Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year, New Habits

I didn't make resolutions this year....they always seem to set me up for failure. Instead I set a few goals.

1) To work out every* day in January (last year was all about losing baby weight, but now it's about maintaining - something I am finding is actually harder!)  *I know you are suppose to give your body a chance to rest and recover - that is what my yoga days are for.

2) To write a line or two in my planner about what happened that day.

3) We also implimented our new chore chart on the 1st of the year, but that was really more of a coincidence than a new year's resolution. A couple of wonderful side effects of our successful chore system are the fact that I have done some sort of laundry task every single day and with only 10-15 minutes of effort had the house in company ready shape every single day .

4) Design 10 pages in a personal blog book or photo book every day. I'm 250 pages into a book about Sam's first 2 1/2 years already. I am SO excited to see it in print!

5) Start and finish one organizing task every week. So far I have cleaned out/organized our medicine cabinet, laundry room, spice cupboard and created a lunch station.

If you would have told me even one of these things would be true a month into the new year I would have laughed. Following through on these sort of things is not the norm for me. I most certainly don't share this information to brag. I only share it to accknowledge that I actually accomplished all my goals and to encourage you that if I can do it, so can you!

I'm 31 days into the new year, but most importantly I'm 31 days into what have become new habits.

What goals have you set for 2013? What are you doing to make them happen?

Alphabitty Moments - The Letter C

Welcome to Alphabitty Moments! You can read more about my memory keepsake meme by clicking on the Alphabitty Moments label on the right hand side of my blog. I am using Instagram as a quick and easy way to share photos this time through the alphabet and as a resource for many of the photos too.

This week, C is for Cart Car:

...those wonderful contraptions that buy me an extra five minutes in the grocery store to grab the things on my list. As you can see Julia barely fits in them any more...just another fleeting childhood moment that I'm so glad to have captured before it is too late!

What Alphabitty Moment do you want to remember this week?  Link up in the comments or use the hashtag #AlphabittyMoments on Twitter/Instagram...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alphabitty Moments - The Letter B

B is for {The} Bang Bang Song. It is a family favorite.

Click on Alphabitty Moments on the sidebar for more details on how and why I chose a word for each letter of the alphabet each week.

You are welcome to join me in this memory keepsake adventure either by blogging or using the hashtag #AlphaBittyMoments on Instagram.

"C" you next week!

Friday, January 18, 2013

For the fun of it

The crappies and sunfish in our lake don't get very big, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to catch them! Before the cold snap sets in (high of -2 on Monday) PapaBear took Sam and Julia out on the ice after school today. I love these shots he got of them and their fish with our park in the background.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The day I went to the principal's office

It all started yesterday when I picked the kids up from school. We went through our normal routine handing out baby wipes & snacks as well as the after school questions Sam and Julia have come to expect from me over the course of the three mile drive home. How are you? Who did you play with at recess? Was everyone at school today? How was your spelling? Did you have fun on your field trip? Who did you sit by on the bus?

That last question is the one that started an avalanche of questions because I learned that Julia didn't ride the bus to her field trip. She rode with a classmate's mom in the front* seat. By the time my fingers were flying over the touch screen on my phone I had learned that Julia had been seated in the front seat of that mom's vehicle.  I considered titling this post, "The day I yelled at my child's teacher" but I opted against that because as I said on twitter shortly after I talked to the teacher, the take away message for me was DON'T ASSUME ANYTHING. Always Always ask for more information when it comes to your child being in the care of others.

I assumed that my child would always ride the bus for field trips or walk with a teacher.

I assumed that when I filled out an emergency form that lists who is allowed to pick up my children from school that meant that I never had to worry that the school would release my child with anyone other than those listed.

I assumed that every effort to provide a safe environment for my child would be sought by school personal.

And so I went to the Principal's office today to clear up a few things.

It was hard to know where to start when I sat down this afternoon. Should I start with the utter disappointment I felt in learning that not once but TWICE my daughter was transported unsafely (in a prior local trip she had ridden in a personal car WITHOUT a booster seat) or with the fact that the school had released my child to a person that I don't know other than to say hello to in the school hallway?

I ended up starting at the beginning with the conversation I had with the teacher 45 minutes before the field trip was to start. You see, at the last minute we had two parents home which meant one of us could go on the field trip. I called the school to find out what time they were leaving and after a brief conversation with the teacher where I was told we could come if we wanted but they didn't need us to, I left it as, if we are going to go, we'll meet you there at 10:45. It turned out that the timing wasn't going to work for one of us to make it after all.  I shared this information with the principal because I felt that an opportunity to provide information to a parent about transportation was RIGHT there and was not taken. This point was eye opening for me because apparently this has been common practice at our school for teachers or other parents to drive students.

I pray that after today that will change.

Call me over protective if you want but I can't imagine there is a parent out there that wouldn't at least want to be TOLD who there child was riding with. While I am not exactly thrilled to be 'the one' to call the school on this I am relieved to know that it wasn't brought to my attention because a child was hurt in an accident. 

I urge you to talk to your child's teacher and make sure you are on the same page as far as your expectations for leaving school grounds/field trips etc... Don't do what I did and make assumptions!

Has anyone else had a similar experience or issue with a policy at school? Were you able to resolve it without burning any bridges with your child's teacher?

post note: I did email Julia's teacher this evening and let her know that I had visited with the principal about using personal vehicles and the safety issues related to riding in the front seat.
(By the way, it is not illegal here to be in a front seat if that is the only option for a child 1-12 but it is recommended by EVERYONE that children ride in the back.) I reiterated the fact that our family has a policy that nobody else is to ever drive our children again unless it is on a school bus. If there is a field trip that they don't have a bus for I asked for advance notice so I can make other arrangements. 

* In a later conversation it turns out that Julia rode in the front seat on the return trip to school while a different child rode in the front on the way to the destination. The teacher knew that children were in the front and was OK with this because the parent had said she checked and it's not illegal for children to ride in the front.  This is a perfect example of why parents are to be the ones making decisions for their OWN children. While one parent might be comfortable doing something because it isn't illegal, another might feel very strongly against it.


Alphabitty Moments on Instagram

Three and a half years ago I began matching an everyday moment from my kid's childhood with each letter of the alphabet. That was the beginning of Alphabitty Moments. I have used's free Booksmart software to make custom layouts for a photobook version to preserve these fleeting moments.  Elsa's version even became her 1st year baby book

Many photos in my most recent book were taken with my cell phone since it is always with me. I expect that trend to continue so I can capture real life without spoinling the moment getting out my DSLR. Search Alphabitty Moments on the side bar of my blog and you'll find lots of ideas for 'moments' that might inspire your own series of photographs. You'll also find that I started (and stopped!) sharing these moments on my blog over the years. Thanks to Instagram it is now so much easier to share the little things in photographs and using a hashtag of #alphabittymoments it will be a piece of cake to share a slice of every day life with each other. I'm 4MamaBear on Instagram - I'd love for you to join me in this memory keepsake project that has been near and dear to my heart for more than half of the six years I've been writing in this little corner of the world wide web.

We will be starting with the letter A and working our way all the way through to Z over the next 26 weeks. Today I'm chosing Art for A because of Elsa's love for coloring. What makes this special and fleeting to me is that she's on her belly....something that becomes increasing less frequent the older my kids get.

What Alphabitty Moment do you want to share today? There is a linky below if you aren't on Instagram or you plan to blog your letter/photo of the week.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eliminating the chore of chore charts

I'm the first to admit that the reason chore charts fail around here is because I let them. I am not disciplined enough to keep up with the chore of monitoring the chart, writing out new ones, getting the cash for pay day etc. We've started and stopped a variety of systems over the years and while the one we used in 2012 worked for the longest of all of them, by December it was limping along at best. I knew it was time for a change when:

1)I resorted to nagging about checking the chart to see if everything had been completed.
2) I hadn't actually payed the kids in a long time (I had only been tallying their earnings.)
3)The house was still in shambles even when chores were complete.

That last one was the deal breaker and was the final straw that pushed me to get over my concern for using 'bins' and just go for it. I figured it couldn't get any worse! Initially I was worried that if I collected their things and put them in bins for them to empty after school they would never learn to put their things away as soon as they were done. How would they ever learn to SEE the mess if I made it too easy for them? Enter the '5 star' reward. First let me back up and list out their other chores as it will be fun to look back on some day and see the progression of how they became more and more responsible.

At eight and six years old we felt it was time to add a few more household responsibilities. So besides brushing teeth, putting backpack away/emptying lunch box, devotional, homework, cleaning their rooms, cleaning the playroom, & putting their shoes away, and feeding the cats, I added a laundry task (each day they come to me to ask what their laundry job is that day - an added bonus is that it motivates me to stay on top of the laundry so there is something for them to help with every day like matching socks or delivering folded clothes to each bedroom). I also added the job of putting movies back in their proper cases. These things are all on the chart that I customize each week in a word document table and print out Sunday night.

I also print out a chart for PapaBear and I that includes my daily chores, weekly chores, & our menu template. The kids like to refer to this chart so they know what to expect for meals that day. I refer to it when I plan the specific menu because it isn't so overwhelming when we follow this simple template:

Monday - Pancakes
Tuesday - Oatmeal
Wednesday - Scrambled eggs
Thursday - Smoothie
Friday - Toast and Fruit
Saturday - cinnamon rolls or muffins (all depends on what I have time for)
Sunday - Smoothie

Monday - Pancake Sandwich
Tuesday - PB&J
Wednesday - Thermos
Thursday - Pizza
Friday - hot lunch
Saturday - left overs
Sunday - McDonalds

Monday - Italian
Tuesday - Mexican
Wednesday - Pizza (usually homemade)
Thursday - Chicken dish
Friday - Brinner (breakfast for dinner)
Saturday - Popcorn
Sunday - Crock Pot

We can keep our grocery budget around $70 a week using this system and when I sit down on Sunday nights to plan our meals it is much easier to search "chicken" recipes on Pinterest or than a million random recipes. Another plus is that there are fewer complaints about meals (oatmeal & smoothies for example) because they know that if actually admit to liking them it doesn't mean I will serve it day after day.

Now back to the most successful part of our chore chart: The 5 Star System

Our old chore chart required that the kids each pick up 15 things downstairs and return them to their proper place, but as I mentioned that wasn't making a dent and it certainly wasn't teaching them to put things back as soon as they were done with them. Besides, I had to trip over the junk all day long so they could pick it up when they got home from school. Yuck!

Our new chore chart requires that the kids each empty their bins every day after school. (I pick up after they leave for school or on the weekend I give them a fair warning that I'm going to be picking up soon.)

There is a line on their chart that reads: If your bin is empty you earn a star.  What this means is that if they come home from school and see a star that means I didn't have to pick up any of their things. Amazingly Sam picked up on this immediately and without my knowledge at the end of the first day we explained the new system he went around and made sure he had put away all of his toys before he went to bed.  The next day Julia was on board too and in only a week they had both earned their 5 star reward.

We thought long and hard about what that reward should be. Initially I thought that we'd pay them an extra dollar for every day the bin was empty, but we quickly realized we'd go broke and I wanted them to be motivated by more than money since even paying kids to do things that they should do to contribute to begin with is something I worry about. (We decided that it provides an opportunity to learn about managing money & consequences at a young age so we DO pay the kids 25 cents per day.)

In the end we decided that the best reward we could offer was a one on one date with a parent of their choice when they accumulate 5 stars. The date needs to be something that costs $5 or less and be focussed on quality time with the parent. So far Sam has cashed his stars in for open gym time with daddy (a trip to town that doesn't involve other errands counts towards the $5 - gas is expensive!!). Julia and I enjoyed an hour of reading library books & eating ice cream at a nearby coffee shop for her 5 star reward.

You know the chore of chore charts is worth it when the result is quality time with your kids! Having the household run smoothly is a nice bonus!

Final note: I'm a sucker for containers and these flexible bins from Target caught my eye right away. At $5.99 they aren't that expensive but to be sure I would actually USE them I only got one to start with and found very quickly that they are WONDERFUL! You can pull the handles together to carry them with one hand and they hold lots of stuff. Why the third bin? That's mine. I'm just as guilty as the kids of leaving stuff around downstairs so I collect my things and at the end of the day I bring it upstairs and put things away. Let's just say I'm not going to be getting any one on one time anytime soon and leave it at that.
Am I the only one who changes chore systems every few months?

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Don't forget to stop back tomorrow as a new round of Alphabitty Moments is going to begin. You can either link up your post on the blog or use the hastag #alphabittymoments on Instagram. (I'm 4MamaBear)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!

We love you Rosie!!!

i heart faces - Best Face of 2012

The end of January marks my sixth year of blogging. It's easy to remember how many years it's been because this blue eyed beauty was only three months old when I wrote my first post on the eve of my 30th birthday. Speaking of birthdays, I took this the day Julia turned six. It's tradition to take a few portraits on 'the rocks' as we call the landscape rocks across from our home. Her colorful crown is part of our Saturday morning program in the park. The kids are really good about testing out crafts and activities for me. The trees were stunning this year so we ended up with some really pretty crowns!

Photo Challenge Submission

For more Best Faces of 2012 entries visit i heart faces.
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Christmas in the Country

I had been really worried that Elsa would be a tornado of distruction in my mother-in-law's house but surprisingly she did a really good job of leaving all the breakable decorations alone. There were lots that she could touch and while the noise from the musical snowmen was loud, I love that Grandma and Grandpa's house is full of memories & momentos of past Christmases. There are so many memories of time with our family that we treasure. We get silly with cousins, sled/snowboard down the big hill, eat until we can't eat another bite, sing carols, listen to PapaBear read the Christmas story, exchange gifts, play games like Pit and Cranium, and take the obligitory photo of the cousins in front of the tree. We were sad that Sharon, Jamey, Josie, and Amelia couldn't come this year but were grateful that at least everyone was out of the hospital and on the mend.

Our kids were plenty tired at the end of the night so after setting out their chosen cookies for Santa they curled up in their sleeping bags and pack-n-play and went to sleep. They were snoring in no time!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Christmas Snow is Magic Snow

Snowflakes were falling when we woke on Christmas Eve morning. We have been limping along with what little snow was left after the rain decimated our 9 inches so it was really nice to see a few flakes. Isn't Christmas snow suppose to be magic snow? It was rather fitting I think - seeing as this year has been The kids were up at their normal times and we had a lazy morning of cinnamon rolls & Christmas movies. I was busy in the kitchen prepping our Christmas Day breakfast bakes of Sausage Strata and EggNog French Toast (sans egg nog). I also had a pot of chicken noodle soup going so we had some easy meals to come home to. When you aren't the host at the holidays there isn't the convenience of leftovers, but then again I can treat our house as a staging area and simply leave our rubbermaid bins in the middle of the floor for the next round of Christmas gatherings.

By 10am we were ready to open our family gifts which include the packages that come from my brother-in-law & sister-in-law in Alaska. The kids were thrilled with their gifts. Sam kept saying, "How does everyone know I like art?" I received my first fondue pot and am anxious to give it a whirl! The kids practically shoved our gifts they made at school in our laps they were that excited to hand them out. Julia made us a calendar and Sam made an adorable snowman out of a creamer bottle. I handed out the ornaments I made for them - a felt AliCat for Julia, a felt Penny for Elsa, and a paper ornament made from an Atlas page of the Boundary Waters for Sammy.

Julia's face makes it very clear how much she loves her new hippo, Hip. Elsa went right to work sweeping up the wrapping paper, Sam bypassed the dinosaur game we got him and went right to one of the art projects from Uncle Gary and Aunt Laura. Penny did her thing - climbing in all the boxes - even the skinny one from Elsa's broom. After some grumbling about wearing church clothes to Grandma and Grandpa's house we loaded the rest of the stuff for our trip over the hills and through the woods to Grandma and Grandpa's house....

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cousins at Christmas

All of the girl's Christmas dresses came from garage sales for $1-$4 dollars. It's how I justify having a different dress each Sunday. The one exception was this silver dress. Josie is wearing the one Elsa wore last year when we attended Aunt Dianne's Christmas Tea and Elsa is wearing one I bought off of Ebay for $14. It was my one splurge. Totally worth it right?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Signing Time with Elsa

We used baby sign language with Sam and Julia (more, please, all done, sorry, bath....) but not nearly as much as we have with Elsa. With more experience under my belt I knew that this time I wanted to be more proactive in helping Elsa communicate with us. Sam didn't talk until he was two and I wanted to be prepared in case that happened with Elsa too.

A huge reason why she has a 50+ sign vocabulary is the video series called Signing Time that we get from our local library.

There are some libraries in our county that don't carry any of the videos so I feel very fortunate that we only have to travel 5 miles to bring this wonderful teaching tool into our home. We primarily use series 1 videos but Grandma Gayle got Elsa a series 2 one called, My Favorite Seasons. The reviews just weren't good enough for series 2 to justify buying all 14 of the second ones to watch whenever we wanted. After 6 months of watching the first 9 videos they don't hold Elsa's attention as well but they have served their purpose and have helped our whole family learn lots of signs.

Elsa can tell us what she wants.

That is worth repeating.

She can tell us what she wants.

Since her spoken vocabulary of words that she uses without prompting is zero that means without signing we wouldn't have such a mellow little girl. I can only imagine how frustrated she would become and how many outbursts there would be either at home or in public. Being able to tell us what she wants and getting it is two different things so we aren't completely meltdown free, but over all it has been wonderful to have a language we all can speak.

For posterity, here is a list of the words she signs without prompting as of today, her 18 month birthday. There are lots more she is happy to repeat, but we wait until she says them on her own before we add them to the list. One added note: We chose name signs for Sam and Julia, probably not like you are suppose to, but we aren't part of a deaf community where we could duplicate name signs - a huge no-no.

all done
clean up
wash hands

In the second photo she is signing 'banana' - one of her favorite foods. For those of you who know sign language, you can tell she isn't using the correct finger as the banana but it doesn't matter. Like when a child learns to speak and says a word differently - we as the parent simply repeat it back correctly (the banana is suppose to be the pointer finger) and move on. 

Some of my favorite moments with Elsa in the past six months have been sitting in church signing back and forth what we see and helping her find whatever it is that will help her stay quiet during the sermon. We love visiting the zoo too because she knows so many animal signs.
Books are even more fun to look at because she can sign the things she sees and not just point to them.

It will be interesting to see where the next six months takes us in our signing with Elsa! I know that I am anxiously awaiting for her to figure out how to hold her middle and ring finger down so she can sign "I love you!" back to me.

Do you sign with your little ones? What are some resources that you found helpful?

School Spirit Beanie Crochet Pattern

Beat those winter blues and cold winds with this a FLEECE lined brimmed hat! It seems like everyone is wearing a beanie these days - me in...