Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blocks and Beans

I thought about putting these into two different posts, but they're such simple ideas that I just decided to combine them.  These are great activities to do outdoors, but both can be done inside as well.   Up first....Blocks!

I found these wooden blocks a few weeks ago at my local lumber store (Ganahl Lumber).  They were being sold in a big bag labeled as "firewood" for $7.99.  I think there were about 30 blocks in the bag.  I started painting some of the blocks and then realized I should probably sand them first, so that's why some are painted and some are not.  In any case, I love these blocks!  They have so many possibilities.  I plan on going back and getting at least 2 more bags full.  Olive and I have used them to build towers, create corrals for her animals, and on this day - create a movable and repositionable balance beam.

Olive is a climber, a reacher, a jumper, a stretcher, a mover, and a shaker.  She has such strength and coordination and I am constantly looking for new ways to challenge her.  The blocks are great because we can move them around and create new paths to follow or even make little steps that she has to walk over.

  I tried to hold her hand as she followed the path of blocks but she kept yelling, "I do it!  I do it!".  Okay, okay, girlfriend, simmer down.  You can do it.  :)


I love those strong little legs!

Okay, moving onto...Beans!

No, I'm not the first one who thought of playing with dried beans.  But they are such an amazing and simple activity, I can't resist sharing!  Sometimes we play with beans inside, but today we took them outside so she could play near her new outdoor kitchen (which is really just an old TV cabinet that I've yet to "cuteify").  I have a mixture of beans in her box:  garbanzo, kidney, white & lentils.

Daddy got into the mix for a little while (in the middle of finishing up Olive's new light table - post coming soon, I hope!).  

Things you need to play with beans:  Beans, beans, and oh yeah, more beans.  But if you want to make it more fun, add some cupcake tins, pans, spoons, colanders, bowls, and other miscellaneous containers.  Also, I bought this outdoor carpet square for $20 at Lowe's a while back and it was so helpful.  I was able to sweep up all the beans without having them mixed in with leaves and dirt.  

When I told Olive we were going to play outside with the beans, she insisted on bringing out her chair. Everyone sits on a chair in front of their stove, right?  I love how she confidently makes her own decisions now.  She's getting to be such a big girl!

Blocks and beans - 2 simple ideas for fun outdoor play.  What are some of your simple outdoor play ideas?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gift for a New Mom

My best friend is 3 weeks away from having her first child, a little girl!  Unfortunately, she moved out of state a few months ago so I can't physically be there for her.  Now that I'm an "experienced" mom (yeah right!), I know what she can expect and I really want to help her out during her first few weeks of motherhood.  Since I can't be there in there in person, I wanted to send her something that would be helpful.

I thought back to the first few days and weeks of my journey into motherhood.  One of the things I often forgot to do was to eat.  I either was too busy, couldn't get up because I was breastfeeding, or just plain forgot.  If I had had a bunch of pre-made "snacks", I probably would have eaten more and had more energy.  So, that's what I decided to make for my friend.  I made her 20 little baggies filled with non-perishable snacks.  She can keep a few in her diaper bag, some in the car, and some more next to where she'll be feeding her new baby.  That way, if she gets hungry or thirsty, she won't have to worry about searching for a snack (at least for a few weeks!).  In each bag, I included: a granola bar, fruit leather/strip, small bag of fruit snacks, small box of 100% juice, piece of gum, and a small piece of chocolate.  I also put a little note in each bag for some encouragement.  Some of the notes include nice quotes I found or they are my own personal notes of encouragement.

In addition to the snack bags, I got her a couple of "quick" meals: a bowl of instant oatmeal, a bowl of instant macaroni & cheese, and a "just add water" pancake mix.  That way, if her husband isn't around to fix her a healthy meal or if she doesn't have time, she has a couple of things to fill her belly until she can actually make a meal.  (I know they aren't super healthy, but I know they needed to be non-perishable.)  Finally, I included a notebook for recording those first few weeks of baby's life:  poop diapers, wet diapers, feeding times, feeding lengths, etc.  I found that really helpful as a new mom because I often found myself wondering, "When did I feed Olive last?  Was it 2 hours ago?  Has she pooped in the last 6 hours?".  You know how fun that "Mommy Brain" can be! :)

I really wish I could be there with my friend to give her my love and help, so I'm hoping that she will feel some of my love in this box of goodies I'm sending her way.

What are some of your gift ideas for new moms?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Painting a Smile

I follow a really fabulous blog called NurtureStore.  They are a group based in the UK that posts tons of great play, art, and learning ideas for kids and toddlers.  From time to time they will have a "Kids Art Explorers" challenge and the challenge for this month is "No Paintbrushes Allowed!".  As a teacher, I've had my students paint with lots of different non-brush materials, but Olive hasn't had a lot of experience with it.  I though I would take them up on their challenge, and here's what I came up with:

I took a brown grocery bag and cut it open, but any paper/surface would have worked.  I drew 3 faces on the paper that had teeth.  If you have older children, they can do this themselves.

I got out 3 old toothbrushes that I had been saving for such an occasion - 2 regular ones and one electric toothbrush.  I let Olive pick 3 colors from my box of tempera paint.  She picked red, yellow, and green.  (In my head I was thinking, "Red and green?  Oh that's going to create a brown mess!".  But it really didn't and in the end, it wouldn't have mattered.  This activity was more about the process, less about the product.)

Normally, I'll just let her go to do her own thing when we paint, but for this time I did give her a little guidance.  I suggested that she "brush their teeth".  She did it a few times, but didn't limit herself.  Again, it didn't really matter - she was having fun no matter where the paint ended up.

She was in a really "interesting" mood when we did this.  Most times when we paint, she moves all of the paper, covering the whole thing as well as herself.  This time, she was very delicate with her movements and didn't cover a whole lot of the paper.  I'm wondering if it is because I had her in her high chair?  Normally we're on the ground, free to move.  Maybe she felt like because she was tied in,  her movements should be, too.  Who knows!

The finished product.  

Have fun finding unique items for your little one to play with!

Click here to join the project!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Delicious Vegan Rice Salad

I got this recipe from my friend Jennifer when she was over a few weeks back for a little "mom's night in".  Jenn adapted it from the cookbook Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson.  This recipe is vegan, delicious, healthy, and so flavorful!  A big plus is that everything is soft enough for a little toddler's mouth to chew on!  I usually end up making a double batch and pairing it with something like these awesome quinoa cakes for a healthy, vegetarian meal.

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 16 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen corn, thawed
2 roasted bell peppers, diced (I use orange and yellow - here's a link on how to roast the peppers.  It's super easy, I promise!) 
2 scallions, minced
4 tbsp fresh lime juice (more or less to your own taste)
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley or cilantro (I use cilantro.)

1) Cook rice according to the directions on your rice cooker and set aside.
2) While the rice is cooking, roast the bell peppers.  (You can use jarred roasted bell peppers, but roasting your own is very easy.)
3) In a large bowl, combine the beans, corn, bell peppers, and scallions.
4) Whisk together the lime juice, chili powder, salt, and olive oil.
5) Add the cooled rice (doesn't have to be cold, just cooled a little) to the bean mixture.  Toss with the dressing mixture and cilantro or parsley.  
6) Serve and enjoy!

I've recently decided to slowly make my way to becoming a vegetarian, and maybe a vegan.  My first step was to give up all processed meats/meats with nitrites (bacon, sausage, lunch meat, etc.), and I did that successfully about 4 months ago.  My second step is to eat less meat and more vegetables.  I started that this week - 5 out of 7 meals were meatless and included way more vegetables.  I can't just go from omnivore to vegan in one step.  I first have to find more recipes that will support my new eating choices.  The recipe that I've described above is one such recipe.  It is in my recipe book and will be made for years to come!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Muffins

The other day, I made some homemade coffee creamer.  The recipe called for 4 tbsp of pumpkin puree, so after cracking open a large can, I had quite a bit leftover.  I could have frozen it, but I decided to turn it into a healthy, vegan muffin.  These muffins are packed full of healthy ingredients and while they remain moist, they are a dense muffin.  Don't expect a fluffy cupcake to come out of the oven, because you won't find that here!  Feel free to freeze these puppies and warm them up as you like!

Makes about 16 medium muffins; can be frozen - make in mini muffin tins for a bite-sized treat!

1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats
1 tbsp baking powder
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
3 tbsp flax meal
15 oz can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 ripe banana (about 1/3 cup), smashed
4 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

1) Combine dry ingredients (flour through flax meal) in a large bowl.
2) Combine wet ingredients (pumpkin through vanilla) in a small bowl.
3) Pour wet ingredients into the large bowl and thoroughly mix with the dry ingredients.
4) Drop batter into muffin tin lined with paper liners, about 2/3 full (batter will be thick).
5) Bake muffins at 375F for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Pour a cup of coffee with some homemade creamer and enjoy one (or more) of these healthy muffins for a yummy treat!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bathtime for Baby

Let me just start by saying that this is not just a girl activity.  It is for any and all kids.  I have a real issue with people labeling activities and toys as specifically girl or boy.  All kids should be exposed to all kinds of toys.  You are doing a disservice to your child if you avoid letting them play with a toy or participate in an activity because it is labeled as something for the opposite gender.  Okay, I could go on for a long time about this, but I'll save it for another post!

Dolls and baby dolls are great for kids.  They can help with developing nurturing behavior as well as practical life and hygiene skills.  Olive has a few dolls but she didn't have any that were fully water safe.  I found this soft plastic baby at Kmart for $10.  It isn't the cutest one I saw, but it was definitely the best deal, and it does the job.  I pulled out Olive's old baby blow-up tub, grabbed a washcloth, water cup, and a little bottle of "soap" (it was really a small lotion bottle that she couldn't open).   I wanted to do this with real water and soap, but it was just too cold on this day.  I plan on taking the activity outside on a warmer day, using real soap and water.

I didn't really tell her what to do.  I showed her the things I had brought out and then just let her go.  She started by washing the baby's head.

Apparently, it was easier if she got in the tub, too.  When she got in, I had this moment of, "Woah, my little girl is huge!".  I remember when she was small enough to lie down in there.  Time sure does fly fast, it's crazy....

Wrapping the baby up and "drying" it off.  She kept saying, "Toesy, toesy" which is how she says 'cozy'.  

After she washed her baby, she went around the room and gathered other stuff animals and dolls to wash.  This was about a week ago and I've kept the duck bath out for her to use.  From time to time, she'll get it and give something in the room a good "wash" and then go back to whatever else she was doing.   I can't wait until we have a warm day so we can do this outside with real water!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Something for the Birds

Spring is around the corner and what better way to welcome it than by making something for the birds!  I saw this idea on Juniper Moon Farm and thought it was a fantastic, easy project.  The original idea uses a metal suet feeder, which you can purchase at a home improvement store.  I, always looking to save money, had some strawberry baskets and figured that they would work just as well.

Basically, this is a little basket of yarn scraps that you can hang outside in your garden.  Little birds in the neighborhood will (in theory), come by and take the yarn scraps to help build their nests.  It's very simple and I'm pretty sure you can figure out how to do it by just looking at the picture, but then you'd miss my wonderful pictures! :)

Materials you need:
2 clean strawberry/berry baskets

I got this HUGE (you really can't see the whole thing) bag of yarn at an estate sale a few months ago for $15!  The previous owner had passed away and the bag came with a few half-done crotchet projects with the needles still attached, which was slightly creepy....But once I got over the creepiness factor, I reveled in my awesome deal!

What to do:

1) Cut a bunch of yarn into 1"-2" pieces.  Cut enough to fill up both baskets.

I started cutting the pieces by pulling out a strand of yarn and making one cut at a time.  After about 5 minutes I realized, duh, I could be doing this faster.  I blame my "duh" moment on mommy brain.  It does exist!  You probably already thought about this, but I'll share it anyway.  

Wrap the yarn around your hand a bunch of times.

Cut the bundle into pieces.

See?  Faster!  You're welcome.

2)  Fill the baskets up with the yarn pieces.  Attach the baskets with, yes, you guessed it, some yarn.

3)  Attach a long piece of yarn to the top and find a tree to hang it from.  And that's it!

I'm pretty sure when I hung this up that all the birds in the neighborhood yelled, "Woo hoo!  Yarn!".  I think I heard it, although it sounded a lot like their normal sounds...

I gave Olive some safety scissors (they only cut paper) to "help" me while I cut the yarn.  If your child is old enough and you feel comfortable letting them use scissors, this is a really easy project they can help you with.  When I give Olive the scissors she says, "Seesos! Appa!  Toes!"  (Scissors! Open! Close!).  She still can't actually get how to use them, but she definitely thought she was helping me!