Friday, August 31, 2012

Evergreen Lake House

This past Sunday, Andrew, my best friends, and me went with Phuong's family to Evergreen. I love Evergreen. It's not too far of a drive from the city, but it feels like you're in the middle of the mountains. From our house, it's a 30 minute drive straight west. There are little shops (including coffee shops, of course!), but the biggest draw is the lake. At Evergreen Lake House, you can rent canoes, kayaks, floating tricycles, and paddle boats.

Obviously, boating isn't for babies or toddlers, but it is so much fun for school-aged kids.  Phuong's brothers (13 and 10) came with us and had a blast paddling the canoes.  We saw a child around the age of 4 sitting in a paddle boat between her parents (in a life jacket, of course!).  It made me wonder if Oliver will be old enough to come with us next summer. Probably not. I think that will depend on whether or not he's able to swim. There were lots of kids around the ages of 6 or 7 in the back of paddle boats. Just a few more years, and we can take our kids!

Well, I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was nice to get out with Andrew and my friends without having to juggle the kids. The day was so beautiful--not too hot and with a little cloud cover.

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning! Afterwards, Phuong's uncle treated us to dim sum at Super Star Asian Cuisine in Denver. We got chrysanthemum tea (check out the flowers in our tea pot!), and, as a vegetarian, I got crispy noodles, egg custard cups, and fried dough wrapped in rice crepes. My friends enjoyed pork dumplings, shrimp rice crepes, and BBQ. Cactus is from Hong Kong, and he told me people there eat dim sum for breakfast or brunch almost daily.

This weekend, most people are off for three days in honor of Labor Day. I look forward to the extra day with my family, especially since the weather has been so mild for us recently. What are you up to this weekend? Doing anything special? Relaxing with the family? Enjoying one last barbeque?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 81: Water Piñata

Yes, I'm addicted to Pinterest. When the kids are asleep, I find myself sitting at the computer, flipping through crafts and children's projects.  Months ago, I found this pin for a water balloon piñata:

All you need to do is fill up some water balloons, tie them to a string (I used yarn), and hang it up outside. Hand your child a bat or cardboard tube, and stand back!

Tip: I found a large package of water balloons in the toy aisle at Walgreen's this week that were on clearance for under a dollar.

It was OK.  Oliver couldn't bust the balloons on his own. He swung at them as hard as he could over and over. He was having fun, but I could also tell he was frustrated. I hit one for him and let him try for a while again. 

Here he is, swinging the broom handle like crazy. Doesn't he look adorable in his new monster jammies from Costco?

After breaking two balloons for him, I decided to shoot a video of the activity. You can tell it just wasn't working out as I'd envisioned. I felt really bad for Oliver because he was so excited to test out the water balloons I'd made.

It was a pain getting the balloons filled and tied up. Oliver was practically jumping out of his skin to get at the balloons. I felt excited for him, but the activity didn't live up to our expectations. It gets a D grade.

Don't feel too bad for the little guy. We went in, made more water balloons, and I created another activity for him (to be debuted soon!).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Joanna Can Crawl

Last week, I went to MOMS Club. There was a little girl there who was a year old and crawling all over the place. Wouldn't you know, Joanna watched her and then started to crawl!

I can't believe how quickly she's growing up.


Five Interactive Games to Teach a Nine Month Old

Guess what? My baby is nine months old, and she can finally play and interact well with us. I love it!

Here are some simple games you can play with your baby. Your baby might pick up on some of these activities immediately, and others might take a little while. Don't stress if they don't work for you right now. They don't have to! When you're a parent, you do what works.

1. Peek-a-Boo
This sounds simple, right? I mean, you've probably played peek-a-boo with your wee one when she was just a few weeks or months old. Did you know that your baby can play it herself now? All it takes is a little practice.

Start by playing peek-a-boo with a blanket when your baby is in a good mood. Hold it up so she can't see you, and then drop it. Tell her, "Peek a boo!" Once she is into the game, help her hold the blanket. Do it a few times with her. Then, hand her the blanket and say, "OK, you do it!"


Both of my children seemed so proud when they learned to do this game all by themselves. I remember back in the day when I'd be folding laundry with Oliver, and I'd have to call out "Peek a boo!" every time he got a hold of an article of clothing. It's super cute when your baby can initiate a game herself.

2. Baby Drumming
At this age, your baby wants to communicate with you. She can't talk yet, but she'll be delighted when she can do something and you respond to it.

Teach her to drum! You don't need a drum. You can use an upside down coffee can or a large piece of tupperware or whatever is laying around. I have an empty wooden box from a board game, and it works perfectly.

When your baby is in a good mood, sit down with her and place the "drum" between you. Take your hand and pat it. Do it again and again. If your baby doesn't reach to do it herself, gently take her arm and do it for her. She'll probably smile when her hand comes down and makes a noise. Every time she drums, be sure to do it back. She will get such a kick out of it!

She might not be talk to you with her words, but she'll love that she can send you a message that you'll understand. Drum away!


3. The Sharing Game
We started this game with Oliver. Joanna loves it just as much. Actually, no, I think she enjoys this game even more than Oliver ever did.

I think this game takes a little more practice than the others, but your baby will pick up on it and will get a total kick out of playing it with you.

Hand your baby a little toy. Let her examine it and shake it or bang it or whatever she likes to do these days. Then, take it from her. She'll look shocked at first, but just tell her, "Oh, thank you! Thank you for sharing with me! You're so nice." Then, give it back. If your baby is like mine, she'll look stunned for a bit. I like to pretend to read my baby's mind, and so I'm pretty sure she thought, "What the heck just happened?" when we first played this game.

Take the toy from her a few times, each time cooing at your baby and telling her thank you for sharing with you. Don't keep it for long. Give it right back. After you've done it a few times, start holding your hands out expectantly at her when she's playing with her toy. You can even ask, "Can I have that?" The first few times, your baby might not be good at getting the item to you at all. She might just drop it. That's your baby trying to give it to you. Make a big deal out of it, coo, and say thanks.

Soon, you'll be playing the sharing game. You'll hold your hands out, and she'll drop it in. You'll say thanks, and she'll smile proudly. Then, you give it back. Rinse and repeat.

Here's the post I made of Oliver when he was 9 months old and playing this game.

Here's a video of Joanna playing the sharing game:

4. Echo!
Joanna invented this game herself. Maybe she'll be an inventor like her great-grandfather, Charlie.

We gave her a water bottle without the lid. She was babbling away and heard it echo. The expression on her face was priceless. Andrew made noises into it, and gave it back to Jo. Before long, they were alternating turns yelling into the empty bottle. It's become a regular daddy-daughter game.

5. Patty Cake
OK, you're going to be doing most of the work for this game. Clap your hands together, and then pat your baby's hands with your own. Do you know the patty cake rhyme? It's pretty simple:
Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Roll it, pat (prick) it, mark it with a B, put it in the oven for baby and me!

We've always said "pat it," but, apparently, some people know the rhyme as "prick it."  You can also have fun changing the letter to your child's first initial.  "Mark it with a J, put it in the oven for Joanna and me!"

Babies love the interaction and will stare in wonder as you pat their hands.  You can do some variations of this game. If your baby loves clapping, let her clap while you clap and say the rhyme.  You can add in fun little things like "pricking" your baby's belly button when you say "prick it," or rolling your baby's arms when you say "roll it."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Girl Toys? Boy Toys?

Oliver enjoys a lot of so-called "boy" stuff. He loves firetrucks and airplanes. He has a thing for rocks and sticking his hands in mud. Oh, and let's not forget bugs. The boy loves bugs.

He also loves "girl" stuff. Oliver's most favorite thing in the world is to help me in the kitchen. His face lights up when I ask him if he could help me with the mixer. He quickly lays out a plan for us, "OK, first, you put it up on the counter. OK. I get the whisk. We'll turn it on one notch." He plays with small appliances all day, every day. They're his favorite toys.

He gets upset if he catches me cleaning without him. He wants to be the one to spray and wipe the windows. He wants to be the one to start the laundry or the dish machine. He wants to help sweep the floors.

He also loves dolls. He has his "Baby" doll, and he has Monkey (which has always been his favorite). He puts Baby in his toy shopping cart and pushes her around. When she falls out, he kisses her better. Sometimes, he tells me she needs a new diaper, and he grabs a baby wipe and wipes the doll's bum. He shares his food with all of his stuffed animals (Elmo's mouth is stained with yogurt). I think it's so sweet to watch him with his dolls. Currently, he has a checklist of five dolls that he has to sleep with: Monkey, Doggy, Baby, Elmo, and Nanas (another monkey).

Here Oliver is, wrapped up with Monkey in his monkey blanket:

It's too early to tell what Jo's passions really are, but, right now, her favorite activity is playing blocks. She sits and plays blocks with Andrew for half an hour at a time. That's a long time for a baby! Andrew builds towers, and she knocks them over. I'm pretty sure playing blocks with Dad is what makes her happiest.

The other day, I teased Andrew and asked, "So, you don't mind that your son likes dolls and your daughter likes blocks?" He smiled at me and told me he loves what they love.

Andrew swears up and down that he will get into whatever his kids get into. If he needs to buy a mitt or a tutu, if he needs to build a climbing wall or a doll house, he'll do it.

It's true that I love dolling Jo up in little dresses, and I look forward to the day when I can braid her hair and tie it in little piggies. But if the day ever comes that Jo tells me she doesn't want curls and bows, I'll listen. I want to support my children in whatever interests they choose for themselves instead of pushing them into activities that are seen as gender appropriate.

On the other hand, I want my children to be proud of who they are. I'm a woman, and I love being a woman. Not only do I want my son to know it's OK to be a boy, I want him to be proud that he's a boy. I want my daughter to be proud she's a girl. It does no one any good to be ashamed of who they are. It's just my opinion that liking dolls doesn't make my son any less of a boy. It just makes him a boy who likes dolls. I can be proud of that, and so can he.

What do you think? Should little kids be taught what activities and toys are "appropriate" for little girls and little boys, or do you think that holds them back? Would you worry about your child getting picked on if he/she wanted to play with toys typical for the opposite gender?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fruit Pizza

Fruit pizzas are my husband's trademark dessert. He makes them a few times a year, and Oliver loves to help. This was my first time making one.

They are so easy to make, but, best of all, they're a great dessert to make if you have a little helper in your household like we do. You could even make mini-fruit pizzas for a children's party to let each kid decorate his/her own!

Here's what you need:
1 tube of sugar cookie dough (I used Pillsbury)
(Note: You can just use a can of your favorite frosting.  I won't tell anybody.)
8 ounces of cream cheese or neufatel cheese
4 ounces (1/2 stick) of softened butter
2 cups of powdered sugar (confectioners sugar)
Various fruit - We used two kiwis, a can of drained mandarin oranges, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
The zest and juice from one orange
1 cups of powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar)

To make:
1. Spread your cookie dough out on a pizza pan.  I had to use my knuckles to gently push the dough from the center to the edges.  Prick the dough all over with a fork.  Bake according to package directions.

2. Beat cream cheese, butter, and the 2 cups of powdered sugar together to make frosting "sauce."  Alternatively, pop the top off of your can of frosting.

3. While your cookie crust is baking and cooling, prep your fruit. Wash what needs washing and chop what needs chopping. If you're using any fruit that is prone to browning (apples, pears, bananas, etc), toss them in a bit of lemon or lime juice to slow their oxidation.

4. After your cookie pizza crust cools completely, spread the frosting all over the crust, leaving about an inch of space along the circumference of your pizza.

5. Decorate with fruit!  This is the fun part.  You can look up images of fruit pizzas online to get really fancy, or just help your kids put the toppings on.  You really can't go wrong.

6. Whisk the juice and zest of an orange with a cup of powdered sugar until smooth. This is your glaze. Drizzle it liberally all over your pizza.

7. Slice your pizza and dive in!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Knitting Needle Container

A fellow knitter on an internet forum told me to use a Pringles can to hold my knitting needles.  When I asked her if it was tall enough, she assured me it was.  I continued this project under that assumption, but, alas, the Pringles can was *not* tall enough.

I used an empty Gerber Puffs container to hold my double pointed needles.  It worked great!  

The containers before the project:

See! I checked the sizing on the container for my double-pointed needles. Whey didn't I check the sizing of the Pringles can for my regular knitting needles? Good grief!

For this project, you need an empty container, tall enough for your needles.

You also need some scrapbook paper, ribbon, and glue. I used Modge Podge to attach the scrapbooking paper, and I used a hot glue gun to attach the ribbon.  Once, on Pinterest, I saw that you could make your own Modge Podge glue by mixing one part Elmer's glue with one part water, but I haven't tried that myself.

My supply list.  Somehow, a package of candy ended up in my shopping basket:

I cut the scrapbook paper to the height of the containers.  If you're going to trim the edges with ribbon, then your cuts just need to be approximate.  My Gerber Puffs container is cinched in the middle.  In order to fit the paper to the container, I used two pieces of paper, and I had them meet in the middle.

I brushed Modge Podge all over the container, and I pressed my scrapbook paper to the container. I used my fingers to create pleats where the container curved in.  Then, I brushed a coat of Modge Podge on top of the whole thing.  Modge Podge dries clear.

I trimmed my containers in ribbon using my hot glue gun.  It was very simple!  I created a little bow for one of the containers.

I put a dab of hot glue in one part of the bow.  Once it cooled, I poked my yarn needle into it, creating the perfect holder for my yarn needle!

I'm so bummed that the Pringles can wasn't tall enough to hold my knitting needles, but the Gerber Puffs container is *perfect* for all of my double pointed needles and yarn needle. I can now keep my needles on the side table for easy access when I'm knitting without having them scattered all over the place and unsightly.

I'm determined to do this project again with a container tall enough for my standard knitting needles. I browsed the aisles of my grocery store, and nothing jumped out at me. I have a feeling I'll have better luck at Costco. I'll be sure to update this post when I find a container that works for those!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 80: Paint with Cars

A couple weeks ago, I was brainstorming for new project ideas to entertain Oliver. As I was going through is box of little toys, I thought I had a unique idea: why not paint using his toy cars?  Later, I was browsing my cousin's blog site and saw that she'd posted this activity months ago. I get the feeling I saw it, forgot it, and then thought I came up with the idea myself!

Why not still give it a try? I grabbed a bottle of non-toxic black paint and squeezed some into a shallow bowl.  I taped some sheets of paper down onto the table and then showed Oliver how to run his cars through the paint and then onto the paper.  He loved seeing it transfer on the paper, and he started sticking his hands in the tracks and smearing it around with his fingers!  I think it's fair to say he had a good time.

Photos of our painting activity:

To be perfectly frank, the project was a lot messier than I expected.  Although Oliver had fun, the activity didn't last all that long, and clean up took at least as long as the actual painting did.  Paint got stuck up in the axles of the cars, there was splatter on Oliver's arms, and some got into the crevices of our chairs.  It was fun, but I couldn't help but wish we'd just colored with crayons or something instead!  I guess it was neat and worth checking out this activity, but I don't think we'll be doing it again--at least not any time soon!  I give this "Paint with Cars" activity a C.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oliver, Jo, and Baby Food

I should have thought of this long ago!

Oliver thrives on being taught new things and being given new responsibilities. And Jo? Jo loves her brother and loves food. It makes perfect sense to have Oliver feed his baby sister!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mordecai Children's Gardens

We had a few gorgeous days at the start of this month. We enjoyed some cloud cover that made spending the days outside pleasant. So, we buckled the kids into the car and set out to the Denver Botanic Gardens. They now have a rooftop children's gardens, which we'd checked out in spring 2011 and loved. We have a membership to the Botanic Gardens and need to make it a point to go more often! Entry for us was free with our membership. Non-member adults are $12.50 a piece, kids under 3 are admitted free, and kids over 3 are $9.

We were a little disappointed in this trip. Most of the rocks in the rock stacking stations were gone. There were still some, but it was mostly barren. No kids played there. We hiked up "Marmot Mountain," which we loved last time. All of the animal bones for studying were gone. All of the blocks made from fallen trees were gone.

We wandered to the man-made creek. They added awnings over the creek to create shade for the children. It was a wonderful addition to the area.

Unfortunately, we found they removed all the buckets and rakes that kids used to play in the creek. There were no toys there anymore. Don't get me wrong; we still had a great time splashing in the water. I just don't understand why they took away the buckets and shovels when the little kids enjoyed them so much!

Here are some photos of us playing in the creek:

I love this candid photo I snapped of Andrew and Joanna:

Check out the clouds!  It was such a lovely day.

Behind Oliver is a pair of dress-up wings. It's all that was left in the stage area that used to be filled with dress-up items for kids to play with: 

Oliver loved our afternoon at the Botanic Gardens. Our membership made it was worth the trip. Had we paid the non-membership entrance fees (for our family, that would have been $25), then I'd have to say our trip wouldn't have been worth the cost. I mean, playing in the creek was fun, but kids can play in a nice creek for free at Belleview Park or at Civic Green Park! Hopefully, the Denver Botanic Gardens will bring back all the toys, activities, and learning tools that they offered to kids when they first opened the Mordecai Children's Gardens. As of now, it's just an expensive place to take kids to splash around.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Birthday Books

Every year, for Oliver's birthday, I make him a book. For his first birthday, I wanted to make him a book of expressions because babies enjoy looking at faces. I took photos of Andrew being happy and me being mad and Oliver being sleepy.

I thought about just gluing photos to construction paper and putting the pages in a binder. Then, it occurred to me: I can just make a photo book on Shutterfly and turn it into a children's book for Oliver! It was so much easier and looked great. Plus, if you sign up for their emails, you can sometimes get big discounts, like 40% off photo books.

A page from his first birthday book:

For his second birthday, I decided to create a book of all his favorite things, along with the name of each underneath its picture to (hopefully) get him to start recognizing some simple words. I took photos of his favorite stuffed animal, Monkey, along with a photo of a set of keys, a car, pasta, Dad, and me. It's still one of his favorite books! Admittedly, the pages of that one are getting torn now. I appreciate the fact that I can reorder the book to have a new copy, as Shutterfly saves each project you make to your account.

A page from his second birthday book:

This year, I made him a book about baking cookies! Baking is basically Oliver's favorite thing ever. I took pictures of him using the mixer in addition to pictures of Andrew and me using the oven and cracking eggs and such. There's even a photo of Jo  helping in the baking process! I know Oliver will love this. I kept the sentences super simple to (maybe) help him read.

I think these are such cute birthday gifts.  They're so personal, and they're something he can have forever.  I need to get busy making a birthday book for Jo!  I think I might make a face book of people she'd recognize.

Here's the Shutterfly preview of Oliver's 3rd birthday book.  I've noticed the preview takes a long time to load and sometimes times out.  You can just click the link below the image to get a preview on the Shutterfly website:

You'll love Shutterfly's award-winning photo books. Try it today.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blanket Cocoon

Joanna just went down for a nap. Oliver grabbed the iPad, pulled all the pillows and blankets off of Andrew's and my bed, and he wrapped himself in a blanket cocoon. He's bundled up and watching Sesame Street videos somehow. Oliver is, apparently, better at electronics than me.  

I guess we're going to have a lazy morning today!  Time to go pour a cup of coffee.