Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Anti-Pinterest No-Theme Birthday Party

Photo by Michael Spencer

I can’t believe Guinevere is two already!  But then I think about how much has happened in our lives since her first birthday last year, and it feels like she should be three by now! Like many moms these days, I started a Pinterest board about six months in advance trying to plan Guinevere’s birthday party.  But the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to stress about themes, decorations and food - especially when I knew I would have an infant to deal with.  So I decided there would be no theme, and I would not have any coordinated decorations – nothing that would get pictures of this party pinned on Pinterest.  I kept it simple: a birthday party in the park.  I asked the guests to bring food for themselves or to share so that I wouldn’t have to stress about bringing more than cupcakes (though I did end up bringing some other snacks).  


Our no-theme food table.

One stroke of genius: I decided not to frost the cupcakes ahead of time, and instead set up a "frost your own" cupcake station. This way a) I did not have to worry about transporting frosted cupcakes and b) people got to put as much or as little frosting as they wanted.  This worked great for parents with little kids as they could give the two year olds an unfrosted cupcake and not worry about too much sugar-craziness.
Cupcake station. Photo by Michael Spencer

I have some amazing friends and family!  Everyone pitched in and we had a great party – who needs a theme?  Some good friends of ours headed over to the park early to stake out the one table that I knew would have shade at the time of the party. Another friend brought a shade structure and some decorations that she had lying around her house.  Here's a tip: even if you have a party with no decorations, bring some sort of distinguishing feature, whether it's some balloons or a shade structure that says, "Happy Birthday," particularly if your party is in a large park, like this one was.  That way, when people text from the parking lot asking where you are, you can say, “Look for the Disney Princess banners” (or whatever decorations you are using).  
 
The shade structure.
I think I’ve mentioned here before (or at least I know I’ve said this on facebook many times) that I’m not a big party favor person.  The last thing any parent needs is a bag of stuff that collects dust or gets thrown away.  I decided, instead of goodie bags, I would buy a bunch of bubbles and set them out for the kids to play with and take home.  I also wanted to share with all my parent friends just how much I love this brand of bubbles.  They are called fubbles, and the dispenser is made so that toddlers (and their parents) don’t spill bubble solution all over themselves.  Seriously, you can tip that thing upside down and nothing comes out . . . though if you leave it on its side for long enough, or dip it in the water on your water table (G loves doing that for some reason), it will spill, but still not as much as regular bubbles.

G and her Fubbles.  Photo by Michael Spencer




















After this year’s birthday, I think we are going to have many more birthday parties in the park.  I didn’t have to clean my house.  I didn’t have to provide any activities for the kids.  They all went over to the playground and played to their little heart’s content, or they chased each other around the grass, or they went down and stared at the ducks.  The adults were able to socialize and catch up with other parents.  We all had a great time . . . such a great time that, even though we scheduled a morning party so that G could nap when she got home, she was too excited to sleep and spent the entire time singing to herself in her crib!



Friday, June 27, 2014

Almay's Newest Ambassador

*This is a sponsored post.  All words and opinions are 100% mine.

What do I think of when I think of Almay?  Almay conjures up images of sugarplums and dewdrops, of course!  I used their green eyeshadow as a bon bon (and then soldier, family scene girl, etc.) in “The Nutcracker.”  All of us 6-year-old girls would gather around all the moms backstage and line up, assembly line style, to get touch ups on our makeup. 

As an adult, I still use their products (love their oil-free makeup remover!).  So when they contacted me to ask me to share their newest ambassador/spokesperson, Carrie Underwood, I was happy to do so.   In the video below, Carrie (yes, we are on a first name basis now) talks about why she chose Almay:



I appreciate her message that, even though she feels better wearing makeup, no woman has to wear makeup to be beautiful.  And when you do wear makeup, you don’t have to go overboard. 

The tag line to Almay’s current campaign is “So simple, so me.”  I have always had a simplistic approach to my every day makeup - perhaps because I cake so much on when performing.  But I definitely think that is a message I would like to instill in my daughter: whatever makes you feel best is right.  Women don’t need makeup to be pretty, but sometimes it’s nice to enhance your natural beauty.  And if you feel good, you will emanate beauty no matter what.


What do you think of Carrie Underwood as Almay’s ambassador?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Dreaded "C" Word: Colic


It’s one of those words that all parents of newborns hope to not have to deal with: Colic.  Unfortunately, we are currently dealing with it in our house.  Starting around 3 weeks old, Malcolm’s “witching hour” became more like “he-devil hours.”  He would be fed, burped and changed, and just scream inconsolably from about 7pm until 10 or 11pm.  Just when we thought we had him calmed down, he would almost fall asleep and then something would stir within him and wake him back up again, screaming even louder than before.  His screams are so loud that you can’t even hear the person standing right next to you.  When I took Guinevere to the doctor for her two-year check up, I was able to ask about it to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong with him.  She said it sounds like colic.

What is colic, you ask?  Basically it is a term for any baby who cries uncontrollably for hours on end.  The classic definition is a baby who cries inconsolably for three hours a day, at least three days a week for three weeks.  No one really knows what causes it.  Some theories are that the baby may have gas issues, or that the baby’s nervous system isn’t quite developed or that the baby just gets so overwhelmed by all the stimulation during the day that the only way they can deal with it is to cry.  Regardless of the cause, it is ridiculously exhausting for the parents trying to deal with a colicky baby.  Trust me, five minutes of a baby screaming in your ear can feel like five hours! 

Apparently I was a colicky baby – I hereby apologize to my parents for having to deal with this.  I wonder if that’s the real reason my sister and I are five years apart – they needed that long to recover from/forget the colic (just kidding . . .sort of!).  If Guinevere had been colicky, we certainly would have spaced the kids out a little further.  The other night, a couple hours into one of Mal’s fuss-fests, I asked Aaron what the return policy was on babies!
           
Fortunately, our pediatrician was able to give us several tips to help us deal with a colicky baby.  She said she had a colicky baby, too, and she tried all of these tricks:
  1. -       Mylicon/Gripe Water: If there’s a gas component, we could try Mylicon and/or Gripe Water.  Based on the time of day that he typically gets fussy, she suggested using either or both of those to sandwich the 3-4pm feed. 
  2. -      Cutting dairy: She also suggested I try cutting dairy from my diet for two weeks to see if that helps as dairy in a breastfeeding mother’s diet may lead to babies being gassy. 
  3. -        Go for a drive: Since babies tend to fall asleep in the car seat, if necessary, strap the kid in the car seat and go for a drive around the block.
  4. -     Baby massage: The pediatrician emphasized the word “gentle” when she recommended baby massage, especially in the tummy region.  A component of this would be bicycling the baby’s legs to help ease any gas issues.
  5. -       Swing: Put the baby in a swing and set it to the highest setting – higher than you really think it should go, but it will calm the baby much more than if it were on a lower setting.
  6. -       Happiest Baby on the Block: She highly recommended watching the video that goes with the Happiest Baby on the Block book.  She said that it shows some techniques for holding the baby that aren’t necessarily instinctual.
  7. -       Patience: the final recommendation was patience.  Most babies outgrow colic by 3-4 months.  The pediatrician said, “I know that sounds like forever right now, but he will outgrow it and it won’t have any bearing on his future temperament.”  She also said if our patience wears thin during a scream fest, that it is ok to set the baby down in a safe place (i.e. bassinet, crib or swing) and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.  It’s better to have a sane parent than one that is on the brink of a meltdown.

Here’s what we’ve done so far: I’ve cut dairy from my diet.  It’s so hard, but if it helps, I will keep dairy out of my diet until the colic is gone.  If you know me, you know how difficult it is for me to not eat dairy.  I’ve often said that I could easily be vegetarian, but it is my love of cheese that keeps me from ever going vegan!  Aaron and I also watched the Happiest Baby video.  We received the video as a gift from some friends when I was pregnant with Guinevere, but never watched it because we didn’t need it.  I did, however, read the book and thought I remembered most of the over-arching ideas behind it.  I definitely recommend to anyone who has a fussy baby that they watch the video in addition to reading the book (or maybe instead of, if you don’t have time to read the book). We learned a new way to swaddle that was similar to, but slightly different than how we were doing it.  This new way seems to work much better than our previous technique for swaddling.  We also learned a new way to hold the baby, and the reasons behind why those techniques work. Aaron and I looked at each other and said, “I can’t believe we’re second time parents and watching a parenting video!”  But hey, every baby is different, and may require learning new techniques/skills/tricks!


So far, the combination of cutting dairy and using the Happiest Baby techniques seems to help most of the time, though certainly not always.  We are now usually able to calm him, even if only for a little bit, instead of having him scream relentlessly for hours on end.  Even though having a colicky baby is not ideal, we are dealing with it as best we can.  Please forgive me if you see me in the grocery store and I look completely disheveled and dazed.  I like to call it the “new parent zombie look.”  Someday I will look presentable again! (I can still be called a “new” parent when my second baby is new, right?)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Food Friday: 30 Minute Jambalaya



It’s been a long time since I’ve done a recipe post. I am happy to start back up recipe blogging with this deliciousness: 30 minute Jambalaya!  I modified this recipe from Robin Miller’s “Quick Fix Meals.”  It’s one of those books that claims to have a bunch of recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less – you know, the kind that actually take an hour or more the first time you make them.  Well, this recipe (once the prep work is done) actually does take only 30 minutes to make.  The prep work doesn’t take that long, but I would recommend prepping ahead if you are trying to make this on a weeknight with a toddler pulling on your apron. (Who am I kidding?  I don’t wear aprons!)  All kidding aside, I highly recommend this cook book – it has great tips for how to prep ahead for weeknight meals, as well as meal kit recipes and ideas for morphing one recipe into several different meals.  It's a great book for the working mom. (I'm sure it's great for stay at home moms, too.  They're just as strapped for time, but in a different way!)

Without further ado, here is the recipe as I made it:

Ingredients:
Jambalaya
1 cup rice
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can mild diced chile peppers
1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 breasts)
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp dried oregano
1 kielbasa type sausage
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves

1.     Cook rice
2.     Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, bell pepper, Chile peppers and garlic.  Cook about 3 minutes
3.     Add chicken, cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
4.     Add Cajun seasoning and oregano.  I don’t have Cajun seasoning, but I do have a Jamaican seasoning mix from Pampered Chef, so that’s what I used.  I was glad to finally have a recipe to use it in!
5.     Add sausage and shrimp, cook for 2 minutes.
6.     Add tomatoes and bay leaves, simmer about 3 minutes.

That’s it!  Serve the Jambalaya over rice and you’re done.  I received so many rave reviews from my family and friends about this recipe that I will definitely be adding it to my regular repertoire.  Most of the ingredients are things I tend to have around the house anyway – except the shrimp.  I’ll just have to remember to add it to my regular grocery list occasionally so that I can whip up this meal whenever I want.

For those who want the cost breakdown, here you go.  I’m using Amazon Fresh right now (because getting to the grocery store is ridiculously hard with a newborn), so the prices are probably a little higher than what I would pay at Ralphs.

1 cup rice
$0.30
2 tsp olive oil
$0.05
1/2 cup chopped onion
$0.30
1 green pepper, chopped
$1.00
2 cloves garlic, minced
$0.10
1 can mild diced chile peppers
$1.00
1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 breasts)
$3.00
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
$0.05
1 tsp dried oregano
$0.05
1 kielbasa type sausage
$3.40
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peled and deveined
$5.00
28 oz can diced tomatoes
$1.50
2 bay leaves
$0.05
$15.80
6 servings:
$2.63/serving

If you are interested in buying the cookbook I used, here is the Amazon affiliate link: