Sunday, March 31, 2013

Handmade Crayon Pouches

Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom in late November, I've felt more inspired to experience new places / things / activities. I guess that's what little stress and a love for what you do will get you.

I started a 2013 bucket list of sorts and jotted my "to do's" down on the sidebar of my blog as a reminder of the things I'd like to experience this year. One of my wish list ideas is to learn how to sew. 

This task is inspired by all the fun projects I've seen floating around Pinterest. Wouldn't it be neat to whip up little baby doll diapers for Tory to play with, make bibs and burp cloths for baby shower gifts or sew an activity smock for Tory's arts and crafts projects? I've been kicking myself for not paying more attention in high school home economics but honestly, the 17-year-old me wouldn't have believed I'd become a housewife someday unless the 32-year-old me was here living it!

Lucky for me, I have a fabulously talented mother-in-law who is skilled in all things creative. I found an easy first project to dip my toes in the waters of sewing and asked Janie if she'd assist me in completing it. I was racking my brain for cute, creative Easter basket gifts for my nieces and my cousin's little boys and girls a few months ago and decided to make these hand-made crayon pouches to accompany a coloring book. Simple and sweet. I think my first sewing project turned out pretty great!

First, I selected several different fabric quarters ($1.99 each) and matching ribbon ($2.99 each) from the fabric store. This project would have been fairly inexpensive if I would have known what I was doing. When I finished it, I realized I could have made three crayon pouches for every $1.99 fabric quarter. 

Janie read through the detailed instructions ahead of time and gave me a lesson on how to use her sewing machine. Then, she left me to work to make mistakes craft on my own. At first, I tried to follow the instructions exactly and use the sewing machine exclusively. With more time and practice, I probably could have finished each pouch as directed, but I only had the day to make them while Janie and Jim played with Tory in the next room.

Eventually, Janie showed me how to use her Serger sewing machine which quickly cut and sewed together the edges of each pouch together. I used the regular sewing machine for the zig-zag pattern holding the crayons in place.

The crayon pouches weren't perfect but in the end, I think they turned out pretty cute. These would be great to throw in your purse or diaper bag for quiet time at restaurants or in church. I hope all the little ones in my family enjoy them! I definitely enjoyed my first sewing experience and can't wait to try something new (with the guidance of Janie, of course!)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Letters to Tory: 19 Months

Happy 19 months, Tory!

Half-way to two years old, you're continuing to show your true individuality. This month was filled with lots of belly laughs, high fives and hugs and kisses, all thanks to you. You have an outgoing personality and in situations where you feel most comfortable and with familiar people, you'll freely dance to music and perform your latest tricks with pleasure.

One of my favorite memories of you happened in music class this month. We began singing a song called "Everybody Loves Saturday Nights" which you've only heard a handful of times. All the mommies and kids in the class were sitting on the floor in a circle and as the music began to play, you jumped up and ran to the center of the circle and starting dancing this little gig. Your legs were moving so fast as you kicked and hopped from foot to foot. You apparently love Saturday nights (ha!) and you had all the moms in the class practically crying from laughter. I was re-telling the story to Nana and Papa later in the day and you busted out the same little gig again. You can be such a ham.

I've also noticed a new side of you - a shy side - when you're in an unfamiliar place or around people you don't know. I think this shyness is fairly characteristic of your age, but I continue to be amazed when my bubbly, outgoing toddler burrows her little head in my chest to "hide" from people or new situations. At your 18 month doctor's appointment earlier this month, you refused to make eye contact with the pediatrician during our entire visit. You didn't cry, but you pinned your cute little chin down to your chest and did your best to become invisible to the doctor.

Speaking of your 18 month doctor's appointment, we received your latest stats: you weigh 22 pounds (41%) and are 31 inches tall (40%). You're wearing 18-24 month clothes, size 4 shoes and size 3 diapers. I shed a few tears the other day as I packed away your 12-18 month outfits. I couldn't figure out why these clothes seemed so short on your arms and legs because they fit just fine the other day, but then I realized "the other day" was three months ago at Christmastime and you've grown 2.5 pounds and 2 inches since then. Crazy how times flies by so quickly.

These days, you insist on wearing stickers on your clothes and are fascinated by tracing your hands on paper. You copycat anything we do, like the other day when I tapped a finger to my mouth and said "hmmm." You do this action all the time now, especially when we're playing Easter egg hunt around the house. This is your favorite, favorite game to play (you, always obsessed with plastic eggs) and you're pretty good at finding the eggs I hide, too! I love the way your eyes flutter when you try so hard to squeeze them shut as I'm hiding the eggs and sometimes when I say "let's hide the eggs" you dump the entire bucket behind the door and then gesture your arms to say "where'd they go?" Daddy is beyond thrilled you'll finally give him high fives and "knucks" (fist bumps) on command. I think he's been waiting since the day you were born for you to be able to do this.

You still love to read books, play baby dolls and pretend kitchen, serving us plastic food and drinks. Your compassion for other kids is infectious, especially those younger than you. When your cousin Neeley (7 months) visited this month, you could barely contain yourself from squeezing her with all your might. You want to hold every baby you meet on your lap and pat your knees or the space beside you feverishly, gesturing for the baby to sit next to you.

You're starting to learn your colors and can correctly identify anything "blue" when we ask you. Well, to be honest, everything is "blue" because it's the only color you can verbally say right now. You're also fairly accurate in pointing out things that are green, pink and red and I've heard you say these words a few times, although not consistently enough to be called real words just yet.

You've always been a mommy's girl, Tory Bean, but this month you've discovered a newfound love for your daddy. I think you say "dada? dada?" about 20 times a day and it was especially hard on you when he was traveling several times this month. Whenever daddy does come home, you run to greet him at the door and are insistent he take his coat off immediately. You never have the chance to miss me, my dear, because we're together 24/7.

In fact, one of my favorite parts about staying home with you every day is our morning snuggle sessions. You wake up around 6:30am and I carry your sleepy body into my bed so we can wake up slowly together. You're very much like your mama and need a few minutes to wake up in the mornings, so we cuddle together and watch an episode of Bubble Guppies (your new obsession - "bubble! bubble!"). I love this start to our day when it feels like the whole world is quiet and I have you tucked in next to me. I love you, Beanie. Thank you for bringing so much joy to my life.


Friday, March 29, 2013

This Darn Rug

Sometimes you've got to swallow your pride and admit defeat.

I wanted this rug ...

I convinced Andi we haaaaad to have it.

We bought it ...

... and it sucks. The worst part is, there's no turning back now.

Is it normal for families to go through rugs like changing underwear? We seriously buy a new rug for our living room at least once every three months. It's not like rugs are cheap purchases either. Each one runs at least $100.

We have one dog who's supposably house-trained (ahem) and one toddler who's, well, not house-trained. Two rugs ago, our lovely little pooch did her business on the rug and I couldn't seem to get the smell or the disgust out of my mind. Since we have hard wood floors, Tory and I play on the living room rug quite often so it's important it be clean and comfortable. Our last rug before the one pictured above received a healthy dose of toddler puke on it one evening. Our entire house reeked of vomit for a week until I finally pitched it. I tried everything to get the smell out of that rug but it was no use.

Andi and I went to Target the next day and surveyed the rugs. I spotted this beautiful patterned rug and decided I had to have it. Andi thought it was a little wild for his taste and more expensive than our usual rug purchases but I assured him it would look perfect in our home. And it did! I loved the look of the rug.

But ... fairly quickly, I noticed the wool fibers of the rug floating in the air. I also noticed my pant legs covered in wool fibers every time I so much as glided past it. The icing on the cake was the weekend my family visited and the rug received high use from six adults and three children walking / playing in the living room. Those darn rug fibers were EVERYWHERE and I was so embarrassed.

Andi suggested we return the rug and he inquired about doing so even though we no longer had the receipt or the packaging. Target said we *may* still be able to return it if we had the original credit card it was purchased on and brought it back right away as our return window was closing quickly. Andi reminded me to return the rug a few times that week but I still wasn't sure I wanted to (I really like the way it looked if it would only stop shedding)! Plus, there's no way in the world I'd drag a giant area rug back into Target with a toddler who refuses to sit in the cart alongside me. The one afternoon I had the chance to take it back, I didn't have the original credit card it was purchased with so it didn't happen.

Yesterday, I'd had enough and removed that stupid rug from my house. It took me two rounds of sweeping and mopping my wood floors to catch all the wool fibers floating around my living room. So disgusting! I'm mad at myself for not returning the dang run when I had the chance and even more ashamed of eating crow since Andi told me to do it. I admit I was wrong about the rug situation and now I wish I could find one that was soft and cozy, durable and not a million dollars to purchase.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Things I Love: Toddler 15-18 Months Edition

I'm continually amazed how blips in time fly by at record speed since Tory entered our lives. I suppose time always marched on, but I'm surely more aware of how different our lives seem to fly by as directed by a growing (infant, now) toddler.

The 15-18 month stage is my favorite, favorite, favorite by far. Suddenly, there's a new sheriff in town with her own opinions on what cups, plates and bibs to use and most certainly in clothing, blankets and toddler gadgets. Some of our old tried-and-true kid stuff is still in the mix, but I've also discovered some new things the last few months that have made our lives much easier.

Aden + Anais Cozy Slumber Four Layer Sleeping Bag
The Aden + Anais sleep sack has been on my "things I love" list since the beginning, but this winter I discovered the Cozy Slumber Four Layer Sleeping Bag and it's quickly become my favorite product. Tory still wears a sleep sack at naps and bedtime, partly because she's quite the climber and I'm confident she'd learn to monkey right out of her crib if her legs weren't contained, and also because I worry about her sleeping uncovered in the night. She has the coldest bedroom in the house and I want to make sure she says warm and snuggly (and sleeping!) through the night.

The Aden + Anais sleep sacks / sleeping bags are very durable and actually become softer the more times you wash them. I have two Cozy Slumber Four Layer Sleeping Bags in rotation because inevitably, one is in the wash due to a leaky diaper, poop, puke, etc. What makes this sleeping bag better than the cotton sleep sacks is the four layers of warmth it provides without causing overheating.

Bumkins Bibs
Tory is quite insistent on wearing a bib during meal times (hallelujah for protecting her clothes!) and the older she's gets, the more I've grown to love the Bumkins Bibs. I remember people telling me about these bibs months ago when Tory first started solid foods, but for us they never caught all the food she was dropping and therefore, didn't cut down on the mess. Back then, I liked the Tommee Tippee bibs much better. Now that Tory can efficiently feed herself (as in, most of the food on her spoon actually makes it to her mouth), the trough-like function of the Tommee Tippee bib isn't necessary. The Bumkins Bibs provide a nice shield on the front of her shirt to combat food splatters and I like how small they fold so I can toss one in my purse if we're going out to eat.

Columbia Snowsuit and Fleece Jacket
We purchased these two items for Tory during the winter that just wouldn't end (aka: winter 2012-13) and I have to say, we got our money's worth. I have been so pleased with the quality and warmth the fleece jacket (Tory's everyday coat) and snowsuit (Tory's heavier winter coat on blustery days and/or snowsuit for playing outside) provided. I've washed the fleece jacket numerous times and it's still held its shape and color perfectly. The snow suit is easy for Tory to move around in and protected her perfectly through all our winter outdoor adventures.

Tea Set
Tory received this tea set from my parents at Christmas and she's played with it non-stop ever since. The tea pot makes a "pouring sound" she finds very life-like and therefore, our tea cups are never empty.

Baby Dolls
We have our share of baby dolls in this household and surprisingly, they are receive equal amounts of love from Tory. We have several versions of this cheap Target baby doll and they've held up well to her continual playing. The legs, arms and head also wipe clean easily.

Doll Stroller
No baby doll would be complete without a doll stroller! Tory received this one at Christmas from Andi's Grandma and she plays with it constantly. It's more sturdy than some of the other ones I've seen in stores, but probably wouldn't be sturdy enough for a baby who's just learning to walk on their own. For Tory's age and skill set, this doll stroller fits the bill.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pre-Easter Celebration

Last Sunday, we were invited to Andi's parents house for a pre-Easter celebration. Since we're flying to Nebraska to visit my family for Easter this year, Andi's family didn't want to miss out on the Easter fun. We kept our celebration light and casual. Each of us brought an appetizer to share - chicken wings, cheese and crackers and fruit pizzas - and we spent the evening witnessing the magic of Easter through Tory's toddler eyes.

Delicious and fun fruit pizzas Lindsay brought
Recipe here

First, we played hide the Easter eggs with Tory. This is by far her favorite game right now and Grandpa Jim had stashed eggs all around the living room. Different than our daily Easter egg hunts (because oh my gosh, we hide Easter eggs fifty million times a day -- "hide, hide" Tory says, in a whispery voice), these eggs were filled with stickers and M&Ms. The look on Tory's face when she discovered the first egg had treats inside it was priceless!

Next, Tory opened her Easter baskets from Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Lindsay. She was spoiled with her favorite treats of course (lots of M&Ms and animal crackers), plus bubbles, jammies, a new swimming suit and wet bag for carrying, paintable face masks and more. Janie and Jim also gave Andi, Lindsay and I Easter baskets. I got a springy new infinity scarf and candy.

Tory checking out her Easter basket goodies


Then, we colored Easter eggs. Janie went all out with glitter, Epson salts, wax crayons, stickers and craft papers to decorate our eggs. Andi was so funny coloring eggs. "If you can't get out of it, get into it," Janie said and that's exactly what he did. Who knew he was so crafty?

Andi's egg masterpiece

Janie saw an idea on Pinterest that worked great for helping Tory color eggs. She placed an egg in a whisk and let Tory dunk her own egg in the colored water. 

Coloring eggs with Grandma

Enjoying her very first Tootsie Pop while waiting for her egg to dry

We're so lucky to have a fun, loving family to celebrate the holidays together. And, having a little one in the mix gives us an excuse to participate in all the fun holiday traditions that make this time of year so special. Now, who's going to eat the two dozen hard-boiled eggs in my refrigerator?

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Weekend with Internet Friends

If you're not a blogger, you probably think meet up with an in-real-life stranger / Internet friend is crazy. Honestly though, it's very similar to Internet "friend dating" because you know a heck of a lot about someone you've never actually met face to face. (Not that I've participated in any sort of Internet meeting-up, but I assume it'd be a similar thing). Regarding blogging friends, it's surprisingly not awkward once a real-life meeting takes place. In the past year, I've become great friends with people I only knew existed on the opposite side of the Internet.

When Andi told one of his long-time friends we were going to the cabin with "Heather's Internet friends" this weekend, it probably made me sound like a giant loser. But hey, it can't be worse than the time I flew half-way across the country to meet up with 50 blogging strangers, could it? That didn't seem weird to me and neither did inviting my new friend Jodi from Raising Snowpeas to enjoy a weekend at one of my favorite places on Earth.

Jodi wrote her own thoughts on visiting our cabin here. I can say I honestly wasn't nervous for her family to hang out with us for the weekend one bit. I know Jodi and I get along great and we're both very similar when it comes to planning meals and hanging out. Our kids get along great together and I know Tory would love having Allie and Jake at the cabin. The only wild card was our husbands and fortunately, mine can get along with just about anyone. It turns out, Jodi's husband is the same way.

Jodi and Jake

Snowpeas snowman building

We spent our weekend at the cabin playing with the kids and lounging around. My husband is always itching for a little adventure, so he took Jodi's husband on an ice fishing trip for a few hours on the lake. We made yummy meals and relaxed in the evenings after the kids went to bed.

My girl loves to sled

Aren't these two just the cutest?

The only thing that would have made the weekend better is if it was summer and we could've gone for boat rides, had a bonfire and played in the lake. Guess we'll have to invite the Snowpeas up for a weekend repeat!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easter Egg Time

It isn't Easter time until you decorate eggs, so that's exactly what Tory and I did today. It was a sunny, cold 28 degrees outside, but that didn't stop us from participating in fun spring holiday traditions. I wasn't quite sure how egg dyeing would go since Tory's awfully young yet, so I prepared myself for mess and figured we'd be in good shape if we had a few colored eggs at the end. I bought Tory a special Sesame Street eye dyeing kit with stickers to decorate the eggs which I thought she'd especially like since she loves stickers so much these days.

I began the egg dyeing process during Tory's nap because I figured it'd take a long time to boil and cool the eggs before using them. I kind of forgot how long it takes for the actual dyeing as well since I like my Easter eggs to be nice and bright. Tory was very interested in all the pretty colors and desperately wanted to touch the eggs while they were coloring. I held her off and we played in the other room while this step was taking place.

After the eggs were colored and dry, we set to decorating. Tory was so dang excited about the eggs she kept wanting to squeeze them! Plastic Easter eggs are her favorite toy, so I suppose the love spilled over to real eggs, too. I handed Tory a few stickers and she did her best to stick them onto the eggs, but the dumb things wouldn't stay put. Also, stickers on eggs are a great idea for 18 month olds but for moms who likes things to lay flat and smoothly, they were the most annoying things ever.

Didn't matter much because Tory's favorite thing to do with the eggs was slam them on the table anyway. She smooched the blue egg pretty good, so we ended up eating that one and tossing the shell.

I imagine this activity becomes more fun when kiddos can actually do the dyeing themselves. This year, it was a lot of waiting, watching, stickering and cracking.

Also, for comparison's sake, I paired last year's Easter Bunny photo against the one taken yesterday. Isn't it crazy how much difference a year makes?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Easter Bunny 2013

I took Tory to visit the Easter Bunny today at a nearby mall. I talked our visit up big time this morning, asking her if she wanted to see the big Easter Bunny. She nodded her head (and her entire upper body) in agreement, as she does these days when she's excited about something. I told her about the big Easter eggs she'd see when we visited the Easter Bunny and again, she nodded her head yes with much excitement.

It was a blustery 28 degrees as we pushed though the parking lot at the mall and felt more like January than March. I opted to dress Tory in her Easter dress at the mall, instead of at home, because it was so cold outside today. Once we arrived at the mall, I high-tailed it to the family restroom to change Tory into her adorable Easter outfit. The entire time I dressed her, we talked about the Easter Bunny and how big his ears were, how fluffy his fur is, and how happy we were to visit him. I was trying my best to prepare her for the Easter Bunny's size and hoped she'd be as jazzed to see him as she was during our conversations.

Remembering back to our Santa Claus visit in December, I dressed myself in a "springy" scarf with the off-chance idea in mind I *might* have to sit in the photo with Tory. I really, really, really didn't want to do that and surely she'd be okay snapping a photo with him solo. When we talked about taking her photo with the Easter Bunny in the car ride on the way to the mall, Tory even said "cheese!" with her new camera smile. She's got this! No big deal.

As we wheeled up to the Easter Bunny and Tory gathered what was about to happen, her little legs clamped around my waist like a vice script. She puckered her lips and began to whimper. I tried talking to the Easter Bunny and giving her a few minutes to warm up to him, but it was no use. Luckily, Tory and I were the only people there so we had as much time as we needed. The photographer suggested I sit in the photo with Tory so she'd feel more comfortable and of course that's exactly what I did. Dang it.

I don't want to be a mean mama by torturing her with these photos at the holidays, but I also feel like I need these photos for her baby book, too. Quite the parenting pickle. As soon as we walked away, Tory was back to her normal, bubbly self so all was well in the end.

After I changed her back into her regular everyday clothes, I decided to treat us to lunch at Qdoba. Tory was such a little angel at the restaurant and even ate her entire cheese quesadilla with a side of black beans. I couldn't help but smile as we shared our lunch together. She is really growing up to be a big girl and I cherish moments like this with her.

Tory's new "cheese" face for the camera
After lunch, we did some shopping at Stride Rite and I bought her an adorable pair of pink tennis shoes. She's going to need some solid playing outdoors shoes this spring / summer, I thought, and I can't seem to find quality tennis shoes for her anywhere else.

Last stop at the mall was the kid's area where Tory had a ball running around with all the other kiddos. These play areas are heaven for Minnesotans stuck inside for months and months on end.

Not the greatest picture, but it was hard capturing a shot of this girl on the move!

What a fun day with my little Bean!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Music Together

This winter, we took a break from swimming and I signed Tory up for music lessons at a local church. I thought we needed a change in pace every week and music seemed like something different, fun and warm! (There was no way I was walking outside with a wet head of hair during the Minnesota winter.) Another reason, I thought Tory was growing a little bored of swimming after the fall session. She seemed less excited about getting in the pool each week and our class during the last session was a bit strange. For one, most of the parents were dads and I felt a little awkward swimming with dudes for some reason. Secondly, Tory seemed more experienced than the other toddlers in her class, so she was learning less and distracted more. I don't say this in a braggy parent way. Tory's interest in swimming was obviously higher than the girl who screamed the entire class and the others who flat-out refused to participate in some of the activities. Lastly, the teacher was really splashy. As in, she splashed really aggressively and I was sick and tired of being sopping wet after every stinkin' class. I know I was in a swimming pool and likely to get wet, but I'm not the one dunking my head under water and I'd rather not feel like it by the end of the class. So, a break from swimming was needed.

I met Lindsay and her daughter, Ashley, at swimming class last summer (at our super fun swimming session where all the kids were exactly Tory's age and skill level) and we became fast friends. Lindsay invited Tory and I to sign up for the music class they'd taken in the past and were taking again this winter. That music class has seriously been the highlight of my week this winter and I'm not even kidding. (This probably makes me sound pathetic and I can hear my husband telling me now that I need to get out more, but it's true!) I saw a new side of Tory in music class that I've never seen before. I know she's an outgoing kid, but it was so neat to see her "learn" music and the evolution of her interest in the class from start to finish. At first, she happier running around than singing and dancing, but quickly began tapping her knees and singing along in her own way -- "baa baa baa." The music teacher said children learn music in four stages and I found this to be very interesting:

1) The child hears the music
2) The child hears the music and attempts to participate by keeping the beat, but then loses pace
3) The child hears the music, attempts to participate by keeping the beat and can keep the pace
4) The child hears the music, attempts to participate by keeping the beat and can even change tempo

It's truly inspiring as a parent to watch Tory evolve in this way. She's obviously quite young and at this point is only learning to catch the beat then loses pace, but she's interested! And learning! And happy! I also loved watching her interact with the other children in the class, offering to share instruments with others and hugging her friends repeatedly. Since we're at home everyday, it feels good to see her loving spirit happening in public settings and not just at home. I want to make sure she has the opportunity to socialize and learn how to act around others her age and older / younger kids, and that's the primary reason we even sign up for activities like music or swimming.

We met a new friend, Katie, and her daughter Britta, at class and the six of us (Lindsay/Ashley, Katie/Britta and Tory/I) had a ball singing and dancing together every Friday. I'm really going to miss our time together now the session is over. After class last Friday, I snapped a few photos of Tory and her music friends so we could always remember the fun winter we had together.

Ashley, Britta and Tory
May I also say, this class was a bit of a learning experience for me as well. I am not musically talented in the least bit. I'm the girl who has a hard time clapping on the beat with fans at a sporting event. I love to sing but I stink at it, so I save all my belting notes for church, car rides and singing happy birthday. Plus, I haaaate dancing.  This class definitely forced me out of my comfort zone!

We start swimming lessons again this Wednesday and I'm *crossing my fingers* for a fun class. I think Tory will be excited to get back in the pool again and with lake season coming up at the cabin, Andi and I feel it's important for Tory to have as much exposure to the water as possible.

It's moments like music class that reinforce my love for being a stay-at-home-parent. I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to see Tory grow and learn in these environments and for this chance, I'm forever grateful.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Living Room Decorating (Un)Inspiration

Being home every day has unearthed a serious desire to redecorate my house. I don't know if it's because I stare at these walls for more hours than I used to, or because I'm not dog tired at the end of a work day and actually have the energy to care about such things. Maybe both. Or, it could be a spring cleaning / out with the old (winter) and in with the new (spring) desire to liven up the place. My challenge in decorating is always to use what I have, re-organize things in different ways, move items to different rooms and spend as little money as possible on new home decor. Vases and knick-knacks and things seems so darn expensive in the store and I'm never sure how they'll go together with our already-existing stuff anyway. This might also be why I'm itching for a change.

Our basement is on my to-do to redecorate this year. It's cold downstairs and even though we have a gas fireplace which warms things up quickly, we don't spend much time hanging out there. I think it's because it doesn't feel very inviting. We have the benefit of having nice sized windows in our basement so it's not completely doom and gloom. I'd like to brighten things up a bit more to make it a space we feel comfortable hanging out together as a family.

In our downstairs living room, we have built-in wooden bookshelves on two of the four walls. While everyone in the world gushes over how wonderful they are, Andi and I are less than pleased with their appearance. I know the built-in bookshelves were probably expensive to install and they offer great decorating potential, but I really have no idea how to decorate so many shelves in one space. It seems as if every example I find for inspiration has bookshelves filled with books (now there's a novel idea) or they're bookshelves one-fourth the size of what we have to work with. Yes, I'd love to have a cute stack of books with a ceramic bird perched on top of them, a faux lantern displayed next to it and maybe a frame or two of our cute little family. But, then what? How shall I decorate the other fifty-million shelves available in our never-ending wall of built-in bookcases?

One might suggest filling our bookshelves with real books but well, Andi and I own about six of those between the two of us. It seems silly just to buy books to decorate our shelves. We both have Kindles for goodness sake! Tory has quite a few books, of course, but I don't think Chica Chica Boom Boom and Noisy Barn will convey the same grown-up look we're trying to achieve.

The fanciest books we own

The built-in bookshelves are just too dark for us and that's one major issue. Our plan is to have the wood professionally painted white to match the white trim in the room. I'm a little nervous to pull the trigger on this home renovation project because I can't get my parents voices out of my head. I just know my dad would rather die than paint over perfectly good wood. We had the white paint job cued up for this spring, but decided to hold off for a bit and spend the money elsewhere. So for now, the brown-colored built-ins are here to stay and if I can figure out how to decorate them as is, I think I'd be happier in the living room space all together.

The ginormous area of built-in bookshelves has left me uninspired when it comes to the fireplace mantle. Fireplace mantles seems so easy for everyone else to decorate, but I'm seriously stumped and to be honest, a bit intimidated. I'd like to decorate the mantle with adorable family photographs, a few candles and maybe a decorative plant or two, but I've already got that going on in the bookshelves. I think more photographs and candles would be overkill.

I've seen inspiration mantles with spring flowers in vases and they look so fresh and inviting, but are fresh flowers really practical, especially in a basement? I think Andi would have a heart attack if I put fake flowers in our house. I don't think, I know he would. I've been tempted to try crafting one of those cute mantle banners all over Pinterest. I'm worried doing anything special to the mantle will seem off-balanced until I fix the built-in bookshelves as well. I'm at a uninspired decorating stand-still when it comes to our downstairs living room. I'm thisclose to raiding the neighborhood Home Goods and completely starting over.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Growing Up

Parenting is such a crazy experience.

There was a time, not long ago, rocking my tiny infant daughter to sleep in her bouncy chair was the only way to get her to take a nap. Rocking the bouncy seat with my hand, because the vibration of the chair wasn't satisfactory.

I remember many months of rocking my baby girl to sleep in a rocking chair. Fond and loving, yet exhausting memories of rocking her to sleep in a completely dark, quiet room while Andi ate dinner alone or while all of our friends and family at the cabin hung out by the lake.

I'll never forget all the days I nearly broke my back leaning over my baby girl's crib, rubbing her back to sleep. Sometimes, 45-60 minutes standing in one position trying not to make a sound. When I'd move a muscle and the floor creaked, my nearly one-year-old daughter would cry and I'd have to start the soothing process all over again.

Yes, parenting is such a crazy experience.

This morning Tory was extra fussy at breakfast, throwing little fits when things didn't go her way. We have music class today, so morning nap time on Fridays is always a little tight. I have to lay her down by 8:30am or we'll be late getting out to the door to music. A glance at the clock told me it was already 8:45am and a morning nap was probably out the question. In passing, I mentioned to Tory she could really use a nap as fussy as she was behaving. Instinctively, I warmed up some milk and handed it to her. Tory turned on a dime and calmly walked herself down the hallway to her bedroom, where she stood by her crib and waited for me to lay her down for rest.

I am shocked by that child, sometimes. I am amazed at how smart and aware she is of her surroundings. I'm in awe of the way her little mind works and reminded especially in moments like this how much of a big girl she's growing up to be. Sometimes, for a very quick second, I wish I was back in those moments where I rocked her for hours and she needed me so much. Nah, having a big girl who sleeps is a nice stage to be in, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What We're Eating: Hits, Misses and a Few Tips Thrown in for Good Measure

After our vacation in mid-February, I fell off the meal planning wagon.

Before Vacation (BV): gung ho homemaker; crafting up a storm; mad cleaning spree

After Vacation (AV): general lazy feeling; lack of interest in doing anything but eating and drinking*

*it's a tad difficult transitioning from being waited on hand and foot to doing the waiting on others myself ...

In the last three weeks, I've continued to write a weekly meal plan with major gaps on the weekends and a heavy lean toward quick meals for Tory (ie: Easy Mac, Spaghettios). I just didn't feeeeeel like cooking ... wah, wah, wah. I also gained about five pounds on vacation, thanks to the buckets of fresh guacamole and chips I consumed and way too many Corona's. It's hard to jump back into healthy, well portioned eating when you've indulged for days on end.

I'm slowly getting back track. I'm forcing myself to stick to meal plans, portion better and skip the mid-day snacks. I don't like the 4 o'clock feeling of panic when I have no idea what to cook for dinner and nothing's thawing in the fridge. Meal planning makes my days easier, so I've got to get in the groove again. And with that awesome lead in, here's some of our hits and misses from the last few weeks:

Week of February 11-17: 
I pre-made freezer meals for Andi's family to pop in the oven while we were on vacation. I wanted meal time to be easy for them while they were doing us the favor of babysitting Tory. Andi's mom reported the Crock-Pot Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli was very good and she and Andi's grandma also enjoyed the Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake.

Whenever I make pasta bakes like the one mentioned above, I always split the recipe into two disposable aluminum square pans because we never need 6-8 servings of one dish at a time and freeze one or both of the meals. So, I re-heated the Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake (which I previously froze) for dinner the other night and I have to agree with Janie, I also liked the dish. Generally, pasta bakes aren't my favorite but Tory likes them so I do make them from time to time. The Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake had good flavor with the roasted tomatoes and spinach. I'd definitely make this one again. If I remember correctly, it was a snap to throw together, too.

Week of February 18-24:
Cornflake Chicken
Andi really likes "crunchy foods" so believe me when I say, I search "crunchy" on food sites and see what comes up. This particular cornflake chicken recipe was very good. I used chicken tenders instead of chicken thighs and cooked the recipe at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. The secret gem in this recipe is to cook the chicken on a wire rack to ensure crunchiness on all sides. Don't forget to spray the wire rack first!

Crock Pot Chicken Gnocchi Soup
This recipe is supposedly a knock-off of the Olive Garden version, which I've never eaten so I can't compare the similarity of the two recipes. This meal was just okay for Andi and I. From this soup, I think we identified neither of us like the flavor of thyme and it seemed prominent in this soup. Maybe it was just me and I added too much? Or maybe that's how it's suppose to taste and we just didn't like it. I threw out the leftovers instead of freezing them in small portions for later lunches, so that should say something.  

Week of February 25 - March 3: 
Beef Enchiladas
This recipe for beef enchiladas is my favorite and honestly it's the one I've adapted from the back of the Old El Paso enchilada sauce can. All you need is 1lb. of hamburger, browned. The recipe on the back of the can directs adding 1/2 of one can of enchilada sauce (reserving the remaining 1/2 and second can to top the enchiladas in the last step). Here's where I alter from the directions: I add 1 1/2 cans of enchilada sauce to the ground beef (as in, almost all the sauce). It makes for a much saucier inside of each enchilada. Add 1 cup of shredded cheese to the ground beef/enchilada sauce mixture in the skillet. Spoon a tbsp. of meat mixture into each tortilla and roll. Once all the tortillas are filled, dump remaining enchilada sauce and shredded cheese on top of the enchiladas. There usually isn't much sauce left, but that's okay because most of it is already in the tortillas. Sprinkle more shredded cheese on the top of the rolled enchiladas. I also use the disposable square aluminum pans for my enchiladas (you can fit 6 enchiladas per pan) and this recipe makes two pans. These enchiladas freeze wonderfully and I love that there's only a few ingredients required which I almost always have on hand. 

This soup was warm, filling and delicious. I was about a cup short on chicken stock so ours was a little on the thick side, but I'd definitely make this one again. I bought the "healthy" bacon from Trader Joe's of which Andi was not a fan, but he did said the bacon was perfect for this recipe because it basically crumbled upon cooking ... so win?

Week of March 4-10:
I've had some real cooking misses this week and I'm not exactly sure why. I'd like to place blame on a small toddler and 7 pound dog always scurrying around my legs, but that can't be completely true.

Butternut Squash Lasagna
For some reason, I've been craving butternut squash lasagna, which is crazy since I'm not sure I've ever tasted it. I think I saw it on a blog somewhere and it sounded interesting, so when I came across this recipe it seemed tasty and easy enough to make. I had cubed butternut squash already in the freezer since I puree it from time to time and mix it in with other pasta dishes for Tory. I used canned marinara sauce instead of making fresh and had all the other ingredients on hand, so this recipe came together fairly simply. I though it was pretty delicious, albeit the butternut squash makes it a little different, but I was a little let down when I looked over at Andi's plate to see he'd barely touched it. Apparently, it wasn't his favorite meal. Bummer.

Cheesy Chicken Pot Pie
I made this Cheesy Chicken Pot Pie recipe because Andi looooves pot pie and given my hit or miss record with him as of late, I thought this recipe would be a dead ringer. I prepared it earlier in the day and took it with us to the cabin on Friday so we'd have something to heat up for dinner once we arrived. This recipe was simple enough to put together, but didn't come together right in the end. I'm not sure if it's because the pot pie traveling uncooked in a cooler to the cabin or because our oven there isn't very powerful. The pot pie took far longer than the directions indicated to bake and in the end was just okay tasting. I didn't care for the cheesiness of the sauce and the biscuit topping looked a bit goofy as it never made a full crust on the top of the casserole.

Cheesy Potato Breakfast Casserole
I made this for breakfast Saturday morning at the cabin. I used crumbled bacon instead of sausage which was a mistake, I think. The egg bake tasted fine, but it was a little bland. I'd use this recipe again and either add the sausage as directed, or add bell peppers for a vegetarian version to give the flavor more kick. The cheesy hashbrown part was good, though.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wisconsin Snowmobiling Trip

Andi's been itching to go snowmobiling this winter and being the fun loving wife I am, I suggested we bring a babysitter to the cabin with us last weekend while we hit the trails together. Fortunately for us, Andi's cousin Taylor, who's also our weekly babysitter, agreed to come along and watch Tory. Andi secured a few snowmobiles for our use over the weekend and we were set.

Now I must say, in the seven years Andi and I have been together, I've come a long way from Miss Girly Girl with limited experience and actual interest in outdoor recreation to Mrs. Sporty Spice who'll give anything a try. Andi has an adventurous spirit and it means a lot to him that I participate in his various interests. We've gone canoeing down St. Croix River which I surprisingly loved, ice fishing this winter, taken many, many hikes (of which many I thought my lungs were going to explode), snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Most times, I end up having a fun time and gain an appreciation for the activity even if I means I don't necessarily want to do it everyday. You'd think Andi would return the favor and participate alongside me in my favorite hobbies, but he has yet to get into scrapbooking, baking, crafting or watching college football with me. What's the deal? 

Anyway, a few years ago Andi took me snowmobiling for the first time in Northern Minnesota and I rode on the back of his sled the entire time. I didn't love snowmobiling during that experience and in fact, I remember strongly suggesting he GET ME OFF THIS THING BECAUSE I AM DONE!!! I enjoyed the first one or two hours of our adventure, but by hour four or five I was hungry and tired and cold. Plus, riding on the back of a sled for five hours was a bit scary at times when the sled felt unsteady and I personally had no control over the machine.

This time, Andi borrowed two sleds so we'd each have one to ride. I've never driven my own sled so I was a bit nervous, especially after talking to our cabin neighbor who told me stories of flipping hers in the ditch a few days prior. I bucked up for Andi's sake, mostly because he was so excited to ride and drove it. Turns out, snowmobiling is actually fun when you're the one driving and in control of your own sled. Andi was respectful of the fact I didn't want to ride all day long, so we took short trail loops around our cabin and I really enjoyed myself. Just to poke fun at Andi, I kept mentioning how fun it's going to be watching Husker football together this fall and hosting our very own tailgate party. "Look! I'm having fun and so will you,' I said about a million times.

My very own pink helmet

Stopped for a pic during a ride Sunday morning

Ready to ride - I can DO THIS!
There were cool little shacks like this all over the place for snowmobilers to take a break. There's even an out house (4 U 2 P, the sign said) should you need to do your business in the woods. 

During our trail rides, we saw lots of wildlife and a side of the cabin area we don't usually see from the road. The trails were beautifully groomed and it was peaceful to ride through the woods and fields. Andi also took Taylor for a snowmobile adventure so she wasn't stuck watching Tory all weekend and had some boy time riding with his friend Derrick where they burned off some male testosterone driving fast and jumping stuff. It turned out to be a pretty great weekend at the cabin.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What We're Watching

We cut back to basic cable over a year ago and I can honestly say, I don't miss it. My only must-have television channels are the local CBS, ABC, NBC stations because I do enjoy listening to the news. Since Andi and I became parents, we rarely watch any television show in real time. The 7:00pm time slot falls directly over Tory's bedtime and the time I sit down to relax in the evenings varies by day. Gone are the days I set my calendar around tv air times. Now, we have a subscription to Netflix and an Apple TV device which allows us to watch television shows on our time.

Andi's tends to favor more violent, shoot-'em-up type shows which have a hard time gaining my interest. He's watched Justfied, Burn Notice, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Oz and Sons of Anarchy.

Some of our favorite shows to watch together have been / are Gossip Girl, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Tudors, Weeds, How I Met Your Mother and most recently, New Girl. We tried to watch Parenthood together but Andi said it reminded him too much of real life. Apparently kids screaming and life drama for Andi is like prison blood and guts for me.

We do have an issue with starting a television series together and one of us watching ahead of the other person (read also: Andi watching ahead of me). This is really the plague of death in marital entertainment. We've started together and he's finished alone Nurse Jackie, The Kennedy's, Suits and Hell on Wheels. I will admit to committing this felony while watching Revenge. However, I completely justify my action because Andi was traveling for eight days straight and I was lonely and bored. I had to watch ahead, you see, or I might have withered up and died. I'm also watching Downton Abbey and Pretty Little Liars solo because Andi didn't care for either one.

It's funny how television shows have become a pretty big deal in our thirty-something lives. For us, it's how we relax together at the end of the day. What are some other television shows to add to our must-watch list?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Skeptic Turned Believer

If you've talked to me for longer than five seconds, you know teething and Tory do not mix. For the last year, she's dealt with the near constant irritation of teething.

I know everyone has their own beliefs about teething. (Does it rear its ugly head with physical symptoms? What medicinal / homeopathic remedies work best, if any, in dealing with the pain?) I'm not about to stir up a heated discussion on the matter but I do know, based on my sole parenting experience, Tory's teething goes on for weeks. Her symptoms include drooling, rosy cheeks, diarrhea, severe diaper rash and poor sleep. Mostly, I feel horrible watching her go through it all. I've tried everything from cold washcloths to chew on, doses of Tylenol and natural teething tablets with little relief. Ultimately, we both learned to soldier through the pain (her: the symptoms above; me: the sleepless nights, dealing with an extremely fussy, demanding, clinging toddler) and hope the end was soon in sight.

But! We've found something that seems to help. Months ago, Andi purchased Tory an amber teething necklace for teething pain. I was too apprehensive to put it on her, worried it might choke her at 7 or 8 months old, and threw it in the back of my nightstand drawer. A few months ago, I found it and decided to give it a try.

Tory has been wearing the necklace since January and has gained three canine teeth in the meantime with no teething symptoms. Granted, I realize she's now 18 months old and may be able to tolerate teething pain more than she could as an infant. However, she hasn't experienced any of the other teething symptoms in the last few months so I honestly believe the necklace helps. I'm a skeptic turned believer!

I truly forget she's wearing the necklace until someone makes a comment about her wearing it. The other day at her 18 month well-child visit, the doctor said "oh Tory, you're wearing a necklace, how fancy!" I didn't feel like going into details about its teething powers, so I just smiled and let the moment pass by. The necklace doesn't seem to bother Tory one bit. She wears it almost 24/7 except for in the bathtub and asks for it to be put on again when she's done. I don't know how long I'll let her wear it, but I do know I'm a bit nervous to take it off and experience another round of terrible teething.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ice Fishing Day Date

My family left for the long drive back to Nebraska early Sunday morning, so Andi and I had the rare opportunity to spend a weekend day in the Twin Cities. Sundays are usually spent packing up our lake cabin, driving back home, catching up on laundry and readying for the week ahead. With an entirely free day in the Twin Cities, it almost felt like we were visitors in our hometown.

Andi decided to plan a date day, just the two of us. He rented an ice house on Lake Minnetonka, arranged for his sister and cousin to babysit Tory, packed snacks and beer for our day's adventure and away we went!

This is my first winter ice fishing and up until now, all my experiences have been at our lake cabin where Andi drills a few holes in the ice, puts out some tip ups and we play outside in the snow or sit by the campfire waiting for the fish to bite. Ice fishing in a fish house is a different experience entirely. There are many variations of fish houses, but the one Andi rented for us was a small trailer on the ice with eight holes in the floor to fish. The trailer includes a stove (which we didn't use), bunk beds / couch, a table, radio and HEAT. The heat is obviously the main selling point.

Honestly, I never fish when we're at the cabin because I'm usually chasing after Little Miss Tory Bean, preparing meals or perfectly content drinking beer while everyone else casts a line. Therefore, I had to buy a one-day fishing license for our date day fishing adventure and take a quick lesson from Andi on how to operate a fishing pole. Soon enough, I was on a role and out-fishing my very skilled and experienced husband.

We caught 19 fish in just two short hours. It was really fun to catch and release the fish, especially because Andi did all the dirty work of baiting and un-hooking the slimy fish.

Once when Andi was removing the hook from a fish's mouth, it sprayed urine across the room nearly landing on our snacks of cheese and crackers. Ack! Andi laughed for a solid three minutes after I screamed and jumped straight off my seat.

After we grew bored of fishing, we relaxed in the trailer and watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother. I even took a 20-minute power nap which was glorious after entertaining family all weekend. We packed up our stuff and grabbed a late lunch at Spasso. It was really fun day together. It felt strangely reminiscent of our life pre-kiddo when we leisurely spent an afternoon bumming around town and making decisions on a whim.

Back at home, we decided to bundle Tory up in her winter gear and take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood in her new Radio Flyer wagon which Santa brought her this past Christmas. Tory thought she was pretty fancy riding around in her big girl wagon. I'm looking forward to warmer temperatures and more snow melt so we can take many more trips around the neighborhood.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Family Visit

My parents, sister and her family visited us in Minnesota this weekend. We haven't seen each other since Christmas and they haven't been to the Cities since August when they usually trek North for Tory's birthday. To say I was excited to have them visit my home was an understatement! A weekend with no big party plans or holiday event on the calendar - a low-key weekend at my house was a rare treat.

My dad is diabetic and it's a strain on his eyes to drive the long seven hours to Minnesota. My mom's not comfortable doing the driving either, so usually by the time they arrive at my house they're on pins and needles. (Neither of my parents like to fly, so that's out of the question). My sister has a big SUV, but also has two small children, and it's usually not feasible for everyone to drive up together ... until this weekend. My brother-in-law, Jason, did the driving so it was great to see my parents arrive here, happy and ready for a fun weekend.

The car caravan arrive Friday afternoon and we spent the rest of the day, and the remainder of the weekend, hanging out at my house and watching my nieces Brooke (5 1/2 years) and Neeley (7 months) play together with Tory (18 months). I know there's a million fabulous restaurants and sight-seeing things to do in the Twin Cities, but honestly we just wanted to spend time together. Andi and I cooked all the meals but dinner on Saturday night (when I twisted my mom's arm to make her delicious pork chops), so I hope it was a relaxing time for my family.

Tory loves babies and is always honing her mama skills, so it's no surprise she was obsessed with Neeley. It always takes Tory a few minutes to warm up in new situations, but the girls reached for each other and hugged the minute Neeley arrived. All weekend, Tory vigorously patted her legs requesting Neeley to sit on her lap. Eighteen pound Neeley, sitting on 20-pound Tory. Ha! The girls are almost the same size except Tory has more hair and a bountiful amount of energy.

Neeley "sitting on" Tory's lap 

Neeley is the happiest baby I've ever met - always smiling!
Always a special place in my heart for Brookie

Papa and Neeley

Ashley and Jason, just relaxing
My favorite nieces, Brooke and Neeley
Brooke and Tory played together, too, and I was happy to see how patient Brooke was with Tory when she tried her best to tag along in pretend play. The girls played dolls and house, kitchen and read books. There was even a little break for iPad relaxation.

Brooke and Tory taking a break, watching Bubble Guppies

Cousin love!
(Brookie's missing her two front teeth - ha!)

Neeley sitting on Tory's lap again ... and everyone sitting on Nana's

A fun weekend with the family!