Monday, August 12, 2013

Happy Birthday Jackson!

Jack's 2nd birthday is coming up. I have enjoyed making the kids' birthday invitations and decorations - and even decorating their cakes! But this invite is my favorite by far!

The invitation part is printed on recycled cardstock and is approximately 5x7 inches. The yellow parts of the truck are printed on yellow card stock and are separate. The black parts of the truck (the wheels and the dirt in the truck bed) are black construction paper. (I made all the files from scratch and am willing to share!) The truck bed is hinged with a small brad. The invitation details are viewable when you "dump" the truck.

Next up, making the pinata we'll use at the party and putting the favors together. Maybe it goes without saying that the party will be a "digger" theme. Meanwhile, Natalie wants a My Little Pony and Disney Fairies birthday party. Wish me luck with that one!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Everybody do the dinosaur!

Dinosaurs are taking over this summer! The Cincinnati Museum Center has a terrific dinosaur exhibit and accompanying Omnimax film. (If you're in the area, I recommend going. Pay once, and you can return as often as you like!) A little farther north, Kings Island amusement park's Dinosaurs Alive is the largest dinosaur park in the world, with over 60 life size dinosaurs! The Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky has boasted dinosaur exhibits for years, and I just heard on the radio that the Columbus Zoo is introducing dinosaurs this summer as well!

I wasn't sure my kids would be interested, but at a recent Cincinnati Reds game, there was a giant sand table where the kids could dig for fossils. (Show them a sand box, and they're GONE!) They also had two small animatronic dinosaurs that we could touch. We got a kick out of touching their leathery skin, and the kids loved feeling their teeth.

When my kids express an interest in something, I try to get my hands on books to reinforce their interest. We've learned a lot about outer space, the ocean, being a doctor, fire fighters and construction sites, because many of the books I bring home are nonfiction. (These books are all fiction, though, because those are harder to find and evaluate.)

So if your kids have been swept up in the dinosaur takeover, here are some books that we enjoy. And if they're not so much into dinos yet, but you're planning a dinosaur-related activity or trip, these books will start to get them interested in preparation for all that they'll see and do.

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Barton

Byron Barton's books are short, and the illustrations are plain, but my kids love them. This one is a good choice for bed time, but it also illustrates opposites. Another bonus: there are pictures of all the dinosaurs mentioned in the book, along with their names and a pronunciation guide on the front and back end sheets. This really helped when Natalie wanted to know the name of one tiny little dinosaur called compsagnathus and another called pachycephalosaurus (see how much we learn!).

How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Yolen

How do dinosaurs say good night when Papa comes in to turn off the light? This is a fun, rhyming read that's also a good choice for bed time. And the illustrations are wonderful! After asking how dinosaurs say goodnight, the book poses hilarious questions about what dinosaurs (and children) might do. Do they cry, do they shout? Do they throw their teddy bear all about? My kids laugh when I act out the tantrums the dinosaurs have. At the end, though, the dinosaur gives a big kiss and hug, then says goodnight quietly. The first time I read this to my kids, they were both fighting bed time with some cry baby behavior. I pulled out the book in the middle of the living room and just started reading. They both dropped what they were doing to listen. We'll be purchasing this one.

 Dinosaur Pet by Sedaka

If you remember Neil Sedaka's song Calendar Girl, you can sort of sing this book along to that melody. "I love I love I love my dinosaur pet. Yeah my dinosaur pet. I love I love I love my dinosaur pet, each and ever day of the year." My kids were politely paying attention to the book, but weren't really enthralled with it. Until I put the accompanying music CD in. They danced around like ecrazy people for the next half hour and asked me to restart it at least 10 times. Now we have the music track on our iPod, but we still haven't picked up the book again. So I'll recommend this book with reservations. Definitely get it free from the library before buying it.

Dinosaur Dig! by Dale

This is sort of a counting book, but it will be a hit with your construction site enthusiast. One dinosaur digging, digging dirt and rock. Dig, dig, dig. Two dinosaurs shoveling gravel. Clatter, clatter, clatter. And so it goes through 10 dinosaurs. Finally, when they're done, all ten dinosaurs are ready to SPLASH in the pool they made themselves. It was not super in love with this book, and it didn't hold either of my kids' attention the first time we read it. But Jack saw it lying on the ground one night and brought it to me. I read it with a little more gusto this time, and he was captivated. He kept pointing to the pictures and saying "digger!". We've read it at least three times in the last four days, so I give it two thumbs up.

Dinosaur ROAR! by Stickland

This one is sort of a classic. It's a rhyming opposite book. Dinosaur BIG and dinosaur tiny. Dinosaur clean and dinosaur slimy. Dinosaur sweet and dinosaur grumpy. Dinosaur spikey and dinosaur lumpy. That last rhyme helped Natalie learn how to spot and ankylosaurus (she totally impressed the lady at the Musuem Center gift shop by pointing out several of the dinosaurs and correctly naming them). This is a quick book, easy and fun to read. The illustrations are cute. Get it from the library though, because unless your kids is REALLY into dinosaurs, this one could be outgrown pretty quick.

Harry and the Bucket Full of Dinosaurs by Whybrow

This is a sweet book about a boy who finds some old dinosaur toys in his grandma's attic. He gives them a bath and a home (dinosaurs don't like boxes, they like buckets... didn't you know?) before hauling out his dinosaur book and finding out what each one's name is. He takes the dinosaurs everywhere in their bucket, until in a moment of excitement, the bucket is left on a train. The next day, the boy visits the train's lost and found and asks about a bucket of dinosaurs. He's able to prove the dinosaurs are his by saying all the dinosaurs' names. I like this book, because Harry's imagination, curiosity and spirit remind me so much of Natalie. I did not, however, like it enough to buy it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Random pictures of my kids

Every once in awhile there's a day when everything goes according to plan. The weather is perfect, the kids were good at church. Everybody got a nap - even mommy - and the kids didn't fight. Yesterday - in addition to being new-microwave-day - was one of those days. It was awesome. Here are some pictures from our day.

Jack is learning to play t-ball. It's no big deal,
but we expect a call from the Louisville Bats soon.

Weirdly, he seems to favor batting as a lefty.

Natalie was pretending to be an astronaut. In this picture,
you can clearly see her "space helmet" and "space gloves."
Not visible are here high-heeled pink "space shoes" with
pink light up bows on them. In case you were wondering,
we went to the moon. "To see Neil."

For dinner, she made grass soup.

P.S. Jackson is in a "big boy bed" now!

Finished Project #1 - new microwave

We've started and finished several projects around the house in the last month. Not only are they finished, but they came together pretty easily. The first was our new microwave. Here are some pictures.
Before: we are still loving the white cabinets
we painted - and they are holding up really well!
(I recommend Cabinet Transformations to anyone.)
But since it was time for a new microwave
anyway, we opted for an over the range model.
All the cool kids are doing it.

Step one: take down the old vent fan and cabinet.

Step two: install new cabinet box.
Our cabinets are pretty old, so there isn't a
door that matches ours. That's alright.
We opted to leave the doors off. Once
it's painted you'll never know the difference.

Step three: install new microwave.

Admire your husband's handiwork.
If I went into all the electrical work that accompanied this, it would bore you and I'd get half of it wrong anyway. Suffice it to say, Matt turned off our power more than once, crawled up into the attic more than once, and made several trips to the basement. Evidently, updated electrical code requires a dedicated line for all appliances, so he had to run a new electrical line. So it was a touch more involved than three steps. Luckily, Matt hated our old microwave even more than I did, so he was ultra motivated.

Actually, I can think of a step four: reenact the copier scene from Office Space on old microwave before putting it on the curb.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trucks and Trains

Whenever Jack sees a truck, he points and gets very excited. He's not so much with the language yet, so his usually shouts "Dooooo! Guck!!!" which I think translates into "Look! Truck!" So naturally his favorite books center around trucks. And trains (or "tyoo tyoo" in Jack speak).

If you've got your own little truck/train enthusiast on your hands, here are some books you might want to pick up from the library the next time you go. (If your library is cool like mine, it might even have a drive thru so you don't ever have to run the risk of a middle-of-the-library meltdown!)

Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? (Sayres)
This charming little book takes you through myriad truck scenarios, asking where not only diggers, but fire trucks, car transporters, snow plows, and monster trucks (among others) sleep at night. A sample verse (since I have them all memorized):

Where do fire engines sleep
when they've won their firefights?
Do their flashing fire-red beacons
make for super bright night lights?

Highly recommended for bed time!

Little Blue Truck (Schertle)
This book features a lot of sound effects for kids who like trucks and animals. The illustrations are really beautiful, too. There is a lesson to this book, but it's not overt. Essentially, little blue truck (the protagonist) is very friendly and greets everyone he passes. But when a large dump truck (the antagonist) rumbles by in a hurry, the dump honks loudly that he's very important and very busy and doesn't have time for such things. In his hurry, he doesn't see a large mud puddle in the road. What happens next is a testament to the importance of friendship and making time for relationships. The rhyming text and beautiful illustrations make this a book I don't mind reading over and over. 

Down by The Station (Hillenbrand)
Down by the station, early in the morning
See the little puffer bellies all in a row.
See the engine driver pull his little lever.
Puff, puff, toot, toot! Off we go!

This tune might be familiar to you. In this version, the train makes its way through the zoo, stopping at each animal exhibit to pick up a baby animal (elephant, panda, seal, tiger, etc.). The destination is the Children's Zoo, where kids get to play with the animals. (Bonus: Jack loves to spot the school bus in the pictures!) When the seal unwittingly jumps right into the alligator pond, Jack loves saying "UH OH!" and then "WHEW!" when he's rescued.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo (Lewis)
This is another good bed time book. The story is a day in the life of a train - waking up, being loaded with freight, traveling across the country, and arriving in the city where the freight is unloaded. Then the train goes to bed. The cute part is that the pictures show it as a toy train. The engineer is a doll, and the train is being loaded by various toys. When the train goes "across the river, swift and wide", the illustrations show it crossing an aquarium. At the end of the book, you see the train track laid out all around a little boy's room. The little boy is in bed, snuggling the toy engine. Jack always always yawns at the end of this book, and for awhile it was the only book he'd let me read him right before bed.

Trucks (Priddy)
This is one of Jack's favorite books. It's mostly informational, with a lot of text on each page. We often don't read all the text, but that just means it will grow with him. As he gets older and his attention span increases, he'll listen for longer on each page. This is also a lift-the-flap book, so it's very interactive even for younger kids. The illustrations are brightly colored and simple. The squares along the outside are tabs, so Jack often skips pages, and just goes to whichever truck he wants to see. His favorite is the fire engine. He makes the "whee-oooh whee-ooh" sound every time.

Others to look for:
Any of the Thomas readers (like this one), Or even Thomas board books (like this one), That's Not My Tractor! (here), That's Not My Train! (here), The Wheels on the Bus (the Raffi version)

Unfortunately, some of our favorites were picked up at various used book stores or dollar stores and are not available for regular purchase. These include: Rollin' With Rowdy (Chuck brand), Choo Choo (Horacek), Fire Trucks in Action (link), How Many Trucks Can a Tow Truck Tow? (link), Let's Build (shaped book from dollar store), and an informational book whose title I can't remember detailing a day in the life of firefighter Tom.

With most children's books, the deciding factor in how popular it will be is how many times the parent can stand to read it over and over. These all definitely make the cut! Make a call to your local library and ask them to check if they have them. They'll do it right over the phone, and even place a hold for you so they're ready when you get there! Happy reading!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

pink and purple

Natalie's updated room suits her perfectly. She asked for pink and purple walls and a white bed, but everything else was a surprise. We had it mostly done for her several weeks ago, when she came home from an outing with her grandparents. The verdict? She loved it! It's much more finished now (and clean for a change!) so I'm finally getting around to the reveal.

The total cost was pretty high, because we needed a mattress, slats and bed frame. We did score a few great deals though! The headboard was $5, and almost all of the textiles came from Ikea.

Shout out to Matt for putting up an awesome chair rail!
The wall across from the bed. The bunting was handmade by moi
for Natalie's third birthday party. I want to hang up more pictures and
other decor, but I'm waiting for inspiration to hit!
The sparklies on her door are imported from England :)
Natalie picked out an adorable pink lamp, and the
butterflies are another import from England. The lamp's
current home is the closet, so that Natalie can see there are
no monsters in there at night. That's been a big hurdle recently,
so the light stays on all night. Luckily it isn't too bright.
Two of these art pieces are Natalie originals.
Can you guess which? :)

If you look closely at the shelf picture above, you'll
see the calming jar we made for moments of frustration.
We found the idea on Pinterest, and it worked great!

My little girl in her big bed!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

room for a little lady

I knew the day was coming when Natalie would want to paint her room. I'm not quite sure I expected it to be this soon. I don't know what I thought. When she asked to paint her room, she clearly had been thinking it over for awhile. She knew exactly what colors she wanted it to be - pink and purple. And she wanted a big girl bed - a white one.

Well okay then!

It wasn't quite so easy for Matt and me. This redesign has us both waxing nostalgic for the days before we became parents. We designed her room not knowing her gender, not knowing what parenthood would bring. Here is Natalie's room just a few weeks before she was born.

I am pretty excited about redecorating her room. She's not 100% girly girl, but she's definitely close. Stay tuned for the final reveal... as soon as tomorrow!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reading to my kids

I didn't used to feel comfortable reading to kids. I really think until you do it a lot, like every day, you won't be comfortable with it. You might feel silly making the voices or doing the motions. But if you put yourself out there, you'll find out how much more the story (and the time spent together) means to kids when you really get into it.
One of our favorites right now.
Perfect for Halloween! 

I love reading to my kids now. We have been very successful in making story time a solid part of our family time together. Natalie loves to read, and Jack is getting there. When I bring home a book from the library, it's like I just brought in a plate of cupcakes. "I brought some new books from the library!" "You did?! Let me see them!" I'm so proud of my kids for so many reasons, but I'm extremely happy that we've been able to impart our love of reading to them.

If you haven't started story time in your house, carpe diem folks! Below are some tips to get you started. If you're getting stuck on finding titles that interest you (and your kids), you might want to check out the Book List page on this blog (find it under My Pages at the top right).
  • Get a library card. You never know which books are going to strike a chord with your kids. A library card gives you access to thousands of books all for free. If any of them end up being really popular, you can avoid overdue fines by buying those for your home library.
  • Just do it. You might have to force yourself to do story time sometimes, especially in the beginning. You might feel like your child isn't getting a lot out of it and doesn't really enjoy it. Keep trying. When you find a book they like, it will change.
  • Let them choose. If your child has attached himself to one book in particular, read it every night. Read it multiple times a night. Read anything he wants (that is content-appropriate), and don't underestimate his comprehension level.
  • Pay attention, and play to her interests. If she's dressing up as a pirate all the time and pretending to search for buried treasure in the backyard... if all of her art projects turn into "treasure maps", go to the library and ask the librarian to suggest some good pirate books.
  • Use books to introduce new ideas. Are you going on vacation to the beach? Find some books about beachy things, plane trips (if you're flying there), how to pack for vacation, and even beach safety. Bring home anything (if you have a library card, it's free!). Out of all the books you pick, the one your child attaches to might be the last one you'd expect.
  • Read to yourself, too. And let your child catch you reading. Read as often as possible. Read a magazine while she's playing in the pediatrician's waiting room. Take a lawn chair out and read a book while he's playing in the sand box. Read at soccer practice, read the paper in the morning. Get books for you when you go to the library. Talk about books with your friends and family. Your child will notice. Kids should see both parents reading, by the way. If more little boys saw their fathers reading, it might be easier to get them interested in books.
  • Leave books laying around. The toys are in toy boxes so kids can easily pull out what they want to play with. Don't put books on a high shelf. Invest in some board books of your own that kids can treat like toys: chew on them, put them in backpacks or purses or play shopping carts, build towers with them, make tents with them. The more accessible books are, the more inclined kids are to be interested in reading. Even a low bookshelf may inhibit exploration. Remember that kids can't read (duh right?) so how will they become interested (or even recognize) a book if all they can see is a quarter inch spine?
  • Create an environment. Especially if you're trying to get kids into reading, make story time a special time. Sit on the floor with her, pull her into your lap, get a fuzzy blanket and a stuffed animal friend. Even pull her into your bed. Don't read in front of the TV while the game's on, and you're more distracted than present. Your child will notice. She'll ask questions or make inferences or point out something in the book, and your job is to make sure you're interacting with the book with her.
  • Get into it. Do voices, make faces. The story teller can make or break a book. But don't give up if you're not comfortable with it yet. You'll get there. And when you do, you'll enjoy it as much as we do.