Monday, October 28, 2013

Top Ten Halloween Books

I really love children's literature. I'm slowly compiling a little library of my favorites thanks to the Weber County Library sale every August, but I thought I'd share my top choices for this time of year:

 I love this book. And if you search, you can find so many fun crafts and activities that go along with it. My kids love reciting it with me and we've read it over and over again. 

This is a cute book about finding your place. 
I just love that last line, "Oh my Gosh, I'm a Squash!"

This is probably my number one. Maybe it's because I have two daughters who are a bit like this. Angela copies her sister's costume every year, until finally one year she gets creative and comes up with something all on her own. The ending is awesome, with an act of sisterly love. 
Read it, you'll love it. (Name that movie.)

This book builds a monster face page by page and then it all goes away slowly as you tell it to "go away" piece by piece. This is another one my daughter wanted to read over and over again.
This one is entertaining. Some pages have things that are hard enough to keep my six year old searching, but most are easy enough for my four year old as well.

I love a good book about witches and this one has a nice moral. This little witch has two older sisters who know everything and tell her that she has no powers. So she goes out and figures out what makes her a unique and powerful witch. It's a good one.

These books are adorable. I love the illustrations and the names of each bug they come up with. Always a fun read. This is one that you'll want to read with your kids and not leave alone with them.  Those bugs are fragile.

 Haven't we all learned life's most important lessons from the Berenstein Bears?
This one is no exception. Remember it from my childhood.

Here's one that's new to me and I've never read the ending. It kept popping up when I was searching out my favorite books on Amazon and has great reviews. Anyone read it?
I'm going to find it at our library and try it out. Love those witches.

And your Halloween favorites? Please do share.
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Friday, October 25, 2013

Spooky Lanterns and our Favorite Halloween Traditions

Halloween is just around the corner! We've been getting into the spirit of things with some of our favorite Halloween traditions...

The Spooky House 
For some reason, gingerbread houses intimidate me and I've never tried making one with my kids. But a spooky house made out of graham crackers and black frosting with candy corns and marshmallow ghosts? Bring it on.

 My husband is in charge of construction. The rest of us decorate and sneak candy.

Pumpkin Faces
I originally posted this activity a few years back here with a few other toddler games for Halloween. I pulled out our felt pumpkin with the various shapes for facial features this year and it kept my two year old busy for a little while. It's a great way to review shapes.

Pom-pom Drop
 This was a big hit last year.  I put pom-poms inside of a mini plastic pumpkin and showed my toddler how to place them inside the paper towel holder that I taped to the edge of a small table.
Then the pom-poms fall inside of the bigger plastic pumpkin and they get can start all over once the mini pumpkin is empty! I thought it was fool-proof...
But boys are different. Edison did enjoy this activity for a few minutes until he noticed me watching and decided to throw all of the pom-poms onto the floor. THEN, he ran over to our art cabinet, found the big box of pom-poms and started to empty it as fast as he could before I could run over with my big 8 month pregnant belly and stop him. Fail.
But try it. Maybe just with girls.

Spooky Lanterns
This was a new activity for us this year and it's a keeper. We're studying the letter L this week, so I wanted to make some spooky Lanterns.  
 We started by decorating our paper with some spooky designs.
Then we folded it in half lengthwise and I marked where I wanted my four year old to cut lines, from the fold to about an inch from the edge of the paper.
 Pull the ends of your paper together and secure with tape.
 We added a handle at the top by cutting a strip of paper and taping it to the inside of the lantern. Then we added Halloween stickers to the outside just to make them spookier.

 We plan to light them at night with our battery-powered tea lights.
 You can make the lanterns tall and skinny or short and "plump" by trimming off some of the paper along the long or short side of the sheet.
Once my oldest daughter came home from school, we got really creative and made a ghost, a vampire bat, and a witch (not pictured because she was immediately hung from my daughter's ceiling).
 I came across a book about Chinese lanterns at the library called Lin Yi's Lantern.
I think the book has a good moral and is a good one if you want to learn a bit more about the Chinese Moon Festival. But just FYI, it has nothing to do with Halloween and does not hold the attention of 4 and under. 

I will, however, be posting about my top ten Halloween books over the weekend. 
Have fun getting ready for Halloween!

P.S. Aren't my kids cute??
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Monday, October 21, 2013

What is the bravest thing you've ever done?

Every year I challenge myself to enter Real Simple Magazine's Life Lessons Essay contest. I think the past winners have produced great writing and it's a contest worth entering. Plus, I love the topics. This years was, "What is the bravest thing you've ever done?"
It was 1994 and I was twelve years old. I was standing in a long line of adults whose shoulders were shining with chlorine water, heads tilted up toward the top of a water slide whose height I did not yet understand. It cast a giant shadow onto the warm concrete where I had been standing for at least thirty minutes.  I squinted into the sun, watching one person after another step to the edge, sit down shakily on the slick blue seat, cross their arms over their chest and lean back slowly, as if lowering themselves into a grave. They disappeared so fast it was only seconds later that they emerged out of the shallow pool at the bottom, adjusting their bathing suits and offering a tenuous thumbs-up to their tiny compadres, seventy feet above.

Soon I was on the stairs, with only a few people ahead of me. I kept my eyes focused on the water pouring over the edge of the slide, knowing that within minutes this would all be over. At last it was my turn. I sat down, ignoring the enervated lifeguard who recited the instructions insipidly. I knew exactly what to do. Cross your arms across your chest, cross your feet, and slowly lean back allowing the water to rush over you until it steadily carries you over that shocking edge…

Halfway down, as my body shook with speed and my striped suit barely touched the back of the slide, I thought to myself, “What have I done?” It was worse than I thought; deafening, forceful, and relentlessly fast. Then it ended with a liberating splash and a wedgie worth writing home about.

Up to that point in my life, lowering myself over the edge of that slide was by far the gutsiest thing I’d ever done. I was quiet, studious, and still slept with a Care Bear in my bed. But I was certain of one thing: I was destined for great things.

Late one school night when I was thirteen, I sat on the lid of my toilet seat with a flashlight, hunched over my beloved journal. I wrote down three things I promised to never forget:
1.     I will make good choices.
2.     If I make a mistake, I’ll fix it.
3.     If an extraordinary opportunity presents itself, I’ll take it. No regrets.

I closed my journal and tiptoed quietly back to bed.

I didn’t forget my three promises, even a decade later when I was a full-time mother of four small children. I sought out those “extraordinary opportunities” in between pregnancies, nursing newborns, nap schedules, and the day-to-day tasks that kept us all afloat. After my second daughter was born, I ran my first marathon, training through the winter in Utah, hiring babysitters and running late at night on the high school track, clutching a bottle of mace in my half-numb fingers. When I was expecting my third daughter, I studied HypnoBirthing and decided to have her naturally.  I’m certain I earned a badge of some kind on that long, life-changing night.

If there was one thing that I wanted to excel in at this point in my life, it was motherhood. But despite my priorities, I started to feel that I was less than I had planned to be. Loneliness had crept into my daily routine, even though I never really was in fact, alone. I had a degree from a reputable college, skills in editing and writing, and I looked fantastic in a pencil skirt and heels. Yet most days I was alone with four little ones in stretch pants with sucker stains and bangs that I learned to trim myself. Most of my conversations revolved around my children’s sleep habits, potty mishaps, and our Letter of the Week. By five o’clock, I couldn’t stand another person touching me, poking me, or needing my attention in any way. I craved a purpose outside of motherhood, certain that there was something else waiting for me.

Several times, I grabbed the keys and told my husband that I had to leave. I’d eat dinner by myself at a restaurant, spend money on inessential things that made me feel happy for a second, or simply park the car and cry. I was becoming lost inside the walls of my own home.  I took baths after bedtime, staring at my unpainted toenails, feeling invisible.

I remembered a conversation between my husband and I six years prior, before we had children. We were eating dinner in our basement apartment, whose seven foot ceilings made you stoop unconsciously, when he looked up at me and said, “You know you never have to work again, if you don’t want to.” I was wrapping up my last semester of my undergrad, preparing a few articles for publication and my husband was starting a small business. Life had momentum. I stood up with my plate and kissed his cheek on the way to the kitchen, smiling.

A few months later, I was enrolling for an internship with a publishing company. During our meeting, I told my interviewer, a woman just a few years older than me, about my education, my qualifications, and the fact that I’d be having a baby just a few months after the internship started.  I didn’t get the job.

Now, as the rock bottom days roll in like an inescapable tide, I feel much the same as I did falling down that slide years ago. It wasn’t until halfway down that I realized I might have just made the hardest decision of my life.

The other night I found a note on my pillow from my six-year old daughter. It was written on light blue paper that had been folded several times. The front said, “Love Mom” underlined in hearts and stars. On the inside was a picture of one hand offering a heart to another hand. Her note reminded me of my place in this world. I recall holding onto my daughter’s hand when she was a newborn, her fragile fingers wrapped around just one of mine as she slept. Then a few years later those same fingers clutched a pencil, tracing over my letters, my hand guiding hers slowly until she could do it on her own. Those hands now slip into mine when we cross the street, offering three squeezes for an “I love you.” They spread proudly with my wedding ring on just the right finger, assuring me that it looks better on her hand than mine. They reach gracefully over the strings of her tiny violin and rest so peacefully next to her face as she sleeps.

When I feel that I’m standing in that endless line again, dripping with uncertainty and the expectation that in just a few minutes, this will all be over, I try to remember my daughter’s advice to “love Mom.” I see more meaning in my meals, my hugs, the activities I plan and the stories I read. I soak in the amusement in my son’s eyes as he drives his car over my head and face and makes boyish car noises. I count each diaper in the pile next to the door as an act of service rendered by me. Every suppressed swear word is an offering, a calm voice in place of yelling something to be celebrated. I aim to be loveable, not perfect.

When I chose to become a mother, and to stay at home with my children, I had no idea what that would actually require of me. I knew that there would be long nights, but I didn’t comprehend the agony of having an early riser who demands Cheerios at 6 am. I knew there would be potty training, but I didn’t think that so many pairs of underwear would simply be thrown away because they were just so bad. I knew it would get messy, but I never imagined that a diaper could become an artist’s palette or that oatmeal would be considered a hair conditioner. I knew I would make mistakes, but I had no idea that guilt would be a near constant companion and that children are the quickest to forgive, and forget. I knew that I would share my body for a time with my babies, but I didn’t expect that I would also hand over a part of myself, that motherhood would be an exchange of hearts where you get more than you give, in the end. These are things I didn’t understand until I was here, halfway down the slide, feeling both terrified and grateful that I was brave enough to step up to the edge and let myself fall.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Hello Fall

Well, hello blog.

I am still alive and well and pregnant.  I took the summer off from blogging as we became busier and busier with camping trips, a visit to Lake Powell, and a road trip to the incredible Yellowstone National Park. We had a great summer.


These two pictures make me laugh. 1) Charlotte is eating in both pictures. 2) We thought having all three girls in the back would be awesome until we realized that Eloise (age 2) likes to put her foot on Charlotte's lap and leave it there until both of them are screaming. 
We had to make some adjustments.

I never could have imagined the situations we have found ourselves in as parents on road trips and the things we have found ourselves saying over and over again:

"If you quit sucking on the twistable crayons, your cheek won't get stuck inside of them!" (As my husband carefully pries the plastic crayon off of the inside of our six year old's cheek, while she screams in pain. Has this happened repeatedly to anyone else??)

"Watch the movie. Stop talking to mom and dad and just watch the movie!"

"Mom, I just threw up, but I caught it in my hands. Now what do I do?" (True story.)

"Keep your hands in your own carseat."

"Stop smiling at your sister."

"Where is the d#%* binky? Do you have it? I thought I just gave it to him. He threw it. Pull over."

Here's some pics of Lake Powell.

I spy a baby bump.

 I love this picture of my brother jumping off the house boat.

And Yellowstone!
Lots of driving, lots of walking...

 "Look mom! I have a baby in my belly like you!"
 Yes, I did all 328 steps there and back with my heavy belly. But it didn't seem as bad when I saw my husband in front of me, carrying our 18 month old AND our two year old.

 In between our travels, we signed up for swim lessons, started a pretend summer school where my name was Mrs. Clover, and I tried really hard to convince my husband that our house is too small and too old and it's time to move.

But moving wasn't in the stars for us, so instead of continuing to burst into tears every time I walked into my kitchen and reach for the chocolate chips in the fridge, I decided to get to work. (Three cheers for the nesting phase!) I have since re-vamped my office space, painted and wall-papered our dining room, and completely re-decorated our living room. Change is good! And possible on a limited budget. Check back soon for LOTS of before and afters!

We have resumed our letter of the week activities, so I have a lot to share. So good to be back. Hope your fall is going smoothly and that you're enjoying the good weather before it gets COLD. I am now 34 weeks pregnant, so we are just weeks away from baby #5...
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