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!