An Uncomplicated Life Blog: May 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

The BEST Carrot Cake Recipe

I made this carrot cake recipe in cupcake form for Henry's birthday. The cake plus the cream cheese frosting is the perfect combination and my favorite carrot cake recipe to date!

Carrot cake is one of those funny things that a person either loooooooves or hates. Very few people are like, "meh" about it. I'm in the love category, as long as it's made correctly! People who load it up like a fruitcake with pineapple, large chunks of carrots and walnuts and raisins? Get out of here, that's nasty! That's just my opinion though, so if that's your jam, you can totally add it to this recipe. I won't judge you. I'm giving you the "base model" as it were, and you can add your fave additions or leave it as-is. This, my friends, is the BEST carrot cake recipe I've had in my 33 years on earth.

I made these for Henry's birthday, because he's crazy about cupcakes. Even if it's cake, he calls it a cupcake. If you watched my Instagram Stories from early April, you saw that I attempted a recipe using carrots from our garden and hand grated the dang carrots. Well that recipe didn't come out as moist (I know, that word is kinda gross) as I wanted, and also wasn't "spice cakey" enough, so this is the recipe I changed after a few attempts at it. The cream cheese frosting I NAILED right away, and kept it the same.

Oh, and I used everyone's advice, and pulled out my food processor to grate the carrots instead of doing it by hand. That was a lifesaver! Thanks guys.

Hands down, the coolest part about this recipe is that we used carrots we grew from our garden. The day before I made them, Henry and Otto helped me harvest all the carrots. They loved pulling them from the dirt and seeing what color the carrot would be, how big it was, and how funny it looked (if it was oddly shaped or covered in more roots than the last one, etc.) I even got them to eat some of the carrots cooked, albeit covered in butter and a tad of brown sugar. I think their connection to growing them and then harvesting them gave the boys enough interest in trying them, because I haven't been able to get them to eat carrots before!

Even if you don't have your own veggie garden, this recipe will be delicious with carrots you buy at the store. Don't use the pre-peeled, ready to eat carrots - they soak those in sugar to make them sweeter to eat, and it will make this recipe too sweet. Instead, buy regular carrots and peel them yourself, then pop them in the food processor. No food processor? You're crazy and should get one ASAP, but barring that, get the pre-shredded bag at the grocery store and run a knife over them to make them a tad smaller. The large chunks of preshredded carrot won't cook enough in the time it takes to bake the cupcakes, and you'll have raw carrots in your cake. Gross. 

The BEST Carrot Cake Recipe
- 1.5 cups flour (not self rising flour!)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/4 cup raw sugar
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely shredded carrots
- 2/3 cup melted salted butter
- OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup each of raisins, walnuts, pecans or other additions you care for in your carrot cake

For the cream cheese frosting:
- 1 4oz package cream cheese
- 2 sticks salted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the flour, spices, sugar and salt. Stir in the eggs, milk, vanilla, butter and carrots, mixing well. Add any optional ingredients. Grease cupcake pan (I'm not into wasteful liners - they're so unnecessary! Why put something on a cupcake that will only get immediately removed and thrown away?) and fill each cup slightly more than half full. 

Bake for about 17 minutes (depending on location, humidity level and elevation) or until golden brown on the edges. Place a cooling rack over the cupcake pan, and invert the cupcakes on the cooling rack to they can cool and you can use the pan for the remaining batter. Makes about 20-24 cupcakes.

For the frosting, let the cream cheese and butter come to room temperature completely. In a medium sized bowl, add the room temp cream cheese, butter, vanilla and half the sugar. Mix until incorporated, then add remaining sugar. Mix well again. The frosting should be semi-sweet, and slightly tart from the cream cheese to balance the sweetness of the cupcake.

Frost the completely cooled cupcakes simply with a butter knife, or use the trick I did: Place the frosting in a Ziploc freezer bag. Cut a small corner off the end of the bag and push the frosting down and out of that corner. This makes it easy to frost the cupcakes and make fancy swirls or other designs!
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Enjoy! The cake part is sweet and balanced by the semi sweet, slightly tart frosting. I watched my husband put away three of these in one day, they're that good! Yes, this truly is the BEST carrot cake recipe.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Henry Turns 4

Happy birthday to the boy who first made me a mommy, my sweet Henry! This post is an ode to him, talking about all he's accomplished and all that is in his four trips around the sun

Happy birthday Henry (May 16 to be exact)! You're four years old now and so proud of it. You're honest to goodness THE sweetest child I've ever known - yes, even more so than your brother and even more so than the angelic little neighbor girls I used to babysit for in high school. You are turning out great, kid! Here's what you've been up to and how you changed this last year.

You're now fully potty trained! WHOOHOO! I was a tad worried for a while there... We have so many friends your exact age (seriously, all my girlfriends in Dallas had kids at the same time! As in, within months of each other) and you were the last one to be "trained." Maybe it's because I don't believe in "training" humans and therefore never forced you to do anything, never read a stupid book on the subject and never implemented the "weekend training" but I also never had to ride around with a kids toilet in my trunk and you only had ONE accident, ever. You now don't even need my help to go to the bathroom, which I have to tell you is pretty awesome.

You can ride a bike without training wheels! In fact, you could do this well before you were even 3 and a half. Balance bikes is where it's at, other moms! No training wheels ever, your kids just learn how to balance and ride. Anyway, you love going fast and beating your brother in races. Enjoy it now because he eats so much more than you, it's only a matter of time before he's bigger than you are...

You eat meat sometimes! You spent the first three years of your life spitting out any and all meat I attempted to feed you. I literally could only get you to eat dairy, hummus and fish as sources of protein. Now you'll eat chicken! Still no beef and you're on the fence about bacon, but you're trying new things, more so than you ever did before. It makes me so happy that you're willing to try!

You are my easiest child; my helper; my listener; my caring one. If I tell you no, you don't do it again. If I ask for help with something, you jump right in and help me. If your brother is being a handful, you help me calm him and entertain him. Your teachers absolutely ADORE you, and tell me on the side and "hush hush like" that you're their favorite student. You're a May baby and the trend in Texas is to hold back boys to the next school year (which I think is not only a load of crap, I think it's disservice to the child, but that's another post for another time) but you're so advanced both in your education and social skills, you only have one more year of preschool left before you're off to kindergarten. I'm going to savor this last year with having you with me most days of the week!

Frankly, you were my most unpleasant, most challenging pregnancy. I got a 180 different birth with you than I had hoped for (planned for a natural birth with midwives at a birth center; got an emergency c section with a preterm baby). I was SO unprepared for you! I was plagued with postpartum depression when you were an infant too. Then sometime around 9-10 months, I emerged from the PPD darkness and we clicked. We had a rough start, but ever since then, you've been the BEST baby, the BEST toddler and soon to be, the BEST child!

A face full of food remnants and he's still a handsome boy!

Most moms complain about their toddlers at some point. I can honestly say I've never, not once, complained about you. You are an absolute joy to be around. I look forward to times when we get to have "mommy-Henry days" where it's just you and I running errands because I LOVE having you with me! You've never thrown a tantrum in public (and at home, I think you've thrown two in your whole life) and strangers actually stop me to comment on what a wonderful, well behaved and polite child you are - and of course mention your insanely handsome good looks. The ease of caring for you and the joy you bring me is what made me want to have more children.

Now if we could just get Otto to be less like me and more like you... Kidding! Kinda.

Happy 4th birthday, my sweet, handsome, kind, compassionate, rule-following son. The world needs more people like you in it! My world would not be complete without you in it. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

DIY Refrigerator Freshener

Spring and summer means more fresh fruits and veggies in our fridges... Which can be smelly! Use this do it yourself freshener to keep your fridge smelling clean

It's our last full week of school here in Dallas, and that means summer break is right around the corner! For most people that means a slower pace and lots of vacations, but for me in my current season of life it means a FASTER pace with kids home nonstop - toddler aged kids that need help with everything and regularly scheduled activities and who don't know the meaning of sleeping in, either... Anyway, what it usually means for all of us is an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies are readily available and in season! Which is awesome, but if you've ever left some fresh broccoli sit a tad too long in your veggie drawer, you know how rank that can make your refrigerator (and even your whole kitchen) smell. This is a super simple DIY you can use all spring and summer long to keep your fridge de-stinkified despite it being full of fragrant produce.

There's really two great ways to go about this DIY refrigerator freshener. First, you can get a small mason jar and poke holes in a cute pattern on the top lid to release the ingredients. Or, you can keep the mason jar ring and toss the flat lid part, and sub in a cute piece of fabric. Both work equally well; the fabric is easier if you have some laying around but the cut in design makes this more of a fun arts and crafts style project (perhaps you're looking for something to do with your kids at home, eh?!)

DIY Refrigerator Freshener
- small mason jar
- small piece of square or circle cut fabric OR long sewing needle/small sharp knife to cut design into mason jar lid
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 10 drop lemon essential oil

Place baking soda in  mason jar. Add the essential oil drops, and shake the jar to evenly distribute the oil amongst the baking soda. I used my hand to cover the top of the jar so that I could vigorously shake the oil into the baking soda. If you're using the fabric, place the center of the fabric over the middle of the mason jar and secure with the screw on ring. If you're using the lid like I did, cut enough holes the top for the baking soda and essential oil to circulate your refrigerator.

Place one or two in your fridge. I did one on the top shelf, and one on the bottom shelf, closest to the produce drawer. Once or twice a week, give the jar(s) a shake to expose new baking soda to the air. This will keep it working longer! Every six weeks or so, empty the baking soda into the trash and start over with fresh soda and fresh essential oil. This would also be great with orange, grapefruit, bergamot, or lime essential oil - or a combo of them! Citrus oils are great for freshening a room and for cleaning.

Check out this spring breeze room freshening spray and DIY garbage disposal cleaners you can make with citrus essential oils too!

Spring and summer is a great time for eating tons of fruits and veggies. Everything is in season and most produce comes down in price because so much of it is grown locally (and the bulk of it from being in season drives down prices, too.) But it can make your refrigerator smell a tad funky. Especially if you let it sit for too long! Use this DIY refrigerator freshener to keep your fridge and kitchen smelling great.

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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Woodland Themed Baby Shower

This woodland themed baby shower is gender neutral and perfect for spring or summer baby showers

It feels like I've been all over the United States in the last two months! Have you checked my InstaStories? I've been posting all the eats (since, you know, I can no longer drink...) in all the cities I've been to recently. One of which was Boston. I flew out there a few weeks ago to host my sister's baby shower, which was such an honor and a privilege to do as she and her hubby welcome their first baby (a boy! So many boy grand babies for our mom!) It was a coed shower, so they didn't want it too traditional. We came up with a "camp theme" where the cuteness was in the details. A woodland themed baby shower is perfect for either gender and perfect for spring and summer babies! Read on for party planning inspiration.

Make your own trail mix bar with woodland creatures (mimicking a forest)
Of course, after I boarded the flight, I realized I had forgotten my DSLR camera. I'm such a bad blogger when it comes to taking photos! Included are some snaps from my iPhone X because I can't get a grip on real photography it seems. Struggles!

My sister and her husband aren't traditional people, as I mentioned. As we discussed party planning, she made it clear she didn't want things in blue. She didn't want traditional decorations or dumb games. Which is perfect, because I find those things tacky too. Their goal was a low key brunch party where friends could come and hang out, wish them well, eat some cake, and boom, baby shower complete. Of course I searched Pinterest for some cute, nontraditional, more gender neutral theme ideas and came across some cute outdoor/woodland/fairy/little critter photos that inspired my "woodland" theme.

I was able to find all the small figurines on sale at Michael's and loaded up! Then got some faux moss/grass for that I figured could be used to serve hot or cold food, potted grass, real moss and pine cones for decorations, and just because this was indeed a baby shower, some onesies with twine and old school wooden clothes pins for a simple onesie banner for their fire place.

Since it was a brunch shower, we kept the menu simple with quiche, carrot cake cupcakes, fruit trays, a make your own trail mix bar and coffee and a mimosa bar. The make your own trail mix bar also served as a "center piece" of the decorations as it highlighted some of the woodland/hiking/camping feel of the shower. Not only was this a cute way to theme some of the food, but it also worked for people with food allergies - everything was separated and labeled so guests could create their own blend to their tastes and preferences. Win-win!

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Baby showers don't have to be that awkward party that nobody is super excited to go to! Modernize the theme and make it fun - no need for diaper cakes and baby shower games if you don't want to. This woodland themed baby shower is perfect for either gender baby, and great for coed showers, too. You can keep the decorations simple like I did if you're working with a small space, or go over the top and add birch branches and hanging, gauzy fabric that mimics a tent. It's easy to customize this modern, fun baby shower theme.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Ways To Make Potty Training Easier

Potty training can be a messy process. Use these tips to make it more manageable!

This post is sponsored by SC Johnson®. All opinions are my own. #ExtendTheClean

Potty training is funny business. Everyone has an opinion on how to do it, which books to read, when to do it, and so on. Just like any other parenting advice, I find that the people who dish the strongest opinions on how something should (or shouldn't) be done are usually always WRONG, and the flexible ones who offer suggestions but note that it might not work are usually giving the best tips. Each child is different with different needs and their birth order is different, so expect each child that you teach to use the toilet to be a different experience! That said, I've got two boys learning to use the potty. Here's what I'm doing to make the process easier on everyone.

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1) Wait for indicators that THEY are ready
I totally get feeling pressure from family or friends that your child "should" be potty trained by now. Or perhaps you're sick of diapers and YOU want them to be trained. But, in my experience, the best thing to do is wait for indicators that the child is ready him/herself. Can they tell you that they need to go to the bathroom? Can they take their pants off themselves? Can they reach the toilet without help of an adult (step stools are great for this!)? Are they aware when they've wet their diaper and ask to be changed? These are a few things you'll want them to master BEFORE attempting to potty train.

2) Keep the toilet clean
As I mentioned...I've got two boys. That can and DOES make for a messy toilet situation. I love my boys, but the urine... I digress. Scrubbing Bubbles® Fresh Gel Toilet Cleaning Stamps might be one of the coolest products I've come across to help me keep the toilet clean and fresh in between cleans. It literally works like a stamp that I put inside the bowl and lasts for up to 12 days, delivering a fresh scent to the bowl as the water circulates after a flush. My boys can practice their aim while my toilet stays fresh without any additional work from me! Then when I need to do an all-out scrub clean, I use Scrubbing Bubbles® Bubbly Bleach Gel Toilet Bowl Cleaner. This cleaner foams and whitens my toilet bowl and leaves a great citrus scent behind! A scent that's needed, ahem, in a house full of boys. Neither of these products ever touches your skin so it's easy to keep your toilet clean and fresh without making your hands icky. And both are available at Walmart, so it's easy to get and cost effective.

3) Find the humor in the situation
One of the funniest, best parts of potty training so far is the praise and applause for a job well done. On their end, by boys look so proud when they've successfully used the toilet. On my end, it's hysterical to have them clap for me and say, "Yay Mommy!" when I've used the restroom in front of them. Yes...even in public. Two little voices in the stall saying, "Yay, Mommy went potty! Good job Mommy, good job!" makes other people using the restroom laugh, too. Take the pressure off you and them, relax and have as much fun as you can with it!

Mommin' ain’t easy, and neither is potty training. I highly suggest waiting until your child shows that he or she is ready for the task - that will make the whole process easier on everyone. Use products that help keep your toilet bowl clean so that cleanups are less work for you! Scrubbing Bubbles® Fresh Gel Toilet Cleaning Stamps are a great way to keep it clean, and you don't even have to touch the cleaner! Their Scrubbing Bubbles® Bubbly Bleach Gel cleaner is great for deep cleans and keeping your bowl nice and white. Finally, give yourself some grace and allow yourself to laugh at the funny moment! They'll be plenty of them, trust me.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

BIG News! The Shock Of A Lifetime

Yes, this is what you think it is. Surprise! We're having TWINS

Believe me when I tell you that nobody was more surprised than I was to find out... We're expecting TWINS! Naturally conceived fraternal twins. Odds of that happening are 12 in 1000. Hubs and I were on board for ONE more baby, then calling it a day with family planning. Looks like we accidentally bought the two-for-one special and will be cashing in that coupon this fall. Here's a bit more on what it's like finding out you're having surprise twins, from a mom who already knows what having an infant is like.

The baby announcement winner!

We had been trying for a few months for our third baby. I'm not one to take a pregnancy test early, so I took it when I was a few days late. It popped up positive right away! Of course, Otto and Henry were with me (mom's never pee alone...) and they both saw it and I told them there was a baby inside mommy. Both Henry and Otto immediately wanted baby's inside them, too. It was presh.

The first two weeks were great. So great, I actually understood why some women like being pregnant. I was sleeping like a baby, my skin looked great because I wasn't drinking alcohol, my clothes still fit and I was rocking my yoga classes. Then seven weeks hit, and I started to have more nausea and lower energy. Then eight week hit and I was ALWAYS exhausted, felt like I had been kicked in the head by a horse, nauseous and vomiting and my boobs were ON FIRE. This wasn't my first pregnancy, so I was a little curious about why my boobs hurt so much. Typically, they're the most affected in your first pregnancy, then it's not as noticeable for every pregnancy after that. 

It was so weird, I googled "odds of having twins" and "risk factors for twins." The only ones I had were that I'm Caucasian (white and black ladies have the highest rates of twins) and I'm tall (they're more common in tall people, I guess.) I'm not over 35, I'm not obese or even remotely close to overweight, and I knew of nobody in either of our families who had natural twins.

At 8.5 weeks I had my first appointment. Typical stuff - questions, exam, pregnancy test. I'm high risk because Henry was preterm, and I've always had a dating sonogram at my first appointment.  I asked my midwife (they're the ones that do pregnancy confirmation appointments at my OB's office) if I was getting a sono, and she said I wasn't scheduled for one, but that my OB happened to be in the office that day, so she'd ask her if she could fit me in. My OB said sure, we'll take a peek real quick! I waited 45 minutes and then went in for the sono.

An outtake. It was the WINDIEST DAY and Otto was scared of the big balloons flying in his face!

I saw it before she even said anything. Since this aint my first rodeo, I know what I'm looking at when it comes to ultrasounds. For a second, my brain let me think, "no no no, she just slid over the same baby twice as she maneuvered the ultrasound wand to get a better look! That was the same baby I saw twice." Then I looked from the sono screen to my OB's face. Oh no. That was indeed two. She and I both saw it and knew it.

"Gurrrrrrlllll, you are having twins!!" She said.

She made sure they were both in their own sacs and had their own placentas (they do, and that means they're fraternal) and low and behold, they were measuring AHEAD of my dates. Baby A had a heartbeat in the high 150's and Baby B in the high 160's (I'd tell you the exact number if I could remember... I was honestly blacking out from the shock of twins). "I'm going to have to get a good shot of both babies, otherwise your husband won't believe you!" she said to me.

I couldn't even feel my toes as I made my next prenatal appointment. The receptionist asked me if I was ok. "Nope. I just found out I'm having twins." "Oh lawwwwd, you bout to be busy!" she replied. 

I made it to my car before I burst into tears and completely. lost. my. $hit. Who do you call when you're losing your $hit? Your mom. I'm 33 years old and when things get hard my first call is STILL always to my mama and somehow my mom always answers when I'm desperate. Even if she's at work or overseas or it's 2am. (It's like we were connected at some point or something ;)) "MOM!!" I gasped between sobs. She knew I had my first appointment that day, and was expecting a call from me sometime. "Oh God, what's wrong?" She thought I had lost the baby. "I'm having TWINNNNSSSS!" 

"Oh my God! You poor thing!" she replied. I was so thankful my mom got it. Had I heard an immediate happy response and some horse$hit about "double the blessing" I'd have gone absolutely postal. "Don't worry honey, we'll figure this out! It's going to be ok." She told me.

My husband? Yeah, my OB was right. He didn't believe me until I showed him the picture. He really thought I was trying to play a big old joke on him!

In the following weeks that rounded out my first trimester, I told my closest friends (most of whom are moms themselves), my nanny, and some random people at the grocery store I frequent. ALL of them, thankfully, had the right response. "Holy $hit, I'm FREAKING OUT for you! You are so screwed! Oh. my. god. Ahhhhh how could this have happened?!"

Guys. That right there is the RIGHT response. That response tells me you know EXACTLY how hard motherhood is, EXACTLY how much work a singleton newborn is, EXACTLY how hard being 9 months pregnant with one baby is and EXACTLY how terrifying having twins really is... In addition to already having two toddlers at home. I do not want to hear anything about "blessings" or "double the fun" - that's for people who have their heads up their a$$es and live in a dream world. I don't like fake people who don't join me in reality. 

I don't know why my card was drawn for natural twins, but it was. It was not, in anyway shape or form, remotely close to what I ever wanted. Ever. But, it's what's happening. So I can either be a buzzkill about it or get on board with it! I'm setting my expectations extremely low in hopes that reality beats them, and it doesn't turn out *quite* as bad as I'm imagining life with twins to be.

Otto got his number right in this shot, Henry was choking himself and my hair was horrifically windblown. Awesome.

To end on the bright side, since my first two are only 19 months apart, we already have two cribs and a fancy double stroller. I upgraded to a three row SUV exactly a year ago, and everyone will fit in the car. We have a large enough house to still ahve a guest room. And thank the Good Lord and Baby Jesus, we're well enough off that I can hire some additional help for those first trying, challenging months. I've already got a night nurse lined up for a new nights a week! 

Emotionally speaking, I knew my husband wanted to be done at baby three and make that a permanent decision. I wasn't even willing to entertain that conversation. I thought, let's just have this third baby and see how our family feels... He was pretty stern on being done. That didn't sit well with me. Now that I know there's two, I can tell you that these twins will absolutely complete our family, and that hubs and I are on the same page for family planning! Potential disagreement avoided. I was also not big on an odd number, thinking this baby would be left out because Otto and Henry are such good friends. Don't need to worry about that now, everyone has a playmate!

I'm still getting over the shock of our big news. I'm still trying to get excited about the thought of having two infants at once. How will I breastfeed TWO?! How will I baby wear TWO?! Will I ever sleep again?! I don't have enough hands for this! I could go on and on... But, it's happening. Before I had kids, I always thought I'd have four of them. After I had one and realized how much work they are, I thought, yeah, two or three would be great, more than that is a hard pass! Well, looks like prebaby Paige was right about some things, because four kiddos (age 4 and under no less!) it will be. What a shock of a lifetime guys.