Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!



























Happy Easter from Elliot & Emmett! ♥

I hope you had a wonderful day- we sure did! Despite the rainy forecast, it ended up being the warmest day we've experienced so far in Michigan (61 degrees!). We were lucky enough to open our home to three sets of the boys' grandparents this Easter for a little feast and an egg hunt outside. The only person missing was their Grandma Karen (Aaron's mom), who lives in Florida, but she was here in thought. The boys were showered in love, candy, and gifts. It was wonderful to see everyone get together and get along for the boys' sake. I know it wouldn't be possible in some families but our parents have just gone above and beyond since we've moved back home.

After everyone parted ways and I got the kitchen all cleaned up, I spent the majority of the afternoon working out in the garden, getting it ready to hopefully plant fruits and vegetables soon! Elliot and Emmett worked alongside me using their new pint-sized garden tools (an Easter gift from Poppy & Mimi). If there was a competition for the most rocks in a garden, I think ours would receive a gold medal. The weeds and dead crops seemed to be competing for some sort of award, too. There's nothing that makes me happier than getting my hands and feet dirty in some nice, rich soil... something we missed in the last several years while we lived in Texas and Arizona. I never thought I would say this, but I missed the smell of real dirt! It was even warm enough to finally open up the windows and fill our home with fresh air today. It sprinkled a little in the evening so the house now smells like a mixture of fresh rain and burning cedar- simply lovely.

Tonight, I am not regretting our decision to move back to Michigan one bit. Of course, finally being able to play and work outside helps a little! Next winter, I may be singing another tune ;)

A few pictures from today:





















Blowing bubbles with Mimi.

Emmett (cheeks stuffed with candy) opening presents :)
Lulu found & ran away with this egg. :) She turned 9 weeks old a couple days ago.



Friday, April 18, 2014

Hello, Spring!

Since we moved to Michigan in the middle of February, we were lucky enough to miss half of the worst winter northern Michigan has had in years. I'm thankful for that, but even still, as April rolled around, we were more than ready for the sun to shine, the snow to melt, and warm spring weather. At first, I was skeptical, but I feel fairly confident in announcing that Spring has finally arrived in northern Michigan! Granted, we will probably still get hit with the occasional cold spell and snowfall, but for the most part, it's warming up. The snow is almost completely gone now! 

I took these pictures last week- the snow in this picture has completely melted now!


As soon as the snow in the woods was thin enough for the boys to tromp through, we went off exploring our very own 100 acre woods. We didn't meet any bouncing tigers or honey-filled bears, but we did discover that the trails are lined with blackberry and raspberry bushes, and growing between the red pines, maple. and oak tress are some pretty gnarly thorn apple trees. The boys had a blast, of course. They arrived back home red-cheeked and covered in mud and burrs, but they couldn't be happier. They love exploring outside, and that in turn makes ME very happy as well. We are raising little outdoorsmen. This spring and summer are sure to be filled with adventures. I can't wait!
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As you may have noticed, last week we welcomed the newest member into our family. We decided not to take our chances with another baby bunny (none of us wanted to go through that heartache again!) and instead decided to get a puppy. After all, as our landlord Wally said, "Every boy needs to grow up with a puppy!" I was perusing craigslist last Wednesday morning when I stumbled upon her ad. I knew almost instantly we were getting her (my husband was still asleep- but she is partially his favorite breed, so I knew he wouldn't argue). Plus, she was FREE! Craigslist is plastered with free puppies/dogs in Texas, but everyone up here wants to make a buck.



Her name is Lulu and she is a shepherd/lab mix. She just turned nine weeks old today. So far, she is fitting right into the family- she follows the boys pretty much everywhere. She sleeps at the foot of our bed and has only had a couple accidents in the last 9 days- which is pretty amazing for a puppy her age. We just love her :)






















I can't believe Easter weekend is TOMORROW! This will be our first Easter at home for the boys- and three sets of grandparents are coming over for a little Easter feast. It's supposed to be really warm, but it's also supposed to rain... fingers crossed that it waits until the afternoon because the Easter Bunny has plans for the boys ;)


Enjoy your weekend, and I hope you get to spend this blessed holiday with your family. ♥ 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Baby Scout: a lesson


Baby Scout passed away, suddenly, last Thursday morning. Aaron had an interview Wednesday (and by the way he got the job!) so we ended up spending most of the day/evening at my in-law's house. When we got home, we found that Scout had a case of pretty severe diarrhea. It was late, and our vet wasn't open. Neither was the local feed store (where we hoped to find some meds). Throughout the rest of that night, I syringed him water every few hours and gently cleaned up his bum and feet as best I could with a warm washcloth. He was still drinking and eating (a little) so we were really hoping that he would pull through.

When Aaron woke up the next morning, Scout had passed away. I had checked on him at 5am, so he apparently died sometime between then and 7:30. Elliot didn't notice right away, not until Aaron went to take him outside to bury him. When he did, Aaron told him that he was just sleeping and that he was taking him outside so that the wild bunnies could make him better. Now, I know some of you might chastise me for not taking this opportunity to teach my son about life and death and the ways of the world. Well, call me crazy but I just can't fathom a way of describing such a sad, terrible thing to a little boy who turned three only a few months ago. There will be other opportunities, I'm sure he'll learn eventually... but for now, it comforts me knowing that although he misses his "baby bunny" terribly, Elliot is confident that the wild bunnies have brought him into their home (he says they have a house in the woods) and that they're taking great care of him. He talks about this often, and it makes me smile. Oh, to be that innocent!

You might be wondering why I'm writing about this. Well, there are a few lessons to be learned here.

  1. Scout was only nine weeks old when he died. He was about six weeks old when he came home with us, which leads me to believe he was probably weaned at only 5 weeks old. The sad part is, he probably wouldn't have died if the breeder had left him with his mother for only a week or so longer. So many rabbit breeders yank baby bunnies away from their mothers and force them to wean before they are truly ready, and it can wreak havoc on a tiny baby bunny's digestive system. Rabbits have sensitive digestive systems to begin with, and when you add weaning too early to the stress of moving to a new home full of strange smells and sounds and you basically have a recipe for disaster. PLEASE do not buy a baby bunny under eight weeks old! 
  2. While diarrhea sometimes goes away on its own for dogs and cats, it is often FATAL for rabbits. Rabbits dehydrate quickly, and they need to have food in their stomachs constantly in order to prevent their digestive system from completely shutting down. If your rabbit develops diarrhea, please take him to the vet as soon as possible. We planned to wait until the morning for take Scout to our vet... and by the morning, it was too late. 



Easter is coming, which means parents all over the world are rushing out and buying their children baby bunnies on impulse without knowing a single thing about their proper care or diet. Please if you're thinking about bringing a rabbit into your household, do some research!

Rabbits can be WONDERFUL pets, but:
  • they require as much care as a dog or a cat
  • they need very large cages and ample time outside of the cage every day
  • they do NOT do well kept in outdoor hutches, where they are susceptible to predators, weather extremes, and receive very little socialization or exercise
  • they have very specific diets 
  • in order to live long and healthy lives and to prevent behavioral problems, they need to be spayed or neutered
  • they (generally) do not enjoy being picked up or carried around (especially not by small children)
  • and above all else, they are prey animals who hide illness very well. Diarrhea or any others signs of illness should be considered an emergency and unless you are a rabbit expert, you should take your rabbit to a vet immediately or else they might not survive the next 24 hours.

The best rabbit resource out there (in my opinion) is The House Rabbit Society. They always have the most up to date, correct information about practically any subject of rabbit care that you could think of. Check their website out :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

clean menu plan, week 2

Monday: dinner at Poppy & Mimi's house (my dad's)
Tuesday: beast meatloaf
Wednesday: crockpot orange chicken
Thursday: clean crockpot chili*
Friday: parmesan crusted tilapia with sauteed broccoli and carrots
Saturday: roasted summer vegetable pasta
Sunday: baked chicken & veggies*

{this week's recipes can be found at 100 Days of Real FoodMummy Deals, & Committed to Getting Fit}
meals marked with * = my own recipe

Goal & Focus this week: Still sticking to eating clean! I also want to try to master whole wheat pancakes one morning this week- my husband has tried twice and failed both times so far. I'm determined to make some fluffy, clean pancakes! 

Favorite recipe from last week

Whole Wheat Pizza Pockets: 
This was my very first time making dough from scratch... and guys, they turned out absolutely delicious. Everyone in the family devoured them, my husband was raving, and I will definitely be making these again. Next time I'll add veggies... we were all out of peppers and spinach that night. One downside to living out in the country is not being able to run to the store whenever you need something. Find the original recipe over at 100 Days of Real Food


Saturday, April 5, 2014

that time I baked a breakfast


Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT a baker. In fact, I had never in my life baked a single muffin or loaf of bread... until today. Don't ask me why, but when I woke up this morning, I felt like baking. So I pulled out my never-been-used muffin pan and starting baking up some muffins for breakfast. With my boys' help, of course ;) Nothing goes into the oven in this household without a little toddler knowing about it.

INGREDIENTS: 
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup applesauce (all natural & unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt (I think they probably meant plain, but I just used what I had on hand which was Stonyfield Organic superfruit. I'm pretty sure any flavor would work)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp canola oil (I used EVOO)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup blueberries

DIRECTIONS:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray (or use paper liners)
  3. In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a medium bowl combine applesauce, yogurt, brown sugar, canola oil and egg.
  4. Mix dry ingredients well and then add the applesauce mixture. Stir until just moist. Fold in blueberries. Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups, filling to about full. (note: the original recipe said to fill them 2/3 full... but I had leftover batter and my muffins ended up pretty flat. I recommend just filling them up all the way if you can)
  5. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
(Original recipe here























The boys were extraordinary little bakers. They were happy to help me stir, and they probably would've dumped all the ingredients into the bowl for me if I didn't feel like measuring. They both insisted on waited patiently for the muffins to be finished (with their oven mitts on, even though they know I would never let them touch the oven). They didn't step foot out of the kitchen until the muffins were all stacked on a plate and ready to eat.


































These muffins were a HIT in our house. If you're craving something slightly sweet and feeling like falling off the clean eating bandwagon, these just might do the trick. They may not have been the prettiest muffins in the world (hey, it was my first try!) but Elliot and Emmett each ate two, and I lost count of how many Aaron munched on throughout the day. I liked them, too! Next time I think I will try making them with strawberries instead. Strawberries are my boys' favorite fruit so I'm pretty sure their minds would be blown by some delicious strawberry muffins.

What are your thoughts on brown sugar? 
It seems that the clean-eating world can't agree on whether or not they consider it clean. To be honest, it doesn't really matter to me... if the rest of a recipe is clean, I won't feel guilty about adding in a little sugar. I'd love to know what YOU think, though!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

toddlers can eat clean, too!

The boys have been eating clean this whole week. Well, mostly... we're still using up the last of their crackers when we're out. I just couldn't bring myself to toss them in the garbage. For the most part, though, everything they've been eating is clean. Honestly? I haven't heard even one complaint out of them yet!

Some things we've learned: 
  • Making perfect whole wheat pancakes must be an acquired skill, because Aaron's first attempt resulted in very dense, cardboard-ish pancakes that neither of my boys would eat. It could have been the recipe, though.
  • Contrary to what they had me believe, both of my boys really like grapes- a lot... and they haven't eaten them in months. You know what made them realize this? Our bunny Noah is always begging for them. Nope, mama doesn't know what she's talking about, but hey, if a BUNNY loves grapes, then they must be good! Toddler logic...
  • Sometimes it can seem like your choices are limited, when they really aren't. I found myself struggling to come up with options when listing off lunch choices for my boys, so I went ahead, looked at everything we had in the fridge & pantry, and typed up a list. Said list (shown above) is now hanging on the fridge. I love it because it's so much easier to put together meals and snacks for the boys now.
  • My boys don't like nuts... or at least, not yet. I had high hopes that almonds, cashews, or peanuts would become their new favorite high-protein snack, but they spit them right out. Of course, I can't be too surprised because I actually don't like nuts either (shhh!). I'll continue to offer them, though. One day they might change their minds!
  • Not all yogurts are created equal. READ THE LABELS when buying yogurt. The majority of the yogurt sold in supermarkets is not clean.

A few of our favorite (toddler-approved!) snacks:
My boys are always hungry... they are pretty much always snacking. One of my main concerns when we were thinking about trying out a clean eating lifestyle this month was... what if I can't come up with enough snack ideas? With some thought, googling, and helpful suggestions from facebook friends, I'm happy to say that the boys have more than enough different clean snacks to eat. Here's a list of the tried-and-tried favorites around here :) 
  • apples, celery, or banana with peanut butter
  • all kinds of fruit (strawberries, apples, raspberries, and mandarin oranges have been recent favorites)
  • cooked veggies (all kinds, but especially sauteed broccoli or steamed carrots)
  • carrot sticks, cucumber slices, and cherry tomatoes with organic, preservative-free (or homemade) ranch dressing
  • apple sandwiches (two slices of apple with peanut butter, granola, yogurt, and/or chocolate chips inside. Yum!
  • applesauce (homemade or get the unsweetened all natural kind)
  • half peanut butter sandwiches (on whole wheat bread) 
  • turkey roll-ups (be sure to get nitrate free deli meat)
  • dried fruit- especially raisins and craisins 
  • yogurt with granola
  • granola with almond milk
  • homemade whole wheat muffins
  • fruit salad (mix up your own!)
  • sliced/cubed cheese
  • smoothies 
Things I haven't tried yet but plan to make this week/weekend: homemade oatmeal granola bars, homemade fruit snacks, frozen greek yogurt dipped strawberries, homemade yogurt drops. I'll be sure to let you know how those go over with the littles!

Elliot enjoying his clean lunch: a whole wheat tomato, cheese, and turkey sandwich,
 steamed carrots, & strawberries


Monday, March 31, 2014

eating clean: you have to start somewhere


Yes, you read correctly yesterday, this little family is going to be eating clean from here on out. Honestly, we've been working on eliminating processed foods and eating healthier for months and months now, and I think we were doing okay, especially during main meals. My boys are far more adventurous with food than most toddlers, and they have always absolutely LOVED their fruits and veggies. But when it comes to snack time... well, they love goldfish, graham crackers, and pretzels as much as every other kid. And don't even get me started on the fruit snacks... they would  probably eat an entire box in one sitting, if I let them.

Have you ever actually looked at the ingredients that go into most of the most popular toddler snacks? Sometimes I've never even of the ingredients before and I'm not even sure how to pronounce them, and that's never a good sign. Trans fats, refined grains, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, waxes, MSG in all kinds of tricky disguises... the list just goes on and on. I used to kind of overlook those minor details and fill my cart with processed snacks because "I always cooked a healthy dinner." Well, while a healthy dinner is better than nothing, what about all those brain-cell killing, metabolism slowing, cholesterol rising ingredients in the foods that they munch on all day long?

I'm finally putting my foot down. Spring is here, a new month starts tomorrow... I figured it was as good a time as any to finally ditch all the gross processed foods and replace them with only clean food. So, what exactly is clean food? 

Clean food is essentially real food free of preservatives, white refined flour/sugar, trans fat, or saturated fat. It is not processed or chemically modified. Chances are, if it's pre-packaged, contains more than five ingredients or any ingredients you can't spell or pronounce, it's not clean. 

Yesterday, I planned out all my clean meals for the week. Then, armed with my shopping list, I went to the grocery store. You'd be AMAZED at the sheer amount of fake food at the big box stores. You're generally pretty safe in the produce section, but the rest of the aisles are just full of processed foods. Unfortunately, we don't have any large local natural grocers. We do have one small natural market, but it was closed yesterday. I managed to find everything on my list at our local Meijer store, though. It just took some serious hunting (and help from friendly sales associates). 

When it comes to clean eating, Michael Pollan is a revolutionary. He has written numerous books and makes a compelling argument for eating clean- and he even simplifies the process! He is full of all sorts of witty but true quotations such as:

  • "don't eat cereal that changes the color of the milk"
  • "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." 
  • "Whenever you see the words low fat, reduced fat, or fat free, think chemical crap fest." 

He also has a pretty easy to follow list of rules for grocery shopping: 














































I mean, that's not too difficult, right? I managed to do it all by myself yesterday (cue clapping). I could probably even do it with two hungry, hyper toddlers in tow, too ;) I want to order a bunch of Michael Pollan's books to read. I mean, he's basically a genius... a honest, real, hilarious genius. To get the whole list, visit his website.

Some other resources I've found to be really helpful are:
100 Days of Real Food
The Gracious Pantry
Clean Eating Magazine
Clean Eating Chelsey
He and She Eat Clean

We're eating clean for April (and beyond!) Care to join me? 
Tomorrow I'll be posting lists of clean toddler breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

CLEAN weekly menu plan

Monday: crockpot whole chicken
Tuesday: homemade chicken noodle soup
Wednesday: slow cooker apricot salsa chicken
Thursday: baked turkey burgers
Friday: baked tilapia with homemade mashed potatoes & veggies*
Saturday: whole wheat pizza pockets
Sunday: chicken & veggie bake

{this week's recipes can be found at The Gracious Pantry & 100 Days of Real Food}
meals marked with * = my own recipe

Goal & Focus this week: eating CLEAN... which really just means eating nothing but real food. I'll blog more about it tomorrow- but yes, even the toddlers are going to be eating clean. :)

Healthy Tips: one key to staying on track (and under budget!) at the grocery store is having a well organized list that you stick to. I've been using this free printable grocery shopping list for months now, and I love it! Get it here.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

meet the bunnies

When your family is full of animal lovers, a year and a half in a pet-free apartment complex feels like an eternity! I'm sure it came as no surprise that we brought home the first fluffy member of our new family only a few days after receiving the keys to our new home- and before our furniture was even delivered! We were exploring a feed store in town when we fell in love with a 3.5 month old checkered giant rabbit, who Elliot named Noah.














































Rabbits are highly social animals and do better in pairs than on their own. So we knew we should probably get him a friend. We had an adorable english lop for a few days, but she was not a male, as the breeder said, but a female. She was also four months old (so possibly able to get pregnant!) and Noah wouldn't leave her alone. In fact, she even had little scabs on her shoulder blades from all his *ahem* loving. We ended up giving her back and making an appointment to have Noah neutered. 

A week after Noah's surgery, we were back in the same feed store, picking up more hay, when I stumbled upon a big cage full of TEN of the tiniest, fluffiest little baby bunnies you've ever seen. I squealed like a little girl- literally. They were all so sweet and cuddly, Aaron knew before I did that we would be bringing one home. An hour later (they were all so cute and colorful!) I finally picked out "the one".























Scout is just about nine weeks old now, and a lionhead-rex mix. He is a typical baby bunny- so a little nervous, particularly of crazy Emmett, but he's also very sweet. It will probably take him awhile to warm up as much as Noah has. After all, EVERYTHING is huge to him. But that's okay with us because Noah is super friendly- he follows us all around the house like a dog and just LOVES being petted.

























Noah and Scout get along fabulously- I think the combination of  Noah's neuter (and therefore less hormones) and the fact that Scout was such a young baby made the introduction a breeze. They took to each other instantly. Usually, they sleep right next to each other in their cage and follow one another around the house. Believe it or not, Noah actually has gotten even more outgoing now that he has a little roommate!























You can expect to see more of the bunnies around the blog from now on ;) and I will probably do some bunny care and FAQ posts, too. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

life is good.

As I type, I can hear my husband chopping and sawing away in the garage, turning gigantic trees into firewood to heat our home. And it occurs to me, just now, how amazing this life we're living really is. Sure, we're buried under snow, but we are finally doing it! Living our dream! We have our house out in the woods, far away from the hustle and bustle of town. We are heating our house solely on wood- and currently, my husband is taking it a step further by harvesting dead/fallen trees on the land surrounding us.

some of the fruits of Aaron's labor today.


We are moving closer and closer to the quiet country life that we've always dreamed of. This spring, we will plant seeds into our very first garden, seeds which will grow into fresh, healthy, homegrown food for my family. Also, as soon as it warms up we will be building a chicken coop and run and raising chickens! Those cute baby chicks will eventually grow up and provide us eggs and (possibly, if I can wrap my head around it) meat for our family. They will be raised the natural, healthy way. Allowed to live full, happy lives and just BE CHICKENS. That makes my heart so happy!

As much as I love modern society and science, and all that it has done for humanity... we really just want to get back to our roots. Isn't that funny? I know there are plenty of people in this world who LOVE their busy, nonstop lives in the city, but it's not for me. If you need me... I'll be in my house in the woods. As soon as it warms up, we will be outside running, playing, exploring, and learning... and I might have my camera in hand ;)

When you stop to think about it, life is amazing. It really is. Even if you aren't living the life you imagined yet, the fact that every little thing you do is just another step of your journey... it's mind blowing.

ps: a special shoutout to my husband. Without him, none of this would be possible. He has given me everything I've ever asked for and more. I have the best husband I ever could have asked for. Truly blessed! I love you Aaron Patrick! ♥