Friday, December 21, 2012

White Noise in a Can

Visiting family for the holidays, with kids out of their normal routine and home comforts. One thing we can still bring with us is the familiar hum of white noise. Our just-about-4-year-old still loves the sound during nap time (yes, we still got it!) and bedtime. We like to think it drowns out surrounding noises too, for a longer nap.

The key ingredient here for making a White Noise in a Can is this small white "turn anything into a speaker" Rock-It 2.0 portable vibration device (yes, despite the description, it's a speaker, people) which I received as a conference promotional item. It uses two AAA batteries and plugs into a music source. (They even have a Rock-It 3.0 with built-in rechargeable battery.) The "rock-it pod" sticks to something and vibrates it to make noise, so the chocolate-covered-cherry can becomes the speaker!

You probably have an old MP3 player lying around. Smartphones seem to have made these little guys obsolete. Upload a white noise MP3 file to the player, and put it on the repeat-one play mode. Our favorite track is a vacuum cleaner sound we found somewhere on the web for free.

  1. Rock-It 2.0
  2. MP3 player
  3. Chocolate-covered-cherry can (cherries consumed)
  4. White noise MP3 track.

Yes, they have smartphone apps for white noise, but during that nap or bed time might be just the time you want to use your phone. And when traveling, you may want to keep your precious smartphone battery life too.

You can also power the Rock-It 2.0 via USB cable. Shown above, an optional USB AC adapter fits nicely in the can too, so you don't need to use as many batteries!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Less Messy Baking With Kids: Peppermint Fudge Cookies

I love to bake, and I love my kids, so logic would suggest that I love to bake with my kids.

And maybe, one day, I will.  But right now, baking with Anna is usually a 10 minute activity until her attention turns to something else, leaving me with a half-finished product and a trashed kitchen.  I admire her enthusiasm and desire to do everything by herself when it comes to getting dressed in the morning or cleaning up her room, but with baking, independence usually leads to mess and more mess. Did I mention she likes to eat flour?

I have come to terms with the fact that, while imprecise and messy, baking with Anna can be fun if I focus on the process rather than the end result (a much needed lesson for me in many arenas).

When she asked me to bake Christmas cookies together last weekend, this recipe immediately came to mind.  I received this years ago from my MOPS group, and wanted to share it with others who love the idea of baking with kids more than the reality.  These cookies are quick, easy, hands-on, and relative mess-free thanks to the minimal amount of measuring.

1 box of Devil's Food Cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 box of red and white peppermint crunch Andes mints
sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, and oil.

Roll into tablespoon-sized balls with your hands and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Optional step:  At this point, feel free to reshape your kid's slug-shaped dough wads into round balls when she's not looking.

Bake for 8 minutes or until the tops of cookies start to look crinkled.

While the cookies are baking, unwrap Andes mints and try to keep your kid from eating them all.

Immediately after baking, place on mint on top of each cookie.

 After 5 minutes or so, swirl the melted mints with the back of a spoon.  I was hoping for a more swirly red and white frosting look, but they ended up kind of pinkish.  Oh well.  We threw some red sprinkles on there at the last minute to Christmas-ify them a bit.

That's it!  Thirty minutes max from start to finish and only one bowl, spoon and measuring glass to wash.  Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Redemption for the Second Born: A Room of Her Own

In the months leading up our firstborn's arrival, I pored over nursery bedding, studied paint swatches, researched cribs, and literally obsessed over getting her room just perfect.

In contrast, four months AFTER our secondborn arrived, we shoved our clothes into one side of our bedroom closet, crammed a pack 'n play into the other side, and called it good.

(first she slept in the bouncy chair)

(then in the pack n play)

Oh, to be a secondborn.

Then we moved into a new house!  To assuage the guilt of banishing Tess to sleep in a closet for the first year of her life, I wanted to create a really awesome room for her in the new place.  Without spending much money.  And with limited snatches of time.  The previous occupant was a 14-year-old boy, so it is taking some work to transform the room from a teenaged-boy-cave to baby girl sanctuary, a process that very well might take months.  Or years.

But for now, here is project #1, the refinishing of an old dresser.

I picked up this cute little dresser at our neighborhood yard sale, where it was offered for $15.  After some discussion, I ended up paying . . . $20.  Seriously, I might be a cheapskate, but I am the world's worst barterer.

Anyhow, the little dresser was so cute, but someone had decided to paint it eggplant and forest green.  Seriously?  I'm not sure which decade this color combo was hot.  So we read this awesome tutorial on painting old furniture and went crazy.

First came the sanding.  This took forever with our little sander and my hands are vibrating just remembering it.

Then with a half-empty bottle of spray primer, some old ceiling paint from a prior plumbing disaster, and some new drawer pulls from Home Depot, we transformed it into this:

Now it matches her crib, and one day we'll re-do the little dresser that we use as a changing table to match as well.  Every time I walk into her room and see this dresser, my heart does a little happy dance knowing that soon my little girl will have a room as sweet as she is.  Plus it sure beats sneaking into the closet to get clothes without waking her up every morning.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crocheted Flower Hat 2: the baby sister version

I wrote this post several months ago, but I forgot to post it with all of the craziness of buying and selling a house plus travel and work.  Then all of a sudden it was summer and fuzzy winter hats and mittens were replaced by sunhats and sunscreen!  Alas, it was hard to let go, but we are full-on into cold weather again.  Once I made it through the denial stage, I realized that I truly do love fall, with its autumn leaves, hot drinks, hearty soups, and of course, warm fuzzy clothes:

At 9 months of age, baby Tess (above) almost had as much hair as Anna had at birth (below).  Almost.

But it's not quite enough to keep that little noggin warm in these cold, breezy days.  So with the leftover yarn from Anna's hat, I whipped together a little matching beanie for Tess.  I used a spiral pattern rather than crocheting in rounds and joining with a slip stitch, since I wanted to avoid the subtle "seam" that comes with crocheting in rounds.  I modified this pattern to make a hat that had some room for Tess to grow.  The spiral pattern gets a little funky where I start and end the border, but a well-placed flower motif hides that bit.

I couldn't get a good shot of the hat before Tess would pull it off, so I borrowed Anna's bear for a close-up.  Hold still, Baby Grandma Bear:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

This picture pretty much says it all.  Tess feels somewhat disgruntled at being made to wear a bumblebee costume for no apparent reason.  Candy has not yet entered her sphere of consciousness.  Anna, on the other hand, is overjoyed at her first trick or treating experience AND is happy to have her costume on correctly after her self-dressing mishap at preschool yesterday.

Life has been busy lately so we haven't been doing as much making/crafting/creating as we'd like, but we had a little fun making spooky foods for our old PEPS group's Halloween Party last weekend.

mushroom skulls

carrot fingers

olive eyeballs

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Stool Stool

There was a time when it would've seemed strange to me to see a toddler scoot across the floor, poop underneath the kitchen table, and ask for a cookie.

That time has long passed.

In fact, this scene unfolds pretty much every night around 5:30pm.  Just as we get that first bite of steaming food into our mouths, the resounding cry bursts forth from the littlest member of the clan demanding her potty chair: "Potty!  Poo-poo!  Potty!  Poo-poo!"

From all this dinner-time defecation sprung the idea for our next baby gear invention: the high-chair commode.  Basically an elevated potty chair with straps and a tray.  Or a high chair with a removable trap-door.  You get the idea.  We would call it "The Stool Stool."  Why not take advantage of the gastrocolic reflex to do a little double duty feeding and toileting combo?  Another weapon in the fight against the poop-ocalypse.  We have yet to work out the issue of offensive odors during mealtime (Jeff proposed a fan with charcoal filter), but perhaps in The Stool Stool version 2.0.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Caboodle

Upon first inspection to the unsuspecting male, this might seem to be an ordinary, albeit pink, little box.  But any female born circa 1980 would beg to differ.  When I found my old Caboodle tucked away in a bathroom at my parents' house, I was instantly transported to the time of  scrunchies, crimping irons, and Aquanet hairspray.  Oh to be a girl in the 80s!  Home perm?  Oh yes.  Gravity-defying bangs?  You betcha.

I had no immediate use for my Caboodle, yet I couldn't bear the thought of throwing it out.  By happenstance, around the same time, Jeff let drop that he was looking for a storage bin for his soldering supplies.  But could he really bear to store his manly tools in a box that once held a collection of Wet n Wild nail polish?

Good thing he is secure in his manhood.  And I love him for it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I'm Still Here, El Guapo

We're back after a four month blogging hiatus, and what a whirlwind these past four months have been.  We started casually talking about moving, with hopes of finding a new house in the next couple years before Anna starts school.  We thought, why not have a look at a few houses?  Who knew that in our first DAY of visiting houses that we would find the one?.  Apparently, we're the kind of people who take three years to buy a couch, but one day to buy a house.

our awesome realtor, wheeling and dealing to make this house ours
The harder part was/is selling our old house.   First we had to prepare it for staging.  This meant removing 75% of the furniture from the house, though really that meant removing 100% of useful furniture and leaving only decorative display tables and wicker baskets.  Then our realtor hired a professional stager.  The stager continued on the theme of rendering the house unlivable by replacing kitchen appliances with fake orchids and placing breakable knicknacks in low places.  For an entire month, we had to pull the coffeemaker out of the oven in the morning and go to the garage to toast bread.
this is how it looks all the time, really
This was all while going about daily life with a toddler, who has an affinity for scattering toys to the farthest corners of the house, and a baby, who insists on feeding herself and does so with exuberance.  Every morning, the beautifully staged house would last about 10 minutes before being returned to its natural state.  Whenever a realtor would call wanting to show the house, I would fly into a cleaning frenzy while the kids attempted to undo my efforts.  Did I mention that they were also on totally opposite napping schedules, meaning that any time of day that someone wanted to see the house, one of the kids would have to be rudely awoken from a nap?  If I had known how difficult this whole process would be, I would've said, "Forget it, dream house.  You're pretty great, but this might be the death of me."

In the end, we survived the house showings (though it's still on the market), survived a nail-biting multiple offer scenario on the new house (thank you, Jesus!), survived a move (just barely),  and here we are.  After the move, Anna told us, "I want to stay here in the new house forever."  We couldn't agree more.
the new house's treehouse
The new house is rife with possibilities and just crying out for projects, so we hope to get some of them up on the blog soon.  First up is putting Tess' room together.  After living in our closet for the first year of her life, she deserves some guilt-ridden overcompensation in the form of a really cute room.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cloth Diapers and the Poop-ocalypse

Like many Seattle-ites and other parents out there, we jumped on the cloth diaper bandwagon when our firstborn made her entrance into the world.  For all the benefits (saving money, sending less junk to landfills, getting to outfit your baby in cute diaper covers, blah blah blah), there’s no getting around one glaring downside.   You will be washing out a lot of poop.  A few years back, our then-single and childless friend Jeremy expressed shock and disgust that we washed cloth diapers in the same laundry machine that we use on our regular clothes.  Is that disgusting?  Maybe to non-parents.  But Jeremy's day is coming soon, for he and his wife Chrissie are expecting a little bundle of joy, AND they're planning on using cloth.  Yippee!  So this post is dedicated to Jeremy and all parents who are considering cloth but aren't so excited about the prospect of handling poop.

In the pre-kid era, Jeff and I considered ourselves somewhat immune to the yuckiness of poop.  After all, Jeff grew up on a mini-farm and once almost drowned in a lagoon of cow manure.  And while I wasn’t literally up to my neck in poop, I have done my fair share of gastroenterology rotations in med school and residency.  Not to mention working as a nanny before that.  But nothing could prepare us for the sheer magnitude and variance of the poop that parenthood would bring.

I remember the early days of Anna’s life, when she would leave tiny streaks of sticky newborn poo on her diapers, and we would naively congratulate ourselves on our fortitude for not being grossed out by diapers like so many parents we knew.  Then in the coming weeks, she impressed us with her, well, productivity.  And explosivity.  Jeff developed a rating scale to quickly communicate the magnitude of her output, ranging from a 1 (barely necessitating a diaper change) to a 10 (full soilage of diaper, outfit, surrounding environment, and caretaker, thus necessitating a load of laundry, a shower, and a glass of wine).  This is also known as the poop-ocalypse.  Yet we still patted ourselves on the back for handling her mustardy breastmilk poo-poo with hardly a second thought.  But, oh, did we have another thing coming.  Enter solid foods and a new realm of utterly foul diapers.  Suddenly our pro-cloth diaper stance began to waver. If we were going to make it to the potty training stage with cloth diapers, we were going to have to add some anti-poop weapons to our arsenal.  Here were our weapons of choice:

Weapon #1: The disposable diaper liner.  These little papers resemble a dryer sheet that goes inside the cloth diaper.  If the baby leaves a little present, the liner can easily be dumped into the toilet and flushed down.  While great in theory, these failed the practicality test, since they cost up to 5-10 cents a piece (seriously? for a sheet of beefed up toilet paper?).  We didn't use these for long.

Weapon #2: The diaper sprayer.  We hit a freecycle jackpot on this one!  This hooks up to the toilet and sprays poop off the diaper into the toilet bowl so you don’t have to do the whole “dunk and swirl” business.  Caution advised, my friend, spray downward.  Downward!

Weapon #3: The potty chair.  At 8 months of age, Anna decided to go poop every time she sat in her high chair for dinner (oh she’s going to love this story when she’s a teenager).  Seriously, every single day.   Invariably, our hot dinner would grow tepid as one of us left to deal with a poopy diaper.  After a few weeks of this, we decided that enough was enough and in frustration, plunked her on the potty chair to let her do her business.  Who knew she would love it so much that she would then refuse to poop in diapers from then on?  We started the same thing with Tess around 7 months, when she could sit on the potty without falling off.  Boy does she love using that potty chair!  Unfortunately, it hasn't solved the problem of cold dinners (tonight BOTH of the girls interrupted dinner to use the toilet), but it sure has cut down on dirty diapers.

Parents: how do YOU handle cloth diapers and the poop-ocalypse?

Friday, April 13, 2012

For the Love of Dairy, Part 3: Blessed Are the (Goat) Cheesemakers

In the bleary postpartum haze following baby Tess’ birth, I was struck with sudden inspiration.  We would learn to make cheese.  Cheese, you ask?  Cheese?!?  Somewhere between dead-of-the-night feedings of a newborn and endless stories and trips to the park with a toddler, cheesemaking sprung to the top of my must-do list.  Blame it on hormones.

Jeff read an article in Make about making goat cheese, so we decided to give it a go.  Since we weren’t hitting the clubs much those days, we planned the experiment for a home date night.  Yes, pretty wild bunch we are.  Due to our failure to plan ahead, we made the mistake of doing steps 1-4 on our date night, which took a grand total of 5 minutes.  We spent the rest of the date night twiddling out thumbs and struggling to stay awake until a respectable time to go to bed (say, 8:30pm or so).  Then I had to do the more labor-intensive steps 5-9 involving cheesecloth and large amounts of liquids while holding Tess in one arm, when Jeff was at work the next day.  Oops.


1 gallon goat milk
¼ c buttermilk
rennet (can buy in specialty stores or online)
1 ½ tsp salt
dried herbs (we used garlic and dill)
cheesecloth or clean handkerchief
large stainless steel pot with lid


1. Sterilize the pot by boiling ¼ cup of water for 5 minutes with the lid on, then discard the water.
2. Combine the goat milk and the buttermilk in the pot, and heat to room temp (65F) over a low flame.
3. Prepare the rennet following the package directions, then add to the pot.  Stir well to combine.
4. Let the mixture sit undisturbed at room temp overnight- no jiggling! no prodding!

5. Go to bed.  Pray that the baby will sleep for 3 hours in a row.

6. In about 12 hours, the milk should have formed a curd (i.e. be slice-able with a knife).  If not, let it sit a few more hours.

7. Boil the cheesecloth to sterilize it, and spread it in a colander.

8. Cut the curd into 1” cubes with a long knife, and scoop them into the cheesecloth.

9. Gather the corners of the cloth and secure with a rubber band.  Set the colander over a bowl in the fridge, and let the whey drain overnight.  Be sure a check the bowl before you go to bed, as it might be overflowing.

10. Go to bed again.  Lower your standards and hope for a 2 hour stretch of sleep.

11. When the cheese is done draining, it will be the consistency of whipped cream cheese.  Add salt and herbs of choice.

12. Bring to a party to impress your friends.  Or eat it all by yourself during a middle-of-the-night feeding.  Really, nobody will know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

For the Love of Dairy, Part 2: Yogurt in the Slow Cooker

In the past month, four of my coworkers have joined the homemade yogurt revolution.  Three have become converts.  One continues to waver on the fence after several botched attempts.  She plaintively asked what could be going wrong, as she sheepishly produced a Yoplait from her lunch bag.  Upon further investigation, it turns out that she had strayed from the original formula and was heating the milk in a saucepan or in a rice cooker.  Why?  No jars, she said.  Not even a single empty PB or spaghetti sauce jar languishing in the recycle bin?  No.  Well, never fear, here is a jar-free and foolproof way to make delicious yogurt at home with your trusty slow cooker.


a slow cooker

1/2 gallon of milk (2% or whole)

1/2 cup of yogurt starter (any plain yogurt with live, active cultures)

a beach towel or blanket



Pour 1/2 gallon of milk  in the slow cooker and place the lid on top

Turn on low for 2.5 hours

Turn off, leaving lid on for 3 hours.  At this point, the milk should be roughly 90-110 deg F.

Gently stir in about a half cup of starter and replace lid

Wrap in a large beach towel or blanket for 6-12 hours, leaving undisturbed

Transfer to containers and chill in the fridge.


That's it!  Be sure to set aside half a cup to use as the starter for your next batch before digging in.  The yogurt might seem a little soft at first, but after cooling in the fridge, should firm up a bit.  If it's still too runny, you have the option of pouring it into a coffee-filter lined colander to drain some whey off.  This yields thicker, almost Greek-style yogurt, but is messy and cumbersome.  Or next time, I've heard you can add some dry milk powder in at the step when you mix in the starter, though I've never tried this.

This method is super easy and requires very little active time, but I prefer the jars method because it doesn't require scooping out and transferring the yogurt, which I think makes it runnier.  The jars also allows for making different types of yogurt at the same time, like 2% for the grownups and whole milk for the baby.  And you don't have to spend time transferring yogurt and then washing a big heavy slow cooker pot.  Instead, if your baby is anything like our baby Anna was (see above), you can spend that extra time washing off the white hand of Saruman from your baby's hair after she digs into that delicious yogurt you just made.

Monday, March 19, 2012

For the Love of Dairy, Part I: Homemade Yogurt

In my opinion, the ideal do-it-yourself cooking endeavor should encompass at least three out of four traits: taste better, be more nutritious, save money, or be relatively easy.

Example #1: Rotisserie chicken. (insert loud buzzer sound)  Zero out of four.  Even with hours in the kitchen, I could never make one as delicious as the $4.99 Costco kind.

Example #2:  Ravioli. (repeat angry buzzing sound).  Maybe one out of four at most.  Do people really make this from scratch?  Non-Italians, I mean?  If so, props to you.  And feel free to drop by any time to "show" us how.

Example #3: Yogurt. (insert happy dinging sound)  Four for four!  Homemade yogurt is so delicious, healthy, and simple.  Really.  You might be thinking to yourself, "Make your own yogurt?  Next she's going to tell me to milk my own cow."  But before you dismiss me as a granola-loving, butter-churning, commune-living pseudo hippie, hear me out.

I first started making yogurt a couple years ago to save some money, as our little household was going through a good half-gallon or more a week, but soon I found that I really did prefer the taste of homemade to store-bought.  I was shocked at the amount of sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, companies managed to pack into those little cups.  After reading about yogurt making here, I went to town.  It might sound complicated, but trust me, if you can boil water, you can make yogurt.



3 or 4 glass jars with lids—canning jars are great but any sturdy glass jar will work
a large pot
a dishtowel
a picnic cooler
milk—I’ve had success with 2% and whole, never tried skim or 1% but they might work
1 cup of yogurt starter—basically a plain yogurt with live active cultures.  My favorite is Trader Joe’s European style yogurt.  I've also had good results with Brown Cow, Tillamook, and Mountain High.


The basic gist:

Heat the milk to 185 degrees to sterilize
Cool to 90-110 degrees
Add yogurt starter (i.e. yogurt with live cultures)
Incubate at 90-110 degrees for 4-24 hours


The detailed instructions:

Fill the jars with milk, and place them in the pot over a dishtowel, tucking the towel in between the jars a little so they don’t knock together and break.  Fill the pot with water.

Bring the water to a boil and allow the milk to reach 185 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell it’s ready when the milk forms a skin on top.

Remove the jars from the heat and set on the counter, skim the skin off the milk, and place the lids on.  Place the lid on the pot to keep the water warm.  Take the yogurt starter out of the fridge now to let it warm up a little.

Allow the milk to cool on the counter to somewhere between 90-110 degrees (in our house this usually takes about 60-90 minutes).  Some sites recommend putting the jars in an ice water bath to cool faster, but I have broken more than one jar this way, and a quart of milk exploding in the kitchen really takes the fun out of this whole endeavor.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell the milk is ready when you’re able to hold the jar in your hand without burning yourself, but it still feels pretty warm.

Add the yogurt starter, roughly 2 tablespoons per quart of milk, taking care not to stir too vigorously.  Just a couple figure 8s with the spoon will do.

Place the jars and the pot of water (or at least a big jarful) in a picnic cooler surrounded by a towel for 4-24 hours.  The goal is to keep it at 90-110 degrees for incubation, though I've never measured.  Resist the urge to peek too often; the yogurt sets better if undisturbed, and you don't want your heat to escape.  I usually put the yogurt in at bedtime and pull it out in the morning.   With a toddler and an infant, I’ll let you guess how long that span of time is.  Good thing yogurt is hard to mess up.

That's it!  Now you have pure, unadulterated yogurt to devour.

Note: If you are lactose-intolerant like me, you might be happy to learn that many yogurts have low lactose content and are more easily digested than, say, a cup of cow's milk.  I am still on the quest for a truly lactose-FREE homemade yogurt product, though.  Trial #1 with soy milk was a total fail.  One bite and I nearly threw up in the sink.  Trial #2 with lactose-free milk yielded a yogurt with a delicious flavor but a texture that was alarmingly like mucus.  The quest continues . . .