Monday, August 31, 2015

Backyard treehouse

I grew up on the east coast (North Carolina until I was 16, then Pennsylvania; now my parents live in Tennessee) so trees are important to me. Like, really important.

I spent my childhood playing in the woods behind my house. I had my own little tree fort that I built with scraps of plywood and nails I stole from my dad and I loved playing and reading in it.

 When we were house hunting, I knew that I needed to find a yard with trees in it--easier said than done in Utah! One of the things that made me fall in love with not only our house but our whole neighborhood is how many mature trees there are on our street. We have seven large, shady, beautiful trees in our backyard and one of the very first things we did after moving in was hang a couple of swings from one. We've spent many happy hours on those swings!
A few years after we moved in, I built a little platform in the trees with a slide coming down from it. 

It was fine for reading or maybe eating lunch...

Tempe and Helena in 2011 at the original enchanted treehouse
But it was small. Like, one kid at a time small. We talked about enlarging it for years but it was just too big a project for me to take on by myself. 

I love the look and idea of natural playgrounds and playscapes. I think kids are already drawn to incorporating natural elements into their play--rocks, treestumps, logs and such. I also love how charming natural playspaces are and how easily they can blend into existing landscaping. So when my dad came out for business last week and asked what project I wanted him to do while he was here, we jumped on the chance to get our dream treehouse built!

We built the treehouse frame out of redwood 2x6s and 2x8s, attached to the trees with lag bolts and redwood 4x4 posts. Just like the original, there's a narrow platform between the cluster of five trees where the slide comes down, and then there's a larger platform off to the side. It's about 6 ft square--plenty of room for lots of friends to play together!

I splurged and used Veranda composite decking for the deck and I'm so glad I did. It's so nice that I don't have to worry about kids getting splinters or any upkeep! Definitely worth the extra $40 (yeah--it was only $40 more than using lumber. So not even much of a splurge!)

The three wooden pennants have been in Tempe and Helena's bedroom for a few years, but they are perfect in the treehouse instead. I found a string of solar lanterns at Wal-Mart to hang in the trees. Treehouse + lanterns softly twinkling at night = perfection.

Let this be my public proclamation of THANKS to Grandpa K, aka Big Kahuna for his 12+ hours of work to get this thing framed for us. We love you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back to school!

We've been back in school for two days and wow, is it hectic! I always forget just how much work elementary school is for the mom the kids. 

Tempe is in third grade and Helena is in second. I love their style, don't you? Helena is our style guru and she insisted on wearing the glasses. Perfect for the first day of school!

Kids being able to walk to school is kind of a big deal to me. Like, if we were house hunting and we found the perfect house but the kids couldn't walk to school, it would be a deal breaker. I can't stand the thought of having to drive every. single. day. #aintnobodygottimeforthat

So far they are happy with their teachers and classes! Here's to another year.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ready or not...

School starts for my two oldest tomorrow!

I am not sure how I feel. Part of me is sad, because we had such a fun summer doing so many neat things and I love having them home with me. Plus, I will be honest, I am totally not looking forward to the drudgery of homework, making lunches, getting kids up early, hairstyles, bathing my children nightly every other night hopefully at least twice a week.

On the other hand, I loved going back to school as a child and I still love it as a parent. I love the fresh start and a chance to get into a routine once more. I especially love the kick in the pants it gives me to keep our house organized and tidy after a summer of letting everything go!

Here are some of the things that I do to help keep our school days running smoothly!

Lunch basket

Making lunches is definitely one of those things that I am awesome at during the first half of the year and not so awesome at later on. But this lunch basket helps me power through the end of the school year. In it, I keep cookie cutters of different shapes and sizes, food markers, straws, small jars with lids, our favorite lunchboxes, and a sweet letter Tempe wrote to me about how she loves the "fun lunches" I make to give me some inspiration.

Garage mudroom

Our house doesn't have a mudroom, so I set up a little mudroom area in our garage. The kids keep their coats, backpacks, boots, and mittens/gloves/hats out here so it doesn't clutter up my house. Plus, in the winter they can leave their wet and muddy boots out here!

Mom command station

We also don't have an office in our house, but my desk fits just perfectly in this little nook next to the couch. I keep all of our school supplies in one of the drawers, my bills in the organizer, and the computer and printer here (the printer fits on the windowseat right behind the desk so it's out of the way!)

Wall of Fame

I hung a clipboard for each of my kids on the wall in the kitchen where I can put all their schoolwork and things that need to be sent back. I review it every night while they're doing homework so I can keep up with the flood of papers that come home from school with them.

What do you do to keep organized?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

love where you live

Isn't it nice when you love where you live?
I know not every situation is ideal, but I do think it's possible to find something good about anywhere you end up.
This is coming from someone who has fond memories, yes, fond, of living in Laramie, Wyoming, where it was regularly 0 degrees and the wind never. stopped. blowing.
But the SLC area is easy to love. 
One of my favorite things about where we live is how much free stuff there is to do. I am all about free!!! It seems like as soon as I think we've exhausted the awesomeness of Salt Lake, I discover something new.

Today we went to The Train Shoppe in South Salt Lake. It's the biggest model train store in the area, but the cool part is in back, where there are several model trains set up that you can "drive" for 25 cents. My girls are watching the Hogwarts Express right here!

I really cannot do this place justice. The back room is all wild west themed and there are three party rooms--a hotel, a saloon, and a jail. In addition to the quarter operated model trains, there's also a train that kids can ride on and shoot at targets for $2. That wasn't open today, so we haven't ridden it, but we have plans to go back in October when it's decorated for Halloween.
If you have a kid that's into trains or miniatures, this place is awesome! In fact, I think pretty much any kid will think it's great. Heck, I thought it was great!

After the train shop, we decided to look for the SLC Pepper mural. It's just a block or two south of the Gateway, so easy to find. I'll admit I'm not a Beatles fan, but this mural is awesome. I have dreams of someday taking my kids on a SLC mural tour--maybe next summer?! 

So after the mural, Helena was so thirsty that we decided to go to the Planetarium on our way back to our car so we could get a drink of water. The Planetarium is awesome, so of course we had to hang out there for a while. By the time we finished there, we were all hungry, so we headed out to the taco stand right outside and got some super yum tacos.

Salt Lake City pride!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The family benefit project

Last Christmas we started a new family tradition.

It began with my desire to make December a month of giving and focus on loving and serving others, along with the excitement of Christmas and all that comes with it. We decided to hold a hot chocolate stand and bake sale and donate 100% of our proceeds to a local organization that disperses funds to several charities.

We had such a wonderful experience that this year Jason and I sat down and decided to have a year-long family benefit project. We chose a charity that we feel strongly about and set a modest goal to meet throughout the year--not by simply putting aside cash out of our budget every month, but by working together as a family to raise the money.

We could have simply budgeted an amount every month to put towards our goal, but we want to have an experience as a family; we want to teach our children the joy of giving back, working hard, and achieving a goal in a concrete way. By making this a year-long project, we're hoping to instill in them a lifelong desire to serve others.

If you're interested in doing a similar project with your family, here are some ideas to help you get started:
  • Choose a charity. There are so many wonderful organizations to choose from! Make sure to do your research into how the organization disperses funds. GuideStar is a good start. Choose something that you feel strongly about and are passionate about. We chose a local charity because we want to show our children the impact that can be made in our own community.
  • Set a goal. It's better to set a lower goal and surpass it than to set a lofty one and not meet it. Be realistic about how much money you can raise.
The next step is the fun part--find ways to raise money! We have had success with all of these ideas:
  • Decluttering the house and selling things on Facebook yardsale groups
  • Selling homemade giant cinnamon rolls (I took orders in advance for Easter weekend; I did keep 50% of the proceeds due to the huge time committment in making 15 giant cinnamon rolls--however, the cost of ingredients came from my 50%, so I didn't really make any money) 

  • Selling homemade "birdseed biscuits" to hang in the trees for the birds to eat.
  • Bake sales or lemonade stands--We host a bake sale every August and every December. 

  • Find small businesses or self-employed friends who will match what you raise. This is a great way to get more bang for your buck! When we did our bake sale, we had a neighbor approach us and offer to match our proceeds 100%. Wow! You don't have to ask for a 100% match; every little bit helps. 
When you've decided how to raise money, don't forget to advertise. I advertised our bake sales on Facebook yard sale groups and our neighborhood Facebook group, making sure to name the charity and the percentage of the proceeds that would be donated. After our first bake sale, I tagged our local news station on Instagram and we were invited to present our money in person at the news studio, have a tour, and do an interview for a human interest story (it never aired, because I am so incredibly awkward on camera for unknown reasons).

The most important thing is to keep your children involved in the whole process. My kids make posters, help bake cookies, go door to door taking orders, and man the stands. They know we are raising money for our chosen charity. They know who the charity helps. We talk about it all the time and it's become a real part of our family life. We count our blessings more, we feel satisfied with what we have more, we have more empathy for others, and we have a stronger desire to serve and love others. It has been such a wonderful experience in our family.

Please comment and tell me what you have done to encourage charitable giving in your family!

Monday, August 10, 2015

summer fun (or where I've been)

It's been quite a while since I posted anything!

When I started this blog, it was partly because I no longer posted at my kids eat off the floor. I thought a fresh start with a new format and new ideas would help.
I'm hoping that once school starts in two weeks I will get back on track!

Let me tell you about some of the fun things we've done this summer!
Park passports: We've visited four parks and two splash pads that aren't our usual go-to neighborhood park. The girls dutifully fill in their park passports after each visit!

Science: We've burst a watermelon using rubber bands, attempted a Rube Goldberg machine (it failed), melted a giant ice cube to get to rubber sea creatures, blown up a balloon with baking soda, made a doodlebot, built and destroyed a dam in our neighborhood park creek...

Field trips: One of my favorite things about summer is that it gives us the opportunity to go to all the many fun places in our area that we can't get to during the school year. This year we've gone to: the fairy forest, the SLC library, Hill Air Force Base museum, Pioneer Quarry Trail, Great Salt Lake Shoreline preserve in Layton, the farmer's market, movie in the park, hiking several times, the pioneer museum in Provo...

Vacations:  We've been totally spoiled this summer, with 10 days in Tennessee, four days in Washington DC, a weekend in Idaho Falls, and a weekend at our family cabin. 

We have two more weeks of summer and we're going to try to cram as much fun into it as we can!