Friday, January 31, 2014

Kale & Brussels Sprouts Salad

Three words: Easy. Amazing. Healthy {mostly}. 
Does that count as four words?? 

I found this recipe on Pinterest. It had me at kale bacon. If you're a kale or brussels sprouts fan, or if you're a salad person, or if you're just trying to eat more veggies you need to try this. It's simple to make, packed with super-healthy kale and brussels sprouts, and it's surprisingly delicious. The flavors are all bold, it has the right amount of crunchy texture mixed with the softness of the cheese. It would also lend itself well to a variety of other add-ins {off hand I'm thinking hard-boiled eggs, dried cranberries, diced red pepper, black olives, red onion... you get the picture}.

Here's the recipe...

2-3 cups of kale, washed and chopped
1 lb. Brussels sprouts {I think I eyeballed it and used 3-4 sprouts}, finely shredded
3-4 slices of bacon/turkey bacon, baked crisp and chopped
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1/2 cup pecorino cheese

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp shallot, finely minced
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Pinch black pepper

Combine kale and brussels sprouts in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, jar, or salad dressing bottle, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Toss dressing and greens until well combined. Top with cheese, bacon, and almonds.

I made a few small modifications to this recipe. I left the shallots out of the dressing, skipped the almonds, and used feta instead of pecorino cheese since I already had it for another recipe. I also stored the salad in jars since I planned to eat it for lunch over the course of a few days and wanted it to keep nicely. Also because of that, I decided not to mix in the bacon and cheese. I just added those when I got the salad out to eat each day. I had about 4 mason jar-sized portions from what I made. 

When I blew through my first batch, I made another and tried it with this dressing instead. The flavors were good, I just personally have a hard time with plain greek yogurt. The sour/bitter/bite whatever-you-want-to-call-it just doesn't work for me. It especially didn't work with the already bite-y feta in this salad. If that's your thing though, give it a try. I'm ordinarily a big honey-mustard fan.

I love to have such an easy and healthy go-to lunch that I can prep ahead and have on hand, ready to eat. I find when that's the case, I have no trouble sticking to clean, healthy lunches. The middle of the day is usually no time to start measuring, mixing, and chopping around here so simple recipes like this are one are exactly what I need :)

What healthy stuff are you eating for lunch??

Friday, January 24, 2014

The No-Cry Sleep Solution & A Sleep Update

A little while ago I wrote about some of the struggles we've been having getting Reagan to take regular naps. She had been doing pretty well at night, never put up a fight when it was time to lay down, but for most of her naps would wake up after 30 minutes. I had tried a handful of different things- laying her down earlier, laying her down later, swaddling her, not swaddling her, putting her to bed in her crib, putting her to bed in the co-sleeper in our room... you get the idea. None of those things changed her pattern for the better, some made it worse.

Feeling frustrated, I decided to check out The No-Cry Nap Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. As a practitioner of Attachment Parenting, I knew I wanted to try solutions that were as gentle as possible and didn't involve abandoning her to cry until she couldn't cry anymore and just passed out. So, I read the book and loved it. I decided to go with The No-Cry Nap Solution instead of The No-Cry Sleep Solution because we were struggling much more with nap time than bed time at night, and I thought it might have some insights that were more specific to our issue.

As far as the book itself, I thought it was great. I liked the way it was broken down by various different struggles and solutions so that if you knew what you were having trouble with you could go right to that section and see what was suggested. I personally decided to read through the majority of the book anyway just in case I found ideas that we could use. The advice was practical, which I appreciated. There was also enough variety of solutions offered that you could choose what works for your family. Personally, we live in a multi-level house, so pushing the baby around in the stroller until she fell asleep and then parking her in her bedroom (where you eventually want her to sleep) was not an option for us.

On the other hand, we hung blackout curtains and downloaded a white noise CD right away. We began using her bedroom for nap time {instead of the co-sleeper in our room where she slept at night}, and with the dark curtains and white noise, she was taking 2+ hour naps in less than a week! It was pretty miraculous. Just when we felt like we had tried adjusting every variable and nothing was going to convince her to sleep, three simple changes made all the difference. I can't say for sure if one of the three was the real key or if all of them together was some magic formula, but finally something worked.

And just like in the movies when you think, "well that was easy, everything is resolved and we're only 20 minutes in!" ...the plot thickens.

On New Year's day Carsen came down with a cold, and by the weekend Reagan had it. It was a pretty nasty cough complete with sneezing and runny nose. Of course, this interfered with sleep. Reagan started waking up after napping for only a short time again. I knew she was having a hard time breathing even with the humidifier in the room. This is where I made the crucial mistake. One day she woke up coughing and crying and I couldn't get her calmed down enough to go back to sleep. When I brought her downstairs with me she fell asleep in my arms. I didn't have the heart to take her back upstairs and put her in her bed {knowing it would wake her right up}, so I did what I think most moms would do and snuggled my sick little baby. She slept for another hour. Unfortunately, from that point on, naps became hit or miss. I figured it was partially due to her cold, and partially because she was just out of rhythm from being sick. Then a few days later we were going to visit grandparents for dinner and she had skipped a morning nap, then woke up after a 30 minute afternoon nap. Knowing that she really needed the rest, I decided to hold her and let her sleep a little longer. After that naps became a huge struggle. She woke up after 30 minutes every time and refused to go back to sleep unless she was being held. Now that our reforms were no longer doing the trick, I was kind of back at square one and wondering what to do next.

Here's a confession: I began to realize that the No-Cry approach might not cut it.

As I tried desperately to get her to fall asleep and stay asleep, things just got worse and worse. She went from taking short naps, to waking up as soon as I put her in bed, to not even falling asleep after nursing like she always had. She would start crying and wiggling as soon as she finished nursing because she knew the next step was the bed. I tried holding her for 20 minutes to make sure she was good and asleep, but the screaming started again as soon as I'd lean forward even the slightest bit to put her into the crib. I tried staying with her, rubbing and patting her back, shushing and soothing. She eventually wouldn't even stay laying down for me to help her fall asleep. It was hold her or nothing. Every nap had become this traumatic, hour-long screaming event. Hardly a no-cry situation.

To make matters a little more complicated, this was all happening right before Josh took a trip with his brothers for 4 days during which the girls and I stayed with my mom. While our nap schedule and routine was falling apart, we were about to really start over in a new house, new room, new bed. Cheers! That was a week ago {Thursday-Monday}. I can say it didn't go terribly. She slept better at nigh than she did for naps. I just decided to power through and get back on track when we got home.

We returned home on Monday afternoon. Both girls conked out right away in the car on the way home even though it's less than a 30 minute drive. I was prepared for a rough night, but was resolved that if it was going to be a rough night anyway, we were going all in. Reagan was going in her crib in her room, for nap time and bed time, and we weren't looking back.

Here's another confession: We kind of cried it out... and it worked.

I realized that going into her room every time she cried was just encouraging her to cry. At 9 months old, having previously taken stellar naps in her crib, during which I had witnessed her stirring and going back to sleep on her own, I knew this was not a matter of her needing my help to fall asleep, or being frightened or uncomfortable in her room. For the record, the case Attachment Parenting makes against CIO is that the baby is crying because they need comfort from mom or dad and assistance falling asleep. Only because I knew that was not the case for her, was I willing to leave the room. I remain a firm believer in Attachment Parenting and strongly disagree with CIO for younger babies. So Monday night began a new routine that I was resolved to stick to. I nursed her, rocked her, kissed her and put her in bed. The only reason I'd go back in was if she dropped her paci out of the crib. In that case I went in, gave her the paci, laid her back down, and left. She cried, but not for long. I knew that she knew she was in there to go to sleep, and that's what she did. She woke up once or twice during the night and after a few minutes of fussing went right back to sleep. Tuesday we did the same thing for naps. Again, she cried when I left the room but then took nice long naps. Tuesday night she only woke up once. She took great naps the rest of the week and by last night {Thursday night} she slept through without waking up at all- or at least without crying.

In less than a week, she is barely crying as I leave the room and quiet by the time I make it 3 steps down the hall to the stairs. She and I and my husband are all much better rested. She is more content throughout the day and has even been more adventurous exploring the house like never before. I can't say enough about the difference that extra sleep has made for the whole family. There has certainly been extensive research on the health benefits of adequate sleep, and everything I've read about health from losing weight to balancing hormones to clearing acne cites adequate sleep as a recommendation. In the No-Cry Nap Solution, Elizabeth Pantley explains in great detail the reasons why naps are vital to children's growth and development. She describes the "gifts" of nap time- the benefits children get during naps that they miss otherwise, even when they get adequate night time sleep. To say the least, this has been a major positive change in The Luckiest household.

As I have often said, more than anything I'm a believer in doing what works. I love AP. Love it. I will continue to use it forever and ever. But I have to do what works for my family and my children, even if it's not what AP recommends. If there is one thing we all must be as parents, it's flexible. In this case, flexibility paid off. We tried something new and scary, something I thought I'd never do, and we were rewarded greatly. I think the take-away message here is to never say never, and trust your gut. Despite what my philosophy-of-choice recommended, we branched out because it wasn't working for us. I knew leaving the room would teach her that bed time was bed time, no games. I listened to that mom-voice, and here we are!

I'd love to hear from others if you had sleep troubles with your little ones and what worked for you! I'd also enjoy hearing stories from others who had to depart from their parenting philosophies when something just wasn't working. Have you ever tried something you thought you'd never do as a parent??

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Eating Better in the New Year

Welcome to the first post in my series, "Doing Better in the New Year!" I don't really make New Year's resolutions, but I do like to take the opportunity at the beginning of a shiny, fresh new year to think about what I'd like to change or do better this year than last year. It's nice to set out in the new year with a few goals in front of me. One of the things I plan to do better in 2014 is eat better.

We don't actually eat that badly as it is. When it was just the two of us and we still had 25-year old metabolisms, I didn't really think that much about what we ate. We just kind of ate what we wanted, ate out when we wanted, and just didn't worry about it. All of that changed when Carsen was born. That's when I started paying attention not only to healthier options, but started buying more organic foods, started reading more information on healthy ways of eating and the latest research on nutrition, and watching out for things that really shouldn't be in our diet at all like artificial ingredients.

Three years later we've made a lot of progress and are eating much better than we used to, but there's always room for improvement. And even though we've learned a lot about cleaner eating, some of those habits can be hard to kick {choc-a-holic, right here}. We're a long way from perfect, but I'm a strong believer in taking baby steps to make a goal achievable. Changing small things at a time and conquering those tough habits one by one takes time but helps make the effort more manageable and less overwhelming. If I woke up one day and couldn't eat any sweets, carbs, dairy, or anything from a package, I might have a panic attack.

To be clear, eating better for me does not mean cutting out entire food groups. In fact, I find that as soon as I make something off-limits I want it even more than I did before. Instead, I try to focus on what I should eat, and still allow myself to eat the not-so-good stuff if I want it, just not all the time {kind of like an 80/20 rule, but maybe even more like 90/10}. I like knowing that I had the option but chose something better. For example, instead of making cereal totally off-limits for breakfast, I'll try to eat eggs with vegetables, or a fruit & veggie smoothie most days of the week. I find if the new options are interesting enough {eggs baked into tomatoes, yum!} and don't require too much work, then I'll be excited to have them every day. It's certainly easy enough to scramble or hard boil a big batch of eggs on Sunday to eat during the week and I'm definitely going to try some new smoothies like this one or one of these, and I really like this idea. I'd love to get the hubby and kids on board with some more vegetables and I think smoothies might be just the trick. Plus I can add chia seeds and other goodies that they'll never know about ;) There will always be times that I'm in a hurry or just really want a bowl of cereal. For those times I'll keep healthier cereal options in the pantry.

Kale & brussels sprouts salad - don't worry, it has bacon
When it comes to lunch, I often rely on the good ole turkey sandwich. It's quick, easy, doesn't require cooking, and simple enough to keep the ingredients on hand. However, it's not so great for you. Lunchmeat is processed and full of sodium, and bread is something {in my opinion} we should all try to eat a little less of. Again, I wouldn't swear off sandwiches, but for the every day I need to aim for a better lunch plan. A little bit of Pinterest perusing and I'm thinking about adding things like this, this, or this to my standard rotation. I also like a good cobb salad but it can be hard to find a salad dressing that isn't total junk. I found this recipe for a honey mustard dressing that I'm going to try out though and see if that can help keep me in the salad habit for lunch time! Of course, I'm sure I'll still have a turkey sandwich from time to time among other things.

Dinner has always been my easiest meal to plan. I usually just pick a meat, prepare it some way we like, and have a vegetable for the side. Or if we're going meatless, as we do for half of our meals {actually half, not just figure-of-speech half}, then it's usually beans, quinoa, or eggs as our protein source instead of meat. I don't believe in fake meat substitutes like tofu.

Coconut Cream Larabars - My Whole Food Life
Snacks... are my weakness. I have a sweet tooth. Actually it's more like a chocolate tooth. If I try eating an apple instead of chocolate, I end up eating 3 or 4 other things too because, really, an apple doesn't satisfy a chocolate craving. I have found that energy bars like Clif bars or Larabars do the trick since they taste like a treat but are also pretty satisfying. The problem is they're expensive, and you have to watch the ingredients in some brands/varieties. They're really meant to be more like a small meal than a snack, so they're higher in calories than you'd want a regular snack to be- another caveat. Thankfully, there's a great blog I read called My Whole Food Life which is full of recipes for all kinds of wonderful dishes, including homemade energy bars. I've made her most popular Coconut Cream Larabars before, but it was before I had my food processor so the texture didn't turn out. I wanted to wait until I had my food processor to try again, and I just got one for Christmas! I'm really excited about trying some more of her recipes like this one, this one, and this one to keep our snacks healthy and clean. Just to clarify, we don't currently snack on chocolate all the time. Carsen and I both love string cheese, cheddar, raisins, a variety of fruits, and nuts. I try to stick to those {or something similar} for the most part so she develops healthy snack habits. It's me personally who needs to have a better alternative when I'm tempted to grab a handful of m&ms!

Are you eating better for 2014? Trying to better yourself in other ways? In addition to eating better, I'm also trying to parent better, workout better, and better our home in 2014! Stay tuned for those upcoming posts and some others in this series :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013: Year in Review

Happy 2014! I don't know about you, but our 2013 was a bit of a rollercoaster, so we were pretty much ready to say farewell when the ball dropped. We had some really amazing moments, and others that we'd rather forget. So to give 2013 a proper send-off, it's time to take a look back at the ups and downs before we turn our focus to all the potential of 2014! 

Here's how we spent 2013...

We started the year with baby preparations, completing Carsen's new room, and making a quilt for her big girl bed. It was a lot of work but well worth it. She loves her room and has a blanket handmade by her mama :)

The Ravens won the Super Bowl! We joined nearly 100,000 fans in welcoming them home after the win. More baby preparations ensued: cooking, cleaning, writing detailed instructions for the babysitters.

Last-minute baby preparations and finally, just when we began to think we might have another April baby, Reagan arrived! One of the absolute best experiences of our lives. 

Mostly spent getting back on my feet, getting to know Reagan, and adjusting to life with our two baby girls. And my sweet baby Carsen turned 3!

We continued to adjust to life with 2 babies, enjoyed some outside time whenever we could, tried to get back into the swing of normal life by actually cleaning the house and developing somewhat of a routine with the girls. 

I turned 31, we soaked up sunshine at the playground and out on our front walk every chance we got, I officially began training for my half-marathon, and we bought a new car to better accommodate our growing family!

Much of my time was spent trying to maintain a regular training schedule. Reagan hadn't settled into a consistent nap schedule yet so we were working on that too. Otherwise we spent lots of time out in the sunshine enjoying summer. We played with sidewalk chalk a lot {even made our own} and hung out at my mom's to splash in the hose & baby pool.

Time to prep for our big family vacation to the Outer Banks in NC. List-making, planning, plotting, graphing, and other forms of type-A bliss ensued. I also planned, prepped and froze a lot of our car and beach snacks ahead of time. Oh, and more half marathon training, that is until I came down with a random chest cold. Carsen was also in my cousin's wedding as a flower girl - cutest ever. And Josh's grandparents came to visit to meet Reagan and our niece Faye {born in July}.

We spent the first week in NC at the beach with my family for some much needed rest, relaxation, and time away together. It was amazing. I can't wait until we go again. Then there was more training and another hiatus for an infected toe. Cheers! Reagan turned 6 months old :) </3

Training went into high gear, though not quite where I wanted to be. Race day went really well, though again not quite where I wanted to be. We spent a traditional day at the pumpkin patch with my siblings and their kids - it was randomly 80 degrees that day and we were all hot and sweaty. We also celebrated a dozen or so family birthdays in a 2 week span. The government shutdown caused Josh's contract at work to lose funding. He was placed by his company on a different task well below his skill level and at a 30% lower salary. Shit got real.

Josh scrambled to find another job as we started to wonder how long this financial situation could keep us afloat. This was probably one of the most stressful things we've experienced in our 6 year marriage. He got an offer for another job almost right away but the company couldn't start him until an FY14 budget was passed on the federal level. So he continued searching and sending his resume out to everyone he knew in any industry he could possibly work in. In the mean time we were trying to operate on 2/3 of our normal budget. Finally, the week of Thanksgiving he had a very promising interview that led to a new job at his original salary. Thank you, Jesus.

We got into the Christmas spirit with a month of Advent activities. Josh started his new job. We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with Olive Garden take-out {so romantic!}. And we had what we both agreed was our best Christmas yet!

To bid 2013 farewell, we went with a very original "2014" theme for the night, and decided to celebrate according to our age {old} and stage in life {parents of small children}. That basically translates to a quiet evening at home and forcing your eyes to stay open until midnight so you can kiss and fall asleep. 

In addition, I did make steaks in my new cast iron grill pan from West Elm! I was rather excited to try it out and it did not disappoint :) 

Reagan celebrated with somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean east of Bermuda but not quite to Ireland and went to bed at 8. She's a partier, that baby ;)

After Reagan went to bed Carsen and I played a few rounds of Curious George Memory, and she went to bed around 9. 

Josh and I watched a pretty awful movie called Idiocracy. That was a few hours of my life I'll never get back. We turned on the NYE special at midnight to watch the ball drop and start the year with a kiss. Then we made fun of all the painful remarks from Carson Daly & friends for a few minutes before calling it a night. 

So, what's up next for 2014? We have a few things in mind :) I'm more of a goal-setter than a resolution-maker, so I have a few goals I'm planning to work towards this year. Check back soon to read about them!