Friday, April 29, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Soulemama. In her words: A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you want to participate head over to her blog and enjoy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bedtime Stories

When A. was around 4-5 months old DH and I realized that we really needed a better bedtime routine. She was going to bed whenever she was tired and then we'd collapse on the couch for a bit before getting up to do all those things that you can't do when you are busy holding a baby all day (like cooking dinner). At that point our bedtime routine basically entailed giving her a bath and then rocking/nursing her until she was almost asleep. At that point we'd set her in her bassinet and stay with her until we knew she was asleep. It worked, but the whole thing just felt like a chore. At the time we were also both really tired and not having much fun. We got to talking about how to make it better and decided that we really needed to start reading A. a bedtime story. (The exact details of how we decided that a lack of a bedtime story was the root of the problem are rather blurry now due to the lack of sleep...) The question became what to read her for a bedtime story. We'd tried having one book that was her standard story, but that got boring really fast so we decided to try reading her "real" books. I think we started with Anne of Green Gables because I'd been telling DH how much I liked it and how I couldn't wait until A. was old enough to read it with me. Suddenly DH and I were having a great time because he would read while I nursed A and then after we put her to bed we'd sit (or stand and work together) and talk about the book.

As A. got better at eating solid foods we expanded the routine. From the time she was able to fling food in the general direction of her mouth the routine has been to eat dinner as a family (which would frequently mean DH and I taking turns feeding A. and eating ourselves trying to finish before the food got cold). Then DH will take A. in and bathe her while I got my first real break of the day, this was especially important when she was just starting to eat solids because she would be covered in food. We were lucky in that it was warm when she started to really feed herself a lot so we would just strip her down to a diaper before dinner and then let her have fun knowing that the floor would mop and she would wash. After her bath we dress her in her PJs and then all sit on the couch and snuggle while DH reads a chapter from the book we are working on. When she was little I would use this time to nurse her so that she'd be nice and full before bed, now she likes to either play quietly or snuggle depending on how tired she is. The story gives us all a chance to wind down our day together and A. is generally ready to go to bed right after. Within a few minutes she is asleep and DH and I can enjoy the rest of the evening together.

I don't know why it took me so long to think of reading real books to A. because it is a great solution for our family. However, it also seems like it isn't something that is commonly done so maybe that's why. We don't try to force her to listen, we simply ask that she be relatively quiet while DH is reading. If she is having trouble being quiet we offer her the chance to go to bed and finish later. Sometimes she asks for bed, but mostly she quiets down and snuggles with us while DH finishes. We aren't trying to turn her into some sort of super genius or anything, but I do hope she will learn to love books and the stories they tell. Lately she's been really into having me read her picture books, I've actually had to set a limit on the number of books I'll read her each day because I want her to play on her own too. I don't know if it is because she likes the books, or the cuddling or that the love of reading is sinking in, but whatever it is she's asking for it.

All that being said, it is hard sometimes to find a good book for a toddler. She isn't old enough to really talk through dark parts of a book, but she is old enough to actually listen and understand most of what is going on. Simpler books tend to be easier for her to understand, but if they are too simple DH and I don't enjoy them as much. We are hoping to be able to continue the tradition of a family bedtime story until our kids are at least mostly grown and since we are obviously planning on more kids than just A. being there to enjoy the stories we will probably be going back to revisit old favorites at various points. At the same time it would be nice to have a good variety of books on our list. So far we have read the entire Anne of Green Gables series, Little Women, Little Men and Watership Down. We are currently reading Little House in the Big Woods. We are currently debating whether or not to continue with the Little House series or if we should read Wind in the Willows next. Any thoughts from my literary friends? Also, does anyone have any suggestions on other books we should add to our list? I'd love any suggestions I can get.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Making Dinner Happen

Lately I've realized that I'm generally really tired by the end of the day. Maybe it's being pregnant, maybe it's chasing an active toddler or not getting enough sleep. It is probably a combination of all of these things. However, no matter the cause, the effects are getting bothersome. I haven't had the energy for blogging and even if I did I haven't had a lot of energy for doing neat things to blog about. The biggest effect though has been on dinner. I'm sure that any of you with young kids know how hard it can be to make dinner quickly with a toddler trying to get your attention or even when said toddler is "helping". My old solution was to either do some prep while A. was napping, or more often to just wait until DH got home and whip up dinner while he played with A. Since the two of them love spending time together this worked really well for a long time. However, now by the time DH is home from work I'm tired and just want to sit down and rest for a bit so we were eating more convenience foods or opting to eat out more often. On the surface these options are okay and they certainly still get us fed. However, they aren't great for the pocket book and it gets increasingly hard to combine eating out with eating healthy. This has been really bothering me lately because I feel like in some ways I am failing my family (gotta love that mommy guilt). Thankfully, I am working on some solutions. Since I figure I'm not the only one to run into this problem when life gets crazy I thought I'd share what I'm doing right now and ask for suggestions for improvement.

The first thing I'm working on is planning ahead. When I'm tired thinking comes harder for me so I tend to put it off hoping that it will be easier later. Unfortunately, before long I find that I'm in the 6pm time crunch and still don't know what to make and have to figure something out now because A. has to get to bed. In the past I've tried to plan a weekly meal plan, but something always comes up and throws off the schedule. I'm hoping to get to the point where I can have a weekly plan with enough flexibility to really work, but in the meantime I am focusing on having a plan before bed the night before. This goal is smaller and thus more obtainable which means I'm not failing at it nearly as often. DH and I will take a couple of minutes after A. goes to bed each night to look at what we have in the fridge and what needs to be used. Then I come up with a meal plan for the next day based on a combination of that and what the schedule is looking like. If I'm not sure of the next day I try to come up with a back-up plan too just in case and then pull anything I'll need that is currently frozen up into the fridge to start thawing.

The second thing I'm doing is to take advantage of A's nap to get dinner started. I don't have to have everything done, but if I have dinner started or even just have prepped ingredients by 4pm the whole evening seems to go smoother. I got this idea from this blog. It has a ton of tasty recipes that can be done in bits and pieces through out the day. Before I found it I had never thought of prepping a casserole in the morning when I had energy and sticking it in the fridge so that I could just pop it in the oven 40 minutes before dinner instead of trying to push through the end of day exhaustion.

Right now these are the two things I'm focusing on. An example of how it works would what we are doing tonight. Yesterday when I was digging through the freezer to grab out some frozen veggies to go with dinner I accidentally ripped the plastic on some ground beef. This made the dinner decision a little easier because I knew that if I left it in the freezer it would get freezer burn so I pulled up the meat. I realized that I had been craving Swedish meatballs for a while, but hadn't made them because they require you to have thawed ground beef (mine was always frozen) and the time to mix and shape the meatballs, brown them, make gravy and then simmer them. We've been on the go a lot and when you are getting home from a play date 30 minutes before dinner there just isn't time for that. Today we didn't have any plans, but I also finally realized I could use a small crock pot. This meant that after lunch I put A. down for her nap and then grabbed the (now thawed) meat from the fridge. I mixed and shaped the meatballs and then browned them in a skillet. Once they were brown I put them in the crock pot and then made gravy with the pan drippings, beef broth and some Marsala wine. I let it boil long enough to cook off the alcohol and then poured it over the meatballs in the crock pot. I set the already hot meatball mixture to low and it is now simmering away making the house smell nice. At that point I realized I really needed to sit down because my stupid ankles were starting to swell (this happened when I was pregnant with A. too, no amount of water, rest, salt, etc. ever helped much, but my blood pressure was always really low so no worries). While A. is playing this afternoon I'll wash and chop up some broccoli and throw it in the top of the steamer and put the whole thing in the fridge. That way, when DH is home we can hang out as a family for a little bit and then I can slip away to the kitchen to start some rice and boil water to steam the broccoli while he plays with A. If I'm really on top if it I'll have the water and rice measured and the pots on the stove so I just have to turn on burners, but we'll see. Worst case, if I do nothing else today, I can start some rice and put the last of the giant bin of salad on the table and call it good. We'll have a balanced, tasty meal and I don't have to feel bad for collapsing on the couch as soon as DH walks in the door because dinner will be busy making itself.

These are helping most days, but I'm still not getting a "good" dinner on the table every single night. I'd love to hear suggestions on how to improve this plan or any other tips for getting a healthy, tasty dinner on the table when you are exhausted at the end of the day. Please share.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - Inspired by Soulemama. In her words: A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you want to participate head over to her blog and enjoy!

Bonus picture (aka "What I've been doing instead of blogging):