A Much Needed Trip To My “Soul City”

When I visited Colorado for the first time with my family in 1994, I was only 10 years old. It was on this trip that I told my mom, “One day I am going to live here.” It is very fitting that the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with just happened to grow up in Colorado, and I am so happy that we get to visit this beautiful state as often as we do. I absolutely love living in NYC, but the fast paced lifestyle can be quite draining sometimes, and our visits to Colorado are so refreshing lately that I have been referring to Denver as my “soul city.”

We often talk about moving to Denver, and someday I hope an opportunity presents itself to make that possible, but for now I will take advantage of any visit I can. When Tyson told me his work was sending him to the NHL conferences in Denver, I told him he wasn’t going to Colorado without Qwynn and I. So we booked our flights and prepared for our long weekend in Denver. And boy, has it been the most perfect trip ever!

I have many fears about having a second child, but my absolute biggest fear is how my relationship with Qwynn is going to change after baby number two arrives. She has been our one and only for so long and it’s hard to imagine loving another child as much as I love her. I know I will, and I now she is going to thrive as a big sister, but I also know things will change.

Well, this trip has definitely eased some of my fears and I have been soaking up every bit of my one-on-one time with Qwynn while in Denver. I have been trying my best to be carefree and letting her take the lead, and it has provided us with some pretty awesome memories…

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Our visit to the zoo was so wonderful, I had to hold back tears on the carousel just thinking about how much this trip has meant to me. I know life with two is only going to be better and I cannot wait to see Qwynn with her baby brother, but this trip was exactly what I needed before baby boy Christensen arrives and our lives change forever…again.

 

Valerie Anne

Deciding To Have Baby #2

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As Qwynn’s 3rd birthday came closer and closer, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how fast time had gone. She couldn’t really be turning three already?! This realization was especially discouraging because we didn’t seem any closer to being ready to expand our family, something I still really wanted. I never considered only having one and being done. My mom would always say four kids was a good number. “One for each arm,” she would tell me. That seemed like a lot to me. A family I babysat for in college had two boys and their mom told me once that she always liked having two kids because then they can always have one on one attention. I thought this was a good point.

I always pictured us having at least 2 children, maybe even 3, and I wanted them pretty close together, about 2 years apart. This is what I had imagined before we moved back to New York City. A city where even with a discount, we pay more for Qwynn’s childcare than most people spend on a mortgage. A city where rent in a good school zone is at least four times more than most people pay towards rent elsewhere.

For awhile, whenever the topic came up about having another child, Tyson and I were both teeter-tottering on the same fence, but I was leaning more towards having a second little one and Tyson was leaning more towards the not. Not only did having more children mean more financial stress, but he is so smitten with Qwynn, he didn’t want to take away any attention/love from her. I, on the other hand, saw daily how good Qwynn is with the babies in my classroom, and I absolutely knew she would not only be okay, but would make the best big sister ever.

Not being completely on the same page made this decision so much harder because it felt unfair to make this big step of expanding our family if we both weren’t completely sure it was what we wanted. I just kept coming back to the same question though…

Would we ever truly be 100% sure or ready?

Right now, we might think giving up that morning Starbucks coffee or evening bottle of wine would be torturous. Could we do it because we know we have to buy diapers instead?

Right now, we might think giving up cable would be too hard. Would we even care when more of our time will be taken up by another little bundle of joy?

Right now, the thought of not having a car might seem like a huge inconvenience. Could we manage to be able to put more towards rent in the city?

Right now, it might seem like a one bedroom apartment with two kids would be impossible. Would we make it work to have the city at our fingertips?

Right now, it might seem like we cannot manage another child, but I knew we would likely not make any changes in our lifestyle choices until we absolutely needed to…until we had a baby on the way.

Our move to Arizona and then back to NYC taught me an important life lesson. Sometimes what you think you always wanted, turns out not to be what you really want after all. At the same time, sometimes you don’t really know how much you want something until you decide to go for it. Sometimes you don’t really know how much you are willing and able to sacrifice until you have to. Sometimes you don’t know how much you want another baby until you see the little peanut on the monitor and hear that little heartbeat for the first time.

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Valerie Anne

Wife. Mother. Teacher. Student!

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My experience working with children dates all the way back to my preteen years. When I was twelve, my best friend and I posted a babysitting ad on the bulletin board at our church, and soon after we both had our first jobs. The following year, my first niece was born and lived at my parent’s house until I left for college, which meant my younger sister and I were her daily sitters.

The time spent with my niece is something I have never forgotten and will forever appreciate. It is the foundation of everything I know and love about working with young children and was my motivation for continuing to babysit and work in childcare positions throughout high school and college. I have many interests that I have considered pursuing, and have even tried a handful of other jobs, but I always seem to be called back to teaching. After working for several years as an assistant teacher, I am anxious to receive the education and experience needed to pursue a lead teacher position in a toddler or preschool classroom.

I’ve been wanting to go back to school to get my teaching degree for years. Even before Qwynn was born, I would often look into programs, but would be too scared to make the commitment. After having Qwynn, it seemed like a distant dream that seemed to get further and further out of reach. However, this new year has brought with it exciting changes and new realizations!! So, when Tyson heard a radio ad for Arizona State University’s Online Masters in Early Childhood Education program, I just knew I had to make this happen. I know it’s going to be extremely challenging, but it will open up so many more doors for me and allow me to do incredible things in the classroom.

One of my favorite things about working with young children is that I never go a day without laughing and I never go a day without a hug. Both are a necessity for any person, but are especially critical in the development of young children. The early years of a child’s life are so important and I have seen firsthand, both through my work experience and my daughter’s development, the positive affects of early childhood education. Although somewhat terrified for this huge commitment, I am thrilled to finally be pursing my Masters, and at my alma mater, nonetheless. I look forward to growing my professional career and continuing to positively influence the development of our youngest learners!

Wish me luck! (I’m definitely going to need it. 😉)

Valerie Anne

My K.I.S.S. Approach to Personal Care: Oil Cleansing

I have had acne prone skin since I hit puberty, but I never imagined I would still be dealing with adult acne in my 30s. There should be a rule that you can’t get pimples if you have wrinkles or gray hair.

After so many years of experience, I know my acne has more to do with hormones and what I put in my body, and less to do with what I put on my skin, so all the traditional face washes never helped much. If they did help, eventually my skin would get used to them and my bad acne would come back. Plus, most traditional face washes, even the most “natural” ones, have a ton of ingredients in them, many that I can’t even pronounce or recognize. Birth control helped at first, especially with the large, painful cystic acne, but eventually it stopped working. I thought maybe pregnancy would help clear my skin, but that did not happen either.

I have always had a combination of dry and super oily skin. My t-zone shine would be out of control, but other areas of my skin would still be flakey and dry. I have good days and bad days, good months and bad months, but I have finally found a routine that’s worked better than anything else. It’s been over a year now that I have been using oil to clean my face, and I do not see myself going back to traditional face wash anytime soon.

I first learned about oil cleansing when I read this post. Like the Wellness Mama, I too was skeptical about using oil on my very oily, acne prone skin, but when I read more about it, the basic idea of oil cleansing made a lot of sense to me. Both Theoilcleansingmethod.com and Acne.org give great explanations for the benefits of oil cleansing:

“The basic concept of this skin care and cleansing method is that the oil used to massage your skin will dissolve the oil that has hardened with impurities and found itself stuck in your pores. The steam will open your pores, allowing the oil to be easily removed. Should you need it, the smallest drop of the same oil formula patted over damp skin will provide the necessary lubrication to keep your skin from over-compensating in oil production.” (Theoilcleansingmethod)

“Fact: Oil dissolves oil. One of the most basic principals of chemistry is that “like dissolves like.” The best way to dissolve a non-polar solvent like sebum/oil, is by using another non-polar solvent similar in composition: Other oils. By using the right oils, you can cleanse your pores of dirt and bacteria naturally, gently and effectively, while replacing the dirty oil with beneficial ones extracted from natural botanicals, vegetables and fruit that heal, protect and nourish your skin. When done properly and consistently, the OCM can clear the skin from issues like oily skin, dry skin, sensitive skin, blackheads, whiteheads and other problems caused by mild to moderate acne–while leaving your skin healthy, balanced and properly moisturized.” (Acne.org)

I decided to read through the comments of the Wellness Mama blog post to see what worked for people and what didn’t. There were a lot of mixed reviews, many very positive, but also a good amount that were negative. I decided to give it a go despite the negative reviews.

I started with organic coconut and olive oil since I already had them in the house. I didn’t want to buy the more expensive oils before knowing if this oil cleansing would even work. I eventually added organic jojoba oil to my mix once I started seeing positive results from the oil cleansing process.

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Currently, I mix about 1/3 of each oil in a glass dropper bottle that I found at Whole Foods for just a few dollars. They are just perfect for storing my oil mixture! I have a larger one for at home use and a smaller one for traveling. Every morning I squeeze a dropper full of the oil mixture in the palm of my hand and use my fingers to massage the oil all over my face and neck. The amount of time I leave the oil on my skin varies depending on how much time I have, but is usually anywhere from 5-20 minutes. I cover my face with a hot washcloth and let it sit there until the washcloth becomes cool. Then I wipe any excess oil off with the other side of the wash cloth.

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It definitely took a few weeks for my skin to adjust to this method of cleaning, but within a month I noticed a tremendous difference in the texture and oiliness (or lack there of) of my skin. My face was still not perfectly clear. I get little bumps here and there and usually one cystic pimple on my neck or chin around that special time of the month. But overall the look of my skin has improved so much! I’ve even stopped wearing makeup on a daily basis, and usually only put a little on for special occasions or nights out.

Oil cleansing still dries out my skin a little, so I did some research and found that pure Shea butter is a good moisturizer for acne prone skin. I have been using Bubble and Bees’ Face Cream for Women and I am extremely happy with it. It’s definitely not as pricy as some face moisturizers out there and a little goes a long way, so the jar lasts for months. And it only has 3 ingredients!

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Overall, I am so happy I found this method of cleansing and was brave enough to try it! I haven’t been this happy with my skin since before puberty and it feels wonderful to finally find something that works so well and keeps on working. Oil cleansing is more cost effective, safer, healthier and environmentally friendly. As of now, I have no plans of ever going back to traditional face wash again!

 

Valerie Anne

Trader Joe’s Tuesday: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

One thing Tyson and I love about visiting Colorado is the food. Specifically, the Mexican kind! Good Mexican food is hard to find here in NYC, so we always make sure we get our fill when we go back west.

We love making regular enchiladas. They are easy, affordable and very filling. This recipe came from a Facebook group I’m a member of and is a fun twist on traditional enchiladas. I had to make a few tweaks to the original recipe, but that is what’s so great about it…you can customize it to your own food preferences. I would definitely make it again!

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We made a half size (8×8) version of this last weekend with a bottle of Trader Joe’s Enchilada Sauce because we already had it in our cupboard, but for Super Bowl Sunday I decided to make the homemade enchilada sauce that was recommended in the original recipe. It was delicious, and probably better for us, but I have to admit I like the flavor of TJ’s sauce better.

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I don’t like beans and I never have. As an adult I’ve given them a try a couple times, but I just can’t get over the texture. So I substituted the black beans with spinach and red peppers.

I sautéed fresh garlic in some olive oil for a few minutes and then added frozen sweet corn and frozen spinach. I sautéed them for a few more minutes before adding fresh red peppers and I seasoned generously with salt and pepper.

We made the same crock pot shredded chicken that we use in the regular enchiladas we make. We didn’t have the green onions the recipe called for, but the shredded chicken we make has yellow onions in it, so I figured that would do just fine.

The great thing about this dish is that we were able to prepare the chicken and veggie filling earlier in the day, store them in the fridge and then just put the casserole together right before we wanted to bake it. It was ready just in time for half time!

I had made a huge batch of guacamole as a pre-game snack, so instead of topping the whole casserole with diced avocado, I just added a dollop of guacamole to each serving. It was perfect!

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Valerie Anne

I Blinked and Qwynn is Three!

 

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Qwynn’s birthday month is coming to an end and it’s still hard to believe we have a 3-year-old! The last few months have been a whirlwind of emotions and I’ve been savoring every moment (as proved by my lack of blog posts the last few months!)

Since starting in her new classroom this last September, I have been truly impressed with how Qwynn has grown and developed into such a fun, bright and independent young girl. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning, playing and having daily conversations with her. She’s spelling months from memory, LOVES counting and numbers, and her language has just flourished. She doesn’t even seem like a toddler to me anymore. She is a little girl. A true threenager!

We had such a wonderful time celebrating her 3rd birthday with friends and family in my soul city…Denver, CO. If you know me well, then you know when it comes to Qwynn’s birthday celebrations, I just can’t do simple. Flying on an airplane across the country couldn’t even keep me from creating a fabulous party to celebrate my beautiful daughter!

One disadvantage of a January birthday is that you always need an inside venue, and that can get pricey. We also needed a place to stay for a couple nights while we were in Denver.

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We were quite satisfied with our first Airbnb experience during our Chicago visit this last November, and decided to look into it for this trip, too. We were able to find a great apartment downtown with enough space for us, Tyson’s brother and two of our friends to stay and it was the perfect size to host Qwynn’s small party! WIN-WIN! (We did make sure this was okay with the Airbnb host before we booked it.)

When I asked Qwynn what kind of birthday party she wanted she said “white!” The first thought that came to mind was winter, and it ended up being one of my best ideas yet!! Plus, with her birthday just a few weeks after Christmas, I got almost everything on sale or clearance!

I managed to throw a wonderful winter themed birthday party for her, and I fit everything I needed into my small carry-on sized suitcase. Everything went so perfectly, I’ve even considered looking into starting a business for it…Party in a Suitcase!

Qwynn’s Destination Winter-Themed Birthday

One of my favorite things to make…The Banner! I am just a little doily obsessed, so I had to incorporate them into Qwynn’s banner. I love the elegance of paper doilies, mixed with the ruggedness of the burlap twine. Since we were in a rental, command hooks were perfect for hanging the banner.

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I used the stocking holders I refurbished from the Target Dollar Spot to hang snowflake lights (less than $10 on Amazon) and the banner I made for Qwynn’s party at school on the kitchen island.

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At Target, I also found white snowflake tins for 50 cents to hold the plasticware and burlap trees for $1.50 each, which I painted white for a snowy look.  I found clear candle holders at the 99 Cent Store across the street from our apartment and etched snowflakes on them for a little added decoration. I used glittery silver flameless candles from Party City to put inside them because I didn’t think it was a good idea to have open flames in a rental.

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These paper stars look like snowflakes and came from Target’s Christmas clearance ($4 for the large, $2 for the small.) Plus, they fold completely flat! I got a variety of balloons from Amazon and had them filled at Party City the day of the party.

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I made my own ballon weights using these cute tins from Target. I filled them with a rice, bean, and lentil mixture left over from the centerpieces from my dad’s birthday party, and then hot glued cotton balls to a piece of cardboard to make a lid. I got the burlap lace ribbon on Christmas clearance at Michaels and made the snowflake embellishment using card stock and my Cricut.

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I also got these snowflake ornaments on clearance at Michaels, and it just so happened the apartment had a tree to hang them on!

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I had known the apartment had a ton of windows, so I purchased a couple packs of suction cup hooks from the 99 Cent Store and hung paper snowflakes (Michaels clearance) using burlap twine.

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I’ve bought clay cake toppers for all of Qwynn’s birthdays and hope to keep up the tradition for years to come! This one came from the Etsy shop Hand Crafted Critters by Carly. She does amazing work and they are completely customizable!

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I bought the favor bags at Michaels (Christmas Clearance once again!) and filled them with winter-themed goodies I found on Amazon and yummy Annie’s fruit snacks.

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Overall, I couldn’t have been happier with how Qwynn’s party turned out and I look forward to creating even more magical parties in the future!

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Valerie Anne

DIY Horsey Cupcake with Stars

The very first time I asked Qwynn what she wanted to be for Halloween she excitedly said “A cupcake!” I instantly googled “homemade toddler cupcake costume” and was thrilled with all of the ideas I was seeing. I couldn’t wait to put this together!

Then the inevitable happened. A couple weeks later, Qwynn changed her mind. Toddlers! She wanted to be a pumpkin. BummerI was really looking forward to making a cupcake. Luckily, I was able to convince her to be a pumpkin cupcake. Easy enough, right? But the next week Qwynn changed her mind again. Really? She wanted to be a horse. Really??? So, I suggested a horse cupcake, and the last week before Halloween she added the stars.

And this is how the Horsey Cupcake with Stars was born! 

I originally wanted to use a lamp shade for the cupcake liner, but it was harder to find one than I had originally anticipated (especially since I didn’t want to spend a lot of money). Eventually I found this idea, and with a few tweaks here and there, I was able to make an amazing cupcake costume!

A round laundry basket would’ve been way too big for a toddler, but I was able to find a good sized bucket at DEALS for just $1. I grabbed two of them in case I messed up on the first one. I also found the modern patterned contact paper there for just $2 and thought it would be a sturdier option than wrapping paper (Qwynn falls down a lot!).

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I cut the bottom of the tub out using a utility knife and scissors. Then I covered the rough edges with strips of the contact paper and reinforced it with strong packing tape.

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I used my Cricut cutting machine to make horse stickers for the cupcake liner. I didn’t want to make a special trip to Michaels to buy sticker paper, so I used large shipping labels instead. Our printer has been out of commission for awhile, so I used brightly colored markers to color the horses.

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I covered poster board in the contact paper to add a little more support, then I attached the horse stickers and folded it accordion-style.

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I bought two pairs of white women’s opaque tights at Target for about $5 each to use for the frosting. Since Tyson hates that we have so many throw pillows on our couches, I decided we could spare one for the stuffing inside. It was the perfect amount! I used hot glue (and a lot of it) to attach the frosting to the top edge of the bucket and the cupcake liner around the bucket.

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For the star sprinkles, I used my Cricut again to cut different sized stars from colored card stock and then hot glued them to the frosting.

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I couldn’t believe how easy this cupcake was to make and how perfect it came together!

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The hat was another story! I had an extra stuffed tight leg, so I turned it into a dollop of frosting and made a candle out of a foam art brush.

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I originally attached the frosting dollop to a headband, but it was too top heavy and wouldn’t stay on Qwynn’s head. I remembered Qwynn had a sun hat that was too floppy for her, so I cut the brim off and hot glued the dollop of frosting to the hat.

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It wasn’t perfect, but with the help of a few clips, it stayed on her head long enough to snap a few pictures.

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That’s one cute cupcake if you ask me!

Valerie Anne