Saturday, March 30, 2013

No-Mess Easter Eggs

I was hesitant to dye Easter eggs with Will this year because of the mess. I was envisioning dye everywhere, stained fingers, ruined clothes... the works. (Plus none of us like hardboiled eggs, so boiling and dyeing a bunch of eggs seems like a colossal waste.)

However, I still wanted to do something with Will to celebrate Easter, so when I found this felt Easter egg tutorial via Classic Play on Friday, I immediately ran out to get supplies.

Exploring the materials 
Mixing it up

I invested about 20 minutes and $5 into the project. I cut the shapes freehand from felt, which included five eggs, stripes, stars, triangles, "jelly beans" (small ovals) and a chick. Some of the eggs "crack open" which Will thought was really fun. He had a blast decorating and re-decorating this morning, so I consider the project a complete success.

Although the tutorial has you make a felt-covered wooden board, I just used two felt sheets (one green, one blue) on the dining room table. I can see where the board would be convenient (and sturdier), but the felt sheets worked fine.

I regret not posting this sooner, but we just made ours last night! Wishing you a festive and mess-free holiday...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Marriage After Baby

I mentioned this in my 30th birthday post, but marriage with young children is hard.

Ben and I especially struggled in the weeks and months after Will was born. Navigating new parenthood is disorienting enough. But add on a colicky newborn and post-partum depression, and we had a lot of stress in our house for the first 6 months year of Will's life.

I used to feel so isolated because NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THE HARD STUFF. Being a mother is incredibly rewarding. I love my child with all my heart and soul. But parenthood isn't all sunshine and roses. And it took a toll on our relationship.

I tried opening up about our struggles. But everyone else's marriage was "stronger" and "better" and "OMG, so much more meaningful" after kids. Yet Ben and I were getting divorced at 3:00 AM when the baby was up for the fourth time in five hours and neither of us had slept in over a week. I seriously thought we were the only couple this was happening to.

So I found this column honest and spot on. While reading, I was actually nodding my head and chuckling in agreement. I literally could have written this myself, so here's my augmented commentary:
  1. Affirmative: Sex and wine fix almost anything.
  2. We spend many an evening with me on my MacBook and Ben on his iPad. But if we're sitting on the couch right next to each other, I consider this a win.
  3. I don't know how anyone raises kids without grandparents nearby. My in-laws live 20 minutes away and are always willing to pitch in. My own parents visit 1-2 times a month, which is a blast for Will and wonderful rest for Ben and I. Grandparents rule.
  4. For the love, pay your babysitters well. This is not the time to bargain shop. We usually pay $8-10/hour, depending on how old the sitter is.
  5. I also despise the term "date night". But do it. Regularly.
  6. We're really bad at this. But to make your marriage a priority, you have to see yourself as more than a parent. You have to be a partner first.
  7. We really try to limit screen time in our house, but sometimes Super Why is a freaking lifesaver.
  8. I'm better at going out with friends than going out with Ben (and visa versa). Partly because we don't have to arrange a sitter if one of us is home. But we really have to work on making more time for each other.
  9. We rock at making "someday" plans. When we go back to Italy, when we finally take that beach vacation, when we can afford to re-do the basement. Shared dreams and a vision for the future help keep us connected.
  10. Yes. For the love. Just shut the door.
  11. Ben and I check in with one another quite frequently throughout the day. Nothing too crazy, but it's always nice to touch base via phone call or text message, if even for a minute.
  12. I think it's important for us to sit down and eat dinner as a family, but this is a good reminder that we can occasionally eat after Will goes to bed and just be adults for a bit.
  13. I'm known for being crabby as hell when I'm hungry. Sometimes in the middle of the fight, Ben will ask me if I need a snack. More often than not, I do.
  14. Taking a breath and apologizing goes a long way. I read once that the least pissed person should take responsibility for de-escalating an argument. Usually, if one of us softens, so does the other. It makes resolving the issue so much easier.
  15. We literally had the kitchen counters fight last month. I think this woman is me in a parallel universe.
  16. Will's bedtime routine is sacred at our house. I know some people think we're way to rigid, but getting him to bed on his schedule makes everyone's night better. I desperately need those 2-3 hours of child-free time after he goes to sleep. It makes me a better mother and a better partner.
Things have gotten better for us as Will's gotten older. Partially because he's not so stressful anymore (colicky newborns are hell on a relationship), and partially because we're more confident in our roles as parents. Parenthood was so disorienting for us in those first weeks and months, our marriage had to take the back burner until we could figure out how to keep Will alive and thriving. Luckily, we're doing a pretty damn good job of it now.  :)

Our marriage is not as easy and care-free as our pre-child days, but we're definitely figuring out how to be married with children. Taking time to connect and reminding ourselves that we're partners (not just parents) has been essential.

Above all else, I think it's important to be mindful of your relationship and remember that it needs regular care and cultivation. What do you do to help sustain your relationship when you also have young children?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Books We Love

Will loves to read. His attention span for books regularly astounds me. The kid will sit and listen forever. Not that I mind... I'm also a book nerd and I love the extra cuddle time. There's nothing sweeter than a kiddo curled up in your lap, captivated by a book.

Since we read so often, we have a well-sculpted list of favorites. Here are some of the books and authors that Will (and I) can't get enough of at age 2 1/2...

Book: Iggy Peck, Architect

Although we've graduated from the board book set, Will still loves books that rhyme. Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty has a wonderful cadence to it, without being too baby-ish. It's one of the few book I can read over and over and over again without wanting to pull my hair out.

With it's fun illustrations and interesting vocabulary ("Gothic or Romanesque, I couldn't care less..."), Iggy Peck Architect is easily one of Will's favorites. The story is very charming, and I love the subtext of finding your passion and persevering through challenges.

Book: The Dot

One of my shortcomings as a parent is that I'm not really into crafts or art projects. Will isn't especially interested in art either, but I still want him to explore his creative side. This book is written for those of us who feel uninspired by our creative abilities.

In The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, Vashti is convinced she can't draw. But when her teacher encourages her to "make a mark" and see where it takes her, Vashti uncovers a creative spirit she didn't know she had. Routed in themes of self-discovery, this book emphasizes the importance of trying new things, and how stepping outside your comfort zone can yield incredible results.

Author: Leo Lionni

Will adores books by Leo Lionni. Lionni's illustrations are lovely (very bright and colorful), and he tackles some substantial themes, like friendship, compassion, self-identity, diversity and acceptance. Our favorite titles are Little Blue and Little Yellow, A Color of His Own, and An Extraordinary Egg, although we're discovering more Leo Lionni favorites all the time.

What books do you and your kiddo love? Please share in the comments... we love recommendations.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Natural Heartburn Remedies

I've had awful heartburn in my third trimester this pregnancy. It seems to be pretty non-discriminatory, flaring up virtually every time I eat, but it's especially bad when I eat fried foods or anything tomato-based.

I try to avoid taking medications while pregnant (over-the-counter or otherwise), so although Tums are considered safe in pregnancy, I wanted to try some natural remedies first. My heartburn can be really bad, but these home remedies almost always do the trick...


Dairy is probably the most effective natural treatment I've found. A glass of milk almost always works, but I've found a cup of Greek yogurt cools and soothes most quickly. Plus, a nice protein boost!

Apple Cider Vinegar

A friend recommended drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a cup of water. Not as fast as the dairy, but this worked for me as well (although I had to chug it due to the icky taste). I recently tried mixing the apple cider vinegar in a half water, half apple juice concoction, and that was a bit easier to swallow.


I read online that almonds can help prevent and alleviate heart burn. I was at work a few days ago and my heartburn was horrendous. I didn't have any dairy or apple cider vinegar around, but there were plain almonds (not roasted or salted) in the vending machine. They helped in a pinch, but again, dairy is still my preferred method.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

30 Years Old

Happy birthday to me! Once again stealing this idea from my friend Maggie... snapshot of me at 30 years old. You can read last year's birthday post here.

What did you read?

Grad school consumed most of my reading time, but since graduating in mid-December I have enjoyed many more leisure books. For non-fiction, I really liked Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by the CEO of Zappos. I've been reading a lot on Montessori (probably 10+ different titles), which I'll write about in a later post about our home preschool. I also had the honor of proofreading my colleague's new book on job search prior to publication.

I managed to do some fiction reading as well... some of my favorites include City of Women, The Forever MarriageThe Book Thief and The Fault In Our Stars.

What did you watch?

Downton Abbey (PBS) and Homeland (Showtime) were my favorite shows this year. I found Homeland while browsing on Amazon and I watched all thirteen episodes of the first season in less than a week. Seriously, it's that good. Although season two just aired this fall, the episodes won't be released to Amazon/iTunes until September 2013, so I have to wait (and try and avoid any spoilers).

What did you do with your spare time?

Once again, the majority of my spare time was dedicated to grad school. Since graduating in December, I've been reading more, setting up the nursery and catching up on projects around the house.

Where did you go?

We spent time in Door County again this summer, which is always fun. Eight days was a little long for Will, so I think we'll have to cut it back a bit if we go again.

I also traveled to Louisville for work, which was a lot of fun. It was a great conference, and Louisville was a really fun city. We visited Churchill Downs and sampled lots of bourbon, which was awesome. I'd like to go back when I have more time to explore.

What thrilled you?

Getting that positive pregnancy test!

What scared you?

Getting that positive pregnancy test.

What are you most proud of?

Finishing my master's degree!

What would you do over?

I don't really believe in regrets. But I have been thinking a lot lately about being a more present parent. Between finishing my master's degree and being pregnant, I feel like I've been distracted and exhausted for most of the year. If I could do anything over, I would try and give Will more of my full attention, to be more present and live in the moment with him. A good reminder for the year to come, especially with BG on the way.

How's married life?

Ben is wonderful. He's really gone above and beyond in the past year, picking up the slack so I could finish my degree, as well as doting on me throughout my pregnancy. He's so supportive of all my pursuits and I'm eternally thankful for that.

Marriage with young children is... hard. We don't make enough time for each other, and unfortunately, I'm sure that will only get more challenging after BG arrives. Admittedly, we both put our children before our marriage. We're working on it every day though, and trying to be more mindful of who we are as partners (not just parents).

How's parenthood?

Will is the absolute light of my life. Being his mother is the most incredible, exhausting, rewarding and frustrating thing I've ever done. Two can been really challenging at times, but it's also a blast. I'm so proud of the person Will is growing in to. He's intelligent, articulate, sensitive and funny. He loves to give cuddles and hugs. He's curious, shy and strong-willed. He is my greatest joy and accomplishment.

How's work?

I feel like I've found a nice balance between work and family in the past few months. I'm working 8-12 hours a week in the career services office of a local technical college. The work is fast-paced, and I really enjoy interacting with the students. The hours are enough to get me out of the house on a regular basis, but not so much that I feel overextended. I look forward to going back to work full-time in a few years, but for now, this very part-time schedule is perfect for our young family.

What's next?

That would be BG! We're all just hanging out here, nine months pregnant, waiting for her to arrive. If she's on the same timetable as her brother (15 days early) that would be early-April. Hopefully I'll go early again, but emotionally preparing myself to go past my due date.

I'm on maternity leave all summer (over 5 months, yay!), so I look forward to a lazy summer of outdoor concerts, running barefoot in the backyard, and park play dates. A lot of our summer will be dedicated to finding our new normal as a family of four, but I'm ready for this next phase to begin.

Onward into my 30s!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bump Watch 2.0

This is adapted, almost word for word, from an email I sent to a dear friend who sweetly asked, "Your girl is coming soon. How are you doing?"

BG - 36 Weeks

I'm 36 weeks (compare to 36 weeks with Will). I'm huge, up a whopping 45 lbs. as of today's OB appointment. I have killer heartburn. My Braxton-Hicks are non-stop. The baby sits so low in my pelvis that I often feel like she's going to fall out of me. I have pregnancy insomnia, so I never sleep more than 3-4 consecutive hours. I pee 14 times a day. In short, I'm miserable.

This pregnancy has been so much harder than my pregnancy with Will. It shocks me how different it's been. I actually declined birthday celebrations with my extended family this week because I can't fathom doing anything other than going to work and taking care of Will. I'm physically and mentally exhausted.

I try and stay focused on how this is probably my last baby and my last pregnancy. So while I'd love her to get out of my rib cage for just five freaking seconds, I also love feeling her kicks and movement. Talking to her. Having her be all mine.

But I'm also ready to hold her. Have her here. Start our new life as a family of four.

We're squarely in the home stretch now. Nine months pregnant. She's head down and "very low" according to my midwife. If she's like her brother, she could be here in just a few weeks.

So we wait.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Favorite Things: Winter 2013

This has been sitting in my draft folder forever. Although I should probably revise it for a springtime post, it's squarely winter here in our corner of Wisconsin (we're expecting another 1-2" of snow tomorrow).

So here are a few things I'm loving this winter...

Linnea Poster Calendar

2013 Linnea Poster Calendar

This is our second year with a Linnea Poster Calendar. Hands down, it's one of my favorite things in the house. I love the mix of form and function. A beautiful print to display, as well as a quick reference calendar.

We have ours framed in the dining room. I love being able to change up the artwork every few weeks. Admittedly, I like some month's artwork better than others (for example, March isn't my favorite), but each month offers a beautiful, unique print.

Since we're already three months into the year, you can pick up a 2013 calendar for a steal. I got mine from a local boutique shop, but they're listed for over 60% off right now on Amazon.

Slow Cooker Revolution Cookbook

Slow Cooker Revolution

Hot meal, ready when you get home. What's better than that?

I have long been a fan of America's Test Kitchen, so I was really eager to try their crock pot cookbook. I'm pretty obsessed with braising and my Dutch oven, but there are some days I want a meal I can prepare in advance and forget about. This cookbook has not disappointed.

It gets some negative review on Amazon for the prep work most of the recipes require (i.e. browning or sautéing on the stove before adding to the crock pot), but these steps are never very time consuming and the results are delicious. In my opinion, there's only so much flavor you can get from throwing all your ingredients into the crock pot raw. I personally don't mind a little work upfront for a great result later on.

iHeart Organizing Blog

I found this blog a few months ago, and OMG. I'm in love.

For 2013, blog author Jen is tackling a key area of the home (kitchen, home office, etc) each month, providing practical advice and inspiration on how to get your home styled and organized. Although she showcases some pretty dramatic projects on the blog, she also emphasizes the importance of small improvements. So if all you can do this month is organize a drawer, that's still something.

Unlike other home organization and design blogs, I never feel inferior or intimidated reading her posts. It's given me a lot of inspiration on how I might update and organize the spaces in our home... especially when it comes to incorporating more color.

Links are to Amazon for your convenience (and because I love Amazon). They are not associated with a personal affiliate program.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Apparently I'm Not Such A Bad Baker...

Because I made these Chocolate Stout cupcakes this weekend and they are ah-mazing.


The recipe is from an article I recently wrote on cooking with beer. According to the chef, dark beers are made with a roasted malt, giving it a flavor characteristic similar to coffee. Coffee is known to make chocolate dishes more robust, and the dark beer in this recipe works in the same way.

As a bonus, these cupcakes are a great way to celebrate St. Patty's Day if you are unable to enjoy a pint of Guinness (like myself).

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
Original recipe by Chef Leah Fogle, Appleton Beer Factor


1 1/2 cups chocolate stout (Guinness recommended)
4 oz. unsalted butter
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cupcake or muffin pan with 24 regular-size cupcake liners.

Place the stout and butter in a medium-size saucepan and gently whisk together on medium heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat. Sift cocoa powder into a medium-size bowl and add the sugar. Slowly whisk into the stout mixture. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and lightly whisk until smooth. Add this mixture to the saucepan and whisk thoroughly (it may appear lumpy). Sift the flour and baking soda together in another small bowl and then add it to the saucepan, mixing a final time until the color is even.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full with batter and bake until the cakes spring back after touching, about 27 minutes (depending on your oven). Cool the cupcakes in their pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.


1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1 1/2 lbs. confectioners' sugar, sifted

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, blend cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes using a star plain tip.

Note: I cut the frosting recipe in half and it was more than enough.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Five Things You May Not Know About Me

  1. I'm a terrible baker. Terrible. I think it's because baking is pretty much science... chemical reactions, applied heat, etc. I'm much better (and pretty damn good) at cooking, where I can substitute and improvise at will.
  2. I'm afraid of birds. I believe this is a learned trait from my mother, but birds totally freak me out. Something about their wings and my hair. They always swoop down at you, like they're going to dive-bomb your head. (As a side note, this makes our choice for a bird-themed nursery especially puzzling.)
  3. Public bathrooms give me the willies. When we're traveling I will only stop at Target or Kwik Trip bathrooms, as they are impeccably clean and never smell weird.
  4. I'm not a naturally neat person. I have to work really hard to keep my house clean. Like really hard. I love design and organization, but my natural inclination is to be messy. Keeping clutter at bay is a constant battle in our house.
  5. I can't watch regular television anymore. We gave up cable when Will was born in 2010, so almost all our television consumption is done on-demand via Netflix or Amazon. As a result, I find it very difficult to watch shows in "real-time" anymore. It seems like an eternity to wait a week between episodes.