Embracing Motherhood Beef Gyros with Tzatzkii Sauce

Beef Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

My husband and I have always enjoyed Mediterranean food, and gyros are pretty much one of our favorite meals ever. The lamb meat is always so flavorful, and I love, love, LOVE tzatziki sauce. In fact, I’m always a little disappointed every time I order a gyro because I don’t think they ever add enough tzatziki! So anyways, I searched the Internet for recipes and created an amalgam with my own variations that is just absolutely superb…and not too difficult to make!

I like making my recipes as easy as possible and I like to spare unnecessary steps that don’t really affect the flavor and take too much time and effort. This recipe calls for a few steps that may seem like a bit of work, but I’ve left out a few of the things that I thought were overboard. I’m sure you’ll enjoy finding your own happy medium as well.

Ingredients for Gyro Meat

  • 1 lb of Ground Beef (or Ground Lamb…I just use like using grass-fed ground beef because it’s what I have on hand.)
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 3 Garlic Cloves
  • 1 T. Marjoram Leaves (This is really one of the key ingredients that gives the meat its flavor, but you could always add some basil or thyme and it would still be pretty good.)
  • 1 t. Ground Oregano
  • 2 t. Real Salt
  • 2 t. Onion Powder
  • ½ t. Pepper
  • 2 t. Bragg Liquid Aminos

Directions for Gyro Meat

  1. Preheat the oven to 325º F.
  2. Coarsely chop up the onion and garlic and put into a food processor. After chopping them up finely, put into the middle of a paper towel and soak up all of the extra juice. (This is one of those steps that you don’t want to skip!)

    chopped onion in a paper towel

    Onion in a Paper Towel

  3. Add the onion/garlic mixture and all of the seasonings to the meat. Mix with a large wooden spoon or by hand.

    seasoned meat

    Seasoned Gyro Meat

  4. *Optional: Many recipes call for placing the meat and all of the seasonings in a food processor to make a really smooth consistency. I only have a small food processor, and I used it to chop up several batches of the meat. I’m not really sure how much good it did or how important this step is, but if you have a large food processor, you might want to go for it!
  5. Place the meat mixture in a glass bread pan and press down firmly until the top is level.
  6. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. *Optional: Many recipes I read called for the bread pan to be placed inside of a roasting pan full of boiling water. This seemed like too much of a hassle, and so I skipped it, but feel free to try it if you have the extra time! 

    cooked gyro meat

    Cooked Gyro Meat

  7. Take the meat out of the pan (save the extra juice to pour back over the top of the meat once you slice it) and place it on a cutting board. Wrap a brick in foil and place it on top of the meat. (*I didn’t have a brick, so I just used a few books wrapping the bottom one with foil.) Let it sit like this for about 15-20 minutes.

    gyro meat pressed down

    Cooked Gyro Meat with Books on Top

  8. Slice the meat really thin andpour any remaining juice over the top.

    sliced gyro meat

    Sliced Gyro Meat

Ingredients for Tzatziki Sauce

  • 2 c. Plain Yogurt (I like Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk. I also like using 3 cups because I LOVE tzatziki sauce, but if you want a more modest amount, 2 cups should do just fine.)
  • 1 Medium to Large Cucumber (peeled, seeded, and finely chopped)
  • 3 Garlic Cloves (finely minced)
  • Juice from 1 Lemon (or lime)
  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 2 t. Real Salt
  • 1 t. Mint Leaves
  • 1 c. Finely Crumbled Feta Cheese (I chopped up a solid chunk and put it in my food processor.)

Directions for Tzatziki Sauce

  1. First, scoop out the amount of plain yogurt that you want and place into a mixing bowl.
  2. I coarsely chopped up my cucumber and then put it in my food processor to get it more finely chopped. I also did this with my garlic and my feta cheese.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir with a spoon.

    tzatziki premixed

    Tzatziki Ingredients

  4. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour to let the flavors set in.

    tzatziki sauce

    Tzatziki Sauce

Eat Your Gyros!

Gyros are typically served with lettuce, tomato, and onion in a pita wrap. But since this is your house, serve them any way you’d like! I love getting a big pile of lettuce and making more of a gyro salad with LOTS of tzatziki sauce. Yum! I also love using this tzatziki sauce as a salad dressing and dip for things like my yummy potato fries or rounds.

gyro wrap

Gyro Wrap

gyro without the wrap

Carb Free Gyro

 

gyro salad

Gyro Salad

How Do You Pronounce Gyro?

In case you were wondering how to pronounce “gyro”, this provides a pretty good explanation of how the Greeks say it, how some Americans try to say it and butcher it, and how the Cambridge Dictionary says we should pronounce it. This YouTube video shows ten foods that we Americans typically mispronounce, including gyro, hummus, and bruschetta, and this girl is completely ridiculous, but I think she kind of nails it.

In Greece (where gyros originated), it is pronounced gYEERRRR-o. There is a slightly soft g in the beginning and you sort of roll the rs like this guy does. Many people in America try to pronounce it correctly, but instead sound like this (YEAR-o). Then, there are other people, like this guy (JY-ro), who believe in the complete Americanization and domination of all foreign words.

While getting my Master’s degree in linguistics, I came to the understanding that language will do what it does, not what we want it to. We can have the best intentions for pronouncing a word a certain way, but in the end, it will be pronounced however the majority of people decide to pronounce it. So until people start looking at me weird, I’m going to go with gYEErr-o, so it kind of sounds like I’m trying to pronounce it the correct “Greek” way, but not trying too hard.

Also, for the record, tzatziki is pronounced zat-ZEE-key, not ta-ZEE-key like I’ve always said it. Oops.

Now, how was all that for some food for thought? 🙂

Embracing Motherhood Baked Chili Lemon Butter Split Chicken Breast

Baked Chili Lemon Butter Split Chicken Breasts

This is a quick, simple, go to meal that can be turned into a variety of things. Once you cook the chicken breasts, you can chop them up into cubes, and store in the refrigerator to use on salads. Or you can serve with some rice and green beans for a complete dinner.

I like getting pasture raised whole chickens when we can, but at $15 a chicken, it’s kind of pricy and sometimes I just buy packs of chicken breasts at the store. Getting the chicken breasts with the bone in makes for the most nutritious and delicious chicken.

Ingredients

  • 4 Split Chicken Breasts (bone in)
  • 1 Stick of Butter
  • 2 Lemons
  • Chili Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Real Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken breasts.

    raw chicken breast lemons

    Raw Split hicken Breasts and Lemon

  3. Sprinkle both sides generously with all of the seasonings.
  4. Place 2 T. of butter on top of each chicken breast.

    raw chicken breasts seasoned with butter

    Seasoned, Buttered, and Ready to Bake

  5. Bake at 350º F for 1 hour.

    cooked chicken breasts

    Baked Split Chicken Breast

  6. Pre-cut the breast while it’s still on the bone. I like doing this for the kids especially, but when the pieces are cut up like this, they can really soak up all of the juices, and besides, it’s easier for me to eat it that way!

    cutting the chicken breast

    Pre-cut the Chicken Breast

  7. Let the cut up chicken breast soak in the juices. You can eat it right away at this point, pop it back in the oven on the lowest setting to stew a bit, or cover and put back in the fridge.

    cut up chicken breast

    Soaking up the Juices

  8. Serve! This chicken makes an excellent topping for any salad, hot or cold. I also like serving it over a bed of white rice and beans. My favorite thing to do lately is to sprinkle everything with cayenne pepper. I like the spice!
    chicken rice green beans

    Chicken, Rice, and Green Beans

    chicken rice beans cayenne

    Cayenne Pepper Explosion

Embracing Motherhood Hamburger Salad Recipe

Hamburger Salad Recipe

I love finding simple ways to make dinner that are both healthy and that my family will enjoy. The kids love eating grilled burgers on a bun or cut up and dipped in A1, but my husband and I really enjoy these hamburger salads

Ingredients

  • Grilled Hamburgers
  • Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese Slices (Or really any kind of cheese you prefer.)
  • Lettuce (The darker the lettuce, the more nutrients it has. I prefer organic because it’s one of the dirty dozen.)
  • Green Olives (Sliced or chopped)
  • Tomato
  • Mayonnaise (I like Hellman’s.)
  • Real Salt (Get some here.)

Directions

  1. Grill some burgers. Check out my recipe: How to Make the Best Grilled Burgers.
  2. Add some cheese when the burgers are almost done cooking, cover, and let it melt.
  3. Chop up the burgers into cubes.
  4. Place on a bed of lettuce and top with tomatoes, green olives, and mayonnaise.
  5. Add a sprinkling of Real Salt on the top and serve.
Hamburger Salad

Hamburger Salad

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Soaked Steel Cut Oats

How to Make Soaked Steel Cut Oats

If you’re looking for a breakfast alternative to commercially processed cereal, steel cut oats are a great alternative! I buy organic steel cut oats in bulk from Country Life Natural Foods, and with 7 g of protein and 10% of our daily recommend iron per serving, they are a healthy and economical breakfast choice that the whole family enjoys. When you top them with butter, you’re getting plenty of healthy fats. They do have a considerable amount of phytic acid that prevents us from absorbing necessary minerals, so that’s why I recommend soaking them first.

Ingredients

  • 2 c. Organic Steel Cut Oats (I buy mine here, but you can get a smaller amount here.)
  • 2 T. Apple Cider Vinegar (I buy mine here, but you can get some here too.)
  • Filtered Water
  • 4 Quart Pot
  • Butter
  • Real Salt (I buy mine here, but you can get some here too.)

Directions

  1. Place the steel cut oats in a pot and cover with about twice as much water.
  2. Add the apple cider vinegar.

    soaking oats

    Adding Apple Cider Vinegar

  3. Let sit overnight or for 8 hours minimum. The ideal would be to soak for a complete 24 hours to get rid of all of the phytic acid, but anything is better than nothing.
  4. Bring to a slow boil stirring often.
  5. Once it boils, turn off the burner off, cover with a lid, and let it sit until all of the water is absorbed (about 20 minutes).
  6. *If it’s really hard to stir, add more water. If it’s still really soupy, turn the burner on low and leave the lid off, and cook until more of the water evaporates/is absorbed.
  7. Serve with butter and salt. Sometimes we like to add brown sugar and milk for a sweet treat.
Steel Cut Oats with Butter and Salt

Steel Cut Oats with Butter and Salt

Embracing Motherhood Why We Avoid Commercial Processed Cereals

Why We Avoid Commercially Processed Cereals

I remember how when I was growing up I would always read the side of the cereal box as I ate my breakfast and marvel at all of the nutrients that I was getting so early in the morning. It seemed too good to be true…and it was!

The Facts

In her book, Nourishing Traditions (my food Bible), Sally Fallon talks about the evils of commercially processed cereals.

Granola, like all processed breakfast cereals, should have no place on our cupboard shelves. Boxed breakfast cereals are made by the extrusion process, in which little flakes and shapes are formed at high temperatures and pressures. Extrusion processing destroys many valuable nutrients in grains, causes fragile oils to become rancid and renders certain proteins toxic.

In her article, “Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry” on the Weston Price website, Sally Fallon explains in further detail the reasons why cereal is unhealthy. She also cites two startling studies done with rats, one of which was designed as a joke, but the results turned out to be anything but funny.

In this study, there were three groups of rats. The control group was fed rat chow and water and remained healthy throughout the experiment. The second group was fed cornflakes and water. Before they died, these rats developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other, and finally went into convulsions. Autopsies revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver, and kidneys, and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, which are all signs of insulin shock. The third group was fed the cardboard box that the cornflakes came in and water. This group lived longer than the group that ate the cornflakes. (The first box rat died the day the last cornflake rat died.)

The bottom line is that cereal, fortified or not, is anything but healthy. In our home, we have worked hard to not make commercially processed cereal a regular part of our lives, and this healthy homemade cereal recipe has really helped. We also enjoy properly prepared steel cut oats.

The Reality

When I first learned this information, I threw out all of my cereal (along with all of the other processed food that was junking up my cupboards), but since then, I’ve found more of a happy medium. In our family, we try to eat mostly good most of the time, and we especially like our routine meals and foods to be as healthy as possible. But that being said, I do have a few “go to” items in my pantry such as granola bars, Cheerios, Saltines, and Ramen Noodles that I can bring out in a pinch. Sometimes, I am terribly tired and sometimes my kids are incredibly picky, and they just need something to fill their bellies. There are many food purists that would completely disagree with me, and there are other parents who only feed their kids mostly processed foods. I’d like to think that we fall somewhere in the upper middle (leaning as much as we can to the healthy food without becoming obsessed about it).

For Futher Reading

Embracing Motherhood How to Make All Natural Homemade Lip Balm

How to Make Your Own Lip Balm

Do you already make your own deodorant or whipped body butter? Then with one more ingredient (beeswax), you can also make your own lip balm! I’ve always been a big fan of using Bag Balm on my lips, but I like this even better! It makes my lips super smooth, and I love the smell!  This recipe is super easy to follow, and you can have your own lip balm in no time! I made quadruple this recipe because (as always), I like to have extra to give away and store for another day.

Ingredients/Materials

Ingredient Notes

  • The ratio for this recipe just needs to be one part beeswax, two parts coconut oil, and two parts shea butter or cocoa butter (or even mango butter) for a medium firm recipe.
  • To make a softer lip balm that you might want to store in a tin like this, reduce the amount of beeswax (up to half), and if you want a firmer chap stick, increase the amount of beeswax (up to double).
  • Essential oils are all about your preference. You might enjoy using mint, lavender, blood orange, or any other oil that you fancy!
  • I’ve linked to my favorite brands from Amazon above, but I really prefer ordering all of my natural care products from Bulk Apothecary. They carry superb products at a reasonable price.

Directions

  1. Set up a double broiler by boiling a pan of water and placing a glass bowl on top of it.
  2. Add the beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter and/or cocoa butter.
  3. The beeswax takes the longest to melt which is about 15-20 minutes. (To speed up the process, you can put a towel over the bowl. Just make sure it doesn’t touch the burner!)
  4. Transfer your melted mixture to a pouring container (like this). A spatula can help to transfer all of the mixture.
  5. Stand up all of your lip balm containers and place them close together in a bunch.
  6. Use the funnel to fill each container.
  7. Let cool, harden, and then use!
Embracing Motherhood How to Make Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

How to Make Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

I was first motivated to make my own ranch dressing when our youngest daughter went through a phase where she wanted to eat everything dipped in ranch, and then she got to the point where she was only sucking the ranch dressing off from things and not even eating the food! So I made this recipe, and we haven’t bought ranch dressing since. I like making it a little thinner and using it as a dressing and a little thicker to use as a dip. It is a favorite of everyone who tries it.

Ingredients/Materials

  • 1-2 c. Fresh Herbs (Cilantro, dill, and curly leaf parsley are my favorites. You could also add sage, thyme, basil, or whatever other fresh herbs you can find.)
  • 3 Green Onions
  • ½ t. Real Salt (I buy my Real Salt in bulk here. You can buy a shaker here, or a refill pouch here.)
  • ¼ t. Pepper
  • ½ t. Onion Powder
  • 2 Pods of Garlic (If kids will be eating this, I’d leave out the garlic. It makes it “too spicy”!)
  • *¼ t. Cayenne Pepper (This gives it a nice kick, but once again, leave it out for the kids.)
  • ¼ c. Helman’s Mayonnaise
  • 1 c. Buttermilk
  • 1 c. Sour Cream
  • Container to Hold Dressing (I like reusing glass jars from store bought dressing, but something like this would be really luxurious.)
  • Small Food Chopper (Get one here.)

Directions

  1. Chop Up Herbs and Garlic: Chop up herbs and garlic into big chunks (on a wooden cutting board) before adding them to the mini food processor.

    green onions, garlic, parsley on a wooden cutting board

    Green Onions, Parsley, and Garlic

  2. Food Chopper: Add the chopped up herbs and garlic to the mini food chopper. Pulse a few times on low until everything if fairly mixed, then mix on high until everything is finely chopped.

    Green Onions, Garlic, and Parsley Chopped Up in a Food Processor

    Green Onions, Garlic, and Parsley Chopped Up in a Food Processor

  3. Add the Mayonnaise, Sour Cream, and Buttermilk: Add more or less buttermilk depending on how thin or thick you like your dressing. If you’re going to be using this as a dip, start with about a ½ c. of buttermilk and add more if needed. Add more sour cream to thicken things up. If you don’t have sour cream, or if you’re looking for a different flavor, add some plain yogurt instead.
  4. Add Seasonings and Herbs: Mix together.
    Ranch Dressing Ingredients About to be Mixed

    Ranch Dressing Ingredients About to be Mixed

    Ranch Dressing All Mixed Up

    Ranch Dressing All Mixed Up

  5. Serve: I like using this dressing as both salad dressing and a dip.
    Salad with Ranch Dressing

    Salad with Ranch Dressing

    Ranch Dressing Dip with carrots and celery

    Ranch Dressing Dip

  6. Storing: I like to pour this dressing into old glass dressing jars, but you could also use mason jars.

    Ranch Dressing Stored in an Old Blue Cheese Container

    Ranch Dressing Stored in an Old Blue Cheese Container

Embracing Motherhood Why We Don't Make Our Little Kids Pick Up After Themselves

Why We Don’t Make Our Little Kids Pick Up After Themselves

First of all, let me clarify something. I’m not saying that I’ll never have my kids pick up after themselves, I’m not saying that I’m not currently teaching my children strategies for picking up after themselves, and I’m not saying that I’ll never teach them how to do chores. What I’m saying is that while our kids are little (all four are five and under), there are far more important things for us to focus on than whether or not they are picking up their messes.

I chose this picture of Ruby helping to fill the cat food as my featured image because it represents what I feel is a hallmark of success. She chose to do this on her own without any prompting or teaching from me. Lately, she has shown a desire to pitch in and help me out, and it completely warms my heart to find her “babysitting” Julian, getting a laundry hamper for her room, filling it, and then wanting to help me do the laundry, organizing the ponies in her room, and helping me pick things in the garden. This intrinsic motivation is what will allow her to progress farther than any preconceived notions I may have about where she should be or what she should do.

Why We Don’t Make Our Kids Pick Up

  • The time we interact with our children is valuable. When I think about the amount of time that our children are engaged in independent creative play, working on their basic needs (eating, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, etc.), and of course lots and lots of cuddle time, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for “instruction”. Their attention spans give me these small windows of time to work on the things that I really value and consider important. If I spent these rare teachable moments instructing my children on how to pick things up, I do not feel that it would not be as valuable as teaching things like number sense, the alphabet, reading, writing, and bigger concepts about the world based on their interests.
  • It would take them a long time to clean up, and it wouldn’t be up to my standards. Whenever I teach my children anything, I use the gradual release of responsibility model, meaning that I first model how to do something, then they do it with me, and finally I have them do it together or on their own. So basically, I would be spending hours upon hours of precious time teaching my children where all of the toys go, how they are sorted, how the arrangements continuously change, and how to adapt to this change. The very idea is not only insulting to my intelligence, but theirs as well.
  • I would have to hold them accountable. Whenever I teach my children a rule such as “Clean up your toys after you use them”, I can’t just mean “Clean up your toys only when I’m there to see it”, I have to mean “Clean up your toys all the time”. So I would have to follow them around from room to room ensuring that they indeed cleaned up every mess that they made. Frankly, the very idea of this is wearing me out!
  • I would rather that my children spend their time engaged in imaginative play. I remember when I was a little girl and my brother and I would take out all of the canned food and pots and pans from the kitchen, then take off all of the couch cushions, and finally use everything to make a little store. We would carefully set up all of the food and pans and take turns being the store owner and the customer, then we would play for hours! I also remember taking off all of the books from the bookshelf and playing library. I never once remember being expected to clean up any of these “messes”. (I say messes in quotes, because they weren’t messes to us, they were intricate worlds we created that we became immersed in.) Knowing that I would have had to put everything back “just as I found it” would have been so overwhelming and stifling that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to take out all of those items in the first place. Children need creative and imaginative play. Research has actually shown that their games of pretend have numerous cognitive benefits. Basically, it’s how children learn about and make sense of their world.
  • I would rather spend my time on more important things. Instead of following my children around while they are engaged in imaginative play to make sure that they are picking up after themselves, I would rather use this valuable time to prepare healthy homemade meals, clean up the kitchen, organize things in the background, set up new play and learning stations, prepare materials for guided instruction, or maybe even blog a little. Then, when I do engage with them, I will use my voice to speak to them about things that really matter to me. I will share my passions for learning, creativity, and writing, I will listen to what they are interested in and do my best to take their thoughts to the next level with my knowledge of the world and Socratic questioning (open ended questions that promote critical thinking), I will get down on the floor and play with them, and I will sit them on my lap and teach them about the world through a love of books.

Setting Up an Environment That’s Easy to Clean

  • Don’t cluster too many toys together, like in a playroom. Recently, we had a bedroom open up because our two older kids wanted to share a room, and so I turned it into a playroom. It was fun at first, but it was a concentration of too many toys that were always scattered on the floor. Not only that, but when the kids were playing up there, they were far away from me as I tried to get a few things done around the house. I prefer to spread small concentrations of toys around the house, and I’ve found that they are actually engaged for longer amounts of time and in deeper play when there are fewer toys available. Read more about how I set up this environment in my blogs: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative and Imaginative Play and Having a Clean House with Four Young Children…Is it Possible? 
  • Only keep out the toys that get played with. If there are toys out that don’t get played with, I put them away. If I keep them hidden for awhile, bring them out (I like to rotate my toys anyways), and they still don’t get played with, then I’ll get rid of them.
  • Get toys that encourage extended creative and imaginative play. I know that some people go so far as to say “no toys with batteries” or “only wooden toys”, and I don’t go that far, but close. My criteria is that if the toys we have engage my children for extended periods of time in creative and imaginative play, then they are worth keeping. It is also worth it for me to spend ten minutes cleaning up toys that engaged them for hours, but it is not worth it for me to spend twenty minutes cleaning up toys that only engaged them for five minutes.

How to Teach Kids About Chores

  • I involve my children in the jobs I am doing, and I make it fun. When I am cooking, the kids love helping me crack the eggs, stir the batter, and of course taste the batter! Not only are they learning about what it means to help, but they are learning valuable cooking skills that will aid them in the future. I encourage them to help me with whatever I am doing, but I don’t force it. Over time, the kids have enjoyed helping me put laundry into the washing machine, rinse dishes (but mostly play with the bubbles in the sink), pick vegetables from the garden, put dirty clothes in the hamper, empty their potties, and many other small jobs that someday they will be able to do on their own.
  • The kids like helping Daddy too. When Daddy is doing little projects around the house, the kids love following him around and “helping him”. They will hold nails or screws for him, try hammering things, stand on boards to hold them straight, sit on his lap on the riding lawnmower, unscrew and fix computers with him, and many other small jobs.
  • It’s a gradual release of responsibility that lasts for years. I think the toughest thing for kids is when we expect the whole from them when we haven’t taught them the parts. So when parents say “Clean your room!”, what does that even mean? The children might not know how to fold their clothes, how to hang them up, where to put their toys, where to put their books, how to make their beds, and so on. And you can’t just teach all of these things at once. It has to happen layer upon layer in a gradual way over many many years.
  • Using backwards design as a template. When I think about chores with the end in mind, I wonder, “What do I want my children to know, understand, and be able to do by the time they are adults?” Well, I want them to know how to crack an egg, how to shake a rug, how to angle the broom to get under the cupboards, how to fold clothes so you can see the top of the shirt, how to do laundry economically, how to use different brushes to clean different dishes, how to change a vacuum bag, and so many other little things. I want them to understand the value of a clean home and how we take pride in the things that we have by keeping them clean and in working order. And finally, I want them to be able to do all of these things when they are grown and on their own; this includes my daughters and my sons (You’re welcome future spouses!).

Tips and Tricks

  • If you take something out, play with it. I will lay down the law if I see my kids pick up toy after toy and discard them about the room without even playing with them. That is not okay with me.
  • Don’t throw things inside. We really only had to make this rule for our son Elliot because he would throw things that would and could hurt people, but it was also a really quick way for him to make a tremendous mess. We tell him he can throw things outside as much as he wants.
  • Put caps back on markers. Since my kids are capable of it, I expect that they will put the caps back on the markers after they are done using them. Before I expected them to do this independently, I first modeled how to do it and showed them how to make sure the caps clicked on so that they were securely fastened and how different caps fit different markers. I also explained what would happen if we didn’t put the caps on the markers, and how we couldn’t afford to keep buying new markers all the time. Before I expected them to do this independently, I worked with them side by side to make sure they were doing this right. (I give you this detailed example to show the depth of teaching that I put into all of the parts that will one day lead to the whole of me saying, “Clean up this mess!”)
  • Clean when the kids aren’t looking. If you try to clean in the same room as the kids are playing in, it’s a futile attempt because they’re just going to keep making a mess, and you’re going to get frustrated. That’s not to say that you can’t tidy up a bit when they’re distracted, but I’ve found it’s easier to just wait until they’ve moved on to another project in another room. Also, I don’t think it’s good for kids to have to think too much about the cleaning I have to do. I don’t want to thwart their creativity by constantly reminding them that I’m the one who’s got to clean up all of their messes, and I don’t want them to feel entitled to having me clean it up. I just want it to be clean without them even thinking about it. I’m like a magic little elf who works behind the scenes!
  • What to do if kids get defiant about helping pick up occasionally. From time to time, you’ll need your kids to help you pick up (or do any other number of chores), and if they flat out refuse to help you on the rare occasion that you ask for help, then you’ve got bigger issues on your hands, and I recommend you reading my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors for some tips on how to nip that attitude in the bud with positive parenting.

How Kids Learn

Kids learn by observation and immersion. We shouldn’t have to tell our children (constantly, that is) to say please and thank you, they should hear us modeling it all the time (if this is something we choose to model) and it should become second nature to them. I remember when Ophelia was just learning how to talk and kept saying “I know!” over and over again. We were like, “Where did that come from?” but then when we were out walking one day having a great conversation and saying, “I know!” back and forth to each other, it finally dawned on us.

If we value having a clean home, if we model what it means to take the time to organize and clean our living space, if we involve them in the process along the way, and if we gradually release them to be able to do these jobs independently, then it won’t be something that they need to be constantly reminded about, cleanliness will be second nature to them. It will be so ingrained in their very fiber that they will crave it, and they will find a way to make it work without even thinking about it.

Future plans

People often ask me what we’ll do with our children when they’re older, or they’ll make me promise to them that I’ll do such and such when they are teenagers, and all I can say is that it is an ongoing work in progress, and there is no way that I can look into the future right now and know exactly what I’ll be doing or how I’ll be doing it. The way that my husband and I parent is by keeping the big picture in mind while focusing on the details at hand. We know that we want to raise well mannered caring children who have confidence, creativity, passion, and skills that will help them succeed at whatever they choose to do. We want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved, not just by our words, but through our actions as well. We know that when they are teenagers, we will have long chats with each other into the night about their well-being, growth, progress, and goals – just as we do now.

Right now, when we look at the details and the big picture, we see that there are more important things to focus our energies on than having our children pick up every single “mess” (or remnants of creativity left behind) that they make. As they get older and are capable of more, this may change, but for right now, this is what works for our family.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Popsicle Puppets for Oral Language Development, Reading Readiness, and Creative Play

Popsicle Puppets for Pre-Reading and Imaginative Play

I love making simple popsicle stick puppets for my young children because it is a great way to encourage imaginative play while also teaching basic reading skills. I love following their interests to make popsicle puppets of their favorite characters or genres and watch as their imaginations take off into a world of wonderment.

Pretend play is more than just fun for kids, it actually helps their cognitive development on several levels. Studies show that pretend play during early development allows for the enhancement of the child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity. Taking on different roles during pretend play also allows children to represent problems and scenarios from a variety or perspectives and this precipitates empathy and self regulation. Studies also show that it positively influences  language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. I love it because it get kids talking and any kind of talking is good for oral language development.

Materials

  • Jumbo Popsicle Sticks (Or you can just cut some strips of cardboard.)
  • Glue Stick (I like to buy my glue sticks in bulk here.)
  • Card Stock (You could also use regular computer paper.)
  • Scissors (I like these.)
  • Color Printer (Having a good economical printer is an absolute must! These ink cartridges, that go with the printer previously linked, are expensive, but they last a long time, like 1,200 color sheets.)
  • *Optional: laminatorlaminating sheets, and large cardboard boxes

Directions

  1. Print out some small characters. Elliot really wanted germs this time around, and we found tons of great images on our google image search. He has also liked superheroes, spiders, monsters, and Star Wars characters. When I’ve made these for Ruby, she wanted all of the My Little Pony characters. To get the images, I first do a google image search, then I click on the image I want, right click and copy it, open a Word or Publisher document, right click and paste it in, and then resize it to fit my paper. Sometimes I add boxes with the characters’ names and other times I just write the name on the popsicle stick. This kids love sitting on my lap as we do this part together.
    Embracing Motherhood Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    Germ Printouts on Popsicle Sticks

    my little ponies

    My Little Pony Sticks

    superhero popsicle sticks

    Superhero Sticks

  2. *Optional: Laminate your sheets before cutting them out. Here’s the laminator and laminating sheets that I use.
  3. Cut them out. Sometimes Ruby helps me with the cutting, but I usually just do this by myself.
  4. Use the glue stick to affix the cutouts to the top of the popsicle stick. *If you’ve laminated your characters, you might want to put some masking tape over the back of the stick to make sure it really holds.
  5. Give them names. Elliot LOVES coming up with funny names for his germs. He’ll make up names like “Mook” and “Funkoo” and it’s a great opportunity to teach him how to sound out and spell words. It then becomes a great reading activity as he reads his sticks. I like writing the names vertically on the stick. On the back of the stick, we write their nicknames.

    elliot with popsicle stick project

    Elliot (4) Naming his Germs

  6. *Optional: Make backgrounds. When I made Ruby’s My Little Pony sticks, I also did google image searches for the homes of each of the characters. I printed out one picture of the outside of their home and one picture of the inside and glued them onto a large unfolded cardboard box. Elliot wanted random backgrounds of haunted houses and cities. This is a great way for children to learn about setting (where a story takes place).
    Ruby's My Little Pony Boards

    Ruby’s My Little Pony Boards

    Elliot's Boards

    Elliot’s Background Boards

  7. Imagination Games: Now the children can use their popsicle characters in some imagination games. I love to play with them too and use funny voices for the different characters. Sometimes I like to introduce a problem scenario like one character is evil and trying to capture the others or one is sad and the others want to cheer him up, but they are usually pretty creative and independent with this part.
    ruby playing with her boards

    Ruby (5) Playing with her My Little Ponies

    ophelia playing with popsicle sticks

    Ophelia (2) Loves Playing with Them Too

  8. Storage: I like to keep these out and accessible as the children are interested and want to use them, but if they lose interest after awhile, I tuck them away in a more disclosed location. That way, they’re excited when they “find” them again. 🙂

How I've Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

How I’ve Found Happiness as a Stay at Home Mom

Being a stay at home mom has been the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. When I was a working mom for two years, going to work actually felt like a break. I had a scheduled lunch time, I was given challenging tasks and completed them, and I got to interact with other adults. As a stay at home mom, I am working (or on call) 24 hours a day, I am constantly multitasking and busy doing a thousand things at once, and I am in a sea of children. All. The. Time.

BUT, I am truly and deeply happier than I ever thought possible. Being with my children during these formative years is not only rewarding for me, it is deeply beneficial for my children too. I get to be there to see every smile and to soothe every frown, I get to nurse on demand and see first steps, I get to see what goes in and what comes out of them all day long, and I get to just BE with them. They are my favorite little people in the whole world, and words cannot express the joy that I feel upon seeing them every day in my role as a stay at home mom.

But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream. We had to really think about our lives differently in order to make everything “fit” around me being a stay at home mom. When we just had one child, we could easily cart her around and make her a part of our former lives. But when we had two, and then three, and then four, we had to let go of our old lives and start living a new normal. These 13 tips are what have helped me to battle some of the low points and find a happiness greater than anything I thought I was capable of experiencing.

Also, let me be very clear in that I am NOT saying, “Follow these 13 tips and you will find happiness!” I am saying, “These are the 13 things that have helped ME to find happiness.” I believe that we are each on our own journey and we each have to decide what things actually DO make us happy versus things that we feel like we are “supposed” to do for x number of reasons. You, dear reader, might actually be happier working, or unschooling, or living in another country…who knows! The important thing is for each of us to support each other in this wonderful journey of motherhood.

1. I Found a Way to Make It Happen

When we had our first daughter Ruby, I wanted more than anything to just keep staying with her after my 3 month maternity leave, but I just didn’t think it was possible. We were upside down in our condo, both working full time, and barely making ends meet. When I expressed my desire to stay at home with my daughter, a very well meaning grandmother (who actually adopted her daughter’s son who was in my class) said to me, “You never get that time back.” I just threw up my hands in exasperation and said, “I make twice my husband’s income, I don’t have any choice but to work.”

But I did have a choice, I just didn’t see it at the time. It took having another child, trying to juggle two different child care providers for my two children (that’s a whole other story), and spending a summer vacation at home with my two little angels (Elliot was 6 months old and Ruby was 21 months old at the time) to make it happen. I don’t know how I ever managed going back to work when Elliot was only 4 weeks old or how we managed to be apart until he was 5 months old, but after spending the summer with him attached to my boob, I couldn’t imagine him ever making it without me nearby. Not to mention that I was crazy in love with my daughter Ruby and enjoying spending every minute with her as well.

So we decided to go for broke. We made some radical decisions that led to us both quitting our jobs, doing a short sale on our condo, and moving 1,200 miles away to live with my parents for 8 months while we sorted things out. Now, flash forward four years later, and we own our own home on an acre of land with a fenced in yard minutes away from my husband’s amazing job that provides very nicely for our family of six (even though he makes about what I did when I was working). A blog that will be coming soon: How Our Family of Six Makes It On One Modest Income.

If you really want to be a stay at home mom, you can find a way to make it work. You may have to really think about your choices from an “outside of the box” perspective, but sometimes those crazy hair-brained ideas that you think will never in a million years work, well they just might be the best ideas you ever had.

2. Finding My Identity

When I chose to stay home, I was riding high on cloud nine at first, but then after the routine set in, I felt lost. I felt like I had lost a part of myself when I quit working, like I had lost my identity. Taking care of my children was an amazing honor, and I cherished every moment that I was there to cuddle them and love them, yet for so long I had worked towards my career, and it kind of felt like I had just thrown it all away. More than once, I fell into some pretty serious bouts of depression as I struggled to find my new normal.

I knew that I needed something just for me that was separate from the kids, but I couldn’t seem to find what that could be short of finding a part time (or even full time) job. But, it wasn’t about needing money, it was about finding something for me…something that I could work on, something that I was passionate about, something that would stimulate my mind, something that I could accomplish, and something that would make me feel whole.

It took many years of trial and error until I established what this blog is now (even though I still feel like I am at the beginning). I knew that I was passionate about learning new things, discovering the best health options for our family, cooking healthy food, learning about the science behind health topics, educating our children, being a mom, and writing. It just took me awhile to put all of those things together and find my voice at Embracing Motherhood.

I don’t write this blog with any intention of making money, I just do it because it completes me. I love finding time to write when all of the kids are happily playing independently or sleeping. I love having a voice and a platform to learn new things and record them. I love sharing what I’m learning with others. I love having something to talk to other adults about besides just surface level topics. This blog has helped me to find my identity and give me purpose. It is also a great bonus that everything I’m learning and writing about also benefits our family.

If you are reading this and wondering what your passions are and what your identity could be beyond being a mother (which might just be enough for you, and that’s ok too), then I encourage you to think about what it is that you enjoy doing that makes you really really happy. What do you enjoy learning about? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What completes you? If you can find a little bit of time every day to work towards figuring out what you are truly passionate about, it can actually be the most liberating thing ever. So many times, we fill our time with what can make us money, and to be a mother and not only be able to spend time with your precious angels but to also look into the deepest regions of your soul and figure out who you are without the burden of earning an income, well, it is truly a blessing. (If you’re interested in doing a guest post on my blog, contact me!)

3. Owning It In the Kitchen!

When I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, it changed my life. I realized that everything that I thought I knew about health and nutrition was wrong, and I made it my new mission to learn everything I could about Weston Price and what a healthy diet meant for our family. I’m still learning more and tweaking our diet as our health continuously improves, but this journey and this knowledge have really given me confidence in the kitchen. It really helps that Scott has been learning right beside me and is totally on board with everything I’m doing.

After I learned what our family needed to eat, I had to learn how to cook it! I’ve had fun sharing my recipes that give my family healthy nourishing meals that they enjoy eating. It seems like each child has a certain list of foods that they will or will not eat and that list is constantly changing. By planning ahead and having the fridge stocked with things like my sourdough waffles, whole wheat pancakes, steel cut oats, homemade cereal or healthy oatmeal cookies it makes the day much more manageable.

Even though we eat mostly organic foods and pastured animal products, we are still able to stick to a pretty good budget because I am always planning ahead and buying in bulk. Country Life Natural Foods is one of my favorite places to order dry goods in bulk and we live near many Amish farms where we get our raw milk and pastured eggs and grass fed beef all at reasonable prices. I also save us money by making my own laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, and more!

We are also not crazy obsessed about eating the “perfect diet”. We try to eat mostly good most of the time, and we don’t worry about eating a little birthday cake or fast food every now and then. We just try to make the things that are routine pretty consistently healthy.

4. Creating a Morning Routine

The rest of the day is always different depending on what we need to do or how everyone is feeling, but our mornings are always pretty much the same. During the summer, when I have all four kids at home, we get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and then do three activities before they are allowed any screen time. Having this routine in the morning takes the guess work out of the beginning of our day, and it allows us all to sort of run on autopilot as we wake up.

Now, that being said, there are many days (like today) where I’ve been up with 7 month Julian multiple times in the night, and all I want to do is sleep in. When the kids (Ruby – 5 and Elliot – 4) wake up, they know where their iPads are and how to turn on the TV and find their favorite shows, so I have no problem at all when they do this and let me sleep in a bit. We have have food like apples and my healthy oatmeal cookies within easy reach, and the kids will often get themselves snacks when they need them.

5. Filling Their Tanks First 

Throughout the day, I take turns giving each child as much attention as I can. Sometimes they want to do something, like coloring with us sitting side by side and other times they want to tickle, wrestle, fight, and get as much physical contact as possible. Whatever it is that they need, I give it to them until their tanks are full. Once their bellies are full of food and their tanks are full of love, they are able to go off and play on their own, and THEN I get some time for me. 🙂

6. Finding Time for Me

There are little pockets of time throughout the day when I’m caught up on food preparation, cleaning, and all of the children are either playing independently or sleeping. Sometimes this happens multiple times a day for extended periods, and sometimes it happens less often and for short durations, but when that time comes, I seize it!

When I do get this time, this is what I like to do:

  • Take a shower
  • Work out (When I had one child, I would do these deep medatative yoga videos for an hour and a half, but now I do a 10 minute yoga video and an 8 minute core workout when I can.)
  • Work in the garden
  • Read
  • Take a nap
  • Eat
  • Blog (This is what I usually end of doing!)

7. Making It Fun…For Me!

Do you like schedules? Do like organized activities? Do you like spontaneity? Do you like playing outdoors? Do you like go to museums and learning new things? Are you a homebody? Do you enjoy gardening? Whatever it is you like to do…if you can get in touch with your deepest passions and find things to do with your children that makes your heart sing, then everyone will be happy.

There’s no such thing as the perfect routine or the perfect way to raise your children. It’s so completely important to be happy and enjoy what you do. That is what matters, and that is what your children will remember when they’re grown and on their own. They will remember the happiness, and it will comfort them and give them confidence at the same time.

8. Learning Goals for the Kids

I like to set learning goals for each of my children so that I can be aware of what their needs are. I like to keep it simple and stay in their zone of proximal development. For example, Julian, who is 7 months old, is ready to start building a relationship with reading, so we watch Your Baby Can Read videos (which sadly went out of business, so we created our own video here) and read the same books over and over. Ophelia, who is 2, is reading single words and simple sentences, so we’re doing lots of flashcards and repetitive reading of her favorite books. Elliot, who is 4, is developing his reading skills and working on math concepts, so we play a lot of online math games and spend lots of time cuddling and reading his favorite books. Ruby, who is 5, is already a voracious reader, so now we are working on her writing skills by writing lots of stories, letters, and books together. (Here are some videos of our kids reading over the years.)

When you have really little ones, it can seem like you are spending all of your time wiping butts, making food, and cuddling, but by setting aside a little time every day for learning activities, you will be so pleased with the results in the long run. You don’t need to spend six hours a day or really any set amount of time, just wait for teachable moments and do it for as long as you both are interested.

To learn more about setting learning goals and creating activities, check out my blog: How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive.

9. Creating a Stimulating Environment

When I’ve got a crying baby in one hand, a screaming toddler in the other, and two young-ins who are looking for something to do, I’ve got to have some things ready to go at a moment’s notice. I spend a lot of time creating play and learning stations that will keep my children engaged in independent and self directed play for extended periods of time. Read more about how I do this in my blog: How to Create an Environment That Encourages Creative Play and Learning.

10. Educational Screen Time

When people see our 2 year old reading and hear that I used to be a teacher, I think that they assume that I spend hours doing elaborate lesson plans, but the reality is that while I do spend a lot of time with children on my lap reading books and such, I rely on a lot of educational screen time supplements to help me teach the basics. (To learn why we DO allow our children under 2 to have screen time, check out my blog: Why We Shouldn’t Ban Screen Time for Children Under 2.)

The important this is to have a balance. I find that the older kids do really well with these limits that we have in place. (Of course, the limits wouldn’t work if we didn’t have a good management system in place.) I love putting on these educational YouTube Playlists with my little ones (and the older ones love them too!) to teach them letters, numbers, vocabulary, nursery rhymes, and more! I also have loved using these educational apps to teach my young  children the fundamentals.

Instead of having cable TV, we’ve connected our TV to a computer so that we are very purposeful about what we watch. Using Netflix, YouTube, Network websites, and DVDs, we watch programs like Dora, Super Why, Little Einsteins, Preschool Prep videos, Your Baby Can Read videos, and Leapfrog videos that are all great learning tools.

By having these educational screen time options set up, I am able to use them as a babysitter if I need to put the baby down, make some food, cuddle a crying toddler, or whatever other “emergency” that might pop up. This definitely saves my sanity.

11. Living Close to Scott’s Work

The best thing we ever did was move really really close to where Scott works. And I’m not talking close like 15 minutes away, I’m talking like two minutes away. 15 minutes away means a 30 minute trip home and back and so lunchtime visits will be out of the question. 2 minutes away means that he can pop home whenever he can without wasting any time in the car.

We have lived together for many many years where Scott had over an hour commute each way, and that in comparison to this was horrendous. Now, the time he is away from us, he is earning money, not just sitting in a car. We also have more time together in the mornings and evenings, and he can get me something from the grocery store if I need it without too much hassle.

An added bonus is that he’s able to come home for lunch every day. How can spending time with co-workers compare with that? Not only am I able to make him a nutritious lunch every day, but he’s able to pitch in and give me a hand while he’s here. We also enjoy napping together from time to time. 😉 What could be better than that?

12. Dealing with the Boredom

It’s a weird juxtaposition because when I was working full time and had two little ones, I never had enough time, and now, here I am, still very busy, but also, well…bored (sometimes). It’s a crazy feeling to be bored when you’re not used to it. When I was working, I was so used to scheduling and filling all of my time, and then when I became a stay at home mom, I felt like there was this pressure to go to play groups, get involved in activities, sign up my kids up for things, and cart them around to avoid the boredom.

I tried this for a little while, and it didn’t work for me. The kids just do better (the little ones especially) when we can stay home. When we’re here, I don’t need to worry about what food they are going to eat, and they can nap in their beds whenever they need to (rather than falling asleep in their car seats). So yes, rather than feeling stressed, I sometimes feel bored, and honestly…I LOVE it! I mean, are you kidding me? I can just lay on a bed for an hour playing mouth bubble games with Julian, spend time cuddled on the couch reading books with Ophelia, really focus on building towers with Elliot, and get really creative doing art projects with Ruby…um, yes please!

I know that these days are passing by quick and that I don’t need to have everything in my life balanced all the time (i.e. 25% of my time for me, 25% of my time for work, 25% of my time for my husband, and 25% of my time for the kids). I know that while they are little, children demand an insane amount of attention, and so I balance out time for everything else after that. I know that someday I’m going to be an old lady remembering these as the “good old days” and I will have more than enough time “just for me”. (Which is also why I love taking tons of pictures and movies and keeping memory books!)

13. Find Ways to Relax

There is certainly nothing wrong with cracking a beer or having a glass of wine from time to time (if that suits you), but if this is the only way that you can “unwind” or “relax” after a long day, you’re asking for trouble. See, kids don’t take time off for you to drink, and as soon as you crack a beer because you finally got them to sleep, you just know that they will wake up in half an hour to nurse or need to use the potty. Plus, when we put the kids to bed, that is the time when my husband likes to work on his programming or music side projects, and I like to work on blogging. We’re not just looking to veg out and deaden our minds…ok, sometimes we are (Game of Thrones anyone?).

Here are some of the things that I do that help me to relax:

  • Kombucha: Not only is kombucha good for helping to build a healthy gut flora, but it can help to relax you too. There’s about as much alcohol in a kombucha as a non-alcoholic beer, but unlike drinking beer, the euphoric “high” I get from drinking a kombucha is nothing like the buzz I get from drinking a beer. It feels uplifting, invigorating, and relaxing all at the same time. In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon states that it’s even more hydrating than water. Check out my kombucha recipe to learn how to make your own.
  • Bath: We inherited this crazy sit down Jacuzzi tub from the previous owners of our house, and we all just love it! At times, you can find either Scott or I piled in there with three kids. But I really love getting the water as hot as possible, putting in some bath salts, putting my Enya mix on, dimming the lights, closing my eyes, and enjoying a good soak.
  • Massage: Sometimes a quick shoulder rub or a foot massage can just make the problems of the world melt away. My husband is always so generous to give me the attention of his hands when I need it, and I like to do the same for him.
  • Alone Time: After a long day cooped inside with the kids, sometimes I just need a half an hour to myself. I might go out and weed the garden or hop in the car to go drop some books off at the library. Just having a few moments to catch my breath without anyone needing me is all I need to reset my clock.
  • Being Intimate: Sometimes we get so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs that we forget to make time for us. Enjoying a good cuddle on the couch wrapped up in each other’s arms is a very good way to relax.

In Conclusion

My husband encounters a lot of older women at his job who tell him how amazing it is that I’m able to stay at home with the kids and how they wish they could have done that with their little ones too. But he’s never once met anyone who has said that they stayed home to raise their little ones and have then regretted it ever since. (Can you imagine?)

Personally, I don’t think that staying at home with the kids is something that I will ever regret. In fact, I think that it is one of the greatest things that I have ever done. I can’t imagine being a grandmother forty years from now saying, “The one regret I have is putting my career on hold while I raised my children”. All I can say is that after much soul searching, self reflection, and following these steps, I love my life, I am completely happy, and I feel like every day is a gift.