New blog address

I’m moving this blog over to a new address if you want to keep following me over at:

loveteachgrow.wordpress.com

I’m still figuring out this whole blogging thing, so let me know if the new address isn’t working for you!

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Our Week In Photos

This was our first week of getting back into the swing of things after our busy Christmas and New Year’s adventures. Here’s a little photo-log of what we’ve been up to:

David resting after a busy Stroller Strides class

David resting after a busy Stroller Strides class. We were excited to be back to class after a long break away!

Our little friend Emery loves David. He's not sure how he feels about the situation.

This was at Community Group on Tuesday. Our little friend Emery loves David. He’s not sure how he feels about the situation.

Baking chocolate chip cookies

Baking chocolate chip cookies. Because  Mommy needed a mid-morning chocolate fix.

David packing his backpack "for work" just like Daddy :)

David packing his backpack “to go to work” just like Daddy ūüôā

We had our first BSF class of 2013 on Thursday. So great to be back studying God's Word!

We had our first BSF class of 2013 on Thursday. So great to be back studying God’s Word!

Painting get well cards for Daddy (sick with a cold) and Great-Granny Doreen (sick with pneumonia)

Painting get well cards for Daddy (sick with a cold) and Great-Granny Doreen (sick with pneumonia)

A fun trip to the Children's Museum with our friends Sara and Elias (and Sara's baby-to-be, if you can tell from the photo!)

A fun trip to the Children’s Museum with our friends Sara and Elias

We usually go to the park for play time after lunch. Today, David requested that we stay inside and cuddle on the couch instead. And, since it was 28 degrees outside, I was happy to oblige!

We usually go to the park for play time after lunch. Today, David requested that we stay inside and cuddle on the couch instead. And, since it was 28 degrees outside, I was happy to oblige! ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†(P.S. This is David’s “smile for the camera” look)

Check back here next week for an *exciting* series of posts I’m going to do about getting your baby ready for school. Once a teacher, always a teacher ūüôā Have a great weekend, everybody!

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Meal Planning

I love food–I love eating it, I love reading about it, and I love cooking it. Unfortunately, I just don’t have as much time to devote to preparing food as I used to. Between the hours of 4:30 and 6:00 when people without children are enjoying happy hour, we have our daily “Meltdown Hour”. I think the kids know that I have to feed the baby, clean up the house for Daddy’s arrival (see, I AM a good little wifey!), and get dinner ready at that exact moment. It’s really quite terrible. The other day during Meltdown Hour I just put both screaming, crying boys on the couch and laughed at the whole situation. How am I supposed to get ANYTHING done with the chaos that comes at that time every day?

I have learned that it really is impossible to cook a healthy dinner every night of the week and actually have it on the table at a reasonable time. That is, unless you have a really solid game plan. Enter the meal plan.

Every Sunday I sit down and fill out my schedule (which I mentioned in an earlier post). Part of my schedule is my meal plan. I decide each meal I will cook that week and I enter it into my schedule. I then go through my menu day by day and add items to my shopping list that I will need to pick up so I can prepare all of that wonderful food. This saves me from getting to the grocery store and wandering aimlessly through the aisles searching for who-knows-what to put in what’s-that-stuff. ¬†I always do my grocery shopping on Tuesday mornings (because I just have to catch up from the weekend on Mondays. I can’t add anything else to my repertoire that early in the week). Going into our week with a meal game plan¬†also means we eat healthier since we don’t have to resort to chicken nuggets (at least not often) or a trip to a restaurant (which is actually quite stressful with young children. Bummer, cuz I kinda like that alternative).

When I’m planning my meals, I always try to plan for at least one item that will create leftovers (or parts that I can “re-purpose” in another dish), one dish that I can make an extra-big batch of for freezing, and one meal that is already prepared (in my freezer or by someone else). We also have a potluck dinner at our Bible study on Tuesday nights, so that cuts out one day of the week that I have to whole meal. With this plan, I only end up cooking from scratch 4-5 days a week instead of all 7. I also try to plan my weeknight meals to be something that is easy to prepare ahead of time so I can get it all ready to go while the boys are napping (or at least when the¬†mischievous toddler is napping. Things always go smoother when he’s not “helping”).

One little side note. I am not a short-order cook. That means that everyone in my house eats what I cook–no separate meals for kids and parents. I barely have time to cook one meal, let alone two! Now, there are times when I will modify the meal for David’s tender 2-year old¬†palette. For instance, if I’m making a spicy curry dish, I’ll make his portion relatively bland with just a touch of the curry. I still want him to grow accustomed to all of the foods we eat, but at the same time I want to make the food inviting for him to try. And, now that Jacob is starting to experiment with solids, I also serve the baby a bit of what we’re eating. For instance, when I’m making butternut squash soup I’ll save out a bit of the squash to puree into baby food. I’m no expert on kids’ eating habits, but it seems like offering kids “normal” food is as good a way as any to avoid the dreaded picky eater. Sure, kids wont’ eat everything–but they won’t eat ANYTHING if you don’t let them try!

Here’s how that all looks practically speaking. This was our menu from last week:

Sunday: Rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes
Monday: Shepherd’s pie (using up mashed potatoes from the night before.) I made the “pie” during nap time and just popped it in the oven at 5:00.
Tuesday: Potluck at Bible Study (I was in charge of bread this week so I brought store-bought roles. Win!)
Wednesday: White Chicken Chili (using up leftover rotisserie chicken and making a double batch for freezing. Double win!)
Thursday: Sweet and Sour Chicken– A recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine that I’ve been wanting to try
Friday: Pasta- I got some free boxes of pasta with coupons, and made a simple sauce out of diced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.
Saturday: Curry- I love making curry. I have a few different curry pastes in my fridge and I just add whatever meat and veggies I have on hand, then serve over rice.

And, in case you want to give it a try, here’s my recipe for super-easy White Chicken Chili. I got this recipe from a family friend and it’s one of our go-to meals. This is a great recipe because it’ fast (10-15 minutes of prep), it can be made ahead in a crock pot, it only gets one dish dirty, and you can freeze the leftovers. Oh yeah, and it’s delicious! Have I sold you on it yet?

photo (6)

Easy White Chicken Chili
Ingredients:

Meat from 1/2 rotisserie chicken
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 can chicken broth
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cans white beans (great northern beans)
(optional) squeeze of lime juice
**sour cream, cilantro and crushed tortilla chips for serving**

Cook onions in a bit of chicken broth until they are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add all other ingredients and heat through (this can be done in a crock pot–just cook on low for 2-4 hours). If desired, top with sour cream, cilantro, and tortilla chips for serving.

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Stay-cation

As I mentioned earlier, Jon had a crazy month of work in December. He was gone traveling for a good portion of it and, the days he was in this country, they had him working up to 20 hours a day. So he needed a break. We ALL needed a break.

On New Year’s Eve we got the best gift ever: Jon’s company gave him the week off. Since the time off came as a surprise, we had no plans for our time together. There are a lot of things close to home that I’ve been wanting to do with Jon and the kids but because of our crazy schedules have just never done. This was going to be our week to do them all. Bring on the stay-cation.

With bedtimes starting at 7:00 in our house, it’s hard to do many of the traditional New Year’s Eve shenanigans. We decided to just go out for dinner with the kids and be home in time for a peaceful night at home ringing in 2013. Dinner turned out to be amazing. Our friends Scott and Alison were driving home from Mt. Baker and passed through our neighborhood right as we were heading out to the restaurant. They decided to join us for dinner and we had a great time catching up with them (and, as an added bonus, I think our kids’ dinnertime behavior provided these newlyweds with some adequate birth control). Dinner was actually quite wonderful–good friends and good food. Then, to top off the night, the restaurant had a raffle for free dinner right as we were about to leave. And guess who won? Us! Free food for our whole table. Not a bad way to send off 2012!

The next morning was New Year’s Day. It was clear and sunny when we woke up, so we decided to do something outside. We drove down to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and got there right as they were opening. It was a great day at the zoo–no crowds (probably in part because it was 28 degrees out there), lots of animals were out to entertain us and David had a great time running through all of the paths and pointing out his favorite animals.

Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Me and David with the elephant sculpture.
Well, hello, peacock.
Well, hello, peacock.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Jacob enjoyed his time at the zoo.
Touring.
Touring.

On Wednesday we went to the new Lynnwood Recreation Center for some swimming. They have a great pool (actually, they have THREE pools), a kids play area with splash toys, water slides, a lazy river and hot tubs. David had fun playing in the water until he got cold and retreated to the hot tub. This was Jacob’s first trip to the pool, and he seemed to enjoy all of it just fine. I’m so glad Jon was with me because there’s NO WAY I could ever take both boys to the pool by myself unless they were both strong swimmers. We did havea lot of fun there, though, and we’ll definitely be going back.

Pool time!
Pool time!
Jacob after his first pool swim
Jacob after his first pool swim

On Thursday we went to Normandy Park to visit Jon’s grandma for her 90th birthday. We didn’t get to make it down the day before on her actual birthday because¬†I got locked out of the house. It was great to spend some one-on-one time with Great-Grandma Doreen at her house. She LOVES the boys, so her greatest gift was just getting to see them.

Great Granny Doreen with her David

Great Granny Doreen with her David

On Friday morning we went to the mall to do a little shopping. Jon and I both needed warm winter coats and we found just what we were looking for at REI (mine was even on clearance for 60% off–CHA-CHING!).

My mom and sister came up on Friday night to babysit the boys so that Jon and I could have a night out (Thanks, Mom and Jess!). We had a perfect date in downtown Seattle. We went to a trendy little place called BOKA for a happy hour dinner: a nice juicy burger for Jon and Vietnamese short ribs for me. We had a bit of time after dinner so we headed over to Westlake Center to grab a quick dessert. Then we went to our favorite spa, Ummelina, for hot stone massages. Everything was just wonderful, and I was so happy to get to spend some special time with Jon.

Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!
Me and my date enjoying a night out on the town!

We decided to drive over to Leavenworth for the weekend to visit Jon’s parents. For those of you who don’t know about Leavenworth, it’s this quirky little town East of the mountains. It’s a Bavarian town, kind of a “little Germany”, surrounded by mountains and snowy in the winter. We had a fun time sledding, checking out the sights in town, visiting with Grammy and Grandpa Pete,¬†and watching the herds of deer that come to their house to graze. It really was the perfect way to end our little stay-cation!

Bota enjoying the snow
Bota enjoying the snow
David playing with Grammy's "yarn balls"
David playing with Grammy’s “yarn balls”
Leavenworth
Leavenworth
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete's house
Playing pool at Grammy and Grandpa Pete’s house

Jacob testing out the sled

Jacob testing out the sled

Driving home through Steven's Pass

Driving home through Steven’s Pass

Today is my first day of “back to reality” with Jon back at work. It’s been a long time since I’ve had some of my usual activities like Stroller Strides and BSF, though, so I’m actually pretty happy to be getting back into our routine. I probably won’t be blogging as often now that I’m home alone with the boys during the day again, but I’ll try to get at least one post per week up for you guys. ¬†Until next time!

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My Favorite Four-Letter Word

Free–that is my favorite four-letter word. And a close runner-up: deal.

I have always loved a good deal and, now that I have kids, I love deals more than ever before.¬†Turns out kids are really expensive. They have basic needs (food, clothes, diapers, doctor visits), they have wants (toys, outings to the zoo, ice cream sundaes), and they have collateral costs (needing a bigger car because your Volkswagen Jetta can’t fit the double jogging stroller in the trunk). And all of those costs require $$$.

In our family, we’ve decided that it’s Jon’s job to make the money and it’s my job to save it. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs or save a few bucks. Here are a few of my favorite ways to save money in our day to day lives. It’s nothing earth-shattering, just little things we do to steward our resources well.

  • Not Spending Money
    This is kind of obvious, but it does take some forethought. For instance, I have learned that I spend at least $100 every time I set foot inside Costco, regardless of if I’m there for 1 item of a month’s worth of stock-up groceries. I now try to limit my trips to Costco to once a month. If I absolutely must go for a must-buy item another time in the month, I don’t bring a cart–that way I can only buy what I can carry in my own 2 hands (or in the stroller) which, at Costco, is usually just 1 item. This idea also works in other scenarios–I had to unsubscribe from receiving daily emails for Groupon and Living Social because there were just too many deals I “had” to have. Basically, just find the areas that are¬†your¬†money traps (that coffee shop down the street, the shoe store in the mall) and avoid having them be a part of your daily routine.
  • Coupons
    I used to be a pretty avid couponer. I had multiple subscriptions to newspapers so I could clip coupons from the Sunday inserts. I would spend hours each week perusing the internet for printable coupons. I had a stockpile of food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items that could get us through a nuclear holocaust (that is, if all you needed during the nuclear holocaust was frozen pizza, Windex, and toothpaste. Oh, the toothpaste. I think if every toothpaste manufacturer in the company shut their doors today, couponers could supply the world with toothpaste from their free toothpaste stockpiles for the next decade).That was back when I was a full-time stay-at-home mom to one peaceful baby who was content to spend countless hours scouring drug stores and grocery stores for deals. Now I have 2 kids that take an hour to get out the door, one of whom is a two year old with a -2 second attention span and ZERO tolerance for sitting still in a grocery cart. Needless to say, my couponing days have changed.I don’t have my newspaper subscriptions any more because I just wasn’t using the coupons before they expired. What I do now is I get coupons that I know I want from friends and family who do have newspaper subscriptions. And, instead of going to several stores each week for my deals, I just use the coupons at my regular grocery store on items I’m already buying.I also watch Facebook and online sites for coupons for my favorite items that I can print and use the next time I need that item.Couponing can save you a lot of money, whether you commit to it full-time or do as I do and just use them as you’re able. If you want to learn more about couponing or money-saving in general, there are tons of blogs and online tutorials that can help you. Some of my favorite local blogs are¬†Thrifty Northwest Mom,¬†This Beautiful Frugal Life,¬†Coupon Connections, and¬†Hip2Save¬†and¬†The Coupon Project.
  • Choosing My Stores and How I Shop Them
    Some stores cost more than others. Sure, with coupons you can get the prices down on many items. But you can’t buy EVERYTHING you need with a coupon and sometimes you just don’t want to deal with them. I have found that some stores have consistently lower prices, and that’s where I shop. For me, that’s WinCo. They have great prices on produce, which we buy a lot of and you can rarely get with a coupon anyway. They don’t have a very large organic selection, but a great overall selection including exotic tropical fruits and the largest array of chili peppers I’ve ever seen. They also have a HUGE bulk section. You can buy anything in bulk there: spices, pasta, cereals, soup mixes, snacks, candy, pantry items…you name it! Buying in bulk allows me to buy the amount I need at a lower price. Another thing I like about Winco: they don’t accept credit cards. I’m a lot more conscientious of my spending when I have to pay cash!Somewhat related to this is the fact that I try to buy fresh and local when possible. I love going to u-pick farms in the summer and filling my trunk with fresh fruits and veggies for pennies. My mom also has a fairly prolific garden and apple orchard that she lets me harvest from whenever I go over for a visit for, you guessed it, FREE! Even if I get more fresh produce than we can eat right away, I know that I can always freeze, can, or give away wthe extras.
  • Preparing Our Own Meals
    Jon used to go out for lunch every day. At $10-$15 a pop, we were spending close to $300 a month on his lunches! Now I make all of his lunches–they’re not as exciting, but they are healthier and the cost a whole lot less. We also don’t go out to eat as a family very often. We eat out a few times a month, but other than that I prepare all of our meals at home, including Jacob’s baby food. It’s a simple thing, but when it costs $30 for our family to get a meal at McDonalds, it adds up quickly!
  • Cheaper Date Nights
    When we only had 1 kid, we used to do babysitting swaps with some of our friends on a pretty regular basis. We’d watch their kid, then the next week they’d watch ours. Or, even better, if you have family living nearby call them in for a little back-up. Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties (and Uncles) usually seem to enjoy getting a little one-on-one time with the little tikes.
    There are lots of ways to save money on dates themselves: Go somewhere free (long walks on the beach, anyone?), try to hit up happy hour at your favorite five-star “$$$$” restaurant, go to a $2 movie theater or a drive-in movie (yes, they do still exist!), go to a free museum on First Thursday, and utilize daily deal sites to find unique experiences. And, if all else fails, you can always snuggle up on the couch with a bottle of wine after the kidd-o’s have nodded off.
  • Free and Cheap Activities
    I love taking advantage of community resources, most of which are free or available for a small fee. Some of my favorites: story time at local libraries and bookstores, parks (we even have one near our house that has a free petting zoo and water park in the summer), beaches, hiking, biking on bike trails, and indoor play areas at malls and coffee shops.
    Memberships to local activities can also be a good deal. For instance, an annual membership to the zoo or children’s museum pays for itself in less than 3 visits. Plus, if you have a membership somewhere it’s easy to go for a short time (which is the only time I seem to have with a toddler in tow) and not feel bad that you’re wasting your money by not spending all day there.

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    You can also get pretty good discounts on activities if you have a membership somewhere else. For instance, if you have a Bank of America Visa card you can get in to hundreds of museums for free during the first full weekend of each month. If you have an REI membership, you get a discount on lift tickets at local ski areas (each state has their own partner ski area). It’s always worth looking into the benefits you get with services you’re already using.

It does take time and a bit of research to save money but, in my experience, it really is worth the effort. What are some of your favorite ways to save money day to day?

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Why Having 2 Kids Isn’t As Hard As Everyone Says

When I was pregnant with Jacob I had a lot of people tell me: “Watch out! Having two kids isn’t just twice as much work…it’s more like ten times as much work!”.¬†Now, granted, I’ve only had two kids for 5 months now, but it’s really not as hard as everyone said it would be. In fact, I’d say that having 2 kids is not even twice as much work as having 1.

When I was teaching, I had up to 22 kids under my care for 6+ hours a day. ¬†So, having only 2 kids that I love unconditionally feels like a pretty sweet deal (plus, they both still take naps. That helps). In both the school and the home scenario, though, the only way I’m able to manage kids is through a simple formula of routine, organization, and discipline.

On Routines
We have routines for everything in our day: wake up time, meal time, getting dressed, getting shoes and coats on when we have to leave the house, nap time, clean up, bath time, bed time. ¬†We have David so well trained now that all I have to say is “it’s time for snack and story” and he cleans up all of his toys and goes to sit on the couch to wait for his snack. This allows me to get his snack ready while he’s cleaning up, and it means we have no battles over how this part of our day should go. We’ve practiced it a gazillion times and he just knows what to do and what to expect. The funny thing is, if we ever stray from our routine David gets really upset and tells us the “correct” way to do it!

On Organization
Organization is a huge help when you have kids. Having children is like living in the middle of a tornado–everything and everyone seem to be in a constant state of upheaval.

One of the most important parts of my personal organization is our schedule. I keep a fairly strict yet flexible schedule. What I mean by that is that we have a set plan for how each day in the week goes, but we adjust what that looks like as needed. For instance, Jacob can still nap in his carseat if we’re out and about during the day. I know, however, that when he’s older and won’t sleep in his carseat any more, I’ll have to be home for his naps and we’ll have to adjust our schedule to¬†accommodate¬†his new needs.

I also sit down every Sunday and fill out a weekly calendar that includes our activities, chores I need to do, errands that need to be run, our dinner menu, and even when I’ll exercise.

My weekly schedule

My weekly schedule

I write my schedule out on a magnetic whiteboard and I stick it on the front of my fridge. I like this method because it doesn’t require me pulling up an app on my phone and Jon can see it just as easily as I can. Plus, the teacher in me still likes writing on white boards. Having and keeping to a schedule allows your routines to be more effective because everyone knows what to expect each day.

Built into my schedule are things like dinner prep. I always prep dinner during the boys’ nap so that when it’s actually time to make dinner everything’s ready and I can just throw it in the pan (or, even better, it’s already in the crock pot or roasting in the oven and all I have to do is take it out to eat it). Really, if there’s anything I can do ahead of time to make my time with the boys go easier, I do it.

On Discipline
I’m not going to get too into this subject right now, because that could really be a whole series of posts on its own. And, admittedly, discipline is one of my weakest areas as a mother. But, I do know how important it is and I work at it every day. Here’s how discipline relates to my theme of managing the kids, though. Kids NEED boundaries.¬†When the kids know what is expected of them, they tend to live up to those expectations. ¬†When kids know there are consistent consequences to their actions, they learn how better to control their behavior. By me not spending 4 hours a day chasing wild banshees through my house (OK, that actually IS how most days are…) I can focus on more important tasks. We can move through our day more quickly, with more sanity, and have more time for the fun stuff when behavior is (mostly) in check.

So, that’s it. Having kids IS tough. I’ll never deny that. But with a little preparation and consistency, your job can be a whole lot easier!

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“It Worked For Me”: Peterson Style

I got a lot of good feedback on my last post about baby stuff, so I thought I’d try to do a few follow-up posts on general parenting tips that we’ve picked up or developed in our 2 glorious years with offspring.

Now that I’m a parent, I like reading parenting magazines that give me advice on how to handle the two little tornadoes of energy that are under my care. One of my favorite columns to read is called “It Worked For Me” in Parent’s Magazine. People basically just write in to tell about little tips and tricks that they use with their kids. Some of the ideas are really amazing–simple little things that make life so much easier.

Mostly out of desperation, Jon and I have developed our own little repertoire of “It Worked For Me” solutions to our every day problems. Here are a few:

  • Water Stopper

    David trying--unsuccessfully--to get water out of the fridge

    David trying–unsuccessfully–to get water out of the fridge

    David loves using the water dispenser in our fridge. The problem is that he usually likes using it as a means to create his own slip-n-slide on our kitchen floor. Or to give the dog a shower. Or just to see how much water will come out before an adult notices his exploits. You get the idea.
    Jon, being the clever engineer that he is, came up with a simple solution to our water dispenser woes. Now we just keep a clean, dry sponge wedged between the back of the dispenser and the push-lever. With a little effort, an adult can still press the lever against the sponge and get water out. No matter how hard he tries, though, David can’t get the lever to push in enough to release the water. I don’t know how long this will continue to work for us, but hopefully by the time David develops the strength to push in the lever all the way he’ll also understand the word “no” and all of it’s consequences a bit better!

  • Easier Pancakes
    A "pancake stick" for David

    A “pancake stick” for David

    We like having a lazy family breakfast most Saturday mornings, so that usually means we’re making pancakes. In order to get the pancakes from griddle to plate as quickly as possible we do a couple of things. First, we mix the batter in an 8-cup pyrex measuring cup. It’s easy to pour the pancakes with the pour spout and it means we only have 1 dish to clean at the end of the day. Then, we like to make “pancake sticks” for David (another idea of Jon’s). That way when the pancake is ready to be cut up into little pieces for David we can just snip, snip, snip down the “stick” with our kitchen shears and it’s ready to go. Sometimes we also like to make fun shapes out of the pancake batter for David. To do this, we use a squeeze bottle to just squirt the shapes out onto the griddle (we’ve even used a clean, empty ketchup container as the squeeze bottle and it worked just fine).

  • Video Stories
    Jon has the type of job that, at certain times, requires him to spend a lot of time away from our family. He has to pull some late nights and do some traveling. We always have story time before naptime and bedtime where Jon and I read to the boys. I like the boys to be able to have Jon read them their stories even when he’s away, so before he left for his last work trip we recorded him reading several of David’s favorite stories using my iPhone. I transferred the videos to my computer, and also kept them on my phone for on-the-go viewing. Now we can watch Daddy reading stories no matter where he is in the world. Plus, the stories are a great distraction while we’re driving or waiting for our food to arrive at a restaurant. Just flip on my phone, start the video, and we have a happy toddler!
  • Gift Closet
    I have a lot of friends and family members with kids now. It seems like every other weekend we have a birthday party, baby shower, or holiday to celebrate that requires some sort of gift. Since it takes a long time to go out shopping for each individual gift, and because all of those lovely gifts can start to put a dent in your wallet, I’ve started my own little “gift closet”. It’s not actually a closet, it’s just the top shelf in my own bedroom closet, but saying I have a “gift shelf” just doesn’t have the same ring as the “gift closet”. Anyway, I digress. The gift closet is just a place where I put gifts as I find them. I like to shop online deal sites like Zulily, Kids Woot!, Plum District, Mamasource¬†and Totsy. You can get all kinds of things on the deal sites: clothes (for both baby and mom), toys, shoes, nursery accessories, strollers, even baby food and diapers. When a really good deal comes up (like when free shipping is being offered or there are deep discounts on my favorite items), I’ll buy one or two items to add to my gift closet. I also shop stores like Target during their clearance times (typically January and July) when they’re trying to off-load all of their seasonal toys and clothes for up to 75% off. At any given time I have between 5-10 items in my gift closet that would be suitable gifts for babies or young children. Then, when those baby showers and birthday party invites start arriving I know that I can just “shop” in my gift closet. I save myself a trip to the store and I’ve already saved time and money¬†(now that I have 2 kids to tote along with me everywhere I go, I avoid physical stores like the plague. I hate going into stores. But that’s for another post.).
  • Monthly Baby Photos

    David at 1 week old

    David at 1 week old

    David at 6 months old

    David at 6 months old

    David at 1 year old

    David at 1 year old


One of my favorite things that we did with each of our boys was our monthly photo. Starting at birth, we take a photo of each boy each month until their first birthday. For David, we did all of our photos with a sock monkey. It was incredible to see how he went from a tiny infant smaller than the monkey to a big boy who could hold the monkey up for the photo on his first birthday! Jacob’s photos are a bit different. We’re posing him on top of a large paper calendar each month and circling his monthly “birthdays” on the calendar.

Jacob at 1 week

Jacob at 1 week

Jacob at 5 months

Jacob at 5 months

We have a lot of fun going back through the photos to see how our babies have grown. For David’s photos, I plan on continuing to take a photo of him with the sock monkey each year until he moves out on his own or until he is big enough to fight me off when I thrust the stuffed animal at him for yet another photo session. For Jacob’s calendar photos, I may have him continue holding the calendar for important events as he gets older (birthdays, first days of school, etc.).

  • Custom Books
    I get lots of coupon codes for custom photo books from companies like Shutterly and Mixbook. I love making photo books to document family events, but lately I’ve also been making my own picture books for the boys. I just use our photos and I write a story to place in the text box on each page. The last two books I made were “David’s Busy Day” (based on one of David’s favorite picture books, “Lulu’s Busy Day”) and “My Funny Family’s Feelings” (each page is a different family member expressing some feeling–i.e. excited, surprised, sad, etc.). ¬†I can usually get a custom hard-cover picture book shipped to my door for about $10. These are some of David’s absolute favorite books because, like all of us, he’s a bit¬†narcissistic and loves seeing himself.

    Home-made photo books

    Home-made photo books

  • Clothing boxes
    I keep large plastic bins in my kids’ closets. I have one bin per size (newborn, 3 month, 6 month…and on up to 3T). Whenever they grow out of a piece of clothing, I put it straight into the appropriate bin. Whenever we receive clothing that is not a size the kids are currently wearing I put that right into the size-bin as well. That way, whenever I need clothes for the next size up I just grab the bin and unload it into the kids’ drawers. Yay for hand-me-downs!
  • Toddler Thank-Yous
    David is only 2, so he’s not quite at the age where he can write his own thank-you notes. ¬† I happened to have some of his modernistic crayon drawings and finger paintings lying around, so I decided to turn them into thank-yous. I just wrote a note on top of the artwork with a Sharpie marker and David scribbled his “name” at the bottom. So much more personal than a store-bought card, and a good use for the countless creations David generates.

Parents are ever-resourceful, and I’d love to hear some of your favorite tips and tricks. Feel free to leave a comment with your clever ideas!

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