Current Favorite Reads for Toddlers

Every week we take a trip to the library in order for Max to pick out new books. It is a nice weekly ritual we have.  I usually ask him if there is a book he wants to get but then I usually pick out a few that I think he will enjoy. We have read our far share of books about trucks, construction sites, and dinosaurs. I also think we have read every Curious George book out there. Lately I have been trying to branch out and expose Max to some new books. Here are some of his current favorites.

The Napping House by Don & Audrey Wood
I think we all are thankful when our house becomes a napping house. In this silly story the entire house is napping, snoozing, slumbering, dozing, snoring all in one bed. They each fall asleep one on top of another one at a time.  Suddenly a wakeful flea sets off a cascade of events which causes each napper to wake up. A repetitive & rhythmic book with descriptive pictures making it an enjoyable read for all.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
This repetitive tale is one of Max’s favorite. A family decides to head off on a bear hunt. “They are not scared”. They travel through grass, mud, a river, a forest, a snowstorm, all of which make interesting sounds. Finally the family comes to a cave where they do find a bear! The bear chases them and they have to travel back through all the terrain they encountered on the trip to the cave. When they finally make it home they decide bear hunts are not for them and hide under their covers.

Flip Flap Fly by Phyllis Root
This rhyming story follows different baby animals in their habitat. A bird sees a a fish who sees snake who sees a otter who sees a duck who sees a mouse who sees a child. The child sees that there are babies everywhere in nature. Each animal learns to move with the help of their mama. It is a fun book to read and has some silly words. Max loves that the snake says “wiggle with a squiggle”. There are beautiful illustrations as well.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
These books are part of series they Max loves. In this story the mouse is given a cookie and then asks for a glass of milk. This first request causes the mouse to ask or think of something else.  Then with each sequential item the mouse is given he tangentially asks for something else. In the end needs a glass of milk and of course wants a cookie to go with it. We also have read If You Give a Cat a Cupcake and If You Give a Mouse a Muffin. They are all big hits!

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Gilles Andreae
Gerald is a self conscious giraffe who believes he cannot dance. His fears are realized when he is called weird at the jungle dance. Gerald is embarrassed and leaves the dance only to be confronted by a cricket. It turns out Gerald is a beautiful dancer who simply needed to find the right music. Another rhyming book that has you cheering on Gerald as all the animals come to see him dance.

Current Favorite Reads for Toddlers

Lenten Digital Detox: How to Simplify?

For Lent this year I decided to take part in a form of digital detox. I was convicted about how much time I was on my phone and the amount of time I was wasting by checking it needlessly.  I felt that by creating boundaries for my phone usage I would be more present, less distracted, and more productive. Here were the guidelines I created and how they made life simpler.

  1. In Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home one valuable tip they recommended was only checking your email three times a day.  Pick three times that are convenient and make sense for you to check your email.  For me it was in the morning when I first get up, in the afternoon when both kids are napping, and in the evening after we put the kids to bed.
  2. Think about the amount of emails you receive and unsubscribe to emails you do not want to receive or are not essential.  Not receiving them is simply easier than deleting them daily. For me I thought about: Have I ever ordered something online from this store?  Can I receive this information somewhere else if I need it? How did I even start getting these emails? The first day I unsubscribed or changed my email preferences to over 30 different sites. I realized there were some stores I never shopped at or emails that I never requested getting.  By unsubscribing it has saved me time since now I do not have to sort through as many emails a day and it has significantly decluttered my inbox.
  3. Respond to emails as soon as they come in. With less clutter in my inbox and more time I try to respond to emails that require a response either that day or the next day. I often do this during the afternoon while my kids are napping and I have the most time. I used to often put off responding because I thought I did not have the time and then I would forget about them.
  4. Check social media once a day. There are wonderful things about Facebook, Instagram, bloglovin’, Pinterest. They can be extremely useful tools and offer great resources. That being said they can simply be a time theif.  I thought this would be much harder than it was. It was much easy than I thought and it was nice to have some down time in the evening to look through it all. You really are not missing anything by not checking this every 5 minutes and your the picture of your friend’s kid trying a new food or your coworker’s vacation pictures will still be there.

Put down your phone. Enjoy time with people and have a happy Easter!

Lenten Digital Detox: How to Simplify?

Make Your Own: Basic Tomato Sauce

I recently posted simple steps to change the way you eat where I encouraged you to begin to stop buying and start making some items on your own.  I wanted to start with this super easy and versatile tomato sauce. We love Italian food but my husband and I never found a tomato sauce we both liked.  Being fifty percent Italian myself I thought I should simply make my own.  Recently I discovered that some tomato sauce may not even be made from tomatoes but from a concentrate made up of water and tomato paste.  Other sauces are high in sugar, up to 8 to 9 grams per serving. Being fifty percent Italian myself I thought I should simply try my own.  Not only is it healthier but it tastes so much better.  I trusted another Italian girl and chose this recipe from Giada. It is not only delicious but it is so easy to make and freezes wonderfully. I added ground beef to this batch because I was making a sauce for a ziti.  If you do not have time to make your own I would recommend picking up at can of Rao’s.

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Ingredients
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
4 to 6 basil leaves
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

In a large casserole pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and simmer covered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick. Remove bay leaves and check for seasoning. If sauce still tastes acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavors.

Add half the tomato sauce into the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth. Continue with remaining tomato sauce.

If not using all the sauce, allow it to cool completely and pour 1 to 2 cup portions into freezer plastic bags. This will freeze up to 6 months.

Make Your Own: Basic Tomato Sauce

Simple Steps to Change the Way You Eat

Ever since taking a class in college I have had a passion for nutrition. At that time I found out about the pitfalls of hydrogenated oils and started the journey of educating myself about what I ate. I came back to my apartment sharing with my roommates what I had learned and we began to clean out our cabinets that night. Over the last ten years I have been developing my own food philosophy and trying to learn what I can about what we eat. When I began introducing my son to solids I became even more passionate about nutrition and feeding my family real food. I try to have a balanced perspective about food for myself and my family. However, when my family brings Oreos into my house they refer to it as contraband. I am far from an expert but wanted to share some things I have learned along the way. This post is not intended to make you feel guilty but to start the process of eating healthy. The journey to eating healthy is a process and it requires slowly making changes that you will continue over time.  I want people to enjoy real food without feeling like they are depriving themselves.

1. Reading labels is a good practice to get into. We often are taught to look at the number of calories or the amount of fat in a serving but we really should be reading the ingredients. We need to know what is actually being put in our food. I think reading the ingredient list makes us accountable for what we are putting into our mouthes. On the labels for most prepackaged food half of the ingredients you can not even pronounce and others may sound like something created in a laboratory. Why does it take 30 ingredients to make a basic tomato sauce? Glancing at a label can be an eye opening experience and it can change the way we eat. Search for foods that you can read and know the ingredient list as well as those with only a handful of ingredients. This process of reading labels can be challenging and time consuming at first, but I promise you it will be informative.

2. Reduce your sugar consumption. Sugar is sneaky. In an effort to read more labels I have noticed how insidious sugar is in our food. I have always been a big fan of Trader Joe’s but on a recent trip I examined the labels more closely and was shocked by how much added sugar was in their food. Even their beets had added sugar! Obviously processed foods have sugar but you would be surprised it’s in other foods that you would not even expect.

For me, grocery shopping with two kids in tow is hard. I’m frazzled and rushed and mostly want to get what is on my list and leave. There is little time for reading labels and checking sugar content. Recently when I have gotten home and taken a look at some items I was very disappointed in what I found. Let’s take my applesauce incident for example. My son loves unsweetened applesauce. During a trip to the store I saw Mott’s applesauce with the words natural on it. I naively took it home thinking natural would assume it would be unsweetened. Why would applesauce need to be sweetened anyway? When I read the label I was shocked to find it contained high fructose corn syrup! Don’t be tricked by marketing and branding. The words natural mean absolutely nothing.  It is important to find brands you can trust.

We are consuming well over the recommended 6 teaspoons, 24 grams, of added sugar (this does not include natural sugar) daily. The average person is consuming 23 teaspoons, approximately 90 grams, of added sugar daily.  These added sugars have no nutritional value and add extra calories.  Again you can look in the ingredient list to see if the sugars are added or if an item has naturally occurring sugars. There are a lot of names for sugar that you should look out for. Unfortunately, if a product has both naturally and added sugars the two are not separated but appear as one value.

Everyone knows sugar in excess is not good for you, but here is an article discussing some of the effects of eating too much sugar.  Our taste buds have become deadened to the amount of sugar in our food. Start by slowly taking it away.  Add one less tablespoon of sugar to your coffee at a time.  Start looking at labels and trying foods that have less sugar in them or better yet start making your own.  Here are some ways to cut sugar in your diet.

Also avoid foods that claim they have reduced sugar or are light.  These food substitute sugar with fake sugar, often times sucralose.  Don’t even get me started on how horrible fake sugar can be for you.  They have not proven a link to it causing cancer, but it does not help with weight loss.  It has also been linked to dementia.  Here is a run down on artificial sweeteners.

3. Low fat-and fat free are NOT healthy. Rory Freedman says, “Whenever you see the words fat free or low-fat think of the words ‘chemical shit storm'”.   Eating healthy means eating real unadulterated food.  Food with fat is intended to be that way and to reduce the fat means more processing.  Usually these reduced fat products have added sugar to improve the taste.  Despite the fact that these versions are lower calories, many people eat these foods in excess.  We should be drinking whole milk and eating whole dairy products, including yogurt and cheese.  The process of removing this fat is pretty unsettling.

Research now shows that choosing full fat options are better for weight loss because they keep you more satieated.  They also have good fats, which are needed to add the essential fat-soluble vitamins present in these foods.  In the latest Real Simple magazine it states that the saturated fats present in dairy do not increase cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.  Dairy contains oleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid that can actually aide in weight loss.  This article by NPR is a good read about why full-fat can reduce weight gain. Also, it is okay to eat butter.

By following the above guidelines the goal is for you to eat more real food and food that is less processed.  A big part of eating less processed food is making your own.  A Couple of Cooks has a great post with a link to several articles about why we should be eating real food. It can be time consuming, but it is better for you and your health.  I promise that overall you will feel bettter.  In an effect to help you start making your own food I promise to post some easy recipes of basic food you can make instead of buy.  Follow along!

Simple Steps to Change the Way You Eat

Pumping Essentials

Pumping is my least favorite part of breastfeeding. At times it can be a lot of extra work and for many it can be stressful. However, I am thankful for the opportunities pumping allows me. I do not have to choose between going to work or having a date out with my husband and providing my baby with breast milk. It provides more flexibility for me and has allowed me to breastfeed for longer than I anticipated.  I wanted to share a few essentials that have made pumping easier for me and hopefully will be beneficial to you too.
The first is a double electric pump. It makes pumping easier and faster. Check with your insurance company before you buy or register for one.  For both of my kids I received a pump for free! One of them has a compartment for ice packs and pumped milk. The milk can be in there for 24 hours and makes transport very easy.  If yours does not have a cooler I would invest in one.
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Extra pumping parts are also very handy! My neighbor offered me extra parts (don’t share the membranes or the tubing) and I did not know how nice it was to have them until I had it. It made it more convenient by allowing me to have a set for work and home.  It is also nice to have extra pairs if one set is dirty. I also store the pumped milk in storage bottles at work to reduce the chance of milk leaking. It helps to have lots of these bottles. I put these bottles in the fridge until I am ready to put the milk in bags. Buy extra membranes too because they tear easily.
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With my first child I never invested in a hands free pumping bra. I decided to buy one this time around I wish I had bought it much sooner. With your hands free it allows you to eat, email, or do whatever you want while you are pumping. I was skeptical of the fit due to one size working for so many bra sizes but I must say it fits well.
The next item you need are milk storage bags. I use the Lansinoh bags. They are cheaper than Medela, can hold a lot of milk and I have not had any problems with leaky bags.  As I mentioned early I pump and store milk in a bottle and then transfer it into a bag when I get home. I put it in the freezer lying flat. I do thaw them out in a bowl standing up in the refrigerator and not flat. To transfer the milk to the bottle I cut off the top of the bag right before the seal. This makes it easier to pour. We do not have Medela bottles. We like and use Avent bottles.
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One of my problems with pumping is it creates lots of parts and bottles that need to be washed. You can simply clean your parts in hot soapy water but with less time on my hands with two kids I use the Medela steam bags more often. They are so easy. If I have a lot of bottles I sometimes put them into the dishwasher. I think it helps to have a drying rack for all your parts. We have this one.  It holds a lot and is easy to clean.
I will leave you with one important time saving tip.  Your parts can be refrigerated in a ziploc bag or container during the day between pumping sessions. This really cuts down on cleaning.  I learned this tip and a lot of other information from KellyMom.  If you have not checked it out please do as it has some great information. The Medela website also has some great information on breast milk and storage guidelines.
Happy pumping!
Pumping Essentials

Noteworthy Reads

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1. The Engagements by Courtney Sullivan looks at marriage through several different characters eyes and often exposes the dysfunction present in their relationships. It also chronicles the life of an advertising copywriter who works on the De Beers diamond campaign. The tales of their lives are woven through multiple chapters that are interspersed in the book spanning the course of one hundred years. Each of these stories is tied together in the end through a engagement ring. The characters and storyline make this book hard to put down.

2.The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd looks at a relationship between a young southern girl and the slave she was gifted for her eleventh birthday. This historical novel is based on Sarah Grimke who at a young age knew slavery was wrong and how this realization transformed her into an important abolitionist. It also follows the life of Hetty, the slave girl Sarah was gifted. The novel explores their lives from childhood into adulthood. It is a moving story that will have you feeling deeply for the characters. It’s also recommended by Oprah!

3. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Myers reveals the lives of two different women during two different time periods, one during WWI and one in present day. These two women are tied together by a painting. Their lives are filled with passion and each of their love stories have a number of twists and turns. It is so good I do not want to give too much away. I also recently read Me Before You which I would also highly recommend.

4. Boston Girl by Anita Diamant, also the author The Red Tent, was intriguing to me as someone who recently moved out of the city of Boston.  I think knowing the location of the book made it even more interesting for me. It begins as a granddaughter asks her grandma, Addie Baum, how she became the woman she is today. Addie shares how her life story has molded and shaped her. A daughter born to Jewish immigrants living in Boston she faces a number of ups and downs in her career, family, & love life. Addie is a pioneer and you find yourself routing her along the way.

5. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry did not pull me in at first. An ordinary retiree who has led a boring life receives a letter from a former coworker who is dying. He thinks if he heroically walks to her a hospice she can be saved but through his journey he learns to save himself. You learn more about Harold and his life as he walks. You end up cheering him on and feeling his pain. An interesting and slightly odd but intriguing tale.

Noteworthy Reads

Wintertime & Saving Your Sanity

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It’s been a rough winter for us New Englanders, especially for those of us in Massachusetts. Above is a picture of the snow prison that we call home. We are two inches away from breaking the snowfall record and for February everyday except one was below the average temperature.  Let’s just say it’s been pretty tough season. March is here and day light savings took place which means spring is coming! Reflecting back on this winter I seriously wonder how we made it and how I did not go insane. Here is how we passed our days snd some suggestions on how you can pass this dreadful season. Bookmark it for next year!

  1. Indoor activities: Pretty much every day we try to get out of the house. It’s better for all of us. However, this winter there were days when blizzard conditions and two feet of snow kept us housebound. I am not crafty, but I scanned my ambitious Pinterest board and was determined to attempt some projects. Valentine’s week we made some valentines for daddy and the grandparents. Red paint with a two year old was pretty challenging, but then it led to another fun activity, a long bath. My mother in law made this homemade snow with Max. We also made slime! I have been wanting to try play dough too.
  1. Surprise toys: Max’s birthday is October which means in 3 months he gets a lot of toys. I try not to open all of them and save some for a day we both really need something new. It fun to take a new gift out and keeps us entertained for a bit longer.
  1. Play dates: Every week I look at what days we are free and try to schedule a play date. It is good for Max to play with another kid and if it’s at their house to get to play with new toys. It is also very healthy for me to talk with other moms. It makes you feel normal and saner! Most moms like getting together so call someone now and make a date.
  1. Library: We moved from the city to the suburbs recently and I have to say both local libraries have offered wonderful programs, including sing a longs and story times. We like to go at least once a week to get new books. Also, many libraries have a children’s room that offers open space for kids to burn off some energy. Best of all it’s free!
  1. Malls: They are not only great for walking around and allowing me to run an errand or two, but some malls around us have free toddler play spaces. I have even had play dates there. The kids are contained and entertained. Venturing out to one of these may produce an illness in your house so please refer to my previous post. You need to weigh the risk benefit.
  1. Screen time: I try to limit Max’s screen time but this winter I have eased up a bit. It has made everyone happier. Max watches his good friend,Curious George, every day after his nap so that I am able to make dinner. It is a nice afternoon break for us both. We introduced the iPad for plane rides but now we  let him play on it  occasionally. I set a timer and when it goes off he knows he is done. What are your favorite apps? Max’s (he’s 2) favorite are a Lego train one and a Thomas the train puzzle one. Both free!  What are some of your favorites?

How did you stay sane this winter?  Please share your tricks with me.

Wintertime & Saving Your Sanity