Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick Tips

My never-ending quest to avoid toxic chemicals for my family and my love for easy solutions collide.  It's the little things, right?  I wanted to share this great article and tips for avoiding and decreasing your exposure to the nasty BPA.  Check it out...

Do You Want To Boogie?

Within moments of walking out of the 20-week ultrasound with my first born, after finding out it was a boy -- my Mom literally met us running down the street holding a huge box.  She wanted us to unwrap it, right there on the corner of a busy Michigan Avenue street. And once I did, I knew why.  It was this amazingly soft and adorable blanket from the Boogie Baby collection:

You see, I was apprehensive about having a boy, because I was convinced there was nothing cute for babies unless it was pink and covered in ruffles.  In an instant, after seeing and holding this amazing blanket, my mind was changed and nursery designed to match! 

Ever since, we have been a Boogie Baby family.  From personalized blankets to one-of-a-kind bibs and hooded towels, the stuff is not only adorable but washes AMAZINGLY well for the soft and fluffy fabric they use.  Honestly, the ONLY bib that lasted through both kids was the one from Boogie Baby. 

So, I had to share this great giveaway with you:

Act quick because the deal ends tomorrow (April 1), but it's so worth taking the time to enter.  And, you should know, I'm in no way being compensated for passing this along.  Just a loyal customer wanting to share the love!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good Deed Day

I'm grumpy tonight.  Poor little guy is on day three of a high fever and cough that won't quit.  My little lady started school, got sick three days later and has passed some nasty bug around to the entire family -- Grandparents included. 

And, now that we don't have a full time nanny...sick days are getting more and more difficult to navigate.  Aside from going even more psychotic with my quest to keep my kids healthy (I already have a 10-step morning probiotic/vitamin regimen) -- anyone have any tips for tending to sick kids and keeping your job? 

So, aside from that, I still feel the need to rant.  For some reason, there is a notion that  people from Chicago are nice.  Lately, well, I just disagree.  Today, I watched another 8+ month pregnant woman on the train have to stand because no one would give up their seat.   I'm just so sick of it.  Where's the chivalry?  I took public transportation during both my pregnancies and not once, NOT ONCE, did anyone offer their seat to me.  The only time someone was kind enough to offer me a seat, was when I was about 4 months postpartum.  I almost punched the poor guy out, but hey, at least he tried!

And, its not just pregnant ladies...I've seen people with disabilities, women with multiple young children (and diaper bags and strollers) and even an older gentleman with a walker have to stand, fighting the crowds and trying desperately to keep their balance.  I mean, what is wrong with people?  I see them glance at the person and then around to see if anyone is looking and ultimately pretend not to notice.  Karma people, karma.

A few months ago, it hit rock bottom.  I got down to the train platform and there was a train just sitting there.  I walked to my usual car and saw a little commotion.  I asked someone what was going on and she pointed to a man in the window -- obviously homeless and seemingly sleeping.  She told me he had a seizure.  When the paramedics got there -- not moving very fast, I must add -- only then did I see the woman who had been sitting next to this man get up.  She didn't look away from her book, not once.  Not even as the paramedics were working on the man, including pounding his chest in what I could only assume was to help keep him alive.  She just sat there, reading, while this man was obviously not well and based on the paramedics reaction, possibly not even breathing.  And, she never moved too far away...because the minute they moved the man off the train, she made a beeline for her seat, as if afraid someone was going to take it.  I was shocked. 

Was it always like this?  Does compassion for strangers still exist -- because I want to believe it does.  Or, does the fact that most people, when faced with a room/train car/elevator full of strangers would prefer to just keep their noses in their blackberry or iPhone rather than face a possibility of human interaction?

So, since I can't change human kind (or just Chicagoans, perhaps) I'll focus on me, making sure I don't make these same mistakes.  I know I'm not perfect, far from it.  I'm not always kind or selfless or consider other's feelings as I make decisions.  But, that's not the kind of person I want to be, ever.

I'm going to challenge myself to a "Good Deed Day", at least once a week.  In my mind, it doesn't have to be big things -- just little random acts of kindness to put a smile on other people's faces, help to make another person's day just a little bit better.  Of course, I want and should be doing these things everyday, but maybe holding myself accountable once a week will challenge me to be creative and thoughtful, and really look for meaningful ways to contribute to society and those in my life I care for so deeply.

So, tonight, I'll do the last dog walk for the hubby, who usually takes this on so I can get in bed early.  And, while I'm out there, I'll get the mail, which is also normally his "job."  And, before bed, I'll clean out the coffee pot and get it all ready for morning -- so all he has to do is hit brew.  Maybe not much, but at least I know he'll get a few extra minutes of sleep and have a few extra minutes in the morning because of me.  Who knows...maybe starting his day to a little surprise will entice him pay it forward with a random act of kindness of his own! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

So Not My Original Idea...

...but, I thought I'd share anyway. 

As I've mentioned before, I'm over-the-top, crazy obsessed with my kids eating healthy food.  I've loosened up a little, as in I stopped bringing my own food for the kids to restaurants and hyperventilating if a non-organic morsel touches their lips.  Baby steps, okay.

I can't help it...I think about each and every meal and snack and how it will impact their little bodies.  You hear so much about food these eating certain greens can fight cancer cells or that the chemicals added to preserve food can do just the opposite.  For some reason, I can strike a more normal balance in my own life, understanding moderation and doing the best I can to make good choices...but with the kids, it's all consuming.  I know that giving my kids the best, healthy start in life is all on me.  They can't choose for themselves the food they eat, where it comes from and the quality...but I can.  I take that job very seriously.  In some ways, it's my quest to give them the tools they need to be healthy for life and in other ways, I'm just so scared of something bad happening to them.  With all the scary unknowns out there -- safety of vaccinations, pollution in the air, chemicals in water -- food is an area I know makes a difference in health and something I can control -- somewhat.

When the horrible, unthinkable crisis happened in Japan, aside from trying to wrap my mind around all the people whose lives were changed in an instant, I was also apprehensive about the radiation making its way across the globe.  I took to the Internet, in which I found a plethora of articles about how green and orange food can fight radiation in your body.  My poor kids were force fed sweet potato everyday for a week!

But, here's the problem.  Aside from a few things here and there, if it's green or slimy or too hard or too soft or offensive in any way -- my kids won't eat it.  And, my son will gladly give up dessert as long as he doesn't have to gag down a vegetable.  So, Jessica Seinfeld style...I've gone the deceptive route and have a handful of proven tricks up my sleeve to hide vegetables in their food.

I'm not perfect.  As a busy working Mom, I'm embarrassed to say how many times my kids eat pizza bites for lunch or "breakfast" for dinner.  I whip up instant oatmeal and jelly crackers at the last minute more often than I'd like to admit.  They eat enough Annie's cheddar bunnies that I should probably buy stock in the company and sometimes my son sits with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, otherwise known as breakfast.

This has been an ongoing struggle.  I talk about it a lot.  And, after sharing my woes with a co-worker and some of my little secrets for getting the wee ones to eat their veggies, she thought I should share.

Let me preface by saying, I'm not a nutritionist in any way.  I'm also not a chef.  And, some of these recipes are not even mine (but I do give credit where credit is due).  But, what I do know is that they work.   And, before you judge, I also know I'm probably not doing them any favors by hiding the vegetables in their food -- my mother of the year badge got rusty long ago.  But, I'm consciences of this and try and serve actual vegetables with meals and encourage them to try it.  Hey, and sometimes they do!

So, here are my go-to favorites:

Using MDB's chocolate almond milk and rice or coconut milk ice cream as a base, I add strawberries, raspberries (or really any fresh or frozen fruit that I have) and a banana to a blender.  Oh, and while the kids aren't looking -- fresh kale, a cube of store bought frozen wheat grass and some spinach.  Once you mix it up, the kids can't even tell there's "green stuff" in it.  Even my father-in-law fell for this one.  If your child is really picky -- I bet chocolate ice cream would hide the "green" even more.

Every week or so, I make a puree of raw spinach, blanched broccoli and garlic sauteed in some olive oil.  I freeze the mixture in the little mini Tupperware (which are BPA free now...go Glad!).  I defrost one about every three days and use the mixture to make scramble eggs, nearly every morning.  My kids love their "green eggs" and I couldn't hide my grin when my son wouldn't eat the strange looking yellow scramble eggs at a restaurant!  I started this one when my kids were infants and got the green light to eat, they didn't even know the difference and it stuck.

I got a bread maker for the holidays and I'm hooked.  My secret here is that all of the recipes call for water.  So, whenever I steam vegetables, like broccoli or carrots, I save the cooking water at the bottom and freeze it.  I defrost and use this water when I make my bread. 

I love these and low-and-behold so do all three two kids in my house (husband included).  I don't have an exact recipe for this one...I make it up as I go along and with whatever I have in the house at the time.  In a food processor, put half of a large onion or a shallot (whatever you have laying around), 1 - 2 garlic cloves, fresh parsley and basil (or any herbs you like), grated Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, an egg, a little olive oil and grind it up.  Add some raw spinach and kale and raw or lightly cooked broccoli and grind again.  Add this mixture to about 1 pound of ground beef (I like the grass-fed variety) and mix with your hands.  Add a splash of worchehire sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste and mix again.  Form the mixture into bite-sized, mini meatballs and place them on a sheet pan.  It should look like this:

(I promise...they don't look so green after they are slightly browned from the oven).  Bake the meatballs at about 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes or until almost done.  If you are going to serve them right away, finish cooking them in your favorite sauce.  Otherwise, let them cool, transfer them to a bag or container and freeze.  I always have a stash of these in the freezer and the kids gobble them up!  This one is husband and MDB's playdate approved as well!

This recipe is courtesy of Jessica Seinfeld's book, Deceptively Delicious.  It is one of my favorites -- and, when my husband tasted it before he knew veggies were hidden inside, he said it was my best batch of banana bread EVER!  MDB devours it too...and the best part, it's a pretty easy recipe so he always helps me in the kitchen with this one.  Full disclosure:  my Ellie won't touch this bread with a ten foot pole.  Dating back to the baby food days, bananas just ain't her thing!

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 large egg whites (I use the whole egg, mainly out of lazinesss)
11/2 cups banana puree
1/2 cup cauliflower puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9X5-inch loaf pan or 2 mini pans, with cooking spray.  (I'm not a big fan of cooking spray, so I coat my pan with butter).

2.  In a bowl, mix the flours with the baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar and oil with a wooden spoon until well combined.  Mix in the eggs, banana and cauliflower purees and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and mix just until well combined.

4.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes for the large loaf, 25 to 30 minutes for the mini loaves.  Let cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn the bread out of the pan to cool before serving.

I found this great mini loaf pan at Crate and Barrel, which I use to make the banana bread.  Aside from the fact that I can keep some in the fridge for the week and freeze the son thinks the little individual loaves are great!

I find the "dinosaur" kale works best, but all the varieties will do. After you wash your kale, pull the leaves off the stem in the middle. Break or chop the leaves into "chip" size pieces and toss them in a little olive oil. Spread them on a sheet pan and sprinkle with a touch of kosher salt. Bake on a high temperature (like 375 - 400 degrees) for about 5ish minutes, or until the pieces are crispy but not brown. The "chips" come out crunchy and delicious.  We can get Ellie to gulp these down by having her see how loud she can crunch! My son...well, he knows they are this one is hit or miss with him.

1.  Whenever I add chopped herbs to a meal, like over spaghetti or roasted chicken, I add chopped spinach too.  It looks the same, trust me. 
2.  My mom pureed steamed carrots into peanut butter once and MDB loved it.  I haven't tried it again in a while...but I should, since he consumes enough peanut butter alone as a family of four.  If you have a nut allergy in the family, this would also work with almond butter or sunflour seed butter.
3.  Whenever I make sweet potato mash for dinner, I save a little for pancake batter the next day.  Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup to whatever batter you use.
4.  If I "bread" something (like this great recipe for Pretzel Crusted Chicken), I chop a little spinach along with other fresh herbs into the mix.  If you use herb breadcrumbs, you can barely tell the fresh stuff is there!
5.  My son was recently introduced to french fries.  So, whenever I make them at home, I always use sweet potatoes sliced, brushed with olive oil and baked.  As long as they are doused with ketchup, he hasn't cared about the difference.

I'm not gonna lie -- sometimes when I share with others the time and energy I put into meal planning and healthy eating, I'm met with nothing but eye rolling.  So, if that's you...sorry!  But, if not, I hope you got some good ideas you can share with your family.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Coming Soon!

A brand-spankin' new "The State of Jen" is on the way!  I thought a little blog re-design was in order and it's close, oh so close to being ready.  I'm giddy with's just so, me!  Stay tuned...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Headed to the Loony Bin

Every once in a while, even I surprise myself.  And, I'm not talking about something good here, people.  Sometimes my neurosis (plural) even cause me to shake my own head in disbelief.

I realized that I have an issue with dolls.  Not all dolls, but this one specifically:

The thing looks so darn real and for some reason, I can't rest if I know "baby Harper" is face down, naked or in another position that would be uncomfortable or unsafe for a REAL baby.  It dawned on me tonight as I was ever-so-gingerly putting her diaper on straight, that I, without even realizing it, has a more-often-than-not tendency to put blankets on her before bed, make sure her clothes are on and buttoned, ensure she is not face down on the couch and other therapy-worthy things.

Step one, admitting your have a problem.  Step two...padded walls here I come.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life Is Good!

I have to say, after all the worry and life upheaval that came with our precious nanny leaving...sometimes it's just the little things that make it all okay!

My little girl is LOVING school (like talk-about-it-all-day, obsessed-with-her-teachers...loving it) and today was her first day napping there.  I was a nervous wreck...until I saw this:

Since hubby's rules are NO PICTURES OF THE KIDS will have to take my word for it when I say her face just looks so peaceful and content.  I mean, that is one happy little lady (and mama!) 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

You Mean Me, Right?

I'm touched and flattered.  One of my favorite bloggers and the gal that inspired me to start my own blog, Lauren over at Finding La La Land), awarded me with my very first blog award.  Me?!?  I still can't help but think it was an oversight, a mistake.  In all honesty, I can't wrap my arms around the idea that people (although, admittedly, not a lot) actually read my blog...let alone like it.  But, hey, I'm honored and thankful, none-the-less.  Thank you, dear Lauren, for the accolades -- especially from you, it means the world to me!

So...without further ado, here are the rules:

1.  Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award.  Check.
2.  Share 7 things about yourself.  See below.
3.  Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers.  Below again.  Some are recently discovered, to me!
4.  Contact the bloggers and tell them about the award!  Will do.

About Me.  My profile gives a pretty good overview, so here are some other odds and ends:

1.  I'm pretty much an open book.  There is nothing about myself that I won't share, discuss and analyze with others.  Sometimes without them asking.  Sometimes to those I just met.  Never been one with a filter.
2.  I have a not-so-secret obsession with shows like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers and Dirty Jobs.  I guess I have an odd fascination with burly, rough-and-tumble men?  I cried - actual tears - when Captain Phil Harris died.   
3.  I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid.  My big-time fear of flying will probably keep me out of that line of work.  And, on that subject, seeing (not CLIMBING) Mt. Everest is on my bucket list...but you have to fly into the world's most dangerous airport to get there, so that probably won't happen either!
4.  I'm a sweats and flats kinda gal.  I wish, so badly, that I loved fashion and could be one of those girls that even looks cute at the grocery store, could pull off funky accessories and gets compliments on clothes, but when it comes to choosing fashion or comfort -- comfort always wins.  Each and every time.
5.  There are only two foods IN THE ENTIRE WORLD I won't eat, and one isn't even a food.  Blue cheese and apple juice.  That's it.  Coupled with the fact that I can't stand working out, I can't imagine why I have weight issues?!
6.  I'm fascinated about everything that has to do with pregnancy and birth.  I love to hear other people's birth stories, even and especially the really gory details.  Post-birth of my two kids, I would close my eyes trying to remember and relive each and every moment, not wanting to forget the feelings, smells, words, sounds and faces that shared the moments with us. 
7.  I asked my hubby to share something too.  After a little prying and eye rolling, he said..."You're a great Mom, very strongly opinionated and have big, cute eyes. You worry too much, spend too much and beat yourself up too much."  So sweet.  In all honesty, I had to edit it slightly, as parts of what he wrote just weren't appropriate for the blog-o-sphere :)

And, now, the envelope, please!   My nominations for the "Stylish Blogger Award" goes to (in random order)...

Bellies and Babies
Notes from the Desk of Ga Ga
Household Affairs
A Mom Thing
Our Great Life Adventure
Emphasis Added
Little Ree Writes

I know there aren't 15...but, hey, I'm newish to this crazy, bloggy world.