Pregnancy and child care

Articles about pregnancy and child care

Making homemade play food out of felt

Homemade play food from felt
Some of our homemade play food

This project ended up keeping my children busy for days on end this past winter! I normally don't even glance at the sales fliers for hobby stores, but last fall I made a trip for some sales and came home with various things like oven-bake clay and sheets of felt. The felt was 10 cents a sheet and I got a couple of almost every color. I wasn't sure if I had made a good decision or one I would later regret!

Felt fabric for making play food

Since my kids love to sew, I got the idea for them to make homemade play food using the felt fabric I had bought. This worked even better than I could have hoped! (I had never used felt before, so I didn't know how great it could be for crafts.) Felt is fairly stiff so it lays flat and is easier for kids to handle. It also doesn't ravel, so it's easier and quicker for them to sew with it. And I had tons of colors for them to use!

Some of our homemade felt food

I used Google to look up pictures of play food made from felt. We copied a couple of the ideas we saw there, but mostly the kids just came up with their own ideas. Yes, we ended up with some pink popcorn and a "sandwich cookie" with green filling... but more importantly we all had fun and even the littlest ones (almost-2 and almost-4) were participating.

My personal favorite was making felt pizza: brown or tan for the crust, a layer of red for the sauce, and a layer of white for the cheese. Then we cut toppings like green peppers, pepperoni, and black olive slices! Sewing it was a fun challenge for the kids, as they wanted it all to look perfect.

I require the older kids (say, ages 7+) to tie all their own knots and thread their needle. I helped for a while, but most of the time they were all at the kitchen table working mostly on their own.

Play cookies made from felt

I helped Moshe (3) make a cookie. He cut out all the sprinkles and pushed each one onto the needle as we sewed them to the top of his cookie. He had so much fun making this!

Drinking hot cocoa with the play food
Having some real hot cocoa with the pretend food

Having a "snack" with the play food

The children have used the play food with the play kitchen we have, with baskets for "picnics", and with play money (or foreign currency) in a "store".

Felt food "store" for kids

Eliyahu (7) made this store with some of the homemade felt food. (Notice the green "key lime cheesecake"?! It was a challenge at first for them to create a 3-dimensional piece of cheesecake.) There are price tags for each item, and he used his collection of foreign currency to allow his siblings to shop at his store.

Shopping for felt food at the play store

If you have children ages 3+ (or love to do this kind of thing yourself!) I found this to be a great project with lasting entertainment value. :)

A No-Work Kitchen After Baby Arrives (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Channah

This month's Eat Well, Spend Less topic is all about BABIES! Okay, babies and food. ;)

In the past few weeks, Aimee, Carrie, and I have all given birth to baby girls! The rest of the team decided to help us celebrate and picked baby-related topics to write about. (Scroll down for links to the other posts in this series!)

You know, I love having children. Every age (that I've experienced so far... my oldest is only 8) is amazing in a different way.

Yehoshua and Channah

My older children are inspiring to me, make me laugh, and bring so much love to our home. My littler ones say cute things, make big messes, and bring so much love to our home. ;)

And my newborn, Channah -- she makes me feel so relaxed and content, everyone fights over getting to hold her (but I get her the most :D) and she brings even more love to our home.

And I sure don't feel like working in the kitchen when I could be cuddling with a sweet little baby!

So, I don't. I mean, as much as possible. And how is this possible?

Freezer food

1. Make freezer meals.

This was my biggest regret after having my first baby: I hadn't made any meals for the freezer. Oh, I'd planned on just making "easy stuff" but with a fussy baby who didn't sleep much, I very quickly realized that my 30-minute "easy meal" was not at all easy to pull off as a new mom. In fact, things that normally took me 30-uninterrupted-minutes suddenly took 90-very-interrupted-minutes. Or more. :)

With subsequent babies, I have made freezer meals my top priority when getting ready for the baby. And with even more hungry tummies to keep filled, having dinners made ahead transforms any afternoon into a much easier juggling feat of naps and quiet-time activities, minus dinner prep.

We're picky about what we consider a good freezer meal (e.g. it really shouldn't taste like frozen reheated leftovers!), but I've been able to find a good variety of freezer meals we like. At the very least, freezing cooked or grilled chicken breast, cooked taco meat, cooked beans, or other "ingredients" can make from-scratch cooking a lot faster!

My freezer meal plan in 2010 (with baby #4)

My freezer meal plan this year (with baby #5)

2. Don't do dishes. (Or: Have a dishes plan.)

When we lived in a house without a dishwasher, we bought paper plates and bowls to use for the first few weeks after baby was born. This really kept the kitchen cleaner, and with no effort on my part. (For some reason, Joshua enjoys kitchen clean-up a lot more when it doesn't involve him having to wash dishes!)

Where we live now, we have a dishwasher and haven't felt the need to use lots of disposable dishes. Using my homemade freezer meals means there is already a lot fewer dishes to be done each day, and with the dishwasher, kitchen clean-up is something I've been able to do in ~20 minutes after dinner (for the whole day's dishes).

At any rate, if you hate dishes or don't have a dishwasher, have a plan so you don't need to worry about them.

Floor duty for kids :)

3. Clean the kitchen floor.

A dirty kitchen floor drives me crazy! It wasn't so bad before we had all these kids who drop so many crumbs with every meal. Seriously, it is next to impossible to keep the kitchen floor clean with kids unless you...

...have the kids help clean up their crumbs! (And if you don't have kids to help sweep crumbs, then hopefully this means you have way less crumbs on your floor than I have on mine!!)

My favorite kid-friendly sweep-up method is to have a Dirt Devil or similar sort of cordless hand-held vacuum and let them use it to sweep dry crumbs (I make them pick up wet food spills by hand). We had a Dust Buster for several years and used it multiple times a day before it wore out. It's easy enough for even a 2-year-old to sweep up crumbs from the floor.

Currently, we use good old fashioned brooms and dust pans. The kids have their choice of a regular broom or whisk broom, and after a meal I usually assign someone the task of sweeping up crumbs. They don't do a perfect job, but they do get a lot of the crumbs -- and I know there will just be more after the next meal anyway. ;) Every couple days the vacuum cleaner gets brought out and then we really do get every last crumb swept up. :)

Channah

4. Grocery shop before the baby's born.

I found it helpful to stock up on pantry staples (at Costco, of course) before a new baby. With a stocked pantry and freezer meals made, it's so nice to not need as many groceries each week for a while!

Grocery shopping is also one of those things you can mention when someone asks if you need anything. Armed with a detailed list (and your grocery money, of course!), having a friend or relative pick up groceries for you is such a blessing if you don't feel like going out with a new baby in tow.

(Personally, I just never feel like going anywhere with a new baby. I'm such a homebody!)

5. Use appliances.

If you have a crock pot, bread machine, rice cooker, or other handy kitchen appliances -- learn how to use them for foods your family likes!

Babies are often really unpredictable, so when you can start a meal early in the crock pot, or use the timer feature on your bread machine, you can fit dinner prep into whatever snippet of time you have early in the day rather than scrambling at the last minute (or stressing out because you need to work on dinner but you'd rather rock your baby to sleep!).

I don't have a lot of kitchen appliances, so help me out here -- what other appliances streamline dinner prep or include timer features? :)

6. Accept help.

This only works if you have offers of help, which I hope every new mom does -- from her husband, family, or friends. When someone wants to help, accept their offer! Okay, so your husband doesn't do housework just like you would -- but that's okay. Your kids fold the laundry and it's not folded "right" -- but that's okay.

I feel really blessed right now because my husband and kids can and DO do so much around the house for me! And honestly, they do a pretty good job most of the time. No, it's not all exactly how it would be if I were doing it. But it's definitely okay and I thank them and tell them how awesome they are. :)

More on preparing for a new baby: All the stuff I did before #2 was born :)

6 Tips for Cooking with a Baby (because eventually, you gotta do it!)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

More about babies and food from the Eat Well, Spend Less team:

Food celebration and a new baby (Jessica at Life As Mom)

The postpartum diet (Aimee at Simple Bites)

A homemade baby food primer (Mandi at Life...Your Way)

Taking meals to a new mom (Carrie at Denver Bargains)

Kitchen planning when you're pregnant (Amy at Keeping the Kingdom First)

...and more to come from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship and Shaina at Food for my Family! :)

The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Play Dough in Winter-Themed Scents and Colors

Homemade play dough in winter-themed colors and scents

I've been wanting to make my own scented play dough ever since my friend Melissa gave us some of her homemade holiday-scented play dough 2 years ago. Melissa had the creative idea of using flavored/scented teas in place of the water called for in basic play dough, and it works fabulously, adding more variety to the extracts and oils I already have on hand.

In fact, I didn't buy anything special to make any of these kinds of play dough! The ingredients, coloring, spices, oils, extracts, and teas were all things I already had sitting around.

Ruth (3)

Homemade scented play dough is very versatile and flexible. There are a variety of ways to achieve the desired "flavors", so you can pick and choose based on what you have in your cupboards. (I resisted scraping seeds out of a real vanilla bean for my "sugar cookie dough" play dough... I mean, it's just play dough, after all.) ;)

Here is the basic homemade play dough recipe. This is the one my mom made, and is very popular in books and online -- and no wonder, because it's easy and good. :) It's safe and easy enough for the kids to do most of the making, non-toxic (but not tasty), and kind of addictive to make once you get started! ;)

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

Basic Homemade Play Dough (makes 2 cups)
takes 5-10 minutes to mix up and 5 minutes to heat

1 cup all-purpose flour (sift if lumpy)
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tarter
1 cup water or cooled tea (for flavors -- see below)
1 1/2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or canola)
Food coloring, as desired

Directions:

1. In a 2-quart sauce pan, whisk together the flour, salt and cream of tarter. Add the water and oil and whisk until smooth. Add desired food coloring. (Keep in mind that the color will get slightly darker after it's heated.)

2. Place pan over low heat and cook and stir until it thickens and forms a ball (about 5 minutes for a single recipe). When it's impossible to stir and looks like a bug sticky lump, it's done! :)

3. Turn out onto the counter or a mat, scraping pan clean with a spatula. Knead the warm dough a couple times, and place in a loosely-covered container to cool. (Or, let the kids play with it right away!) Store in a sealed container or ziplock bag when not in use.

For gluten-free homemade play dough, check out Michele's recipe at Frugal Granola! :)

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

Now comes the fun part: picking out some spices, teas, oils, or extracts to add to the basic recipe above and making some holiday-themed play dough that looks and smells awesome! Seriously, if you're like me, you won't be able to stop opening the lids to smell your play doughs when you're done making them.

I'll tell you about the (successful) flavors/scents I've created, and include my as-yet-untested ideas for even more winter flavors at the bottom of this post.

Do NOT worry if you don't have everything listed for the flavor you want to make. Get creative and use whatever you have!! For example, I didn't have all of these teas on hand so I used vanilla or vanilla caramel tea in a number of the recipes. I like to buy Bigelow's holiday teas on clearance or on sale with a coupon, but it's also okay to use something else!

Think of these recipes as a starting point to get you going, okay? :)

Eliyahu (5)

Ready? Here is:

Fir Tree / Evergreen (green)
Sugar Cookie Dough (tan)
Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane (pink)
Egg Nog (yellow)
Gingerbread Spice (brown)
Orange / Orange Spice (orange)
Hot Cocoa (dark brown)
Cinnamon Stick (red)

More ideas for holiday-themed play doughs

Tips for making homemade play dough

How cheap is homemade play dough?

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

This evergreen tree scented play dough is one of my favorites. It just smells SO GOOD! If you only have rosemary on hand, it will still smell wonderful, but I had pine and fir oils which put it over the top. I could smell this all day! It's like a walk in the woods...

Water: Use 2 tablespoons of dried rosemary and just over 8 ounces of boiling water to make a "tea"/infusion. Let steep for 20+ minutes. Strain out the rosemary and use 1 cup of your rosemary "tea" in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: Add powdered rosemary

Oils and extracts: Pine oil, fir needle oil, or rosemary oil

Coloring: As green as you want it! :)

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

I love how this scent turned out, and Joshua says it's his favorite. It smells good enough to eat! I wanted to scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean to add to this play dough, but didn't. ;) It's still amazing. (Coconut extract is awesome.)

Water: Use Bigelow's vanilla tea or vanilla caramel tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: None

Oils and extracts: 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon coconut extract

Coloring: None needed, especially if you're using dark tea and dark vanilla extract! :)

Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane Play Dough

Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane Play Dough

This one's easy, affordable (peppermint oil is one of the cheapest!), and Ruth's personal favorite since it's PINK. I love the smell. Peppermint is always a winner.

Water: Brew some peppermint tea, allow to cool, and use 1 cup of peppermint tea in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: None

Oils and extracts: Use a tablespoon of peppermint extract, OR about 10 drops of peppermint oil (and 2 drops of spearmint oil, optional)

Coloring: Any shade of pink! If you're not making Fir/Pine play dough, you could make this one green instead of pink.

Egg Nog Play Dough

Egg Nog Play Dough

I think this one smells just like real egg nog! Yummy. :)

Water: Use Bigelow's EggNogg'n flavored tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

If you have everything else for this flavor, you can just use plain water and it will still be GREAT.

Spices: 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Oils and extracts: 1 teaspoon rum extract and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coloring: Yellow!

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

This is Eliyahu's favorite. He calls it "the one that looks like sand" because he keeps forgetting the word "gingerbread". Mmmmm....

Water: Use Bigelow's Ginger Snappish flavored tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 1+ tablespoon powdered ginger, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Oils and extracts: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring

Coloring: None needed! :)

Orange Spice Play Dough

Orange Spice Play Dough

Having good quality orange oil on hand made this one a no-brainer. We love this Boyajian pure orange oil, and it's cheaper than buying the little bottles of orange extract at the grocery store (plus it's way better).

Water: Use orange spice tea (lots of brands have this flavor!). Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Oils and extracts: Orange extract or oil (quite a bit -- until it smells really orange-y), cinnamon oil (3 drops), and clove oil (2 drops)

Coloring: Orange! Due to the ground spices I added, my orange spice play dough is a darker shade.

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

I used dark cocoa powder to make this hot cocoa play dough super chocolate-y. Yum!

Water: Use plain water as called for in the basic recipe, but add an additional tablespoon of oil to the recipe (2 1/2 tablespoons of oil total).

Spices: 1/3 cup cocoa powder (baking cocoa, NOT sweetened)

Oils and extracts: 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coloring: None needed

Cinnamon Stick Play Dough

Cinnamon Stick Play Dough

I love the cinnamon scent, but couldn't get the red shade I was after. Brown may be a better color for cinnamon play dough, allowing you to add plenty of ground cinnamon! :)

Water: Use Cinnamon Spice tea or herbal tea (any brand). Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or more, if making brown play dough)

Oils and extracts: Cinnamon oil

Coloring: I used red, but will probably go with brown next time.

Yehoshua (7), making play dough
Yehoshua (7) stirs the play dough for a couple minutes, until it's too thick for him

When I get time to try new flavors, I'll update this post! Here are more of my ideas:

Chai Tea Play Dough -- Using chai tea, chai spices, and/or spice oils

Mocha / Cappuccino Play Dough -- Use strong instant coffee, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract

Caramel Apple Play Dough -- Use caramel and apple flavored teas, ground cinnamon, and vanilla extract

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough -- Use Bigelow's Pumpkin Spice tea and ground pumpkin pie spices

Chocolate Mint Play Dough -- Like the Hot Cocoa Play Dough above, but add mint extract or oil

Sugar Plum Fairy Play Dough -- Use Celestial Seasonings Sugar Plum tea or Bigelow's Cherry Almond tea, vanilla and almond extracts, and color it purple!

As you can see, the possibilities are practically endless! :) I'd love to hear your flavor ideas in the comments section below! :)

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

Tips for making homemade play dough:

Adding the oils and extracts:

I added most of my oils or extracts at the beginning, before heating the play dough. You can stir them in at the end, but I found the dough thickened so quickly (and I had little helpers!) that it was easier to just add at the beginning. In the event that you forget to add them at the end, you could also carefully knead them into the play dough (I've done that, and it worked okay).

Cream of tarter:

Find an affordable source for cream of tarter, since that is the most expensive main ingredient. I got mine at a bulk food store. It's worth checking at your health food store, bulk food store, or bulk section of your grocery store for the best price, especially if you want to make lots of play dough and give as affordable gifts! :)

Adding glitter:

You can also add glitter to your play dough after it's made (just knead it in). Note: It will take a lot of glitter. :)

Storing the play dough:

Jars are nice (and affordable and reusable!), and you can dress them up with fabric, ribbons, and cute tags. I've found that packing the play dough into a jar can make it difficult to pull out easily, though. I prefer shallow, wide jars or else plastic containers instead for ease of use. :)

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

How cheap is homemade play dough?

Just for fun, Joshua and I figured out how much it costs to make a batch of homemade play dough. I used the prices we pay at Costco for our ingredients.

For 2 cups of play dough (basic recipe):

1 cup all-purpose flour -- $0.09 (50#/$14.95)
1/2 cup salt -- $0.05 (25#/$3.95)
2 teaspoons cream of tarter -- $0.10 ($5.45/lb)
1 cup water -- $0.00
1 1/2 tablespoons oil -- $0.03 ($9.59/5qt)

Total cost for basic play dough: $0.27 for 2 cups

The expensive part comes in when you start adding all the "extras" like oils and extracts, or buying special containers or supplies to "dress it up" as gifts. ;)

Extracts for Egg Nog Play Dough
Vanilla, rum, and nutmeg made Egg Nog Play Dough smell just like real egg nog!

By the way...

Moshe's version of "helping"

...this is what Moshe did yesterday to "help" while we made play dough in the kitchen. The contents of our recycling trash can are just so exciting... ;)

Sunshine in my kitchen: Ants on a log

Eliyahu with lunch supplies for "ants on a log"!

What child doesn't love getting to assemble their own lunch? :)

On days when I don't have leftovers or beans handy for lunch, we turn to PBJs. If I'm also out of bread, then we get to make "Ants on a log". Eliyahu (age 5, above) posed for his picture with our ingredients (all from Costco). :)

ants on a log

Crunchy celery, creamy rich peanut butter, and chewy sweet raisins combine into a fun fingerfood, especially for boys who enjoy imagining that they really are eating insects! ;)

Coming this week: Pumpkins! I have a couple great new pumpkin recipes to share, a kitchen tip on the topic of cooking and using pumpkins, and some photos from our ongoing "birthday season"! :)

Your questions answered: Baby food, children's devotionals, spending time with my husband, and more

Yehoshua and Moshe

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

These questions are from my friend Tanya. We did a "question exchange" and you can see my questions for her (which she answered on her blog) here! :)

1. What first foods do you like to feed your baby?

With all of my babies so far, I have started with mashed veggies and fruits, like avocado, cooked green peas, cooked carrots or sweet potatoes, banana, applesauce, etc. Cooked oatmeal was one of the first grains we introduced. I wrote a post about homemade baby food here. We usually just start by giving samples of whatever we're already having as our fruit or veggie for the meal, and work up to more complex things! :)

2. What age do you like to start your baby on food?

I think babies have differing needs, but so far, we've started around 10-11 months with solids (breastmilk until then and continuing after, of course!). I may have started giving tastes of foods a little before 10 months... but none of my babies have really decided to actually EAT much solid foods until after 12-14 months! :)

Word of Promise cds


3. What are your favourite books to use for worship/devotions with the children?

Oooh, fun question! Here are some of our favorites:

The Word of Promise  -- This is an audio Bible (NKJV) on CDs, which is dramatized. It is really well done! The kids almost think we're watching a movie when we're listening. Listening to these CDs is easier for me than reading to the kids myself for devotions, because I can hold a squirmy baby, etc. while we all listen -- PLUS the cool sound effects. :) So, we use this a lot. We usually choose a story/CD (like Jonah, Ruth, etc.) and then listen to it each day for a week or longer.

The DK Illustrated Family Bible -- This is our favorite "children's Bible". It uses Bible stories with Biblical text (NIV); sometimes they will do a summary with indented text if they want to get a longer story into 2 pages and don't have the room and/or there are breaks in the story and want to keep a unified presentation. Overall it is a decent compromise as you get a decent modern translation and focused reading units with great art. :)

The Book of Psalms for Singing -- This is our favorite family praise/worship music. We've memorized numerous Psalms and love singing them as a family! In fact, Tanya, I think we sang some of these with your family when you visited one time in Ohio. :) We have several CDs with these Psalms sung a cappella, which have helped us learn them.

Another non-traditional way that I like to do "Bible reading" with the children is using word-for-word DVDs. We have The Gospel of John, The Gospel of Matthew, and Acts, which are all "acted" visually, but the words are straight from the NIV or NLT. The DVDs do have some scary and sad parts (after all, they are portraying the Gospels!) so there are some parts that I do not watch with the children since they are so young right now. This isn't a problem, though, since the DVDs are all quite long and there is plenty that we can all watch together!

For bedtime music, we have been really enjoying Psalm 119 (KJV) sung a cappella. The recording we have is available online for free, so definitely check it out! :)

So, those are my top favorites for actual Bible reading and singing as a family. :)

4. How do you keep time free to spend with Joshua everyday?

I've made it a habit and it's not something I consider to be optional. :) No matter how poorly my day has gone, or how much remains on my "to do" list, we spend our evenings together (usually a couple hours of time). Sometimes (okay, usually!) Moshe tags along for part of that time, until I can get him to sleep.

We like to talk, pray, read, watch movies, or play games. I also really resonate with my friend Kate's post about the marriage bed. Along with spending time with/raising our children and our relationship with YHWH, our marriage is a high priority to both of us -- beyond having a clean house, an updated blog, etc. :)

Joshua's top two "love languages" are quality time and physical touch, so skimping on spending time together is really not an option for us. :) While my tendency is to split up and try to accomplish as much as possible, Joshua prefers to just enjoy the journey with me. :) I think it was about 4 years ago (we've been married 8.5 years) that I decided to MAKE that quantity time DAILY for us to be together and it has been such a blessing in our marriage! :)

5. What is your favourite things about being a mama?

Oh, I don't know! I think it depends on the age of the child. :) I love snuggling with a new baby, or breastfeeding... or those sweet first smiles and giggles. :) So that is my favorite part about Moshe (8 months) right now. Ruth, at nearly 3, is talking lots more and that is super cute and sweet! :) And then I love getting to have discussions with the older boys... so maybe it would just be that I love getting to have that close relationship with my children and seeing them grow. :)

Organizing toys and clothes for kids

Ruth (2)

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

A number of people have asked me how I store and organize our children's clothing and toys. I don't know that my ways are anything special, but I'm happy to write about it! :)

We're currently a family of 6 living in a 2-bedroom (900 sq.ft.) apartment, although some time *soon* we're planning to move to a rental house with a yard! After 2 years in an apartment, I am completely 100% ready to not have carpet in the dining area and have more than a 4'x8' balcony for our "outside"! ;)

Kids' bedroom closet

I've written about about baby stuff in the past: Prepare for Baby Frugally: Money-Saving and Space-Saving Tips which shows photos of the kids' bedroom and what sort of things we have.

But, that post doesn't specifically address clothes and toys for older children. So, here are my methods:

Storing Clothes: I keep the clothes in dresser drawers, with 2-3 drawers per child. We had dressers from when we lived in Ohio, since the bedroom there had no closet. And dressers make it easy for kids to put away their own laundry, since closet hangers are so high!

Changing Seasons: Since we're in the Seattle area, we don't have extremely cold winters or very hot summers, so we just layer on an extra sweatshirt as needed, or wear socks/slippers if it's cold. Everything else is just shorts/pants and a t-shirt!

Dressy Clothes: Each child has 1-2 nice outfits, for church or special occasions. But we also wear nice (non-holey!) jeans or a nice (not-stained!) t-shirt for church, so we don't need lots of fancy clothes. :)

Shoes: Shoes are stored in a plastic drawer/dresser by the doorway. Each child has about 3 pairs.

Coats: Each child has 1 heavier winter coat and 1 sweatshirt/hooded jacket, 1 hat, 1 pair of gloves. These are stored in the closet (summer) or hanging on the end of the bunk beds (in winter, for more frequent use).

Storing Toys: Toys are in containers/boxes/bags in the closet, and we get out one or two things at a time. I have a bookshelf for children's books, which is also in the closet.

I took a quick video of the kids' bedroom, which will show more details and give you a glimpse of what we actually have in there! :)

Tereza asked how often I organize the children's bedroom, and the answer is both "all the time!" and "never"! :)

Since everything has a place, and the children are able to do the pick-up themselves, my involvement is mostly just getting things out of the closet or putting things back in. Kinda like checking books out of the library. :)

Every 3-6 months, I have to go through the clothing and pack away stuff that is too small or throw away stuff that is too worn out. I have two small-medium sized totes in the closet, which is where I store any clothes for the kids to grow into. If their wardrobe is lacking, I can usually find a few things at GoodWill to fill the needs. :)

KimC has a great series titled "Big Family, Small House" which has lots more storage and organization ideas! The main consensus? Have less stuff! With a big family, the amount of things needed and used on a regular basis will be greater, but minimization is still possible! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Six tips for cooking with a baby

Katie asked,

I'd like to know when and how you make the time for cooking with a small baby.

I usually end up spending an hour or two each day in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking but I would much rather be cuddling with my baby, so I really try to minimize my time spent cooking. Here's how:

1. Prepare food before the birth. I didn't do this for my first baby, and really regretted it! I wanted and needed to rest, but dinner wasn't cooking itself. For the subsequent children, I did as much food prep as possible before they were born. It made an amazing difference!

Freezer meals -- what filled my freezer

Menu plans -- including a 2-week "easy meals" plan for when my freezer meals were gone

2. Enlist help if possible! With our last baby, when people asked if we needed anything I said "food"! We were blessed with a couple weeks' worth of dinners and/or ingredients for easy meals from friends and family. Joshua also started grilling regularly and hasn't stopped! (Yay!)

Sweet Moshe

3. Plan easy meals. Freezer meals, casseroles that can be assembled during nap time and baked later, crock pot meals, salads, or soups are all great options that either take less time or can be done on "the baby's schedule" rather than needing your attention at 5PM! :)

4. Use your time wisely. I have spent many afternoon naptimes cooking dinner while my baby slept. I often do some quick food prep after my kids are in bed for the night -- even if it's just making sure everything is planned/ready for the next day. Or -- go to bed early so you're ready to get moving the next morning! I know this is a hard one. Caring for little kids wears me OUT! But if you can, examine where you might carve out some extra time for cooking that doesn't cut into sleep.

5. "Splurge" on a few more convenient foods for this busy season. We buy bread, cold cereal, hot dogs, and other stuff I can't remember right now when I'm not able to spend as much time cooking. And that's okay! :)

6. Wear your baby while you work. I've had the most success with this using the Ergo carrier on my back (not front) while cleaning up the kitchen. Getting the dishes done before the baby goes to sleep means that I have a chance of getting some sleep myself when it's quiet!

Remember that this is a season, ever changing. In many ways, having my fourth baby has been easier than having my first! The older children help in the kitchen, or they play with the baby on the floor.

What are your best tricks for finding time to cook with a small baby in the home? :)

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1. Remove smell from pickle jars (Aimee)
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6. Washing dishes (Annie)
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Apartment life: Making time to get outside

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

Tereza writes,

I'd love to read on how you make time to enjoy the parks, trails etc. Have you found any good tricks to balancing your work with the need for the children to be outside? Do you let the housework slide? Do you clean up first then go? Do you follow a schedule and schedule outside time in? What do you do to ensure that your children get plenty of fresh air?

This is one of the hardest things about having 4 young children and NO yard!

#1. I am really not great about making sure we get outside enough. Last summer we had lots of sunny weather and we did get out pretty often, but this year? The weather has waffled between cold and rainy, with a few downright HOT days and then a few really great days of sunshine.

I say that as an excuse -- because you would think that with weather like that, I would jump at the first sunny day and take the kids outside, right? Nope. There have been many days this summer when Joshua came home and asked "Did you and the kids get outside today?" and I had to say "No..." :(

I tend to get behind in things ("things" like housework or blogging or going outside) and then get a little down about it, and then neglect the very things that would actually help me feel better and get more done! It's a horrible cycle that lands me in a pit of not eating right, not sleeping enough, not getting exercise, and just generally NOT being productive!

Getting outside regularly (as in nearly daily if not DAILY) helps me (and the kids) a lot physically and mentally, so I know it needs to be a priority and I continue to work on making it a priority. Yes, even over housework, blogging, or just about anything else!

Ruth, eating peanuts
Ruth, shelling peanuts for a snack. We were having a horrible morning so I put shoes and socks on everyone, grabbed a bag of peanuts and some water, stuck Moshe in the Ergo, and walked to the park. We sat, played, and ate for several hours before I felt ready to go back home!


My methods:

1. Get outside first. Worry about other stuff later. It'll still be there.

2. Better yet, skip some of that other stuff. Joshua and I made a very bare-bones schedule/routine of sorts for me, and decided on a handful of non-negotiable things. Those are: Bible time, outside, school, showers, and (simple) meals. Everything else can -- and often does -- wait.

3. For housework: Minimize what I NEED to do, and then enlist children to help get it done.

Laundry: Joshua suggested I do laundry once a week and that has worked well and saved time rather than doing lots of miscellaneous loads. I do a big load of: towels/bibs/dish rags, socks/underwear, kids, Joshua's, and mine. Bedding is just whenever. (Not often enough but OH WELL!) Kids help a LOT with laundry!

Dishes: This has to be done daily.

Cooking: Make easier meals. Have Joshua grill a lot. Serve fresh fruits and veggies as sides.

Cleaning: I love a clean house and I hate the mess and dirt! But, it just can't take top priority, even with kids to help. Yehoshua (6) does the vacuuming -- but I don't make him vacuum daily, even though the floor probably needs it. Maybe when I have older kids, they will be faster or more efficient at cleaning and more will get done.

So here's my trick for cleaning: Have company over every week or two. Make a nice meal for them and everyone works hard to clean the house. We get to enjoy a nicer meal than usual and the bathroom finally gets that much-needed cleaning. :P And the work is more fun because we're all working for the exciting evening/day of fellowship and friends!

So, these are my meager efforts... remember, I usually do some things, but never all things. And I have to be content with that! :)

Does anyone else have tips for getting outside? I can't believe summer is almost over! :(

Smiley Moshe!


Related:

Exercise tips from my life (when we had 2 kids)

Indoor exercise ideas

Getting it all "done"

More photos from this week:

These three LOVE to swim!

Sleepy Moshe

What Moshe does (hopefully!) while the others swim: Sleep! :) I love him.

Moshe, scooting

Little Mister Moshe. Super cute and a Super-Scooter these days! :)

Ruth heads straight to the blackberries!

Yehoshua eats peanuts

Eating peanuts at the park and discussing multiplication. :)

Frugal Swim Diaper

Ruth
Ruth (2), all done swimming and ready for lunch! :)

We've been going swimming at our apartment's pool this summer, and while we were out there today, I snapped a couple pictures so I could share my frugal "swim diaper" alternative.

Thirsties diaper cover

The disposable swim diapers are so pricey, and really they are useful just for containing any solid-type accidents, since they fill with water as soon as the child jumps in the pool, anyway.

Thirsties diaper cover

A Thirsties diaper cover does the job of a "swim diaper" quite nicely! For Ruth (about 30 pounds) I use a size Large, and it's still got room for her to grow. Since the chemicals in the pool water are hard on fabrics, I use the same cover for swimming every time, so as not to put excess wear on all my diaper covers.

Wrap tightly, secure with the velcro, and then put the child's swim suit on top. It's a perfect and very affordable swim diaper option! I've seen cloth swim diapers for sale online, but they were more expensive and not something I already owned. :) Since I already had the Thirsties cover from Amazon.com (thanks to SwagBucks), I didn't even have to invest anything new. The cover usually costs $11 -- about as much as a pack of swim diapers... but will last much longer! :)

Here's a video clip from today's swimming.

A few minutes after the video was taken, I looked back at Moshe and he was fast asleep. :)

Sleeping Moshe

Head over to Jessica's blog for more frugal tips! :)

Input Welcome: Chores for Children & Indoor Exercise Ideas

Eliyahu, out bug-hunting
Eliyahu (4), out bug-hunting

Melissa asked, 

"I really appreciate your view of working alongside your children and I try to implement that sort of lifestyle with my own little ones.

"While my children truly seem to enjoy helping me and doing little chores, I also feel like I am constantly having them do things for me ('Will you throw this diaper in the pail, please?' 'Will you pull your chairs up and help me with dinner?' etc. - all day long).

"We set aside time where I play with them or read to them throughout the day, and most of the evening after dinner is spent just playing. But I still feel like a bit of a slave driver.

"Do you ever feel like that? Do you have any specific standards as to how much help you will require of your children? Do you feel like giving them time to just roam and explore are important?"

I've been thinking about this very thing recently, especially since my oldest child is 6 now and very capable of doing many things to help around the house, including cleaning, changing diapers, and "babysitting" (while I am home of course!).

I want to teach responsibility, and I want everyone in the family to work together so our home is peaceful not chaotic, but I don't want to pass things that should rightly be my responsibility as a mom on to my child.

One of the ways I balance that is by examining my motives. If I am giving a job to a child simply because I am too lazy, that is not good (in my opinion). It's not necessarily a question of what the task is, but why it is being given. :)

If we're all working together, including me, then it's usually okay. We all eat meals. There's nothing wrong with children helping clear the table or unload the dishwasher... every single day. :) I simply can not do everything! Most of their jobs take only a few minutes (like setting the table), yet it helps me get dinner ready on time and blesses the family.

The amount of help required, I think, depends on the family's needs. Growing up on a farm, some seasons required a lot more work of us children than other seasons did. In the summer, an extra hour was spent weeding or working in the garden. If it was time to butcher chickens, my whole morning was spent helping. Other days, I got away with just washing dishes and had lots of free time!

Building with Duplos
Duplos -- received as a gift and supplemented by some from GoodWill -- are the boys' current favorite toy. :)


Our children have days with lots of free time, and other days (like Fridays) when they have to help with extra chores. Work is part of life, and since I know we do balance it with play, complaining is unacceptable! (I'll be re-reading this again in a few years when we have teenagers. :P)

I'd love to have reader input on this topic! What are your thoughts regarding the balance of work and play for children? Any tips for making chores more fun? We do things like setting the timer, having races, small rewards at the end (to motivate the kids AND me!), and music/audio while we work. Some days motivating myself is harder than motivating the kids, unfortunately!

 

Moshe, just chillin'
Moshe (6 months), just chillin' on my lap at the playground. :)

Sarah asked,

"Where we live, it gets extremely HOT in the summer, plus thick and humid. I'm talking lows in the high 70's and highs in the 100's. My 4yo is a bursting ball of energy who is almost never quiet or still, except when watching TV. I really hate TV, but he has been watching a lot of it lately. HELP! What are some fun energy-burning activities that you do with your young children when they can't play outside?"

Oh, boy. Heat! I do NOT like the super hot days, and am so thankful that we get very few of them here in western Washington! Since we don't have a/c, if it does get really hot, the kids play in a cold bath tub of water, eat ice and frozen blueberries or frozen peas, we grill all our meals outside, and play in front of the fan!

We can't really do any indoor energy-burning activities since we're in an upper-floor apartment, but one thing I've found that kids like is running around things. Either through rooms in a circle, or just pulling the kitchen table into the living room or pulling out the couch -- my kids can not stop running around things! :)

I'm sure the kids would do exercise videos with me as well (I wonder if they make kids exercise videos?!), and since the winters here are cold and rainy, I want to do more of that sort of thing once we're not living above other people. :)

We've also tried going places, like to a (not-crowded) mall or big store (where running wouldn't disturb others) or to the racquet-ball room here at our apartments, and just letting the kids run around and around! They love it if I play tag with them.

We also play what we call "obedience game" which is similar to "Simon Says" except that they have to do everything. :) We give them things like "lay on your tummy", "go turn on the light", "go get your pillow", "come to Mommy", "give each other a hug", "sit Indian-style", "Okay, now stand up!".

They usually try to do everything as quickly as possible and get quite out of breath in the end! :) Ruth (2) likes to join in, and when she was younger, she would play along by copying the boys' actions since she wasn't quite old enough to understand the commands. :)

And of course this "game" is to give them practice at doing things immediately and without complaining. It really does help chase away the whines! :)

Anyone have any more indoor exercise ideas for Sarah (and me)? :)

Ruth, totally worn out!
We went on a really long walk earlier this week (about 4 miles I think!) and Ruth walked the whole way! (Yes, she has good shoes and lots of energy!!) Then she did this, for the first time ever. After I took a quick picture, I started to wash her up and she awoke and said "I'm eating!!" and finished her food before heading to bed. :)

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