Friday, May 24, 2019

Summer Celebrations: Learning Through The Summer

A scene similar to this will be happening in my backyard in two weeks!

I am a firm believer in learning through play. Not only is this researched backed, but I've seen the benefits with my own eyes over the last 8+ years. Less screen time and more play time is the key for all age groups. Even older children need space to be creative and play (in our house this typically involves extravagant Lego models). 

One summer, when my oldest and a couple of other daycare kids were home after their first school year, I bought workbooks and printed worksheets for them to do. Each day consisted of 30 minutes of "school time." That was the only summer I did that. While it's great to keep kid's brains sharp, it's also imperative that they have various learning opportunities. Things they may not learn in school. It didn't take me long to shape how I wanted summer's to look at daycare.

Each summer I try to provide fun activities for a wide age range of children that involve some sort of learning. While they play, of course. Last summer we learned 50 States in 50 Days. The kids still talk about it and can spout off random facts about certain states (depending on how much they were paying attention that day!). At the end of last summer, it was requested that we learn about celebrations around the world.

Easily done, I thought! What a great way to teach them about other cultures and such. But I also want it to be fun. So, I used my trusty tool Google to find celebrations around the world. I had many, many to choose from. I found a fun list that listed the best festivals and celebrations around the world.Here are the 10 we'll be learning about this summer through play:

Rio Carnival, Brazil
    The kids will be dressing in costumes and dancing the samba (or more than   likely watching videos and copying those dances because let's be real, I           myself am not learning to samba in the next week).

Holi, India
    It's the festival of love or festival of colours that starts with a bonfire (I am not doing this because I'm not stupid enough to do this at a daycare) and end with people chasing each other with dry colored powder and colored water. If this doesn't scream memorable summer activity, I don't know what does.

Running of the Bulls, Spain
    I'm adamant that we're not using actual bulls for this activity, despite the request from the kids. Instead, we'll split the day's daycare group in half. One half with be "bulls" and the other half will be runners. Think of it as a large game of chase or tag. How will the runner know they've been stampeded by a bull? Easy. The "bulls" will be holding paint brushes with red paint on them. If you have a red mark on you, then you've been hit. I can't wait to hear how the kids translate this activity to their parents!

Yi Pen Lantern Festival, Thailand
    I found these biodegradable Chinese lanterns the kids will let go. Also, fireworks and sparklers. This one will be simple, but hopefully memorable.

Chinese New Year, China
     Chinese food for lunch, a dragon, and fireworks for a day. Whenever there's fireworks involved in the middle of the afternoon, you know things have got to be good.

Halloween, USA
     This and St. Patrick's Day made a top ten list of best festivals around the world. I told the kids to pick between the two and they chose Halloween. So, it looks like my Halloween decorations will make an early appearance, costumes will be busted out of their storage bins, and candy will be handed out. Side note: if you visit my house after we do this day, don't be surprised if the decorations are still up. I'm just really getting into the spirit of Halloween and not being lazy, mmmkay?

Oktoberfest, Germany
     No, I don't plan on giving the children beer. That will wait for me until after closing time. Instead, I found a super easy recipe for butter beer that the big kids can make on their own for everyone. I nabbed these costumes for the kids to wear for pictures and it's a safe bet lunch will consist of bratwursts. 

La Tomatina, Spain
     I doubt we ever make it to the world's largest food fight, so we're bringing the food fight to us. The kids literally get to throw tomatoes at each other in a water balloon style fight (and wash off in the sprinklers after). Maybe tomatoes will actually grow in our yard??

Carnival of Venice, Italy
     The kids get to juggle, wear masks, and dance to music. Soooo, typical Tuesday over here.

Songkran Water Festival, Thailand
     A festival where people literally chase each other with buckets of water and have water fights. Since we do this regularly during the summer anyways, this was a given and replaced the St. Patrick's Day celebration on the list. 

I'm not sure who is more excited for these shenanigans: the kids or me!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

10 Great Family Friendly Brunch Spots in Des Moines, Iowa

Our family takes brunching very seriously. We will specifically not make plans with people so we can make it to brunch (these would be our non-brunching friends). We also love local eats and make a point to avoid chains as much as possible. Don't get me wrong, I still make it to Perkins once a year to indulge in their eggs benedict and peaches n' cream muffins, but Perkins is definitely not my favorite brunch in Des Moines. 

We've had our fair share of brunch places we didn't care for, usually because they weren't kid friendly. We're pretty easy going when it comes to eating out at restaurants, but there are a few things that take a restaurant to the top of the list. Having wait staff that are awesome with kids, a loud environment, and fun (and healthy) food choices are three of our musts when brunching with our three children. 

So, where should you brunch on the weekends (or even during the weekday at some places!) with your kids in tow? Here's a list of ten of our faves in the Metro area:

1.) Americana  Everything about this is why it’s #1 in our book. It’s loud, the waiters and waitresses have always been great with our kids, and there’s something for everyone. It’s on the pricier side when it comes to brunches for a family of five (our recent visit was $110 with tip), but well worth the money. Expect to be here a minimum of an hour, longer if you go with family friends. Our kids bring coloring books and small toys to keep them occupied while Mom and Dad finish (or take their time).

2.) Perk Up Cafe  If you’re looking for great diner food and a calming environment this place is for you. Go early to get your pick of tables. On a recent visit, we noticed it began filling up around 9 a.m. on a Saturday. We arrived an hour beforehand and there were plenty of tables available. Service has always been wonderful and friendly.

The delicious toast appetizer at Perk Up Cafe. Someone's three kids might have licked every last bit of powdered sugar off of the plate!

3.) Waveland Cafe  Our favorite diner food ever. I’m a vegetarian but I make an exception for their biscuits and gravy over hashbrowns (called The Lumberman. Try it and thank me later). Service is quick, so even if there’s a wait for tables, there’s a quick turnover. Unless you happen to visit on a weekday where I’ve seen plenty of business meetings and shop talk taking place.

4.) Eggs and Jam  If you’re looking for unique food and 90's songs played loudly while you eat (thus drowning out any tantrums or fit throwing that may occur) this is your place. Service has always been so so for us, but our kids have enjoyed trying new foods each time we go (and that’s always a plus).

5.) Railroad Bill’s  Not only is the food good, but there’s plenty to look at while you wait for your food. Located inside of an old American Railway Express Company building, half of the building is a restaurant and the other is an antique store. Browse the store while waiting for your food and it comes out twice as fast (or so it seems). Also, the restaurant features a few vegan offerings. What other diner serves vegan comfort food??

6.) Malo  Loud, fun music, great patio, and even better food makes this a must. The patio is one of our favorites in Des Moines.

7.) Star Bar  Yes, it’s a bar. But it’s also a really good restaurant! We’ve taken our kids many times for meals and brunch is by far the most family friendly with a great menu to boot. My kid's favorites are their fluffy, huge pancakes or the waffle with berries. "You're welcome," says my oldest.

My favorite spinach and red pepper with goat cheese omelette (above) and the kid's favorite waffles with berries (below).

8.) Felix andOscar’s  You’re not going to find their Chicago style pizza at brunch, but you will find a great variety of foods. The wait staff is so amazing and attentive when we’ve visited. This is a must when you have a child who sucks down their lemonade with a side of wings at 10 a.m.

9.) Gilroy’s  In all honesty, their brunch food isn’t my favorite, but their patio is! It’s large, breezy, comfortable with plenty of seating options. We’ve met friends for brunch and the kids have brought board games to play on the patio while the adults converse and enjoy a mule or two.

10.) Drake Diner  This is a Des Moines classic. It’s always busy, so go early or be prepared to wait. There's a large menu with plenty of options for all. My kids love their coloring mats because, according to my middle child, they have excellent games to play on them. So, go for the food and coloring place mats.

Another Weekend Running

I feel as though our ideal situation would be to have more hours in a day because time seems to be escaping us these days. We've been busy with end of the school year activities and performances that we've been running constantly. Unfortunately, our weekend was much the same way. Thankfully, the weather wasn't the best so we didn't miss too much and we made a relaxing night at home for ourselves thanks to schedule changes.

We began our day with eye appointments and ordering new glasses. Naturally, this took longer than anticipated. We made a pit stop at the bank and the Museum to drop a few necessities off (one of two trips for the day). When we picked the minis up at noon we had promised them lunch. What we didn't tell them was where we would go.

As we hopped in the car, I told Hubs to head downtown and we'll surprise them with a late brunch at Americana for early celebrations of end of the school year, birthdays, and the start of summer. The boys were beyond ecstatic when they realized where we were!

Of course, we didn't have a reservation, so we had some waiting to do. It worked out well because we were able to take a walk around the Sculpture Park while we waited for our 'table's ready' text.

I'm really happy we got a walk around the Park in. The oldest mini had requested a walk there over a week ago and we've had trouble fitting it in.

Brunch. Miss E went heavy on the breakfast foods: pancakes, french toast sticks, honey ham, bacon, sausage, donut holes, and fruit. I was shocked how much our minis ate!

Of course, nothing we do is ever dull.

Just a reminder that moms are never alone...

You may remember our June 30th debacle when we were caught in flash flooding (read about it here). The minis won't soon forget that night so whenever they hear the words 'heavy rains' and 'flash flooding' we make sure we're home. It worked out well because the birthday party we were supposed to attend changed times due to weather and we couldn't make it thanks to our excessive running around.

When we arrived home, the minis asked for a family game night. We had a really fun time! So fun that Hubs and I had an impromptu date night in after the minis went to bed. We ordered food (once we were finally hungry after the biggest brunch ever), played Scrabble, and stayed up way too late.

The middle and youngest minis keep us in stitches often. The middle because of his goofy personality, the youngest because of the things she comes up with and how she views the world. For example, the other night she asked Hubs, very seriously, "um, hey dad. A long, long time ago did things used to be in black and white and gray? Like movies, tv, pictures, and people?" He had a fun time explaining that people could see in color, but that things like movies, tv, pictures, newspapers, etc. were in black and white. She says things like this daily.

So, it came to no surprise that as the boys were setting up the board games we wanted to play (we played a few, but the highlights were Clue and Life), she grabbed the piece she wanted and set it two spaces away from the finish line. "Just start me there," she told her brothers, dead serious.
The boys pointed out that everyone needs to start at the finish line.
"Um, no. Just start me there," she said again, moving her piece back to the finish line. It took all of us a while to convince her that she can't start there!

During the game of Life, she gained a spouse (she chose a husband, "but it's perfectly fine if I wanted a wife too") and she moved herself out of the drivers seat and put her new husband into it. The boys questioned her and she replied, "the dads drive the cars. The moms have to sit in the passenger seat because they have to tell the dads where to go and what to do." I died a little....and I'm also going to make a point of doing the driving!

The cat was not a fan of our game playing, clearly.

Cheese curds and Scrabble.

Sunday was another go-day that involved dance pictures (there's hair, make up, and meltdowns hours before those pictures were snapped), errand running, looking at new cars, and a trip to the hardware store because, get this: HUBS broke a window! Not me. Not a mini. Not one of my 'let's try this!' ideas. Hubs broke it by opening it. 

And because we're we were at the hardware store deciding on new glass for the window, we just decided to go for a temporary fix and just go for an upstairs bathroom remodel in July. After vacation and when we have a thousand other things happening. This is just Completely.

I'm looking forward to Memorial Day weekend because we have made it so we have some kind of freedom! While we have a lot to do and many places to be, we're hoping to have some fun AND get prepared for summer vacation because it begin NEXT WEEK!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Who's Ready For Summer Shenanigans???

The leftover grave site items. Read on to hear about this adventure....

So, raise your hand if you're ready for the kids to be home from school and the shenanigans that come with it??? 

Me? I'm slowly raising my hand this year and responding with a soft "yes I am!" since I've already gotten a taste of what summer could bring. Both tastes, as we'll call it, happened this past week. Both left me rolling my eyes, thinking 'wtf??' and laughing hysterically. This isn't even counting the dead baby bird that fell out of the tree, was stepped on, and then drawn a 'dead bird outline' in the driveway where it fell. This also doesn't count the dead baby bird that was in the backyard that the kids found and thought was a lizard. We went through an entire bottle of hand soap that morning....

The first taste happened one evening as the minis and co. were playing basketball. A ball rolled down the street (we live on a hill) and the kids asked if they could run down and get it. "Sure!" I said, probably too bubbly. They do a pretty decent job of remembering the rules: walk to get the ball in pairs, watch for cars, stop at the end of the street and look both ways, if the ball ends up in the stream (at the end of the street) just leave the ball and get a new one.

Apparently they failed the no running portion and the middle mini fell in the middle of the street. Neighbors were out conversing, daycare parents picking up kids, and many more neighbors were doing yard work. Everyone seemed to witness what is now known as "the street fall," but me. I was inside with other daycare kiddos, cooking dinner.

The middle mini came inside whimpering but with minimal scratches. Nothing a quick rinse and a few Band Aids wouldn't fix. However, upon inspection of my First Aid box, all of our Band Aids were gone (something the youngest mini sheepishly copped to when questioned--her dolls needed them apparently). No worries, no panicking. There's always butterfly bandages....nope, gone too (also the youngest). There's always gauze and medical tape.....nope, I forgot to buy more medical tape. So, I did what any quick thinking mom would do and I grabbed gauze and masking tape, kissed the tears, made sure all was okay, and sent him back out to play.

He played basketball for another hour with his bandaged up hand and arm. We sat down for dinner and he casually mentions, "oh yeah, all of the neighbors asked about my arm because they saw me fall."

"Uh-huh, we have nice neighbors," I replied.

"Yeah, I told them that we're pretty sure it's broken, but you used masking tape and told me to go play. Then they started asking me if I was okay and stuff."

"You told them WHAT??!?" I was all kinds of mortified and haven't seen any of our neighbors since to casually mention that his arm is indeed just fine and I really can be up for Mother of The Year award.

My awesome bandage job. For those curious, new Band Aids and medical tape were purchased within hours of this incident.

Until the second thing happened. The ball rolled down the sidewalk this time and I was asked if two of the kids could retrieve it. "Sure, but remember to walk," I warned this time. They came back a few minutes later, their eyes lit with stories and excitement.

"There's a dead mouse! It was right by the ball! It's dead! It doesn't have any hair and it looked like it just died."

"Don't touch it. Leave it alone okay," I said. 

"We didn't," they replied. I dropped it. They didn't touch it. I obviously had no need to worry. For the next hour I didn't hear the ball being bounced, but I heard them talking and saw them on the front porch with the usual sidewalk chalk, sticks, dandelions. I didn't think twice about anything, nor did I pay attention to what they were talking about. There was no fighting or disagreements to referee, so I kept myself out of it.

At dinner the middle mini excitedly spoke of his dead mouse. I again posed the question "you didn't touch it, did you?" I was growing more unsure of this dead mouse.

The middle mini assured me again, "we didn't touch it mom." A full day goes by. One of the daycare moms informs me she's pretty sure we have a dead mouse somewhere because of what her child was saying.

"No, they found one down the street on the sidewalk, but they told me they didn't touch it." No more was thought of it.

That day I ordered pizza for lunch. Per the usual, the delivery guy brought the pizza to the front door and throughout the entire exchanged acted nervous and kept glancing down. Okay, for real, I'm used to tweaked out pizza delivery guys. I really didn't think much of it. Plus, he was questioning my large order of food, when I assured him I had a daycare full of hungry kids to feed. Sometimes the words kids and hungry puts people on edge. Who was I to judge this guy's fear of hungry children?

Later that same day, I kindly opened the front door for my husband to come through when I looked down at our little table next to the front door. On it I saw a brick, colored in bright sidewalk chalk, surrounded by little sticks and dandelions, with.....a dead mouse (actually we learned it was a vole) on top of the brick. The kids built a freaking funeral/grave for a dead rodent.

"Harrison! What is this?? I asked you if you touched it and you said no!!" 

"We didn't mom!" he responded innocently.

"But you did! It's at our house, by our front door, not on the sidewalk anymore!" I said, trying to keep it cool, but seriously, looking at a dead rodent just inches from you is enough to make for high pitched shrieking.

"Well yeah, we brought it back. We didn't want it to get stepped on or rolled over by somebody's bike. But we didn't touch it. We used sticks and an empty bag we found....just like you did with the baby bird the other day," he replied.

He got me. I was asking all the wrong questions, said none of the correct instructions (instead of don't touch it, I clearly needed to say don't move it), and it was all right in front of my face. Suddenly the dandelion picking, uneasy pizza guy, and the mouse excitement at dinner was all making sense. Thankfully, my husband was home to deal with the dead rodent because I am not equipped to be dealing with such things. Obviously.

So, am I ready for summer? Sure. Am I ready to be outsmarted by school agers? Nope. Will there be some excellent stories and plenty of 'wft??!!' moments? Yep.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mother's Day Weekend

After our busiest week ever (read about that here), we kept things low key, while doing things we had to get done to make this week run smoothly. Last week Elizabeth received her dance costumes for her recital. This week is costume week, which means she has to attend class on Wednesday in full recital garb. After sleeping in Saturday morning, we went to the Theatrical Shop for new tights, tap shoes, make up, etc. I treated the kids to Big Acai Bowls and we checked out the little shops in Valley Junction. We even got our grocery shopping done just in time to have a Mother's Day dinner with my parents.

The highlight of my week was discovering what my child had drawn for art class. I consider it a win when I can end a week and begin a weekend knowing that I'm doing something right in this whole parenting thing.

Acai, granola, chia seeds, and berries = big bowls of deliciousness. The minis loved these so much that we had to grab more chia seeds from Trader Joe's and all of the fixings for our own acai bowls.

It was chilly and damp outdoors, so we made the most of Big Acai's room with bags and space to do cartwheels.

Of course this child would manage to walk off the incredibly wide sidewalk and step in the only mud puddle on the block. Typical.

They started ball throwing inside, but we moved it outside when things got a bit too crazy. There was also basketball and soccer played.

The minis are the best card makers. Max made this for my mom: a tablet that shows Best Grandma or Mom #EVER 

My momma and me for our Mother's Day dinner.

We noticed the beautiful way the sun hit the tree tops as it went down and I went outside to capture it. Of course, I had it on selfie mode first.....Max, who was watching from the window, thought it was hilarious that I snapped a picture of myself before I corrected it. Relentless teasing and laughing from the (almost) 11 year old. If he only knew how often this happens....

Then we have Mother's Day. I bought myself flowers from Trader Joe's the day before, so I was treated to new coffee mugs, donuts (that the minis asked for, from Chu Chu donuts), sleeping in, a personalized "show" that the minis choreographed, and a walk through Water Works Parks looking for the mountain lion roaming the city (true stuff from Des Moines, Iowa).

All three of the minis did readings, sang, danced, and played instruments for me. It was quite special. I particularly loved that they chose THEIR favorite songs to dance to and sing rather than mine! 

I had many moments of extreme pride throughout the weekend. I'm fairly certain my Mother's Day gift was knowing the things I'm teaching my children: to be open minded and accepting of everyone, to get the most of out traveling, to be themselves and express themselves, do the things that make them happy. These things made me enjoy their show even more.

In all truthfulness, my favorite part of the morning was Elizabeth trying to put the guitar in her doll Tenney's hand. It wouldn't fit, so Matt suggested trying it in the doll's other hand. She set the guitar in the other hand and let it slide through. She then made a wonderful face with wide eyes and said "see!!??!" with a tone. Between the look she gave and her tone, she may as well have told her dad, "you dumbass that doesn't work." I died as I tried to stifle my laughter.

One of my many pieces of jewelry they made me.

I had no idea they had a close idea how to square dance and do something that resembled an Irish jig.

New mugs. A comically gigantic mug (that I turned into a flower vase because nobody needs that much coffee, not even me!) and a Super Mom mug.

It was a cool and wet day, so that kind of limited our activities for the day. I had really wanted a hike, but I settled for Water Works Park. As you may have heard, there's a mountain lion making it's way through Des Moines and has been spotted numerous times. Harrison (the middle mini) requested that we go on a mountain lion hunt, or as he said "I don't want to kill it or get it or anything. I just want to see it with my very own eyes. No cages or leashes or anything. But I don't want it to see me!" I love that my minis have a sense of adventure and I love that I'm able (and willing) to say yes to every little adventure I can. 
The plan was to walk on the (paved) bike path so we didn't have to deal with muddy shoes. Of course, that didn't last long. Almost instantly the youngest mini went off the path and lead us through the mud. This doesn't surprise me in the least.

"Oh my god! Mountain lion prints!" - Harrison. 

The boys wore the headsets to talk to each other and "headquarters" in case we came across the mountain lion. Those pipe cleaner headsets would have come in handy then!

Our fearless leader. I'd love to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon soon(ish) but I have serious concerns about her running, twirling, skipping off the edge!

"Mom! Mom! Is that the mountain lion or a log?" Just a log.

Skippin' rocks in the river by the railroad tracks. 

My greatest surprise of the day came as we were leaving Water Works Park. A mom and her two children walked up to me with their arms full of flowers and offered me one. They said she wanted to spend her Mother's Day giving other's a smile. It sure made me smile more!

Mom's choice for an early family dinner was taco pizza (turns out the minis LOVE Casey's taco pizza) and a nap on the couch while Hubs took care of showers for the minis.

We usually travel on or around Mother's Day (hey, it's mom's choice and I'll likely always choose to travel), but since we have our big summer road trip at the end of next month, I didn't want to take anymore time off. It might not have been one of our ultimate road trip weekends, but our mountain lion "hunt" made it more than adventurous!