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Valentine’s Day sensory box

11 Feb

For February, we’re “learning” about Valentine’s Day, about heart shapes and the colors red, pink and white.

Here’s our Valentine’s Day sensory box:

20150211_152257This box contains red and pink jingle bells; red, pink, and white pom-poms; red feathers; red and pink heart-shaped Mardi Gras beads; Valentine’s Day erasers; small pink jewelry boxes; heart-shaped cookie cutters; and white, heart-pattered plastic cups.

Everything came from the dollar store (thanks, in part, to my mother-in-law) or my arts and crafts stash.

20150208_10392120150208_103957I think this might be the girls’ favorite box yet. They love wearing the beads and transferring the beans from the big box to the small boxes and cups, or putting the jingle bells in the cups and shaking them around. They also love stacking the cups and nesting them inside each other.

20150208_104238They’re doing a much better job of keeping the beans contained to a confined space, rather than throwing them about…although they do still do that, too.

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Our take on sensory boxes

21 Jan

In searching for age- and developmentally-appropriate arts and crafts projects for the girls to do (and for us to do with the girls), I stumbled upon the concept of a sensory box.

20141202_150320A sensory box is simply a medium-sized shallow plastic storage tub with materials inside that stimulate the senses and, hopefully, spark the imagination. A sensory box is often built around a central theme or concept.

A box has three components: the base, the tools, and the treats and trinkets.

The base often is dry beans, rice or pasta (plain or dyed), sand, gravel, or similar “filler” material. The tools are things that can be used to scoop, pour, pick up, sort, etc.; they could include measuring cups/spoons, small boxes/containers, or chopsticks. And finally, the trinkets are things that make the box fun and usually fit the theme.

I had read that sensory play not only is good for developing fine motor skills, but also good for developing child-directed creative/imaginative play. I learned that they also can help with developing language and vocabulary, improving focus, and, because they stimulate the five senses, tearing down barriers to everyday “tasks,” such as eating.

I was 100 percent sold on these things. I figured the investment of money, time, and effort was minimal for the outcomes. I pinned several ideas. And I had many more churning through my head.

After a trip to the dollar store and a hunt through my craft supplies, I put together two very simple boxes: one around the theme of Christmas and the other around the theme of winter.

20141202_150337The Christmas box contained red and green jingle bells, red and green pom-poms, ribbons, foam gingerbread men and reindeer, a small jewelry box wrapped like a present, small plastic containers filled with plastic cranberries, and Christmas tree-shaped measuring spoons.

I gave it to the girls pretty early in December, and they played with it for at least 20 minutes at a time for about 5 days straight. I left it out in the living room, among their other toys, and they would ask me to open it so they could play with it at least once a day.

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They put the dry beans in their mouths every once in a while, and they flung the beans all over the floor quite frequently, but they were just so darn happy, it was hard to be upset.

The winter box contains blue jingle bells, blue and white pom-poms, ribbons, foam and plastic snowflakes, a small jewelry box wrapped in snowman paper, and pinecones. I forgot to initially, but I later added a couple of plastic cups.

20150120_165041I gave the girls the winter box for a while yesterday, but they already seem to enjoy it.

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They were taken aback by the texture of the pinecones and the snowflakes. Anna enjoyed rubbing the ribbon on her face and wrapping it around herself like a scarf, while Elise loved feeling the pom-poms on her face.

20150120_165120They also figured out how to “sort” the beans into their cups, rather than just throw the beans around the room.

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I plan to make a Valentine’s Day-themed box for next month, focusing on red, pink, and hearts, and a St. Patrick’s Day-themed as well as a spring-themed box for March, focusing on green (the former) and flowers, grass, and sunshine (the latter). I’ll be sure to post photos of the boxes as they are made.

Easy fall placemat craft for kids

3 Dec

I realize many parts of the country already have been at least dusted with, if not buried in snow, and by now the beautifully colored leaves are long gone, but…

I have a really easy fall craft that parents can do with their children: pressed leaf placemats.

These remind me of the leaf pressings we would do in Girl Scouts – where you seal pretty leaves between two pieces of waxed paper. Anyone else remember making those in Scouts or in school?

Well, this is an easier (no iron necessary!), littler-kid-friendly version!

20141111_203730Here’s how we did it:

First, we went on a walk around the neighborhood and collected leaves of all types, sizes and colors, as long as they were not torn and not too brittle.

Next, we cut out a piece of Contact paper to the size of a placemat, peeled off the backing, and laid it out on the table sticky side up; we held it in place using painter’s tape.

Then, we helped the girls place leaves face up and face down all over the sticky paper. Anna and Elise were about 15 months when we did this craft, so they picked up leaves and held onto them; they didn’t really lay them neatly on the paper. We guided their little hands, though, and managed to lay out about a dozen leaves on each placemat.

Last, we cut out a second piece of Contact paper, exactly the same size, peeled off the backing, and laid it on top of the first piece, sticky side down – sandwiching the leaves between the adhesive sides of the Contact paper.

20141111_20381220141111_203817I opted to sew double-fold bias tape around the placemats to give them a nice, finished look – and, in part, to match our existing placemats, which are a rich brick red color. I used this tutorial to sew the bias tape with mitered corners.

It is not at all necessary, but it sure makes for a polished look with relatively little effort.

20141111_203805Over time, the placemats might bubble up a bit, where the adhesive doesn’t stick well to the leaves, but they still work and are easy to wipe off! And they are so stinking easy and adorable!

These placemats were a great addition to our Thanksgiving table and would be lovely for everyday use in the fall months.

Easy DIY Halloween costumes for twins

6 Nov

Christopher and I made a pact that if the girls could walk up a driveway, up to the front door of a house, by Halloween, then we would take them trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.

We needed costumes that were simple, inexpensive and totally adorable.

A quick Google or Pinterest search reveals some pretty cute ideas for twins, but none of them really struck our fancy.

They say little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Christopher and I wanted to make Anna and Elise into sugar and spice.

20141031_161518Here’s how we did it:

Sugar: White pants, white long-sleeve shirt, silver headband, silver glitter fabric paint, silver glitter hair and body spray, and three sugar cubes.

Spice: Gold pants, gold long-sleeve shirt (I found one at Target that was ivory with sparkly gold stripes.), gold headband, gold glitter fabric paint, gold glitter hair and body spray, and two cinnamon sticks.

(The winter hats and matching mittens, not pictured, were not part of the costumes but were absolutely necessary with nearly 30 mph winds. The hats just happened to be a lovely – and sparkly – cream color. We just positioned the headbands over the flower adornments.)

20141031_161527Step 1. Spray the pants and shirts with the glitter hair and body spray. (It will not stick permanently, but it will add just enough glitz and sparkle for a couple of hours of Halloween fun.) Let the clothes dry for a bit.

Step 2. Paint the words “sugar” and “spice” on the respective shirts with the fabric paint. Let the paint dry according to the recommendations on the bottle.

Step 3. Affix the sugar cubes and cinnamon sticks to the respective headbands using a needle and thread or, if you have it, hot glue.

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Step 4. Dress your little ones, stand back and admire the adorableness!

20141031_161535We got the girls bundled up in their hats and mittens and put them in their wagon with a blanket, and we made it to about three houses on our side of the street. The wind was whipping. The temperatures were deceptively cold. The girls faces were red and their noses were running. We called it quits.

But, Christopher and I got these wonderful photos and made a sweet, silly memory. That’s all we could ever ask for.

Twelve months

12 Sep

Written Sept. 12, 2014

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I like to write these posts right around the girls’ “birthday” each month, but I got bogged down by a very busy few weeks. I elected to wait a couple more weeks yet because Anna and Elise are changing and learning and doing so much; I wanted to have more to write about.

Confession time: I wrote that at least 2 weeks ago. I have been putting off writing this post for at least that long, if not longer. Why? Maybe I wasn’t ready to admit that my girls no longer are babies. Maybe I wasn’t convinced I could do their first year justice with a simple blog update. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to share all of this with the world; maybe I just wanted to crawl back into my mommy-and-her-girls cocoon, where it’s warm, safe, loving – free from staring eyes, prying questions and unwelcome advice, admonishments and oh-so-astute observations.

But, here we are. Anna and Elise are 13 months old as of Wednesday. Christopher and I couldn’t be more proud of or amazed by our darling little girls.

So, here are some notes as our girls moved from babyhood to toddlerhood.

Toy box collageLikes: Crawling, when it’s more efficient; walking; unpacking their toy boxes, throwing toys and knocking down blocks and other structures; pushing or sitting in their (indoor) wagon; playing with Mama and Daddy’s shoes; dancing; offering their Nuks as their greeting; eating finger foods; cuddling Dexter and, now, Mama and Daddy and, occasionally, each other.

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20140725_072602Dislikes: Being taken away from their play space and/or toys, having their toys taken out of their hands, and (sometimes) going to sleep.

Weights: Elise was 16 pounds on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 10 ounces on Aug. 27, while Anna was 16 pounds, 8 ounces on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 14 ounces on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise gained 11 pounds, 5 ounces, and Anna gained 11 pounds, 6 ounces. Both girls more than tripled her birth weight.

20140802_071421Lengths: Elise was 27.5 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 inches on Aug. 27, while Anna was 27 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 1/4 inches on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise grew 9.5 inches, and Anna grew 9 inches.

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Milestones: Both girls figured out how to stand unassisted (Anna around July 24, and Elise around July 26) and then, within about 2 to 3 weeks, took their first steps (Anna on Aug. 6, and Elise on Aug. 12). Because they are so mobile, they are getting bolder and trying to escape the cordoned-off living room.

20140808_084511They also learned how to give kisses, both prompted and unprompted, and learned how to wave “hello” and “bye-bye,” usually when prompted with a wave.

Anna and Elise started sleeping through the night with regularity at the end of July.

Anna throwing collage

Fine motor skills: Clapping, throwing, pincer grasp, stacking rings, sorting blocks, playing peek-a-boo, turning pages, self-feeding, drinking from a cup.

20140809_172713Gross motor skills: Rolling, sitting up, crawling, pulling up to stand, standing unassisted, walking unassisted.

Anna basket collage

20140804_130325Eating: Breast milk, whole milk, plus a variety of finger foods.

Favorite foods: Scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast with butter and jam or peanut butter, black beans, carrots, cheese, pasta and meatballs with tomato sauce.

We dropped a couple of feedings (the middle-of-the-night feeding and the midday feeding) about six weeks ago, and we are down to just two—one in the morning upon waking and one in the evening before sleeping, or about 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

We also introduced whole milk, dropped formula and the bottle and pretty much dropped purees as a component of every meal. (We’re going through a finicky phase, so we’re using smoothies, purees and sauces to ensure the girls get the nutrition they need to grow big and strong.)

Sleeping: The girls are finally sleeping through the night—and have been for about a month now. One of them might squawk or truly wake up in the middle of the night, but she usually goes back to sleep on her own or with a little soothing.

They are still taking two naps a day—one at about 9 or 9:30 a.m. and one at about 2:30 p.m. The morning nap is usually 1.5-2 hours long, and the afternoon nap is usually 1-1.5 hours long.

Elise blanket collage 20140808_155439Wearing: Some 6-9-month, but mostly 9- and 12-month clothing; pocket (cloth) diapers during the day and size 3 disposables at night.

Music Fest collageNicknames: Anna Banana, Anna Bear, Elisey Bean, Elisio, Peanut.

20140810_065422 I wanted to write a tender, touching ode to my little darlings, but I just struggled to find the words. Christopher, on the other hand, penned this beautiful letter (with a few edits from me) to our daughters with ease and oodles of love.

Dear The Peanuts,

After one year of living, learning, and loving with you, we’d like to say thank you.

It’s such a simple message, but in this case, it needs explaining.

Sure, there’s gratitude for a good night’s sleep, for smooth meals, diaper changes and transitions to and from the car seat, for no longer cleaning up spit-up. That sort of thing.

But more so, it’s gratitude for a year unlike any other we’ve experienced, and the promise of so many more.

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Thanks for showing us that we were wrong to think we’d be clueless as parents. Yes, we wanted you in our lives so badly. But we weren’t sure how we’d fare once you were actually here. Turns out, between you being such extraordinary kiddos and our learning curve not being as brutal as we thought, this is one happy-as-all-get-out family.

(And your mom, who many times said she didn’t know how to take care of babies before you came along? Holy smokes, you guys are like the Three Amigas. Every night when I come home for my break to put you to bed, everyone is so happy – as if you’re on vacation, and I’m finally able to catch up with the group. You’ve helped your mom become a rock star. She’s always been Bono. Now she’s Freddie Mercury, the unquestioned greatest performer of all time.)

We love laughing with you, so thank you for that. And it’s not just laughing at the silly things you do, like putting empty buckets on your head and then cruising around the living room blind. We’ve gotten much better at laughing at ourselves. And being willing to sort of throw our hands in say “Uh oh!” Or, in a less kid-friendly manner of speaking, “Live and let love.”

We both used to be wound much more tightly. I know that’s hard to believe. Thank you for helping us realize that something so simple – meeting Charlie Brown and Snoopy, walking around the county fair, whatever it might be – can be such an adventure.

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On that note, thanks for letting us see the world through your eyes. We get to be kids again, sort of. It’s such a neat thing. When your eyes light up at the sight of something new, our hearts flutter. When you actually seem to listen while we read a book to you? Yeah, that’s awesome. As is watching you page through books on the floor – as long as you’re not tearing the pages.

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Thanks for teaching us about whole new layers of love. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see you in the morning. And, even when we need a break, how our hearts ache a little bit when we close the door to the nursery at night. We miss you very easily. We’ve been together so much this first year that we’d never be us anymore, if we didn’t have you. If we didn’t get to hear your giggles and wacky babbling, see your smiles, feel your hugs.

Thank you for teaching me to be honest. I’m never more “me” than when I’m with you and your mom. I sometimes find myself wishing I could be that true to myself and unfiltered at all times. But only you can bring that out of me. You make me feel so important, so unique, and so exactly what you want. There’s nothing quite like how I feel when I’m with my family.

So thank you for teaching us what family can be. Your mom and I have been a family for a while now, but we never knew how extraordinary every day could be until we got to see you grow and, in turn, grow ourselves.

And to think of all the years we’ll have to grow together. Thank you for setting the bar so high for everything we’ll experience together.

Oh, the places we will go. Always together. Always in love.

Love, Dad

20140810_122953Happy (belated) first birthday, Anna and Elise! We love you to the moon and back!

Our Insta-month: August

3 Sep

Editor’s note: The girls have passed the major milestone that is their first birthday, so I am going to stop posting monthly updates. I probably will do more periodic updates or weekend recaps, so stay tuned for those.

In the meantime, enjoy the final Insta-month post and look out for the final monthly update soon.

IMG_20140802_071734 Anna showing off her flexibility and her sweet Chuck Taylors.

IMG_20140804_152855 Elise watching “House of Cards” with Mama while her sister naps a bit longer.

IMG_20140808_160137Elise showing off the bling she got for her birthday!

IMG_20140811_161925Riding in style.

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Hanging out with Aunt Mindy!

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Sending greetings from South Haven, Mich.

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Making Mama’s job look like child’s play.

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Anna modeling the latest in headwear.

Our Insta-month: July

5 Aug

Today marks 5 days until Anna and Elise turn 1. It’s hard to believe. The time really did fly by. But before we celebrate the end of the baby stage, and welcome the toddler stage; before we mark the survival of one year of parenthood; before we marvel at how much our little family has changed in the last year…we have to recap July!

IMG_20140704_124444Celebrating the Fourth of July at Petunia Festival in Dixon.

IMG_20140705_090226  Hanging out with Mama and Daddy after the Reagan Run 5K!

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Elise, left, and Anna, right, checking out the writing reference books.

IMG_20140711_180712 Anna munching on a coaster at The Rusty Fox.

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Elise getting up close and personal with “Finding Nemo.”

IMG_20140726_171546 Anna hanging out with Grandpa at the Main Street Music Festival.

IMG_20140729_182639 Elise, left, and Anna, right, letting it all hang out before bath time and bedtime.

IMG_20140729_183414 Anna taking in the world from a different angle.