Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yankee Crawfish Boil

This past Memorial Day we went to the 6th annual Yankee Crawfish boil just north of Boston.  Hosted by some folks I know from my days in New Orleans, it's a nice reminder of our Nawlins days.  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

My stepfather and 2 guys from his business (Dixon Pool and Spa in Burlington NC) came up to get our hot tub and bring it back to NC to sell.  They also took some of our heavier things to try to lighten the moving load so we are less likely to go over our weight limit (see more about that here).  It also happened that Vinny's mother was finishing up moving from her house as well since she closes this week, so they were able to help us with that as well.  BIG THANKS to them for all their help.

So we went to the crawfish boil as a way to allow them to have some fun and see Boston.  As usual, the boil was wonderful.  Bella loved checking out the live crawfish, she wasn't afraid of them at all and had no problem handling them.  Actually, I couldn't drag her away from the bucket she liked them so much.

There were some older teenagers who let her play table hockey with them, which I appreciated so much.  Her team was even winning!  Big compliments to their parents for raising them to be so accommodating with young children.

There was a man who played the accordion, and he was also great to the kids.

Bella decided to be a little star and perform for the ~100 guests:

I have the unfortunate dilemma that I am currently allergic to the sun due to the long winter we had here in New England, so I spent the crawfish boil in a hat hiding from the sun.  Bella now insists on taking her hat with her as well.  I'm hoping this means she'll start letting me put her in all the cute sundresses she has, even if we do have to stay out of the sun temporarily:

How was your Memorial Day Weekend?  Do anything fun?

Things we'll miss about living in RI - Part 1, the Mural

There are lots of things we'll miss about Rhode Island.  I wanted to do a few posts to touch on those things and give them a proper goodbye.

We love our current home in Rhode Island.  Which is rather lucky considering that we didn't actually see the house before we bought it.  Yep, that's right.  I'm going to have to go on a tangent to tell this story quickly.

When we started looking for houses in RI, I narrowed down the search to 13 houses, and came up and saw them all in 1 day.  Our real estate agent has the patience of a saint!  After making offers and having deals fall through 3 times, Vinny came to me with the listing for this house, which had just been reduced and was subsequently in our price range.  Since our agent had spent an entire day and countless emails listening to me harp about what I did and didn't like, I trusted her opinion when she went and checked out the house and said she thought we would like it.  Then she took a gazillion pictures, and I had her measure every room and describe the layout of the house.  I made a digital representation of the house and basically was able to walk through it in my head between the layout and the photos.  She was very nervous when we decided to buy it without actually seeing it.  I think we actually owned it for about 2 weeks before I saw it for the first time.  And it's been great.  OK, back to the real point of this post.

This was the home where we brought our daughter when she was born and raised her for the first 3.5 years of her life.  It will always hold a place in our hearts.  The thing I will miss most about it is the mural I painted in her bedroom of sea turtles. I'm so proud of it, and I know someone else will paint over it without thinking twice.  Maybe it's enough to know that it'll be there under the paint still.

Sea turtles...we will miss you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chick Peas and Dumplings

One of our favorite wintertime meals is was chicken and dumplings.  We've been vegetarian for a while now, so it hasn't really been on our table this winter.  Vinny has been a bit under the weather, so I wanted to make it for him with a little twist.  Originally I was going to make dumpling soup, but last minute I decided to throw some chick peas and it was really really good.  Not to mention, it sounds really similar to chicken :P  OK, so that's a silly reason, but it added some protein and it was really quite tasty!  So basically it was broth (we don't mind chicken broth, and we had some lying around so I just used it but vegetable broth works just as well), and I heated the broth to boiling.  Then I mixed up about a cup or a cup and a half of flour.  You can pretty much use whatever type of flour you have in the cabinet.  I use a mixture of whole wheat flour and a little bit of self rising flour so the dumplings are a little poofy.  Add an egg, and then slowly add a little water at a time, stirring it until it's just a little sticky.  Then I fork it into the boiling broth a little at a time.  You can make the dumplings as big or small as you want.  I threw in the chick peas and 10 minutes later, dinner was served!  So there you go: vegetarian chicken and dumplings!

Note to Self - 1

EDIT: right now there is a rebate to try Woolite Oxy deep for FREE!  Woohoo! Purchase between 8/15 and 1/15/12 and get up to $5.99 back.  Limit one per household. Here is the rebate

Yeah...so Bella was being awfully quiet so I went to check on her and found her going through the Montessori curriculum book and colored pencils all around her. I was worried she might have colored in the book, no marks that I could find though.  Thank goodness for glossy pages.  So I told her if she wanted to look at the book she needed to put away the colored pencils.  So, she started putting the pencils away, and the only one left was blue.  I saw it laying on the floor, so I said, 'Where is the blue?'  And she looked up at the wall.  DUN DUN DUN  I had her go sit on the stairs so I could regroup and assess the damage.  I don't even know how she got up that high.  But blue pencil all over the wall and, even worse, all over the portrait of Bella hanging on the wall there.  Those seemed to be lighter marks, but when I saw them I turned to Bella and say 'I can't believe you drew on this picture!'  That's when I saw the massive wall full of red, blue and yellow behind herself.

Deep breathing.  I needed to cool off so I put her to bed and came downstairs to figure out how to reverse the damage.

So first I searched 'How to get colored pencil off of walls' and those suggestions were baking soda and water, toothpaste, or an eraser.  Now, eraser I've tried before and that was a disaster.  I would never do that again.  I knew the magic eraser would help, but I wanted to be careful because the magic eraser can take color off the wall (or picture) too.  We didn't have baking soda, so I hit the cleaning cabinet to see what was in there.  I started with all natural window cleaner which was probably largely vinegar based.  That was no good.  It more smeared the color around.  So, I went to my trusty friend, Woolite Oxy Deep Stain Remover.

Now, when I tell you I love this stuff...I'm not kidding.  This stuff has so far kicked butt on every stain I've put it up against.  I sprayed the big red/pink smear, and wiped it down with a paper towel and the color just melted away.  I was so happy, I could have married the Woolite Oxy Deep and had little Woolite Oxy Deep babies.  There was only 1 mark that was a little too dark for the W.O.D. to handle alone.  A touch of the magic eraser with that and it was gone too.

A few minutes later, this:

became this:


Have your kids done any major stain damage around your house?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How I Became a Maid - And How to Keep Your House Looking Good

All of you out there who are imagining me in a maid's outfit...stop it :p  Those of you who weren't before...sorry!

I never thought I'd be part of one of 'those' families, with a butler or a cook or a maid.  But a while back, when I was having one of my weekly existential crises (ie: when I was in grad school full time), I decided that the thing that would make the biggest difference in making my life less miserable...was to hire someone to clean the house.  The dust bunnies were rapidly reproducing under the dressers, the laundry pile threatened to take over the bedroom, the microwave...well...maybe you don't need all the gory details.  So I called a company and had them do a top to bottom cleaning of our house.  They didn't do the laundry, but they did get it all down to the basement, which was half the battle.

It was like sugar to a toddler.  The house was clean and I didn't have to do any of it.  I was addicted.  They started coming every other week to maintain our newfound cleanliness.  We had them come on Fridays so that the house would be nice and clean over the weekend, when we would be home the most, and I looked forward to those days a ridiculous amount.

Well, when I turned to Vinny and said, "Hey, what do you think about me leaving grad school to stay home with Bella," he had 2 comments: whatever makes you happy and we'll have to stop the maid service.  *gasp*  I never thought that one of the biggest reasons for staying in grad school would be so that I could keep my maid.  I'm still technically in grad school, though I get to spend most of the week home with Bella, so we cancelled the maid service anyway.  I was going to have tons of time to keep the house clean now, right?

Well, anyone who has ever stayed home with their child knows that's a big joke.  And I had this nice idea of how I was going to clean 1 area of the house each day so it wasn't overwhelming and the house would stay spotless...uh huh.

The game changer was when we put the house on the market.  Selling our house has made me an almost full time maid.  When we show our house, my goal is to always have it looking as perfect as it can. (Read more about how I staged our house to show off its best features here)  I can't just have 1 area looking good while the rest is a mess, so the plan went out the window.  While I have the house in a position where I can straighten up hide all of our mess pretty quickly, I always do a once over on the master bathroom, and vacuum the 3 main rooms of the house.  We're lucky that we've had a lot of traffic interested in our house.  Unfortunately, that traffic seems to come in the form of 1 visit ever other day.  That means I'm vacuuming and cleaning the house constantly.  A few things have helped this process go a bit smoother.

1. The biggest help that I've found in keeping the house clean is probably the one that everyone would say "DUH, of course!" to, I try to put things where they belong whenever they get out of place.  That means that dirty dishes don't just get put in the sink or set next to the sink...they get put in the dishwasher or washed.  Clothes don't get dropped on the floor, they go in the laundry basket.  OK, so maybe I should have learned that tip as a kid, but it hasn't been the case around our house until just recently.

2. Bins and Drawers.  The playroom was a constant disaster zone.  Mail would pile up on the kitchen counter.  I suspect you know what I'm talking about.  Find convenient places to hide the mess of everyday living.  That could be in the form of drawers in your coffee table, or a basket in the kitchen that can easily be tucked away into a cabinet, or storage ottomans.  For the playroom, we got a wall unit from target that held cubed fabric bins. Pottery Barn carries them, Land of Nod carries them, they're everywhere.  In a pinch, you can grab things off the floor and throw it into the nearest bin with space.  The bins hide the mess inside. But ideally, you pick a theme for each bin.  For instance, we have a bin for dress up items, a bin for baby dolls, a bin for balls, a bin for transportation toys like cars and trains...you get the idea.  If you have themes to the bins, you can label them with a picture of what goes inside, and it makes it easier for the kids to help you clean up.

3. Let the kids help!  But don't expect to tell them to 'go clean up your room' and expect it to be done right (unless you have older teenagers).  Give your kids specific goals and directions, and you'll be less likely to find a huge stash of random stuff under the bed a few months from now.  For example, last night our playroom was a disaster zone.  I considered calling in FEMA.  You can imagine to a kid, the concept to cleaning up something that intimidates an adult would be very daunting. Of course, in an ideal world our kids would play with their cars, then put them all away before getting out the next item.  Yeah, when you stop laughing, read on.  I decided to break the task down into a sorting exercise.  I set up the bins that had been dumped out and asked her to start by finding all of the toys with wheels and putting them in the green bin (transportation).  And I didn't make her do it alone.  I grabbed the ones that were hiding under other things, or that she might have trouble thinking of as being transportation (like the sailboat, since it didn't have wheels).  Then we moved on to the dress up bin, and kept going til the room was clean.  What looked like a totally daunting task took less than 5 minutes to clean up.  And in the process, she learned about sorting, teamwork, and hopefully something about how much easier it would be if she put things away once she was done with them.  I think this works as well for a 10 year old as it does for a 3 year old, but I'd love to hear input from parents with older children.

4. Try to be efficient.  We have 2 spots for things that need to go to another floor.  If it's on the stairs, it should go up with whoever is going upstairs next.  If it's on the corner of the dining room table, it should go down to the basement whenever someone heads down.  It saves a lot of needless up and down and makes the process much more efficient.

So I guess that's it for now.  Advice from a new maid.  I still hate doing laundry, especially sheets, but Bella really enjoys loading the washing machine, so her enthusiasm helps ease the pain.

What is your least favorite chore to do around the house?  Do you have tricks you use to help keep your house looking good?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Overheard.Big Words - V

January 8, 2011
V is for Venacular

and also
V is for Vortex

The Traditional Anniversary

We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary this past weekend.  Sort of bad timing with Vinny's big exam this week, but I digress.  Each year we have great fun trying to take the whole idea of the traditional anniversary gifts and putting a modern spin on it to make it our own.

Year 1: Paper.  Traditionally spouses would exchange stationary or some such thing.  Our first anniversary, I gave Vinny a photo of our positive pregnancy test and he gave me us tickets to see one of our favorite Broadway shows, RENT, on Broadway along with hotel reservation in New York City.  We also signed the paper to buy our current house that day, so we got one another a mortgage too!

Year 2: Cotton. I think this was traditionally sheets or towels.  In our defense, we had a newborn at the time, so we slacked a bit.  I got Vinny a pair of boxers with my picture on them.  He got me towels.  Not so romantic, but it's a gimmie because we were up to our necks in cotton onesies.

Year 3: Leather. Beats me what you traditionally bought one another in the long gone past.  Boots?  Belts?  A Wallet?  Who knows.  This was a fun one to imagine a twist with.  In the end though I got Vinny a leather computer case/messenger bag and he got me a leather portfolio with my initials.

Year 4: Linen. We stuck with the past here.  We desperately needed another set of sheets...see a trend toward the more practical yet?

Year 5: Wood.  Who knows in the past what this would have been.  A desk set?  Furniture? We joke that we got one another a house for our anniversary because we just recently signed our new lease in NC.  We're planning on going out to a (hopefully) celebratory dinner this Friday once Vinny find out his exam results and we're going to a hibachi and sushi place.  So, even though I told Vinny very concretely that we were NOT buying anniversary gifts this year because of the big move, I broke down and bought a set of nice chopsticks for both of us (Actually there are 5 sets...so I guess 1 for each year of marriage). Pretty inexpensive, something we didn't have, and it fit with the theme of the traditional gift and the dinner we're going to. (Here is the link where I got them)
Vinny joked that he wanted to get me an ipad and put a wood background on it, and we tossed around the idea of a wooden hamper or new coffee tables, but in the end, my crazy budget mindedness won out.

Next year the theme is iron.  Got any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Make Your House Look its Best to Sell or Rent

These tips are all over the internet, but I thought I would share with you how we staged our house and what we do to make it look its best when people come to view it.

1. Declutter.  The idea is to make rooms look a large as possible, and also to make it easier for the buyers/renters to see themselves living in your home.  I think one easy way to see what is 'clutter' is to take pictures of your rooms.  Look at them trying to pretend to be a buyer/renter and see what things in the room are taking away from the natural assets of the home itself.  Sometimes, that means moving furniture.  Sometimes it means storing items.  In the kitchen, this might mean storing some of your countertop appliances in the cabinets.  Right before a showing, I always put the paper towel rack, sponge, and dish towels under the sink.

2. Depersonalize. This is another way to make visitors feel like the home could be their own.  If they see you everywhere they turn, all they see is YOUR house, not THEIR house. The first time we put our house on the market, we took down all the pictures of our family and put up more generic photos.  This time around, we didn't do that because I felt like it was more important that the house remain our home for the short time we have left in it and we have a few large photos with artistic twists, not tons of little candid ones.  If you have tons of little ones, consider taking away half of them, or replacing some of the family photos with art or nature photos temporarily.

3. Light.  You may not have ever noticed, but this is an old trick of the real estate trade.  Turn every light in the house on for a showing.  Every lamp, the hood on the stove, the closet lights.  Take advantage of natural light too.  Turn blinds so they let in maximum light, raise shades, pull curtains back.  The light makes rooms feel larger and more inviting.  Maybe houses suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder too and the light makes them seem less SAD.

4. Scent.  I'm sure you've heard the trick about throwing cookies in the oven before a showing.  (last time I tried that I burnt them and it didn't work out so well)  But perhaps avoid cooking food with noxious odors before you have visitors.  No cabbage the day before a showing!  Find a light scent either in spray form or candle form to fill your home with a gentle fresh scent.  Don't overdo it!  Try to spray the house about 15 minutes before they're due to arrive.  That way the house smells lovely, but they don't feel like they're being fumigated.  (Glade fresh scent for tough pet odors is my personal favorite and I've had multiple people ask me what I use because they like it so much)  If you have a bread maker, you can always set that bad boy to run during the showing too.

5. Pay attention to first impressions.  That means curb appeal, and the first room they'll walk into.  If you have a yard, try to mow it the day of or the day before a showing so it gives the best impression possible.  Weed the flower beds.  Try to have some color in the flower beds, even if it means just some green in the wintertime.  As for the first room they walk into...that's where you should focus the most on cleaning and de-cluttering and lighting.  If you do nothing else...make sure that room is perfectly inviting.

6. Cleaning.  Last but not least, make sure the house is clean.  Potential buyers/renters see a home that is well cared for and it makes them feel that the home is more trustworthy...that if you've taken care of the cleaning, you've probably also maintained the home well and in the case of renters, that you will be a conscientious landlord.

Here is a rundown of things I do before a showing (ie: how I became a maid)
-put away all toys in the appropriate bins
-put remotes in the coffee table drawer
-hide the laptops under the edge of the sofa
- make sure no laundry is visible (this includes the clean things that might be hanging out in the laundry room waiting to dry or be ironed...I've been known to stuff clean things back into the dryer to hide them in a pinch)
-make sure all beds are made
-run the vacuum over the entire house if it has been more than 3 days, if I vacuumed more recently,  I just run the vacuum over the kitchen, dining room, living room, and master bathroom (because the litter box is in there)
- make sure all blinds are open and turn on all lights
- spritz each room with a light fragrance
- wipe down all the surfaces in the master bath and the kitchen
- hide the towel holder, any dish towels, and the sponge in the kitchen (because that's where people come in)
-  in general, I try to mow the yard the day of a showing or the day before so the yard looks its best

When we have people who are coming to view it as a rental, I also get Bella a snack and something to do so she doesn't get under their feet, and the dog goes out in the backyard.

So there you have it...my advice on staging your home to sell or rent.

Do you have any other tips on how to make a home more attractive to buyers/renters?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Overheard: Abracadabra!

Taking a page from our friend Marcus, I decided to mess with Bella and let her do some 'magic.' (They played this trick on their son using a gas fireplace with a remote.)

We were at the library, which has automatic doors.  So I suggested that Bella say the magic word (Abracadabra! of course) to open them for us.  And then again to close them once we were through.  The awe in her face was awesome.  Even funnier, how she says "Abracadabra!"

Exhibit A:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Object Boxes - What's in all those boxes?

When I did my post about Introducing the Objects, (see that post here) I asked for input on what to put in some of the more difficult boxes, and where to find those things.  Someone wisely asked what sounds I was looking for, so I'm doing this post to show you what we already have.  The finding part is the harder part, though some sounds will challenge the 'what would work' task too.  I'm trying for at least 3, preferably 4-6 things in each box.  So without further ado, here is what is in our object boxes (and where we found them).  Pardon the lack of pictures.  I felt like this post was long enough without photos too.
EDIT: I've added some items to the boxes thanks to some creative friends and a very productive trip to a different Michaels

A - Antelope (from a Schleich safari set - an aside here, I LOVE the Schleich figures [see them here] but they are pretty expensive, so it's hard to justify a ton of them, though you'll see I manage to justify quite a few)
     Alligator (found at Michaels, its from Safari Ltd which is basically budget Schleich.  Here is the Safari Ltd website)
     Agate (a pendant found in the jewelry making section at Michaels)
     Astronaut (foam sticker from a friend)

B - Ball (a small one snagged from another toy we had)
      Baby (tiny little thing I grabbed with a bunch of other figures super cheap at the local bookstore)
      Brush (from a polly pocket toy)
      Banana (eraser from a dollar store set)
      Butterfly (made of feathers from the dollar store)
      Bear (also from the local book store...it's a polar bear, and Bella calls it a polar bear, not just a bear, so it may have to go live in the P box instead)
      Bug (foam sticker shape from a friend)

C - Cup (from a tea set we already had)
      Cone (from a play food set)
      Cow (fisher price, from a set like this one on Amazon)
      Carrot (play food set)
      Comb (already had but I'm sure easily available at the drug store or 1000 other places)

D - Dragon (tiny miniature from local bookstore)
      Dog (we tossed the picture and replaced it with one from Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Dolphin (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Dinosaur (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Dreidel (from a friend)
      Duck (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Dice (from a friend)

E - Eggplant (play food set)
      Elephant (tiny elephant from bookstore, the one I ordered from Shleich was too big...ironic for an elephant figure huh?)
      Egg (from Easter, though I'd rather have one that looks more realistic)
      Elk (Safari ltd from Michaels...it's technically a reindeer, but I needed an elk, so we're going with it)

F - Flowers (local toy store had a few miniatures like this little bouquet of flowers)
      Fork (from toy dining set, or you could use a real one, toddler sized)
      Feather (craft store)
      Fish (miniature from bookstore)

G - Glove (a singleton I luckily hadn't thrown out yet)
      Goat (Schleich)
      Grapes (eraser from the dollar store)
      Guinea Pig (Safari ltd from Michaels)

H - Heart (wooden heart shape from Michaels)
      Hippopotamus (Schleich)
      Hot Air Balloon (In the Sky Toob from Alison's Montessori)
      Helicopter (In the Sky Toob)
      Hermit Crab (miniature from bookstore)

I - I have nothing for I...HELP!  Igloo comes to mind, but where to find a tiny igloo?
     Igloo (foam sticker shape from a friend)

J - Jaguar (Schleich)
     Jet (In the Sky Toob)
     Jellyfish (Safari ltd from Michaels)
     Jar (babyfood jar from a friend)
     Jewel (craft jewels from Michaels)

K - Kazoo (from a local toystore)
       Kangaroo (Scheich)
       Koala (Safari ltd from Michaels)
       I didn't worry about more here because the sound is the same as 'C'

L - Ladybug (miniature from bookstore)
      Lion (miniature from bookstore)
      Lock (luggage lock from a friend)

M - Marble (from a vase I already had)
       Marker (from our art supplies)
       Mushroom (play food set)
       Meerkats (Scheich safari set)

N - Net (a small net from a bug catching set)
      Nail (housewarming present from some friends...yes our friends actually get us stuff for our object boxes as gifts)
      Nutmeg (present)
      Necklace (present)
      Notebook (present)

O - Ostrich (Schleich safari set)
      Otter (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Owl (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Octopus (Safari ltd from Michaels)

P - Peas (play food set)
      Penguin (Schleich)
      Panda (miniature from bookstore)
      Parachute (In the Sky Toob)
      Pepper (eraser from the Dollar Store set)
      Potato (play food set)
      Pink Paperclip (from a friend)

Q - There is nothing in this box right now.  I'm thinking of the Question Mark from our magnetic fridge alphabet and a Queen...I just have yet to find a small inexpensive queen.  Schleich sells some royal figures, but I worry that they may be too big for the boxes, so we're still looking for our royal.
      Queen (Safari ltd from Michaels)
      Question mark (from magnetic alphabet)

R - Racoon (Scheich)
      Rat (miniature from bookstore)
      Rocket (foam sticker shape from a friend)
      Rainbow Ribbon (from a friend)
      Rope (from a friend)

S - Spoon (play dining set or use a real toddler spoon)
      Spatula (play dining set)
      Star[fish] (one of my personal Swarovski crystal collection...I may switch it out for a starfish I have in a decorating set from Pottery Barn, but Bella loves the sparkles, so I'm leaving this one for now)
      Soap (from a baby bathtub play set, real soap would work too)
      Strawberry (eraser from Dollar Store set)
      Shoes (Iwako eraser from Michaels. The Iwako site is here.)
      Snake (Safari ltd from Michaels)

T - Train (a Thomas train from a friend)
      Turtle (Schleich)
      Top (local toy store)
      Twist Tie (ingenious, I know)
      Tape (Iwako eraser from Michaels)

U - I got nothing here...I'd love to have an umbrella, but where to find a tiny umbrella? Others?

V - Velvet (fabric store swatch)
      Velcro (from a friend)
       I'd like to have a violin, but violin miniatures are ridiculously expensive!  Any idea on where to get a cheap one?

W - Whistle (local toy store)
       Watering Can (local toy store miniature...totally lucked out on this one)
       Witch (Safari ltd from Michaels)
       Whale (Safari ltd from Michaels)
       Web (from a friend)

X - Nothing in this box currently, the idea would be box or fox.  I think I can get a small box from a stacking box set, and the fox from schleich, just haven't done it yet.
      Box (little jewelry box from a friend)

Y - Yo-yo (Michaels)
      Yellow Yarn (Michaels)

Z - Zucchini (play food set)
      Zepplin (In the Sky Toob...yeah I know most people would call it a blimp...but I didn't need a B, I needed a Z, so it's a Zepplin, deal with it!)
      Zebra (Schleich, can't teach Z without a Zebra)
      I also need to purloin a zipper off of a outfit once Bella outgrows one, just need to remember.

I will say I looked at this site (Animal World.com) and I put a ton of things in my basket and then never actually purchased them because I was worrying about cost.  They do have some of those same miniatures I got at the bookstore though, and those are cheap.  I also really liked the In the Sky Toob because it gave me lots of sounds I needed, inexpensively.  Of course, we also have another 10 planes that I don't need, so they're just hanging out in the transportation bin in the playroom.

So there you have it.  Ideas?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

First trip to the dentist!

The title of this post probably tipped you off, but just in case you missed it...Bella had her first trip to the dentist on Tuesday!  By a happy accident, we spent Monday preparing for the trip.

Some back story: when I decided to stay home with Bella, I was very excited.  And very nervous.  I was worried about coming up with my own activities and such for her, so we looked into a number of different curricula.  We ended up settling on a 3-6 year old Montessori curriculum from NAMC (see my original post here and the NAMC website here).  But we also test drove a curriculum from a company called Mother Goose Time. (see their website here)  It provides very detailed, day by day curriculum for preschoolers, with most of the supplies and such included, with songs and art projects.  It is directed at a wide age range though, so not all of the projects are age appropriate.  Basically, I pull out a day's curriculum when I want a good art project or we get bored.  Rainy day type stuff.  We're on about day 6 or 7 of the month and we got it in January, that's how much we use it.  But it is good to get me thinking outside of my usual day to day stuff.  Their curriculum is themed, and I purchased a month's curriculum where the theme was 'Dress Up Jobs.'  And as luck would have it, the day I pulled out on Monday was the job of Dentist. Crazy lucky!  (Actually, pulling out that curriculum reminded me that I needed to make her an appointment and we were fortunate enough that they had an opening the next day.)

So we got to talk a lot about what a dentist does.  Bella loves brushing her teeth, so it wasn't too hard.  We talked about the difference between a hair brush and a tooth brush (using a bag to just feel both and try to tell the difference).

The art project included a tan colored paper tooth, that we painted using a toothbrush with some white paint, pretending to brush it.  It fit pretty nicely into the Montessori mindset.  I could definitely see using a toothbrush to make art again, maybe even with actual toothpaste instead of paint.
 Bella was very proud of her art, and we took it with us to the dentist office as a sort of 'peace offering.'

I also had the opportunity to pull out the Metal Insets.  I'll do more of post about the insets soon, but here is half of our set to give you an idea of what they look like.  We bought our's at Alison's Montessori (their website here) because making my own using foamboard or corrugated plastic sounded like a task I wasn't up for. (I stink at using an Exacto knife)

I realized from one of the activities in the Mother Goose set that I could have her use the rectangle shape as the head of a toothbrush, with the lines through the rectangle as bristles.

Then I helped her draw on a handle and we got to talk more about the dentist.

So, with our peace offering in hand, we headed to the dentist.  I was hoping it would endear my child to them so they would be patient with her.  And it totally worked!  They may have been that patient anyway, but the artwork certainly didn't hurt anything.

They let Bella check out the toothpaste, tooth polisher, suction straw, and mirror.

And they even gave her a pair of cool shades to help shade her from the light.

She let them count her teeth (20 if you were curious - though she keeps saying she has 3 for some reason).  She let them polish her teeth, and she even let them scrape them a bit.  Overall, a very positive and productive trip.  She came home with a ridiculous amount of swag: a little glittery bag with a new toothbrush, toothpaste, a purple nitrile glove, floss, a sticker, and clean teeth.

Have your kids had their first trip to the dentist?  Do you remember yours?  Is it possible to not dread going every 6 months?

Overheard.Big Words - T

January 8th, 2011
T is for Tenacious

and also
T is for Tenacity

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Summer Twist on a Montessori Staple Activity

A few weeks ago I showed you Bella pouring herself a glass of water. (see that post here)  Obviously, pouring liquids is something that comes up in real life all the time.  So, as time and patience allows, we try to let Bella practice whenever possible.

Bella wanted a popsicle with lunch.  We didn't have any, but I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so I'm never opposed to making popsicles. (See my cobbler and my pumpkin roll as proof)  I bought some molds a while back, so I dragged them out, and let Bella practice pouring lemonade water (1/2 and 1/2 so it's not too sugary) into the molds.  She stuck the bottoms on, and we threw them in the freezer to set.  It was the first thing she asked about when she got up from her nap.  They weren't quite done yet though.

But we got to have them with dinner and they sure were yummy!

Bella even did "Cheers!" with Vinny and his popsicle.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cobbler, the lazy way

One of my favorite 'go to' recipes is the Lazy Cobbler.  It works with any fruit, cooked or uncooked, fresh, canned, frozen...it's very forgiving.  And super easy.  Put them together and you get it ending up at the top of my recipe list.  Once again in an effort to clean out the fridge, I put together a strawberry rhubarb version a few days ago and figured I would share.  Not actually share of course, because I already ate it all...but share the recipe at least.

Lazy Cobbler
1 cup sugar
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
a little bit of butter...up to a half a stick, or you can skip it
whatever fruit you want

(obviously, this is easily modified to 2 cups/2 cups/2 cups or any variation you like.  The cobbler in the photo I did 1.5/1.5/1.5 and used a ton of fruit because I was using stuff up)

Melt the butter in the bottom of the dish you're using (or if you want to skip the butter, spray the pan with cooking spray - the more butter you use the yummier it will be though!).  Mix together the cup/cup/cup and pour it in the dish.  Lay your fruit over the surface.  Pop it into the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the bready part is done and nice and brown.

See?  Easy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mommy's Beloved - Photoshopping Heads and Faces

When Vitafamiliae (check out their blog here) posted about taking photos of their family and how it was impossible to get everyone to look good, I jokingly said something about photoshopping heads til you got a picture where everyone looked good.  But thinking about it later, I realized it might not be a bad idea to do a post about it.  Because I love some Photoshop!

With each person you add to a photo, the challenge of getting everyone to look better goes exponentially harder.  And with each decreasing year in age, the challenge also goes up exponentially.

When my grandparents had all of their kids and grandkids in town for Thanksgiving a few years ago, they really wanted a family picture.  But with an almost 2 year old and a grandmother who can't keep her eyes open for a picture to save her life...it was going to be tough.  Not to mention I had to also be IN the picture...so I couldn't be looking through the viewfinder telling people to stop making silly faces.  So I sat there, and smiled, and clicked like crazy on the remote.

OK, so here's your first challenge: which people in this photo had their faces or heads photoshopped? (I even made these photos super big so you can see details)

Hint: There are 3.

Below is the photo I started with, You'll notice from the original that the photo isn't black and white.  It's amazing how many little defects switching to black and white covers!

Did you find them all the first time around?  Hopefully not, because if they were that easy to spot then I shouldn't be doing this post.  If you need help finding all 3 even looking at the original, let me know and I'll do an edit with the answers.

So, not that I'm a pro at this or anything, but I do have some hints if you want to try this.

- Ask everyone who is old enough to do so to try to stay in the same position for the entire set of shots.  It makes the shopping easier.  The difference between photoshopping in a new set of eyes and photoshopping in a whole new head on someone who decided to stand up when they used to be sitting is totally different, as you would expect.

-Click away for as long as people will sit there.  More options increases the likelihood of turning out a decent face for someone. Use rapid fire and don't stop clicking!

- Use Photoshop CS5.  Photoshopping out crazy things in a picture used to require some talent.  But CS5 makes it immensely easier because it sort of figures out what should go in a particular spot.  So if you do need to delete a person and stick them in standing up, it's doable without looking silly.

As for the particulars, if you want a play by play in photoshop, let me know in the comments.  I'll do it if there is demand for it.

Overheard.Big Words - S

January 8th, 2011
S is for Systematic

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Overheard.Big Words - R

January 8th, 2011
R is for Retiscent

and also
R is for Redact

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Real Montessori - Introducing the Objects, S

One of the Montessori activities in the curriculum is Introducing the Objects.  We have 26 gladware containers, labelled with each letter of the alphabet.  The idea is to put a few little objects in each container that have the sound that particular letter makes (Here is what is in our boxes currently). I'm in the process of making my own, though it's sometimes tough to find objects for certain letters.  I was kicking myself a bit when I saw a set from Primary Concepts (link to their objects here) after having gone through all the trouble of making mine...oh well.

A little background first.  Bella was tongue tied at birth, meaning that the little tissue that holds our tongue down to the bottom of our mouth went all the way to the tip of her tongue.  This made it hard for her to feed when she was a baby, so we took her to an ENT and had that tissue snipped so her tongue could move.  She was only 5 days old at the time, so it was fixed pretty quickly, but it still added some complications to her development.

When she was around 2, we felt her language wasn't developing at the same speed as her peers, so we had her evaluated by early intervention.  She started speech therapy, and we had her hearing evaluated.  That was when we found out she had significant hearing loss due to fluid in her inner ears.  She had to have tubes placed, and her hearing tested out normally after just a few months.  But, given her physical limitations during her 2nd year, her speech is still lagging.  She's catching up quick, and is now doing speech therapy with the school department in our town.

Many of the activities we do in the Montessori curriculum we coordinate based on what we're working on in speech therapy.  Our first big challenge was the hard 'C' or 'K' sound.  Therefore, the first Object boxes we worked with a lot were those letters.  They included carrot, cup, comb, cow, cone, kazoo, and kangaroo.  In the past 2 weeks, she's finally nailed that sound, and we're SUPER excited about it.  But, no rest for the weary.  We're moving on to the 'S' sound.

Our S object box includes a spoon, spatula, starfish, strawberry, and soap.  First, I go through and name each object for her, let her hold it, let her try saying it, help her correct her pronunciations, and then I put everything away, giving her a chance to do it by herself.
The starfish is her favorite, one from my personal Swarovski crystal collection- using this instead of plastic allows her to learn to be gentle with beautiful and fragile objects

It's tough to film my part of the presentation, but here is Bella tackling it by herself.

Notice she keeps looking at me.  She's a little unsure of whether she's saying it right, so she's looking for me to smile or nod to give her the reassurance.  Ideally, I want her to find satisfaction from her own pursuits, a key Montessori concept.  So, ideally she'd be working on her own without much input from me.  But sometimes I have to be more involved.  As she gains confidence in an activity, I slowly back off.  It's wonderful to see her taking pride in her own work, and awesome to be able to combine her speech therapy with her Montessori work.  Any new angle to work on sounds is welcome.

The boxes are still a work in progress, and I may still break down and buy a set once we're settled at the new house.  Anyone know of a place where they sell just certain sounds separately instead of as a big set?

Monday, May 9, 2011


Yes, someone at the local middle school actually rides a unicycle to school.  This may not be the coolest person in the school, but boy do they have chutzpah!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Overheard.Big Words - Q

January 8th, 2011
Q is for Quiescent


I can't tell you how much Pippen loves his 'da bird' feather toy.  He used to make himself literally breathless he would play with it for so long.  And he finally chewed through the string itself.  It's easy enough to fix, we just haven't done it yet because he loves the feather by itself too.  Anyway, the title of the post sort of speaks to what is getting ready to happen here, I just thought it was too cute, especially with his little munchkin cat legs.  Yes, that's right, our cat plays fetch!

Vinny was sorting through some paperwork. (Yet another of those pre-move necessities that just takes time and energy that we often don't have at the end of a day)  Apparently he'd been doing the fetch thing for close to 30 minutes before I noticed and grabbed the camera.  Tenacious little guy, our Pippen.

What's your cat's favorite toy?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo - What went down

Ya know, I'm pretty impressed with how much I managed to squeeze into the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.  We started our morning with a super cute e-card from Vinny that ran through a quick history and then suggested perhaps margaritas were better than history.  It gave me a smile to face the day with.

So, as planned (see the plan here), we first hit the whole air/land/water distinction.  Quite correctly she said that the bottle of air was empty, so that was cool, and I was able to do the presentation almost by the book.

There was a slight snag when I realized there was no balloon in the house for me to demonstrate how air fills a space.  Luckily, she has a ball that was a good substitute.

Even after naptime, when I asked her what was inside the ball, she said 'air', and that rocked my world I was so happy.  She also told me the elephant stomps on land, another big thumbs up.

And we also managed to talk about land water and air on the globe...also on the plan.  I sort of did the whole,  'this is North America' and showed her where we lived and where Mexico was, but it was more half hearted than the land/water/air lesson.  Though, Bella is always happy to cheese for a few pictures as long as she gets to peek at them afterwards.

We also added green, orange, and purple into the color tablets and she did a great job with the introduction of those.  And she didn't even call anything 'pink.'  See more of that joke here.

She wanted to do music, so we shifted the plan a bit to accommodate some time for Mexican music.  We checked out some videos on you tube of traditional Mexican dances, then we pulled out the skirts and danced the rest of the morning.  Bella insisted that I wear one of her skirts too, even though it only fit on one leg...luckily no pictures of that.  Just this clip:

My friend Emma came and joined us for our fish taco lunch.  Bella decorated the wall with her first taco...I think she was trying to keep it away from the cat, but it ended up splattered all over the dining room.  Thank goodness for the margaritas!  She ended up eating her lettuce and cheese and fish and salsa on a plate all separately and with a fork.

After our siesta, we hit the local library where we found the children's section empty of other patrons...which is almost unheard of.  So Bella asked the librarians if she could hold Happy, the resident guinea pig.  No pictures of that, because I was too busy making sure she didn't squish him.  It was super special to get to hold him though.  And when we went to check out downstairs she asked the librarian (without prompting) if she could "check these out please?" And that was cuter than I can explain in words.  She used a lot of "please" today.  Who knows...maybe I am getting through to her.

We talked about flags on the way home, looking for houses with flags.  Then when we got home we talked again about the countries of North America, and which flag belonged to America and Mexico (and Canada for good measure).  She colored her own flag, naming the colors along the way and we hung it in the room where the other flags are.

She wanted to put her name on her flag, so we got to talk about the letters in her name:

We finished our school day talking about whether the ball would be good if it didn't have air inside (and experimented with it) and got some energy out throwing the ball different ways (bouncing, rolling, etc.) both with and without air.

Daddy came home and we ate burritos and listened to more music before bedtime.  We really crammed it in today.  I fully expect tomorrow to be one of those days where we eat cereal all day and don't make it out of pajamas!

Cinco de Mayo - the plan

So the plan for 5/5 is to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by starting our foray into geography, with a little focus on Mexico and Mexican heritage.

So we first have to hit the whole, air/earth/water difference, then tackle talking about the globe, then we can talk about North America...with the plan to have a basic puzzle to do (gotta put that together tonight)...and then once we finally hone in on Mexico, it will probably be lunchtime.

So we can talk about Mexican food, by making fish tacos and having margaritas (non-alcoholic of course) for lunch.  And of course, no day celebrating Mexico would be complete without an afternoon siesta.

Then we'll take a look some videos of traditional dances in Mexico on the internet and maybe try a few out. (Maybe I can manage to get in a Zumba workout!) and then do the Mexican flag, which is red, white, and green.  Red we've done...but not white and green, so I get to introduce new colors too.  WHEW...it is going to be a long day!

Wish us luck!  We might need an adult version of the margarita after she goes to bed! ;)

I'll try to post pics asap!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Overheard.Big Words - P

January 8th, 2011
P is for Pugacious (which sounds weirdly like Dalmation in Bella-ese)

Real Montessori - Rolling a Workmat

When I sat down for the first time and thought about how you teach a 3 year old to roll up a mat, I was a bit flummoxed.  It seems like explaining all the pinching and pulling and making sure that you do the same thing with both hands...all that was so much to get through to a little brain.  But I'll be darned if she didn't pick it up and pretty quickly too.  Those first few folds are a bit tough, but the process is pretty forgiving as a whole.


She usually drops it at least once on the way to putting it up.  I think just so she can roll it up again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Take me out to the ballgame

Thanks to Bella's BFF, Xander (and his Dad), Bella and I spent Monday evening at the Pawsox baseball game. (Vinny was home because he had to work overnight and needed to sleep a bit)  This was Bella's first baseball game, and I think her first professional sporting event too.  
Bella, her BFF (Xander), and his Daddy (Marcus)

We saw at least 4 home runs in the 3 innings we were there for, so the 'Sox' were kicking grass and taking games...or something like that.  The innings were a bit long so we had to leave after only 3 so the kiddos could get to bed.

A gorgeous evening for baseball

But first we had the official baseball stadium dinner: hot dogs (sub in fruit salad for me), french fries, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks. And no, Bella didn't care if she ever got back...in case you were curious. 

She even got to say hi to the HUGE mascot...which is (I think) a polar bear.  It was basically a gigantic white bear and Bella was understandably dubious about approaching and say hello.  Luckily, Xander was more courageous and said hello first so Bella gave high fives from my arms once she made sure the bear wasn't going to eat her.  She had a blast dancing with the music and joining in with the clapping, and best of all, she loved getting to (finally) use her OUTDOOR voice!

Also, as a not-so-aside, aside...The national anthem felt more patriotic than usual today.  I'm proud to be a Navy wife, and I'm proud to be an American.  I'm proud to raise my child in a country where she can have Muslim friends, and Jewish friends, and Christian friends, and friends from all nations; where the possibilities are bounded only by her dreams.

One quote I heard today that resonated: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” - Mark Twain  

EDIT: So I hear that quote isn't actually Mark Twain, but rather a simplification of the following quote from civil rights activist, Clarence Darrow:
"All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction."

Yay internet!

EDIT 2: and, you know...cause we already went there:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Overheard.5 - Playing with the burger

Over the weekend, Vinny and I were laying in bed, trying to ignore the fact that Bella was awake and jumping on us.  So I told her to go get a book and read, then we rolled over and went back to sleep.  At some point while going in and out of sleep, I heard her sitting on the foot of the bed "reading" the book she had picked.  And it was so cute, her describing every page.  A few minutes later when we finally gave up trying to sleep, I asked her to come read us the book.  This is a cute little book called A Cuddle for Little Duck, all about a little duckling's day.

And she was telling us about how the dragonfly was playing.  I wanted her to go a bit further, so I asked, "Who is the dragonfly playing with?"  Let me pause to say neither Vinny nor I was actually looking at the book, we were laying there with our eyes closed listening to her.  So when she responded "He's playing with the burger," my immediate response was "HUH?"  So I asked again, thinking I had just misheard her.  And again she said "He's playing with the burger."

"OK, Bella, give me that book and let me see what you're talking about"

Thanks for the laugh, kiddo!