Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Home Tour: Backyard

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      One really nice aspect of home ownership is the ability to personalize the house or property. Being somewhat 'all or nothing' kind of people, we decided to tackle one room or area each year. We create a plan for the space, save up the funds, and then complete the project in it's entirety. 

      Last summer when we moved into the house, we promptly began converting the existing formal dining room into a school/office/guest room. We knew we would need this particular space to be set up and functional before any of the other areas of the house. This room has been so nice to have! All our books are stored there in the large bookshelf (that's not entirely true, we have books all over the house! haha), our desk is in there and easily accessible, and our guests have used the room during their stays. I certainly will always want a space like this in future homes!

     This year's home project has been our backyard. I love spending time outside. Depending on the heat, I like for the children and I to be able to spend some time outside each morning and afternoon. I also thoroughly enjoy sitting on the patio talking to my husband. I think being outside when the weather is nice is far more preferable than sitting inside all the time! Fresh air is good for the soul, right? Right!

     So, since we spend so much time outside we wanted to spruce it up a bit. David and I both enjoy gardening. We've attempted a container garden outside our apartments every year we've been married. We talked and dreamed quite a bit about the garden beds we would create since we purchased the house! We created three garden beds in our backyard:

1) Herb Garden
     The border bricks were originally lining the side fence in a similar fashion. That garden bed, however, had long been neglected. We relocated the pavers to the side of the house and created an herb garden. In this garden we have: sweet mint, cinnamon basil, greek oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, fern-leaf dill, chives, chocolate mint, fennel, cilantro, mexican taragon, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, grapefruit mint, pineapple sage, and stevia. In front of the herb plants are marigold plants. This bed will really be quite nice when it fills out fully. We will also have an abundance of fresh herbs to use now or dry to use later!       

2) Flower Garden
     This is one of my favorites! The border bricks were orginally just stacked beside the shed building. We wanted to create a garden in this particular garden bed for a couple of reasons. One, in considering the potential for snakes and the likelihood of them residing between the shed and fence, we wanted to block off access for the children. We didn't see any snakes last year, but have heard about snakes in Texas. I'd rather be cautious and not encounter one if at all possible, and I certainly don't want the children coming upon one while playing in that area. A second reason for this garden bed is to attempt to naturally repel mosquitoes. The mosquito population is greater here than anywhere else we've ever lived. Annelise and I are particularly tasty to them. So, within this bed are several mosquito-repellent plants. Hopefully, they will be helpful and we'll not fight with the mosquitoes quite as much this year! Beyond those reasons, I'm enjoying this garden bed for it's simply beauty. I really love the finished look!

3) Vegetable Garden
     This is the main focus of our gardening! David spent several weekends creating four 4x8ft. and one 4x4ft raised bed gardens. We then determined the vegetables we wanted to grow and created a plan according to the principles of square foot gardening. We were able to plant and grow a lot in these beds! We're excited to grow and preserve some of our own food! We're also delighted to be able to raise the children with an experience of where food comes from (beyond the store)!
The large beds line the fence to make the most use of our small backyard. 

brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, curly-leaf kale, red swiss chard, sweet potatoes

red onions, scallions, yellow onions, romain lettuce, lima beans, crook-neck squash, zucchini squash, corn, green beans

purple hull peas, zipper cream peas, okra, japanese eggplant, butternut squash

green bell pepper, red bell pepper, jalapeno, sweet banana pepper, grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bradley tomato (good for canning), red beefsteak tomatoes (good for slicing and eating), Cherokee purple tomatoes (good for slicing and eating), sweet basil, lime basil, purple basil, picking cucumbers, cucumbers (for slicing and eating)


(The hangers were already on the fence. We thought we'd make use of them by growing strawberries in baskets. Plus, they should also attract some pollinators to the garden beds)
 Other Areas
The back patio:

Outside Activities/Toys Organization
     I cleared out half of the shed for use in storing the children's outside activities and toys. We can now easily choose activities and then put them back away. 
Activity/Toy bins include: gardening, chalk, bubbles, water, sand (shovels, molds etc), construction trucks, and sports (balls). Tools used in the exploration bins are stored within those bins. 

The gardening activity bin
   We would still like to add a screen door to the house. The grass will also need some attention as it did not come back as nice and full as it had been previously. Otherwise, we're finished with this home project. It took us a few months of work, but we are now thoroughly enjoying the result. It's such a nice space of our home now! Gardens are just happy places, don't you think? 

Monday, April 24, 2017

8 Non-toy Toys

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     Sometimes the best toys are non-toys. They're those bits of random objects around the house that can be repurposed for play. After all, don't you know that the best part of a new toy is the box?!

     The following is just a few of the activities I've created over the last few years. Some have been more successful than others. They have all been wonderful to offer the children when they need something new and/or interesting and interactive. 

1) Coin Drop
     This activity is made from a baby oatmeal container and milk jug caps. The bottom of the container is metal and makes a sound when the coins are dropped into it, which has added to the enjoyment. When noise isn't desired, though, I added a piece of felt to the inside. The children have played with this activity so much that the slit in the top is nearly worn out. 

      Also, this activity pairs well with a tot school unit on the book *Corduroy by Don Freeman. It's a safer alternative to using real coins for little ones. 

2) Jingle Bell Socks
     This activity has been great for our 0-1 year olds. It is made from a package of infant socks (0-6mo.) and small bells. I placed a single bell in one sock, two bells in another, and three in the third sock (that fourth sock walked away from me and I never found it!). I then sewed up the top of the sock, leaving the cuff intact. The cuff, actually, provides a great place for little hands to hold. Who needs fancy plastic rattles when you have socks?! haha!

3) Foam Bead Lacing
      The idea of this activity is to practice fine motor skills by lacing the pieces onto the string. It's made from a foam pool noodle and shoe string purchased from the dollar store. 

     This has been one of our least successful activities. First, the tip of the string was more difficult than expected for them to string through the beads. I think they would have been more successful if the end of the string wasn't so floppy. Or, simply wait until an older age than when I had introduced it to them. Second, if you notice there are bites taken out of the bead pieces. This was the main reason this activity isn't brought out very often and if it is there must be close supervision. I don't care to pick up dozens if small foam bits from the floor or have the activity itself destroyed! 

4) Scent Bottles
     The children really enjoyed these! These are simply a set of travel bottles within which I added a scented element inside (essential oils, extracts, pieces of herbs or other aromatic plants). The children have enjoyed squeezing the bottles and smelling the various scents! 

5) Velcro Sticks
     The children call these "sticky sticks." They are simply the largest colored craft sticks and pieces of velcro. These are fantastic for creative play, and we've often brought them in an activity bag for church. We've also used them to create various shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, pentagon etc.). They will hold the shapes up to their faces like frames and giggle. 

6) ?
     I'm not sure what you'd call this activity. It consists of an empty container (formerly filled with peppercorns) and cut pieces of pipe cleaners. The idea is to insert the pipe cleaners into the small holes of the lid. It's a great fine motor skill activity!

7) Pom-Pom Drop
     This activity is similar to the Coin Drop activity, but easier for younger ones to complete. It's created from an old dairy container. I purchased a value bag of various sized pom-poms from the craft store to accompany it. The nice thing about the container being something ordinary is that I can always get another lid and cut smaller holes for smaller pom-poms. So, it can increase in required fine motor skill as they do. 

8) Ribbon Pull Box
     This is also a favorite! I simply poked holes in a small box and inserted stripes of fabric (could do ribbon, but fabric strips were what I had on hand). The fabric piece are strung through two holes on different sides of the box. When one side is pulled the other goes in, and vise versa. We have played with this activity so many times. The children really enjoy when I add silly sound effects when they pull on one end causing the other end to move as well. 

     Like I said, these were created over the course of the last three years. I don't have near as much opportunity to create activities these days. It's nice that once created, we have them to play with for the next few years. Although slower, I still enjoy adding to our collection. It's so fun to offer the children activities that promote skill building and exploration (not to mention, free reused materials!). This sort of thing satisfies my creative spirit. 

 Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

March 2017 In Our Home

They play while I read

Garden Beds
So exciting to see these beds! We've dreamed about them for so long!
     We have been dreaming of our own garden for many, many years. We attempted a container garden nearly every year we've been married, but had poor results. (Tricky to get the soil composition just right). When we moved into our house, we immediately began talking about putting in a raised bed garden. David carefully calculated the cost of all materials and we put funds aside when we could until we had the full amount to complete the project. Over the course of one weekend, David built all the beds and filled them with the various soils. I then got to determine what we'll grow and where. (This was very exciting to me and quite the privilege! I know nothing about gardening whereas David grew up with one, and so it would have been easy for him to simply do everything himself. Instead, he gave me the opportunity to have a hand in it as well. Since, I don't have a background in gardening I relied on the Farmers Almanac Vegetable Garden Planner to determine square foot gardening and companion planting. I also consulted various other websites to determine how many plants we needed to plant for our family (and some to share!).) Hopefully, it will be a productive gardening year! It will certainly be an educational experience for me. I'm so looking forward to fresh vegetables from our own backyard! I'm also looking forward to the children getting to see where food actually comes from beyond products in a store. 

    The adjustment to caring for three children three years old and under has been challenging to say the least. Attitudes and behaviors have been at an all time rotten. I've realized how my poor attitudes and behaviors while I was so exhausted during pregnancy and during these newborn days have so negatively and so deeply impacted the children. We've got a lot of work to do to dig out of this hole. 
1 month old!

    Breastfeeding has had a rocky start. Once again, I'm an overachiever milk-producer. As in, if I were to pump I can obtain 7-11oz in one session. Breastfeeding for us is "drink or drown." He was getting so much so fast by week three that he would projectile vomit many of his feeds. He was also having an issue with milk becoming trapped in his nose, which is problematic when you're an obligatory nose breather. Because he gets so much milk so fast he tends to gulp and gag during nursing sessions (all my babies have done this). All that gulping results in a lot of ingested air. One of our greatest struggles is a painful gassy belly and resulting sleeplessness. Again, this is the third time we're experiencing breastfeeding as such. It's heartbreaking to watch him struggle with his belly. It's also exhausting for Mama and Daddy to need to do so much to try comfort him (..all night long). I contacted a local lactation consultant and we determined another way to try to decrease supply. I'm hoping to hold out a little longer with breastfeeding, but I also know this path well. Poor sleeping and eating habits established early on are so very difficult to redirect later. (And, honestly, I'm struggling many days on only four hours total of sleep every night.)

     We're back with "tiny tot school" and "tot school"! I had really missed having an activity to do with each of the children each day. The approach of having just one activity per child per day is continuing to work out really well. 

      I've also desired to have a more purposeful activity for our outside time each day. Free play is great, but eventually they grow disinterested in the toys or area provided. One of my goals this summer is to provide something new for them to play and explore. Since we have been working on our garden this month, I thought it would be fun to provide a vegetable garden for them. I purchased some inexpensive plastic vegetables and buried them in their exploration bins. I also set out a bin of flowers and plastic pots for a flower garden. And then there was also the gardening tools and watering can that they already had. I've brainstormed a list of ideas I hope to incorporate each week. They don't have to play with the planned activity, but it's an additional option. 

Lessons Learned
What would I do without a baby carrier? Love the K'Tan!
    We're one month in to family and home life with three young children! Although I have many, many more lessons to learn, the Lord has already begun guiding me greater. A few areas within which I've been learning:

    1) A schedule is more essential than ever- If I'm going to adequately care for three little ones, meals and the housework all day everyday, then I must pre-determine what or who needs my attention when. Otherwise, I'll be expecting more from myself than possible and no one/thing's needs will be met (not to mention I'd be a fried and frazzled mama). A schedule also helps me keep everyone productively occupied throughout the day. Otherwise, the children will quickly fall into disputes with one another or make colossal messes in the house. Because Huxley's eating times can vary each day, I've found it best to use a basic framework in creating a schedule each day and then adjust the times as needed. I create the morning portion at the start of the day, and then write the afternoon portion at naptime. Anything we didn't accomplish during the morning gets moved to the afternoon. Scheduling helps me tremendously. I have intentions to begin taking photos of each element of our day and creating a photo chart/timeline to give the children a visual. I believe this will help them understand each piece and transition well. 

2) My approach to parenting has to be refined- Though I've been a parent for three years, I've come to the realization that I've had it all wrong. We have been so authoritative in our style. However as I examine the children's individual personalities and behaviors in terms of responses to situations,  I'm becoming painfully aware of how damaging that approach has been. The children have such different personalities, and they need me to learn and approach them according to how they can best be reached and respond. I cannot approach them both according to my personal parenting philosophy. I also cannot parent my sensitive child as I would my spirited child. Or, conversely, parent my spirited child as I would my sensitive child. None of these approaches work, and I fully see that. The Lord has really burdened my heart with a desire to learn and grow towards better parenting. This has meant laying aside former notions of parenting and learning new ones, as well as becoming a student of my children in terms of who they are and how to best relate to them individually. Their behavior is so heavily influenced by my parenting style. With three children now, I want to end the power struggles and begin enjoying each of them greater. 

New Books We're Enjoying This Month:
     I like to purchase at least one new book for each of us each month. For an additional look into the books we've enjoyed in our home, click the "Bookshelves" tab at the top of the page and then follow the links to our various online bookshelves. 

Note: The "*" indicates the inclusion of an affiliate link. I am personally an affiliate with, and as such receive a compensation for purchases made through the links. (Thank you!)
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