Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Unsolicited Advice

Little known fact about me: while I do have a half-sister, I consider myself an only child. My sister and I are 9 years apart, never lived in the same house, and think of each other as little more than acquaintances tenuously connected by blood.

I always wanted a sister to be close to. As an only child with a penchant for books that were far above my maturity level, I yearned for a sister to whisper with at night in a shared bedroom - sharing secret dreams for the future. A companion who would neither overshadow me in looks or intellect, but who would only support me in my pursuit of perfectly curled bangs (to go with my late 1980's triangle-head perm). A chum who I could chat with on the phone about boys and jobs and the mundane details of life. A friend who would become the Fabulous Aunt and gift my offspring with frivolities like cupcakes and monster trucks and candy necklaces.


I long ago came to terms with what our relationship is and is not. I do still secretly yearn for a sisterly friend, and find these feelings welling up now that I am surrounded by the young and pregnant of our Ward. I have at least 7 friends/acquaintances who are expecting. I am so excited for them, and can sometimes barely restrain myself from jumping up and down and clapping my hands in delight. I wish health and happiness and easy pregnancies on them all, and wish we were better friends (or sisters) so I could overstep the boundaries of good taste & friendship and give those first-time moms advice on baby goods and living La Vida Mama.

And guess what? It's my blog, and I think this is the perfect spot to do just that. Read on if you wish, or close your window now & avoid an overly lengthy post. Here's my 50 cents on things I wish I had known on my journey to motherhood.

Disclaimer: Part of the fun of pregnancy is figuring out what works for you & what doesn't. This 'advice' (and I use that term loosely) is based on my personal experience, and should not be taken as anything but my own wishful thinking of "I wish I'd had someone tell me this stuff ahead of time".


Medical Stuff
Your OB: First, realize that you'll probably only see your OB for about 20 minutes on the day of delivery. If you have a long labor, they may pop in a few times, but they're not going to hang out with you. 95% of your time in labor will be spent with the nurse or nurses who are assigned to your room. Be nice to them. Make friends. And say thank you. My nurses rocked & made the birth a pleasant experience. Don't be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you're uncomfortable (I need to take my own advice. I could have used a little epidural boost by the time the pushing began).


Pediatrician: I've always had pediatricians for my kids (vs. going to a family practice office). I felt more comfortable taking them to an office that specializes in kids, and am grateful that we've had some pretty great doctors. In Des Moines, I recommend Walnut Creek Pediatrics. We use Dr. Enserro, and she is fantastic. Dr. Wallin is also excellent. They've soothed many an uptight mom and anxious med student dad. They get an A.

Nursery

I loved decorating our nurseries! And I learned lots, too. Like buying the whole crib set is a big fat waste. The first thing your pediatrician will tell you is to be sure there's nothing in the crib with the baby - including a crib bumper. I did use the quilt as a wall hanging, but in the end, I realized I was perfectly happy with a crib skirt and a few sheets. Pottery Barn Kids is my absolute favorite. They have great sales, and you've got many months to lurk on their site & wait for a price reduction. They also mark things down lower in their stores than online. And I've tracked down PBK stuff on ebay. Check out Baby Gap Home, too.

There's tons of lightly used baby gear on craigslist & ebay. Don't be afraid to explore all your options, and get crazy with a little paint to refresh a tired item.

Crib: I personally don't care for the convertible crib. I think it's a marketing scam. If you're only planning on one baby, then this is a great way to go. But if you're planning on having more than one child, you will likely be re-using the crib for #2+ while #1 moves to a toddler bed or twin bed. For me, it would be doubtful that I'd ever end up "converting" that crib into a twin sized bed. I can also say that with as much as we move around, our crib is going to need a paint job and more if we ever need to use it for #3. ALSO - pay the money for a good mattress. It's something your bundle will be sleeping on for two+ years, and for us, we're re-using the same mattress for multiple babes. Don't forget the mattress pad! And I don't mean a plastic sheet. Would you want to sleep on crunchy plastic? Me neither.


Changing table: I have little advice here. I have one, I like it. Mine has open storage underneath so we use baskets to hold baby clothes & diapers. We use white baskets & I made basket liners for Big J so we didn't have to use the pink gingham ones we already had. I prefer having a changing table, as I don't always want to sit on the floor to change a dirty diaper, nor do I want to put a stinky kid on my bed so he can roll off or pee on the sheets. I bought chamois changing pad covers, and LOVE them. PBK has expensive ones, but Kids r Us has a less expensive version that is just fine. Probably wouldn't be hard to make, either.


Rocking chair: I could take it or leave it. It just never got used that much - Neither of our kids were rockers. I ended up nursing on the sofa most of the time. Much more comfy.


Mobile: Never had one, but love the idea of hanging one over the changing table. I would totally make this ribbon mobile for a girly room:



Image borrowed from OhDeeDoh



Diaper Genie: Love it. I detest taking the trash out particularly when it's -20 outside. And believe me, you have no idea how stinky those diapers can be. Seriously, brace yourself.

Diapers: A personal preference item. I like Huggies, and they are the same price per piece as the Kirkland brand. I've used both & they both get a thumbs up.

Wipes: I used to be a Johnson & Johnson fanatic, but have switched to Kirkland. The wipes warmer? Although it seems a little excessive, I've decided I really like the idea. When it's the dead of winter who wants their bum swiped with an icy wipe??

Monitor: Never had one, never felt I needed it. Our apartments have always been blessed with paper thin walls, and our house was so small that we didn't feel it was necessary.

General Decor: You can do a lot with a little. Curtains are a cinch to make & can be prettied up with a little ribbon or a contrasting panel. I love painted wooden letters, and attached mine with 3M poster strips so that there will be no nail holes. Framed prints are a great way to add some color and sweetness. Etsy has so much amazing stuff to pick from, and frames are inexpensive. Even buying a children's story book & framing the illustrations is an inexpensive way to lively things up.OhDeeDoh is by far my favorite website for baby decor advice.

Other Gear

There's SO MUCH baby stuff out there. Marketing tells you that you need all of it, but it's so not true. And there's not a lot you need right away. I DO tend to buy better quality products when I can afford them, knowing these will last longer & hold up better than buying cheap & replacing every year. Here's what I think:

Car seat: Critical! We have two - an infant carrier & a convertible seat. The infant carrier is great for little ones - at least until you decide that you're tired of being lop sided from toting around an 18 pounder. I wouldn't spend a fortune on this. I love our convertible car seat. It's a Britax Marathon & it's BIG. So big in fact, that it doesn't work that well in cars with a smaller back seat. But I still love it, and think my kids have been very safe & secure it. I also chose a neutral pattern. These do not come cheap, but with a little searching & patience you can usually find a sale or last year's model. Two items of note: #1 -I personally would not feel comfortable buying a used car seat. I'm sure there are bargains to be had, but this is an item designed to ensure your child's safety every time you get into the car together. You just don't know if a seat has been recalled, if it's been in an accident, or possibly compromised in some other way. #2 - Did you know car seats have expiration dates? They do. Educate yourself, and beware of hand-me-down seats.

Stroller: I think a stroller is an investment. I've never used a travel system (car seat + stroller system; just not my style), but they seem like a good idea. I went with a MacLaren Techno XT stroller. Again, not inexpensive, but it still works fantastically well after 5 years. It's light, it folds quickly & easily, and is quite small. I've traveled with it, taken it on long walks & short jaunts, and it's a champ. I also now have a BOB jogging stroller, and love it. If you are really active, I unequivocally recommend it.

Bouncer/ Swing, and more: We have a bouncer & have loved it. Used it every day of the first 8 months after baby came home. Some days, it was the only way I was able to get a shower & keep baby safe & entertained for 10 minutes. We even used it to feed the babes when they first started on solids. I've heard good things about swings, but went with the bouncer due to cost and portability. We also have a Jump-up (bought used), and #2 LOVED it. Used to fall asleep in it after wearing himself out.

High chair: You definitely don't need this for the first 6 months. If I had to do it again, I'd buy an all plastic one from IKEA. Our Graco has a cloth pad that gets gummed up with food after one meal. And yet I don't want to take it off because the seat is really not designed to be used without it. If we had a different table, I'd probably just go with a chair that could be hooked onto the table like this. If money were no object, I'd get one of these.

Breast pump: A matter of personal preference. If you think you want to pump I’d probably recommend you rent one from the hospital. At-home breast pumps take some getting used to, and can be expensive to buy (a good one will be around $100+). Cheap pumps are HORRIBLE, and will make it a painful, disheartening experience. NEVER buy a breast pump secondhand. This is unsanitary & no doc would recommend it.

Diaper Bag: This is an important item! You'll use that diaper bag as your purse+ for the next couple of years, so choose carefully. This is an item where price doesn't necessarily denote quality, value, or style. Go for something you can wipe down (inside & out), and that you won’t cry over when a bottle of formula leaks inside it. I like a bag with a convertible strap, so I can carry it over my shoulder or across my body. Plain, patterned, vinyl, leather, cloth, bedazzled, or bejeweled - there's something for everyone.

Misc: Boppy - love it (look at TJ Maxx); Blankets - buy several & keep one in the car, in the house, in the diaper bag, etc; Bottles/ pacis - a matter of whatever your baby will take; cloth diapers - indispensable! I love them for wiping noses, as a burp cloth, etc.; soap -Target Baby wash or J & J Lavendar; diaper cream -Boudreaux's Butt Cream (one of the best things I took out of the South!).

Clothes

Oh, where to even begin? Baby clothes are so much fun to buy, but the sad truth is that you probably don't need as much as you think. Unless your kids are genetically stunted like mine, they'll probably outgrow their clothes before they have a chance to wear half of them. The one exception is socks. Babies can wiggle out of socks faster than you can say 'boo'.

For baby’s first few months, kimono shirts are much easier to change in & out of than onesies. That, plus soft pants (like American Apparel karate pants) and you have a cute little outfit. Lots of PJ's are good too. Some days that's all the babe wore - or we had to change them multiple times in a night.

Invest in your favorite stain remover. You'll need lots of it.

I also confess that I am a hoarder when it comes to baby clothes. I have no problem buying a season or two ahead (on sale, of course!) and putting it away for later. Not only is it a surprise when I open that bin of clothes, but I still get a little thrill when I see the winter coat I scored for $6.75.

Gap: Love Gap clothes. Great for basics like jeans, solid onesies, and socks. Quality is high, colors last, and sales are good. The sale rack is my favorite place to shop, and I take a peek every time I'm at the mall. Their onesies and t's are so soft, and I love their boy jeans and overalls lined in jersey.

Gymboree: I never used to be a fan, but they have a lot of cute stuff and refresh every month or so. And they mark down really low. This is another store that I cruise through every time I'm at the mall. You never know what you're going to find in those sale racks. Order online once or twice & you'll get coupons in the mail - usually an extra 20 or 30% off. A couple of $3.99 items plus an extra discount means a smokin' deal. I do usually hang dry all Gymboree items. Their dark colors fade more quickly than I'd like. I can live with that when I know the whole outfit cost me $7.00.

Target, Wal-Mart, Children's Place, Old Navy: All great places for baby stuff, both full price & on sale. Quality varies.

Sorry for the long & rambling post. I hope all this helps someone.

Addendum: Hilery - thanks for the reminder. I did not address carriers or pack-n-plays. So here goes.

Carriers: I do love the Baby Bjorn. I bought mine on ebay, washed it up & it was really handy for the first year. I also bought a sling, but think I ended up with the wrong size. I've used the sling probably 4 times, and it's not super comfortable for either of us. A big disappointment, as I had really high hopes for it.

Pack-n-Play: I do have a Pack-n-Play, but use it infrequently - maybe 2 times a year. These are handy if you travel, but I wouldn't invest a lot of money in this item. Some people use them as cribs, and that's great. In that case, I'd spend more to get one that was a little more plush. I also wouldn't buy a "travel" size - your babe will outgrow it in just a few months.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dressing Delight

I generally consider myself to be a smart cookie. And yet, sometimes I am so dim that I am amazed I can remember how to tie my own shoes.

I love salad but generally I'm far too lazy to make it myself. All that rinsing and chopping? Oy. And yet.....In my never-ending efforts towards better living through healthy food, I have been working to combat my natural sloth-like tendencies and break my distaste for salad preparation.
Tonight I made pork chops with spinach salad on the side. The recipe called for marinating the chops in a balsamic vinaigrette -which can, of course, also be used as a delightful salad dressing.

WHY did no one tell me it was so easy to make this creamy, dreamy dressing at home??


Balsamic-Rosemary Vinaigrette

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt,
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a blender, combine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic clove, rosemary, water, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. With machine running, add 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a thin stream; blend until creamy. (To store, refrigerate, up to 2 weeks.)

I served this on my spinach salad, tossed it all with a little tomato and topped with herbed goat cheese.

Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food

PS - The Des Moines Farmer's Market opens this Saturday. Who's excited?!?!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fab Friday: April 24 (a little late)

Oops. I must have been overwhelmed by the extreme sunshine and Friday afternoon work projects & forgot to post this yesterday. Sorry.

I love shopping at Hy-Vee. I am always torn because you can't beat Wal-Mart's prices on so many things (cereal.... cheese.... granola bars..... you know what I'm saying). And yet I love Hy-Vee. The people are so friendly. They have an actual butcher counter. It's quiet. And clean. And they carry Method soap in Grapefruit so I don't have to make a special trip to Target. Plus they have a lovely little Health Market section for all my organic food needs. Not that I have many, but I am integrating more soy milk and whole grains into our diets. Sometimes I even stumble across a new specialty item that looks interesting. Today I had to scoop my jaw off the floor when I found these:







These are Olive tortilla chips by Food Should Taste Good. Yep, that's the company name. It says it all, doesn't it? I discovered these when I was in Vegas for work in January - eating at the local Whole Foods for most of my meals.

The olive is subtle, but distinct. I like the sharp bite of Kalamata. It's a really fresh take on the tortilla chip, and if you like olive, I highly recommend them. They offer a variety of flavors including Buffalo, Sweet Potato, and Cinnamon - all with a tortilla chip base. They are Gluten free, Cholesterol free and Kosher. I believe they were either $1.99 or $2.99 for a 6 oz. bag. Run out today and staisfy your snack craving with Food Should Taste Good. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Heal Thyself

One of the super fun aspects of being a part of the Med School experience is the constant self-diagnosis that occurs. With almost every new class comes the declaration of a new condition, syndrome, or state.

We're currently in the midst of Psychiatry.

This has been extra fun, as so many of the signs & symptoms are generic enough that if you reflect long enough, you'll convince yourself you have that particular condition. This week, I've been 'diagnosed' with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Per Wikipedia: Obsessive–Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder which involves an obsession with perfection, rules, and organization. A person with OCPD may feel anxious when they perceive that things are not "right." This can lead to routines and "rules" for ways of doing things, whether for themselves or their families.

While that's not an all-encompassing definition of the criteria for OCPD, it's a pretty solid condensed definition.

I laughed when Big Daddy first started 'diagnosing' me. But the more I read, the more I identified with certain parts. These are highlighted in red.

Per Wikipedia: There are five primary areas that cause anxiety for OCPD individuals: time, personal and social relationships, cleanliness, tidiness, and money. Time becomes a problem when they dwell for so long on getting something "right" that they stand the chance of not finishing in time. Personal and social relationships are often under serious strain because the OCPD individual insists on being in charge and the only one who knows what is "right". Uncleanliness is, in the eyes of some OCPD individuals, a form of lack of perfection, as is untidiness. They may spend considerable time each day putting everything in precisely the right place in precisely the right manner. Money is of concern because many OCPD sufferers are anxious about the potential for things to go wrong in their lives. They may hoard items for a 'rainy day'.


I reflect back on my childhood & can see some of these tendencies from a young age. But it's hard to know what is inherent (OCPD can run in families - Dad, I am looking at you), and what was shaped by childhood experiences.

I tend to be preoccupied with the rules, and doing things the right way. If I perceive that someone else is having the rules bent or broken for them & feel like I can't have the same done for me, I OBSESS. I know - unhealthy, right?

I also have an unhealthy desire to do things "right". Right doesn't necessarily mean the best or easiest way - it means the way I want it done. I hate creating presentations at work because I will literally never be done, no matter what the deadline is. There's always the desire to look at it "one more time" and make "one last tweak".

I have control freak tendencies. Again, I think I am learning to ratchet it back, but I definitely like things done my way. Having kids and being married has forced me to re-prioritize, and I think I am getting better. I think we can all agree that no marriage will have both happiness and longevity without compromise. I still have a long road to travel towards learning to lighten up & let go a little more.

If you've seen my house, you'll know that I don't have the clean gene. My house is not disgusting (but please don't look at my kitchen floors), but it's not spotless either. Part of me wishes I were a little more compulsive about cleaning, but with a husband who truly doesn't care & two young kids strewing chaos wherever they go, a part of me has just given up. Am I more at ease in a clean house? Yes. But I know I don't want to be a Molly Maid, and I'd rather go to the park than steam clean the carpets in my rented apartment.

Money. Oh yes. As much as I do like to spend money, and prefer to deny myself nothing which my heart desires, I have TREMENDOUS anxiety over money. This was born from the fires of childhood experience, none of which we need to explore here. Let's just say that to me, money=stability. I don't think I need a million dollars in the bank to feel secure, but I do long for the day when I don't need to fret over whether or not I can buy diapers AND formula in the same week.

Keep it or toss it? Again, I think I'm making progress. My home was never filled with stacks of crumbling newspapers and 5,000 balls of dryer lint, but I do lean towards keeping items of sentimental value long after that sentiment has dissolved. I like nice things, but often talk myself out of using them because that moment isn't 'special' enough. There must be hope for me. I'm starting to feel that every day is a special day. Why shouldn't I wear perfume to the grocery store or my pearl bracelets to church? Stuff is meant to be used, and this year I fully intend to bust out my Christmas china on December 1 and use it the WHOLE MONTH. NOTE: I did not purchase said Christmas china. It was a hand-me-down from my Mother, who has a whole set of her own issues. And an even larger set of china.

I guess the whole point of this post is to say that it's been a fun week around our casa. Whether this condition actually applies to me or not, it's been thought provoking. And the first step towards improvement is acknowledging that there's an issue. Self-awareness is good, and of course: Knowing is Half the Battle.

Did I just date myself with that cartoon slogan? I think I did.....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

VB6

I have been lurking on Facebook for the last few days. I have little to add to the posturing, but find amusement in the silliness that appears before me. I am a 'Fan' of NPR, and I receive news feeds when they post new stories. Today there was a feed on one of my favorite cookbook authors: Mark Bittman.

He's a food writer for the New York Times, and has authored several cookbooks including my personal fave: How to Cook Everything.

The gist of the story is that he has begun advocating a Vegan before 6 approach to eating. My understanding is that this means you follow a Vegan diet (no animal products - meat, dairy, eggs - but lots of veggies & whole grains) until 6pm. After 6 (or whatever your dinner time is) you may eat as you wish. Within reason. Less junk food, more whole food.

I have to admit, I am intrigued. I've been dabbling in thoughts of healthier eating. Soy milk, whole grains, less processed foods - all good things, right? I could sub in soy milk on my cereal and salad with pita & hummus at lunch. But the thought of no cheese until 6pm? Not sure I could pull it off.

Here's another little blurb from Reader's Digest on his plan.

I am also curious about his latest book called Food Matters. He advocates learning more about how the food we eat is harming the environment, how we can make realistic changes, and WHY we should make changes. Plus there are 75 new recipes to explore.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Working

The formula filled with diamond dust and starlight is working!

Big J gained 1 lb. in two weeks. That's 5% of his body weight.

He's also crawling all over the place, sitting himself up, and responding more frequently to basic baby signing (eat, more, all done; no worries, we use these not because he can't verbalize but because it helps him express himself without words).

While I am stoked that he's responding to the million-dollar milk replacement, I am now filled with guilt that I've been depriving his tiny body for the last 6 months. Should I have been feeding him milkshakes and moon pies all along?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

My friend Liz bestowed this recipe upon me, courtesy of Cook's Illustrated. I had never seen nor heard of this magazine before, but after reading a single issue I am hooked. I also made these cookies twice in one week, and I am embarrassed to admit how many I ate. Let's just say there is a reason they're called Perfect. Make these, and you'll be the belle of the bake sale!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tsp. table salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks

optional: 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl, set aside.
  2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
  3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough a final mix to ensure no flour pockets remain.
  4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop), Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.
  5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking, Transfer baking sheet to wire rack, cool cookies completely before serving.
NOTES: Watch that butter! It can go from golden brown to black in just a few seconds. Follow the instructions, especially when mixing and resting the butter/sugar/egg mix. Size matters, and I don't think you'll have the same spectacular results if you try to make tiny teaspoon sized cookies. I made one plain batch, and one with pecans. I love pecans, and thought they added an extra layer of buttery, lightly crunchy flavor. Even my husband, the anti-nut, had to concede that the pecan batch was just as delicious as the other.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Egg Noodles

We have recently discovered the delight of fresh noodles. Much like bread is far is easier to make than one imagines, so too are fresh noodles. This is my go-to recipe, courtesy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I love that cookbook.

Traditional Egg Pasta Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

1 tsp. salt

3 eggs

A few drops of water

Note: I take the easy way and use the food processor, but you can certainly do it by hand.

Combine flour and salt in the container and pulse once or twice. Add the eggs all at once, and turn the machine on. Process just until a ball begins to form, about 30 seconds. Add a few drops of water if the dough is dry and grainy; add a tablespoon of flour if dough sticks to the side of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a dry, lightly-floured work surface and knead until it is smooth, just a minute or two. Add water by the half-teaspoonful if the mixture is dry; add flour if it is sticky. This should be an easy dough to work. Cut the dough into 6 pieces; wrap 5 pieces in plastic.

Roll out with a manual-pasta rolling machine like this:



Cook in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Your fettucine alfredo will never taste the same again.

Notes from my mistakes:

I usually mix the ingredients in the processor and finish it by hand. If it doesn't ball up in the processor, it's OK. Turn it out on your work surface, and knead it by hand for a minute or two and it will smooth out and come together.

Wrapping the dough in plastic wrap is key. It can dry out very quickly, and becomes really difficult to work with.

Experiment with the settings on your machine. We usually end up with the final roll between a 6 and a 7.

After I've rolled it in the machine, I usually lay the strips onto a cooling rack while I roll out the rest. One of these days we'll make of these:


Beef Stroganoff Recipe

This is one of my favorite cool-weather recipes. Something about Stroganoff just says "family classic". I never had Stroganoff growing up, and was pleasantly surprised when I tried this recipe. Thank you, Everyday Food. As written, this recipe serves 8. I like making this on Sunday, as you can throw it into the slow cooker in the morning, and quickly put the finishing touches on it just before serving. My modifications are in italics.

Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs. beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat & cut into slices about 1/2" long and 3" wide
I use about 1 lb. of whatever chuck-y meat I can find: usually mock tender or top blade steak.

1 large onion, chopped
I use 1/2 onion

1 Lb. white mushrooms, trimmed and halved

Coarse salt & ground pepper

2 Tbs. cornstarch

2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
I omit this. I can't stand mustard.

In a large slow cooker, toss beef, onion, and mushrooms with salt & pepper to taste. Cover, and cook for 6-8 hours. If your slow cooker is turbo-charged like mine, be sure to use the 10 hour setting and turn it off after about 6 hours.

Turn off slow cooker. In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, whisk cornstarch with 2 Tbs. water. Tip crock so that liquid drains to one side. Ladle 1 cup cooking liquid into measuring cup & whisk to combine with cornstarch mixture. Pour into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until thickened - about 1 minute. Pour gravy over meat mixture & add sour cream & mustard. Mix to combine, and serve over noodles.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fab Friday: April 17

While it has been difficult to concentrate on anything with the siren call of sunshine and 65 degree temperatures beckoning outside my window, I have finally settled on my Fab Friday choice:

Did you know I am vain? Oh yes, it's true. Despite my current outward appearance (I make my 24-year-old self CRINGE sometimes), I am vain. Maturity and a reorganization of disposable funds have collided to make my vanity far less obvious than it once was, but one of the things I am most secretly vain about is my hair. It has taken me many years to come to terms with my hair. And once I did, pregnancy changed it & forced a reevaluation upon my sleep-deprived brain. But one product which has stood the test of time, grey hair (not that I have any yet - No, No!), and 2 body-chemistry-altering babies is Terax Conditioner. It's described as ultra moisturizing, and it is. I only wash my hair about twice a week, and on one of those days I use Terax. I dispense a quarter-sized amount, massage it in, and INSTANTLY my hair is softer, smoother, and tangle-free. I love it. Love, love, love it.

Now ladies, this miracle product does not come cheap, but think of it this way: your hair is your crowning glory. Don't you want to have soft, beautiful, bouncin' and behavin' hair? I know I do. So pamper yourself with regular trims, and treat yourself to this miracle elixir. 6.7 oz. will cost you $22 at Sephora. A tube this size usually lasts me a YEAR. When you use quality products, you don't have to dump on a handful like you do with the cheap stuff. At approximately $0.42 per application, I think this is well worth the money.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Partial Big J Update

Although we have yet to return to the doctor to verify Big J's progress, I think I can say that ounces are being gained.

His 6-12 month pants seem uncomfortably snug in the waist.

His twiggy arms are pudging out.

And he was BURSTING out of his PJ's tonight. Seriously, one of the snaps would not stay closed around his fleshy little thigh.

It's nice to know that a super-charged formula made with gold dust and angel tears actually works. I don't think those are on the official ingredient list, but that MUST be what's in there for what they are charging per case.

It's been worth every penny.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Free to Explore

Yesterday we did something impulsive, rash, and frivolous.

We got passports.

For the whole family.

Big Daddy and I have been talking about it for a while. His was about to expire, and we discovered that mine had expired, but was still barely within the time to renew without having to start from scratch. That, coupled with a soon-to-be proximity to our neighbors in the Great White North, pushed us to Just Do It.

So we filled out all the forms online, rustled up the required documents, had two sets of pictures taken, and wrote out a half-dozen checks.

In about 3 weeks we should have our passports back, and we'll be ready for travel!

We didn't HAVE to get them just because we'll be 20 miles from the Canadian border. We could have secured passport cards and called it good. But we like to be prepared. And coupled with Big Daddy's rather rash pronouncement that should I keep my job for another 2 years, we WILL go on a fabulous foreign trip after graduation - well, what can a girl do? The siren song of Europe is playing, and I rather enjoy considering the possibility that 2 years from now we could be basking in the glow of the Sistine Chapel and filling our bellies with all the gelato we care to eat. Have you had pizza in Italy? It is an unparalleled gastronomic experience.

The Amalfi Coast. Can't you smell the briny sea?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fab Friday: April 10 Edition


We are big Camelbak fans in this house. From the original chunky waterbottle (of which we have at least 4) to the kid-sized version (another 4 floating around the house) to my new favorite with a grip and sip mouthpiece, I love my Camelbak water bottles. The berry-colored beauty shown here accompanied me to the hospital for Big J's birth, and kept me well-hydrated during and after my labors. It's drip-free, travels well, and doesn't hold odors or give an aftertaste to your beverage of choice. While I usually fill it with water and go, I've also been known to drop in a packet of Crystal Light for a little burst of flavor to my 25 oz. of hydration.

You can buy one online here, or visit your local sporting goods store to procure one for about $14.00.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pro-V

I realize vaccinations are another controversial subject to navigate amongst the jungles of parenthood, so it's not something I discuss often. We've always been pro-immunizations in our home (even prior to med school). I think Dooce nailed my personal stance on vaccinations.

http://www.dooce.com/2009/04/07/word-or-two-about-vaccinations#comment-354515

This is my favorite paragraph:

"That our children do not have to fear death from diseases like measles or polio or whooping cough is a miracle made possible by modern technology and science. And I guess the crux of this really complex problem for me is that as the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children increases so does the likelihood that these diseases will become a problem again. If you've decided that the risks are too great to vaccinate your child then you are counting on the rest of us who are willing to take those risks to decrease the chances that your child will be exposed to these diseases. You are counting on us. Maybe what I don't understand (in reference to my statement in the video) is the act of and willingness to give up that control. The choice to refuse vaccinations just seems to me to be a first world luxury."

Thank you, Heather B. Armstrong.

I realize that there are many who have joined the "Autism is caused by vaccinations" camp. And while I can certainly understand the need to vilify something in response to the very bewildering and saddening disease of Autism, the bottom line is that the science doesn't support the theory.

Just my two cents on this sunny Wednesday afternoon.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Big J Update

Big J had his pediatric GI appointment this morning - bright & early. In fact, it was so early that we beat most of the staff to the 3rd floor. Once the office was up and running, the nurse was kind and the doctor was great. She also sees the concern in his lack of weight gain and his initial treatment is to involve calories, calories, and more calories. Instead of formula, he'll be delighting in this scrumptious beverage:
It's sort of a souped-up version of Pediasure, and costs a fortune. The dietitian was kind enough to load us up with samples to get us started. I've also been instructed to add 1 Tablespoon of OIL into his daily diet. Yuck. I think I can sneak it in by buttering much of his food, and I even got him take a few bites of chicken salad with mayonnaise at lunch.

We talked a bit more about the possibility of Celiac, and I thought it was interesting that the doctor's take on it was opposite to his pediatrician's: it's more common than you think. Perhaps that's simply because by the time you get to a pediatric GI doc, the incidence is higher than that of the average pediatric population. Regardless, she also said that the initial screening for Celiac often offers false negatives. Depending on the outcome of his next visit we may go to the next step of 'scoping' his intestines, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

His current diagnosis is Failure to Thrive. Talk about a guilt-inducing statement! I realize there are both organic and inorganic causes of failure to thrive. While I may not get everything right when it comes to parenting, I do pride myself in keeping my children well-fed (although you might not think so if you saw Big Sis' lanky legs). As I talked about his diet, appetite, and eating habits, I found myself wondering "Does she think I'm lying?" I guess if CPS comes a-knocking at my door, we'll know the answer.

After a 3 hour visit we left with all veins intact and no tears, which was a bonus for all involved. BUT we do have homework:

Oh yes, I get to gather a "sample" and return it to the lab ASAP. I sort of wish they would have included a pair of gloves with the biohazard bag. All in the day of the life of a Mommy.

PS - Thanks to everyone for the encouraging words. While the Mama Bear in me thinks he's just leveling out to be on the small side (seriously, I looked at Big Sis' 2 year stats & she was barely over 21 lbs. at 2 years old!), I still appreciate your support.


PPS - He's army crawling now! He finally realized that mobility rocks & will now roll, shimmy, and army crawl his way around the living room.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Soccer Cubs

I have a marked lack of athleticism in my gene pool. Despite participating in gymnastics as a child, and later being a cheerleader and member of the track team, coordination & stamina are not my strong suits. It does not appear that Big Sis inherited my lack of athletic ability, and she can actually run and kick a ball at the same time, so we thought it might be a good idea to start her on team sports now. Saturday was our first day of Soccer Cubs.


Before we even had a chance to check her in she grabbed someone's soccer ball & started kicking it all over the field.


There are 6 members of the Purple Lollipops.



She follows instructions very well.


Mini drill



They had a 3 on 3 mini-scrimmage against the Green Gumdrops, and here she's on her way to scoring her first goal.

Unfortunately, she scored for the other team & here she's getting hollered at by #1. Good thing they don't keep score. She handles the ball pretty well for her age, but we need to work on getting her to be a little more aggressive on the field.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Picture Tag

Here are the rules: You have to answer the questions with a Google image search. NO using your own pictures. You can't use any words to describe anything either (unless they are a part of the picture).

Favorite Color



Favorite Animal




Bad Habit



Where I Live




Favorite Author (right now)




My Job



Favorite Hobbies



Favorite Food
Favorite Treat

Favorite Places to Be




I tag Robyn, Liz, Chrissy, and Hilery.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fab Friday: April 3

I love to bake. While I have yet to master the secret of chewy, not-too-crispy chocolate chip cookies, I HAVE found the secret to not burning the bottoms: Parchment Paper.



Parchment paper is a baking tool used to line your cookie sheets and baking pans. It helps eliminate the need to grease the pan (I have seen recipes call for you to grease the pan, line with parchment, then grease the parchment - those cakes popped out like a dream!). It creates a non-stick surface and allows foods to cook more evenly. While I use it primarily in baking, parchment paper can also be folded to make moisture-resistant packages for cooking "en papillote" - essentially steaming the contents when placed on a grill or in the oven - perfect for those looking for a healthy, low-fat method of cooking. Here's a sample recipe that has my mouth watering.


You can buy parchment paper at fancy online shops, but I buy the Reynolds brand at Wal-Mart. I can't recall how much it is, but I only buy about 3 rolls per year. If you visit their website, you can print out a coupon for $0.75 off.

Note: Parchment paper is a disposable version of the Silpat or silicone baking mats. I've used baking mats before, and I prefer parchment paper because I think the baking mats are a pain to clean.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

High Chair Recall

I stumbled on this information, but thought others might need a heads up. We happen to have one in our home. Evenflo recalls high chairs. You can go to the Evenflo website and enter your info to be sent a repair kit.

Worries

The past few weeks have been challenging.

Here are my major updates (gripes), in no particular order:

I am still reeling from our Spring Break trip and my surprisingly intense resistance to move to Detroit. I am mentally digging in my heels, hands clenched at the doorway of our lovely Des Moines. It's taking a superhuman effort to even consider the logistics of planning and executing a 600 mile move. I am obsessing over where to live and complicating matters because we really want to find a house to rent, but of course want it 'all' - a reasonable price, decent size, storage space, quiet location, a decent school, and all wrapped up in perfect timing. I think I found a place that will meet 90% of our criteria, but am now fretting because I can't just hop in the car and drive 10 hours to check it out.

My biggest concern has been Big J. He had his one year check the Monday after Spring Break, and we discovered that he's a lightweight. In fact, he's only gained a pound in the last 6 months. Coupled with his lack of desire for mobility, his featherweight status gives us cause for concern. Now, let me head you off at the pass: He Eats Well. I will not go into a full accounting of his dietary habits, but I assure you, he has a decent appetite and we feed him as much as he wants to eat. He has continued to lengthen, and his noggin is holding a big brain, so no worries there. For those not well-versed in baby growth, the issue is that he's dropped significantly on the growth curve. When a baby goes from consistently being in the 50th percentile of the weight category to the 2nd percentile, questions and concerns start to form. Is he simply on the cusp of a growth spurt? Or is his body not functioning at an optimum level?

3 vials of blood, one spectacular bruise, and many lab tests later, we still have no inkling what - if anything - may be going on. We spent several days thinking it was Celiac disease (a gluten allergy), and am grateful that one was negative. We have an appointment next week with a pediatric gastroenterologist and while deep down I think we are going to end up realizing that he's just a little on the small side, as a parent I worry so much about what it might be. Having a husband in medical school doesn't help at all. While he tries not to succumb to Medical School Diagnosis Syndrome (my own name for it), he can't help but read about all the rare diseases or mysterious conditions that are out there. The chances of a rare and unfamiliar condition are 500,000 to one, but someone has to fill the role of "one".

So, I've been busy living with a worried mind and a concerned heart. Waiting impatiently for the next phone call or doctor's appointment has made me anxious, withdrawn, a little jittery, and quite grumpy. I've been eating my feelings instead of sweating them out, and I feel it in my jeans. Big Daddy's schedule has been hectic and inconsistent, and committing to a 5:30am wake-up for regular exercise (the only time I feel like I could possibly fit it into my schedule) feels overwhelming right now.