Saturday, June 30, 2012

Busy Bag Swap

* Updated at the bottom of the page.*

I've been wanting to do a busy bag exchange for a while but the last few months have  been full of adjustments. Well, mainly one big, cute adjustment:

But I keep on seeing so many good ideas online and I'd love to have some on hand for John (and later, Isla) so I'm ready to try to make it happen! If you're not sure what a  busy bag exchange is, here is a rundown:

A busy bag is a simple preschool activity that can be kept in a plastic bag that you can easily take with you and give to your toddler or preschooler to keep him/her occupied at a doctor appointment, while getting the oil changed in the car, etc. Or you can use them at home to keep your toddler occupied while you're cooking dinner or pull them out on a rainy or excruciatingly hot  day. Each person chooses a busy bag to make and makes one for each person participating in the exchange. If 4 people are participating, you will make 5 (one for yourself plus 4 more). (I have no idea how many people may be interested- I'm hoping at least a few!) Sometime at the end of August/ beginning of September, we'll all get together and swap bags. The benefit is that by making multiples of one bag you'll streamline the creating process and cut down on costs, but by exchanging, you'll receive a variety of bags to entertain your preschooler. 

If you're still interested, here are the rest of the details

The busy bags can be as simple or as complex as you would like. If you are not artsy craftsy there are super-simple ideas like this button snake which requires very minimal skill. Likewise, if you're a regular Martha Stewart, you can make something as elaborate as you wish. 

There are hundreds of busy bag ideas online. For simplicity's sake, you will choose your own bag and let me know what you're making. To avoid duplicates the first person to let me know her choice will keep it and anyone else who submits the same thing or similar will have to choose something else. 

If there is an element of your busy bag that might require you to spend an exorbitant amount of money, there may be the option to delegate those costs to each individual person. But this should require a minimal amount of work- the bulk of the bag should be complete at the time of the swap. For example, some busy bag ideas require a lot of lamination which can get expensive.  If you're independently wealthy and money is no object, you can feel free to laminate! But if you'd like to keep costs down, you can complete the busy bag without laminating and each person can then laminate her own. It will be relatively inexpensive to laminate one verses one person laminating 5 or 10. 

At the end of August/beginning of September, we'll meet for a girls' night/ busy bag swap! I'll make some dessert and we can all mingle and snack and swap. I'm thinking the last weekend in August 8/24 or 8/25 or the second weekend of September9/8 or 9/9 (the weekend after labor day.) That way everyone will have time to get supplies and assemble the bags and still have time for summer travel, etc. 

If there is anyone who doesn't live in town, or is not able to make it to the swap, you can still participate. You will just have to make arrangements to get your bags to me before the swap, either by shipping or dropping them off to my house. After the swap, yours will either be shipped back to you (you must cover the cost of shipping) or you can pick them up. 

If you are interested, please email me ( by Saturday July 7th saying that you would like to participate and which bag  you'd like to make. Also let me know if you have a preference for the swap date. The next weekend, July 14th, I will send out a list of the participants and which bags they will make as well as the date for the swap. 

There are lots of ideas here and here, as well as on Pinterest and many other blogs. Or, you can make up your own!

 Feel free to make a bag beyond your child's current developmental level. Having a variety of activities that will be suitable for ages 18-ish months to 3 or 4 years (ex. alphabet tracing sheets) will allow for room to grow. 

I know several people who have done and participated in swaps like this, I've never attempted to organize one so please bear with me if I haven't thought of something that should be addressed. 

Questions, comments? Let me know! 

*Update: Since I've read a little more about a busy bag swap, I wanted to clarify a few issues: 

First, in my original post I mentioned exorbitant costs related to laminating. Certainly, there is the possibility that these bags could cost a lot to make. But, lest cost be a barrier for anyone, I want to emphasize that many very simple activities can be made for as little as $1 per bag. In fact, on one blog I read about an exchange in which they set a limit of $1 per bag. At this point, I'm loath to set a firm limit because if not very many people participate, cost will be less of an issue because we won't be making very many bags. Regardless, some might feel comfortable spending more than others, but everyone should know that the general guideline is: keep it cheap. 

Also, on July 14th when I send out the final list of participants and what each person is making, I'll also send some guidelines to follow for the bag assembly/ labeling, etc. so that we're all on the same page regarding what we can expect from the final products! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

30 for 30

The author of one blog I read,  I Can Teach My Child, recently issued a 30 for 30 challenge in which she challenged her readers to spend purposeful time interacting with their children 30 minutes per day for 30 days. 

30 Minutes of interaction doesn't seem like a lot. I spend all day with my kids, after all. It seems like a given that a stay at home parent will spend 30 minutes of time interacting with children. However, I have found that 30 minutes of purposeful interaction can be exceedingly difficult to come by. In my experience, a lot of our interactions are somewhat distracted. We sit down to build blocks and then I have to switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer, or nurse the baby, or go to the bathroom, or I realize that I need to respond to an email and then pretty soon I'm busy doing other things. So while I'm with the kids all day, I might not really be with them. I didn't take the "30 for 30" challenge per say. I'm still making the adjustment to two children, and I didn't feel that this was an ideal time for me to be making rigid commitments that I would then feel guilty for breaking. But her challenge has given me a lot to think about and has reminded me that being in the same house with my children does not mean that I'm fostering my relationship with them. So, I've been trying to be purposeful about spending time with John when Isla goes down for her morning nap.

Another challenge to spending 30 minutes with John is that his attention span is not nearly long enough to do one sustained activity for that long. So our time is usually broken up with different activities and often in different chunks of time throughout the day. 

One thing that we've been doing is building with mega bloks. Actually, what he enjoys is me stacking the blocks so that he can knock them over. I am not an engineer, and I'm usually at a loss as to what one can build with mega bloks. I'm sure that there are some people who could sit down and whip up the Taj Mahal, no problem. But I had to take to google to get ideas. Unfortunately I didn't find a lot of ideas for what to build but I did stumble onto this website that describes educational ideas for mega bloks including sorting colors, learning patterns and discussing ideas of dimension like tall and wide. I'm always amazed by how much can be learned with very simple activities. So far we've worked on sorting them by color, which was successful.  

We've also been enjoying playing with flubber. You can google it and find any number of recipes for flubber as well as ideas for how you can experiment with it. A Non-Newtonian fluid*, flubber flows, bounces and can be broken into pieces. John really likes to play with it but it requires attentive supervision. I have heard from other friends that it it very difficult to remove from hair and carpet. I have to watch John carefully to make sure he doesn't get it everywhere but, even then, sometimes it gets past me:

* Something I only know because I read it on a blog. Turns out kids love Non-Newtonian fluid

Thursday, June 28, 2012

We Take Our Caffeine Habits Very Seriously in This Household

Start 'em young, that's what I say! Coffee is an acquired taste so better to get a jump on it. Why wait until college- or even three years old?

I guess it's not obvious that it's a frapuccino in that cup, but that's what it is. Despite the pictures, John is not addicted to caffeine and we don't give him coffee (aside from the occasional sip, as you can see). I'm writing this mostly because I think these pictures are cute and I wanted to post them. He does know what coffee is and he frequently says "I want some coffee." To which I reply "no John, this coffee is the only thing standing between mama and a coma. You don't want mama to fall into a fatigue-induced coma do you? Don't even answer that."

While I do tend to wake up bleary-eyed it's mostly my own fault because I stay up too late and my children wake up horrifically early. But the good news is that Isla is sleeping through the night, more or less. She wakes up occasionally but she's slept many nights from 8-ish pm to 6-ish am. Hallelujah! And she's been napping well too. Now that is a child of mine. 16 hours of sleep per day? Yes, please! John was a good sleeper as well, but he didn't sleep through the night until around 8 months old. I'm so thankful that they've both been good sleepers. In a perfect world they wouldn't want to wake up at the crack of dawn. But the world is far from perfect and if my biggest problem is that my children like to be up early, well, that's not even a real problem. Plus, I know that soon they'll be teenagers and then we're all going to sleep until noon.

This morning Isla woke up somewhere in the 6 o'clock hour delivering a passionate soliloquy in her bassinet. I assured her that there is nothing that really needs discussing (or soliloquizing) at 6 am and that she should not hesitate to sleep in. All of her obligations, I assured her, can easily be met later in the day. We'll see if she takes my advice. Despite my distaste for the hours before 9 am, I do enjoy my early morning Isla time. She usually eats around 6 am and then sometimes she falls back to sleep and we snuggle until John wakes up. Here are some picture of her, they aren't recent but they're oh-so-cute (if I do say so myself):

Milk Coma

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Sometimes Gardener

This picture is a good metaphor for my gardening:

Notice that the tomato plant which has recently departed for that big flower pot in the sky, was alive just long enough to produce a single tomato!

That sums up my gardening habits. I start out enthusiastically. Every spring and fall I get the itch to plant things. We usually make a trip to a local nursery, purchase some herbs and flowers, and this year, tomato plants. Then we get home realize that we need to weed and mulch since we haven't done so since my last "planting itch" which was six months prior. Then we get started weeding, but never finish in one fell swoop, and then other commitments crowd out that initial gardening enthusiasm, and pretty soon it's been two months, and all our new plants are dead in their pots on the patio. Some of them were able to produce a nice blossom or fruit in their final gasp of life. 

I want to have a green thumb. I really do. My problem is I haven't found a way to work even a little gardening into my routine.

I find it inconvenient to get sweaty and covered with dirt in the course of a normal day. Because that  necessitates a shower which is sometimes difficult to come by. Also, since our garden is out front facing the street there's really nowhere for John to play if I wanted to garden while he's awake. After the kids are in bed, I'm usually not in the mood for much manual labor, or (in the winter) it's already dark. And, (I've got a multitude of excuses!) it's currently summer in Texas which means I'm preparing to chain myself to the box fan and not venture outdoors until September.

In my defense, this year we purchased plants right around the time Isla was born so I have a better-than-usual excuse for letting the garden fall by the wayside. 

Last summer was brutal here. I got pregnant and started feeling queasy and generally stopped acknowledging that our plants existed.Yet many of them pulled through. I was surprised! Some are actually doing quite well. If you live in Texas and you're looking for plants that have been victors of Survivor: Flora Edition, these are a few:

Valentine Roses
Belinda's Dream Roses
Texas Primrose
Republic of Texas Orange Tree
Satsuma Mandarin Tree 
Dutchman's pipe vine

Many of these are natives, which might explain why they were able to withstand such drought and heat. These plants will require no effort from you. Or, at least, mine don't from me. They are self sufficient. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I watered last summer. And we had no rain. And you could fry an egg pretty much anywhere there was no AC running constantly. And these plants pulled through! Not only that, many of them came out looking lovelier than ever. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say. Apparently so for my plants.

This is one of my favorite flowers:

Belinda's Dream roses.These are not the best pictures but these flowers make gorgeous cuttings for a vase. I cannot believe that such a pretty flower is possible with nearly total neglect from the gardener. 

This year I tried my hand at tomatoes which was questionably successful depending on your definition of success (we did harvest one tomato after all!). We still have one living tomato plant which may produce in the fall if it makes through this summer's survival of the fittest boot camp. (I'm going to try to water, I really am. John loves to do it but he wields the hose in such a way that nothing in close proximity can stay dry which, again, It's not convenient for me to finish each watering session sopping wet.)

I would love to be gardener. I would especially love to grow my own vegetables. I tell myself it will be easier if I ever have a yard and can get outside to weed and such while the kids frolic about without the threat of being run over by a car.We'll see, maybe gardening just isn't my forte but I'm not willing to give up yet! I'll be sure to post an update on my tomato plant in the fall. Maybe we'll have a bumper crop! (I'm not holding my breath.) 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Today's Favorite Child Award Goes To...

It's probably  un-PC to declare a favorite child. And yet, there you have it. My favorite child today at HEB was hands down: John. 

I have no problem that Isla might read this later in her life. If she asks me why I was playing favorites I will simply explain: When you have children of your own, and you have to take at least two of them to HEB, and one of them is screaming the entire time while the other is sitting very sweetly, quietly and patiently in the cart, you will quickly find your fondness growing for the non-screaming child.

Many times Isla wins the Favorite Child Award. Likewise, if John objects, I will simply explain: When you have children of your own and one of them is smiling happily  in the baby seat while the other is scattering very small cars around the house which you will then step on in the middle of night, gouging your foot and bringing you perilously close to a concussion, you will greatly come to appreciate the immobile qualities of the former child.

I should say that both of my sweet littles grow more dear to me every day. Isla is emerging from her newborn haze and winning us over with her prodigious smiles and coos, today's HEB trip notwithstanding. While John is growing leaps and bounds in his verbal communication. He is now verbally proficient enough to to issue helpful admonitions when I might be in danger like "Careful, Mama. Hot."

So really, I don't have a favorite. (No, no, I do and it's whichever one is not crying at HEB.)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Elements of Style

I wrote this post several weeks ago and never posted it. But I've had a request for more Isla pictures, so feast your eyes on this sugar lump of a girly-girl!

We are entering a whole new world of fashion with Isla. It's more fun than I had anticipated. I like having a boy because I like being able to put him in whatever I pull out of his drawers and go about our day. It seemed like my friends with girls were grappling with fashion issues that I never had to think about.

However, it turns out it's pretty fun to put together an ensemble. Here is one that I don't think could possibly be any girlier:

Bows? Animal print? Yes.

 Ruffles? Pink? Sparkles? Of Course!

Work it, girl!                            

I don't think she's going to be any sort of fashionista in the long run since I am her mother and my main fashion goal is to make it out of the house with the minimum amount of spit up on my clothes as possible (notice I didn't say no spit up because that would be unrealistic). But  while she is still the recipient of uber- fashionable clothes from her great grandmother and other friends, she can be dressed to the nines.          

Here are some more recent pictures:

Does this face (above) look familiar?


Monday, June 04, 2012

The Cutest Blueberry Thief*

Last weekend we went on our annual blueberry picking trip. 

This time of year always brings out some anxiety in me. I'm always very concerned that the short blueberry season will slip by me before I have a chance to pick the mass quantities that I always hope to have stored up in the freezer for the hot summer months and beyond. (We like to make smoothies with them during the summer.) 

It's difficult to coordinate the blueberry season (this year it was early since it has been so warm) with an available weekend for Peter and I with childcare. And, in fact we were only able to coordinate two of those things this year: blueberry season and an available weekend. 

We brought the kids with us. We had arranged childcare but it fell through. So, I knocked my expectations way down regarding  how many blueberries we might end up with. I told myself I would have to be content with whatever we got and just try to enjoy the experience of being together with family and doing something fun outdoors. 

We did considerably better than I expected, picking nearly 20 lbs in two hours! It was a team effort. Peter held Isla and tended to John and picked while I primarily picked. I am a fruit picking machine. It's about an hour drive to the orchard so I know it's pretty much a one-shot deal because we're not going to drive out again. For someone who's generally pretty relaxed about life (despite my recent-onset type A personality), I can really get into the zone sometimes. 

I  thought that John might enjoy picking some blueberries and depositing them in his bucket. He's at the age where he enjoys putting things in other things. And he did insist on having his own bucket. But he quickly dispensed with the bucket and began putting the blueberries directly in his mouth. I won't venture a guess at how many blueberries he ate. Suffice it to say that his dirty diapers were a lovely shade of midnight blue for the next two days.

Side story: Peter,  being an ophthalmologist, he constantly filters his world through a lens of Things With Which You Can Poke Out Your Eye. Sticks being high up on that list. Lurking in every tree and bush, where a  non Ophthalmologist sees benign twigs, Peter sees an army of lancets just waiting for an eyeball to impale.  So, his biggest fear is John poking his eye out with a stick.

 John, being a little boy, his life very nearly revolves around picking up sticks. (I'm telling you, girls are different. John has a lot of little friends that are girls and they do not pick up sticks.) Basically John's and Peter's universes are antithetical to each other.

The result is their worlds repeatedly colliding, producing paroxysms of  "John put down that stick!" followed by tears (usually John's).

And, mind you, some of these sticks are mere wisps of straw that couldn't hurt a ladybug's eye. But in the world of Ophthalmology, you should never walk, or even make any movements, no matter how subtle, with anything narrow or remotely sharp in your hand. So, the obvious thing to do is for everyone to wear safety goggles at all times and that would solve a lot of Peter's problems. (It also would ruin his job security, so don't pass this info along.)

Well, I think I've covered a sufficient breadth of topics in this post. I can't think of any other unrelated sundries to add so I suppose I'll call it a day!

Wait, I did think of something completely unrelated and yet very pertinent: Go Spurs, Go!

*This title does not refer to all the blueberries John ate while we were picking berries; the orchard allows customers to eat and pick. As the picture illustrates, it refers to him snatching them off  the counter while I was trying to dry them before freezing. I thought I should clarify lest anyone think I'm encouraging John to steal. :o)

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Ignorance, I miss you

Ignorance is bliss until shards of awareness pierce through your unknowing cocoon shedding the harsh light of reality onto whatever it was you were happily oblivious about.

One such illumination happened to me recently as I was penning the very last of 25 thank you notes I had been writing in response to the myriad of gifts and meals we've received since Isla was born. Just as I was about to complete my task I questioned how to spell grateful. Turns out, it is not spelled greatful!

Okay, to me, grate is either 1) something you do to cheese, or 2) a metal covering for a sewer. Neither grate nor grating has any connotation of thanksgiving! Although perhaps I should be more grateful  that sewers are covered and that I have a lesser chance of stumbling into a cesspool while out on a stroll. I just never thought of it that way.

Me upon learning my mistake

Great, on the other hand, in my simple mind, flows right into greatful. They both have a positive connotation and it seems like one could be the extension of the other. Great, grateful, they just feel similar.

Perhaps feelings are not a reliable compass to get to the true north of spelling accuracy. Unfortunately, for people like me, trying to navigate the written English language is like trying to use a compass in a magnet factory: you're never going to find your way out of there!

I didn't use the word grateful in every note. I was not about to go and rip open all 25 of them to correct my mistake in the few of them that contained it. Hopefully the recipients will chalk it up to a case of "mom brain."

So, if you got a note from me with any misspelled words you'll know my deep dark secret: I cannot spell. I am a child of the spell check generation. Since no technology has been invented that allows spell check to do  its fancy correcting in hand-written notes, this is where I find myself.

Oy vey.

I suppose I should be grateful that this came to light now, when I'm only approaching my 30's, rather than in my old age when I will have had a lifetime of misspelling that word. I can only presume that such an awareness at that advanced stage of life would give me a heart attack and hasten my death rather than merely producing the minor embarrassment that I feel now. (Never mind that most 1st graders can probably spell grateful.) But this whole incident has me concerned about all the other words that I don't know  how to spell that I don't know that I don't know how to spell. These unknown unknowns are the stuff of nightmares, spelling and otherwise.

I'm sure that there is probably another misspelled word in this very post that will lead to another bout of embarrassed face-hiding.

This reminds me of an incident way back in elementary school when I was required to write "Spelling" on top of the weekly spelling tests administered in my class. Week after week I continually forgot the "e" in "Spelling." I'm sure the teacher grading my "Splling" tests didn't entertain high hopes for me upon seeing that heading. But look at me now! Thanks to the advent of spell check any dunce can write sufficiently to get a college degree! Thanks spell check! I only wish that I could download you directly into my brain.