Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas Wish: No More Diapers

So despite having virtually zero freelance work over the last week or so, things have been anything but dull around here.  My youngest daughter will be turning two next month, and I've been waiting for the perfect time to potty-train her (as if there is ever a perfect time!).  My three-year-old was potty-trained a couple months before she turned two, and it went pretty smoothly. Since my workload has taken a nosedive and most of our holiday events have come and gone, I decided now is as good as time as any. So on Sunday morning, I pulled out the underwear instead of the diapers and jumped right in.  My method of potty training is intense, but it's over rather quickly (about five days).

I started potty-training my oldest based on the advice of the sister of my brother-in-law, an experienced mother and day-care provider. Her advice came via a Facebook comment.  I've gone to her with questions before (Best diaper cream? Triple Paste), and she's never steered me wrong. She said to switch her over to underwear (no pull-ups) cold turkey, have her wear tight stretchy pants (hello, leggings!), and ask her if she has to go potty a million times.  Of course, there's lots of praise and a little manipulation going on: Look, you kept Minnie Mouse dry, she's so happy she's smiling!!!  Don't get the ponies wet, yuck!  It also requires your undecided attention for five days straight.  It sounds simple, but it really does work.

I've been through this once before, so I stocked up on underwear and had my stash of tight-fitting stretchy pants ready.  There will be lots of accidents for the first two or three days.  Day one, was accident after accident after accident. Lots of sitting on the potty and more accidents. Day two, was only a couple big accidents where she fully released her bladder, and lots of little accidents where she would pass a little urine and then sit on the potty.  She started having success on the potty on day two. She would pee several times throughout the day, but it would be only a tiny bit at a time.  By day three she was definitely having better recognition of when she had to go. She had one big accident, but otherwise it was all just a spot of pee in the underwear before going on the potty.  The evening of day three we reached a crossroads.  My daughter was doing a great job of not having accidents, but she also wasn't fully emptying her bladder on the potty.  She'd let just a tiny amount pass each time.  This meant lots and lots of trips to the potty and increasing discomfort for her as she struggled with not wanting to have an accident and not really letting it all pass on the potty.  She cried and had the mother of all meltdowns for almost 30 minutes.  She even brought me a diaper in tears.  At that point I took the diaper in my hands and almost gave in.  That's when I realized the potty training was actually working. She understood that she wasn't supposed to go in her underwear; we just needed to help her feel comfortable going on the potty.  It was incredibly difficult, but I didn't give in.  Eventually, she calmed down and went to the potty on her own and released.

On day four there was only one big accident when she was reading and I had gone a long stretch without asking her if she had to go.  On the evening of day four we had a big win, however.  She pooped in the potty!!!  On day one she had pooped in her diaper at nap time (I keep her in diapers for naps and overnight), but she hadn't pooped since then.  I was relieved when she finally went on Wednesday and overjoyed that she did it in the potty.  On day five we had no accidents--not even tiny leaks.  She stayed dry the entire day.  I had some last-minute Christmas shopping to finish up that night and had to leave her with our sitter for a few hours.  I had no idea how it would go, but I got a great report when I returned home: no accidents and two nice long pees on the potty!  She makes lots of trips to the potty (false alarms), but I'd call a dry 24 hours a success! It's now day six and things are going great. She even told me she had to go potty when she was in the bath and then went went I took her out. And she's now fully emptying her bladder every time (as far as I can tell).

I plan to keep her in a diaper at nap time and overnight until she consistently stays dry during those times.  I kept her sister in diapers overnight for a couple months after she was potty-trained.  When I finally got tired of "wasting" a diaper each night, I switched her to underwear.  She's never had an accident at night.

Potty-training this time around has been more difficult.  My oldest never had this bladder-release problem and the grumpiness that came with it.  She also didn't have a sibling distracting her a dozen times in a million different ways. And we've got a fabric sofa to worry about instead of a leather one.  Also, I potty-trained my oldest when my youngest was just a month old and I was pretty much sitting and nursing all day.  I'm much more aware this time around how much focus and time this process takes.  But the timeline for success has been much the same. The bonus this time around is that my daughter prefers to go on the big potty, so I don't have to clean out the little potty.  In fact, I'm planning on putting it away in our storage room tonight.

So it looks like I'm getting my Christmas wish: no more diapers!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My New Favorite Potato Soup

Last night I was thinking about what I could make for supper. With a trip to the grocery store planned for later that evening, the refrigerator was relatively empty, and I was feeling uninspired. I had a handful of potatoes left from our garden harvest and some frozen diced leftover ham. I started searching the Internet for a creamy potato and ham soup. I scored when I found Christy Jordan's Southern Plate's My Favorite Potato Soup recipe. I'd say that's the perfect name, as it's now my favorite potato soup.  I didn't have any whipping cream, so I used Christy's suggested substitution of evaporated milk. I also added a stalk of chopped celery. I only wished I'd had some green onion and bacon to top it off. Yum!

Potato soup is a big comfort food for me. The smell of it cooking on the stove brings me back to lunch at my grandparents' house when I was a kid. I also love that it's simple and easy. My photos don't do this recipe justice. Click the link above to see a truly delicious photo. My husband usually isn't drawn to potato soup like I am, but he loved this recipe, had seconds, and declared it the best potato soup he's ever had. I had to guard the pot just to make sure there was enough for me to have leftovers today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The World of Dick and Jane: A First Reader Experience

Today I was finishing up a bit of work at the computer while my daughters were playing quietly in another room. "Quietly" being the operative word. Usually there is laughing, screaming, crying, tattle-telling, singing, crashes, etc. In the quiet, I could hear my daughter reading. She's three.

She started reading a couple months ago. One night I was busy switching out a load of laundry before bed, and I told her to go read (look at) a book while she waited for me. She said, "Mom I don't know how to read." So that night I started teaching her. Way back before she was even walking I bought her a Dick and Jane book. It was the first book I learned to read. It was also the first book my mother learned to read. She still has that copy, tattered and full of the doodles of the progression of kids who have read its pages.

My daughter has been amazing. I think it's a combination of memorizing certain words and certain word characteristics (the long "s" word is "something") and thinking about letter sounds. It been interesting for me, as well. I will never know why she consistently mixed up "come" and "look" over and over again. It's certainly been a test of my patience. She often looks at the illustrations first and has a million questions before she even starts reading...many of which are answered in the text. It took me a while to learn that she wanted to be challenged. We started out by rereading several stories each night often repeating two or three from the previous night. I think she would get bored and start guessing the words rather than studying them as she read. Now we read one new story from the book each night. The beauty of Dick and Jane is the repetition. And as new words are added they appear again and again in later stories. It's true, as an adult the repetition gets old quickly. But what I didn't remember as a kid was the humor in the illustrations. Spot, the dog, digging sand onto Sally who then uses an umbrella to shield herself from the falling sand. The kid who makes a mess and blames the pet. I can identify with the mother who is grocery shopping. Sally (the youngest) grabs a bag of cookies and is ready to go home. That's it. The most important item is in the cart. My daughter thought the story of of the three children dressing up as monsters in paper dry-cleaning bags and then chasing the father was hilarious. While there are a few things to explain, such as milk delivery, the stories are timeless.

Anyway, all of this is background to the moment this morning when I heard my daughter reading all on her own for the first time. Precious. I was beaming with pride. I opened up Blogger and started writing this post. Suddenly I heard her running and the bathroom door open and shut quickly. I could hear my daughter make her way to the potty. And then I heard these words: "Mom, I got poop in my underwear!" (It was just a tiny spot.) Ah, yes. The book so good you just can't tear yourself away. We've all been there. I guess the next lesson for my daughter will be that there are times when you just have to put the book down and take care of business. And then you can always come back and pick up where you left off.

These are the important lessons in life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holidazzle 101

Every holiday season leading up to Christmas, Minneapolis features a festive event called the Holidazzle Parade. This is it's 20th season. Here's a rundown of what to expect, including photos and tips for planning your own Holidazzle visit. (The photos are in random order and not at all related to the "Best" and "Worst" labels below. I just wanted to include as many photos as possible.)
The Nutcracker
The beauty of the the Holidazzle Parade is that it begins the day after Thanksgiving and continues every Thursday through Sunday night for four weeks. This year there are fifteen opportunities to see the parade. This is important for a number of reasons:
  1. The parade is at night in the December. The parade starts at 6:30. If you've ever been to Minnesota in December, you know it gets COLD. And once the theoretical sun goes down, it gets even colder. So if you have plans to head to the parade and it's snowed 14 inches with -34 windchill, you can stay home, be safe, and go a different night! *Tip: The Holidazzle Parade does occasionally get canceled for bad weather. It's always a good idea to check local broadcast stations for cancellations if it's extra cold, windy, or snowy.
  2. Its a fun and FREE event to take any family and friends who may be visiting. We had family visiting from out of state and decided to meet up at the parade. Fun! Free! Festive! *Tip: I talk a lot about the hot seats in this post, because that was our experience this year, but there are plenty of free options for viewing the parade. People do bring a blanket and cozy up outdoors. If you get there early, you can view the parade from above in the skywalk. The parade route spans Nicollet Mall, a pedestrian mall lined with shops and restaurants. You can easily enjoy some pre-parade shopping and view the parade while enjoying a snack or meal by sitting at a window seat.
  3. It's not a big commitment. The parade lasts about 20 minutes. Some of you may be wondering if a 20 minute parade is worth it. I'd say it's worth doing at least once. And trust me, you don't want to be out there much longer than 20 minutes. And did I mention it's free?
  4. It keeps the crowds down. We went on a Thursday night, so it may be more crowded on a weekend evening or perhaps a milder evening, but I guess the good thing about a parade in December is that no one is anxious to get there early...and it's not necessary.
This was our first year attending the parade. Here's a list of what I considered the best and worse of our Holidazzle experience:

Best: It's a parade at night. The lights are festive and the floats are creative. The parade participants are wonderfully cheerful...or they are just moving as much as possible to stay warm. Many of the costumed characters from the stories are riding on or walking near the floats. The Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz was pretty awesome riding her bicycle. And pretty much everything is illuminated, including marching band costumes and choir robes.
Worst: It's a parade at night in December. I'm hardy, but it's December!
Dancing Christmas lights--There's a person in each one!
Best: Avoiding traffic by taking the light rail. *Tip: This year on December 10 and 17 from 4 to 8 pm, ride Metro Transit buses and light rail FREE or ride the Northstar train FREE after 3 pm on both days to Holidazzle.
Santa's workshop
Worst: Trying to get a squirmy toddler to understand she has to sit during the train ride. "I walk! I walk!"
The Wizard of Oz
Best: Hot seats--a paid seating area in heated tents. *Tip: Buy your hot seat tickets early. They go on sale near the end of October. Check the website often. They sell out quickly. Hot seat tickets for 2011 are sold out. I did see see someone looking to sell/trade tickets on the Holidazzle Facebook page, so it might be worth checking there in a pinch. Adult tickets this year were $9. Kids three and under are free  when sitting on the lap of an adult. I'm not sure of the price for big kids.
Illuminated choir
Worst: Hurriedly walking with two small children six blocks from the light rail station to the hot seats. In full winter gear. And then carrying them in full winter gear so you can get there faster. *Tip: Don't be late. No one is admitted to the hot seat tent after the parade starts (or so the sign said). 
Not sure what this was
Best: Free hot chocolate and hot cider in the hot seats tent. *Tip: Don't tell the kids ahead of time about the hot chocolate in an attempt to make them walk more quickly. It's more trouble than it's worth. If they don't know it's available, they won't be disappointed when you decide not to get some.
Hansel and Gretel
Worst: Scalding my hand three times while waiting for the hot chocolate to cool enough to drink (as the last float was passing by), while holding a squirmy preschooler in full winter gear and taking photos. *Tip: Skip the hot chocolate if possible. It will spill, and you don't need another thing to hold. And don't wear anything nice. Even if you skipped the hot chocolate, the person above you or squished in next to you or walking by you may not have.
Illuminated marching band
Best: The floats are really impressive. This year's theme was A Fairytale for All, and each float had a fairytale theme. I didn't get a photo, but one of my daughter's favorites (and mine!) was a zoo-train themed float (Dumbo, perhaps?) with kids in adorable, vibrant animal costumes in circus rail cars. I also missed a photo of the Little Red Riding Hood Float. I found the scale of the Peter Pan float awesome.
Peter Pan
Worst: Climbing our way up the bleachers in the hots seats. We arrived just minutes before the parade started, and our family had saved us seats on the second row from the bottom. Yet it was so crowded in the hot seats it was still difficult to get us all up that one step. *Tip: There is plenty of room for children to stand at the front of the tent to view the parade. It's expected. There's even a sign to let you know it's a children's viewing area.
Spinning Snowman
Best: Everyone clapping as Santa closes out the parade.
Santa and his reindeer
Worst: Walking the six blocks back to the light rail station with two tired toddlers in full winter gear. *Tip: We considered bringing a stroller to haul at least one kid but were worried about finding a place to stash the stroller while we were in the tent. There is stroller parking in a cordoned area at the tent entrance. Wish I had known that!

Overall my preschooler had a blast. The toddler just soaked it all in. Next year we'll bring a stroller and skip the hot chocolate.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Snow Ice Cream!

I first saw snow ice cream last winter, but I kept forgetting to put a bowl out ahead of time to catch snow. We got six inches of snow Saturday, and in the anticipation of our first "big" snow of the year, I actually remembered and put two big bowls out on our deck.

There are several "recipes" out there for Snow Ice Cream.  I decided to go with Paula Dean's recipe.  I had the sweetened condensed milk in my pantry stocked for fall baking.  Here are the details:

1. Take 8 cups of snow.
2. Add 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

3. Add 1 tsp. of vanilla.
4. Mix and serve.

In the photo above I hadn't added all of the snow.  When I first read the recipe, I actually thought it called for 5 cups instead of 8 cups. I ended up adding more snow because it was so soupy.  Then I checked the recipe and realized what had happened.

My girls were thrilled to try snow ice cream.  I thought the flavor was surprisingly comparable to store-bought vanilla ice cream.  After we sampled the vanilla, I added a tablespoon of cocoa powder to the rest of the batch.  It was really good, reminding me of a Wendy's Frosty. Yum! In fact, scooping this into a cup and drinking it with a straw sounds like a great idea.  Of course the texture is icier rather than creamier, but that's not the point.  The point of snow ice cream is to give your kids yet one more reason to look forward to a large snowfall.  As if they need another reason!

Now if we could only figure out how to make snow ice cream on a hot summer day...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Singing, Baking, and Making Merry: The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

After reading this post from my friend Bethany yesterday, I decided I wanted to make a conscious effort to get into the Christmas spirit.  I knew we had snow on the way, and after a relatively snow-free November (I'm not complaining!), I was ready for things to start looking a little less like Thanksgiving and a little more like Christmas.
Funny Thanksgiving story: After a long day of celebrating and no nap to speak of, my almost two-year-old daughter fell asleep on a trampoline WHILE her cousins were jumping on it. I knew exactly how she felt.
Back to Christmas! So I cranked up the Children's Christmas Radio Station on Pandora and decided to bake some cookies. Listening to a new talker sing Jingle Bells: Cutest. Thing. Ever.  This was the first time I had my youngest help out with the cookies (I usually save baking for nap time), and she did a great job.  Somehow sibling rivalry was kept to a minimum and both girls were happy taking turns dumping in ingredients. I modified the Hershey's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe subbing in 3/4 cup white chocolate chips for chocolate chips since I'd had a partial bag sitting around.  I used dark brown sugar because for some reason I'm often blinded in the baking aisle and grab dark instead of light.  And I baked them at 350 instead of 375 simply because I turned on the oven and then forgot to check the recipe for the baking temp.  Fortunately the cookies turned out delicious!  For some reason it took me 31+ years to figure out that I like cookies slightly undercooked and to consciously make them this way.  I also liked how the white chocolate chips toned down the sweetness of the cookie without sacrificing chunky goodness.  I have found my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe! My husband agreed. He was super curious what I did differently and actually said they were the best he's ever had. I call that a win!

The original recipe yields 5 dozen cookies, or so it says.  I think I ended up with just over 2 dozen.  Where did those other 3 dozen cookies go?  Are the Hershey's people making tiny cookies?  Are they not sampling the cookie dough?

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1-1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl with mixer until creamy. Add eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely or until you can't wait another minute. About 2 dozen cookies.

So as the sun was going down last night, my three-year-old and I shoveled a few inches of snow from our driveway. Someone in our neighborhood was enjoying a fire in their fireplace (thank you wood-burning fireplace-owning neighbors; that smell is home to me), and we are a couple snowy steps closer to Christmas.

Hello, December (Holiday Photo Card Comparison)

I spent the last week creating our Christmas card, something I'm doing myself for the first time.  Usually it's our super-talented photographer friend who does the job, but after a fall season of big expensive (loving our new fence!! and our new giant sectional!!) purchases, we're holding off on a big photo order for now.  That said, I spent the last week exploring a number of photo card sites, customizing cards, and changing my mind at least a dozen times.  I checked out,, iPhoto,, and  They all had positives and negatives, but I did pick a favorite.  Here's a completely subjective and nonscientific rundown of my thoughts on each:

  • Great fun, contemporary styles - especially their Rainbow group
  • Prices are on the higher side
  • Good sorting options
  • Easy to make several cards and compare
  • Good mix of classic and contemporary styles
  • Prices on the lower side
  • High-quality cards & envelopes (based on a card my husband made for me a few months ago)
  • Limited styles and and color options
  • Prices are moderate to high
  • Many standard style options
  • Prices are low
  • Creative designs and shapes
  • Prices are moderate
  • Awesome color customization options including artwork (LOVED THIS!)
I chose to order my cards from Pear Tree Greetings.  I loved their fun designs, and the color customization options won me over.  The prices are in the middle of pack.  I ordered matching return address labels, but you can have envelopes printed instead for an extra charge.  Some of the companies even offer to address and mail your cards for you.  This can be a great time saver.  I would have considered this option, but I didn't have my addresses in a compatible format, so I decided to address them myself.  

If you're thinking of ordering photo cards online this year, I suggest signing up for the card company mailing list a day or two before you order.  Both tinyprints and Pear Tree Greetings sent me either discount codes or free shipping offers.  A general Google search for a coupon code for the specific company may also work in your favor.  I believe I got 5% off my order by doing so.

This was a really fun project, and I can't wait to see the finished cards!  This is a new experience for me, and I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what I wanted.  Do you send photos cards? What company do you use? Do you go crazy sorting through all of the options, or do you get in and out as quickly as possible?

I should probably note that these opinions are my own, and I was not reimbursed by any of the card companies for my thoughts.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pumpkin Roundup

photo credit: DrBacchus

Here's a blog post I didn't expect to write. But tis the season. I've been busy pinning pumpkin recipes on Pinterest over the last few weeks. I've stocked up on pumpkin because I always read that it can be hard to find (although that's never been the case for me). Here's a list of pumpkin recipes I've made recently or hope to make soon!

When we carved pumpkins this year my husband was adamant that we roast the pumpkin seeds. Scratch that. He was adamant that I roast the pumpkin seeds. The last time I roasted pumpkin seeds was a project in my kindergarten class. No, I am not a teacher. I was a student in kindergarten. Needless to say, the details were fuzzy. I searched Tasty Kitchen, a great resource for recipes, and found Simple Comfort Food's The Best Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. It looked like a classic recipe, so I gave it a try. Before even eating the roasted seeds, I googled whether you're supposed to eat the "shell." Apparently it's up for debate. After attempting to avoid the shell a few times I gave up and just started tossing the entire seeds in my mouth. They had a salty little burnt cheese meets popcorn flavor that was pretty tasty. We actually have two pumpkins that we painted instead of carved, and I'm considering opening them up just so I can roast some more seeds.

Today my daughter and I made these hearty Pumpkin-Walnut Oatmeal Squares with Cinnamon Glaze from Bake Your Day. Technically I guess mine were Pumpkin-Pecan Oatmeal Squares as that's what I had on hand. They have oats, applesauce, pumpkin, and honey, so I've convinced myself they're totally healthy. I failed on the glaze, however, using three tablespoons of milk instead of teaspoons, which I promptly remedied by dumping in another two cups of powdered sugar. So much for being healthy! I will say as a person who doesn't like the taste of honey, it is noticeable in the finished squares.  But I suspect for most people that wouldn't be a problem.

Before I started baking this morning I considered trying this Pumpkin Bread with Streusel Topping, but then I realized it had canned pumpkin pie filling instead of pureed pumpkin. I'm a sucker for a streusel topping, however, so I'll have to pick up some pumpkin pie filling and give it a try later. I guess I could try making my own substitute if I get ambitious.

This is the other recipe that caught my eye. These Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting from Sweet Pea's Kitchen look delicious. I probably would have made them, but somehow I convinced myself that with all the Halloween candy I've been eating this week the cream cheese frosting wouldn't do me any favors. And remember the Pumpkin-Walnut Oatmeal Squares are healthy! (right?)

I've never made a trifle, nor do I own a trifle bowl, but if I did and I had to make a fall trifle it would probably be this Low-Fat Pumpkin Trifle from Janelle at Comfy In the Kitchen via Women Living Well Ministries. And can I tell you how excited I am to learn you can buy boxed spice cake? I don't know why, but that excites me.

While our squares were baking in the oven, I remembered reading once that a dump cake can be made with almost any canned fruit (or vegetable in this case...I think). That led to some googling and to this recipe for Pumpkin Dump Cake from Cookies and Cups. Note to self: buy evaporated milk ASAP! 

And finally, this list wouldn't be complete without Muirhead Pecan Pumpkin Butter Dessert Squares.  Hands down they are my favorite pumpkin dessert.  You may have been lucky enough to taste these if you've been in a Williams-Sonoma store this time of year.  They sell the Muirhead Pecan Pumpkin Butter called for in the recipe and generously had out free samples of the squares (knowing full well the samples will lead to big sales).  It's one of the few reasons I will venture up to the Mall of America.  Totally worth it, I might add.  I did attempt this recipe one year with pumpkin butter from a local orchard and mixed with crushed pecans.  It was passable, but I recommend the real thing if for no other reason than avoiding having to figure out the correct amount based on different jar sizes.

My daughter would like to add: "What about Pumpkin Pie Pancakes?" That sounds brilliant. Google, don't fail me now!

And for today's trivia: Did you know allspice comes from the allspice plant? It's not some spice mix along the lines of pumpkin pie spice. I didn't know that. My mom didn't know that. My aunt didn't know that. We discovered this last spring in the spice room of the Como Park Conservatory. It kind of blew our minds. But you probably knew that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Odds and Ends

Well I shared some happy news in my last post, but now I have sad news.  A few weeks ago I had a miscarriage.  Unfortunately it's a surprisingly common occurrence.  It was a strange experience.  Not nearly as dramatic as you often see in movies or read in books (for me).  In the end, everything happened naturally, and I think that helped me to accept it.  We're all doing fine, and things around here have returned to a relatively normal level of craziness.  It's like I explained to our three-year-old.  We were wrong.  It's not time for us to have a baby yet.  We'll have to wait a while longer than we thought.

And perhaps in a bout of stress-induced madness I attempted to start potty-training my youngest last week.  The attempt only lasted two days.  It was pretty clear early on that she doesn't yet sense the urge to go potty.  I seem to recall a similar attempt with her older sister.  I'm totally in the get-it-and-get-out camp of potty-training.  No pull-ups.  Bring the potty to you.  Living room, kitchen, wherever you are.  Give it a solid try for two days.  If there are no signs of progress, wait.  Then try it again the next time there appears to be a real interest.  Her older sister was potty-trained in a week, before she turned two, and when her sister was a month old.  I can already tell there will be new challenges with this one.  Gone is our pee-resistant leather sofa.  And here is the older sister to provide constant distractions.  And they are constant.  But I'm still confident that when the time comes it will work out.  Until then, I will just have to be patient and continue buying diapers.  Already I can tell she's one step closer.  Now instead of saying "potty" after soaking a diaper, she tells me after what seems to be a little trickle or occaisionally even before it happens.  I think I'll give it another try in a couple of weeks.

This past week of work has been perfect.  Just enough to keep me feeling productive but not enough to take over my life.  I've been able to get and more importantly keep the house picked up, and I've had time to spend with my husband at night after the kids are in bed.  We wrapped up season four of Breaking Bad last night.  Brilliant show.

This morning I whipped up a batch of spicy tortellini soup for a mom who just had a baby.  I'll be delivering it along with salad, garlic bread, and chocolate zucchini bread this afternoon.  I think it's impossible to understand just how awesome it is to have a meal delivered until you've had a baby and you're not getting any sleep and you're ravenous because you're breast-feeding every two or three hours.  It's such a blessing.  And there just happened to be a little left over for me.  Bonus!

And since I actually thought of it, I started a beef stew in the crock pot this morning.  Two meals banged out before 9:30 a.m.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

So that's what's up around here.  A belated Happy Halloween to you all.  I hope you have a generous Spiderman in your family who is happy to share candy.  I swear sometimes my daughter sounds like she's pushing dope.  Mom!  Don't you want some candy.  Here, it's really good.  You should have some.  Do you like this kind? Try it, Mom.  Mom, would you like some candy? She's very persuasive.  And I don't mind it a bit!

Friday, October 7, 2011

One, Two, Three!

I'm working away at the computer in the kitchen while my husband is in the living room watching Scary Movie 4.  I overheard the scene below and had a good chuckle.  We've all been there, haven't we?  Or maybe it's just me.

Speaking of three, I'm expecting number three!  Shhh.  Don't tell my sister.  Knowing she never reads my blog, I threatened to share the news here first.  And I am.  I'm not totally rotten.  I'll hound her to read my blog until she does.  Until then, it's our little secret.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Woke Up and My Dog Was Wearing Underwear: A True Story

Life here has been overwhelming these past couple of weeks.  Work came back with a vengeance.  We've been dealing with a first haircut and the first day of preschool.  My toddler spilled water on my laptop, and I spent an entire day and way too much money getting new hardware and software figured out.  And we've got a lot happening in the next week that I'm already stressing over.  It all makes for good blogging fodder but unfortunately no time to post.  I roll into bed at the end of the day and am immediately out until I wake up five hours later to start it all again.

And that is why I just love it when God throws something at you completely ridiculous in a good way.  This morning I woke up bright and early (actually it was dark and early), clicked the leash on my dog's collar, and headed out the door.  We were at the top of the deck when I noticed something on my dog's back.  I thought he had a sock on his back, and I tried to pull it off.  But at that moment I realized he was wearing a pair of my husband's underwear.  Literally his entire torso was through the underwear.  I had to lift up his front legs in order to pull it off.  I didn't get a picture because I thought it was probably a better idea to take the underwear off so he could actually do his business.  Yes, somehow in the night, my crazy dog wiggled his way into the underwear all on his own.

I don't even know what to say about this other than it was good to have a laugh first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

This past week I've somehow managed to keep a perfect work/kids/house/socializing balance.  It's a rare thing around here.  I've had just a couple of hours of work each day, the weather has been beautiful, and the girls, the hubby, and I have been getting outside a lot.  We even found a park that is perfect for a 19-month-old and an adventurous three-year-old.  That was a good find! I had family stop by last week for a visit and have more family coming for most of this week, so I cleaned house and then recleaned it, but it only took a couple hours the second time!  I even did a little spring cleaning.  It's not too late, right?.  I found a great tip at Make It Do and cleaned our mattress, washed some screens and windows, vacuumed blinds, and spent three hours scrubbing the grout in my kitchen floor (I hate this job and only manage to do it twice a year).  A friend and I went to a spa event that included wine and mini treatments all for $10.  Did I mention the wine?  It was such a fun and girly evening--just what I needed.  With the slowing of work, my husband and I have resumed our near-nightly ritual of HBO series watching.  We wrapped up season 3 of True Blood and are almost through season 4 of The Wire.  I've also been harvesting yummy things from my garden.  My green beans finally came in, and I picked a big batch and froze some.  I'm up to my eyeballs in cucumbers.  I've got tomatoes, I'm still getting zucchini, and I (big smile, here) picked my first of about 10 watermelons.  It was probably a little early, but it was totally edible.  Love it!

So what a better way to celebrate a perfectly balanced week than by baking something delicious!  I originally intended to make these cookies, but once I started grabbing ingredients I realized it made a huge number of cookies.  I know myself well enough to accept the fact that I can't keep 4-5 DOZEN cookies around for long, and I didn't want to think too hard about halving the recipe (I may try it someday).  Also, I liked the idea of skipping the whole scooping and baking in batches step, so I searched for a peanut butter brownie? blondie? recipe.  I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars at Bake at 350.

I did make a few accidental changes.  I used 7 tablespoons of butter instead of 6, and I doubled the amount of peanut butter it called for.  Oops!  I also used a mixture of peanut butter chips and milk chocolate chips, because that's what I had.  My brownies came out soft in the middle and brown on the edges.  I think more chocolate chips rather than peanut butter would have made a nice difference.  So I recommend following the recipe. These bars are very rich. I can only eat one small bar a day, but my husband said he didn't notice. Of course he could eat peanut butter by the spoonful. He also told me I need to get the bars out of the house before he comes home from work today.  I guess that means they're really good!

I hope each of you has a week full of balance, peanut butter, and chocolate!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stinky, Dirty Dishcloths Be Gone!

Disclaimer: If you're not at all interested in the resolving the stinky, dirty dishcloth problem or have no idea what I'm talking about, feel free to stop reading here. Visit me another time, though.  I won't always be talking about dishcloths. OK, now that we have that out of the way...

I used to have a problem with dirty dishcloths sitting in the bottom of my sink getting wetter and nastier because I refused to use those gross things again and I hardly wanted to pick them up to even throw them into the washer. I'd inevitably just get a clean one out and leave the old one in the bottom of the sink. But you can only do that so many times before you have an even grosser pile of dishcloths in your sink. Of course, they didn't start out in the bottom of the sink.  I would attempt to wring them out after using them and lay them neatly on the side of the sink or on the faucet to dry out, only to have them slip, fall, or crawl back into the the sink. My husband, on the other hand, just throws them sopping wet into the sink.  Yuck.  It makes me shudder just to think about it.  I get the same feeling when I have to clean food out of the sink drain catch.

Sometime last year I found a gadget that has actually helped.  (Is it still a gadget if there are no moving parts?) The full name is the Umbra Chariot Stainless-Steel Dishcloth Stand and Scrubby Holder Combo, which is a mouthful considering it's just a dishcloth holder.  I bought it in hopes that my husband would see that the dishcloth, indeed, had a home and would put it there.  No such luck, but at least I now have a place to put it.

This is what it looks like empty:

And this is what it looks like when your dishcloth is staying clean and drying out:

This thing really does work. My dishcloths are no longer draped on my faucet getting in the way, falling into the bottom of the sink, or getting wet as I use the faucet. I no longer get that funky dishcloth smell.  I can go a little longer before washing them, and I no longer find my dishcloths repulsive. I think I even wash them more frequently because I not disgusted to pick them up.   

I bought my dishcloth stand in a little home accessories and kitchen gadget shop in my town. I encourage you to check out the little shops in your own town if you're considering buying one.  Or if you cringe at the thought of dragging your kids to said cute little shops (I'm speaking from experience), they are available from Amazon. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Zucchini Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Like every good midwestern gardener in August, I've got an abundance of zucchini.  I've been expecting this, and I've been keeping a list of potential recipes as I've seen them.  When I saw this zucchini carrot cake with cream cheese frosting from Tiffany at Eat at Home, I knew I wanted to give it a try.  I've always been a fan of carrot cake, and I expected zucchini could only make it better.  It does!

I used zucchini I had shredded and frozen earlier in the week.  As I've been warned, there was quite a lot of liquid in the thawed zucchini.  I wasn't exactly sure whether I should drain it first or just add it in.  I did a quick search online and saw most people omitted the liquid when using frozen shredded zucchini, but a friend of mine had suggested I add the liquid.  The cake batter looked pretty dry, so I ended up using about half of the liquid. 

This frosting is really, really good.  Emphasis on really.  You've been warned.  I was generous with the frosting, and I still had plenty left over, so I guess you save it for another baking project.

Also this week, I cooked up this Betty Crocker recipe for zucchini meat loaf.  It uses 2 cups of shredded zucchini in place of other liquid (my usual recipe calls for milk).  It was good.  And an easy way to get my non-zucchini eating daughter to eat zucchini.  She did notice the green bits and asked about them, but I told her they were tiny pieces of green beans, a vegetable she likes. Yep, that's me lying to my daughter!  It totally worked.

I've got zucchini cakes (think fritters), zucchini boats, cheesy baked zucchini, and zucchini quesadilla recipes bookmarked and ready to try. My go-to zucchini is just sauteed in olive oil with onions, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Yum!  So how do you use up your zucchini?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Summer of Dust, Dog Hair, Grime, and Clutter

This summer I've pretty well fallen off the wagon and into a deep, dark pit of despair when it comes to keeping my house clean.  For eight consecutive weeks I worked more freelance hours than I ever have before, including pre-children, including pre-freelance.  It was an insane experience.  Oh, and did I mention I continued to be a stay-at-home mom while fitting in these hours?  Which meant waking up at 5am and staying up until after midnight many days to work while the kiddos were asleep.  It also meant calling up my babysitter a few times a week, paying her well, and sneaking off to the coffee shop to get in some real focused work time.  In fact, I'm hoping she understands her babysitting fee is hush money.  Please do not tell the neighborhood what kind of slobs we are.  Maybe I can get her to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  Anyway, this all means that all nonessential household chores (anything other than cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, and child care) were put on hold indefinitely. I even went a full month without reading a book.  Shameful.  Here's a little peek at what I've been living with...

Granted, this mess and clutter changed over the weeks, but the general chaos was constant.  It got so bad my husband even did the dishes TWICE!!  That's unheard of around here. 

Do you see my blog's cute vintagey polka-dot background with it's adorable fake dust.  I actually wiped my screen once this past week assuming my computer screen was actually THAT dirty.  Gross. But it wouldn't have surprised me.

So after spending my summer stuck inside reading away at my laptop, this marks my first week with a "normal" workload.  Have you noticed the baking, the cooking, the gardening, and the extra blogging happening here?  My only challenge now is to not go too far in the other direction being lazy and wasting the day at the computer.

I feel like I'm about to gear up for another round of organizing and cleaning.  We've got new furniture coming soon for our living room, and before that comes we're planning on painting.  It will be a good time to give the living room (and the rest of the upstairs) a deep clean. 

There was a great post today from Rachel Meeks at Small Notebook on how to make a room uncluttered while retaining a warm, homey feel.  Rachel sums up the beauty of a clean home perfectly:
When you have clear surfaces, your room is ready to be used. You can come in and set down your drinks and popcorn bowl on the coffee table. You can eat dinner at the table without sitting next to the paperwork. Your bed is ready for you to stretch out on it. The room welcomes you. It’s not a place to hold your stuff, it’s a place where you can live.
That sounds like exactly what we need over here.  Right now I work at our kitchen table, so the table is always cluttered with my laptop, books, my phone, and whatever my daughters have brought me throughout the day.  As a result, my husband often eats on the couch rather than clearing off a spot at the table.  That's not right.  I don't want my house to be a place to hold my stuff.  I want it to be a place where we can LIVE.

Hopefully I'll have some after pics to share soon!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Early Garden Harvest Pasta

Last night, after spending a little time in my garden, I had a typical first harvest--a lot of odds and ends but nothing substantial of any one thing: 2 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, a handful of green beans, exactly 3 pea pods worth of peas, and 1 zucchini.  I decided to throw it all together into a yummy pasta.

While the pasta cooked, I microwaved some bacon and sauteed the green beans. I threw in some onion flakes (sad) because I was all out of onions.  Then I added the zucchini to cook for a few minutes.  Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I threw in the cooked veggies and bacon, adding some chopped cucumber, chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. I stirred everything together and added a little salt. You can eat it right away, although I prefer to refrigerate it overnight and serve the next day.  It's better the second day when everything is cool and crisp and fresh and the flavors have mixed together.  I do wish I'd had some onion and maybe a green pepper, but my peppers plants are pitiful this year.   

In full disclosure, despite the abundance of noodles, my daughters were not big fans of this meal.  My three-year-old said she likes "soft" green beans (i.e. canned). She did appreciate the bacon, however.  Don't we all?  Personally, I loved it.  I ate it up and had seconds. It's a great light, fresh, cool meal for a hot summer night.

By the way, if you're like me and hate frying bacon on the stove and don't like heating up your whole house to bake it in the oven, this is a great alternative! It's the only way I cook bacon. In fact, I specially requested it for Christmas several years ago. My parents have one too. (Not an advertisement, I just really like it!!)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Got Brown Bananas?

We don't seem to have overripe bananas very often.  It may have something to do with the preschooler and toddler.  They've never met a banana they didn't like.  Therefore, despite buying a bunch of bananas once or twice a week, we still never have extras.  On the rare occasion that we do, this is my go-to recipe. 

Grandma Schmidt's Banana Bread recipe was included in a collection of recipes my friend Bethany gave each of her bridesmaids as a thank-you gift.  Of course she did them all cute on colored note cards held together by a removable clasp.  This was a crafty, thoughtful, and inexpensive gift that would be suitable for several occasions.

The ingredients:

Notice my husband bought Country Crock sticks instead of butter the last time he went to the grocery store.  I'm not complaining; I didn't have to go to the store with the two little ones in tow.

Grandma Schmidt's Banana Bread
1/2 c. butter or oleo
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
3 large very ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Beat in mashed bananas.  Mix in combined dry ingredients and add nuts.  Pour in greased and floured 9x5x3 in. loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

At three, my daughter likes to "help" out in the kitchen.  I put her to work mashing the bananas.  Isn't that apron adorable?  I got it at our town's Crazy Daze this week.  It was $8.  It was clearly handmade. Totally cute and a great deal!

I baked it a little too long today. Next time I'll make sure to stick on the shorter side of the bake time.  I love this recipe because it's simple, easy to quickly throw together, and includes ingredients I almost always have on hand. Also, it's delicious, and my girls always love banana bread for a snack.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Is an Alaskan Doughnut?

Do you know what an Alaskan doughnut is?  I didn't, but I do now.

Yes, folks, that is 7 inches of golden sweet deliciousness.  I heard rumors of the giant Alaskan doughnut when we were furniture shopping in our little town yesterday.  Today is Crazy Daze, in which our town closes off it's main street for a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk shopping experience.  Restaurants get in on the fun and offer food on the street.  There fun activities and even some free live music. This town loves an excuse to have an event.  It's like a real-life Stars Hollow.  It was a beautiful day today and my husband's day off, so we ventured downtown for some lunch, had the kids walk around to burn off some energy, and began the hunt for this elusive Alaskan.

We spotted it in front of the bakery on our main street.  We chatted up the friendly workers and discovered that the Alaskan, a 60-year tradition of this bakery, appears only once a year at Crazy Daze.  In the name of tradition (of course), we paid a little over $3 and got one to go.  We split the doughnut four ways.  It was fresh, sweet, soft, and a little chewy, just as a good glazed should be.  We enjoyed the doughnut, and partaking in this local tradition,we feel a little more like genuine townies. Already I'm looking forward to next year's Alaskan!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For Levi

My daughter cuddled up with me in bed yesterday as I was trying to read my book and begged me to read to her instead.  She certainly knows my soft spot.  Anytime my daughters bring me a book, I will read it to them.  Yesterday she picked Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.  I love this book.  And I love the fact that my daughter, at three, is just starting to really pay attention to the poems and the illustrations and find them humorous. 

This little poem from the book, and it's accompanying illustration, reminded my of my friend's son, Levi.  He's two, and when we visited him recently he showered affection on my daughters, especially the one-year-old--tackling her with hugs and kisses over and over again.  He is adorable.

And so I present, for Levi:

Wishing you hugs, giggles, kisses, grins, cuddles, and wins today!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Perfect Iced Tea Concentrate: The Rule of Three

It's summer!  It's warm out.  It's sunny.  We're lazing the days away by the pool.  OK, maybe not.  It's cloudy, cool, and rainy here today, and I've been working at my computer nonstop for weeks.  But technically it IS summer.
To me summer means iced tea.  My mom is a big tea drinker.  She likes her tea black and straight, only occasionally (and regrettably in my opinion) reverting to her Southern roots and adding in sugar.  I remember back to my childhood getting regular phone calls from her during the day, asking me to get a jug of tea started and outside in the sun so it would be ready when my parents got home from work.  It's not uncommon for my mom to comment on the quality of iced tea she's had when talking over her day.  And yes, a meal can be a total disappointment when the tea is bad.

She's been a big fan of the tea at the cafe in her local Barnes & Noble.  I hear repeatedly how good it is.  Despite being across town, I know for a fact she eats lunch there regularly, and I'm fairly certain it's only because she loves their iced tea.  She does that.  She chooses a restaurant based on the quality of their tea.

If my mother were to pass down to me one recipe, one creation that completely encompasses who she is as my mother, it would be the recipe for good iced tea.  When I was back home visiting my parents a few weeks ago, my mom excitedly told me she had perfected the "recipe" for good iced tea.  (She had made an earlier attempt during my last visit home but had missed the mark.  She didn't quite have the flavors and proportions figured out.)  She described the process, and I tasted the new tea.  It was good.  Really, really good.  She told me the secret: the rule of three.  She learned the process carefully watching her friends at the B&N cafe and taking mental notes.

If you like plain, black iced tea, I highly recommend the recipe below. It's not fancy.  It doesn't call for tea leaves.  You can use your microwave. I suspect you could play around with the tea varieties if you're so inclined, add some lemon, make it a hard iced tea, or even (blech!) add some sugar.  It's not sun tea, but on a cloudy day like today, I'm just fine with that.  It's a concentrate, so you can save some room in your refrigerator.  But most importantly, it's a delicious, refreshing, and guilt-free summer drink!

Perfect Iced-Tea Concentrate
1 quart jar full of water, microwaved (or "nuked" if you're my mother) until very hot. 
Add 2 bags Earl Gray and one bag black tea. 

Steep until really strong (2-3 hours), ignoring the dirty patio table.

Remove tea bags and refrigerate.

When you're ready to drink, remember the rule of three: Fill your glass 1/3 with concentrate, 1/3 water, and 1/3 ice.  Mom says if you want to get fancy you can use a shaker to shake it.

Enjoy! And if it's really good iced tea, it might just make you feel like this!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Garden Update

I posted some pics of our vegetable garden early on.  We used Weed Barrier this year to keep the weeds to a minimum, and let me say I'm so glad we did.  We were away from home for about a week, and when we came home our plants had doubled in size.  Had the weeds had the run of the garden, we would have been in big trouble.  Instead, I weeded the entire garden (basically the area between the plants in each row) in less time than it took my husband to take our girls to the park. I took these photos on Thursday, and the garden has exploded with growth even since then.

So far we've got a bumper crop of radishes, and I've harvested two zucchini. There are about 962 more radishes where these came from.

We've got tomato plants loaded with green tomatoes.  A little early for that, isn't it?

Several squash are on the vine. And I'm VERY encouraged by these big, beautiful watermelon vines, currently with blossoms. 

Deer and rabbits have been munching the leaves of our green beans, but they are full of blossoms, so I'm expecting them to be just fine.  And the peas are looking good.  I think.  I've never grown peas before, so I'm not exactly sure.

The cabbage are huge and it looks like heads are starting to form.  The pepper plants are growing pretty slowing but are hanging in there.

For the first time it seems like the cucumbers are lagging behind everything else, but a few days ago they had a growth spurt and are now sporting blossoms.

Back in June on a whim I entered our garden in our local paper's Beautiful Garden contest.  Mostly I entered because I was so excited to finally have a vegetable garden I could be proud of.  I was also encouraged by the fact that no one else had entered at the time.  The voting period has officially begun, and I've got a 2 in 3 chance of winning first or second prize.  Now I admit the other two entries are very beautiful gardens, but I'm telling myself their owners are retirees who have all day to spend tending plants. I, on the other hand, have a crazy work schedule (12am anyone?), two little ones at home, and a very busy husband.  So if you're so inclined, send a vote or two my way.  You do have to register on the new paper's site first, but once you do that it's pretty easy to vote.  And you can even vote daily...not that I'm doing that or anything!  There's a handy link to the voting on the upper right corner of my blog.  Thanks, everyone.  And happy gardening!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hello, Summer!

Sometime in the last few weeks, summer arrived.  I almost missed it, because I've been stuck inside at my computer working more hours in the last two weeks than I have in any other two-week stretch in the entire four years I've been freelancing, including before I had children. Despite all that busyness, we decided to officially kick off our summer with a weekend visit to our friends in Illinois.

Over the Fourth of July weekend we were lucky enough to visit our long-time friends John and *Bethany at their home in Illinois.  We've known them for years.  I went to high school with Bethany.  My husband was John's roomate in college.  We introduced them to each other, and several, several, several years later they married.  We now have children and houses and real jobs.  We talk about things like politics, investment fees, and retirement.  OK, our husbands talk about that stuff.  Bethany and I talk about diapers, baby vomit, and potty training.  We've grown up, but we're still great friends.

Our children are ages 3, 2, 1, and two months, and they're each exhibiting the classic signs of their age.  The oldest is schooling the others in the art of sharing and everything else she has seemingly become an expert on overnight. The two-year-old is smothering the one-year-old with an abundance of kisses, hugs, and general attention.  The one-year-old is keeping one eye on mommy and the other on the baby, along with an errant finger in her eye and a joyful "Ba-by!" thrown in. And the baby is just soaking it all in--napping, nursing, spitting up, and blowing out diapers as babies generally do.

I hope you all had a fun holiday weekend.  I did.  I closed the laptop for a couple of days (mostly), sat back, and enjoyed good company, delicious food, and making some lasting memories.

*Bethany just started blogging.  She's full of brilliant ideas.  She's super crafty.  She asked me with a completely straight face if I've ever made my own English muffins.  She has.  Check out Bethany's blog, Crafting My Happy Life.