Thursday, April 28, 2016

3 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Dishes When You Have Kids: Guest Post

I was honored when my friend Anjanette over at AnjanetteBarr.com asked me to contribute to her book Dinner at Home. She is a long time friend (we're actually from the same city but didn't meet until college) and her husband and I went to library school together. She has 4 kids and I am amazed by her, honestly. I can barely get anything done with 2 little ones! She, like me, struggled with domesticity (is that a word? If not, I think it should be) when starting her own home and wrote Dinner at Home to provide some hints she's learned along the way for those of us who might struggle with cooking. Cooking is not my forte and I definitely picked up some tips from this book, it's perfect for any skill level. Plus, I shared one of my ultimate cooking failures in the book so make sure to read it just for that! Anjanette was kind enough to do a guest post for me to share with you her 3 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Dishes When You Have Kids. I can't be the only one ignoring a sink full of dishes right now, right?

Doing Dishes with Kids

I'm pretty convinced there's such a thing as a "homemaking gene," and that I didn't get it. Nothing in this realm comes intuitively or enjoyably for me. I have to take each chore as it comes and just do the next thing.

Still, after 10 years of homemaking - 8 with children - I am much more proficient (and efficient) than I was when I started. Trust me, there was a time that all homemaking - especially the aspects that involved time in the kitchen - was intimidating for me. I even wrote a book about it! But, thank Heaven; I've learned a short cut or two along the way!

One of the most difficult hurdles for me to overcome is how relentless things like dirty dishes are when you have lots of mouths eating lots of food every day. We homeschool, so we have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snack's worth of dishes at the end of each day. Since I have four children, that's no small pile.

But I do have a few secrets.

No, I'm not going to say paper plates. ;)

I'll disclose right away that I fill the dishwasher at least once a day. I haven't managed to cut back so much as to avoid that, but without these tips, I think I could easily be doing two or more loads a day!

1. Keep track of cups.

My mom worked as a daycare provider while I was growing up, and I remember how serious she was about us keeping our own cup colors straight. She rinsed them out after each drink and kept them on the kitchen counter. Back then we used the same cup for juice, milk, water, and soda without washing it thoroughly. I'm too much of a germaphobe for that, but I'll tell you what's worked for us.

The first is a lifestyle choice - we only drink water. It's cheap, life-giving, and doesn't leave any flavors in cups to leech into the next drink. The only exception we regularly make is that adults have coffee in the morning, and kids have herbal tea in the afternoon. We drink those in one sitting and then put the cups directly in the dishwasher.

The second help is that we've borrowed and modified my mom's color-coding scheme. Since the only liquid in the cups is water, I feel fine using the same cup all day - or even for two days - as long as the kids keep track of whose cup is whose. We prefer glass to plastic, so we usually use mason jars.  We tried using different sizes/shapes/brands of jars, but the kids started to argue. Now we use identical jars, but we color-code them by keeping colored rubber bands on them. We also restrict drinking to the kitchen or dining room, and have them keep cups on one side of the counter when they aren't eating a meal so that cups don't run around the house and get lost.

2. Simplify the dinner service.

I love those restaurants that serve foods "family style." In Japan (where I studied in college) we'd sometimes visit a yakiniku (grilled meat) diner where we were given a huge plate of raw meat veggies, which we dipped in sauces and cooked on a grill in the middle of the table.

And how much do you love looking hotdogs or hamburgers on the grill? Everyone just takes a plate and stands around waiting to serve themselves, right? You don't even technically have to provide plates if you are in the yard with family and close friends!

The way we replicate that causal dinner service in our home is to sometimes serve a variety of foods on one platter. The meal pictured with my children was one they ate with their fingers - no plates and no utensils! In fact, I didn't even prepare that meal - they did! We've loved improving their kitchen skills with the course Kids Cook Real Food.

3. Double-duty while you're at it.

Another strategy that saves both dishes and time is to cook in bulk. Even making double portions will save you from washing that pot or skillet twice, but if you can make larger batches, you'll really reap rewards. Use your biggest pot to make chili even if it's way more than you can eat, and then freeze the extra. Bake three dozen cookies or muffins and then separate them into batches that you can get through without gorging.

You may also consider cooking extra quantities of single ingredients, which is a meal planning strategy I recommend in Dinner at Home. That way when you need diced onion, you not only save a few minutes of chopping, but you can keep that knife in the knife block entirely. I like to make or prepare bulk batches of things like beans, rice, ground beef, and chopped veggies (freeze without cooking to maintain texture.)

Take time today to pay attention to what gets dirty in your home. If you figure out that your children use an excessive amount of a particular type of dish or utensil, try one of these strategies or come up with your own plan! I'd love to know what works for you!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Family Game Night: Top Picks for Toddlers & Preschoolers with Winning Moves Games

Disclosure: I received 3 of these games from Winning Move Games in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are 100% honest and my own.

Friday nights have officially turned into family game night in our house and we are all loving it. Mike and I played tons of board games before having kids but with young kids and little sleep, it was hard to find time to enjoy them. Now that the kids are older (Connor is 3 and Grace is 5) they are starting to enjoy playing games and actually following the rules, sometimes at least! It's taken some time to find games we can all enjoy together so I thought I'd share our top picks of games for toddlers and preschoolers.
 1. Hi Ho Cheerio- This is such a simple and fun game. It's perfect for short attention spans and really helps little ones work on their counting. The only downside is that somehow we always seem to end up with cherries on the floor and I'm pretty sure we've lost a few. This is one the kids ask to play over and over. 

2, Moose Caboose- Moose Caboose is a new game for us and it is by far Grace's favorite. To play, each player connects animal train cards by matching colors. The animals are adorable and when you play a "Moose Caboose" card, you collect all of the cards in that train series. Whoever has the most cards at the end wins. It is great for learning colors and we've noticed Grace learning the strategy of when is the best time to play the infamous caboose cards. Mike and I were surprised by how much we enjoy this game and even our older nieces and nephews like it. It's easy to learn and a game takes about 15-20 minutes. It's a perfect beginning card game for preschoolers.

 3. Candy Land- There is a reason Candy Land has been around for more than 65 years! This vintage favorite has been a hit with my kids since we started playing it when they were 2. Much to my frustration, the modern version sold in stores currently features a spinner rather than the original cards. The spinner causes more problems than it's worth in my opinion (the kids always end up arguing over what the spinner arrow is pointing to) so I much prefer the cards. I was ecstatic when Winning Moves sent us the classic version with the original board and cards. We play it during family game night but the kids often request to play it by themselves.

4. Crocodile Dentist- Sometimes with little ones, short games are best. Crocodile Dentist is about as simple as it gets, each player takes a turn pushing down one tooth until, CHOMP the croc surprises you! These photos were taken the first time the croc chomped and despite the fuzziness, the joy on their faces was amazing. They laugh hysterically every time we play this game. Plus they think it's hilarious to make me play as I have a well known phobia of crocodiles. This game is a perfect travel game as there are no detachable pieces and a round only takes a few minutes at most. I will say that my husband, the software engineer, has figured out the mechanics so he never loses. I am still trying to figure out how he knows which tooth is the magic one every single time!

5. Chutes and Ladders- This is another classic game that my kids love. It's perfect for practicing counting.

Our kids definitely inherited our competitive sides so family game night will be a tradition we continue for years to come. What games do you play during family game night? 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Free Activities for Kids: Kids Bowl Free Nationwide!

Summer is quickly approaching and while I'm excited for the weather, I'm already starting to worry about the inevitable fighting that will occur when the kids are together all day every day. I've got our normal list of outdoor activies ready to go but let me tell you, it can get HOT in Missouri. We regularly get highs over a hundred during the summer meaning we don't last too long outside. Sometimes you need to get inside into the air conditioning and this next free activity I'm sharing is perfect for those hot days!

Have you heard of KidsBowlFree before? If not, you need to check it out. All kids 15 and under get 2 free games of bowling per day! There are over 12,000 locations nationwide so the chances of there being one near you are pretty high. Signing up is totally free, just visit KidsBowlFree.com and please use me as your referral, momentsthattake at gmail dot com (write it out as a proper email address, I just do it that way here to avoid spam bots!) Plus, there is a family pass option where parents, grandparents, older children that don't qualify for the Kids Bowl Free passes and babysitters can join in the fun and get the same great 2 FREE Game offer every day. Our local alley offers a shoe pass for the summer for a low price so the total cost is extremely low for lots of family fun!

We often visit our local bowling alley for their Mommy and Me bumper bowling time and can't wait to spend lots of time there this summer. The kids are pretty good with the bumpers:

Have you tried bowling with your kids? Let me know if you sign up for this great program!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter 2016

Easter weekend meant a short trip down to Wichita to visit my family this year. Luckily it's only a 3 hour drive and the kids are pretty content watching movies on the iPads. The trip is definitely getting a lot easier now that they're older and I get to pack a lot lighter now that I don't need to bring tons of diapers! Connor hopped right into his seat and looked like mister cool guy waiting for Mike to put gas in the van.


The trip down was quick and easy. We had a busy Saturday full of time with grandparents and cousins. Our visit happened to be just a few weeks after our newest nephew Bryant was born and I will admit that I took the chance to cuddle him every time I could. It's amazing to me how small he is and it's hard to remember our kids ever being that tiny!
 Connor liked him but didn't do much other than look at him for a few seconds. Grace on the other hand started begging to hold him the moment she saw him. She was very serious about it and really enjoyed getting to be a big girl.

Due to scheduling issues, we decided to do all of our Easter activities including church and egg hunting on Saturday evening. Of course, due to a day full of fun play with his cousins, Connor fell asleep in the van on the way to church and ended up sleeping on me during the entire service. He obviously needed the nap and he was happy and ready for an exciting night of egg hunting.

Grace remembered egg hunting last year but Connor had no idea what to expect. There are 9 grandkids on my side of the family ranging from a few weeks old to 12 so the little kids were given a head start. We thought we might have to help Connor but we were wrong. He ran and grabbed as many eggs as he could as fast as he could.

Each child was supposed to start with getting 10 eggs but Connor quickly surpassed that number.

Grace happily collected her 10 eggs. I wish I had gotten better pictures of her but all of the kids were running like crazy!

Connor was pretty pleased with his haul.

He had no desire to wait for me to take this photo, he just wanted to find out what was in the eggs. The final count was that most of the kids got 10 eggs while he got 22. He ended up sharing some of his eggs with his younger cousin.

We were very glad we did the Easter egg hunting the night before Easter because we woke up Sunday morning to 2 inches of snow! Of course I hadn't packed any of their snow gear so we were stuck inside for the day. I felt bad because Grace's Easter gift from us was a t-ball set and she was really hoping to try it out. So we decided it would be a good time to dye Easter eggs instead. This was the first year that both kids were really interested in helping.

The were both very proud of their final product.

Our trips down to Wichita are never long enough. We headed back Sunday afternoon with two exhausted, but happy kiddos.

How was your Easter this year? 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic Review

Disclosure: I received media tickets for my family to this event. No other compensation was received and all opinions are 100% honest and my own.

Grace and I have been to several Disney on Ice shows throughout the years and it's become one of our favorite events. We haven't brought Connor in the past because he had a difficult time sitting still for long, but now at three years old Mike and I both felt that he was ready for the show! So I showed both kids the previews and they counted down the days until we got to see Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic.

Both kids decided to dress up in Disney gear, Grace as Aurora and Connor as Buzz Lightyear. We picked up a friend and headed to the Sprint Center for a night of Disney magic.

We arrived a few minutes late because parking was difficult to find but we finally got to our seats and the kids were very excited.


We missed the first few minutes of the Mickey and friends intro due to finding our seats, but we got settled just in time to see the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, and Pinocchio. The kids have never seen Pinocchio so they weren't too interested in this section. The energy of the audience at this show was amazing and you could hear the gasps when Nemo "swam" out onto the ice. The costumes in this section were amazing and the turtles were so much fun. The kids loved every second of it.

After a swim in the ocean, we were whisked away to the Beast's castle where we watched the Beast transform into a handsome prince.

One of the things that I noticed most about the 100 Years of Magic show was the amazing couples skating featured throughout the evening. I know I've seen some impressive skating in shows in the past, but wow, these couples were great! I could have watched them skate all night and I loved when all of the royal couples danced to their specific movie song.

You could hear all of the little girls scream and yell for their favorite princesses and it was impossible not to smile. This was by far Grace's favorite part of the whole show and she is still talking about it this morning.

The rest of the first act featured Frozen. We went to Frozen on Ice last year and this was basically a condensed version of that show. It was by far the longest feature in the show and while I understand that is the most popular Disney movie at the moment, it felt way too long to me. It was fun to hear all of the little girls belting "Let It Go" but I wish they would have shortened the Frozen section to include another film.

The second act was definitely my favorite as it contained some of my favorite Disney movies. It started with a fun Genie number from Aladdin that featured tons of Genies skating in complex formations.

Next came the section Connor had been waiting for, Toy Story. He absolutely adores Buzz and Woody so he was in awe the entire time.

Next came several songs from Mulan which I loved. We had watched Mulan the day before so it was great to see this movie featured. The war scenes were a bit abstract for the kids but this section was my favorite. The dragon was amazing!

The kids loved seeing all of their favorite characters together at the end and were sad that it was finished.

There's nothing like watching your child's face as they experience the magic of Disney. We really enjoyed that this show featured more characters than any of the other show we've ever seen and most of the sections were fairly short, perfect for short attention spans. The kids are already begging to go back again and I can't wait to take them next year.

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic will be at the Sprint Center:

Friday, March 25th @  3 PM, & 7 PM 
Saturday, March 26th @ 11 AM, 3 PM, & 7 PM 
Sunday, March 27th @ 3 PM

Click here to purchase tickets to Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic. To learn more about Disney on Ice, check out their Facebook and Twitter pages now!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Free Kansas City Activities for Kids: Burr Oak Woods in Blue Springs

It is snowing in Kansas City today, it's supposed to be Spring people! The kids and I are so ready to be outside but for now we've been frequenting some of our favorites inside places to avoid going stir crazy. This winter I discovered a hidden gem in Blue Springs that is now one of our favorite places to burn off energy.

Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area is in Jackson County, 20 miles east of downtown Kansas City. The area is composed of 1,071 acres of woodlands, fields and ponds and includes a scenic portion of Burr Oak Creek.

Burr Oaks is an amazing place for hiking, picnics, and animal watching. We've taken photos there numerous times and the scenery makes for gorgeous pics.

I need to go back and take that photo again now that they're older and might actually stand still long enough to get a good one! While we've been there many times to hike and watch animals, we'd never had the chance to go inside the nature center until this winter. We had been missing out because the inside is amazing! The Nature Center is open Tuesdays- Friday- 7 AM- 6 PM and Saturday 8 AM- 5 PM and visits are totally FREE. The kids immediately ran to this fun tree house and slide area. They could play happily here for hours.


There are lots of interactive activities that encourage your child to push, pull, and discover new things.

There are exhibits that feature different animals, Connor's favorite was this bird exhibit that showed the skeleton of the hummingbird on the back.

Connor couldn't pass up climbing on the back of this large frog sculpture.

Both of my kids love animals so we spent a large amount of time looking at all of the turtles, frogs, snakes, and fish that reside in the nature center.

One of the snakes was being particularly active and they loved watching him.

Right outside of one of the nature center windows, a large flock of turkeys roamed around eating while we watched.

Always make sure to check Burr Oaks event calendar because they have lots of fun family and kid events that you won't want to miss. We try to go to the Little Acorns program every month now. This program is exclusively for kids ages 3-5 and is free. Make sure to call and reserve spots for your children because these programs often fill up fast.  Each month features a different topic, so far we've learned about animals in the snow and bunnies. They try to get the kids outside each time and during the bunny program we walked a trail looking for bunny tracks and paper bunnies that the staff had hidden. The staff are wonderful and very knowledgeable. During the snow program it was super cold outside so they had us stay inside with fun snow based activities for the kids. Connor happily played in this icy water for about 10 minutes!

If you happen to be near the nature center on Wednesday or Saturday at 3 PM stop in to watch them feed the amphibians, turtles, and fish. The snakes are fed every other Friday but we were warned by a staff member that some of the snakes are fed live mice and I don't think our kids (or I!) are ready to watch that so we've just visited during the normal feedings. Watching them feed the turtles was definitely a highlight of our visits to Burr Oaks. We had the opportunity to touch a small turtle and the kids got a huge kick out of watching the large snapping turtle try to snap worms, crawdads and crickets right off of the staff member's tongs. They have been begging to go watch it again so I know we will be visiting a lot this spring and summer! 

We could easily spend an entire day at Burr Oaks. This summer we will take a picnic, hike and enjoy the nature center for a full day of family fun. And it's all free! I hope you visit and enjoy it as much as we do! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Marvel Captain America: Civil War "Girls Reforming the Future Challenge"

Does your daughter want to make the world a better place? Marvel, supported by the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of National Academy of Sciences is currently running the Captain America: Civil War – “Girls Reforming the Future Challenge” that will give one exceptional young woman a week long internship with Marvel! The challenge focuses on inspiring young girls to create positive change for their generation and beyond through science and technology. Check out this video with Elizabeth Olsen (“Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch”) and Emily VanCamp (“Sharon Carter / Agent 13”) for more details:


If Grace were old enough we'd definitely be doing this! If your daughter is interested, here are all the details. Check out all of the amazing prizes for the finalists.

This program, supported by the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of National Academy of Sciences, seeks to inspire young girls to create positive world change for their generation and beyond through science and technology. One exceptional young woman will be selected to receive a one-week internship with Marvel Studios. 

The challenge invites girls nationwide, ages 15  18, in grades 10 -12, to submit innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics)-based projects that have the potential to change the world. Each applicant will be asked to submit a short video demonstrating her project and explaining how her science and technology-based project could make the world a better place. Five finalists will be selected to come to California and present their projects to a panel of experts. One grand prize winner will be selected from the five finalists to receive an internship with Marvel Studios.

Finalists will have the opportunity to inspire other young girls around the world by participating in a LIVE global Broadcom Masters webinar during which the girls will discuss how their STEM skills enabled them to create their projects and become a finalist of the Captain American Civil War: Girls Reforming the Future Challenge.  The Grand Prize Winner will share her MARVEL STUDIOS Internship experience, giving girls everywhere a peak into STEM skills in action outside the lab and the classroom. 

Each finalist will receive: Two round-trip tickets to Southern California for the finalist and her parent or guardian, including scheduled meals, ground transportation to and from organized activities, hotel accommodations, from April 10 through April 13, 2016; an opportunity tobe on the red carpet at the World Premiere of Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” at the Dolby Theatre® in Dolby Atmos® and Dolby Vision™ on April 12, 2016; a tour of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California; and  $500.00, deposited into a High Yield Savings account with Synchrony Bank.

Complete contest information will be available from March 11, 2016 through March 26, 2016.   Entries will be accepted beginning on March 11, 2016 through 9:00 PM PT on March26, 2016. For application forms, eligibility requirements, official contest rules and moreinformation about MARVEL’S CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – GIRLS REFORMING THE FUTURE CHALLENGE, please visit http://www.captainamericachallenge.com.

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