Friday, July 31, 2009

Baby's Latest Funny Face

This baby has the most hilarious facial expressions I have ever seen. For some reason, whenever she develops a new expression, she does it repeatedly for a few weeks until she tires of it. Here's the latest:

She squishes her chin into her chest, the back of her head presses against the chair (often folding her ear forward), and all this is accompanied by a long, deep moan.

Sorry the pictures are a bit blurry. Man, I've been getting so many funny pictures of her lately, I just need to get a good smiling one so you can see how pretty she really is!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hiking at Red Rock Canyon

What a cool hike today! The Red Rock Canyon features 200 million years of geology, according to the Gazette. The 5-year-old in our group was searching for seashells after we told her that most of the rock formations we once at the bottom of a sea.

Do you see the artist painting on the right side of the below photo?

There were gorgeous views of the Garden of the Gods to the North (oops, I forgot to take pictures until the very end again). You could also see clear views of downtown Colorado Springs. Red Rock Canyon is located a bit East of Manitou Springs, near Highway 24 and 31st Street.

Now, I am usually the type that begins a hike with a good idea of exactly which turns to make and exactly how long the walk will be. We were joined by a couple teenagers today who would rather explore more freely, which was fine by me because they offered to carry the babies. The only difficulty arose when we had to scale this steep, scary, slippery rock (it doesn't look very steep in this photo, but believe me, it was!). If you'd rather avoid this part, just follow the directions outlined in the Gazette's Red Rock Canyon Geology Loop. It's a 4 mile loop that catches several rock formations worthy of having proper names and gains 600 feet in elevation.

More cool rock formations.

Baby fell asleep in the backpack. She never does that! What a little sweetie.

I loved this hike and will surely return to explore some of the other trails in the area. Maybe next time Baby will stay awake long enough to appreciate it!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Baby's 15 month checkup

For those who care (family and friends), I thought I'd share Baby's stats from her 15-month checkup. For those who don't (random people who have stumbled upon my blog), sorry!

Let me clarify one thing first: Baby does have a real name. It is because of that second group of readers, potentially psychos (no offense), that I have censored her given name and replaced it with her nickname, which actually is Baby. She probably responds more quickly to Baby than to the name on her birth certificate, in fact.

Baby is 30 inches tall (37th percentile) and 21 lbs. 14 ozs. (36th percentile). Her head circumference is still gargantuan at 48.5 cm (98th percentile). "It's like an orange on a toothpick!" (So I Married and Ax Murderer fans, anyone?).

Baby was always a tiny bit behind in her gross motor skills for her first 9 months of life, which her doctor attributed to her large head being too heavy for her body to maneuver around. No problem. But then, between her 9 month and 12 month checkups, she didn't learn any new gross motor skills. This is the time when most babies are crawling all over the house, standing and cruising against furniture, and for many, taking those first steps. Baby could sit up on her own (when propped up to sitting) and she had just begun an awkward "combat crawl" before her birthday. However, she was right on track in every other way (communication skills, fine motor skills, etc.), so her doc prescribed some physical therapy to get those muscles moving.

The physical therapy was a bit difficult for Baby at first. Once she realized during that first session that she would be forced to do torturous exercises, she would start screaming the second we walked into the building and not stop until the second we left. We didn't get much accomplished during her first 3 or 4 sessions. Finally, she began to loosen up and play with some of the neat toys they have, and she also warmed up to her PT. The weekly sessions are as much for my benefit as hers; the PT instructs me on new exercises every week for us to work on at home. Baby has since learned to sit up from a lying down position, pull herself up to kneeling (and standing, more recently), climb stairs, and the biggie, crawl! The crawling stage is very important so I was absolutely thrilled when she slowly, deliberately crawled for the first time (a bit wobbly!).

Baby's first time swimming. She wouldn't put her hands underwater and was teased by Grandma and Grandpa.

I am now a huge fan of early intervention with physical therapy. Her diagnostic evaluation showed that our 12-month old had the gross motor abilities of a 7-month old. Sure, that doesn't seem too horrible, but she was growing bigger by the day and her muscles just were not keeping up with her size. It was important that we do something early to help her catch up to her peers. Today, the main skill that she is lacking is walking, but believe it or not, there are plenty of 15-month olds who haven't taken those first steps yet. She'll get there soon enough.

Have I mentioned that Baby doesn't have any teeth, either? Her doc was surprised but not concerned. He said we'll send her to a dentist to see what's up if they still don't arrive by 18 months. I guess that my baby just wants to stay a baby as long as she can! Sounds good to me.

Cool Art and T-shirts

My unnaturally talented sister-in-law, Danielle, has recently graduated with degrees in Art and Math. Unique combination, I know, but you would expect it coming from a girl who does gymnastics on horseback and wins boxing championships. She just started a blog showcasing all of her creations that are for sale. Here are a few of my favorites:

She also sells really sweet t-shirts. I think the term for this would be upcycling? Check out t-shirts reinvented.

If you're looking for some unique art for your home or a sweet t-shirt, check out Danielle's blog for more!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Perfect Pizza Dough Recipe

Pizza is so cheap that if you're going to put forth the effort to make it at home, it'd better be good. Over the years, I've tried half a dozen different recipes, always resorting back to trusty Papa Murphy's. If you bake it in your own oven, that counts as cooking, right?

Finally, I found the perfect pizza dough recipe. It would be inconsiderate of me not to share it. Thank you, Joe at Culinary in the Country! I actually changed a few things about his recipe, but the basic essence is the same. Check out his original recipe for instructions using a food processor rather than a breadmaker.

An individual-sized (half recipe) BBQ chicken pizza I made for Baby and me one night that Nick wasn't eating with us. I know, I need to work on shaping it so the crust isn't lopsided. Please don't judge it based on my poor photography skills :)

Recently, my pizza was put to the ultimate test: Halo Night. Nick gets together with a group of guys every Wednesday to play Halo (a video game, for those lucky enough not to know what that is). They all take turns hosting it, except Nick. He was the only one with a pathetic little TV that just wasn't good enough for Halo, apparently. Finally, Nick got his dream TV, so we had the group over at our house last week for the first time. I made one pepperoni, one BBQ chicken, and one veggie supreme pizza. These guys are used to Little Caesars, so I was a bit nervous about sneaking in whole wheat flour, but they didn't even notice. They loved the pizzas! Of course, I also made a delicious salad with lettuce from my garden, which not one of them even touched. Must be a gamer thing.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
(adapted from Culinary in the Country, which was adapted from Eating Well)

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour*
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten

Combine water and yeast in bread machine; let sit for a couple minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Set bread machine to Dough Only setting and let knead, rise, and punch down (approximately 1 1/2 hours, or until timer beeps). Stretch and/or roll dough out onto a baking sheet or pizza stone, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise until it reaches desired thickness (none for thin crust, 30 minutes for thick crust). Top with sauce, cheese, and toppings and bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

*I used freshly ground white whole wheat flour, so if you plan to use the regular red whole wheat flour more commonly found at the grocery store, you may want to use 50/50 whole wheat and all-purpose.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Garlic Harvest

Last Fall, I checked at a couple local nurseries for garlic bulbs to plant with no success. Rather than order through a catalog, I decided to try an experiment and plant garlic I bought at the Doherty farmer's market. I figured that whatever variety I could find there should be perfect for Colorado conditions.

Drying in the sun.

I even figured out how to braid it! I found instructions here.

A few things I've learned for next year's garlic crop:
  • Plant 2-3 times as much.
  • Choose only the largest cloves from each head of garlic to plant. I had read that the larger the clove, the larger the plant will be, and that proved true. I just planted every single clove from the one head I had left, and the smaller ones took the same amount of garden space while producing much less.
  • Line the garlic plants around the perimeter of the garden. I've read that it keeps bugs away, which has been a problem for me this year on the plants furthest from the garlic area.

This should last me...maybe through Christmas? We love garlic :)
And ya, those really are my light switch plates.

Total Investment: $.50 (for the one head of garlic at the farmer's market) plus the cost of water for a 2' square plot (negligible)
Total Payout: $9.00 (the equivalent of 18 heads of garlic -- I'm counting some of the smaller ones as 1/4 or 1/2 a head)

I'll definitely plant more this October!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dancing Queen

Baby responds to a few commands:

"Give me your paci, please".

"Baby, come over here".

"No, Baby!" (and by responds, I mean she laughs at this one).

But my personal favorite...


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hiking the Garden of the Gods Palmer Loop

It's about time we made it over to Garden of the Gods! Last summer, Baby and I practically lived here. She was too little for a backpack, so we were limited to paved walkways with the stroller. I thought it might be a neat experience for a newborn to look up from her comfy nest in the stroller and see red rocks against the blue sky.

Today was my first time exploring other, less tourist-infested areas of the park. We took the Palmer Loop (3.7 miles, 600 ft. elevation gain), a combination of trails suggested by The Gazette. To be honest, you can catch most of the same views with the easier Chambers/Bretag/Palmer trail circle (3 miles, 250 ft. elevation gain) featured on the Garden of the Gods website.

Our hike began across the street from the North Gateway Rock parking lot with the Palmer Trail. Check out this deer we came across; my camera is not zoomed in at all, and this guy had absolutely no qualms about our presence.

We crossed paths with a couple at a point when one of the babies was getting a little cranky. I overheard the couple approaching ask "Is that a baby or an animal?". That would be one scary animal making noises like that. The couple also asked if we were the "Mommy Parade".

The Siamese Twins rock formation.

Here is a picture of Pikes Peak in the distance. Just below and to the left of the peak is a nearly vertical line etched into the mountainside: The Incline, our next hike.

Just kidding! I'm pretty sure that would be the death of me.

Once you pass the Siamese Twins, take your next opportunity to cross the paved road nearby and join the Scotsman trail. You'll soon cross another dirt road and begin some serious elevation gain. I think Baby started complaining because Mommy wasn't going fast enough. She kicks those little feet against my sides like a horse rider. Giddyup, Mommy!

You can see the Kissing Camels formation in the background.

After the big hill, the remainder of the hike winds through the more popular areas of the park.

Art students sketching the rock formations.

Happy Hiking!

p.s. Friends, you're more than welcome to join us on our next hike!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Vegetable Garden Update

My veggie seeds have been in the ground for just over a month now, so I figure it's time for a progress report. First of all, I must say how proud I am of my little garden this year! Sure, there are weeds, and sure, there are failures, but all-in-all, this year is looking very promising.

Below is a view of pretty much everything. On the bottom left, we have a few varieties of tomatoes, all started indoors in February (or traded for neighbors' seedlings). Beyond the tomatoes, there are 6 yellow banana pepper plants (I really want a big harvest to make this amazing relish). These guys are still pretty short, but their color has improved to a deeper green and they've produced many more leaves. Behind them are the purple pole beans, two zucchini plants, then on the right I have 6 cucumber hills, 4 rows of basil, 4 rows of carrots, garlic, and then lettuce (not shown).

There seems to be a colony of red ants hanging out near the purple pole beans. I don't know if they are the culprits behind these bite holes, or if their presence indicates that they are using aphids as slaves (at least I've heard that can happen), but either way, the poor beans are pretty sad looking!

I have had some problems with critters this year. One day, I was gazing out my bedroom window at the garden when I noticed a squirrel and two birds enjoying a feast! This was shortly after my seeds began to sprout, and I could see them digging around and having a great old time. Without even thinking, I yelled "Go away!", and poor Baby, playing at my feet, burst into tears. Once I reassured her that I wasn't yelling at her, those evil thieves were gone. However, my basil is basically nonexistant, aside from a few (and out of four entire rows of seeds, I literally mean "a few") tiny sprouts. My carrots and lettuce have huge gaps in their rows where someone ate the seeds. Grrrrrr.

The lettuce and mesclun were planted in L-shaped rows in the shadiest corner. I also dropped a handful of seeds right next to the stepping stone. We've already enjoyed a couple salads from these guys.

Here is a close-up of the larger zucchini with a cucumber plant in the foreground.

A volunteer cilantro plant.
My lovely garlic seems about ready to be harvested. Can anyone tell me if they look ready? I've read different things; the leaves will fall over, the leaves will turn 1/3 brown, the leaves will corkscrew. I suppose I should just dig up one and see what I find.

Everything green in this picture is a raspberry bush, except for the day lily on the bottom left and the peony above it.

My sugar snap peas. These are the coolest plants! Their little sticky fingers are holding tight to that trellis. There are a few little flowers but no peas yet.
Here is a shot of the entire sugar snap pea area. I'm a bit embarrassed about this one because there are supposedly three clematis flowers. The one in the middle and on the right are alive, but not really going anywhere. Also, see all that grass at ground level? I planted a bunch of chive seeds in here, but I can't tell the chives apart from the grass. I guess I'll just wait and see which ones grow purple flowers at the end of the season. This garden bed is also overrun by a mystery herb planted by the previous owners. It is very fragrant but we just can't figure it out.

Remember my pathetic little tomato seedlings I started in February? I am really glad that I didn't give up on them when it came time to transplant. I wanted one jelly bean and one yellow pear tomato plant near the back door so that I could snack on them without making the long journey across the yard to the veggie garden.

I love these long summer days. I put Baby down to bed around 6:30 and then have at least an hour and a half before it gets dark if I feel like working in the garden. We have been blessed with TONS of rain this year, so I've only had to drag out the hose a few times. There is just something satisfying about watching those fat zucchini leaves soaking in the sun or counting the yellow tomato flowers.

For beginning Colorado gardeners, I highly recommend the book "The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West" by David Wann. He runs a community garden in Golden, Colorado, and his passion for gardening is contagious. To my Colorado friends: I would love to hear about your gardens! Have you harvested anything delicious yet?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hiking the Monument Rock Loop

Colorado Springs has been hit by thunderstorms nearly every afternoon this summer. My lawn and garden are loving it, but the weather can throw a wrench in our hiking plans. I picked up my hiking buddy and her baby earlier today to try to beat the heat and rain as we hiked the Monument Rock Loop trail.

Why is it called Monument Rock Loop, you ask?

That's why.

This trail is located in the Monument Preserve, part of the Pike National Forest. For directions, check out The Gazette. The hike begins with a gradual incline through shady ponderosa pine trees. Although there are several shortcuts through the forest, if you stick to the path on the right of the trailhead sign, jogging left a bit at the dirt road at 0.75 miles to pick up the trail again on the other side of the road, you will end up doing a 2.5 mile loop.

At around the halfway point, you'll reach Monument Rock. It was alone in the middle of a meadow, but it looked like it should belong in Garden of the Gods.

That's a little bench on the right with a clear view of the city of Monument to the East.

We wondered if it's legal to climb this thing.

Today was such a gorgeous day! Everything must be so green because of all the rain.

There are several paths surrounding the rock, but take the one Southeast of it to stay on the loop. At this point, we came across dozens of little paths leading off of the main trail. We were somehow lapped by a runner, twice, and he eventually took one of these little paths, but our curiosity was overcome by our sore backs (those babies are getting heavy) so we didn't stray.

Here is an old stone root cellar.

This hike was great for baby-toting; we hardly climbed in elevation at all! Most of the 200-foot elevation gain came at the last quarter mile or so.

What a beautiful escape only 30 minutes from my home in Northeast Colorado Springs. We'll definitely be visiting the Monument Preserve again. Here's the added bonus: Baby always takes an AWESOME nap after we go hiking, even though she's just being carried around like a little queen!