Thursday, June 3, 2010

I've Been Absent

Dear Amy (and our blog readers),

Although I have been gone from our blog for far too long, you have not been forgotten. We had a very busy May--paperwork, crazy legalities, Memorial Day, the boys' adoption, adoption party, offers on houses, preparing the move. It was insane!

Well, the adoption was finalized, the home sale fell through, we're not moving, and we still have tons of paperwork to finish. Not to mention the many house projects we procrastinated on because we thought we were moving. We did spend time over the holiday weekend cleaning up our yard and planting a garden. Check that off the list.

It's just been a busy month and unfortunately, that left little to no time to sit and write. Between raising two toddlers and keeping up with life, I'm kept hopping from before dawn until midnight. Yawn. Just thinking about it wears me out! :)

So I may not post several times a week, but I will post. Don't give up on me. The good news is that I have my priorities straight...my family comes first.

Love, Kate

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kidding

Kate,
It's been such a busy time. School ends next week and then we are on to summer! I love this time of year. We had company until last Saturday and had a great time. I do really enjoy having my in-laws come and visit. The kids think it's a special treat as well.

Today was going to be a catch up day, but instead I had a sick child and two pairs of glasses that got broken over the weekend and needed fixing. Then, this afternoon, our goat decided to kid. We had two very cute kids. A little doe and a buckling. I'm not sure I am cut out for this kidding stuff! I always get so nervous and worry about how the doe will do...can you believe it? I guess being a nurse fits my personality and carries over into the animal realm. I do have to say it is a very neat experience to see a birth take place, be it a person or a goat. Here are some not so good photos of our very cute kids. Now it's time to gear up for cheese making. I'm hoping to perfect goat cheese this summer! We can't wait for you to come and play this summer!




I hope it's a great day! It's a big one for you!
Love,
Amy

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leftover Oatmeal Muffins

Kate,
Sorry to hear about the terrible fate of chippy. Keep those five gallon buckets covered! ;) It was such a nice weekend, busy but good. We had a great time at our girl mother's day luncheon, but wish you would have been there. It has been so nice to have my in-laws visiting. I really enjoy having them here.

Yesterday I made this recipe and I wanted to share it with you. I frequently have leftover hot cereal and will frequently give it to Ginger to eat... in know you are rolling your eyes as you think that I shouldn't be feeding that to a dog. Instead of giving it to Ginger, now I have a recipe that uses cooked oatmeal and it was even good. I don't have a photo because these muffins were eaten to quickly. Everyone really liked them. You'll have to try it sometime and let me know what you think!

Leftover Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sucanat
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, well beaten
1 Tblsp butter and 1 Tblsp coconut oil (or just use 2 Tblsp. butter) melted
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked oatmeal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine dry ingredients and then add egg, milk, and butter. Stir until well blended. Spoon into lined or greased muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Next time I think I would add chopped apple or raisins as well. They were quite good.

I hope it's a good day. We're still trying to figure out if it's winter or spring here. We got some new snow on the Mountains and a lot of cold rain here in the valley. I am looking forward to a warm weekend.

Love,
Amy

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Tragic Weekend

Dear Amy,
Happy Mother’s Day yesterday! I hope your day was filled with fun with Pat and Tom and lots of special gifts and favors from the kiddies. Oh, and good food. I know what you were planning for dinner…and YUM! We had a very relaxing day and even enjoyed some sunshine…a marked difference from the rest of the week. It was nice to get a break from the rain and wind.

With leads me to a story…a tragic heart-wrenching story. Brace yourself. A couple of months ago, we noticed a small hole in the ground next to my studio. I was confident that we had a renegade gopher on our hands…a destructive, little rodent hell-bent on wreaking havoc…possibly the very same furry mammal that moved on from our neighbor’s yard just last year.

So, we watched and waited, trying to catch sight of the occupant of said hole. I even lightly covered the hole to make sure that there was something actually residing there. Yep, the hole was uncovered and groomed by the next morning. Huh. Still we watched and waited…watched and waited…waited and watched. Nothing. Then my mind started to race with the possibilities of what might be living in the hole…other unsavory rodents…and right beneath my studio! Eek!

Then I saw him. I was glancing out the back door one evening when I saw the cutest little body working its way around the periphery of the grass. I cracked open the door and off he shot toward the hole. I’d finally met my downstairs neighbor…a chipmunk. He wasn’t wreaking any havoc at all. In fact, he was helping me clean up after the birds under the bird feeder. I became quite fond of Chippy. Otto would chase him occasionally, but of course it was all in good fun and they both enjoyed it. Of course.

A few days ago, I put up an old ladder to use as a trellis for my monster clematis that is overtaking the side of my studio. In doing so, I accidentally brushed some dirt over Chippy’s hole. No big deal, I thought. Chippy will clear it out by morning. But he didn’t. And it wasn’t cleared the next day. And yesterday I started to panic a little. I was gearing up to clear out the opening to Chippy’s abode myself, when Rit delivered some tragic news. She had found Chippy…belly up in a 5-gallon bucket filled with rain water from the storms.
My heart sunk. Poor Chippy! What a horrible way to die! I had left the bucket right side up on the other side of my studio. I know better. I think this was the bucket I was stood on to see over the fence to make sure our neighbor kids weren’t starting our cedar fence on fire AGAIN. I’m racked with guilt. And poor Chippy is gone…cut down in the prime of his life…or so it seemed as if he was at his prime. Sigh. Sad. So sad.

Many, many animals have met an unfortunate demise in our yard. I understand the whole circle of life thing, but this is too much! As an animal lover, it pains me to bear witness to it EACH AND EVERY TIME! The dogs have killed bunnies in our yard (read about one such instance here), occasionally a hawk makes a quick meal of the birds at our feeders, birds have fallen from nests and baby bunnies have jumped to their deaths (read about the Georges here and here).

And now, to make matters quite possibly worse, we have a robin’s nest on our front porch. It’s built directly on top of our porch light to be specific. It has four eggs and we are keeping a close eye on things. And by we I mean all of us, including the boys. DeAngelo is obsessed with seeing the nest every time we leave the house. But I can’t help but feel that our yard is like one big death trap for small, innocent animals. I don’t want to expect the worst, but I’m struggling to hope for the best. Please, please, please, little robins, LIVE AND FLY AWAY!

So, yep. That’s our house. We seem to be magnets for animal misfortune and parquet flooring. I try to make an happy, healthy abode for our animal friends, and yet disaster always seems to strike. We hate our parquet flooring and yet we cannot escape it. The awesome house we have an offer on? Yep, you guessed it! PARQUET FLOORING…and lots of trees…a haven for wildlife…that can’t be good.

Love, Kate

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Summer Jobs for the kids

Kate,
We are still hoping for a little spring here in Utah. The weather has been crazy...70's one day, snow the next. I never know what the weather will be!! The kids get out of school on May 27, so summer is coming whether we've had spring or not! I love having the kids home in the summer, but it is very different that just having N. home. So I'm starting to plan for it now. Besides doing some cleaning of closets etc. I am thinking about their summer schedules and chores. I have already been asked when we will pick summer jobs. Yes, that's right, my kids get to pick their summer jobs and they love it...at first anyway. Even though your boys are young, they will grow quickly and you may want to give this a try.
I have made some 3x5 cards with jobs listed on them. During the summer, we break jobs down. For example, instead of cleaning the bathroom someone will clean the sinks in all the bathrooms and someone else will clean the tubs etc. These cards have jobs ranging from mopping the laundry room to emptying garbage to even watering the outside planters. The kids take turns picking a card for a job they want to do. I always keep some separate that the younger children can pick from. They all need to pick a vacuuming job, a bathroom job and a dusting job. The older children also get to clean out a drawer each week. I do feel that I need to teach my children how to clean and the variety of jobs gives them different experiences. After they pick their jobs, I make sure I feel that they haven't picked more than they can handle and then I make a chart. This chart is put on the fridge in a sheet protector so they can mark them off. Here's an example of last year. The top line is for the oldest child going down in age to the youngest. Even though it seems that they are required to do a lot every day, the most they ever spend is 1/2 hour.

The first week after school I help the younger children with their jobs so that they can learn how to do them and what is expected. I also have a binder that has all of the jobs and what is expected. These are in sheet protectors so that they can be marked off with a dry erase marker and then erased for next time.

I do save the cards and reuse them every year. This has worked well for us and you'll be thinking about chores before you know it.
Enjoy the bike trailer!
Amy

Monday, May 3, 2010

Turning Antique Boxes into a Headboard: IT’S FINALLY FINISHED!

Dear Amy,
We’ve been talking about this for months. And yes, IT IS FINALLY FINISHED! When we first agreed back in January to take our tiny house off of the market and stay here for awhile longer, I was forced to find some creative space-saving solutions. We had just moved our bedroom from upstairs to the main floor. Although we now have an attached bathroom, which is nice (even if it is the smaller than the average closet), our bedroom is a mere 9’ x 11’. The master bedroom closet in our 1930s bungalow is VERY small. In fact, I think I have only a couple of shirts and a few pairs of pants in the closet. It is completely filled with Rit’s clothes. And she really doesn’t have that many clothes either. I dream of the day when I can actually keep my clothes in my bedroom. For now, there simply isn’t enough space.
I digress. So, I had to find a way to fit a queen-sized bed, chest of drawers, large dog bed and a nightstand in this tiny space. Add to that the fact that there are two windows, a freestanding radiator, the bedroom door, the double closet doors, and the bathroom door to contend with when arranging furniture. A nightstand seemed to take up too much space, but I’m a reader and I really want some place to put my many books I'm reading simultaneously, a clock, a lamp, the baby monitors, the phone, etc. Hmmm…dilemma.
Then I came up with an idea. I have long collected “stuff"…old stuff that most people would term garbage. Not “vintage” stuff, but really old stuff from people’s garages, basements and barns. And we do have a lot of barns out here in Wisconsin. I think I got my collecting gene from mom. I remember the first time she came to visit me here. She was like a kid in a candy store…looking around wide-eyed and gasping at my many finds. Yep, it’s in the blood.
I have a rather large collection of old wood boxes…beverage boxes, fruit and potato boxes, etc. I pictured a type of shelving mounted on the wall above the bed. My vision was awesome, but how to make it into reality. I assigned Rit, the family problem solver, to figure out how to firmly mount the boxes to the wall. The last thing I wanted was to be knocked unconscious by a falling box while sleeping. She came up with a great idea involving mounting strips used for closets. Two mounting strips, with a 150-pound weight limit each, are anchored into the wall and the other two are mounted along the bottoms of the boxes. We cleaned up and disinfected the boxes. And magic!
headboard1
Yes, the cords are an issue. We’re working on that. And things still need to find their place, but I love the look of it. It’s EXACTLY what I wanted! and it has freed up so much floor space!
Next on the list: I just ordered matching chests of drawers. Cheap, but useable. They will replace the one chest of drawers we have. They will fit flush with each other along the short wall by the door, hopefully appearing as one piece of furniture. I’m hoping that the streamlined look of the chests won’t overwhelm the small room. That should give us the extra clothes storage we’ll need.
I’ll keep you posted! Beautiful day today! The bike trailer arrived Friday and I’m in love. We went on a ride this weekend and I swooned the entire time.
Have a great day!
Love, Kate

MakingThe Girl Creative Keeping It Simple

Friday, April 30, 2010

Biking and a Book Review: Make Your Place (Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills)

Dear Amy,

Happy Friday! I'm don't think I've looked forward to a weekend this much for awhile. What an exhausting week it's been. And I feel like I've hardly seen Rit all week. It will be so nice to simply be together as a family. We're heading down to Milwaukee early tomorrow morning for the Foster Family Walk/Run. We're meeting some family and friends there and we're really looking forward to it. Ah, weekend, I've missed you.

I've been doing a lot of reading so that I can make more educated decisions about our eating and wellness as a family. I thought I'd share one of my favorites with you every so often, maybe every Friday. One of the simplest, yet most helpful books I've found to date is Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs. Such a small little book, but what a font of good stuff! It is chocked full of information and recipes for common household items. It even covers how to grow things and make your garden more successful. Some of the recipes include cleaning products (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE homemade cleaning products), personal care products (Make your own shampoo, anyone?) and health and first aid products (I especially love this section).

I truly believe that our health and wellness as a family will result from the combination of a more healthy lifestyle overall. This includes recycling, spending less, reusing more, eating better, growing as much of our food as we can and making our environmental footprint as small as possible. This is so exciting to me!

We have committed as a family to walking and biking whenever and wherever possible. Our town is relatively small, so this is not too difficult. We purchased our first child bike trailer and it's scheduled to arrive today. I am so excited, I can hardly stand it!  We bought the Chariot Cougar 2.

We did get a hand-me-down trailer from a friend, but we hadn't yet tried it out...until a couple of months ago. I pulled it out of the garage, cleaned it up, pumped up the tires and hooked it up to my cruiser (which is a beautiful, streamlined, copper-colored specimen of biking genius, by the way). I got the boys all ready in their helmets and strapped them in. Huh. Although the trailer is for two, they seemed a little snug...my teeny boys. Okay, A LOT snug. But I don't know, maybe that's how they're supposed to fit? We got 10 feet down the road before D started calling out, "See? See? See?" I pulled over to the side of road and got off my bike. Both boys' helmets had slid so far forward that neither could see at all. Their little chins were oh-so-comfortably resting on their chests. F-U-N! Right, boys? I fixed their helmets and continued on. Again, 10 feet down the road, I hear calls of protest from the trailer. I again pulled over and again adjusted the boys and fix their helmets. Let me just point out that the problem was not in the fit of the helmets. They were the right size and adjusted properly. We continued to stop every couple of minutes until we had made it half way around the block. I was trying not to laugh openly at the spectacle of it all. My heart sunk. I love to bike. My boys hated it. My lofty dreams of a pleasant ride turned into a stop and go 45-minute trip around the block. Literally. In fact, I made them suffer through it the last quarter of a block from the corner to our house without stopping. Mean mom. I know.

This new trailer? It represents my hope that I can return to biking this summer after not even venturing out on any of my three bikes at all last year. I miss biking. I want my boys to enjoy it. I want us to cruise around town to the library, to the store, to the museum, to see Rit at work. It's larger than our current one and has a hollow behind the boys' heads for their helmets so that their little heads remain upright. What a novel idea! They can actually see where we're going! I hope they won't panic at the sight of it. I hope the trauma of our one and only ride has subsided enough that they will at least TRY the new trailer. I can't wait! I'll keep you posted!

Have a great weekend!

Love, Kate

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Absentia

Dear Amy,

Thank you so much for sharing the rhubarb cake recipe. YUM! I can't wait to try it. I absolutely love the bitter taste of rhubarb. And if Dad gave it two thumbs up, it must be divine. With that man's sweet tooth...

I'm sorry I haven't written lately. It's truly been due to a complete and total lack of time. Things have been crazy around here lately. We are just about to finalize our adoption of the boys and between paperwork, communication with case workers, scheduling hearings and planning an adoption celebration, I feel like that has become a full-time job in and of itself.

We've also continued to look at houses. I know...ridiculous. I said we were going to stay put for another year or so. I know. I know. But Rit kept looking at houses online and then our Realtors (and good friends) took a more active approach to finding us a house. Plus, I found it really hard to ignore the home buyers tax credit. I mean, let's face it, we really, really need more space. And I would truly love a closet for my clothes...any closet...and more than three kitchen cupboards...oh, and a garage. I can't remember the last time I parked in a garage. Sigh. So, we've been going through houses every chance we have.

All of this has equated to a complete and total lack of time...but not a lack of love! My absence is in no way a reflection of my undying adoration of my older (and wiser) sister. Plus, I haven't even started my garden! I'm hesitant since we may be moving...maybe not...I don't even know. We live in such limbo these days. But I do find myself drooling over the garages (and cupboard space) of others.

I do have a few things I want to share about some reading I've been doing lately in support of THE FOOD REVOLUTION OF 2010 (said in a loud booming voice for emphasis). I'll wait until Friday so as to really boost the suspense.

Much love,
Kate

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rhubarb Cake Recipe


Kate,
It was so fun to walk around the yard on Saturday and notice that our rhubarb is ready. We only have two things we are harvesting at the present...rhubarb and spinach! I do love this time of year. I love thinking about yesteryear and the memories of rhubarb pie, rhubarb sauce and rhubarb cake.

For our Sunday dinner, I decided to break out mom's rhubarb cake recipe, healthify it and make it for dessert. It was moist and great...even dad gave it two thumbs up! You'll have to find some fresh rhubarb and give it a try. Here's the recipe I used...the healthier version.

Rhubarb Cake
1 1/2 cups sucanat (I used slightly less)
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
dash of salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup milk
Mix the above and then add:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
Mix and pour into greased 9x13" pan...I just sprayed it with an olive oil spray.
Sprinkle the top with sucanat and cinnamon and chopped nuts (I used almonds)
Bake at 350 degrees for about 32-35 minutes.

Enjoy!
Amy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kate,
Life has been so busy lately and I haven't found time for blogging. Things are settling down a bit and I'm feeling very similar to what you've described in your previous post. I can't decide if it's spring, knowing the kids will be out of school in a month or just life. I also want to organize and declutter our lives. I need to reread "How to Organize Just about Everything" so I have a clear direction. I also have the feeling that once all six children are around for the summer, there's not even a chance of me getting on top of the game, if I'm not at that point.

There are some things that have helped me stay a little more on top of things that I would like to share with you. I feel that paper piles are always a problem. The counter can be clean until everyone comes home from school...then it's a mess! I'm still working on solutions, but have found that if I clear it daily, it helps. I also try to throw away any mail I can before I come back into the house. I have some magnet clips on the back door. I put coupons that I know I'll be using that week, papers that need to be given to someone, and even signed papers for the kids to return to school in those clips. This has helped. I also have binders for each one of the kids on a shelf in a closet close to my kitchen. I put any papers, pictures, certificates etc. that we want to save in their binder. This way it is usually organized by date and can easily be used to scrapbook at a later time. I have found this decreases my paper clutter and piles greatly.

I do love "to do" lists and crossing off things. I try to print a new one off every Sunday with specifics for that week under each day. I also have some tasks that I would like to get done listed at the bottom...these include some of the projects that I'm not sure I'll have time for. It is so rewarding for me to be able to look back and see what I've actually accomplished especially on those days I don't feel like I've done anything!

I'm right there with you. It will be fun to hear specifics on what you are doing.
Thanks for sharing,
Amy

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Endless “To Do” List

Dear Amy,

It’s been a long couple of weeks. We’re in the process of making some very significant financial decisions right now and I admit, I’m overwhelmed. Unfortunately, Rit and I both fall into the endless cycle of becoming paralyzed by indecision because we’re so afraid of making the wrong decision. The absence of my usual jolts of caffeine and sugar racing through my system is making things particularly…um…hard. I’m so grumpy, I can hardly stand to be a room with me.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with all of the many roles of the stay-at-home parent. Many of us fill the roles of parent, housekeeper, chef, gardener, behaviorist, researcher, executive assistant, accountant, personal shopper, organizer, seamstress, party planner, dog walker, teacher and chauffer. It’s easy to feel buried, tortured by the ever-present thought that you’ll never get ahead, you’ll never claw your way to the top of your to do list.

A week and a half ago, I hit bottom…not really, but it felt like it. I put the boys down for naps, went outside to the back patio, turned my face to the sun and just sat. I sat and thought and tried to work through how I could ever accomplish everything I need (and want) to each day…in a mere 24-hour period.

And then I started writing. I went through the first several chapters of one of my favorite books, How to Organize Just About Everything by Peter Walsh. I felt a deep need to get back to basics, to re-evaluate my priorities, and to look closer at what I truly want in life. The first several chapters of the book cover “Getting Organized” and “The Nitty Gritty” of daily life. By the time the boys woke up from their naps, I had page after page in my journal filled with very specific, measureable goals. They range from my personal goals in all aspects of my life to family goals, relationship goals, household goals, and parenting goals. I even created a new personal mission statement and came up with an immediate to do list.

We all have those things that we procrastinate on, the things that get shoved to the back burner with the promise of doing it later. But later never comes and those never-completed tasks begin to pile up and crowd your peripheral vision. It becomes harder and harder to focus on the bigger picture.

As we work on revamping our physical wellness through better eating habits, it seems natural to revamp other areas of our lives as well. Here’s to getting on top of things and finally crossing off everything on that to do list.

Who’s with me?

Love, Kate

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another birthday and a Flip Flop birthday cake




Kate,
What fun things you are doing. I hope to have a little more time after this week. Last weekend was great and very full. We had a birthday party, delayed family Easter party, scout campout, wedding reception and birthday dinner, let alone the other basic items that happen to keep a family running.

I wanted to show you the cake I made for Em. She wanted another princess cake, but after doing that for the past two years, I looked for another idea. She is a flip flop girl, so when I found this cake idea, I knew it was it!

Here's the link for the directions, but I wanted to let you know what worked for me. After cutting the flip flops out using their template, I froze the cake over night. I then put on a thin crumb coat of frosting and froze it again. I found this worked great to keep the crumbs from sticking to everything. I also neglected to get some silk flowers, so as you can see I made mine from the fruit rolls. I also used M&M's because that is what I had. She loved the cake and the family seemed to as well. All in all the birthday party, dinner and cake turned out well. I'll have to give you a run down on the party sometime. We had 9 little girls over for a "night at the spa". There were a lot of loud giggles, squeals, etc. The noise level was incredible, but they all seemed to have a great time!

I hope it was a great day at the park!
Love,
Amy

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tutorial: Recycled Sweatshirt Blanket

Dear Amy,

Happy Monday! We had such an enjoyable weekend. We got so much done. We spent Saturday with friends, which is always fun. Rit finished cleaning out the Hudling in preparation for the closing this Wednesday. That house has been a thorn and a blessing. We bought it cheap and run-down, but we could see it’s inner beauty. It’s blossomed now, and we will miss it.

I also spent some time this weekend finishing up those half-completed projects that are piling up around me. We went through all of our clothes recently and came up with an ENORMOUS pile of clothes to get rid of. We donated some, gave some to friends, and I kept some to use for future projects.

pile of clothes

That is a lot of clothes. I pulled out a few much-loved sweatshirts. You know the kind—you wear them until they are full of holes and tattered, but that kind of enduring love and wear has created a softness in the fabric not found in new clothing. It must be earned.

Using a cutting mat and a rotary cutter, I cut these three sweatshirts (periwinkle, barn red and buttercream yellow) into 8” squares…or variations of the 8” square. I wanted to use as much of the fabric as possible, so some of the cuts were 8” x 6” or 8” x 3”. As long as one of the measurements was 8”, it would work.

Eric blanket 4

Once I had all three completely cut up into usable pieces, I laid out my design. I worked in rows, making sure to distribute the colors as evenly as possible. I then stacked the rows in individual piles and started sewing. I sewed the pieces together to make rows and stacked them. I then began to sew the rows together, being careful to keep their original order in place.

Eric blanket 1

After I had the front of the blanket sewn, I found a piece of 60” wide fleece from my stash. I cut the fleece to match the size of the blanket and pinned the blanket and fleece together, right sides facing each other. I sewed the front and back together, leaving an opening about 10” wide.

Eric blanket 3

I turned the blanket right side out and stitched around the edge twice—once and 1/4” and then again at 1/2”, making sure to close the opening. I like the look of the double stitch finish.

Eric blanket 2

It took me a few hours to complete the entire blanket. And now the fast-growing Eric has a blanket that will actually cover his entire body!

Have a good day, Ames!

Love,

Kate

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Healthy Eating -- SAD food revolution

Kate,
I have a website I want to share with you. This site has given me encouragement and some healthified recipes that work for children. I enjoyed reading about Tammie's journey. You'll have to see what you think!

I have really liked learning more about healthy eating alternatives. I have a long way to go, but have found that I have come a long way as well. I would still like to do something with you (and others) called "food revolution" in which we make changes from the SAD (Standard American Diet) to whole foods. We watched Food, Inc. last week and found it disturbing. The production of our food has evolved over the years and we find the details very unsettling. If you do want to make changes, that movie may assist!! It was an eye-opener to both of us.

Let's do some brain storming and invite others to comment on the changes they want to make and then let's get started! It shouldn't take long to put a plan in place and start some new healthier habits before summer.

How's the Coke coming? I do think that the best way to get ride of it is to throw it away!! Keep me posted.

Amy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Toddler vs. Meal Times: How I Keep Them Entertained

Dear Amy,

Sorry I didn’t check in on Monday. Our Internet was down and it rocked my world…and not in a good way. More like in the “We just struck an iceberg” kind of way. I didn’t realize how reliant I was on my friend the Internet until it was no longer there. I missed it…in a deep and meaningful way. I love you, Internet. There I said it. Now let’s move on.

We all know how hard it can be to keep kids, particularly toddlers, focused during meal times. I have a whole slew of input on that topic. D’s stubbornness in regard to eating has caused me to become a full-time researcher in the field of “Toddler vs. Food.” For today, I wanted to share what has become one of our favorite breakfast traditions.

Toward the beginning of the year, I saw one of those daily calendars on clearance at our local department store. You know the kind—the ones with the daily vocabulary word, cartoon, Sudoku puzzle, etc. Well, this one had a daily Origami activity. So, I bought it. Each day’s page serves as the paper for the next day’s project. We have made airplanes, animals, flowers, containers of all sorts, hats…the list goes on and on. The boys love it, and I think it must be good for their spatial development, right? Either way, they watch with complete fascination while they eat and I fold. Then they get to play with whatever we made that day. Hello? New toy everyday anyone? THEY LOVE IT!

Here are today’s adventures in Origami, I was super impressed with my flower (today’s activity).

origamie flower 2

The boys were less impressed. So, I recalled an old standby…the boat. And I made one for each of them to play with.

orgamie boats .

Good fun. Have a great day!

Love, Kate

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tutorial: Tank birthday cake

Kate,
As you know, birthday season has started in our home. We are fairly consistent with birthdays from the end of March to the first of October. Fitting 8 birthday's in during that time is crazy, but fun. There are times when we don't even take down the crepe paper and balloons before the next celebration. I thought I'd share with you the cake I made for B. a couple of weeks ago. It is supposed to be a tank cake. Hopefully you can tell that! He loved it.
This is what I did...I mixed up a cake mix. (I know, not as good as from scratch, but that's all I could handle that day.) I poured the batter into a 9x13 pan and the rest in a greased and floured small metal bowl (make sure it can handle the heat of the oven). I baked them according to directions, baking the bowl cake longer. I have found that if you cut wax paper to fit your 9x13 pan and put it in the bottom before greasing and flouring it, the cake always comes out great.

After removing the cakes from the pans and letting them cool, I frosted them with B.'s frosting of choice, which is:
1 lg. pkg. pudding (chocolate in this case)
2 cups milk
1 8 oz. cool whip (or whipped cream...which is what I did this time)

Mix the pudding with milk and put in fridge until thick. Add cool whip or whipped cream. Let set a bit longer. Spread on cake. You do have to refrigerate the cake once frosted.

After frosting the cake I added chocolate sprinkles. One of my kids also rolled out a large tootsie roll for the tracks and we used small peanut butter cups on the inside of the track. The bowl cake was the turret and the cannon was part of another large tootsie roll. It was a lot of fun. Tuck this away for future reference. With two boys, I'm sure one year they will want an army themed birthday!
I can't wait to show you how the hoop house is coming in the garden. It will be nice to move my plants outside...they are taking over my living room!
Enjoy your day!
Amy

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Food Revolution Update

Dear Amy,

So, the food revolution. I’m not known far and wide for my remarkable self-control, so I’m sure you’re dying for an update. If not in a supportive manner, then at least for a good laugh. The plan was to begin Tuesday with trying to eat better—more whole foods, fewer processed foods, fresh when possible and no sugar. The plan was to forgo caffeine as well, however there has been a development on that front.

Tuesday morning arrived and I found that I still had a case and a half of Diet Coke sitting in the basement. A CASE AND A HALF. That won’t work. It just won’t. For those of us who struggle with self control, who OCCASSIONALLY may give in to our vices, we cannot be confronted on a daily basis by the object of our affection. It taunts us. It calls to us. It sends us sweet, frilly love letters bordered in lace and covered with heart stickers. Are you beginning to see my dilemma?

Sugar. More of the same. I thought I was going to have to inhale all of the boys’ Easter candy on Monday in preparation for the great sugar-free zone commencing on Tuesday. i was doing it for them…for the family…for the greater good…taking one for the team (or dozens, as the case may be). But I didn’t. I repeat, I DID NOT EAT THE BOYS’ EASTER CANDY…tempted though I was. I hid it instead. I put some in the freezer and some in the back of the cupboard. They really didn’t get a lot of candy to begin with, but still. It is theirs and they can have it later…in a few months, I guess. Or never. I’ll most likely forget about it until I pull the frost-laden Ziploc bag from the freezer when I clean it out in four years. Oh well.

But I digress. We did commence with the sugar-free zone on Tuesday, except for one small hiccup Tuesday night. We did polish off the mock ├ęclair dessert I made for after Easter dinner. One piece for me and one for Rit. But that’s all. It’s been sugar-free the rest of the week. I have to say that I’m surprised that it hasn’t been harder. Today is the first day I find my eyes darting around searching for some sweet sustenance. But so far, so good. I’ve been biking and walking/running on the treadmill this week as well. Now that the weather is a little nicer, I’ll start going outside. YEAH!

As for the caffeine, as soon as the rest of the Diet Coke in my basement has been gleefully savored, caffeine will also be a thing of the past. That will be painful…very, very painful. And I still maintain that I will probably die from my sheer want of it…and headaches. Ugh, the headaches.

We will eventually start adding sugar back into our diet. After all, I do truly believe that moderation is key. But both Rit and I feel that we have to break ourselves of the overwhelming desire for sugar before we feel good about consuming it again. The caffeine is a different story. After this point, I really don’t want to will not keep caffeine in the house. I may still allow myself to drink Diet Coke when we go out to eat, etc., but not at home. And not on a regular basis. It just isn’t good for me.

Food will no longer hold power. It will be for sustenance and enjoyment. Period. LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!

Have a great weekend!

love, Kate

The Girl Creative

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Break


Zions National Park

Kate,
You sure do have a lot going on...potty training, a lot of sewing so you CAN do the potty training, the eating revolution, etc. I'm amazed you are willing to tackle it all at once. I'm anxiously waiting for updates.

Well, we're on Spring Break this week and loving the time together. We just returned from a few day trip to Southern Utah and in spite of the rain, had a great time. It only rained the first day...which was our day in Zions. We also were able to enjoy Snow Canyon and other sites in the St. George area. With 6 kids, we had to get two rooms...which we have never done before, so that was a unique and fun experience. Now we are home with great memories, piles of laundry, very tired kids and some fun photos.

I was able to spend some time thinking about your eating revolution and want to do something along with you. It would be so fun to involve readers and possibly share healthy recipes. Let's brainstorm and if anyone out there has ideas and would like to participate, please leave a comment. It may be the motivation we all need, and new recipes are always a plus! I'll be thinking and we will hopefully be able to start something very soon.

Enjoy the rest of your week and wish me well as I try to catch up on the homefront.
Love,
Amy

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Great Potty-Training Experiment of 2010

Dear Amy,

We are fast approaching potty-training ground zero here in Wisconsin. D is now 29 months old and he’s expressing interest in the potty. With Michelle’s five kids, your six, Dayna’s five and David’s 2, I have heard countless horror stories. I’m scared….REALLY. SCARED. I’m trying an approach that has garnished rave reviews online. It’s called “Three Day Potty Training” by Lora Jensen. You can find it here. I realize that you and my other siblings are skeptical at best regarding whether or not I can potty train D in 3 days…over a weekend, for example. But I am taking a deep breath, standing tall and going for it.

The method is pretty straight forward and has some elements to it that really ring true with me. I can’t go into details here since she sells the method in the form of an ebook and it’s all proprietary. In preparation for the big weekend, I did some research into potties and decided to get a traditional toddler potty that can double as a stepstool to the toilet as well as a toddler urinal. I may regret the urinal, but with two boys to work with for the next few years, this seemed like a good move. Plus, the more I read online, the more convinced I was that this was a good route to go.

As part of the 3-day method, Jensen recommends having 20-30 pairs of underwear on hand. Um, hello…I had no idea toddler underwear was so pricey! CRAZY PRICEY! So, I did a little research and found a fabulous free pattern for toddler underwear online here. You’ll see on the top of that same page there is a link to toddler boxers. Are you kidding me? Toddler boxers? CUTE! So, I’m digging into my stack of retired t-shirts to make D’s new big boy underwear. I’m kind of excited to make them for him actually. Is that silly?

Jensen also recommends you have several sheets on hand for naptime and overnight accidents. D is in a toddler bed and we only have two sheets for crib mattresses. Again, they’re not cheap. So, I found a pattern online for crib sheets here. When we upgraded from a full-size mattress to a queen, I kept all of our old sheets. People think I’m crazy, but old sheets can be used to make a HUGE variety of other things. (Pajama pants are especially yummy made of old, soft sheets.) I’ll be using some of those old sheets to make new crib sheets.

Okay, so far, I’ve saved about $150 in underwear and sheets alone. But that’s not all…this is beginning to sound like one of those early morning infomercials where they keep saying, “But that’s not all! Order now and we’ll throw in a second set of knives for only $3!” Smile.

Jensen also recommends using wipes by the potty for the first little time because wiping with toilet paper can be tough at first. She makes a point of saying that these should not be baby wipes because your toddler is making the transition into being a big boy or big girl. Okay, so wipes…toddler wipes (insert eye roll here) are also expensive…and dumb. I found instructions here and here on how to make your own. Eric is still in diapers, so I think I’ll be making all of my own baby wipes from now on.

I’m pretty excited about all of my great information finds online. Thanks, Internet. You rock.

Love, Kate

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tutorial: Jean top Skirt


Kate,
I finally finished a little skirt for E. She loves it. It twirls a little and she has a hard time standing still when she wears it. She loves to twirl! I took some jeans of hers that were a bit short and had a hole in the knee and this is how I reused them. I used the basics from this website.
It was very easy and turned out cute. I did let her pick the fabric, so it is very E.

First cut off jean top just below the zipper...make sure you leave enough room for a seam. I did cut off part of the back pockets, but I pulled up the inside of the front pockets so those weren't affected.
Then I cut the length of the fabric I wanted for the first tier...make sure it is at least twice as long as the jean width so you have enough to gather. I then gathered and attached it.


Continue to do that for the next layers making sure you increase the width of fabric for each tier so it is at least twice that of the previous layer. I then hemmed the bottom and top stitched each layer... that's it!



Very simple and fun for summer.
Enjoy your day!
Amy

Monday, April 5, 2010

Tutorial Review: Finished Bunnies and Their Wardrobe

Dear Amy,

Happy Easter (just one day late…)! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and a peaceful and joy-filled Easter holiday. We had a very nice weekend packed with a trip to the zoo, a drive through the countryside and spending some much-needed time outside. The weather is warming up here and I could not be more thrilled. BRING IT ON!

I finished the bunnies for the boys Easter baskets. You can find the free pattern online here. I made a couple of changes to the pattern, namely I added elbows and knees and a changed the feet.

bunny eric

The elbows and knees were easy. Simply stop mid-limb while stuffing and sew across the limb and then continue to stuff. I changed the feet to a more gradual slope from the leg to the ankle to the foot to make the bunnies easier to dress. I felt like the foot shooting out at a 90-degree angle made it hard to get the pants on.

The boys are so into dressing and undressing their dolls now (focus on the undressing), so I made some clothes to go along with them. Yes, I realize that the clothes do not “match” in any sense of the word. But I was using up fabric scraps and they are really cute! I think I’ll add more clothes as time allows. They sew up so quickly! Here’s the link to the free pattern and tutorial for the pants and shirt.

bunny eric dressed

The bunnies are gender neutral, so they also got a dress (worn with pants in the photo for a more funky vibe). You can find the dress pattern and tutorial here. D helped with the styling for the photo.

bunny d dress 

As you can see, this bunny has unfinished ears. I love the fuzzy look it gives. I lieu of the tied pants as shown in the pattern, I added an elastic waist using 1/4” elastic. So easy! Yes, the bunny does need to lose some weight around the middle so that the pants fit better!

bunny D dressed pants

It took all of D’s self control not to grab the bunnies as I was trying to take photos. As he prefers all dolls without clothes in our house (the easier to change their “poop” as he says), he couldn’t handle seeing the bunnies lying there fully dressed. Needless to say, the bunnies are now properly naked and well cared for.

Happy Easter a day late!

Love, Kate

p.s. The food revolution starts tomorrow! EEEEEKK!

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Personal Food Revolution

Dear Amy,

I’m disturbed. Let me clarify that statement…yes, I am disturbed in general (wink), but I am particularly disturbed about the eating trends of the general public. And although I’m vigilant about what we eat in my own house, I need to do better.

There’s a new show on TV called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. I’ve seen Chef Jamie Oliver on the Food Network before. He’s entertaining to watch and makes everything look simple and fun…and he’s not big on exact measuring, which I love because I’m not either.

A couple of weeks ago, this new show aired. The premise of the show is this: Jamie goes to the most unhealthy city in America (based on government statistics, death rates, etc.), which happens to be a city in West Virginia, for a few months to start a food revolution. He wants to teach the public how to eat healthier. He wants to change the school lunch program to freshly made whole foods. He works with a family one on one. He offers cooking classes to the public. IT’S. RIVETING. You can watch the first two episodes online here.

In watching the first couple of episodes, I’m struck by how completely unhealthy most of us are and how resistant to change people are. On his first day in town, Jamie walks into a local elementary school and sees the kids eating breakfast…a breakfast of pizza—cheese-laden, pepperoni-topped pizza. FOR. BREAKFAST.

My kids are not yet school age, so I’m not super aware of what is now served as hot meals at school. We ate school lunch growing up, and it probably wasn’t the most healthy, but I don’t remember it being particularly unhealthy. I was shocked to see over the course of this episode what we feed our children at school. And when Jamie offered to prepare healthy, fresh meals, he was met with such resistance and so much red tape, it made me shudder.

I understand the need to keep costs down and to create a streamlined system for food preparation. A school is a business and needs to account for cost and follow certain guidelines. I understand all of that. It just seems that we are focusing on all the wrong things. That’s all I’ll say because I want you to watch the episodes online.

Remember that we spent some time at the big indoor water park this week? We weren’t allowed to take in any food or drink to gently encourage us to eat at the one snack bar in the park. We did eat lunch in the park and were forced to look to the snack bar for sustenance. Very disappointing. We had to choose between hotdogs, hamburgers and a variety of fried foods. We rarely eat out and even more rarely eat fast food…practically never, in fact. I don’t want that in my body or in the sweet bodies of my boys. I so wish that snack bar had some other options…perhaps some yogurt, fresh fruit, granola bars, maybe some wraps. This snack bar, like any other, is a business. And their bottom line is making money. It would seem that if the demand were there for healthier options, they would be provided. I vow to make my desire for healthier food known the next time I’m there.

Starting next Tuesday, our family food revolution begins. We do eat relatively healthy. I’m vowing to do better. Starting on Tuesday, we are going sugar and caffeine free.OUCH! Let me repeat that. OUCH! I. LOVE. SUGAR. I. LOVE. CAFFEINE. This will be extremely difficult to say the least. I know my body is dependent on these substances and I don’t want that anymore. I want to be free of unhealthy dependencies. This will most likely kill me. DEAD. I have already warned everyone I know that I will be a completely different beast next week and to please steer clear for their own safety. Headaches and a full-body rebellion are expected.

We are also going to eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods. I would like to go processed-food free, but I need to look more closely at the logistics of that before I commit.

In watching Jamie Oliver’s show, I was struck by how most elementary school kids could not identify basic fruits and veggies. I want my kids to be very hands-on in our garden this summer and every summer. I want it to be an integral part of their lives. I want them to know where food comes from, how it grows, how to harvest it, how to preserve it and how to prepare it. They are sponges and now is the time to instill good values and habits.

I’m stepping down now. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I feel super strongly about it. Wish us luck. I am so going to need it.

So, peeps, anyone want to create their own food revolution?

Have a great weekend!

Love, Kate

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tutorial Review: Toddler Sleeping Bag

Dear Amy,

Happy April! It’s getting warmer here,but not quite warm enough. So, we spent Tuesday night at a nearby resort with a huge indoor water park…a little spring break vacation to get us ready for upcoming summer trips. We only stayed one  night, but we had a wonderful time. The boys loved it. The water park was a huge hit. Eric, age 1, was fearless and his 2-year-old brother, D, was much less so.

This was a bit of a test run for our big road trip to Utah this summer. I’m so excited! Last year, we were somewhat nervous to make the drive as brand new parents with an infant and a one-year-old. But the sheer volume of necessary baby gear was far more overwhelming than the actual drive. We had such a fun time! I’m looking forward to the trip this summer even more. The boys are a little older now and I can only imagine that travel with a two-year-old and a very alert one-year-old will be much more…um…exciting.

I’ve started to get a few things ready for our road trip. I’m nothing if not a super planner. I found a great tutorial for a toddler sleeping bag on Ruffles and Stuff. I got the basic idea from Disney on her blog, but I tweaked the concept quite a bit.

I used a shower curtain from IKEA for the exterior fabric and a soft flannel I already had for the interior. I used four layers of batting as she suggested. I measured D and determined finished dimensions of 50” wide (when laid flat) and 39” long for the sleeping bag. I wanted it to be big enough for him to move around, but not big enough for him to get lost in.

D sleeping bag 2

As you can see, I did use a zipper. I found a 34” parka zipper at Joann’s on sale for $1.49. Joann’s has an awesome variety of zippers. They even have 100” sleeping bag zippers. I had never seen those before. You could easily use one of those to go down the side and around the bottom and simply cut it and sew across it a few times as a stopper. I went with the parka zipper and used it down one side. I sewed the bottom shut.

D sleeping bag

I left about five inches from the top of the zipper and the top of the sleeping bag so that I could easily pull it back and so that he would have more air when he buries his head. He tends to snuggle down when he sleeps. So sweet.

Anyway, I basically finished the top with a binding, like you would for a quilt, but I machine-sewed it. After a washing, the sleeping bag really fluffed up.

Our overnighter at the resort was a good test drive for D and his new sleeping bag. He was so excited to try it out. He slept soundly and long. I’m ecstatic. Not having to lug two portable cribs into every hotel seemed a distant dream…

NO. LONGER.

Yeah! Eric’s is almost finished. He’s much more mobile and quite a bit sassier than D. I’m not sure a sleeping bag will work for him. He may not stay put. But, it is almost finished and we’ll give it a test run here at home. Wish me luck!

What do you think, Internet…where do your toddlers sleep on road trips?

Love, Kate

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Fools Day Dinner



Dear Kate,
With April Fools Day being only a couple of days away, I thought I'd share a tradition we have. Our kids love the dinner we typically have that night. It's nothing special... usually just spaghetti, salad, bread sticks and dessert. The different part is how it's served. I rename all of the menu items and also rename all of the utensils (we include very unusual ones). The children fill out their menus and then I serve them. Here is an example of the menu. The items in parenthesis are not included on their menu!

You are going on an adventure. You will come across some of the things listed during your dining activity.
Please put numbers 1-4 next to the items below.
Slimey Snakes (that would be the spaghetti)
Frog Bones (bread sticks)
Seaweed and moss (salad)
Mud (chocolate pudding)
Quick sand (milk)

Next pick four different items that you would like to take with you. Place numbers 1-4 next to them.
Shovel (ice cream scoop)
Screwdriver (butter knife)
Ax (pancake turner)
Rope (straw)
Arrow (Spatula)
Magic Wand (spoon)
Pitchfork (fork)

They are then served their number 1 item from the top of the list with their number 1 item at the bottom of the list to eat it with. They usually all have something different. Some start with dessert while others start with salad. They get their number two picks after they are done with number one. It is so fun to hear them and to see how creatively they eat with what they have. You'll have to try it as the boys get older. Even N. loved it last year and he was only two, but he did have his older siblings to watch. Wait a couple of years and let me know what you think!

Love,
Amy

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tutorial: Holey Knees Make the Perfect Boy’s Shorts

Dear Amy,

So yes, another pair of D’s pants has bitten the dust. The boy plays so hard! These were especially tragic for me to lose. I LOVED these pants. I bought them off eBay…Mini Boden brand, a little baggy, SO CUTE!

Inevitably, D’s hectic play schedule has claimed this casualty. Sad. Fortunately, though, this particular pair of pants lends itself perfectly to becoming a cutesy pair of summer shorts. Hooray! Big smiles! I neglected to take a “before” picture of said pants (due to my crazy excitement to complete the transformation), but you get the idea from this picture.

3-30 pants

The pants just happened to have a conveniently located seam mid-leg. I cut directly below that seam to remove the legs. I then machine sewed two patches on…one on each leg, large enough to cover the holes and thinning fabric.

3-30

I wanted some STRONG patches, so I used home decor-weight fabric and double layered it. I love the look of the unfinished, frayed edges, so I left them unfinished.

3-30 patch

I simply sewed around the edges of the patch and then sewed in an X pattern across the center to keep it securely in place. D loves his new shorts and this mama is delighted not to lose one of her favorite pairs of D’s pants. Saved the pants and re-used scrap fabric. Now that’s what I call success. Bring on the summer sun…we’re ready!

Love, Kate

p.s. Here are some projects I’m working on that I can’t wait to tell you about: toddler sleeping bags for the boys, road trip activities for toddlers, spring/summer wreath reusing old t-shirts, clothes for the Easter bunnies, and a fabulous blanket for Eric made from recycled sweatshirts.

Tutorial: Easter Basket Grass



Kate,
I wanted to share one of the things I love doing for Easter. It's fast, east and always turns out! It's a fun one to have little hands help with. If you start now, you'll have a great Easter centerpiece just in time. Here's what you do.


Line an Easter basket with plastic. I used a plastic basket as well so that if I do have a little dirt on it that I want to rinse off when Easter is over, I'll have that option. I used a couple of plastic grocery bags to line it with. Fill that with dirt, make sure you don't get to much...the grass grew really well, so I wouldn't fill it to the top.
Next I added wheat...yes that's right, plain old wheat. I just used the wheat that I grind for whole wheat flour. If you don't have whole wheat kernels, you can get them in bulk at a health food store or other stores. I then added a thin layer of dirt over the top, watered it, and put it in front of the window. It took 4 days to see good growth, but these photos are taken on day 5. I hope you'll try it and let me know how it works. I think it is so fun this time of year to have the real grass in the basket. We blew out some eggs and the kids colored them to add to the basket.


Enjoy and Happy Easter!
Amy

This post it linked at A soft place to land
We are participating today on Get your craft on!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tutorial: Happy Easter String Eggs


Kate,
I decided that we needed to make some fun Easter decorations. N. wanted to help. I remembered the string eggs from years ago and decided we'd make some. After a little research I decided that we'd bag the sugar-water approach and use thinned glue. It was a fun project and N. liked the outcome, but he said it was too hard for a 3 year old. I think it would work better with the older kids. Here's what we did.

You will need:
glue (I used Elmer's school glue)
paper plate
crochet yarn
small balloons blown up


Thin glue with a bit of water. I did this on a paper plate. After trying several things, I found that rolling the balloon in the glue mixture prior to wrapping with string worked best. This was the part N. really enjoyed. He was the balloon roller!


Wrap with string. Make sure you don't have any large spaces. Try to end with the string in an unnoticeable location.

Roll balloon in glue mixture again, making sure it is covered, but not to heavily. We did sprinkle some with glitter at this point, but I think I prefer the plain eggs.

Hang to dry. Make sure you hang them where they can drip without ruining something. I hung them outside overnight and by morning, the eggs were hardened and the balloons were shriveled up and easy to remove with tweezers.



I wish we would have done some in yellow, but they were out of yellow crochet thread at the fabric store. I may make some more with the older kids. It was a fun project. We hung some from the rod in our living room as you can see. We also tried some in a basket. I have seen some bigger string eggs that then have an opening cut in the front and are filled with Easter grass and some small bunnies or something in them. So many possibilities! Let me know how you would display them.
Have a great day!
Amy