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Monday, December 28, 2015

Multitude Monday

Here it is, the last Monday of the year.  I spent the past hour consolidating an old blog that I had written from 2008 - 20013.  It was more private than this blog, not advertised, a place to write quietly about faith.  I found a long series about Multitude Monday with lists of things I was thankful for and it seems that I stopped in 2012 at 285 gifts so I thought today might be a good time to resume a list of things I'm thankful for:

286.  Evie, who has been sleeping for the past hour in such a way that has allowed me the time and space to update my blog!
287.  Evie's first birthday is tomorrow, that means we made it through the difficult nights and all the feeding challenges!  She's almost a year old and so spunky!!
288.  This blog, a history of my toughest challenges from the past 8 years, a space to learn from my mistakes and smile at the good times we've had as a family
289.  My children, each and everyone is a blessing.  I could never say I love you enough to my lovely children.
290.  My younger brother, who came over on Christmas day and played games with the kids ALL DAY LONG even though he only had 3 hours of sleep the night before AND made us homemade Apple Cider Donuts before coming!!!

Christmas and Staying on a Budget

This is the first year I've actually tried to stick to a budget with Christmas.  It's not that I ever went crazy or anything but I just didn't keep track of expenses in prior years.  This year I set an arbitrary budget of $500 for all family and that was meant to include shipping expenses.  We went over budget by $55.61 and quite frankly I could have stayed on budget because I was tracking all the way through Christmas Eve but for some reason I panicked that we didn't have enough presents for the kids and so I overspent at Target AND went to Big Lots and bought 3 more 10 dollar toys.  It was unnecessary because they were more than happy with their other presents. 

Advice to myself for next year:
  • Start earlier with a plan and stick to it!
  • Husband and I have agreed to one big present for each child, it might be something we suggest family go in on but it will be one toy item that they can get excited about.
  • All other items should be stocking stuffers or family presents.  I had the idea to pack one box with family style gifts that could include board games, movies, family calendar from Shutterfly, etc. 
Gifts for extended family:
This year we did plan early and made Peppermint bark and Apple Cinnamon Jelly for our extended family.  It was an awesome way to quickly pack a box and ship to family who are not local.  The part that put me way behind was photos.  I love to pack and send out photos to my Texas family but it takes some serious planning to make sure every family gets the right photos, one of each child, etc.  I spent extra time scanning photos and ordering them from Shutterfly.  It was disappointing when the wallets never even showed up - still need to call Shuttefly about that.  If I can plan this part earlier then I can ship earlier and avoid the more expensive fees that happened this year from shipping right on the deadline!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Stupid Black Friday Sales

There is really nothing more frustrating than thinking you got a good deal and seeing the price has dropped $15.00 in the week before Christmas!  Boo you Walmart!!!

My husband theorized there are two ways to look at this:
1.  If it appears to be a toy that's going to sell out, then buy it early.
2.  If it's a toy that's pretty common, such as the remote control car we bought, then wait until the week before Christmas and get the reduced rate.

Lesson learned. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Managing Kindle Content for kids ages 7-3

The kids have been using my Kindle for the past year, with permission, and finding new inventive ways to see content that we don't exactly want them viewing.  Just as I was about to say NO MORE KINDLE I discovered Amazon FreeTime.  There were only two minor hurdles in setting this up:

1.  It doesn't seem to work on iPhones, which our kids have two old ones that I could not get to sync properly with their new profiles that I set up through Amazon.

2.  I had to set my husband up as a user which we thought was a little odd since he always uses mine but because it's a "family" account, Amazon links both adults so we can both go in and share content with the kids.

There are several brilliant options such as:

1.  We can set time limits on how long they can use the Kindle.
2.  We can set reading goals.
3.  They can only see the content we set up for them which is books, apps and videos.
4.  We have up to 4 profiles to use for kids and that's great since we have 4 kids (although one's a baby and won't need this for quite some time)

I'm tentatively excited even though the set up time was almost an hour - it just took me that long to figure everything out, maybe a more adept person with technology can navigate faster or maybe it was persistence in trying to set it up on the iPhone that wasted so much time!  At least I can save you that step!

Now I'm thinking I should get my own Kindle next year and designate this the "Kid Kindle" but after buying the house recently we're getting tough on expenses so I might just have to deal with reading kindle books on my iPhone. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The children now know I write about them

My kids have heard about my blog.  It happened when Charlotte wanted to hear about all the naughty things she had done as a child and I said I had written them all down somewhere safely.  She interrogated me further and learned I'd written something called a blog with over 200 posts about her.  Then Sam chimed in and asked how many I'd written about him - only 50!?!  What?!!!!!!

Soooo, I'm on a mission to write more about Sam.  I don't see how I can possible back date 150 posts so I'll just fill in the blanks with important milestones like birthday's, first day of school, etc. and I'll try to write about him more often.

The only reason Charlotte has so many posts is because she was an ONLY CHILD when I wrote the bulk of those and I was desperate for other parents advise on parenting issues so I blogged regularly and visited over 50 blogs while commenting regularly.  It was my heyday in blogging and since having more kids I'm down to sporadic reading of other blogs, never commenting and rarely even blogging any more!  Such is life when you are mom to 4 kids! 

MD House Update

We called State Farm to discuss home insurance for our new house but first we had to figure out how to get the keys from the lock box.  We bought this through an internet website called Hubzu so they gave us the key code.  After dropping the two older kids at school, husband and I made our way to the house with two little ones in tow. 

We happily removed the sell sign and entered the house to find it cold, drafty and very very damp.  It's been raining quite a bit since we put a contract on the home on 10/22 with every rain storm making husband grit his teeth at the added water damage coming through the leaky roof.  The 2nd floor looked worse then when we had last seen the house, more ceiling tiles have falling down in rooms that before didn't seem to have any damage so our guess is the house is very damp inside. 

I desperately want to turn on electric and get some air movement in there.  Maybe put a dehumidifier on every floor.  Mold freaks me out, I have visions of the houses in New Orleans condemned because they were covered in black mold.

Husband says the first step is getting the roof fixed but I'm freaking out about the mold growing.  He even found a mushroom growing on the floor!  I think we're both freaking out about different things so I hope it doesn't lead to too many arguments. 

Oh, and State Farm can't insure the house because the walls are plaster and there is no one in the area who is skilled to fix plaster walls and I guess the other damage was an issue as well.  They gave us another number of someone who might be able to help with insurance.  I'm not sure I care at this point.  I'd rather get the house in more stable condition before spending money on insurance.

I did however manage to send in the "turn on mail" card and called trash service to get that set up but we need to turn on water before the trash service will start.  So many things to do! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We Bought a House!

It's an American Foursquare house built in 1922 that needs a roof repaired and possibly the entire back wall rebuilt from water damage.  It's going to take some time to fix it up before we can live in it. 

We bought it really cheap for 40,000 after closing costs with the idea that we could take out a home improvement loan for another 20K and still have a house for considerably less than the going rate of 100K in our area.  So far it seems like a great idea, except for the leaky roof and water damage. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

When I want to clean the basement so much I can hardly stand it

but I'm holding  a sleeping baby who shrieked for at least 30 minutes before falling asleep so I don't dare put her down or risk starting that cycle over again!  So I sit here holding my 11 month old and I tell myself, she's the last baby, enjoy it while you can because the oldest are busy and full of projects involving play and intense arguments that seem to require constant arbitration - except when I lock myself in a room with baby, then they can't reach me.  Notice how it becomes us and them as they get older but as they are babies they cling to us like little baboons - both in sleep and awake.  Yes there are more down moments, she's in full crawling/house surfing mode but even that requires a certain amount of oversight.  My husband tried to do the laundry earlier but kept hearing non-existent screaming.  It gets in your head and you feel almost certain someone is in constant peril when you can't get to them in 30 seconds.

So we sit, either husband or I, with our tiny one, day in and day out, until she's old enough to join the fray.  Then my friends, we'll be in that basement cleaning and organizing it like it's our job! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Kid Burritos

We thought it would be fun to wrap our kids up like burritos.  They thought it was hilarious!!
And baby thought it would be fun to crawl over everyone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Failure to Thrive - Part 6

This was a good visit!  Evie's ear infection is better and she is finally 14.1lbs and the doctor is satisfied that she doesn't have to return until she turns one, which is in one month.  My goal is to get her to 15lbs but the doctor said 16 would be better.  Her weight is still well below the charts which is keeping her still in the 'failure to thrive' category so now the primary goal is to keep the weight going up and not stagnating.

Her eating of solids has improved drastically over the past month and she's now enjoying:
  • Pumpkin Pancakes - she ate 2 for breakfast!  I know what she's getting for her birthday breakfast!!
  • Gerber fruits - she can get through one container per day split between two meals.  The doctor said most babies are eating 2 containers per meal but it's challenging enough to get her to consume this so we are trying to get her to 2 containers per day.
  • Bread crusts - the other kids don't eat their bread crusts so Evie helpfully takes as many as she can cram in. 
  • Any breads seem to make her happy
  • Cookies that are graham related make her happy
We've tried cooked carrots, smashed fresh bananas and cooked apples but those are thrown on the floor.  It's been easier to stick with foods she will feed herself and spooning in the Gerber fruits.  Her appetite is increasing so that's a good sign and I'm still nursing her every three hours so that's how she gets her liquids.  She still won't take a bottle or sippy cup of any sort. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Maryland Health Exchange - the adventure continues!

Well I just received a letter saying our coverage is going up from $658.02 to over $1,000 for 2016 so we need to reapply for insurance if we want to keep our plan in the same price range as 2015.  From what I understand, more people than expected used coverage in 2015 so premiums need to increase to make up for the difference.

Time to grit my teeth and hope we don't repeat our experience from 2015 that lasted from January - June. 

The website still stinks in terms of user experience.  In order to make a change you have to trick the system.  I say this because it forces you to select something from a list saying that you've had a change in your income, employment or had a baby.  I've had no changes so I tricked the system by making a one dollar change in my income.  However, I had no issues in getting through to the insurance options and I was able to find one from Evergren Health for $668.60 that is only slightly more than what we paid in 2015.  I hate to leave Blue Cross as we've been with them for 3.5 years but I can't pay over $1000 for the same plan. 

This plan has a higher deductible, I think 1,500 when we had $500 in 2015 but there doesn't seem anyway around that.  From what I understand, deductibles went up along with increased use of insurance premiums in 2015.  So we all pay more this year?  I guess that's the answer to health coverage for all Americans. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Quest to Change Health Insurance 2015

This is a very long story of how we took a crash course in health insurance and lived to tell about it.  The story is broken down into monthly segments which involved many hours on the phone and tears of anguish as I wondered if the savings was worth the battle. 

Our 4th baby was born December 29, 2014 and we received a letter that month saying our 2014 plan did not meet The Affordable Care act qualifications so I quickly signed up for a family plan through eHealthInsurance.com.  It was very expensive at $982.13 per month so I started researching cheaper options and learned that we could get subsidies through the Maryland Health Exchange. 

I signed up for MD Exchange mid-January naively thinking it would go through instantly and I could cancel my expensive EHealth plan and not put the baby on that plan.  I was so wrong.  After filling out all paperwork for our family, the site locked me out and my application froze.  I could not get back in.  The following is my futile attempts to get someone to help resolve my case. 

1/28 - called Maryland Health Connection and explained the problem, was told my issue could not be resolved that day as it was a technical issue but that they'd elevate my case.

1/30 – called Maryland Health Connection, was told my case was escalated again.
At this point I realized I had to keep the coverage we had through EHealth for another month and get the baby on this plan because we didn't know when the MD exchange would be active and we already had doctor visits lined up for our newborn.

The following are my attempts in February to resolve the MD Health coverage - the carrot was dangling at $658.02 for myself and my husband and $63 for all four kids = Total for family $721.02. Savings from EHealth plan $261.11

2/6 – called Maryland Health Connection, was told my case was escalated again. 

2/11 – called Maryland Health Connection, 23 minute wait time before live person answered, total call time 53 minutes while person put me on hold repeatedly to check notes, take smoke break, consult management and finally say they could do nothing.

Realized that the plan I had signed up for at the beginning of January was an HMO and that would not work for my travel plans so now I wanted to change the plan and I was still locked out of the system!

2/12 – called Maryland Health Connection, 20 minute wait time before live person answered, total call time one hour and 16 minutes and I attempted to explain that I needed to change the plan I had originally signed up for.  Was told my case was being escalated. 
Realized that calling two days in a row might be excessive so waited until later in the month for next call.
2/18 - got frustrated with waiting and complained on Twitter.  Someone actually wrote me back and asked if they could help resolve the problem.  I figured I wasn't getting anywhere with the phone calls so why not! 
2/20/15 - called Maryland Health Connection, 19 minutes 30 seconds wait time, nothing resolved.
2/26/15 - Twitter MD Exchange gave me the option to change plans after I expressed the need for a PPO. 
2/26/15 - At this point we suddenly we got temporary cards in the mail for the 3 older kids but nothing for the baby!
2/26/15 –  called Maryland Health Connection, 25 minute wait time, was told there is nothing they can do for baby or parent cards but to try calling State Medicaid since they issue the health cards. 
2/26/15 - called state Medicaid and they were able to issue a number for baby and give it to me by phone.

I realized I needed to continue coverage with EHealth for both adults since the Exchange was not forthcoming in when our application would be resolved but at least I could take the kids off the plan since they were obviously now covered by the Exchange.  This would take another month for EHealth to accomplish so I had double coverage which could get us into a lot of trouble if we had any medical issues that month as both parties would fight over who's responsible.  Fortunately we had nothing come up.
MARCH 2015
3/3 - Twitter MD Exchange asked what date I wanted PPO coverage to start.  Considering I had already paid EHealth for March coverage I confirmed 4/1 start date. 

Yeah for Twitter!  I then proceeded to finally cancel our expensive EHealth plan because I finally had confirmation that a new plan would be starting on April 1st! 

3/9/15 – was billed Jan – March coverage in the amount of $2,204.46 for the MD Exchange HMO plan retroactively all because I had my credit card in the Blue Cross system so it went on my credit card without any warning!  It would seem that my husband I had been suddenly approved for MD Exchange for the original plan and they wanted us to pay for service we couldn't use for first two months!!!  I was so mad because we'd been paying another plan through EHealth for these two months all because no one could tell me when our application would be resolved through MD Exchange and they were charging us for the HMO and not the PPO that I had called to request.
3/9/15 - called Blue Cross to dispute $2,204.46 charge, the guy was able to remove auto pay and said the charge would be reimbursed.  Yeah!
3/24 - Received credit card statement showing the $2,204.46 charge had not been removed. 
3/24 - called BlueCross to find out why I hadn't been reimbursed the money for Jan – March plan.  The lady today said it was impossible to reimburse on their side until the Exchange voids the plan.  No idea why the guy on 3/9 said it would be reimbursed. 
3/24 - called Maryland Health Exchange – 38 minute wait time.  Spoke with Dione about the situation of having two insurances put through by the exchange.  Requested that the HMO be voided in the system so that I can get reimbursed $2,204.46 by Blue Cross.  Was told it’s impossible to void a plan and then put through a new application because we are past the cut off date.
So all my efforts to save $261.11 per month had resulted in multiple plans, a $2,204.56 bill that no one could seem to void and I had already canceled our EHealth plan!  Good think I'm not the suicidal type!  At this point I needed a few days to calm down before calling anyone back.
3/30/15 - called Maryland Health Exchange – 52 minute wait time before getting a live person on the line.  Was told that my situation has been escalated to Tier 2.  Someone worked on my case on 3/26.  I clarified that I want the HMO Healthy Blue Platinum plan voided so that I can get reimbursed by Blue Cross for Jan – March and I’d like to keep the PPO Preferred 500 plan that starts on April 1st.
3/30/15 – called Chase Visa to dispute the $2,204.46 charge, they were understandably confused about the entire situation but agreed to send a dispute form for me to fill out.
3/30/15 - BlueCross – 22 minutes wait time.  I explained that I’ve called the Exchange twice now to have the Jan-Mar plan voided and that I’ve called ChaseVisa to dispute the charge.  They maintain there is nothing they can do until the exchange puts through the cancelation of the policy.  I said that I understood their position but mine was that I was NOT paying this bill for double coverage.  Do you want to know the biggest irony here - my EHealth plan was also through Blue Cross so they could clearly see I had been paying them every month and that I was being double billed but because the HMO plan had come through the Exchange, there was nothing they could do!
APRIL 2015
Twitter MD Exchange was right, we did indeed get the PPO coverage available for 4/1 and there was a bill waiting on Blue Cross website for the PPO plan of $658.02 so I paid it and felt some small nugget of relief that we had coverage and cards to use.  There was still the haunting issue of how to get exchange to void the HMO plan but now that we had coverage I was satisfied that I had done everything possible to resolve the situation and I was ready to take a break on the frantic long calls to exchange.  I decided to wait for them to reach out to me!
MAY 2015
5/27/15 - I'm walking out the door to catch a flight when I suddenly get a phone call from the exchange asking me to clarify what I needed again with the two plans - almost two months since my last phone call to them!  I once again clarified that I needed the HMO Healthy Blue Platinum plan voided and was told they will put in for a refund for the Jan-March amount.  She said she would call back next week.
JUNE 2015
6/21/15 - I’m worried they canceled the wrong plan because I don’t seem to have a payment due for July.  Very scared and worried I don’t have health insurance.  Also, I never got a call back.  We're leaving for our family vacation in July, are we going to be without coverage?!?  I will probably lose my will to live if I have to speak with anyone from Exchange again so I go back to Twitter.
Twitter Exchange:
Hi, I need your help. MD Health Exchange set up 2 plans, 1 was the plan discussed here in Twitter, the 2nd was based on my 1st application
The plan discussed on Twitter started April 1st and I've been actively using this plan. The 2nd plan had a retroactive date to Jan 1st
I was billed for this 2nd plan for Jan-Mar when I couldn't even use it. I called to have it voided & they voided the plan I was using.
So now I don't have any insurance because I had written to Blue Cross to cancel the plan exchange activated with a Jan 1st plan.
The plan that needs voided is Healthy Blue Platinum. The plan I want to keep is the one discussed above in March - BluePreferred 500
can you help with this? I've already tried calling several times & am shocked to learn they canceled the wrong plan leaving me w/o coverage
Hi Rachel, we're looking into this for you and will be back in touch
Have you made payments on either of the plans? Thanks!
I've paid the BluePreferred 500 for April & May but when I tried to pay June I was told the plan had been dropped by MHE
I have not paid on the other plan that was given a retroactive date of Jan 1st
Thanks for this...we are still tracking it. Wanted to give you an update.
Thank you, really appreciate your help
Hi, do you have any updates?
Hi, Rachel, our enrollment team will be working directly with CareFirst on the issue with the plans; we hope to have more info early next wk


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Failure to Thrive - Part 5

I elected to not attend this visit because I had a very busy work day.  This was a follow up visit to see if she's been eating with a spoon. At our last visit they said if she wasn't eating with a spoon by now then they'd recommend seeing a specialist.  Fortunately she has been eating with a spoon only very sporadically and her weight gain was marginal (one ounce gained) in the past two weeks so the doctor wasn't pleased with this.  In addition she had an ear infection and has been sick with a cold for the past two weeks so I think that contributed to the slow weight gain.  The doctor gave us medicine for her ear and asked us to return in 2 weeks to see if it was better. 

I'm so thankful we were blessed to receive a health insurance plan through Maryland Health Connection this year that has not charged us for any of these extra visits!  What a relief it has been to not have financial burden piled on top of 'failure to thrive' condition!  I know many people are against the Affordable Care Act and I've written extensively about our issues with the adult plans but for kids it's been extremely helpful.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Late Fall a result of El Nino

This year we found ourselves raking leaves in November.  I found it to be a lovely respite from sitting at a desk every day.  It's more invigorating than afternoon coffee to go out and rake leaves in the afternoon. 

Usually my girls wear skirts, they prefer to look girly but today I told Charlotte she needed to wear jeans because we'd be jumping in leaves and sitting on hay bales and I didn't want her pretty skirts to get ruined.  She actually doesn't even like jeans so it took some fussing to get her into them and find an appropriate belt because she's far to skinny to actually hold them up.  I think she looks so cute in her farm girl outfit.  She was a huge help with picking up the leaves. 

Sam and Charlotte got really possessive over their sides of the yard so I had to really work with them to rake in just one area so we could work as a team and get through a decent portion of the lawn.  Here's the team after we finished (Vi's in Texas visiting Mema):

Thanks to El Nino, we're outside in t-shirts!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

After School Walk

I'm behind them with a dog and the baby.  They trip each other a half dozen times before Violette finally falls off a short wall.  I think we just need more practice walking together.

The walk put baby to sleep, I should really do this more often.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Tale of Rotting Tomatoes and Finding Balance

I have a pile of rotting tomatoes sitting on the porch that have been waiting to be processed for several weeks.  It pains me to admit that I just can't process them.  My life has become so incredibly busy with a full time job, four kids and other extra circular responsibilities that I just can't seem to squeeze in one more thing!  Well - technically I could stand at the sink for 2 hours per night until they are done but those days are over. 

Going back in time 3 years to when I worked full time in an office, held a board position for Women in Toys and traveled to Asia once a year with 5-6 domestic trips - I was busy but I had this long term goal to move our family to Maryland so I was very focused on that goal and ignored all the signs of strain in my life.  I just pushed it aside and said I can't slow down until all these boxes are packed and we are successfully moved!

In 2013 we moved to Maryland in July and for the next 6 months things were upside down as we got used to life and I continued to travel somewhere once a month.  I put this stress aside and said things will calm down soon, I just need to get used to Maryland and working from home.

In 2014 things got even busier at work so I felt like I just needed to "try harder" and be "more productive" with my time.  I tried ignoring house work for awhile but that made me crazy and caused my anxiety to spiral out of control.  I hired a house keeper and that helped reduce some stress.  Work was extremely challenging, not because I was "working remotely" but because of employee turnover and new hires that were not performing well so work was spilling over into my lap and I was suddenly working around the clock. 

I had a breaking point in February of 2014 when I knew things had to change so I joined a Christian organization that offered mentorship to professional women - 4WordWomen.  I seriously thought they would give me advise on how to do MORE with the time I had.  I thought more professional women must have the secret on how to do even more then what I had been doing thus far.  I was so wrong.  My mentor basically told me to stop saying yes to everything.  She even questioned if I really needed to be on the board of Women in Toys - that was a shocker because I was so sure that I was doing all the necessary steps to maintain valuable contacts in my field and how could I possibly let that go? 

My mentor questioned everything that I was doing and just put it out there to evaluate if I really needed to be doing everything I thought was so important.  She really helped me to reframe things and I'm so grateful for the experience as it really helped me to calm down, work less hours by insisting on changes at work and doing the things that were important first rather than trying to cram everything in.  The mentorship ended in the summer and I spent the rest of the year reframing my priorities. 

Now here I am one year later and I no longer get upset when I can't do something.  Two people came to me recently to help with a surprise birthday party for a dear women in my life.  I know they want me to do more but I simply cannot and I'm okay with that. 

I got a call today asking if I still want to be on the board of Women in Toys and I gratefully stepped down.  I just don't have the time to put in that I used to and I'm confident that I can come back and be a productive member when I do have more time in the future.  I think 3 years ago this would have felt like a professional failure but now I see it as just one less thing I have to do which means I can breath a little easier.

As I processed this decision to step down from the board, I realized my life in Maryland has become so different than I imagined it would be.  I thought I'd maintain the same professional life that I had in Florida with the same level of travel, same board position, same everything and I realize now I was so determined to keep things status quo that I worked myself to the bone to make it happen until I realized I couldn't. 

I am actually happier with this "less professional" life.  I love eating lunch with my three year old and taking walks in the afternoon.  My cuddly my nine month old is with me every three hours when she needs to eat.  I get to spend a little time with the older kids when they come home from school.  I still work long hours but it's with these wonderful little mommy breaks thrown in.  My work has not suffered, in fact most days I'm very cheerful and happy due to being home and cozy with no stressful mornings of getting dressed for a commute to work. 

The primary challenge has been finding balance when I thought I needed to be so much more.  I still want to do it all but I have to be careful to NOT prioritize the rotten tomatoes in my life :)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Best toys for 8-10 month old babies

8-10 months old - the crawling and pulling up stage

First make sure floor has nothing small enough for baby to choke on.  I work in the toy industry so here's a handy tip - nothing smaller than 1.25" in width or 2.25" in length and here's the chart we use:

Here is a product that's only $1.65 that you can drop toys into to see if they are too small for a baby.

Now for the fun ways to entertain baby:

This list is assuming you've already bored your baby to tears with his or her current basket of crinkly, teether baby approved toys and is now looking for other sources of entertainment.  Don't be surprised if they are done with these toys in one week after crawling because this age is all about exploration and pushing the boundaries!  Put all trash cans up or your trash will be sorted for you. 

Play should involve discovery of new objects and lots of noise, these are my top go-to toys after having 4 kids and watching them play.  You should be strategic about introducing new toys.  After two weeks of crawling introduce a new toy.  Then maybe a week later the next and so forth.  The goal is to keep things interesting by introducing new objects each week and if you can't afford these more expensive toys do not worry because there are plenty of simple less than $10 items available. 
  1. learning table - baby might not be ready to stand without falling so make sure table comes with removable legs, my kids have returned to this toy over and over from baby age through 5 years old!  There is just something awesome about noisy toys that makes kids love it.  I rate this high because it's been loved by all 4 kids and returned to over and over. 
  2. cat piano - banging enjoyment will go on and on, actually this piano from Target is really well designed with pre-recorded music so when baby hits any random button it will play nice music for awhile.  I don't even mind being in the same room as this toy.
  3. balls - babies love pushing balls around a room, preferably balls with holes that give them a grip, this ball with rain stick is really cool for noise and grip.
  4. Babies like to put things in and out of cups.  You can buy sets of cups or save plastic sour cream containers and put objects inside that are big enough for baby to play.  They will adore shaking the cup to hear the rattle sound and they will eventually figure out how to rip that lid off.  Make it a challenge!  I've looked for sets to buy but can't seem to find any to recommend that have lids however I can definitely attest to this being a fun challenge for a 9mo and throughout their 1 year old year.
  5. Toy phone that looks as much like yours as possible although it's really hard to fool a baby!  They will do just about anything to get your phone and keys.  I found this cute phone that looks like a smart phone so we're going to give it a try.  It's adorable when they finally learn to put phone to ear like mom or dad.  
  6. I've tried toy keys and they prefer the kind that makes noise like this style, teether keys are ignored.
  7. This Baby Einstein music player is less than $10 and has been loved by all my kids, it plays really nice music too so parents won't get tired of it.  It might only last for a few minutes per play but I rate this high because of how often they come back to it.
  8. Plastic water pitcher left on floor, it's an odd shape and makes for great fun to bat around on kitchen floor, not everything a baby loves is a store bought toy.  Just make sure the object is clean (no chemicals used in plant watering).  This is really more of an example of how any random big plastic object can become fun when left on a tile floor. 
  9. Soft blocks that make noise, I don't know what it is with these silly things but they've gotten good play from all my kids.  They're easy to wash too!
My advise is to save the more expensive toys for when people come asking what does your baby want for his or her first birthday and then only get 1 or 2 because your house can fill up so fast with stuff that just sits around.  Ask friends and family for diapers, clothes and shoes for that 1st birthday because those things get expensive and babies just don't care at this age about getting tons of presents.  To be honest, what they really want most is parental interaction so here are some fun ways to entertain/distract your baby when they are done with toys:
  1. Anything a parent wears is fair game.  I recently had a quart size ziplock bag with warm compress inside my bra to alleviate a clogged milk duct.  My baby was relentless in trying to pull it out and nom on the bag!  So you might considering doing silly things like putting a toy in a pocket for them to find.  Just make sure the toy is big enough to not fit in the choke tube.
  2. Piles of paper, junk mail and a toy thrown in for baby to crawl threw are loads of fun but keep watch that they don't eat the paper. 
  3. Put baby on a blanket, wrap him or her like a burrito and slide them around on the floor - it's hilarious!!
  4. Clear a shelf on a bookcase and put items there that baby can have but doesn't know it's "theirs" because the more it seems like it's the parent's the higher the value.  Cups are fun with small plastic plates that can be thrown.  Magazines are fun to toss about so I save catalogs that are nicely stacked so she can throw them around.  Again make sure to keep watch that baby does not eat the paper and most importantly make sure the bookcase is mounted to the wall because strong babies have been known to pull down an untethered bookcase and that can be tragic.
  5. Books are very fun to nom on so make sure they are suitably sturdy. 
  6. Blocks are great!  Parents can build a tower and let baby knock it down.
  7. Play "bank robber" by holding baby so that he/she dangles just above a toy and let them pick it up and throw it down. This game is great fun and can go on as long as parent is willing to play.   
I find myself sitting on the floor with baby the end of the day, when she is tired but not quite ready to go to sleep and needs me to be close.  She climbs over my legs back and forth, stands at my shoulder and crows in my ear and off to play with a few toys.  It's fun and easier then trying to force her to sleep. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Failure to Thrive - Part 4

At our September 30th doctor's visit, Evie was 9 months old and weighed in at 13.6lbs which means she's put on 2lbs since 6 months old.  Still tiny but she's putting on enough weight that the doctor's are no longer in a panic.  Now their issue is that she must learn to eat with a spoon and come back in 6 weeks to talk about how that is going.  I'm a little bewildered over this because our Florida pediatrician never pushed eating with a spoon this early.  They want to send us to a specialist if we can't get her to eat with a spoon in 6 weeks. 

Unfortunately for us, our baby is now extremely addicted to cookies!  Remember when we were told to do anything to get her to gain weight and take in calories?  We gave her the highest calorie shortbread cookies we could find.  Now she only wants cookies. 

She's still a baby who wants to be in full control meaning if you present her with a spoon, she will grab it and the food will go flying.  So we're trying a variety of finger foods and some of them have surprised us:

* Sprouts - she enjoyed these during a visit to Noodles & Co
* Bananas - she occasionally will eat 1-2 small pieces
* Steamed Carrots - she ate a few pieces with the sprouts

Well that's about it!  Our next visit is on 11/11 so we'll keep trying until then. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pre K 3 at home

August 24th
 First day of school with friends

Sept 9th
Don't have to get dressed, not going anywhere!

Sept 10
Good thing mom works from home and can make my lunch!  Dad's napping with the baby.

Sept 17th
Parents decided to have lunch at the C&O canal, nature walk included!!

Sept 23
Phone time!  Games, games, games and no one to argue with!

Sept. 24th
Mom made mini muffins after the big kids went to school.  Yes!

Sept. 24th
Another park day!

Sept 28
Just hanging out on the porch, wondering when winter is coming.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Brain Fruit

We found these at the city park and called them brains.  The real name is "Osage Orange".

The Brain fruit has lead to some wonderful conversations with our son.  

"Can I take my brain to school today?"
"My brain is covered in ants!"
"Oh look, I've dropped my brain and its rolling down a hill"
"Charlotte took my brain and now I can't find it!" followed by dad saying "I lost my marbles once"
Sam again "Can someone help me find my brain?"

I love nature walks!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Squash Casserole Recipe Update - Single and Double Batch

I've blogged this recipe before and now after making it for a year, I'd like to update with a few tweaks that I've made to make it more user friendly.  I find that I never have heavy cream on hand so it's just become easier to make with evaporated milk.  I also made some small measurement changes to make it easier to cut in half.

The main ingredients are very flexible in that it tastes very similar regardless of what combination you use but my mother in law hates sweet potato so for her taste we make sure it has only squash.  Here are some of the combo's we've done:
  • Butternut and Acorn Squash
  • OR just Butternut Squash!
Double recipe (serves 8-10)
Main Ingredients:
  • 2 cups pureed Butternut
  • 2 cups pureed Acorn Squash
  • 1/2 cup butter melted (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup evaporated milk (8 ounces)
Topping Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter cut in small pieces so it blends better
Topping can be combined in a small food processor; I have a little 3 cup that does the job nicely.

Pour the main ingredients into a 9 x 13" baking dish and drop the topping by small spoonful's over the top.  Bake for 30 minutes covered, 15 uncovered at 350.

Single recipe (serves 4-5)
Main Ingredients:
  • 1 cups pureed Butternut
  • 1 cups pureed Acorn Squash
  • 1/4 cup butter melted (1/2 stick)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk (4 ounces)
I skip the topping when making this for an evening meal for our family.  When it's for a crowd I add the topping because it's pretty and adds an extra layer of sugar goodness but I can attest that it taste really good without the topping and the kids will still eat it.

Pour the main ingredients into an 8.5 x 8.5" baking dish.  Bake for 25 minutes uncovered at 350.