Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hop, Skip and Jump Picnic Post

Today's picnic post is about getting out and being active. Getting OUT... AND being active...

It's summer here in the lovely state of Arizona. Summer here means it needs to be at least 100 degrees as the LOW temperature in the evening or early morning. It is "blazing-burn-your-fingers-on-the-steering-wheel, avoid-the-outdoors-as-much-as-possible" hot here.

The only real physical activity we do at this time of year involves either being in a pool, being inside or running really fast to get inside so you don't fry.

Seriously, we do really love the community pool here and try to use it frequently. Swimming is great exercise. I actually have been participating in a weekly water aerobics class this summer. I had no idea you could get such a great workout in a pool... My kids beg to go too, but it's mommy time, no kids.

When we were in a better economic situation, we enrolled in swimming lessons during the beginning of the summer. Not this year. Oh well.

I go walking at night with a friend for about 30 minutes, three to four times a week to get some exercise in. (Well, we try...) Even though we go at 9 pm, it is still pretty toasty outside, but bearable with the sun down at least.

I try and cover my eyes as my children jump on the furniture and run in circles around the house to work out the energy. Sometimes I even encourage it by turning on some fun music (shh... don't tell Mom!). One can only do so much with no yard...

We "dance along" to So You Think You Can Dance every Wednesday and Thursday. That counts as exercise, right?

When it's not so terribly hot (think below 115...) we use our Zoo membership. The fabulous thing about the Phoenix Zoo is that they have two water areas for the kids, so you can get wet and walk around and not be so terribly hot the whole day.

We dash from the parking lot to the air-conditioned grocery store when we have to restock the fridge. We also have our daily walk to the mailbox. Sometimes we wander around the mall or the library just to get out of the house. All of these activities necessitate an Otter Pop afterwards.

I am a little jealous of everyone who lives in a part of the world where summer is a magical, outdoor paradise. I may be roasting now, but our winters are fabulous...

Honestly, being active is really NOT my area of expertise. Really, I'd rather just read a book than work out, but I'm trying because I know it's important for me and my family. Head on over to ABC's and 123's for some real advice on hopping, skipping and jumping...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bracelet Refashion

Apparently, this little technique is a big thing because I have found tutorials on two blogs that I frequent, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I have several beaded bracelets that have been pulled apart by my boys and way too much ribbon for a mom with two boys. So, I took one old bracelet's worth of beads and a length of ribbon I had on hand and transformed it into a new bracelet, using this tutorial as a guide.

Not bad for a first try. There are two things I would change from the tutorial if I attempt this again. One, I would make the ribbon longer so that I could tie it in a bigger bow. Two, I would not sew the ribbon together first, so that the ends would be just the wide ribbon.

One thing I did differently from the tutorial. I folded the ends in and slip stitched it closed (I didn't have any fray-check) and I think it finished it nicely. There's nothing like a new piece of jewelry that doesn't cost a penny! How do you refashion on the cheap?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Picnic Post, Organization

I love organizing, so I don't even know where to begin on this post. I have seen so many wonderful posts on this topic, so I'm feeling a bit intimidated posting any of my not-so-brilliant ideas on this subject. I just like having a place for everything. Here are a few ways I organize the stuff that my boys use on a daily basis:


I have a lot of books... I had my books sorted by theme (Valentine's Day, transportation, etc.) while teaching and it worked for me there, so I just kept the system going at home. I divide my themes with a manilla file folder half that I wrote the theme on running down the side. Then I file all the books in that theme behind the divider. I rotate my books by season or theme we're studying, pulling only those books out and putting them in a basket for my kids to pull from. This makes it easy to keep my books in order and helps me read a variety of books to my kids, so we don't get stuck reading cars books over and over, and nothing else.

When we go to the library, I also make sure that library books stay in our library tote so they don't get mixed up in our personal books.

I also have a whole shelf of board books in no particular order for my toddler to go through. This way, he has his own books that don't need to be "organized" and he stays out of the more destructible paperbacks (well, for the most part...).


I have two words for organizing toys- sweater tubs. I love my labeled sweater tubs. They are just the right size to hold a "collection" of toys, yet manageable enough for my kids to pack, lift, stack, and put away by themselves. I put the word and a picture on the label so anyone who was picking up toys (read "friends playing over" here) will know exactly where to put them.

Art supplies:

I keep a little pencil box (with scissors, glue stick, crayons and pencils), coloring books and activity pages, watercolors with a water cup (a plastic fruit cup container), and stickers in a portable handled tub, so when my kids want to do an art project, everything is in one place.

I think the real key to effective organizing is to just do what makes sense for your family. It shouldn't be too complicated, and it should be simple enough that your even your toddler can help clean up. Then, keep at it!

If you are looking for more great organization ideas, head on over to ABC's and 123's for more inspiration!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunday Sweets

(Image from Family Circle magazine)

I have been on a recent recipe quest at my house. I'm earnestly trying to get out of my food rut and setting out to try new things. I have an especially soft spot for all things dessert. I think this is an inherited affinity: my mom's family, especially her dad and her Grandma Smith, had a major sweet tooth (this doesn't bode well with the diabetes that also runs in the family...).

Back to the story. I found a lovely, lemony cake recipe in Family Circle. It looked so wonderful and light, so I decided to try it out.

Andrew helped mix and measure. We had fun baking together. It came out of the oven smelling wonderful. Then I made the frosting. With lemon juice and butter and powdered sugar, we created a heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth topping. The recipe said to wait until the cakes were cooled to mix the frosting...

Patience isn't one of my strong suits. Believe me, I'm working on it.

We had to transport the warm cake over to my parent's house so that we wouldn't be late for dinner. The frosting was starting to melt in our hot car, so I threw it in the fridge at my parent's house.

I waited a while and thought the cakes were cooled and frosted them up. They weren't cool enough and by the time I transported the cake into the fridge, it was sliding in the cake keeper.

Not a good thing.

The happy part is, even though this cake turned out looking more like a "Cake Wreck" than a true "Sunday Sweet", it still tasted fabulous!

Here's to trying new things, even if they don't turn out perfect the first time. And here's to another life lesson on why we need patience in this wonderful world we live in!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Button Snake

This was one of the quickest little projects I have put together. Hooray for using up scraps of this and that to create something fun and useful! I found this cute idea over at The Toby Show and knew with my stash of ribbons and buttons and felt (oh my!) that I could whip this up in no time. Andrew couldn't wait to get his hands on it and play away. This is a great way to practice buttoning and to work those cute little finger muscles for better fine motor control. (Sorry the teacher in me had to say that.) Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Unexpected "Vacation"

(Sorry no pics, just reflections today.)

This weekend, we took an unplanned trip to Gallop, New Mexico. My sweet 13 year old cousin, Savannah McMullin died in a car accident while traveling with her family on a camping trip. It is a parent's worst nightmare. It was heartbreaking. Although she did not survive, many miracles happened to help her wonderful family. What a blessing the gospel is to us, to know of Heavenly Father's love, to know we will see her again and be together again.

We took our unscheduled trip to New Mexico with my family, driving in two cars as a little caravan. My boys are so young and don't really understand funerals, so they were just happy to be going on vacation. (Eating fast food and driving in the car for a long period is a vacation for them!)

We drove through Holbrook to get to Gallop. If any of you have an obsessive Cars fan (or two) in your home, you may know that this is the town that was the main inspiration for Radiator Springs. It may as well have been Radiator Springs to Andrew. He was enchanted. He wanted to stop and stay. We stopped at a McDonald's and let him get a Happy Meal. Kid food heaven. Adult food nightmare...

We spent the afternoon and evening with the McMullins, celebrated Kyle's 7th birthday, and Grandma Smith's 80th. We had dinner and lots of cake and ice cream, and ended the evening with our own fireworks show. (Gotta love the legal fireworks in New Mexico.)

We stayed in a little hotel in Gallop called the Royal Inn (I think). It wasn't very royal, but it was a bed, it had air conditioning and a good rate. We even tried out the indoor pool that night. The boys loved the "pool house". Andrew loved it even more when he discovered that the hotel was off of Route 66!

The funeral was so hard and sad, as so many funerals for young ones are, but there was an overwhelming spirit of love and comfort as well. There were so many people. Savannah and her family are so loved by their community, ward members and family. Jenny and Aunt Paula sang, "For Good" from Wicked and it was beautifully done. Mom played the last piece of music that Savannah played before their trip, from "Pride and Prejudice." It was haunting and beautiful as well. Her father spoke, her sisters spoke. It was a sweet service and strengthened my testimony.

The caravan to the cemetary was so long, at least 30 cars. Zach and Bryan sang, "The Lord is my Shepard" and it was lovely. Then, we went back to the church for dinner and visiting. This was not an ideal family reunion, but it was so good to see family there. I was so grateful that we could be there.

Driving back on Saturday evening after the funeral, both boys fell asleep in the car and missed Holbrook. "Mr. 4" cried for a good 5 minutes or more when he found out he missed it. I don't think I have ever heard someone cry, "I want to go back to Holbrook!" before. Then we stopped in Payson for Wendy's and he was a happy boy again. What an unusual, yet suprisingly uplifting, little trip.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Picnic Post, Vacation Edition

This week's picnic is all about vacations. My family's favorite vacation spot is California, specifically San Diego area. That is where we honeymooned, and now that we have kids, we have started a tradition of hitting the beach and visiting starting the weekend after Labor Day. I'm not sure how long we can continue this when our kids get into school, but it is the perfect time to enjoy San Diego. Most of the crowds are gone by then and the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the ocean water. I have always loved the beach and the calming sounds of the ocean, so it's perfect that I am married to my own California man. Mike's sister lives in San Diego, so we are able to stay with her and enjoy her "insider knowledge" of the town. We also make sure to spend several days with Mike's parents and sister's family who live more inland. Here are just some of our favorite San Diego spots.

We love the beach, LaJolla being our favorite family-friendly one.

Little Italy in downtown San Diego has some great restaurants, and fabulous gelato.

Scripps Aquarium is a fun destination.

If you're willing to splurge, the San Diego Zoo is amazing (or so I've heard, we haven't made it there yet).

Balboa Park is fun, with beautiful architecture and has tons of museums and things to do.

San Diego Harbor is full of interesting ships and a sculpture tree walk.

Seaport Village is a fun little shopping area.

Sea World is another big attraction (This is one of our honeymoon stops, but we have not taken the kids yet, maybe when they're older).

There is so much more, but these are just a few highlights. Oh, I miss the beach already...

Monday, July 6, 2009

The World is an Oyster...

This is another great idea that I did not come up with on my own. This was something that my amazing mentor teacher used in 1st grade while I was student teaching. I just took the idea and simplified to fit a preschool level.

First, you need will need:

one paper plate, make sure it it an old-fashioned, flimsy, non-coated paper plate
two rectangles of white construction paper
glue (or if you're in a hurry, a stapler)
"jewels" (I had these on hand, from Lakeshore, but you could use cotton balls, toy coins, colorful glass pebbles, etc.)

Have your little one color the top of the plate red (or pink). This will be the inside of the oyster's mouth. As you can see, we were "bored" with the red paint, and decided to give this oyster a more colorful mouth...

After the top is dry, turn the plate upside down and paint the bottom black. This will be the outside of the oyster.

Wait until both sides are completely dry, then fold the plate in half to form the mouth.

Cut the top two corners of your rectangles to make the eyes. Color the centers. Fold the bottom of the rectangle down about an inch and glue (or staple) the eyes onto the oyster.

If you're ready to stop here, glue a cotton ball into the mouth for the pearl.

For more fun, don't glue in the cotton ball. Take your treasure and fill up his mouth. Let your little one enjoy hiding things inside the oyster. Take several small treasures and line them up. Have your little one close their eyes while the oyster eats one. Have them guess what was eaten.

Language Arts:

You can use magnetic letters and put the letters to your little one's name outside the oyster, close eyes and have the oyster eat a letter. Have your little one tell you what letter is missing.

Put the letters to your little one's name, or a simple word they know inside the mouth. Have them open the oyster and arrange the letters to make the word.


This is a great way to help your child learn math facts in a fun way. First count out a small number of jewels (I would start with two, then add one more as your child can confidently complete the task) together. Then, have your child close his or her eyes as you place some of the jewels in the mouth. Have them tell you how many there were first, then how many there are now, then decide how many are missing. Open the mouth and check to see if you are right. Try and use all the different combinations for your number at least once, twice is better. For example, if you are working on the number three, you would try putting 0 in and 3 out, 1 in and 2 out, 2 in and 1 out, 3 in and 0 out. Then, you can switch roles and let your little one be the hider while you tell how many are missing.

Remember, "the world is your oyster" go out and explore!

Travel Flannel Board

I first need to acknowledge MaryAnne@thriftycraftmama for the inspiration for this flannel board (so creative!). I saw her posts on flannel boards and knew that my 4 year old would love to make her train and truck. I wanted to make something that would be a bit more portable and sturdy for traveling, so I came up with a simple flannel board that can fit inside a ziploc baggie, along with lots of felt shapes to create more pictures.

I first cut a piece of cardboard to the size I wanted, a few inches smaller than a gallon ziploc bag. I then cut two pieces of blue felt, one dark, one light about 1 1/2 inches wider and taller than my cardboard. I pinked the edges (mainly to distract from the fact that I cannot cut a straight line...) and pinned the felt together along the edges of the cardboard.

I then sewed along the edge, using a zipper foot, so I could get as close as possible to the cardboard.

I cut the shapes needed from MaryAnn's diagrams, then added some larger shapes, rectangles in different sizes, and some small pipe cleaners and wiggle eyes. I was thinking my kids could make robots or simple animals with the extra pieces. I hot glued a bit of the soft sided velcro to the back of the wiggle eyes to help them stay put a bit better, but gluing some felt on the back would have been better, now that I'm thinking about it. The pipe cleaners seem to "stick" fairly well to the board, too.

Simple and quick and done!

Happy 4th!

We had a simple, but happy Independence Day this year.

We started out the morning with a red, white and blue breakfast: blueberry pancakes with raspberry syrup (yum!).

After breakfast and washing sticky hands and faces, we decked ourselves out in red, white and blue to show our USA pride.

We read aloud A is for America (a Patriotic ABC) to help the boys understand a little more about this wonderful country we live in.

We went to the movies at the Tempe Pollack theater with the Carpenters. Mike and my parents saw State of Play, the young adults saw 17 Again, and I took the little boys to Earth. Andrew seemed to really enjoy it, but Ben was pretty much done after an hour, which is about when the snacks ran out and he decided to poop. (So sorry to the maintenance people at the theater for the stinky garbage.) Our movie ended early, so we wandered around the theater. Luckily this particular one has a mini museum inside, full of vintage lunch pails, movie posters and life-sized figures from movies. We saw Darth Vadar, some creepy wax figures of past presidents, a Power Ranger, Disney princesses and more. They had a little arcade, so the boys sat and "raced" cars for most of the time. I love the fact that they are little and don't care that they are not actually playing, just watching replays of an old game. It's a lot cheaper, too!

After the movie, we had a BBQ at my parents' house. We had steak, BLT pasta salad, and rosemary bread. Mike took the boys outside for a squirt gun fight. Then, we watched the fireworks on TV and made homemade ice cream (we live in Arizona, it's too hot to drag little kids outside to see the real thing).

Lastly, we decided to watch a movie. Mike says we should have watched something more patriotic, like Independence Day, but we watched Emma instead. I know, I know, it sounds a little wrong to watch a British movie on the 4th of July, but I figure, Gwyneth Paltrow is an American, so we're OK... We ate our ice cream and enjoyed the simplicity of a quiet evening together with family. What do you do for the 4th?