For better or worse, our toddler attends his first wedding

Last weekend, our family took a road trip to New Jersey to attend a wedding for an old friend of my husband’s. We knew it would be a gamble to bring our newly minted two-year old but we wanted to give it a run before we head to Seattle this summer for another wedding.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

Friday at 9:45 p.m.: After a long and snowy drive up the Jersey Turnpike, we arrive at the hotel. Of course, ZJ gets his second wind, and explores every nook and cranny. He tries to get in the refrigerator. We hide the hotel phones.

Being awake at 9:45 p.m. is bad.

Taking a toddler to a wedding is not for the faint of heart!

Saturday Morning, 6 a.m.:  Sleeping in is for sissies. It doesn’t matter that ZJ went to bed three hours later than normal. There are things to do, places to explore. The hotel room is his oyster.

9 a.m.: Surprise morning nap. Whew!

10:15 a.m.: Getting close to departure time. ZJ refuses to wear any type of pants that aren’t sweat pants. I even bought special pants that feel like sweats on the inside and look nice on the outside. No dice. Must. Wear. Sweat Pants. We put on his nicest sweats, and pair it with a blue and red long-sleeved polo-type shirt. Hopefully no one will notice.

10:50 a.m.: We arrive at the hall where the wedding will take place. Quick debate: do we let him bring his favorite stuffed Doggie into the wedding? Yes. It’s the lesser of the evils. We hope that Doggie will keep him calm.

10:55 a.m.: We walk inside. Lots of people and hallways to explore. It’s a toddler’s paradise.

11:10 a.m.: We take our seats strategically at the back of the room. But why sit when you can run?  He runs to the alter (Doggie in hand) to make sure it’s suitable for the bride and groom. We gather him up and bring him back to our seats. He runs back down the aisle. Repeat. Again. Repeat. None of the other kids are doing this.

11:30 a.m.: The wedding ceremony starts, and thank goodness ZJ ran out most of his energy out and is sitting happily on Daddy’s lap. The groomsmen come in. The bride walks down the aisle. Beautiful. Then ZJ decides he wants to talk. And walk. So I take him outside the room so my husband can enjoy the ceremony. That was the plan.

11:31 a.m.: As we walk outside the room, he announces: “I tooted.”

11:44 a.m.: We have fun exploring the venue as the wedding ceremony continues. My guard is down. He looks at me, grins mischievously and runs. Fast.

11:45 a.m.: The 28-pound bundle of squirm barrels into the ceremony room, screaming in a language that only another toddler can understand. The bride is starting her vows,and luckily my husband has kept an ear out for his son. The doppler effect of a laughing/screeching toddler warns Jeff of approaching trouble, and he is already moving to intercept the boy.  ZJ is two steps into the room before my husband catches him and whisks him out. Jeff and I were relieved when later in the reception he was able to confirm that nobody at the alter heard the boy. Whew!

12:10 p.m.: Wedding is over (sigh of relief), and the reception is underway. ZJ is happily munching on cheese and fruit oer d’oeuvres in the reception room. He makes sure Doggie gets his lunch too, feeding him leftover fruit he doesn’t want. As usual, Doggie is unresponsive.

Toddlers at weddings! Help!

12:30 p.m.: It’s still cocktail time but it’s dancetime for ZJ as he heads to the empty dancefloor. Dance. Dance. Dance. To the Beatles. To Frank Sinatra. Then it’s time to throw his stuffed Doggie into the air. It’s so crazy — Doggie can dance too. He’s pretty good.

12:35 p.m.: ZJ starts to flirt with the woman working coat check. They become fast friends and he introduces her to Doggie. The woman must have been pretty special to meet Doggie.

12:45 p.m.: All of sudden, ZJ starts to slow down. Is it a change in music? He asks for “Huggies,” a word he picked up from me that sadly makes it very difficult to resist his pleas to be picked up. This is not a normal request because there are worlds to be explored. This kid has been known to go non-stop for six hours at events.

His forehead is a bit warm. As he sticks his entire hand into his mouth, it appears he may be teething. Oh no!

12:55 p.m.: Still warm. Still glued to us. It’s clear the wedding is over for ZJ. Time for me to say goodbye. If he was older, I would have him sing the “Good-bye, Farewell” song from The Sounds of Music. Or maybe not.

1 p.m.: I leave my husband at the wedding. ZJ and I head to the hotel for some cuddles, Lightening McQueen and naps for all.

ZJ survived his first wedding — sort of. We can now revise our playbook and get ready for the next big wedding in July. He will be older: in toddler years a few months are huge in terms of development. His dancing skills will likely improve. Doggie will be going too.

We will also make sure to bring his best pair of sweatpants!

Freeze your own rice: simplify dinnertime and save money too!

Freeze your own rice: save time and money!Frozen rice is a gift from God. It can save 20-30 minutes on busy nights. Just pop it in the microwave (or heat on the stove) with a little butter and spices.

I used to buy frozen rice at the grocery store until I realized I could cook and freeze my own rice at a fraction of the cost. Frankly, I think it tastes better, too.

Step 1: Make a big batch of rice.

Freeze your own rice: save time and money!

Step 2: Let it cool some and put 1-2 cups of rice per freezer bag, depending on your usage.

Step 3: Refridgerate the rice bags, and when cool, transfer to the freezer. Make sure the bags lie flat so that it doesn’t take up too much space when frozen.

So easy. And so much cheaper than buying pre-packaged frozen rice!

 

 

How to drink more water

Do you need to drink more water? Buy a bigger glass.Do you need to drink more water? Buy a bigger glass.

Studies have shown that the bigger the plate, the more you eat. (That’s why you use a smaller plate to eat less.)

Same holds true that the bigger the glass, the more you’ll drink.

This year, it became clear that I was not drinking enough water. It was difficult for me to drink water during pregnancy and I never really get back up to the level where I should be.

I upgraded my 20 oz cup to a Bubba 32 oz tumbler with a gigantic straw. Immediately I saw an increase in the number of ounces I drank each day when I was at work.

I went back to Target and got a second cup for home.

My son started preschool and I am being forced to learn a few new lessons

I didn’t expect the transition to preschool to be easy, but I had no idea that it would be hard for me too!

A month ago, our in-home daycare provider told us that she was closing shop. ZJ had been apart of this family for almost two years. I would drop him off every morning before my morning commute to work and he would stay with them all day. It broke all of our hearts to hear the news but it was the right thing for that family.

Luckily, the preschool we had lined up for him would accept him early. But we weren’t ready to move on. Well, I definitely wasn’t ready.

So last week ZJ started preschool. It’s more of a daycare at this point with a learning component, but it’s still a change from the family home he went to for two years.

As a first-time parent, I didn’t understand how this would go. Yes, ZJ cried when we dropped him off. In fact, he cried the morning that I am writing this, which is day 7.  However, everyone at the daycare assured me he quickly gets over it quickly and plays hard. He comes home every afternoon happy.

I know it’s the right move.

What I didn’t count on is that this change would affect me so much. It breaks my heart that we had to leave his second family who watched him for so long. It breaks my heart to hear him cry as I walk away from the classroom in the new school. It breaks my heart that I can’t protect him from the unknown. I think I’ve taken this transition harder than he has!

Yes, you can chalk it up to being a first-time parent. If we have number two, I am sure it will be easier or at least more tolerable. But it’s these types of changes really hit home that I can’t protect my child from everything.

This is my child’s journey. 

A friend of mine who works with teenagers every day reminded me that kids are extremely adaptable and resilient. They are built that way. After a certain number of years as an adult, I forgot that point. I have my favorite coffee drink and my favorite routines. I probably don’t deal with change as well as I used to.

Our kids are equipped for change. Every day of my two-year-old’s life has an element of surprise, as he explores this new world.

It’s been hitting me that my son and I are in two very different places. This is my son’s journey. He is adaptable and he is more than ready for this new experience.

He gets to play with new toys, interact with kids, learn new words and figure out what it means to function in a school. He is so excited and happy when I pick him up at night.

Through my son, I am forced to re-learn the joys of being adaptable. He has already taught me a lesson or two in change when he was born. Holy cow, that was a shock to my life! I had him later in life and it seemed even more difficult for me to adjust. But I did, and it’s been worth it.

Now it’s time to change directions again.

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

It’s raining. Or cold. And you’ve been inside your home with your kids for way too long. What do you do?

Our son, ZJ, is two and exerts more energy in one hour than I do in a week. He is a runner and I am usually exhausted by the end of the day.  But it’s so important that we give him time and space to run and play.

This winter has been cold and rainy, which has severely limited his outside time. Spring is almost here but that promises more rain.

So, we’ve been forced to be creative.

Our criteria for a rainy-day activity is that it be relatively inexpensive and not too far away from our home. Our son needs a large space to explore, and ideally we want him to be exposed to new things.

Here are few of the places we took our toddler this year so far, which we highly recommend:

1. Pet store.

Take your kid to look at the fish and birds and reptiles at your local pet store. The pet stores near us don’t sell dogs, but many have pet adoption days. On one hand, it’s great because your kid gets to directly interact with the dogs who are up for adoption. On the other, if you are not careful, you may walk out with a new dog in tow!

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

2. Local hotels and convention centers.

We have found a hotel that is perfect for our two-year old. We recently went to the Washington Gaylord Hotel, which has water fountains, tons of tall staircases and beautiful views of the harbor nearby. We even ran into the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders! You need to be choosy which hotel you take your kid to, but they generally have plenty of space for roaming, especially if it’s also a convention center.

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

 

3. Bookstores and libraries.

Take advantage of bookstores and libraries, which often have book readings for young kids. Or, kid-size tables to explore new books. Our local Barnes and Noble has occasional book readings on Saturday mornings. Our library has readings too, but usually during the week when we work. It’s pretty easy to find these schedules online. The bonus part: If we are at the library, we always come home with new books!

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

4. Museums.

We are lucky to live near Washington, DC, where all the Smithsonian museums are free. This winter we’ve gone to the Museum of Natural History (to see the larger than life mammals on display) and the Air and Space Museum. We arrive right when it opens and he is tired after an hour of exploring. Aquariums are also great places for young kids.

If you don’t live near free museums, many throughout the country have a free admission day sometime during the month, or you can find various discounts through your library or city.  Most areas have children’s museums but look further to see what other museums your kid may enjoy.

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

5. Airport.

Warning, not all airports are suitable as a rainy-day alternative. Our nearest airport is clean, near by and has a lot of space before the security check-in. He can wander around (as it’s usually not overwhelmingly crowded in certain areas) or stand by the windows where he can see dozens of airplanes coming and going. Yes, this usually requires a parking fee, but it has been worth it.

6 creative places to take your toddler on a cold or rainy day

6. Your local in-door playground.

I can’t cover them all here as every community is different, but a quick search will show you what indoor gyms are in your area.

  • Local toddler gyms. There are tons of them out there. They often get crowded on rainy days but are loads of fun.
  • Community Centers: Every Friday our local center has a soft-block room available for kids for $1. Check out your local community center to see what it offers.
  • McDonalds or Chick Fil-A Playgrounds: Especially good for roadtrips.

We are always on the hunt for good indoor, rainy-day activities. Please leave a comment if you have any to add!

 

I tried to make a cookie with only three ingredients and….

I tired to make a single three-ingredient cookie and ....I would love to find the perfect three-ingredient cookie recipe. I love simplicity. I love cookies and anything baked. Wouldn’t it be great if the two worked together?

Last weekend I found a recipe for a single peanut butter cookie on Pinterest. Perfect for someone like me who doesn’t want to eat more than one cookie. It was only three ingredients.

It was almost too good to be true.

It was Sunday afternoon, and my husband and son were going down for their afternoon naps. I thought I would try it. If it turned out well, I wouldn’t have to share.

1. Mix:

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of whisked egg

2. Roll into balls, place on cooking sheet and make criss-cross pattern with a fork.

3. Bake for 12-15 minutes (depends on the oven).

Here is the original recipe. (This is a fantastic tutorial with great pics.)

I took some shortcuts here — I used the toaster oven. I didn’t have any creamy peanut butter so I used my husband’s chunky. I put it on foil and let it go.

The original recipe called for 12-15 minutes and I let it cook 12 minutes, which was too long. Yes, it was a little crispy. You could smell the slight tinge of almost-burn wafting in the kitchen. (Although, it wasn’t bad enough to set off the smoke detector, which would have woken up my son. Whew!)

The taste: I ate around the crispy parts and it wasn’t bad. Tasted like cooked peanut butter that was sweetened. Hit the spot for me that afternoon but I wouldn’t serve it to guests.

Seriously, what can you expect from a three-ingredient cookie? There is a reason why some things are more complicated to make.

So here is my shortcut takeaway: Three-ingredient cookies are a quick fix if you need something now. Otherwise, if you are looking for a good shortcut cookie, go to your neighborhood bakery!

P.S. Don’t try this with almond butter, or anything other than peanut butter. Trust me — it does not work at all!

How to save money on diaper disposal bags

petwaste

Here is a way to save a few bucks on diaper disposal bags.

We received a three-pack of Munchkins Arm and Hammer disposable bags for babies at a baby shower. They were great — when we are on the road, we could easily tie up ZJ’s dirty diapers and toss them.

We were running low, and my sister happened to be in town. She owns three mastiffs and had a better idea. Why not buy dog disposal bags instead?

The dog bags were basically the same, and meant for the same purpose: waste removal. They were a little smaller but definitely big enough to handle the messiest of diaper changes.

And here is the kicker: You can often find them cheaper than 3 rolls of bags marketed toward parents.

Ok, yes, these bags are all pretty cheap in and of themselves. But we bought a 10 pack for a few bucks and we’ve been using that same pack for more than a year now.

Sometimes it pays off to stray from the baby aisles!

Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham and Peas Cheesy Pasta

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: ham, peas and cheese shellsI’ll jump to the point: 15-minute meal and an extremely happy family! This is quickly becoming one of my go-to recipes.

Who doesn’t love cheesy pasta? Mix that with ham and peas and you have a full meal.

Here is the original recipe, found at Dinner, A Love Story. I had to change it up a bit because my husband doesn’t like onions. I also simplified the recipe, cutting out a few steps that would probably make it even tastier.

All you need is:

16 oz small shell pasta. Or any type of pasta that you like.

Frozen peas. About a cup

2-3 Thick slices of Ham (or more): you can buy this packaged or from a deli counter. I recommend buying more ham than you think you need if you like meat in your meals, like we do.

Cheese. The original recipe calls for 1/4 cups of Parmesan, which tastes fantastic. Sometimes we use mozzarella, or whatever we have on hand. Use as much, or as little, cheese to your taste.

Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper flakes, Olive Oil

Optional: Onions

And here is the process:

Ridiculously Easy Ham, Peas, and Cheese Pasta

1. Start boiling your water in a large pot. Cut the ham into small pieces while you wait.

2. Cook pasta as instructed. During the last minute, add the peas.

3. Drain your pasta and peas and let them sit while you return the pot to the stove.

4. You will use a little olive oil, add seasonings, salt pepper etc, and saute your ham a little. (If you use onions, cook those first before you put the ham in.)

5. Return the pasta and peas to your pan. Add cheese to taste.

Voila!

Interested in more Ridiculously Easy Recipes? Click here.

Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham, Cheese, and Peas Pasta

How I significantly boosted my productivity at work and home, Part 2

How I boosted my productivity, part 2!

I love finding hacks to increase my productivity. It’s all for the sake of spending more time with my family, as well as taking care of myself.

Last week, I wrote a post on how I am increasing my productivity by simply choosing the most difficult tasks first. (You can read this post here.) This was inspired by reading how author and productivity hacker Tim Ferriss hacks his day.

After you choose your most important tasks, Ferriss takes another step: Focus on that task until it’s done.

This is how he describes it (full post here):

6) Block out at 2-3 hours to focus on ONE of them for today. Let the rest of the urgent but less important stuff slide. It will still be there tomorrow.

7) TO BE CLEAR: Block out at 2-3 HOURS to focus on ONE of them for today. This is ONE BLOCK OF TIME. Cobbling together 10 minutes here and there to add up to 120 minutes does not work.

I’ll be honest: I’m not good at focusing when I am doing something I don’t want to do. It’s easy to surf the web, or find another thing to do, all to avoid the “monster” task.

So I started to block out time to do the hard or undesireable tasks.

Most of the time it doesn’t take 2-3 hours to do what needs to be done. But I allow myself to sit (or stand, or run) with the project until it’s done. If I got distracted, I recognize it and go back to the task at hand.

This goes for work expense and written reports, piles of junk on our buffet cabinet, putting away clean clothes, organizing the front table in our house, etc. Just stay focused. Stop flitting about!

Frankly, I am 10 times more efficient when I focus. I get the task at hand done quicker. I feel better and more accomplished.

Here is where I admit that I don’t do this 100 percent of the time. I am still learning and the temptation to avoid the hard tasks is still there. But I do it more often, and the more often I focus, the easier it gets.

I am learning more about what my priorities are and how to fit them in my day.

In the end, I feel better about my to-do list. Wahoo! So far my favorite hack of the year. Thanks Tim Ferriss!

 

Dinnertime Hack: Frozen garlic

Use frozen garlic when whipping up a quick meal! #dinnerhack
One day a few years ago, I ran across Dorot’s frozen crushed garlic. Cooking with garlic became that much easier, and yes, it changed my world.

It’s perfectly portioned into one-clove cubes. I throw it in almost everything, and no mess to deal with.

I typically buy mine at Trader Joe’s but I’ve seen these in other supermarkets as well. I keep their basil in the freezer too, and recently discovered they have even more spices and sauces!