Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

The lure of the purple puree.

I have a love/hate relationship with the books that have recipes that sneak healthy foods into less healthy ones.  On the one hand, they go against so much of what I believe about food.  There are not “good” and “bad” foods–all real food is good food, we just want to eat a balanced diet overall.  And something about the idea that healthy options–like greens and beans–need to be hidden at all just rankles.

Plus, I find that these books tend to make nutritional changes that are not what I would choose.  The emphasis often seems to be on reducing fat, or trading out saturated fat for polyunsaturated fats like canola oil.  Personally, I like to increase the amount of healthy fat in snacks–and I include grass-fed butter and egg yolks on my list of healthy fats.  And sometimes it seems to me that a lot of the recipes still have an awful lot of (usually refined white) sugar.

That being said, it is hard for me to resist the idea of taking a food and boosting its nutritional value.  Especially lately, when Anna has really whittled down the list of foods that she will reliably eat.  So I can’t help wondering if there are ways to create foods that she will always say yes to (like a piece of cake) that can also get some good calories and nutrients into her.

I’ve had mixed luck with my experiments.  I made the Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies from “Deceptively Delicious“–altering the recipe a bit to include whole eggs and real butter.  These were pretty good, although the chickpeas definitely shorten the shelf life.   (One of the things I’m often trying to figure out is how to boost the protein in snacks–given her druthers, it sometimes seems like Anna might choose to live on simple carbs alone.  At least when she’s not devouring steak.  Sigh.)  These inspired me to try the Sneaky Chef’s Brilliant Blondies, which were less successful–the texture was a little weird, and they definitely tasted beany.  I think I’d like to try a bar cookie version of the chickpea cookies, which might be a nice compromise between the two.

One of the more interesting recipes I tried was a cupcake that includes the Sneaky Chef’s “purple puree,” a mix of spinach and blueberries.  I used the recipe here, and they were okay.  Certainly good enough that the kids ate them up, but they didn’t make me jump up and down.  But when I got ready yesterday to make my favorite Zucchini Chocolate Cake, I wondered if I could boost its nutrition by adding a little purple puree.  Which led to some other modifications of the recipe, too, like reducing the sugar.

It seems like a good sign that the cake was halfway gone before I managed to snap a picture of it.  Or even get it onto a plate, for that matter.

Here’s the recipe.  I think I might still tweak it a little (more puree?  ditch the wheat germ?), but this version is pretty good.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake (version #2)

  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup spinach leaves (I used frozen but I’d guess that fresh would work just fine)
  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup flax meal
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips (optional but tasty!)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Sucanat or other whole cane sugar
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 convection). Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Cook the blueberries and spinach until very soft.  I put them both in a heatproof glass bowl and microwaved them for 4 minutes.  Let them cool a little, and then puree until smooth (an immersion blender helps reduce the number of dishes to wash at the end).  Grease and flour a bundt pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, flax meal, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.  Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.  Beat eggs together with the sugars, vanilla, and butter; stir in the zucchini and blueberry/spinach puree.  Mix dry and wet ingredients lightly and pour into pan.  Bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

I posted about this recipe on Facebook, and the consensus was that you can definitely eat chocolate cake for breakfast if it has this many vegetables in it.  Enjoy!

The artist at work.

Finding my way to “Yes.”

Sometimes I am staggered by how hard it can be to say “Yes.”

I want to be that mom.  I strive to be that mom.  The mom who is relaxed and open and embraces all the plans and ideas and visions of my kids.

But sometimes that mom is thwarted by another–the mom who is overwhelemed by how quickly a clean room becomes a messy one, who is chronically ten steps behind, who is so behind on my to-do list that I haven’t made one in years.  It’s not that I am a neat freak (ha!), rather that I am always just barely keeping the chaos at bay, so that a lot of extra mess sometimes feels like just enough to push me over the edge to insanity.

All this came to the forefront the other day when Anna came in from the screen porch–where both the girls were industriously engaged in creating of one kind an another–and uttered the dreaded words: “Mom, I need some glitter.”

I said, “Okay, let me help you find some.”

And then I said, “Let’s figure out how we can keep this from being too messy.  Let’s get some newspaper we can spread out on the table.  Let’s pick out just a few colors.”

So far, so good.  We spread out newspaper to contain the glitter.  I reminded Anna to be careful with the glitter, and went back inside.

In a few minutes, Anna came back in, and she had a plan.  “Mom!” she said excitedly, “I’m going to sprinkle glitter on my head so that I’ll have sparkly hair!!”

(It seems like a good sign that she knew to talk this plan over with me before she did it.  It’s not long ago that I would have come out to the screen porch and found her sitting in a pile of glitter.)

“Hmmm,”  I said, stalling.  “I’m not sure it will stay in your hair that way.  Let me think….okay, I have an idea, I’ll meet you back out on the porch.”

“Okay,” said Anna, “I’m going to get more glitter.”  Okay.  More glitter.

My idea was to bring Anna a small container of hair gel, and she could put the glitter into the gel and put that on her hair.  I thought this would also feed her love of mixing concoctions.  And would perhaps limit the transfer of glitter to every inch of the house.

It worked pretty well.  She was thrilled with this plan, and mixed every glitter color we had into the gel.  My thought was that she would make the glitter gel and then we could keep it, but of course she put every last drop onto her hair.

Things did deteriorate a bit after that.  Anna’s excitement over her hair and all the glitter was expressed by starting to pour little piles of glitter onto the newspaper–first rolling some beads in it, and then putting her sticky-with-hair-gel hands in the glitter.  At this point, I said, “Okaayyy, let’s put the glitter away now and clean up!” which actually went pretty well.  The mess was not too bad, and Anna jumped in to help with the clean-up.

Within the hour, Anna was in the shower to wash off her sticky head, but the glittery extravaganza had been quite a thrill.

It feels like a constant balancing act.  Especially with Anna, who loves nothing better than hurling her whole body into a messy, mixing, arty project–and is young enough that she really can’t take full responsibility of clean-up, even if she intends to.  I treasure those focused moments when she’s fully engaged in creating.  But, being a human trying to keep our family life running, I say “no” more often than I like.  Or I lose my temper when I’m surprised by the aftermath of a messy project.

So I keep trying.  Mainly, when my immediate response wants to be “no,” I try and pause.  What would happen if I say yes?  Do I have the resources to embrace the plan at hand, to be carried along with the girls on this messy adventure that is our life?  When I do, when I can jump full-force into the “yes,” I’m always glad I did.

Totally different and completely the same.

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!  This post is part of the June Carnival of Breastfeeding. The topic this month is “Breastfeeding: The Second Time Around.”

My two girls couldn’t have had more different starts to breastfeeding.  Cate was born after a long and difficult labor, having aspirated meconium.  She was deep-suctioned and whisked to the NICU.  Her oxygen saturation was below optimal, and I didn’t even try to put her to the breast until the next day.  At that point, she was having NOTHING of that, and so began an uphill battle to get her to the breast.  Thanks to the help of many wonderful professionals, we made it there, and were exclusively breastfeeding (no formula! no pumping! no  SNS!) by three weeks. (No lovely nursing pictures from those early days, let me tell you!)

Anna was a completely different story.  Although I had another unscheduled c-section, she was able to stay with me and go immediately to the breast.  Although I was still numb from my anesthesia, she latched right on and nursed like a champ.  Which is pretty much what she did for the next five years.

Asleep at the breast after her first nursing

With Cate, it took a long time to get into a groove.  In retrospect, it wasn’t until she was about six months old that she really settled into nursing—at which point she spontaneously gave up her pacifier and learned to nurse for comfort.

Anna, on the other hand, was a nursie (our family vernacular for breast) lover from the beginning.  She nursed long and often, and even today (more than a year after she weaned), my breasts are a favorite source of comfort.

Some of these differences are due to the rockier start we had the first time around.  Other differences are just due to their personalities.  While Cate easily cut back her nursing frequency at around two, Anna continued to nurse frequently day and night for literally years longer.  Knowing these two girls, this is no surprise to me. Anna is just more intensely attached to me than her sister ever was, and it played out in our nursing relationship just like every other part of our relationship.

But the differences between nursing my two girls are also about the differences in me.  I’ll never forget the first time they put Cate in my arms to nurse—I had no earthly idea what to do.  During those early days and weeks and even months, I was plagued with worries about everything from whether or not she was getting enough milk to whether it was okay to give her a pacifier.  I felt awkward nursing in public and was just meeting friends who were also breastfeeding their babies.  It was all new, and it was hard just because of that.

By the time Anna was born, though, I had been nursing for 3-1/2 years.  When they handed her to me the first time, years of practice meant I could latch her on without even really thinking about it.  Nursing my baby seemed like the most natural thing in the world.  And while we had a few bumps (my milk was very slow to come in), I never really worried about my ability to noursish my baby with my body.

I remember being at a well-baby visit with Anna, in which I agreed to have my intake questions asked by a young resident.  One of the things he asked me was, “How often does she nurse?”  I answered, “I don’t know.”  And I didn’t.  I really had no idea, because I was paying no attention to clocks—when she needed to nurse, I just pulled up my shirt and latched her on.  The poor doctor was entirely befuddled by my answer (especially since my baby was clearly healthy and growing well), so pressed me for an answer he could put down on his form.  Finally I said, “She nurses on demand, and feeds at least 10 times a day.”  This gave him something to write down, and then he was satisfied.

When I look back, there was so much I didn’t understand about breastfeeding before I did it myself.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was that breastfeeding was not just an alternative source of food for my baby; it was a way of mothering my children.  So of course, that mothering looks different for my two unique children, just like our relationships are different in other ways.  And what I brought to the table was so different the second time around—I was more experienced and confident, and had a supportive community in place. But the fundamentals were the same: breastfeeding was the central way that I nourished, comforted and connected with my young children.  Really, the rest is all details.

(The two photos above are by the wonderful Judith Kuegler.)

By the way, both my girls nursed until they were 5-1/2 years old, almost to the day.  So in some ways, they were exactly the same after all.

Please visit the other participants in the Carnival:

Lessons Learned by Takisha at Reporter2Mother

Carnival of Breastfeeding: The Second Time Around by Sarah at Good Enough Mum

Seven Reasons Why Breastfeeding is Usually Easier the Second Time Around by Tanya at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog

Second Time’s the Charm by Elita at Blacktating

Tandem Nursing by SBelle at Treasured Belle

Breastfeeding the Second Time Around by Caramelchica at Ambular Logic

Once More With Feeling by Zoie at TouchstoneZ

Once More With Feeling: Contemplating BBAC by Dou-la-la

more links to be added throughout the day!

Gifts

For years, I was the mom that included “your presence is your present” or something like that on any birthday party invitations.  And I meant it–I want birthday parties to first and foremost be about celebrating with friends, and not about acquiring more stuff.  I’ve been to way too many little kid birthday parties where the ceremonial ripping open of presents was altogether too much the center of the festivities.

But as my kids have grown, my perspective has shifted.  And it’s not just because they’ve gotten bigger, though that’s part of it.  In those early years, birthday parties were often big family affairs, with a large circle of friends and their families attending.  In the past couple of years, though, both the girls have started to opt for smaller parties with a small number of close friends.  This means that the guests are a group of kids who both know my daughters well and genuinely want to pick out a special gift for them.  Who am I to put the kabbosh on that?

And Cate–who had a birthday party this weekend–is especially not a “thing” girl.  Unlike her sister, she is rarely feeling wanty for stuff that she sees, and was hard pressed to come up with suggestions for birthday gifts that she would like.  (In this way, she most definitely takes after her father, and not me!)  So her friends were left somewhat on their own to figure out what might make a good gift.

To be honest, the results were various and amazing.  Books and do-dads and toys that reflect a deep knowing of my girl.  Beautiful handmade art and embellished textiles.Veterinarian playmobil, a pointe shoe key chain, pizza scratch-and-sniff stickers, carefully selected animal figurines, a dog-print glasses case.  Really special handmade cards, along with a book made by a friend entitled, “Things We Love About Cate.”

I am so thankful for these girls and their presence in Cate’s life.  Part of it is certainly that all of these girls are somewhat insulated from the tweeny pop cultural influences of school, so that at ten they are still very much children.  I’m glad that Cate is beginning to flirt with teenagerhood in this context, which is not rushing her towards adulthood prematurely.  But more than that, I was struck at this party that Cate has something that I couldn’t have imagined at her age.  When I was in fourth grade (and indeed throughout elementary school), social life was immensely complicated and often difficult.  I was a smart and somewhat socially awkward child, and I struggled to find my way socially.  I am so grateful that things are so different for Cate.  It’s not just that she has a social life that is friendly and low-stress (which she does); at ten, she has a group of friends who genuinely know and love her.  Love her!  How amazing is that.

And that, of course, is the best gift of all.

Ten

Amazingly, Cate turned ten on Sunday.  My thoughts couldn’t help but turn to her birth and her not-so-peaceful arrival in the world, which seems like both yesterday and a million years ago.  And to reflect on this extraordinary journey with this amazing little person who made me into a mother.  How she was born amazingly alert and with a huge head of red hair–neither of which seemed unusual to this new mama, since I had nothing to compare it to.  How this intensely engaged and never-sleeping infant and toddler has grown into an amazing not-so-little person who I feel lucky to know.  We celebrated her day with kayaking and swimming and bike-riding and stuffed shells and cupcakes.

I pulled together a somewhat random collection of photos of Cate from her first birthday (when I received my first digital camera) to the present.  It’s funny how the pictures show that change from baby chubb into the big girl I see today.  Sort of.  It’s still hard to believe I have a child who is starting puberty.  Or as she likes to say, “pubertizing.”  Notably missing from this collection are any ballet photos, but there are some great ones here.

Happy Birthday, Cate!  I am so glad that you were born!



The return of Chocolate Lips

She’s baaaack!  (Her original appearance was here.)

Turns out that in spite of our many uses of strawberries last week, we neglected one of the most important:  chocolate dipped strawberries.   That neglect all comes down to me–I think the girls were asking on a daily basis to do it.  So when we had a nice collection of strawberries picked from the garden, we seized the moment (and, okay, braved the mess) to make a few.

This is  perfect example of a great little project that seems like more trouble than it is.  We melted the chocolate in the microwave, and then it was just a matter of rinsing the berries and dipping them.  We did a small batch, so they all fit on a small tray lined with wax paper.  The only messy clean-up was the chocolate bowl.  Well, that and the kids.  And the bathroom after Chocolate Lips decided to clean herself up.  All-in-all, though, there was a good messy-to-fun ratio.  And holy cow, I’d forgotten how delicious chocolate-covered strawberries can be!  Tart-sweet berries with a crunchy chocolate coating–yum, yum!  Hmmm, maybe we need to make some more today…I’m sure there are more berries in the garden that need picking….

C is for Conifer

We love They Might Be Giants.  Their “Here Come the ABCs” and “Here Comes Science” have been in regular rotation every since we discovered them last year.  A favorite of Anna’s has always been “C if for Conifer,” and I often hear her singing as she walks through the house: “Cones for seeds, most with needles for leaves, C is for conifer, my kind of tree.”  This has lead to a number of questions about conifers.  For example, the song says that there are more than 500 kinds, but how many kinds are there in North America? (Not as easy a question as you might think).  And then, of course, Anna started noticing how many conifers there are in our yard and in other places we visit regularly.

“I want to do a project on conifers!” Anna finally said to me.  As she is not so inclined to be this direct about wanting to learn things, I’ve tried to jump right on it.  Last weekend, I equipped her field bag with a notebook; pens and pencils; Petersen’s First Guide to Trees; wax paper bags for collecting samples; paper and crayons for bark rubbings; and a camera.  We spent some time out in the yard, taking samples and identifying some of the trees in our yard.

It was a good chance to help Anna learn how to use a field guide for identification.  For example, the leaves of the first tree we looked at resembled the picture of Arizona cypress, but when we checked the range of that tree, we found that it doesn’t grow in the eastern United States.  Although I love the First Guides for their simplicity (not to mention their light weight for little explorers), we decided that next time we needed to bring the full-sized guide.  There just weren’t enough varieties in the smaller guide.

Anna has big plans–pressing her specimens in the flower press, and making a book about different kinds of conifers.

In the meantime, here’s an Arbor Day video podcast that includes “C is for Conifers.”

Strawberries, every which way.

Strawberry season is in full swing around here, and we finally got out to do some picking this past week.  I’m finding that our spring has been unusually full, and it’s been harder to fit in all our favorite May activities.  I need to remember next year that this is one of our favorite months for lots of playing outside, and it makes sense to keep the calendar clearer.

Anyway, we finally did find some time to pick berries, and made it home with about 15 lbs.  A medium-sized amount by putting-up standards, really.  But I admit that it took me almost a full day to settle in and start processing the fruit.  I was a little paralyzed by the possibilities–freezing?  jam?  drying? fancy strawberry desserts?

I opted for a little of each.  On the top of my list was they drying, because dried strawberries were such a big hit last year.  I actually hid my store of dried strawberries away so that they would last more than a few weeks–I stingily parceled them out over the course of the winter, making them last as long as I could.  So I knew that one priority would be to get a load into the dehydrator.  It never ceases to amaze me how much food goes in to my (not all that big) dehydrator and how little comes out (I ended up with about 3 cups of dried fruit), but I also love that feeling of saving strawberry magic for the dark days of winter.  If I can just manage to hide the jar well enough, that is.

And I couldn’t have so many strawberries and not make at least one batch of jam, especially since strawberry is the only kind of jam that Anna will eat.  I have been experimenting more with no-pectin-added jams, so I tried this recipe.  I committed a jam-making sin and doubled the recipe, but it didn’t seem to do any harm, although the cooking time was longer.  I was really happy with how it came out–I love the soft, spoonable texture.  Anna was less thrilled; she loves the very low sugar jam that I can make with Pomona’s pectin.  So it looks like I’ll still be making another batch with her in mind.

By the time the drying and the jam were done (along with lots of just plain eating along the way), the berries were almost gone.  I managed to squeeze out one batch of strawberry ice cream (I used this recipe, leaving out the pomegranate juice and stirring in chopped strawberries at the end), and then put the rest in the freezer before they were past their prime.

It’s feast or famine.  In a matter of days, we go from having a ridiculous abundance of strawberries to none at all.  That’s fresh produce for you!  Fortunately, we are now getting some berries from our own garden, so that can hold us until we get out picking this coming week.  And then the cycle starts all over again.

Risotto tastes so much better than it looks.

..which is why the only photo I’m going to include is this one, where you can’t see it all that well.

I love risotto, and have been wanting to make some since the asparagus started coming in.  Somehow, it’s taken until now for the stars to align enough for me to make it happen.  Although even this effort was not without its stumbles–when I went to get an onion from under the sink, the whole back was kind of soft and moldy.  (I think I need a different place to store potatoes and onions in summer!)  I managed to salvage a few tablespoons of minced onion, but set off to borrow one from the neighbors–and came up completely empty handed.  I’m not sure how it’s possible that no one on my block had an onion, but I made do with what I had, throwing in a few chopped scallions.  Between that and my general Steve-has-been-in-Colorado-all-week Friday afternoon malaise, it was nearly 8 p.m. before the risotto was actually finished–a late dinner for us, since we like to be moving toward bedtime for the kids by then.  Fortunately, the kids were entirely uninterested in the risotto, and were happy to mainly dine on strawberries and peas from the garden, listening to the finale of Harry Potter #4 while I stirred and stirred and stirred.

So it was late when I sat down to my gorgeous (-tasting, if not -looking) dinner of ham and asparagus risotto and a lovely little salad of spring greens and snow peas from the garden.  I’d love to tell you that Steve came home from his trip and we all had a pleasant dinner where we reconnected after our week apart.  But his plane was delayed and we didn’t see him until much later.  And to be honest, at the end of the week, the girls and I are often togethered out, and are just as happy to have a little apart time.  Doesn’t fit the image of family togetherness I might like to project, but it works for us.  After all, it wasn’t too long before we were all snuggled up in bed together to sleep.  In the meantime, the girls hung out with Harry Potter, and I sat quietly enjoying my meal and the view of the falling rain watched a little Top Chef Masters.

And when Steve came home, he did the dishes. What a good man.

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