Monday, October 31, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Family History - Graveyard Visit by Erin Uda

(Click HERE for image source)

This week we’re visiting a GRAVEYARD. A bit creepy, I know, but I thought it would be appropriate for the Halloween season.

(Click HERE for image source)

Most graveyards are peaceful, and have beautiful, artistic elements incorporated into the headstones or markers. And some, especially those that are older, feel more like cities than fields. The sepulchers look like houses, and entire families are buried there. Others, like the military graveyard in Arlington, have rows and rows of crosses or stars representing the vast number of soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom.

(Click HERE for image source)
Be sure to do some research before you go, so you choose an appropriate site. You can visit THIS slightly morbid, but incredibly interesting site to find graveyards nearby with famous (or slightly famous) residents. For instance, I learned that the man who invented disposable diapers is buried in the Provo, UT Cemetery!

If you have relatives buried nearby, make a special effort to visit their graves. Spend some time talking to your child about family and ancestors. Tell her about your family when you were little, and about a relative whom you loved and has since passed on. Has your child experienced loss yet? If so, this might be a good time to talk about it. If you like, leave a flower or other token on their grave before you go.

(Click HERE for image source)
If you don’t have family nearby, do your best to visit the oldest graveyard in your area. Look at the markers and headstones and try to discover something about the people there. Talk about how the world was different when they were alive and what their lives may have been like when they were little.

If it’s a nice day, take a picnic with you. Enjoy your meal in a beautiful, peaceful spot.

Graveyards are quiet places that allow us to see life from a different perspective. While you’re there, take a few minutes to sit and think about the things you want to accomplish in your life. How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?

Activity- find the following:
  • A bench
  • Someone who was over 75 years old
  • Someone who was less than 5 years old
  • Someone born before 1900
  • A famous person
  • A picture or statue of an angel
  • A very old tree
  • Someone with the same first name
  • Someone you’re related to (if possible)
  • A poem

When you get home, try a few activities that focus on your family’s history.

Go through your family photos. Talk about each person in your family with your child and try to learn something new about them. Talk about where your ancestors lived and what things they would have done when they were younger.

If you have old family records or journals, read a few excerpts or act out a story you find.

Create a family tree. You can do this in so many fun, crafty ways. To make the standard version, write your child’s name on the left side of your paper; to the right make a sideways V with the open side facing away from the name. Now write the parents’ names, one at each point of the V. Continue to write names until you’re stumped.

If you have a lot of pictures of family members, try making a family collage in the general shape of a tree. Or just put them together in a book from the youngest to the oldest, grouped by families.

(Click HERE for image source)

If you live close enough to your relatives, try a thumbprint tree. It’s so cute to see everyone’s green thumbprints look like leaves at the ends of the branches. Click THIS link for a template.

If you’re interested in finding more names for your family tree, you can download FREE Personal
Ancestry File (PAF) software at THIS LINK. They also have a ton of ideas for finding more family names.
Recommended Reading:

  • The Kids’ Family Tree Book, Caroline Leavitt
  • Fancy Nancy: My Family History, Jane O’Connor
  • Me and My Family Tree, Joan Sweeney
  • Evie Finds Her Family Tree, Ashley B. Ransburg 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The "F" Date

Yesterday was our "F" date! So, Kevin decided to make it a Family date and had planned to take ALL the Females living under his roof on a Fishing trip...but when the plans Fell through, he decided to take us to Johansen's Farm instead. Unfortunately, I managed to catch the Flu and was banished to the house until I started Feeling better :(

But that's OK. The rest of the Family enjoyed a Fun Filled afternoon petting Farm animals, Frolicking in the hay, Feigning Fright in the haunted corn maze, pretending to Free Willy, Flipping in the bounce house, and Falling down giant slides!

It turned out to be a great evening for Kevin and the girls, and I was able to get some much needed rest whilst watching the Food network in my Fuzzy pajamas :) Stay tuned for the "G" date, and as always, Feel Free to share your date ideas with us ANYTIME!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Carving and Pumpkin Seed Recipes!

Last night for Family Home Evening we decorated PUMPKINS for our front porch! 

 We started out the night by getting the girls all geared up for some painting. They loved swirling colors all over their little orange friends... and then their hands, faces, and chairs! :) And while they were painting the town, Kevin and I started carving our own pumpkins.

Kevin carved this fantastic Cannibal Pumpkin (complements of Pinterest) and its accompanying victim. Lily had unfortunately become very attached to the little pumpkin and was very upset when she saw it being eaten!

I also stole some inspiration from Pinterest and carved this fun little Puking Pumpkin. Brooklyn and Lily both worked VERY hard with me to separate the seeds from the pumpkin puke so we could bake them today.

The girls' pumpkins both came out resembling "modern art" and they are both very proud of their creative efforts!

Side by side our pumpkins make a pretty fun scene. Our neighbor even took a moment to stop and complement them (which made me feel good since his porch is TOTALLY decked out for Halloween!)


Anyway, this is what our porch looks like right now. Not much when it comes to decorating, but it is enough to make my girls happy and to leave me with a little less stress and a little extra spending money!

As for those seeds... Brooklyn and I got them all seasoned up and baked today and they turned out great! In fact, I offered Brooklyn some cookie dough after lunch and she turned it down with a request for seeds instead! I didn't think that was possible.

When the seeds were all done, we sat down together on the couch and munched on them whilst reading Halloween books under a blanket. It was AWESOME!

If you are looking for some good Pumpkin Seed Recipes, we borrowed THIS ONE from

Curried Pumpkin Seeds

1 egg white
2 teaspoon curry powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grained sea salt
1 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, curry powder and salt. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more curry powder when they come out of the oven. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Makes one cup.

And then we made our own by mixing 1 Cup of seeds with 2 Tablespoons of melted garlic butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, spreading it out on a pan, and baking at 375 for 14 minutes. YUMMO!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Pumpkins by Erin Uda

This week, try to visit a pumpkin patch with your children to see where the bright orange gourd is grown. Look at all the varieties; shapes, sizes, colors. Pick your own if you can and take it home to decorate.

Did you know pumpkins are related to cucumbers? On your way to the pumpkin patch, you might want to play a quiz game using some little-known facts about pumpkins. Print out the following facts:
  • What kind of vegetable is a pumpkin? Trick question. A pumpkin is a fruit; specifically, a squash.
  • How many continents do pumpkins grow on? Pumpkins grow on 6 out of 7 continents, even in Alaska!
  • What is the (self-proclaimed) pumpkin capital of the world? Morton, IL (This is also the corporate base of Libby’s Pumpkin.)
  • Who was the first person to carve a pumpkin? The Irish. They originally carved turnips for All Hallow’s Eve, but when Irish immigrants found pumpkins they liked carving them better.
  • Is the orange part of the pumpkin the only part you can eat? No. Pumpkin flowers are also edible.
  • How big can you make a pumpkin pie? The biggest pumpkin pie ever made was over 5 feet wide!
  • How much water is in a pumpkin? Pumpkins are 90% water; watermelons are 92%.
  • Are pumpkins healthy for you? Yes, before we add sugar! Pumpkins have Vitamin A and potassium, plus fiber.
  • What is the most famous pumpkin vehicle? Cinderella’s chariot.
  • How much did the biggest pumpkin weigh? The heaviest pumpkin weighed 1,140 pounds
Or you can study The parts of a pumpkin together!

There are many other fun fall activities, like hay rides, farm visits, and corn mazes. If you don’t plan to visit one of these venues, try making your own this week:

Corn Maze: Make your own maze in your backyard. Bring some kitchen chairs outside and arrange them in a winding pattern; backs facing backs to form a path. Cover them with blankets (either over just the chair, or over the top as well) and you have a simple maze.

Hay Ride: Break out the wagon and take your little ones on a tour of the neighborhood. Keep an eye out for fun porch decorations and decide which houses you think will be the most fun to visit next week. Better yet, let them wear their costumes on the ride.

Petting Zoo: All these farm activities make me feel the need to find a petting zoo. If there isn’t one close to where you live, try to find an inexpensive alternative. There may be a horse pasture relatively close, or a pet store or breeder who wouldn’t mind having you visit the animals.

Recommended Reading:
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!, Charles M Schultz
  • Pumpkin Jack, Will Hubbell
  • Too Many Pumpkins, Linda White
  • The Runaway Pumpkin, Kevin Lewis
  • Big Pumpkin, Erica Silverman
  • The Night Before Halloween, Natasha Wing

P.S. A side note from Naomi: I just added a new tab at the top-left of the page called "Calendar". If you go to it, you will be able to see all the themes and activities I am planning for each week. Click on an activity and get some ideas of how to do it yourself. If you click on today's date there will be several links for fun pumpkin carving ideas. Enjoy!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Halloween Sneak Peek...

For Halloween this year, Brooklyn put in a special request to be dressed up as a "Pink Cowgirl" with a pink horse. And because the only thing I love about Halloween (besides gorging myself with sweet-chocolatey-goodness) is watching my kids dress up and party... I caved!

So, I jumped onto and pulled up the HOBBY HORSE TUTORIAL and got to work! An old fuzzy sock, plunger, some felt, safety eyes, twine, and a little yarn later, we had this guy all ready to ride!

I know its not the most beautiful horse around, but it is pink, and it does match Brooklyn's pink boots. (And in my line of work, that counts for something!)

Now I just need to find her a pink cowgirl hat and we should be good to go. Oh yeah! and in case you were wondering... she will be accompanied on her trick-or-treating adventures by her little sister dressed as a baby cow, her daddy dressed as a cowboy, and her mom dressed as a mommy cow... Sexy... I know ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Yesterday I had one of those insane chocolate cravings that I FREQUENTLY get, but didn't have any chocolate in the house. So, I did what any desperate woman would do and hopped on PINTEREST to find a quick chocolatey recipe to save the day.

It didn't take long before I stumbled on THIS chocolate gem that just happens to be LOADED with chocolate, and at the same time, its gluten and lactose FREE! (But I assure you, it is NOT fat free!) Enjoy!

Flourless Fudge Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, I didn't use any and the cookies were still incredible)
  • 1 cup cocoa powder, Dutch Process preferred (For darker, richer-looking cookies, substitute 1/4 cup black cocoa for 1/4 cup of the Dutch-process cocoa)
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons gluten-free vanilla extract


1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Or line with parchment, and grease the parchment.
2) Stir together all of the ingredients till smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and stir again till smooth.
3) Drop the soft, batter-like dough onto the prepared baking sheets in 1 1/2" circles; a tablespoon cookie scoop works well here.
4) Bake the cookies for 8 minutes; they should spread, become somewhat shiny, and develop faintly crackly tops.
5) Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool right on the pan.
6) Yield: 16 large (3") cookies.

Nutrition information


Serving Size: 1 cookie, 29g Servings Per Batch: 16 Amount Per Serving: Calories: 80 Calories from Fat: 10 Total Fat: 3g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g. Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 47mg Total Carbohydrate: 18g Dietary Fiber: 1g Sugars: 17g Protein: 1g

Hints: I read through the comment section of the original recipe and saw that tons of people had trouble with the batter being too thin. I did NOT have that problem. When I mixed the ingredients I used my Kitchen Aid at top speed with the whisk attachment. It made my batter stiff and sticky. The result? Instead of having flat cookies that spread, my cookies held their shape EXACTLY as I had placed them (so if you try this you might want to shape them better than I did) and had a crispy outer shell with a fudge-like interior. AMAZING!

Also, I had to cook my cookies for 12 minutes instead of 8, but I've found that I almost always have to cook longer than recipes call for in my oven, so I'm not sure how that will work out in another kitchen. Anyway, good luck and have a chocolate filled day!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Leaves by Erin Uda (and a quick update)

Erin has another wonderful outdoor post to share with you today, but first a quick update on the Phineas and Ferb Challenge: You saw most of what we did during the week on my last post, but there were several things we did where we didn't bring the camera. Those things included leaf fights and frolicking, long walks, reading under the blankets together, enjoying yummy treats, playing with friends, and having wild dance parties in the living room. It was a fun week and a great opportunity to be reminded how to have unplanned fun. I hope you all had a successful week as well! (Oh yeah! and I forgot to mention, this week we will be focusing on Fall themed activities. Feel free to join along and share your ideas.)


This week’s post is super simple:




If the leaves aren’t quite ready to be jumped in yet, here are some other leaf-related ideas:

  1. Look at the different colors on the trees as you drive around your neighborhood or a scenic loop. Talk about which tree you like best and why the leaves change color every year.
  2. Pick some fall leaves on a nature walk. Dip them in wax, if desired, to keep the color, or press them between the pages of a heavy book; frame your favorites in shadow boxes.
  3. Make a Book of Leaves: Pick one leaf from each different type of tree you see (maple, oak, etc). When you get home, find pictures of the full tree online and print them out. Mount each leaf to a piece of paper, and create a book showing your leaves and the trees they come from.
  4. Create shapes and animals using the leaves you find. (See Leaf Man for some inspiration, or check out THIS website.)

Recommended Books:

  • Leaf Man, Lois Ehlert
  • Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, Lois Ehlert
  • We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt, Steve Metzger
  • Leaves! Leaves! Leaves!, Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
  • Leaf Man, Lois Ehlert
  • Leaves, David Ezra Stein

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Phineas and Ferb Challenge Update

 So far the Phineas and Ferb Challenge is going REALLY well at the Hanks Home!

We've spent a LOT of time playing at the different parks around our house, (indoor and outdoor) as well as taking walks around the complex and neighborhood. The girls have even run a few impromptu races around the sidewalk triangle in front of our house!

Brooklyn has also asked to color several times this week and one day she even asked if she could make a puppet show. So, I printed off some farm animals for her to use and she colored, cut, and glued them together all by herself to make Popsicle stick puppets!

One of my favorite requests this week was to go to the library! When we got there, we read a few books together and then gathered a bunch of books and DVD's to bring home.

Then the girls played with the library toys for about an hour before we decided to head home.

It was so much fun watching them build with the Lego's and play with the other kids. Totally a worth while trip. And when we got home they both sat and read by themselves, to each other, and with me for another hour!

During one of Lily's naps this week, Brooklyn and I played with sidewalk chalk on our front porch.We got to practice drawing all sorts of fun things together and really enjoyed the sunshine at the same time.

Another request this week was to paint pumpkins. I didn't happen to have any laying around so I pulled out some wooden pumpkins on sticks that I had in my craft boxes and we got to work.

Daddy helped the girls paint their pumpkins and when they were all dry, everyone got to draw a face for their wooden jack-o-lantern.

Then, when the pumpkins where completely finished, the girls wanted to plant them outside. So... we stuck them in some old flower planters for everyone to enjoy.

And last to report, last night Brooklyn asked if she could find a buried treasure. Her dad gathered some pocket change and buried it in the garden for her to find. She dug around until she found it and then buried it again and re-found it over and over until her fingernails were black with dirt and she was all worn out.

Anyway, that is how our week has been going so far. We've really had a lot of fun and hope to continue having more fun for the rest of the week. What kind of things have you done with your children during the Phineas and Ferb Challenge? We would love to hear about all your adventures!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Phineas and Ferb Challenge!

If you've spent any time surfing around the Disney Channel at all, then you've probably stumbled on the TV show called Phineas and Ferb. This just happens to be one of Kevin and my FAVORITE shows... and yes, we do watch it without our children!

Anyway, almost every episode starts out with Phineas and Ferb sitting under the tree in their backyard with their platypus, awaiting inspiration for the day. And in each episode, something sparks their imagination and leads them through a day long fantastical undertaking. The show is jam packed with exciting adventures, curiosity and science. You can see how clever and creative it is just by watching their theme song:

The point is, I was watching the show the other day and suddenly thought about my own children. Do I provide them with a creative outlet? Do they have imaginations like Phineas and Ferb? Can they be that clever and creative? I don't know! Because when they randomly have a spontaneous idea of something they want to do, (i.e. have a puppet show, build a princess castle, paint on boxes, or run a race around the complex) I usually say no because I don't think I have the time or the energy, OR I don't want them making a mess in my house.

This behavior has caused me to stifle my girls' imaginations, and NO mother wants to be responsible for that! So this week I decided to take part in the Phineas and Ferb Challenge. Basically that means the TV goes off all week and WHENEVER my children make a request to play something or do something with me, I will say YES!

Now of course, you have to exercise judgement and reason in a challenge like this. I'm not going to cancel nap time, bake every treat my kids ask me to make, or play the wiggle game in the car while I'm driving, but if they make a reasonable request that I can afford and accomplish safely, ITS ON!

And perhaps while I'm at it, I can inspire someone else to give it a try as well and we can all share a week long adventure with each other and our children! I will keep you updated on our impromptu play times and would love to hear from you as well. If you step out of your comfort zone this week to do something new with your kiddos, leave me a comment and let me know. I would love to hear about it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Climbing by Erin Uda

Kids have an innate need to climb everything they see. This week, instead of going to a man-made playground, discover the natural playground around you.

Find a good climbing tree or tangle of rocks and get out with your children, showing them your technique. Start with small rocks and trees and gradually work into the larger, taller, more difficult ones. You want your child to get comfortable with heights and learn to master the feeling of unsteadiness that comes when you don’t have two feet flat on the ground.

If you don’t have trees and rocks readily available near your home, try going to a local park or a public school playground if you’re looking for trees. If you’re looking for rocks, search your city parks online and look for some natural rocks, retaining walls, or climbing areas. Or just look around as you’re driving. You’ll see them everywhere once you start looking.

If you can’t find a suitable outdoor climbing area, consider going to a climbing gym. I took my boys indoor climbing for the first time last month and after a few tentative attempts, they got really into it. Of course, the older one acclimated much faster and went off on his own after just a few climbs. I ended up climbing side-by-side with my youngest the entire time, but it was still a huge boost to his self-confidence to keep trying and finally get near the top.

Remember to tailor the difficulty level to the skill set of your child; don’t force him to do something he’s not ready for. But don’t let him chicken out either. You’ll both miss out on something special.

If the weather cooperates, you can turn your climbing adventure into a fun photo shoot. Just dress the kids in bright, warm clothes and snap pictures as they climb around.

And don’t be afraid to bring souvenirs home. Rocks are one of the most collected items. If you can, visit a rock quarry or natural history museum to get up close and personal with some of the more exotic and colorful types of rocks.

You could also FIND a geode, or thunder egg, GROW one, or ORDER some online.

There are plenty of stores, museums included, that sell semi-precious rocks; let your children pick out a few that interest them, then spend the afternoon researching more about them. What is it called? What is it made of? How is it made? Where are they found?

And when you’re all finished, try MAKING some rock candy.

Suggested Reading:

  • If you Find a Rock, Peggy Christian
  • The dragon in the sock drawer, Kate Klimo
  • The Waterfall, Jonathan London
  • Geodes: Nature’s Treasures, Brad L. Cross & June Culp Zeitner
  • Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smoth, and Rough, Natalie M. Rossinsky
  • The Rock Factory: The Story About the Rock Cycle, Jacqui Bailey
  • Everybody Needs a Rock, Byrd Baylor
  • A Tree is Nice, Janice May Udry

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The "E" Date

For our "E" date last night, Kevin took me to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Runners Expo! We were able to have our good friends babysit the girls for the night which made driving into the city a lot Easier. In fact, my favorite part of the date was the drive there. It is incredible to be able to have an Entire conversation with your husband uninterrupted!

When we got to the Expo there was so much Excitement in the air. All the runners were nervously picking up their packets before strolling through the vendor rows. Kevin set an Eleven dollar limit for Each of us to buy something we really wanted. I got a stack of running socks and he stocked up on Energy bars!

Soon the Expo closed, so we hopped back in the car, picked up the girls, went home, and then Kevin used Eggs to make us some One Eyed Jacks for dinner. It was a fun and relaxing night and it was AMAZING to be Engaged in conversation with my sweet heart for three blissfully uninterrupted hours!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Good Friday: Car Wash

Because today was a BEAUTIFUL 84 degrees outside with a nice cool breeze to keep the sweat off, Brooklyn and I decided to clean the car to surprise Kevin for our "Good Friday" good deed!

The car was LOADED with garbage, empty sippie cups, and food crumbs (that I mostly ended up cleaning) but there was also a lot of dust and grime that needed some scrubbing... and that's really where Brooklyn came in.

She scrubbed and scrubbed as hard as she could, even though she couldn't reach most of the dirty spots, and when she was done she smiled from ear to ear and said, "Mommy, dad is gonna be SOOOO proud of us! I can't wait to surprise him!"

The whole job took less than 20 minutes, but it definitely made an impact on Brooklyn. She was thrilled with her hard work and I'm pretty sure Kevin will be too! :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The 100 Workout

Lately I've been getting a little bored of running and going to the gym, and I can't find the motivation to put on another workout video. But the other day I stumbled on the 100 workout while I was messing around on Pinterest (I know, I'm an addict!). I've seen different variations, but the trick is to adjust it to how you are feeling and what your body needs and basically, just count down from 100. Here is how it works:

The 100 Workout

100 Jumping Jacks
90 Leg Lifts
(Lift leg up to the side instead of straight up. 15 times with the right leg, 15 times with the left leg.)

(15 on right side, 15 on Left side)
(15 with right leg, 15 with left leg... Brooklyn's form isn't right because she is 3, but you should have your hands directly under your shoulders, your knees directly under your hips, and your back straight. Then just push your heel straight up toward the ceiling 15 times.)

80 Crunches
(20 Standard Crunches at the beginning and 20 more at the end)
(20 Right Oblique Crunches, and then 20 Left Oblique Crunches are done between your 2 sets of Standard Crunches)
70 Squats
(Alternating by tens, do 10 stationary squats, then 10 squat and jumps - squat down, then jump back up to standing position. Repeat until you've done 70)

60 walking lunges or 60 Pushups
(You decide what you want more for your body... I do lunges because I can barely do 3 pushups in a row! You could also alternate between the two doing 10 reps of each before switching.)

50 more Jumping Jacks

40 more Leg Lifts
(Pick the two leg lifts you like the most and do ten of each on each leg)

30 more Crunches
(10 Standard Crunches, 10 Right Oblique Crunches, 10 Left Oblique Crunches... Or if you're feeling really brave, just do 30 bicycle crunches!)

20 more squats
(Alternating 1 stationary, 1 jumping, until you've done 20)

10 minutes of Running
(This can be done outside, on an elliptical, or a treadmill. Just make sure you finish off strong with some good cardio for your heart and lungs!)

Anyway, it is a pretty tough workout, but it will help get you to where you want to be. 
Just remember:

(Click HERE for image source)