Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Ornament Making

This year Eliana made a few Christmas presents in the form of salt dough ornaments. I would like to see her take a more active role in our gift giving, and this was a first step. We went over to Erika and Zoe's house and the girls made ornaments while we did other holiday baking. It was a lot of fun and I'd love to do it again next year!

Holiday Gift Making

Holiday Gift Making

Ellie and J flattening out the salt dough.

Holiday Gift Making

Baking the ornaments...

Holiday Gift Making

Singing Christmas carols!

Holiday Gift Making

Painting the ornaments at home the next day... Eliana painted them all by herself!

Holiday Gift Making

I think they turned out very nicely for ornaments made and hand painted by a 2 year old! I think they were appreciated by the grandparents. I kept a couple for her to have as keepsakes, too.

Food Log: December 27

Eliana's food log for the today:

Breakfast:
3 small whole wheat pancakes (casein free) from the freezer.
Fiber One banana muffin - she licked the frosting off the top and nibbled just a little of the muffin.

Lunch:
A half grilled cheese (soy cheese) sandwich.
5 or so green olives (and she even ate the pimento!)

Dinner:
Bread with margarine and jam. She ate the whole slice.
Half a banana
A couple slices pepperoni

I don't know that I'll record Eliana's food every day, but every so often it seems like a good idea so I can gather some information on her eating habits. Right now we've got family in town and our schedule's a little wonky from the holiday vacation, but Eliana seems to eat much better when she's just drinking water or rice milk instead of drinking juice. I'm not surprised. =D

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Single Life

My anniversary is Tuesday. That means for the past 8 years, I have not been a single woman. I never had to be a single woman living on my own, as my husband and I got married in college. I went from living with my family to living in a dorm to being married. I really have never been alone and I often find it hard to relate to those who are single adults. Most of my single adult friends do not live locally, so I read their blogs or catch up on facebook and that is the extent of our conversation unless we happen to get together for dinner or an afternoon during an out of town trip. If I think about it, though, I am sure I can come up with more than one single friend here in town, some of whom I avoid talking to because I just don't know what to say. And so, as I was blog reading this morning, I came across an article one of my single friends posted and I gained some new insight. It's a little lengthy, but worth it.

What I'd like you to know: A Single Adult

The year I turned 30, my birthday happened to fall on Father’s Day. A few days before the combined event, I phoned my dad to tell him I wouldn’t make the three hour drive home to visit. I had just recently moved back to the city of my youthful stomping grounds after 3 years away, and I was the first of my friends to hit the big 3-0.

Dad graciously understood, and asked “So, how old are you this year?”

“Thirty.” I replied.

“Oh.” He sighed, and paused. “I never thought you would be an old maid.”

I know what you’re thinking. But coming from my dad, I wasn’t offended. I knew that in his generation, that was the plain truth. Moreover, I knew that he was really saying, “I can’t believe some man hasn’t snapped up my charming, smart and attractive daughter.”

Eight years later, I’m still not married, and still have no children. I am sure that many people I encounter see an old maid. Of course they don’t say it in as many words as my dad. They show it instead.

They show it when they say, “Not married? Oh, you must be picky.”

I hear it when others, incredulous, refuse to take it as fact. “Just kidding.” I want to say in such cases, “ I am married. Don’t worry. I’m normal.”

I think the inability to categorize me makes some people uncomfortable. If I were divorced, they could make sense of it. Were I a single mom, I’d find sympathy and compassion. But by admitting my single, never married, no-child status is akin to announcing there is something wrong with me. I’m reasonably attractive, funny and pass for intelligent, so people are only left to ponder my fatal flaws. Some people actually ask, “So what’s wrong with you?”

Our society sort of views marriage as a given. A rite of passage. When I read news accounts of a young woman or even a child who died tragically, her parents inevitably say “I’ll never walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. I’ll never hold her children.” It is assumed that everyone who was born will marry and have children. I assumed I would too. When it just doesn’t happen, knowing that it is expected of us only deepens the pain.

That is why it is so hurtful when it is suggested to a single person that they “must be picky.” As if we can just pick a guy and get married. After all, did you settle? Now you’re suggesting that you could have married just anyone. Would you have had as successful a marriage if you had ended up with one of your exes? As much as I long for marriage, I sure am glad I didn’t marry any of the men in my life so far.

That’s the trick about marriage as a goal. It’s not like learning to dance, or committing to losing weight. It doesn’t take will power to find a mate. It takes a mate. It takes a miracle. Oh, that I could just go to the store and pick one up!

True, single for some people is a choice. For those of us who truly desire marriage and children and family, it is not. Marriage is a vocation that two people agree to take on together. I can’t do it by myself. I learned, in just the last two months that I can’t make someone love me. No matter how much I love him, or how strong in faith he might be. Not even that our shared faith made us both stronger. No matter how happy we are together until all the Ifs and Buts step in.

And the simple fact of the matter is, I’ve never been asked.

That alone makes me question my womanhood and my desirability. It’s a very uncomfortable place. I am a woman who desperately desires motherhood. My clock is tocking not ticking. I am very aware that my best reproductive years are over.

What not to say

Please don’t remind a single woman that her chances for a healthy baby are diminishing every year she is over 30. But also, please do not try to encourage us with stories of women who successfully bore children well into their 50s. All of this is completely irrelevant to a woman without a husband or serious boyfriend.

While we’re on the topic, yes, I know adoption is an option. I am adopted myself and believe that adopted babies are indeed the best kind. If I were blessed with marriage, adoption would defiantly be a consideration. But adoption is as far out there as infertility treatments when there is no man in your life.

You’ll find him when you’re not looking


I’m never not looking. Yes, my life is full and happy. But I am a mother without a child. I am a wife without a husband. I want my other half. Think of the loss you would feel if your husband or child suddenly were not there. I feel, not daily, but often, that an important part of my life is missing.

And by the way… dating after age 30 is not fun. It is a chore, like scrubbing the bathtub but less rewarding. It’s hard to look forward to dinner and disappointment. I want to anticipate a nice evening, but this much experience has taught me what to look for in a man – and more often than not, it’s not there.

In the meantime, sometimes I just want to dote my pent-up motherhood on your kids. It’s probably terribly inappropriate, but I will snuggle your baby and sniff its’ head to soak up that sweet smell. I’ve been guilty of tickling and twirling a smiling baby until it spits up. Sorry. I will nosh on your toddlers’ chubby legs and lift his shirt to plant a raspberry, just so I can hear that throaty, from-the-gut baby giggle that makes my heart sing. If it’s no trouble, please just indulge me. (I promise not to do that to your husband.)

Seeing women my age or younger with kids in tow – can stir a pang of deep pain. I once called my church office to ask when Baptisms were scheduled, as I needed to avoid them. Second Sunday of the month, I would attend a different church just so I didn’t have to see the happy couples with their beautiful babies.

That’s another point. Church is no place for a single woman. Church is all about family. That’s why you see so few single adults there. It’s not that they no longer believe, the fact is they don’t feel welcome. When your pastor asks you reach out to share a blessing, do you turn to your family first? I stand there waiting for a hand to embrace.

I worry this writing might sound all bitter and lonely and sad. I am happy. I am blessed with an incredible network of friends. My family is amazing. I enjoy my single life to the best of my ability. People remind me that marriage is not easy. I remind them; neither is being single.

Oddly, Barb in last week’s post on Empty Nesting provided me a point to expound upon. She wrote:

“Life is a circle. You flow from one stage to the next. And with a little time, you become comfortable with the newest stage.” --Barb, A Chelsea Morning

For a perpetually single person, that’s not so. My life is a wandering squiggly line – darting in and out of other people’s circles. Everyone else is buzzing along on a predictable cycle but there is no circle of life in my world. There are no ‘stages’ for me to move through, save the aging process.

I am not Less Than


I realize I may sound contradictory – as I have already pointed out here that I feel a part of me is missing. But I am a whole person. Perhaps I have not yet realized that God intends for me to be alone, and that to Him I am complete and not in need of a husband. I’m still working on trusting God’s divine providence.

What I mean to emphasize is that you need not view me as pathetic and alone. I am not waiting for my life to begin. Marriage is not going to make my life worth living. My life is worthy now. I’m just a little lonely.

Invite me over to play with your kids while you tackle the laundry. Seriously.

Think about introducing me to someone. Don’t wait until you find the ‘perfect guy’ for me. It’s just nice to meet people. You never know who they might lead you to!

If you do make an introduction, don’t make a big fuss. Don’t tell either of us you’re setting it up. Just put us in the same room. If we’re interested, we’ll figure it out. But feel free to point out after the fact, that you introduced me to so-and-so if sparks did not fly.

Pray for single adults. There are ministries for single moms, working moms, elderly widows/widowers, and petitions for the sick. But when does society reach out to the single? Pray that your single friends might daily, feel the love of God and of their friends and neighbors in a tangible way.

Invite your single friends for a meal. We’ll help prepare. I attend my church’s weekly fish fry during Lent – even though I’m allergic to fish. My priest teased me until I explained at home, I have to eat alone.

Keep in touch with your single friends. They’re not out tearing it up and having orgies. We’re not out to steal your husband. Sometimes we just want to experience the hum of a household with a family. Look for things in common with single adults. We might not share your challenges, but we can still relate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

TRAINS!

Remember when I said we ordered a train set for Eliana because it was a really good deal?? Well, it arrived yesterday. I opened the outer box so I could wrap up the box with the train set in it and I discovered two boxes inside. Confused, I asked Leif about it. It turns out, that in addition to the 100 piece train set we ordered for $30 with free shipping, we also received this train station set:
for FREE! So that will tack onto this:

and we will have made out like bandits! I'm still reeling from the shock of it and SO GLAD I didn't pick up the simple 8 track design for $30 that I was about to buy the day before we saw this deal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Santa Clause....

I didn't grow up believing in Santa. And I don't feel deprived. We really have no intention of teaching Eliana about Santa, either, though I would have liked to get a picture of her sitting on Santa's lap this year. But we missed that opportunity (by mere minutes) at Murdoch's the other day for a free photo, so we probably won't do it. It's not THAT big a deal, I just thought it would make for a cute picture. I have never heard a really convincing argument against teaching your kids about Santa Clause, because I have seen people do it without taking away from the focus of Christ. But today my friend Jaime posted an excellent reason behind their family's decision not to celebrate Santa Clause. It's not because Santa is evil, nor because Santa secularizes Christmas. It's because if you use your power as a parent to convince your children to believe a lie (that Santa is real, that he lives at the North Pole and brings kids gifts, etc.) then the time may come when they question the truth of other stories you have told them are true (that Christ is God's son and that he came to earth in the form of a baby, born of a virgin, and that his death has provided a way for us to be reconciled to God and be saved). Because if you lied about one, how will they know you didn't lie about the other? We need to be honest with our children and make sure that we act in a manner that is worthy of their trust.

Anyway, I am not nearly as eloquent as Jaime on the subject, so please read her post instead of just taking my summary of it. =D I appreciate friends who think through their parenting in light of Scripture and who are willing to post their thoughts online to spur the rest of us to deeper thought and more deliberate parenting. Thank you, Jaime!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Putting a little Holiday in the Everyday...

As I'm doing the Daily December this year, it occurs to me that I'm making an effort to make the every day things just a little more special this holiday season. It doesn't take a lot of effort or energy, but I think it makes the everyday a little more fun and turns our focus from the mundane to the season. It's the simple moments in life that are great. Yes, Christmas day is wonderful and beautiful and magical, but I'm not convinced it would be if we didn't take the time and effort to build the excitement throughout the season. Simple memories. We bake cookies. We take pictures. We send cards. We decorate the house. It's all the little things that add up to make this season so spectacular. So I thought I'd share a little of how I'm putting the holiday in our everyday this year, just to make things a little more special.

  • Reading Christmas stories instead of our regular stories.
  • Watching Christmas movies instead of our regular Word World, etc.
  • Baking muffins (or cornbread, like we did tonight) into gingerbread men shapes (using a Wilton silicone pan).
  • Playing Christmas music and dancing to it.
  • Singing Christmas carols
  • Making snow angels outside
  • Making some Christmas cards (or Thank You cards) for grandparents and other family members.
  • Talking about the Christmas story as you decorate the tree (the star or angel on top, why we give gifts, advent candles, etc.)
  • Pointing out Christmas lights as you drive around town.
  • Playing with holiday specific toys (stuffed snowmen, etc.)
  • Making and decorating cookies together.
  • Making baked goods together to give as gifts.
Those are a few of the things we're doing this holiday season. What are you doing to put some Holiday in your Everyday?

Friday, December 5, 2008

How's it going?

Well, it's been a few days since I took 2/3 of Eliana's toys away from her and put them up until later. Wanna know how it's going?

GREAT.

Her room looks empty, if you ask me. It made me realize that I really do need to finish the decorations I have half done to put on her wall. That would make the room look better. I moved the easel to the craft room. It has a place in there and she actually got to paint on it -- and LOVED it! I'm so excited for the crafts she's going to get to do down there now that I have a place I don't have to be so concerned about getting all dirtied up by toddler creativity!

Now that Eliana doesn't have as much clutter in her room it's amazing the creativity she has. She's been playing "Birthday Cake" a lot and has been playing with her activity bags sorting things by color and threading beads on pipe cleaner. She never played with those before! Plus, it takes just a couple minutes to clean up her room now instead of taking half an hour or more. Hooray!

The basement is tidier, too, now that I've moved out some of that stuff. I still need to clean up the rest of the family room and get her puppets arranged in a way that she can easily play with them, but it's good. She's playing with her Mega Blocks all the time down there!

So it's good. I'm really glad I took the time to separate out her toys. When she gets her Christmas gifts I'll put some of them aside so she can play with them later, too. Then there will be newness all through the year instead of just on one day!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

S is for Star

The other day I was at Barnes and Noble looking for some Christmas / Winter books to read with Eliana. She was happily playing with the train set when I stumbled upon this little gem of a book:


I assumed that S is for Star would be just like all the other secular "____ is for _____" alphabet books published by this company. We have the "B is for Big Sky" book and it's cute, but it isn't anything spectacular. I figured the Christmas book would be the same way. You know, C is for Candy Cane, P is for Presents, F is for Frosty the Snowman.... It turns out, though, that this is a surprisingly good book for the Christmas season. It is pretty much an alphabet book centered on Christ's birth, which is awesome! Each page, in addition to the "_____ is for ________" statement includes scripture verses and tidbits of history that pertain to the focus for that letter. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of scripture verses throughout the book. The side information also makes the book more interesting for older children, making this a book that can be read as a family for years.

Like I said, pleasantly surprised. Not only that, but the book retails for under $7. It really makes me wish I had nieces and nephews - I'd buy a copy for each of them for Christmas this year. Instead, though, I'll just settle for the copy I bought for our household. =D

If you click here you can see some of the pages inside (I'm a big fan of the "surprise me!" button on the side bar for seeing what a book is like inside). But just to give you an idea of the way the letters are incorporated to give a picture of why we really celebrate Christmas, here is a sample...

A is for angels and archangels
B is for Baby Jesus
E is for Epiphany
I stands for Inn in Isreal
Joseph begins with the letter J
K stands for King
L is for Love
M is for the straw-filled Manger
S stands for Shepherds
W is for Wise Men
Zion starts with the letter Z

I love that the books draws in not only the nativity story, and cultural Christmas traditions, but also starts to give the big picture of Christmas, mentioning Christ as the King of Kings, born into King David's line and Christ returning again. It really is a good book and I can't recommend it enough if you're trying to find a good book to read with your kids this season.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Daily December

This year I am going to do Daily December activities with Eliana. We're going to spend time doing something for the holidays every day, and I'm going to do my best to take pictures and record what we're doing. I made a little Daily December album last month in which to record these memories so that we can look back on the things we did to celebrate Christmas this year.

And wouldn't you know it, but today is December 3 and I haven't yet recorded what we did on the 1st or the 2nd. The good news is that we DID something those days, though! Here's what we did:

December 1 - Drove around the subdivision looking at Christmas lights. It turns out that Eliana is a big fan of decorated houses and calls the houses with lights on them "castles". As in, "WOW! Look at that big castle over there!" It's cute.

December 2 - Eliana and I bought some Christmas books to read this season (including How the Grinch Stole Christmas and S is for Star) and we put up a new little Christmas tree in her room. It doesn't have any ornaments or a star on it yet, but it does have some red garland on it, which she picked out. I hope to use the Christmas tree this year to talk about the symbolism of the different decorations.

And today? Well, we'll have to see what we do today. She has friends coming over this afternoon, so we might bake cookies (in the shape of ginger bread men!) or we might make salt dough ornaments, or we might make cinnamon hard candy (in the shape of ginger bread men!) or we might play in the snow and learn to make snow angels or we might do something entirely different. We'll just have to see how the day goes. =D

Trains....

Ha ha! This is going to be funny post coming right after the last one, but I promise I'm not crazy. =D This morning we ordered this train set:

for Eliana to play with on her train table. It's the third part of her Little People / Cars / Trains rotation. Want to know the best part about this particular train set?? It was $29.99 with free shipping!! I have been looking at other train sets and for $30 all you get is a little 8 track with 2 train cars. So this set is a great deal! I'm pretty excited about it, especially since Eliana LOVES playing with the train sets at the Children's Museum, Barnes and Noble, and Giggles toy store. The set can connect into other brands of wooden train sets, too, which is nice. The reviews are pretty good on this particular train set from this particular website (there were 66 reviews) so I'm excited to see the set when it actually arrives. I assume we'll give it to Eliana for Christmas and then put it away until the middle of January or sometime in February when it's time to switch out the toys in the basement again. I know she is getting a Little People house from Mommom and Poppy, so I want her to play with that on the table first. Plus, her Christmas toys get to be new and fresh then when she doesn't get to play with them all at once.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Too many toys!

I have decided that Eliana has TOO MANY toys in her room. It is always a mess in there and there are just so many little pieces that get scattered around! In addition to the toys she has in her room she has toys in the family room downstairs and when both are messy it just feels like my whole house is in chaos! Some of the toys we really don't need and I'm going to freecycle them so that someone who might not have as much as we do can benefit from them. A lot of the toys really are good for her to play with developmentally, it's just that she doesn't need to play with them all at once. So.... I think I'm going to divvy up her toys into three sets and only have one set in her room at a time. Then when she gets tired of playing with those toys or it's just time for a change I can pull out a new set of toys and put the first set away. By divvying things into thirds it will give me three sets of toys to rotate between. I might do something similar with the toys in the basement, too. I think I probably ought to put a little more thought into which toys go in the basement (more group imaginative play) and what goes in her room (more of the individual developmental play) so there's actually a distinction. Some of the toys right now are just too young for her, too, and I need to put them with the other baby stuff so they are not cluttering things up.

I have tried a couple times to sort things out, but I am a piler. Then thinking about the sorting takes place as I'm sorting and it just sort of creates a giant mess that I don't get finished with during the time I've allotted for that project. So perhaps before I get into sorting again I should think out what I want to do first. =D

Currently we have two (actually three, but one needs to move) tables in the basement for Eliana to play on. One contains cardboard blocks and another has Little People on it right now. The third has a car track painted on it and I'm debating what to do with it. I also have an open space that's sort of fenced in by the two tables in the basement. I would love use this space for imaginative play. She has puppets down there already, but not set up in a good way to play with. So for the basement, here's what I'm thinking...

Building station (big table): 1. cardboard blocks 2. mega blocks 3. alphabet blocks (?)
Imagination station (open area): 1. puppets 2. dress up 3. dolls
Play station (smaller table): 1. little people 2. cars 3. trains (which we don't have yet)

Art station: I like the idea of an art station, but I think I'll set that up in my craft room to minimize the damage she can cause with a mess. =D Plus she can do art while I craft and that can be our "craft together" time. Now I just have to figure out where to put her easel in my craft room...

So given what I've planned for the basement and the craft room, that takes out the easel, mega blocks, alphabet blocks, dress up, and dolls from her room. That leaves in her room... stuffed animals, musical instruments, books, puzzles, and activity bags. I'm sure there are other things in there that I'm not remembering at the moment too, but, well, I'm not remembering those at the moment. So for her room I would like to see these areas....

Reading station: I'd like to divide her books into thirds so there are fewer of them to get scattered around. I would also like to take the glider out of her room and put her little rocking chair in there. Maybe I will (I can see a project coming here and I'm not sure I'll ever get to it, so don't hold me to it!!) make a cushion for the seat and back of the rocking chair so it's cute for her room and a little softer to sit in, too. I don't know if I can split her books into three "themes" or if it will just be a random selection of books, but there can be some Sandra Boynton and some Dr. Seuss in each set for sure.

Learning station: I have lots of little activity bags that I haven't had a place for so far. They include matching, bead threading, counting, etc. I don't know just how I want to do these yet since I don't want all the pieces to get mixed up, but I think it would be good to incorporate these. I also have some puzzles and some other things that could go in this station and get rotated through.

Music station: For this I have different kinds of instruments that I can cycle through. Ellie seems to have her favorites and I think if I switch them around then she will maybe play with some of the lesser favorites, too.

Suffed animals: This is less of a station and more of an area in which to reduce clutter. I'd like to split her stuffed animals into thirds so she has fewer to scatter around at a time. Some animals will stay out all the time (namely Kitty, Little Kitty, Star Bear, and Duck) but the others can be cycled through.

Miscellany: I just took a peek in Ellie's room and realized that the other toys in there are a lot of miscellaneous stuff. There are some bendy bunnies from Easter (which she still plays with and loves) and some stuffed peeps from the Easter before, a Barbie (from Barbie, which Ellie loves!), some slinkies, and some other miscellaneous toys. I don't know what I want to do about all these yet, since they really don't have a good home. If she didn't love them so much I could freecycle them, but she does love them and she does play with them. And really, some of them are good little toys for her to take out and about with us to keep her occupied at the grocery store. =D Now if only I could find a home for them...

So.... I think that's at least a good start on figuring out how to minimize the clutter. I'm sure I'll tweak it as I go, but hopefully once I decide to tackle this project I will actually get it done this time because I've taken the time to think it through.

I can hope, right?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ellie's Handiwork

We did some hand art last week for Thanksgiving. The turkey card is obviously holiday specific, but I really like the thank you cards for any occasion! Plus, Eliana had a great time stamping with her hand! I just gave her a blank sheet of white cardstock and let her go crazy with the stamp pad and her hand, and after she was done I cut the sheet in half, then folded those in half to form two cards and stamped thank you across the front. I think they turned out really cute!

Eliana's Handiwork

Eliana's Handiwork

DSC_9189

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Starfall...

Leif has moved Ellie up to the next level of Starfall and she is doing great with it! She does levels 1-4 in the "play" column and she hunts around on the keyboard to find the correct letter. It's really fun to watch her putting sounds together, knowing that these are the skills that will eventually help her to read!

Monday, November 10, 2008

P is for Pumpkin

I bought this book at Barnes and Noble last week. Today is a rainy, dreary day, so I pulled it out and read it with Eliana for the first time. It is a great book! It's one of the few Christian children's books I have found that does a good job of showing God's handiwork in His creation and gives examples of how we can be reminded of His presence in everyday objects and events. A lot of "Christian" children's books I have found are really just secular books with "Jesus" put in for good measure, and to me that seems like a pretty vain way to use Jesus' name, so I was so happy to find this book about fall that is so good! Ellie and I sat down and read it today... she read the letter on each page and I read the words that went with it. It held her attention through the entire book, an then she wanted to "read" it on her own when we were finished.

I'm hoping this book can be one we read over and over each fall, especially as we do some of the activities listed in the book, like corn mazes an pumpkin carving and apple picking.... I can see this book becoming part of our family fall traditions!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Soy yogurt....

... is a hit!!! My homemade cottage cheese alternative? Not so much. But hooray for soy yogurt!

On the behavior front, yesterday we went to kindermusik. This is one of the places where Ellie is usually crazy. And yesterday? She actually sat on the blanket and listened to the story and interacted with the teacher. That's the first time she's done that since we started going to kindermusik in September. Really! She didn't try to sit ON the other children. She didn't HAVE to climb over everyone to sit right in the front. She didn't try to turn the pages while Christa was reading the story. She didn't stand up and block the view for the other kids. What a change!!

Just to be clear, she wasn't perfect. I still took her out in the hall twice because she was following another little boy when he was running around the room instead of paying attention and following directions. But her distraction and following was normal 2 year old behavior, not crazy girl! Previously she didn't follow the other kids when they were off topic because she was too busy doing her own thing to even focus on being distracted by them!

So I have something new to work on with Ellie: obeying the teacher even when other kids are not. But that is a good thing to work on, and something we actually CAN work on now that she isn't just crazy all the time. So much for "Milk, it does a body good." eh?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some dairy free "cheese" recipes...

Because cheese is such a staple in our household and I don't want Ellie not to be able to eat it while we're eating it, I'm looking at cheese alternatives that I can make for her so she can have the same meals we're eating, or some of the same meals she's used to. Here are some recipes I intend to try...

Ricotta - I'm hoping this will be a good cottage cheese substitute for her...
Mac and Cheese sauce - for, um, mac and cheese, obviously...
Cheese sauce - for grilled cheese sandwiches

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dairy Free....

For about a year my mom has suggested that Ellie might be allergic to milk. She has been consistently congested for about that long (though not bad enough to cause concern or warrant doctor visits), which coincides with the timeframe we've had her on cow's milk. She is also extremely active (even for 2 year old standards - she's almost always the most active kid in a group of toddlers, whether the nursery at church or kindermusik or playgroup) and there are studies linking hyperactivity to milk consumption (specifically the protein casein, which is what cheese is made from). MOST of what Ellie consumes is in some way dairy related, from the milk she drinks (A LOT - over the past year there have been many weeks that she has consumed about 2 gallons a week) to the yogurt or cottage cheese she has for breakfast, mac and cheese or quesadillas for lunch, string cheese or sliced cheddar for snacks, feta with dinner... She loves milk and cheese. And perhaps it's this overconsumption that is making her so overly active.

So, at my mother's suggestion, we took her off milk on Tuesday. I didn't plan to start taking her off milk until Thursday, but we got halfway through the day and I'd realized I hadn't given her milk or cheese yet, so I just decided to go with it. She doesn't seem to have missed the milk. She asked for it once, but was happy with juice (well, 1/4 juice, 3/4 water) instead. I bought her some rice milk (both original and vanilla) and she doesn't seem to care for that at all, but she doesn't seem to mind not drinking milk, so it hasn't been a problem.

Cheese, however, she misses. She asked for cheese several times on Thursday, so yesterday I bought her some soy based fake cheese. Ouch! That stuff is expensive!! But she had a slice of "cheddar" and she seemed really happy about that. Didn't mind the taste difference at all. So, it's expensive, but at least it satisfies her need for cheese. We got some shredded "mozzarella" too, but she hasn't tried that yet.

So... We'll take her off milk products for a week or two and see if it makes a big difference in her behavior. I have a feeling, though, that it will. We took her off milk on Tuesday, and by yesterday (Friday) mom and I could already see a big change. She was mellower. Sitting at the table eating lunch without distraction in a busy mall food court, right next to the ride on machines in the play area. It was bizarre. Things that normally woud have been a meltdown because I told her "no" about something were not. She is still independent, stubborn, and two, but yesterday she acted like a "normal" two year old instead of a crazy one. Today Leif is seeing a difference in her, too. She is running with purpose, to a specific destination, instead of running circles just because. She walks places now, too, and is only full speed ahead when she chooses to instead of all the time. So I have a feeling we will be seeing this change from here on out as we keep her off the milk. We are supplementing her diet with calcium and she is taking vitamins, and we are trying to make sure she gets protein rich foods, to make sure that she isn't nutrient deficient now that she's not consuming mass quantities of milk.

So... it looks like we're going dairy free for Ellie. I'm not sure this is a road I really want to go down (dairy is in a lot of the foods we eat regularly!) but it looks like it's the road I'm on and if it helps Ellie, then it's the road I'll take!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Purees....

Vegetable Puree

A while back I said we were trying out the recipes in "Deceptively Delicious". One step in that process is to make up some vegetable purees so we have them on hand when we need them. I am not very good at consistently creating balanced meals with the food groups, especially vegetables. So I'm hoping this will help. Of course, it means I need to be better about meal planning, too, but I need to do that anyway. I made carrot and spinach purees a while back (as you can see by the date on the bag!) and we have used up most of these. Right now I have pumpkins and squash that need to be processed (but are making lovely fall decorations by our front door until I get to it!) and I'm hoping to get to that (at least some of it) this week. After all, the pumpkins should have a couple days with fun halloween faces before I cook them! =D

(and now you see my theory on pumpkins... they ought to serve as many purposes as possible with the least amount of effort... pumpkin patch family activity, fall decoration, jack-o-lantern carving family activity, Halloween decoration, toasted pumpkin seeds (keeping some out for planting in the spring), roasting and pureeing the flesh for use in pies and scones and cookies and soup all holiday season!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Symphony

One of the silent auction items at the Children's Museum fundraiser was a family pass to the Bozeman Symphony family concerts. The family concerts are actually during the dress rehearsals so the kids get to hear the same great performance, without the awful distraction of a child interrupting or being freaked out by a large crowd. If your child gets noisy, you can leave the auditorium (guests are seated in the balcony only, making this easier to do without distracting the musicians during the practice/performance) and then re-enter when your child is ready to sit quietly again.

We attended our first concert (and Ellie's first ever symphonic performance) last Friday night. It was very good and I'm really glad we went, but Ellie was very busy. For the first while she was quiet, just up and down (on the floor, not on the chair) and up and down and dancing to the music. Then she started talking about the things she was seeing ("Violins! Look at the violins!") and we had to take her out into the hall. We talked to her about being quiet when we watch the symphony and how she needed to whisper. Then we went back in. She was good for a while until she started talking and wiggling again and we had to take her out again.

After a while I quit going back to my seat. I just held her inside the door and we listened and as soon as she said anything in a non-whisper voice we went back out in the hall to talk about not talking during the concert. In and out. In and out. The good news is that the doors were propped open, so we didn't make any noise actually going through the door, which is good. And part of the reason that we wanted to do these concerts is to teach her how to act appropriately during them. Sitting still and being quiet are things she doesn't do well. She talks non stop. She moves non stop. So we're working on it. I think she really liked the concert, and Leif and I took turns taking her out into the hall so we each got to enjoy part of it, too. It's a good program and I'm really glad our symphony does that for families. And hopefully by the end of the season we'll be able to sit and enjoy the concert quietly, as a family, and not out in the hall. =D

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bentos!!

I have been taking pictures of bentos when I make them, but I just realized I haven't posted them here. I'm having a lot of fun with them, even though I'm only making one every other week or so. I'm finding that bentos are good not only for going on picnics and such when a packed lunch is sort of requisite, but also a great idea when I'm not sure what we'll be doing for lunch, or where, such as on days I'm running errands. They're really easy to pack up and take with us so that Ellie can eat them in the car as we're driving around or take into the store and munch on while I'm shopping. It keeps her content and keeps us from feeding her a lot of fast food. Granted, the fast food I would buy is from Costco or Target in the form of a soft pretzel or hot dog, but it's still healthier and cheaper to have her filled up on a bento full of turkey hot dogs, apples, craisins, and cheese. Plus, I just like hearing her little excited voice tell me, "Look, Mommy! There are little bears in my bento!" (She did that this week and I decided that it was definitely worth the extra minute it took to cut her cheese tortilla into little bear shapes.) So... here are some bentos from the past couple months...

Bentos

Sometimes I make bentos for the both of us and package them together in a napkin for easy transportation. Here are the individual bentos...

My Bento

This is mine. It has Greek salad with dressing, a fruit leather barrier, and mac and cheese with feta.

Ellie's Bento

This is Ellie's. It's has mac and cheese, hot dogs, cucumbers with ranch dip, fruit leather, and something across the bottom (and in the little cup under the fruit leather) that I can't remember.

Bentos

And like the rest, I tie them up in a napkin and tie in my silverware. I just tucked Ellie's fork into her bento since it fit.

Bentos

This is mine. Can you tell that I like using individually wrapped fruit leathers as barriers between the food?

Bentos

This is Ellie's from the same day. These were back in August. When I cut out the little heart shapes from the cheese I used the leftover cheese bits and rolled them into the turkey rolls. That way the "ugly" part of the food was still used and my bento stayed cute! After all, bentos are about both form AND function....

I'm sure I have more bento pictures somewhere, but I suppose I'll share them at a later date. I don't do it every day, and I'm not the most proficient at bento packing, but I am really enjoying it! I'm hoping to prepare bentos at least once a week in the coming months, on days that we have playgroup at the museum. That way I have lunch ready for her to eat at the museum (if she's hungry then) or while I am running errands after playgroup. It made errand running SO MUCH SMOOTHER this week, so I hope I continue to do it!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Bento Box!

Well, relatively new. Within the last month. Which is newer than my last post on this blog. Sorry about that.... life has been pretty busy since we started everything up again this fall.

But Ellie has a new bento box! Or bento carrier, really, but I love it! Here it is in all its glory....

Ellie's New Bento Box

Tiny. Compact. and PINK!

Ellie's New Bento Box

And it has a place for utensils in the lid! How great is that?? It's not really a bento box, but rather a craft tote from Joanns, but it works perfectly for us. And I got it on sale, for 50% off. Can't beat that, really.

And because no bento post is complete without a picture of, well, actual bentos....

Bentos

There you go.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fun with socks...

What do you do when you've lost the mate to a pair of socks? You put it on your hand a play with it! I had great ambitions of decorating the socks with eyes and hair and roll-out felt tongues, but the truth is that Ellie is just as happy with a plain old sock for a puppet as she would be with a decorated one! Easier for me, too! So instead of throwing away the spare socks immediately, why not have a little fun with them first?


Saturday, August 30, 2008

This week in review...

Musical Monday - Not too much in the way of music today... Just some time spent seeing what different bags of rocks sound like when shaken. Big rocks, little rocks, shaking, dropping... We played with sound. She played her recorder some, too. Mostly we just spent the morning at the park playing with Caedmon, though.

Tactile Tuesday - Puzzles. Lots of puzzles and shape matching today.

Wordy Wednesday - Played Starfall and did a really good job with it! She's learning to push the correct letters when asked and has now learned to hit the right arrow key to advance to the next page. It's great!

Theatrical Thursday - Dress up. Lots of dress up. Hats, sunglasses, and purses. A toddler girl's dream! Oh, and we spent a good chunk of the morning at the park playing with Zach and Kat. There was quite a bit of imaginative play going on with Ellie in the afternoon, too. She climbed up on the furniture and told me she was climbing on rocks, and she'd "look" for birds and then tell me when she "saw" one - all imaginary, of course!

Fun Friday - Finger paints outside and water colors inside. It was a painting day!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Week In Review...

Musical Monday - We spent some afternoon time clapping out rhythms and counting our claps. Clapping our hands, clapping on our laps, and clapping on our bellies. Ellie got a big kick out of it, though she didn't repeat the pattern more than once in a set. (e.g. Clap hands twice, clap belly twice, hands twice, belly twice - she would just repeat by clapping her hands twice and then her belly twice and stop.) Still, I thought that was pretty good for her and better than she has done in the past.

Tactile Tuesday - We spent the morning picking raspberries, which I think is good exercise in fine motor skills! =D Though she wasn't fond of getting poked with the thorns and stayed to the edge of the bushes, Ellie was pretty good at picking (and eating!) the ripe red berries. She took a nap after being out in the sun for so long and when she woke up we did a couple shape matching and color sorting activities. I participated in a toddler activity swap a couple years ago and this was the first time I've used any of the activities! But she did great with both and I know we'll use them again!

Wordy Wednesday - We started the morning out by reading books together, and we worked on finding letters a little later in the day. It wasn't too word-intensive of a day, but it works.

Theatrical Thursday - We spent the morning at the Children's Museum (including some dress up and role playing) and had playdate time (including a tea party!) with Zoe in the afternoon. I didn't do anything specific with her because she was pretty shot by the time we got home, but she had plenty of imaginitive play time.

Fun Friday - Ellie made a piece of artwork on Friday! Nothing too fancy, but I gave her a sheet of cardstock, a gluestick, and some tissue paper squares. I demonstrated once what to do (put the glue on the paper and then stick a tissue square to it) and after that she had a blast glueing colorful squares to the paper! She told me what colors she was using and repeated the steps over and over while she did it ("glue... now stick a square!"). I'll have to take a picture of her art, but that will come later. Right now it's hanging on the fridge. =D

Friday, August 22, 2008

More thoughts on the co-op...

The more I think about the co-op idea, the less I think it's a good idea for us, for a few reasons. Here are the things that trouble me...

1. As stated before, the co-op would have to be in the mornings due to kid naps. Really, what I want is someone to watch Ellie in the afternoons, as we already have a routine for mornings. I have time and energy to clean in the afternoons, but not in the morning.

2. I feel like I would be tied to a co-op and not have the flexibility to do something different if I wanted to. If I had a babysitter, there would be more flexibility in the schedule. I realize that a co-op would really only tie me down on the weeks that I had to watch the other kids, but with a babysitter there is the flexibility to change days if I need to and still have Ellie watched. I can't do that with a co-op.

3. Perhaps this is the selfish point, but it factors pretty largely. The truth of the matter is that I don't really want to watch anyone else's kids, even if it means free sitting for Ellie on other weeks. Really I just want to pay someone to watch her so I can get my stuff done without having to worry about watching other people's kids.

So there you have my most recent thoughts on the co-op. It sounded like a good idea when we were first talking about it, and maybe if things were different with us right now it would be a good option. But right now it's not what I'm looking for.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Co-op kid swap...

Tonight Shannon and I were talking about kid-swapping and co-oping. I've been thinking lately that I really need to find someone to watch Eliana one day a week or something just so I can get stuff done at home. Since she quit taking naps I have found it very difficult to complete household tasks like laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc. She likes to "help" or wants me to play with her, and I don't do well with the distractions. She went from taking a 4 hour nap each afternoon to no nap at all, and I'm finding that I really miss those afternoons to get things done! So I've had a few thoughts about what to do with her. Here are some of the ideas I've had...

* Babysitter - I could pay someone to watch Ellie for one day a week while I clean the house or run errands or get some scrapbooking done.

* Mother's Helper - I could have a younger (too young to "really" babysit, but ready for some of the responsibility of playing with and watching a kid) girl come over to play with Ellie and keep her occupied while I get things done around the house. I'd still be available if a need came up (like diaper changing or whatnot) but wouldn't have to deal with the constant barrage of interruptions. I could pay her a small amount, but not as much as I would pay a babysitter.

* Kid Swap - Erika and I already do this, though we took a break over the summer. Every other Friday I take Eliana to Erika's house for a playdate with Zoe from about 10-2. On the off Fridays Zoe comes here to play with Ellie. The down side to this is that I pretty much have to stay in town during that time (I just can't justify making two trips to town just so I can clean the house during that time) but it's a good time to run errands or bring scrapbooking supplies with me and get some crafting done at Keepsakes.

* Co-op - This is what Shannon and I were talking about this evening. Getting a group of SAHMs together and arranging a kid co-op type of thing. Two moms would stay with all of the kids, while the other moms were free to go out and get stuff done. We'd rotate weeks that we watched the kids, and (ideally) we'd have 3 weeks free during the month and one week on duty. Shannon and I are definitely interested, but we'll have to see if we can get enough moms together to do it.

* After Bed Swap - This is something we did with the Richters and it worked pretty well for a while. After the kids went to bed (around 7:30 or 8) one of the Richters would come down and sit in the house while Ellie slept and we went out for a date. The next night (we did it on a Friday/Saturday combo) one of us would go down and sit at their house while their kids slept and they went out on a date. It was a good system while it lasted, and it was nice to have the time away to read or watch TV or even craft (because I would take crafting supplies to their house and work on projects). Kids go to bed later in the summer and they're expecting twins, so I don't think we'll go back to doing this, but it's worth mentioning.

So those are the ideas on kid swapping/babysitting/and co-oping to have Ellie-free time. Since we were talking about the co-oping tonight, here are the logistical details I have rolling around in my head:

  • It's got to be on a day that works for everyone, and it pretty much has to be mornings because toddlers (at least most toddlers) still take afternoon naps. For me, Tuesday is really the only day that works, and that's really only if I find sometime other than Tuesday morning to exercise with Taylor. Of course, we keep saying we're going to exercise on Tuesday morning and we haven't yet, so that may resolve itself yet.
  • There has to be an understanding that the moms on duty can in no way decide not to watch kids that day and leave one mom in charge or leave everyone hanging. That's just not fair and it won't work if people do that.
  • You can choose not to send your kid to co-op, but that doesn't get you out of your week on duty.
  • There has to be a set time to watch the kids, like 9-1 or 10-1. 1 should probably be the cutoff just so kids get home in time to take naps.
  • I think keeping the co-op at homes within the Belgrade/River Rock/Landmark area is a good idea, just because that way we're all localized instead of having to drive all the way to Bozeman some weeks.
  • Depending on how many moms we get to participate, doing it for 3 weeks out of the month and then taking a week off might work.
  • It's a good idea to have a single person coordinate and to have a central form of communication, such as email. Google Calendar is a good tool if enough people are willing to use it.

Music Plan...

I have been thinking that I want to start teaching Ellie music. She's only just barely two, but she is very interested in music, and has recently taken to spending time at the piano, playing and singing happily. I want to foster this love of music in her and have years of music background myself, so I figured now might be a good time to start the music program.

But what IS the music program for a 2 year old?

I don't know. I'm sort of making mine up as I go. So far the music program has consisted of sitting at the piano with my daughter and having her tell me what songs she wants me to play. I play. She sings. And she "plays" the high keys along with me. She really enjoys it. She likes the guitar, too. She strums it (in tune or not!) or I finger the chords and she strums and we sing. I need to learn some kid songs, though, before we do too much more of it. Singing is more fun when she knows the songs. =D

Somewhat at a loss for where to go from there, I decided to sign Eliana up for the fall session of Kindermusik this year. The program is designed to introduce 18mo-3yo kids to music and instruments. The program and instructor come highly recommended from a friend of mine, and I'm looking forward to doing this on Musical Mondays. I'm hoping to pick up after the session with my own instruction, and think this will be the perfect way to jumpstart our formal(ish) music program.

Today I had a few moments to walk around while Leif and Ellie were in Costco, so I stopped in Eckroth Music. It's the first music store I've been in for years. Literally. I'm pretty sure I haven't been in a music store since we moved to MT, and that was 5 years ago. So I walked around and looked around and found a couple things I'm excited about using with Ellie as we practice music together. The first is something I was planning on making, but am happy to find someone else has made for less than $5! They're music note flashcards. For some reason I really really want her to learn to read music early on instead of learning how to play by ear or by memory before she can read music or knows what notes are. And since she's in shape-matching and flashcard loving land right now, I figure this might be a fun way to start. Here's what I got:


Some of the flashcards are definitely too advanced for her, but the basic ones (starter notes like middle C and those surrounding) I can certainly introduce her to now. I also got a piano book, designed for ages 4 and up beginning piano students. It's called Piano Party by the Bastiens.


I love this book already. It starts by teaching kids right and left hands (which Ellie already knows, so we're good there!) and numbers 1-5 and high and low and stuff like that. And the workbook pages are very little kid friendly, plus it includes teacher notes in the back with the tunes for little memory aid songs, rhythm clapping songs, accompaniment pieces to add to what they play... all that fun stuff! The activity pages look like this:



So that's my plan. Kindermusik, and starting in on the book and the flashcards. Who knows... it may take Eliana 3 years to go through the book. But it seems to me that this is a good way to start, so I'm going to try it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Daily Activity Guide

I am organizing the box of activities I have for Ellie right now, so I figured it might be a good idea to write down what activities work well for each day. Then when I am at a loss for an activity to do I will have a reference guide to look at.

Musical Monday
  • Kindermusik (September through December)
  • Recorder*
  • Piano
  • Guitar
  • Singing songs and doing motions
  • Tapping out rhythms
Tactile Tuesday
  • Playdough
  • Match the Bead sorting game*
  • Clip the Square sorting game*
  • Shape matching*
  • Puzzles
Wordy Wednesday
  • Alpha spoons*
  • Alphabet puzzle*
  • Tracing letters on the alphabet placemat*
  • Letter puzzles*
  • Starfall
  • Alphabet coloring pages (print from starfall)
  • Puzzle Number Shapes
  • Word flashcards*
  • Read books
Theatrical Thursday
  • Children's Museum playgroup
  • Dress up
  • Puppets
  • Little People
Fun Friday
  • Tissue Paper Collage*
  • Paint
  • Coloring pages*

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bento Box Size...

Well, after a little searching on Lunch in a Box, I figured out about how big my bento box should be. She has a handy calculator on there, and using that this is what I figured out:

I am in my 20's, so I should start with a 600 ml box for calculation purposes. I am shorter than average, so I should subtract 100 ml, and I have a low activity level, so I subtract another 100 ml. (I think... either way I am trying to lose weight, so a smaller box isn't a bad thing.) So my bento box should be about 400 ml.

So I just went and checked the box I used yesterday to pack my lunch and Ellie's lunch together and... it's like 1600 ml. HUGE. And not huge at the same time. But that explains why we only ate about half the food in it and felt plenty full. Weird. So that must be the family size box. Good to know.

A 400 ml. box is small. Very small, by my normal lunch packing standards. But if I could fit a whole lunch in that teeny tiny box, it would fit in my purse. That would be convenient! So I'll try again sometime soon. Maybe packing my lunch alone this time to see if I can do it. Right now I'm off to sort through the Tupperware and see what containers I already have that will fit the bill. How fun!

This week in review...

Musical Monday - we played the piano (We would sit together on the piano bench and she told me what songs she wanted me to play (mostly the ABC's) and we'd sing together or she'd sing alone and she "played along" at the high end of the keyboard) and I got out the guitar for her to play with. We did a little bit of guitar playing where I held the chord and she strummed. That was sort of fun, I just have to figure out how to play some children's song on it. Most of the guitar songs I know are praise and worship songs from college.

Tactile Tuesday - I have to admit that I didn't do much with this this week. I had ideas, but she mostly wanted to play the piano and guitar again, so I let her. Maybe next week we'll pull out the playdough or something. Leif did try to teach her somersaults today, so I guess that counts.

Wordy Wednesday - Leif (who is home from work this week) played starfall with Ellie, and we did an alphabet puzzle on the floor. It is a new puzzle for her and it might be above her skill level, but it was good practice at matching up letters.

Theatrical Thursday - I didn't do anything specific with her today, but she spent a good deal of time at the Children's Museum playing with the other kids, including dress up. So I count that as good imaginative play.

Fun Friday - No art projects today, just a couple hours spent at the splash park with the Danielson and Morales kids! She was pretty worn out after that so she actually took a nap today!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My First Bento!!

Today I had the opportunity to make my first bento, so I did!! Ellie and I were going to spend some time at the splash park with friends, so I decided to pack a lunch for us to share. Perfect time to try my hand at this new technique, right? So here it is... my very first bento:



I think my container might be a little big, but I don't really know how big a bento box is supposed to be. And maybe, if I weren't calorie counting and trying to lose weight, this might be the right size box, but it seemed like it was a little deep. Anyway, it worked well, and I'll use it again for bento-ing when Ellie and I need to take lunch somewhere. I'll also let her eat the leftovers for snack this afternoon. Here's what I packed into it...

1. Strawberries. These are actually placed all the way across the box and the silicone cup is sitting on a layer of them. Then I filled in around the silicone cup with more strawberries to finish off that section. We shared the strawberries.

2. Macaroni and Cheese. This is leftover from yesterday, so I just threw it in a silicone cup for Ellie to eat. I made it a smiley face by adding hot dog eyes and a fruit leather mouth. I just cut off pieces of the hot dog and fruit leather that are also in the box.

3. Fruit Leather. I used the fruit leather as a barrier between the strawberries and the proteins. I think the proteins might have been just fine against the strawberries, but it was an easy place to put the leather and I wanted to use it for the smile anyway. =D

4. String Cheese. This is at the bottom of the box, right next to the fruit leather. It's still in its wrapper, so I wasn't worried about it getting contaminated.

5. Turkey Hot Dog. This is right on top of the cheese and under the turkey rolls. It's in once piece, except for the two slices I cut off to make the smiley face eyes. This is Ellie's protein.

6. Turkey Deli Meat Rolls. Instead of rolling each of the slices up individually, I just rolled all 5 together and figured I'd roll them separately when it came time to eat. It was laziness. =D This is my lunch protein, so I figured I'd just make do. It worked pretty well.

7. No Sugar Added Blackberry Jam. This is in the little pink Tupperware container at the top of the picture. It's my dipping sauce for the turkey rolls. Weird, but it's low calorie and good. =D

8. Carrots. We were pretty much out of vegetables that I could take along, but I found a little bag of carrots in the fridge, so they came with us at the last minute. They help form a barrier between the proteins (which are cold and lunchmeaty, so they're sort of wet) and the dry goldfish crackers.

9. Goldfish Crackers. These are sort of a filler for the box and snack food, and the carb portion of the box. I put them on the opposite side of the box from the macaroni to help balance out the colors a little. These are Ellie's snack for this afternoon, too, since she didn't really eat them with lunch.

10. Ranch Dressing. I put the ranch in another Tupperware container (the taller, old style midge containers) for dipping carrots. Ellie loves to dip her carrots, so this was *her* container.

I admit, this was more food than Ellie and I needed for lunch. I was sort of shocked by that, because if I'd packed everything into separate containers like I normally do, it would take a lunch box at least twice the size of the bento box to fit it all in. But this was extremely compact and held plenty of food. And I only had a couple lids to keep track of (the lid for my bento box fits right underneath it, so that is nice) instead of 6 or so! I opened it up and held it on my lap while we were at the park and I didn't have to worry about ziplock bags blowing away or gathering together all the containers every time I wanted to stand up. AND the bento box fit nicely into my bag (which also held a towel, change of clothes, sunscreen, nalgene bottle, sippy cup, and diapers) so I only had to carry one bag and my purse (oh, and my chair) to the park and I was set for a couple hours! Easy to do in one trip!

Something else I added to my bento box was a cloth napkin... I layed it out diagonally, folded in two opposing points, and tied the other two points around the box to create a handle. It was cute in its presentation, functional as a handle, and meant that I had a cloth napkin with me while I was eating - something I was glad to have since I forgot a fork for myself and at strawberry quarters with my fingers! I remembered a fork for Ellie (for the mac and cheese) and just tucked that inside the box on top of the carrots. Here's what the finished, packed up bento box looked like:



So there you have it. My first foray into the land of bento. I like it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bento Mania!

I was recently introduced to the idea of bento and immediately fell for them, mostly based on cute-factor. Really, really adorable lunches. And then I started thinking about why I would want to take the time to pack a bento. Are there any real benefits that align with my priorities (other than cuteness, ha ha!) and how I want to spend my time?

Turns out there are. See, one of the things that I hold important is stewardship. Not just of money, though I think we are to be good stewards of money as well. I think it is important to be good stewards of EVERYTHING we are given - our time, our minds, our bodies, our children, our earth... And bento fits right in with at least a couple of those, so I think it's worth a look.

As for being stewards of our bodies and our children, there is a lot to be said for the food we eat and the food we use to nourish our children. Bento encourages a colorful, balanced meal consisting of the 5 food groups. By packing your food in a bento box, you just WANT to incorporate different fruits and vegetables, because, let's face it... a bento box containing a single pbj sandwich just isn't as fun to look at as sandwiches cut into stars surrounded by blueberries and a banana moon. When it comes to adult bento, it's easier to control portion sizes and balanced nutrition when you pack it all into a single box. You can easily see what proportions you have of carbs, fruits, veggies, and protein. Bento encourages balance and moderation.

Because bento boxes are designed to be stuffed full of food (so the food doesn't slosh around and mix with other foods) it is done in a way that uses "neutral" foods (like celery and carrots) to form a barrier between other foods. You might not want your blueberries to juice up your sandwich bread, but place a few carrots as a barrier between them and you've got a problem solved! AND you've got grains, protein (sandwich filling), fruit and vegetables all right there! In a traditional lunch sack, you'd have each item (sandwich, blueberries, carrots) in its own ziplock bag, which just get thrown away. Even if you go for the reusable approach, you'd have 3 separate containers, all in a lunch bag. This way you just have everything in one container, which serves as its own lunch bag. Fewer things to wash (less water used) and fewer things to throw away!

Really it's a great idea. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it until now, but today I picked up a box to use as a bento box, and some silicone baking cups to keep wet foods off of other foods. I still have a few years before I have to send a lunch with Ellie, so maybe I'll have time to perfect the art. In the meantime, I'm excited to give it a try for our weekly picnic lunches after the hikes. It sounds so... fun! =D

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Recipe Review: Deceptively Delicious Aloha Chicken Kebabs

I tried my first Deceptively Delicious recipe the other night, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it. I made the Aloha Chicken Kebabs made with sweet potato puree. They were really good! I will make them again!

Once you have the sweet potato puree (I recommend making up the purees ahead of time for these recipes), the chicken is very easy to make. I didn't have any short wooden skewers, like the recipe calls for, so I just used the long metal ones we use for grilling. That didn't work. Because they didn't fit in the pan I was using to cook the chicken, the chicken didn't rest on the bottom of the pan and therefore didn't cook. I just pulled the chicken off the skewers and cooked them in the pan. It worked just fine. It didn't look as festive, but it worked just fine.

The chicken had a nice Polynesian flavor about it, and tasted very different from what I usually make. I really liked it! I think it would be really good served with rice or stir fry with pineapple and almonds (like a Polynesian stir fry). I definitely recommend this recipe if you have the cookbook!

One thing I don't like about this book is that it doesn't include all the nutrition information. As a calorie counter (my choice for dieting) I like to know all the specs on my food. Thanks to sparkrecipes.com, though, I can now tell you the nutrition information for this dish! You'll have to buy the cookbook for the recipe (and I recommend it!) but the nutritional details per serving (3-4 kebabs) are...

Calories: 315
Fat: 8
Carbs: 32
Fiber: 3
Protein: 30

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Routine

Now that Eliana has given up her nap, I have been wanting to use that time to do a little organized learning time with her. Nothing too structured, just something to add a little consistency to our afternoons. She functions much better on a schedule and, truthfully, so do I. We typically have things scheduled in the mornings from around 10-noon, but I want to do something together each day in the afternoon as well. So here's what I've come up with so far...

Musical Mondays - activities focusing on music and rhythm. We'll explore instruments (piano and guitar for now), sing together, dance to music, and play rhythm games.
Tactile Tuesdays - activites focusing on motor skills. We'll play with playdough, blocks, bubbles, etc. Anything to get moving in big and small ways!
Wordy Wednesdays - activites focusing on language. We'll read books, work on the alphabet, play Starfall, and color alphabet activity pages.
Theatrical Thursdays - activities focusing on pretend play. We'll dress up, play with puppets, play with baby dolls, and do animal imitations.
Fun Friday - activities focusing on fun things, but mostly art! We'll paint, draw, color, and create! It'll be fun!

I haven't thought it out too much, but this is my basic scheme for right now. I figure we can do a couple activities for 15 minutes each and we'll vary the activities depending on weather, energy levels, and what we want to do that day. It will give us some semblance of schedule in the afternoon without being too rigid, and it will give us organized time to play together! Some days we may just be busy and need to skip it because we're in town or whatever, but this way I know what we'll be doing on which days so we can pick up when we need to.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Scripture Memory

Eliana is 2 years old and has been soaking up information like a sponge. She knows her famous landmarks (20 of the them, at least!) and all of the letters of the alphabet, both upper and lowercase, plus the sound most of them make. Dr. Benda said this would be a good time to introduce her to a musical instrument. It occurs to me that this would also be a good time to start her on scripture memory.

I have been thinking a lot about what I want I want Ellie's mind and heart filled with. As she absorbs information so much right now, I want to make sure that she is absorbing what is good and true and right, and not what the world says is fun for toddlers. According to what I see all around, my 2 year old is supposed to be obsessed with Dora, or the Disney Princesses, or Blue and they are to be the primary moral influences in her life. I don't want that for my daughter! Girls who start out being obsessed with Dora and Disney Princesses turn into teenagers obsessed with Britney and Paris. But I want a daughter who grows up to be obsessed with the Lord and His ways!

So I have to be careful now what her mind and heart is filled with. I'm not saying there's anything necessarily wrong with Dora, the Disney Princesses, or Blue's Clues. But I don't want to fill Eliana with something just because it's not bad. I want to fill her mind and heart with things that are GOOD! I want her to think on things that are good and true and right, and that starts now.

Right now she basically has my favorite CD memorized. We listen to it in the car all the time and she sings along. You know, if we had been listening to scripture set to music, she would know it by now! Wouldn't that be wonderful to have God's Word hidden in her heart so young?! So I have been searching for a good way to approach scripture memory for a 2 year old. I came across this blog that lists abbreviated verses for each letter of the alphabet and I thought that was a pretty cool idea. A family friend suggested Scripture Memory Fellowship, which actually has a preschool scripture memory program! AND the preschool memory books also have CDs for purchase with the scriptures set to music. That sounds perfect for us! I might even get one of the adult memory books since I have fallen out of the habit of memorizing scripture and would like to get back into it.

So that's my new goal to work on with Eliana - scripture memory. I'll let you know how the Scripture Memory Fellowship products are. I trust the source that recommended them, so hopefully I'll have a good report!

Update on Crudites

The "no snacks before dinner except veggies" rule has been going great! Last night I offered her carrots and she didn't want them but requested bread. I told her that she couldn't have bread because we were only going to eat vegetables before dinner. She paused a minute and then said, "Hmmm.... I want cucumbers!" So I got out a cucumber and cut her a spear and she ate it and then came back for a second spear!

So far so good!

Tonight I'm trying my first Deceptively Delicious recipe - Aloha Chicken Kebabs.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crudites

Here's an idea I just got from the cookbook "Deceptively Delicious"... If your kids are hungry before dinner, offer them some raw vegetables to munch on. If they're really hungry, they'll eat them. If they stuff themselves with vegetables before dinner and "ruin" their appetites, at least they got a good healthy dinner of veggies.

I just tried it with Eliana - offered her carrots instead of the traditional late afternoon popsicle snack. You know what? She took the two baby carrots and has been happily munching on them and not bugging me for a popsicle. It's a good idea for adults to remember too when you feel like snacking during the dinner preparation process!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sacajawea Park

Back in June we went on a little overnight roadtrip to Yellowstone. On the way home we stopped in Livingston for some ice cream and stumbled upon Sacajawea Park. Now, I'm sure everyone else already knows about this place, but we did not. In fact, even after we found it, we thought it was just a nice little park with a gazebo, some picnic tables, and a couple merry-go-rounds. Then we walked a little further and saw some swings and a wading pool. After spending a little time on the swings I looked across a field where people were playing horseshoes and saw this:



"Hmm.... I wonder what that is?" I thought. So we trekked over to check it out. WOW! Seriously. Check. It. Out...



Only one entrance/exit. No escaping kiddos! Easy to keep tabs on them if they can't run off as soon as you turn your back!



Big kids play area. Castles. Slides. Scary places too high for toddlers, but great for big kids.



And a whole section (again with only one entrance/exit) JUST. FOR. TODDLERS/PRESCHOOLERS! Nothing they can fall off of and hurt themselves. Just places to climb and play and slide and jump on. Perfect for imaginary play with a barn (complete with Trex animal decorations!) and a tractor and other fun things!

Ellie's grandparents and I took her there again yesterday. She loved it. Just ran and played and had a blast. We brought a picnic lunch and made a morning of it. The whole playground is shaded, which is nice. I didn't have to fight with her about wearing a hat that falls off when she plays. Of course, she wouldn't keep her shoes on, but there is nice, soft bark everywhere. Not the big pokey stuff, but the shredded nice bark. There's much more to the playground than I showed in my pictures. It's huge. It's worth the drive to Livingston. It's a GREAT park.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I made these for 4th of July...

... but I will have to remember them in a couple years if Ellie has a princess birthday party! They're perfect little wands and Ellie has been having a grand time toting one around with her all morning. Just adding it to my arsenal of ideas for birthday parties... =D


Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Sand" Art....

I think sand art is a fun idea for a kids project. Unfortunately, it also sounds kind of messy (in the sand-stuck-to-your-foot-all-the-time way, not in the goopy way) and with all the glue and designs and whatnot, probably not the best project for a 2 year old. But then I found this solution from Lazy Mama Designs. She suggests letting kids doodle sand designs on the sticky side of contact paper (if you use clear you can hang it in the window as a sun catcher) and I think that's a BRILLIANT idea! I also think it's a little more toddler friendly as a project. I think I'll vary it, though, for Ellie, because she will undoubtedly eat some of the sand. So... I'm thinking I'll use a little food coloring to color some sugar and let her use that for her sand project. If she eats it, she'll be hyper, but no harm done. And if I'm lucky I'll remember to do this project outside so I can just sweep the deck and be done with cleanup. =D

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Need a quick, easy, cheap outdoor activity?

I'm not sure why I didn't think this up on my own, but I saw this idea on parenthacks.com. It's brilliant! When you want an activity for your kiddo outside on a hot day, give him a cup of water and a paintbrush and let him "paint" the house, the driveway, the deck... whatever he fancies! It's cheap, easy, doesn't require any cleanup, and keeps him cool all at the same time!

If you wanted to do something similar inside, this would be a great idea for a chalkboard. I'm in the process of turning Ellie's new easel into a chalkboard and am thinking this is a great activity until she's actually old enough to paint responsibly. Water I can clean up off the floor. Paint, not so easily.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mom and Me Hike - Sourdough Trail

For this week's Mom and Me hike, we headed to the Sourdough Trail. I can't believe I had never been there before!! The trail is AMAZING and there are just miles and miles of interconnected trails to explore. The trails wind through the meadow, down into the woods, and along the Sourdough creek. The trails are level, and wide enough (in most places) for two strollers side by side, though you have to keep a lookout for runners and bikers if you go stroll side by side. It was absolutely beautiful, and even on a hot day it was nice because so much of the trail is in the shade. We could have hiked more in the shade, too, if we had chosen different paths to explore. After our hike we found a bench off the trail by the creek and ate lunch there. Beth was with me, so we sat on the bench while Caedmon and Ellie played. They watched the creek and tried swinging from a tree branch. It was great!

I definitely recommend wearing bug spray if you plan to spend much time down by the creek, but I don't know that it would be a problem every year. This year has been so wet here that our mosquitoes are out much heavier than they usually are! We even had bug troubles up at the M, and I don't ever remember mosquitoes being up there.

We will DEFINITELY do this hike again. And it's my official new fall-back hike if I can't think of a good place to go some week. I really enjoyed it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Starfall

I came across this website a while back and told Leif about it. He uses it with Ellie. As I don't really use the computer with her, I had sort of forgotten all about it. But I had a bit of renewed interest today and went poking around a bit and discovered that you can print out worksheets for the activities as well! Ellie is VERY interested in letters and coloring right now, so this might be a good way to combine the two, and without a lot of expense!

Perhaps I'll print off a few and keep them in the little school desk I just got at a garage sale. She seems to think sitting at the desk is fun and she keeps asking to color while she's there, so that might be a good way to work on her letters while she colors.

Friday, June 27, 2008

This sounds like a fun playground!!


I don't know if this playground will come to Bozeman, but it sounds like it would be really neat! Like a walk in the woods and a place to play all at once. I think this is one of the things I like best about living in Bozeman... people are interested in doing something different, fitting in with the natural landscape as opposed to completely destroying it because we need places to live and play. Not everyone is interested in doing it, of course, but a few here and a few there go a long way to changing the way we think. If this playground goes in, I think we'd make a point to go play at it when we're in town. Just because it's different, just because it's cool.

Here are a couple more of these playgrounds designed by Natural Playgrounds... One in Florida, and another somewhere else.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

4th of July Project


Isn't this cute?! I'm not sure Eliana is QUITE old enough for the whole project yet, but I think I'm going to try it with her anyway. I just think it's cute and I'm feeling particularly patriotic this year. =D

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mom and Me Hike - Painted Hills Trail

This week we did the Painted Hills Trail for our Mom and Me hike. Erika joined us with Zoe and Juliana, and we, with our jogging strollers, headed down the trail.

Let's not do that again.

The trail was basically a deep rut with overgrown grass on either side. We fought and fought for a ways and then realized the trail wasn't going to get any better. We turned around.

We ended up just walking up a long drive next to the trail. It was uphill and was probably half a mile long, but was wide and even and easy to push a stroller on. It wasn't what I had in mind, but it was at least a good walk, and we got to follow it up with some play time at the Lewis and Clark course at the Museum of the Rockies. The girls really enjoyed that.

Next week we're heading to the Sourdough Trail, so I made sure to check it out the other day in order to avoid going through this again! It's a good trail and should be perfect.

I wonder when Eliana will be old enough for this

I have seen this idea on Martha Stewart before, but thanks to our recent road trip have had renewed interest in it. I wonder when Eliana will be old enough for something like this? I'm guessing it will be sooner rather than later, I just have to put some thought and work into it. It would be nice to have some special activity bucket that's just for longer trips in the car. Currently our source of travel entertainment for her is the DVD player, and I think she could use some variety other than Blue's Clues, Veggie Tales, and the BBC Planet Earth series.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rainy Day Fun



Up until a few days ago, we have had a very rainy few weeks! We got all geared up for summer and got Eliana a big inflatable pool for the yard and then it turned dreary out. So to make the best of the situation (and provide a little diversion for indoor play after being cooped up for so long!) here's what we did:



We blew up the pool in the basement!! It's on a mat so it is less likely to get scratched along the floor, and the mat also provides a softer floor for little knees and hands to crawl on in the pool! We didn't, obviously, want to fill the pool with water right there in our basement, so we filled the top section with the next best thing for indoor play:



Balls!! We made Eliana her very own little ball pit! She thinks it's great and played in it all afternoon, affording me a little time to get things done without her whining that we couldn't play outside because it was raining. She had a blast racing the balls down the slide...



... and then retrieving them...



And now that I know we can do this indoors, we have a winter activity just waiting for us once the summer sun is long gone! I'm excited to have another activity to pull out for her and think I'll use that basement corner as a place to rotate activities every week or so once we're inside more due to weather. Plus, it means I can use the pool all year long, which makes it a little more cost effective, and that is nice.

(By the way, if you're going to do this, I highly recommend using a vacuum that can be put on reverse to blow up the pool. I used my Kirby to do that and it still took a good long time, so I can only imagine how long it would have taken if I tried to blow it up myself! Eek!)