Sunday, December 30, 2007

Unplugged Project : Collage

I was happy to be able to join in this week. Our normal routines are off as we are still in the midst of a more than 2 week visit from my in-laws. It's not as scary as it sounds but I have been so busy that we have not been able to sit down and do any projects.

The boys loved doing collages. We chose the final option for MomUnplugged's Unplugged Project.

Or...anything you want to do!

For the age my kids are, I figured that anything much harder and it would be too much work for me, so I just let them cut out any pictures they wanted from the magazine and catalog I pulled from the top of my recycle bin. This was the first time I had ever let my 2 year old use scissors and he LOVED them.

It was a great success!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lovely Christmas

We had such a lovely Christmas. I think we did a nice job implementing this year's changes. Unfortunately a cold has been making the rounds but did not dampen our spirits much

We got a tree and decorated it while listening to Christmas music and drinking apple cider
We also hung stockings by the fireplace.
We celebrated advent with a wreath and calendar.
We also attended church on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning was quite relaxing as we let the kids open their gifts at their own pace and stop to play as needed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Unplug the Christmas Machine

Check it out... looks like this book is getting read a lot this year

Unplug the Christmas Machine on Get Rich Slowly

Simple Holiday Crafts

My kids have made some fun crafts at several recent events, as you can see. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a cold and am off to bed early tonight, so no time to write more.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Unplugged Project - Yarn or String

This week's Unplugged Project idea was yarn or string.

I gratefully delegated this one off to my husband who included both boys in the making of a pulley. I guess I should not have been surprised they managed to incorporate their favorite toy into the picture. They used the train to power their first-class pulley. I was called when they were ready for photos.

This was inspired by a book we got from the library: Pull, Lift, and Lower by Michael Dahl.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Read-Aloud Handbook

"This is not a book about teaching a child to read; it's about teaching a child to want to read."
---Introduction, The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease

I love books and love reading with my kids. When I heard of this book, I decided to get it from my local library. The Read-Aloud Handbook was a very interesting book. It had tons of information about why it is important to read to your kids for their WHOLE lives, not just when they are too young to read for themselves. Basically, that is how you get a child to want to read, by reading to him.

A lot of the book was somewhat political, and there were lots of facts and figures to trudge through. There were some really neat anecdotes and lots of ideas of books to read with the kids that really did make the book worthwhile. I am excited to share some of my new finds with my kids.

I'm not really going to do a book review, but there is a lengthy one on another blog. In fact The Simple Dollar is where I first heard of the book.

Enjoy reading!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What others are saying about Christmas....

I have been enjoying reading various ways that other bloggers are attempting to make their Christmas celebrations just right for their families. Here are a few that I found interesting.

Reducing the Volume of Gifts at unplugyourkids

Four for Christmas at stoptheride

Prevent Your Kids from getting the Christmas Gimmies at

Ways to build holiday traditions at chieffamilyofficer

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Unplugged Project : Nature

This week's Unplugged Project was Nature. Although we have not had the volume of snow that Mom Unplugged is having, our weather has not really made me feel like spending much time outside.

But, today we went on quite the nature hike. We spent quite a while (at least 10 minutes) hiking through dense evergreen forest. Fortunately the terrain was quite smooth and level (remarkably like asphalt) and there were lots of signs (see photo) so we would not lose our way.

We even took a quite large (6 feet tall) piece of nature home with us and are displaying it in our living room. We have also enjoyed sitting around staring at it while drinking hot cider and reading "Twas the Night before Christmas." Since we have had crazy weather here lately we were fortunate to go on our "hike" without rain or snow.

I had it all wrong!

When I posted last week about the Christmas decorations my son made , I had it all wrong!

We started decorating for Christmas today so I had him hang them on the wall. Much to my surprise, there was a definite way they were supposed to hang. Not just the orientation of each piece but the relationships of the pieces to each other. I am not sure why I was surprised, he always has a plan.

Anyway, now I know - the green parts are Christmas trees and the red parts are presents and it is important the they "make a pattern," meaning are alternating colors. Here is what they look like proudly displayed on our walls.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Small Changes Toward the Christmas I Want

I have been working my way through Unplug the Christmas Machine. There is really so much there that I am a bit overwhelmed, especially since it is already December. I am a little late to do much this year but there are some small changes I am going to make. I am also looking forward to what I can do next year when I will have an earlier start.

This Year:
  1. Not traveling for the holidays
  2. Having tree and stockings - goes along with #1, since we are not usually home, we don't usually decorate
  3. Celebrating Advent - We are using an Advent Calendar and Advent Wreath
  4. More Christmas Music - Both more background music and more family sing-a-longs

Next year:
  1. Already drafting a letter suggesting ways to simplify our gift giving next year (and make it more meaningful) - Will need to be sent in the spring as my family likes to plan ahead
  2. Re-read Unplug the Christmas Machine
  3. Make a written Christmas plan -See chapters 8 and 9

Monday, December 03, 2007

Unplugging Christmas : What Children Really Want

At the suggestion of Mom Unplugged, I have been reading Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.

A section in the book that really struck a chord with me is the one about what children really want for Christmas. It is a pretty simple list

1. A relaxed and loving time with their family

Children really love to spend time with their family and they love and thrive on the attention of their parents. I like the expression they use in the book - your children need your "relaxed attention."

2. Realistic expectations about gifts

Your kids will be disappointed if you allow them to set their own expectations based on commercials or other influences in their lives. If their expectations are set accurately, then they more likely to be excited about what they do get. I am lucky as my kids are young and they don't watch television commercials. My oldest is starting to ask for things he sees that his friends have though so I think we are moving into a time where we have to think about this more.

3. An evenly paced holiday season

Space out your special activities over one or two weeks. Basically don't start the build-up too soon and don't end it too abruptly.

4. Reliable family traditions

The book explains that traditions enrich the holiday memories and give kids lots of comfort. I'd add that once you find things that are fun for the family why not keep them up. Once I find something we like, I like to stick with it. It is more comfortable for me and less work too.

Children are not born wanting lots of expensive gizmos and loud toys. They don't want nonstop festivities and constant action. And they certainly don't want all the stress and tension and bitterness that they get far too much of when their parents get worked up by all the things they need to do to get "ready."
I think it really helps to simplify things if you think about these four goals and how to meet them.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Unplugged Project : Paper

This week's Unplugged Project theme is paper.

My newly-turned-five-year-old has been begging to start decorating the house for Christmas. Specifically, he wanted to make some decorations for the walls. So for a start, I set him loose with some red and green paper and let him do whatever he would like.

He has made 3 and I think he is interested in making more tomorrow. Maybe this will tide him over until I am ready to get the tree and everything....

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Simple Storage Solution

I have been frustrated with not having a good place to keep all of our library books. We are heavy library users and I don't have room for them on our already full bookshelves.

I went to the garage and found a box that I tasked my older son with decorating and filling with books. Not sure how long it will hold up but it was free and most the work was his and fun for him. He is very proud of the train engine he drew on the box.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

My 4-year old and I enjoyed reading this book last night. Being a math person myself, it immediately became clear to me that this was going to be a fun way to learn and practice a bit of mathematics.

You start with 12 cookies divided between 2 kids and then more and more kids keep arriving and they have to divide the cookies up amongst everyone.

It wasn't very hard for my son, once I prompted him to get 12 blocks so he could pretend they were the cookies and divide them up appropriately. He first was trying to do it in his head and that was way too hard. He really seemed to enjoy making the different numbers of piles each time the doorbell rang!

It struck me during the reading of this book that perhaps I was "ruining" the book by trying to make it all educational instead of just relaxing and enjoying the story. But when the book was over, my son said "That was fun, can we do more math?"

Friday, November 23, 2007

New Tradition?

I usually hide in my house the day after Thanksgiving - afraid to encounter the large numbers of people with all their attention focused on finding great deals and buying way too many things they don't really need!

But today, we decided to go to the library. What a great place to be on the busiest shopping day of the year. It was less crowded than I have ever seen it. We enjoyed browsing for books, reading together and playing some games on the computers. And, of course, we brought books home. Lots of books actually, 18, to be exact. And the kids have been enjoying them all day. And we paid not one penny!

I think I am seeing a new tradition...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Unplugged Project : Thankful!

This week's Unplugged Project topic is Thankful!

We decided to make a Thankful Tree. Ours is not quite so lovely as the one on Family Fun, but we also spent no money and utilized some things we already had instead.

And it still met the same goal - a fun activity to do with the kids that also helped us think about and talk about what we are thankful for this year.

So basically, we just colored and cut out leaves, then the boys told me what they were thankful for and I wrote what they said on the leaves. My husband led an expedition outside to find a suitable branch, and then the boys tapes the leaves on the "tree."

It ocupied the kids for a long time with all the coloring and cutting and then the nature walk, plus taping each of the leaves on a carefully selected spot. Fun was had by all!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Packing Lunches

We got 2 fun new Tupperware Containers and I packed the kids lunches in them for the first time today. It seemed to be a big hit all around!
The kids thought it was fun and enjoyed being able to see their whole lunch at once. It was actually easier for me than collecting up and filling a bunch of individual baggies or plastic containers and then having to juggle them.
They are actually made such that the far left section is the right size for a juice box. We don't typically do juice boxes so I just added their SIGG water bottles and used the juice box spot for home-popped popcorn.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Unplugged Project : RED Still Life

At first glance, it may not look like we did a lot this week for our weekly Unplugged Project. All MomUnplugged gave us to go on was 'RED' and we were just supposed to run with it.

First I tried asking my 4-year old what he thought we should do. I spent a long time explaining what it was all about and then sent him away for 5 minutes to think something up. I was pretty impressed that he was game for this but when he came back all he had to say was, "I have a sheet of red construction paper." Hmm! Maybe he is not quite getting it yet.

So that left me to come up with an idea all on my own. Here is what I came up with. Still Life! To make it extra educational, we spent some time talking about art and different types of art, and even wandered around our house looking at various pictures and trying to categorize them. Very funny since I only could think of portrait, landscape and still life, and my 4-year old as always had way more questions than I had answers.

I sent each kid to collect up to 5 items that were red, and then arrange them on some red felt into whatever arrangement they wanted to. Then I snapped some pictures. The first picture with the grocery cart is my 4-year olds and the 2 face-down Cliffords (yes, that is what that is) is my 2-year olds creation.

Then because I was feeling extra patient, I let my 4 year old snap his own photos of his creation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mama Tamara Goes Gluten-Free

I have not really been posting here this week and to be honest we haven't been doing many fun acitivities.

I've been learning how to eat again and it is NOT FUN! I just found out that I am gluten and dairy intolerant. Is there anything harder to avoid than gluten (wheat, barley,rye and most oats) and dairy (milk, cheese, ICE CREAM)? So I am spending an exorbitant amount of time trying to figure out what to have for dinner and whining, complaining and moping about this new development. Check out my gluten free blog if you find this interesting. I will cease to mope about it here, and hopefully start doing some fun things again soon!

I have been trying to put together a post about Christmas Activities but keep getting distracting thinking about all the Christmas treats I can't eat. (Ok, that is really IT now, no more MOPING!) Anyway, keep you eyes out for it. And of course, what we decide to do with RED.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Unplugged Project : Haiku

This weeks Unplugged Project was haiku.

I have to say that when I first read the idea I was pretty skeptical. My kids are 2 and 4, not reading or writing yet. But I was happy to have a break from painting and after thinking about it, came up with a plan that I thought would work for us.

Day #1 Syllables
We started at the beginning with learning what a syllable is and practicing counting the syllables in a bunch of words. This was something we just did for fun while driving around in the car.

Day #2 Poetry
We read lots of poems and talked about how some poems rhyme and some don't and that some poems are long and some are short. I have a Shel Silverstein book we looked at and my 4-year old loved the silly poems. My 2-year old also enjoyed listening to the poems

Day #3 Haiku Samples
I read the samples that MomUnplugged linked to in her original mail to the kids and had my 4-year old count the syllables. Then we talked about how they were all 5-7-5 and how there are different kinds of poems that follow different rules. After that, I cut the haiku out and let the kids glue them onto sheets of paper and then "illustrate" them. This was another activity they both liked. I was going to include one of my 2-year olds works of art but I can't get it to work right now.
Day #4 Writing Haiku
Only my older child did this one. He dictated some haiku to me and I wrote it down. Of course I had to assist as his lines tended to be really long so I had to help a good bit to get it to follow the patterns. The ideas were his though.

So here are his original compositions:

Up above the world
Find the brown bear in the trees
So that they went on

A boy is eating
In a house with a big boy
Eating on a chair

I am so glad we did this project in spite of my initial hesitation. We really did have a fun time and it was nice to have a project we could do in little pieces as it worked into our schedule.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mr Pumpkin Head

Check out this cool idea ! I have a couple more pumpkins. We might just have to try it. It will be after Halloween but who cares, my kids certainly won't.

I am one of those people who is not so crazy about carving pumpkins and this seems like a super alternative. We have not carved one the last few years but I do want to do fun things to enjoy the holidays. So I am embracing painting pumpkins and makin Mr. Pumpkin Heads.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Make your own Puzzle

Another activity idea from the Busy Book . I made puzzles for the kids out of old boxes. I had macaroni and cheese boxes in the top of the recycle bin so that is what I used.

I wasn't really thinking and I started to do this activity with my 4-year old. The puzzle was way too easy for him the first time I cut it. I cut each piece in half again to make it harder, but by then he had lost interest. I am hanging onto it to pull out at a good time to try again.

So I tried again with my 2-year old and had great success. Well, I guess that depends on how you define success. He did not run off to spend lots of independent time working on and improving his puzzle skills. But we had a fun time playing together with a free and easy toy. He really liked watching me cut the puzzles, so he asked me to make one from all 6 sides of the box. Then, after spending a little time putting them together with him, he found an old plastic butter conatiner to store his new toy in, and carried it around a bit.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Unplugged Project : Painting Pumpkins

This weeks Unplugged Project was to paint pumpkins.

The kids had a super time painting them. We started with some very small white pumpkins but it did not take long until they were covered and starting to look a bit muddy so we switched over to some larger ones.

As you can see, this turned out to be pretty messy. I guess when painting something 3-dimensional the inclination is to turn it around, pick it up to paint the bottom, and whatever else you might could do to get paint ALL over your hands.

Here are the finished products:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ice Cube Activity

We got another activity idea out of the Busy Book today. My husband and I thought it was pretty cool but I am not sure it was the best activity for the kids.

You make ice cubes in the three primary colors - red, blue and yellow. Then you put them into three bags like this red&yellow, red&blue, yellow&blue and wait for them to melt. Yep... wait for them to melt. It takes longer than you think. Maybe this should be a summer activity.

I tried to be really laid back and let the kids play with the bags while we waited but I did not succeed. My four year old was pretty rough with the bags and I was afraid they would bust.

Anyway, once they start to melt, you can see that yellow&blue make green etc. In fact, it is really cool because you can still see the two colors of partially melted cubes, plus the new color water in the bag. Like I said, my husband and I liked it. The kids, not so much!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Source for Fun Ideas

My kids are really good at playing by themselves, or with each other. Of course when they are playing with each other, they tend to need some refereeing. I have recently realized that when things are not going well sometimes they need a little break from doing their own thing and need a little time with mom.

Sometimes I offer to read with them (that rarely gets a no) and sometimes I just pull out a toy they haven't seen in a while, but sometimes it is fun for all of us to do an activity together. Unfortunately, I am way short on creativity, so I appreciate having resources to go to for ideas.

That is why I was happy to see this post from MomUnplugged. I immediately headed to my library's website to see what I could find. I really wanted the Preschooler one but my library does not have it. I ended up requesting the Toddler one and the Arts and Crafts one.

We have started off with a very simple one. There is an idea called "Sticky Feet" where you tape contact paper down to the floor (sticky side up) and then let your kids run, jump, play and crawl all over the sticky paper.

The kids really, really liked it. It lasted about a week and then all the stickiness was gone. I think it was a great sensory activity. My oldest did not like to touch it with his hands at first but over time got used to it. My youngest avoided the whole thing for a few days before he got into the act. They had fun coming up with their own ideas of silly things to do on the sticky paper.

I am excited to see what other activities we can do from these books.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fall Leaves Project

Inspired by our successful unplugged project we decided to do another fall project. This one wasn't quite as hands-on for the kids because of the ironing aspect. The boys collected the most colorful leaves they could find in the yard. When the little one was napping, the big one and I arranged the leaves on wax paper and then I ironed another sheet onto the top, making our patterns permanent. Now they are hanging in our kitchen for us to enjoy. They look great on the window with the light shining through.

I got this idea from someone's blog but I am not sure who!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Our Unplugged Project Attempts

We worked on the Unplugged Project and these are the results of our efforts. I only had blue and yellow paint, and we only had about 30 minutes, but I was determined to get in on the inaugural project. I thought it was a great idea of something to do and really wanted to participate.

The picture don't really capture the whole "picture" though. The kids enjoyed collecting items on their walk outside, and learned several new and interesting things about the items they collected. And they really liked experimenting with painting/stamping with the different items.
They used pinecones, helicopters, rocks, berries, sticks, bark and pine needles.

Definitely a success although I want to allow much more time for future projects.
Thanks Mom Unplugged!

Yummy Week

It is funny how some months when Cooking Light comes, I see nothing that interests me, and other months I want to make everything. I have made about 5 recipes from October 2007 already and I am getting ready to make the Dirty Rice again.

My kids absoultely loved it and ate serving after serving of healthy brown rice and beans. It is great to try some good new things. I get tired of eating the same things all the time and hate it when the new recipes turn out to be duds.

One of my favorite blogs

Unplug Your Kids is one of my favorite blogs. I actually rarely meet people who are serious about limiting television viewing so it is so nice to find someone who shares my views. Well, I should disclose that unlike Mom Unplugged, we do have a television and I do allow my kids to watch it - although only 30 minutes per day. Many days they do not choose to watch at all, but when they do, they are only allowed one 30-minute video.

For this reason, I was excited to see this post on How to Get By Without the Electronic Babysitting Box with ideas of fun things for the kids to do. I made trays like the one pictured and it was a hit with both my kids, aged 4 and 2. My 2 year old does not talk much but he learned the word "bean" very fast so he could request his new favorite activity. This amused them for HOURS over the course of a week and was completely free, just things I already had in my kitchen.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Not My Lucky Week....

I tried 3 new recipes this week that I found on other blogs. I won't make any of them again. Sometimes I wonder if it is just me!

Black Bean Burger
I followed the recipe except I left out the "spicy"spices for my kids. My 4 year old really loved them but I could not get over the texture. I guess I expected the texture to magically be like a hamburger when really it was more like mashed beans. I'll have to keep looking at recipes as I would love to find a vegetarian burger I like.

Ethiopian Lentil Stew
The spice combination turned out really weird - smelled great but tasted strange. I added some more red pepper and tomato sauce to overpower that and was able to salvage it. Not sure why this one didn't turn out great either.

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
Hmm! I don't think I like yogurt muffins. Or maybe it was the brand lemon yogurt I picked - just something unnatural about it. At the risk of sounding like the picky one in my family - my kids ate them up in a hurry.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring Asparagus!

Living in the NW, we haven't seen any local asparagus yet, but we have started seeing some asparagus from other places at good prices in our grocery stores. We love asparagus and I am excited to start making my asparagus recipes again that have been collecting dust over the winter.

I saw an Asparagus Soup recipe on another blog and thought I would give it a try. One of my boys won't eat asparagus but I knew he would in a pureed soup. Both my boys seemed to like the soup OK, but I wasn't crazy about it. Of course, I made it on the spot when I saw it, so I had to leave out some ingredients, probably key to making it an interesting soup - the vermouth and the lemon juice.

Next up - an asparagus pasta dish...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog...

I like to read blogs. I love to read food blogs. I really love to read vegan food blogs.

But do I want to write my own blog. Hard to say. I have tried to write a few different blogs in the last few years but it is a hard thing to keep up unless you are really passionate about it.

Something to think about....