Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A craftastically domestic family weekend!

What a nice, looong, Memorial Day weekend we had!  We had time to get tons done around the house, a lot of time for crafts and domestic fun, and a lot of time to just spend together as a family which is priceless.

For some reason I got kind of obsessed with making bracelets!  I think it started while I was blog reading and then continued on to Pinterest.  I know I'm a little behind the times, but wrap bracelets are huge right now and we didn't have a single one in our house.  I saw a ton that I liked on Etsy, but they were in the $35 - $60 price range and I'm just not ok with that!
This brought me back to the days of making friendship bracelets when I was a kid.
I made four for myself and two for Stella.  I think that the two on the right (of mine) are my favs!  I'm going to get more colors of the cord and order some sterling silver.  How fun would these bracelets be with names stamped on the silver?  I'll definitely be sporting one with each of the girls' names!

Here you can see one of the rings I made too...  My friend got me some old typewriter keys.  2 "S's" and 2 "L's".  The rings are kind of fun.

I finally finished Lucy's sweater (it always takes me forever to sew on the buttons!  Now that it's done it's getting warm and she probably won't even get to wear it while it fits her.  I have another sweater partly done and I probably won't even get it done while it fits her. :(  I dyed the yarn with coolaid which is kind of fun, and now when I wash it it smells like grapes - yum!

I'm making a bit of progress on Lucy's dress...  I'd be further if I'd stop making bracelets!

While I've been LOVING our iced coffee, I know it's not great for my waistline so I made a batch of iced green tea concentrate.  I couldn't find the little baby pitcher we usually use so... can you tell what that is???  Yep, the water "bottle" that the hospital gives you!  I just couldn't get rid of it all those years ago.

Jen over at Peas and Crayons has me utterly addicted to baked sweet potatoes with veggie fixings - YUM!

Stella helping with our weekly menu - she' writing so well!

This is what she chose to wear running errands.  Jim asked if I was going to let her... um, YEAH, it's not going to hurt anything!

Both of the girls got to help Daddy mow the lawn - fun stuff!
Cooking something while Mama cleaned the house.  I love independent play!

Stella got a popsicle and Lucy got her first bite.  I think it's pretty apparent that she LOVED it!

Both Mama and Daddy got a lot of snuggling time in.

Stella wants to ride Lu on the "teeter totter" by herself.  Letting go makes me a bit nervous. (and those hats crack me up!)
Dueling laptops - getting some work done.
It was such a nice weekend and just makes me more excited for summer vacation!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Clean(er) living - Three part "series" part III

Ok, this is the last one and much shorter than the one about food!  This last part is about household goods/personal items/cleaners.

*  toothpaste - we haven't found one we like.  We're currently using Toms, but I'm not a fan.  Maybe I'll try a different flavor next time?  Do you use one you like?

*  shampoo - I have a crazy shampoo stockpile so I haven't done anything here yet.  I did get Burts Bees shampoo & body wash in one for the girls...  disaster!  Both Stella and I thought it stunk SO badly!  After the first wash I thought I could stick it out and at least finish the bottle.  As soon as I used it the second night I realized neither of us stand it so it's out.  We also had a terrible experience with their diaper cream when Stella was a baby so though I adore their chapstick I think I'll be avoiding the rest of their products.  (Thank goodness I didn't go for the Costco pack!)

*  lotion - I've been using coconut oil as lotion for the girls and I for a bit now and really like it.  Even Jim, who HATES the feel of lotion, likes it.  It's pretty strange stuff and is a bit hard to get out of the container the melting point is like 77 degrees so if the weather warms up even a little bit it gets noticeably softer.  However, we have AC.  If you live in a house without it and it gets warm this summer it will turn to a liquid which may be a bit difficult to use.  I'd think it was strange to use an oil on my skin and that I'd end up feeling greasy, but it's not at all!  It's also supposed to be good for eczema, and wrinkles!

*  personal soap - I've been using Dr. Bronner's lavender soap and I LOVE it!  It's mild enough to use on my face and the girls.  We'll also use it for hand soap once they run out.  We mix it half and half with water.  I've heard of people using it for dishes as well but I didn't like that the one time I tried it.  I think I'll stick to Mrs. Meyer's for that.

*  household cleaners - I'm pretty sure we're getting rid of all household cleaners and they'll be replaced by Mrs. Meyer's products.  I like the hand soap, dish soap, and counter top spray.  We've also started using the all purpose cleaner and will probably stop buying the individual products in favor of it when they run out.

*  windows - we've yet to try it, but I've heard good things about just mixing one part vinegar with 5 parts water so we'll try it

*  laundry - we've been making our own laundry soap for a while now and really like it.  We pretty much use this "recipe", though often I add a scoop or two of oxi-clean.

*  totally random - when we can, we use reusable lunch sacks (for crackers, etc).  I got mine from Etsy and I really like them.  I've also been saving more glass containers and using them for other things.  Jim thinks I'm a nutball!

Any tips for toothpaste, baby shampoo, or anything else?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Clean(er) living - Three part "series" part II

The second part of this is going to be changes we've been making (or want to make) to our food.  We try to eat mostly organic, we've tried to switch to more whole grains, and we've tried to buy less candy/treats/snacks.  Those are kind of general things though, here I'm going to address some smaller, more specific changes.  Again, if you have additional ideas I'd love to hear them, I feel like I'm constantly finding more things that need changing!

*  creamer - I can't drink my coffee without creamer.  For years I've been using store bought vanilla creamer in my coffee.  I knew it was terrible  but I wouldn't go without my coffee and I couldn't drink my coffee without it.  I finally found a homemade one I love. It's definitely not what I'd call healthy with the sugar content, but at least it's all natural.   1 1/4 cup milk, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and a tablespoon or two of vanilla.  I have a glass bottle that had vanilla syrup in it that works perfectly for a container.

*  We've switched to pure maple syrup.  Lu has been eating oatmeal for breakfast every morning for a while and I don't want to use that other stuff!

*  black beans - no more buying cans of black beans.  I'm trying to cut back on a lot of canned things and black beans are so easy to do in the crock pot!  Here's the method I kind of use.  Sometimes I add a bit of spices and garlic.

* iced coffee and ice green tea concentrate - We use Pioneer Woman's cold brewed iced coffee.  I LOVE it Vietnamese style!  When coffee is too heavy I like to use Amy's green tea concentrate.

*  oils - I've started using coconut oil in place of vegetable oil as well as in place of lotion for my body!  It's kind of the rage online right now and I'm actually really happy with it.  I also got a Misto that I fill with grapeseed oil instead of Pam or another spray.

*  We've put flaxseed in everything from smoothies and yogurt to cookies for quite a while now.  Just recently I read about chia seeds.  I haven't tried them yet, but I'd like to try this recipe for refrigerator oatmeal so we'll be checking them out.  The health benefits sound crazy!

*  popcorn - This change was made quite a while ago, but I need to recommit to it.  I once read an article about the top 5 foods that experts avoid.  Microwave popcorn was on that list because of the chemicals in the bag.  One of the listed possible side effects was infertility.  It was banned from my house at once and I decided my girl would not be eating it!  Instead, we make microwave popcorn in a plain brown paper lunch bag and add a bit of butter and nutritional yeast.  Here's a "recipe" from Alton Brown though I would never try stapling the bag and then putting it in the microwave... that sounds like a terrible idea!  I am going to try using a bit of oil and salt in the bag though, I've never added anything to the bag before.

*canned tomatoes - another one from the top 5 no-no's.  We're going to grow our own and a friend and I are going to ATTEMPT some canning.  We'll see how that goes...

* salty chip alternative - I LOVE salty chips and could eat far too many if I let myself.  My weakest time is usually right when we get home before dinner is ready.  I try to make batches of roasted chickpeas to leave on the counter.  The crunch and slight saltiness cure my cravings.  I do it a bit differently every time but here's a good starting point: rinse a can or two (or 3) of chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans and spread out on a tin foil covered cookie sheet.  Drizzle olive oil over them then add seasonings.  I always add garlic powder, onion powder, and kosher salt.  I also add one or more of the following: cayenne pepper, curry powder, chili powder.  Shake the pan to distribute and roast at 400 for anywhere from 40 minutes - an hour shaking the pan every 20 minutes or so.  Just make sure they get nice and crispy - they're pretty terrible if they're soft in the middle.

*  ice cream - this isn't a healthy one, but we've enjoyed a few batches of homemade ice cream.  It's still better than store bought!  ;)  We got an ice cream maker last summer and just a couple of weeks ago I made chocolate for the first time.  Jim's proclaimed it the best chocolate ice cream he's ever had.  I think our favorite is still the lemon sorbet though.  It's so good on a hot day and will be amazing with a little vodka this summer.

Phew - you're a rockstar if you made it through all of that!  I'll be back with the changes to non-food items.  I'm sure you're holding your breathe right?

Clean(er) living - Three part "series" part I

We'll never be the type of parents who get rid of our TVs, don't allow sugar in our house, and raise our own cattle/chickens.  That being said, I've had a strong desire to cut out many of the chemicals and preservatives in our home and seriously cut back on tube time.  So, I'm going to do a two part post on some of the changes we've made at our house and if you have other ideas you'd be willing to share I'd love to hear what you've done to ensure a healthier family!  Some of these changes were made quite some time ago.  Some have been recent, and a few haven't even been implemented yet.  I'm still learning!

Let's address the TV situation first.  I'll readily admit that I'm a TV junkie!  Before we had kids the TV was almost ALWAYS on.  If Jim wasn't home it was most definitely on just for the "company".  I'd turn it on as soon as I walked in the door and not turn it off until I went to bed even though a lot of the time I wasn't watching it.  Every morning we'd have the news on from the time I got up until I left for school.  I know that they say kids under two shouldn't watch any TV, but that's not going to happen at our house.  Still, as Stella was getting older and getting more interested in watching it, I was finding myself getting more agitated by it.  She's a lot like me and would be quite happy snuggled up on the couch for extended periods of time but when it wasn't on she would play with her dolls, her "Meddling Kids" (Scooby Doo gang), or just hang out and talk to me.  I have to say that it took me a while to get it, I guess I was a bit slow, but the afternoons where we didn't think to turn it on when we got home were just quieter, calmer, and more creative.

Finally, I got it.  My goal is to NOT turn the TV on until it's time to wind down for bed, around 6, and then she gets to watch one show.  She also gets to watch cartoons in the morning while we're getting ready.  This does not happen every day and that's ok with me.  I'm not that rigid as a parent.  There are times when somebody has had a rough day or it's just nasty out when we come straight home, put on pjs or sweats, and put a movie one while eating cereal on TV trays.  The thing I like is that that seems like a treat now, not the norm.

What are your TV "rules" for your kids?  I know I'm not the only one to struggle with it!

Here are some recent pictures to show how much time we spend cuddled up on that couch!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So fast!

It seems so cliche for moms to say things like "I can't believe how fast they're growing up!"  It's so very true though.  I'm sure other mamas can relate, there are times when the child you're looking at isn't the same child you had just a month, week, or even days ago.  So many times Jim will look at one of the girls and say, "did you grow last night?"  We notice it in both their physical changes as well as emotional/personality.

Lula Bug had a weekend like that this weekend.  The girl I put to bed Friday night was NOT the same girl I put down Sunday night.  It's wonderful though a bit sad.

Just over the weekend she's started loving babies, liking blankies, sitting in her sisters chair, and even having a cocoa in the morning with her big sis!  That's an awful lot of big girl changes over the course of two days.

With all of these fun changes come a few new challenges.  She's at that age where she really wants to be able to tell us things and is getting frustrated when we don't understand what she wants.  It's also hard when we want to be able to tell her something (it's ok to get out of the car, we're going to go do something fun).  Most of the time she happily babbles/oohs/grunts/points, but sometimes she quite obviously knows what she wants and we don't get it.  Her favorite way of taking her frustration out is to grab your face with her little fingers and dig her nails in.  She gets a little angry face and kind of shakes - identical to another girl in the house.  (actually, I think Jim would say it's like two other girls in our house)  ;)

I know it's all part of her transitioning from babyhood to toddler status.  I also know that she's just going to continue to get to be more fun for all of us as her personality continues to develop and she can do more.

Joining Stella in the daily morning cocoa.
Having a bit of downtime snuggling her blanket in sissies chair.

Big ole sloppy open-mouthed kisses

Patting/rubbing baby's back


Taking baby for a stroll.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Just keep swinging

Jim and I have been having a "discussion" about whether or not we should get the girls a swing set for over a year.  Last summer we decided not to because we were tearing out the entire yard and it would have been terrible timing.  I've been hounding him about it for a few months again now.  Sometimes instead of saying "no" and having to deal with me he'll just find reasons to put things off.  For example, I wanted to get it for spring break but it was raining.  He kept saying we have a big park just a couple of blocks from our house that we can walk to and not having to pay for one and then have it take up room in our yard.  I very nicely pointed out that it's not that easy to pack up two girls and take them to the park on a whim.  Stella will have to go to the bathroom, they'll be thirsty, it's naptime, etc.  It would be much more convenient to have our own in our fenced in yard.  Then the flyer came.  The Toys R Us one with the colorful pictures on the front showing 6 kids having a blast on a swing set and by the way... they're on sale this week.  DONE!  I pretty much told him I was doing it and asked if he wanted any input.  It was a pain when we went to pick it up and they didn't have the one Jim wanted (and I'd called to put on hold), but they did have this other one, which happened to be the one I wanted, a bit less $, and they gave us an extra 10% off for making a mistake.  Score!

So, as I mentioned earlier this week, we spent about 6 hours on Mother's Day putting this thing together and still didn't quite finish it.  Stella had no idea what we were doing when we started, we wanted it to be a surprise.  Once she figured it out she was pretty excited and kept asking how much longer it was going to be.  I wish I'd taken a picture of ALL of the wood we had laid out for this thing, we kept telling her it would be done when all of the wood was done.

We spent HOURS outside on it Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  When we came in Wednesday night Jim said, "honey, you're a genius."  That one needed to be written down for all to read and for him to be reminded of for years to come.  He doubted the swing set.  He thought they'd tire of it in a few days.  He thought they'd outgrow it in a few years.  He obviously was not a little girl.  I know that they'll use it for many years.  I told him that when they're 12 and have friends over I can see them just going outside and sitting on the swings while they gossip about boys and how horrible they're parents are.  I knew that at $315 rather than a thousand dollars or more this was going to be worth it's weight in gold (and this sucker is heavy!).  It's the perfect size (it doesn't take up a quarter of our yard) and still has two swings, a "teeter totter", a playhouse, climbing wall, slide, and the cafe below.  Plus, if we ever want to it would be easy to take the little plastic canvas "chalkboard" off the back and build monkey bars or a climbing net.

Now, on to the barrage of pictures!

Here's the hardware my mom laid out (needless to say, it's quite obvious where I get the need to arrange things in rows).
Being the genius that she is, my mom thought it might be a good idea to grab a piece of Stella's sidewalk chalk and number all of the pieces.  I have no idea how much time that saved us, but it was huge!

Pretty much done with the playhouse, Lu started up the ladder after her big sis.
 She wanted to climb the climbing wall too...

She's constantly walking up the slide.
She made it!
All of the girls working to put it together.
Learning to use an electric screwdriver
Probably trying to figure out some of the lousy directions
I didn't even change out of my skirt when we got home Monday so I could finish it.
Lula Bug loved playing with Daddy's tools.
I love this.
Daddy showing her how it works and her little open mouthed concentration face.
Still working
Stella loves the little cafe area.  She and Daddy spend a lot of time playing restaurant.

When we got home Tuesday we headed straight outside.  Lu was feeling lovey.
Mama getting some loves.
Stella wanted a kissy picture too.
And then she wanted more pictures.
I was trying to get a picture of them together on this but I was too afraid to let go to get far enough away.
Hours of fun!
After her bath sometimes Daddy will take her back out for a few minutes while I get Lulu ready for bed.