Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mid-Week Musings and Mutterings...

... in no particular order because it's all just swimming around in my mid-week head...

* * * * * *

Just because it's by Beatrix Potter doesn't mean it's great.  The other night I sat by while Russ read aloud to the kids from a B.P. collection.  He was reading The Tale of Two Bad Mice.  I can, without much hesitation, say that this was one of the stupidest (sorry to use such a word, but I really think it applies here) stories I have ever heard.  The story was utterly ridiculous, but the name of one of the mice - HUNCA MUNCA (?????) was what really put it over the top.  The only thing that redeemed story time that night was that hysterical (and poorly chosen, in my opinion) name for a lady mouse.  We all cracked up every time Russ read it, and that was the only delightful thing we got out of the story - a hearty family laugh.  

Has anyone else out there read this story?  Would you care to offer a different opinion?  Or does everyone the world over think there are just a few Beatrix Potter stories that just aren't that great??

* * * * * *

My Lenten Pandora station is getting me down.  I'm trying to train it to be all Gregorian chant and early Renaissance music all the time, but no matter how many "thumbs down" I give it, IT KEEPS TRYING TO PLAY CHRISTMAS MUSIC.  I did skip several Latin classes during college, but this Catholic girl can pick up a "hodie Christus natus est" when she hears one.  

Trouble is, this morning it really did look like hodie Christus natus est.  Despite the non-liturgical-calendar-ness of it all, I let the Christmas chant play through as I sat wrapped up in a blanket watching the snow fall outside the window.  It kind of seemed to fit.

* * * * * *

In a way, I'm appreciative of the snow.  It makes me feel less weird about crocheting mittens during the first week of Spring.

one pair per kid (don't worry, there are matches for each!) and a green pair in production for my sister

(If you're looking for a mitten pattern, this one is Grrrrrreat!)

* * * * * *

The photos may be misleading.  I did not do a stitch of crocheting today.  I've been taking a couple afternoons a week to sacrifice my "Me Time" and do art with the boys (and sometimes Ruth!)  We've all really enjoyed it, and it's really paid off, as they've started doing more artwork on their own outside of the "lessons."

I've heard from a handful of moms that art is intimidating or hard to fit into their homeschool schedule.  For a time, it was something I didn't do because I couldn't do it exactly the way I wanted - the perfect art lesson in my mind.  I finally let that go and just jumped in with less-than-perfect art lessons.  I can honestly say we've all had a really fun time getting to know different artists and experimenting with different media. 

I have wanted to write about it for a while, and think I will soon, offering an overview of our 3rd quarter study of Georgia O'Keeffe.  I guess I'm wondering what readers think of this sort of thing - is it interesting, helpful, or annoying?  I've been poking around blogs and Pinterest for a while for art ideas and I'd love to start up a conversation here on art at home - if anyone's interested, that is.  Let me know!

* * * * * *

It's still a little early to call it, but Ruth might be toilet training Clare.  Today, she got Clare on the potty seat and I heard her saying things like, "Push, Clare!  Push with all your might!"  And there was a tiny success!  We'll see, but I may not have to toilet train this girl at all.  I have helpers now.  (Or maybe Ruth's just in training to be a birth coach??)

* * * * * *

We played a fun family game last weekend - can you name the baby?  It was a lot harder than Russ thought it would be.  I knew it would be tricky ;)  

The kids all had fun "remembering" what they looked like :)

* * * * * *

A final thought from 1 Thessalonians - 

And we exhort you, brethren, reprove the irregular, comfort the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient toward all men.  (5:14)

Just a reminder for myself.  Reprove the irregular, but don't be the cause of any faintheartedness in my own family members. Correct with compassion, persevere in patience with young learners, and encourage with joy!  ok?

* * * * * *


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hot Air Balloon Mobile :: Pattern and Tutorial

So, you want to make a hot air balloon mobile?  

(For more photos and a video of the mobile in action, 

My son loves this mobile, as do I.  Your baby is sure to love it, too!  (And I won't tell anyone if you're just making it for yourself because it's that awesome.)  
One of the fun things about this project is that it uses scrap-size fabrics and felt. I had everything I needed for it already on hand.  Dig through your scrap pile and use up your bits and pieces!

Let's get started!

(Photos included to hopefully make up for my woefully lacking descriptive instructions.)  

Here's what you'll need:

* Four printed fabrics and two coordinating colors of craft felt to go with each (a larger "main" color and a smaller "coordinating" color") (a small amount of each is sufficient!  approx. 9" x 6" pieces of each)
* white, cream, brown craft felt
* Craft thread or embroidery floss (colors that coordinate with main balloon colors, as well as white and brown)
* Approx. 2 yards of light blue grosgrain ribbon (3/8" width)
* Fabric adhesive (I used Fabri Tac)
* Misc. items: needle, straight pins, scissors, iron

* Pattern pieces (download here), cut out

(1) Attach Heat n' Bond (according to instructions on package):

* iron a 5" x 8" piece of Heat n' Bond to the wrong/back side of each piece of printed fabric

* iron a 5" x 5" piece of Heat n' Bond to each of the "coordinating" felt colors (the small pieces that are the center of each balloon)

(2) Pin Pattern Pieces and Cut:

Pattern Piece 1 - two of each "main" color felt (8 total)

* Pattern Piece 2 - two of each printed fabric with Heat n' Bond backing (8 total)

Pattern Piece 3 - two of each coordinating felt color with Heat n' Bond backing  (8 total)

* Pattern Piece 4 - four from the cream felt

* Pattern Piece 5 - four from the brown felt

* Pattern Piece 6 - fold white felt in half, cut three.  (six total)

* Cut four 12" lengths of ribbon (or whatever length you desire)

(3) "Build" the Balloons:

* according to instructions on Heat n' Bond, attach printed fabrics to the main felt colors

* attach smaller coordinating felt pieces to center of printed pieces  

(Note: if you leave the iron sitting on the craft felt for too long it will melt.  However, as you can see from the pictures, I did not have any problem using the iron on the felt pieces as long as I kept the steam off and kept the iron moving.)

* fold brown felt piece to form a square - for the "gondola," or passenger basket. Slip it up over the bottom (narrower end) of the cream felt and glue in place (use a dab of glue on front and back)

*  Lay the balloon pieces together right sides facing out. Use fabric adhesive to glue cream felt piece in between the balloons (at the bottom.)

(4) Sew balloons:

* blanket stitch or whip stitch the sides of the brown "gondolas" together using brown thread

* Using coordinating color thread, begin sewing balloons together at the base using a simple running stitch.  Stop when you reach the top, not quite to the center.  

* Glue approximately one inch of ribbon in between the balloon front and back.  Continue sewing around, being sure to pass the needle through the ribbon at the top.  

(NOTE: I tied my thread off so that the beginning and ending knots were hidden inside the two balloon pieces.)

(5) Attach clouds:

* approximately 1 - 1 1/2" above three of the balloons, glue cloud pieces to either side of the ribbon.  

* With the white thread, use a running stitch to stitch around the clouds, passing the needle through the ribbon both at the top and bottom.    

(6) Yay!  You're done!

* Determine how you will hang your mobile.  I tied knots in the tops of my ribbon and replaced the uninspired flowers that were on the mobile of my son's Graco swing.  

My daughter has asked for a similar mobile for her room.  For a mobile that will hang from the ceiling, I think I will use longer ribbon that is fed at the top through an embroidery hoop.  How will you hang your hot air balloon mobile??

Happy crafting!

** If you make a mobile from my pattern I'd love to hear about it!  If you Pin It or blog about it please link back to my original idea!  Thank you, kindly.

** Please let me know if you have any questions about the tutorial or if you have suggestions on ways I could make the instructions clearer.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Graco Swing Mobile Makeover

Right after he was born, James was gifted an awesome Graco swing (thanks again, Mom and Dad!)  He loves to be in it and he loves (er, loved) gazing at the flower mobile.  

But, they're flowers.  And they're pink.  And puffy.  And they all look exactly the same - not quite what I'd call a feast for his developing imagination and eyesight :)  It goes without saying that the mobile deficiencies are in no way connected to the gift givers!  It's Graco that needs to step it up a notch in the dangling-toys-creativity department.  James loves his swing so much, but deserves some variety to gaze upon. So I got it into my head that I would make a "better" (more masculine, perhaps?) mobile for his awesome swing. 

And then there's this... we kind of love hot air balloons in this family...

It became my special project to get James up to speed with one of the things he'll have to love now that he's in our family...

James delights in his new mobile almost as much as I do.  It's so bright and cheery.  He smiles and talks to the balloons when he's in the swing.  It's the sweetest thing! Check out exactly how sweet here:

Stop back here tomorrow - I'll post the pattern and a brief tutorial for this hot air balloon mobile and you can start planning your own mobile makeover.  Your baby will thank you!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Number One Tip for Increasing Kids' Daily Veggie Intake

(so... if you happen to read this blog and Kendra's at Catholic All Year, you may notice a common theme.  She was kind enough to serve as my opening act.  *wink, wink* )

Somehow, blessedly, all of our kids love vegetables.

When the boys were very young I would hide vegetables in meals. Looking back, this was a strange thing for me to do.  They didn't dislike vegetables.  But all the books and magazines that I had read about feeding children healthy food told me that my kids wouldn't like vegetables and that it would be a struggle getting them to eat veggies.  I believed what I read.  The magazines told me that I'd have to get creative if I expected my children to eat healthily.  So, because I was easily influenced by what I read, I fed my children vegetables the way magazine articles told me to - hiding them in otherwise kid-friendly food.  

I don't have to do this anymore.  But amusingly enough, there are some foods that, to this day, if I don't "hide" the veggies in there, the kids grumble about it.  They all know that I pump up some foods with extra veggies, but it's not because the family wouldn't eat them otherwise.  It's because they prefer it that way, and honestly, have you ever met a mom that would not squeeze in extra veggies when she could??  I prefer to think of it as "enhancing" a meal, rather than disguising a food.  (The kids favorite vegetable-enhanced meal is macaroni and white cheddar cheese with steamed, food processed cauliflower.) 

But it's all superfluous. My kids enjoy vegetables. They ask for salads. Don't get the wrong idea. They're not going to ask for brussels sprouts over a candy bar...  They'd rather have the candy bar, but since that's not going to happen, my Number One best tip for getting kids to eat extra vegetables is this...  make it the afternoon snack.  

Pretty much all kids ask for an afternoon snack, right?  Mine do.  Several months ago, I simplified afternoon snack time and added another dose of healthy veggies to our day by making snack time every afternoon a big bowl of veggies.  I've usually pre-cut them.  They're ready to go and I don't have to figure out what to offer for snack every day.  Simple.  Healthy.  The bowl always has cucumbers, carrots, and red peppers.  And it sometimes has green peppers, sugar snap peas, or green beans.  The kids all eat out of the same bowl, and this is part of the "trick" if you need one.  They see everyone else eating a "snack," they want to get in on the action.  And if a child wants any of the afternoon snack, they have to get in there, get dirty, and get what they want from the bowl before it's gone.  (I hope you're not imagining a feeding frenzy where the biggest and strongest get the good stuff... although, that's not far off ;) )  The afternoon bowl of veggies has worked wonderfully for us.  The kids enjoy it, expect it, and don't ask for anything else (like the candy bar.)  I also eat more veggies as a consequence, since they're out and available.  And if I don't serve a side salad or vegetable for dinner, I don't feel so bad.  Everyone's already gorged themselves at afternoon "snack time."  

The only downside to this method is that since I allow the kids to eat the vegetables all afternoon long, doing whatever it is they're doing - Legos, drawing, wandering around the house - I occasionally find an errant cucumber skin lying here or there.  But that hardly offsets the benefits :)

My bonus best tip for encouraging veggie-eating with kiddos is nothing new - grow your own.  Our summer gardens are small, but we're very enthusiastic about them.  The kids eat snap peas and string beans at their leisure, vie for the privilege of picking lettuce for dinner salads, watch the red peppers to gauge when they're ready for snacking, and LOVE when it's time to see what the carrots have been up to under the soil.  (Confession, no one ever eats the tomatoes though.  No matter what I try, the only way anyone around here will eat a raw tomato is if it's on a BLT. But, yum!)  

What a delight it is to have kiddos that defy the popular wisdom of parenting magazines.  And what a blessing as well.  Veggie eating is important for all my children, but I'm so grateful that vegetables are an enjoyable snack for Aaron. Finding convenient, low-carb snacks for someone with diabetes is tricky.  But all I have to do is say the words cucumbers and red peppers and this kid is making his way to the kitchen.  He appreciates the snack, and I appreciate that every afternoon he can snack "for free" - eat as much as he'd like without worrying about insulin dosing. It's one less thing for me to worry about during an already busy time of day, and an easy way for him to enjoy food he likes without carb counting.  Truly a blessing.

Incidentally, Aaron and I are working together on some upcoming material!  Soon I'm hoping to publish a few posts with some of his diabetes story as we approach the first anniversary of his diagnosis.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Crocheted My First Blanket!! (and then took a lot of pictures of it)

two bed-heads under a blanket :)
I finished my first large-scale crochet project!!  It's the car play mat blanket based on this idea and pattern from The Purl Bee.  

I am so proud of myself and I'm so pleased with how it turned out. Every time I wrap up in it (often with a little one tucked in next to me!) I'm cheered by the colors and my accomplishment.  I love this blanket!

For the most part, I followed the instructions offered at the blog post I linked to above.  I only made a few changes.  Firstly, although I would love a yarn budget that would allow for the gorgeous wool used in the original, I settled for soft acrylics (my favorite to work with was Bernat Satin).  This made the blanket very heavy.  It's no bother to me, because I'm always chilly, but if you want to make this blanket and you live in a warmer clime, you may want to consider using a different type of yarn.  The other big change I made was that I put a border around the outside of the entire blanket.  I very much like the look of the finished edges. (It also strengthens the whole blanket by putting a barrier between real life and the "weak" seams where all the squares were joined.) I put three rows of single crochets around the outside.  (I did not turn my work, just joined the rows and continued working around.)  This is getting a bit technical, but just in case one of my readers is seriously thinking about trying this project and you want to know what I did...  While I was crocheting the first row around the edge, I "built up" the "ditches" (?) where the individual squares come together.  At each "ditch" I did a half double, then a double in the very center of the "ditch" and then another half double.  Then I continued on with singles until the next "ditch".   The second and third row I just crocheted singles the entire way around (except at the corners where I ghetto-guessed at the increases I needed to make the turn.  Sorry I can't be more specific.) (check out a mini tutorial on this "ditch filling in" at the end of the post.)

So, you've seen how my kids use this blanket.  Allow me to show you its proper use...

* * * * * *

Here's a quick photo "tutorial" on edges at the "ditches."

the joining "ditch" before I filled it in with the noted stitches
after I filled it in with with a half double crochet - double crochet - half double crochet
continuing on with single crochets
what it looks like after the second row of single crochets was finished 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dear Cousin Miles, Birth order matters. Love, James

Dear Cousin Miles,

Hey there, buddy!  We haven't even met yet, but I already know we'll be good friends.  We have so much in common, Grandma and Papa, for one!  We also both like things such as blue onesies, mother's milk and late-night feedings, quilts made by my mom, books, walks outside, smiling for the camera, and the songs our daddies sing to us.  And we're both mighty handsome.  

My mom tells me you and I are going to be growing up together because we were only born two months apart and because you're moving here soon. But I've got some news for you, buddy. Growing up in your house is going to be a lit-tle different from growing up in my house.  And it all boils down to these two words: birth. order.  

Miles, my man, we've got one big thing not in common.  You are a first-born child.  And I am a fifth-born child.  Let me lay it out for you:


You're probably going to start solids in a few months.  Your mom (*see note at the bottom*) might read a lot about introducing new foods - how to space them out and how to start with really bland things like... rice. She might even be tempted to do something really mind-boggling - pay money for a little jar that has a mashed up banana in it!  At my house, I just have to take a look in the bottom of the fruit bowl to find a mushy banana, and it's mine - free for the taking!  My mom says that babies in our house can eat what the rest of the family is eating.  She has a $6 mini food processor from Target.  The family dinner goes in there and it comes out as dinner for a baby.  You should check out the shake she can make on Surf n' Turf night.  Yeah, sure the steak makes it a little stringy, but you just can't beat the taste of fresh seafood and beef in a puree.  

Later this year you're going to start crawling.  Cool, I know, right?!  Your mom might be a little neurotic about food you find on the floor.  She might not let you eat any of it. If that's starting to get you down and you feel like you really need to make up the extra calories you burn while scootin all over on your hands and knees, just come on over to my place.  My mom stopped sweeping a long time ago and there's nearly a whole meal to be found on the floor at any given moment.  What's more, she even discovered a trick some years back to deal with children that won't eat the healthy food that's on their plate.  She'll actually put it on the floor intentionally, knowing that it somehow becomes more irresistible down there. 

Snacks.  One mistake a lot of new moms make is limiting snacks to actual food.  If you're lucky, it won't take your mom too long to identify the snack foods we little guys really appreciate - sidewalk chalk and bits of dried play-doh. 

Then there's finger foods.  Your mom might break Cheerios in half for you, give you meticulously picked apart flakes of tuna, or even peel your grapes.  She might give you tiny pieces of shredded cheese.  My mom?  She gives me the new package of cheese and a sharp knife and says, "Here.  Can you open this for me, kid?"  


Miles, I hate to tell you this part.  But your mom might read, and actually abide by, the safety recommendations of experts and deny you all toys that are small enough to fit through a cardboard toilet paper tube.  This is going to be rough, man.  For the first years of your life, you may be limited to over-sized stuffed animals and large plastic musical toys.  I wish I had some suggestions for you on how to avoid this issue at home, but once again, the only solution I can think of is, come over to my place.  You have no idea what I have access to, and if you're looking for a dealer, I'm your man.  You want to score some jewelry-making beads?  Some pegs from Battleship?  Checkers?  Or are you looking for a serious fix - the smallest I've got for you are the cups and silverware from the Calico Critters sets.  

Oh, and then there's Legos.  The experts say I'm really not supposed to have these but around here they throw them at me like money at a stripper.  (I don't even really know what that means, I just heard it somewhere...)  One time my mom found a whole bunch of Legos in my bassinet and I heard her mutter, "Well if he ingests them it'll be roughage for his digestive system."  So, that's what they must be.  Health food.  

I have some additional thoughts for you, buddy, most notably on clothes, cleanliness, safety, and the "whatever-your-name-is" syndrome.  But right now it's time for my breakfast and I need to get this in the mail before the day really gets underway and I get set aside and occasionally forgotten about.  

No doubt, Miles, life will be very different for us, even as we "grow up together" - loyal cousins and best of friends, side by side. It's possible the only thing our moms might do the same is love us like crazy.  After all, a baby fed off the floor is no less lovable than a baby fed off a carefully sterilized high chair tray (but he will have a more highly developed immune system!)  

I can't wait to meet you, Cousin Miles!


* This is meant to be a humorous take on the differences between "parenting" a first child and "distractedly supervising from a distance" a further-down-the-line child.  It is not a criticism on my sister and brother-in-law's parenting.  It's more of a tongue-in-cheek commentary on my own first few months as a mom, and a sarcastic take on the modern-day "expert" advice parents receive from "parenting" magazines.  My sister and her husband are fabulous parents and have only made a few hundred rookie mistakes in their first few months of parenthood ;)  This is nothing compared to the fifteen gazillion and forty-three that my husband and I have made.  But who's counting...

PS - Love you, Sar!    

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Greatness of Your Mercy and Love... (Aaron's First Penance)

pre-Confession charisma!

also pre-Confession Lego excavator

we celebrated at Friendly's after dinner this evening!

And just like that, he's doubled the number of Sacraments he's received in his lifetime!  

The First Penance service at our parish was lovely. It seems that receiving the Sacrament was special and significant for Aaron, but he's a tough one to read :)  Although, he did tell me that the cool thing about making your First Confession is that now you can go any time you want!  

O Lord! I abandon my past to Thy mercy, 
my present to Thy Love, 
and my future to Thy Providence!

(prayer of St. Padre Pio for after Confession)

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