The Lenten Tree- crafting your way out of cabin fever

After several months of teasing with freezing rain, slush, and an occasional flurry, winter finally arrived in a grand style this past weekend. Now that Christmas is over and spring planting seems so far away (or at least buried under about 2 ft of snow), I turned my attention to a few late winter projects. While I normally don’t blatantly write about my own spiritual life in my posts, I thought my latest idea was fairly versatile and could be of use to anyone who’s looking to share the idea of spring growth with their families (especially with little kids!) Whether or not you observe the season of Lent, I think that my recent arts-n-crafts extravaganza would be a great way to share something as a family during a meal.

When I was growing up, I always saw the months between Christmas and Easter as a really boring, dark time. Frankly, the excitement of Christmas was over, and suddenly we were thrown into several weeks (which seemed to drag on forever…) of giving up chocolate, or jelly beans, or something that seemed absolutely impossible to live without by the third day into Lent. My mom, being the ever-creative teacher tried to redirect our family’s annual 40-day journey into one of growth rather than just repentance. I remember her doing a caterpillar-to-butterfly project with her first grade CCD class every year, and that idea sparked the craft below. I’m eager to test it out in the Kelly house this year, and I will give a full report of how it fared. Brian was pretty intrigued as I was cutting out little foam leaves during Downton Abbey last night, so I think at least 2/3 of the family is on board.

Disclaimer: I’m sure this idea exists somewhere else on the Internet, but all the ideas below came from my own brain, for better or for worse. If you are interested in making one and have difficulty finding supplies or the time to do it, let me know and I can try and help out.

Without further ado, I present to you our family’s first Lenten tree! I was wracking my brain last spring trying to think of ways to explain Lent and the countdown to Easter to a toddler. Advent seems much better suited for little kids, especially when you’ve got candles and a wreath just sitting there on your table each night. I decided to create a tree centerpiece for our dining room for Lent this year where we can add leaves and flowers each day as we get closer to Easter. It helps that with 40 days plus Sundays, the tree will look pretty full by the end.

The Lenten tree, fully-loaded

The Lenten tree, fully-loaded

For the tree itself, I found a yarn-wrapped wire tree at Target last year on clearance after Easter. Just about every craft store sells these throughout the year (especially in spring with Valentine’s Day and Easter). I liked this one because the yarn-wrapped branches will be easier for little hands wanting to help.  Even if you can’t find one, you could probably break off a (very) small branch from your yard. For the leaves, I bought two sheets of green craft foam and cut out little football shapes; I used a pushpin to poke a hole in each leaf so they could be skewered on the branches. For the flowers, I considered cutting out flower shapes from foam (ha!) but instead found bags of pre-cut pastel foam flower stickers from the Dollar Store. (Seriously, I did a little dance for joy when I spotted them). I peeled the backing off two flowers, stuck them together, and bam– instant reusable flowers. As far as numbers go, I cut out 40 leaves, and I have 6 purple flowers, and 1 pink flower. We’ll use leaves for weekdays and the purple flowers for Sundays. For Easter, I plan on switching out the purple flowers for either white or multi-colored ones.

What I am hoping for is that at dinner every night, we’ll add one more leaf to the initially bare tree and share/pray briefly about growth in our lives. With a toddler, I see it more of a visual practice now, but I hope that we can continue doing this as Alexander gets older and he can have a more active part.

While I know that this project might seem a little early for Easter or even a little too involved for a busy schedule, I was able to construct the whole shebang in fewer than 50 minutes. No matter what your beliefs might be, I hope that my slapdash craft idea might inspire you and your family to talk about ways you can grow stronger as individuals and closer as a family.



The First Straw

This morning, we woke up to some odd sounds and shuffling coming from Alexander’s bedroom. When I opened the door to see what was going on, I found I couldn’t open the door fully– because he had emptied his dresser of almost all of its contents. To make matters more…well, powdered, he covered his entire handiwork with a thick coating of baby powder from his diaper station. Lest he be considered messy, he tried to “clean up” by jamming a good deal of clean diapers into all available crevices of his diaper pail. Though we were at a loss for words, he was pretty clear in telling us, “All done night night! Hungry!”

Once again, I find myself wondering where the time went and realizing that months have passed since my last post. I would write something more witty if it wasn’t for the fact that these past few months have been hard. It’s tough enough parenting a toddler full of opinions and energy;  adding in the layers of therapeutic catch-up and development just makes for one cocktail of craziness, shaken AND stirred.

Alexander continues to progress at an incredible rate, though his articulation of his rapidly growing vocabulary is still a challenge. Just tonight during dessert, he pointed to his ice cream spoon and attempted to say “demitasse spoon.” I know, I know, why are we teaching him this?!?! The truth is, as one would expect from any little kid, he’s a sponge for new words and labels. It’s amazing to watch his brain process somewhat complex concepts and start to connect the dots cognitively from idea to idea.

Even with his ambitious cognitive and language progression, we’re still easing him into the world of all things sensory. If you can believe it, it’s taken almost a full year of slow introduction and repeated play for him to enjoy certain textures, like pom poms used for crafting. Last year at this time, he’d maybe stick a finger into a bucket of them in order to quickly extract a hidden toy– it was clear by his face though that he was uncomfortable. Earlier this week, I pulled out the ol’ shoebox of pom poms, a few measuring spoons, and some kitchen tongs to see if we could do a little fine motor skills play. (Plus, the spoons and tongs have allowed him to interact a little more comfortably.) Just for kicks, I grabbed a handful and sprinkled them on my head saying “Sprinkle sprinkle!” Much to my shock, he grabbed a handful and did the same on his own head, laughing hysterically. Words can’t describe my shock and happiness at watching my little boy come to terms with something on his own.

Similarly, we’ve had the same struggle with teaching Alexander how to use a straw. Given his extensive cleft at birth, he never had the opportunity to nurse, hence he never really understood how to create suction. After almost a full year of trying at his pace, he picked up his trainer cup with straw one day last week and started sucking away. The whole process has been incredible frustrating, as his mouth and lip muscles need to be strengthened so he can suck, but then by sucking, they will get stronger for speaking. And trying to explain or demonstrate to a toddler how suction works is as effective as banging your head against a wall repeatedly. Nonetheless, our little guy figured things out, and he’s now loving his newfound universe of silly straws, juice boxes, and fruit pouches.

Even with all the therapeutic work going on through our therapists and our own efforts, we are also enjoying watching Alexander reach milestones of the “typically developing toddler.” (Ha, I love that phrase– as if there’s one toddler out there who sets the curve!) This past weekend, Alexander said goodbye to his crib and enthusiastically cheered for his big kid bed. Though there’s still a fair bit of “wistful reminiscing” for his beloved baby crib (read: naptime howling), he seems to be excited about his growing independence. That combined with his (again) overnight discovery of how to open doors is keeping us on our toes.

Enjoying his big kid bed with his beloved Little Benny and Little Val-tine

Enjoying his big kid bed with his beloved Little Benny and Little Val-tine

While we know that Alexander’s powdery adventures will not be the last of his mischief as he fully embraces the toddler lifestyle, I can’t help but be grateful to see our little boy healthy, happy, and full of life.

Flying Safe

Huzzah! It’s time for a barrage of product reviews here at HSWT. First up is what saved my bacon during our recent trip to New England– the CARES harness. For those of you who suggested this to me, thank you thank you thank you!

The CARES harness is the only FAA-approved toddler harness. While most folks prefer schlepping the car seat (and for good reason), I knew that it just wouldn’t be practical to haul the seat and the kid by myself. Then, there is the real fear factor– the Kicking of the Seatback ™. I had nightmares of my favorite little man kicking wildly in his car seat all the way from Chicago to Rhode Island.

So what is this magical device, you ask? You can get the official details here, but I can summarize it in simple terms. It’s basically an H-style harness that wraps around your plane seat and also connects through the normal lap restraint. What it is NOT is a 5-point harness, so there is nothing that supports the crotch and keeps your kidlet from sliding down and slipping out of the harness.

Pros: This thing is small, lightweight, and even comes with its own carry bag. Alexander loved that it came in a brightly colored bag, and we even tested it out at home. The whole contraption easily fit in my backpack, but it would even fit in a purse! There is a minimum weight requirement (check the website), but I foresee using this until he sizes out. Aside from the whole safety thing, Alexander LOVED it. He could sit next to me like a “big kid,” was able to use his tray table for play/coloring, and there was no way he’d be able to kick the seat in front of him.

Cons: As I mentioned earlier, the lack of crotch-belt caused our little guy a little frustration as he repeatedly slid down in the seat. You also have to attach the gizmo to your seat after boarding the plane, which involves wrapping it around the seat and tucking it under the seat tray behind you. Several flight attendants noticed me doing this and gave me the head nod. I would anticipate having to do this yourself– though they didn’t mention it, I would assume that since it’s a personal device that airline staff can’t actually affix it for you. (However, I was able to do this while wrangling a toddler already next to me in the row) It also retails for around $50, which is a little steep if it’s a one-time use.

The Verdict: Get this now before the makers of this product decide to hike up the price. HSWT was able to score one using a 20% discount at our local baby superstore. The size, the ease of use, and ultimately, our little guy’s happiness and comfort made it a no-brainer.


Don't mind me. I'm just enjoying Sky Mall and earning triple miles for this flight.

Don’t mind me. I’m just enjoying Sky Mall and earning triple miles for this flight.






Carry On



It’s been far too long since HSWT has posted anything related to travel. Well, in several days, all that will change. After our unfortunately mangled autumn travel plans, we were able to reschedule our flights and adventures. Perhaps, more interestingly though, that travel includes me traveling solo with my favorite toddler at a major airport. I repeat, it will be me and Alexander versus the world until we hit baggage claim.

Laugh all you want, but if you’ve ever spent any quality time with a toddler, the thought of navigating an airport (let alone an airplane!) with a toddler is a death-defying feat of bravery. Yes, we’ve traveled with this kid before on a plane, but let’s face it. He was much, much tinier, less vocal, and far less mobile. As in, he could barely sit up on his own. Now he’s all over the place. Consider this a trailer post of some sort– I’m certain that wacky hijinx will ensue as we navigate an airport, attempt to disassemble a stroller at the gate, and board the plane without tantrum (him OR me).  I’ve loaded Alexander’s Mickey backpack with lots of books, snacks, and games; fingers are crossed that he won’t be screaming “All done!” before we’re asked to mind the safety briefing. I did give him a quick peek at the contents just this afternoon, and when we picked up a new book at Target, he requested it for “backpack- airplane!”

HSWT will also be sharing several travel product reviews soon, including the CARES harness, packing cubes, and a travel carseat cover.

Stay tuned as we share our exciting adventures of removing shoes, turning all all electronic devices, and somehow entertaining a toddler above 10,000 ft!








After our very extended hiatus on HSWT, we are now strolling back into autumn, picking our final cherry tomatoes, and drying out every fresh herb we can get our hands on.

Inspecting his wildflower collection

Inspecting his wildflower collection

As a little update on Alexander’s first garden experiment, I can happily report that it has been a smashing success. Though his idea of watering was a few tiny buckets of water and weeding was mostly random fistfuls of plants, Alexander loved being able to romp through the open beds. He’d usually look around the beds, grab a leaf, look at me for approval, then pop it in his mouth. (Of course, immediately following, he’d chew a few times, then make a face and attempt to remove it). He was much more receptive to our cherry and grape tomatoes– though his t-shirts suffered quite a bit from tomato stains from his occasional binges.

The biggest success by far was his “hanging” strawberry gardens using a few shepherd hooks and hanging baskets. Earlier this summer when he was still using mostly signing for food words, he excitedly told me “Mama, strawberries!!” and dragged me over to show me that there were honest-to-goodness strawberries just waiting to be picked (and eaten, of course!) The punchline, of course to this story is that he had strawberries smeared all over his mouth when he told me. Watching him discover planting after planting was so much fun– from his wide eyes at the cucumbers on a trellis to his little “whoa!” when I pulled our first beet, it’s been well worth the effort.  Though he’s been less than thrilled with his random samplings of his swiss chard, I’ve been sneaking snips of it into almost all of our pasta dishes. He has looked at me with his little furrowed brow when I come in from the garden with a handful of chard as if to say “What are you doing with that, mama?”

We unfortunately got caught in a recent airport snafu last weekend, which grounded our big fall travel plans. Rather than mope for the entire planless weekend, we took advantage of our free time and beautiful weather to do a few major harvests of our biggest crops. Alexander “helped” me harvest all of our candy cane beets, which we roasted and all have been enjoying this week. Given his penchant for wanting to help me do everything mixed with an intense desire to touch EVERYTHING in sight, he was the prime candidate for Apprentice Herb Dryer.

Carefully selecting basil leaves for drying

Carefully selecting basil leaves for drying

Why didn’t I think of this earlier? After several rounds of “Mama, help! Help!”, I appointed my new apprentice, handed him a brown paper bag, and demonstrated how to pick herbs. At first, he was a little selective about which leaves, but then he hit our sage bushes like there was no tomorrow. I checked his handiwork, and he graduated to Italian parsley and eventually genovese basil. Every day now, we take turns shaking the aerated bags and giving them a little sniff test. Alexander even dutifully smashed our first round of fully-dried leaves. (He is now my official ziplock crushing concierge– tortilla chips, cookies, herbs, you name it!)

So many nasturtiums, so little time.

So many nasturtiums, so little time.

We’re also beginning to collect seeds for next year’s planting– mostly cosmos and nasturtium. For anyone with young gardeners, nasturtium is a super easy flower to grow (and really, really hard to kill), not to mention that their seeds are HUGE, so if you want to collect and dry them for future years, it’s pretty straight-forward. We’re also starting to pull bachelor button seeds as well.


In summation, Alexander’s first garden was a smashing success. I look forward to watching next year’s crop of asparagus come up, our little guy helping out even more, and enjoying our dried herbs all winter long. While our weekend ended up being a total washout for travel, it resulted in our family realizing what a cornucopia our gardens have been to our little guy this year.



A Thousand Words

As the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I’ve unsuccessfully attempted several posts to encapsulate our summer adventures; I think I’m just going to let the photos speak for themselves this time! It’s been a great summer off for us all, but we’re rested and ready to share updates and our upcoming adventures. Stay tuned to Have Stroller, Will Travel!

One Year


What happened to our tiny boy?

What happened to our tiny boy?

It’s hard to believe, but exactly one year ago, a tiny little boy was placed into our trembling arms. Although we had months of training and plenty of time to do our homework, nothing prepared us for the stoic little face that looked up at us and changed our hearts. Words can’t really explain just how much has changed in our lives during the last year, but we can’t imagine our lives without our handsome, clever son.

Happy Family Day, Alexander Thomas!

How does your garden grow?

We here at HSWT prefer to do our shopping discreetly to avoid causing a media frenzy.

We here at HSWT prefer to do our shopping discreetly to avoid causing a media frenzy.

Mother’s Day weekend at Casa Kelly was filled with everything you might come to expect from our household– multiple trips to multiple home improvement stores, stuffing a tree into our backseat, and hauling enough paver bricks to make us sweat.  As I was swinging a hatchet on Mother’s Day afternoon at a dead elm when other moms were guzzling mimosas at the spa, I couldn’t help but laugh. They say that little girls slowly become their mothers; if there is any truth to that statement, then I am well on my way.  And when I got caught in a huge downpour after planting our brussels sprouts and tomatoes? I was relieved that I didn’t have to water my latest additions to Alexander’s garden– the weather took care of it for me!

For those of you interested in the planting lineup for Alexander’s edible garden thus far, here goes:

  • Bright Lights Swiss Chard: beautifully and colorfully veined greens
  • Nasturtium: peppery-tasting flowers with circular leaves, often added to salads
  • Asparagus: generally takes two years to sprout
  • Italian flat leaf parsley
  • Genovese basil
  • Purple basil
  • Thai basil
  • Jade Cross brussels sprouts
  • Mammoth dill
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Cilantro
  • Dianthus (carnations)
  • Spearmint and Peppermint (in a pot)
  • Lavender
  • Beets (chioggia variety)
  • Spinach
  • Arugula (rocket variety)
  • Mesclun mix of greens

Though the list sounds quite impressive, the garden is mostly looking like a large dirt pile. I did edge the garden with bullet pavers this afternoon (which helps contain the garden soil) but it’s still looking fairly sad. With the spring rains today, I hope to see more of the seeds sprouting.

For those of you reading this and thinking “Yeah right, I don’t have time for this,” I recommend checking out a product called Seed Bombs. I had a box in reserve from a previous stocking stuffer, and Alexander put them to good use this afternoon. They are basically seed mixes combined with a starter/fertilizer into a compact ball. I handed each herb ball to Alexander, and he happily hurled them into his garden. We did some minor watering, but the instructions indicated that even without rain, with time the seeds would sprout. I’ll give a full review on this as things start to grow, but as of now, they were a no-mess hit for my favorite toddler.

Rain won't keep this young gardener down. He's sharpening his skills until the skies clear.

Rain won’t keep this young gardener down. He’s sharpening his skills until the skies clear.

I can’t emphasize enough how much fun this gardening project has been for both myself and Alexander. During a rainy weekday, I watched him take his play gardening gear, his kitchen sink, and some play flowers and set up shop on our coffee table. He “filled” his watering can in his sink, potted up his plastic flowers in a small box, then proceeded to water them with his watering can. Today, after an energetic play session with his water table outside, he took a few cupfuls of water over to his new rosemary plant without any prompting.  It’s a true joy to watch him blossom along with his garden!  Mother’s Day gifts are nice, but watching my son find pleasure in exploring nature is incredible.

Tiny Green Thumbs

After what seems like an incredibly long winter, HSWT has dusted off its wheels, donned its rain canopy, and is strolling headfirst into spring.  Rather than park it in front of my laptop during nap (which is oh-so-tempting), I’ve been schlepping topsoil and mulch for the latest and greatest Kelly landscaping project. Brian continues to cheer me on as I reduce his mowing time with every bag of soil, and this project takes a notable chunk out of our back yard.

I'm pretty sure our neighbors think I'm crazy...

I’m pretty sure our neighbors think I’m crazy…

As we continue to work with Alexander on increasing his sensory tolerance, I had the idea to create a special garden just for him. We decided to expand from our raised beds with mulch walkways and a lower, fenceless  area perfect for toddler exploration. I’ve had great fun researching plants that are completely edible so that Alexander can touch, sniff, and nibble on everything planted.  Even though he was initially skeptical wandering into his new garden, he is warming up to inspecting the tiny swiss chard seedlings and poking his hands into the dirt. Just yesterday, Alexander pulled me over to a large pot of spearmint and peppermint in the corner of his garden. While he poked around the pot, I pulled a leaf, rubbed it a little, and sniffed it in front of him. He took it from me, gave it a sniff, and broke out into a huge smile. After a little more exploration, he toddled over to his rosemary plant (which is not faring so well considering the snow we received after it was planted) and carefully stroked its leaves and sniffed his hand.

Alexander's landscaping service-- he is happy to take payment in the form of puffs and fruit pouches.

Alexander’s landscaping service– he is happy to take payment in the form of puffs and fruit pouches.

While we know that we will need to supervise Alexander in the other facets of our gardens, we really look forward to letting him romp in his new flower, veggie, and herb beds.  I plan to share photos of Alexander’s garden as it evolves from a pile-o-dirt to a lush landscape. The nasturtiums and bright lights variety swiss chard are already poking through. Last night, as we wrangled Alexander inside after an afternoon play session, Brian noted that our little guy had grass stains on his jeans. I couldn’t be more proud.

Postscript- I am always soliciting new ideas of plants to add to Alexander’s garden. We’re hoping to keep it almost entirely edible. Please feel free to comment with ideas– we could use them!




Recently, mealtime at our home is starting to resemble a scene from Oliver Twist.

“More. More, please?” “More hummus.” “More yogurt.” “More omlette.” Just “More.”

Though it is quite exhausting, our son has happily graduated to Real People Food (TM). We were understandably concerned about transitioning our little man from his baby food purees to new textures as soon as we got the green light from our surgeon. Considering all of his food was in liquid form until about a month ago, Alexander has warmed up to table food with incredible ease! We made a few attempts with soft foods during Alexander’s post-surgical healing to see if he would try to self-feed with his hands. His response was usually to try and use his spoon to scoop whatever was on his tray.  We had our nutritionist, occupational therapist, and feeding therapist at the ready, and we counted down the days to a normal family meal.

You can imagine our surprise when a few weeks ago during lunchtime, Alexander looked at the falafal and tabbouleh on my plate– then back to his pureed turkey/sweet potato mash. He pointed his spoon at my plate, and tried saying “More.” At that point, the floodgate was opened. I figured though it was a little early for solids, I’d give the softer foods a try because he was so eager. He immediately ate most of my lunch, and then finished off his. I decided to continue introducing new foods to him, and now he’s expanded his new little palate to everything from eggs benedict to baked tilapia and quinoa.

My compliments to the chef!

My compliments to the chef!

Since then, Alexander has yet to refuse a food. I’m sure a good chunk of his enthusiasm is the result of novelty and sheer excitement of trying new flavors, textures, and smells. It feels rather surreal to sit down to dinner with Brian, Alexander, and I all eating the same thing at the same time. Though we’re still waiting to give him steak (ha!), he devoured almost a quarter of my banzai burger at Red Robin for his birthday dinner.  For those of you who’ve shared a meal with us recently, you’ll attest to the passionate “More!” Alexander conveys, mostly through signing, for more of whatever food we’re willing to share. He enjoyed an entire slice of ice cream cake for his birthday, then longingly looked over at the remainder of my piece. It’s almost comical to watch him– while we don’t want him to get sick from overeating, I have NO IDEA where he’s putting it all. Clearly, this boy is making up for lost time and is in a growth spurt.

As far as feeding himself, Alexander is making great strides in utensil use. He’s able to scoop softer foods from a bowl on his own, and he makes short work of his beloved greek yogurt. We’re still working on him loading his fork, but he’s trying more and more to eat like a big kid. Watching him enthusiastically eating a forkful of salad– and returning it to us empty with the request for “More!” is really exciting.  (In all fairness though, he has tried removing green beans from his fork a number of times and pretending like he’s chewing them, but he’s not very good at hiding them on his tray!) Though I’m sure we’ll have many dining-related challenges ahead, for now, it’s all “food, glorious food” to him!