Wednesday, July 30, 2014

STEM Skills with Thomas & Friends

My drive to and from work every day during the school year involves crossing University Avenue in St. Paul.  Normally, not a big deal, but for the past several years it has been under construction, adding rails for the Metro Green Line.  The construction drove me a little crazy, though the girls loved it.  Now the trains are finally running on the Green Line and that makes the girls even happier!

Last week we took our first trip on the Green Line.  We took the train to downtown Minneapolis to have lunch with E, and check out the farmer's market.  It was a great trip.

After our trip, the girls were extra excited about trains.  So, for one of our next adventures, we planned a trip to one of our very favorite places, the Minnesota Children's Museum, to check out the new Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails exhibit.

While the girls were excited to see Thomas and his friends, I was excited that there were STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) skills worked in to the various parts of the exhibit.  I think we do a pretty good job of working on literacy skills at home, but I'm not always sure how to engage the girls in science and math at home.  Visiting the Thomas & Friends exhibit gave me some new ideas about how to use STEM thinking skills as my girls play.  Throughout the exhibit there were signs giving ideas about what to ask kids to help them think about their projects.  For example, as the girls were working with different tools (technology skill) to fix Percy's wheel, I was talking to the girls about what they were doing and why they were making certain choices.  Overall, we had a lot of fun exploring the Thomas & Friends exhibit, and I left feeling like the girls had learned a lot too!  You can read more about how the Thomas & Friends exhibit integrates STEM skills and the 7Cs here

Local friends, if you haven't visited the Minnesota Children's Museum this summer, I would highly recommend it!  Besides having the special Thomas & Friends exhibit, Creativity Jam is back (one of my all time favorites!) and the Rooftop Art Park is open too.  It's a great time to visit the museum!

Full disclosure, my family and I are provided with a free membership to the Minnesota Children's Museum in exchange for being a Smart Play Ambassador.  Of course, all opinions are completely my own.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Happy Box

One of my very best friends lives way across the country.  She also happens to be the queen of sending awesome mail (seriously... right down to the perfect stamps).  Knowing that she's going through an emotional time, I thought we could send her some extra fun mail to help brighten her day.

I think I saw this idea in a magazine or online a long time ago, but I can't remember where.  Anyway the idea stuck with me.  For our Happy Box, we picked up a bunch of items with one thing in common, they all had to be yellow.  There were a few things I had in mind before we went shopping specific to my friend (like post it notes and washi tape) but otherwise I told the girls to help me keep an eye out for things that were yellow as we walked around Target (the Dollar Spot was a big help!).  

Here's what we found

  • Lemon Heads
  • Juicy Fruit
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Days of the Week List Pad
  • Post It Notes
  • Yellow Index Card Ring
  • Washi Tape
  • Paper Straws
  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • Punch Balloon
  • Mini Squirt Gun
  • Burt's Bees Chapstick
There were a lot of other things we saw as we shopped, but these seemed like good things to send in the mail.  When we were done, we put everything in a big envelope and sent it off (I would have preferred putting it in a box for a nice presentation, but I couldn't find the right size box at our house, and wanted to get it in the mail quickly, so we went with an envelope).  I hope it brings a burst of extra sunshine and happiness to my sweet friend!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Twosday Thirteen

Today I'm linking up with Heather for Twosday!

Fun Weekend Activities with the Girls

The girls don't look very excited, but they really did like it!
  1. Twins Game.  E was helping some friends move on Saturday, and they offered us their tickets for Saturday night.  It was our first game of the season, and the girls loved checking everything out, and having hot dogs for dinner.  
  2. MOA.  Sunday was E's birthday, and somehow Miss A convinced him that he wanted to go to the Mall of America to celebrate.  E and the girls went on a few rides, we had lunch and I picked up a little brother/little sister onsie to match the big sister shirts I got for the girls.  

Fun Weekend Activities without the Girls
Little J photobomb.
  1. Bar Patios.  Our babysitter was able to come over Sunday night so I could take E out for his birthday.  We stopped at The Liffey for a bit before dinner, and Sweeny's (one of my favorite TC spots) after dinner.  It was so nice to sit, relax and talk.
  2. Mancini's.  This was maybe a strange pick for a summer night out, but Mancini's Char House is a St. Paul landmark that we somehow hadn't been to in our (almost) 7 years living in the city.  Mancini's has an awesome, old school feel.  E especially loved it.  
Things I'm Loving at 38 Weeks
  1. Unlimited ice cream.  Well, maybe not unlimited, but we are going through large quantities of ice cream around here.
  2. Feeling baby move.  I know that baby could come any day now (though I'm trying not to drive myself crazy with that idea), so I'm trying to pay extra attention to baby's movements.  Baby is especially active at night, and it's fun (and a little weird) to watch baby parts move across my belly.

Things I Could Do Without at 38 Weeks
  1. Comments from strangers.  Our waitress on Sunday asked when I was due, and when I said 2 weeks, she said, "It looks like it could have been yesterday."  Not something any pregnant woman wants to hear.
  2. The heat.  I know that I have been pretty spoiled with a relatively mild summer, but today we made it to the 90s and I mostly hid inside.
Things I've Been Listening to Recently
  1. Mom & Dad Are Fighting Podcast.  Erin shared this on IG a month or so back, and I've gone through all of the episodes.  I love the mix of interviews and discussions of different parenting topics mixed with personal stories.  Each episode the hosts share a parenting triumph or fail, which are always relatable.
  2. This American Life Podcast.  This is one that I used to listen to all the time, but after taking a break for a few months, I recently started listening to all of the episodes that had collected on my phone.  I especially liked the 20 Acts in 60 Minutes episode.
Things I've Read When I Should Be Sleeping
  1. 43 Things Only Girls With Curly Hair Understand.  Totally relate to pretty much everything.
  2. The Joy of Writing Letters.  I love writing letters, and find this to be so sweet!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Favorite Twin Cities Kid Spots: Warm Weather Edition

I'm linking up with Katie for Friday Favorites today, sharing some of my favorite places to go with the little ones during the summer.  What are your favorite places to visit in the summer?  We're always looking for new ideas.

Nature Centers: My favorite nature center that we've been to is the Tamarack Nature Center.  It's only a few years old, and a spot we make sure to visit every summer.  In fact, we've been twice this week.  There is a big area for kids with a big rock climbing area, a stream and a wooded/log area.  I really like that everything is hands on.  For example, in the stream there are a lot of little rocks and sticks around so kids can build dams and see how it changes the water's path.  There are also walking paths, with one that goes through woods and a prairie area, and it's short enough for both girls to walk on their own.  I also really like the Dodge Nature Center.  The girls and I visited for the first time last fall, and it's a place I hope to get back to soon.  I think I tracked our walk there at 1.5 miles, and both girls were able to do that on their own.  We stopped along the walk for some breaks to check out a pond and a small farm with a bunch of animals.

Lake Elmo Park Reserve:  There's a lot to do at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve, but our main reason for visiting is the man-made, filtered swimming pond.  A daily permit for a car is $5, not bad at all.  The pond is great because there's a sandy beach, but otherwise it's more like a pool.  There's an area of the pond that only gets to 4 feet deep which is also great for having the little ones.

Como Regional Park Pool:  This is close to our house (big bonus!) and super nice.  The pool has a really great area for kids that is zero entry, with some splash pad like areas, space to swim and three little water slides.  There's also a regular lap swim style pool, a pool with a zip line and "cliff" to jump off, as well as a lazy river.  A family (up to 5 people) pays $20 at the most, so it's not super expensive, but also not somewhere we go all the time.  It's great for a couple of visits each summer.  Earlier this summer the girls and I went in the morning for a couple hours with friends, then went back with E for an hour or so in the evening.  That worked really well for us.

Como Zoo: Another place that's really close to us.  It's just about the right size for Miss A and Little J right now.  We actually haven't visited the bigger Minnesota Zoo with the girls yet because Como works so well for us right now.  My grandma was a huge carousel fan, so I also love Cafesjian's Carousel at the zoo.  Last summer they also opened a new playground at the park next to the zoo which the girls enjoy.

Horse Tracks:  We have two horse racing tracks in the Twin Cities area.  Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park.  At first these might not sound like the best places for kids (and for some people maybe they're not) but we've always had a really good time going as a family.  Of the two, my preference is for Canterbury Park.  There's a play area for the kids all the time, and Sundays are family days with extra activities (like pony rides) for the kids.  Overall, there's a lot of space to run around and a lot to see.  The girls, especially Little J love being able to see so many "orsies."

Teddy Bear Park:  This is a super cute park in Stillwater, so it's a bit of a drive, but worth at least one visit each summer.  There are a lot of things for littler kids to play on, as well as a play structure for bigger kids, and some cliffs to climb next with sand below to play in (and for a soft landing).

Minnehaha Falls:  I've always love water falls, so having such a beautiful spot right in the Twin Cities is great.  It's a great park for walks and just hanging out (we even had family pictures taken there a couple years ago).  I'm not a sea food lover, but I know Sea Salt Eatery is a big hit with those who are.  I believe there's also a nice wadding pool/splash pad area, but we haven't made it there yet.

Puppet Wagon:  A nearby suburb has a puppet wagon that travels around to the city's parks each week during the summer.  You watch a short puppet show, then the kids get a turn to try out the puppet wagon themselves.  Puppet wagon + picnic + playing at the park is a great combo for us!  Besides the daytime performances, the puppet wagon also visits the weeknight Discover Your Parks events.  We went to one last year where they made snow for the kids to play in.  So fun in the middle of the summer!

Lakes:  Minnesota is famous for its lakes, and they're one of our favorite spots to spend our time.  Before moving to St. Paul, E and I lived in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, and spend lots of time walking around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.  Now that we're in St. Paul, we walk around Lake Como many times each week.  This summer, the girls and I have been meeting up with one of my friends to walk around Lake Harriet.  Not a place I previously spent much time, but I've been loving it.  The playground is great, the walking path is quite shady, there are swimming beaches and there is an elf living in one of the trees.  Mr. Little Guy, or Thom, moved to Lake Harriet in 1995, and if you leave a note for him at his house, he'll write back.  The girls left notes last week, and they're (we're!) excited to see what Mr. Little Guy has to tell them.

Splash Pads: Splash pads seem to be the cool thing for cities right now, and we're loving that.  It feels a little more manageable to me to take two kids to a splash pad than a pool, so this is an easy way to get out of the house and cool off on hot summer days.  Here's a list of splash pads around the Twin Cities.

Minnesota Children's Museum I also shared this in my cold weather favorites, but the Minnesota Children's Museum is always a favorite of ours!  This summer Creativity Jam is back and there's a special Thomas the Train exhibit (more info coming soon!).  Every summer they also open the Rooftop Art Park.  It's always fun to check out the view and see what they have going on up there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Baby #3: Week 37

Due date: August 2nd.  Hopefully less than 3 weeks to go!

What I'm loving:  Summer!  Work hasn't been too busy for E, so we've been able to fit in a lot of summer fun activities this month.  Overall, the summer has been pretty mild, which I'm loving.  We've had enough hot days (in my opinion) to get in swimming, but nothing too unbearable.

What I'm looking forward to:  Baby being here!  I'm trying not to get too hooked on the idea of baby arriving early, but it's hard not to think about the fact that baby could come any day now.  My doctor joked that she was waiting for me to come in while she was on call last weekend.  I'm okay with letting baby cook a couple more weeks though.  I think July 25th would be a fun birthday because both girls were born on the 25th, but I know baby is in charge of that decision.

What I'm missing:  Being able to move around normally.  Bending over and rolling over in bed are two challenging tasks right now.

How I'm feeling:  Tired.  Cranky.  My sleep hasn't been the best lately.  I have a hard time falling asleep at night, and I'm up at least 3 times to go to the bathroom.  Each time I get up I have a hard time falling back asleep.  This is not normal for me at all.  Thankfully, I'm not working, so I have a lot of flexibility with our days.  That has helped a lot!  Also, one of my doctors comments that I'm having a pretty "boring" pregnancy.  It's a nice reminder that while I have a lot of pregnancy discomforts, it's all normal stuff.  I'm so, so thankful to be having a third "boring" pregnancy.

Exercise:  Lots of walks.  Not a whole lot else at this point.

Cravings/Aversions:  Nothing major.  Still lots of fruit and ice cream.

Diet:  I'm eating less overall now, I think, because I get full much more quickly and I'm having a lot more trouble with heartburn.

Differences between pregnancies:  At this point with Miss A I mentioned her kicking up in my ribs a lot, and her little sibling likes to do the same.  I'm constantly pushing down on the upper right side of my tummy, much like I remember doing the first time around.  My skin feels really stretched out right now, and the top of my belly along with my belly button are painful to the touch by the end of the day.  I like to joke with E that I feel like Baby #3 is trying to get out through my belly button.

I skipped 37 weeks with Little J, but at 38 weeks I was feeling rather big.  Feeling that way again with Baby #3, though my weight has leveled off a little over the past few weeks, which is making me feel a lot better.  I've gained more weight this time around, but I think (hope!) the number will stay reasonable over the next few weeks. I was also worried about not having a name picked out, same as this time around.

Other Thoughts: Last week I did a deep clean of the nursery and got all of our neutral baby clothes, blankets, swaddles and bedding ready to go.  I also stocked up on diapers and wipes.  It's crazy how much smaller the newborn diapers are than Little J's!  Our nursery has a jungle theme so not a lot needs to be updated.  There are a few things I'll change up after baby arrives, but for now it's set to go.

I keep having moments where it hits me, wow... I'm going to have 3 kids soon.  How am I going to manage 3 kids??  How will I go anywhere with 3 kids?  Am I going to go crazy?  Overall, I think we'll be fine after an adjustment period, but it's feeling a little wild that E and I are about the be outnumbered by the kids.  And there's going to be a baby at our house again.  A tiny little newborn.  It feels like it was so long ago that Little J was a baby.  I'm both really excited and a little nervous about bringing another newborn home.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Twosday Twelve

Family Fun Activities over the Holiday Weekend
  1. Strawberry Picking at Afton Apple.  We missed strawberry season last year because of our trip to Germany, so this year I really wanted to get out and pick fresh strawberries.  It was a bit of a drive, but the girls had a lot of fun picking strawberries and checking out the animals.  And the fresh strawberries were SO good!
  2. Swimming at Lake Elmo Park Reserve.  We've been out to the Lake Elmo Park Reserve every summer at least once.  A day pass for the park is $5, getting you access to all of the trails and the swimming area (I think there's more there, but that's what I know of).  The swimming area is a man-made filtered pond.  I like that it feels clean, but still has sand to play in.  

Strawberry Desserts Made and Eaten
  1. Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles
  2. Strawberry Milkshakes

Fireworks Viewed
  1. On the 3rd, the four of us headed down to Bloomington for the Summer Fete.  We ate fair food, the girls jumped in some inflatables (thanks to the nice lady who gave us a bunch of extra tickets!) and then watched fireworks after dark.  The fireworks show was really good, and really long.  We all enjoyed it, especially the girls!
  2. Minneapolis Red, White and Boom.  I contacted our babysitter about coming over to watch the girls while E and I snuck in one more date night before baby comes, and the 4th worked best for her.  E and I ended up downtown, so we picked up some chocolate cake and headed down by the river to watch fireworks.  On our walk over we also caught the "Freedom from Pants" bike ride which was... interesting. 
Tap Rooms Visited 
  1. Harriet Brewery.  A tap room tour might seem strange for a lady who is 8 months pregnant, but considering I don't like beer anyway, it seemed like a good idea for when I can't drink anyway.  Unfortunately a bunch of the Minneapolis tap rooms were closed for the 4th, but we did have luck with Harriet Brewery.  The tap room was bright and it looked like they were setting up for live music later that night.  
  2. 612 Brew.  This was my favorite of the two we stopped at, simply because I liked the space.  The tap room was big, and the outdoor area was really nice.  I think it would be a great spot to go with a big group sometime.

Miss A's Favorite Songs at the Moment
  1. Beat of the Music by Brett Eldredge.  I normally listen to a lot of talk radio in the car, but Miss A has been requesting music more and more lately (and not even the Frozen soundtrack).  She especially likes country music, and can sing along with a surprising number of the songs.
  2. Happy by Pharrell.  Because really, who doesn't love this song?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Camping Trip 2014

Last weekend we packed up just about every inch of our SUV and headed to Wisconsin to go camping with my family.  We planned the weekend trip near my brother and SIL so we could spend some time with Baby JR while enjoying some time outside too.  The campground was nice, right along the Wisconsin River, with a pool too, and a playground (and bathrooms) close to our campsite.

The girls loved camping, as they have in past years.  Lots of family around, running around outside, swimming and s'mores... what more could they ask for?  They both slept well in our tent at night, and Little J even took a nice nap on Saturday.

I think the highlight of camping for the girls was swimming in the river.  Daddy makes it extra fun!

The girls loved seeing their baby cousin, of course.  E says we all came back a little baby crazy.  Good thing we've got one coming to our house soon!

A quick shot of the belly at 35 weeks at the playground.  Both girls are getting pretty adventurous, wanting to try everything at the playground.  We could see the playground from our campsite, but their was road between the two.  Miss A thought she was so big when we let her go over to the playground by herself a few times.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Baby #3: Week 35

34 Weeks.  I'm going to blame pregnancy brain
for why I left my camera in WI after our visit last weekend.
Due date: August 2nd.  One month to go!  I saw someone else post that 35 weeks is 35 days to go, which is really helping me see the end.  And push me to get the rest of my to do before baby list done!

What I'm loving:  Today's cool weather!  It hasn't been a ridiculously hot summer, but I get warm so quickly right now that a few days in the 70s feels amazing to me!  I'm still loving baby hiccups too.  I think they're so funny.  It doesn't seem like I feel this baby move as much as the other two, but when baby moves I really feel it.

What I'm looking forward to:  Not being pregnant.  I'm trying to enjoy these last weeks of being pregnant, but I'm hot and tired.  And I can't wait to meet the new addition to our family!

What I'm missing: There have been a few warm days when I really would have liked a drink.  I also miss running, which seems funny to me, but last summer I ran before E went to work in the mornings, and it was a great way to start my days.

How I'm feeling: Tired.  I am really thankful to be done with work right now, so I am getting more morning sleep, which makes up for my later bedtime.  I haven't been having heartburn as much with this pregnancy, but for the past couple of weeks I've been getting really intense heartburn every night around 10:15pm.  If I'm already sleeping, it wakes me up.  If I'm not sleeping it makes it nearly impossible to fall asleep.  Most nights I'm feeling better by 11pm, but it is no fun for the 30-45 minutes it lasts.

Exercise:  Still getting in a few longer walks and a couple days on the elliptical during the week.  Some days the girls and I will walk in the morning, and we'll walk with E again in the evening.  I'm trying to stay active but I can really feel myself slowing down.

Cravings/Aversions:  I don't know if I'd call it a craving, but since getting my appetite back around 20 weeks, I've been loving steak and other red meat.  With my other two pregnancies red meat of any kind made me sick throughout my pregnancy, so this has been strange for me.  I'm also still loving fruit, especially strawberries.  I have big plans to get out to pick strawberries with the girls this week.  E found our first raspberry ready in the backyard today, so hopefully baby wants lots and lots of raspberries!

Diet:  Getting better all the time.  I'm still eating more sugary snacks than I probably should be, but I'm eating a lot more fruits and veggies too.

Differences between pregnancies:  Still feeling bigger this time around, and right now, slower too.  On Sunday evening I noticed that my ankles were pretty swollen, which I did not have with my two pregnancies.  Getting my wedding ring on and off is also getting tougher.  I'm still hoping I can keep wearing it for this last month!  For comparison here is 35 and 36 weeks with Miss A and 36 weeks with Little J (how little does Miss A look?!).

Other Thoughts: This baby really needs a name.  We are getting nowhere fast on picking a name for a boy or a girl.  Baby is a serious contender right now.

Also, we were in Wisconsin this past weekend for camping and Baby JR's baptism (more to come soon).  It was really fun to see my family, probably for the last time before baby arrives!  We're home with no major plans from now until August.  Sounds nice and relaxing.  I think spending time with Baby JR over the weekend really got the girls in baby mode.  They were carrying their baby dolls everywhere on Monday.  Miss A holds her doll, and bounces.  When I asked her why, she told me that's what her baby likes.  Miss A and Little J are both very excited to be big sisters and big helpers!