Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Birthday Bonanza!

This week is little Evelyn's first birthday. I cannot believe that my baby is getting to be such a little lady. To celebrate this big occasion, I'll be doing a birthday bonanza here on my blog! All of my posts this week and into next (getting a late start with the holiday) will be about all things birthday. Cakes, cupcakes, decorations, clothes, and more!

Eve's birthday party will be in the theme of "puppies and poodles." I chose this theme because my daughter is in love with dogs. Any time she sees a dog, or an animal that remotely looks like a dog (squirrels, cats, horses) she laughs hysterically and squeels "Doggy!" When looking for dog themed party items, I noticed that they all seemed very boyish. The dogs all looked tough, and the backgrounds were blue and red. That doesn't fit Eve's personality at all. She is very girly and soft. So then I found items that were themed with poodles, and it was mostly on clearance! So I took a bit from each theme and came up with "puppies and poodles" which I think fits her perfectly.

Stay tuned for lots of party planning ideas for this theme as well as general party planning tips and stories!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Our Victory Garden

This mess of weeds is what was staring at us early in the spring. If it looks bad in that picture, it only got worse as the weeks went on! As spring moved in, the weeds sprang to life. Thorns, bushes, and grasses were soon out of control in the space that was supposed to be our garden.

After an hour, I was only able to hand turn a little less than a square foot. Luckily, we have a very kind neighbor who loves to use his tractor.
It looked like Mothers Day Weekend was going to be the only nice weekend for a while, so we planted our seeds then, although there was still a chance of a last late frost.

Jonah's job was to push the seeds into the holes. He loved being a part of planting, at least for a little while (he does have the attention span of an almost three year old, after all!)

Luckily, the frosts were over, and our crop hasn't been effected by cold weather. It stayed cool enough to get our lettuce to sprout, but warm enough not to kill the other sproutlings. We planted corn, sunflowers, two kinds of peas, zucchini, yellow summer squash, pickling cucumbers, muncher cucumbers, sugar pie pumpkins, butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, and broccoli. I'm hoping that this along with the half farm share we are getting will provide enough veggies to last through the season without buying any extra. If I'm lucky and nothing dies, I think we'll have enough for me to freeze and can! We also have a pear tree in the yard, and we planted three varieties of berry bushes. Given the amount of berries that my kids eat, I'm hoping that each bush was worth it's $20 investment. After last year, I now have a good guage of how much jelly and jam we use through the year. I made way too much last year even considering the amount that we used to barter with and give as gifts.

We have not planted our tomatoes and peppers yet. We are waiting until the weather gets a little nicer before going to buy already grown plants. The growing season here is too short to start tomato and pepper plants from seeds in the ground, it is much more lucrative to get plants that were grown early in the season, in a green house. I'm planning on getting some globe tomatoes, green peppers, and jalapeno peppers. We have yellow pear tomatoes growing in our garage.

I'm really hoping that I don't kill all of it. I am not exactly known for my green thumb, but I'm learning! The broccoli has already taken a turn for the worse, but this week, we found this in our row of corn, so it is encouraging!
Do you have a vegetable garden? What do you grow in it, and do you involve the kids in the garden chores?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Making Time

I stared hard at the red digital numbers, trying to will them to move. My feet moved beneath my body like robotic pendulums, hitting the treadmill, seemingly no longer controlled by the conscious part of my brain. Shouldn't the number have gone up by now? Why hasn't it gone up? There, finally it reached 3 miles.

As I slowed the treadmill to a walking pace, I heard a cry in the room above me. Daryl's with her, I tried to reassure myself. I heard the cries get louder and more frantic. And so ends another night of running, prematurely. Getting off the treadmill, I wobble a bit on the solid ground, then make my way back into reality- the reality that moms have little time for exercise.

I will be the first to admit that I've fallen into the "I don't have time; I'm too tired; the baby was up all night teething and I still have a sink full of dishes to wash" hole. Once you start digging it, it's hard to pull yourself out! Then in March I had a realization. Even though I had made my goal in December of running 3 miles in a half hour, I could no longer do it. And my new goal of running 10k (6.2 miles) hadn't even been touched. In fact, I was pushing it to finish the 5k at that point. Why? I wasn't running. Not regularly anyway. Suddenly I remembered a nike commercial. Just do it. The only way to be successful in my running goals is to just do it.

Ignore the dishes, ignore the laundry that needs folding, trust that the husband is capable of taking care of the kids for an hour or so, and just do it. The blog post can wait to be written, the email can wait to be responded to, the status can wait to be updated. So just do it!

One of the biggest ways that I've been able to fit running into my mommy schedule is that I had a treadmill freecycled to me by my amazing sister in law. I know that I was wonderfully fortunate in this, but moms let me tell you that if she needed it back then I would not hesitate to invest in a used one. I'd go to craigslist, used sportings goods stores, whatever it took, I would find a treadmill that I could afford. Because I can no longer run after dark, when my husband is home, this is sometimes the only way that I can run on the weekdays. Now that the weather is nicer, and the paths are clear, I can take the kids to the metroparks. But on days that we can't make it, or when the kids just aren't up for it, it's the treadmill or nothing!

I also have found ways to fit household chores around my running schedule. For example washing laundry has a lot of dead time when I am waiting for either the washer or dryer to finish. I put a load in, and run while I'm waiting. By the time I'm done, it's ready to be switched out.

And finally, but most importantly, I've involved my husband. I've explained to him my goals, and what his role is in supporting these goals. He's been a wonderful partner for me in this aspiration. Not only has he taken over watching the kids, helping to put them to bed on weeknights or getting them snack and their after nap routine on weekends, but often I'll come home from a run and the dishes will be done, clothes put away, or the floor vacuumed.

Making time to achieve my running goals isn't just something that I am doing as a hobby. I see it as a very real necessity. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease all run in my family. The two best things that I can do to avoid these issues is to eat a healthy diet, and exercise.
Finishing the OAR 5K at Browns Stadium
 I would like to proudly say that I did reach my goal of running a full 10k, just this past week. And last weekend, I finished my first official 5k event of the season. I have many more events scheduled over the summer, ending with a half marathon in October for which I am on schedule with my training to complete. Since I started running, I have lost over 25 lbs and dropped three pants sizes, from before I got pregnant with Eve. I have never felt sexier, and for the first time that I can ever remember, I actually enjoy standing in front of a full sized mirror after getting dressed in the morning, checking myself out. It puts a smile on my face for the rest of the day to know that I look as good as I feel, and *that* dear mommies, is worth making the time to exercise!
My cheering squad and inspiration

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventures in Boob Land

Jonah was still napping, and Eve had just woken up from her own nap. I had changed her diaper and sat on the couch contemplating whether or not I should attempt to fold laundry while she was awake, something that has 90% failure rate.

As I was weighing my options, she came to me and began to whine. "Help!" she said. Help is one of the few words she has, and she uses it when she wants something."What do you want, little Diva?" She whined a little more. "Help-pa Help-pa!" it was as if she was emphasizing how much she wanted something. I knew what she wanted. "What is it?" I asked again. She puckered her lips and signed "milk" with one hand while pulling my shirt with the other. "Ohhhhh, I see" I said, pretending to have been unaware. "You want this?" Before my fingers even reached the hem of my shirt, Eve burst into laughter. Pure innocent joy.

Before I could get my nursing bra situated, I had a giggly little girl diving into my breast for an after nap snack. About a minute later, she unlatched, sat up, pulled the bottom of my nursing bra up, and gave it a pat. Then she was off chasing the dog and laughing.

I am so afraid that this is going to end soon, as my baby is turning into into a toddler... but then again perhaps it has just begun!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Coconut Curried Chicken over Vegetable Rice

One of the things that I do to save money on our grocery bill, is buying whole poultry rather than pieces. Not only is it cheaper to buy a whole "roaster" chicken than to buy a package of chicken breast, but there are more usable parts with a whole chicken, and most local farmers will only sell me a whole chicken- there is no "boneless/skinless" option.

Many people think that the only thing you can do with a whole chicken is to make roasted chicken. If you get creative, you'll find that you can have a variety of chicken dishes at a much less cost if you start using meat from a whole chicken.

After I cook a chicken, we usually have the roasted chicken that night for dinner. Then I get as much meat off the bones as I possibly can, separating the white meat and dark meat into two labeled bags. I keep the raw gizzards and carcass (the bones) to make a stock out of. If I'm throwing the carcass away rather than making a stock (sometimes I have ample amount in my freezer) then I put the gizzards in a freezer bag and save until the day comes when I do make a stock. This alone saves us tons of money, as I don't remember the last time I had to buy chicken stock. I use it in many of my dishes, so to be able to cut that out of our grocery list saves us money!

After everything is separated and prepared, I freeze it. Then, we have cooked chicken meat in the freezer, waiting to be made into a quick yet wholesome meal! This curried chicken recipe was one I came up with tonight using cooked chicken. I used the white meat, but I wouldn't hesitate to use dark meat. I am going to come clean and admit that when I say "canned tomatoes" in the recipe, I actually didn't have any so I used some of the chunky tomato soup that I canned last summer and it worked really well- and another way to incorporate my own prepared foods!

Chicken Curry:
1 can Coconut Milk
Canned Diced Tomatoes (about 1 cup, but use your tastes)
2 1/2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp garlic powder (or a couple cloves of minced garlic but this is what I had)
salt and pepper to taste
2 chicken breasts, prepared as above and then thawed, shredded or diced
pinch of flour or cornstarch

Over medium heat, heat the coconut milk while stirring until the fat and water are well incorporated. Add the tomatoes, curry powder, garlic, salt and pepper and mix well.  Stir in the chicken and cover. Cook over medium to low heat until the chicken is heated through, stirring occasionally. Add in the flour or cornstarch and stir. Heat until sauce thickens.

Vegetable rice:
1 Cup White Rice
1 Cup freeze dried veggies or frozen veggies
2 cups water

combine the water and rice in a pot and bring the water to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the veggies, turn down the heat to low, and cover. Cook about 30 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the water.

Serve the chicken over the rice.

The next time I make this dish, I am hoping to add homemade naan to our plates!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Teaching Empathy

Something that we have been struggling with Jonah, is teaching him empathy. This is a very difficult thing for any toddler to understand, but also important as we deal with issues such as hitting and sharing.

A great book that I've been using to help Jonah understand empathy, is called Smile Baby, Smile! by Moira Butterfield and Rosalind Beardshaw.
 The book is about a very cranky baby. No matter what anyone does to make Baby happy, Baby cries. While reading the book, I talk to Jonah about what could make a baby cry. Why would the baby be sad? What can we do to make baby happy? At the end of the story, when Baby's issues are resolved, we talk again about what the family did to try to make Baby happy.

We then talk about things that make our family members sad or upset, and what we can do to help. We also talk about why Evie cries sometimes. Sometimes it's because she's tired or hungry, but other times it's because Jonah pushes her or won't share a toy.

And of course, the best way to teach about empathy, is to lead by example. Parenting with empathy can be a struggle at times, as parenting can be no matter what methods are used, but if Jonah sees Mommy and Daddy reacting to his or Evie's emotional needs, and understanding what the problem is, then Jonah will learn to resolve issues in this way as well.

How have you taught your child empathy? What age do you believe children are capable of understanding and displaying empathy?

Pineapple Ham

If you're struggling with easter dinner leftovers, or if you took advantage of the post-holiday sales on ham, you might find this recipe a refreshing break from ham sandwiches and casseroles. If the weather where you are is anything like the weather here in Cleveland, you might also appreciate the tropical flavors to remind you of sunshine and warmer days. This recipe is adapted from this recipe at allrecipes.com.

2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups cooked and cubed ham (I didn't measure mine, I just used up what we had left over)
1/4 onion
1 can pineapple chunks in pineapple juice
1 cup broccoli, fresh or frozen (if you use fresh, one or two stalks will do, use your tastes)
1/2 green pepper, coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons cornstarch

In a wok or skillet, melt the butter. Add ham, onions, peppers, and broccoli. Heat while stirring frequently, until the veggies are tender and the onions become translucent. While the veggies and ham are cooking whisk the juice from the pineapple vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, and corn starch together in a medium bowl. Add the pineapple to the liquid. When the ham and veggies are done, add the pineapple mixture to the skillet on medium heat. Heat until the liquid thickens.

Serve over rice.

I made this for my family yesterday, and it was a big hit. Even the picky eater, Jonah, ate every bite! I did find that there was a bit too much pineapple when I used the entire 16 oz can. In the future, I will use all of the juice from the can, but reserve half of the pineapple for a later snack. Also, this time of year, fresh pineapples can usually be found. If you prefer to use a fresh pineapple, skip the canned stuff and add about 1.5 cups pineapple or orange juice along with the fresh fruit.