Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cheesy Crockpot Chicken & Rice

Mmm I'm so excited to share this recipe with y'all!!

It should be a household staple for everyone!

It's easy, hearty, and satisfying!

We cook with a lot of chicken in our house, and I love being able to whip up a complete meal in a crockpot. A crockpot meal just about always gives you leftovers and allows you to dump and go and come home to a hot dinner. And as a bonus, you can throw the lid on it and put it in the fridge after dinner is over so there is no clean up! You can deal with the dishes another night; a crockpot dinner should mean a night off from cooking and dishes!

Here we go!

You'll Need:

3 chicken breasts, frozen is fine
2 cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup
2 cups of water*
2 chicken bullion cubes*
(the water and bullion cubes could be replaced by 2 cups of chicken broth)
2 cups of dry quick-cooking brown rice
2 cups of chopped cooked broccoli (more if you love it, less if you don't)

Here's my schpeal on the broccoli. There's a few ways to go here. You can either use fresh broccoli, chop it and steam it yourself (which I prefer), or if you want it to truly be a dump-and-go meal (which I also really prefer) then you can just zap some frozen broccoli in the microwave. Aim to buy broccoli florets and not broccoli cuts, as the latter will give you mostly stem pieces.

And a few more ingredients...

1 bag of shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
  (or if you are like me the lid comes flying open and you dump a ton of pepper in by accident!)

What You'll Do:

(Cook for 8 hours on low)

1. Dump the chicken, cream of mushroom soup, and water+bullion cubes into the crockpot.
2. 30-45 minutes before serving, add in the dry rice. Stir briefly to immerse rice.
3. DO NOT open the lid until 30-45 minutes have passed. You need the heat and steam to build back up to cook the rice. It's tempting, I know. The husband does it frequently if he's home for this part!
4. Right before serving, add in the cooked broccoli and cheese. Stir until everything is mixed in.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It may not need much salt so always taste first! I know salt is a very preferential thing!

Ohhh this is so yummy! We are on day 3 of eating it and it is so good leftover too! I think the secret is the cream of mushroom soup. I used to make this with cream of chicken instead and it wasn't as good. Don't be afraid of the mushroom! It adds great depth of flavor and you don't even know you're eating mushrooms!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Toddler "Boredom" Busters

Phew! These last few days with Ava have been little more challenging. We have switched her, cold turkey, to a 1-nap-a-day schedule...and she's a little overtired! She used to nap at 9:30 and 2, and it was taking her an hour or more to fall asleep at her afternoon nap and sometimes she would even skip one of her naps entirely! I felt like 13 months was a little early to make that switch, but she's always been an alert kid and napping hasn't always come easily for her, so it didn't surprise me too much that she was trying to tell me she's ready for just one nap!

She's pretty tired in the mornings, so I've been needing to keep her busy to distract her from being sleepy. We took trips to the park, and I made sure to have new things for her to do. It's been going a little bit better each day, except last night she had a big meltdown for no other reason that we could figure out besides the fact that she was ready for bed. I think we are going to move up bedtime temporarily until she fully adjusts. She's only sleeping for 1.5 hours during the day and that is not enough! She normally sleeps twice as long when she took 2 naps! And she's been waking early, so that's been great (sarcasm).

Let's discuss my post title for a moment...and that word "boredom".

I put it in quotations because I couldn't think of a more catchy title, but it's not the right word to use, exactly.


I remember a particular coworker being very passionate about this topic! :)

Small children are innately curious and born to explore! Just because they are staring at what seems to be nothing, does not mean their brains aren't working or they aren't engaged in an activity. Ava loved to stare at the ceiling when she was a baby - our plain, white ceiling. Another example could be that maybe a baby hears the chirping of a bird outside the window and has stopped to focus on it. Or when a baby finds a tiny speck on the floor and spends the next 10 minutes picking at it. The activities of small children may seem mundane and pointless to us, but they are always learning!! Their brains are like little sponges!

Sometimes as the adult, we have a hard time remembering this. We feel, as parents, that if we do not buy them enough stuff, that we aren't "good" parents and that our children won't be able to learn. This is not at all true!!

However, everyone can benefit from a change of scenery after awhile and to be stimulated by different things. Children love to explore, so here are some easy things your small child can play with to encourage new pathways of learning!

1. "Trash" (I'm just kidding! Or am I...)

Ava always wants to know what mommy and daddy have, and whenever appropriate, we try our best to show her (with the delicate balance of making sure she understands that she doesn't always get what mommy and daddy have...but that's a post for another day!). Rinse out an empty plastic bottle and let her play! Ava loved to put the lid on and off and then carry it around the house! Children love to play with real life items! It works on fine motor skills and can be considered a music activity too, as she learns about the sounds it makes when she drops it or taps another toy on it.

Another favorite is when we have empty boxes laying around. We order her diapers and wipes from Amazon so once a month we have big empty boxes in the hallway that she will push around or hide toys in! I'd say almost 50% of the time we have empty boxes in the house. Just for playtime! We have a really big box from her car seat that we just kept and put in the corner, and she loves to crawl in and out of it to hide or play!

At this age, Ava is loving yarn, string, and even floss! She will hold it and run in through her fingers and test it out in her mouth for what seems like forever! The floss is actually a pretty good sensory activity because she can taste it and smell it (ours is mint flavored) and its a tad bit sticky, too. It's a pretty untraditional "toy" that wouldn't be an acceptable toy in a preschool for her age, but you can use your own discretion at home.

So the next time you have something you plan to throw away, consider if it would be a fun, safe item for your little one to explore first! Reuse, reduce, and recycle, right?!

2. Kitchen items

Ava doesn't have free access to our kitchen since we have baby gates up, but when we are in there for mealtimes, we have begun letting her explore while we get dinner going or are cleaning up afterwards. She loves to open and close all the doors and drawers an occasionally picks something out. If it is something not dangerous or breakable, then I let her play with it. And every time I tell her it's time to leave the kitchen, she gets mad! She loves to explore in there! You can easily bring out some plastic containers and lids or utensils or bowls, or even the pots and pans for some fun play! Things that are loud and noisy are guaranteed to bring out a smile on a toddler's face! Are loud toddler toys annoying to adults? Most of the time! But you don't have to let them play with it all day long. Set a time limit and give them a reminder when time is almost up, and then put them away and move on to something else fun!

I let Ava play with some plastic water cups my husband and I had each gotten from our hospital stays over the last year or so. We are moving soon, so I've begin purging things we don't plan to keep. Before I recycle these cups, I let Ava have them! I'm actually thinking of saving the straws because that's her favorite part, and I could easily use them in sensory table activities in the future! She likes to pretend to drink out of them and carry them around the house. I showed her she could put toys inside and she thought that was great!

I feel like playing with these things is more fun because Ava knows they are not available everyday and that is what makes them so special! It's almost like she knows that she's not "supposed" to play with it, or that it's not typical.

3. Paper, Magazines, Cards, Newspapers, etc

Paper is a great activity because it's crinkly, it can be torn or folded or crumpled, each type of paper has a different texture and color and's a pretty open-ended activity! I'm going through things all over the house and I came across an envelope stuffed with old photos of flowers my mom had taken years ago. I picked out my favorites (I plan to blow them up, matte and frame them, and hang them up in the house) and then I let Ava have the rest! She liked to look at all the pretty flowers and there were even a few butterflies in the pictures! She liked to hold each one and then toss it and move them around with her hands. As you can see, she explored them pretty well!

4. Nature

I think it is common for it to be assumed that kids need toys to play with when they are outside. But the best part about being outside is...being outside!! It is literally a breath of fresh air! Ava loves our rock beds we have in our backyard and picking out just the right rocks. She enjoys practicing stepping up and down without help on and off the patio. I bring toys out with us and she never even touches them! She likes to play in Duke's water bowl and she likes to pick up the hose and try to drag it around. She checks out the dirt and the clover blooms and sticks her hands through the chain link fence. She's always loved feeling the wind in her hair and she loves to have the freedom to walk around and go where ever she wants! I just let her roam! There is so much outside: a tiny ant, a big tree, the sound of birds chirping or a motorcycle driving by (or a Chinook or 2 overhead), the warm sunshine or a cool breeze, the smell of flowers or a neighbor grilling...there's so much to take in!

I think technology has creeped in and has really been changing the way we parent. But don't forget about the basics!! We are going to create a world of kids who are dependent on toys that entertain them instead of learning to entertain themselves! That is how to create a truly bored kid - when you've conditioned them to expect things to do the work for them. I kind of wish there were less toys that required batteries and had flashing lights and screens and lots of "narration". I have a toy from when I was a baby that my parents had kept in the basement, and now Ava has it. It is a simple radio with a twist knob and two buttons. No batteries at all. And Ava loves it! It's almost impossible to find toys like that anymore!

Bottom line is, is that you can teach your child that anything can be a toy with some imagination and a chance to explore. Ask them questions about it or show them new ways to play. Let their own unique personality dictate how the play! Back to basics is the way to go with toddlers!

Happy Toddler Days!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Toddler Sensory Bag

Time for another simple, fun activity for your toddler!

For this DIY, you'll need: 

*1 gallon-size Ziploc bag

*Some sort of "suspension liquid" - I used some body gel oil that I didn't care for and was planning on throwing away. You can use just about any clear/semi clear liquid you have on hand - hair gel (dollars store sells it for cheap!), baby oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, or even water! It doesn't really matter what you use!

*Next, you'll want to add some goodies. Any random art supply will do; I had pom poms, beads, and sequins on hand so that's what I used. If you don't have a stash of art supplies built up yet, you can easily use household items! Torn up magazines or junk mail flyers, paper clips, rubber bands, or even creative!

Now you can fill your bag!

*Lastly, you will need clear packing tape to secure the bag to the floor. Make sure your bag is sealed well!

The body oil gel I used didn't go very far so I decided to fold my Ziploc bag in half. 
Ava was immediately drawn to the beads! This activity is good for fine motor skills as well!

The gel made things slide around very easily in the bag.

She even tried it out with her mouth! Of course her teeth put holes in the bag, so I patched it with more tape.

It looks so fun!

At one point I thought I was watching a game of Twister!

Again with her mouth!

She used it as a floor cushion, too.

Happy Toddler Days!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Entering the Second Trimester!

12 weeks...DONE!!

We are 1/3 of the way to meeting our baby!!

And we finally got to see little baby and we got an official due date!

The ultrasound image was of a 9 1/2 weeker, so there wasn't much to see! Still a "little gummy bear" as the doctor called it! And I am due February 27th! 

I was able to ask some questions about my delivery options. I will only have one more appointment with this doctor (if we are even here that long) so she gave me her opinion, but said my next doctor might have something different to say. She recommended letting myself go into labor, and have a c-section scheduled for a week or two past my due date in case labor did not happen. She said it is rare that they advise anyone against laboring, so it would be okay for me to do as well. Of course, this all depends on how baby is presenting; Ava was transverse or breech the whole time until the doctor did an external version to move her. I still feel a little reluctant to labor because even though Ava was head down when I went into labor, her head was not right on top of my cervix, so she still wasn't in the correct position to descend. I was dilating and was 100% effaced, but she was not descending at all so my station never improved. I just worry that I could end up in another emergency c-section situation. I guess I want to avoid going into labor just to have to be cut open again. I dread the recovery of a c-section too. So I guess we will wait and get the opinion of my next doctor and see how I carry this baby.

My doctor wanted me to do an early glucose test due to the fact that I have PCOS. I am at a higher risk for gestational diabetes, so I had my yummy orange drink a few days ago.

I've been feeling more pukey this time around than last pregnancy. I feel the yuckiest in the afternoon/evening, but some days are worse than others. I haven't been sleeping well, either. Maybe it's because I'm starting to stress about our move. Chris says he thinks it must be a boy since this baby is giving me all this "trouble" already!

We really want to do a 4D Ultrasound to determine gender in a few weeks! That will depend on the moving situation. Will we be here, or will we be there?! We don't even know at this point.

This move could be quite interesting. Let me break it down for you. Chris has a career course date starting at the end of October. However, he has to be promoted to a Captain before he can start this course. The promotion list is extra late this year, and he cannot request orders until that list comes out (we are assuming he will make Captain; there's no reason he wouldn't). So, as we are just sitting and waiting for this darn promotion list, we are getting less and less time to clear post and move and get settled at Ft. Gordon before career course starts. And since we plan to hire movers, there's not a whole lot to do except for sort and organize, purge and clean. Unless we get down to October and we are still here - then we might have to do a DITY. I don't even want to think about that! Otherwise the next available course date isn't until spring and we don't want to push back the timeline that far.

Anyway, I sometimes use a hair band to keep my pants buttoned. It's working for now, but that trick didn't last long with Ava.

I still love and hate food. Sometimes macaroni and cheese makes me want to hurl. And then the next day I can eat a whole bowl. And still no broccoli for me, please!!

I swear I have felt some baby movements already! I wouldn't know for sure if these were baby kicks if I hadn't already felt them before! I've felt a few small, but strong flutters here in the last week or so! The first time I felt Ava move was at her 4D Ultrasound at about 16 weeks and I could see her move on the giant screen and really focus on what I was feeling in my belly. It was helpful for me as a first-time mom to put the two together to help me realize those flutters were in fact Ava kicking and squirming! So it's a little early to feel movement, but I know it's little baby that I'm feeling!

Sometimes I wonder if this could be my last pregnancy. We are still on the fence about how many kids we want (2 or 3), and while there is no rush to decide, I can't help but remind myself that it is possible that this may be the last one for us. So I will be sure to cherish each day of this pregnancy and savor the memories and this precious time of carrying a life inside me.

We have already gotten little baby a crib! We don't want a new baby to be the reason to rush Ava into a toddler bed (plus her crib is a convertible crib we plan to use as a toddler bed), so we got a second crib. Fortunately, we won't need too much for this baby beyond what we already have! Just upgrading the stroller to a double and a few other things and we are set! It is a very different feeling this time around as far as "readiness" goes. Just gimme some newborn diapers and a few onesies (if it's a boy...poor guy will be nakey without boy clothes!) and I'll feel set!!

Anyone out there have their toddler and and infant share a room? Pros? Cons? It would be nice to have them share so we can still have a guest room AND an office in our house,  but I just wonder about those nighttime wakings/mismatched nap schedules and how that would affect Ava's ability to sleep. I hear it can be done!

I guess I'll throw in some Ava updates with these pregnancy updates, too.

What's New:
*Cutting tooth #8!
*Has skipped her morning nap a time or two...Ohmygosh WHY AVA???
*Looking at our family picture on the wall and saying "hi daddy" and waving at him! I love when she does this!!

Favorite Activities:
*Walking, walking, walking!
*Running! She loves to chase or be chased.
*Wearing her backpack.
*Crawling up the stairs.
*Eating - she's been getting to try more "treats" lately!
*Playing with daddy's phone...mommy doesn't share hers!
*Being tossed in the air!
*Reading books, with mommy or daddy, by herself, or with Duke - so cute! She sits with him on his bed and "reads" aloud to him!
*Pushing buttons on her toys
*Dancing to music (swaying back and forth or bouncing up and down)
*Bouncing on beds!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ziploc Bag Painting

I've been feeling rather disappointed in myself lately that I haven't done more hands-on activities with Ava. I am a preschool teacher after all, and I have an enormous arsenal of ideas for early education! For whatever reason, I just haven't been able to get my butt in gear to plan a few fun activities for my girl! 

Ok, well I am pregnant, so I guess that is a reason! I'm in the midst of 1st trimester exhaustion!

Ava is nearing 13 months so there are still a lot of activities she is still a bit too young for, but there is no reason I can't start introducing new concepts. Babies love to learn new things! And since this weather has been so hot lately, we are both needing something new and fun to do.

For this project, it is 100% MESS-FREE and so, so simple!

The materials you need are:

Paint, any kind, any color (I had just plain ole washable kids paint on hand)
Clear packing tape
1 Ziploc bag, gallon size (I would recommend the durable freezer ones, but regular ones would work fine too)

Start by opening up the bag and squeezing a dollop of each paint in the bag.
(Of course I chose primary colors...I'm a teacher you know)

Seal the bag and tape ALL edges to the floor.
You can also do this on the wall, or a window, or a table!

And then let the toddler go to town!

She used her knuckles for while.

Then she discovered she could use her feet! 
This is a great art activity AND a sensory experiment!

The colors started to blend!

Once she appeared to be losing interest, I transferred it to the window for another perspective for her.
It's so pretty!

Ava was able to scratch a tiny hole in the bag with her fingernail, but I noticed it before much paint squeezed out. Just throw a piece of tape over it and then you can keep painting!

Happy toddler days!