Finally, naps

I think it’s been about 2 weeks now that Harper has been taking a two-hour nap every day. I can’t express to you how revolutionary that is in our house!

She had been starting to enjoy her bedtime routine more at night, even to the point of asking to go to bed when she got sleepy. So I guess I had the sense that she might be ready to commit to a nap routine as well. One day I just said that if she wasn’t asleep by X time, I would put her in bed. So I did. And she protested a little, but I think she slept about an hour an a half the first day.

After that she pretty quickly got into a routine of going to sleep at 2:30 and sleeping until 4:30, sometimes later. I just couldn’t believe it. I was really stunned that it was that easy to get a child that was taking 30-45-minute naps at all different times of day to sleep consistently. Sometimes she had even been skipping her nap altogether.

What’s stranger is that the long naps haven’t really affected her bedtime or wake-up time. She does seem to be in a better mood than before. I can imagine that she’s been tired for a long time. So days have taken on a completely different rhythm, with an actual break every afternoon for both mom and I. Of course, Harper is still a 2-year-old, so it’s always an adventure. But it’s better.

This all hit me in kind of an unexpected way, though. At first it made me really upset. I just felt like it was the first thing I had done really wrong as a parent and I felt really dumb. Like the answer was always there and I just couldn’t figure it out. I felt I had tried everything to get her to nap and always failed. But I guess I had never really tried to get her to sleep at the same time and place every day with an established routine. Maybe because my days are always so different it didn’t seem possible to be consistent.

So I’ve had to work through those feelings and I feel a lot better now. All I can do is move forward having learned a big lesson. And who knows, she may have just needed to be ready.

We just heard from the preschool we were planning to send Harper to that they have an opening. So I guess she is about to have a whole new routine that will certainly require a nap. Good timing!

Fort Bragg glass beach

At long last Mike and I got away for a toddler-free trip. We decided sort of last-minute to book a place in the Mendocino area. Since it was Valentine’s Day weekend, a lot of things were booked. But he had President’s Day off, so we went for a Sunday/Monday trip and a motel in Fort Bragg rather than pricier Mendocino.

My favorite part of the trip (other than the couples massage we splurged on), was this glass beach.

It basically runs along the coastline cliffs, where trash used to be dumped into the water. Now these beautiful pieces of colorful glass wash ashore in the little inlets.

We climbed down a sort of ridiculously unsafe hill to get to the beach (note to self: do not wear a dress and Toms for this activity!). But once there it was totally worth it.

The ground is just covered with glass pieces shimmering in the sunlight. And the view is spectacular. It’s one of those places you can’t believe is real.

Though the drive there along the PCH made me carsick, I am so glad we took this trip. It was instantly restorative to drive through some redwoods. We bought too many souvenirs at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company along the way and we shopped and lingered and did all the things we don’t normally do. We really want to take a similar trip to New Orleans, so after this I’m super motivated to make it happen.

Homemade pastry pups

We made these for New Years and the Superbowl and they were SO GOOD. They’re basically just a homemade version of Trader Joe’s Pastry Pups. Which are like a fancied up version of a pig in a blanket.

I always liked the way they used puff pastry instead of plain bread. So I thought, why not just roll up some ‘lil smokies in a puff pastry sheet and call it good?

So basically all you do is thaw 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry dough and then unfold them (one at a time) on a cookie sheet. At this point you have the dough kind of naturally divided into thirds. So just cut along those folds so you have 3 pieces. then cut those in half to get six. Then cut diagonally across each piece to get 12 triangles.

No need to spring for any kind of fancy dog. These store-brand ones were great.

Then roll up a dog in each piece of dough and place them a couple inches apart on the cookie sheet. (You could sprinkle them with a little parmesan cheese here, although I didn’t and I don’t think they need it.)

I think I baked them at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. But just check on them periodically and take them out when the dough is puffed up and starting to brown. 

They are so yummy dipped in a little mustard.

Make both sheets because 12 will not last very long at all. Trust me.

What’s new for 2015

I’ve changed so many things in my shop lately that I can’t even remember what it used to look like! But really I have the same items I’ve always carried, just with some improvements.

For starters, all of my yarn poufs and stuff-it-yourself kits now come with a sewn bag rather than a drawstring bag. The bag makes a pouf with a perfectly rounded shape, and it has a Velcro closure that makes it easy to add more stuffing.

These poufs also have a drawstring closure on the knit cover so that the cover can be easily removed for washing and put back on. I’m still mulling over adding a similar closure to the wool cord poufs, but they are much easier to open/close to begin with that I’m not sure they need anything different.

Speaking of wool cord, I finally settled on a yarn that I really love for these poufs, and it comes in 22 gorgeous colors.

It’s been really fun making these poufs in a variety of colors for customers.


This is the burnt orange.

I also added some new colors to my regular yarn offerings, so there are 20 to choose from instead of 16.

What kept me crazy busy in December was having items in 3 local stores (see links on the sidebar). I’m almost to the point of having to reduce my online offerings so that I have time to make hats and cowls. So, to save that precious, toddler-free work time, I’ve been working on making bigger knits that work up really quickly.

These hats are made from super thick Peruvian wool. I love working with this yarn. I came up with a beanie, a slouch hat and a roll brim hat that are really cute and flattering.

And I’ve also been selling a lot of arm knit cowls at Studio 333 Downtown. They come in two sizes, small (single loop) and large (double loop).

Still on my to-do list this year: add a medium-size pouf to my Etsy shop, add more patterns to my pattern shop, and list baskets and rugs made of wool cord. They are pricier than the cotton rope, but I found after so much frustration trying to dye the rope and work with its inconsistency, that wool cord was the way to go.

Harper at 2

Sometimes Harper wakes up from a nap and my mom and I will go, “Does she look different?” She literally seems to change hour to hour.

She still has a tangle of strawberry blond hair (fine and mostly straight like daddy’s), but it’s a lot longer now. Sometimes I give it a trim, but she’s yet to have a real haircut. I’m a little afraid of that process…

The biggest change, of course, is language. She seemed kind of stuck on a few words for a long time. We were kind of surprised, given our communications backgrounds, that she wasn’t more verbal compared to her peers. But this week has been like an explosion of words and words turning into phrases.

Her favorites are “No, no, Sadie,” “Mommy, (where) are you?”, “Uh, oh, what happened?” and things like “Ready, set, go!”

I recently heard the phrase “three-nager” to describe the personalities of three-year-olds. But I have to say that Harper seems like a two-nager at times. She can change her attitude on a dime and you can see her not knowing what to do with her frustration.

Thankfully, she is spunky, giggly, and curious most of the time. Her energy is just astounding! Sometimes she will take off down our long hallway or the driveway outside and just do laps yelling “run, run!”

She got her first real shoes this month. She was tripping and falling a lot in her soft shoes and seemed to need more support. She’s a pretty fearless climber and I think she is about ready for a tricycle or a balance bike.

She’s less inclined to put a strange thing in her mouth now, but you never know when she is going to go digging through the trash, or stepping in dog poop or any number of destructive things.

Sleep has been a mixed bag. She had been sleeping pretty well at night and taking her usual scattered naps and then we hit a patch a few weeks ago that was far worse than the 18-month regression. I thought maybe she was getting a big molar because she was just so out of sorts and only pain reliever seemed to calm her down.

Now she seems back to normal and no new teeth. So who knows. I am pretty desperate for a break or a vacation and really wanting to travel more this year. I know now that breaks are key to mama happiness and that’s one of the things I really need to work on in the future.

The selfie photo reminds me that we actually had to take the iPad away completely because she became so obsessed with “Pen.” Now she is obsessed with Daniel Tiger on PBS, but that one doesn’t bother me as much. Hopefully we can bring it back in the future because I really liked some of the learning apps. But man was she attached to that thing!

Lately she LOVES baths. She practices counting with her toys and it’s so cute. She likes being in the car and it is about the only way she’ll fall asleep for naps. She loves to run wild in the aisles of a store. We’re working on finding more activities to do with her. I think the aquarium and zoo would be fun.

I do have the tiniest bit of sentimentality for her teeny baby days, but really each stage has been so much more fun and interesting than the last. And this one in particular with breakthroughs in communication is so big, I’m really enjoying it. And you better believe I indulge in sleepy cuddles as much as possible lately. Those are the best.

I’m teaching a class!

I’ve always thought it would be fun to teach a knitting class. So when the opportunity to teach one at Gather came up, I jumped. Gather is the awesome boutique in San Francisco that sells my rope baskets and some of my other knit accessories. They also have a big space that’s perfect for craft workshops. I’m going to be showing people how to arm knit a cowl, which could not be a quicker or easier craft. We’ll make a cowl that looks like this.

All the details are here. Gather provides wine and snacks, which is a sweet bonus!

DIY Brobee cake

I’m excited to share the cake I made for Harper’s 2nd birthday because it was one of those rare DIY projects that turned out exactly like I hoped it would. But it also took a last-minute change of plans to get there, and that’s worth sharing, too.

If you haven’t yet discovered the awesomeness that is Yo Gabba Gabba, I highly recommend it! It’s one of those kids shows that is very much for parents, too. Lots of quirky actors guest star with their “dancey dances” and indie bands play songs. (We record old episodes on Nick Jr. so we always have some to watch.) It’s kind of like if Barney was on an acid trip or something. Strange, but lots of fun. And Harper’s favorite character is Brobee, the little green guy.

I figured I could fashion a Brobee cake by making one rectangular cake the body and another cake the arms, which did work. I decided to make one 9×13-inch chocolate cake and one 9×13-inch vanilla cake so people would have more than one flavor option. I used boxed mixes to save time, but I can also recommend the recipes we used for our wedding cakes, which I blogged about on Goodsmiths (RIP…).

The body and legs were easy. I just removed a long skinny triangle to create legs. For the arms, I cut the chocolate cake into thirds lengthwise, and used two of them for arms. I rounded the corners where the hands would be and cut the bottom of the arms at an angle so they would fit next to the body. The other third I cut in half and made one part the head and used the rest to cut triangles to go on top of the head.

That left a lot of delicious cake to snack on.

I had to add a little piece of vanilla cake right next to where the head attached because there was a height difference. Then I smoothed it all over with one layer of buttercream frosting. It took every last bit of a half batch of buttercream to cover the cake.

I did this part the night before so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with cake decorating right before the party and I’m so glad I did. Here’s what he looked like before the final decorating.

By the way, I used a piece of foam core board covered with parchment paper to hold the cake. It worked really well. I certainly didn’t have a plate big enough to hold a cake like that.

This is where I had to stray from my original plan. Inspired by this Pinterest post, I had gone out and bought some piping bags and a grass tip at JoAnn (who has an amazing selection of cake decorating tools, if you need any). But when I started piping on the buttercream it very quickly started going wrong. The “fur” was coming out all squiggly and then eventually the tip kept getting clogged and it would squirt out way too much. So I kind of stopped for a minute and decided it was not worth the effort it was going to take to keep using that tip. So I abandoned it and just spread on the frosting with my favorite little offset spatula. And though it took some precision, it was much faster and it looked great.

I’ve had mixed results with gel paste food coloring so I ended up buying a bottle of liquid green food coloring to dye the frosting. Basically I added enough food coloring (combined with a little bit of yellow I already had) to get a light green color. I frosted on all the light green stripes. Then I mixed in more green to make the remaining frosting darker and used that to fill in the dark green stripes. This is where it really helped to have a Pinterest photo and a stuffed doll to look at for inspiration.

For the details on the face, I used these Wilton decorating icing bags that come with tips on them. I bought one white, one black and one red (about $3 each). I just freehanded the eyes, mouth and unibrow and then iced over the triangles on the head.

I feel like it was just luck that the icing came out the perfect thickness for the details I needed. The mouth was especially easy.

It’s one of those things where you have to take a deep breath and accept that you have one shot at getting it right. I suppose you could scrape off the frosting if you messed it up and try again, but I was really hoping not to have to do that.

In the end, Brobee looked like this. (I wiped off the excess crumbs with a wet cloth before serving the cake.)

The cake was a huge hit, and I think people really appreciated the two-flavor option. I also made some gluten-free cupcakes with green frosting. I’m finding that option to be more important now (plus some people just like cupcakes!).

The most important part, though, was that Harper liked the cake. She was so excited when everyone sang to her, and she definitely ate a piece of cake.

It was even better with the homemade coconut ice cream our friend Joanna brought. You know you have good friends when they bring you something like that!

I don’t know how much it would have cost to buy a cake like this from a bakery, but I’m guessing several hundred dollars. I think with everything, including the frosting supplies, I spent about $30 to make this cake. Plus, I love being able to do something like this for her. Sometimes — often — I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m doing as a mom. But damn it, I can make a cake. 

The next day, this was all that was left of Brobee, so I think it was a success.

Next year, Daniel Tiger?

Some recipes that worked

As you might have guessed, the last couple months have been crazy busy. I had some success selling hats and cowls at local shops, which has been awesome. But it’s so much work on top of what I was already doing with Etsy that I’ve had to rethink my whole business and what I want it to look like. Life is only going to get busier, so I’m thinking about phasing some things out and focusing on what I know will sell and creating more patterns, which bring in steady income without the headaches and time commitment of actually making the items. 

So anyway, cooking has been a lot of quick and easy meals lately, but I thought I’d share a few recipes that were winners. 

This balsamic onion chicken that you serve over egg noodles could not be easier. I usually add a little bit of cream to the sauce or thicken it with some cornstarch. 

For New Years I made black eyed peas with a leftover ham hock for the first time using this New York Times recipe. It’s not the most beautiful recipe, but it tasted really good. It was definitely the perfect way to use up leftover ham. Perhaps it would be worth making again after Easter? 

We actually had more good food for New Years than I care to admit. But another winner was this recipe for baked brie bites. I used lollipop sticks to hold them up and they disappeared in minutes! These would be perfect for any occasion when you wanted a little bite-sized appetizer. 

For a weeknight dinner, I highly recommend Real Simple’s rigatoni with bacon and peas. I used a can of crushed tomatoes instead of fresh ones, so it became kind of a kitchen sink of items I already had on hand. Any pasta would work. Try it!

And finally, I made Smitten Kitchen’s chicken noodle soup last week and it was once again the perfect soothing soup. We might have to make it again since Harper has a cold and it seems like the rest of us may be going down too. 

Harper’s 2nd birthday party is coming up in a couple week’s and I’m planning on making a fun birthday cake in the shape of Brobee from Yo Gabba Gabba. (Am I nuts?) We also got a crazy good deal on a midcentury table and chairs from the antique mall where mom has her stuff, so that will be another fun project to share. 

Making some changes

A few weeks ago I stepped on the scale and saw a number I’ve never seen before and never hoped to see. I tried not to be too hard on myself about it. The last few months have been full of upheaval — finding a house, buying a house, renovating a house, moving a new member into the house and then going straight from that into my busiest time of year. It’s been a lot and I’ve been eating my stress.

So I thought I’d see if running didn’t help me get back on track. It’s always been so helpful at bringing up my energy and metabolism, which in turn makes me feel better and eat better. I started the Couch to 5k app and it felt good. I eventually got up to running about 2 miles. But after 6 weeks I hadn’t lost a single pound. In fact I think I gained 1 or 2. That was a humbling moment.

I’m the kind of person who lives inside my head a lot of the time, so this made me really think a lot about all the times I’ve been in this position and all the things I’ve tried that didn’t work in the long term. There was obviously some connection I wasn’t making. Of all the things I’ve learned about food and nutrition, none of them have helped me find one healthy weight and stick to it. So what I was looking for then and what I’m working on now, is a way to eat for the rest of my life. Because running is not going to save me from overeating, and diets aren’t going to help me deal with being an emotional eater. That has to come from inside. 

So I kind of made the quiet decision to work on that. To ask myself what is the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t eat this or that unhealthy thing. I thought it might help to make up some food rules — ways to create better habits. 

I realized that even the super healthy cleanses I’ve done are effectively diets. They’re temporary and they don’t represent the way I eat normally. I went back and read a journal I kept around 2011 (after I had lost 27 pounds) and it actually had a lot of the same thoughts I’m having now. It was good to be reminded of them.

With the exception of sugar, which is absolutely addictive for me, I’m not trying to eliminate any one thing from my diet. I am trying to eat just enough to be full and nothing more. I’m trying to fill a smaller plate and not go back for seconds. If I eat a really big meal, I try to compensate by eating a smaller one later. It’s actually like a weight lifted just to have those “rules” in place. And wouldn’t you know, I’ve lost 11 POUNDS. 

Most of that has been after our trip to Kansas (travel always gets me overeating) and the Thanksgiving leftover bomb. That feels like a big accomplishment. I think the running helps, but I would attribute almost all of the weight loss to eating better. Of course this month is the hardest to resist temptation, and I have definitely indulged in a few things. But overall I feel like I’m finally dealing with bad habits I’ve had my whole life and just trying, little by little, to be better. It’s amazing how many things I’m realizing I do just because I’ve always done them.

I don’t have a weight loss goal in mind. I don’t even know what I should weigh. I’m just going to see how this plays out. I actually think the exercise part is harder right now. I’m working day and night to finish orders and I just don’t have a lot of extra time and energy right now. Plus it’s the rainy season so, for once, we have weather conflicts. But even that I feel pretty good about and I’m set to run a 5k with Mike’s coworkers in March. 

This morning I read this post from Nourished Kitchen, which really resonated with me. It led me to this post about how the cycle of diets/binges/guilt is actually our addiction. I love this part:

It’s such a thrill to start a new diet, like paleo or juice-fasting. We’re like blushing virgin brides each and every time, looking forward to the pleasures to come… adapting recipes, finding new packaged foods, joining groups of people who eat like us, bringing our own food to every social event… (Geez, when I type it out like that it sounds pathetic.) Moderation, by comparison, is dull.

It’s so true! Moderation is totally boring to write about, but it’s the only thing that’s working for me. I have way too many things going on in my life right now to try to overhaul my meal planning, shopping and cooking and try to make it palatable for my entire family. The best I can do is try to be reasonable about food, so that’s what I’m doing. It’s weird. I’ve never really looked at it from this perspective, but I’m hopeful. 

I’m not going to do a bunch of before/after photos so that I can fat shame myself, but I will share anything that works for me going forward, just in case it’s helpful. One thing I noticed after the first month of doing this is that when I started eating a little more (i.e. not feeling stomach-growling hungry) I lost more weight. Also, a few times I skipped breakfast because I wasn’t that hungry in the morning and that wasn’t good. Instead of processed cereal, a longtime fave, I’ve been making omelets with cheese or whatever leftovers I can find. It’s a good protein boost in the morning. 

If you have other advice, especially at getting through the holiday feasting, please share!

3-bean chili, the meat version

I still really love my vegetarian chili recipe, but lately we’ve been eating a meaty version of it, and it’s great, too. For the meat version, I added ground beef, but left out some of the veggies, herbs and chipotle chiles.

So it’s basically a simplified version that’s a little less spicy. Although, you could certainly add the chiles for extra heat or add the veggies to make it healthier. It’s a very adaptable recipe.

We always have our chili with a little bit of cheddar cheese and saltine crackers. These little ones are still my favorite. 

3-bean and beef chili
Serves 8
Hearty chili for cold nights.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound ground beef
  2. 1 small (or half large) onion, chopped
  3. 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  4. 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  5. 15-ounce can black beans, drained
  6. 15-ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained
  7. 15-ounce can chili beans
  8. 1 tablespoon chili powder
  9. 1 teaspoon cumin
  10. 1 teaspoon salt
  11. Shredded cheddar cheese and saltine crackers (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium and add the ground beef, onions and green peppers. Cook until the beef browns and the onions are translucent.
  2. Stir in the chili powder, cumin and salt.
  3. Add the tomatoes and all the beans and stir really well. Place a lid on the pot and heat the mixture until it's bubbling.
  4. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring often.
  5. Serve with shredded cheese and crackers.
Notes
  1. If you like your chili spicy, add one chipotle chili in adobo sauce with the tomatoes and beans.
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/