Friday, June 28, 2013

New Year-New Look!

It's hard to believe but it's already been two years since I started this little blog. A lot has happened in our lives since then, and I thought it was time to change up the look of the blog. So my husband and I gave it a new design.

 At the very beginning my blog looked like this...
 And it has still changed very little this spring...
And now it is much more personalized!

Thanks so much to my wonderful husband for putting my sketches together and making everything look fresh and put together!

Guest Post: Organic Banana Berry Smoothie and a Healthy Pregnancy Diet

Today we have a guest post from Katie Moore of Moore from Katie who is very passionate about healthy living and healthy pregnancies. Her Smoothie recipe looks delicious!

As mothers, we all want the best for our children. We want to do all we can to protect them and ensure their health and happiness. Most of us also want to set good examples and take care of ourselves, so we're better able to take care of our families. For me, making healthy lifestyle choices throughout my pregnancy was the first step in being a good parent.

I first took an active role in my own health during my pregnancy with my daughter. Like most first-time expectant mommies, I was extremely nervous at the thought of carrying, giving birth to and raising a baby. And since I'd never really been around babies prior to my pregnancy, I had no idea what I was doing! I started by talking to my obstetrician about all the ways I could protect my and my baby's health. He gave it to me straight and let me know that there were a few lifestyle changes I desperately needed to make. He also give me advice about everything pregnancy related, from changes in my body, to delivery options, to cord blood banking!

Diet was my first order of business. My doctor talked to me about essential vitamins and minerals as well as the possibility of pregnancy-related deficiencies. He prescribed a prenatal multivitamin, but recommended I get the bulk of my nutrition through a balanced, natural diet. He also told me about the importance of organic foods, explaining the health benefits of foods free of pesticides, dyes and other potentially harmful chemicals. Upon further research, I knew that an organic diet was definitely the best choice during pregnancy. I made the switch to organic produce and began experiencing higher energy levels and an improved sense of overall well being. For the first time as an expectant mom, I felt peace of mind. I knew that I was doing my part in protecting my baby's health and development.

My search for tasty organic recipes led to my discovery of smoothies. I learned that these delicious concoctions were the best way of getting several servings of fruits and vegetables in one sitting. I was also pleased to find that there is virtually no end to the combinations of flavors and benefits provided by fruit and veggie smoothies. For example, recipes like the one below can be tweaked and adjusted but will always pack a powerful punch of flavor and nutrition. Plus, preparation is so easy!

Organic Banana Berry Smoothie

  • 2 cups of purified water or organic milk
  • 1 organic banana
  • 1 cup of raw organic veggies (Greens like spinach, chard, kale and romaine lettuce are great for smoothies!)
  • 2 tablespoons of organic peanut or almond butter
  • 1 to 2 cups of wild or organic berries
  • 1/2 cup pineapple
  • 1 teaspoon each organic chia and flax seeds
  • 1 cup ice (optional)

    1. Just throw all the ingredients in a food processor, blend and serve!

I enjoyed my all-natural pregnancy lifestyle so much that I've continued it for the past few years. I feel good knowing that my children understand the importance of all-natural and organic foods and products. I know our lifestyle is healthy and we're all the happier because of it!

Katie is an active blogger who discusses the topics of, motherhood, children, fitness, health and all other things Mommy. She enjoys writing, blogging, and meeting new people! To connect with Katie contact her via her blog, Moore From Katie or her twitter, @moorekm26

Thursday, June 27, 2013

DIY Upcycled Birthday Reusable Streamers (Long Festive Garlands)

For Aaron's 5th birthday I made checker board inspired garlands to use for streamers. I made similar streamers for the Candyland inspired party we threw when my husband's parents came. Both sets of streamers added a festive air to our dining room.

I love how excited my kids get about streamers and balloons and declare it a birthday or holiday as soon as they see them. And unlike paper streamers these are easy to save and reuse in the future.

It would be easy to make red, white, and blue for any upcoming 4th of July celebrations, or customize these for any theme you wanted.

Since I used old felted wool coats that were just going to be thrown away, these decorations were free and gave a second life to someone else's discards. They are made very similarly to the Valentine's heart garland that I made in January. There are more pictures of the process in that post.

Homemade Upcycled Reusable Streamers

  • Assorted fabrics that won't fray easily (I have used felted wool and fleece)
  • Sewing machine (although you could do this by hand with a needle, it would just take longer)
  • Thread
  • Scissors
  1. First I cut out a bunch of shapes free hand. The shapes and sizes vary slightly, but I kind of like it that way. I did make the same number of each fabric.
  2. Then I arranged them in the order I wanted to sew them in a big stack. I choose to make a repeating pattern since the shapes and sizes vary some.
  3. Then I sewed  them together using a straight stitch on the sewing machine. I started sewing the shape on the top of pile and then just lined the next one up right behind. For pointed shapes to feed into the machine smoothly, it seemed to work best to sew them point first and over lap them slightly with the next shape just under the one being sewn.
Hang them up and throw a party!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Aaron's 5th Birthday

My first baby turned 5 years old last week. I'm feeling a little old but so grateful for this amazing boy we have been given. He is such an interesting combination of both my husband and I. He likes computer programing and high tech stuff, but he also likes cooking and crafts. Energetic and imaginative he has lots of adventures everyday right here in our home.

Aaron is generally a good example and big brother to his younger brothers, which we are very thankful for. Aaron and Andrew are best of friends most of the time, and best of irritants some of the time. These two, so close in age, make up all kinds of crazy games and wonderful make believe worlds all the time. Aaron also loves his baby brother ton and is sometimes a little overprotective of him when we go out and everyone wants to see and hold him.

Aaron has always been an extremely verbal child and gifted with words. Even though we intentionally exposed him to written language from infancy, and he read his first words at 9 months, he continues to surpass all our wildest imaginations. This spring he started reading Beowulf and discussing it with daddy, and he accomplished his goal of finishing it before he turned 5. Something else also seems to have clicked on in his brain this spring as he is now flying through math, trying to beat all of the math computer games as fast as he can. Addition and subtraction quickly became too easy, so he finished multiplication to ten, and he is starting to work on division.  If he continues at this rate, we're going to have to review our Algebra through Calculus much sooner than we anticipated. He is also a big helper in the kitchen and around the house. He can pick up toys, set the table, sweep under the table with a small broom and dustpan, and help with laundry.

Even with all he has learned it is so fun to see the "normal," goofy, little boy side of him too. These attributes combine to create an amazing unique kid who reads Curious George and Beowulf, plays Candyland and Chess, watches Winnie the Pooh and documentaries, and talks about the craziest nonsense and rather deep concepts.

We celebrated Aaron's 5th birthday at home with a checkers and chess party. I'll share some of the ideas we did more in depth soon, but we had lots of fun with lots of games and game themed food and decorations. One other really special thing about Aaron is how he turns almost every book, computer or board game into a "real life" game or adventure in our living room. Aaron and Andrew are always becoming Tiggers bouncing up and down all over the place or knights ready to slay dragons or capture pawns.

Checker cake

Checker puzzle punch button pinata

Checker puzzle bean bag toss

Sword fight

Tastiest checker game ever

Pin the checkmate


Chess bozo buckets

Fabric chess set

Making weird noises with a plastic frog while he plays chess

Thursday, June 13, 2013

DIY Fresh Coconut Pancakes

We love the variety of fresh produce available here and like trying to out new recipes. One new thing we've been enjoying this spring has been lots of fresh coconut in all kinds of things. My husband is getting quite good at opening them. :)

I haven't seen many recipes for baking that use straight fresh coconut, so I am creating new recipes. One of the first I made up, was these delicious fresh coconut pancakes. Topped with butter, pancake syrup, and toasted coconut these are a real treat.

This recipe uses the coconut juice (also known as coconut water) that you pour straight out of the coconut and shredded fresh coconut meat. I also toasted extra shredded coconut in the oven to sprinkle on top. If you wanted to make or double this recipe and don't have enough coconut juice, you can add regular milk just fine. I would imagine that you could also substitute coconut milk and dry coconut flakes but haven't tried it myself.

One thing you don't want to do, is to try to save the coconut water in the refrigerator for very long, like more than one day. It goes bad really fast once opened. Trust me, don't try it. It does however freeze fine to use later.

Homemade Fresh Coconut Pancake Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup fresh coconut water/ juice or milk
  • 1 cup fresh shredded coconut (plus more toasted flakes for topping if desired)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon if desired
  • 1 tsp baking powder

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and stir until well combined.
  2. Pour about 1/2 cup of batter onto a hot greased griddle.
  3. Cook until underside is brown. Flip over, and cook until the other side is brown.
  4. Continue until all of the pancakes are cooked.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Life on the Flip Side: Open Air Markets

Buying food is perhaps one of the most different things about living in China. Not just that many of the western staples we are used to aren't available here, but the whole process. In America now the usual way to get food is just to get in your car and drive to the supermarket, load up with what you need for a week, drive back, unload it, and move on with your day. Buying food from Farmer's markets and such is now an exception and they can be hard to find.

In China, as in much of the world, the most common place to buy fruits and vegetables are street markets. It is actually less common for people to buy their produce (and even meat for that matter) in supermarkets than in open air markets. Many older people won't even consider buying produce or meat from a place like Walmart, preferring to continue their longstanding tradition of shopping once a day in their traditional Chinese markets.

I have friends who have moved from China to more westernized countries and even these young women very much miss going to traditional markets and picking out very fresh produce and meat. One of my friends told me she hates getting her produce already packaged, as she wants to be able to pick out each carrot and potato herself.

Here we often by our produce in open air, farmer's type markets. The produce is generally much better than you will find in a supermarket, although the price might be higher. The selection is almost always better, both in quality and variety of food available. For example, when strawberries first come into season here at the beginning of December, you will only be able to get them in Farmer's markets or from street sellers for several weeks before you will be able to find them at Walmart. So if we have the time we quite prefer the fruit and vegetables at the open air markets.

Watermelons in Walmart

We do still sometimes try to just do one shopping trip at Walmart for the week, because it is simply more convenient. All the prices are marked, so you don't have to ask about each individual item, there is no bargaining, and I have never yet had cause to question the accuracy of Walmart's scale. So if we're trying to be efficient (which is something Americans tend to value way more than here) we will just stop at the supermarket and get as much as we can there.

Old style scale still used in markets

However, even if we are trying to do one stop shopping, it isn't at all usual for the supermarket to suddenly be completely out of something or it will be really poor quality (sometimes for weeks) and we'll make an unplanned stop for sweet potatoes, eggs, sometimes even meat, or something else. One thing that living in a different culture definitely is teaching us is the need to remain flexible. Additionally, we have found some open air markets that offer many other things besides food, some of which are much higher quality than a place like Walmart. They are definitely the only place we've found in a large city like this to offer traditional items like beautiful pots and bamboo baskets.

Large open air market

We do really love much of the unusual produce that are available here and learning new ways to purchase food has taught us many things. We love learning to make new things from ingredients that aren't readily available in the States. We are learning to enjoy eating seasonally as most of the world does.
I am confused about why they wrap the oranges though...

Diana from Saving by Making is currently running a series called Farmers Market Reviews to help people find lesser known Farmers Markets in their area. I think this series could be really helpful for many people living in America. If you live in China I don't think you will actually have a very hard time finding  open air or farmers type of market. But in case you are, I have a broad tip for you that should help you locate one in any Chinese city (Where they speak mandarin anyway). Simply locate an older person carrying a small amount of vegetables (there is a high probability that they shop daily in a local market) and ask them. "Shìchǎng zài nǎlǐ?" (市场在哪里,Where is the street market?). They should be able to point you in the right direction.

In addition to very large markets here it is very common to see produce for sale on a smaller scale anywhere on the streets.  People travel a long way with baskets, carts, or by van to bring in food from the countryside and sell it conveniently all over the city streets. So chances are if you are traveling in China and can't find a large market,  you would still be able to buy local produce from someone like this. It is truly awesome to be able to pick up fresh fruit for a snack on the go, although we usually stick to peel-able fruits for quick snacks.

Personally, I'd love to see America increase the availability of local produce and food products, much like you would find here in the East, but perhaps implement more western hygiene practices for the best of both worlds.

And why wrap oranges but not meat?

Very fresh fish

Dried fruit

Friday, June 7, 2013

DIY Father's Day Tie Banner

This year we have been making lots of paper garlands (does that sound a little girly for Father's Day?) or banners or buntings or whatever you want to call them. They are a fast, easy, cheap, and cute way to decorate for almost any holiday and it is easy to involve even really little kids.

We made this cute tie banner yesterday. My husband had a long day trip and I thought is would be a good way to welcome him home and decorate early for Father's Day. The process is really similar to the Valentine's Day Garland we made in February and the boys always have fun trying to "sew" the pieces together. There are pictures of the process in that post.

Homemade Father's Day Tie Banner (Garland, Bunting, etc.)

  • Any decorative or plain paper you want to use (We used the rest of this recycled gift bag, the bottom of the bag had a little bit of plaid on it, and we drew designs on the brown inside so we would have a variety of different patterns)
  • Yarn or string
  • Tape and/or plastic straws for "sewing" (optional, but makes it a lot easier)
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Pencil
  • Markers (optional)
  • Other embellishments like stickers or die cut letters if desired
  • Glue stick (optional)
  1. Draw or trace tie patterns onto paper and cut out or let a child who can be trusted with scissors cut them out. I also cut 1 inch circles that we glued on with a glue stick and then drew the letters for the words we wanted. But you could either just write We Love Daddy, Happy Father's Day, or another message right on the ties or use alphabet stickers or die cut letters as well.
  2. If desired write and/or draw on the ties.
  3. If desired put on stickers or other extra embellishments.
  4. Punch a hole on each side of the top of the tie.
  5. String ties onto yarn or string to make a garland. (I threaded the yarn through part of a small plastic straw that I cut at an angle for a "needle." This made "sewing" the ties together much easier. You can also tape around the end to just make it a little stiffer, like the end of a shoelace.)
  6. Tie the ends off and hang up the banner to enjoy. 


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