Thursday, December 20, 2012

Painless projects for preschoolers! {YES!!}

A few days ago, I read a review on Ain't No Mom Jeans for the Kiwi Crate.  The stellar review combined with a lovely $10 off coupon code was too good to pass up.  Not only that, but the company was even offering free shipping!  (I signed up.)  Unexpectedly, the shipping was also FAST.  Our crate arrived yesterday and we opened it this morning.  

It was a HUGE hit.  The box is small, but it was packed with goodies.  Cardboard penguins with markers and stickers for decorating them, Fiskar scissors for little hands, Pentel oil pastels and watercolor paints, penguin postcards ready to become masterpieces, a penguin shaped ice cube tray, and instruction booklets that also include fun facts and interesting "explore more!" experiments to try.

The boxes are geared towards kids ages 3-7, and I'd say that Kiwi Crate personnel are spot on in their age assessment.  Josiah (4) and Thomas (5) were the most interested in longer term play with the penguins, but Jonathan (7) was just as interested in creating them.  Jonathan especially enjoyed the inclusion of "real oil pastels!"

This is exactly the kind of thing that the kids always want to do with me, but usually is too daunting for me to pull off by myself.  After all, I'd have to spend time combing the internet for the do-able crafts, then go to the store for craft materials (which, frankly, would probably cost more to get at Michaels than the whole Kiwi Crate cost!)  And by the time I got home I wouldn't want to do the project AT ALL.  

{Someone tell me that I'm not the only one who feels this way about projects? Please?}

The kids were thrilled with their penguin "family", and after bowling for a bit ended up taking them to bed with them for quiet time.

Bottom line: I highly recommend Kiwi Crate.  Purchase through a link in this post and you'll get $10 off your first month's box, and I get referral credit too (which is always nice). :)  It is a monthly subscription that you're signing up for, but the website is easy to navigate and if you decide you don't want to continue, you can deactivate your subscription with a click.  Considering the results of this first box, I plan to continue my subscription indefinitely.  This is perfect for preschool/kindergarten and I know my boys will look forward to their box each month!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Necessity is the mother of invention

Jonathan loves to create things.  If it were up to him, each day would be one long string of experiments, projects, and inventions.  I can't even begin to keep up with all the things he wants to do!  This morning we made this wreath together. 

He had a surprisingly good eye for balance and design!  Then later, he went to the store with Daddy to get the needed groceries, so that he could make soup for lunch all by himself.  I interpreted the directions, and he did all the cutting himself, except for the onion (slippery skins!)  I'm not sure the result was quite his favorite, but he was very proud!

I'm trying to look at my lack of energy and frequent time spent in bed or on the couch as an opportunity to teach Jonathan to be more independent in his creating.  Today he certainly managed well!

Edited to add: Christmas gifts for family and friends are going to be homemade this year - Jonathan's idea and another fun project for us to do together! :)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Homemade lego advent calendar

Jonathan created his very own Lego advent calendar this year. 

The first four days we found the following treasures:
Day 1: Shepherd and lamb
Day 2: Three kings, bearing gifts
Day 3: the Star of Bethlehem in Christmas colors
Day 4: King Herod
I love the creativity!  Who needs $50 advent calendars when you have a 7 year old boy to make them for you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On houses and cleaning them

I've been browsing Angie's List frequently these past few months, getting ready for our big house remodel project.  (Did I forget to tell you?  WE OWN A NEW HOUSE!)

It is more than half as big again as our current condo, and it has three bedrooms.  I can't tell you how excited I am to not share a bedroom with a child...soon, very soon! :)  (First we have to fix it up.  So "soon" will probably be 2-3 months.  But still!)

But back to what I meant to write about.  In browsing Angie's List, I found an amazing deal for 3 hours of deep housecleaning.  I had been feeling so overwhelmed, and on top of it all had worked a 3 day birth (and thus had some extra money in the budget) so I bought it.  Monday morning a team of lovely women came to my house, asked a couple of questions, and got to work.  I took the boys to McDonald's and the park and came back three hours later.

My house?  It SPARKLED.  The place was spotless.  When they said "deep cleaning", they meant it...they had cleaned the baseboards, people.  And the overhead fan.  And the bathtub!  My stove, which used to have black crud crusted around the burner I use most, looks almost new.  They even stripped the beds and put fresh sheets on them. 

I feel like a heavy burden that I didn't even know I was carrying has suddenly disappeared.  I love living in a clean house.  Everything seems easier!  This morning after we finished school, I got out my old set of chore cards and actually did six of the "seasonal" cards.  Now my bathroom not only looks clean, it is actually clean inside the cabinets.  You can't see it, but I know it, and that makes a difference to me.  Tomorrow I think I may wash the curtains.  :)

So to any other moms who have been feeling dragged down and unable to get ahead: if you can afford it, hire a house cleaner.  It isn't just for super rich folks...and it is totally, totally worth it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The One Thing with SarahMarie

Life has been just about as busy and stressful here lately as I can ever remember it being.  I am homeschooling the boys, which adds a couple of extra hours of work to our list of "daily expectations" (that is without considering fussing/whining/complaining time).  I'm continuing work as a doula, which brings me joy but also entails a good number of evenings away at work.  And of course once or twice a month everything gets dropped while I attend a birth.  We're in the process of buying a house - I have never read, signed, scanned and emailed so many pieces of paper in my life.  Escrow was supposed to close last week but...we're still working on it.  I was in a car accident a little over a week ago and got a bad enough case of whiplash to need to see the chiropractor 2-3 times each week.  Ouch.  Next month Father David is retiring and I'm helping organize the creation of a memory book for him.  It is a grand project and will be spectacular when it is finished, but oh my, the emails!  The phone calls!  The cutting and pasting (both digital and physical)!  Then we're involved in a church plant and I am the new liturgist and choir director (oh joy! oh terror!)  And believe it or not, my boys all seem to think they should still get fed at regular intervals and have clean clothes to wear!  I know, I think they're quite unreasonable too.

So when SarahMarie asked me to participate in her "The One Thing" link up, my initial response (in her comment section) was this:
I probably ought to join in on this, but I have so many dang THINGS TO DO that it sounds almost laughably impossible. . . maybe I will get a large box of chocolates, curl up on the couch, and read about your accomplishments instead. That sounds far more achievable. can that be my one thing?
 And I still feel that way.  Only maybe not so gently stated.  Perhaps something more like "I HAVE TOO MANY THINGS TO DO AND TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO NEED ME AND I'M GOING TO CRY IF ANYONE ASKS ME TO DO ANYTHING ELSE!"

So you know what?  I did one thing last week.  And since I'm totally not kidding about the insane quantity of things that I must do, I'm going to be proud of that one thing for the week.  Actually two things, since I'm pretty sure blogging about it should count. :) 

Sarah, you're right that it helps.  Every time I look at my counter with it's pretty fall decorations, it makes me smile.  Thank you for the nudge to keep trying for beauty and small accomplishments in my life. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

New look

I think I like it, although without the glasses I suddenly realized that I don't look twenty anymore. :)

LASIK recovery was not as easy for me as it apparently is for most people.  Also, the surgery itself reminded me very much of scary science fiction.  My husband may or may not have given me that idea ahead of time by mentioning a certain scene in Minority Report. 

Two weeks post-surgery I am happy with the results.  (Not enough to do it again, though!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Illuminated Science Narration (only homeschooling, right?)

This morning I got to see an amazing synthesis of learning, and it was entirely self directed.  Jonathan asked if I would type while he dictated a narration.  Of course I said yes!  He proceeded to narrate a fabulous summary of the science we've been studying (and which, to be honest, I thought had been going in one ear and out the other!) He specified that the first letter needed to be very large, like an illuminated manuscript.  Then we printed it on cream colored card stock, and he drew pictures of flowers around the edges, and added gold "leaf" paint.

Here is the text, since it can't be easily read from the photo:

All About Plants

When a seed falls to the ground, it gets buried, and whatever the parent plant was, it turns into the same thing, only slightly different.  When seeds start growing, they are small.  When it starts growing and pops out of the ground, it is about 1/8 of an inch tall. 

After it pops out of the ground, you water it every day, and it grows.  It also needs good soil and sundlight.  As it grows, the stem grows up.  But for my plants, when it was big the leaves got too heavy, and now the stems are hanging out everywhere.  The roots grow down, because of gravity.

As the plant grows, it makes flowers.  At least, some plants do.  The flowers turn into the fruit. 

Bugs eat your plants a lot!  Which is why I want to plant some plants that when the flies or anything land in them, they’ll shut their mouths!

The fruit gets eaten.  Sometimes they get too old, and their seeds drop.  And a new plant grows!

Days like today make me so happy that we chose to homeschool!

Edited to add: of course right this moment he is quite sure that I, the world, and life in general is UTTERLY UNFAIR because he has to do a math page.  Just in case anyone was under the impression that it is all sunshine and roses around here. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Birthday secrets!

My two older boys have independently chosen and paid for birthday gifts for Josiah's upcoming celebration day.  Jonathan found a lego detective minifigure on ebay, and Thomas (prompted by the "Frances" stories) chose a candy bar.  Both gifts are safely stashed on a very high shelf and there is much "shhhushing" and speaking of "secrets".  It is great fun to be in on such a secret!  I'm so proud of both of them.

Grain Free Pumpkin Spice Cake

This cake gets a big smiling stamp of approval from all three boys, and I definitely agree.  By far this is the most success I've had with grain free baking.

Recipe originally from detoxinista - thank you!

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup almond butter
1/3 cup honey
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger (I left this out because I didn't have any)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8" x 8" pan generously with coconut oil.

Combine all the ingredients and mix well until a smooth batter forms.  (This takes longer than you might think - I let my kitchenaid do the work for a few minutes.)

Pour batter into the pan and bake for 20-35 minutes (original recipe says 20-25, but mine took 35 before being firm in the center.)

Allow to cool completely in the pan, then cut and enjoy!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

My growing young man

I have been so impressed with Jonathan lately. He is bright and driven and passionate about everything that he does, and it is so neat to see his passion directed toward good things.

He's been quite entrepreneurial in the past weeks, creating money-making opportunities with various friends. One day they drew pictures and chose toys from their stash, then set up a box outside by the road and sold everything for 50 cents each. Another evening they dressed up as police officers and wrote "tickets", then handed them out to adults for various infractions and requested payment. (That one slipped by us mothers until after the fact - we explained that while it was very clever, it was probably not a game that should be repeated!) The kids have carefully divided their cash between all involved, and Jonathan has tithed on it faithfully.

This week Jonathan has been attending VBS, and the children are collecting pennies for African missions. Yesterday evening inspiration struck, and Jonathan created his very own juice blend (oranges, carrots, and spinach) in the vitamix, then carried cups of it door to door and sold it to raise pennies for Africa. He collected just over $10 and was SO proud of himself when he brought it to the VBS donation bin!

I'm seeing a lot of initiative from Jonathan in other areas as well. He frequently asks me to show him how to get his own snack, instead of just asking me to do it for him. He is enjoying learning some kitchen basics, although his refusal to touch a knife is a bit limiting. (The first time I let him try cutting with a "real knife", his hand slipped and he cut his hand. He hasn't wanted to try again yet!) But it sure is neat to be able to say "Quesadillas are a great plan for lunch. Go ahead and start getting them ready!" :)

On Monday Jonathan started taking gymnastics lessons. He has asked to do that off and on for some years, and watching the Olympics added to his desire. With no one napping in the afternoon anymore, it is now possible to add such things to our schedule! He is so excited. Today was his second lesson, and afterward his teacher asked me if he'd been in gymnastics before. Apparently he has good skills and focus, and his teacher wants to switch him into the pre-team class that meets for 2 hours instead of one, and is designed to get him ready for team competition. This is fabulous news for my competitive, flexible, (short!) and driven little guy! He is loving every minute of his time in the gym and wants to know why he can't go every day. :)

There are many other things: emerging empathy for those who are sick or injured, his love of good stories (he's reading The Hobbit with Gabe right now!) the complex creations that he enters in Lego competitions, and two nights ago he stayed up late so that we could teach him how to play Dominion with us. (He has now won, twice in a row.) It has been a good summer for my boy.

When I tuck all my boys in at night, part of my prayer for them is that they would grow up to be "a good, strong young man." It is pretty wonderful to get to watch that start to happen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Jonathan's reading ability is improving by leaps and bounds. He's reading The Hobbit with Gabe, Ginger Pye with me, and all sorts of books by himself. This morning we all piled into bed to read together, and Jonathan asked to read the first book (chosen by Josiah). Isn't it great?

Happy Anniversary to us!

For our 9th anniversary (ninth!) Gabe and I deposited our rambunctious little boys with Grandma and Grandpa, wished them well (the grandparents that is - the kids were ecstatic) and took off to Joshua Tree for some rock climbing!

We went with Joshua Tree Guides, which took all the "how do we do this safely?" questions out of the mix, leaving just the fun! Our guide Miriam was knowlegeable and fun; not only did she have us climbing rock faces,

she also took us scrambling inside one of those crazy piles of rock that you see all over the Joshua Tree National Forest. This one is called the Chasm of Doom. :)

No photos of scrambling, because you can't exactly carry a camera with you when you're climbing around inside a big pile of rocks. But it was AWESOME. I haven't had that much fun in a long time! I totally want to take the boys when they're just a few years older. They would love it.

Our plan was to camp out that first night. But when we set up the tent, we discovered that our pathetic tent stakes were no match for the rock hard ground. They simply folded in half when you pounded them.

It was windy, so we weighted our tent down and hoped for the best. But it turned out that there was a high wind advisory that night, so at around 10pm we found ourselves taking the tent back down (try doing that in a high wind!) throwing everything into the back of the van, and heading to a hotel for the night. It certainly wasn't the way we'd planned the evening, but it was an adventure and the hotel turned out to be really nice. :)

Here we are enjoying ourselves. It is hard to take non-blurry pictures when you're laughing and your camera is on the wrong setting.

At the end of our weekend we went to a little French restaurant for brunch. We went late and ended up having the entire restaurant to ourselves! Our waiter was a great blend of professional and personable. He took our picture for us: aren't we cute?

And I meant to take a picture of our lovely dessert, but you'll just have to take my word for how pretty it was. Yum.

It was a fabulous weekend and a great way to celebrate nine years of marriage. Here's to many, many more!


Have you read Christina Katerina and The Box? I loved that story as a child, and I still love it! About a month ago I noticed an offer on Freecycle for a "very large box". Of course I jumped at the chance! We barely got it home, it was so big, but oh it has been worth it. :)

The kids turned it into a fort.

A few weeks later, it became a cliff, off of which they took flying leaps of great daring. When the cliff collapsed, it became an slide (sometimes for penguins - headfirst).

Once the slide fell apart, they turned it into a chasm,

and then a new kind of fort.

Like Christina Katerina's mother, sometimes I would like my space back. But really, I love watching their creativity and active play, and it is worth giving up the living room. :)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The cost of being gullible. :(

Here is the sad sad story of how to lose $400 by being gullible. I hope my readers learn from my mistake. (Also, if you know of anyone who has had a similar experience, please encourage them to report it to the police. I have.)

Two men approached me in the Target Brea parking lot on Wednesday, May 23rd. The man who spoke with me was Caucasian and said his name was Mike M. from Bumper to Bumper Auto Body Repairs. He wore a blue jumpsuit with his name and the name of the shop printed over the pocket. He had tools in the car and said that he worked at the shop over in Arcadia but was trying to pick up some extra work on the side due to the tough economic times. He was friendly, likeable, and inspired trust. His partner was Hispanic, didn't ever speak, and wore jeans and white t-shirt. Mike said they could fix the (fairly significant) dents/scratches in my van for $350. He said that they would come to my house or anywhere I chose, do the repair, and then wash/detail my car. He said I wouldn’t pay anything until the work was done and I was satisfied.

They drove a white vehicle that looked brand new. It had a CARMAX sticker on the front windshield, which stated the VIN as 2A4RR4DEXAR368715.

I was told that they could only do the work this afternoon, but I declined, saying that I couldn’t make a decision without asking my husband. Then they gave me a phone number and asked me to call them if I changed my mind. After speaking with Gabe, I did call them and asked if they could come the following day instead. They agreed to come the next morning at 11am.

They came out about an hour later than stated, around 12pm on Thursday, May 24th. Thomas and Siah and I watched for about 20 minutes, and they did seem to know what they were doing. Mike told me that he had grown up in the business because his father had owned a shop. Eventually I left to go feed my kids their lunch. When I came back out (approximately 2 hours after they started work), all the work was covered in a gummy substance, which Mike told me was “wax” that needed to stay on and dry for a couple of hours. He said it would easily wash off after that.

They asked me to pay them $500, since it “took so much longer than expected”. That made me mad, especially since they hadn’t washed the car (and apparently couldn’t, because the wax needed to dry?) I did pay them $400, which I am seriously regretting now.

I paid them with a check, although they definitely would have preferred cash. They gave me a drivers license so I’d know who to make it out to – supposedly it belonged to the Hispanic man. The name on the license was Michael W. Nicholas, and the number was D6914526. They then asked for directions to the nearest bank where they could cash my check.

Mike assured me that if there were any problems, I only needed to call and they’d come back out and take care of it. I kept the number in my phone (626-235-3749). A few days after the repair, I called to ask him to come back out since the “wax” wouldn’t come off and the dents/scratches were still there. He said he was out of town, and to call him back in two days. I did so, and the phone number no longer works.

It is embarrassing to admit to this level of gullibility, but I'm putting this online in the hopes that it helps someone else avoid my mistake. And again, if this has happened to you, CALL THE POLICE. Both departments which I spoke with were very kind and helpful in taking the report.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


I'm not feeling well today - losing a fight with a cold. Gabe was super sweet this morning and handled getting Jonathan off to school so that I could sleep in a bit. And then Thomas and Josiah spent the next SIX hours playing together with not a single fight. We've taken a couple of breaks for snuggles and reading, but pretty much I've just been treated to an ongoing verbal summary of pretend play. They've been precious. And I'm so grateful for the truly restful day that I've been given.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Couponing success!

I don't do nearly as much couponing now as I used to. We've changed up the way we eat (rather drastically) and there just aren't many coupons to be found for fresh produce, organic dairy products, and non-processed meat! Still, every now and then it works out. Today was such a day.

Vons trip:

10 ears of corn
baby carrots
chicken breast lunch meat
string cheese
2 packages Jones sausage
cream cheese
3 lunchables (because Jonathan thinks that I'm "the best mom EVER" if I occasionally give him one). :)
1 box cheez-its
and $2 spent on treats for the kids, since they hung in there while I messed with coupons and prices and sales!

Original total: $54.05
Total after all savings (including coupons and e-coupons): $21.53

That was fun. :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Well earned pleasure

There's nothing like saving your allowance (for weeks and weeks and weeks!)

Sitting on Mom's lap and browsing amazon for lego sets.

Waiting patiently (well, trying, anyway) for the package to arrive.

Being happily surprised by an email saying it will come a day earlier than expected!

Watching for the mailman all morning, even though you know it probably won't come until the afternoon.

Going out to play after lunch and joyfully discovering that IT HAS ARRIVED!!!

Board games

All of my boys are fans of board games. I'm not (at all!) but I'm fans of my boys. So we play!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A conversation

Josiah: Look Mom, a roly poly!
Mom: I see it. Very nice.
Josiah: It's MY roly poly!
Mom: Ok, let's go to the car now. How about if you leave him in the garden with his friends?
Josiah: He doesn't have any friends. Only me.

*getting into the car, the roly poly disappears inside the car seat*

Josiah: Oh NO, my roly poly! Where did he go?
Mom: Maybe he's hiding.
Josiah: But WHY??? Is he scared of ME????
Mom: Well, maybe he's scared of the car.
Josiah: Oh. Ok!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Water Safe

I've been taking Thomas and Josiah to swimming lessons twice weekly for the past month. The boys are always asking me to take them to our community pool, and I've always been afraid to do it: one set of eyes on three boys who can't swim...mmm, no. But there is a solution to that problem! I figured that if I could be reasonably confident in the boys' ability to not drown (or freak out and think they're drowning) in the minutes it would take me to get them out of the water, then taking them swimming could actually be a lot of fun.

So, swimming lessons.

We're working with WaterSafe Swim School. They have a very clear, very structured teaching plan that starts with survival skills. In other words, water safety starts with your toddler being ok if he falls in the pool. The first skill taught is how to float on your back. The second is how to roll over so that you're able to float on your back. After that is how to fall into the water ("Humpty Dumpty had a great FALL!") and then turn and float on your back. (See a pattern here?) :) Along the way they teach "eyes in" swimming, so that the child develops an ever increasing level of comfort with his face under water.

It is very, very different from your typical summer swimming lessons. I am incredibly impressed. Both Thomas and Josiah started out HATING it. They cried the whole time. They didn't want to put their faces in the water and I sat and watched and wondered if the trauma was worth it. Three weeks later, Thomas is enjoying every lesson.

He can "swim" (with some minor assistance) from one platform to another.

He can float on his back. He's learning how to roll from his stomach to back to stomach while swimming. The building blocks for being a strong swimmer are being carefully laid, and he's having a great time.

Josiah hasn't quite turned the corner yet; he talks excitedly about swimming lessons but cries when it is actually time to get in the water. His teacher is wonderful. She is gentle and kind and loving but doesn't let his tears get in the way of his learning.

Josiah can now float on his back unassisted,

and more importantly he can find his way into a back float from any position. See him roll?

Here is a video clip of Josiah doing "Humpty Dumpty". It is amazing to watch what he can do! And this mama is so relieved to know that if he ever needed to, Josiah knows how to "save himself" until someone can come get him.

The end of the day

My house is picked up, my kitchen is clean, my children are tucked into bed, and there are roses from my garden on the table.

Jonathan in pictures

Jonathan's school sent home "spring pictures" last week. This left me with two questions.

1) Since when do we have professional school pictures TWICE?

2) Since when are we so sneaky as to send home a package of photos (unrequested) which we then must return, or pay for?

Of course Jonathan was dreadfully disappointed that we weren't going to purchase them. "But Mommy, it is such a nice picture! See how I had my arms folded and you can see my missing tooth!" I gently stuck to my guns...we really don't have money to spend on those...and suggested that we take our own photo, posed the same way.

He loved that idea, and it turned out great!

And a close up, so you can see the missing tooth:

He's so handsome. :)

During spring break Jonathan took swimming lessons each day. He's getting much more comfortable in the water, and starting to do some real swimming!

No more fear of getting his face wet for this kid!