Feb 23, 2009

Kid Activities with Colored Pasta

This batch of noodles has lasted us around 8 years. We reintroduce the buckets of colored pasta here and there, and each time it receives a warm reception. You can utilize the colored pasta for a variety of activities. There is a wide variety of pasta shapes.

It is excellent at developing their shape and color recognition skills by having them help sort the shapes or colors into separate containers. Be forewarned, however, that you will not want to attempt to engage them in a large sorting project. This sort of activity will hold a toddler's attention for around 15 minutes before they start experimenting with what happens when they pretend to be say a construction machine dropping them from high distances, etc. You will want to introduce a small number of each shape or color for this type of activity.

It is excellent for developing hand-eye coordination via threading applicable shapes onto boot laces. Boot laces work best due to the little plastic tapered ends, their stiffness, and their length.

The nonthreadable shapes are great for miscellaneous art projects, i.e. making pasta art on construction paper with glue.

Buy the largest container you can find of rubbing alcohol so that you can expedite the die process in large batches. You can store them in inexpensive store-brand food containers or in the recycled household containers I shared here.

Ingredients: Rubbing alcohol, food coloring, dried pasta, newspaper/paper towels, and wax paper.

Instructions: Pour the rubbing alcohol into a deep and narrow bowl/container. Add food coloring until a deep hue has been achieved. The longer you allow the pasta to soak, the more color it will absorb for vibrancy. Remove the colored pasta with a slotted spoon and place onto the newspaper/paper towel that is placed atop the wax paper forming a water-proof barrier. Allow to dry overnight or outdoors in the sunlight.

Children of any age past 2 will be able to utilize the pasta in varying age-appropriate ways, but you will want to be sure that the children do not try to eat the pretty pasta. I tasted it myself because I always want to know what the likelihood is that they might eat it.....put it this way, unless you have a child who is seemingly taste-bud devoid, then you should be okay. It tasted horrible.

You will encounter broken pasta shards as people step on them during necklace-making sessions spread out on the floor, so be careful. The shards can sometimes be very sharp. Nobody has yet been cut during the breakage moment itself at our house or after, but I can see that occurring afterward easily. Cleanup is still very easy even on the carpet with hand raking. If you experience excess breakage for some reason, be sure to vacuum thoroughly just in case.

My three-year-old spent an entire hour threading necklaces last night and was pleased as punch at having him and I rotating turns at wearing them. Today he had a great time gluing the shapes onto paper for yet another hour.


Feb 16, 2009

Room Art - Do It Yourself

Kids Room art is becoming more and more readily available these days, but don't despair if you aren't able to find something that fits just so for you.

Here are some pics of the art I created myself for my then 4-year-old's room. She chose butterflies, which were scarce 5 years ago, so we went out and about in search of ideas.

I bought a brown-wrought-iron-rustic-looking butterfly and dragonfly and spray painted them myself using multiple colors to match the colors in her room and to stand out nicely on the wall.

I also found some stand-alone bug art that I hot-glued onto some canvas pictures I painted myself to match the theme. I used acrylic paint (will probably choose another medium next time for more depth, as the depth it had during the painting process flattened out upon drying. I thought it would dry raised where extra paint was added, but it did not).

I also bought some baking-molding clay and shaped the yellow circles, baked them, and painted them to match the swirls on the floral curtain tiebacks and the center of the large flower on the large picture.

I lost my gumption at some point because the plan was to use a freehand text to tie the pictures together with one-line sentences to create a story. Instead I left the scalloped borders with the applied circles and figured it matched the scalloped wallpaper border enough.

I also found some pink gingham ribbon that matched the comfortor and the curtains and stapled them to the back of the canvas frames.

It has lasted us 5 years and now she is ready for a new more mature room. I'm grateful, with the speed in which these kids outgrow their bedroom themes that I got away with this one for a mere $65 and that the theme has lasted her this long! Retail paintings of this size would easily cost you $200+ otherwise.

You can buy canvas frames on sale by searching the craft store sites and their flyers for discount coupons. We already had the acrylic paint on hand for some of our art projects.

Feb 13, 2009

Are Sippy Cups Evil?

I've decided to blog about some inaccurate information I encounter floating around on the net. It mostly bothers me because I've been witness to misinformation being spread for eons as a result of belonging to many parenting groups on varying topics. One person says it with some sort of authority and it gets repeated and repeated and repeated as fact, black and white, no gray areas, either/or.

The most important point I'm trying to make is that it takes some common sense to differentiate between what is a fact and what isn't and the ability to recognize that so-called "rules" and "guidelines" are usually geared, in most cases, to combat the worst-case scenario, i.e. the person with the least common sense. Also, frequently, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason in the way of an explanation of "what went wrong." Often, firsttime parents are merely wanting to do absolutely everything just right and are the most guilty of parroting the learned "facts" and judging others for not following suit. I think we are all a little guilty of this in one respect or another on a wide variety of parenting topics in the beginning or simply when we learn we are supposed to be doing this in order to feel like we are doing it right.

So, let's start with those who believe sippy cups are evil, that they will ruin your child's teeth either via decay or by causing alignment problems.

The answer is, NO, a sippy cup itself will not cause alignment problems OR cavities. It is the misuse and abuse of these items that can. For every person who likes to lay blame of their child's braces or cavities on a sippy cup, there is another whose child has perfect teeth and no cavities. Why? Because genetics plays the biggest role in what type of teeth your children will be blessed with. Environmental factors can also contribute. All external forces working on them through the years can either exacerbate a condition one is prone to or bring a condition about full force.

Sadly, there are many people in this world who become parents that have no remotely educated knowledge base or have a lack of common sense regarding such issues. As a result, rules are instituted to save the children of these people. Some people will search for the answers to topics and yet interpret the text they encounter in the way they WANT it to read.

The authoritative professional organizations clearly indicate that ECC (early childhood caries) or "bottle rot" is caused by PROLONGED contact with liquids or foods other than water whether the mode of delivery is via sippy cup, bottle, **OR** breast. Does it really need to be explained that a combination of prolonged usage of any of these 3 would also contribute? Does it really need to be explained that prolonged usage does NOT mean the length of time your child used any of these 3 overall, i.e. from 12 months to 36 months of age, but rather how much time each day is spent sucking on them?

Many speech therapists also indicate that an open-bite malocclusion (misalignment) AND speech development issues commonly DO occur as a result of, again, you guessed it, PROLONGED sippy cup usage. They, too, point out that this means walking around with and consuming from a sippy cup all day long and/or all night long (and add to that allowing your child to suck on a pacifier all day long for a prolonged duration) and, yes, an open bite can happen, but we can discuss pacifiers specifically another day, which are also not evil.

The point here is that, no, sippy cups are not evil, nor will they be the root cause for everything and anything that goes wrong with your child's teeth if used appropriately.

What you need to do is evaluate your parenting style and remember that with everything else in parenting, moderation is key.

Fruit juice can be okay as well - look up the guidelines on the recommended amounts per age that are available. Some children don't take in an adequate amount of water and require a diluted-with-water juice on occasion, whether it be during an illness or on a short-term daily basis. Get creative with the ways to eliminate unnecessary juices completely - change the dilution factor to where eventually the child is drinking only water. My pediatrician shared that daily orange juice each morning is completely fine and the best juice for them out of all the rest.

In fact, although I find no studies have been quoted, some professionals have indicated that sippy cups are better than bottles for use by children in daycare due to the level of exposure to bacteria each offers to a child regarding the development of ear infections.

Take preventative steps early on when introducing the sippy cup to ensure no bad habits are formed. Your child shouldn't be allowed to walk around the house with a constantly full sippy cup. Let them get thirsty and request a drink so that they drink as much as they need to quickly to quench their thirst. If they want to take it to another room while drinking it, give them about 10-15 minutes, then go behind them, scoop it up and put it out of reach on the kitchen counter. This means, however, that you will receive requests for water multiple times a day and even at night, and that you will need to get off your rear to accommodate them.

Don't hand off a sippy-cupful of chocolate milk, juice, or pop/soda (I'm not even going to ask why on earth you may be giving your toddler pop/soda) just so you can get through a conversation to keep them quiet. If you feel it is a rare treat to offer special sugary drinks, even naturally occurring sugars, then offer it up at the table at mealtime with the meal only.

Combating the dependence upon a sippy cup starts the very first time you substitute the breast or a bottle with that sippy cup. Don't allow the children to use it for comfort. Establish immediately that the sippy cup is a very temporary solution to a problem - thirst.

An active day to prevent dehydration outdoors is the only circumstance I can think of where a child should have a sippy-cupful of even water handy at all times.

If you have been successful in not nurturing the development of any dependence or bad habits in relation to the sippy cup, it is even okay to let your toddler have a sippy-cupful of water next to his/her bedside to grab during the night. You know why? Because they will take their drink and set it back down.

While sippy cups with straws are in fact more beneficial for the proper development of muscles used in speech, the use of them specifically will not guarantee your child will have no speech issues. Straw cups are harder to clean, especially if you find one under the back seat of your car a month later. Again, however, prolonged use of the straw sippy can also contribute to cavities, as will constant exposure to liquids via a regular open cup. The issue regarding cavities is the frequency and duration of exposure to bathing the teeth in these sugary or acidic substances and how the various substances trigger the various biological mechanisms within the body that contribute to or combat decay as well.

Feb 12, 2009

Tex-Mex Haystacks - 7 Points/Serving - Lunch or Dinner

This is a good recipe for the Taco-Bell/ Nacho enthusiast in your home. Two of my three kids enjoy this recipe as well, which is always a plus when trying to eat something that fits into your weight-loss plan or lifestyle change. You can make a double batch and freeze individual servings as well to save time the next time you plan to serve up this meal or for a quick grab when in a pinch.


YIELDS: 4 servings
POINTS: 8 points per serving


1 (16-oz.) can pinto beans, drained
1 (14.5-oz.) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (10-oz.) can premium chunk whte chicken in water, drained
1 tbsp. chili powder
3 tbsp. no-salt-added tomato paste
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. hot cooked long-grain rice, cooked without salt or butter
1/2 c. (2 oz.) shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese.
1/4 c. thinly sliced green onions
40 baked tortilla chips


Combine first 7 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally.

FOR A GROUP DISH: Spoon the rice onto a serving platter and top with chicken mixture, shredded cheese, and sliced green onions. Arrange the chips around the outside edges of the dish.

FOR INDIVIDUAL SERVINGS/STORAGE PURPOSES: Spoon 1/2-cup rice onto a serving platter and top with 3/4-cup chicken mixture, 2-tablespoons cheese, and 1-tablespoon green onions. Surround with 10 tortilla chips. (I never ONLY used 10, but it didn't affect my weight loss goals either!)

EXCHANGES: 3-1/2 Starch; 2 Very Lean Meat; 1 Veg; 1/2 Med-Fat Meat

PER SERVING: Calories 414 (13% from fat); Protein 28.5 g; Fat 6.1 g (sat 2.5 g); Carbohydrates 61.8 g; Fiber 10 g; Cholesterol 41 mg; Iron 4.2 mg; Sodium 1115 mg; Calcium 257 mg.

Feb 11, 2009

Do Vacations Have to End in Middle School Years?

(This is a pic of the pool at our rental house this year.)

Last night I attended the parent orientation for middle school. Yes, my first baby is entering middle school next year. Where has the time gone?

Not many people asked questions, but those that did asked questions pertaining to the curriculum, homework loads, etc. Not me. I must be a slacker mom or something, or at least that was how I perceived my question to be taken.

Most speakers touched upon how you would get 2 days to make up work missed for each absence due to sickness. Nobody mentioned anything about whether or not you could request work in advance for planned absences.

The answer I got was basically no teacher will give you work in advance. If you miss school due to a vacation, then you'll pretty much be expected to catch up as soon as possible. That's it.

We are going on vacation in a couple of weeks. We go every year in February. Thankfully he is still a 5th grader. My husband gets to pick his vacation time 6 months in advance in the order of seniority at his work place. Needless to say this means we don't just get to go on vacation during Christmas Break or Spring Break. When a workplace institutes this type of structure, most employees all live in the surrounding areas, which means they experience the breaks at the same time. If someone higher up in seniority picks it, you're out.

We literally need our vacations to connect as a family each year. We work opposite schedules. Heck, I still have to work on the vacation, but since I'm not working around the needs of everyone else, especially my husband's schedule, he is more relaxed, as am I, and it is literally the only week throughout each year that we are all together. Nobody notices that I work for an hour while everyone swims, and working next to a heated pool outdoors in the suns makes all the difference in the world as to how much work you actually feel you are doing.

For those of you in similar situations, is it best to just forego the vacations altogether in lieu of schooling when the kids enter middle school, or can you really make it work without detriment to the kids? Right now we plan on seeing how his sixth-grade year goes before completely eliminating the winter vacation as an option (I can't imagine not having a brief period of sunshine, warmth, and swimming each winter). If everything seems to be going well, then we may give it a shot. If the new, more demanding expectations on him prove to be too much, then we'll have to figure something else out. What do you do?

Feb 9, 2009

Organizing Activity Supplies

Over the years, it becomes painfully obvious how much stuff you accumulate as a parent. If you are like me, you don't necessarily like to throw out the 2 good paint-pens just because the other 8 are done for. As your brood grows, so does your arsenal of activity supplies that you use to stimulate your younger children and to encourage and fine-tune development of their fine-motor skills, etc., but let's not forget they are all great to have handy to survive summer vacations, sick days, snow days, rainy days, etc.

If your children attend public school, having all of these items handy will also prove beneficial throughout their primary-school career. You can receive project assignments that run the gamut, i.e. needing to bling out a cardboard cutout for various occasions, star-of-the-week projects, homework assignments, etc. Having two older children in elementary school when we added our third member to the equation.....let's just say there have been MANY times I thanked my lucky stars that I did not have to run around town in rain, sleet, or snow, or any combination of the 3, in search of the supplies we needed to meet the decorative requests/assignments, the same supplies that miraculously disappear from stock due to the sudden high demand leaving you high and dry by the way with a disappointed child who had a certain "vision."

Start stockpiling and saving good containers when the kids are young, even before you have the need for organizing supplies. Infant formula containers and Ovaltine and Nesquik containers are great for organizing activity/crafting/art supplies, and they are free after you, a neighbor, a relative, a coworker, or a friend, have consumed the product.

In my opinion, the somewhat oval-rectangular-shaped Nesquik containers are the best because you are able to utilize more space with them, but since I didn't buy as many of those, I used primarily the Ovaltine and formula containers, which still work well.

No matter which containers you decide to reuse for this purpose, you have a couple of options for labeling them. I picked out an easy-to-read font on the computer, picked an appropriate size, and printed the words of each item out on an 8-1/2" x 11" piece of computer paper. I then cut it down to size and hot-glued them onto the containers. You could alternatively choose to take pictures of the contents assigned to each container and print off those labeled pictures for children too young to read or learning to read. You could also use some really cute contact paper to completely encircle the containers, as the computer paper doesn't make it quite all the way around, and then hot glue pictures and/or labels onto that. I love you cutesie-pie folks, as I would love to do it myself, but I have to focus on fast and done!

A quick note, however, on containers I decided I did not like.....anything that is tapered, i.e. cookie-dough fundraiser containers, whipped cream containers, etc. (they are different sizes on top than bottom with bottom being smaller - this makes for wrapping your paper around it much trickier).

I basically started with an activity cupboard in the kitchen but, again, as the family grew, my activity arsenal grew, as did my domestic skills and kitchen appliance inventory, the activity cupboard has therefore bounced around a bit. I can't wait to finish the cupboards where the supplies reside now so I can share them with you in the future as well - got them completely free! -- but right now that white paint is really only primer.

Feb 8, 2009

Family Rating System

I've decided to create a family rating system to more easily convey what's a smash hit in our house or a total flop since everyone has an opinion and we all would rather find something pleasurable for the majority.

I'll be placing a red X over the representative face of each of our family members who do not approve or dislikes the item we are rating. I'll also include a red number of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 indicating the number of those satisfied.

That's my husband, then me, then our 11-year-old, our 9-year-old (who is actually blonde), and our 3-year-old taking up the rear.

Feb 7, 2009

Wonderful Michigan Weather Today! (Apparently Not So Good For Others)

Over half, yes that is less than half left in the picture, of our snow has melted overnight. It is so nice out at 51 degrees that my front door is open with the screen door allowing in some fresh air. Everyone is outside playing in fall jackets in the sunshine! I just took this picture in my bare feet on the wet pavement during a Michigan winter! It just feels great!

After posting this today, a newscast came on indicating that there were over 100 fisherman stuck on an ice shelf that had shifted on Lake Erie today, with one confirmed death, so apparently not a good thing for everyone!

Feb 3, 2009

Date Nights With Our Kids

Life got a little more complicated after having our third baby with the older 2 already being 6 and 8. It was an adjustment for all of us, even though I couldn't have been more pleased with our new addition.

Communicating became more challenging between us as parents and the older kids. So they wouldn't feel completely ignored during the adjustment period where they learned to understand that the baby's needs pretty much came first and that we just didn't "love the baby more," we instituted date nights and a communication binder/journal for them. We still use the journal and date nights today.

Date nights are supposed to happen once a month, but they don't always. We take turns with the kids. One month I have a date night with our daughter while my husband has a date night with our son, and then we switch the next month. They get to choose where they would like to go out to eat and an activity, be it Build-A-Bear, the movies, skating, rock climbing, etc., and then we go.

They initiate the note exchange most times. They take their little journal and write us a note on its pages. They then leave it and the pen on our pillow or nightstand in our room. We find it just before turning in for the night and write back and leave it back on their pillows the next day.

I buy the journals from a $1 bin at a craft store, a really inexpensive tool for treasuring the notes, the spelling, the funny comments, their concerns.....a keepsake to revisit in the future.

Feb 2, 2009

Born a Woman-What's the Mystery?

This has been bothering me all day....Most of us saw the little clip via commercial promo of Oprah indicating a man was going to have a baby, and some of us tuned in as if we were going to be witness to a real life miracle or freak of nature. I missed it, but looked it up online. "Tacky" is my first thought, and not at the woman turned man, but at the way it was set up by Oprah, and subsequently throughout the media. I blew it off back then and chalked it up to our shameless media circus in America culture.

Today I've been watching promo after promo about medical mystery time on TLC, and this man and his pregnancies is a part of the theme.

What am I missing here? He was born a woman, had his breasts removed, still has his female reproductive organs, but is legally a man, and he quit taking his testosterone for the pregnancy....What's the big mystery? !