Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Wrap Up

Hi everyone! I am checking in at the midway point of my trip to Germany. If you've been following along on instagram, you've seen a ton of posts on some of the awesome sights that we have visited. By the way, you don't need to have an instagram account to see the pictures, so do go on and check them out!

Whether you've been following along with me for the last *almost* 4 years or have jumped in just recently, fret not - in the new year I'll be sure to "re-introduce" myself as it's been a long time since I've really done it officially. A lot changes when you start a blog in the month before you expect your first child, when 4 years later you find yourself with two daughters that are pre-school and toddler age. And a blog that has grown and maintained over that whole time and all you really needed was somewhere to write out your thoughts in a somewhat coherent manner! Anyways, I digress. Back to 2015.

Here's a round up of my 9 most popular posts of 2015 from Instagram -

1. I finally made Monte Cristo waffles. So good, but fair warning - the raspberry preserves are not easy (read: impossible) to clean off your waffle iron. Lesson learned. 2. Though I've been a babywearing mama from the beginning with Penny, just a few months ago I dove into the world of woven wraps. My dear friend That Mama Gretchen and I took a mama's night out and took MommyCon Seattle by storm. I fell in love with Cassiope Wovens and was positive that one way or another, I would be leaving MommyCon with a wrap. I took a chance, entered in Cassiope Woven's giveaway and I was the extremely lucky winner of a limited edition MommyCon exclusive wrap. Woo hoo! That's what you heard if you were at the announcement of the giveaway - I wooped with careless abandon. So here you see my Ruby and I in our first wrap job. 3. Here is an old fashioned, no calories spared pound cake made from no less than 10 eggs from my own chickens. I started keeping a small flock of backyard chickens right before Ruby's birth in 2014 and have been so in love with the delicious eggs these girls provide. This photo reminds me that not only should I make this again, and that I need to share this recipe with you, but also that I should at some point make a post about how my flock of 5 increased to a flock of 9 over the summer. Ooops. 4.  2015 was a year of a ton of work travel for my husband, and one time while he was out of town I treated myself to an avocado mask after I *thought* the girls were asleep. I heard Penny call for me, so I came up to comfort her. I forgot about the mask and she FREAKED out. She had no idea who I was, and I had to convince her that I am mama and not some random person. 5. This is the view from Zugspitze, the tallest peak in Germany. More pictures are on instagram, but I do promise you that I will give you the full details once we come home.  6. I have so much love for my husband, but there is very little more that tugs on my heart strings than when I see him wear our girls. One of our family traditions (which has been a tradition from his family of origin) is visiting family bible camp in the Okanagan mountains in British Columbia. This picture is from family camp this year while agate hunting.  7. Cloth diaper reviews & giveaways are still going strong on the blog! 8. Another babywearing daddy shot! 9. Sharing recipes is another favorite on the blog, and this past summer I shared my ever favorite summer recipe - lime cilantro chicken tacos.

And finally, if you need any more reading beyond what I've shared above, here's a few of my favorite blog posts this year too.

Thanks for sticking along with me this year!
Don't miss out on the chance to win $20 PayPal from me as a New Year gift!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Guest Post: Cranana Muffin Recipe

The Pierogie Mama and her family are off on a fabulous visit to Germany! Don't worry, we'll check in on the blog every once in a while and keep up on Instagram and Facebook too! And in the meantime, you'll get the chance to read a ton of posts written by some of my favorite people. 
See you in the New Year. Don't miss out on this chance to win $20 Paypal too!

Everybody has their favorite pre-holiday breakfast pastry. From scones to breads, croissants to donuts – a baker’s arsenal has a limitless number of options!
Oh, and the flavors?!?! Blueberry, apple, pumpkin, chocolate, Bavarian cream, strawberry rhubarb – my mouth is just watering thinking of all the delicious combinations! Don’t even get me started on how adding “spiced” in front of any of these just opens up a whole new door to Flavortown!
When coming up with a home run recipe, my personal favorite must encompass all the best parts of the holidays. In a single bite I have got to experience sweetness and tanginess. While also getting a little bit of spice. Oh and there always has to be just a pinch of salt.
I think that I may have found perfection in my latest endeavor – the Cranana Muffin!
This wondrous creation is not your typical muffin. Made with fresh cranberries and ripe bananas, the flavors burst in your mouth with every bite. The smell wafting from your oven will bring your children to the table, and your neighbors to the door. Beautiful bright red berries and gooey yellow banana bits call your name as you unwrap this oh so yummy treat.    

Cranana Muffin Recipe

1 bag fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup butter
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4-5 VERY ripe bananas (this is important)

- Preheat oven to 350°
- Simmer water berries and 1/4 cups sugar for 3 to 6 minutes. Drain.
- Cream butter and remaining sugar.
- Add eggs one at a time.
- Combined dry ingredients in separate bowl.
- Mash bananas and add to dry ingredients with wet mixture.
- Gently mix in cranberries.
- Fill muffin cups just below cup line.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes
- Make sure to cool before serving.

This made 22 muffins for me, but I think next time I'll fill them fuller and should expect about 20 or so. They were really good split in half with a little butter.

Don't miss Stacie's other guest post on the blog - a simple grazing breakfast line up!

NonProfit DBA by day, wife/mom/baker all the other hours - Stacie is a Washington State native, DC transplant, and lover of all things creative. Owner and head decorator of Enticing Icing Cupcakes, this mommy baker enjoys sharing her secrets to a sweet life. Check out more of her work at www.enticingicingcupcakes.com

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Guest Post: K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Silly) Breakfast

It’s Christmas morning and all your family will shortly be descending on your house for the annual holiday dinner. Trouble is, it’s morning, and you don’t want to make a mess before “the mess” by preparing a huge breakfast for your kids.
Well, have I got the answer for you… The Grazing Breakfast!
Ok, so this isn’t a new concept. That’s being said, it’s one that is fairly easy to pull together, can provide an option for even your pickiest of eaters, and leaves you with very little clean up!
My go to options are all self-serve (unless you have very little ones, who will require a little assistance), and can be mixed and matched for a ‘somewhat’ healthy meal. This is also a great idea if you have drop-ins – or like my family, those grandparents who make the rounds, but don’t give you the head ups as to where you fall on the timeline.
The Line Up:

Hard Boiled Eggs –  The day before Christmas I throw a pot of water on the stove and cook up a dozen eggs. These bad boys keep for up to a week in the fridge, so even if they aren’t all eaten, you have grab and go breakfast for a few days.

Fresh Cut Fruit –  This is a staple at our house for the holidays. If you are anything like me, between the cookies, cakes, fudge, and whatever else appears at the office or around the house at this time or year, by Christmas morning you are craving something fresh and naturally sweetened. To make things easy on yourself, most grocery stores sell precut fruit. Or to make things easy on your wallet, buy a few easy to prepare fruits – like apples, bananas, and strawberries – and do the cutting yourself.

Deli Meats (and Cheese) - Did you know that you can ask the deli counter to cut your meats to a crazy thickness? This was a marvelous discovery I made one day when I wanted to serve ham with breakfast, but didn’t want to buy one of those half hams. Although the price per pound may be a little more than the prepackaged meats, this is a great option to create some bite size meat and cheese options that you normally expect to see as passed hors d'oeuvres.

Monkey Bread –                        
A special (and oh so simple) treat that will have guests and your children saying "WOW!" and coming back for seconds and thirds. Best yet, it's so easy to make, you'll be asking yourself why you hadn't done it before.
Monkey Bread Recipe (Adapted from the Betty Crocker Recipe)

2/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 cans buttermilk biscuits (I prefer Pillsbury, and they sell a four pack in most stores)
12 tablespoons butter
1 cup well packed brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Prepare bunt pan by spraying VERY well with cooking spray – it is very important to coat this well as you do not want any of the gooey goodness to stick!
- Place cinnamon and sugar into a gallon bag and shake until well mixed
- Remove biscuits from packaging and cut into quarters – I find it easiest to take 4-5 at a time, laid on their side, and then cut.
-  Add biscuits to the bag of cinnamon-sugar and shake to your hearts content – this is a great task for a child.
-  Evenly place the well coated dough bites into the pan, and sprinkle a little extra cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top
- Over medium-high heat, bring butter and brown sugar to boiling in a medium size saucepan – this mixture will be extremely hot and is a burning hazard, but please have the kids out of the room for this one.
-  Allow to boil for 1 minute - stirring constantly – then pour over biscuit quarters
- Using oven mitts, place in oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes
- Let stand for 5 minutes before turning upside down onto a plate
Best served warm!

Don't miss Stacie's other delicious recipe on the blog - Cranana Muffins!

NonProfit DBA by day, wife/mom/baker all the other hours - Stacie is a Washington State native, DC transplant, and lover of all things creative. Owner and head decorator of Enticing Icing Cupcakes, this mommy baker enjoys sharing her secrets to a sweet life. Check out more of her work at www.enticingicingcupcakes.com.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Little Gym of Everett

At what age did you begin to take your child to structured activities?

In my teen years when my mom  remarried, our new blended family put a lot of focus on being a part of an organized team. I gravitated mainly towards music and theatre with 4 years of swim team, my step-brother gravitated heavily towards sports as this was a large part of his upbringing. "When will your children be a part of a team?" was a big question from my family of origin. Not "if," but "when."

As Penny grew older I watched to see where her interests take her. For a while she was very creatively driven; especially loving to paint with textures and clearly working on her dexterity even without too much promoting from me. Around the age of 3, I noticed a shift and she started to experiment with moving her body in different ways. She loved swimming lessons and began to emulate her older cousin's gymnastic tumbling and cheer moves. I began to research local area options for dance or gymnastics for little kids.

When I talked with Charlene, one of the two owners of The Little Gym of Everett, I knew this was what we were looking for! The Little Gym offers so much more than a physical outlet for children; their focus is multi-dimensional.

Full disclosure: I have zero interest in Penny being the next Nadia Comaneci. What I do want is for Penny to be adaptable, curious, driven and physically active. And if she loves gymnastics, I would love to help her nurture that talent. So getting her started at The Little Gym was an experiment to see where she would take it.

The Little Gym runs a full year curriculum, so you have the option of signing your child up for the school term or on a monthly basis. We went weekly, sometimes more if there were drop in classes available. The Funny Bugs class (which was her age group) is an independent class - the parents watch through the window and a teacher very effectively wrangles a group of 3-6 year olds. On our first day, I watched with amusement, trepidation and later full on pride when I saw how Penny quickly learned how to reign in her pre-schooler crazies and begin to truly focus her energy to complete a set.

Each class session starts the same way - we are welcomed at the door by one of the two teachers (Brittany or Charlene), Penny places her sweats and shoes in a cubby and is ushered into the gym to sit with her fellow classmates with Teacher Char. Teacher Char begins the class with a warm up song and a few laps around the mat to help focus the kids. Charlene explained that every activity within The Little Gym has a purpose beyond what we see. Running in a circle is more than an energy burn; it helps the kids start to use their peripheries and patch where their classmates are running. The music changes to have the kids run slow, fast, loudly, quietly, up, down, etc.

Each 4 week period has a new curriculum theme that has accompanying skills that the children will learn. The themes have included "Which Muscle to Hustle," where they being to pin point which muscle group to work on, "Blast Off" focusing on imagination in space and applying different movements in an outer space theme. As the weeks progressed, Teacher Char would show a routine with 3-4 movements in a set just once to the class and spot them as they moved through. It was impressive to see how on task the children would be for the 45 minute class.

After the third or fourth session I had a moment of huge pride that welled up within me. I had watched Penny go through these motions, learn how to properly hold herself on the bar or beam. On one set, I saw her quickly and with strength pull herself up onto a bar, lock her elbows and hold herself suspended for several seasons. No wavering. Her muscles engaged, she had a huge smile on her face and she realized what she had accomplished. I caught myself clapping and saying "good job," and realized that she couldn't hear me through the window, but the other parents sitting with me smiled knowingly as they too had seen their children meet a goal recently. Sometimes you just can't hold back that kind of happy.

At the end of each class, Teacher Char and Teacher Brittany swap spots and while Brittany winds the kids down with a game or bubble popping, Charlene comes out to debrief the parents on what the kids had worked on. We cheer on the kids as they come out of the gym and they all line up for their reward of stamps from one of the teachers. It didn't take long for even Ruby, who would sit with me during Penny's class, to run over excitedly and sit patiently with the other kids for her ration of stamps.

So if you ask me, The Little Gym is #1 for where to sign up your kids for a physical activity. I'm sure some of the students there are destined for greatness in sports, but that's the not primary goal here. The goal is to help give children an all around experience that includes learning about gymnastics and helping them learn how to use their bodies in a purposeful way, while learning social skills on how to properly interact with other children - not necessarily with their parents hovering over them to make sure everyone says "please" and "excuse me" (something that I can surely be guilty of).

The Little Gym has over 300 locations world wide and is great for kids from age 4 months through 12 years old. There are a variety of classes; such as gymnastics, baby & me, KinderMusik, dance, karate, sports skills and more. In addition to regularly scheduled classes, The Little Gym of Everett offers "Parental Survival Nights," where your child gets an evening playing at The Little Gym while mom & dad get a break! There are drop in class sessions, summer camps and so many other fun monthly activities. It's really more than what you would expect!

Connect with The Little Gym of Everett

Disclosure: Thank you, Little Gym of Everett for giving us the opportunity to try out your classes for Penny! No other compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Guest Post: 3 Natural Cold & Flu Busters

Do you ever wish there was some way to naturally protect your family during cold and flu season? Before you rush out and get a flu shot, I’ve got some great tips to boost your immune system and fight off those pesky little germs!
But before I get into that, let me tell you a little about myself… My name is Erin Disch and I met Bianca through our local MOPs group! I am passionate about Jesus and the world, natural living, healthy cooking and all things artsy! I have been married for 13 years to my wonderful husband, Jimmy. I am a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to our three young boys. They are amazing and crazy and my house is never quiet, yet I wouldn’t change it for the world! I am so blessed!
Nearly 4 years ago, when I found out I was pregnant with our third child, I began seeing a naturopath doctor to help decrease my chances of developing severely high blood pressure that I had suffered from during my first two pregnancies. We had tinkered with several dietary things prior to this, but I would say this truly began our path to developing a natural lifestyle for our family. We switched to a clean eating, mostly organic diet, started exercising regularly (which I need to get back into the habit of doing again – ugh!), began seeking alternative medicine for health concerns, and eliminated chemicals in our home by switching to Norwex for cleaning. Along the way, I’ve learned a few tricks for helping our family to ward off, or at least shorten the length and severity of the cold and flu. Ready for the goods? OK. Here we go!
1.     Consume Plenty of Probiotics
Did you know that 70-80% of your immune system is housed in your intestines where a vast collection of bacteria live? Bacteria line your intestines and help your body to digest food. Eating too much sugar or processed foods and not enough fiber and vegetables, as well as taking antibiotics can cause your gut flora to get out of whack. It’s important to keep the good bacteria in your gut at a healthy level to improve your immune system. There are a few ways that you can incorporate probiotics into your diet to get and maintain a healthy gut. Choose any or all of these to help boost your body’s germ fighting ability!
·      Taking store bought probiotic supplements.
·      Eating cultured dairy products like yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, and raw milk.
·      Adding in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles or other pickled vegetables.
·      Drinking kombucha, a fermented tea – my personal favorite! You can buy it for $3-$4 a bottle or make your own for much less moolah. I follow this method. My favorite is to flavor it with fresh lemon chunks and raspberries when I bottle it for the second ferment. It becomes fizzy and is a super healthy substitute for soda. My whole family enjoys a glass every day! My 3 year old even threw a temper tantrum a couple weeks ago at 9:30 at night (2 hours after he was in bed) because he “needed a little cup of kombuchaaaa!” Oh boy. That child... At least it’s a healthy request, right?

2.     Boost Your Immune System with Elderberry
Elderberries have been used for centuries as a folk remedy. They are packed with Vitamins A, D and C, antioxidants and bioflavonoids which can boost your immune system and protect your cells from being infected by cold and flu viruses!
Elderberry is usually taken as a tea or syrup. You can purchase elderberry syrup or make your own for far less money. I prefer to buy dried elderberries and make my own syrup. It’s as easy as simmering some dried elderberries in filtered water, straining them, and adding some raw honey once it cools a bit. Easy peasy.
This recipe is a powerhouse of immune boosting goodness! It includes fresh ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Ginger on its own can calm nausea, help inhibit the growth of bad bacteria and fight off rhinovirus, which can cause the common cold. Cinnamon is also great at fighting off various kinds of infections and has tons of antioxidants and polyphenols. Likewise, cloves have powerful antibacterial properties and can also help boost your immune system! Wahoo!
When I make mine, I prefer to simmer a couple of broken up cinnamon sticks and 5 whole cloves with the elderberries instead of ground spices so it doesn’t have the gritty texture of the ground spices in it. If you love ginger, the finer you mince it, the spicier it is. I keep mine in a mason jar in the fridge and we all take it daily during cold and flu season.

3.     Take Advantage of Essential Oils
If you haven’t jumped on the essential oil train yet, here’s the skinny… Essential oils are concentrated, volatile, aromatic liquids that are obtained from plants. These oils have been used for their aromatic and healing benefits for hundreds of years.
There are quite a few companies out there that sell essential oils. This is a great article comparing the top 10  essential oils and is a great resource when choosing which brand to purchase.  I personally use Plant Therapy oils, as I particularly like that they are high quality, fit my budget, and they have a whole line of “Kid Safe” synergies that, as the name suggests, are safe for use on children of all ages. Many people may not be aware that there are several oils that are not safe for children under 10, so please be careful which oils you choose to use.  I encourage you to do some research and determine what you feel is best for your family.
Once you have your essential oils, there are several methods by which you can incorporate essential oils into your medicinal arsenal.
·      Apply them topically being sure to dilute to a safe amount, as it is almost never safe to apply them undiluted. These single oils are great for fighting off germs, but there are also blends available from many oil companies. Again, please be safe with which oils you use on kids! I like to make roller bottles with fractionated coconut oil and Plant Therapy’s Germ Destroyer blend for our kids and the Germ Fighter blend (their version of Thieves) for my husband and I. We apply it to the bottoms of our feet, our chest and back when we are feeling under the weather.
·      Inhaling oils by putting a couple drops on your pillow, tissue or aromatherapy necklace, using an aromatherapy inhaler, putting a few drops in a bowl of steaming water and deep breathing in the vapors, or by diffusing them. Diffusers work by creating a fine mist of the essential oils and dispersing them in the air making them more easily absorbed by your lungs. I have this diffuser and really like it for in our bedroom or smaller living spaces. 
·      Ingesting them. Although many people do ingest oils, our family does not. According to Robert Tisserand, a leading expert in aromatherapy and essential oil safety, there can be long term risks associated with ingesting oils if you don’t “absolutely and totally know what you are doing.” Since I’m not a certified aromatherapist, I’ll stick to the other methods described above, just to be safe. But again, please look into this yourself and choose what you feel is safe for you!

So there you have it folks! I hope your family can benefit from incorporating one or more of these tricks into your home! Have a happy and healthy winter!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Guest Post: German Christkindlmarkt History and 3 Recommended Markets in Bavaria

Guess who is guest posting on the blog today? The Pierogie Vovo! I hear ya - oh great, another weird Polish word that I don't understand. Au contraire, Vovo is the affectionate term for grandfather in Portuguese. What could be a better topic to write about, while we are visiting Germany during Christmas time, are the world famous Christkindlmarkts found all across the country?

The history of Christmas markets in Germany has roots dating back to the late middle-ages in the
German-speaking parts of Europe and as well in many parts of the Holy Roman Empire. The Christkindlmarkt (German language literal meaning “Christ child market”) is a street market that’s associted with the celebration of Christmas during the 4 weeks of Advent. Opening nights are generally celebrated by onlookers with the arrival of “The Christkind”, a young child often depicted as an angel-like girl and acted out by a locally selected child. This selection is considered a prestigious honor for the child and her family. There will be 35 main markets and hundreds of smaller markets throughout Germany; creating 25k jobs and generating revenue in excess of 200 million Euro.

Christkindlmarkt in Efurt
German Christmas markets bring the holiday season to you as only they can with the aromas of spiced glühwine, sausages, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), potato pancakes with applesauce (my fave) and of course roasted chestnuts on an open fire. My wife and I live on the eastern side of Germany in the Bavarian Oberpfalz region and there are three markets that I'd recommend for you to visit in this region:

Schloss Guteneck:  Open only on weekends, this market is considered the “romantic market”. Situated within the beautiful Castle Guteneck, there are medieval markets, jugglers, minstrels and the continuing procession of era grabbed individuals providing the feel and atmosphere of that time. Combined with live nativity scenes, advent celebrations, fire-dancing and also camel and sheep rides for the kids making this a special market not replicated anywhere in Germany. There’s also a private wine area set on a hilltop for adults who want to relax and overlook the market place and all its lighting.

Nuremburg:  Our personal favorite. Overlooking the majestic Alps to the south, this is considered one of the smaller markets in the big pool but offers every bit what the larger ones do. The must have food at this market is the Nuremberg sausages (no less than 3!), packed into a fresh brotchen roll and smothered in German mustard. This is truly the best sausage we’ve tasted in Germany. There are over 180 stalls decorated in red and white cloth with only authentic hand crafted wares sold. No mass-produced goods are allowed to be sold at this market and is strictly policed and enforced.

Rothenburg:  Home of the Christmas Museum and surrounded by medieval city walls and steep gabled houses, this market is illuminated with thousands of twinkling lights, providing a Disneyesque kind of atmosphere. Rothenburg is the best standing example of a Medieval city in Germany. During economic troubles after the 30-years war the city was frozen in time until it was discovered by romantics and poets in the 1800's and became a vacation spot because of it's beauty, which is well deserved. Christmas pastries are the specialty of this market with the Schneeball (snow ball) being the must try item. I’ve tried them and boy are they sweet. The market's unusual name comes from the legend of the Rothenberg Rider once believed to float through the skies with the souls of the dead. Haven’t seen him though. ;) Driving to the markets is tricky because European parking is very hard to find. We highly recommend taking the train or buses if you attend. Children are more than welcome, but I’d again recommend attending during the weekdays and not late into the night because crowds get bigger as the night goes on. Also, babywear versus using strollers where ever possible. Most markets are shoulder-to-shoulder people and little room to navigate strollers through the crowds. 
Christkindlmarkt in Efurt
I enjoyed taking you through some of the German Christmas Market history and locations and look forward to see you. Auf Wiedersehen!

Get to know The Pierogie Vovo:  Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area
        Wife w/3 children and a dog some of the time
        Worked w/the DoD for 35 years (20 yrs. w/US Army)
               Have lived in 5 countries, for a total of 9 years, during those 35 years
               Enjoy working on my fitness, sports, music and traveling
               Will retire in 2016 and return to college for enjoyment classes

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guest Post: Ava

The holidays are a joyous time, but for many it can also be painful. Having personally suffered the loss of a parent, wonderful memories return but also the bittersweet reminder that it's all we have left. Today, my brave and strong friend Sheila writes about her beautiful angel daughter, Ava.

For any sadness in your life, any time of the year, take refuge in sharing your feelings with one another. Be it your spouse, a close friend or even a stranger with a similar experience. Talking about it can be immensely healing and personally I have processed my grief differently by talking about it. If you have a friend whom you know what suffered a loss at any time, gently talk to her about it and remind her that you remember. That may be the most comforting thing you do for her.

Her name is Ava, simple and fleeting on the tongue.  In French, it means “bird,” a sentimental nod to our time in the Navy.  Swallows are symbolic for guiding each sailor’s voyage and bringing them home.  Before she was born, my husband & I constantly debated on this name.  We just couldn’t agree.  As first-time parents, we couldn’t agree on many things.  Once we laid eyes on her though, the debate died along with our child.  It was clear who she was.  Ava.  I wish I heard her beautiful name spoken more.

She was our first child and so badly, badly longed for.  After trying to conceive for a handful of years, she entered our lives that May just as quickly and unexpectedly as she left.  Even in those sweet, early days of my pregnancy, I felt I knew the little life I was carrying inside of me.  I was carrying a girl—a darling, feminine girl with dark wavy hair.  She’d love ribbons and bows, wear pink tutus, and dance ballet.  She was constantly in my thoughts, and on the way to work, I’d listen to lullabies or sing to her.  In the evenings, I’d read her, Guess How Much I Love You.  My evenings and weekends were filled with prenatal yoga and building our registry.  My bookcase was lined with the latest in parent books.  I was five months pregnant, hopeful for our future together and very much looking forward to being her mother. 

I was a week away from a routine ultrasound appointment and so excited to see her face for the first
time, anxious to point out whose features were whose.  And then, it happened.  For reasons unknown, I awoke one morning to blood-soaked sheets.  My amniotic sac had ruptured.  I rushed to the hospital
and was met in the ER; there was nothing they could do to save her life.  I was in early labor, and
because she was a few weeks too premature to live outside of my womb, she wouldn’t survive.  I was
giving birth to say goodbye. 

Laying on the hospital bed and between contractions, I would whisper to her, “I love you.  I am sorry.  I am so, so sorry.  Be strong.”  What lead to this?  I dissected my pregnancy over and over.  I prayed for the first time in years, asking God for whatever pain she was feeling, to let it pass quickly.  She was born on August 23, 2010 at 8:13 p.m., tiny, wiggly, and pink.  I recognized my chin, my eyebrows, and her daddy’s feet.  She lived for a very short time, struggling to breathe through her underdeveloped lungs before passing in our arms.  After having such dry weather the entire summer, it stormed that evening.  It felt like the sky was despairing with me. 

I don’t remember much about the months that followed.  I do know that I felt broken.  Lost. Responsible for her death.  Suicidal at times.  I was a mother with no baby to show for it.  My work gave me 6 weeks of paid maternity leave, and I slept much of the day while laying awake at night.  Dressing was too much work.  Eating was too much work.  Living was too much work.  Concerned, friends and family would call or stop by for small talk.  They didn’t want to upset me, so awkwardly they would avoid her name or any conversation of Ava.  I just wanted to die alongside my daughter.   

Then came the months of November and December, which brought another dimension of grief.  There were so many unintended reminders of how she was missing from our lives that holiday season, the time of year that I once most loved.  We’d never see the excitement for Christmas through her little eyes, and knowing this made my heart and arms ache even more.  We received cards in the mail and invites to parties, and although grateful to be thought of, I couldn’t gather the strength to feign joy or even respond.  Ava’s name wasn’t on them.  I knew everyone remembered her, but for how long?  My worst fear was that her name would be forgotten.  I’d wake in the morning, cry on the drive to work, glue myself together, cry on the drive home, and then go to bed.  I stayed in our bedroom most of Christmas Day. 

I managed that winter, and the four that came afterwards, the best I could.  Ava now has two healthy
siblings who know her name and sometimes ask about her.  A handful of family members also speak of her, acknowledging her birthday and on holidays, or sometimes just because.   My heart bursts with gratitude each time.  One of my worst fears continues to be that she’ll be forgotten, the only record of her short life being the marker that sits atop her grave—which is why I write this. 

Sweet Ava, your story is now memorialized in written word, just as it is engraved in your daddy’s heart and in mine.  You were here.  You are remembered.  You are missed.  Love you to the moon and back, baby girl.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What I am packing in my carry on luggage for international travel with a toddler and a preschooler

We are preparing for our first international flight with kids - and even though my husband and I are seasoned travelers; let me tell ya - I'm a little scared. A little anxious. Really excited for our destination. Catching the extra zzzz's while I can. Trying not to overpack. But I probably did and I can't say that I will be too sorry about it.

Our upcoming trip to Germany has been greatly anticipated and over the last few months we've been talking more with Penny, our preschooler, about what to expect on this long plane ride and how we are so excited to see Babcia and Vovo (her maternal grandparents) once we land. But truly, even though we talk all about this and she is on the cusp of becoming a rational 4 year old, we have no idea what we can expect from her and her little sister, Ruby, who is 19 months old. 17 hours of travel is extremely wearing on adults, and it will be much moreso for our children. The longest flight that we have taken as a family of four has been a five hour jaunt, which was only a few months ago. Here's hoping that both of them, especially the toddler, will have a few memories of that experience so that it doesn't throw them off too much.

Can I pause for a moment and make a comment about how I can't believe that I have a toddler and a preschooler?? It was only last year that I had a toddler and a baby...

While it's very easy and temping to completely over pack and bring EVERYTHING with us as a carry on, my husband and I are opting to trim down as much as we can due to the fact that we will be hauling 3 large pieces of luggage, our carry ons, two small children and their car seats.

So without further adieu, here is what we packed into our carry on luggage for our international flight with a 3 1/2 year old and 19 month old!
  • Diapers and wipes (recommended 1 diaper per hour of travel)
  • A small spritzer of OnGuard essential oil
  • Brand new Usborne books, we are very excited to use the new flashlight book!
  • Our new Kindle Fire tablets; perfect for both parent and kid use. We also bought child ear phones and pre-loaded the tablets with a ton of apps that they got to practice with for a week ahead of the trip. 
  • 2 changes of clothes for the kids and one for each parent, each set in a gallon sized Ziploc bag (which can also be used to seal smelly accidents)
  • Token "lovies" that will help comfort the child and provide the scent of home in an unfamiliar space
  • Travel sized toothbrushes that are preloaded with toothpast
  • Coloring books with crayons
  • Norwex Enviro cloth to wipe down plane trays - thanks for the idea Erin, who will be writing a guest post here in the very near future!
  • Small, inexpensive toys and craft items from the Dollar Store that can provide entertainment but are easily disposed of. 
  • Our two soft structured carriers for ease of transport through security and to help lull them to sleep on the airplane. 

I wrapped each and every single item in wrapping paper, including the diapers. This turns it into an activity that can be either a distraction or celebration. Because my kids can't read yet, I labelled their contents so that we can quickly grab what we feel is the best item for that moment.  <-- hack="" mama="" nbsp="" p="">

I filled at least a dozen Frozen themed ziplock baggies with an assortment of healthy pop corn, cheerios, yogurt covered raisins, trail mix, granola bars, a "treat" (usually a chocolate ball or a few marshmallows) and included different themed stickers, sticky notes, crayons, or other small time occupiers. I also made a specific "take off" bag that was place mats that they color on (like you get at a restaurant), a couple suckers for their ears.

But what is really going to save me are the diapers! I've flown many a time where at the end I've been covered in all sorts of bodily fluids and it's not fun. So here's to hoping that these will stand the test of a long international flight and keep both my baby and ME happy!

What do you pack for flying with your kids? 

Disclosure: All opinions are my own. This giveaway is funded by The Pierogie Mama and is not associated with any other entity, including but not limited to Sam's Club, Huggies, Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest. Please see giveaway for full rules and eligibility. 

Win a Tula!

I'm kicking off my fabulous travel to Germany by working with Elia at Conservamom and other bloggers to give away a Tula Standard Carrier - in "Travel Bug" print! It couldn't be a better fit, right? As you know, babywearing saves my life on a daily basis and during my travels is no different. I have found that getting through the airport is easier, less stressful for a quick transfer and getting screen at TSA is more streamlined. It keeps my children close and secure in an unfamiliar area.

While I have yet to try on my own Tula, the brand has an amazing following and great reviews. Check out what Elia has to say below and enter to win!

Welcome to the Tula Baby Carrier Giveaway
Hosted by Conservamom
We all know how wildly popular Tula Baby Carriers are! From the beautiful prints to the versatility in carrying.
Here's your chance to win one of these beauties for your self!
Each Tula Ergonomic Baby Carrier:
  • can be used in both front and back carries
  • can be used from 15-45 pounds (toddler carrier is approved for 25-50 lbs)
  • can be used from birth with the use of the revolutionary Tula Infant Insert (not included), and into toddlerhood with Tula Free to Grow Extenders (not included)
  • is easy to use and comfortable
  • provides an ergonomic M-position seat supporting optimal development for baby’s body
  • is easy to care for and machine washable
  • is made by hand from 100% Öko-Tex Standard 100 certified cotton
  • is made with the highest quality Duraflex buckles available
  • includes features such as dual-adjustment straps to allow for the perfect fit, additional leg-opening and shoulder padding, and a large pocket on the contouring hip belt
  • includes a removable hood to support baby’s head while asleep, protect from sun or wind, and allow for comfortable breastfeeding
Have you been wanting to own one? Here’s your chance! One lucky winner will get the chance to win one of these beautiful baby carriers in Travel Bug print.

So head below for your chance to win! Giveaway open to US & CA and ends on 1/6at 11:59 pm EST.
Feeling lucky? 
Enter to win $20 PayPal cash from 

The Pierogie Mama after you enter the Tula Giveaway!

Disclosure: All opinions are 100% mine. This giveaway is in no way associated with, sponsored, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest or any other social media network.All opinions and experiences are Conservamom‘s. Open to US & CA residents only , must be 18+. Confirmed Winner(s) will be contacted through email and have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be drawn. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited by law. The sponsor will be responsible for product fulfillment to winner(s) of the giveaway. 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. For questions or to see your product featured in an Event you can contact Elia At Conservamom

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MommyCon came to Seattle...and I went!

Get your ticket for Mommy Con 2016 early! They always sell out, and here's a $5 code to get you started!

For the last few years my blogging bestie, That Mama Gretchen, and I have been pining away for a conference that we can attend together and to piggyback a mom's night out on. It's not easy, you know, when you've got two mamas who are on alternating years for pregnancies and birthing babies! But the fates aligned; MommyCon was coming to Seattle and even though Gretchen was in the final stages of her pregnancy with Baby #3 and I had not yet taken a night away from Ruby, we did it. We did it!

We split a hotel room at Motif, where the conference was to be held the following morning. After battling Friday evening Seattle traffic we checked and quickly made our way down to Frolick for an evening snack and a drink for me. There's something about a friendship that allows you to pick up and catch up with each other's lives, without missing a beat, even though it's been almost a year since we last saw each other in person. Well, keeping up with each other's blogs and social media kind of helps that.

Neither of us knew what to expect from MommyCon, even though we had heard great reviews. We stayed up late, talking about woven wraps, birth stories (one of our favorite repeat conversations), blogging life and real life. It was well after 1am before I shut my eyes and I couldn't wait for the following morning.

So what can I say about MommyCon? I was completely unprepared for exactly how great of a day that I would have. All of the vendors - spot on. I loved chatting with each business and met some people I had chatted with online and met new favorites. The brands ranged from cloth diapers, breast feeding support, babywearing, mama cloth, natural products for children and mama and so much more.

Between checking out the booths I attended several great talks - Cloth Diapering led by Jennifer Labit (owner of Cotton Babies), Wrapping 101, Co-sleeping and Beyond (so my life right now), Sex After Baby and Boobs and Bottles (both by Jessica Martin-Weber, AKA The Leaky Boob). I was so thankful that they were spaced out throughout the day because if I had to choose between any of those I'm sure my heart would have broken. Each of the vendors were so helpful and not pushy at all, which just makes everything so much better. I also was the lucky winner of a Cassiope Woven wrap that was a MommyCon exclusive - more about that later - but the excitement of their scavenger hunt was a fun addition to the day.

MommyCon is more than just a conference; it was a rejuvenation of what it means to be a mama. There were so many examples of a mother there, whether they breastfeed, bottlefeed, wore their baby in a soft structured carrier, wrapped them methodically, pushed them in a stroller or what was covering their bottom. It didn't matter if she had spikey rainbow hair or wore her business casual suit to attend. We were all there for the same reason - to gain community in this great journey of life and to better ourselves. For the first time in a very long time I was in a room with hundreds of other women and rather than worrying about the Mommy Wars, we all came together as we are.

Get $5 off your 2016 ticket by using promocode PierogieMama16!

Did you go to any of the MommyCon conferences?
Tell me about your favorite part!
Don't miss That Mama Gretchen's 7 favorite things about MommyCon post too!
Disclosure: I attended MommyCon Seattle 2015 as a media member and received a complimentary ticket. But seriously, I am so glad that I went and I plan on going any other time that this awesome event comes to my local area. And you should too!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest Post: The Rise of Handmade and Artisan Goods in Interior Design

The Rise of Handmade and Artisan Goods in Interior Design
 Interior design is fascinating. Our surroundings have a very real emotional impact on us. I continue to be inspired by how a person’s home design and decor can shape the way they feel and, therefore, how they live their life.  The ever-changing world of interior design makes room for new designs and trends every season. One trend that has been on the rise for nearly a decade, and is at an all-time high, is the desire for handmade items.  Rugs, pillows, fabrics, baskets, vases and light fixtures are just a few of the unlimited bounty of handmade products. Many artisans are returning to the handcrafted process that defined design before the industrial revolution. And many interior designers are sourcing those very same artisan goods. Why is this? 

 First, designing with handmade pieces allows a person to express individuality. These products are unique. Who wants shelves full of manufactured knickknacks when you can have an assortment of items that possess originality and authenticity? Handmade items can add to interior design what no other items can-imperfections. I love the juxtaposition of a smooth, manufactured surface with an oddly shaped or textured handmade item gracing the top of it. These organic imperfections add a certain depth to a room’s décor.  

We can also consider that designers and consumers alike appreciate the story behind a piece. How was it made? Where was it made? And who made it? People like to know that they are supporting a particular artist or artisan and are much more dedicated to mindful spending-respecting every dollar they spend as an extension of themselves.
The desire for better quality products has also played a key role in this trend. It is widely believed that many mass-produced items are poorly manufactured and that handmade and artisan sourced goods are of higher quality. Consumers are thinking long-term in their purchases and are aiming for sustainability.
I think it is safe to call this handmade trend a long-lasting movement. With the rise in ecommerce sites like Etsy and Amazon Handmade, sourcing handmade and artisan goods, both globally and locally, is just a click away. This movement isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And I must say, as an artisan myself, I could not be more pleased!
Rebecca resides in Washington where she is a stay at home mom to her two beautiful children. She is thrilled at the continued opportunity to carve out her own future with her handcrafted home décor shop.  
“Trust not what inspires other members of society to choose a career. Trust what inspires you.”

 Shop Rebecca's handmade décor items:
**All new** Amazon Handmade

I am excited to kick off the holiday season with a giveaway from Simply Lyon! Rebecca handcrafts her beautiful woven baskets and is offering a basket to a lucky Pierogie Mama reader. This hand-woven basket will add a cozy and delicate touch to your home. A perfect place to keep towels, blankets and other items organized. Keep in a nursery or child's room to store toys or stuffed animals. Or simply display the basket itself as part of a room's décor. The options are limitless! (Dimensions: Height-8",Width-13.5")

Disclosure: The Pierogie Mama is not responsible for prize fulfillment.
No compensation was provided for this post.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Why cloth pads are the bomb & review of Öko Creations Cloth Pads

I've been a "mama cloth"/ "R.U.M.P.S" / "cloth pad" user for almost two years - and it all started when I dove into this for my postpartum with Ruby. Talk about jumping into the deep end!

Since that time I've had about 9 cycles and I'm so glad that I've made the complete switch to reusable menstrual products. I'm a cloth diapering mom, so it made sense to also make a change for myself. Periods, menstruation or "Aunt Flo" aren't really topics of conversation that we usually have in our culture but let's just unveil that stigma for a second and talk about a few really key points on why cloth pads are the bomb.

1. Your period overall will be better. Many women report that by switching to cloth pads that their cramps aren't as painful and their periods are lighter and shorter. I can personally attest to that! Mine used to last about 9 days prior to switching to cloth and now I average about 5 days. One might call me a conspiracy theorist, but part of me wonders if all those extra chemicals in disposable products affect the menstrual cycle to last longer because that means you need more of their products and they get more money. Even disregarding that, cloth is a beneficial alternative because you are now removing that chemical contact with your body. Montsano stays out of my vagina.

2. Cloth pads are way prettier than disposables!  I actually look forward to my period because I get to look at the pretty patterns. I know that parents get hit with the "fluffy bug" when it comes to prints and cloth diapers...but seriously, I was not prepared for the level of excitement when I saw unicorn print pads. It's a little empowering, isn't it? Instead of the blah pads from the store you get to choose what you like and it kind of represents you. You might quickly find yourself re-evaluating the hum drum boringness of another cycle to thinking about the great social impact it has on you and all of mankind. But I digress, that is a very deep topic for another day!

3. You will save boat loads of money. In this day and age, women menstruate for about 40 years or more. Think about your average cost of disposable products per month. Cloth pads can be an "expensive" start, just like cloth diapers or most other reusable alternatives, but the long term financial benefits outweigh greatly. Take this: you spend $8 on disposables per month, which comes out to $3840 (without any breaks for pregnancy, postpartum, etc) in your fertile lifetime. Instead, you purchase a starter stash of 8 pads (for a conservative 2 day stash) and you have an investment of $80 that will last you many years.

4. You're being earth friendly. Pads, tampons and disposable diapers take 500-800 years to decompose. As mentioned in Reason #3, your stash will easily last you 3-5 years. Meanwhile, you are no longer adding a disposable impact on our Earth. The process of creating disposable products is also very damaging to our environment.

So now that I've gotten you on the cloth pad band wagon, let me introduce these lovelies to you.

 Öko Creations won my heart last fall with the ever adorable snail hat and I was so excited to get to try cloth menstrual pads out. I've become a bit of a pad addict due to my current endeavor and found it serendipitous that my cycle started the day after I prepped these.

Like other Öko Creations products the material and build quality was excellent.  Öko Creations is a family owned and run business with deep roots in eco-ethics in the textiles they choose and actions within their workshop. This is a business who not only cares about my lady-business but the impact of their work too.

The topper and core are an organic cotton and hemp blend, meaning they are extremely dense and absorbent. The feeling of the natural fibers is soft and helps you feel dry. You don't have the issue of 'compression leaking' like you might with other core choices. Like many cloth pads, it includes a hidden waterproof layer to prevent leaking; but it's not PUL like most. In fact, it is the first pad that I am aware of to use a breathable waterproof layer that is best related to Saran-wrap. The result is a very trim pad with high absorption efficiency.  The wings that snap together under your underwear to prevent shifting. Even though they are trim, I have zero problem using them overnight. These have quickly become a favorite!
You can buy them online and follow on facebook instagram pinterest
Disclosure: I received complimentary product in exchange for my honest review.
No other compensation was provided.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mama survival hour with Bumble Bee SuperFresh Ahi Tuna

Traveling spouses. I tell ya, it's rough. On all parties involved.

My husband was traveling for at least 30% of his work up until a couple months ago. Every few weeks he'd be off for a convention or project support meeting. While it was a necessary part of his position, it was one that quickly lost it's allure. Travel for business can be fun, don't get me wrong - the schmoozing, new places and prestige. But as my husband and I quickly realized, it wasn't something for us. Missing my husband and co-parent for a week at a time every month or so wasn't fun. The girls weren't happy to see daddy go either.

Thankfully a couple months ago my husband took a new position where he has to travel much less. This past week he was called away to support a project and we kind of gave that collective groan. But just as he had become a seasoned traveler and was able to quickly pack a bag, I too had learned a few tricks on how to handle his absence.

In addition to how to help the children cope with a traveling parent, I gave myself something to look forward to- mama survival hour. It was an hour that I set aside for myself at the end of the day, no matter what, that I would do something for myself. It varied from a show or movie that I never got to watch because the husband or kids aren't interested, a sewing or craft project to getting ahead on the blogging game. On this particular night I planned a grown up only culinary delight.

Bumble Bee recently rolled out a new line of fancy-schmancy meals (Bumble Bee SuperFresh) that I had been excited to try out but knew I needed to wait for mama survival hour. Bumble Bee SuperFresh® is a complete line of naturally-seasoned, restaurant quality, “fish-forward” prepared seafood solutions for the home. It raises the bar for what seafood lovers can expect from frozen food! I picked out the seared ahi tuna and thawed it in the fridge for 3 hours. Sushi was a favorite evening girls night while I was in college so I anticipated this with much excitement.

Once the kidlets were down for the count (THANK GOODNESS), mama survival hour began. I poured a glass of my favorite Riesling and festively added a couple slices of fresh ginger. A simple dish with soy sauce accompanied the ahi and I quietly sat down, mulled over the fresh fish flavors and sipped my wine. In peace.

You can also enjoy Bumble Bee SuperFresh® Ahi Tuna with a side of soy sauce and wasabi, in a classic Nicoise Salad or served alongside your favorite seafood accompaniments.  Being a seafood lover (we enjoy fish about once a week), I approach frozen fish with trepidation. Have you ever thawed fish in your fridge? The smell! And you never know how the texture is going to be. I was surprised that not only did my fridge not smell like fish but also that the texture of the tuna was maintained. That's because during the preparation process, Bumble Bee freezes the fish during the processing and never fully defrosts the whole piece while the tuna is being seasoned and seared. Pretty much like what you'd find from the professionally trained sushi chef's cutting board. The SuperFresh line uses the term “fish forward” - you'll find that the fish is simple and eloquently seasoned and very easy to see what you are eating (no blankets of breading or sauces!). When browsing the SuperFresh website I was really happy to see their transparency in ingredients and sourcing. You'll find them in the frozen aisle - there's tons of different dishes available from Bumble Bee.

Tell me - do you have a mama survival hour? What do you do?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


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