Friday, January 25, 2013


I bet you'd never know it, but I used to be a dancer. I was the kind of child who had more interests than my parents had time or money for and eventually I had to choose, and I chose ballet. I dabbled in other types of dance but ballet stuck with me for a decade, from childhood through my early teens.  When you're a little ballerina, it's all about the tutus and pink tights. I was the kind of kid who had an athletic talent for dancing (and in general) but lacked the discipline and grace that makes great dancers. I could do the steps, but often drifted off in rehearsal and looked around me during recitals to help remember the sequence I'd forgotten. Dancing brought me great joy because it, along with sports, taught me how to be present in my body in the moment. It helped me see how practice can produce real change, change you wouldn't anticipate at the start of the process. It helped teach me how to be a part of a group that was greater than the sum of its parts, and that beauty and art are worthy pursuits, regardless of any tangible outcome.  It let me express myself in a completely unique medium.  I will always be thankful for my time as a dancer and I wouldn't change my decision, though do often look back and wonder what would have happened if I'd continued with music more seriously.
But at some point in those 10 years, I realized that dance wasn't for me. I had to grow up a little and see the writing on the wall that I just wasn't that great at it.  It wasn't for lack of trying; it was just who I am.  I've written here that I appreciate my body now more than I ever did. Growing up, I found it difficult to love my body. I developed earlier than some of my peers and this new woman's body made many of my favorite activities much less enjoyable. I didn't want to be a woman when I was in middle school. I wanted to be fast, light, small. I wanted to run and move and not think about my body.
A certain innocence is lost when children begin to reflect on their bodies at times when they once took them for granted.
At some point in my ballet career it became time to transition to pointe shoes.  Every little ballerina dreams of wearing those shoes, tying the ribbons up her legs and floating across the stage. It turns out that they're quite difficult to get up in, not because of the pain but because they require a very pronounced arch of the foot for the toe tip to press flat against the floor.  I had spent years developing a strong turnout, something that can be learned, but I simply didn't have the arches for pointe shoes. I tried. I did my best and I had fun, but it was very difficult for me to get on the tips of those shoes.  One day after bending the soles over and over in a futile effort to bend them to my weak, too-flat feet, my older sister slipped them on and her unusually high arches bent them directly to the floor.  I might have thrown something at her.  (She and I are four years apart and have always been very close. I feel so lucky to have her as my big sister.)
Among other things, ballet taught me that some people are just built for certain things. I am not built for dance. My feet were not built for those shoes and I learned a lot by trying to fit into them.  In the spirit of reflection, I'm making an effort to accept my limitations. I'm trying to step back and see what I've managed to force myself into, what stories I have been telling myself.  I am trying to put my ego aside and be honest about what still has a place in my life. Everything is on the table; my business, this blog, everything. I have do things on my terms, and that means this space might languish sometimes. Please know that it's not because I haven't been thinking of you or don't have things to share here. It's because I have a little head of hair to smell, tiny clothes to fold, and I just won't miss a moment of it to be here.  It's also important to me that when I do post, it's because I have something honest to tell you about. Because I do think I'm built to have write here. I think it works for me. It's an important part of my life but I have to make it fit.
I want to tell you about the things we've been eating and doing around the house recently. Meal planning, and discipline in general, is hard for me but I'm getting better. I thought I'd share a few of the meals we've been eating and then show you a few activities Ellie has been doing.
I made a little calendar with meals and tasks for January and put it up on the fridge. It keeps me on track to see everything in one place. Some days are more exciting, others we have eggs and salad.
I have a drawer where I shove all the recipes I pull from magazines. I use them when I need inspiration. I put the recipes I'll use on the side of the fridge so they're easy to grab.  I'm always looking for cheap healthy meals to throw together on weeknights.
 A few things we've eaten:

Roasting a chicken is a great way to get many meals out of one day of work. I did a chicken in the crockpot, which was no work and came out very well, and it turned into a few meals including chicken pot pie, chicken and dumpling soup, and salad with chicken and poached eggs (mother and child reunion?)
I have never poached eggs much but now I can't get enough of them over greens. Tony's is the best on eggs.
I made baked fish sticks with tilapia and homemade wheat breadcrumbs. They're actually more like cubes than sticks, and yes I drank a PBR. I live in Iowa City, ok?
Baked on a cooling rack over a sheet pan. (The white pieces are leftover bits of panko that I threw in with the breadcrumbs.)
Served with sweet potato fries and aioli.
I made a really simple red curry soup with shrimp, green beans, cilantro and lime. I also made spring rolls with more shrimp, "spiralized" veggies (how I do it without a spiralizer), and a soy garlic dipping sauce. This meal came together quickly and was really good.
I took some of that chicken and made a really simple gravy just by frying onions in butter, making a roux, adding a little milk and stock. I added shredded chicken and lots of black pepper and served it over biscuits with fried eggs and bacon. Breakfast for dinner is so easy and satisfying. We do it once a week.
In that photo you can see the green coffee beans a friend gave us. We've started roasting our own coffee! It's quite fun but not without its snags. We are using two air popcorn poppers and every batch is an experiment. The good news is unroasted beans are very cheap and store well.  These are from Sweet Maria's. 
We've been doing some activities with Ellie to help improve her fine motor skills and get her involved in the kitchen. First I've been letting her use a vegetable cutter (similar) which is very dull but easy for her to hold.  I plan to have Eleanor in the kitchen from a very early age using real tools. She mostly uses real glasses and plates. Soon I will put her plates and glasses down at her level and have a water station accessible to her, but she's not quite ready yet.
I gave her a banana and let her slice away.
Victory! Sorry it's blurry but I had to include it. This is the hallmark of an engaged child. She had to work hard to hold the cutter and push down steadily.  After she cut it we moved the pieces of banana into a bowl and she ate some.  
I've been working with Ellie at matching lids to different kinds of boxes. I organized a bin filled with a few different kinds of containers with lids and let her explore.
Honestly it didn't keep her busy for very long, maybe 5 minutes, and some of them were too hard for her.  She has this on a shelf in the living room and will often pick up a box or two individually but doesn't seem to love the activity.  I think I'll remove it and try again in a few weeks.
Lastly, we have been working on transferring and scooping.  Ellie moves whole nutmeg between these two metal bowls, sometimes with her hands and sometimes with the scoop. They make a very satisfying sound dropping into the bowls and are easy to handle.
Her latest obsession is the moon. Every night she asks us many times to take her outside so she can look at it. This will be a lot more fun in the summer!
Thank you again for sticking with me and coming back here to check in. I hope you are doing well, and I would love to hear about anything you worked hard at and succeeded or failed, and what it taught you.
You can always keep up with me on Facebook or Twitter, too.

Monday, January 14, 2013


A lot of people have been talking about setting a word instead of resolutions for the new year. At first I didn't like the idea because it felt either too specific or too general, but the more I thought about it the more I liked the it, and my 2013 word slowly came to me: reflection.  I have a strong tendency to just react, to do without thinking. I'm impulsive, which can be a strength, but I think 2013 is my year to step back and reflect.

This year I want to be more honest with myself.
I want to take more time to think before speaking, before judging.
I want to take stock of things as they are before choosing to act.
I want to watch my daughter to see what she reflects of me and who she really is.
It's all a part of trying to slow down a bit and decide what's really important to me.
Have you chosen a word for this year?  What is it?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Signing with Your Child and Simple Lives

Last night I posted on my personal facebook page suggesting that parents sign with their children because it has been so helpful for us. I was inspired to post it because Ellie was able to communicate that she wanted a change in our nightly routine.  After dinner we usually go straight to bath, but dinner was a little late last night and Ellie's nap was a little early. Since she was obviously tired I thought we'd just have a super-short bath and skip reading a book before going right to bed.  After she gets down from the table I always ask her to go to the bathroom so we can have a bath and she usually goes without hesitation since she loves bath time and knows the routine.  But last night she headed directly to her bedroom, so I asked her if she didn't want to have a bath.  She doesn't really get "yes" and "no" yet so I offered her a choice, something I do regularly.  I asked her if she wanted a bath or sleep and she replied sleep, so I asked her again and got the same answer.  I changed her into her pajamas and she went right to bed.
A few of my friends asked about how we do sign so I thought I'd share about it here in a short and sweet post.  I don't claim any expertise, but seek to share our experience. Signing has been invaluable to us and I can't encourage new parents enough to give it a try. To keep it simple I'm using bullet points. Please chime in in the comments with your experience or any questions you might have!
  • Start early. We started signing with Ellie around six
     months. She didn't produce anything until much later but she started to understand early on.  
  • Sign what you say.  There are lots of great lists of basic signs for baby (here's one that has links for many of the most common signs) but you should focus on signing content words (nouns and verbs) that you use often. We started with "milk" "more" and "all done" since we were just starting solids when we started to sign.  Always say the word while you sign it so baby learns both. 
  • Be consistent.  We found personally that the more we signed to Ellie the more quickly she would pick it up.  It was very easy for me to be consistent with her because I was usually in charge of her meals so my husband had to make a concerted effort to be sure to always sign when he used our important words.  Choose one signing resource as your reference and stick with it. We used ASL and this online dictionary.  You can make up your own signs that are easier for you and your child.  Be sure to share them with your care provider so your child doesn't get frustrated. 
  • Be patient. It can take a while for kids to break the code, but they will.  Ellie signed for almost a full month before she spoke a single word. We were so thrilled that she was able to communicate with us.  Interestingly the first words she signed back were not the first words she spoke.
  • Be flexible.  Chances are your baby will not sign back to you exactly the way you signed to them.  Children create their own signs. As long as they work it's perfectly fine!
  • Have fun. Signing with your child is such a delight, but it can be easy to get caught up wanting them to sign more or sign "correctly".  Enjoy the glimpse into your child's developing brain and accept their progress as it happens. I was sort of surprised at how long it took Ellie to get the sign for "milk" because she is getting breastmilk many times a day and I was signing it to her each time, but it just took her longer than a few other signs. It may be because it's sort of difficult to articulate, but who knows. 
  • Do what you can. Remember that signing is not all or nothing. You don't have to do any more signs than you want to. "More" and "all done" have been so helpful to us.  
We have so enjoyed being able to listen to Ellie. I can't recommend signing to your baby highly enough.  
Here's a funny video of Ellie showing of a few of her signs. Typical toddler behavior right here, but you get to see her modifications of the signs. They're probably not very easy for you to recognize but,  just like spoken words, it's easy to recognize your own child's signs. 

For fun, a blooper. Here's what happens when you ask a toddler to perform.  OVER IT! She gets a little mad in the end because the computer fell asleep and she couldn't see herself anymore.

Tell me, did you sign with your little ones? How did it go? I hear it becomes even more helpful when they hit two or three.
Finally, it's Thursday so I have some posts about keeping things simple for you. Please check out last week's featured posts and this week's linkup after the jump.

compost bin
1. Use Pallets to Build Your Own Double Compost Bin for under $15 by Old World Garden Farms . "There are few things that can make your garden more successful than compost. " IMG_0061
2. Beef And Bean Wedges... or Pizza? by Homemaking Beyond Maintenance. "Last night I made up a recipe we liked. It's a keeper and a very easy quick meal." drinking glasses
3.Solve the Problem of Dirty Drinking Glasses by Everything Home With Carol. "Ever have your counter look like this in the afternoon? Mine does. But I have an idea to help solve the problem of dirty drinking glasses."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Holidays and Simple Lives

My family lives a short drive away from my home, which requires some time on an interstate that rolls through the hills and fields of Eastern Iowa. This time of year is sleepy in this space between cities.  We stayed home this Christmas, one of the best decisions we've ever made, but we went to see my family a week later. We arrived at noon in fresh clothes, bursting with gifts to give and food to share.  We played, ate, gave, and received. Eight hours later, disheveled and blissful, we left my parents' warm home, which previously belonged to my grandmother, and drove home.  Before we left I nursed the baby in her car seat and she easily fell asleep after a long day of playing with her cousins and receiving an inordinate amount of attention and affection.  My husband sat in the back seat with her, as he always does, and I drove.  He fell asleep, too, and I was left by myself to escort my family home. I'm the driver in the family because any other position in the car wrecks me with nausea. Often when I'm driving I think of this post by Teacher Tom and focus on trying to be the person I want to be all the time, which can be difficult behind the wheel.  I'm working to be mindful in these moments. I've mentioned before about trying to be mindful while going through daily tasks that may otherwise seem like a distraction like childcare or travel.  One of the most simple ways to be mindful is to tune in to your senses.
So I looked around me.  Watching pavement speeding by is frankly disorienting, but I tired to keep my attention on the road while observing my surroundings.  In the bright light of the moon, just waning from the 13th full moon of the year, I watched the highway curl around snow-covered farms. The moon was so full that it almost looked like daylight, and I felt that bring me comfort. Rural areas toe the line between being the safest and most dangerous places to be. I have driven that journey with white knuckles in the dark, fearing a hungry deer would cross my path. Being able to see beyond the road, beyond the ditches, and into the quiet countryside calmed me.
I smelled the leftover pork sitting in the driver's seat next to me. A year ago we put our order in for our annual Berkshire with Danelle at Stamps Family Farm and I swapped out a few smaller cuts in favor of a crown roast. The meal was celebratory and special, especially since we knew that the pig had been happy and well taken care of by good friends.  We prepared it simply with herbs and garlic and the scent lingered in the car. Amazing how you can be stuffed after dinner but just an hour later the food sounds so good again.
I heard the breathing of my loves in the back seat, so rhythmic and deep. I listened to my own breathing and tried to say relaxed in the moment.
I looked back at the trunk of the car, stuffed with meaningful gifts. Christmas is obviously not about the material, but my family does such an incredible job with giving gifts. They are always thoughtful and useful. I leave each holiday feeling loved and listened to, and that they feel the same from me. I am so lucky to have a family of creative and generous people, and so happy to share that with my daughter.
By the time I pulled the car up to the house, I was floating with bliss from the day and the drive. I carried the sleeping baby inside  and spent the rest of the evening with my husband in the glow of the tree and some nog with brandy.
We were overloaded with beautiful things and people this season. Here are some photos of just a fraction.
Ellie still loves the Boba and shows no sign of being tired of being carried. It's even nicer to snuggle close in the winter.

Christmas Eve at my in-law's meant tons of gifts for Ellie including a Kikaroo high chair which came in this box, obviously way more fun than any toy.
Here's the chair in action. It's great to have her at table level again. I've started cutting her coins of bananas that she can peel herself. This trick has worked well to get her to eat bananas again.
We spent Christmas at home in our pajamas. We got ourselves two new ornaments this year.


And we actually exchanged gifts, something we don't normally do.  I got Tim a copy of this book called Q&A A Day.  
And he got me a ginko leaf necklace. I love it. In fact, my older sister also got me a ginko necklace that is totally different and I love them both. See what I mean about great gift givers?

We ate some of Grandma Ann's poppy seed bread.
With oatmeal and eggs.

 We spent the Saturday following Christmas with my family. Nana bought the cousins matching outfits.

These girls. They kill me.

Mom got me this sweet hand-embroidered towel.

And my sister got Ellie this puzzle. It's too difficult for her now but eventually it will be really fun.
Then we prepared for New Year's Brunch. Ellie helped me make cinnamon rolls.

And we had our best brunch yet.



Yes that's candied bacon. So good.

The holidays have been a whirlwind in the best way and I'm both looking forward to returning to normal routines and a little sad about it. Putting away the decorations and cleaning up feels good. The house feels normal again. Things were starting to feel like clutter instead of fun so it was time to go. I think I'll feel the same about returning to work and our regular routine.  But staying in the moment of the holidays, doing my best to keep things relaxed and calm, made the season a lot more fun and a lot less draining than before. 
How did you keep it simple this holiday?  I'd love to hear about it, or any plans you have for the new year. I wish you all the best and can't thank you enough for sharing in our journey here.
Here's the link up, so check it out after the jump.  Please be sure to link back to a host blog if you like up!
reduce 1. Top 5 Ways to Go Green(er) in 2013 by Eliza K Prints. "2012 was a great year. 2013 is going to be even better." baked apples 2. Spiced Baked Apples by Real Food Forager . "This is a simple recipe that is easy-- great for company as everyone loves baked apples." 2013 3.Simple Living 2013 by Simple Life in Norwary. "Ok, so we in our little family have given ourselves a huge challenge for 2013. The challenge combines many small areas of our life, and we hope it can help us to complete our life a little more, to make our living more sustainable and maybe even making us more self-sufficient."

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