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Traditions

The holidays are a time of traditions, and families with young children are in a position to create new and wonderful traditions that they hope their children will long remember.

But while we adults picture the festive holiday meals and the visits to Santa, traditions in a child’s mind can be very different.

I’ll take an example from my own childhood.  My mom once bought a tissue 3-d Santa that fit over a lampshade.  It was cheap and flimsy, but I adored it and insisted on it being displayed every single year until I went to college.  I’m amazed it didn’t “acccidentally” get lost or destroyed.  My mom, as much as she protested and probably hated that thing, knew how much it meant to me.

My own children remember the oddest details.  Wasabi Girl remembers that we “always” watch the Wizard of Oz on Halloween, and stop it at a certain scene to go trick-or-treating.  As I recall, we did that exactly once, but she insists that it’s what we must do every year now.

Christmas Eve, the kids put out a favorite stuffed animal near the tree to wait (and talk to) Santa.  Before they could read their names on packages, this was a good way for Santa to leave their loot in nice sorted piles.  I would think we had outgrown this now, but they remember it and repeat this tradition which we probably began in their infancy.

If I had it to do over again, with very small children, I would plan some more traditions that I’ve read of, like a new set of pajamas on Christmas Eve and doing something charitable every year.  But it’s not the planned traditions that always stick with a child, it’s the magic that happens when adults slow down and pay attention to the wonder of the seasons.

So this Thanksgiving, make time for some small, wonderful moments, and then record them for yourself.  Try them again next year to see what your child remembers.  You might be surprised.  And if you have older children, include them in the planning and ask them about their favorite parts of the holidays.  Everyone has their own definition of traditions, we just have to find which ones mean the most to each person.

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Making Baby Food

In the interest of time – that being that I don’t have much of it – I have shamelessly plucked this post from my personal blog. Because sometimes, that’s exactly How We Do It: we double up or skip something or use something twice for the sake of efficiency. Enjoy!

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During Ike, we started each of the kids on rice cereal, but that’s just because we had time to kill being evacuated in San Antonio and what better thing is there to do than to video your kids eating food so you can post the clips for the Internet to see?

However, we didn’t officially start the RJBs on rice cereal until October 4, around 5 ½ months. We were in no rush to start them on solids because we’re just beginning to enjoy the time of feeding them without projectile vomiting, covering ourselves in towels, and in general, having the house wrapped up like the quarantined cloaked and hooded mess in the movie ET before ET finally found his heartlight, let it shine wherever you go, let it make a happy glow for all the world to see, Amen.

Three days after their 6 month birthday, and two days before their 6 month appointment, we gave them their first solid: sweet potatoes. Up until that time, we had been giving them their solid at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, starting with 1 tablespoon once a day and moving up to 3-4 tablespoons twice a day and not as runny. At our doctor appointment, though, he suggested giving them their solids when WE would eat solids – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so that as time passes and they drop bottles, what’s left is regular meal times.

INFANT FEEDING SEATING
As an aside, I address here, for purposes of relevance, a question my good friend Meg asked about the chairs we use for the kids. We use the Chicco Hippo Hook-On Chair. They retail for a totally-worth-it $49.99 each. Our house is small and narrow and there is no space for two traditional highchairs. The Hook-ons are best used on tables that are well grounded with four legs (not the tables with one central ‘leg’ which become a tipping hazard). The seats are very secure after installation and the fabric is removeable and washable. And with messy eaters like Mateo, that is SO HANDY. To keep the table clean, we use Tiny Diner Placemats by Kiddopotamus. They wash and wipe easy and the little scoop is pretty invaluable.

Breakfast

We haven’t gotten to the point of having to seriously attend to the rug under the table (since they are not yet feeding themselves), but after polling my local Mom’s of Multiples group, suggestions include clear office mats, oilcloth purchased from a fabric store, plastic floor protectors from Ikea, splat mats from Land of Nod, or a Mimi The Sardine mat which I’m told can also double as table covers for arts and crafts. Sure those last two are cute, but the sizes seem awfully small, particularly for the price. Two feet by three feet? Add some velocity to the wingspan of my kids and that will be no match, even if it does have cute ladybugs on it. For now, we use the purchased-on-clearance towels that are no longer protecting the couch from barfing.

INFANT FEEDING SCHEDULE
As for our infant feeding schedule, every care provider and parent is different, but we’re doing the following:

  • Breakfast: 2 cubes solid + 2 tbsp rice cereal, followed by bottle if still hungry
  • Mid-Morning Snack: bottle only
  • Lunch: 2 cubes solid + 2 tbsp rice cereal, followed by bottle if still hungry
  • Mid-Afternoon Snack: bottle only
  • Top-Off Bottle: this is something we have the daycare do at 4:00p.m. because if the kids had to wait from 2ish to 7 to eat, their heads would spin off the axis of their necks. We have seen this happen and do all we can to avoid it.
  • Dinner: 2 cubes solid + 2 tbsp rice cereal. No bottle. Mostly because they just had a bottle (anywhere from 2-7 ounces) at 4:00 p.m. and dinner is around 6:15 p.m.
  • Night Snack: Bottle only – they get this after their baths.

MOTIVATION
I am by no means an extremist: I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t buy only organic, I do use disposable diapers, I do get my kids vaccinated, I do use tap water (though filtered through the refrigerator) for their bottles, I do use generic formula from Costco, I do use formula instead of breastmilk, I do use cleaning chemicals in the house and not just vinegar and water, I don’t grow my own vegetables, I do store food in plastic containers, I do not compost food scraps, I do recycle for the most part. Basically, I’m right down the middle when it comes to being environmentally conscious and responsible within reason for the kids. And I say because I am making their baby food (so far), but I don’t do it simply for green or health reasons. I also do it because I enjoy cooking and being in the kitchen.

RUNNING THE NUMBERS
In my first batch, I made TEN DAYS WORTH OF ORGANIC FRUITS AND VEGGIES FOR TWO BABIES FOR UNDER $22.00. For this post, I ran some numbers and discovered that 16 packs (servings) of Stage 1 food in a container that is 2.5oz each would run an average of $10.50. (and would probably include some waste because the kids are not yet eating 2.5 oz solids at each meal yet). For two kids then, $22.00 worth of containered food would get me through roughly 6.5 days.

Ok, so yeah, there’s the time factor (5 hours over three nights, including prep and cleanup, split up that way because we also wanted to watch TV or needed to do laundry, etc.) and the gas-factor. And I could go around justifying this dollar and that trip and whatever, but the fact is I love being the kitchen, don’t find it stressful, and am rather enjoying it. SO MOM, IF YOU ARE LISTENING, I AM NOT TRYING TO BE A SUPERMOM OR SUPERHERO OR TOO EARTHY, IT’S JUST A NON-ISSUE FOR ME SO BACK OFF BECAUSE MY STUBBORNESS CAME FROM YOUR SIDE OF THE FAMILY.

MEAL PLAN
The first batch included sweet potatoes, pears, apples, butternut squash and carrots.

DSC_8165

This week, I’ll make cauliflower, peas, mangos, watermelon, and zucchini. I’m mostly running through the veggies first, but there will be enough stored to last us (including what they’ve already eaten) through the end of November. Not bad.

RECIPE BOOKS
To be honest, I could have just as easily found some basic information from the internet and gone from there. For example, an old Young Life Wilderness Ranch Staff buddy recommended Wholesome Baby Food and I am sure there are countless others. I know of some readers who love the Annabel Karmel website. But since I had purchased or received these books from my registries prior to the Vomit Months, I’ll go ahead an list them here:

Baby Blender Foods – decent book. Tells you what can be frozen, gives some recipies, etc.

Anne Karmel’s Top 100 Baby Purees – pretty pictures, better information on freezing/serving, but hugely skimpy on the first foods, and some of the multi-ingredient recipes are just flat out frightening.

METHODOLOGY
Step 1: Depending on the vegetable or fruit, I may have to peel or cut prior to cooking. My favorite peeler is the Swiss Kuhn Rikon, first recommended to me by Chef Randy Evans, the executive chef I spent the day with during my fabulous 33rd birthday present.

I picked up the Swiss Kuhn Rikon peeler at Sur La Table , they’re super inexpensive and super sharp. I know this because I accidentally peeled half my finger nail off in one stroke while peeling sweet potatoes. They’re no longer on Sur La Table’s website, but I know they sell them there.

Step 2: Because steaming food preserves the nutrients, has less nutrient runoff from water, and I can also use the same water (with nutrients still in it) to thin the food item in the food processor, I mostly steam the food. But let’s get real here, I steam the food because it gives me a chance to use my lovely Dr. Weil™ Spring® Healthy Kitchen 2-Tier Steamer that I love almost as much as Mateo loves his Wubbanub Penguin and as much as Harper hates to take naps. I tend to make enough of the vegetable to cover dinner(s) for Jen and I and at least 4 days worth per food item for the kiddos. (Some families do far less than that between introducing new foods, some go a whole week. This works for us.)

Step 3: I’ve had a Cuisinart® Pro Classic 7-Cup Food Processor a very long time and am only now appreciating its usefulness. I can puree in seconds, or later, chop just as quickly.
My food processor just recently asked if it was getting a pension for all the use I’m giving it now.

Step 4: After letting the puree cool, I pour the wholesome goodness into the ice cube trays directly from the food processor container. For somewhat thicker puree’s, I use a collapsible funnel that I picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond quite a while back.

For ice trays, I really like my “Perfect Cube” Ice Cube Trays. Each cube, when filled just below the top (so you don’t spill) is approximately 2 Tablespoons = 1 fluid ounce = 29.5736 Milliliters. You can order them online from Target, but I ended up purchasing mine from Sur La Table because they were, surprisingly, less expensive there and there’s a storefront not far from home. A “serving” of baby food is usually about 50ml, so there.

Step 5: I cover the ice cube trays with plastic wrap and stack them in the freezer over night. Usually by the next morning, and most definitely by the next evening, I can pop out the cubes from the trays and store accordingly.

Step 6: The majority of the food cubes, particularly since when I am making baby food, I’m making it in bulk, gets stored in the freezer using my Foodsaver Food Sealer Vacuum. FoodSavers keep food up to 5x fresher than traditional ziplocks and risk of freezer burn is close to the chance of Mateo not drooling for a whole day. I purchased mine from Bed Bath & Beyond about two years ago, and it’s in their stores, though not on the website. I just gotta use those 20% off coupons that come in the mail.

Apples & Sweet Potatoes

Step 7: I leave out and/or take out of the freezer 24-48 hours worth of food at one time. I store these in serving portions in The First Years Take-N-Toss Bowls with Lids containers which my sister suggested and I now love. They come in a pack of 7 for around $3.50. I bought three packs so there’s enough for two kids for a day’s worth to be in the dishwasher, the refrigerator, and daycare. I made labels (we have to label everything for day care) and have containers labeled Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. So no matter who is feeding them or whether it is at home or away, there’s no question as to what and how much to feed.

I’m not willing to say that I’ll forever make their food, or even that I will not use jarred food. I’m not averse to using jarred food in a pinch. If parenting has done anything to me, it has made me a much more flexible, this-is-somewhat-our-plan-but-we’ll-see-how-things-go kind of person. For now, it works, and it gets me back in the kitchen, doing a thing that I love to do, and knowing that I’m participating in providing my entire family with nutritious foods.

Organic

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A lot has been said on this website about joining your local multiples group. In addition to becoming involved in my multiples’ group, I also joined a new moms group through my hospital. When I showed up the first day, I was bummed to find I was the only mom with twins. Now that I’ve been part of the group for over two years, I would highly recommend this strategy to every mom expecting multiples. Reasons:

1. When their one baby is sleeping, their hands are completely free to help you with your two (or more).

2. Hearing “I don’t know how you do it” on a regular basis can be a much-needed ego boost during those early months with multiples.

3. Singleton parents often have more time to do research, read parenting books, and help get advice from experts during those crazy early months. They are also more likely to get out of the house on a regular basis, so they can help you scope out baby-friendly places. They are a great, underutilized resource.

4. If you ever find yourself in a complete bind, they can leave the baby with their partner to help you.

5. Having a network of new moms can help you see that being a new parent is hard on everyone, not just on parents of multiples.

Of course, there have been gaps in communication along the way. I think some of the moms thought my twinproofing was a little extreme. I cried when our group had a discussion about games to play… with your two month old. (My games were “watch mommy shower” and “watch mommy eat.”) And to get by while keeping my sanity, I frequently “broke the rules” by letting one kid sleep in a Boppy or feeding the boys right out of baby food jars. But overall, I think being exposed to different ways people parent helps us think about why we parent the way we do. Being part of a singleton moms group has opened my eyes to how many different ways there are to be a good parent. And seriously, there can never be enough extra sets of hands in those early months!

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“There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

The last week of September is banned books week, marked by booksellers and libraries across the United States. As I’ve been looking into information on this week, I’ve found a dizzying number of lists of banned books. Harry Potter tops many recent lists, and so does my recent sob novel Bridge to Terebithia. Gone With the Wind, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men – many of the greatest books of the 20th century have been challenged and banned from schools and libraries.

Those books don’t surprise you? How about The Lorax? Challenged for “criminalizing the foresting industry.” Or Where’s Waldo? Removed from a school library for “nudity” (a tiny picture of a woman lying on a beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top). A Light in the Attic, Little House on the Prairie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – all these wonderful books have faced attempts to ban them from libraries and curriculums. [source here]

As parents, we are gatekeepers to our children’s minds and morals. If you don’t want your child to read a book, don’t have it in the house. If it’s on a required curriculum, ask that your child read an alternate title. Just please don’t try to impose your morality on others.

This week is a great time to talk to your children about banned books. A list of local libraries and merchants with displays can be found here. I’ve talked about this with my children as we’ve looked at the banned books displayed at our library. Reading is a freedom. But along with that freedom comes a responsibility to choose wisely and listen to guidance from parents. I don’t want Drama Girl to read the Gossip Girl books right now, but I’m reading Twilight with her, and heaven knows she’s read an enormous number of the books on the lists. My son has read and enjoyed Phillip Pullman’s books, but he knows the difference between what that author espouses and what we teach at home and in our Church.

This week I think we’ll act like outlaws and read James and the Giant Peach together.

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion…”
— Henry Steel Commager

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You have 100 days to get ready

Today marks 100 days until Christmas.

I enjoyed Christmas before I had kids, but when I had an army attacking the Christmas tree in the early hours of Christmas morning, I knew the real joy of the holidays.  The key to staying sane through the season is to get organized.  I have a friend who once said “All the holidays are a week apart now – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.”  He was joking, but as my kids have grown, I’ve found it to be frighteningly true.

So as much as you may be sweltering in the heat, or if your porch is still decorated for July 4th, you will be a happier, saner person if you at least start doing a little thinking about the holidays now.

Budget.  Especially with multiples, we can go overboard on the gift and clothing purchases.  Now is the time to put away a little extra or decide to brown-bag lunches.

Set up a calendar.  School concerts, trick-or-treating, parties; there are a lot of events coming up for the family.  Sketch them out now so you can find the time you need.  Want pictures with Santa?  Schedule a good weekend – then think about if you want new outfits for that picture.  Pencil in that shopping trip too.  I find I have to work backwards like this a lot.  There are fewer and fewer “free” weekends for us as the years go on.

Buy costumes early.  Sure, it seems like there are a million of them in the store now, but when you want that Thomas the Tank engine the week of Halloween, there is no guarantee you’ll find it.  I also felt I got my money’s worth if the kids played with their costumes before the big day.  Does your child want something unusual?  Try eBay.  One year my daughter just *had* to be Simba.  The costume wasn’t made by Disney any more, but I found it on eBay for $2.

Create traditions.  I think this is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  They don’t all have to be deep and meaningful, they can be silly as well.  Repeating things the same way during the season gives kids a wonderful sense of anticipation and nostalgia for home.

Set up wish lists for your kids.  I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, although the kids are old enough to do this themselves now.  If you have relatives like mine, some of them shop very early and will ask you what to get for the kids.  Have sizes and preferences ready.  People appreciate some guidance.

The holidays should be relaxed and joyful, without debt despair in January.  You can do it.

We’re getting ready for Fall by testing candy over at Lit and Laundry today.

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I  first read about dyeing rice on The Crafty Crow, who got it from Colorfool. I’ve been meaning to do it for quite some time but when I realized that yesterday was Monday (my usual post day) and that I was late (again) with posting my activity o’ the week, I figured now (yesterday) was the time.

Of course, once I bothered to read the setup directions, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen in one day – you gotta let the rice dry out first. Bummer. But on the good side, once you create your dyed rice then you will be the proud owner of a nice container of dyed rice that can be used/enjoyed for years to come.

Core Activity: Pour or scoop lovely dyed rice from one container to another.

  • Age appropriateness: 15 months & up (whenever you think that your kids won’t just cram the rice into their mouths)
  • Materials needed: a bag of rice (I used regular long grain white rice that I found in the pantry, which happened to be 6 years old – yuck!), food coloring, rubbing alcohol or white distilled vinegar, and a big plastic baggie.
  • Setup: put desired number of drops in the baggie (I ended up using about 10 drops of red and 10 of blue) plus about 2 teaspoons of alcohol or vinegar (brightens up the color) into the baggie and mix together. Then add the rice (I had about 36 ounces ’cause that’s what came in the package I had on hand), MAKE SURE THE BAGGIE IS WELL SEALED, and then shake, shake, shake your booty, ahem, I mean, baggie. Spread it out on a cookie sheet (a jelly roll pan is best ’cause it’s got a rim) and let the rice dry overnight.

Activity: Set a cookie sheet out in front of your kids. Add various random containers, spoons, scoops, cups, whatever you’ve got around. Add the rice. Let the kids pour, scoop, spoon, draw lines with their fingers or pick up individual grains.

I was inspired to do this after reading (too many) blogs written by homeschooling moms and Montessori teachers. The concept of pouring and scooping as activities is not only fun for kids but it teaches some of the Practical Life skills that the Montessori method advocates. (I’m currently half considering homeschooling my kids. Primarily because the public schools in my town aren’t good. At all. And private schools for three kids is waaaaay too e.x.p.e.n.s.i.v.e. But I digress.)

Anyway, Katie seemed to enjoy this quite a bit and I’m glad I have something on hand that I can quickly stick in front of her and get an extra 5-10 minutes of distraction.

Read.

Eat. Well, uh, duh. How about some rice? Some nice sushi anyone? Although I don’t recommend eating the dyed rice. I suppose if you made it with the vinegar it’s probably safe enough. Still, you won’t catch me eating anything my 3-year-old has been playing with for 25 minutes!

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I’m going to shamelessly borrow this activity from my friend EO. She thought up this very clever idea to do at her son’s 3rd birthday party last month. She had an adorable construction theme, complete with a very cute cake. (Pictures of cake at the end of the post.)

She and her hubby got their hands on a refrigerator box and transformed it into a house. All of the kids who attended the party got their own toolbelt and hard hats. Finally, the cuteness continued with paint trays filled with tempura paint, paintbrushes and even paint rollers. The kids went to it and had a great time.

Core Activity: Paint cardboard (sounds dull, but it’s tres fun for the kiddies)

  • Age appropriateness: 15 months & up (whenever you’d feel comfortable giving your kids a paintbrush & paint)
  • Materials needed: cardboard box, paint brushes, paint roller, tempura paint

Activity: We’re painting the house. If you can’t easily get your hands on a giant cardboard box, just use the box your kids’ diapers came in. (I swear we have at least 6 of them hanging around the house at any given moment. Perhaps that has to do with having twins in diapers plus a 3-year who REFUSES TO USE THE TOILET. End of rant. Sorry.) If you need to, cut up a box, draw the outline of a house with a permanent marker, and give one to each kid. Have them “paint their houses.”

Sing.

Make. Another very fun, and very, very easy alternative to this activity is to have your kids paint your actual house. No, seriously. With water! I can give my daughter a paintbrush and a bowl of water and this will keep her occupied for 10-15 minutes easy.

Explore.

Read.

Eat. I can’t exactly recommend that you serve your kids cardboard. But…you could draw a plate, napkin, flatware, etc., on a relatively clean piece of cardboard and then serve your kids a snack or a meal on their pretend table. For style points, add a vase with a flower in it. Just a thought.

Sorry for the last minute post. Since the hubby was home, I was thinking all day that today was Sunday… Hope your 3-day weekend was as relaxing as mine was! And isn’t this cake amazing?!

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