Friday, January 31, 2014

molded crayons

We made it to the end of the tunnel - the kids are not sick anymore! The last half of the month was brutal, but I am just glad that the illness is behind us. Now that everyone is happy, it's back to crafting... :)

Have you made these molded crayons before? They were fun, easy, and a great way to recycle those old broken crayons we had accumulated through the years.

There are plenty of tutorials out there, but here is how we did it:

First, I gathered all those old broken crayons and unwrapped them.
The little fingers had trouble getting some of the papers off, so Luke cut a slit down the side of the crayon to make it less frustrating.
Next, we broke the crayons into tiny pieces and Anna filled up the little silicone molds (which are actually ice cube trays from Ikea). I didn't guide her, but her instinct was to just sort by colors/shades.
I wasn't sure how the ice cube trays would do in the oven, but after 10 minutes in a 250 degree oven, they held up just fine. The crayons melted nicely and I left them to cool in the fridge.
Finally, once they were completely cooled, we just popped them out and scribbled away!

The heart ones turned out perfectly, but most of the fish ones broke in two in the process of getting them out, as you can see in the picture below. (Also - don't expect to use the trays to make ice again. They are ruined, but good thing they were only a dollar each and I will just use them to make more in the future.)
These cute crayons are great to pass out as Valentines at school, but Anna loves them so much that she wants to keep them all. Not only the kids draw with them, but they play with them like little toys. So funny.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

how we borrow library books

When you take your kids to the library, do you let them pick out their own books to take home? My kids have a niche in finding the stupidest (and longest!) books, so honestly, I don't.

This is what I do instead.

Our library system has a great book reservation service where I can make unlimited book reservations online and pick them up when the books are ready (usually in 2-3 days if the books are readily available). So, every 2 to 3 weeks I will sit down in front of the computer and reserve between 20 to 25 books.

This brings me up to my next question - how do you find good books, with so many bad ones out there?

When selecting books, I think about what the kids are currently interested in, take any upcoming holidays (like the Lunar New Year or Valentine's Day) into consideration, and try to recall if the kids have any specific requests. I use Amazon to find age-appropriate books and read reviews before placing the books on reserve.

Tip: Not only Amazon is good for reviews, but the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" section is invaluable to me. When the kids love a certain book, I will search for that book on Amazon and refer to the suggestion list to find similar books.

The other night I spent a good amount of time selecting and reserving a new stash of books for the kids. Will is still in the thick of his dinosaur-loving phase so there is a bunch of those books coming. I remembered Anna asking for Clifford the Firehouse Dog after seeing a picture of it on the back of another Clifford book so I reserved that, too. I thought back to one of Luke's favorites, Lost and Found, and reserved two more books by the same author.

Making reservations at home is so convenient and it saves me the headache of going through the shelves at the library while keeping an eye on two kids, especially since Will likes to climb the furniture and doesn't understand quiet voice yet.

When we go to the library with a batch of books waiting for us to pick up, the trip goes a lot smoother. We stay for 30 to 45 minutes and, during that time, the kids brings me whatever books they want me to read right then and there and I let them pick out a few books of their own choosing to take home. When we are done, I grab the books I have on reserve, the kids fight over who gets to scan the books, and we head home.

As the kids get older, I will rely less on the reservation service and give them more free choice, but right now this works for us.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, January 24, 2014

lately /

I took a bunch of pictures after getting home from work yesterday. Things are slow, frustrating, and sometimes downright ugly as we work through the sickness, but I still want to remember these little moments:

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sigh, January.

It's such a cold, depressing month, made worse by a sick kid. Will has been sick for literally the last two months, since before the holidays. He was better for a while, but now he's knee deep again with the coughing, runny nose, slight fever.  (And I am knee deep in wiping snot, cleaning puke, broken sleep.) Anna is healthy as I type, but probably not for long. We all have been cooped up inside, melting our brains with Umizoomi and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. It's snowing right now, but we will NOT be playing outside today. We are going to stay in, drink soup, and hope for no more throw-up.

I have only taken, like, two pictures on my real camera to document this January.
Skyping with my parents.
Anna playing with Perler beads and getting so good.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Will at 2 years and 2 months

My little dinosaur is 2 years and 2 months old today.

He’s cuddly, talkative, playful, and insanely cute.

Here is what’s going on in his toddler life!
Eating | Following his sister’s footsteps, he gives us such a hard time about eating! He loves Skittles. M&Ms. Any kind of sweet cookies. Noodles. Goldfish. Pizza. Asian buns. Banana. Mushrooms. Flintstone vitamins. That’s about it?

He utterly hates eggs, rice, bread – but sometimes he will reluctantly eat it, if I feed him.

Most days, when we sit down for a meal…he eats a little bit and says he’s done and not hungry. It drives us absolutely crazy.

But if I spoon food into his mouth, with TV or Kindle on, he WILL eat it. And just like, he trained us to feed him while watching TV or playing on the Kindle.

Heh I guess it’s our fault too. We need to be more firm. And remember that he will eat when he’s hungry enough.

Will is on day 4 of quitting the bottles. Previously we gave him a bottle of milk when he wakes up in the morning, and again before nap. Now he’s offered milk in a straw cup with his meals. He drinks about half of what he used to, but the transition has been smooth otherwise. I don’t know if I am sad or happy that I will never wash another bottle again.

Behavior | Most of the time, Will is really pleasant, easy, fun to be with. Ok sometimes he’s demanding, even annoying, with his constant whine to be up, play games (Kindle), or watch TV, but all in all he’s a really good boy.

Like all toddlers, Will likes to do things himself. Take for example, the nose sucker. Whenever I tell him it’s time to suck nose, he shouts, “I do it!” He will then disassemble the device and attempt to put it back together in what seems like slow motion. Also, diapers. When it’s time to change diapers, he wants to be the one getting all the stuff out – diaper, wipes, powder. IT TAKES FOREVER!

(Speaking of diapers, we put him on the potty once a day. He sits there, looks down, and says, "No pee come out."

He plays and gets along very well with his almost-4 year old sister…but they fight and argue as well. It seems like they are always after the same things – if one person is playing with it, the other must have it RIGHT THAT SECOND as well. Sigh, there is a lot of pushing, shoving, and crying at our house.

One thing I’ve noticed about Will is how caring he is. If he sees Anna in distress, he will ask, “Anna, what’s wrong?” If he sees Grandma and not Grandpa, he will ask, “Where is Grandpa? Grandpa go?” He’s well-mannered and polite – saying thank you, you’re welcome, sorry, bye!

Will likes to crawl into my lap, wrap his arms around my neck like a koala bear, squeezes me tight.

And my heart – oh my heart – it melts into a glorious mush of love.

Sleep | We send Anna and Will to bed at the same time, which is anywhere from 8 to 8:30pm. He comes to sleep with sometime in the middle of the night. There are no gates blocking him so he just walks right on over (with his “Stegy” – a stegosaurus plush) and squeezes between us. Typically we wake up together at 6:30am. He takes a 2-hour nap in the afternoon.
Haha, I love this old picture of him sleeping on me.

Daily Routine | Will stays home with Grandma on the days that I work. Since Anna goes to school in the morning, it’s just him and Grandma. So for 4 mornings a week, he’s probably spoiled rotten and not much disciplined, but I still feel so lucky to have this childcare arrangement. They have their little routines. They read, do puzzles, attend story time sessions, and I am sure watch PBS during lunch time. After Anna gets home from school and has her lunch, both kids take a nap at 1pm. Now that I work 6 hours a day, I get home at 2:30pm. As soon as I get home, I start dinner prep. Usually I have enough time to finish prepping before the kids wake up and we all hang out. I am very happy with this routine.

On Fridays when I am home, I drop off Anna at school and take Will to music class. And then grocery shopping before heading home to have lunch. Then we go pick up Anna and the day is very similar to the rest of the week.

I like taking Will out and expose him to the outside world, but he's a homebody at heart. Whenever we are out, he asks, "Go home?"

Play + “Education” | Will does a lot of pretend play under the guidance of Anna. Those two build forts, put on shows, sing and dance, and generally just chase each other, act really crazy, and have a loud time together. As for “education”, we haven’t been diligent about teaching him now that he knows all his letters, numbers, shapes, colors. I really want to do crafts with Will, as it will help him with his fine motor skills, but he's just not interested.

Will still has another year before starting preschool, if he follows the same program as Anna. I can't wait to see my two kids, with backpacks on, going to school together. It's going to be soooo cute! :)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mama's Test Kitchen: Panko-Crusted Baked Chicken

I actually have another method of preparing this chicken dish by dipping the chicken in flour, egg, Panko bread crumb, and then pan-fry (in lots of oil) on the stovetop. The kids like it but it’s messy to make and it makes the kitchen smell greasy afterwards. So when I came across this recipe of using Miracle Whip and the oven, I decided to give it a try. Result? I like it that there were less dishes to wash, baked (so healthier despite of the miracle whip?), and the kids like it just the same if not more. And I could just pop it in the oven and walk away instead of constantly hovering over the stove when I pan-fry. The Miracle Whip kept the chicken moist, but I loved the crunchiness that Panko gave. It was flavorful, we all liked it!

What's your favorite way of cooking chicken breast?
A review on Panko-Crusted Baked Chicken:
Result: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Will I make it again: Yup!
Chef's Notes: I only followed this recipe slightly because I didn’t have mustard and the kids can’t eat spicy. So to flavor the Miracle Whip, I just added whatever was in my pantry. I think you can definitely substitute the ingredients called for in the recipe, as long as you keep the two main ones – Miracle Whip and Panko. Oh, I also didn’t use cheese either. Also, one huge chicken breast, sliced horizontally into 3 pieces, and pounded thin with a mallet was enough to feed my family.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mama's Test Kitchen: Quick and Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

The kids really like the rotisserie chicken we get from Walmart -- the drumsticks are especially their favorite. Not only they eat well, but I love that for $5, we can split the chicken into 2 meals. We eat all the dark meat on the day we buy the chicken, and save the white meat for another. This time, I decided to turn the leftover white meat into chicken noodle soup.

This recipe was indeed quick and easy, but tasted light. So to make it a more filling meal, we paired it with scallion pancakes. It was a delicious combo. The oiliness of the pancakes was offset by the lightness of the soup. My belly was full after lunch, but it didn't put me into a food coma.

Do you make more soup in the winter? What's your favorite?
A review on Quick and Easy Chicken Noodle Soup:
Result: 3 out of 4 stars
Will I make it again: Yes, whenever we have leftover shredded chicken.
Chef's Notes: Instead of 4 cans of chicken broth + 1 can of vegetable broth, I used 2 cans of chicken broth + 3 cans of water. I did this because I threw in some rotisserie chicken bones and all the drippings to enhance the flavor and I believed that was enough. I also didn't want to buy egg noodles so I just used elbow macaroni, which I already had on hand. And I didn't have dried oregano so I skipped that.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 - A Review

2013 was a fantastic year for our little family. We traveled well, played much, crafted often. It was the year that I began working part time, which helped me achieve a good work/life balance. Sure I closed out the year by putting about a thousand dollar worth of damage on our new minivan, but overall, 2013 was a year to remember.

January brought the biggest change for Anna – starting school.
February was quiet, as it tends to be. We welcomed the Year of the Snake.
Anna turned 3 in March.  We dyed some eggs and had an Easter Egg hunt at home.
In April, I was between projects at work so I was home the entire month. We went to see the (non) cherry blossoms in DC. Anna finally stopped crying at the thought of going to school. I discovered Instagram.
In May, we had the best of times…and possibly the worst of times as well...but the whole family made it to see my brother get married in Maui. After we came home, I started on a new project at work.
In June, we went strawberry-picking for the first time and after school let out for the summer, we packed it up and made a long drive to Myrtle Beach for a short getaway.
July and August were the best months of the year. Because of my new part-time schedule, I spent those long summer days exploring the neighborhood with the kids. We went everywhere - parksnature centers, libraries, gardens! We also played with water a lot. I loved every minute of it. It was the best summer ever.
Anna went back to school in September. We also took a weekend trip to Williamsburg and Kings Dominion. I wrote about my morning and evening schedules as a working mom. Oh, we went apple picking, too!
We had absolutely THE BEST OF TIMES in Disney in October. Then Halloween happened.
In November, we met AndrewWill turned 2 and we had an umi-riffic celebration. I also wrote about how we have handled childcare since the kids were born. Thanksgiving came and went and I still love this picture of my little Indian and Pilgrim.
We had a very full December because I challenged myself to do something Christmas-y for all 24 days leading up to Christmas. Anna also asked to see Santa, so we didtwice. We woke up to Christmas at home and found that Santa came to our house. Finally, we rung in the new year at home.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, January 3, 2014

let it snow!

Just some snowy pictures from this morning:
After playing with snow outside, we actually brought some in and made snow cones. We read about it in one of the books and remembered it to give it a try. They loved it!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

NYE 2014

Did you all have a good new year's eve? What did you do? Anything fun for the kids?
I came across this Countdown Bags idea, which I found it so neat. On NYE, you fill a couple of bags with activities/trinkets/treats for kids to open at each hour leading up to the new year. The purpose is to keep the night fun and exciting while waiting for the clock to strike 12. Great idea, no?
So I decided to try it out myself. It was super simple -- I just filled the bags with goodies from the Dollar Tree (the clock template was found here)!  Besides the countdown bags, I printed a 'Happy 2014' banner and assembled some fun photo props. This idea came to me at the last minute, but I stuck everything on the kids' tree and our little New Year's Eve tree was born.

After coming downstairs after their nap, the kids were all smiles when they saw the transformation. Since Anna and Will are way too young to stay up until midnight, we started the countdown bag at 4pm (after nap) and ended at 8pm (bedtime).

Our evening went something like this:

To get the party started, they found balloons in the 4pm bag that we later blew up (first picture). Then after dinner, along with lollipops in the 5pm bag, I interviewed them with a series of questions. Note that Anna was eating a lollipop while answering the questions so you can see that her answers were a bit biased. Will didn't have much to comment.
I put party horns in the 6pm bag and this was when we also used the props to take family pictures. Then it was close to bath time so they found some magic grow capsules (similar to these) in the 7pm bag to play in the tub.
The last bag at 8pm was glow sticks/bracelets. We turned off all the lights and they had a wild time running around in the dark.
Overall, they had a really good time and were so excited about opening the bags! It was a success!  Of course the kiddos have no idea what NYE is, but they sure had fun on the last day of 2013. And I say we welcomed 2014 with a bang.  :) The next day Anna asked if there were more bags on the tree to open.

I plan to do this every year from now on.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!