Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 2012 Videos

5 years + 4 months

Since learning how to tell time Emily has become quite the clock watcher.  She will often announce what time it is in the van about every two minutes.  She also likes watching the digital clocks in the kitchen change hours so all the numbers change at once.  She knows how many minutes it is until we have to do something and keeps track of that, too.  The other day I told her we'd do something she wanted to do in 5 minutes.  She promptly asked if we could set a timer because she's smart enough to know that when I say 5 minutes it might not be exactly 5 minutes. 

In addition to math facts, Emily really got into geography this month--specifically states and state capitals.  This was spurred on by the iPad/iPhone app "Stack the States" and me digging out my beloved wooden states puzzle from my childhood.  This puzzle used to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" when the flag piece was taken out and replaced (it was light sensitive).  As it started to die off it would randomly start playing even as if it was completely put together and stored under my dresser.  I even still have the cardboard packaging it came in with a bunch of state statistics on the back.  Anyway, Emily can now put it together without the help of the board.  She also has most of the states and corresponding state capitals memorized (she has a real gift for memorization) and loves to have you quiz her on them.  Now we just have to work on pronunciation.  Since she has done this all on her own she hasn't heard the names spoken aloud much.  This is why she calls Michigan "Magician" and Oregon "Origin".  There are some others that a pretty funny to hear her try to pronounce.  She thinks it's pretty cool that there are two state capitals with the same name as people in our family.  Can you name them?

Note: Emily has already earned 36 states in the Stack the States game.  It's a great app for only $.99.  Besides capitals, it has also taught her a lot about the relative size and location of states (bordering Mexico, Canada, lakes, etc.), state nicknames and landmarks.  We highly recommend it!

When Emily gets upset about something or things don't go her way, she says something like "My show's not going very well." or "Quit trying to run my show!"  or "Quiet, I'm trying to run my show."  I'm sure this is coming from watching Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman.  In her own words, this is Emily's explanation:

"Sometimes my show doesn't go well for 2 or 3 days.  When you talk about something I don't like to hear, I have to replace one or two imaginary friends.  We have to take up a lot of soccer practice. When my show doesn't go well I stay in my room for 2-3 hours.  I use some things that are not very cool.  For example, if you're talking about a real rhinoceros at the zoo, and I don't want to hear it, then I stay in my room for 2 hours.  Then I plan some large meetings."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Iowa Children's Museum

I have been wanting to take the kids to the Iowa Children's Museum inside the Coralville Mall.  Wartburg has winter break this week, so I invited our Ethiopian international student and three of her friends to ride along with us.  They went shopping while we went to the museum.  It was a fun afternoon of exploring.  Lincoln's favorite exhibit was driving the ambulance and the train room.  Emily loved the theater stage and grocery store.  I did decide that it would be more ideal if the kids were either old enough to go off on their own or there was a 1:1 ratio of kids/adults. :o)  Here are some pictures of our adventures...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

All the marbles...

Emily was into water experiments this afternoon.  It started off with Daddy helping to facilitate a hot/cold experiment with ice cubes out of a Child Craft book.  Then she did a float/sink experiment with different objects.  Then I dug out a set of marbles from my childhood that I ran across the other day.  Emily & I tried to guess how many marbles she could put in different bowls and containers before they tipped over or sank.  Some of the results were a little surprising!  Lincoln just liked playing with the little "balls". :o)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Emily Ball

Partially inspired by a recent episode of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman, Emily declared Saturday to be a day of "Emily Ball".  She made and hung up posters in all the bedrooms announcing it on Friday. 

Emily ball
24 hours of fun
Extra special ballgame: 30 minutes of fun

While it's still a bit unclear exactly what the whole purpose was (even after re-watching the episode with her that night), Austin & I think she was just looking forward to telling people what to do all day. ;o) 

Emily started out by making yarn necklace name tags for all the participants.  Everyone got a nickname.  Austin = AL, Megan = MN, Lincoln = LN, Emily = IZ.  Emily explained that her imaginary friend, Karen, calls her that.

I'm pretty sure Emily was making up things as she went.  The first "event" was listening to her perform "There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" using the flannel set from her birthday.

Second was a car race on the masking tape track that currently winds around Lincoln's room and down the hallway.  Emily easily won that one because she took all the short cuts and made me go all the way around the crib.

Next was a puzzle break.

Then we experimented to see which car/vehicle went the farthest down the cookie sheet ramp in the foyer.
Later in the afternoon was an activity I had actually planned on doing.  It came from this web site I found via Pinterest that has lists of fun activities to try each month.  We've already done quite a few things on the February list.  Today we made structures out of marshmallows and colored toothpicks.  The marshmallows were pretty sticky, and Lincoln was much more interested in eating them than building with them, but Emily & I put together some fun stuff.  When they're a little older I'll get out the big marshmallows and maybe some skewers so we can try some more elaborate buildings. :o)

"Emily Ball" actually only lasted about 3 hours, but it was a fun day of different family activities.

52 OHC: Week 8

This week's challenge was on menu planning and grocery lists.  This is another area that I feel like I already have a good system in place.  I typically sit down on Sunday afternoon/evening and plan the menu for the week.  I use a printed version of my iCal monthly calendar that includes our family schedule so I can plan around various events.  I clip coupons and use the weekly grocery ads to plan meals and stock up on sale items.  Meals are penciled in to allow for flexibility within the schedule.  I usually just plan dinner since lunch is leftovers or something simple.  I have gotten better about using the plan to manage leftovers as our family needs and schedules change.  I used to keep the menu calendar in my recipe binder, but I have started hanging it on the fridge for everyone to see.

Last fall I switched from multiple grocery lists for different stores on random note pads to a free phone app called Grocery IQ, and it is awesome!  It has a scanner function that can scan barcodes from products and add them to the list.  The list is categorized by aisles, and the aisle order can be customized for different stores.  Items can also be assigned to specific stores, which I do.  When I do my menu plan I add the items I don't have on hand.  I add things throughout the week when I think of them or realize I'm running low.  I also have a favorites list that I can scroll through and add staple items.  Another nice feature is that it synchronizes across devices, so if Austin is running low on coffee, he can scan the barcode with his phone and it shows up on the grocery list on my phone. :o)

Note:  I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or make it seem like I have everything under control by putting up all these organizing posts.  Rather, I'm continuing to do it to give myself and the kids a picture of what life was like at this stage and maybe offer some explanation in the future as to how the environment/culture of our household influenced the development of our kids.  I also hope to inspire others and/or share some ideas that have worked for me.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Emily has inquired on several occasions about trophies.  I finally found and got out my box of awards from my school days this week.  Emily promptly set up an elaborate trophy display in her room.

For the record, one cup was for first place individual at the area 6th grade Math Bee, two cups from piano solo contests and two for my 4-H record book.  The princess crown was a purchase by Emily from the Target dollar bins. :o)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rocket tower

Emily's Sunday afternoon project...

2 years + 9 months

It seems like Lincoln has done a lot of growing up this month.  The most noticeable difference is in his speech.  He has much longer and more complex sentences.  He has started narrating a lot of what he sees, thinks and feels.  It's fascinating to actually hear the thoughts that have been swirling around in his head!  He also often breaks out into song.  Some of the more popular selections are "Happy Birthday," "ABC's," "Old McDonald," "Peas Porridge Hot," and the most recent addition courtesy of Sunday school, "the rains came down and the floods came up..." complete with all the hand actions.  It's no secret that Emily is a prolific talker/singer, so now we have constant competition for air time.

I had fleeting hope at the beginning of the month when Lincoln became very interested in sitting on the potty.  He even had one teeny, tiny little deposit once, but that was it, and the novelty soon wore off.  I am encouraged, though, that he has just recently occasionally started telling me when his diaper is wet/dirty and he wants it changed.  That's a positive step in the right direction.  However, he still consistently makes a dirty diaper 15-20 min. AFTER being put down for a nap and/or to bed at night.  When that happens he doesn't complain, he just doesn't fall asleep. 

In addition to jumping on and off everything, Lincoln has entered a throwing stage.  Lots of things get chucked around the house.  Also, now whenever he falls down or bumps something, he immediately jumps up and says, "I 'kay!" (I'm okay)

Lincoln as also become much more opinionated about his wardrobe.  He has a favorite orange shirt (not the one pictured) that he requests all the time, "How 'bout my ownsge schirt?"  Unfortunately, that particular shirt is really getting too small and was the one he wore when we were touching up trim paint in the living room, so there are permanent streaks of latex paint on the back and sleeves.  I also recently bought two pairs of Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas, and he pretty much wants to wear them 24/7.  The one he prefers most is actually already too small, so his belly sticks out with high-water pants.

Lastly, Lincoln can now recognize the difference between letters and numbers.  He can count to 10 and sing the ABC's, but he doesn't recognize individual letters and numbers.  We are also still working on colors and shapes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Popcorn night

This is a pretty typical scene on weekend popcorn nights at our house.  Lincoln still doesn't actually eat any popcorn.  He has fruit, cheese and ham cubes instead.  Emily can eat an entire large bowl by herself.  We usually have fruit & cheese, too.  The kids get to choose what video/show to watch.  It's a great family tradition. :o)

Gorgeous outfit

This is the "gorgeous outfit" Emily came up with today to celebrate the coming of spring even though it is still only mid-February.  (She has another skirt on underneath, too.)

40 bags challenge

Sock drawer before
Sock drawer after

My bedroom closet and drawers are feeling quite a bit lighter after a purging binge this morning.  I couldn't stand it any longer, so I emptied my sock and underwear drawers and discarded half the contents of each.  I also removed the large bag and box of clothing items that I have been slowly purging from my wardrobe since last fall.  I still have a ways to go yet with my winter wardrobe and jewelry and then we have to go through Austin's clothes.

I was inspired partially by a blog I like to read called Clover Lane.  The writer did 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge last year for Lent and is doing it again this year.  Organizing is one thing, but purging is another.  And the more you purge, the less time and effort it takes to organize!  I probably need more help on the purging end right now.  I'm seriously contemplating joining the 40 Bags challenge.  Especially since I'm kind of already ahead. ;o)

52 OHC: Week 7

This week's challenge was dealing with coupons.  I am a frugal grocery shopper and have always used coupons.  I clip them from the Sunday paper, print them from online, peel them from packaging and sometimes get them from check-out lines or other random sources.  There are certain products that I know usually have a coupon available, and it drives me nuts to buy it if I don't have a coupon with me or the one I have has just expired.  That being said, I am FAR from ever being an extreme couponer like on T.V.  My time is worth way more than that to me.  I usually only clip coupons for specific products that I know I buy regularly or new products that I really want to try.

This challenge was pretty quick and easy for me.  The only thing I really did was splurge on a new 7-pocket organizer from the dollar bin at Target since the closure button on my old one broke off months ago.  I used the same categories and just did a purging of all the expired ones.  I have a system in place to clip coupons on Sundays before planning my menu for the week.  However, I don't always do a good job of purging the expired ones or filing the new ones in the correct category.  I really need to start following the rule of "one touch" and put everything away in the proper place the first time I touch it.  This especially needs to be true of the coupons I print online.  Sometimes they can sit on the printer for days before I actually cut them out and put them in my purse.  I've gotten burned more than once standing in the check-out line of the grocery store with something in my cart when I realize the coupon is still sitting on the printer.  The Dutch in me cringes when that happens. :op

P.S. Remember when I made the comment about never deep-cleaning that fridge again?  Well, I had to do it again this week after I knocked over a half gallon of milk on the top shelf.  Sigh.  At least it gave me another chance to throw out that jar of pickles!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine cookies

Our Bosnian international student from Wartburg came over this afternoon to play with the kids.  We also frosted heart cookies.  The red gel decorator tube is fun but more messy than it's worth at this stage. :o)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Swimming lessons: Take 2

After a not so successful swimming lesson class last summer, Emily just completed a set of four private swimming lessons at the W.  I think the one-on-one attention coupled with a significant change in attitude and maturity level that has been evident at preschool made for a much more positive experience this time around.  That and the enticement of the promised mermaid doll that has been sitting in the packaging in clear view in the coat closet since June. ;o)

Emily fully cooperated with her teacher, Keeley.  She blew bubbles, put her face in the water (with nose plugged) and got her hair wet.  While she still hasn't dunked completely under, it was significant progress.  Sometimes Emily is concentrating so hard on not breathing in through her nose that she forgets to close her mouth. :o)  She is also still trying to get used to the funny feeling of water in her ears when doing a back float.  However, she received a passing grade, and we'll do group lessons again in the summer.

Lincoln was along for three of the four lessons and desperately wanted to go swimming, too.  He would strip himself down to just his pants and dig through the bag for his swim trunks.  On the last day I did bring all our suits and the three of us went swimming for 45 min. after Emily's lesson.

Valentine's Day

Monday, February 13, 2012

52 OHC: Week 6

I have traded margaritas for hot chocolate with a shot of raspberry and a swimsuit for hooded sweatshirts and Ugg slippers, but I'm more motivated than ever to continue the 52 Week Home Organization Challenge and general purging of the house!

The week we were gone was on Trash and Recycling.  It was good timing since I'm pretty happy with the system we already have set up.  It was a good excuse to spruce things up a bit, though.  I gave the kitchen trash and recycling cans a much needed scrub down with a Magic Eraser.  (The recycling tubs in the garage will have to wait until spring.)  I also posted some lists of what is and is not accepted by the Waverly Recycling Center.  This is the recycling collection center in the pantry.  Most recycling items are collected in the large white basket and sorted in the garage about twice/week. (This will eventually be the kids' job.) As mentioned in an earlier post, certain types of plastic bags are collected for Terracycle to raise money for the W-SR school district.  There are also specific collection spots in the kitchen for milk lids, Box Tops for Education, Labels for Education and pop cans.

Waverly has free curbside recycling pick-up for selected items, but they have to be pre-sorted.  We use these cheap green plastic tubs that hang on hooks on a pegboard in the garage.  The recycling is picked up twice per month, and our tubs are usually full or overflowing.  We usually recycle as much or more volume than we throw in the trash.  We are highly motivated to do this since our garbage fees are charged by the can and recycling is free and unlimited.

Some items are not picked up curbside and have to be brought to the Recycling Center every so often.  These include the Terracycle bags, corrugated cardboard, cardboard egg cartons and white paper.  I have a large collection box by the desk for paper to be shredded/recycled.  They have a large industrial shredder at the Recycling Center.

While I don't consider myself a "greenie," I'm happy to be doing my part. :o)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Playa del Carmen

Austin & I took an amazing 5-day vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico (located south of Cancun and across from Cozumel on the Yucatan Peninsula).  It was our first big vacation since having kids, and the first time I had been on an airplane in six years.  My sister, Abbie, found us a fabulous resort on Expedia called The Royal Haciendas.  It wasn't an all-inclusive, but they had great restaurants and very nice grocery/convenience store on-site with everything charged to your room bill so you never had to carry or exchange any money.

For three days our view was usually one of the following three pictures:
From the terrace of our villa
Beach on the Caribbean
One of five pools
We both tried a little kayaking, although the rolling waves soon made me feel seasick.

I also got a massage in a cabana on the beach and a seaweed wrap in the spa.  We took the shuttle into the town of Playa del Carmen one night and walked the entire length of the 5th Avenue shopping district.  After selecting small souvenirs for the kids, we ate at a restaurant called Los Tulipanes and enjoyed great live music.

Another highlight of the trip (at least for me) was a complimentary upgrade to first class on the flight segments between Houston and Cancun.  Flying first class has always been on my lifetime bucket list, and it was everything I hoped it would be.  Austin has a high enough mileage status on United we got lots of little perks, but as Austin said, we both earned it with as much as he has to travel to get that status.

And what about the kids?  My mom came to stay for the five days and they were perfect for her. :o)

Here are some things I learned on vacation:
  • It pays to travel light.  This was the least amount of stuff I had ever packed on any kind of a trip, and it was plenty.
  • Airports and traveling in general can bring out the best and worst in people--especially if they are traveling with kids.
  • It is relatively cheap to eat at nice restaurants in Mexico.  We had great seafood at very nice places for not a whole lot.
  • It's easy to be an American in the touristy areas because pretty much everyone speaks decent English.  Driving down the road and seeing all the signs and billboards made me want to brush up on my limited Spanish skills.
  • Life can be unhurried.  Within hours of arriving at the resort, I noticed that no one ever hurried anywhere.  Even the resort staff strolled wherever they went.  And it was so relaxing.  The only exception was the high-strung manager on duty at one of the resort restaurants because there happened to be a large party that night that included one or more partners of the group who had built the chain of Royal resorts.  One of the partners introduced himself to us at our table and asked about our stay.
  • I can be semi-unplugged.  Before leaving I had debated whether or not to go totally unplugged as far as technology goes.  It's a good thing I thought about it, because my phone apparently didn't like Mexico.  It started acting strange and turning itself on and off, so I just left it in the room safe and didn't turn it on again until we landed back in the U.S.  I did answer a text from my mom on Austin's phone and peeked at the iPad (which Austin used the whole time), but didn't really do anything else.  In a way it was very relaxing to not be a slave to an electronic device.  However, I missed having access to information at my fingertips.  I didn't realize how often I look up stuff.  Like, what is the current temperature and humidity level?  How many U.S. dollars is 160 pesos?  Is there such thing as a special fish knife? What does "cenote" mean?  How far is it to walk the full length of 5th Avenue?
  • My eating habits are tied to the clock.  At home I'm used to eating three solid meals plus two snacks every day.  This is partially due to having young kids, but more about my ingrained habits based on what time it is.  At home my tummy says I'm hungry for a snack if I look at the clock and it's past 10:00am and then again at 11:15am when it's time to get out lunch.  On vacation I rarely wore a watch.  After a simple breakfast, I could sit on the beach until 12:30pm before my tummy told me I was really hungry.  The same thing was true of afternoon snack and dinner.  I eat less often and later when I don't know what time it is.
  • I can never be perfectly prepared.  Call me crazy, but I left a 2 1/2 page sheet of typed out instructions/information for my mom.  Most of this was meal possibilities and notes about the idiosyncrasies of our house.  However, I did forget a few important details--like where to find a house key.
  • Austin has more "sit" than I do on vacation.  I think we were gone the perfect amount of time.  Any more than three days of sitting around on the beach or by the pool and I would need to start looking for some kind of major excursion--like snorkeling, underground rivers, swimming with dolphins, Mayan ruins, etc.  I also think it was the perfect length of time to be away from the kids.  I was ready to see them again but didn't overwhelmingly miss them.
  • If you don't want to get sunburned, stay out of the sun.  I think we both did a pretty good job of not getting too burned.  We put really strong sunscreen on really thick and tried to stay out of the direct sunlight as much as possible except for two long walks along the beach that were not during the most intense sun of the day.  We saw a LOT of retired, brown, wrinkled (and mostly overweight) Americans at the resort.  I really don't ever want to look like that.
  • I am still a fiction reader at heart.  I brought a whole stack of books that I had been saving for an occasion such as this.  During the five days I made it through two magazines and two books.  It took me less time to finish the 500-page Twilight book than it did a 200-page parenting book.  I also did a lot of people-watching. :o)
  • This was a nearly perfect vacation.  My only regrets are forgetting to bring back some famous Mexican vanilla and not taking more videos/pictures of the beach for the kids to see.  We'll just have to do that next time!
I'll  end this post with some more pictures from the resort.