Dec 8, 2013

DIY Bookplate - free download

As you are well aware, we are closing in quickly to Christmas. I have an extremely short list of presents left to buy. I will actually have to go to the stores for these last handful rather than purchasing online in my pjs. Online shopping has been wonderful this year!

One of the gifts the boys will get each Christmas and birthday without fail are books. So, I again made bookplate stickers to add to the books. I love knowing who gave each book to the boys and I think it will be really sweet when they are older. I have a feeling that there will be two things I save until I have grandkids- books (that aren't torn to pieces!) and their wooden train set. So I think it will be fun to look back at the books in 30 years with the stickers on them!

Here are a couple I have made for this year. Feel free to save these and print onto Avery name stickers to use in your own library. Enjoy!

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Nov 12, 2013

Activities to do with Those Cute Little Babies!

So, did anyone see me guest post over at Domestic Princess in Training about a week ago? Well, in case you missed it, I chatted about ways to have fun with your little baby. If you are keeping count, I have three baby boys (I can call them babies forever, right?) so I have had a tad bit of experience with trying to entertain a baby... So here is what I shared last week!

Hello to all you fabulous Domestic Princess In Training readers! My name is Jen and I am a crafty momma to three young boys. Well, there isn't much time to be crafty between taking care of a 4 year old, a 3 year old, and a 9 month old, but you catch my drift. Thank you so much for having me today, Kendra!

I love my babies more than any in the world. Don't get me wrong.  However, between the time when they are about 3 months old until about 10 months old I just kind of look at them and think 'What in the world do I do with you now?'. This is about the time when they are awake longer than they are asleep, which at first seems like it will be SO much fun! Until you realize, ummm...babies can't do much. Oh, you can start holding a rattle? Awesome! Oh, you can start getting the rattle to your mouth without hitting your eye first? Awesome! Oh, you can hold your head up during tummy time without crying two minutes into it? Even more awesome! (are you catching my sarcasm?) I love love LOVE watching them learning new things every day and how all of a sudden they have acquired new fabulous skills, but sometimes I admittedly get slightly bored.

So, today I am going to share some fun things you can do with your baby so that if nothing else, it helps Mommy from going stir crazy!

Read, Read, READ
Instill the love of reading early! My oldest son loves to read and we started literally the first day he was home from the hospital. Once John was old enough to start grabbing books out of my hand to chew on them, I would give him one book to chew on while we read another book that I held. We have books in pretty much every room of the house for the kids so if we need a change of pace we just grab a couple books and start reading.

Brad is reading to John on his first day home from the hospital!
When the babies are young, don't feel like you have to read the actual words. Just point out one or two pictures on each page and move along to the next page. If you can, try to find books that are pretty simple and not too much illustration. You can also talk about how you read left to right and how to turn the pages in order. Dr. Jim shares tons of ideas HERE for early literacy...he is AWESOME!!

Also, check into story times at your local library. I have been to about a dozen different libraries between all the boys and some are drastically better than others. If you don't like the one closest to you, check into any other libraries within driving distance and see if you like those any better. Most libraries have story times specifically for babies and the ones I like the best do lots of singing, baby exercise, and rhyming along with reading an actual book. Again, if you start early, the babies will learn how to behave during story time and will enjoy going each week!

(**Shameless Plug** I helped throw a cute book themed baby shower for my sister. Check it out HERE and you can buy invitations HERE!)

'Painting' with Baby Food
Once your baby is old enough to eat baby food (about 4-6 months), you can let your baby 'paint' with baby food. This is just some fun sensory play for them. Put them in their high chair and dump some baby food on the tray. Show the baby how to 'finger paint' on their tray with the food. They will most likely just play with the food and smear it around, but I bet they will enjoy their first painting experience! I love letting the kids do this (even when they are much older using pudding) because it is ok if they eat the 'paint'!

Diaper Picasso
Everyone does art projects using hand prints and foot prints. But what about a tushie print?? I posted about how I did this with Matthew HERE.

Sing and Dance
Another way I fixed a little boredom is by putting on a kids CD with catchy songs. Then I would just lay the baby on a blanket on the floor and sing along to the music, adding silly arm movements. Sometimes I just did the arm movements and sometimes I moved the baby's arms along with the music. I checked out CDs from the library and if I liked them I most certainly did not ever copy the songs onto my computer. Never. John's daycare used to send home a CD twice a year with songs they used in school and they are still my favorite CDs to use with Thomas now. I also LOVE Laurie Berkner so check out her songs too!

I would also carry the baby as I danced around the room. They always like that, but they were all SO big that I couldn't do it for very long. My arms would eventually break off. :)

Take a House Tour
So, you know how you are supposed to always be talking to the baby? So much that you sound like a crazy person talking all the time? Well, sometimes I would just carry the baby around the house and give them a little tour. It was a lot of 'this is the dining room where we eat our holiday dinners', or 'this is the messy closet under the stairs that really needs to be cleaned out', and 'hey! look at this laundry that is piled up in the laundry room!'. Sometimes just having a change of scenery is all we need to wake ourselves up a little!

Take a Nature Tour
My dad's favorite thing to do with the babies is to take them outside and look at nature. He would just literally walk around the yard pointing out plants, trees, grass, bugs, etc. He would take their hands and have them feel the bark on the tree and the leaves as he talked about them. He has done this with all three of my kids, along with all of my nieces. It is so cute to see!

Crawl around with Baby
For some reason, all three of my boys have LOVED if I crawl with them. They crack up every time. I can pretend to chase them, pretend they are chasing me, or pretend to race. Any way I do it, they have a huge smile on their face and they let out huge squeals of laughter.

Pillow Mountain
Once baby can crawl (and even older kids like this), make a 'Pillow Mountain'. We pile all the pillows we can find, including couch cushions, and climb up and down the mountain. Obviously I would only use 2 or 3 pillows for a young baby, but the toddlers can handle all the pillow you have. The fun will last until someone gets hurt. :) I posted more about our fun times HERE.

The Man in the Mirror
My babies have loved looking at their reflection. So when we get bored, we head to a mirror for a little fun. Sounds boring, but the babies love it. My favorite thing is watching Thomas look at me and then look at my reflection, and then back to me. It is like he is trying o figure out how they are two of me all of a sudden! When they are older, the boys love putting on hats, scarves, and gloves in the mirror. Using the mirror is also a good way to stop them from crying if they get hurt or are a little fussy.

Head to the Mall
When John (my oldest) was a tiny baby, my big weekly event was to go to a new mom playgroup, go walk around the mall (which was across the street), and treat myself to lunch in the food court. I don't think I went out any other day that week because I hadn't yet figured out how to take a 4 week old nursing baby out of the house easily! As he got older and I added another kid to the gang, I loved taking the boys to the mall. The malls near me have relatively nice play areas that the boys love. They are padded so I wasn't worried about the boys getting too hurt and babies can sit or crawl around easily. We would sometimes to eat lunch there too or sometimes head back home. I hardly ever shopped with the boys (they have no patience for it!) so it was just a nice morning out without spending too much money.

John made a new friend at the mall- she loved him!
Some other random ideas:
- take a walk around the block (I even picked up running with Matthew because he didn't mind relaxing in the jogging stroller for 30 minutes!)
-sit outside on a blanket in the nice weather
-go to the park and let the babies swing for a bit
-put on a Baby Einstein DVD (which I did sparingly but John loved them!)
-play with flash cards
-teach them sign language (John loved learning to sign and Matthew didn't care for it)
-put them in their bouncy seat and let them watch you bake/cook and you can talk about what you are doing
-join a playgroup for babies
-walk around places like Target so the babies can see all the bright colors (don't spend too much money!)
-look at big construction trucks if they are doing work near by (the boys loved watching trucks if there was construction in our neighborhood)
-put plastic ring toys in and out of old wipes case

Check out these two sites for tons more fun and easy ideas:

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties

Nov 7, 2013

'Put it on the list'

My kids are pretty typical in that when we go shopping and happen to pass a toy, they inevitably say 'I want this!'. Or if they see a commercial for the latest and greatest toy, I hear 'I want that!'. They have lots and lots of wants and very very little needs!

Thankfully we haven't had any major meltdowns yet, or even any small meltdowns. However to avoid the possibility of a public meltdown I have started just saying 'Ok- we can add it to your Christmas or Birthday list'. That amazingly seems to appease the boys!

When we get home if they still remember what toy they wanted (and I don't pry, I just wait to see if they say something) then I will write it down on my list. Or if they were eyeing something actually worthwhile (which is a little more rare instance) then I jot it down so I remember for when I go shopping for gifts. As you can see from the above list, I don't write down hardly anything they say but they don't know that!

Now that the commercials are really starting to flow with toys, I hear 'Can we add this to my list? and add that too!'. So we also have a discussion that even if it on our list, Santa will pick out only a couple things that he likes best to give for Christmas. They know they aren't going to receive ALL the things on their list.

My 'List' is also where I jot down ideas for all the usual people I am gifting- my husband, nieces, nephews, sisters, etc. I also write down things that I want because when my birthday rolls around my sisters will ask 'What do you want for your birthday?' and I can NEVER think of ANYTHING I want. So, maybe my list is super boring (such as a new set of knives or candles) but at least I have an answer for them. :)

Honestly, having 'The List' has been such a huge help when shopping, watching TV, or flipping through catalogs that come in the mail. It is so nice to just say 'We'll put it on the list' and that is basically the end of discussion. No begging, whining, pleading, or crying. So far it is working for us!

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Nov 5, 2013

My First Photo in Print!

About a month or so ago I took a couple newborn pictures for my sister-in-law for her baby announcement. She was very brave for trusting me on this since I am still learning how to use my camera. I can usually get the settings to work out ok but actually composing a photo is quite another thing. I gave no promises to how good the pictures would actually look but at least I would try.

About a week after our 'photo shoot' I got her announcement in the mail. My heart literally sank when at first glace I thought 'Oh, she got someone else to redo her pictures of Elias'. Then I realized, ummmm, hello, that was the photo I took! Little 'ol me! I was so excited it turned out so well when she got it printed out!

Ok, so maybe the title 'My First Photo in Print' is a big of an exaggeration since I print lots of pictures and made my own announcements with pictures I took. I am not professing I am a fabulous photographer, but I border on the decent side of the spectrum. Either way I am proud of myself and it is fun to see my photo 'in print'.

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Oct 4, 2013

Bra Burn

Last Friday was my last time to nurse a baby...for the REST OF MY LIFE! While I am a little sad, I know had a good 9 month run with this sweet baby, and I am mostly excited to not wear those ugly, uncomfortable nursing bras! I nursed three babies and in all that time I could not find nursing bras to fit me and have any kind of support for larger boobs. So, I am about to do a big ol' Bra Burn. Anyone want to join me?!

My husband took this picture of me on one of the last 'daytime' nursings a couple weeks ago. I love it!

Sidenote- to any nursing moms out there- don't let this picture fool you. I usually wear a nursing tank top around the house since it is so hot in Texas so Brad had to bring up a shirt for me to put on before the picture. I also usually am catching up on facebook on my phone or looking on the ipad. There is only so much 'bonding' and 'gazing at the baby' I can handle...and that period of time ended about 8.5 months ago. Right about about the time T-Bone wanted to nurse every 2-3 hours and I decided flipping through Pinterest was more entertaining than watching a baby nurse for 30 minutes. However, Thomas was the funniest and went through a phase of grabbing my face and neck while he nursed. He just liked to hold on which was cute until he started pinching my throat- that was awkward. :)

I saw a post on Pinterest about getting fitted for a bra. I thought I would give this measuring a try because I am super busty and would love a great fitting bra. After using her guide, I went shopping and found that it was a pretty accurate way of measuring. I used to think I was a 38DD or even a 38DDD. However, I am actually a 34G! Holy Canoli! Thankfully Soma had a great bra for big boobed gals like myself and I am in bra heaven. I have never felt so lifted and supported!

So, if you want to join me in the nursing bra burn, follow the smoke to my backyard!!

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Oct 1, 2013

Curtain Rod Trick

I am almost done with my formal living room and am so excited to share how it is turning out! Today will be a little sneak peek at how I modified some store-bought curtain rods.

The window in the room is a bay window of sorts. Of course, it isn't a normal bay window that I could easily find a curtain rod. It has an extra set of walls, if that makes any sense at all! My fabulous designer (my sister who you can find on facebook HERE) said I just needed two panels for the window treatments. So I found some reasonably priced panels online at West Elm.

When it was time to hang the curtains, we bought a gold-ish rod from Home Depot and some plastic tubing from the plumbing section. Brad measured the lengths we needed and cut the rods to size. To connect the two pieces so they would make the bend for the bay window, he put a piece of plastic tubing in each rod.

 No measuring for the angles needed!

I like to make sure Brad knows that I 'saved' us tons of money by modifying the rods ourselves. Let's not think about the fact that I am saving us money by not buying more expensive panels or custom rods. It just sounds better when I say to Brad 'I saved us money on this purchase!'.

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Sep 27, 2013

Kids and Food Allergies

If you are new to the blog, my sweet son John has an egg allergy. Thankfully his isn't severe (he can eat baked goods with eggs in them like cookies and cake) but he still can't touch or eat raw or cooked eggs and we carry an Epi-Pen with us at all times. His allergy is obviously easy to keep up with when he is with us, but my biggest stress is him being away from me and people feeding him food without knowing about his allergy! Talk about Mommy Worry!! 

So, in honor of John, today we have a guest writer, Claire Edmundson, who will be sharing a little abotu food allergies with kiddos! 

Healthy Tums, Happy Moms
Every mom likes to see their kids enjoy their food, finishing off what is on their plates and leaving the table happy and healthy. We know that that kids have their fads, eating something solidly for six months and wondering how they don’t go off the taste of it, only to then decide they don’t like that anymore and won’t eat it – usually within two days of our having bought a month’s supply and put it in the freezer. But how do we please our kids and keep them fed when we discover they have an allergy?
Responding to Allergy
Identifying that one of our kids has an allergy and then the sometimes long road to figuring out which food, or foods, they are allergic to is one story. The way in which we have to respond to the allergy and change our lifestyle to accommodate it is another.
Food allergies in children are surprisingly common. It is estimated that 8% of children in the US have a food allergy; with the most common being peanuts, milk or eggs. This is costing the nation almost a staggering $25 billion dollars a year in medical expenses, specialist foods and changes to diet, as well as working lifestyle changes.
On the Bright Side
Changing the way we cook and serve food because of an allergy can actually be good for all the family. Not only do we eat more healthily, but the family gets to spend more time together. Licensed Prescriptions informs us that although involving our kids in cooking has been something of a dying art in recent years, doing this makes for an interest in good, healthy food and teaches our kids a great skill for when they are older. Going back to scratch with our cooking might seem like a huge deal when we have gotten used to depending on convenience foods from the stores; but cooking from all the basic ingredients gives us the chance to try out new foods, put different ingredients together to come up with some amazing meals that all the family will enjoy and mean healthier, happier tums. Just discovering new recipes from books or online is an activity which can involve all the family; and getting the kids joining in with recipe hunting can be turned into a great game.
Getting Down to Basics
Without going into the maze of dos and don’ts when it comes to our child eating outside home, whether at school, with the child minder or at friends’ houses, adjusting our lives to avoid any chance of setting off an allergic reaction starts at home, right in the kitchen. There is a real danger of cross-contamination if we have a child with a severe allergy. For this reason, many parents choose to get rid of all foodstuffs in the house which contain the allergen.
The shopping list is one of the first things to get a makeover. Off come all the foods which our kid has an allergy to, along with any foods which might possibly contain even a hint of the forbidden food. All of a sudden, we have very little left – especially if we are dealing with an egg or wheat intolerance.
The cupboards get cleared out too. A great way of disposing of all those packs and cans which are no longer safe to be eaten is to box them all up and give them to your local church for distribution or to a local charity or food bank.
A major shop is then in store as you have to re-stock your shelves and cupboards with foodstuffs that are safe for your family to eat.
Substituting Foodstuffs
Thankfully there are substitutes we can use for many, if not all, the ingredients which now have to be left out of our cooking.
When we want to cook food which normally needs eggs, for example, we can sometimes use egg replacement products, which should not be confused with egg substitute products as these are aimed at people with cholesterol problems and DO contain egg. Egg replacement products, often bought in powder form, can be used in recipes where the eggs act as a leavening or binding agent. Whatever we buy, it is really important to read the label when we pick it up off the shelf to make sure it is completely safe. Xanthan gum can also be used to bind and add texture. For a child with a corn allergy in addition to egg, Xanthan gum should not be used as it is derived from and fed on corn sugar. Where we need to use egg to glaze foods before cooking, using melted margarine is a great substitute.
 For wheat substitutes, we have a number of different alternatives. Depending on what we want to cook, we can either choose to use a single ingredient substitute such as rice flour, potato starch or rolled oats; or combine different non-wheat flours, such as rice flour, oat flour and barley flour for better results.
With so much information available to us and support in changing our cooking and eating habits, having an allergy in the house can mean a real improvement in the quality of the food we eat and the health, not just of our kids, but the whole family.

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!

Sep 22, 2013

My Only Regret...

This weekend I decided to pull out John's baby pictures and make a photo book. Let's not worry about the fact he is turning five in a three months. We will also ignore the fact I made the book only because I bought a Groupon for it and was already caught up on the most recent set of pictures since Matthew has been born. I think I have been putting it off because I look at his sweet baby pictures and have to face my biggest regret since he was born- I didn't take good pictures of him! (Can we also take a moment to realize how lucky my family is that this is my one and only regret for the past 5 years?!)

I had a point & shoot camera when John was born. So I have tons and tons of pictures, but I bet only half are actually pretty decent. (Note to Brad- of course I deleted all those other pictures. Promise.)

Sometimes I got lucky and got a good picture, but it is a pretty good bet that anything indoors isn't frame worthy. Outdoors usually fared much better. However, focus wasn't always happening apparently!

Hey, sometimes the outdoor pictures looked crappy too! Awesome.

So, here are the indoor beauties. Note the dark backgrounds with messiness & chaos everywhere. Not pretty!

A lucky indoor shot since it was by the window.

More dark backgrounds and mess everywhere.


So, here's the point. Pictures are so important to me. I love taking them, love looking at them, and love sharing them. I was so envious of people who have these wonderfully perfect photos of their children. I really wanted those photos to treasure of my own children. I had been wanting a really nice camera for a long time. Probably since before the kids were born. So I convinced Brad to let us get one from my parents as our Christmas gift last year. This was by far the best present I have ever gotten. (Thanks Mom & Dad!). 

The pictures were a million times better but again I had a realization. I wanted professional-looking pictures of the boys (and the rest of the family) yet I had no idea how to use my camera. Now, I didn't want posed family shots. I wanted to document our every day lives as a family. This meant taking pictures inside, with low light, and with moving subjects. Unless I got a job soley to pay for a private photography to follow me around all day (which would be AWESOME)  I figured the only way I would get those precious pictures of my sweet boys is if I learned how to take them myself.

Enter the fabulous Liz Labianca of Liz Labianca Photography. She took our family pictures twice and I love love love her work. She luckily loves to share her passion and a couple months ago I took a photography session with her at my house. I hardly ever spend lots of money on myself, but this was the best money I have spent in a long time. 

I now know how to take pictures in the manual setting on my camera. Yes, the MANUAL setting! That is big time, guys! Even better, I can take pictures of MOVING BOYS.

Lookie here- I can take pictures of silly boys INDOORS! Did I finally learn to clean up my house? Nope. But you can't tell anymore! Double Bonus!

Even though my photos aren't perfect and I have an infinite amount more to learn, I love these photos. Of course, I am biased!

I love seeing my sweet boy, knowing I will treasure these pictures forever.

Most of all, I am so proud of myself for figuring out a way to get what I wanted for our family. I wanted beautiful photos to remember these days and times that are literally flying by in the blink of an eye. The photos may not be beautiful to anyone besides myself, my husband, or our family, but I am ok with that. I am not trying to become a professional by any stretch of the word.

I always looked at Liz's photos of her daughter on facebook and thought 'Liz is so lucky that she is a photographer and will have such beautiful pictures of her children. Her daughter is so lucky to have gorgeous pictures from her childhood'.

I can now feel the same about myself. I am lucky have these special pictures of my favorite boys. Brad may think we have too many of these special pictures but I can't part with any of them!

And I truly hope the boys will realize how special the pictures are when they are older and can look back at the bond and love they have built between brothers.

Now it is time to start saving up those Groupons for photobooks because I have a couple thousand pictures a year to print. (Brad, hopefully you didn't read that last sentence. And if you did, I hope you didn't have a heart attack).

Please be a fan of lil Mop Top on facebook!! I link up to these parties!