Kid-Friendly ‘Secret Message’ Thank You Notes

Thank you notes

On a Thanksgiving morning four years ago, I wasn’t cooking the turkey as planned — I was giving birth to a perfect baby boy, a surprising 2 ½ years early.

Obviously, his birthday doesn’t always fall on Thanksgiving, but it’s always going to be close, which has it’s ups and downs (ups and downs I understand well, celebrating my own birthday a week before Christmas).

But this year, I discovered a nifty little upside, from a parenting perspective. His birthday fell two days before Thanksgiving, and we had his birthday party the previous weekend. All of which meant that Thanksgiving morning was the perfect time to set him up with some art supplies to practice his gratitude, in the form of birthday thank you notes, while I cooked.

It was really quite a perfect scene. Daddy slept in after a hard night of last-minute classwork and tests. I chopped veggies in the kitchen. And at the dining room table, Sweet Boy painted and exclaimed in excitement every time the “invisible letters” on these cards “magically appeared.”

Best of all, we were able to hand-deliver most of the thank you notes at dinner, just days after receiving his gifts (probably a record for me)!

Painting in pajamas
Painting in pajamas


White crayon creates messages that "magically appear" under watercolor paints.
White crayon creates messages that “magically appear” under watercolor paints.

Secret Message Thank You Notes

I started with a “super bonus pack” of 50 card stock cards and envelopes from Fred Meyer. I folded them as designed, then on the front of each wrote THANKS in white crayon.

Then, I just set Sweet Boy down with the cards, a cup of water and a set of kids’ watercolor paints.

The paint won’t adhere to the waxy crayon, so when he painted over the words, it created a design on the paper and made the THANKS “magically” appear.

He thought it was awesome that the invisible words showed up out of nowhere, and I thought it was awesome that his painting came out beautifully, no matter how he mixed the colors (and he very much mixed the colors). We ended up with multicolor blocks, rainbows and random swirls. Each card was similar, and yet completely unique.

I had previously noted some of the cutest statements he had made about each present as he played with it, so it took only minutes to write a quick, personalized thank you inside each card, complete with a quote from Sweet Boy.

If we’d had more time, I would have had him sign each card, as he’s practicing writing his name, but we had to get to dinner.

I may even repeat the project — maybe with some snowflakes or stars drawn in the white crayon or a more limited paint palette — for Christmas thank you notes in a few weeks!


Cheesy Cauliflower Bake Recipe

The first thing you should know about my cooking is that I drive my husband crazy in the kitchen. As much as he would like a clear, simple formula for creating a meal, I tend to experiment. A little of this, a little of that. A shortcut here, a fancy technique there.

Which means that when I try a new recipe, I often read five or six versions online — then do my own thing.

Today, in my effort to have a low-carb Thanksgiving due to my gestational diabetes, I tried mashed cauliflower. But not plain mashed cauliflower — more of a cheesy cauliflower bake.

I started with a shortcut. Though most recipes I read said to steam the cauliflower on the stove, I tend to go quick with steamed veggies. I cut up two heads of cauliflower, added a little water to a glass bowl, covered it, and stuck it in the microwave for a while. Six minutes in my microwave makes perfect broccoli, so that’s where I started. But then I realized I wanted the cauliflower more mushy, so I kept going about four more minutes. (HINT: This ultimately wasn’t long enough. Everyone says you can’t overcook the cauliflower, but I discovered you definitely can undercook it.)

I strained all the water out of the cauliflower, added half a brick of cream cheese, then looked for another shortcut. I should have just pulled my awesome Cuisinart food processor out of the cupboard, but I hate washing all the pieces. So I tried the immersion blender another online recipe suggested. Didn’t work at all.

I dumped the cauliflower/cream cheese mixture in my blender. The bottom inch or so started to get creamy, but then the blades just spun uselessly.

I put it all back in the bowl and tried my hand mixer.

Don’t do this! My kitchen, hair and clothes ended up covered in cauliflower flecks.

Finally, I determined that the cauliflower needed to be softer, so I put it all in the microwave for a couple more minutes … then relented and pulled out the food processor. (Yes, instead of saving myself dishes, I quadrupled my work. Oops.)

Perfection. Once the cauliflower was starting to get creamy, I added the rest of the cream cheese, along with some shredded cheddar. When it all looked pretty much like smooth mashed potatoes, I put it in a covered casserole dish, added some more shredded cheddar to the top, and dumped on a couple tablespoons of crumbled bacon.

Then, I stuck it all in the fridge to await the trip to my mother’s house, where I baked it just before we sat down to eat. Success.

Now, I just have to wash that sink full of dishes.


Cheesy Cauliflower Bake
2 heads cauliflower
1 pkg cream cheese (8 oz)
Garlic powder or roasted garlic to taste
1 cup shredded chedddar
2 T (or to taste) real bacon bits

Clean, chop and steam cauliflower until very soft.

Drain cauliflower thoroughly, then place in food processor with half the cream cheese. Mix until cauliflower starts to become smooth and creamy.

Add the rest of the cream cheese, plus the garlic, until you get the consistency you desire.

Mix or stir in half the shredded cheddar.

Put the cauliflower mix into a covered baking dish and top with the rest of the shredded cheddar and the real bacon bites.

Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, covered. Remove the cover for the last 5-10 minutes to brown the cheese.

8 Tips for Thanksgiving with Gestational Diabetes

We may call it Turkey Day, but in truth, Thanksgiving is a celebration of all things carbohydrate.

And if you, like me, are battling gestational diabetes, that’s not a good thing.

I believe that the key to meeting my dietary and blood glucose goals is in planning, though, so the following are a few of my plans (unproven tips-in-advance?) for making it through the day without a major binge or a hunger-induced blowup:

1. Snack on veggies. I’m in charge of the fruit and veggie trays for the family festivities. That gives me a chance to embrace my inner-Pinterest-lover with creative turkey-shaped creations while also ensuring that the appetizer table isn’t all chips and crackers.

2. Load up on protein. Turkey is the centerpiece of the table, and it will be the centerpiece of my plate. Though it’s not my typical style to put meat center-plate, it is during the gestational diabetes adventure. So bring on the tryptophan.

3. Keep portions small. I’m not eschewing all the carbs on the table, but instead of serving-spoonfuls of each, I plan to limit myself to a bite or two of the worst carb offenders: stuffing, cranberry sauce, jello fruit salads and the like.

4. Skip or split the roll. No jam. I’ll ask grandma to make me a whole batch of her delicious uber-white-bread rolls four months from now, but I will not over-do it today.

5. Substitute when possible. Real mashed potatoes are, of course, delicious … and they help fill the plate (especially if everything else comes in bite-sized servings). But they are basically sugar. That’s why I volunteered to bring mashed cauliflower instead. It’s supposed to have all the taste with only a fraction of the carbs!

6. Treat yourself. There’s no giant slice of pumpkin pie topped with ice cream in my future, but there’s no reason I can’t taste a little dessert. A bite or two of a couple of favorite offerings, well after dinner (see next tip) won’t hurt.

7. Wait it out. One of the keys in managing gestational diabetes is spreading out your food over the course of a day. So I’ll eat a modest Thanksgiving dinner at 2 p.m. with the family, hold out a couple hours for my bite or two of dessert, then wait a bit longer and grab some leftovers for dinner. I’ll still get all the yumminess of the holiday — but I bet I’ll feel better than my relatives who stuff themselves.

8. Be reasonable. The danger in gestational diabetes comes in extreme sugar spikes or prolonged high blood sugar — not in rare single incidents. Even the nurse at my doctor’s office condoned my indulgence in a small slice of cake on my son’s birthday. Try to keep your numbers reasonable (I hit the 140s instead of 120 at the birthday party), but don’t panic if they spike a little high one time. So long as you have the willpower to return to a proper schedule on Friday, it will be OK.

Birthday Boy

Preschool Boy

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been four years since that surprising Thanksgiving morning when our son appeared in our lives. Not just because the time has gone so fast, but also because he marked the exact anniversary by wetting the bed at 5:13 this morning.

It took months of trying and praying for us to get pregnant with Dillon, but only now do i really see that that struggle was only the smallest part of the journey. It has been such a challenge and a wonder to watch and help him grow. From a baby who refused to sleep lying down (he had to be propped up in a bouncy chair in his crib for several months) to a toddler who found any slow music heartbreaking to a preschooler who loves nothing quite so much as villains and building booby traps, he has become such an independent and unique little person.

I know that it will be just a blink of an eye before he is going to school, riding his bike to friends’ houses, driving to the movies or heading off to college. It hurts my heart a little, but also is so exciting to imagine who he will be.

This morning, though, as he cuddled in my arms while Daddy changed the sheets, Dillon looked at his arms and legs and wondered if he had grown now that he’s 4. “We’re always growing, so it’s hard to see just because it’s your birthday.” Thank goodness.

Brilliant Gift for a Creative Preschooler

We are blessed to be surrounded — near and far — by people who love our family. And it’s no more evident than at events like Dillon’s recent birthday. My living room is currently heaping with new toys and activities, not one of which he can stop playing with.

But I have to admit, my favorite gift (aside from the castle I bought and may be having even more fun with than Dillon) is the “contraption kit.” When my sister-in-law asked what Dillon wanted for his birthday, I repeated the standard list of his current “loves” — Spiderman, pirates, etc. But I added that he spends most of his time building stuff.

He loves building “structures” out of MegaBloks with his dad. He has created zip lines for his Capt. Hook and Peter Pan action figures to fly on. And several recent mornings have found piles of random toys tied together into “booby traps” in his bedroom.

So how awesome for him to receive a “contraption kit” for his birthday, containing a handful of S-hooks, a small pulley, four small bungie cords, a couple of carabiners and a length of rope. We discussed some safety rules for each (the rope never goes around the neck, the bungie cords will snap fingers if pulled too tight, etc.) and let him go. So far, he’s made snake out of the bungie cords, straightened the rope and seriously contemplated the pulley. I imagine it won’t take long until there are some real booby traps around the house.

Gestational Diabetes Diet

My diagnosis of gestational diabetes came with pretty strict instructions for how to manage the disease with diet and exercise. And so far, I’ve been able to do so.

But it’s not always easy. Each day involves at least four finger-pricks to test my blood glucose levels, as well as a strict schedule of meals and snacks, each with its own limit on the number of carbohydrates I can consume.

Now, I’m not a medical professional, and everyone’s body functions differently, so you should talk to your own doctor about your needs. But this is my experience:

Blood Glucose Levels

It’s important to keep my blood glucose levels within reasonable levels, and the gestational diabetes can make that hard.

Each morning, I start the day by pricking my finger and testing my “fasting glucose levels.” For me, the ideal level is below 95. I’m pretty lucky, in that I’ve never had a high test in the morning. I typically come in in the low-70s to low-80s.

My numbers can get a little high if I’m not careful about my evening snack; say, if I indulge in a bit of ice cream. But that’s no reason to skip the evening snack. The dietician I met with pointed out that it’s important to eat shortly before bed, or else you might experience a crash overnight — which could actually cause your body to release more sugar into your blood, ultimately inflating your morning reading. The best best is to choose a healthy, protein-rich snack shortly before bed.

Throughout the day, I test my blood again two hours after each meal, aiming for a glucose level of less than 120. It’s very rare that I exceed the limit, though my readings do vary. I’ve found that my after-breakfast levels are typically about the same as my fasting levels, while I tend to be high after lunch. The evening reading is very dependent on exactly what I have for dinner.

The Diet

The gestational diabetes diet that was recommended by my dietician is strict. It recommends no more than 180 grams of carbohydrates in a day, and those need to be spread out pretty specifically. For me, that’s:

* 30 grams for breakfast

* 15 grams for morning snack

* 45 grams for lunch

* 15 grams for afternoon snack

* 45 grams for dinner

* 15-30 grams for evening snack

If you’ve ever read your food labels, you’ll recognize that that’s very few carbohydrates. An apple, for example, has about 20 grams of carbs, while a banana is closer to 30. A piece of whole wheat bread ranges anywhere from 15 to 25 grams, while a slice of sourdough is more than 30 grams. A quarter-cup of pasta (and that’s a very small serving of pasta) is about 42 grams, or basically, your entire dinner.

So what do I eat?

I’ve found that routine is my friend. I need to follow my eating schedule pretty precisely, and it’s just easier to develop a set of go-to meals that I can grab at any time.


My typical breakfast is a slice of whole wheat toast (19 grams) with a thin layer of all-natural peanut butter (3 grams), plus a container of light yogurt (16 grams) and a glass of water. I’ve also made scrambled egg sandwiches (one slice of toast cut into a half sandwich, filled with two scrambled eggs, a slice of cheddar and a dash of ketchup) and a cup of milk, but I’m not actually a big fan of eggs and that can cause me some pregnancy nausea. Sometimes I will swap my yogurt out for a glass of milk (also not my favorite) or a small apple. One thing I never have at breakfast: fruit juice, which is lots of carbs and very little fiber, and typically will skyrocket your blood sugar for the whole day. Incidentally, as soon as the gestational diabetes experience is over, I’m chugging some orange juice!

Morning Snack

It’s a good idea to bring a little protein into every meal or snack, so I have a few options for my morning snacks. I’ll sometimes eat an apple, sliced up and dipped in all-natural peanut butter. Sometimes it’s a half-cup of baby carrots dipped in a couple tablespoons of hummus. A single container of yogurt is another go-to for me, with the added bonus of providing the calcium my body and baby need.


I’m super lucky that my No. 1 craving this pregnancy has been salad (I know, I’m weird), which is one thing I can eat guilt-free. My daily lunch tends to be a heaping pile of mixed greens with a little ranch dressing. I add in protein and carbs with a couple slices of cheese, a handful of dry roasted peanuts and, sometimes, another slice of whole wheat toast, occasionally topped with a super-fine layer of homemade jam, if I’m really hungry or craving sweets. I tend to come out under my 45-gram carb allotment at lunch, but that’s OK, because my glucose levels also tend to run high in the afternoon. It’s a good balance, so long as I feel sufficiently full.

Afternoon Snack

My afternoon snack comes between 2 and 3 in the afternoon and typically comes from the same set of options as the morning snack, though I try not to repeat the same snack within one day (there is such a thing as too much yogurt, easy as it is).


Easily the hardest meal of the day, as I’m the primary cook for my husband and son, as well, I rely on a pretty meat-centric dinner most days — which is absolutely against my typical habits. I’m not a big meat eater, and I’d prefer to have two or three meat-free days a week, but my body needs the protein and calories right now. I know others have succeeded in finding solutions, but for me, meat is the way to go. Chicken is a popular options in our house, especially grilled or baked. My ideal meal is a grilled chicken breast, a large serving of steamed broccoli, another green salad and a very small helping of a grain, like couscous or quinoa. Technically, either of those tend to carry as many carbs as pasta, but I just feel more full eating a quarter-cup of tiny couscous than a quarter cup (or about 10 pieces) of pasta.

Evening Snack

Warning: I may not be a good role model, because the evening snack is where I splurge. If I’m feeling responsible — or in need of belly-filling nutrients — my evening snack might be a couple of whole wheat crackers and some cheese, or maybe another slice of whole wheat toast with some peanut butter. But, more often than not, I don’t really need the food so much as want it at this time of night, so I usually end up with some form of dessert. A serving of sugar-free pudding is about the perfect number of carbs, as is a quarter cup of ice cream (warning: if you’re anything like me, you’ve never even seen a quarter cup of ice cream … it’s a very small serving, but ultimately adequate for that sweets craving). There are some low-sugar fruit-ice-bars that weigh in at 15 grams of carbs, too, and that are absolutely delicious. And, if I really want a treat, a single mini- or fun-size candy bar can usually fit into my daily allotment (though I recognize I’m very lucky and not all women with gestational diabetes can handle such highly refined sugar).

One note about this diet: While it fits within the recommended allotment of carbs, it’s actually pretty low on calories. It’s a rare day that I consume 2,000 calories, which seems pretty low for a pregnant woman. That’s resulted in some weight loss, so I’ve kept in close touch with my doctor to make sure the loss is coming from me and not shorting the baby. I am NOT trying to lose weight, and you shouldn’t during pregnancy either! So far, Little One is growing perfectly. I just get to be one of those rare women who complains about their maternity pants suddenly being way too big. Please don’t hate me.

Gestational Diabetes Glucose Tests

When I first suspected I had gestational diabetes, I spent hours on the Web trying to figure out what it would mean. I found a few discussion boards, but honestly, nothing just spelled it out.

So, while every case is somewhat different, I’ll tell you exactly what the gestational diabetes diagnosis means for me.

Glucose Challenge Test

The glucose challenge test is a screening given to almost all pregnant women, often at about 24 weeks. Mine was scheduled at 13 weeks due to pre-existing risk factors for gestational diabetes.

You drink a solution of very sweet liquid then wait an hour to have a blood draw to determine how well your body has processed the sugar. (That’s why it’s often called the one-hour test, for short.)

I’ve heard that some women are given the solution to drink at home before heading to the lab for their blood draw, but that wasn’t my experience in either pregnancy. I didn’t have to fast before the test, and I was allowed to drink water during the wait, but I had to drink the solution at the lab then sit calmly in the waiting room for the next hour without moving around too much.

I failed that test with a 177, well above the 130 cutoff for further testing. (Different doctors may set different thresholds for follow-up.) A high result on the glucose challenge does not mean an automatic gestational diabetes diagnosis; rather, it leads to the next level of test, the oral glucose tolerance test.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

The diagnostic test for gestational diabetes is the oral glucose tolerance test, sometimes called the three-hour test (though mine actually took closer to four hours).

It started with a 10-hour fast, followed by a baseline blood draw. When my fasting glucose levels were deemed healthy (84, within the <99 threshold), the three-hour test kicked in. I drank a liquid with twice as much sugar as the first test, then had my blood drawn and tested every hour for three hours.

You’ve probably heard that this test is unpleasant (to put it politely). True.

The liquid is far too sweet to taste good, and it gave my tummy a serious case of the rumbles. (Warning: If you vomit, you get to start all over another day, so try to hold on!) Worse, it’s a long time to go without food when you’re pregnant and, in my case, there was a serious sugar crash at the end.

My one- and two-hour results came back high (189 and 190, compared to limits of 179 and 154, respectively), but then my three-hour result was 54, which is seriously low (70 is hypoglycemic). I guess that means that my body’s own insulin did eventually work. More, it meant that I felt awful — hungry, shaky and faint, drenched in a cold sweat, and then weak all day, even after getting some food.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the numbers until well after I had driven away from the medical center on my way to lunch. My tip: If you feel at all light-headed, ask for an immediate reading. Driving with such low sugar was actually quite dangerous.

I got a call from the doctor’s office a few days later, providing me with all the test results and the official diagnosis of gestational diabetes. The nurse told me I would need to keep a food diary for the next week and scheduled me for an afternoon-long class to learn all about gestational diabetes and how to manage it. The class was really quite helpful, but more on that to come soon.

Tomorrow: The gestational diabetes diet

What is Gestational Diabetes

My body is trying to do the right thing, really.

It just isn’t succeeding.

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes very early in the second trimester of my pregnancy. For the uninitiated, that’s early.

Though women who are overweight (like me), over 30 (yep), or have a family history of diabetes (got me again) are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, there are really no guarantees against it. It’s not caused by eating sugar, and even the most fitness-obsessed mothers can develop the disease.

That’s because gestational diabetes is actually caused by the hormones that cause so many other, um, interesting changes in a pregnant woman’s body.

The placenta, which develops to nourish the unborn baby, creates a hormone that is essentially the anti-insulin. The purpose is to elevate mom’s blood sugar just enough so that mom’s body doesn’t hoard energy that the baby needs. In some women, though, the placenta is really good at producing that hormone, so good that it over-elevates mom’s blood sugar.

And that causes problems for mom and baby. Blood that is over-saturated with sugar moves more slowly, and that means higher blood pressure and increased chance of infection. It also means that baby ends up getting too much sugar, which can causes her to grow too big, too fast, and therefore can lead to a more dangerous delivery or an increased need for a C-section. It also can cause the baby to have a sugar-crash after birth, when she’s removed from the sugar-rich environment.

In short, not cool (though for those of us who love biology, it is rather fascinating).

The good news is that gestational diabetes can be caught early and it often can be controlled.

So far, I’ve been lucky to be able control my gestational diabetes with diet and a bit of exercise, though it may get worse and require insulin as the placenta gets bigger and produces more anti-insulin.

It isn’t easy, though. I test my blood glucose levels four times a day — first thing in the morning and two hours after each meal — by pricking my finger. I also follow a super-strict eating schedule and almost-as-strict diet that’s low not only in the junk food that we often think of as “sugar” but in all carbohydrates, including grains and fruit.

I won’t lie: I miss a lot of things … bread, pasta, french fries, desserts and, most of all, orange juice.

But for anyone else experiencing this pregnancy adventure, I do promise that it’s possible. Most women will only have to deal with gestational diabetes for about two months, and I’ve already done that (with, unfortunately, four months to go).

You can do it, too.

Coming soon: I’ll share my carb limits, meal and snack schedule, and favorite go-to foods, as well as my plans (and successes or failures) navigating the long, food-dominated holiday season.