Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Swap

We had the best time participating in the Summer Swap hosted by the ladies at Superheroes and Princesses and Life of a Dairy Queen. These ladies did a great job, matching kids of similar ages to swap packages. The kids LOVED picking things out for their new friends and LOVED getting presents in the mail. Most importantly, I feel like we made friends in the process.
Dash's swap partner was 4 year old Kaden, who co-stars in My Blessings from Above. WOW! I can't believe what an amazingly put-together box this was. It was so fantastic. And brother and sister were right there in on the action of opening it. It pays to have siblings sometimes. I wish I had Dash's expressions and gasps of excitement on video. A cute story...the other night in bed, Dash wanted to tell Daddy something (he often tries to prolong bedtime with "I have to tell you something."). He said, "I miss my friend who lives far away." He was talking about Kaden. :)
Everything was individually wrapped in brown bags (decorated with drawings and stickers from Kaden) so it made the fun last a lot longer. Dash couldn't wait to open each bag to see what he would pull out next.
All of Dash's treasures (I hope I'm not forgetting anything.)...a letter written all about Kaden and his gifts, an apron to use while cooking, a homemade bookmark, a tiger craft/mask to put together, a homemade coloring book with learning pages about New Jersey (wish I would have thought of that), car and space stickers, homemade clay planet models, and bubbles. There were many maps and postcards and brochures from fun attractions in his state (with information on places he had visited). It certainly had me enticed to spend some time in NJ! He also included Cape May diamonds he had found on the beach in NJ (where the beach is made of small stones instead of sand), plus a pack of the same diamonds from the gift shop, to show what they are like after they are polished. He also gave Dash a beautiful decoration from his birth country of Korea and a recipe for a Korean meal.

A couple of other handmade learning activities: a name-that-shape game like this one and
On the Go...on the road cards held together by the metal ring. The cards have the name and picture of such items as ambulance, railroad crossing, church, etc. The kids got to try them out, finding all of the objects on our latest car trip to Missouri.

Thank you, Kaden and Michele for Dash's incredible package full of fun and learning activities.
Tornado was matched with Dylan from Wyoming. Tornado always gets super excited about projects and things like this. He could not wait to open his envelope.
This was actually the 2nd time he looked through it because I didn't have a camera handy to record it the first time. However, it felt all new again, and he was just as pleased to remember the contents the 2nd time.
One of his favorite things was simply a drawing from Dylan. Dylan knew that he loves hidden pictures, and he hid the letters of Tornado's name in the picture. Plus, he scrambled letters to a word on the side, and Tornado had to figure out that it spelled "Wyoming." Tornado seriously thought this was fabulous. He talked about it for days; I'm not kidding.
Visit Michelle's blog post to see MUCH better pictures of everything (and to see what we sent Dylan). It was so dark when I was taking these. Dylan sent Finn postcards, maps/brochures/tour guides from Wyoming, a bandana, a Wyoming souvenir patch, samples of petrified food, pheasant feathers, agate, and arrowheads (all from Wyoming). He also wrote him a sweet letter and included a photo collage of him and his brother.
Also included were cards from the Creature, Dinosaur, and Flood series from Answers in Genesis. I had seen these before (Creation Scientists' descriptions of animals, dinosaurs, and other places/things in nature) and had been interested in them. They are right up Tornado's alley, too (and Dash loves them, too); he looked at them originally, and then I saved them for our road trip this week. I have mentioned before how I have enjoyed my Answers in Genesis book, and the kids have enjoyed their What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs? book, both from the same company.
Finally, they gave us a handmade Mountain Man ABC's book. SO terrific. Here is one page example (see other pages on Michelle's blog). This is so creative and took a lot of time and thought. We were very impressed! And Tornado loves a good ABC book.
Thank you, Dylan and Michelle! We are SO, SO very anxious to take a trip to Wyoming now. We have only driven through the bottom part of Wyoming on our way to Washington. We will definitely be exploring Yellowstone, etc. in the next year or two.
Sissy received her package from Meghan in Pennsylvania. So fun. M's mom and I had agreed we figured their swaps would be more for us than the girls because they are so young. We were wrong. I think both of the girls loved getting packages in the mail. Read about our package to Meghan here. Sissy is very sweet opening things like this because she ooh's and aah's so much
She especially loved the bracelet made from colored pasta and a pipe cleaner. I don't know why I would ever spend money buying her a fancy bracelet because she thinks this is the greatest thing ever. And she loves the little "purse" gift bag it came. Anything resembling a bag or purse is tops with her.
She sent us pictures of her and her family plus a postcard from her home state. Meghan also drew a little picture for Sis. She sent her several pages of stickers and also lovingly decorated the mailed box with stickers. There was a punch balloon (the kind I loved at my aunt Mert's house when I was little; it's not pictured because the kids wouldn't leave it sitting there). She even gave us a copy of her favorite book, Corduroy, which Sissy quite enjoys!
Another GREAT homemade gift - She made a stamp with Sissy's real name by gluing foam letters backwards on a chunk of wood. Then she even included materials for us to make our own stamp!
Finally, there were two containers of Play-Doh AND a homemade Play-Doh place mat. The laminated sheet of paper has all of the shapes on one side and all of the letters and numbers typed on the back. Sissy has lots of fun with Play-Doh. Thank you, Meghan and Annette; you knew JUST what she'd love!
Thanks again, everyone. I took so long posting this because I am still waiting on another package (Sissy had two swap partners). I will post about that one when I get it. We did get a sweet postcard from B while he was on vacation. For more swap links, visit Superheroes and Princesses!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fit Kids Camp

Tornado recently had the opportunity to attend Fit Kids Camp, a one day camp for kids with any kind of special need. Tornado has had delays (caused by his chromosome abnormality), which are becoming very minimal, requiring speech, OT, and PT. He also has sensory integration issues, which is really our biggest "need." Not all of these things are obvious upon first sight, and he's such a bright, well-behaved, smart, happy kid that it really doesn't always affect his life in tremendous ways, would be really hard for him to attend a normal summer camp/day camp. For example, he went to VBS this summer, for the first time without me...I'm just really grateful that there happened to be an OT there (and my good friend who was able to keep me informed about the situation), who recognized how overwhelmed he was feeling and was able to redirect him to become her "helper" in the crafts room during the big, loud sanctuary times. (Normally, I might have been called to pick him up.) Which is why we are SO grateful to Therapy 4 Kids, for doing this. I don't really like to talk about all of this very much, because I sort of see it as Tornado's "personal business," and I wouldn't want anyone to misinterpret what a smart, fun, otherwise normal kid he is. But to exclude it entirely would be disingenuous to what our lives and family are like.

They only charged $10 a kid. Which included a t-shirt, a tote full of goodies, meals and snacks, a magician/clown, crafts, and activities in great facilities (the new Hendrix Athletic Center). They could have charged a lot more; I mean, clearly they weren't in this to make money. They did it for these kids, which makes my eyes fill up with tears just thinking about it.
He had a really fun day. He said he enjoyed playing Follow the Leader outside. They got to do walking activities outside, dancing and exercise inside, swimming in the pool and other water activities, and they even got to try out the big climbing wall. I'm really grateful for everyone who volunteered to help the kids have an involved day. Today in the mail, we got a card with a picture he had drawn for us that day.The parents were invited to come watch a slide show/award presentation. For some reason (sensory integration reasons...he can't always process what he's feeling, and he gets overwhelmed), he was very upset for us to be in there, and we had to hide around a corner so he couldn't see us (but we could still see everything) during the whole presentation. Here is he, showing off his medal, certificate, and art project. I am crazy about this kid.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ABC and 123 Snacks

The picnic table talk this week, over at ABC and 123, is all about snacks. For many great ideas, visit all of the links at Picnic Table Talk: Healthy Snacks. The questions are: What easy snacks do you pack for your family? What nutritious snacks do your children most enjoy? Do you have any creative tricks for encouraging healthy snacking in your home? What do you use to pack your snacks in? Does your child's school have specific requirements for healthy snacks?
Unfortunately, I don't have anything too creative...but this is what it's like around here.
Their favorite snacks might be frozen fruit. Definitely any frozen fruit, but there is also almost always a bowl of frozen grapes or sliced bananas in our freezer. These are Ryan's favorite snacks, too. He's always bummed when he gets home, and the grapes or bananas he put in there are gone. There are never enough frozen grapes and bananas around here. I, however, prefer my fruit room temperature. :)
The kids like to use straws for their yogurt (she's slurping up coconut milk yogurt here) and applesauce cups. I got this tip from Tornado's OT. I don't know if she does it for oral motor purposes or because of the mess, but it's definitely less messy. We use any straws, but it's helpful to use these straws out of their stainless steel Thermos cups because they are fatter. Speaking of straws, we love our new stainless steel straws that I got in NYC; I don't think I'll ever have to buy plastic straws again, which is great because we went through a lot of them. I still want to try the glass straws, too; they are fatter, also, probably easier to clean, and supposedly very durable.

We love our green smoothies and popcicles around here. I originally posted about them here.
I used to have to sneak the kale or spinach in because of my pickiest eater, Dash. Now he knows he loves them so much, it doesn't phase him to help add the greens himself. Just add juice and frozen fruit, bananas, etc., and it doesn't have a strong green taste. This was actually the first time I made them in ice cube trays with craft sticks (and the sticks stood up on their own because the smoothie mixture was so thick). I thought about doing it after I read Annette's yummy-looking post at Live, Love, and Learn. (I still need to order new popcicle molds because we go through them too fast, and I don't have enough . I've been sort of holding out hope these stainless steel molds would be available soon.)

We get a lot of inspiration, such as the green smoothies, from Green and Crunchy's blog. She also gave us the idea for Earth Balls, which I wrote about here. They are made from nuts and dates, plus anything you want to add, such as coconut, seeds, goji berries, dried cranberries, etc.

Our favorite way to serve snacks is in mini-loaf pans or muffin tins. Here is an old blog post about some of our snacks. I can fill up the pans in the morning, and they can eat from them all day. I'm sort of the mindset that people should eat when they are hungry, not when the clock says they should. (I can definitely see the negative to this, though.) However, that can get crazy when you have 3 kids. It makes me feel like their haggard maid sometimes, the way they request one thing after the next. It's much easier when they know what they can eat throughout the day. I don't know that we've ever went so far as to eat a meal out of muffin tins, like the amazing creations these moms come up with. (Although, I still want to start joining in on that fun, too.)
Another way the kids like to eat their meals and snacks is out of measuring cups. (The only problem is: I'm often out of measuring cups when I need them to actually measure. I recently picked up a new set, though.) They're the perfect sizes to fit little snacks and even their oatmeal for breakfast, and they have the little handle, perfect to help them carry one across the room.

Last, here are a few of their favorite snacks-on-the-go.

I've written before about my love for Sea's Gift seaweed paper. I know it sounds weird, but Ryan and I think it's yummy (think salty), and the kids love it, too. They sometimes call it "seaweed," but they mostly call it "paper." It's very cute to hear Sissy ask for, "More paper."

Clif Kid Twisted Fruit

...and Veggie Booty.

Another way to sneak a little "green" (It contains kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, parsley, and carrot powders.) into my pickier, carb-loving 4 year old. Plus, they always get to sing their version of "Shake Your Booty." (Shake your booty...Pirate booty.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grandpa's Birthday Weekend

I mentioned last post we went up north for the weekend. Every year my family (on my Dad's side) gets together for my Grandpa's birthday. We've been doing this, at least, for the past 9 years. This year was my grandfather's 89th. Which is such a strange concept for me to handle. Despite the fact that my grandfather does appear older, seemingly all of the sudden the past few years, I still think of him as being a strong, physical man in his 70's. Someone who played in the creek with us, hauled hay with my dad, and took us floating. Someone who stopped by my house every single day and was always a phone call away, hundreds of times when I needed a ride home from after school practice. We were reminiscing about a road trip he took with only Matt and me, when we were little. He drove us down to Fort Smith, to, among other things, visit some historic places, such as the Darby House and Fort Smith National Historic Site. I really hope we will be able to get together for my grandpa's 100th...wouldn't that be wonderful.It was an extra special year because just this month, Grandpa was inducted into the (U.S. Army) Ranger Hall of Fame. It was a really big deal, and I wish I had time to tell you all about it. (I did end up getting a little wordy, but I think he deserves to be recognized.) Here is one link, including a picture of my aunt and dad onstage, that describes the event. (Note: the article says there were only 200 present, but there were about 1,000 present.) My parents, aunt, uncle, and brother made the trip to Fort Benning, Georgia in lieu of my Grandpa, who felt he was not up to the trip. (He has a lot of back and leg pain, etc., right now.)

My brother put this DVD together of all of the pictures and video he took during the trip. We gathered around and watched it at the birthday party. That is my aunt and dad in this picture, too (and the enlarged picture of my Grandpa behind them). My dad accepted the award on my grandpa's behalf, and my aunt Patsy (a former English teacher/intelligent, sentimental person altogether) made a speech that made me totally cry the first time I listened to it.
My dad presented my grandfather with his Hall of Fame medal, the highest honor for a Ranger. Grandpa was also honored (read about it here and here) this summer at his hometown Fourth of July parade. They named it Edwin Dean Day and gave him a key to the city. Of course, all men and women who have fought for our country deserve a medal, at the very least. However, someone made the comment that my grandfather was the bravest soldier ("fightingest 'son of a gun'") he'd ever seen.

He was one of General William Darby's original Rangers in World War II, a part of the 1st and 4th battalions. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He was wounded but left the hospital, against doctor's orders, to rejoin his unit that was heading out of town. Another time, after a hard battle, he went back into enemy territory after a fallen comrade who was missing. He put his wounded friend over his shoulder and carried him to safety. Darby also gave him a battlefield commission during the battle for Italy. There's so much more to say; I can't really do it justice here.
Blowing out the candles with the help of his great-grandkids...A cute thing that Dash does: he calls GREAT-Grandpa Dean - "GREAT-GREAT Granpa Dean" (and he says it really fast, making it all run together).
My little girls: Winnie, Clara, and Sissy...I guess they look more alike than I realized.
We posed for all of our usual combinations...separate families, grandkids, my dad and his sisters, etc...these are the "cousins," (Adrienne, Katie, Matt, me, and Cary) posing with my Grandpa and Grandma Winnie (who is my stepgrandma; my grandma died before I was born). My sister Tracy and cousin Justin are missing. It's like a wedding, all of the pictures we take. We always have fun, suggesting possible photo combinations...Uncle Chuck, Sissy, and Michele...Chad (Adrienne's new husband) and Mom...etc.
Wow, we actually got a family photo. There aren't too many of these in existence.
My narcoleptic grandfather, bless his heart, was having a really hard time staying awake. During the DVD presentation, I was standing behind him, and I noticed his eyes kept closing. I kept tapping him from the opposite shoulder because I really wanted him to stay awake and see Patsy's speech. He'd turn around and kind of give a dirty look to my mom, who he assumed must be tapping (well, it was more like shaking) him. Later, he tried to claim he was "awake the whole time, but someone kept poking him." Patsy said, "It was Jenny!" She totally ratted me out! She said, "He would've been mad if he thought it was me! He wouldn't get mad at you." Yeah, yeah.
Flashback 30 plus years, me with "Pappaw"...

My two baby nephews, Pierson and Rush. Yeah, I know; it would be hard to squeeze any more cuteness into this picture.
I'm still not sure if Matt and Dad accidentally came out wearing the same thing (a little shout out to Precho, my brother-in-law's former band which was awesome; incidentally, his band mate, Todd, is starring right now in P. Diddy's Starmaker on MTV)...or if they planned it...and which one would be worse. Trust me, their similarities do not end with the t-shirts and khaki shorts.
Sunday, we headed over to Water Chute in Branson. SO is like one of the old school water slides of my youth (think Hydra Slide and Wet Willy's...and there was that one we always went to, along with the Mexican restaurant, in Kimberling City). This is Grace, coming down with Dash. She's only 7 but was so great about holding onto the other kids and not letting them fall under the water.
Grace, Owen, and Dash...we had a great time of walking up the ramp and back down the slide; it didn't get old! I love water slides. My kids were a little nervous, at first, standing at the top; it only took a few seconds, though, and they were hooked. There was a lot of, "Wow! This is fun."
Sissy loves all of her aunts and uncles for sure, and I've mentioned before, she has developed a special attachment to her Uncle Matt. I went down a few times with her, and so did Ryan. However, soon she ONLY wanted to ride with "Un-ca Matt" or "Gace." When she would walk away with him, she'd turn and give us a smile, like, "Look at me, haha. I'm riding with Matt!"
Feeling a little under the weather didn't stop Clara from rockin' the cuteness.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Weekend Ride

This weekend we headed north for a family get-together (more on that later). Ryan got up around 6 a.m. (while we were all still sleeping) and took off on his bike. The plan was for me to get up and get the kids ready/car packed and pick him up along the way. We got to try out our cool, new bike/luggage rack.
We planned to meet at Leslie, Arkansas, which is about an hour away. However, he was too fast for us. My Mom and Dad were ahead of us, and Mom called me to say he was not in Leslie. I think she was getting worried because there were segments of highway with little or no shoulder. We all thought it helped make the trip go by faster. Like - "Where's Ryan?" They finally passed him in Marshall and actually stopped and handed him a drink. We finally caught up with him, and the kids and I got out to greet him. We cheered and clapped (a little cat-calling from me) as he made it up the mountain.
Isn't my hubby a total hottie? I was so proud of him. He wasn't even huffing and puffing - as I would have been after just riding up that one mountain, let alone also riding 81 miles (a very hilly 81 miles). I huff and puff on the slightest incline, and I have to raise my body up to give it all I've got when pedaling. It's really nothing for him, as he's ridden over 220 miles at once before.
And then he got a little help cooling off. I think it's so great for the kids to see him doing things like this. It's easy to become sedentary (tired!), and clearly we all can't ride up mountains on a bike, but I think it's important for all parents to push themselves and work toward goals (no matter what genre they are - physical/educational/spiritual/musical, etc.). Not just for ourselves, but for the sake of being inspiration/examples to our children. I know the kids are proud of their daddy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Canoe Boats" and "Moo Clucks"

Today we got a little box delivered from Pangea. Receiving packages in the mail of any kind makes for a great day...and especially if they are filled with vegan treats. We had a little "cheese" tasting with three different kinds of cheeses. (More on that later.) We also tried out the vanilla canoe boat snack cakes, a vegan version of Twinkies. And they also split a Moo-Cluck Creme-Filled Cupcake. No complaints here. I only had a tiny bite or two of each, just to try them, because I am on a serious diet. Seriously. It's not pretty around here these days. I've mysteriously (disregard pictures of vacation meals) gained ten pounds in the last year. And it mysteriously won't go away. Wish me luck.
creme filling..."Cake" is not generally my first choice for dessert, unless it has lots of frosting (I'm like the kids at birthday parties who only want to eat the icing off the top.) or layers of something creamy or chocolate-y inside. Mission accomplished with each of these.
"I don't know which one to pick because both of them is so good."
Those were the exact words out of Dash's mouth. Tornado chose the vanilla, as I knew he would. If it seems like we're being weird, excited about a "Twinkie," we don't ever eat these kinds of things. We save it up so we can get really excited!
the aftermath...picture doesn't really do it justice

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lake Valencia

One day last week, the kids and I enjoyed an afternoon at Lake Valencia. I didn't even know that was the name of it until I just now looked it up. (I always just call it "that lake in Maumelle.") Rather, it took me 10 minutes to figure it out, and Ryan remarked, "Are you still trying to figure out the name of that lake? You are such a newspaper person." It's true. My sister Cary would have just made up a name for it.
It's really pretty, and the kids love walking around the boardwalk path. They love playing in this green thing. To them, it's totally worth the 15-20 minute drive JUST to play in this, even if there was nothing else. They like for me to play "monster" and "get them," popping in the different holes, growling, and grabbing them.
(I don't know why he looks so dark in this picture when I post it here. I'm trying to fix it.)
The library in Maumelle is right on this lake so we spent some time in there, reading and checking out books. We ate our little lunch outside on a bench.And we saved some food for the geese, too. These were some well-fed geese. No white bread crumbs from us. No, sir. They got all organic green puffs. And crumbs of grainy/seedy bread with a little fruit spread and nut butter. (I think technically there are reasons not to feed wild geese and ducks, but I don't know that these qualify as such.) Dash did not want to leave the geese. As we walked away, he stopped and just stared at them until I finally said we HAD to leave. Fun day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Last Weekend

Catching up... Friday Night the Jump Zone. They were thrilled, as usual. It's quite a workout for children AND parents. To make it extra special fun, my sister Cary came down to visit this weekend with her 1 year old daughter, newborn son, and dog. She even brought along one of our other nieces, 7 year old Grace. Talk about a great time!
The newest love of my month old(ish) Rush. I held him as much as I could all weekend. He's perfect. And has the coolest name.
I didn't expect little Winnie to catch up with Sissy so quickly. She turned one in April, but they are already able to play and have lots of fun together. This is their fun game of bumping bellies, then giggling and hugging. My sister has more fun pictures and videos of the weekend on her blog.
Got to try out my new dishes when Cary and the kids came over for brunch on Sunday. The square plate was a gift from Ryan's parents for my birthday. (They also got me a cupcake holder, napkins, and money! Happy birthday to me!) I bought the oval dishes at Uma in St. Louis.
After brunch, we went outside to play. We watched Winnie toddle through a path in the woods all on her own, then climb up and sit on the 4 wheeler. Then, she just sat...and I think she would have just sat there quite awhile, pretending like she was driving if we hadn't went to get her.
We had fun making geysers and volcanoes. Grace, who is super smart and loves school, (making her aunt very proud) had questions about how one could learning anything "homeschooling." We tried to give her a little taste of her cousins' lives.
They played out in the sprinklers and with the hoses for quite awhile. They even made a makeshift "pool" out of an old tub that was outside. It was perfect for the little girls.
They made lots of bubbles with dishwashing liquid, leftover from the volcano experiments. I LOVE it when we have family visit.