Monday, January 31, 2011

Cabin Fever? Part 1

Too rainy? Too hot (where do you live?)? Too cold? Too snowed in? Whatever the reason for your confinement with small children, you're desperate for some reprieve and so I thought it might be helpful to equip you with means of temporary escape (or activity).

So here goes...


*Stick an apron on your little guy or gal, make chef's hats out of white construction paper and bake (or make) anything! Kids love to participate in grown-up activities and they love to get their hands dirty (just make sure they're not dirty before you begin your cooking endeavor). They can stir, break eggs (warning: probably 50% in the bowl, 50% on the floor), pour, press, roll, whatever!

*It's not too early to make Valentine cookies (and not to late to make gingerbread cookies in my book). If you're stuck inside because of the snow - we are - then you could make snowmen and/or snowball cookies.

*Purchase some safe skewers - without sharp tips - and let them practice piercing cubed fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc. to make kid-friendly kabobs.

*You can even let them help with a meal. Take your time showing them how to measure with cups and spoons and which spices to add for flavor. Let them do "taste tests" to determine if something else is needed.

*If their attention span is really impressive, you could watch a recorded episode from the Food Network together and then try to imitate the dish afterward.

Happy cooking and bon appetit!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sleeping Bag for Your Toddler

On my first son's second birthday, my mom and dad gave him a sleeping bag. I have to confess that at the time I thought it was an odd gift. Sure it would be great when he starts to have sleep-overs, but wasn't that three or so years away? I was proven wrong about the age appropriateness of it and I see now that it can be both practical, fun and well worth the investment!

Here's why:

1. A portable bed. You can bring your child's "bed" with you wherever you go. We take it to the grandparent's house, on vacation, or anywhere. Set it on top of a rug or blow-up mattress for extra cushioning. This is especially nice once your toddler grows out of the pack 'n play.

2. Extra warmth on cold nights. If your child's room gets drafty on cold winter nights, it can be more fun for them to crawl into a sleeping bag than to cuddle up with extra blankets.

3. Making the bed in a hurry. If you've ever been caught at bedtime with your child's sheets still damp in the dryer, just stick the sleeping bag on top of the bed and you're all set!

4. Camping out. If your child wants to camp-out (or pretend to), then you've got the most essential piece of equipment!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Household Tips

When I moved into my first apartment, my mom gave me a little booklet entitled Why Didn't I Think of That. It is a "collection of consumer hints" compiled by Peggy Rolfer and I love referencing it for quick tips on how to maintain a house. I'll post about these periodically because I find them to be so helpful!

"Dingy, moldy shower curtains will look like new after an occasional soaking in 1/2 cup liquid bleach and 1/4 cup detergent. Soak curtains for 20 minutes in either washing machine or bathtub. Rinse, then drip dry."

"Sponges stay fresh when soaked regularly in cold salt water."

"Silver will gleam after a rubbing with damp baking soda on a soft cloth."

"Toss lemon rinds into the garbage disposal for a fresh, clean scent."

"Stubborn candle wax may be removed from linens or carpeting by pressing a warm iron over a paper towel directly on the spot...continue until wax melts and is absorbed."

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's in the Pantry?

You may always be extremely resourceful with what you have in the back of the fridge and pantry, and if you are, this post is not for you. This post is for those of us who don't think we have time to survey what we already have and plunge ahead with the menu plans and grocery lists as if we have nothing at home to work with. So before planning (and spending), try simplifying your menu using the following ideas:

1. Dump Salad: If you have accumulated lots of random leftovers throughout the week, try combining it, or "dumping it," all in a salad. There are usually scraps of a Rotisserie chicken, half cans of yellow corn or black beans, hummus, pieces of tomato, cheese, and cooked veggies from previous meals - create an easy dinner and clean out your fridge all at the same time!

2. Sandwich Night (which could be bread/tortilla/pita/etc.): Continuing with the same idea as above, gather meat, cheese and an assortment of toppings to assemble dinner in minutes!

3. Soup: And again, heat up a combination of chicken or beef broth and water on the stove and add just about anything to it. You can always use rice or pasta to bulk it up a bit.

4. Breakfast for Dinner: Take a look in your fridge right now and chances are good that you have all you'll need for a hearty breakfast-dinner! Scramble some eggs, make French toast or pancakes, cook sausage, ham or even a hot dog. Add whatever fruit you have on hand and there you go - it's the breakfast you always crave in the morning but never have time to make!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prayer Groups

During these precious years with little ones, time flies! There are things that we'll inevitably have to let slide and it is important to prioritize. Fellowship with other women should be high on our lists!

While there are numerous ways to do this, I want to propose one that is both fun and greatly edifying - prayer groups. Depending on your stages and schedules you might choose to meet monthly, bi-monthly or even weekly. Set a time that works best for all involved and without kids gather to share and receive prayer requests. Try to stick to the allotted time slot - which means you'll need to arrive on time and end punctually - so that women who already have a tough time fitting it into their schedules won't be disinclined to come. In my experience, the bond that forms within so intimate a group is invaluable and you will all grow together as you marvel at how the Lord works in your lives and answers prayers according to His good, gracious and sovereign will!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Soak the Sponge

We've all heard that young children can be likened to a sponge, absorbing just about anything and everything that comes their way - to some extent, anyway. How can we best take advantage of this characteristic in our absorbent little ones?

1. Answer it. As your dear is learning the world around him, he will likely ask you lots of questions. When he does, be intentional and thorough with your answers. Certainly use language that he can understand, but don't worry too much about overwhelming him. I'm convinced that far more can go in than comes out in the early years. If you're challenged with questions for which you don't have an answer, look it up. You'll be demonstrating habits that will help him down the road and you might be amazed by how much you'll learn, too!

2. Expand the reading. How many of us can recite Brown Bear, Brown Bear or Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? in our sleep? If you find yourself reading the same books over and over to your child, know that this is a wonderful exercise developmentally. It might become monotonous to you, and if so, try spicing things up by asking them questions about different things on the page. For example, "How many ears does the bunny have?," "What color is this? Is it red or blue?," or "Does the bird look happy or sad?" As they get older you can take it a step further by discussing the rhyming words or testing their memory to see if they know what happens next in the story.

3. Turn mundane routines into learning opportunities. Take the opportunity during routine endeavors to learn about letters, numbers, shapes and colors. We sing the ABC song while we're washing our hands (if you have a tiny one, you can sing while changing a diaper). At the end we sing, "Now I can wash this soap off me" (the grammatically correct among you might want to say myself instead of me) instead of "Next time won't you sing with me?" You can also create a stack of socks while you fold laundry and count the number of individual socks or count by 2s once the pairs are matched. When walking or driving, point out shapes on road signs and describe things by color (e.g. "Look at that blue truck"). They may not catch on right away, but with repetition, they eventually will!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Homemade Granola

I just found this recipe on a friend's blog and I thought I'd pass it along (thanks, BG!):

Tracy’s Homemade Granola

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup grade A dark amber syrup
2 T butter
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 325
2) Mix together the first 5 ingredients
3) In a small bowl, stir together the syrup and melted butter.
4) Pour the syrup mixture over the dry ingredients, coating the dry ingredients well.
5) Spread this mixture onto baking sheets (either greased or lined with parchment paper)
6) Bake at 325 for 30-45 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
7) Add the craisins, dates, and chocolate chips or whatever dried fruit combination you prefer.

Try this recipe on top of Greek yogurt with a splash of honey - delicious and healthy, too!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Have you ever read the Bible from start to finish? Or have you gone through a reading plan that takes you through the Bible in the span of a year or two? I haven't, but I'm halfway there! What started out as an effort to read from Genesis through Revelation in a year will likely take closer to a year and a half, but I am really enjoying it and highly recommend that you try it too! There are numerous "plans" out there (see some options below*) and I've been amazed by how doable it is, so don't be discouraged if the prospect seems daunting!

Here are some reasons why I commend the practice to you:

1. You get to see the beautiful picture of the covenant of grace unfold from the beginning (and even before) creation.

2. It puts into practice the belief that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (1 Tim 3:16)

3. Being exposed to the whole counsel of God (i.e. every aspect of His revelation to us) guards you from only reading your favorite sections.

4. You will notice connections throughout the Bible that demonstrate its divine authorship.

5. As you familiarize yourself with all of Scripture over time, Bible references you encounter in sermons, studies, etc. will have greater meaning in context.

*Every Day in the Word. One reading from the OT, NT, Psalms, and Proverbs each day. You will read through the OT, NT and Proverbs once and the Psalms twice in a year.

*One-Year Tract Bible Reading Plan. Two readings from the OT, one from the NT and Psalms each day. You'll read through the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice in a year.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Mommy Vest Update!

A dear friend just notified me that the Lands' End Regular Down Vest is on sale for $14.75! And there's a code out now to secure free shipping on your order (code: SHIPPINGISFREE pin: 5859). The catch is that there are only a few colors left, including some beautiful and versatile options like Dark Cobalt Blue, Dusk Black, Navy and Ivory. I'm not sure how long this will last, so if the "ultimate mommy vest" idea has been lingering in the back of your mind since my first post, now is the time to jump on it! Happy shopping (and saving!)!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Post-Christmas Toy Management

Christmas was just twelve days ago and, if you children have been inundated with more new toys than you can count, your home may look more like a toy store that's been hit by a tornado than one that's organized and manageable. Don't let the excess of gifts lead to post-Christmas blues! If you want to reclaim order and sanity, here are a couple of tips that might help...

1. Out with the old, in with the new! There are many different approaches to this, so you'll need to pick the one that works for you.

The dramatic approach: I swept through our toy room with large garbage bags just hours after we returned home from our holiday travels and put almost all of the kids' old toys in them, leaving only a few of their favorites behind. I stuck the bags in the attic so that we can pull the old toys out periodically. For now we can focus on the new ones without being distracted and overwhelmed.

The less dramatic approach: For every new toy that you bring in, store one away or start a bag to be sent to Goodwill or another charity organization. Or you could consider donating some to your church's nursery.

The least dramatic approach: Keep all of the toys out for now, but be on the lookout for ones that have lost their appeal now that new toys are around. Gradually clear out as you see fit!

**Note that each of the options involves parting with some toys. Every birthday and holiday will bring more stuff with it and the longer you wait to declutter (which is not considered a word by Merriam-Webster, can you believe it??), the more difficult the task will be when you finally get around to it!

2. Bins, bins, bins! I do not like to spend money unnecessarily, but I've learned over the last few years that money well spent (i.e. on something that will help keep the home in order) is totally worth it! Try to find storage containers on sale or even on clearance and purchase what you need.* Having a "home" for the toys will be of great help come clean-up time and will reduce the appearance, and reality, of clutter.

3. Hand 'em down. Children go through stages and they grow out of certain toys. While the sentimental mom (I include myself here) has a hard time with this, it's a wonderful gift to pass toys down to others who might need/like them. You might want to wait until February or March to pass these down though so as not to overwhelm another mother who is probably in the midst of dealing with her own post-Christmas clutter issues!

*Get creative when thinking about storage space and choose containers accordingly. Consider odd spaces like under beds, under tall dressers, behind chairs, under sofas, in the garage, on the floor or top shelf of closets, etc.. You might even find an unused drawer in a desk or dresser that could be used to collect toys.