Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nursery Decor (so far)

Like every other room of the house, the nursery will be decorated in stages. The first step was to paint the room. When we moved in, William's room was pink, and I mean PINK pink. I learned quite a bit about painting a room during the very slow process. I learned about covering the carpet with plastic and securing it by wedging the painters tape between the carpet and the moulding. I learned to forget about actually taping off the rest of the room and to carefully cut in the lines along the ceiling first. So much easier than taping! It took some time, but the room is painted, the crib is set up, and the changing table is functional. I also hung the ever important black out panels. Curtains will be coming soon(ish).

So how about a little decor? The first thing to go on the walls were these adorable letters that my aunt sent when William was born. At first I thought they'd be fun for the boys to play with to learn their ABC's but then I decided they were way too cute to be destroyed by young hands, so I used them as nursery decor instead.

I'm thinking of adding a small shelf or book sling to go underneath to hold a few of his favorite books.

Next I wanted to hang his name. I bought these wooden letters at Michael's with the intention of painting them and hanging them on the wall, but then I saw this idea in our Young House Love book. I found some boyish material and wrapped canvases, like I was wrapping a present, and secured the material with the staple gun. Then I attached the letters using liquid nails.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hands-On Toddler Activity #14: Toothpick Fun

Sometimes the student is the teacher. Jack was assisting me with some baking the other day when he spotted a small container of toothpicks on the counter. He grabbed them and realized there was a tiny hole at the top that he could shake the toothpicks out of. He shook them all out and then put the toothpicks into a measuring cup. Once they were all in the measuring cup he started putting them back in their original container. The hole is pretty small, only big enough for one or two toothpicks at a time, so it was a great practice in fine motor skills.  So I can't take credit for this quick activity. The toddler taught this one to me!

From there we decided to try to make some shapes using toothpicks and grapes. I showed him how he could use the toothpicks and grapes together to make a square or a rectangle. This activity didn't last very long because he preferred to just eat the grapes! Perhaps we will try this one again in a few months. Or maybe next time with brussel sprouts.

To view the entire list of hands-on toddler activities, click here

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Let The Home Projects Begin!

We have been living in our new home for 25 weeks now. I know this number because our son is also 25 weeks old. I do not recommend having a baby and moving into a new house three days later. Our house was basically move-in ready. There were no major jobs that had to be done, but there are certainly a lot of jobs that we want to do. With a toddler and a newborn, having the time and spare hands to do jobs around the house has thus far been challenging, but now that William is 5 months old we are finally starting to find the time to do some more home projects. And so I present to you, Closet Organization Step One: The Jewelry Board.

Let me give you a little closet background story. Our new home is an upgrade from our old condo in every way except one...the closet. Our old closet was the thing that closet dreams are made of. It wasn't quite a chandelier and a sitting area dream closet, but it was large enough that it could double as a nursery if, hypothetically speaking, you had guests and they slept in your baby's room and you needed a place for your baby to sleep, so he slept in the closet.

The new closet isn't tiny, but it is in serious need of some reorganization. We will get to that job in the future. For now, we decided to build a jewelry organization wall out of a simple peg board system. My fabulous husband took on this job all on his own. He painted the peg board, hung furring strips in the closet, and then attached it to the wall in the closet. I considered doing a little bit of decorative painting around the outside, but then I decided the jewelry itself is decoration enough.

The sweaters are just screaming to be organized next!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Start Valentine's Day A LIttle Early

Who says Valentine's Day can only last one day? Ok, I'm sure there are a lot of husbands and boyfriends who say that, but these guys aside, this holiday is about love, friendship, and sugar so let's spread it out a little bit.

The perfect place to begin is by setting up individual mailboxes for each family member so you can leave love notes or treats for each other during the days leading up to Valentine's Day. What better way to start the day than with a little love! I found these little mailboxes in the dollar bin at Target (a favorite stop of mine) and personalized them with everyone's names. I encourage the little one in my house to leave hand drawn pictures in Mom or Dad's mailbox, or to ask Mom or Dad to write a note that he dictates to us. Can't find these adorable mailboxes? No problem. Make your own out of an empty tissue box, cereal box, or shoe box. Half of the fun for your child will be in decorating the box itself.

Ok, so he didn't quite understand what kind of message we should leave,
but he insisted I write Happy Birthday Daddy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle is such an amazing book with so many possibilities for activities for all ages. Eric Carle's work is easy to spot! His illustrations are done using hand painted paper that is collaged to form beautiful, bright images. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a very simple story with repetitive language that asks a variety of animals, "What do you see?" Babies will be attracted to bright illustrations, toddlers will love the repetitive phrases and the opportunity to practice animal sounds, and older children will also love learning about Carle's unique form of creating his picture book artwork. Here are some activities based on this beloved classic, and many of the activities can be transferred to other Eric Carle books as well, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, The Grouchy Ladybug, and The Very Busy Spider.

Activity #1: Brown Bear Game
My two year old is getting a little big for walks in the stroller, but Mama needs her exercise and we both need the fresh air so I try to make the walks as entertaining as possible, which means we do a lot of talking about what we observe as we walk. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to play a little game based on the book that we've read 5 million or so times. I start by saying, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? I see a _____looking at me." I fill in the blank with something that I see as we are walking, such as a green mailbox, yellow leaves, or a red fire hydrant. Then, after a little modeling from me, he repeats what I said and adds his own observation. Such as, "Green Mailbox, Green Mailbox, what do you see? I see a Blue Car looking at me." And so on. You can entertain a toddler for at least 30 minutes with this game. It's enough time to get in a little bit of a workout!

Activity #2: Animal Sounds
As you read the story, model for your child the different sounds that the animals make. Have your child repeat the sounds. Eventually, after many times reading the story, your child will be able to "read" the book along with you by making all the animal sounds.

Activity #3: Animal/Color Recognition
Read the story together with your child. Pause when you get to the line, "I see a (let your child fill in the blank) looking at me". Have your child look at the pictures to identify the "green frog" or the "blue horse".

Activity #4: Collage
Make your own collage artwork in the fashion of Eric Carle. Cut or tear tissue paper and glue the pieces together to create an image. For a young child you might draw a simple outline, such as a sun or a flower and have him/her  fill in the outline by gluing in the tissue paper. An older child can create his/her own images. You might also try to have your child paint his/her own paper and cut it, rather than using tissue paper.

Activity #5: Visit The Eric Carle Museum
If you are fortunate to live nearby, take a visit to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.  There is a little something there for everyone including a gallery of artwork from Carle and other illustrators as well as a workshop where children can create their own artwork.

To see the entire list of activities based on books click here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The 2013 Family Fitness Challenge

Like 99% of America I wanted to start 2013 with a resolution to eat healthy and exercise more. Ok, I made up that statistic, but definitely 99% of the people I know share this goal. I know that any goal is easier to attain with the support of family and friends, or with a little healthy competition, so I decided to combine these in putting together our 2013 Family Fitness Challenge.

We are two weeks in, many pounds have been shed already, and even more healthy habits are being formed or reaffirmed. Perhaps you want to have your own fitness challenge? Borrow some of our ideas. Here's how it works.

This is a raffle challenge. If you do 30 minutes or more of cardio for 4 days during the week, you earn one raffle entry. Do 5 days and you earn two entries. Six days earns you three and all seven days earns you four entries in the weekly raffle. Because nutrition is a vital part of weight loss and overall health, I added an eating piece to the challenge. If you eat healthy for the entire week (no cake, cookies, chips, candy, ice cream, etc) then you earn an extra entry. If you write down every thing that you eat for the entire week, healthy or not, you earn an additional two entries. We recently discovered an amazing app you can put on your phone called, My Fitness Pal, that allows you to track everything you eat, count calories, and factor in your calories burned during exercise as well. It's a great way to be sure that you are not overeating, which would definitely hinder your weight loss goals.

So at the end of each week, I put every one's name, multiplied by the number of entries they earned that week, in a bowl. I also put the predetermined prizes in another bowl so the prize for the week is also a surprise. The prizes you choose depends on your group's initial buy-in costs and the interests of the group. Our challenge costs $25 to enter and the prizes range in awesomeness from the $50 gift card to the store of your choice, to the amazing, ultimate prize, a signed 8x10 glossy of my kids.

I created a Facebook group that only the members of the challenge can see. On this page the participants are encouraged to enter their daily workouts, share about their healthy eating, share recipes, and offer words of encouragement for others. Having the daily check-ins really does make it a lot harder to make excuses not to exercise. It's also made my mom much more proficient in the use of Facebook.

We have six weeks remaining in the challenge. I personally am feeling healthier and more energetic already. I love the competition and camaraderie that goes along with participating in this challenge. But I must admit, I do miss candy!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hands-on Toddler Activity #13: Edible Play Dough

Fun activity, yummy treat, what's not to love about this toddler activity. Plus it combines so many skills! There's measurement, motor skills, creative play, and counting, just to name a few. And the best part is, it's edible and delicious! I whipped up a batch the other day and explained to my 2 year old that we could use this special dough like PlayDough. We used cookie cutters to cut out numbers, letters, and shapes. It did not take him long to discover that this dough tasted great. He pretty much alternated cutting out a shape and licking his fingers and saying, "Oh Mommy, this is delicious."

Peanut Butter Play Dough
1 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/2-1 cup of powdered milk

Combine the peanut butter and the honey. It's not necessary, but you may heat it in the microwave for 10-20 seconds or so to make it easier to stir. Gradually add the powdered milk until desired consistency is achieved.

Here are a few activity suggestions:
-roll dough into balls or snakes
-squeeze and pat dough
-roll out dough and use cookie cutters to cut shapes
-roll out dough and draw numbers or letters with a toothpick
-create animals or people out of dough and use them to tell a story
-use cut shapes to practice counting
-create different shapes and sort them into categories
-cut out numbers with cookie cutters and put numbers in order
-play with different textures and tastes by adding raisins, rice crispies, or cheerios to the dough

Peanut Butter Play Dough

Use letter cookie cutters to practice the alphabet

Use cookie cutters of any shape 

Say a letter and have your child find it

Work on letter sounds or forming words

Such a great collection of cookie cutters!

Practice blending letter sounds together to create short words

Practice number recognition and order 

Practice counting  or remove one number and have your child identify what number is missing

Practice counting

Have fun squishing, rolling, patting, and tasting the dough

To see the entire list of hands-on toddler activities, click here

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hands-On Toddler Activity #12: Christmas Ornaments

 My husband and I work very hard to instill in our children the importance of good manners. He often says, "These kids have a Southern father and a Midwestern mother, if anything they WILL be polite!" Along with being polite I also want my sons to learn from an early age the importance of giving to others, so we try to make handmade gifts and thank you notes when possible. Making a handmade gift with a toddler is not only a learning experience in giving, but it can also be an excellent practice in practical skills such as fine motor, cooking, measurement, colors, counting, and the list goes on. I decided to help my two year old make a very simple Christmas tree ornament to give to his loved ones. 

First he painted each popsicle stick with green paint. I used some finger paint we had on hand so it'd be safe for him to get messy with. Then he did a little shake of glitter on the wet paint. I know what you are thinking. A toddler....with glitter? Can't be anything but a disaster. But I have these great little shakers, kind of like a salt shaker, that puts out a very controlled amount of glitter. It's mostly safe! After they dried a bit, I used some super glue to glue them into a triangle shape. 

Once that dried, I gave him a tiny container of glue (I used a top from a gallon of milk) and showed him  how to dip his ornaments into the glue then onto the tree. 

When he finished decorating and the ornaments were dry, we added a felt trunk and star, and then a ribbon to hang the ornament. All of his aunts and uncles and grandparents were excited to receive this little handmade Christmas gift. Next task, to start brainstorming Valentine's gifts!

To see the entire list of hands-on toddler activities, click here

Monday, January 14, 2013

Holiday Peppermint Cupcake

I love to bake, but as I have said before, I try not to do it TOO often because then I'll just end up eating it all and then there goes the waistline. But, Christmas time is the ultimate time to bake! I'm going to overeat around the holidays anyway, so I may as well have fun with it. This year I decided to go a different route from the traditional Christmas cookies and decided to whip up cupcakes instead. One of my favorite Christmas time flavors is peppermint, so I found this recipe and I am so glad I did! These are delicious and I decided to dress them up a bit by frosting them like a peppermint candy. Here is the recipe, followed by the frosting instructions.

Your Cup of Cake's Holiday Peppermint Cupcake Recipe

Frosting Instructions:

1. Divide frosting in half and put in two separate bowls.Tint one bowl of frosting with red food coloring and leave the other white.

 2. Rest a pastry bag inside a glass and fold the ends down.

3. Spoon the red frosting ( I used a knife actually ) in one side. Be sure to push it down as far as you can along the side of the bag.

4. Next to that spoon some white, then next to that spoon more red.

5. Spoon one more row of white. You should have four sections of frosting.

6.  Pipe a little of the frosting out before you frost your cupcakes so the colors swirl together. You can do it directly onto a  spoon for the ever important taste test.

7. Pipe the frosting on in a circular pattern. Enjoy!!

These cupcakes would also be a big hit for Valentine's Day. Use the same piping technique but instead of a circular pattern, make a heart!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Very Pinterest Thanksgiving

Clearly having two kids is keeping me quite busy, I am just now getting around to writing about Thanksgiving! I'll catch up one of these days...hopefully.

This year we hosted my husband's family for Thanksgiving. This was not my first time hosting, but I am certainly not a Thanksgiving cooking expert. Since I have not yet developed my own young family's Thanksgiving traditions and menu, I decided to give myself a little challenge in planning this year's feast. I only used recipes I discovered on Pinterest! I went beyond recipes and also planned some decorations and children's activities I found on Pinterest, but juggling the menu as well as my 2 year old and 3 month old, I just didn't get done as much as I would have liked, but I'll keep those ideas in mind for next time. Here are the recipes I used:
(In my rush to get everything on the table I didn't take as many quality pictures as I'd have liked, but here are a few).