Monday, April 25, 2011

The joys of toddlerhood and an Easter recap

This Easter, Maddox was old enough to take part in more of the activities and really enjoyed a week of holiday events. It's fun watching him grow and discover.

Early in the week, we met up with friends and dyed eggs at the park. Most of the dye ended up on the kids and on the floor, but they loved dunking them and eating the frosted Easter cookies one mom brought. Here's Maddox with the twins.

Next, we had a weekend Egg hunt at church. Maddox didn't know what to do first-- there was a "sand box" of bird seed to dig in, giant bubbles to blow, a park to play in, a bouncey house, and even a petting zoo complete with lambs, ducks and chicks, dogs, and rabbits.

We hunted eggs together and even stopped long enough to pose for a few photos. After picking up each egg, Maddox would dump out the candy contents to see what he'd gotten. We didn't keep most of the candy (It was taffy and hard candy) but here's a shot of him devouring a bag of fruit chews they also left out for the kids to find.

On Sunday, we hid eggs in the grass and let Maddox run around in search of a half dozen hard boiled ones. (Good thing he's so good at finding them or we'd have no eggs for Easter brunch ; ) After finding each egg, he'd hold it high and show us ANOTHER EGG!

At church on Sunday, they had all the kids go up front with "Jesus" for the final song. And of course, guess whose child was the only one climbing up and down stairs and zooming around the front of the church? Yup, you guessed it.

Of course by the end of the song, he was finally sitting nicely and cried when he had to get off the stairs...

The final verdict? Easter is pretty fun when you're 2. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

How will you celebrate?
  • Pick one day and walk, don't drive
  • Turn off the water while you soap up and shampoo
  • Find your local recycling bins and use them!
  • Buy locally
  • Try washable diapers-- Really! They aren't difficult to use.
  • Plant a garden
  • Pick up some recycle bags, skip the plastic

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The sweetness of Spring: Sweet bread and lemon filling

At our house, muffins are a favorite for breakfast. Maddox loves any and every kind of sweet bread and when I can sneak a few veggies into his diet, I won't pass up the chance.

I'm always looking for a great sweet bread recipe. Most I pull up on my iphone from applications I've downloaded but the results have been mixed. I prefer using tried-and-true favorites from friends, so when  I came across Jenet's Zuchinni Walnut Bread I was eager to give it a try. Besides, our garden will soon be brimming with zuchinni and you can never have enough great recipes on hand to handle abundant produce. 

The result was a tasty, moist bread with a nice texture and flavor. Maddox was so eager to try it that I allowed him a large slice with his lunch... then another. He ended up devouring almost half the pan!

Ah well, at least he got a good dose of zuchinni.

The next recipe I pulled out was a lemon meringue pie recipe from a Mennonite cookbook. It's a collection I use for inspiration. The Mennonites are experts when it comes to desserts and baked goods; none of the recipes have left me disappointed.
After our lemon curd didn't quite go as planned, I decided to make just the filling for a tart and tangy treat. The result was delicious!

Pie fillings are perfect for a time-saving treat with fewer calories. Plus whipping together just the filling takes only minutes.

And as much as Maddox loves a homemade treat, this is one I think I'll save for myself-- it's going to be Mommy's little indulgence.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A visit to the Iris Farm

Tuesday night a storm blew in. Wednesday we awoke to a wet, drizzly day not-so-perfect for a toddler who likes to play outside all day. And being cooped up in the house is not an option when that leads to his tiny, inquisitive hands finding scissors, glue, my crafting supplies, and (most recently) bottles of anti-air sickness medicine his father forgot to store in a safe place.

I remembered an ad I recently read for an iris farm nearby that stated the flowers were blooming. I LOVE irisis. They're hands-down my favorite flowers and one can never have enough in the garden. So we called ahead, hopped in the car, and went to find the iris garden.

After a long drive through the country, we pulled up into the driveway. Along the green hillsides we could see horses and a few sheep eating fresh spring grass. An older woman named Kate greeted us at the door and welcomed us to her flower haven with sprawling raised beds all over the property. The only clue to her exact age was a reference she made about a great granddaughter who has since grown.

Maddox was delighted when Kate walked us to a golf cart and chauffered us around the property to look at flowers and give us detailed descriptions of each variety. They were beautiful. Some were deep yellows, purples, and burgundy with large blooms that sparkled in the dampness. Others were multi-colored with purple or yellow blooms and white beards. A few were exotic like an orchid with speckled insides and fancy ripples.

As we made our way to the last row, the weather turned colder and the rain fell is a heavy mist. We decided to just take one variety and come back on a better day.

Kate dug in the muddy earth as I tried to shelter my little one from the rain. We raced back to the car, promising to return soon and Kate waved us goodbye.

Here's a picture of my new prize happily transplated back at home. Flowers have a way of making any rainy day a little brighter.

Exploding eggs for lunch

Since picking up our two dozen fresh eggs this week, we've been quickly making our way through the first dozen.

We've used them in so many ways. But I hate cleaning up the pan after scrambling eggs. No matter what I use to coat the pan, they always seem to stick firmly to the bottom. And while certain non-stick pans would do a better job I believe the pieces of tephlon coating that seeps and flakes off into the food is not worth consuming.

That's why when I heard you could quickly cook hard boiled eggs in the microwave, I was eager to give it a try. The first egg went in on high for two minutes. But somewhere around the one-minute mark the egg made a "pop" "pop" and then exploded with a grand burst. It was a mess.

I wiped up the first egg, saving what I could to feed to the dogs, and put in egg number 2. This time I was much more careful and set the timer for 22 seconds. When that went well, I turned the egg over and cooked for 10 more seconds. I kept turning and slowly cooking the egg until it tested "done."

The egg peeled easily and looked perfect! I thought I had figured it out until I began mashing the egg into egg salad and it promptly... EXPLODED! Hot egg went everywhere, covering me, covering the counter, and leaving tiny bits of white goop on the floor.

Egg number 3 didn't fare any better. I'd slowly microwave each egg, turning it over for even heat penetration and then as soon as it was pricked each one would pop into hot pieces.

I'm sure there's a trick to the microwavable egg (I've obviously not figured it out); So if you know the trick, feel free to share!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter bunny or not to bunny this Easter...?

A rescue rabbit, waiting to be adopted.

Today we stopped at our local feed store to look at pet food. We were greeted by the resident duck and overwhealmed by the number of chicks, ducklings, and baby rabbits being sold.

The feed store visit got me wondering... are baby animals really a good Easter addition?

Millions of rabbits (and ducks and chicks) are sold every year during the month of April. Right now, pet stores and feed stores all over the country are preparing by stocking up on baby bunnies for expectant children yet again.

But do bunnies make a good gift?

Cute as a bunny
Baby animals are  adorable, especially furry bunnies with their long ears and twitching noses. And while rabbits can make wonderful pets when spayed and neutered, there are a number of cautions and drawbacks to rabbit ownership.

Rabbit rescues often receive a wave of unwanted rabbits following the Easter holiday. According to The Bunny Rescue of Nashville, "Contrary to Eastertime hype, rabbits and small children aren't a good match. The exuberance of even the gentlest toddler is stressful for the sensitive rabbit. Children like a companion they can hold, and cuddle. That's why stuffed animals are so popular."

Children quickly lose interest in their pet rabbit when the bunny is reluctant to be held and cuddled like a toy. But being picked up is frightening and often uncomfortable to the bunny. Some rabbits end up neglected and forgotten.

Many new owners also don't realize what happens when rabbits mature. Rescuers warn that "If left un-neutered they will chew, spray or dig." Some even become territorial of their cage and will lunge and bite.
Rabbits are certainly not for everyone, so before buying a bunny ask yourself the following questions:

Rabbits are not "low-maintenance" pets. Are you ready to be the main caretaker? (cage cleaning, providing fresh water/hay/pellets/veggies daily, vet visits, exercise out of the cage, etc?)

Are you prepared for a pet that will live 10-15 years?

Rabbits must be neutered or they will mark your house with feces and urine. Are you prepared for this cost? Do you know a rabbit-savvy vet?

Rabbits should live indoors (for many safety reasons), as members of the family. Do you have room for a large cage and space for them to roam?

If after carful consideration you still believe rabbit ownership is the right decision for your family, please think adoption first. Some rescues will make families wait until after Easter to adopt, but there are too many unwanted rabbits waiting to find a new family.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New neighbors and fresh eggs

After our refrigerator went out with the storm we had a few weeks ago, I'd been meaning to stop and pick up farm fresh eggs from a house down the street. They always had a sign outside advertising what was available: lambs, eggs, or hay-- and right now they had fresh eggs to sell.

The sign listed a phone number but I decided to stop and knock on the door to see if anyone was at home. We pulled up in the long driveway as cows greeted us, lazily munching spring grass and sleeping with their calves curled up close by. An old border collie ran out to greet us and we parked next to the garage where we could gaze down at a flock of chickens roaming in a field outside a large red barn.

I opened a broken screen door slightly and knocked gently on the old red door before taking a step back. Almost immediately footsteps could be heard hastily coming near in a loud, determined stride. A middle-aged farmer appeared and gave me a hard once-over look. "Can I help you?" he nearly growled. I explained that I didn't have the phone number but wondered if I might be able to pick up some eggs, gesturing towards his sign. His expression didn't change. "I'm not usually home but I have a funeral to go to," he paused for a moment... "Go around to the garage." With that he shut the door.

I went back to where I'd parked and entered through an open door where he was already waiting. "It's a self-serve operation," he explained. "Eggs are in here in the fridge, prices are listed on the door, egg cartons go over there when you come back-- put the money in this bucket." He looked at me hard again. "We've had a lot of stealing going on around here so we don't leave a lot of change.... Oh, and DON'T come after dark 'cause I don't know what you're up to." I promised not to, wondering why anyone would come calling after dark at such a house anyway. Anyone who dared would likely meet the barrel of a shotgun.

I thanked the farmer, paying him for 2 dozen eggs-- a steal at only $1.75 per carton for a medium size order.

As we drove away, I shook my head at the unusual characters you meet in the South. I'm excited to find fresh eggs for sale that are close to home, but have to admit I'm also a little glad that next time I'll be serving myself.

Monday Cravings: sugar free Lemon Curd

Recently I found this recipe for Sugar Free Lemon Curd from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free. I've never had lemon curd before that I can remember, but the tartness of the fruit sounded wonderful. I decided to try and make some this morning.

My plan was to share with readers a picture of my wonderful lemon curd, only mine didn't turn out quite like I'd planned. I substituted stevia and honey for the agave nectar, which was fine, but realized too late that the eggs I'd tried to salvage from our fridge during the power outage had frozen while in safe keeping. The egg whites were none the worse for it, but the yolks remained a solid sphere of yellow. I had to carefully dig out my yolks and discard them.

This made me a little nervous about the results, which turned out to be well waranted. The lemon curd was too thin. It's a tasty treat in itself, but certainly nothing to share with company or curious readers.

I went ahead and picked up more eggs (an interesting story I will post later) and plan to try again.

Hopefully you are more adept in the kitchen, *sigh*

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A sense of glorious freedom

Spending a day at the Opryland Hotel and enjoying a day at the spa, I thought back to how life has changed so much in such a short amount of time. Mainly, the responsibilities I have now that I didn't have even just a few years ago.

Becoming a parent, you trade one life for a brand new one. You trade sleeping in on Saturday morning for early pancake breakfasts together and playing on the driveway. You trade intimate dinners for family-friendly restaurants that are known for speedy service. You trade coffee with friends for mommy play groups with gold fish crackers to munch on.

Life is richer now, but also very different.

One of the most "free spirited" times in my life can be summed up with a single memory. While living in Seattle I would take lunch breaks to go visit my horse. I would put on her halter, take her out in the fields and trails, and ride bareback for 15 or 20 minutes before racing back to the barn and speeding back to work. I laughed at others I saw on the trails who would look quizzically at the girl on the horse, still wearing a skirt and work clothes, travelling down the path without a care in the world.

I miss those moments to.
These days, my "freeness" is spent at an hour or two at a time quietly shopping. It's a two hour naptime. Once in a while, it's sitting at a restaurant alone-- strangely the same thing I dreaded in my single years. Sometimes, it's a weekend working out of town. But these freedoms are different ones than I used to enjoy.

I know these moments, this time of consantly being needed and the task of keeping him safe, is only for a short while and I enjoy the things I get to do with an inquisitive child who soaks it all up with glee. But it's funny how life changes so suddenly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Picky toddlers and launched vegetables

Feeding a toddler can be, umm... tricky. And finding healthy foods to satisfy a carbohydrate/fruit/cookie/snack food-loving little one can be a daily challenge.

But it wasn't always a battle of wills to get something green through his clenched lips. Some of Maddox's first foods were pureed and then chopped soft vegetables. Broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, green beans, mushrooms-- he loved them all. These days however he will hardly touch any kind of veggie other than peas, corn, and raw carrots. And even these don't come with a guarantee not to end up as missiles hailing through the kitchen.

I've had to adapt and become something of a sneaky cook these days, hiding vegetables where he won't find them and slathering things with enough ketchup to disguise what lies beneath. It's not always easy, but all in a day's work when your daily duty involves preparing 3 meals to fuel the body and brain of a growing little one.

To help others battling through toddler food prep, here are some of the tried and true foods at our house that go down where they should and not launched through the air!
Home baked muffins such as carrot/raisin, zuchinni, and pumpkin provide a veggie-infused punch to start the day. (I always add more zuchinni or carrot to muffins than it calls for.) You can even add flax seeds or a bit of nutritional yeast for added nutrients.

Pancakes are an easy start to a nutritious meal. Homemade pancakes start with flour (try substituting all or part of the white flour for another grain flour such as aramouth, soy, rice, etc.), baking powder, a pinch of sugar, salt, and milk. You can also start with a low-calorie box mix. Add 1/4 cup bran, cinnamon, and vanilla. We make homemade syrup by boiling 1/4 cup brown sugar in a small amount of water while the pancakes are baking. Slightly oil the pan and make pancakes. Our favorite toppings are berries, homemade syrup, and peanut butter.

Scrambled eggs are a great protein. We like to add a little onion, whatever veggies we have on hand (chopped finely), and shredded cheese. At first Maddox balked at the idea of eating eggs. A little vanilla yogurt on top of veggie eggs made him change his mind. It may not look appetizing, but to a toddler it was a sweet treat.

Yogurt parfaits are toddler favorites. If you've never made homemade granola, it's worth the little prep it takes. A basic recipe can be found HERE. I buy organic whole yogurt and sweeten slightly with honey or defrosted frozen fruit (during the thawing process the juice sauce will sweeten the yogurt). Add granola, strawberries, banannas, or berries.

Chicken nuggets made with all white chicken meat are a simple go-to meal starter. I normally pair this with homemade mashed potatoes (you can hide things like spinach or blended broccoli in mashed potatoes, even baby food veggies will work), sweet potato oven fries, string cheese, and apple slices. Our local Aldi's sells a large bag of all white chicken nuggets for only $3!

For a lighter meal, Maddox loves eating a fruit and cheese plate. It reminds me of a quaint French meal that consists of cut fruit, slices of cheese, and a piece of crusty bread. A glass of unsweetened, plain almond milk (higher in calcium than cow's milk and lower in calories) washes it all down.

Pasta is a wonderfully versatile toddler favorite. There are so many shapes and sizes of noodles that just holding and looking at the noodles can be a toddler delight.
Try making your own easy sauce. Lean ground turkey or beef can be seasoned with garlic, onion, oregano, and basil. Then add plain tomato sauce for a great starter sauce that's lighter in calories than a cream sauce and is a great way for a picky toddler to eat tomatoes. You can also add diced tomatoes, shredded carrots, and shredded spinach that will go virtually undetected. (The sauce can also be served over veggies and eaten with a spoon.)
For a healthy lasagna, prepare the noodles as directed. Alternately layer sauc, noodles, cottage cheese (healthier than ricotta), noodles, and then sauce. You can also use the sauce for spaghetti.
Make extra sauce and freeze.

Crunchy fish fillets are a new favorite around here. I was surprised when Maddox ate fish for the first time, but I buy less "fishy" tasting varieties like tilapia. Roll fillets in bread crumbs/herbs/pepper/garlic, then dip in milk, then back in bread crumbs. Fry over medium heat until brown on each side or place on tin foil and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. If it's not a "fish" day for Maddox, a little ketchup is all it takes to make dinner go down the hatch.

This and that
Peanut butter is very popular in our pantry. Fotunately our son doesn't have nut allergies so we use it to flavor lots of healthy foods and add a little extra protein. Almond butter is also a great option for less fat and more protein per serving. We put the nutty spread on whole wheat bread or flax flat bread, apple slices, raw carrots, banannas, and even to flavor oatmeal.

Have you ever tried goat's milk? I'm not the typical mother and actually steer clear of cow's milk. I find it difficult to digest, over processed, allergy-causing, and not at all natural for our own bodies to break down. You can read more about why others have chosen not to drink cow's milk HERE.
I didn't start my son on nut milk for the fear of exposing him to nuts too early. Instead, he enjoyed the benefits of goat's milk. We don't buy it very often anymore, but he does enjoy it once in a while.

Organic, whole yogurt is an easy part of a meal or snack. I choose not to feed my son soy yogurt (there is debate on the effects soy has on hormones, especially in males), but regular and goat's milk is always on hand.

Did you know orange cheeses are really dyed for color? Many children with ADD or ADHD have hyperactive reactions to the dyes in foods like cheese. We prefer goat cheese or mozerella and only use orange cheeses in moderation, typically for Mexican food dishes.

What kinds of foods does your toddler enjoy? Do you have tricks for encouraging healthy eating? Share your thoughts below.

Kid-friendly eats with healthy options

If you're like me, lunchtime often leaves you with a hungry munchkin who can't wait another minute for a quick meal. And when you're out running errands or far from home, that often means scrambling to find a fast lunch spot that doesn't just serve burgers and fries.

We made a conscious decision to give up fast food years ago, and thankfully we don't have to rely on it!

One of our favorite quick lunch or dinner stops is Cracker Barrel restaurant. There's hardly any wait, plenty of nutritious options, and food is served quickly by  friendly staff. Some of our favorite foods to share are collard greens, pinto beans, salad, biscuits, and Maddox loves the chicken fingers.

Our last lunch bill totaled around only $8. Cheers to that!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Summer Kids Crafts: Pine cone bird feeders and personalized stepping stones

Spring and Summer are the perfect times of year to start an outdoor craft project. Kids love learning new things and creating usable crafts.

The following simple crafts are both inexpensive and perfect for young children. A little imagination can go a long way on a warm afternoon.

Pine Cone Bird Feeder 
Gather together:
Smooth peanut butter
1-2 Pine cones
String or twine
A pan of bird seed
A spoon for spreading

Line an outdoor table with newspaper and set out your supplies. Tie a 2 foot piece of string to the top of the pine cone. Let the kids slather the pine cone with peanut butter and roll it in the bird seed. Allow to dry for a few hours before hanging up for the birds to enjoy!

Stepping Stones
Stepping stone kit
Tiles, stones, beads
Thin wood dowel for writing
Handi-wipes for quick cleanup

Most craft stores sell inexpensive stepping stone kits. All you need to do is mix the cement according to directions (ours was slightly too moist so we let it sit for 30 minutes in the sun before decorating). Create your own designs with handprints, footprints, mosaics, glass stones, and beads. You can use a wood dowel to draw and write a name or spell it out in beads. Allow to dry one day before removing from the mold. Most kits come with enough mix to make more than one stepping stone.

Last summer Maddox and I made a stepping stone for the garden with his handprint and Henry's pawprint. The two buddies created a cherished momento we can enjoy for years to come.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Green thumbs and muddy shoes

They say gardening is good for the soul. Digging in the dirt helps remind us of the good and tangible things in life. In a world run by the button-pushers and electronic messengers, sometimes it just feels good to touch something solid. 

I also think gardening is good for the child in you.

The other day after a heavy rain, I pulled on my heavy boots and took my son outside with seeds and shovels in hand. The dogs danced around us and played in the grass while we looked over our small patch of garden and debated where to plant our peas, zuchinni, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs. The sun felt so good after a long winter and wet, chilly start to spring.

We dug and planted for about 30 minutes, which is all a busy toddler can really handle. I carefully pushed seeds into each hole while Maddox drizzled them clumsily, spilling peas into the grass. He loves "helping" and watching his enthusiasm made me smile.

Gardens are wonderful places for children. It's a place of quiet solitude, brooding thoughts, shared times, and simple sucesses. One of the best places to grow up is in a garden where trial and error don't hurt so badly and heavy burdens can be dug deep into the ground and buried for a while.

Maddox might still be too young to remember these early times together. He may not even know that the seeds we planted are now the same peas peeking out of the ground and beginning to wind upwards, gowing and climbing to find the sun.

But what he will remember is that he and mommy were never afraid to get our hands dirty and the mud on our boots is okay, that it was earned together. 

We still haven't quite figured out the Southern growing season, but that's okay to. Last year we happily shared zuchinni muffins, zuchinni lasagna, and even breaded and baked zuchinni fries from monstrous vegetables. But that's not the only reaon why I started the garden. Sometimes the process is more important than the final product. 

Here's a video of Maddox last year helping me "water" the plants.

And just as a side story, I've decided to share an interesting article from the San Francisco Chronicle about a gardener who took over a vacant lot and turned it into a miniature farm. Urban farms are nothing new, but the city now wants the gardener to buy an expensive permit to continue sharing with the community.

Looking at the pains this gardener took to transform the plot of land, I kept thinking what a wonderful learning experience it would be for local children who visit and the benefits they receive being nourished by the fruits of her labor.

What a terrible loss if city regulations brought it all to a sudden halt.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blood, sweat, competition, and CHINCHILLAS

A few weekends ago, I decided to attend a chinchilla show.

I have actually owned chinchillas for years and began the Chinchilla Rescue and Adoption Network back in 2004. My own chinchilla was purchased from a breeder whose animals were relegated to one bathroom after her sons allergies became out-of-control. Nine animals in a bathroom wasn't working out very well.

After moving to Tennessee, I got to know a local breeder through an online forum. We had exchanged a few emails and held one telephone conversation before deciding to carpool together to the show in Indiana. 

At the last minute we even decided to bring my chinchilla, Solo, along to show even though she hadn't been properly primped and preened to show condition prior to her big debut. 

It was the National show actually and so the competition would be stiff and taken very seriously.

We arrived at one-o'clock in the morning and happily went to bed. The next morning by 8am we were at the fairgrounds and joined in with grooming the animals. Solo had never been brushed before, so I waited for her loud protests to begin as she was held upside down and combed meticulously. I of course had no idea what I was doing so the poor girl had to undergo extra time being suspended. Maybe it was the shock of unfamiliar or the unprepared chin not wanting to look like an amateur, but she kept from letting out any obscenities. (When I was done a kind breeder asked if I would mind him "re-doing" my grooming job. Thank you!!)

By 9 am, all the animals were placed in individual cages on rows of buffet tables and in numerical order by show tag. Solo was towards the end and by this time had decided the whole bit was not hitting her fancy. She furiously began trying to grab ahold of her neighbor and rip out his fluffy hairdo. 

A few hours went by and it was Solo's turn to take a trip to the judging table under giant fleurescent lights. The lights were meant to help show fur flaws. Chinchillas, I learned, are judged on multiple factors including fur quality, size, confirmation, fur density, color clarity, and veiling (another color term that refers to the three colors in a hair fiber). The judges take this very seriously and spend time sorting the table, moving animals up or down by how they compare to each other until they are in a row of 1st, 2nd, and so on. There can be more than one 1st place animal if the quality is in the 1st or 2nd category by their standards, but only one champion and reserve champion out of the group. Those then go on to compete for bigger titles. 

Now although our society has advanced quite a bit from days of segregation, the same is not true for chinchillas that are divided into groups based on "male", "female", "white", "black", and so on. "Tan" even has their own category. Solo was a "white" and one of the first groups to be seen. Do the chinchillas dislike this personal profiling? The jury is still out... Just don't do it at an airport.

I waited like a nervous mother while one chin after another was moved up or down the table. Solo began directly in the center of the table, then was moved up one place, then another. She ended up being the "best" 3rd place animal placed in her group (and may have gotten higher had I properly prepared her). Her comments were "good size and confirmation; clarity could be a little better; there seems to be some slight twisting in her hair". But I was pleased for a first show, and a large one at that.

The show ended at 12:30am and our tired caravan returned to the hotel. The weekend was full of new information, new friends, and one little white ribbon that looked quite perfect on my cage.

Here's a photo of Solo, apparantly asking if she can go home yet.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Oreo "Cake Pops" for childrens parties

American Cupcake in London recently posted a recipe for Oreo "Cake Pops" made out of bits of cake and drizzled with oreo-laced icing.

These delicious-looking lollipops would be perfect for a children's party (as long as the children are old enough not to choke on the stick of course). But you could also make these "under-age-5" appropriate by forgoing the stick altogether and just making oreo cake balls.

The recipe calls for boxed cake mix, but for a homemade dessert simply substitute your own favorite cake recipe. Cakes are actually very simple to make! And homemade always tastes better (and better for you with all "natural" ingredients). Of course in a pinch, a cook could purchase a cheap pre-made cake. Our local Kroger always has cakes on clearance for only a few dollars.

And while you're there, check out other inspiring cupcake recipes and photos from American Cupcake in London.

Of dogs and children

The Three Amigos

As long as they know who's really in charge!

"It's okay to be green"

Motherhood is probably the only job you'll never quit for being overworked and underpaid.

One day I will look back and "remember when Maddox grabbed the neon green bottle of nail polish in the store when I wasn't looking"... one day...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My pregnancy and The evolution of mother's dreams

This week Maddox and I visited the Jones family who recently welcomed a baby boy into their family. It's been joyful to see the couple anxiously anticipating their son's arrival, preparing the baby room, and going through all the happy moments leading to the grand finale. Watching mother and child relaxing together on a Friday afternoon made everything seem so right.

It also brought back certain points in time for me. (Whose own son, I will mention, was reluctant to go inside and then decided to be shy and stand in the corner almost the entirety of our visit! Understand readers, that this is despite the fact that Heather has kept him overnight on more than one occassion and he always cries when he has to go home.)

I would like to be able to relate to those who had such a pregnancy, but mine was full of stress and worry throughout the entire 9 months. Thankfully, everything physically went smoothly but nothing else seemed to come easily.

The announcement of Maddox's presence came at what I believed was the worst possible time. I was only days from moving to Dallas and had a lot of plans forming for work and opportunities that did not include maternity leave. On top of this were other unanswered questions like Do the father and I stay together? Should I move or stay? Where will we get the money for a baby? How long will I have insurance? (The answer to this was that I had coverage until 6 months into the pregnancy, which at that point my employer dropped everyone's insurance and I was forced to apply for state coverage-- twice actually, but we will get to that later.)

Soon after the news that a baby was in our future, I became an emotional, dry-heaving, insomnia-at-night-and -napping-during-the-day, and hormonal mess.

At seven months, we moved to a brand new city. This was a blessing and a lot to handle in the last trimester. My only memories are 1. Packing the moving truck by myself since our friends were working and my significant other wouldn't be back in town until midnight (we had to hit the road around 7am the next morning) and 2. A very long drive with a rediculous number of bathroom stops.

Upon arriving in Nashville, I had to re-apply for insurance coverage. The process in Oklahoma was simple-- bring in a few pay stubs and various information forms to be approved on the spot. But in Nashville, which was also in the middle of a job market crisis that drove hundreds to apply for state benefits, it was not so simple. On a Monday, I went to the office between 6 and 7am to wait for the doors to open at 8. Everyone who hoped to MAKE AN APPOINTMENT was there lined up in an endless stream of people. I was too late and was dismissed that day. Two days later, I had to return at 5:30 am (mind you I was still having insomnia and often did not fall asleep until 8am so this was completely exhausting) and by 10 am I received an appointment to meet with someone who would review my eligibility. Later that afternoon I met with a counselor who filled out some forms for me and submitted my application.

Then I waited... and waited... and waited...

By month 9, I called the office every day asking where my approval and insurance cards were. "We're sorry," they'd say. "We're just very backed up right now. I'm sure they will be there soon." I finally hit my limit and in an exasperated moment told the telephone operator that if I didn't get my card I would be having the baby in my bathroom and NOT be delivered in a hospital where they expected me to hope insurance would pick up the bill later. My card arrived the next week.

In our first-time-parent preparedness, we did not do lamaze classes. We did not read any books (although I did read a very good book written by a midwife whose name I can't recall). We did not have a "birth plan." We did not have a hospital picked out. We did not have a delivery doctor (the clinic I was going to did not do deliveries, only pre-natal care). Most of our baby clothes were donated by a nice family that didn't need them. It all seemed like such a mess.

One week before juniors big arrival, I decided to walk through Vanderbilt hospital and spoke to a kind receptionist. I told her of my hesitation about hospitals and doctors and how I would like to possibly deliver at home but the father flatly refused that option. She suggested a midwife group that delivered at Vanderbilt and I made an appointment (not knowing that this far along most doctors will not begin seeing a new patient).

There was only time for one office visit (after a long debate about whether or not they would take me on) that was cut short due to overscheduling that day. They took my blood pressure and tried to gather my medical history, then sent me out the door. Less than a week later they delivered my child. 

Anxiety? Yes, let's say there was just a little!

My water broke on a Friday around 6pm at a small shopping mart by our apartment. I was in the middle of making dinner and had run to the store to get salad ingredients. On my way to the check-out counter I felt a slight wetness. Hmmm... then a little more... time to get home. Just as I handed my credit card to the checker there was a gush, gush, SPLASH! My water erupted and began dousing my legging-covered legs in an embrassing torrent. I raced out of the store, groceries in hand, and drove home.

Three clothing changes later I realized there was nothing I could do but put on a dress and grab a towel. Hastily I packed a bag for the hospital, not really knowing what to bring but remarkably doing a decent job. I texted dad who was still at work who texted back "Are you sure your water broke??" Ummm.. yes. Or I have major bladder issues that defy physical limitations.

I made him a quick salad and then drove to pick him up. To my dismay, every guy at work came outside to satisfy their curiosity about what a woman in labor looked like. I wasn't amused and refused to get out of the drivers seat with my giant towel tucked in place. I handed dad his salad and drove us to the hospital. (Well, kind of. The contractions were causing me to get light-headed and I ended up getting lost and turning a 30 minute drive to a one hour drive in rush hour traffic.)

23 hours later, Maddox was born.

I would like to say I was in love from the moment I saw him, but that would be a lie. I was certainly in awe, but also very surprised by the whole thing. How did the moving, growing bump I'd been carrying for so long and over so many miles suddenly turn into a tiny human? By the next day, we were happily bonded and still share a special closeness that is stronger than any other.

Children were nothing new to me, but a newborn was an entirely different responsiblity. I loved taking him with me and taking care of his needs, but also couldn't wait for him to grow up. His fragileness scared me. His helplessness made me rush home after leaving him home with dad for only 45 minutes. I slept restlessly, listening to each sound he made and to make sure he was breathing. I looked forward to "bigger."

Even more than his dad, I looked forward to discovering the world together, to play in the fall leaves, run around the house in a game of tag, read books together, and even fill a companionship that I yearned for. I couln't wait to hear him call me by name, tell me what he was thinking, see who he would look like, what color eyes he would have, and what kind of interests he'd develop.

Looking back, both moments in time were equally precious. Infancy has a sense of innocent sweetness that eventually changes. Not that children aren't sweet, but babies don't even know how to be naughty or disobey. They just do what they do and are...

Another thing I've learned is that as children get older, your role changes. Things like discipline, teaching good habits, showing a good example, and guiding makes your job more complicated. It takes more planning and consistency.

And yes, I do love the toddler stage.. most of the time.. but there are also times when I fail to enjoy THESE moments because THESE moments also completely wear a mother out.

It's funny how your hopes and dreams evolve over time. Childhood is a time for dreams, the making of theirs and the evolution of your own.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Weekend Recipe: Versatile Chinese Peanut Sauce

This week I made a wonderful peanut sauce as a dip for baked tofu. The recipe I found on was a big winner!

The verstile taste and adjustable texture could go with many different rice, noodle, chicken, salad, or fish recipes. It would even give stir fry a nice finish. I would say though, that if you're not a big garlic fan you'll want to cut the chopped cloves at least in half. For a creamier or thinner consistency, simply adjust the water. For less peanut taste, add more soy sauce. And for a little extra flavor, try adding a few Tbsp fresh chopped ginger.

Whatever you do, this easy sauce is sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Chinese Peanut Sauce
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Mix peanut butter, soy sauce and garlic in medium bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup hot water. Add remaining ingredients; whisk to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour or cover and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Mission Knits: Adorable find for a great cause!

Late last year I discovered a cute little online store run by a pre-teen girl named Mady. Her store is called Mission Knits. Maddy makes and sells knit items that include toys, baby clothes, and wearables to help fund her mission trips.
These knit items are adorable, well-made and AFFORDABLE! Prices start at around $15. Sometimes there is a waiting list depending on how many orders Maddy is currently working on.
Here are a few more examples of what you will find from Mission Knits.

Maddox loves his Mom and Baby monster we had made in blue and brown. He stays entertained by taking the baby in and out of the momma's pocket and you never know where you'll find them.

It's a fast-paced life... when you're 2

Have I mentioned that this boy has no less than four cell phones? A future business man, no doubt.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wind, Rain, and Downed Power Lines... Oh my!

"Today we will see clouds moving in with severe weather picking up late in the afternoon. Expect strong winds, heavy rain, and possible tornados." The weatherman set the day's prediction right as I stepped off the treadmill and prepared for another morning of wet diapers, picking up last night's discarded toys, and a rush to fit everything in before the storm overtook our day of errands.

"Whaaaaaa!" Maddox's morning cries erupted from his bedroom and I swooped in to save him from the prison of his bedroom.

By the time we returned that day, the clouds had already begun to darken and loom eerily in the sky. "Okay buddy, we have to hurry and walk the dogs," I told Maddox while buckling him into his stroller and grabbing a few bites of homemade spiced apples to calm my own growling stomach. Being Momma often means a meager breakfast. Especially when those precious few moments when my two-year old is strapped into his high chair are perfect for popping laundry into the wash, sweeping up, and starting my day.

The minute we stepped outside, the first few drops of rain began to fall. By the time we turned back for home, a full downpour erupted and doused us with a cool spring shower. By the time we turned into the driveway, our clothes stuck to our skin. I quickly un-hooked the dogs to dry in the garage and whisked our wet clothing into the dryer while simultaneously throwing together a quick lunch. (Mothers are wonderful multi-taskers, aren't we?)

By the time juniors naptime came, I was looking forward to a few moments of solitude and a gripping episode of Pit Bulls and Parolees. Just as I was about to learn if a sick dog was going to live or die, the wind and rain roared at speeds topping 90 mph and flicked our power on and off in a teasing game of "will I or won't I go out." At the most gripping moment of doggie survival, the power shut off with a snap. "Oh great," I grumbled. "So much for 'me' time."

After glancing outside, it was all too obvious why. A large tree across the streeet had snapped in two, landing in a hammock made of power lines, some having snapped and laying in a maze of twisting coils across our lawn and driveway.

That night we sat in candlelight, optimistic that the lights would be on in no time, and made the best of a fun family night.

By the next night we were still waiting, only this time with a grumpy toddler who had no chance of a nap without his Veggie Tales cd. Tired, grouchy, and unable to remove our car from the garage due to the cluttered driveway, we tried to stay patient.

Soon a truck made it's way up the hill and rounded the corner. Hoop hoop hooray!!!! I stifled the desire to dance around the room. The joy was short-lived however when the driver proceeded to chop the tree, shred it, and then drive away without restoring our precious electricity.

Naptime was... increasingly difficult. It began with: "Juice! Juice! Snack! Snack! Snack!!!" Which led to "Whaaaaa!!!! Whaaaaaaa!!!!!!" And eventually gave way to short cries and shrieks. And 45 minutes later had turned to "Mom? Mooom? MOOOOOOOM!!!"

Needless to say, naptime was a loss and my grouchy little man quickly turned into a firefighter who happily munched Honey Bunches of Oats (for the moment at least) on the sofa while I tried to gather my energy.

Day 3: Spirits were low. Most of the remenants of our fridge were either trash by now or safely stored in a mini fridge at dad's work. Mom was tired and wanted a nap. (This wasn't possible thanks to grumpy pouts, a wayward toddler, and being a highway at the moment for multiple large plastic trucks). Maddox was full of energy, impatient, and emitted angry cries of "Go! GO!!!" every few minutes, begging to be freed.

Lunch was pancakes and homemade brown sugar syrup on the gas grill. It would have been a fun picnick, had both our nerves not been so fried. Maddox spent most of the warm afternoon hauling our French Bulldog up and down the stairs and throwing himself on the ground if the dog resisted his directions.

By naptime, I still hoped  for fatigue to kick in and knock my little bullet of energy out for at least an hour. No luck...

After a few more hours of shouts, screeches, whines, and general displays of unhappiness (including four necessary trips to time-out), I'd had it. I was ready to do everything in my power to find freedom. At least car rides put junior to sleep and could ease some of the tension brought on by a naughty, tired pint-sized terror.

Without fully thinking of the possible consequences, I unlatched the safty lever on our garage and swung the door high. Ahhhhh, freedom was at hand!

I then grabbed a broom and a large branch and carefully moved the trecherous coils fully into the grass. (Note: Please do NOT attempt this on your own! Any contact with electrical wires is very dangerous and can result in death, as it did with a man in Memphis after this same storm hit them.)

At the moment though, I either didn't consider the full extent of the danger or my fried brain didn't care. I was free!!!! Or so I thought until realizing the car seat was safely strapped into my husband's car!

Panic set in as I desperately tried to drum up a plan that included getting to Walmart and buying the first toddler car seat I found. But the neighbors weren't home and as much as I wanted to tie Maddox up and drive to the store, it still couldn't be justified.

Thankfully, my husband agreed to be home in 30 minutes or less. (Which might have had something to do with threats of what would happen if he didn't intervene.)

Alas, the car seat was returned and my car was free to roam. I spent some time with my horse, then enjoyed a nice dinner (alone, listening to a talented guitarist) at a lovely french restaurant called Bicyclette that I've been dying to try, and by 9pm our lights were restored. Life was restored to normalcy once again and my sanity was safe for one more day.

But our moment without power leaves one to wonder: Why is it though that the son you desperately love and who is the center of your world also weilds the power to drive you to the verge of insanity?

Ahh love, is such a complicated thing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nutty Quinoa salad

I grew up eating a citrus Quinoa salad my mother found in a cookbook put out by the American Heart Association. It had a wonderful combination of fruit and nuts that was satisfying and light as a summer dish. At our house, healthful eating habits were normal (although my desire to be a vegetarian was outright forbidden by my farm-raised father and grilled chicken-toting mother who later shunned my decision to go meatless by doing things like leaving me a bowl of green beans on Thanksgiving). But over the years, I sort of forgot about this grain.

Recently, I began reading a blog by an old classmate of mine who is also a mother and spent the last few years living in Prague. She often posts sustainable eating recipes and thoughts on motherhood, so when she posted a Rainbow Quinoa salad it inspired me to make the recipe below.

Quinoa is a wonderful, nutritious grain that is amnio-rich and high in protein. It is easy to prepare and cooks much like rice. Simply boil water and quinoa in a 2/1 ratio.

I recently made this salad from what I had on hand. The sweet and tart dressing compliments the salads flavors. My two-year-old (who loves rice but is a picky eater) loved it! Well.. after picking out each tomato.

Nutty Quinoa Salad
1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa
Chopped tomatos (I used 2 roma tomatoes)
2-3 Tbs chopped onion
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
1 clove garlic
2 Tbs quality mustard
1/2 tsp honey
pinch ground pepper
1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Bring the water to a boil and add quinoa. Cover and let simmer 15-20 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand. Stir the quinoa and "fluff" the grain. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, garbanzo beans, and parsley. Stir slightly. Add mustard and honey. Sprinkle with almonds and stir gently.
Can be served warm or refrigerated.
Makes 3-4 servings as a side dish.