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.