Thursday, February 21, 2013

Link Love and Simple Lives

I have a post rolling around in my brain that requires some real thought, but I have a busy afternoon ahead of me getting ready for the snowpocolypse, so I'm going to share a few links and come back another day.

  • Iowa Valley Food Co-op used a recipe from my blog for pot stickers in their newsletter this month. I love the recipe and the beef from the Co-op is the best around.  Have a look and consider signing up for the Co-op.
  • This article on becoming a mother is so so right. I was lucky enough to have escaped PPD and PPA, but I certainly mourned the loss of my old life.  I have so much to say about this, and have written things in my journal about it that I've considered sharing here, but this post does a great job of getting across what the experience can be like.  And the comments are full of other important stories.
  • Lauren's post on mama nervosa about taking time for yourself is speaking to me. I still haven't done a great job of carving out time for exercise, but we've started getting the yoga mat out together and Ellie's downdog is great.  I joined a book club so I have to read the books and spend two hours each month talking about life and meaning with a group of bright women (who also happen to love great food and tea, which is fantastic) and it's been so good for me.
  • Lauren links to this article by Janet Lansbury which I've read over and over this week. Expectations of our children's behavior is so important.
  • My students are reading about black history right now, so I was very interested in this program. Sometimes I have to remind myself to turn off news radio and turn on the classical station. It makes everyone calmer.
  • I share a poem with my husband every Valentine's Day. This is this year's poem.
  • I have been plotting a batch of sauerkraut, but this kimchi caught my eye. This blog is absolutely beautiful.
  • I read this book for my book club, and while I didn't love it, it taught me quite a few things. I now have a somewhat silly list that tells me all the things that need to be done each night and it's actually helped me stay on task.  It's encouraged quite a few other good behaviors, like not putting off anything that can be done in under a minute.
I often share links like these between blog posts on my pinterest and facebook pages, so follow me there if you're into that.

Check out the awesome stuff people are doing and link up, being sure to link back to this blog or one of the other hosts

salt 1. 40 Ingenious Uses For Salt Around The Home by Natural Mothers Network. "As salt is such an abundant and sustainable resource, it makes sense to use it in preference to toxic cleaners and preservatives where and when we can." dscn8943 2. Nata by mossgrownstone. "Nata is candied mother (or SCOBY or jun)- something I never thought of until I saw it in The Art of Fermentation" elderflowerwater 4 3. Elderflower Water: A Homemade Hydrosol by Our Heritage of Health. "I was snowed-in this past weekend with a blizzard, so I finally did something I've been wanting to try for a little while-making my own elderflower water."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ellie's Toddler Room and Simple Lives

I am one of those lucky people who go to know my great grandparents.  They were incredible people and I am so thankful that they were so present in my early life. I have distinct memories of their home (where my beautiful rug once lived) all of which take place at an age when their beds were at eye level for me.  My great-grandfather is someone what I wish I could meet again as an adult. He deeply felt the need to create. He was constantly making little things, usually of porcelain that he painted, and giving them to us children.  He was a builder and a fiddler, and I remember his workbench in the basement being organized and full of treasures. He was a diligent recorder of family history and I remember pulling photo books down to have them read to me again and again, looking for my spot on the tree. Their home was next to a small river and being there always meant discovery and exploration.
I realized at some point that he and my grandmother didn't actually share a bedroom, which was a complete shock to me at the time.  My home was built at a similar time, which I suspect was a contributing factor in us wanting to buy it, and has the exact same bedroom layout: a hall off the main living area separates two equally sized bedrooms with a small, narrow bathroom in between.  There's no "master suite" to be found.  We chose the bedroom farthest from the street to be ours and eventually made the other one Ellie's.  We love having her so close, and with the floor bed, if she needs us, she simply opens her door and walks down the hall.  The rest of the house is closed off at night, so it's safe for her to be in her room or with us. 
Today I'm going to show you what Ellie's room looks like. It's set up to be completely safe for her, though she rarely spends time in there completely unsupervised. She prefers to play alone but with us near her.
We had Ellie next to the bed in a bassinet for the first few weeks of her life and eventually she moved between a pack and play next to the bed for the first half of the night and into our bed after the first wakeup.  This just worked for us until she was about nine months old when bed sharing just wasn't working for HER anymore. She was too stimulated being with us. She'd roll around, flail her arms, and didn't get rest.  Transitioning her to the crib we'd purchased and set up down the hall when she was born was much easier than I thought it would be. She simply prefers to sleep alone. I was prepared to cosleep (despite how much it hurt my back) if it meant more sleep for us all, but it didn't.
She was only in the crib for a few months before we decided to transition her to the floor bed. We transitioned her at 13 months when we completely revamped her room. Here's a very incomplete "before" picture of the "nursery", which was typical: pictures on the walls, long curtains, pretty little crib.  It wasn't really being used at this point.

And here are some photos from earlier this week. Her room gets the best afternoon light in the house and I love pulling back the blackout curtains to let the sun stream in the windows.
Left to right: The changing table is unpictured but it's right inside the door.  Then comes the glider, which is much more comfortable than the rocker.  She has a little reading corner with a rocking chair and book shelf. (We need about 12 more bookshelves, but this one houses her favorites right now.)  The sweet chest in the corner holds all her extra sheets, blankets, and stuffed animals.  She's messing around with the potty chair these days, so I keep it out for her.  Under the West window is her main work table with a few activities.  The right corner has floor pillows for cuddling and reading and her bed is just inside the doorway.
She has this pendant light from Ikea, which is way too dim but makes the coolest shadows on the walls.
We couldn't be happier with the floor bed. I wish we'd transitioned her sooner. It's just her crib mattress on the floor. She ended up crawling around the floor a bit on the first few nights but got it after that. She does still mostly fall asleep in my arms. Hopefully someday she'll just put herself to bed like magic.
Cuddle corner. I got these two unused floor pillows from Freecycle and sewed the covers from fabric I had sitting around.  The other pillow is made from a chenille bedspread that I loved and my mother secretly bought for me. She's so good. You can see her pajamas hanging up in this picture. We hang them up each morning when she gets dressed and she gets them when I get her ready for bed at night.
The little table was actually left with the house. The corners are a little sharp so we try to keep them covered with the bumpers, but like most baby-proofing stuff they just seem to attract her attention.  
The table is the perfect height for her to work at and it's so pleasant with the sun shining in. I can't wait for summer when we can open these windows again.  
 The reading corner. When Ellie was first born, we bought a bunch of little quilts from thrift stores. They so easy to throw around under everything. Her great grandparents bought her the rocker which has a music box attached to it so it plays when she rocks. Mostly she just loves climbing up, grabbing a book, and sitting in her chair, pointing at the book. You can see her little dog calendar hanging up here. It's too high because she can't see it very well, but she sure knows it's dogs and loves pointing at it and saying "arf arf!".  It's quite a thrill to change the picture each month, too.  The big elephant was a Christmas gift from Ikea and my grandmother gave us the bug for my baby shower. It has a light inside and displays stars and the moon on the ceiling while playing soothing baby music or white noise. It's pretty much the coolest.
Her favorite books right now.  Charlie Parker Played Bebop is really fun, and every toddler should have some kind of picture dictionary. This one is just ok.
We still have her changing table in the corner. It holds all her cloth diapering stuff.  Her dirty clothes basket is on the bottom shelf.  She puts her clothes in there when she gets undressed. The main worry with babyproofing rooms is to keep children from pulling furniture on them so most people bolt down anything heavy. This table is really light and I don't think it would hurt her if it fell over. That said, I think we're going to get rid of it soon because we rarely get to actually change her up on top. 
The shelf above the changing table holds her disposables for night time (cloth overnight has given her a rash) diaper creams, extra pacifiers, and socks and shoes. Again, this isn't the safest thing so we're trying to wean her from the loud white noise and get rid of the CD player. I've tried repeatedly to leave it down but she can't keep her hands out of it.  Working on it.  Cloth diapers go in the metal trash can on the right and trash on the left. 
You can also see an outfit hanging on that shelf. One of the things I've learned to do to make my life easier is to pick out and compose a bunch of outfits for Ellie ahead of time. When we do laundry on the weekends, I bring all her stuff in her room and hang it up as outfits. Then I bring two out each day for her to choose from. This photo shows the outfit that wasn't chosen that day. She'll get another one to pick from the next day. Sometimes she passes over the same outfit for days before finally choosing it. 
Here are some of her outfits in her closet.  It's also home to her toys that she's not using. We try to rotate only a few at a time so there's never too much out at once. I go through her closet every few weeks and weed out things that don't fit or suit her anymore.  I've got a box in there of clothes and toys that she'll use in the future.
To the left I have baskets and containers that I use to present activities.  (And a pink tent, of course.)
And that's it! Of course it's not always this clean, but I can usually return it to this state in just a few minutes. Managing the clutter is constant but it's worth it to keep up on it. I just need to get that done in the rest of my house.
Here she is asking to go outside. "SNOW" she says.
And eating Tiny But Mighty popcorn and watching Sign Time. 
I hope you enjoyed our little tour, and please ask in the comments if you have any questions. Does your little one sleep on a floor bed? Your bed? A crib?  It's such a personal decision, as is everything related to kid sleep! 
Finally, it's time for SIMPLE LIVES THURSDAY! I apologize for the times I don't get it up. I think there will just be weeks were I only get up the hop and not a post and I'm sorry for that, but I'd rather have it up than not.
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and have a great weekend!
moroccan beef
1. Moroccan Ground Beef (or Lamb) by Easy Natural Food. "We have a ton of grass fed ground beef in our freezer from the 1/4 cow we purchased last year, so I'm always trying to come up with new, tasty ways to eat it all."
2. Microgreens- Bring the Garden Into Your Kitchen by Preparedness Mama. "I came across a cool gardening idea a while back and I think it's the perfect cure for the wintertime blues." Strawberry250
3. Grain-Free Strawberries 'n Cream Porridge by Sweet Basil 'n Spice. "Since I am trying to do my very best to only eat grains that have been properly prepared (to improve digestion and neutralize any nutrient blockers) by either soaking or souring with my sourdough starter, coconut flour comes in handy when I haven't planned well."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Homemade Almond Milk (and Almond Meal) and High Chairs

This week, man.
Work is in full swing, thankfully going well, but the weather has been brutal. I'm trying to pretend it's not happening.  Ellie makes it easy. I am making a concerted effort to be really present with her when we're together, just sitting and being with her. I remember my aunt telling me that when they brought their twins home from the hospital they spent hours just staring at them.  "You don't need TV anymore!" she told me.  It just gets better and better to be with your children as they get older, and they thrive on your attention. So that's what I do during the daylight hours. I spend as much time shining my attention on Ellie as I can.  I always try to carve a little time out of each day for me, be it a short yoga practice, a run, reading, or watching Netflix, but that usually happens after she goes to bed. Her increased independence is a great thing, but I'm learning that it means no less supervision from me.
Our big task recently has been to work on setting up her dishes in a Montessori-style kitchen area. She has a play kitchen. It's now stocked with just one of each of her necessities, plate, cup, a pitcher for water, and this flatware is on its way. We're working on keeping these materials just for eating, but still accessible. My biggest battle is letting housework go so that I can be with her. I haaaate having dishes in the sink or clothes piled up, but that stuff would take over if I let it.
I just revamped her closet in her bedroom and will show it to you soon, but today I'm actually going to talk about FOOD! Can you believe it?
I had wanted to make my own almond milk for a long time so when I saw Angela's post I decided it was finally time to try.  Surprisingly, I didn't get to drink any of the first batch because my husband liked it so much. I made it again and have stashed it in the back of the fridge so I actually get some. 
It was a breeze to make and the byproduct, almond meal, is easy to put to use.

Homemade Almond Milk
(very slightly modified from Oh She Glows
1 c. almonds (preferably organic, check this list to avoid almonds that have been fumigated)
3-4 c. filtered water
2-4 large dates
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean)
1/4 tsp. salt

Start by soaking your almonds. I used 1 cup of almonds that were pretty old. Thankfully they did just fine, so it seems that almond milk is a good way to get rid of your less-than-fresh almonds.  Soak for a few hours, preferably overnight, until the almonds are nice and plump.
Drain and rinse. 

Put 2-4 large dates (I used medjools) into the bottom of a blender.  
Add the rinsed almonds and enough water to almost fill the blender. For me this was 4 cups. 
Add a splash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.  Blend on the highest setting you've got.
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Bonus if you have a cute assistant.  Toddlers are obsessed with buttons and Ellie dances every time she hears the blender or food processor.

In the end it will be frothy and creamy.  
There is such a thing as nut milk bags, but we just used cheese cloth over a fine mesh sieve. It took some time and a little muscle to get all the milk out. It probably would have done just fine on its own but I'm impatient. 
The milk will keep in the fridge for a few days, maybe up to a week, but I doubt it'll last that long. It's not too sweet and very creamy.  If you or someone you love is avoiding dairy, this is an excellent milk alternative. Even if you do drink milk, almond milk can be an inexpensive option to add to your rotation. We made two batches back and back because we like it so much. It tastes best ice cold. 
(Seriously, this is all I got to photograph because we drank it so quickly.)  
One bonus of the process is that it creates almond meal which can be used in a variety of recipes. I've made these macaroons with great success (which mostly consisted of me eating the dough) but decided to make these cookies instead.  They were just ok.  I started with the leftover almond solids from the cheesecloth.
And dehydrated it at 115 overnight.
Then I gave it a whir in the food processor.
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I didn't think they were going to come together, but they did.

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Like I said, the cookies were fine but not good enough to want to make again. Next batch I'll try the macaroons again for sure. The cookies are gluten-free, so they might be worth a try if you or someone you love avoids gluten.

Lastly, my friend Linda asked me to talk about the high chairs Ellie has used.  We've had three main high chairs: a traditional wooden high chair  which was built by my great-grandfather, a plastic booster seat with tray, and an adjustable high chair.  We also used a "weaning table" in the spirit of Maria Montessori. She did very well with this in the early days of learning to eat, but it's more important for us to have her at eye level so she usually only uses this table for snacks.
They each have benefits and drawbacks.  The wood chair is sentimental.  It's bulky but we liked having her up at table level with us.
(A very Baby-Led-Weaning moment, trying spaghetti. More enjoyable as a toy than food.)

The drawbacks of the wood chair are that it had a very large footprint, like most high chairs, and was difficult to clean. We could have skipped it entirely and had no problem.

The booster seat was great because it was light, easy to clean, and again put her at our height.  It has a tray that attached which made it easy to bring her outside to eat.

Remember summer?! Ugh. Watermelon!. 
The drawbacks of the booster were that it tipped over easily, even when she was just on the floor, and the height was never quite right.  It is valuable if you go out to eat often, but many restaurants offer chairs for little ones. Given that we only spent around $15 for it, this seat was worth it, but I don't think essential.

If we could go back to the beginning and do it all over again, I'd have ordered this chair.  It's an adjustable high chair that will fit Ellie her whole life (unless she someday exceeds 240 lbs....) There is an infant attachment that works for the littlest kids.  She is able to climb into the chair whenever she's ready to eat, a habit she first formed very well with her weaning table.  (Staying at the table was another matter, and it's much better with the chair.) The weaning table gives her the same sense of independence, but she clearly loves to engage us in meal time and it's vitally important to me that we all sit down at the table as a family.
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We asked for the Kikaroo chair for Christmas. There's a more expensive version, the Tripp Trapp, but I've never seen one to compare them.  We have been more than happy with the Kikaroo.

I hope that was helpful to you new parents (snuggle Benji for me, ok Linda?) and that you'll consider trying some homemade almond milk. Like so many other things, the store bought stuff just doesn't compare to homemade.
How are you these days?  Is it starting to feel like spring where you are, or still solidly winter? We're still in hats and gloves. I can't wait for barefoot days.

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