Saturday, June 28, 2008

Top Five Travel Tips (with Young Chidren)

Carrie and her husband have done more traveling than we have, so hopefully she'll post her top five tips as well--I'm sure she has some good ones! But, here are ours for travel with multiple small children. We have done sort distances (2 hours) and longer distances (8 hours) all by car. Flying with small children deserves its own list.

1. Pack an extra change of clothes for everyone that's easily accessible (i.e. not in the suitcase that's under the mountain of baby gear in the trunk). This should be a no brainer with young children, but it's very, very important! You never know when a child will throw up (possibly on you), have a "blow out" onto their clothes (and car seat), or simply get barbecue sauce all over them and a nearby sibling during a fast food pit stop.

2. Pack extra diapers/underwear. Sure, you can estimate pretty closely the numbers of diapers your child might need. Your practically potty trained child hasn't had an accident in weeks. But you never know what getting off your normal routine might do to said child.... Be prepared!!

3. Plan your trip around natural breaks/rest times for your child(ren). For short trips (2 hours or so), we often leave at the kids' bedtime, around 7:00 p.m. This way, we can put them in their pj's before we leave and we don't have to stop! For longer trips, we plan on having fairly significant meal stops and just don't sweat the time delay. Those kids need breaks from their confining car seats and a chance to stretch.

4. Car food: we adults all like our car food, eh? (My husband's road trip snacks of choice include Gobstoppers, Spree, and a soft drink). Likewise, food can go a long way toward entertaining your children. Forget about the health factor for the trip; just give them some crackers, pretzels, animal crackers, goldfish, etc. It doesn't really matter if they don't eat much at the next meal. It won't hurt them. In the same vein, bring sippy cups for the car so you won't have to worry about spills.

5. Security objects: Make sure you pack your child's favorite/necessary security objects. This includes his or her favorite stuffed animal, a special blanket, and favorite bedtime story. This also includes things like the small kid-sized toilet seat if you've just begun potty training, your child's pac-n-play if he or she has trouble sleeping in new places, a favorite food, and similar things. Think about the trip from your child's perspective and try to bring the things that will help him or her feel the most at home. Even if you're going to Grandma's, your young child might not remember having been there before (and might not even remember Grandma!). Your visit will be smoother if you try to troubleshoot homesickness and such issues before you leave.

Enjoy your trip!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Toddler-Friendly Restaurants

Are there any toddler-friendly restaurants? Better yet, are there any restaurant-friendly toddlers? Hmm.... For those brave enough to attempt going out to eat with young children, here are our family favorites (in no particular order):
  1. Buffets (we have a Chinese buffet we particularly like; food is practically instant; you can get small servings of only the foods the toddler might like; most have SOMETHING your toddler can/will eat; our Chinese one only charges about $1/year of age... truly a bargain!)
  2. Fast Food: most have healthy kids' meal choices now, especially Wendy's, Chick-Fil-A, and McDonald's. Chicken nuggets or even a cheeseburger paired with fruit and milk isn't too bad a deal. McDonald's has the BEST toys; Chick-Fil-A will let you substitute a small ice dream cone for the toy; Firehouse Subs even gives away kid-sized fireman hats. Chick-Fil-A wins this family's top vote, however, because they have bent over backwards to accommodate my crew--bringing us placemats that stick to the table, refilling our drinks (while we're at the table), etc. Three cheers for customer service and yummy food!!
  3. Mexican Burrito Bars (Moe's, Salsaritas, Chipotle to name a few): these operate like Subway, only with burritos/tacos/quesadillas. Almost any toddler loves a cheese quesadilla and the prices for these are often pretty reasonable. Again, you get your food quickly.
  4. Pizza Buffets: CiCi's is the best known one here. The pizza isn't outstanding, but again, you get your food quickly and in toddler amounts.
  5. Small or Family-Owned Ethnic Restaurants: Believe it or not, many smaller ethnic restaurants are very accomodating to young children. Rice, beans, tortillas, etc. all are accessible to young children and generally available at ethnic restaurants. Go early and you'll likely get great customer service. It's also a fun chance to encourage your child to try something new. Our daughter once wolfed down a considerable portion of Chinese pork dumplings--who knew?!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Going Green, part 9: Technology

Technology can be a great aid in our efforts to reduce waste, recycle certain products, and reuse others. It can also be a great drain on resources, particularly power sources and the needless printing of documents just to read the latest version. Here are some things to consider as you try to practice the 3R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) with your technology use.

1. The Internet v. Regular Mailings: What a great tool to help us reduce our paper consumption and clutter! Use cyberspace wisely (especially as regards identity theft issues), but feel free to use it! Often a free service, you can have your bills and statements emailed to you or view them online at any given institution's website. I subscribe to very few magazines anymore because most of what I wanted is now available at the magazines' websites for free or for a reasonable subscription.

2. Digital File Storage: This can be on a website somewhere, your hard drive, or CD-Rom's. We've begun scanning in old financial statements/bills, converting them to PDF files, and then copying them to CD's. One CD can hold the same amount of information in so much less space than the paper versions. Now, we get our statements emailed to us and we can simply copy them over.

3. Digital Photo Storage: Many photo processing websites will also let you store photos for free on their website. We have ours stored on our hard drive and backed up on CD. We also have a number stored at our favorite processing site, where we've created photo books and calendars instead of having individual photos mailed to us for the "old-fashioned" albums. The books look great (and we've had hard copies of the books mailed to us)!

4. Media Storage: Wow! All our CD's are now on our computer thanks to my genius of a husband (who's an electrical engineer...). The CD's themselves are in the basement (we don't want to get rid of them because we feel like we're violating copyright laws). New music we've acquired through Mp3 format is also on our computer. Movies--same thing. In fact, through programs like Netflix, you can stream a number of movies and TV shows right to your PC.

5. Media "Hardcopy": CD's and DVD's can be resold much more easily than cassettes and VHS because they are more durable. When you're through with something, resell it or donate it so someone else can enjoy it!

6. Electronic Books: As a confirmed bibliophile (in one room alone of our house, we have 500 volumes...), I will never, ever want to have only e-books as an option. That being said, audiobooks can be acquired in Mp3 format; of that I heartily approve.

7. Libraries: Use them! You don't need to own every book (believe it or not, we do use discretion in which books we buy....).

8. Time Wasted...: I'm one to talk now that I have a few blogs going, but I do try to limit my computer time. When my husband has to work late and the kids are in bed, I'll "whip up" a couple of future posts and schedule them all. Sometimes, I'm not on the computer again for several days even though different posts will appear on schedule. Use all the latest technology well, but don't let it consume all your spare time. We must be stewards of our time as well as this earth.

9. Power Consumption: It's true. Even when they're in "standby" mode, our TV's, computers, DVD players, etc. all consume power. Anything with a clock in it and/or a remote control will be using power all the time simply to maintain those features. We've begun turning our computer off at night; my mathematically oriented husband has estimated this could save us as much as $30/month!

10. Resources: The Internet is full of wonderful resources to help you practice the 3R's--solutions for everything from homemade cleaning products, gardening help, facts and statistics on power usage, schedules for public transportation, homemade food products (instead of buying pre-packaged stuff all the time), electronic bill pay and magazine subscriptions as mentioned above, the yellow pages, stores from which to order things--or even simply the ability to look at a given store's inventory ahead of time (instead of driving all over town looking for one item), ...the list could go on and on. Make use of this resource if you have internet capability at your home. It can save you time and money as well as helping us conserve petroleum and other eco-friendly practices.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Savoring a Cup of Tea: Fruit of the Spirit (Faithfulness)

Faithfulness covers so many areas of life, doesn't it? I've been mulling over, in particular, the little areas of life that demand so much faithfulness--faithfulness that most people may never see. As a wife, mom, and homemaker, there are countless opportunities throughout the day for me to exhibit faithfulness to what the Lord has called me...or to shirk that calling and do something else (something that generally seems vastly more interesting).

For example, training my children: this is a huge, all-encompassing area for most parents, but especially in a house that's full of toddlers. We are training our children from birth to worship the Lord and serve him only, whether we realize it or not. Thus, each little interaction with my children is an opportunity to that end--and basic socialization in the process. How we encourage our children to interact with each other, how we model our reactions to frustrating events (including the mundane dropping of a kids' plate upside on the floor...), and how we demonstrate willingness to do menial tasks that serve the family at large are all making an impact on these little lives. When we do our jobs with faithfulness, that speaks volumes to little eyes and ears. They know no other standard than the one you maintain--at least during their early years. What an opportunity I have to be faithful in the little things these days! And how marvelous is the grace of God in the midst of my glaring unfaithfulness! I'm learning the value of faithful time spent with him, even in the early hours of the morning. I'm learning the value of faithful, consistent discipline and training of my two and a half year old, sometimes working with her on the same issues over and over. I'm learning the value of faithfully doing laundry--one load a day whether I like it or not--in order to better serve my family. I truly believe these small areas that demand faithfulness on a daily basis will teach us and our children great things about serving the Lord.

I read Isaiah 55:8-9 this morning:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What a great reminder that the Lord chooses the context in which I am to be faithful, not me. I can envision all sorts of grandiose labors for the Lord, but he has called me to be faithful in my current situation, no matter how mundane that faithfulness may seem or feel at the time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

VBS Reachout Adventures

Carrie has been mighty busy these past few weeks, and one of her primary projects has been getting ready for her church's VBS. She's the "craft head trainer" or something like that. At any rate, I thought I'd do a little plug for the VBS curriculum they're doing. My mother-in-law happens to be one of the consultants for this EXCELLENT curriculum.

VBS Reachout Adventures is the name of the curriculum; this year's theme is "Olympion" and focuses on Joshua. (Of course it's supposed to tie in to the Summer Olympics). It just so happens that, long before I met my husband, I went to my grandmother's church's VBS and they were doing this exact program! It was an Olympics year, and they used VBS Reachout Adventures. So, I've had fun remembering all the things we did--I still sing some of those songs even though it's been 20 years since I learned them in VBS. I also still know the memory verses, particularly from Joshua 1. If you are at a church that is looking for a good VBS curriculum, file this away for next year! It's a lot of work to put together if you want to do it well, but SO WORTH IT. It's packed with Scripture memory, good teaching, drama, etc. etc.

So, there you have my plug. Carrie can of course fill us in after the week is over with how well it went. Maybe she'll even describe some of her cool crafts on Curing Boredom! (hint, hint)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Still in Play

I wrote about beginning the Great Gardening Game a few weeks ago. Well, we're still in play! We discovered our first tomatoes on... Friday, the 13th! Begone, ye superstition!

At any rate, we felt like parents all over again--our first little tomato babies. Now begins the really hard work--watching over these little guys and monitoring bugs, weeds, growth, etc. It's a lot like watching over wee people now that I think about it (except that the tomatoes will grant me a full night's sleep).

We didn't buy our starting plants and seeds from the organic aisle, but we have always tried to stick to organic means of maintaining our edible plants. We practice companion planting (flowers and other veggies with bug repelling properties), soap sprays, and old-fashioned weeding. Our flowers are seed-started this year, and a bit late at that, so I'm not sure they'll be flowering in time to do us any good! Oh well...we'll see. Maybe I'll end up writing a series of organic posts someday when I'm not slaving away in my little back 40 (feet, that is).

My toddler "helped" me sow some beans recently. I kept telling myself that the experience of being in the garden, handling the seeds, playing with roly-polies, and blowing bubbles is all more important than whether or not I end up buying green beans in the stores later this summer because our seeds fail to germinate.

Phase 0 was getting the ground ready (letting leaves compost there over the winter).

Phase 1 was planting.

Phase 2--they're growing! Peppers on the left, tomatoes in center and right. Cucumbers are in little hills scattered around, as are various herbs. Beans will (hopefully) be climbing the fences soon.

Stay tuned for the next phase: our first edibles!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spiritual Mothering

We will be updating our resource of the month soon, so here's a brief review of our May selection: Spiritual Mothering by Susan Hunt.

This book is a great introduction and explanation of the Titus 2 model in Scripture: older women training younger women. As with most of her books, Hunt opens each chapter with a real-life story/example of the various principles talked about. She encourages each woman to be both a spiritual mother and a spiritual daughter--teaching those younger than us in the faith and sitting at the feet of those older than us. I have been blessed to have many spiritual mothers in my own life and am so thankful the Lord brought them into my life. This book would be a great study for a women in the church Bible study.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sunday Morning Prep: Pew Time Cont.

I (Carrie), in response to Betsy's post, have a few suggestions for Sunday "pew" time. We had to go from total nursery, to having to stay in the entire service when our son was 4 due to our move/change in churches. Boy was it an adjustment for us all!! Here are some tips I have learned that have helped.
  1. Instilling appropriate quiet times, i.e. prayer. We have really been working on our son sitting quietly and still during ALL prayers in the service. Praying is quite important.
  2. Quiet toys. You can't expect young children to sit perfectly still for a 30+ sermon. Quiet toys include books, coloring books/drawing paper, puzzles, 1 or 2 "cars" (with no sound effects & nothing banging!). Biblically themed are added bonuses! You can even buy your child his/her own special Bible.
  3. Take bathroom breaks during standing songs or offering time, and sit with accessibility to an exit.
  4. Have silent discipline, like counting "1,2,3" with your fingers :-). Of course on 3 something has to happen, but do it once--they won't forget.
  5. Be a little lax...they are kids. Kids=noise. Fortunately in our church we are not alone...everyone has too. And many parents start with kids 2-3 bringing them in just during song time. They are not going to understand the first have to practice.

Sunday Morning Worship Prep.: Preparing Young Children

This would fall under the "blind leading the blind" category since we have only twice taken our toddler into church with us. The first time, she had spiritual Turrets syndrome: she would recognize a Bible and blurt out, "Bible!" during a nice, quiet prayer. Or, she would hear the pastor say, "Amen," and echo it loudly (in a Presbyterian service, echoing "amen" is just not done). The second time we tried it, she made it into the sermon....

Even given our daughter's charming recognition of all things spiritual, we feel we must begin this process. Sunday evening services seem an ideal place to begin because they are a bit shorter and there are fewer people to, ahem, "charm." I've been gleaning the following wisdom from a variety of sources, and am passing it on to any of our readers who will be facing similar situations in the future. If you have had success in this area (i.e. have a child who sits beside you on the pew making few disturbances and is genuinely eager to be in church), please share your insight in the comments!!

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship
Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman and Ruth Bell Graham
First, many people have recommended Parenting in the Pew. I've now read it and it is a great place to begin as far as perspective goes. For instance, my goal should not be a perfectly behaved child on Sunday mornings. Rather, my goal should be to instill in my children a love for and respect for the holy worship of God. (This goal covers everything from obedience in church to the tenor of your home before church on Sunday mornings.)

Second, several sources have pointed out that training your children in general obedience goes a long way towards a general display of obedience during the worship service. In other words, if my child doesn't obey me at home, why should she obey me during church?

Third, several have mentioned consistency. If you decide to take your child in for the first 1o minutes of the service, do it. Don't back down or not follow through one week because you are tired.

Fourth, practice! I have one friend who taught her 18 month old to "wait"--they practiced on their couch at home, beginning when he was much younger and with a very short time limit (1 minute). He had to sit quietly. When he was 18 months old, she was able to take him to a wedding! I have another friend who takes her children into the sanctuary and shows them what goes on (standing up, holding a hymnal, etc.). Then, they practice at home, so the child knows what to expect. I think this is a wonderful approach. Why don't we take a proactive, training approach to the things of the Lord like we might with school?

Fifth, of course, pray about it--this includes, for me, praying that my heart will be in the right place, that my motivation is not what other people think of me/making sure my child can sit in church by the "right age" (in our church, very young children often sit through the service), that I will truly set my eyes on eternal things--the condition of my child's heart instead of outward appearances, and that my child's heart will be softened to the things of the Lord.

Discovering the Toilet

Every soon-to-be toddler eventually discovers that you don't have to be in the bath to play with water! How exciting is that!?! And, it's right on your level, there's a lip to hang onto for better splashing leverage, and the lid moves! This is the greatest thing since, well, Cheerios.

Except when the slightly older toddler of the house has recently contributed some liquid of her own to the same source of water and forgotten to flush.... (sigh) One of my twins happily played around in this charming source of entertainment under these conditions before I discovered him.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Super Daddy

This is a little post in honor of my husband, aka "Super Daddy." All dads of multiples have to pitch in a wee bit more than dads of singletons have to--especially during the baby phase. And when there's a young toddler in the mix, well, that service is just downright mandatory. My hubby has earned a terrific Father's Day this year for all his hard work this past year. He's fed babies (even mastering bottle feeding two at once!), diapered babies, read stories, rough-housed, taken a toddler on countless Saturday morning errands to give Mommy a break, put kids to bed, walked with a stroller, carried a diaper bag, done nursery duty at church, cooked a lot of hot dogs and served up lots of grilled cheese sandwiches, .... The list could go on and on! Lots of times, he's done these things after a long day at work.

The latest feat of Super Daddy has been putting up a swing set. This isn't just any swing set. It's the Manchester II by Play Safe (shown in picture). All three of our kids can swing on it at the same time since we replaced the rings set with a swing (two swings are now infant swings). Happy Father's Day to Super Daddy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vacation Bible School

This is just a little plug for all the local VBS's. Most start at age 4/Kindergarten. However, if your child is younger (2-3 years) and you help volunteer, most VBS's will have a little miny program for them too. I did this when our oldest was this age. It is a great way to plug extra Bible lessons and songs, and I know few churches who will turn away volunteers :-).

Going Green, part 8: Lawn and Garden

Of course your lawn and/or garden are green, aren't they? Or are they?

Here are some tips to make the most of your natural resources and to reduce further, needless waste.

1. Xeriscape (I used to think this meant use gravel for mulch and plant only cacti, but it's really more aesthetically pleasing and common-sense oriented than that. In a nutshell, xeriscaping is planting plants and grasses that are native in your area because they are already well adapted to your particular climate--in particular, the amount of precipitation you get. For instance, hostas and lenten roses LOVE our yard. We transplant new ones/divide up older ones all the time; once they're established, we never have to water them again.)
2. Recyclable Pots (peat pots are commonly available now at most home and garden centers)
3. Water Wisely (covered under xeriscaping, too, but this is simply watering in the evening or EARLY morning when there is less chance of water evaporation)
4. Edible Gardens (sort of a no brainer--plant some food for you and your family to eat! Can, freeze, or give away excess)
5. Compost Yard Waste (we compost leaves and grass clippings in particular; both can provide great mulch and/or green matter for your garden. Some mowers and blowers come with mulching attachments)

Monday, June 9, 2008

South Beach Diet

Well, it's been more than a year since my twins were born; I've resigned myself to the fact that the extra pounds I'm still carrying can no longer be blamed on them. I've just been lazy and gluttonous (sigh). So, my husband and I are launching Phase 1 of the South Beach diet (we've done this diet in the past with great success). No time like the present, eh?

Any diet worth its salt will include lots of fresh produce. For Phase 1 of the South Beach diet, fruit is off limits (sigh), but in two weeks, we can bring on the peaches, cantaloupe, blueberries, etc. The picture above is from my morning run to our local produce market. It's cheery to see such beautiful colors all waiting to be sliced, diced, and served up. I'm encouraged to persevere.

Just had to share! Summer is a wonderful time to at least enrich the fruits and veggie side of your diet, even if you're not aiming to lose weight. So, take advantage of the glorious growing season and eat tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and lettuces to your heart's content.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Road Trip Entertainment

If you have a road trip coming up, I highly recommend getting some books on tape/CD to listen to with your family! I've been listening to the Narnia books on CD for the second time this summer and am enjoying them just as much as the first go 'round (2 years ago). The set we have has the cover pictured with the original illustration of Aslan. However, HarperAudio has changed it to the movie shot of Aslan. The new cover is on the set of CD's narrated by current British actors/actresses (the other is an older recording, but probably equally as good--I haven't heard it). The narrators are EXCELLENT and include well known names such as Kenneth Branagh, Lynn Redgrave, Jeremy Northam, Derek Jakobi, etc. Even my toddler is enjoying them (although she doesn't really get the story line). We bought ours at Sam's--if you see one of these recordings for a good price, it will be worth it. You might want to check the list of narrators if you care whether or not you're getting the older or newer version.

Other good recordings of children's/young adult books include The Secret Garden, The Series of Unfortunate Events (narrated by Tim Curry--not the author), Stowaway (narrated by author Karen Hesse), Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter series... Just check your local library and see what they have!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Going Green, part 7: Toiletries and Cleaning Supplies

No, I'm not advocating only buying chlorine free toilet paper and all-natural toothpaste (although there are plenty of people who have chosen these means and love them). But, I would like to encourage you to think through what you can reduce, reuse, or recycle in this area of your life.

Think about it: our toiletries and cleaning supplies come all nicely packaged in containers we throw away when we're finished with said products. Toothpaste comes in tubes, shampoo and conditioner in bottles, deodorant in special deodorant containers, lotion in pump dispensers or tubes, and dental floss in little plastic dispensers. That's a lot of package waste when you think about it.

Before you throw everything out and make all your own toiletries, here are some easier "start-up" ideas to consider:
  • buy shampoo/other hair products and cleaning supplies in bulk at beauty supply stores/warehouse clubs; keep a user-friendly amount in an old regular-size bottle
  • don't buy what you won't use (don't keep trying random face creams, lotions, etc. that will only sit in your medicine cabinet or get thrown away)
  • recycle what you can: plastic bottles, boxes from toothpaste tubes, etc.
  • reduce the number of products you use (for instance, my husband and I both use the same kind of shampoo/conditioner; we now use Simple Green for just about every cleaning need--and vinegar, baking soda, ammonia, etc. will clean just about anything! See here or here for a sampling of ideas/formulas--note that I haven't tested all of these out yet, but they sound promising)
  • use biodegradable products when you can (shampoos, dish soap, and such will list "biodegradable formula" on the back--you'd be surprised how many mainstream products fall into this category)
  • buy toilet paper that doesn't waste paper (we all know that there are quilted, cushiony brands and the more boring, efficient Scott tissue--which, as you might expect, we use because it's cheap and is very septic-tank friendly (we used to have a septic tank))
  • cloth rags as opposed to paper towels (many stores sell cleaning rags; old t-shirts, baby blankets, and cloth diapers also make great multi-purpose rags. We, of course, use blue towels for any and all uses! We also keep a stash of baby wash cloths in the kitchen to wipe off grimy hands/faces after meal times.)
  • feminine hygiene products: believe it or not, there are options out there from cloth pads to chlorine-free biodegradable tampons (actually, an insightful article on the various options was posted at; you might at least consider staying away from plastic tampon applicators and the like (and I'm certainly not giving up my disposable products for cloth in this category any time soon!!)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

MORE Bug/Sunscreen

Though I will agree with Betsy-I have used the Bullfrog Mosquito Coast sunscreen in the past-I think Coppertone Bug & Sun warrants a picture as well. Here is why: It does contains DEET! Not good for too young of kids, however, we live by LOTS of woods. Our problem is not just mosquitoes, but LOTS OF TICKS as well! This seems to work better for us in our current situation. My only con against the Bug & Sun vs. Bullfrog: Bug & Sun is more greasy like sunscreen and Bullfrog you can get in the nice clear gel or spray.