Our New Custom Microwave Cabinet

Are you kidding me with that talent? Can't wait to fill the bottom up with my Kitchen Aid and other goodies. I love additional storage space!

Toddler Road Trip Successes

Having just survived a big road trip with a 25-month-old I thought I'd share a couple successes for keeping her entertained. It was by no means easy or fun, but it was manageable. I just wish she'd sleep more!

Gel clings on a white board
We have this amazingly cool travel tote box with one side as a white board and one side as a chalk board. It slides open to store goodies -- crayons, books, etc. I had bought some window gel clings from the dollar bin at Target, thinking that Jane and I would decorate our French doors and sun room windows. That didn't work out so well/she wanted to keep pulling them down and playing with them, so I brought them with us so she could do that on the white board. That was an activity that was a lot of fun for a long period of time. She would rearrange them, pick them up and put them back on their plastic holsters, etc. I'd definitely recommend that or something like it if you're trapping a toddler in a confined space for a long time. (Or if you just need one to sit still for a while!)

Old wallet with expired cards and pictures
Wallets full of old cards turned out to be a lot of fun. I think I saw the idea on Pinterest, although really who knows. As I was cleaning things out for a big Goodwill run I found some old wallets (and some Forever stamps, hurray!). I filled a couple up with different expired membership cards, small photos, etc. and let Jane have fun pulling things out and putting them back in. She always wants to play with my wallet when we're checking out at a store, so this is could be a good thing to carry and hand her when I don't want her to play with mine (which is always, but usually it's not in her direct line of vision). It was a great car toy, and she especially had fun looking at baby pictures of Owen.

Take it or leave it was a soft neck pillow with a bear face (affiliate link). Jane slept half an hour on the 12 hour drive there and about an hour on the 12.5 hour drive back. The pillow didn't make her sleepy or comfy, although it's so soft I figure she can at least enjoy it as a plaything during travel.

Always good are stickers, colors (the whiteboard made an excellent lap pad too) and her headphones.

Christmas Crochet: Pink Chevron Doll Bed Blankie

I made this little blanket to fit my daughter’s Ikea doll bed that she’s getting for Christmas (about 16x20 inches). I used leftover yarn and tried a “cornrows” stitch pattern from a book I have.

Basically a chevron (7 SCs in each up/down) and every stitch in backloop only, making the blanket much stiffer and seeming thicker. A really neat effect, although I was glad it was such a small project because it was tedious.

Christmas Crochet: Festive Toddler Hats

Inspired by browsing Pinterest, I used the toddler ear flap pattern (http://allicrafts.blogspot.com/2011/12/free-pattern-earflap-hat-toddler.html) to create a flurry of festive Christmas hats for the toddlers in my life. Once I started I couldn’t stop. There are so many ideas for hats, and I have many more I want to make. My own toddler will not want for head gear!

For my nine-year-old nephew I made an Angry Birds hat (thinking he’d think any Christmas-themed hat would be too lame), and I used the same pattern with a slightly larger hook. The baby reindeer hat was made with the baby version pattern (6 months) for a baby. I improvised the starflake, and the snowflake is from an About.com pattern (it’s so ad-heavy I don’t want to link it). I used the buckle part of Micah Makes’ Santa belt hat pattern: http://www.micahmakes.com/blog/free-pattern-crochet-santa-hat.

So far they've been a big hit with everyone who has acknowledged receipt!

For Owen

For my new baby cousin -- probably the cutest.
For a college friend's almost-2-year-old
For my cousin's 2-year-old
For Jane
For a high school friend's 4-year-old
For a high school friend's almost-2-year-old
For friends' 3-year-old and 1-year-old
Extra, small one, maybe for a friend's newborn to grow into (made with smaller yarn so is too small for a toddler)
For my cousin's 3-year-old
Extra, maybe for a friend's 3-year-old. I ran out of yarn for the ear flaps on this one.
In addition to the ear flap hats I also made Jane a couple red Christmas hats that have been in heavy rotation this month, especially since we've been in cold and blustry Oklahoma.

Santa hat for Jane, using the Red Heart toddler Santa hat pattern
Shell hat for Jane using Stitch 11 toddler shell beanie pattern
I absolutely love the shell hat. There are a couple errors in the pattern, but since you can't copy and paste the text I didn't take the time to correct a copy -- just did it in my head as I went along and found the errors. It fits Jane's head beautifully and is so warm. Simply Soft is usually pretty hard to work with, but doubling up made it really easy. The hat is receiving a lot of love, and the yarn is getting a little fuzzy, but it's so cute and gets so many compliments that it's worth it even if it's only a one season hat. I improvised the granny star with some white yarn I had on hand. I plan to make some more of these with other colors -- maybe for Valentine's day in red and pink?

Christmas Crochet: Barbie Charted Afghan

I made this huge afghan for my sister for Christmas. We opened presents together today due to a confluence of things, so she has it and loves it, so I can post about it! It's for her Barbie-themed guest room and is intended for a full-size bed, although this photo was taken on a queen size.

When I decided to attempt this project I couldn't find a pattern, so I made my own with a free online program called Knit Pro. Instead of filet crochet, where the pattern is made by leaving open squares, I decided to try changing colors and carrying the unused color behind. It worked out fine, as you can see, but it took about three tries to get started.

Also, the graph pattern that was created wasn't completely square, and neither are double crochets. I did two DCs to each block on my pattern, and the result was slightly squatty. It wasn't as obvious in the "Barbie" part and I worked from the bottom up, so by the time the silhouette didn't look as good as I'd hoped it was too late to turn back!

As I was working I kept googling and found some posts and suggestions about doing "interlocking" crochet, but it came too late for me in this project. I think it turned out really well for something that I just made up as I went along.

I finished things with a simple crab stitch/reverse crochet (my favorite edging). I used Red Heart yarn in black and pretty 'n pink.

Baton Rouge Zoolights

We went to the Baton Rouge Zoo's Zoolights this year, and we went on the perfect night. It wasn't cold or even chilly -- we didn't even wear jackets. For all my complaining about the weather it is a good benefit for evenings out.

Zoolights was a nice, easy stroll around the zoo, although there were a couple parts that weren't lighted so I was confused as to whether we were going the right way, particularly around the tiger cages. It turned out that we were, but it was a little stressful.

It cost $13 for the three of us (two adults at $5 each and Jane was $3). It's the only lights display I know of in Baton Rouge, and it was worth it as a fun thing to do.

We ate supper early and then drove the ~20 minutes to the north side of town. Jane loved seeing the lighted animals, and she liked talking about ZOOLIGHTS! They also had a snowman, and the PA system played Frosty at one point, so she was especially happy then. She didn't want to leave!

There is another lights display across the river in West Baton Rouge Parish that might be fun to check out next year. Perhaps when Jane's older she'll be up for a drive to New Orleans. I'd definitely like to check out their City Park display and ride the flying horse carousel.

Pinstrosity: Better Than Salt Dough

Jane loves the homemade play dough we made this fall, and I thought we could try our hand at salt dough ornaments for Christmas. I kept seeing pins on Pinterest for "better than salt dough" with the most beautiful image of pure white ornaments. I knew I couldn't get anything that looked like that, but I was still tempted.

The link for the pin led to a private blog (WTH?), so I couldn't use that for more info. The caption seemed to have enough info so I mixed up the ingredients. Uh ... it was a big soupy mess. I did a bit of googling and found a tutorial that told me to COOK the mixture (just like I did with the original play dough recipe).

Ta da! I had pretty white clay, and once it cooled Jane and I played and I made some ornaments with cookie cutters. I also made a baby hand (she wouldn't do her left hand, Grandma Dale) and then trimmed around it. All seemed OK.

I think I made them too thick/didn't roll out the dough enough. I KNOW that I left them in the oven too long. I was trying to dry them out and I think I cooked them because they turned brown and cracked. The baby hand is too heavy as an ornament anyway, so I need to try again (although with thinner dough she would just press her hand right through it and make holes, so I'm not sure on that solution). Basically a bummer and I just trashed them all. So sad.

I'm going to have to think of another way to capture Jane's hand this Christmas. If nothing else just a paper cut out we can hang on the tree next year next to the two impressions we have from Christmases one and two.

Hope you have better success in crafting than we did.

Christmas on the Bayou

So I love Christmas movies, and not big Hollywood ones like Elf or the like. I mean the crappy, low budget Hallmark and Lifetime movies. Oh man, they are so bad they are good.

This year there is one called Christmas on the Bayou, and it was actually filmed in Louisiana. It's a formulaic plot -- busy, overworked NYC single mom comes home for Christmas and finds love, resists love and her kid learns about the true meaning of Christmas, i.e., Santa Claus (or Papa Noel in this case ... and played by Ed Asner).

At least they didn't have it snow in Louisiana -- although that seems like the closing "miracle" for every Christmas movie I've seen this year otherwise, including those supposed to be set in the South. (Christmas in Conway was another one I enjoyed with a southern setting, but it did have the snow-at-the-end bit.)

This will be our fourth Christmas living in Louisiana (although we've never actually spent one here), and this is the first year I've heard of the bonfires that light the way for Papa Noel, which is the Cajun version of Santa Claus. He rides down the Mississippi and/or bayou on a barge pulled by alligators. AH! What a funny tradition. I kind of want to learn more and buy Jane a book that I read about in a local parenting magazine (I think A Cajun Night Before Christmas). That's where I first read about Papa Noel and the alligators, but then I also saw a story about the bonfires on the local news (which we sometimes watch for a laugh ... and the weather forecast). This silly Christmas movie was the icing on the cake.

Maybe some year we'll have a Louisiana Christmas. Waking up in our own house on Christmas morning might be a treat, but this year we're in for something even better.

Blue & White Chevron Crocheted Baby Blanket

My latest "FO" (finish off) crochet project is a blue and white chevron baby blanket. It's made with a stitch from a crochet dictionary I checked out of the library (I am a sucker whenever they put out anything crochet-related on the new releases table). It is much wavier and less chevron-y than I envisioned, but as it worked up I fell more and more in love with it.

I did three rows of each color and on the color changes I crocheted in the back loop only. That made a nice texture and makes the stripes almost appear to be floating above the other colored stripes -- depending on which side you have up. I finished with a round of single crochet and then crab stitch/reverse crochet (basically my favorite finishing stitch ever). I am not good at crocheting-in-the-sides-of-stitches, so the sides of the blanket aren't quite square, but I'm still very happy with how this turned out.

I hope the mom-to-be likes it. I haven't sent it yet, but it's packed up to go whenever I get my other Christmas packages ready to be mailed. (She doesn't read my blog to my knowledge, otherwise I would hold off on posting here.) She is from Florida, and Shawn thinks this blanket has a very ocean-esque feel, so maybe I subconsciously did that. Definitely not intentional, but I like it!

As a side note, I would like to briefly gripe about Blogger/Google+/Picasa/whatever connections. I can't prep blog posts to go live on Christmas Day with pictures of the presents I have crocheted because even when you do a draft post and upload a photo it goes live in your Google+ and Picasa albums. It might even notify people in your circles that you added a new photo. Annoying! Another reason why WordPress might be the better option. I know when you upload a picture it's live, but until you hit publish on the post it's highly unlikely that anyone is going to find the image, and certainly no one would be notified about it. End of gripe.

Baby Hand Wreath

After my mother-in-law made a passing comment about "is this it?" re: my Christmas decorations I have been feeling that something is missing, that I should have more. It's a horrible feeling I try to stamp out -- I want to want LESS and to ultimately be satisfied with what I have in every aspect of my possessions, including Christmas. It's a constant battle.

In any case I decided to make this baby hand Christmas wreath. First, Jane loves to have her hand traced, and two it seemed easy. I bought the construction paper (got a multi-pack so I can use other colors for other things later) and a red bow for the top of the tree.

Because Jane and I have November birthdays and because I am unable to throw out most perfectly good boxes, we have quite a collection of cardboard in our house. I used a dinner plate and a salad plate to make a wreath base -- just traced around them onto a flattened Amazon box.

Step 1: Trace plates for wreath base
Cutting the cardboard was a real pain in the hand. My scissors aren't the best, and there's got to be a better way. Since it is a small circle I just powered through the pain and ended up with this. I mollify myself about the inconsistency and wonkiness by saying it adds to the kid-like quality of the project (and the base will be covered by baby hands so it doesn't really matter!).

Step 2: Cut out wreath base
Step 3: Trace a baby hand and cut out
I traced her hand twice and then cut out four sheets at a time (which also hurt my hand because of my janky scissors, but I powered through). She was over it so I had to use one of the cutouts to do the last two tracings. I cut out a total of 16 baby hands, just flipping them over alternating when I placed them on the wreath base.

Step 4: Arrange the baby hands on the wreath base and secure in place
I positioned my baby hands with fingers pointing out. I've seen pictures online of them staggered and more sideways around the wreath (also using two colors of green, which looked nice). I attached the paper using loops of Scotch tape, but double sided tape, glue or anything similar would work. This isn't very heavy work. I just made sure to cover up my deformed base as much as possible and keep the pen-marked tracings with the pen-mark toward the back.

Step 5: Add an optional red bow and hang up
I used the red gift bow to anchor the wreath and add a pop of red. I've also seen the idea of adding red circles as holly on a wreath like this. This gift bow came with twisty ties attached, so I just poked holes through the top of the wreath (hands and base) and twisted it in the back. I used tape again to attach the wreath to the window part of our front door. It looks very cute from the front and even looks a bit festive from outside.

Baby hands!

The War on Glitter

We went to Hobby Lobby today for yarn. I am making a baby blanket and ran out of white. Yesterday I got some at Walmart, but it ended up being not as soft as what I had been using ... oh well, another excuse to shop! Jane and I (and all our purchases) came out of there covered in glitter.


It's so pervasive, and while beautiful is a real bitch to clean up. I am still finding glitter on our couch from an unfortunate T-shirt I bought Jane that vomited its glitter everywhere. It was her most expensive shirt I'm sure since she only wore it once before it hit the trash. Ugh.

I also bought some red Christmas (non-glitter) balls today, and I put them in my cake stand in the china cabinet. It's reminiscent of a big brandy snifter that my Grandma Jane had at her house and filled with red Christmas balls every year. I can't remember if it lived in the old fashioned bedroom or on the piano (maybe both different years or times of the year), but I always loved the look of it. I should probably estate sale and antique store shop to find one. But until then this cake stand will work (and I'm not doing any holiday baking this year, so there!)

Wrap Up

November is coming to an end, and it's bittersweet. I love this month, but I also really love Advent and Christmas. I'm looking forward to spending time with my family in Oklahoma and maybe getting to see a little snow? I have a lot of presents already that need to be wrapped plus a bit more shopping to do before all is said and done.

For me I need a second pie plate (had to use a 9 inch cake pan, which worked but made getting the pie out difficult) and a meat thermometer (poor dried out turkey) if I'm ever going to attempt to make a big meal again. Otherwise Thanksgiving dinner went off OK, save for being about an hour early due to my panic since the turkey had to be in the oven alone/there was no way to fit the rack to allow the second rack to hold anything.

I'm trying to get my act together and order Christmas cards. We tried to take some pictures of Jane today in her red dress by the tree. I'm not sure if I got a shot that's worth anything. I might try a wrapped-in-Christmas-lights shot instead if none of what I took today will work.

I'm sure I could keep coming up with things to write about, and hopefully I will post some things in December. (I definitely have a few crochet posts coming up once the gifts have been given at Christmas -- my hooks are flying!)

Until then...

A Felt Christmas Tree Toddler Christmas Activity

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

We got out our Christmas tree today and a few other decorations (including a ceramic Christmas tree that plays Winter Wonderland that was my Gran's ... I finally talked my way into her giving it to me since she doesn't put it up anymore). Maybe that's jumping the gun, but I wanted my in-laws to see the house decorated a bit, and I want to stretch the magic with Jane as long as I can!

One of the things I have been looking forward to the most was making a felt Christmas tree for Jane. The idea is that she'll play with and decorate her tree instead of bothering the actual tree. Time will tell if that's true, but she's had fun carrying around the felt ornaments I made, and they stick to the felt tree beautifully.

I used a combination from two tutorials: Empty Bobbin Sewing Tutorial's No Sew Felt Christmas Tree and Juggling With Kids' The Secret to Cutting Felt & Making Felt Storyboards for Preschoolers.

The tree was pretty easy -- Shawn actually did the calculations and cut a half-yard of green felt into a triangle. And I used half a sheet of brown felt for the trunk. We used double-sided scotch tape to attach it to our brick wall in the sunroom. It's only been a few hours, but it seems like it will stick no problem.

Ornament outlines traced on freezer paper
For the ornaments I first scoured Google images for plain ornament and Christmas-type icon outlines. I have bells, angels, candy canes, round ornaments, lemon-shaped ornaments, gingerbread men, bows, stockings and stars. I tried to use some cookie cutters to make patterns, but that just didn't work. I think finding printed images of cookie cutter shapes would be good because they need to be simple lines.

I printed out my Word doc (which I created to be able to size the outline drawings to my liking) and put it under freezer paper. This stuff was KEY to easily making the ornaments. It has plastic on one side that melts when you hit it with a hot iron, just enough to attach temporarily to the felt. This makes cutting out the ornaments a breeze -- no pinning and no freehanding. Plus, like Juggling with Kids states the templates can be reused a few times because they'll stick again when ironed onto another piece of felt.

All together it was a pretty cheap endeavor. The green felt was on sale, and the sheets of felt were less than a dollar each (usually two or three for a dollar, although the fancy white sparkle and blue/black swirl were a bit more). The freezer paper is pricy, although I only used a bit of it. I already had some felt glue from something I made Owen ages ago, so that was how I attached the stripes on the candy cane and Jane's name to one of the stockings. I think hot glue would work too (and somewhere I read that hot glue can be used to attach felt to brick without damaging either, but I didn't try that).

I love the way it looks, and I still have enough green from the yard I bought to make a second tree -- originally I was going to take down ours and try to get it to Oklahoma for continued Christmas play, but it might just be easier to make a second triangle to not have to deal with the sticky tape. I don't know how I'll store it for next year, but I'm sure that I'll want to pull it out -- it's also just a really cute decoration!


Thanksgiving is here, and I'm working on day two of a cooking extravaganza. You can follow me on Twitter to see what I've been making (and any disasters ... I'm pretty worried about the turkey!).

A lot of people on Facebook have been doing 30 days of gratitude, posting about something they are thankful for each day in November. I know for everyone it's only a drop in the bucket full of blessings, but I like the idea anyway. So here are my 30:
  1. Shawn -- everything about him as a husband and partner, and I'm so grateful for our marriage
  2. Jane -- sweet baby, trying toddler and all around best girl
  3. Owen -- my first baby love, the brightest boy I know and my favorite nephew.
  4. Rest of my family -- without using up all 30 slots for names of everyone I love, I'll just say I'm grateful for the family that raised me and the family I married into.
  5. My childhood -- being raised a Christian in a loving home has been critical to me being me, and I'm so grateful to my parents for the work they put in -- and my sister for surviving it with me.
  6. The church -- I love the United Methodist Church and its open hearts, open minds, open doors structure. I don't understand all the rules of discipline and other hierarchy, but I feel like it's based on "God is love," which I'm so grateful to know and believe. And I am working to pass that onto Jane, with the help of many, including others in our local church.
  7. Our home in Baton Rouge -- I love our house, every square foot, even with its too-small kitchen and no-windows master bedroom.
  8. Clean running water (for drinking, hot showers, on-demand laundry, dishwashing, etc.).
  9. Air conditioning (and in the case of our all-too-brief Baton Rouge winter: heat!)
  10. Electricity in general -- the infrastructure that makes it possible to have it on demand AND the invention of it in the first place.
  11. The internet -- OMG I love you even in your stupidity.
  12. College education -- another big thanks to my mom for helping with that and for all of my family for instilling the idea that it was a given. It's invaluable to be educated, and I recognize that gift.
  13. Coffee, even though you don't taste good to me now I know I'll come home to you someday.
  14. Earl Grey tea -- you'll keep me caffeinated until that old joe flavor comes back to me.
  15. Diet Dr. Pepper ... I want to quit you, but somehow I just can't. I am drinking you right now.
  16. Food and cooking -- the blessing of abundance, especially in the face of the Thanksgiving meal. The ability to get food on demand too -- pick up, delivery, restaurants. I don't have it as good here as I did in NYC, but access to food is something I never have to worry about. What an enormous blessing!
  17. Crochet -- this hobby is something I pick up and put down, but I love the creative outlet it provides and the connection it makes me feel with my Gran who taught me how to do it.
  18. Books, books, books -- I love the library and am so grateful that such an infrastructure exists. I love falling into books and never wanting to come out.
  19. Magazines -- I love the pages, the glossy pictures, the aspirational recipes (some of which I'm working on today!) and even the same-every-year stories.
  20. NPR -- it's become my medium of choice since we're a no-TV-during-the-day family. I love Morning Edition and All Things Considered. I also love the app so I can listen to other stations -- basically so I can keep Morning Edition going later, since I'm kind of a lazy bones.
  21. Our bed -- it's fantastic, a Serta iComfort. Having a clean, comfortable place to sleep every night is a blessing that is so easy to take for granted.
  22. Television -- I'm grateful for the entertainment and crochet accompaniment. You know I could come up with a list of 30 TV shows I'm grateful exist in no time flat, but I will refrain and just give it a line. I love TV too much, even if it does make me stupid.
  23. My iPod -- I don't have a smart phone, but if I have wifi I have the equivalent, minus being able to make calls. It was a gift from my mom (so we could play Draw Something together!) and has been worth ten times its weight in gold. I use it every day and I love it, probably a little too much. Thank you again, Mama!
  24. Exercise -- and the ability to find a variety of routines to follow online. I think of all the wasted time not exercising, and therefore not feeling as good as I do now, and I cringe. And I worry about how I'm going to keep it up -- and not fall back into my patterns of laziness. In any case I'm grateful to have rediscovered moving my muscles -- and seeing some of their definition!
  25. Digital photography -- I am an amateur mama-razzi, and I love it. I love my camera and the lenses I have thanks to Christmas gifts from my husband and mother-in-law. I love experimenting and taking pictures of Jane for fun, for specific set up shots and for remembering our life together, including travels. I'm grateful that I can share snap shots online, make prints and create custom photo books.
  26. Honda Accord and Dodge Grand Caravan -- I love our car, and it's a huge blessing that we are a two-car family. Having reliable transportation is definitely something to be grateful for!
  27. Air travel -- it's a nightmare at the best of times, but I'm so thankful that we can travel to see far-flung family and friends, to have adventures and not have to be stuck in a car for days of our lives (although those kinds of trips are in our future, I'm sure).
  28. The Post Office -- another way to stay in touch with family and friends, plus online ordering? Ah, Amazon Prime. Another being-grateful-for-infrastructure item, but it really does make a difference in my life, and I love getting post!
  29. Work -- even though it's not fun, I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue to use my skills and education even in small ways (and in most cases on a volunteer basis). I get so wrapped up in work that it's difficult for me to keep it from invading every part of my brain, but I'm so glad to have something I love to do that is needed by others.
  30. Target -- I love this store so much. I know it isn't the most ethical place to shop, but I love being able to get almost everything I need in one place without that one place being Walmart. (Target does not have yarn for crocheting though, so that's a minus.) I am grateful to have access to a Target (and so many other shopping choices) as well as the resources to buy what we need -- and most of what we want. It really is just a symbol of the underlying blessing of having enough and wanting for nothing.
So that was pretty easy, and I could keep going with even more minutia. But 30 is 30 and there you go. We're wrapping up this month of blog posts, and I have been loving the routine of writing even when what I have to write amounts to nothing. I am proud of a few of the posts this month though and am glad to have written them.

I hope you have wonderful Thanksgiving. I'm not sure how our turkey is going to turn out, but even if it's a bust we'll have a boat-load of sides to fill us up.

The Great Nap Fakeout

My kid is getting too smart for her own good (or my own good). She seems to have figured out that she can hang out in her crib and stay awake during nap time. She definitely sings and talks to herself after I put her in the crib, but she'll usually quiet down. I am convinced she's faking me out to make me think she's taking a nap because she gets so tired and crabby by the end of the afternoon.

If I had a baby monitor with video I could spy on her, or even just a sound monitor I could hear her breathing and be able to tell if she actually slept. We never got one of those, since she slept in our room until she was almost 10 months old. Seems crazy to think about it now, but I loved it then.

My mom suggested trying a later nap, but Jane is so sleepy by lunchtime I'm not sure how I could work that. We may give it a try when we're back on our own next week. But I definitely don't want to give up my exercise/cleaning time, and she's definitely not ready to drop her nap entirely.

Being a toddler mom is hard, but I think being a toddler is a lot harder.

A Brand New Year

I'm 33 today and feeling pretty good about it. I like birthdays even now when they're not that big of a deal. I am going to get to have a date night with Shawn -- margaritas, Mexican food and a movie -- while my in-laws stay with Jane. It's a perfect grey cool cloudy November day. My kind of weather for a great birthday.

This is what 33 looks like on me.
I'm very happy with my life, and I can't think of any resolutions or goals or ideas to take into the next year. I want to stay on the track toward better health ("transformation is not a future event; it is a present activity") and be better facing the challenges of raising a toddler. There are a lot of things I love to do and would love to make more time for: reading, crocheting, movies. I also contemplate expanding our family and returning to the full-time workforce (probably mutually exclusive goals at this point though).

Stay tuned as this girl's life continues to unfold...

Labyrinth and Holiday Shopping

Since my in-laws have been here (less than 24 hours!) I've had two church commitments. The first was a meeting of a spiritual leadership academy of which I'm a part. (I agreed simply because I was asked, even though it cost $90 and three weekends plus these extra meetings. Oh me.)

Anyway, at this meeting we walked the labyrinth at our church, which is something I'd never done -- at this church or anywhere else. I focused way too much on the mechanics and not getting "lost" in the maze-like walk.

I kept my mind somewhat focused by repeating "God is with me" over and over with each step. But at one point I thought "I know that, why do I need to walk in a circle to know that?!" Then immediately thought it's not about knowing that but remembering it, which is something I'm not always so good at!

Today was something I AM good at -- shopping at Target! I met a bunch of other church people, and we were shopping for children at a nearby head start. Their parents earn points by volunteering, having perfect attendance, etc., and the points get turned into dollars for Christmas gifts. Some people worked with partners, but I shopped solo. I had three kids (there were so many shoppers I gave one of my original four back so there would be enough to go around). One kid had earned $200 and only had toys on his wish list (parents fill in the clothes section). It was pretty fun to just throw things into the cart, although his wish list was non-specific and nothing very expensive. So he got a LOT of things! I also got to shop for clothes for a 4-year-old girl and some for a 5-year-old boy. It was so much fun and a little bit like supermarket sweepstakes. I felt like I was racing to get it done (I was finished in an hour).

I'd never really perused the toy aisle that carefully, and it was fun to see what there was available. I definitely got some ideas of things for Jane, and I may have picked up something because it was on sale and I know how much she loves things like that. I also got her a pair of $6 jeans even though the girl is basically swimming in jeans. The shop-shop-shop mode really spilled into my own shopping that I did after completing the shop for the kids. Whoops!

I also shopped last week for an Angel Tree recipient. Our angel is 7 and wanted a soccer ball and a blue jacket. I found the ball on Amazon (all the ones in the stores looked grungy/played with) and the jacket at Kohl's. I don't buy Owen many clothes, so I'd never noticed how shrimpy the boys' section of a store is relative to the girls' section. There were hardly any boy jackets and only one blue. Luckily there was one in the size I needed! I also threw in some socks and a hat and gloves, and I wish he could have them now since it's actually slightly cold here! I guess it still will be in December/January/February (maybe).

Anyway, I'm grateful to have a church with activities like this to take part in, and I'm glad to have free child care right now so I can do the activities without worrying about my bambino!

Too Fat to Run

I'm trying to get my body back into regular movement for health and sanity reasons. So far it's going OK. I've mentioned that I do exercise videos during Jane's naps, and I do them during the week so five times per week. On the weekends I rest (and I'm also usually doing errands during her naps since Shawn is home to stay with her).

But sometimes I feel like moving anyway -- doing a few back kick/front kick combos or a lunge here and there. It's the weirdest thing because I am seriously lazy and would rather lay on a couch than just about anything I think.

But before I settled into this routine that is working for me right now I tried to do a Couch to 5K program. So many people on my Facebook feed and on blogs I read are "mother runners." And I thought it sounded amazing to "run like a mother." And couch to 5K sounded doable.

I found a free podcast that started slow -- mostly walking with a few minutes of running. I set out and got to work. This was probably in April because it wasn't yet SUPER hot here, and it was light enough that I could do the jogs after Shawn got home from work.

I had no trouble doing the actual running/walking combos, and I could really feel the effects on my cardiovascular system, which was great. But after only one week I was having pain in my right knee. I figured it was just a symptom of laziness and wanting to get out of running so I pressed on.

Big mistake.

I could hardly walk for at least two weeks. Putting on underpants or stepping into the tub was difficult. Even driving would leave my knee feeling tweaked! And I had to do all my normal things while caring for a wild toddler. Oh it was rough.

I gave up trying to improve myself through exercise and joked about being too fat to run. Shawn is convinced that my lack of stretching is what caused the problem, although the podcast program included a walking warm-up so I thought I was fine. (Ongoing lesson: I should listen to my husband!)

My knee did eventually get better, although I was halfway convinced that I would have to live with the pain forever. And I felt like I deserved it for being too fat to run! So far with these exercise videos I haven't hurt my knee again, and I hope it stays that way. With some of the strength training exercises I have to concentrate on how my knee holds the weight, and I do jumping jacks and jump rope moves that could hurt, but so far so good.

I think part of my knee's weakness stems from high school basketball. We played on a concrete floor -- seriously I don't think there was any kind of padding between the basketball wood and the concrete like in other gyms at richer schools. I also sprained/hurt my ankle and knee when I was a sophomore (?) and that plagued me the rest of high school a bit. In New York I hurt my left knee when ice skating, so maybe that old injury came back to haunt me too.

I don't know if I'll try running again. Sometimes I am tempted -- especially when the weather is crisp like it is and I feel like moving and getting my heart pumping (and the exercise videos get a little boring and repetitive). But when I weigh that slight desire against the real possibility of even temporary immobility I think I'll just stick with kicking and jumping and the like in the comfort of my sun room. I'll have to lose a lot more weight before I'm in shape enough to try running again!

Feeding My Toddler

Making meals and snacks for Jane isn't the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's also not the easiest. I think she's a very good eater and will mostly try everything. It's me I worry about.
I don't want to push her or nag her to "eat your veggies" or the like, but I find myself asking her to please take a bite of your squash or eat some more apple and we'll talk about more crackers or yogurt or whatever. (She loves carbs and cheese/dairy just like her mama!)

It's hard to know what to do because I recognize the enormity of establishing good lifelong eating habits. But I'm trying to be more relaxed and laid back -- providing her all good choices so it's OK if she doesn't eat all of her peas or beans or whatever. She's getting plenty of variety across the days and weeks.

One way to get veggies and fruits in her no problem are with the baby food pouches. She still loves to suck those down and I keep getting coupons for them. I also have the reusable squeeze pouches that I can fill with things like yogurt and pureed fruit or veggies. I did it once and it was a big mess, so I haven't repeated it. But I could/should.

Anyway, I felt kind of virtuous about those stupid pouches because she gets greens and interesting fruits in her system. But in reality she loses out on fiber and nutrients from the whole foods. Also I started thinking how are these any better than juice, which I don't let Jane have at all? *headdesk*

The pouches are mostly a travel thing, as they are great to fill in at restaurants or on the go as a snack. The guilt I felt when I realized what I was doing -- and then continue to give them to her! -- was not even the close to the worst guilt I've felt over a parenting decision.

And although we try to focus on whole, fresh foods she does eat processed foods like cheddar bunnies, regular bread, crackers, etc. I alternate between feeling like her eating is great and feeling like I'm doing her a huge disservice by letting her have those things at all!

Jane is amazingly healthy, and whatever she's eating it's powering her play and development in fantastic ways. (She can sing songs from memory and is working on her jump right now!) But being me I'm always going to fret and second guess and worry about what I'm not doing right (not feeding her full-on organic for everything -- mostly because I'm cheap and lazy/not everything at our regular grocery store can be had organic, or not eating the exact same things as a family at each meal, etc.).

I need to keep my eyes open to the reality of a healthy little girl, even if she does throw her sippy cup to the floor at least once per meal. (Another worry: should she be drinking from a cup right now? I don't even let her try because I don't want to clean up water or milk multiple times a day from the throwing!)

Selfie Reflecting

So the word of the year for 2013 according to the Oxford English Dictionary is "selfie." Jezebel wrote a piece spring boarding off this called Selfies Aren't Empowering, They're a Cry for Help.
Further, self-taken digital portraits are typically posted on social media, ostensibly with the intent of getting people to respond to them — that's what social media is. In that respect, selfies aren't expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation. In real life, walking up to a stranger, tilting your head downward at a 45-degree angle, duckfacing, pushing your tits together, and screaming "DO YOU THINK I'M PRETTY!" would be summon the authorities. On the internet, it's just how people operate.

Selfies aren't empowering little sources of pride, nor are they narcissistic exercises by silly, conceited bitches. They're a logical technically enabled response to being brought up to think that what really matters is if other people think you're pretty. 
Selfie from 2004, summer before meeting Shawn
I tweeted about the article -- just noting it because I found myself nodding along with the author's assertions. I'm not super-fond of selfies, although I've certainly taken my share (I have a folder labeled "Self-Indulgence" in my pictures file that mostly contains pictures of my face, including ones I took with my very first digital camera at 23).

When I looked back at Twitter later yesterday evening there was a lot of chatter using #feministselfie, in which feminists railed against the Jezebel article, mainly in a "don't tell me what to do" kind of way as well as "we like our faces" and "selfies give us a way to see real people and feel good about ourselves," all of which are totally valid. I found myself feeling kind of crumbly about it as I went to sleep. (Note to self: stop checking ANY social media before bed!)

The author responded to tweets and said she didn't get any emails asking to discuss the article (she also said she didn't write the headline, which is more inflammatory than the article itself). I went to sleep wanting to email her my overall agreement with her argument while still understanding people's upset. (I didn't do it because I would have fretted even more.)

As for me, now I am rarely in the picture because my camera is always pointing the other way! And I can shift the idea slightly about how I share Jane's picture online and really how much of it is, like a selfie can often be, just a request for admiration/affirmation. Not that there's anything wrong with admiration and affirmation online or otherwise. But where does that leave me in my quest to raise a smart, strong daughter whose value to the world is not based on her physical appearance?

Also, even though I don't take a lot of pictures of myself, rarely change my Facebook profile photo and my Twitter avatar is of me at my fattest and in glasses, isn't this BLOG my own "selfie" looking for admiration and affirmation? Write on...

Prompt: Outfit that Makes Me Feel Good

May 2010: First trip to Baton Rouge
I'm wearing these same jeans today.
Writing daily is getting harder. I think of LOTS of things to write about after I hit post (with plenty of gripe, gripe, gripe ideas), but somehow I don't keep those in my brain for the next day. I've exhausted almost all of my pre-November ideas that I had (save for some that are a little bit more truth-telling than I'm sure I want to get into here, although desperate times so we'll see how it goes). So here's a prompt I just got in email:

NaBloPoMo Writing Prompt for 11/21: Describe an outfit that makes you feel good. (It can be from any period of your life.) Double points if you post a picture of yourself in the outfit.

Hands down my best outfit is jeans and a T-shirt with a hoodie or sweater cardigan on top, because my perfect weather is slightly nippy inside and out. I'm wearing that outfit now, and it's pretty much what I wear in mild weather (i.e., three months of the year in Baton Rouge). The rest of the time the jeans are traded in for shorts. I also wear skirts or dresses to church since I don't have work to dress up for right now. I guess the jeans and T-shirt are just comfortable, which is key to me, and it doesn't require a lot of thought. I'm not and never will be a fashionista despite my magazine habit, and I'm OK with that.

I guess this is about as interesting as anything else I've written this month. Sorry.


With the death of Google Reader my blog reading has dropped off. I still open Feedly a couple times a day, but I am usually powering through just to make sure I don't miss my favorites,* and a lot of things go unread. With the truncated feeds at Jezebel/Lifehacker/etc. needing a click through to see a full article (which then crashes Feedly) I usually don't read much there except first paragraphs.

There are a couple blogs though that I read just because I hate them. (Not the writers per se, but the stuff they write about/how they write about anything.) It's kind of like Get Off My Internets, except I just keep reading and make fun of them to no one. But I read almost every post they write!

Highlights of such blogs include trying to use overly descriptive words for everything (such as never using the word "said"), being proud of lax parenting and a regular diet of processed foods and sugar by making fun of parents who worry about what their kids eat, media they consume, etc. and just generally being unaware of how they come across. While not required for a blog to be part of my "haterade" diet most seem to have a very conservative political bent.

I wonder if I'm on anyone's haterade list. I kind of doubt it unless it's a person I've pissed off in real life. I don't have much of an impact on the world wide web despite having written in some capacity for about 15 years. Good grief.

*Some of my (non-IRL friend or family) favorites:

Read: Heloise's Housekeeping Hints

Just before our travels Jane and I did some garage saling, and we hit up an estate sale. Jane always rides in the Ergo backpack for that, which is infinitely easier than chasing a toddler through someone's home filled with breakables for sale. But it makes for some achy Mama back if we take too long. Usually we do a quick walk through and leave. On this occasion Jane also pointed out every teddy bear in sight with a top-of-her-lungs shout of "BEAR!" Oh me.

We got a few things overall, but my favorite was probably the Heloise's Housekeeping Hints book, 1962 edition. I read it in a couple days, intending to come back and try some of the tips. It was unintentionally hilarious, basically the dated language and ideas of women vs. men made me laugh. A particularly funny-to-me passage was about splurging on a piece of ham every month. "No husband understands that ham costs more than hamburger!" LOLOLOL.

Here are a couple things I thought sounded useful/that I'd like to try:
  • Finely crushed ice: Rinse out a two-quart plastic milk carton, fill with water and store in the freezer. "When ready for that finely crushed ice, remove one or more cartons from the freezer. Next--and this is the trick--take the cartons to a solid concrete sidewalk or patio. Holding onto the carton, slam it against the cement on all four sides until it quits going 'crack' and starts going 'thunk.' Then open the top and pour out the finest crushed ice you havve ever seen It's amazing!"
  • "Dip a raw potato into scouring powder to scrub the corners of rusted cake and pie pans."
And another funny:
  •  From Louisiana: "I am surprised that people don't know how to clear the air in the bathroom by striking matches. Floral deodorizers are fine in the summer, but in winter, with heat on, they just don't mix for us."
I'm sure there are more but I didn't mark them when I read through the first time. I know I laughed at a part where she wrote about "the old man" liking things a certain way. And the way laundry was done then vs. how I do it now is like night and day. I really have it easy!

Do you have any good household tips? Or have you been to any good garage sales lately?

Gift Ideas for Toddlers

I'm having a lot of fun dream-shopping for gifts for my cousins' daughters (ages 3 months and 2.5 years) and of course Owen Max (age 9!). My budget doesn't allow me to be extravagant, and I think it sends the wrong message anyway ... We are so blessed that in our house our problem is keeping ourselves from buying Jane too many toys and gifts because she already has so much, and I know my cousins and sister are in the same boat. But even so it's fun to look at gift lists (here are two great ones I found via Pinterest on It's Always Autumn) and sift through catalogs and Amazon recommended items. I think I'm closing in on what I want to buy for the kids in my life, but I thought I'd share some ideas, mostly things Jane got for her birthday that are A-number-one.

Early Childhood Classics - Old Favorites With A New Twist - We've owned this CD for a month since Jane got it from Grandma Dale and Popeye. We learned about this artist at our library story time, where they use this CD. We LOVE the version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (if you've been at our house you've heard the version ... "that tiny spider would not quit!") and the riffing on "Patty Cake" that includes rocking a baby to sleep while you wait for the cake to rise. So fun! We've also fallen in love with a song about an elephant, and the liner notes have suggestions for movements with the songs plus identifying some of the instruments (e.g., the elephant's trumpet sound is made by the French horn). The CD includes instrumental versions of all the songs, which is fun for solos and/or making up words (I think that will come more for Jane later, but it's fun for me now). I love this CD, and I may have to add a few more of this singer's albums to Jane's Amazon list!

Melissa & Doug Magnetic Wooden Numbers - This is another birthday gift, and I have high hopes for it. We had to leave it behind because we had limited suitcase space on our return trip. But when Popeye and Grandma Dale arrive Jane will have her magnet numbers (and letters). I saw these at a friend's house and they are too cool. The magnets themselves are in the shape of the number or letter, so you can use them on a magnadoodle-type drawing toy. I also think that will make them stay on the fridge/door/metal whatever much better. I have some metal Ikea boards that we haven't used, so we're planning to set those up at Jane height in the sunroom for her to play with these. We saw these at the Louisiana Children's Museum, and Jane had a great time playing with them there. They are for 3+ because they could be a choking hazard, but with supervision I'm confident Jane will be OK playing with them.

LEGO DUPLO My First Circus - This gift was from Gingie, and there is no way I would have thought of it. I'm sure she got a great deal on it, as Gingie is apt to do, but it has actually been a perfect plaything too! Jane can build a little bit and with practice her dexterity will improve, but she loves playing with the figures (tightrope walker girl, clown, ring master (aka "That Guy"), tiger, elephant and horse) and having the people swing. We've had it for about a week and she plays with it every day. LEGOS! I don't think you can ever go wrong with Legos (unless you're stepping on them in the middle of the night ... not looking forward to that eventuality).

Stickers: Jane loves stickers, and they have neat books with re-usable stickers so you can place and re-place them on the backgrounds to make new scenes. Jane needs help to use those, but she still likes them very much. I've added one of those to her wish list!

Books: Jane is definitely a reader, and some of our favorite books of late are:
  • I Love You Through and Through (a perennial Mama favorite)
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Mommy Hugs and Daddy Hugs (Karen Katz is a favorite author)
  • Hello, New Orleans
  • Random garage sale books, especially long ones (oh me)
  • Anything Winnie the Pooh

An idea I like is buying a kid (or family) an experience, like membership to their local zoo or children's museum. Or maybe just tickets to a ball game or something. (We're thinking we'd like to take Jane to a women's basketball game soon, so we'll see how that works out.)

I know I'm going to come across many more gift ideas in my hunting (and I don't want to give away anything I actually buy!). This is a quick post (as per usual), but hopefully it's helpful to someone.

Do you have any great gift ideas for kids? Or grownups for that matter!

A Home Cook from Magazines

Magazine Stack
Magazine Stack on Flickr by thebittenword.com
I'm not a great cook, but I can follow a recipe and make things turn out OK most times. I'm realizing that the way I meal plan heavily involves magazines -- mostly pages ripped from magazines that I keep in a file folder.

As Jane started pulling books off shelves I had to move my cookbooks out -- and then the bookshelf got replaced with a bench but the cookbooks haven't made a reappearance. So I don't really make recipes from cookbooks. They're tucked away in a box for now.

My magazine clipping file folder is getting out of control. I tried to organize things (chicken, beef, pasta, desserts), but as I use recipes I don't put them back/they land back at the top of the pile making things even messier.

I know if I went digital -- finding the recipes on the magazine's websites and then saving them in an online recipe box somewhere -- I could search and find things more easily. But I wouldn't want technology in the kitchen to get messed up by my less-than-stellar cleaning skills. (Just ask my mother-in-law ... she'll be here in a week and ALWAYS leaves my kitchen cleaner than when she arrives without even trying!) So I keep slogging away in my paper-filled world.

I subscribe to so many magazines it's obscene, and yet I still find ones I want to buy on the newsstand. (One I love but don't subscribe to is HGTV, and I've started to like Southern Living. My m-i-l subscribes to Saturday Evening Post, which I found to be a really good magazine too.) My dream job in J-school was to work at a women's magazine. (Although after reading them for so many years I don't think I'd like it so much.)

I'm planning Thanksgiving dinner mostly from magazine recipes -- from years past and a few new this year. There are family recipes of course and non-recipe things like mashed potatoes or deviled eggs. It's going to be fantastic. I love food so much.

What's your plan for Thanksgiving? Do you have a smart way to organize your recipes?

Christmas Frenzy

Christmas baby 2012
The count down to Christmas 2013 is on. I guess it starts right after Halloween? Thanksgiving is much later this year than last (my birthday was after Thanksgiving, this year it's before), which kind of crunches the true Christmas season even more. I guess some bleeding edge is to be expected.

I, for one, am ready to delve into the holiday season, and I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving with my in-laws followed by decorating the house for Christmas, figuring out Christmas cards and finishing off holiday shopping (mostly online I think). I love making lists and checking things off, and Christmas provides ample opportunities for that.

When it's 80 degrees outside it's less easy to feel in the spirit, but I guess I'll enjoy it while I can and try not to get too wound up about something still safely in the future. (I already ordered my stamps for my Christmas cards though!)

Bossy Baby

Our weather is back to balmy, and Jane and I went to the park this morning. We were the only ones there for a while, but it really started to pick up around 10:30. She was swinging and said "Mama swing," but I couldn't because the other swings were taken. I explained she was swinging with other kids, isn't that fun? Then one of the kids left his swing and Jane said "kid swing!" like a command. Out of my mouth popped: "Jane, don't be bossy."

I've never said that to her before (probably because she's never bossed anyone but family). And as soon as I said it my brain went into overdrive analyzing it. Do I really not want her to be bossy? Isn't that a prerequisite to leadership? But she has to learn to be mindful of others. You can get others to do things your way without the use of commands, and you attract more flies with honey. Gah! She's two for crying out loud.

Would my approach or response be different if I were raising a boy? I can't wrap my head around that hypothetical now that I have Jane and she is who she is.

There are so many other things I think about when I ponder raising a girl. I'm still wary of princesses and pink overload. But I find myself drawn to Hello Kitty (!) who is everywhere, especially in Target. Jane doesn't show much preference in her play things, and probably all her toys are technically gender neutral even if they're pink (thinking about the doll stroller for that one).

I think we have a sticker book about Disney princesses (which hasn't made it home to Baton Rouge yet). My favorite is Ariel and I l-o-v-e-d The Little Mermaid. Looking at it through a feminist lens though it's just another story of a girl putting the very best of herself aside in pursuit of a guy (and one she doesn't even know at that). When I realized that (probably when Jezebel wrote something about it), I was a little crushed. Now I'm just confused as to whether Jane should get to enjoy the Disney stories when they contain themes I so don't agree with.

Basically I don't want Jane to be limited -- by me, by society, by expectations. That may be unrealistic.

Creepy Monkey

While we were traveling the fall consignment sale for Rhea Lana Baton Rouge took place. I was very bummed to miss it, so I did a quick Google to see if there were any consignment sales happening while we were in the DC area. Lo and behold, there was one the first weekend we were there, and it was about a mile from our hotel in Greenbelt! SCORE!

So before we headed to Annapolis that first Friday I took a tired baby on my back and bought a few things. It was amazing fun as usual. (I think I like consignment sales too much AND I really don't need most of the stuff I buy. Also not a good idea to talk about it -- I made a friend's eyes glaze over talking about my rapture ... and she has two little kids so could somewhat relate!)

Everything was 50% off on Sunday, and since we were so close and I could sneak away by myself before we left to go to a friend's house for brunch I went back for another look. That's when I found Creepy Monkey (even though the picture doesn't show it he has a tail so definitely a monkey).

He (she?) was in a bag with a Care Bear and a lady bug ball. Jane has a Funshine Bear that she likes a lot, and she loves Care Bear books. This one was Cheer Bear and had a rainbow on its tummy, so it fit with my rainbow birthday theme. So for $1.50 I figured why not, and I planned to donate the monkey and lady bug when we got to Danville (or leave them for my mother-in-law's house toys-for-Jane collection). I gave Jane the Care Bear at some point during the trip, but the monkey and lady bug were just hanging around in our room.

Jane saw them and begged for the monkey. She was so excited. I started calling him creepy monkey, and the name has stuck. She had been sleeping with her Bert and Ernie dolls, which was a first in terms of wanting something to sleep with. She started chewing on those so I took them away as sleeping toys. Creepy Monkey stepped up to fill in.

Now he's a fixture in her crib and she asks for him before naps and bedtime. I washed him when we got home (no dryer) and he's fluffed right back up no problem. I haven't had any luck figuring out what kind of toy he actually is (should I need to replace him). I don't recommend googling "creepy monkey" either -- yikes!

Have you ever seen a toy like this/do you know what it is?

Want to Order a Crochet Hat?

Thanks for your interest in silvermari crochet hats . Most of what I make are sized for infants and toddlers, although I can size up and dow...