Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year in Review

Doesn't it feel like we just started 2010?! This year has flown by, I can't get over it! At the end of each year, I like to to look back at all that I've accomplished and experienced and think about what I'd like to see happen in the new year. I'm not all for resolutions exactly as I feel they just set you up for failure but I think it's important to spend some time reflecting on our past to prepare for our future.
My year in general has been pretty good, or at least that's what I remember most from it. :)

We welcomed Sophie into our lives:

We became a one income family when my EI claim was refused. This was and continues to be such a learning experience. I honestly thougth that I'd have to go back to work when Sophie was only a few weeks old as I couldn't fathom our family living off Dave's barber salary. But you know what? We are and while money is tight, we're getting by and having fun along the way. We still need to seriously tweak our budget so that we aren't just getting by but are still able to put money towards savings and pay off our debt. We're working on it though!

I started offering placenta encapsulation in my area which has been a really positive experience! I really enjoy offering this service to local moms and also enjoy educating people on the healing powers of the placenta. I find it funny when people first hear about it, they're visibly horrified but then I tell explain the benefits and tell my own experience, most people find it interesting.

I started preparing my family's meals from scratch. And even more exciting is that I've learned to replace many store bought overprocessed foods and products with natural homemade alternatives. It's been FUN!

We've spent alot of time exploring nature. I've learned that being outdoors and getting fresh air is better than anything for combatting crankiness. Since winter's arrived, we've been spending less and less time outside which I'd like to change. There's no reason for us not to get outside for even half an hour each day regardless of weather. I know we'll all feel better if we do but sometimes it's hard to get out the door when it's raining hard out.

We started Parker on a gluten free diet which has been really successful. He's been happier and his speech has improved. It's definitely noticeable when he's off a GF diet so we're trying to be more consistent and strict with it.

We built our first ever garden! We grew brocolli, kale, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, tons of healing herbs, strawberries, etc. So much fun and we learned so much. Can't wait to start an even bigger and better garden this year. :)

 I started to get creative again, which has been so nice! Having two kids under two and a teenager in the house doesn't always leave alot of time for me but I've really come to enjoy creating crafts and art. I'm especially loving needlefelting!

We moved into a house across town which I'm not sure was the best decision. We needed to move as our old place wasn't working for us anymore. It was right behind a train track which when you have babies is not the funnest thing. It's actually kind of a terrifying way to wake up! And also Ally was walking through a not safe neighbourhood in the dark to catch the bus and she'd always be late for school so we needed to be closer to her school. So here we are closer to Ally's school which is great but our landlord is kinda crazy (we're expecting an eviction notice on the 2nd because we're refusing to pay a surprise deposit she's demanded two weeks ago), the neighbours not so neighbourly, it's so expensive and we really do spend most of our time downtown. I'd love to move back downtown or at least to Old City Quarter further away from trains and close to a bus stop for Ally or even better on some property in Lantzville but we'll see, I hate moving and that seems to be a constant in my life.

That's pretty much my year in review! Some things I'd like for next year are to be in a new home with a non-crazy landlord on a great piece of property. I want to spend more time outside, everyday even if just for a quick walk around the block. I'd like to work on my relationship with my husband... after two back to back babies, our focus has not been on each other. We still love each other but we could love each other a little more I think. :)

Hope you all have a great final night in 2010 and I wish you nothing but happiness for 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cake and Poor Man's Dulce de Leche

We hosted Christmas Day dinner again this year and were in charge of cooking the turkey (which was our first year of doing a local free range bird... so freakin' good. We'll never go back to factory farmed turkey again) as well as the dessert. Being that Parker is avoiding gluten (although we've slipped up on that quite a bit lately and have noticed the effects) I wanted to create a dessert that he could have and one that everyone would enjoy.
I've seen lots of flourless chocolate cakes before but it just didn't sound that good to me so I've never made them. But I was so wrong, this cake was so good that I'm wondering why anyone would ever put flour in cake again! It's creamy... almost like a mousse/brownie combo. Then top it off with a homemade caramel sauce and you've got one kick-ass dessert that any celiac or anyone else would love!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
18 squares of semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup butter
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 300F and line a springform pan with parchment. Butter up the sides and parchment. Cover the whole outside with two layers of foil and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine sugar and water together until dissolved. Set aside.
Melt chocolate squares and mix in butter. Beat in sugar water, add vanilla and add eggs one at a time.
Pour batter into pan and place cake pan into a larger pan (I used a roasting pan). Fill larger pan with boiling water until it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan.
Bake for 45-50 minutes and then chill overnight.
You'll need to use a wet knife to loosen the edges of the cake before inverting it over a plate to serve.

Poor Man's Dulce de Leche

1 can sweetened condensed milk, label removed.

Bring a full pot of water to boil (make sure this pot is big enough so that when the can of condensed milk is placed in it, the entire can will be submerged). Turn down heat to medium and place in can of condensed milk. Allow to simmer for 3 hours, checking on it regularly to be sure that the can is fully submerged, adding water as needed. After the 3 hours, turn off heat but leave the pot on the element and the milk in the pot. When the water is cool, remove can. Open the can and voila: a yummy dessert topper!
*****Please be aware that this isn't the safest thing to make. Cans have been known to explode causing damage to cooks and to kitchens. I think the trick is to make sure the can is always FULLY submerged but use caution when making this!!!******

Homemade Vanilla Extract and Peppermint Extract

This year as part of everyone's Christmas gift I made extracts. Before this I never really put thought into the commercially bought extracts and was never concerned with using them. Ummm... yeah, that's totally changed since then. The commercially bought crap from your local stores are filled with artificial everything: colour and flavour. Not only is that not good for you (hello petroleum products!) but making the real stuff is a trillion times tastier and it's super easy to boot. AND most extracts are not gluten free... making your own with wheat free vodka ensures this is safe for the celiac in your life! Here's what I did:

For the peppermint extract I grabbed a big handful of peppermint I had growing in the backyard. Muddle it a bit to release some of the yummy peppermint oil then put in a large canning jar (or clean peanut butter jar, etc). Fill to the top with a high grade vodka making sure all the peppermint leaves are covered. Not covering the leaves can cause them to spoil, ruining your whole batch! Place in a cool dark place (my pantry) and give it a gentle shake when you remember, I tried to do it everyday. After about 8 weeks or so, strain the leaves out and put in smaller bottles or leave in the original jar. That's it!

For the vanilla extract, I used 6 vanilla beans and opened them up to expose the delicious seeds. Try to buy as high quality as you can afford and make sure they're fresh, they shouldn't snap! They should be bendy and a bit moist. Put in a large canning jar (or again reuse a pb jar) and cover with alcohol. I used two cups of vodka and an ounce or two of bourbon. Same thing with the peppermint extract, store in a cool dark place and give it a gentle shake daily for 8 weeks or so. When I poured the vanilla extract into smaller bottles, I also added half a vanilla bean to each jar. That way they can add vodka to it as they use it to keep it going for a while.

Christmas Memories

 Looking back through my camera I'm realising there wasn't very many photos taken during Christmas. I got some when we went Christmas Tree hunting at Go-Go's and Christmas morning and that's it. The rest of the time I was too busy spending it with my family and enjoying myself to take photos. Sorry for the awful layout... I'm doing this while updating my iPhone which just makes both of these jobs annoying! ha!

The kids and I dragging our tree to the van after Dave cut it down.

Dave and Sophie topping the tree.

                                                                                            Opening his new stocking that his great aunt made for him.

Sophie asleep during most of the gift opening

Ally opening her stocking

Happy Dave.

Parker loves his new car ramp!

Ally wearing a mustache I made for her with Kate, the unicorned woman. Hmmm....

Oh yes, this baby was gifted to me for Christmas. :)

I needle felted Dave a barberpole ornament.
I felted each of the kid's a ball: the little ones had their names felted on it and Ally had the Nightmare Before Christmas guy on hers. I think it turned out alright, his eyes are a bit wonky but meh...

Make-up remover pads I made up for the women's gifts.
My first attempt at making a felt toy. This horse is for our friends' little guy.
Sophie approves of the tree!

I quickly sewed up a gift bag for a friend's gift. I think I'll make these for all gift giving now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crafting Fun!

I've been a crafting mad woman lately and I love it! Being creative is my therapy, creating something instantly lifts my spirits. And as you can tell from my last post, I've been needing my spirits lifted lately. :)
After the holidays, I"m going to either open up my etsy shop again ( or start up a new one (probably a new one, name suggestions anyone?). I think my focus will be on needle felting and other natural/ Waldorf creations. I have a few ideas on some needle felted figurines with the theme of natural mother (breastfeeding, baby wearing, etc). So excited... now here's hoping that I'll actually find time to get around to doing it!

I can't share all that I've been working on as a majority of my craftiness is for Christmas gifts but here's some of what I've been doing:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Long day.

Last Wednesday we had a busy day. It started with having a mini-meeting with the Occupational Therapist that Parker is on the wait list to start seeing. I was unsure how seeing an OT would help us... in my work children who see OTs have much greater needs than my son does so going into the appointment I felt like it was a waste of my time. When our pediatrican wanted us to see OT, I thought it was because he thought Parker was overly cautious and hadn't mastered walking up stairs yet independently at 2. It wasn't a big deal to me and I thought the doctor was making a mountain of a mole hill.
But OT will help us with so much more than Parker's lack of confidence to try new things (which could be the reason he's delayed in speech). We did an unofficial checklist/questionaire about sensory and while she couldn't say for sure after only spending an hour with us, there were some big red flags that lead us to believe that Parker has a hard time with sensory perception. Which isn't a surprise to me at all and it was even a relief that someone else, someone "official" was listening to me and agreeing with me and not telling me my intuition was wrong. We're still on the waitlist but the OT said we're among the top 20 to be seen... so hopefully within the next few months.
Next we had our last day of playgroup for children on the waitlist for speech (or those who are already in speech). I'm sad that it's over because Parker really loves that hour we spend there. After the group was finished, the leader came up to us and commented that it was amazing to see the changes in Parker over the last few months. His speech has gone through another mini-burst and he was singing along (well, not all the words but all the signs and some of the words) to all the songs. I'm really hoping they start up again in January. Not only do I really love the group as does Parker, it'll be nice for Parker to be familiar and comfortable with the building as that's where we'll be for speech and OT.
Later that afternoon we had an appointment with Parker's pediatrician. I really appreciate not being rushed and the doctor taking his time with his patients but the wait to see him is pretty long. Too long for a toddler, a baby and a mama who's been on the go all day. The appointment went well, we talked about his milestones, development and he was weighed (32lbs). There wasn't a whole lot to say as we are still on the waitlists for OT and speech but Parker's general assesment was sent over. Our doctor mentioned that while he doesn't get the autism "vibe" from him, we should keep an eye on that over the next few years. He agrees that Parker does have difficulty with sensory perception and recommended a few books to us. One thing I really liked is when he said that sensory perception isn't something we can change in Parker.. there's no "fixing" him... it's how he's wired. It's us that need to change how we interact with him and help him go through the day.
Anyhoo... it was an emotional day but like I said.. it was a relief to have someone hear me and not shrug off my concerns yet again.
I really look forward to no longer being on a wait list and to having the support our family desperately needs. Our hard days where Parker spends all day screaming or hurting himself affects us all in all parts of our lives. It breaks my heart to see him so upset and I'm often at a loss of how to help him when its been hours of crying. It affects my relationship with my husband and our relationship with him. I love my son to a million bits but sometimes it's sooo hard. Like lately. I get so overwhelmed (as does he) that I don't want to leave the house, it's too much to get us all ready to go out and when we do go out, it's too hard to go out alone with him and Sophie.
Anyways... I'm rambling now. I'm feeling stressed after a week of really rough days.... looking forward to a few good days. The good days always make up for the rought ones a hundred times over. :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Elderberry Syrup

It's cold and flu season again and this year I'm determined to not get sick! I don't usually get sick often but the past few years, I have been getting one or two colds which knock me out.

I've been reading about elderberries and their effectiveness against the cold and flu viruses. Elderberries contain vitamin A, vitmain C, calcium, potassium and iron. They are also anti-viral and boost the immune system! Making a syrup from elderberries and taking it daily can prevent getting sick. If you do become sick with a cold, a flu or suffer from a viral infection, taking elderberry syrup will lessen the severity of the symptoms and decrease the length of illness.

So last month I made a batch of elderberry syrup and have been doing my best to take it daily. I don't mind the taste but my oldest daughter and my husband need some coaxing to take it!

Here's how I made it:
1 cup dried elderberries (if you can find fresh even better. They're usually found in September locally)
3 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup local honey, preferablly raw

In a pot, combine elderberries, water and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain by squeezing all liquids from the elderberries over a mesh strainer then pour back into pot. Pour in honey and stir until melted. Pour into sterilized jar and refridgerate for up to 3 months.

I take two teaspoons daily, my kids take one (I made one without honey for Sophie as she's under 15 months) and should we become sick, we'll increase to 3 or 4 doses per day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Well, not really but I did start making ornaments this past week! Parker is on the wait list for speech therapy (which is ridiculously long btw!) and while he's waiting, we joined a playgroup geared towards children on the wait list for speech. There's a lot of focus on language, signing, singing, turn taking, etc. Most of this we do anyways and I didn't think we'd go to more than a few classes but Parker really enjoys it. He really enjoys routine and loves anything repetitive which this group is all about. It's the same thing every week: same songs, same style of snack, same toys, same children, same routine, etc. It really works for him and he absolutely thrives in it! Plus it's really nice to get some one on one time with just him and I. :)

Tomorrow is the last class though and I know Parker's going to be sad for a little while. He always asks to go to "school" so I might find another music type class for us to do together during the week.

As a thank you to the wonderful playgroup leaders, Parker and I made a Christmas ornament for them. I've been into needle felting lately after buying a kit from the Sunrise Waldorf School winter festival. I find it to be so relaxing and love that I can finish something in one sitting. I lack the attention span for long term crafting projects: knitting is the worst for me!

To make these fabulous ornaments simply trace around a cookie cutter shape (I used a tree) onto pure wool felt and cut out (do this twice). On the front of one of the cutouts, needle felt on your design. On the back of the second piece, I needle felted on the year. You can either blanket stitch with embroidery thread or machine stitch along the edges like I did, making sure to stitch in a looped piece of ribbon to hang it by. Stuff the inside will wool batting (Parker loved this part) and stitch it closed. That's it!

(sorry the picture isn't so clear... I can't find my camera so I just used my iPhone)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Snow Day!

Here on Vancouver Island we don't see alot of snow so when it does actually snow, the city all but shuts down. Which is both frustrating and kinda nice at the same time.
The last week, we've had many snowy days and Ally missed two days of school even! We spent alot of time playing in the snow, staying in our pjs all day, baking and drinking hot chocolate like it was going out of style.

And now a few days later the snow is mostly melted away, our snowman a small lump on the mostly visible grass which is just in time as we've nearly run out of cocoa! :)