Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Mom's Guide To... Groundhog Day

Find more information on groundhogs on the National Geographic website.

It's time to turn our attention to Gobbler's Knob! It's almost Groundhog Day!

I just love this little holiday and all the sweet tradition behind it. The celebration of the day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania's earliest settlers. (Coincidentally, my ancestors are among those early German settlers.) The settlers brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day: "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May." The settlers realized that groundhogs were plentiful in their new land and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.

Using animals to predict the weather is not unusual, so I am not surprised that our ancestors used this practice to carry on the Candlemas tradition. I know I've seen a furry caterpiller in the fall, or watched squirrels go crazy in the yard and think a bad storm or bad winter was coming. Or think of Charles Ingalls, Laura Ingalls Wilder's dad, who looks at the thick walls of the muskrat's house and predicts "The Long Winter."

Punxsutawney Phil will emerge from his hole on Feb. 2, and give us the same clues to the coming weeks. According to legend, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, we will have an early spring.

The town of Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800s, with the first official trek to Gobbler's Knob in 1887. Phil was named after King Phillip.

There are many ways to celebrate the day with little ones. You can prepare them for the holiday by talking about shadows. Take them outside and let them make shadows on the driveway, or made shadow puppets with your hands on the walls. Let them play with flashlights and make their own shadows.

I love this little headband that kids can color to wear on Groundhog Day:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

Here are a few more great links with groundhog fun:

  • This link has a great printable with a groundhog song that kids can color.
  • The official site, has a lesson plan with coloring pages, a crossword puzzle and a recipe for groundhog cookies, and much more.
  • This is a great post on Toddler Approved featuring one family's Groundhog Day activities, with many great ideas for little ones.
  • Enchanted Learning usually has great printables, including some for Groundhog Day.
  • The Fisher-Price website has really cute groundhog coloring pages.

Or how about this snack?

Pinterest has numerous groundhog cookies, cupcakes and cakes which can be easily recreated. Make a themed treat for breakfast after the groundhog emerges from his burrow!

Older kids might enjoy this cute little drawing lesson:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

Older kids might also enjoy the movie "Groundhog Day." It's OK, although there is one scene where Bill Murray tries to seduce a woman that might be questionable. The good thing about the movie is how it shows the crazy hoopla in the small town every February.

(Edited to add: "Groundhog Day" will air all day long on the American Movie Classics channel on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Happy Birthday to My Husband

Today is my husband's birthday, so show him some happy wishes by visiting his blog today, After The 9 To 5. He is about to launch an online store to sell his photos, and I will let you know when that happens. You can also read something I wrote about a my husband's "Newtown the Beautiful" project here.

It's a low-key birthday this year, as life has been busy. We are making homemade pizza for dinner tonight, and tomorrow we will have a very small cake after Big Girl's piano lesson with a few family members.

In other news, Groundhog Day is Saturday! Tomorrow I've got a post on ideas you can use to celebrate it with your kids. Other things in the works for the blog include a few new recipes I've tried, celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthday (next week), Valentine's Day ideas, Lincoln's Birthday ideas and more twin stuff, of course!

Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TWINS TUESDAYS: Potty Training!

Potty charts and stickers are on the fridge.
It's time to potty!!
Don't we all wish there was a magic wand to work on this skill! There is no real sage advice for potty training twins. I will tell you this: It is definitely more involved and time consuming than just training one child. It almost reminds me of the days when they were infants and you needed to feed them often and if they got off the same schedule it was maddening. Not as bad, but sort of similar.

We started last week, and it was a somewhat rocky start. Buddy Twin is ready. Bunny Twin in not. So I put my focus on Buddy Twin. I hoped she would follow his lead, so I got them out of their one-piece sleepers and into clothes and Pull-Ups first thing in the a.m., ready to go. I figured we would start slowly, let them get the feel of it, and put them on the pot often. Buddy Twin has peed on the potty many times, so he gets it, and is happy when he goes, but I haven't been structured. We have read some books. We have talked about it.

So here we are, that first structured morning, and I sit him on a "ring" seat on the big potty. His Pull-Up was wet, so he likely didn't have to go. But he sat there. And sat there. And sat there. I ran water to hopefully stimulate the feeling. He played with the toilet paper, so I had to explain to him that he couldn't touch the paper until he was done. Meanwhile Bunny Twin is shimmying all over the bathroom floor, touching everything and anything. I asked her if she wanted to sit on the little potty, but she didn't and backed away. Then I decided to leave Buddy Twin alone for a moment to see if privacy helped. It didn't. I heard a noise and realized he was spinning the toilet paper roll and it was all over the bathroom. After such a long time, I knew he couldn't go and made him get off the potty. And he cried because he wanted to sit there. And then I think, "Am I screwing this up?"

I was trying to remember back to Big Girl's potty training days. She started on the little potty, and sat in our kitchen with books and toys, and was rewarded with stickers and M&Ms. She wasn't a quick trainer, but she got it and relished the rewards. The one thing I learned is that there is no race to train. It will take time and patience. But your child will not be in Kindergarten wearing diapers because it just won't happen. And whether it happens at age 2 or 3 or 3.5, it will happen. And earlier doesn't mean better or more advanced or any of that.

Tip #1: Twins may not be ready at the same time.

This is the case with my kids. Buddy Twin is ready and wants to go. Bunny Twin is not ready, does not want to go, and is stubborn. They are two individual children and will have different feelings and incentives and need different approaches.

In the past week, Buddy Twin has succeeded in using the potty. Bunny Twin has not. But that's OK.

Tip #2: Each twin may like a different kind of potty.

If you are just starting out, there are two kinds of potty seats: Little potties and ring seats.

Little potties are tiny little seats with a hole and a pot to catch everything. Pros: You can move it into the main house if your child likes to sit forever. They can keep their feet on the floor, which is less scary to some kids. They can be fun, with noises and designs. And you definitely know if a child went, or not, because you have the evidence in the pot. Cons: They are the more expensive option to purchase. You have to clean them, which is not always fun. You can take them with you, but might not have them with you in mall or a restaurant. And you have to progress to the bigger seat, which can be difficult for some kids.

Ring seats are circular, padded seats which fit on top of a regular toilet seat. Some have handles on the side, some do not. Pros: They are much cheaper than little potties, for the most part, and you can get them in fun designs. (My mother bought Bunny Twin a special Disney Princess ring seat that has handles and plays music when you press buttons under the handle.) They are easier to store and tote with you. They get kids used to sitting on the big potty, which is helpful all around. Cons: It is harder to tell if a child has gone to the bathroom sometimes. A child might not want to be on the big potty.

So which one is right for you? I suggest having one of each, at least. You could start on the little potty, but if they are amenable to a ring on the bigger potty, try it! Bunny Twin is comfortable on the less-scary little potty seat, but Buddy Twin is OK with sitting on the ring. That said, we have two little potties and two rings now.

Also, please note that not all little potties are right for all kids. I had a little potty seat from big girl, but I lost the "boy" add-on piece for boys sitting down to pee. My mom got an inexpensive potty in Marshalls so we would have a second one. But the potty is made differently and doesn't seem as comfortable. If at all possible, check out friends' seats or look at them in stores to see how wide them are, how easy to empty, etc.

Another useful potty seat for your family might be a portable potty seat. I have one from Big Girl's potty training days. It is a plastic seat that folds down. I store it in a gallon-Ziploc bag, and it's useful for outings where you can set it on a regular toilet and a child feels comfortable and not like they will fall in. I purchased mine from One Step Ahead and it was a great purchase! Here is the link to the current one they sell; my did not have handles like this one. We used it a long time and I highly recommend this.

Tip #3: Boy twins are different than girl twins, so if you have boy/girl twins, you will need different approaches to both.

Boys and potty training are different than girls and potty training. Some little boys are fine with learning to stand right away, and like to "aim," especially at targets that you can purchase or even just Cheerios. Some boys might do better sitting intially, but you have to have a little guard to avoid a mess in your bathroom, or teach them to point down. Again, it's like choosing a potty seat: Whatever works for your kid!

And daddies are helpful in the boy department. Make sure Dad is involved in working with the boys.

Tip #4: Shop smart and stock up on supplies.

The next issue is supplies. Some parents progress from diapers to underwear, but I am a fan of Pull-Up-style pants. Let's face it: Kids have accidents, and twins are twice the accidents. You still have to leave the house. And there is only one mom with multiple children, which means you can't be juggling two kids on one potty in the bathroom. (Of course, you can two little potties, or a potty and a potty ring, but if both want to use the big potty there is only just one available for mom to monitor.)

Pull-Ups are more expensive than underwear (or diapers), but kids realize the change from diapers to Pull-Ups so it is a little encouragement. If you put them on the potty a lot and catch them before they wet, you can reuse one several times during one day. And the "pull up" feature is a blessing when you are dealing with numerous sessions with twins!

As for the brand of Pull-Up style diapers you use: My theory is whatever is cheaper when you are buying them, especially with twins when you have to buy double the amount. I started with Target's Up & Up brand, but last week when I went shopping to stock up for an official start to the process, the Huggies brand Pull-Ups were the cheapest at Target for me: I had $1.50 coupon off one pack, and if you bought two packs you also got a free pack of wipes.

Use your coupons, check generic prices, shop wisely, and if possible, stock up. Even if you progress to underwear quickly you will likely be needing Pull-Ups at night for a while. Also, don't forget to take advantage of rewards programs through Huggies and Pampers, especially if you have twins and are buying a lot of diapers and Pull-Ups with brand names!

For nightime, I am currently sticking with regular diapers. My first goal is daytime training as best as possible. Nighttime will come later, and for some kids, takes longer.

Other supplies that may come in handy are special flushable wipes, kid-oriented soap for hand-washing, and a stool to reach the sink or potty. They are both useful and an incentive.

Tip #5: Incentives and rewards.

And speaking of incentives: Many children do well with a reward system. I've listed a few ideas below, but be forewarned that sometimes rewards with multiples cause competition. Competition can be healthy, but try and handle it appropriately. (Also, be firm about the rules -- no M&Ms if one doesn't go! It may be hard to stick to when one twin gets it and the other doesn't, but the whole point is rewarding for the actual deed.) Sometimes enthusiasm is the best reward, and siblings are also provide enthusiasm for their twin.

Possible incentives can be:
  • Sticker charts. Do not spend money on a chart: This link has a ton of free printables. Buy a variety of stickers (dollar stores provide many affordable options) and post the charts on the fridge or somewhere important for kids to see. Get a variety of stickers to please both kids. 
  • M&Ms or another small treat. Set a rule: 2 M&Ms for pee and 5 M&Ms for the other elimination. And don't give in to the other twin. If they didn't go, they don't get them. Yes, there may be tears, but stick to your guns to prove the reward comes when you do the deed.
  • Small toys, as a reward for getting a certain number of stickers, completing a sticker chart or going on the potty consistently for a certain number of days. If one twin reaches the milestone first, consider making the outing for a small toy an individual trip. Leave the other twin home so they are not truly upset at the toy store while their sibling picks out a toy.
  • A trip or outing when both twins complete potty training. Tell them when both use the potty, you'll take them to the zoo, or a museum, or even to a special park for a hike. 
Huggies Pull-Ups offers a wealth of free potty training tools on its web site. There are charts, a door hanger to print, coloring pages, songs and instructions on how to do "The Potty Dance," as well as the video for the song. Pampers has a wealth of potty training instructions and ideas on its website as well.

Tip #6: Prep the bathroom.

I soon realized, after that first time in the bathroom last week, that some changes were in order if I was going to survive this with twins. I need to prep the house for potty training. As I said earlier, when one twin was on the potty, the other was tearing apart the bathroom. Twins means bathroom "prep" is important.

I needed to remove all decorative items from the counter so there is not things to grab when I am dealing with one twin and the other is investigating. I need a little basket of fun things to look at on the potty, like special toys or books. I need a better stool for hand washing. I need fun "kid soap," not my fancy hand soap for visitors. I need to have those potty seats ready for the adventure.

You can also store a small basket or box of toys in the bathroom for kids to enjoy only while sitting in the potty. Here's a great post from I Can Teach My Child about that idea.

Tip #7: Potty training extras may help.

Don't forget to get a few books about using the potty. (I would list some here, but there are dozens and dozens of them on, with every character or angle you can imagine!) You can read these anytime, at bedtime, or even while your child sits on the potty. Reading books during the waiting time is a great way to get kids to relax. It might help to have a small basket of books in the bathroom for just this purpose.

And if you have boy/girl twins, be sure to get each of them their own gender specific book to make each feel special.

There are also potty dolls and doll potties. We did not and do not have a doll that goes potty, but we do have little doll potties so we can put our dolls and animals on their own toilet too. This worked well with Big Girl, who did not have siblings at the time.

Tip #8: Use a timer. 

Routine is crucial to catching them when they can go. I use my stove or microwave timer. You can aim for putting them on every hour. Or, if you take off their pants and find a wet Pull-Up set the timer for 30 minutes or 40 minutes or an hour to make sure you catch them before the next time. (And hand them a cup full of water to fill their bladder up again!)

Tip #9: Don't sweat the night just yet.

To me, potty training comes in two distinct stages: Daytime and nighttime. Daytime is goal number one. Nighttime comes much, much later than daytime. Once the daytime part is accomplished, keep using Pull-Ups for night for a long time. Kids take longer to learn this skill, but there will be a time, after many, many, many dry nights, where you can attempt underwear at night.

My advice for this step? Waterproof mattress covers. Limit liquids after dinner. And if necessary, wake them to use the bathroom before you go to bed later that night. Sometimes it takes a year or two to get to the next step.

Frankly, just having daytime covered is a big deal in my book. I do not expect to have kids in underwear overnight for a long, long time!

Tip #10: Praise your twins when they succeed, and praise yourself as well.

Training twins is hard, so don't forget to pat yourself on the back when you reach this milestone!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekend Shopping

Happy Monday! Today it's back to the grind at The Peapod. We are expecting an ice storm today, and I am sort of happy for this. I need a break, and if the storm comes, we will get a break.

The weekend was filled with little things. Saturday, a jewelry demonstration for the brand Lia Sophia at my mom's friend's house; Sunday, shopping at the mall with Big Girl and my mother. Big Girl has her father-daughter dance in two weeks and she has nothing to wear. She has outgrown any appropriate dressy clothing. Luckily, we stopped at Justice and found something suitable in her size:

Polka Dot & Floral Print Dress
With a 40 percent off coupon, the dress was affordable. And cute for a tween, when paired with a white cardigan and black sequin headband bought for her concert a few weeks back. She also picked out hot pink leggings from the clearance rack instead of tights, and we already have black flats to round out the shoe issue. The outfit is also good for Easter, as well as any other dressy occasions between now and fall. And her Grammy footed the cost, which is a blessing to us.

I was starting to stress a little about the outfit situation for this father-daughter dance, since it was creeping up fast and Big Girl is at a difficult age (and size). She is in between the little-girl-fancy-flouncy-cute dresses and the teen-fitted stuff. She is only 10 1/2 years and I want something age-appropriate that she likes. She is not really a fashionista, but she does look to Justice as a trusted "cool" style of clothes.

So our mall outing was painless. She also ended up with an Aeropostale hoodie, courtesy of her grandmother. This is a treat to her. I guess many of her classmates all wear Aeropostale, and my sweet Big Girl never asks for much, but had said recently that she would like one as well. So with a sale in the store, she ended up with a cute turquoise-tie-dye sweatshirt. I have taught her that brands don't matter, and she knows that, but I also know that sometimes you need something "cool" to feel like part of the crowd. Her face lit up when I mentioned wearing it to school on Monday. Oddly, I knew that this happiness means that she appreciates this simple gesture of a sweatshirt, and doesn't just take things for granted. She understands the value of a dollar, and I appreciate this. If a $25 hoodie sweatshirt makes her happy occassionally, then so be it.

Speaking of dollars, I am still feeling the love for Aldi here at The Peapod. We are eating healthy, homecooked meals on a regular basis, and fresh fruit and veggie salads. I'm still cutting coupons, and using them -- mostly at Target -- but at Aldi, we are able to get the stuff we need, like fresh produce and milk, for which we don't often have coupons.

Right now Aldi has an abundance of Super Bowl snack options, so if you are preparing for a Super Bowl party, then head over and get some snacks. They even have the cutest football-shaped ice cream cake, and it's only priced at $7.99 in our local store.

Speaking of ice cream, we love these:

Aldi's waffle bowls are so cute and yummy, and not only with ice cream. How about fruit with some whipped cream? Or yogurt and fruit? The bowls are only 80 calories each, which makes them a healthy option for anyone watching what they eat. We love them. Such a great, affordable treat.

I am still sticking with our menu plan, and we are nearing the end of my three-week plan, which means I need to plan a few more weeks. We still have plenty of food in the freezer. This week I will need to be diligent about home cooking, since we are so busy at night, and our days are filled with toilet training and work!

Toilet training and twins are an odd mix, I'll tell you. Look for more on that in tomorrow's post.

In the meantime, we are still decluttering. I have slowed down, but the kitchen cabinet cleanout has been a blessing and I have been able to keep it all up. I have a few things to put away in the dining room, and the bathroom has been changed a bit to accommodate the potty training. I plan on tackling my jewelry in my bedroom this week, which has gotten very disorganized. I also need to plan a trip to the consignment shop with a bunch of toys. I guess I am not alone in the decluttering, as I have stumbled upon many posts, blogs and articles recently about the subject. Even the twins have gotten in on the act. We sorted through the toys in their room recently, and they helped put their stuff into two new toy shelves my husband bought for them at Christmas. They are very cute and they love them.

I do have to tackle our children's book collection. If I am a hoarder in any aspect, it is definitely children's books. It was the only thing I would never deny Big Girl on a shoppng outing, and as a result, we have a large library of options. I need to weed through them. And the twins need a larger bookcase, or, ideally, a bookcase for each child so we can have books on some shelves and their own precious collectibles at the top. More on this another time.

Enough rambling for today. Welcome to anyone who has wandered here from my article about my husband's photography! I promise more scintillating conversation in the future!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Yahoo News

A short that I wrote for Yahoo Voices about my husband's Newtown the Beautiful photo project has been picked up by Yahoo News. You can read it here.

If you arrived here because of the article, you can find all my posts about Sandy Hook here.


I'm so tired, I can't even blog. Buddy Twin was up half the night. Trying to potty train twins is exhausting. And it's cold here. Really, really cold. Long day yesterday, so I'm keeping this short. Really short. Look for a long potty training post next week that I've been working on for two days.

Have a great weekend! :) 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Crazy Stuff

If you log on to this blog and see anything weird, let me know in the comments. My personal Facebook feed and Facebook page, as well as my e-mail welcome page, are acting weird, and then I check my blog last night and the pic of Bunny Twin in the last post is not there and a vampire pic is in its place. But I switched to Internet Explorer (from Google Chrome) and it was fine.

I'm worried I have a virus :(

Of course it could be just weirdness with the browser, but who knows. I don't like it. And my computer geek husband is sick of fixing my laptop, although I never intentionally let this happen! I'd like to consider myself a pretty smart gal, so I look out for Internet weirdness before clicking on it. But I get a lot of e-mail for my work, and have to research online for my work... And I might not end up on the best sites, but not on purpose! Yikes. I have a love/hate relationship with all this technology business.

I don't have a "proper" post planned for today, so I apologize. I started to crackdown on potty training yesterday, so expect a twins potty training post next week! It might be a two-parter; I have a lot to say.

We are still decluttering. Today I worked on fixing the dining room a bit, as much as I could with twins underfoot. It was more rearranging furniture than eliminating clutter, but it's a start. I actually eliminated the gates in that room, not that Big Girl's keyboard is in her room. The only off-limits item was the dollhouse, so we are going to see if we can manage this without too much yelling "Don't Touch the Dollhouse!!" I'm hopeful. I also lugged a kid table from the playroom to the dining room to get their attention vs. the fact that the dollhouse is not blocked off. We'll see how that works. Again... trying to be hopeful!

My meal planning is still a saving grace. Don't underestimate the power of planning ahead.

It's 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night and I'm feeling pretty yucky. Pray it's not the evil flu or stomach thing. We've just had colds. Three of the five of us (including me) have had flu shots. Please, please, let me be well and let it just be over-tiredness.

Speaking of which, I should get to bed. When you read this tomorrow, I will have work assignments to complete, planned paper clutter to conquer and bills to organize, and twins to keep busy and potty train while I somehow do all this. Another day ahead. Let's hope it's a good one, for me, and you too!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Books, Again!

A girl after my own heart.
Bunny Twin loves Lucy.
My Yahoo Voices short piece on winter and snow books was published recently (regular readers got a preview from a recent blog post on the same topic) and now it's being featured on the "Books" page! I wondered why I suddenly spiked over 1,000 hits per day, and there it was.

This is the second time one of my pieces has been featured on the "Books" page. The first was my Laura Ingalls Wilder piece, which has been my lucky subject -- so lucky that when I scrolled down the "Books" featured content page last night, there is was, again! Two pieces on the "Books" page at once... I feel lucky!

So... I am still decluttering, and still inspired to declutter, which is keeping the momentum going. Today, I didn't have a lot of time, but I did tackle one drawer and organized it. Even if it's only for five minutes, I will try to devote some time daily to this issue.

On Monday, some of the toy insanity was tackled. I got rid of about two more garbage bags of stuff, and have a huge pile for consignment. And we still have too many toys... This will be an ongoing problem. But we are a bit lighter now, and we've started the process. I still have other toy areas to sort. Big Girl and I eliminated a few bins by putting the pieces and figures for Little People and the old Sweet Streets sets inside the buildings themselves. I am not sure if I will regret this or not: We have several Little People sets (house, farm, castle, garage) as well as numerous accessories. I had a giant bin of all the people, but it just got dumped all the time. My thought is that we take down one building and play with that building, then put the building back.

That said, Fisher-Price needs to redesign these things. The buildings are so full of openings that it's practically  impossible for the pieces to be self-contained inside; everything spills out! I long for the days when I was a kid and the Little People houses locked together and everything fit inside, and they had a HANDLE! A handle! It was great because you could close it up and carry it back to its place or somewhere else, and you didn't lose anything. I miss those days. Don't know why they've messed with the design so much.

Sweet Streets were also made by Fisher-Price, but they are not offered for sale anymore. Big Girl LOVED these little houses and buildings, which were similar to the Little People concept but with tinier figures and furniture. She played for hours with them. And they did close up (at least some of them) to store things inside. We must have a dozen of these buildings and they take up a whole shelf in the playroom. Big Girl loved them so much we ended up with nearly every set, I think. They were inexpensive and kept her busy. When we sifted through the bin the other day to put the accessories with each one, it was a walk down memory lane for her. She keep saying she was going to play with them again. And play with her sister with them. I hope she keeps that promise. I considered getting rid of a few, but after seeing her so happy to be playing with them I will postpone that decision for a while.

In other Big Girl news, she received another award! She was named a Golden Bucket Filler at her school. Her teacher chose her for inspiring her classmates, having good character and filling others' "buckets" by being kind and helpful. Here she is hugging her teacher when she found out:

I was a sneaky mom that day. I knew she was getting the award, but she did not. And I knew if she saw me at school during their "town meeting," she would guess something was up. Parents are only there if their child is getting a special accolade. So I hid. And then stood in the hallway outside so she wouldn't see me. And then shoved a camera in her face when she walked by -- ha ha! She was truly surprised that she was chosen for such a special honor and I'm glad I could witness it and not spoil it for her. Again and again we are so proud of her. So very, very proud! She has another special award coming to her in a few weeks, so I will brag about that at a later date!

In other updates, my "money diet" went haywire a bit last week right after I published that post. The twins were sick with colds and time was precious and I had to succumb to the local grocery and purchase very necessary items at prices I was not happy paying. But this is what happens in life! And it's a good lesson for planning out finances. A "safety net" is necessary at times.

This week I have been good about avoiding spending on extras, for the most part. I was at Target and avoided unnecessary purchases. I've been sticking to our menu plan, despite swapping a few meals to different days. But my mom also gifted me with some groceries, which was a blessing. And she is being my laundry fairy until we get a new washer. She also helped me bring the twins to their well visit yesterday. Having another adult for this year task is wonderful because I can concentrate on one child's exam and the other is occupied by my mother. The little ones did much better than expected, despite finger pricks and hearing tests and exams and long-overdue flu shots.

The evening before I was explaining to them what the doctor would do the next day. When I said that the doctor would check their ears, Buddy Twin said:
"To see if I'm an elf?"
Note to self: Elf on the Shelf and "Elf" the movie might have put us in elf overload last Christmas. The twins ask for syrup and candy canes a little TOO much.

In other news, potty training is eminent. Buddy Twin is completely good about this. Bunny Twin is not. At all.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Twins Tuesdays: P is for Penguins

Penguin crackers from Aldi.
A very cute (and frugal) treat!
I am still trying fit in learning activities for the twins, as I wrote about in a post last year. I'm always on the lookout for fun ways to learn and themes to celebrate. Sunday was Penguin Awareness Day. There is a day for everything, isn't there? (Just so you know, "World Penguin Day" is April 25!)

Things like this give me little ideas to keep twin tots busy. Penguins are fun, cute and easy to turn into a lesson. In my little ones case, a lesson about letters! "P is for Penguin!" Penguins captured our attention for a few days; we did coloring pages with penguins. The kids like penguins, particularly Henry the penguin on "Oswald." (We are big "Oswald" fans in this house. In fact, I encourage it. It's a "quiet" show. I love the "Oswald"/"Little Bear" hour on Nick Jr. because the stress level in our house just drops when the gentle music plays on both shows. So calming!)

There are many ways to work a little penguin theme into a day, or week:
  • We don't have this book, but it seems really great for a penguin lesson: If You Were A Penguin by Wendall and Florence Minor.
  • For older kids, the book and movie, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is really fun. Other great penguin flicks: "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet" definitely fit the bill.
  • You can watch the Penguin Cam at the California Academy of Sciences.
I love this little instruction sheet on how to draw a penguin:

There are penguins at a local aquarium, and I bet now is the best time to see them. Crowds are not as big, so it might be worth a trip to see them without waiting for a space to peer into the exhibit, as one does in the summer.

So, whether you love penguins or not, they are a great way to celebrate winter. You could also do lessons on polar bears, or owls, or octupus, or whatever animal you choose.

I'm planning a lot of fun for Groundhog Day. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Home Will Not Be "Hoarders"

The cleaned-out spice cabinet.
Yes, those are labels. I love my label maker.
I like the bins because the shelves are high,
so reaching up and pulling out a bin keeps the whole thing neater.
Today is Martin Luther King Day, which is a day off from school for Big Girl. We are in the midst of a major decluttering of our house, or at least an attempt to declutter the house, and she is working on her room. She is starting to not care if her dolls are around as much, at least so many of them. So I don't mind packing away the better things, like American Girl items, to save for Bunny Twin.

But I'm not going to save everything. I'm determined to get rid of as much as possible from our house this year. I'm decluttering, decluttering, decluttering, because we don't need so much "stuff" to live. It's more of a hindrance than a help. I feel the need to "breathe" more. While our home does not look too messy on the surface-- unless the twins left a toy disaster in their wake -- it's the storage spaces that are bursting, bursting, bursting at the seams.

So I am cleaning out and decluttering and purging and trying to use all those words. Of course, it's still hard to do this, for so many reasons. The twins get in the way, of course. Big Girl has a hard time parting with things, so I will have a tendency to declutter when she is not around.

And I am frugal, which I have determined, through discussions with other frugal friends, is a hindrance to decluttering. Why? Because you don't want to part with things that you may need in the future, because you don't want to spend money on those things. (But having so much stuff hinders you from finding things.) Or you think about re-purposing things, so you hold on to them. (But can't find the time to repurpose anythng with little ones around.) Or you save things to pass along, or hand down, either to your own kids or other families. (But no one needs them for a while, so they collect dust and take up space.) Or you are going to have a tag sale or go to a consignment shop to sell. (And then those thing take up space.) But the thing about me is that I CRAVE organization. I love it. I am always striving for it and in some areas, I succeed. The problem which hinders me keeping it that way is "the stuff" gets in the way!

So I am doing a somewhat bad thing. I am flinging things. Just putting stuff in the garbage. Not everything, of course, but more than I normally would. I am throwing out and getting rid of stuff. Last week I couldn't take the state of our office anymore. I can't work in there anymore, because I can't monitor the twins if I'm in there. So, as a result, it has just gotten out of hand. It was the catch-all space. I just put anything in there related to paper, crafts, memories, Scouts, work, etc. etc. It was just completely horrible. Big Girl is the only one who has been hanging out in there, and I feel bad that she is on the computer in such a messy space, with my unattended piles on the desk and bins on the floor. My mom came over to help watch the kids last week and I just dove in and filled two garbage bags in two hours. I actually joked on Facebook that I was going to call "Hoarders" on myself. It was ridiculous. But it felt good. I'm not done in there, but it's a start.

I saw this video of this homeschool room at Confessions of a Homeschooler and I was completely mesmerized. Now, I don't homeschool, but sometimes secretly in my heart I wish I did. I could "play school" all day long with my kids in this room (Links to the two-part tour: Part One and Part Two.) It is a my dream to have my tiny home office as organized and pretty as this, with our craft supplies and office supplies, and my work storage. I'm holding it up as a goal, because as the twins grow and can play in the playroom on their own nearby, I want to have a peaceful work space again instead of typing on my laptop at the kitchen table with chaos all around.

And the kitchen.... Well, that was my "Hoarders Pt. 2" episode yesterday. I hunkered down and went through every cabinet. By the time I was done, I had basically filled four trash bags with miscellenous stuff: old plastic cups, kiddie dishes, sippy cups, Tupperware-type things, old glasses, food items, old pans, utensils and gadgets, etc. etc. etc. It took all day, but boy, did I feel good getting rid of stuff, moving stuff and rearranging cabinets. The goal now is to keep it all that way.

While I was cleaning the kitchen, Big Girl was really working on her room, packing up stuff, throwing out stuff and reorganizing. She was able to get more than a trash bag of items to throw out from her room. We rearranged her furniture, pulling her bed away from the wall and arranging it in the center of the room. The change freed up more wall space and created room for her keyboard so she can practice piano in the calm of her room instead of in the chaos of the main household. She still has a few spaces in her room to clean and sort, but I'm hoping that today she finishes that and has a peaceful space in which to relax, do homework, and just feel at home.

We are getting there, slowly, but if I can keep the motivation going (and find the time to keep going with cooperating twins) I feel that our lives will just be easier. I have many de-cluttering challenges ahead: The toy situation is the major one. But eventually we will get there. Yes, we will.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The Sandy Hook tragedy was a evil act for me, but also affirmed for me that goodness still exists in the world. The outpouring of support was, and is, a beautiful thing. Just look at the heavenly video above.

But it also affirmed for me that there are complete idiots in this world. The fact that there are select groups of individuals who think the entire thing was a conspiracy is almost as unfathomable as the fact that 26 people were shot in an elementary school that day.

I actually wrote a different post for today, a post written with anger regarding the conspiracy theorists. But I deleted it after letting it sit there and going back. Anger will solve nothing, and it's just fueling the idiocracy.

We need to come together, people! We need to discuss, not argue! As a member of the media, I often tense up when everyone blames the media for all this. It's not all the media; it's some media. There are interviews on TV right now that get everyone talking, which is good, but they also highlight and give light to the crazy agendas of certain people or groups.

So I'm just leaving you with this video today. This is a short post, and doesn't say much, but it's been a long week. I'm tired, and the world seems like a crazy place. I hope there is a beautiful place over some rainbow when we find some solutions for the messy world we are living in right now.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Yahoo Voices Update

I've been busy transforming some posts and ideas into articles on Yahoo Voices.

You can find more of what I'm written when you visit my Yahoo Voices profile page. If something interests you, please take the time to look at it and read it. "Clicks" matter! Thank you for your support. I am writing as much as possible lately! Please share the things that are helpful to you with friends, family and feel free to send me comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Money Diet

Instagram-ing my freezer inventory
makes it look more important, doesn't it?
It's January, and a little extra spending in December for the holidays and emergencies has resulted in a tighter-than-normal budget this month. We are buckling down, as they say, more than ever, trying to pay a few things that need to be paid and not dig deeper into debt or savings that we don't touch.

Life is expensive, isn't it? And it doesn't seem to be getting any better, or easier, for so many of us. I shouldn't complain really: We have a roof over our heads and two working vehicles and my husband has a job. We are able to put money into retirement and college accounts each month, and even if those extra dollars could help us right now, we make the sacrifice for the future. But it seems that things are always, always cropping up, making our available cash extremely tight.

Our washer was leaking last week; on Friday, the repair man quoted $350 to fix it. Our washer is about 7 years old, and the repair man said the inside was in decent shape other than the failed part. My dryer is still good in good shape. I was hoping to get a few more years out of both, and then upgrade to something more efficient. But that will not be the case. After much thought and discussion, it looks like we are going to get a new washer. Unfortunately, it will likely not be the washer of my dreams. And we will have to stick it out with the leaking washer for a few weeks and see if we can "make do," as they say. Luckily, the leak is not bad -- yet -- and can be taken care of by smashing a towel under the washer. But I will have to be careful.

The money train is pretty empty right now. We also have past medical bills to pay, and Big Girl goes to the orthodontist today which is expected to result in some expensive dental work in the very near future. And anytime we would like to do things with the kids, or if Big Girl wants to have enjoy an activity, it seems rather costly. We also need to get the twins into real beds, which means we need to purchase mattresses, as well as wood and supplies for my husband to build the frames. It's always something.

With all this looming, and hanging over our heads, we are trying to maximize our talents. My husband is going to sell prints of his nature photography, which is why he started his photography blog. Look for a link to a new store for his awesome photos in the coming weeks right here. And I am always looking for extra writing work that is doable with two active young ones at home.

But in the meantime, I keep trying to make the best use of each possible penny. It is very hard to keep a household running on basically one income with three kids. I freelance, and the money helps, but it is not enough some months.

So, as I write this post, I am coming up with a plan to help us through the first few months of the year. I am calling it my money diet. Forgive my stream-of-consciousness writing on this post... I am going to brainstorm a dozen ideas as I write this... And I am sharing my ideas in the hopes that others in the same situation will find ideas and/or comfort in that you are not alone!

1. Freezer/Pantry Inventory
The first thing I did Friday morning was go through my entire freezer and write down everything in it. I try to do this often, and keep a list on the side of the fridge so I know what is in there. But, I confess, I have not done this in about two months due to the holidays and being busy. My old list was outdated. I now have a working list and I am pleasantly surprised to see how much food we really do have on hand -- a blessing right now! We also have a produce bin in the fridge with many apples and oranges, onions and potatoes in the pantry, several boxes of our kid staple Annie's Mac & Cheese, and a decent assortment of pantry supplies, like flour & sugar, canned soup, veggies and fruit, and cereal.

2. Meal Planning
From this freezer and pantry inventory, I am creating a meal plan. I try to have one for the week, but I'm going to write down meal ideas for everything and look at our calendar and come up with a plan for several weeks. The plan will include ways to stretch dinners into leftovers for lunches, as well as plan for breakfast, lunches and snacks, which I don't usually plan out on paper. We will also try to have less-costly meals, such as breakfast for dinner, meatless meals, and stretching cooked meat into a second meal.

3. Going "bare" at the store
The bare necessities are the only thing being purchased in the next few weeks. I made a list of the things I will definitely need to buy in the coming weeks to keep us going: milk, bread & eggs; fresh produce and cheese; gas for the car; diapers and baby wipes; toilet paper... AND COFFEE! (Can't live without my coffee. I buy ground coffee and use my reusuable K-Cup for my Keurig. Much cheaper!) I'm going to set a dollar amount for what I will need to spend on these things for the month, and shop at Aldi for the grocery basics that don't have coupons or for which I can't find a better deal elsewhere, like milk, produce, eggs, etc. I was waiting for my freelance checks to arrive this weekend, and I had $20 in my wallet to get a few staples. I was proud of myself for being able to stick to my list and my limit. My iPhone calculator was my friend at my quick run to Aldi, Dollar Tree and Target this weekend.

4. Couponing
I will be clipping and reorganize coupons to get better deals. I always do this, but I will be looking for the best deals for everything. For example, I don't need diapers or toilet paper this week, but I will by the end of the month. If I see a good deal this week, I will buy them. (I usually do this, but we all know we sometimes get under the gun to buy a necessity at the last minute. During December, that happened a lot!) I am basically trying to get back on track. On Sunday, I clipped all the coupons I had stashed in my file and will file them away today, as well as check online for additional coupons.

5. Planning ahead 
I know the twins have "well visits" to the doctor this month, my daughter has a Girl Scout event with a fee and is selling Girl Scout cookies. Big Girl also has a father-daughter dance coming up and will need something to wear, so I have to keep my eyes open for a dress/outfit for this occasion because I don't think there is anything suitable in her closet right now. (She has grown so much!) I will also need to drive a few places for activities, so I will need extra gas. I want to set the money aside in advance so I am not caught off guard. The calendar will be my friend this month!

6. Staying home
Speaking of driving and gas... I'm going to try and just STAY HOME as much as possible. This reason is two-fold: Saving gas and spending unnecessary money; and AVOIDING THE FLU. The flu stories are currently really freaking me out! So we are staying home, watching movies and the new "Brady Bunch" re-runs on the Hallmark channel, reading books and hopefully doing a few crafts with things on hand. (My own holiday treat for myself was a K&Co. Smashbook -- I'm dying to work on it!) When Big Girl was a toddler, I made a game one winter of seeing how long we could avoid going out because there was so much sickness. It was a great experiment in planning and I got so much done at home. The only glitch in my plan right now is the twins -- they might get bored! On Sunday, we had a lazy morning and clipped coupons, then walked around the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies in the unusually warm weather. We returned home for a snack, and found two great family movies in a row -- "Matilda" and "Ramona & Beezus" -- to stretch out our afternoon. Free, family fun. It was a good day.

7. Baking! 
I will be baking a lot and wrapping/bagging individual portions of things for lunch. I do this often, but I do also buy a few pre-packaged items. This month I will be trying to stretch the snack budget. This means homemade popcorn, banana bread, muffins, brownies and cookies and treats will go in lunches. I have already started this, and have a bowl filled with treats on our counter for quick snacks, mostly for my husband and Big Girl. And for some reason, when there are baked goods on hand, it makes me feel like a better mother. Old-fashioned, I know, but it does! I have a bunch of frozen blueberries in my freezer, so I'd like to turn that into something the family will enjoy. (Here's an article I did on "Saving Money on School Snacks" with many tips.)

8. Gathering gift cards
I am making an inventory of what gift cards we have so if we need a special treat, we can have it without spending money. I have Dunkin' Donuts, iTunes, Starbucks, and the kids' have Toys'R'Us cards. I am holding out using the latter until spring when we need to replenish the "outside" toy supply. We have so many toys right now. But if Big Girl requests something, I will remind her of her gift cards or her holiday money. It's good for a tween to learn money management skills early, and she is pretty good at volunteering her funds when she wants something.

9. Getting an early start on spring! 
I am going to go through the kids closets and pull out things they do not need or will not wear to sell. Once Upon A Child, here I come! I got rid of a few things before the holidays that family and friends do not want, and I came home with a few dollars. It was worth the trip. During my clothing clean-out, I also plan on seeing what we have for Easter, which comes early this year. It's time for the holiday clothing preparations! I also need to prep for a very small Valentine surprise for the kids; buying Valentines for Big Girl for school; a visit from the leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day (family tradition); Easter baskets; Easter egg-stuffing treasures for our egg hunt; and the Easter meal. I'm making a list.

10. Clearing out clutter.
I read somewhere that clutter is related to debt as well as weight problems. So, I am clearing out the clutter and organizing to see what we have that can be reused, re-purposed, sold or just eliminated from our house to make life easier.

11. Perform Random Acts of Kindness 
Why mention this, on a money diet? Because I believe that doing good for others helps one feel better, keeps one track instead of feeling like one can't help, and puts some good karma out in the universe. And there are many ways to help without spending money, whether it's baking a treat, sending words of encouragement or just doing a quick physical chore.

12. Being resourceful
I am going to seek more work. I have a bunch of things I can write, so I will write them. I'm going to help promote my husband's photography business. And I'm going to gather up loose change, which sounds ridiculous, but every dollar counts.

Want to join me on my money diet? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I let the twins play with scissors for the first time this week. They each received a pair of scissors for Christmas, and since I was going to have an extended coupon-clipping session on Sunday morning, I broke open the scissors' packaging and let them go to town.

This whole experience came with a few rules. They had to sit at the kitchen table with me, and the scissors were not allowed to leave the table. (Of course, they tried, several times but I caught them.) I showed them how to hold them, and I showed them how to cut. I showed them how to hold a piece of paper in one hand and the scissors in the other.

Since I was clipping coupons, I have them all the pages that I already cut or wasn't going to use. They felt like they were helping me, at first. Bunny Twin was way more into the whole cutting thing than Buddy Twin. He basically gave up after a while and started ripping the paper and talking and chatting and putting the pieces into a plastic bag where I was throwing all the little trash. Bunny Twin, however, was really concentrating on cutting, and cutting, and using those scissors. She was very serious about it. She is much more of a "doer" -- she is the one who likes to watch me cook and wants to stir my coffee in the morning and wants to sample all the vegetables when I am making the salad and wants to fold laundry and load the dryer. Forget the toys, she wants the real deal. Scissors were the real deal to her.

I remember when Big Girl was a little girl, and going to preschool, and how I fretted over her scissor skills. I really never let her use them, and realized that maybe I should have! So late last year, while perusing the crayon aisle at Target, I saw those scissors and the "preschool" label on them and snatched them right up. The twins were going to get their scissor skills early, my mind told me.

Of course, as they were cutting away on Sunday, I kept barking out rules as their little eyes lit up at the sight of these scissors in their hand. "No hair! No one uses scissors on hair in this house! There are special scissors for hair and only Grammy has them!" (My mother cuts their hair because she does a good job and, well, it's free!) "And only scissors at the table! And only on paper! Only paper Mommy gives you! Do you understand??"

Yikes. My anxiety was scaring myself.

But they did OK, and when we were done, I put those scissors on top of the fridge with the sacred crayons. Of course, Bunny Twin did not forget about them and asked later on the in the day to use them again. I guess I'm going to have to allow so "scissor time" into the daily schedule. And make sure they are put away safely, because they were pretty intriguing to at least one of the 3-year olds!

Monday, January 14, 2013

One Month.

Today is one month.
Never forget those lives and their courage.
Do Random Acts of Kindness in their names.
Change our society in their honor.
Be kind.
Find a middle ground on issues.
Teach your children well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Mom's Guide To... Snow Days

We all dream of a White Christmas, but we all know the snow actually really comes post-holiday. Now that we are solidly standing in January, the flakes will likely be falling, and schools will likely be closing. So what's a mom to do?

Like any Scout would tell you, be prepared!

If you have not already gathered up unopened holiday gifts, grab them now and stuff them in a closet. Theyt are perfect to pull out on a snow day. We actually have a stash of craft kits in our house from birthdays and holidays that are perfect to dig into when you can't (or don't want to) dig out.

Bookmark some great simple ideas from the web (like this post!) or Pinterest to plan ahead. Pick up some craft supplies to have on hand when the weather turns cold. Get a few special treats and stash them in a secret place to pull out; or perhaps stock up on ingredients to create a special treat. Make a playlist for the iPod of "snow" songs: "Let It Snow," "Frosty the Snowman," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Sleigh Ride" and "Winter Wonderland" are a good place to start.

And now, here is the unofficial
Mom's Guide To... SNOW DAYS!

When the announcement comes that school is called off for the day, you will be ready. Tell the kids to stay in their PJs, and plan a special breakfast, like pancakes or eggs. Before you launch into a special project, ask the kids to help clean up the dishes and tidy up the house fast, such as making beds and putting away laundry. Promise them a special event when they are done, like one of those pre-planned crafts or a baking activity. By the time you finish one or two of these, the morning will have flown by!

I think these ideas are cute:
Of course, don't forget "simpler" crafts and activities: Make paper snowflakes. Print snow-themed coloring pictures, word searches and crosswords online. Make sugar or gingerbread cookies in the shapes of snowmen, snowflakes, hearts or just plain circles to decorate with icing. Do a winter-themed jigsaw puzzle.

If you still have time to kill during the morning, pull out a board or card game for the kids to play and start lunch. After lunch is served, eaten and clean up, check out the weather. If the snow has stopped and sky is clear, get the kids dressed in their snow clothes and make the shoveling a group effort, with time outs for snowman and snow angel making, of course. Don't forget to take some photos of the kids, their snow creations, and your house covered in snow to capture the day.

If the weather is still blustery, bring some snow inside. Fill a dishpan or tub and have the kids make mini snowmen before it melts. Or plan to try this activity with the little ones for some freezing fun:

You can find all the information on "Artic Ice Sensory Play" here at No Time For Flashcards. (I love this blog! She has such great ideas for kids.)

After the kids have had some fun with snow, it's time to warm up! Turn on the coffee pot or teapot to make some hot water for cocoa, and have the kids pick out a movie to watch.

For young kids, this might be a great choice:

Snow Buddies

For older kids, this one could be fun:


During the movie time, let the kids snack on a special treat or make a batch of popcorn.While all is quiet, start dinner and make a list of what needs to be completed before bedtime. Get a head start on the next day!

When the movie is done, have the kids work on a coloring project, read a book, or get some free time on computers or video games. If necessary, plan showers and baths before dinner so your night is less rushed. Check the next morning's schedule to get backpacks, lunches, and everything that is needed for school set up to go. And if you think Snow Day #2 might be in your future -- check the weather forecast! -- think about what fun the family can enjoy tomorrow.

During dinner, share your favorite parts of the day. When the meal is done and dishes are cleaned, enjoy some family time. Find a special book to read before bed; yesterday I shared a bunch of our favorite toddler books about snow and winter. This is also one of our favorites and is great for younger ones:

It is such a cute winter story! I bought this when Big Girl was little because she collects snowglobes. The story is written by the same author as "Fancy Nancy."

For older kids, I highly recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder's "The Long Winter" of course! It's a perfect story for this time of year, and a great one to read together.

Snow days always linger in a child's memory, so take the time to make them memorable. They will never forget the time they spent together with you and their siblings.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Snow Books

We recently were expecting snow, so I decided that the twins needed a few "snow" stories for bedtime. I am a gal who likes a "theme," for sure! I scoured the bookshelves quickly and found this stash.
We have a bunch of books related to snow, snowmen and winter -- books that are not Christmas-related. I am one who doesn't say "boo hoo" to the snow season; January through March are some of the "warmest" months, in my opinion, because it means I have an excuse to spend time with my family; outside obligations are canceled and we are less distracted when the world is somewhat shut off. And I like to keep the house "cozy," as Big Girl calls it: When the Christmas decor is put away, the winter decor still stays up. It doesn't have to be stark and sterile in the home -- celebrate the entire season and leave some lights here or there, a stuffed snowman on a shelf and a snowflake item in plain view.
Snow-themed books fall into that wintry celebration. I thought I'd share a few of our favorites in this post today.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is new to our library; I didn't have it when Big Girl was tiny. The twins do like it a lot, so we have read it a few times. I love the illustration of the little boy making snow angels. So cute. Here's a great link to activities inspired by this book for tiny ones.
Welcome Winter is not a great book, but the little ones do like it. It has very little text, but is a sensory book with things to touch on each page, including "crinkly" snow -- that is Bunny Twin's favorite page and I often hear the snow crinkling over the baby monitor.
Katy and The Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton is a popular one in our bedtime ritual right now. I confess that I am so happy that the twins love this book! It is so adorable and vintage, with such retro illustrations that melt my heart. I would decorate a little boys room around the simple, sweet pictures of the tractor plow in this book. And the red/turquoise colors are just devine. Burton has written other wonderful classic books; my other favorite is titled The Little House.

Tomorrow, I will share another favorite snow book in a special post on Snow Days. I'm hoping a few of those are just around the corner.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's Time to Brag!

Big Girl participated in her school's Winter Concert last night. We are so proud of her! Her music teacher invited her to perform a song on piano for the concert, and the song she chose -- "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey -- was the same song another boy had requested to sing. So her teacher paired them up, and she accompanied him. She was nervous, but did a great, great job. I give my daughter a lot of credit for her ability to get in front of that crowd and perform. I could never, ever do that at her age. She always steps up to the challenge, whether it's doing a reading during her Holy Communion Mass, reading a poem at school when she was younger, or playing piano. Every little bit just contributes to her character.

Her performance was bittersweet, as she is moving on to middle school next year and will leave her beloved music teacher behind. But I know she will continue to excel. She was just chosen as as one of two students to represent her school at a state elementary arts festival banquet. She was chosen not only for her artistic talent, but for her citizenship and her character. Can I beam any bigger for my Big Girl?

It is requested that the students wear white tops and black bottoms for concerts, and this request prompted me to set out in search of a white top this past weekend! Do you know how hard that can be to find a white shirt that a tween girl will like? She wanted to stop at Justice first, and luckily we were able to find this suitable white cardigan sweater with the sweet ruffle down the front. We added the glitzy black headband to the purchase to give her a little "rock star" look.

Our next musical endeavour will be in the spring, when she plays flute with the band students in the school's Spring Concert. I guess I should be on the lookout for a short-sleeve white shirt now!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Newtown's Beauty


My husband recently did a photo project on capturing beauty in the town of Newtown, Conn. He was trying to find a way to show how peaceful and beautiful the town is despite the madness following the Sandy Hook tragedy. You can read about each photo in separate blog posts; the links are the captions under each photo:

Pond Brook

The Diner

The General Store

Sandy Hook's Poocatuck River

My husband is offering all the photos available for download for free. His only request is that you do not profit from them. See the download information and more here.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A "Little" Fun

In the days post-Sandy Hook, it was hard to be festive. But when you have kids, there's an obligation to not sink into a deep dark hole too much. One Sunday afternoon before Christmas, Big Girl and I were out and I decided to stop and show her a special exhibit I knew she would love.

The exhibit was titled "It's a Small, Small World: Dollhouses & Miniatures," and as you might imagine, it was so charming and adorable. The display was at the Gunn Memorial Historical Museum in Washington, Conn., which is very tiny. But the rooms and rooms of dollhouses and miniatures furniture and food and everything you might imagine was just the happiness we needed at the time. We marveled at all the little houses, some very old, and made mental notes of things we could do with our own dollhouse at home.

This photo below is a glimpse into one house that was set up as an 1880s general store. The details were amazing! This was Big Girl's favorite piece and she kept going back to peer inside:

The exhibit had houses that dated back two centuries, as well as modern houses decked out to the gills. For anyone who appreciates dollhouses -- as Big Girl and I do! -- it was just fascinating. We were drooling over all the lovely things.

This little cottage below was my favorite. It was larger than the 1/12-scale that most dollhouses are. (For those who don't know, 1/12 scale is "one foot in real life" equals "one inch in dollhouse life," bascially.) It was just so cute and adorable and Beatrix Potter-like, with little bunnies having a picnic. The house was placed on a wall with a mirror behind it so you can look inside and see all the cottage loveliness.

There still time to see this exhibit, if you are in the area. It will on display through Jan. 20. It's worth the trip!

I think I'll end this post with a pic of our dollhouse all dolled up for the holidays:

It's the time to take down the Christmas stuff and leave up the winter decor. Yesterday was Three Kings Day, or Little Christmas. The holiday is officially over. Now it's time for "winter" fun! Keep your snowmen decorations out for some cheer for the little ones!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Keeping the Spirit Alive

I refuse to take my Christmas tree down until the new year arrives. Ideally, I think it should be up until Jan. 6 -- Epiphany, or Little Christmas -- but at the very, very least, through New Year's Day. I insist the tree be up New Year's Eve, as the ball drops in Times Square. It's still Christmas at that moment.

Yesterday I took the tree down, and as much as I welcome the return to having the living room in order, I really miss the "festive" part. And the lights. There is nothing like watching TV at night with the little white lights shining.

We have a large TV armoire in our living room, and the top is decorated. I usually keep a string of white Christmas lights in this decor, with some floral/greenery, year round. This year I set our "Valentine Tree" up there.

I started the Valentine tree for the kids because it was so depressing taking the tree down. So we turned the little white tree into a Valentine tree, and today I continued that tradition, except it was set up high, out of prying toddlers hands.

So the holiday sparkle will continue for another holiday.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meet My Husband

My husband is a part-time photographer, and he has started a blog.

Please take a few moments to visit his site, After The 9 To 5. The blog tells his secrets behind his photos. He is an avid nature/landscape photographer and will be creating a store very soon to sell his prints. Enjoy!

In other news, Sandy Hook Elementary School students return to school today. A neighboring town offered up an empty school building. Please keep the kids and their families in your prayers today! They will need it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Goodbye 2012!

I'm glad 2012 is over. It wasn't a horrible year, but so many sad things happened at the end that it's nice to have a fresh start. We spent our last day of 2012 as a family -- a trip to local aquarium that was supposed to occur on the twins' birthday but never happened. I was so, so happy that we could fit this in during the holiday. For me, it was a special day.

Bunny Twin checks out twin Nemos and Dorys.
We visited the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn. We had visited here many times previously, but never with the little ones. It is one of Big Girl's favorite places to visit.

Big Girl watches the seal feeding from above.
In Connecticut, we have two aquariums: this one, and Mystic Aquarium. The latter is definitely a more popular destination, and although I enjoy its Beluga whales and penguins, the Norwalk aquarium is less crowded, making it a more enjoyable trip. And it has plenty to see and experience: Seals and sharks and giant sea turtles and sting rays and meerkats.

The Maritime Aquarium recently had a little makeover, and it was incredibly clean -- much more so than Mystic Aquarium, which has seemed rather shabby during recent trips. The Norwalk aquarium also gets a big round of applause for a recent kind gesture: They are giving free admission to all Newtown residents, Newtown teachers and Newtown first responders for 2013, as a gesture of kindness after the Sandy Hook tragedy. (Considering the admission price, that is a very generous gesture!)

Trying out turtle shells.
This was one of the first trips we have taken without a stroller. We decided to let the twins have a little freedom. Bunny Twin was much more well behaved than Buddy Twin, who did not want to listen and liked to throw himself on the ground whenever he didn't want to move from a location. Ah, the joys of being a parent of a toddler!

"He's looking at me!!"
Bunny Twin making friends with the fish.
However, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised at how well we all managed. It turned out better than expected, and everyone had a good time. Bunny Twin especially enjoyed the trip -- she is an animal lover and I think marine life fall into that realm as well!

My first attempt at the Pic Stitch app on my iPhone.
Not sure if I'm a fan yet.
For New Year's Eve, we did our usual family thing -- stay home and enjoy time together. Usually we watch movies, but this year Big Girl requested that we watch the "Cake Boss" marathon on the TLC channel, so we did. The twins went to bed on schedule, but the three of us stayed up to watch the ball drop in Times Square.

Photo: New Year Cookies
Cookies for our New Year's Day dessert.
New Year's Day was a visit to my parents house for dinner, and everyone is back on schedule today with school and work. I think today is actually harder for me than it was a few weeks ago after Sandy Hook -- having Big Girl home for so long has definitely spoiled me and I am sad to have her go back to school and away from us for the day.

For me, Christmas is officially over now. I am a firm believer in carrying the holiday spirit until New Year's Day -- the tree does not come down earlier! This week, it's time to start dismantling the decorations and cleaning up the toys and starting fresh. I have a lot of clearing out and decluttering to do, and hopefully I will share some progress with you.

Happy New Year!