.
  9. The “I will only eat if I am being held and wiping my hands and face on your shoulder” game.
  10. The “I want to press the button and god help you if you press it first” game.

 

Yes. This is a magical age. It really is. I loved watching my son learn and grow and I am loving watching my daughter do the same. I also know that with every 1 of these annoying games toddlers play there are a million other incredibly wonderful sweet and fun things that they do. But I’ll tell you, when you are exhausted and your toddler is playing at least one (good chance many) of these games it’s really hard.

I survive by trying to understand that if I’m this frustrated with the situation my child must be having an even harder time.

I survive by reminding myself that they aren’t making me crazy on purpose. They are trying to cope with a big, new and scary world.

I survive by holding them, taking a deep breath and looking forward to the biggest glass of wine ever after they are finally in bed.

I survive by knowing that I did the best I could that day.  If not that I will try harder tomorrow.

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What games do your toddlers play that makes you crazy? How do you/did you survive the toddler years?  I would love to hear some stories!!

Science Center Nemo, Amsterdam: A Grand Family Day Out

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We recently spent a grand family day out at the Science Center Nemo in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This place is truly epic! The building itself is located in Amsterdams Eastern dockland just a short walk for Amsterdam Central (Central Station, this is where all the trains come into Amsterdam) and very close to the National Maritime Museum. The building itself is really spectacular. It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and opened in 1997. The building houses 12 different exhibitions on 5 different floors. The museum is changing all the time as well. There are new activities, demonstrations, and exhibits all the time so it’s always a new and fun experience.

on it’s website, Science Center Nemo describes itself as:

a science center: an interactive, informal learning environment in which the general public comes into contact with science and technology

This sums it up pretty well but for my kids it was more a massive playground.

Nemo attracts an impressive 500,000 people per year. No wonder why, honestly.

At the end of the article I will give specifics about parking and transportation options as well some other things that I feel would have been nice to know before we got there.

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My husband has been working allot of hours for the last few weeks so he decided to take a day off midweek to spend with us. We thought we would use this “extra” family day to do something fun and different. I had just gotten the Dutch Museum Pass so we thought that Nemo was the perfect place to spend the day.

We had a blast. It’s like a giant playground. It’s full of so many fun things to do. It’s all science based, but really fun and experimental.

There is a water play area where you learn about water purification by transferring buckets of water from one pump to the next.

There is a whole area dedicated to bubbles

 

I don’t know what this is but it took a picture of shadows and it was really fun

There was other water play

All kinds of fun stuff to do there!

Seriously. I had as much fun as the kids!

The really nice this about Nemo is that all age groups will have a great time there. My 1 1/2 year old really enjoyed running around and climbing on things. She loved that fact that she could touch everything and there wasn’t anything she could break. I also felt comfortable giving her a bit of space there. She is a very strong willed independent child and really wants to explore but she doesn’t often get to go all “free range” in such an interesting place. I was able to stay a few feet away and really let her explore. It was really fun watching her interact. My 3 1/2 year old is just starting to learn about science and he is just now becoming very curious about the world around him. It was a constant “what is this”,  “what does that do”, “what is that noise” from him. He loved it and is still talking about it a week later but in another year or so he will love it so much more. He will be able to figure things out on his own and he will really be able to explore the science behind the play. It will be very fun!

Added bonus: all the descriptions and instructions through the entire museum were in Dutch and English!

Also: There is staff everywhere! They are all so friendly and speak English. They will help the kids if they are having trouble and make sure everyone is safe. I felt really sure that my kids were safe there.

Transportation:

This is a link to the transportation section of the Nemo website. Honestly, I didn’t read this before we left. I just set the GPS to the address of the museum and expected there to be parking. I was very wrong, the building is surrounded by water and directly on top of a highway tunnel.

We ended up parking at the Oosterdok (Eastern Dock) Parking garage (This page is in Dutch), it’s the recommended parking garage on the museum info page. It’s a really short walk from the museum. My son could walk from the museum to the car in less time than it took for him to finish his “it’s the only way we could bribe him out of the door” ice cream. ( I know, bribes are bad but I have made my peace with it) The trick is to give the person at the front desk your parking ticket and you will get 30% off your parking. You can still pay at the machine as well. On the parking ticket there is a bar code that “stamps” the date and time. Nemo has a machine that adds another little section to the bar code that will automatically register the discount. It’s actually really cool. We were parked for around 4 hours and we payed 11 Euros and some change. For over 5 hours and, I think under 24, it is 12 Euros plus the 30% discount.

There are cheaper parking options depending on how far away you are willing to be. You can park at the Transferium  (sorry, this is also in Dutch). This is a parking garage located at Ajax Stadium just outside Amsterdam. You have to take a train into Central Station, bank on around 30 minutes from your car to central station. Under 10 hours will cost you 1 Euro to park and then you have to pay for the train. Prices for the train will depend on if you have an OV Chipcard or not, I think last time I parked there I payed a total of 5 Euros for parking and the train.

You can also get to Central Station by train from anywhere in The Netherlands. From Eindhoven it takes about 1 1/2 hours to get to Amsterdam Central by train. You can visit the Dutch Train Website to find information about times and prices from your area.

Walking:

When you leave Central Station (and have your back to the building) turn left and walk down the road. It’s really that easy. Follow the water until you see the big green building.

Food:

At the time of our visit there were 2 options. There is a coffee bar on the 1st floor that sells coffee and muffins and such. There is also a small cafeteria on the 2nd floor that sells actual food. They have drinks and a small selection of sandwiches or wraps and things that can be cooked in an oven. Sausage rolls, hot dogs, mini pizza things….. It says on the website that you can bring in your own food but you have to eat it in designated areas so I opted to just buy lunch there. I saw so many people unwrap their own food at the tables that I was a little annoyed. Honestly I don’t mind getting my kids that kind of food. It’s “special” to them because they don’t get it often but I would have brought myself a salad.

We were told that there is a permanent restaurant on the 5th floor that is currently under construction and that the 2nd floor place is only temporary. I don’t have a date that it’s expected to be done but I’m very excite. I’ll bet the view will be spectacular.

Update:

The 5th floor restaurant is now open and it is really lovely. They offer all kinds of food from hamburgers to salads and even have a fresh juice section. There is plenty of seating inside and it is a really good option for an easy lunch.

The New Outdoor Space!!

Even more exciting than the restaurant is the new outdoor patio and play space. There is plenty of seating and spectacular views.

You can bring a picnic and eat here while the kids play (that’s what we did). I love places that I can bring in my own food. Even if you aren’t trying to save a bit of money wherever possible (like me) I often find it easier bring a lunch. The only downside is that it’s basically one big staircase. The only reason that I mention it is that, while very cool, it could be a problem for younger kids.

The views are really great.

You can access the patio and restaurant from outside the museum via a staircase and an elevator.

Lockers:

There are lockers that you can rent for your coats and such. They require a 50 cent coin but you get it back at the end of the day.

Location:

If you are facing the entrance and walk to the right you will find a dock full of old a beautiful boats. Seriously, it’s like 10 steps. We didn’t explore much because it was raining but I think the kids would really enjoy walking up and down looking at the pretty boats. There is also a dock to the left that you have to pass as you walk back to the parking garage. This one is full of little hotel boats. Very cool place to stay if you find yourself wanting a small room for a very reasonable price in Amsterdam.

I’m so glad we went and I look forward to going back!

Mommy Away Time

I think mommy away time is invaluable for the entire family. I have been away over night 2 times since I have had kids. The first was on a 3 night trip to Lisbon with a friend. This was EPIC. So much fun but I must admit that it was a little much for the first time. I thought about my son constantly and probably talked about him more than my single bff really wanted! The second was really recent. I went on a 1 night trip with a mommy friend, only 1 1/2 hour away. At the time I thought that only one night was better but now I’m not so sure. It probably should have been 2 nights. It’s so important for a mom to get away over night.

I’m always shocked at the reaction I get when I tell moms that I go away for the night.

  • “and you don’t have family around to help”
  • “what will your husband do? “
  • “and your husband takes care of the kids?”
  • “does he cook?”
  • “I could never be away from my kids for even one night”
  • and my favorite: “Your husband lets you do that? “

 

Moms need to have at least one “away night”every year. Honestly I think it should be way more often but financially it’s not always possible.

Why?:

  1.  Mom gets away. This is important for 2 reasons. Moms need to get away! We need time to relax and refocus. It makes us better moms! It also allows moms to separate from their kids a little. My kids are the most important people in my life, they are my whole world, but this isn’t forever. They need to become independent beings able to function on their own and this needs to happen faster than any new parent wants to admit. Separating a bit or “cutting the apron strings” is important. Now before anyone calls me neglectful, all I’m saying is that it’s good to relinquish control for a little while.
  2. This also leads me to the next HUGE reason mommy’s need to get away: Dad. Again, there are few things that will happen. First, Dad will understand what a mommy does all day. They should know, but often they don’t. Or maybe they don’t fully grasp the fact that it’s very common for moms to  have not gone to the bathroom without a small child on their lap in years. I know that work is stressful ( I wasn’t always a stay at home) but taking care of kids all day is a different kind of stress and it’s really important that everyone can understand what Mom is handling on a daily basis.  Second, he will have some quality bonding time with his children. This is really important! My husband spends about an hour with the kids in between the time he gets home from work and their bedtime.  Multiply this by 5 days and It’s a very short amount of time.
  3. mommies need to understand that other people can handle things. I have seen to many women get themselves into this “I am the only one who can take care of the kids “mindset. All this leads to is burnout. Two years down the road mom is crying because she has to do everything and is getting no break and no support and dad is confused and frustrated because he was never aloud to help with anything and this is all taking him by surprise.
  4. The kids need to learn that there are other people who love them and can help them. If I had to identify myself with one parenting label it would be attachment parenting or gentle parenting. I am a co-sleeping, baby wearing, breastfeeding kinda mommy. That being said, I am not the only one my kids should turn to if they need help. I am with my kids all day, every day. It’s really easy for them to run to me for everything. Although I love feeling important and valued it is also important for them to know that there are other people in the world that love them and can care for them as much as I do.

 

So why is all this so difficult for a stay at home parent?

Our kids and house are our whole world. The parent who works outside the home has a way to be valued that is very tangible. You work. You get a pay check. Stay-at-homes don’t get this. It’s like our entire self worth is in the fact that we are needed by our kids. This is a very dangerous thing. If  a mom feels that her husband can’t cook, clean, take care of the kids it leaves mom with a huge job that at some point she will fail at. I’m sorry. I consider myself Super Mom, but I know that I can’t handle everything.

If parenting is a job, I deserve a break from time to time. I breast fed my daughter for about 15 months. I was attached to her at the boob, literally. My husband and I weaned her in Dec. (I say my husband and I, but honestly he did all the hard work) and I went away for a night with a friend 2 weeks later.

Now …

It was only 1 night and we were a 1 1/2 hour train ride away, but still. I was away!!

I was missing my kids like crazy by the time I got home but I thoroughly enjoyed my “away time”.

My kids learned that they could go to daddy with some of their problems. My husband learned that having 2 kids under the age of 4 is a very difficult but rewarding thing to experience every day. I learned that someone else could handle things if I am gone. I also learned that although I sometimes miss the calm and quiet life I had before I had kids I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

And I think that’s the most important part of mommy away time.

Cologne Christmas Markets: 2015

The Yearly Christmas Market in Cologne or Koln is our favorite, we go every year. There are actually many different markets in the city and they are all connected by a cute little “train”. I would have loved to ride around on it but there was no room for the stroller. Maybe next year.

We generally only go to the largest 2 of the markets. I don’t know why we never went to the others before we had kids, I suppose we spent so much time at these 2 that we never got around to the others. Now we only go to the 2 because we have kids.

My kids have about a 3 hour window where they are happy. After 3 hours everyone is tired and grumpy and wants to go home.We left the house a little later than I had planned, it’s hard getting out the door first thing but we made it to Cologne just before lunch time.

The parking garage we normally parked at moved the entrance because of construction so we had to find somewhere else to park. The garage we found was actually in a much better location because instead of being directly under one of the markets it was more centered between the 2. Unfortunately although it gained in location it  also gained in scary. It was a spiral that went directly up so it a series of left turns that people were taking a little to fast.  There was no elevator so my husband and I had to carry our giant stroller down the stairs with my 1 1/2 year old in it. The place also reeked of urine. At one point my 3 year old said “eeuuuww Mommy, someone peed in here” . Oh well. It was a good location!

First we went to the Market directly outside the Dom ( German for Cathedral). This market is small but really lovely. Stalls full of great food and lovely objects set against an amazing backdrop of the church. Here we started out food adventure.The food is absolutely the best part!

We started with deep fried potato pancakes served with apple sauce, these are my favorite

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then we moved on to French Fries, special request from my son. Honestly, they were the best fries I have ever had! Covered in mayo, of course.

Then we had pork on a stick. Because everything is better on a stick!

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There is also a cut little carousel that we had to ride!

Of course I got my Gluhwein and my souvenir cup!

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We went inside the cathedral because the kids were cold and I’m really glad we did. The kids really enjoyed exploring and I really enjoyed the warm. Plus it is a really beautiful church and I haven’t been inside in years.

Then we took a short walk to the next market. This one is my favorite. Its bigger and everything is carved in wood. It has a very rustic, old world feel and I love it.  It’s at the Stadthaus, In case anyone goes looking for it.

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In this market we drank gluhwein and ate the wonderful open faced cheese sandwiches. We ate and wondered. So many lovely things!

And there was a Ferris Wheel and another carousel! Great fun!

And then everyone was really tired and ready to go home. We were in Cologne a little longer than I thought we would be, it was pushing 4 hours when we left. The kids were exhausted and very ready for a break.

Luckily we brought our carrier so my son didn’t have to walk. He was able to ride in the carrier while my daughter was in the stroller. Or being carried.

It was a really good day. I really love the market here and look forward to going every year.

My tips for next year:

Bring more drinks for the kids. I brought 1 juice box (these are only given out on special occasions) for each kid and their water bottle and they still ran out. I was able to buy water for them in the market but it was served in a real glass. Not very good for kids

More snacks. My son is going through a picky eating phase. All he would eat all day were those french fries. He was a tired puddle of exhausted low blood sugar on the way back to the car.

Investigate parking before you go. If your anything like me, lack of planning will end up in a fight a fight with the hubby.

Get there early. This is always the plan but it rarely ever works out.

This was the only Christmas market we were able to visit this year and we almost didn’t go. I’m so glad we did!

The Completly Selfish Reason for Encouraging my Husband To Go Out

My husband is a homebody. Sure, he likes going out with friends but has trouble planning and, in general, will enjoy sitting around the house just as much. I have always been fine with him going out but have never really pushed it, until recently. Lately I have really encourage him to spend time with his friends. I am not his social director, I refuse to set up “husband night out” or anything, but when he mentions a movie he wants to see I am the first to say “you should go see it! I’m sure one of your friends would love to go with you.”.  He told me that a group of coworkers he likes go rock climbing every week, “social time and exercise? Absolutely! Maybe not every week, but how about every other week?” (I need an occasional Friday night as well!)

Good or bad, my reasons are utterly and completely selfish.

I know its good for him. I’m not encouraging him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he just never would. He needs to be around friends. He needs to be able to take a mental break. He needs to be around people who will talk to him about Star Wars and other geeky things that I could care less about about.

But that’s not it. Not really. Those things are just a bonus.

There is also the fact that he is happy after he has spent some time away. He is more relaxed and nicer to have around. I also don’t feel as guilty about my “away time” if he takes some of his own.

But that’s not it either. It’s even more selfish than that.

I am NEVER ALONE!  Being a stay at home moms is a crazy mix of wanting adult interaction and just wanting to be alone. I LOVE the nights I can just sit on the couch and not talk. Not interact. Not pay attention. Not think. Not ask anyone’s opinion about the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the nights when my husband is around. He travels for work and is gone for weeks at a time. These times are very difficult. These nights are different. He is around to help get the kids to bed and ask me about my day and I know he will be around in the morning to help get the kids ready  for the day. So these nights I can just relax!

Like tonight. The kids are in bed. My husband is at the movie and I am sitting on the couch drinking wine and watching a movie. I will probably go to bed early.

Maybe not the thrill a minute life I used to lead but it’s great. You should try it. Encourage your husband to go out and see a movie with friends and curl up on the couch. Just make sure that you go out sometime as well!!

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The “trading places” moment that has forever altered how I see my husband

These 2 weeks are Christmas break. My husband, for the last 2 years has taken these 2 weeks off of work and we spend some time as a family. This year I am also able to spend some much needed time with friends. I am no longer breastfeeding my youngest so I am able to be away for longer periods of time. Yesterday (December 28, 2015) was a “moms day out”. I spent the day with a friend of mine, it was very nice and calm and I enjoyed it very much.

I arrived home just about 6:00. When I came in my husband and the kids were sitting on the couch reading books. They had been fed and were already in their pj’s, ready for their 7:00 bedtime. I was very relieved to be home. Its always nice to be away but coming home to that wonderful scene filled my heart with joy. I wanted to get comfortable and join them.

Then all hell broke loose.

My daughter started screaming and reaching for me. In response to this, my son got very territorial and ran to me demanding attention. They ended up fighting and, I hate to say, my daughter won the battle. I ended up holding her while talking to and hugging my son. Then he decided that we should play and began bringing me his games. My husband and I calmly told him over and over that it was approaching bedtime and we should read some more books but it was not time to get out the domino’s. He got upset and started throwing game pieces.Then, of course, my daughter thought this was a game and started throwing things. They were very quickly giggling together while destroying the room.  I asked if they had been like this all day and he said that they were perfectly calm until I walked into the house. My first response wasn’t my finest moment “so this is my fault?” Eeek.

My husband and I calmed everyone down and he took one and I took the other into their separate rooms for bed.

A bit later I had a moment to really consider what had happened. Why had I gotten so frazzeled? Of course they just wanted to spend time with me. They were excited to see me. I was “new”.

Then my husband came into the room and the entire situation became clear.

“Is this what you feel like every day when you come home?”

I realized that I came home at almost the exact time of day that he normally gets home. I have the kids fed and bathed, ready for bed and calm and snuggly. It is the end of our day. Then he walks in and everything goes crazy.

It took him a moment to consider what I had said. I know he wasn’t expecting anything like that. After a very long moment he said:

“yes. But add in the fact that you are tired and then get frustrated about something and end up upset with me”.

Well , shit. Ouch.

Then he really surprised me:

“Is that how you feel every day when I get home? You have worked hard all day and now everything is calm and and quiet and then I get home and everything goes crazy?”

We just looked at each other for a moment. Then I got up and started picking up toys and he went into the kitchen and started loading the dishwasher. We didn’t talk about it again.

I like to think we will end this Christmas break with a deeper understanding of each other. I like to think that we will be able to stop and consider each others  point of view a bit better before we react.

We will see.