Wednesday, August 31, 2011

End of Summer Traditions

Tuesday was our last official day of summer vacation. I was exhausted from our trip and all the unpacking it entailed (which I admit still isn't completely done...) and there was a 40-50% chance of thunderstorms, so we didn't tackle a big outing like the zoo or anything. Instead, as a last minute decision, we had a picnic at a the rain for a few minutes, which was part of the fun. I'm glad I got myself out and about to have one last "summer adventure" with my kids, even if it kinda wore me out!

A tradition I started last year when Molly(4) first began preschool was that the night before her first day, we took a night time walk. It's kind of a time to say good-bye to summer and reflect on the special times we had. Our walk this year was very fun and memorable: Molly kept pointing out all the "huge long grass" in peoples' yards and we helped a neighbor find his cell phone he'd lost in his car by calling it with ours. It's fun to walk outside with flashlights and listen to the different bugs and sounds and try to guess what they are. I think at one point Molly said she heard a baby bunny...?

Another "tradition" I have is a mini tree in my house that I decorate all year long. It's actually about 5 feet tall but it's skinny and doesn't take up much room. My mom always has had a tree like that in her house too and I try to decorate it for each holiday or special occasion, but I can't keep on top of it as well as my mom does. For the first day of school this year, we decorated it with small foam numbers and letters meant as a bath tub toys. Many of the letters just stick on with a single branch poking through, but others we had to wrap a branch around to hold it up. It was fun to name off the different numbers and letters as we hung them, and Ben (1) even got in on the action and tried his best to decorate with us. The tree was a fun background for Molly's picture on her fist day of school.

Ice Cream in a Bag!

On our last day of summer vacation, I planned a fun summer snack! During Ben's nap, Molly (4) and I made a quick batch of HOMEMADE ICE CREAM! I found the recipe in a Family Fun Magazine for "Ice Cream in a Bag". What's funny is this summer they made a list of twenty fun summer activities from their past magazines, but I actually had the recipe from the original release! Now I have saved this recipe twice and it was about time to try it. I urge you: please make this! I guarantee it turns out really freaking delicious.

Combine 2 Tbsp sugar with 1 cup of half and half and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract in a small ziplock baggie. Then put that inside a gallon size ziplock bag and fill that half way with ice cubes and 1/2 a cup of salt. Shake it for about five minutes. I wrapped ours in a dish towel because it gets really cold. Just feel the inner bag to check when the ice cream's done. BAM! Delicious.

I recommend rinsing the inner bag off so there's no chance of salt getting on your ice cream (yuck!). Molly added chocolate chips to hers... maybe one day we'll try peppermint extract and chocolate chips to make a mint ice cream!! We've already made it a second time after school the next day... this time we added fun food coloring to have purple and green ice cream. Did I mention it's really really delicious?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Having a Ball on the Beach

There was no lack of things to do during our beach vacation, so I didn't really feel the need to fill up time with extra activities. I did, however, have Molly (4) and Ben (1) try to play a couple beach games when we were out in the sand. One game I came up with spur of the moment to distract Molly from wanting to go swim in the hotel pool when everyone else wanted to stay out on the beach one evening. We got into a fun game of Sand Pictionary. I know this wasn't very original, but it was quick and easy and Molly really dug it. hehe No pun intended. ;O)

The other game I had the kids play was one I read in a magazine a long time ago that just stuck with me. Since my parents' have a few time shares in Myrtle Beach, I knew we'd have a chance to play some beach games one day back when I read that magazine! Anyway, I just dug three deep holes in the beach, about 4 inches wide and spaced less than a foot apart from each other. The object of the game was to roll a ball into the hole. Ben (1) simply threw or placed the ball in and Molly (4) had to stand behind a line I drew to roll hers. I built a small lip behind each hole to help keep the balls from rolling into the ocean. For older kids, you can add point values to each hole, maybe making a smaller hole worth more points and they could practice adding their scores.

The next evening on the beach, Molly created her own game like mine so I know she liked it! A couple balls didn't take up much space in my luggage but they sure went a long way to entertain the kids in our hotel room as well as on the beach.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

#1 Tip for Flying With Kids

Being in an airport is exciting for kids: lots of people to watch, planes and neat vehicles outside, the luggage carousel, little trams and automatic walk-ways. It’s like a giant playground for them and you don’t need to stretch your imagination to keep your kid entertained when you’re waiting for a flight. The airport to parents, however, is dangerous, fast-paced, crowded and filled with people who want to snatch up your kids and whisk them away. Or at least that’s how I feel. When I’m traveling with my husband, I feel much better having two sets of eyes on our kids, but when I travel alone with them, I’m on total lock-down mode and treat my personal space (including my kids) like a fortress. Ben (1) stays in his stroller at all times, and Molly (4) has a …uh… wrist “leash” to wear when we’re maneuvering through the crowd. Take no chances I always say!

So, the airport itself is entertaining enough for your kids, but being stuck on a tight airplane is not always so easy. Having a window seat can help kill some time. I’ve handed Molly (4) my camera before and let her snap pictures of the view as a fun activity. You can also play games like a sitting “Simon Says” or “I Spy” in your seats, or try singing extended versions of “Old MacDonald” or “If You’re Happy And You Know It”. Mostly, though, all of our plane activities are planned ahead. I pack one complete carry-on with stuff to do and special treats, and keep all the snacks in another bag.

Great activities I’ve taken for Molly before include a View Finder, MagnaDoodle, and an Invisible Ink coloring book. When she was younger, about 2, she really liked having a baby doll to take care of during the flight. Any toy without a lot of parts that the child can do themselves is a great choice. It’s so loud on the plane anyway, you don’t even have to worry about it being too loud for the other passengers. So bring along those pretend cell phones, video games, and plastic singing baby toys – because the people around you probably won’t even hear it.

One thing I’ve done on every flight is have a few small, wrapped gifts ready for the kids. I basically have one or maybe two small gifts per flight that they can open, saving some for the return trip home. Usually the gifts I find are from the dollar section at Target, but this time I splurged and got them each a new Leap Frog toy. Ben (1) got a counting cell phone and Molly (4) got one that “texts” and learns letters. Unwrapping the gift is part 1 of the activity, playing with your new toy is part 2 of the activity, and in our case switching and playing with your siblings new toy was part 3 of the activity!

Other small things that make good travel toys include: Post-it notes (they are paper to draw on AND a sticker at the same time!); hidden pictures books or children’s magazines (our favorite is High Five, made my Highlights); and your child’s blanket. You can hide under it like a fort, play peek a boo, snuggle, make a pillow with it, use it as a separator so your little brother will stay on his side, use it like a funny new shirt or hat, wrap your toys in it like a present, or wrap your baby doll or other toy in it and pretend to tell it night night stories.

My final piece of advice you’ve probably heard before. I’ve heard it before, yet still wasn’t prepared for what happened on the second leg of our trip to the beach: HAVE A SPARE OUTFIT FOR EVERYONE IN YOUR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE! We sat down in our seats and while everyone else was boarding, Ben unexpectedly throws up all over him and me. Lots. Very watery, because that’s what he had been drinking when it happened. We jumped up and started getting cleaned up when Molly also threw up – twice – probably because of seeing and smelling Ben’s. Yuck! It was on our bags, our blankets, our seats, Molly’s shoes and socks, a spot on her pants, Ben’s clothes, and most of it was on my pants. The only clothes I had packed in our carry-ons were our swimming suits… because I thought if we lost our luggage at least we’d be able to swim on the beach. Well, Ben looked okay in his swim trunks and swim shirt… and Molly sat in her underdoodles for the flight while the small patch on her pants dried (we cleaned up everything pretty well with paper towels and baby wipes… but I couldn’t sit around in my swimming suit so I had to sit in wet pants… and I’m talking about 70% of my pants were drenched and then wiped down with baby wipes… for two hours. Oh the misery. Thank you to the flight attendants for blankets to wrap up in and to the lady in 38D who offered to help clean up. Also thank you to myself for having brought two packs of baby wipes, and thank you to my kids for not throwing up any more after that.

In conclusion: PACK CLOTHES NO MATTER WHAT! And, laugh at yourself when you don’t. ;O) Happy travels!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's a bird, it's a plane...

Traveling with kids is not easy, but it helps to plan ahead. It also helps to be flexible and have a sense of humor when things don’t go as planned. My husband and I recently took a week long vacation to the beach with our two young children, Molly (4) and Ben (1). Here are a few tips I used myself, and some more I learned along the way that I hope you find useful the next time you travel with your young ones!

We flew to our destination so I had to be very careful with our packing. I decided to only check two suitcases and save the $50 round trip fees of having our four-year old check a bag, but I did maximize her two carry-ons that you get to take for free! To make sure there were no complications, I avoided any liquid in our carry-ons, except for a bottle with four ounces of water already in it for Ben… airport security tests the water, but it is okay to bring it on board and it doesn’t hold up the line more than 30 seconds – I promise!

Since it’s hard to explain to a one-year old that they have to wait for the drink cart to come around before they can get anything to drink (that precious bottle was saved for nap time or as a last resort for inconsolable crying), I bought a bottle of juice once we were past security. I recommend bringing an empty sippy cup in your carry-on so your child can easily and cleanly have a sip. Some catalogs sell special sippy cup toppers that come in three sizes to use on different drink bottles, but having them actually fit is a hit or miss. Sometimes it’s a life saver and sometimes it drips. I’ve experienced both.

Traveling at nap time is sometimes a good idea, so your child will be asleep for part of or hopefully most of the flight… as long as they are easy to get to sleep! Our second leg of the trip fell over nap time for Ben and it was a good success! Our first leg of the trip was really good timing – meal time! I love to schedule my flights during meal time because you can bring along a Lunchable or buy something at the airport. Eating is a great way to keep your kids busy on the plane! Also bring along extra snacks because most of the time what the airline passes out are not kid appropriate: ie hard pretzels or peanuts.

Taking off and landing are the hardest (but also most exciting) parts of the flight, but they pose one big problem: your ears pop and hurt! Little kids can’t chew gum, so here are some other ideas I’ve used in the past to help alleviate some of that pain. Infants or younger toddlers can nurse or drink from a bottle. Older toddlers and bigger kids can chew or suck on something. I personally like to crunch harder snacks like Cheez-its when my ears are popping, but Molly was happy with gum. For Ben’s age, I like to give him a sucker to suck and bite on. The best kind of sucker (or so I think) for kids is a Baby Bottle Pop. It has a lid, is not a choking hazard, and they can really hold on to it easily. Of course, Ben has no idea it can twist open and powdery candy comes out… but he doesn’t need to know that for quite a while; Molly didn’t!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baby Bubbles Party Decoration Ideas

My final post about little Ben's "pool party" is about the decorations! My theme was "Baby Bubbles" so I tried to find different ways to incorporate bubbles into the decor. We held the party at the top of my driveway (with pads on the ground so it wasn't hard) so a few days before, Molly (4) and I decorated with sidewalk chalk. It was fun and easy for her to draw circles for bubbles and I drew a mural on the garage door to act as a background for photos. (I always try to include a picture-taking station at all of my kids' parties!). For the actual party, I borrowed a bubble machine that blew constant bubbles. The kids, all under age 2, were so cute playing in the bubbles!

Inside, I had my snacks set out on my kitchen table so that's the other area I decorated. For a table cover, I used large size bubble wrap! After the party, we kept it on until breakfast the next day so Ben (1) and Molly had fun popping at the table. I also made some faux bubbles to hang above the table. I came up with the ideas to use old CD's and tied two together, facing each other, so only the underside of each was showing. I used clear fishing line to hang them from my ceiling fan at different levels. It was a fun effect and when I accidentally turned on the fan that evening, we were easily entertained and surprised they didn't fly off!

Finally, as a last minute idea, I tossed a few styrofoam craft balls into a glass bowl on the table. The next day, we used toothpicks to make shapes with the balls. Molly loved making different animals this way!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Safe Bug Bite Remedy for Kids!

I played in the backyard with my daughter a couple times and we have now accumulated nearly 40 mosquito bites between the two of us! Obviously my back yard bug spray has ran it's course, but really? The sickening part is that she got so many while I was spraying the yard for those blasted bugs! I felt so guilty about it because I know how annoying bug bites can be and I hate to think of my sweet little girl (4) being so miserable. Well, as soon as we came in I had her take a warm bath while I hopped on my laptop and searched for home remedies. I combined a few different things I read about. Here's what I ended up using and IT WORKED!

A) It is good to take a hot bath immediately after you get bit and sprinkle some baking soda in the water. Molly's bath must have been warm enough - the new bites were noticeably smaller after she got out!

B) Make a very thick paste with water and baking soda... then add several drops of peppermint extract to it. Smear it over all the bites, being very generous and let it dry for at least five minutes. Then wash it off with a hot wash cloth (or at least as hot as your daughter who loves cold water will allow!).

Voila! The itch is gone! She didn't even complain about itching at bedtime! I'm sitting here typing this itch-free myself. Phew!

IF the itch comes back, my other favorite remedy is putting on a bunch of Cortizone 10 and covering each bite with a bandage.

Yummy (Easy) Party Snacks for Toddlers

Planning a party for a toddler can be so fun, but you have to be realistic about what a one-year old can eat and do. For example, don't bother planning any actual party games or crafts because chances are the kids won't be interested. Instead, plan your party around what your little can do and what they can eat! Here is the menu I used for my son Ben's Second Annual Summer Party, for children ages 17 months through 21 months.

For the first snack, I took an old recipe from Taste of Home for Parmesan Party mix and tweaked it to fit my "audience". In a large mixing bowl, pour 6 cups of Cheerios, 1 cup of pretzels, and 1 cup of Cheez-its. You can break the pretzels into smaller pieces and use those little tiny hexagon-shaped Cheez-it snacks if you are worried about choking. In a separate bowl, I mixed several tablespoons of Olive Oil with maybe a tablespoon of Italian seasoning and half a cup of Parmesan cheese. Drizzle this over the cereal mixture and toss to coat. This snack was a big hit for the toddlers because of the Cheerios but also has a grown-up enough taste for the adults to enjoy too!

I also made my staple: Jello Jigglers! I have so many cookie cutters, I can usually find a shape that's appropriate for any party. This time, I only had to use circles to make bubbles so it was pretty simple. To make the smaller ones, I actually just used a sippy cup lid. The recipe I use is a modified one from a Taste of Home magazine. If I remember correctly, here's the recipe: Mix two boxes of blue Jello with 1 1/4 cups of boiling water, stirring for two minutes, and let it cool for 30 minutes. Then mix 1/2 cup of cold milk with just half a package of instant vanilla pudding and IMMEDIATELY stir it into your Jello. QUICKLY pour it into a flat pan, coated with cooking spray and refrigerate for about three hours. Cut into shapes and enjoy!

Finally, I made some banana roll-ups because they were circles too. Melt 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, then add maybe 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Spread the delicious mixture on a flour tortilla, then set a banana on one end of it. Roll it up then cut into 1/2 inch sections. I think this would make a good breakfast one day, too... You can also use another nut butter like almond butter, or Nutella. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baby Bubbles

Before Molly (4) was even born, I knew I wanted her to have an annual Halloween party because it is my favorite holiday! Each one has had a different theme and I have the best time planning it. When I became pregnant with my second child, it was important to me to pick an annual party for them to have too. Each holiday seemed a little too close to birthdays or Christmas, so I decided on a party during the summer for him. Today was Ben's Second Annual Summer Party! I'll break up these summer party ideas into a few blogs this week, starting with theme and favors:

Molly helped me choose the theme this year, which was "Baby Bubbles". It was a fun and appropriate theme for my one year old! Whenever I plan a party, I like to come up with a theme first because it makes everything else fall into place a little bit easier. I included bubbles in our outdoor activities, along with a kiddie pool, slide and two water tables with plenty of little cups to pour and splash.

I also use my theme when choosing decorations, party favors and snacks. I used small party bubbles for the favors, but added just a little bit to make them special. I wrote my party title on some construction paper and hot-glued it to the bubbles containers. I used dots of glue covered in silver glitter to make "bubbles" on the wrappers.

Each toddler also got to take home a personalized sippy cup. I bought new disposable plastic sippy cups and decorated them with permanent markers to include each child's name and bubbles. Personalized cups also come in handy during the party to use and not get them all mixed up!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hay's for horses!

For a final Horsing Around treat, I came up with a recipe for "chocolate hay stacks". It was fun for Molly (4) to make and Ben (1) loved the haystacks and kept "asking" for more!

We melted about 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips and stirred in maybe 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Then we mixed in about a cup of chow mein noodles (those little skinny crunchy noodles - yum!) and stirred gently until they were all covered. We made little "hay stacks" of about a tablespoon each on a sheet of wax paper and let them cool. I actually stuck them in the freezer to hurry along the cooling process. They're still pretty melty in the picture. This recipe made 12 snack stacks.

I imagine you could make a more hay-colored treat the same way, but by using white chocolate chips with peanut butter.

Meanwhile, the Johnson County Fair has been going on and we planned to ride some carnival rides, but got rained out. Luckily, my genius friend thought of taking the kids to Zonkers instead, an indoor fun zone with real rides, games, tunnels, and a bounce house! We had a blast and I snapped a picture of Molly on a purple horse being a cow girl.

As if our weekend couldn't hold any more excitement, we watched a parade this morning. Ben's favorite by far were the horses. When they marched/trotted past, Ben pointed and yelled and tried to stand up in his stroller! Yee haw!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wagon Ride

During a cooler day this week, we headed to Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead with a friend. To go along with our "Horsing Around" theme for MOMS Camp, we got to see horses and even went on a horse-drawn wagon ride which was really great! Ben (1) really enjoyed sitting in the hay. The ride went all around the park and was pulled by two HUGE horses. We got to pet the horses when the ride was over, and Molly(4) knew they were draft horses thanks to one of our library books!

At home I had Molly make her own cowgirl handkerchief. I had bought a blank white one at the beginning of the summer from Michaels. I'm pretty sure it was just $1 or $2. She used special fabric markers to decorate it with all rainbow colors. To help hold the handkerchief still while she colored, I taped the edges down to my kitchen table with clear packing tape.

Molly used her new handkerchief to dress up as a cowgirl over the next several days! At my parents' house she has an entire cowgirl outfit complete with hat and a stick horse that she wore for two days straight! It took a few days to get her interested in a cowgirl week, but now she's really into it! Horses was a fun week because Ben really got to participate too!

In fact, as autumn gets closer and Molly will be in preschool three days a week, I plan to come up with more projects and activities especially for Ben to do while she's gone. My focus on Ben will actually begin this weekend with his annual summer party, so look for upcoming party ideas for little ones!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Giddy up, Dragon!?

We found a way to ride horses in the air conditioning: the carousel at our local mall! Of course, Molly (4) chose to ride the dragon, which meant Ben (1) had to ride the zebra next to it, so we didn't actually ride horses, but it was still fun. Molly did pretend to be a Dragon Cowgirl, so I got my point across at least. On a cooler day, we headed to the zoo (no horses, there, though) and rode their endangered species carousel. Molly again chose a non-horse animal and rode the hyena, but Ben finally rode a horse! Woo hoo! MOMS Camp success! Here's my Cowgirl and Cowboy at the mall:

I finally convinced Molly(4) to sit down with me and make a cute craft I've kept from the September 2010 Parents Magazine. We changed a couple things from the original in the magazine, but it turned out really cute and Molly is enjoying playing with it. Here's what we did, step by step:

1. Hot glue (my job) Popsicle sticks to a toilet paper roll.
2. Cut four slits in the bottom & stick four Popsicle sticks in those to create legs. Use a couple dabs of glue to help hold them in place.
3. Have your child paint the legs and "body", and also a paper cup which will become the head.
4. We glued on some yarn as a tail, then cut fringe on a strip of paper and glued it in the cup for a mane. I glued on two little beads for eyes, and two paper ears. Molly added a couple jewels. ;O)

You can see our horse started as a natural color, but then turned into a pink horse with bling! I don't mind though, because "a horse is a horse, of course of course."

Read 'Em, Cowgirl!

Since the last time I updated my blog, I've started a new theme for our MOMS Camp: Horsing Around! It's been much too hot for my plans, though, so we've basically stuck to the NEIGHborhood pool (too much? hehe) and playing indoors in the comfort of air conditioning. Meanwhile, I've been sick twice since my last entry AND lost the air conditioning in my van, AND traveled out of town twice to teach color guard. Now I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, so here we go!

I've tried a few projects for Miss Molly (4) the past week but she wasn't in the mood so we ended up doing unrelated projects like more melty beads and making slushies. We have, however, read some really great cowgirl books! Here are a few of our favorites:

Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse by Rebecca Janni, (very cute and encourages imagination!)
Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler (love this sweet rhyming story and artwork!)
Horses! by Gail Gibbons (very informative, a great way to learn about different horses)
Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash (fun for Molly (4) to read along with!)

We do have an actual horse art project in the drying process before it can be completed, so I promise another entry about that one soon!