Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Daycare Stories

Ava painting her lion's face.
 Last August, we moved Ava to hear new daycare to give her some more learning opportunities. I'm so thrilled with the transition. She loves her new daycare because of the activities they have for the kids. They have many art projects based on a weekly theme, which keeps their day interesting. The caregivers are very sweet and the other toddlers in her classroom interact well together.

Ava goes to daycare when I work from home for a half day two days a week. Those days are harder than when I drop her off early on the days when she's there all day while I'm at the office. She's very attached and when we have the morning together, it's hard. But when I'm back to pick her up, she's very happy and tells me or shows me what she's done while she's there.

Ava loves the tunnel at daycare!
When I arrive to pick her up, she says "Hi, mama" and runs to me so we can nurse in the rocking chair. Then I gather up her daily paper that shows what she's done all day. My favorite part of the daily paper is her note from one of her teachers. They tell a story about Ava's day about an activity that she enjoyed. She really enjoys her time at daycare so it helps make me feel relaxed while I'm working. As a working mom, I'm relieved to leave her in a place that she's growing and having fun all at the same time!

Here's a peek into some recent daycare stories from Ava's teachers:

"Ava had a good afternoon. She enjoyed listening to Christmas stories and dancing to music."

"Ava had fun playing with gift boxes, wrapping paper, and bows. They liked hiding toys inside."

"Ava had fun talking to herself in the mirror today and seemed to be rehearsing a wide range of emotions (A budding actress?)"

Hi, Mommy!
"Ava had fun learning to laugh like Santa Claus today 'Ho, Ho, Ho'." --She had fun saying Ho, Ho, Ho during Christmas with her grandparents, too!

"Ava ate pretty well at lunch. I haven't seen her eat that well before."  -- Yah! She ate ziti, applesauce and bread and butter.

"Ava is eating better and was full of energy"

"We went outside briefly today to try out our coats"

"Ava was entertaining us. She had a book and was singing and moving her around. It was funny."

"Ava had fun making a snow man out of paper shapes today. "We're talking about sizes (small, medium, large circles)."

"Having lots of fun shaking our jingle bells to the holiday songs lately. Also lots of painting projects."

"Ava likes to climb up on chairs and help whenever I try to decorate the bulletin boards" --She is a big helper at home too!

"Ava loves listening to the Nutcracker. She likes to conduct the orchestra."

"Ava thought it was exciting to stand on the window sill until she couldn't get down by herself."

"Ava had a good time copying her friend today. She wanted to do everything he did today."

"Ava has been determined to walk sideways on the window sill every chance she can get. At first she was scared." --I'm glad to see her be more daring!

"Ava had enjoyed painting and drawing. She sticks with it longer than the boys did."

I love these short vignettes and insights into Ava's day. It's fun to capture these to watch her grow!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Cookie Tradition

Ava loves playing with flour.
Add sprinkles to a cookie before baking.

Holiday baking is a fun tradition for many families. We made these cut-out cookies on Christmas Eve, using a recipe that Aaron's parents have made when their kids were growing up. Even though they have been a long-standing tradition, it's been a few years since my mother-in-law has baked them. They have been missed for sure! Ava, at this age, is very interested in helping out in the kitchen so we took the time on this quiet Christmas Eve afternoon to bake. Ava loves to help in the kitchen so she enjoyed it! She helped for the entire process.

The cookie dough is made out of cream cheese and butter so they make very moist and thick cookies, than the traditional crisp cookies. I don't usually like sugar cookies, but this recipe is so good. And my mother-in-law says that dough is easier to work with than other recipes because it's not too fussy and easy to work with compared to others. We decorated the cookies with sprinkles and buttercream frosting.
You can use any shape for different holiday occasions.

Easy Shape Christmas Cookies 
Serves 2 dozen

3oz soft cream cheese (12oz*)
1/2 cup soft butter (2 cups)
1/2 cup brown sugar (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt (2 tsp)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (4 tsp)

Stir by hand until well blended

Add 1 2/3 cup (or 6 2/3 cup) flour until dough forms into a ball. Knead 1-2 minutes, adding flour as needed until not sticky. Roll onto a floured surface to 1/4 inch thick, cut with cookie cutters.

Bake on a 350 degree oven until edges are brown (about 15 minutes). Cool on a wire rack.

Refrigerated dough may keep for up to 2 weeks.
Helping Grandma collect the dough to roll it out again.

  • My mother-in-law always makes a quadruple batch of these cookies for her family because there are large gatherings. I noted the quadruple amounts on the ingredients list for your convenience.You can use any shape to make these cookies for other occasions. 
  • We made a butter cream frosting and added green food coloring to decorate our Christmas cookies. 
  • Some people like them without frosting so Michele directed me to leave some plain. That's a good idea if you make them. Ava didn't care for the frosting either.

Tasting the freshly baked cookie.

The cookies don't expand much so you can pack it on the baking sheet. They just puff up.

Frosted with sprinkles.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Wishes from the Berkey's!

Sitting on the side of the house on a chilly December afternoon.


Looking like a little girl, more than a baby these days.

A serious face.
The holidays are among us! Wasn't it just Halloween or Thanksgiving? I've never experienced such as fast pace of life until I became a mother! Life is so busy, fun, and sometimes stressful. But at the end of the day when we're all together as a family, it's the most precious time. So many people look back so fondly at the time when their children were young and I'm hoping to enjoy every stage as much as possible.

We're leaving for Aaron's parent's house to celebrate Christmas with his family in Northern Indiana. We're going to see his grandmother, sisters and their husbands, our nephew, and close family friends.

But first, I wanted to share some family photos that we took a couple weeks ago on a chilly afternoon. Our friend, Shawn, takes all of our family photos and since he sees Ava often, she's really comfortable with him. She was in a playful mood, which helped. Shawn waited for the perfect moment for the sunset and he got a great shot of all of us.

Happy Holidays from the Berkey's!
Her favorite book right now is the Charlie Brown Christmas book with sound buttons. It was given to her by Grandma Anna.
Ava loves books.

Happy girl.

Ava loves her kid-size rocking chair.

6 years of marriage have flown by!

Aaron had a good idea to take photos of just us.

Our family in the front yard just as the sun was setting.

Last photo of the shoot.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Squash Bars

Ava helping me make the Winter Squash Bars.
If you follow my blog, you know one of my favorite cookbooks is Simply In Season using the fresh seasonal produce in healthy, multicultural family meals. I highly recommend getting a copy of the book! The cookbook is made as a companion to your community-supported agriculture subscription.

Autumn is my most favorite time for cooking in season! I love squash, root vegetables, apples and the warm spices in the fall season.

I've made these Winter Squash Bars from Simply in Season a couple times recently with the butternut squash we've received in our produce bin. I use an entire squash in each recipe. Ava likes the bread for breakfast and snacks and it's great for sharing at a potluck or a surprise for your coworkers. The snack bread is very moist, fluffy, and light. You make a pan of the bars and freeze portions of it for later. I haven't tried it, but the book says that the recipe freezes well.

Roasting squash is really easy.
Preparing the squash / Make Ahead Step: Slice in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and membranes. Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven on a cookie sheet for 30-40 minutes until tender. Let cool. Using a spoon, scrape out the cooked squash. Puree in the food processor. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Winter Squash Bars  (Makes 24)

  • 2 cups winter squash or pumpkin (cooked, pureed) *I used a whole medium butternut squash
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat together in a mixing bowl or stand mixer

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix in. Pour into greased 11x7-inch jelly roll pan or 9x13 casserole dish. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

*The original recipe is 1 + 1/2 cups of sugar, but I think 1 cup is plenty.

Little ones in the kitchen: Ava loves to help in the kitchen and when she helps me, I let her beat the eggs in a bowl before putting them in the stand mixer. And you can see in the picture that she likes to spread the batter in the casserole dish.


Getting Crafty

Before I became a mother, I was really into crafts especially making greeting cards and paper crafts. I have missed the creative outlet and stress relief of making crafts. But life with a toddler is so busy that I rarely have time to blog so making crafts is usually bottom of my list.

But recently, Ava has been really interested in coloring and crafting herself! Because I have so many supplies, I often pull out my colored pencils, stickers, and papers for her to play with and I'm thrilled that it captures her attention for quite awhile. Sometimes, she will spend 20 minutes sitting at the table and it helps her hand eye coordination! I consider working on crafts a stress relief activity, especially on a weekend afternoon when you want to decompress from a busy week.

A couple weeks ago on a cold Sunday, I decided to make some monkey puppets from a kit that I got from Paper Source during a recent trip to Chicago. There are 5 different patterns in the kit and Ava picked the astronaut and hula dancer. She had fun with a big box of crayons while I made these puppets.

While I worked on the puppets, I gave her the extra scraps of paper and she drew on a page for a memory book for a daycare staffer that was leaving. 

Ava has been enjoying looking at the puppets. I gave them to her to play with and she wanted to pull off the flowers from the hula monkey. Funny girl!

I look forward to many years to come with sitting at the table crafting together!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Thanksgiving weekend was so much fun and relaxing at the same time. I took Tuesday and Wednesday off from work leading up the holiday so it was great to have time at home to take care of errands, household chores, and organizing. I took Ava to daycare those days for half days so that I could focus on my projects, while she followed her routine. We were looking forward to spending four days with the Berkey family and friends.

We drove up to Aaron's parents lake house on Thursday morning since we had a small gathering and our larger traditional Thanksgiving on Friday with my mother-in-law's side of the family. Our friend, Mathew drove in from Northwest Indiana with his young daughter. The first hurdle is always the two and half hour drive. Ava does not like long car rides and rarely falls asleep in the car. She is much better with air travel than car rides because she is stuck in the carseat. Flights are so much easier because she likes being on my lap. We just got a new portable DVD player to help keep her entertained on long drives. It really helps! She doesn't watch much TV so she totally zones out watching Elmo or any other kid DVD we borrow from the library. It buys us sometime, then she gets really antsy. So we try giving her snacks, water to drink, books, puzzles, an iPhone with baby games to play. And just as she was starting to lose it just south of Fort Wayne, Grandma called and she entertained her by talking on the phone. It really helped! We were planning to stop in Fort Wayne (2 hours into the drive) for a quick nursing session and refueling the car. Nursing helps because she get a break from the carseat and give her some snuggle time. When Grandma had to go to finish baking her pies, she recruited Grandpa to help, but that's when she had enough so we stopped. It was fun to see Ava talking on the phone. She was mostly listening and heavy breathing, but she laughed and sang. It was really cute!
About to lose it in the drive to Grandma and Grandpa

Talking to Grandma. Laughing, singing, and heavy breathing. Grandma loved it!

Homemade cranberry sauce is simmering.

Fun on the piano.

When we arrived at the house, I made homemade cranberry sauce for the turkey on Friday. I looked up my favorite recipe from Cooking Light that I have made for several years and I was so excited that they featured my recipe review in their Reader Favorites section for the cranberry sauce. It's really easy and tastes so fresh and delicious. I got some fresh cranberries from my weekly produce bin and I added to it with another pint that I froze last year. You simmer the sauce with orange juice, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and allspice. It naturally thickens. I like to make it the day before to chill in the refrigerator and let the flavor deepen.

Ava had a blast visiting with her friends and playing with Grandma and Grandpa Berkey. Aaron's grandmother and aunt and uncle came over on Thursday afternoon for a steak and baked potatoes meal. Some years we do both Berkey and Parmenter family gatherings with turkey, but this year, they opted for steak. Aaron and I had chili beans on our baked potatoes instead of the meat. I was excited that Ava enjoyed Great Grandma Berkey's fresh cranberry salad with oranges, celery and walnuts. It's really tasty! She also loved the pumpkin pie! She ate a thin sliver all by herself.

Later that evening, we visited with Aaron's best friend and his family. Ava loves playing with Zac and Christy's 3-year old son, Colt! They're going to grow up like cousins because the Bollingers are close friends of the Berkey family, which is great because Aaron and Zac are the brothers that they never had, being in a family with two sisters each.

Early Friday morning, Aaron's sister Megan and her family came over. Ava had fun playing on a push cart with her cousin, Colin! They did a great job sharing and taking turns doing the ride, letting Grandma push them around in the cart. Ava and Colin are only 4 and 1/2 months apart, which is fun that they're in the same stages together. The Parmenter family started to arrive for the Thanksgiving meal and we had so much fun visiting and catching up. My mother-in-law is one of 8 siblings so we're used to very large gatherings. But this year it was very quiet with only a handful of the family in town, but it was really nice that you could talk to everyone longer. You can tell the grandparents loved having both their grandkids in the house together that day!

Being silly with Grandma Berkey.
Cousins sharing Grandpa's lap.
Later Friday night, we headed over to visit the Black family. Chris and Betsy have 3 kids and their youngest is only 5 days older than Ava. They're the same height, but he has 6 pounds on Ava! We had fun visiting them and Aaron's friend, who was in town from Turkey to get his Visa and spend the holiday with his family in Indiana. Ava didn't sleep a wink on the late drive home and thanks again to Dora the Explorer for saving us from a complete toddler meltdown at 10pm for a 20 minute drive! She fell asleep instantly when we got back to the Lake.

Reading old school story books with Daddy.
What I love about the Lake house is that we have our bed there so we always have a place to sleep. We keep our things there so it's easier to pack on our regular visits. And our room faces the back of the house with the trees. Bill and Michele have a huge bookshelf with the books that Aaron and his sisters enjoyed as children. Before Ava's nap one day, Aaron read her a story and I enjoyed the sweet moment. She's really interested in keeping tabs on Mommy and Daddy is all the time, especially with all the family and friends in the house. This trip, Mom B. gave Ava her Daddy's baby quilt! We put it in her bedroom for her to snuggle.

Digging Grandma's pumpkin pie!

Relaxing morning.
Nursing a toddler with Bena on my lap.
 On Saturday, the house was really quiet since all the family had gone home and it was just the 5 of us left to relax. We all just relaxed and ate leftovers. Ava loved the pumpkin pie and asked for it when she caught sight of it on the kitchen counter. She got a hold of a measuring cup, one of her favorite things to play with at home too! She likes to transfer things from different bowls and cups, especially standing on a step stool to help in the kitchen. Zac's sister, Hilary, dropped in for a few minutes with her 3-year old son, Kaine, and 6-month old daughter, Kendall. Ava loved seeing the baby and gave Kaine lots of high-5's.

Last night, Chris and Betsy and the kids dropped by again for another short visit. Their baby, Sam, and Ava had fun sorting sea shells. Bena was snuggling on my lap for awhile, then Ava decided she wanted to nurse. I pulled her into my lap, then they both settled together while Ava nursed. It was really sweet! Usually Bena freaks out sharing a lap, but she wouldn't budge. I bet it was because of all the activity. And Ava didn't mind for sure. Toddler nursing is so different! She nurses often, but briefly during the day and longer for naps and in the evening. I'm happy to continue nursing since it has protected her health so well. Some kids in her daycare class have been sick for weeks. It's really comforting that she's thriving. I know that it won't last forever and she'll soon outgrow the need for nursing, but for now, we're enjoying it.

Big girl used the potty to pee 2 mornings in a row!
Another new thing is Ava is starting to use a potty! She started to get really curious about the whole bathroom experience. She is very aware of her wet and dirty diapers. Since we're using cloth, she can feel the wetness. Also, with cloth, I empty her dirty diapers in the toilet and then put them in the diaper pail by the toilet. It's all related to each other. Compared to when we used disposables, you keep the diaper pail in a bedroom and toss the whole thing away. It's kind of a mental disconnect that I never thought of until now. In general, she is very curious about the toilet. So last week, I bought her a potty. She was so excited and curious. I got a potty that has different phases that grows with the child. The seat comes off and attaches to the big toilet and it always doubles as a step stool. I love using her leg warmers and cloth diapers because the velcro closures on her diaper covers are so easy for her to remove herself and the leg warmers keep her warm now that the weather has cooled off.

I noticed that she usually pees in the morning after she wakes up. So the first morning after we got the potty, I asked her if she wanted to sit on her potty and she nodded. I sat her on it and she decided to stuff her PJ bottoms and washcloth inside. I told her that she can't put anything in there because that's where she pees. And a few minutes later, she did! I was so proud of her! She was excited, but it also seemed so natural to her. Later that day she sat on it, but didn't pee in it. But then Thursday morning, we did the same thing and she peed! I was so excited! Aaron said she was a little surprised when she peed in her potty. It's a new sensation for sure.

At the Lake on Friday morning, she stood outside the bathroom and told us that she had to go to the bathroom. Grandma noticed it so I rushed over to take her diaper off and asked her if I could hold her on the big toilet since we left hers at home. She said no, because she didn't feel comfortable that way. But she peed on clothes since I took her diaper off. But, I was SO excited that she told us and that she knew she had to go.

I'm surprised that she's interested at 20-months, but I know lots of babies that start potty training at this time. I'm trying to follow her lead and not trying to force the issue. I don't want her experience to be negative. I'm thinking that we'll offer her to use the potty in the morning as a new routine and go from there. I'm thrilled with our decision to use cloth diapers. I remember hearing that potty training is so much easier for cloth diapered babes and so far, it seems to be the case for Ava. Obviously, it's still the very beginning, but it's big first step!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chicago Visit

Mom's Caesar salad turned into a baby's adventure.
Last weekend, Ava, Bena, and I drove up to Chicago partly for my work trip and then we stayed for the rest of the weekend to visit family and friends. Aaron was out of town all weekend for his annual canoe camping trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with his two best friends, Zac and Chris. They're totally off the grid all weekend, even without cell service.

We left on Thursday morning starting out on the 3 1/2 hour drive to Chicago. My work meeting was at 4pm and I booked a hotel room for me and Ava to stay in downtown in the Loop near my client's office. The leader for the Chicago user community is a mom too and she offered to hook me up with a babysitter, which was a huge help. The only catch was that we had a very short timeline because the babysitter goes to high school on the far north side of the city and I had to pick her up and get them settled at the hotel before I left for my meeting. I dropped Bena off at her old daycare kennel for the night since couldn't stay in the hotel with us. She had a blast playing withe dogs while she was there.

Ava didn't have an afternoon nap that day so she was exhausted to say the least. When I left for my meeting, Ava was really upset. The babysitter was really sweet and tried to play with her and even put her down for a late nap. I went to the meeting, but I couldn't stay for the happy hour. I got a text from the sitter that Ava couldn't stop crying. I headed back to the hotel and she was a mess. The poor thing was all red and really upset. I finally got her settled and then we ordered some dinner. It's really hard to be a working mama sometimes. My clients were really understanding that I had to miss the social hour, but it was worth it that I could go for the meeting part.
Friday morning, we got up early and picked up Bena from her doggie daycare, then went to visit our friend Viviana and her 4-week old baby, Valentina. It was so great to meet her baby and see her transformation into mommy-hood. Vivi is such a good hostess that she insisted on cooking breakfast even though I was hoping to cook for her so she could sit and relax with her baby. When I held Valentina, I put her in my ring sling to show Vivi how to use it. Ava got really jealous and when I picked her up too, she pulled at the sling because she wanted the baby out of HER sling. I guess she is not ready for a sibling. Wow!

We had a nice visit, then we headed to Aurora to my sister-in-law, Megan's house. Later that afternoon, Ava got to play with her cousin, Colin. That weekend was also Colin's 2nd birthday so we brought him a bag of fun art supplies. I wish I could have gotten a better picture of Colin and Ava, but these two tots move so quickly! I asked Ava if she wanted to hug Colin and she went in to hug and kiss him and he turned away. I guess he was too shy. It took them awhile to warm up since they hadn't seen each other in awhile. Then later that day, Megan had some pizza on her plate and the kids were interested. She fed them pieces like baby birds. It was so cute! Colin and Ava will have fun years ahead at Grandma and Grandpa's lake house!
Trying to hug her cousin.

Hug attempt #2

Playing in Colin's high chair.

Tranquility for a toddler's afternoon nap.

Homemade greeting cards.
Early Saturday morning, we left the Gingerich's and headed back to the city. My friend, Valeri, arranged for us to take a Paper Source holiday craft workshop in Evanston that morning. She asked her sister to watch Ava while we went to the class. Vanessa was great! She put Ava in the stroller and had Bena on the leash to head to the park while Val and I headed to the class. They had a blast in the park. Bena got squirrel crazy and Ava got swing crazy! When Ava sees a swing she says "wee, wee." She even feel asleep for a nap after the park and a snack. I was relieved because of how badly the previous babysitting experience was for that trip. Val and I had so much fun at Paper Source. We used to take the workshops back when I was living in Chicago. We stamped, glued, cut, embossed, glittered, and you name it. I got some supplies for holiday greeting cards, tags, and a fun paper baby monkey puppet craft set to make for Ava this winter when we spend our days indoors.

Later that afternoon, Val, Ava and I headed to the Andersonville neighborhood for a quick visit with our friends, Lauren and Dave. It was fun to catch up and hear about their recent travels. We're hoping to host them in December in Indy.

At Val's that night we had pizza and her mom's Greek salad, then watched a movie. Ava fell asleep in my arms while we were watching TV snuggled up in her blanket. Ava loves the city so much! The sights and sounds are so interesting so she stays awake, fighting her naps. Even on the long drive she doesn't sleep very much either. Thankfully, my friend, Lisa, lent me her portable DVD player. I borrowed some DVDs from the library for the drive. Ava loved the Elmo and Dora videos, which really saved me because she didn't sleep much.

We left on Sunday morning for the 4 hour drive. Val lives on the far north side of Chicago so the drive is about 4 hours. I stopped halfway through on Sunday afternoon to perk up with some iced coffee and I got some french fries to share with Ava. We only get fast food when we're on a road trip so I don't feel too bad, although I don't want to make it a habit! It was a very busy weekend, but so worth it!

Stroller ride in Andersonville

Driving home with a treat and DVD.

Pumpkin Carving

Before we say goodbye to October, I had to post these fun Fall pictures from our Sunday afternoon carving the pumpkin that we brought home from the pumpkin patch. We have been so lucky this season to have a gorgeous sunny days and the colorful leaves. We live in a wooded area so there's no shortage of leaves. Aaron raked them into a pile and we put Ava in it while were carving our pumpkin. Bena jumped in too!

We told Ava to throw the ball into the pile of leaves so that Bena could sniff our the scent to find her ball. It's a fun challenge for a hunting dog!

 Before we carved the pumpkin we put the funny pair in the grass.
 Ava loves silverware. She swiped the spoon that I was using to scrape the insides from the pumpkin. Aaron carefully carved the jack-o-lantern and my job was to clean out the inside. We roasted the pumpkin seeds in butter and sea salt.

 There's Bena posing for her beauty shot. Bena's favorite season is Fall too. She blends in with the colorful leaves and grasses, which is perfect for hunting birds. She likes the cooler temperatures. Even though Vizsla's don't have an undercoat, they get very warm because of all the running around that they do. Bena loves to catch the ball in the backyard and seems to go forever in the Fall.
We placed the pumpkin at the front door and Ava had to check it out!

Aaron carved Ava's name on the side of the pumpkin for her.

The line-up....

Love that ruffle butt.

Our little family after our pumpkin carving afternoon.