Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Baby Hat for Sunny Days and Blonde Locks

Day by day, my daughter gets blonder. Over the winter, I hardly noticed. We spent our days indoors, or bundled in heavy winter clothing. But now, the sun is bright and warm and every time we step outside the door, it glints off the gold strands of her hair.


And beneath? Her scalp seems far too close to the sun.

A couple Fridays ago, we had a park playdate planned with a group of mom friends and on Thursday night, I realized I had nothing to protect her head from the sun. I thought about swirling sunscreen into her hair, but I knew the more appropriate solution would be a proper sunhat, one that would stay on her head and be adorable all at once. Of course, I didn't have time to go buy one. But, perhaps Isabel would sleep long enough to make one during her morning nap?

Things started out well. I found this adorable pattern for a sun bonnet from The Purl Bee. I hemmed and hawed a little over my fabric selection, and finally settled on the only cotton print I had. I pulled out a bit of ribbon from my sewing box, printed off the pattern, and settled in to cutting pieces.


Unfortunately, as so often happens, Isabel had a different plan for my day. She woke from her nap after 45 minutes, screaming. I had barely finished cutting out my pieces. and needed at least another hour to sew everything together. And, waking unhappily is never a good sign. She felt warm as I scooped her up. A kiss to her forehead prompted me to pull out her thermometer. A minor fever, nothing to worry about, but enough that I knew our trip to the park was off.


In the end, the hat took me all day to make. Squeezing in a seam here and a cut here in between cuddle and nursing sessions, what should have taken me 2 hours took 6 instead. But, at the end of the day, she had a hat, her fever was gone, and we even managed a playdate - and a glass of wine for me - with friends across the road.




Monday, April 27, 2015

A Perfect Warm Slice of Bread

Bread is a simple thing. Flour, water, yeast. Nothing else is really necessary to create a loaf.


Just flour, water, and yeast would make for a loaf of bread that tastes like shit though. My loaf is better. It contains salt and sugar and oil. It's not much more complicated, but it's just right. I've been eating this bread since I was a child. For many years, my mother made all of our family's bread, approaching the long process of bread making with a joy I've never quite been able to replicate. The mixing, kneading, rising, kneading, rising, baking rhythm of bread making can be therapeutic in nature, but I have never been able to fit it into my life on a regular basis.

(I'm not going to share my mother's recipe here, even though it is the perfect bread recipe. You can get your hands on it yourself if you pick up a copy of Edna Stabler's Food That Really Schmecks. You should probably have this cookbook in your kitchen anyway.)


A few years ago, I got my hands on a gently used bread machine. My mother-in-law rarely used it and was happy to pass it on to me to try out. I used it a few times, but quickly discovered that the bread it made was far inferior to my mother's recipe, enough so that I had little desire to make it. If I was going to make bread, it was going to be the good stuff. The bread that came out of the machine was soft inside, but the crust it made was too thick, too crunchy. And, there was something not quite right about the recipes that came with the machine, something just slightly off flavour-wise.

A few months back, I discovered a compromise which led to the perfect loaf of bread in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort. I took Edna's bread recipe and modified it for a bread machine. Knowing I don't like the way bread comes out of the machine, I began using the dough setting and allowing the bread to be mixed and go through the first rise in the perfect conditions of the bread machine. Then, I remove it from the machine, separate it into loaves, let it rise a second time, and bake it in my own oven.

Perfect loaves every time.


I'm going to share my modified recipe, but you don't have to use it to make this technique work for you. If you have a favourite bread recipe that you don't use often because the whole process is just too involved for you, dust off your bread maker or find an inexpensive one (you can find one for under $100 new, or check out your local thrift stores) and modify your recipe by adding the liquid to the machine first, then the flour, then the other dry ingredients (salt, sugar, etc.) and, finally, the yeast. Make sure you're using bread machine yeast or quick rising yeast instead of traditional yeast and always add the yeast last. You don't want it to get wet too early in the process.

Perfect Bread
Adapted for a bread machine from Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler

Check your bread machine capacity. This recipe makes 2 loaves, approximately a pound each.

Load your bread machine in the following order:

1.5 cups lukewarm water
1/4 cup oil (I use vegetable, but any will work)
4.5 cups flour (of any type. I use whole wheat most often, but will also do a mix of whole wheat, white, or oatmeal. Experiment and try potato flour, or maybe some cooked quinoa for 1 of the 4.5 cups.)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp quick rise yeast

Set your bread machine to the dough setting and let it work its magic. Mine takes an hour and a half to mix and rise.

When finished, remove it from the bread maker and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times to work out any major air pockets, but avoid kneading too much.

Split the dough into two loaves or form into one large loaf. Place in greased loaf pans or on a cookie sheet for a more rustic looking loaf.

Alternatively, play around with the dough a little bit, like I've done here. Split the dough into three instead of two and form into three long strands of dough. Braid, just as you would hair, tucking in the ends carefully when you've finished. Place on a cookie sheet.


Now, you want to place your dough in a warm place to rise. I'm fortunate to have a stove that has a 'proof' setting. It is specifically designed to heat the oven to just the temperature required to rise bread perfectly. If you don't have such a setting on your oven, look for a warm place in your house. On top of the fridge often works well since heat rises. If you have no other options, simply placing your dough on your counter will work just a well too. It will just take a little longer. Cover with a tea towel and wait about an hour, or until your dough has at least doubled in size.

Remove from the oven if you used it to rise, and preheat to 400*. Bake the bread for 20 minutes and beautifully golden.

Hard as it may be, resist the temptation to slice it right away as soon as it comes out of the oven. If you wait, it will slice nicely. If you cut right away, the bread will be too soft and warm and will both flatten and tear on the sides making slices that are far from pretty.


(I have failed to resist the temptation many many times. There's nothing really wrong with slicing right away, especially if you love the soft warmth of bread seconds out of the oven.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Peak in Isabel's Nursery


For the first 6 months of her life, Isabel slept in our room. Some nights, I miss that arrangement. At Christmas, we moved her downstairs, into her own bedroom, the room that used to be our master bedroom, and then a guest room/office.


I didn't do much with the room before we moved her furniture into it. In hindsight, I wonder if that was a mistake. I don't love the colour on the walls anymore. It was fine for a bedroom, but for a nursery, it just doesn't fit. Now, though, I hesitate to paint the room in which she sleeps. We could probably pull it off, painting in the morning and airing it out in the afternoon. But, what about her? When I painted the rest of our house, she was still so little; she was spending hours and hours asleep. These days, she sleeps for 3 hours total, spread over two naps, and she'll only take those naps in her room - the room I want to paint. She's not yet independent enough that I can trust that she'll play happily on her own for a few hours while I paint. Logistics of painting just seem difficult.

Besides, I feel like I'm still a little exhausted on painting. Tackling 500 square feet on your own like I did last year is not the easiest thing to get over. I just don't want to paint.


I hesitate to call this nursery a work in progress, but I know it's not finished. I don't want to paint, but I haven't done anything else with it either. The crib is the statement piece, of course, and I spent a lot of time on it, but I feel like I'm wasting its potential. There's no art hanging in this room. No cutesy decals. No adorable details. I want to do more here, but I understand now, why most women decorate their children's nurseries before they're born. I have very little extra time on my hands and, I'll be honest, I don't want to spend it decorating the room I'm always so eager to get out of at 3:30 in the morning.


Some things I do want to add to this room:

  • A plush rug to warm it up a little and hide the floor. Our bed frame did a number on the bamboo over the four years we used this room as a bedroom. It doesn't look so nice anymore, so I'd love to hide it underneath something soft. 
  • A bookcase. Right now, you can see a few books propped up on some random pieces of wood behind the chair. Those pieces of wood used to support a makeshift desk and we just never got around to taking them out. I'd like to fill the whole corner with a book rack, or at least bring in a fairly large bookcase. At the moment, all of Isabel's books are tucked away inside the closet, except for these few. It feels wrong to not have them more easily within reach.
  • Some kind of art over the dresser. I think she's old enough now that I shouldn't really do anything over the crib. She's not sitting up in bed yet and doesn't pull herself up at all (she's a bit of a lump), but I expect all of that is coming soon, so anything I put over the crib would just have to be taken down to keep out of reach of little fingers anyway. Something over the dresser would be far more appropriate.

But, really. It's fine as it is. Isabel sleeps well here. It holds all her clothes, diapers, and a safe place to change her. There's a chair that's more or less comfortable to fall asleep in while she nurses in the wee small hours of the night. We don't really need to make any changes at all, so in reality? We probably won't.


And I am 100% okay with that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Our Home These Days

My home is not Pinterest pretty. It never has been, but there was a time when I strove to make it so. Some days, it bothered me that I didn't have what it took - the money, the time, the creativity - to turn this little house into something that could grace the pages of Style at Home. These days, in the 8 months or so since I blogged about anything house related, I'm far more content with my home. It has its own tiny bit of charm, complete with a cluttered bookcase, wild aloe vera, and random tchotchkes shoved in the kitchen window.


There have been a few changes around here since I talked about our home last September. The kitchen hasn't changed in ages, except for collecting mismatched mugs and salt and pepper shakers on the window shelves.


We finally added a proper light above the dining room table a couple months ago. It's just a simple pendant from Ikea. We lived with the original, 1980s light fixture in here for way too long. This one doesn't give as much light as the old one - it's only one lightbulb rather than two - but it makes the house feel far more finished, and I feel like it works fairly well in the space.


In the living room, we finally added a rug. We'd been meaning to get one for, well, years. For a while, we had one, a cheap one we found at Rona and bought on impulse, but it didn't stand up well to the dogs. This one was also bought on impulse. In fact, the Husband picked it out when he found it on sale at Home Depot, without me. It's an indoor/outdoor rug with no pile, so we hope that any dog or baby related mess will be easy to clean up. Ironically, our dogs haven't had any accidents since we put the rug down.


In the living room, we also finally purchased a new slip cover for our Ikea couch. The dogs did a number on this too. For some reason, when we first brought the couch home, they felt the great need to mark their territory by ripping ginormous holes in the right arm and yanking out as much of the stuffing as they could. I patched our old, black slip cover as best I could, but after they ripped it open a couple more times, I gave up and left it. And then, I accidentally hit it with my paint roller back in September when I repainted the whole living space. Almost two years have gone by with no further damage to the cover or the couch by the dogs, so a month or so ago, we decided to finally replace it. We went with pattern. As soon as we put it on, I second guessed the decision. Is it too much with our new rug? Does it just make the whole room seem busy?

It's grown on me. I like it now. But, like I said, nothing about our home is Pinterest pretty.


At Christmas, a friend of mine asked me where we keep all of Isabel's toys. We don't have a lot of baby gear out on display. In reality, this is mainly because we actually don't have a lot of baby gear. We had a swing for a while, tucked in the corner beside where the bookcase now sits. I have an exersaucer, borrowed from some friends, but it lives in Isabel's nursery until we need it. It doesn't get nearly as much use as I thought it would.

And then, there's this collection of toys. She has enough for now, I think. Her first birthday is coming, so we may have a bit of a toy refresh then. But, for now, she's content with the amount she has, and it doesn't take over our house. One day, in a new house, maybe she'll have a play room all to herself and we won't feel the need to contain it quite so much. These days, every morning I pull out a quilt for a play mat, shove the coffee table aside, and spread out her play area in the middle of the living room. Ever night, one of us spends 5 minutes picking up, pairing toys with their mates and tucking them all back behind the couch. It works. So far, it's all the storage we need.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Baby Sleep and Mommy Wars


I'm fairly convinced that my daughter is never going to sleep through the night. I'm going to be nursing her at 1 am and 4 am until she's 18 and moves out of the house.

(Of course, when I envision this, she's always a baby. I can't imagine her as a teenager. Not yet. I can't even imagine her as a toddler and she hits that category in just a few months.)

Around 6 months, she was waking up every two hours. We attempted to cry-it-out, a sleep training technique that involves a relaxing bedtime routine - nursing, a book, a cuddle, a song - followed by what could be hours of screaming until the baby falls asleep on her own. We took a slightly modified approach called gradual extinction. Instead of just putting Isabel in her crib and closing the door, the Husband would go back into her room to comfort her after 3 minutes, then 5, then every 10.

It worked! After the third night, she woke up only once, nursed, and went right back to sleep.

Then, a week into our sleep training, we travelled. It was Christmas time. There was family to see. We both came home with a cold. We were a household of misery. Sleep training went out the window.

In the two weeks it took to get us both more or less healthy again, I read some things that made me second guess the sleep training thing. The world of attachment parenting doesn't like it much, claiming it does long-term psychological damage by breaking the bond between mother and child. That community throws around words like "abandonment", and "child abuse", and links cry-it-out sleep training methods to all sorts of psychological and developmental issues that extend into adulthood. In response to all those claims, I found the other side of the debate refuting everything, presenting sleep as a learned skill that babies need a little help to learn to do on their own. Both sides had research and studies backing up their claims.

Even worse, both side sounded right. Those against cry-it-out methods point out the pain it causes a mother to listen to her children crying. Obviously, the discomfort I feel hearing my child's discomfort must mean something. Proponents of cry-it-out, on the other hand, reminded me how important my own sleep is, both for myself, and for the happiness of my baby. How can I properly care for Isabel and keep her safe when I'm exhausted, frustrated, and testy due to a lack of sleep?


I weighed our options. Finally healthy again, but still exhausted, we started over.

In the end, all of my stress over the decision was for nothing. Isabel decided for us. Our second round of sleep training failed miserably. By the seventh day, nothing was better. She was still waking up just as often. Disappointed, still tired, but recognizing that continuing wasn't fair to anyone, we gave up and turned to partial co-sleeping instead. After her first wake-up, she would go back in her crib. After her second, I would bring her to bed. She would nurse from 2 am to 6 am.

These days, sleep has improve considerably. She still wakes up once or twice at night to nurse, but we both wake up to start our day in our own beds. She wakes up happy and well-rested and I wake up tolerably. We're waiting-it-out, confident that one day, she will sleep through the night.

But, in all this, I discovered that issues around sleep bring out the worst in people. Until I witnessed a conversation about sleep spiral out of control on social media, I didn't think the mommy wars even existed. I've never see moms actually fight about formula vs. breastfeeding (feeding your baby! You're a good mom.), cloth diapers vs. disposable (do what works! You're a good mom.), babywearing vs. SUV strollers (I prefer this, you prefer that! You're a good mom.), stay at home vs. working (do what's best for you! You're a good mom). In most things, it seems moms rally around each other and support whatever decision they choose. But sleep? Sleep divides people.

The one thing for which new moms need the most support is the one thing that causes the biggest issue in the world of parenting. I don't know what the right answer about sleep and crying-it-out is. I don't claim to know if cry-it-out techniques are good or bad, dangerous or life-saving. My guess is that no one really knows for sure yet. Until we do, all we can do is what we believe is best and withhold our judgement of those who believe best is something different.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Off My Needles: Bubbly Socks

I used to think knit socks were kind of silly. Too thick, for sure. And slouchy. My grandmother used to keep hers up with a rubber band around her ankle. I certainly didn't want to wear them. Why would I knit something I didn't want to wear?

And then I got my first pair. And they were wonderful. Not too thick. Not slouchy. Pretty in a way I never really knew socks could be. Then I got a few more pairs, all gifted to me by my mother. I wore almost nothing but knitting socks this past winter, and my toes have never been warmer despite the cheap boots I didn't splurge on and the record breaking cold Toronto experienced.

So, I tried my hand at making me own. That pair made a brief appearance here on the blog last March but they didn't get finished until December. It's this thing called 'second sock syndrome'. Finishing the first sock is exciting. Even just starting the second one is one of the most boring ventures in comparison.

Of course, having a finished pair is pretty worth it.

My second pair of socks only took me about a month and a half by comparison. Sock knitting is addicting, it turns out, addicting enough to defeat second sock syndrome.



It is surprisingly difficult to take pictures of ones own feet.


(Pattern is Fantastically Soft. It's not meant to be quite so bubbly, but I used a cheap acrylic sock yarn, so I'm just embracing it. Project details are here!)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Playing With Clay

A little while back, my mom got into pottery in a big way. It started with a class at a studio and culminated in the building of her own studio in their drive-in shed complete with a throwing wheel, a kiln, and buckets and buckets of glaze. Her creations are beautiful: colourful mugs, plates, pitchers, knitting bowls. You may have seen a few if you follow me on Instagram.

Over the Easter weekend, she invited us to play around with some clay. My sister, brother-in-law, nephew, brother, and sister-in-law had all made the long treks from the places they live to spend the weekend so we all found a space to work in the studio and got our first lesson in hand building from my mom.


I did my best to create something to remember how tiny Isabel is right now. It's not surprisingly difficult to convince a baby to push her feet into a piece of clay. Originally, I wanted a larger piece with both her hands and feet, but her hands were just a disaster. Her feet turned out okay, I think. Not perfect. Not quite deep enough.


After discovering the lace technique - doily, pressed into the clay with a rolling pin - I decided to make myself a little a something. At first, it was going to be a tile to lay somewhere in my garden, a pretty surprise among the tomatoes. Then, after I had decorated and cut it square, I had this idea to lay it in a bowl and let it relax - with a little help - into a bowl. It will, hopefully, become a little jewelry dish and will likely just serve to clutter up the house. At least it will be pretty clutter.


It was fun. I don't think I'll be jumping into working with clay for a hobby. But it was a good day in my mom's pottery shop with my whole family. I think Isabel liked it too.