So Much Stuff

Recently we moved.  In many ways moving is no fun.  But there is a silver lining – it is the perfect time to declutter, trash the trash and just reduce the overall amount of Stuff.  The amount of garbage bags of trash I was able to get rid of was amazing (and embarrassing).

I am now unpacking in the new house.  As I am filling the cabinets and closets I realize how nice it is to not have so much stuff shoved in every crack and crevice.  Without all of the stuff the house I have been able to keep the house fairly clean.  Mind you we have 5 kids, clean is a relative term.

Seriously though, without all of the stuff everyone’s room stays picked up.  Everything has its own place.  It has been great.

This is my dilemma: Christmas is coming…

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas.  I love Advent, and the celebration as we prepare for Christmas.  I love everything about Christmas – even the anticipation of opening gifts on Christmas morning.  I am just not excited about more stuff, which was exactly why I was so excited to find Nourishing Minimalism’s this list of non-toy gifts.

I will absolutely be looking to this list for ideas in the next few months.  Take a look at these great ideas.

18 Non-Toy Gifts for Children

  1. Classes. Music, dance, riding, drawing, classes are a great way to encourage children in their interests and let them know that you pay attention to them and what they enjoy.
  2. Memberships. Zoo, science museum, children’s museum, YMCA membership, etc. These are particularly great for family gifts! Many young families want to enjoy day outings, but affording them can be a challenge, so give them the gift of a yearly membership.
  3. Subscriptions. Kids enjoy getting things int he mail. Why not encourage their reading by getting them a magazine subscription for something they are interested in!
  4. Events. Movie tickets, tickets to a play, concert or sports event are really exciting! Having an event to look forward to makes the rest of life more enjoyable.
  5. Activities. Mini golf, bowling, skating rink. These are so much fun! And a big part of the fun is going together. Children love spending time with the adults in their lives, they want to see you enjoying your time as well as enjoying them.
  6. Recipe and Ingredients. Kids love cooking with their parents. Baking something special or cooking dinner is an ideal time to spend together and learn life skills. Print out a recipe, purchase all the ingredients and set a date for cooking together.
  7. Crafting Date. Our daughter loves making crafts. I do to, I really do enjoy the creative aspect. But I rarely take time out to do it with her. These crafting dates mean the world to our creative little girl. Keep a basket of craft supplies and get out a book for inspiration. We like this book.
  8. Arts and Craft supplies. If your craft box is running low, stock up a little on things you need. Add in something fun the kids haven’t used before. A gift of art and craft supplies often brings on the imagination and kids can’t wait to get to work!
  9. Coupons. An envelope of coupons that they can “spend” at any time: I’ll do one chore- no questions asked, movie and popcorn night, you pick the movie!, 1:1 game of cards or basketball (whatever the child’s interest is in), sit and read a book with me, Stay up 1/2 hour past bedtime
  10. Restaurant Gift Card. Dinner, ice cream, coffee, cupcake- whatever suits their fancy! Give them the freedom of inviting whoever they wish: it may be mom or dad, it may be a grandparent, aunt or even teacher that they would like to spend more time with.
  11. Dress Up Clothes. These do need to be limited, but  2 dresses and couple play silks can get hours and hours of play!
  12. Books. We get a lot of books from the library, but there are some that I just can’t find there, or it takes us longer to read through. We have read through the entire Little House series, Narnia and are working our way through Shel Silverstein’s books. Be sure to pass the books on when you are done, so they don’t clutter up your home.
  13. Clothes. When kids only have a certain amount of clothes, they often enjoy getting clothes. Make it a point to get something that fits their style. That may mean western clothes, super-hero, fancy dresses, etc.
  14. Snacks. If your child is a foodie, they will love this! Some homemade granola or cookies made just for them, is a special treat!
  15. Outdoor Supplies. If you are an outdoorsy family, giving kids their own fishing tackle or gardening equipment can be a big deal. It’s also something that gets left on the shelf in the garage, so you always know right where to find it.
  16. Telling Time. The average child these days doesn’t know how to read analog, or finds it takes too long to think about it, so they search for a digital watch. Getting them a cool watch makes them want to be able to tell time on it. Boys, girls, and even teenagers can be excited about this.
  17. Games and Puzzles. Games and puzzles are great activities for when kids have to be indoors. It’s a good practice to have individual quiet times during the day, and having a puzzle to sit and work on by themselves helps brain development and problem solving skills. Games teach a lot too! My kids talk about how they passed geography, just because we played Risk when they were little. Monopoly and PayDay have been popular and help cement math skills. Memory games are great for younger children.
  18. Calendar. Many children like to know what is going on, what day it is, how many days until ____. These kids are the ones that want to know what the plan is for the day, in what order things will happen, what time friends are expected over, etc. They struggle with spur-of-the-moment and can be frustrating if you are a spontaneous parent. But celebrate it! These children have many strengths and make our world run smoother. :-)  Embrace their inner schedule and get them their own calendar. They can write down their own classes, appointments, play dates, etc. And if they ask you, send them to their calendar so they can get used to being in control of their own schedule. You can even schedule “spontaneous days”, so they know that something different will happen that day. Trust me, it will help them enjoy the spontaneous outings!

 

 

The BEST Homemade Playdough Recipe Ever

There was a time for me when the thought of making homemade playdough coincided with things like spinning yarn, milling flour and milking cows.  There was no way.  Why bother when you can buy playdough in a can from the store?

Well, after 4 children I finally learned – homemade playdough is awesome!  The number 1 reason I make my own playdough is because homemade playdough is so much cheaper than buying playdough in the store.

These are some other reasons why I now make my own playdough:

  • I can make a lot of playdough at one time.
  • I can make any color I choose.
  • Because it is so cheap to make I am not concerned with how my kids choose to use it.  Want to mix colors – sure, go ahead.
  • If necessary (because of allergies) I can adjust ingredients, like using rice flour instead of wheat flour.
  • Scents can be added.
  • It lasts a really long time.

Play Dough Recipe:

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 1  tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup water
  • food coloring

Mix first 5 ingredients in a pan with a wire whisk until smooth.  Add food coloring.  Cook over medium heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 3 – 5 minutes. Dough will become difficult to stir and form a clumpy ball.  Remove playdough from the pot.  Transfer to lightly floured countertop and knead for 5 minutes.  After playdough has cooled transfer to a plastic bag or other airtight container.

Secrets for perfect playdough:

  • Always use Kosher Salt.
  • Be sure to whisk ingredients before heating until smooth.
  • Add scents to your playdough like cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, essential oils, or extracts like vanilla, lemon, etc.
  • Add glitter to your playdough as you are kneading.
  • If your playdough is too gooey, add additional flour as you knead.
  • If you want to make smaller batches with a larger variety of colors, do not add the coloring before cooking.  Cook white playdough and add a couple drops of coloring to small batches as you knead.
  • If it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time, try again.  Make an adjustment.  My first mistake was cooking the playdough too long before transferring it to the counter.

Seriously, take my word for it.  Homemade playdough is easy to make, and so worth the little bit of effort it requires.

Enjoy!

Board Games are more than just Family Fun

Board games are pretty popular in our house.  We play a lot of board games on our Family Nights.  Sometimes it can get pretty intense.  Have I ever mentioned we are all a little bit competitive?  Well, actually some of us are VERY competitive.  And arguments deep discussions have ensued.

Truthfully though, we do argue over the rules, there is always a moment of pause when one looks for a specific point that will make or break his move, and continued discussion most often follows.

And it is awesome!  What better place is there for children to learn strategic planning, communication and negotiation skills.  I know folks who pay big money to master these skills.

This is our family Top 10 list of Board Games (not necessarily in order of favorite)

1.  Chess

2.  Blokus

3.  Quirkle

4.  Quarto

5.  Mexican Train

6.  Mancala

7.  Uno

8.  Catan (for the older kids)

9.  Swish

10.  Animals Upon Animals (for the younger ones)

and just a few more…

11.  Chinese Checkers

12.  Scrabble

13.  Monopoly (not really my favorite, but the kids like it)

What are some of your favorites?

 

Let Them Cook

I really enjoy cooking - most of the time…  I enjoy cooking when it isn’t necessary, or rushed.  So I guess that is very limiting, and why I always dread dinnertime preparation.

But, I especially love the fact that my kids love to help cook.  All of my kids love to cook.  I suppose there is something awesome about starting with parts and creating something whole.  And then of course the fact that they get to eat their (typically sweet) creation is always a plus too.

This morning I found this brilliant idea today over at HomeBasedMom.  This idea is mom genius.  Homebasedmom’s bread recipe for kids is started in a Ziploc bag.  Sure there will be some spillage, but for the most part all of the ingredients, stirring and kneading take place inside the bag.  And to give her girls even more ownership, this mom wrote the ingredients on the paper lining the table so that they were easy to read – brilliant.

So today we are going to make bread!

Be Kind

Summer is nearly here.  Have you been thinking about exactly how you will fill the upcoming l-o-n-g days with your kiddos?

One thing I have been thinking a lot about is not necessarily how to fill the days of Summer, but what is it that I want to accomplish within these days of Summer.  I don’t want to just pass the time.  I want to make it count – especially when the kids are home and watching.

Our family is going to create a Random Acts of Kindness Challenge.  Our Summer break is 10 weeks long.  So for our family the goal will be 1 random act of kindness per week.  Part of the fun will be brainstorming a list of ideas to choose from throughout the Summer and then planning an act each week.  Will you join us?

If you need some inspiration start with my previous post on random acts of kindness.  Or search for ideas at http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas.

These are a few of my favorites:

1.  Make dinner for your local fire station.

2.  Create Ziploc bag care packages to give to the homeless.  Include things like toothbrush, gum, socks, chapstick, wet wipes, chewy granola bars.

3.  Write a kind note or quote on the sidewalk in chalk.

4.  Write a thank you note to let someone know you appreciate them.

5.  Bake cookies for a neighbor.

6.  Host a Free lemonade or popsicle stand on a well traveled walking path or playground.

7.  Set up a community library for book swaps.  An old bookshelf at the end of your driveway would be perfect.

8.  Leave a coloring book and small pack of crayons in a waiting room.

9.  Carry an extra leash or umbrella in your car for the next time you see someone who really needs it.

10.  Leave a kind note or special treat for the community helpers who often go unnoticed, like the garbage men, mailman or school janitor.

The possibilities are endless.  What will you do?

Morgan Freeman

Photo credit unknown

We have a Lego problem

How long has it been since you were vacuuming, or better yet, walking into your child’s room at night trying to be ever so stealth – and you step on a Lego?  Ugh.  It hurts just thinking about it.

Don’t get me wrong, Legos are awesome.  I love them.  Legos are one of the very few plastic toys I actually appreciate.  I love the fact that after the initial build (and loss of the instructions) Legos are a tool to inspire unlimited imagination.

But, it seems the number of children in the home correlates with the mass of Legos one owns.   We have a huge Lego issue in our house.

I think I am feeling inspired…

Check out these great ideas by Modern Parents Messy Kids for getting your Legos off the bedroom floor.

I have seen countless ways to organize Legos and really I have yet to decide which way is best.  But getting them off the floor is at least a start.  I like the idea of using many clear containers to store the Legos.  I especially like the idea of choosing shallow containers so that they are easy to transport and easy to locate pieces (as opposed to a deep container you would have to dig through).

Also in this post is a pattern for creating your own Lego storage mat.  I have called these storage mats Swoop Bags.  And I am thinking they wouldn’t just have to be used for Legos – Playmobils also come to mind.  Or, if you would rather skip the sewing part, you could also order a Swoop Bag from this Seattle based company.

And if you would like to organize further than just getting it all off of the floor, this is the advice I received after an interview with my very own Lego Maniac.

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Tips from Cam, The Lego Maniac:

  1. Definitely use clear containers with good snap on lids.
  2. Sort your containers in the following categories: Bricks, Mini Figures, Axles & Wheels, Plates, Motors, Tracks, Roads
  3. Sort Bricks by color.
  4. Build a shelf to display built projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Steps to be a better parent by Monday

We all parent in different ways, yet we all want to be a “better” parent.  Fortunately there is always room for improvement – for everyone.

I find it is so easy to be distracted and consumed in this high-speed, internet driven, mobile World in which we live.  Sometimes it is important to just take a deep breath, step back and realize what really is most important.

This weekend try these tips to be a better parent:

1.  Listen.  Have you ever talked to a child about something really important?  Something you really wanted them to understand?  Remember how you leaned down low so that you could be on their level and insisted they look you in the eyes so that there were no distractions?

Next time your little one wants to talk to you, try this same thing.  Stand or sit in a place where you can really connect, get down to their level.  Look them in the eyes and stop everything else you are doing.  Allow for no distractions.  Yes, that means put down your cell phone.

After all, this is someone who is really important.  Someone you really want to understand.  And someone you want to know feels understood.

2.  Encourage.  It is easy to point out mistakes and poor choices of behavior.  Make a point to acknowledge the good things.  Tell your little one you are proud of them for something they have accomplished, acknowledge how hard they worked on achieving a certain goal, recognize their efforts in a time when you see that they did their best, even if unsuccessful.

When our children know we see their choices and behavior this not only builds them up when we recognize, it encourages appropriate actions and reactions in the future.

3.  Give hugs.  Never forget to hug your child.  Now, I know of a certain 8 year old who is way too cool to get a hug from his mom, but even he likes a pat on the back or high five ever so often.  Maybe just sit close to, or be more intentional about tucking them in.  Don’t be hands off, no matter what the age.  Definitely be aware of their comfort level with affection as they get older, but never stop giving hugs.

These ideas are pretty basic, but things so easily taken for granted and overlooked.  Give it a try this weekend!

 

Tip for Tuesday

Yesterday I decided (for reasons I will keep to myself) that I needed to clean the car seat.  It was pretty gross.

If you only have a baby at this point you may not yet be able to accept this, but very soon your sweet little baby will become an adventurous and messy toddler.  You will be amazed (and disgusted) at some of the things you will find lodged and spilled in their car seat.  Sorry to spoil that for you.

This is my tip:

When buying a car seat always look for one that the cover can be completely removed and washed in the washing machine.  Anything that explains “surface clean only” or “partially removable” don’t even consider it.  And when it comes to cleaning the inner body of the seat just go ahead and use the hose.  It is the best way to get all of the little pieces of whatever out of the many cracks and crevices.

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Managing the Monday Madness

Honestly, I have never really quite understood all of the dread for Mondays.  I kind of like Mondays.  For me, Monday generally represents a fresh start.  I start a new list, everyone jumps back into their routine and I get a chance to begin anew.

But I will tell you that when it comes to cooking dinner, that is what I dread – especially on Mondays.  In our house Monday evenings mean homework, baseball practice, Boy Scouts, very soon 4-H, showers and multiple bedtime stories .  It gets kind of crazy sometimes.

In order to remain sane, I have learned to embrace the fact that dinner’s primary purpose only need be sustenance within the evening hour.  In giving myself this grace our Mondays are much more pleasant, for everyone.  This may mean cold turkey sandwiches and fruit for dinner, but that is o.k.

Today I have decided to make Baked Potato Soup in the crock pot.  My favorite (because it is simple) potato soup is inspired by a recipe found at Suchamom.com.  This recipe is super quick and easy.  And best of all, the kids love it!

Loaded Baked Potato Crockpot Soup

Just Let Them Play

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For us today is Opening Day for Little League Baseball.  While I hope Little League is an exciting experience that my child looks forward to each Spring, and looks back on over the Summer as an achievement and something to be proud of, I enter the season with much hesitation and concern.

Fortunately, the kids don’t always see what goes on beyond the dugout – at least not for the first few years.

Why must we (the parents of these children) apply so much pressure?  Why do so many coaches and parents act like they are paving their child’s path to Major League Baseball?

Did you know that even if your child continues beyond Little League to play on a High School team only 11.2% of those players will continue to play baseball in college (Scholarshipstats.com)?  And then if your Little Leaguer continues to MLB he will be 1 of the 10.5% of college players to do so.

Odds are not in your favor to be a professional athlete.

So how about we just let them play?  Perhaps in doing so our children will learn a little about character, courage and loyalty, and grow to be superior citizens rather than superior athletes.  After all, this is the Mission of the Little League Baseball.

Encourage your child to always do their best.  That is the only thing that matters.  And after the game praise your child equally whether the game was a win or loss because in the end those statistics are not really important.