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November 30, 2012

For the Love of No Schedule

Yes, this is MandyE.  No, this blog hasn’t been hijacked.

Really…it’s me…who lives and breathes by the clock and has the spreadsheets to prove it…

And no, I haven’t thrown the clock to the wind, allowing the girls to wake up and go to bed when they please.  I haven’t allowed more than a 15-minute window for the start of meals and snack times.  And I certainly haven’t said the girls can nap if and when they feel like it.

No, mealtime and sleep-time structures are all still in place.  But I recently found myself really appreciating the lack of schedule most of our days have in other respects.

On Wednesday morning, I had plans to take the girls to Panera for a mid-morning snack (between 9:30 and 9:45, approximately).  We had missed our weekly bagel the week of Thanksgiving, and I was afraid our Panera friends would think we’d moved to Canada.  I was looking forward to a cup of hazelnut coffee, and I had my grocery list and coupons ready for our shopping trip following our snack.

The girls didn’t know what I on my list, though, and they hit the ground hard on Wednesday morning.  Before breakfast they’d already planned a birthday party for their baby dolls, AND traveled to Mongolia (???).  They broke for breakfast, and then hit it hard again, organizing the kitchen chairs into a train, and then running around, talking about “construction”, moving pillows and blankets and stuffed animals with incredible determination.

At 9:00, I wrap up my coffee time and typically join the girls in playing.  They were so engaged, though, I decided not to disturb them.  I started cleaning in the kitchen, folding some laundry, and they didn’t even blink. 

I was thinking we could skip the trip to Panera, have snack at home, and then do our shopping, allowing them to play a little longer.

But they were still so involved.

Snack time came and went, and they hadn’t taken a breath.

I just let them play…as long and as hard as they wanted.  Finally, at almost 10:30, they paused to ask about snack.  They had a few crackers and some milk, and then they asked me to play “hair cut” with them.

The three of us played and read for an hour, and then it was time for lunch.

We never made it to Panera, and I was running low on milk, but that was OK.

It’s days like these (among so many other things, of course) that make me so thankful that I’m home with the girls…that I can allow their imaginations to wander as far as they want…that I can hop into and out of their pretend games as they ask me…that we can wind down for cuddles together.

This was one of my biggest fears of starting the girls in preschool this year, that we’d lose this awesome sense of “home”.  I am so thankful that it still thrives.  It’s worth a million times more than even the most inviting cup of hazelnut coffee.

November 28, 2012

Kicking Off the Christmas Season: CRAFT

While there were times between Halloween and Thanksgiving that I was so tempted to pop in some Christmas tunes (and perhaps succumb to Christmas candy [ahem]), I showed amazing restraint at focusing on fall leaves and turkeys and trimmings.

When the girls got up the morning after Thanksgiving, though, It.Was.On.

We immediately assembled all our Christmas books and began reading stories.  After breakfast we turned on our first Christmas CD of the season.  We enjoyed a very rare treat of popcorn for a morning snack -- sprinkled with dried cranberries to be festive -- in front of the fire place.

And no season kick-off would be complete without a craft, right???

I let the girls try their hands at using a sponge brush to paint the outer rim of a small paper plate.  (I may not have banked on how much paint can be soaked up in a tiny sponge.  I can't say it was the most efficient use of materials, but the girls had fun.)

Later in the day, after the paint dried, the girls dressed in their holiday tees, I cut out the middle of the plates and punched holes around the edges (about 1" apart).  The girls were pretty skilled with lacing yarn through the holes.

I then wrapped yarn around the girls' hands to make a pom-pom bow.  (They thought that was all sorts of fun, too!)

I thought the wreaths turned out great!  And I love that they were the first of our holiday decorations to adorn the mantle.

This is the first of many holiday crafts, I'm sure.  Although it's not yet December, we're enjoying the beginning of this holiday season!

November 26, 2012

Super Stuff on a Monday

So very THANKFUL for a truly fantastic Thanksgiving week, full of family and friends and fun!

1)      We made our annual pilgrimage to the zoo on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  (We go to the zoo much more often, but we went last year the day before Thanksgiving, and the zoo was almost deserted…it was great!)  The weather was beautiful, and we had a great time hanging out with our animal friends.  I love the simple pleasures of a trip to the zoo!

2)      On Thanksgiving we worked with the kiddos to make a “Thankful Tree”.  The trunk and branches were traced from their hands, and I had planned for the adults to write what the kiddos were thankful for on leaves.  Baby A insisted on writing her own leaves!  Of course we had to spell everything for her, but she did an amazing job!

3)      We took the girls to the nicest restaurant in town on Friday night.  I was a little nervous, but they did great!  We all enjoyed a delicious meal, and no one pulled the tablecloth to the floor…or set a cloth napkin on fire…or broke any glasses.  Success!!!

4)      Daddy decided to work with the girls on phone manners.  They did pretty well with “This is she,” and “May I take a message, please?”…but the hilarious thing was hearing them try to make the “Brrrriiiing!” of a ringing phone.  B, in particular, had the funniest guttural growl.

5)      The girls were acting very silly before breakfast one day.  Unsatisfied that he wasn’t joining in the acrobatics in the den, B said, “Daddy, you need to do something silly!

6)      It’s amazing what a box (or two) of new crayons can do for our household.  The girls love to color these days, but when they have nice sharp crayons, they can go at it for hours, it seems!  The girls invited Daddy to join in the fun, and – much to their complete delight – he accepted their offer.  I had to laugh at the colors he chose, but the girls didn’t mind a bit.

7)      The girls do their best hide-and-seek when Daddy is orchestrating the game, but they were trying to play by themselves one morning.  They just can’t resist talking to each other.  B might be searching for A: “Sissy, where are you? And A would say, “I’m not supposed to talk now!

8)      The girls had their first pomegranate this weekend.  B liked it, but A was downright smitten.  She was double-fisting the seeds as quickly as Daddy could clean them.  I think she would have eaten an entire pomegranate if we’d let her!

9)      We were reading in the den one day, and at random, B said to me so sweetly, “Mommy, you made me feel better when you read to me on my blanket when I was sick.”  (I am tearing up just typing that!)

10)   We bought “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” over the weekend.  After we read it through once, B said, “You can read it again and then I’ll try to learn to read it.”  I didn’t realize she made such a concerted effort to memorize books…although she does do a crazy-great job!

11)   Daddy took the girls for a ride on Sunday morning.  They came back for a potty break, and then we were all heading to lunch.  While I was with B in the bathroom, she told me very excitedly, “Mommy, Sissy has a big story to tell you when you get in the car, about her living in a pond!Apparently they’d been making up tall tales as they rode.

12)   And so many quotes!!!

B, after lunch out on Wednesday:  I can feel this going into my intestines.

A, seeing B doing something she wasn’t supposed to:  No, Sissy.  Mommy and Daddy would not appreciate that.

B, seeing A practicing writing B's name:   "You are the sweetest sissy I have ever seen."

A, while working on a puzzle of the United States, planning where she’d like to go:  "I want to start in Louisiana, and then go to New York, and then to Kansas, and then we'll come home to Kentucky. And then we'll go to Washington, and California, and then Nevada. And then we'll figure out what we want to do next."

A, commenting on a broken hanger in my closet: “The hanger lay broken on the floor.”  Her syntax (which I later recognized from a book) cracked me up!!!

[Looking at my list, it’s very clear that Daddy was on vacation for five days, huh?!  We got to spend a lot of great, relaxed family time together.]

...and now I'm so excited to kick off the Christmas season with my baby girls.  I just know this is going to be the best year yet!!!

November 25, 2012

Ideas for Advent

I didn't grow up with an Advent calendar, but I just love the idea of marking the days until Christmas. 

Last year, when the girls were just shy of three, we made a countdown calendar.  I used their handprints to make a Christmas tree, and I wrote the numbers 1 - 24 on it.  Each day, the girls got to add an ornament sticker, their trees becoming fully decorated by Christmas.  They LOVED picking a sticker each day...and they've talked about that countdown calendar off and on all year!

This year I wanted to incorporate some fun activities, and the element of surprise.  I've been pinning ideas for the past few weeks, and here are some of my favorites...

...little packages, tied to a topiary...

...tiny little jars, I've seen arranged in various shapes, like this tree, or a wreath...

...a pretty jar filled with tiny boxes...

...little messages tied onto a frame with screen in it...

...a holiday sock garland, each containing a little treasure...
[These are from what I think may be the mother lode of Advent ideas on Gluesticks...this site keeps going for days!]

I also love this idea from I {Heart} Nap Time...

...little notes hung from clips on wire across a frame...

Yesterday I took advantage of a great coupon from the craft only Black Friday Weekend (does that make sense?) purchase.  I sneaked out by myself, and it was so therapeutic to wander the aisles in search of the notions to make a calendar.

I actually came home with notions for two calendars, because I just couldn't decide...either the little notes hung on clips...or I found the cutest little paint storage containers ($3.79 for 12!) that would be easy to roll a little note into.

I want something that won't take up too much space, that the girls can maneuver themselves, and that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg.  I've got some heavy-duty crafting to do between now and next weekend, so I'll keep you posted.

I've also been brainstorming what activities I'll include.  I want a mix of really special a cookie decorating party...and things we'd do decorate our Christmas tree. 

In no particular order...

  • Put up the Christmas tree
  • Buy a loaf of Holiday Bread from Panera
  • Make a donation to the local pet shelter
  • Eat out for breakfast
  • Make homemade hot chocolate
  • Go for a ride to see Christmas lights
  • Walk through the neighborhood with glow sticks to see Christmas lights
  • Leave a gift for the mailman
  • Leave a gift for the garbage truck and recycling truck
  • Make an ornament
  • Decorate cookies
  • Make chocolate-covered pretzels
  • Buy a new Christmas book
  • Go shopping for Sasha (our cat)
  • Wrap presents
  • Take gifts to our neighbors and sing Christmas carols
  • Walk around downtown and see the Christmas lights (and maybe a carriage ride?)
  • Visit the Opryland Hotel
  • Take cookies to Garcia's (our favorite restaurant)
  • Make Chex mix
  • Take gifts to the girls' teachers
  • Make gift tags for our Christmas presents
  • Watch Charlie Brown's Christmas (I am considering showing the girls something on TV!)

I still have a few to fill in, but I like the mix of activities.  I also plan to leave the calendar open and fill in the next day's activities, the night before.  Many of these depend on the weather, and what else we have scheduled, so this will be less stressful for me if we have some flexibility.

I'm super excited about introducing this as a new tradition for our family.  The majority of these activities are things we'd do anyway, but I think they'll make a bigger impression, announced over breakfast each morning.

Do you have an Advent tradition?  I'd love to hear other ideas!

November 24, 2012

Crafts, Food, and Fun with Friends

We celebrated Thanksgiving this year with M&C's family.

It made the day feel very special -- definitely like a holiday -- to be together.  It was such a fun day, filled with crafts...and food...and great friends.

These pictures sum up most of the day...

First, we snacked:

A bountiful snack for the kiddos!

I kept laughing to myself at our "vegetarian" turkey!

The "pre-meal" meal...veggie tray, celery stuffed with olive spread, and a spicy cheeseball posing as a pumpkin.
Then, we crafted:

"Thankful Trees" made from the kiddos' handprints...Moms and Dads helped write what everyone was thankful for on the leaves.

Pilgrim hats were a bigger hit with some than others.  Sitting on the couch was met with mixed reviews, too, as you can see A is about to bolt.
Fellowship with friends:

I love the expressions that tell the story of these sweet four!
[Oddly, I didn't take pictures of the actual meal...but it was a feast!!!  Turkey, the yummiest stuffing (even though I don't generally consider myself a stuffing fan, it was GOOD!), candied sweet potatoes (oh, my!), creamy mashed potatoes (yes, two potatoes...and we needed them both!), cheesy creamed spinach, cranberry sauce...punctuated by pumpkin cheesecake and apple crisp.  We had all the traditional tastes covered, and then some.  It was fantastic!!!]

I am so thankful for our family...for our health...for the many things we have...and sharing those things with dear friends makes life so much sweeter.

November 23, 2012

A Bit About Me, November Edition

My birthday is February 23, and on the 23rd of each month, I share a couple of random facts about myself...

I have never eaten a Twinkie.

During the buzz this past week about the Hostess closing, it hit me that I've never eaten a Twinkie.  Over the course of my elementary school years, I probably ate my then-weight in Little Debbie snack cakes, but I don't remember ever having a Twinkie, or a Ho-Ho, or a Ding-Dong.  While part of me feels like I missed out on something all-American, I don't think they'll make me turn in my red, white, and blue.  [All this talk leaves me with the odd hankering for a Swiss Cake Roll, though!]

I love the tradition of an Advent calendar.

I didn't have that tradition growing up, but I can't wait to start one in earnest for the girls.  Last year we did countdown calendars, where they got to add a sticker ornament to their handprint tree each day, until it was fully decorated on Christmas.  This year I'm going to structure it with an activity each day.  I cannot wait!!!

Tune in next month for more randomness!

November 22, 2012


Among my many blessings, these two top the list (in no particular order).  :)

Hope you and yours had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday!!!

November 19, 2012

More Big Kid Stuff...Making Life a Little Easier!

I’ve still got a few weeks before my babies turn four, but I think I’m ready to coin their Year of Three as "The Great Transition." 

We’ve bid farewell to baby gates and highchairs.  We’ve said hello to regular silverware and the girls putting on their own socks.  While their show of wills can be stronger and more challenging, in many ways, life is getting a little bit easier.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noted yet two more big-kid transitions.  As I type them they seem small, but they’ve made a big dent in our daily routine.

Our girls never used sippy cups.  I tried and tried, but they just never took to them.  Instead, they transitioned straight from bottles to straw cups.  Eventually we moved from the limited flow straws to regular cups with lids and straws, and that was our life for a year and a half or so. 

This past spring, I started giving the girls water – just a tiny bit – in a regular cup with their afternoon snack.  They weren’t very proficient for a while…but at least the clean-up was easy.  Over the past six months, the girls have gotten much better with cups, but I rarely used them for anything but water, serving them milk at meals in cups with lids.

When the girls were sick last week, they weren’t drinking milk.  B preferred Pedialyte, while A was married to her water.  They were only drinking an ounce or two at a time, very slowly at that, and I started giving them everything in cups.  I didn’t really have a longer-term goal in mind, but rinsing out 27 cups a day was a lot easier than washing that many cups and lids and straws.

The girls did so well…and I just haven’t looked back!  My dishwasher joined me in a hearty SAYONARA to straws.  How sweet it is!!!

And…as if that weren’t momentous enough…the girls have started voluntarily holding their sleeves when they put on their jackets!

When they were infants, I remember learning to push their tiny little arms into the sleeves of their jackets.  I could work up quite the sweat doing that…such that I rarely wore a jacket myself when they were smaller.

Last fall, I introduced the girls to the concept of holding their shirtsleeves, but it wasn’t one they embraced.  I would wrap their little fingers around their sleeve, but it was a tossup as to whether they’d hang on to achieve the desired effect.  It was a hassle…such that it was often easier to wrestle their bunched-up sleeve down from their elbow once their jackets were on.

Something seems to have clicked this season, though.  At the mere mention of jackets, the girls grab their shirtsleeves and they’re ready to go.  Again, it’s a small thing, but it makes getting dressed a bit easier.  I might get to start wearing jackets again myself soon!

There are many things to love about this Year of Great Transition.  But don’t worry…I’m still calling my babies, BABIES, for a long, long time to come.

November 18, 2012

Super Stuff on a Sunday

Despite the girls being sick the first part of the week, there were still so many glimpses that ultimately made our week super-fabulous.

1)      On Saturday before Sick Sunday, we took advantage of the beautiful, unseasonably warm weather and made an impromptu trip to Lost River Cave.  We hiked all the trails…although we were considerably slower than our usual pace.  The girls stopped to examine what seemed like every leaf.  It was lots of fun to see the forests almost bare, noticing new topography, and finding some pretty magnificent colors.  My favorite was finding these humongous leaves…about twice the size of my hand.  They were incredible!

2)      On Saturday afternoon, Baby B got to come with Mommy for a little date – a reward for napping so well – while Baby A stayed home with Daddy.  B and I headed to the bookstore.  She enjoyed a cookie (and I, a coffee), and then we shopped for a couple of Thanksgiving books.  It’s so neat to be out and about with only one baby from time to time…the exchanges are often so much more direct than when Mommy is on zone defense.

3)      The girls have been playing loads of hide-and-seek lately, and I love to listen to them.  They always count to 10 in Serbian (since their daddy taught them how to play), and then, “Ready or not, here I come!  Where’s my kite?  The “kite” reference cracks me up.  They have a very basic board book where the text reads, “Ready or not, here I come!” and then the following (unrelated) text is, “Where’s my kite?  Despite me telling them otherwise, the girls think those phrases are related.

4)      Baby A was heading upstairs with me, and she gave explicit directions to B for taking care of her doll, Abby.  She likes to have somebody sitting with her.  Sometimes she gets thirsty.  If she does, let me know.”  HA!

5)      And that reminds me that one of their teachers told me how Baby A was playing with a doll in a stroller.  She had to leave it to go to the bathroom, and B automatically came over to babysit.  How sweet!!!

6)      The girls’ school organized a drive for Operation Christmas Child.  I showed the girls the website and a short video online, and they were so excited to go shopping.  One shopped for a younger girl (age 2 – 4), and one for an older girl (age 10 – 14).  I let them each carry a shopping basket at Target, and they were such troopers.  Once we got home, they had fun coloring a couple of pages to go into the boxes, and then packing everything.  I think it was such a great experience for them.

7)      I took the girls to the pediatrician on Friday since they started coughing.  (I wanted to make sure it wasn’t somehow connected to the mess we had on Sunday and Monday…thankfully, he said it was nothing to worry about.)  As he was checking out Baby A, B volunteered, “That’s an otoscope!  (Credit again goes to the girls’ library of Usborne books for such vocabulary words.)

8)      While the girls were in school on Thursday, I went to our local ceramic studio and picked out a design for a Christmas platter.  I took the girls on Friday morning, and they were SO excited to get their feet painted and step on a plate.  (I cannot wait to see their “Mistletoes”!!!)  Then I let the girls pick out an ornament to paint.  They each chose a plain flat orb.  B picked red and green and made a circle design, while A got a little more “abstract” with yellow and turquoise.  The girls had so much fun…and so did I…it was almost an out-of-body experience for me, propped up in a painting studio with my baby girls.  Wow!!!

9)      We attended our MoMs group annual pancake breakfast on Saturday.  I loved seeing the girls playing with their friends and having fun.  And they were quite taken with the pancakes.  I think they each had FOUR, along with the equivalent number of servings of fruit.  It was definitely a treat!

10)   We took advantage of the sunshine on Saturday afternoon to visit the orchard one last time before they closed for the season.  The girls were so excited to see the resident kitty and two puppies, and to make many, many trips down the slides.  One slide in particular was running really fast.  The first few times, both girls landed on their bottoms (even though I tried to catch them!).  After that, they got the hang of landing on their feet.  It just reminded me how BIG they are!

11)   On the way home from the orchard, B spotted the moon.  Mommy, there’s a crescent moon!  We’d turn, and she’d lose sight of it.  Hey, where did the moon go?  Moooooon…where are you?  And then we’d turn again, “Oh, moon!  There you are!

12)   And the quotes of the week, both from rides in the car…

B [seeing a pickup truck behind us with a little boy in the passenger seat]: “Mommy!  I see an adult driving that truck.  And there’s not an adult beside him!  (I know she was confused why a little boy would be in the front seat!)

A [seeing a car beside us at a traffic light]: "Mommy!  Why is there only one car seat in that car?"  (Not everything comes in a set of two, dear...)