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Archive for the ‘home & garden’ Category

Something I’ve discovered with some surprise is that, for a younger child, the appeal of putting beads onto a pipe cleaner Never. Gets. Old.  Whenever I am at my whits end and can’t think of anything for them to do to save my life, I break out the pipe cleaners and beads.  You can bend them into shapes (like the hearts below), use them to form letters and numbers, make bracelets, crowns… you name it, we’ve made it.

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The beauty is that you can re-use all the supplies with a few un-twists of the pipe cleaners a few days later (they won’t miss them what with the HUNDREDS of pipe-cleaner bead thingies they’ve made) – it’s a self-replenishing craft!!  For valentine’s we got a little more crafty than usual and attached them to some leftover lollipop sticks I had from a party and voila!  Heart wands.

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My 2 year old and 5 year old both enjoy doing this for what seems like hours, and the bonus is that it’s good for their little fine motor skills to put them on.  I get to cook dinner AND feel good about their little brain development – win, win!

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Even in California, it gets cold enough to stay indoors for a good portion of the winter.  Especially where we are near San Francisco, the wind can be bitterly cold some days.  I do the usual things to keep them entertained – bored games, coloring, painting, etc., and those work okay, but also get old day after day.  Now and then I stumble upon something that’s new and engaging enough to last quite a bit of time before the novelty wears off, the latest of which is sink bubbles.

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Many of you may have already discovered this, but for us, it’s new and it’s GREAT!  It gives the girls the joy of a bubble bath, but without the full-on production of a bath, and as long as you throw a few towels on the floor, the clean-up is relatively simple.  We’ve been doing this daily for about a week and they are STILL begging to do it every afternoon.  A tiny bit of water and bubbles followed by some vigorous mixing and you barely even need to use any of each to get a sink full of bubbles (which means the ability to make large puddles on the floor is minimized).  Give them a couple of cups and they happily make bubble cappuccinos and lattes for a good 30 minutes (do I take them to Starbucks too much?).

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I’m going to milk this one for all it’s worth – if your kids can be trusted not to make too much of a mess, definitely give this one a go!

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Thankful Tree

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This is our second year doing a Thankful Tree and I am absolutely in love with the meaning behind it – showing children how your tree gets covered day by day in things to be thankful for until at last it is completely full.  Last year I drew a tree on paper and we stuck the leaves on with glue, but somehow it wasn’t quite as satisfying as placing the leaves on an actual “tree”.

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Both the girls and I are liking this version better, and it’s actually a lot easier (no artistic skills required!).  We just gathered some sticks from the yard and placed them in a vase and voila, done!  I have a leaf paper punch that I used to punch out red, orange, yellow and brown leaves and then made a loop with twine to hang them on.

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So far my 4 year old is thankful  for Barbies, Crowns, Fairies, and (thankfully), me, her sister and her dad.  I try not to guide her in what types of things to be thankful for because, to be honest, I love the fact that she is thankful for fairies – these years don’t last long 🙂

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I’d love to hear about what you do for your thankful tree!

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ImageWe made some amazing heart-shaped raspberry tarts (see previous post) for Valentine’s Day, which then begged the question, “how do we share this amazing discovery??”.  I had seen a photo on Pinterest (of course) that used pinking sheers to snip off the top of a plain old paper lunch bag and thought it was a great solution – then add a bit of bakers twine and an old heart rubber stamp and viola!!  Quite a cute gift with literally zero dollars spent and zero trips to the store.  That’s a great thing in any busy mom’s book, for sure.

I’ll be using this again for all our future holiday baked goods we bring to friends – just swap the heart stamp for a Christmas Tree or ornament for Christmas, a pumpkin for Halloween or Thanksgiving, etc.  SO easy and looks adorably homemade.

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If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s holiday decorations, and every year it’s the same story – I wander around Pottery Barn, Target, Crate and Barrel and just about every other store longing for it ALL, but I have to determine the difference between wants and needs and I usually end up filling a cart or basket, and then putting it all back – it’s a curse!  Every year though, there are a few that make the cut, and this year these things did and I am pretty happy with my purchases, I must say.  The mantle is a collection of trees I already had, and some new ones (the tall white ones on the right) I found at Cost Plus, along with some new real maple votives I saw in a Martha Stewart magazine and just had to have (they’re from saveoncrafts.com).  The Noel sign is new this year from Target – love.

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I also found these three little wreaths at Harvest to hang from our three barstools now that we have a kitchen counter to eat at – eventually I’ll get nicer ribbon but twine works for now.

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And lastly, I saw these little houses in the catalog from Ballard Designs and couldn’t resist.  They hold tea lights and are just simple and whimsical enough for my taste (I’m not really a fan of the more ornamental detailed ones).  I am really in love with their simplicity and they look beautiful when lit.

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So I think I’m done with new holiday decor for this year and will be trying VERY hard to resist any more temptation!

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flag muffins

My wicked smart, hilarious, sweet oldest child just turned 4, and to commemorate the occasion (aside from the family party and the big preschool party at Pump it Up), we brought a special snack into her preschool class where they all sang happy birthday and she got to pick out a birthday treasure from the treasure box.  These days, bringing in a preschool snack is no easy task since it has to be homemade to ensure there are absolutely no nuts whatsoever inside or within close range of said snack.  When I asked her what she wanted to bring, she surprisingly asked for my pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, which we’d been making quite a bit lately what with pumpkin season and all.  That sounded good to me (no need to frost anything!!), so we set to work.  My latest trick with pretty much any muffin recipe to try to up the health quotient is to immediately halve the sugar content, and also use 1/2 whole wheat flour.  I was a bit nervous about this at first, but honestly, I don’t miss the sugar AT ALL – and I’ve been making these muffins for years, so you’d think I’d notice.  We’re also doing a rainbow theme for her bigger party this weekend, so I stuck to that and made some cute little birthday flags with label paper and toothpicks to make each one a bit special (since there wouldn’t be any frosting or sprinkles).  They turned out great, and I think the teachers were glad not to have to deal with any frosting-covered hands and faces 🙂  The recipe is below, and I’ve also included a link to download the little happy birthday flags if you’d like!  Just print them on full sheets of label paper, cut and stick to regular old toothpicks.  The ones I made had her name on one side and Happy Birthday on the other, but I’ve updated it to just read Happy Birthday on both sides.  So easy!

Here’s a picture of the birthday girl with the final product (we’re in the “must make a silly face for any and all pictures” right now – I’m just going with it and hoping it passes quickly).

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Spiced Pumpkin Muffins:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (16 oz) can solid pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Beat sugar and oil to blend
  • Mix in eggs, pumpkin and vanilla
  • In a separate bowl, sift flours, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, soda, salt and baking powder, then stir into pumpkin mixture until just incorporated
  • If using, fold in mini-chocolate chips until evenly dispersed
  • Line muffin pan with paper cups and fill about 1/2 way – bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes

Click here to download the pdf for the rainbow flags!  Rainbow Flags

Rainbow Flags

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Every now and then I like to do round-ups of my favorite things, doing my very, very best to keep it to nine items.  Why nine?  The very scientific reason that it allows for a neat square of 3 x 3  – plus “top 10” is SO over-used these days 🙂  In any case, here’s my list of essential “baby gear” (not to be confused with “baby toys”).  There are so many billions of lists of “essential” baby items out there that include items that, after two kids, I’ve realized are either useful for about 5 seconds, or totally depend on the kid – not all babies love baby swings, jumpers, bouncers, pacifiers, or generally anything made for their enjoyment specifically – they are all different.  So this list is for the mamas only – the stuff that YOU will need to survive your first year.  No matter what personality your little bundle of joy pops out with, these things will still be useful – I promise.  So here we go…

  1. The B.O.B. stroller:  I LOVE my B.O.B.  LOVE it.  Did I mention I love it?  Don’t get me wrong – an umbrella stroller is crucial for travel and trips to the mall, but the B.O.B will allow you to enjoy those times when a stroller wouldn’t otherwise have been possible or nearly as much fun.
  2. Gerber cloth diapers:  Let me preface this by saying I didn’t cloth diaper – I repeat – I did NOT cloth diaper.  I looked into it, but decided to keep my sanity.  These cloth diapers, however, are still unbelievably useful for everything else that would otherwise require a burp cloth, wipe, paper towel or (yes I’ve done it) shirt sleeve.  And they’re cheap!  $15 for 10  – you can’t beat it for burp cloths.  Now that my girls are pretty much past the spit-up/blow-out phase (although there is still the occasional outlier), they’ve become my paper towel replacement in the kitchen and just general wipe cloths for around the house.  Believe me, you will find uses for these FOREVER.
  3. Summer Infant Monitor:  This thing went with me everywhere when I had my first baby and you first time mamas will wonder how your own mothers survived without it.  I loved this with all my heart the first time around – carried it with me around the house, slept with it, traveled with it, I simply couldn’t fathom not being able to KNOW that my child was asleep.  That said, I didn’t even plug this thing in with my second.  Just didn’t use it.  Why? I think it’s because the second time around, you’re so busy with your first and with other things that you don’t really care if they’re asleep or not – as long as they’re in the room and quiet, that’s all you need to know.  So you first timers?  Buy this – it will keep you sane.  Second timers?  Meh, not so much.
  4. Zutano baby booties: Here’s the thing with baby shoes and socks – they are all so cute, but almost completely useless because they fall off or are too hard to get on.  Enter these baby booties.  They’re cute, comfy, can fit over other socks if you want extra warmth, and are EASY to put on, and stay put!  Love.
  5. The Snuzzler: Aside from the name (which I love in and of itself) this thing is a must for the early months.  No matter how padded your super-baby-deluxe car seat may seem, you won’t realize just how teeny tiny that little newborn is until you plunk them into an infant car seat without one of these things.  You’re little bundle will spend a TON of time sleeping in the car seat, so they might as well be cozy.
  6. White noise machine:  Also known as the “Dohm-DS Dual Speed Conditioner by Marpac”.  White noise is your best friend when you’re trying to get your baby to sleep soundly, but after watching numerous friends go through countless made-for-baby noise machines that kept breaking, I went for the big guns – the no frills Marpac.  And I love it.  It may not be pretty, but it WORKS.
  7. The Fisher Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster Seat:  Despite this long name, this thing is the most streamlined, basic chair you can get, and it’s awesome.  It takes up almost no room, is less than $30, is easy to clean and can travel!  What more could you ask for?!?!  Just PLEASE don’t be like me and despite getting the recommendation from a zillion people STILL get sidetracked in the store by the padded, tilting, cool looking high chairs and think they’re worth it.  They’re not.  Trust me, get this first.
  8. The Miracle Blanket:  Just listen to the name – it’s not a lie.  Even if you think you’re baby doesn’t like being swaddled (which I did) they do (which she did – once I go this blanket).  My first child was very mellow and I could swaddle her in anything and she wouldn’t wriggle out of it.  My second, not so much.  I was convinced she wasn’t the swaddling kind, until I tried this, and then miracle blanket of miracles, she was suddenly a peaceful, awesome sleeper (and mama got to sleep a whole 4 hours in a ROW!!).
  9. The Ergo Baby Carrier: Seriously, don’t get anything else.  I brought two carriers to Hawaii last year and stupidly decided to wear the Bjorn in the airport – my back was KILLING me by the time we were getting our bags in Honolulu and when our luggage appeared, I tore it open, found the Ergo, swapped it out and literally sighed with relief.  There is nothing better for comfort or versatility – I’ve used this for my newborn all the way up to hiking with my 2 year old on my back.  It’s ergonomic perfection.

So there you have it!  I’d love to know what things you considered essential in your first years of motherhood.

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