Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Kitchen 2014

I love to cook! And for the holidays I usually like to go with familiar, traditionally served dishes from my childhood. And sometimes I like to throw in something totally different!

This year we decided not to travel for the holidays. Instead, we are breaking bread with a few friends here! One meal is the traditional Christmas ham, and the other is a Mexican feast!

So today was MAJOR food prep day. Little baby had a great day, allowing me to get busy in the kitchen! She even took a 2 hour nap (not normal for my child!) so I could get a much needed rest on the couch! 
Here are all the recipes I used this year! Some are from my recipe book, and some are links to my Pinterest page where the recipes can be found.

White Chicken Enchiladas (a childhood favorite)

1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 cups cooked chopped chicken
1 1/2 cup shredded Colby-Jack Cheese
4 oz can chopped green chiles
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp ground corriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
6 flour tortillas, burrito size
Preheat oven to 350. In large skillet, combine onion, pepper, and oil. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add chicken, 1/2 cup of cheese, and green chiles. Set aside. In medium saucepan, combine soup, sour cream, coriander, and cumin. Cook over low heat just until warm, stirring frequently. Stir half of sauce into the chicken mixture. Divide chicken mixture among tortillas. Roll up and place seam down in 9"x13" baking dish. Pour remaining sauce over tortillas and cover with remaining 1 cup of cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.

*This time I omitted the onions and pepper so I didn't have to dirty the large skillet.
*Poach boneless skinless chicken breasts or just use a rotisserie chicken.
*It's not really necessary to heat the sauce on the stove. Just stir it all together in a bowl. So much faster!
*Experiment with fillings! Add corn, beans, whatever! I just did chicken and cheese this time.

Cheesy Potato Hash (AKA Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole AKA Funeral Potatoes)

*I had never heard them called "Funeral Potatoes" before! It's just what they are called in the recipe I found. I had this a lot as a kid, too!
*I found potatoes O'Brien at the commissary, so I decided to use those! They have little bits of red and green pepper in them.

Cherry Cool Whip Salad (some sort of salad like this is standard for us German Lutherans!)

*I omitted the marshmallows. 

Grandma's Hot Wassail (to me it's not Christmas without this hot drink!)

2 quarts Apple Cider or Apple Juice (cider adds more flavor)
1 qt orange juice (pulp-free is best)
1 qt cranberry juice (not cocktail)
1 qt red wine (any will do)
2 cups sugar
1 TBSP whole allspice
1 TBSP whole cloves
4 sticks cinnamon
Put the spices in a refillable tea bag or use cheesecloth. Pour sugar and all liquids in a large pot (or crockpot) and add spices in the bag. Heat until hot. Discard spices. Ladle out and enjoy!

*I used white chocolate chips, but I think white almond bark has better flavor. 
*I used Chex cereal.
*I added some peanuts.
*I didn't measure anything. I just dumped stuff in. That's how I roll!

*I actually watched the episode in which she made these. I was surprised that she used a boxed brownie mix!
*I couldn't find instant espresso powder, so I just used instant coffee powder. 
*I thought for sure that she used peanut butter, but she used peanut butter chips. Of course, I didn't have any, so I just used a few generous scoops of crunchy peanut butter. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Simple Sloppy Joes

This recipe was a childhood favorite. Once I was old enough to start cooking on my own, I couldn't believe how easy this recipe was!

Normally when you see ketchup, mustard, and relish, you probably think of:
summer get-togethers. 
ball parks. 

Here's a yummy dinner idea that only uses these condiments you already have in your fridge!

Simple Sloppy Joes

Makes about 6 sandwiches

1 pound ground beef or turkey (we prefer it with turkey)
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup relish
1 TBSP mustard

Brown the meat in a frying pan. Drain excess fat. Add condiments, stir, and simmer for 20 minutes. 


That's literally the easiest recipe ever. 

If you like your sloppy joes extra sloppy, you may want to add more ketchup. 

My husband and I love to eat our sloppy joes with pickles on top, steamed broccoli seasoned with Lowry's seasoning salt, and curly/crinkle/sweet potato fries or tator tots. It's one of our favorite dinners!

Now you have another use for those condiments in your refrigerator door! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE BEST Baby Shower Gift Ideas

We've all been invited to baby showers. Most mothers-to-be have created a registry (or two) for their little one, which usually makes shopping for a gift quick and simple. But sometimes it's just more fun to bring your own item! Or almost all the items on the registry have been purchased, or you see something irresistible on the fly during errands. Here are some ideas to help you pick awesome gifts that every couple with a baby on the way can appreciate!
  1. Diapers. This may seem like a pretty boring gift, but they are a necessity, not to mention ex-pen-sive, so every pack is appreciated!! Little babies poop and pee all day long, so baby can easily run though 10-12 of these in one day. It is such a relief for parents to have a stash of these in the closet and be able to avoid the hassle of running to the store for more during the crazy first few weeks (months, really!) of adjusting to this new life. A perk of giving diapers at baby showers is that there is a good chance that a variety of diapers will be given, which is great for the parents to have a chance to find what diaper works best for their baby. On the other hand, you may happen to give a brand the parents cannot use due to preference or a sensitivity the baby has, so please include the gift receipt. Nothing is worse than wasting precious diapers!
  2. Clothes. This seems like a pretty obvious gift, but here's how to be the best giver of infant clothes: make sure you are choosing a size that is appropriate for the season it will be worn. If you pick a 6-month summer outfit and the baby is born in the summer, the outfit will be useless. Of course, sometimes babies are born early and are small for their age, or are chubby marshmallow babies and have to go up a size (or two) in clothes, so there can be exceptions to this. Also, think twice before buying size newborn; some babies skip this size entirely, and most only fit in that size for a few weeks, if that. The smallest outfits are always the cutest, so it's very tempting to want to buy them, but consider that everyone else will be thinking the same. Consider buying a less commonly gifted size - 6, 9, or even 12 months. And lastly, duplicates in clothing can happen often, so it's always best to include a gift receipt. 
  3. Specialty Items. I received some of my most special things for Ava at my baby showers. I was focused on getting essentials for baby, so it was nice that friends and family could "spoil" her with fun things that I probably would have not thought of getting. Examples would be keepsake items, high-end clothes and accessories, boutique finds, or even just a really fun pair of shoes. Mommy may not think it is necessary at the time, but once her little bundle arrives, she will be tickled pink to have these special things for her perfect babe.
    Need those adorable handmade leather moccasins? Check out my friend's Esty shop to get yours!
  4. Toys and Books. Sometimes new parents overlook this important category. Suddenly their little baby can reach out and grab and kick and they are ready to be entertained! And we've all heard how important reading is for a young, growing mind. While these items may sit for a bit until baby is a few weeks old, they will be very useful! Newborn toys like rattles, O-balls, linking rings, and crinkle toys are a great start.
  5. A Group Gift. If the shower is with a bunch of your work friends or girlfriends, consider all going in on one expensive item. It is a huge relief when a pricey item is purchased - one less thing for the parents to buy! Especially if it is their first baby; buying all the necessary baby gear can easily set them back several hundred dollars, if not more. Be sure to include the gift receipt; it's always possible someone else may have given the same item - two of the same would not be useful, and returning it would mean money for mom and dad to purchase another baby item on their list!
  6. Your Favorite Item You Have Been Gifted. Most new moms want all the help they can get once baby arrives (they just don't know it yet at the baby shower!). So consider giving an item that you loved for your child or that made your life easier. A special note in the gift could be helpful to explain how/why it was helpful to you; it might just be the thing that she will go to when new baby won't stop crying. I was gifted a few items that, at the time, I thought I would never use. But I kept them, and it turns out, I was so glad I had them! Mothers-to-be have this idea of what a newborn will be like and they think baby will like exactly what they picked out. I learned that is not always the case! For example, a pacifier your baby loved - you never know which one a baby will prefer (or like my baby, she won't take one at all!). Just in case, include the gift receipt. 
  7. Things Mommy-to-be May Not Have Thought Of. I was gifted a small stash of "baby's first medicines", and these were SO great to have on hand for her 2-month shots and early teething. No first-time parent is expecting their child to need over-the-counter medication, so they are typically unprepared...and terrified! Give a quick-read thermometer to make temperature-taking easier. Consider gifting infant acetaminophan, infant motrin, infant saline nose drops, infant-approved teething remedies, infant gas drops, lotions, and diaper creams. It was nice for me to have a variety of things on hand, for example, kinds of lotion. One brand did not moisturize enough, so I tried the other kinds I had been gifted and found one that worked really well for my baby's dry skin. It eliminated the need for me to find time to go to the store and stand and compare products and prices - someone else had already done that step for me! I also got some cleaners - stain removers and baby-safe cleaning products, and I would highly recommend gifting Baby Oxi Clean - anyone who has a baby needs this to get out poop and food stains! Don't bother giving a gift receipt. It will show just how much she NEEDS these items!
  8. Things For Mom. Depending on your type of relationship with the baby momma, you may want to indulge her instead of the baby. As soon as the baby is born, all eyes go to the little bundle, and everyone kind of forgets what the poor postpartum mommy needs! Maybe some relaxation-promoting items, like chocolate, a relaxing shower gel or new shampoo, a gift certificate to a spa or salon, a lightweight robe and slippers, or a promise of some freezer meals after baby is born. Or perhaps gifting Tucks pads, boat-sized maxi pads, nursing pads, and hemorrhoid cream is more your style! Chances are, she'll use it all!
  9. Items Off the Registry. Out of ideas? Use the registry! Mom (and dad) probably invested quite a bit of time selecting just the right items that they would really like for their new addition to the family. It may not be the most personal item, but guess what...baby needs bottles! New mommy may not think, "Oh how sweet! This is the bottle that Aunt so-and-so gave us!" when using it, but dang it, baby needs to eat! Some stores offer points for each dollar purchased off the registry! My registry at Babies R US earned us $130 to spend in the store, simply because items off our registry were purchased!! That's free money, people!

Ultimately, just about any gift is greatly appreciated. Babies are expensive, and they need so much! Bottom line, you should probably include a gift receipt with any gift - you never know when duplicates will happen, or mom looks at it and thinks "what am I going to do with this?!", or it simply won't be used for x number of reasons. Now go spoil that baby!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Day in the Life of a 5-Month Old

I have found that as a new mommy, I am very interested in what other babies do all day, more specifically, what their routine is like. Every baby is so different, as is each household they live in. Since this is my first child, all I know is what Ava does.

I have to say, I felt very out of place as an Army wife when we arrived at our first duty station. We only knew one other person here, and so I had zero friends. As female adults, it can be difficult to make new friends. And what does every Army wife sit around and talk about?

Kids. Dogs. Deployments.

At the time, I had none of those. (well, I had experienced a deployment, but we weren't married yet and it was a Reservist Deployment, so it was "not on the same playing field".)

My husband was encouraging me to branch out and meet people, and I had to try to explain to him that I had nothing to talk about, since all the conversations inevitably end up about kids. And all I could do was listen and smile politely. I tried not to interject too often with a sentence starting with "well, the kids at the preschool I worked at...". It just wasn't received as well.

I only knew the "I raise your child from 8-5" perspective (which was actually more like 7-6). Now, to clarify...I am not using the word "raise" in a negative manner. I took my job as a preschool teacher very seriously, and to me, since mom or dad couldn't stay at home with the child, that it was an honor to be chosen to spend the majority of that child's waking hours teaching them. In all honesty, I probably spent more waking hours with these kids than their own parents did. Therefore, it was very important to me that I did my job right and thoroughly and made the most of their day. It was always my goal to send a child home "happily worn out". So I feel that I have a lot of skill sets already when it comes to managing children. A classroom of 9 babies...or 20 three-year-olds. So I know a little bit!

I can already see a MAJOR difference in these conversations now that I have Ava - they definitely revolve around baby talk! Adult conversation with my friends is now more of an idea swap:

"So what's her bedtime routine?"
"How do can I get my baby to like a bottle?"
"What are the best remedies for teething?"
"Have you tried ______?"
"I use ______"

And so on.

So for the sake of idea swapping, pure curiosity, and so I can refer to this for my next baby (haha NOT YET), here is what a typical day looks like for Ava! I know I am always curious what everyone else's baby does, and how they "do things".

7:00 - 7:30 Wake up

Immediate diaper change. She's always very wet.
Then I feed her, but sometimes she's not interested (She wakes at 5:00 to eat sometimes, or if she wakes in the 6:00 hour I feed her and lay her back down to try and squeeze and extra 45-60 minutes out of her. It doesn't always work. She ends up talking and squealing and playing with her feet in her crib.)
Next is lotion, getting dressed, and combing her hair. It's always tangly after each sleep!
Then we feed the cats and feed Duke and let him outside.
Next, she plays on her play mat while I have my breakfast.
If she didn't eat upon waking, I feed her now.
If she doesn't need to eat, then I will sometimes pump.
I usually do "good morning" songs with her. She loves it!
And then we play!*

9:00/9:30 Nap (I lay her in her crib 10-15 minutes before nap time. She has adapted amazingly to her sleep training! 99.9% of the time she goes to sleep without ANY fussing or crying, sometimes as quickly as a few minutes, but it rarely takes longer than 10 minutes for her to fall asleep.)
She usually sleeps 30-35 minutes, and maxes out at 45 minutes.
After she wakes up, I change her and comb her hair.
Tummy time!
Then I nurse her.

11:30/12:00 Nap
Diaper change/comb hair.
Tummy time!

2:00/2:30 Nap
Diaper change/comb hair.
Tummy time!

4:30/5:00 Nap
Diaper change/comb hair.
Tummy time!

---I make sure she does not sleep past 6:00/6:15. If she's due for a nap at 6:00, I keep her up and make bedtime earlier.---

7:00 Bedtime routine begins
On Wednesdays and Saturdays she gets a bath.
Then she gets a fresh diaper, lotion, jammies, a story, a nursing session, and I lay her in her crib.
I've been making more of an effort to break the nursing/sleep association at bedtime. Before sleep training, she used to fall asleep at the breast a lot and then having to get up and turn off the light and turn on the sound machine would wake her up. And then I'd have to work to get her to sleep again. But now, I nurse her with the lights on, and I don't turn on the sound machine yet. Sometimes she'll stop and coo at me, or gurgle and smile, or just stop and chat for a bit. I don't encourage too much playtime, but I'll talk and smile back with her, so it is now an extension of her awake time. Then when she's full, I carry her upright around the room until the room is ready for sleeping and I lay her down for the night.

7:30-7:45 She's usually asleep at this time.

Ava's naptimes occur at a different time each day. I do what I call a "rolling schedule"...she has 2 hours of awake time, so her next nap will always be 2 hours after she wakes up. So she only takes 4 naps, but every once in awhile we end up with a 2.5 or even a 3 hour stretch until bedtime. In this case I watch for signs to decide what to do. The other day she was sucking her thumb, rubbing her eyes, and lip-smacking (her newest sleep sign) so I decided to lay her down for a nap at 5:45. It was risky, because sometimes she fusses for 20-30 minutes during this late nap. I think she gets confused because she's tired enough for bedtime but there was no bedtime routine, so she fights it a bit. There was no way she'd make it to an early bedtime at 6:45 or 7. She was out within 3 minutes, although I had to go in and wake her at 6:20. She took a little longer to fall asleep at bedtime, but we stayed on schedule. Sometimes we will bump her bedtime back a little. We don't deviate more than 30 minutes from her bedtime to keep her schedule consistent.

A few weeks back I attempted to get her on a set nap time schedule. It didn't work. She was too tired to make the stretches to each nap time because she was only napping for exactly 30 minutes. Here lately she's been napping for a bit longer. So maybe I'll try again in another few weeks for a set schedule if these "longer" naps continue.

I'm finally in a place where I feel like Ava has more flexibility in her schedule. I had so much anxiety with her naps prior to her sleep training. There was so much effort involved in getting her to sleep, and she would only nap for 20-30 minutes. And she wouldn't even stay asleep the whole time! Those 20 minute naps were the devil!!

I had quite a long week doing Christmas prep this week, and man...errands sure take a lot longer with a baby in tow! She had fallen asleep in the car, but I HAD to get to the post office. It was my goal I had for the week to get everything sent out...and it was Friday afternoon. I had a stack of boxes and a whole bag of cards to mail out. So I decided I would disturb her and put her carseat in the stroller and wait in what was probably going to be the longest line ever at the post office. And wouldn't ya know it...it was pouring rain! But I did it anyway, and of course it was windy so as soon as I opened the car door, poor baby got a face full of rain! Thankfully there was NO line in the post office, so going during the downpour paid off! She stayed awake until I got back home, and I was able to lay her down for a solid 35 minute nap after her 10 minute nap in the car.

I would not have dared to do something like that a few weeks ago!

It also helps me feel more relaxed that she doesn't need so much propping while nursing. Just today I decided to stop using the boppy pillow...she's too big for it! She has the neck muscles and enough core strength that I don't really have to hold her as intensely (is that the right word?!).

I'm realizing that I've been pretty stressed out these last 4 months. I didn't really feel it until now, now that she's a bit older and she is becoming a more versatile baby. I've found that I'm so much more relaxed now, and looking back I can see how stressed I was. She's hilarious and is so much fun to play with! Which leads me into playtime!


I decided to describe her playtime down here because I knew I would talk about it for more than just a sentence or two. I learned an insane amount about infant playtime during my practicum in college. We had an incredibly structured classroom (which is a major understatement, if you ask me), and at the time I thought it was so overwhelming, but now I am thankful for the experience and knowledge!

We charted every. child's. milestones.

Every single tiny one. For 9 babies.

Feeding milestones. Gross motor and fine motor skills. Language skills. I don't know...there were like 8 categories. We also made sure they spent awake time in different positions...laying on their back, their side, tummy, sitting, kneeling, and standing. Yeah, you ever made a baby kneel?! They all hated it. Of course we had awesome propping equipment and used the most exciting toys we could find and sang and blew bubbles ALL AT THE SAME TIME in hopes they'd enjoy it.

We rotated toys every 15 minutes. Only 20 minutes in stationary equipment.

There were dry erase boards for each baby's napping schedule. Feeding schedule. Positioning chart. Diapering.

Oh my word. It overwhelms me just remembering it all!!

But I came out with an amazing foundation for being a mommy!

So I try to apply these things for Ava, but it's just not that intense!

I give her lots of opportunities for different kinds of play. She prefers to play on her tummy now, so I make sure to lay her on her back so she can practice rolling over. I help her stand so she can play her at her piano table. I have her sit in my lap, on the floor (with and without a boppy pillow), and on the couch to practice sitting up. I show her how to play with her toys, because babies have no idea what to do unless you show them. I provide her with opportunities to play alone, because solo play is an important skill that most overlook.

I let her "fuss things out" while giving her my vocal support so she can work on a skill. She always fussed when she was on her back for about a week, but it was because she was working on rolling over. If I picked her up every single time, she never would have had the chance to try. I instead sang to her, or just talked to her so she knew I wasn't ignoring her. And then she started rolling over all the time, and the fussing stopped!

I make sure to give her lots of physical contact - snuggles and hugs and touches. Lots of FaceTime and smiles and laughing! This girl is so happy, which makes playtime so fun! I make sure she gets lots of floor time to work on her gross motor skills. I give her time in the swing so I can do a few things. She gets time in her jumperoo, which she LOVES, and she has just started to figure out how to "jump" in it! It's great for when I am working on a project or something - I can sit on the floor and she is at my eye level, so we can chat! Plus she loves to watch Duke when she's in there because then they are at each other's eye level. I think he likes it, too!

I will mix things up and have her play in her room (this was especially important when I was sleep training so she learned her room was also a comforting and fun place). There are different toys up there as well, so she's usually pretty entertained. I do "rotate" toys in this way - I swap the living room toys for the bedroom toys since we spend most of our time downstairs. She occasionally hangs out with me in her Rock and Play in the bathroom while I shower and get ready for my day. Or we put away laundry in the bedroom (you know, the 3 baskets of it on the floor, haha) while she chats with the ceiling fan and plays with her feet.

She used to spend a lot of time in her play gym, but now that she rolls over to her tummy most of the time, its pretty useless to her. So I detached the toys so she can play with those, and put the "arms" of the play gym away and we use the mat for playtime around the house.

My favorite playtime toys for her right now are:

Foam letters - these are advertised as bath toys, but they are amazing teething toys! Just the right size for Ava to hold in her little hand and get in her mouth and chomp down on! They have a texture on one side and are smooth on the other, so they are a great sensory toy too! Of course, they are fun bath toys as they float and stick to the side of the tub when wet! Ava will get a lot of use out of these as I can obviously teach her letter, number, and color recognition when she's older. And did I mention you can use them for art? Dip them in paint for stamping or press into play dough for different markings. For $6.99 this is a purchase you simply cannot regret! (Can you tell I was a preschool teacher now?! Throw 'em in a sensory tub with rice/sand/water/dry beans/leaves/etc for older kiddos...I could probably think of more activities, too!)

Fisher Price Interactive Baby Grand Piano - this is Ava's favorite toy BY FAR right now! This toy was a hand-me-down, and I never would have thought of purchasing something like this for her so young. But it was hanging out upstairs in the closet, and I realized she has had the leg strength to stand with help and play with it. At first, she had no idea what to do. She just stared at it. But I took a good 10 minutes and went through all the buttons and switches and keys with her, and man, I was blown away! So many sounds and lights and songs! Now her face lights up when I put her in front of it! She loves music, so she gets to work on her balance, standing, and core strength while playing! And now, of course, I know all the tunes by heart and I sing along while she smiles and squeals! She has even started bouncing her butt back and forth - we suspect she's trying to dance!

Soft crinkle books - Ava loves to munch on these! She prefers soft toys for her teething gums, so this is one of her go-to toys right now. 4 weeks ago she couldn't have cared less about it. One awake time she spent almost 30 minutes just crunching and gumming this toy and gabbing to it.

"Taggies" toys - Ava is obsessed with the little loops of ribbons on these toys...or the tags on anything, really! She holds it and looks at it, and then puts it in her mouth for a few minutes, and then holds it out and stares at it some more. And then repeats the process over and over! She also enjoys grabbing her shirt and sucking on it. Or her sleep sack. Or her car seat strap before I get the chance to tighten it.

If she is really into an activity, I try not to disturb her; she may be in the midst of learning something new! I try to give her a solid 15-20 minutes at each toy/activity. This girl rarely cries...like, at all, so for that I am very grateful. But when she is fussing, I don't immediately go to her. I don't pick her up until she is clearly done with the activity.

Ava has changed a lot in this past month, and I'm sure this schedule of ours will change before I know it! Time is going by so fast - I just packed up her newborn and 3 month clothes!!

In case you are interested or curious about sleep training, I just finished reading a great book recommended to me by another mommy friend of a July baby that thoroughly explains so much about babies (and children all the way up to 5 years old) and their sleeping needs and how to train them. Even though I read it after I was done sleep training, it was exactly the method that I used! It made me feel even better about my choice since so many people are against "Cry It Out" sleep training. I think people get judgmental because that phrase just sounds so harsh. Anyway, I highly recommend reading the book The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West. I snagged a used copy for only $1.38! Just some bent pages and some marker scribbles in the back, which was fine by me!