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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Traditions

Jules here-

We know we've been slacking- the holidays got the best of us both.  I had all these idyllic plans for the Christmas season and I barely wrapped my presents and I'm still getting Christmas cards out.  Enough lame excuses and on to my reflections of Christmas.
Santa visit!
As my eldest is six years old, she clearly remembers the last few Christmases, and so family traditions have now officially been established.  The younger ones need to be reminded of special holiday events, but Grace reveled in every joyous moment.  Here are a few never-miss-Christmas-traditions:
  • Gingerbread/Graham Cracker Houses- For 4 years, my friend Tanya & I have rounded our children up for some delicious decorating of candy houses.  The children LOVE it; this year we had to delay our tradition until after Christmas because of my move, but we still did a "kit" gingerbread house before Christmas. 

  • Holiday TV Specials- Rudolph, Frosty, and Charlie Brown's Christmas-- who could miss these? The key is finding the time to DVR them all (or borrow the DVD's from the library).  I personally love surprising my kids with an unexpected stay-up-late movie night! 
    Rudolph
  • Dollar-Store Shopping Spree-  As you know, I am a big spender.  So the dollar store is a perfect location for the kids to do some shopping on their own.  They love to buy gifts for each other, their parents, and grandparents.  I ended up with a Dora hairbrush this year and a new hot-pink make-up case.  Score.  Ems also does the "wrap-with-mommy" afternoon in which she takes one child up at a time to wrap his/her presents.  The kids love the special one-on-one time and to share the secret gifts!
  • Homemade Ornaments- I used to make Ems' kids ornaments every year, but I thought they might be out-growing the tradition.  However, Ems indicated that the kids LOVED getting their special ornaments every year with their name on them.  So, I re-instated this tradition with some child-assistance.  We created these foamtastic ornaments for all of our cousins.
    We made extra for us too :)
  • Christmas Eve Pajamas- My kids LOVE pajamas and as 99% of their clothing is hand-me-downs, this is the one time of year they get something NEW.  I scour stores for discounts and purchase comfy pajamas to unwrap before bedtime on Christmas eve.  I attempt to get Christmas-theme pajamas, but the last two years I could not find any cute ones!! They don't seem to mind what they look like- they just love the fleeciness!
    2013- Penguin Pajamas

  • Wrapped Items in the Stocking-  Honestly, I thought everyone did this.  Unrolling the two yards of wrapping paper to reveal a tube of chapstick is one of my favorite childhood memories.  Only in later years did I realize that so many people suffered from the boring concept of simply emptying out your stocking loot into a pile and looking at it. UGH.  Wrapped stockings are SO much better. Side note tradition: Silly-putty is a must-have item in the stocking, as well as a new toothbrush.  Grace remembered....
    Ready to open!
  • Church before Presents- Though some people think this tradition is harsh, my children don't even bat an eye at waiting to unwrap the mounds of presents!  When they first wake up, they get to unwrap the items in each stocking and then eat breakfast.  We scrub up, dress in our finest, and then go to Mass. After Church, the children's excitement builds and we are able to tear into the fantastic pile of presents.  Not only does this keep the "Christ" in "Christmas" it also slows down the mayhem and paces the present-chaos a bit better.  Plus- the pictures in their Church clothes are a bonus :)
    James gets his golf set!
    Play-doh is always welcome :)
    Grace expects these traditions now, and it makes me excited about the holidays when we have a mini-bucket list of things to do.  Besides the events listed above, we of course look at Christmas lights, make cookies/candies, write cards, and more.  I have avoided the Elf on the Shelf (Thank the LORD!) and expensive trips to see Santa at the mall (Though he was free at the Bass Pro Shops!) What traditions have you started?  Anything we should add to our Christmas repertoire?

Merry Christmas!!

Easy Rule #58790- You do have a few years until your kids start to remember Christmas. So try to think about which events you  would like to do every year.  Don't make it too difficult.

Easy Rule #8797- Even when you don't get everything done on your Christmas To-Do List, the holiday is still a blessed event.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Breather & Potty Time


Jules here-
Watching Pop-Pop shovel, again.


Ah- the weekend! I didn't realize how full-tilt I have been going these past few weeks until I had a day completely off: no work, no travel, and no activities/events.  Because of an icy, snowy, mess my plans of attending a holiday parade were derailed.  Instead, it was a comfy pants and slipper day and it was fantastic. Usually my children have the allotted 30 minutes of TV time- but today, I splurged with a Mickey Mouse Christmas special AND my favorite California Raisin's Claymation Christmas (I found the full episode on youtube-- and if you have never seen it- watch it now it's 24 minutes. The Carol of the Bells is incredible).  If you have a big blank spot below, it's because you are on mobile- the youtube videos only work on your PC:


Though I did homeschool today, the 1 1/2 hours of TV time enabled me to just space out on Pinterest and pretty much do nothing. Glorious.

What did I look up most on Pinterest you ask? Well--
http://www.creativehomemaking.com/cleaning/boy-bathroom-smell.shtml
And the following:

http://www.everydayfamily.com/slideshow/stop-my-bathroom-from-smelling/
So guess what we have succeeded with?  Potty training! Suddenly my newly-3 year old son just got it! However, unlike little ladies when they learn to use the toilet, there is quite a lot of collateral damage with training a little boy... Ems had already warned me.  Nothing did quite prepare me for the the continual "Push your winky down!" comments and the perpetual pool of pee that decorates the floor after he has finished.  I have just ordered a Thomas potty seat that claims to have a "really high spill guard" up front to keep accidents from happening... we'll see. No matter what- I am super proud of my big guy, James, for just suddenly getting being potty trained.
Big Guy is finally using the potty! Now only if he could control the fire hose....
A lazy day as a mom involves cooking, laundry, cleaning up urine, and more- but it also allows moms to not shower, put on make-up, or get kids dressed in "real" clothes.  I read tons of books to the kids, decorated a gingerbread house (a pre-boxed one) and truly cherished some down time.


Note the creative marshmallow snowman and cone-tree... NOT included in kit... we are just that clever.

Easy Rules #52104- The holidays are a hectic time, don't forget to stop and enjoy some Christmas TV and mindless Internet time.

Easy Rules #3587- When you have a day off and don't get out of sweatpants, make sure there isn't any photo evidence.



Top Ten Gifts for Kids

Ems AND Jules here-

We decided to team up for a pre-Black Friday post on what to (and what NOT to) buy for kids!  Our focus is on the younger set of children, because as kids get to the pre-teen era usually only technology-related gifts and/or very specific requests will suffice. 

After a dozen Christmases between us, we have experienced many wonderful gift-wrap explosions on holiday mornings-- and we have come to know which presents are actually useful and which ones will be lost, broken, or forgotten before New Year's Eve. Before you delve into our fantastic list... here are a few disclaimers:
  • Know your child: Some kids love to play with toys, some do not. Don't buy your child something "just to unwrap" when you know they will lose interest very quickly.
  • Our list is a suggestion, not every gift is perfect for your child!
  • Our list is focusing on things you can wrap-- the MOST appreciated gifts for multi-children families are: gift cards (to stores, restaurants, etc.), movie theater tickets and museum or zoo family-passes. 
  • All toys CAN get lost or broken! Teach your kids responsibility in caring for their possessions and have them clean up parts and pieces thoroughly.
  • The point of Christmas is NOT about gifts... it is about the Savior, so don't spend all your money on a crazy day of presents that your kids may not appreciate.
10. Magnatiles- Definitely the most expensive gift on our list, but they are worth it! If you want to ask grandparents to buy them-all the better! They are magnetic blocks that easily make castles, rocket ships, farmyards, whatever they can imagine.  Kids ages 1 to 10 really enjoy creating fantastic sculptures.  These are definitely an always-played-with-toy in our house!

9. Dolls- Now, we have never bought a doll directly for a boy, but little boys enjoy dolls too! From washing them in a sink to feeding them a pretend bottle, kids love to mimic parents caring for little ones.  You can pick up cheap accessories at the dollar store, and try not to spend too much on the doll-- fancy dolls become boring very quickly.
Last Christmas Doll bed & Baby

8. Family Board Games- Start a new tradition of a family game night or simply let the older kids rule over the younger ones in some hefty competition-- board games are an awesome gift! Start them with Candy Land and work your way up to Life & Monopoly (well, only if you want some real arguments...). And although we are focusing on the younger set, there really are SO many spectacular games out there that older kids enjoy --Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Clue, etc.--so really explore this area of gift-giving.  It's a great change of pace from PlayStation.

Candy Land fun!


7. Little People, Figurines, and/or Superheroes- We received the Little People bus as an early gift and added to our Little People collection through hand-me-downs and garage sales.  They are quite expensive new, but very attainable in the Craigslist world.  Plus any figurines you can get at the Dollar Store or Wal-mart can be used for imaginative play.  Children love to set them up on blocks, put them in rocket ships, or make believe they are climbing the "furniture mountains."  

Boys love soldiers and the plastic kind are affordable and easily replaceable. I usually buy 4 bags every Christmas and watch them go town! Well, to battle. Just be prepared for the inevitable rubble of strewn soldiers to be found in random nooks and crannies of your home. Take comfort in the fact that you are not out the big bucks. If a toy is going to get lost, it might as well be cheap!

Lissie Little Person

6. Doodle-Pad- The reusable service is great for car rides, dentists office or even letter practice.  We received a cheap one years ago, and it has been a great way to make quick, non-messy drawings.  You can go high end or super cheap depending on what you want.

5. Legos- Good for all ages, these are a gift that can really stand the test of time. Literally hours of play potential here. Rivaling the Magnatiles in price and the toy soldiers in "spreadability" (I made up this word to describe toys that literally creep into all rooms of your home), however, these are not for the faint of heart. Be sure your child loves to build! If he or she does, they are worth the investment for sure. Stuck for storage? I use an under the bed rollout bin to house all the Legos. And a tip: take pictures of your kids creations! It will make scrapping them at cleanup time MUCH easier.

A Lego contraption of Nate's: I think it's a gun? He's made candy dispensers and banks, too...very cool stuff!

4- Wooden Blocks- At first glance, blocks can be the standard, ho-hum gift. In actuality, if you teach your children to make roads, castles, prisons, etc. their imagination will blossom.  Using the figurines from #7 above, kids can make forts, create battles, re-create fairy tales or simply knock them over with rubber bands.

Mom tip: Just like with Lego creations, be sure to take a picture of their castles & towers so when a younger sibling knocks it down there will be fewer tears...

3. Play Food- We've witnessed kids of ALL ages who like to make pretend food in a kitchen. Don't have room for a real play kitchen? Just buy the food. Give the kid a box to be a microwave or an oven and let them imagine. Younger kids love making meals at a restaurant and older kids even like to join in! From make believe grocery shopping to a tea party- nothing beats imaginative play! 

Just watch out for older boy siblings who may be tempted to use the plastic French baguette as a bat or the canned veggies as grenades. Just saying.

2. Craft Kits- From Wal-Mart to AC Moores, craft kids are an easily attainable and very entertaining gift. From jewelry to race cars, kids can make anything from these relatively-easy-to-use kits.  Parents don't have to buy extra supplies and it usually cleans up quickly!


1. Coloring Supplies- No matter how many crayons a family has, it's never enough. Good quality (i.e. Crayola) crayons, markers, water colors, paper, stickers, etc. are always appreciated. Coloring and drawing can occupy children for hours, and rarely do they outgrow the creative outlet of art. Affordable, disposable, and much desired-- art supplies are fantastic!

Many kids like to draw, as opposed to color, so a ream of paper and a bunch of colored pens would be a super gift.


And not to be outdone--- here's a mini-list of things to avoid:
1. Battery-eating toys (After two rounds of batteries, these toys will never work again...)
2. Super noisy toys (These will end up hidden in a closet by a mother with a headache)
3. Take-up-a-lot-of-space-toys (Oh you got a great deal on the life-sized space ship? Um... keep it at your house we'll play with it there...)
4. Stuffed animals (They already secretly multiply without buying new ones)
5. Million-tiny-parts toys (They are destined for the vacuum canister).


Do you have any must-have toys that REALLY entertain your kids? Let us know via comments!! We want toys & gifts that keep kids AND parents happy :)

Either way HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! Now you better go shopping....

Easy Rule #35872- Don't go with the fad toys, because they put the "fad" in "fading interest."

Easy Rule #24532- Buy with storage in mind. Clear your home out before Christmas to make way for the new goodies!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

First Snow Day Traditions Continue

Jules here-

On Friday, we awoke to a little less than one inch of snow which Lissie proclaimed, "Is today winter?"  Though winter doesn't technically begin until Dec. 21st-- up on top of the mountain, winter has definitely commenced- cozy fires, hot chocolate, and of course SNOWMAN PANCAKES!

Lissie & Grace immediately remembered the annual tradition and eagerly scrambled to the breakfast table to help assemble their delicious creations. From chocolate chip eyes to blueberry buttons, they all turned out delicious! (Except, of course, James's gluten-free buckwheat pancakes that tasted like straw- he still ate them).  A dollop of cool whip added to the sweet, syrupy, sticky mess!



After breakfast, they donned their winter apparel (which of course took FOREVER to find, assemble, and size for each...).  We knew the snow would probably melt by afternoon, so an 8 AM snow-play date made sense.  They made snow angels, threw fluffy snowballs, and loved exploring the snowy mountain scenery.
Snow Angels on the deck!
After defrocking, we curled up by the fire to build with blocks.  James asked Grace to build him a "golf course" and soon we had come up with a fantastic way to pass the time- mini-golf!  We made several different versions with obstacles, ramps, and make-shift (pretend) water traps.

Of course we started some homeschooling after all the fun, but the day had the feel of a holiday.  We attended our first ski swap that evening to get Grace outfitted for her first real "ski season" and went out to a local restaurant for fried clams and ice cream- yum! 

Easy Rule #54354- Take a moment to celebrate the change of seasons- it'll make the pile of snow gear in your hallway more tolerable.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Digesting it All

Jules here-

Though I have alluded to it before, I need to reiterate the reality of my diaper situation: my now-3-year-old-son has chronic diarrhea. It has been three years with only a handful of "normal" diapers to deal with-- imagine the amount of wipes I go through.  If I don't change his diaper within 5 minutes after he destroys it-- his poor Irish bottom because so irritated that I have to forcibly put him in the tub.
Still obsessed with golf..
Now that you are thoroughly grossed out, you may understand the desperation I feel in trying to pinpoint the allergen that terrorizes James's digestive system.  He has an elevated white blood cell count associated with allergens- but so far we can't find the food source. We know he's allergic to dust mites, dogs, cats, walnuts, and barley; he does not consume barley or walnuts on a daily basis. And I hope he's not eating too much dust. Because he's growing so well despite his problems, we have tried elimination diets rather than more invasive procedures.  Here's our journey summed up so far:
Mmm.... lactose free

Lactose Free:
Positives: Lactaid milk substitutes beautifully in cooking.  Cabot Cheddar is naturally lactose free!
Negatives: Expense! Lactaid milk is TWICE as much as regular milk.
Result: Initially an improvement, after 1 week he was back to his normal digestion.
No dairy products at all, including ice cream

Dairy Free:
Positives: Ummmm.... not many.  "Milk" is labeled clearly on most items.  They make dairy free chocolate chips at Trader Joes which is nice. Many people are milk-allergic/sensitive so there are plenty of items.
Negatives: Milk substitutes taste nothing like milk.  I enjoy a vanilla soy milk on my cereal- but drinking it plain- bleck.  The worst milk concoction I came up with was rice milk hot cocoa- it was inedible.  As for "soy cheese" my mom threw it out after tasting it saying, "No one should have to ever eat this. I need to eat something to get that taste out of my mouth."  
Results: Once again, initially (1 month) there was an improvement, but he slowly returned to his baseline status. We stayed dairy free for 8 weeks.
When one kid is dairy-free-- you have to sneak the other ones out for ice cream!
Egg Free:
Positives: Eggs aren't in that much pre-packaged thing. We had to make eggless pancakes (which tasted o.k.) and an eggless birthday cake which tasted pretty normal I think....
Negatives: The simple "breakfast for dinner" scrambled eggs dinner were out the window. Otherwise, this wasn't too hard.
Results: Nada. No change.
soy free rabbit food
Soy Free:
Positives: Labels are labeled "soy free." This was a more "all natural" diet and I would recommend it for anyone who wanted more "whole foods".
Negatives: Wow- soy is in EVERYTHING. Check anything that comes in a box or a bag- it probably has soy: Goldfish, crackers, cereal, breads, snacks, etc.... Soy Lechtin or Soybean oil, or simply Soy.  It made me really question our food supply if it so heavily processed- and I am someone who cooks mostly from scratch!
No bread at all- except for Bertucci trips... who could resist that?

Gluten Free: (Just started this trial 3 days ago)
Positives: Everything is REALLY well-labeled. This is a fad-diet so there are TONS of substitutes for normal food. Whole isles are dedicated to GF products.
Negatives: No bread or pasta. The GF bread runs about $6 for a small loaf, and it's not very good. We are sticking to rice cakes, corn tortillas, and simply no bread.
Results: Pending... we'll find out how is tummy is in a week or two....

Overall challenges and suggestions if you need to do an elimination diet:
1. Making sure my kid isn't hungry. Before each trial I go to pinterest and search recipes, substitutions, etc.  I have snacks/food handy so he can have something all of the time.
2. Have fun substitutes too. James was soy-free on Halloween, so I made sure I had extra starbursts and candy corn for him (he couldn't have any of the chocolate candy). I am blessed that he is SUCH a good sport about not being able to have certain food items (For example, we were at a restaurant that offered free ice cream for kids for dessert, but he was dairy free. I grabbed one of the after-dinner mints and said he could have that instead... he didn't even fuss!!!)
3. Be patient. Elimination diets take time, and it's hard to want to rush the results.  It can be exhausting cooking two breakfasts for your children so one can be allergy-free.
Normal waffles to the left, GF waffles to the right-- you needed A LOT of syrup to swallow them down....
4. Listen to a nutritionist. James's gastroenterologist has a full-time nutritionist to offer suggestions during elimination diets so the child does not miss out on key elements of his/her diets. I know a few parents who take his/her kid off of dairy, and don't even consider the loss of calcium, etc.
5.You are going to screw up. Seriously- you will not be able to be 100% at this-- I am very vigilant about James's nut allergy as he has an anaphylactic reaction-- but a food sensitivity is so subtle that it's hard to keep him from Pizza Hut when the crust might have soy....

 No matter what-- James has been a great sport about his elimination diets and he often asks, "Wait, am I dairy free still?" Or, "Can I have tootsie pop or does it have soy?" And surprisingly he reacts well when I tell him yes or no to each item.  Though he still is quite wary of milk (I tried 4 different varieties to get him to drink milk during the dairy free time) and he'll ask, "Is this Grace's milk? Or James's milk?" and he hesitates to drink it...

Easy Rule #87979- Don't ever complain about other children's annoying allergies, because God might want to teach you a lesson in empathy. I've learned my lesson all to well.

Easy Rule #3535- "Dairy-Free Cheese" does not exist. It's never a good idea.

And a HAPPY ONE YEAR BIRTHDAY to my adorable nephew CHARLIE!! (And happy birthday to his mom too-- she was blessed with a baby on her b-day last year!!):

Looking like a cabbage patch kid

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Homemade Halloween-- and Birthday

Jules here-

Alas, with the move, house-hunting, homeschooling, holiday and working-- I have been greatly neglectful in writing blog posts (and yes, Ems has her own list of lame excuses too...). Our biggest fans have unrelentingly pestered us, so here it is :)

First, I have lovely pictures on my camera-- but I cannot find my camera cord to download the them; I may have put it in storage. For now, I am relying on my fantastic friends and family to help film the important moments, and you'll have to use your imagination too... 


Halloween 2013 Fantastic Used Costumes = Free
Throughout the years, I have been so blessed with hand-me-downs, consignments store finds, and garage sale deals-- that I have never purchased a costume at full-retail price.  After moving away from my local-haunts, I had to go to Wal-Mart. UM--- $25 for a kid's costume?!? Seriously? At best, I could spend $10 per kid on generic, skimpy costumes that we would have to layer so much that they would be unrecognizable as we traipsed around the chilly neighborhood. 

 
Of course, I turned to Pinterest for help.  After scouring "last-minute-kid's-cheap-costume-ideas", I had some simple ideas on a "how-to".  I saw a simple tunic-style cut-out of a pumpkin which inspired me (follow the link if you want the how-to on that one)

DIY Halloween: No-Sew Pumpkin Costume (in under 10 minutes for under $10). A great last-minute kid's Halloween costume from Oyveyaday.com
Follow this link for instructions: http://oyveyaday.com/diy-halloween-no-sew-pumpkin-costume-in-under-10-minutes-for-under-10/


After seeing the simple felt pullover, I was inspired (mostly by the cost of "real" costumes), to totally create hand-made costumes.  Armed only with $12 and my hot glue gun, I headed to Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store to create 3 costumes without sewing, in two days. Grace decided she wanted to be the sun, so naturally I made James the moon, and Lissie a fluffy cloud (mostly because I had this awesome hand-me-down hat she could wear):

Obviously I did not make our friend's Ninja Turtle costume...
I purchased 4 sheets (paper-sized) white felt, 4 sheets of yellow felt, 2 yards of black felt (I think background blue for the sun & cloud would have been nice, but that would have cost another $6 to purchase them separately), dollar store hats & mittens, and I made my own face paint.  I used cotton balls for the cloud and we also glitter-glued sparkle over the sun & moon.  The kids liked helping glue the cotton balls on, adding "bling", an watching me hot-glue the outfits.  PLUS- the kids could wear regular clothes (including jackets) and have their arms free for holding candy!

Though I was proud of our make-shift Halloween costume-making, when I arrived at the library story time, one mom had sewn an exact replica of Little Red Riding Hood's dress AND cloak.... so my hot-glued cotton balls looked a tad shabby-- but who cares- it's Halloween and just plain fun!

The day after Halloween is not only All Saint's Day-- it's also James's birthday! I no longer have a terrible-two year old, I have a still-not-potty-trained THREE year old!! Of course, he wanted a golf-themed cake, and we took him bowling of the first time with friends.  He LOVED it.

James's Golf Cake
The flags were toothpicks with construction paper (Grace made them), the big golf ball and tee are real. The sand traps were graham crackers, and the mini-golf balls were white sixlet candy.
Big Guy is Three!
I cannot sew, I'm not very fancy, but I managed to pull off Halloween AND a birthday, and blogging about it-- kudos to me :)

Easy Rule #11111- You don't need fancy costumes or a lot of money for kids to enjoy holidays.

Easy Rule #45456- The best way to start out a candy-focused holiday is to start the sugar-indulgences before breakfast.


I think we need a sugar-detox