Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Consider it tackled

What did I do with my day off yesterday?

Why, organize the clutter, of course!

There are few things that make me as happy as purging, cleaning and organizing THE STUFF before the new year begins. I measured our cabinets, had a plan of attack, and accomplished the goal. Success!!

I purchased some clear boxes at Target to house craft supplies, Playdoh and accessories, and Legos.
We had a small basket in our family room that collected the miscellaneous dolls and toys that didn't otherwise have a home in a drawer or behind closed doors. Despite moving several of the items to the "baby" box in storage, it was still overflowing. I was hoping to find a large storage container with a lid - a nice looking basket or box or something, but I didn't want to spend a ton of money and couldn't find anything I liked on short notice.

We had gift cards to spend and I found these large canvas containers at Pottery Barn Kids. So, free to us and it does the trick. I was hoping for the neutral color, but they were out of stock (of course), and red matches our room OK without looking too childish. We actually got the floor model, which I would recommend, because it was already put together and steamed!
My other goal was to find some way to corral all the food and kitchen accessories that came with the new kitchen that Santa brought. I didn't want to buy a large storage-type piece of furniture, because it was going to be very visible in my living room. I also only had a pretty small corner to work with and I wanted covered / stacking storage.

I took a look on the basket aisle at Michael's and they had two decent looking rectangular woven baskets with hinged lids, two different sizes. They aren't the sturdiest things in the world, but look fine and hold all the gadgets for less than $40 total on sale. Sold.

You can see that I don't have much real estate to work with here, and even less with the new kitchen, but I now have glimpsed the hours and hours of entertainment this will provide the Girl. Worth the sacrifice, no?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Strategic storage

Well, it has started.

We had our first round of family Christmas and I am already overwhelmed by the number of new things that will be taking up residence in our home.

Until this point, I feel like I have done a decent job of finding hidden storage in a drawer here, or a cabinet there, and most of Ellen's things can be hidden when desired. We are pretty much at capacity, though, and even though I purged some things recently, she still really plays with most of it on a rotating basis.

My current plan is to wait to see the extent of what Santa brings, then shop the after-holiday sales for some decent looking storage containers with lids. (All of this storage is in our living and dining room, of course, not in any magical playroom).

My only tip at this point, as the mother of a young girl, is to have a stash of small boxes or containers on hand for the myriad of little treasures that come through your door. Miss E brought home about 48 Silly Bandz yesterday, which I promptly put in an old Christmas tin. She is more willing to keep them in one place if I show her what that place should be, and she has just as much fun moving them in and out (and in and out and in and out) of that box.

How are you strategic in attacking toy storage?

Friday, December 17, 2010

'tis the Season

I think I'm finally learning what Christmas is all about when you have a kid in the house. This year seems about 167% more hectic than last year, and we really don't even have all that much on the calendar. Maybe it is the way the holiday falls on a weekend this year, but I just feel like Christmas is coming at a rapid pace, whether I am ready or not, and it is hard to sit back and enjoy the time.

One of my good friends was recently telling me about a book, and I can't remember the title of course because my mind is full of other junk, but it was about keeping your sanity in the Christmas season. And not only from a religious perspective, but just about not over-programming your family, not going crazy on the gift-giving, and making a deliberate effort to focus on special time with your family members.

I feel like I tried to keep the Santa gifts practical and small, but then when I look at the pile I see that Santa grossly over-purchased. The birthday right before Christmas doesn't help things.

I love having a decorated house, but I always feel under the gun to get things up and out, and then the pressure to take them down the second Christmas is over.

I would like to establish one or two special traditions for our family, things that allow us to spend time together, and leave it at that. As Ells grows up, I think we will be more successful with this. We did have a spontaneous trip this week to visit a big Christmas tree and gingerbread village and it was perfect - hot chocolate and treats and a happy girl.

How do you keep the sanity in your holiday activities?

Also, there was a nice post today on Under the Sycamore about giving your children your presence, not only presents. That is the thing they want the most anyway.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In this season of picture taking

This is a good reminder about the kids in your life ...

Visit Know the Glow and watch the video.

The mom featured in the video is the daughter of a friend of the family. She noticed the glow in her son's eye in some of their family photos and eventually brought it to her doctor's attention, resulting in the diagnosis of an eye disease. Though he doesn't have retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye, I have worked with children who have this disorder and it can be as devastating as it sounds.

I had heard stories before about parents who noticed a strange or white glow in their child's eye on printed photos. What I didn't realize is that the glow can be very sporadic - perhaps only present in a small percentage of photos over time. This is a really good reminder and something that is worth sharing with your loved ones.

Friday, December 10, 2010


What are your feelings on party favors?

I like the idea of giving a little something special to the tiny tots that attend your child's birthday party, but I also don't like the idea of spending money on trinkets that will end up in the trash. I tried to come up with something that would be consumable, and not only food. (Though for a circus party, you must do animal crackers. Right?)

If you are a teacher, or if you have a teacher friend, or if you have older kids, I bet you can get your hands on a big pile of old crayons. And, if you are lucky, they will be free!

Beg and borrow until you get enough for this project. First, you have to unwrap them. Pick out a show on your DVR because it will take a little while ... I found that using a sharp knife to cut all along the side of the crayon works best.

Then, if you are smart, you will start saving empty cans from your recycling bin. I hadn't saved enough and ended up scrounging diet coke cans and cutting the top off with my kitchen shears. Desperate times call for desperate measures. You will need one can for each "color group".

Break the crayons into halves or thirds and add them to the can. Pinch the top of the can a little to make a pour spout.

Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer. You will want the water to be at about the level of the crayons when the can is submerged. You will probably have to hold the can down, and it gets hot, so use tongs or an oven mitt. Wait for the crayons to melt. I used a skewer to stir them together for a uniform color, but you can leave them alone for a more swirly effect in your final product.

**Before you start melting, get yourself to your local craft store and pick up a candy mold in whatever theme you are looking for! This one was about $2. **

When your crayons are completely melted, act quickly and pour the wax into your candy mold. You don't have to prep the mold in any way at all. Tap lightly to get any bubbles out, though the crayons start to harden as soon as they are poured. If you have several to do, put them in the freezer to harden faster.

Your new crayons should pop out very easily and, Voila!, you are done!

This mold was pretty deep and it took more crayons than I expected. Err on the side of more rather than less if you are getting crafty.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birthday shirt

Last year, I bought a darling first birthday onesie with a cupcake on the front and the girl's name on the back. So, so cute. And, so, so $35 for a one-time wear.

This year, I wised up. I had seen lots of tutorials on freezer paper stenciling and thought this would be the perfect opportunity!

I mostly followed this tutorial on How About Orange. There are also similar instructions on Say Yes! to Hoboken with some really cute examples.

I found a font I liked and made it as big as possible to fit on one sheet of paper (about 640 point, I think this is called Euroscript, or something like that).

I bought a roll of freezer paper at the grocery store for less than $4. I could make about 100 shirts with this roll! Tape your image to the back (shiny) side of the freezer paper.

Flip it over and cut out very carefully with a sharp knife.

I know this picture is bad, but the next step is to iron the stencil on to the shirt (shiny side against fabric). I just got a plain white t-shirt at Target. Next time, I would get a 100% cotton shirt ... this one had some stretch in it, so I had to use a cooler iron setting and the stencil didn't stick perfectly. Also, one of the blogs had a tip to iron a full sheet of freezer paper on the inside to prevent bleeding of the paint, but I couldn't get that to work.

I had some fabric paint from previous projects, so I just used that and a sponge brush to dab it on pretty thickly. I did put a sheet of paper inside the shirt to prevent bleed-through. If your shirt is a light color, you can hold it up to the light to see if you have any patches that need more paint.

Follow the instructions on your paint and let it dry, then peel off the stencil. So Easy!! This was about a $10 project, and next time it would just be the cost of whatever item you are stenciling. The possibilities are endless ....

Monday, December 6, 2010

I don't follow my own advice

uh, woops.

Remember when I said that thing about not making birthdays a huge deal?

Well, I confess that I unwillingly made this 2-year birthday party a bigger deal than originally intended. It's just so fun, though ... how can you avoid it?

I randomly came across this cute circus-themed party for a 2-year-old and thought it would be the perfect theme for Miss Ells. Then, I remembered this post on Under the Sycamore about popcorn boxes. (Do you read her blog? She is a photographer and has great pictures of her kids with fun crafty projects). Turns out, Hobby Lobby has an entire line of circus-themed party supplies. All of these things conspired together to make me cross the border into crazy-birthday land.

Most of the craziness was crafty projects on my end - the party was still just our family and 2 little friends - but I do really enjoy the crafty part, so that counts for something, right?

I will post about some of the fun crafts this week. In the meantime, though, here is a fun birthday tip: have the special grandparents / aunts / uncles in your life call and leave a message on your voicemail for the little birthday girl or boy. Both grandmothers called Girly on her birthday and she sort of acted interested in holding the phone to her ear. One of her grandfathers, though, left a message because we were out of the house, and she asked to listen to it no fewer than 12 times!

And, here are a couple of blogs that have every cute party idea you could ever imagine!
Hip Hip Hooray!
Sara's Party Perfect

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dearest Girl

Dearest Ellen,

It is amazing to me that you have been a part of our lives for a mere 2 years, though I can hardly remember how we spent our time before you arrived. It hasn't been the easiest two years, but it has been rewarding and joyful and full of smiles. "Life with Ellen" is the life we want and we feel so fortunate to be your parents.

Birth to age 1 is almost a blur ... it was amazing to watch the change from a tiny, helpless newborn to an independent 1-year-old. The change from 1 to 2, though, has been even more remarkable to me. I love watching the wheels turn in your head as you figure things out. You are so inquisitive and surprise us daily with new things you have learned. I treasure your running commentary on our car rides and pride myself on figuring out 95% of what comes out of your mouth. Your newest phrase of, "Mama - what you doin in der?" brings an instant smile to my face.

As you approached 2, the mischievous twinkle in your eye grew even brighter and you like to stand your ground, particularly when I'm involved. My goal between 2 to 3 is to channel your passion into constructive activities - let's see how that goes. I always want you to stand up for what you believe in and to challenge those around you.

I love your questions (oh, the never-ending questions) and the science nerd in me can't help but be excited about the more complicated questions to come. When I see the light bulb go off in your head, it is thrilling. Quite literally, as I was writing this, I stopped to go up to your room to quiet you for a nap. "Why?" you asked. "Why nap, Mommy?" Oh, dear ...

You are a loving, cuddly, affectionate girl and find it endlessly entertaining that Daddy gives both Ellen AND Mommy kisses in the morning. You ask us to sit right next to you on the couch to read or watch a show, and I try to take advantage of every second, knowing full well that the day will come when you want to sit as far away from us as possible.

Our bedtime routine is very special and I feel lucky that your Dad and I both participate in bedtime most nights. You like to call the shots, and most nights we rock a bit before bed, either "just rock", or "rock and skatch-da-back". You lie down in bed and demand, "SKATCH-DA-BACK MOMMY!" and usually add, "in minutes". I giggle softly and generally comply with your demands, you lucky girl.

You have a delightful personality and often capture the eye of those around you. Yes, you have your moments of fake tantrums and flailing on the floor in public, but more often you enjoy parroting silly phrases that your Dad taught you, or shaking your booty to the music, or laughing out loud at the simplest of things.

We love you. We are proud of you. We are proud to be your parents. You have changed our life, from top to bottom, in the best possible way.

Happiest Birthday to you, darling girl.

Love, Mama

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anticipatory Guidance

In the paid job that I do 3 days a week (otherwise known as Keeping My Sanity), the concept of "anticipatory guidance" is something we use quite a bit. Basically, helping families think and talk through what they might expect in the near and far future as related to the health of their loved ones.

I have modified this for use at home, too.

Girly is quite verbal for her age and I've learned that she understands far more than I might have thought, and picks up on random pieces of conversations and pulls remote bits of information from her memory bank at the strangest of times. I think she has reached the developmental point where she understands more "If-Then" concepts, and has a basic understanding of time (yesterday / today / tomorrow). If we have something on the calendar that is a little out of our normal routine, I try to talk with her about it in advance to hopefully ease the transition.

So ... cue her first haircut!

I know first haircuts can be quite the tantrum-fest and, since we waited almost 2 years, I wasn't sure if it would be better or worse than average. I looked on YouTube for "sesame street + haircut" and found an old clip of Cookie Monster singing a song about haircuts. It is totally out of the 80's, and not that good honestly, but she asked to watch it over and over. We talked a lot about what happens when you get your haircut: special cape, spray bottle, comb, scissors ... all the while encouraging nice and sweet behavior, of course!

I think there are Sesame Street videos on an infinite number of topics. Or, if screen time isn't your thing, there are certainly books that address a lot of the same things, you just have to be organized enough to get to the bookstore, which I clearly am not.

The holidays are a great time for this, too. It is really fun to watch Girly get into the idea of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, though it is so hard to explain why they only last one day!