Join The Party!!


Imagine helping scientists research animals in your own backyard or your favorite park.  The Great Backyard Bird Count is supported by groups like the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but it depends on ordinary people like us to get an idea of where the birds are each winter. 

Helping is easy and fun!  You pick a day (or all four days, if you want!) and spend at least 15 minutes watching for birds.  Imagine how fun this would be with kids!  I'm so excited to try it with mine!  You make a list of all the birds you see and record how many of each species.  You can have more than one observation period.  Then you type your data into the website and let them take care of all the analytics.  If you don't feel like you're an expert on bird species, don't worry!  The project's website, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html, has dozens of resources to help bird-lovers identify birds.  Now is a great time to start getting familiar with the birds that are usually in your area (which is why I'm typing this post tonight...three weeks in advance...that, and I'm already starting to get excited about this project!). 

And there's a contest!  It's a photo contest and Kaia has been so into taking pictures lately that I think we will set up a feeder and let her start snapping away...just for fun!  In fact, the Great Backyard Bird Count may just last three weeks at our house! 

A Picky Eater Pleaser! (Three fast, healthy recipes)

I have known my share of picky eaters.  One of the toddlers I watch unequivocally qualifies!  All of these recipes were a huge hit...with me, my family, and my kiddos!  I was inspired with the Orange Sauce idea after reading Chelsea's thank you card to Pioneer Woman.  As you can see, the recipe is very flexible and easy to adapt to whatever ingredients you have handy.  My recipes are a bit simpler than the originals, but I am convinced they taste at least as wonderful!  What I am recommending (because it was so extremely popular!) is a basic Orange Sauce served three times:  once over pasta, once as a Spanish Rice base, and once as a Queso Beso base.  What's a Queso Beso?  Keep reading. 

Orange Sauce:
2 26-ounce cans Hunt's Garlic and Herb Spaghetti Sauce (store brand works too!)
2 12.5-ounce cans of chicken
8-10 ounces Heavy Whipping Cream (oh yes, this is delicious!)

Heat the sauce and chicken in a large saucepan until it starts to boil.  Turn the heat off and stir in the whipping cream.  Watch it turn orange.  Very cool!

Chicken Pasta:
Serve Orange Sauce on top of your favorite pasta.  Add salt if needed.  Perhaps, add a side of broccoli.  I like broccoli.

Spanish Rice:
Add oregano and cumin to the Orange Sauce.  Stir in your favorite rice.  We've been on a Jasmine Rice kick lately.  It was delicious.  I loved watching my toddlers eat this with their fingers.  The spoon just took too much work.  So cute!

Queso Beso:
Smear a large spoonful of Orange Sauce on a tortilla.  Add lots of cheese.  Bake on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until the cheese melts--about 4 or 5 minutes.  Oh, yes, this is good.  Very, very good.  I suppose technically "queso beso" is "cheese kiss" in Spanish.  I had the idea because I like to make quesadillas with sauce...adding a sauce with chicken is even better.  I have to call food I serve to kiddos something and "queso" and "beso" rhyme...yeah, you can see where this is going!

There you have it.  Three recipes even picky eaters can't say no to!  At least, I hope your picky eaters like them as much as mine have!  And they can all be cooked up in under 15 minutes.  Do you have any other ideas for this delicious Orange Sauce?  Or any other toddler-proof/picky-eater pleasers?  I'd love to hear them.  I love fast lunches.

And just for fun, did you know that 1/4 cup of Hunt's Spaghetti Sauce has enough tomato in it to count for two (yes, two!) child-sized servings of vegetables.  Sweet! 

Happy 8-Month Birthday!!

I'm convinced that time moves faster as I get older.  I'm sure it was just a few weeks ago that I carried this tiny newborn home and wondered what kind of personality he would have.  Fast forward eight very speedy months and I am just starting to get to know the little guy.

Harry is FULL of smiles!  He loves to laugh and is entertained by everything from the idea of going outside (yes, he gets giddy when we get close to the door!) to the sight of his sister running (maybe he imagines he is running too?)!
 He absolutely loves taking baths.  When we walk in the bathroom around 6:00 pm he starts jumping in my arms, laughing, and reaching for the tub!  Those little kicking legs can splash water at least four feet high!  He also thinks washing his hands in the sink is pretty terrific. When I take him out of the tub, he is tired and doesn't mind leaving the water.  When I take him away from the sink, he is never done and wants to make sure I know it!  He usually forgives me when I distract him with a toy...or book...or his sister!
 Why is he smiling after his bath?  He must be in a good mood!  He gets very frustrated when I (or his dad) control his arms.  He would have you believe that "forcing" him to put on a shirt is torture.  When the ordeal is over and he's allowed to move at will, he starts smiling again.
 Holding a bike, he is showcasing two of his favorite skills:  blowing raspberries and standing!  This month he learned how to "cruise" and can "walk" all over the house...as long as he has something to hold on to or lean against (like a wall, toy, or bike!).  He also seems very entertained with himself if he can blow raspberries on my arm.  And notice, he is standing in one of his favorite places:  The Great Outdoors.  I feel very blessed to live in Houston, where we can go outside year-round. 
 One of Harry's favorite people of all time is his amazing sister, Kaia.  Today they were playing in her room when she thought he might enjoy playing with her Cherries game.  So she carefully put all 20 cherries in another bucket "so he wouldn't eat any of them" and gave him the board game and tree pieces.  She constantly amazes me!  When she says his name, it sounds just like Hermione saying "Harry" in Harry Potter!  (no, not where we got the name, in case you were wondering!)  

Harry starts jumping and laughing whenever Kaia comes in the room.  He doesn't mind her hair in his face when she hugs him and he "kisses" her right back!  His kisses, by the way, are super sweet.  He will listen to Kaia tell stories, sing songs, and dance happily.  He LOVES to play in the same area as her...if she's building with blocks, he wants to build too.  If she moves to her craft table, he wants to move too.  I hope they will always be great friends.
I love when he hugs me and pats me on the back or arm.  I also love holding his hands and helping him run around after Kaia and his friends.  His favorite foods right now are mashed fruits and fruit-flavored "puffs."

He also loves his little friends that visit each day.  This afternoon they were "talking" after naps and between the talking and watching Kaia run back and forth, Harry was laughing so much I had to record it.  This is about 30 seconds of straight laughing...and he had been doing for at least five minutes before I thought to get the camera! 

Happy eight months, Harry!  We love you TONS and (even though we want to keep you little forever) can't wait to get to know you better as you grow!  You have certainly made our lives better.  Keep smiling!

Read To Your Babies!

How cute is this picture!  I love that I caught it last November.
Read to your babies!!  Okay, even just talking to them will do the trick.  A friend shared a study that was published in 1995 with me, and I just have to share it with all my mommy bloggy friends!

Beginning in 1983, 42 families with infants had monthly visits from researchers who recorded everything that happened in the house.  This went on for three years.  Then, the researchers spent almost ten years transcribing and analyzing the information.  They wanted to see why children--even as young as four years old--from wealthier families did better in school than children from poorer families.  They found several interesting things.  Here is where reading and talking come in.

The average child in their study in an upper socio-economic class family heard about 2,000 words an hour. The average child in a welfare family heard about 600 words an hour.  By the time the kiddos are four, that translates to about 45 million words total for the wealthier kid and 13 million words total for the poorer kid.  The crazy thing is that those vocabulary levels of the four-year-old could be used as indicators of how well the kids would do later in school.  The study did not track any kids after about 3rd grade.

So, read to your babies!  Talk to your kiddos!  Read them your blogs!  Tell them how you're wearing your favorite perfume and why you brush your hair in the morning!  They'll thank you for it someday!

PS.  Do you wonder how much you talk?  I did.  This entire post has 305 words (including the PS, but not the title or caption!).  So, you can read your babies this post seven times an hour to get 2135 words hourly!  Haha.  Also, if you want more information, check out this NPR article on the study:  http://www.npr.org/2011/01/10/132740565/closing-the-achievement-gap-with-baby-talk.

Make an Easy Tambourine

The kids love music...and anything else that makes noise...so, last month we made these personalized tambourines.  We duct taped a handful of beans inside two paper plates (Do you like how I used duct tape like a verb?!) and the kids decorated the tambourines with markers.  We shook them and sang "Old McDonald" and really rocked out to our own music!  We had everyone tapping the same beat, and we had everyone going crazy!

No, the tape didn't last forever (maybe because it was blue duct tape?), and eventually I tossed  the entire lovely musical work of art (shhh...don't tell).  But, the kids sure loved making them and performing with them!  I love hearing Kaia shout, "1, 2, 3, 4..." and then start singing and dancing!  Oh, yeah, pretty fun.

Houston Zoo Opens African Forest

After over a year of waiting, the Houston Zoo opened their African Forest exhibit last month.  We visited it last week. 

Okay, so Kaia is sitting on a Rhino statue, but there are three new White Rhinos in the African Forest.  Kaia pointed out that they did not look white, but that is what they are called!
The African Forest also has new Chimpanzees and some fun stations for kids, including Bongo Drums, Giraffe Feeding (for a few extra bucks), cool masks, and more.  I will admit, charging to feed the giraffes seemed a bit silly to me.  It was nice, though, to see the giraffes moved to a bigger area.  Their old habitat is going to be additional space for the elephants, which is nice too.
 
 
I also was entertained by the giraffe vertebrae station presented by volunteer docents.  They had casts of a giraffe vertebrae and a human vertebrae.  You know, both giraffes and humans have  seven cervical (neck) vertebrae, and it was fun to see a real-life comparison of the sizes.  I did take pictures, but, unfortunately, Blogger turned half my pictures 90 degrees and I simply do not have the patience to figure out why or re-post them.  So, that will be all the visuals you get of the African Forest! 
Kaia is a master at "taking time to smell the roses."  And she's so cute at it, too!  As a side note, I love visiting zoos and parks that have the names of a lot of plants posted by the plants.
We happened to time our visit with the Lion Training Show (unintentionally!) at 11:30.  Before that, I was distracted by the Rhinos and Jon kindly walked the kids around the African Forest.  Before we knew it, we had no idea where each other were!  Usually , we have phones with us, but on this occasion we left one phone at home and one in the car.  (weird, I know!)  The best part was that when we arrived at the zoo and saw we would be there for the show, we decided to go and watch.  We didn't think about it after the initial plan.  Then, everyone disappeared!   It was really strange to feel like my family was lost at the zoo!  So, when 11:20 rolled around and neither of us could find the other, we both went to the lion show and...tada!   There we all were!  Happy ending!
Harry likes to spit...it's one of his super-powers.
He and Kaia both liked the lions, but Jon and I enjoyed them more!
Harry loves to practice walking.  I know I've mentioned this a million times, but he really loves it.  Of course, a morning at the zoo will wear anyone out. Kaia took this last picture in the car on the way home.

30 Minute Homemade Pizza


Actually, if your toppings are ready and your kids don't interrupt, this can go in the oven in about 20 minutes.  It's very fast, easy, and absolutely delicious.  Even though it mixes up fast, it still rises in the oven. You can make an even thicker crust by using a smaller pan.  Plan on about 13 minutes to cook.  Inspired by a recipe on MoneySavingMom.com, I've created this little beauty, and I'm recommending it to everyone!

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp active dry yeast
3 cups warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
6  Tbsp. vegetable oil
 7 1/2 cups flour

Steps:

1.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
2.  Pour the yeast and sugar in the water.  Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.  This is a good time to prepare the sauce or toppings. 
3.  Add the salt, oil, and flour.  Knead well for about 5 minutes.  You want a smooth ball.  The dough will be sticky.  Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes.  Here's another good chance to finish the toppings and grease your pans (3 large, 10" X 13"cookie sheets)! 
4. Divide the dough into thirds.  Press 1/3 into a cookie sheet.  Use your hands to spread it out--it doesn't even need rolling!  Put the other two thirds into two gallon-size freezer baggies and save them for another day. 
5.  Add cheese and toppings.  See ideas below.
6.  Bake for about 13 minutes.

Easy and yummy toppings:  
1-barbecue sauce on whole pizza, chicken on whole pizza (a cooked breast or canned chicken works fine), onion slices on half, pineapple on other half, sharp cheddar cheese
2-canned pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperonis 

The Simple Things

Sometimes we get so busy with important things we forget the simple things.  I had a few reminders of how wonderful the simple things can be during the last month.  

This was one of my favorite moments from Christmas break.  And it lasted over an hour.

A blanket, two happy kids, the man I love, a few toys, and lots of sunshine.  Really, what more do we need?

It was like we just stilled time for a moment.  A camera could only seize it so well, but I tried!






 




Such a beautiful December afternoon!  And even though the kids had colds, they were perfectly happy to spend a simple and relaxed hour together.  I need to make time for moments like this more often.

A New Skill!!

Check this baby out!  He's been trying to walk for a while, but now he is getting really good at "cruising!"  He can walk around 2/3 of the playroom because there are shelves or toys that he can reach to help himself balance.  Just look at his new skills:




He seems to feel so empowered when he walks.  It's like he's one of the big kids--often when they run around he watches and leans towards them as if to say, "I want to run too!"  It amazes me that he's only 7 1/2 months old.  As I type this, he is experimenting with using just the wall to help balance himself!  How cute is that!

Creamy Garlic White Sauce Recipe

Oh, so yummy!  So I made the most delicious garlic sauce and had to write it down...partly to share it and partly so I could remember what I put in it.  All the measurements are approximate...I wasn't planning on writing a recipe, but I loved the result.  Thick and creamy white sauces over pasta are some of my favorite foods...especially when they come with garlic!  Have fun...experiment with this one! 

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 + cups milk
garlic powder
onion powder
dried parsley
dried oregano
salt
pepper
can of chicken
1 Tablespoon chicken bullion
about 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour until it is creamy.  Add the milk.  Add more milk as you cook the sauce if it gets too thick.  Add garlic, onion, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.  I did about a teaspoon of the garlic, onion, parsley, and oregano, and about half a teaspoon of the salt and pepper.  Add the vinegar, chicken, and bullion.  Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes.  I served it over pasta and broccoli and loved it! 

Bluebirds and Parakeets

 A few days ago I saw one of the cutest little birds ever:  the Eastern Bluebird.  In fact, I saw at least six playing in our yard.  Well, okay, they weren't really playing.  They were hunting.  We have a lot of bugs in our yard.  But they were really cute!  We watched them fly around and snatch bugs for at least 20 minutes.  And since I love to learn everything I can about anything I see, I thought I'd share some random facts about Eastern Bluebirds:
  •   Eastern Bluebirds do NOT live in Utah, nor most of the other western states.
  •   Eastern Bluebirds usually have blue eggs, but white eggs do show up too.
  •   Eastern Bluebirds can have two broods of babies, and the "older siblings" often help raise the younger!
  •   Eastern Bluebirds are just a little smaller than robins.
  •   Some Eastern Bluebirds live in Texas year-round; some migrate to Texas in the winter. 
  •   Eastern Bluebirds almost disappeared from Texas because they ran out of nesting spots.  Then, people built thousands of nesting boxes and now they have moved back. 
As a related side note, I did have a chance to go back to the University of Houston a couple months ago and double check on the parakeets.  The little flock I saw was a group of Monk Parakeets, they were in the same trees they were in when I first saw them, and I did take a picture.  I would have to hunt for the picture, though.  I'm sure you were all just dying of curiosity.  Now you know.

So, yes, Eastern Bluebirds and Monk Parakeets live happily in wild, wild Houston!

Story Time Idea...Flannel Box

This works great for story time with my kiddos...they also play with it on their own.

Some time ago I covered a large diaper box with blue flannel.  I used hot glue to keep it flat.

I currently have three sets of cloth pieces to use with it:  shapes (dozens of shapes cut from pink flannel), story pieces (animals, plants, cars, and more cut from printed fabric), and "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" pieces (cut from white cotton).  My sister gave me the idea for the Spilt Milk pieces.  It was really easy to look at the pictures in the book by Charles G. Shaw and cut out my own pieces.  The kids love hearing the story with pictures that move.  I have fun sticking the pictures to the flannel box.  The kids also enjoy playing and making up stories with the shapes and story pieces.  It's funny to watch how the shapes bag is just as popular as the story pieces bag--either way they are getting math and/or literature exposure! 

I love my flannel box.

7 Ideas for Kids with Giant Boxes


What do you do with giant boxes after Christmas?  Here's a few ideas we've enjoyed with the kids:
  • Put the box in a "river" and let the kids play "boat."  In the picture they're eating "ice-cream" in the "boat!"
  • Give the kids a "steering wheel" and let them pretend the box is a space ship, car, or train.
  • Give the kids markers and let them decorate the box.
  • Turn the box on its side and open up the flaps to make a tunnel.
  • Use the box for a puppet show theater.
  • Cut the flaps off--my kids like to use them for serving trays for their "parties" and then they like to cut them up, decorate them, and turn them into cards.
  • When you're done, recycle the pieces!
What do you do with giant boxes?

Battle Of Wills

Battle of Wills 

The lines are drawn,
The sides are clear,
The reasons have all run,

You want it one way,
I say another,
The Battle of Wills has begun.

No raging fire,
No tempest wild,
No howling wind with might,

No screaming beast,
Or monster fabled
Could put up half your fight.

You don’t speak my language
Yet you know so well
Exactly what I aim.

If only you knew
Nearly as well
The war you wage is vain.

Between your attacks,
As you round up
Energy you hid,

I stealthily notice
Each furious,
But drooping lid.

Your screams rebound,
The battle roars in
Thunderous din!

Abruptly, the war stops.
It seems, today,
I win.

--Carla Jansen, January 2011


I love you, Harry.

Children's Book Review: Frederico, the Mouse Violinist

Frederico, the Mouse Violinist is a delightful children's book that I am happy to recommend.  It shares the  adventures of Frederico, who watches the famous luthier Stradivari craft great violins.  At night, the little mouse sneaks into the shop and tries to play a violin.  What happens when Stradivari sees him?  You'll have to read it to find out!

My daughter, almost four, loved the story.  She has already asked to have it re-read many times.  She also enjoyed the matching activity at the end of the book.  The suggested audience are kids ages 4-8.  Mayra Calvani has written a charming and educational book sure to be popular in family libraries and on teachers' shelves.  Not only is the story lovable, but it teaches major parts of a violin and a little Strad history.  The illustrations, by K.C. Snider, are compelling and complement the educational aspect of the story beautifully.

I'd like to thank Mayra Calvani for providing an ebook version of this book for me to review.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!  This book is available in hardcover, softcover, or as an ebook.  To learn more about Mayra Calvani, including other books she's written, visit her at Mayra's Secret Bookcase.  I was not paid for this review and all opinions are my own!

The Kids Who Loved Santa

You've seen kids who were scared of the man in the red suit...they sure aren't related to me!  We waited in line for at least half an hour.  While we waited Kaia borrowed the camera and took pictures.  When she finally reached the front of the line, she ran up to his lap and gave him what had to be the best hug he had all day!
 Harry wasn't as friendly, but he was happy enough to sit on Santa's lap and let me take his picture.
Kaia loved Santa even more when he gave her a giant (and I mean, giant!) piece of chocolate and a little toy.  Our Santa visit was a highlight of the season.