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Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Be Awesome at a 5K/Color Me Rad

I used to run a lot, like, back in college.  I ran all the time.  I was good at it.

Not so much now.

However, I have been trying to exercise more lately, so when I saw people signing up for the Color Me Rad 5K I thought that it might be good motivation.  I'd never run a 5K before, or really, ran for any reason other than just personal exercise, usually on a treadmill or a track.  I kind of thought maybe I was going crazy, but I decided, "What the heck?" and signed Brian and I both up.

We had a really good time.  There were several things I am glad I did, though, and several things I wish I'd known ahead of time.  For anyone interested in running the Color Me Rad race, or really any 5K, here is my list of helpful tips.

1)  Train ahead of time.

I realize that it sounds a little silly to say you should "train" for a 5K.  It's only 3.1 miles.  Marathon runners don't even start sweating until around 5 miles, right?

Here's the thing, though.  I haven't exercised seriously in a while.  Before I got pregnant, I probably could have done it without a problem, but now...I actually had to work up to this.

If you are in fantastic shape and can run a 5K on just a random day with no preparation, that's great.  You are awesome.  Moving on.

I found a "Couch to 5K" seven-week program just by Googling it (and no one is surprised), and I did it for eight weeks.  It was not easy, but it was manageable, and I could definitely tell I was building endurance.

Also, it's worth noting here that I had to do all my "training" with Cricket in a stroller.  It is surprisingly more challenging to run while pushing a 20 pound baby in a 20 pound stroller than to just run by yourself.  Good exercise, though.

2)  Arrive Early

Traffic was so crazy, it was backed up all the way onto the highway.  They said to get there 45 minutes early, but I would say plan on an hour or more.  We allowed 45 minutes of extra time, but got there with about ten minutes to spare.

It ended up not really mattering, though, since the Color Me Rad is an untimed race.  They just send a wave of people through every five minutes.  We had signed up for a specific race time, but that was apparently not a real thing.

3)  Follow Basic Traffic Patterns

I shouldn't have been surprised that this was a problem, seeing as how most people in Alabama don't follow basic traffic rules in cars.  Why would they suddenly start doing it while running?

For those who aren't familiar with this concept, I will make it simple.  Walk on the right.  Run on the left.

So simple.

If you are running, and you decide to walk for a while, move to the right.

If you are walking, make sure there is room for someone to pass you on the left.

Above everything else, if you are walking in a group, do not, for the love of all that is good and wonderful in this world, walk shoulder to shoulder so that you cover the entire road and no one can get by.

This happened over and over again.  Right at the beginning I saw a woman completely wipe out because she was trying to pass a big group of walkers who were completely oblivious, and she was forced up onto the curb.  As she stepped off of the curb, she slipped and fell.

I know it was an untimed run, so it's not like it affected my qualification score for the New York Marathon or anything, but still, it's frustrating to be in the zone, jogging along, and suddenly have to stop because no one will move to the right three feet.

4)  Bring Music

I'm so glad I brought my iPod, even if I'm pretty sure the headphones are ruined from all the colored corn starch.  It was worth it.  As I've said before, I'm almost completely incapable of running without music.  They did have some music playing at the checkpoints, but I wouldn't have run nearly as much without my own.

5)  Wear White

Ok, this one is specific to the Color Me Rad race.  You don't have to wear white for any other 5K, unless you just really want to or something.

They give you a cool t-shirt, but that's not the one you run in.  (It's also SUPER small.  Even getting a size bigger than normal, it's super small!)  Wear at least a shirt that is all white.  That way the color shows up really well.

They also give you awesome sunglasses to protect your eyes, a RAD tattoo, and a free color packet at the end of the race.  Pretty cool loot package.

6)  Prepare to be messy

Bring large garbage bags to put over the backs of your car seats, and towels to put on the seat.  Bring more towels to dust off with, and wet wipes or water to wash your hands.

Also, just know that the dyes in the powder do not all come off your skin easily.  The blues and purples are especially hard to get off.

On the other hand, they came out of our clothes completely!  We used oxyclean, and they look as pristine as the day we bought them.  I thought about trying to preserve the colors, but they had all smeared together and were all brown and gross, so I didn't.

7)  Hang Around Afterwards

I was tempted to leave early and beat the traffic, but I'm glad we stayed long enough to do the crowd color explosion.  It was so fun.  There was so much color that it was momentarily dark all around me.  Everyone was jumping and dancing and cheering, and even though we had all just run three miles, there was so much energy we couldn't help but join in.

8)  Take Pictures

Whether you use their professional photography areas or just get a friend to take some, make sure you get before and after pictures.

In the end, this was a lot of fun.  I ran a lot more of it than I thought I would, probably thanks to my training with the stroller.  I don't know that I would do it again, but I'm glad I did it once, and I'm proud of myself.  I'm also glad the race was on June 1, because it is way too hot now to be out running every day!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Awesome Tips for Organizing Your Kitchen

If there is one room in my house that I would like to keep organized, it's my kitchen.

If there is one room that never stays organized, it's my kitchen.

This leads to a cycle of continuous reorganizing, replanning, and then messing it up again.

I'm getting better though.  My issue is that I have very little counter space or drawer space.  I have lots of cabinet space, but it's not all the right size for what I would like to use it for.  These factors force me to get creative when it comes to finding logical, practical places for food and utensils to live.

I have worked for a while on the best ways to organize my kitchen, tried out a lot of things, and come up with a few really good ideas, mostly from Pinterest, but also a few from Brian and a few from my own desperate brain.  Here are my most awesome organizational tips for the kitchen.

1)  Magnet Strip for Knives

Brian suggested this because he's a genius.  My knife block took up a lot of room on  my counter, so why not get rid of it and mount a magnetic bar to the backsplash instead?

Obviously, this has to be well out of reach of children, but it works so well!  No more figuring out which hole is the right size for which knife!  No more big clunky block taking up a square foot of valuable counter space!  No more pulling three handles out before you find the knife you're actually looking for.  Genius.

2)  Produce Baskets

I saw this idea on Pinterest forever ago, but I modified it because I wanted bigger baskets.  It took me over a year to find the baskets I wanted.  For some reason, none of the places I looked carried anything similar.  Brian finally found these at Home Depot, I think.  We got three, and I love them.

Since I am trying to eat a lot more fresh food, that means lots of produce that was just sitting on my counters, again taking up space!

This way, it frees up my counter, and makes it look much nicer, too!

3)  Hang Measuring Cups and Spoons

This is another idea I saw on Pinterest, and it works really well, although I simplified mine.  I just got Brian to put some hooks on the inside of one of my cabinet doors, and I have one set of measuring spoons and cups that I keep on them, plus a couple of extra hooks for extra spoon sets.

That way, I can grab just my 1/8 teaspoon without having to use all the other spoons in that set, too.  Plus, no more rifling through drawers to find the one you need, and it frees up more space in my drawers for other things!

My only warning about this is that it took me a while to get used to the motion and the sound that they make when you open the cabinets.  For the first week or two, I just about jumped out of my skin every time I opened the cabinet door, thinking something was jumping out at me.  Now, I don't even notice it.  I have heard that the silicone collapsing measuring cups and spoons would help with that, but I don't own any.

4)  Leave Room for new things

Whenever I organize my pantry, it always looks so nice.  Everything is visible and accessible, and all the like items are grouped together.  Baking goods, canned goods, oils and vinegars, etc.

Then I go grocery shopping.

This always frustrates me because of course I return home with new things, like another canister of oatmeal, or a new bottle of honey, or a new bag of flour.  These things don't have a home, because the almost-empty bottle of honey or canister of oatmeal is still in it's place.  I empty my flour into my canister, but I still have two pounds in the bag.  Agh!

What usually happens at this point is that I just make room for them haphazardly, stacking them on top of something else, shoving the oatmeal next to the hot chocolate because it's the only place it fits, etc.

And now I'm unorganized again.

My new solution, then, is that this time, when I organized my pantry, I intentionally left open spaces for new items.

Space on the shelf next to the Cheerio's.

I know, that sounds so elementary that it can't possibly be worth mentioning, but I figure it took me nine years of running my own house to figure it out, so surely someone else has this problem, too.

5)  Accessibility is Key

I don't know if anyone else does this, but I default to organizing my kitchen pretty much the same way my mom did.

(Well, I mean, when I organize my kitchen and don't just stack stuff on top of each other like an edible Jenga game...)

After all, it's what I grew up with, so I'm used to it.  The problem is that my kitchen now is not at all set up like the ones I grew up in.

For example, my mom always stored the pots and pans in the drawer under the stove.  I did too, in our old apartment, but when we moved into this house, I found that the drawer below the stove is teeny tiny, and not at all tall enough for even one pot, let alone several.  I kind of panicked.  Where do pots and pans go if not under the stove?

So for about two years, they have been in a bottom cabinet beside the refrigerator, because they didn't fit in most of the other cabinets.  This is super annoying because I had to basically kneel down to get to them, and they were just stacked on top of each other, so they were always clanging around and making noise, and I almost lost a digit every time I tried to wrangle one out from under all the others.  Not at all convenient or accessible.  Also, moderately dangerous.

I cleared off one shelf that had previously held my casserole dishes and other baking pans,

and now it holds my pots and skillets!

This make so much sense, since I use them more than just about anything else in the kitchen.  It might not seem like putting them in the pantry is a logical choice, but if you can look beyond where you think things are "supposed" to go, and see where they would be more accessible, you might come up with some creative new ideas for organization!

6) Label

I love to label things (and people, but I'm working on that...).  I have a great little label maker and a huge supply of computer labels ready at a moment's notice.  I saw some pictures on Pinterest of a kitchen someone had organized and they had labeled everything so neatly, it really made it look more polished.

I got a bunch of storage containers from the Dollar Tree, printed off some labels on my computer, and voila! So easy!

(Actually, at the time, it wasn't that easy.  I kept trying to find some super cute templates, but none of them were customizable, so it was either use their six pre-made labels or just be happy with basic labels that say what I want them to say.  I chose the latter.)

Labels are great because you never have to wonder, "Is this all-purpose flour, wheat flour, white wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, pasta flour, or bread flour?"  Yes, I have all of those flours.  Don't judge.

Also, when you run out of something, you don't have to remember what was in the container!  Heaven forbid I should accidentally put organic whole wheat pastry flour in the container that used to hold pasta flour!

I hope that this inspires you to organize your kitchen in a way that is more helpful and easier to use.  I'd love to hear some of your favorite tips and tricks as well!

Unless your advice is to buy fewer types of flour.  No one wants to hear that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Sensory Play: Goop

I've talked before about Cricket's hesitance to jump right into messy play activities.  She just prefers not to be covered in weird stuff, and really, who can blame her?

I keep trying, though, just to expose her to lots of different sensory experiences.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I tried a really messy activity and she loved it!

It was a rare evening when we had finished dinner and had a chunk of time before we had to get her ready for bed, so we decided to browse some of my favorite blogs for a fun bath activity.  I found this one on Growing a Jeweled Rose, one of my favorite (or favourite, since she's British) mommy blogs.

We made goop.  Goop is just cornstarch and water, with a little food coloring thrown in.  If you mix it at the right proportions (about 60/40 cornstarch to water) it makes this really weird substance that is hard if you put sudden pressure on it and a thick but liquid-type paste if you don't.

I made two colors, yellow and blue.  And no one is surprised.

I decided to try the "marbled" effect that I had seen on the blog, but that is the one thing I will say I didn't like.  It looked cool, but it meant that the food coloring was really concentrated at the beginning and it stained our skin a little.  Once it got mixed up, it was fine, so next time, I would mix it all in first.

And I actually had a reason for picking yellow and blue, besides that they are the best colors.  I thought Cricket might enjoy seeing how they mix together to make green.

I brought the two bowls into the empty tub where Brian had her.  She was more adventurous than usual and touched it pretty quickly.

I think she actually liked the way it felt, because she kept putting her hands in it.

She didn't even mind when I drizzled some on her leg!

Her favorite part, though, was when I got some in my hand and dripped it down on her from up high.

We couldn't believe how much she seemed to like it!  She even got it in her hair!

(I have to say, too, that Brian and I were equally fascinated by this stuff, and played in it quite a bit.)

It was really easy to clean up, because when you add more water to it, it just turns into a liquid, so it just washed right down the drain.  Cricket loved playing in the water, too.

Then we just gave her a quick bath and we were finished!  We all had so much fun, and she played with it for about thirty minutes!  I would definitely do this again, and amazingly, I think Cricket would, too!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Awesome Read Aloud Books for Kids (And Adults)

Image Source
I love books.  I love to read and I love to be read to.  I love books on tape.  I love all things book-related.

My mom read to us when we were kids, and we loved it.  I taught elementary school for six years before becoming a SAHM, and one of my favorite times of day was after lunch, when we'd come back into the classroom, leave the lights off, the kids would put their heads on their desks, and I would read aloud to them.  Kids love to be read to, and adults do, too!

Early in our marriage, Brian and I started reading together.  It's a great way to end the day, it makes for great conversations, provides common ground for discussions, and it's a lot of fun.  Usually we read at night, but we've read on trains and boats, on vacations, on camping trips, and just about every other place we've been.  We almost always take a book with us.

Of course, you don't have to read out loud to enjoy a book.  You can just read it yourself, or check out an audiobook at the library.  I love getting a book on CD and playing it in the car.  We live kind of far away from everything, so it's nice to have something to look forward to when you know you have a long drive ahead.

Here are some recommendations for books that are great to read aloud.  Most of these would be great family read alouds because they appeal to a wide variety of ages, but of course, use your own discretion when deciding what is best for your family.

Books I Have Read to My Classes

(Brian and I have also read several of these together.  Good literature and fun books aren't always in the adult section.)

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

How to Be Cool in Third Grade by Betsy Duffey

Frindle by Andrew Clement

The Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  by Barbara Robinson

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett
(I only read them an excerpt from this one.  It's very long.)

If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, here are the links.  I am an Amazon affiliate, so I do receive a small percentage of the sales of anything sold through my site, but I am not otherwise compensated for endorsing these products.  I just like them.

Books Brian and I Have Read Together

(Not all of these books will appeal to young children.  Use your discretion.)

Anything by Terry Pratchett
(He is my all-time favorite author.  Just start at the beginning.  You won't stop until you've gotten through all of them!  They are an awesome mix of fantasy, satire, fiction, and comedy.)

Sherlock Holmes Series (short stories and novels) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(This was one of the first things we read together.  The short stories are especially fun and suspenseful!)

The Silmarillion,
The Hobbit,
and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein
(We had both read these separately, but it was fun to read them through together and talk about them.  We even drew maps and made models to reenact the battles on occasion.)

Robin Hood  by Roger Lancelyn Green
(This is one of our all-time favorites.  It is our traditional book to take camping.  We've read it through several times together, and it never gets old.  Also, there are several versions of Robin Hood written by several different authors.  This guy is our favorite.)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII
and The Life of Elizabeth I by Allison Weir
(Our running joke is that Brian has actually read each of these at least twice, because I would often fall asleep while he was reading and he would have to go back and reread each passage.  They are great books to read before bed, because they are just interesting enough to keep you reading, but not so much that they keep you awake.  They're probably a little dry for kids, but if you're a history buff, they're fascinating.)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
(This is of course a classic, but be warned that there is some really rough language in it.  Brian substituted less offensive words as he read because we just couldn't stand hearing it over and over.  Not one for the young kids.)

(I don't even remember why we read this, but it was cool.  I think we had just watched a movie version.)

The Iliad 
and The Odyssey by Homer
(We went through these after reading the Percy Jackson series.  It was fun to go back to the original stories.)

Redwall by Brian Jacques
(This is the first book in a very long series, so if you like it, there are lots where that came from.  Kids especially would enjoy it.)

The Song of Albion Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead
(If you're into Celtic legends and fantasy novels, this one is amazing.  If I remember, there is some language, and it's not really written for kids, but for adults it's a lot of fun.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(This might be our favorite book that we have ever read aloud.  It is a bajillion pages long, which is awesome because since it's a great book, you have the comfort of knowing it's not going to be over soon.  We loved this book so much we would read it in the middle of the day instead of watching TV.)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
(Full of swashbuckling excitement!  The awesome thing about this one was, after we read it, we watched like, five different movie versions of it, and compared them all with the book.)

The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
(We didn't actually finish this one because I got too depressed in the middle of the second book.  I was pregnant.  Give me a break.  But it is an interesting concept, and if you like sci-fi and Lewis' other books, you would probably enjoy it.)

The Sword of Shannara (and the rest of the series) by Terry Brooks
(Another fun fantasy series.  We had read them all separately, but we went back and reread the first one together.)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
(Again, it was fun to watch the movie versions afterwards and compare them.  We found to our surprise that the Kiera Knightly version was much more accurate to the book than the A&E six-hour version.  Crazy!)

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
(These are young adult books, but they are amazing.  Riordan is a fantastic writer, and I will pretty much read anything he puts out at this point.)

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
(Another series by Riordan, and also really good.)

The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
(Again, my sentimental pregnancy hormones only allowed us to get a few books into this series, but I really liked it up to that point.  For the record, I was completely fine with Mary going blind from smallpox.  What I couldn't take was their faithful dog, Jack, growing old and possibly dying.  I cried until Brian promised to never read it again.)

Ok, surely in those lists you can find at least one book that sounds interesting, so go check it out at your library and start a new family tradition.  Or, if you're like me and there's just something special about owning books, I have made a list of all of these books in the sidebar with links to Amazon.  Feel free to mosey on over there and pick up a couple for yourself!  (I do receive a small percentage of sales made through my site, but I am not otherwise compensated for endorsing these products.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Saving Money: Part Three

I've already talked about the mentality behind spending money in Part One here, and a few practical steps in Part Two here, but this idea was so detailed, I decided it needed it's own post.

Stop Throwing Things Away

One thing I noticed when I looked at our spending is that we spent a ton of money on things that just got thrown away.  I've already talked about how you can save money by using dryer balls instead of dryer sheets and turn trash into toys for your little ones, but there are lots of other ways to save.

1)  Kitchen Supplies

Let's be honest.  Paper plates and paper bowls are a great invention, especially for people like me who hate doing dishes.  Heck, I've thought about throwing away my regular plates instead of washing them sometimes!  Paper dishes fall under the category of "lazy tax."  If I had extra money, I would definitely pay for things like this so that I didn't have to work quite as hard.  (Also, hiring someone to clean my house falls into that category, and you know I would be ALL OVER THAT if I could afford it.)

Sadly, though, we don't buy paper plates or bowls anymore, and I've even switched to cloth napkins.  I mainly use kitchen towels instead of paper towels, too, although I do keep some disposable paper towels around for cleaning up things I'd rather just throw away (like bugs) or things that are hard to clean out of a towel (like shea butter).

2)  Air Filters

Did you know they made reusable air filters?  Me neither, until my genius husband suggested it!  This was great news, because we change our air filters pretty frequently.  See, our return vent is in the hallway floor, so in addition to the normal dust, ours collects a fair amount of dirt, a few leaves, and the occasional magnet letter from the fridge.

We have two reusable air filters for our heating/air conditioning unit, and when one is dirty, Brian replaces it with a clean one and then washes the dirty one with a hose.  So easy!  Plus, they get changed much more frequently than if we are waiting for me to remember to pick one up while I'm out!

3)  Batteries

I feel like rechargeable batteries are kind of retro.  I remember when they first came out.  I was a kid, and they were so awesome.  But now, it seems like you see them less and less.  They are still awesome though, and they have apparently improved quite a bit, because they definitely work better than the ones I had when I was a kid.

A few months ago, I finally bit the bullet and bought some.  They cost a bit more, which is why I'd been putting it off, but it has already started to save us money!  I got a couple of packs of AA and AAA, and a charger that works for both sizes.

Between just our cameras, the video camera, the remotes, and the baby monitor, we use quite a few batteries each month.  Just make sure you have enough so that some can be charging while you put new ones in.

4)  Diapers

Cloth diapers are another huge money saver.

I am not going to go into tons of detail, because they really deserve a post of their own, but the average family spends about $1,000 per year to diaper one child.  I have spent about $200 on diapers in over a year.  Pretty cool.

5)  Razors

Brian also switched to an old-school razor instead of disposables, because the kind he was using cost as much as like, all my makeup and hair care products combined.  This one is similar to the one he uses now, and it costs as much as one disposable package used to.

Then he just bought a shaving brush

and a box of blades like this.

A box this size lasts 2-3 years, he says.  Pretty cool.

And he gets shaving soap at Walmart for like, $3 in the men's shaving section.  So much cheaper!  You can also find shaving kits online that might sell some of this cheaper, or more expensively.  There are lots of options.

6)  Cleaners

I love Clorox wipes and Swiffer wipes and Magic Erasers and all those other amazing cleaning innovations, but again, you are paying a lot extra for things that just get thrown away.  A bottle of homemade all-purpose spray and a towel does just as good a job as a Clorox wipe, and it costs less than a cent per use.  In some cases, you might have to use a little more elbow grease, but that's part of the trade off.

7)  Packaging

Go through your house, and especially your kitchen, and think about how much you are paying for disposable packaging.

Take those squeezable fruit pouches that all the kids are eating nowadays, for example: Yes, they're convenient, but they're extremely wasteful with so much packaging, and you're paying so much more for the same applesauce you could buy in a large container for way cheaper!

You can buy reusable squeeze pouches,

or just use Tupperware, like people have been doing for a long time.  Water bottles, 100 Calorie packs, and anything labeled "to go" in cute little mini convenience packs also count.  You're spending more money for convenience and less product.

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas of things you can reuse or do without to save a little cash.  I just pay attention to things around my house that are disposable, and ask myself if there is a reusable alternative.  It's also better for the environment, which is an awesome bonus.

Read How to Be Awesome at Saving Money:  Part One

Read How to Be Awesome at Saving Money:  Part Two

Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Sensory Play: Shelling Peas

Cricket has been on an organizational kick recently.  She is 14 months old, and she loves to reorganize things for me.  She takes all of her shoes out of the closet and puts them in a drawer or her laundry hamper.

She takes all her books off the shelf and puts them on another shelf.

She takes all of her spoons out of their container and puts them in another bowl.

In other words, she is entering the sorting stage.

This is a great milestone for young children because it means that they are beginning to recognize details about objects like similarities/differences and position/location, and she is beginning to realize that she can affect her environment.

One day in particular, she seemed to just be resorting the entire house, so I thought I would try something new with her.

I had recently gotten some English peas in the pod in my Freshfully box.  I've never bought peas in the pods before, and I really didn't know what to do with them, so I had been putting it off, but I thought that at least it might be something Cricket would enjoy playing with, so I pulled them out.

I got two bowls and sat on the floor with her.  I started shelling the peas and putting the pods in one bowl and the peas in another, explaining carefully what I was doing.  Cricket was fascinated.  I asked her if she would help me by putting the pods in the bowl for me, and she did!

She studied the pods, squeezing them in her hand and listening to them snap.

She tried once or twice to put them in her mouth, but I reminded her that they were not for eating (yet), and she soon moved on.  She dropped them on the floor and picked them back up.  She even tried throwing one or two, but I discouraged that, and she eventually went and retrieved the thrown pods and put them in the bowl.

After about ten minutes, she became curious about the peas and wanted to play with them.  She loved the sound they made when I dropped them in the metal bowl, and would say "DING!" so excitedly, you'd think she had won a prize!

I let her explore the peas, but encouraged her to keep them in the bowl.  I showed her how I opened the pods and pulled them out.

Soon she was pulling them out for me and putting them in the bowl.  We practiced putting the peas in one bowl and the shells in another, and she got quite good at it.  A couple of times, she even saw a pea that had stuck to a discarded pod, and she would take it out and put it in the other bowl!

Once they were all shelled, she helped me clean up.  I washed all the peas and put them in the refrigerator, and she helped me throw away the pods.

She is saying, "Ta da!"

The whole exercise took about thirty minutes, maybe a little more.  It definitely took longer than if I had done it myself, but it was such a great experience for her.  As a city girl, I don't know that I had ever seen peas in their original pods before this, so I love the idea of Cricket growing up with this kind of thing being a normal part of her life.

She got to use all of her senses to explore natural materials.  She got to help in a practical life activity that contributed to the family.  And she was able to practice sorting and classifying.  This was a really fun activity that I highly recommend.  It was well worth the price of a bag of peas in the pods!

Friday, June 14, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Gardening: Part Two

Remember a while back I posted about my latest attempt to grow things here?  Well, now it's time for an update.

This is what my garden looked like when I planted it, and what it looks like now.

Yay!  Stuff is growing and not dying!  And best of all, I don't hate it.  Yes, ants have completely infested my box, which is terrifying.  And yes, the organic soil we use makes our backyard smell like a barnyard on warm, humid days.  Still, all things considered, it's going really well!

My pepper plants got these pretty flowers on them.

Then, a week or so later, they started growing peppers!  Huzzah!

My basil, though, is my favorite.  It grew so much!  I had to pinch off the flowers, though, because my mom warned me several times that terrible things happen if you don't.  The problem was that I didn't know they were flowers.  They were the same color as the leaves, only smaller and slightly pointier, so I thought they were just baby leaves.  Apparently that is incorrect.

So far, I have even remembered to water everything daily.  It makes me like rain even more, because it's like a get-out-of-watering-free day.

I also had to prune my basil because it was growing so much!  I cut about half of it off, and it still looks full and healthy!  This is how much I pruned off.

I hung some of it to dry,

and made pesto with the rest.  The recipe I used called for two cups of packed fresh basil leaves.

It was really easy.  I just put the leaves and 1/3 cup of pine nuts in the food processor and blended.  Then added three garlic cloves, blended some more, and then drizzled in 1/2 cup olive oil.  I blended in 1/2 cup parmesan and some salt, and it was ready!  So cool!

I even had a pesto jar that I had saved for just such an occasion.  It made it look so official!

The only problem I had while making the pesto was washing the basil!  Immediately, there was a spider on top of my bowl, with long, spindly legs and pincers and evil and stuff.  It was horrible, and I washed it down the drain and then drowned it with about a gallon of water while pouring in dish soap, just to be safe.

Also, the whole time I was washing the leaves, there were all these tiny green jumpy bugs that I had to keep killing.  I don't know what they were, but they were ridiculously fast.

Gardening is hard.

BUT yay for a garden doing garden-y things and not cemetary-y things!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Pinterest

Pinterest is one of my favorite websites of all time.  It's like a haven for crafts, hobbies, cooking, DIY, and random bits of information you never knew but really NEED to know, like how to get the stem off of a strawberry with a drinking straw.

Pinterest is responsible for over half of what I cook on a weekly basis, three-fourths of the projects I try, and  80% of my Internet time.

Actually, I have cut back on it quite a bit recently, but I'll be the first to admit that it can be a real time suck.  My typical Pinterest encounter goes something like this:

--Hmm...I need to print out that recipe for crock pot orange cashew chicken.


--Oh, cool!  I didn't know you could heal a paper cut instantly with chapstick!  Need to remember that!


--Haha, those eCard memes never get old!  


--Ooo!  That's a great craft to do with toddlers that really IS both cheap and easy!  We should do that tomorrow!


--WHAT?!  How have three hours gone by?!  I need to get dinner started!  Now where is that recipe for crock pot orange cashew chicken...

So yeah, Pinterest gets a bad rap, but it's only because it's so awesome you can't stop looking at it.  It's actually been a huge boon for bloggers, and in reality, it saves time because instead of combing through a dozen or two blogs, I can see topics and ideas quickly and organize them efficiently.  There are several blogs that I have started following just because I realized I pinned a bunch of their stuff and would probably enjoy more.

However, just like Facebook, you can waste plenty of time there if you want, and also just like Facebook, there are a few rules that should be followed.

1)  Don't pin more than 5-10 of any one thing at a time.

I know this is hard, and I do this sometimes, too.  When you find an awesome board, you just want to pin everything on it!  Resist!  When you pin 50 examples of "your style," the rest of us who follow you have to scroll down for five minutes to get past all the pins of "shabby chic couture" to get back to the Oreo cream cheese layer cakes and five minute ab-toning exercises that we came for.

2)  Use a permanent link if you add a pin.

There is nothing more frustrating on Pinterest than finding an awesome pin for Hungarian mushroom soup  and then going to print off the recipe only to find that it just links to a picture that is somehow even smaller than the one in the pin.  Not cool.  Don't pin a picture from Google.  Pin the actual link.

3)  Don't post an entire article in the description.

Pins are supposed to be a summary.  It's annoying when you have a huuuuuge pin that has an entire recipe written at the bottom.  Just share the name and link and let people click to find the recipe themselves.

4)  Do something you pin.

Obviously it is impossible to do everything you pin, but every now and then, try something!  That way, you can give feedback for others and you might come up with some new ideas to pin!  I have a Mission Accomplished board where I repin all the things I've tried, and it's great to look back and see what worked and what didn't.

5)  Be nice.

This is actually a universal rule of humanity, but since apparently some people didn't pin this on their "Board of Things I should Always Do," it bears repeating.  You don't have to leave an unkind comment and you shouldn't pin things that are inappropriate.  Just be cool.

That's really it.  Unlike most other online communities, the Pinterest community is pretty easy-going. I rarely see someone being unkind, and they make it easy to follow or unfollow people or individual boards.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go read about 50 things I can do with kale.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Things that are Awesome: Mommy Edition

Here's a roundup of some awesome items that have made parenthood much easier, or at least, more doable.

(Note:  I am an Amazon affiliate, so I have included links to the products.  I do receive a small percentage of the sale if you buy through the links, but I am not otherwise endorsed for promoting these products.  I just think they are cool.  I have personally used them and found them extremely helpful.)

Fisher Price's Rock 'n Play

This may be the best thing I own when it comes to babies.  This thing is amazing.  You can easily carry it from room to room, even with the baby in it.  It is slightly elevated, so babies can see out, plus, when they are sick, they can sleep without choking.  It rocks a little, which Cricket loves, and it even comes with a toy. Plus it comes in cute colors.  We used this every single day when Cricket was first born, and even now that she is over a year old, she still sleeps in it when she's sick.   It's like magic.

And yes, I know about the recall.  Ours didn't have any mold on it, and even if it did, I would trade it in for a new one.  That's how much I love this thing.

Baby Bullet and Steamer

(I didn't have a picture of mine, so this is from

These little guys are awesome.  I made Cricket's baby food before she was old enough to eat table food, and these made it easy.  They come with super helpful books on how to steam, puree, and store baby food, along with a set of storage capsule-looking jars.  Plus, they're super cute, 'cause they have smileys on them.  I still use them now when I need to puree something small that isn't worth getting out the food processor, and the steamer is like magic for defrosting frozen baby food cubes, making hard boiled eggs, steaming veggies, and even sterilizing stuff!

Flip Diaper Covers

We use cloth diapers, which might be a post for another day, but anyway, I tried several other brands before I found Flips, and I love them.  They rarely, rarely leak, unlike every other brand I tried, and they are one size, so you don't have to keep buying more as she gets bigger.  They are cute, sturdy, and well-made.  They are cheaper than a  lot of diapers, and since they are covers, you don't have to buy as many, again saving money.

Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller

Seriously, there is nothing this stroller can't do.  Well, almost nothing.  It is a three-wheel, so it is really easy to steer, even with one hand while pushing a door open with another.  It's all-terrain, so I can go on unpaved walking trails, off road at the Renaissance Faire, or on a normal sidewalk.  It has a three piece hood with two windows, so it's very adjustable according to how much visibility vs. sun shade she needs.  It has a basket in the bottom AND a pocket on the back.  It has a rain hood, air vents, and a foot rest!  It lays down, sits up and everything in between.  Oh, and my favorite part:  it folds up with the pull of one strap.  No kidding.  I can completely fold it up and load it in the trunk while holding Cricket in my other arm.  It is amazing.

Graco Snugride Car Seat

This is a great car seat, and I highly recommend it.  It's easy to get it in and out of the base, and it's so nice to have the removable seat so you don't have to carry a floppy baby down the stairs to the garage or wake her up to get her out of the car.  It also snaps directly into the stroller frame, which you buy separately and is totally worth it.  That's all we used for the first six or nine months, because it was so easy to just keep her in her car seat, and the frame is much lighter than most strollers.

Jellystone Teething Necklace

(Also another good picture of the stroller.)

This necklace is solid silicone, so it is chewy for babies, and since babies chew on your jewelry anyway, it's nice to have something that is safe for them.  It comes in a lot of colors, but I got black because I figured it would go with the most stuff.  I love it!  It is very versatile, and looks surprisingly good!  I've worn it to the park, to church, and to parties.  Since it's pretty much the only jewelry I wear, it is nice to have something that makes me feel dressed up at least a little, and Cricket loves it, too!  She always goes for it when I pick her up.  Also works as a great distraction during nursing, changing, or whenever else you need a toy within reach!

So those are some of my favorites, plus the items in the picture at the beginning:

Fisher Price Rainforest Healthy Care Booster Seat (longest name ever);

Infantino Baby Carrier (and also my Ergo Carrier, not pictured);

 Kelty Baby Carrier Backpack;



 Fisher Price Rainforest Jumparoo.

 I've got tons more, but this is already long.  What about you?  Any favorites for kids (or their parents)?