Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Party on the Farm

Every year when it comes time to plan my kids' birthday celebrations, I think "what can I do that will be the least amount of work for me and lots of fun for them." While that sounds rather lazy, I have found that everyone enjoys themselves more when no one is stressed. And by no one I mean me! If I can avoid a cooking, cleaning, decorating frenzy that causes me to spend less time with my kids and to snap at my husband then I go for it. I have also found that combining my kids' parties has been great. Matthew and Caroline's birthdays are a month apart, and they basically have the same friends. I don't know how this will work next year when Lily is old enough to have a party, but for this year it was great.

So back in December we bought our Christmas tree from a local farm in town. When I was talking to the family selling the trees, they mentioned that they use the farm for field trips and birthday parties. I filed this in the "less work more fun party" section of my brain, and a few months ago I emailed the wonderful Callie from Parker's Porkers and asked her for some more details. She invited me out to the farm to have a look around (during the day this time) and tell me how the party would go. I was sold!

We planned the party for Saturday afternoon, late enough that little ones could nap first and hopefully getting a little less sun than a morning or lunchtime party would bring. The weather on Saturday was absolutely gorgeous! The high was only in the low 80's and there was a nice breeze to keep us cool. We showed up at the farm at 2:00 to set up. The Parkers had already set out all the tables and chairs for us and had the place looking amazing. All I had to do was decorate and put out the food. For some reason every time I try to have a party outside I have serious issues with wind. The nice breeze that I was enjoying earlier in the day quickly became an annoyance when it kept blowing all the tablecloths off the tables! Thankfully I had remembered the same thing happening last year at the park so I brought a roll of packing tape and started taping those suckers to the tables. It took a few tries, but finally they were all secured. My parents arrived and helped set up the last few decorations and put out the food. Then our guests started arriving!

The kids spent the first bit of the party just running around, playing, swinging, and enjoying the space. We thought that it would be smart to go ahead and eat before we got into the dirt and animals section of the party, so once most people had arrived we ate some farm treats.

Then it was time to feed the animals! Callie reminded the kids of a few safety issues, then took them over to the cow pasture. There were only three cows that I could see, way far off. Callie told the kids that to get the cows to come over they start yelling "Come on girls". Soon there were 20-something kids lined up along the fence calling "Come on girls, come on girls" over and over. At first it didn't seem like anything was happening. Then all of sudden one cow starts moving, then another, and another, and soon there are cows appearing out of nowhere and running across the pasture to the kids. One of the funniest things I've seen! There were probably about 20 cows and a few calves all lined up along the fence, and the kids were throwing their cow food to them.

When the cow food was gone we headed over to the pigs. Caroline had been talking about the pigs ever since we visited the farm to see if we wanted to have their party there. They have several very large pigs, and two different litters of piglets. One litter was only a week old so they stayed penned up, but the four month old pigs got to come out and run around with the kids. They loved it! Some of the kids ran away from the pigs, and some ran after them trying to catch them. Not so shockingly, Matthew was one of the kids running away and Caroline and Lily went right for them.

Next on the agenda was a hayride, with a stop to climb on the tractor on the way over. Matthew of course loved sitting on the tractor and pretending to drive it. We piled all the kids into the hay and the adults sat along the edges of the trailer as we ventured to a farm on the other side of the street. We drove around in the fields and then stopped to feed some chickens! The kids all got a bag of chicken feed, complete with dried worms! Matthew didn't like them, and wouldn't touch them until I assured him that they were dead and weren't going to move. I still think he dumped all the worms on the ground when I wasn't looking.

We rode the hayride back to the farm and all the kids gathered around a giant wooden table to plant seeds! Callie had different types of vegetable and flower seeds for them to choose. Each kid got a small pot and learned how to stick their finger in to the first knuckle, drop in their seeds, and then cover them up. Matthew chose to plant corn and Caroline planted zinnias. We now have about 10 plants in our "table garden" that we actually need to transfer over to our yard. That is one of our summer projects. But, back to the party - now that the dirt and animals section of the party was complete, we had all the kids wash their hands and head into the porch for cake!

Everyone sang to Matthew and Caroline, and then enjoyed some delicious cupcakes with red icing. Most kids looked like they were bleeding from the mouth and their clothes weren't much better. You're welcome parents :) By the time cake was finished, so was the party. Even though we were there until almost seven talking with the Parkers and cleaning up! Our kids had a great time, and we hope that our guests did too!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Caroline is 3!

My sweet Caroline,

You are so excited to finally be three! I must admit that in my mind you've already been three for the past several months, because you have been talking and acting like a three-year-old for that long! A few months ago you memorized your birthday, and you like to randomly tell me what it is all the time. "Hey Mommy, my birthday is April 27th." This is usually followed by you telling me that Matthew's birthday is May 26th, asking when Lily's birthday is, asking when mommy and daddy's birthdays are, and then asking if our house has a birthday and what it is. You love to talk about how big you are, and now that you're three you are big enough to do anything! You tell me all the time how big and strong you are and show me your muscles.

Your favorite things to play with right now are your baby dolls. I think it has to do with your new sister and the fact that three of our friends just had babies that you love to hold. You are going to make such a wonderful mommy someday! For your birthday you asked for a stroller with a hood (a pram) and a highchair. You were so excited to get both of them! Most of the time you put your babies to bed. You tell me that you have lots of beds for your babies, and we have to whisper when they are "sweeping". After about 30 seconds it's usually time for them to wake up, and then you pick them up with their blankets (that you've usually wrapped around their heads as well as their bodies), rock them, and either feed them or change their diaper. Right now all of your babies have diapers on no matter what size they are, and most of them are over their clothes. If I ask to hold one of your babies you tell me that I can but that I have to sit on the couch. Sometimes I can convince you that it will be safe for me to hold your baby while I sit on the floor. You also like to check on your babies and tell me that they're crying and the need you. Today we were swimming, and all of sudden you disappeared into the house. I asked you what you were doing and you told me that you were checking on your babies to make sure they were still sleeping.

Another one of your favorite things is coloring and art. Many times I find you in your room with the door shut, just sitting at your little desk and coloring. You are really good at coloring in the lines already! But we do need to work on getting a little less marker on your clothing. Pretty much every shirt in your closet has marker on it somewhere. You also love painting, stamps, cutting and gluing, and drawing with chalk. If you can create it, you're good!

I also love the way you talk! One of your favorite phrases is "That's why". You use every time you are explaining something or telling me information. For example, "I can climb all by myself, that's why I'm big." Or "I want a snack, that's why I'm hungry." The other day you came out from your nap and we were cuddling on the couch and you said "I'm not a dog." I looked at you and said what?! You said "I'm not a dog, that's why you don't pat me." I died laughing! Apparently you didn't like that I was patting your leg!

You started going to school this year, and you absolutely love it! You get sad that you can't go every day, especially since Matthew does. You started the year in Ms. Jodi's class, and your favorite part by far was playing with Jack. He is definitely your best buddy. Most places we go you ask if Jack is going to be there. You always give him a huge hug when you see him and again when you say goodbye. I love listening to the two of you talk. You are like little adults having your own conversation in your own little world!  I think you tend to gravitate more toward boys when you choose friends. In addition to Jack you love to play with Joseph and with Matthew's friends, and when I ask you who your friends are at school they are all boys. I think having a big brother has influenced you already!

It has been so much fun watching you become a big sister this year. You love Lily so much! We lovingly call you Elmyra because of how much you love her. Your love pats on her back are more like slaps, and sometimes your hugs seem like they're going to squeeze her eyeballs out! But you are so helpful with her. When she cries you bring her something to make her feel better or tell me what you think she needs. I love that you call her Lilyboo, even when you're mad at her.

There are so many things that I am proud of you for. One of them is how generous you are. You always share your toys or your food with Matthew and Lily. Whenever Matthew asks if he can use something you respond with "sure!" You even let him play with your birthday presents right after opening them! You are always willing to be my helper. You bring me diapers, let Cajun out, put away your laundry, and clean up messes. You actually really enjoy cleaning! Sometimes I find you sitting in the bathroom just cleaning the floor or the counter with a wash cloth.

While most of the time you are a sweet and pleasant little cutie, there are few things that you don't enjoy. One of them is wearing anything that might resemble a dress. If you had your way, you would wear one of four t-shirts (mickey, bunny shirt, gabba, and gator) and your comfy shorts every day. For Easter I didn't even attempt to make you a dress, I made you a shirt to wear with pants. You still weren't too keen on it. Falling in line with your tomboy dressing habits, you also don't let me do anything with your hair. You are excited to get your first haircut, but you do not want a ponytail, braid, headband, or anything in your hair. Sleep is another area that is not your favorite. You've started being scared at night, and don't want to be alone. You also don't like taking naps (you never have really) and if I want you to sleep I have to lay with you and rub your arm until you fall asleep.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Activity Boxes

With summer approaching and my kids outgrowing their afternoon nap, I decided I need to gather some independent activities so that I can maintain my sanity. I had heard people talk about quiet boxes or busy boxes, so I did a little research on Pinterest to get some ideas for mine. I wanted to make one set for Matthew and another for Caroline. I made a list of everything I could think of that was independent, rather small, and not messy! Then I went on a scavenger hunt around the house and in the garage where all my teaching materials are to gather supplies. I was surprised by how many things I found! I sorted the activities into categories: math, language, problem solving, art, skill, and fun. My plan was to put 4-5 activities in each box that all had a different focus.

At this point the only thing I was missing were the boxes to store everything in, so I made a quick trip to Wal-Mart and found some for less than $4 each. They had exactly ten, perfect! I put the boxes together and had exactly enough activities. I plan to switch things out every month, so I'll be looking for some additional activities at Target and the dollar store over the next few weeks. I also found several learning activities that I can make myself during my internet searching, so I'll be getting to work on those too. I was so excited to show the kids the boxes that I was actually hoping they wouldn't need a nap the next day! Well, Caroline did but Matthew was still awake after 20 minutes in his bed so I introduced him to his first box!

I showed him all the activities that were in his first box and showed him how to use each one. Most of them he was familiar with, but I wanted to make sure my expectations were clear for his activity time. This box had a dry erase board and markers (art), lacing cards (skill), pattern blocks and cards (math), and a set of rhyming picture flash cards (language). I thought for sure he would go for the dry erase board or pattern blocks first. When I went in his room to check on him a few minutes later he was totally engrossed in the rhyming cards! And of course, this is what my type A, meticulous, perfectionist, adorable son was doing.

Upon seeing his perfect piles of cards I asked him what he was doing. This is what he told me: "The middle one is the cards I haven't done yet, this one (right) is the ones I did, this one (left) is the ones I skipped because they were hard, and this one (bottom) is the one I'm working on right now. Gosh how I love that kid! He did end up playing with the pattern blocks as well before Caroline woke up and nap time ended. I'm excited to see how she likes hers this week!