Tuesday, March 29, 2011

new tradition: Chocolate Babka!

Reminds me of a chocolate-filled croissant - I can't believe I made it!

Ooey-gooey chocolate and buttery bread - a match made in Heaven.
As you know from my last post, I'm on a mission to start new traditions. I wanted to find a delicious recipe that I could make and share at our family's Easter brunch - something off the beaten path. That got me thinking about our Eastern European heritage, so I began reading about all sorts of traditions hoping to try one on.

Fast forward to yesterday when I made my first chocolate babka, a yummy bread oozing with chocolate filling. I found the recipe on http://www.allrecipes.com/ which is an excellent site for finding any recipe under the sun. You can keep your own virtual recipe box, too! (Now, I would never trade my tattered, true blue cook books, but they can't possibly hold all the recipes that this online site does - no disrespect.) It took nearly 3 hours to make, but worth every minute. YUM!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

full of potential...

As spring rolls around and retailers hype up the usual commercial junk surrounding Easter, I do my best to tune it out. Holidays shouldn't be about material things but time spent with loved ones celebrating a meaningful cause.

We are not a religious family, so Easter is not about the crucifix for us. But I still love Easter and the memories I have of it as a child with my family. So what's a girl -- a new mom -- to do?

Considering that Easter's most prominent features are Pagan and tied to the season (eggs, flowers, chicks, and even the Easter Bunny), it makes perfect sense that our holiday is about celebrating spring.

Easter then, to me, is the joy of life awaking and new life emerging. It is the promise of potential in us all after a long, cold winter.

Everything is alive and new again. Buds are on the dogwoods in the yard and tulips are pushing up through the ground. Birds and frogs are calling. It is a magical, sunny occasion worthy of celebrating each year.

In my quest to establish traditions for my son, I've been brainstorming what I can do to make the holiday more meaningful. Our heritage is decidedly Eastern European so I thought it would be fun to bake a chocolate babka for Easter brunch this year. I'm going to attempt to make a "blessing basket" to share with our family as well. After all, we are so very blessed, now and always.

So far, I've painted some wooden eggs. But the painting continues and so does the potential of our new Easter traditions...I wonder how Great Uncle J will feel about painting an egg for E?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

for my homegirls

Today started out as one of those hectic days. You know the kind - race to get the diaper bag together, find shoes, make coffee for the car ride, don't forget the gift, is my kid dressed warm enough? - kind of days.

There was no make up involved. I'm certain a brush never met my hair before it was whisked up in a messy bun. I grabbed the worn-a-couple-of-time jeans to be sure I was comfy. I was headed to my girlfriend's house. I knew she wouldn't mind. In fact, I could almost bet money that she was in the same state as me.

This play date was way overdue and it turned out to be just the medicine I needed, despite the hectic start. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally arrived and I hugged my dear friend. Even if a few months pass, it doesn't matter. We pick up right where we left off. Only, instead of talking about boys and homework (like we did in high school) we talk about toys and housework.

I don't know what I would do without my confidants, but this is for you: Thank you for always being on my side AND for playing the devil's advocate when I need it. You keep me grounded and laughing. Thank you for being my constant support and sounding board. I cherish your friendship and love.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I am the perfect parent*

*I had a conversation yesterday with someone who said "I'm just not into reading blogs. Who would be self-centered enough to write a blog and think people actual care what they are doing? Everyone just talks about how perfect they are and it's such crap."

Point taken.

So it behooved me to go back to my blog and scan all 34 posts to date. Was I the braggy blogger she was referring to? GULP. Guilty as charged. Well, sort of...

That got me thinking. Now, wait a minute: blogs are about so much more than boasty moms. In case you hadn't caught on, the title of today's post is OBVIOUSLY not true. I'm not a perfect parent - no one is. My blog is not dedicated to my "perfection". But you know what? I'm proud of my efforts at parenting. Yes, proud. Because it's NOT EASY being a mom. And if other people find inspiration, humor, or useful ideas in my posts, then my mission is accomplished.

I love to celebrate the amazing moments of life with my family and this blog will serve as a tangible record long after I'm gone. Will anyone care then? Maybe not, but at least my son will know how much he is adored and loved by his mama.

Besides my personal reasons for blogging as a record me and a fun pit stop for followers, the larger blogging community is a great sounding board for feedback and advice. I know that if I have a question, I can throw it out on a post and get honest comments from people (though strangers) who care.

I don't think of other people's blogs as "crap". When I read other blogs, I laugh out loud, sob uncontrollably, raise an eyebrow, or just go "wow!". Your blogs enrich my life, and I mean that. When I read about other families and how they spend their time, it makes me think about my own family and what we value. Some posts even call my ideals into question. I really love those posts!

It's true, I spend lots of time bragging about my adorable child and my awesome husband on this blog. But for me, blogging is about sharing and connecting. It's important to me to be expressive as an artist and pragmatic as an educator. As a blogger, well, let this be my own little tell all. Take it for what it's worth.

And to the bahumbug that doesn't want to read my blog, this is for you. Ignore as you will.

Monday, March 21, 2011

in the yard

E's new digs. Thanks for the tools, Gram!

 Another day to play outside! After the morning rain passed, the weather cleared up and we couldn't resist spending the afternoon in the yard.

I was skeptical about how much yard work could be accomplished with a toddler. (Last year I had the bumbo to rely on.) Turns out, if I keep my pruners in my back pocket, I can clip shrubs all over the yard as I chase him.

Some people seem surprised that E can stay occupied outside for long stretches of time. We don't have a plastic play house, swing set, or other such structures. But there's no big secret here. I don't entertain him. There's no song and dance. Instead, there's just a yard with loads of play potential.

As I go about my business of trimming, pulling, and pruning, my toddler carries out his own agenda. I give him the freedom to experience his small piece of the world in his own way. The environment is already ripe for learning, I just have to make sure it's safe for him to explore. (And obviously I always have my eye on him.) Twigs, grass, seeds, tools, watering cans, plant labels, pots, feeders - anything one would typically expect to find in a yard - is excellent fodder for him.

I'd love to hear all about your backyard adventures. What's your child's favorite thing to do outside?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

for your coffee break: cinnamon biscotti

This is my version of biscotti adapted from a recipe I ripped out of a Real Simple magazine. Here's what you need:

-1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
-1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
-1/4 tsp. salt
OPTIONAL: 1 cup of finely chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)

-3 eggs, lightly beaten
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
-1/4 tsp. almond or vanilla extract
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, stir eggs and remaining ingredients.
Gradually add to flour mixture until dry ingredients are moist.
Divide dough in half. Shape each portion in a 12x2 inch log.
Place 3 inches apart on a greased baking sheet (or sheet lined with parchment paper).
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes.
Cut logs diagonally into 3/4 inch slices.
Bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. Turn biscotti over and bake for 7 more minutes.
Cool. Yield: 2 dozen.

Dunk in coffee for a treat! If you want to get really snazzy, drizzle or dip in chocolate - cool then serve.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

word up

More words from E at 16 months old, translation provided:

raff = giraffe
dis = this
bapf = bath
k-k-k-k = cluck cluck cluck
mmm = mmm (like "mmm I love this banana")
baba = bottle
wawa = water
pop = pop, as in Pop Pop Ken
Jess = Aunt Jess

Sorry, Gram. Still no word for you!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

down and dirty

What do you get when you combine flowerpots full of muddy water, sunshine, a bucket, and a toddler?

A down and dirty afternoon play of course!

Here's E thoroughly enjoying his wet playtime outside (as mommy clips the hedge row - got to work on that to-do list!). He is content to splash and scoop up water much like in the bath tub, only the reverse happens: he gets dirty, not clean.

Because we are always getting dirty and muddy, I keep a spare set of clothes in our living room, ready for a quick change once inside. All of his clothes are "play clothes" so I never have to say "don't do that, you're going to get your pants dirty." What a drag for a little kid to hear that all the time - that's definitely not our M.O. around here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

made with love!

Sorry, baby. This quilt isn't for you!

A dear friend of mine is expecting in late April so I wanted to give her something extra special for her new bundle.

I've never had any formal quilting lessons, but I love to make quilts. I just sketch out a quilt design and make square templates from a recycled cereal box. My quilts are definitely not precise, but I am always happy with the results: durable, warm, and made with love.

This quilt has a mix of yellow and green flannel and cotton fabrics with a fuzzy, soft white back. I hand-stitched all the swatches with animals (partly because I'm not good at top-stitching with the machine, but also to quilt the front to the back so the blanket doesn't shift). 

These little onesies were also a gift. I have made these for several babies (including my own) and they are great because they are cute and easy to personalize. Try it yourself!

Here's what you need: alphabet stamps, animal/nature stamps, foam sheet, scissors, craft acrylic paints, sponge or other paint brush, piece of cardboard or newspaper stack, and the onesies or t-shirts.

Step 1: Wash the onesies. Place card board or newspaper between the front and back to avoid paint seeping through.

Step 2: Decide on the phrase and image you would like to use. (Ideas below.) Cut out your foam stamp, if necessary.

Step 3: Paint the back of each stamp and stamp in place. If you're worried about getting a perfectly straight line of letters, then off-set them like this one. For added effects, use more than one color of paint on your stamp. You may want to test this on paper first.

Step 4: Wash off your stamps and paint brushes. Don't get lazy here! Your brushes will be useless if you don't. And intricate stamps get easily clogged with dry paint - so wash up!

Note: If you want to add more detail, you can purchase fine-point fabric markers and do some outlining once the paint dries.

I use simple acrylic craft paint because it's cheaper than fabric paint, available in way more colors, and definitely WON'T wash off. (I've stained many a pair of jeans with this paint, so I would know!)

The foam sheet would be if you want to cut out your own stamp. For instance, the onesie that says "dreamer" I cut out the cloud shape from the foam, then painted it to use like a stamp. If you really love the foam stamps you create, use Elmer's glue to attach them to scrap wood blocks. Once the glue is completely dry, you'll be able to use the stamps over and over again. By the way, this is also a very easy method of making stamps with kids!

Cute phrases for these baby onesies might be:

rock star
super hero
queen bee
wild thing
lucky duck
king of the forest
earth angel
baby love
snuggle bunny
top dog
rising star
the next big thing
heart throb
sweet pea
wild flower

...this list could go on and on - but I'm sure you'll come up with your own!

If you decide to make these, I'd love to see your pics. Happy crafting!

Monday, March 7, 2011

stop to look at the flowers

I'm feverish. Spring feverish that is. And even though it was only about 45 degrees today, the sunshine beckoned me outdoors.

I took E for another wagon ride when something wonderful dawned on me: springtime will feel completely new to him. Last spring he was just months old, and now he's over 16 months and much more aware of his surroundings.

I stopped the wagon to point out some early purple crocuses when I saw it -- that incredible look of wonder and awe on his face -- when I excitedly said "look at the flowers! Spring is almost here! The flowers are ready to come up!" He scrambled to get out of the wagon for a closer look (and touch).

And so it hit me. I get to share spring with someone who has never known it before. In all its glory: rain, tree buds, bird songs, butterflies, and silky colorful petals, I get to share it all with him. Hurry up, spring!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

cinnamon curry stir fry

I was poking around in the fridge trying to use up some veggies for E's dinner when I whipped up this tasty meal. Here's what I used:

-steamed sweet potatoes, seasoned with cinnamon
-white rice
-peas in the pods
-mushrooms, sliced
-silken tofu
-curry, to taste
-cinnamon, to taste
-olive oil (just enough to coat the pan)

I couldn't believe how fast this came about and how delicious it was given the minimal effort. I made it again the next day when I had company over. The truth is I mistakenly bought "silken" tofu instead of my usual extra firm tofu for frying. But it turns out that the silken tofu acted a lot like an egg in fried rice when I mixed it in. Bonus: extra protein!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

things I hate

Today feels like a day to vent. Does anyone else struggle to keep sanity and balance work with family? It's 1:30 a.m. and I can't sleep. Turns out I'm in a hateful mood:

I hate that society makes me feel like I need to work out five times a week to look good enough. I feel like a failure because I can't. Yes, I'm a very active person, but I feel like I must do more. And I don't see how to make it happen in the real life that I live.

I hate that I feel like I should try to dress like Barbie in public AND to maintain my husband's attention to keep "the spark". Apparently, looking like a mom is a bad thing to a lot of people.

I hate the conflict between my drive to be a rock star at work and not wanting to miss a moment of my son's fleeting childhood. I have such passion and motivation in my career, but it's hard to feel fulfilled because I am only there part-time. There's always so much left undone. I wouldn't trade a moment of my time with our son. Not a single second. I am totally unapologetic about my choice to work part-time. Even still, I feel the nagging guilt DAILY...guilt that I am shirking work to be a parent. Shouldn't I be able to shake the guilt? Why can't I?

I hate that most men don't seem to have an ounce of this guilt -- females bare the brunt. They don't feel the weight of parenthood the way a mother does. I don't know if it's the way their brains are wired or what. But wow. It is annoying.

I hate that there are so many things society says are needs. In most cases, those "needs" are really "wants"... to keep up with the Jones'. And even though I'm aware of this fact, and I desperately want to be grounded, I still struggle with being content. I feel guilty about this, too.

So, I will continue with my quiet meditations and hope they come true. I'll do more to back them up with actions to take baby steps towards more inner change. But today was just a hard day.

"I am kindness. I am loving. I am at peace."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

our toy story...recyclables for baby

Does your kid go through the trash like a hungry raccoon? Or plead to play in the recycle bin?

Ain't it grand when you don't have to buy toys?!

I'm here to tell you there are many surprising (and obvious) ways for toddlers to enjoy recyclables - so long as mom and dad can get over thinking it's "trash". Here are some ideas that your little recycler may like to try:

Lids. My son has Lid-Mania, if that's possible. Cinnamon jar - cool flip top lid and also smells nice. Shampoo bottle - tiny flip top lid easy for tiny hands to twist. Yogurt lid - large snap on lid tough to pull off, and bonus, you can put things inside. Juice, milk, and soda tops - fun to shake and play with together, also fun to carry around as if they are precious coins.

Milk Jugs. Combine the love of "tricky" lids with a handle and VOILA! Perfection. Milk jugs are easy to carry around, shake, bang, etc. Fill one with rice, dried beans, or pasta and now you've got a music maker!
Toilet Paper Rolls. Ah yes. They can be looking glasses. Binoculars. Tunnels for lids. Giant wheels to roll. Things to stick inside other containers. Cut them into sections and they can be giant beads or cuff bracelets.

Mesh Produce Bags. These are great because your child can see through the bag but has to work at figuring out how to get objects out. Tots can practice putting things away. These make a great way to store all your special recyclables, too.

Newspaper. You can crinkle it! And you can...crinkle it! Yeah, that's pretty much the draw here. At least as a toddler. With some encouragement, you can crinkle it to fit inside of other containers or wad it up with tape to make a simple ball.

Air Pillows or Bubble Wrap in Packaging. These are fascinating and weird to a little kid. The air "pillows" can be used as just that - pillows for Teddy. Or you can gently puncture them and help your child squeeze the air out to see how it deflates. The bubble wrap can be snapped and popped. (Like you weren't already excited at the mere mention of bubble wrap!) For older kids, bubble wrap is great for art projects.

Egg Cartons. Hide things in it. Shake it. Open it up again. Hide things in it. Shake it...you get the picture?
E's very own "kitchenette" made by yours truly. It keeps him happy for now...

Cardboard Boxes. Now, this is more a project for you than him at first. But if you wrangle up some cardboard boxes and tape them together, you can configure your very own kitchen set. This can get very fancy but even a simple version like mine is a crowd pleaser. (Check out where I got the idea here.)

Do you have some other cool ways for toddlers to use recyclables? I'd love to hear your comments!

COMMON SENSE NOTE: Please, please supervise your child during playtime. Keep an eye out for choking hazards. Double-check for anything potentially dangerous before you let your tot play.

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.