Ethical Alternatives // Chocolate Halloween Candy

Ethical Alternatives // Chocolate Halloween Candy

First things first, why boycott big chocolate companies on Halloween? Just so you know, last year I did give out chocolate, but this year I want to do thing differently. Why? Because as I’ve dived deeper into ethical living I’ve found that a big culprit of slave labor, including child slave labor, is chocolate companies.

Continue reading “Ethical Alternatives // Chocolate Halloween Candy”

Ethical Children’s Clothing // Shop Small with these 10 Boutique Brands

Ethical Children’s Clothing // Shop Small with these 10 Boutique Brands

My toddler wears 90% secondhand clothes, but when I do buy new, I aim to buy from ethical children’s clothing brands. These 10 boutique brands are some of my favorites, for heirloom pieces made from natural fabrics or simple basics made from 100% organic cotton. Continue reading “Ethical Children’s Clothing // Shop Small with these 10 Boutique Brands”

Favorite Toddler Books + Daily Reading Rhythms

Favorite Toddler Books + Daily Reading Rhythms

Reading to your children seems like such a simple thing, and truly it is, but like most worthwhile things, it doesn’t happen unless you make it happen. Especially when children are young and unable to read to themselves, a time for reading has to be created and then fostered. I think every parent wants their child to grow up with a love of books and reading, especially in this age of technology, so I’m sharing a few tips on how I’m encouraging and prioritizing reading in my house.

TIP 1 // SURROUND YOURSELF WITH BOOKS

At home I like to be a (semi) minimalist about everything, with the exception of children’s books. Lewie has books in every room of the house. A basket in the living room. Books tucked in our nightstand for bedtime. Books in his bedroom. I even put books in his toy box. I want him to grow up surrounded by books.

Books don’t have to be an expense, most of the books we have I bought at thrift stores or were my own books as a child. You can also buy used books online. Obviously Amazon has millions and I also really like Discover Books and Thrift Books.

TIP 2 // CREATE A TIME & SPACE FOR READING

Every night before bed we read to Lewie. This is natural time for most parents to read with their children and it’s such a simple and beautiful rhythm to close the day.  I also like reading in the morning and before nap time. Reading is also a great way to help Lewie calm down when he’s upset.

To me, just as important as time to read, is a space to read. We often read in my bed, but  I also have an oversized bear by his bookcase and a floor pillow in the living room. You don’t need much space, any tiny nook will work as a reading corner.

TIP 3 // PRACTICE WHAT YOUR PREACH

I spend a lot of time trying to encourage a love of books for Lewie, but it recently occurred to me that Lewie rarely sees me read. I actually love reading, but I typically read at night after Lewie is in bed. But just like any skill or lesson I’m trying to instill in my child (gratitude, patience, politeness) it has to start with me. So whenever you can, create some time for yourself to read, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Children watch and do.

TIP 4 // READ BOOKS YOU ENJOY

Yes of course letting your child pick their own books is a great way to encourage kids to read. Take a trip to the library and let them choose away. And while you’re there, pick out some children’s books you find interesting as well. The truth is I’m much more likely to read to Lewie if I enjoy the books I’m reading. And if i’m enthusiastic about the book, chances are he will be too. If I let my toddler pick out all his own books, we would only read about trains. But just like food, it’s important to introduce your child to new topics they probably wouldn’t choose on their own.

Right now, we’re reading a lot about Summer. I’ve been intentionally picking books that will help us notice and celebrate the season. In addition to our summer reading, here are some favorites we’ve been loving lately. All these books are very picture-centric, but have an actual story, so they’ve been really great transition toddler books, from baby board books to longer-style children’s books.

Anything by Richard Scarry. Our favorite is Cars and Trucks and Things that Go.
Tuesday I grew up on this book. It’s so strange and imaginative. Lewie loves the frogs.
Where the Wild Things Are  A classic for all ages. This one never fails to entertain.
The Little Engine that Could If you have a child that loves trains, this one is a must!

And, alphabet books. Lewie is really into learning the alphabet. There are an abundance of amazing alphabet books including, Touch Think Learn (this one would make a beautiful baby gift) Animalia (so imaginative for all ages) Quentin Blake’s ABC’s (super whimsical with rhyming text) and Winnie-the-Pooh’s ABC (simple and beautiful intro in the World of Winnie the Pooh).

What about you? What children’s books is your family reading right now? I’m always on the lookout for new favorites!

 

 

Simple Summer Lemon Pasta

Simple Summer Lemon Pasta

This summer pasta with lemon and cream has a prime spot in my heaven. I love it for so many reasons. One, it reminds me of days in Italy. At school the wonderful Sicilian cook would make her version of this pasta at least once a week and it was truly everyone’s favorite meal. Well maybe only second to her homemade pancakes smothered in Nutella.

Eating this pasta made me realize that good food doesn’t have to complicated. In fact, all the recipes I gravitate towards are simple recipes and I think I owe it all to this pasta. In Italy, we devoured this pasta all through the winter and spring. Now, my favorite season to make this recipe is summer when lemons are extra ripe and you don’t want to turn your oven on!

The simplicity of this recipe makes it an easy weekday meal, plus my picky toddler completely devours this summer pasta. Another reason I keep this recipe in rotation is because it’s an amazingly filling meatless option, especially when paired with a vegetable side, like this simple arugula salad. We typically eat vegetarian a few times a weeks and this summer pasta is so delicious, you don’t even miss the meat. And now, the recipe. I hope you love it as much as me.

summer pasta with lemon and cream

INGREDIENTS:

Pasta
A guzzle of olive oil
A half a cup of white wine
Juice from half a lemon plus lemon zest
A few tablespoons of heavy cream
Shredded parmesan cheese, lots of it

DIRECTIONS:

Boil the pasta. While the pasta is boiling, mix together the olive oil, wine and lemon juice in a big pan. Let it combine over low heat for a couple minutes. Then, when the pasta is done add it to your sauce, along with the cream and some shredded parmesan. Serve with lemon zest and more parmesan on top.

That’s it! Use the best and freshest ingredients you can find to make this simple summer pasta pop.

What about you? What are some your favorite simple summer meals?

 

Motherhood Interview // Preemie Strong with Britney Ammen

Motherhood Interview // Preemie Strong with Britney Ammen

I’m beyond excited that my friend Britney is sharing her story for my second motherhood interview. Britney is truly one of the sweetest, and yet also strongest women I know. Britney and I met in college and back then she had a crush on a boy named Elijah. Now, a decade later, Britney and Elijah are married and live in Nashville with their three beautiful children, including twin girls, born at 25 weeks.

After the twins early arrival, Britney spent months away from her home, husband and eldest child to be with her baby girls in NICU. Below she’s sharing her story about learning to thrive in the midst of uncertainty by fighting fear with strength.

Hi Britney! Let’s begin with your first child, Avett. Can you share a little about him?

Yes! Avett just turned five and is my absolute sunshine. He, like me, can be SO stubborn and hot-tempered. But then he can turn around and say the most heart-melting things. We often clash during the day and he has been our most difficult child (which is saying a lot when you know the girls’ story!) but at the end of each day I feel so completely blessed to be his mama and best friend.

How did you feel after becoming a mom for the first time?

My husband says the first thing I said when Avett was born was “I have been waiting SO long to meet you!” We have been best buddies since his birth and we’re pretty much inseparable. Until he was two and a half when the girls came, we had never spent more than a few hours apart from each other. Being my first baby, I had to let go of a lot of expectations I put on myself and learn to adapt to a child who is so similar and yet so different from me.

It taught me a lot about motherhood being more “rerouting” than mapping out ahead.

Did you know you wanted more children after Avett?

I vividly remember telling Elijah a few moments after Avett was born, “That wasn’t so bad! I could totally do that again!” to which he nearly passed out! I think having a natural birth was a bit more traumatic for him than it was for me. To me, it’s one of my most beautiful memories.

But it was around Avett’s second birthday before either of us really felt ready to add to our family. Hardly a couple weeks later I was taking a test and already feeling the morning sickness! I had a feeling baby number two was a girl, or that there was more than one baby, but all my friends said I was crazy.

BUT, you were right, on both accounts! I remember you writing somewhere that you always thought “I never want twins” and then, you found out you were pregnant with twins! What was your first reaction?

The night before we went in for our first ultrasound, I told Elijah, “Heads up, there are going to be two babies in there.” Elijah said the hormones were getting to my head. Then at the ultrasound the first thing the nurse said was “Well it’s your lucky day! You have TWO babies!”

Motherhood interview. Raising preemies.

I babysat a few sets of twins growing up and remember thinking how cute they were, but that I never wanted to actually be the MOM to twins. Too many tv show twin mixups had ruined that for me. Plus, the fear of never being able to give either twin the full attention you want is terrifying. But almost as soon as they were born, I knew that our family couldn’t possibly be our family without identical twin girls. They somehow fit so perfectly that I can’t imagine only having one second baby.

Your twin girls, Margot and Meryl, were born at 25 weeks. Can you talk a bit about those first few days?

I went in for a routine ultrasound, which was happening about twice a week at that point, and they said everything was shockingly normal. The girls are identical which means they were at risk for twin-to-twin transfusion (one twin “donates” all the placenta to the other twin, leading to fluid overload in one and malnourishment in the other) but so far no signs of that happening were present.

Then, three days later I went in for another ultrasound and my fluid levels had changed so drastically, they told me to drive the five hours to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital immediately. The plan was for me to undergo surgery (something they couldn’t do at our local hospital) that would split the placenta and allow the babies to continue to grow at their own rate.

I ended up going into labor before the surgery was performed and decided an emergency c-section was our best shot at saving either or both babies. It was surreal, being thrown into a situation we had feared, yet had thought we were miraculously in the clear for.

Preemie twins. Born 25 weeks. Motherhood interview.

Mostly the memories of those days are filled with suffocating uncertainty. Uncertainty for when I would see Avett again (he was at my in-laws), if the next nurse to come to my room would have bad news, when I would get to see my babies who were rushed to the NICU within seconds of being taken from me, how we would pay for everything, how Elijah would keep teaching back home, if our family would be separated for days or weeks or months.

But God sustained me through every single moment. I remember thinking that this is how people make it through those unimaginably hard stories we hear about, knowing that as long as you are ok in the present moment, that is all that matters.

Each moment turns into the next and somehow you are still there, still crushed by fears and grief, and yet still there.

During the girl’s stay in the hospital, you stayed at a Ronald McDonald House. What was your experience like there?

Ron House (as we have affectionately come to call it), saved my life. Within two days of being released from the hospital, the staff called and said they had a room for me for as long as I needed it. I was really skeptical but reluctantly went to check in. However, I was in shock from the moment we drove in the gates and promised never to slander a McDonald’s again.

Not only are the facilities at the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House beautiful, but the people take care of every need you could possibly have. I wasn’t just physically cared for with a free room and meals, I was nourished to my soul by the love and genuine care each volunteer showed me. They absolutely care for the whole being there.

Since there birth, there have been enormous medical challenges with Margot & Meryl. Can you talk a bit about each child & where they are now.

When we were deciding whether we should do a c-section at 25 weeks, we had several conversations about the developmental (physical, emotional and mental) impact it would have on the babies. Not only were they just barely viable at 25 weeks, they were smaller than normal since they are twins.

Speech delays, brain bleeds, lung development, heart defects, cerebral palsy, permanent disability, blindness- all these were “casually” thrown out as significant possibilities by the doctors and nurses.

But when you are looking at the lives of your babies, the question for us was not how to avoid disabilities, but how to keep them alive long enough figure out the next steps.

Immediately after they were born, both babies were rushed to the NICU and plugged into more life-saving machines than I knew existed plus a million monitors reading every vital sign and pattern. They each weighed barely a pound.

When you see that, it’s hard not to imagine a life full of doctor appointments and tubes and wires and tests and diagnosis. Over the past two years, we have been through 37 surgeries, eight therapists, a six month NICU stay, seven months of 24/7 home nursing, and four months of daytime home nursing. Margot has had a tracheostomy, full airway reconstruction, a g-tube, and an eye surgery. Meryl has had a brain shunt placed, a g-tube, a handful of airway surgeries, and multiple eye surgeries.

Not every day held progress, actually most days had what felt like incredibly large steps backwards with only a few forward creeping days. But the girls grew faster than we imagined, and have gradually graduated all medical equipment except for the shunt and an eye contact for Meryl.

Motherhood interview. Preemie twins

I love this phrase you wrote on one of your blogs – “fighting fear with strength”. Can you share what that means to you?

That is one of my favorite phrases- fighting fear with strength- and something I have been training myself to embrace daily. About three months into the girls’ lives, I became really depressed. I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping, I stopped allowing myself to be excited by milestones the girls were meeting.

I was so sick of being afraid every moment and realized that living permanently in fear was not living but more a walking state of comatose.

I became obsessed with the idea of fighting my fears- no matter how small or big- with strength. I started weightlifting before bed to help me sleep better and to improve my mood during the day. I started digging into my Bible for every truth I could hang onto in times of doubt or fear. I started pushing myself to stop reacting to news from the girls’ doctors and instead research their answers and suggestions and own the role of being a mom to medically-complex twins. It was obvious at that point that the girls would be coming home with multiple medical needs and I was tired of fearing that.

Can you share any advice for moms with medically-complex babies?

Motherhood interview. Raising preemie twins.

Never underestimate your gut and never be afraid to be an advocate for your child. You know them the best as you have been to every different doctor and specialist and therapy session and ER visit and have the biggest picture of their overall health. Ask questions always, research on your own, voice your fears, share your suggestions, and don’t let doctors or nurses bully you. While I don’t recommend ignoring your doctor’s advice, I will always push for the right to be involved in every decision and to be fully informed. You are so much stronger than you realize and there are almost always multiple solutions to a problem. Just knowing that can be so strengthening and empowering!

What are Margot & Meryl’s personalities like now as toddlers?

Margot is our introverted bookworm who loves food and wants everyone to just love her. Meryl is Avett 2.0- outgoing, extroverted, emotionally volatile, and Avett’s biggest fan. They are so opposite in personalities, quirks, preferences and even looks that it’s hard for me to reconcile their being genetically identical!

On top of raising three children, you also own your own business! Tell us about your business & why you started it.

I have always been motivated by the idea of owning my own business and about a year ago it finally started to take shape. The girls were finally stable, we no longer had nurses living in our home, doctor appointments were less often, and we were looking at the last big chunk of medical bills to be paid. So we went for it.

I started off by selling produce and homemade goods at local farmer’s markets, and organized a five family CSA from our backyard gardens, as well as coaching a couple friends with their first gardens. I now sell my homemade granola at markets and stock it at a local brick and mortar store, and am selling more produce and seedlings at local markets.

Running a business. Preemie twins. Motherhood Interview

One day I would love to open floral studio using only my own flowers and offer healthy cooking and gardening classes for those with lower incomes. I have always loved food and plants. When the girls came home from the hospital and life was contained to our home in Nashville, I found my release in the garden and kitchen. Any day started with my plants is a good day!

P.S. You can buy Britney’s Brownie Superfood Granola and Cinnamon Superfood Granola on her website.

How do you balance it all? Are you super organized and plan out your days, or do you take it one day at time? Alternative reading: how do you stay sane?

Both! I function at my best when everything is planned out and organized on my Trello boards (an organization app that has my whole heart forever), but with three kids, a business, gardens, chickens, and a house in the mix, I have learned to roll with each day. I plan out each day pretty rigidly but view that plan as a dream day plan. Almost every day throws curveballs, so when I view my list as a dream day, I feel less frustrated and behind when something unexpected is added to the mix.

Preemie twins. Motherhood interview.

Plus, my husband is also the best partner I could dream of. He often helps with cooking and has never been afraid to take all the kids out so I can work on a project. Without his willingness to care about the things I value and push me to go for the things I dream about, I would be a hot mess. We have always tried to support each other in our dreams and goals and realize that there are seasons when each of us is the helper or the doer.

One thing I love about your IG is that through everything, the unbelievable challenges, you are always smiling & full of wonder & gratefulness. How do cultivate this attitude?

I think a lot of it stems from my desire to find beauty in all things. As an individual, my personality seeks and craves beauty and that has helped me to both create and find it in my days.

I  want my kids to look back on their childhood as being filled with wonder, joy and beauty and I know a lot of that comes from my attitude.

Throughout this whole experience God has showed us his unconditional love no matter how much we rage against him or question his goodness in the midst of all our pain. He has brought us to a place where we can truly know his goodness despite the outcome- because God didn’t give us the miraculous healing we prayed for.

We spent six months in the hospital fighting for the girls’ lives with the best doctors in the world and we still ended up with more medical devices than I originally thought possible. But I without doubt know that it is His love and blessing that has allowed us to remain a family through this nightmare. We have gone through incredibly low and high points in our relationships the past two years, but without God’s faithfulness and strength, I know we would not have come out on the other side as strong as we have.

Preemie twins. Motherhood interview

Thank you for sharing Britney! If you want to keep up with Britney and her sweet family, you can follower her on IG @britneyammen. And make sure to check out her website Dinner:Unprocessed for healthy recipes, resources and local events around Nashville.

Summer Rhythm // Family Movie Night + Homemade Popcorn

Summer Rhythm // Family Movie Night + Homemade Popcorn

When Lewie turned two we took him to his first movie. We assumed he would last 15 minutes but to our surprise he was enchanted through the ENTIRE MOVIE, eating popcorn like a pro and everything! It sounds silly, but it was truly a magical experience. One of those “firsts” you never want to forget. I actually saved the movie stub for his baby book. Curious what movie?

Paddington 2! Which, is you haven’t seen, you need to remedy immediately. It’s unbelievably charming. Here is a great review about why children and adults need more movies like Paddington 2. Also this quote from the Wall Street Journal made me laugh, but it’s also true:

“Paddington 2 is “The Godfather Part II” of Peruvian bear movies, a sequel that surpasses the superb original.”

Completely impressed by Lewie’s attention span through the movie, we decided to implement family movie nights on Friday evenings. Of course we can’t do it every Friday, but when we can I like having a sweet ritual to mark the end of the week. I usually make something simple for dinner, pasta or pizza (the best pizza dough recipe here) and eat in front of the telly.

I pretty much always make popcorn too, which is one of my all time favorite foods. It’s a very simple routine, but I’ve found that it’s something to look forward to. While Paddington 2 tops this list, here’s a few more family movies we’ve found worked with Lewie, aka not too scary, and that we also don’t mind watching on repeat.

Cars & Cars 3 – Underrated Pixar movies, especially Cars 3 which has a sweet message.
Toy Story 2 – Toy Story is terrifying through toddler eyes. Toy Story 2 is pretty perfect.
Monsters Inc. & Monsters U – Both have a couple scary parts, but overall super fun.
The Muppets – The newer one, although I would love to re-watch the classics too.
Mary Poppins – This movie is way too long for toddlers, but the parts we watch he loves.

And some movies on the watchlist: Lady & The Tramp, Lost & Found & Fantasia

My all time favorite movie as a child was Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, but watching it as an adult I realize it’s pretty terrifying, so I’ll probably wait a bit before letting Lewie watch the whole thing.

P.S. – Here is an easy recipe  for homemade popcorn. There is a ton of popcorn advise out there that involves extra steps that I never do. I just throw in some coconut oil, let it melt, add the popcorn and shake. Does it burn? Sometimes, a bit. Do I eat it all anyways? Absolutely. Finish with her favorite seasoning and try to share.

What about you? Do you do family movie night? What are your current favorites?


PLUS: OUT OF THE BOX KID’S GIFTS & A RHYTHM FOR THE SEASONS