Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas 2013

A belated Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
We spent the weekend before Christmas traveling to Wisconsin to celebrate with my family (and came home with a carload of gifts... wow!), so we had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home.  It was absolutely relaxing, restful and wonderful.  I tried to use the timer on my camera to snap a couple of family photos when we got back from church on Christmas Eve.
Our girls sleep in pretty well, so we got some much needed extra sleep on Christmas morning. (Santa's elves were up really late putting the finishing touches on a big Christmas present.)  When the girls did wake up, they opened their stockings right away.  We convinced them to have breakfast after that, before opening anything else.
We try not to go too crazy on Christmas, but Santa did leave a few gifts for each girl.  Little J has been so funny opening gifts for her birthday and now Christmas.  She has to throw away each piece of wrapping paper that comes off before moving on to the next piece.  It's very cute.
 One of Miss A's gifts was a real stethoscope.  Doc McStuffins is her favorite show right now, and she broke the stethoscope that came with her doctor kit.  This one is pink (her favorite) and it really works, which she thinks is super fun.  Everyone has had their heart checked many times in the past few days.
 The girls got a big, joint gift of a dollhouse.  I really like the one they got because each room is a separate piece.  There are a ton of different ways to arrange one big house (trust me, they've been arranging like crazy... maybe with some help from Mommy), or my favorite part, you can build two separate houses.  The dolls that came with the dollhouse were a little weird, so many princesses and Dora's family have moved in too.

Overall it was a fabulous Christmas!  We have two very happy (very spoiled) little girls!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Snapshot Three

The girls don't have cousins on my side (yet) so our trips to visit E's family are extra special.  Miss A and Little J are the two youngest cousins, so they spend the visits running and trying to keep up with the big kids.  Last weekend we headed down for a Christmas visit, taking advantage of a free hotel room offer from a nearby casino.  We went swimming, had dinner and ended up with 6 adults and 7 kids playing in our hotel room.  It was a little loud at first, but when things quieted down, E pointed to the area under one of the nightstands in the room.  There I found the four little cousins gathered around the oldest's tablet, checking out what he was doing.  I love that he's so sweet and patient with them, and even though he's reached middle school age, he doesn't mind hanging out with the 5 and under crew.

Monday, December 9, 2013

DIY Play Kitchen

I've started putting this post together several times, but have never seemed to get it done.  Finally, a year after we made our play kitchen, a post on what we did.

I remember seeing a few DIY play kitchens around the blog world back in the days before Pinterest, and I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do.  Luckily, my husband is quite handy, so he was able to help me make it happen.

We visited a nearby thrift store a couple of times, and eventually found this TV stand.  E picked it out and thought it would be a good choice because it would fit well in our kitchen and it came with a shelf that could be used as an oven door.

I'm kicking myself now for not taking more photos of the process, but here's a quick summary of what we did.  I lightly sanded, primed and painted the entire TV stand.  I decided to paint our play kitchen white because it would fit in with any room in our house pretty easily.

E cut a circle whole in the top of the TV stand, and we put a metal bowl in to use as the sink.  For the faucet and handles we used a wooden J and dowels from Michael's.  I spray painted them silver and E figured out how to attach them.  We also got 4 round plates (kind of like this) to use as the burners for the stove.  I painted a grey square (paint left over from Miss A's room) on the top to be the stove.  Next I spray painted the burners black and drew silver circles on them.  When everything was dry, I used Gorilla Glue to attach the burners to the stove.

We picked out hardware for the play kitchen at Menard's.  They only had basic colors, so I spray painted everything pink.  We used some other wood pieced from Michael's to make knobs and buttons for the oven.  E attached the extra shelf that came with the TV stand and an extra railing piece from our deck to make the oven.  I used the grey paint to add an oven window.

I'm not sure what the oven rack was from, but E found it in our garage.  All I had to do was clean it up and add a fresh coat of paint.  The little shelves from the TV stand were missing when we got it, so E found some extra wood to make two little shelves.

We were able to finish up (most) of the play kitchen to give to the girls as a joint Christmas gift last year.  We told family members that they were getting it so others got them play food and other kitchen accessories.  The play kitchen has been a big hit with the girls!  We have it in our kitchen so the girls can play while I'm making dinner.  Little J especially likes to mimic what Mommy's doing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Little J's Minnie Mouse Themed Birthday Party

For Little J's 2nd birthday party, I had an owl theme in mind, but as her birthday got closer, Little J started to really like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  A quick search on Pinterest gave me plenty of ideas for a Minnie Mouse party and I was pretty happy with how it turned out!

For the invitations, I used a circle cutter and circle punch to a make two different sized circles to make the main mouse sillouette.  I cut the white paper with the writing to a slightly smaller circle and added a red and white bow.  (As much as I like pink, I really wanted to stick to a black, white and red theme, which is surprisingly difficult to find for Minnie Mouse things.)

I did a 3 in pictures for Miss A's party, and it was such a great
way to display a bunch of pictures that I had to do it again.  
My littles love balloons, so we covered the floor with red and black balloons.  I bought some red and white polka dot fabric to use as a tablecloth, made a TWO banner, and used a bunch of pictures of Little J from 1 to 2 to round out the decorations.

As the kids arrived, I took a picture of each one with Mickey or Minnie ears.  I found the Minnie ears with the red bow at Target and a friend gave me the pink Minnie ears and a set of Mickey ears.  Even E and I got to wear ears.

All of our family is out of town, so we did an evening party to give everyone time to get here.  We had hot dogs and some other snacks.  Little J's favorite part of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is the hot dog song and dance at the end, so it was fitting.

We had cupcakes (of course!) for dessert.  E and I had to be at a work dinner the night before the party, so we ordered basic cupcakes from my favorite local bakery, Roseville Bakery, and added Oreo Mickey's to the tops.  

I thought the cupcakes (and Oreo's) were quite tasty, Little J however wanted nothing to do with her cupcake.  I was a very disappointed Mama.  I had been hoping for a very messy 2 year old :)

The main activity for the little guests was to decorate cookies.  The girls and I made about 75 Mickey Mouse shaped sugar cookies and frosting, and bought a variety of sprinkles for decorating.  I think this was a pretty big hit.  Little J and Miss A both loved it, along with their cousins and friends at a variety of ages.  It also kept their attention for quite awhile.

We also had a flashlight dance party in the basement. Not easily photographed, but a favorite activity around our house.  We turn off all the lights, give the kids flashlights, turn on some music and dance.  I saw most of the kids (and even a few adults) dancing away.
 I kept my eye out for Mickey and Minnie Mouse coloring books, and managed to find enough for everyone at a dollar store. I picked up some crayons and tied a ribbon around each set as a party favor for all of our little guests.

We had such a fun day with lots of family and friends!  Thanks to everyone who was able to celebrate with us!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I'm thankful for so much, but especially thankful for my wonderful husband, two sweet girls and a day relaxing at home, just the four of us!  Wishing everyone else a fabulous day too!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Twosday Six: Little J

Fun Birthday Events

  1. Minnie Mouse birthday party with family and friends on Saturday.
  2. Trip to MOA for rides and birthday dinner.

Favorite Foods
  1. This girl absolutely loves cheese.  She will stand in front of the refrigerator yelling, "Cheese! Cheese!"  It reminds me an awful lot of my grandpa.  
  2. For the longest time, Little J has also had a fondness for broccoli.  It's very strange to me.  When we get broccoli at the store, or she sees me getting it ready for dinner, she'll do a little stomping broccoli cheer.  (On the other hand she refused to eat any of her cupcake at her birthday party.)
Favorite Books
  1. Where is Tico?  One of our many Dora books, Little J has been very attached to this book in recent weeks.  
  2. Goodnight Moon.  Little J likes to find the kitties on each page when we read this book.  Our copy is currently being held together with masking tape, so we may need a replacement soon.
Favorite Phrases
  1. "I ok!"  Little J is, well, still little, so there are lots of falls around our house.  Most times she falls, but lets us know, "I ok!" before trying it again.
  2. "I do it!"  Our little 2 year old is becoming quite independent.  She wants to do things herself, and will let you know about it.  Occasionally I forget to let he shut the refrigerator door, and it leads to a serious meltdown.  Other things she most wants to do herself include climb in and buckle her chair and buckle her seat belt.  
Favorite Shows
  1. Sofia the First: This was Miss A's favorite for awhile, so Little J jumped on the princess bandwagon.  Now Miss A has moved on to Doc McStuffins, but Little J still loves "bia."  This is the only show that she will sit and watch the whole 20 minutes by herself.
  2. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse:  This used to be her favorite, but has been taken over by Sofia.  She does love the hot dog dance at the end of each episode, and her hot dog dance is super cute!
Favorite Animals
  1. Kitties
  2. Puppies
Bedtime Must Haves
  1. Brown and pink blankie.  I had to take blankie away for a couple days last week when pink eye hit our house, and it was no good.  I let her pick out some other blankets to use, but she was not happy about it.
  2. Puppy.  E picked up a couple of stuffed puppies at a work conference a couple years ago.  Little J has latched on to those puppies.  I'm thankful we have two, and Miss A doesn't seem to mind that Little J gets to have both of them!
Mommy's Favorites
  1. Post nap time snuggles.  Little J still takes awesome afternoon naps, and gives the biggest, best hugs right after I get her out of her crib.  She usually likes to snuggle for a big after she wakes up, and I'm more than happy to steal that time.
  2. Little J has a sneaky smile that comes out when she's doing something a little bit sassy.  I kind of love it, even if it generally means she's doing something she shouldn't be doing.  She's a little more adventurous that Miss A was at her age, so I think she'll be keeping us very busy this year (and probably for many years after).
Daddy's Favorites
  1. One of Little J's other favorite phrases, "Watch this, Daddy, watch this!"  She will keep saying it over and over until someone acknowledges her.  Sometimes she has something she's planning to do, like jump or spin, but sometimes after Daddy says ok, she has to come up with something to do.  
  2. Little J the copy cat.  Whatever Miss A does, Little J will copy.  If Miss A runs in the other room, Little J follows.  If Miss A jumps and falls on her butt, Little J jumps and falls on her butt too.  It's really sweet to see how much she wants to be just like her big sister.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Favorites: Children's Books

  1. Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
    • This is one of the first paper books Miss A would ask to read.  The illustrations are basic, but perfect for little people to follow the story of Harold's adventure.
  2. The Very Best Daddy of All, Marion Dane Bauer
    • We've gotten E a few Daddy books for Father's Day.  I add a picture of Daddy with his girls on the last page.  It makes the books extra fun!
  3. Josie the Giraffe, Nicola Baxter
    • This will be a new addition to our collection (for Little J's birthday next week).  She loves giraffes and the paper seems pretty tough, always good with two year old.
  4. A is for Annabelle, Tasha Tudor
    • I think books with the child's name in them are extra special, so I search names on Amazon, and see what I can find.  We currently have 3 books with Miss A's name and 3 with Little J's name.  Miss A especially loves to read the books with her name in them.  She was "helping" me get a photo, and asked if we could say one of the giraffes was A too.  
  5. A Book of Sleep, Il Sung Na
    • I love the illustrations in this book. The owl visits a bunch of animals while they're sleeping at night.  It's fun to see how the animals sleep and try to find the owl on each page.
  6. My Garden, Kevin Henkes
    • I actually like all of the Kevin Henkes books we've read, but this one is my favorite.  The little girl in this story talks about helping her mom in the garden, and imagines her own amazing garden.
  7. The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Suess
    • It's a classic for a reason.  I had this one basically memorized for awhile, as did Miss A.
  8. Barnyard Dance, Susan Boynton
    • Another author that I love, especially for the really little ones.  These were some of the first books we read with the girls.  They're really fun, and have a great rhythm. 
  9. Miss Spider's Tea Party, David Kirk
    • This is one of Nana's favorite books, because it has great, bright illustrations.  We also have the iPad app, which is great and free!
  10. Little Blue Truck, Alice Schertle
    • Such a fun little trip with the little blue truck and all his animal friends.  Little J loves all of the animal noises throughout the book.
  11. Give Me Grace
    • This is a sweet prayer book, with one prayer for each day of the week.  We read the daily prayer with the girls after we finish their stories, just before bed.  The illustrations are nice and bright too!
  12. The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
    • Another classic children's book, and while I love the story, I also love the size of this book.  The one we have is about 9x12 and still a board book.  Perfect for reading as a family.  
  13. Baby Giggles
    • Both girls have pretty much outgrown this book, but still read it occasionally.  It's perfect for babies, who seem to love looking at other babies.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ninja Ultima Review

*Full disclosure: I was given this blender by Ninja to try and review, but the opinions are completely my own.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an extremely picky eater.  I mean a seriously, super picky eater.  For many, many years the only veggie I was willing to eat was carrots.  Since finding out I was pregnant with Miss A, I have made pretty big steps in improving my eating habits.  I have expanded the veggies I eat to include spinach, broccoli, asparagus and a few others.  I know I still have a long way to go, but I'm working on it. 

When I attended HLS13 in September, I had the opportunity to talk to the people with Ninja and try a few of their smoothies.  When they offered to send me a Ninja Ultima Dual Stage Blender to try out and review.  Of course, I jumped at the chance!

For a long time I've been seeing posts about smoothies on Pinterest and Instagram.  I thought that smoothies might be a great way to increase the number of servings of freggies my family consumes during the day, but my normal kitchen blender just wasn't cutting it.  I've had my Ninja Ultima for over a month now, and I can honestly say I'm LOVING it!

With the Ninja Ultima Blender, I'm able to toss a bunch of ingredients together and know that I will end up with a silky smooth drink.  When I first told E that I was going to put spinach in our smoothies, he was a little skeptical (and I have to admit I was too).  As we made our first green smoothies, I was very happy to see the spinach all but disappeared!  Some smoothies keep a little bit of a green color, but for the most part you wouldn't even know it was there.    

Now that I have my Ninja Ultima, I take a smoothie to work nearly every day.  In order to make my busy weekday mornings easier, I make big batches of smoothies on the weekend days, and freeze smoothies for the rest of the week.  I grab one in the morning, and keep it in my lunch bag until I need a snack.  The smoothie is usually thawed out by 10am, which is exactly when I need a little something at work.  These smoothies have been an excellent way to boost my servings of fruits, and especially veggies!

The smoothies pictured here have spinach, bananas, raspberries (frozen from our garden) and vanilla yogurt.  They are so yummy... probably my favorite combo so far, which is good because we have a freezer full of raspberries to use this winter.

I initially thought the girls didn't like the smoothies...
turns out I just needed to make sure they were pink!
While smoothies have been my major use of the Ninja Ultima, there is so much else you can make.  The Inspiration Guide that came with the Ninja Ultima has recipes for salsa, soups, sauces and even dessert.  I'm excited to try some other things with my Ninja Ultima soon, including this salsa from Kelly!  Another thing I love about the Ninja Ultima is that it comes with 2 single serving cups that can screw right on to the blender, mix and be ready to go.  I haven't actually had a chance to try these yet, but I'm really excited to use them this summer when I'm home more.

The only thing that has been bugging me about the Ninja Ultima is the size.  The blender base and pitcher are both large, which is great for making large batches, but a little tough for storage.  I've mentioned before that our house is starting to feel a little small, and our kitchen space is especially tight.  Ideally, I'd have the Ninja Ultima out all the time, but for now I bring it out on the weekends (and other times I need it), make my big batches of smoothies, then store it in the basement.  A little bit of a hassle for me, but still well worth it to have have a blender that makes such amazing smoothies.

A big thank you to everyone at Ninja for sharing this amazing product with me!

Friday, November 15, 2013

World Kindness Day (Week)

Last weekend, Heather wrote a great post with ideas for celebrating World Kindness Day.  I normally love Heather anyway, but I especially loved this post!  It was just the inspiration I needed to plan some ways to spread kindness this week.

I shared a couple of things I was hoping to do for World Kindness Day in my Twosday post earlier this week.  On Tuesday afternoon the girls and I made cookies to share with friends and coworkers.  I thought I was setting myself up for a kindness filled day on Wednesday.  Then I didn't sleep well Tuesday night and on Wednesday I was so tired.  After reading Miss A some books before her rest, I curled up on the couch with some blankets.  Miss A normally doesn't nap, so I figured I would rest for a bit until she needed something.  That didn't happen.  Somehow Miss A and I both fell asleep, and Little J took an extra long nap.  I ended up sleeping for 3 hours.  Not what I had planned to do with my afternoon.

I normally resist naps because I wake up still feeling tired, and often cranky.  Plus nap time is my work time.  So I wasn't happy with myself when I realized I had slept for 3 hours when I had so many other things to do.  I had kind things I wanted to do.  Then I decided that as a part of World Kindness Day I would be kind to myself, and not beat myself up for taking that nap.  I needed the sleep, and taking a nap probably helped me show more kindness to my little ones on Wednesday night.  (Also, after I was feeling guilty about not getting things done on Wednesday, this post from Diana helped me get rid of that guilt!)

So I didn't get everything on my list done on Wednesday.  It took me most of the week to accomplish my World Kindness Day projects.  But I completed many kind acts this week.  They made me happy, and hopefully spread some happiness to others too. 

Here's what I did...
  • Shared Heather's post on Facebook and Twitter (and inspired at least one other person to participate in World Kindness Day too!)
  • Brought cookies to work to share with coworkers
  • Shared a cookies with a student who was celebrating his birthday
  • Packed snacks for 3 amazing coworkers/friends who are currently taking Saturday classes 
  • Sent 2 long overdue notes, 2 (interesting looking) owl projects and 1 early birthday card to friends
  • Shared extra owl craft materials with 2 sets of sisters
  • Sent 13 postcards to families of students who showed big improvements in meeting the learning goals for my class over the past week
  • Wrote a positive chalk message on the sidewalk in front of our house (I wrote, "Have a great day! Miss A told me she wrote, "Have an even better day!" A perfect example of how sweet yet sassy she can be.  Also, we left the chalk out while we were taking a break, and one of our neighbors added, "You too!"  adding extra kindness to the block!)
And I don't plan to stop with this.  I've been working to make sharing kindness a part of my daily/weekly routine, and it has been a great addition to my days!