Monday, August 22, 2016

toddler activity: beans in a bucket

 photo toddler-activity-beans-bucket_zps5flx2tyr.png

While there are endless toy options available for toddlers, parents know that kids somehow always prefer either regular items like boxes, bottles, etc. Despite an abundance of toys, Bug loves playing with kitchen items and "cooking" more than almost anything. She also loves scooping things--usually whatever meal I've served her off of her plate. Because toddler.

I bought a plastic baby pool at the beginning of summer hoping to have a lot of water play opportunities. The weather hasn't really been hot enough to accommodate, so we needed to find another use for it. Bug had been asking for a while to play with a bag of beans she found in a box while we were unpacking her room. We'd done some sensory play in our last house and the beans always ended up every.where.

Plastic pool to the rescue! We had an open morning recently so I put the pool in the backyard, gave Bug a bucket of dry beans, an empty bucket and various "tools," and she went to town! She spent a good 30 minutes scooping beans from one bucket to another, into cups and bowls, then starting over. The simplest things are always the biggest hit, right? Bonus points for the sensory experience and the strengthening of a number of motor skills.

The next time you need to entertain your little one, or you need a little break during the day, just hand your kiddo a bucket of beans! Easy, cheap, and if you have a pool to contain the mess clean-up is a breeze. (**Please exercise caution and know your child when it comes to putting things in his/her mouth.)

While you can use things like spoons, small cups, measuring cups, and small bowls, Bug really loves
-  these silicone popsicle molds


- these toddler tools

Friday, August 12, 2016

Recipe: small batch chocolate chip cookies

My husband's new job means some atypical hours for our family, and we've all had to do a bit of adjusting. When he's gone 30+ hours at a time and the kiddos are acting like little maniacs, bedtime becomes a mini vacation for Mom! I don't drink much, or else I'd likely break out the wine after some long days. ;) Instead, I feel totally justified in indulging my sweet tooth. Because sometimes mama just needs some chocolate!

I'm kind of embarrassed by how many times I've baked these cookies this summer, but hey, my toddler eats pretty much all my food (and none of her own). Plus with the whole extended nursing thing, I can still justify some extra calories, right? Right. 

The best thing about this recipe is that it makes a small batch of cookies, ranging from 4-12 based on the size of the dough scoops. Most of the time, there are a few cookies leftover for my husband when he gets home. (Well, sometimes, if we're being honest.)

Small Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 3 T. melted butter
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract 
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 325 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk together butter and sugars. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and whisk until smooth and creamy. 
3. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients and mix until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chips. 
4. Scoop the dough onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. (Take them out when they look just underdone in the middle.)
5. Remove cookies from oven and allow them to continue baking as they cool for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Note: I have also made this as a small cookie cake in a 4-cup Pyrex glass bowl, and it was the perfect dessert for two. I increased the cooking time to about 20 minutes and it turned out great.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hogwarts Birthday Celebration!

Given that last weekend marked the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I thought it was only appropriate to do a throwback to Big Girl's birthday party a few months ago. She joined a Harry Potter club at school last year, and Hubs and she have read through 4.5 of the books so far. I loved the HP books as a kid and I'm so thrilled that she enjoys the series too!

This was the first year that Big Girl had a full-on themed party. In the past, she usually requested a cake featuring some character, but this year we wanted to really make it special since we had a lot of not-so-fun family things we were dealing with at the time. 

The fun started with the invitations! I used this template for the envelopes and letterhead, then drafted up an Hogwarts "acceptance letter" for each recipient. I stained each of the invitations with tea to make it look like parchment paper, and included a ticket for the Hogwarts Express!
The decor was really simple with a few signs, some Ravenclaw-colored streamers, and a "class schedule." The order of the day was:

School supply shopping--
The kids got their wands from Ollivander's and spell books from Flourish & Blotts (while Hedwig watched over the excitement). Once they had their wands, everyone took a photo in front of Platform 9-3/4 (which we later printed and gave to them in the thank-you notes).
Spell practice--
We sent the kids outside to practice some of their spells. They had more fun than I expected trying to get them to work! They were really into trying all of the different ones and discussing the pros and cons of them.

Divination class--
I wrote out a fortune for each kid and stuck it inside a balloon. They each chose one then had to sit on the balloon to see what the future held for them. The fortunes were a mix of vague positive statements about the future, or specific ones I knew would come to fruition before the party's end. They loved this too!
Potions class--
This was a big hit. I gave each kid a cup with some baking soda and then they selected if they wanted blue or gold potion (Ravenclaw colors). They had to recite a spell as they mixed their potion, and they got such a kick out of the small eruption!
Transfiguration class--
Hubs led the kids in a game of animal-themed charades while I finished up lunch and dessert in the kitchen. This one wasn't as big of a hit as the others, but it was helpful to fill some time.

Care of Magical Creatures class--
I'd found some glitter plastic eggs at the dollar store and thought they were perfect for "dragon eggs." We hid them in some pretty challenging places around the yard and the kids had fun trying to find them all.
Lunch in the Great Hall--
We put out gold plates and each kid had a goblet of Butterbeer (cream soda with a little butterscotch syrup and topped with whipped cream). They picked lunch from a selection of HP-themed items.
- In addition to Butterbeer, we also had plenty of "Elixir of Life" (water) to drink.
- "Fang's Chow" (chex mix)
- A "Herbology" Platter (baby carrots with dip, apples, and mandarin oranges)
- English Tea Sandwiches (PB&Js cut into triangles)
- English Fish & Chips (fish sticks and potato wedges)

Quidditch conditioning--
This was just letting them run around the backyard while we got lunch cleaned up and the cake ready, haha. They didn't mind!

Cake in the Great Hall--
I had thought about making a fancy layer cake but realized that elementary kids are more excited about eating cake at all than the type they get. So, it was a simple yellow cake from a box mix with homemade chocolate frosting. The cupcake liners were in the various House colors (red, yellow, blue, and green) and each "cauldron cake" was topped with a tiny banner of the Hogwarts crest.
Trip to Honeydukes--
This was the last part of the party, since I thought cake was enough sugar for one sitting. ;) Each kid got a goodie bag with a Hogwarts House colors pencil, a jumping frog, gold coins, a compass to navigate the Forbidden Forest, and then a treat bag to gather all the sweets they wanted from Honeydukes.
We offered a selection of:
- "Fizzing Whizbees" (pop rocks)
- "Mini Dragon Eggs" (butterfinger Easter eggs)
- "licorice wands" (twizzlers)
- Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans (ordered via Amazon)
- "Golden Snitch Truffles" (Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates)
- "Gummy basilisks" (gummy worms)
- "Acid Drops" (extreme warheads)
- "Dumbledore's Lemon Drops" (lemonhead candies)

In the end, all of the kids had a blast and Big Girl loved sharing her special day with her friends. It was especially fun since they had all read at least some of the books or seen some of the movies, and most of them were in HP club at school. They loved getting to do "real" Wizard type things and it was so fun to watch them all really enjoying themselves! I'm not sure how we'll top this next year. ;)

Friday, August 5, 2016

World Breastfeeding Week!

Since it's World Breastfeeding Week, and we may be participating in the local Big Latch On event this weekend, I thought I'd share a bit about our journey. This is especially for those in the trenches of those early weeks, and anyone who is considering extended breastfeeding. 

Bug was born at 35 weeks and in all my focus on birth, I'd totally neglected learning about breastfeeding. (I also foolishly assumed it would be easy since it was "natural.") Well, for us it was a very rough start!
  • Bug was TINY at less than 4.5lbs. She had a hard time latching on given her small size. My personal shape also made it quite difficult. Using a nipple shield was very helpful in the early days to help her master the technique. 
  • Jaundice was an issue for a good two months. I only recently learned that this can interfere with nursing by making babies super tired, and I really wish I'd known it before! Surprisingly. No doctors or nurses mentioned this. 
  • I didn't want Bug to have formula, because we had enough challenges and I knew it could interfere with nursing in multiple ways. However, thanks to her size and weight loss (in the normal range but significant given her birthweight), the nurses gave her a number of bottles whenever they would take her for tests. Though not ideal, it didn't end up being the end of the world. 
  • Because of the latch issues, and because we didn't want a bottle nipple to interfere with her learning, we had to feed her pumped milk via a syringe and tiny tube. It was SO inconvenient, and so hard to know how much milk was the "right" amount. That went on for 6 weeks until she mastered nursing with the nipple shield (then we eventually weaned off of that). 
  • When it comes to BFing in public, do it however works for you. If that's in your car, in the mall, wherever you happen to be, go for it! Whether with a cover or without, in private or in public, it's all about whatever is comfortable for you and baby in that moment. Japan was really great about having nursing mother rooms but they are basically nonexistent in the States. Know your rights and ignore any haters/shamers you may encounter (women can breastfeed, uncovered, in public in almost every state--maybe every state by now--wherever they are legally allowed to be). Luckily, in all this time I've never had to deal with any significantly rude comments. 
  • Pumping was irritating, uncomfortable, frustrating, and draining. My body didn't ever respond well to the pump and I could only ever get a max of 3oz if I was lucky. Eventually, I learned this was normal but it felt like such a minuscule amount and I constantly worried about producing enough. I pumped once a day for almost 18 months!
  • Introducing solids at 7mo didn't interfere with our BFing. In fact, while researching Baby Led Weaning, I learned that nursing helps strengthen the chewing muscles. 
  • There is no magic cutoff date by which you HAVE to stop nursing! In the beginning I wasn't sure we'd make it at all. Then at 6 months, 12 months, 18 months I thought it might be the end. Now, nearing 26 months, Bug still nurses about four times a day (usually before/after sleeping), though it's WAY shorter than those early days. 
At the end of the day, breastfeeding is a very personal choice and relationship. If you're in the early days, try to find a good support system. I found a local group via Facebook and it was such a blessing! I never imagined I'd still be nursing Bug, but since I'm still at home with her I'm willing to wean on her terms. If you believe in extended breastfeeding (normally past 12 months in America, though it varies by culture), do what works for you and your family! At the end of the day, what matters most is feeding your baby.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

currently | august 2016

Linking up with Anne and Dana today!

hearting searching Pinterest for decor inspiration and making our house feel more like a home. We've been getting things up on the walls, picking up a few new pieces of furniture, and finding all of the just right places for everything. Last up will be the master bedroom, but I'm relieved to be almost done with the rest of the house!

watching The Affair--SO good; Vice Principals--hilarious but on the vulgar side (and definitely NOT recommended to watch with a toddler around); Last Week Tonight With John Oliver--insightful, hilarious, and on point lately.

exploring our new home, still. We recently learned there's a Cracker Barrel a couple of hours away, so I think we'll be taking a little trip to fill our southern bellies with delicious food (and, of course, seeing some other sights).

creating our first wreath. I started it at a spouse social a few weeks ago and I'm finally getting around to finishing it. I might end up making us a couple more in seasonal colors--might be a good way to pass the time once winter rolls around. 

eating a ton of strawberries! This is the first summer in a while that our local commissary has a good stock of them, so we've all been getting our fill. Next up might be trying homemade strawberry ice cream!

What have you been up to lately?