Tuesday, October 29, 2013

diy: carving forever pumpkins

halloween is just days away. just tonight my kids carved their real pumpkins up for our front porch. while i love the traditional pumpkin carving, i also love the idea of having fake pumpkins specially carved for use every fall. my parents are the experts in this category and have carved "forever pumpkins" for each of their grandkids. 

this year i have seen these popping up everywhere. several businesses are now charging quite a bit to make a custom pumpkin of your own. if you go purchase the fake pumpkins (most likely on sale at the end of halloween season), some inexpensive stencils and a carving knife, you can make these for yourself at a fraction of the cost. the steps are simple and the results are adorable. 

the steps for making a forever pumpkin: 

  1. purchase hollow, fake pumpkins, 3 inch stencils and a hot knife (pictured).
  2. stencil the letters or drawings on the pumpkins.
  3. use the narrow, sharp blade of the tool. carve out your letters being careful not to create a narrow space that will break off. (this means that you may have to adapt some of the letter shapes.)
  4. cut off the lid of the pumpkin. clean out the pieces inside. use a small battery operated votive candle to light the inside of the pumpkins. 
  5. enjoy!

this heated carving tool can be found at most craft stores.

needed tools

finished pumpkin

Monday, October 28, 2013

mmmmm: lemon chicken quinoa soup

it's fall and, to me, that means comfort food. today's comfort food came in the form of soup. i am trying to incorporate quinoa into as much as possible--i love that it feels like i am eating a carb but am getting loads of added protein in my diet. this soup turned out stew-like and amazing. it makes for wonderful left-overs and freezes really well too. enjoy! 

lemon chicken quinoa soup

4 chicken breasts (or 2 rotisserie chickens)
2 cups lemon juice (usually 6-8 lemons)
3 tablespoons lemon herb seasoning (the trade winds brand from smart & final is amazing)
3 qt chicken broth
3 eggs (beaten)
3 cups of cooked quinoa (i used the tri-color quinoa)

boil the chicken in 2 quarts of water for approximately 15 minutes.

shred the chicken with a fork into bite sized strips.
(or you can buy 2 rotisserie chickens and simply remove the meat and cut into bite sized strips)

add chicken to a large pot (either the shredded chicken you cooked or the rotisserie you didn't).

add lemon juice, chicken broth and lemon herb seasoning. bring to a boil.

take some of the hot broth from the pot and SLOWLY add to the beaten eggs, stirring constantly. (this brings the eggs closer to the temp of the soup).

add the eggs VERY SLOWLY to the hot soup mixture, stirring constantly so that the eggs don't clump.

add the cooked rice and return the soup to a boil.

serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

mommy 411: cloth diapering

i'm going to be totally honest. neither heather or i used cloth diapers with our kids. the idea of cloth diapering seemed completely overwhelming and, let's face it, i just couldn't handle one more load of laundry. now as i look back and i have one last baby to get through the diapering process, i wonder if i could have done it all along. i will never know but, luckily, i have some good friends who are cloth diaper gurus and can share their knowledge of this cloth diaper mystery. my sweet friend, esther, took the time to share all of her cloth diapering knowledge with us today. from all of us stunned by the unknowns of cloth diapering, we say, "thank you."

cloth diapering basics

you can find a ton of great, practical information through blogs, forums, in stores, and from vendors on everything cloth diaper related. from types, styles, sizes, detergents, discounts... you name it. it can be a little overwhelming! so - i hope to help those of you considering cloth - whether you're expecting, in the middle of diapering a newborn, or are just curious to get an idea of what this is all about, by unpacking my initial question when I first heard about cloth diapering. 

how does cloth diapering work? 

i mean, we all have changed a diaper at some point and understand what the "system" is. buy a pack of diapers at the store that go in your changer/diaper bag, you put a new one on, and take the old one off and put it in a diaper genie or trashcan.

but when my husband mentioned the idea of using cloth diapers to me when we were expecting our first baby, i thought - how does that even work? i can't even guess what that system/process would look like. so! If you're wondering the same thing i was wondering - i will demystify it all by walking you through my system in pictures. 

#1 where to buy cloth diapers

i buy my cloth diapers at a variety of locations.
  • cloth diaper retailers (online): kellyscloset.com, cottonbabies.com
  • locally: the baby grocery store, the milky way [charlotte], sweetbottoms baby, the green pea [raleigh/cary/apex], soft and cozy baby [baltimore]
  • wherever you can find a discount/coupon: amazon.com, diapers.com, target.com, zulily.com

#2 the changing station

  • this is where it all goes down at my house. on the floor :). but this looks pretty much the same as any other way you'd change a diaper, right? 

#3 diaper on

  • i prefer cloth diapers that snap - but I also have velcro fastened ones  (also called aplix). a velcro cloth diaper fastens in exactly the same way as a disposable diaper. 

#4 dirty diapers

  • dirty diapers go in a diaper pail (mine is literally a trash can) with a pail liner, or a wet bag which is a laundry bag that has water proofing. if you use pocket-style cloth diapers (as shown in my pictures), you need to pull out the inserts before dropping the dirty diaper in the pail or bag. 

what about the poop?

  • the question everyone wants to know - what about the poop? i didn't take pictures (for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I didn't have any on hand to illustrate, actually :)) - but I have a few answers, depending on the stage of your baby's development:
    • nothing..if you have an exclusively breastfed baby. breast milk poo is completely water soluble and rinses out in the wash, so you can just put a poopy diaper directly into the pail. if that grosses you out - think about what you would do if (when!) you've had a blow out in a disposable. do you just wash your child's clothes? or did you rinse first? you can do whichever you'd prefer! 
    • dump - if you have a toddler who has been on solids for a while, you can simply dump the poo in the toilet, and toss the diaper in the wet bag/pail. The small amount of residue cleans off in the wash without any problems. 
    • spray - if you have a formula fed baby, a baby transitioning to solids, or a child who just ate too many raisins, you may want to spray off your poopy diaper if you can't simply dump the poo in the toilet. there are these awesome contraptions that attach to your toilet that allow you to hose off your diaper into the toilet:

      photo credit: kelly's closet

      hosing poo might sound dangerous - so, thankfully someone has also thought of a solution to the potential hazard of spraying poo across your bathroom - enter the spray pal: 

      i have used my sprayer only a handful of times in the last 19 months - so this is by no means a regular part of my routine.

#5 washing diapers

  • this is pretty much the same as doing any other load of laundry. shake/dump the bag out in your washer, tossing the bag in the wash also. wash with diaper safe detergent (i use "rockin green") and then dry on medium heat in the dryer (*i let my pail liners, wet bags, and some covers air dry, as shown). 
    • my wash routine on my HE front loader: 3 tablespoons of "rockin green classic rock, with the following settings: bulky load, pre rinse, hot water, heavy soil, water plus and/or extra rinse.

#6 "folding" diapers

  • this is the part most people love to hate. "i already do enough laundry!" you say, "why would i want another load to fold?" it's really as easy as 1, 2, 3 - dump your load, sort, and stuff (if you use pockets, as i do). 

guess how long it took me to do 1, 2, 3? 

8 minutes, total elapsed time. including taking the pictures for this post. 

there you have it. cloth diapering. not as strange as you'd think!

what about cloth diapers is mysterious to you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

simple solutions: easy baby proofing

simple solutions: easy baby proofing

when i was pregnant with each of my kids, i couldn't live without my goody rubber bands. i not only used them to pull my hair back everyday, but they were used to hold my non-maternity pants together for months after they no longer fit. i might not have been very glamorous but i was functional...and during pregnancy, that's about as good as i get. they are perfect little bands of magic.

once i had my babies, a new problem arose. i had to somehow keep my sanity in my kitchen where my kids constantly wanted to pull things from the cabinets. i tried several options. 

all the options served their purpose but i hated opening the different contraptions to get to my cooking items. i hated it. really. hated it. i have pinched my fingers, broken plastic, smashed my hands, and shaken my fists at all the crazy things i have purchased. 

then one day i grabbed one of the rubber bands that i had lying around and wrapped it around those pesky cabinet knobs. it was so simple it was stupid. and it worked perfectly. it slips on and off in one second (literally) and it still manages to keep little hands away from places they shouldn't be. an added bonus? the hair bands also come in the colors of most cabinets so blend right in. so simple and so easy!

for knobs that are really close together, you may have to twist the band or wrap it around the knob a couple of times. it continues to work well.

we even use the bands to hold drawers of dvds closed. it keeps the drawers closed just enough that little hands can't get the dvds to throw all over the family room. 

the best part of this simple solution? you can baby proof your whole kitchen for less than $5.00. that's something i can get really excited about.

Monday, October 14, 2013

mmmmm: herbed lemon quinoa

i love trying out new recipes involving quinoa. with quinoa, i feel like i am eating a starchy carb, like rice....but i am getting the added protein that is so much better for me and my family. this dish is light, lemony and refreshing. it makes for a great cold salad to bring to a potluck or simply to keep on hand at home for delish leftovers. enjoy!

herbed lemon quinoa


2 3/4 chicken stock
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups tri-colored quinoa

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons lemon zest
kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

rotisserie chicken, cut into small, bite-sized pieces 

for the quinoa:
in a medium saucepan, add the chicken stock, lemon juice and quinoa. bring to a boil over medium-high heat. reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12-15 minutes.

for the dressing:
in a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme and lemon zest. season with salt and pepper, to taste.

pour the dressing over the quinoa (once you have let quinoa cool) and toss until all the ingredients are coated. transfer the quinoa to a bowl. if wanted, you can add small, bite-sized pieces of cooked chicken (i used a rotisserie chicken) season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

serves 4. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

mmmmm: apple cake

how can i describe holly? i have no childhood memory that does not somewhere include her in the picture. long before i ever had friends of my own to call on the telephone, i could dial holly's number by heart. she has been my mom's closest friend forever. there wasn't a day that went by in my childhood that didn't involve a phone call from holly to my mother or my mother to holly. their's was the friendship i idolized. it's the kind of friendship that has withstood relocation, growing children, illnesses, heartache, and the passage of time. it's the kind of friendship i long for.

holly is hilarious, laughs easily, loves pink, teddy bears, 50's music, tea parties, her kids, her husband, history, good books and amazing food. she's the kind of person that, when hosting a tea party, called to get everyone's starbuck's orders to have them ready and waiting. how great is that? she is a gem. when she shared her recipe for apple cake, i had to pass it on. she's an amazing baker and i've never been disappointed with one of her treats. this recipe screams fall and you will love it.

apple cake

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups peeled chopped raw apple

1 egg

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup raisins

preheat oven to 350 degrees. combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. stir in the apples, egg, oil and raisins. pour into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking pan. top with streusel mixture

streusel topping

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup flour

mix streusel ingredients well, making sure the butter is broken up well within the other ingredients. spread the streusel over the cake batter. bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. enjoy!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

family flu shots with cvs minute clinic

this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf on cvs minute clinic. all opinions are my own.

flu season is around the corner. i dread it every year. i certainly don't like 
getting sick myself, but sick kiddos are the absolute worst. projectile vomiting, anyone? this week I gathered up the littles and we headed to our local cvs minute clinic for our annual flu shots

for those of you that have not been to a minute clinic yet, you are missing out. they are small clinics located in the back of many cvs stores. open 7 days a week, with great hours, they are my go-to place for almost everything for both the littles and myself. i don't know about you, but in my little world, kids always seem to get sick on the off hours. you know what I am talking about, right? my kids get sick on a weekend or evening when the pediatricians office is closed and my only option is to take the kids to an emergency room or urgent care, pay a ridiculously high co-pay and wait (for sometimes hours) to be seen, only to expose both them and me to countless other germs worse than the darn ear infection or strep we came to be treated for. minute clinic takes most insurance plans (including usaa, for those military families). they treat everything from ear infections, strep throat, pink eye, bronchitis all the way to uti's and administering vaccines

my first born has been a chronic sufferer of ear infections. we are now two sets of ear tubes in and things are much, much better....but there was a while there where we were dealing with back-to-back ear infections and of course the symptoms never started on a weekday morning. nope. the symptoms of a nasty ear infection reared their ugly head after office hours and most always on a weekend. a good friend suggested trying the minute clinic, i fell in love and that was the beginning of a long, beautiful love affair with cvs minute clinic

on this visit to our local minute clinic we went for our yearly flu vaccines. i find the most annoying thing about getting the flu vaccine is having to take the time to get the kids in to see their doctor and then to get myself to my own doctor. that is two trips and too much time to spend for this busy, single mama. with the minute clinic, it is a one stop shop. in one visit, they take our insurance and all three of us end up getting what we need at a time that works for us with no appointment to make. after heading to the back of the store, i entered all of our information in the touch screen and found out that there was only one patient ahead of us (easy peasy).  

after only 10 minutes, the nurse practitioner called us in. a few more details needed to be entered into the system then we were weighed, temps taken and we were all set. 

our nurse practitioner couldn't have been nicer and better with the kids. the vaccine was quick and painless....and she even had the cutest stickers ready to go as a reward for the boys being so brave. 

truly. if you haven't been to a minute clinic, i encourage you to look up the location nearest you and give it a try
they are rapidly expanding, so if there is not one in your area now, there may be soon. currently, with each flu vaccine, they are providing a special 20% off shopping voucher to cvs---that's what i call a no brainer. what are you waiting for? 

so, let me recap: happy kids + happy mama= a match made in minute clinic heaven. do yourself a favor and try out your local cvs minute clinic. i have a feeling that cvs minute clinic will be your new bff too. enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

the type A twilight zone

the fabulous Minute Clinic sponsored this post though all the opinions and
 thoughts are expressly my own.

i've decided that blogging conferences are a sort of parallel universe. when i attend them, i step into my own version of the twilight zone. i get to sleep - uninterrupted - in a hotel room for four nights in a row. someone else makes my bed and cleans my bathroom. there is always enough hot water for me to shower. i actually shower and wash my hair everyday. i put on clothes that are typically reserved for a rare night out, church on sunday or a meeting. i wear these clothes four days in a row. i sit in huge rooms where the background noise has changed from mickey mouse clubhouse to the melodious sound of dozens of sets of fingers clicking on computer keyboards. everything is altered and the result is something magical.

the type A conference this last weekend was no exception. it was, in fact, even a step beyond the normal conference. it left a deeper impression. here's why.

we had amazing sponsors.

period. they were amazing. heather and i have been fans of the CVS minute clinics for quite some time now. we have stopped in for rapid strep tests, ear infections, flu shots and everything in between for years now. the minute clinics are fast, close by, and accept our insurance. on a weekend, instead of heading to an emergency room or an urgent care if our kids get ear infections, we could pay our normal doctor visit copay and hit a minute clinic. it has always been a no-brainer for us. so, when minute clinic asked us to work with them at this last conference, we jumped at the chance. it was a blogger/brand match made in heaven and we were thrilled.

the conference time we spent with the minute clinic team was, in short, a blast. not only did they pick a great group of bloggers to work with at the conference but they themselves were an absolute delight. we laughed hysterically with them, chatted about life and got to promote a company we already love while passing out beautiful essie nail polish to bloggers as they came by. in what world do you get a new nail polish gifted to you on a daily basis? as i said, it was a parallel universe.

the speakers were relevant...and awesome.

the speakers at this conference were truly amazing. at every session, from the opening session to the breakout sessions, i learned something new and was able to glean new information to take with me. there were, in fact, some sessions i had to war within myself to choose between. in the twilight zone blogging world, worlds like "google +", "linkedin", "SEO" and "brand relationships" send little jolts of adrenaline through our systems. we crave more information, new tips, and guidelines to learn how to do this blogging business well. we strive to be great writers, but we also are trying to run our own businesses. the combination can be daunting sometimes but conference speakers somehow bring all the details into relevant and easy to understand terms. the speakers this year gave us more useful information in one session than we had received at other times in a whole conference. maybe we were more ready to hear. maybe they were just that much better. it is the twilight zone...anything is possible.

"we still blog"

this is, by far, my favorite part of this parallel universe. for an hour, we got to sit and hear ten bloggers read their best piece of writing from the past year. these writers are truly talented. i respect the writers of novels, of newspapers, of other printed material. still, bloggers are something special (i am admitting a bias here.) these authors are daily writing a piece of themselves for the world to read. they are sharing some of their most hilarious or vulnerable moments. the "i still blog" session holds the very best of the best. i cried one minute then laughed until i cried the next. these weren't made-up stories. these were real life moments. we could relate and they were wonderful as they connected with each and every person in the room. we were gifted with an hour of hearing excellent writing, uninterrupted, read by the authors themselves. twilight zone indeed.

the people

i have heard the type A conference equated to a summer camp for bloggers. i don't love this analogy as i feel i have a hard enough time getting people to take the blogging business seriously. still, i have to admit, there is something in the atmosphere that almost has a camp vibe. don't get me wrong, conferences are work. we sit in classes all day long. we are about the business of meeting new people and collaborating. we are constantly in a state of interaction and absorption. it is a work trip with serious business men and women. still, i have to say that from the biggest blogger to the newest blogger, the people at type A are gems. everywhere we turned we encountered some of the loveliest people we have ever met. when i say we were greeted, we were not just greeted with hand shakes, we were greeted with exclamations and hugs. no one was pretentious. the overwhelming majority of the people who attended were genuinely kind. that is the kind of parallel universe i want to return to.

as i sit in the reality that is the life i returned to, i am loving on a three year old with pneumonia. my bags are still not unpacked. laundry has not been completed. the sounds of "sophia the first" fill my kitchen as i type and my sick little man lies on the couch. the transition from conference to real life is always difficult but how could it not be? we are stepping from one universe to another. there is bound to be a little culture shock. the good news is we've got a golden ticket that promises we can return to the land we left for years and years to come. that, my friends, is the best part of it all.