Category Archives: Parenting

brooding about my brood

gender reveal cake

I think this is one of my most favorite cakes ever.  Not because of the flavor combo or anything. It’s just vanilla. A yummy vanilla, but still. Being the first person to know that a mama of two boys is going to have a baby girl is just SO MUCH FUN. Then getting to concoct a 5 tiered-shades of pink-cake to share the news with her and her family. It doesn’t get better than that!
IMG_1304 Maggie and Ryan are amazing parents to two wonderful little boys. When I heard the news that they were expecting their third, I may have blurted out, after issuing congratulations, “I can make you a cake for gender reveal!” And tempered it slightly: “you know, if you want.” Maggie graciously mentioned that her mom had offered the same, but then she called a week later saying that her mom wanted to share in the excitement of finding out the gender of baby #3 with the rest of the family.
IMG_1281 So I got to be the first person to know! Maggie’s OB office called me while I was at work and revealed the secret. The mama herself didn’t even know. While I know they would have been so excited to have a third boy, something about having a baby girl after two boys is just like icing on the cake.
IMG_1286 I scoured the internet for a cake that would be suitable for sharing such exciting news. I looked at “surprise inside” cakes with giant pink hearts inside, only revealed upon cutting  the cake.  I thought about an interior of frosted hot pink. And then I settled on a pink cake itself. Well, a shades of pink cake. Five shades, in fact.
IMG_1696 Then people that were at the gender reveal starting raving about the cake flavor. The simple addition of almond extract can take vanilla white cake to the next level. Topped with a tiny stitches “baby banner”, this cake just made me smile. I think Maggie and Ryan felt the same. Congratulations to the family of 5-to be! “Baby Cutie” is going to be one lucky little girl.
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gender reveal cake

adapted from “The Perfect White Cake” to make 5 skinny tiers
halve this recipe for a standard 2-layer cake

5 cups cake flour
2 cups milk, room temperature
12 large egg whites, room temperature
1 Tbsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
3½ cups sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 sticks butter, softened
gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep your cake pans. I only have 3 8″ rounds, so I had to bake these in succession. Cut out circles of parchment to line the bottom of each pan. Spray pan with baking spray (or alternatively, butter and flour).

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl of a mixer. Cut butter into Tbsp and add 1 cube at a time on slow speed. Mix for 1-2 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites and extracts. Add all but ~½ cup of the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix at medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add the remainder of the milk and mix for 1 minute.

At this point, separate the batter evenly between 5 mixing bowls. Mix in gel food coloring into each and stir until you’ve achieved the desired color. It’s best to start with a small amount and work your way up.

Pour batter into your prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick test comes out clean. For the skinny cake layers of this cake, 20-30 minutes. (For standard size cake layers, 25-30 minutes).

Allow cake to cool.

for the buttercream
more than enough for 5 skinny tears of cake*
cut the recipe in half (or even a third) for a standard sized cake

3 cups butter (6 sticks), softened
9-12 cups powdered sugar
3 tsp almond extract
3 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
⅓-½ cup milk or cream

In a stand mixer, whip butter on high speed until very fluffy and almost white. Whipping the butter longer will produce a fluffier, lighter frosting that will need less powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar in 2-cup increments until 9 cups have been added. Mix on low, unless you’d like to be completely covered in it. Add in extracts and salt. Mix.

Adjust the consistency of the buttercream. Add in milk to soften for easier spreading and piping. Adjust with additional powdered sugar for a firmer texture.

*This will produce more frosting than necessary to frost and fill this cake. With a gender reveal cake, it’s (obviously) important that NO part of the cake be seen. It’s best to have too much frosting than to realize that you didn’t make enough.

assembly
dowel rods (2-3)

First, place a few strips of wax paper around the edges of the cake stand to catch any frosting messiness that is bound to happen while you’re assembling. Next, place the bottom tier on the stand.

Spread a layer of frosting over the bottom layer of cake. Top with layer 2 and repeat through the top layer. Before you frost over the top tier. Snip the ends of the dowel rods so they are even with the top of the cake. Insert the dowels about 1½ inches from the center of the cake. With a whopper of a cake like these, using dowels will help support the structure. You might be able to get away with not using them, but you really want the gender to be revealed when the happy couple cuts into the cake, not when the top tiers slide off onto the floor…
IMG_1292 At this point, frost the outside of the cake with a crumb coat of icing. Refrigerate until firm.
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Frost the outside of the cake with the final coat. Pipe dots around the top and bottom of the cake.

I also made a tiny little embroidered “baby” banner for the top of this cake. I used straws to secure the banner in place.

Easter basket ideas

If your kids are anything like mine, their grandparents spoil them rotten.  They are flooded with candy from every grandparent and great-grandparent for every holiday there is.  Let’s not even get me started on how many toys we have.
Easter baskets
So it may not come as a surprise that the Easter bunny is pretty light on the candy giving.  My children are hardly candy-deprived.  Both grandmas give them entire Easter baskets, besides the one from the bunny.  Not only that, they attend an annual candy hunt where they can rake in at least a dozen full-size candy bars per child, in addition to other things.  Meanwhile, poor mom and dad have to cope with the “can I open this?  please, please, puh-leeze!” and the subsequent sugar highs.  I end up stashing it up in a cupboard only to find it 6 months later.
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So in lieu of candy and gobs of toys, here’s what my kids are getting this year:

Books! You can never have enough books. There’s always something new to learn. Given Alex’s hockey obsession and Gabby’s current adoration of all things puppy, they’ll both be excited with these choices.
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Beach gear. Personalized towels and new swimsuits. Plus some sunglasses. Our family vacation is in the spring and this is just a reminder that winter is almost over! (Right? There seriously cannot be anymore snow…)
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PJs. For warmer weather which will have to eventually arrive.
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A few other things tailored to each kid. Gabby gets the mini cuddly pup and ice packs you see for Alex’s lunch box those are. Yes, this poor child has to live with my nerdiness.
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Chocolate.  I’m not a completely a heartless jerk. My kids do get candy in their baskets, but just very little. And what they do get is really really good. Like I might have ordered a sleeve of those bunnies just for myself. And that chocolate egg you see is filled with rocky road. I’m hoping the boy will want to share with his mama.
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As you can see, the Bunny knows to mostly avoid candy and toys.  Here are some other ideas that she wanted to you.  I promise that they’re not as lame as Santa, who stuffed stockings last year with new toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Easter basket ideas for low-candy, low-toy content

  • books – especially those that let your kids explore their favorite subjects
  • beach gear: towels, new swimsuits, sun hats, sand toys
  • gardening gear: tools like a trowel and gloves just their size to help you out this spring
  • child-sized kitchen tools: mixing bowl, whisk,
  • side walk chalk.  These are adorable.
  • bubbles
  • lunch boxes
  • ice packs in cool shapes
  • pajamas
  • new shoes or slippers
  • rain coat and boots for splashing in puddles
  • jump rope
  • bike helmet
  • mini stuffed animal or lovie.  Jellycat makes the softest, sweetest cuddly ones.
  • socks & undies. Your kids need ’em. Might as well get some cute ones at Easter.
  • hair bows & headbands
  • sports equipment, like a basketball, a jumprope or swimming goggles
  • Peep n peek eggs.  These are cute and not noisy.  And they have been loved but little babies and preschoolers alike.
  • small amounts of darn good chocolate
  • crayons and coloring books
  • Smencils – scented pencils
  • stickers
  • outdoor blanket – for the beach or the park.  You can just hose it off.
  • fun crafting supplies, like washi tape
  • baking supplies, like sprinkles and cupcake liners

getting baby through gastroenteritis

I’m not a medical doctor and I don’t like the idea of obtaining your medical advice on a blog on the internet. That being said, I’ve gone through many rounds of gastroenteritis when my son was younger, 4 bouts of stomach virus with my daughter last year and just another this season, and I’ve gained a few helpful hints from our pediatricians. (I’m also a scientist, trained in biomedical research.)

Having a sick baby is awful. You feel so bad for the little one. When your baby has a stomach virus, aside from following doctor’s orders and lots of holding and rocking, it feels like there is little to be done about it.

Having gone through this so many times though, I’ve picked up on a number of great tips from our docs.  Stomach viruses during infancy can last for about 10 days! It’s miserable every time, but I hopefully these 10 tips can help shorten the misery, at least a bit.

If your baby is throwing up and has diarrhea:

1. If you have advice nurses at your pediatrician, it might be helpful to call in to see if you should take baby to the doctor. She’ll check to make sure your little one is adequately hydrated and that other factors are not at play. You’ll especially want to call the doctor if your baby has signs of dehydration like: sunken eyes, not producing tears when crying, and a decreased number of wet diapers.

2. For fluids, stick to the rules: smaller amounts, more frequently. If your baby can’t keep breast milk or formula down, wait a half an hour and try an electrolyte replacement solution, like Pedialyte or Gerber Replenish. (The unflavored version of Pedialyte is not exactly palatable. If you’re going for something without artificial flavorings and dyes, try the Replenish.) If your child normally takes a 6 oz bottle every three hours, try giving 1 oz every hour, gradually increasing to 2 oz, as your baby is able to keep fluid down. After baby is doing well keeping pedialyte down, you can gradually switch back to breast milk or formula.

3. If you formula feed, temporarily switch to soy formula. The enzyme that breaks down lactose is stripped away from the intestines during an extended bought with diarrhea. Soy formula will be easier for baby to digest than milk-based formula during this time. After the gastroenteritis has run its course, switch back to regular formula. If you’re nursing, continue to nurse.

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4. If baby is eating solids, try rice cereal. It’s constipating. You can even add a bit of it to bottles as a thickener. Nuff said.

images5. Try giving Fluorastor and a probiotic blend. Fluorastor is a yeast probiotic. It can help to re-populate the intestines with the good bugs that have taken a hit during the infection. While there is a kid’s version available, the packet of the kids version is equivalent to a capsule of the adult Fluorastor. Mix the contents of 1 capsule or 1 packet with a bottle or solid food once per day. After baby gets over the infection, it might be a bit helpful to give a probiotic blend, to help repopulate some of the good bacteria. To ensure that you obtain a good product, it’s best to buy from a place that keeps their probiotics refrigerated. Additionally, try to buy a brand that has several different types of bacteria, with the greatest number of colony forming units (cfu) per serving. You can always use less than the recommended serving size. We’ve used Maxi Baby dophilus from Whole Foods. Probiotics are likely not going to have a dramatic impact, but they can be beneficial.

Unknown6. Sanitize pacifiers, bottles, etc. If you don’t own a bottle sanitizer, the Quick Clean Micro-Steam Sterilizing bags from Medela are a great, cheap way to use your microwave to sterilize these items. Each bag can be used up to 20 times.

Unknown-17. Try to plan out back-up childcare for the coming days if at all possible. These things seem to last for quite awhile, and most childcare facilities will not allow a baby with diarrhea to attend, as that baby is still contagious. (And as a parent, it is incredibly aggravating when your child comes down with one of these viruses as a result of another parent taking a sick kid to daycare. As a parent, I also know the agony of feeling like you shouldn’t continue to take off work mixed in with the desire to stay home with your sick child. Welcome to the guilt of working parenthood.) I know it’s difficult and it completely stinks to use up (all) of your sick days, especially after taking maternity leave, but it’s best for your child to be at home while contagious. If you’re lucky enough to have options for back up care, set this up as soon as possible.  Sometimes neighbors really are that generous with the time to stay home with your sick child.

8. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Be diligent about washing hands. Also, wash soiled clothing, sheets, etc. in hot water.

9. With all of those diaper changes, avoid diaper rash by changing as quickly as possible. My favorite diaper rash cream is Ava Anderson Baby Diaper Cream.  It smells great and works quickly.  It must be ordered online, but it’s a nice product to have for general use.  Plus, it’s really quite versatile.  It also functions as a general healing balm (even for adults) or ultrathick lotion.  I may happen to have a tube in my own bathroom cabinet.  Another option that’s available in drugstores is Baby Aquaphor Healing Ointment. It works so quickly!

images-110. Vaccinate! On schedule! While vaccination is not going to help your child while he’s sick, you can prevent rotavirus (one of the common viral causes of gastroenteritis) simply by making sure you follow the recommended vaccination schedule. Besides, rotavirus can be dangerous to infants that aren’t old enough to receive the vaccine yet. The first rotavirus vaccine is given at 2 months of age.

Best of luck with your kiddo!

avoiding holidaze

There’s been an absence of posts in the last month of this blog. The truth is that I’ve been out in the Christmas trenches, just scraping by. Presents were wrapped on Christmas Eve. All dishes transported to various holiday gatherings were prepped right beforehand, often with a trip to the grocery that very morning. Dry shampoo is my new best friend.
Oscar Blandi Pronto

But I’ve been (trying to) make the conscious decision to slow down and soak it all in, to enjoy everything this season has to offer. We may have sent out the Christmas cards rather late, but I’m counting it as a victory that they made it out the door at all. In fact, this post is more of a reminder about the way to approach Christmas – next year. So either I’m a month late at posting this, or I’m on the ball for next year!

This is hands down, the most tumultuous time of year for us. My son’s birthday is 2 weeks before Christmas. My husband and I both work full time. Each year we make the Christmas tour across the state from family gathering to gathering. (6 total!) Sometimes these few weeks can feel like a gauntlet that I’m not quite sure that I’ll make it through. This year though, just a little shift in my attitude made a massive difference. I lost the perfectionism and focused on making good memories.

How to cut corners at Christmas time
1. For party planning, focus on the aspects that are most important to you. Ditch the rest.
I completely forgot to call the baker and order a cake for Alex’s birthday party. Birthday cake is important to me. I’m not sure why. I have fond memories of pretty awesome birthday cakes growing up. In my ideal world, I would loving hand-craft every little detail on my kids’ birthday cakes. I just don’t have the time for all that. And I’ve made my “piece” with my birthday cake deficiencies. I have decided to buy the kids’ cakes. When I forgot to call the baker with a reasonable amount of fore-warning, everyone was completely booked. So this year, I spent the time on the cake and decided not to allow each birthday guest to choose their own pizza toppings from an array of little glass bowls and decadent accoutrement. I served take-out pizza at my son’s birthday party: No one was mortified by the boxes. My dad helped and made a fantastic salad. I actually enjoyed the party.
Alex's birthday cake
I made a cake for his great grandmas as well. They both celebrate their birthdays within 2 days of Alex.

2. I ordered 99% of Christmas gifts online. I almost never paid for shipping and I ordered from a wide variety of stores.
My favorite online sources for gifting:
Paper Source: more than just stationery. Great glasses, neat calendars. For each of the kids teachers, I made custom journals with their names. Those went over really well.
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For the pub in our house, I created custom coasters to stuff into the hubby’s stocking. Another winner!
custom coasters
Rifle Paper Company: Some really cool gifts, like iPhone covers, recipe boxes, and prints.
Penzey’s Spices: a fantastic selection. They even allow you to make custom boxes of jarred spices surrounded by a bed of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg. Their 4-jar collections are lovely hostess gifts.
Aveda: Great gift boxes. Plus, they always send you numerous wonderful samples (with free shipping) if you sign up for their e-mails.
Land of Nod. Gorgeous, unique toys that last.
Anthropologie. I want to live in their catalogue.
Amazon. The granddaddy of online shopping. They have everything and it arrives in two-days if you’re a Prime member. It’s a huge time-saver and it’s an incredible resource for the forgetful gift-giver.

3. Spend time creating meaningful traditions, but be flexible enough to know that you can’t do it all.
A few years ago, I created an Advent activity calendar to celebrate the season with my kids. I wanted to spend time doing things that mattered and creating memories for them. To do that, we cut corners elsewhere. I strategically choose quick, easy activities for busy days and reserve time-consuming activities for weekends. And I give myself a break if we just can’t do it all. The point is to make the effort and enjoy the activities that we do complete. Advent activity calendar
The activities can be simple, but they’re designed to celebrate the season:
reading the Christmas story in the Bible
PJ + Christmas music dance party
picnic breakfast in front of the tree
eat dinner by candlelight
choose gifts for the angel tree at Churchadvent activities

4. Take the Pete the Cat approach: “It’s all good.”
I didn’t take my kids to see Santa this year and we didn’t decorate cookies together. The shame!
We decorated a gingerbread house, made bird feeders, ate “Christmas” popcorn, donated gifts to the angel tree, and had hot chocolate while checking out the fantastic lights at our zoo. The point isn’t to do it all. It’s to enjoy what you do.
diy bird feedersnutter butter reindeerthumbprint gift tagsgingerbread house decoratinggnome for the holidays
Hope your holidays were the merriest!

little man apron

Now that we’re finally settled into the new house, we’ve been putting the kitchen through it’s paces.  I’m anxiously awaiting the installation of a new gas cooktop.  (I have an over-enthusiasm for cooking over fire.  You should see me with a kitchen torch.)  The microwave handle has broken and its ready for replacement as well.  In the meantime though, I’m happy to put my kitchen equipment to the test.  Alex has been happy to help.  He has his own set of cooking tools and his own kid-sized apron as well. I loved the ‘Staches print from Birch and thought this apron would be a great opportunity to use it.
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basic child's apron
I loved his so much that I even made one for Gabby as well!  She’s still too young to do much helping, but these are so easy to make and kids grow fast.  That will be right around the corner.

IMG_9915 And then I went ahead and made one for myself.  I just couldn’t quite stop.

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pint-sized apron
For these aprons, I used a free template online. There are two sizes (3-5 and 6-8) that could be easily adjusted, if desired. It can be found at Sew Daily. You do have to create an account, but it is free. You can always opt out of receiving e-mails if you’d prefer not to get them. The other option is to use this template, which is the original, hand-drawn version, but doesn’t specifically feature sizing options.

It’s perfectly lovely as written.  I’ve made a few aprons for my nieces as directed (well, mostly as directed, just with the addition of a front pocket):
basic child's apron, with pocket
But this time around, I decided to make a few modifications.

  • Instead of ¾” wide elastic, I use ½”. It’s easier to thread through the neck strap and it’s not quite as bulky. For the adult apron, I used 1 ¼” D rings instead of an elastic strap.
  • I embroidered initials onto the front apron body.  I know how to do exactly one embroidery stitch.  And now I want to monogram everything.
  • I made waist straps that tie together, rather than velcro. That will allow these to be worn a bit longer, and more easily adjusted. Besides, velcro in the kitchen can get kind of gross. To make waist straps that tie, cut 2 additional “neck straps” from the pattern. Prepare them and sew them as shown in the diagram of the pattern. For making all of the straps, you’ll really need to get a turning tool. It looks like a giant straw and chopstick, but it allows the process of creating straps and tubes to be a breeze.

monkey cake

monkey cakeMy son recently moved from the “monkey room” at his school into a full-fledged preschool class. To celebrate his last week as a monkey, we made a monkey cake together to share with his little monkey friends. Little hands can help mash the bananas, sift the flour, and add ingredients. It’s a fun project to create together, as it has a clear homemade look that doesn’t exactly require precision. Plus, it’s just cute!
monkey cakeThis banana cake is actually rather easy to make. The cake does take longer than normal to bake, but the overall decorating is pretty quick. It’s baked in a metal bowl; I used the bowl of my stand mixer. No shaping the cake is required, only a post-baking cutting into layers. The ears are a cupcake with the top removed (and discarded) and the “stub” cut in half. The eyes are chocolate covered almonds and the nose and mouth are licorice. As far as decorating cakes goes, this one is pretty straightforward.
monkey cake
It’s a fantastic idea for a monkey birthday party or a little monkey baby shower.
banana cake
monkey cake
adapted from Martha Stewart
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
3 very ripe, large bananas, mashed (about 1 ⅓ cups)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a metal bowl with non-stick spray (if you happen to have 2 bowls, otherwise you’ll need your mixing bowl while mixing the cake). Also, spray 1 cup of a muffin tin with non-stick spray (or line with a single cup).

Sift cake flour into a medium bowl. Add dry ingredients (soda, powder, salt) and stir. Mash bananas in a separate medium bowl. Add wet ingredients (buttermilk, vanilla). Mix with a fork or whisk to combine.

Beat butter in a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment until fluffy, ~ 2 minutes. Add in brown sugar. Beat for ~ 1 minute further. Add eggs. Mix just until incorporated. Add ~ ⅓ of dry ingredients, mix until incorporated. Add ½ of wet ingredients, mix until incorporated. Continue alternating with dry and wet ingredients until all have been added.

Fill the muffin cup ¾ full. Pour the remaining batter into the metal bowl. Bake the muffin and the cake ~30 minutes. Remove the muffin and continue to allow the cake to bake until a toothpick or tester comes out clean, ~ 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 ½ hours. Allow to cool.

buttercream frostings
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
5 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
Yellow food coloring
¾ cup cocoa powder

Beat butter in mixing bowl with paddle attachment until very fluffy, ~ 3 minutes. Move ~ ¼ of butter into a separate bowl. To the larger amount of butter, add cocoa, 3 ¾ cups powdered sugar and 1 ½ tsp vanilla. Mix until fully incorporate. To the smaller amount of butter, add remaining 1 ½ cups powdered sugar and ½ tsp vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated. Add a small amount of food coloring to the smaller amount of frosting and mix until fully incorporated.

assembly
2 chocolate drop candies (chocolate covered almonds or milk duds)
black rope licorice

Invert cake onto a plate. Slice twice horizontally through the cake, creating 3 even layers. Frost the bottom layer with cocoa buttercream. Add the second layer and frost with cocoa buttercream. Top with third later. Cover entire surface with cocoa buttercream.

Remove cupcake from pan/wrapper. Cut off the top. Cut the stub in half. Each half-stub will be 1 ear of the monkey. Attach monkey ears with 2 toothpicks. Frost ears with cocoa buttercream.

Place yellow buttercream into a large ziplock/plastic bag, pressing into one bottom corner, or use a pastry bag with a large, round tip. Cut the corner of the bag. Twist the open end of the bag around the frosting, to create a makeshift, disposable pastry bag. Pipe on the yellow face and yellow portion of the monkey ears.

Add the chocolate covered almonds above the yellow portion of the face to create monkey eyes. Cut short pieces of black licorice for the nose, and use a long piece for the mouth.

June loves

This has been a wild month for us. We bought a new home, one that will require a significant amount of attention to make shine. We’re in the process of selling our current home. We took a week long vacation to the beach (yay!). Did I mention that we both work full time and have two small children?

It’s been a bit stressful – in the best sort of way.

Even in the midst of the chaos and the complete lack of homemade dinners, we have so much for which we are grateful.

1. A family vacation to a beautiful beach with incredible weather. Enough said.

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2. Fish tacos. Made by my brother and his wife on our vacation. These were good enough to still be thinking about two weeks later.

IMG_72933. A little bit of embroidery. A very long car ride is the perfect choice for learning new hand-sewn techniques.

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4. Learning to wave! For some reason, in spite of my best efforts to relax and pretend to be cool, I get a little anxious about when the baby is going to hit motor milestones. Why can’t the baby sit yet? The weekly baby development e-mail talked about sitting weeks ago! In reality, I know I need to sit back myself and chill. Babies learn at their own pace in their own time. However, when they actually start doing new things, it’s so exciting to watch them learn!

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5.  New parental techniques.  I walked out of the store with my screaming kid in tow.  First time ever.  I felt pretty empowered.  Yes, leaving was a hassle.  We live 15 minutes away from Target, and there were things that we needed to get.  I felt like the bigger picture was that my child is (hopefully) beginning to learn that “whining gets you nothing”.  That’s worth extra hour of my time, even when we’re busy.  New mantra in this house.

6. Lego-mania.  My son is only 3, but he’s beginning to show a fondness for Legos.  These little individualized players from Oyo Sports Toys come complete with beards and personalized jerseys.  Of course, we’ve already lost a few pieces.  They’re also available for baseball and football players as well.

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7. Keys to the new home.  It’s exciting to know we’re going to be investing in this place for the long term.  Right now, it feels like it’s alive with possibility, even if those possibilities happen to be covered to thistles.

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8. A chance to show a little kindness in honor of Graceyn. My lovely friends choose to commemorate the second anniversary of their sweet baby girl’s birth into Heaven by asking family and friends to share in performing random acts of kindness.  I think it’s an incredible tribute to her to bring joy into the lives of others. It’s been inspiring to read what others have been doing to honor her. Thanks to their family for sharing with all of us. You are a such a blessing to those who are lucky enough to know you!

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homemade teething biscuits

Really? This is how I’m choosing to spend my (rare) spare time? On teething biscuits? What has happened to me? Something about motherhood just sucks you in and you’re a bit surrounded by it. I like to cook and I become a bit obsessive about trying to delight the taste buds of the newest family member. When you’re feeding a tinyhuman something that they’ve never had before, it’s exciting to watch the reaction to that first taste. A wrinkled nose? Delighted squeal? It becomes something that I get such a kick out of watching.
homemade teething biscuits
In searching for recipes for teething biscuits, I had a few criteria. I didn’t want added sugar. I’m not quite ready to introduce wheat, so flour is out. That leaves few options. These things sound like the could be analogous to dog biscuits. However, I promise that they’re not. They’re surprisingly good. Like – “I ate 3 of them” just to make sure kind of good. And there may have been a fourth later on that day. They’re more or less cookies for babies. But they lack all of the traditional cookie ingredients.

Mise en place for teething biscuitsAlso, they’re pretty quick to put together.

cutting out biscuitsA whirl in a food processor. Plus, you get to use up the remains of that awful rice cereal that your baby won’t eat anyway. Hint – if you have a baby and are about to start rice cereal for the first time, buy the smallest size you can find! It’s so bland that babies can’t even handle the boringness of it. However, it has a texture that can fortunately stand in for flour. I also used some oatmeal cereal, coconut oil, a banana and 4 oz of pureed baby food. This is where that flavor can get quite creative. I went with banana and vanilla pears. You could certainly try other combinations. Cinnamon apple pumpkin biscuits would be great in the fall. Or maybe peach mango for the summer.

homemade teething biscuitsBring on the chompers!

homemade teething biscuitshomemade teething biscuits
1 cup baby rice cereal
1 cup baby oatmeal cereal
⅓ cup coconut oil
1 banana
4 oz baby puree (~½ cup)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until well-blended. Refrigerate for 30 minutes+. Turn out onto a smooth surface to roll out. The dough itself is not exactly sticky, but it is quite wet. You can use a bit of rice or oatmeal cereal to keep the dough from sticking. Roll out and cut small shapes with a cookie cutter or glass.

Bake at 425 for approximately 20 minutes, turning over half-way through baking. If you’d like a softer cookie, aim for about 12-15 minutes. For a firmer teething biscuit, 20-22 minutes.

Allow to cool. These can be frozen.

homemade baby food: first purees

Making your own baby food is not nearly so fussy as it sounds. If you have a well-equipped kitchen, it requires no special equipment. Why would anyone go to the trouble? 1. It’s cheap. 2. I like the idea of using organic produce for the littlest of eaters. I’d prefer to keep pesticides at bay at least for a little while. 3. It’s fresh and it tastes infinitely better. Infinitely. The jarred stuff is pretty gross. Even the purees in the pouches lose a fair amount of flavor in the process of pasteurization. Not that I’m anti-pasteurization. Louie Pasteur did our society a tremendous service (with pasteurization and vaccines!). Pretty incredible, really. It’s a good thing when storing food over months/years. However, those high temps can leave flavorful fruits and veggies tasting a bit, well, sterile.

IMG_6451So I make my own.  I promise though that I’m not a snob.  We use some store-bought stuff on occasion, and I certainly don’t judge if you don’t take the time to lovingly hand-craft your precious little angel’s every bite.  Really.  We eat box mac & cheese in my house too.

If you’re so inclined to make baby food, a few basic pieces of equipment are necessary to get started.

1. A food processor or blender

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2. Ice cube trays

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Really, that’s pretty much it. The best ice cube trays for making baby food would be the nice silicone variety.  Several sets of trays are nice to have on hand if you’re planning to make lots of food at once.  Upon making giant batches of food, spread the puree into your trays, freeze.  Pop out the cubes and you’re good to go.

IMG_6186If you’re willing to go the extra mile with baby food-making, there are a few other tools that can be nice.

3. little containers in which to transport said food.  I like these and these.

4. this contraption & these pouches

These pouches are incredibly handy to have when you’re traveling.  They’re a bit of a luxury, but the lack of need for a spoon means no mess to clean up.  They freeze well and can be thawed in a bit of warm water (or overnight in the fridge).  The little filling station is an absolute must if you plan to go this route.  These things would be nearly impossible to fill without it.  With it, the filling process is a breeze.  IMG_6237

The real reason I make my own baby food is that it allows me to be a bit more creative with what the baby is eating.  I enjoy that.  The first purees that I make for baby are always single-ingredient and very simple, but after the basics are covered, baby food combos have become incredible little bombs of flavor.  Carrot-apple-mango.  Roasted banana-blueberry.  Sweet peas-green beans-mint.  Apricot-golden beet.  Raspberry-vanilla bean-pear.  Avocado-pineapple.

The other advantage here is that your homemade purees can contain the flavors you want in the ratio you want.  It’s not the tiniest amount of raspberry with applesauce filler.

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The first purees that you feed your baby should be simple.  One ingredient, just to make sure that your baby does not have a reaction.  Rice cereal has been a commonly recommended first food by physicians, though it’s not always necessary to start there.  First foods are probably going to wind up in your hair rather than in the baby’s stomach anyway.  Maybe those beets aren’t the best idea.  Really though, you just want an ingredient that you can puree until it’s completely smooth.

first purees

steamed carrots

Wash and peel as many carrots as you feel like making.  (I typically make about 2 pounds at once.  That is more than enough carrots to get through the entire carrot-eating stage.)  Steam using a steamer pan or in the microwave with a small amount of water in the bottom of the bowl until carrots are easily pierced with a fork.  Puree in a food processor or blender until very, very smooth.  Spread into ice cube trays and freeze.

sweet potato

Pierce sweet potatoes several times with a fork.  (I make about 7 giant spuds at once.  This puree also serves as the base of some amazing pancakes.)  Roast at 450°F until potatoes are fully cooked.  Scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz until smooth.  Freeze in ice cube trays

vanilla bean pear

Peel ripe pears.  (I typically make 7-8 at once.  After the baby is used to a bit of texture, I leave the skins on.)  Remove cores.  Place pears in a Dutch oven.  Add water about halfway up the side of the pot.  Add seeds from 1-2 vanilla bean pods.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until pears are tender.  Puree until smooth.  Freeze in ice cube trays.

parsnip

Wash and peel parsnips.  Steam until tender.  Puree until smooth and freeze.

other ideas for single ingredient purees
avocado
steamed asparagus
applesauce
peach
beet
butternut squash
mango

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a dose of “having it all” reality

The person that told us the we could “have it all” must have been an insomniac.  Trying to keep up with having it all is exhausting.  And frustrating. I think that in this day and age, having it all is a bit of crock.  It’s time for a dose of reality.

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Currently, I’m surrounded by piles of papers, scraps of fabric, bits of projects that are half-completed.  I didn’t shower yesterday, and I ate nachos for dinner.  Easter baskets have not been put away, and a few piles of clean laundry are sitting on our couch.  The laundry hamper is over-flowing.  And I cannot remember the last time I received 8 straight, lovely hours of sleep.  That’s the reality.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  My incredibly strong-willed spirited three year old has finally decided that it’s time to use the potty.  We went for ice cream to celebrate.  On a work/school night.  And the kids needed and received baths.  And I was able to sort through the stack of mail on the counter.  That’s a successful day in my world.

Ice cream!The truth is that no matter whether you’re working full-time or parenting from home full-time, this round the clock responsibility for young children can wear a person down.  It’s exhausting.  And somehow I’m supposed to fit it swim lessons for the kids?  The reality is that something has to give.  We can’t do it all if we wish to maintain our sanity.  Usually for me, the things that give are exercise, cooking nightly, style (hair & clothes, I am that woman that lives in yoga pants each and every weekend, without ever even thinking about doing some yoga), general order & organization.  I make cupcakes an hour before I’m supposed to show up and then the frosting melts all over as I drive frantically to get there.  In spite of the systems that I try to put in place to keep our home running smoothly, our weekends are still times that we play catch up with the laundry, groceries, bills, etc.  Everything we need to do just to get through the week.

IMG_6484Sometimes being successful just means mustering through.  In this pinterest-crazed, perfection-seeking world that we live in, that message sometimes gets lost in glossy photos of perfectly-iced ombre layered cakes and coordinated rain boots and hats for 2-year olds.  Most of us just don’t live up to that ideal.  And it’s probably better that way.  The reality of it is that parenting is messy.  And frustrating.  And exhausting.  We don’t need that perfection to raise good kids.  We need resolve and compassion.  And patience patience patience.

If you also have a strong-willed spirited toddler, you fully embrace the need for patience and resolve.  We need those things for our children, and we’re committed to those goals for our kids, but I think we also need them for ourselves.  This gig is tough.  And we are all just doing the best that we can.  Piles of laundry and all.  I think that I often tend to focus my energy on the kids, work, and the home because all of those things demand that energy.  I tend to forgot that it’s also alright to spend a little on myself.  I haven’t exercised in ages.  Or taken a sewing class (or made it past class 1 of beginning knitting!).  I haven’t had friends over or gone for coffee.  I think sometimes that we can become so focused meeting our responsibilities for everyone else that we forget to even put ourselves on the list.  Making sure that we have enough energy to face down all those other parts of our world is key.  Putting ourselves on that list is not an act of selfishness.  It’s vastly important to the people that you love.  If you give yourself that time to pursue those things that re-energize you, you have the ability to share that with others.

I have a tendency to focus on the part of the to-do list that just isn’t done yet.  I don’t want to spend so much time focusing that I lose sight of all the blessings that I do have.  Two healthy, happy, funny little kids.  A ruggedly-handsome husband.  A messy, but comfortable home.  And a job that lets me feel like I’m valued and I’m contributing to something good in this world.  Those are massive blessings.  That’s the bigger picture.

IMG_6566I was going to post this morning on making your own homemade baby food, but I’ll get to that eventually.  I don’t want this little corner of the internet to become filled with images of perfection that are far from the truth.  Real life is not quite that picture-perfect, but it’s wonderful in spite of that.