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...


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
-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!)
-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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds {Low Carb, Sugar Free, Paleo}

'Tis the season to be tempted by EVERYTHING sweet and pumpkin-y all around me! Pumpkin goodness is everywhere, especially being a Trader Joe's employee. And since I'm now eating more of a Paleo/Low Carb diet, I'm avoiding many of these delicious temptations. However, I do allow myself tastes and samples when the chance appears.

One thing I tried was TJs new Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds. They were sweet, candied pumpkin seeds seasoned with pumpkin pie spice. I enjoyed my small sample, but honestly, they were too sweet for my liking. I liked the concept, but I personally preferred something that would be more versatile for both sweet and savory dishes alike, as well as contain less sugar.

So I made my own version!

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
I tried these two ways; sweetened with powdered stevia for a totally sugar free version, and sweetened with maple syrup, and I honestly preferred the stevia version! But if you need a little extra sweetness, maple syrup is a tasty alternative as well.

1 Cup Raw Pumpkin Seeds
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil (or butter, if you do dairy)
1 Tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/4 Tsp powdered Stevia (or 2 Tsp maple syrup)

Heat the oil or butter over medium heat, and then add the pumpkin seeds, stir until well-coated in oil/butter. Add your salt and pumpkin pie spice, and mix together. Toast seeds for about 5 minutes, until well-toasted (less, if you prefer softer seeds, more if you like them really crunchy.) Once toasted, remove from heat and add your powdered stevia or maple syrup, and mix. Transfer to a cookie sheet or parchment paper, spreading the seeds out in a thin layer, to cool.

November could hardly wait until they cooled down, and snacked on them warm and toasty! These make a great snack as is, and can be added as a topping for salads, soups, and desserts! I have a couple recipes I used these in that I'm looking forward to posting. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

DIY Weather Board with Free Printables! {Homeschool Preschool projects}

I mentioned in my DIY cork board makeover post that I was going to share another cork board project, and here it is!

When I decided we were going to start doing preschool activities at home, a weather board felt like a must-have. It was so much fun for November and I to make together, and she loves helping me change the date, weather, and letter of the day.

Every morning (when we have time, that is), we check the calender and change the date. I remind her that the season is still fall, and sometimes we take a few minutes to remember what that means (leaves changing colors and falling, getting colder, etc.)

Next, we take a step outside the front door and talk about what we see and feel; is it cold? Warm? Windy? Sunny? November doesn't always understand exactly what we are talking about, and often just wants to say that it's warm and cloudy (even when it's cold and sunny), but it's a good practice at learning about weather.

Every few days, we will change the letter of the day. I'll pick a letter that is relevant to something she's learning, is interested in, or has something to do with that day's activity. I'll sound it out for her, tell her some words that begin with that letter and ask what words she can think of. She doesn't answer yet, but I think inviting her to get involved is what counts!
Now here's how to make your own weather board!

You can make everything from scratch, like I did, by cutting out strips of colored paper or cardstock and writing labels for seasons, temperature, etc, (I love writing things by hand) OR you can let me do the work for you, and print out my FREE printables! I've made labels for the four seasons, temperature, weather, month, date numbers, day of the week, and year.

{Here are the links for my free printables!}
Click here for season labels
Click here for weather labels
Click here for temperature labels
Click here for year labels
Click here for month labels
Click here for date number labels
Click here for day of the week labels

You will also need:
-Large cork board
-Scrapbook paper for the background
-Paper for the labels (either handmade or with my free printables. Use any paper you like, but cardstock works best.)
-Flat-headed thumb tacks (I originally used standard push pins which you can see in some of my pictures, but I quickly learned flat thumb tacks are better, and replaced them.)
-Small or medium binder clips
-Small dry erase or chalk board for letter of the day (or you can use a small glass frame filled with scrapbook paper, like I did. It works great with dry erase markers and looks cute too! I have tons of framed dry erase "lists" in my apartment!)
-Ribbon, if you would like a portion of your weather board into a ribbon bulletin board.
-Letter stickers, if you would like to label your sections, or simply hand-write.

Now, let's make it!

First, arrange the scrapbook paper how you want it. Glue it down to the surface of the cork board. If there will be any overlap, make sure you glue down the background papers first. If you plan on changing the colors/patterns of your papers, glue lightly and only around the edges of each sheet of paper, so it will be easy to remove later.

Next, cut out your labels (either from the free printables above, or for you and your kiddo to write by hand) for all the sections you plan on using. We did season, temperature, weather, month, date, and year. Secure each label with one or two binder clips, and pin them to the board (again, ignore the fact that you see standard push pins in my pictures! Flat thumb tacks are the way to go for easy changing of labels!)

On the other side of the board, secure the reserve labels with a binder clip, and pin to the board, face down.
Hang your dry erase, chalk board, or frame on your board for letter of the day.
 For a ribbon bulletin board section, pin strips of ribbon to the board at different angles, crisscrossing other ribbons until the section is well-covered.
Now hang it up and enjoy it! Here you can see our creativity corner...
What ways do you and your family like to learn about the weather?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Whipped Coconut Cream {Paleo, Vegan, Low Carb, Sugar Free!}

Coconut Cream has become my current obsession, especially with my growing sensitivity to dairy (no, why????!!!) I plan on figuring out which forms of dairy I can handle (yogurt and butter seem fine), but in the meantime, I'm avoiding most forms of dairy. 

Coconut cream is pure magic. It's heavenly. Coconut cream is the heavy whipping cream of the non-dairy world. It is perfect for stirring into tea and coffee in place of creamer, great in baked goods, adds rich creaminess to smoothies, and is the lactose-intolerant's best friend for replacing whipped cream.

Where the heck do you find coconut cream?! I get mine at Trader Joe's, where this part-time-working mama works (no, they don't pay me for the millions of times I showcase TJs products on my blog, I do it out of convenience as well as heartfelt enjoyment of their products. Now, if they did pay me for all the extra love I send their way in addition to my hourly wages...wouldn't that be a sweet deal?), but you can also find coconut cream at health food stores and even amazon

If you absolutely cannot find coconut cream, (or want a pure, organic version; TJs is NOT organic and contains a couple 'fillers') there's help! You can make it from regular old FULL-FAT coconut milk! Simply buy a can or two and store them in the fridge for a day (or more). When ready to use, remove from fridge, and WITHOUT SHAKING/MIXING them, open the cans and scoop out the thick cream that has risen to the top. The watery part of the coconut milk will be at the bottom. Store the cream portion separately, and use to make coconut whipped cream! You can save the water portion for smoothies.

Whipped Coconut Cream
Being a single mama, I like to make things in smaller portions, so I only make my whipped coconut cream about 1 cup at a time. You can double or even triple this recipe for larger supply. Use it to top fresh baked holiday pies! You can also stir it into tea and coffee.

1 Cup chilled Coconut Cream
1/8 tsp Vanilla
2-4 drops stevia (or 1/2 tsp maple syrup, or sweetener of choice)

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. You can start using it immediately, but I find that the texture improves if you put it back in the fridge for 20 minutes or more, and then whisk again. You will have thick, whipped coconut cream that totally hold its shape on a slice of pie!

I dare you not to get hooked on this tasty stuff!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

DIY Cork Board Makeover {with Scrapbook Paper}

Here is a super simple and fun little project November and I did together (along with another cork board project I'll be posting about soon!)

All you need is an ugly, old cork board (or a new one, like this one, as my previous cork board had been requisitioned for the other above-mentioned project), some scrapbook paper, glue, and whatever you choose to pin to your newly improved board!

I picked out three different patterns of scrapbook paper that I thought looked nice together, arranged them to cover the entire surface of the cork, and glued them to the board. I set out my arrangement first, deciding which papers I wanted in the background, and which one I wanted primarily in the foreground, so I could work from the bottom layer up when gluing, and giving it a nice over-lapping look. When I glued the sheets down, I did so lightly, just lining around the edges. That way, when I want to change the papers and color scheme, I can tear the old ones off with minimal effort and update them anew!

I wanted this cork board to be practical, yet 'neat' so I chose only a few important items to pin. I mainly wanted it as a bright and organized way to display my calendar. I accented this with a few cute little cards (and some important receipts for practicality lol.)

What in your home could use a makeover?

Our first homeschool project...Letter D sugar cookies {with naturally colored icing!}

If you've read my last two posts about starting to do preschool activities at home (read part one, and part two), you know that we are starting small with simple ways to incorporate learning with play.

It was day one of my friend, Robin, and my homeschool preschool experiment with our two daughters. We started off with preschool-age story time at our local library, where the theme was Dragons and Castles and the Letter D. The girls had a great time listening to a couple stories and singing along with the songs. Afterward, we went back to my house and decided to carry on with the Letter D theme and make Letter D and Dinosaur sugar cookies!

I made use of this awesome cookie cutter set, made a simple batch of sugar cookies, and frosted them with naturally colored icing!

Naturally Colored Icing
This is more of an idea than a recipe, since I didn't measure anything (that tends to be my default cooking and baking mode!), but this was so foolproof, and it can be changed to meet your icing needs, whether it be for sugar cookies, cupcakes, or birthday cakes. The best part is, the coloring used is real fruit and I actually flavors the icing! If you want a deep, rich concentration of color, you can use less powdered sugar and more of the fruit powder (or try using only fruit powder to eliminate refined sugar.) If you want a pastel color, only a little fruit powder is needed.

You'll need:
-Heavy Whipping Cream (or Coconut Cream for dairy free)
-Powdered Sugar
-Freeze dried raspberries or strawberries (for red or pink)
-Freeze dried blueberries (for blue or purple)

First, grind about 1/4 cup of each of the freeze dried fruits in a spice or coffee grinder (I used my baby bullet) until it becomes a fine powder. Next combine about 1/4 cup heavy cream with a couple tbsp powdered sugar until it reaches the icing consistency your are looking for. Finally, add some of the freeze dried berry powder, 1/4 tsp at a time, until the frosting reaches the desired color. Repeat for other color. When you're ready to ice your cookies, pour each color of frosting into plastic ziplock bags, make a small snip in the corner, and use them as piping bags!

This icing turned out delicious! Trader Joe's and even Target have many different varieties of freeze dried fruits, so I look forward to trying this again with other fruits and colors.

The girls had a great time frosting their own cookies (we moms helped too, of course), and had even more fun eating them. While we worked on our cookies, we talked about other things that start with Letter D. Mila answered most of the questions, since she's the older of the two girls, but November listened, and remembered some of what she heard. It gave me a glimpse at the benefits of schooling children of multiple age ranges together.

Afterward, we got some energy out at open play at Seattle Gymnastics, and afterward November and I went home for a nice long nap. It sure was a great start to our homeschool experiment! And this simple and tasty project will be so much fun to replicate again in the future and for holidays!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Considering Preschool...Homeschool? {PART TWO}

In my last post, I explained why I'm considering preschool at home. In this post, I'll explain how we are doing just that!

Taking up where we left off...

I knew I wanted to try the whole homeschool idea out. But where to start? I wasn't sure if I really had what it takes to be a homeschooling mom to a preschooler. I know traditional preschool can range anywhere from one day a week to full five-day weeks, but would the days I spend at home outside of work be enough to fulfill her educational needs? I felt like I could use an entire library of resources...

So I started my search online. I looked for blogs, articles, stories, cautionary tales; anything that could get me started in the right direction. I learned that there's a difference between homeschooling and unschooling, but both provide a similar at-home educational nourishment. I learned that some families follow a structured plan while others are more free-flowing. I learned that there are many great free resources for educational packets and printables online. But most importantly, I learned one thing was universal: there is NO one-method-fits-all when it comes to homeschooling your child.

Children learn in many different ways, and some thrive where others do not. Some children learn better with a structured schedule; others need more freedom and less pressure. Many homeschooling mothers cautioned against being too rigid, and just go with the flow when things seem a little chaotic.

The more I read about preschooling at home, the less overwhelmed I became. I realized there were such simple yet fun ways to incorporate learning at home. Many moms suggested to think of preschooling at home more of an all-day learning adventure, turning everyday activities into learning opportunities. This made me feel like my non-work days were ample enough for teaching at home.

It turns out there are so many resources out there! So many helpful tips and cool projects! A simple google search churns out numerous blogs and websites, and Pinterest has awesome links too. I was confident to make a start. But I really didn't want to start alone...

On a whim, I asked my friend Robin if she was sending her 4.5 year old daughter, Mila, to preschool this year. Turns out she wasn't 100% convinced to do so, for her own reasons. I asked if she would be interested in getting our girls together once a week on Thursdays for a home 'preschool' day. She was in!

So far, it's been a lot of fun! We've only been at this about a month, so we don't have a very solid structure (which may be good!). But our main plan is to start with free library story time for the preschool age group, followed by a learning activity and related craft back at one of our houses, and ending with physical activity like open-play at the gymnastics academy. The timeframe is approximately 10:30am-3pm.

Our girls seem to have a lot of fun! When we have the time to follow all of our basic plan, they get a thorough combination of listening, reading, learning, playing, exercise, skill building, and social activity! Whenever we learn something new and November later repeats back to me what she had learned, my confidence grows and grows. I totally can do this!

I still feel like I have a lot more to learn and a lot more research to do over the next few months to decide how to proceed as her learning needs become greater, and how to actively meet those needs, and decide if I want to continue homeschooling into kindergarten and grade school.

I definitely want November to grow into the little person she wants to be, and I want to tailor her education to her personality and needs. I intend to give her the option to go to public school, if and when she personally desires to. And, if the time comes when homeschooling no longer fits in with our life for whatever reason, I want to reserve the right to be free of any shame for changing my mind!

In the meantime, I'm trying to plan ahead for our preschool days and come up with some great activities, I've got a book from the library about unschooling which I'm excited to begin reading, and I've got a list of numerous other books to check out too. I'll keep you updated and look forward to sharing some of our projects!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie {Paleo, Gluten Free, Dairy Free}...and starting a low carb lifestyle.

I know, I know, the last thing you need is ANOTHER pumpkin recipe...but I disagree! I was craving the traditional flavors of fall pumpkin in the form of a nutritious smoothie. I wanted it to be pumpkin-y, creamy, and healthy enough to eat for lunch with my daughter.

I also wanted it to be paleo, sugar free and dairy free. Ever since my naturopath informed me that my cholesterol is high, I've been much more conscious about what I'm eating. Most people (including myself) considered me a healthy eater, so it was quite the shock to hear about my rise in cholesterol! The traditional remedy that I found was a low fat diet full of diet foods and less red meat. But over the past few years, I feel like this diet has become less and less supported by science as a healthy diet.

I'm much more interested in a diet full of whole, nutritious foods. And, looking at my diet over the past couple years, I don't think red meat is the problem; I don't eat it very often. I feel like sugar, grains and carbs are more of my problem area.

My mom started eating low carb/high fat last year, based on the recommendation from her doctor to lower her cholesterol and risk of diabetes. She was shocked to get such a counterintuitive recommendation from her doctor (eat bacon to lower cholesterol...what?), but she followed his advice and both her and my step dad have had good results.

I've enjoyed eating the food she's made this past year, and the science behind it made sense. I did a little research (there are tons of websites dedicated to low carb/high fat, paleo, and keto diets. My mom recommended this one) and decided to start implementing some conscious changes.

While I'm not getting obsessive over it (especially when I eat out, or want to try a sample of something delicious at work), I'm limiting sugar, grains, and beans. I'm being conscious not to over-do it with sugar-y fruits. I'm eating more veggies in place of carbs. I'm snacking less and eating better desserts, if any.

I'm also picking my battles with dairy; the older I get, the harder some types get for me to digest. I'm tired of being stuck in the bathroom after drinking a latte! Moderate amounts of cheese, butter and yogurt are fine, but when I can, I'm opting for coconut milk and coconut cream in things that work well with them.

So that brings me back to the recipe! The paleo, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free pumpkin smoothie you can drink as a light lunch! Yes, everything is from Trader Joe's; I work there, so pretty much my entire kitchen is a Trader Joe's showroom!

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie {Paleo, Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free}
I use coconut cream for its rich, creamy texture and healthy fats, as well as non-dairy beverage-style coconut milk in this recipe. I always have both at home because I love creating things with the stand-alone versatile coconut cream, as well as using coconut milk for drinking. But if you don't want or have both, 1 cup of full fat canned coconut milk will work just as well! I also feature chia seeds for some healthy omegas and protein, and a banana for natural sweetness.

Serves two
-1 cup (or 1 can) pumpkin puree
-1/2 cup coconut cream
-1/2 cup coconut or almond milk (or dairy, if you drink it)
-1/2 cup (about 3 large) ice cubes
-1 banana, sliced
-1 tbsp chia seeds (ground chia works best in a smoothie, but whole is fine too)
-1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-6 drops liquid stevia, or your favorite sweetener, to taste (maple syrup tastes great with this!)

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into cups, and top with chopped pecans!
Do you live a low carb/high fat or paleo lifestyle?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Contemplatng Preschool...Homeschool? Part One


The year: 2014
Age: 2.5
Question: Preschool

I had no idea that this would be the big question of the year. When she turned 2, I felt like I still had AGES to figure out preschool. But then the big question started popping up everywhere.

When her dad first asked, I brushed it off, saying we had plenty of time, but that I would spend the year researching. But then others started asking, friends, family, strangers in the checkout line at work. I started looking into the subject and began to realize that preschool age was fast approaching, and for some preschools, the age was NOW!

I quickly became overwhelmed with options: community center preschool, fancy preschool, all the different styles, how many days, price, location. I found a few that I liked with ideals compatible with my own. However, I still just didn't feel convinced.

Pricewise, everything seemed to be in the $300-$350/month range for two days per week, about four hours each day (with higher tuition for more days you choose). Considering I'm on a single mom's, part-time working mom's budget, this is quite an expense, even after splitting costs with her father!

Personality-wise, I felt like we needed more time to get over November's separation anxiety (which improves significantly every day!) and get her better integrated into groups with other kids before just dropping her off at her first day of school. I found a wonderful sounding school called the Community School of West Seattle, that only accepts students ages 3-5 who turn 3 before September (which would give us one more year!) Plus, they offer a weekly class for babies and toddlers called Messy Play where she could start group play at the school this year, and get used to other kids and the facility while I supervise and offer encouragement and comfort. However, this still costs money.

Time-wise, I would need to apply for most of these schools by early next year, if not sooner. Which means I really need to be convinced asap! And when it comes to my personal time, it makes me sad to think of losing even four hours of my time with her each week while she's at preschool. Being a single mom with an active father in her life means that I already spend a couple days a week without her PLUS the four days while I'm at work. I don't need any more breaks from her than I already have!

Controversial-subject-wise, I'm not sure I want to vaccinate any further. I know this is a really personal and touchy subject, and I make no judgments whatsoever on anyone else's decision to do/not do so. November has been on an alternative vaccination schedule that we designed with our naturopathic pediatrician, and is current through age 2. But lately I'm leaning toward discontinuing vaccinations and possibly not vaccinating future children (I won't explain why here, there is plenty of research and opinion all over the web about the subject. It's just my personal conviction at the moment.) Most preschools (and later grade schools) require vaccinations.

Can you see where I'm going with this? One option that eases my anxiety over the four considerations above is...Homeschool.

Homeschooling is another controversial subject that many people feel either very strongly opposed to or supportive of for varying reasons. The majority of people I talk to about the subject give me a look of horror at the very mention of the idea, saying how weird homeschooled kids are. But there are also a great deal of families who do homeschool, and have many good things to say about it.

Needless to say, while the homeschool idea eased my anxiety about a few considerations, it also brought up new anxieties and questions: Am I good enough to homeschool? Smart enough? Do I have what it takes? Will her father support it? Will my friends/family/partner support it? What if my future husband's kid goes to public school and mine is homeschooled, will that be weird? Will people think I'm a bad parent? Will this nourish her? Harm her? Will she love it or hate it? Will I love it or hate it? 

Personally, I have experience as a homeschooled (for a few years total, spread out throughout my educational life) kid that was both good and bad. Can I find a way to take the good without the bad? Can I balance homeschooling with social nourishment?

I'll say right now that I DON'T have all those answers figured out, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured it wouldn't hurt to start small and try it out. We can always change our minds one week, one month, three months, one year, six years, any time from now! So why not?

In part two, I'll explain the simple ways we are starting preschool at home.

Did you have a hard time deciding on preschool?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Getting Creative in Small Spaces

By now, especially after yesterday's post, you should be no stranger to the fact that I live in a tiny apartment. But don't get me wrong; I love it!

If you've followed my journey, you know that once I became a single mom, I moved in with my mom for about nine months. Once I was ready to move out on my own with my daughter, I got my tiny little place; a 550 sq ft one bedroom that is basically a studio with a large, built in closet separating the living area from the bedroom/bathroom.

It's great starter apartment, but I've had to get really creative with our space in order to keep things looking organized. I like to have our spaces divided as neatly as possible, even with everything so close together.

The main part of the house has four different spaces: dining, living, play, and art.

Here's where dining, living and art intersect:
See my makeshift bookshelf above the built-in closet? Here you can also see that there is no door to the bedroom; I hung a curtain rod and use a light blocking curtain as a door.
And here's our art and learning corner:
And here is the living area next to the play area. I did my best to break things up by dividing the colors: pink for November's play area; green and blue for the living area across from the couch.
And, if you count this windowsill herb garden I made over the summer (how we built the shelf deserves a post all of its own!), we have a fifth area: our indoor mini garden!
It may look like a cluster, but it sure feels like home! Of course, I dream of moving on up in the world of living arrangements and someday live in a real house with a yard, multiple rooms to divide the separate spaces, and my very own full size garden. In the meantime, I am so grateful for my little apartment, and love what I've accomplished since I've been here!

Get the "full tour" feel and check out this post to see what our tiny bedroom looks like, and this post to get a quick look into our tiny bathroom.