Friday, January 29, 2010

Penguin Books

It's no secret to those who know me well that I adore penguins.  I have a massive collection (that I have paired down over the years) that usually comes out during the holidays in full force.  We have several fun penguin books in our home, and here are some favorites.

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
Tacky is an odd bird, but a very nice bird to have around.  See how Tacky saves his friends from some fearsome hunters who arrive at their home in Nice Icy Land.

This is my very favorite bird, maybe one of my all-time favorite children's book series.  Did you know there is a series?  There are, in fact, seven books about Tacky.  I won't summarize all of them for you, so you'll just have to take my word for it and assume they are all wonderfully fun and entertaining!  Helen Lester is a favorite author and has several delightful non-Tacky stories as well.  Here's the Tacky Stories list:

Tacky the Penguin
Three Cheers for Tacky
Tacky in Trouble
Tacky and the Emporer
Tacky and the Winter Games
Tacky Goes to Camp
*Her website says she's working on a Christmas Tacky book.  I can't wait!

Little Penguin's Tale by Audrey Wood
Nanny penguin settles her grand-penguins around her to tell the cautionary tale of a little penguin who foolishly wanders away on a wild adventure, and the consequences of his actions. 

Penguin Pete by Marcus Pfister
Penguin Pete is too small to venture for a swim in the ocean with the others, but he manages to find lots of fun while he waits, learning to ice skate and making some new friends.

(There are a few more Penguin Pete books in this series as well)

The Little Penguin by A.J. Wood

This is the story of a little penguin who gets separated from his parents as they travel to the sea.  Worried as he begins to lose his soft gray "baby" feathers, he searches for his mother and father, not realizing he is just growing into his adult feathers.  This book has sweet and reassuring text, but the real reason I love it is for the beautiful illustrations.  The pages are embossed with details to add even more depth to the pictures.

The Emporer's Egg by Martin Jenkins

This is a perfect non-fiction penguin book for younger children.  It is written in a casual, easy to understand voice with simple penguin facts.  It explains how the Emperor Penguins take care of their eggs and then the babies that hatch.

Penguins ABC by Kevin Schafer

Great alphabet book featuring penguins.  Each page has a photograph and a simple sentence using the letter and accompanying word.  For example, "D is for dive" and "M is for Macaroni Penguins."  There is also a nice list of fun facts at the end of the book for those who want to learn more about penguins- a fact to explain each letter page.

Waddle on over to your favorite library or bookstore and pick up a penguin book or two!

*All images found on*

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Arizona Mittens

A few days ago, Mr. Two came over to me with his socks on his hands and exclaimed, "Look at my mittens!"

Being Arizona-raised boys, I guess this is as close to mittens as we get!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holiday Recap

Where to start?

We had such a merry Christmas!

My brother and his cute family were here for the holidays, thawing out from the coldness of Cleveland.  My boys were in cousin heaven, playing almost every day with their two boys.

We had family parties with lots of great food.

We stayed up late and slept in.

We baked and cooked and planned.

We scrambled to get last minute gifts finished and bought.

We took some darling family pictures (yes, my talented sister did these!).

We watched Christmas movies, drank hot chocolate, and played games.

Mike and I stayed up late wrapping gifts and watching Elf when the kiddies were in bed.


We read lots of holiday stories.

We opened gifts and said many, many thank yous.

We chatted on the phone with our loved ones in California and Utah.


The boys played to their hearts' content with their new treasures.

We ate, and ate and ate...

We remembered the true reason for Christmas and felt gratitude in our hearts for all of the blessings our Heavenly Father has given us, especially for His Son.

And then we rested...

Hoping your holidays were merry and bright!


Here are several snowflake activities we have tried and enjoyed in our home for our winter theme.

Snowflake making:

I found this activity here and printed out the cards and instructions.  I gave my boys a sheet of blue felt for the sky and cut out the snowflake shapes from white felt.  I used an ice cube tray to sort the shapes (which my husband thought was very clever- ice cubes, snowflakes...).  If you have not been to, they have some wonderful printable activities.

My boys enjoyed picking a card and copying the pattern to make the snowflake.  The most interesting thing about this activity was that Mr. Two (who is two) liked this more than Mr. One (who is four).  Although he found the patterns very difficult and needed lots of help from me, he loved naming the shapes we used as we made the snowflake.  I made it into kind of a game for him.  After putting the snowflake together, I had him name the shapes, then I would say, "Hand me a (hexagon or circle, etc.)" and he would give me the correct shape. 

Snowflake stamping:

I found some great snowflake stamps at Oriental Trading, so I let Mr. One stamp patterns in the pattern box strips I copied.

I had Mr. Two practice stamping in the boxes, but we didn't worry about a pattern.  This was good hand-eye coordination and fine motor practice for him.

Snowflake count:

We used some calendar numbers I had in my teaching supplies, then counted out the same number of foam snowflakes to match the number.  Because the calendar pieces are double sided (snowflake on one side, snowman on the other) we could also pattern with our numbers or just put them in order.

Snowflake Matching:

Mr. One and Mr. Two enjoyed this activity.  I pulled out another ice cube tray and put a different snowflake in each well on the top row of the tray.  I then had them find a matching snowflake and place it in the empty well below my snowflake.  It was so fun to see them really study the flakes to find an exact match.

* If anyone reading out there has ideas on some good snowflake books, I'd love to hear about them. I only have one story about a snowflake and it's quite cheesy.  If you'd like to see some of our favorite winter stories, go here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Snowy Day

I love this story from Ezra Jack Keats. Here is a fun activity we have done to go along with this wonderful book.  A perfect activity for a cold wet day (like we've been having this week in Arizona).

Melting Snowball Treats

When Peter tucks a snowball into his pocket to save for later, it "magically" disappears after his warm bath.  I thought a little science experiment/ treat would be fun extension activity for our book.  We re-read the story and talked about what happened to Peter's snowball.  Of course, in a warm house, the cold snowball melted.  Then we make our own "snowballs" (marshmallows) and folded them in a "pocket" (crescent roll dough) and let them sit in a warm "house" (the oven), where the "snowballs" will melt.  Here's the recipe:

Disappearing Marshmallow Puffs:

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough
8 marshmallows (the fresher the better, stale ones don't melt all the way)
1/2 stick butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a regular sized muffin tin with cooking spray.  (They'll probably stick anyways, but I figure it can't hurt...)  Mix cinnamon and sugar and place in a bowl.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl.

Roll marshmallow in butter.

Roll marshmallow in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Wrap and seal a triangle of crescent roll dough around the marshmallow.  Make sure you pinch seams well.

Roll dough pocket in butter.

Roll dough pocket in cinnamon sugar mixture.

Place in muffin tin.  Fill empty muffin tin wells half way with water (to help the rolls cook more evenly).

Bake in oven for approximately 13 minutes, until golden brown.

Let the puffs cool a few minutes before serving (sometimes the marshmallows are not all the way melted, so this gives them time to melt down and to cool off the pastry).  Enjoy your "melted snowball pocket."

Interested in reading more winter time stories?  Go here for my list of favorites! 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Peaceful Lunchtimes

Working on peace in my home, I pondered how to make lunchtimes more calm, especially when I have extra kiddos over.  I love conversation at the dinner table, but at lunch, it seems like we most often hear arguing and bickering.  I don't want to discourage communication, but we needed something to help make lunch a calmer activity.  I thought that music in the background might make our meal more peaceful.

First I tried Pandora.  We played the "hidden" Disney channel (type in "Alan Menken" and you'll find the Disney channel).  The kids liked hearing songs they knew from movies, but it didn't exactly lend to a peaceful atmosphere, with "Kill the Beast" playing in the background...

Then we tried Pandora for children's music (I made a channel for Laurie Berkner).  This was better, but not the best.

I love Pandora, love secular children's music and the potential for learning and fun that it brings. Please don't misunderstand me.  It just wasn't right for our lunchtime.  We love to listen other times.

Finally, I pulled out cd's of the Primary music from our church Primary Programs of years past.  What a difference!  The kids quietly chewed or sang along to the sweet and simple messages of the songs playing.  The spirit entered my home and we found peace.

I'm not saying it is perfectly peaceful at lunch (kids will be kids), but what an astonishing difference this has made.  My testimony of the power of good music has been strengthened.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Expressing Thanks

For FHE, we decided to finally finish our Christmas thank you's (better late than never!).  My husband and I really want to help our children to cultivate gratitude.  Writing thank you notes is a simple and important part of becoming a more grateful family.

I wanted my boys to feel like they had a large part in the process, so I had them create part of the card art.  The inspiration for this project came from this post on the Frugal Family Fun Blog.

Before dinner, I prepped the project.  I marked off 4x5 squares with my ruler on a large sheet of white construction paper.  I taped off small rectangles in the center of my marked off boxes before painting to create a gift box after the paint dried.

I helped the boys watercolor the construction paper.  We just used our cheapie watercolor sets that were on hand.  I let them choose one color to use, and then I also had them use one complimentary color to go along with theirs.  Mr. One chose green (of course) and Mr. Two chose yellow.  I had Mr. One use blue as well and Mr. Two use red.  This was a lot of painting for them, so we didn't finish the whole sheet of paper.  A little tip, use lots of water to spread the paint out.

We ate dinner while their paint dried.  Then, we peeled off the tape (Mr. One loved doing this and seeing the white rectangle appear).  I cut the squares and glued them on colored copy paper to make our cards.  Then I took a black thin marker and outlined the box, added a bow on top and the words "thank you" to the bottom.


For FHE, Mike read a scripture from the Bible about gratitude, Psalms 95:2.  We talked about having thankful hearts and how we gain happiness as we thank others.

Then, the writing commenced.  Luckily, we didn't have too many thank you's to write.  We had the boys sign their names and tell us why they liked their gifts.  It felt good to express our thanks and to give our boys the opportunity to practice gratitude.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why One Should Never Take Two Young Boys Into a Craft Store Without a Shopping Cart

Yesterday was Civil Rights Day.  Handsome Husband did not have the day off, but Mr. One did.  I decided to take advantage of the freedom from babysitting and get a bunch of errands run.

First stop, Albertsons for laundry detergent, then pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, and head over to Sprouts for some produce.  I am lucky that I have boys that love shopping.  The first round of errands ran smoothly and items I needed were, happily, in stock.

Next stop, Grammie's house for lunch and a rest...

After being fed and rested up, we headed over to "Wally World" for a few items.  Did I bring the receipt for the chap stick I needed to return?  Of course not.  Drat.  At least I found wet wipes in stock, and finally put an ancient roll of film in to develop, so half the mission accomplished.

Then, feeling good still, I decided to brave Michaels for one "quick" item to purchase.  I thought, why get a shopping cart, we can just run in quickly and get what we need.  Well, I did get the item I needed, and used a 50% off coupon for the small $3.00 item (yes, I am that frugal...).  After a smirk from the checkout person for being so cheap, we exited the store.

As I was walking out to the car, Mr. One found a pencil set on deep discount in the bins outside the store.  (Did I mention I'm a sucker for a good deal?)  Well, we had to reenter the store to buy the pencils.  It was at this point, I remembered that they were running a great deal on scrapbook paper.  I should have gotten a cart at this point.  Again, confident we could complete a second trip into the craft store without incident, we walked to the scrapbooking isle.

Why do stores put glitter and scrapbook paper on the same isle?  To tempt two year olds, that is why, my friends.  So, needless to say, Mr. Two found the $10.00 Martha Stewart glitter and promptly dumped it along the isle.  He looked like he'd been fairy dusted, with an impish smile on his face, while his older brother announced, half horrified, half amused, that he had found the glitter.

With cheap pencils and paper in hand, we sheepishly went to find an employee.  I offered to pay for the outrageously overpriced glitter.  Thankfully, she kindly declined my offer.  (Be still, my frugal heart!)

Two trips later, I left with a headache, a glittered two year old, a tired 4 year old, a 20 cent package of Cars pencils, 10 sheets of scrapbook paper (for 20 cents each), and $2.99 lollipop baggies (that I only paid $1.50 for).

Then, would you believe I actually took this glittered crew to a fabric store (gotta love a sale...)?  However, the first thing I did when we got out of the car was search for a cart to strap Mr. Glittery Two in.  Ditto for the grocery store trip.  (I was lucky to find a double seater cart there!) I may not always be so smart, but I like to think I learn from past mistakes.
I ended our Civil Rights Day feeling exhausted, but grateful for a day to get so much done. (And even more grateful for a previously made container of cheesy potato soup for dinner.)  Oh, and thank goodness for shopping carts!

Lesson learned:  Do not attempt to enter any craft store with children without a shopping cart, especially when you are outnumbered! 

And, beware that the pricey glitter that is so attractive to two year olds most likely will not have a safety seal...

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mitten

Jan Brett not only writes and illustrates beautiful children's books, but she has a fabulous website full of activities and printables that go along with her stories.

We found the animals from The Mitten here.  I modified this page slightly, by cutting the animals out, spacing them a bit further apart and drawing cutting lines around the images.  This allowed my four year old to cut them out independently.

We traced a mitten (put edge of mitten along fold) and cut out.  You will need a large piece of white construction paper for this project (18" x 12").

We taped the animals in order along a piece of yarn and attached one end of yarn to the inside fold of the mitten so the animals could climb in.

This was a fun way for my kids to retell the story.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Colorful Cleanup

I found this idea in the newsletter that comes home with Mr. One from our school district.  I thought it was such a clever idea and wanted to share.  Hopefully this will help make cleaning up more fun and less of a struggle.

"While volunteering in my son's classroom, I discovered a fun way to get him to clean up at home.

The students take turns pulling a small square of colored paper out of a bowl.  Then, they walk around the room and put away every toy of that color...

That evening, I decided to try the teacher's idea.  [My son] and I cut pieces of construction paper (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black) and put them in a bowl.  At cleanup time, we took turns choosing colors and putting away the matching items.  The house was picked up in no time- and [my son] got extra practice leaning colors."

I think this might be a fun and more peaceful way of cleaning up toys at my house, too.

Our "clean up box" is an old play doh container I recovered with some scrapbook paper.  I cut small felt squares to place inside instead of construction paper.

I was thinking, we could change out the colors for numbered slips of paper and put away that number of toys to practice counting also.  (Of course you would need to go back and get another number until everything is put away...)

I pulled out the jar last night and had them pick colors to clean before dinner.  My boys seemed to like this method of cleaning, so I will definately pull it out again.

How do you encourage or motivate your children (or yourself) to clean?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter Stories

Living in Arizona, we don't have "real" winter weather.  My children have only seen snow on a small handful of occasions.  In lieu of real experience in snowy weather, we read about it in our short sleeved shirts and sockless feet.  I would love to take them out for a snow outing, but for now, we can read and use our imaginations.

The Mitten and The Hat by Jan Brett

The Mitten tells the story of Nicki, who begs his grandmother to knit him a pair of snow white mittens.  After quickly losing one in the snow, a group of chilly animals snuggle in to enjoy Baba's good knitting.
* for an extension activity to go along with The Mitten, go here

The Hat is a variation in the story, only this time, the farm animals try on some woolen clothes on a snowy day.

Both have beautiful illustrations, simple storylines and engaging characters.

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London

We couldn't leave out our favorite frog!  Frogs are supposed to sleep through winter, but curious Froggy wants to play in the snow.  First, he must get dressed for the cold weather.  A fun read aloud.

Snow Day by Lynn Plourde

Poetic and simple, this story details a snow day spent at home with family.  A great illustration of things that many families do in the snowy parts of the world to enjoy winter together.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

This is beautifully written, poetic and calm.  It is the story of a child and her father going out owling, and appreciating the beauties the wintery outdoors.  I wouldn't recommend it for younger children, however.  It may seem a bit boring and sophisticated.  Better for elementary ages.

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner

Imaginative, rhyming story about what our snowmen do at night when the rest of the world is sleeping.

White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

This book is a classic.  It is another poetry-like story, detailing a town as it is blanketed in a cover of snow.  I love the vintage illustrations and simple story.

Snow Friends by M.Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton

Little Bear wakes up one wintery day.  He wants to have fun in the snow, but wouldn't it be better if he could share his adventures with a friend or two?

The Missing Mitten Mystery by Steven Kellogg

What happened to Annie's missing mitten?  A fun retracing of a snow day to find the mitten with some imaginative ideas mixed in.  Maybe we could plant a mitten tree?  You'll enjoy the clever ending.

The Biggest, Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler

It's not easy to be little when everyone around you is big.  Little Nell is fed up with not being allowed to do anything her big family can.  She heads out to the woods with her animal friends to build the biggest, best snowman.  See what her big family thinks of Little Nell's accomplishment.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Another childhood favorite of mine.  This simple story and the whimsical illustrations bring you along with Peter as he adventures out in the snow near his apartment.
* for an extension activity to go with The Snowy Day, go here
Curl up in a warm blanket, sip some cocoa and enjoy a wintery book or two!
*all images found on*