Friday, September 21, 2012

Toddler Activities: 13 Months Old (Part 3)

Here are a few more simple activities that you can do with your 13 month old. You may also be interested in Part 1 and Part 2.

Stuffed Animal Hide & Seek: Emma is very active and loves to explore. One of the games that we play is to hide a few of her stuffed animals throughout the house, then hunt them out! Starting out, it works best to use toys that make noise so they are easier to track down, and as your baby gets more advanced, you can turn down the lights and search with a flashlight!

Paper Tube Megaphone: One of the ways babies learn is through their sense of sound. Distorting and magnifying your voice can be an interesting experience for your little one. Make a paper tube megaphone out of empty paper towel rolls or toilet paper tubes. I put painters tape (the first kind of tape I found in the drawer) on both ends of ours because Emma tends to put the end in her mouth when she talks into it and I didn't want the paper to disintegrate if it gets wet. Sit on the floor, facing your baby and talk through the paper tubes. Let your little one hold and talk through their own paper tube.

Forest Sensory Basket: Discovery baskets, or sensory baskets, are a simple way to engage your little one in learning about the senses as well as language learning. When Emma was younger, we had a lot of fun with our ribbon sensory basket, but now that she is older and less apt to put things in her mouth, we are expanding our sensory experiences! In our forest sensory basket, we have a variety of stones, twigs, leaves, acorns, and pinecones. Let your child touch and explore each object, and try to use many different words to expose your child to language as you describe the texture or appearance of the objects as hard, crunchy, shiny, etc. Let your child move things around, and you can describe objects as they are over, under or beside each other, etc.

And, as always...

Read! Reading is one of the best activities you can do with your child at any age!

A few of Emma's current favorites are:

My 3 good things for today are: 
  1. Emma and I had a lot of fun exploring the backyard for items to put in our forest sensory basket. 
  2. I got to enjoy a long, hot shower this morning, while Emma babbled into her paper tube megaphone.
  3. We are having apple pie for dessert tonight! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Family Date: Apple Picking

Apple picking at a local orchard is not only a wonderful way to support local farmers, and a great opportunity to get your hands on some fresh produce, but it really is family fun for all ages! In fact, it was one of our first big outings after Emma was born.

Last October, when Emma was about two months old, we took a family trip to Apple Holler, a sixty acre orchard in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. Emma enjoyed the sights and sounds, but wasn't able to take pleasure in any of the apples personally.

Due to some unusual weather patterns this year, the apple season is early, so we are heading out to our local orchard in September. This year, Emma was a lot more hands-on... from helping us pick the apples, to taking samples of the produce. We all appreciated the fresh, crisp air and exercise - which including carrying a few dozen apples back to the car. 

You may be thinking, "My family would never eat that many! What would I do with all those apples?" I'm so glad you asked! We split ours into three piles and made applesauce, apple butter, and apple pie! Now you may be thinking, "I have a family! When would I have time to make all that?" I'm so glad you asked! 

I'll let you in on my secret weapon: my crockpot! Without it, I would probably never make applesauce or apple butter, and would just have dozens of apples slowly rotting on my counter. Below is my applesauce and apple butter recipe. Don't let the laid-back nature of this recipe fool you - it's fantastic - it just also happens to be really, really easy.

Lazy Lady/Toddler Mom Applesauce & Apple Butter



12 medium apples (I always say about a dozen, but it's really however many it takes to fill your crockpot) 
1-2 cups granulated sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
enough water to cover the bottom of your crockpot


  1. Turn your crockpot on high and add just enough water to completely cover the bottom.
  2. Chop and core your apples. I like big chunks. No need to peel them.
  3. Dump your apples in the crockpot and cover. Let them simmer for about 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally. I've never had a problem with them burning, but the stirring helps to break up the apples more quickly. 
  4. When the apples reach a consistency that you're pleased with, (generally the mixture is thickened and light brown) add one cup of sugar and the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the crockpot and stir thoroughly. 
  5. Taste the applesauce. If you'd like it a little sweeter, add more sugar. Using a sweet variety of apple, such as Gala, results in a naturally sweet applesauce, so you'll probably add less sugar.
  6.'re done. I like slightly chunky applesauce, so I end right there. If you'd like it to be a smoother consistency, you can run the mixture through a food mill or blender.
  7.  Applesauce is great served warm! It can also be canned, or spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze.

To make Lazy Lady/Toddler Mom Apple Butter I use the same method, but instead of being done at Step 6, I use an immersion blender (or pour into a regular blender) to puree the apple mixture until perfectly smooth. Apple butter can be served immediately on breads or muffins, and can also be canned, or spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze. 


I'm afraid I don't have a secret weapon for homemade apple pie. Although if I did, it would probably store bought refrigerated pie dough. (Who has to know?) Unfortunately that kind of deliciousness requires actual effort, albeit very little.  

For my homemade apple pie, I thinly slice 6 medium apples. In a large bowl, add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Add your apple slices and mix gently. Pour your apples into a prepared (or store bought) pie crust and top with a second crust. Press your crust edges together to seal. You can do a pretty fluted pattern if you want to. Cut slits in several places in top crust to let steam escape. Bake the pie in a preheated 425°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes until apples are tender and crust is golden brown.

My 3 good things for today are:
  1. Applesauce!
  2. Apple butter!
  3. Apple pie!

What is your favorite apple recipe?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Baby Activities: 0-12 Months Old

A friend of mine who just had a baby (congrats!) requested that I do a post of Emma's favorite activities from her first year. Currently being the mom of a toddler, I feel like my focus right now is on keeping Emma entertained throughout the day, and of course to help her continue learning. When Emma was an infant, I felt like communication and exposure were the main focus. We spend a lot of time talking, reading, and exposing Emma to new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures and experiences in the world around her.

Conversations: Simply talk to your baby all through the day. Talk about what you see, hear, and what you're doing. A great example of this is talking at the grocery store. Show your baby the apples, let them feel a bumpy pineapple, or poke a bag of dry rice. Tell them what you're buying and how you're going to prepare it when you get home.

Silly sounds: In addition to conversations, your baby will love to hear you make silly sounds. Emma loves it when I make "raspberries" with my tongue. Try whistling, humming, and even whispering.

Baby Massage: After a warm bath, try gently massaging your baby's body. I think that massaging your baby's feet can be especially relaxing for them. Lightly wrap your hand around one of your baby's limbs and massage in a circular motion. Repeat for all the limbs. Gently massage your baby's tummy in clockwise circles. Then turn your baby over and massage their back. 

Tummy time: Regular tummy time is important for your baby's development. As Emma got stronger and was able to lift her head and make small movements, we would put a few of her favorite toys just out of reach to encourage her to move toward the toys.

Body Bumblebee: Act like your pointer finger is a little bumblebee. Move your finger through the air and make a buzzing sound. Tell your baby the bee is going to land on her tummy. We always did a little tickle wherever the bee landed. Do this on other parts of your baby's body.

Peekaboo: Emma could play peekaboo all day long! I would throw a small blanket over my head and ask, "Where's Mommy?" When Emma was very little, I would drop the blanket and say, "Peekaboo!" Now that she is bigger, she can pull the blanket off by herself to reveal Mommy! It is also a lot of fun to play peekaboo by hiding a stuffed animal or photo of a loved one under a blanket and asking, "Where's Doll?" or "Where is Grandma?" 

Nesting cups: This is probably one of the best toys you could have for your baby, and odds are, you don't have have to buy a thing! Emma loves playing with my set of measuring cups - stacking, nesting, and scooping!

Ribbon sensory basket: I have a jumble of ribbons in my sewing basket that Emma loves to explore! Playing with ribbon is a great sensory experience because the pieces of ribbon are a variety of textures, lengths and widths. We also have a lot of fun sorting the ribbons by color.

Smelling Spices: I like to have Emma with me when I am cooking in the kitchen, and it is a great way to stimulate her sense of smell. I generally let her smell the herbs that I am adding to our food, but you can also explore smells when you are not cooking. Gather some herbs and spices, and put them in cheesecloth, or create a small ball of aluminum foil about the herbs. Let your baby smell each one. Tell your baby the name of each herb or spice.

Loud & Quiet Sounds: This is a great activity to help your baby learn about sounds. Take a plastic container, such as a plastic mixing bowl, a metal container, and a wooden container. Then let your baby drop a toy into each container and say whether the resulting sound was "loud" or "quiet". A wooden block in a metal bowl makes a loud sound, but a stuffed bear in a plastic bowl makes a soft sound.

Blocks: Babies love to play with blocks! Help your baby build a block tower or simple structure. When she was younger, Emma prefered to watch me build a tower and then would knock it down herself. Whatever your baby wants to do is fine. Building with blocks helps stimulate developmental skills!

Mirror, mirror: Emma loves to look at the "baby" in the mirror. We point out her eyes, nose, mouth, hair, belly button, etc. A small mirror is also a lot of fun during tummy time. Your baby will be motivated to lift their head to see the baby in the mirror!

Rolling balls: This activity helps develop gross motor skills. Gather a number of balls that are not too heavy for your baby to roll - small plastic balls work great, but you could also use golf balls or something similar if you have them on hand. Place an empty laundry basket or clean trash can on its side a few feet away from your baby. Show your baby how to roll each ball towards the empty laundry basket.

Baby Shell Game: This is just like a street shell game, only for babies! Get your baby comfortable in their high chair and place a piece of baby-safe fruit, such as banana, on the tray. Cover it with a small plastic bowl. Then place two other bowls upside down on the tray. The first few times we played this, I asked Emma right away where the banana was. Let your child point to the bowl. If they are right, they get a sweet fruit treat! As your baby gets the hang of the game, begin to shuffle the bowls around, then ask where the fruit is hiding.

Crawling together: Simply get down on the floor and crawl with your baby. Emma and I always enjoyed crawl racing. Sometimes I let her win ;)

Pat-a-cake: Bring your baby's hands together, as you recite the poem: "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Roll it and pat it and mark it with a B. Put it in the oven for baby and me." You can use your baby's name in the rhyme as well. We always say, "Roll it and pat it and mark it with an E. Put it in the oven for Emma and me."

Singing: Set aside time every day to hold and sing to your child. Pick some favorite lullabies or songs such as Jesus Loves Me and repeat them over and over again.

Listen to music: I don't care whether you listen to Mozart or The Beatles, spend some time listening to music. Make a dance party part of your daily routine.

Signing: We signed with Emma from about five months on. She learned the signs for milk, eat, all done, book, sleep, more, and diaper change by her first birthday. The book Baby Talk by Monica Beyer was a great resource for us starting out. We're continuing to add more signs, and it has been a lot of fun. I am sure we also avoided some fussy periods because she was able to tell us what she wanted before she was able to speak the words. (Just FYI, her favorite thing to sign right now is "more book".)

Nursery Rhymes: My mom is a public librarian who does a weekly story time at the library. She's told me how few children nowadays know the basic nursery rhymes and songs, such as Baa Baa Black Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, Little Boy Blue, Mary Had A Little Lamb, Three Blind Mice, London Bridge Is Falling Down, Rock-a-bye Baby, and Jack and Jill. It's such a shame because babies love the sing-song rhythm of nursery rhymes! This one is a classic. Sit in a chair with your legs crossed and put your baby on your foot. Hold your baby's two hands in yours while you move your foot up and down and recite, "Ride a horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse; Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. She shall have music wherever she goes." Or place your baby on your lap and bounce them up and down while you recite Humpty Dumpty.  Or hold your baby under the arms while you swing them back and forth and recite, "Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, The mouse ran down, Hickory, dickory, dock."

Reading: Even if you don't do anything else, READ! Reading aloud to your baby helps to stimulate their developing senses, increases vocabulary, language and literacy, and builds listening and memory skills that can help your baby grow up to be a reader. Instilling a love of books in your child is one of the best and easiest gifts you can give them!

What are some of your favorite activities to do with your baby?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Toddler Activities: 13 Months Old (Part 2)

Here are a few more simple activities that you can do with your 13 month old. You may also be interested in Part 1.

Xylophone Music: Emma loves music - I think that is true of most babies! We were lucky enough to find a toy xylophone at a garage sale before Emma was born, and it has been a good investment! I can recall one afternoon before Emma was even big enough to hold the striker, when Derek and I spent about an hour figuring out how to play Happy Birthday on the xylophone while Emma practiced rolling over. Fun times were had by all! But now Emma is old enough to play music all by herself. I usually start by striking the xylophone once, then I let her hold the striker. Sometimes she strikes it once, sometimes she bangs and bangs! We take turns playing. Lately we have been working on having Emma repeat the number of strikes that I do, or playing a musical pattern. Some days she follows my strikes very well, other days - not so much! If your baby is not ready to repeat patterns, continue playing and keep trying patterns in the future.

Button Jars: When my sister and I were little girls, and we would visit my grandparent's house for Thanksgiving, my grandma would give us a big jar of buttons to play with. Even now, I can remember the fun we had with those buttons: sorting them into piles by their color, size and shapes, and counting them over and over again! These days, I have a button jar for my own little one. Emma enjoys listening to the buttons as she drops them plink, plink, plink into the glass jar, and shaking the jar like a rattle. We also practice sorting and counting, just as I used to do. I only use buttons that are too big for Emma to swallow, but always use adult supervision when playing with small objects and glass containers.

Blanket Sledding:
This is just a fun, silly way to travel around the house. Place your baby in the middle of a blanket. Hold the edge of the blanket securely and gently pull your baby around the room. The blanket will slide better on a hard surface like hardwood or tile, but can also be done on carpet. I like to narrate each room as if they were different train stations. "Next stop, kitchen!" This is certainly one of our favorite activities, and you will probably be asked to do it over and over again!

And, as always...

Reading is one of the best activities you can do with your child at any age!

A few of Emma's current favorites are:
My 3 good things for today are:
  1. I got some great kids books (for Christmas presents, shhh!) at our local library book sale fundraiser. It feels good to have a couple presents crossed off the list!
  2. Two new teeth have finally made an appearance in Emma's top gums.
  3.  Emma was quite feisty today due to the aforementioned new teeth. I was getting frustrated with her constant fussing despite my efforts to distract and comfort her. I could tell I was getting grumpy and snappy, so we stopped what we were doing and had a round of blanket sledding. It is impossible NOT to smile - whether you have sore gums or you're dealing with a cranky baby - when you are racing around on a blanket. The whole day was better after that. 

What activities do you like to do when your little one is fussy?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Couple Date: E.T. Movie Night

My husband, Derek, was away on business this past week, and just returned home yesterday. I wanted to plan a special evening to welcome him back. Derek was feeling a little weary of dining out after traveling and living on fast food all week, and Emma has two new teeth coming in and is consequently rather fussy, so I decided that a special "night in" would be preferable to a fancy night out.

We enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs together. Then, after Emma went to bed, Derek and I had a peanut butter and chocolate FEAST and watched E.T. We drank hot chocolate and ate Reese's Pieces, of course! I also made some delicious Peanut Butter & Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies. Original recipe found here.

Peanut Butter & Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl mash the bananas with the peanut butter, oil and vanilla. In another bowl, stir together the oats, coconut, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients along with the chocolate chips and stir until combined.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 12-14 minutes, until just set. The result is about 2 dozen balls of ooey-gooey goodness!

My 3 good things for the day are:
  1. It had been a really, really long time since either of us had seen E.T. (I'm guessing mid-90's?) So it was almost like watching it for the first time! It was a lot of fun, if you can't tell from the dorky pictures!
  2. I found a great new cookie recipe without any flour or sugar - and a great way to use up ripe bananas before they go bad.
  3. Derek is home! (Which is pretty much the best thing ever. Just sayin'.)

What creative "night-in" dates have you done?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Toddler Activities: 13 Months Old (Part 1)

One of the challenges of being a stay at home mom is finding activities for your little one to keep them entertained throughout the day. These are a few of our current favorite activities:

Magnets: If I am only going to be in the kitchen for a few minutes, and subsequently don't want to set up Highchair Peekaboo, Emma gets play with the magnets on the fridge. We have a set of magnets with letters and numbers that I bought at a garage sale for $1, as well as a few picture magnets I made from some unframed photos we had around the house. Emma loves to pull down pictures of Auntie, Mommy, Daddy, and "Baby" to look at and rearrange.

Edible Finger Painting: One of Emma's favorite books at the moment is Mouse Paint, in which three little mice climb into jars of red, yellow, and blue paint. Then they mix the different paints to create orange, green and purple. As a spin-off to the book, I wanted Emma to do some finger painting and explore colors. She still likes to put things in her mouth, and I knew this would be no exception, so our paints were made by adding a few drops of food coloring to Greek yogurt. (You could also use vanilla pudding.) WARNING: This was very messy, but a lot of fun!

Body Stickers: With this simple activity, your baby can learn about their body. All you need is a sheet of small stickers. Take an individual sticker and place it on your child's belly button and say, "Belly button!" If your child is old enough to point, ask them to point to the body part before you place the sticker. Your baby may not be able to identify any body parts when you start out, but this is a good way to track learning as you continue this activity over time. As your baby learns, go ahead and add new body parts that your baby doesn't know.

Mapping Daddy: Derek is in San Diego, CA this week on business - a long way from home. So I got out a map of the United States to show Emma where Daddy is working. I taped a picture of Derek over San Diego and a picture of me and Emma over the Twin Cities. Each day this past week, we spent some time looking at the map. I pointed to the photos and told Emma that we were here in Minnesota and Daddy was there in California. When Derek is back, I think I will replace the picture of us in Minnesota with a family picture, and will add pictures of Emma's great-grandparents (who live all over the U.S.) to the map so she can learn their names and locations.

And, as always...

Read! Reading is one of the best activities you can do with your child at any age! A few of Emma's current favorites are:
My 3 good things for today are:
  1. Avocados were on sale at the grocery store today. Yum! 
  2. I finally got around to my big pile of mending during Emma's nap. It's as if Derek and I each have a brand new wardrobe! 
  3. We got a load of new books from the library!

What are your three good things today?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Activities for Baby: A Salute to Summer!

As we celebrate Labor Day and slip from glorious summer into autumn (up here in Minnesota, at least), I wanted to do a recap of our Top 10 Favorite Summer Activities from the past three golden months - many of which are free or very, very cheap. Most of these require very little explanation, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let the pictures do most of the talking.

1. Swimming: Emma is a water baby and loves to splash and kick and swim whenever she gets the chance!

2. Playing in the grass: On warm days, it is nice to simply sit on a blanket in the yard - or right on the grass - and breathe in the fresh air, look at bugs and leaves, and explore nature.

3. Walking with the stroller: Emma loves to see the neighborhood (especially the doggies!) and I love the exercise!

4. Walking with the baby: Although we move a lot more slowly when Emma is walking, it is great practice for her little legs and she is able to get a closer view of all the flowers, rocks, grass, puddles, and other treasures along the road.

5. Visiting the park: Most of our walks lead us to the park, where Emma loves to play!

6. Playing in the sand: Emma is a terrific digger and enjoys burying her toys only to rediscover them!

7. Swinging: Usually accompanied by giggles and screams, swinging is - by far - Emma's favorite thing to do at the park.

8. Relaxing in the backyard: Emma loves to sit in the hammock with Daddy!  

9. Camping: Although it can be a challenge to tent camp with a little one, sleeping out under the stars is a great experience to share. Even if outdoor adventures aren't your thing, pitching a tent in the yard for a night or two can be a lot of fun!

10. S'mores: 'Nuff said.

My 3 good things for today are obviously:
  1. Graham crackers
  2. Marshmallows
  3. Chocolate 

What are your favorite summer activities with your kids?