We Give Books

I just had to share this website because it is pretty cool – wegivebooks.org.There are a bunch of books for kids that they can read online in their “print” format. I love that. A lot of these are the ones that you can find on the ever-popular book orders (especially the non-fiction), so you can even “test drive” some of the books before you buy. Or just enjoy them for free.

This is not only a great resource, but you actually GIVE a book each time you (or your child) reads one online – as in, Penguin Books and the Pearson Foundation will donate a book for each book read online. See? Super cool! There is no limit to your book-giving from your book reading, and if your child has a favorite that they read over and over again, each time they finish it counts as a new book to give away. (Here is a link to the FAQ.) They have given away almost 1,000,000 books since April 2010.

They have ongoing “campaigns” that you can support with your reading (here is a list of the campaigns, current and completed), so you can choose your “cause”, and you are free to switch at any time.

If you’re looking for a fun book to start out with, I would recommend Goodnight iPad. We just checked it out from the library and all got a good laugh over it. That grandma is great. The cultural references are hilarious too.

So – go read a book! And GIVE one too by doing it. It’s a win-win. :)

Make Your Own Watercolors

I am fairly cheap. I think that can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that, for the most part, we live by a budget and don’t do anything crazy. The curse is that I have a hard time buying things that I know are going to get broken quickly or discarded or used unwisely. Like watercolors. Even though they are not terribly expensive, I still find myself cringing when they just become little colorful ponds for the kids to play in instead of being used for art tools.

Then I saw this idea from Jill @ Meet the Dubiens, which she found from Martha Stewart – how to make your own watercolors. Joy! I had everything on hand, and thought I should give it a go.


Baking Soda

Corn Starch


Corn Syrup

Food Coloring (Drops or Gel)


That is IT my friends. I found packs of 10 small containers at the dollar store when I was getting stuff for the light sabers – and they (obviously) cost $1.00 for the package. If you are looking for them, I found them by the mugs/ceramic plates/etc., NOT by the other reusable storage containers. You may try checking both places in your store – I’m not sure whether organization is consistent from store to store.

For one container size, you will need:

2 T. baking soda

1 T. vinegar

1 T. corn starch

1/4 tsp. corn syrup

My containers were 2.3 fl. oz. and were filled just under halfway with this recipe size, just to give you a gauge. I ended up making 8x the recipe, which gave me these measurements:

1 c. baking soda

1/2 c. vinegar

1/2 c. corn starch

2 tsp. corn syrup

Step 1: Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a LARGE bowl. Yes, as soon as my kids saw these ingredients together they knew it meant one thing – VOLCANO! So, plan your bowl size accordingly, even if doing a “single container” batch.

Step 2: Once your fizzing has stopped, add in your corn starch and corn syrup and mix well. This will give you some seriously cool stuff – Jill termed it as “Gak” or “Ooblek” consistency. All I know is that when I stirred it, it went from solid to liquid, and if I had some drip overboard that I could pick it up and it would be solid until I dropped it back into the container with its friends. Super cool.

Step 3: Separate into individual containers and add your food coloring. Jill used gel coloring; Martha used normal drops; I tried both. I think the normal drops ended up producing a better finished product as far as usability goes, but you have more color control with the gel. You may want to try both if you have them on hand and see what works best for you. Use a fair amount of color to get brighter results. The kids were great at stirring here.

Step 4: DRY OVERNIGHT. There will be a liquid left on the top when you go check on them in the morning. I just poked at the “solid” below to make sure it was firm, and then dumped the top liquid off. I figure if the bottom is solid, the liquid on the top will not do much to help things out.

I was excited to see if these would actually work – and they DID! I painted a rainbow like Jill’s daughter so I could see the colors in action:

One tip – make sure you add enough water when you are painting. We occasionally would end up with small paint pieces on the brush that would not brush color onto the paper well (see the yellow and green in the rainbow) – if you dip the brush slightly in water, it works like a charm. Just make sure you add water.

Here is a masterpiece from my 5-year old:

Pretty awesome! His colors were the ones that I used food coloring with – again, they tended to work a bit better, so he preferred them.

Since my boys did well with them and had fun, I decided to finally let my 2-year old use watercolors. She was very excited. And went straight for the pink.

She had a blast, and I didn’t feel like I had to stand over her and make sure she was using the paint “appropriately” – she could just have fun! I know how to make more (good thing too, huh). :)

And, for those of you who are curious, I washed out my son’s old watercolor container and decided to see how many wells a single container recipe would fill. Turns out, it filled an even 24 wells (the whole tray filled three times).  So you are essentially getting three 8-pack watercolor containers worth of paint for $.10 (yes, I priced it out). And you can make them from supplies at home. You could probably even do a little bit of food coloring in each well if you wanted to deal with a very small quantity and keep the “bought watercolor” look. Thanks Jill & Martha! :)

Pizza on Fridays (& a GREAT crust)

We started a tradition several months ago where on every Friday night, we eat pizza and do something fun as a family. The fun thing can be watching a movie, playing games, pulling out our original 16-bit Nintendo and having a Zelda-fest, camping in the backyard – whatever. The pizza thing is HUGE with our kids, and they have come to expect it.

Sometimes waiting for the pizza is hard. :)

We have a family motto that says: “We work hard and are honest.” My seven-year old modified it to: “We work hard, are honest and eat pizza on Fridays.” Yep, that pretty much sums up our family ideals. :)

As part of having pizza every week, we typically will make the pizza. Occasionally we’ll have a pizza we’ve bought from somewhere, but I found a crust recipe from allrecipes.com that makes it hard to want to buy a pizza, unless the day has been too crazy to want to add something else to it. It is VERY easy, and the dough is really elastic and smooth and delicious. It’s everything you could hope for in a crust. We even have kiddo helpers sometimes.


1 cup warm water (110 degrees F – this means it’s more like warm-hot water)

1 T. sugar

1 packet yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp.)

3 T. oil (original recipe says olive, but I usually just use canola or vegetable oil)

1 tsp. salt

1-2 tsp. italian seasoning (opt.)

2 1/2 c. flour

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine warm water, sugar and yeast in large bowl. Mix.

Step 2: Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix. (See? I told you it is easy.)

Step 3: Knead. I use my handy-dandy kneading attachment to my hand mixer for this one. Once it is kneaded, it will have a FABULOUS texture.

Step 4: Rest the dough for 10 minutes. Then roll it out and place on a greased cookie sheet – or pizza pan.

Step 5: Top & bake for 15-20 minutes. Make sure if you use “wet” ingredients that you bake for closer to the 20 minutes or the crust will be cooked, but the middle will not be cooked through entirely. We have yet to burn the crust, but we have undercooked the middle when we’ve been impatient.

Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. And, yes, I use cheddar cheese. It just tastes better (in my opinion).

Pizza! Hooray!

This is easy to do, and fun. What are some of your family traditions? Any fun types of pizza we should try?

Enjoy! :)

Media Tickets

We are still debating as to whether or not we are actually going to use this, BUT I love the idea so I thought I would share it anyway.

I had seen this idea for technology tickets from Laurel @ Ducks in a Row, and thought it might be a good way for there to be more of a balance between my kids learning how to use media appropriately and understanding a bit more about the value of time, (hopefully) without my being either too strict with media or allowing it to turn into a too-frequent babysitter.

I modified it a bit, however, just based on my biases against certain forms of media. A ticket allows for one 30-minute TV show, or for 15 minutes of DS or computer games. The tickets can be combined for movies (ex. Tangled = 3 tickets since it is 100 minutes long). OR, the kids can save up tickets and at the end of the week whatever they have left can be changed in for $.50 each. This is a Kat idea. I would like to incentivize my kids NOT to use the tickets so that way they can make a choice of priorities that goes beyond “Do I use 2 tickets for DS or 1 ticket for Word World?” and leads to “Would I rather have the instant gratification now of watching a movie, or wait until the end of the week and end up $1.50 richer?” We’ll see how that goes. Here is the version I created:

You can make your own cards, or if you are interested in printing off cards like mine, here is a link to a powerpoint document to download – I printed mine 9 per page: MT 9 per page

After I printed the cards off, I cut them and had them laminated at Mardel (this links you to their locations). If you have one nearby and don’t know about their amazing lamanation prices – it is $.25/ft. of laminating. Steal of a deal.

Here is the finished, laminated product:

Like I said, we are still debating as to whether we will use these or not. I’ll keep you posted on what we end up doing, and our system for doing it (Does each kid use a card to watch Wild Kratts, or does one of the kids pay for all three? If each has to pay individually, what do we do if one child runs out – banish them to another room? If only one pays, how do we make sure that our oldest doesn’t always convince the younger ones to pay so he can earn money at the end of the week? etc.). It seems like it has a lot of good potential – we’ll just have to use trial and error to see what works if we decide to use it. We also don’t want to incentivize them to bring more media into their lives now since they are pretty balanced kids who don’t have a ton of that going on right now. It’s a balance.

Do you do something similar to this? How does it work for you?

Ear Infection Helps

I love doctors. I am grateful for modern medicine. Sometimes modern medicine works great with a dose of natural help as well. This is one of those times – at least in our family.

My oldest has had one ear infection in his life, and it was when he was three years old and we had no idea what was going on because he had never experienced it. He took antibiotics; it cleared up almost immediately; he was fine.

My two younger kids have had different experiences. Both of them started to get ear infections starting around 9 months old whenever they got a runny nose, which maybe happened every month or two (thankfully not more often. My middle child stopped getting ear infections by the time he was 2 1/2 or 3, except for one random really bad one when he was four. My daughter is now 2 and some change, and has FINALLY stopped getting ear infections. But not because they have stopped, but because we found a solution that works better for us than the conventional antibiotic route.

When my kids get ear infections, they are full-blown awful in both ears. That’s how we roll. Right before Christmas of this year, my daughter got a runny nose which turned into an ear infection. I took her into the doctor, but our normal pediatrician was off, so she was seen by a different doctor. My kids also routinely “fail” antibiotics, especially the ones that they tend to prescribe first, so I mentioned this to the doctor and she prescribed a stronger antibiotic to help hopefully get it kicked before Christmas. That was a blessing and a trial all at once.

Turns out the antibiotic, first of all, didn’t help. At all. I bought an otoscope a while back (pictured above) from the store so I could check on my kids’ ear infections, or check on their ears if I was suspicious of something, and I could see that it was not budging. Second problem was that my daughter developed a very violent gag reflex to the medicine after about five days of taking the antibiotic. She got to the point where she would just throw up. In frustration, and thinking that there had to be a different way to take care of things other than shoving my kid full of medicine, I asked my friends on facebook for their feedback. I was surprised to see how many people help to prevent problems outside of trying antibiotics, and also glad to see that a lot of the answers were consistent.

Armed with their input, and honestly a bit nervous because I am NOT a “natural remedies” person, I went to the health foods store and asked for some help. I found this lovely product (also pictured above), and it has been AMAZING. I gave my daughter a drop in each ear, and rubbed some from her ear down her neck to help get things moving – her complaining about pain went away almost immediately, she slept better, and I could literally watch her ear infection clear up (using my handy-dandy otoscope) over the course of a couple of days. It was awesome.

I was still a bit skeptical, though. I wondered if maybe her ear infection cleared up because it was viral instead of bacterial and had run its natural course (which is why antibiotics may not clear things up). So I thought that we could put it to the test the next time something flared up.

About a month later, she got another runny nose, and came up to me saying, “Ear hurt. Ear drops please.” I gave her a drop in each ear once each day for a couple of days (each day she would complain that her ear hurt), and it never developed into an ear infection. That was the first time in over a year that a runny nose did not develop into an ear infection. It was wonderful.

The same thing happened again about a month later – same results.

For us, this has been a great tip to know – it has saved us a ton of money on doctors bills and prescriptions, even in the last few months; it has kept my daughter from having to go through the pain of ear infections; it has helped us feel grateful as we have been able to sleep through the night because our poor daughter isn’t awake, screaming from ear pain.

Wally’s Ear Oil contains Sweet Almond Oil, Eucaluptus Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Mullein Extract, Echinacea Oil and Garlic Oil. These different ingredients, alone or in combination, were what my friends recommended most. Those, or colloidal silver.


(1) The product says to use on children 2 and over. My daughter fell into this category (she was a month shy of two when we first tried it), so I have no experience with trying to go outside of those guidelines. I would talk with your doctor about their feelings on using the drops on younger children.

(2) The product also mentions NOT using it if the eardrum is ruptured. This is also where the otoscope could come in handy.

(3) With the otoscope, if you should have one or purchase one, be VEEEEEERY careful when you are putting it into ears to keep a good distance from the eardrum. It gets easier with practice, so maybe try using it on our spouse or an adult friend or an older child, all of whom could presumably sit still for long enough for you to work slowly, before you try it on a younger child. It is not worth the risk of damaging their ears. It is; however, very nice to be able to know what is going on. The one that I bought (Dr. Mom) is great, and comes with several pictures that show you what a “normal” ear looks like and an “infected” ear looks like. It is great to know when there is actually a problem with the ears, and when they are fine. It is a little expensive, but it quickly paid itself off.

I hope this helps someone! Let me know about your ear infection tips too.

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