Monday, December 29, 2014

Tablets + Limits = Okay by us

After doing some research to on various tablets and selecting a set that made the most sense, our kids now own Kindles (actually purchased as Christmas gift by my parents).  We are still aware that reading actual books with the kids and playing outside and building and creating are all better activities for our family than playing on electronic devices.  We have read various articles on both sides of the issue and have discussed the points they raise.  We came to the conclusion that raising our kids in a healthy manner involves an exposure to variety of experiences in moderation, including electronics.


Leading up to this choice we have seen Michael and Sophie take a stronger interest in our phones and computers over the last year or so.  At their child care center they have a classroom tablet on which they practice writing letters and watch short videos as part of different lessons.  We have downloaded similar apps and some that are mostly for fun, like a Lightning McQueen racing game, and have found our phones to be pretty harmless and admittedly convenient distractions at times.  We have rules for ourselves (no phones at the table, for example) and believe with similar limits and guidance, these electronics will be useful tools for our kids.

The tablets we chose are the Kindle Fire Kids Edition which means they include kid-proof cases, a two-year worry free plan, and thousands of kids' books, games, apps, and videos already loaded as part of one year of Freetime Unlimited.  Of course "kid appropriate" is a pretty subjective concept, and our rules for the tablets include letting us know what they are doing on their tablets and asking to change apps.  Daniel Tiger?  Sure, Buddy.  Spongebob?  Pick another, Sweetheart.

The Kindles also have parental controls including time limits for Freetime.  Right now Michael and Sophie get 30 minutes of tablet time a day, and only 15 minutes of that can be videos.  When that time is up, or when 6:30 PM rolls around, the Kindles lock them out.  The time limits are working out pretty well with minor frustration for the kids, which I believe is an important part of the learning experience. We haven't had the Kindles long enough to say that we are certainly thrilled with them, but I believe we will be.

Now, I  must get off this laptop.  Better set a good example!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cookie Day

The first thing Sophie said today was, "Is today cookie day?"  When I told her it was, she said in a soft, whimsical voice, "Oh, it's finally here!"

Clearly she (and Michael) had been looking forward to this time to bake cookies here at home with my mom and me.  My mom made some traditional cookies over the last few days at her house, ones that aren't super fun for kids to make.  Today we made gingerbread and sugar cookies.

Cookie Day-2

Back on Thanksgiving the kids enjoyed making whipped cream with their Grammie using our Kitchen Aid mixer, "startling" Grammie every time they turned it on and off, a game that led to serious belly laughs for everyone.  The next day they said it was one of the best parts of that day.

Cookie Day-3

Cookie Day-4

Cookie Day-5

Maybe next year we'll try the traditional cookies as well, but this time around I knew frosting and sprinkles were what these two had in mind.

Cookie Day-6

I hope Santa is in the mood for sugar when he drops by tomorrow night!

We would all love to make this day before Christmas Eve cookie day every year.  Now that my mom is retired, she has a little more free time around the holidays, and it was nice to take advantage of that.

Mike, the kids, and I ended the day by taking some treats (not the cookies that are pictured--some that look less like Christmas shaped kiddo germs) to our neighbors and going for a walk on a balmy 40 degree evening.  That also felt like a tradition in the making and hopefully a bridge to getting to know our neighbors better.

Friday, December 12, 2014


I took a day off today partly because Sophie had a rockin' fever yesterday (she's good today).  I also just needed one of those days with the kiddos when we hang out in pajamas while the rest of the world goes on out there.  We'll have more of these over Christmas, of course, but there's nothing quite like playing hooky.  With kindergarten coming next year, I know these opportunities are numbered.

This morning we watched Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, made and played with peppermint play dough, and right now the kids are practicing writing letters in some dollar store Disney workbooks.  They're really into that kind of thing lately.

Before all of that, however, we had a rocky start to the morning.  Long story short, we were all up at 5 A.M.  In order to drink my coffee in relative peace and get over the fact that I would not be sleeping in at all, I gladly obliged when the kids asked to go take pictures with my phone.  They haven't really taken pictures before, so I was pretty impressed with what they captured.

December 12, 5:17 A.M.

PicMonkey Collage

Don't you love the one from behind Ginger?  Who's scouting whom now, little elf?  And kitty's ear (at least he got to snooze a bit).  And the feet.  And the portraits of each other.  All that cuteness really helped the coffee kick in quickly.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

#HolidaysR4 Thrifty Spending

I have spent a lot of time today mapping out our family's holiday spending.  It's one of the less festive holiday traditions, but it has to happen, right?  We'll be going to Disney World in 2015 (more on that in future, of course), and to maximize that budget and our holiday budget, a lot of travel gear will appear under the tree this year.  Suitcases are super cool to four-year-old's, aren't they?

Another way we will try to make the most of every dollar this season is by turning a blind eye to those adorable holiday outfits on retail racks and buying the kids' fancier outfits used if we can.  Admittedly we have splurged here and there over the years, but much of Michael and Sophie's wardrobes has come from mom-to-mom sales and children's consignment shops.

Most of their snow suits?  Used!

Most of their bathing suits? Used!

Most Halloween costume components?  Used!

Like a lot of seasonal gear and costumes, their holiday duds will get minimal use.  While I want the kids to look their best, of course, I have no wish to break the bank there.

If, like me, you love a good deal on clothes with "previous experience" and also care deeply about education, you should check out Schoola.  For every $5 you spend, $2 goes to support schools.  That mission and their special occasion collection have certainly gotten my attention!  

Schoola has kindly offered Shared and Doubled readers 25% off your first purchase with the code TRYSCHOOLA. I hope you'll check it out!

In addition, post a holiday moment (story/picture) on Facebook with the hashtag #HolidaysR4 and you can be entered to win one of three $25 gift cards from Schoola each week.

The holidays inevitably lead to a basement clean-out around here. Keep in mind that if you wish to conduct a drive or have gently used kids' clothes to sell, the Schoola website has information on how to do so to raise funds for your own school. It's always good to have another useful outlet in mind for those outgrown swimsuits, snowsuits, costumes, and holiday outfits!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween 2014


Last year I took photos of Michael and Sophie in their Halloween costumes the day before the big day knowing the weather for trick-or-treating was going to be less than ideal.  We're having some unseasonably comfortable weather right now, so I got some costume pictures over the weekend.  I love how doing so ahead of time takes the pressure off!  Now we can just have fun, get pizza sauce on costumes, and let hair buns get destroyed by fairy wings.  (Tip: Google "sock bun" if you need a little girl up-do tutorial--crazy easy.  Great for grown-ups, too.)

I have been looking at our "new" yard all year wondering if there will be any good leaves for the kids to play in come fall, and I didn't think there would be.  What's pretty awesome is there aren't any big leaves on our propery, but  there are several maple trees in the common area just beyond our yard.  All the fun and none of the raking!  Someone planned that wisely.

Miss Sophie enjoys getting her picture taken these days.  Michael doesn't hate it, but he tenses up a bit (doesn't smile naturally, looks down a lot).  I've taught his dad to force a light laugh when smiling for a picture which has helped him.  We're working on that with Michael!



Have a boo-ti-ful Halloween!


Sunday, October 19, 2014


Back on the morning of Mother's Day, I looked up a bunch of knock-knock jokes and riddles to share with Michael and Sophie.  I don't recall what inspired me to do so, but we have been telling, re-telling, and revising these jokes for months now.

For example...

When changing jokes or making up jokes of their own, the kids are sometimes off the mark of actual humor...

but we tend to end up laughing anyway.

They keep us smiling!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Orchard Day

This past weekend was to include the kids' first fun run at a 5K event that Mike participated in. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, so only Mike went. We didn't want the kids' first run to be in miserable wintery cold.

We also planned to hit an orchard on Sunday, an activity that in many opinions is only enhanced by a brisk chill in the air.  Still, we did change the original plans from going in the morning ( said it would feel like 36 degrees) to the afternoon (almost 50 degrees).

This is the same orchard we have visited every year since Michael and Sophie were babies, one in Mike's hometown.

Six Months Old
PicMonkey Collage
FOUR YEARS and Six Months Old


We should probably work on our selfie smiles.


Sunday also happened to be Mike's birthday (he didn't want a fuss).  His parents met us at the orchard, and we all had dinner nearby.

On Monday afternoon the kids and I made apple sauce, and we will snack and snack and snack on apples for quite a while, I suspect.  Michael only ate a few bites of his dinner tonight (pasta with meat sauce baked with mozzerella on top--usually a favorite of his) before begging for an apple.  We let him indulge!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer 2014

I finally made taking some photos of Michael and Sophie a priority this morning.  I've been wanting to get pictures of them in the outfits they wore for my mom's retirement party since early June!






I've made the commitment to shoot entirely in manual this summer, which has led to....not a lot of usable photos.  Add in the fact that these two are even less cooperative about taking pictures than they were as infants, and I can get pretty discouraged.  Without Lightroom most of these were super bad, but I'm getting there.  Suckers as bribery were also utilized.

It's been fifteen years since my college photography class for which I shot entirely in manual, using an analog/film camera that offered no other option.  For the last few years I've shot in manual here and there but have opted for auto/no flash when shooting my kids most of the time, feeling satisfied creatively with the responsibility of adjusting the focus and composition.  I don't want to miss out on photos of them while I get my act together, but I know the only way to improve is to practice and be ready to do badly while doing so.  I'm not allowing myself to buy a new lens or camera bag (both of which we have budgeted for and are picked out) until I feel my work deserves them.  Tortured artist am I.  ;)

Still, these photos do make this mama (if not this photographer) happy, and really that's more important, right?

Must. Keep. At it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We've been talking about taking the kids to Chicago for years now and decided to make a short summer trip out of it. 

We took the train there early Thursday morning and came back Saturday night.

PicMonkey Collage

After dropping our bags at our hotel, we headed to lunch at Lou Malnati's, a restaurant that our few Chicago friends all seem to agree is the best place to get pizza.  We don't disagree!

PicMonkey Collage

Although we don't stick to the strict nap schedule we followed when the kids were babies, it's still in everyone's best interest if we work one in every afternoon.  We brought the umbrella strollers for that purpose, and Sophie and Michael got a little kick out of riding in them again. It had been a while!


They were quite effective.

Having taken the train into Chicago, we gave the kids their first real experience with getting around a city via cabs, buses, and trolleys.  Before leaving the hotel for each adventure, I loaded up their Detroit Tigers backpacks with water, snacks, and sweatshirts, and we were off!  Our hotel was very centrally located (Best Western River North) which allowed us to walk to most attractions.  While the Museum Campus was too far out of the way, it only took a ten minute walk to Michigan Avenue to catch a bus that stopped right outside the aquarium and museum doors (the 146, I believe it was).


On that first afternoon we visited The Field Museum and got a look at Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus in the world.  The kids and I paid a visit to our local library before this adventure to learn more about dinosaurs and bones and museums, and that got me pretty geared up as well!

PicMonkey Collage

Whether or not scary things are real is a big deal to Sophie and Michael right now.  Sharks and alligators?  Real.  Ghosts and monsters?  Not real.  Dinosaurs? Well, the bones are real and amazing because they are right in front of you, but dinosaurs themselves don't exist anymore.  Confusing.  The Berenstain Bears Dinosaur Dig really helped Michael and Sophie to understand this pretty abstract concept.  I'm not sure I could have made it so clear without Professor Actual Factual and the illustrations in that book.

That night we grabbed some Chicago-style hotdogs for dinner from the cart by the museum (Kim and Carlo's--pretty good), took a long walk around the Museum Campus...

PicMonkey Collage

...and all the way down to Buckingham Fountain.  We didn't plan to walk so far, but the weather was perfect. Once the kids started wearing out (as you can see a bit in the photos), we told them we had one last surprise.  We took a bus back down Michigan Avenue to...


Ghiradelli!  One warm brownie sundae with extra cherries, please!

After a walk back to the hotel, we all slept well and appreciated the extra hour the time zone gave us to sleep in before Shedd Aquarium opened.

The Aquarium didn't offer a lot of photo opportunities, but on Friday morning we saw the aquatic show, the jellyfish exhibit, and enjoyed as many fish, turtles, frogs, and whatnot before lunch and nap time rolled around again.

I should mention that we bought tickets for Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, and The Chicago Children's Museum using the Go Chicago Card.  I compared a few different options, and found that one to fit best for our trip.  I believe we saved about $20 by doing so and liked that we were not committed to any day or time to cash them in (you have 30 days once you use the first ticket and one year from the day you buy them).  Supposedly the Go cards save you time in lines, but we didn't really encounter any going very early or somewhat late on weekdays.

For naps on day two, we all slept at the hotel and ate a big snack before heading back out to Millennium Park.  We walked the whole way there which included a trek over the Chicago River.  All the walking we did and the sightseeing it provided made me glad we left the car at home.

PicMonkey Collage

I think the kids would say playing in Crown Fountain was their favorite part of the trip.  Looking up a little more information about it when we got home, I came across this article (published the same weekend we were there) with some interesting details about its creation ten years ago.

We were little early to the lawn to hear the symphony, so the kids ran around a bit (helped to dry them off), ate another little snack, and we got a few photos together.

PicMonkey Collage

These little buddies were a little too wired to stay very long, so we only stuck around until intermission (heard Dvorak but missed Beethoven--bummer).  We wrapped up this second day with a walk back through the city...

PicMonkey Collage

...and a stop on the way for dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery.  Good beer, good food.

On our last day of the trip we met some friends at the Chicago Children's Museum on the Navy Pier.

MuseumPicMonkey Collage

The kids really loved this place.  Check out Sophie the Human Wrecking Ball!

Untitled from Shared and Doubled on Vimeo.

After lunch, a carousel ride...


...a brief stroller nap, and a short trolly ride, we headed back to Union Station for our train home.

We were sad to say good-bye to The Windy City, but the experiences and memories were just what we hoped for.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Summer of Firsts

Like I mentioned when describing our first week of adventures, it amazes me how many simple activities and experiences still remain for our little four-year-old's to try.  Over the last few weeks we have stumbled upon and checked off a few.

There were the strawberries and fireworks in that first week, but they have now also seen their first fireflies and eaten their first s'mores!  Maybe that's a little strange, but we're pretty big on consistent bedtimes. We're considering going to a drive-in movie soon, so it's clear we're letting up on that more often now that they're such big kids.

Despite the skeptical looks on their faces, they loved the treats, of course!

We have a few other firsts in mind in the coming weeks!  Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Spontaneous Plans

With some focused effort to ease up a bit on planned activities, the kids and I have enjoyed some impromptu (but still kind of planned) adventures.

On Monday morning I felt like going to a park.  One of my favorites that we have enjoyed since the kids were tiny is just a five-minute drive up the road from our new house.  It's the park I think of when we read Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy as it has lots of climbing "castles" and a "mean robot" (tire swing).  It even has a little creek where the kids like to play Pooh Sticks and a long trail where we take walks and sometimes bring the balance bikes to make up for not having sidewalks in our neighborhood.  I felt like going there on Monday morning, and the kids are always up for a park, so we did.  The glory of that kind of "planning" is exactly why I want to keep a bunch of summer days open for spontaneity.

We went shopping with my mom on Tuesday morning (skipped Tunes--the performers scheduled were not our favorite), and did gymnastics and visited a garage sale on Wednesday morning.  While drinking my morning coffee on Wednesday, I also saw a reminder email for a Detroit Public Television event that I had decided to skip when I saw the first email.  But as I thought about it that morning, envisioning our third afternoon at home in a row, I made another spontaneous plan.  We bought tickets and arranged to meet Mike after work at the Royal Oak Farmer's Market to hang out with Curious George, The Cat in the Hat, and Clifford, and see a performance by Barney.



Michael and Sophie enjoyed story time.


What does a sheep say?  "Baaaaaah."


They picked out their own balloons.  I love Michael's turtle but tried to steer Sophie toward a flower for her wrist rather than a (dopey looking) hat.  But my goodness, the gorgeous child even pulls that off.  We're thinking of keeping the hat to help us teach the kids about the female reproductive system in the future.

The line behind the kids above was to meet one of the many PBS Kids characters, but these two still will have nothing to do with that kind of thing.  There will be no hugs for Santa, the Easter Bunny, nor for George/Super Why/Clifford from Michael and Sophie.  I regret not yet going to Disney World less and less knowing Mickey would still make these two scream in terror.


I was a little worried when we couldn't find seats for Barney's performance as showtime neared, but sitting on the ground worked out great.  Michael and Sophie got really into dancing to the songs and had space to do so.  I have to admit that I got a little star struck.  I wish I was kidding.  I even teared up a little singing the songs I have sung to the kids since before they could understand me,  and we were singing them with Barney.  It was an embarrassingly special experience for this dork of a mom, not unlike the sentimental sappiness I go through at Sesame Street Live.


Before leaving for dinner the kids took part in a couple of crafts.  They glued on Barney's tummy and colored him (they both wrote their names--all the letters are there anyway).  They also colored Elmo's fishbowl and stuck on fish stickers.


On the way out Sophie said she wanted a Barney "snuggle buddy," and as a rare treat we simply said sure.  Another $10 toward public television is a good thing, right?

The Barneys even joined us for dinner and are the current bedtime snuggle buddies of choice.

I think I'm getting the hang of planning/not planning again and am finding our summer groove.

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