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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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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How to Camp Without Your Baby

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Step 1: Leave your baby with your wonderful, doting parents.

Step 2: Enjoy.

So much simpler than camping with one’s baby/toddler. Pete and I were lucky enough to finally have a weekend away, just the two of us. We have both had weekends away separately, but this was our first overnight trip together, sans Little C. And it was so relaxing.

We spent two nights camping in Algonquin Park in early July. Since my previous camping posts seemed to be all about lessons in list form, I’m going to continue with that theme here. Here is what we learned this time around:

1) Algonquin Park is beautiful.
I was lucky enough to spend four summers living and working in Algonquin Park. Even though it can be really busy in tourist season, it’s still such a gorgeous place. It’s easy to forget that when you’ve been away. I did a lot of deep sighing on our trip.

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2) We are old.
I bumped into one of my old co-workers at our campground and while we were chatting, he asked me how long it had been since I worked there. Ten years. It’s been ten years. He replied “Whew, I shouldn’t have asked that. I’m getting old.” Me too, my friend.

3) Resist the urge to call the babysitters.
When Pete and I became parents, we swore that we wouldn’t talk incessantly about our baby when we were able to go on date nights. We wanted to stay connected as partners, not just as parents. An extension of this policy was that we wouldn’t call my parents to check on things while we were away. This was our time to reconnect and be together as a couple. This may not work for everyone, but it’s good for us.

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4) Enjoy the little things.
When you aren’t chasing a little person (or people) around, it’s a lot easier enjoy the serenity. You can really experience the smell of the white pines, the call of a loon, and the sound of the water lapping against your canoe. Try to take it all in.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

Pete enjoying the serenity, and a roast beef sandwich.

5) Appreciate the trip for what it is.
This was something I learned about camping with a baby, and it applies here too. Even though Pete and I were on our own this time, we were still more exhausted than we were before we had C, and ended up asleep in our tent both nights before 10:00pm.

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We also really wanted to do an interior canoe trip, but my parents were nervous about this and asked that we camp in a campground instead. Fair enough. We will be able to go on a canoe trip someday. It turns out that this plan worked well for us anyway. We did some canoeing day trips and between my aching back and Pete’s bad shoulder, we weren’t able to paddle for more than a few hours anyway. See point #2.

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6) Document the experience.
Even if this amounts to taking a lot of photos, do it. As parents, we tend to document our children’s lives at the expense of our own. This is natural, of course, but I think it’s important to remember times like these. When life gets hectic again (for us, that will be around October 27th), being able to relive a relaxing time like this will be invaluable. Well, that and wine.

Scaring Pregnant Women: A National Pastime

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When I was pregnant with C, plenty of people issued dire warnings from the other side (of parenthood). I’ve mentioned them here before, but I was regularly told that my life would never be the same again (and this was always said in an ominous tone of voice). I was warned that I would never have time to read or even to take a shower. This all turned out to be complete nonsense. Although I was very sleep-deprived for the first three months of C’s life, no amount of “enjoying my sleep” while I was pregnant could have helped me to avoid it. People who tell pregnant women to “sleep now!” seem to think that sleep is something you can stockpile, like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. It just doesn’t work that way, folks.

So you would think, having been through this once before, that I would be immune (or at least resistant) to the fear-mongering that people seem to enjoy when they interact with the visibly pregnant. Nope. I still regularly get anxious after talking with someone who says something like “Whew, you’re going to have your hands full soon. Good luck.” Uh, thanks? Or “So this is your second? Get ready for life to get crazy.” Um, okay? How do I do that, exactly?

Luckily, once in a while, I’ll bump into someone who is reassuring. I met someone last weekend who has two little girls (only a year and a half apart) and she asked me a few questions about my situation.

“What will the age difference be?” – 26 months
“Do you have any help?” – My parents live an hour away, but are able to help sometimes, and my husband works a lot but is super awesome.
“Will your older daughter go to daycare?” – Yes, two days a week.

Her response? “Pfft. You’ll be fine. Don’t even worry.”

Now that is what I needed to hear.

It’s not that I think having two kids will be a walk in the park. I know it will be difficult, particularly for the first year. But there isn’t much I can do now to prevent that. Worrying won’t make the transition, or the exhaustion or the craziness any easier. That is why I’ve decided to hold onto that lovely woman’s response and dismiss any negative comments I might hear in the next three months. Because worrying will get me nowhere. And besides, I’m pretty sure those people just want attention, and I’ve learned from my toddler books that conscious ignoring is a great strategy for dealing with that sort of behaviour.

How Not to Camp with a Toddler

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Pete and I took C camping this past weekend. It was not nearly as successful as our trip to Algonquin last summer, when C was a baby. On that trip, we were able to tote our not-yet-mobile ten-month-old around on hiking trips and I was able to enjoy delicious, delicious beer by the campfire at night. Those were the days.

But alas, this time, things did not go so smoothly. Here are some of the things we learned the hard way last weekend:

1) Don’t get sick on a camping trip.

On our first (and ultimately only) night, I started to feel a sore throat coming on, but I figured that maybe it was just a bit raw from sitting around a smoky campfire all night. Oh, no. That was denial. I woke up in the middle of the night with my throat on fire. Soon enough, C was showing signs of being sick as well. Three days later, as I write this, we are both still sick and completely miserable. Why are summer colds the worst colds of all? Ugggghhhh.

2) Don’t let your toddler skip a nap.

I don’t really have any tips on how to prevent nap-skipping, since I employed all of my tricks and C still stayed awake all afternoon. I’m sure there are 22-month-olds out there who can do well without an afternoon sleep but my little lady is not one of them. Bad times were on the horizon.

Helping...sort of

Helping…sort of

3) Don’t let your toddler skip snack time.

After the failed nap, we took C to the beach for some splashy fun. It turns out, the splashing was far too much fun and C would not take a break to have a snack, under any circumstance. This (combined with exhaustion) led to the worst meltdown of her little life (so far!) Luckily, we had her favourite CD (she loves ’50s music, and specifically, my uncle’s band, The Martels) and lots of cheese on hand. Crisis managed.

Splashy fun

Splashy fun

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4) Don’t believe weather apps.

We were supposed to get 1-3 mm of rain on Sunday morning. Instead, we were trapped inside our tent all morning during a torrential downpour. Getting trapped in a tent on a rainy day used to be fun when I was a carefree lady in my twenties with some friends and a box of wine. Subtract the wine and add a toddler and things get real.

This recap definitely makes our trip sound like a disaster, but it was mostly enjoyable. The meltdown passed and C was back to her happy little self. We went for a stroll around the campground in the evening and read books in the dining tent. She fell asleep easily at bedtime and then Pete and I had a quiet evening to ourselves.

S'more o'clock

S’more o’clock

We were both sad to leave early, since Arrowhead really is a beautiful park, but Pete and I consoled ourselves by looking forward to the trip we’re taking in July to Algonquin (a trip we taking alone – thank you grandparents!)