First Birthday Gift Ideas

Rocking Horse

Rocking Horse


Tricycle Walker

Hammer Set

Hammer Set








Frances is coming up on one year at the end of the month, and the grandparents have started asking for gift ideas. I don’t remember what it was like to be that young, so I’m not sure what to suggest. She has certainly outgrown some things since Christmas, like her bouncy seat and jump-up, but I don’t know if they even need to be replaced with anything.

She’s too young for crayons and still prefers to chew on books rather than read them, so I don’t want to request art supplies or more books. She loves her wooden blocks and stacking cups, but I don’t think she needs more of them. She’s too young for a Doll House, and I think I would have more fun with that than she would.

What about a Hammer Set? Will she be into that soon? What about a Tricycle Toy? Or a Rocking Horse?

I was trying to think of some bigger items that would be nice to not have to purchase ourselves, but I can’t think of anything we don’t already have: high chair, car seat, backpack. Is there some expense we’re overlooking?

As a new parent, each stage is something new and different so I’d love to hear what some of you veterans have to say!

When Babies Mimic Animal Behavior

A girl and her dog

A girl and her dog

Frances has always been curious about our pets. She loves to crawl over to our dog and give her pats and pets. Before we could get Franci to reliably say “Papa”, she could tell you a puppy said “arf-arf”.

Since she’s so in-tune to our dogs, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when she started barking along with them. If someone knocked on the door, she would happily join in on a round of alarm barks. What really came as a shock was the time when the UPS truck could be heard rounding the corner, and Franci started barking even before the dogs did!

I’ve heard of dogs teaching babies to crawl and go up and down stairs. You can find videos of dogs teaching babies to play fetch, and even one of a cat teaching a baby how to walk!

Have your kids learned any skills from your pets?

Giving Childhood Back to Children

More than just for fun!

More than just for fun!

Peter Gray wrote an article, “Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less“, that is making the rounds and I think it’s one that everyone should read, not just parents. I thought it was going to be about allowing kids more freedom – to run to the corner store to buy milk or to walk home from school unsupervised – but it was specifically about the importance of play.

Playtime is more than just a way to pass a few hours. Gray’s research asserts that play is essential in all mammals’ development, and the those that have the most to learn play the most. He makes great points about creativity and the fact that we have robots and computers to do many of the tasks that we used to do, so our focus now should be on solving problems and thinking towards the future.

One point I agree with (and so did Einstein) is that too much schooling can destroy your interest in a topic you once enjoyed. After completing my Computer Science degree, I didn’t want to touch a computer for years. In contrast, my husband saw himself in a similar position and chose to leave school and pursue CS on his own. Guess who still loves computers and enjoys making a living with them?

Play teaches children self-control and teamwork better than any classroom because they live the results. There are correlations between the opportunities to play and mental disorders and anxiety. I know that I’m in a healthier state of mind if I have time to play!

The most ironic part of this situation is that while US (and UK, where Gray resides) schooling becomes more rigorous, China is doing the exact opposite. They tried what we’re trying already, and it was a miserable failure (check out, “China’s 10 new and surprising school reform rules“, on the Washington Post’s website for more on this topic).

Where do you stand on the subject? Do you think school days should be longer and holidays shorter? Are we too hard on young students or not hard enough?

Losing a Pet


RIP Stella

For years I joked that we had to have a baby before our dog died, just so we would have something happy to focus on when it happened. Since our dog Stella was nine years old, we figured that time was far in the future; when she was old and grey and was done swimming and playing tug-of-war and racing after the tennis ball. It turns out that day was Saturday, when an autoimmune disorder took her in 36 hours.

Frances is young enough that she doesn’t notice anything is out of the ordinary. She doesn’t even notice the tears as she pokes my face while I’m nursing, which makes it almost harder to remember to smile. But smile we must, because life goes on. The more joy you have in your life, the more devastating the tragedies can be. We can’t control the worst, but we can certainly seek out big and little pleasures to keep as memories, and to have something to look forward to.

It’s too soon to reminisce, as much as I want to keep her fresh in my mind, so instead we’ll make new memories. And get in as many kisses and giggles as Franci can handle.

Stockpiling Update: Year End Review

My freezer four months later






Happy New Year everyone! It’s time for me to take stock of the deep freeze and see how we did. We didn’t manage to eat all the freezer food, but we came pretty close.  Like most yearly goals, all we needed was another few days!

Here’s the run down: The door used to be full of side dishes and lunches, and now it’s full of breastmilk, so I don’t really count that. The middle shelf has quite a bit of baby food at the moment, but the way Franci eats it will be gone quickly.

The bottom shelf used to be full of meat, but now it contains butter, nuts and nut flour, and chocolate. Basically, things that don’t have to be refrigerated but since a full freezer is an energy efficient freezer, I might as well store them there. [While technically I am stockpiling baking ingredients, I can’t bring myself to count them as such since I can’t go out and buy them at a moments notice (being specialty items).]

The one question I get most often is whether or not we got sick of the meals. I chose some pretty good recipes that our family considers comfort food, like Lasagne and Chicken Pot Pie. So the answer is No, with one exception. I’m sick of roasts! I think the shelf would be empty if not for the roasts. I’m not a fan of pot roast, and it seems like any related cut tastes the same to me once you slow cook it with carrots, potatoes and onions. And it is surprisingly hard to come up with recipes that don’t end up tasting the same! I tried one Asian version, and it was a failure. So if anyone has a recipe for slow cooked beef that might be less traditional, please share!

I may have failed my goal of finishing the freezer meals by the end of the year, but I feel pretty good about the progress. I hope I’ll be able to declare victory by the end of the month!

Baby’s First Trip to the Beach

Beach Combing

Beach Combing

We’re headed to the beach next month to enjoy some fun in the sun, and I can’t wait!  I’m excited to watch Frances take in an assortment of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes on her first tropical vacation. I was hoping she would be able to run around on the beach, but I think it will be a more relaxing trip since she is not yet walking. Unless she has a huge breakthrough in the next two weeks, I expect her to spend most of her vacation time sitting.

Which brings me to my question. If I were 10 months old, what would I like to play with on vacation? And no, Mama’s cell phone is not an option. But it better be at least as exciting as all the flotsam and seawater she will be drawn to ingest.

Since we have to pay for checked bags, we’re hoping to travel light. And I would prefer to not resort to buying a bunch of cheap plastic junk from the beach vendors. To top it off, Franci’s toy-of-the-moment is her set of wooden blocks. Unless we want to return home with half as many as we started with, I figure we should leave the tiny toys at home.

So I’m at a loss. I have no idea what to pack for her, so I hope someone has a few suggestions for me!

Recipe: Rolo Pretzel Bites

Rolo Pretzel Bites

Rolo Pretzel Bites

If you want to bring a homemade treat as a hostess gift or to a party but don’t have time to make anything, try this recipe! By the time the oven was preheated they were assembled and ready to bake.
Rolo Pretzel Bites

  • Small pretzels (the square ones would work well too)
  • Rolos
  • Pecan halves, and/or red and green M&M’s
  1. Heat oven to 350F.
  2. Line baking sheet with parchment. Unwrap rolos. Place unbroken pretzels on baking sheet.  You can crowd them in real close. Place a rolo on each pretzel in the center.
  3. Bake for 3 minutes until rolos are soft but not melted.  Meanwhile, pick out a few intact pecan halves from the bag.
  4. Remove pretzels from oven and place a pecan half or M&M in the center of each and press down.
  5. Wait until they have hardened completely before storing. You can put it in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.

This is another recipe that would have a bunch of great variations.  Try cooked bacon instead of pecans or M&M’s!  Use peppermint Kisses instead of rolos!

Homemade Presents for the Holiday


Owl Pillow

I started a tradition a few years ago to make gifts for my nieces each Christmas. I love to craft and sew and, since I can never get organized enough to make them birthday gifts as well, it’s my mission to send them Christmas gifts that I’ve made myself.

This year, the project was Fleece Owl Pillows. My mom and I found a pattern at Jo-Ann Fabrics months ago, and when I told her a few weeks ago I wanted to make them for my nieces she said. “I was going to make Frances one for Christmas!”. It was destiny. So yesterday we got together and busted them out. They are so cute I should have made one for my self!

Ever since I read Joy’s post about DIY Fabric Gift Bags, I’ve been using more and more fabric bags. So of course the owls are going in their own re-usable fabric gift bag. They are especially great for over-sized or oddly shaped gifts.

Fabric Gift Bags

Fabric Gift Bags

If sewing isn’t your thing, there are a million other craft ideas. If you’d like to make your own holiday crafts, get thee to Pinterest now!

Are you making your own holiday gifts this year? I’m always looking for good ideas so please share!

Starting Holiday Traditions

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving Traditions

Now that we’re approaching our first holiday season with Frances, I’ve been thinking a lot about family traditions. What rituals did I relish as a kid? What yearly activities do we want to incorporate into our celebrations? Is it time to re-imagine some of our current traditions?

Quite a few years back we decided to have a Greek-themed Thanksgiving for once. No, we’re not Greek. I wasn’t looking forward to cooking for three days, by myself, only to sit down to a meal I was tired of eating. I think the year before we had turkey for Thanksgivig and Christmas, and I was still burnt out on it. Plus, it’s such a rich and heavy meal! I wanted a menu that incorporated a few more fresh and raw ingredients, and that was a little more vegetarian-friendly. Thus, Greek Thanksgiving was created.

I haven’t looked back since. I love lamb, hummus, tzatiki, tabboleh, greek salad and, most of all, baklava for dessert. Plus, almost everything is made ahead of time. No sweating over the gravy as guests salivate over their wine glasses. It didn’t occur to me that I would ever do another turkey Thanksgiving until my husband brought it up. Didn’t I want Frances to experience what every other American child does? To relate to the tastes and smells of a “traditional” feast?

No family celebrates the holidays in exactly the same way, but a Turkey on T-Day is pretty much assumed. So maybe we’ll have to alter our family tradition just a little. Maybe next year we’ll have a turkey, or a goose the year after that. Or maybe Franci will just end up with those crazy parents that don’t have a turkey on Thanksgiving??

Stockpiling Update 4

costcoFailure, thy name is Costco.

In an attempt to empty our deep freeze enough to defrost it, and because of my stockpiling reduction quest, we’ve been putting off a trip to Costco for months. It’s been so hard watching the coupon books come and go and to NOT jump in the car to stock up on coconut water or ziplock bags, but until this weekend I remained strong.

Finally, we could wait no longer.  Well, the dogs couldn’t anyway, since their food comes from Costco. So we made a family trip to our favorite warehouse store and filled not one, but TWO carts! So now the fridge is full and the one empty freezer shelf was filled. I just couldn’t help myself! The holidays are coming, and I am determined not to run out of butter or pecans this year.

The only upside is that we managed to avoid buying even one package of meat, which is a personal best. I couldn’t avoid stocking up on parchment paper, however, since like Christmas, it only comes around once a year.