Sunday, September 30, 2012

Park-play, Fall and Spumoni

Well, here I am, attempting to bring back my photography in another instagram-sharing post...
Someday I believe I'll try to do the weekly scavenger hunt I used to do, but for now, you get shots from my phone.

It's cooling off quickly around these parts.  Pretty soon, we won't be able to trek to the park quite so frequently.  So while there are still freakishly warm days every so often, we are doing as much of this:
as we can.

We know that all too soon there won't be any of this:
Or this:
Coincidentally, we decided that if trampolining was an Olympic sport, then swinging should be as well.  You can see I am perfecting my "Trick Swinging" in the off-chance the sport catches on.

On the plus side, all of the leaves around here are looking like this:
Which makes me incredibly happy.  Isn't it wonderful that for an entire season I get to be surrounded by my favorite color?

I've also decided that no matter the weather, warm or cool, there will always be this:
See, I'm involved in an obsessive relationship, and I'm well aware that it isn't healthy.

Spumoni is too delectable to be denied.  mr finished off a gallon we had and I was so distraught that he picked more up after a trip to the hardware store.  The only thing that kept me from gorging on the entire gallon was the look I was sure to receive from Justin.

If you'd like to follow me on instagram, I'm bugabooblog.  I'd love to see you over there!

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PS.  Happy birthday to this guy

Who is, as this picture CLEARLY shows, the REAL Batman.  I've caught him keeping guard over the playground before...
Or maybe, he's just wearing Zoe's owl on his head.
Well, whatever.  He's still MY hero!  Happy big 3-0, Love!

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Tales From the Crib - Seeing is NOT Believing.

("Tales From the Crib" is my semi-regular Friday ritual.  What's "Tales From the Crib"?  For that, look here.  Then look here.  "Things My Two Year Old Taught Me" morphed into "Tales From the Crib" early last year in order to include more children and more ages.  Considering the growth of my two bugs, I thought the change was appropriate.)  

Seeing is NOT Believing.
**Spoiler Alert: in this post I discuss a few topics of sensitive nature, i.e. Santa, the Easter Bunny, Thomas and Ninjas.  If you have any firm beliefs you don't wish to be shaken, I advice you to skip this post.**

I was three when I first questioned the existence of a "real" Santa.  It was a tradition in my family for Santa to visit every Christmas Eve while we were at my grandparents house.  The mystery surrounding Santa Clause was a tangible magic; the fire for which was fanned by my mother - an avid lover of all things Christmas - and of course, my older siblings - who had many years on me, and therefore more experience with such things.  This coupled with the general glee of the holiday season fed my three yr old excitement.  As the moment approached and we waited with bated breath for the knock we were sure would come at any second, my little heart could hardly take the anticipation.  I was lost to a flurry of activity and a chorus of vociferous excitement - electricity so palpable in the air that I nearly missed his entrance.  Suddenly, there he stood before me in all of the miraculous splendor of wide-eyed Christmas dreams.  
Santa Claus.  THE Santa Claus - not the store bought version clad in wiry wigs and stuffed with fluff.  He was the real deal.  Or was he?  
While the others gathered around him and expressed their hopes and dreams in a gush and a rush that was a cacophony too elaborate to distinguish, I was staring at his shoes.
"His shoes?" You wonder, and rightfully so.  What would a three year old find so fascinating about his shoes?
You see, I'd noticed the peculiar fact that Santa's shoes were just exactly the same as my Grandpa's.  You may think I'm making this up - a three year old is generally not so observant as this - but the Christmas air I was breathing must have cleared my mind to the point that I realized in almost the same moment that my Grandpa was nowhere to be seen.
I was still processing the revelation as Santa knelt down to greet me.  There was the obligatory "ho, ho, ho," which indeed SOUNDED convincing, and when he asked what it was I wanted for Christmas there was even the fabled gleam in his eye so that, for the briefest of seconds, I almost believed.  When I looked closer, however, the gleam was gone, replaced with an expression much too familiar.  Without answering his question, I stated "You're not Santa.  You're just my grandpa." More as a matter of fact than a declaration of disappointment.
The disappointment in the room, though, was just as palpable as the excitement had been only minutes before.  My older siblings, it seemed, hadn't put the connections together yet, and I surely had stomped on their magic-believing, miracle-hoping, Santa-adoring hearts.

It's not even October yet.  Why am I dwelling on this sad Santa tale?

A few months ago, bug had a similar experience.  Bug, as is the case for many four year old boys, has an avid love affair with Thomas the Tank Engine.  I admit that I thought we might escape the toy train's clutches, and actually hoped for such a case, but alas, around three years old he became aware of the existence of a living, breathing, thinking, talking train engine and his believing heart just couldn't resist.  It just so happened that Thomas the Tank Engine was making a stop near grandma and grandpa's house in Utah at the EXACT time we were visiting in May.  A grand coincidence, if I do say so myself.
We didn't tell Ezra ahead of time who we were going to see.  Although I had never latched onto Thomas with a hard and fast love as he had, I was still eagerly awaiting the reaction I was sure to witness upon arriving at the station.  So we kept it a secret, telling him only that we had a surprise for him.  When we got out of the van and began walking toward the festivities, Ezra noticed Thomas signs advertising the event.  As we approached the entrance, before we could even see the train, he stopped and stared at a sign.  "It's Thomas isn't it??  Thomas is my surprise!"

The atmosphere on the event grounds can be likened to that Christmas at my grandparents' house so long ago.  Children waiting in line for Sir Toppemhat could hardly control their antsy feet.  Despite the chill rains and the winds that whipped around the tents, kids pulled their parents' hands and ran from booth to booth.  It was an almost feverish frenzy of balloon animals and temporary tattoos, lines and photos and games and people, people, people.  But of course, the highlight was riding Thomas.  Or so I thought.

Once safely ensconced within one of Thomas' train cars, we settled enough to talk about the once in a lifetime opportunity of riding in THE Thomas the train.  

With a lurch and a tug, the train steamed into life - just as in the cartoon - and bug's face lit up when he heard Thomas' voice welcome us aboard.  

We listened for a while as Thomas talked and when the music began I noticed bug looking a little peculiar.
"Aren't you excited to be riding on Thomas, Ezra?" I asked him, leaning across the seat.
"That isn't Thomas talking." He said resolutely with a shake of his head, "When we were standing by Thomas before, his mouth wasn't moving.  That can't be him.  I think it's just a recording on speakers."
I couldn't respond.  To say I was astonished would be an understatement.  Bug is bright, sure, but I didn't expect a conversation like this quite so early on.
He shrugged and continued matter-of-factly, "I don't think Thomas is actually real, anyway.  He's just a cartoon on TV." 

In that moment, I believe I finally understood the still and hushed room in my grandparents' home as I boldly, unapologetically and not at all sadly, stated, "You're just my grandpa."

With bug's proclamation of (entirely true and valid) disbelief, I felt myself awash with sadness - more disappointed than I ever would have guessed I would be that he wasn't feeling the wonder and MIRACLE of what we were experiencing.  I WANTED him to be excited.  I WANTED him to feel the electricity of a dream come true.  I WANTED him to believe.
What can I say?  I'm a girl who still believes in fairy tales.  Not necessarily damsels in distress and princes saving the day (my favorite Disney "Princess" was always Mulan) but at least the happily ever after.  

My Santa story does have a happy ending.  I don't clearly understand why, perhaps it was the feeling in that room after my uttered disbelief, but for years I pretended to believe in Santa.  I wrote him letters, I sat on his lap, I set out cookies and milk.  I was excited to search through my stocking on Christmas morning and the threatened "Santa is making his list!" still had some kind of affect on me.  My parents, I think, always knew I was only pretending, because I never had the sit down discussion.  You know, the BIG one.  The one EVERY PARENT DREADS.  The "I was talking to some friends at school today and... they said Santa wasn't real" talk.  It never happened for me.  One day, and I don't even remember how old I was when this happened, but it was close to Christmas, my mom came into my room.  "Kimberly," she started, and she looked so grave I got a little nervous, "You know already that Santa Claus isn't really a person, don't you?"  I forgot the years-long facade and nodded my head. "Because I want you to know that even though Santa isn't a person, he's still real."
And then I was confused.  Santa not a person, yet real nonetheless?  It sounded like mumbo jumbo to me - something parents said when they didn't want to have a heavy talk.  But I listened anyway.  And I'm glad I did.
"Santa is real because his spirit is real.  What makes Santa so special?"  She asked me.  And after thinking for a minute I came up with something to the affect of him giving presents to every single person in the world on ONE night.  He's magic, of course.  And this is what I will eventually tell my children, that on one cold winter night my mom told me:

"What makes Santa special is that he GIVES.  He gives of himself for no other reason than because he wants to make people happy.  Santa is a feeling.  And as long as we continue to spread that feeling, as long as we believe in that feeling, Santa will be real."

Sometimes, we believe in things we can't see.  Sometimes we grasp tightly to things that can't be touched.  Or heard.  And sometimes others don't believe with us.  They are not disappointed, or saddened, rather simply matter-of-fact.  But the true magic is that we continue to believe.  Some things are more important than our senses, more important than listening to other people around us.  Some things just are.

Tonight my son surprised me by finding an ingenious hiding spot right in front of my nose.  I couldn't find him until he popped out at me.  "That was amazing!"  I laughed as I complimented his sneakiness.
"I know!  I was like the Easter Bunny.  Or Santa.  Or..." he dropped his voice conspiratorially, "a NINJA."

Yep.  Just like that.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Save it for a rainy day.

As I mentioned back in my pom popper post, this past summer my entire family embarked on an epic road trip to the backwoods of Wisconsin - in the extreme northwest.  We stayed in a cabin on a private island in the middle of a small lake.  There was no air conditioning.  And worse - no cable.  Which meant that when there was inside time - for instance if it rained (and let's face it, it's Wisco.  Which means it's not a matter of IF it rains, but WHEN) - the kids would need diversions.  Something to keep them busy.  Something to beat the boredom.  Stuff they could (theoretically) do on their own OR with each other.  

I set out to create the Rainy Day Box.  And in the coming months, a lot of us could probably use a "Snowy Day" Box - or up here in the frozen tundra, even a "35 Below 0, Freeze Any Bare Skin in 3.5 Seconds" Box.  So I'm gonna show you

Ok, obviously this isn't rocket science.  There are a lot of ideas out there, I just want to share this very compact, travel friendly version.  You could easily take this on a plane or car ride (or a boat or train!) It's quick to throw together, has multiple time occupiers, and can be catered to the needs and interests of your kid!

Let's take a peek, shall we?  
I painted the kids' names on top - each in a different color.  The color part is really important - remember how I mentioned the color coding back in the post?  It was pretty essential to keeping the peace between the four kiddos.  
Each kid had a main color that was the same across their items and toys - red, yellow, green and blue. I made a few items out of fabric (shown below) and for those items, there was one print of coordinating fabric for each child - puppies, giraffe, cats, flowers.  The kids always knew for sure which was theirs and there was less fighting this way.

Let's take a look inside, shall we?
I purchased the blue boxes at the dollar store.  They weren't super big, but still large enough for us to pack everything in.  

To begin with, each of the kids got a little felt pouch - left over from these valentine's day cards.  

(I didn't have yellow, so Zoe got pink.  But the rest of the kids got the right color.)  Inside the pouch, each kid got three "magic grow" capsules.  (You put them in water and the capsule dissolves and the inside expands into these spongy animals.)  I got them at the dollar store.

Under the capsules, there was a special drawstring bag.  Sort of like the bags from my fort kit post.  I used the patterned fabric unique for each kid and made long "cords" out of knit in each of the main colors.  Inside the draw string bag was an entire army of... well, an army.  Each army was a different color, so the kids could tell their soldiers apart.  They waged epic pom pom battles.  Well, Zoe didn't.  Hers just talked to each other.  I got the soldiers in different colors at the dollar store - they have green, gray, dark blue and red.

Next up, I made a little "garage" for each kid out of their color.  It's a simple pouch that is divided into three sections, with a band around the top that has velcro closures above each compartment.  Each child got three hot wheels cars - and since I couldn't really color code the cars (not enough of each color - amazingly) I drew their first initial on the bottom of the cars in their specific color.  When they started fighting over the "cool cars" I just reminded them to check for their letter.

Finally, I sewed crayon rolls.  I'd never sewn a crayon roll before, and I just made it up as I went... the next time I make one, I'd for sure base mine on A Girl and A Glue Gun's  (or even this cute one with the built in section for a small memo pad) since she's the authority on crayon rolls.  Seriously.  But, oh well.  It worked.  And kudos of you noticed the outside is the kid's color and the inside is the kid's print.

Phew!  That was four tiny pouches with clips, four drawstring bags, four "garage" pouches, and four crayon rolls - all color coded. 

There was also room in the little boxes to add a few more things that I didn't make.  They got a mini puzzle (again, most were color coordinated - a red crab, a green turtle, etc) and I wrote their name on the back in their color just in case.  They came in a four pack at the dollar store. 

Each kid got a baggie with flash cards inside (because by that point I was sewn out and totally uncreative.)  They each got flash cards that I thought would match their interests... though I could totally have been wrong.  Zoe got these alphabet cards, Ezra got outer space cards, Kaia got animals and Gabe got dinosaurs.  I got them all long ago in the Target dollar section and have been hoarding saving them.
I found binoculars and "creatures" at the dollar store.  I wrote their name on the side of the binoculars in the right color (since Zoe can't read yet, the color system was handy) and put them in the box with a few "creatures" - mainly frogs, crickets and bats - that we could hide around the house and have them "explore" with their binoculars to find them.
They each got a giant bouncy balloon in their color and two lacing cards each.  

Amazingly, even with all of that, I still had room to include the pom poppers and pom poms.

See them all stacked up?

The first rainy day we had the kids still went outside for a while.  But toward dinner time when they were getting hungry and restless, I whipped out the boxes and showed them each their treasures.  They had enormous fun with the balloons.
(Some of them had a little too much fun, ahem.)

And mini particular liked having conversations with her "little dolls."

There was a lot of excitement over the spongy animals - everyone sitting around the bowl guessing what each one would be...

Fortunately, I had packed some coloring books in the "art kit" so the kids put their crayon rolls to good use as well.  (The art kit I packed was a "communal" art tote for everyone to use.  It included four coloring books, white paper, a little construction paper, tape, double sided tape, scissors, glue stick, brown paper bags, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, paint with water books and brushes, and some Color Wonder paint which I actually ended up throwing away.  I swear, that stuff is messier than actual paint.)  We got a lot of use out of this kit, along with the rainy day boxes.

That kept them busy!  For a total of 20 minutes...

*Be sure to check the right sidebar for all the fun parties I link to!

Monday, September 24, 2012

He knew how to woo me.

Justin wooed me with food.  He knew what he was doing.  He claims there were no false pretenses when we met, but I know the truth.  (He also pretended he liked scrapbooking.  Scrapbooking, people.  Now who is the bigger fool?  The one who pretended to get the girl or the girl who actually believed the guy liked SCRAPBOOKING?!?) Back to the matter at hand.
I believe it was date number 5 or 6 when he first cooked me dinner.  We got together on a Sunday evening before a young single adult church group gathering.  And he made me this.

That, my friends, is Apricot Chicken.  I was a goner.

OK, really, I WAS a goner by that point, but not really because of this dinner.  I was, however, incredibly impressed.  I mean, REALLY impressed.  (Actually, I'm pretty sure I was thinking "Yea, at least one of us knows how to cook!)  
(I'll share the second dinner he made me later on, so you'll understand why I drew this defunct conclusion.)

Fast forward 10 months to our first full month of marriage, when in full disclosure he admitted to me that those two dinners were kind of the extent of his knowledge.  Furthermore, both of his "signature dishes" are so ridiculously easy it's... well, ridiculous.

I suppose I could have felt lied to.  Betrayed.  Fooled like the gullible, naive, girl I was.  But instead I decided to be grateful for the two delicious meals he introduced into our meal rotation.  To date, I have made this countless times and served it to many, many guests.  It never fails to impress.  Never.  I've hesitated to put it on the blog because, well, there's really no measuring involved, which makes it a little difficult to give you a recipe.  However, I decided it's time.

How do you feel about crockpot meals?  On one hand, I think they're pretty awesome.  You throw stuff in, you twist the dial, you forget about it.  (At least until the timer goes off - I mean, hopefully.)
On the other hand, crockpot meals take a bit of foresight and planning, skills that I have heretofore not mastered.  It's hard to create the perfect venison roast when you continually forget to thaw the meat the day before.  

The fortunate thing about Apricot Chicken is... well, actually there are a few fortunate things.  So the fortunate things about Apricot Chicken are:
1. Chicken doesn't take long to cook, not even in a crockpot on high.  So you don't really have to cook it all day - maybe four hours on high?  That's for those of us who forget to put it on in the morning...
2. You don't have to make this dinner in the crockpot at all!  No, really!  You can make it just as easily in the oven and you only have to cook it for about 45 minutes!  
3.  Did I mention it's delicious?

So, really it's up to you.  Do you want it ready and waiting at night when you get home?  OR, do you not want to have to think about dinner at all until 45 minutes before you make it?  Either way, this dinner is right for you!  

Although the pictures here are for the crockpot version, the printable recipe card is for the oven baked version, since that IS the way we make it most often.
Please don't be dissuaded by the weirdness of the ingredients.  I swear it's yummy.

Also, keep in mind that this really can be made to taste.  The measurements listed above are only a GUIDELINE.  The one packet onion soup mix and one can pineapple is pretty standard.  But add more or less jam or dressing as you like it - jam for sweetness, dressing for tang.

If you want to make it in the crockpot, just throw all the ingredients in together, mix it up, cook it for about 3.5-4 hours on high or all day on low.  Whip up some minute rice to serve it over and you're done!

Now, go show off your skillz and win someone's heart.

*Be sure to check the right sidebar for all the fun parties I link to!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Because frankly, I don't trust them with marshmallows.

I've mentioned our big trip up to the backwoods a few times now.  It was a much needed and highly anticipated vacation, one that bug was giddy over for weeks leading up to it...
good thing we didn't tell him about it months ago when it was planned or it would have been a LONG few months...
The trip itself was a 6 hour car ride away.  mr couldn't stay the whole week due to work and church obligations, so he and I drove our own cars up.  We divvied up the kids on the way there, but it left me alone with both of them for the way back.  

Did you catch that?  I feel I need to repeat.  6 hours.  Me.  Two kids.  CAR.  Ugh.  Fortunately, my mom took pity on me and rode with us much of the way there and all the way back.  Phew.

Have you ever taken a 6 hour road trip with small children?  A rode trip that ends in a private cabin on an island in the middle of a secluded lake that's not even on the map?  Hours from civilization?  No cable or satellite?  90 degree weather and no air conditioning and limited fans?  And here's the clincher... with 4 kids ranging from 5-2?  
While I knew there would be plenty of outdoor diversions - swimming, boating, taking walks, studying leaves, fishing, etc. - and a few trips into town - one to visit a nearby waterfall - and several things to do inside - board games, books - I was still worried.  Call me pessimistic, but I couldn't see the 4 cousins laughing and frolicking gaily while holding hands in perfect familial love and harmony.  Call me crazy.  Plus, PLUS.  What would we do when it rained, or if the bugs got too bad at night, or if the kids got heat exhaustion, or if we froze (it's Wisconsin, guys, anything could happen) and we were holed up inside?

I knew my sister was taking care of the car time with her road trip bags.  What we needed were some "just in case" items.  Things that could easily be done indoors and alone or just with each other.  Some way to save our sanity when the 12 of us were stuck inside together.

First up?  I present to you:

Why, yes.  They ARE just like those marshmallow shooters you've seen on pinterest that originated on Come Together Kids.

With a few adjustments you just might like.

 1.  Ok, so that green cup is just for show, as you can see the finished products are gray.  I basically wanted to be clear that this is NOT a disposable plastic cup.  You're going to use one of those very cheap NOT disposable plastic cups.  I tried it the other way.  I even tried it doubling the cups up as was suggested by a few people.  Didn't work.  I was going to write it off as a craft fail.  Then, I was in the dollar section at Target and noticed a four pack of these gray cups.  When I saw the glitter pom poms and the hilarious monster baggies I realized it was meant to be.
2.  Take your cups to your dad and beg him to cut the bottoms of with his fancy shmancy saw. 
2b. Better yet, use your own fancy shmancy saw and cut the bottoms off.  You know, if you have that kind of thing.
3.  You can see that the cut leaves a rather jagged edge.  Use coarse grade sandpaper and sand the edge down.  It doesn't have to be smooth, just get the really bad spots.

4. Take your balloon and tie it in a knot.
5. Use your scissors to cut the tip of the balloon off.

 6. Using both hands, stretch that hole you made suuuuuuper wide and pull it down over the hole you cut in the cup.
7. Place your pom pom in the cup.
8. Holding the cup in one hand, use your other hand to pull the balloon back and release!  Watch it launch!  
(I'll admit, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked when I tested it out.)

Now, you just need to separate your pom poms into colors and match them up with the balloons on your cups.

Take your sharpie and write the kids' names on the back of the zip-top bag.  Put the pom shooter in the bag and zip 'er up.  Look at those cute little monsters!  

 And let them play!

Would you like to know the best part (and also the reasoning behind) the color matching?  Each child get their very own color.  While they're playing, there's no confusion about whose pom pom is whose... when they clean up they can easily identify what's theirs... when they put them down and return later there's no squabbling about which one they should play with...

Ah.  A way to squelch the fighting - once and for all!  Just kidding.  If only it were that easy...

However, it does actually help.  Later I'll show you how I continued this concept of color coding per kid to help with other items.

 But for now, let's just have fun, shall we?  You can put in one pom pom, or a whole cupful!

You can take this as seriously as you want.  It's not all fun and games...

 And why did I make them pop out pom-poms instead of marshmallows?

Hahaha!  I'm laughing because you had to ask.

*Be sure to check the right sidebar for all the fun parties I link to!
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