Intentional Time with your Little One

Our daughter, Grace, was born was right side microtia and atresia. And while she’s bright and motivated, she does have a unilateral hearing loss; which could mean a potential speech and language delay. Fortunately, her left ear has perfect hearing, but we’ve purchased a BAHA hearing aid and take her to speech and language therapy multiple times a month – just to give her every opportunity for success.

IMG_0386Speech and language therapy is typically only thought to be for children who have a hearing loss or speech delay, but it’s occurred to me that the skills our family has learned through therapy are useful to every family. I’ve spoken with several mama friends about the things we learn and practice in therapy – and every one of them has said, “why aren’t we doing this with our kids?” The skills we’ve been taught are really tools to help Grace localize sounds, stimulate brain development, encourage an environment where language can be easy heard and learned, and help her assimilate sounds with basic activities and toys. This isn’t just for families withdealing kiddos with hearing loss. It’s for all families who want their kids to learn, grow and thrive.

The therapy sessions are really more of a training session for parents. It’s a time to teach us skills to apply in our daily activity with Grace. Also, as a first time mom of a now 10 month-old, I have really struggled with how to spend intentional time with Grace. I mean – she can’t hold a conversation, sing a song, understand a story or throw a ball. BUT with my help she WILL be able to do these things. And this is where intentional time with your infant/baby plays a roll.

So enough of my babbling. Here are several tools and skills we’ve learned in therapy that I hope all you mamas can use to spend intentional time with your little ones!

READ, READ, READ. At 2.5 months our speech and language therapist told us to read 10 books a day to hIMG_0419er. We said, “WHAT!?” I may totally get this number wrong, but I believe she said that our little ones should be hearing around 40,000 words a day! I talk a lot. But I can’t talk that much to someone who doesn’t talk back. So we read. And read. And read. In fact, Grace could totally care less about toys; but she could sit in a pile of books for an hour. Nerd alert! Or she’s a genius. I’ll tell myself she’s the latter.

Quiet. Do you have the TV on all the time? Or the radio? I’m an NPR junkie. I used to have the radio on all the time. But I’ve minimized my radio time for my daughter’s language development. I’m a martyr,  I know. This is particularly important for Grace, because it can be difficult for kids with unilateral hearing to tune out background noise. But this truly is important for all kids. Create an environment that will foster room for listening and learning. Your kids aren’t going to learn to speak from NPR’s Morning Edition – much to my dismay.

Rich Language. In our latest therapy session our therapist mentioned the term rich language; meaning, to say the same idea in a few ways using different words, expanding ideas and using new words. So as an example, we have a toy cow. I audition before I pull out the toy. “Mooooo. I hear a cow. Do you hear a cow Grace?” I pull out the cow. “Here’s a cow. The cow says ‘Mooooo’.” Then I sit in silence of a bit to see if she has anything to say. Then I sing Old McDonald (using a cow as the animal). I try to prompt her to say what the cows says. Then I may talk about what it looks like for a bit. Then we wave bye-bye to the cow and I put the cow away. Move on to the next animal. The fruits of my labor have only recently been seen. She can now pick out animals – even just by their sound. And with certain animals – like the owl – she tries to make the sound. We’ve begun working on shapes.

Eliminate distractions. Grace is busy. Busy, busy, busy. The kid cannot sit still and she’s always moving on to the next toy. So in an effort to eliminate distraction while I’m trying to spend intentional time with her, I keep her toys in her toy box hidden from view and pull out one at a time. After we’re done we wave bye-bye, as mentioned above, and move on.

Encouraging kids to learn and grown in language and listening at a young is important for ALL families – not just families dealing with a hearing loss. I hope these suggestions can help you spend quality, intentional time with your littles!

Seven Years and Counting

Today, I celebrate seven years of marriage with my husband. Normally, when I mention how long we’ve been married I receive an wedding2astounded look with the question: “how old are you?” And while I look like I’m 20, I’m actually 28…though we did get married pretty early.

Now that I have a daughter I think to myself… if my 20 year-old came to me and said, “mom, I’m getting married,” I’d say, “hell no.” Well, maybe I wouldn’t. But that’s pretty young. Chris was still finishing his undergrad degree, I was working as a reporter for a small town Nebraska newspaper making less than $9 an hour and we paid $300/month in rent for our crappy apartment. We had a total of $2500 in the bank on our wedding day, and this was of no concern to us!

This post is a simple ode to my husband. This guy is patient, kind, selfless and loving. He loves our daughter and he loves me. He lives a life of service to Jesus and his family. He’s fun, adventurous and hot. Grace and I are two lucky ladies.

Cranberry Pie – With Easy Crust

So it’s been a while. A long while. Life is flying by. The days a very long, yet seem so short. But the Effkens are still alive. So don’t worry.

Things are only busier with Christmas. I love this time of year; but I know few people who don’t love this time of year. Tis the season to turn your oven on to keep the house warm – and maybe bake something while you’re at it. IMG_0352 (2)

I have to share one of my favorite recipes – cranberry pie. I love cranberries for several reasons. First, they are beautiful. Nothing brightens up your kitchen or dinner table like those beautiful deep red berries. I also love them for their tart taste. They are often baked in items that are sweet. I don’t like overly sweet things. In fact, I cut the sugar by half in about every recipe I make. Cranberries offer the perfect balance in sweet desserts. And lastly, I love cranberries because they are nostalgic. We ate cranberry sauce for the holidays when I was growing up, and I’ve always loved them.

So this cranberry pie is delicious – and it’s not too bad for your either. I started baking it years ago for the sheer fact that I didn’t have to roll out the crust. I attempted roll-out crust once 6 years ago and it was a disaster. It ended with a tearful phone call to my mom and a run to the grocery store for refrigerated, pre-made pie crust. One of these days I’ll try again. But the wounds are still raw.

So this pie… it’s from Eat Good 4 Life. I’ve made several of her recipes and they’re all fantastic. This pie is the perfect combo of sweet and tart and it’s SO easy! Also, for those who care – it’s dairy-free.

Cranberry Pie

Crust and topping

2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cups unrefined sugar [I use a little less]
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup coconut oil
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Filling

12 oz fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a mixing bowl mix the crust and topping ingredients. Reserve one to 1 and 1/2 cups of the mixture and press the remainder on a 9 inch pie plate.

Mix filling ingredients in a bowl and pour over the crust. Top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool down and serve.

 

I’m “THAT” Mom

“Don’t be THAT mom.”

This phrase haunts me. I feel ashamed that I’ve said it; and I would be willing to bet there’s not a woman reading this who hasn’t said this to a mama and meant it to be sage wisdom.

I’ve been thinking on this phrase for months, after a dear friend and dedicated mama came to visit with her family. Her sweet almost-one-year-old often has trouble falling asleep; so to help her, they walk her in the stroller or take her on a drive. One night her husband loaded their baby in the car for a goodnight drive and she looked at me and said, “I was never going to be that mom.” And my heart felt so sad. This woman is THAT mom who doesn’t want her baby crying in her crib for hours. This woman is THAT mom who pumps 5 times a day in order to feed her baby nutritious, immunity-building breast milk for the first year of her life. This woman is THAT mom who loves her baby. I learned so much about being a mom from my friend that weekend.

Before becoming a mom, I said I wasn’t going to be THAT mom who takes her baby on a drive to help them fall asleep. Guess IMG_0191what? I’ve done this when Grace refuses her nap for 1.5 hours and I am about to pull my hair out.

I wasn’t going to be THAT mom who shamelessly breastfeeds her baby in public. Guess what? I refuse to cover my daughter’s head in public because her eating offends you. Guess what? It shouldn’t be the social norm that I need to leave a conversation or a social situation because my child needs to eat.

I wasn’t going to be THAT mom who babywears because their child doesn’t like to be put down. I’ve vacuumed the whole house with Grace in the carrier because she would not stop crying. Guess what? I love baby wearing. And Grace loves to be carried. So it’s a win-win.

I wasn’t going to be THAT mom who lets her baby sleep in her bed. Guess what? Grace sleeps in our bed [part of the night]! Oh the horror! And I bet you would be surprised at the number of people who bed share but keep it a family secret. And for those of you concerned: No I’m not afraid we’ll crush her. And guess what? I have been getting a full night’s sleep since 2 months. Sleep regression? What is that??

And just because Chris and I have chosen this parenting style for our family does not mean we think it’s for everyone. Because every baby is different, every mom is different and every family is different.

No 16 year-old is going to need dad to drive them around the block to fall asleep. No 18 year-old will want mom to carry them everywhere (and I think my back hurts NOW). No 20 year-old will want to share mom and dad’s bed. Every stage is a temporary season which brings new challenges, new joys and new judgements.

We should love THAT mom who is struggling with a nap schedule and exhausted from driving around town 3 times a day for hours. We should encourage THAT mom who is having anxiety about leaving her child for the first time. We should be patient with THAT mom who calls the pediatrician for every sneeze. And we should support THAT mom who doesn’t want to let her baby cry it out.

I’m THAT mom. The one you’ve warned other moms not to be. The one I’ve warned other moms not to be.

And I’m a damn good one.

 

 

 

Lovin on New Mamas

After having a baby myself, I learned the true needs and desires of a new mom. First, mom doesn’t want you to show up for a visit empty-handed. Second, once the baby has arrived it’s likely she has everything (plus some) she needs for the baby; so don’t show up with 100 outfits. Third, she wants to hold her baby and she has every right to; so unless she has the “I have to go to the bathroom, please hold my baby look,” don’t swoop in for the hold.

I have been guilty of all of the above. And if you’ve done any of these things, mom likely understands and appreciates your love, presence and support – even though it may not have been in the way she’d have preferred.

Sophie

My beautiful niece, Sophia Anne

On September 6 I became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl named Sophia Anne. And while I am so full of joy over her arrival, she lives in another country and I will not be able to see or hold her for months. Also, I’ll not be able to love on my sister-in-law and make her dinner, clean her bathrooms or walk up and down the street with a screaming child so she can nap. All things my sister did for me.

My in-laws took a short trip to England to help with the new baby and to help my sister-in-law, and since I could not go I opted to send a new mommy survival kit. These are all items I wish I would have been gifted after baby Grace’s arrival. Because honestly… mom needs love, too.

This survival kit revolves around my life’s mantra – Ain’t nobody got time for that. Because new moms don’t have time for ANYTHING except holding their baby, feeding their baby and having an emotional breakdown.

TIMG_0167his kit included:

  • granola bars
  • gum
  • face wipes
  • tinted chap stick
  • nursing tanks
  • Mother’s Milk tea
  • a book

Here is a download of the content I used for each of the tags. You can modify, as needed. I should also mention the gift included a hilarious card that asks, “How’s your va-jay-jay?”

Hopefully this will give you an idea of how you can love on new moms and not just on their babies. Flowers for mom is also a lovely gift!

Beet Greens. It’s What’s For Dinner.

IMG_0141

My adorable sous-chef

This is our first year with a vegetable garden. Some crops thrived while others did little-to-nothing. Beets, thankfully, thrived. Beets were something I ate often as a child but wasn’t introduced to eating the greens until recently. They are peppery, delicious and good raw or cooked.

With an abundance of beet greens in the house and little of anything else, I pulled together this super simple and healthy dinner. I supposed you could substitute the beets greens for another leafy green if needed.

Happy cooking!

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Beet Green Pasta

  • 10 oz pasta, cooked according to the package
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 2-4 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicy you want it)
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 cups beet greens, coarsely chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper

In a larger skillet add a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Cook red onion for 7-10 minutes. Grate garlic into the skillet, add the salt and pepper to taste and cook for 1 minute. Add currants, cook for another minute. Add beet greens and saute until wilted.

Add pasta to the skillet and mix together. Add a little more olive oil and salt and pepper if desired.

Carrot Cake… for Breakfast?

I mean, who doesn’t love carrot cake? And who doesn’t love cookies? And who doesn’t love to eat cake and cookies for breakfast?? IMG_0095If you answered no to any of these questions, just stop reading.

Actually, I have a confession to make. I got mad one time at Chris for eating cake for breakfast.

I also got mad at Chris because Grace and I started to make these cookies – only to find that he took the entire jar of applesauce for his lunch. Very frustrating. So we finished making them a couple days later after Grace had a major meltdown. I like to bake cookies when I have a meltdown, and it seem so does she.

This recipe is from the blog Oh She Glows and it’s one of my favorite! They are delicious, filling and easy to grab and go. Also, they are SO good you wouldn’t have any idea how healthy they are.

In case you care about such things, they are vegan and absent of processed sugar!

Oh Mega Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies

Yield: 13 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 3/4 cup ground flax
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup regular rolled oats
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1 cup lightly packed shredded carrots (use finest grate)
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (other liquid sweeteners should work)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

 

1. Preheat the oven to 325F and toast the pecans for 10-11 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the batter. In a large bowl, mix together the flax, flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and raisins.

2. Grate the carrots and ginger using the finest grate. In a smaller bowl, melt the coconut oil in the microwave for about 45-60 seconds. You want the oil hot so it doesn’t clump up when adding the cold wet ingredients. Now add in the maple syrup, carrots, applesauce, grated ginger, and vanilla. Stir well.

3. Remove pecans from the oven and add to the dry ingredients. Increase oven temp to 350F. Now add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. The dough will be very sticky, so not to worry.

4. With a spoon, scoop about 13 cookies onto a lined baking sheet. They don’t spread much so you can put them an inch apart. Bake for 14-15 minutes at 350F and allow to cool on baking sheet.

Nutritional info (Per cookie, makes 13 cookies): 186 kcals, 9 grams fat, 24 grams carbs, 5 grams fibre, 10 grams sugar, 4 grams protein. You also get 620 mg Omega-6 and 31 mg Omega-3 fatty acids per cookie thanks to all the flax!

 

 

Chicken Sausage, Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup

IMG_0068

My adorable sous-chef

My life’s motto: Ain’t nobody got time for time. I say it at least once a day. Makeup? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Washing the baby poop from under my fingernails? Ain’t no body got time for that. Making dinner? Ain’t no body got time for that.

I used to be a strict recipe follower. I would never deviate from instructions until after I made the recipe at least once to see how I might make it better. Now… I seriously don’t have time to follow a recipe. Instead, I read recipes and use them as a blueprint for making something easy and fast.

This soup was the first thing I made after Grace was born. I couldn’t believe she sat in her seat long enough for me to make it. Granted – by the time it was done she was screaming her head off – but the soup was completed. Here’s the recipe I used as a blueprint. In case you care about such things, the blueprint recipe and my recipe are gluten free and dairy free.

Chicken Sausage, Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup

1 lb. Chicken SausageIMG_0077

Olive Oil

1 Medium Red Onion, diced

1 Medium Sweet potato, diced

2 Cloves of Garlic, minced

3/4 cup Salsa Verde

2 cups Chicken Broth

2 cans Great Northern Beans

Juice from 1/2 a lime

Cilantro

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat some olive oil and cook chicken sausage. When it’s about half way finished add the red onion. Cook until chicken is completely done. Stir in sweet potatoes and garlic. Then add salsa verde, chicken broth and great northern beans. Bring to boil them simmer for about 20 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are done. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of half a lime.

Serve with cilantro sprinkled on top – and avocado, if you’d like!

PS – I promise I will learn to take better food pictures. I bet taking them during the day would help. But ain’t nobody got time for that.

Our Daughter’s Unique, Special and Adorable Ear

A month ago I was in the post office with Grace. There were two sweet little boys and their dad; and as all children are, they were very interested in Grace. After asking a million questions about her, the older of the two turned to his dad and said, “look at her little ear.” The dad, completely mortified, tried to shovel his sons comment under the rug and hoped I didn’t hear. I tookIMG_9604 the opportunity to show off my daughter’s incredibly unique, special and adorable little ear to the first person who ever commented on it.

Grace was born with Microtia and mostly likely Atresia. Here’s a formal definition taken from The Ear Community:

Microtia is a congenital deformity affecting the outer ear (pinna) where the ear does not fully develop during the first trimester of pregnancy. A Microtia ear is often smaller in size, can have a peanut shaped appearance, only have a small nub or lobe present, or be completely absent at birth.

Atresia (also known as aural atresia) is the absence or closure of the external auditory ear canal.

We had no idea of this until Grace was born, and we’ve been learning more and more about what this will mean for our daughter and our family. Often times, Microtia is accompanied by other things – including kidney problems or nerve problems in the face. She, thankfully, seemly has no other “issues” accompanied with her little ear.

Grace recently had an extensive hearing test called an ABR. This ABR test determined that she has excellent hearing in her normal ear and a moderate hearing loss on her little ear. While she has no ear canal that we know of, she can still have a hearing aid  on a headband that will vibrate on the bone behind her ear. Don’t ask me how it works, because I haven’t gotten that far in my research. Grace will get one of these in a month.

IMG_9857The reason I write about this is most people notice her ear, but don’t ask. I wouldn’t ask either, to be fair. So for those of you who’ve met Grace but are afraid to ask – it’s Microtia.

A sweet friend asked me how I felt about it… if I was upset that she had this. And the honest answer is yes. Yes, I’m upset that my child isn’t “perfect” (as if there’s such a thing). I’m upset that she has to grow up with a small ear and answer to stupid people who will make fun of her. I’m upset that she could potentially be behind her peers in speech. I’m upset that she needs a hearing aid. And I’m selfishly upset that I have to pay for all the doctors and equipment that will help Grace live a “normal” life.

Why couldn’t this happen to a family with excellent insurance? A family who didn’t have to pay a sick amount out-of-pocket for these doctors and hearing aids? [On a small side note…I’d love to smack those people who complain about paying a co-pay. Or who complain about paying whopping $1000 to have their child delivered at the hospital. Boohoo. I digress…]

Grace could have something much, much worse then a small ear. She’s beautiful and healthy with a blooming personality. She doesn’t have a life-threatening illness, nor a sickness where she will need to pump medicine into her body daily. She will live a normal, comfortable, blessed life (well, at least that’s the hope). So while it’s normal to feel disappointed about her small ear and feel frustrated that all my friends have babies with normal and perfect ears… I love my daughter’s unique, special and adorable ear. And Chris and I hope we can teach her to love it, too.

Reflections on Motherhood: Two Months and Counting

I feel as though I needed to write this post to assure you all that I am still alive. And Grace is still alive. And Chris is still alive. We are all living – running solely on coffee and love. Mostly coffee.

Two months have passed and things have gotten better. Not easier… but certainly better. Not sure if Grace is crying less/hating her life less; or if I am getting used to her misery and tuning it out. I think it’s a little of both. After months of trying to figure out why my child is so miserable, I believe I’ve finally thrown my hands in the air and accepted that this is just how it is. Don’t even try to make a suggestion on how to fix it. Because I’ve tried it. Out efforts include:

  • Colic Drops (Probiotics)
  • Happy Tummy heat pad
  • Giving up dairy
  • Giving up about EVERTHING in my diet
  • Bouncing on the yoga ball
  • Car rides
  • Football hold
  • Gripe water
  • Gas drops
  • The womb app
  • The swing
  • The mamaroo
  • Doing bicycles with her legs
  • Chiropractor (for the record I’m convinced this is the only thing that makes a consistent difference)

It would be unfair to say she cries all the time. I am counting my blessings where they come. She is a great sleeper – particularly at night. Also, she’s started smiling and cooing. And while it sounds incredibly cliche, this all gracemakes the misery worth it. My shirts are covered in leaking breast milk, my arms and hands are consistently soaked with drool and there’s poop under my finger nails (because who has time to wash their hands)… but it’s really worth it.

In just the last week we started putting her in the crib to nap. Previously she was napping in a wrap while we wore her, or in our arms. I cried when she took her first nap in the crib and felt completely morbid because I thought her silence must have meant she died. I’ve also started putting her to bed on her own before us. She goes down between 8:30 and 9:30. And it’s glorious. Seriously. I have time to write this blog post.

And while I now have a little bit of time to myself in the evening and several hours during the day while she’s napping – motherhood is still hard. I’m currently on a diet where I eat only meat, beans, vegetables and fruit. I am hangry all the time. I’m freaking starving. I can’t go out to eat. I can’t go to anyone’s house to eat. I spend a small fortune at the grocery store on flax milk and quinoa pasta. The worst part is – I’m not convinced it’s doing anything. I will be having a heart-to-heart with the pediatrician next week about this. I cannot live this way.

Phew! Now to positives. Grace is so stinking cute. She’s growing and learning every day. She’s laughing, “talking”, trying to imitate my hand movements, kissing (with her mouth wide open) and bringing me incredible joy. I feel as though my greatest success as a mom is our great breastfeeding relationship. She’s a great eater and I love feeding her. In my next life I want to be a lactation consultant and empower women to breastfeed for the health of babies and the incredible bonding it ensues.

We’ve also been surrounded by incredibly loving, caring and supportive people. People that we are proud to surround our daughter with. To help us love her, pray for her and teach her. It takes a village, and we have an amazing village. Right now, these people are mostly loving on us, encouraging us and praying for us, but we know that it will translate into raising a beautiful, loved, woman of God. And this is the true desire of our hearts.

So again, we’re still alive. I could not believe the amazing outpouring of encouragement I received from my last post. The amount of women – some who I know and many who I don’t – who shared that my experience was also there’s gave me great hope and encouragement.

Hopefully I will get back to crafting and cooking soon and will post something other than an update on motherhood.