Practicing Gratitude (Thanks Hannah)

Hello again! I apologize for my blogging absence. We suffered from some serious seasonal allergies and then were super lucky to have a lot of different visitors come to Pensacola.

We had such an awesome visit with these guys!

We love living on the Gulf Coast. The white sand beaches are amazing, and the weather this time of year is perfect. But sometimes it’s tough to be so far away from family. My husbands uncle and his beautiful family came to visit for a long weekend and it was a whirlwind of awesomeness. We went swimming, ate so much good food, and had even more memorable conversations. Their visit left us feeling so grateful for our relationships and the time we got to spend with them.

Dexter and his cousin Keegan

Practicing gratitude is something we have been working on as a family since the start of 2019. Practicing gratitude is regularly taking time to notice and reflect on the things you’re thankful for. Practicing gratitude can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

My awesome sister in law Hannah keeps a gratitude journal. Every single day she writes down the things she is grateful for. Hannah and her journal are what inspired what our family now does.

Dexter and Hannah December 2015

Every month I hang a new large sheet of paper in our kitchen. As a family we talk about what we’re thankful for and write it down. We also talk about why we’re thankful for those things. Some examples are: healthy children, flowers, a home to live in, feeling the sunshine on our skin

Our goal is to each add something every day. (Full disclosure-we don’t actually do it every single day, but we are working on it)

It’s always interesting what Dexter comes up with. I try not to say no to his ideas for what he is thankful for. Sometimes the ideas are strange, like ‘killing mosquitoes’ but I add them anyway because who am I to say what he should be grateful for?

Practicing gratitude is such an easy and important thing to do. It allows us to see how many little (and big) things we have to be thankful for. It is so easy to get caught up in life and forget about how truly blessed we really are. Spending a few minutes every single day thinking and talking about what we are grateful for has been such a good practice for my family. It is definitely something I want to continue past 2019 and teach our sons to always do.

I am truly grateful for learning how to practicing gratitude. Thank you Hannah.

Homemade Vegetable Broth

We go through a lot of vegetable broth in our home. I use it in soup, when making rice, and other dishes like shepard’s pie and even for simmering vegetables for added flavor.

I have been making homemade vegetable broth for a few years now. It’s SO simple and easy, and saves money.

I start by saving vegetable scraps in a gallon size bag in our freezer. Every time I have vegetable scraps I add them to the bag.

I save things like carrot peels, onion peels and ends, bell pepper scraps, and kale stems. Some people say to not use broccoli, but I personally don’t follow that rule. That’s up to you! I don’t save potato peels, moldy bits, or lettuces.

Once the bag is full, I dump it in our slow cooker. Then I add any fresh herbs we have (parsley, thyme or bay leaves) but if we don’t have any on hand, I don’t worry about this step. I always add some garlic. I like to save and use those tiny pieces that are in the middle of the clove that are too small to peel and chop.

I rinse out the gallon bag, and reuse it again and again for storing my broth veggie scraps.

Once all of the vegetables and herbs have been added I fill the rest of the slow cooker with water.

I personally don’t add any salt or pepper, but this is totally personal preference. If you want to add some, go right ahead!

I cook the veggies on low for about 12 hours. I like to do it overnight. At the end of the 12 hours, I let the broth cool and then strain all of the veggies, seeds, and peels.

And now you have delicious, healthy, and inexpensive vegetable broth! It smells amazing, and tastes so great just on it’s own! I like to just sip on a glass!

At the end of the 12 hours

I like to keep 1 or 2 mason jars in the fridge for easy use, and then freeze the rest in 2 cups portions.

In my slow cooker, this makes about 14 cups of vegetable broth.

Store in the fridge, and use fresh vegetable broth within 4 or 5 days. Frozen broth will keep for about 4 to 6 months.

But wait, there’s more!

There’s something so sweet and innocent about watching a baby learn to eat. Their fat little faces covered in food and excitement. Waylen had his first food right about the time he turned 6 months. Just like his big brother, his first food was avocado. We mostly use baby led weaning (post about this coming soon) which gives the control of the food to the baby. So we have a lot of messes. I mean A LOT.

Thankfully, we have 2 big dogs who don’t mind cleaning up the big pieces of leftovers. They quickly learned with Dexter to hang around the kitchen (more specifically the high chair) when the baby eats.

But there is still some cleanup that has to take place after the dogs have done their part. The high chair is where most of the mess happens. Wiping down the seat and tray is easy enough. But the cloth straps can never really be wiped clean. After handing a baby a sliced avocado and letting them go to town, the straps are down right nasty.

So if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar baby high chair situation, here is my simple solution.

OxiClean! Did you know that the main active ingredient in OxiClean is actually hydrogen peroxide?

Remember the infomercials years ago?

If you’ve seen OxiClean in the store, you know there are so many different products now. I specifically use the one with a green lid that says versatile stain remover, free. On the EWG website they have given this specific product a ‘B’ rating. Not all of their products have a good rating, so check on this website before you buy!

Environmental Working Group

Back to the cleaning of baby messes!

I just remove the straps from the high chair and let them soak in a small amount of OxiClean for about 20 or 30 minutes. Once they have soaked for about 5 or 10 of those minutes, I scrub them and then let them keep soaking. After about 30 minutes I rinse them in hot water and then let them air dry.

I do this about once a week, and the straps look brand new each time.

So Waylen can keep learning about food and make all the messes he wants. Momma has the power of OxiClean!

Positive Parroting

Everyone always says that toddlers repeat pretty much anything they hear. And isn’t it funny how it almost always seems to be the bad stuff, we wish they would never repeat? Like the bad words we say when we’re driving? Or the words we shout in pain after we’ve stubbed a toe?

But what about the way we talk about ourselves? Self talk is our internal chatter. The way we talk to ourselves in our minds. Sometimes this talk comes out verbally. Self talk can be positive or negative, and our little ones are listening and learning from everything we say about ourselves.

One day after I got Dexter dressed, I was telling him how handsome I thought he looked. His reply you may ask? “I look gross.”

My heart immediately sank. He without a doubt learned that from me. There have been numerous occasions where I can’t remember the last time I showered or put makeup on, and I am not feeling my most attractive. I have said those exact words to my husband when I’m feeling down about my appearance. And Dexter heard them, remembered them, and then repeated them about himself. My heart broke a little bit when I realized all of this.

I know I’m biased because I’m his mom, but I think Dexter is one of the most beautiful things I have ever laid my eyes on. Not just because he has gorgeous blonde curls, or sparkling hazel eyes. But he is sweet, caring, funny, and intelligent. I make it a point to tell him every single day the things I love about him because I want him to have better self esteem than me.

But that clearly isn’t enough. I have to work on how I think and talk about myself because he is listening to, observing, and absorbing everything I say. The good, the bad, and the gross.

So as strange as it may feel, I am working on using more positive self talk and language. Not just for my kids, but for myself too. Saying good and positive things about ourselves feels uncomfortable. But why? It doesn’t make us conceited, or full of ourselves. It means we love ourselves. And isn’t that pretty important??

I am a good mom. I like my freckles, the color of my eyes, and my smile. And I like that I am working on making myself a better person. That is more of what I want my toddler to hear and repeat. He’s going to parrot what I say anyway, so I might as well make it good!

I want to be like my baby

It hit me like a bus one afternoon while I was feeding Waylen lunch. I want to be like this kid. He was wearing a red striped shirt with two penguins on it, and he had baby food alllll over his face. He was shoving his fingers in his mouth (thank you teeth for taking FOREVER to come in), and a serious twinkle in his eyes. He is happy. I mean SO damn happy. And I want to learn to be happy like him.

He doesn’t worry about what others think of him. Hell, he doesn’t even know how to worry yet! Can you imagine that? He literally doesn’t even know how to worry. Crazy. He doesn’t worry about what he looks like, or what he wears. How much time do we spend every single day worrying about little things, or things we can’t control? Sure, as adults there are always going to be things we need to take care of, remember to do, or consider for the future. But maybe we can take a lesson from this (STILL) toothless ray of sunshine and worry a little bit less.

Little things make Waylen SO happy. I wish you could see the way his face lights up when he first sees his big brother in the morning. He gets the biggest, sweetest smile on his face when he sees Dexter. And then we get a repeat of the heart melting smiles as soon as he sees his dad. Meanwhile, I’m shuffling my feet along the floor, and grumbling to the boys not to talk too loudly until I’ve had at least a few sips of coffee. Waylen wakes up with a smile on his face, and happily shares his joy with everyone around him.

Do you know what else is great about this baby? He lets you know when something is wrong, if he needs something, or if he’s unhappy. He doesn’t hold it in, or pretend that everything’s sunshine and rainbows. That’s one thing I know I need to work on myself. If something isn’t right, or I’m unhappy about something, I need to speak up about it. Growing up, I often felt like I couldn’t talk about my feelings, or if I didn’t like something. Through years of this conditioning and witnessing others in my life keep quiet about their feelings, I became really good at it too. But this sweet little baby hasn’t experienced any of that. If he’s hungry, he fusses a little bit, and actually has recently started trying to get into my shirt on his own haha

He also doesn’t hold on to anything negative. (Yes, I know, he doesn’t hold on to anything positive right now either) This kid has endured quite a lot in his short life. He has survived a Seriously Crazy family tragedy (that’s another blog post for another day) and then moved across the country and flew on his first airplane at three weeks old. He has moved to two different houses already, and made a middle of the night emergency room trip for a dangerously high fever. That’s just the big stuff. He’s also dealing with all of the normal day to day things a little brother experiences…like big brothers sitting on your head, and squeezing you too tightly when they do try to be sweet to you. He doesn’t dwell on the fact that his life has been slightly unstable so far, or on the fact that his family may or may not be totally insane. He just lets it go and rolls with the punches.

It seems like Waylen’s life is a less complicated, and perhaps easier than mine. People always joke about how all babies do is eat, sleep, and poop. While that may seem true to a degree, especially in those first few months, we know that’s not all babies do. Babies also bring a tremendous amount of joy to our lives, give those lives a whole new meaning. Of course, as we grow up we learn bad habits, pick up negative talk and thoughts, and we lose our innocence. But maybe babies can be a reminder to worry less, focus on being happy and feeling joy every day, speak our truth, and to let the negative things go.

Letter of the week(s)

After months of me trying to force him into caring, Dexter has recently started showing interest in letters of the alphabet. As a former elementary school teacher, I find myself constantly searching Pinterest for educational activities for Dexter to do at home. A few months ago I stumbled upon the amazing world of sensory bins, and we constantly have one of those going for him. In case you don’t know what sensory bins are, a sensory bin is a plastic tub or a large container filled with materials and objects chosen to stimulate the senses. Some of Dexter’s favorite materials for his sensory bin are dry rice, dry beans, small plastic animals and plenty of cups and spoons for scooping.

Dexter playing with a sensory bin.

So anywayyyy…once Dexter started showing interest in letters I decided to start doing a letter of the week for us to focus on. When I say week, it actually means multiple weeks because I have yet to switch the letter on a weekly basis. Life with a toddler and a 6 month old that has just started to crawl means things frequently get pushed back.

I don’t make our letter of the week too complicated because I know I won’t be able to keep up with complicated.

The letter ‘S’ sensory bin has: rainbow rice (super easy to make), a stegosaurus, plastic snakes, blocks with the letter ‘S’ on them, plastic sharks, seashells, and two foam bath tub letters. (Not pictured are the cups and measuring spoons for scooping and playing)

We always do these things:
a sensory bin filled with lots of things focused on our letter
rent books from the library that star our letter
talk a lot about the letter and what it sounds like
point the letter out to him when I see it (in a book, magazine, on a sign, in a menu, on a shirt, etc.)

Dexter filling the letter ‘D’ with play-doh

If I’m feeling super motivated, I add in one or two of these too:
making letters out of play-doh
writing letters in shaving cream
writing letters on the chalkboard
practicing with letter magnets

That’s it! That’s how easy it is! He has already made progress on identifying letters and isolating/identifying the beginning sounds of words. He’s only three years old, so I don’t expect him to be able to identify every letter of the alphabet or spell his name right now. Right now I am presenting the letters of the alphabet in a fun and comfortable way. If he learns some of the letters, that’s awesome! If he doesn’t remember the letter we’re working on, that’s okay too. My purpose for doing letter of the week(s) is to simply expose him to letters and teach him about their sounds and what they look like. I am not expecting him to be some kind of letter genius and remember every single letter and their sound.

As I’ve mentioned before I’m not saying that I’m an expert on what I write about on this blog. This is just what’s worked for us and our family so far, and I like to share. Have you done any of these activities with your kids? Do you have any letter activities or advice about toddler alphabet activities that you would like to share? Drop them in the comments to share with everyone!

YAY for letters!

Quick and Easy (and healthy) Homemade Popcorn

Popcorn has been one of our family’s favorite go to snacks for years. Not only is it delicious but it’s also healthy and easy to make. Popcorn is 100% whole grain, gluten free, full of insoluble fiber (helps keep you full and keep things moving), and it’s low in fat and calories.

My easy to follow recipe is much healthier for you than microwave popcorn. A chemical coating used in microwave popcorn bags breaks down when heated into a substance called perfluorooctanoic (PFOA). The Environmental Protection Agency has identified PFOA as a ‚Äúlikely carcinogen”.
Um…No thank you.

And have you ever heard of “popcorn workers lung”? It’s a debilitating respiratory disease that microwave popcorn factory employees can get. It’s caused by extended inhalation of a chemical found in the fake butter flavor. Now, I know, I know…when you pop microwave popcorn you’re probably not inhaling very much of the butter flavor. But is that really something you want to eat and put in your body?

My recipe only takes a short while to make and is a lot more fun to watch pop, especially with kids!

I definitely recommend buying and using organic kernels. This means the corn was grown without the use of chemical pesticides, chemical or non-organic growth agents or additives.

Sneaky toddler hand grabbing a taste

Let’s get poppin’

2 tablespoons organic coconut oil
1/2 cup organic popcorn kernels
pink Himalayan salt for sprinkling to taste

In a large sauce pan warm the coconut oil over medium heat. Once the oil is melted and warmed, add 2 or 3 kernels. Once those first kernels have popped, add the remaining kernels. Cover the pan and gently shake it. Once the kernels have started popping, you need to shake the pan every 15-30 seconds to prevent burning.

Once the popping has dramatically slowed down, remove the pan from heat, and pour your popcorn into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with a little pink Himalayan salt, and enjoy! (I recommend enjoying while warm to experience the full deliciousness)

What does “crunchy” mean anyway?

Topanga Lawrence- the crunchy OG

A quick Google search of “crunchy mom” will give you many results. The biggest piece most of them have in common is moms living a more natural life. That’s the beginning of most crunchy journeys. Wanting to live a natural life that is healthiest for yourself, your family and for the environment.

People who consider themselves crunchy might (being crunchy is not an all or nothing thing) take part in:
vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian/all organic diet
essential oils
baby wearing
cloth diapering
unmediated childbirth
alternative/holistic medicine
natural/chemical free products

There are so many more things that could be added to this list, but I’m sure you get the idea.

My journey into the crunchy life

For myself, and a lot of other women I know, my journey for a more natural life really began when I found myself pregnant with my first son, Dexter. I was already a vegetarian who liked to shop at the farmer’s market, but
I still found myself questioning things I had never thought about before.

“What’s in this lotion? Are there chemicals in it that I don’t want the baby to get?”

“Is this lettuce organic?”

“What does organic really mean? What’s a GMO?”

“Is our water clean enough? What’s really in our water anyway?”

“HOW LONG does it take for a disposable diaper to decompose??”

The questions just kept coming the further along I got in my pregnancy. I started reading more and more pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding books. I couldn’t imagine the pain of actually pushing a baby out of my body, but I also couldn’t imagine the consequences of an epidural either. So I decided that an unmediated, low intervention childbirth with a midwife was the way to go for me.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Our crunchy life just sort of snowballed from there. We started keeping our own chickens, I breastfed my oldest son until he was 18 months, and we use essential oils, coconut oil, or apple cider vinegar for pretty much any ailment.

Like I said before, being crunchy isn’t an all or nothing thing. At least the way I see it, as long as you are making conscious decisions to live a greener, cleaner, more natural and healthy life, then you’re in the club.