“You are not in a contest with other people, you are in a contest with yourself. Every day find ways that you can improve yourself–your character, your efforts, your knowledge, your creativity, your ambitions…your emotions.” –(me–quote from me today)
For my son’s first Birthday, I wanted it to be extremely simple and cheap (use what I already had on hand) but also have some fun and bright memories (and pictures) for future years.
If you’re not into children’s movies/cartoons/videos/characters what to do for a Birthday? I’ve found that a good (and extremely cheap) way to create a “Birthday Party Theme” is to look around your house and take account of toys and books that you already have.
No, I do not go onto the internet first “to look for ideas”. In fact, I highly discourage it because you’ll be intimidated by all the amazingly perfect creations put forth by other experts. You’ll either decide not to do anything–for fear that it will be a failure or you’ll be tricked into thinking that you have to spend a bunch of money “to get the right look”. (I’ve probably been on Pinterest less than 10 times in my entire life! No kidding).
Also, this isn’t very creative is it? The point is, COME UP WITH THE IDEA IN YOUR OWN MIND FIRST and, if you absolutely have to, start surfing around the internet because, say, you forgot the recipe for the frosting you have in mind. You get the picture.
What are a bunch of things already at your fingertips that you can extract a theme from? For us, it was space-related things. Mind you, we only had a couple things in this category, but I thought it would be fun to create a tiny little First Birthday Party for my son along this genre. It would just be our family, of course, since we don’t have any relatives or friends here in Alaska.
I didn’t want to buy a cake; but I did want to experiment with another homemade cake that you form into something related to the theme. After all, I had all the ingredients on hand and it’s more baking practice for me.
This time, I chose a rocket ship. I used the same white cake recipe I’ve used in the past–extremely boring and not the best flavor in the world–but SUPER EASY TO WORK WITH. You can find it on an earlier blog post of mine called “Pagan Party For Kids” or “My Robin’s Easter Egg Cake”.
Once baked and cooled in the fridge in plastic wrap (overnight), I pulled it out and cut the cake into a rocket ship using a template I made from paper.
And I did a quick frosting job here. No, that’s not fondant, it’s just powdered sugar, butter, milk and vanilla frosting that has been tinted.
With a cake like this, we will be flying to the moon in no time.
I also made a couple little rocket ships from cereal box cardboard.
Our Baby having his first Birthday!
Everything pictured here are things that I already had on hand. I didn’t buy a single thing. Even the Birthday candle was my daughter’s when she turned 1! Remember the old phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Birthday presents were sent to us from Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie, of course.
My husband said we could come with him on his trip. He had a week-long educational conference in Los Angeles, a city I had never been to before. The hotel was already booked and his flight paid for long in advance.
“Are you sure? Don’t you want a reprieve from screaming children who interrupt your sleep? We would all be sleeping in the same hotel room after all. Why don’t you just go alone this time?”
“Why don’t you guys come? The hotel is going to be the same price whether you all come or I go alone. It would only cost me a couple extra hundred bucks for your plane tickets. The baby could sit on your lap.”
Iweighed the pros and cons. I knew how much work it would be to pack for both myself and the children. But I’ve done it multiple times before, right? I knew that lugging all the extra baby stuff around– car seats, car seat bases, a double stroller, baby carriers, diapers, bottles, formula, baby cereal, bibs and cloths and tons of extra baby outfits would be overwhelming. Of course, this doesn’t include all the contraptions I would bring for myself.
Eating out for all 3 meals (even if only “cheap” fast food) would add up fast. On the plus side, we would get room service every day. The children and I could explore downtown in the double stroller and experience the city-life, albeit temporarily. Meals would be no- fuss, no preparation or clean up–just throw away the packaging and wipe off the kids’ hands and faces. Finito.
“Oh, all right. If you insist. We would love to come.”
On my “list of minuses” I didn’t factor in the flight. What could possibly go wrong on a short two-hour flight with two tots?
My husband and daughter sat next to each other on one row and I clutched onto our 6 month old across the asile. We sat next to an over-sized lady who was spilling over into our space.
Unfortunately for her, this meant my son would be thrusting his little feet into her fleshy sides throughout the flight. She didn’t appear to be the child-loving type either– as she squeezed herself against the window, hoping to merge into the the airplane wall and disappear from existence.
This doesn’t even begin to describe the misery my son inflicted upon this poor woman. Picture, if you will, an intensely high-pitched, screaming intermingled with an annoying whine, that lasts for almost 1 hour straight. It wasn’t just our airplane neighbor who experienced the cacophony of the flight. My baby’s screaming was enough to inspire the agitation of everyone on board.
Even the flight attendant tried energetically to distract the baby–offering him crackly packages of pretzels or crinkly plastic cups to playwith. “Won’t he take one?” She pleaded, as he threw the items onto the center aisle.
The baby refused to breastfeed. No matter how many times I tried, my efforts were met with even louder squeals as he pulled away. He’s not a pacifier baby either. My daughter was the same way.
On the other side of the airplane aisle, another battle was ensuing. My 2 year old was furiously trying to unbuckle her seat belt and jettison herself out of the seat. She was vigorously kicking her legs on the back of the seat in front of her. I’m sure a mild amusement to the passenger seated here. *Sarcasm*
My tot was requesting that the overhead light be turned on, then off. On, then off. She wanted the window shutter open, then closed, open, then closed. Repeat 693 times. My poor husband.
Once our flight from purgatory landed, we piled the taxi high with suitcases and baby equipment. Thankfully paradise was waiting for us.
We got to stay in the luxurious Biltmore Millennium Hotel in downtown LA among all the skyscrapers. This is a gorgeous hotel that is infused with art deco architecture. Shiny marble floors greet your feet. Bell Hops jump out of no where to grab your belongings and make your dreams come true.
There are towering ceilings in the lobby and hallway that lure the eyes towards paintings and sculpturesque adornments that flaunt every surface. For a fraction of a second, you feel like you’re in a European cathedral.
The next day, I took the kids outside our hotel for a spin in the stroller–something I would do every single day, all-day, until the day we left.
One of the first things you notice about downtown LA–besides the exquisitely beautiful buildings, palm trees and perfect weather–are the bums. Demographics are ALWAYS the first thing I notice anywhere I go.
And you guessed it, I noticed right away that these homeless individuals were disproportionately MALE.
Throughout millennia, men have been more likely than women to fight in battles; many becoming wounded veterans. Men have been the ones to work in some of the most physically unbearable jobs like building cathedrals or castles with heir bare hands until old age, and then dying with little more than a legacy of brutal, laborious hardship (at least in Europe, that is). If you haven’t noticed, the male gender is ALSO more likely to be in prison or homeless– at least compared to their female cohort.
Does this reflect some sort of over-arching social inequality for males in modern society? Homelessness occurs for a variety of reasons of course–criminal history, physical disability, poverty, mental illness, a history of laziness or bad luck–and let’s not forget one of the biggest reasons–ADDICTION–but the gender issue is clear. I SAW MANY MORE HOMELESS MALES THAN FEMALES ON THE STREETS. Does mental illness disproportionately affect males? Many questions and thoughts like these were assaulting my consciousness.
I wanted to check out Skid Row and find out if my male-to-female ratio suspicions regarding homelessness were accurate. I pushed the double stroller in every direction within a 3 mile radius all over Los Angeles this past week and became familiar with the names of every street, but we never made it past Main Street (the tough area, let’s just say).
One evening, my husband was out for a conference related dinner, I strapped the kids in the double stroller for a night ride. We explored more territory and came across an incredible bookstore called, “The Last Bookstore“–I highly recommend taking a peek at this charming spot if you’re in the area. It’s quaint and stuffed with splendid books–both new and old. The cashier countertop is propped up by hundreds of old books. I even purchased a couple of books for the kids and came out with one for myself called, “The Perfect Nanny”, an international bestseller.
We found another amazing art deco building one day. Check out the stunning architecture and colors here:
I also took the kids to the LA public library. These were the murals on the walls inside the library:
…and the library courtyard garden was a delightful space for honing those Zen moments of contemplation.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without an arm load of goodies from the library bookstore.
We also spent an overcast day at the beach in Santa Monica.
And I made sure to take the kids to any park I could find in downtown LA anytime we encountered one.
Finally, on one of our walking excursions we found this neat HUGE antique shop, “Olde Good Things“. I regret not buying the cool antique globe I found.
We also went to Hollywood where we walked along the famous path of stars and Universal Studios too. What fun! I just LOVED the Simpson’s ride. Los Angeles was much better than I had expected it to be.
One day I pushed the double stroller into the LAFashion District where there are material and fabric shops galore.
Pushing the kids around in the double stroller was entertainment for everyone. People stared in partial disbelief combined with surprise. Everywhere we went people were EXTREMELY KIND to us and made whatever necessary accommodations for the children.
It’s difficult, I know. Maintaining general order in as many areas as you could attempt was that one thing keeping you sane, giving you some sense of comfort and control. You didn’t realize the sense of relief you derived from an organized, uncluttered, esthetically pleasing environment. You are a type A, an ambitious, non-time waster. You accomplish things and make plans. You’re not one of these people who allows messes to build-up. You don’t follow the crowd but chart your own course through life.
Alas, no more. Messes are strewn throughout every corner of your home. Whenever you make a laborious, time-consuming initiative to straighten one space, you’re being taken down in another– often 2-3 steps back. Your tot is creating havoc in every possible dimension with the help of a pair of gooey hands.
Meanwhile, you get to enjoy the non-stop screaming chorus put forth by your 6 month old. You’re frantically trying to remove objects that could trip anyone. You can barely think.
You’re not embarking on any kind of major “spring cleaning” adventure. You’re only trying to make your surroundings safe and prevent an ER visit. That’s it. If you had any spare moments you would be doing the have-to’s: diaper changing 2 kids, meal preparation, folding laundry, taking out all the garbages, vacuuming the entire house, filing the baby’s (longish) fingernails, taking a shower, …even these activities would provide a glimmer of hope that you’re succeeding at something.
Tony Robbin’s aptly said, “Happiness is Progress”. But it’s so hard…because you’re not getting this feeling of progress. Ever. And to make matters worse, you’re a perfectionist so this is kind of your M.O. You live for the feeling of progress. Here is a picture of our mantel: This is how I think of perfection…or, my-kind of perfection, at least. Ahhh, this is what I like.
And this is my kind of imperfection–our house when we first moved in. Stuff everywhere, in disarray. And, to be honest, there are many days where it looks like this ALL OVER AGAIN. This is what I don’t like. My cortisol levels
I often like to joke, “How does one torture a modern, western woman?” ANSWER: You prevent her from accomplishing anything. No career for you, young lady. We will just give you some money “to get by on” and you can clean up all these messes over and over again and you won’t have to learn anything new. Bonus, we’ll bring you fast food and prevent you from exercising.” NOW THIS IS TORMENT.
Joking aside, How can I ever get away from this incessant, mind-overtaking need to be a perfectionist…to get things done and done perfectly? I honestly don’t know. I’m trying different strategies right now. .. everyday. What to do…what not to do.
I guess what I’ve learned aboutmyself is that I do many things for my own psychological comfort– not because they are that necessary. I want to learn as much as a I can because I want to have the skills and education to fall back on if I were to need them. We all are lucky and unlucky at different points in our lives. It’s easy to assume that you’ll always be lucky or that you’ll always be unlucky. You’ll probably cross back and forth on that road a few times in life.
I’ve recently decided to turn down my perfectionism a few notches. That is, I pick one (maybe two) areas where I allow myself to be a perfectionist. It’s important for us perfectionist-types to have at least 1 area where we can still manage our perfectionism–otherwise, things seem so chaotic to our brains that we can’t even think. For me it’s floors. I hate dirty floors. So I let myself vacuum frequently; every other day for sure…sometimes every day. The other area that I’m committing myself to (besides occasionally taking care of the children) is exercise.
So that’s it. I had to set some limits. I give myself 2 areas to be a perfectionist and try to let the rest go until I have more time in my life. Once I get more time, you can bet that I’ll be crazy.
Now that I figured out how to make blog posts on my phone I can make content while I nurse my baby. But he’s super interactive with hands flailing the whole time. We will see if I can complete this post.
I’d like to blog 2-3 times each week if I could find the time– but for now, I’m staying committed to my 1x per week at least– no matter how bad or weird it is. Blogging is as much about getting into the groove as it is about thecontent.
To preface this post I’d like to be clear that I never really follow recipes, so I apologise for not being very decisive with the instructions. I just can’t get myself to do it– I feel like I’m locked in a straight jacket. Plus, l always learn something memorable when I make a mistake.
Today I woke up to find our 1 cereal box was almost empty. While disappointing, it wasn’t tragic.
I realized that I had a variety of on-hand items that might be concocted into granola.
Things like: oatmeal, shaved coconut, pecans, walnuts, dark chocolate, flax seed meal and wheat germ. Honestly, these were all I had. My raisins had been depleted a couple weeks ago and I didn’t have any dried cranberries or pumpkin seeds that so many recipes suggest. Oh well. I had enough items to make it work. A practical point in being creative, for me, is figuring out strategies to use what l already have– for as little money (and as few trips to the store) as possible.
The main thing you need to make granola is oatmeal. I found some random items here:
3 cups oatmeal
chopped walnuts (3/4 cup more or less)
chopped pecans (3/4 cup more or less)
Coconut flakes (I used 1/2 to 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup flax seed meal
1/2 cup wheat germ
Brown sugar (to your preference)
Broken up dark chocolate bar (or chips or whatever you have)
Dollop of honey
Splash of vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
300 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes? Or whatever. Just don’t burn it.
Mix everything up:
Spread on cookie sheet:
And store your freshly baked granola in an airtight container.
It tasted delicious! Now to store by in the pantry. 😀
In other good news? Guess what? Our tomato plants that we planted from seeds are finally growing! You probably remember this blog post: Greenhouse where we planted them.
Well here they are. Tiny tomato plants finally popping out of yogurt containers. They’re growing!
Fertility festivals are now being celebrated throughout the northern hemisphere so why not throw your own spring party?! I decided we should welcome spring. You know how that goes. This time I decided not to go “full pagan” but instead, decided to whip up a cake from scratch in the shape of an egg and throw a little tea party for the kids. Still too pagan for your religious preferences? Well next year we’ll be making cake crosses to celebrate Easter. This cake was my first (decent) 100% scratch cake. We even made a couple crafts to celebrate the season.
Yes. I did try and make a cake from scratch before. Once. For my husband’s birthday. I told him I was going to make him a Sunshine cake. He thought it was a cute idea but was in for a terrible surprise. And it was a disgrace to mankind.
MY CAKE DISASTERPIECE of 2016. PICTURED HERE FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE:
So, as you can tell, my cake baking skills have improved a bit. I’m just slightly proud of this little beauty– mostly because I thought up the idea, the colors and the name of this cake when I was playing around with the frosting color.
NOW HOW DID I DO THAT? Here are some pics (and I’ll post the link to the cake recipe below). What a fun way to usher in the springtime than a splash of Robin’s Egg blue on your Easter eggs–or, in this case, cake?
Once I baked the cake, I removed it from the pan and flipped it over (sometimes the top of the cake is caved in a bit or dimply). ALWAYS FLIP YOUR CAKE OVER IF YOU’RE AN INEXPERIENCED BAKER LIKE MYSELF. The bottom is just so perfectly flat and ideal for frosting. My cake looked like this: caramelly sweet, dense, moist and just delicious!
After the cake cooled, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit over night. NOW THAT IS THE TRICK TO FROSTING A CAKE! If you do this, you are much less likely to smear crumbles of the cake into your frosting during the frosting procedure. Do you know what I’m referring to?
Then I cut an egg shape out of “cereal box” cardboard to use as my template for cutting the cake. Yes, I salvage all my cereal box cardboard for a variety of uses 🙂
I cut the “egg shape” of the cake the following morning:
I made my frosting and prepared several bowls for experimenting with colors to use.
Voila! Our vernal celebration.
I also thought-up these little chick and bunny rabbit placemats from some scraps of felt I had laying around. Just use a template that you have on hand (I used a chick plate–sorry, breakfast remnants still stuck-on) and a hot glue gun to seal on eyes and other features like cotton tails and carrots. SUPER FUN! I will be using these for next years spring décor too.
Here is the cake recipe link (the only thing I did differently was use 4 eggs instead of 5, bake for 35 minutes instead of 25 and I substituted whip cream for buttermilk–only because I didn’t have any on hand). The cake tasted delicious!
Also, did you notice the chicks standing in the grass in one of the previous pics? That was one of my “dumb creations”. Just make cute chick cut-out’s from your old cereal boxes, paint them yellow, glue to skewers and prop them up in a box
A couple nights ago my husband suggested that we make Chicken Snitzel for dinner. Reminiscing of our 3 years spent in Germany, I thought, of course! Let’s try it.
It was a very simple recipe and you make it just like you would make a pork or Weiner Schnitzel.
The trick for any Snitzel recipe is to use fresh meat (preferably meat that you just purchased) and then brutalize the life out of it with your kitchen mallet. For chicken, you won’t have to pound the meat as much.
1.Season the chicken cutlets with salt
2. Dip in flour (shake off excess)
3. Dip in egg (shake off excess)
4. Dip in Garlic and Herb Breadcrumbs.
5. Fry in 2-4 inches of vegetable oil.
5. Blot off oil.
6. Put on Kaiser bun with your kind of condiments.