Friday, September 30, 2011

Going Home & Finding Freedom from the Past

When I was a young girl I came across a journal of my great-grandmother Sophie, mostly written in the 1920's when she was staying home with her young children. I thought it was amazing. The journal was mostly a log of the day-to-day activities that she did, and much of it was illegible because it was written in both pencil and that perfect age-old cursive that doesn't really exist anymore.

Some time after that I decided that I needed to document everything that was happening in my life, so that I could properly pass it on to the daughter that I would have someday. From the time I was 13 up through my 18th birthday I was a diligent journal writer. I filled books and books with my daily ramblings, all which I kept locked in the top drawer of a filing cabinet that I kept in my closet.

After years of coming home and forgetting the key to that little drawer, when we went back home to Michigan two weeks ago I finally remembered it.

And, wow. There really aren't any other words.

It was really interesting to watch how my writing skills and vocabulary improved over the years, and even the suttle ways that my handwriting changed over time. I signed off each day with my signature, and it is obvious that the signature I have today had evolved over many years.

What was not so interesting was the content. Good grief. After laughing over the ramblings of issues that I thought were so important back then, I was nearly brought to tears by the strife and irony that defines those teenage years. I was going to share this with children? Haha... I could barely stand to read it myself. It was a painful experience.

I was happy that I documented those years so closely. It was a flood of memories that brought me back to a time and a place that was so different from what I'm living in today. A time that was really hard. It was difficult when I was unpopular, and it was difficult when I was popular. But mostly, it was just funny... going through that age when you think you're an adult and that your mind is functioning like an adult, but it's clearly not.

Only one thing could be done. After re-reading the musings of a teenage me, I had to pitch those old journals in the garbage. And you know what? It felt really liberating. I felt like all at once I was well equipped to be the parent of a teenage girl while free from ever having to relive it.

Of course, I still journal these days... mostly about my daily activities with my daughter. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Favorite Children's Halloween Books!

How often do you read to your children? It's no secret - The Children's Reading Foundation has been stressing the importance of reading to your child for 20 minutes every day. The listening and language skills learned as a young child help set the tone for those first years of school, and it's a great time to bond as well.

My husband and I read to our daughter for an average of 40-60 minutes a day. Not all at once, of course, but she does like to read for 10-15 minutes before both nap and bedtime, and we also take 5-10 minute reading breaks throughout the day. It's been a part of her routine literally since she was born, and I'm certain that it has helped develop a love for books and a comforting activity to do with mom and dad as well as alone.

Some Tips for Reading to Your Toddler:
1. Seasonal books are a great way to get your child ready for the holidays. However, they don't need to be kept for only those special times! Some of our favorite books are Christmas or Easter books, that my daughter loves to read year-round.
2. Don't be so quick to say "No" when your child wants to read the same book over and over again. The repitition is great for them! Make the book new each time you read out, by pointing out the words and pictures, naming the colors you see or counting the items you see on the page.
Our Favorite Halloween Books:


Scaredy-Cat Splat by Rob Scotton
About the Book: It's Halloween, and Splat is determined to be the scariest cat in the class. Unfortunately he's just too much of a scaredy-cat. He's afraid of a little spider, and everyone says his costume looks more silly than scary. And when Mrs. Wimpydimple tells a ghost story in the dark, Splat gets so frightened that he tips over his jack-o'-lantern. But when the lights go back on, the entire class is scared silly by a small, black, furry creature with a big pumpkin head. Whooooo can it be?
My Notes: Splat is a fun-loving cat with a whole series of books under his belt. Noted best suited for ages 3-7, but my almost 2 year old daughter loved Splat. She giggles at his silly antics, and loves to look and find his little mouse friend on each page.


10 Trick-or-Treaters: A Halloween Counting Book by Janet Schulman
About the Book:   Little do these ten trick-or-treaters know that they are the ones who will be frightened on Halloween night when a toad hops near, a skeleton tries to join their dance party, and a monster asks to share their candy. This not-too-scary Halloween counting book features the bright, bold artwork of Linda Davick and the comforting, lively rhythms of Janet Schulman's story, making it the perfect gift for young trick-or-treaters everywhere!

My Notes: We love the rhyming in this book as it counts down from 10-0 Trick-or-Treaters. My daughter loves the fun illustrations and counting the different candies on the last page.

Available on Amazon.com




Happy Halloween, Little Critter by Mercer Mayer

About the Book:  It's Halloween! Little Critter and Little Sister are going to a spooky party at a haunted house. Bobbing for apples and playing Pin the Broom on the Witch are fun — but what kinds of monsters, mummies, and skeletons are lurking in the shadows? Pull back the big flaps to find out! 

My Notes: My daughter loves lifting the flaps in this book to see which critter is dressed up in which costume. She also loves finding the spider and the mouse on each page.
Available on Amazon.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken & Dumplings. One of the staples of American comfort food (in my book anyways). Check out this super easy Crock Pot version of an all time classic: recipe courtesy of my sister in-law Marie.

We've started a new tradition at our house - Crock Pot Wednesdays. With my husband at school three nights a week and me running every which way with our almost two year old daughter, it's important for us to share meal times as often as possible. Having a Crock Pot makes wholesome meals (ie not frozen pizza or macaroni and cheese) possible. Check the bottom of this post for more Crock Pot recipes!

Crock Pot Chicken & Dumplings:

Ingredients:
1 can cream of onion soup
2 tablespoons of butter
3 chicken bouillion cubes
3 large boneless chicken breasts
1/2 pound of baby carrots (about 30-40)
3-6 stalks of chopped celery depending on your taste
1 small sweet onion or yellow onion
1/4 cup flour
Enough water to cover all ingredients (I used just over 2 1/4 cups)
1 can reduced fat Grands Biscuits

Directions:
Combine all ingredients into Crock Pot except for the Grands Biscuits, covering with just enough water to cover all ingredients. Stir. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 7 hours, stirring once or twice during this time. After the initial cooking time, use forks to shred chicken or remove from pot and cut into desired pieces. Return chicken to pot. Put Grands Biscuits on top of mixture (you can put them as whole biscuits - the can will cover a 6 quart crock perfectly, or you can tear it up into smaller pieces). Press dough down into the liquid so that it can soak in the broth. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour or on LOW for about 1.5 hours, until dough is soft but cooked through. Enjoy!

Notes:  
I didn't have any cream of onion soup, so instead I used a can of cream of chicken soup and added about a tablespoon of onion powder. It was delicious but I will try the cream of onion soup next time because I'm interested in seeing what it does to the flavor. I also just realized while I was typing this up that I completely forgot to add in the flour, but we didn't find the outcome to be runny at all. If you enjoy a thicker dish use the flour, if you like a little broth then don't bother.

My husband and I both agreed that I could have added more carrots and celery, and that the dish would also suit peas, corn, potatoes and egg noodles for a slight twist. (If you use egg noodles, cook separately and mix in at the end.)


More Crock Pot Recipes

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yoyo.com is Here! It's Santa's Workshop Online - So Exciting!


Sometimes I think that the folks over at Diapers.com can hear my inner thoughts. Like when I wished I could order things for our household along with those much needed diapers, like toilet paper and kitty litter. And then again when I wished for toys... so many toys that I wouldn't have to go to a single store for my birthday and holiday shopping.

Introducing Yoyo.com:

YoYo.com is the toy store you've wished for – helping you save the day with last-minute birthday gifts, pointing you to toys that teach and entertain and giving you ways to strategically tackle your holiday gift list. Here you'll find a well-organized site with more than 20,000 toys, from the season's must-haves that everyone's talking about to tried-and-true favorites to hard-to-find specialty items. Plus, we've got quite a few tricks to show you. With our YoYo Picks,Super Filters and Top 10 Toys by Age, you'll always find the perfect present and toy. - "About Us" - Yoyo.com site.

My favorite feature so far is the My WISHLISTS feature. No more scrawled out birthday ideas on post-it notes that will inevitably be lost at some point. What's easier than being able to give grandma not only the name of a product but the order number.
use code HOLLYBLOG
Shop toys, games, books, video games, music and more!
Buy Toys at YoYo.com
YoYo.com Toys
Not valid for existing Diapers.com, Soap.com, Wag.com, YoYo.com or BeautyBar.com customers. Some restrictions apply.
YoYo.com

If you're not already signed up for the Diapers.com family of websites, make sure to use the code: HOLLYBLOG, to receive free shipping on your first order of $25 or more.

What could make Yoyo.com any better? I can buy the diapers I need from Diapers.com, and shop for toys on Yoyo.com in the same shopping cart, with one login, one checkout, and one click. That's it! Not to mention that shipping is FREE everyday on orders over $49.

Now... I'm back to shopping. ;)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blasted Retail Emails - Unsubscribe and Empower! {...and my weakness secret}

My inbox currently has 365 unread emails. This isn't uncommon, as it usually takes me all week to sort everything out and start emailing people back. I'll admit, it's probably one of my flaws. When I was working as a "big-time" executive assistant in New York City, I was known for my instant email replys, as my Blackberry became almost another organ that I couldn't seem to function without. Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I still tend to read emails immediately, but I almost never have the brain power to summon up a reply right away.

I attributed it to baby brain for the longest time. When my daughter turned 18 months it wasn't a very good excuse anymore, so I guess I had to go ahead and get pregnant again. Now I have actual brain fog so it's worse. Don't let anyone tell you differently -- having kids will only make you stupider. (Yes, I'm aware that stupider isn't a word... it's part of the joke. Get it.)

Anyways, of those 365 emails waiting in my inbox, I can assure you that only 80% of them are totally worth opening: from friends and family, regarding the mother's group I currently run, listing needs from the nursery at church, etc.

And believe it or not, this is actually a condensed view of my inbox. For awhile there, I was obsessed with being on everyone's email list. I did NOT want to miss a deal, a coupon or a special offer. Being on "the list" made me feel like I was of some higher status. And it made me purchase a lot of things too. 20% off my favorite perfume? FREE SHIPPING ONE DAY ONLY? Everything on Clearance for a Limited Time?

These emails knew exactly how to pull me in and get my purchases. After all, it is their intent. Do they really want to save me money? No!! That's not how it works. This is more how they function:

1) Shopping for a particular item or at a particular store is the farthest thing from your mind.
2) You get an email from said store about a "special" promotion in your inbox. It sits there awhile before you open it.
3) A seed is planted.
4) You open the email and find yourself seeking this "hot deal" because you don't want to miss out.
5) You've acquired a new product that you weren't really considering buying before, but got a super good deal on.
6) You're out X amount of dollars. Congrats! 

Sound familiar? Luckily I never really let it get that bad. I mean... I've used or worn everything I've ever purchased, but I do know people who've purchased random household appliances, towel sets, shoes, etc. that have gone untouched since the day they were received.

Luckily there is a simple solution. Go through your inbox and open those emails. Except this time, scroll to the botton and hit that magic "Unsubscribe" button. It literally takes seconds, but could save you hundreds of dollars each year.

And when you DO decide that you need something, then go seek the deal.

Of course, I do have some exceptions. With a toddler growing so quickly, I feel like I'm always looking for good children's deals, so I definitely keep all those emails coming from stores like Diapers.com, Children's Place, OshKosh, and Baby Gap. ;)