Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I Get "Nothing" Done All Day

If you're a HuffPost reader, you may have seen an article published recently written by Janie Porter of {a blog I happen to enjoy} explaining why SAHMs get nothing done all day. I am one who is frequently trying to explain to my husband why the house looks like a disaster area even though I was home all day. Sometimes I look around myself and think, "GOSH, look at this place! What the heck did I do all day??" And then I remember. I take care of a 4 year old and 15 month old all day. While I really enjoyed reading her explanation of why she gets nothing done all day, there were some striking differences between hers and the reasons I get nothing done all day {spoiler alert: her housekeeper arrived while she was trying to get ready for a play date... that has never happened to me}. And so I was inspired to document a typical day around here and share my own version for what it's worth.

6:30 am - Josh's alarm goes off. It doesn't totally wake me up, but sleep becomes light and intermittent as I hear him up and about getting ready for work. Also, it's sunny.

7:30 am - Josh is about to leave for work and Carsen hears him. He brings her into bed with me so she doesn't wake Reagan. He kisses us goodbye and is on his way. Carsen wants to snuggle. In case you're wondering, by "snuggle" I mean she wants to lay with her forehead pressed against mine and pinch/play with the skin on my neck while she sucks her thumb. Just to clarify.

7:45 am - Carsen is bored of "snuggling" and asks to watch DisneyJr on the Kindle. I hand it to her and reclaim my neck skin. I close my eyes in a somewhat more comfortable position while I listen to an episode of Sheriff Callie in one ear and Reagan stirring around on the monitor in my other ear. If you're unfamiliar with Sheriff Callie, I'd urge you to pull up a clip of it on YouTube and then try to close your eyes and relax while it plays. Doing this in your last 30 minutes of potential rest/sleep for the next 18 hours will help give you the full effect.

8:30 am - Reagan is undeniably up for the day. Carsen jumps up to go in and talk to her while I get dressed, put in my contacts, and brush my teeth. I get clothes for the girls and we head downstairs.

8:45 am - Reagan can not function in the morning until she nurses. She just refuses. I don't even try to do another thing before nursing her, because she's already yelling at me about it before my feet hit the living room floor. I nurse Reagan while Carsen whines about how she's hungry and wants me to feed her first.

9:00 am - Head into the kitchen to get breakfast for the girls. On most days they want some combination of fruit, Greek yogurt, and Cheerios. The order of which varies day-to-day. Today everyone had yogurt first. Since our kitchen table & chairs sold on Craigslist 2 weeks ago, we've been eating on the living room floor. So, we head back to the living room where Carsen feeds herself, and I feed Reagan. I turn on the Today show so I can have a clue what's going on in the world today, and I learn something useless like what's trending on Google.

9:15 am - The girls are ready for their 2nd course of breakfast which today is Cheerios. Carsen asks for hers in a bowl with milk and Reagan gets hers on the tray of her high chair. Since they can both manage this themselves, I'm free to make something for myself for breakfast at this time. I pull out the eggs to make my usual scrambled eggs with parmesan and whatever suitable meat is in the fridge. I also prepare two cups of milk to take out with me for the girls.

9:30 am - Momentarily the girls are finished eating. I wipe their hands and faces, give them their milk cups, and sit down to eat my breakfast. Both girls stand in front of me asking for my food. Carsen asks politely for a "taste" while Reagan frantically signs "eat" while yelling "ee, ee, ee, ee!" and climbs onto my lap. I share a few bites and shoo them away so I can eat. Carsen obliges, Reagan does not.

10:00 am - I manage to finish my breakfast and start hauling all the dishes into the kitchen. While standing at the sink I'm reminded to grab a mug for coffee. I place it under the Keurig and go back to the dishes.

10:05 am - Crises in the living room. Reagan is standing on the couch changing tv channels and Carsen needs help opening a bin of Barbies to play with. Reagan has pooped. I change her diaper and decide I'll try to catch the host chat segment of Kelly & Michael. Carsen is now playing the xylophone and Reagan wants to climb on me.

10:15-11:00 am - We play, dress up, cry, sing, fight, and read books.

11:00 am - I decide it's time to head outside for a little while. I go out onto the deck to clear spider webs from the night before and wipe out the water table. I spend about 10 minutes getting the water table wiped, positioned for maximum shade, and filled with water. Another 10 minutes passes while Carsen uses the bathroom and I get shoes on everyone.

Note: this photo was taken from inside the house after we played, because it hadn't occurred to me to take any photos of our day before this moment. 

11:30 am - We're outside enjoying some sunshine and splashing in the water table. This lasts about 20 minutes before the girls are too hot {bright red sweaty faces} and ready to go in.

12:00 pm - The girls play in the play room while I try to empty the dishwasher. I get about 3/4 finished before my help arrives.

12:15 pm - I notice my coffee cup still sitting under the Keurig awaiting the coffee I never made. I make coffee and join the girls in the play room.

12:30 pm - Reagan is signing to "eat" and wants a snack before her nap. I give her a banana, clean her up, change her diaper, and take her upstairs to bed. Carsen asks to watch Super Why while I put Reagan to bed.

1:00 pm - Back downstairs to make lunch for Carsen and myself. Since we're eating in the living room I let her continue watching Super Why while we eat. After lunch she lays on the couch to rest. I've decided that napping for 3 hours was just too much of her day at age 4. If she's not interested in resting on the couch, it's at least time for her and I to spend 1-on-1.

1:30 pm - While Carsen rests I have a minute to reply to texts, emails and FB messages about things I've posted for sale. I try to get back to everyone and coordinate times/days to meet up, answer questions, etc.

2:30 pm - I retrieve another half a dozen items from the basement that I need to take photos of and post for sale. I work through taking photos first, then start writing up the postings on Craigslist, then add photos and info to my FB "for sale" album.

3:30 pm - Reagan wakes up. She needs a diaper change and we play for a little while.

4:30 pm - We go back outside on the deck to play again. There's more shade in the afternoon so we get close to an hour of outside time.

5:30 pm - Josh is home from work. The girls are happy to see him and are immediately done playing outside. I clean up and drain the water table and head inside to make dinner.

5:45 pm - I prep dinner while Josh and the girls play. Reagan visits the gate in the kitchen doorway frequently to fuss at me and let me know she'd like me to hold her / she'd like to come in to play with the recycling and throw my dish towels on the floor. I simultaneously try to finish my cup of coffee.

6:15 pm - Dinner is ready. I cut some up and take it to Reagan. She's happy to see food. Carsen whines about her dinner which I'm on my way back to the kitchen to get. Josh feeds Reagan while I get Carsen's plate and my own plate ready. I return with our food while Josh goes to get his. Reagan is done with her food first and then proceeds to other family members to beg/borrow/steal from their plates.

7:00 pm - Dinner is finished and I clean up while Josh and the girls play a little more. After cleaning up I join them for some running around and giggling.

7:45 pm - We sit down to read a few books to settle before bed. Carsen doesn't want to read books. Reagan chooses a few of her favorites. Carsen sits down with us despite not wanting to read books and complains about the choices. I suggest she choose a few herself. She goes upstairs to her room and returns with the complete Beverly Cleary collection, Ramona Quimby - Ralph S. Mouse {a boxed set we have for her for later}.

8:00 pm - Reagan realizes someone is on the stairs and immediately wants to go up for bed. She's funny like that. I quickly change her diaper and put her in pajamas. She whines through hugs & kisses as they simply delay her getting upstairs for bed.

8:30 pm - I nurse and rock Reagan, then put her in bed. Josh lets Carsen choose a few videos to watch on his phone while they snuggle.

9:00 pm - I get back downstairs and have Carsen use the bathroom and brush her teeth. Normally Josh does bed time with her while I'm rocking Reagan, but I told him I'd do bedtime for both girls tonight. So I take Carsen upstairs, say bedtime prayers, and again "snuggle" with her, this time in her bed, for 5-or-so minutes.

9:30 pm - I'm back downstairs. This is the hour or so to accomplish anything that hasn't been accomplished today. It's also the only time Josh and I have to spend together without the girls. Much like my time with them during the day, it's hard to choose this time for chores. So, I straighten up a little and check back in with Craigslist/FB buyers. Then we sit on the couch for a little while, chat about things {mostly moving and what needs to get done}, and have a snack.

10:30 pm - It's time to head upstairs. I need to take a shower. Josh gets ready and goes to bed. By 11 I'm in bed myself. Most nights we don't hear anything from the girls, but I'd be lying to say they never wake up - they're kids. This particular night Reagan was up at 3:30 and wanted to be rocked back to sleep. Aside from that 20 minutes of awake time, I started this whole crazy routine over again around 7 the next morning.

So, it's not really that I get nothing done all day, it's just that I don't always get done what other people might think I should. I get plenty of playing, laughing, and caring for children done. I do art, and lessons, and reading. We run errands, attend story time, and visit friends and family. But this is why there is dust, and laundry, and crumbs. This is why some days we look around and every single thing we've done is evident, as well as everything we haven't done. What a mixed up world we live in that we consider a mother spending all day raising and nurturing her children to be getting "nothing" done. Yet the "something" we'd have her do instead is wipe dust off of end tables and fold laundry. Are we serious? If you're asking me, the things I accomplish are far more valid uses of my time as a stay-at-home-parent than if I were doing housework all day. Which of these has more impact on the world? Which of these is a more accurate measure of the person I am? Most importantly, which of these matters most to my family? Sure, a house needs taking care of and chores need to be done. Don't worry, mine get done {and not by a housekeeper}. I find the time here and there to do those things and we're all none the worse because a little dust sat around for a few days. This time that I have to be home with my children is so so short and the most important time of my life. One day when I look back on it, I don't want to remember hours and hours of chores or a sparkling clean house. I plan to remember laughs and snuggles and make-believe and tickles and kisses and dancing and stories. Hopefully I think of all the fun we had and struggle to recall how or when the chores ever got done at all.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Minimalist in Overdrive

Few things will give you a solid shove from being a minimalist-at-heart to a minimalist-in-overdrive like the prospect of moving three times in two years. While I've always been a minimalist-at-heart, as many people are, putting it into practice amidst everyday life and while married to a life-long collector is a whole different ball game. The problem is that once you realize you have way more stuff than you need, and that box of things you thought you might need at some point has gone untouched for half a decade, you then have to find the time to start sifting through it all. The take-away lesson here being: don't let the stuff accumulate in the first place. But alas, it happens. And sometimes it takes a huge life decision like moving your family of four out of your 3-level house and into a single bedroom and bathroom in someone else's basement to really light that minimalist fire under your rear.

Thankfully, we were making a lot of progress before the decision to move had been made. My collector husband reached the realization a while back that we would likely never own a home large enough to display the vast amount of toys he had collected over the years, and if we did some day own that much space we probably wouldn't dedicate it to toy display {I mean... seriously}. So over the past couple of years he has drastically reduced his stockpile. At the same time we've really paid attention to what comes into our house and have made it a twice-yearly tradition {once in the spring and once in the fall just before the holiday season} to donate any and all unused household items to a nearby shelter. We've pared down our wardrobes, toy shelves, linen closet and kitchen cabinets/drawers significantly. Still, despite these efforts we have a lot more than we need, and way more than we're willing to haul with us for a 3-part move.

Since we'll be in a 1-bedroom situation for the first 6 months, the majority of the things we keep will be in storage. We'd like for that to be absolute essentials and things it doesn't make sense to just replace later. On the other hand, inexpensive items or things that we're not sure we'll even want or need when we finally settle into our own place are all being sold or donated. The less stuff we have to store, the less money we have to spend on storage, and the more money we're saving for our future forever home. Beyond that, it's just less to move, unpack, and find a new place for when we do settle in a permanent house.

Here's our 3-step plan to dramatically minimize our possessions as quickly as possible:

1. Trash what can't be used.
Our HOA rents a dumpster twice a year for residents to throw out larger items that can't be put out for regular weekly trash pick-up. We knew that was coming up, so we planned ahead. We hired my niece to hang out with the girls one weekend so we could go through a bunch of stuff and set aside everything that needed to go when the dumpster was here. We had a decent amount of pretty big stuff, which was a great start to clearing out the clutter.

2. Sell what's worth selling.
This is where we are right now. In our sorting process, we set aside things that would be worth selling on Craigslist or eBay. I even created a Facebook photo album in case friends or friends-of-friends are interested in any of the items. A lot of it is nicer stuff that we just haven't used but aren't sure we're going to need and don't want to store "just in case." The first things that went were our kitchen table & chairs, our kitchen island cart, and an area rug. There have been a bunch of other smaller items that have sold and we still have lot of stuff listed. Since we're on a time schedule, we've decided we'll give our stuff 5 weeks on the market, and at that point we'll schedule a Salvation Army pick-up for whatever's left.

3. Donate what doesn't sell.
As I just mentioned, we have plenty of stuff in good condition that we just don't need to hang on to. We'd love to sell it since it's in decent condition- some of it is even new-  but we don't have forever to wait on that. So after 5 weeks, anything that's left will get picked up by Salvation Army and go to a new home!

That will be three weeks before our scheduled move. At that point we'll be left with only the things we absolutely want to take with us. If you've ever purged your space of unneeded items, it's a huge relief. You don't think it matters to hang onto a bunch of stuff in case you want it one day, but there's totally a freedom in letting go of it. That feeling is seriously intensified when there's a real need to part with the stuff rather than just a desire. This stuff has to go before we move, so watching it disappear day-by-day is not just a relief, it's sanity-saving. It will greatly simplify our entire packing and moving process. Perhaps best of all, when we do finally settle in to a permanent home we'll have much less extra "stuff" to instantly clutter our fresh new space. Instead we'll have just our necessities and most-loved items with plenty of open, uncluttered space to live in and enjoy. And we can't wait :)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Only Way Out

In 2007, Josh and I were engaged and planning our future. We both lived in apartments, but wanted to buy a house to start our life together, if possible. In those days, lenders would pretty much make anything possible, and we bought our first house. It was a 3 bedroom townhouse on a quiet street just slightly outside the bigger, more expensive city we really wanted to live in {literally across the street the zip code changes}. We were so excited. It was exactly what we were looking for and would get us by until we had kids who needed play space.

I probably don't even need to tell you that by the end of that year we were upside down in our mortgage. Seven years and two little girls later, we still live there and could not sell the house for the amount we owe on the mortgage. That wouldn't be a big deal except that we now have a 4 year old and a 15 month old. The house that that was great for us as newlyweds just isn't working for our family of four.

This year as the weather warmed up we really started feeling the pinch of our lack of outdoor space. I tried taking the girls out front to play {there is a sidewalk between our front steps and the parking lot} but Reagan is too young to understand not to run out in the road and she loves to climb up our concrete front steps- accidents waiting to happen. Keeping an eye on her means that I have no attention to share with Carsen who quickly gets bored amusing herself with just some sidewalk chalk or bubbles and asks to go back inside. With the help of Pinterest, I've gathered some creative ideas for things to do with them outside this summer {that can be done on our front sidewalk}, but that's a band-aid on the bigger issue. Yes, we could make-do. We could get by here. We could totally drive 15 minutes each way to the nice park after breakfast and morning #2s, then have exactly 20 minutes to play before needing to head back home for nap time. But that sucks. And it's not what we want for our girls' childhood. We want them to have a yard of their own where they can run around barefoot and catch fireflies, or have a camp-out with their cousins. We want a driveway where they can learn to ride bikes and a neighborhood where they can take off on them. And if that's something we can give them, we're going to. It's time to move. Past time.

But... we can't sell our house right now. After talking to our realtors, the best {and really only} solution for us is going to be to rent it. I don't love the idea of being landlords, but our realtors have owned a property management company in the past and are very willing to help us out. Even more importantly,  we get to move on to {literally} greener pastures without having to suffer through until the value of this house recovers.  That gets us out of this house, but since this mortgage will still be in our names, our realtor suggested "crashing" somewhere for a few months if we could until our rental income gets established. Thankfully, Josh's parents were willing to let us do that. They have a spare bedroom and full bathroom in their basement, so the plan is to stay there for about 6 months and then  rent a house of our own. We'll rent for about another year and then start looking to buy hopefully our forever home.

It's going to be a little chaotic, but it's very exciting. We've wanted to move for several years now and are so happy that we're finally on our way. It'll be a lot of work, and stressful at times I'm sure {living with another family, and then in a rental, while being landlords... eeek!}, but the payoff is beyond worth it. In fact, when we think about where we could be in 2 years, we feel like we'd be crazy not to do this. So stay tuned for all the crazy details. Our first move {of the 3} is planned to take place in 8 short weeks!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Amazing Gracie

More than a few times over the past two weeks my contacts have been rendered totally useless by mid-afternoon from excess buildup of salt. More than a few times over the past two weeks my 4-year old has looked at me and said, "Mommy, it looks like you're a little bit sad." Over the past two weeks I've mowed down more than a few trees worth of tissues. You see, the past two weeks have been exceptionally difficult for our family as we had to say goodbye to our sweet baby niece, Grace Adalyn.

Just a short month ago my younger brother, Ben and his wife, Jenna {twenty-somethings and parents to an adorable 2-year old} went for a routine 20-week anatomy sonogram to check on the baby they were expecting in October. That day changed all of our lives forever. The sonogram showed that they were having a baby girl, but also that she had some very serious health problems and physical abnormalities. Further testing would lead to her diagnosis of a condition called triploidy- Gracie had 3 sets of each chromosome instead of two. This meant that she would not be able to survive outside her Mommy's womb. 

The future became uncertain. There was no way to predict how the rest of the pregnancy would go or how long it would last. Many factors were at play including an increased risk for preeclampsia, a condition that can only be remedied by delivery. Ben and Jenna were determined to leave things in God's hands and let Him do the decision making. In the meantime, they would do everything they could think of to cherish their time with their sweet girl and preserve memories of her to hold onto after she went to Heaven. 

Almost two weeks ago the time finally came. Jenna had developed preeclampsia and needed to deliver for her own health and safety. Labor was induced and Grace Adalyn was peacefully born into Heaven in the early morning hours of June 18. Our family gathered at the hospital to meet her, hold her, pray over her, and to support her parents and big brother. She was absolutely beautiful. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

We had done our best to explain the situation to Carsen at the tender age of 4. It wasn't that long ago that she welcomed her own baby sister into the world, and we knew she would be wondering why Gracie wasn't around. We told her that Gracie was a very special girl, and that she was going to live in Heaven with God when she was born. We might as well have said that Gracie won the lottery and a unicorn. Carsen was just thrilled for her baby cousin. All she knew was that Heaven is an amazing place where the likes of God, Jesus, and "don't forget Mary" hang out. To her, this was nothing but wonderful news. So on the morning of June 18 we let her know that it was Gracie's big day and she was going up to Heaven. 

Thursday and Friday were spent making sure every detail of the ceremony, planned for Saturday morning, would be exactly what Ben and Jenna wanted it to be for their baby girl. It was an honor to help in any way. My job was to bring balloons, tags and pens so everyone could write a message to Gracie and send it up to her attached to a balloon. Friday night as Josh was saying prayers with Carsen before bed and talking about what we'd be doing in the morning, she said the most precious thing. She told him that next time it's Christmas, she's going to ask Santa for wings so she can go up and visit Gracie. It ripped my heart out, but I'm so grateful for her innocent little 4-year old perspective. She could only see the beauty and wonder in this situation and absolutely admired her very special baby cousin who gets to live with God.

That Saturday morning we gathered at the cemetery. Ben, Jenna and Eli were surrounded by friends and family. A light rain fell from the gray sky, like millions of tears from Heaven to remind us that God hurts when we hurt. Carefully chosen music played as friends and family gathered, hugged, and cried. Their pastor led a beautiful ceremony. And then it was time to give Gracie her beautiful send-off. Everyone wrote messages on little tags printed with Gracie's name and birth date, tied them to a balloon, and all at once we let them go into the sky. It felt like letting go of my own beating heart and watching it float away. It was the saddest and most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I walked over to Ben and Jenna and my sister as the balloons floated away and we just hugged each other and sobbed. It's just something that no one should ever have to do, and that's all you can say. Ben and Jenna certainly made it as lovely and heartfelt as such a day could possibly be. In a few minutes the balloons were out of sight. Ben was allowed to personally place Gracie down in her grave so he could be the last person to handle her. Everything went beautifully.

Sending all our love up to our precious Gracie

And now we try to put the pieces of our shattered hearts back together. We'll continue to talk about Gracie and honor her memory. We'll go on with our lives forever changed because of loving this amazing baby girl who we haven't even officially met. And we'll comfort ourselves knowing that she is whole and healthy and perfect, and we'll get to see her again when we get to Heaven.

Until that day I'll always marvel at how such a tiny girl, in such a short time, touched so many lives and had such a profound impact on our family. We'll never be the same. We're stronger, closer to each other, and closer to God. And if possible, I think we might even love a little deeper. She'll forever be our little angel who we'll spend our lifetimes dreaming of meeting.

You can read the entirety of Gracie's story beginning with her diagnosis on May 16th herePlease feel free to share this story. We would love for the world to know her and for her story to impact even one other person. 

If you would like to reach out to Ben and Jenna and support them through this extremely difficult journey, you can do so here and here.

The song that played during the balloon release...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phase 1 Reset: Complete!

Success! I completed my 30-day diet reset last week and I'm here to tell about it!  I began this whole journey to better health as a result of my Hashimoto's thyroiditis (hypothyroid). While my symptoms were fairly mild, I had been experiencing very cold hands & feet, dry skin, hair falling out, and low energy. After doing lots of research on healing Hashimoto's naturally, I came across Chris Kresser's book, Your Personal Paleo Code, and decided to give his plan a try. Lots of people wanted to know if I noticed changes, so now that I've completed the first 30 days, I thought I'd give an update on how it went and how I'm feeling.

First, like I mentioned, my symptoms were mild. I still have them to a degree but I feel like some of them are improving. I've definitely noticed an improvement in my sleep. I used to wake up periodically all night and now I'm sleeping soundly until morning {unless the kids wake me up, of course, ha!}. When I wake up in the morning I've also noticed that I feel rested and ready to get up. I used to always need like 15 minutes of "wake up time" before I felt ready to get out of the bed. That has been a really nice change and I'm sure a side-effect of better sleep in general. Another great positive change I've noticed is that I no longer crave sweets throughout the day, or really snacks at all. I used to keep chocolate in my fridge at all times because at some point during the day I'd have a serious craving and if there was no chocolate I'd end up eating a bunch of other crappy stuff. Now I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Occasionally I munch on a few bites of something in between meals, but it's usually something like a banana or some almonds. I am never in need of a "sugar fix."

So, now that the 30 day reset is complete, I had the option to add some foods back to my diet. I knew I wanted to try dairy since I missed it the most and was quite confident it didn't cause me any problems. After a few careful trials, I've added it back completely with no negative effects! I don't eat it the way I used to {half a gallon of milk per week over cereal}, but I enjoy it within the context of my new eating habits. Mostly, I add some cheddar cheese to things like scrambled eggs or a salad. And I made "meatza" which was much better than I had anticipated! The other things I've added back on a very minimal basis are honey and maple syrup. If I do need a little something sweet, I use those instead of regular sugar. I even baked some cookies for father's day that were sweetened only with maple syrup. Beyond dairy and the occasional use of honey or maple syrup, I've had no desire at  all to reintroduce grains, beans, soy, processed sugar, or any other processed foods. That is possibly the most amazing part of this. In the beginning it seems like you're giving up all these foods you love, and by the end you can't even remember why you ever ate them. My personal theory is that it's a function of the sugar controlling your brain. Break free from the sugar and you truly can be happy on just whole, real, healthy food.

For anyone who's interested, here are some of the things I ate during the 30-day reset:
**Side note: I basically wing it when it comes to recipes. I make up my own stuff and change most of the recipes I find to suit our tastes/needs, so I apologize that there aren't more links to these.

Breakfasts: {I usually chose 1 breakfast and ate that for the week}
-Ground turkey, sweet potatoes & apples
-Smoothies {bananas + berries + peaches + any fruit/veg + coconut milk + chia seeds}
-Turkey meatloaf w/fried eggs

Lunches: {Same as breakfast, usually 1 lunch for the week intermixed with leftovers}
-Hardboiled eggs w/salad
-Pulled chicken w/salad

-Pulled pork on a sweet potato half
-Asian turkey lettuce wraps {just ground turkey seasoned with coconut aminos, garlic, ginger, salt & pepper. Add some vegetables like carrots, red peppers, green onions and serve in lettuce wraps}
-Old Bay chicken w/sauteed summer squash
-Lemon/pepper chicken {literally just grilled chicken seasoned with lemon juice and pepper}
-Steak & green beans
-BLT's {bacon, tomatoes and any other veggies served in a lettuce wrap}
-Burgers, burgers, burgers {any kind, just serve in a lettuce wrap or over salad!}
-Salmon & sweet potato cakes {mix some salmon, sweet potato, Old Bay seasoning, and an egg. I dusted mine with a little coconut flour before pan-frying in coconut oil just for a little crust on the outside}
-Spaghetti squash & meat sauce {easy and surprisingly good}

There were more, of course, but I was bad about writing them down/remembering them. Sorry! I'd love to remember to do a post each week of the dinners we eat with the goal being to show everyone that this is not a deprived way of eating. We've enjoyed every meal and have tried a lot of new stuff we never would have before. I'll do my best to keep up with that!

In the mean time, we've made a HUGE decision around here {yes, bigger than going Paleo}. It's going to take a lot of our time and energy in the upcoming months, but I'm excited to blog about it. Stay tuned!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How To Celebrate Your Birthday, Paleo-Style

Usually when people hear that you're eating a paleo diet, they ask what the heck you DO eat, since so many foods in the standard American diet are excluded. So imagine the questions when it comes to parties and celebrations. How DO you celebrate something without sugar and flour?! 

I'll tell you.

Over the weekend, I celebrated my birthday. If there's one occasion that you'd like to let yourself enjoy, it's your own dang birthday. But this year, I'm eating better and I wanted to be able to celebrate my birthday without going totally off track. So I did some Pinterest searching and believe it or not, there are TONS of desserts out there that are Paleo-compliant {i.e. made without wheat flour or sugar}. In fact, I'd venture to say that almost any food you love can be made Paleo-compliant. I easily found something that sounded birthday-worthy and within the limits of my cooking skills. The recipe was meant to replicate the taste of a Twix bar. Happily, it did not disappoint! The ingredients were simple. The process was multi-stage, but not complicated. And the final product was really, really good. You would never know that it contains no grains, no refined sugar, no refined oils and best of all- no guilt.

The full recipe can be found here, but this will give you the idea....
You start with a simple crust {the "cookie" layer} made of almond flour, coconut flour, honey, butter, and a pinch of salt. Combine those ingredients {I used a fork} and press the dough into the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 and then let it cool completely.

For the caramel layer, melt a stick of butter in a sauce pan, add a cup of maple syrup and bring that to a boil. Then slowly add a cup and a half of heavy cream while whisking and bring that to a boil. Whisk for about ten minutes or until it thickens a bit. Then pour the mixture over the cookie layer and place it in the refrigerator to harden.
Side note: if this step seems like too much of a pain, I'd bet your favorite nut-butter would be an awesome substitute and would only require spreading!

For the chocolate layer, simply melt some semi-sweet chocolate with a tablespoon of coconut oil. You can use a double boiler, a heat-safe bowl set over a pot of boiling water, or a microwave. Once it's melted and smooth, pour it over the caramel layer and return it to the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

That's it! Real food. Nothing refined. Plenty sweet and delicious. Zero deprivation. If you don't believe me, here's my 4-year-old eating a piece...

Of course you can't eat the whole pan. I actually had leftovers so I cut them up and froze them on a cookie sheet, then transferred them into freezer bags for later. I thought they'd be a perfect take-along option for parties and occasions when I want to enjoy dessert without wrecking my system.

So if anyone thinks a paleo diet wouldn't work because you just can't give up your sweets, or it would be impossible to enjoy a party... that excuse is now gone. You can have your health and celebrate, too!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Half-Way There!

At this point we're just over half-way through the Step 1 Diet Reset phase (very very much like the Whole30, if you're familiar with that). In some ways it feels like the first two weeks have gone quickly, and in other ways it feels like two more weeks seems reeeeally long. But alas, I have survived. I am on track, and I even weathered a holiday weekend mostly unscathed! I'll say it: I'm proud of myself. At the outset this seemed a lot harder than it has been. I'm not sure if that's because I'm only half-way through, or if it's a sign of my mental determination {really hoping it's the latter}, but I'm feeling confident that switches have been flipped... permanently.

My family really wants to know how I'm feeling. Do I notice any big changes? Is this whole thing even worthwhile?? After two weeks, I can't say I feel dramatically different. I still have the hypothyroid symptoms that set me off on this journey in the first place. But, I also don't think it's realistic to expect myself to be "healed" or "cured" after two weeks either. The point of sticking to a strict set of especially healthy foods for this 30 days is to get the other stuff out of my system. It takes time for the body to get rid of some of the things that were party of my previous diet. Once that 30 days has passed and my system has settled and begun to repair, then I will start paying close attention to see if my symptoms start to improve. At this very minute, I'm sitting under a fleece blanket, wearing a hoodie and my hands and feet are ice cold. Somewhere over the next few months, I'll be looking for them to warm up. Over the past week I've found 3 pieces of my own hair in one dish of food, and a piece in my glass of water that ice cubes had fused around {seriously gross, I know}. Six months from now, I'm hopeful that won't be such a common occurrence. We'll see. It's possible that this change in my diet will help me, but that I'll still need thyroid medication. It is what it is. But that doesn't mean that I've wasted my time eating better. Quite the contrary actually.

Here is where I have seen change: The more I read of Your Personal Paleo Code, the more convinced I am to commit to a Paleo-style diet for life. There is so much information and evidence indicating which foods are the most healthful and which foods are lacking {not to mention potentially harmful}. I've also learned so much about how the health of our digestive system affects so many other conditions and areas of the body. I mentioned before that I'm someone who has always been opposed to "diets." This is genuinely not a diet. The bottom line purpose of this information is health and healing. That you will not find from Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or any of the other common diet plans out there. The goal among them is simply weight-loss, and maybe better health as a side effect. This is something different. Something bigger. Definitely something better. For a while now, despite a handful of people I know endorsing it and encouraging me to try it, I avoided a Paleo diet because I felt like it was unsustainable for me. I thought it was too strict and I just wasn't willing to commit to that for the rest of my life. I could find other ways to maintain my health. Thankfully, circumstances in my own health shoved me toward it to a point where I had to look into it out of curiosity if nothing else. Now that I've learned more and given it a try, I don't see myself going back. Don't get me wrong, I don't intend to stick to the strict guidelines that are used for this first 30 day phase forever, but I don't plan to stray too far from it either. It will remain the basis of my diet. I'll reintroduce some things, like dairy which I've really missed, but I'll probably eat less of it than I did before. And everything else will be an occasional treat. Nothing is banned for life, and for me personally, that helps immensely with my resolve.

So that's where I am at the halfway point: hanging in there better than I thought I could, learning more every day, more convinced than ever that this was a smart choice, and committed. Let's see what the next 2 weeks brings!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Personal Paleo Code: 1 Week In

We've been at this 30-day diet reset thing for a little over a week now {closer to 2 weeks, these posts take me a few days to compose & edit!}, so I figured I'd post an update on what we're eating and how we're doing. First, to give you a framework of what we're eating, the "reset" phase of the Personal Paleo Code consists of: meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. No dairy, grains, legumes, sugar/sweeteners, industrial oils like canola, or artificial ingredients. Sound tough to live off of? It's really not that bad.

For breakfast I've been eating ground turkey with sweet potatoes and apples, berry smoothies made with coconut milk and chia seeds, and of course the incredible edible egg with some combination of salsa/avocado/tomatoes. Who needs cereal {i.e. sugar} to start the day? I will admit that I struggled a little with black coffee. I was used to a little sugar and some half-and-half, and black coffee was just not as exciting for me. I drank it for a few days, then gradually blended it down to half-caff, and finally to none at all. I prefer not to be reliant on a cup of coffee in the morning anyway. I really drank it because I love the taste, and once that aspect was gone there was no point. 

For lunch I stuck to my usual salads, though I switched to olive oil & balsamic vinegar instead of the honey-mustard dressing {homemade} I had been using before. I also had to omit cheese or black beans which I often included before. Instead I added avocado and/or boiled eggs. Sadly that has proven to just not cut it for a lunch meal. I've experienced more than one episode of extremely low blood sugar in the evenings where I start feeling dizzy, light-headed and like I need to eat something, anything immediately. It makes sense since I'm consuming significantly less sugar and carbs than I used to. Hopefully it's just my body adjusting to it's new fuel type. I did some quick online research and some advice was to eat more carbs {fruit or sweet potatoes} and other advice was to stay away from carbs {which could be causing a blood sugar crash} and eat more protein and fat instead. For today's lunch, I decided to skip the salad and go for something heavier.

Two salmon/sweet potato cakes, steamed carrots, and two boiled eggs. I also had an apple after that. 

It did not disappoint! My evening was much better. So, note to self: salad on the side, good dose of protein for the main component.

That brings me to dinner. Dinners have been the easiest and most fun. Some of our dinners have been steaks, burgers with pineapple slices and sweet potato chips, tacos in romaine leaves, pork roast and sweet potatoes, those salmon cakes I mentioned above, and a roasted chicken... all with a variety of vegetables. It's really simple - chose a meat, prepare however you want {within the parameters of the diet, e.g. no cheese}, chose a complementary vegetable.

I've even made ice cream out of frozen bananas using my food processor. Just slice and freeze a banana, place in the bowl of a food processor with other fruit, cinnamon, cocoa powder, nuts, etc. and process until creamy. I'm not sure I'll ever need to buy dairy ice cream again. I also love that it only makes a small amount so it's not just sitting in the freezer waiting to be eaten.

As for how we're feeling- I don't think either of us have noticed anything dramatic at this point. The first 2-3 days were a little rough for me in terms of energy, but I've definitely bounced back from that. I mentioned my couple of episodes of dizziness. Hoping that's just an adjustment to consuming significantly less sugar/carbs than before. I do not find myself hungry or experiencing cravings, which is wonderful and way beyond my expectations going into this. I thought for sure I'd be craving all the things I couldn't have. I used to always eat a bowl of cereal before bed also {a habit from childhood}, and I haven't been eating anything past dinner except the two times we made ice cream. I'm not ready to say that I see or feel my thyroid symptoms vanishing either, but hopefully I'll start to see improvements by the time the 30 day reset phase is ending {which will be June 10}. Without blood tests before and after I won't know definitively if the changes I've made are positively affecting my thyroid function. I do plan to follow up with my endocrinologist to check on my levels. They were only "slightly" off normal before, so it'll still be difficult to say whether any positive change is attributed to my eating habits or not. What I do know is that I've eliminated potential threats. By not eating foods that are known to be problematic both for my immune system and my thyroid, at least I feel confident that I'm not doing harm to myself. 

In addition, eating healthier is... well, healthier. I'm only helping myself in a variety of ways by changing my habits for the better now. My motivation originally came from having an auto-immune thyroid disorder, but the more I learn the more I believe that this change is just a smart thing to do for my long-term overall health. I'm sure there will be occasions and instances where I consume refined sugar or an artificial ingredient, but knowing that I'm careful 95% of the time will make those isolated instances much less of an issue. Therefore, I get to indulge when it's absolutely worth it and still maintain all the benefits of a clean diet. I'd say that's the best of both worlds!

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Personal Paleo Code

Ahhh, I can't believe I'm writing this... So. As I mentioned a few posts ago we recently went gluten-free due to my under-active thyroid. What I thought was an experiment to help my thyroid also proved to highlight the cause of the eczema issues that Carsen had been dealing with. After eliminating gluten from our diet {around mid-February}, I've continued doing research on thyroid disorders- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis {an autoimmune hypothyroid disorder or AITD} in particular. I've read articles, blogs, meta-research, e-books, and watched an online seminar. I have learned A LOT about how the thyroid functions, and perhaps more importantly- what it means to have hypothyroid/Hashimoto's. And I have to say, you can barely read a word on Hashimoto's or AITD without mention of the dreaded Paleo diet in some form. I say dreaded because it's something I've been avoiding for a long time, but in the back of my mind have known was probably a good idea. Anyway, everything I came across was written by a Paleo enthusiast, included testimonials by autoimmune sufferers who had great success on the diet, or included recommendations for it. I imagine the same is true for a lot of autoimmune disorders since that seems to be the connection between Paleo and Hashimoto's. In short, eating a Paleo diet seems to heal/reverse a variety of autoimmune disorders at best, and provide some relief of symptoms at worst.

Since I am most interested in managing my condition with an integrative/functional medicine approach {treating the cause of the problem instead of just suppressing symptoms}, I was rather intrigued by all the positive Paleo talk I encountered, so I went to the library to pick up this bad boy....
Only 394 pages of history, science, encouragement, testimonials, recipes, meal plans, and resources.

In general I'm opposed to "diets," especially ones that eliminate entire categories of food. They just seem really difficult to maintain over the long-term and if I can't maintain it for life then it's not really worth it to me. If you know anything about the Paleo diet, it's pretty restrictive: no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no soy, no refined oils, no artificial ingredients. Boiled down, it's basically meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Pretty rough, right? People do it though. And you can't deny that it's a very nutritious way of eating. I personally just have a hard time with things being totally "off limits." That only serves to make me crave those exact foods like never before. Thus, I have been opposed to the Paleo diet {for myself} from the first I learned of it, mostly on the basis that I felt like there's no way I could maintain it. That is, until I ran into a guy named Chris Kresser along my thyroid research journey.

Chris Kresser has written extensively about thyroid health and Hashimoto's, and even more about autoimmune disorders, and more still about health in general. After reading the articles and e-books on his web site and hearing his talk in the online seminar I watched, I headed to the library in search of his newest book. I figured it was worth reading for free :) At this point, I'm still in the first section and ready to dive into the plan! I can't really believe I'm saying that myself, but I am so ready to see if it can make a difference for me. 

So, how was I so easily convinced after being so totally opposed??
First- From what I've learned about hypothyroid, the vast majority {some sources say up to 90%!} of cases are an autoimmune condition {Hashimoto's Thyroiditis}. I'm kind of terrified that I likely have an autoimmune disease. I don't like that one bit and this is something I can personally do about it.

Second- As such a large portion of our immune system is housed in our digestive tract, autoimmune conditions can be a result of problems like a "leaky gut" {when the lining of the digestive tract becomes irritated and allows tiny particles of what we eat to enter our bodies outside the intestines}. The way to repair a leaky gut is to stop eating foods that irritate it, and to eat foods that are gut healing instead. This is the basic premise of the Paleo diet.

Third- The book, Your Personal Paleo Code, outlines a 3-step plan that makes the Paleo diet much more manageable and customizable than the super-restricted list of foods I described above. It starts out with a very bare-bones diet of foods known not to irritate the gut. After 30 days of gut healing {longer if you want}, the second step is to begin adding some foods back in like dairy or legumes. Dairy will probably be most sorely missed by me, so I'll definitely want to try that one. Some of those "off limits" foods are just plain bad for you though and you probably shouldn't bother adding them back anyway. I mean, going right back to eating refined flour, sugar and oils is just going to put you back where you were when you started. Adding things gradually on a trial basis helps you to identify which foods are well-tolerated and which ones trigger your symptoms or make you just not feel well. The third step is fine-tuning what you learn from the second step: macronutrient ratios, adjusting for your personal activity level, figuring how much and how often you need to eat, and how you can further optimize your health with things like super-foods and supplements. 

Fourth- There's a lot of credible evidence in the book pointing to the benefits of eating a Paleo-style diet. These include not just longevity, but decreased risk for so many of the awful ailments that have become the common causes of death for Americans like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's. Honestly, what happened to dying of plain old age? That's what I'm going for- really old and fairly healthy right to the end. Of course, nothing guarantees long life, or even health. But if there are simple things I can control, like eating better, that can reduce my risks for some of the nasty diseases that could cause me suffering as I age, then why not? Not to mention the benefit of better health, strength, and energy now while I'm young and raising my children. 

Ok, so that's the long and short of it. A journey is about to commence! I'm nervous about sticking with it, but I'm really really looking forward to seeing how I feel and how my body responds to this new healthier way of eating. I think it's going to be a long 30+ days, but hopefully somewhere in there I'll start to see or feel changes that motivate me to hang in there. It seems especially intimidating when I think of the things I won't be able to eat {during the first step, after that he really does encourage you to enjoy anything you want on occasion, and I love that}. But if I stop and think about it in terms of just eating new things it really doesn't seem that bad. I was pinning some recipe ideas on Pinterest this afternoon, and I'll admit to being kind of excited to try some of them. Happily, Josh has agreed to join me on this journey. He has no reason not to, and I do the grocery shopping/cooking anyway so he'd probably be doing it even if he didn't know it! I know that having him on board will be a lot of motivation and will just make it easier for me. I also connected with a Facebook group that's planning to start this plan on Monday, so it will be nice to have a group of people who are at the same point in the process to commiserate share thoughts and ideas with! :D

I'll keep you posted on what we're eating and how we're feeling! Here goes nothing ;)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How We Handled Our Picky Eater

{Image found here}

Picky eaters. Most parents deal with them to some degree at some point in their parenting careers. That's where we found ourselves with our just-turned-four-year-old over the course of the past year {give or take a bit}. As a little toddler, Carsen ate just about everything we offered her, especially fruits and vegetables. It seems we were sadly mistaken in believing she was just a really good eater, because somewhere in the middle of being 2 she decided to stop eating some of the foods she once devoured. After being such a healthy eater for 2+ years, her favorite foods began to drop off one by one until the only things she really wanted to eat were the dreaded "toddler standards"- hot dogs, pizza, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets. Gah! How did we get here? And more importantly, what do we do about it??

I was determined not to make a huge issue out of food. My philosophy on just about everything in life is that if you make a big deal out of it, it will become a big deal. So we tried the casual approach. We encouraged her to eat her vegetables but more and more she declined. We thought maybe it was just a phase that she'd move on from, but she didn't. Like any parent I began to worry about her nutrition. She was still eating normal and fairly healthy stuff for breakfast and lunch, but she was eating less and less for dinner and not much in the way of vegetables at all. I also started to worry that she wasn't eating a sufficient quantity of food in those two meals with what little she was getting from her meager dinners.

Well, we all know what worried parents do... Google. Far and away, the most prominent piece of advice we found, both from people we know and the interwebz, was the "one meal" approach. Simply put, you make one family meal {no short-order cooking}, the kids must at least try each food, absolutely no snacking between meals, and no games/tricks/bribery. They eat or they don't. One mom describes looking her 2 year old in the eye and telling her to "eat it or starve" in this article I read, which I personally found heart-breaking. Supposedly this teaches kids to try new foods and become more adventurous eaters. They'll eat when they're hungry enough, right? ...Right??

We tried. We really did. It's no exaggeration when I say that she would eat dinner maybe once a week. She refused every. single. night. Instead of reducing the stress surrounding meal time, our stress went through the roof. Instead of just fussing at the dinner table, Carsen began asking me what was for dinner the minute she woke up from her nap in the afternoon and would whine and agonize about it all the way through meal time and straight through bed time. Every evening became hours of discussion over what was for dinner, what she did and didn't like, whining, crying, and other generally uncooperative behavior. We were frustrated, annoyed, and experiencing tons of guilt. Our child basically never had a bite to eat after her 12:30 p.m. lunch every day, and was going to bed crying and hungry every night. We don't have a lot, but we have enough food to eat. I can't imagine if I had to send my babies to bed crying and hungry so doing it by choice seemed utterly ridiculous and it ripped my heart out. Worst of all, we were getting nowhere with it.

Then one night while I was making another dinner I knew she wouldn't eat, and she was yet again hungry, cranky, and melting down about everything, I caved and asked, "would you like eggies and peas??" She stopped, I swear to you mid-meltdown, and literally snapped back to her sweet adorable self and said, "Yes I would!" Like flipping a switch, our entire evening did a 180. She began cheerfully bouncing around the kitchen. She ate her whole dinner. She played happily until bed time. After struggling for so long, it was miraculous. I decided that night that if she wanted some damn scrambled eggs and peas every night for dinner that was fine with me.

I immediately felt a million times better and swore to never send my child to bed hungry again as long as I could help it. Sometimes as parents we go against our instincts to follow the latest "expert" advice {or whatever "everyone" seems to be doing at the time}. Truly though, if it causes you and your child stress, it's probably not the right thing to do regardless of what any expert says. The more I thought about the hard-line, no-choice, eat-it-or-starve approach, the more insane I realized it was.
  • First of all, I allow her to choose what she wants to eat for her breakfast and lunch. How confusing and frustrating it must be for her when at dinner time she's told she has no choice but to eat what I've chosen or go hungry. Not to mention as a child she is unable to make her own food and is completely at my mercy. This is a situation she literally has zero control over.
  • Second, "experts" usually advise that in order to get children to cooperate, you should empower them with choices. Let them choose between the yogurt or banana, yellow shirt or blue shirt, hair up or hair down, etc. Yet when it comes to dinner, the expert advice is to allow no choice at all. What sense does that make?
  • Third, my favorite, many experts love to base their advice on how to treat children by referencing how we adults would feel when treated that way. So then my question is: how would we adults feel if we were told we had to eat food we don't like and didn't choose, or starve? I think we'd probably be cranky and out-of-sorts, too. 
  • Fourth, this approach flies in the face of everything I know about Attachment Parenting, a philosophy I am wholeheartedly committed to.
And so, our new approach is to feed her what she'll eat, among acceptable dinner-time foods {for goodness sake she's asking for scrambled eggs and peas, not candy}. We ask her to try three bites of the dinner I make and then she can opt for scrambled eggs if she wants. We also started a sticker chart and give her a sticker every night she eats all of her dinner. Guess what? We're going on 2 months straight that she has eaten her dinners! So maybe we're not actively expanding her pallette. Neither is  offering food she doesn't eat. She can't get any nutrition from it if she refuses to eat it. She loves fruit, smoothies, fruit/vegetable pouches, and eats plenty of healthy protein so she's still getting nutrients even if she doesn't gobble up brussels sprouts at the dinner table. Most little kids don't love vegetables. I will continue to offer them to her and otherwise feed her the best food she enjoys eating. Like I've said before- the best approach {to anything} is always to do what works for you and your family. The current "wisdom" didn't cut it for us in this case, so we tried something else that did and are all much much happier and healthier as a result!

Anyone else have experience with a picky eater? What worked for you? What didn't?

Friday, May 2, 2014

DIY Etsy-Inspired Party Invitations

As you may know, our sweet & tiny little Reaganbaby recently turned one, and we threw a little celebration in honor of the occasion. I DIYed just about the entire thing because it's a lot cheaper that way, and because I like doing that kind of stuff. I also decided to document how I made everything so I could share it with you!

One of the first things needed when planning a party is invitations. Starting with our theme - You Are My Sunshine, and a color scheme - yellow, pink, and a splash of orange, I began searching for the perfect invitations. I first looked at Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, and Snapfish since they tend to be my go-to for photo cards. Sadly they had nothing relating to the theme or colors I wanted. Moving on from there I went more specialty and looked at Etsy. There are tons of great options on there and the sellers are usually very willing to work with you. I found several designs that I liked but that weren't in my color scheme. I could change that for a $5 fee. The other thing I needed customized was two separate dates and addresses because we had separate parties for my family and Josh's (our house just isn't big enough for one big party). That's another $5 fee. Most of the invitations I looked at were $12 for a printable file. So if I add $10 in customization fees, and I only need 9 invitations... I'm spending $22 on 9 invites? That's when I looked at the designs and decided to DIY!

This design {found here} was my inspiration...

I used the following supplies:
  • White cardstock
  • Patterned scrapbook paper
  • Plain contrasting cardstock
  • Grosgrain ribbon
  • Wallet-sized photos
  • Scissors and/or paper cutter
  • Scrapbook-quality glue
Here's how I did it:

{Side note: please excuse the poor quality of the photos. I was doing all party planning & prepping late at night after the girls were in bed, so the lighting is bad + I used my phone = ack}

I first created the design of the text using the word program on my computer. I played around with different fonts, colors and layouts until I was happy with the way it looked. All the while, I had to keep in mind that the cards would be 5x7", so I positioned the text so that it would print where I'd want it to be when the paper was cut to 5x7" {this was fairly simple just using the rulers along the top and side of the screen in the word program}. Once I had the design just the way I wanted it, I printed it out on plain white cardstock.

Since the invitations were going to be 5x7", I was able to print two per page. Once they were printed I used a 12" paper cutter {scissors would also do, you'd just have to measure and mark the paper carefully} to cut them to size.
{I printed in portrait orientation, cut vertically at 7" across, and then cut horizontally at 5" down the page to make two 5x7" cards. Since the cardstock was 8.5x11" I had some extra that needed to be trimmed off the bottom as well}

{What one 5x7" card looked like, printed and cut}

The next step was adding the decorative scrapbook paper. I chose a paper with a yellow chevron design. I wanted a simple band across the bottom of the invitation, so I measured and cut the bands to size and then glued them onto the cardstock with a few dots of scrapbook glue. Glue dots or probably any other adhesive would also work, you just don't want anything that will make the paper too wet so it doesn't look all wavy and wrinkly when it dries!

For the photo, I measured and cut pink cardstock rectangles to be just slightly larger than the size of the photos. I carefully centered the photos on the pink rectangles and glued them in place. Then I glued the whole thing onto the invitations.

The final touch was a band of grosgrain ribbon where the decorative paper met the cardstock. I measured the ribbon to be about 2" longer than the width of the invitation {so about 9"}. I applied a thin stripe of glue along the border of the decorative paper and pressed the ribbon on, leaving about an inch over the edge on each side. Then I flipped the invitation over, folded the ends of the ribbon down, and secured them with a dot of glue.

And the final product looked like this...

Here's another look at the inspiration photo for comparison. Not too bad, right?

It does take a little more of your time to DIY a project like this than it would to upload and order prints of a purchased file, but the cost savings is significant especially if you have some of these supplies on hand. Here's my cost breakdown:

Cardstock (had on hand) = Free
Decorative paper = $0.39 for one 12x12" sheet
Pink cardstock = $0.25 for one 8.5x11" sheet
Wallet photos = $0.50 for two sheets of 9 photos
Grosgrain ribbon = $1.98 for two 6' spools
Glue (had on hand) = Free
Paper cutter (had on hand) = Free

Grand Total = $3.12
Compare that to the customized Etsy price of $22.00 and remember that I only needed 9 invitations! That's over 85% savings.

With a little creativity, this design could be easily customized in countless different ways. A little ribbon, some colorful paper, any type of embellishment like the cute sun in the inspiration photo, or your own photos like I used, and you've got a beautiful invitation completely personalized for any occasion. One of the biggest advantages to DIYing this project, was that my invitations had texture and dimension. If I had purchased a printable file from Etsy, the whole thing would have printed like a photo- the ribbon, the sun embellishment and all would have just been a flat printed image on a piece of paper. I liked that the ribbon was actually ribbon on mine, and the embellishment {whatever I had chosen} was also 3 dimensional. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Are My Sunshine First Birthday Party

We have a one year old! I've spent the past few weeks planning and DIYing Reagan's "You Are My Sunshine" FIRST birthday party! I thought it would be a perfect theme for a late March birthday when we're just beginning to emerge from the cold, gray winter. It turned out to be even more perfect than I anticipated as the weekend was a complete weather wash-out. Saturday was a torrential downpour all day, and Sunday was a pouring rain-turned freak snow storm! Indeed, Reagan provided the only sunshine of the entire weekend and she was all the sunshine we needed :)

{Side note: I plan to write up tutorials for the things I DIYed, and I'll update this post with those links when I get them written. They'll be their own separate posts though}

Here's a {kind of terrible} phone pic of the invitations. I found a few that I liked on Etsy via Pinterest but none were exactly what I was looking for. The more I looked at them, the more they looked DIY-able. I finally tried mocking up a few options myself with some cardstock and scrapbook paper and came up with a very similar result for a fraction of the cost.

I made a simple felt birthday crown for her to {not} wear. You know how much children love to wear their birthday hats! And a paper bunting to decorate her high chair.

I did a birthday banner out of scrapbook paper, cardstock and ribbon. I also made a sun and clouds out of tissue paper puffs.

I made this canvas to impart the party theme and also as a hand-made piece of art for her bedroom :) 

I found that adorable "You are my Sunshine" photo frame on Amazon and knew it would be perfect for a little throwback newborn photo for the table :)

Had to have some striped paper straws, even though the birthday baby doesn't drink from a straw. What party in 2014 is complete without them?? 
It was also my opportunity to incorporate a mason jar. That's right, "a" mason jar. I originally envisioned them to actually drink from, but let's be serious. It's a party for a one-year-old with a bunch of other little kids.

Anyone on Pinterest has seen these adorable chalkboard posters with fun facts about the birthday baby. Once again, this was something I knew I could DIY. It may not be quite as perfect, or employ quite the variety of lettering as some of the ones for sale on Etsy, but I was rather proud of it.

The Food
The food was very simple. We just had some snacks and cupcakes. I made a "rainbow" fruit tray, and had some cut up cheese and Chex mix {SO original, I know!}.

The cupcakes were lemon with coconut frosting, made gluten free with coconut flour. The recipe needed some tweaking. Usually I do a test run of a new recipe but ran out of time, so the party batch was my first go. They were pretty good and very easy to make, but I'd  do a few things differently if I made them again.

Originally I had planned to frost them with an orange center and yellow beams around the edges to look like suns, but after baking 4 dozen of them at midnight I lost all desire to mix multiple colors of frosting and attempt any kind of artistic decoration. It's all good. No one complained. Not even the birthday baby ;)

The Fun
Our kids have lots of cousins so we felt they were plenty of guests. For fun, the kids actually just played in the playroom with toys we already have. They were excited enough to play with each other that I really didn't need any planned theme activities. 

I also skipped party favors. I know our siblings well enough to know that party favors are extremely unnecessary. I have done them in the past, but they do add a considerable load to the planning process (and the budget) if you're going to make them worthwhile. I don't like coming home from a birthday party with a bag full of cheap plastic choking hazards, so I'm not going to do that to others. And by the time you put nice, useful favors together you've spent $10 per child and hours planning, collecting supplies, and assembling said favors. All this to say: no feelings were hurt in the exclusion of party favors :)

A first birthday is such a fun milestone, and yet it's a little bit bittersweet. But if I learned anything about motherhood from our firstborn, it's that when one stage ends there are a million reasons to be excited for the next. We had a fun weekend full of birthday love for our sweet little one-year-old. What an amazing, joyful, sleepless, fun-filled first year we've had with Miss Reagan! We can't wait to see how she grows and learns and steals our hearts in year #2!

...Aaaand now it's time to get started on Carsen's "Princess Aurora" party on April 26th!