Monday, December 20, 2010

Dots of Fun

I love the idea of adding a homemade touch to every gift I give, and homemade gift wrap is such an easy way to do that. It’s a wonderful pre-Christmas activity to share with children of almost any age. But this particular twist works even for the tiniest of Santa’s little helpers…
Bingo Dabber Gift Wrap
You will need…
Plain brown parcel post wrap
Bingo dabbers in your choice of colours
Simply unroll the brown paper across a table, and show your child how to make polka dots (or for older kids, how to make polka dot patterns or pictures) using the bingo dabber. Even very young babies and toddlers can grasp a dabber and tap it on the paper (my daughter has been creating bingo dabbber art projects since roughly ten months of age). The brightly coloured polka dots result in surprisingly stylish looking gift wrap. And because it is quick and easy, you can easily create a fun and colourful roll of gift wrap in ten minutes or less!

Helpful Hints:
·    Plan ahead and buy coordinating ribbons and bingo dabbers. The fancier the ribbons and bows, the more impressive your gift wrap will look.
·    This is a fabulous fine motor activity for little ones at the pre-drawing stage. Just be sure to supervise closely so babies don’t mouth the dabbers.
·    This is also a great activity for preschoolers and school aged kids. For a fun challenge, show preschoolers how to create pictures using dots. Or draw out a pattern for your school aged child and have them replicate it using dots on the paper.
·    Bingo dabbers don’t generally contain washable ink, so be sure to throw an art apron on your child and use the table-saving "no stress mess" strategy.
·    Have fun, and Merry Christmas!!!!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Baked Clay Christmas Ornaments

So it’s less than a week until Christmas, and unless you are among the super-prepared “I was finished all my shopping in July” few, this will likely be a busy week. But there is no better time than Christmas to slow down for a little while and just enjoy the moment with your little one. This baked clay recipe is perfect for making Christmas ornaments, but can be used for a fun craft activity any time of the year. My daughter (who turned two this weekend!) LOVED playing with this clay and using cookie cutters to cut out shapes. The following day, we painted our homemade ornaments and they look (while very homemade) wonderfully cheery and festive…
Baked Clay Recipe
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and knead until smooth.  Form dough into shapes or roll and cut using cookie cutters. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately one hour, or until dough appears dry throughout. Happy creating!

Very Merry Clay Making
  Helpful Hints:
·   Thick dough takes much longer to bake than thin dough. For best results, roll or press dough thinly before shaping.
·   To make Christmas ornaments, use the end of a drinking straw to punch a hole at the top of the ornament. Once baked, thread a colourful ribbon through the hole and tie into a bow (be sure to double knot).
·   Handmade ornaments make great gifts for grandparents, or can be added to gifts for teachers or babysitters. Be sure to write your child’s name and the year on the back of the ornament.
·   Homemade ornaments also make cute, creative gift tags. Simply paint the gift recipient’s name on the front of the ornament, or write it on using a colourful sharpie.

Christmassy Crafting

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tropical Luau Cake and Pancreatitis

One month ago tonight, I was in my kitchen attempting to make a festive, tropical-themed birthday cake. It had been a chaotic day, and I had run out of time to even visit the cake decorating store. So I ransacked my cake decorating box, and made my very best effort at cake decorating in a pinch. Simultaneously, my poor husband was at various intervals writhing in pain on the family room floor. With each attack, I asked the same question – “Should I be taking you to the hospital?” And with each question, the same answer – “I’m fine honey. It’s just gas.” Choosing to believe him, I decorated on.
The following morning, tropical luau cake casting a colourful glow inside of my refrigerator, I drove my now obviously ill husband to the emergency room of our local hospital. What he had explained away as gas turned out to be something much more serious – a case of acute pancreatitis caused when gallstones completely blocked both his liver and pancreas. One month in hospital, one surgery, and a pretty rough road later, my wonderful husband is finally HOME. And boy, are we ever glad to have him back...
So in celebration of my hubby being home and on the road to recovery, a couple of lessons learned:
1)   When your husband is in sick or in pain, always assume that his illness or injury is significantly WORSE than he is letting on. It seems that men hate doctors and hospitals, and avoid them whatever the cost. My dear hubby sat at home while his pancreas began literally digesting itself, not wanting to be “that guy” who went to the hospital with gas pain. Down the hall from him on the hospital ward was a man about my husband’s age. He almost died of a ruptured appendix, and told his wife it was “probably indigestion”. Next time, I’ll err on the side of caution.
2)   With a little creativity and a few basic supplies on hand, you can throw together a fun and festive birthday cake even in the midst of chaos. I WISH I had never made this cake. Wish I had taken my hubby to the ER instead. But the cake was made, and taken to the party in my absence. And it, apparently, was a hit. So here’s the recipe, for you to make under what I hope will be much better circumstances…
Easiest Ever Pineapple Coconut Cake
I box golden cake mix, plus required ingredients
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup flaked coconut
Prepare cake mix according to package directions, then fold in pineapple and coconut. Bake according to package directions.  The result is a wonderfully moist, very tropical-tasting cake that takes almost no effort to make. A large bottom layer can be used to create the "ocean" and a smaller top layer to form a "tropical island". Decorate with any tropical-themed items you have on hand. I used some plastic palm trees and sharks and a couple of drink umbrellas, and encircled the cake plate with a couple of dollar store leis. What could be simpler!
Oh – and one more lesson “learned” (never forgotten, just refreshed). Oh my goodness, do I ever love my husband. In my totally unbiased opinion, he’s the best husband and daddy on earth. Is it ever wonderful to have him home! Welcome home, honey. We love you!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Super Stackers

The past few weeks have been nothing short of utterly chaotic for our little family. But for a few minutes this afternoon the world stopped spinning for a while, as I sat down with my little almost-two-year-old and did some serious building with blocks. We made towers and castles, fences for the farm animals, and a bed for dolly. Blocks absolutely everywhere. And the sweetest, happiest smile on my busy toddler’s face…
There could be no more perfect toy than a simple set of building blocks. Period. No bells and whistles toys will ever come close. Yet sadly, the trusty block is being neglected. I worked for ten years with hundreds of young children and their families. And while most had battery-operated toys spilling out of every corner of their home, few regularly sat down to play with a set of blocks.
Of course, the toy industry has a vested interest in trying to convince us well-meaning parents that more complicated toys are what our children need. And in our effort to do what’s best, we may lose sight of the fact that simple is often so much better. And what could be simpler than a set of blocks! From a developmental perspective, it would be tough to find a toy more ideally suited for promoting learning through play.
Did you know that playing with blocks and stacking toys…
·         Helps your child develop spatial awareness.
·         Promotes development of fine motor skills
·         Helps to develop attention span, persistence, and frustration tolerance.
·      Promotes understanding of important concepts such as size and quantity.
·         Encourages creativity and imaginative play.
·        Provides opportunities to develop cooperative play and turn taking skills.
A simple set of wooden blocks will provide your child with endless opportunities for fun and learning, beginning at about six months of age (when babies begin actively grasping, banging, and combining objects in play) and continuing on through the toddler, preschool, and early school-aged years. And while there are lots of lovely stacking toys out there to buy, homemade toys are often just as entertaining. Here are a few ideas…
Homemade Stacking and Building Toys
·    For little ones just learning to stack or little ones with gross motor or fine motor challenges, try playing with a set of clean, never used cleaning sponges. They are easy to grasp with little hands, and won’t slip and slide when stacked.
·    A set of bean bags also makes a great, easy introduction to stacking.
·    Save your paper grocery bags. Stuff them with newspaper, then fold the edge over and tape shut with masking tape. Older children love stacking giant, jumbo-sized towers or making “castles” big enough to play in.
·    Empty cardboard boxes make wonderful building blocks. Empty Kleenex boxes work particularly well.
·   Tupperware or other food storage containers (with the lids on) also make interesting stacking toys.
The next time you want to spend some time really connecting with your child through play, try turning the TV off, putting the bells and whistles toys away, and sitting down to have some fun with blocks. You’ll be building so much more than just a tower…

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy (American) Thanksgiving!

As you may have noticed, this joyful mommy has been on a brief hiatus from blogging. More details to follow on that – oh, it’s been a journey – but I MISS writing and will be back as soon as this crazy life allows. In the meantime, I thought I’d re-post my thanksgiving time capsule idea for the benefit of my American friends. Happy (American) Thanksgiving…
Thanksgiving Time Capsule
This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. And one thing is absolutely certain – no matter how challenging life may be or how difficult the trials you are facing, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for when you are blessed to be a mommy or a daddy. This weekend I’ll be hugging my little one extra tight, and remembering all of the things I have to be grateful for.
As our family grows and our little ones get older, I want them to think of Thanksgiving as something more than pumpkin pie and turkey (or tofurkey in our happily vegetarian household!).  I want Thanksgiving to be a time in which we truly reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. So this year, I’m instituting a new tradition in our home – the Thanksgiving Time Capsule!
I’ve already purchased our family time capsule – a little box shaped like a treasure chest, found in our local craft store. One day down the road, I’ll have our children paint and decorate the outside of the treasure chest. But for now we’ll just focus on the inside. My goal is that each member of our family will create something special to tell of what we’re thankful for this year, to be tucked away in the treasure chest until next Thanksgiving. Then each and every year, we’ll repeat the tradition, reading through past years’ contributions and no doubt smiling at the memories they bring to mind.
No matter what the age or stage of your child, they can participate in and have fun with your family’s Thanksgiving time capsule…
·         Older children can write a list of all of the things they are thankful for.
·         Younger children can draw a picture of things they are thankful for – just be sure you write on the back of the picture, so that you remember what it represents in years to come.
·         Even the tiniest babies tell us what they’re thankful for – it’s just up to us to observe and interpret. Write a little list of the things your baby loves, decorating it if you’d like with a little tracing or print of a tiny hand or foot.
The lovely thing about this tradition is that it can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be. Some different twists on the time capsule tradition include…
·         Purchase a simple little notebook. At Thanksgiving dinner, ask each family member what they are thankful for and write their response in the notebook.
·         Create a video time capsule, asking each person to share what they are thankful for on video.
·         Create a Thanksgiving scrapbook. Have each person write or draw something that they are thankful for on small pieces of paper. Arrange them on a single scrapbook page, adding pictures of your Thanksgiving as a family, or little reminders of things you are thankful for – souvenirs from a family vacation, pictures of loved ones, etc.  Add a new page (or pages) to your scrapbook each year.
·         Or create another tradition to share as a family. Have fun, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Getting Connected

It doesn’t feel like November today, at least not here where I sit typing, facing my kitchen windows. Unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny, this is a rare gem of a November day. The kind of day that would be perfect for an afternoon walk with my daughter, or even to spend some time playing with bubbles in the backyard. The kind of November day that will soon just be a sunny memory, as the rain and the clouds and the dreariness roll in.

Backyard Bubbles in November

No, November is not my favourite month of the year. It’s not as bad as January and February – at least there is Christmas to look forward to – but it’s no match for the lovely months, like April and July. November means rain, cold, and early nightfall. It means more time spent indoors, and less opportunities for spontaneous outdoor fun. And that it why November is one of those months when I am SO grateful for all of the wonderful community activities that my daughter and I are involved in.
We have a pretty busy social calendar, my sweet little munchkin and I. Five mornings per week we pack up and head out the door, to one of the many wonderful drop-in playgroups or parent and tot classes that are available to us to attend. On any given day, there are multiple fun events that we have to choose from. But being connected in our community wasn’t always that easy.
When my daughter was about four months old, I began to slowly emerge from my sleep-deprived, mommy-of-a-newborn stupor and excitedly began looking for classes and playgroups to attend. For nearly a decade, connecting new parents with community resources was part of my job description. And yet when I tried to find activities to attend myself, the hunt was far more difficult than I ever anticipated it could be. Had I not believed so passionately in the importance of connecting in the community, I may very well have given up. It was a frustrating, discouraging affair. But I soldiered on, gradually discovering more and more resources, and finding a rich array of opportunities for our family to learn and play together.

Dancing with Delight at our Favourite Playgroup

I am passionate in my belief that connecting with community resources is one of the most important tools you can have in your mommy tool kit. It will benefit you, and it will benefit your little one. Whether you are home full time, working full time, or some combination of the two, community activities are a wonderful opportunity to connect with other parents and have fun learning together with your child. And the resources in your community are likely far richer than you know. It will take work to discover the best opportunities. But here are some tips to help you along the way…

Tips for Getting Connected in Your Community
1.   Call or visit your public health unit. They often compile a list of resources for new parents – a great place to start. Just don’t assume that this list – or any other – is an exhaustive one.
2.   Ask every parent you know what groups they attend or have attended with their children.
3.   Check out your local community centre for listings of upcoming classes.
4.   Visit your local library.  Many libraries offer programs for children and families free of charge. And most also have brochures available with listings of other community programs.
5.   Check your local newspaper and attend family-friendly community events. These events can be a lot of fun for the whole family, and as a bonus you may find information booths promoting other community programs.
6.   Look online, but don’t assume you’ll find everything that’s out there, or that online listings are current. If you discover something that looks promising, follow up first before attempting to attend (a lesson learned the hard way!).
7.  Get out and try things! Not every program will be a good fit for your family. But the only way you’ll know is to try. The more you get out there and try things, the more parents you’ll meet and the more resources you’ll discover.
8.  Keep hunting! No matter how long you’ve been searching, there are likely some gems out there that you still don’t know about. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t forget to ask new parents you meet.

Helpful Hint: Here’s a secret that’s worth knowing! Many community centres offer “partnership classes” – classes offered at the community centre in conjunction with another organization, such as a music or dance school. These classes are often the same as ones offered through the other organization, but at the community centre rate – great value for your money!

And One More Helpful Hint: Never assume that the cost of a class has anything to do with the quality. The vast majority of the groups and classes that we attend are absolutely FREE, and I find them to be of a higher quality than many of the most expensive programs.

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Stress Mess - The Sequel

It seems that a lot of joyful mommies are fans of the No Stress Mess idea - currently number one on my list of popular posts! So while on the topic of avoiding a mess and making life a little easier, here’s an idea that’s equally simple and equally as effective for saving your sanity. To save your kitchen or dining room table during messy craft activities, keep a few "disposable" plastic dollar store tablecloths on hand. I often buy these kinds of table cloths for parties (particularly kids’ parties, where there are likely to be lots of spills), as they are inexpensive but make the room look festive. Once they get worn or stained, simply wipe them down and keep them near your craft supplies. When attempting a messy craft activity, cover your table with the plastic table cloth, using masking tape to tape the edges of the tablecloth to the underside of your table. Your table is now completely wrapped in plastic, which will not shift or slide off. Paint and glue won’t soak through as they often do with newspaper, so you can relax and join in the fun of creating with your little one. So go ahead - paint to your heart's content, glue things just for the joy of it, and make the biggest mess ever - just because you can!

Cool Dads Wear Costumes Too

Just a quick note in celebration of those wonderful daddies who don’t hesitate celebrate. We saw so many cool daddy costumes while out trick-or-treating last night. And while I’m the first to admit I’m a little biased, I think few were as much fun as my hubby’s…The six-foot-seven-inch crazy bird, complete with homemade paper mache bird head (which he could barely see out of, and smelled just awful), and homemade multi-coloured feathered wings. Wings that left a trail of fluffy feather bits around our neighborhood, so bright and eye catching that I was able to follow the trail right back home on my walk this morning.
Just couldn’t resist sharing a few pictures of the fun, dog costume and all…

I’ll spend today recovering from the sugar rush, and be back with more fun tips and tricks soon. Because even dreary November can be fun when you’re celebrating life with little ones…

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Moms Wear Costumes

I’ll never forget the Halloween that my mom dressed up as a scarecrow. I was about eight years old, and all decked out in my homemade Pippi Longstocking costume, complete with coat hanger wire wrapped around my head and threaded though my braids to make them stick straight out at the sides of my head. My sister was a Care Bear, with a big felt heart sown on the tummy of her pink sleepers, and a pair of homemade teddy bear ears. Always one to join in on the fun rather than directing from afar, my mom decided to dress up as a scarecrow. She wore an old pair of jeans, a straw hat, a bandana, and one of my dad’s checkered shirts, stuffed with towels for that stuffed scarecrow effect. But the outfit was missing a little something. So at the last minute, my mom decided to cut the leg off of an old pair of pantyhose and pull it over her face, drawing a mustache and eyebrows on with a black eye liner pencil.
If you’ve ever tried putting a nylon stocking over your head (which thankfully, many have not), you’ll know that the tight, stretchy fabric distorts and contorts your face in very unusual ways. So in theory, my mom was a scarecrow. But in reality, she looked much more like some sort of deranged serial killer in a cowboy costume. It was terrifying. And one of the funniest things I think I have ever seen in my life. My sister and I cannot talk about that Halloween without laughing. Even typing this, my face hurts from smiling.
I remember that Halloween more clearly than any other in my life. And my clearest memory (aside from the image of my mom’s distorted face) is of trick or treating at a house down the road. My sister and I went to the door, and my mom stayed back a little bit. Peering into the darkness in the direction of my mom, the homeowner asked “So who’s that? Is that your dad or your mom?”.
“It’s our mom,” we answered, shyly and in unison, as was our style.
“Well, tell your mom to come over here,” he laughed. “She gets double the candy! Only the cool moms wear costumes!”
I grew up always believing quite wholeheartedly that both of my parents were “cool”. But in that moment, I was so proud that the buttons nearly popped right off of my plaid Pippi Longstocking coat. My mom got a lot more candy that night – almost as much as we did. And the fun of that evening is a vivid memory that I still carry with me today.
This week has been a crazy week. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Not just with the usual busyness-of-life type things. But with major, stressful, potentially life-altering things coming at us out of the blue. It would be pretty easy to forgo the family theme costumes this year. Our daughter has an adorable store-bought costume, so she’s all set, and we could just throw on a jacket and bring her out trick or treating.  But what better time is there to celebrate with your child than when the road gets a little rough? What better time is there to invest in having fun and making memories?
So we’ll be up late tonight, and probably tomorrow night too. Creating a mommy costume, a daddy costume, and just for good measure – a dog costume. Because if there’s one thing I learned from my mom the scarecrow…only the cool moms wear costumes.
Last Minute Costume Ideas
All that being said, there is only one shopping day left until Halloween. So here are a few last minute costume ideas from the queen of last minute costumes. They may not be the best costume you’ve ever created, but you can throw them together with just what you have in your closet and a budget of five dollars or less at the dollar store…
·         Wear an old pair of jeans, a plaid shirt, some boots, and a bandana and cowboy hat from the dollar store…and you’re a cowboy (works for dads too)! Trade the jeans for a puffy skirt, and you’re a square dancer!
·         Trade the dollar store cowboy hat for a dollar store straw hat…and you’re a farmer (works well if your child is dressed as a farm animal)!
If you have an old bridesmaid’s dress in your closet, you are set for costumes for years to come…
·         Add a dollar store crown…and you’re a princess.
·         Add a pair of dollar store wings and a magic wand…And you’re a fairy princess.
·         Cut some white teeth out of paper and attach them to your crown or your wand…And you’re the tooth fairy.
·         Bridesmaid dress options are limitless! Other options may include (depending on the dress) – a Barbie, a flamenco dancer, a bride, an angel, or here’s a novel idea – a bridesmaid!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adventures in Pumpkin Muffin Making

I realized late last night that we had a costume party to attend today. A potluck costume party at our favourite drop-in playgroup, and I had promised to bring something. To make things worse, last year I set the bar way too high, bringing what I thought to be a pretty adorable fruit platter arranged to look like a happy pumpkin. I guess that’s the problem with choosing not to just pick up a box of Timbits on the way in. The next year, people remember. There are expectations.
I am not the world’s greatest baker. But I have a couple of close friends who could easily vie for that title. One of those friends brought the most delicious pumpkin muffins to our costume party last week. So feeling ambitious (and perhaps a little desperate) late last night, I decided that I would attempt to tackle her pumpkin muffin recipe.
I don’t know what it is with me and baking. I just seem to have this strange inability to ever follow a recipe. And as a result, my baking is generally mediocre at best. Armed with that knowledge, I got out my friend’s pumpkin muffin recipe…and promptly began to alter it. While she had stayed up late into the night baking fresh pumpkins and making her own pumpkin puree (she is a much more patient baker than I am!), I just used the canned stuff. And since I was already making changes, I threw in a few more little twists.  And to my great surprise, they ended up being delicious! Wonderfully moist with a very festive flavor, these muffins are healthy and so easy to make…
Pumpkin Muffins
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white sugar (you can reduce this to one cup if you choose and still have yummy muffins)
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pureed pumpkin (I used canned, but I must admit that the fresh pumpkin my friend used was yummier)
2/3 cup applesauce
3 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins or line with paper liners. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together pumpkin puree, applesauce and eggs. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and combine until smooth. Bake roughly 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Makes 24 small or 18 regular sized muffins.
These muffins are delicious on their own, but for a festive Halloween twist, I covered them with cream cheese icing (no recipe needed – just combine softened cream cheese, icing sugar, and a tiny bit of milk, using your best judgment as to consistency and taste). I tinted the icing orange (using red and yellow food colouring) and then added happy pumpkin faces using a little tube of black icing (available in the baking aisle of the grocery store – a great thing to have on hand in your cupboard).
And the verdict? The playgroup costume party and the pumpkin muffins were both a smashing success! The kids loved them, the mommies and daddies loved them, even the grandmas loved them! They make a yummy Halloween treat, but don’t worry if you run out of time. They’d be great for Christmas too! Hope you enjoy them…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great Gobs of Goop

So here’s an activity not for the faint of heart. It’s probably the messiest adventure you’ll ever have inside your own home. But it is totally worth the mess…
“Goop” is the perfect activity for Halloween, but once you try it, you’ll come back to it again and again. It’s safe for babies and toddlers, but big kids, teenagers and adults will love it too! Goop is an amazing shape-shifting substance that changes from a liquid to a solid and back again right in the palm of your hands. Add a little green food colouring and you have the best ever ooey-gooey bowl of slime. My daughter and I played with our bowl of goop for nearly forty minutes this afternoon, and were both totally mesmerized by this super-cool, almost magical substance.
Goop Recipe
1 ¼ cup cornstarch
1 cup water
Few drops green food colouring
Combine cornstarch, water and food colouring in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly using your hands. If more than one child will be playing with the goop, simply double the recipe.
Playing with goop is a wonderful sensory adventure for little ones, as they explore the very unique textures of this ever-changing slime. And as this is an adventure best enjoyed together, playing with goop is a wonderful activity to promote language learning and togetherness.
And yes, goop is messy. Super messy. But so many great things about childhood are. To save yourself a lot of clean-up time, I’d highly recommend using the No Stress Mess strategy. The great thing about goop is that even if gobs of it do end up on your floor, it turns into a pasty/powdery substance that vacuums up quite easily. And little hands will come clean in just seconds when rinsed with water. So bite the bullet. Be a super brave mommy. And have FUN!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Indoor Sandboxes

Not wanting to say goodbye to autumn too soon, we spent the afternoon participating in one last muddy-booted, pumpkin-dotted, farm-scented, outdoor activity. And what an adventure it was! Friends invited us to join them on a trip to the corn maze – a family activity I’d highly recommend if you still have a chance this season. Initially we thought we’d forgo the maze in favour of the other little attractions – the petting zoo, mini hay bale maze, and wagon rides to the pumpkin patch. But we did venture briefly into the maze, and our little ones loved it. Tons of mud, fresh air, and wide open spaces for running around – and two nap-skipping toddlers were as happy as piggies in a cornfield.
One activity at the corn maze – a sandbox filled with dried corn (see dusty but delighted toddlers in picture, attached), reminded me of a great indoor activity that we’ll be setting up in our house as the weather turns dreary…An indoor “sand” box! Sounds messy (and truth be told, it will be, at least a little), but it’s not nearly the disaster you might think it will be. And this is one activity that is guaranteed to keep your kids happily occupied as the changing season means more time spent indoors. 
Choose a large but shallow plastic container (i.e. an “under-the-bed” type plastic storage bin) to use as your sandbox. Then clean up your child’s outdoor plastic swimming pool and bring it inside. Fill the shallow plastic bin with uncooked (okay, that should go without saying, but you never know!) rice, then place the bin in the middle of the pool. Have your child sit in the pool and play in the rice like a sandbox, using either a clean set of sandbox toys or an assortment of plastic bowls and spoons for scooping and digging in the “sand”. The pool will catch most of the rice that spills out of the “sandbox”, making cleanup a lot easier. Helpful Hint: At least some rice will likely end up spilling out of the pool, so try setting the pool up on a floor space that is easy to sweep.
Small Space Twist – If you don’t have room for a full-size “sandbox” in your home, you don’t have to miss out on the fun! Give your child a small bin of rice to dig and scoop in while sitting at a table. To save yourself a bit of clean-up, try the No Stress Mess strategy.
Other Sandbox Fillers – Instead of rice, cornmeal, dried beans, or dried lentils are other fun options.
This is a fabulous play activity to promote sensory exploration, fine motor and cognitive development. And as you sit and play together with your child, opportunities for language learning and imaginative play will abound. Happy digging!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Pizza

Yesterday I wrote that it appeared some sort of toy and snack food bomb had exploded in my house. Well, if we had a bomb explosion yesterday, then today we appear to have encountered some sort of toddler tornado. Today was costume party day, and for about three and a half hours this afternoon, our home was bursting at the seams with cookie devouring, costume adorned, messy, adorable, wonderful munchkins. Two babies, five toddlers, and two preschoolers, cleverly disguised as a colourful assortment of barnyard animals, bumblebees, butterflies and princesses.  It was total, absolute chaos. And I loved every minute of it.

For lunch we had one of my kid-party favourites – “decorate-your-own” mini pizzas. Kids LOVE making their own pizzas, so this is a fun activity for any party. But for Halloween, I decided to add a little twist…
Pumpkin Pizzas
Pilsbury pizza dough (or homemade pizza dough, if you are feeling ambitious)
Pizza sauce
Cheddar cheese, grated
Your choice of toppings:
Pepperoni (cut into triangles for a traditional Jack-O-Lantern look)
Red peppers (cut into long thin slices, for mouths)
Pineapple, mushrooms, onions, green peppers (cubed, for eyes and noses)
To make pumpkin shaped pizza crusts, roll out pizza dough and use a round cookie cutter (or almost anything round, such as the rim of a bowl or mug, depending on the size you would like your pizzas to be) to cut a round mini pizza crust. Use your finger to form a slight indent (as though making a heart shape) at the top of the “pumpkin”. Cut a small rectangle out of pizza dough and attach to the indented portion of the pizza crust to form a “stem”. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake crusts roughly 7-8 minutes on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  One roll of pizza dough yields roughly 2 adult-sized and 3 child-sized mini pizzas.
Prepare your pizza crusts ahead of time, then allow your little ones to decorate their own pumpkin pizzas! The cheddar cheese gives the pumpkins their orange colour, and toppings placed on top of the cheese will form your jack-o-lantern face. So simple – yet so much fun! Happy pumpkin eating!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Not Celebrate?

So maybe today isn’t the best day to be planning a party. My munchkin is sick, and keeping on top of the goo pouring from her nose has been practically a full time job the past couple of days. I am swamped, ridiculously overcommitted with appointments, events, and looming deadlines both this week and next. Our house looks like some sort of strange toy and snack food bomb exploded mysteriously in the night. My dear hubby works a 14 hour shift today, so party preparations are entirely up to me. And I’ve just realized that my butterfly wings are broken, so I need to go out and buy a costume.
But there will be a costume party at our house tomorrow, come rain or shine, sleet or hail, toy bombs or goo noses (I did send out a germ disclaimer to all our guests, not wanting to be “that mom” who assumes that if her kids are sick, everyone else’s should be too). Five mommies and nine munchkins under the age of five, all coming to our place for a costume party. And I can’t wait!
I was talking with a friend the other day about how ridiculously busy the past couple of weeks have been. When I told her I was planning a party at our place, she laughed at me…Actually AT me (good thing I love her – yes, friend, you know who you are!). But to me, celebrations and parties aren’t the things you do only if life isn’t too busy and you have lots of time on your hands. To me, they are what life – particularly life as a mommy – is all about.
I grew up in a family that loves to celebrate, that never neglected to mark special occasions in a fun, memorable, and often quirky way. And I want my own little ones to grow up with memory banks filled to overflowing with snippets of brightly coloured moments – playtime with friends, celebrations with family, quirky traditions, and frequent, spontaneous outbursts of togetherness and joy. Life with children is wonderful. And it deserves to be celebrated.
So that being said, I’ve learned that I need to pace myself when it comes to party planning. Now a well-seasoned party planner (I’ve been hosting two big parties per year for the past thirteen years for a very special group of kids, who are not so little any more), I do have the tendency to go a bit overboard. Not every party can be a Martha-esque all out super duper affair. I’ve decided to allow myself one over-the-top party per child per year – on their birthdays, of course. But for the rest – the little Valentine’s day teas and Halloween lunches – I’ve set a few little guidelines…
1.       Keep it small. Two to five mommies or daddies and accompanying little ones is plenty.
2.       Make it a potluck. I provide the main course (we usually try for lunch time parties) – something simple and kid-pleasing like mini pizzas or macaroni and cheese. Then I delegate the remainder of the food – fruit, veggies, dessert, munchies – to my guests.
3.       Remain calm. I know that the friends I’m inviting all have little ones too, and won’t judge me if my house isn’t totally spic and span.
4.       Make it festive! I throw a few dollar store decorations up on the wall, then pack them away in my “party supplies” box to be used another year.
5.       Relax and have fun! I save the games, activities, and entertainment for birthday parties. At little celebrations, we just hang out and let the little ones play…And it is SO much fun!
Time to run - I have some pumpkin-shaped pizza crusts to make and some tin foil spiders to hang from the ceiling before my goopy-nosed munchkin wakes up from her nap.  I’ll be sure to fill you in on how the party goes…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No Stress Mess

I was in the dollar store yesterday and made one of those purchases that I wish I had made ages ago. Once again, I was reminded of a trick I used to recommend to people, and then entirely forgot about myself until something triggered my memory. It took my daughter pulling a pile of packaged shower curtains off of the shelf onto the floor for me to remember this fantastic little trick…
To save your floors and your sanity during craft activities, spread a plastic shower curtain under your child’s highchair, your kitchen table, or in the designated “craft area” in your home. The shower curtain will protect your floors from dripping paint, globs of glue, and those delightful little bits of glitter that never seem to disappear. When your child has finished his project, simply fold up the shower curtain and shake it off or wipe it down outside. Allow the curtain to dry, fold it up, and reuse the next time you decide to brave a particularly messy craft! Happy mess making!