Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cotton Ball Montessori Job

Yesterday, someone asked me if you have to be a naturally crafty person to homeschool your children...  My answer is: definitely not!!

Look at this job I threw together this morning - it's proof that you don't have to get complicated to homeschool and have fun with what you already have in the house....

2 baskets, plates, bowls, etc.
Cotton balls
Salad tongs

Demonstrate with tongs picking up one cotton ball at a time and moving from one side to the other.  Over time, you can add in counting the balls, organizing them in groups (like groups of 3, 5, etc) or other variations.

Helps them build muscle in their hands, motor skills, concentration, hands on understanding of numbers and quantity, etc.

Remember: As soon as your child looses interest in a job and starts being destructive or using the objects other than the intended purpose, remove the job.  It's important that children understand there is an intended purpose for everything and that there is a difference from creativity vs. destructiveness.

I.e. If your child starts throwing objects, remove it from them.  If they discover a new or different way to do the job - like picking up more than one cotton ball or making a tall mound; encourage them.  At first it can be hard to know the difference, but after a while you can recognize it sooner.

Also, pay attention to their demeanor.  When they are doing a job properly, they will have a certain look of concentration - usually their brows will be down and eyes focused.  They probably won't hear you if you call their name when they are in this mode as their little minds are processing lots of data.  As soon as their eye brows relax and their eyes wander from in front of them, they are not concentrating any more.

And I have a confession...  I'm a real mom... Yes, my son is still in his pjs at 8am and we spontaneously started school at 7:30am (and yes, those are chalk "crumbs" on the table in the picture...).  That's what I love about homeschooling - there are no limits on when or where we learn!  :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

DIY Spray Deodorant

When my husband did his detox last year the diet required you to use natural deodorant without aluminum (no antiperspirants). Their theory made sense to me, basically that sweating is your body's natural method to eliminate toxins as well as balancing your body temperature.

Finding a natural deodorant that worked was much more challenging/impossible. No offense, but it's usually pretty easy to pick out when people are using natural deodorant. To put it bluntly, they stink.

So when I came across Burt's Bees spray deodorant I was skeptical. It was too manly a scent for me, I thought, but it would work for my husband. To our amazement, it worked! Then I read the label and was floored: it only contained 5 simple ingredients.

"Hmm..." Thought I, "I can do that!!"

And so I did. And now I love it because I could choose my own, more feminine fragrance as well as making the "manly" scent for my husband.  I must be entirely honest with you, though.  This recipe seems to work for my husband perfectly, but I notice that I start to smell on really hot days within an hour or two.  I think there are two reasons for this 1) natural deodorants only go so far for naturally stinky people ;), and 2) I drink coffee.  Coffee is full of toxins and makes you sweat, even if you drink it cold.  It affects more people than others.  And, when my husband is on his detox he doesn't drink coffee, thus after a day or two the body doesn't need to express the toxins and sweat, and thus you don't stink so bad.  Unfortunately for me, I am not interested in giving up coffee at this precise moment (I have spurts... when I'm pregnant I don't drink it), so I must resort to unnatural deodorants on triple-digit temperature days (which have been far too often this summer!!).

So, back to the recipe...

Essential oils can be $$$ but if you do like me, just buy a few and use them for everything. You only need a few drops so it will last a long time.

In doing some research I found that some recipes called for pure water and others 100% alcohol (not sure about you, but alcohol is not my favorite scent).  Alcohol is nice because of it's sanitary and quick-drying nature, but it not necessary to use 100% in your deodorant.  I've heard (but couldn't find a source or study) that it is not safe to use pure rubbing alcohol over long periods of time, but 1) we are diluting  the solution and 2) if you want you can buy ethyl alcohol (you can use Everclear or a cheap vodka as well) to use in it's place.

Here are the recipes:

Men's Deodorant (comparable to Burt's Bees)
1oz alcohol
.75 oz. water
10 drops sage essential oil
5 drops lavendin essential oil (lavender is different, but I couldn't find lavendin at the store so I substituted and it still smells great)
5 drops lemon essential oil

Women's Deodorant
1oz alcohol
.75 oz. water
15 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops lemon essential oil

2014/05/21 UPDATE:  Since writing this post, I've eliminated coffee from my diet and it has GREATLY improved my ability to get by using a natural deodorant.  Even on hot days, I only need to reapply maybe once (which was about the same as the aluminum antiperspirant I used to use).  Also, I have started using Vodka for the base of the deodorant and LOVE it, because all you smell is the essential oils and not the overwhelming stench of the rubbing alcohol.  Hope that helps!!!  :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Almond Squares

I know, I know.  It's been ages since I've written a blog post.  I have lots of amazing excuses like how I had a horrible reaction to some unknown substance which looked like poison oak on my face and had to take two FULL rounds of prednisone (so much for staying away from chemicals, right?!!), or how my sister just got married, family was in town, etc., etc., etc.  That being said, I probably wouldn't have had time to nail down this gluten and refined sugar free recipe if it weren't for having a relative over with gluten sensitivities.  Just about everything I make now is wheat-flour free, but this was the perfect excuse to try making this recipe ONE more time, and I have to admit, I think I finally nailed down the perfect rendition.

Several people have commented on how the almond squares remind them of baklava, but this is SO much easier to make!

Also, I must note that I have a horrible small oven (my husband calls it an "easy-bake" oven), and it burns everything.  Needless to say, it's a bit hard creating a recipe with a non-reliable oven!  So my cooking times are far from exact.  If I get lucky enough to try out this recipe in a normal oven, I will be sure to update this post in the future with a more accurate estimation of cooking times.  :)

Almond Squares

2 1/2 cups almond flour or meal
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz. chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup honey
8 ounces butter
1/4 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
4 cups sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325.  Line the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.  Combine ingredients for crust in a food processor and process until the butter is well mixed (batter will be wet).  Spread batter in pan, using a spatula to evenly distribute.  Bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Meanwhile, combine honey and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil for exactly 3 minutes, then add heavy cream and almonds.  Gently stir until almonds are well covered.  Poor over hot crust and bake for additional 10 minutes or until bubbly.  Cool completely and then ENJOY.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Montessori?

Some of you might be wondering what this Montessori thing is all about and why I mention it now and then in my posts...

Let me first just say: I'm no expert. There, it's out!  If I'm an expert at anything, it is at not being an expert.  In everything.  ;)

For years I worked at a school that used the Montessori method for their preschool.  I was amazed and impressed by everything that I saw.  But it wasn't until my sister stayed with us for a summer while attending a training program to obtain her Montessori credential that I really fell in love.  She would come home so excited and would share with me bits that she learned throughout the day.  The little bit I learned from her helped me to understand the development of a child and thus be a better parent.

That summer, I really knew Montessori was for me when I hesitated as my then 10-month-old son squished his banana with his hands a smeared it all over his high-chair tray.  The neat-freak in me wanted to take it away, but then I remembered my sister talking about how babies learn sensorially.  It dawned on me that he had never seen, touched, eaten, smelled, or squished a banana before.  It was amazing.  And it was beautiful to watch his eyes concentrate and process the matter in front of him.  Here he was, too young for me to have a conversation with him and yet I could see his brain processing right in front of my eyes.  It was like I was given a window in to see how his brain was working.  It was incredible.

Then, after he had tested it in just about every way imaginable for a little man in a high-chair, he ate it.  Without me telling him anything, he figured out that bananas were for eating.

The mom in me wants to sentimentally tell you how I would have missed that incredible moment with my son if I hadn't known better.  However, the intellect in me confirms that babies are born with the ability to learn and to seek the purpose in everything.  And that's what I love about Montessori and why I want to have a Montessori-inspired environment in my home.  In short, I want to encourage and not stifle their innate desire to learn and seek truth.  As I've mentioned in my previous post, when children figure things out on their own, they thrive.  They don't need us to tell them they did a good job.

To me, the Montessori method is the humble method.  We help orchestrate, but otherwise we stay out of the way.

It's learning without limits.  We put up the fence (order), but then teach them to fly (creativity).

Is my home entirely Montessori?  No.  But my home is, and continues to transition to what I call, "Montessori inspired".  I have full knowledge that I won't be able to do everything perfectly or by the book, but I will do my best.

If you have time, this is a great video to watch about Montessori:

Montessori Madness

Here is a good explanation of Montessori:

What is Montessori?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Budget Wedding

Wedding Season is upon us, and I'm feeling it quite strongly this year as one of my beloved little sisters is getting married next month!  So, between that and one of my friends (thank you, Faith!) telling me to post on this subject, I thought I'd share a couple of the ways we saved some money on our big day.
Photo credit for ALL photos on this post:
Geoff White

I am a firm believer that weddings do not have to cost a fortune.  Yes, they will cost a pretty penny if you want something extravagant, but you don't necessarily have to take out a loan or choose between a wedding and a down-payment on a house.

When my husband and I got engaged we were really shocked that, in order to have the typical "Martha Stewart" wedding that was so prevalent in our current society, we'd have to spend over $50k.  Not only that, but we were going to have to scale back our guest list to accommodate all the small venues.  Large ones were hard to find and some were dark and dingy and were still out of our price range.  It was insane.

We quickly realized that this was not an option.  I had to go though a period of grieving for my "dream" wedding, since I refused to go into debt.  After that, I was amazed at what we could accomplish with our budget, and what is incredible is that I got my dream wedding!!!  You just have to a) think outside the box and b) spend the money only when it is something important to you.

So, if you are getting married sometime soon and want some tips, this is where you start.

1. Decide on your budget.  Make it real, people.  ;)  In other words, don't count on an outpouring of resources that are risky.  If they do come through, great, but it's much easier to adjust for additional money than try to cut corners when you realize that "Auntie May" is never going to send you $1,000 like the one she gave your sister Sally 5 years ago when she got married.

2. Make a list of the things you do not want to compromise.  For us, that was the location of the ceremony, the ceremony itself (we had the full choir, trumpet and timpani - it felt like we were royalty!!), being able to invite all our family and friends (we had over 360 people at our wedding), and an AMAZING photographer.

Photo credit: Geoff White
3.  Eliminate the unnecessary.  For us, the things we completely eliminated were party favors, assigned seating (it saved on money AND time), a professional wedding videographer, an engagement session (we had my brother take some pictures), an expensive reception venue, catered food, etc.

4. Decide where you want to spend the remaining money in your budget on the items you have left.

I know it sounds nice in theory, but you might be wondering what exactly we did to implement our savings.  Concretely, here are some of the big items that allowed us to adhere to our budget:

Reception Location
Photo credit: Geoff White
Disposable china-like plates and
silverware and "like linen" napkins.
We viewed many, many, many halls, ballrooms, etc., until we finally thought outside the box.  We asked the church if we could use their gym, which was actually a beautiful building.  It had never been used for a wedding before and included the kitchen, bathrooms, tables, chairs, etc.  We were able to get the hall a day early without paying an additional fee and set it up the morning of the rehearsal.

Our family helped set up the reception site, put out the food, and cleared everything out.  Because of their help (and me buying almost everything as disposable for the wedding reception - I know, I know, SOOOO not earth-friendly!!), I didn't have to pay caterers and that was a HUGE savings.

Food for the reception included Costco croissant sandwiches (that family members picked up and brought to the reception site the morning of), loads and loads of strawberries and cherries, pita chips, hummus, wine and soft drinks. That's it.  We kept it simple but had plenty.  And we had so many leftovers that it fed all my in-town family members for days and days.  And days.  ;)

Photo credit: Geoff White
One of the bridesmaids bouquets that we made.
I knew flowers were going to be expensive, but GOSH!  They really charge you an arm and a leg.  I decided to contact the florist for our local Costco and was able to order bulk flowers from them.  We picked them up the day before and then made all the bouquets/boutonnieres the morning of the wedding (my lovely bridesmaids took turns making the bouquets while the others were having their hair done).  I did a test run a couple months before so I had all the supplies ready to go and we knew what we were doing.  But just to be extra-safe I did get MY bouquet and my husband's boutonniere professionally made.  However, I have done some event planning in the past so I knew that I could tell the florist how much I could pay and then ask what size bouquet I could get with my choice of flowers (in my case, roses and lilies).  Just my husband and my flowers cost more than all the other flowers for my bridesmaids combined.  Crazy.

A couple months after I got engaged, Costco had these beautiful hurricane lamps that came in a set of 3.  One box was less than HALF the price of the simplest centerpiece at all the local florists.  My parents were angels and let us store the 40 boxes in their garage until the wedding.  We used them, then sold them on craigslist after.  In the end, the cost of centerpieces were about $10/table.

Photo credit: Geoff White
Our hurricane lamp centerpieces that saved
us lots of $$$!  :)  Craigslist is awesome...

Photo credit: Geoff White
Our beautiful cake, compliments of our
good friend Bobby Cookies

Utilizing Talent
Instead of just buying things that I thought I needed, I started thinking about people who might want to make things for me or help out.  For example, the pillow for the ring bearer was handmade by my sister-in-law.  My co-worker lent me the shoes she wore in her wedding.  Our friend is a pastry chef (Bobby Cookies) and made our INCREDIBLE main wedding cake (we purchased additional sheet cakes from Costco).  My sisters (bridesmaids) did all the bridesmaids hair.  Our friend videotaped our wedding.  AND, this is the coolest: the techies in my family set up a live stream of my wedding on the internet so that my brother, who was in the military and couldn't get the leave to come to my wedding, could watch it!!!  Isn't that amazing?!!!

Photo credit: Geoff White
The same wedding cake topper
that my parents used at their wedding in 1966.

All the little things that add up
Photo credit: Geoff White
- I knew that real tablecloths would look the best, so we spent the money to rent them but then skipped the chair covers and napkins.  Instead, I ordered "like linen" napkins in bulk online and then spent many an evening after work folding them while watching movies.  It was so much fun!  I really enjoyed every aspect of planning my wedding.  I kept them in a big plastic tub until the day we set up the reception site, then, voila!!! 370 folded napkins ready to go!  No last minute craziness for me, thank you!
- My parents saved the cake topper from their wedding 40+ years before, so we not only saved money by re-using it, but also thought it was really cool.
- We were going to use my husbands sensible car to drive away in, but last-minute someone lent us a crazy-cool mustang!  As my two-year-old would say, "Oh yeah, BABY!"

I really could go on and on about this, but really, if you are in the boat of planning your wedding, just remember that it's YOURs, it does not belong to Martha Stewart, Vogue, or Sunset Magazine.  The most fun I've EVER had at any wedding was mine.  Sure, marrying the man of my dreams might have had something to do with it ;), but it really was a blast.  So don't forget to enjoy the planning, and try to arrange it so that you can just have a blast that day.  It only lasts a day.

But thankfully for me, it didn't end there.  The best part is enjoying every day after with my best friend.  And that's really what it's all about.  :)

Photo credit: Geoff White

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Salad Sans the Lettuce

So... The other day I refused to make the trek to the grocery store just for lettuce - since that was the only thing I needed - so I served our salad with everything but! It was delish!

As a matter of fact, I liked it so much that I made it for my lunch the next day and topped it with two hard boiled eggs. A great power-lunch for anyone, but especially breast-feeding moms like me! I love the diversity of color, textures and nutrients.

What I LOVE about this salad is that it keeps in the fridge beautifully and makes a great lunch to pack for yourself or hubby for work (even prepping it the night before).

Here's to thinking outside the box! :)

Below is what I've had in mine, but the possibilities are ENDLESS:

(Everything chopped)
Sweet peppers
Cherry tomatoes
Brussel Sprouts
Bleu cheese
Olive oil & Balsamic drizzled on top
(Last night I added Zucchini, wasn't bad!)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Toxic Cocktail Party

That's how I feel the state of the earth is in right now... A big toxic cocktail party.  No matter how hard you try to control your exposure, you find that there are more and more things you've that are around you, exposing you to harsh chemicals and toxins.  It's everywhere.  From our baby shampoo, to the food we eat, to even the receipts we given at ANY store (they are loaded with BPAs - like 150x the BPA's in canned goods).

It's daunting.

Recently, I realized that the mineral makeup I wear is almost as toxic as the liquid foundations found at the store.  It might actually be worse, based on some studies I've read.  Really?!!!


What is a person to do?

If you are like me and believe that there is a God who watches out for you, you pray!  

And, no, I'm not joking.  

The early Christian blessed their food (in addition to thanking God for their food - they are not one in the same) because they feared being poisoned and had faith that the prayer would make them immune.  This was especially true during the Dark Ages when poisoning was the preferred method of taking someone out.  

Maybe you will call it naivety or innocence on my part, but I truly believe that this is the only thing left to do, once you have done all you can.

I will still strive to be a steward of God's creation with my body, my children, my home, and the earth, but after that I must pray and ask God to do the rest.

(Deep Breath)

Now I feel much better!  :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Homemade Laundry Detergent

After about 2 months of using homemade laundry detergent I can safely say that I will never go back!  I LOVE this stuff!  My clothes have never smelled more fresh or clean.  It's amazing.

I hesitated for a while because I thought that it would be too time consuming or beyond my scope of ability.  But trust me, if I can do this, you can.  It only took me about 15-20 minutes to prepare, once I had all the ingredients.

I'm including a picture of what I used so that I can prove to you that there IS such a thing as WASHING SODA.  It is NOT the same as Baking Soda!!  The hardest thing about making my own laundry detergent was convincing the local Walmart employee that there was such a thing.  It was pretty funny because after going to a couple stores that told me they had it only to find out that it was "out of stock" when I got there, I finally started calling around and having them check the shelves.  When I called the Walmart I ended up purchasing it from, they told me I meant Baking Soda.  I said, no, I need WASHING SODA to make soap.  They said, "Oh... yeah, we have a 5lb bag of Baking Soda right here!" and I responded, "No, I need WASHING SODA."  Finally, I had to instruct the guy from the cleaning department to check next to their Borax to see if it was there.  Three minutes later the employee got on the phone.  "Um, yeah.  We have Washing Soda.  Lots of it."  Glory Hallelujah!!  So, moral of the story: remember that WASHING SODA is next to the Borax in the store!  ;)

Here is a link to the recipe I used: Homemade LIQUID Laundry Detergent Recipe
(See bottom of page for EASY PEASY Laundry Detergent Powder!)

The ingredients I actually used:

Washing Soda: 

I spent under $3 for a 55oz. box (this may change depending on time/location).  Buying this online is much more expensive because of the weight.  Usually available at grocery stores, Target/Walmart, etc., but I'd recommend calling first before driving all over Kingdom Come.  ;)


I spent under $4 for a 76oz. box (this may change depending on time/location).  Buying this online is also more expensive because of the weight.  This tends to be easier to buy than Washing Soda.  Available at almost all grocery stores, home improvement stores, and Target/Walmart.

All-Natural Soap: 

I purchased Dr. Bronner's "Citrus Orange" scented soap and LOVE it.  It leaves my clothes spelling fresh and clean without being artificially overpowering.  It has down-to-earth, simple ingredients that we would use if we made the soap ourselves (I'm not brave enough to do that yet without instruction from someone who has done it before!!).  Unfortunately, since I purchased it on Amazon the price has gone up, but I did see that some Target's and local health food stores sell it for about $4.50/bar.  More expensive than your typical soap, but you are only using 1/3 of it for 2 gallons of laundry detergent!  It is SO much cheaper than buying all-natural laundry detergent.

8/16/2013 UPDATE:  I've recently started using laundry-grade soap from Olivia's Natural Handmade Soap, and it is working beautifully.  The soap I received from her was unscented, so I added a bit of lemon essential oil and now every time I do laundry it reminds me of lemon curd (which reminds me of my beautiful trip to Ireland when I was 17 and had lovely Lemon Curd Pancakes at one of the B&Bs we stayed at in Killarney... ok, as I was writing this I couldn't resist and actually found the place we stayed online - ah, still looks beautiful and even though it was over 10 years ago I can taste the pancakes like it was yesterday!  Take a peak and dream with me: Crystal Springs B&B).  :)  :)  :)

Filtered Water: 

Technically, this is not something that you need, but I find it to make all the difference in what I make.  I am lucky enough to have an RO (Reverse Osmosis) system in my kitchen, so I make everything with purified water (chicken stock, laundry detergent, etc.).  There is a lot of junk that is left in the water when it gets to our tap, so the more purified it is the better.  You can also buy purified water from your local grocery store.  It's usually under $1/gallon.

What you will need, in addition to ingredients:

Big Stock Pot: 

You probably already have one - it just needs to hold at least 2 1/2 gallons.

2 Gallon Bucket with Lid: 

I bought mine at Home Depot and it is reusable.  Make sure to grab the lid when you buy it!  They stack the buckets and usually have the lids next to them, so if you don't grab it you will be in big trouble!  ;)

Detergent Dispenser: 

I washed the container I had from my last all-natural laundry detergent that I had purchased.  Remove the label and just mark it with a permanent marker.  I also wrote on it how many pumps equal 1 load of laundry in case I forgot or I was lucky enough to have someone else do the laundry for me!  :)

Hand Mixer: 

This is not mentioned on the recipe but was VITAL for making homemade laundry soap.  Due to the lack of chemicals to keep the soap smooth and have a perfect consistency, I found that after allowing the soap to set 24 hours I needed to use my hand mixer to smooth it out, as well as between refills in my dispenser. Using a hand mixer before refilling the dispenser took care of most of the clumping, though there are usually a few clumps that gather at the bottom of the pump but it has never caused a clog.

Another Option - Making Laundry Detergent Powder: 
This is EASY-PEASY but more expensive than making the liquid version.  Just combine 1 bar soap (finely grated), 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Washing Soda.  Use 1 tablespoon per load.  No, that is not a type: 1 tablespoon. 

That's it!  So cheap and easy and I will never go back to store-bought laundry soap.  Have fun and tell me what you think!

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that the recipes listed above are only all-natural if you use an all-natural soap.  If you use the typical bar soaps like Ivory, Dove, etc., they are not environmental friendly or chemical free.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Montessori Snacks Ideas for Kids

In the fall I started taking my son to a wonderful Montessori Mommy & Me program. It taught me so much about how to implement Montessori ideals into our home, including at meal time since the program included a group snack.

Whatever I didn't assimilate or remember my son did a great job reminding me. Such as letting him peel his own banana or orange. Yes, 2-year-olds can peel their own fruit. I knew my son could peel the darndest stubborn sticker off of any container, but it had never occurred to me before to let him peel his food.

So that got me thinking about snacks that he could prepare himself, or that would provide a learning opportunity. Below are some things we've done at home.

Note: Montessori jobs are to be done WITH supervision and along side an adult, especially food to prevent choking, cutting, etc.  You know your child, so use discretion according to your child's age and development.

Banana: Cut the top off so it's easy to open. If you have a dull spreading knife, let them use that to slice it. Give them a fork to eat it with.

Orange (peeling): Cut off the top section, and just loosen the peel so that they have a place to start.

Orange (juicing): Use a small handheld juicer Like This placed over a cup, cut the orange in half and show how to use your hand/arm to apply pressure to juice the fruit.

Peanuts: Arrange two bowls, one should contain the peanuts and the other the empty shells. Demonstrate and they will eventually get the point. Toby doesn't put the shells in the right place but still loves de-shelling them.  Even if they don't get the point immediately, they will.

Peas: Open them, show them the peas inside and let them decide whether to eat it whole or pick out the peas.  This is fun, even for me!  :)

Grapes or Berries: (or any other small or cut fruit assortment): Take a medium-size bowl and fill it with fruit.  Allow the child to use a spoon to dish up the fruit into their own bowl.  This is a favorite.

Hardboiled Egg: After allowing egg to completely cool after cooking, demonstrate how to crack and peel the egg.  This is sure to be a favorite, even if they don't want to eat it (like my son!!). :)

Strawberries: Let them take the stem off the strawberries with their hand.

Spreading Butter: Using bread, cracker, rice cake, etc., show them how to spread butter, nut butter, etc. using a dull spreading knife.

Obviously, the selection you choose will depend on the tastes and availability of your home and area.  Be creative and share your ideas in the comments below!  I'm always open to learning something new and adding to our snack menu!  :)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Epic Fail of a Morning

Operation "Cupcake"
resulted in burnt bottoms!!  :(
Ever have one of those days where nothing goes right, even the things you can usually control blindfolded?

This morning was like that for me.  I was in the kitchen all morning and every recipe I tried didn't turn out (or was not presentable), my hair was disheveled and spit-up all over my t-shirt and was in my pjs until lunchtime (which I personally can't stand), and I began to wonder about my own sanity and confidence.

But I thank God for days like today.  It reminds me of reality.  That things don't always go the way we want or how we want it but that it doesn't change our worth.

While the efficiency expert in me feels that this morning was wasted (I don't have a Martha Stewart-like dessert picture to show off today!), the mom in me realizes that I had a blast with my son cooking together in the kitchen.  And while I felt like everything was out of my hands and my son was learning nothing, maybe 30 years from now he will remember today and the sense that when things don't work out it is ok.  That we can learn from our mistakes.  That failure does not define us, a there is more to life than our task at hand.

As I write this one-handed with a sleeping baby girl occupying the other, I remember and I am grateful.

Grateful, because days like today remind me of my son, Sebastian, who I lost.  And I am grateful for him because he is the reason I can take a step back and appreciate today.  And I am thankful for today because it teaches me to love more and worry less about the things that don't really matter in the end.

Like burnt bottom cupcakes! ;)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dear FDA

Dear FDA,

The car pressure light came on yesterday morning and so I had to take it to the tire center to have it checked out. While waiting, I saw this sign posted on the wall.

I'm asking that you replace the word "area" with "food", make it into stickers, and place it on any food exposed to pesticides.

Speaking of pesticides, check out this video from TED. It's under 20 minutes to watch, but is worth the time. And you really should educate yourselves on the potential harm that you are creating for our future generations, since the people of America trust you, even if they shouldn't.

The Toxic Baby


A Concerned Mom

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Almond-Flour Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Freezer Cookies

That's a mouthful!!  I thought of calling them "Yummy Almond-Flour Honey & Maple Syrup Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Freezer Cookies" but decided that you might be able to read the post in the time it would take to say it out loud!

I know I've mentioned before my love of treats, so I don't have to say it again.  It's strange, though, because I never really thought of myself as a sweet-tooth.  As a teenager I never binged (maybe because I was too conscious of my weight?), and I remember going to many a summer camps and being downright disgusted at the suitcase of sweets that many girls brought with them to camp while they somehow managed to stay stick thin.  I couldn't even look at sweets - even as a youngster - without gaining weight!!

I see it as a blessing now, because I feel that I was able to make some really good decisions when I was young, based on a real knowledge of how food affects my body.  I have never been able to eat gluttonously.  But on the other hand I won't be the person who was skinny all her life to wake up at 40 wondering what happened to her glorious no-work figure.  So in the end its really a wash.

My motto has been to eat what I want, in moderation, and choosing healthier alternatives when possible (like raw honey vs. white sugar).  I love making cookies and freezing the dough - that way I don't have to commit to eating a whole batch and I have something to serve when unexpected guests arrive (just give me 10 min!)!

These cookies are mildly sweet and are better if not thawed before baking.  If you must, you can make the cookies before freezing, but flavors will be milder and texture more cake-like.

Almond-Flour Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Freezer Cookies
Dough ready for freezing.

1 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup creamy, unsalted & unsweetened peanut butter
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups almond flour/meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-2 cups chocolate chips, according to taste (I used homemade chocolate chips)

In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or an electric mixer, or by hand), beat butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Add maple syrup and honey and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (or 5 to 6 minutes by hand). Reduce speed to medium-low and add in peanut butter, beating until fully incorporated, beat in eggs, then vanilla extract. Reduce speed to lowest setting or gently stir by hand; gradually add in the dry ingredients, scraping sides of mixing bowl as necessary, and beating just until incorporated; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips, then transfer to a freezer-safe container and place in freezer. For best results, wait until fully frozen before cooking (approximately 12-24 hours).
When ready to cook, spoon batter on cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 or until golden brown.
Best served slightly warm.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Our Daily Salad Bar

My favorite way to use up
peppers that have begun to wilt.
Waste not, want not.  I put these on everything!
Many healthy recipes call for expensive ingredients and lots of prep time. I don't usually have either but I also don't want to miss out on a nutrient-rich and tasty diet.

One of my solutions is to have a salad bar every night along with the entrée and maybe a side. I try to think of the salad as the main course, as this is where we get most of our nutrients.  The entree is more about protein and what keeps us full.

In addition, vitamin supplements are great and helpful but in most cases they aren't needed if you are eating a healthy, varied diet.

So, in order for us to not get bored with having salad just about every single day, I try to have lots of options and change it up every now and then. The more colorful the better.

I mainly shop in bulk, but I cannot afford waste so I have figured out what we can eat before it goes bad and use the rest in entrée recipes or snacks. If I don't think we can eat it all, I don't buy it. I use a lot of our salad fixings for snacks (as a rule my snacks are usually vegetables, fruits or nuts). If something starts going bad, I either sauté the vegetables and use it as a side (in addition to the salad), make a big stir-fry, etc.  One of my favorite things to make is roasted peppers or sautéed peppers. Just be creative. And don't over-buy. Test one ingredient out at a time until you are comfortable with it and make sure it's not wasted.

Speaking of waste, I've noticed that if you keep all your salad items separate, you will actually waste less.  Pre-mixed salad often gets soggy and unappealing.

Below are some of my "salad bar" combinations:

Savory Salad Bar (pictured to right):
Spring Mix or Kale
Avocados, sliced (not in picture)
Savory Salad Bar
Sweet peppers, chopped
Mushrooms, sliced
Carrots, shredded
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Bleu cheese, crumbled

Super Substantial Salad Bar:
Spring Mix or Kale

Avocados, sliced (not in picture)
Sweet peppers, chopped

Brussel Sprouts, finely chopped
Carrots, shredded
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Bleu cheese, crumbled

Summer Fruit Salad Bar:
Spring Mix or Kale
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, pear, apple, or any other fruit in season (obviously, only when it doesn't cost $$$)
Bleu cheese, crumbled

Fall Fig Salad (my favorite!!!):
Spring Mix
Black Mission Figs (by themselves or good with any combination of berries)
Bleu cheese, crumbled
Topped with balsamic vinegar (we have 18-year-aged - it is D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!) and olive oil. YUM!!!

In general, when I go grocery shopping my cart is compromised of about 60% produce and 40% everything else (dairy, meat, dry goods).

My fridge looks like a farmers market explosion!  Except I hardly shop at the farmers market... That's another story to be told one day.

We love a sprinkle of bleu cheese on our salad, but good substitutions are: grated Parmesan (did you know it has more calcium per ounce than any other cheese?), feta, Gorgonzola, etc.

Basically, the way to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to have fun with it and keep it exciting.  Food is not just for nourishment, it is for enjoyment too... Otherwise, God would have made all foods the same!

What do you put on your salads?  What are your favorite toppings?  Tell me in the comments!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Café de la Afternoon

My pretty latté cup
Have I mentioned my love of treats? Especially in the afternoon. Ahh, nothing like taking a minute to get the kitchen clean for the first time all day and drink a special latté (while both kids are napping, if I'm lucky... Don't get jealous - my 5-month-old usually wakes up every 30 minutes during the 2 hour duration of my son's nap wanting to nurse!).

Since I don't get much alone or "me" time, I make up for it by doing little things that feel special - like using a pretty latté cup when I'm making my coffee. As crazy simple as it sounds, some days this really does something to help me relax and get me through the day.

Because my afternoon coffee break is so helpful to my sanity, it was the sugar in my coffee which was the LAST thing I gave up for my flour and sugar-free diet. Using honey or maple syrup sounded savage to me. Coffee is a beautiful gift from God and I wanted to give it the dignity it deserved.

Seriously, though, honey does have a bitter aftertaste by itself so I was very skeptical of its ability to sweeten my cup of joe. However, after trying both it and maple syrup I found that - while maple syrup is more subtle - I also seemed to need twice as much as the honey to attain my desired sweetness. In addition, the bitterness of the honey seemed to marry the robustness of the coffee and it was just one beautiful cup of bliss.

If you love a good Peets or Starbucks but find yourself out for a coffee less and less, this is a great solution. It's better than Starbucks and so much cheaper - you could have it daily.

My husband and I are both coffee snobs so we order Lavazza Italian coffee from Amazon, as normal store-bought coffee is too bitter for our tastes. Illy is also good but costs more than the Lavazza on Amazon.

I love this thing!!  So much
cheaper than an actual espresso
machine and still produces
incredible coffee.  YUM!

Honey Latté

1 shot espresso (or more if desired!)
1/2 cup milk
Honey to sweeten (I use one spoonful but some people use more or less)

Prepare espresso using a machine or percolator (pictured to left).  Warm or steam milk and add to espresso with a spoonful of honey.  Now sit, relax, and pretend your baby didn't just wake up!!  ;)

Note to self: Grind coffee prior to putting kids down for nap!!

Household Tornado - Part 2: Maintenance

So now that I've addressed the purging comes the big question:

How do I get my toddler to actually pick up after himself?

Good question. When I first started asking my son to clean up his toys, he gave me that deer-in-headlights look.  I'm thinking, "Why is this so hard!?!  You just got all your toys out in 5 seconds flat, now just put them back!!"

But if I step back for a second and get on his level I understand he is too overwhelmed to know where to begin.

The first couple times I had to sit with him to instruct him. I learned a lesson in the process: DO NOT DO IT FOR THEM!  Otherwise when you ask them to clean up, they will tell you, "No, Mommy do it!" as mine did.  Haha... Funny, kid!

So this is how I got him to start cleaning up on his own:

Step 1:

I purged and organized his toys (see my previous post: Household Tornado Part 1: Prevention).

Step 2:

Identified one type of toy he should put away first, such as all the balls. I allow myself to encourage him or sit with him, but I cannot do it for him.

Step 3:

Once one kind of toy is put away, moved on one-by-one (cars, trucks, dolls, animals, books, etc.) until everything is put away.

Breaking it down allows them to start identifying one object from another in a big assortment and eventually they will be able to do it in their own.

I had only done this method a couple times and then one day I said "Nap time!" and when I turned around he had cleaned up everything by himself. Not only was I giddy with happiness, but he was beaming as well.

He knew it was a job well done.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Household Tornado - Part 1: Prevention

Being that I live in California, I'm not actually talking about the weather outside when I use the word "tornado". But it is quite amazing how a 2-year-old can replicate an Act of God in 5 seconds flat with an "economy of toys" (as I've heard our limited assortment called). It's amazing how he can take a few toys and have them evenly dispersed throughout the house within a matter of seconds. I liken it to those annoying backyard squirrels that bury their nuts all year long in my backyard. My grass is a nut graveyard. How on earth they keep track of them, I'd like to know?! In 10 years will their great-great-great-great-grand squirrels dig them up?! "Look what grandpa left us from 1,000 squirrel-years ago!!!". Toby must be taking notes because he buries his toys in the strangest places!

Can I give a remedy for something I myself cannot control? No. Kids will have toys and will leave them all over the house until Kingdom Come. However, what I CAN control is the number of them.

Controlling the quantity of toys is not just a matter of cleanliness, it is also good for their development (thank goodness a pet peeve of mine is backed up by child development!).  Huge quantities of toys can be over stimulating and often 90% of them don't even get used.

If you are wanting to simplify and de-clutter your child's toy plethora, here is a step-by-step process to de-clutter and make life more manageable:

Operation: Simplify

1. Remove all toys broken, pieces missing, etc.  Place them in a "donation" or "garage sale" pile (or if you are high tech, eBay!). 

2. Separate the wood/real/educational/high quality toys from the plastic toys.  You should now have 3 piles:

a) to be donated
b) high quality toys 
c) all other toys

3. From pile c) eliminate the "filler" toys that they kids do not play with and are not educational, stimulating or sensorial. Move said toys to pile a).
The first time I did this, about 80% were in this category. Besides being clutter and unused most of the time, most plastic toys are full of BPA and other toxins that are absorbed through the skin. If you have a teething baby who puts toys in his/her mouth, they are getting a chemical cocktail every time.

4. Depending on how many toys are left, you may want to divide them into sets and only keep one set out at a time.
We have only one set but we have also purged many times.  Until you get to this point, change up the sets periodically - usually every other month or so.  This not only allows your child to appreciate their toys more (they get so excited - it's like Christmas every time!), but it also allows them to play with everything. Sometimes I think they actually explore less if they are overwhelmed.

Doesn't it feel good to purge?!

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Don't Do For Them What They Can Do Themselves"

This is the motto that I’ve tried to follow recently with my kids. I’m not sure if it is true or not, but I heard that Mother Teresa used that motto with the poor in Calcutta. For example, she would nurse them back to health but then would teach them how to care for themselves once they were able. This isn’t because she was stretched or had a coldness of heart. This is because she had an understanding of the human psyche and the need for a healthy sense of pride and ownership of ones own person.

I don’t believe that self-confidence is solely a result of praise from others. It is a result of knowing your own self-worth. There are some people who if all the people in the world praised them they would still have a deep inner doubt of their own attributes. Others don’t need praise to know that they are worth something. So what is the difference? I know there are many factors – some of which we can do nothing about, but one piece of the puzzle is how a child is raised. I want my kids to have a sense of accomplishment and a desire to do good things without me holding their hand in order to feel secure.

I don’t think treating my kids like they are endlessly dependent on me is helpful. Yes, they are vulnerable and needy (especially when they are young), but each phase of their development come with a whole new set of things that they are able to do on their own.

At 2-years-old, my son isn't going to make peace between countries or climb Mt. Everest. But with encouragement and love, I pray to instill in him the knowledge that one day he could.

Obviously, this is done in baby steps. And it takes more time out of an already cramped and busy day. But helping to empty the dishwasher (my son particularly loves putting away the silverware), wiping the kitchen table, clearing his dish, putting his socks in the drawer, helping with dinner... These are all things that slowly demonstrate to him that he is a capable person and that I trust him at his particular level. I don't even have to praise him (though I do anyway!), I see in his eyes a pride of what he has done.

I think a lot of us moms feel at times like our job isn't as valuable as it really is because we can't see the forest through the trees. We see chores, hassle, work, whining, endless cleaning, etc., when in reality there is nothing more important than what we are doing: forming a PERSON. He's not going to be a child forever.

I worked in finance before becoming a mom, so the word “investment” has a very particular meaning to me. If you think about what we do as parents, this is the best investment we have or will ever make. Wow. I’m not sure about you, but it makes me think.

I know we are all busy in this day and age, and I know even I can't always take the time to do everything I want to with my kids. But what has helped me is to be conscious of slowing down and trying to get back to the basics. If dinner takes 10 more minutes to get on the table it will be OK. The world won’t end. And if by allowing my son to help put away the laundry it doesn't make it to the drawer perfectly, they can still wear it. What's important is that they are learning. And I am learning, too.

And what more important lesson is there than that they are worth the time and they are loved?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Berry Breakfast Shake

This yummy shake is how my toddler and I start the day, and is one of the few ways I can actually get him to eat greens.

Before my husband did his detox diet last summer which led to our cutting out wheat flour, refined sugars and processed foods, my son would eat 2 packages of flavored oatmeal or a bowl of shredded wheat with banana. Both seemed healthy to me at the time, but I didn't realize the amount of sugar and natural/artificial flavors in the oatmeal and even the seemingly harmless shredded wheat has BHT added to the packaging - a chemical banned in some countries (don't even get me started on this!).

When I started learning more about reading labels and what is in our food, we started eating this breakfast shake (that I adapted to our own taste/needs) and soon my son joined as well. At the time, I was pregnant and now I'm breastfeeding and its a great source of protein and nutrients the body needs.

We all love this healthy start to our day and now I don't crave anything else in the morning.

Berry Breakfast Shake

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 banana
1 tablespoon flax seed or meal
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 cup spinach, cleaned (optional)
1/2 cup frozen berries

Combine all ingredients in blender or Vitamix and blend until smooth. Enjoy! Makes 1 serving.

Note: It's best with whole milk but you can also use it with others (unsweetened almond or coconut milk, rice milk, etc. Just make sure there are NO artificial or natural flavors added if you buy it from the store). However, if you do use an alternative milk you will want to omit the spinach because it is too overpowering.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Say "Goodbye!" to Paper Towels...

...and "HELLO!" To washcloths!!

I love when going natural and saving money go hand and hand. It's happening so much more than I had expected! YAY!!!

I am a neat-freak, and I HATE clutter on the counter. But this simple basket from Target doesn't annoy me because its pretty, and it takes the place of the paper towels that were already there. I keep it next to the kitchen sink and just grab one when I would have normally grabbed a paper towel. I love it!

When I first decided to use washcloths in place of paper towels, I thought I'd keep the paper towels on the counter just in case. When we were going through a roll in 2-3 days (I have a toddler, remember!), now it's been 2 weeks since I put the washcloths out and we are still on the same roll we were on when we started. It's so exciting, especially since the cost of the washcloths from Costco (pack of 24!!!) was the same price as a 12 pack of paper towel rolls.

I can't wait to see how much I've saved over a years time!

I love to hear about how you have made natural and economical discoveries, so please share in the comments!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rice-Box Montessori Job

This is our newest Montessori job. My son is 2 1/2, and it's good that it only took 5 minutes to put this together because his hands were in the rice before I had emptied the bag!

If you do something like this at home, make sure to do it on a blanket or huge towel. Otherwise the ease of the job will be negated by the amount of time you will be spending cleaning up the rice. Also, supervision is essential. Once the look of concentration is gone, put the activity away. Otherwise you will soon have handfuls of rice thrown everywhere!!!

I like this job because I can use it indoors or outdoors on a nice day.

1 tub
1 bag of rice
Cups, shovels, strainers, lids, buckets, trucks, etc.

The only thing I had to buy was the cheap rice (we buy the organic to consume but no need to spend $$$ if its just for play) and the $1 strainer at Target.

I was getting so excited about all the things to put in it that I had to create two options - one with cups and the other with trucks, otherwise it can be over stimulating.

He's going to be at this for hours!!

Peanut Butter Pecan Date Bites

When I was growing up I had a 12-pound cyst (you read that right - twelve pounds!!!!) growing on the outside of one of my ovaries that we didn't know about. I was slightly chubby, so it didn't become really obvious until I was in my mid teens. I worked at a gym as the receptionist when I was 15-18, so I tried almost every diet known to man as well as exercised like crazy. It seemed like the more I exercised the more my belly grew! It makes sense now because the more I lost weight elsewhere the more my stomach was emphasized.

Due to my countless diets and weight-consciousness, I can't stand diets and love to have some kind of treat every day. It's almost like a reassurance to myself. It also keeps me from bingeing. I've tried going on diets since my cyst removal and I just end up eating twice as much! The less I diet the healthier and more balanced I seem to be.

These date-bites (can also be used as a Lara-Bar recipe) are the perfect treat. They are easy-peasy and take about 8 minutes to make (once you've made them a couple times). My husband and son LOVE them.

Peanut Butter Pecan Date Bites
2 cups pitted dates
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup pecans

Yummy dough!!  It's at this point that I have
to hurry to shape it before my toddler eats it all!!  :)
In food processor (or Vitamix), combine dates, peanut butter and pecans. Pulse a couple times until just blended and texture resembles course meal (using my Vitamix I keep it at level 2 and use the Vitamix tamper to keep the dough from getting jammed). DO NOT OVER-MIX! If you do, the dough will seem greasy.

Scape out the meal on to a large piece of parchment paper and shape into 1-inch balls (or, you can use a spatula to shape into a square and cut into bars like "LaraBars"). Makes approximately 14 balls.

Keep in an airtight container.

These are good for about 5 days, but are best in the first 2 (if they are not consumed first!!).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Poor, Lonely Peanut Butter Cup

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too much of a health food snob and my kids are going to be junk food addicts when they grow up because I don't let them have it very often.

Today at my parents house was some leftover Easter candy, including dark chocolate peanut butter cups. I gave one to my son and then brought out some grapes. When I came back to the table, this (picture below) is what I found.

That poor, lonely peanut butter cup. Rejected for green grapes. Oh the shame! ;)