Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween and Conquering Fear

Yesterday we went to the library's Halloween storytime.
Wesley kept going back and forth between being a dinosaur and a superhero.
Finally, as we were about to leave with his superhero costume,
he dissolved into tears because he had changed his mind and wanted to be a dinosaur again.
"I want to be something SCARY!!" he said.
Evidently the "scary" theme of Halloween has sunken in,
even though that's not the direction we take with it!

Speaking of scary, motherhood has the potential to bring with it a great deal of anxiety.
I've always had an active imagination,
and lately my imagination seems to be in morbid mode.
I have these vivid scenarios come to mind of my children dying in painful, gruesome ways...
right down to the heartwrenching words that would be said at their funeral.
I also have a lot of anxiety about my abilities as a mother,
as the primary caregiver of these precious spirits,
and I find myself fixated on mistakes I've made in the past.

It's absurd, and I try not to dwell on negative thoughts,
but every once in a while motherhood seems to be haunted with them.
Crazy dreams at night add to horrible thoughts during the day.
While I'm grateful such thoughts help me not take my children for granted,
it's obviously not a peaceful place to be in.

So I decided to study fear in the scriptures.
And goodness, how enlightening, insightful, and motivating such a study has been!
I love this quote from the Bible Dictionary:
"Fear is...something unworthy of a child of God."

There is something comforting about reading the words "fear not" repeatedly in scripture.

"Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you."

Supporting scriptures are numerous.
(Find a list here.)

I hope you all have a lovely Halloween weekend--
we look forward to the day's festivities!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Easy Stovetop Kettle Corn

I left for college when my younger brother and sister were in their beginning years of elementary school. Just a year and a half later, Sam and I got married and 8 months after our wedding we moved to Houston.
As a result, I always felt like I got jipped in my relationship with those two.
We were so close when I was in high school--I would gladly stay home from social events
and play Disney Scene-It with them,
bake cookies,
or put together little parties.
But over the past 7 years, they've grown up a lot
and I've missed out on most of it.

So I'm thrilled to re-connect with them now that we're back in Utah.
We've started a tradition of a monthly game night
and it is a riot!!
Guesstures, Cranium, Punch Line...
no matter what we play Sam and I always end up laughing ridiculously hard.

This kettle corn is so easy,
and it's become a part of the tradition as well.
We love to munch on it for a snack anytime,
but it makes an especially great addition to a family game night!

1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. popcorn kernels
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt

In a large pot with a lid, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add popcorn kernels. When they start to sizzle, sprinkle sugar over the top, place the lid on, and shake pot vigorously every 15 seconds until popcorn is popped. Remove from heat and sprinkle with salt. Stir to distribute evenly and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nutritious Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers

As Talmage grew into a toddler I quickly realized that the snacks he loved to eat really didn't have much nutritional value. Like most toddlers, his favorites were things like goldfish, graham crackers, pretzels, and fruit snacks. And since they were so convenient and it was so easy to get him to eat them, I found myself inclined to give in to his desires. But as he became more and more picky about what he would eat, I became increasingly concerned about whether or not he was getting the nutrients he needed.

So I began brainstorming other snacks that would still be appealing, easy to prepare, and convenient to grab, but with a greatly increased nutritional value. While the snacks listed below are not 100% healthful (a little chocolate goes a long way!), I feel good about offering these to my kids on a regular basis. And I've found that even with their picky palates, these are some they will still gobble right up!

I find that I generally spend some time actually making a snack a few times a week, but the rest of the times I'm able to grab ones previously prepared since I make a large batch at a time to store. And yes, sometimes we still eat crackers and fruit snacks--I don't think they're evil! :) I'm always on the hunt for additional ideas, so if you have some please share!

(click pictures for recipes where applicable)

Trail Mix
I love to whip up a batch of trail mix and divide it into snack-sized ziploc bags with 1/2 c. serving in each one. Then I just keep them in a gallon-sized slider bag in the pantry for easy access. Feel free to include whatever suits you, but here are some ideas:
-Honey-Nut Cheerios, banana chips, peanuts, peanut butter chips
-Plain Cheerios, pomegranate-flavored Craisins, sliced almonds, chocolate chips
-Dried mangoes, dried pineapple, sliced almonds, white chocolate chips

Didn't you love Jell-O jigglers as a kid? As long as you use 100% fruit juice, these jigglers are a great nutritious alternative! They are essentially just thickened fruit juice. Cutting them into shapes with cookie cutters makes for a fun presentation!

Apples with Peanut Butter
Certainly the apple/peanut butter combination is nothing new, but my kids are about ten times more likely to eat it if I prepare it this way. I slice the apples very thin (I generally slice each small apple into 24+ slices), spoon some peanut butter into a baggie and pop it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, snip off the corner, and squirt it all over the apples. The thin size of the apple slices makes them much easier for kid mouths to handle, and I find they don't choke on them much when they are sliced that way. And the peanut butter squirted all over them makes such a pretty presentation!

Meat-and-Cheese Roll-Ups
My kids absolutely love cheese. Slicing a chunk and wrapping some lunch meat around it is a great way to add some more protein to their snack! I like the all-natural lunch meats made by Oscar Mayer and Hormel.

My kids love, love, love these popsicles. I typically make a batch of 28 at a time (7 bananas) and keep them in the freezer. For that many popsicles, I use about 1/2 c. chocolate chips, which translates into less than 1/3 of a serving of chocolate chips per banana pop. (Like I said, a little chocolate goes a long way!)

Sweet Potato Fries
Getting my kids to eat vegetables is sometimes quite the conundrum at our house. But they gobble them up in fry form! These sweet potato fries are simple to prepare--you just need to plan ahead a little so they'll have time to bake. If you make a big batch, you can easily store leftovers in the fridge to reheat and serve later. And since they're baked instead of deep-fried, you don't have to worry as much about soggy fries when re-heated!

Mini Muffins
I love making mini muffins for the kids! The small size keeps the crumb-mess to a minimum and 1-2 paired with some sliced fruit or a cheesestick makes the perfect sized snack. I make a whole bunch and keep them in the freezer so I can just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds when I'm ready to serve them. While most muffin recipes are not really nutritious, there are certainly plenty out there. We particularly love this one and this one. (Whole Wheat Banana Muffins pictured)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Hummus
The chickpea/peanut butter base of this yummy hummus provides plenty of protein, and when paired with fruit this makes a great snack choice. It stores well in the fridge (I actually like it best chilled, as the chickpea flavor mellows), so it's easy to keep on hand. I'm seeing a trend here...can you tell we love peanut butter?

Smoothies and Popsicles
As I've said before, my kids are smoothie fanatics! I love whipping up smoothies with just about any variety of fruit and some milk, ice, vanilla, and a little orange juice concentrate, honey, or sugar if extra sweetness is desired. Two recipes we love are here and here. If there are leftovers, it's fun to pour it into a popsicle mold and have popsicles later on!

Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips
Go easy on the sugar on the tortilla chips, and this fruit salsa is a great option! I loved the fact that when my kids were babies, I could feed them the fruit salsa straight as baby food. Somehow dipping makes everything more fun, right?

Homemade Granola Bars
These granola bars are so quick to whip up, and you can vary the nutritional content a lot based on your preferences with the optional add-ins. They have a fabulous texture and my kids love it when I make them!

What are some of your favorite snacks to serve young children?

Making Up for Lost Time

It was very unfortunate that we moved to Texas
just before my sister's son was born, Talmage was born, and my brother's son was born
all within 2 months of each other!

Since coming back to Utah,
I feel like we've been making up for lost time...
we've been spending lots of time with cousins,
and the boys couldn't be more thrilled about it.

Just a few days before General Conference,
my sister-in-law and I took our kids to the Conference Center for a tour.
We thought they'd enjoy watching General Conference take place in the building they had just seen.
I think the highlight for my kids was the roof!

After the tour, we wandered over to the Museum of Church History and Art,
where the kids loved playing with pioneer toys
and dressing up as pioneers to pull a handcart!

Last week my sister and I took our kids to Gardner Village to see the Witchfest
and do the scavenger hunt for the witches.
The kids loved it!
I had plans for adorable fall pictures with 3 boys in carefully coordinated shirts,
but as I should have expected,
this was the best we could get.

This picture was supposed to be of all 6 cousins,
but there was a huge water wheel behind the fence and it apparently terrified Lincoln.
I set him on Talmage's lap and he burst into tears, shot off his lap, and warily backed away from the wheel. He watched it with great concern while we were in the area, and when I picked him up his whole body was trembling!
I guess it's time to come up with a term for a phobia of water wheels.

After lunch at Jocilyn's, my crew and I headed home.
Many tears were shed until I reassured them that they would be seeing their cousins again 2 days later at our monthly family dinner!

On Saturday we gathered at my brother's house
for an afternoon of delicious food,
fun with power wheels,
family reunion planning,
and playing in the coolest sandbox in the world.
My brother made a huge, in-ground sandbox in his backyard with a metal, pulley-operated cover.
8 kids were happily playing with shovels and tractors!
It sure beats the dirt square currently in the corner of our yard:

Talmage and Wesley loved learning to drive the power wheels
(their first experience with anything of the sort).
At one point Wesley was crashing into a concrete ledge and I stopped him and said,
"Wes, do you see something in front of you?"
He looked thoughtfully ahead and quickly reached down and began repeatedly pushing the horn button. Needless to say, it wasn't the most effective solution,
but it got some laughs!

Whether we've been eating rootbeer floats,
playing on the dirt mountain at Grandpa & Grammy's house,
or enjoying picnics at the park,
we've been loving all this cousin time.
We can't wait for the adventures that lie ahead of us.
The next 3 years are going to be great!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wesley is Three!

Wesley was thrilled to finally get his turn for a birthday last Wednesday!
We started the day off right with chocolate chip pancakes and peach-orange smoothies.

He requested a football cake.
I'm no cake artist, but he was happy with the end result.
It was a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and a homemade Reese's peanut butter cup filling. The footballs on the top and sides are peanut butter cups as well, shaped into footballs and covered in chocolate.

After his birthday dinner of pasta (easy to please),
he was so excited to open presents!
Some of our extended family came over and joined the party.

He was thrilled about these transformers my family gave him.
I didn't know he even knew what transformers are!
Evidently his cousins have taken the "cool" factor to a new level. :)

And here he is with his gifts from us!
His sword, shield, and cape have gotten plenty of use,
and he was happy about his "worker hat" and concrete mixer.
I was happy to find some great books at the DI again!
(Okay, let's be honest, the hard hat and concrete mixer were DI finds as well...we've been doing the grad school budget for so long, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to shop like a normal person. Thankfully our kids aren't discerning yet.)
Stone Soup (BEST version!)
He wants me to read them to him all the time.

This little superhero brings so much joy into our lives every day!

-He loves sports. If it involves a ball, Wesley is super enthusiastic about it. He's really good at playing baseball with Sam and can hit the ball pretty far!

-He also loves hiking. When we go for a hike, Wesley pretty much just runs the trail. He seems to have an endless supply of energy!

-Talmage is his best bud. When Talmage is gone, Wesley's personality totally changes and he seems to wilt. Hopefully he'll get over that in coming months and years!

-Riding trikes makes him so happy, and he is really looking forward to learning to ride a two-wheeler. He is always pulling out the little two-wheeler we have and asking me to help him ride. I've convinced him to ask Santa for some training wheels.

-He is incredibly picky about food, and it is next to impossible to get him to try something. But when he tries it, he generally does like it at least well enough to have a few bites!

-He loves reading books. If he is ever sad, reading a book is a sure way to cheer him up.

-He loves construction vehicles and trains (although they have taken a backseat to swords and shields thanks to big brother's influence), and he is convinced he wants to be a construction worker when he grows up.

-He still loves going anywhere away from home and asks just about every morning, "Mommy, where are we going?"

-He has the brightest smile and says things in a way that makes everyone he meets love him. I am so thankful for our sunshine boy, his bright blue eyes, his muscular little body, and his happy disposition.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Moments of Awe

Tonight was one of those nights...
one of those nights when I survey the innocent faces of my little ones,
and the feeling of awe and gratitude nearly reduces me to tears.

As I watched their faces light up with laughter,
their button noses scrunch with concentration,
their busy hands create and entertain,
I couldn't help but linger in their rooms after tucking them in.
Talmage and Wesley (still insisting on sleeping in the same bed)
recapped the highlights of their day as I asked them what their favorite parts were.
Two minutes turned into five turned into ten
filled with giggles and chatter until Talmage finally told me I was staying in their room all night!
I reluctantly gave them one last goodnight kiss and climbed the stairs.
My heart melted when Talmage appeared moments later, asking if I would like to sleep with his teddy bear.

And it's strange that when Lincoln awoke an hour later,
my heart leapt at the opportunity to cuddle that little baby again.
I dashed up the stairs with a down-filled blanket
and wrapped the two of us up as he descended back into sweet slumber.

And all through the evening, I wondered how in the world I could ever be frustrated again
with these sweet little angels.
I know all too well that it will happen...
the memories are fresh of permanent marker letters on the deck,
a baby who hits any chance he can get (preferably my face),
and a defiant boy's adamant refusal to share.
But every once in a while I get these poignant reminders of just how blessed I am,
and thankfully, although the situations still exist,
my frustrations become few and far-between.

I relish these beautiful moments.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Coming Soon...

I'm working on a project that I'll be posting in the coming weeks.
It's a collection of 50 simple, fun, educational activities to do with preschoolers.
I've been having a lot of fun coming up with ideas!

As a preview, here is one easy activity to put together.
Just draw stick figures on cardstock (I cut 10 pieces in half) in various positions.
Hold up the pictures one at a time and let the kids copy the stick figure.
My boys got a serious case of the giggles as they kept toppling over while trying to balance on one foot!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: Because of Winn Dixie

For a little over a year now,
we've been reading chapter books out loud to the kids.
I started right before Lincoln was born, just reading to Talmage before his nap.
After we moved here, Sam and Wesley got to join in the fun as we started reading before bedtime, instead.
I've typically kept the sidebar updated, showing what book we're currently reading,
but I thought it would be fun to start posting my thoughts on the book after we finish.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a sweet book set in southern Florida.
The book features an endearing little girl, Opal, and her stray-dog-turned-pet, Winn-Dixie.
They have many adventures in their trailer-park home
and wind up gaining a lot of new friends through their escapades--because of Winn-Dixie.
It's a book about change,
and a book about accepting--
accepting others and our own situation while working to make it the best we can.

The book's simplicity and humor made it a good choice for my young boys;
however, there is some content that I chose to change as I read the story to make it more age-appropriate.
Opal's mom was an alcoholic and left her family when Opal was just 3 years old.
I was worried my kids might be confused and maybe a little anxious
about the fact that her mom just decided she didn't want to be with their family anymore.
So I chose to say, instead, that she had died.
This made it so I needed to skip some sections where she talked with her dad about the likelihood of her mom coming back to their family.

Overall, my kids loved the story and Sam and I enjoyed it as well.
Some of the passages reminded Sam of his two years spent as a missionary,
in which he spent a lot of time in little trailer parks.
And I had fun trying out my different southern accents as I portrayed each of the characters.

All in all, a charming, heart-warming book.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Udderly Hilarious

This morning I opened the fridge to find that Sam had left me some "punny" messages on the milk carton.

(Wesley says "dairy" instead of "very.")
I wrote him an e-mail thanking him for the notes and included a few milk puns of my own.
He wrote back and included the following:
" I was trying to think of more things to write on the milk carton, but "lactose" and "lactoglobulin" and "alpha-lactalbumin" were the words that came to my mind and didn't easily make puns...!"

There is nothing like a little nerdy scientist humor to brighten my day.

PS-Our Wesley-boy is 3 today!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Late Night Giggles

Since moving here, Talmage and Wesley have really bonded so much.
I think having a place to explore outside together to their hearts' content has done great things for their relationship.
It is one of my favorite things to see them play well together.
Every night for the past week, they have begged me to put them to bed early so they can sleep together in the same bed.
Their games and giggles have gone on later and later throughout the week.
I guess that night-time bonding time contributed to this scene:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Feeling Small

On Saturday, Sam and I went to a concert by the West Valley Symphony,
in which his mom plays the viola.
It was this amazing program in which they played songs with an outer space theme
while beautiful animations and video were shown on large screens.
The director of the Clark Planetarium was there
and in between songs he showed us more images and told us fascinating facts.
It was a really impressive and enjoyable evening!
Did you know that scientists estimate there are approximately 100,000 habitable planets per galaxy, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies?
It really makes me feel small, and at the same time in awe
when I see God's omnipotent hand in the details of my life.

In other news, here are some close-up pictures of our makeshift ant farm.
The little white specks toward the bottom right of the jar in the first photo are the eggs!
It's been so fun to see all of those tunnels form.
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