Friday, September 30, 2011

Family Friday: Amazing Andrew

Andrew is at a really fun stage now. He is saying new words almost everyday and starting to use short sentences. Andrew loves hearing and telling stories now. One of his favorite stories is David and Goliath, which he calls Bump, Bump for the bumping sound Goliath might have made when he walks. He tells the story so sweetly. We want to catch it on video, but he usually doesn't cooperate.

His rendition usually goes something like this:

Bump, bump (Goliath)
tall, and holds a hand over his head (Goliath was tall)
choose man, holding hand over his mouth to make deep voice (choose a man to fight me)
rock (stones)
round (sling went round)
Bump, bump (Goliath)
down (fell down)
God win (God helped David win)
Hooray, holds hand up in the air (the people were glad!)

He is also starting to say words on his flashcards much more consistently. We'll see if this continues; it might be the start of him really reading.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

DIY Cappuccino Pudding

This one isn't for the kiddos, but is a great treat for moms. I bet it would be fantastic combined with chocolate pudding.

Homemade Coffee Pudding Recipe

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup strong coffee
  • 2 cups whole milk (divided)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 Tbsp cornstarch
  1. In a small mixing bowl, begin by stirring together ½ cup milk, egg, and cornstarch until well combined.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine 1½ cups milk, sugar, and coffee. 
  3. Stir over medium heat to warm the milk.
  4. Take a couple of big spoonfuls (¼ to ½ cup) of the warm milk mixture, and add it into the cornstarch and egg mixture. Don't skip this step. This tempers the egg and prevents it from becoming a scrambled egg when adding it into the hot milk.
  5. Pour the cornstarch and egg mixture into the warm milk, and stir quickly to combine well.
  6. Continue to stir over medium heat until the pudding thickens and begins to bubble.
  7. You can serve this pudding warm (sounds good in the winter) or chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days and serve it cold.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DIY Miniature Bean Bags

I been thinking about Christmas presents for a little while now, and one short project that I already finished were these cute miniature bean bags. I made a set of six for both Aaron and Andrew. I choose to make miniature ones and fill them with rice instead of beans. I did this for a couple of reasons. The small size is easier for their small hands to hold, and they will hurt brother less should his head accidentally get in the way of a bean bag. As they get bigger (and/or more careful), maybe I'll make them a bigger set. This quick and easy sewing project makes a great frugal gift for boys.

Make Your Own Bean (or Rice) Bags
  • fabric scraps
  • thread
  • sewing machine is optional
  • beans or rice to fill the bag
  1. Cut out two rectangles the same size for each bean bag you want to make. I cut my rectangles 3" by 4" for these miniature ones. For regular sized bean bags, I think 4" by 6" would be a good size.
  2. Place two rectangles right sides together. Stitch around three sides, leaving one open for turning and stuffing.
  3. Turn right side out.
  4. Fill with beans or rice.
  5. Whip or slip stitch the open side closed. Stitch very securely; you don't want the contents to spill everywhere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Simple Christmas Planning

Christmas 2009, time really does fly by
Did you realize there are less than 100 days until Christmas? While in reality that is still more than 1/4 of a year left until Christmas, time flies as they say, so it will be here before you know it. A little planning ahead of time can make the season much more blessed and less stressed. This is especially true if you want to make any of the gifts you are going to give.

Personally, I tend to start Christmas planning really, really early. I love Christmas, and I love making presents. Usually, I begin to plan what I want to make for Christmas in July after we celebrate Father's day, birthdays, and our anniversary. In looking for birthday ideas for Aaron and Nate, I usually have found a couple of ideas that I want to make but didn't have time to do for their birthdays. I then begin to think about the other people on our list and which gifts I want to make and which we want to purchase. I usually start a list with everyone's names and write down gift ideas as we think of them. Then I use this list to keep track of what we've made or bought and what still needs to be done. This gives my plenty of time to start working on presents slowly over the next months, instead of staying up all Christmas Eve trying to finish everything for everyone. This plan doesn't always happen perfectly, but at least it gets me thinking.

Christmas Eve 2009

Andrew was born exactly one week before the Christmas of 2009. That year we had to plan a simple Christmas. I really wanted to get everything done ahead of time that year. I spent my nesting energy making a few simple Christmas presents and treats ahead of time, so we could just rest and enjoy our time together as a little family on the actual holidays. We also had to scale way back on what we usually do for that particular Christmas, buying, making, and visiting. At the time, part of me did wish I could do more, but it was a simple and sweet holiday. It was good because it made us as a family focus on what was truly important. We didn't see all of our extended family right on those holidays, but found ways to connect and celebrate with them.

I think our families all know that we love and appreciate them regardless of how much (or little) we are able to buy, make, or see them at Christmastime. At least it is my prayer that we would be able to make sure everyone knows they are loved and cherished, regardless of anything else. Realizing we don't have to and can't do it all is freeing. We try to figure out what God would have us focus on for the celebration of the birth of His Son and ask for his help to do just that. If the rest of the long to-do list I've made for myself never gets done, I try not to be hard on myself. I know that I've done my best, and the rest is really just stuff after all.

If you are looking for inspiration for Christmas planning, I've come across some resources that might be helpful. I think they have some great ideas.

Life as Mom has a free Christmas planning ebook.

Life your way has a free ebook and Christmas planner. The are also doing a 101 days until Christmas series.

The Happy Housewife is doing a series of 100 days of handmade gifts for Christmas.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 太极拳

Walking on bumpy walking track
This past Saturday I got on the bus to go do my English tutoring, closely followed by a man with a very long sword. Now I know my parents and in-laws probably don't like that statement one bit, but give me a chance to explain. I was perfectly safe, so don't start worrying.

You see people always follow you closely when you get on a bus here; you pretty much have to push or get pushed on. Your other option is to get on last which is what I usually do, but I happened to be in the middle of a bunch of people this time, so that wasn't an option. This still isn't explaining the man with the sword though, is it?

He was a tall (for here), older gentleman, grandly arrayed in colorful silk. He was followed closely by a petite older lady (who I assume is his wife), who was also dressed in silk and carrying a large sword. But the part that I have been leaving out is that the swords are fake, completely harmless, like toys for big kids or stage props. Things quite often here aren't what they seem to be at first glance. You can see people everyday in the public parks using swords to practice their Tai Chi (dǎ tài jí quán, 打太极拳). I am pretty sure most of them couldn't hurt anyone, even if they were trying really hard.

The tai chi (tài jí quán, 太极拳) they practice here is not at all how I pictured this "martial art." Sure they use sword as props, but just as the swords and older people are harmless, so are the actions of tai chi (tài jí quán, 太极拳). It is mostly slow, small, stretching movements. They also walk on paths, sometimes barefoot on bumpy rocks.

In fact the practice that seems most dangerous about this group of exercises is when those who performing tai chi hit themselves. It can be a little alarming at first to see older people hitting themselves all over, mostly their arms and legs, but sometimes even their heads. However, they aren't really trying to hurt themselves, at least I don't think they are. I believe they view it as a massage and a way to increase their blood flow.

So don't be to alarmed if you are walking down the streets in town and see people carrying swords or hitting themselves; things are not always how they seem. It is important to remember that as someone who grew up in a different culture, things often have different meanings when properly interpreted in their own culture.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Train Themed Preschool Activity: Numbers or Ten Commandment Train

We're having a lot of fun with our train themed preschool activities this month. Trains are a great tool to help teach young boys about sequencing things correctly. We also did fun alphabet train activities that used these same methods. You could apply this idea to other things you want them to learn in a sequential order as well.

Ten Commandments or Numbers Train

  • Ten commandments train printed out and cut apart (or numbers written on flashcards and an picture of an engine)
Have the child arrange the numbers in the correct order; offer help as needed. Once they get all of the numbers in the correct order, they can put the engine at the end to pull the train!

Numbers Train Writing Practice

I thought these cute worksheets were a nice addition to our train themed reusable preschool book. Aaron and Andrew can write on them over and over again.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    Easy One-Dish Dinner: Pancit

    This is a easy Asian style dish that is really popular in the Philippines. It is similar to the fried noodles (chǎo miàn  炒面) that are popular in China as well, but there is less oil and more meat and vegetables in this version. When I was working in a hospital, I worked with Filipino nurses and love it when they brought this dish to share. We had a Filipino friend over recently, and I wanted to try making pancit for her. She thought this recipe was pretty similar to what they make back at her home.

    Easy Pancit Recipe

    • 1 (12 ounce) package dried rice noodles
    • 2–3 Tbsp oil
    • 1 onion (diced)
    • 1–3 cloves minced garlic
    • 2 chicken breasts (diced)
    • 1 small head cabbage, (thinly sliced)
    • 3 carrots (thinly sliced)
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 2 lemons cut into wedges (if desired for garnish)

    1. Soak your rice noodles in water, or boil briefly to soften. The noodles should still be a little al dente.
    2. In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil, and begin to cook the onion and garlic.
    3. Add in the chicken, and cook meat thoroughly.
    4. Then add the vegetables, frying just until they begin to soften.
    5. Last add the noodles, frying to mingle the flavors and finish cooking the noodles.
    6. Season with soy sauce and lemon wedges if desired.

      Friday, September 23, 2011

      Family Friday: This Week in Snapshots

      Aaron's new trick: Funny glasses
      Three boys climbing trees
      The boys wanted to "swim" in the bathtub
      Bathtub crayons
      Andrew's new trick: Stuffing toys in his shirt

      Wednesday, September 21, 2011

      Train Themed Preschool Activity: Alphabet Trains

      This is another fun activity that we have been doing as a part of our train unit study. I saw an idea for an Alphabet Train game a little while ago and thought it would be fun for Aaron. I modified the activity a little because just matching letters is not challenging for Aaron. Instead I just had him line up all of the letters in alphabetical order for the cars and then put an engine at the end to pull the alphabet train. In a preschool workbook that I got for a dime at a thrift store, I found premade alphabet flashcards that I cut apart and used a Thomas leftover from the boys birthday party for the engine, but you could just as easily draw your own on flashcards on small pieces of paper.

      Alphabetical Train

      • Alphabet flashcards
      • Picture of a train engine
      1. Give the child the alphabet flashcards and have them arrange them in the correct order.
      2. Once they get all of the cards in the right order, reward them by letting them put the engine at the end to pull the train.
      Help your child as needed. The first time we tried this Aaron (3 years old) got stuck a couple of times, so I would just start singing the ABC's up to the letter he had already placed, and he was always able to continue on his own from there. Aaron just did the alphabet train activity again today, while his brother was sleeping, and was able to do the whole thing by himself without any help. His train overlapped, curved around, and some of the letters were upside down, but he did correctly alphabetize them all on his own. A child who was just starting to learn the alphabet would obviously need quite a bit more help. Andrew (20 months) could find a couple of the letters he knew and hand them to Aaron but wasn't able to participate much beyond that.

      Alphabet Train Writing Practice

      • Alphabet train handwriting worksheets printed or drawn

      I also liked the alphabet train writing practice worksheets I found and added these to the boys reusable train themed clearbook. Aaron can practice tracing over the letters again and again, and Andrew can too, without needing to print new pages for them each day.

      Reading and comprehension are definitely some areas that Aaron excels in and writing and fine motor skills are much more work for him to do well. He is just getting good at trying to draw or write carefully and intentionally, whereas his little brother is already doing that and holding his pencil correctly (without any instruction). Aaron will probably need more time and practice at writing, and Andrew is taking more time and needing more practice to learn to read.

      Truly, kids learn so very differently, and it is neat to see how our boys learn in different ways. I think that providing multiple ways to learn the same concepts is very helpful to all children, and it can show you how each individual child learns best.

        Easy One-Dish Dinner: Fried Eggs and Tomatoes

        I am going to share a Chinese recipe with you today. This dish is always a favorite among foreigners living in China because it doesn't have any ingredients that you can't tell (and don't want to know) what they are. Simple and fast, this is one Chinese style dish we eat a lot in our house. I am going to share both how the Chinese people prefer to eat this dish and how I adapt it for when I make it for just our family.

        Fried Eggs and Tomatoes

        • oil
        • 10-12 eggs
        • 4-6 tomatoes (washed and diced)
        • salt to taste
        • cooked rice
        1. Put some oil in a wok or a large frying pan. If you really want it to taste authentic, add what you think is a ton of oil to fry eggs in and then double or triple that amount. I usually just add about 1-2 Tbsp when cooking this for our own family. 
        2. Turn on the heat. Again, if you want it to be authentic, you have to turn it up until it is smoking and you need to turn the hood vent on. But I usually fry over medium heat for just our family.
        3. Crack eggs into the pan and stir, cooking as you would regular scrambled eggs.
        4. When the eggs are almost finished cooking, add in the tomatoes and continue cooking until all the tomatoes are hot.
        5. Salt to taste (and msg if you want to be authentic).
        6. Serve over rice (only white rice to be authentic).
        We also prefer to eat fried eggs and tomatoes in a completely unauthentic way—we put them in tortilla shells for breakfast burritos. But we like them so much that we eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (though not in the same day), with plenty of ranch, please.

        DIY Mei Tai Baby Carrier

        Finished carrier hanging
        in our entry way
        I mentioned how we like the baby carriers here, and that I made two to carry our two boys. This is a pretty easy sewing project in general. However, positioning the straps so you don't sew them into a side seam can be a little tricky. I consulted this pretty comprehensive pattern and a few others and then worked out what worked well for us. I think these could also make a nice unique gift for new parents, if you knew the parents would like this type of carrier. Here are some general instructions about how I made these carriers and how you can make your own.*

        Mei Tai or Bēi Dài (背带) Baby Carrier

        • 1 1/2 yards sturdy woven fabric (60" width)
        • 12" square decorative fabric for pocket or applique (optional)
        • thread
        I cut 3 straps (11" by 60"
        and body (18" by 48")
        1. Lay out you fabric on a clean flat surface folded width wise. I wanted a finished body size of about 17" wide by 23" and 5" wide straps and used a 1/2" seam allowance.  I cut 3 strips 11" wide by 60" long (the whole length of my fabric). This is a good length of strap for me, and I am almost six feet tall. You may want shorter straps if you are shorter. I cut one of these strips in half (to make 2 strips 30" long) to use for the short waist straps. Then I cut a rectangle 18" by 24" doubled over, making it 18" wide by 48" long. I cut this with the 18" width on a fold so that I didn't have to sew the top of the carrier shut or worry about sewing the straps into the top seam. But if you don't want to cut on a fold, then just make sure to cut two pieces (18" by 24").
        2. Cut a 12" square of decorative fabric to use for an applique or pocket if you wish.
        3. If you wish to make a pocket, sew a double folded hem along the top of the fabric. Sew a single folded hem around the other three sides.  Center the decorative fabric on the right side of the front piece of body of the carrier. Pin in place and top stitch around the applique/pocket.
        4. For the straps, I folded the 11" strips in half right sides together and sewed lengthwise. I finished one end of each at a 45 degree angle to make a point. Turn straps right side out. I did not choose to top stitch the straps, but you could at this time to give them a more finished look.
        5. Now for the one tricky part: positioning the straps. Lay the front piece of your body fabric right side up. If using one piece for the body like I did, mark the fold line with pin and the whole piece flat. Position the straps at each corner—long finished side in towards the right side of the body, short unfinished end out (at least 3" to use for reinforcing the straps) at each corner. You may want to angle the straps like she shows, but I did this on one and sewed the other straight out perpendicular, and, personally, I didn't notice a huge difference either way.
          All straps pinned securely
        6. Fold and pin the long straps securely to the front of the carrier so that you don't sew them into the side seams. Place the back piece of the body right sides together with the front and pin around all side, leaving a gap for turning at the bottom. Sew around all sides (unless the top is a folded edge), leaving a gap for turning at the bottom. Make sure to stitch all the straps securely; back stitch over them, or sew additional seams to make sure they are secure.
        7. Turn right side out, and unfold the straps.
        8. Pin the bottom seams closed, and top stitch around the whole body. Sew reinforcing rectangles at each corner, over each end of the strap, and then stitch through the middle of the rectangle or make an X through each rectangle. You really want to make sure that the straps are really well reinforced and stitched securely to the body of the carrier!
          Body sides sewn securely
        9. Look over the whole project for any mistakes or weak areas that need attention. Trim any hanging threads, and you're done with the sewing!
        10. Learn how to tie your baby securely to yourself. I found the these instructions helpful. Now you're ready to go hiking with baby.

        *This is what worked well for me and my husband (who is the same height but with wider shoulders) and our two toddler boys. This doesn't mean this is the best design for every adult and baby combo out there. Personally, while I see these used all the time here for even really little babies, I don't think they are the best type of carrier for infants. I am sharing these instructions with the hope that it may be useful to someone wanting to make their own carrier, but use your own judgment as to what would be best for you and your baby. I am no baby wearing or baby carrier expert and take no responsibility for how you choose to make your carrier. Our children are obviously the most precious cargo there is, and we should take great care when transporting them.

        Monday, September 19, 2011

        Mandarin Mondays: 背带

        Here it is very common to see people wear a traditional Asian type of baby carrier to carry their babies around with them. Some women (particularly the poorer women like recyclers, street sellers, or small shop keepers) carry their babies all day. In some ways, I think these kids are the lucky ones, because while they may lack some physical niceties, they get to be with their mom far more than most of the rich kids who are often sent to live with relatives, even in other towns, while their parents spend all their time working to provide for their certain lifestyle.

        However, most people just use these types of carriers to go shopping or run other errands around town. Even though the roads and sidewalks here are much better than most of the smaller cities and villages, there are definitely still times when it is easier to carry little ones on your back instead of trying to maneuver the stroller. This becomes especially true if you want to ride bused or do any hiking off of paved roads.

         This types of carrier is most commonly known as mei tai in the west. This is a version of its Cantonese name miē dài (孭带). In Mandarin they call them bēi dài (背带). Here, they usually just have two really long straps at the top corners of a very large square of fabric.

        We'd been thinking about purchasing some for a while, but they are only sold in small markets, and the price they told me was more than we wanted to pay. Also, a baby carrier isn't something you want to buy the absolute cheapest version of either. So recently, we found the fabric market (they like to group almost all of a type of seller into one section of town here), and I made two myself. I made ours with two long and two short straps because I think it is more secure and spreads out the weight more. I also made sure to stitch the strap reinforcements a lot, a lot, to make sure that they would hold up with our big, sturdy boys.

        We went for a hike two weekends ago and the carriers worked great. We were able to take a really small bus to the edge of town and then hike up a path in the woods. Both of those things are next to impossible if you have to drag the stroller around. We're pretty happy with these carriers. Andrew was even so tired and comfortable on the way back that he fell asleep on the way back in the carrier.

        Sunday, September 18, 2011

        Easy One-Dish Dinner: Potato Soup

        This is a favorite around here, especially if I make it with purple potatoes. I hadn't heard of purple potatoes until recently, but they taste the same and the boys love the fun color. This tastes just as good with any other kind of potatoes though, so you can use whatever you have on hand. It just won't be as colorful.

        Potato Soup Recipe

        • 4-6 medium/large baking potatoes
        • water
        • 2 cups milk or yogurt
        • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
        • 1 tsp garlic powder (or one clove fresh chopped garlic)
        • salt to taste
        1. Wash, and chop potatoes into small pieces.
        2. Boil until soft.
        3. In the blender, first add some milk or yogurt and the seasonings. Then add about 1/2 of the potatoes and some of the water, and blend until smooth. if you didn't bother to peel your potatoes like me, don't worry. You can't even taste them at all once they are blended.
        4. Repeat until all of the potatoes are blended, and then stir together to distribute seasoning evenly.
        5. Top with cheese, crumbled bacon, peas, sour cream, or ranch if desired, but it is great plain too.

          Strange Sights: Purple Potatoes

          One of the things that keeps life interesting around here is that you never quite know what you are going to get. Sometimes this is because we can't read all of the characters yet, but sometimes you just get a surprise.

          Yesterday, I discovered that I had brought several purple potatoes, mixed in with the regular white potatoes. Now, I actually do know the character for potatoes, and it is even one I always check because I want to be sure I am paying the right price for the right thing. But I didn't even know there were such a thing as purple potatoes, let alone that they would just mix them all together and call them by the same name. However, that is what they do here, and I happened to pick some. From the outside I just thought they just had more dirt on them, but when I scratched through the skin I discovered that they are bright purple inside.

          Oh well, they taste the same as white potatoes and are supposed to have extra antioxidants (similar to blue and purple berries). The best part was that the boys liked the potato soup I made even better because it was purple. Aaron has never eaten so much potato soup before at one time.

          This was much better than the purple corn I tried on purpose, which turned out to be like really chewy field corn. I think I'll be buying purple potatoes again if I see them.

          Saturday, September 17, 2011

          Train Themed Preschool Activity: Thomas the Tank Engine Game

          The boys have been having a great time with our train unit study. This past week we got out the Thomas Board Game that I made for Aaron's birthday. The boys had a great time playing with all of the engines together and driving them around the Island of Sodor. The free printable game cards also emphasize the positive morals taught by these cute stories. Right now, they mostly just play with all of the pieces, although Aaron also likes to read the cards, but they are still having lots of fun with it.

          Friday, September 16, 2011

          Family Fridays: Aaron and Andrew's Corner

          Aaron and Andrew have always loved computers, and Aaron has become increasingly fascinated with them. He is teaching himself  how to type, and is also teaching himself to spell that way. He loves to write emails to the grandparents and search for Swagbucks with mom or dad.

          Lately, he has been asking Nate to teach him more and more things on the computer. Nate has been showing him some simple programming things, but Aaron really wants to make his own website, and one for Andrew too. So this week Nate helped Aaron set up his own blog: Aaron and Andrew's Corner. This way Aaron and Andrew could get a start on their own website before they are able to program a whole one on their own.

          Now the boys have their own little area to write and put up pictures that they drew. Aaron helped pick out the design, drew the background, and did all of the typing for the first couple of posts himself. I look forward to what Aaron, and later maybe Andrew, will do with their blog.


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