Since becoming a mom I have loved making the boys their own special birthday cakes and enjoy decorating them. I’m by no means a professional or have any kind of training – but I have learned a few things along the way as the evolution of photos at the end of this post shows! I thought I would share some of the simple tips that have made a big difference in my cake game, from amateur mom baker to another.
Make it easy on yourself – I don’t make the entire cake from scratch… I’m all about jazzing up a box cake mix (using milk instead of water, butter instead of oil). If you want to try to do a fun decoration don’t feel like you have to DO IT ALL. Make things easier where you can!
Invest in a cake kit. The first few years I didn’t spend the $17 for a cake kit and I kinda wish I had. A turntable, a scraper and a couple decent spatulas can really make a big difference. This is the one I bought this year. They sell ones with dozens of more pieces but I opted for something simple.
Freeze your rounds – this was a tip I discovered last year. Freezing or chilling your cake rounds makes frosting SO much easier!! There’s none of that crumbling you normally experience and it doesn’t take away from the taste or texture. Just make sure to wrap them in plastic wrap tightly if you plan on chilling or freezing for longer than 30 min.
Start small and pick a design or style that you’re excited about – I get most of my ideas off pinterest & I try to pick cakes that feel doable. Over the years I have slowly expanded what I felt like was “doable” 3 years ago I would have never even tried this Cars cake. The idea of doing a fondant checkerboard bottom alone would have been too much. Even this year, I was fully prepared to scrap that detail if it wasn’t working out!
Stop by your local bakery! – did you know most grocery stores will sell you their cake frosting?? This year I went to Safeway and bought a bunch of white frosting directly from the bakery & then dyed it red! I’ll definitely be doing this going forward. Again, make things easier where you can! Maybe someday I’ll have time to perfect my own cake frosting but for now this is a short cut I’ll be taking!
BONUS: Have fun with it! Even if your cake flops it won’t be the end of the world. I have store-bought cupcakes as a back up & I focus on the fun aspect! Also don’t underestimate the power of crumbled graham cracker or Oreo cookie as a way to add texture and make the cake look more detailed!
For most people March means the welcoming of Spring & St. Patricks Day. But for me, March will always make me pause, make me look around and think about all the different ways my life could have gone. Three years ago on a random March Monday our world flipped upside down. I thought I was taking my husband to the ER for an unmanageable migraine. In the hours that followed, his mentation deteriorated, I held my 10 month old son, and watched as my coworkers work fervently trying to figure out what had caused my high functioning husband to suddenly become unable to finish sentences, use his hands, or even follow commands. I sat beside him as a machine breathed for him, in the same room I had cared for countless intubated patients over the years. Stunned that this was my reality.
About a month after Chris’ “outage” as we jokingly refer to it now, I did write a post about our experience with viral encehphalitis, you can read it here . It’s funny because there are similar threads, thoughts on immense gratitude for life but reading it now it’s clear that at the time I thought “welp processed that, time to move on”. I refer to Chris’ recovery in the past tense, when in reality it would be over a year before he truly felt like himself again. And I would spend the year having intense flash backs and resisting attempts at truly processing it. Perspective baby.
I wish I could say that those nights in the ICU were the hardest part but the weeks and months that followed would be far more arduous. The get well flowers wilted and life outside our apartment walls went back to normal but inside I felt shell shocked. I was on edge wondering if every bout of dizziness or return of a headache was the start of Chris’ encephalitis returning. In the midst of balancing the household responsibilities and caring for our ten month old son the trauma loomed over us. At the time, I remember mostly saying “I don’t wanna talk about, let’s just move on”. Spoiler alert – you can’t just move on from your trauma without ever processing it.
I resisted for so long, thinking the walls I was building up would protect me. My decade as an ER nurse has been a masterclass at keeping trauma at arms distance, emotionally detaching myself from immense sorrow. It’s how us nurses are able to go from compressing a lifeless chest one minute & doing a vision test the next. A skill that I’ve since learned should be used with measure. When it came to this, the more I turned away the more it hurt. As much as I yearned for everything to “be normal” again it wouldn’t be. And that was the point. This was meant to transform us, if we’d let it.
I started recognizing that even though I didn’t want to “relive it” I already was, and it was happening out of my control (usually at work). Those memories seared into my brain, played like a movie with crystal clearness. I would get flashes of what happened that day, my coworkers sprinting around. The looks on peoples faces. The same hallway I walk dozens of time per shift, that I sat and sobbed in, all those memories loomed under the surface, red hot. About a year ago I was transferring a patient to the ICU. The patient was going into the same room Chris had been in. When I crossed the threshold in an instant I was taken right back to being at his bedside. The first two nights I had ever spent away from my son. As I wheeled my patient waves of overwhelming heaviness and fear washed over me. Fear of not knowing what life would be like when he was extubated. Wondering what would he remember, how much PT would he need, how far from baseline would he be starting at? Would I suddenly be caring for my son & my husband? All the feelings and fears I never allowed myself feel in real time because I was flexing my detachment muscle as hard as I possibly could.
That night I went home and wrote. I wrote about what it felt like to walk back into that room, I wrote about my fears, I wrote about the last twelve months. I wrote about things I didn’t even realize were below the surface. Some of which would be the skeleton of this post. My younger self used to fill journal after journal growing up. That habit abruptly stopped when nursing school took over my life. Writing in journals suddenly felt juvenile, like something I did only as a kid, before I had real problems. But here I was watching the words pour out of me. Chris’ encephalitis albeit life altering and terrifying has been the single biggest catalyst for change for not only Chris but myself as well.
This transformation certainly didn’t happen overnight, and in writing this, I know it is still ongoing. In some ways this experience feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. It isn’t until you’re met head on with life’s raw fragility that you’re faced with either growing and evolving or hiding away. I could have continued to turn away, continued to say “I don’t wanna talk about it or relive it” but I’m convinced I wouldn’t have grown. Instead, eventually, I turned into it.
Right away we prioritized physical health – Per his doctors recommendations we did the Whole30 diet to figure out what had caused his body to be in such a hyper-inflammatory state. Chris embarked on Neuro Physical Therapy. I leaned into my at home workouts that I knew were keeping me from totally losing it. We slowed way down. Chris started talk therapy, and I actually agreed to open up about my experience. We discovered our enneagram types and recognized the role they played in our relationship, our daily lives and the way we communicate with one another. I started writing again. And last year I started meditating. Sitting with my thoughts, creating space and stillness has opened entire new worlds for me. I started intentionally choosing to use that experience to shape my life going forward. I recognized that through bettering myself, through facing my trauma I could help others.
This March I felt a very strong pull to lean back into things that bring me genuine happiness. I bought a doodle pad, I dusted off my sewing my machine, I’m reading books that make me laugh and cry. I’m posting here more! I’m planting flowers in every open space in our yard. I’m filling journals again, I’m overcommitting to projects (because I secretly love that)!
So this morning, this March Monday, I’m up before the sun. I’m giving my mind the gift of pausing. I’m moving my body and overall I’m thankful. Because even thought it may not seem like it it. It’s all connected. Your gifts, your circumstances, your purpose, your imperfections; your journey, your destiny. It’s molding you. Embrace it.
If you have a toddler then you already know, the feelings are BIG. Here are some our favorite books to help make sense of these big feelings. I bought The Invisible String, before going out of town and Will LOVED it! So I thought I would share our favorites for anyone else navigating those BIG feelings.
Things I love about each book:
The Boy with The Big, Big Feelings – does a great job actually explaining what it feels like when we get upset “feelings push out of our eyes” aka tears.
The Invisible String – I just love this book and the concept that we are always connected to the people we love even if we aren’t with them at that moment. Plus Will LOVED this book!
In My Heart – This one has so many emotions & the design is cute!
The Color Monster – Will also refers back to this one about feeling mixed up & feeling lots of emotions at once!
My heart – I love the illustrations in this one & the simple message!
Do you have a favorite feelings book? If so I’d love to hear what it is!
Cauliflower rice is one of my favorite ways to sneak veggies into meals! It easily absorbs flavors of other foods which makes it the perfect versatile veggie for adding in. Below are five dishes that go beyond “cauliflower rice”
Fajita veggies – For taco night you can find me making bell peppers, onions and riced cauliflower for fajitas. Inside a taco, burrito or quesadilla you’ll never know extra veggies snuck their way in. My kids will notoriously pick out and onion or bell pepper but the cauliflower is here to stay!
Pasta Sauce – I love sneaking riced cauliflower into red sauce that I use for pastas or lasagnas! My kids never notice because the flavor of the meat sauce sauce is front and center.
Protein Shakes – This might sound weird but instead of adding ice to your protein shake, add 1/2 cup of frozen riced cauliflower. It adds a creamier consistency to your shake, plus you’re getting a serving of veggies!
Chili – a dish like chili is SO flavorful by itself it makes adding riced cauliflower easy! These are chili stuffed sweet potatoes & you’d never know there cauliflower in there.
Casseroles – last but not least next time you’re making a casserole try adding in a cup or two of riced cauliflower. Like I’ve mentioned before it absorbs any flavors and easily goes unnoticed!
I also buy riced cauliflower at costco and keep a ton of it on hand. Whenever I feel like we’re running low on veggie servings that day it is my number one go to for an extra serving!
Nearly all of us have made New Years resolutions only to watch them fizzle out before February. The end of the year can stir up all kinds of feelings. Whether your year was filled with great change, new additions to your family or maybe your year was filled with setbacks or grief, or maybe like most of us, a little of both. Sometimes it can be hard to look back and try to set goals especially if maybe your goals haven’t changed much. I love reflecting on the year, and thinking about what I want to take forward with me into the new year, but the idea of making resolutions is kinda bleh. A few years ago I was listening to a podcast where they shared the idea of instead of making resolutions creating a list for the year (20 for 2020, 21 for 2021 etc). Often times resolutions don’t strike us as fun things, although they certainly could be. The list is a way to reframe resolutions. You can fill your list with anything you want. Maybe it’s a list of 22 recipes to try this year, or 22 hikes. Or maybe it’s a list of half fun half tasks. They even suggest leaving a few spaces blank so you can fill it out with throughout the year when you get inspired. I personally like to fill my lists with some fun things, a few larger goals for the year, and easy things that I’ve been putting off but that can be crossed off in a day. The goal isn’t necessarily to get every single thing crossed off the list. It’s more just about thinking of what you’d like to accomplish in the year and adding some whimsy! I figured I would share both my 2021 & 2022 lists to give some inspiration!
21 in 2021
Take the boys to the snow!
Go to the dentist – did this with 8 days left in the year!
Night away with Chris
Take the boys to the beach
Meditate / gratitude daily
Take Will on day dates (I want to do more of this in 2022 – we only did a handful of these this year)
Read 10 books (currently reading book # 10)
Create 2020 photo book
Holiday photo frames
Get family photos taken – had these scheduled but bad weather had us cancelled. 2022!!
Swim lessons for Will
Have a spring garden
Host at our house
Redo boys closets
Find a PCP
Go to Yosemite
Less than 5 hours screentime / day
Get Johnathans birth certificate
Hike LimeRidge – This was a 2020 roll over! Made it happen this year.
Overnight BFF trip – This did not happen this year but will happen in 22!
22 in 2022
Get family photos taken
Read 12 books
Trip to NYC
Redo front yard landscaping
Day dates with boys
Switch to clean makeup
Run a 5k
Go to the dermatologist
Find a PCP
Do 3 Day Refresh
Get pictures off old macbook
Do a 30 minute meditation monthly – I want to push myself to sit in stillness longer this year.
Take boys to Tilden / BADM 3x
Plan and Plant a spring / summer garden
Pay off mazda
Take Juno on weekly walks
Make an album of now
Paint master bath / add shelving
Take a social media Sabbath each week
Go to a National Park
Shiplap entry way
I’d love to know how the ending of a year makes you feel? Do you enjoy reflecting on the year? Is it hard to come up with resolutions? Or do you take a spin on resolutions and do something whimsy filled like a fun list?
I think most of our lives are more complex than just “good year” “bad year”. 2021 for me was filled with seeing more family, getting to take our boys on adventures, finding a new world of calm and presence through meditation. Turning inward and looking at barriers and old wounds that are holding be back from being the happiest version of myself. There were also moments of grief and struggle. We lost my cousin this year. And in October I laid with my son in a hospital bed for 70 hours while doctors decided if he needed to go to the ICU. None of us are immune to the sorrow that life will inevitably throw at us, but we are capable of looking for light & allowing that light to come in. I’m always brought back to a quote by Milan Kundera from his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being “The heavier the burden the closer, the closer our lives become to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. what then shall we choose? Weight or lightness”. No matter what 2021 brought to you, I hope you are able to find light & take that light in 2022 with you!
Cheers to a New Year! Oh & if you make a list I’d LOVE to see it!
Why doesn’t anyone warn you about sensory overload as a mother. I feel like we hear about moms being “touched out” but it’s not just being touched. It’s the dog barking, it’s the wooden hammer on the cabinet, it’s the doorbell ringing, it’s the repetitive phrase your toddler has chosen to say louder and louder, it’s that toy with the annoying song that someone left on.
I struggle with overstimulation big time. I first started really noticing it a few months into breastfeeding J. Combining feeding a distractible infant while cross monitoring what a busy two year old is getting into had me almost always in this fight or flight mode. It was not the peaceful breastfeeding experience I had with Will. After stopping nursing I realized another rapid fire way for me to get sent into sensory overload was when we would roughhouse. It would only take getting hit in the face a few times for me to suddenly feel like my walls were closing in, my skin would start crawling, I’d immediately want no one to touch me.
It is easy to question yourself, to feel alone. Why is the dog barking or my kid wanting to “wrestle” me causing me to feel SO uncomfortable. My heart beats faster, I feel annoyed, angry at seemingly insignificant things. Each noise feeling like an interruption into the single thought I’m trying to complete. I found myself deeply craving silence. In the moment feeling like I want to retreat into darkness.
Before we had kids I would occasionally feel this way after a busy shift. Chris would play music in the mornings and I remember this same feeling, the music was too much, it felt like my brain was still too close to that fight or flight mode. Even if I slept it still felt like all the alarms, ringing phones, or screaming patients were still right there. All it took was turning the music down and it’d go away quickly. Well with kids you can’t just turn down the volume and often times the volume feels like it’s just increasing.
If you feel this way too, you’re not alone. It is totally normal to get sensory overloaded and you are not selfish or a bad mom for wanting silence. Letting our brains decompress from the stimulus of motherhood is absolutely necessary in order for us not just to survive but thrive in motherhood. We all have difference tolerances and triggers when it comes to stimulus but there all ways to help both prevent and rescue yourself from fight or flight.
Know your triggers & set boundaries around them. Find out the sounds or types of stimulus that push you quickly into that mode If that toy remote your kid has plays a song that makes you want to tear your hair out – take the batteries out! Make certain toys for outside play only. I personally stopped buying dog toys with squeakers, instituted a drumming outside only rule, and encourage loud play to be done in bedrooms instead of common areas. I also know to put my hair up so it doesn’t get accidentally snagged by a toddler, and to set clear boundaries when we roughhouse I usually say something like “If I get hit in the face again, I will need to take a break from the game”. It sounds silly but the boundary setting works & is another valuable skill to teach your kids. When it comes to your body setting clear boundaries that you hold in turn teaches your kids that it is okay and they can set boundaries with their bodies too! Tickling is the prime example. Whenever my boys say stop to tickling we ALWAYS stop. Continuing to tickle your kids when they say stop is saying “it’s okay to ignore people’s boundaries”.
Practice LOUD & soft – when your kids are already screaming is not the time to try to teach them how to whisper. Instead turn it into a game at a time when they are fairly calm. We play this at the dinner table. We can’t expect our kids to know things we haven’t bothered to teach them, teaching them how to control their volume is an important life skill and future teachers will thank you!
Breathe mama breathe – When you are seeing white & are in that mode. Literally stop moving, and start breathing. Take a slow deep breathe, hold for 4 seconds, exhale. repeat. Closing your eyes helps too. This physiologically will help bring your body and your nervous system out of fight or flight.
Carve out quiet. I personally get up 1-2 hours before my kids now that they both sleep through the night. I use this time to meditate, journal, read, workout, get breakfast ready. I know this is not for everyone. At the very minimum I get up 10 minutes before them. Enough time to sit in silence and stillness. Creating a quiet morning ritual will give you a sense of control over your day. You are not immediately thrown into a reactive state. This has probably been the thing that helps me the most. Sitting in stillness feels like the most luxurious thing once you have kids and meditation has helped me actualize this concept that peace is within us and are able to find it whenever we like.
Use a screen, recompose, and don’t feel guilty. You will be more present and a better parent. When I had peaceful nursing sessions it was either in the middle of the night, while Will was sleeping or when will was watching Mickey Mouse. Looking back I’m thankful I did that and wish I had recognized this sooner and found more ways to make more peaceful nursing sessions.
Speak Up. Do not suffer in silence. Name what you’re feeling. Is the clutter overwhelming you, is the music too loud, is toddler hanging from your leg pushing you into a reactive hyperstimulated state? Name it. Talk about it. If you are lucky to have a partner or support system talk to them, and try to find ways to release. Some days when my husbands comes in from work (he works in a detached office in our yard) I will tell him I need to go sit in the office for a few minutes of silence.
31 days ago I committed to meditating daily. In July I spent 253 minutes meditating. I missed one day, (day 12). 253 minutes of breathing in the moment right in front of me. Over four hours of awareness brought to my thoughts.
Somedays I found my thoughts in my parked car before work, other days sitting in the grass in our yard. Somedays it was difficult to be still for even 5 minutes, I would spend the entire meditation pushing away distractions. Other days the mindfulness came easy and I would be a world away in 8 minutes.
Here’s what I have discovered after 30 days. Meditation like most things becomes easier the more you do it. And 30 consecutive days is a long time to practice something. I love that every time I meditated it was different. Meditation doesn’t require you to be in shape. It doesn’t cost any money. There’s no equipment. You can practice anywhere & for any length of time. And about half way through the month I started to really crave and look forward to these moments of mindfulness. Our worlds are so saturated with notifications, pings and pulls for our attention constantly. And there is something magical about being still & being thoughtful, it’s this superpower. The ability to rule your own mind. And you can access this power whenever. One morning this month Will and I had a rough start to the day, patience, and tempers were short. When I got Johnathan down for his morning nap, I let Will watch his beloved Mickey Mouse & I snuck into my room and did a 5 minute meditation. And it completely changed the tone for the whole day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on here trying to say if you meditate your kids won’t have tantrums. BUT! You might find you have a lot easier time responding to toddlers disproportionate range of emotions & not meeting their chaos with more chaos. You might discover a new ability to pause when you’re first confronted with chaos. And that concept of being able to meet chaos with calm carries over in every aspect of life. Suddenly bumps in daily routines, difficult patients, traffic, personal conflict, things that constantly throw us into reactionary modes are met with more thoughtfulness and patience and in turn cause us less strife.
I know I’ve only just dipped my toe into the benefits of meditating and after a full month all I can say is I don’t want to stop. I love the way it makes me feel I love the calmness and sense of intermission mediation brings. It wakes you up to the moments right in front of you. With kids it is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day. Just crossing days off a calendar. Meditation has made me look at every day with thoughtfulness.
I used the Insight Timer App for my meditation – I used the totally free version. They have over 100k meditations that are free, you can search A-Z category wise, you can filter by length of time or theme. I also love that it keeps track of consecutive days meditating as well as total minutes meditated and provides a space for quick check ins.
This month we celebrated Jman with a Wild One themed birthday party! He is our sweetest surprise & our pandemic baby. Born in July, his birth month flower is a lotus. Which grows in mud, retreating each night back into the mud only to bloom clean the next day. Lotus flowers symbolize spiritual awakening and rebirth. My eyes filled with tears when I read the description of this. Johnathan was our sweetest surprise, little did we know he would enter our lives when we needed him most, in the thick of the pandemic he would be the brightest light. His birth would remind us of the circle of life as we went on to lose my aunt a few days after his birth. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful symbol for his birth month.
We had family and a few friends come celebrate with us. I got this “wild one” birthday kit off amazon for $30 and was impressed with how great it turned out. The day of the party ended up being well over 100 degrees, luckily we had a small pool from target set up & the kids loved splashing in it. It was wonderful to celebrate our happy guy and watch him demolish his smash cake! He decided to take his first steps right before turning one and he held out on getting any teeth his first year!
We celebrated Will’s 3rd birthday with a Three Rex theme. This birthday felt so emotional, he just seems so big all of the sudden. He’s going to preschool in the fall, he’s taking swim lessons, he tells funny little stories & is constantly asking “wanna know…” Ex: wanna know what that sound was, wanna know what’s in mama’s mouth, wanna know what Johnathan’s doing and on and on. Will turned two a month into the pandemic. While the world shut down in 2020 Wills world expanded beyond measure. We moved, he became a big brother, he learned to ride his scooter, he got stitches (see previous), he cooked with me a TON and asked Santa for knives. It’s SO fun to watch him become his own person & every birthday is just a little reminder of how quickly time goes! It was so wonderful to have a small party to celebrate our guy and Johnathan got to meet some family he had never met yet so that was extra special.
Party decor was primarily from target. His cake I can proudly say I baked & decorated! It’s a Ghiradelli box cake mix & Betty Crocker chocolate frosting & funfetti vanilla frosting that i just added green food coloring to, for the dirt – crushed up Oreos. I took inspo from a picture on pinterest & I was so happy with how it turned out! My biggest tip is to freeze your cake for 20-30 min before trying to frost it. It seriously makes a HUGE difference!
Last month we went on our first trip in exactly one year! We went on a road trip & visited Yosemite. A few months leading up to this trip Will started enquiring about seeing snow. We landed on visiting Yosemite, because as much as I wanted Will to see snow, the idea of three days with a toddler & infant with snow as the main / only attraction did not seem like my idea of fun. So we landed on going to Yosemite & it was the perfect getaway! I thought I would share what hikes, trails we went on that were kid friendly, info about snow play areas etc in case you find yourself in a snowy yosemite with a toddler & 6 month old!
Cooks Meadow – Located on the valley floor, this trail has incredible view of half dome & Yosemite Falls & you are surrounded by beautiful meadows. There are boardwalks that make pushing a stroller easy. We were able to pull off the trail and have our lunch in a meadow with Yosemite Falls in the background. So serene.
Lower Yosemite Falls – This is a 1 mile loop that is paved, easily manageable with a stroller or a toddler. (although when did this hike it was day 3 & will was exhausted so he opted to ride in the stroller, but on any given day he could easily have walked this trail!)
Badger Pass Ski / Snow Play Area – did you know Yosemite had a ski resort?? I did not, until researching for this trip. At the time the actual ski resort was closed & lifts were not running. however the snow play area was open to visitors. William had a great time sledding. We took our monkey mat and put it down in the snow & Johnathan got to watch. We also packed tons of food for this portion – I premade a batch of chili for our trip, heated it in the morning & stored in a XL Thermos. When we got done playing in the snow we had a picnic in the back of the car with warm chili! I would say be sure to pack lots of food because to & from badger pass there is very little / no food options & I did not want to risk and hungry toddler or husband after playing in the snow for two hours!
Tunnel View – If you’ve been to Yosemite you’ve probably stopped at Tunnel View – there’s not much to do, it’s purely a vista, but I love stopping there & taking it all in! (I just popped out of the car to grab a few photos, no pulling toddlers out of carseats for this stop.
Things to consider
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite be sure to check which entrances are open, because many roads are closed during the winter months.
Be sure to check if reservations are required to enter the park as of Feb 2021 they were.
Depending on accommodations, at the time we booked our trip the Awahnee was still closed for overnight guests, however we booked an airbnb about 30 minutes from the gate. Something to consider is the driving factor – although we were only 30 minutes to the gate, often our actual destination was an hour or so away. So it made for LOTS of time in the car.
We loved our airbnb, it had stunning mountain views, a hot tub that you could enjoy the sunset from & was SUPER kid friendly, including a play structure, miniature horses & everything from highchairs to pack n plays! This is the airbnb link in case you are looking for a place to stay!
Have you ever visited Yosemite in the winter?? I would love to hear about your experience or your experience taking young kids to national parks! After this trip Chris & I are really making an effort to take the boys to more parks around us! Leave me your favorite parks in the comments below!