Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Toddler Activities: 28 Months Old

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:

Decorating a Paper Tree: Emma loved decorating our tree, so I wanted to do some sort of Christmas tree activity this month. I cut out a pine tree shape from green card stock, and taped it onto some white printer paper and added a star. Throughout the month, she decorated it with various objects like Fruit Loops, pompoms, and paper circles. It turned out to be a great quiet time activity and kept her occupied much longer than I anticipated. This activity could easily be done as an "apple tree" at other times of the year.

Bird Feeder Craft: Okay, I know what you're thinking. We made a bird feeder last month! In my defense, it has been REALLY cold here the last couple weeks - honestly too cold to take the kids outside. But both Emma and Bryson love to watch the birds and squirrels in the trees outside. So making a feeder to attract the birds is our way to connect with nature when it's too cold to actually go outside to enjoy nature. This craft could not be more simple. I took a pipe cleaner and made a loop at one end, then Emma threaded on a handful of Cheerios. I made a small loop on the other end to hold the Cheerios in place. Simply hook the loop onto a tree branch and you're done. Full disclosure: I hung the feeders we made on our Christmas tree and was waiting until nap time to take them outside. Later that morning, I discovered that Emma had gotten all three down and devoured the Cheerios while I was in the other room nursing Bryson. So ours ended up being a toddler feeder instead of a bird feeder.

And, of course...

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

A few of Emma and Bryson's current favorites are:

My 3 good things for today are:

  1. We have great weather outside for playing in the snow!
  2. Bryson is fully crawling, and...
  3. Bryson is pulling himself up on furniture to a standing position. I am choosing to keep a positive attitude and regard this as a "good thing" and NOT utterly terrifying!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from my family to yours!

We have so many good things - more than I can count - to be thankful for from this past year, and I hope you do as well!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Traditions bring families closer together, create legacy, and can be symbolic. As our family grows and as the kids get older, it's important to Derek and me to establish some family traditions.

Though we each had our own unique family customs growing up (he is from an angel-atop-the-tree family, and I have a star-atop-the-tree background), we've worked to blend the parts of Christmas that we treasure and added a few new ideas to create family memories and traditions for our own little crew.

We want our children to find a sense of awe in Christmas, having it be not only a time of family bonding, but a reminder of the importance of Christ - a celebration of His majesty.

In my experience so far, it has been helpful to start this early - Emma is just over 2 years old, and Bryson is just coming up on 7 months - so we have a few years to add to and change our ideas, as well as work out any kinks before the kids are really old enough to understand.

Coming from a family that sets up an artificial tree each year, (my mom and sister have allergies) it's been a fun experience to drive out to a tree farm and cut our Christmas tree. We make a day of it, and spend way too much time picking out the perfect tree. Many of the tree farms we've been to also have horse-drawn sleigh or hay rides, as well as petting zoos, visits from Santa, and even complimentary candy canes and hot cocoa! Then we haul the tree home and cover it with lights and homemade ornaments. Last year and this year, Emma got to put the star on top of the tree. We decorate it together and reminisce about each ornament and its origin.

If you take time to think about and talk to your children about your family customs and the rituals of Christmas, traditions can be a wonderful way to pass down stories of faith for generations. As you decorate your Christmas tree, remind your kids that an evergreen tree is a symbol of the cross and the everlasting life of Christ.

If you listen to Christmas songs on the radio, talk about the words in the carols and remember the proclamations of rejoicing! When Emma plays with her nativity "window stickies," I have the opportunity to talk to her about how God came down to earth as a baby and lived and died as a man to take away the sins of the world, and as we wrap and give gifts we repeat the story of the three wise men who came to adore the baby Jesus.

I know some other other Christian families will disagree with this, but this year, we started doing Elf on the Shelf. If you're not familiar, the story is that your scout elf comes to see you at the beginning of the Christmas season and returns to the North Pole with Santa on Christmas Eve. Every night, your elf flies back to the North Pole to report the day's activities to Santa.

You find your elf in a new location every morning when your elf returns. There are two rules: you can't touch the elf, and the elf can't move while you're watching. Since we have a busy, active toddler, and a baby who recently became mobile, we've kept our elf out of reach so far to avoid the issue of touching.

Day 1: Elf arrives with snowman pancakes!
Day 2: Resting on the mantle
Day 3: Sitting up on the chandelier
Day 4: Hiding in the Christmas tree
Day 5: Peeking out from the coffee bar

I know that Elf is not for everyone, and if that is you, I completely respect your opinion. We emphasize Jesus in our home at Christmas, but we are not anti-Santa. Personally, I really don't think the concept is worth all the arguments I've seen back and forth from both sides. The reason we do Elf is a chance to teach our children about one of the many gifts given to us by our wonderful God: joy.

Day 6: Hanging from the kitchen cabinets
Day 7: Looking down from the curtain rod
Day 8: Hiding in the plant
Day 9: Elf with the apples
Day 10: Sitting on the lamp shelf

When I see the bright smile on Emma's face as she wakes each morning to find our elf, who she named Flynn, I'm reminded of our Savior, Jesus, who took a break from his very important teaching to spend some time laughing with a group of children. Everything I know about God says that he likes to see his children laugh. So we read Bible stories of the birth of Christ and also get our nightly visit from "Flynn the Elf" who reminds us of the multitude of gifts given to us by God out of love, joy and laughter included.

As I mentioned briefly in the previous paragraph, the other tradition we began December 1st was a Scripture reading each evening together, and a chocolate treat from our little advent calendars, as we count down to Christmas Day. Emma does a pretty good job of sitting still and listening as she waits for her treat. We try to distill each section for her when we finish, whether it is a prophecy about Jesus, the story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, or the angel appearing to Mary. A short Google search will bring up dozens of Bible advent plans, so it's easy to find one that's right for your family.

As fun and memorable as decorating the tree or searching for the elf may be, I cherish our Scripture reading each day above all the others as it helps us all remember the point of the holiday season and redirect our eyes on Him before we go to bed each night.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Toddler Activities: 27 Months Old

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:

Homemade Object Matching: This really could not be easier! Just grab a few uniquely shaped objects (I found that cookie cutters work very well!) and trace them onto a piece of paper with a marker. To make it a "permanent" activity, you can cover the sheet of paper with laminate paper. If you had a few everyday objects or toys that you don't mind being out of commission for a while, this would also make a great quiet bag activity!

Bird Feeder Craft: All you need to make these simple bird feeders is a toilet paper roll, some string, 2 small sticks, peanut butter, and nuts, seeds, or Cheerios. (We made ours with Cheerios because Bryson was having a fussy day and I didn’t want to turn my back for a moment and then find Emma eating bird seed. Besides, who doesn’t like Cheerios?!) To begin, cut a piece of string, poke a couple of holes near one end of the toilet paper roll, and tie the ends of the strings through them. Poke 4 holes at the bottom of the toilet paper roll and insert your sticks through them to make a couple spots for birds to perch. Smear peanut butter on the empty toilet paper tube. Roll it in bird seed. Then hang your toilet paper roll bird feeder in a tree and watch how much the birds enjoy it!

And, of course...

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

A few of Emma and Bryson's current favorites are:

We did an activity with one of our books, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies? It is a scratch-and-sniff book with two great cookie recipes at the end. We baked Cinnama-Saurus Rex cookies and they were delicious!

My 3 good things for today are:

  1. We have a beautiful dusting of snow on the ground.
  2. Bryson has two new teeth and is almost crawling!
  3. I discovered a great teething biscuit recipe. Bryson loves it!

Banana Oat Teething Biscuits:
1 very ripe banana
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
2 cups oat or mixed grain baby cereal

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mash the banana well with the oil and water. Add in baby cereal and mix or use your hands to combine until you have a soft, smooth dough. You may need to add more water depending on the moisture of your banana.  Roll the dough out to about a 1/4-inch thickness and cut into smooth shapes. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet (I baked mine on parchment paper) and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Toddler Activities: 26 Months Old

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:

Homemade Connect the Dots: You can make a great connect the dots activity very simply from supplies at home - all you need is a sheet of paper, a few stickers, and a marker. I actually let Emma place the stickers on the paper herself, which she loved! Then I had her scribble from dot to dot with the marker. Depending on the stickers you have, and your child's level of interest, you can also change this activity a bit to make it more challenging. We used animal stickers, and the sticker sheet had multiples of each animal, so after mastering the general idea of "connect the dots," Emma got to connect the sheep to the other sheep, and connect the pig to the other pig, etc. You could use colored stickers and have your child connect like colors, or write numbers or letters on the stickers and have your child connect 1-2-3 or A-B-C.

Leaf Rubbing: Our yard is full of fallen leaves this time of year! We selected a few different types of leaves for a leaf rubbing activity. Just picking out the leaves was a good learning activity as we discussed how the leaves were similar or different colors, shapes, sizes, etc. We picked some leaves that were still soft and green, and others that were brown and crunchy.

We did the leaf rubbing together because it requires the usual fine motor practice but was a little more difficult because you have to hold the crayon sideways - something new for Emma!

And, of course...

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

A few of Emma and Bryson's current favorites are: 

We did an activity with one of our books, Not a Box. This one was super simple and Emma loved it. Derek brought home a paper box from work, and Emma got to play in the box. She climbed in it, and tipped it over on top of her like a hat, pushed it around the room, and hid under it.

My 3 good things for today are:
  1. Falling leaves!
  2. Apple cider!
  3. Decorating pumpkins!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26)

This Thursday, September 26th, is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I'm going to be honest, I didn't know much about this type of cancer until I received a message from a woman named Heather. Her story touched my heart.

Heather is a wife, mother, and a mesothelioma survivor. When her daughter was 3 ½ months old - a few weeks younger than my Bryson is now - Heather was diagnosed with this rare and deadly cancer, and given 15 months to live. Despite her grim prognosis, she knew that she needed to beat the odds for her newborn daughter, Lily. It’s been 7 years now and she is using her story to pay it forward by inspiring others.

In honor of upcoming Mesothelioma Awareness Day, she is using her personal story to help raise awareness of this little known cancer, and to provide a sense of hope for others facing life's difficult challenges. Her goal is to have 7,200 social media shares (a special number!), and I'm hoping you will help!

Please check out her story here, and consider sharing on your social network or blog! 

Toddler Activities: 25 Months Old

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:

Color a Puzzle: This is a project that even your smallest artist can enjoy! Tape six or seven jumbo craft sticks together on a piece of paper, and let your little one color on it with markers.

When they're done, remove the tape, mix up the sticks, and let them try putting the picture back together!

Sandpaper Art: This is another great no-mess creative activity! Cut some fuzzy yarn into a variety of lengths, and let your little one arrange the yarn on a sheet of 40-grit sandpaper to "draw" a picture. (I'm sure a number of sandpaper grits would work - we just had 40-grit on hand at our house.) You can remove the yarn, and replace it as many times as you want. For an older child, you can also draw shapes or letters on the sandpaper with crayon and let your child trace them with yarn.

And, of course...

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: 

We did an activity with one of our books, Duck Sock Hop. After reading the book, we donned our craziest socks, found a sock hop radio station on Pandora, and had a sock hop of our own! Emma had a blast!

My 3 good things for today are:

  1. We have beautiful fall weather outside!
  2. Bryson got to go swinging for first time. He loved it!
  3. Burritos and garden salsa for dinner! (it's the little things...)

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Family Date: Cooking Together

Okay, so you may not consider this a date, but cooking together is a great activity to do as a family. Cooking time is bonding time and really does bring families together! It's also a great way to teach early math, reading, and chemistry to youngsters. Not only do kids who cook tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, but cooking gives kids a basic and important life skill. We let Emma crack eggs (with supervision) and she is great at mixing and helping measure ingredients!

We love apple picking each year, and this year was no exception! We ended up with bags of apples, and after making applesauce, apple pie, and apple crisp, I was looking for a few new recipes to try.

The two recipes below were delicious and fairly simple to make.

Applesauce Cake with Caramel Glaze

2 cups flour
1-1.2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, finely ground
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1-1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce (I used homemade)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla

Caramel Glaze
4 Tbsp butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup icing sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and spices. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with both sugars until light. Mix in applesauce, oil and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Fold in dry ingredients, do not over-mix. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 45 minutes. 
  4. Cook cake for 10 minutes and turn out on to plate to let cool completely.
  5. For glaze, put butter, brown sugar, cream and salt in a saucepan. Bring to full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat. Let cool for 2 minutes.
  6. Gradually whisk in the icing sugar until you have a thick, pourable consistency. Pour over cake, and let set before serving cake – if you have the willpower!


Iced Oatmeal Banana Applesauce Cookies

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used homemade)
1 1/2  cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 cup raisins

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
4-5 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine mashed bananas and sugars. Mix on low speed until combined.  Add applesauce, and mix until well blended, 2-3 minutes. Mix in oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.  Mix in raisins. 
  2. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart.  I lined my baking sheets with parchment paper. Place baking sheet in freezer for 5 minutes. 
  3. Bake cookies until golden and set, 13-15 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack, and let cool completely.
  4. Whisk powdered sugar, syrup, and three tablespoons milk until smooth. Drizzle over cookies, let set.

My 3 good things for today are:

  1. Apples!
  2. Apple cookies!
  3. Apple cake!

What is your favorite apple recipe?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Toddler Activities: 24 Months Old

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:

Stacking Cheerios: I saw this great idea over at Toddler Boredom Busters. All you need is some playdough (check out my recipe for Homemade Playdough!), uncooked spaghetti noodles, and a handful of cheerios. Stick the playdough to the table, then stick in a few spaghetti noodles, and stack as many cheerios as you can! This is a great opportunity to practice counting as the cheerio tower grows higher and higher!

Yes, she did eat some Cheerios!

Threading Fruit Loops: Emma has a fantastic set of threading beads that she gets to play with at her Granna's house. She loves threading the beads to make necklaces and bracelets, then enjoys taking them all apart and starting again. As soon as I can find a set on sale or at a garage sale, I'll get some for our house. Until then, threading Fruit Loops onto a length of ribbon or yarn is a good, cheap alternative. Fruit Loops work well because their hole is larger than Cheerios. Another trick that seems to help is to make a nice long "needle" on the end of your string with some packing tape. Emma was struggling at first, but when I made the needle a little longer, she mastered it quickly.

Yes, she did eat some Fruit Loops!

Scooping Ice: This is such a simple, fun activity to do on a hot day! Toddlers always seem to relish getting dirty or wet and this is also a great sensory activity. We used two buckets with water and one with ice. Emma practiced scooping the ice up and dumping it into the water. It was also a great learning opportunity to watch the ice slowly melt in the water.

Yes, she did eat some ice! And, of course...

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. We had good weather for Emma's birthday celebration.
  2. Bryson rolled over (tummy to back) for the first time!
  3. Derek says I'm the fairest of them all ;) Let's see if he reads this post!