Sunday, December 30, 2012

Game Day

I've been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Linus and Veda received their first board games for Christmas this year: Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and the Shopping List game.

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I was a little skeptical about their ability to take turns, count out spaces, follow the rules of the games, etc., but I decided to give it a try this morning.

It was great! They loved playing, and we spent the better part of the morning running through each game.

Yup, three is going to be a great age.
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

This Week In Christmas, IV

Only two more days to go until the big day, and aside from the two activities we couldn't do because we were sick or rained out, we've done almost everything on our countdown list. Tomorrow we'll try hot chocolate for the first time, and on Monday we'll bake cookies to leave out for Santa. Other than that, we're all ready for Christmas to come. A couple of important personal Christmas lessons from this year:
1. If you're going to make homemade gifts for everyone, start early. Not in November. I've been scurrying to finish all my gift projects this month, and when I finally finished the last one yesterday, it was a huge relief. On the other hand, I've been a crafting machine for a while now, and it feels a bit weird not to have another pressing project.
I didn't think of taking pictures of all of the stuff I made, but I did take a photo of this wreath I made for my mother just because I was in love with it. Maybe I'll snap some on Christmas as people open their stuff. 
2. Don't put so many ornament projects on the countdown list next time. I'm pretty burned out on making ornaments.

 Here's our annual hand print ornament. They look like the salt dough ornaments that are all over Pinterest, but I use a different material that makes them shatterproof. Maybe I'll do a post on how to make them next Christmas. Pretty sure everyone in Internet Land is all finished with starting Christmas projects for this year.

In other ornament creation happenings, we made cinnamon ornaments as grandparent gifts. They turned out okay, but I wasn't thrilled with them. And I forgot to take pictures.
On Tuesday night the kids took their bath early, and we headed out to our local high school's band concert with them in their pajamas so they could go to bed as soon as we got home. They got a bit restless, but they both said they enjoyed the Christmas music, and on Wednesday morning they identified a tuba on the tv completely unprompted, so mission accomplished. 

On Wednesday we baked brownies to take the staff at our public library as a thank you for helping us "grow up smart", as the accompanying card said... and also not kicking us out when we forget to use our inside voices. The kids may have a little brownie batter on their chins here.

The cups are completely unrelated, but Linus was having a blast stacking them, so whatever.
Last night I decided I'd cut Veda's hair to even up the scraggly ends. I'd been thinking of cutting some bangs for her to help out with her fine hair issues, and when a simple trim didn't seem to be helping much, I decided to get brave and go for the bangs. They suit her, and I wish I'd done it sooner.
This is a face that says, "I hate my new hair cut." But she really does like it.
Today's project was putting out the birdseed ornaments we concocted yesterday. (Yup, MORE ornaments.) Veda was happy to practice some fine motor skills by lacing raffia ribbon through the holes.

Here's one of the finished products. Beautiful, isn't it? I highly recommend this project, and we'll probably repeat it in years to come. Aside from being fun to do, it was a great opportunity to talk to the kids about showing compassion for animals and how the birds can't thank us but we can feel good about helping them.

Hey, want to hear about more ornaments? No? Too bad.
We had leftover dough from the hand print ornaments, so we used it to make some plain ol' cookie cutter ornaments. And then we painted them with acrylic craft paint. Veda was characteristically very into it. And she seems to have entered a blue period in her work. Powder blue only, please. 

Linus, on the other hand, swirled all the colors together with his brush and was finished after one ornament. Then he bundled some brushes together into a rocket/rocket boosters/fuel tank combo and got busy with blasting off.

Two more days. Just two more days. I am one eager Santa.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

This Week In Christmas, III

We finished crafting our Christmas thank you cards. Here Veda is using a q-tip to paint ornaments onto her hand print tree.
This girl loves crafting.

Linus thought it might be fun to color in the heart. He did a surprisingly good job of staying in the lines.
Here are a few of the finished products.

We also made Christmas playdough this week. We used our favorite ultra-squishy recipe and added green food coloring and plenty of peppermint extract. When they play with it, the whole room smells minty.

The kids always love it when we make homemade playdough (It really is better than the store-bought stuff), but the morning that we made it, they played with it for at least two hours. No kidding.

We also crafted a tree out of scrapbooking paper. I worked with the kids one at a time to talk about ordering the strips longest to shortest, and then they glued the strips down on the construction paper. I helped them squeeze out some glitter glue for a shiny star tree topper.

On a not-exactly-related-to-Christmas note, let's talk about this girl. It's so much fun to watch each of the kids' personalities emerge, and it's becoming incredibly clear that this girl is going to be creative. She's truly into all things crafty. Here she is using scissors correctly (at two years of age). She would happily pass her entire day away cutting, pasting, and crafting. She revels in a trip to the yarn store and tells me she wants to knit when she's big.

This guy, when I gave him some scissors and magazine pages to cut up? Well, of course the paper turned into a rocket ship. Duh. I'll be astonished if this kid doesn't pursue some kind of a career in science. 


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Monday, December 10, 2012

This Week In Christmas, Part Deux

Remember last week's frankenvirus? Thank goodness, we all recovered from it... just in time for me to get a new virus. Yippee skippy. But we had about two and half good days in between. Here's what we did.

Here's our pine cone craft. The kids, especially Veda, love gluing and pasting. The cone on the left is one of Veda's. (Note the extra glue, tee hee.) The one on the right is one that I did. Linus made one but then pulled all the puff balls off. I've learned to just let it go when crafting with toddlers. If they're enjoying it and it isn't going to make a permanent mess, it's not a big deal. On the other hand, SERENITY NOW.

Amazon sent our monthly stock of diapers in this enormous box. Thanks for the early Christmas gift, Amazon. So far the box has been a rocket ship (as pictured), a school bus, and a boat. It's also great for coloring. 

Last year we put up our full-size artificial tree. Within days, all of the ornaments were scooted up within the top two feet of the tree. It was a constant fight to keep the tree put together. I decided this year we'd do what I've seen on Pinterest with the felt tree that the kids can decorate and re-decorate. It's been okay, but I do regret not putting up the big, lit tree just a bit. Linus exhales a "Wow!" every time we see a "real" decorated tree. But then I remember that it's not worth the fights. Nope, not at all. Next year, though, we'll do the big tree for sure.


Speaking of my spirited little fella, today will be our elf's last day this year. Unfortunately, Mr. Linus has elected to touch the elf once again. If you're not up on Elf on the Shelf policy, children aren't to touch the elves lest the elves lose their magic. The first time, Santa sent this letter:

Dear Linus and Veda,

    I have decided to give your elf his magic back one time because your were sorry that you had touched him. I hope that you will not touch him again, or he will have to come back to the North Pole with me until next Christmas.

   Your elf says that your favorite Christmas carols are "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells". Be good, and I will visit your house this Christmas.

Santa Claus

Clearly, with this second elf-touching, we're just not ready for the elf yet. See ya next year, elf.

On Friday morning I woke up knowing that I was getting sick again, so I thought we'd better forge ahead with a Santa visit before the opportunity might be lost for the whole season. We used our zoo membership to get in to their little Santa village. We passed on the professional photographer and just took our own photo. Total cost = $0.00. And they gave us a mug for being members. I love the zoo, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of their homeschooling program in the future.

We've also been working on crafting Thank You cards, but we've still got a step to go. I'm sure you'll be on the edge of your seat awaiting the results - and much, MUCH more - in the next installment of This Week In Christmas. 

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This Week (And a Half) In Christmas

We didn't waste any time getting started on our Christmas Countdown Activities list.

The day after Thanksgiving we bypassed the retail craziness and headed to the Fantasy of Trees instead. Making warm, fuzzy holiday memories beats long lines, crowds, and parking lot battles on any day, in my book.

On the carousel...

What's Veda clinging to? A Thomas sticker book.

Face painting. Veda loved it. Linus immediately wiped his with his sleeve.
Making a reindeer craft...

See his pitiful face paint? Also, it took about ten seconds for this magic marker to become a "rocket ship pencil". What with all the blasting off, he didn't get much coloring done.

Driving plasma cars on the toddler race track...

Then because we weren't quite worn out enough, the kids and I packed up and made the drive through the mountains to my grandmother's house. The kids got to see several members of our extended family, and we came home with some handcrafted piggy banks and a couple of books to add to our read-aloud Advent calendar.

This past Saturday, the kids were supposed to see their first parade. But sometimes Old Man Winter craps all over your Christmas plans, and Linus woke up with a high fever at about 3 am on Friday night. The frankenvirus has been working its way through the Martin house ever since. Linus's primary symptom has been fever, Veda ran a fever and threw up, and I ran a slight fever and had a splitting headache. Frankenvirus - something for everyone!

Missing the parade means that something isn't going to get checked off our activity list, which bothers me in a compulsive sort of way.

Our sick days have afforded us some extra cartoon-watching time, so we've been enjoying Rudolph and the Jingle movie.

Let's see... we also started our Read-Aloud Advent Calendar on the 1st, which we all love.

And we've been doing Elf on the Shelf... but a couple of things about that:

1. This was our elf's grand entrance to our house. I actually put a little thought into this. I set him up on the kitchen counter with his book and "snowballs", donut holes with powdered sugar. I had high hopes when I took this photo. In my mind, they would come running into the kitchen and gleefully wonder about the little guy in red and then fall in love with him when they learned he had brought them a breakfast treat.

What actually happened was that they were grumbling about wanting milk and had absolutely zero interest in the elf.

Me: "Look! What's this?! He's brought you a treat!"
Linus: "I don't like it."
Veda: "It's not Thomas."
Me: "Hey! He brought a book! Let's read the book!"
Veda: "Not right now."
Linus: "I don't want to."

And another thing about this elf - WHY do they not make them with wires already in their little arms and legs? Instead, I'm supposed to find a secretive hour to perform surgery on our elf with gauge wire, wire cutters, and needle-nose pliers. Seriously, WHY??? So, as might have guessed, our elf has not had his surgery yet, which puts some significant limits on his activities. Take, for instance, a couple of nights ago, when I thought it would be cute to have the elf climb one of our houseplants. Due to his lack of surgically-enhanced arms, he fell off during the night, so when Linus discovered him, he was lying face down in the houseplant dirt. Linus: "I'm sad about the elf. He's dirty. He's sad." And you can't touch him all day, because then he'll lose his magic. So our elf spent an entire day looking like a crime show corpse. Mmmm.... nothing like Christmas disappointment.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas Is Coming!

Buddy the Elf - I'm so excited for Christmas!  Christmas is my favourite!!
Christmas with kids is way better than Christmas with no kids. And Christmas just seems to be getting better as they get older. I love that for a whole month I get to focus on making life magical for Linus and Veda. The thing about magic, though, is that magic doesn't often happen on its own.
All that magic-making requires some organization and lots of planning. No problem. That's my specialty.
Last year I made the mistake of trying to plan an activity out for each day on my calendar. It sure did look nice and neat, but it didn't work. Nope, not at all. As soon as somebody had sniffles or the weather was bad, the plan didn't work. Lots of activities never got made up, and at the end of the season I felt like we had missed out on a lot.
This year, I've decided to do a checklist instead. It's hanging on the refrigerator, and we'll cross things off as we tackle them. A few things do have to go on the calendar because they're scheduled by someone else (like a parade), but otherwise, it's all completely flexible.
Here it is - our 2012 Christmas Activity Countdown:
It's going to be a great Christmas season! I hope all of you are able to make lots of magical memories this year as well.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Toddler Lunch Idea and Ode to Cookies

Okay, here's a recent lunch photo:

It's  sliced vegetables, vegetable dip, apple slices, string cheese, and letter cookies.

What I really want to talk about are the letter cookies.

Until I found the letter (and number) cookies at Trader Joe's, I was having a hard time teaching letters to Linus and Veda. It would seem that for all the reading we do, they just didn't see the fun in learning the letters of the alphabet. Puzzles were meh. The Leap Pad alphabet phonics toy on the refrigerator was meh.

So I bought these cookies, and we've made a game of it at lunch time. I pull a cookie out of the bin and ask what letter or number it is. They love it, and better yet, they're alphabet pros now.

Never underestimate the power of a cookie.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Christmas List 2012

Here it is - the third annual post about Linus and Veda's Christmas list! In case you're new here, the idea is that I try to make a few picks that you won't see in all the toy catalogs - stuff that's at least a little off the beaten path. Linus and Veda will be turning three soon, and I think they'll be playing with all of these for several years.

1. Darda Upside Down Overpass Racetrack Set

My husband's parents kept a small racetrack for the kids at their house. I was amazed by how quickly  barely-two-years-old Linus learned to place the car in the motor socket. Alas, the track didn't last long, and an online survey of product reviews quickly revealed a similar fate for all the motorized tracks currently on the store shelves. <Insert grumble about the shoddy quality of toys on the market today> So, I found this alternative. Now hear this... there IS no motor on this track. So there's no motor to break within a few weeks of use. Instead the little car does the work of shooting itself through the loops and curves. Genius.

2. Parachute

Remember this day in P.E.? Magic. Just think of the possibilities of a home parachute... tossing leaves in the fall, hauling it out for playdates and birthday parties, making forts... There's a lot of childhood fun to be had with a parachute.

3. Playmobil Grand Mansion

I looked at every dollhouse on the market before I decided on this one. I even briefly considered building one. Then I remembered that I have toddlers. So why this one?
  • Durability - I've been extra pleased with the quality of all of the Playmobil toys we've purchased. In particular, the 1.2.3. farmhouse the kids received for their first Christmas. That thing has been used as a step stool, dropped, and played with A LOT, but it still looks like it just came out of the box. Pretty amazing considering how much toddler love it's endured.
  • It's a grow-with-me sort of toy. Take a look at the example room I posted here. See all that detail? While we're still in the carry-random-stuff-around-the-house-for-no-reason-at-all stage, I'll keep most of the little detail pieces packed up. But when the kids get older we can add all those little pieces to the house. Voila, it's like a whole new toy! There's also an expansion floor that can be added to the middle of the house and a lighting set to add electricity. Fun!

  • It's fairly gender neutral. I'm sure that both Linus and Veda will want to play with the house. And I'm not a fan of the strict gender roles being pushed on kids through toys and merchandising these days.

4. Viewmaster and reels

Thirty years ago, there was a viewfinder in everybody's toy box. But these days they aren't so ubiquitous. There are some great reel choices out there. Characters, animals, natural landmarks, and SPACE. And, just like the good old days, no batteries required!

5. Melissa and Doug Write - a -Mats

I love Melissa and Doug's Write-a-Mats. These reusable place mats will give the kids something positive to do while they aren't eating the meals I painstakingly prepare for them. (That's a joke. Sort of.) There are lots of options, too - alphabet, numbers, dinosaurs, states, planets, doodling... and those are the ones I remember.

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Halloween 2012, DIY Adult Rocket Ship Costume

This year's costumes were Plan B... and that's okay.

Plan A was Little Red Riding Hood. Veda was to be Little Red, Linus would have been the Big Bad Wolf, and I was going to be Grandmother. I actually made one of those costumes - a red hooded cape for little Veda. But after all the time I invested in knitting love into every stitch, Veda refused to wear it. Yeah, I was slightly crestfallen. In case you're interested in what wasn't meant to be, here's a photo of the cape on Ravelry. Ours looked just like it, and I'd post my own photo of ours, but... you know... no one to model it.

Linus never got into the wolf, either. I checked an age-appropriate version of the book out from the library and read it to them. At the end I tried to stir up some excitement for the idea from Linus, but he just shook his head, stuck out his lips, and said, "No, I'm astronaut," like he thought I'd never paid attention to anything he'd ever told me, which in this case is sort of accurate since he tells me many times over every day that he's an astronaut.

I decided to give the people what they want.

So here we are:

The astronaut costumes were not homemade, which bums me out, as I'm a fan of homemade costumes. But if you're going to be an astronaut, you really do need authentic-looking gear. We first spotted these take-off suits in the gift shop at Kennedy Space Center, but they were crazy expensive. Luckily, Amazon had them cheaper. And they'll use them frequently for dress-up, so I feel better about shelling out the money. 
My costume, though? My costume cost about five or six dollars to make. Here's what I used:
  • Glittery scrapbook paper, cut and hot glued into a cone ($1 on sale at Hobby Lobby)
  • Hair elastic I already owned (what the paper cone is mounted to)
  • Black dress, camisole, leggings, and ballet flats I already owned
  • 1/2 yard orange flannel (about $4)
  • 1 sheet yellow felt (.25)
  • 2 sheets red felt (.50)
And that's it. It took a couple of evenings to cut out the felt/flannel, glue it together, and sew it to the underside of my dress. But nothing hard.
By the way... when I was looking around on Google for rocket ship costume ideas (that I never really found), the first search result I looked at was for "Adult Rocket Costume". You know what it was? A "crotch rocket" costume. I'll leave that one to your imagination. It was being modeled by the sort of man I imagine might enjoy all of the ridiculous "sexy" costumes out lately. You know... like "Sexy Hamburger" or "Sexy Rooster". Am I turning into a prude, or is that trend utterly stupid and UNsexy?

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall Fun

In addition to all the normal fun stuff we do, we've been packing in as much fall fun possible.

We went to the Museum of Appalachia with our playgroup to see all the animals. Here's Mr. Linus looking reflective. And the texture of the fence... so yummy in a photo.

There have been two pumpkin patch trips. First we went to the fruit and berry patch with our playgroup.

Then to Life Down on the Farm as a family. It's the second year we've been there. This year we ran short on time. Next year we may go on a Friday and spend the whole day.

We took a trip out to the Oliver Springs Fall Festival. Overall, it wasn't my bag (I'm looking at you, Elvis impersonator singing bad karaoke), but that's okay, because we went for the sole purpose of letting Mr. Linus meet up with the Smoky Mountain Rocketry Club. He got to watch a couple of rocket launches. His excitement made the whole day worth it. Even the bad Elvis.

We've also been making lots of fall crafts. Here are a couple...

...leaf rubbings...

...cotton ball ghosts...
We've also been taking lots of walks. We usually end up pocketing some nuts because the kids are fascinated by them. I devised a counting game with these acorns. I'd shake them up bartender-style in these cups, and then give each kid a cup of acorns to count. They made great little manipulatives... until they started growing trees, as seen here.
After the Little Red Riding Hood incident (when I spent months knitting an ADORABLE cape for Veda only to have her refuse to touch it), I thought I'd better change my strategy when it came to knitting a hat for Miss Veda. This time I got her approval on the pattern. Then I took her to the yarn store with me and let her choose the yarn. We ended up with pink, of course. So far, so good. She's pretty excited about her hat. Here she's cuddling with her yarn and asking me to "work it".

And here's Mr. Linus. And a rocket ship. 

Next post... Halloween costumes!

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