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Friday, September 30, 2011

Old Fashioned Apple Dumplings.... Yummmmmy!

The girls and I were able to visit my folks again this past week while my husband went on yet another one of his business trips (I know... he travels A LOT!), but lucky for us, we still try to have fun nonetheless.

There were many things we enjoyed about visiting my family during the week we were able to spend with them. We had lots of enjoyable times together... playing together, laughing together, fellow-shipping together, and so on.  But one thing we really enjoyed doing this time together was cooking. My grandfather provided us with a large bushel of red apples (I say red generically because I really don't know what type of apples they were). So of course we had to think of something yummy to do with them. After much thought, we decided to make a super delicious batch of old fashioned apple dumplings. Talk about YUM!

My mom, myself, and my nephew, Connor, got in on the action. Ya know that good ole saying, "Too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup... well, in this case dumpling?" That certainly wasn't the case here. We had a great time working together. Let me show you how it's done in our kitchen, folks. You may just want to try this in your own after to you see the results!



Ingredients:

Dough
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
6 tbs ice cold water

Sauce and Insides of Dumplings -
6 large apples (preferably Granny Smith)
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups water
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract




Directions: 


1. Begin making dough for dumplings by combining flour, salt, and shortening. Mix together using pastry blender until pea size or smaller. Mixture will be crumbly.



2. Add water (make sure it's ice cold - this will allow it to hold it's form when shaping over apples later).



3. Shape dough into flattened ball. Place in plastic wrap and refrigerate.



4. Meanwhile, peel and core apples. Set aside.



5. In a small bowl, mix cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Set aside.


6. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into a large rectangle, approx 24x16 inches. Cut into 6 pieces.


7. Place an apple on each pastry square.


8. Cut butter into 8 pieces. Place 1 piece of butter in the opening of each apple; reserve remaining butter for sauce.


9. Divide brown sugar mixture between apples, poking some inside each core opening, and sprinkle the rest around the base and tops of apples.


10. With slightly wet fingertips, bring one corner of the pastry square up to the top of the apple. Then bring the opposite corner to the top and press together. Bring up the two remaining corners, and seal. Slightly pinch the dough at the sides to completely seal in the apple. Repeat with remaining apples. Place in prepared dish.



11. In a saucepan, combine water, white sugar, vanilla extract, and reserved butter. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes or until sugar has dissolved.


12. Carefully pour water mixture over dumplings.


13. Bake in preheated oven for 50-60 minutes.



14. Place each apple dumpling in a dessert bowl, and spoon some sauce over top. Add vanilla ice cream if desired. And ENJOY!






Voila! There you have it, my friends! The most delicious apple dumpling this side of these here parts. If you don't believe me, you definitely have to try them out for yourselves! 


I'd say we made pretty good use of those apples my grandfather gave us. Wouldn't you?! ;)


Oh, and while you are at it, be sure to check out my SIL's blog, Happily Mother After, right here for the details on how to win her very 1st GIVEAWAY! Today's the last day to enter for a chance to win. Good Luck!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Trying Times: Ava's Kidney Update - Part 1

For many of you, this will be the first known knowledge of Ava's current kidney condition. Around mid-October of last year, Ava developed a high-grade fever above 102. After a visit to the pediatrician, the results of the exam revealed a UTI (urinary tract infection). She was prescribed an antibiotic and was soon back to her normal self. However, at that time our pediatrician recommended further testing secondary to the results of the UTI and referred us to a pediatric urologist at Ruby Memorial Hospital. Following our urology exam, we then scheduled (per the urologist's recommendation) a renal ultrasound (this was around February of this year). The results of the exam revealed Stage II Hydronephrosis, which is basically a condition in which urine trapped in the kidney causes it to swell. The cause of the trapped urine was unknown at this point, therefore, yet again, further testing was required. It wasn't until yesterday, September 20, 2011, that we were able to complete the next step of the process. The test Ava was required to undergo was a Renal MAG3 (Mercaptuacetyltriglycine) Scan. This test would allow us to understand more about Ava's hydronephrosis, determine kidney function, and detect an obstruction if present. Before I begin explaining the results of the exam, let me share with you, from a mother's point of view what yesterday was like for us, specifically for our precious little girl.

We arrived at the hospital just before 8:30am and were registered in the Nuclear Medicine department. The four of us (yes, we brought Audrey along - we prefer to have the whole family together as often as we can and especially during trying times) were escorted back to the examination room for the pre-exam procedures. Typically this test does not require anesthesia, but because Ava is under the age of 5, and unable to sit still for the required 45-60 minutes with an IV placement, she was required to be put under. After family history questions were completed and parental permission was given, she was then placed on the exam table for IV administration. This part was so hard for all of us. The nurse attempted placement in her right arm with no success. She then attempted placement in her right hand with no success. Then she called in another nurse, who choose a larger needle to attempt placement in her left arm - finally success. But, we were all in tears at that point. My poor little baby had to be pricked three times before the IV would successfully enter her vein, and during the whole process, she was begging me to help her. Talk about pure torture! And just when I didn't think it could take any more out of us, this next part of the procedure was probably the most emotionally-trying part. When the anesthesiologist began administering the anesthesia, Ava started acting funny and began looking at me as if she didn't recognize me or even know me just before she feel into a deep sleep. My heart literally broke into a million pieces. I understand the effects of the drug. I've even been put under a couple times myself, but seeing my daughter have to go through that right in front of my eyes, is something you can never emotionally prepare yourself for. I was scared for her. So many fears arose inside of me. "What if she never wakes up?" "What if she's never really herself again?" After the one hundredth kiss on her cheek, a consoling hug from the nurse, and a supportive "We'll take good care of her" from the medical team, we were asked to leave. The exam lasted well over an hour. We could only wait and pray.

Once the exam was completed, we were allowed to see her. She was still waking up. The effects of the anesthesia lasted a good while after she awoke. She appeared to be dizzy and clumsy. We were careful to make sure she didn't fall over when she insisted on walking. After the exam, we headed over to the Physicians Office Center for a follow-up appt with her urologist. Our appt was scheduled for 11am... we didn't see him until 1pm! You can imagine how exhausted we were at this point (especially trying to keep a 7 month old baby happy all the while!), but once he began discussing the results, we were thankful to have had the opportunity to see him. According to the doctor, the results of the scan revealed that both kidneys were functioning perfectly. The scan also revealed, however, that while the left kidney is filtering normally, the right is filtering little or nothing at all because it is obstructed. He said that he would have to refer us to a doctor in Pittsburgh, who will have to surgically remove the obstruction.

Everything is starting to make a little more sense now. This obstruction explains why there was very little amniotic fluid in my womb when I was pregnant with Ava. Her body wasn't filtering or possibly creating enough urine. This ultimately led to her being breech and to her Cesarean delivery.

Once we were finally back at home yesterday, and the girls were fed and bathed, they played together as if nothing had changed. I was so thankful to have both our daughters at home safe and sound with their daddy and mommy. Here they are playing so cute together in Audrey's crib.



I know that the Lord is always in control.

I praise God that she had the UTI back in October last year. Without that infection, we would have never known something was structurally and functionally wrong with Ava's kidney. I praise God that there are modern advanced technologies, such as the MAG3, that allow us to discover abnormalities within the body before permanent damage occurs. I praise God that before my little girl was even created, He had a plan for her, and I know that we can only trust in Him to continue to guide us in making the best decisions for our daughter. We can only place our faith in Him to hope for a safe and healthy outcome for her.

Please keep her in your prayers throughout the rest of this journey. She will be scheduled to see the pediatric surgeon in 3 to 4 weeks from now. We'll be required to stay in Pittsburgh for a couple days during this time. At that point, we'll know from there what's next. But from what the doctor here at RMH and from what I've researched on my own, the prognosis from this type of surgery is excellent. They should be able to remove the obstruction and regain normal kidney filtration. We sure are hoping and praying that this will be the case.

I know most of you will agree, that I would gladly give either of my daughters one or both of my kidneys if I could. Our daughters are so very precious to both of us. Being a mother can be so very challenging. It can be so very trying. It can even be heart-breaking. But I wouldn't give up being the mother of these two precious angels for anything in the world!

I'll be sure to post an update on Ava's kidneys when the time comes. Until then, your thoughts and prayers are gladly welcomed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Photo Cards at ThePhotoMommy on ETSY

I'm slowing, but surely, making an effort to expand the variety of my available printable photo cards at my shop, ThePhotoMommy, on Etsy. My recent additions include Birthday and Holiday cards. Here's what's new:








Please check out my shop for all the details!
ALSO, for a limited time, type in the Coupon Code: 10PERCENT at check-out to receive 10% off any of my Etsy products!

ThePhotoMommy

I'd love to know if you're interested in having me create a custom Holiday or Birthday card for you. If so, please contact me via email: ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com to discuss details.


***All listings are for a digital file only. If interested in purchasing a professional quality print of a completed photo card, please contact me via email: ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com for prices and how to obtain the print. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Birthday Girl Invitation on Etsy

Just wanted to show you this cute Birthday Girl Invitation I recently made for my shop on Etsy, ThePhotoMommy. This card can be customized for any child, any age, and with your own special details!
Check it out and let me know what you think!


Had I known how to create personalized photo card invitations before my daughter turned TWO in July, this would have been the card I would have made for her. I'll definitely be sure to make all of her announcements in the future... as well as all of our holiday cards, special occasion thank you cards, and any other personal invitation or announcement.

I'd love to create one just for you! Send me a message at: ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com with your special request or check out the ones I already have available on Etsy.


***All listings are for a digital file only. If interested in purchasing a professional quality print of a completed photo card, please contact me via email: ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com for prices and how to obtain the print. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's Tea Time!

For well over the better part of the year now, my husband and I have become quite the fond drinkers of tea... hot tea that is. Prior to discovering this calming, smooth, and aromatic warm beverage, we were avid coffee drinkers. But, once we began noticing the wonderful effects from just a daily cup of tea in the place of our normal morning beverage, we soon gave up our ritualistic coffee habits and were converted to tea gurus.

I myself currently prefer to have a cup of tea on limited occasion because I'm currently breastfeeding. While there is a vast amount of research that suggests that breast milk contains minute amounts of what mother intakes (when she herself takes in small quantities), I still prefer to remain on the safe side. I don't want Miss Audrey consuming too much, if any, caffeine. But I'll admit that I do occasionally have a very small cup from time to time because it is very tasty and, I find, relaxing.

My husband, on the other hand, prefers a cup of tea every morning to get him going. He may warm up the pot later in the day for an afternoon cup as well. Depending on the day, it's whatever he fancies.

I suppose it's a personal preference to drink tea or coffee (or even both), but here's what we discovered after making the switch:

While a cup of coffee may have made us feel instantly awake after consumption, it soon thereafter left us feeling dehydrated and sometimes more tired than before. Tea, on the other hand, left us feeling awake and revived with little or no "slow feeling" after-effects. We also noticed with tea, that we were less likely to add much, if anything, to it. Maybe a little sugar. Perhaps a tiny pour of milk (like the English prefer to have it). But, with coffee, we generally would add a good size helping of creamer, which can be quite fattening if used repeatedly and in large quantities. Another thing we've found to be true about tea is that because tea generally contains less caffeine than the same size amount of coffee, it isn't as traumatic on our bodies if were to skip having it all together. With coffee we've noticed that if we were to skip having it at a given setting, our bodies (and minds) would not be happy at all - we've experienced headaches (sometimes even migraines), slower reflexes, and nausea. Skipping a cup of tea wasn't quite as traumatizing.

I don't want to dismiss coffee. I actually think it's quite tasty too (especially the flavored coffees at Star Bucks). I was merely explaining why we've found that switching from coffee to tea every morning (or on occasion) has been very beneficial for us.

Tea and Coffee though can both have health benefits when consumed on a regular basis. According to certain research, tea consumption can help build a strong immune system, promote weight loss, lower cholesterol, and reduce risks of heart disease and developing cancer. Coffee can also help fight developing cancer and reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes and strokes. (TheColorofTea.com). 

In the tea vs. coffee debate, while tea contains less caffeine than coffee, it does have more antioxidants, which as we all know is super for our health, like reducing cancers and certain diseases. Tea also offers a wide variety of flavors. Some of our favorite teas include: Chai Tea, English Breakfast Tea, Jasmine Tea, and Peach Tea.

So, with all that being said, I suppose it's just comes down to a matter of preference. I'll probably never give up an occasional Vanilla Mocha Cappuccino from my local Star Bucks, but I'll keep that tea kettle brewing from time to time too.

And check out these chic modern tea cups my husband picked up from the tea shop, Teavana, during his trip to Colorado earlier this week:



These cute little Japanese tea cups are 3 ounce cast iron. 


The tea cups below are also Japanese. They are 6 and 7 ounce porcelain tea cups.

(My favorite of all five is the one you see here on it's side.)


Our girls are also sweet little admirers of tea time. Check out their little collection :)
 (Nana Glover got them this set for Easter earlier this year). 


If you haven't already explored the wonderful world of tea, I highly recommend you do. I think you just might enjoy it!  :)


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More Items On Etsy (Baby Announcements & "Save the Date")

Confession: I've really become addicted to making new items for my shop on Etsy, ThePhotoMommy.

Lately, I've mostly been focusing on making baby announcements. I'm not sure why... It's probably because I find them so irresistibly adorable :)                

Here's a look at the most recent ones I've added to my available collection:
(NOTE: All announcements/invitations are for customized PRINTABLE files only. All items can be customized just for you!)






And as of today, I began creating "Save the Date" announcements. Here's the first one I've added to my shop:


Also available in gold...


I am super excited to make more! And I'm even more excited to be able to show them to you!

Let me know if I can make a custom announcement for you!! -
If you have a special event or memorable occasion coming up soon and need a personalized announcement/invitation made, please contact me! I'd love to create something just for you! Feel free to contact me at ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com.


***All listings are for a digital file only. If interested in purchasing a professional quality print of a completed photo card, please contact me via email: ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com for prices and how to obtain the print. 

Life is Learning

Just another day at the Johnson residence....

The girls and I have had so much fun together this week. We always try to make the most of our time while Daddy is away. We've gone on shopping sprees for Fall clothes and groceries. We've gone on visits to friends' homes. We've played together. We've walked together. We turned up the tunes and danced together. And we've particularly tried to enjoy what's left of our outdoor summer days.

But today, right before the thunder storm appeared at our door, we decided to break out the Play Dough for some creative sculpting fun. (This is one of Ava's favorite things to do!)

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, It's Raining, It's Pouring, Who Says Life has to be Boring?!, Play Dough can be very beneficial for your child's development in very many ways. Being a mother who is a strong advocate of continuous learning (even for myself - I'm always researching!), I always look for ways to encourage my children to learn. And today our Play Dough activity was no exception.

While we were cutting out shapes, we decided to work on learning patterns (I'd like to thank my sister, Brooke, for this creative idea!). We worked on same color single patterns (i.e. heart, heart, heart, etc.) and same color double patterns (i.e. heart, circle, heart, circle, etc). I would prompt Ava by asking her, "What shape comes next?" Single patterns were a piece of cake, but we still have some work to do on the double patterns ;)



We also worked on single patterns of different colors.



And, we worked on shapes of different sizes.



But, for the most part, we just had fun squeezing, cutting, pinching, poking, and punching...





What creative activity does your child enjoy most?! Can you think of ways to turn their favorite activity into a lesson on learning. And remember to keep it fun!


Oh, and I can't leave out Audrey... who also loves to learn! She was napping during our Play Dough session, so here's a cute shot of her just after she woke up....




Monday, September 12, 2011

Baby Announcements on Etsy

I am loving my new Etsy Shop!!

Somewhere in the mist of life - washing dishes, cleaning house, making meals, doing laundry, completing online CEU's for my speech-pathology licensure, caring for my two daughters (while my husband is away for the week!), and everything else - I've had the amazing opportunity to create more products for my new shop! (AND have found time to share it with you!)

Here's what I've created and listed since yesterday:




These listings are for customized PRINTABLE files only. For more details and information, please visit my shop, ThePhotoMommy, and click on my available items.


I already have ideas for new products and can't wait to show them to you! So, please stay tuned :)


(Please send any thoughts or suggestions to ThePhotoMommy@gmail.com. Thanks!)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My New Shop On Etsy!

I've been an avid shopper of Etsy products for several years now. I love all the vintage and handmade products Etsy offers. Last month I actually decided to create a unique shop of my own called,

At my shop I offer Photo Touch-Ups (Basic and Ultimate) that include, but are not limited to:
basic adjustments of color, contrast, & brightness, removal of blemishes or dark circles, adding text, cropping, or other details.




I currently also offer a Custom Photo Collage. Do you have several photos from a special occasion or just a bunch of pictures of your cutie pie making silly faces?! Then you should definitely check out this listing. It's perfect for grouping all of your images into one gorgeous photo! Special words can be added for a personalized touch, and these make great gifts!





Stayed Tuned: My future products include holiday and greeting cards, birth announcements, birthday cards, and thank you notes. 

I'd love to know what you think!!! Commit or email me (breena08@gmail.com) on suggestions you have for future product ideas and on ways I can make my products more appealing to you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An apple a day

One thing you should know about me, if you don't already, is that I love to cook. I love to bake. I love to eat. But getting to do these things, even eating, can sometimes, well most times, be very challenging. So, I've learned to sneak it in when I can and make the most of it when possible. Like today, for example. I have been planning to make homemade applesauce (especially for my 6 month old daughter, Audrey, particularly because homemade baby food is very healthy and for the most part tastier than store bought) for quite some time, and today I made it happen while the girls "helped" with the process. Ava was happy to eat the pieces of apple I wasn't planning on using in the dish ;)  and Audrey "sang" to me from her jumper... she knows exactly what I like to hear when I'm cooking ;) I think my girls will make excellent chefs one day... you can never begin introducing the culinary arts to soon!

So, let me share with you what the girls and I were able to happily give our tummies this morning. You might even want to try it yourselves!



Homemade applesauce (the way my momma taught me!)

Ingredients:
4 or 5 gala apples
2 or 3 granny smith apples
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar

Directions:
1. Peel and slice apples. Place sliced apples in pot of water during this step (I do this to reduce enzymatic browning).


2. Drain apples until approximately a 1/4 of cup of water remains.
3. Cook apples until soft.
4. Using a strainer (or perforated spoon), transfer apples from pot to food processor.



5. Add sugar and blend until smooth. (Note: Leave apples sugar free if making for baby. Also, add water from pot to adjust for proper consistency for baby if needed, and re-blend).
6. Transfer to bowl and enjoy. (Optional: sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving).

Note: If saving and freezing sugar free applesauce for baby, place applesauce in ice tray and cover with plastic wrap, allow to cool, place tray in freezer for at least 24 hours or until completely frozen, place each cube in individual freezer bags, label with date and type of food (we don't want to mix these up with pears or squash!), and place back in freezer. Applesauce will keep in freezer for up to 3 months.


The girls and I were most thrilled with our results. Ava actually ask for two helpings!!! Anyone who knows her, knows that she doesn't eat much EVER! (She actually sometimes refuses to eat, but that's a completely different discussion entirely that perhaps one day I'll share with you)! I actually almost fell over. I guess it's just that good :)




We'll be working on this for several days to come. We plan on keeping the doctor away... at least for now ;)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dear Blogger, Oh How I've Missed You!

I must admit it certainly has been quite a while since I've had an opportunity to write a new post. Between having an unexpected surgery, dealing with the recovery while caring for two babies, just plain caring for two babies, traveling, and well just life in general, I hope you can sympathize and be understanding as to why it has been so very long. I won't go into detail about my surgery because it's more of a personal matter, but rest assured, all is well, and I'm practically back to my normal self! I will confess though that I have missed writing. It sure is good to be back :)

Last week my husband had the fortunate opportunity of traveling to the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas to be exact, for work. The girls and I debated about whether we should go with him because if you remember from one of my other posts I mentioned that we did go with him to Oahu last year, but after careful decision, we decided it would be best if he went alone. My husband is a fish out of water, for those of you who don't know him. He grew up in Merritt Island, Florida, practically living in the water. There really isn't a water sport or activity my husband hasn't tried or mastered whether it be wind surfing, fishing, sailing, wake boarding, etc. He's pretty incredible... and I'm not just saying that because I'm his wife ;) So, you can imagine how thrilled he was to hear of his trip south. He was particularly excited about having the chance to go sailing, and I'm so happy that he was able to find time during his hectic work week to finally have the opportunity to take an IC24 (a racing sailboat) out on the last day of his trip. He had a beautiful 3 hour ride with perfect conditions. He was in his element. Of course, while he was telling me all about his glorious expedition, he was sure to say how he had wished I could have been there with him. One thing my husband and I love about each other is being together, sharing in all of our adventures together. Perhaps next year if he gets sent on another exotic journey for work, he might be so lucky as to have his wife accompany him for even more exciting adventures... and this time, with his favorite partner ;)

 The view from Jeremiah's room. I'd say it's perfect! 


 Jeremiah's view from his sailboat. Simply breathtaking.


An aerial view of the Islands. 


So, what did the girls and I do last week while my husband was soaking up the southern sun and swimming with the fishies, you ask? We were enjoying more family time in the mountains of West Virginia... Pendleton County to be exact. I wasn't quite ready to brave the week alone with the girls at our house so soon after surgery, so we headed back to my folks' for the entire week. The girls loved it, especially Ava. She was again able to play with her cousins, Trey and Connor. Even Audrey enjoyed watching the children play. I have to agree that watching them together is quite entertaining... well, usually that is. Sure there's bound to be some disagreements and likely someone's bound to get hurt, but isn't that part of growing up?! Check out these precious pics of the children and be sure to notice the scrapes and bruises that come along with just being a kid.










Jeremiah has several trips coming up in the next couple of months. We may consider going with him on one or two of them, but whatever we decide to do, we'll be sure to have a good time! And hopefully life will allow a little bit of time for me to share our journey with you!
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