Links to click

Once upon a time I shared links that I thought were interesting on Google Reader, but ever since they took away the 'share' option my favorite internet reads have piled up, unshared (unless I decide to inundate a friend with links to things I think they should read. I'm so bossy. Sorry, friends!) This seems like a good place to share- here are some links to things I've been digging lately.


From Scratch Club: This is the site run by a great local group with a focus on real food, gardening, community, and education. They're blog posts and tutorials tend to deliver inspiration at just the right time. I've been paying a lot more attention to what we eat lately and aiming for as much "real food" and as little processed food as possible. I was just saying that I need to find a replacement for the chocolate syrup we have in the fridge (I love a bit on my ice cream....) and today FSC posted a recipe for three-ingredient homemade magic shell. Can't wait to try this! This group (and some nudging from foodie friends) has also inspired me to make my own yogurt, use more dried (instead of canned) beans, and has been a big part of my realization that cooking from scratch isn't as hard, time consuming, or complicated as I thought.

100 Days of Real Food: Like I said above, now that I'm responsible for a small young human, I've really focused on what we're putting into her body, and ours. For over six months she was exclusively breastfed-- nourished by the most local, unprocessed, natural food there is. So when we started introducing solids, I wanted to keep that trend up as much as possible. I've been making more from scratch, buying as much local as possible (so much easier in the summer), and buying organic when we can. I found this blog at the perfect time. It's full of simple ideas for real food based meals, ways to avoid processed foods, and how to do it all affordably. I love the resources here and I've already used several of the ideas.

Tasty things I've made recently:

3-ingredient cheesy crackers: great toddler (and grownup) snack- Evy loves these.  Most of the new recipes I've made lately are snack-focused. Evy will eat grapes or bananas for snack, but I wanted some more whole food options to mix things up a bit.

Energy bites: There are all kinds of variations on this recipe. I used this one as the base but used almond butter and added (in addition to the oats and coconut) puffed rice cereal, flax meal, and cinnamon. I skipped the vanilla. They are so tasty, we all love them. One is plenty filling, a perfect afternoon snack. Evy watched me make them while she ate her lunch. I told her she could have one after she finished lunch. She really takes her time with her meals these days (all about the slow food movement, I suppose), so I had forgotten about the energy balls when she was done. She didn't, though! "Ba, ba!" she demanded, pointing at the fridge. Yes, m'am!

Crunchy roasted chick peas: This was on my 'to make' list for a long time. Super easy, super tasty, a favorite of mine and Evy's. I haven't figured out a way to store them so they stay crunchy, but they aren't awful once they get chewy.

Things I haven't made yet but plan to:
Coconut oil popcorn
peanut, carrot, and cabbage slaw
radish slaw (we got a bunch of radishes in our farm share today - yum!)

Kid stuff:

Baby-led weaning: this is the general approach we used to introduce Evelyn to solids after she was 6 months old. It worked great for us -- no purees or spoon-feeding, she was totally in control of how much she ate, and we've eaten meals as a family ever since we started seating her at the table with us. She currently eats all kind of things- from chicken curry to pasta with pesto to pitas with hummus and cheese. The best resource for learning about baby-led weaning is the book, but the website and Facebook group are pretty good, too.

Janet Lansbury: Her parenting approach makes a lot of sense to me- the website is a good resource for those days when toddlerhood boggles my mind.

SquintMom and Science of Mom : These two blogs take on parenting 'hot topics' that can be truly confusing, review the scientific research, and draw rational conclusions about the facts. I love them so much. It can be agonizing to figure out what the facts are about things like vaccinations, sunscreen, breastfeeding, sleep, parenting styles, and solid food. On both of these sites the research is presented clearly, with clear citations, and all sides presented. For an over-thinker like me (and many parents), this is a godsend.


A Project a Week:: Week 6: Letters

Week: 6
Project: Write two letters

I owe letters to several friends. It's not just that I "owe" them - I want to write to them! This week I will carve out time to write those letters. I love getting mail, and I love that I have friends who still send mail --  and I want to return the sweet gesture. Letter-writing was a huge part of my life for a long time, but it's fallen away recently. I have letters started, never finished, now outdated. I'm not sure I'll ever finish if I don't give myself a deadline.

Do you still send and receive letters?

A Project a Week:: Week 5: Complete

Week: 5
Project: Patio sprucing
Status: Complete!

I love projects like this one.  After a couple hours of picking up/gathering supplies and planting, the patio looks awesome.

I picked up two new large planters ($12 a piece at Ocean State Job Lots! They have a good selection of garden stuff right now.) and cleaned up a couple more that were gathering dust in the garage.

I bought a bunch of plants, again from Honest Weight (great prices right now- I spent less than $20 on enough plants for four planters plus the border of the garden.) I ended up with four new planters brimming with flowers and plants, plus a newly-planted border along the garden side.  Quite a bit of impact for under $50 and a couple hours time.

I love looking out the back door and seeing the colorful planters and welcoming patio.

I forgot to take a shot of the whole patio (before or after), so you'll have to believe me that it spruced up well. It's a nice spot for our family to eat dinner together every night, and it certainly makes me feel good.

In other yard news, the raised bed garden is coming along nicely. There are baby tomatoes, the peas are climbing the trellis, and the calendula and zinnias have buds. We only got a handful of strawberries before the creatures of the yard got to them, despite the bird netting- oh well, it was worth a shot.

A Project a Week:: Week 5: Patio Sprucing

Week: 5
Project: Tidy and spruce the patio

The goal this week: get flowers planted in pots around the patio and generally spruce it up. We use the patio a lot during the summer for dinner and after-baby's-bedtime drinks. It hasn't gotten a ton of attention yet other than the new border shrubs, and I want to add some potted plants and flowers and just generally clean it up.

The challenge here is that the small breezeway porch that borders the patio is under-construction, as Pat has taken down the ugly louvres that have been there for 50 years and is rebuilding/replacing the three sides.

The patio has come a long way since we moved in, when it was half-asphalt (terrible bumpy broken many-layered asphalt) and half poorly-laid flagstone. Once the porch is done we'll have completed all the major work we envisioned for this area of our yard. Almost there!


A Project a Week:: Week 4: Complete

Week: 4
Project: Reign in the toy chaos with some hidden toy storage.

Status: Complete!

This one was super satisfying to check off the list. This is the kind of project that will be ongoing, but getting to a good place with the toy organization feels good. 

We started out with toys in every little corner of the living room, and Evy would regularly pull every single toy out and then move on to do the same thing in her room. There was too much stuff around for her to concentrate on any one thing for very long, and we needed some order to the situation. We have a small living room that doubles as play room for now. Here's some 'before' shots to set the scene.

I had attempted some organization with some bins and baskets here and there, but mostly they were crammed with stuff, some outgrown, with no rhyme or reason to where things were. 

Storage in a small ottoman started out well, and then just became layers and layers of toys, pieces of puzzles, and just another place to hide the mess. 

As I talked about in my last post, I wanted to drastically cut down on the number of toys out and visible at any one time, weed out anything that had been outgrown, broken, or should be filed elsewhere, and generally make it a less overwhelming scene for everyone.

I started by moving the blankets we had stored in our coffee table/ottoman and finding new homes for them. My goal was to stow most of the toys out of site in our two ottomans. 

The second step was going through and removing anything that had been outgrown -  a tote bag full of rattles, teethers, cloth books, and a couple stuffed animals went to basement storage.

I put most of the books from the living room along one side of the ottoman (I left out about five books in various baskets around the living room - we'll rotate these once a week or so). I added a couple baskets to organize things inside the ottoman. One basket contains the musical instrument-type toys. Another contains puzzles (now in bags to contain the pieces) and a couple of other toys. Some wooden toys and puppets take up the remaining space arund the baskets. It's more organized than this photo lets on, really.

The smaller ottoman, previously crammed with stuff, contains just a few larger toys and a basket with some smaller toys. The plan is to rotate the toys that are stored out-of-sight with the toys 'on display'- always keeping just a few out for play.

Storing toys in the ottomans freed up some baskets. The basket on the left contains a couple books and a small bag of about eight wooden blocks. The other basket contains our Playmobil Noah's Ark, an all-time favorite. 

On to the bookshelf. I gave in and moved another stack of our (grown-up, non-board) books to another room. I also moved the extra chair and other clutter out of the corner and into another room (which now needs to be organized, of course). Another basket here contains a couple of board books. Just a few toys are displayed on the shelf (and I may even edit this further). 

 This is the final corner of the room. The table is still a favorite (even without the lights and sounds turned on- phew), so that stays out for now but I anticipate stowing that away in the near future. 

That's the large ottoman, where all those toys and books are nicely concealed (hopefully it will be a little while before Evy realizes what's in there and figures out how to bust in...)

I felt like I could see a difference in Evy's play immediately. She played with her blocks for awhile this morning, rather than emptying the bag and moving on. She's always spent a good amount of time with her books, but today she went back and forth between two rather than twelve. And when we brought her to the living room for clean-up at the end of the day, it was a much quicker process!

My remaining challenge here is the stuffed animal situation. Most of them are in E's room and not the living room, but I don't know what to do with them, how to store/display them, or how to cull the growing collection. Evy has been gifted some adorable stuffed animals, and she has a couple favorites, but the giant teetering pile in her room isn't in line with the toy streamlining we're working on. She doesn't really play with them, and they are very hard to store. I really don't know what to do about that one. I guess that's a project for another week!


A Project a Week:: Week 4: Toy Storage

Week: 4
Project: Reign in the toy chaos with some hidden toy storage.

I had to keep it simple this week - dreary weather and plans to travel this weekend mean that it isn't the week for anything too ambitious.

I don't read a lot of parenting books at this point, but Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids has been my recent bedtime reading. The basic idea is that in a world of screens everywhere we look, constant information, and new things to worry about, childhood must be protected and kept simple. With too much pressing in from the outside world, they can feel the pressure and become anxious, unable to focus, or end up with a jumbled-letter diagnosis. The author, Kim John Payne, focuses on ways to slow down and make space for childhood, while keeping the 'adult world' out. It all makes a lot of sense to me.

All of that to say that one of the concepts that resonated with me was cutting back on the number of toys a child has access to in order to simplify the child's environment. I can see a difference in how Evy plays based on the number of toys around. Giving one or two simple toys, she focuses on those, playing independently for long stretches. But given an overflowing basket of toys, she flits from one to the other, pulling everything out, leaving trails of toys as she moves around the house, never focusing on one toy for more than a minute. It's not a good scene for anyone.

My goal this week is to make use of some storage to put away most of her toys, and rotate a few favorites every few days. We have two storage ottomans -one large and one small - that are great for this. They need some organization and shifting of 'stuff', and some weeding out of toys that have been outgrown or broken. 

Pretty straightforward, and hopefully the payoff will be the freedom to be immersed in play, for Evy, and a neater living space for all of us.


A Project a Week:: Week 3: Complete

Week: 3
Project: Organize the plasticware cabinet (and finish hemming the curtains!)
Status: Complete (mostly)

The plasticware cabinet has been tamed! 

While the very-curious toddler was safely napping in her crib, I pulled everything out of the cabinet. (And totally forgot to take a 'before' photo. It wasn't pretty. I'm sure you've seen an overflowing cabinet.)

I had a few rules: 
  • Anything that went back into the cabinet had to have a matching lid.
  • Containers with any sort of damage would be chucked.
  • Anything we hadn't touched in a year would be thrown out or relegated to basement storage.
 Here's what didn't make the cut:
  •  A very fun but never-used, ice-cube tray for making arrow-shaped ice.
  • Two metal racks for our pizza stones. We use the stones once a week, but never use the racks. 
  • Two plastic pitchers.
  • A scraper for the George Foreman grill that we gave away prior to moving to Albany in 2009.
  • A travel coffee mug that I didn't know existed.
  • A stack of lids for plastic deli containers.
  • A burger patty shaper.
  • A lasagna pan that we use from time to time, but not frequently enough to store here. 
  • Several containers either damaged or missing lids.
  • Several lids without matching containers. 
  • A cat-shaped lid for cans of cat food. Our cat has had canned food a total of three times.
  • One of those trays for microwaving bacon. Gag. I have no idea why we own that thing. 
Storage space is at a premium in our kitchen, so weeding out all this stuff made a big difference.

Here's the cabinet after putting the frequently-used items back:

It's not easy to see, but you get the overall idea. It's an organized cabinet! The remaining lids and containers are organized by size/shape. Larger containers and the electric mixer live on the top shelf, cutting boards and containers on the bottom. After taking this photo I relocated our travel mugs from the counter to the area behind the container storage, and placed the toddler snack cups in the open area in front. There is also room remaining for our glass/aluminum food storage containers that currently take up valuable counter space.

Another long-looming project, done!
(Curtain update to follow...)