Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I have a kindergartner?!

This past year, our family has had a lot of changes, including a huge job change for Mr. River. It was not just a change in jobs but also a change in shifts. So all of our schedules changed quite a bit. Although Baby Bear is still in preschool, we couldn't keep both girls in the program and wound up enrolling Blue in a transitional kindergarten (TK). TK is essentially the same as what kindergarten used to be. It emphasizes social skills and very basic academic skills (learning letters, beginning reading, etc). When California's kindergarten age cut-off changed, they implemented the TK program for the kids who used to be old enough for kindergarten but are too young now. So the kids who would've been nearly-5 upon entering.

Blue fit the age requirements and, after doing a walkthrough, I liked the program. I tried to find charter programs, but very few have a TK. (As a side note, the charter, magnet, local schools, choice schools, etc are very overwhelming!) The TK still emphasized play-based learning even though it also incorporated more sit-down, formal academic instruction. I would have rather kept her in the more play-based prekinder program, but that just wasn't an option. 

So unexpectedly, I now have a kindergartner!  She will go to the "standard" kindergarten next year, but she is loving the program so far. 

In September, with Baby Bear entering preschool and Blue entering TK, I got a bit excited with all the back-to-school buzz and tried to better organize the girls' corner in the living room.  Here is the result:

The table isn't anything new. We bought Blue a "Jr" Little Tikes picnic table for her first birthday and used it for everything. Snacks, puzzles, lunch, crafts, cooking, everything. When Blue was 4, her legs started to get a bit long for it, and it was a bit crammed for both girls at the same time. So this fall, we upgraded to the normal Little Tikes picnic table. When I bought it, it was on sale for about $40 off and included an umbrella - which we used for the girls' sand/water table to replace the old worn out one.  So it was a good deal! The table fits both girls perfectly with plenty of room for friends :) Here is Baby Bear using it to work on their Melissa and Doug fishing puzzle. 

The calendar and color wheel I've actually had for a few years. I purchased them at Lakeshore Learning, but I just never could find the wall space for them (my desk used to be at this spot). Blue and Baby Bear already know their colors, but the mixing of colors is something they're still learning. And it just looks so cheery! I really wanted to have a calendar at Blue's level; she already knew the days of the week but she loves to look at the big calendar for upcoming days. So this worked out perfectly. I used a 3M velcro strip (cut down to squares)  to make the days easy to rearrange each month. When I volunteered at a preschool at college, the teacher used like thumbtacks in the calendar, and punched holes in the days to hang on the tacks. I really liked that, but didn't want 30 thumbtacks at Baby Bear's eye level.

The artwork was a caricature done at the zoo and I love how it came out! Cheetahs are still Blue's favorite animal, so the cheetah was her request.

The white board/bulletin board used to be in our kitchen. I needed a whiteboard for Blue, though. Her teacher is working hard to address and challenge the kids at their own level, and Blue was put into the small group that is receiving sight words. It's pretty informal; Blue receives three words every two weeks for her to find in books. If she knows them after 2 weeks, she receives 3 more. If she doesn't, no big deal and she'll just keep what she has. If she loses interest in them, no big deal. I like the approach. And Blue is extremely excited about reading and picking it up like crazy. It was almost like she was a fuse, just waiting to be lit. Everywhere we go, she's trying to sound out words, spot sight words, write things out, etc. It's amazing to watch. So I wanted a space to be able to write those for easy reference. I also badly needed a bulletin board though; the school sends home papers every week for upcoming events. I've never been the most organized person, and this was definitely testing my limits! The bulletin board made it much easier :) 

Finally, this past weekend, I picked up the wall file organizer at ikea. It's metal but has rounded edges so not too sharp, and I liked that it included many more slots than most (for the same or less cost). We wound up only using four of them. One for important school papers (i.e. parent email lists, etc). One for weekly homework (Blue gets one page a week, it's more for the parents than for her). One for completed school papers that have come home (I go through these about 1x per month to sort what to keep or discard). And one for the girls' artwork. Blue is in a phase where she'll easily produce 5-12 drawings and "letters to friends" a day, and I was going a bit crazy with the piles of papers it was producing. I wish Mr. River had mounted it a bit to the right, but alas I wasn't here when he put it up so I can't complain :)

So long rambles short, that is our corner for the girls! This is also adjacent to the area of wall we use for the monthly theme, their artwork, our felt wall, etc. They also have their own craft cabinet (Rubbermaid type pull out drawers) with craft supplies like crayons, watercolors, pencils, stickers, etc) but that is kept across the room. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Felt Halloween wall decoration

Lots to update! But a short one first.

We made a felt Halloween wall decoration today! Blue was sick this morning and couldn't go to school, so she and Baby Bear helped me find clip art images online and cut them out.  You can find a ton of great images by just Google searching what you need and adding the word "outline" or "silhouette." I.e. "ghost outline"

Print out the clip art,  pin to the felt, then cut out :)

The felt I used was a mixture of the cheap sheets you can find at Walmart or any craft store as well as the more high quality felt you buy on the  bolt (thicker than the kind you buy in small squares). We had a lot left over from other projects so this project was free for us but would probably average a few dollars if you had to buy everything.

And please excuse my sloppy backdrop :)

Baby Bear's preschool class usually has some kind of felt wall, so this is normal for her. But Blue is loving being able to decorate and move stuff around. She loves that the "spooky house" windows can even moved.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Interviewing Baby Bear at 2 years, 4 months

I figured Baby Bear might be big enough to "get" the interview thing, so we tried this today :)
If you can't tell, she LOVES chicken and rice! (Please excuse her shirt, watermelon for snack = messy shirt!)

1. What is your favorite color? Green!
2. What is your favorite toy? Bunny
3. What is your favorite fruit? Strawberry
4. What is your favorite tv show? Lambie (Doc McStuffins - they have an episode on my phone)
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Chicken and rice!
6. What is your favorite outfit? Blue shirt (she doesn't own one)
7. What is your favorite game? Hide n Seek
8. What is your favorite snack? Chicken and rice
9. What is your favorite animal? Bunnies
10. What is your favorite song? ABCDs
11. What is your favorite book? Chicken and rice book (we don't own one)
12. Who is your best friend? Blue
13. What is your favorite cereal? Miniwheats
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Swing, please
15. What is your favorite drink? Ice water
16. What is your favorite holiday? Easter
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Bunny
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Eggs
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? Chicken and rice!
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? Baby bear!

And of course, Blue, hearing me interview Baby Bear, wanted to have a turn too. Here is Blue's interview last time
Blue at 4 years, 7 months
1. What is your favorite color? Blue and silver and purple
2. What is your favorite toy? Cheetah!
3. What is your favorite fruit? Grapes
4. What is your favorite tv show? Cheetah (Duma - it's a movie) and Frozen
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? chicken and rice
6. What is your favorite outfit? Sparkly dress (a fancy red dress that has sparkles)
7. What is your favorite game? Hide and go seek
8. What is your favorite snack? Fruit
9. What is your favorite animal? Cheetah
10. What is your favorite song? Let it Go (from Frozen)
11. What is your favorite book? Animals of the forest
12. Who is your best friend? Emily and Bailey
13. What is your favorite cereal? Miniwheats
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Go for a walk
15. What is your favorite drink? almond milk
16. What is your favorite holiday? Easter
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Cheetah
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Cereal
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? A cake
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? Artist

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Zucchini cupcakes and carrot bread

We had a big neighborhood BBQ today. One of the upsides of living in an apartment complex is the sense of community.  I imagine it is what it was like when my mom and grandmother were young - neighbors all enjoying the afternoon, lounging and chatting while the kids run around. I'm sure that still exists in some neighborhoods, but it hasn't been the case for most of the ones I have lived in. Nor, ironically, most of the apartments I've lived in. I mean, sure we knew one or two neighbors, but it wasn't a real strong sense of community.

Mr. River is really good at building bonds and socializing with neighbors. He's just a likable guy and is very friendly and helpful to everyone. So that was a catalyst to getting to know some of our neighbors.

Plus, this year, we have several more neighbors with kids. So when I'm outside playing with the girls, the neighbors will trickle out and come play with us  (their balconies overlook the common lawns between our buildings). Previous years we have lived here, our neighbors had kids much older than ours or no kids at all. So our kids have become another catalyst to getting to know each other.

So today we had a big "block party" style BBQ. We had pollo asada tacos, cinnamon raisin couscous, fruit salad, and I made zucchini cupcakes and carrot bread. I hadn't ever used these recipes before but they turned out amazing :)

The zucchini cupcakes were made with this recipe. A few changes I made based on another reviewer - instead of 2 1/4 cup sugar, I used 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown. I used 3 cups of zucchini and barely blended it in. I also added about 2 tbsp of lemon zest because I wanted a bit of lemon to it. Then, I poured it into 12 muffin tins and 2 mini-loafs. I cooked at 350 for about 17 minutes for the cupcakes and 22 minutes for the mini-loafs. I added a bit of icing to them.

The carrot bread I made using this recipe. 

Well they were all gobbled up by the end of the BBQ, which is a sure sign that they were good!

The kids played during the BBQ.  A kiddie pool was set up, though it wasn't quite warm enough to swim. So the kids just splashed and played with toys in it. They also played on the slide, did sidewalk chalk, and of course lots of bicycle riding. There are a lot of paved sidewalks throughout the complex, and since they run through lawns - and not streets - you don't have to worry about cars or anything :) It was really a very very nice afternoon! We had about 8 different apartments come out and stay and various apartments and friends coming and going throughout the afternoon. I'm going to miss this when we move!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pantry moths and pantry storage

Where we live in San Diego, there really aren't any bothersome bugs. No mosquitos, gnats, etc. We leave our sliding door open a lot (including screen) because there really aren't any bugs to worry about. Except the moths.

 Having lived here for 8 years now, I have had issues with pantry moths three different times. They are annoying, mostly so because they're so hard to get completely rid of unless you do a total purge of your cabinet.  About a month ago, I had my second incident with pantry moths and began the purge of the cabinets. I thought I had caught them early on and applauded myself. But I must've missed a box or something because I started finding them again a few days ago! So I started over again! 

I've already fixed our pantry situation, but afterwards came across these two posts that might be useful to others:

How to clean out and check for pantry moths, here
Here's another blog post with tips and her experience.

What did I do?
Well I started with the standard empty everything out and check it. This time around I just chucked everything that wasn't in an airtight. I'm not doing this again in a few weeks!

Then I washed out the cabinets. I first did soap and water, then did a vinegar wash. Remember to get the tops of shelves too! Also wipe down all jars or cans!

Then I began putting stuff back. I had made the mistake last time of assuming that once I was rid of the moths, I was done and could resume my standard habits. This time around, I said no more boxes or non-airtight goods in the cabinet. Pastas, crackers, cornmeal, raisins, whatever - they all need to go into something airtight. We had been putting most of those things in ziplock gallon bags but that didn't work. 

So I picked up a couple of airtight containers but those things can add up fast! So I started searching around the house for what I already had... and lo and behold, I had a ton of empty jars that I had been saving and gathering from neighbors. I had been saving these for craft projects, and had a total "duh" moment of "oh these would be perfect for storing all the pantry stuff..."

And they are perfect! We will now be making a habit of putting pantry items into airtight containers before putting it into the cabinet. Even a lot of unopened food packaging is not immune to moths (cardboard boxes or even cardboard containers for things like corn meal). Sealed bags are not immune. So into containers they will all go!

Here are a few of my jars: raisins, black beans, barley, Israeli pearled couscous (with cooking instructions inserted because I can never remember the boiling time), and panko. 

I think it looks a lot nicer than the boxes too :) And definitely cheaper than buying a bunch of new containers! Hopefully these will be moth-proof. We'll also be trying the bay leaf tip to ward off moths!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our balcony garden pallet


The story of our balcony garden actually begins about a year ago.

For Mothers day of 2013, I asked Mr. River if he could get me just a few small herbs so that I could have an herb garden. The girls and I were doing a garden theme, so it also seemed like a good chance to teach them about herbs.

I also had a few plants I wanted to better organize. We have a nice balcony, but it was hard to find room for both plants and kids' toys that left enough space to actually sit (or play) out there and enjoy them. Planters just take up so much square footage, even though we had several hanging on the rail.

While looking at more vertical options, I came across a how-to guide on a vertical pallet garden. I was in love. Mr River was in love. The guide is here.

Our challenges during this process:

  • "finding a pallet" isn't actually that easy. Where we live, it is illegal to remove pallets from behind stores - that is their property and they have to pay to replace lost pallets (or so we were told by several store managers when we asked). The pallets are essentially recycled for shipping, so they aren't just free for the public to come take.
  • Even if we could just "find a pallet" I did not want one that had been treated. With small kids, pets, and herbs, I didn't need to be adding treated wood to the mix.

So Mr. River built me one :) It actually wasn't hard or expensive at all. He made the cuts and nailed it together in less than an hour. The plus side was that we were able to choose the wood and make it the exact size we wanted.  I even got to choose the spacing. here is where we were starting to line up the boards:

We then stapled burlap on the back, as it was far cheaper than other options at the hardware store and it seemed to be the best for drainage. 

The girls tested it for durability and helped us sand it down (since they would have a lot of contact with it and water it, I wanted it to have smooth edges):

And we painted the top of it and added the girls' handprints so that it would be extra personalized. this is probably my favorite aspect of my pallet - especially now that we have had it a year and I can see how tiny their hands were.

The girls were soooo excited to choose the plants for it and help plant it. We also planted many many seeds in little pods to later plant in it. Now, this was quite a startup cost compared to "just a few herbs." We had 10 open slots and 2 top slots to fill up! And my excitement over large lush plants meant we had left huge gaps between the slats... But it was absolutely worth it. We propped it up at an angle against our balcony wall and Mr. River secured it over the rail with an anchor so that we wouldn't have to worry about the girls pulling it down.

Some of the things that I absolutely love about my pallet garden: 
  • it makes for an absolutely beautiful wall. It makes for a great "atmosphere" for when we sit on the balcony with the girls, have summer dinners out there, or the girls play in their water table out there. When I'm sitting in the living room or the dining room and look outside, instead of a stucco balcony wall I see my garden.  it is lovely :)
  • It has a very small footprint. We do have it leaning against the balcony wall, so that added a bit more, but it still comes out maybe 14"? It isn't far at all. I get 6x the space for planting as 1 planter box's footprint. 
  • Again, a vertical garden is just beautiful. It is such a different aesthetic to have it go up rather than everything low to the ground.
  • It is the perfect height for the girls. I gave them the bottom three levels for their flowers and plants to take care of, and I put my herbs in the top two. Then we just added flowers up top.
  • It makes for a great backdrop for pictures :)

Lessons we have learned from it:
  • Setting it up is a bit tricky :) So after you plant the garden, I have seen some sites recommend letting it lay level for several weeks to let the roots take hold. We let it stay horizontal for a few days while we watered it just to make sure the soil was moist, but we weren't giving up our balcony for several weeks for the roots to take hold. Plus, keeping it at an angle, I think it didn't need to be quite as strong as if it were fully vertical.
  • Watering it is a bit tricky... being at an angle has made this a bit easier. But Mr. River wishes he'd put in or figured out some kind of pvc piping irrigation for it. We water the top then try to carefully water the front. But too much water and the dirt pours out, and you don't want to completely drown the plants at the bottom (keeping it at an angle also helps some of the water drain out the back rather than all go down to the bottom).  You also have to water it very regularly because if the dirt gets too dry, it just cascades out as you start to water :(
  • Burlap works out GREAT for drainage, but it is a bit more fragile than other options. It has been a year now and we need to replace the burlap. one tiny hole led to an entire layer falling out because the hole expanded within seconds!
  • Planting it means thinking a bit more than I usually do about water/sunlight needs. Our balcony has a half-roof, so the shading and sun on the pallet is different for the different sides. For the most part, the right side gets full sun and the left side gets "partial sun" (4-6 hours) a day. The plants up top, the watering was easy, but for the plants in the slots, it was taking into consideration that the ones at the bottom levels would definitely get more water just because of gravity. 

We had to replant the bottom left of the pallet after a month because we realized it just wasn't getting enough sun: 

We slowly added more plants as our seedlings grew and by mid-summer we had an amazing vertical garden. 

Our cat Thistle, though, seems to be a leaf eater and devoured the bottom two layers in just a few afternoons of being on the balcony. Baby Bear then pulled off several flowers in her curiosity. So by winter, the garden needed to be replanted. 

We have replanted it this past weekend and I will post the new garden in another post :) We have done succulents this year and are super excited to see how they come out!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mooooore laundry detergent!

Mr River is intrigued - and in love - with our homemade laundry detergent. I showed him how to make some today to add to our container.

I also found this while searching around, which seems a nice cross between stretching out the powder a bit further but not having 5gallons full of liquid detergent haha. We might try this sometime :)