Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Full disclosure: I'm no super-cook/baker lady. Also, I'm not even remotely trying to be healthy. 

    I wanted some chocolate chip cookies. I'm terrible at making cookies most of the time. No idea why. I can whip out brownies or a cake without any trouble but my cookies either burn or they are obnoxiously crunchy. I went on pinterest looking for a recipe to try out and found this from What a Girl Eats. The original recipe can be found by clicking that link. I doubled it and replaced some of the shortening with brown sugar. I also didn't add any walnuts since I just used up my last bag on brownies but next time hopefully I will.

These cookies are very good! I took heed of the note at the bottom of that blog and tweaked the recipe in hopes of getting the cookies to be just right (slightly crunchy and chewy but not too flat or crispy). They are messy to make but simple enough. Here's my version of the recipe (this is doubled so it makes A LOT):

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies:
3 cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

4 eggs
2 cups brown sugar (unpacked)
1.5 cups white sugar
1.5 cups shortening
2 tsp vanilla extract
1tsp hot water

~9oz of chocolate chips
4 cups of rolled or quick oats

     Directions: Add the flour, salt, and baking soda together in one bowl and whisk/fork/spin/stir/sift it together. Put the eggs, sugar, shortening, and vanilla in another bowl and whip it up but BE CAREFUL not to go to crazy or you'll break it down too much. Add the hot water to the liquidy bowl of stuff (no idea why but the original recipe called for it so I went ahead) then combine the two mixtures. I started out trying to whisk it all together. Don't ask me why I didn't get my electric mixer out. . . no idea. I digress. Just stick your hands in. It's very, very sticky at this stage but AVOID the urge to flour it up. Get it together pretty well, rinse your hands, and then toss in the oatmeal and chocolate chips. Stick your hands back in and get it all combined. The consistency should still be slightly sticky but easy to roll into balls (think play dough).

      Lay out parchment paper in whatever pan (I used a cake pan because I didn't feel like cleaning the other one, no big deal) and spread 1-1.5 inch balls so they don't seem to close or to far (I guess). I was able to fit 12 dough balls in a standard 9x13 cake pan. Sometimes they'd roll a bit and bake together but I didn't really care that much. Bake 10ish minutes around 350 in your oven. Our oven is a butthead so I tend to put it a little lower and cook things for shorter periods than most recipes call for. I also don't preheat it. The original recipe says 375 for 10-14 minutes. Use your own good judgement.

  Like I said before, this recipe is ALL READY doubled so it makes a LOT. I made 4 batches I think (so 48 cookies) and still have a bag full of dough balls in the freezer!

  If you like crunchy, slightly chewy, dripping with chocolate, perfect-for-milk-dunking, oatmeal-laden cookies then this should make you happy! I won't use butter for oatmeal cookies ever again that's for sure. Fill your favorite cup or mug with some milk and enjoy!


      I had to come back and add this. After making a batch with the frozen dough balls I HAVE to recommend that if you can contain your cookie monster for just a night it is sooo worth it. They are even BETTER after sitting in the freezer for a while. They are slightly softer and chewier than when they are cooked fresh!! Don't thaw at all. Just pop them on the parchment paper or pan and cook them same (they may take a smidgen longer). So good!!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

This Week's Library Grab

     Here are the books we picked out at the library this week! Quite an eclectic selection, I think. Some we've read before and some we haven't. The kiddos are enjoying all of them.

    This is a beautiful book highlighting Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I don't think it could ever be read too many times. The illustrations are beautiful too. I love that my 3 year old and almost-2-year-old are all ready beginning to learn about such very important public figures.


     This is a very colorful book with a short, sweet style to it. I love it almost as much as Frederick.  

    There are some things we want our kids to learn about and never forget. The Great Depression is one such thing. Children's literature like this is an easy, beautiful way to share such history even with the smallest kids.

    Dinosaurs + numbers. Just what my 3 year old needs. I'm convinced she can soak in just about anything if it is somehow tied in with dinos.

     Our local library has a fantastic kid's non-fiction collection. They have books from Pebble Plus to Kid's Britannica. They are great resources. My kids love these books just the same as the fiction. The colorful pictures don't hurt.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Love Reading: Printed Books vs Electronic Books

     A lot of people feel strongly about the whole electronic-devices-for-kids thing. Maybe it's just my age but I have a lot of appreciation and believe there is a lot more value in these devices than people readily give credit. At the same time, I'm a sentimental being. I have the piece of paper on which my now-husband first wrote his home address and phone number for me. The smell of an old, well-loved hardback is one of my favorite things. I just love books: old and new. Turning crisp pages in a stiff, new paperback book is a close second to that old, musty smell of an antique.
      Again, though, maybe my age is a factor in my opinion. I was a 90s kid. Sitting in front of my parent's off-white CRT PC monitor I played pinball, Reader Rabbit, and solitaire. When we'd go to my Grandma's house we'd have the pleasure of either playing Super Mario World on the super nintendo or something like Power Pete (aka Mighty Mike) on her . . . I think it was the Bondi Blue iMac G3. Good times. I have sentimentality tied in with electronics. I grew up with them. They've been an integral part of my youth from tamagotchis to chemistry courses on the computer in high school.
     Some people simply see the advances of things like the iPad and the flip-screen tablet PCs as a sci-fi-comes-to-life phase of our gadget-obsessed generation. Others stick with their good ole trusty printed products and maintain an indifference. Some just use the bare minimum digital devices to make life convenient or keep up with friends and family but refrain from diving in head-first or being consumed by them. It wasn't that long ago after all that we used a yellow phonebook instead of our phone's google maps search; our contacts were written either in a small book or on the cards of a rolodex.

     Anyway, enough babbling I've shared my general thoughts on this stuff before.

     Right now, I really want to focus in on the printed books vs. electronic books thing. These are just my experiences and opinions. Here goes nothin':

#1. How and when do you personally use ebooks? 

     I've used the  Kindle app on my iPad. One of the primary reasons I chose to fork out the dough for my iPad 2 in the first place was for the benefit of cheaper textbooks for school. I did a stupid amount of research before making that decision. It wasn't done on a whim. I compared the iPad, Nook, and Kindle. I looked up the various applications available for "etextbook" purchase or rental. This proved to be a very good decision. Renting etextbooks for my iPad through Kno and CourseSmart has actually saved us more than the cost of the iPad in just 3 semesters even if we had been able to buy the regular textbooks pre-owned or via rental.  I also have several classic novels (ie Moby Dick) that I simply didn't have on my shelf yet and some newer fiction (ie The Hunger Games) that I got for the heck of it. It was cheaper (if not totally free) than going to the store to buy it (even used) and it was simpler than searching for them (and/or waiting for a return, and/or having to return it before I'm done, and/or potentially losing it) at the library. The kids also have a few "interactive" books like this gem from Sesame Street and a couple of typical ebooks like this. It's a lot easier to carry the iPad in my bag than 2 textbooks, a novel, a notebook, a calculator, a calendar, a contact list, and so on. I can't say I use it for reading a lot outside of the college thing because I sadly don't have time to enjoy a novel for the heck of it all that often anymore. If there is something I'm researching or writing a paper for I do check the ebook stores for free or cheap material first then I go to the library. A lot of my choices for this come down to convenience, price, and simplicity.

#2. What's on your not-so-virtual shelves?

     We have more "real" books than we know what to do with. As I said in the first part of this three-part blog series, we don't even have enough [safe] shelf space for all of them. My husband collects these big, heavy hardback encyclopedias and nonfiction historical collections of everything from military history to weapons to martial arts styles. I have lots of those delicious, old, musty antiques: several classics, some I liked just because of the cover, and some old hymnals because . . . I don't know why really (but that old church smell is infused in them). The kids have more books than I would attempt to count. I started buying children's board books and all I could find of Dr. Seuss before my oldest was even born. We have most of the Dr. Seuss books now, lots of good old classics like Corduroy or Goodnight Moon, plus plenty of the Disney stories and little golden books too. That's only the gist. N (three year old) has started to notice the kid's National Geographic and the beginning readers at Target on top of all this so we're adding a whole new layer. I can't leave out the fact that I've all ready been keeping my eyes wide open for any American Girl, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary books I can get my hands on. Did I mention all the Tolkien novels and volumes of Star Wars??

#3. Do you actually have a preference?
     I like to think we're taking advantage of the best of both worlds. I also like to think we keep things balanced around here. First of all, I'm of the opinion that there's no such thing as too many books. Nope. Can't be. Doesn't matter if it's paperback, hardback, or ebook. I just don't think you can have too many either way. I like that we have several of both and that we are able to choose from two very different formats. We regularly bring home 5 or 10 books from the library. I regularly browse amazon for free kindle ebooks. Some things I'd just prefer to go for cheap/convenient and others I value the physical ability to turn pages, feel paper between my fingers, or display it on my shelf. (I won't lie that I usually sniff pages too. I'm a booksniffer.)

#4. Would you give up or give away all of your printed books if you could have them in an ebook form?

     Um, no. Absolutely not. Sentiment, mystery, and the inherent beauty of a printed copy are overwhelming this consideration. First of all, some of my books were printed over 100 years ago. Imagine all of the different people who've read these pages that I hold in my hands now! Unless you're a germaphobe that's a fantastical thought. (And don't talk to me about where people read their books potty mouth. You'd probably clutch a $100 bill to your heart if someone handed it to you and that hypothetical green thing has probably been in much scarier places.) Ahem. I can go on an all-day trip to lalaland just trying to imagine where that carefully constructed hardback was first set on a shelf for sale, who decided to buy it and why, and so on. It's a genuine piece of history. On the other hand, some books can easily become clutter. Some books (like my husband's beloved Star Wars volumes) aren't all that pretty with their dated, over-edited cover pictures. I've given away plenty of books before when I realized I just didn't read them or didn't have any connection to them anymore. There's still something traditional and comforting about a shelf full of literature in your living room. Even a minimalist can appreciate at least a small collection. (I will have it known, I'm no minimalist and one day I swear I will have a library like the one in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Do not doubt this.)

#5. Why would you choose an electronic book over a printed book?
  I think this boils down to the same things for everyone: convenience, price, and instance access. If I need something quick, cheap, and available to me in an easy-to-carry, simple-to-store format then I'm going to go with ebooks if I have the means to use them. Most people have a data phone, tablet, or laptop these days. It's a whole lot easier to tote around 4 or 5 college textbooks in the 1.33 pounds of my iPad 2 than individual 2-4 pound (and that's being generous) books in a large backpack. Throw in the benefit of a built-in search tool, highlighter, and reference links and there's no comparison there. When it comes to pleasure reading the decision may be driven more by personal preference but the lower price is almost always a convincing factor.

#6. Let's be economical: which is better for the economy?
     I guess it depends on how you look at it. There are a lot of variables. There's a reason hardbacks are more expensive then paperbacks and they more expensive than electronic books. There's a lot more industry involved  in the production of a "real" book which is normally an economical bonus on the macroeconomic side but when it comes to your wallet economical might mean an investment in some sort of ereader. Here's a fancy infographic I found that lays it all out (click to enlarge):

#7. What do you think of the idea that ereaders and/or ebooks are on the darkside of literature? 
     One word: audiobooks. Two words: printing press. Get used to the world of books evolving along with the rest of everything. It started happening way before our time. If you were a REAL book connoisseur you'd say that mass production itself is an abomination. Not to mention, audiobooks were available long before ebooks were a serious thought. Get a grip, friends. Join the darkside if that's what you want to call it. We have books in every format and also cookies, possibly. In the end the real value of a book, in my humblest of opinions, is NOT the format through which it is delivered but the actual content within its paper or digital pages.

First Email 1971

     Think of it like this: having a preference of hardback, paperback, ebook, or audiobook is no different than having a preference for how your mail is transported. Do you reaaaaally want to go back to the days of horsemen with saddle bags riding for weeks to deliver you a 10 word telegram? Do you even want to step back just a smidgen to the time of dial-up internet and Hotmail? I'm betting you use emails, snail mail, and cell phones without decrying any of these methods of communication as "fake" or "not as good". We have our sentimental connections with a hand-written note, sure. Let's not let our sentimentality tie us down with a curly phone cord or a library only the most privileged societal elites are allowed to enter. Just sayin'. In the end, supply and demand will determine what is or isn't available to us in the form of electronic or printed book. Be glad our society has such easy access to literature in the first place and next time you see a 3 year old poking at an iPad remember that she might be soaking in a heavy dose of phonics and not necessarily rotting her brain.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Love Reading: Teaching Kids to Respect Literature

     I'm going to do a quick series of posts on one of my favorite things: books. I love books. I love old books. I love new books. I like paperbacks, hardbacks, and electronic books. I can't have too many. No one can have too many. It's just a matter of having enough space to keep them, of course.

So it'll go something like this and I'll start this post as the first of three:

#1. Teaching Kids to Respect Literature
#2. Printed Books vs. Electronic Books
#3. Reading Resources on a Budget

Here goes nothin':

    We have shelves and boxes full of books. We actually don't have enough space in our 900 sq ft apartment to keep all of our books on display. The three year old is certainly more aware now than ever of the importance of books but the almost-2-year old is still getting used to the idea that books aren't ready-to-make confetti. Most of our favorites are in storage. We have all sorts of things on the big shelf in our bedroom though. You'll find anything from nonfiction military history encyclopedias to Tolkien paperbacks to my 100 year old, worn out hymnals. If I was going to be a hoarder I'd be a book hoarder. Seriously. One day in a wonderful world I will have a house with a room designated just as our library with nothing but shelves full of books.

   Both my girls have been "reading" from a very young age. There hasn't been a time in their short lives they've been without a book to look at or have read to them. They love to get new books too. We happen to go to the kid's book section in Target far more often than the toy section. I'm thrilled when they get a new stack of them for their birthdays instead of tons of toys.

    Unlike many children across the world, ours here in America are afforded an incredible gift: access. There are several things that I've been taught that I try to teach my kids as well. I want them (and everyone else) to respect these now mass-produced, information-filled wonders. We seem to underestimate the value of books as we've gotten so used to the swift tap into google for information. I want my kids to understand the difference between literature and garbage. I want them to know the classics. I want them to develop thinking skills so they can determine truth and fact among piles of lore and lies. I want them to be intelligent critics of new or popular writing. I want them to be able to go into a library and access vast amounts of knowledge. I want them to comprehend the blessing that books truly are. Sadly, in this modernized, developed nation we do not reach our literacy potential. This is something we can start changing by teaching our kids the great value of literature, books, and reading.

All that said, do we actually understand the definition of literature? According to Merriam-Webster:

1. archaic: literary culture
2. the production of literary work especially as an occupation
3. a: (1) : writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2) : an example of such writings <what came out, though rarely literature, was always a roaring good story; b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age; c: the body of writings on a particular subject <scientific literature>; d : printed matter (as leaflets or circulars) <campaign literature>
4. the aggregate of a usually specified type of musical compositions

     I think the applicable definition in this case is 3a. This snippet in particular is what I have in mind: having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.

      So, for starters we have some house rules regarding books. I think these are important to teach all kids, especially as this new generation is given so much more access to digital media and electronic versions of the books we've had sitting on shelves for years. Respecting literature really does start with respecting books. These are things I was taught as a child by my parents, through our frequent library visits, and by various individuals (strangers or family members) who maintained a love for literature themselves. Keep in mind these are guidelines for little kids. I certainly hope older children don't need to be taught some of this but who knows.

The Basics:

#1. Be gentle. Never throw, tear, bend, or bite a book. It's not a weapon. It's not for standing or stomping on. Turn pages carefully. Close it carefully before putting it away.

#2. Put it back. (This is a rule we treat loosely as we have many spots that stacks of books end up staying.) Don't leave it open. Don't leave it on the floor. Don't smash them onto the shelf. Carefully, line them up on the shelf where they belong so they don't get ruined and it's easy to find next time.

#3. Don't color on it. Don't mark on or scribble in any book. If you want to color get a clean piece of paper. The paper in books is not ours to decorate. (I usually suggest to my 3 year old that she would be very sad if someone colored on one of her drawings or in her notebook so she shouldn't color on these.)

#4. Keep it clean and dry. Pay attention to your hands. Don't flip through pages with sticky or dirty fingers. Keep your food and drinks away from it. Don't leave it in the bathroom or outside.

The Caveats:

#1. The youngest kids are going to experiment with EVERYTHING. It's built in: "what happens when I do . . . THIS?!" Hence, things are thrown, torn, bent, and bitten. This is why some genius decided to invent teether books and board books. They are way more durable for infants and toddlers. Slowly but surely they can be taught to treat books the right way. If you start with these you'll probably save yourself some effort and some money.

#2. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers aren't all that organized or coordinated yet. Expect them to cram books on top of each other and to subsequently throw them with a frustrated scream when they don't slide into place on the shelf. It seems like most kids can get a good handle on stacking books on shelves the correct way around 2 or 3 years. Before that and even beyond that, making stacks with them from biggest to smallest or having a shelf like this is a good alternative.

#3. Kiddos are creative, messy little people. They're GONNA color on books (and walls and furniture and themselves) and they are probably sticky, drooling, or dirty 90% of the time.

In the end, if you have a treasured antique or a favorite collection PUT IT AWAY. Don't just put it up high. That is considered a challenge in toddlerland. If you really, really don't want something getting messed up in some way as your sweet babes learn to respect books then put it in a box, in another box, in another box, with a lock, in a closet, in a land far away (give or take a few of those). Just make sure your expectations meet up with reality.

The Advanced:

#1. Read the author and illustrator names. In my humblest of opinions, books are works of art. They may also be scientific or historical fact in the case of non-fiction, encyclopedias, and the like. They are mass-produced, unique works of art. I wouldn't walk through the art museum ignoring the artist's names anymore than I'd read books without acknowledging the author and illustrator. I think it's important for kids to recognize books as art or in some cases more appropriately as scientific or historical publication.

#2. Be extra careful with library or borrowed books. This is a fun one. Library books are not OURS. We have to treat them the way we'd want people treating our OWN things. Very, very carefully. We are extra careful and "kind" to anything borrowed. Also important: return them on time.

#3. Remember: books are a privilege. This is probably harder to teach but it is an all-consuming concept when it comes to the importance of all these rules. Many people will never have the pleasure of owning or borrowing books if they are even able to read in the first place. It hasn't been very long since the first printing presses were invented and it's easy for us to forget the extraordinary reality of the myriad of books that sit available for us in the store.

      As N has gotten bigger I've started going a little further with these ideas. I have every intention of sharing these with all my kids. Who knows what media and literature will be like in a constitutional sense once she's an adult. Everything may be digitized and electronically filed by then. This makes it even more important, I think, to instill these things in her mind. No doubt once she's reading on her own and ready we'll be learning the Dewey Decimal System alongside practical research methods for the internet. If we think information is powerful now, imagine the difference between now and 20 years ago then amplify that into the future another 20 years. Crazy.

I'll share my thought about printed vs electronic books in the next post! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Parenting: Their First Foundation

     We have two daughters and a son on the way. Blessed is an understatement. Blessed is the understatement of the century.

     Parenting is a radical experience. That's the best way I know to describe it. Even the moments leading up to a first pregnancy or adoption form a part of this crazy experience. It's so normal, the majority of humankind experiences it. But, it is unexplainable that with however many millions before me having gone through this relative experience it still remains an experience that is so mystifying, overwhelming, and surreal. It is unexplainable that as many millions before me have gone through the heartache, the challenges, and the risk of becoming parents that we (I) still jump into the role so willingly.

     I love my children beyond good reason. I could talk about my girls for days. I'm all ready deeply in love with my boy. They fascinate me. They thrill me. They challenge me. They make me better. I've never tried to change so much of myself for the better for someone, not even my husband. I want to give them everything. Sometimes I want to be their everything (which is a perpetual insanity). When I do things, make decisions, or weigh options for anything I think of my husband and I think of them. I've lost my old self to this inherent new identity and there will never be a way to get the person I was back (not that I'm terribly in want of her, that's a whole other post). It's amazing.

Until you're in the midst of it there is no way to fathom it.

    My first job was at a daycare. I enjoyed it a lot. I learned a lot. There were so many different kids and parents for me to observe. I thought for sure I'd have parenting down by the time I had my own kids aside from not knowing exactly how my own kids would be. I saw what worked and didn't work with different kids. I saw what different parents tried or would never attempt. I saw them upset over little things. I saw them irrationally calm over what I thought were big things. There was - with every single parent - a feverish desire to provide their children with the best. After working there for almost 2 years I thought I had a pretty good idea of how I'd be as a parent. It's laughable now because I could never have been more wrong. I misunderstood so much. As much as I adored my little classes and judged the numerous parents on their every move I simply had no freaking clue. None. Sure, I could do the mechanical things: prepare a bottle of formula or breast milk, change a diaper, potty train a willing kid, show them flashcards, read them books, fix their snacks, put them down for naps, and show them new toys or games or songs. At the end of the day, they were not mine. Their very little, bright, sweet souls were not my load to bear. My duty was only to them in the minutes and hours they were with me and even then the ultimate responsibility was on their parents, present or not. Often, I may have thought it was good of us teachers to give our time to these babes: teaching them bible verses and praise songs, showing them letters and numbers, disciplining bad behavior, and modeling good behavior but ultimately we stood in as temporary extensions of their parents. We were a provisional choice made by the parents! All that to say, I had no idea what I was really getting into . . .

     Parental love is illogical, self-defeating, burdensome, and it ought to be feared. The beauty of this intransigent human connection nullifies any single thing we bring against ourselves as we become parents. The sleeplessness, the unkempt dress, the loss of free income, the loss of time alone. Even our bodies our not solely our own anymore whether we carry a fetus through pregnancy, nurse a new baby (whether it's for a month or through toddler-hood), or simply neglect our own self-care in order to prioritize that of our child. Those are just the "shallow" things (and they really aren't all that shallow are they?).

     They are "ours" we say. They are "ours" to mold and teach, love and comfort, direct and encourage. We are their first foundation. I think that's what moms and dads really are in the end. We are the foundation these beauties of ours are built upon. A lot of people never realize this. A lot of people (like me) don't totally see this picture of parenthood until AFTER the offspring has arrived. Some, unfortunately, never see it coming or never realize the truth.

    What's a thousand times scarier than this is that we are only their temporary foundation. They are ours to lift up, ours to support, ours to enjoy and pour into and fall in love with. But. . . they are not ours to keep or to hold back or even, in the very end, ours to save.

    Imagine building a grand mansion down to the details of decor. Imagine putting your entire livelihood into it. Now, realize that every moment of work and every scrap of care you put into that structure was meant to be moved. It was meant to be designed for another place. It was meant to belong to someone else. It was never really yours in the sense things are yours.

   Imagine receiving a commission from the highest power on the planet for the most exquisite work of art you'd ever created. All the stress you would put into making it the best. All the material you would need to make sure you created a masterpiece.

   Imagine being given the most priceless jewel in the universe. It is yours to hold and keep and treasure until further notice. If you are diligent, you will be given the greatest gift of all. You put all of your time, energy, and focus on this thing. The time comes. The jewel is taken from your hands. The greatest gift of all time: knowing the jewel was cared for while you had it and perhaps the chance to see it shine someday.

    And that's how impossible and insane parenting really is . . . . It all starts with the first moments of their lives with you, then a slow and sure separation (one we are meant to guide and nurture to fruition!) that begins at the cut of the cord. No matter what, no matter what they become, whether they leave us early or stay with us longer than expected we are their first foundation. No matter what they change about themselves or where they go or what they do or who they give themselves to we are always their parents. We, my husband and I, will always be a part of them.

    And in the end of it all, I would never give this opportunity up for anything. Nothing can compare.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Turning Everyday Chores Into Big Learning Opportunities

     My kids (3 and almost 2) love to learn. If circumstances allow us I hope to be able to homeschool them. There's a lot of emphasis on going to daycare/preschool/kindergarten for toddlers to pre-elementary kiddos these days. Whether you work at home or out, stay home part time or full time, use a sitter, or send them to an in-home or typical brick-and-mortar daycare one of the top priorities you probably have is giving your kids opportunities to learn. Not just to learn mundanely but to experience new things, discover their world, and to thrive while they do it!

   I know all sorts of parents. Single parents, married parents, military parents. SAHM, SAHD, WAHD, WAHM, WOHM, WOHD (do you know what all these mean??). There are parents who travel a lot for work. There are parents that have an in-home office. Some parents have flexible schedules and some have strict itineraries. I know that every single one of them wants this same thing for their babes: the best.

    This constant want for our kids is what drives us crazy, makes us feel guilty, and leaves us wondering if we did the right thing or did enough. It's why we've become obsessed with structured learning, book-work, and the-next-best-thing in education. There are some very easy, simple ways to incorporate learning into the every day. We just have to take advantage of these little opportunities.

#1. Just talk. Talk to your kids. No subject is too small or too big. Want them to learn a language? Talk to them. Want them to learn to read? Read with them. Talk to them about reading the books. I know when I take the opportunities to really communicate with my kids, hear their words, and use words they've yet to hear their little minds are blossoming. Suddenly, a week later they are bringing up some random conversation about how the traffic lights mean stop on red and go on green. They start to understand. That means they can start to share with me in turn their own ideas about all these things in the universe. They start to form questions.

#2. Kids are naturally curious, inquisitive little sponges just sitting there waiting to soak up every morsel available. You know all the things you just know because you do? There's a lint trap in the dryer. Our money is printed and/or minted and has inherent set value. Candles and crayons are both made of wax. Gravity makes us fall and keeps us from floating away. Light bulbs were invented by ________. Yeah, we've all ready learned. We know the answers. Kids have no idea. It's why they are so busy. It's why they test things. It's why they pick at, poke, and bang on things. They are little scientists making observations! They are so eager to know what we know and they will go about making discoveries in their own special ways.

#3. Watch them. Observe them for a while. See what makes them tick. What brings that sparkle to their eye and the light into their face?

    Take these things: communication, their natural sponge-likeness, and your observations and go with it. There are some things nearly every parent, no matter their situation, can do to incorporate opportunities for learning into the blah, every day, normal activities. These opportunities are easy to miss. I get so involved in just getting things done around the house sometimes that rather than involving the kids I just do my best not to trip over them. If they are kept involved while I'm doing a chore then they 1) are doing something productive by learning how to clean, 2) are getting quality time with me and 3) aren't somewhere else making another mess or meddling.

Before I go further let me just say: I get 100% that sometimes we just need to get things done without being slowed by sweet little helpers. ;) Sometimes we need quiet, we just need space, or we need them to PLAY ALONE in their rooms without mama or daddy or the TV entertaining them. Sometimes we do want the TV to entertain them for a half-second so for that precious half-second we can feel like we're ahead a bit. No doubt. But, that's not always the case.

Like I was saying, it's simple to turn every day things into grand opportunities to learn. Here are my favorite ways to do this with my kids with every day chores:

- You're vacuuming. In whatever words, explain how it works. Talk about pushing and pulling. Talk about how to get around and under furniture. With hardly any effort you've incorporated a great lesson on spatial concepts. This also works well as you teach them to clean up their room by looking behind the bed for toys, putting the books vertically on the shelf, and picking the blocks up and in the right bin.

- You're switching out the loads of laundry. This is another easy one for spatial concepts (in and out of the washer and dryer) but it's also great for sorting, searching, and counting. Dump that bottomless hamper of laundry on the floor and give your toddler or preschooler a task: find all the socks, find all the white (or whichever color) clothes, find all the clothes that belong to ____ (whichever person). This gets you a variety of lessons in recognition. Depending on their age(s) they can learn new item words and what those words go with (towels, shirts, pants, or socks). They can learn how to hone in their observation skills and assess a group of items for differences and similarities. They can learn colors in a way that gives them an idea of a range of shades and hues rather than just one basic bold color. (I just made sorting laundry with your kids sound fancy.)

- Take it a step further with that laundry. Have them count out 2, 3, 4 items at a time to bring to you to put in the washer. Have them help you switch the load over to the dryer counting all the way through the load whether it's 10 towels or 20 random pieces of clothing. Another thing you might try is talking about the color of every item. Make it a game of eye-spy. "Bring me something . . . green!" You're kids will be counting and learning about colors in a tangible way. 

- How about implementing some opposites while you do the dishes? Fill the cup. Empty it. Scrub the plate on the top and the bottom. This bowl fits inside the other: one is big and one is small. Turn the water on hot then on cold. Turn the water pressure up high or low. Dry the plate really fast or dry the plate really slow. Maybe some of your dishes are smooth and some have some sort of texture (rough, bumpy, etc). One that's a bit more advanced: some are opaque and some are transparent.

- You're sweeping. Instead of sweeping with the normal hurry-get-that-clean method try making shapes. We have one big broom and a slightly smaller broom (and we did have one that was actually from the toy section but it got broken . . . note to self: get another one) so the kids can "help" me. This might be something more for the older kids when it goes beyond a large circle but you can have them "draw" shapes on the floor with the broom. Make a copy-cat game of it. If you happen to have large tile trace the squares.

- OR, If you have a large enough space you could turn all this into a red-light/green-light style game. (Again, this may be more apt for the older ones.) Start at one end of the room and assign each kid a "spot" near the other end to sweep as much junk into as they can (you could even mark the spot with painter's tape). "Sweep!" and "Freeze!" If they don't freeze in time then back to the beginning. If they leave a large dust bunny or a trail of cheerios behind it's back to the starting line. All of this is a combined exercise in observation, coordination, and self-control. There are some other ways you could go about doing this. For younger ones, choose a general corner area and/or make a line with that tape. Encourage them to look under and around any furniture for trash to clean up. Show them how to manipulate the broom and make small strokes.

Bonus: your kids are learning to CLEAN. There are way too many people in the modern world who have no clue where to start when it comes to cleaning or picking up after themselves. Starting really early and making it fun is an easy way to make a habit of it. One day even if they choose to be slobs (like me) at least you know you've done your due diligence making sure they have the skills necessary to finish a load of laundry, hand wash dishes, or to tell the difference between dish soap and detergent. ;)

     You may all ready be doing these sorts of things and not even realize it. Keep it up. If you have other ideas like these I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The App Store is Celebrating Itself

Dearest owners and lovers of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch:   

    Apparently, it's the Fifth Anniversary of the Apple App Store. This means there are several pretty cool free apps available right now! They've shot up to the tippy top of the Top Charts list so go into the App Store, click on the "5 Years of the App Store" at the top of the featured page or navigate to the Top Charts page and check out the list of free apps.

App Store Screenshot

  There is one in particular that I think is awesome for the kiddos called Barefoot World Atlas! I all ready have it on our iPad 2 and I'm installing it on the iPad mini right now while the kiddos are sleeping.

It is chock full of info about several different cultures from around the globe and some fascinating geography facts. It navigates just like Google Earth. You can scroll through a list of countries to get specific content or just hop around the globe clicking on different native animals, flags, or landmarks.

Where's My Water and Tiny Wings might also be fun for the kids (and you) plus there are several other non-kid things for anyone who just happens to love cool stuff on their iPad.

These are also available and many are normally priced over 2-3 bucks. Click to find out more about each app on the iTunes website:

How to Cook Everything

Tiny Wings


Traktor DJ

Infinity Blade 2

Where's My Water?


Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP

Day One (Journal/Diary)

 AND to add a huge whopping pile of sprinkles to the icing on the cake Angry Birds Star Wars just so happens to be free temporarily as well!! It's AWESOME. I finished the free version way back when it first came out so the moment I heard the full game was free I got a little too excited. As if I don't waste enough time on such things all ready. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pregnancy and Pills

    If you're like me then you're weary of popping anything into your mouth without knowing exactly what it is, what the possible side effects could be, and having a very good reason to take it. Modern medicine is a wondrous thing that saves lives, no doubt, but I don't think I'm taking a big leap when I say all good things in moderation . . . especially medicine.

Duh, that's why they have a thing called dosage. Dosage sounds reaaaaally weird if you say it about 10 times in a row. Sounds creepy and strange.

   I think going through three pregnancies now and breastfeeding two babies so far has led me to be far more aware of the effects many drugs may have on you. I think a lot of us get used to the idea of using meds from the time we were little tiny generous things spreading our germs to every other living being, wiping our noses on our sleeves, and smearing hand sanitizer all over.

     Now, it should be noted that I'd be in a hellish pit if it weren't for drugs. Zofran for my terrible morning sickness and gallbladder problems with N, morphine post-surgery, vicodin for a raging tooth infection, claritin for my raging allergies, and zoloft for PPD after little E.

  But sometimes I think we can get so wound up in our trusty prescriptions and over-the-counter wonders that we forget there are alternatives. We forget there is risk. We forget that sometimes they really just don't know what something is going to do to our bodies as it hasn't been on the market long enough yet to make more than a very (hopefully) well-studied, educated guess.

  I'm sitting up at almost 5 am now. Unable to sleep (this has been getting worse for several weeks anyway). I most certainly have a sinus infection (ugh) and a toothache that may or may not be related to the sinus pressure trying to make my face explode. I have my handy-dandy list of approved medications from the OBGYN but I like to double up with my own research. Before my first, it never would've occurred to me that some OTC drugs (like ibuprofen) aren't recommended during pregnancy. Since I've had time to burn tonight between pinterest, candy crush, and messing around with the blog template I figured I'd collect all the helpful things I've found or read before right here on this post for anyone that wants a quick reference:

Taking Medicine During Pregnancy - WebMD

Pregnancy and Medicines Fact Sheet - Women'

Safe Pregnancy Remedies - Fit Pregnancy

Medication and Pregnancy - CDC

Herbs and Pregnancy - American Pregnancy Association

Breastfeeding and Medications: What's Safe?- Mayo Clinic

Selected List of Medications: AAP Approval, PRC, and LRC -
     *PRC(Pregnancy Risk Category)
      *LRC(Lactation Risk Category)

LactMed: A Database on Drugs and Lactation

      Disclaimer: Your midwife and/or OB is always your best initial resource for this information. God and Jesus know that I have no clue what kind of mutations, diseases, or health history you might have. Don't doubt that. If you're not sure about what they are telling you then your second best resource is going to be the second opinion of another medical professional (yes, that means midwife and/or OB) and that's probably still your best bet before the generalities of the interwebz for a good while. 

     I just saved you a whole 10 minutes of googling.

     I'm off to see if a nice warm bath, a dose of tylenol, a smidgen of saline solution, and some lavender smells might finally do it for me before the sun (and the little humans) get up for the day.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sinuses, more shopping, and sickness

    What would summer be without at least one lovely sinus infection and some random sickliness? So boring. Not.

     N just got over some random bug. She's back to her normal cheery, crazy, bossy self after a couple days of being fussy and sleeping all the time. No one else has been sick with the same symptoms so who knows what it was.

     Regardless, I made it out ALONE (*hallelujah chorus*) for groceries yesterday. Target had some awesome deals. I had my coupons and cartwheel too. I managed to save $40. The total at the end was $197 plus I got $15 in gift cards back. Best part: that $197 includes a month's worth of diapers, two months worth of wipes, and a month's worth of toilet paper. So, I'm pretty happy with that. The only things I didn't buy yesterday was our meat, produce, and butter*. I'll go to Aldi, Fresh Market, and the farmer's market (fresh local tomatoes!!) this weekend for those. Anybody know about pricing for organic grass-fed beef? This week's ad is showing it for 4.49 per lb. I'm guessing it's a good deal for what it is but I have no idea. I usually just get the regular stuff (actually I buy ground turkey more often anymore) and try not to ever spend more than $3 per lb.

   So, yeah! One last thing,  I found this gem in the $1 bins at Target. There was another one for math too. They are starting to get all the school stuff out in the store all ready so I'll be keeping me eyes open for more of these things. I haven't tried it yet but N knows all her letters so I think she might be able to play it even though it's marked for ages 5+ and not 2 or 3+. I think we'll try it tomorrow while E is still down for her nap.

      I'm sure I could've been super crafty and made these up myself but I feel that my $1 bill was well spent. All my craftiness gets spent on my scrapbooking to the point that I have none left.

    Maybe I'll make a more interesting post another day . . . *blows nose for the 15 millionth time*

* I take that back. I got 5lbs of frozen chicken breasts and 3 dozen eggs but whatever.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Latest: FREE Apps and Such

   Ok, I said I had some more things to share so here I am not waiting too long to share! YAY! We had the iPads uncharged and put away for a few weeks. Because, sometimes techno-guilt strikes and we need a break. Well, we pulled them back out. After 1000 updates I went searching for some new games. I hate spending money on games I haven't played around with firsthand so I tend to scour the free lists and do some googling first. Here are the new additions to our iPads for the kids:

Agnitus - Games for Learning

Agnitus - Both girls have gotten into this one. My three year old is flying through all the little games and she finds all the characters to be very amusing. She has no problem navigating and there are plenty of different things to do within this one app so it keeps her little brain busy. Downside: although it is initially free, any additional mini-games cost extra. However, once you see what is available you may not mind spending a few extra bucks on it. There is a really cool curriculum-style system to it and you can even see report cards of the kiddo's progress through each learning component. Go here to see more about what this one is all about. Oh, and P.S. It's also compatible with multiple languages.
Available on:

ABC Music by Peapod Labs

ABC Music - This is a nice little dictionary style app from Peapod Labs. Instead of sticking with the typical alphabet learning games or a general touch music game they've combined the two into what is essentially an interactive musical encyclopedia. It is chock full of music and simple tasks. Huge plus: words are in English or in Spanish. We aren't a bilingual family but I like to expose my kids to different languages and cultures. I know there are plenty of bilingual families out there that could really get some use out of this feature though. The navigation can seem a little sporadic or random until you get used to it. Every letter links to a pop-up with links to new pages for instruments starting with that letter. If you click the A in "Guitar" it may seem to suddenly take you over to Accordion. This doesn't take long to figure out or get accustomed too. It's a nice introduction to music for younger kids and perhaps a good vocabulary tool for older ones. Go try this one ASAP because it's only free for a limited time!  
Bonus: Go here, scroll down, and download their free printable coloring book.
Available on:
ipod touch

Sago Mini Sound Box by Sago Sago

Sound Box - When you search for this one in the app store type in Sago Mini Sound Box. There are tons of apps with variations of the "sound box" name so it's not easy to find that way. This is a very, very simple concept. Sago actually has (what looks to be) three super neat games for young toddlers. Both my kids (3 and almost 2) liked this but it would appeal to the smallest of tablet-wielding littles. My younger definitely liked it more than my older one. Some kids may get bored of it quickly. For whatever reason this game was free. The other two by Sago Sago are currently $1.99 and $0.99. No idea what the reason is for the pricing variation but it is why I only have the Sound Box app.  Anyway, this game is colorful and reactive. It has a very clean layout. It responds to the slightest touch by adding colorful shapes to the screen or manipulating them about. There is a set of 9 different noises to make and it's super easy to go back and forth between the different noises. No doubt though, some of these sounds have the potential to get annoying so fair warning there.
Available on:
ipod touch

And finally . . .

PlaySquare by PlaySquare, LLC

PlaySquare - This is another free for a limited time app. It looks like this one may be one heck of a spendy one in the future too. The gist is that all the kid media masterminds (Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop, and LeapFrog) have come together with MIT to create what is alleged to be the first "touchable television". Impressive. Read more about that here. Right now this is free and starts out with one VERY interactive episode of Word World (you may or may not be familiar with it but it's what is shown in the image above). Later on new episodes will possibly cost you 1-2 bucks a pop. It's really up to each person individually to decide whether it's worth it. My 3 year old is a fan of Word World (say it five times fast!!) anyway so she was all about this. She dove right into figuring out the word games. I think it has a lot of potential but I'm not sure we'll be doling out all that much on it later since I can manage time to incorporate the proposed lessons for the kids in other ways and let her just enjoy the show(s) on regular TV (errr netflix/DVDs) when it comes down to it. I won't lie though my first thought was "this would be awesome for trips!" add a couple new game-video-episode things on the way there and on the way back. Easy.
Available on:

I'll post about my findings for us adult people soon! Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Our Stay-cation, I guess

     We're very much enjoying a week to ourselves as a family. The Marine got done with his annual training this past weekend and he has off this entire week to spend with us! We've spent most of our time being lazy, enjoying eachother's company, and getting some errands done that we normally have to twist schedules around to get done.

     Sunday we spent our evening in Rogers. The Cross Church at Pinnacle Hills put on a fantastic fireworks show! Poor N (oldest daughter) was not a fan of the lights and loud noises. Both girls did have fun running around with some other kids and eating way too many cookies though. It was definitely worth the time to go over there and the crowd was really impressive.

     Then yesterday was our anniversary! Four years married now. It's hard to believe in some ways but in other ways it feels like it's been much longer than that. We had a "night in". Hubby man made us some delicious (bacon wrapped!!!) filet mignon with tasty sides (potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, rolls). I barely finished half my plate. We spent the night talking, playing BO2, and watching our dorky TV shows (I can't remember what was on last . . . Alphas or Firefly).

   Today has just been a normal day. Our a/c is not working well so it's been a not-so-lovely 80 degrees inside. We were gonna go to the $2 movie this morning but the kids ACTUALLY slept past 7 am for once so we didn't even try. I'm not sure what else we'll do this week. We're still deciding whether to go over to Veteran's Park tomorrow for their fireworks since N is so distraught by them. We'll see . . . . Hopefully this weekend we will make it to the Monsters U/Man of Steel showings at the drive-in!

    I guess it's sort of our staycation. We haven't been on a true vacation since we got married (not even a honeymoon, ha) aside from trips to see family so it's kind of nice to take some time to relax. I'm sure we'll make it to the library, the pool, and the park some more this week as well.

Recently, we brought the ipads back out (they were put away for a few weeks) and I have discovered some really great new kid's apps. I've also had some really great money-saving sites shared with me recently so I'll share those soon as well!