Thursday, January 5, 2017

Our trip to Disneyland (AND a giveaway for a free night at Country Inn & Suites hotels!)

Country Inn & Suites is celebrating because they've opened a new hotel right within walking distance to Disneyland! Check out our visit to Disneyland and read all the way through to learn how you can enter to win a free nights stay at any Country Inn & Suites location!

I'm sure that most of us growing up, Disneyland was the ultimate dream vacation for any child. My biggest excitement was seeing my favorite Disney movie characters in real life, in their environments and getting to truly interact with them. The second most important thing I looked forward to were all the different amusement rides. It was a great mix of thrill or adventure.

My family of origin took us to Disneyland once during my childhood and the rest of our family vacations were mostly road trips around the Western US, sprinkled with a few visits to our family in Poland. My husband's family, on the other hand, visited Disneyland almost annually as their budget for family trips. So when I married into his family, the love of Disney was set in quite early.

A photo posted by Bianca @ The Pierogie Mama (@thepierogiemama) on

My husband and I took two trips to Disneyland before having children. What a different experience it is go to to Disneyland and experiencing it as an adult! We got to zoom through the park, not a care in the world how long the wait lines were, stay up late for the fireworks show and didn't worry about character signatures and rode the coolest rides.

Then, my sister-in-love moved to the San Diego area this year and the whole family collectively gasped - we can go to Disneyland when we visit her! This past November the four of us flew down to visit her family and play at the park for 3 days, which we spread out over a week. Now getting to experience the magic of Disneyland through our daughter's eyes (aged 4 and 2) was something my husband and I will never forget. This time the priorities were very different; find our favorite characters to get signatures, ride only a few of the age appropriate rides and just simply look to soak it all in. There is so much to see in the details at Disneyland if you aren't distracted by rides! Pirated of the Caribbean is one of my favorite things to see at Disneyland because they have done such a great job at temporarily making you forget where and when you are. It's easy to get swept up in that creaky boat in the Louisiana bayou, duck your head in the midst of a drunken pirate canon ball brawl and yo-ho-ho with Jack Sparrow.

Some of our favorite memories were watching Penny and Ruby meet Elena of Avalor. It's a relatively new show and that day happened to be Princess Elena's first debut in meeting her friends at Disneyland. We also got to see an extended preview of the upcoming movie Moana (in the old Bug's Life theatre, so there were ocean sprays, smells and wind gusts!) and we had a caricature done of the girls at Fisherman's Warf. One night my husband and I left the kids with their grandparents and we went back for some night time roller coaster rides on the Matterhorn and Big Thunder.

As I mentioned before, Country Inn & Suites just opened up a brand new hotel that is within walking distance to Disneyland! With 174 gorgeous rooms that have family friendly open floor plans, spa-inspired bathrooms (for mama to relax after a day of chasing kiddos, duh), a 24/7 gym, free breakfast and an outdoor pool with views of the Disneyland fireworks, it's an easy sell for me! By saving a little bit of extra cash on transportation, parking and one meal of the day being covered, you now can shamelessly indulge in those delicious Dole Whips outside of the Tiki Room! Not going to lie, I had at least 3 a day while we were there because I was 8 weeks pregnant with #3 and that was about all I could stomach at the time!

And when I talk about saving a little bit of cash, how does one night free at any Country Inn & Suites location sound to you? That would put a little extra change in your pocket for your next vacay, right? So here's the deal - follow the rules at the bottom and you'll have your chance to be one of my readers to win this awesome prize!

To enter the giveaway:
1. Watch this short video on the all new Country Inn & Suites in Anaheim location and leave a comment below telling me one interesting thing that she said. Include your email address so that I can contact you if you win!
2. For a second entry (first option must be completed!), visit the Country Inn & Suites website and tell me in a separate comment which location you would stay at if you won.

Giveaway rules: This giveaway is sponsored by Country Inn & Suites, not by The Pierogie Mama. The contest is open until 1/31/17 and the winner will be contacted via email only. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email in order to claim their prize, otherwise a new winner will be chosen. No purchase is necessary to win, but if you do want to enter you have to play by the rules described above. The comments must be relevant to the question, otherwise they won't count. If you don't provide an email address, I don't have a way to contact you. Good luck and I can't wait to see who wins!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Our First Year Raising Turkeys for Thanksgiving

Disclaimer: This is a post about raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Yes, we slaughtered our own turkeys. Due to the nature of this post, the very end will describe the process, but I did not include pictures of the process (mainly because I didn't really think to take any).

This year we moved to our dream home, a modern "homestead" of sorts, and so many of my husband's and my goals are coming to fruition. We have just over 5 1/2 acres of space that's a range of flat usable yard, terraced paths where we built our chicken coop and plan to grow a vegetable garden, an established apple and pear tree, trails to run our quad and dogs on, a creek, a separate mother in law building with garage space for the hubby and so much more. The house is beautiful, built as though someone had us in mind. I could literally go on about all of our plans for this piece of heaven, but today I'm going to write about our experience with raising turkeys for the first time.

For the last three years I've raised close to three dozen chickens of various stages (this year was my first with chicks - The Pierogie Peepers) and we decided that we also wanted to give turkeys a try. I had only tasted an all organic pastured Thanksgiving turkey once, though it was long before I even cared about what that truly meant, but both my husband and I knew that this was something that a lot of people raved about so we decided to give it a try and see if it was something for us.

For simplicity's sake, I decided to get turkey poults (the term for baby turkeys) from our local farm store, and they offered only one variety this year; broad breasted whites. Turkeys come in a huge variety of breeds and of the domesticated type you can divide them into two groups (just like chickens) - commercial and heritage breeds. A heritage breed bird is one that is considered old school; the breed was established prior to the 1950's (and hasn't been subject to the commercialized selective breeding), takes longer to mature and still mates naturally. A commercial breed is pretty much the opposite - a domesticated bird that has gone through the selective breeding process over generations, probably starting around the 1950's, to grow bigger, faster and easier. Broad breasted white turkeys fall into the commercial category. They mature in as little as 16 weeks! On the other hand, many heritage breed turkeys take well over a year to fully mature and reach their maximum size. Some people say that there is a marked difference between the taste of a commercial versus heritage bird, even those that are fed the exact same food and grew up side by side.

A broad breasted white turkey (which is the exact same thing as a broad breasted bronze, they are just different colors) was developed to grow a huge amount of breast meat. Because that's what we Americans love. The white color was developed because it looks more sterile. Commercial birds were bred to grow big and fast, so interestingly enough most of them have no idea how to mate and due to their size are incapable of it (even if they were given a life long enough to act). It's my understanding that all commercially hatched turkeys are a product of artificial insemination.

There are many reasons why you would choose between a heritage and commercial breed for poultry, but mainly what it came down to for us was that this was our first year (so we took what we could easily get), these birds were intended for Thanksgiving dinner so they did need to mature in a relatively short amount of time, and we were curious to see how big it really would get.

So on June 2 this year our little gang of three turkeys arrived at Two Tire Fire Farm and they were raised in the brooder next to The Pierogie Peepers (the 11 chicks that we got a few weeks earlier). In comparison to raising chicks, the poults were a lot more slow to get up to speed. They were about twice the size of a chick of the same age, but didn't have the inherent knowledge of how to eat or drink. Truly, people who raise turkeys will tell you that either you put a chicken chick or two with poults to show them the ropes, or you have to dip their beak into the food and water for a few days to show them. The phrase that turkeys are dumber than a box of rocks tends to be true in my experience.

We chose three turkeys because we wanted one for our Thanksgiving dinner, a friend asked us to raise one for them and I got a third one "just in case," because again.. turkeys aren't very smart and don't have the best resilience to disease and honestly, begin to look mighty tasty to predators once they get a bit of meat on them.

Before they were a month old it was pretty clear that we have one tom and two hens. I was really hoping that we had two toms so that the other family could have a nice big bird as well, because we had no clue on what to expect for how big they would get. They graduated from the brooder with a heat lamp by 5 weeks to living exclusively outside in a mobile turkey "tractor" (a pen that we can move around to give them free range of grasses, bugs and dirt but keep them protected).

I found that they really did not graze and forage on grass nearly as much as chickens would in that same space. It would take 2-3 days for them to eat all the grass in the footprint of their tractor whereas it would easily be done in a day with chickens. Turkeys, at least mine, were incredibly picky about their food. I had started to introduce leaves and fresh grass into their brooder at an early age, but they never cared for it. My chickens get tons of kitchen and veggie scraps in addition to their feed and getting to forage in their own tractor, but the turkeys really wouldn't touch it. On a really hot day I brought half a watermelon to them (a real treat!) and they cautiously circled it for hours. Had this been in the chicken pen - it wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes.  Finally I dumped some of their pellet food on top of it and they tried it. ???

I found that it was incredibly difficult to source organic turkey feed in my area. It was completely unheard of. Raising an organic pastured turkey was my highest priority because I'm well aware of the benefits of this standard of food, although the cost is higher. I am thankful that this financial cost is something that we can afford because it's important to my husband and I.

I was lucky enough to find some organic meat chicken food ("fryer ration") and fed that to them until I found a feed store about 3 hours away (luckily, in the town that my parents live). The reason why choosing your feed for your turkeys is important is because of the protein level. More protein = faster growth, just like any other animal. Turkeys are recommended to have between 19% to 30% protein in their feed. Meat chicken feed tends to be at about 18-21%. However, more protein is not always better. If you feed any animal too much protein too fast they won't be able to healthily support their own weight. The horror stories that you hear about chicken production farms can be true - chickens whose legs break at the end of their life cycle because they simply cannot support their own weight. They've been stuffed too much. That was my fear for the turkeys. So I decided that a gradual increase in protein would be a safe bet. They were fed an 21% protein diet (on CHS Payback Organic Fryer) until they were about 12 weeks old, when I found that Modesto Mills has an organic turkey ration that is at 28%. At 19 weeks (about 5 weeks before slaughter) I added organic cracked corn into their diet, which is a "finisher." The finisher feed, in addition to the regular feed, helps finish off the meat but giving it an extra bit of fat which will add to the flavor. They got about 40 pounds of cracked corn in the final 5 weeks. The three turkeys went through 160 lbs of feed and 40 lbs of cracked corn in their 24 weeks of life.

We slaughtered them the Saturday before Thanksgiving. A friend who has several years of farming experience came to help out, as well as the husband of the family that we grew one of the turkeys for. Our local feed store rents a "poultry processing kit," which includes a stand, kill cones and basin, a scalder and a plucker.  My husband had slaughtered turkeys and chickens "by hand" in the past and it was a time consuming process. The kit cut it down to processing 3 turkeys and 6 roosters in under 3 hours. Because of the ease of this process, the whole experience was quiet, humble, humane and respectful. I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch the process because I was worried that it would be too hard to watch, but it really wasn't that bad. I was the primary caretaker for the turkeys and was reminded every day that their lives have an expiration and that their sacrifice would be respected. At the last minute I decided that because I had taken on the responsibility of raising them I should see it through to the end. I watched; I don't think I will ever want to participate, but I'm glad that I know have an understanding of the process.

There are several ways to kill a bird, but the way that we did it was by placing the bird head first into the kill done and slitting the jugular and allowing the bird to bleed out. It only takes a few minutes and the bird does not struggle. After it is gone, you place it into the scalder to get the feathers to come off easily. Scalding the bird loosens the pores and regardless if you have to pluck by hand or have a machine that does it - it's easier. A plucker essentially looks like an open washing machine that spins the body around with some rubberized nubs that pull the feathers off for you.  We placed two roosters at a time into the scalder and plucker but the turkeys were way too big.

After the feathers are removed you remove the head, then the neck, feet (we saved them for our dogs!) and internal organs. Because I was only watching, I can't give you a tutorial on what exactly to do. You then cool the body and you're good to go!

So what did our birds weigh in at? That was my most anticipated surprise!!

Our tom - 31 1/2 lb and the two hens were 21 and 22 lbs.

I brined it in a Costco brine mix (it had apples, cranberries, vanilla bean and other spices) for about 48 hours and I made an herbed garlic butter to slather on top and under the skin. It was stuffed with my mom's stuffing. For a bird that size we expected it to take just over 7 hours to cook at 350 degrees. So I prepped it the night before Thanksgiving and got up at 5am to put it in the oven. It ended up being ready (165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh) almost an hour and a half early. THAT was a surprise! I read that pastured turkeys take a little bit less time but I wasn't expecting that big of a difference. The other two turkeys also took less time than expected.

And the verdict on the flavor? Even the most skeptical of family members (we invited almost 20 adults to get this bird eaten, after all!) agreed that this was much better than store bought. We still had a ton of left overs that were used for turkey sandwiches, pot pie and a few other things. I simmered the carcass to make broth that I pressure canned with a Black Friday purchase.

It's very likely that we'll grow a turkey or two every year from now on. They didn't take any more work than my chickens do and the pay off was worth it for us. It was very personally satisfying to see 6 months of work bring so much of our family together for a great meal and wonderful memories.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pierogie #3 is on the way! -- 15 week ramblings--

I announced on my facebook and instagram a few weeks ago, but being that my blog has been quiet for about a month now - I figured a REAL post was in order.

We are expecting our third baby in June!

The name of my blog, The Pierogie Mama, comes from what we have called our first born before we knew her sex, so naturally as subsequent babies became #2 and #3.

Our first two children are spaced 2 years (to the week) apart and this baby will be about 3 1/3 years younger than our second born. We chose to wait a year longer for this baby so that we had more time to let each of our older children develop their personalities and *hopefully* be getting a little more help (or at the very least, having both of them be a bit of independent) so that I may feel a little less of a hot mess whenever I walk into a room. Or just in general life!

Both of my daughters were born in the water, you can read birth story #1 and birth story #2 here. We have the same plan for #3.

How did my first trimester go? Well, last time I was super tired all the time - no surprise because I was chasing around a 15 month old and nursing through my pregnancy. Ruby, my second born, naturally weaned at 25 months so I've had a bit of a break to restore myself and my body in preparation for this pregnancy. My energy level didn't drop a whole lot in this pregnancy, but I did feel food aversions and a lack of appetite pretty much from 6 weeks through 13 weeks, resulting in a loss of probably 5-7 lbs. Shortly after Thanksgiving I started to feel more like myself and I've been back on board with eating and keeping the house and homestead in order. It feels so much better!

We had our first appointment with our midwife last week and we got to hear the baby's heart beat for the first time! Unfortunately we listened right after my blood draw and both of my girls were still really upset from seeing it, so they were too distracted to really get to hear the magic. The next appointment that they will get to be a part of will be my 20 week ultrasound in late January.

Penny still remembers our appointments to "the baby house" while I was pregnant with Ruby and it was really fun getting to talk with them about how the baby is developing and what the purposes of the placenta and umbilical cord are.  Penny wasn't present for Ruby's birth, and my heart tells me that I prefer to labor in private, but it may very well happen that things will change and they will get to witness the birth of their sibling. Who knows? Ultimately I'm really ok with whatever happens; it's God's will. I like to put in my requests but am pretty go with the flow.

And that is pretty much what it is!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Beco Toddler Carrier - For the Joy of Babywearing

Shortly around the age of two, I thought Ruby was done with babywearing.

It was happening less frequently; she wanted more independence in the grocery store or on hikes. I'd be able to get her into my Boba 4G (which we've had since she was a newborn) if she was very sleepy or if it was absolutely necessary for her safety, while I held her big sister's hand.

I quietly packed the Boba away, thinking about all of our adventures that we've had and truly how comforting it had been to her. It was her favorite carrier and the one she almost clung to like a lovey. I tried a few times to borrow a friends' carrier to try out a new brand and she adamantly would not allow me to put her into it. She'd run for her Boba. Twice a month when I'd go to MOPS, she was quickly soothed in the Boba when one of her blessed MOPPETTS care takers would gladly wear her in it for the two hours while I had a break.

It dawned on me that maybe the problem was that she was too big for it. She certainly hadn't outgrown it by the safety standards (she was about 25 lbs and maybe 31 or 32 inches, an average 2 year old girl) but I did start to wonder if the seat just wasn't wide enough for her anymore. So I gave my friends at Beco a call and the Beco Toddler Sloth in Orange came to live with us.

Yes, Miss Ruby was hesitant at first. She was not too keen on this new visitor in our house. But we worked on it for a little while and the joy of babywearing returned!

She quickly snuggled into the wider panel, I could feel her knees were better supported in the uber deep seat, and even my own body felt better aligned with her toddler weight more evenly distributed. Her body relaxed as she remembered how wonderful it was to snuggle up onto mama's back. Even her preschool aged sister asked for a chance for uppies, because it's been a long time since we've been able to do it for her too!

The Beco Toddler has come with us EVERYWHERE since then. We've gone camping, it accompanies us on farm chores occasionally and most importantly - waits in my truck for those days where the grocery shopping trip is a wee bit too close to nap time.

So what is the Beco Toddler, exactly?

It's a soft structured buckle carrier (SSC), meaning you can wear your child on your front (facing you) or on your back (also facing you), on the hip or criss-crossing the straps across your back for front carry (it helps spread the weight even more). It secures the child to you with backpack straps with a buckle at your hips and at your chest. It's one of the most popular, ergonomic and easy ways to wear your child. Beco has two carrier sizes; the Gemini for babies who weigh 7-35 lbs and toddler for big kids over the age of 18 months and range in weight from 20-60 lbs.

The buckle at your hips requires two handed release for safety

There are tons of friendly features on the Beco Toddler that I've appreciated in comparison to the other SSC carriers that I've gotten to try out. It comes with a hood which comes in handy for naps or nursing. It's removable!

The mark of a good SSC to me is lots of adjustibility. You've got a growing kid as well as a great variation of body types for caregivers. Many members of my family have adopted babywearing, so it's great when a carrier can be adjusted from my frame, my either of my sister in laws, my mother in law AND the 6'2 athletically built uncle or grandpa.

Another important creature comfort feature of a SSC is storage pockets. Because honestly, while I am babywearing my carrier is also my wallet. It goes with me everywhere, so why not cut down on extra luggage? The Beco Toddler has a small pouch that is perfect for the few essential cards or cash that you might carry around with you.

And can I mention, again, this funky cute sloth and chameleon print? My kids are quite in love with Zootopia (that sloth scene MADE the movie for grown ups everywhere, I'm serious) and Tangled, so seeing two animals from both of the movies makes me and the girls smile.

So if you ask me, the Beco Toddler is a really awesome toddler carrier. It is durably made, comfortable, adjustable and has extended our babywearing days! And did you know that Beco Toddlers are on sale??

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Beco. I received product in exchange for my honest review. Truly, I love this carrier, and think you will too!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Giveaway: Chimparoo TREK

Babywearing is a life saver! You can hold baby close, keep him comfortable and happy with two arms free! Some of the most sought after baby carriers are Woven Wrap Conversions. Woven Wrap Conversions combine woven wrap fabric with a soft structured carrier (SSC) design. That's why Mama Banana Adventures loves the Chimparoo TREK baby carrier. This SSC uses the Organic Cotton woven fabric from Chimparoo's line of woven wraps to makes affordable SSCs in a beautiful range of colors! Read Mama Banana's Adventures Chimparoo TREK Review and enter to win one below!

Chimparoo baby company was founded by Christine Duhaime, a Mom and Occupational Therapist, in 2007! The company continues to grow and offers a range of carriers that are Made in Canada and from Organic Cotton. Their latest release, TREK Aquaterra, combines the colors from the water and land into a beautiful color gradient. With many adjustments and options, these carriers are both beautiful and functional.
Chimparoo TREK Features include:

  • Fits most babies 7-45 lbs
  • 3 Positions: Front, Hip and Back
  • Generous waist belt sizing
  • 2 Places to Adjust Padded Shoulder Straps for Great Fit
  • Chest or Back clip slides up and down
  • One-Handed release buckle
    • So you can keep the other on baby!
  • Wash carrier before first use
    • Hand wash or use garment bag so straps don't get tangled on an agitator.
  • Designed to be used with Stirrups
  • Stretchy Head Support and Seat for Newborn
  • Elastic Bands to Roll Up Extra Streap Length
  • Curved Top of Body Panel for Head Rest/Support
Now for your chance to win one below! One lucky USA or Canadian resident will win an Aquaterra TREK carrier of their own! Void where prohibited by law, open to residents 18+ . Find out details about how to enter and use the giveaway tools widget below to complete your entries. Winner will have their entries checked and verified, contacted via the e-mail provided and have 48 hours to respond. Good luck!

Disclosure: Chances of winning are based on number of entries received. This giveaway is in no way associated with, sponsored, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest or any other social media network. Open to USA/Canada, winners must be 18+, void where prohibited. Confirmed Winner(s) will be contacted by email and have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be drawn. No purchase necessary. Participating bloggers are not responsible for sponsors who do not fulfill prizes, lost or stolen prizes. The disclosure is done in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 10 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Questions about this giveaway? Contact


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