Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

I cannot believe the 2014 Holiday season is already at its end!

We spent a really nice few days celebrating Christmas at my mom's house. We had dinner, relaxed, went shopping, and went to a couple movies. It was great! We had agreed to do no presents, except for spoiling November, which we all enjoy. Still, we ended up exchanging some small gifts. Again, like last year, my gifts were handmade. I'll have to post about them soon!

We even managed to get a good picture with Santa! November has never been a big fan of the creepy bearded stranger in red, and absolutely refused to take a decent photo the first time we attempted it this year. In fact, in the original proofs the photographers showed us, she looked absolutely demonic! She had her head down, hands over her face, eyes scowling up at the camera. Needless to say, we did not choose to buy copies at that time.

I tried not to make a big deal out of Santa one way or the other, and let her decide what she thought about him. But, throughout the month, November began warming up to the idea of Santa, even getting excited when she saw images of him. Then, on Christmas Eve, she was suddenly adamant that we had to go visit Santa, tell him she wanted dolls for Christmas, and take a picture. Not wanting to waste a possible second chance at a Santa photo, my family and I quickly obliged.

She wasn't completely comfortable during the visit, and wanted mommy's company in the photo, but the photographers were much better at helping her feel at ease and coaxing her modest little smile (not everyone knows how to deal with shy kids!)

I love how November overcomes her fears on her own, in her own way, and in her own time. It's another one of those moments that makes me remember how far we've come from the days when she was a high-needs infant!

I hope you all had a cozy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Greeting Cards and Potty Humor {New Etsy store additions!}

My last post about my Etsy store, explaining the failure of my very first attempt at digital print versions of my canvas paintings, was a bit of a bummer. Well, I'm happy to bring good news from my Etsy store once again!

I have new listings, and have found a successful way to offer prints!

While I haven't added many new digital listings, I'm still going through my first 'trial' and figuring out which ones to keep and improve. So far, I think this one translates well as a digital file for buyers to print at home:
I've also decided not to offer both print AND digital printable versions, and have decided to differentiate between the two: my digital printable files will be simple, font-focused images (like the one above) and my physical prints will be more like my fox design:
I've found a local print shop in Seattle that offers beautiful, high-quality giclee prints, and even provides cardboard backing and a cellophane sleeve for each print. Now I can reserve my more detailed designs to offer as a physical print!

Which brings me to the main subject...new prints! While working on a custom order for a print version of this canvas painting last week, I came up with this cute and fun design:
The customer ended up choosing a different design, but I loved this one so much that I ordered some prints of it to offer in my shop!

I also ordered the fox design as greeting cards! This is the very first time offering greeting cards in my shop, so I'm very excited.
I even added on an option to purchase a custom, hand-written inside message:
These cards will be perfect for baby showers and new mommies, and double as frame-able art! We'll see how it all goes. Art is such a fun hobby, and I love sharing it with others. There may be bumps in the road here and there, but it feels so good to get back up again without letting discouragement drag me down too long!

Wishing you lots of creativity and inspiration in your own hobbies and crafts this holiday season!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dairy-Free Eggnog {No-Cook, Paleo, Sugar Free, Low Carb}

Get ready for the quickly-approaching holidays with this super easy, no-cook, dairy free eggnog!

Last year I posted this tasty eggnog recipe that I made many times throughout the holiday season. My daughter and I both loved it! However, with my unpredictable episodes of lactose intolerance this year, I thought I'd have to skip this decadent favorite of mine.

But, luckily, there is coconut milk and coconut cream to save the day, making it possible to replicate the rich creaminess and flavor of the original recipe!

This recipe is very similar to the original. It still uses pasteurized liquid eggs to keep it quick, easy, and no-cook. Instead of whole milk, it uses full-fat canned coconut milk, And instead of heavy whipping cream, this recipe uses whipped coconut cream.

To maintain a totally sugar free version, use stevia as a sweetener. I've made this a few different ways: 10 drops liquid stevia; 2 tbsp powdered stevia; and a combination of stevia and maple syrup. I've found that powdered stevia isn't very consistent from brand to brand, so start with less, and add more to taste.

If you aren't concerned with sugar, use 1/4 cup of your sweetener of choice, adding more to taste. My favorite has been to use a combination 8 drops stevia with 1 tbsp maple syrup.

I've found that adding the prepared whipped coconut cream in after blending all the other ingredients provides a smoother texture than just adding coconut cream straight from the can right away.

Now, let's get started! You'll need:

1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 cup pasteurized liquid egg (like Redi-Egg)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp nutmeg
10 drops liquid stevia, or sweetener of choice (see note above)
Pinch of cinnamon
1 cup whipped coconut cream

According to these instructions, whip up your coconut cream until smooth and set aside (the quick version is to whip canned coconut cream until smooth and creamy.)

Blend remaining ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

Add whipped coconut cream, and blend again.

Pour into cups, chill if desired, and sprinkle with nutmeg before serving.

This eggnog has a much 'cleaner' and 'fresher' flavor than traditional, store-bought eggnog, but is still quite filling and delicious!

I hope you all had a delicious and grateful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Apple "Nachos"

This hardly counts as a recipe; it's more of a tasty basic idea that you can adjust to make into your own delicious creation. I made this on the fly the other day during our weekly homeschool preschool days, and it was so good, we've been eating it regularly ever since!

This makes a tasty, light lunch, sweet snack, or a healthy dessert!

I've seen this idea floating around Pinterest here and there, so I admit this isn't some amazing, miraculous, unique idea of mine, but here's how I made my version:

You'll need:
-Apples (I used Honeycrisp, one small apple per child, two small or one large per adult)
-Almond Butter (sweeten with maple syrup, if desired)
-Caramel Sauce
-Full Fat Coconut Milk (sweeten with maple syrup or stevia and vanilla extract)
-Dark Chocolate Chips
-Raisins
-Pecans
-Cinnamon

Slice the apples in thin slices and arrange them evenly on a plate. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon. Mix the almond butter with maple syrup (if using) and plot a heaping spoonful in the middle. If your caramel sauce is refrigerated and thick (like the Trader Joe's one I use), warm a small bowl of it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, unitl it melts to a more liquid consistency. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the apples. Whip a small bowl of full-fat coconut milk with vanilla and your sweetener of choice (I used a few drops of liquid stevia.) Drizzle the coconut milk over the apples. Top the apples with a small handful of the chocolate chips, peans, and raisins. Enjoy!

This is like a raw pie on a plate! But better. Raw pie on a plate probably wouldn't be very appetizing, come to think of it.

You can make this healthier by omitting the caramel sauce and chocolate chips. It would still be absolutely delicious! This is a great way to get some fruit in your diet, if you get easily bored of raw apples and bananas on a daily basis.

These fall days are flying by. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means this is sure to be a busy week. Wishing you all a tasty, warm, thankful Thanksgiving this coming Thursday!

Monday, November 17, 2014

No-Drama Discipline {Book Review}

Image from Amazon

This is not a paid endorsement, nor was I asked to review this book. I read this book on my own and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to share it with you!

Discipline. What a topic. It can be controversial at times with so many opposing views; attachment vs. non attachment, spanking vs. non spanking, gentle vs. authoritarian. I will say right now that I've always been in support of gentle discipline and attachment parenting for my family (however, this does NOT mean I judge you or your choice of discipline, should we differ in personal opinion.) But finding gentle forms of discipline that actually work can be tricky. 

When November entered toddlerhood, it quickly became apparent that I needed some tools in my discipline toolbox. I read (and gave up on) a few different books on the topic, but the one that really stood out as helpful and practical was The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp.

This book was terrific (again, this is my personal endorsement)! I read and re-read it numerous times, constantly refreshing myself on the tried-and-true techniques, and adding in new strategies as she outgrew others.

His tips about speaking toddler-ease to reflect back what your child is trying to communicate was so surprisingly helpful in taming tantrums. It was amazing to see how often simply letting November know she was heard and understood kept meltdowns at bay. They weren't always 100% effective, but the tips in that book became my main arsenal, and I used them often to great results.

If you have a toddler (or will have one), get that book; it will be a lifesaver! 

Of course, as children grow, they can outgrow disciplinary techniques. When this happens, I think many of us parents are left scratching our heads over how to deal with their newest behaviors (or, more likely, their misbehaviors.) What worked for the baby stage, doesn't quite cut it for the toddler stage. And what cut it for the toddler stage, may not help as much during the preschool stage.

It wasn't exactly that the Happiest Toddler techniques were no longer working; it was more that I needed to see what they looked like in a slightly matured form; I needed to see them adapt to my growing preschooler, who no longer responded as well to toddler-ease.

Enter, brain-science.

I recently started reading The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and was fascinated by the fusion of parenting and brain-science. I loved learning about how your interactions with your child can help shape their brain in positive ways. I felt like this book was onto something, although it didn't exactly provide a straightforward formula to implement in daily disciplinary scenarios. 

So when I found out these authors wrote a book on discipline from their brain-science perspective, I knew I had to read it! It's called No-Drama Discipline: the Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture your child's developing mind. I got my place in line for a hold on it from the local library, and read it all within days of receiving it. 

While I certainly don't have veteran experience trying every strategy in this book, I definitely resonate with the theory, and find their ideas to be practical. I also enjoy how much they emphasize that parenting perfection is NOT the goal, and isn't realistically attainable. They do encourage you to improve your parenting and discipline but to be real and honest with yourself when you make a parenting mistake, because even your mistakes can become valuable lessons. The authors even admit to their own parenting failures, which is refreshing. 

A quick summary:

The main underlying strategy in this book is to connect with your child first, and then redirect them and their behavior. This book has very similar concepts to the ones I was introduced to in The Happiest Toddler, only upgraded for use on young children, adolescents and teens, AND integrated with the brain-science that makes it all so compelling and convincing.

This book challenges us to change our common reactive state of mind when we approach discipline, to a more compassionate state of mind that focuses on connecting with your child first. Through connecting, we validate their feelings, let them feel heard and comforted no matter what big emotions they are going through, and no matter what behavior they are struggling with.

Once they calm down from their connection with us, after expressing themselves and feeling heard, and after we've reflected back to them what they've expressed, we can move on to redirection; talking them through what happened, and addressing their misbehavior. Children are much better able to calm down and listen, using the part of their brain that is receptive to absorbing these kinds of lessons, if approached this way. There's more to it than just that, but that is the main backbone to this book.

Now the real question: does it work?

I haven't had a chance to practice these strategies for more than a week, but I really like the results I've had so far. Here's what one particular experience was like, using what I'd learned:

It was time to leave for an outing, and we were running behind, so I was a little flustered. November was being fussy over the jacket I wanted her to wear. I had put the jacket on her before she noticed it wasn't the lightweight leopard print fleece sweater she'd become obsessed with and got super pouty once she realized this. I explained to her, as I rushed around to finish getting ready, that it was too cold for just a sweater, and if she wanted to wear it, she had to wear a heavier jacket over it. This rational explanation wasn't getting us anywhere, and she was getting fussier and fussier, refusing to finish getting ready.

I took a deep breath, and decided to pause and connect with her, like I'd learned about. I knelt down below her eye level, gently put my hands on her shoulders, looked at her lovingly, and said, "You want to wear your leopard jacket, don't your?" She didn't say anything but she looked at me, and immediately became less pouty. Now that she wasn't fighting me, she seemed receptive to what I had to say. I then went on to calmly explain that we needed to dress super snuggly warm to go outside because it was soooo chilly. I told her she could wear her leopard sweater with her heavy jacket, or just her heavy green jacket. "What do you want to wear?" I asked. She sighed. "This jacket," she said quietly and walked over to the door to finish getting ready. 

Wow, I wasn't even expecting that good of a result! I gave her the choice to choose the thing she really wanted, yet after we connected, she ended up choosing what she had originally been fighting. Now, I doubt every situation will be this simple and effective, but I was pleased to see that I could easily start putting this into practice in real life situations. It was amazing to watch how even just the simple act of connection can turn things around!

Final verdict: it's a keeper.

Since this was a library book, I will definitely be buying my own copy of No-Drama Discipline so I can re-read it and highlight it to my heart's content. I look forward to trying out these strategies in more situations, and can't wait to share what I've learned with other parents. I hope you give this book a shot too!

What are your favorite toddler or preschooler discipline books?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Farm Preschool Scavenger Hunt {Homeschool Preschool Projects}

This is a fantastic fall activity to do with your little ones! Bundle up, pack a snack, and head to your local family farm for a fun scavenger hunt!

Seattle is blessed to be a city that is surrounded by such lush and beautiful landscape, which means an abundance of farms within driving distance. For this fun preschool project, we chose Fox Hollow Farms in Issaquah. (I love websites like Red Tricycle for lists of places like this!)

To make a preschool activity out of our fun outing, we decided to do a scavenger hunt. We visited the farm's website to scope out some ideas for some things the girls would encounter while at the farm. We picked a combination of generic farm items, as well as some things special to Fox Hollow, such as their ride-able kid's train! We drew simple pictures of each item we wanted them to find next to a number and empty square box...
As they found each item, we let them put a sticker in the box to mark it off. See how proud and excited they are?!
They had such a blast marking off their little 'treasure maps,' as we called them. It helped them learn what things and animals are common at a farm, and we talked about each one.
Aside from the scavenger hunt, this entire outing was so much fun! This particular farm has multiple petting areas, mini outdoor playhouses, corn 'pool', pony rides, train rides, pumpkin patch, hay maze, bouncy houses, and a beautiful stream. I think we adults had just as much fun as the girls, especially petting all the animals. And November got to ride her very first pony!
November really enjoys reflecting on our visit; talking about all the animals we saw, what the animals ate, what it was like to ride the pony, and everything we found on our scavenger hunt. I hope you have a farm this awesome in your area! If you do, you've got to check it out!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Downside of Dieting {for the obsessive eater} PART TWO

In part one you learned my story of food obsession, and why I gave up dieting in order to break free from the vicious cycle I was stuck in. Here I will share how the beast of dieting almost had me again...

I mentioned in a couple posts (initially here) that I'd been told I have high cholesterol, and how I've been working on my diet by eating closer to a paleo/low carb lifestyle. I think it's a great and healthy decision to improve ones diet and exercise habits, and I really enjoy the challenge of creating dietary-restricted recipes. There's just one problem...

My food obsession.

Food obsession takes what should be simply a healthy improvement and turns it into a fixation over perfection and on the things I can't have. In the past it has created over-consumption of the things I could have, as well as anxiety over my weight and commitment to my dieting lifestyle.

After I became a mother and shifted toward eating for nutrition, I realized I was finally free from my food obsession and vowed never to diet again. Over the course of the three years that I've been a mom, I admit my diet has grown lazy at times, and I've eaten more sugar this past year. So when my doctor told me I had high cholesterol, I knew I had to get my diet back in check.

Improving my diet is a fabulous idea. However, being ON a diet is not, at least for me. Once I told myself I was on a paleo/low-carb diet, no matter how lax I was about it, the food obsession slowly started creeping back in.

It started with me simply going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths of the sweets I wasn't supposed to have (I told myself I could taste anything, as long as it was a sample from work or just a rare treat.) Then I started hovering over restricted items while shopping for groceries, obsessing over how badly I wanted to buy them, circling back over to them like a hungry vulture, unable to take my eyes off of them. I thought about them while in the check out line, wishing I would have gotten them. I thought about them when I ultimately did buy them, and how guilty I felt, but assured myself I would share them.

Finally, it tool yet another aha moment to wake me from my stupor. I was at work, snacking on a cup of forbidden chocolate covered coconut almonds I'd found stashed in the breakroom. I was also gulping down coffee (not forbidden) to keep me awake. I was perpetually tired from the sugar I'd had that day, nauseous and shaky from the over consumption of caffeine, yet I could not stop shoving those chocolates into my mouth. I suddenly realized the absurdity of eating something I wasn't even enjoying and recognized the eerily familiar feelings of food obsession.

I took a few moments to reflect on my circumstances, admitted I was once again heading back toward my mentally unhealthy relationship with food, fought the horrifying idea of giving up my diet, and finally said I was done. No more dieting. No restrictions. Done.

I felt flooded with relief, and without even thinking about it, I tossed the rest of the chocolates in the garbage and dumped out the rest of my coffee in the sink. I nourished myself with plenty of water, and in the next couple hours, my nausea was gone and my exhaustion was abating.

Just like that, I was once again free.

It's almost crazy how quickly just telling myself I was no longer dieting flipped my switch back to mentally healthy. I am not saying this will work for you or everyone else. There are people out there who absolutely MUST restrict a substance or food item due to allergies or substance abuse. I'm by no means offering this as an alternative solution in those cases.

This is more an offer of freedom for those of you who have the same food obsession issues I have, where the more you restrict, the more obsessed you get, and the less healthy you get; to those who have felt stuck and defeated when dieting.

There is freedom in letting go of the perfectionism of dieting. Sure, learn about the healthiest foods to eat, and the best ways to improve your lifestyle. But if a dieting identity traps you in a vicious cycle, get out. Let it go. You can eat whatever you want. You are free to choose. In my experience at least, I have learned that when I'm free to choose, I make better choices.

What about my cholesterol? How will I lower it without dieting?

Oddly enough, I'm eating pretty much the exact same way as I did a couple weeks ago when I called myself a proud paleo; I'm just not obsessed with a diet as an identity. I love learning about ways to eat healthier and improve my diet and lifestyle, and really resonate with the things I am learning about the benefits of paleo/low carb foods. So I'm taking that wisdom to encourage me to make better choices, without getting fixated on a specific diet.

This means if I want to go out to eat, I'm not going to feel my gut sink with guilt every time I take a bite of forbidden food; instead I'll be armed with wisdom to make better choices, yet offering myself grace no matter what I choose.

This means if I don't have the time or energy to go grocery shopping for dinner, I'm ok with eating what I have at home, even if it isn't ideal. I'm not going to freak out every time I eat mac n cheese made with white flour (however, I am limiting dairy, as the repercussions are physically uncomfortable and involve extended time on the toilet!)

I'm free to choose what I eat. And if I make a less than ideal choice here and there, I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I'll keep learning and creating new, healthy meals I enjoy cooking, constantly looking for ways to improve the health of the foods I eat without getting obsessed over it. Yes, staying healthy and fit and maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels (etc.) are extremely important, but going ON a diet is not the way I choose to get those results.

I will eat a healthy diet, but I will NOT diet. For me, there is a significant difference. A difference between mental health and mental turmoil; between freedom and dieting slavery.

I choose freedom!

Have you ever experienced food obsession or the downside of dieting?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Downside of Dieting {for the obsessive eater} PART ONE

This may be a bit of an odd two-part series (read part two here), but I know if I'm experiencing this, someone else somewhere is experiencing this too, and just might need some encouragement or simply to hear that they're not alone.

I know I've felt alone at times, and wished I could talk to someone who could relate. Someone who would take me seriously, and offer wisdom. Someone who would believe me when I say...

I have an eating disorder.

It's not an eating disorder commonly recognized. I'm not a stick-thin anorexic. I'm not bulimic. I'm not overweight. Yet I am an over-eater. I'm food-obsessed. I have a food addiction.

I've struggled with food obsession, weight obsession, compulsive eating, and binge-eating to different degrees throughout my life, but never so much as after I started doing cleanses, and then later when I was strictly vegan. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with these lifestyle and diet improvements (they are fabulous! So much tasty food! Great health benefits!), there is something wrong with my brain when I restrict foods in general.

Here's my story:

I've never been someone who would be considered fat. I've always been petite yet curvy. I'm not a skinny stick, but I'm also not overweight. I'm NOT well-toned, I have a soft tummy and a jiggly ass, but I look relatively thin for the most part. However, I didn't realize that until very recently.

I had always thought I was fat.

As an adolescent, I didn't have a positive body-image. I always imagined I was fat and ugly, which peaked during my high school years. After high school I started getting into cleanses like the Master Cleanse, which were all the rage. I was so thrilled with my weight-loss results and would obsess over every pound lost, as well as every pound regained. A few years later, in my early-mid 20s, I went strictly vegan for weight loss. I told people it was for health but deep down weight loss was my one and only end game.

I'd even amp up my vegan lifestyle by attempting strictly raw diets. This was a fun challenge and would provide me with a nice chunk of weight loss, but it was always followed by gain when I would give up. I was on a roller coaster, and I was constantly fixated on the food I couldn't eat. Every failure I experienced gave me such terrible anxiety. I watched the scale like a hawk, which increased my anxiety. I soothed this anxiety by binge-eating the things I could eat on my diet.

I've always had a sweet tooth, and when I was on restricted diets, instead of eating a balanced selection of the things my lifestyle allowed me, I'd eat a minimum of real food and binge on the sweet treats my diet allowed. There was even a time where I realized the majority of my calories came from dessert foods. Did that stop me? Nope. I laughed it off, telling myself that as long as it's vegan (or raw), it's healthy and will help me lose weight.

I shake my head with shame at the memories of this obsessive version of my former self. I can't believe how silly I was. But it gets worse.

When I finally admitted I had a problem, I started reading books about food obsession (you can read my depressing post here, from my raw food blog, about the things I experienced at the time.) These books made me realize that my behavior was NOT normal or healthy, and was in fact a form of eating disorder. Yet it took more before I actually changed my behavior.

My aha moment happened one night when I was reading one of my books about food addiction. The subject stirred up some intense sweets cravings, so I took a break from my book to stock up on four packs of vegan peanut butter cups (with four large chocolates in each package.) I went back to reading a particularly distressing part in the book about how people awaken from food-binges the same way a drunk awakens from a drinking blackout, all the while chowing down on all four packages of chocolates and sobbing about the absurdity of my actions. I was so disgusted with myself, that afterward, I stood over the toilet and tried to make myself throw up.

That was it. That was my holy crap, this is not a joke moment.

I wanted so badly to lose weight (even though I didn't need to) and couldn't bear the thought of giving up my vegan lifestyle, but I knew I had to change something. I slowly started convincing myself that I could eat whatever I wanted, and that my dieting days were over. It wasn't sudden, but as time passed, I became calmer, less anxious, less obsessed and fixated over food.

I was on my way to food freedom.

Getting pregnant oddly enough opened the door the rest of the way to my freedom. Knowing I was growing a baby and needed to eat plenty of food really took my mind off restrictions and weight loss. I knew I would gain weight and made peace with that. Knowing I could eat what I wanted made me less anxious, and more able to make smart decisions about the food I did choose.

After I gave birth, I maintained this same healthy relationship with food; eating when hungry to nourish my nursing mama's body, eating as much as I felt hungry for, allowing myself as many treats as I desired (yet only desiring and consuming a modest amount.) I had a new appreciation, love and reverence for my body, no matter what my weight. Being busy with a baby and then toddler kept the food obsession out of my mind. I didn't have time to overeat! I hardly had time to eat! I finally felt the freedom of eating solely for nutrition.

I've carried this freedom with me ever since then, with only minor episodes of food obsession.

Until recently.

In part two, I'll explain my most recent episode of food-obsession and what I did about it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fall Handprint-Leaf Tree {Homeschool Preschool Projects}

This is a fun little art project that we did to learn about the changing of the leaves in fall! November has become a pro at recognizing colors, and even recognizes the less 'flashy' colors like brown and gray. We have so much fun talking about the colors that we see when on walks or drives.

This is a great project to do after a chilly fall nature walk. Bundle up, head outside, and check out what is happening to the trees! Check out the leaves on the ground and the colors you see.

When we did this on our homeschool preschool day, we explained that the leaves fall off the trees during the fall until they are totally naked. We watched the Yo Gabba Gabba fall song a few times, talked about all the different colors of leaves, and then started our art project.

This project works best on the biggest paper you can find, so their handprint-leaves have plenty of room to look awesome. If you only have printer paper, consider taping four sheets together into one larger sheet!

Next, draw a basic tree with naked branches for your child, or, if your child is old enough, have him/her draw it! Next, let your child get creative and color the tree however they want.

November isn't super into coloring things in entirely quite yet, and usually asks for my help, which is ok! Just let your child decide how they want it to look! If your child is older, encourage them to think of the colors they see on the tree bark outside.

Next is the fun (and messy) part! Pick out some lovely, non-toxic paint in the colors of fall leaves. We did red, orange, yellow, and green. Help your child cover their palm and fingers with paint (we simply painted a layer of paint on their hands with a large paintbrush.) Then, let them stamp their hand onto the tree and/or falling onto the ground! They will love seeing their cute little hand prints as leaves!

This activity really stuck with November. She now loves talking about the leaves she sees swirling in the wind, falling on the ground, and the ones remaining in the trees.

How do you like to teach your family about fall?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Warm Kale Salad {with bacon, pomegranate seeds, and spiced pumpkin seeds}

This is a nice comfort-food salad for these cold, rainy fall days. On days like today, it's hard to crave something healthy like a green smoothie or a raw salad. This salad may not be the healthiest (depending on your diet/personal philosophy), but it sure gets a good dose of hearty greens in your body. You can make a heaping portion and eat it as a main dish, or serve it with something else, like spaghetti squash tossed in brown butter and sage.

Warm Kale Salad 
{Paleo, low carb, dairy free, gluten free}
serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

This cozy salad includes bacon, kale, pomegranate seeds, and Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (or plain pumpkin seeds.) I love keeping my home cooking quick and simple, but if you want to get fancy, add some garlic and shallots. Feel free to use any other hearty, leafy green you prefer! It doesn't need any seasoning, besides a dash of pepper, and perhaps a tiny pinch of salt (the bacon provides plenty of salty flavor), but I do love it tossed in a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt. It adds a yummy tang and a nice creamy texture. I don't actually do much measuring when I make this; I just add as much of each ingredient that I think my daughter and I will eat in one meal.

You will need:
4-6 strips of bacon, chopped in large chunks
3-4 large handfuls of kale
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds (or plain pumpkin seeds)

In a frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Turn off heat and remove cooked bacon with a slotted spoon and lay out over a paper towel to drain. Drain any excess bacon fat, reserving about 2 tbsp in the pan. Toss the kale in the pan, massaging the bacon grease into the leaves until it wilts a bit. Add a pinch of pepper and any other seasonings you desire. Toss with the bacon, pomegranate seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014!

Two costume changes, three trick-or-treating sessions, and a taste of her very first lollipop means that November is having a super fun Halloween! Last year was her first time trick-or-treating, and was hesitant at first, but ended up having a blast. This year she is a pro! We hit up both the Columbia City and Admiral Junction in West Seattle for their storefront trick-or-treat, and now Nova is spending the rest of the evening neighborhood trick-or-treating with her dad. Which means...

I'm going to celebrate my birthday! Yep, it's my golden birthday today. It started off with a surprise breakfast from my amazing boyfriend, and will end with at the bar where my mom hosts karaoke for a Halloween edition. I have nothing special planned, not expecting many people to join, but I still feel the love from all the birthday wishes I've received and look forward to spending the evening singing the night away.

Happy Halloween everyone! Stay safe, eat candy, and brush your teeth!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Toilet Paper Roll Bats {Homeschool Preschool Projects}

This is a super fun little Halloween-themed craft we did for our Homeshcool Preschool project a couple weeks ago. This would be a great project to do with your kiddos tomorrow before going trick-or-treating!

Or you can even skip the spooky theme and just devote a day to learn about bats any time of year! In fact, that's exactly what we did! My friend's daughter, Mila, had been interested in learning about bats a couple weeks back, so we made that our theme of the day. Robin and I took turns reading a few educational books out loud (they picked ones that were suitable for preschoolers at the library), making the information interactive when possible by asking leading questions and inviting them to use movement and sound to express what we were reading about.

They had fun looking at the pictures, learning what kinds of foods they eat, and realizing that they aren't scary at all, but are really quite cute! Even to this day, November loves talking about how bats sleep upside down during the day, fly at night, eat fruit and bugs, and live in caves or trees. I was amazed at how much information she retained simply from reading!

After the books, we made our toilet paper roll bats that we learned about here.
As you can tell, ours (pictured at the beginning of this post) are not quite as fancy, and we didn't stuff them with treats. They had a blast with them simply as they are! Now here's how we made them:

We really let them put their own artistic touches into this project by first coloring whatever they wanted all over the toilet paper roll. Next, we bent the middle of each side of the roll inward, taped to secure, on both ends. This creates the ears and feet. Next, we cut black wings out of construction paper, and taped them to the back of the bat's body. Finally, we stuck googly eyes to the front (although November's fell off when we brought it home.) 

November loves bats now! It makes her really enjoy all the spooky Halloween decor she sees everywhere, and gets so excited when she spots a bat. Creating cute projects out of previously-considered 'scary' ideas and images can even make them less frightening.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2014

When Big Ideas...Fail

I just did something that made me very, very sad: I deactivated most of my newly uploaded prints and printables from my Etsy store. Why am I even sharing this? Because I'm disappointed and I want to talk about it. And because this blog is about being real, and in addition to all the awesomeness of life, I want to share the imperfections of life. We all feel disappointments, and I think we can all relate to that. Here's my latest disappointment and how I'm turning it around:

Sometimes you have big, bright ideas. Sometimes you get so excited about these big, bright ideas that you go after them, with all your heart, at full speed. Sometimes it all works out perfectly, with everything falling into place just as you wanted.

And sometimes, it doesn't.

Actually, in my case, everything did fall into place, at least at first. I had a great idea for a project (I won't disclose what, because I still intend to complete this project and want to reveal it when it's done) that would require me to get into Photoshop, and start offering digital downloads on my Etsy store. This got me thinking that first I should reproduce all my canvas paintings in digital format to offer as affordable downloads and prints. It was a great idea, and I dove in headfirst. I bought a laptop, spent hours and hours scanning my art, editing in Photoshop, making thumbnails for photo examples, uploading all my new offerings. Everything was going great...

Until...

I'd been feeling anxious about my new offerings for a couple weeks, even though I couldn't really figure out why. I did all the exhausting work right, I'd done the research, I knew the best way to print my files, and the best way to offer files for customers to print at home, but something in me didn't feel ready. However, I figured my files were as ready as they were ever going to be, and kept ignoring what I thought was just me being over-critical.

Then tonight it dawned on me as I pored over copies of my prints: my cute little canvas sets with their simple, charming art silhouettes don't translate well as scanned art.

I took all the time to scan each hand-painted canvas, edited slightly in Photoshop, and called it good, but the result wasn't perfect. I realize now that a hand-painted image has a different charm with slight imperfections, canvas textures and brushstrokes, but as a digital file, it would look better made completely from digital elements, at least for this particular style. I knew from the start that my canvas sets could be easily digitally reproduced from scratch, but I wanted to maintain my integrity as a handmade artist and use my own personal art as opposed to clip art that anyone could do. A great ideal, but not a great result, at least in my experience.

So what happens when you fail? You can give up, or you can...
There is good news! The fact that I became more critical of my work is because, since this project began about a month ago, my Photoshop skills have improved immensely! What was 'good enough' before, I now can remake even better! However, re-doing all those hours of hard work sounds overwhelming, and I plan on taking a break from it in order to focus on my original project that was my inspiration to create these prints in the first place!

Making these prints gave me the skills and info I need to proceed with my project that I wouldn't have had before. So this 'failure' was worth something! And if I keep getting stuck perfecting my failure, I will never get started on what I'm really excited about. So there it is, I failed, it sucks, I'm mourning its loss, but now I'm letting myself move on for the time being and focus on my mystery project.

And not every digital file was scrapped! I created one piece that is more the direction I think I should go in terms of digital files and prints. The artwork is still handmade, yet was designed and created specifically to be a print, and translates beautifully as a digital file:
It's a bummer to feel like I'm starting over, but I think it's actually a great place for me to be.

How have you turned failures around?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

DIY Bookcase Dollhouse {November's 3rd birthday present!}

November's year as a big three-year-old has begun! I admit, I may have gone a little overboard in the gifts category this year. But, in my defense, this is the first holiday since I've had her that I can say that! Previous holidays have been lean for me financially, plus I always anticipate plenty of gifts for her from others. This birthday, however, I budgeted ahead of time and saved to buy her a play kitchen from IKEA.

We'd been enjoying so much imaginative play together at home, playing 'kitchen' with her toy pots, pans and play-food. She'd outgrown her first baby play kitchen, yet still enjoyed the kitchen toys that went with it, so I really wanted to get her a full-size play kitchen. I know children don't need expensive items for imaginative play, but this was just something I wanted to get for her. And boy did she love it!
I was ONLY planning on getting the kitchen for her birthday....but when I went to Ikea to pick up the kitchen, I found the CUTEST set of mini Ikea dollhouse furniture, as well as a fold-able dollhouse backdrop board! The board was the perfect size to fit inside a bookshelf we have at home, which really got me thinking...

I should make a dollhouse out of an entire bookshelf!

And that I did. Like a madwoman on a mission, I spent the next 12 hours before November was due to return home from her dad's reorganizing my apartment to make room for our new additions, building her kitchen (what an ordeal!), wrapping it, getting some sleep, and then waking up early to revamp a used bookcase into a dollhouse.

It was a very simple process, and the end result was awesome! Now, let's make yours.

You will need:
-An old bookcase, desired size
-Glue
-Scrapbook paper, with patterns resembling wallpaper, carpet, and flooring (mine came from the same package we used for our DIY corkboard and weather board projects. It even just so happened to contain two sheets with a wood panel pattern for the floor, and cloud/sky pattern for the windows!)
Extras:
-Dollhouse furniture and accessories
-Dolls to fit the house
-Ribbon or thin, colored tape for lining windows
Select the scrapbook paper you would like to use, and decide on placement for the walls and flooring. Cut it down to the correct size to fit the dimensions of the bookcase, if necessary. Glue the backside of the paper to line the bookcase walls and upper surface of the shelves (dollhouse floor), overlapping when necessary to cover all inside surfaces.
You can see in the picture above how my middle 'room' was larger and needed a strip of the green chevron pattern to cover the extra space near the 'ceiling.' This extra pattern added a really cute touch, but feel free to use more of the same patterns for a more seamless look.
Add extra touches like windows! If you don't have sky-patterned scrapbook paper, you can simply use a square of blue. You can line the windows by gluing strips of ribbon around it, or use thin colored tape. Once finished, let all the glue dry, and add the furniture! Voila, dollhouse!
In the picture below, you can see the Ikea dollhouse backdrop I mentioned. It's super cute and can be moved to whichever floor November feels like putting it on, or taken out completely.
November loved it! Can you tell by this face?
Her dollhouse is currently filled with a mix of different sizes and types of dolls and accessories, but November isn't picky about that! I do, however, hope to get creative and perhaps make some more furniture and accessories in the future, giving it a fuller and more cohesive look.

This would make a great Christmas gift for your little one, don't you think?

Friday, October 24, 2014

In Defense of Homeschool {Preschool is a verb}

My daughter started her first day of a weekly Spanish Immersion preschool this week, during one of the days she spends in her dad's care. I totally respect November's father's desire to contribute to her education in the way he feels most comfortable, and I'm sure he respects mine. I'm hoping that, over the next three years she spends before kindergarten age, we can come to a full agreement about her educational future, but in the meantime, our mixed approach will be great.

While my daughter may have started her first day at a preschool, I don't consider it her first day of preschool. I'm not saying this to negate the quality or importance of the preschool she goes to; I think her school is great! I wholeheartedly support preschool! What I am doing is showing that our home-preschool days (and homeschooling in general) are equally as important.

When people hear the term preschool, they often think of it in the traditional sense of a noun; a building, a place, a school.

Less often, but still commonly, people think of preschool as an adjective; pertaining to the age group of children before kindergarten, as in referring to preschool aged children.

This second definition of preschool definitely allows more freedom and versatility for what the word can mean. It can mean an age group, regardless of whether the child attends education in a formal building dedicated to schooling. It can mean that once your child reaches that age, they are automatically a preschooler; preschool becomes life; preschooler, an identity.

For those of you who have preschool-aged children, you are familiar with the growing curiosity that blossoms more and more with every day; the onslaught of constant questions and why. Why mom? What are you looking at? Why? What are you thinking? Why? Where did you go? Why? 

Yes, learning and a desire for knowledge are all happening to your little preschooler, regardless of being in an actual school. Learning definitely happens in a school, but it is also happening at home, in every activity, in every moment. Everything becomes a learning experience, even without you realizing it! Which is why preschool can also be a verb.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. This lady wants to homeschool her kid, and claims that preschool is a verb?" I hear you say. Ok, disclaimer: I know preschool, by definition, is NOT a verb. BUT, for the sake of this analogy, I am making it one.

Preschool is something you do. It's learning, teaching, playing, reading, listening, touching, looking, exploring. All those things preschoolers do at a school, they can do at home, in the car, on a walk, during an activity, or on a playdate.

When we're in the car, we talk about the seasons changing, point out the colors of the fall leaves as we drive through streets lined with trees. November vocalizes things she remembers us learning, she names the colors she sees, she talks about the weather. We preschool in the car.

At home, we do art projects, she helps me cook, she learns to pour tea, we do puzzles, she does imaginative independent play, we play together, we have conversations, I ask her about things we've learned. She asks a million questions and I try my best to answer her. She helps me take care of our plants. We preschool at home.

Preschool is a noun; a school. Preschool describes an age group; an automatic identity. Preschool is a verb; something you do. It is all of those things. For those who send their children to a preschool (noun), terrific! For those who purposefully preschool (verb) at home, still terrific! And even those who have chosen to do neither (formal schooling isn't mandatory until 1st grade in the state of Washington), even you are preschooling by nourishing his/her thirst for knowledge through reading, talk, and play in everyday life.

Now, let's talk about another word; homeschool. Some people cringe at the word, imagining a dark, boring room in a quiet house where a student sits alone surrounded by books with no one to socialize with. While this CAN be the case, it certainly doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be! There are so many resources for homeschooling these days, whether preschool or older. There are groups, co-ops, activities, and so many ways to nourish your child educationally AND socially through homeshooling.

We spend more time socializing, playing, AND learning outside of the home on our 'homeschool' preschool days than any other day of the week. Just because your 'school' is based and planned from within the home, doesn't mean that's where your teaching/learning is restricted to!

I think it's a little easier to swallow the idea of preschool being a verb than school in general, since most can agree that preschoolers primarily learn through child-led play and activity during that age. But it's much harder to trust education to the desires and interests of a student once they get older. But the truth is, learning IS a verb, and not just for the sake of an analogy. And you can do it anywhere, whether from within a building called school, or from home, a field trip, a study group, a homeschool co-op, an activity, or a book.

Education IS important. Learning IS important. Schools are essential. But an education can be joyfully and lovingly taught from home as well. Socialization isn't restricted to a school building.

Learning is a verb. Preschool is a verb.

Do you agree?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pumpkin Custard Pie {Paleo, Low Carb, Gluten Free, Dairy Free}

Here's another pumpkin recipe! With all the pumpkin pie-eating going on around me, and all the lactose intolerance/low carb-eating going on in my body, I was once again compelled to make my own recipe that satisfied my cravings, used the ingredients I wanted to use, was easy, and tasted delicious.

This one delivers! Especially in the easy category. Most of the other custard recipes I found called for separating ingredients when mixing, and baking the ramekins in a dish surrounded by water. Sure, there are reasons for those extra measures, but this mama wants her pie NOW and she wants it EASY (insert hungry mom roar here.) Ok, so you still need to let it cool, unless you like it warm, but at least the preparation is as simple as blending the ingredients, pouring into ramekins, and baking. Done. Your turn!

Pumpkin Custard Pie
{Paleo, Low Carb, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, can be sugar free.}
Fills 4 medium/small ramekins

This recipe is basically a crust-less pumpkin pie. The ingredients are pretty darn healthy, so I didn't feel too bad about eating it for breakfast a couple times (sheepish grin). It uses pumpkin puree, coconut cream and coconut non-dairy beverage (if you aren't obsessed with coconut cream like I am, you can just sub 1 cup full fat coconut milk for the combo), and is sweetened with maple syrup. If you want a purely sugar free version, you can use stevia instead. My first version was sweetened with only stevia, but I found it lacking in the sweetness category, so I drizzled the finished product with a bit of maple syrup. It was delicious like that, but the second time around, I used maple syrup entirely.

1 cup pumpkin pruee
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup 'milk' (like coconut non-dairy beverage, almond milk, or milk if you do dairy)
2 eggs
2 tbsp maple syrup (or 8 drops liquid stevia, or a combo)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend all ingredients together (I used a food processor) until smooth. Pour into ramekins about 2/3-3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes until center is firm with a slight jiggle. Let cool, and then transfer to fridge for an hour or more. When ready to serve, top with whipped coconut cream and pumpkin pie spiced pumpkin seeds.

I guarantee I'll be making this a lot over the next few months!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Happy 3rd Birthday, November!

I cannot believe my baby girl is three years old today! It's amazing!

Three years ago, you were a tiny, pink newborn, and I was a new mommy. You were so little, and I was so nervous when I got you dressed for the very first time in that little yellow duck outfit...
Two years ago, we celebrated your first birthday. You were just starting to dance around that time. I remember you dancing at your party. You were such a happy birthday girl...
Just one year ago, you had so much less hair! You had tons of fun opening your presents, and got your very first bike. I remember your look of surprise when you first saw it roll into the living room...
Your personality has grown so much in these three years! You are still such a sweet girl, but you are so much braver, so much more daring. You love dress-up, whether it's costumes or fancy dresses (we've already been through three dress changes today!) You dance with no reservations. You are now learning to pedal that bike by yourself! I'm so proud of you, and so blessed with every minute we spend together; snuggling, learning, doing art together, talking, playing or having dance parties.

I love you to the moon, birthday girl!
Love, Mommy