Archive | February Vacation Week RSS feed for this section

Monday Musings: Make mountains out of molehills

31 Mar
So true!

So true!

Good friends of ours recently had a baby. As we are friends on Facebook as well as in real life, it’s been an amazing, heart-warming experience to watch their daily postings of experiences and photos as they journey through their baby’s first days and weeks.

Yesterday however, our friend posted this page from a book, which when I clicked through to the photo, attributed it to  “William Martin – from “The Parents Tao Te Ching.”

When I read what the page said, I immediately wrote and told her I loved it, but the words stayed with me all day.

As parents who are now more than a decade into this journey, these words really resonated with me. I have always found that making a big deal out of the  little things in life not only taught our kids an appreciation for those small things, but also gave us a new appreciation for them. Additionally, it made those things seem extraordinary and we always joked that in many senses of the word, we did in fact, make mountains out of molehills.

And, as this page in the book says, the extraordinary things do in fact, take care of themselves, for as often as we’ve made a big deal out of enjoying small things, we’ve had some pretty big things happen as well.

I look at our summer vacation months as a perfect example. When people say to us, “Oh do you have big plans for summer,” or something like that, I always say “No, nothing much,” but I clarify that the time goes by and the days fill up and before we know it the summer has passed. I look at our Summer Timeline as an illustration of just how many exciting events do fill our summer, but yet they’re simple pleasures, things like packing up homemade dinners to eat on the beach, bike rides nearby, night time walks through our neighborhood with flashlights, lemonade stands in our driveway that cause a traffic jam in the street, or visits to free events and happenings that take place throughout the summer. None of the things we do are generally costly or “exciting” at first glance, but they are priceless in experience and prove to be memorable for our family. They provide us with together-time, first and foremost, but they also provide us with an appreciation for the little things around us. And at the end of the summer, our timeline is full, wrapped around two walls of our living and dining room and we love nothing more than to look back on those days as fall begins.

Our February vacation week is another perfect example. We generally plan nothing that week other than the yearly eye exams or dentist appointments. But yet, by Friday, we’ve had a full week with a playdate here or there, a family dinner out maybe, or a movie. A good friend said to me this year, “You guys really know how to fill up a week!” And she’s right, leaving our week as a blank canvas really let us fill it with whatever came our way with no expectations to reach for. Nothing big, nothing expensive, and yet everything was fun, (other than the dentist,) but at the end it was hard to decide which thing we’d done had been the most fun of all.

Yesterday in church, part of our priest’s sermon included a challenge to us, to think about the lenses through which we view the world, and as part of his talk, he spoke about thinking of how we’re viewing the little things and making sure we don’t miss those little things as life goes by.

I hope that as our friends continue on their journey as a new family of three, that they too, get a new appreciation all of the little things in life as they show their little one life through their lenses. I hope that they too will enjoy making mountains out of molehills for their daughter as she grows. I know that it’s been a valuable practice for us as parents and I know that our kids have a true appreciation for the little things in life as well.

It’s like the age-old saying, “Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference.” It’s true. It’s the little things that are the most priceless of all.

 

Monday Musings: Making your own fun

17 Feb
Using the components from games you already have to create a new game is a fun way to spend a day out of school!

Using the components from games you already have to create a new game is a fun way to spend a day out of school!

It’s school vacation week for us this whole week ahead. Monday, President’s Day, is a day off for many kids around the country, even if they don’t have the whole week off.

For many parents, a whole week out of school during the winter months can seem daunting. What to do? Where to go?

As a mom, I often find that the most fun and memorable moments come from an unplanned event or from the kids’ own minds when left to their own devices.

And I don’t mean electronic devices.

Often we’ll allow some electronics time and then all devices go off and it’s time to find something to do, whether they need to read a book, occupy themselves in their rooms, or play a board game.

Over our last school vacation week, my younger two girls decided to play dominoes after my youngest had played them at school during indoor recess time on a rainy or snowy day. She was thrilled to find out that we had dominoes here as well, and what began as making “domino effect” structures and watching one domino lead to their demise, ended up being an hours-long project, using all of the dominoes plus all of the previously-popular “Squinkies” to create two entirely new games.

Without any parental direction or involvement whatsoever, the girls created a challenge for themselves, to each take a set of the dominoes and some of the Squinkies, and create their own game and rules for the game, which they’d then teach each other to play.

I know I said it, but this bears repeating: this took them several hours.

Creating the box for storing their game components was almost as much of a challenge for them as creating the games themselves.

Creating the box for storing their game components was almost as much of a challenge for them as creating the games themselves.

Between coming up with the game they wanted to create, coming up with the rules for it, playing it for and with each other, and then the next part: creating a box to store the games in, complete with some marketing images on the boxes, took them hours.

The box they created had a challenge to it as well. They decided to use one box, which had originally contained a pair of men’s boots, to store both games. However, they split the box down the middle and each came up with completely unique packaging to market their particular game.

I swear to you, I had nothing to do with this. I was downstairs sorting through *last* school year’s papers that I was archiving into bins to save.

They were completely engaged, not bored, not arguing, not asking us for ANYTHING, for hours.

And best of all, they had a blast. It was a highlight of their week.

It didn’t cost us a dime, we didn’t leave the house. They never even changed out of their pajamas.

It was excellent. And they were so, so proud of themselves.

Sometimes, as parents, I think we get caught up in the pressures of planning the perfect day off, the perfect vacation week, and I think sometimes if we leave some down time in the schedule it can be a good thing.

I know that there’s a fine line between leaving too much time free, and leaving no time free, but I think it’s important as we enter this school vacation week, to remember to leave at least some time for the kids to tap into their own creativity and ability to entertain themselves. Nothing pleases me more than to see my kids all playing together, laughing, talking, thinking out loud and being creative. It’s a valuable skill to foster in kids, and who knows what they’ll create!

Give it a try this week or on your next snow day, holiday, day off or weekend and see what your kids come up with! They just might surprise you.

Fun Friday: Valentine’s Day Edition

14 Feb
Valentine's M&Ms made these cookies extra special!

Valentine’s M&Ms made these cookies extra special!

It’s a Friday, and it’s Valentine’s Day! I love when special days fall on a Friday or a weekend day. It makes them all the more enjoyable.

I got a sweet treat myself this week, when my kids who give out Valentine’s Day cards both decided to hand make them and to do it with absolutely no direction from me. For years we made them together and the last couple of years I’ve had to buy them. I just couldn’t pull it all off. It warmed my heart to come home from a meeting earlier this week and see that they were making them.

In addition to Valentine’s Day, we’ve also had a snow day this week, which has provided an extra opportunity for Valentine’s treats, and school vacation is coming up next week, which even though we don’t go anywhere special, is still a fun week off.

Earlier this week, we were having a friend over for one of the kids after school so I decided that in between my morning and afternoon work schedules, I’d make a quick little Valentine’s treat to greet them when they got home.

It called for only three ingredients and one of them was Valentine’s- themed M&Ms. The recipe didn’t use the entire bag, so I used them instead of chocolate chips in the cookies you see above when we had the snow day, and that’ll make a great treat today in the kids’ lunchboxes.

The after school treat was a three ingredient Skinny Dark Kisses treat which a friend posted on Facebook, shared from the Skinny Kitchen site. I can tell it’s going to be a site that I visit often! I hope you’ll check it out.

The recipe is shown below, just as they have it on their site. It was easy, other than unwrapping all of the Hershey Kisses, and a word of warning: they say you need to cool them for two hours, or put them in the fridge to speed up that time. I had a 1:30 story to cover, so I made them on my lunch break at 12:30, left in time for my story, and when I came home with the kids after 3, it had been just enough time for them to cool and be ready to eat!

The recipe below makes 25, but I made slightly more than that since I had a bigger tray. I was able to make 45 and I still had half a bag of M&Ms leftover and a quarter of a bag of Hershey Kisses left as well.

A cute Valentine's treat, you won't be able to eat just one!

A cute Valentine’s treat, you won’t be able to eat just one!

Another word of warning: you can just eat one. They’re slightly addicting!

Prep Time: 15 minutes total (for 25 of them)
Bake Time: 5 minutes
Set Time: 2 hours for chocolate to firm up or 1 hour in refrigerator


Ingredients



25 Special Dark Hershey’s kisses, un-wrapped

25 mini pretzels

25 dark chocolate M&M’s available in bags of Valentine’s Day colors or use a regular bag


Instructions



1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Place pretzels on cookiesheet. Top each pretzel with one unwrapped chocolate kiss.

3. Bake 4 to 5 minutes or until chocolate begins to soften, but not melt. Remove from oven; top each with 1 M&M. Be sure to press it down a bit to set into the chocolate kiss.

4. Cool completely. This takes about 2 hours. To cool quickly, refrigerate until chocolate is firm.

Makes 25 total

A Great Friday Snack: Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

22 Feb
The simplest things, like these Mardi Gras masks can provide hours of fun on a week like this one!

The simplest things, like these Mardi Gras masks can provide hours of fun on a week like this one!

Happy Friday everyone!

I hope you all had a great week! We’re finishing off February Vacation week here and it’s flown by, despite the fact that we had no set plans really.

We got to see real, live raptors VERY close up on Wednesday afternoon at the library. Very. Close.Up.

We got to see real, live raptors VERY close up on Wednesday afternoon at the library. Very. Close.Up.

We had a great week it turns out, thanks to the Cranston Public Library. We went there on Wednesday to return our books and realized that there were lots of great programs lined up for this week: a great Raptor program from a local wildlife preserve (Born to be Wild Nature Center in Bradford, RI) and the showing of a movie we had not yet seen, were the two things we took advantage of.

Little things like that give the kids something to look forward to and make the week go by.  And, it gives them the chance to take out new library books. We came home Wednesday with a new slew of books for them to read. Gotta love that too.

Best of all, those activities are all free, from the reading to the raptors to the movie.

Gotta love that even more.

They sounded like rock stars on Tuesday afternoon!

They sounded like rock stars on Tuesday afternoon!

We also had the opportunity to participate in a fun recording session at Reel to Real Recording Studio right here in Cranston. The girls were singing like rock stars for the whole afternoon on Tuesday. If you’ve never been there, it’s great fun so check it out!

We had a great time talking all about our trip and showing lots of photos and memorabilia.

We had a great time talking all about our trip and showing lots of photos and memorabilia.

And finally, we made a visit to Grandma Grello’s assisted living facility, where we got the Mardi Gras masks and matching bead necklaces too, and where Caroline presented her power point presentation about the Kids State Dinner trip.  It was her second such presentation in one week’s time and she did a great job with it, as usual. Reliving that trip is always amazing for us and the audience really enjoyed the presentation. Even better, it sparked some great conversation from the residents about their memories of Washington DC., some dating back to WWII. Living history: a privilege for us to be a part of.

Below is a great Friday recipe for you, taken from the blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.  We made this on Valentine’s Day but it makes a great after school snack and actually we had leftovers and my kids put it on their homemade waffles this weekend too.

We had barely any of the awesome fruits they have in their recipe below, but we made it work anyway. I used a red apple, a green apple and a green pear and they ate it right up. It’s super colorful, and I always love colorful foods.  I think it’s a plus when you can adapt a recipe to suit what you have on hand and it still comes out great.

So whether you are looking for something for an after school snack or something for vacation week’s end, this is a great choice for you!

This was a great, healthy snack. We used fat free tortillas and sugar free jelly.

This was a great, healthy snack. We used fat free tortillas, fat free cooking spray and sugar free jelly.

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips

Ingredients

    • 2 kiwis, peeled and diced
    • 2 Golden Delicious apples – peeled, cored and diced
    • 8 ounces raspberries
    • 1 (16 oz) carton of strawberries, diced
    • 2 tablespoons white sugar (more or less to taste)
    • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (more or less to taste)
    • 3 tablespoons fruit preserves, any flavor (I used strawberry)
    • 10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
    • melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray
Cinnamon sugar:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cinnamon

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.
  2. It didn't matter that we didn't have the exact fruits listed in the recipe. We used what was on hand and it was great!

    It didn’t matter that we didn’t have the exact fruits listed in the recipe. We used what was on hand and it was great!

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  3. Coat one side of each flour tortilla with melted butter or butter flavored cooking spray. Sprinkle tortillas with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Spray again with cooking spray (not necessary if using melted butter).
  4. Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture. This salsa can also be served with cinnamon graham crackers or cinnamon pita chips. Best when made and eaten the same day otherwise the fruit gives off too much juice and it gets runny.

Notes

Source: Allrecipes

It’s February Vacation Week: Welcome [Back] to the Jungle!

18 Feb
Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Not every school system has February Vacation Week, but ours does. A lot of people dread vacation weeks, but I look forward to the break. I like having my kids home with me and I like the break from all the stress and running around.

At work, Don gets a lot done through the week while the school building is quiet and it airs out from all the flu and virus germs that fill it all winter.

However, if you’re home for the week you may be looking for ways to fill the time. I find that no matter what, the week flies by, but it helps to have some fun little ideas in your back pocket, just to be safe.

Valentine’s Day was just last week so we have received some new games, crafts and activities which will be perfect for this week. As with last year’s Welcome to the Jungle posts, I’ve decided to feature some of the things we’re doing throughout the week, passing along any fun ideas to you.

Today’s activity idea is one that may or may not shock you: if your kids are bored, let them draw on all your windows, mirrors and glass doors!

Yup, that’s right: day one and I’ve already lost my mind.

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Elizabeth received a new activity as a Valentine’s Gift from my mom and dad this weekend. The Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers were an instant hit when the girls opened them up. We let them use any glass surface: windows, mirrors and the sliding glass door served as their canvasses.

It was so awesome.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The way the markers work is simple: you write on your chosen glass surface and then watch as right before your eyes the regular-looking marker turns into a beautiful crystalized image.

As you watch, it actually looks as if the image is moving while it changes. It’s very, very cool.

We had friends over on Sunday with kids of their own and we let the girls take out the markers while their friends were here and they all seemed to have a blast with them, even the one boy out of the group had a great time, so it’s definitely something a boy would enjoy also.

The one issue we had with using the markers in the bathroom was that we left the artwork up during showers.

Ooops.

It all dripped down the mirror and we had to take it off and start over again. It actually says on the box not to use it in a high humidity area, such as a bathroom. But, our bathroom mirror is so huge, we did it again anyway, but this time we’ll wash it off before the next shower.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

Which leads me to my next tip: taking off the artwork.

You can take it off very simply with a wet paper towel, followed by a dry one to wipe off any remaining residue. Those are the instructions on the box, and it worked just as they said.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

I’d definitely keep this in my arsenal of birthday gift ideas for the future, it was lots of fun and it’s a gift that they can use over and over again, each time with a different result.

Although I don’t know the cost of these, I am pretty sure I’ll be able to find them in my local craft store, and most likely be able to use a coupon for them there.

I think these markers have tons of potential in our house! I can foresee writing special birthday messages on mirrors or windows, or writing fun messages for special house guests when they visit our home, the way we write on our message boards and chalk boards.

If you’ve ever used the Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers yourself and you have any fun tips or activities to share, leave a comment and let us know! We have all week to experiment with them!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Donut Maker Update

2 Mar
Babyckaes Donut Maker

My new toy!

Back in January I posted on my blog about our New Year’s Eve Donut Wars. At the time we’d just received our Babycakes Donut Maker and it was our very first time using it. Now that we’ve had it a couple of months, I thought I’d put out a quick update letting you know what we’ve tried since then.

First of all, I am still a huge fan of the donut maker. It’s so much fun to use. To date we have used it three more times since that first time.

We used it in January with a pumpkin spice donut mix that my mother-in-law brought with her when she visited. Before making them that time though, we went to AC Moore and I bought a pastry bag with a tip to use when filling the donut wells. MUCH easier than using a ziploc bag. Caroline has become a pro at filling the wells. I use that time to make the frosting so that we can frost them while they’re slightly warm.

Everyone had their own donuts to frost, their own bowl of frosting and their own spoon.

The next time we used it was for a triple playdate after school. Once the word about us having a donut maker got out, “everyone” wanted to come over and try it out. I decided to bite the bullet and let each kid have one friend over after school all in one day. We’d make the donuts and let the six kids frost them. So later on in January that’s what we did. Although I wasn’t sure if it’d be too much for me to keep organized, it worked out fine. I mixed up the batter and while Caroline filled the wells, her friend helped me make the frosting (a double batch of frosting seems to be enough for all the donuts that one recipe yields.) Then when we were ready to frost, I gave each girl a plate, four donuts to frost, and a bowl of frosting with a spoon. They could do whatever they wanted with their four but couldn’t share with each other (I didn’t want to share germs if they’d been licking their spoons, fingers etc.) I put a common area in the center of the table for sprinkles and decorations. It worked out great. They could then eat their donuts when they were done, or save them to take home, or whatever they wished. It worked out great.

The kids like being able to decorate their donuts however they want to. I try to have plenty of sprinkles out.

Another thing I did differently for the playdate this time from other times, was I used the recipe that came in the box for the Sour Cream Donuts rather than a cake mix, and the recipe for their Chocolate Frosting instead of a tub of frosting. Both were very, very good and easy to make. It made the donuts truly taste like donuts, rather than like cupcakes, which is what happens if you use a cake mix. Both work fine, but if you’re looking for that donut taste, definitely try out their recipes.

Separate work stations for each kid seems to work out great; no cross contamination!

The next time we used it was for a cousins sleepover. We had one of our cousins sleep over during February Vacation Week and we thought it would be fun to make donuts with her for our movie night, and we were right, it was fun!

I used the exact same two recipes and did it the same way, with Caroline filling the wells while I made the frosting. I still kept it to four donuts per kid and we had more leftover, which I sent home with our cousin for her brothers.

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed the Babycakes Donut Maker! We’ve got Alex’s birthday coming up soon and she’s already said that she’d like donuts instead of cupcakes this year, so I’ll take it out again for that, if not sooner. I’m also anxious to try out the other recipes in their booklet. There’s a chocolate donut recipe, a maple donut recipe as well as vanilla glaze and maple glaze frosting recipes. Grandma Rose loves maple glazed donuts so we might just surprise her one day with some.

Now…if I could just get the Babycakes Cake Pop Maker……:)

Here are a couple of other “finished product” photos from our donut making experiences.

The "after" shot.

If you run out of or don't like frosting, there's always powdered sugar on top which is yummy!

February vacation AND Ash Wednesday…a double whammy!

22 Feb

All you need for a great meatless meal during Lent!

Surviving February Vacation week? I hope so! I know a lot of schools don’t actually have a vacation in February, but in our neck of the woods we do, and I’m always grateful for the break. Have you been doing anything special? If you live near a national state park, check out their website. Oftentimes they have special things planned for school vacation weeks. If not, you can always set up an indoor campsite with tents or forts.

Alex set up “Camp Rock” in our house the other day with her guitar and all kinds of stuff in her tent in her bedroom. Kept her amused and busy for quite some time. I always find forts to be a good use of time also. They stay in them for hours.

Alex was set up in her tent for a long time the other day! Forts and tents = tons of fun!

This week Lent begins in the Catholic religion, which means for my family that today is Ash Wednesday and so begins the 40 days of Lent. During Lent there are several practices we follow, one of which is the giving up of meat on certain days, namely holy days and Fridays.

One of our favorite meatless meals is Grandma Rose’s Tuna and Spaghetti. It’s pasta with a twist. It’s a Depression era meal, one that she grew up on back in the 1930’s. It’s one of our family’s favorite meals, and whenever people hear about it, they first say “ewwww” til they taste it. I’ve never had anyone try it and not like it. If you’re looking for something different to try during your 40 days of Lent, or just in general (because we do it this all year long too) give it a whirl and let me know what you think!

Tuna and spaghetti sauce

There's nothing like a pot of bubbling sauce simmering away on the stove!

GRANDMA ROSE’S FAMOUS TUNA AND SPAGHETTI

INGREDIENTS

one 28 ounce can Kitchen Ready Tomatoes

one 6 1/2 ounce can Bumble Bee Tuna and Oil

one clove garlic

1 TBl. olive oil

salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste

1 cup water

DIRECTIONS

Use 2 qt. sauce pan and brown the garlic and oil.

Remove garlic

Add tomatoes (you can angle the cover of the pan over the pan to avoid splatter.)

Add one cup of water, plus salt, pepper, oregano and basil.

Cook on low heat for 1/2 hour.

Add tuna, including oil in can, and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Grandma Rose gave us her pasta bowl for serving our pasta. I think of her every time we use it and she's so glad we get lots of use out of it!