Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Is Your All?

I am part of a Women in Science group at my work where the conversation often turns to the topic of family-work balance and if women can really have it all. Usually the all is implied as maintaining a rewarding full-time career (usually in a high profile position, but not always), while still spending ample time with your children and partner, and being happy, chipper and stress-free at the end of the day. A quick Google search will supply you with hundreds of articles on the topic with people on all sides of the debate. Nope, sorry, you can’t. Yes, yes you can! You can….just not at the same time. But what’s the real answer? Can we have it all or can’t we? Should we work harder or just stop trying? If I don’t want it all is that OK?  If I don't, will they take away my Feminist pin? What kind of stress are we putting on ourselves trying to achieve it all? And what kind of message are we sending to the young women and men who will inevitably fill our shoes?

While searching for some answers I came across this article: Why It's So Damaging To Tell Women They Can't Have It All (And Why I'm So Tired Of Hearing It) written by Kathy Caprino, a Women’s Career Success Coach. In her article, Caprino suggests a more positive way to frame this discussion. She says “Thinking about ‘having it all’ is a waste of time and a negative way to view your life. Think instead about, ‘What do I love, what do I need to do to be happy, and what decisions can I make today that will honor my needs and wants'?"  This really resonated with me, because, as an employee, mother, and wife, I feel like I am constantly trying to make someone else happy and I often neglect how I feel about something in order to placate a tense situation at work and sometimes even at home.

About a year ago, the Women in Science group hosted a presentation that was advertised as Join us while Mrs. X shares her secrets for finding that work-life balance! I was really excited to attend because I was newly pregnant and was already wrestling with how I would manage wanting to spend as much time as possible with my baby and husband while still working a full-time, sometimes demanding job- in which I was looking to climb the ranks-coupled with a long commute. The guest speaker was a woman who works for our company. She is the head of her division, is married with one child, and over the course of her career has been in charge of starting offices all over the country for various companies. During the presentation she told us that her career was and is very demanding. She has moved all over the country. She works a lot of hours. She was often gone for long periods of time on work travel. But she didn't regret it all because she wanted to have a career and she was exactly where she wanted to be.

When asked for advice on how to pursue a career while still having time to spend with family, her advice was as follows. Never work part-time because you wouldn't be taken as seriously as a full-time employee in your office. Never become a stay-at-home-mom because it would take you out of the work force for too long and it would be really hard to get a job when you were ready to work again. If you want to get ahead in your career, she suggested working hard and ‘playing with the big boys.’ Sometimes that means working long hours and missing soccer games. Sometimes that means your child spends more time in daycare than you would like. She also informed us that her husband had a very flexible schedule and he was able to work from home a lot. He often had the responsibility of picking up their child from school, staying home if their kid was sick, helping with homework and doing much of the day-to-day stuff that comes along with having children. She took a two-to-three week vacation with her family every year to relax and bond and after that was over she was back at work. When I left the presentation, I was kind of upset. I felt like she didn't really give us any useful advice on how to put equal energy into both work and family because her husband was responsible for most of the day-to-day childcare. I also felt like she was judging people like me who were thinking about doing some of the things she was suggesting we not do.

After stewing about this for a bit, I eventually just got mad at myself for thinking badly about this woman. Why was I judging her when she was clearly just telling us what worked for her and her family? She wasn't giving bad advice, in fact she touched upon some very important issues that mothers face when they have children and work. In her situation, her husband's job was more flexible.  Hers wasn't flexible at all.  They both had to make sacrifices, just on different levels. She had a clear vision of what her all was and it was just different than mine.  I eventually had my son and I realized what my all was.  I also realized that every women's all is different. 

I’m passionate about my career, but I am more passionate about my family. Right now, for me, my all is being able to stay at home with my son while still pursing a career I am passionate about on a part-time basis.I went back full-time for a month and I had a very hard time being the employee and the Mom I wanted to be. For me, full-time means a lot of travel and long hours. When I was at work, I was anxious about not spending enough time with my son. When I was home, I was tired, a little stressed and anxious about travelling for work. So I decided that for now, working part-time is my best option. I could be making more money and taking on more responsibility but I am simply not OK with the extra demands of travel and full time work now that I have a child. So for now, the career part is on the back burner. It’s not on hold, but it is moving a little more slowly than it would if I didn't have a child. And that’s OK, because I made that choice with my husband and I have the full support of my family and (most of my) colleagues. It's a choice many of them made when they were raising their kids. I know that working part-time is not an option that many employers offer and I consider myself very lucky that I am able to work at a job I love with people who aren't concerned with the amount of hours I work as much as the quality of work I do. (I think more companies should take this approach, but I suppose that is an entirely different post).

I should be a little more clear on something.  I guess I should say that I have the support of most of the women and men in my division who have children. There are a few women who I work with (who have not had children) who have actually questioned me as to why I decided to have kids and not work as much, in a very audacious and brazen way I may add (and it is only women who have questioned me, likely because they wrestle with the same questions).

The following are questions that I have fielded within the past year, and my answers:

What is the point of getting your degree if your career is just going to take a back seat? I still get to work in the field I obtained my degree in and I contribute on a high level to research projects going on in the division- I have the best of both worlds, really.  And furthermore- even if I chose to stay at home full-time---higher education doesn't just prepare you for the workforce.  It helps you make informed decision in your daily life regardless of what you decide to do after college! 

Isn't your research important to you? Yes.

Aren't you bored? No.  My little guy keeps me on my toes from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. I get to play, sing, act silly, and teach him all about this wonderful world. I get hugs and kisses and giggles all day long and  I LOVE IT!

I think that even if  daycare costs more than I made, I would still work. Good for you, but that's not for me! (Thanks, Amy Poehler!)

Why is your career less important than your husbands? It's not. We both make sacrifices. If there is a day that I work and we need to take our son to a doctor's appointment or he is sick, or whatever, my husband takes him. On the days I don't work, I take him.  If we both have busy days we figure out whose day will be less likely affected by staying home and we go from there. We both make sacrifices. We had a child. It's no longer about me or him. It's about all of us.

Aren't you bored??? Nope. Really. Come spend a day here and I guarantee you'll have more excitement than a day in the office.

I suppose I had the same feelings before I had children, but I have since realized that it doesn't do anybody any good to judge your female coworkers or male coworkers for that matter. At the end of the day, we are all Moms and Dads who are trying to set strong examples for our children while honoring our own needs and wants and we shouldn't be judged by the path we take to get there. (As long as that path isn't harming anyone).

Looking back, I think the presentation on family-work balance would have been better with a panel of women who are in a variety of different situations. It should have been more of a discussion and celebration of the number of choices we have rather than one person addressing the group because there isn't just one way to do it. It should have directed the discussion to the fact that there are many different alls and women shouldn't be judged for the decisions we make when it comes to bettering ourselves and our families. Everyone has different wants and needs, especially after you have a baby and I no longer care if the new postdoc looks at me and thinks I’m wasting my education or doesn't understand what all the "fuss about babies is." Carpino suggests re-framing our mindset to think “I know what matters most to me, and I’m honoring that, every day, with every choice and decision I make.” And I feel like I'm doing that.

What about you? Are you honoring what matters most to you? What is your all?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My son's open heart surgery to repair a VSD/ASD (a short memoir)

Dennis and I spent the better part of our relationship not wanting kids. We discussed it at great length. We didn’t want the responsibility. We wanted freedom. We wanted to maintain our lifestyle. (Like we were jetting off to Paris every other weekend…ha!) Then, one day, I felt it in my bones. I wanted a baby and I couldn’t think of anything else. So we tried. And I got pregnant. And we had our Weston. Our beautiful, happy, baby boy.

The next day, after being examined by the hospital pediatrician, we found out he had a heart murmur. Three days later our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric cardiologist. About a week later, she diagnosed Weston with a congenital heart defect- a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and an Atrial Septal Defect. Two holes in his heart.

In many cases, VSDs and ASDs close on their own. Sometimes, they never close, but the individual can lead a normal life with little worry. It all depends on the size and location of the defect. In Weston’s case, the VSD was very large and extremely close to a valve, and if left untreated could cause serious damage to his heart and lungs.

Two weeks after he was born I should have been home relaxing, laying with him in my arms, recovering from giving birth. Bonding. Instead, I found myself driving around from pediatrician to cardiologist to surgeon to track his development and prepare for open-heart surgery. The day we found out he would eventually need surgery we felt anxious, sad, broken. We didn’t understand. It was Halloween. We went home, disconnected the doorbell and hid downstairs cuddling our little man and crying, scared out of our freaking minds.

We were suddenly thrown into the life of parents with a ‘sick kid.’ Blood tests, diuretics, liquid vitamins. Round the clock feeding. Extra pumping sessions. Ultrasounds, EKGs, weight checks. Back to work. Weight loss. Failure to thrive. Family Sick Leave. Two and half months later, it was time.

People ask me how I got through it. How I stayed so strong and stoic. How I didn’t cry every time I thought I about what could happen. They couldn’t imagine. The truth is, after the reality of the situation sunk in, I never thought of him as a ‘sick kid.’ Yes, I knew that he had a heart defect. That he wasn’t gaining weight or growing at the proper rate. But after talking extensively to our pediatrician, the cardiologist, the surgeon, and our nurse practitioner case manager, I knew he could be fixed. His condition was scary, but once we calmed down, researched the condition, and talked at length with the doctors it became more manageable. We were lucky. He had something that could be fixed. Easily. Well, if you’re a pediatric heart surgeon that is. Every time I talked to the doctor or surgeon they did not seem worried. Of course there is always a risk, but as they explained, that risk is so small with this kind of procedure. VSD/ASDs are common and this procedure is performed by pediatric cardiologist surgeons daily across the country.

Don’t get me wrong. I was scared. In his two and half months of life my baby boy had brought me more joy and love for him and my husband than I could have ever imagined I would feel. I couldn’t imagine losing him. We never even uttered the words ‘risk of death.’ We never had to. The doctors could see the questions in our eyes as I am sure they do with every patient and they did everything to reassure us that the risk was so minimal that we didn’t have to think about it. I tried not to, but of course I did. In the weeks preceding the surgery, during our morning nursing session I would talk to him and tell him that he needed to eat as much as he could and rest as much as he needed. That I would literally let him nurse round the clock if I had too. That I would do anything for him. I told him all the wonderful things he had done for me and his daddy in his few short months on the planet, how happy he made us and that he couldn’t leave us. I only allowed myself to dwell on it for that morning nursing session. I cried. I held him. I nursed him. And then we went about our day. I think allowing myself that short time to process the unknown but not let it linger throughout the day was important. At the end of the day, I put my faith into science, modern medicine, and some of the best surgeons in the pediatric field.

On December 19, 2013, Weston went in for surgery. His Grandma Deb-Deb, Grandma, Papa, and Aunts and Uncles were there to support us. The nursing staff walked us through the paperwork, the risk of surgery, what we would we would see in the NICU post-surgery. We put on his little hospital gown and kissed him a thousand times. He smiled as they wheeled him away into surgery. The surgery was performed by Dr. Michel Ilbawi and Dr. Sujata Subramanian and a team of highly skilled nurses and nurse practitioners. We went to the waiting room and three and half hours later he was fixed! They were able to patch the larger VSD with gortex and the smaller ASD by simply sewing it together. Muscle would eventually grow over the gortex and his heart should grow normally.

I know it sounds funny, but I think I was most distressed when I saw Weston in the NICU. He had tubes coming from what seemed like every hole in his body. He had a drainage tube coming out of his chest. He had a little O2 monitor on his baby big toe, glowing a bright red, which we nicknamed Rudolph toe. As he was coming out of anesthesia, he had these extremely heavy breaths and his eyes would sort of pop open, roll to the back of his head, and then close. As soon as I walked in, I broke into tears. The next day, I was finally able to hold him. And again, I broke down in tears. I’ll never forget Dr. Nader, the cardiologist on staff that afternoon. She let me hold my baby, encouraged me to nurse him, and told me the best medicine for our little Weston was lots of love, smiles, and cuddles. The staff took amazing care of our son.  Every single member of the staff we encountered was genuinely concerned, answered our questions, extremely respectful, and just plain nice. We ended up having to spend three days in ICU, because there was a shortage of beds in the children’s hospital. In most cases, the child is transferred to a regular hospital room about a day later as long as there are no complications and everything checks out. We were encouraged to stay at the Ronald McDonald House across the street. I cannot say enough good things about that place either.  Beautiful, comfortable rooms, a wonderful staff, snacks, food, coffee.  An amazingly comfortable bed.  It was the perfect place to relax and sleep after long days and evenings in the hospital.

We took him home two days before Christmas Eve. We had some restrictions- we couldn’t hold him under the armpits, we could only cradle him, and we had to sponge bathe him for a few weeks- but that was it. They instructed us how to care for his chest tube incision, what to look out for in terms of infection and healing and sent us on our way. Follow up appointments were a breeze and almost a year later, he’s doing wonderfully! He has a scar on his chest that we keep covered in the summer. According to the Nurse Practitioners- as long as we keep it out of the sun, by the time he hits puberty, there will be almost no scar left.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of and/or sing the praises of Dr. Ilbawi and the staff at Advocate Children’s Hospital. They saved my baby and for that I am forever grateful.

I recently was contacted by our pediatric cardiologist's office to see if I would talk to another mother whose son was recently diagnosed with a similar condition.  I am very thankful that I was able to share our positive story with her and if you stumbled upon this post looking for some answers, I would be happy to share more of our story with you.  I know there are people out there who are not so lucky and I cannot even begin to understand the pain and suffering that some families go through and my heart goes out to those families. We are fortunate enough to be a success story and I acknowledge that every day. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dry Brushing

As parents, we know its hard to keep any kind of personal grooming routine together.  Sometimes I really have to think, "When was the last time I took a shower?" And don't even ask me when the last time I was able to spend an extra 5 minutes in the shower to shave my legs was (my poor husband!)! We all know it's important to take care of yourself, but it can seem so hard to find the time, especially during the holiday season. For that reason we've teamed up with our friend Meg at White Orchid Spa in Bartlett, Il for some simple beauty tips to incorporate into your routine. Every so often we'll check in with Meg for some simple beauty tricks and tips to make you feel like a million bucks without spending a fortune or taking a huge chunk of time out of your day. Taking time for yourself (even if its only 5 minutes) will not only help you feel better, but you'll reflect that positive energy onto your partner and kids!


Tis' the season! For dry skin that is! Winter can be so hard on even the toughest of skin which is why it is so important to pay extra attention to the largest organ of the body this time of year!

One of the best things you can do for the skin (and your whole body) is dry brushing! Dry brushing is a pretty simple routine that buffs away dead skin cells, boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage, and helps to eliminate toxins. It has also been said to smooth away imperfections such as cellulite, and hey, every little bit helps as far as that goes!

The process itself is incredibly easy and only takes a few minutes! Here's how it's done…

Dry brushing can be done daily and is best done right before taking a shower. I recommend doing it while standing in the tub before you turn the water on. Start at your feet and move up towards your legs making long sweeping motions along both sides. Always brush towards the heart and not in back and forth motions. Work your way upwards around your tummy in clockwise motions only. (Clockwise is helpful for digestion). Finish with the arms starting at the hands and working up towards the underarms. Keep in mind not to brush too hard. The skin will be stimulated and a little pink but should not be red and irritated. Then, shower off as normal keeping in mind to keep the water temperature luke warm as hot showers have a tendency to dry the skin out. Finish with a nourishing moisturizer while your skin is still damp.

When choosing a body brush look for one with natural bristles (do not to store the brush in the shower. The bristles will deteriorate if they stay damp), and look for one that has a detachable handle for hard to reach areas. I like this one from amazon!

                                                                       Brush-Natural Skin Tampico Yerba Prima 1 Brush

Dry brushing is one of the cheapest, easiest, and healthiest things you can do for your skin. Brush away and get glowing!

Meg Griffin is a licensed esthetician and owner of White Orchid Spa in Bartlett, Illinois. Any questions? Contact her at 630-659-7772 or email at megwhiteorchid@gmail.com

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekly Recipe Round-up

Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend!  Here are some recipes to help you get back on track toward healthy eating!

Moroccan Pumpkin, Chickpea, and Ginger Soup {via Mediterrasian}

I didn't have a pumpkin so I substituted a sweet potato and a small butternut squash that I had to use and it turned out fantastic!  Preheat the oven while you're cooking the soup to speed up the process.

Mediterranean Chopped Salad {via A Farm Girl's Dabbles}

This is a pretty filling salad but it also pairs nicely with your favorite whitefish or a homemade falafel. Take the leftovers for lunch!

Chicken Pot Pie {via AllRecipes.com}

This is hands down the best homemade chicken pot pie recipe I have ever had. It take a little over an hour, making it a great weekend meal.  Or prep the chicken and veggies during nap time and the rest for dinner.   I've also made a dairy-free version of this that tastes just as good using unsweetened plain almond milk and Smart Balance "butter."

Grilled Chicken and Spinach Salad {via SkinnyTaste.com}

I L-O-V-E, love this salad. The marinade for the chicken is to die for and the salad dressing is SO YUMMY! And you're using fresh ingredients and having a healthy meal that is still filling and just tastes so good. I do leave the onions out of the salad because the dressing itself is quite full of onion flavor with the shallots. Sometimes I add in other veggies that I have hanging around, like fresh mushrooms. We make this even in the winter, when it's too cold to use the traditional grill. We just use our griddler to grill the chicken inside.

Homemade Ground Beef Tacos

I found this recipe online years ago and have never bought a packet of taco seasoning since. It takes just as long, tastes way better, and you actually know what is going into your food. NOTE: I only use 1 TBSP of chill powder since I have to lower the heat for my 2 year old. Also, make sure the beef is 90% lean or you will end up with a large pot of grease tacos. Believe me. 

Beef Taco  Ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef--very important that it is 90% lean!
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
Salt, to taste
8 crispy taco shells

Making Home Made Beef Tacos
1. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until soft and transparent, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Stir in the ground beef with your hands breaking down into small chunks. Cook until no longer pink about 5 minutes, the whole while continue to break meat down into even smaller pieces using a wooden spoon.
3. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar and sugar. The entire mixture will be very loose. Simmer until thickened, about 10-15 minutes (could take longer) to let flavors incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve with all the fixins!

Let us know how these recipes work for you or if you have any you would like to share!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Recipe Round-up

Kathryn and I grew up in the 80's and 90's when dinner time meant just that. Eating dinner. There was no 60-inch in the kitchen. A constant stream of texts didn't interrupt the dinner conversation. There were no iPads, no smartphones, no YouTube streaming cat videos (although 10-year-old me would have looooved those!). We sat down at the table and ate. And on occasion we even got to help prepare dinner! One of my fondest memories is of me and my Mom preparing a chicken when I was around 10 years old. She taught me how to brine it, season it, and tie it up for the oven. She made it dance across the counter top. And when I sat down for dinner that night with my family, I was so proud that I helped cook the meal, I ate everything on my plate.

Today, my husband and I and Weston try to eat dinner as a family every night. Of course there are days when one of us has to work late or goes out with friends, but for the most part, dinner time is family time.  Its a time to wind down after work, cook a tasty meal, and relax. At our house, no cell phones are allowed at the dinner table. There is no television in our kitchen area. Some nights we play music. Others we just sit and relax and bask in the silence that is not an element of either of our workplaces. We talk. We listen. We let Weston play with his food. He babbles to us. We babble back. We communicate. We laugh. We eat.

Family dinner time is not only a time to relax and talk, but it is a chance to better your family. Studies have shown that families who eat together have stronger bonds with each other, leading to better communication among family members. Family dinners significantly decrease a teen's chance of smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, and actually leads to kids who are more motivated, get better grades in school, and are more likely to succeed in the chances they take. Family dinners help to contribute to an individual's cultural identity from learning how to prepare family and/or cultural recipes to listening to the stories and memories that are inevitably intertwined with each recipe. And, kids who are offered nutritional meals at home are more likely to make healthy choices outside of the home. (Sources listed in the resources section below)

What's the point of all this? To convince you how awesome family dinner time is? Well, that's part of it.  But we'd also like to introduce our new blog series-The Recipe Round-up! We know that figuring out how to get healthy meals onto the table while trying to get the entire family to sit down for a meal can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially with packed schedules and fussy eaters (kids and adults alike!), so we’re here to help! Every Sunday, we’ll collect 5 to 7 recipes from around the web that we have tested in our own kitchens. They will be (mostly) healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy including the adventurous and picky toddler and teens in our lives. We hope to introduce you to some new foods that maybe you haven’t tried before as well as some delicious, healthy recipes for old staples like chicken and fish. We'll try to choose breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes that are realistically quick (30-45 minutes) from start to finish or slow-cooker recipes that take minimal effort but taste delicious after stewing all day while you're at work. We'll also try to share tips and tricks on getting your toddlers (and the rest of the family) to eat healthy. Occasionally we'll share more complicated recipes, but I promise they will be worth every bit of the time and energy when you see your family sit down and share a meal together.  

Without further ado, here it is- our first Recipe Roundup!

Delicata Squash with Orzo in a Sage Butter Sauce (via Herbivoracious)

For a light meal or a hearty side try this Delicata Squash with Orzo in a Sage Butter Sauce. Delicata squash has a delicious sweet, nutty, buttery flavor. It tastes like fall. We had it as an entree, but I think it would pair well with pan-fried Tilapia or other mild whitefish. 

Garlicky Baked Shrimp (via Gimme Some Oven)

This is a wonderfully delicious, quick, healthy, meal that was prepped and ready in under 30 minutes! We usually pair this with a hearty salad. 

Southwestern Stuffed Spaghetti Squash (via Comfort of Cooking)

This dish takes a little over an hour so its best prepared on a weekend or on a day when your not rushing around after work trying to get dinner ready. But it's totally worth it. The longest part is roasting the squash. If you have a sitter at your home, see if they can pop the squash in about an hour before you get home. Or roast and scrape the squash the night before so it's ready to add to the southwest mix and pop in the broiler.    

Pork Chops with Dijon Herb Sauce (via Skinnytaste.com)

This is a really quick recipe that yields a very "home cooked" tasting result. It's comfort food on the lighter side. It only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and it is so good! I usually make some egg noodles on the side to really soak up the sauce.

Chicken Crock Pot Tacos (via WikiHow)

My husband found this recipe online years ago and I swear we make this at least every other week. It is beyond easy and the chicken is delicious. This recipe makes a lot--we cut it down to two chicken breasts for two people and a toddler and we still have enough for left overs the next day. But if you wanted to make the full recipe, you could easily use the shredded chicken for other meals during the week.

If you are having trouble getting your family to sit down for dinner or want to read more about the importance of family meal time check out these resources:

Power of Family Meals

Monday, October 27, 2014

Woodland Themed Birthday Party

My sweet baby boy turned 1 at the end of September. I never thought that I would be one to throw a big, huge, 1st Birthday Party for my son, but after such a crazy year (and all of the adorable ideas on Pinterest) I just couldn't resist throwing a celebration of Weston's first year of life.

Weston's room is woodland themed and I absolutely adore anything that is adorned with cute little forest animals. So I decided on a woodland theme. Since I work part-time, money is sometimes kind of tight, so I didn't want to spend a fortune on food and decorations, so I opted for printable and DIY decorations and used some items I already had around the house. About 6 months ago, I stumbled upon this printable Woodland Party Kit by Lilly Bimble and it was on sale, so I immediately purchased it.(Unfortunatley, I didn't get to use the entire kit. I had planned on making some party hats and table tents the day before the party when I returned from a business trip, but because of a fire at an FAA facility in the Chicago area, I almost didn't make it home for the party, so I just used what I had already printed).  I used a number of items I had around the house to create a 'tablescape' and purchased a bunch of tissue paper in the color theme to make the tissue paper balls. Towards the end of September it gets kind of chilly around here so I opted for some cheap and easy cold weather food and put together a chili bar.  We borrowed tables and chairs from family and friends and hoped for nice weather since we had planned for the party to be outside.

When I returned home from my work trip at 2:00 a.m. the morning before the party I wasn't sure if Dennis and I would have enough energy to get a party together in the morning. But with a lot of help from our families and some beautiful weather, we put on a surprisingly awesome 1st Birthday Party for our Weston and I couldn't be happier with how the day turned out.!

I was able to edit the invitations with Adobe Acrobat using a similar font and color.  My father-in-law is in printing, so he printed them out on nice cardstock and cut them for us.  This can easily be done at Office Max/Office Depot or any other local printing shop, or at home.  I didn't notice this before, but you can also purchase a custom printable invitation.
Woodland Birthday decorations

Woodland Birthday theme

Guests were greeted at the driveway with one of the printable Happy Birthday signs and balloons and again at the gate to our backyard with the printable Welcome sign and a tissue paper ball that I made. I put the printable signs in frames that I had laying around the house (from IKEA) and taped some yarn to the back so they could hang over the posts.

woodland Birthday theme

Woodland Birthday theme

I followed this tutorial for the tissue paper balls, leaving enough string to be able to tie it around a fence post. 
Woodland Birthday Theme

Woodland Birthday decorations

Woodland Birthday decorations

For the 'tablescape,' I used some decorations from Weston's room, some moss mixes,  and two potted ferns.  The banner was made by sister (who blogs on Multi-Purpose Mama) using her Silhouette.  The deer, owl, and bird figurines are Christmas ornaments that I purchased on sale last year, the week after Christmas.  They usually sit on a shelf in Weston's room. I removed the Christmas paraphernalia (Santa hats, scarves, etc) and hooks to make them more year-round woodland creatures.  The two trees are also Christmas decorations purchased on sale. It's hard to tell, but the woodland creatures are sitting on a wood slab covered with a moss mix (available at most craft stores or dollar stores).  I painted two terra-cotta pots red to match the color scheme and planted Autumn Ferns that I purchased at Home Depot. I later planted these in my garden. The table is covered with Gold Gingham Oilcloth.

Over the years I've put together a party box (post coming soon) with reusable dinnerware, silverware, and serving platters.  I use these for almost every party and the only things we have to purchase are napkins and cups.

The party was so fun, we forgot to take pictures of the chili bar!  For the chili, I used this recipe from Cooks.com.  My Mother-in-law made cornbread using this recipe from AllRecipes.com, but she used 2 cans of creamed corn, and one can of corn kernels.  For toppings, we laid out shredded cheese, chopped onions, and jalapenos.  For 100 people, we used about 5 lbs of cheese, 10 onions, and one large jar of jalapenos.  We also put out a few different types of hot sauces (Tapatio, Cholula, and Frank's Red Hot), so guests could choose their own spice level.

My aunt made this AMAZING & DELICIOUS woodland themed cake!!!!!!!! Isn't it AWESOME???

Weston wanted me to have the first taste!

Here at It's A Wonder, we're always game for a fun party. Share your party ideas with us in the comments below!  

Grandma Marie's Pork Chops

Happy Monday everyone!  Weston and I just got back from visiting my Grandmother in her new assisted living facility.  She has been sick these past few months, in and out of the hospital and rehab, battling various ills and maladies that befall the elderly. She seems to be doing really well today, but we're taking things day by day. Quite honestly, she is nearing the end of her life, and while it breaks my heart, I know she has lived a good life, raised an amazing family, and provided us with a lifetime of love and learning. She has always made it a point to pass down her home-keeping secrets to the next generation including her always-delicious recipes. In honor of my Grandma Marie, and in hopes that she hangs on just a little longer so we can love and learn a little more, I’d like to share her recipe for the best pork chops ever.

Grandma Marie’s pork chops are a legend in my family. Actually, most of her cooking is and I hope to share some of her recipes in the upcoming months. But her pork chops are at the top my list. They are always so juicy and full of flavor. When my husband first tried them, he was pleasantly surprised and now when we head over to Grandma’s for lunch or dinner and she asks us what we want to eat, these are always at the top of his list too! These pork chops are easy to make, take less than 30 minutes to bake, and are sure to be your next go to meal.

This recipe is for 2 pork chops. If you are making more, plan on using one garlic clove for each chop. The breading mix should last through approximately 4 chops, but you may need to increase the ingredients as needed. Just keep it at a 1/1 ratio.

You will notice that the recipe calls for frozen pork chops-it works with fresh chops too, but Grandma swears it works better if they are frozen!


2 pork chops (frozen)
2 garlic cloves
2 egg whites
1 cup flour
1 cup plain bread crumbs
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Pork Chop Prep

You may choose to do this step the night before or in the morning before you leave for work. Remember to eat the chops within 24 hours of defrosting.
  • Take the pork chops out of the freezer and unwrap them.
  • Peel the garlic cloves and smash them lightly with the back of a fork or spoon.
  • Rub the garlic clove on both sides of the frozen pork chop. 
  • Let the pork chops defrost in the fridge 
  • If your pork chops are fresh- let the garlic soak in for about ten minutes before you start the rest of the process.

When you are ready to cook:

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Prepare the breading
    • Mix the egg whites in a bowl that is big enough to hold the chops
    • Combine the flour, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a bowl that is also big enough to hold the chops
  • Cook the chops
    • Heat approximately two to three tablespoons of oil in a medium sized pan.
    • Coat each chop in the egg wash.
    • Then coat each chop in the breading mixture.
    • Sear each pork chop on each side for approximately 3-5 minutes (until golden brown).

    • Place chops on a baking pan and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or longer depending on the size of the chop- or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees (measuring the internal temperature is the best way to make sure your meat is thoroughly cooked as cooking time depends on a number of factors including type of oven, altitude, and size of the chop)

Serve with your favorite healthy side like pan-fried asparagus, steamed veggies, quinoa or brown rice- something that can be easily prepared while the chops are cooking!

Make it your own:

Use homemade breadcrumbs
Add some herbs to the breading mixture


Wednesday, October 22, 2014


A few months ago, when Weston was still breastfeeding, I got a yeast infection in my breast which turned into a nasty yeast infection/rash on his butt. The pediatrician gave us a prescription anti-fungal/steroid for his rash and prescribed two other over-the-counter remedies


I have found that most cloth diaper companies recommend their one-size diapers for babies 8-35lbs. For this reason, many people choose to use disposable diapers on newborns for the first few weeks or until they reach the 8lb requirement. However, many companies do sell cloth diapers made specifically for newborns (approx. 6-12 lbs). As I said, we chose the Grovia newborn AIOs, but lucky for us friends of ours let us borrow a few Blueberry (formerly Swaddlebees) and BumGenius newborn AIOs and gDiapers to test out along with the Grovias I purchased.

We started off exclusively using the Grovia newborn AIOs. I must admit, we had

Clothing Diapering with a Hybrid System

Kathryn has given you a basic rundown of cloth diapering, so I am just here to share what works for our family. When I found out that I was pregnant, there was no doubt in my mind we would use cloth diapers. I am pretty sure my family wanted to have an intervention for me but instead they used fear tactics. They all recanted stories about dunking poopy diapers in the toilet and sticking themselves with pins. But fear did not prevail. I was armed with information after consulting the cloth diaper guru in our network of friends (Kathryn) and doing my own research. When Weston arrived, I am sure everyone still had their doubts, but they all jumped on board and haven’t complained yet! Not to my face anyway.

Dennis and I decided that we wanted to try cloth diapering Weston from the beginning, so after much research we purchased a set of newborn AIOs and the Hybrid Live Package (shells and soakers) from Grovia. You can read about our experience cloth diapering a newborn here.  Kathryn has already filled you in on AIOs, so this post will be about our experience with hybrid diapers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Trend: Moccs

Over the past year or two, a new trend has emerged in baby and kids footwear. Behold the moccasin, or “moccs” as they are more lovingly known by most fans. These soft sole shoes are usually made of leather or suede and have an elastic opening, making them easy off and on for Mom and Dad, but also allowing them to stay on your little one’s feet. I'm dying to get a pair for my daughter, but lately she has been quite picky about what goes on her feet. Over the summer she would pretty much only wear a pair of pink and purple neoprene Nike sandals we bought her for the beach. These days it's a black canvas slip on shoe I purchased on a whim from Walmart! Go figure, my two year old has a mind of her own.

You’re right, the moccasin isn’t a new shoe. In fact it’s been around for ages and Minnetonka has made and still makes some pretty awesome moccasins! My husband even has a pair of moccasins that he wore as a toddler!

However, there's a new kid in town when it comes to these soft soled shoes. The most familiar brand, and one you may recognize from the ABC show “Shark Tank,” is Freshly Picked. Susan Peterson and her adorable moccs were already quite popular with trendy moms and she had a small celebrity following when she appeared on the show in May 2014 and struck a deal with Daymond John. Since then, her brand has grown tremendously, including many new colors, a collection of totes and clutches, and recently she announced that limited colors of her moccs will now appear in on Nordstrom.com and in select Nordstrom stores. The price point hasn’t changed ($60 for most colors and designs) and the moccs are still made in the USA.

Freshly Picked certainly isn’t the only place you will find these adorable and stylish baby and toddler shoes. I’ve collected a few of my favorite mocc makers below--each offering a different take on this cool “new” trend. Check them out and grab a pair for your little one this fall. They’ll no doubt be the coolest baby on the block.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cloth Diapering your baby in 4,000 words or less...

You’re having a baby! Congratulations! Time to start making a lot of pie in the sky statements about what kind of parent you will be and pick out all organic cotton clothes and the most modern looking baby toys you can find and start reading baby sign language books!

While we didn’t end up sticking to our guns on all of those things (we did eventually break down and buy an exersaucer, play pen and some polyblend pajamas and I couldn’t tell you how to even sign the word “hi”), one thing we have stuck to is using cloth diapers vs. disposable. 

I know what you might be thinking. It’s so much work. It’s gross. It’s just as expensive in the long run.

Say what you will about cloth diapering—I know it isn’t for everyone—but if it is something that you are really interested in, I am here to tell you that YOU CAN DO IT! It’s really not that hard, it’s really not any grosser than using a disposable diaper, and you can do it quite affordably.

First a disclosure: With most subjects related to babies and parenting, lots of people will tell you that you are crazy for wanting to cloth diaper your child. Like they might want to hold an intervention for you. And they might buy you boxes of disposable diapers because they think you are too poor to afford the "luxury" of disposables. To those folks, just smile and say something like "bless your heart" and then brush that off your shoulder as you return those diapers for some store credit, because don't knock it until you've tried it, folks. I'm not that big of an evangelist for anything, but I do feel like if you want to do this, you shouldn't let anyone talk you out of it by scare tactics. So, the purpose of this post is to explain how we did it and maybe help make your decision a little easier!

And to those who have never wanted to use cloth, more power to ya! To each his own! God Bless America! and all that good stuff. I've never wanted to ride a horse and you won't catch me saddling up anytime soon!

And so we begin...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Bean and Quinoa Patties (Baby and Toddler Recipe)

When Dennis and I began experimenting with giving Weston solid foods we soon discovered that black beans were his absolute favorite. We began by smooshing black beans between our fingers and giving them to him. Then I made him a black bean, red pepper, onion puree. When he started to prefer picking up foods with his fingers and feeding himself, I came up with the recipe for these patties. When they are cooked, these patties crumble into nice finger sized pieces that he can pick up and stick in his mouth- all by himself!

1 can of black beans
2 cups of cooked quinoa
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup of red pepper
1/4 cup of green onion
1/4 cup of corn
1 egg
2 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well until combined.
3. Spray two baking pans with oil.
4. Place heaping spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking pans leaving about ½ inch in between each spoonful.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

This recipe makes 12-15 patties depending on how large your spoonfuls are.

After the patties have cooled place them in a Tupperware or glass storage container and freeze. Patties will keeps for about 1 month.

To prepare them for your baby or toddler, place patties on a microwave safe dish and microwave in 15-20 second intervals depending on your microwave until heated to desired temperature.

You may find that you don't have all of the ingredients needed to make a recipe or that you have something similar but not the exact ingredient. You may also find that your baby or toddler may not like some of the ingredients listed or you may not be comfortable feeding them certain ingredients yet, like seeds. For instances like these, I've offered some recipe variations below, but its always fun to experiment with what you have. Who knows? You might just find your babies new favorite combination!

Recipe Variations
Substitute green onion with red or white onion.
Substitute red pepper with yellow, green, or orange pepper.
Substitute egg yolk for the whole egg if your baby cannot yet have egg whites.


Sweet Potato and Lentil Patties (Baby and Toddler Recipe)

I love making these for Weston. One of the first solid foods he ate was sweet potato and he absolutely loved it. I can't get enough of watching his little hands scoop up pieces of these patties and shoving them into his mouth and then making the sign for "more."

These patties are still soft in the middle after baking so they are nice and mushy for babies and toddlers and with sweet potatoes about to be in season these are a great addition to the Thanksgiving and Christmas table for your little ones.

2 Sweet Potatoes peeled, chopped, and steamed
1 cup of cooked split peas
2 Tbsp of flax seed
1 tsp of cinnamon

Cooking Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. If you haven’t done so already, steam the sweet potatoes and cook lentils
(To cook lentils bring approximately 1.5 cups of water (or broth) to a boil. Add 1 cup of lentils.  Allow the water to return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until lentils are soft.)
3. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
4.  Spray a baking pan with cooking oil.
5. Spoon the mixture onto the baking sheet sheet.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

This recipes makes 18-24 patties depending on how big your spoonfuls are.

After the patties have cooled place them in a Tupperware or glass storage container and freeze. Patties will keeps for about 1 month.

To prepare them for your baby or toddler, place patties on a microwave safe dish and microwave in 15-20 second intervals depending on your microwave until heated to desired temperature.

You may find that you don't have all of the ingredients needed to make a recipe or that you have something similar but not the exact ingredient. You may also find that your baby or toddler may not like some of the ingredients listed or you may not be comfortable feeding them certain ingredients yet, like seeds. For instances like these, I've offered some recipe variations below, but its always fun to experiment with what you have. Who knows? You might just find your babies new favorite combination!

Recipe Variations
Substitute green lentils with yellow or red lentils or peas (cooking instructions are the same).
Substitute flax seeds with poppy, chia, and sesame seeds or omit the seeds altogether.
Omit the cinnamon.
Add 1/4 tsp of nutmeg.


Squash,Carrot, and Potato Patties (Baby and Toddler Recipe)

These squash, carrot, and potato patties are a great way to incorporate fall seasonal produce into your baby's diet and use up those extra vegetables from your CSA box. 

2 russet potatoes – shredded
2 carrots- shredded
1 yellow Squash- shredded
1 egg
1 cup of flour
½ onion-finely chopped or shredded
3 garlic cloves –finely chopped or pressed using a garlic press
¼ cup of green onions- chopped
1 Tbsp of olive oil or other cooking oil
1 tsp of basil
1 tsp of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix until well combined.
3. Spray two baking pans with oil.
4. Place heaping spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking pans leaving about ½ inch in between each spoonful.

 5. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until patties are a golden brown.

This recipe makes 18-24 patties depending on how big your spoonfuls are.

Cooking tips: For shredding the potatoes I use the coarse side of a cheese grater and just grate it directly into the bowl. I use my Kitchen Aid to mix the ingredients together (mostly because I just love an excuse to use the Kitchen Aid) but it can always be mixed by hand.

After the patties have cooled place them in a Tupperware or glass storage container and freeze. Patties will keeps for about 1 month.

To prepare them for your baby or toddler, place patties on a microwave safe dish and microwave in 15-20 second intervals depending on your microwave until heated to desired temperature.

You may find that you don't have all of the ingredients needed to make a recipe or that you have something similar but not the exact ingredient. You may also find that your baby or toddler may not like some of the ingredients listed or you may not be comfortable feeding them certain ingredients yet, like seeds. For instances like these, I've offered some recipe variations below, but it's always fun to experiment with what you have. Who knows? You might just find your babies new favorite combination!

Recipe Variations:
Substitute russet potatoes with any other kind of potato.
Substitute herbs with other herbs such as parsley or Italian seasoning or omit herbs all together.
Substitute yellow squash with zucchini.
Substitute egg yolk for the whole egg if your baby cannot yet have egg whites.
Omit onions or garlic depending on your baby's taste.