Author / Liz

Four.

Four years have both flown by and lasted forever. Our happy, articulate, goofy, energetic, kind-hearted, friendly-to-a-fault guy has been on the earth for 48 months and counting.

The consistency in writing your name on one line (not in a loop) continues to improve (you signed all your own thank you notes for Christmas and your birthday!). You can count to 39 but need to be reminded of “Forty…Forty-one…” to keep going. You are quickly grasping the concept of sounding out letters you recognize and with (a lot of) help, are reading a few simple sight words. Your drawing has evolved in a huge way — you actually dissect what you’re trying to draw and recreate it in your own way (a circle and eight lines to be a spider and eight legs, instead of not so long ago, a circle scribble several times over and done). People have eyes and arms and legs in your drawings. I find it so interesting to watch this particular area of development, because it’s such a big glimpse into how you think. You drew a “favorite food” the other day and started with toppings for a pizza, then drew the triangle slice AROUND the toppings, instead of what I would have done — draw a triangle first then fill it in with details. Your different perspective is so fun to see.

You’ve become much more interested in full-length movies (and parent shamers beware, you’ve seen –and been relatively unscathed by– all of the Jurassic Park movies). You saw your first movie in a theater with all of us over Thanksgiving (the new Grinch film) and LOVED every second of it. Dinosaurs are high on the list of current interests, along with a soft spot (still!) for garbage trucks, and any kind of gun/blaster/sword/weapon in general. You’re on the right team at least — you’re always playing some version of “get the bad guys”. Outer space, reading, painting, and just about any project with Dad all rank high on your list of favorite things.

The holidays were especially magical this year as you FULLY grasped the concept of Santa (you had MANY questions for him when you met him) and yet were very engaged and excited about shopping, wrapping, and giving on behalf of everyone else, taking particular care this year not to spoil surprises. You’re still pretty easy to please in terms of gifts and bang for our buck — when people ask what you got from Santa you most often reference the “giant lolly” of all things (a five dollar piece of plastic filled with ten Dum Dums inside). Sugar and candy rank high for you in general right now (but consequently, you’re trying MANY more foods now with the promise of a treat if you do so).

You were ecstatic to finally get some snow and though you’re still not a huge thrill seeker (sledding is cool only if the hill isn’t too high or fast) you LOVE snowball fights and shoveling with Dad. You’d live in jammies all day every day if we let you, only taking them off to take half hour long spa showers. Forever a spa baby! At 35 pounds and 39 inches, you rolled into four asking for a bowling date with a couple friends for your celebration. We kept things low key this year with a pending trip to Disney — The celebration continues soon at the most magical place on Earth!

Happy four years and counting to our very favorite human. You fill our hearts and make us so proud every day!

Gift Guide for 4 Year Olds: Favorite Toys and Books

About once a year, I love to share what Crew is especially into as far as books and toys and activities. I LOVE a good gift guide from others whose kids are a step ahead of us to plan for future gift ideas — or to learn what’s hot in an age group I’m less familiar with and need to buy for. Fresh off of Christmas and a fourth birthday just after, we’ve had a very fun (and frankly, needed!) replenishment of new and more age advanced things to do. I love the variety of things Crew is interested in right now — it made it especially fun to shop for him this year (yes, there was still a garbage truck on the list, but at least it wasn’t ALL trucks!). He received a little of everything – action-based, STEM, literary, artsy, musical. Without further adieu, here are the things that are topping our list right now:

This Hape marble run set was gifted to Crew for his birthday. I later learned you can buy other sets and add on, but for now, this is plenty to play with and you can assemble and reassemble it in a few different configurations. We had one of these (plastic) once upon a time and it wasn’t sturdy enough and thus frustrating. Wood, Hape-quality is the way to go on this one. I have visions of saving it for my grandchildren to come play with someday!

The pricetag on the Osmo Creative Kit gave me pause initially — would he like it enough to justify it? I hadn’t heard from anyone firsthand about it. (Click the link and view the demo video to get the full effect!) This kit works with an iPad or Kindle to interact with your child’s drawings. Crew likes to draw but it’s not how he spends his days on end…until maybe now! He LOVES the interaction piece and the challenge to draw different things. I’m not kidding when I say the first time he sat down with this, because it could be completely self-guided, he logged easily an hour-plus and many hours since then. I love that we’re using the iPad for something OTHER than YouTube (eye roll) and I can actually see his wheels turning and his fine motor skills improving. Part of the price of this kit is the base that allows the tablet to work with these kits; once you have that, the other kits can be ordered WITHOUT a base, bringing the cost down a bit. I definitely would consider this pizza kit that allows the child to prepare pizza orders and count back change (again! watch the video to see how it works!), in another year or so.

These remote control bumper cars have been a HUGE hit. More than just an RC car, when one hits the others side button just right, the driver goes flying, to Crew’s giggling delight. They are a bit hard to control for a four year old, but it doesn’t seem to matter, because with two going at once, it’s chaos anyway 🙂

Crew had spotted this piano mat many times over in the Target toy aisle (he loved the beats created by pressing the buttons, but it was still in the box, so he didn’t even understand the extent of what it did) It has been a big hit from both a music standpoint and a winter indoors energy-burner! I notice the price on this on Amazon fluctuates — so check both spots! There are tons of games to play on this mat, from prancing around and tapping out a song, to make silly noises, to creating different beats, or just chasing around hopscotch-style while different music notes light up.

The Instax Mini in our house actually belongs to me (polaroids make great party favors at get-togethers!) but as I’m trying to cultivate some interest in photography with Crew, I’ve been letting him carry it around more and more, and the price point isn’t much more than other “kids cameras” on the market. It’s awesome for making photography tactile at this age and it creates some instant gratification to have a physical picture to look at that he made himself. He quickly understood the idea that the film is not unlimited like digital photography, so he’s learning to stop and think about what he wants to take a picture of, and he understands that when the 10 pictures run out, they’re gone. I’m rationing the film with him but already thinking ahead to Easter basket and future stockings — packs of film would be something he’d get VERY excited about!

Crew was SO INTO The Story Orchestra Nutcracker (featuring, of course, Tchaikovsky’s work) over Christmastime that I had to buy another title to get us past the season, so I went with Four Seasons in One Day (featuring the work of Vivaldi). The little snippets of famous classical music are just the right length for his attention span, and the interactive buttons keep it even more engaging. He loves to to pick out his favorites exclaiming that they sound scary or spooky or silly. There’s only one other title in this series so far, but I’m hoping they create more! We LOVE books and some of the newest additions that have received rave reviews are Knock Knock, The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, Cookies! (the latest in a fun interactive cooking series we’re big fans of), and 3, 2, 1 Blast Off (a fantastic book about the solar system that doesn’t get too wordy or technical like most, for the littlest outer space enthusiasts).

Happy gifting — four is already shaping up to be SUCH a fun age!

Post may contain affiliate links, but all opinions are my own.

Sugar Cookie Decorating Tips & Supplies

In recent years, I’ve gotten pretty into the decorated cookie craze. I love any artsy project, but these happen to work year-round for a sweet treat and they are wonderful to gift. It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby and the cost is your time, not so much money — I’d guess I have MAYBE a hundred bucks in ALL my supplies I’ve collected over the past several years. (Okay, that’s assuming you already have basic baking stuff on hand like a mixer and cookie sheets.)

Today, I wanted to share my favorite tips and tools for decorating (full disclosure: I’m not a professional baker, I just do this for fun!) as well as my favorite icing and dough recipe (after many, MANY rounds of trial and error!).

BAKING THE COOKIES

Let’s start with the cookie. I love THIS recipe for my sugar cookies – the shape you cut out won’t bloat or expand much, what you see is what you’ll get! I follow it exactly, and to her point, I’ve frozen the dough before when I make extra batches, but do let it come ALL the way to room temp before you start working with it. By far, it works best to whip it up and use it right then without storing/cooling time.

I keep a stash of cutters in our pantry (they double as sandwich cutters for Crew’s lunches, too). I have holiday-specific ones, but a favorite year-round set has been this alphabet set as Crew wants to spell his name or it’s fun to gift someone a little set of cookies that spell out “JOY” or “LOVE” or “BOO” depending on the time of the year.

You can roll your dough out on your floured counter, (I use a regular wooden rolling pin, nothing fancy) but Page specifically cut a giant piece of pine to perfectly fit one half of our island and sanded it super smooth. We originally wanted it for rolling out pasta dough, but it doubles as my cookie surface now. At the recommendation of the chef we learned to make pasta from, we picked up a large drywall trowel that we only use in the kitchen to scrape off caked-on dough and extra flour when we’re done (genius). My exact cookie sheets are no longer available but these are identical (the textured surface makes it nearly impossible to end up with stuck-on cookies) and to keep them nice, I only use them for baked goods (we have separate baking sheets for pizza, snacks, and anything else). Of course, use ALL the flour when cutting out your cookies – I dip my cutters in it, and keep it liberally sprinkled everywhere, rubbing it onto the surface, the dough, and the rolling pin every so often.

MAKING AND COLORING THE ICING

I won’t lie — baking the cookies is the easy part, but I also thinks it’s the less fun. Now you get to be creative! I first learned some basic techniques in a local bakery cookie class. I went home and practiced, and have evolved how I do the next part, so I’ll share both ways below. First, you need some royal icing. Again, after MANY different tested recipes, I like THIS recipe because it dries firm enough to stack your cookies, but not rock hard like so many versions (you want them to look AND taste good!). They have the slightest shine to them when they dry, and there’s no egg white like some, so you don’t have to worry about them sitting out.

After you’ve whipped up your batch of frosting, divide it into bowls, depending on how many colors you want to use. (I use Pinterest all the time to get inspo on color palette, and I pick out a handful of cutters I know I want to use, and determine my colors accordingly.) Your icing, well covered, has a shelf life of about a month, so I’ve gotten in the habit of mixing each color directly in a food storage container with a lid, so I can keep any leftovers if I want to. I’ve tried a few kinds of food coloring and have come to love these the best. Tip: you will need WAY more red and black compared to the others to get a true red or black, so I buy the bigger bottles of those colors. It was a game-changer to learn that to get an even wider color palette, you can add ivory food coloring to your pure-white icing to get a whole bunch of softer colors.

Piping and Flooding

This is how I originally learned to frost and it’s how I frosted the IOWA cookies, above. For this technique you’ll need icing bags and a basic icing tip and couplers for each bag/color you plan to use (this video can explain how to to put your tip on your icing bag better than I can explain in writing.) You can play around with different tips, but I always go back to the no.3 as my sweet spot. You’ll also need a few squeeze bottles (I’ve used and like both this style and these).

For each color of icing you’ve made, you’re going to divide it in half. Spatula half of it as-is (thick) into an icing bag and tie it off with a rubber band or I do like these to hold them closed. With the remaining half of each color, add a few drops of water and remix, SLOWLY adding more water until the icing is the consistency of runny glue. Once you have that, pour it into a squeeze bottle. NOTE: I once did this out of order and split up my icing BEFORE I’d colored it — you want to color it first so it’s consistent and matches perfectly. Huge headache to try and do this after you’ve split it up!

Start with your piping icing (in the bag) and outline your cookie or the portion of the cookie you want in that color. It should be nice and stiff and hold its outline shape. Take your matching flooding (squeeze bottle) icing and outline JUST inside your piped icing, getting as cloooose as possible even overlapping a tiny bit without going outside your line. Once you’ve done a full outline, just squeeze all over “flooding” and filling in your outline. It feels extra, but this tool is INVALUABLE in popping any air bubbles you might get while flooding before they dry.

All-At-Once

I did the piping and flooding method for a long time and still sometimes do if I need super precise detail. But in the batch above, as a time and clean-up saver, I’ve also tried for ONE icing color consistency just a tad thicker than the glue and as my hands have gotten steadier, I just pipe the thick-flooding as my outline and fill right in from there. This definitely takes practice and if it’s even the slightest bit too watery, it’s a hot mess (and no I hadn’t yet popped air bubbles in the shot above ha!). But I mention this option for anyone wanting to try!

To finish it off, I love some sprinkles or simply dragging toothpicks through the icing to make pretty designs. There are zillions of YouTube videos on simple decorating techniques once you’ve got the basic icing down. A favorite sprinkle look (seen in the footballs above) is a clear piping gel design, then sprinkle a sugar on top and shake off the excess.

Happy decorating and of COURSE be sure to taste test throughout the process! 😉

Christmas Carriers Thank You Printable

I can’t take credit for the idea, but for the first time last year and again this year we set out a seasonal basket for our package and letter carriers as a thank you gesture for all their extra hard work.

It’s fun to see the items disappear and Crew’s favorite job is to check and refill it as needed. I stay away from liquids because of our cold temps but the popular things seemed to be fresh fruit that’s easy to eat on the go (apples, bananas) and individual packs of snack mixes. I stashed everything in a dollar store container that I wouldn’t miss if it got too empty and blew away unexpectedly.

This year I wanted to do better than my handwritten sign from last year, and it made sense to share it forward here.

You can print this at full size to be 8.5 x 11, or use your printer options to scale it down if need be for a smaller container (I printed mine above at 50% to better fit ours).

To get your printable sign click here

Happy holiday season!

Fangirl Favorites: October

Back with my latest and random as ever round-up of stuff we love around here this month (and beyond!). I say it every time — but I so value the opinions of others rather than having to trial and error myself. It’s nice to just know when something comes highly recommended!

Lolleez throat pops — Cold season has hit our house hard, and with it comes all the sore throats. I love that unlike lozenges, these pops on a stick don’t pose the same choking hazard. They are Crew-approved and when I sampled one myself, I was pleasantly surprised they taste nothing like medicine, and DID help ease my sore throat.

Cookies interactive book — I’ve blogged about this Cook In A Book series multiple times and for good reason. Crew continues to LOVE these books and pulls them off the shelf regularly. They just released the newest title, and Santa is stashing it for a stocking stuffer.

Bota Box Wine — Yet another example of why you need cool friends to keep you in the loop. When we hosted a casual friends and kids dinner, a couple brought along this Pinot Noir. I’ve always been a box wine snob…until now. Page only liked it, but I thought it was really good (perfectly light and NOT sweet like other box reds I’ve tried), and especially for the price (about $20), it blew my mind you got the equivalent of four bottles. For a special occasion I’d defer to something else, but for a regular weeknight glass (or two), I’m all about keeping this one on tap.

BeautyCounter Overnight Resurfacing Peel — (No, I don’t sell BC – just love this item!) I am selective about my “splurgier” facial products, but this one has been worth its money and then some. While I haven’t seen as much lightening of age spots as I hoped to, my skin FEELS so much better and my makeup glides on in a way it never did before. I love no-fuss application stuff, and this one couldn’t be easier. Just slap one pump’s worth over your freshly washed face at night, and wait a minute or two before applying your moisturizer. I noticed a difference in my skin’s texture after the very first night.

Huckberry boots — Page added these to his shoe lineup last year and I’ve admittedly stolen them now and again for a quick jaunt out to the garage or the mailbox — and now I think I need my own pair. SO soft and warm and cozy — I’m a fan of anything that feels like slippers but can pass as a real shoe.

Diamond Dazzle Stick — These will be stocking stuffers for every gal on my list this year. I’m so bad about cleaning my ring on the regular at home, I like this little to-go stick so if I’m killing time in traffic or waiting at an appointment, I can do a quick shine. Would be a fun gift for a new bride or bride-to-be!

As always, comment here with the things you’re loving! I’m all about adding to cart based on your recommendations 🙂

Age 3: Q3

Another quarter of age 3 has flown by. More independent than ever, so many little day to day details are changing and oh so grown up. You climb up on your stool and brush your own teeth (with a double check after), bring your dishes to the sink after dinner, rarely need a reminder to try and use the restroom, get your own clothes on (depending on the shirt – those are still tricky!) – and they’re usually on the right direction 😉 More than once, you’ve woken up and come downstairs without us hearing. You grab your milk cup out of the fridge and climb onto the couch with the iPad and let us continue sleeping ha!

Summer was oh so good to us. There was SO much swimming and trampoline jumping and running around with the neighbor kids. Again, new levels of independence as you’ve been allowed a yard or two over – I won’t lie, we’ve enjoyed it, too, able to have a glass of wine on the patio or grill dinner while having an uninterrupted conversation. 🙂

Your vocabulary and complex thoughts continue to amaze us. Just today at the park you told me you could do something that was a “big kid skill (skill?!) and I can do it because I’m a big kid because I’m almost four”.

We are equally as entertained by the mix-ups that still happen. As of late, you replace the word “respect” for when you mean “expect”. So instead of “that’s what I expected to happen” it comes out more like, “that’s what I’m respectin!” (You still rarely put a -g on the end of any word that ends in -ing. It’s all “pizza toppins” and “jumpin” and “roarin”.)

Speaking of roaring, the Jurassic Park love is real and you will sit through a good bit of any of the movies, captivated. You can name many of the kinds of dinosaurs and often impersonate them for us. The planets and stars are a new thing in your world and you ask almost nightly if you and Dad can go outside and look for them, after rockstar Dad showed you an app on his phone that lets you point it at the sky and learn what’s what. I do love that you’ll still enthusiastically take on some art projects with me – painting continues to be your favorite. You still want to clarify on Thursdays that it’s garbage day, but the need to run outside every Thursday is dwindling. How funny is it that I can’t quite type that fact without a little eye-watering. 🙂

You love to do your version of break-dancing, and your favorite jams vacillate between “Ice Ice Baby” and “I Wish (I Was A Little Bit Taller)”. You’re obsessed with the idea of Easter and desperately are trying to grasp the concept of weeks and months to get a grip on just when that bunny will show up again with eggs.

Breadsticks are probably your favorite food at the moment, and you can take down nearly a whole slice of Costco pizza in one sitting. Donuts still rank high for you, but you still won’t touch chocolate milk. You’ll eat a handful of various vegetables but if we make a salad, you’re disgusted that we’re “eatin’ leaves!”. A lot of play revolves around pretend food and food prep — you still love to play restaurant or food truck with your tent or kitchen and take orders and deliver them. Maybe a restaurant career in your future?

Letters and sounds and early reading is clicking for you at a rapid rate. They’re in no linear order, but you can write each letter of your name without having to look at an example. It’s hit or miss but you can often tell us which letter a word starts with, and vice versa if we name a letter, you can (usually) come up with a word that begins with it. You’re sounding things out and you like to follow printed words and make up what they say, but sound as if you’re really reading them carefully. Long story short – you’re pretty desperate to be a reader, and soon.

Like any kid, you have a couple “hard no” things that you’re afraid of (tunnel slides are still one!) but when it comes to people, you are so certain of yourself. You’re always the first to initiate a new friendship, walking up and starting the conversation, and I can actually SEE you match pace with another child as a way to get closer to them — if they’re into something specific, you match their interest in it, or ask questions, or laugh at something silly they’re doing as a way to engage. You are sometimes annoyed if I jump in to the conversation — like if you could, you’d say, “Mom get OUT of here, you’re ruining my cool factor”. 🙂

You’re high on life, that’s for certain. You love as fiercely as ever and tell us as much all the time without any kind of prompt. I hear you repeat things we say to you, but you MEAN them when you say them — “Oh Dad, I’m so proud of you for moving that big box all by yourself you must be so strong” or “Mom it makes me really happy that you brought me that snack, I’ll give you a hug because I know you love hugs”. <3

You can stall bedtime, be the most selective listener, and (annoyingly) pout and cringe at meals we put in front of you, but you make up for it all with a huge heart, great manners (most of the time), the silliest sense of humor, and an attitude that is all-in for any kind of adventure. We’re so crazy proud of the little person you’re becoming as you transition out of these toddler times and join the ranks of truly being a “kid”.

Love you fiercely.

Mom

Dragons Love Tacos Halloween Costume

I spent weeks taking this 3.5 year old to the store, browsing online, and generally asking him what he might want to be for Halloween. Anything I suggested was met with some variation of “meh” — until I proposed a character from one of his favorite books. If you have a kid in your life and haven’t read Dragons Love Tacos, do so immediately!

The ONLY opinion that was voiced was that he wanted to be a BLUE dragon with green wings. So off to Primary I went for their hoodie and joggers to get started.

If you are familiar with this book, you know the whole story unravels when the dragons get ahold of the spicy salsa. I grabbed an orange pumpkin bucket from the dollar store, spray painted it red, and we loosely followed the illustration as a guide, using scrapbook sticker letters for the label.

Dragons Love Tacos Halloween Costume | lifeinyellow.com

I bought a yard of the most dragon-ish green fabric I could find for the wings, tail, and horns. I am NOT a seamstress, but I managed to make a simple cone shaped tail, turned it right side out and stuffed it with stuffing. I added a single triangle “horn” to the end of the tail, and tacked the other two onto the hoodie. I bought a pair of children’s fairy wings at the dollar store to use as my base, covered them in the green fabric, changing the outline of the wings to be a bit more dragon and less butterfly. I sewed the top of the tail to the underside of the wings so he could put the whole thing on as if it were a backpack.

To drive home that this wasn’t just any dragon but a taco-loving dragon, I bought an “I Love Tacos’ button on Etsy and pinned it to his hoodie. We made a couple cardstock and tissue paper tacos and stuffed them in each pocket — after all, you have to have “pantloads” of tacos to host a proper taco party for dragons.

Oh no, dragon! You know what happens if you eat that spicy salsa!

Happy halloween — and happy costume creating — from our home to yours! <3

Fangirl Favorites: September

  1. I have to begin with this ridiculously well priced set of chairs. You can buy them individually or in sets of two and four — I needed two for the current project of turning my “office” (previously the nursery) into more of a creative art room space. We’ve been sitting on them for weeks now and still love them!
  2. I was gifted this planner and would have never otherwise looked twice at it. I’ve never been a planner girl, but this is slowly changing my life (yes, dramatic). I am the classic “too many ideas, not enough time” and this planner has totally helped me break down big goals into actionable (realistic) chunks and I’m seeing so much progress two months in on so many of my big goals. There’s a monthly, weekly and daily component but there’s so much room for interpretation and to use it as it best works for you.
  3. We ALL love this lavender wash, but it’s particularly great for winding Crew down at bedtime. It’s very reasonably priced for a giant bottle and we’re maybe a third of the way through ours, which I bought at the beginning of the summer.
  4. It’s soup season and Page is the biggest fan. He ordered this thermos as a way to pack his Trader Joes tomato and roasted red pepper soup (have you tried it? SOOO good!) for the office.
  5. I should preface that I am NOT a cookbook purchaser. I rely heavily on my Pinterest boards and a handful of friends and family recipes that I keep in a binder. But Healthyish captivated from cover to cover and every single recipe I’ve tried out of here is so ridiculously good and full of flavor, without being overly complex. And while I can feel good about it being pretty good for me, the recipes aren’t SO stringent that it feels like “diet food”.
  6. I always notice that my skin acts up during the change of the seasons. I’ve been giving myself a little extra TLC with this hot cloth cleansing balm. I’m a HUGE fan of the one made by Beautycounter, but the price tag is just too hefty to justify on an ongoing basis. I’ve found this one to be very similar and paired with a set of muslin washcloths I can give myself a little facial while in the shower. (These two products together also make a great gift!)
  7. My mom finds the greatest stuff and this one nailed his obsession with food prep pretend play. Kiddos can “serve” different flavors of juice (his favorite part is using the menu to take our orders) into glasses and add ice cubes with this drink dispenser toy. Sounds so simple, but it’s provided HOURS of entertainment. In fact it’s been such a hit, I think we might add this set to expand his menu. And as always, we love Melissa & Doug toys for their long lasting durability – they’re the toys that get saved and packed away for my grandkids someday. 🙂