Vacation.

I have a few pics from our recent Southwest CO vacation.  Yes, we drove from one end of the state to the other.  We had to drive around the range to shorten our drive to 7 1/2 hours (no stops).  Can I give you some travel tips with toddlers?  I feel like we’ve mastered it.  Pack the car the night before.  Leave as soon as the kids wake up.  Eat breakfast in the car.  Pack lots and lots of children’s books within arms reach.  Picture books read on audio are also awesome!  Children’s music like Yo-Gabba Gabba may also when they’re getting restless.  (As long as you don’t mind listening to it over and over.)  Bring plenty of healthy finger food snacks.  Bring a packed, picnic lunch to eat quickly at a rest stop while the kids run off their pent up energy.  Resume drive at nap-time.  Put on loud Mommy and Daddy music with a good beat… and kids pass out.  Voila–8 hours have passed.  Kids wake up, and you’re there.

A Perfect Saturday

“Family Dates.”  That’s what we call them.  Last Saturday we had the most perfect day.  We biked downtown and pulled our precious babies in a trailer.  They loved it.  Abby got a little nap in, and we enjoyed lunch on an outdoor patio, ice cream (gelato with coupons!), and a stroll through a few shops.  We biked back home and the kids took another nap.  Could we get more perfect than that day?!  Here’s a few pictures.

Yogurt

One of my new favorite yummy pleasures (obsessions) is plain yogurt.  I had tried some a few years ago and thought it was awful, but recently I bought a whole milk, organic version from a brand called “Brown Cow.”  Oh, wow.  It was so creamy and absolutely delicious.  The reason I decided to try it is because of a pantry makeover that we’re trying to do as a family.  We are trying to cut back our sugar (or sugar-free sweetener) intake while eating, as much as possible, food that we personally cook from scratch.

What does that have to do with yogurt?  Well, I decided to make my own.  Does that sound crazy?  Because it really isn’t, it’s SO easy!

I decided to make my own yogurt for a few reasons.  Yogurt is expensive!  Even if you buy it in the large tubs.  If you want it unsweetened and especially if you want it organic, your shelling out some $4 for 32 oz. of yogurt. I can make 42 oz. of yogurt for around the price of 42 oz. of milk.  It comes out in between $1 and $2 depending upon whether or not I buy a yogurt starter or use a previous batch or if I buy organic milk or not.  Another reason is that my girls are a bit addicted to sugar (like the rest of us), and Yoplait doesn’t help matters!  Abby won’t drink cow’s milk, so I’m doing my best to get her calcium everyday.  Yogurt is so healthy, so yummy and tangy without all that added sugar, and when you make it yourself it tastes like the creamiest pleasure without the tiniest guilt!  Have I talked it up enough?  Well, let me tell you now how easy it is in case you’ve never been interested enough to research it.  (I hadn’t until one day I was reading “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat“.)

Here’s what I do.  I bring 36 oz. of milk to a boil, just warm enough to crawl up the sides and steam real well.  I cool and add to 6-7 oz. of room temperature plain yogurt.  First add half and whisk, then add remaining half and whisk until mixed well.  Keep warm for between 6 and 12 hours depending on how runny or thick you’d like your yogurt to be.  Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  SIMPLE!

Keeping the yogurt warm is the tricky part.  Lots of people do a number of DIY methods to keep it warm.  Crock pot.  Oven.  A cooler with hot rags.  There’s lot of ways.  I decided to make a small investment in a yogurt maker, and I couldn’t be happier.  I’ve made about 10 batches so far, one about every other day.  Each batch gives me 7, 6 oz. jars of yogurt.  I use one of the 7 jars as my starter for the next batch.  I bought a yogurt maker because I really wanted to get into this, and I wanted it doable with my current lifestyle, and the investment was minimal ($25) considering how much money I’ll save.

We’ve now started using our yogurt as a replacement for milk in cereal and a number of other things.  And, what a simply yummy and healthy dessert with added fruit or jelly or honey!

My next venture is homemade granola.  Lord knows I need to save some money there!  CO grocery stores give you too many incredible options for granola!

Sophia Princess

I just finished a little creative project during nap time today.  Sophia LOVES pink and LOVES princesses, and she’s always asking for more pink and more princesses in her room.  I compromised with her.  Rather than buying her some generic picture to hang, I decided to paint one for her.  Her requirements: She must be blonde and she must be wearing a pink dress.  (AH!  My daughter’s probably going to be a cheerleader, too!)

She says it’s “Sophia Princess.”  We’re going to hang it close to her bed.  I don’t consider myself an artist or even a very creative person, but this sure did boost my self-esteem.  I’m pretty proud to create something beautiful and meaningful for my daughters.

To shelter or expose: A rant on children’s literature.

I’ve been thinking a lot about kids’ books lately.  What makes a good kids book?  The story? The characters? Does it need a moral?  Does it have to teach a lesson?  When I say I’m thinking about kids’ books, I really mean toddler books, or early pre-school age… books appropriate for a 3-year old.  Books appropriate for a child that has outgrown board books and picture books with few words.  She wants  a story.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because Sophia LOVES books.  Some days it’s literally ALL she does is to sit and look at books.  These are her favorite topics: Disney Princess books, Max and Ruby books, OLIVIA books, Blue’s Clues books… Can you see a few questionable ones, there? Let me tell you a story.

If you follow my blog, then you might remember this story and picture. (It’s the painting the face blue with “make-up”episode…)  Well, what I found out the next day was a copy of a library book that I hadn’t yet looked at entitled Ruby’s Beauty Shop by Rosemary Wells.  This is a pretty adorable story (if you like Max and Ruby) about Ruby playing pretend make-up and beauty shop with Max.  Max eventually breaks off on his own and paints himself with hair dye.  YES!  You heard me right.  He PAINTS himself with hair-dye!  Exactly like Sophia did with my acrylic paints!  She was acting out the story!  Now, granted, this is also a story that is on a Max and Ruby episode by Nickelodeon… and, she has probably seen it… But no doubt, we had this particular book from the library at the time of the offense…

This isn’t the first time that she has acted out scenes from books.  She loves to play babies just like Olivia in OLIVIA and the Babies. She loves to play Little Red Rubyhood from Bunny Fairy Tales. She has an insane memory for lines from the stories and loves to recite them.  This is also not the first time she’s gotten in trouble from reenacting something from a book.  I decided after the initial embarrassment of finding Ruby’s Beauty Shop, that it’s normal for her to reenact, healthy even, and this is a good way for her to learn appropriate behavior.

WAIT, though!  She never would have even thought to paint her face blue with my paint if she hadn’t seen/read this story!  So, there’s the question:  Do we shelter our children for the sake of reducing possible misbehavior, or do we expose them and thus encourage teaching opportunities?  It’s the same age-old question that parents face when they consider homeschooling… (One of the questions they consider, I realize.)  Maybe, she’s too young for these books. They specify “reading level” for these books, but that’s not the same as age-appropriate content, is it?  Here’s the thing, though:  She’s excited about looking at books.  I don’t want to discourage that.  My hope is that excitement about looking at books will turn into excitement about reading books, and isn’t that one of my goals as a mother–to encourage learning and success in school?

Hmm.  So, back to what I think about these books, these kids’ books.  Max and Ruby books are silly.  Max is always getting into trouble, and it’s never clear that what he’s doing is wrong.  He’s never punished, and his parents are nowhere to be found.  But, Sophia LOVES them.  They make her laugh, and she loves retelling the stories.  Olivia.  Well, Olivia is honest.  The story line is honest and it’s great story-telling.  She’s just a kid being a kid.  Her parents are doing the best they can, and they are not always perfect.  For example, in OLIVIA, a CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK, Olivia has this conversation with her mother:

“Only five books tonight, Mommy,” she says.

“No, Olivia, just one.”

“How about four?”

“Two.”

“Three.”

“Oh, all right, three.  But that’s it!”

If this was intended to be a story of a mother showing exemplary parenting, then it failed miserably.  (We have a strict 2-books-at-bedtime policy here at the Spicer house.  We waiver only on VERY special occasions.) This is an example of a child manipulating. And a parent getting manipulated. Like I said, the story is honest.  I get that this happens.  I’ll admit that it happens at our house, too.  But, is it appropriate story material for my 2 1/2 year old?  There’s much more questionable behavior in there that I would loathe for Sophia to copy: Olivia replicates a painting from the museum and throws paint all over the wall. (She gets a time-out.) She doesn’t nap when she’s supposed to. (No punishment.)  She scares her little brother with a mask in order to get him to leave her alone. (No parental acknowledgement.)

Do I want my children’s books to be neutered in order that I can spoon-feed behavior-training?  Teach by example (Johnny is a good little boy.  See how he goes to take a nap when he’s supposed to.) or teach by story?  Isn’t the latter more like real-life, what it looks like to live in the world?  And, isn’t that what we’re raising our kids to do.  I want to raise children to become adults to be successful in the world.

I have very few “Christian” kids books, that is to say that they were put out by a Christian publishing company.  I’m not talking about Bible storybooks.  I’m talking about cheesy books like God Loves Your Nose.  We’ve been gifted a few like these.  And, may I say, I really don’t care for these books.  They’re boring.  They’re poorly written–lines seem to be put in just to finish a rhyme, making little to no sense, with little to no story line.  It’s fine that they furnish an opportunity to talk about God or a particular truth.  I’m cool with that.  But, don’t all books furnish an opportunity to talk about God or a particular truth?  If I’m in conversation with my daughter?

Woah.  This blog is really turning into a rant.  I haven’t even talked about princess books.  I don’t even know where to start there, but my sweet, precious daughter is absolutely in love with pink and princesses.  And, at the very least it provides an opportunity for us to talk about exemplary behavior.  And, COOKIES!  What is it about so many preschool books having cookies in them?  Cookies for morning snack?  Is this just a line to make kids happy and come back to the book.  Think, authors.  Think about my children and how reading about cookies makes them want to eat cookies… ALL THE TIME!

Okay.  I’m done.

A post NOT about my children…

I’m in the process of categorizing my old posts, and it occurred to me that nearly all of my posts are in the category “Sophia.”  Yes, she’s 2 and she rules my life, but I do occasionally think about other things.  Here’s my latest thought with a question for you:

I just got up from lying down during the girls naptime frustrated with the way my current novel is going. I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s “Handle With Care.” It was a poorly researched choice during a recent Barnes & Noble venture.  Well, 200 pages into it, and I’m just bored and cranky.  It feels like pop trash.  Not trash like trash-y, but there’s no substance.  The writing is decent, not great.  I feel like she’s spoon feeding me plot, with predictable situations at ever corner.  Controversy and drama for the sake of controversy and drama…  The chapter’s are each from a different character’s point of view but not at all convincing that they are actually from the different character’s point of view.  Okay, this is my first Jodi Picoult novel, so I’ll not judge all of her work.  She’s got quantity for sure; somebody likes her.  But so far, I’m not impressed.

Here’s my problem.  My husband listens to my rants and says, “You can never go wrong with a classic.”  Yes, that’s his line and it has been his line for the 10 years I’ve known him.  Here’s the thing, though, I want pop without getting trash.  I want the drama and the pull of a newly written treasure without the work of wading through classic literature–that is, I’ve only got so much time (2 hours of naptime) and only so much functioning brain capacity (foggy-headed thyroid/new-mommy brain.)  The husband with the masters in literature says that finding novels like that are going to be hard to come by.

What do you think?  Can you recommend me a treasure that you’ve read in the last few years?  I’d love it if you’d leave a comment.  Tell me why you love it.

I’ll trade you. Here’s a few of my favorite novels of the last year.  (I’ve started many more and tossed them aside, finished a few others that aren’t worth mentioning, and am in the middle of a few that I can’t seem to get motivated about finishing.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff