April 17, 2014

Family Happenings

I just wanted to post some pictures of what we've been up to lately, for my family and friends who are interested. :)

We bought a pet rat! The kids built a lego house for her to play in, although usually she stays in her cage. The boys wanted to name her Oreo, but Maren was thinking Eleanor, so naturally we named her Eleanoreo. It was the only logical compromise. The kids love playing with her and giggle when she crawls on them.

We bought the kids a geodome for Christmas and finally got around to putting it up. The kids have loved playing on it! They use it for all sorts of imaginative things and it has been a great addition to our backyard.

 Joshua wore out his shoes.

We had such a fun spring break! It involved lots of eating out (mommy's favorite) and a trip up to Cincinnati for a Reds game. We waited out the 4 hour rain delay in a nearby aquarium. Fun times.

The kids have started soccer. Nathan still is trying to figure out what he's supposed to do when he's on the field; right now he thinks it involves throwing sticks and digging in the dirt. But he LOVES telling everyone he's on a soccer team!

Another thing Nathan loves these days is puzzles!!! He did three 60 piece puzzles the other day while I was doing schooltime with the older boys.  I was very impressed that he could sit still and concentrate on them for so long. He's such a cute little guy.

April 16, 2014

Coconut Chocolate Easter Eggs

I tried something new this year, just for fun. I had some dark chocolate leftover from Christmas and Valentine's, and decided to try making some festive eggs for Easter.

I used my coconut filling recipe, but when it came time to shape them, I formed them into the shape of a flattened egg instead of a ball.  After I dipped them, I drizzled some white chocolate on top.

I think they turned out pretty cute. I put each one in a plastic bag and tied it with a ribbon to give out as gifts.

Here's the easy peasy recipe:

1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
12 large marshmallows
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cups macaroon coconut (I use Bob's Red Mill shredded coconut)

Heat syrup, marshmallows, and salt until marshmallows are melted.  Add vanilla and pour over macaroon coconut.  Stir well.  Let stand until cool and stiff enough to roll into balls (or in this case, eggs). Let dry before dipping. 

March 24, 2014

Teaching Kids to Build a Happy Home

There are times when my kids seem to delight in pushing each other's buttons. There's name calling, tattling, hitting, and lots of crying. It drives me crazy and I end up sending them to their rooms for hours just so I can escape it.

And why am I thinking about this? Could it be because spring break is coming up next week and with Maren home the dynamics of daily life change and I'm worrying about if I can stay sane?


Really, my kids are pretty good, but sometimes we have bad days. When the kids are too much in the habit of treating each other poorly, I know it's time to intervene. That's when I bring out our "Happy Home".

a finished happy home from 2010

I posted about this when I first started the blog, but it was a long time ago and I thought I should repost it, because it's one of my favorite incentives and has worked so well to help get the kids back in the habit of treating each other kindly.

Our "Happy Home" is made out of Lego bricks. I build a house then take off some bricks - maybe about 50 - and put them in a jar by the house. When I first introduced the "Happy Home", I told the kids that it represents our family. Whenever they treat each other kindly by sharing, giving someone else the first turn, complimenting someone, helping someone with chores, or showing some other kindness, it makes our home a better place and builds up our home. In contrast, when we fight, call names, tattle, and are selfish it tears down our home and makes it a sadder place to be.

starting happy home

Our goal is to build up our happy home and if they accomplish this we have some type of predetermined reward, such as going to a movie together or one of those pizza and game places. I give the kids a deadline - usually 4 weeks - and tell them we are going to try and build up our home by then. If I notice the kids doing something nice, I tell them to go put a brick on the home. The kids are not allowed to tell me they did something nice and should get to put a brick on, BUT they are allowed to tell me if one of the other kids does something nice for them and the other kid should get to put on a brick. Does that make sense? So they can't nominate themselves to put on a brick, but they can nominate a sibling who did something nice. This helps them focus more on their siblings and also it's an acceptable form of tattling.

a finished home from 2013. 

When there is hitting or name calling or other offenses that make our home not a happy place, the offending child or children have to take bricks off the home. I make them take a brick off for tattling too. (Tattling is defined in our family as telling me something to try and get someone else in trouble. It doesn't count as tattling if someone is about to hurt themselves or others and the telling is to help keep people safe.)

It's IMPORTANT not to be angry when you ask someone to take a brick off the house. It is much more effective if you can show sorrow instead. Instead of yelling at them for doing something mean, say something like "Oh, I'm so sorry you chose to say that to your brother! I'm going to have to ask you to take off a brick because that is not how we want to treat each other in this family. I am sad that our house is not growing very fast. I  hope we can start doing a better job building it up so we can get our reward." Easier said then done, I know. I may have had to take off a brick or two from our happy home  for yelling as well. Also, time out in rooms after an especially bad moment works well for us to separate kids and let them settle down before interacting with each other again.

This is a great way to get the kids focused on creating positive interactions with each other. For the first couple weeks I usually have to remind the kids that I'm watching them for opportunities to put bricks on, and we keep the happy home in the kitchen so that it reminds us of our goal. After a while, however, they get in the habit of helping and saying nice things and it makes our house a much nicer place to be. We don't do this all the time, but it is a great thing to pull out every now and then when needed.

Are there any tricks you have to help your kids get along? I'd love to hear about them! I'm always looking for new ways to teach the kids.

March 22, 2014

Pirate Birthday Party for Nathan (age 4)

In blogging about the parties from this past weekend, I realized I never posted about Nathan's party back in September! So here it is, a bit late. 

This kid is too cute. And so spoiled.

Funny thing about Nathan is that he always wants to be the bad guy; he always pretends to be Captain Hook, or Darth Vader, or a scary dragon when the kids play together. So pirates were right up his alley. (we're hopeful he'll grow out of this stage eventually.)

I have done pirate parties before, and you can check out the one for Joshua from several years ago, but to make things a bit more interesting we did completely different games this time around.

When guests arrived, we handed them a pirate patch and hat and balloon sword. We then played "Captain Hook says". Whoever was Captain Hook got to hold the hook and tell the other pirates what to do in a pirate voice.

Then we did some dancing to pirate songs. One of Nathan's favorite songs is "Roll up the map" from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. He wasn't too happy though that the other kids weren't following him and doing the actions to the song like they were supposed to. That is why he is sitting and pouting rather than dancing.

Oh boy, when are they going to yell? The suspense is so exciting!

The kids' favorite game was "Don't Eat Pirate Pete!". I bought some clipart online for maybe $5 and made this game board.  We used mini m&ms for the game pieces. To play, you place one candy on each square. The kids take turns being 'it'. One child closes their eyes while the others decide which picture is going to be "Pete" for the round. Then the child opens his eyes and begins slowly eating the m&ms one by one. When the child touches the candy in the square designated as "Pete", the kids all yell "Don't Eat Pete!" or in this case "Don't Eat Pirate Pete!".  The kids had a lot of fun with this game.

Don't Eat Pirate Pete!!!! We were really into it, as you can see.

The last game we played was to hunt for buried treasure. I had filled a container with rice and thrown in little prizes that Nathan had picked out; individually wrapped twizzlers, gold plastic coins, and ocean creature fruit snacks. I think we let each child find 5 or 6 things (although there was only 1 fruit snack per child).

We then had cake and ice cream. I made a simple cake this time around. I just made a 9x13 cake and cut and stacked it to look sort of like a ship. I put m&ms around the outside and stuck some parchment paper on a skewer for a flag. He thought it was cool.

After cake and ice cream and opening presents, the kids went home with their own laminated "Don't Eat Pirate Pete!" game board (I had stuck instructions of how to play on the back), a little bag of m&ms for playing pieces, and whatever treats they had found while treasure hunting. The whole party lasted just one and a half hours and the kids had lots of fun.

Minecraft Party for my 9 Year Old

Completing our trio of parties last weekend was a Minecraft Party for Joshua who had turned 9 several months before. All of my kids have been Minecraft obsessed for the last few months. We only have the pocket version on our iPads, but that's sufficient for them to be hooked.

Coloring or craft activities are great for getting a party started as the guests arrived. I googled "minecraft coloring page" and Joshua picked out a picture to print and color for the party. The boys also wrote their names on a paper bag to collect their loot in. 

silly Joshua missed the pig on purpose

We started with a rousing game of "Pin the tail on the Pig". It probably would've been wise to skip this game when I realized we had 10 boys coming to the party (12 when you include the little brothers) because it took soooooo long to give everyone a turn. This was Joshua's idea though, so we went with it. 

Next came our mining game. The boys got really excited about this game. It also took a long time with so many boys participating. 

Any kind of cubes will work for this game. I had some foam cubes that also double as math manipulatives in our homeschool. I cut out little pictures of minecraft elements that are found while mining in the game. I made 12 each of 5 different elements: coal, diamond, iron, redstone, and gold. Joshua taped them to the foam cubes. I stacked them up with other non-marked cubes to make a pyramid of sorts. (I tried creating a document to share the images, but couldn't get it to work. Sorry. Just google the images and resize on your own document.)

 The boys took turns "mining". The first round we let them choose 4 blocks and see if they found anything. In subsequent rounds, we increased the number they could take since it was taking longer than anticipated. Once they had found 4 items, they were done mining and just watched the other boys take turns. At the end they turned in their elements for candy which they put in their party bags. Some boys tried trading with each other if they had all of one element and wanted a bit of diversity. We had bought gold coins for the gold and red Lifesavers for the redstone. We had blue sixlets for diamond, black sixlets for coal, and gray sixlets for iron. (did you know you can buy packs of one color sixlets? I didn't.)

After we mined, we went down to the basement to fight creepers. I had strung up creeper faces across the room that had point values assigned to them. The boys went 2 at a time trying to hit them with dodgeballs and adding up their totals to see who could get the most points. We gave them 3 shots each. I don't have a picture of the creepers hanging up for some reason. I guess I need to be a bit more specific with my photographer (aka husband). (Just kidding! You did a great job taking pictures sweetheart! You're the best!)

We then took down the creepers and split the boys into two teams to play some dodgeball. I think we said that one team were skeletons and the others were Steves and they were attacking each other, but really we just wanted to have some playing dodgeball so we made it work.  

dodgeball is serious business

After cupcakes and ice cream, parents came to take their boys home. Joshua said his favorite part of the party was the mining game and the dodgeball and he was a happy boy.  And I was a happy mom to be done with parties for a while. 

March 21, 2014

Lego Birthday Party for my 7 Year Old

Christopher turned 7 in February and we threw a Lego themed birthday party for him. He has developed a passionate love of Legos this past year and has become quite good at putting them together by himself. In fact, he handed me all of his other toys and told me he didn't want them anymore. (Nathan was pretty thrilled with that development as beneficiary of discarded toys). Christopher helped plan the games and had a fun time playing with friends at his party.

Oh, I just love this big boy and his sweet smile!!

We started with coloring sheets while we waited for kids to come. I just googled "Lego man picture" to find this coloring page.

Next we played "pin the mouth on the Lego man". Christopher brought me a Lego man and asked that the drawing look like him. I did my best. 

The next game I invented while thinking about kids actually do with Legos. A lot of playtime is spent looking for specific pieces, right? So I decided to turn Lego-finding into a game. I found duplicate pieces and set them aside. I used some easy things (like trees, ladders, car wheels, a horse) and a few harder things (helmet, chair, specific size and color legos). I took pictures of the items. I filled 2 buckets with Legos and added one set of pieces to each bucket and mixed them up. When we played the game I split the group into two teams and let them dump their Legos on the floor. I showed a picture of the piece they needed to find on my iPad. The first person to find it picked it up and held it up high. Their team got a point. I think I had 15 items for them to find. The kids really enjoyed this game. 

The last game we played was "Toss the Legos". I got a few containers and put post-it notes on the front to show points scored. The kids took turn tossing 10 bricks into the buckets and adding up their points. I put a very small container at the back marked as 1,000 points. No one actually scored 1,000, but the kids thought it was fun to try, and we had a couple of close ones. 

you can't even see the tiny little 1,000 point container in the back

I did not make a cake for Christopher. (gasp!) With 3 birthday parties in less than 24 hours, I just couldn't do cakes. I made cupcakes and put little chocolate Lego men on top, made from a mold. The kids were plenty happy with cupcakes and ice cream. 

After cake and presents, the kids just played with Legos until their parents came to pick them up. The kids went home with a little bag of candy bricks and a little Lego toy. I think everyone had fun. 

March 20, 2014

A Late-Over Birthday Party for my 11 Year Old

Last November/December was a really busy time for our family. Both Maren and Joshua had birthdays that pretty much got ignored. I told them I would try to do something early in the new year for them, because it's always fun to have a big play-date with friends and cake.

As you may remember from last year's party, Maren has decided she's too old for themed parties. I am not yet too old for themed parties, so I presented the idea of having a "late-over" because we are celebrating her birthday late. (We have decided not to do sleepovers as a general policy, and some of those reasons are well expressed in this article.) That was as close to a theme as I could get with this rapidly growing "I'm too big for that kind of stuff" child.

She invited over some friends from school and church and we had a fun night. Girls were invited to wear their jammies and bring a pillow and blanket for when watching the movie if they liked.
The girls arrived at 5:30. We had set out pillowcases and permanent markers so they could decorate while we waited for everyone to arrive.

oh the pain!

We then played our favorite lap-sitting get-to-know you game since the girls didn't all know each other.  (You can see an earlier write up of this game in this old post) In this game you write up a list of statements and then read them one at a time. If the statement applies to a person, that person moves over one spot, but if the person sitting next to them doesn't move, they end up sitting on that person's lap. You end up with several pile-ups and the girls had lots of fun. We left some blank slips of paper in the cup so the girls could make up their own if they liked. Here's the list of the statements we used if you want to copy: Lap Game Sentences. We just said "Move over one spot . . ." before reading each paper.

The girls decided to all sit on Maren's lap, since it was her party and all

After the game we said a prayer and had dinner. We served turkey and cheese croissant sandwiches, chips, strawberries, and raspberry lemonade.

The girls then came into the family room to play bingo. I had purchased a bunch of fun candy and gifts such as lip gloss and notebooks for the big prizes. I had a bucket of small candies as prizes after a girl had already won 2 big prizes. After playing for a while we let the girls who hadn't yet won 2 prizes choose something out.

We decided that instead of a cake this year we would get out the chocolate fountain for dessert and have lots of fun things to dip. After giving the girls some instructions about how to dip things in the chocolate fountain without spilling too much and making a mess (which instructions were largely ignored) we let the girls go wild. We had set out strawberries, bananas, sugar wafers, donut holes, marshmallows, pretzels, and Peeps (we only had 1 peep per girl though).

We stuck a candle in a banana slice and sang "Happy Birthday" to her

After dessert, there were presents and then the girls watched a movie while eating popcorn. The girls voted between watching "Ella Enchanted", "The Princess Bride", or "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters". "The Princess Bride" won. Parents picked up their daughters around 10.

Maren really enjoyed having her friends over and staying up past her bedtime. It was a fun party and I'm sure we'll do another one like it.


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