Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Walk At Second Landing

Walking the trails at Second Landing brought back so many memories. How could I have forgotten how beautiful and peaceful a place this is! I hadn't been on these trails in about ten years, not since running them in high school during track season. (Side-note: my high school track coach ended up being my father in law. I didn't even know his son Andrew during this time. Funny how Coach Jamie became Pop Pop to my kids.)
Anyhow, it was a beautiful walk. We stuck to main trails because I remember the terror of getting lost when I was a runner, and I didn't want to repeat that with three kids and a husband in tow. It is pretty cool being an adult in the place you grew up, because you know SO many people. We ran into several familiar faces while on our nature-walk.

So my instructions to the kids were this:
1.) Stay where I can see you, but by all means go ahead of us and run as much as you can.
2.) You can pick up sticks and hit things, as long as no one or nothing gets hurt. (Surprise surprise, we had to take the sticks pretty quickly.)
3.) Every once in a while be completely quiet and tell me what animals/outside sounds you can hear.
4.) Find me cool stuff to take pictures of.

They did great! They were excited to find me beautiful plants, spiderwebs, animals, and insects to photograph. It's a great place to let the kids run wild, but still keep them within arms reach. We'll be back, Second Landing.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables for Breakfast

*disclaimer, the point of this post is not to make you irritated that my kids will eat fruit and veg for breakfast, the point is to give you ideas and inspire a little creativity on the part of Mom or Dad.*

Vegetables for breakfast. Sounds crazy, right? My son has always been easy. He loves anything that grows on a vine, or as a root, or on a bush or tree. "Celery, Mom, but make sure its a big piece." Yeah, I know, annoying.

I thought maybe I had figured out the key to raising nutritionally sound children. I patted myself on each shoulder. It's kind of like those parents with one child who know the secrets of the universe when it comes to getting their one chronically-tired child to sleep through the night by six weeks old.

Oh, then little Miss came along. My daughter is a lover of all things sweet and sugary. She is by no means a naturally healthy eater. She'll down a McDonald's cheeseburger in 30 seconds if you put one in front of her. Processed orange fake-cheese dip is like manna from heaven to her. One of her first phrases was "MO' CHOC-IT, MOMMY!" (more chocolate, mommy)

So for this child I had to get creative. Enter Immersion Blender, or regular blender, if that's what you use. Available at fine retailers everywhere. This little gadget has made my life so much easier. So easy to clean and simple to use and store. So that's the big secret- a smoothie that looks like its maaaaybe just fruit. Well kids, it's not. Shhh. I take a little of this, a little of that, and before you know it you've got breakfast in a cup.

In each smoothie, I typically mix in a combination similar to this one: One banana, two handfuls of spinach, an apple, three baby carrots, two handfuls of blueberries, a half cup (or more)of yogurt, two tablespoons of peanut butter. If someone needs it, they get ground up flax seeds. So they have all that for breakfast and then say..."Mom, can I have some more?"

So here are six tips that have worked for me when getting my kids to drink smoothies:

1. Make the first couple you give them taste really, really good. Lots of fruit yogurt, strawberries, ice, etc etc. From there start introducing vegetables a little at a time. Less sweetened yogurt. More of the green stuff. By the end of the week they won't realize anything changed, but the idea of the 'fun delicious smoothie' lingers in their minds.

2. Never, never, neverrrrr let them see what you're putting into the blender. Unless they love vegetables. In that case, you may not need to be using these tips. *also works for husbands*

3. Make it Cold... because it just tastes better. Ice helps.

4. Give it a fun name. When I give Isaiah a really green smoothie, I call it 'The Incredible Hulk Smoothie.'What was once a moment of desperation and fear that he would reject drinking something green at 8 am became a real hit, now he requests it. You know, green smoothies are what makes the Incredible Hulk so strong...

5. Try it first. If it tastes good, you are much more likely to have success. No one wants to drink something that tastes gross.

6. Cool cups and straws. Big bright plastic straws and special 'smoothie cups.' This is trickery and manipulation, but whatever works.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

(Almost Free) Summer-Flower Window Treatments

We live in a pretty woodsy area, for being city-dwellers. Our house is almost completely surrounded by trees so natural light is a MUST for me. We want the privacy of curtains, but we also want light and the beautiful views of the yard. The other issue I have with heavy curtains is the kid-factor. I don't want a toddler yanking them down or worse, getting injured. All that being said, I felt like contact paper privacy treatments would be a fun option!
They were quick (four panels finished in under an hour), and almost completely free except for the cost of the contact paper (under $4).
I started out by having the kids pick some flowers and leaves. We mostly used Zinnias, remember this post?, that we started in the spring indoors. Wow, those chilly days seem long gone now with everything blooming, green, and HOT!
Then I cut the contact paper to the relative-size that we'd need for the window and peeled the backing off. Just a sprinkling of flowers and leaves, and then I pressed the contact paper onto the surface I wanted to cover. Running a knife along the edges of the window I got a near perfect fit! It's a good idea to err on the side of too much contact paper, that way you can simply trim the edges.
I'm really looking forward to more experimenting with this method! It's easily changeable and will be fun to switch up in autumn to the beautiful warm colors of the falling leaves. Here are some pictures that will give you a better idea of 'how we did it.' (Is it weird that you get a picture of my bathroom? Sorry. Don't look too hard... I have a two and three year old. And a husband.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nature Loom

While pulling weeds in the garden yesterday, I needed a hands on activity for the kids to do while I worked. We participated in a large scale nature-loom at the Wheaton Arts Ecofair this spring and I thought it would be neat to make our own, just a bit smaller. With a few sticks, some yarn, and a little imagination I sent the kids looking for objects that they could stick into our garden loom. They found feathers, flowers, some rainbow chard, dead leaves, and many other little treasures.
The end result of our own loom was pretty cool, and it gave me twenty minutes while Evie napped to do some yard work without interruption. You can definitely make this without a fence, but it gave me a convenient (and close-by) place to hang ours.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Teach Your Toddler Almost Anything

I'll start with the most important thing:

1.) Make sure your toddler cares about what you're teaching them. 
You can either motivate them to care by engaging them in a fun craft, or better yet stick with a topic that naturally interests them. Bugs are a big theme in my house, so I'm always safe starting there and branching off.

2.) Here's the model I use almost every time we have "table time" together

  • Engaging Activity- I always start with something that's going to get them sitting at the table. I say something like "Okay! Everyone sit down! Craft Tiiiiime!" That's usually followed by cheers from the crowd. Its a real ego boost, considering I'm going to be grappling for their attention in just a few minutes. For this example, as you can see in the pictures, we created little dragon flies from Popsicle sticks and a clothespin. Pinterest is great for inspiration.

  • Books- I keep a well stocked bookshelf of varying topics. I can almost always find something on the shelf that relates to the topic for the day. If I can't, the library is wonderful and close. Again, for this example we read a few books on bugs, especially this one that the kids love.

  • Show- Sometimes, okay oftentimes, I find something on Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime, etc. Today we watched this BBC doc on Amazon Prime.

  • Drawing- Next I pull out either the markers, crayons, chalk boards or paint and we do something else hands on. Today we used chalk boards. This is where I tie in letters. I have them practice drawing the letter of the day- today it's 'D' for 'dragonfly.'

  • Alone time- Go outside, go to your room, play with the craft project we made (even if that means it gets destroyed). 

Trying to do anything like this with toddlers is going to be messy. So... embrace the mess. It's more work, but parenting is work. You can clean it up when you're done. Something else to note is that I almost NEVER plan out our activity for the day beforehand. I make it a goal to do at least one activity rotation according to my model every day. It keeps the sanity (and at times creates insanity. You're sort of rolling the dice here.)

Most importantly, if no ones having fun, it shouldn't be happening. Make it fun! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Refrigerator Pickles

Any other gardeners out there hear me when I tell you that I have excess produce anxiety?
Like, if there's a zucchini in the fridge that I have to throw away at the end of the week I become noticeably upset. Well this morning we went out and lo and behold- eight new cucumbers! Eight! We might use two per day. Then again... we just ran out of pickles. But I didn't plant pickling cucumbers. Could it work?
As I normally do, I Google-d it. Google has been my stand-in Grandmother relating to all things domestic. Grandma Google gives me lots of advice on baking, canning, growing, sewing etc etc. So- can I use a regular cucumber when making pickles? After a little research I found picking slicing cucumbers when they are small yields the best results in the pickle making department. And we go through a jar of pickles per week. (that's when I'm not pregnant, during pregnancy you can double that figure)
I kept running into the Duggar's recipe over and over, so I gave it a go. In case anyone wonders, you can pick up pickling spice at an Amish Market, or in the grocery store's spice section. 

The Duggar's Refrigerator Pickles

You can combine these same ingredients, and rather than boil, just let it sit for a few days. You will get pickles either way, but by boiling you will have your pickles just a few hours.

Quick Pickles Recipe:

4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
8 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons pickling spice (optional)
4 large cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Combine white vinegar, water, salt and pickling spice in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil.

Place cucumber in a clean, dry glass container just large enough to hold all the slices. Pour boiling brine over cucumber slices to cover completely. If all cucumbers are not submerged, add cold water to cover. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour. Pickles will keep for about 10 days (but around our house we can usually eat them in less than 10 minutes!).

Makes: 2 quarts

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