25 January 2012

What's for lunch: Sausage and Kale Soup

Still winter up here, but less noticeable since our snow has all melted and the winds have died down.  I'm still making soup nearly every day, though.  One of my favorite flexible recipes is Sausage and Kale Soup.  You can use bulk sausage (check the ingredients, and opt for preservative free) or make your own.  If you don't have either option on hand, you can saute and onion, add the ground meat (turkey, beef, chicken, pork) with 2-4 tablespoons of your favorite spices (check the sausage recipe for ideas).  You don't have to use kale either- lots of greens will do.  I've successfully used chard and spinach, but you have to be careful not to overcook the spinach.  Other additions can be made, depending on what you have on hand and how much prep time you can spare.

Sausage Kale Soup

1/2 to 1 pound of sausage (see notes above for ideas)
1 bunch of kale, chopped (or chard or spinach)
1.5 quarts of homemade bone broth
1-3 cups cooked navy beans (optional)
2-4 carrots, scrubbed and chopped (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes (optional- reduce broth if using saucy tomatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste (this will vary widely on the type of sausage used

Brown sausage in a 3 quart saucepan or larger. 
Add carrots (optional), and saute with sausage for 5 minutes. 
Add broth, beans (optional), tomatoes (optional), and bring to simmer. 
Let simmer 5-20 minutes or until carrots are cooked, if using. 
Add kale (or other greens), and cook until they are wilted but still bright green.  Serve immediately.

What additions would you make to this soup?

24 January 2012

Closely Spaced Siblings

Our boys are 16 months apart, as we 'planned'.  There was a sweet spot between the newborn stage and teething where Jason was sleeping really, really well, and we thought, why not?!  We knew we wanted more than one kid, and we figured it would be easier to have them in quick succession.  After all, once diapering and night wakings and round the clock feeding and spoon feeding and all the other early life stuff is out of the way, would we really have the guts to start all over again?  For many people, I have learned, it is far easier to start it all again, after a bit of break, than to double down and pile everything-times-two into two years or less.  However, there is only so much you can tell new parents, and we had to learn on our own.

With a 16 month age difference, we knew it would be difficult at first.  Our hope, though, was that as the kids got older, they would have more in common and be better able to play together by being close in age.  Right now, we have two boys, a 3 year old and a 2 year old.  When everyone is in a nice mood, rested and fed, the boys can play together without adult intervention for 20 minutes or more.  This is how I have defined the reward stage of closely spaced siblings.  It began shortly before Jackson's 2nd birthday, and as time passes, there is less yelling and arguing every month. 

23 January 2012

How to Have One of THOSE Days

There are so many reasons why I have an hour or a day where I want to just check out.  I let the laundry wait even further than usual.  If we don't have easy food ready to go (and we haven't ordered in a while), I fall back to Thai or Indian delivery.  The dishes become (compostable) paper.  We watch a little television.  We play a 'game' where the boys put me to sleep.  Oh, how I love that game! 

What I need on these days can vary- sometimes, I put off my shower.  Other times, I put as many distractions together for the boys so I am certain to get a shower.   Sometimes I minimize effort.  Other times, I try to do something that helps us feel less cluttered.  Getting all of the hats, coats, and jackets into the coat closet is one of the fastest, most rewarding activities I have found.  Know what can slide.  Figure out which things are secretly (surprisingly!) energizing.

I have found that by doing as much as I can on the days where I feel normal, it is a lot easier to have a day where I don't quite hit that mark.  We will all survive.  The laundry will always, always be waiting, but my boys are only getting bigger.

20 January 2012

Bookshelf: Mo Willems

As a reader, if I liked one book, I would try to read everything by that author.  Sometimes I find gold, and other times I realize, 50 pages in, that I'm glad I get to take some of them back to the library.

Long ago, one of the children's librarians at our local library recommended Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.  Since then, we have been enchanted by so many of his works.  Find them at your library, or click on the pictures to see the Amazon page:

19 January 2012

Of Bruises and Kisses

The most enchanting personal discovery I have made as a parent:  Kisses from Mama and Daddy really do help small ones deal with bumps and bruises.  I have spent nearly 4 years kissing boo-boos, and it makes my heart melt each time a formerly crying boy runs off to play after such a simple act.  This has become such a habit that I have even felt compelled to kiss my own cuts and bruises.

When the boys hurt each other, accidentally or otherwise, we try to coach them to ask, "What do you need?  Do you need hugs or kisses?"  When the tension is at a level where the question is successful, it is enough to elicit a smile.  Seeing them hug and kiss each other when they are both still learning about coordination is entertaining, too.

18 January 2012


No recipes this week. Please learn about SOPA and the harm it could cause to bloggers, readers, and everyone who uses the internet.

More information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more

Sign a petition:  https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

17 January 2012

A Reminder For Myself

Today we had one of those mornings:  the boys weren't interested in breakfast, and (my fault!) they weren't even dressed yet when we sat down to eat.  When I finally gave up on getting them to eat enough to get them through until snacktime, they didn't want to cooperate in getting dressed.  Jason is capable of getting himself fully undressed and dressed, but I had to keep reminding him (over and over and over) that he can't go to school unless he's dressed.  Jackson is certainly able to help get himself undressed and dressed, but today he was just maniacally laughing while I tried to get the job done.  On top of it, Jackson just stood on the porch watching while Jason and I got things settled into the van.  I was ready to just turn around and stay home for the day.

As we drove, I was able to remind myself that we can't expect more of people than they are able to provide.  Yes, I have aspirations, but when it comes right down to it, if I expect 2 and 3 year olds to be self motivated, focused, and follow along every single day, I am setting myself up for disappointment.  I have bad days (without a doubt).  What that tells me is that I need to spot a bad day for my boys as quickly as I can and just go with it- give them what they need so I can do what I need- and we will all have a less stressful existence.

This is how I try to respect my boys and their changing moods:  some days we will celebrate growing boys' milestones, and other days we will celebrate getting to school before the school day is over.

16 January 2012

Darkening The Room: Curtain Conundrum

Oh, the hours we've spent in the rocking chair, singing songs and reading books, trying to help someone relax and, hopefully, sleep.  That is where I first thought, "Wow- it is awfully bright in here.  We need room darkening curtains.  That would really help this boy sleep!"  I have no idea how much having a dark room helps- in fact I worry that I am training them to only sleep in dark rooms with white noise drowning out all of the ambient noise.

Room darkening or blackout curtains are sold from most places that sell curtains.  The ones I purchased from JC Penney's are no longer available, or I would recommend them.  If you already have a curtain you like, you can line them with blackout fabric or a double layer of polyester felt.  Linings can be sewn to the existing curtain if you are so inclined, though I just used safety pins to attach them.  I left extra felt on the sides of the curtains in one room, and I use that excess fabric to stuff beside the window frame and the roman shade that gaps too much.  It makes it more frustrating to re-do each time we open the window, but the results are fantastic, and it is certainly a cheap option.

The trouble with room darkening curtains is that our eyes adjust so well to different levels of light.  Once you block 80% of the light, all of the light spilling around the sides of a curtain seems just as bright as the whole room used to be.  To minimize this, hang the curtain as close to the wall as you can-many modern curtain rods stand out from the wall quite a bit, but that only allows more light to bounce around into the room.  Also, make sure your curtain is the right size- it should be hung 3 (or more, if possible) inches above the window, a few inches below the windowsill, and a few inches or more to the left and right of the window.

What have you tried to make your atmosphere more sleep friendly?  Did you do anything in the first year that your kids were later unable to sleep without years later?

13 January 2012

Bookshelf: Kids' Mystery Books

Have I mentioned how much we love to read?  When we go to the library, we check out lots of picture books (like those by Mo Willems), but we also enjoy children's mysteries.  Although our boys are still learning letter recognition and are at the very beginning stages that will lead to reading, we have found that many of the early reader books are perfect for their attention level and curiosity.  The mysteries they like most are those that contain 3 or 4 chapters, where each chapter is an individual problem-solution case.  However, there are a number of series where the entire book of 4 chapters contains a single story line- those are great for Jason, but Jackson tends to wander off before the end.

The short mysteries we currently love were all found at our local library.  If you click on the pictures, you can find more information on Amazon:

The Detective Dinosaur stories are my absolute favorite of these: 

"Meow," said the paper bag. . . . "A snake!" he cried. 

My boys squeal with delight every single time we read this story! They cannot contain themselves until the page is turned before they yell out, "No!  It's a kitty!"

Jason was drawn to Aunt Eater's Mystery Halloween just as he is drawn to all Halloween books, all year long.  It is great to see how, after a few readings, the boys really notice foreshadowing details, and they begin to anticipate the plot twists.

High Rise Private Eyes expands the clever, simple mystery story to allow a number of chapters for each mystery.  There are more people involved and more clues, but it is still a short story just the right size for kids.

Nate the Great is a series of mystery books for beginning readers.  The series started in the 70's, and are still being written today.  Jason loves these stories, but Jackson is usually not engaged enough to sit through the entire book.  There are false leads, too many or too few clues, but there are always pancakes involve.  Nate the Great loves pancakes.

12 January 2012


Parenting brings so very many joys and heartaches.  That first laugh feels like it lifts a hazy veil from the many weeks of round the clock sleeping and waking.  Watching while they have to fall to learn how to walk made my heart jump.  Our expectations as parents affect so much of how we view these years.  Simply knowing what to expect at different stages can help us relax and enjoy the often stressful process, but when the experience doesn't fit anything or everything we 'knew' going in, it can be truly heartbreaking. 

After reading scores of articles, and a couple of really good books about breastfeeding, I approached our first weeks as parents with the 'knowledge' that breastfeeding can be difficult, but that you just have to keep going. and it would all work out.  I 'understood' that the only reason breastfeeding might not work is if I didn't have the drive, persistence, will, or proper information.  Because of those expectations, my heart hurts to this day, nearly 4 years later, to discuss my body's inability to produce milk more than drops at a time.

11 January 2012

What's for lunch?

Today, we left the preschool parking lot while the snow continued to fall, after 6 hours of alternating magical fluffiness and driving blizzard.  I had no idea what we would have for dinner, so I went to my cold-weather fall back:  Pumpkin Soup.

This recipe started as a way to make a meal out of non-perishable pantry favorites:  canned pumpkin, canned coconut milk, boxed broth, and spices.  It is still a great option that way, but I was fortunate to come home to a crock pot full of nourishing bone broth, and a bit of homemade coconut milk (my latest kitchen experiment) in the fridge.  Given more time, I could have steamed the butternut and/or acorn squash on the counter.  However, there is little enough time between preschool pick-up and ideal napping time, so I felt quite rushed.

Squash Soup
2-4 cups cooked pumpkin, butternut, or acorn squash purree (1 to 2 cans)
2 cups coconut milk (full fat, homemade or 1 can)
1-2 cups chicken bone broth, to get the right texture
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Put it all in a pot over medium heat.  Use an immersion blender to mix it all together.  It is really good if you have time to let it simmer for half an hour and thicken up, but I often serve it within 10 minutes.

Top with plain yogurt, cream, crackers, croutons, sausage crumbles, almonds, or anything else you think would taste good.  Serve to toddlers with a straw!

This was the perfect warming lunch after trying 5 times to make it up the driveway.  At least we don't have to shovel until the snow stops falling!

10 January 2012

Darkening The Room: Midnight Naptime

Yesterday, I wrote about how to reduce household sources of light that may interrupt your sleep or keep your kids distracted from falling asleep.  The biggest pain, however, tends to be sunlight (or streetlight, in some areas).  There are countless possible solutions, and after darkening a total of 6 rooms across two homes, I've learned a few tips for choosing and installing many of them. 

For a room where the occupants only sleep at night, getting either a darkening or blackout curtain or shade is often sufficient.  If you are looking to make a room dark during sunlight hours, it becomes challenging, but for naps and summer bedtimes, I find it valuable to block light in my boys' rooms.  They are less likely to play or get distracted when it comes time to rest.

Darkening and Blackout shades come in many styles, but I have yet to find mini blinds that do the job well.  All those individual pieces just increase the chance for light to get through, whether the problem is manufacturing or just what happens when a kid plays at the window.

09 January 2012

Darkening The Room

Oh, how I love a dark bedroom.  For myself, I don't agitate my monkey brain when I wake up at night and all I see is blackness.  For the boys, the easier it is to help them fall asleep when they can't see to play and tumble about.  If I were to add up all the money we've spent on darkening our rooms (across two houses), I would likely wince to see the total.  That said, I've certainly learned a lot about interior de-lumination.

The first start is dealing with all those pesky LEDs on every baby device, ever. Electrical tape is your friend:  it is easily removable, electronics friendly, and use can experiment with one, two, or more layers, depending on what you need.  I try to keep the battery level indicator only partly covered so I can tell when it should be recharged or refilled.  If you cover LEDs on a video monitor camera, ensure you are not covering up the IR LEDs- if those are covered, you won't be able to get a video image in the dark.  The removable part is great until little fingers start picking at them, so be sure to keep the tape out of reach. 

06 January 2012

Bookshelf: Kids' Books

I loved reading from a very young age.  As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I couldn't enter a bookstore without buying a book I loved as a child.  In fact, those are the books that I still never tire of, even after the fiftieth reading.  One of the most significant authors in this category is Arnold Lobel.  His stories are simple and a bit silly, like his illustration style.  I find them absolutely charming!

Here are our favorites.  Look for them at your library, or click the image to find it on Amazon.

We love all of the Frog and Toad stories.  When my husband read, "The Dream" to my boys, I had a flashback to reading and re-reading that story so many, many times.  I also adore the story in Mouse Tales where a mouse gets a new pair of feet.  There aren't moral issues at play most of the time- this is truly reading for the love of reading.  That is exactly what I wish to share with my lovely boys!

Do you read your own favorite books to your kids?  What books were most special to you when you were little?

05 January 2012

loud, Loud, LOUD. QUIET, Quiet, quiet.

Sometimes my kids bring out the worst in me.  I have wanted to shout, scream, pull my hair, lock myself in the bathroom, call my husband to come home early because I just can't make it.  The list goes on.

When my children yell or scream in anger or frustration, I know they have lost control of their emotions.  I know that only time will lead to recovery, and I know to not take it personally.  For a 2 or 3 year old, too much is JUST TOO MUCH!  If I were to yell or scream, especially if my boys were at a high energy level (giggling or crying), they do not know I have lost control, and that I will be able to calm down with patience on their part.  They do not know that it isn't personal.  What they do know is, "Mama, who usually loves me more than anyone else in the world, is mad and yelling at ME."

I discovered a great truth while apologizing to Jason after I yelled at him, recently.

04 January 2012

What's for lunch?

Lunch.  Even (on the rare occasions) when I'm on the ball planning meals and grocery shopping, lunch always seems to be left until the last minute, making use of whatever is to be found in the fridge and pantry.  I was thrilled when I saw that Catherine of Weelicious posted a daily picture and description of her family's school lunches on her facebook page:  Year 1, Year 2, and now Year 3.  As inspiring as that is, though, most of those ideas don't work with our grain free, starch free, soy free eating style.

If I have this problem, many others do, too, so I would like to share some ideas.  Just one for today, though, but it is incredibly versitile:

Yogurt Salad
Yogurt, plain & unsweetened (and/or homemade mayonnaise)  (enough to get the right texture)
Flavoring base:  mustard or mango chutney are my favorites (1/4 cup or so)
Protein:  cooked chicken (diced or shredded), canned salmon or tuna (1 to 2 cups)
Veg:  frozen peas, diced celery, diced red pepper  (~1 cup total)
Fruit:  apple, pear, grapes (~1/2 cup shredded or diced)
Dried fruit:  raisins, currants, diced dried apricots, etc  (up to 1/4 cup)
Nuts and seeds:  chopped walnuts or almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds  (up to 1/4 cup)
Cheese:  diced or shredded cheddar, jack, colby (2 oz)
Bit of salt and pepper

Mix it all together, and serve alone or with pita, crackers, lettuce, etc. 

I wish I had a gorgeous picture of this morning's salad to show you.  I can picture it now:  a scoop of salmon salad sitting on a thick, red tomato slice, on a bed of lettuce.  A nice side light from the window, a bit of food on the nearby fork to show the texture.  Instead, we ate our lunch from our plain white bowls with spoons, and this stuff just isn't pretty all on its own. 

This yogurt salad works great as a make-ahead lunch.  If we are traveling with a cooler, some version of this is in it.  I can make it at any time of the morning to have ready to go, and it is easy to make enough for multiple meals or large-ish groups.  I'd love to hear any options you might add, as well as your favorite lunch ideas.  Please share!

03 January 2012

Mr. Rogers

My boys really enjoy watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  We don't watch much tv, but we watch this a few times a week.  I remember loving the Neighborhood of Make Believe when I was little.  Now that I am older, I am still entertained by the 'How Things Are Made' segment.  Although stamps are made differently now than they were in 1983, it is still fun to watch!

Jason and Jackson are really into the interactive parts where Mr. Rogers asks questions and waits for a response.  We've discussed that the show is taped and that he can't really hear you, but Jackson still says he wants to "tell Mr. Rogers questions".  It brings tears to my eyes to think that I will eventually have to tell them that Mr. Rogers died before they were born.  I am frustrated to think that his show would have never been made in the current market of children's programming, public or otherwise.

You can view a few episodes of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood directly from the PBS website.  Please comment if this link is broken.  This is current as of 3 Jan 2012.  Amazon offers online streaming of many, many more episodes, free for paying Amazon Prime members.