A Nest for All Seasons A Nest for All Seasons: July 2014

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31 July 2014

Welcome to the Jungle...a Private 65 acre Jungle in Nuevo Arenal.

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Welcome to the Jungle.  THIS was our home for a few weeks in Costa Rica.  Join me for a run through the property...

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

See that red roof?  That is the main house.  The view is from the "yoga studio", a large platform in the jungle...

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

The walk takes about 5 minutes from the house to the studio.

If you want to see animals, but never want to leave the house, that is ok too. 

They will come see you.

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal
Those horses belong to the gardener and wander the property.  This is off the back porch.

The storm clouds roll in pretty regularly in rainy season (predictable, yes?) and can be intense.  In fact,  I would be willing to say the storms were one of my top 3 memories of Costa Rica.  The anger in the sheets of rain pounding down across the jungle and the jungles bouncing back in full brilliant green -- it was majestic.  It made me wonder what life must have been like before roofing was invented.  Miserable at times, certainly, but I would imagine you feel much closer to your Creator and the natural world under your feet when being pelted daily by masterful rainstorms.

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

 Caretaker's Garage/Home

Aren't those doors fabulous?  The native Costa Rican woods were awesome and if we were building a home there, I would give up my white painted wood habits for sure and for certain.  Side note: There was a dryer in that garage and we were longingly peeking in at it day after day.  You see, THINGS DO NOT DRY in the jungle and wearing a shirt for 15 minutes meant it was slightly damp.   The sheets were slightly damp, the towels were slightly damp, our whole life was slightly damp. If I were to offer the slightest bit of criticism to this property, it would be the lack of a dryer in the main house.  There was a hookup, just no dryer.  It would have been VERY much appreciated :)  (More to come in future posts on packing for the damp climate!)

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

  Main House through the Garden


Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal
 

Front of Main House - Second Floor


Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

See that porch?  It is really pretty and the view is fantastic.  
Problem: The snakes think so too.

Side Walkways

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

Alex wouldn't let us walk on this pretty side porch.  
It was inhabited by two giant black snakes.

Outdoor Kitchen

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

We spent a LOT of our time out here on the porch.  We never fired up the outdoor oven, but most meals were served out here and crumbs swept off the tile porch into the jungle.  We saw a fair amount of jungle creatures on the porch itself, including a butterfly one night and a baby bird the next that we "rescued" when they got trapped.

One of the reasons we left Costa Rica a few days early was a lack of sleep.  Those damp sheets and harrowing dreams of children strangled in their sleep by snakes kept me awake most nights.  The plus to sleepless nights?  Sunrises over the jungle canopy.  Here is a photo looking in from one of those mornings:

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal
 Looking in on the living room/kitchen at dawn - 4:00 AM or so when the rest of the house was sleeping.

Pre-Dawn across the Jungle

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a lot more in depth about traveling with the kids, Costa Rica in general and more!  The series has been sponsored by Duluth and I look forward to showing you what goes "in my bag" when traveling alone, with kids, for daytrips and on extended vacations.  It can be quite a science!  I am happy to have you along for the ride and would love to hear about your travels and tips as well!

Kids Vacation in Costa Rica ArenalKids Vacation in Costa Rica Arenal

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29 July 2014

Aligning Schedules and Activities in Summer

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Before we get started, I want to clarify that I am not really going to tackle "real" activities like athletics or major trips.  Instead, today I am going to give you a little glimpse into how I keep myself sane while keeping 4 children entertained and learning all summer long.  The concept is simple, but I am proud of our execution.  I think we are *starting* to get this right (after 8 years and counting of practice...)

So the concept?

DO WHAT THEY DO.


Yes, I know.  I told you it was simple, but hold on two seconds and hear me out OK?  One of my problems parenting was that I would get so SO bored participating in the kids' activity of the day.  If they were building with play dough, I could do it for maybe 2 minutes before my lungs started to itch and the small creative creature inside started rearing its impatient head.  My second problem was that if I was doing something other than what the kids were doing, I wasn't spending time with them.  I missed them and I felt a LOT of guilt.

The solution?

DO WHAT THEY DO -- just an adult version.


1.  Here is how it works.  Each evening, I think of what I need or want to get accomplished the next day.  I connect the dots, creating a parallel child/adult activity (see examples below).  Sometimes a parallel activity just means we are in the same room or in a similar quiet or active state, but when done perfectly, it means we are doing the same thing, just differently.  See ART for example :)

2.  Then I look through our craft/toy/book and learning stashes for the kids.  My local thrift store is invaluable to add to the stash for summer! I collect a small laundry basket from all over the house of all the various supplies we will need.

3.  On a clipboard, I write out the very broad "themes" for the day.  The kids get to pick from all of them, from 2 of them or I dictate the order we do them depending on my motherly discretion.  For instance, if I know I need to get painting done on the west side of the house before the sun reaches it, we will do that first.  If there is a reading activity and a writing activity that are equal in my estimation, then the kids can choose which one they want to do first.

Here are two days of examples, including what THEY did and what I did and why they worked together.

YESTERDAY WE DID...

WRITING:  The boys were given writing prompts according to their age and a spot in the loft to sit.  I sat with them and caught up on a bunch of letters I needed to write.  I accomplished a chore I wasn't particularly looking forward to and we were all writing together.

ART: They painted sun visors and trains as messy as they wanted to be under the apple tree.  I stayed on the porch and worked on my bird city project.  I could keep my area neat and my project adult, while the kids could be as messy as they wanted on their table.  I could hear them and talk to them, but they were somewhat out of sight so that the mess didn't give me hives and they could do their projects exactly as they wanted.

READING:  The boys were tasked to find birds in a birding book and describe the details of several to each other.  I used this time to zip around the kitchen getting lunch ready and switching the laundry.

SCIENCE: I read them a little about the history of rockets and we talked about acids/bases then shot off a rocket.  While they kept playing with the rocket, I cleaned the porch a bit.

TODAY WE WILL DO...


WRITING: The boys are going to start in on DIY hardback books with the prompts they wrote yesterday.  I need to tackle a little writing online, so we will do it at the same time.

ART:  I want to paint bottles and kcups for our garden party, so the boys will work outside beside me with messy glow sand.

PLANTING:  It rained yesterday and will be raining the next three days, so I want to get seeds into the ground NOW.  It is the perfect time!  The kids have also been asking about the seed bombs that they saw me packaging up for Iretreat, so I saved some for them and they are going to go "bomb" our property with seeds while I do the same, in a little more restrained manner.  They will play in the sandbox for the rest of the time.


RUN: Self-explanatory, yes?  If I put running on the list, then they look forward to running games and it gets me active with them.

See how it works?  Simple, but not always easy.  Once the summer is really rolling, I start doing mommy camp in conjunction with my strategy above.  It takes a little bit of planning, but makes our days a little more productive and less chaotic.


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28 July 2014

Your Couch Can Save you Hundreds of Dollars

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Are you here just for the Promo code?  It is RUGLUV06 for 15% rugs from 7/31 to 8/4

Have you ever been area rug shopping?  They are EXPENSIVE.  Hundreds of dollars expensive.  Wayfair has sponsored this post so that I can show you how to keep the price down.  You will still shell out a little cash for floor covering, but I will save you hundreds.  How?  A couch.

Yes, that is right.  I said YOUR COUCH.  Here is the thing -- huge rugs cost an EXORBITANT amount of money, but several smaller rugs that make up the same area will not cost nearly as much.  If you don't have thousands to spend on a huge area rug, this might just be the solution you need.

Here is my space:

How to Save Money on Cheap Wool Rugs

Note the couch and a different rug on either side.  It is stupid simple really.  The expanse of wood flooring behind the couch was way, way too big, but I didn't have the $$$ to drop on a 12x12 rug to fill the space.  The solution?  A $20 cheapo rug that complemented the nice wool rug I already had in color and style.  YOUR COUCH will draw a visual line and split the two, allowing you to use two less expensive rugs in place of a giant, cost-prohibitive one.  Would a 12x12 be better?  Hands down YES.  Is it an option right now?  Hands down NO.


How to Save Money on Cheap Wool Rugs

Put your BIG, nice wool rug in front of the couch where people will be walking on it and tuck the little eye-stretching rug out from the back of the couch.  People will not walk on this one much, so it doesn't matter that the quality is cheapy cheap.

Want to get the same look?  Here are a few options for you!  Why not try coordinated rugs that "match" but not really like this oatmeal rug:

...and this pretty taupe one?


In my case, I have a nice wool rug, but needed to extend its "area" a bit.  If I were buying a new wool rug, I might splurge on this beauty:

Note I left the price off the photo -- it costs a pretty penny!

...but how great would it look couch paired with a solid grey?


 ...or go BOLD with a coordinating floral in brilliant red?



Here are a few more favorites found in the "I can afford it!" rug section at Wayfair:

Find more here -- Rugs Under $250

No matter WHAT you buy -- make sure you use this promo code: RUGLUV06 for 15% rugs from 7/31 to 8/4 
(psst...Wayfair doesn't really DO promo codes very often, so if you are considering a rug purchase, make sure you use the code and stack it with a sales price!)



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Your Couch Can Save you Hundreds of Dollars

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Are you here just for the Promo code?  It is RUGLUV06 for 15% rugs from 7/31 to 8/4

Have you ever been area rug shopping?  They are EXPENSIVE.  Hundreds of dollars expensive.  Wayfair has sponsored this post so that I can show you how to keep the price down.  You will still shell out a little cash for floor covering, but I will save you hundreds.  How?  A couch.

Yes, that is right.  I said YOUR COUCH.  Here is the thing -- huge rugs cost an EXORBITANT amount of money, but several smaller rugs that make up the same area will not cost nearly as much.  If you don't have thousands to spend on a huge area rug, this might just be the solution you need.

Here is my space:

How to Save Money on Cheap Wool Rugs

Note the couch and a different rug on either side.  It is stupid simple really.  The expanse of wood flooring behind the couch was way, way too big, but I didn't have the $$$ to drop on a 12x12 rug to fill the space.  The solution?  A $20 cheapo rug that complemented the nice wool rug I already had in color and style.  YOUR COUCH will draw a visual line and split the two, allowing you to use two less expensive rugs in place of a giant, cost-prohibitive one.  Would a 12x12 be better?  Hands down YES.  Is it an option right now?  Hands down NO.

24 July 2014

5 minute photoshoot -- Preschool

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Time for another 5 minute photoshoot!  
This time we have a sweet as honey and silly as a goose preschooler.

The photo above was the "money shot" that I was going for.  He makes that smile when he has said something clever, is proud of something he has made or has a joke that he is about to play on someone.  I want to remember that -- not some posed smile.  So here is how we got it...

MINUTE 1 --Take photo of something similar colored on the porch floor background and adjust settings without mentioning a photoshoot to our kiddo.  With an older child, you can do this with the child, but a preschooler will not have the attention span for it.  Caucasian skin and a cardboard box will get pretty close as a stand-in for color.

MINUTE 2 -- "Hey baby!  Be silly!"  This is the time for closeups.  When a preschooler is first told to be silly -- they do ridiculous faces.  You want the "afterglow" of silly, so use this minute to capture those chubby hands between baby and kid years, cute little toes, ears, that crazy hair -- whatever.


MINUTE 3 -- "How old are you?"  After a minute of silly, kiddo is loosened up and an easy, but serious question will make him answer with a smile and look me straight in the eye.  You get one shot at this photo.  Your child will answer with a smile and then FLASH, it is gone.  Be ready for this one.


MINUTE 4  -- Time to get your kiddo to tell that joke...


Keep shooting during the joke because the photo you really want is the "proud face":

MINUTE 5 -- You might get a few more smiles and profiles, but you will have to change locations 
and your moments of attention are probably gone.  That is why Minute #1 is so important!



Want more DIY Photoshoot Ideas?  I have a bunch!

5 Minute Photoshoot for Infants

5 Minute Photoshoot for Babies - 6 WEEKS

5 Minute Photoshoot for Babies - 6 MONTHS

5 Minute Photoshoot for Christmas Cards

5 Minute Photoshoot with Older, Active Children

5 Minute Photoshoot with a Preschooler

How to Photograph Your Family with a Self Timer

How to Survive a Photoshoot with Kids

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5 minute photoshoot -- Preschool

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Time for another 5 minute photoshoot!  
This time we have a sweet as honey and silly as a goose preschooler.

The photo above was the "money shot" that I was going for.  He makes that smile when he has said something clever, is proud of something he has made or has a joke that he is about to play on someone.  I want to remember that -- not some posed smile.  So here is how we got it...

MINUTE 1 --Take photo of something similar colored on the porch floor background and adjust settings without mentioning a photoshoot to our kiddo.  With an older child, you can do this with the child, but a preschooler will not have the attention span for it.  Caucasian skin and a cardboard box will get pretty close as a stand-in for color.

MINUTE 2 -- "Hey baby!  Be silly!"  This is the time for closeups.  When a preschooler is first told to be silly -- they do ridiculous faces.  You want the "afterglow" of silly, so use this minute to capture those chubby hands between baby and kid years, cute little toes, ears, that crazy hair -- whatever.


MINUTE 3 -- "How old are you?"  After a minute of silly, kiddo is loosened up and an easy, but serious question will make him answer with a smile and look me straight in the eye.  You get one shot at this photo.  Your child will answer with a smile and then FLASH, it is gone.  Be ready for this one.


MINUTE 4  -- Time to get your kiddo to tell that joke...


Keep shooting during the joke because the photo you really want is the "proud face":

MINUTE 5 -- You might get a few more smiles and profiles, but you will have to change locations 
and your moments of attention are probably gone.  That is why Minute #1 is so important!



Want more DIY Photoshoot Ideas?  I have a bunch!

5 Minute Photoshoot for Infants

5 Minute Photoshoot for Babies - 6 WEEKS

5 Minute Photoshoot for Babies - 6 MONTHS

5 Minute Photoshoot for Christmas Cards

5 Minute Photoshoot with Older, Active Children

5 Minute Photoshoot with a Preschooler

How to Photograph Your Family with a Self Timer

How to Survive a Photoshoot with Kids

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23 July 2014

The History Keepers ::: School Photo Adjustable Gallery Wall

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School photos are a lot like TBall photos. Yesterday, we talked about eschewing the traditional, boring portraits for something that "speaks" to your kid's personality a little better for a lot less $$. Well, I am back today to share another way to "beat" the school photography system and help record those cute little faces AND those cute little personalities.

You have probably seen a photo like this floating around the internet:


It is simple really.  Take a photo of your kiddos on the first day of school, on picture day, any day near the beginning of the school year.  Pop the photo in photoshop or picmonkey and add a few of your kid's "favorites".  The way I get them to give me interesting and accurate desciptors is to ask detailed questions like:

What is your favorite think to drink outside?
Where is your favorite place to go with Daddy?
What is the best part about summer vacation?
What would you do RIGHTTHISSECOND if you could do ANYTHING?

The beauty of this system is that you are pairing a more natural photo (compared to those stiff, one-pose school pictures) with actual words from your kiddo about what they value at this stage in their life.   Both are valuable and both hold a lot of sentimental value.

The problem with these prints is that you have to have the sizing EXACTLY right when you go to print or words get a little too close to the edge or get cut off and it takes a lot of finagling to get your photo aligned correctly to print.  My solution?  A three photo canvas setup.

The large portrait (up and down) rectangle is for the actual photo, the smaller, top right rectangle for the name and grade and the bottom right rectangle for the "likes".  It is a WHOLE lot easier formatting these canvases than attempting to format one photo with text overlay (trust me -- I've tried!!)

Here is how I create the text squares.  I work on the name first, choosing a font and staying consistent with it throughout the canvases (This particular font is a free font called NeoRetroDraw).


To achieve the green background that blends in perfectly with my child's photo, I took the blurred out green background of the original photo and used the clone tool to make a "canvas" of blurry green.  

Not sure what the clone tool is?  See that little button below?  It will be on the toolbar on your far left in photoshop.  Click it, then hold down the "ALT" key while you select the area of the photo you want to copy.  Then let go of the "ALT" key, press the left button of your mouse again to "paste" the selection you have made.  It sounds complicated at first, but the tool is very easy to use after you get used to it!  Alternatively, a white background with a complimentary green text will work too!


Once the name is complete, I move on to the "likes".  I make sure to save this file as a psd (photoshop file) AND a jpeg so that I can come back and easily edit the same background and font for different children and different years without having to redo the whole file from scratch.

I also like to mix up the fonts a bit in the "likes" section, so I added the complimentary NeoRetro Shadow to the NeoRetro Draw font.


Once you get your photos uploaded into Shutterfly, make sure you check and check again that your photos fit well and are not going to get cut off.  Notice the name below?  Oops!  I needed to make the font smaller as well as making the whole photo a higher resolution (see that little orange warning triangle?  Take those seriously and fix the problem before ordering!)



See how the text will bleed if I don't fix the issue?

Always make sure to preview your prints before ordering -- particularly expensive canvases.

You will be KICKING yourself when you get a beautiful canvas and ONE LETTER is drifting off the side -- grrrr.


Once I ordered my canvases, along with some extra prints of the first day of school, it was time to figure out how to display them.  I knew I wanted them in a grouping of some sort, but wanted to keep the kids individually separate as well.  I decided on displaying them on these IKEA grids I found years ago in the as-is section.


Each boy gets their own grid, showing off the different years of school.


The canvases are attached with simple s-hooks, while the prints are even more simply clipped on with clothespins.  
Both can be easily adjusted and changed through the years as more and more "first day" photos are taken.


The beauty of this system is that individual prints can be changed out on a whim, while the pricier canvases remain a constant.  
The look can change up slightly without breaking the bank every time!  Win-win again!


How will YOU capture the memories of each school year?


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Quotebooks (If you make ONE THING from this series, make THESE!)

The Journals (yes, these are different than the quotebooks, but just as easy!)

Footprints and Handprints (CAPTURE those tootsies!)

A Gallery Wall (PRINT and DISPLAY those photos!)

Life Sized Cork Board (A solution for ALL those art projects!)

TBALL Photos -- A Better Way (I KNOW you are sick of them too!)

Book Canvases (...for the mom who needs some art motivation)

SCHOOL Pictures  (An improvement on tradition!)


 If you liked this tutorial, then you might enjoy the BOOK!

Make your own coconut oil.
Gather your own sea salt.
Grow your own grapevines for wreaths.
Give gifts naturally grown and crafted from your backyard garden.

Each chapter focuses on a plant or groups of plants and how to grow them in your home garden.  Then, gather up those natural ingredients and get crafting! From lavender wreaths and hypertufa planters to lambsear angels and pickled tomatoes, there are projects for beginners on up!

Crafting with Nature is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a MillionPOWELL's! (!!!!)  Booktopia (Australia!), IndieBoundAlibrisGlose.comThe Book Depository and Walmart.com.  Books are also rolling out to retailers and libraries, so check for them there. 
 If your library does NOT have it yet, this is why you should talk to your librarian!

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