Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kitchen Activities

Here are some simple and fun ideas for involving kids in the kitchen... or just some yummy snack ideas! :) 

1. Snail Snacks (from Big Backyard Magazine, which we love!): 
Lay a tortilla flat. Layer cream cheese, turkey, lettuce, or anything else you can think of. Roll the tortilla, leaving a bit at the end un-rolled (this will be the snail's head). Add a small dollop of peanut butter for the snail's head, then add pretzel sticks for the antennae and/or raisins for the eyes. We also used a toothpick to keep our snails from unrolling... 

2. Honey Milk Balls 
A quick, no-bake, relatively healthy snack? My MIL gave me this recipe, remembering that Matt used to love them (he still does!). 

3. DIY Play Stovetop 
What I used: small cardboard box, decorative paper, 1 plastic yogurt lid, 2 milk lids, 2 screws, glue, and sharpie marker. No real method here... just tried to make it look like the original I saw. Even though I made it for Daria, she wasn't exactly sure what to do with it. Neven, on the other hand, was anxious to play! 

4. Milk --> Yogurt --> Cheese! 
I go in and out of phases where I make our own yogurt. We haven't made it for a while, and I figured this was a good time to talk to Neven about how it happens. BINARY FISSION was used in conversation between Matt and Neven at the breakfast table this morning... 
To make yogurt in your crock-pot (original recipe here, but I've tweaked it a bit)
Turn crock-pot on low and pour in 1/2 to 1 gallon whole milk (supposedly you can use lowfat milk, but I haven't tried yet). Heat on low for 2.5-3 hours, or until the temperature is 180 degF. Turn the crock-pot off. Let the milk cool for 3-3.5 hrs, or until the temperature is 110 degF. Remove 1-2 c of the warm milk and place in a bowl. To that, add 1/2 c of yogurt with live active cultures (I find Greek yogurt works best) and mix well. Pour the yogurt-milk mixture back into the crock-pot and whisk thoroughlyPlace lid back on crock-pot, wrap entire crock in a few thick towels, and let stand overnight 10-12 hrs. In the morning, spoon off any excess liquid pooled on the surface. Stir yogurt, then place in containers. For best texture, refrigerate for 8 hrs before using. This recipe usually yields 2-3 quarts of yogurt, which can be stored in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. 
To make thicker yogurt
Follow the instructions below for cream cheese spread, but only drain for about 1 hour. 
To make cream cheese spread
Line a colander with 2 layers of paper towels (or paper coffee filters) and place over a large bowl. Add yogurt and cover. Let drain, refrigerated for 4-6 hrs. To collect the cream cheese, I used a wooden spoon to scoop most out from the middle, then the rest will peel away from the paper towel. Discard liquid. Store in a container with a lid in the refrigerator. Add some honey and a dash of salt for a very yummy fruit dip! 
Watching the water drip out the bottom. 
Does the yogurt on Daria's forehead count as her stamp of approval?
Makes a great dip!

5. Blueberry Scones (from Parenting Magazine)
A recipe written to be kid- and dad-friendly, what could be simpler? This past weekend, not only did I get to sleep in until 8 am, I woke up to coffee brewing and fresh-baked scones! (For anyone interested... I bought the ingredients at the store, mentioned the idea of making scones to Matt, and left the recipe on the counter - still, they were YUMMY and VERY appreciated!!)

Friday, July 20, 2012

July Activities

Feels good to finally be back into a routine where we are not only getting out and about and OUTSIDE a lot, but also DOING a lot at home. There are a lot of SIMPLE activity ideas here. My hope is that it's not overwhelming, but rather you can pick and choose to find something for your family! 

Scrabble: Neven picked out a video (or book, etc.) and then re-wrote the title using Scrabble letters. As he was doing this, we talked about what sounds the letters make. 

Fingerpainting: Always fun... 

Make Penants (idea from Preschool Express): Give your child a penant-shaped piece of paper to decorate. Add a pole (I used a wooden kabob stick) and encourage them to wave it around. 

Beading with Pipe Cleaners

Baking Soda and Vinegar Volcano (idea from Science Kids): Place a spoonful of baking soda on top of an upside-down container or glass. Slowly add a few drops of vinegar and watch the reaction! 

Draw a Cartoon Truck (how-to from ToonDraw): After we finished the picture, we wrote the word TRUCK. We also labeled other things in the picture like BOY, GIRL, SUN...

Music on YouTube: Alice the Camel, I'm a Little Teapot, London Bridge (did you know... one theory on the origin of this song is that the bridge would fall down if children weren't buried in the bridge foundation as a human sacrifice?!)... One thing led to another and we also used YouTube to watch some birth videos - an elephant, a giraffe, and a chimpanzee. 

Spoon Sounds: Tie a spoon to in the middle of a piece of thick string, about 3 feet long. Wrap each end of the string around your index finger 2-3 times, then put your fingers in your ears. Gently swing the spoon into an object and listen - sounds like a churchbell! The lesson: observing how sound waves move through solid objects. Experiment with how the noise changes when the spoon hits different surfaces (table, fridge, dishwasher, counter-top...). An added bonus: works on fine motor skills. 

Puzzles: In our house, these are toys that are usually out of reach (constantly picking up the pieces drives me insane!). So yes, this IS a specific and targeted activity. 

Blow-up Balloon (idea from Preschool Express): You will need baking soda, vinegar, a balloon, and a glass soft drink bottle (we used plastic, which worked fine). Set out the bottle and pour approximately ¼ cup of vinegar into it. Next take a balloon and dump approximately 1 tsp baking soda into it. Now carefully, attach the balloon onto the top rim of the bottle. Gradually the baking soda will fall into the vinegar (we helped ours!), creating a gas, which in turn will inflate the balloon. Reminder: Do not let children play with balloons, especially pieces of popped balloons, because they are a choking hazard.

Pipe Cleaner Figures (idea from A few pompoms, google-y eyes, pipe cleaners, hot glue gun, a little imagination... and voila! 

Clothespin Poke (from The Toddler's Busy Book): You'll need a handful of clothespins and an empty egg carton. Turn the egg carton upside-down and punch small holes (just big enough to fir the clothespin) in the bottom of each section. Poke the clothespins in the holes and let your toddler have fun taking them out and putting them back in again. 
Another idea to add to the activity is a basket of clothespins that they can clip on and off the side (an idea from Montessori). 

Spelling with Magnets: I've already posted this idea (Learning Letters). Neven lost interest for a while, but was really into it again today! Hope this lasts... 

>>> What will YOU try? 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Typical Wednesday

Not too long ago, I recently read a fantastic little poem by Beth Brubaker or Kathy Fictorie (different sites claim different authors)If you Give a Mom a Muffin... 
If you give a mom a muffin, 
She’ll want a cup of coffee to go with it. 
She’ll pour herself some. 
Her three-year-old will spill the coffee. 
She’ll wipe it up. 
Wiping the floor, she’ll find dirty socks. 
She’ll remember she has to do laundry. 
When she puts the laundry in the washer, 
She’ll trip over boots and bump into the freezer. 
Bumping into the freezer will remind her she has to plan for supper. 
She will get out a pound of hamburger. 
She’ll look for her cookbook (“101 Things To Do With a Pound of Hamburger”). 
The cookbook is sitting under a pile of mail. 
She will see the phone bill, which is due tomorrow. 
She will look for her checkbook. 
The check book is in her purse that is being dumped out by her two-year-old. 
She’ll smell something funny. 
She’ll change the two year old’s diaper. 
While she is changing the diaper, the phone will ring. 
Her five-year-old will answer and hang up. 
She’ll remember she wants to phone a friend for coffee. 
Thinking of coffee will remind her that she was going to have a cup. 
And chances are… 
If she has a cup of coffee, 
Her kids will have eaten the muffin that went with it.

The poem was a refreshing reminder of how much I DO every day, even though it doesn't often FEEL that way. I'm sure many of you can relate! My goal for writing this post was actually selfish - I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment. (In case you're wondering, it worked.) I highly recommend YOU doing the same. Comment with your story here, or send it to me to read. :) 

Anyway, here's my version: Typical Wednesday Morning 
I get woken up at 6:30 by Daria (crawling over me). We spend a few minutes in bed cuddling, the head toward the kitchen so I can start the coffee. I notice that the window is open in the bedroom (we close them very early in the morning to keep the cool air in and the warm air out) so I head that way to quietly close it, because Neven and Matt appear to be sleeping. Then I realize they are only pretending to sleep and hear them whispering about how Neven is going to "surprise" me. I head toward the bed. Neven jumps up "Boo!" (along with a huge smile of accomplishment). I give and get my good morning hugs. Daria hears us (more specifically, she hears Neven) from the other room, I hear her squeal with excitement then hear the pitter-patter of her feet towards us. We're soon ALL in the bed. Daria pats her diaper (her way of saying "I want it off"), so I take her diaper off. We cuddle for a few minutes, kids climb over us and under the covers, then Daria is ready to get going. She climbs down from the bed, fearless as usual. 

Then "Pee!" as she heads out of the room. I jump up to follow her to her potty, used overnight diaper and PJs in hand. She sits down to pee on her potty in the kitchen, leaving me with one free hand to grab the potty (before she has a chance to "help" by carrying it to the bathroom herself). On my way to dump it in the toilet, I toss the diaper in the garbage. 
The kids follow me to the kitchen, and have their morning beverage requests in before I can turn the coffee pot on. Milk for Daria, but Neven wants tea (with honey and three ice cubes) this morning instead of milk. While the water boils in the kettle, I finally start the coffee. Maijer (our 14-yr-old dog) is pacing, so I take him outside. Olive (our outside cat) is sitting on her bed meowing at me, and so I give her a scoop of food and a bit of attention. On the way back in, I see that the fan is still on and turn it off. 
Oh right - I have to pee. Daria joins me, seeing me pee she thinks it's a good idea, and so she squats in front of me and pees. Luckily, Neven is also in the bathroom with us and so I ask him to run and get me a cloth diaper to use to wipe the pee off the floor. 
I pour Neven his tea, and me my coffee. Neven and I sit down at the breakfast counter to do a few pages from his kindergarten workbook while Daria is occupied reading boooks with Matt. Time for a science experiment! This is when I get to sit down for a minute (except for the 30 seconds when I had to get magnets to distract Daria from helping pour the vinegar) while I watch Matt prep the experiment, and Neven watch with wide-eyes. 
I get the kids started on breakfast then jump in the shower. When I'm in the shower is when my clearest thinking of the day happens, which usually results in a mental to-do list: email a friend that's been on my mind this week and another I haven't talked to in a while, blog ideas, activities for the kids, today's schedule, my once-upon-a-time career... I hurry out of the shower. While I'm getting dressed, I remember that I need to pack long-sleeve shirts for after swimming today. 
(try to) sneak past the kids in the kitchen, grab shirts for the pool (closing up windows while I'm in their room anyway), picking up toys and dropping them in strategically-placed toyboxes (in every room!) along the way. I toss the shirts and some snacks in our pool bag, then attempt to take care of a few to-do's in the time I have left before Matt heads to work (which happens minutes later). 
I head back to the kitchen, where the kids are eating breakfast. I remember I need to cook turkey bacon and prep tonight's picnic dinner. I need the food scissors (which I love to over-use!), which are still in the dishwasher from last night. I empty the dishwasher while cooking bacon and finally drinking my cup of (reheated) coffee. I see my vitamins, and chug those down along with some water after filling up my water glass. I think about getting breakfast for myself, but instead run to grab my computer (so that I can write this blog before forgetting too much). Maijer is sitting at the door whining. I take him outside (again). 
The phone rings - while I'm talking, I'll use the time to get kids dressed for swim lessons. I look at the clock, and it's 8:28 am. :) 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Our Battle with Food Dye

Neven tends to be a pretty mellow kid. As a road tripper, he'll look out the window for all of a two-hour car trip. When he first gave up his naps (at 2.5 yrs), he'd opt for sitting in his closet reading books for literally hours instead of falling asleep. Along the same lines, it takes a LOT to get this child excited (amusement parks? eh, not really). Mellow and even-tempered, just like his Dad. 

After Neven eats anything with food dye (by this, I mean artificial food coloring), there's a DRASTIC shift in his personality. He throws full-blown screaming tantrums* over the simplest things (like he wanted to close the fridge door but instead I did). He talks back and screams at me. He pushes physical limits with Daria. He doesn't listen to rules/boundaries that are always in place and he otherwise has no problems with. He's an emotional roller coaster - giggling one minute, and screaming hysterically the next. During his meltdowns, he gets this crazy, empty look in his eyes and it's impossible to reason with him at all. These days are filled with a treadmill of arguments, tantrums, tears, frustration - not much quality time happening. These feelings even spill over onto Daria. We refer to this outfall as The Crazies - it usually starts the day after food coloring, and usually lasts for a few days. 
*I understand kids this age will get irrationally upset about things... but this is different. Neven still has the occasional meltdown even when he's not under the influence of food dye - but I can explain what's going on to him, offer an alternative, and he's usually at least remotely open to the idea. 

At first, I was skeptical. I thought I was just being paranoid, trying to find an excuse for Neven's 3-yr-old-like behavior. I spent months suspicious that food coloring was the culprit, yet still not sure enough that I didn't take the final step to eliminate all food dye from his diet. I got to the point where I was able to convince Matt that there's a correlation (if you know Matt, or have a husband like Matt, you'll understand why this means so much!). 

A few weeks ago, Neven had a bad case of The Crazies that resulted from iced tea mix and/or the powdered 'cheese' on Pringles. This incident was the final straw for me. I realized that we've  already lost too many days to The Crazies, and I don't want to lose any more. I searched through our cupboards, determined to rid our home of food dye. There wasn't much, but it felt good to get it out - marshmallows, Easter candy, Halloween candy (ha!), granola bars, instant oatmeal, licorice, beef broth, iced tea mix, (kids'!) toothpaste, Tylenol, lotion, aloe vera... <On a side rant here: Really, Red40 in Children's Tylenol? Because kids care that cherry flavored must be red?! Not to mention... why does it need to taste like cherry or bubble gum?!> This purging made me realize that even though Neven hadn't been getting much food dye his diet, I think there may have been a slow trickle I wasn't aware of, resulting in essentially a continuous fallout. 

We've now been dye-free for nearly three weeks. I definitely notice a difference. He still has his occasional meltdowns, but they are few and far between and not so intense that they make ME want to cry. He has started asking me "Does this have food coloring in it?" to which I try to explain to him that's for me to worry about, not you. Whether Neven's reaction to food dyes is "real" or not is to be determined, but I'm definitely not the only one out there whose child turns a bit nutty after consuming them. And if there's a logical change I can make that happens to correlate to a more balanced, happier child... I'll do it! 

In my online researching, I found a helpful website (Die, food dye!) which not only has lots of information, but also many others with stories very similar to ours.  I've also discovered that Trader Joe's brand food contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. The Natural Candy Store carries everything from gummy bears to candy-coated chocolate candies, all without artificial  colors, flavors, or preservatives. I splurged and bought Neven a few sweets - perhaps out of guilt? ;)  

Thoughts? Anyone else out there with a similar experience? I'm still looking for all the support and validation I can get! 

Photo Copyright Sheila Aldridge - All rights reserved.