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Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Making Smoothies

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I used to love smoothies in high school.  I drank them all the time.  Lately, I have rediscovered them, partly because they are a healthy yet tasty meal substitute or afternoon snack pick-me-up, and partly because they are so portable.  I can drink one for breakfast while I am actively emptying the dishwasher or turning on music for Cricket or sweeping the floor or whatever.  They're great!  I've been combing Pinterest and my own freezer for some different recipes, and I've found a few good ones.

The Awesome Smoothie
How to Be Awesome at Everything

This is my own recipe.  All the measurements are approximate.  I don't actually measure any of it.  It is not exact because I never have exactly the same amount of stuff each time.  It doesn't matter.  It's always awesome.

1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt (single serving yogurts work great, too)
1/2 banana
1/2-1 c. frozen fruit (I like the mixed berries kind with no added sugar, but anything works.)
1/2 c. or more cranberry juice (no sugar added)
1/4 c. dry quick oats
local honey

Put the ingredients in the blender in the order above, so the softest things are on bottom and the juice is poured over the whole thing, and then drizzle as much honey as you want in there.  (I use local honey because it helps boost immunities against allergies.)  Blend away!

I have the world's worst sweet tooth, so trust me, it's gonna be plenty sweet.  If you use flavored yogurt or juice and fruit with added sugar, you might not need the honey.

The Apple Pie Smoothie
How to Be Awesome at Everything

1 Apple
1 Heaping Spoonful of Almond Butter
3/4 c. Greek Yogurt
1/2 c. Milk
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon
Maple Syrup
Ice Cubes

This one was pretty good, although I will say the apple gives it a little different texture than I'm used to.  I got the original recipe here, but I modified it to make it better.  I used almond butter because I didn't have any whole almonds.  I just drizzled some maple syrup in there to make it a little sweeter, and I threw in a handful of ice cubes because I like my smoothies to be kind of like slushies.  It was pretty good.  I don't know that I would drink it all the time, but I give it a B.

The More Awesome Smoothie
How to Be Awesome at Everything

1/2 Banana
2 Heaping spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt
1 spoonful of Almond Butter or a few raw almonds
1/8 c. Quick oats (I don't measure.  I just sprinkle some in.)
1 Tbs. flax seed
A Handful of Spinach leaves
Drizzle of local honey (optional--I don't use it anymore)
1 c. (or more) frozen berries (I used blueberries and strawberries, no sugar added)
1/4 c. pineapple
1/2 or more cranberry juice (or any other juice, no sugar added)

This is an improvement on the original awesome smoothie, and it is even better.  I love that it is full of vitamins and other healthy stuff (Omega-3's, Vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, Protein, Fiber, Probiotics, Calcium, and Potassium, just to name a few) and has very little sugar.  Most of all, though, I love that it tastes delicious.  Cricket loves this, too, and I feel great knowing that whatever else she may or may not choose to eat, one of these in the morning and she's off to a good start.

A few tips for making smoothies:

When you use canned pineapple, save the juice and freeze it in ice cube trays.  Pop them out and store them in the freezer in a ziplock bag and throw a couple in when you are out of other fruit or just want a little tropical flavor.

Put your soft ingredients in the bottom of your blender, then your frozen stuff, and then pour the liquid over the whole thing.  It blends way better that way.

Rinse out your blender as soon as you make your smoothie.  Like, before you even drink it.

This straw cleaning kit helps to keep your reusable straws clean.

Target has some adorable kids cups that are shaped like robots and birds and have straws that are perfect for smoothies.  Cricket loves them.

Most fruit is sweet enough by itself, but you can sweeten with maple syrup or honey if needed.  Avoid pre-sweetened frozen fruits, juices, and yogurts or you're stacking up a lot of extra sugar.

Monday, September 16, 2013


This isn't an awesome post.  It's just an update, if you're interested.

This blogging thing is fun, but it hasn't really worked out the way I was hoping it would, so I'm gonna take a step back.  I'll still post from time to time, but I'm not going to keep my three-a-week schedule like I have been.  I'll just post when I have something to post about.

Hope you've enjoyed it.  It's been a good run.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Awesome Books for Babies and Toddlers

I did a post a while back about great books to read aloud, and I wanted to follow that up with a list of books that Cricket has really loved.  Most of them are board books because she can easily and safely turn the pages, and because I love the idea of her having access to books any time she wants.

Sandra Boynton Books

If you haven't heard of Sandra Boynton yet, you need to go find one of her books immediately.  They have adorable pictures and funny lines that will make even the adults in the room giggle.  Our favorites are Moo, Baa, Lalala, which teaches animal sounds; Happy Hippo, Angry Duck, which does a great job of introducing emotions; Snuggle Puppy, a fun and silly baby love song; and Pajama Time, great for singing when they're getting ready for bed.  There are tons of other great ones, too.

Mini Masters Series

These are one of my favorite baby finds ever.  They are board books that use paintings from the masters for pictures, along with cute rhymes that tie them together.  My sister got me started on these by giving Cricket Dancing with Degas, which she loves.  I have since gotten A Picnic with Monet and In the Garden with Van Gough, both of which are also awesome.  They're not expensive, and what a great way to introduce great art to children at a young age!

Baby Faces

I think all babies toddlers go through a phase when they just absolutely love pictures, especially of other babies.  I don't really know why, but maybe they just feel like they can relate.  We got this book through the Reach out and Read Program at our pediatrician's office.

I have to stop a minute and tell you about this program.  It is so great.  It's a non profit organization that provides books to children through their pediatricians.  Every time we go for a well visit, Cricket gets a new book that is geared exactly for her age.  These books always end up becoming the new favorites.  The program also works with doctors to incorporate advice on reading together as a family into your check ups, which as a teacher I love because reading to your children when they are young is the single greatest advantage you can give them academically.  No amount of Baby Einstein videos or V-Tech toys have been directly linked to later academic achievement like daily reading to your child.  I love that my pediatrician considers this as important as other aspects of healthy child development.

Ok, tiny rant there.  Anyway, books with real pictures of babies are awesome, and Cricket loves them.

Pride and Prejudice

I am totally in love with this book, and the whole Cozy Classics series.  First of all, the pictures are photographs of elaborately constructed scenes using needle-felted characters.  Needle felting!  How cool is that!?  And they look amazing!  Each picture is accompanied by a single word, and yet somehow, the basic story is totally in there!  The great part about just having one word on each page is that Cricket pretty much has it memorized by now, and it gives a lot of freedom for us to talk about the pictures as she points out different things.  They have a whole series of these, and I'd love to get some more.  They even have Emma coming soon!

Dr. Seuss Board Books

You can't talk about kids' books without talking about Dr. Seuss!  A lot of his regular books have been adapted to the shorter, more sturdy "Bright and Early Board Book" series.  Cricket's favorite is Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, which reads like a chant and is very fun, until you get to the end and are reminded creepily of Planet of the Apes.  She also loves The Foot Book and The Eye Book, which are not my favorite 'cause I feel like he pretty much just rhymed random words, but whatever.  She likes them.

My First Picture Album


Cricket's Grandma got this book for her for Christmas, and it is just the best thing ever.  It's a soft fabric book with clear plastic pockets that you can put pictures in.  The pictures are protected and she gets to look at them as much as she wants, which is great, because like I said, she is obsessed with pictures and would read my Shutterfly albums all day if I let her!

One of the coolest things about this book is that you can change out the pictures whenever you want to, and it's like a completely different book!  I actually want to get a couple more of this style book so I can make one book of her friends and one of the rest of the family I couldn't fit into the first one!

I'm sure there are lots of other books that Cricket is into right now.  It seems like she's always got a book in her hand!  What books do your little ones love right now?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Task-Oriented and Toddler-Oriented

If there is one thing that would help you get to know me, it's the fact that I am a task-oriented person, not a people-oriented person.  This one tiny fact can help you understand so much about why I do what I do.  I mean, of course, I like people.

Well, I like some people.

I like you.  You're cool.

And of course, I am always trying to get better at focusing more on people than tasks.

For example, if I ever get snippy, impatient, or bossy, check to see if I'm trying to get something done.  Usually, that's it.  (Or I might be hungry.  That's it sometimes, too.)

Not that I use this as an excuse.  I am always working to moderate this side of me, but it is a natural part of who I am.  A people-person would rather sit and chat with someone for hours and leave their kitchen half-cleaned, or their laundry half-folded, or their Facebook half-checked.  That's just who they are.  It's wrong, but it's who they are.

I'm kidding.


Having a toddler around has recently thrown my task-oriented self for a huge loop.  I get really frustrated when I start something and then get interrupted.  It's like a part of my brain just shuts down and ignores everything else until it's finished.

But obviously I can't do that with a toddler.  Everything is interrupted when there's a toddler around.  And you can't really blame them.  They need help with just about everything, even in our house, where we've really tried to give her as much independence and access as possible.

So I've been working on coping mechanisms.  They're  not perfect, but they are the result of over a year of relearning how to do just about everything.  And in the spirit of the article, I will interrupt what I am trying to say periodically with pictures of Cricket trying to distract you.

1)  Make Tiny Tasks

Don't try to tackle an entire project.  Break it up into smaller pieces and focus on completing one of those.

Instead of trying to empty the whole dishwasher, I just try to empty the silverware.  Then the top tray.  Then the bottom tray.  Three separate goals for three separate times.

If I'm trying to prepare for a meal or make something during the day, I just do one step at a time.  I might chop onions, and then go push Cricket on the swing.  Later, I'll come back and wash all the potatoes, then leave and change a diaper.  I might boil the pasta, put it in the fridge, and then go read books to Cricket.

It's not just in the kitchen, either.  I might upload pictures from my camera in one sitting, go through and edit them in another, and then upload them to Facebook in a third.  (I don't have an iPhone.)

Or, instead of cleaning the entire bathroom at one time, I might only clean the sink.  Then later, or even the next day, I might clean the toilet.  Then later, the floors, etc.

Sometimes I even prep during nap time things that I can't do until she wakes up, like putting things in the food processor but waiting to turn it on.

If I think of each step as an individual task, it makes it much easier for me to break things up throughout the day.

2)  Prioritize

I plan my day in terms of what I call "time units."  My time units right now are basically broken down into five parts:  Before She Wakes UpMorning, Nap Time, Afternoon, After Her Bedtime.  I prioritize what I do, not just by what is most important, but by what it is most important to get done during that time period.  For example, she's a light sleeper, so I save quiet things like folding laundry for nap time, and do things like washing dishes in the morning when she is content to play independently.

This prioritizing by time units helps me get the most out of the day and not feel like I'm spinning my wheels trying to do things that I can't seem to finish.

Well, not feel as much like that, anyway.

3)  Constantly tell yourself "My baby is more important."

This is self-explanatory, but worth including.  If I get really frustrated, this is my mantra.  Even if nothing at all gets done all day, I've played with Cricket, she's healthy, and she's cared for.  Mission Accomplished.

4)  Make lists

I know some people don't like lists, but they are my life-support system.  Because of our real food emphasis and my trying to save money by making stuff myself, I have a never ending list of things I need to do or make, like granola bars, cereal, chopping and freezing veggies, making bread, making bath salts, etc.  (That last one is not applicable to the real food part of the conversation.  I do not recommend eating bath salts.)

I also have a list pad on the fridge that is our running grocery list, so when we are out of something, or I think of something we need, I immediately write it down and don't have to remember in a week when I go shopping.

As a task-oriented person, lists help me feel in control.  I can point to my list and say, "Look what I have accomplished!  I have done things!"  I have even been known to add things to my daily to-do lists just so that I can cross them off and prove that I did stuff.  Hey, it works!

5)  Be realistic

I have slowly and painfully realized that I have new limitations now that I am chasing and being chased by a small person.  I've gotten to where I won't put more than about five things on my daily to-do list, because it's almost impossible for me to accomplish more than that.  I just had to adjust to a new normal, and that's ok.

If you are not a task-oriented person, first of all, you probably quit reading this a while ago because it doesn't apply to you, and because you don't feel the need to finish reading just out of obligation like the rest of us.  You also probably think I'm kind of crazy and very uptight.  While that may be, hopefully some of the things I've said ring true to a few people.


Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Sensory Play: Flower Bin

After my hospital stay, a sweet friend brought me a bouquet of cut flowers.  They were so pretty, and they lasted for over two weeks, which I thought was pretty impressive!  I noticed they were starting to droop the other day, so I thought that before I threw them away, I would give Cricket a chance to enjoy them.

I cut them off right below the flower so the stems were just an inch or two long, and I pulled the petals off a few of them.  I put them in the little plastic box I keep for sensory boxes and waited for Cricket to explore!

She had so much fun!  She had never really gotten to play with flowers hands-on before.  Usually I'm telling her to be gentle and just smell it, so it was great to let her explore them.  She played with it for about thirty minutes.  We talked about parts of the flower and the colors she saw.

She loved to smell the flowers over and over.

She would take them in and out of the box.

She liked dropping the petals from her fingers.

Her favorite part was pulling the carnation petals out and sticking her fingers in the empty pods.

Eventually, she started throwing it all like confetti.

It was the loveliest and sweetest smelling mess I've ever had to clean up in my kitchen.

Now you try it! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Your Morning Routine

My morning routine has evolved over the years.  At one point, it involved taking a shower every single morning.  (I've since moved that to nights, because then Brian is home to listen for Cricket.)  At another point, it involved a Caboodle full of makeup. (Dude!  They still make those!)   When I was teaching, it took almost exactly an hour for me to get ready.  Now, it takes 14 minutes.  Yeah.  You heard me.  Fourteen minutes from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I'm ready to walk out of the house.

I'm a freakin' morning ninja.

1)  The Basics

Wash face, brush teeth, put in contacts, etc.  Take 7 minutes.  (Eight if my contacts are being rebellious.) 

2)  Clothes

Getting dressed takes way less time than it used to for a couple of reasons.  One, I care way less about what I'm wearing these days.  And two, my clothes are clean, folded, and easy to find in my drawer, compared to when I was teaching and my clothes were clean and heaped in a gigantic pile beside my bed.  Fishing through to find matching socks or the specific shirt I needed took up a lot of time.  Not at all kidding.

Remember this post?

Now, pulling out and putting on a t-shirt and one of the like, two pairs of jeans I own takes 2 minutes.

3)  Hair

I would wear a ponytail every day, but my head is freakishly round.  Like, cartoonishly round.  Ponytails accentuate this to the point where I would be scared to hang out with soccer fans.  So usually I just pull back my would-be bangs.  (I haven't had real bangs since middle school, as a service to society.)  Takes 2 minutes.

4)  Makeup

It strikes me as odd that the older I get and the more I need makeup, the less of it I wear.  I would like to say this is because of my growing self-confidence and natural beauty, but it's really just because I care less and less.  Also, most of it would rub off on Cricket, which would look weird, so I'm down to eyeliner and mascara.  That's it.  Takes 3 minutes.  (Two minutes to apply, and one minute to get off the mascara that inexplicably always ends up on my face somewhere.)

And that's it!  After that, I'm ready for:

5)  Facebook/Blog/Email/Pinterest

45 minutes. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Fantasy Football: The Draft

I have never been really into football, which is kind of unusual because I live in the South, where even animals are into football.

Photo from Zara Windsor

Photo from Kendall Hill
But yeah, never been that into it.  I mean, I was in band in high school, so I went to every football game for four years in a row.  I even went to a game in college, which is impressive because our college was not known for it's football team.  In fact, I think they'd only had one like, two years by that point.  I'm pretty sure there might have been people at our college who didn't even know we had a football team.

Anyway, all that to say that I decided to join the party this year.  I am going to totally care about football.

So I joined a fantasy football league.

My friends and my sister are always talking about it, and it sounded like kinda fun, maybe, so I thought, "What the heck?" And I signed up.

I'm sure this will be a series of posts, but today's post is just about the draft.  I worked very hard to get ready for my draft, so I will share my tips for everyone else.

1)  Learn the Basic Rules of the Game

I cannot stress this enough.  If you don't know how the game is played, you won't understand why a running back is more valuable than a tackle and you will draft nine kickers because you think they score a lot.

As I said, I have watched football before, so I know the basic basic rules, like, "the ball should go the direction your team is facing," and "when they kick the ball through the Y, it's extra points."  I know you aren't supposed to grab someone's face mask and I know "First and ten, do it again!" from the very helpful cheerleaders.

What I didn't know was...everything else.  I had to spend several nap times (my most valuable unit of time) learning the positions of the different players and what each position did.  I had to learn why sometimes it's ok to tackle a guy and sometimes it's super not ok.  (That part still seems funny to me, but whatevs.)

Turns out, Wikipedia is actually a fantastic source for football 101.  I now know my quarter backs from my running backs and my safeties from my interceptions!

2)  Learn The Players

In order to play fantasy football, you have to draft players to your imaginary team, and you will look stupid if you just draft the ones who's names you recognize.  You'll end up with Tim Tebow, Plaxico Burress, Michael Jordan, and John Madden.

I spent a lot more nap times combing through lists of players.  Most lists only agreed on the top three or four, so I read the ups and downs of the different players and tried to make my own top 20 lists for each position.  I also talked to my sister a lot, because she has been doing this for a while.  It's a good idea to try to find a Jedi/Sensei/ to help you get started.

I can't say that I really know that much about all the players still, but I have a notebook full of stuff I've written about them, so I can sound like I know what I'm talking about when I say, "Yeah, he should be ok now that the Falcons have moved to a more pass-friendly game," or "Yeah, he has a pretty good receiving average, and there are high expectations for him to carry the corps this year."

3)  Make Your Lists

You want to make lists of your top 20 for each major offensive position.

Geez, I sound so awesome saying that.

Anyway, when you draft, you take turns picking people you want on your team, so you need to have a long list ready if/when people take the guy you really wanted.

You only need like, ten kickers though, 'cause they're not that important.

But for all the other positions, you need at least 20, plus some sleepers, which are players who maybe haven't done great yet, but who might have a break out year and get you lots of surprise points.  If someone makes fun of a choice you made, always say he's a sleeper and smile like you know something they don't.

(Note:  This strategy does not work for Mark Sanchez.)


4)  Decide on Your Strategy

This is where your Jedi/Sensei can help you a lot.  You need to decide how you are going to draft your players.  Apparently, drafting quarterbacks first is so like, five years ago.  Now, it's all about the running backs.  But what then?  Do you go for an elite quarterback next?  Or do you go for Megatron, the super awesome wide receiver who, as his nickname suggests, looks like an actual transforming robot stuck midway between humanoid shape and diesel truck form?  Do you get two pretty good running backs or do you sacrifice so you can snatch up a tight end while the good ones are still out there?

You have to decide, and you need to be flexible.  Depending on where you are in the draft order, your strategy can completely change.  This is where the next step can help you.

5)  Do a Mock Draft

I was really intimidated by the idea of doing a mock draft, but I'm so glad I did it.  It helped me first of all figure out the platform that I would be using, so I knew which buttons to click and how to set up my customized lineup ahead of time.  It also helped me get used to thinking through my strategies on the fly.  I was last in the draft order, which is pretty much my worst case scenario, so it was a good chance to see how that would go.

Turns out, I did pretty well, partly because I think some of the other people in the mock draft were either drunk or they know even less than I do about football.  Some of their picks made no sense whatsoever, and coming from me, that's saying something!

6)  Draft Away! (Easier Said than Done)

Our league had kind of a saga trying to draft.  We went to the local Buffalo Wild Wings for their "Official Draft Day."  We made our reservations ahead of time, and told them we were doing a live online draft.  We get there, get all our computers set up, and then realize they have no Internet.

No.  Internet.

Please keep in mind, this is the establishment that has been doing an advertising blitz for the last month about being "Fantasy Football Draft Central," and we went on their advertised "National Draft Day."  We had two IT guys in our group, and they tried every trick they knew to get us online.  It kind of worked, and they finally got us on, but the connection was so slow it wouldn't load the page.

Fail fail fail.

We decided to go back to our house and try it.  By then, it was way past our scheduled draft time, and the computer had auto drafted for us.  We got all set up to redo it...

...and then we discovered that we couldn't reschedule the draft until at least the following day.  So frustrating.

So our "Third Time's a Charm" draft happened a few nights later, but instead of getting together again, we all just drafted from our homes.  It was not nearly as epic, but what are you gonna do?

I got a pretty solid team, although the host site didn't think so, and projected me to finish dead last in our league.

Whatever, Yahoo.  You don't know me.

Here's my team, for those who are interested.

Beginner's Luck

QB:  RG3
RB:  Marshawn Lynch
RB:  Jamaal Charles
WR:  AJ Green
WR:  Vincent Jackson
Flexi: Reggie Wayne
TE:  Gronk/Owen Daniels (Since Gronk is out for the first few games)
K:  Sebastian Janikowski
DEF:  Texans
D:  Ray Ventrone
D: Rashad Johnson

Bench:  Darren McFadden, Montee Ball, Zach Sudfeld, Mike Williams, Andrew Luck, Chris Ivory, and Carson Palmer

See?  Not bad.

If you really want to see how awesome they are, I made a Pinterest board of them all doing awesome stuff. It makes me feel better when I worry that my team sucks.

I didn't get any super elite players, mostly because everyone kinda freaked me out by doing not at all what I was told everyone would do, and also because I was 7/8 in the draft order.  No worries, though.  It'll be cool.  I have high hopes for RG3 now that he is 100% recovered, and my RB's are solid.  We can do this!

Play ball!



Monday, September 2, 2013

More Awesome Sensory Play

Here is a roundup of a bunch of little sensory activities we've done lately.


Our library had an activity early in the summer where the kids could come help plant the flower bed around the building.  It was really cute.  They just had tons of flowers, plants, and shovels and the kids could plant them anywhere in the beds they wanted.

This was our first really hot summer outing, and Cricket was not all that happy about it.  She did enjoy playing with the shovel and the tag on the flower, and she pulled one of the flowers out of the ground three times before I finally moved her!

This was also the day I realized I needed to get some cheap shoes that I didn't mind her getting muddy.  Thank goodness for consignment sales!

Water Box

Before we got a pool or a water table, I filled a big Tupperware box with water for her to play in.  I put in a few bath toys and gave her the little watering can I'd gotten for her when we started our garden.

She had a great time.  She loves playing with water in any form.

Of course, eventually it all got poured out.  Just prepare yourself that this is going to happen.

Red Sensory Bin

Our latest sensory bin is focused on the color red.  I picked red because it is the first color in the spectrum and I am type-A.  Also, it was the only color she had said up to that point.

I basically just went through her room and got everything red I could find.

I even had a red basket from the Dollar Tree!  The little strawberry amigurumi from her Grandma was extra cute, too.  I also put in some linking rings, blocks, a bowl, a ball, a sweater, a paint chip card, and some miscellaneous pieces from different toys.

Honestly, at 15 months, Cricket was not really very into this one.  She explored it a little bit, but she lost interest quickly.  Still, it's something to remember and revisit when she's learning her colors later on.

Food Products

It's become a running joke with us now that I just give Cricket trash to play with.  Honestly, though, natural food makes great sensory material!  Corn husks and corn silk were fascinating to her.

One afternoon, I was chopping green peppers on the porch while she played and she asked to see some.  I gave her to tops that I had cut out and she played with them for a long time!  She loved the way the seeds fell off.  I didn't get any pictures of her playing with them, but I did get pictures of the aftermath on my porch!  The birds had a great time with all those seeds!

She loves it when I snap beans or shell peas.  She likes to put the ends of the beans in and out of the bowl.

Even the tops of celery stalks are endlessly entertaining for a toddler!

Paper Textures

I gathered as many different kinds of paper and sheets of material as I could find.  I used construction paper, printer paper, wax paper, tin foil, saran wrap, cardboard, card stock, and parchment paper.  (Of course, supervise at all times, as these are not all child-safe.)

She explored them and crumpled some of them up when I showed her how.

She definitely had some materials that she preferred and some she barely touched.  We talked about words to describe the different feelings and sounds they made.  I will probably do this one again because I feel like she would enjoy this activity more in a few months, too.

Contact Paper Window

This was a big hit.  We went for a walk in the back yard and gathered some natural objects that we could use.  I tried to focus on small, light things like grass, leaves, and flowers.  Then we came inside and I used masking tape to cover one section of our door with contact paper, sticky side out.

I showed her how to put the objects onto the window, and she was fascinated.  She liked taking them off and then giving them to me to put on again.  This would be a great one to do again in the fall when the leaves turn!

I hope this gives you some new ideas to try with your little one.  I'm sure I'll have more soon!