Kindergarten. Oy.

So, it’s January 2015. Which for some reason that I really struggle to come to terms with, means parents have to make decisions on school for their kids 8 months from now. I have to make a decision for my 4 1/2 year old that will go into effect when he’s 5 and 3 months. That’s insane to me. Since I found out I was pregnant in September 2009, our first baby’s June due date gave me a bit of anxiety. People I barely knew would bring red-shirting up with me. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has an opinion on when a summer birthday kid should start Kindergarten. There is study after study showing that older kids do better in school and have more confidence. And there is study after study refuting those exact claims. So how the heck does a parent decide? I have friends with kids on both ends of the spectrum, and they all swear by the choice they made for their child. And I think that’s what it comes down to, you have to make a choice for each kid individually.

 

I remember when Thomas was brand new, our neighbors who had a boy 6 months before Thomas came down with dinner and a baby gift one evening. And as we were sitting in our living room politely chatting, it donned on me that this 6 month old would be in the same class as my infant. This sitting, almost mobile kid and my baby who couldn’t even hold his own head up, would someday be expected to walk to Kindergarten together. And I remember thinking, “Well, that’s that. Thomas will be the oldest in his class. No one can tell me that those 6 months don’t make a difference, even at age 5.” And then T started talking and walking and being a kid. And we kind of forgot about those 6 months. I say this simply to state facts, but T is a bright kid – he’s got a hell of a memory and an incredibly thoughtful persona. He knew all 50 states at the age of 2, he’s been reading since he was 3.5 and he asks questions that I don’t expect to hear from a 4 year old – he’s just an old soul. So, we knew that the school portion of Kindergarten would be easy regardless of when he started. But when T went off to preschool at 3, there was a pretty obvious difference between Thomas and his classmates. Size-wise for sure – he was the shortest in his class. But he’s also just a cautious kid. He’s an observer. A perfectionist. He’s a pretty typical oldest child, and in his class these past two years, he’s the only oldest – everyone else has older siblings, which makes a difference in how kids play.
And so, after much hemming and hawing, we’ve made a decision. Thomas is enrolled for five day a week, half-day Kindergarten at his current preschool – which has an excellent and accredited Kindergarten program. The intention is that he will do Kindergarten twice – so we’ll call this Kindergarten 1 and the following year he’ll do Kindergarten again at our local elementary school. The beauty of this arrangement is that because the class is accredited, if T’s teacher next year thinks two years of Kindergarten would be a disservice to him, then we will reconsider our plans and he can go straight into first grade. So really, we’re calling this a “buying time” year, but in a Kindergarten program that is incredible. And Nell will start preschool at T’s school next September, as well going two days a week. Thomas is so excited to have Nell at school with him, and Nell is so excited to go to school because she wants to pick out a pink backpack, a pink folder and a pink water bottle. Whatever it takes, right? And we’ll be in the same boat two years from now figuring out what’s best for Nell – and by then our experience with T will have shaped our own opinions, so I’m sure it will be an entirely different ball game. But right now,  I’m feeling pretty grateful that Peter has a March birthday and there’s zero gray area with that.

Play Kitchen Food and Accessory Storage

how to store play kitchen food

A year ago, Santa brought Nell a play kitchen for Christmas. We specifically asked him to bring a play kitchen that wasn’t pink and plastic because, regardless of whom a toy is brought for, everyone gets to play with toys in our house so we wanted something “gender neutral”. Santa picked the Kidkraft Uptown Espresso kitchen…I’m assuming he knew that primary colors were probably not my thing either :) . Anyway, the kitchen is awesome. Nell got a couple sets of play food along with her kitchen and some pots and pans, and then we asked family who wanted gift ideas to get her some more play food for her 2nd birthday last June. For Christmas this year, B and I gave Nell a set of play kitchen small appliances, and she also got lots of baby doll feeding accessories that we play with at the kitchen. We don’t have a ton as far as play food goes, and I know our collection will grow over the years, but a year in, I’ve found a system that works for us for organizing the stuff, and I wanted to share it with you.

I had no clue how to organize the play food at first – just kept everything in the container it came in and put it in the fridge. That only worked until she got more food and dishes and the little appliances we gave her this year for Christmas. So here’s what I’ve come up with and what has been working for us. First of all, I’m picky about play kitchen food…mostly because I love it, and I like playing with it with the kids. Nell has a little shopping cart that came from Target and all the food in it was dinky. So eventually, I just donated it all – we had a lot of repeats of certain foods that I liked better. I love the Learning Resources play food (we have this Healthy Dinner Basket and the Farmer’s Market Set – which my kids use to both play grocery store and “Church” since the baskets apparently remind them of the offertory baskets at Church…) as well as Melissa and Doug food – the slice and bake cookies are such a hit with Miss Nell she often sleeps with them. I have my eyes on a few other sets for upcoming birthdays, including this Pizza set and this Ice Cream set (mostly because I had a play food ice cream set growing up and it was my very favorite…told you, I love the play food just as much as the kids).

As for storing the food, all produce and food is stored fridge or freezer of the play kitchen. Anything that doesn’t fit gets stored in the toy cabinet for rotation. For now, all of our food fits into the shopping basket that came with the Learning Resources Healthy Dinner basket, but as our food collection grows, we may have to find different containers that rotate. All the produce that goes in the Farmer’s Market baskets fits in the shopping basket – for 6 months I resorted all the food every night, and then I decided that it was going to get dumped out anyway, so might as well just embrace it.

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Santa brought Nell a Bitty Baby for Christmas, and for now, all of her accessories fit in a small target container that are stored in the freezer. As her doll accessories and collection grows, I can foresee needing a different solution for that, but for now, this works. Nell is my organizational girl, when I gave her the tub she said, “For me? Oh fank you mama! I just yove it.” No sweat, kiddo. No sweat. She loves having her own container that’s just for her baby stuff. I foresee arguments over who gets to use the label maker in our future…

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Back to food: Anything that would get cooked in the oven, including baking sheets, is stored in the oven. Pretty self explanatory, no clue why it took me a year to get here.

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Dishes, pots and pans and small appliances are stored in the dishwasher in tubs I picked up at Target…they fit perfectly in the dishwasher of the kitchen. They do have lids, but I just store those in the toy cabinet because I find that things are more likely to get put away without the lids on, and these items are big enough I’m not worried about them walking away.

 

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And that’s that. It works great for us so far, and has a little bit of room to accommodate more. Nell and Thomas love to play together at the play kitchen. And Peter likes to be wherever Tom and Nell are.

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Laundry Room turned Mudroom

mini mudroom makeover

When we moved into our house a year and a half ago, I was so excited to have a bigger laundry room than I’d had in our old house (which was a closet). But a couple weeks into living here, we realized the long, narrow space was completely dysfunctional for a family of 4 – which quickly became 5. So I quickly developed a plan in my head for how we could make this room – the first stop as you walk into our house from our garage – functional for our family. Which meant it needed a good place to hang coats, a place to put shoes, and lots of storage for all of the stuff that we need at the ready as we leave and enter the house.

We’re working with a very narrow, builder basic laundry room – spots for a washer and dryer on the right next to a blank space, and a builder grade wire shelf on the opposite wall. In theory, this is all you would need in a laundry room. The problem? When you hung something on the shelf, the hangers stuck out an extra 10 inches…and we didn’t have 10 inches to spare in this room. Here are the legitimate, I didn’t clean up at all befores. I’m embarrassed about how messy these are, except that there wasn’t much better of a solution.

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You can see that this is our dumping ground room. Nothing had a specific place and it was a madhouse.IMG_4809

My plan was always to remove the shelf and do hooks for coats and bags – far more functional for our family than a long rack for hangers. And you know I love hooks.  Then I decided that we needed all the vertical storage we could get, so I wanted a wooden shelf, but I knew it would be better if we raised it up almost a foot so that it didn’t hit you at eye level as you walked into the room.  So, I drew up a plan in my head for the shelf side of the room, but I was struggling with the washer and dryer side, so we didn’t do anything for awhile. But then I realized that I could customize an Elfa setup from the Container Store and get exactly what I needed – vertical storage, and drawers for stuff.  I knew exactly what I needed, so I just took my drawn out plan into the Container Store and they plugged it into their software so that we could make sure it would work, and I was on my way.

And then I told B he had bought me Elfa for Christmas and was also going to construct a mudroom for me for Christmas. I’m pretty sure he was hoping I wanted something he could order from Amazon, but he humored me, and in the end, he’s so proud of his work I might be able to convince him we should put Elfa and moulding everywhere.

 

Let’s start with the laundry side of the room. I specifically chose the wall mounted elfa so that I could store Casco’s food and a laundry basket for main floor laundry under the system. Casco’s food used to be on the opposite wall, and it took up too much space. This is absolutely perfect. The three drawers currently house cleaning supplies, mittens and gloves and snow pants. But I imagine going forward that each kiddo will have a drawer for their sports gear.

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This has changed the way we use this room. The mess is contained because there is so much storage. A place for everything, and using that vertical space. I love it.

Now, the mudroom portion. B did everything – found a couple “shelf without brackets” tutorials online and told him how I wanted it to look, and he took care of the rest. The white woodwork and higher shelf make the room feel so much bigger – I’m obsessed.

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I recovered the cushion of our existing little shoe bench with some leftover fabric from Nell’s room.

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We installed 7 hooks. And no, mom, there extra two hooks don’t mean anything other than that I wanted as many hooks as possible for maximum functionality.

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So that’s our little laundry room turned mudroom. I’ve never enjoyed laundry so much. Also, I love that there is no excuse for backpacks to be strewn about the floor anymore. All that’s left for this room is changing out the fluorescent light and figuring out a window treatment.  What do you think?

New Year, New (Personal) Decade, New Resolutions

Well, it’s 2015. I turned 30 on January 1st – a milestone I was happy to welcome. A friend asked me at Christmas Eve Mass how I felt about turning 30, and I told him honestly, “Well, I’ve been acting 30-something for the last five years, so might as well embrace it and make it official.” And truly, it felt a little anti-climactic. Quite honestly, the majority of our friends have about 7 years on us. We have a good group of friends that are our age, but they’re not in the same place in life as us – kids, houses, etc. It just seems that most of the people we meet in daily life – living in the suburbs with kids about our kids’ ages – are about 7 years older than us. So 30 wasn’t scary to me – I’ve had a healthy year after having my 3rd baby, and so I am entering my 30s feeling good about myself, my kids, my marriage and our circumstances in life. But there’s always room for improvement, and I’ve never been one to shy away from a New Year’s and Birthday resolution or two or three. I have a couple resolutions for the whole year, and a few things just for January.

 

January 2015 Goals

Whole30 – I’m embracing my 3rd Whole30 (read about my first one here) – I started the day after my birthday, on January 2nd.  I almost didn’t – B and I are having a joint 30th birthday party mid-month, and I am going to have a glass of wine or two that night, which I know means that this won’t be a real Whole30, so I considered just not doing it.  However, I knew if I didn’t commit to it, then I wouldn’t follow it – so one night of not perfect is going to have to do, because with travel and weddings and lots of 30th birthdays coming up, the next available month would be April, and I didn’t want to wait that long.

No Spending January - You can read all about our first No Spending January here and here. And then my No Shopping October here. Nothing new, we’re following the same plan we did last year, and looking forward to putting a little extra money into savings after Christmas.

Establish a Workout Routine - After Peter’s weight gain issues this summer, I dropped working out. And I tried to get back into it a couple times, and never succeeded. So, with spring clothes and summer swim suits approaching, I’m jumping back into it. I’m borrowing P90x3 from a friend to see how I like it, but while the Whole30 is going to handle any Christmas cookies I indulged in over the last month and help me feel great, I still would like to do a little more toning up.

 

2015 Resolutions

Be Present - This is specifically about me and technology. I do a lot of mindless phone scrolling throughout the day, and I don’t like it. I would rather play with my kids. So I’ve established a place in our home for my phone – I can go get it if I need it, but then I need to put it back.  I will still take pictures and occasionally post to Instagram, but I want to get away from constantly monitoring my phone.

Run Two Races. I was going to make this goal 4 – one a quarter – but the bottom line is that B is traveling a lot for work and I’m not going to bundle my kids up in a double stroller and take them for a run in the cold. Nor am I going to put them in a gym daycare so I can run on a treadmill in the heart of cold and flu season. So I won’t have a lot of run training time, but I’d like to get back into races this year, and two seems like a manageable number given limited training time.

So those are my goals for January and 2015 – what about you?

Merry Christmas 2014

B is off work this week and we’re enjoying lots of family time, so just dropping in to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and happy, healthy and safe holidays. Peace, in particular, is on my mind this Christmas season. Wishing you sweet moments with your families, loved ones and friends.

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My Favorite Sleepsack: Merino Kids Review

Peter is 9 months old. Where does the time go? I’m registering my oldest for Kindergarten and mentally preparing for my baby to be 1?! Crazy. He’s had a huge growth month. He’s crawling (which would make him our first kid to crawl), sitting up, pulling up to stand, and standing independently for a few seconds at a time.

These milestones have also wreaked havoc on his sleep. And he wasn’t the best sleeper to begin with. The biggest issue we’ve had is that he rolls over and sits and then isn’t willing to lay himself back down. But, I’ve recently been putting him in the awesome sleepsack by Merino Kids and it has helped his sleep a ton, and seems to keep him from sitting himself up. If I had known about these when Thomas was at this stage, I would have never had to buy another sleepsack again. And good news! Merino Kids is offering imperfect readers $20 off their cute polka dot sleepsacks!

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Babies 101: Just Ask Children’s

Babies. So sweet and snuggly. But there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to a new baby. And honestly? Three kids into this parenting gig, and I can tell you with confidence that each baby comes with their own unique learning curve for the parents. There were so many things that I couldn’t have prepared myself for, but somehow, through the magic of motherhood, you figure it out, and it doesn’t take long.

I remember shortly after Thomas was born, once we’d figured out breastfeeding (no small feat), I took him to the grocery store with me. And as I pushed the cart back to the car I realized that I would never again be able to load my groceries into the car and run the cart back to the cart return and then hop in the car and drive away. Now I had a baby who I couldn’t let out of my sight. Now I had to figure out this balancing act of loading the groceries, while keeping my hand on the car seat, then one handed carry the car seat while pushing the cart to the cart return, then lug that heavy car seat back to the car, lock it into its base…you get the idea. It seems silly, but it’s a good example of the learning curve of a new mom. {Side note: I will park as far out in a parking lot as I have to to park directly next to a cart return now. And when I can’t find a spot near the cart return, I just return the cart to a safe spot next to my car, and vow that when I don’t have my children with me, I will always return the cart}.

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Embracing Renewable Energy: Getting Family Involved

Recently, B and I have been talking a lot about how we can teach our kids responsibility. And not just how to keep track of their own things (though I’m still hunting for a pair of Keens of T’s that went missing this summer!), but about our responsibility to take care of others in our community and of our natural resources. This time of year is such an amazing one to teach kids about giving – we had Thomas go through all of his toys the day after Thanksgiving and pack up toys he doesn’t play with anymore to donate to children who might not otherwise have gifts at Christmas. We’ll involve the kids in making dinner that we’ll drop off at a homeless youth shelter in Boulder for Christmas. But I also think it’s so important to teach our kids about their responsibility to Earth and our natural resources, too.

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Our House at Christmas: 2014

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had a lot of fun getting our house ready for Christmas this year. Last year was moving year. The tree and ornaments and stockings came out of storage, and I did put garland on the mantle, but that was about it. I didn’t have a feel for the house yet without buying all new things – and going out and buying all new isn’t really my budget-minded style. Last year our Christmas decor splurge was exterior lights that worked with our new roofline. This year, we were going to buy a new tree, but as Thanksgiving rolled around and neither B nor I had actively searched for a good fake tree (we both love real trees but we’re both allergic to pine trees, so we go fake for the sake of not having hives and itchy eyes all season long), we laughed when I said, “We’re not getting a new tree this year, are we?” and B said, “I’m pretty sure the kids are going to to want to put the tree up this weekend, so probably not, unless you want to try a real tree? We SHOULD look for one after Christmas and get a deal…but…” and I finished his sentence, “…but we won’t, because after Christmas we the last thing we want to do is spend more money. Especially on stuff we can’t use for another year.” And B said, “Exactly.”  Our tree has been around for 7 years, and we bought it on clearance as a floor model back then. It has lots of holes in it, and it’s a little bit short, and the top branch doesn’t hold a tree topper straight. But the kids don’t care. And someday we’ll replace it, but for now, we’ll just make it work.

Living Room Tree

Back in 2007, I had a cute tree skirt made with our soon-to-be last name that matched our stockings. It was cranberry red. If you’re just joining us, I discovered a lot about myself after we bought our first house. The number one thing I discovered? I love red in other peoples homes, it feels homey and cozy and warm. But it isn’t me. I like cool tones. So I felt like our stockings and tree skirt always pigeon holed me into sticking to dark red and green Christmas colors. And I didn’t love it. I have been eying a galvanized bucket for a tree stand for three years – ever since I saw one on Terrain’s website in 2012. Last year I found one and they all sold out before I placed my order, so when I saw it back in stock this year, I ordered it immediately. And it has been sitting in our Dining Room since September 15th. When we pulled the tree out of the crawl space last Saturday, I was so glad I’d bought the tree collar. It’s way more us.

Rustic Modern Christmas

I have always loved the look of garland on the stairs, and now we live in a house that was made for Christmas garland. And that makes me happy. I love that from our kitchen table, you can see lights in every room – the kitchen, the family room, the living room, the upstairs hallway. We still have the traditional red and green stockings. I was going to buy us all new white ones (I always said when our family was complete, I’d buy all new stockings), but the practical side of me intervened. Also, Thomas told me he loves his stocking. So they stayed for this year.

Family Room

In the spirit of updating what we have without spending much, I focused on the finishing touches. I’ve also always had red and green and gold plaid ribbon on our tree and outdoor wreaths because it’s what my mom always put on her tree and wreaths. And it works for Caroline, but I realized very quickly that while my mom and I have similar overall taste, we have different styles. Does that make sense? So, finally this year, I bought some burlap ribbon. Burlap and galvanized metal. It’s beginning to look a lot like a B and Emily Christmas. About time. :)

Christmas Decor 2014There are other little things here and there: our advent wreath in the kitchen that the kids and I made at church one snowy Tuesday night while B was traveling, and our activity Advent calendar that our friends gave us a few years ago.  Our Little People Nativity sits on the console table under our gallery wall, but is usually strewn about the family room floor. And that’s our house at Christmas this year.

Simple Christmas Card Display

simple christmas card display

I love Christmas cards. I love sending them. I love receiving them. I love displaying them. I will never forget the year Thomas was born and there seemed to be a shift against sending Christmas cards – pictures were already on Facebook anyway. And I remember, in a very Emily fashion, making a proclamation that I will always send Christmas cards – and I will never post the Christmas card picture to social media before our cards are out. But, with all of my cards addressed and stamped (and hopefully making their way to the post office today), I figure I can share it on the blog now. This year I picked this colorful “Definitely Merry” card from Tiny Prints – I love the twist on traditional Christmas colors and the theme just seemed perfect for this very merry year. Nothing merrier than welcoming a sweet baby into the family!

 christmas card 2014

In the past, I’ve always clipped the Christmas cards that come in throughout December to a piece of upholstery webbing hanging from our coat closet door. But last January, we hung the antique window that I found at a junk store in the cutout/niche between our living room and back hallway (you can read more about the hunt for the window here). And as soon as that window was up, I knew that’s where we’d hang our Christmas cards.

 

 window for christmas card display

 This was so easy. I just grabbed some twine intended for wrapping gifts when I found it this Fall. Last week, I strung four rows of the twine horizontally across my beloved antique window and used some heavy duty tape to keep them in place. I draped a paper circle garland across the top of the window, and as cards come in, I clip them up on the twine. It will get more and more crowded as the month goes on – and I can easily add more rows of twine if I need them.

Christmas Cards on old window

I love two things about this setup. In our home, this window is the first thing you see as you walk through our front door. It looks cool on its own, but when it’s decorated, it definitely draws your eye to the window, so a prominent display for our friends’ and family’s holiday cards is perfect. Also, when I’m walking down our back hallway, I can see the pretty backs of the cards through the window. When I was selecting our card for this year, I definitely paid attention to the backs of the cards. The card I chose has fun typography on the back, and some of the ones we’ve received have cute stripes and polka dots.

 

So that’s our Christmas Card display for this year. It makes me happy. Last year, we had just moved into our home 6 months before Christmas (and I was 6 months pregnant with Peter) and I didn’t really have a feel for Christmas decor in our new home. But as we’ve made this house more “ours” throughout the last year and a half, it’s been even more fun to decorate for the holidays. So, more Christmas decor coming tomorrow!