Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You Say Potato

To keep E occupied tonight, I had her help me peel potatoes using a spoon. I sat in the living room with a bucket for the peels and started working. She marched around the apartment with her potato and spoon. She'd stop by the bucket when a peel would fall next to it and help me put the peels in the garbage.

When I finished peeling, I set the dish of my potatoes on a TV tray and stepped into the kitchen to start the water boiling.

When I came back to grab the potatoes, I found this...

Just Us, Living

I would love to string together all the moments over the last few days and write a really meaningful post -- to find the connections and transform them into a story with heart and meaning, but I can't. Not because they're not worthy moments, but because I'm not sure I have the strength to think too much... and I just want to write, about us. Just us, living.

We just got over a stomach bug that I learned originated from day care. First E, with 2 straight hours of vomiting (can't complain, we've been through worse), then me a few days later on Sunday, then Mark yesterday. He and I had everything except vomiting. I got dehydrated, so I've been drinking mugs of Gatorade (aka blue space juice).

That said, the Saturday before we got sick was wonderful at the Vermont Balloon & Craft Festival with friends Josh and Ali. E's favorite part (mine too) was getting inside the giant hot air balloon, as air from a huge fan kept the balloon open and caused the "floor" to billow up under our feet. It was magical.

After, we stopped at Panera for an early dinner, and E was such a little doll. She talked to us the entire time and didn't have one temper tantrum. It felt like our first real family outing with a little adult to join us -- an adult who spoke very loudly and asked 25 times in a row for "more yogurt please." After eating, she paraded around the restaurant, investigated the coffee station and desserts, sat in the fluffy chairs, and visited with me in a relatively quiet manner. She was so well behaved that I actually found myself missing her spunk. I forgot that I had wanted to get a haircut, so after a failed nap attempt, I decided to go for it and stopped by the mall to visit the Penney's salon. Mark took E for a walk around the mall.

On Sunday, while I laid in bed, E came in and watched TV with me. She gave me big hugs and kisses, then (I think) unintentionally kneed me in the gut. She climbed on my pillow, hanging from the headboard, and said, "Ready?!" reaching for my hand. This means that she is going to jump. There have been numerous Evel-Knievel-style jumps off of my pillow, onto a pile of blankets in the middle of the bed, so now I make her hold my hand if she's going to do it. And now she knows the routine. "Again!?" she yells after her first successful landing. "Sure," I say.

Then the week started, Mark and I were sick, and E was off to day care. Mark brought her on Monday. I took her in yesterday. Somehow, while I was sick for 2 days, it turned into autumn. It was cool in the morning, smelled like fall. I drove our usual route, which goes past the farm I wrote about almost a year ago, in My Wait.

It's just like the picture, as the cool mornings and later sunrise are now starting to make the damp field glow at just the right time, when I'm driving through. Maybe that's why it caught my attention this morning more than any other morning. I noticed that the calf (that you can barely see) in the original photo is now a full grown cow. And there was something else beside her in the grass -- a little lump of fur, a calf of her own.

I think I'm the cow in this metaphor, laughing as I write that -- growing up (somewhat, just enough, I think), and settling into my role as a mom, E and I figuring each other out. That cow has the same look on her face that I do -- one of acceptance, that everything is how it should be, and I want to hug her.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Papa Story -- Pizza Delivery Fail

Another Papa Tony story:

Once, when I was a little boy, some of my friends and I decided to camp out in the back of my dad’s truck. We set up sleeping bags and, like the usual sleepover, we stayed up late laughing and horsing around.

At about 10:00 at night, we decided that we wanted a pizza. We didn’t have any money, so we came up with a plan. The truck we were staying in was parked close to our neighbor’s house. So, we went in our house, called the pizza place, and asked them to deliver it to the neighbor’s address.

After we called, we put a note on the neighbor’s door that read:

WIFE HAVING BABY
PLEASE LEAVE PIZZA
WILL PAY LATER

Sure enough, about 20 minutes later, the pizza delivery man parked outside the neighbor’s house and went up to the door. We watched from the back of the truck. The man read the note then started pounding on the door. A light came on inside, and a woman answered. She must have told the man that she hadn’t ordered a pizza.

The delivery man noticed us in the back of the truck, and he started walking toward us. He banged on the back of the truck, we opened the door, and he said, “Did you guys order a pizza?” Of course, we denied it, so we never got our pizza.

The next morning, while we were playing outside, the neighbor called us over. She handed me the note we had left on her door and asked, “Tony, did you leave this on my door?” I fessed up to it, but she was a wonderful woman. She thought it was so funny that she just laughed.

Click here for the complete collection of Papa Stories.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Papa's Bedtime Stories

My father and grandmother
This weekend, at our family reunion, I got to see my parents, sister, and niece, Julia. Julia is going to be 6 in August! It was so fun to have some quality time with her.

We explored my aunt’s and uncle’s house, acted silly, played ping pong. My skills match hers in the table-tennis arena, so ping pong balls were flying everywhere. When I got too tired to play anymore, I told her that we would have 2 more volleys then be done.

She said, “But what if it’s a rip-off!?” (meaning one of us, probably me, entirely misses the ball)
“Then, we’ll have to do a repeat, but only if it’s a rip-off,” I explained.
She thought carefully about this, then added, “And if it’s not a rip-off, we’ll just keep playing.”
“Ok,” I said, then, “Wait a minute! That means we just keep playing no matter what…”
She got a big, goofy smile on her face. “That’s right.”

Uh oh, she’s a clever one.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a quick swim in the pool, then we got E ready for bed. Once she was asleep, Mark offered to stay with her, so I could go next door and visit with my family. Julia was lying in bed while we chatted, and she piped up when she noticed my father had settled into a chair.

“Papa! Tell me one of your stories!”

My dad used to tell us stories almost every night before bed. Better than any story out of a book, he would tell us about the adventures and troubles he used to get into as a kid. If I told them all here, it’d be a long post, so I’ll post a few, and I’ll add more to the blog as I can (Papa Stories label added at left). These are the stories that I grew up with, and listening to him tell them again for my niece was so special.

Keep in mind that these are geared toward kids aged 6-10, but that as a big kid of 30, I still laughed like I was hearing them for the first time. I’ll try to tell them as close to the original as I can remember them. Try to imagine them being told by a deep-voiced Italian man with a long forehead, animated eyes, and a huge mustache.

Papa Tony: When I was a little boy (early 1960s), I was best friends with Bruce Burke. Every morning, at about 5am, before everyone else was awake, I would walk over to Bruce’s house. Bruce was still sleeping, so I would throw rocks at his window to wake him up. One morning, bright and early, I went over, found some good rocks to throw, and began chucking them at the window. Tink! Tink! Tink! No answer, so I threw some more. Tink! Tink! Tink! Finally, the window flew open and Bruce’s dad, Mr. Burke, poked his head out.

“Tony!! What are you doing!?” he yelled.
“Uh… I was just looking for Bruce.”
“Well, he stayed at his grandmother’s last night!”
“Oh, sorry.”

Papa laughs at how he went home, feeling embarrassed, and Julia giggles. Then Papa continues about what happened on the mornings Bruce did answer.

Papa Tony: One morning, Bruce and I went outside to climb trees. We loved climbing, and we looked for the tallest trees we could find. We finally found one perfect for climbing, not far from the sidewalk. The bottom branches were hard to reach, but once you pulled yourself up, they were closely bunched for quick climbing. We climbed as high as we could. Almost at the top, we sat side by side, the houses below, the tree gently swaying.

After awhile, we saw a man walking down the sidewalk below, in our direction. I don’t know what possessed me to do this, but as he passed below us, I yelled out, “Hey you!!”

The man didn’t know where the voice was coming from. He looked left, then looked right. He looked confused, then started walking again.

“Hey you!!!” I yelled.

Again, the man stopped. He looked left, looked right. He kept walking.

“Hey you with the hair on your head!!”

Julia cracks up laughing, as I always did, as I still do just watching her laugh.

Papa continues: The man finally figured it out, and yelled, “Hey! You kids get down here right now!!”

Well, Bruce and I weren’t coming down, and we knew that man wasn’t going to climb up. So, we waited until he finally gave up and walked off. Then we climbed down the tree and went home.

I don’t know what it was about that story – the fun in hearing about the little innocent pranks kids play, my dad's animated gestures, or the fact that he actually yelled “Hey you with the hair on your head,” – but I would laugh until my sides hurt every time he told it.

We’re going home for Julia’s birthday next month, so I’ll try to get some more in writing before then to add to the collection.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grandpa Joe

Yes, we're still in Willy Wonka land over here... so, had to share.

Image Found Here

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rush Gatherer

Saw this beautiful orotone photograph on Antiques Roadshow. It's an Edward Curtis -- The Rush Gatherer. It reminds me of my favorite Remington painting -- The Squall. When I worked at the Remington Museum, I used to stare at that painting for hours... In my defense, this was before smart phones.

Photo from www.edwardcurtis.com.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Five-Minute Friday

I thought this was a fun linkup! Five-Minute Friday -- five minute piece about the word "Belong":

I am outside. I am at the top. I run the house and try to keep it together. Even when I’m falling apart. The bubbly one flies by, a blur of curls and a streak of blue dress. I follow. Before I belonged at work, at home, with my husband. Some things fit, some didn’t. Now I belong to someone, to her. It is a bond written in stone but stronger than words. Nowhere and to no one in my life have I so rightfully belonged. An invisible leash, she pulls me close behind. I am a protector, a friend. The Golden Girls theme song plays in my head, and I wonder if it’s some small “thank you” from the universe for using every last ounce of energy on raising a human being that I hope brings a light to the world like she brings to my life. But most likely my brain synapses are just misfiring and for some reason are providing a moment of gratitude that I must so desperately need for surviving another day of blissful exhaustion.

This linkup was featured on Rabia Lieber's blog, click this link to play along!

Mersey Beat

Mark’s supervisor is a fellow Beatles fan and was kind enough to send me the Bob Spitz biography, which I've always wanted to read. I started it last night and will read all 800+ pages. From what I’ve heard, I’ve concluded that it’s basically a Beatles version of East of Eden, Great Expectations, and Fifty Shades of Grey (shivers).

My only complaint is, though the "rhythm" of the book is not unlike a Steinbeck novel, it lacks the Steinbeck imagery and flow. The nouns are swimming, no, drowning in a sea of adjectives. It’s distracting, and I’m finding it hard to pick out the story. I’m clinging to the little noun life rafts! I’ve only made it past the Proglogue, so I’ll give it some more attention. And, I have to say, if you’re going to drown in a sea of adjectives, why not be the ones describing Liverpool Skiffle and the Mersey Beat!?

I’m also noting all the Liverpool bands that the book mentions -- fighting for survival at that time and having fun listening to them today while I yawn lazily at my desk and sort email.

Tomorrow we have a little family reunion, so here’s hoping that E gets some rest today. We’re under a heat advisory this afternoon, so we’ll be hunkering down at home, playing in the pool if possible, and hopefully having some fun family time.

But for now, I’m hanging out with these fine folks...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Roll of Film

When my grandfather, my dad’s step-father, passed away, there was an old camera with his belongings. My dad thought I might be interested in having it (I was – my film camera has taken a beating), so he brought it to me the last time he visited.

I took it to the camera shop to see what it needed – new battery, a little cleanup, but other than that, it was fine. Also, it had a roll of film in it! About half of it had been used, 11 pictures taken. Oh yeah, and it would cost $12 to develop it. Ugh. I decided to not make it a priority (we have to eat) and waited ‘til pay day to send the film out.

Pay day came and went, and so did the film. I spent the next week wondering what would be on that roll. We had a family reunion before Grandpa passed away, and I thought he may have snapped pics then. It was nice having him close to me that week, in my thoughts, with this little mystery. Part of me hoped he had taken some award-winning shot that we could publish posthumously, and I amused myself with thoughts of what the photo would be each day I passed the camera shop on my way to bring E to day care.

Would the photos be of something epic? Simple? Epic in their simplicity? I had a calm patience about waiting for them.

The day arrived, and I went to pick them up. I had ordered a CD, so I had to process them on a computer at the camera shop to get a set of prints. I sat down and looked through the photos on the screen: one of a shoreline with something moving in the water (an alligator from his and Gram’s trip to Florida maybe? a turtle?); hummingbirds on a birdfeeder; a blossoming tree with their dog, Pearl, sleeping beneath it; a close-up of Pearl in the shadow of the tree.

I brought my photos to the front desk and chatted with the cashier, who knew the background story.
“It’s funny what people take photos of,” I said. “My grandfather was an artist, a good photographer and painter, and the last photos we have from this camera are of a blossoming tree, birds, and his dog.”

Another customer came up to the counter, and I could imagine the cashier thinking, “Ok, move along lady… enough about your grandfather.” But he stopped, looked up at me, and said quietly, almost under his breath: “Everything we do as humans is driven by emotion.” He turned from me and went back to work.

“Oh, ok,” I thought and nonchalantly walked out the door. Then I stopped. “What…?” I mean, even as I patiently waited an entire week for these photos, was part of me expecting something more epic? Could it really be that simple? He just took photos of things he loved.

I flipped through them over the next few days, looking for something, some message... a gift, a lesson? I felt there was a reason I had these photos.

My grandfather had seen all the best and worst the world had to offer. He was a gruff man, and we often saw his angry side. But I always knew and saw glimpses of a man who had great love in his heart, too. I always hoped that he could see the world the way I do – in a sometimes na├»ve way, but with love and hope.

And so I decided that the gift of these photos was a simple one. A knowing. I know that men who have given up, who have pushed the world out, don’t photograph blossoming trees or hummingbirds on a bird feeder. They don’t pay attention to the fact that their dog managed to find one tiny patch of shade in a field of sunlight or enjoy watching her rest in the cool grass.

But I do. And now I know that he did too -- that, on some level, we're the same. And I think that's kind of... amazing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Design Milk! Answering the Question: What Would I Do With Eternity?

I would funking crochet, cross-stitch, and knit everything. Everywhere. More from Design Milk, here!



Monday, July 15, 2013

Delta Annual Report 1956

Pinterest find... I just love these colors (original pin here)! This entire board is amazing!


My Running Playlist

Ugh, now we're all fighting this nasty summer flu/virus/cold thing -- coughing, congestion, headaches, exhaustion, and fever. So, there's not much to write about other than me wanting to cry, and E using every ounce of her little toddler strength to get me to use every ounce of my waning energy to play with her...

So, just for the sake of actually updating my blog... Here is my running playlist.

Disclaimer: These are just songs that make me happy. They're not all upbeat, but they make my heart jump up and down which consequently makes my legs want to do the same thing:

A-Punk -- Vampire Weekend (just peppy)
After Hours -- We Are Scientists
Be My Baby -- The Ronettes (E's song)
Blue -- The Jayhawks (best surprise, heart-soaring chord changes...)
Brand New Key -- Melanie (My mom used to sing this to me.)
Come On Eileen -- Dexy's Midnight Runners (No explanation required.)
Danger Zone -- Top Gun Soundtrack, Kenny Loggins, I think (yup)
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright -- Peter, Paul, & Mary (There is nothing better than being stopped at the station, waiting for the train to pass by, watching people go about their daily lives, and being caught in my own, serene moment, with this song. It took my breath away.)
For The Girl -- The Fratellis (upbeat fun!)
Grace Kelly -- Mika (It's okay to be awkward, goofy me.)
Great Balls of Fire -- Top Gun Soundtrack (Jerry Lee Lewis) (um, amazing)
Hangin' Tough -- New Kids on the Block (Torn between refusing to explain myself and writing, "Awkward pre-teen fun!")
Ho Hey -- The Lumineers (happiness)
Jump in the Line -- Harry Belafonte (How dancy!)
Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' -- Journey (No explanation required.)
Popsicle -- New Kids on the Block (I know, but see above...)
Step By Step -- New Kids on the Block (Yeah, I know... but see above) 
That's Not My Name -- The Ting Tings (Yeah, I was that girl...)
We Belong -- Pat Benatar (80s love!)

So, basically, this was me running on Saturday... This is how happy this music makes me. And, until I get some better running gear, I'll be sporting his same exact outfit and using my umbrella to smack people off the sidewalk, so I can get through. Isn't life grand?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cross Stitch Love

I think I may be a little too obsessed with these cross stitch pendants! I just found this Indian wall hanging on Etsy, in the ThreadsOfOld shop, and think it will be great inspiration to pull little designs from for my next one.

My first one was a little safe -- a simple symmetric design with hearts. I now know that I can probably extend my design by 2 squares, to better fill the space.

In other news, E is finally getting over a nasty cold, and Mark and I seem to be getting it (yay). Hopefully we'll all be healthy by the end of the week. Looking forward to a fun, end of July BBQ with my family!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Running: Wardrobe Malfunctions and Fires!

Well, today was my first unsuccessful run...

Before I had E, I tried one of those "Couch Potato to 5K" running regiments. I made it to about week 4, which I think is somewhere past the "couch potato" stage but before the "recliner recluse" portion of the training.

The thing I liked about it was that it gave me mini goals to work toward and a to-do list. I could measure my accomplishments. So, I found an app called Personal Running Trainer, here. It provides you with a virtual "coach" who talks you through a running routine. There's also an option to have him talk over your music, which I love. We started with a little right into the Danger Zone!, courtesy of the Top Gun soundtrack. That song always foreshadows disaster.

I felt kind of awkward. I was in a hurry this morning and had grabbed some old sweatpants instead of my workout leggings. I didn't worry about my shirt until I got out of work and remembered I had put on some kind of silky, cheetah-print blouse today. I wondered if it would make me faster.

I tried to shake my weirdness, my insecurities. The music played, and Coach began his soliloquy about the joys of running. I started walking. Five minutes later, I realized that the "training" hadn't actually begun, and the 20-minute timer hadn't started. Ugh. I hit the fast-forward button.

"Ok, now begin walking."
"Yeah, one step ahead of ya, Coach."

I imagined Coach recording the audio for this training session, sitting at Dunkin' Donuts, eating an eclair and sipping on an iced caramel latte. I fantasized about spotting him from across the room, sauntering over to his table with a shy smile on my face, and saying, "May I join you?" He'd smile back at me, powdered sugar in his Tom-Selleck mustache, and say, "Now we'll begin running. You'll run for 45 seconds, then return to walking for 2 minutes. Start running now." Dream over. Pout.

"Yep, got it, Coach," I thought, as I waited for a real runner, in appropriate fitness gear, to jog past me and out of sight.

I started jogging. To my surprise, it felt great! Better than yesterday. It was more natural, instinctual. I focused on my breathing and music -- an old Ting Tings song.

Then I felt a strange sensation, like something sliding down, over my butt cheeks. Swish! My pants fell down! What!? How!? Why!? I quickly pulled them back up, looking around to make sure no one saw me. I tried to understand the physics behind what had just happened. Had I really lost that much weight? I convinced myself that my silky shirt must have been stuck in my pants and contributed to my pantaloon avalanche...

I started running again. Ah, so invigorating! Then, swish! My pants dropped again! I gasped, dropped my iPod, and reached for my pants that were now almost around my knees. I went back to walking, and trying to understand advanced-level physics and friction.

Coach brought me back, "Ok, you've completed your first 45-second running session. Now return to walking for 2 minutes. I'll let you know when the 2 minutes are up."

"Whew!! That was a good one, Coach! Really feelin' the burn over here..."

I imagined he was actually talking back to me, "Good, Gretchin! I can tell you're in it to win it this time!!"

"Yeah, about that... I, um, have a cramp. I think I better sit this one out."

I walked at a good pace and jogged as long as my pants allowed.

I walked around the corner of Main Street, and chaos... Sirens and fire trucks everywhere. People swarming. Traffic stopped. I thought someone had reported me as a flasher, but I soon noticed a house with smoke billowing out of a third-floor window. The street was blocked.

"We'll, I can't run in this," I thought, as a more-dedicated female jogger blew past me in cute jogging shorts. Show off. I'm sure I inadvertently sneered at her as she stared at my cheetah-print top.

"What!? Wanna race? Yeah, that's what I thought! Cheetahs are really fast, you know!!" She had headphones on...

I made it to the corner of the next block, squeezing through people. I had a bit of a moral dilemma when I had to run around a handicapped guy, so I walked for a bit longer. Perfect timing, though: if I had made it to the corner a minute earlier, I would have been hit by a curb-jumping fire truck.

Once around the corner, my car in sight, it started to downpour.

I only have a 20-30 minute running window, and my time was up.

Good things:
-I've scoped out a new running route.
-I wasn't arrested.
-I didn't lose a race to anyone.
-I've claimed cheetah print as my version of "tiger blood and Adonis DNA."
-I have a good excuse to buy new running clothes.
-I've learned that, as awkward as I feel, there's always a greater level of attainable awkwardness.
-I still did it. Yeah!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What We Eat -- Meal Planning for the Family with a Toddler

I swore that I would never put recipes on my blog, mainly because I'm a bit of an, um, unconventional cook in the kitchen. I get creative with what we have, but my recipes aren't exactly all-organic, beautiful, or award-winning. However, they are quick, versatile, and family-friendly, even for the family with a toddler and a tight budget, so I thought I'd share! I tend to go for a mix of healthy, organic, and old-fashioned, 1950s-Betty-Crocker-inspired meals.

I would also love to hear about your family meal planning for some new ideas! Please link up by commenting below!

These are the foods we always keep in the house and what we do with them:

BREAKFASTS

Fruit
Our favorites are: bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and pineapple.

Greek yogurt
  • Maple- and mango-flavored are our favorites! They can be paired with any fruit your family likes and/or granola to make parfaits.
  • A scoop of yogurt in the blender with a splash of milk and favorite fruit make perfect smoothies! E absolutely loves them!
  • If I run out of eggs, I use a scoop of yogurt as replacement in breads, pancakes, etc. In some things, it slightly changes the texture, but does the job!
Unsweetened Apple Sauce
  • Another great egg-substitute, especially in pancakes. I use about 3 tbsp. per egg called for in recipe.
  • Also, just a great lunch or afternoon snack for my toddler. You can add cinnamon to it to spice it up a bit. A few cubes of cheese on the side make it more filling and add protein.
  • Can be added to a smoothie.
Kid-Friendly Cereal
We always keep Kix, Chex, and Cheerios on hand. They can be used as a toddler-granola with yogurt, but my little one most often has some for breakfast or with a toddler-friendly trail mix to add to Baby Goldfish, and raisins.

Raisins & Other Dried Fruit
I have to add raisins just because E is obsessed with them, and I forget to buy them sometimes!

Pancakes & Waffles
  • I use a standard recipe from AllRecipes.com for my pancakes. Here's a link to an easy one I used this Saturday.
  • My little one loves pancakes with chunky applesauce in the batter (as an egg substitute) and any other fruit on top, particularly bananas.
  • She also will eat pancakes right out of the fridge, so I make extra and send them to day care with fruit for a breakfast.
Oatmeal/Cream of Wheat
You can do so much with oatmeal/cream of wheat. E loves it with fresh fruit or raisins, some applesauce mixed in, or a little brown sugar.

Fruit/Vegetable Breads
Homemade, "healthified" banana or zucchini breads are a favorite at our house. Here's another recipe -- this one for banana bread. I haven't actually tried this one, but it's similar to my mom's with healthier options. Adding raisins or chocolate chips is yummy too!

LUNCHES

Vegetables
E loves carrot sticks, but raw ones are out due to the choking risk. I find that boiling them for 25-30 minutes makes them softest, so I boil a package at the beginning of the week and keep them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. She snacks on them cold throughout the week. Mark and I eat them raw.

Other than fresh veggies like carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, and some other veggies that I sometimes steam in a stove-top steamer, I'm not ashamed to admit that we buy almost all of our veggie sides for lunches and dinners in the steam-bags. They're just quick, easy, and have far less sodium than canned. They also make it easier to have more variety and therefore more veggies in our diet. Our favorites are: broccoli, green beans, peas, brussels sprouts, asparagus, corn, etc.!

Sandwiches & Salads
We always keep lunch meat, lettuce, and sometimes tomato in the fridge to add to sandwiches or make salads with lunch meat/cheese. Cooked veggies from the night before make a great addition to salads or can be used as a lunch side.

Egg, Tuna, & Chicken Salads
  • I always keep canned tuna and chicken in the house for tuna/chicken salad sandwiches. Sometimes I just add a scoop to top a veggie salad. My mother-in-law puts mayo (2-3 tbsp to taste), mustard (about 1 tbsp), and Worcestershire sauce (about 1 tbsp) in her tuna salad, and it's delicious. We do the same for egg salad. E prefers egg salad, as she hasn't had tuna yet.
  • Curried Chicken Salad is a newer favorite of ours. If you prefer, you can use fresh chicken, but I've actually been quite happy with the Bumblebee canned premium chicken breast. I swore I'd never use it -- it just seemed wrong to can chicken, but I have to say... it's easy, and there are no fatty pieces. I mix 2 small cans or one large with 2-3 tbsp mayo, and about 4 tbsp curry powder (more or less to taste). If you have apple slices or grapes (halved), they're amazing mixed in. We love it on a toasted plain bagel or topped on a salad.
Crunchy Munchies
We do keep baked chips in the house, and I have some kettle-cooked salt & vinegar chips hidden somewhere in the kitchen... but I try to stick to: unsalted or lightly-salted pretzels, crackers, pita chips, organic tortilla chips, or veggie crisps. E also loves baby goldfish and some of the Gerber crunchy snacks, like puffs.

Cheese!
E loves her cheese! I buy whatever is on sale (cheese is expensive!). I try to avoid anything processed, but I do keep some Cabot American Cheese handy for grilled-cheese sandwiches.
E gets a few cheddar cubes in her lunch as a side, or melted in some hot lentil soup. Though I'm avoiding dairy right now, Mark and I usually love it on salads or on sandwiches.

Hummus
I've always loved hummus, but now it's a permanent item on my grocery list. It's a great substitute for cheese on a sandwich, and is so yummy as a veggie or chip dip.

Canned Soups
I actually love some of the Progresso soups. They have really basic ingredients -- particularly the veggie ones, like Lentil soup. E loves it and has it for dinner usually once a week.

DINNERS

Sides
Dinners are really tricky for me. I like variety but can't afford to make a new meal every night. For sides, I usually do a veggie, then baked or mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes or whole-wheat bread for a starch. I sometimes cheat and buy the individually-wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes. They're just so easy. We also love butternut squash. I make it fresh when I can but keep some in the freezer for a quick side.

The supermarket deli is a great place to pick up unique sides occasionally (they can be expensive). But, one pound of potato salad or pasta salad can get us through a few meals and gives us some variety without extra work.

Main Courses
Here are a few of our favorite dinners:

Crockpot BBQ Pulled Chicken or Pork
You can make your own BBQ sauce or pick up a bottle at the store. I just put chicken breast or pork in the crockpot with the entire bottle of sauce -- on low for about 6-8 hours, then pull apart.
You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want -- you can add onions and peppers, or not.
Any of the sides listed above go well with this. I've even put my peeled, halved sweet potatoes in the crockpot with my meat to save time baking and to keep our apartment from overheating by using the oven. We've had this meal with deli potato salad and corn (steamed or on the cob, boiled for 5 minutes).

Veggie Burgers
I would love to make my own, but we often just buy the Morning Star Spicy Black Bean Burgers. Lettuce and tomato to top them, and any sides go well with them, but our favorites are baked potato or potato salad, and corn. 

Meatloaf
This is E's absolute favorite meal, and it's so easy. My mother-in-law introduced me to this simple recipe, and as hard as I've tried, I can't screw it up. It's 1c. ketchup or tomato sauce and 1c. bread crumbs to about 1lb. of lean ground beef (or ground turkey), 1 egg to help it stay together, though the egg isn't necessary (baked at 350 for about 30-40 min).
  • I have made this meatloaf every way I can think of, and it hasn't failed me. One time I only had a little ketchup and no tomato sauce, so I added 1/2 c. BBQ sauce -- it was fantastic.
  • I've mixed about 1/4c. beef broth and 1/2c. ketchup in the bottom of our crockpot, then made 4 large meatballs out of the meat mixture, setting them on top of the broth/ketchup mixture. Cooked on low for 6-8 hours, it made moist, delicious, mini-meatloaves with a ketchup glaze.
  • I've done the same but put a can of beef broth and about 1/4 c. flour in the bottom of the crockpot, which makes a nice beef gravy with all the flavors of the meatloaf.
  • E prefers the beef, but ground turkey works just as well.
  • I've made my own bread crumbs, though the store-bought Italian ones are our favorite for this recipe. I've even used the stale heel of the bread loaf and broken it up into small pieces in a pinch.
Again, every side listed above is great with this, but our favorite combination is: mashed potatoes (with beef gravy), and cooked carrots.

Goulash/Pasta
Everyone knows pasta is amazing, especially with a toddler in the house. E's pasta preferences change by the day -- sometimes she likes it with beef and tomato sauce, sometimes just a little butter, sometimes just plain and cold from the fridge. We like to make lots of elbow macaroni and use it for a few things:
  • Sunday night sauce. I'm Italian, so I'm required by law to tell you that I make my own sauce from scratch. But if I was, say, a mom of a wild toddler who worked part time mornings and evenings, who wasn't quite as ambitious as, say, my mom, I would probably find a supermarket sauce that was sufficient and add my own spices, etc. Pour over cooked pasta, and voila!
  • Goulash is one of my favorite meals, and I'm still trying to perfect it. Right now, I like to simmer onions (and/or peppers) in a frying pan with a little butter or margarine, garlic (fresh or garlic powder), salt & pepper to taste, then add ground beef (or turkey) and simmer on med/low until beef is browned. I add this to my sauce then slowly add in cooked pasta until it has the sauce-to-pasta ratio I like (more sauce for me!). I bake it in a casserole dish at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, until bubbling. We love it with wheat bread and green beans.
  • Pasta Salad is so much easier to make than I thought, and I often use any leftover pasta to make some. You can add a can of tuna or chicken (my favorite) to it, steamed peas, and mayo to taste.
Stews
I had no idea how easy it was to make a stew. Just put about 1/2 c. flour in the bottom of your crockpot, add a little salt/pepper/garlic powder or other spices that you like. Mix together well. Add whatever the heck you want... chicken or beef, veggies (peas, green beans, carrots -- steamed or raw), toss everything in the flour mixture until coated. Then add broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable -- about 2 cans should work). Heat on low 6-8 hours. We make chicken "stew" to put over biscuits (store bought or homemade) to make chicken & biscuits, and beef stew is a favorite.

Grilled Chicken Salad
We used to eat this a lot more before we had E. She's not a big chicken eater, but if your little one is, it's a quick meal, great for summer -- just cook some chicken in a frying pan with whatever spices or dressing you like -- Italian; a BBQ, Buffalo, Lemon-Pepper, or Sweet & Sour marinade. While it's cooking, make up your salads -- lettuce with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Pairing some crumbly bleu cheese with buffalo chicken is obviously amazing. We love it finished with Maple Grove Farms of Vermont's maple vinaigrette.

Chili
Another easy crockpot meal -- just add your veggies, beans (we usually do 1 can kidney beans, 1 can dark red kidney beans, and 1 can cannelini beans), ground beef or turkey, 1 jar tomato sauce, 1 small can tomato paste, and our favorite chili spice mix from the supermarket. You can Google other recipes if you want to get more creative. We once found a white-chili made with ground chicken that was really good.

Casseroles
We're big casserole fans -- and you can Google all different ones, so I won't get into my long list of casserole experiments here. Chicken and rice casseroles are a favorite. There are lots of recipes for zucchini and squash casseroles, if you're looking for a vegetarian option. They have the good, old-fashioned ones on the backs of the Campbell's soup cans, or you can find some healthier options online. Again, these are dishes that you can easily add veggies to. Since they usually are a one-dish meal, they're super easy, and you don't have to bother with sides.

Quiches
You can make these as difficult or as easy as you like, and you can experiment with anything and everything. One of our favorites is ham with onion and green pepper. You can buy the crust or make your own. The filling usually just requires eggs, milk, and whatever veggies/meats you want to add.

Bonus: Most of these meals get us through at least 2 dinners and get sent off with E to day care for lunches

Desserts
Um... hello! Fresh fruits! Ok... and cookies. I like the WhoNu soft and chewy ones. Oreos are my kryptonite, so I try not to keep them in the house.

Other ideas:
  • Strawberries with a little brown sugar. Great alone or over a biscuit (left over from chicken & biscuit night) with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream/frozen yogurt.
  • Chunky applesauce with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.
  • Frozen fruit pops (E's favorite!).
  • When on sale, I do buy some baking mixes to keep in the cupboard. We like brownies occasionally.
  • Banana splits with strawberries, frozen yogurt, and some chocolate or maple syrup.
  • Etc.

Etsy Changes

Hi all,

A few new things about my Etsy shop:

I looove Etsy's new digital download feature. I've updated all of my digital downloads so that you can download them immediately, instead of waiting for me to email them!

I also have a new item listed -- a print option. You can purchase it to order a hard-copy print of any of my digital files.


In other news, E woke up with a fever today. She sounds congested and is having a hard time sleeping. I'm realizing that having a sick toddler is entirely different than having a sick baby. She cries and cries, and even though she's doing great with her words, she's still struggling to tell me what's bothering her. She spent most of the morning crying and wanting to be held. Distracting her worked best, so we played lots of games -- her favorite was baking "coffee" (k-cups) in her play oven. We took her for a long walk in the stroller, and she even went down the slide a few times at the park, but she's not 100% herself.
Looks like I'll be getting one more "vacation" day until her fever breaks.

I hope to be back up and running and blogging more frequently by mid-week. :-)


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of Exhaustion!

What a day! Got up early to make the parade in Mark's hometown, then out to eat for lunch, where E ran around inside and outside, ate ice cream, and played with her cousins -- back to Mark's parents' house for more of the same -- pool and hose time, playing with the dogs, toys, piano, typical baby chaos as E got into anything and everything. Mark finally got her to go down for a "nap" at 4:45pm. She slept 45 minutes then woke up crying, "Show me Nini! Show me Bee!" Ok, more play time and chasing the dogs. Out to dinner at the local pizza shop, where she had run of the little dining room and played with her cousins more. Mark and I could barely keep up. We got in the car, and E insisted on playing every baby road trip game I could think of and singing every song I know. Finally, 5 minutes from home, 2 hours past her bedtime, my eyes starting to close, she starts hitting my arm.

"Mama! Mama!"

"Huh. What?"

All bright-eyed and happy, she yells, "I go park!?"

Mark and I died laughing. I brought her in the door, changed her diaper, put her in bed, and she rolled over and fell right to sleep. I'm next!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dinner Parties and Toddlers 101

Last week, the company Mark works for had a summer dinner party. They flew most of the team from their Minnesota branch to Vermont for a few days of meetings and this social gathering – a chance to work and chat face-to-face. The owner of the company has a beautifully remodeled farmhouse, where the dinner party was held.

No one else was bringing kids to the event, but E is the newest company “baby,” so a few of the women asked if I was bringing her, and I decided to make an appearance. Mark and I took separate cars, in case some unexpected baby drama caused me to leave early… See, we’re getting better at this planning-ahead thing!

I dressed myself up to the best of my ability – hair down, dress jeans, a silky top, and (what was I thinking?) zero-tread flats. Next time I will wear jogging shorts, a tank top, hair in a pony-tail, running shoes, a baby harness, and tool belt complete with: milk, water, cheddar-goldfish, apple slices, duct tape, and rope.

I met Mark at the office then followed him to the boss’s house. He found me a parking spot, then went in the house ahead of me, waving to coworkers and chatting with his work friends. I stepped in the door, just off the kitchen, and ushered E through ahead of me. The women who noticed us come in started ‘aww’ing over E’s party dress. I echoed their ‘aww’s, said “Thank you,” and smiled lovingly down at my little lady, who was now… gone.

The lace edge of her dress disappeared around the corner, into the kitchen.

“E!!” I yelled, then chased after her. She was at the stove, brow furrowed in concentration, turning a small knob between the burner switches back and forth. Blue neon numbers were flying – 35, 15, 45, 10. I pulled her away then read the knob label: “Timer”. I quickly gathered, by the trays of expensive appetizers that were flying from the kitchen, that this was another company-catered event, that the main course was in the oven, and that E had just set the timer to Lord knows what.

Two minutes in the door, and I was explaining to the chef how my “sweet, little, innocent daughter” had accidentally turned the oven timer way up, with interjected ‘I’m sorry’s. The 10-minute salmon platter was now set for ‘some time next week’. The woman gasped, ran for the kitchen, called on the other kitchen staff, and somehow (probably only by checking the salmon every 5 minutes until it was done) managed to put on a perfect meal.

But by that time, I was standing outside, on the back steps of the porch overlooking the green mountains, taking in the majestic view, breathing the pure, woodsy air, and prying flower petals out of E’s hands that she had pulled off the boss’s wife’s flowering bushes lining the back of her property. When did my kid get so fast? I quickly rearranged the flowers to cover up the gaping hole where E had plucked the blooms.

While I did that, E ran straight for (and into) a soccer net that the boss’s son had in the back yard. She quickly got tangled in it, arms and legs flailing. I was at her side in an instant, detangling, unwrapping, as E giggled and tried to get herself re-tangled. Once free, she darted for the back of the property, which sloped downward. I tried to keep up in my flats, but she and I were doing the same maneuver – as she realized that the ground was descending faster than her feet could keep up. She tumbled into a roll down the lawn, and “Gretchin came tumbling after.” I grabbed her, as she fought me, and looked up to see that I had been putting on quite the show for the majority of the company, as they watched from the back porch.

I decided to get E settled into a porch chair for a snack. Of course, I was derailed by trying to have an adult conversation with Mark’s supervisor – a fellow Beatles fan, how lovely! While I chatted happily about the Cavern Club and other sites on the UK tour, E got out of her chair, approached me, held up something orange, and said, “Mama! Wass dis?”

“Umm… That is… a (probably $25!) wedge of smoked gouda cheese. Where did you get it!!? Where’s your father!?”

E had visited just about every Vermont-cheese platter the boss’s wife had put out – eating the apple garnishes and playing with the cheese. While the employees giggled and cooed over her, I was horrified. The chef kindly offered to cut her an apple. Sometimes E has trouble chewing apples, so I cut them up even smaller.

Then, Mark kindly took E into the living room for her apple snack, while I ate delicious salmon, BBQ chicken, and sipped on apple cider in the dining room. Yum!

In the middle of my meal, E came running in to me, face red, gagging. She was choking on an apple slice. I did the pre-Heimlich maneuver my mom had shown me, pulled E’s arms up in the air, and she spit out the apple, gasping for breath. This is just proof that all my anxiety is anticipatory. I worry so much about these things happening. When they do, I calmly slap an apple out of her, cut the pieces smaller, then keep feeding her.

When I finished eating, the boss’s son took us to his room to offer E some books that he was getting rid of. He had a great collection of classics – Shel Silvertstein, Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, etc.! We gladly gathered up what we could take. Then he asked E, showing her one of his favorites, “Do you like this book? You can have it if you want!”

She turned around, glanced up at him nonchalantly, gave a look of, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” and said, “No! No… way!!” She waved her hand dismissively, opened the door to the hallway outside his room, and ran for the stairs. Then I panicked. Luckily my flats held strong to the old wood-floor in the hallway. I ran quickly after her and grabbed her arm just before she attempted the steep staircase on her own.

When I brought her downstairs, she spotted the house cat. She chased after her and was very gentle, cooing “I nice cat” and trying to pet her carefully, but I think the cat sensed that this mini-person was a bit unpredictable. She darted down her kitty door, into the basement. When E tried to go in after her, I picked her up, and…

The pterodactyl scream (the scream heard ‘round the world) flew out of her mouth like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard before or since. The chef dropped a spoon, and looked up from her blueberry sorbet. There was a hush around the dinner table where people were still eating, a fork crashed onto a plate. The cat peeked its head back through its cat door. Mark chuckled.

I laughed nervously, “That’s my cue,” and since I had everyone’s attention: “It’s just been a lovely evening. It was so nice to see you all again! Bye!” I wrestled with the screaming and squirming from E in my arms as I carefully carried her out the door. We were there barely one hour.

Now I know that… dinner parties are out, at least for the time-being. I need to bring more baby-friendly activities to occupy E. Boundaries set successfully at home, in the confines of a 2-bedroom apartment, do not apply anywhere else in the world.