August 29, 2012

My Baby Turned One...And Something Started To Shift

My little man when he was really little
Something happens when your baby turns one. Especially when you know that it's your last baby.

My baby turned one three months ago. And in the past few months he has started to show his independent self more and more. He is walking...he's actually running now. He is learning to communicate his needs and wants more and more. He is no long a passive observer, content to be carried around or lay back in the stroller and just take it all in. He wants to be out there, mixing it up, getting hands-on...and getting into all kinds of trouble. He still loves and needs his mommy. He ventures out to explore, then comes running back for a quick reassurance that I'm still here for him. But I can see the tether between us stretching, and it both excites and saddens me.

On vacation a few weeks ago my baby decided, on his own, to wean. Now I realize that fourteen months old is a perfectly acceptable age to wean. We got in that full first year, so that makes me happy. And, really, we were down to just two, sometimes one, nursings a day. And I should be happy to have my body back to myself after, basically, 4 1/2 years of it belonging to someone else. But I still felt sad to let that special time go. I kept thinking about how this is my last time nursing my baby, ever. I do this a lot when I'm rocking him to sleep at night these days...thinking how I won't have this closeness much he's going to keep growing and growing and he won't want me to hold him like this as much...that some day, a time will come when I won't get to hold him close at all. I tear-up just thinking about it. My last little baby is slipping away from me into big boyness. Quintessential bittersweetness.

My not-as-little man who climbed up on this table on his own
While all of this has been going on with my adorable little man, something has also been going on inside of me. I've gone rather introspective of late. As this bittersweet shift from babyhood to toddlerhood began for my son, I had to figure out who I was going to be now that I was out of the fog of the first year with a new child...and not planning to re-enter that fog again.

I could continue as I was, sort of floating through the days, weeks and months, taking things as they come. But, while being a mom has taught me to live in the moment much more than I have since I was a kid myself, I am still a planner and a doer, so that felt inconsistent with me. I could certainly go back to work as a freelance consultant, as I did after having my daughter. But, after some of this introspective time, I realized that I didn't want to. (And thank you to my wonderful husband for making not going back an option for me.)

Hmm. It turns out that having children changed me. Or, maybe it's more appropriate to say that having children helped me get back to who I was before. Before I took what I can only assume was an extremely important detour. The detour that allowed me to meet my husband and some very wonderful friends and have all kinds of interesting experiences.

My path has certainly been a winding one, but for the first time in a long time I feel certain again that I am on the right one. Of course I have always been on the right one, it's just sometimes hard to I was walking a path through a dark forest for a very long time with no way to see if I was headed in the right direction (and sometimes feeling certain that I wasn't), and then, suddenly, I emerged from the thick trees and could see everything laid out before path meandering through the hills and my destination shining in the distance. That is how I feel now.

So as I emerge from the first year fog of baby number two, I find myself in an amazing place. It scared me a bit at first, this shift from where I was (the forest) to where I am (the hills): the overwhelming desire to do it all at once (forgo the path and sprint over all of the hills to get to my destination...sometimes I forget that it's about the journey); the feeling of being inundated with new ideas, drives and desires and not being able to wrap my brain around things, or mentally (or physically) organize it all. But I am beginning to feel comfortable in it. Shedding the old me like an outdated Cosby sweater. Reinventing myself. Starting a new phase of my life. Seeing now how all the pieces fit together. At least the pieces I've collected so far.

I am clearly not even close to figuring it all out. But I am getting comfortable with my new place. And I am really excited about what lies ahead. Though I am sad to leave behind my kids' current stages, I am equally excited about those to come. (Well, maybe not the teenage years.) And I can't wait to watch the evolution of this new, creative-mom-me...what will I look like tomorrow? Next month? Next year? I have a lot of work to do as I try to figure all this stuff out. So I'm working on my own curriculum...a personalized masters program, for me, by me. And I'm setting new goals as a parent as well (more on that to come). Basically, I'm putting the kind of time, energy, focus and thought I used to put into my old career into my new one.

And all because my baby boy turned one and something started to shift for me. I can see again that things are ever-changing. I am ever-changing. All I know for sure is that good things lie ahead. Good things abound.

August 26, 2012

She's Crafty...Kid Fun: The Christmas Card Flip Book

My most recent foray into the world of crafting for my kids was an incredibly simple project that went over surprisingly well with the kiddos...especially my 3 1/2 year old. Here's how it came about...

A few weeks back I spent a little time working toward my long-standing goal of cleaning out and reorganizing our office/library. Every so often I get inspired and make a little headway...only to get distracted a short time later. Which is why this has been on my to-do list for somewhere around a year...or at least since January. Anyway, I was cleaning out some piles and drawers when I came across a pile of Christmas cards from last year. Obviously, during the annual January putting away of Christmas decorations I had simply piled up all the cards and stuck them in a corner...where they sat until July, when I randomly pulled them out. As usual, I had meddling kids at my feet while attempting this library clean-out, and they got interested when they saw this stack of cards...many with photos of family and friends.

Well, for the next week or two, that stack of cards sat on the floor of the library, and every day both kids spent some time looking at and playing with them (and they inevitably ended up strewn all over the floor, and Mommy had to collect and neatly re-stack them every night). I was willing to do this each day because I loved that Portia brought me cards from the stack and either named the friends/family pictured on each card, or asked me who the people pictured were, if she didn't recognize them. Soon, she was identifying, on her own, second cousins she's never met. Pretty cool.

Eventually, I put this activity together with some ideas I'd seen on Pinterest and decided to create a Christmas card flip book. Yes, I know it's summer, but in some ways it's Christmas all year round at our house!

All I had to do was get some metal rings from Hobby Lobby, track down my hole-puncher and get to work. Pretty simple...I just sat in front of the TV one evening and punched holes, then laced the cards onto the rings, and viola!

Now there's no clean-up after the kids look at the cards, and Portia can take the book with her and play with it in the car. The kids get a kick out of it and all the wonderful Christmas cards people sent us get a second life! A win-win! I will definitely being doing this again this Christmas...I think I'll start it as soon as cards start arriving, and just add new cards as they come, so everyone can enjoy them. I think it's a great idea for the kids' birthday cards, as well. Portia loves to re-look at her cards again and again, and, until now, they have continued to live on well passed her birthday in random locations throughout the house. This year, I'll make her a birthday card flip book for them. So fun!

And, really, I think this is a great idea even if you don't have small children. It's a great way to keep cards together and make it easy to enjoy them again and again. The idea brings my grandfather to mind...he loves to sit in his chair and re-look through pictures of his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. I think he'd love having one if these made out of all the Christmas cards he receives. I hope to have the opportunity to do that for him this year.

So there's your simple craft for the day. I mean, really, I'm not sure it gets much simpler than that. Now, go get your crafty on!

August 24, 2012

This Week In Food...Grilled Chicken with Rustic Mustard Cream

As we begin the hectic, but wonderful, back-to-school season, everyone is looking for simple dinner solutions. Well, here's yet another "go-to" chicken dish in our house. It's a very simple way to dress-up the same-old chicken breast. It's easy. It's fast. And, most importantly, it's delish. It's Grilled Chicken with Rustic Mustard Cream--which sounds fancy, and tastes pretty fancy too, but is so basic.

Grilled Chicken with Rustic Mustard Cream (from Cooking Light)
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp whole grain dijon mustard, divided (you can use regular grey poupon too)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
3 tbsp light mayo (or regular mayo)
1 tbsp water

(Note: This recipe calls for grilling the chicken, but when you don't feel like firing up the grill, you can cook the chicken in a pan on the stove as well. Just coat the pan with cooking spray and cook the chicken over med-hi heat, flipping once browned, until cooked through.) Prepare grill. Combine 1 tsp mustard, oil, rosemary, salt and pepper in a small bowl; brush evenly over chicken breasts. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 6 mins. on each side, or until done. While chicken grills, combine 1 tbsp mustard, 3 tbsp mayo and 1 tbsp water in a bowl, stirring well. Serve grilled chicken with mustard cream sauce over-top.

I like this chicken dish with grilled potatoes, and maybe even grilled veggies, if you're feeling like doing it all on the grill! Or steam some veggies and dress them with a little butter, salt, pepper and a touch of garlic or a splash of lemon juice and make up some long grain and wild rice. So good!

Now, admit it, that sounds pretty good for dinner. And you probably already have everything you need in your kitchen. So go make some dinner! And, until next time, happy cooking!

August 19, 2012

Summer Reading Update...Am I Running Out Of Summer??

I'm pretty sure that I'm running out of summer.

I have, what, two weeks left before Labor Day? And I am only halfway through my summer goal of reading my niece's top ten book list. But, since I am at the halfway point, I thought I'd give you all a quick update.

First, as a refresher, here is Katie's top ten book list, which I shared a while back:
1. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
2. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
3. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
3.5 The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
4. Divergent by Veronica Roth
5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (awesome!!!)
6. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
7. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
8. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
9. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
10. Matched and Crossed both by Allie Condie

I had already read The Hunger Games series, The Harry Potter series and The Book Thief prior to beginning my summer quest-- all of which I would highly recommend, by the way, if you haven't already read them. And, so far, I have completed The Goose Girl, The Host, Shatter Me and Princess Academy. I just picked up Divergent from the library, after a loooong wait list, and plan to start that one tonight. (Though I also picked up three other non-fiction books that are off the list, so we'll see how I balance all that! Anyway...)And yet, somehow, that still leaves me with 5 books to read before Labor Day.

First of all, I need to chat with my niece about the concept of top TEN lists, since hers actually includes about 20 books. Then I think I may need to relax my deadline a bit. Like, maybe my goal should be to finish the list by my niece's 16th birthday in October. (I can't believe she's going to be 16. This just blows my mind! But that's for another post about how time flies by...)

Yeah, I think October sounds a bit more reasonable.

Okay, enough of that...on to the books!

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The Goose Girl is a fantasy novel by Shannon Hale based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name. And the book won the 2003 Josette Frank Award for youth fiction. It is the story of princess Ani who can communicate with animals but has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her mother, the queen. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl in the new land while she figures out what to do next to reclaim her rightful, royal place.

I really enjoyed this book. After 30-some years of reading, I wouldn't put it in my own top ten, but I liked the book very much. The story was unique, well-paced and enjoyable enough to keep me coming back till the end. It's a fast read that I would recommend to anyone looking for a fun, light read...and certainly for a young adult.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer
I also liked The Host. You'll likely recognize the author's name...she is the "one and the same" author of the Twilight series. This book is also sci-fi, but no vampires and different enough from her other books that you don't know you're reading the same author. It is also a unique book with an impressively creative story. And, again, it kept me interested enough to breeze through all 600+ pages. Another fun, light read I would recommend, especially if you've enjoyed other sci-fi young adult, like Twilight. And there's no real teen angst in this one, making it more palatable to an adult audience. So here's what it's about...

The Host is an imaginative thriller in which a species of altruistic alien "parasites" has peacefully assumed control of the minds and bodies of most humans. But, feisty Melanie Stryder won't surrender her mind to the alien soul called Wanderer who has taken over her body. Overwhelmed by Melanie's memories of fellow resistor, and love, Jared, Wanderer yields to her body's longing and sets off into the desert to find him. And so the story goes...

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
So, I didn't really love this one. Another futuristic storyline that was interesting enough that I was certain to finish the book, but the primary writing style for the first one-half-to-two-thirds of the book drove me absolutely nuts!

I am not a skimmer when I read...I tend to be a relatively slow reader who reads every word and often savors a great sentence again and again. Not with this book. I found myself skimming some paragraphs just to get through the nonsense and find the dialogue that pushed the storyline forward. It wasn't until I was more than half-way through the book that I realized why the writing style drove me batty, but might not drive a teenage girl batty...because it's written in the overly dramatic tone of a teenage girl's brain (I should know, I used to have one.). What's interesting is that the writing style calms down about two-thirds the way through the book, making it much easier to read. And the story is creative and interesting. And it was certainly a fast read (in part, because of the skimming). But I think I might save this one for your favorite sci-fi loving teenage girl. Here's the gist of the story...

Juliette Ferrars is 17 and cannot remember ever being lovingly touched; indeed, after 264 days in solitary confinement, she can barely remember human contact. Then a boy is shoved into her cell, and her world changes. Just as she begins to trust Adam, guards burst in and march them off to the commandant. Juliette discovers Adam is really a soldier of the Reestablishment, a totalitarian regime that wants to use Juliette because her touch can kill. Juliette wants to get far away from anyone she can hurt or who can hurt her—though she can’t help hoping that, somehow, Adam might not fall in either of those categories. Sci-fi. Teen angst. Romance. Adult reader, beware.

Princess Academy
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Princess Academy tells the story of Miri, who lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

I found this story delightful. I think Shannon Hale is a great young adult writer, and I would happily give her books to any teenage girl.  And, I will likely read another book of hers in the future...especially if Katie recommends it! (FYI: The sequel to Princess Academy is being released later this week.)

That's it for now. Look for another reading update next month. In the meantime, you can "friend" me on to see what I've read and what I'm reading and how I've rated those books. And you can check out my book reco list on the tab above or my pinterest board, "Books, Books, Books" for more reading recommendations.

Until next time, I bid you good reading.

August 17, 2012

This Week In Food...Rosemary-Fig Chicken with Port

We just had this chicken again last night, and I was reminded how much we all like it (Portia too!). It is an extremely yummy, versatile chicken dish that everyone will love...and is even "company worthy." It's called Rosemary-Fig Chicken with Port, but you don't have to make it with fig...I have used Traverse City cherry preserves and Stonewall Kitchen sour cherry jam (both are awesome) many times, you could also try it with apricot, or even a berry...maybe blackberry. It's such a simple recipe, so it's easy to play with. Go ahead and experiment with flavors you love!

Rosemary-Fig Chicken with Port (from Cooking Light)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
2/3 c. fig preserves (or other fruit preserves)
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
6 tbsp port or other sweet red wine

Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder evenly over chicken. Coat chicken with cooking spray. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken. Cook 3 mins. on each side or until browned. Combine fig preserves, rosemary and wine in a bowl, mix well. Add mixture to chicken, stirring gently. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook 6 mins. or until chicken in done. Uncover and cook 1 more min. over medium-high heat or until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve sauce over chicken.

I like this dish with either steamed, fresh broccoli or green beans, though really you could put it with any veggie your family likes. And it's great with whole wheat orzo, parmesean couscous, or long grain and wild rice. You could also do just about any kind of potato.

Try it out and I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Until next time, happy cooking!

August 15, 2012

Board Books for Little Ones...A Few Favorites From Our House

This post is really for my friend, Robin, who is days away from having her first child. She recently asked for book recommendations as they try to build their soon-to-be-born son's, Robin, here you go!

Here's what I've learned about books and reading with little ones since I had my son: all kids are not the same. I know, we all already "know" this, but I REALLY understood it, after having my son: from birth, every child is unique. Every child develops at their own rate and in their own way.

My daughter took to books like a duck to water. From a very young age she would lay on the floor with us, attention rapt, as we read to her. And today, at three and a half, she is still that way. One of her favorite activities is reading...having someone read to her, listening to books on the ipad, and "reading" books herself. She certainly has favorites, but, really, she's happy to read most anything...she's just happy to read. I have found her in her room, after an hour of quiet play time, sitting in front of an empty bookshelf, all her books stacked on the floor around her...she turned to me and said, "I just had to read them all, Mommy." Ahhh, she is her mother's daughter!

Now I have my 14 month old son...granted, he is only 14 months old...but he is already very different when it comes to books (and lots of other things too!). By this age with my daughter, we had already established bedtime stories as part of her nighttime routine...though I am trying, I can't say the same for my son. So far, he has shown little interest in actually reading books...playing with them like toys, yes; chewing on them, yes; turning pages, throwing them, yes and yes. But sitting and listening to a story? Not so much.

But I recently made a discovery: my very physical little boy likes High Five with Julius!, a short Paul Frank board book in which you high-five a character on each page. He loves to high five the book! Breakthrough! So, now, instead of just looking for "boy-oriented" subject matter (I had thought that since he liked to play with anything with wheels, he might like to read about things with wheels, too.), I am on the look-out for physically interactive books for him. There's one I've been reading lately with my daughter that I think he will love when he gets a bit older (she adores it!), called Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas. It is very interactive...and hilarious!

I would imagine that as my son gets older, he will develop at least a bit more interest in stories (maybe someday, even a love for reading...but maybe not). But I suspect that I will have to work a little harder to find the books that interest him that I ever have or will with my daughter. And that's okay.

Anyway, the point is that every child is different. And it is important that we respect those differences and not try to make them into the image we have in our minds of what they should be (or how they should be developing)...whether that image is based on our other children, our imagination, or ourselves. And that's true when it comes to reading...and just about anything else. But if you happen to have a little book lover on your hands...or if you're trying to inspire a book lover, here's a place to start:

Great Board Books for Little Ones

I Kissed The Baby by Mary Murphy (Portia's favorite book as a young infant. Simple, fun, black and white with pops of bright colors.)
Millie Moo by Camilla Moody (Holden loves to play with this book on his own.)
Peek-a Who by Nina Laden (Super cute and simple. Both kids love it.)

Love Bugs (and other pop-up bug books) by David A. Carter (Fun pop-ups, silly bugs, for a little older toddlers who are past the grab and tear stage.)
Belly Button Book by Sandra Boyton (We read this one A LOT when Portia was a toddler.)
Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boyton (Adorable. Sing-songy.)
Good Night Country Store by Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper (So fun. Lots to observe and point out in the pictures so it grows with your child.)
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (Love it. And lift the flap books are always a hit!)
Bad Dog, Marley by John Grogan (She loved saying, "Bad dog, Marley!" whenever Marley got into trouble.)
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle (Love this book. Sweet story. Fun animal sounds.)
Good Morning, Good Night! A touch and feel bedtime book (They love touch and feel books as toddlers.)
All Dr. Suess's Bright and Early Board Books, like The Foot Book, ABC and Go, Dog, Go! (These are all great. We have about ten of these.)
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Classic.)
Bunny's Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown (Fun read. We read it a lot when Portia was younger.)
Time For Bed  by Mem Fox (Soothing, sweet bedtime book.)
How Do I Love You by P.K. Hallinan (Sweet.)
High Five with Julius! by Paul Frank (Simple. Interactive.)
Miss Spider's New Car, Miss Spider's Tea Party and Miss Spider's ABC by David Kirk (I LOVE Kirk's illustrations! I found these three in a box set.)
And a recent purchase I'm in love with...Otis by Loren Long

My Mom also just got my son Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Rinker and Lichtenheld, which is not a board book, but is super cute!

If you have other board books you and your kids have loved, please share them here so others can check them out (me included!). Thanks! And check out my Children's Book Reco page above for an ongoing list of picture books my daughter and I have enjoyed.

Happy reading!