Sesame Place Trip

We had a lot of fun this summer. Some relaxation with picnics and a local beach visit, plenty of work around the house (with still more to do, of course), and lots of learning with some simple workbooks and Kindermusik. Throw in trial-and-error attempts at potty-training, a few bouts of illness, simply being pregnant, and it’s been a pretty full summer!

In our pre-summer planning, we had wanted to take plenty of trips. While we took some local trips, one of our most-anticipated trips to visit friends in Massachusetts fell through, with Hadman coming down with a cough and fever. It ended up lasting quite awhile and turning into pneumonia, so we’re glad that the week prior we were able to take at least one kid-centric trip.

(And we fully plan on attempting a quick day trip back to Mass this fall…SOMETIME! Pre-baby, is my guess. *wink*)

Planned well in advance, we had decided on taking the little guy to Sesame Place. We had plenty of reasons for heading here, but the most important was to do something that we could all enjoy together before becoming a family of 4 (7, including cats…which we do). Goodness knows if/what we’ll be doing next year!

Dave took a 3-day weekend and we left for Pennsylvania. I’ll admit, the driving took longer than expected and both adults were rather beat by all the driving of the weekend. But, along our way, we saw what, to my guys, can only be described as a mirage on the road…


Wait, what?! Yup. The 1960s Batmobile. (Not THE original, but still…a perfect replica. Not kidding.) Sitting in front of a bar, in a field. Like, seriously.


Can you feel the excitement? I know I can. We already knew it would be a memorable weekend.

So, after numerous hours of driving, a Thomas DVD on a borrowed portable player (we’ve become those parents, apparently), and zero naps, we reached our hotel. This part of the trip worked perfectly: the hotel had a shuttle service that ran quite frequently to bring us back and forth to the park. So, since we had tickets for two days (BOGO, for the win!), we got ready for the dry rides and headed over.

Let’s just say that Dave wins the award for the fact that I couldn’t go on a vast majority of the rides with a baby bump. So, he had to ride with the little guy. Did I mention that he has issues with certain rides? Like, with the height and spinning and…stuff. So, clearly he gets the “Best Dad” badge for not only hitting up numerous rides but for keeping his cool and smiling while doing it. *starts a slow clap*

 


Anyhoo, we stayed for a few hours and enjoyed the Sesame-ness of the place (it really is awesome), then headed back to the hotel. We used the hotel pool, which was a hit for a non-swimming kiddo like ours, then hit the hay.

The next day, we had our complimentary breakfast and struck out for the far longer lines of a Saturday. I highly suggest renting a locker in advance; it worked out great for our changes and general ease of movement.

Okay, this is totally my favorite picture ever. My beach bums (who both HATE the heat). I’m the embarrassing spouse/mom, clearly. 


So, we spent a long, very hot morning there doing water stuff, getting splashed, and generally enjoying the place. But, with how long the lunch lines were, we quickly decided to buy any souvenirs we wanted, then head back to the hotel. We actually ended up ordering a quick lunch and eating at the hotel, then ALL took naps (my first clue that our systems weren’t adjusting well to travel). When we finally came to, we got ready and went to Hadley’s favorite place – Barnes and Noble – to play with the Thomas train and look at books before going out to a crappy dinner then back to try the pool again.

Between the food that our systems weren’t used to, being rundown from the trip itself, and any kid germs we came in touch with, we were all feeling pretty blah and ready to come home Sunday. On our way, we happened upon a “Taste of New York” boutique at a rest stop and, I’ve gotta say, it was the best meal we had the whole weekend. Some of the fruit I brought along mixed with a bunch of local, fresh snacks from around the state (and super local grassfed Greek yogurt and cheese curds), and we were able to make it home feeling a little more like ourselves.

But, by the end of the week, 2/3 of us were sick. I’ve definitely learned that I need to try to up our immune system protection before we take trips. Big-time.

All in all, though, the trip was SO worth it. Hadman is way more into Sesame Street lately, so he LOVED “meeting” several of the characters (namely, Count, even if the Count’s splash area upset him, hee hee). It was fun to see the diversity of people visiting and thinking, “Wow, this is what Sesame Street has promoted from the beginning!” It was also interesting to hear people in one of our shuttle vans say that their daughter isn’t really a fan of Sesame and wondering, “Wait, why are you spending all this money to…nevermind.” 😉 Eh, no judging. Anyone could have a blast there.



Gotta say, we all had a great time. And Mama got a new “cookie mug” for my milk and organic cookies…win-win! Three guesses which character mug the Dorky Daddy got.

Best. Day. Ever.

Our trip to Old Forge last year was kinda lackluster. I can never say that a trip is a waste because we always seem to have fun regardless of the situation, so it wasn’t a waste and did rejuvenate. But, between the rather cool temperatures (for August), rain, and just general stuff like that, it wasn’t great.

So, we gave it a go again this year. We only took a handful of pictures, but it was a lucky happenstance that we hadn’t cleaned off our phones’ memory; we were able to enjoy the moment far better. Especially since we fit in so. Much. Fun.

We left early enough to grab some discounted tickets to Enchanted Forest Water Safari, extra cash and breakfast on the road. This was the first year we were going to try hitting up the park with the little guy, knowing full well that most of the rides weren’t for him. Being some of the first in the park definitely helped – we were able to meander around the storybook area (PERFECT for a kid his age), check out the petting zoo (the animals bummed us out), do the few “dry” rides (first time on a merry-go-round!), hit the little kid splash pad area, and try the Lazy River together by noon.


Bam. We could’ve eaten and headed home at that point and it would’ve been an awesome day.

But, nope. We went on a walk to try Nutty Putty golf (something Dave and I used to do as children, then years later when we started dating), which was probably the “low” part of the day. Hadley was clearly getting tired, which made for lots of tripping and falling on the uneven parts of the “course.” But, we all seemed to have fun, followed by some ice cream before heading back to our car to get the stroller.

So, the fact that the little man took a nap in the stroller mean a) he must’ve been EXHAUSTED and b) some sort of miracle must have occurred; he hasn’t done that in a long, long time. We had a chance to look around the hardware store (SO much more than a hardware store!), do some Christmas shopping, then wander over to rest and watch ducks swim around.

While naptime continued at the bench, a little dramatic duckling rescue ensued. We observed a mama duck with her three ducklings go to a chained-off area of the lake next to a drainage waterfall area…with two babies taking the leap. Off ran Dave (I wanted to, but had to stay with the little man), along with two young guys, before the mama duck attacked one of the kids for interfering. Before too long (although our hearts were in our throats, seriously), she showed them how to hop back up where they belonged.

Whew. After that, we hit up The Mill Restaurant, another place Dave and I visited in our dating days. By the way we headed home, we all were exhausted but happy. A rain shower even produced this view (that happens to be my school, LOL)…


I mean…seriously. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Not the most eloquent description on Earth, but it was an AWESOME day. Hadley’s asked several times why we can’t go to Water Safari EVERY day. Good lesson to learn.

Oh, and while we were still on the “having fun” kick, I upped the ante with some blueberry picking the next morning. Best. Weekend. Ever. (Even if Sunday was “let’s do some crap around the house” day. They can’t all be winners.)

    
Knowing that next summer may look different (okay, definitely…it’s definitely going to look different) with another little one in the mix, we’ve totally been making this summer count.

How have you guys been enjoying your summers? 🙂 

Hadley’s Third Birthday – Best Laid Plans

So, I was hoping to have a rundown of the decorative plans I had in mind for the little guy’s birthday, along with some pictures of the whole thing for you today. Well, I have some pictures, but they don’t show much of anything.

With all three of us under the weather and unsure of whether or not we’d be super contagious, we had originally decided to cancel the whole thing. Then, after talking with my mother a bit, we decided just to have the grandparents over. There are a couple of newborns in the family that we wouldn’t want to get what we’ve got, so we cut it back. Besides, I had already bought tons of food (which there was no way we could save another week or two for a party that we weren’t even sure others could attend), so it would be great to celebrate the day in a low-key way.

That said, I still worked hard (which, as a pregnant lady means that I worked until my belly ached — the belly knows when it’s time to slow down, y’know) to bake and chop and grate and assemble. As the time drew nearer and nearer, I realized I wouldn’t have the time I’d hoped to do the decorating I had planned on.

No baby blue streamers. No Peter Rabbit cake topper and wall hanging. No poufs. No Pinterestworthiness.

That’s not a word, but it’s definitely a thing.

But, we did have time to do a thorough cleaning job, and last night at 11pm I found myself sketching chalkboard drawings to bring a little festivity. Oh, in complete honesty, this stuff finally took the place of my spring chalkboard and *ahem* Easter baskets. Seriously. I’ve been slacking. 😉

So, from the things I grabbed at the local “dollar store”, I used some faux greenery on vines to give a little garden feeling. And, seriously, don’t fresh fruit and veggies do a great job at hitting both a) feeding partygoers and b) adding to the ‘garden’ theme?


 Sorry, beverages. Party was underway and, as usual, Dave took the pics while I did last-minute stuff.


So, we served a pared-down version of the original menu: loads of fruit, veggies and homemade herb dip (Ina Garten), cold cuts with fresh rolls, chips/cheese/crackers, “munchies” (Annie’s chocolate bunnies and bunny snack mix…get it? Peter Rabbit??), and our family’s favorite pasta salad (Mom brought). Water, lemonade and iced tea for the hot day’s beverages. Oh, and chocolate-covered strawberries (Ina, again), homemade carrot cake (good ol’ Good Housekeeping – very moist, but took FOREVER to grate the carrots) with cream cheese icing, and an untouched strawberry rhubarb crisp. Admittedly, everyone was stuffed, so that’ll be breakfast this week. 😉

I know it still sounds like a lot, but considering I cut the decorating down to next to nothing and we didn’t have tomato pie and sausage bread and stuff…it was far less crazy and more chill than it would’ve been. Oh, and for the record, it’s the only cold cuts I’ve had (I believe?!) the entire pregnancy. I cheated, but at least I didn’t have a beer…right??

Considering we only had three guests (my stepdad wasn’t feeling well) plus the three of us, this kid got GIFTS. Thomas stuff, clothes galore, books, a fishing game he’s loved at his cousin’s, some superhero stuff, a bubble mower and A SHAAAAARK! (We also saved some stuff for tomorrow since that’s his actual day, but MAN I’m thinking we should save some of it for Christmas!)


When it was time to nap and he melted down, you could hear how sick he still is. Super runny nose, incredibly raspy…not as croupy as when he sleeps, but not good, poor thing. I’m just glad that his daddy and I have gotten past that “I don’t feel goooooood” whiny crappy feeling so that we could focus on how awesome our special guy is.

We felt awful that we couldn’t party it up with the whole family (namely, his super fun cousins, and I always love seeing my siblings), but I know we’ll see everyone throughout the summer, so we’re trying not to focus on it too much. Considering he’s only turning 3 and he doesn’t have a huge circle of friends yet, it was still a memorable, fun day meant to make him feel remembered. I’d say, snotty noses aside, it was a success!

Now, if he could just feel better. 🙁

On a positive ending, we didn’t realize how much Hadley has changed in the past year until Dave started putting together his annual video. Wow. A year ago, his words existed but were guttural and communication was highly emotionally-charged. A recent BabyCenter email updated me that he’s probably saying 3-word sentences now, but it’s sooo far from the truth. Aside from run-ons, he’s incredibly verbal, and his vocabulary surprises us with its complexity. We still have our toddler meltdowns, but he’s much better able to communicate his feelings.

He helps when we give him a task. He’s open and welcoming to the idea of a little sibling (he insists it’s a girl and today said her name is “Flamingo”). He’s sweet with a tiny mischievous side, prefers running to sitting still, and is dying for us to find him more friends. Somewhere along the way, he’s started coming to us with spontaneous moments of love and brief cuddles, which he was never a fan of before. Overall…the kid rocks.

Here are some of the answers to some questions I asked him:

Favorite Things – Age 3

Color – “Blue.” (funny, it’s usually orange)
Toy – “My firetruck.” (really?!)
Stuffed animal – “My lamby.”
Thing to take to bed – “My shark.”
Fruit – “I like all of them.”
Cereal – “Gorilla Munch.”
Breakfast – “Gorilla Munch.” (I blame the order of the questions on that answer)
Lunch – “Peanut butter and jelly.” (had to answer for him; this is his fave)
Dessert – “Ice cream.” (not really, he doesn’t eat the stuff)
Beverage – “Grape juice!”
Dinner – “Nothing, nothing, nothing.” (I think lunch and breakfast are his big meals; he’d prefer not eat dinner.)
Animal – “Uuummm…a lizard!”
Book – “Pajama Time.”
Song – “1-2-3 sing with me…(continues singing own lyrics)”
Game – “Matthew and me used to play golf. And Aunt Mary and Lizzie and Uncle John were there….”
TV Show – “Cartoon Batman” (the 1970s cartoon version, although we know he loves “60s Batman”, too.)
Movie – “The Muppets”
Thing to do outside – “Run around.”
Best friend – “Cooper.” (Actually, equal parts Cooper and Lizzie, so the answer varies.)
Job when he grows up – “Do Daddy’s job…Lego Batman exercise!” (He wants to use Dave’s old Lego Batman Wii game but knows he can’t until he’s big.)

Five Yummy Treats for Your Easter Basket

Monday, I shared with you guys what fun stuff the Easter Bunny likes to stuff H-man’s basket with. Today, I thought I’d mention the “other” goodies he sometimes gets.

Yup. The food!

As I mentioned Monday, we don’t go overboard on candy. He gets a little from other family members, so we try to maintain that whole “moderation” thing. If he’s going to be getting a buttload from either Grandma (or even aunts or uncles who like to make him up a little bag), he doesn’t need a lot at our house.

But, that bunny’s gotta bring SOMETHING, right? Here are some of our favorites to include:


YumEarth Organics Gummy Bears – The ONLY things H has mentioned the Easter Bunny bringing are “fake eggs” (the plastic that we reuse every year; he’s still a bit too messy for real coloring) and “real gummies”. That’d be these! I can attest, too. They’re delicious.


Annie’s Homegrown Bunnies Baked Snack Crackers – We’re not usual Annie’s buyers anymore. Ever since their buy-out, we’ve decided to stop eating cheesy crackers. But, since this is a special occasion (and bunnies are PERFECT for Easter!), we make an exception. I’ll buy little baggies to put these in so that he gets basket-sized treats. (Also works for Christmas stockings!)
Surf Sweets Organic Jelly Beans – Dave’s a jellybean guy, so I’ll probably grab a few bags of these for a communal bowl of yummies. We’re so lucky that these are carried at our local grocery store! (I’ve written a couple of articles for this company, so I get pretty proud seeing their products locally.)

Annie’s Homegrown Chocolate Bunny Grahams – Just like with the cheesy ones, these bunnies are perfect for celebrating the holiday. They’re whole grain and may not be organic, but have far less “junk” in them. 

Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – Our little man isn’t a big chocolate guy, so I’ll get these to see how he feels (if they have milk chocolate, I’ll get those). And if he doesn’t eat them? Well, you know I’ll be happy to help out. 😉

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I just read a blog post that makes me think about today’s topic, so I just thought I’d put my two cents in. The blogger pretty much thumbed her nose at people who “make” their kids eat fruits and vegetables, among other things. (We actually provide the food and if he eats it, great; if not, he won’t die.) By no means do I think that everyone needs to eat this way. We’re far from healthy (today’s list is all processed foods!) and definitely don’t go out of our way to change people’s minds. I’m not here to brag about all we’re doing or guilt-trip you for choosing traditional candies.

Heck, I look forward to grabbing one or two of the traditional snacks at my mom’s Easter shindig (but it’s just not worth it to buy an entire BAG if we’re not going to eat more than a couple).

What’s right for us may not be right for you. So, if your family loves Reese’s peanut butter eggs, regular jellybeans, and chocolate bunnies, go for it and enjoy! Just sharing what we’ll probably be including in our basket this year. 🙂

On another note, what are your plans for Easter? Staying home with the family? Having extended family over? Going to an egg hunt? Can’t wait to hear!

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Homes Away From Home

We all have a place that we visit, eventually getting high off the thought of possibly moving there. It’s usually totally ridiculous to dream about and beyond impractical, but it happens. Even Liz Lemon fell victim to it…
 



Well, we have our “favorite spots”, too. We may love a place for its natural serenity, its bustling energy, its sustainable living practices, its cultural activity, or the very important fact that dear friends live there. Here are a few (very outlandish) dream places:

– Middlebury, VT – We visit here (almost) every year since first visiting on our honeymoon. It’s a green (in more ways than one), great little college town in a state that makes it far easier to live sustainably and support local. Somehow, it provides a mix of modern with traditional “New England small town” charm, all in an adorable package. Of course, we know no one who lives in the vicinity, making a move not only implausible but incredibly alienating and lonely. Sigh.

– Ithaca, NY – Much like Middlebury, it’s a “gorge-ous” college city with abnormally eco-friendly practices (especially for NYS). With a high-quality theater scene and the most hippies-per-capita in all of “upstate”, it’s practically a miniaturized Portland, Oregon. (That’s a good thing for us.) I can’t begin to list all the reasons we’ll never move there, but it’s a nice place to visit.

– Western Mass – Dave went to school here, so he may be biased (I shouldn’t say that; I went to Oneonta and I have no intention of moving there ;-)), but he has some of the awesomest friends on Earth whom we love to visit. So, it would be worth the price of admission just to move and see them once in awhile, honestly. Add to it the fact that it’s another “like-minded” place as far as local eats, organic and sustainable practices, and more, and it’s a dream come true. Unfortunately, it’s just not worth leaving our respective families and low cost of living. *wop wop*

– Concord, MA – Okay, a few of these are my dream whereas a few are more Dave’s, so bear with me. Have you BEEN here? It’s a step back in time, with many historical homes and well-kept historical and nature preserve sites (Hello! Walden Pond much?!). I’m fascinated by the transcendentalist movement and the life of Louisa May Alcott (and American history, of course), so when I tell my students I’ve visited her home, they tend to think I’m a stalker (then ask if it’s haunted, of course). The place is just bursting with history, culture…and incredibly expensive housing. *scratches off list* 

– New York City – We’ve never said “I want to live here!” In fact, when we were in our dating stages visiting every 6 months or so, we looked in restaurant windows to see parents with kids and said, “Wow, I can’t imagine raising children here.” Between the noise and constant over-stimulation, the sheer cost is unthinkable. But, of course, not enough positive can be said about the place. So, when the time comes, we’ll allow H and any future siblings tiny doses of over-stimulation. 😉 

– The Adirondacks – Here’s another one that’s all me and pretty much 2% Dave. Maybe 0%, who knows? While we’re relatively close to the majestic Adirondack mountain range and park, we rarely ever utilize the place, going maybe once a year (like the year I went camping for a couple of days with my family or our Old Forge visits). The Adirondacks are the total opposite of NYC, with their constant barrage of peace and quiet, natural wonder, outdoor activities, and, yes, more history. (Although NY has quite a bit of history, it’s modern to the max.) Again, it’s pretty darn expensive (unless you pick a less popular lake) to get even a shabby camp, and I’m admittedly a pretty crappy swimmer to be utilizing a lake, anyway, but for the gentle calm, fun and exercise of canoeing and hiking, and animal encounters? I’d take it. Plus, what better way is there to raise a child? 

– Cooperstown, NY – This is by far the closest “home away from home” for us. Every once in awhile, we take the drive out for their Saturday (indoor!) farmers’ market, random event (like their annual Candlelight Evening I’ve mentioned several times), or just to grab a deli lunch and head down to picnic by the lake. It’s another diamond-in-the-rough: rich literary history (no, really), incredible museums (sure, baseball, but so much more), picturesque scenery and perfect “Andy Hardy old-school town” vibe, plus an incredibly active group of people working to make the place as good as it can be. If I ever make millions of dollars writing the next big American novel, we’re movin’ there. 

What’s YOUR “home away from home”? I’d love to hear your favorite spot(s)!

Beatles Songs for Toddlers

You wouldn’t think the words “toddler” and “Beatles” belong in the same sentence, right? Well, in our house, they do. We’re pretty big on educating our little guy that there’s a wider world past his Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (not that there’s anything wrong with that…in doses). He already enjoys a variety of classical music (he can actually name numerous composers by song), 1940s big band, and 1960s/’80s pop. 


So, given that Dave and I are big Beatles fans, it was only a matter of time before our Pandora listening with the little guy started showing the Fab Four. But, better yet? While listening to some Beatles recently, I rediscovered that they’re not all psychedelic storytelling and upbeat love songs. There are actually some valuable life lessons that can found within those awesome, timeless tunes.

Hello, Goodbye – Ohhhh, disagreements. Obstinence. It’s all part of a toddler’s daily to-do list. (Sad but true.) I love the lyrics in this song for so many reasons, but particularly in the idea of opposites. You could use this song with children simply to point out the opposites (“you say yes, I say no…”). A fun spin on an argumentative tune!  


We Can Work It Out – Another song about getting along with others. My favorite line? “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.” Preach, brothers.

Blackbird – Perfect lullaby, and although it’s actually about racial tensions in the South in the 1960s, kids can take it in the more literal sense and still find beauty. Even after great pain, we can fly and thrive.

Yellow Submarine – What’s better than a little drinking shanty to sing with your kiddos? I actually sang (and loved) this song in kindergarten (even better than “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor”). It’s actually a fun song that seems to build friendships and solidarity between the singers. See also – Octopus’s Garden

Good Day Sunshine – What an upbeat, happy song! Why not spread the joy?

Here Comes the Sun – Similar to Good Day Sunshine, this is a sweet love song that perfectly describes the coming of spring. Great for teaching seasons!


Penny Lane – Just a fun story of an English street set to music, but great for the imagination.

All You Need is Love – This is my mantra for life and was the “closing song” at our wedding reception, so of course I’d love for H to be exposed to such an epic tune. Definitely helpful with creating peaceful minds.

If You Want to Push the Boundaries… 


Here are a few that, if you think they’ll go over your child’s head (which, in general, they will), you can try. Otherwise skip over them and assume I’m a bad parent. Go ahead!

All Together Now – A super adorable, upbeat song about child playtime listing numbers and colors along the way. Let’s just hope the kids don’t ask to take their friends to bed.

With a Little Help from My Friends – Okay…if you’re a family who’s not shy about nudity (“I can’t show you but I know it’s mine”) and you can explain that getting “high” means lifting your spirits, you’re golden. Or not, up to you. 😉

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – I can’t say that any of the lyrics are questionable here (it describes carnival-like festivities), but the minor key and general “strangeness” of the melody might scare some children. Our son, however, has a preference for minor keys and finds nothing scary about them.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – Considering this “technically” came from the mind of John’s son and “allegedly” NOT about an acid trip, maybe your little one would appreciate the silly lyrics and imaginative happenings. Seriously, keep your kids away from Sgt. Pepper’s if you’re not into this one.


What do you think? Would you add any songs I haven’t included? What’s your favorite music to listen to with the kiddos?

Our Favorite Toys

Kids can be fickle. Food? Um, always. Cartoons or shows? Change weekly, if not daily. Toys? Completely.


So, today I thought it’d be fun to share our family’s favorite toys. You know. The ones that haven’t been brushed aside for a paper towel tube (a “doot-da-doot”) or one of my cooking utensils (“my tool, Mama!!!”). 



1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

Farm Animals Sound Puzzle (Melissa and Doug) – Any and all solid, basic puzzles are huge winners at our house. Add to it the fact that the learning experience is enhanced by animal sounds when inserting the correct puzzle piece (does that sound wrong to anyone else??) is icing on the cake. And the day that your kid realizes the sounds will go off if you smack at the sensor hard enough? Priceless. 😉 

Manhattan Toy Peanut Snuggle Pod – Looks can be deceiving. This is THE perfect girl-or-boy dolly. It’s not perfect for the realistic pretend experience (um, no legs to speak of), but perfectly-sized for some nurturing, feeding, and general lovin’. Side note: I hunted for a non gender specific doll for quite awhile and we couldn’t be happier with this one. So that should say something! 

Little People Lil’ Movers Airplane – We love Little People!!! We love them generic or even trademarked (like Batman villains with muffin tops!!). This was one of our first Little People experiences, so add to it the fact that it’s a mother effin’ plane that MAKES AWESOME NOISES and I’m done!! See also: awesome farm!!!

Melissa and Doug Cutting Fruit Set – It’s no surprise that we’re into play food at our house. I searched high and low for a *safe* fake knife for our budding chef. The fact that this came with healthy wooden food that velcros together (making it truly fun to cut) made it impossible to pass up. Oh, and of course he loves it.

Wooden Train Set – Our little guy is a Thomas the Train Engine fan. Okay, we kind of are, too. So, when my friend, Beth, gifted him a generic (yes!!!) wooden set similar to this one awhile back, we were thrilled. The fact that he’s still playing with it religiously should show how much he loves this thing. (Plus, it’s easier than a trip to Barnes and Noble to play with their set!)

Lego Duplo Set – I know Legos might not be the most eco-friendly of items, but I figure these will last into oblivion AND they’re awesome for building hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and imaginative play skills in general. I highly prefer the Duplo versions for a couple of reasons. First, their quality and age-appropriateness. (Seriously, I don’t care if he EVER wants to use the tiny Lego counterparts.) Secondly, they’re what I grew up with at my using at my babysitter as a kid, so they have a soft spot in my heart. We only have about enough to fill one small plastic bin and it’s just enough. No need to get a thousand. And for littler block users, try these B. One Two Squeeze Blocks. They’re great for little hands (and teethers!) and our buddy still loves stacking them. The Tego Magnetic Blocks are great as they get a little older, too.

Green Dump Truck – Girls and boys alike will love this rough-and-tumble, eco-friendly dump truck. Built to last and from recycled materials, this is my favorite of all H’s vehicles. (We also love the airplane and submarine!) And, clearly we don’t push “boy” items on our child (see above dolly), but he just happens to love vehicles right now — and it’s awesome.

What do you think? What did your kids like at this age? Anything fun to add? (By the way, I didn’t add coloring or Play-Doh since it’s hit-or-miss lately.)

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Today’s Tip – Actively Fun

This is part of a new series that I’m calling “Today’s Tip.” I hope to share little tips and tricks (or “life hacks” as the kids these days are saying) to make your life just a wee bit simpler. The topics will range from parenting to cleaning to green living to just general time savers…and anything else that pops into my brain that might be helpful.
 
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Hey, guys! Raise your hand if you’re feeling a bit sluggish lately. I know I am! Thanks, Obama winter weather. It’s to the point where we have so much snow piled up, it’s not at a “let’s have fun in it” stage. It’s more at the “sink down, can’t move” phase. It’s fine, we’ll deal.

But, I feel like the little guy needs to get some more physical activity. He’s a bundle of energy, and between sleeping better and acting better, getting physical only helps him enjoy his fun little life. So, I recently decided to try some “let’s get moving” games with him.

Here are a few things that I tried, which not only got me active as well, but made me realize that he’s reached a new level of “little boy, not little toddler.” His hand-eye coordination and ability to follow directions is way better than I expected! Call me proud (and a touch sad).

Mama Says – H isn’t quite ready for “Simon Says” since the “Simon didn’t say” rule evades him. But, he had been having issues with following directions, so this is my far the best activity for a 2 1/2-year-old. Just say, “Mama says…” and fill in the rest with whatever you think your little one can do. Touch your head/nose/knees/toes; act like a monkey; stand on one foot (he couldn’t do it for long, but boy was he proud that he could do it at all!); turn around three times; hop like a frog. This goes as long as your imagination can hold out.

Let’s Stretch! – You can start your “exercises” off or end them this way. There are lots of stretches that you can do, so keep them as simple as “touch your toes” or as complicated as downward dog. It’s also a fun way to practice counting. “Bend over and touch your toes for five seconds, count with me – one, two, three, four, five!” Simple, fun…and totally made me realize how inflexible I’d gotten! 

Dance With Me! – Dance party time! Turn on Pandora or your favorite workout mix and get a-movin’! You’ll see your little one start on day one using one swaying dance motion, then building up an arsenal of hilarious self expression. Our guy has been saying “oh, yeaaaah! Oh, yeaaaah!” while he does some helicoptering arm motions lately. Very Kool-Aid Man. Very awesome.

Tumble Together – One of my favorite memories as a kid was doing somersaults, rolls, leg lifts, and tumbles in our living room with my sister. Sure, it’s not always safe, but when Mom gets into it with you, you’ll at least have a spotter. Pile the pillows and jump or use the ottoman to roll on your stomach (used to do that at my grandparents’ and adored it). Just get silly and remember: horse play isn’t always a bad thing.

What indoor activities do you do to get the blood flowing and energy out? I’d love to hear!

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Crafts

Happy Friday the 13th! So, the one and only way that we get anything done around this place is by taking everything in several small steps. That said, it’s no surprise that I just finished our Valentine’s Day crafts last night. Under the wire, yeah!

I love what we did SO much and for several reasons. One, they’re completely handmade. Two, they’re 100% F-R-E-E. Three, they’re easy enough that even H and I could do them (albeit over several days). Four, and most importantly, they’re downright adorable.

Here are the Valentines we’ll be giving the special ladies in H’s life:


All I did was give him a white piece of construction paper to paint. We stuck the paintbrush in a mix of white and red, then random splotches of magenta which ultimately gave for mostly pink splotchfest artwork. Then, just last night, I cut the art into three strips and free-handed Xs and Os (as you can tell…fancy) that I then glued to more folded white construction paper. Instant card!

The fact that he wears my old theater shirt from my high school senior year as a smock melts my heart. That thing has splatters from every set I ever painted, and now splatters from every piece of art he has done.

Anyhoo, I love that this art was free form and simple. The only instruction he needed was “here’s some paint, go at it!” He’s still not great at taking directions, so the fact that I took what he created and made it into something practical is pretty rad. Oh, and it has a total Eric Carle vibe to it, which I absolutely adore.


In that last picture you’ll also notice a rainbow heart stack. We started with this tutorial and simplified it to only a few colors. Simply put, I cut down a diaper box into 1″, 2″, 3″, 4″ and 5″ squares, had him paint them, cut them into hearts and glued them together. Then, I punctured holes on the top and strung them with some kitchen twine, and ta-da! Cute little decoration and gift in one.

So, that’s it! Cards and hanging hearts, but they were made with pudgy little fingers and love.

Did you make anything homemade to celebrate V-Day? Food? Gift? Do tell!
(I’ll be back tomorrow with my clean eating challenge. Half way, folks!)

Christmas 2014 Recap

Holiday greetings, all! I’ve been in denial about Christmas being over; gotta ease into it like a cold pool, y’know? So, while working hard at avoiding the letdown (let’s face it; it’s depressing) and getting very little done otherwise, I thought I’d share a quick recap of our holiday this year.

Our actual get-togethers were awesome, and we were extremely lucky that gifts were kept in check (and what we did get were so thoughtful, sweet, and useful). By other “green mama” standards, we personally went overboard, I’m sure. By the standards of other parents, we probably did too little. But, for our purposes, it was perfect.

Here are some of the year’s superlatives as far as gifts (although it’s clearly NOT about the presents, but…y’know)…

Best “Free” Present – Dave and I agreed to “get” each other a free gift this year. Mine ended up being a few “gift certificate” type things (like purging/organizing/zen-ifying the office), which are fine but kind of lame. HE, however, made me stationery. Not just normal stationery, though. Included are envelopes and sheets of paper specifically to write Hadley letters, to be opened at special days (or not-so-special) throughout his life. Talk about a tear or two (or a dozen). So. Darn. Sweet. So, yeah. Dave won by a mile.

Hadley’s Gifts – We also ask Hadley what he’d like to get each of us (um, separately…in secret), which is fun. His suggestions for Dave changed daily, although he always went back to, “A car. A real one. Big. For him to drive.” Uh, no. Apparently he suggested the same to Dave for me. (A toy one wouldn’t do.) Finally, he landed on tools, which we picked up individually at Lowe’s, along with a couple of framed pictures for Dave’s desk. Dave proudly bought exactly what Hadley had told him – every day – to get me: red socks and apple pie (a Hostess, which we normally wouldn’t get). It was the sweetest gift, guys, seriously.

Most Successful Toys – Our little guy’s not hard to please. I grabbed some last-minute wooden train tracks to add to his collection (which he’s been using constantly) and any of the Lego sets he received are a huge hit. But, honestly, he seemed to enjoy absolutely everything (even some of the clothes) and is learning the “appreciation” part of the season.

Oh, and I love that he finally has a play knife (and wooden fruit that he can cut), some pie (um, I made more felt food as his “handmade from Mama” annual gift) and Santa’s felt board. I’d do a tutorial for the board, but it’s so simple I’d feel silly. I ended up using my upholstery stapler to staple the background felt on, then cut out simple shapes (you do NOT have to be artistic to do this!) You can even just do shapes; kids don’t care!

“Made” the Holiday Present – I guess this could be considered a “free” present, too, but the best part of the holiday this year was walking into my mother’s house on Christmas Day to find our out-of-town brother had traveled home to surprise ALL of us (our mom included). I immediately cried. It was insane and perfect. The fact that Hadley is still talking about the family members he now has much stronger connections to (especially Uncle Ryan, the relative that likes to rough house) is heartwarming.

The Grown-Ups’ Favorites – So much of this year was about awesome experiences, I feel guilty picking my favorite gifts. I got an eco-friendly pot from my sister (which was equally touching that she thought about what I’d like rather than just getting another pot) and  renewal to Ancestry.com from my mother-in-law, but generally all those practical things (and the books from Dave) touched my heart. Oh, and “turkey joints” (a local candy) is always a super special treat. Oh, and if I had to pick for Dave, I’m pretty sure his set of Batman (the entire 1960s show) was his absolute favorite.


From our family to yours, we truly hope that you had a glorious holiday full of new and happy memories. I do hope to get myself motivated this week (I’m actually feeling a little rundown, so hope that I can keep it at bay), but if it doesn’t happen until later in January, so be it. Is anyone else feeling like that this holiday season?