Wednesday, May 30, 2012

lists: the placebo effect

This is what happens when the kids have long afternoon naps. I finish all of my "have to dos" for the day and then engage in my favorite household activity: making a list.

Today, it was a comprehensive list of all the disposable goods we use regularly in our house. Categories included: Spices & Seasonings; Pasta, Rice, and Beans; Canned Food; Baking; Snacks; Misc; Household; Paper goods; Cleaning; Bags; and Personal Care.

In theory, I will use this list to go through my house once a month to take stock and then make one big trip to the store (without kids) to pick up everything we need. Thus, we reduce last-minute trips to the store, better plan for household expenses, and stay within budget.


It never really happens. I could show you approximately 15 different Excel spreadsheets I've made over the last 7 years, all trying to better organize our daily home purchases and thereby save money. My paid career is in evaluating programs to determine what impacts they have. And in light of loads of longitudinal data on this particular "program", I have to admit that no list has ever really saved me money.

I mean, let's just face up to the hard truth here. The trick to saving money is simply saying no to whatever you're about to put in your cart at the store.

Which makes me think that the reason I like to make the lists is because it makes me feel like, even if I have a hard time saying no to the 48 pack of double roll toilet paper on sale for just $8.99 (wow, life is really that exciting sometimes), at least I'm really good at making a list. The list is a symbol of control. Sure, I might be overspending 50% on my household budget every month, but I have it written down, so there.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

friday photos

Every night we engage in lengthy negotiations about how many stuffed animals get to come into the crib. On this particular night, we lost big time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

toddler activities - helping in the kitchen

Life has felt very busy the last few weeks, so Genghis and I have not been as creative in our play. But one thing that has been a fun, easy and productive way to spend our time is by cooking.

At 21 month, Genghis has just matured enough to enjoy helping (I use the term loosely) me in the kitchen. In a given day, a lot of my time is spent in the kitchen, so it's been nice to have a companion ... sometimes. I mean, let's be honest, cooking with a 2-yr-old can lead to hypertension pretty quickly.
Here are some tricks we use.

1. Have a kid-proof section of the counter where anything is fair game.

2. Talk a lot about everything you're doing. Genghis, at least, gets very interested in hearing all the details. ("Now I'm opening the flour bucket. We need 2 cups of flour, so that means I need to fill this half cup 4 times and dump it in the bowl. Where's the bowl? That's right. Okay, let's count. One ... ")

3. Let them try all of the ingredients that won't hurt them. Salt and baking powder, yes. Raw chicken, no. I just sprinkle a bit of whatever on the counter and let Genghis have at it. He tells me whether each ingredient is yummy or yucky (high on the list, currently, is flour).

4. Provide an actual yummy thing to snack on if they are getting antsy. I like mini chocolate chips because they take a while to pick up and eat, and aren't too filling in case dinner is going to be soon.

5. Let them do clean up afterwards (or while you're still finishing up) by filling the sink with some water and giving them some cups or washcloths. Genghis loves this part. And he gets everything soaked. But it's just water and actually helps clean the kitchen as I just wipe everything off at the end with a big towel.

This is not a relaxing and mess-free activity. But it's a lot of fun. And I can usually get quite a bit of cooking done. And I'd like to think that Genghis is learning how to help, how to cook, and how to love lots of different kinds of foods.

Friday, May 18, 2012

friday photos - spinach smoothies

Why is it so hard to eat vegetables regularly? We hit a low point this week when I gave in to the temptation to do an easy McDs drive-through lunch. Of course, Genghis loved all of his chicken nuggets, almost as much as he loved the ketchup (not a vegetable).

 So today we turned over a new leaf (haha) in our quest for healthy food with ...

Spinach Smoothies!

If you haven't had one, you probably fall into one of two schools of thought:

1) Why haven't I thought of this before?! Sneaking great-for-you vegetables into a refreshing treat that you can enjoy any time of day. What could be better? Can't talk now, I'm halfway to the store to pick up some spinach.


2) Gross. Why do people have to do bad things to good food?*

Well, we took the plunge this morning, and I'm lovin' it! (Take that, McDs branding.) I think there are two keys to enjoying the spinach smoothie.

First, know that it will taste like spinach...but it will taste like the most awesome spinach you've ever had.

Second, blend the ingredients for a very long time. Several minutes. No chunks allowed.

I've posted the recipe below, but to get to it, you'll have to look at some adorable pictures of Genghis enjoying is spinach smoothie.

Green Smoothie:
2 cups milk
1 banana
1 big spoonful of almond butter
1 small spoonful of honey
1 spoonful of whey protein
1 cup frozen pineapple and strawberries
fill blender with spinach

I pretty much copied this recipe from two of my cousins, based on what I had on hand. Check out their recipes here:

*The worst offender here is the "black bean brownie". This healthy alternative to something delicious tastes just like its name.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

i could be a rock star

Admit it. This totally makes you want to have short hair, too.

...somewhat tamed...

Monday, May 14, 2012

vaguely guilty

On Saturday, I skipped our church's annual Stake Women's Conference (read: big-deal meeting for all the women in the area). Instead, I spent the day exploring the park and river with my family. We had a wonderful time, but part way through I confessed to Abe that I felt a bit bad for shunning my church duties but not bad enough to want to reverse the decision. He told me I was feeling "vaguely guilty", an unproductive feeling of general guilt without any specific wrong to focus on changing.

Since then, I've realized that I feel "vaguely guilty" quite often. I felt vaguely guilty about having babysitters for Genghis 3 times a week. I felt vaguely guilty about wanting to watch a movie during nap time instead of updating our financial records. I felt vaguely guilty about not being excited to read professional blogs to stay up on my skills.

A small dose of vague guilt can be a good thing, but only when you focus the guilt to pinpoint a specific negative behavior replace. But too often, I either don't take the time to narrow in on that behavior or (more commonly) there's nothing, really, that needs to change. I feel guilty about "shoulds" floating around in my head (I should enjoy playing with my children always, I should be constantly productive unless I'm sleeping, I should strive to be the absolute best in my profession).

Vague guilt seems like the consequence of an over-zealous and slightly bored conscience. When I have real things to worry about and act on, I don't get bogged down in shoulds. A good friend of mine recently said he has learned to take a zen-like approach to church responsibilities (sort of a "let it be" mantra). I think I need to adopt a bit more of that to life in general.

After all, we can get so focused on measuring ourselves to see how good we are that we forget to just get up and do good things.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

baby product review: tommee tippee = best bib ever

If you've read many of the posts about my almost-2-year-old son, you know that he loves to eat. And eating is very much a hands-on experience. I realize this is partly my fault for preferring to let him eat, say, bowls of mushy oatmeal on his own instead of spoon-feeding him. But really, when else am I going to eat my oatmeal, people?

Needless to say, we went through several bib options to find something that 1) contained the mess, 2) held up to heavy use, 3) was easy to clean - over and over again, and 4) could easily travel with us and to the babysitters'.

We found the perfect solution: Tommee Tippee Explora Bibs. I cannot say enough good things about these bibs. I bought a 2-pack about a year ago, and we use them 3-5 times a day. They provide good overall coverage, have a catch pouch, and use an easy snap in back that my son can't remove. They are really easy to wash - just a few seconds with a washcloth or sponge gets them clean. They still feel very clean and fresh after hundreds of uses. I keep waiting for the time when I'll have to replace them, but we're not even close yet.

Bonus: they are very reasonably priced.

Honestly, I won't ever think about getting a different kind of bib. These are perfect. Don't you love it when that happens?

friday photos

I love goofy smiles!

Monday, May 7, 2012

the american vacation

This weekend, we took an overnight trip to Holland, Michigan. Holland is historically a Dutch town. They have all sorts of Dutch attractions and, the first weekend in May, a tulip festival. We felt like this short trip was a sort of "test drive" for longer family vacations in the future.

Overall, we did fairly well. In fact, we managed to nail quite a few elements of the quintessential family vacation:

- Stressed mother yelling at everybody while trying to pack up and get out the door
- Father frantically finishing a few last-minute work items before heading out
- Savored moments of quiet in the car
- Child being most excited about staying in a hotel
- Poor night's sleep for parents in crowded quarters
- "Make your own waffle" station at the continental breakfast
- Three trips to the car to bring out all the luggage needed for 1 night's stay
- A slate of outdoors activities and ... cold and rainy all day long
- Emergency trip to a local mall for forgotten supplies
- Watching demonstrations at a historic village (you know, cheese-making, candle-making, clog-making)
- Lunch that includes greasy fries
- Losing the security blanket at the historic village
- Spending more money than we budgeted
- Temper tantrum in the family restroom during a diaper change
- Desperate search for a delicious, unique, reasonably-priced and family-friendly place for dinner in an unknown city
- Child insisting on singing songs all the car ride home
- Zonked out children content to sleep in the morning after we get home, but must be woken up to make it on time for 9am church

Some other quintessential family vacation elements we (thankfully) missed out on:
- Overzealous parent insisting on stopping at every historic monument on the way
- Someone throwing up
- Leaving a child behind
- Endless family photos with multiple cameras
- Car trouble
- Getting lost

Now for a few of the photos we managed to snap.
Dutch dancers at the Nelis Dutch Village.

Can you find the white people in the audience?

At the Grand Rapids Children's Museum. Genghis tucked himself away in the play animal shelter.

Giant light bright!


More bubbles.

Too many bubbles?

Xena preferred to see the city at a 90 degree head angle.

Friday, May 4, 2012

friday photos

If there's something Genghis was born good at, it was eating. The trend continues. Here he is savoring a graham cracker in the morning sun.
And "helping" me make granola.
Xena's a pretty good eater too, but I don't really want to take photos of that. Instead, here she is with our good friend Kristin and a giant bow in her hair (which Kristin made).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

save the library!

The library is one of a community's most valued resources. It's a safe, clean, comfortable space for learning, work, and imagination - for anyone. Personally, I use my library to ...

... get wonderful books and movies. I probably have 30 things checked out from the library right now. (ha! just checked my account and the exact number is 32. and i have checked out 420 items since September 25, 2009. i <3 data.)

... have a quiet place to work. This was particularly true when I had in-house babysitters. I could take off to the library and settle in to a cozy chair and good wifi connection and plow through work. Although I was a bit annoyed that they have a policy against sleeping in the library, this actually worked to my benefit when the 3pm yawns came. I knew if I fell asleep one of the staff would politely rouse me.

... teach my toddler how to survive in a semi-structured learning environment. Genghis loves to be completely independent in his play, and library story time has been a great way to introduce a bit of structure for sitting, listening, and following directions.

... learn new songs, games, and activities to do with my kids. While Genghis learns to sit during storytime, I learn new songs, riddles, and hand games that we play over and over again at home.

But libraries are facing a challenge with the transition to ebooks. Many libraries let people check out ebooks to download to their ereaders for a limited time, just like with physical books. But many publishers are limiting the selection of ebooks available to libraries. From my own experience, I know it has been challenging to get the best books in ereader format through my library (even though publishers allow libraries access to the physical copies).

In order for libraries to keep serving patrons, they need to transition their great collection of books to include these digital books. And right now, there's a petition out for people to let publishers know how they feel about this issue.

If you want to support your local library, please take a few minutes to fill out the petition through this web site. Check out the video below to find out more, or just go directly to the web site. And spread the word!