Sunday, July 31, 2016

Honey, We're Home (Again)

Yesterday we got back from spending a week out in forested, cabin-filled, wildlife-everywhere-you-turn paradise, and it was awe-inspiring and creativity-fueling and (surprisingly) body-rejuvenating while still being stuffed full of memories of family and adventure and just a wee bit of craziness.

In other words, it was everything a vacation should be.

And, while I can't wait to share some of the photos and experiences with you, I will say this---

I'm sure glad to be HOME again.

Home, where our squatty potty lives (oh squatty potty, how did I ever live without you before),

Home, where my stash of Hershey kisses is on the second-to-top shelf,

Home, where we have a hefty container of kosher salt available at our command (and not the gross iodized cheap-o stuff),

Home, where the laundry piles are plentiful and the bags still need unpacking...

Home, where we can crash on couches and in cribs and on fluffy white comforters and take hour-long naps without fear of pranksters or intruders or wee bitty nieces coming in to interrupt us.


Sometimes, you just need an adventurous week away to show you how much joy and comfort and peace lives around you the other 51 weeks of the year.

So glad to be back.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Tale of Two Friends

If our kids' gibberish could be articulated out into English, this is probably exactly what happened that day in the pool.

Ice cream and all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Party Worth Driving 4 Hours For

You might remember (since I just posted about it last week) that our good friends moved to a place two hours south of us not too long ago. 

Well, despite my despair at maybe never seeing them again (okay, only seeing them once or twice a year maybe), my fears have (so far) been unfounded since we saw them on Saturday and I saw Mary again today.

Of course, it helps when your friend is a killer party planner and her daughter just turned one and your kids are the same age and you know there will be lots of good food involved...

All that makes it easier to say, "Heck YES we'll be making the two-hour drive down and back!"

So that's what we did on Saturday--

We drove down to their new digs, partook in all the Sesame-Street-themed goodness, watched Raven get in a pool for the first time (after paying an arm and a leg for a pack of swim diapers), watched a truly epic cake smashing (which made me reminisce on Raven's anticlimactic birthday cake "experience" with fondness) that required some serious hosing off afterwards, and watched our kid gradually get grubbier and grubbier as she was smeared with sunscreen and grass and a little dirt and strawberries and who knows what else...

The before and after of the hair...

A little story about the pool:

Raven is TOTALLY my kid, complete with super-sensitive "warning light" and all.

Basically, any new experience must be examined, cross-examined, hesitantly touched, prodded, and smelled, and then, if all conditions seem like they are not life-threatening, she will jump in (er, step in slowly).

Matt took the first attempt at trying to get her to play in the pool, with minimal success--

After pulling her legs up to her chest every time he tried to put her down, he was eventually able to coax her into standing in the pool after about ten minutes (while her friend--younger but WAY more spontaneous--splashed and shrieked happily without a care in the world).

Having lived with a sensitive warning light my whole life, I know that sometimes the best way to get over the fear is just to go all in (without leaving too much time to think about it).

So what did I do when it was my turn on pool duty?

I grabbed the kid and plunked her down so she was solidly sitting in the pool and splashed a bunch of water over her so she could get used to the temperature faster.

And about ten seconds in, you'd think she was a natural-born water baby.

Mean mom moves for the win :)

 Man, I'm sure glad I made friends with people who are so much better at planning parties than I am. 

Oh, and some pictures of Emma trying to give Raven "loves" (which she was definitely not too sure about) and one of those typical pictures where the adults look cute and the kids have other things in mind besides looking and smiling at cameras). about you guys move back so we can replicate that party 
every weekend for the rest of this summer, mmmkay?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Quick Raven Stats: 15 Months

Because I don't dare try to do a photo shoot with her on our bed (as per my previous baby stats posts), I figured I'd just drop in these photos instead (from when she was about 14 1/2 months, if we want to get technical). 

I mean, they were pretty cute, so I had to put them somewhere.

Really, this post is more for my own benefit than anyone else's (because it means that I won't have to go to her medical file to fish out her latest stats or kick myself in three or seven or thirty years because I can't remember all this stuff in my head).

However, this won't be the book of a post my previous stats posts were because, quite frankly, I have a Diet Dr. Pepper calling my name and have been staring at a computer screen for WAY too long today (since I was in Lightroom troubleshooting an import problem for almost three hours this morning). Boo.

Anyway, onto the real stuff:

Quick Stats
Height: 31" (70th percentile)
Weight: 20 lbs., 5 ounces (36th percentile)
Head Circumference: 17.8" (39th percentile)
Clothing Size: just now phasing out of 12-month size and into 18-month size
Diaper Size: 4

Milestones Reached:
* Does the baby equivalent of running (which is hilarious, btw)
* Uses several recognizable words (mama, dada, DDuh (for duck, heavy emphasis on the D there), duh (for done, less emphasis on the D), mo (for more--just said this week for the first time), nana (for banana/food). Note: "duck" has also come to mean "go outside" (since that's where the ducks are), and also, all birds are apparently "ducks" to her and are probably her favorite moving entities of all time.
* Uses other ways to effectively communicate wants/needs, like pointing, grunting in a certain way for "yes," running away into a corner if she doesn't want to do something...
* Has started into the world of sound effects (makes a zooming noise when she plays with her cars, makes an MMM sound (moo) when you say the word "cow")
* Can give high fives and point to your nose when asked
* Can climb up stairs and onto the couch (although down the stairs, we're still working on)
* Can feed herself with a spoon/spork *some* of the time (and feeds herself using her hands for most of the rest of the time)
* No longer uses a bottle and can drink out of her little sippy cup independently
* Claps when she does anything she thinks is pretty stellar, like stacking blocks on top of each other, knocking over the huge block tower you just built for her, making a particularly large splash that gets you all wet during bathtime...
* Understands "No" and seems to more or less understand the threat of "Time Out" (since that's usually when she'll actually heed the word "No")

I feel like I address the challenges and "stuff I don't want to forget" pretty well in her 10 on 10 posts, so I think that should pretty well wrap this up.

Well, after I share a few more pics anyway...

Happy 15 months to you (back on the 12th), my sweet Raven girl! You bring so much joy to my life.

Friday, July 15, 2016

100 Hours in the Kitchen: Dealing with (Almost) Wasted Food

We are officially in the third quarter of the year, a milestone that definitely snuck up on me a bit.

And while some of my new year's resolutions have been stranded along some deserted roadsides along this yearly journey (like our plans to go to Oregon with Matt's family--it's now Yellowstone--or my goal to have a dinner party every quarter--since we just missed one--), others I'm still attempting to cling to, despite the fact that progress on many has seemed to stall.

But that's all fodder for another post, anyway.

Today, I want to tell you how I've been doing with my 100 Hours in the Kitchen project.

Brief recap: this particular goal is for me to basically spend each quarter of the year focused on learning a different type of dish or cooking so that I can more actively work on my improving my cooking skills. Each recipe or dish that I try out must meet at least one of the three following criteria:

1) The dish must either employ a cooking technique I'm less familiar with or use ingredients that I've never worked with before,


2) I must modify the existing recipe,


3) I must make up the recipe myself.

For the first quarter of the year, I focused on soups, chowders, chilis, etc., and I learned that you really can basically make a soup from (almost) anything. In fact, many soups follow the same basic format: cook some aromatics--onions, garlic, celery, etc.--in some oil, add and cook your meat, chop up a bunch of leftover veggies and throw them in, cover the whole thing with water/broth, add spices and lots of salt, and finish off with some optional extras, like sour cream, tortilla chips, leftover pasta, cooked rice, cheese, avocado, etc. etc. etc.

For the second quarter (the one that just finished), I focused on incorporating more side dishes into our meals. I am notoriously terrible at making anything other than entrees much of the time, so this latest foray was for me to push myself to try to get more than just the one main dish on the table.

Most of the time, meeting that goal just involved roasting or sauteing whatever vegetables we had lying around, making a simple fruit or veggie salad, or sometimes baking up a new bread recipe, but I can say with 100% certainty that the process (especially of roasting so many different things) has made me much more comfortable with pairing entrees with appropriate sides and has taught me to just trust my instincts already (since almost all of the dishes I've made up thus far have turned out favorably).

Now, since I'm on this stint of not wasting food and learning to cook more economically in preparation for our reduced income now that I'm staying at home, I wanted to focus my third quarter of this 100 Hours in the Kitchen Project on using up all the bits and pieces of various food products and learning to save food that's on the brink of going bad.

Luckily for me, the two food types I've focused on so far (soups and side dishes/salads) are excellent ways to do just that.

Here are some of the foods I want to specifically learn to deal with rather than throwing away:
*bread crusts
*leftover rice (esp. that's a bit dried out/crusty)
*herb stems and browning herb leaves
*the dregs of various bottles (mustard, mayo, salad dressing, etc.)
*mushy pasta
*meat that's overcooked (aka, dry/tough)
*basically any produce that's on the verge

I've already been working on this for a few weeks now, and so as a little bonus, here's a super easy rule-of-thumb recipe we tried out this week for a fruit crumble:

One Crumble, Any Fruit (from Bon Appetit magazine)

1. For the crumble, start with equal amounts of oats and flour. (I used 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup white flour, 1/4 cup wheat flour)

2. Add in some brown sugar and spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, etc.). As a rule of thumb, you want the brown sugar to be around a fourth of the total amount of oats/flour you put in. (So I put in a 1/4 cup brown sugar--unpacked--into my oats/flour mixture, along with a few hearty shakes of cinnamon and allspice). Add in a 1/4 tsp. of salt here, too.

3. Using your hands or two butter knives, cut in enough cold butter for the mixture to no longer have any dry spots. (I used 3 tablespoons.)

4. Chop up whatever fruits you have lying around that are on the verge. (I used 3 nectarines and about a half-pint of rather wrinkly raspberries and strawberries, but you could use most any fruit here, including cherries, apples, peaches, rhubarb, blueberries...)

Note: Don't be shy about using produce that is well past its prime--our nectarines were bruised and even oozing slightly from the corners (so I just cut off all the brown bits), and the berries were shrivelly and darker than normal and basically everything short of appetizing. Just put it all in anyway---as long as the fruit is not moldy or obviously rotten, it will still turn out. Really!

5. Mix your fruit with enough white sugar to form a sweet syrup (I used a little less than a 1/3 cup for mine), and add in about a half tablespoon of lemon juice and about 1/2 tsp. of vanilla.

6. Put your fruit mixture in the bottom of an oven-safe dish (I used a 8 x 8 square glass one) and crumble the oats/flour mixture over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for anywhere from 35-50 minutes, or until the fruit mixture is hot and bubbly and the crumble on top is browned.

7. Serve with vanilla ice cream (duh).

***If you know of any ways you personally use up any of the odds/ends of foods that I listed above, I would LOVE your input as I move forward!***

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Some Final Remarks on the Great Capsule Wardrobe Experiment

Once upon a time, all the way back in February, I was finally convinced to try out the capsule wardrobe trend (aka, where you severely edit your closet down to a certain number of mix and match pieces and put everything else into storage for a season). Well, a month later, you got a mini update on how it was going, but thanks to the craziness that was the end of school, you never got my final word on the matter.

And better two months late than never, amiright?

When all was said and done, I have five main thoughts on my capsule wardrobe experiment:

1 - Once you can get past the "longing for more clothes" stage (which you'll probably hit when you're a few weeks in, like I did), you kind of forget about your other stuff that's out somewhere in deep storage and just embrace your smaller closet (or maybe you just run to the rest of your clothes in desperation and give up the thing entirely). For me anyway, I found that once I was about halfway through my 3-month experiment with a smaller wardrobe, I really didn't miss the other stuff.

2 - Three months is about the perfect time to reevaluate the wardrobe you've chosen, not just because the season will probably be changing and you'll need different types of clothing (duh), but just because it really does feel like you're "shopping" for new stuff when you haul out the rest of your clothes that you'd put away. It was fun to get excited about pieces I hadn't seen for 3 months (rather than have them sitting in my closet the whole time and me forgetting about how awesome they are).

3 - Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), when I changed over to my "summer capsule" (which I didn't do in as formal of a manner as I did previously, like count pieces or anything), much of my wardrobe didn't change at all. Basically, I just took out all the obvious "work" and "winter" clothes and rotated in some sandals, crops, and more tees. And now, after having lived with my summer capsule for about a month, I'd feel comfortable taking about a dozen more things and putting them back into storage since I haven't even worn them once.

That's the biggest takeaway from doing a capsule wardrobe, really--it really shows me the pieces I want to wear (not just that I aspire to want to wear, if that makes sense), and it helps me to see that life without so many clothes is more inspiring than frustrating. Because I'm no longer overwhelmed by so many choices (many of which aren't appropriate for the season or the occasion or whatever), I can just look at the simple collection in front of me and mix and match at will.

4 - Doing a capsule helped me nail down my current personal style a lot better because it helped me to see what I reach for over and over and over again (comfortable basic tees that are just slightly fitted) and what I hardly touch (anything with cap or just-barely-there sleeves, anything that's too tight/hot, or shirts with a wide neckline). And because I now understand this, today when I go shopping for the first time in several months, there's really only a few basic pieces that I actually want/need to get (rather than just going to the store with the vague sense that I need "something new" without knowing exactly what).

5 - I used to spend an embarrassing amount of money on clothes (like, hundreds and hundreds of dollars a year), but doing this experiment showed me that often I don't need new clothes to feel better about my wardrobe--I just need a new perspective. So, if for nothing else, capsule wardrobes were the way for me to finally kick my spending-loads-of-money-on-clothes habit for good.

Going forward, I still plan to do a version of the capsule wardrobe from now on. But rather than worry so much about the number of pieces I'm "allowed" to have, I'm keeping it simple by just limiting it to the amount of clothes that can fit in one side of my closet (so that I can easily see everything at a glance instead of trying to go between two sides of a sliding-door closet).

If you haven't tried out a capsule wardrobe yet and feel overwhelmed by the current state of your closet (or need to kick a clothing spending habit, like me), I seriously recommend trying this out.

More Capsule Wardrobe Posts:

Why I Decided to Try the Capsule Wardrobe Trend
What Made the Cut: My First Capsule
Capsule Wardrobe: One Month In (with pics of various outfits)
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