Winter Cottaging

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When I decided to try for an autumn baby, I based that decision entirely on my experience having had my first baby in late summer. It worked so well that time! I had a little bit of nice weather with my newborn before the snow flew. We went for walks in the late summer sun while she was still really little and fragile. By the time the cold weather arrived, she was bigger and we were into a good routine and rhythm and it was no big deal to take her out for winter walks in her chariot, or to the YMCA for postnatal fitness classes. And then by the time she wanted to be mobile, it was summer again. Perfect!

The problem with this is that I planned my second baby entirely around my experience of having one baby at home. Somehow I forgot that I would still have a toddler kicking around (bored, mostly). Whoops.

The other problem I encountered, having had my second baby in October of 2013, is that this winter has been the worst winter in the history of time.*

Bundled, as usual

Bundled, as usual

So we’ve felt pretty cooped up most of this winter, and we’ve all had some pretty bad bouts of cabin fever.

My parents bought a new cottage at the end of November, but Pete and I hadn’t even considered going out there for a weekend, because the baby was still getting up so frequently at night (and exhausting us in the process). But one Saturday morning in late February, Pete said, “why don’t we go to the cottage?” This was at 9:00 am. By 11:00 am, we were in the car, and on our way.

This was the best decision we could have made. I didn’t realize how much we would love it out there.

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The cottage is at the very end of a rural road, at the edge of a provincial park, and right on Georgian Bay. It’s peaceful, serene and gorgeous. It’s exactly what we needed.

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And the things we were worried about turned out to be non-issues. C slept in a big-girl bed for the first time and it was great. The baby slept well in a playpen, and woke up to feed just as often as he would at home, but not more. C really took to all of our traditional cottage activities, such as obsessively putting together puzzles for hours on end. She’s going to fit right in.

Puzzle success!

Puzzle success!

The weather was very cold and windy, so we stayed inside a lot, but the change of scenery was very therapeutic.

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo - photobombed

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo – photobombed

Attempt number two

Attempt number two

We went back this past weekend and had an even better time. The baby only got up three times to eat (it’s better than five!) and C got to go outside and enjoy the outdoors a bit more.

Champion sleeper

Champion sleeper

The weather was glorious this time, mild and sunny, so she got to go tobogganing.

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Pete even made her a little skating rink on the ice out front. It seemed silly to make a rink on March 8th, but it was certainly cold enough, and we got enough use out of it.

And if this all weren’t enough, we had a lovely family dinner with my parents and two sets of uncles and aunts. Did I mention that two of my uncles and two of my aunts live a few doors down from our cottage? It doesn’t get much better than that.

After all, that means there are four extra people for C to do puzzles with.

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

I can’t wait to go back. Is it the weekend yet?

*I don’t have meteorological data to back this up at present, but I’ll look into it.

St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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As a St. Patrick’s Day treat, I decided to make some special cupcakes. I remembered having some amazing Bailey’s Cupcakes that my friend Meaghan made a couple of years ago and emailed her about them. Turns out, she blogged about them, so snagging the recipe was easy.

The cupcakes are Martha Stewart’s Devil’s Food with her Basic Buttercream Icing, plus some Bailey’s Irish Cream.

These cupcakes, while delicious, did not work out exactly the way I envisioned. First of all, Pete picked up Carolans Irish Cream from the liquor store, because it was on sale. Not a big deal. We’re fans of Carolans in our hot chocolate around here.

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However, my plan to make these with C evaporated pretty quickly when she decided not to take her afternoon nap.

As “punishment” for not staying in bed for naptime, I told her she wasn’t allowed to help me bake. This sounds harsh as I write it, but it was actually for the best. C has become very sensitive to noise lately (Is this a 2 1/2 thing?) and I had to use my very old, very loud electric mixer a few times. She ended up perfectly happy to play with her Lego a safe distance away from me and my antique mixer.

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Once I was finished, she and Pete were more than happy to lick the beaters, however.

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The cupcakes turned out well. I wish the icing tasted more like Irish Cream, but Pete said they were perfect.

My frosting job was not perfect, but there is always room for improvement

My frosting job was not perfect, but there is always room for improvement

The Five Stages of Cooking with a Toddler

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I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking with C lately. It keeps us both busy during these frigid winter days, and I’m hoping it fosters an appreciation for preparing healthy, homemade food. But whoa, is it a process. If you have cooked or baked with a toddler before, you will be familiar with the stages:

1) Preparation. So much preparation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, it takes a lot of prep before I even get C involved in the cooking/baking process. At 2 1/2, lives are busy and attention spans are short. I get all my ingredients out and ready to go before I move on to stage two, which is:

2) Manufacturing excitement. Toddlers generally like to help in the kitchen, but I’ve found that excitement for the finished product has to be manufactured in order to get C to stick with the task long enough to actually get something into the oven. A lot of cheerleading goes on. We’re baking! B-A-K-I-N-G ! Wooooo baking!

Pumped up!

Pumped up!

3) Explanation. Beyond simply telling C how many cups of this or tablespoons of that go into the mix, I have to explain why she can’t crunch eggs with her bare hands, why she can’t drink the vanilla extract, why she can’t wear the mixing bowls as hats, etc.

This stage leads to the next:

4) Minimizing kitchen disasters.

This is where anticipatory skills and cat-like reflexes come in, because despite the explanations, she will attempt to do some of the things listed above.

Watching it all go down

Watching it all go down

5) Praise. I’ve found that praise goes a long way. C’s behaviour is far more influenced by praise than by discipline, so we do our best to catch her doing good things as much as we can. It leads to better behaviour and a happier family.

And here is what we were making in these photos:

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Banana Pineapple Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour (I use half whole wheat)
3/4 cups white sugar (I put in less)
1/2 teaspoon baking power
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter, but again, a little less)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (not drained)
1 large mashed banana

The original recipe is convoluted as all-get-out, so here is my version: Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix softened butter, 1 well-beaten egg, crushed pineapple and banana. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Fold together and do not overmix. Bake at 350 for 20 mins.

Baked French Toast with Praline Topping

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Pete and I decided to have some friends over for brunch. We’ve all been so stir-crazy from cabin fever this winter, that it’s extra-nice to have friends over. Also, these particular friends have us over *all the time* so their place and serve us delicious coffee and breakfast foods. It was time to return the favour.

Unfortunately, since we all have toddlers, we’ve had to reschedule twice because of toddler-illness. So at the last second, we invited other friends over and they were happy to have brunch with us. Their daughter is one of C’s best friends, so everyone was thrilled.

The night before our brunch date, I started working on the French Toast. I found a recipe of Paula Deen’s, which looked delicious, and as is Paula Deen’s way, full of butter.

C and I cut up some baguette, lined an oven-safe dish and poured the cream and egg mixture overtop. I left that in the fridge over night to “marinate.” I made the praline topping on the stovetop and set it aside for the next day.

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The next morning the only task we had left was to spread the praline topping over the baguette pieces.

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C helped with the praline-drizzling.

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Meanwhile, the baby was watching from his baby chair, cooing supportively. He’s a helpful baby.

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Then we baked it for forty minutes, until it was golden brown.

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It was a big hit with the adults, although my silly toddler was only interested in eating the chopped pecans from off the top of the French Toast. Silly kid. There is no accounting for taste.

Morning Glory Muffins

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This is a recipe I got from my lovely blogging friend Meaghan over at The Ginger and the Giant. They are Morning Glory Muffins, a recipe she found in a cookbook called Spilling the Beans, and they are definitely glorious.

I don’t make them as much as I would like, because they can be somewhat labour-intensive, by muffin standards. Now that I have a toddler-helper, I do some of the prep before I get her involved. While C was out ice skating with her Dad, I grated two cups of sweet potato, boiled some red lentils and chopped up an apple for the muffins. Toddlers do not have time for that sort of thing. The baby, however, was happy to watch from his vibrating chair while giving me encouraging smiles.

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These muffins are not only super delicious, but they stay moist for ages. They’re full of fruit and nuts and coconut and have a pretty small amount of added sugar. And rather than using carrot (which Pete has an aversion to since the carrot cake incident) I grate sweet potato. They’re super yummy, and they usually don’t last long around here.

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According to C, these are the muffins “that mommy helped me make.” Hmmm.

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Baby Goals, Revisited

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I was just re-reading my September post about the things I hoped I would do differently with my second baby. Some of the goals seem completely manageable, even in retrospect. And others, well, clearly I was dreaming. I looked back on that post and just laughed and laughed. Sigh.

Let’s revisit these goals, shall we?

Here are the five objectives I set out for Baby Number Two:

1) Naps in the Crib.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. How did I think I was going to achieve this? Sure, newborn babies will sleep anywhere, but once they are past the incredibly-drowsy-will-sleep-anywhere phase, babies generally do not like to nap in cribs. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but this generally applies.

It is possible to encourage young babies to nap in their cribs, but usually this involves nursing, rocking, soothing, and other such comfort measures that take time and quietude. Where did I think my toddler would be during these times? On vacation? Making me lunch? Playing quietly and responsibly by herself? Good one, me.*

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.

Well, we certainly tried with this one. Baby Number Two hates pacifiers. We tried and tried. We bought every kind of soother available in this country. We dipped them in breastmilk. We begged and pleaded. In the end, he used me as a pacifier instead, until he outgrew the need to comfort himself this way. I’m two-for-two in the failure department so far.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.

Success! We bought an Ergo, since we hated our other baby carrier, and we’ve used it numerous times, even though it’s been ridiculously cold outside for four months. We did it!

4) Relax about Feeding.

Another success, although I don’t think I can pat myself on the back too much for this one. Baby Number Two figured out how to nurse right away, and never looked back. You don’t get to be nineteen pounds by four months by being an unenthusiastic eater.

5) Go Easier on Myself.

Yeeeah, this didn’t work out so well either. I certainly didn’t push myself to do too much with two kids, but I definitely haven’t been easy on myself. This one is a work in progress.

So, I’ve had mixed results. But all in all, it’s mostly been a success. I have a happy baby and thriving toddler. I can’t ask for much more than that.**

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*The baby has actually started napping fairly well in his crib, at just over four months. So we eventually achieved this goal.
**Except sleep. I can, and I do, ask for sleep.

Baking Weird ’70s Pudding with my Toddler

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I was reading a blog post the other day about gross recipes from the ’50s (Jell-O and mayonnaise, together at last) that inspired me to whip out my favourite vintage cookbook.

I stole Cookbook ’78 from my mother, because I felt she didn’t properly appreciate it. Check out the font:

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It actually has some really yummy dessert recipes, and some of them are classics around these parts. I haven’t used it much for main course recipes, and it turns out that was probably wise of me. After reading about those ’50s recipes (and visiting the Gallery of Regrettable Foods), I checked out some of the mains in my favourite cookbook. There were tons of “congealed salads” and recipes involving bizarre flavour combinations. But I stopped when I found a casserole combining oysters and creamed corn.* I wasn’t going to be able to find anything to top that.

Anyway, I decided to bake something from Cookbook ’78 with C today, because we needed an afternoon activity.

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I chose a recipe called “Busy Day Pudding” because it seemed appropriate on a day when I had both kids at home. I put the baby in his chair in the kitchen so he could watch us cooking, and got started.

I’ve realized that in addition to letting C put in the ingredients, it really helps if I let her count out measurements. She learns her numbers and it keeps her busy enough that I can (mostly) keep her from throwing non-ingredients into the batter. Win-win.

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The pudding was really quick to make, and the clean-up was easy, too. It’s a good one on that front.

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The pudding is a thick batter in a “sauce” of hot water and brown sugar. This is what it looked like uncooked:

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Once it was cooked, it was still a bit weird, texture-wise. Pete and I both agreed that it had a slightly disagreeable gooeyness to it. Were you the kid in school who liked to eat paste? Then this recipe is for you.

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So, the Busy Day Pudding was a success in the sense that it kept my toddler busy and let her practice her numbers. Would I make it again? Probably not. But at least it was free of creamed corn.

*Someday, and you can mark my words, I am going to make this. I won’t eat it, but I HAVE to make it. Just out of curiosity. I’ll be sure to document it here.

Recipe: Busy Day Pudding

Put 1 cup of brown sugar in casserole. Add 1 cup of boiling water and let stand while mixing the following ingredients.

1 cup flour sifted with 2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soft butter
1/2 cup milk

Drop batter in syrup and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

Valentine’s Day Cake

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It’s been a very cold winter, and my kids and I have been cooped up a lot. We’ve gone through some bouts of cabin fever. I try my best to keep my toddler occupied, but sometimes we all get bored around here and I have to think of ways to keep things interesting. One thing that I’ve started to do with C is baking. She enjoys it, I enjoy it, Pete gets lots of baked goods. Everyone wins!

Well, not exactly. Baking with a toddler is challenging to say the least. She wants to put all the ingredients into the mix, and sometimes, she wants to put things in that are definitely NOT ingredients (eggshells, spice jars, pens, etc.) But I’ve learned a few tricks along the way and C and I have learned how to bake (mostly) productively together.

Our first “big” baking project together was a Valentine’s Day cake. We had baked some batches of cookies before, but this was the first recipe that was really labour intensive. Because toddlers have very short attention spans, I decided to grate all the carrot and mix the cream cheese icing the day before. This was wise.

The day of, we just measured and mixed and that was about all she could handle. I poured the batter into one square pan and one round pan. When the cakes had cooled, I cut the round pan in two in order to make a heart shape.

I added some food colouring to make the cream cheese icing pink, frosted the cake, and voila! An enormous Valentine’s Day cake for C’s Dad. He loves carrot cake, and was very excited to dive into it.

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After we had each had a slice that night, we realized just how huge the cake actually was, and the challenge that was before us. How on Earth were two people supposed to eat this much cake? I clearly didn’t think this through. I’m already unable to eat a ton of carrot cake due to overconsumption of my sister’s wedding cake. (It’s a long story, but basically the wedding cake was in a corner during the dancing part of the wedding and everyone forgot to eat it – so we ate wedding cake for ages afterwards and the bottom tier was carrot. TOO MUCH CARROT CAKE.)

To make matters worse, Pete came down with a stomach bug a few hours after eating a piece of the cake a few days later. He now has to take a break from carrot cake, due to the association. The moral of the story? I’m not really sure. Don’t bake 75 portions of cake for two people? We’ll go with that.

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I Had a Baby!

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Four months ago!

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It’s amazing how things like blogging, exercising, banjo-playing, and sleeping go right out the window when you have a new baby.

But yes, I had a beautiful baby boy and he’s a very sweet little guy. He’s an easy baby during the day, which is great because I have a rambunctious two-year-old to wrangle. He’s relaxed and happy, although he still thinks he needs to wake up every two hours to eat in the night. He also just turned four months and weighs nearly nineteen pounds. Could those two things be related? Hmmm.

Anyway, the fact that this baby has kept us so sleep-deprived has meant that I’ve had almost no time or energy to do much of anything other than baby and child care. But I’m determined to somehow reboot this blog. We’ll see how this goes.

Because I’m not doing much of what I originally set out to do in this blog (namely, things that I enjoyed pre-parenthood such as playing my banjo) I’m going to incorporate the things that I do with my little people. C and I have started baking together, so I’m going to start documenting that. Baking with a two-year-old is both stressful and hilarious, and I’m hoping I can convey all that in some new posts. We’ll see what else I can cook up (pun!) for the blog in the next few weeks.

Thanks, as always, for reading! It’s good to be back.

Five Things I Hope I’ll Do Differently with my Second Baby

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Baby and me...off for a ride!

Baby and me…off for a ride!

I made sure to add the word “hope” to the title of this post, because if there is one thing I’ve learned in my 24 months of parenting, it’s that babies have their own agendas. You can have all sorts of intentions but in the end, you’ll save your sanity if you just do what works. Flexibility is the name of the game.

Also, I probably could have saved myself some time and just written that with my second baby, I’m going to chill out more. For instance, I wouldn’t have been riding a bike this late in my pregnancy with C. I was just too nervous about falls and crashes. This time I’ve mellowed, and although I’m careful on my bike, I’m definitely not stopping yet. That’s the beauty of the second baby.

That said, there are a few specific things that I did with C that I’m hoping to avoid this time around. Sure, we muddled through all right, but it would be nice to avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered last time. That way we can have the time to try to fix all the new mistakes we’ll surely make with Baby #2.

1) Naps in the Crib.
C was always a really good night sleeper. She was always easy to put down in her basinette (and later her crib) and she only woke up when she was hungry or teething. But naps were a different story. She seemed to need movement to nap, and so I indulged her, first in a vibrating chair, then in a swing, and sometimes in a car or stroller. This became tricky when we took her on a ski trip when she was five months old. Either we had to bounce her to sleep in a carrier (and she hated carriers) or Pete had to take her out in the Chariot for an hour-long cross-country-ski-nap. She was still napping three times a day at that point. He got A LOT of exercise that weekend.

2) Introduce a Pacifier Earlier.
We were so afraid of jeopardizing our breastfeeding efforts that we didn’t introduce a pacifier early enough. But she must have had a strong sucking need, because once we successfully got her using a pacifier (at about four months), she was a much happier baby.

3) Use a Baby Carrier.
C was never really into baby carriers. She tolerated a few walks in a sling when she was a few weeks old, but after that, she put her foot down. This time, I’m hoping that if I invest in a good-quality carrier and put the baby in it more often, it will go more smoothly. Because I’m sure that with a toddler running around, it will be a lifesaver to have the new baby in a carrier once in a while.

4) Relax about Feeding.
I had a really difficult time breastfeeding, for the entire nine months that I managed to do it. I won’t go into details here, but suffice it to say that while I would like to breastfeed this baby, I’m not going to stress about it. I’ll do my best. But I won’t beat myself up if I have to use a bottle now and then. And probably (or at least I hope) that if I go into it with a more relaxed attitude, it will be easier this time.

5) Go Easier on Myself.
I did all sorts of things in the early days with C that probably weren’t in my best interest. I tried to cook, clean, bake, read, run errands, exercise, socialize, and have overnight guests to visit. Two weeks after I gave birth we were out hiking in caves on a very ill-advised outing. I took three-week-old C out to vote in a provincial election. It was all too much for an incredibly sleep-deprived new mom. It caught up with me when she was about seven weeks old. I started hallucinating and I genuinely believed I would die of exhaustion. Not this time. My only goals for the first three months are to keep two children alive and relatively happy. The end.

And now, a question: Does anyone have any tips on transitioning from one child to two?