Sunday, May 15, 2016

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Once upon a time in a far Northern land, a little girl liked to eat bananas for breakfast. Not any ol' banana would do; this little girl preferred her bananas to have a banana "handle."

This simple yet annoying request nearly drove her mother bananas, but she did it every single morning to please her little princess.

The result?

Lots and lots ... and lots of half-eaten bananas bit to the top of the peel.


Enter: Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

It seems like I've always got a Ziploc bag of frozen banana halves in the freezer. I use them in smoothies or on occasion to make frozen banana "ice cream," but mostly those leftover banana halves are used in homemade muffins. I've tried a lot of banana bread recipes over the years, but this is the one I come back to over and again. These healthy banana chocolate chip muffins are fluffy, delicious and most importantly, devoured by Tory and Aden every single time I make them.


1 1/2 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 3 large)
1 large egg
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners, or lightly grease with cooking spray.

2) Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl until mostly smooth. Whisk in the egg, then the yogurt and coconut oil. Whisk in the coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda, salt and cinnamon over the top, then stir until combined. Gently stir in the flour until barely combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.

3) Scoop the mixture into the prepared muffin tins, filling them nearly to the top. Sprinkle a few mini chocolate chips on top of each muffin mixture, if desired.

4) Bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins
*Store muffins in an air-tight container for up to two days (I like to refrigerate mine so the chocolate doesn't get melty), or wrap individually in Saran wrap, then place in a Ziploc bag and freeze. Defrost individually frozen muffins as needed in the refrigerator, then warm in the microwave for 10 seconds for soft, gooey deliciousness.
Recipe adapted from:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Letters to Aden: 2 1/2 Years

Oh, Aden Boy --

The past few months haven't been easy with you. You've hit a developmental period of disequalibrium and whoa, tantrums galore! I'd forgotten how impossible it is to reason with a two-year-old. Then I take into consideration all the changes you've experienced in the last few months, and I cut you some slack for being a toddler. Being two is tough sometimes.

Here's what new with you:  

Although I don't have official stats, I would estimate you weigh about 28 pounds and are 34 inches tall. You wear 2T clothing, size 7 shoes and are very opinionated about what you wear these days. Specifically, you're obsessed with shoes and refuse to take them off your body. "My shoes! No take off!" you scream whenever I try to remove them at the door. You even sleep in your shoes sometimes. I've stopped fighting you on the matter because it isn't worth the temper tantrum. So what if you track in dirt from the outdoors. Let them be little.

At the cabin, you love to wear your life jacket ... which is great when we're on the boat or playing down by the lake. But, you also insist on wearing it indoors -- even over your pajamas. 

You're wearing size 5 diapers and aren't anywhere close to potty-training (not that I've attempted to introduce it to you). Sometimes, you tell me when you've pooped ("Mommy, change you!") or will sit on the toilet before bath time without any success. No biggie; I'm not in any rush to toilet-train you until you're ready yourself.

You are a dependent little thing, Aden; you are deeply attached to your pacifier and favorite blue blanket. You'd have the pacifier in your mouth 24/7 if we let you, and I was beginning to worry it'd stunt your language development. So, Daddy and I decided to take the pacifier away during daytime hours and allow you to have it only during naps and bedtime. The first few days of transition were tough, but eventually you learned to carry on without it (not that you don't try to sneak it if possible) -- and I learned not to use it as a crutch whenever you fussed! I'm amazed how quickly your vocabulary expanded once you didn't have a pacifier in your mouth all day long. These days, you are quite conversational in your short sentence toddler-speak. You've even started to introduce yourself to others ("I Aden") when friendly people we meet ask your name.

We've dealt with a strong case of separation anxiety the past few months. If anyone other than Grandma stops over to visit, you start to cry because you think I'm leaving. You cry when Daddy leaves for work in the mornings and cry when I drop you off at "school" on Tuesdays for a few hours. It's tough to see you so upset, though the caregivers reassure me you're content a few minutes later. I remember Tory having a pretty severe case of separation anxiety at this age, too, so I know it'll get better with time. Other mothers have warned me that eventually baby boys prefer their dads, so I try to remind myself to soak up your attention while I have it. 

Lately, I'm beginning to see glimpses of your humorous side. You try to be funny by calling Grandpa Jim "Grandma," for example. Grandma Janie laughed the first few times you did this, and now it's a game between the two of you. "No, that's Grand-pa!" she'll say and you'll laugh and respond, "Grand-ma" with a sly smile. You're starting to do things purposefully to generate a chuckle (like fake sneezing), and are always trying to make Tory and I smile. It makes me happy.

Shortly after your second birthday, you started climbing out of the crib. It only happened a few times until one week in March when we went to visit family in Nebraska. You slept in a pack-n-play there and quickly realized it was easy to hop over the side of it. One night, Nana found you stark naked in the living room pushing around a doll stroller. Apparently, you'd climbed out of the pack-n-play while I was sleeping soundly nearby, removed all of your clothes and thought it best to play into the wee morning hours.

We moved you to a "big boy bed" at the cabin shortly thereafter because you'd been sleeping in a pack-n-play there as well. The transition was surprisingly easy. "I sleep big boy bed!" you'd chant over and over at bedtime; you were so proud of yourself. At home in the Twin Cities, we lowered your crib mattress to the ground which bought us a few weeks until we moved into our new home. Now that we're here, you're sleeping in a twin-size bed with a side rail and have done so well with it all. I'm proud of you, too!

Last wake-up in a crib-

Next stop, big boy bed-

When we moved to our new condo this month (which, hey, is a milestone in itself!), we gave away the baby highchair. That chair had been a fixture in our dining room for past four years, and suddenly it's no more. I suppose it was all for the best because you no longer cared to sit there anyway. These days you'd rather sit at the table next to Tory, or more likely, wander around the house with food if we'd allow it.

Our family also traveled to Costa Rica in January, which was your first time visiting that country. You loved every minute of our travels -- from jumping in puddles in the heart of the rainforest to splashing in the deep blue ocean.

You're all boy, Aden. You love throwing rocks in the lake and digging in the dirt. You are also very musical, and can often be heard singing the tune to your favorite songs (ABC's, Row Row Row Your Boat, Wheels on the Bus, Baa Baa Black Sheep and London Bridge at the moment). You're starting to show interest in trucks, tractors and trains, thanks in large part to the construction site we live in at our new condo. Even daily errands are an adventure as we identify vehicles from the car window. I need to up my game and learn the names of all those machines - STAT!

Thankfully, the temperature is finally warming up because you love to play outdoors. You're a monkey at parks and playgrounds -- climbing up the highest bars and ladders, sliding down the tallest slides and running until you're completely out of gas. This past fall and winter, I enrolled you and Tory in gymnastics classes which were a great opportunity to develop physical muscle development, balance and coordination. You loved playing on the equipment at gymnastics, but weren't the best at following direction. Now we've started swimming lessons for the spring and summer months and you're really enjoying the pool time. If you had it your way, you'd put on a pair of goggles and dive for rings the entire 30-minute class period.

Two words: "More meat!" It's not uncommon for you to utter those words at the dining room table because you love absolutely love it. Specifically: breakfast sausage links, chicken sausage, ham, bacon, steak, pork chops, hot dogs, turkey and chicken. You don't like ground beef, pulled pork or deli meat which seems to be a texture thing. You love fruits (mangoes, pears, peaches, apples and oranges are favorites), some vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, corn, edamame) and peanut butter. Oh, you love peanut butter! There's one food group you won't touch with a 10-foot pole: bread. You've never liked bread, and refuse any form of it (except for homemade banana chocolate chip muffins on occasion). 

You've eaten ice cream a few times without issue which leads me to believe you're growing out of your dairy sensitivity. Using butter or milk as a cooking ingredient doesn't seem to bother you either, but you still don't eat cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or drink milk. Interestingly, you specifically prefer the Kirkland's brand vanilla soy milk from COSTCO and that's your primary source of calcium.

It goes without saying, your very best friend is Tory. You two play so well together and are happiest when you're in each other's company. In fact, the first thing you say every morning is "Where's Tory? Oh, Tory! Where are you?"

Outside our family, your other friends are Elia and Dominic. Elia is the son of one of my friends, and the two of you seem to get along well. I wouldn't say you specifically play together (which isn't typical of two-year-olds anyway), but you'll share toys or play side-by-side. Your other friend is Dominic, the boy who lives in our condo building. You ask about Dominic a lot, but I think it's because he's so close to our own living space (seeing his car in the garage, passing by his toys, etc.) It is wonderful having another boy so close in age living in our building, and I look forward to seeing your friendship grow over the years.


You are strong-willed, witty, adventurous, curious, messy, fun... and certainly keep me on my toes, Aden Boy. And, you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cabin Life in the Spring

Spring weather in Wisconsin can be a number of things: windy, rainy, muddy, hot, cold, beautiful, warm or sunny. I think we might've experienced every one of those weather patterns during April and May this year, but it never keeps us from enjoying our time at the lake cabin.

It's true; we do have to be a bit more creative with activities in the spring, but Andi and I try to dress for the weather and make the most of each weekend. One thing that's been a big hit for the kids this spring is Andi's new ATV (or "ATB" as Aden calls it). Tory and Aden are obsessed with trail riding in the patch of woods near our cabin. Tory sits in the passenger seat behind the driver, and Andi says she talks his ear off the entire time they ride together. Aden, on the other hand, doesn't make a peep. He sits nestled in front of Andi and is absolutely content when he gets to go for a ride.

I took the kids for a ride on the trails last weekend when Andi was traveling for work. "Don't worry, Aden" Tory told him, "Mom knows how to drive the ATV." She seemed pretty confident in my skills, so I couldn't let her down. Whatever Dad can do, Mom can do too -- right?!


The ice came off the lake early this year (mid-March?), so Andi arranged to have our new pontoon boat delivered to the cabin at the beginning of April. Nothing says "spring" like the first chilly boat ride of the year ... but you've gotta do it! We're always chomping at the bit to get back on the water, and this year was no exception.

Tory and Aden are obsessed with fishing this year, and I can't wait to see their love for the sport grow this summer. "Let's go bishing (fishing)!" Aden says excitedly about a hundred times during any given weekend. Aden received a Mickey Mouse fishing pole for Christmas, and he carries it everywhere he goes. Smartly, Andi puts a dummy rubber fish on the end of it instead of a hook because Aden's not the greatest at controlling where his rod swings. He'll get there though! In the meantime, Aden's content to hang his rod over the side of the pontoon and practice casting and reeling. "Reel! Reel!" he shouts.



One of Andi's friends owns a dairy farm not far from our cabin, so we paid him a visit a few weekends ago. Tory and Aden were so excited to see the animals up close. We saw lots of calves -- some born just a few days prior to our visit -- the milking barn, tractors and semi trucks.


And finally, last weekend gave us a glimpse of summertime. Temperatures reached into the upper 80's on Friday and Saturday, and the kids and I spent both days down by the lake. I dressed Tory and Aden in their swimming suits knowing they'd probably end up wet and sandy ... and I was right. The kids were so excited to play at the beach, and eventually found themselves wading into the shallow bay.

I also set up the hammock Tory received from the Easter Bunny this year in the backyard of the cabin, and the kids were absolutely thrilled to lay inside it. It was a "pinch me" moment of happiness as I rocked them gently and listened to squeals with joy.   

Love our cabin life!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

May Day Baskets

I love celebrating May Day each year. It reminds me of fun memories from my childhood -- making May Day baskets with my mom and delivering them to all our friends and neighbors -- and it involves making a craft which is something Tory and I enjoy doing together. Plus, who wouldn't want to receive a sweet, unexpected treat on their doorstep? I like the idea of keeping this old-time tradition alive.

This year, May Day (May 1) fell on a Sunday so I thought it'd be fun to deliver homemade baskets to our favorite neighbors at both the lake cabin and in our new condo building. It sounds like a lot of people, but really it was only eight baskets.

The key to crafting with a preschooler is to start early. Mid-April, Tory and I started by making the actual May Day baskets from construction paper, staples and markers. She decorated pieces of paper and I fashioned them into cone shapes. I also cut and stapled a paper handle to the top of each one.

Next, we decorated and cut out flower shapes from construction paper and I hot-glued Hershey's Kisses to the center of each one. We taped disposable drinking straws to the back of each flower so they'd stand upright inside the paper cones.  

Finally on the morning of May 1, Tory, Aden and I filled each basket with Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt popcorn. We went for a family walk at the lake cabin and delivered our May Day baskets to the neighbors. Traditionally, you'd leave the basket of goodies on the front porch, ring the doorbell and run away hoping the recipient be able to catch you and kiss you ... but we didn't follow this part. Does anyone even ring the doorbell anymore? It seemed to take our neighbors quite a while to finally answer the door - ha! Plus, we wanted the chance to see their faces light up when we handed over each handmade basket.


Our cabin neighbors might've expected our visit since we delivered May Day baskets to them last year, but our condo neighbors were surprised and thrilled to receive one! Tory and Aden even received a note from our upstairs neighbors afterwards thanking them for making their May Day so bright. 

I'd like to carry forward this simple May Day tradition with Tory and Aden for as long as they'll allow, and who knows -- maybe someday, they'll do the same thing with their little ones.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day 2016

Yesterday was Mother's Day and I had a really lovely day. At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Downer, I'll admit I had some pretty low expectations for a day devoted to the celebration of mothers. See - Andi left on Saturday (the day before Mother's Day) for a three-week stint of work travel and while his jet-setting ways are nothing new for our family, it has been a while since he's been gone for such a long period of time. Couple that with his absence on the actual date of Mother's Day, and I'd basically written off any chance for pampering. A regular ol' day-in-the-life of cooking, cleaning and care-taking it'd likely be for me.

I woke up early to exercise since I knew that'd set my mind in a good place for the day, and crossed my fingers for 40 minutes of uninterrupted time. Wouldn't you know it? Tory and Aden woke up as soon as I did, but they allowed me to workout while they ate breakfast together. That rarely happens, so it was much appreciated.

The minute I finished my program, Tory barreled toward me with Mother's Day presents in hand and her chosen outfit for the day. "Happy Mother's Day, Mom!" she beamed. "Are you ready to open your presents?" She'd been planning this Mother's Day moment for weeks, and busily crafted handmade presents with Grandma Janie the last few times she visited. Tory helped me unwrap the paper and proudly pulled out a bouquet of flowers she'd made from recycled egg cartons, paint and wire. They were adorable! She also made me some flowers on construction paper and listed some of the things she loves about me: "I make her breakfast, lunch and snacks," "I wash her blankie," and "I do crafts with her." Handmade gifts are seriously the way to my heart, so I appreciate Janie taking the time to make these with Tory.

Later that morning, Aden, Tory and I drove over to Andi's sister Lindsay's house. She and her husband Kyle invited Andi's parents and I over for a Mother's Day brunch. The weather was absolutely beautiful on Sunday, so we ate and relaxed in their backyard all afternoon. It was perfect!

Around dinnertime, we all headed over to Andi's grandma's house for a pizza cook-out. One of Andi's cousins built a wood-fire pizza oven in the back of a pickup truck, and offered to make pizzas for his entire family. Quite the commitment considering there's 50+ people at any given gathering! Leave it to Andi's aunt Barb (who works in foodservice) to have every kind of pizza topping imaginable and even a professional dough ball press to really kick the party up a notch.

The pizzas were better than restaurant quality -- they were so good! I made mine with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and mushrooms and could've easily eaten a dozen pieces.

For dessert, they served root beer floats which were a big hit -- especially with the kids.

The little kids were obsessed with Barb's fish pond. It kept them entertained for hours. 

Kiera is Tory's favorite cousin. She has helped Janie babysit the kids when Andi and I've traveled without the kids, and she absolutely idolizes every single thing about her. It's so cute! 

Shaun, the pizza chef, was hard at work. He deserved an ice cold beer at the end of the party!

Tory, Aden and I ended a wonderful Mother's Day cuddled up with books in bed. It was a full day's celebration, and one I felt so fortunate to be apart of. I only wish Andi could've been there. On this day and always, I'm thankful for the wonderful gift of motherhood: the toughest and most rewarding thing I've ever done.