Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Recipe & Gadget of the Week: Cheesy Pork Chops with Spicy Apples + Apple Peeler/corer/slicer

Recipe of the Week: Cheesy Pork Chops with Spicy Apples

This week's recipe comes to you from my favorite recipe site, Allrecipes. I found this one last week when looking for something to do with limited ingredients that I had in the frig/freezer. The combination of flavors sounds really strange, but it's surprisingly delicious, AND easy! The recipe says to grill the pork chops, however, I'm not so savvy with the grill (I leave that to my grilling and smoking expert husband), so I used a grill pan, which still worked great. Also, that way I didn't have to worry about any onions or apples falling through the grill. Give it a try...it's worth it!



  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 pork chops
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 slices extra sharp Cheddar cheese


  1. Prepare a grill for high heat.
  2. While the grill heats, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until soft. Season with red pepper flakes then add the sliced apple. Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until apples are soft and golden.
  3. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Spoon the onions and apples on top of the chops, and top with a slice of Cheddar cheese. Cover the grill, and cook for about 3 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling.
Kitchen Gadget of the Week: Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer

Pinzon Apple and Potato Peeler, Corer, and SlicerApple Peeler/Corer/SlicerThe Apple Machine- Peeler, Corer and Slicer with 2 BasesApple Master Apple Peeler, Corer, and Slicer, Colors VaryThis gadget will make the coring and slicing of your apple for the above recipe take mere seconds. There are many different brands, as you can see above, but they all basically do the same thing.  Stab your apple with the prongs on the end of the corkscrew-like post, then crank the handle.  As your apple spins, it will be spiral cut, peeled, and cored all at the same time.  This thing is awesome if you like to make apple pies, apple crisp, muffins, etc. and don't want to spend your whole weekend hunched over the garbage can peeling apples.  It also works for potatoes, although it works best with a more uniformly shaped piece of produce like an apple.  It's not exactly an appliance you'd like sitting on your counter top on display, as it's form is entirely dictated by it's function.  But, when it comes to saving time, you won't care how ugly the thing is!

Friday, April 23, 2010

ID Mommy Projects: Crochet; it's not just for Grandmas!

I am excited that I just finished making this cute crochet "pond friends" stacking toy for my baby boy. (he has a bug themed nursery)  The pattern is available for free from Lion Brand Yarn.  I've made several of their free patterns.  They really have quite a selection of great projects!

I really enjoy crocheting...it's an easy thing to take with you on a plane trip or car ride, and a relaxing way to past time while creating something original. You don't even need to be an artist to create something beautiful with crochet...you just need to learn some stitches.

Ever since I watched my mom make a beautiful afghan for my first son a few years ago, using bright colors and a variation of blocks from Jan Eaton's "200 Crochet Blocks" book, I was inspired to learn to crochet.  I bought the same book, which has a few pages of instructions to get started, and taught myself how to crochet with it.  I didn't see myself having the patience to create a king sized afghan with one repeating stitch in one color, so this book was a great way to keep my interest while learning all kinds of stitches.  Being able to reach completion quickly with each square, rather than one continuous piece, helped me feel as though I was accomplishing things quickly and made the goal of a whole afghan seem less daunting.  Also, the ability to switch up with different blocks helped keep me from getting bored with one color or pattern.

Once I mastered 2-dimensional objects like afghans, I went on to try 3-dimensional objects, such as amigurumi toysThe Lion Brand website has many great, simple amigurumi toy patterns to get you started, and they really aren't as hard as you may think.  I really enjoy making these the most, being a 3-dimensional industrial designer. After making a few toys, I was able to start understanding how to create various basic 3D shapes, enabling me to start designing my own toys.

The first toy that I made up as I went was an Olivia the Pig toy for my niece who is also named Olivia.  I wanted to buy her one for Christmas to go along with an Olivia book I had gotten her, but with no luck finding one I liked, I decided to try making one.  I wish I had written down what I was doing as I went, as I've had a few people suggest that I make a pattern to sell for this (...although I'm not sure I could sell a copyrighted character pattern).  So, after that, I began jotting down what I was doing and I created a robot and a space ship for my son, which are now my first patterns available online.

Crochet items make great gifts.  I've made everything from toys and afghans for friends and family's babies, an afghan for a wedding gift, to a Dairy Queen Blizzard cozy for my Dad. One of my favorite things to make for baby showers are these cute bunny blankies. I even modified this pattern slightly, to create a monkey blankie for a friend's baby. There's just something about hand made gifts that you can't get from a store!

If you're into crochet, I suggest that you check out Ravelry, an online community for people who love to knit and crochet.  It's a little cumbersome to get started as you have to ask to join and then wait to receive an email invitation, and have to sign up for a Flickr account to post photos of your project.  But, once you get going, it's a great place to archive all of your projects, share with other crocheters, sell your own patterns, and find endless patterns and projects to create!  If you find yourself there, look me up and we can be friends!  ;-)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Childhood Comfort Items: Send Me Your Photos!

So about an hour ago, my 3-month-old started getting cranky and showing signs of needing a nap.  I took him down to his bassinet, only to find it occupied by my 2-year-old's favorite comfort item: "Puppy."  How on earth could I possibly disturb Puppy, who had been so very lovingly tucked into bed with a throw pillow under his head and humidifier turned on?  I just couldn't do it...baby napped upstairs in his crib instead.

I can't tell you how many cute photos I have of Sammy and his Puppy, a blankie-slash-stuffed animal hybrid.  This recent moment reminded me that for quite some time now I've been wanting to compile a photo book of friends and family's own security items.  Wouldn't that make the cutest coffee table book?  I'm picturing photos of little kids sucking their thumb while cuddling their favorite stuffed animal, chewing on the corner of a ratty blanket, or in Sammy's case, dipping Puppy's nose into his cereal bowl to feed him some breakfast. 

I would absolutely love it if you would be a part of this little project!  My plan is really just to make a little book because I haven't seen any out there like this and think it would be fun to have.  I would likely self publish it like I have with my face painting books, and anyone who has submitted a photo for the book would have the opportunity to order however many you want at just the cost to print it.

Are you willing to send me a photo?  Your photo would have to be of a decent size, resolution, and clarity to print well, but I can do some Photoshop editing if needed as well.  If you are willing to send me a photo of yourself, your child, and anyone you know with their "lovey," or even just a photo of the security item by itself, that would be awesome!!  It doesn't have to be clean and washed and sparkling.  The more "loved" it looks, the better.  Photos can be emailed to gretchen(at)gretchenfleener(dot)com.  Please include the object's name if it has one (ie, "blankie"), the child's name (first name only, if you're willing to share) and feel free to share any fond memories or other adventures you've had with the item.  (Keep in mind that by sending me your photo, you are giving me permission to print it in this little project and publish it!)  Don't have a photo but you want to share a memory or story?  That's great too...just shoot me an email!

I can't say how long it will take to complete, as that will depend on how many people participate and how quickly you all get me your pictures, but if I can get enough photos/stories to make this a decent size book, I think it would be a really fun way to immortalize your "loveys" and share them with the world! I will keep you all posted on this project's process through my blog, and maybe even share some photos along the way!  Thanks in advance for your participation in this mission to "immortalize the blankie" and help their stories live on beyond the thumb sucking years! :-)

Product Review: Boon Grass Drying Rack

Boon Grass Countertop Drying Rack, Green/WhiteHappy Earth Day! I thought I'd review a "earthy" product today, the Grass Countertop Drying Rack by Boon.

After posting this drying rack as one of my "Fun Friday Finds," I saw it at my local Target for just $15.  With a $15 gift card in my purse, I couldn't resist. I absolutely LOVE this drying rack.  Up until now, I've considered every drying rack I've tried to be a bulky, hard-to-clean eyesore.  However, replacing my other drying rack(s) with this one has turned a necessary evil into a piece of modern countertop decor.

What I love about this is that, unlike many "cute" baby products, it is as functional as it is cool-looking.  When it's empty, it looks cool on my counter.  When it's full, it still looks cool and works great.  It can't get much easier to use...simply stick your wet items into the blades of grass.  There are no little pegs to balance your bottle parts on...anything can go anywhere and fit just as well.  The overall design is shallow in it's profile, so it takes up little space when in storage, and doesn't need to go through a major tear-down process to fit it in your dishwasher.  The grass is one piece that simply sits in the white tray, and both can be tossed in the dishwasher.  Quite frankly, I think it is brilliant in it's simplicity, functionality, and aesthetics.  I would categorize it as one of those "why didn't I think of that" ideas.

I'm in the process of selling my home right now, and while I need to keep it spotless for showings, I actually like to leave this on the counter because it just looks so dang cool.  If I had no kids and saw this on someone's counter, I'd think it was a decoration.  So if you're looking for a great drying rack, this one is worth every penny!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Just Between Friends Sale

Hey there fellow Minnesota Mommies, this post is for you!  Just wanted to let you all know that there is a "Just Between Friends" sale going on today through Saturday at Southdale Center in Edina!  Just Between Friends is a company that holds consignment sales throughout the US, where you can get some great deals on used baby and kid stuff, and can also sell your old stuff. 

While I've found that I don't get as good of deals as I normally do garage saleing, I have come across a few good finds at these sales.  You just have to be willing to hunt, which for me, is half the fun. They sometimes have you print a coupon online to get in, telling you they'll charge you $2 otherwise to get in.  However, every time I've gone with my coupon, they've either not asked for them at all, or I've seen them let everyone in for "free" with or without one.  But, what I do like about their sales is that they are very organized by age, gender, and type of product.  So, if there is a specific item you're looking for, like I was when I went to the last one looking for a diaper bag, it's pretty easy to get in and out and find what you need!

Click here for all the details on the Edina sale, or go here to find one in your city/state!  And if you attend, feel free to come back here to comment on what you thought, and if you found anything good!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Baby Pictures: Documenting Your Child's Growth

Wow, I can't believe my littlest one is 3 months old this week!

I've always taken photos of both boys each week with a sign showing their age.  This is a great way to document your little one's growth, and not have to wonder when that photo was taken, if your pictures end up mixed up in a box and you forgot to write on the backs.  (or in this day and age, digitally dumped into an unorganized folder in your computer!)

Of course, I got this from my mom, who did the same thing for all three of us kids growing up!  It's fun to go back and see where the growth spurts were, and to compare my two boys at the same age to see their similarities and differences! 

Do you have any photo taking rituals with your kids? I know some people like to take a photo each week with a toy or stuffed animal, which helps show baby's scale in relation to something that doesn't change.  When our dog was a puppy we took a photo each month of him sitting in my lap, until he was so big you could barely see me!  ;-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fun Friday Finds

TGIF!  Here are some more fun things I've found on the web throughout the week for your viewing pleasure!  :-)

It's a buyer's market, even for goldfish.  Now your fish can upgrade to a classy desktop condo! Available for $25 at Unica Home. (via my friend Emi)

I'm a sucker for wood toys, so I got excited when I saw these cool wooden extinct animals by Josh Finkle. (via Inhabitots)

I just loved this cool shower curtain tutorial from Design Sponge.  What a cool way to use up some scrap fabric or recycle some funky old vintage fabric!

Here's a good idea from Parent Hacks, to turn those department store clothes hangers into winter hat and mitten holders!

As a designer I love everything on Design Mom, a blog I just recently came across.  But, I'll try to pick just one post to mooch off of this week...this is a super cool idea to hand make toys and spread the love by leaving them out in public for people to take...I totally want to do this!  Maybe I can crochet something...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Get Your Free Starbucks Tomorrow!

If you bring in a re-useable coffee mug to your local Starbucks this Thursday the 15th, they'll fill 'er up for free!

I always get a kick out of products that look like they are made out of one material but are actually something totally different. Here are a few coffee mugs that do just that...

Like this cool porcelain travel cup that looks like a paper cup, just in case you'd like to be earth friendly but still "fit in" with the not-so-earth-friendly majority.

DCI I Am Not a Paper Cup 10-Ounce Porcelain Travel Cup with Lid

I like this one too, which I've seen at Bed Bath & Beyond as well.  It has the little sleeve around the outside too, and it's plastic so you don't have to worry about it breaking. (and BPA free too, of course!)

Copco Acadia 16-Ounce Reusable To-Go Mug

The Eco Cup is pretty cool looking too! This one is ceramic with a silicone sleeve.

Eco Coffee Cup

If you've spent any time in New York City, you've no doubt seen the paper cup versions of this ceramic cup:
Exceptionlab Inc. 10-Ounce Ceramic Cup

Pregnant? Whether you're trying to make a statement that a little bit of caffiene during pregnancy is okay, or that you are having hot chocolate or decaf for the next 9 months, this is a funny mug for you...

Maternity Coffee Mug Pregnancy Model

So whatever you drink out of, be sure to bring it on by your local Starbucks for a free cup-o-joe this Thursday and help kick off your tax day with a little caffeine!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

MOMtrepreneur: Julissa Hanson & TuTu Sassy

I have been lining up some email interviews with several creative and ambitious moms I know who have started their own business, and hope to share many of them with you in the months ahead.  I think it will give many moms inspiration to start their own thing, and help those of us who already have our own businesses to connect with fellow "MOMtrepreneurs!"

I am super excited to post my first interview today with Julissa Hanson of Bismarck, North Dakota!  Her and her friend Nicole Elliott not only are busy mothering their 5 kids (Julissa has 3 kids: Bryanna(13) Isabel (9) and Xander (2), and Nicole has 2 kids, Aniah (3) and Tahlia (1), but they both have their own businesses, and have also teamed up to start a second side business for each of them, "TuTu Sassy," turning their tu-tu making and photography skills into a business that provides super fun, girlie birthday parties!

What did you do before becoming a Work-at-home mom?
I run an in home daycare and Nicole owns her own photography business.  Tutu sassy is a side business for both of us.

What was the final “push” that got you to take the dive into starting your business full time?
We had both been looking for something that we could make and sell at craft shows and other events.  Nicole made a tutu for her infant daughter and the light bulb came on.  We ordered material and started making.  We have spent time brainstorming how we can grow and sell even more, that is how we came up with the tutu sassy birthday parties.

What skills or education from your background do you think help you the most in your success as an entrepreneur? 
I have my bachelors in elementary education, which is not conducive to selling tutus. I am however, a mom and that goes a long way.  I have two girls so I know what they like and how they have fun. I did work retail in college so I have some experience in that area.  Nicole worked sales and customer service for a health spa before she had her kids.  She is great at sales and we have strengths and weaknesses that compliment each other.
What new things have you learned since becoming a business owner?
Registering our own business with the state and and getting our tax id number for sales was something we knew nothing about.  we actually know quite a bit about becoming a legal business now.

What’s the most challenging part about being a Mom + business owner for you?
When your business work has to get done, sometimes the house suffers.  It is hard to feel exhausted and have to make supper and tend to your family.  We just keep in mind that the outcome will outweigh the days of struggle.  We try to prepare our homes ahead of time when we know we will be busy, but of course as all moms know a home can go south quickly. 

How would you define “success” for yourself and/or your business?  
We are so new at this point that all sales seem like success. The day our website launched we felt like a success, our first few online sales made us feel on top of the world.  When you are running a new business, it is so important to feel achievement in everyday successes.  It takes a lot of money going out with not much coming in at first so we have to take a mental victory lap with our small sales.  When we attend large fairs this summer we will really be excited.

What advice would you give a new mom looking to start a business from home?
Take it slow, spend time researching and know what your business plan is before you dive in.  Next, prepare your family.  No mom wants to feel like she spent a day at home with her child and hardly paid attention to them.   Time management is key.  If you are a motivated person you can easily work for hours trying to achieve your goal.  We make sure that part of that goal is tending to our families.

THANK YOU Julissa for sharing about your business and life as a work-from-home mom!  If you are a MOMtrepreneur yourself or know any fellow moms who have their own business and would like to be featured on IDMommy.com, please feel free to comment or contact me!  

Monday, April 12, 2010

Baby Registry: What I Wish I Knew Before I Registered

It's such a daunting task to register for baby stuff.  It's super fun, of course, to imagine your new little baby wearing those teeny tiny clothes and splashing in the tub with those cute toys!!  But, when you're very pregnant, spending hours walking around every aisle in the store can be exhausting.

When I was pregnant my husband and I had been married already for 8 years, long enough for me to know that there was no point in dragging him around the store with me to look at cute wittle baby things.  I went to Babies-r-us myself to get started, and then did a lot more tweaking of my list from my computer later.  If you do Babies-r-us like I did, and probably most new moms do, you can check out parents' reviews of the products on their site.  Reading the reviews on stuff I had scanned was really helpful and made me change my mind on certain items more than once.  So, make sure to read up, especially on big purchases, to get the most out of your registry.

Here are a few more things that I learned throughout my past couple years of motherhood that I think would have been helpful to know when I was registering.... (I apologize if you just see links rather than product images below...having some trouble with my Amazon links lately!)


Trumpette Johnny's Sneaker Socks - Brights - 0-12 MonthsGerber Brand 4 Pack Organic Onesies, White, 0-3 MonthsTrumpette Mary Jane Box Set - Pastels 0-12 Months Other than some sleepers (see below) , onesies, and socks, You really don't need to register for clothes.  Nobody can resist picking out adorable miniature clothes for your little dolly, and believe me, they won't. You'll get plenty of adorable clothes without having to pick them out yourself.  Plus, it's really hard to find a specific listed outfit when shopping on a registry.  So, be sure to at least register for a few packs of the essential onesies and socks...let your friends and family have the fun of picking out cute clothes and surprising you!  The only socks I've found that stay on, or at least stay on the longest, are the cute Trumpette ones.  Baby Gap also has some good socks that are extra long, going up over baby's calves, which also stay on nicely.  The others you'll find you're constantly putting back on or losing while out and about.

Gino Giovanni Black Formal Baby Suit Size Small 3-6 Month (Small)Under The Nile Poplin Bubble Dress with Bloomer, White, 0 - 3 Months

Don't stock up on every size of pacifier just yet...your baby may not even like them.  Register for one or two of the smallest size, and see if baby likes them before buying a bunch.

NUK Classic Silicone BPA Free Fashion Pacifier, Size 1, 2 Pack, Colors May VaryNUK Silicone Animal Faces BPA Free Pacifier, Size 2, 2 Pack, Colors May Vary The First Years Newborn Pacifiers - 2 Pack

You of course want to pick out the cutest, snuggliest sleepers for your baby, and if they make him or her look like a little teddy bear with fuzzy ears or paws on the feet, all the better.  It's so fun to dress up your baby all cute.  However, in the middle of the night when you're getting up again and again to nurse and change diaper after diaper, believe me, you'll really appreciate convenience over looks at this point! So, you definitely will want to register for zippered pajamas rather than snaps.  If you want to go SUPER easy for middle-of-the-night diaper changes, the little baby gowns with just an elastic hole in the bottom work great. Absolutely NO hand-eye coordination involved!

Luvable Friends 3-Pack Zippered Sleep N Play Pajamas, Blue 6-9 MonthsLuvable Friends 3-Pack Zippered Sleep N Play Pajamas, Pink 3-6 Months Hudson Baby Infant Gowns 2-Pack - Little Doggie Blue, 0-6 months3-Pack Rib Knit Infant Gowns, Yellow, 0-3 monthsBaby Bambu Natural Sleeping Gown - Blue, 0-3 MonthsGerber Brand 2 Pack Placket Front Gown, 0-6 Month, Girl 2009

When I was first pregnant, I got so many cute sleepers at garage sales and at my baby showers.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVED dressing up my little man in every adorable outfit I could during the day.  But, in the end, I always found myself first digging through the drawers for the zippered pajamas or the gowns as my first choice for bedtime!

Receiving Blankets

The receiving blankets you typically see in stores are just not big enough to get your baby in a good, snug swaddle.  The ones you get at the hospital are the BEST.  They seem to be just the perfect size and thickness, and they're all soft and worn in.  My big sister, who was one child ahead of me when I was first pregnant, knew better.  So, she got me a set of the Amy Coe blankets.  These are the only ones I've seen so far that are the same size as the hospital ones, and they also have cool modern patterns.
Amy Coe Pink Simply Swirl Flannel Blankets - Set of 3Kidsline Amy Coe Zoo Baby Receiving Blankets - Set of 3


LifeSource UT-302 Instant-Read Digital Ear ThermometerMabis Healthcare Instant Ear Thermometer, White
It really is totally worth the extra money to get one of those instant ear thermometers.  Sure, they have underarm thermometers and even thermometers shaped like a pacifier.  These are all fine and cute and seem comfortable for baby, but they are not as accurate.  Believe me, when your little one is burning up in the middle of the night, you will want to know EXACTLY how high their temperature is.  You can purchase the same instant digital ear thermometers that your pediatrician uses.

The "free" hospital-issued thermometers are accurate of course, if you take baby's temperature rectally. But, would you be willing to buy a $20-$30 thermometer vs a $10 one to avoid having a lubricated, pointy metal probe shoved up your rear every time you were sick?  Um, yeah, I think I'd pay more than $10 for every time my temperature had to be taken to avoid that.  Isn't your baby going through enough already by being sick?!  Sure, they give you nice, illustrated instructions of how to hold baby still while taking their temperature for a minute...

Okay, now I know you may be pregnant with your first child and may not have done this before, but I highly doubt you are naive enough to think that both parties involved will look as calm and peaceful as they do in this illustration.  I'd say in a realistic illustration, baby would be a blur from wiggling and screaming, while Mommy would be in tears for having to subject her sick baby to a rectal thermometer.

Save yourself and your baby a lot of stress and discomfort and just get a decent instant ear thermometer.  It's one of the few items I own that I am so glad I bought every time I use it!  With my 2-year old, I call it the "temperature phone."  Whenever I get it out, he wants to put it up to his ear and talk on it...and I have his accurate temperature before he can say "hello...blah blah..bye bye!"

Nasal Aspirators
The First Years Arc Hospital-Style Nasal AspiratorGee...I guess those medical professionals who work with babies all day must know a thing or two after all because, like the receiving blankets, the aspirators in stores (like shown at left) don't work nearly as good as the blue one you'll get from the hospital.   I haven't tried the electronic ones so I can't comment on those.  But, I can tell you it's not worth buying one unless you want a spare and can find the same kind you get at the hospital.

Diaper Disposal
Diaper Genie II Refills - Pack of 3Diaper Genie II Pail SystemThe Diaper Genie is probably the best one out there for odor control.  I use cloth diapers but like to still use disposables for those first couple months when you can barely keep up with all the diaper changes.  The only problem with the Diaper Genie is that the cost of refills can really add up.  At $5-$6 per refill, you can go through several per month when your baby is little.  Then as they get bigger and their diapers get bigger, you can fit less diapers in the bag before it fills up.

What I've been doing now with my 2nd baby is keeping a grocery bag by the changing table, where I toss in wet diapers and using the Genie just for the really stinky ones, mainly from my 2-yr-old.  The good thing about babies' diapers when they are little is that the poopy ones don't really stink that bad either, until they start getting into solid foods.  So, you could save a lot of money just using a waste basket or grocery bag for the first few months and emptying it often!

Batteries, Batteries, Batteries!
This is one thing that you may not think to register for while roaming the baby aisles, but if you register at Target or a similar store that also sells these items, be sure to register for a LOT of rechargeable batteries and a charger if you don't already have one.  You will go through so many batteries in the years ahead with your kid's toys, it boggles the mind.  My son's two favorite crib mobiles alone took a whopping 8 D and 2 AA batteries, which ended up needing re-chargeing at least once a week.  You will save a LOT of time and money if you stock up on these now!  I have these Energizer ones with the big "family charger"  (charges all sizes) and I've been happy with them.  They also have a 15 minute charger which I'd love to get.
Energizer Rechargeable 15 Minute ChargerEnergizer NH15BP-4 Rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride AA Battery 4 PackEnergizer Rechargeable AAA Batteries (4-pk.)Energizer CHFC Family Charger

Hopefully some of this info will be helpful to you if you are pregnant with your first...other seasoned mommies, feel free to share your own post-baby revelations with the rest of us too! :-)


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