Random Things That May Make My Days Better

Random Things That May Make My Days Better

Our schools didn’t formally close, due to coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), until the weekend of March 14th but due to Ada getting the flu and staying home from school the Thursday and Friday before that we’ve been sheltering in place for about five weeks now. With Matt working from home since the Tuesday before, having a sick and vomiting five year old, keeping a three year old happy, and then the schools announcing that they were closing made that week and subsequent weekend rather stressful. That first week sheltering in place was filled with trying to figure out how to handle filling in for Ada’s school with her school’s worksheets and YouTube videos, attempting to fit in all the things I was used to doing at home, keeping Zoey happy with ‘school’ in session, losing ‘my office’ to become Matt’s office, and being inundated with school-related content on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram that I felt I needed to fit in. In addition to that I was realizing how long we may be stuck inside and I really wanted to add perfect content to my blog so I stayed up Monday night working on a double post that didn’t pan out and then I stayed up even later on Tuesday to finish up my sensory play summary post so it could go out at my normal Wednesday morning schedule. By that Thursday I was itchy and by Friday we realized I had broken out in stress-induced hives. They weren’t large but they were all over my legs, arms, and torso and so distracting. The only other time I’d gotten them was at my wedding but even then it was just across my stomach. I knew I needed to try to calm down and relax as my body found a way to yell that at me, but it was hard to figure out how to put less on my plate. Over the last several weeks since then I’ve tried, and often failed, with my expectations on myself but I wanted to share some of the activities and online resources that have helped the most in case they can also help you. Maybe you’re different and these may stress you out but if one of these things helps lessen the load and helps you find your balance that would be awesome.

Pinterest image showing a collage of images you can find below. This also includes the name of the blog post and my URL to find it later.

Main Things

Some of the main things that are helping me are:

  • Differentiating the weekdays from the weekends. Matt is able to work from home during this time so I immediately wanted the weekends to stay this awesome time that breaks up the weeks. On weekdays, after breakfast, we get changed into daytime clothing, open the blinds, and start school-work or something right away while Matt heads to the office to start working. On the weekends they get way more daddy-time, no obvious schoolwork, and they may stay in pajamas all day if they want. When you combine this with the scheduled Google hangouts with Ada’s class and the YouTube videos her teachers uploaded we still see the difference between the days and, more easily, keep track and value them.
  • Over that first week of sheltering in place we attempted two different iterations of a weekday schedule before settling on a more simplistic approach. If you’re interested I can later show you what I tried in case that works for you. We ended up structuring our weekdays so we now start the day with the worksheets from our school district. If we’re running low that week or need a change I supplement them with printables I found online like the LEGO® and Doc McStuffins free printables from 1+1+1=1. When we get tired with that I break up the morning with quick moving breaks (dance parties, once I did a MadFit song workout, or if longer a Cosmic Yoga), school-related or educational YouTube videos, writing in sand, and then, when I’m tired of the morning, educational apps on the iPad until lunch. Lunch is the simple and clear-cut way to have them put away their iPads and know afterwards they can do anything, within reason, like playing with toys, sensory bins, outside play, art, etc. When we first implemented morning schoolwork and afternoons play the kids kept asking for their iPads so I told them they could do the whole afternoon if they wanted… twice a week. So the other three days they have to find something else. Last week I implemented a weekly movie after lunch Wednesdays so I can see our screen-time creeping up as the weeks progress. With Spring break last week the school YouTube videos went, mostly, away and there weren’t any worksheets so we loosened the plan without completely taking it away so they felt like they had a break but overall still had structure.
Closeup view of our first schedule with the laminator in the background. The day was divided into morning, afternoon, and evening. Each item on the list was accompanied with an orange and blue dot so each kid could scribble out the dot when that item is done. That paper is laminated so I could wipe it clean each night.
The first iteration of the schedule was not time-dependent but was structured around our meals. Every daily thing was listed with a bullet point for each kids to hide (by coloring over it with a chalk marker) as they finished it. This only lasted for most of one morning… with only Ada using it.
  • I made up a morning routine for me. Over the summer I started waking up earlier to workout before the kids woke up. Sometimes I got a workout in and many times it was still interrupted. When school started in September I moved my alarm even earlier so I’d have time to workout before waking Ada up at 7 am. With the shelter in place going into effect I considered sleeping longer but decided to keep waking up at the same time so I could try to workout and get a hour of learning in using the 100 Days of Python. At first I was constantly interrupted within the first fifteen minutes of starting Python but we ended up deciding to move the kids bedtime to be an hour later which, over the next couple mornings as they acclimatized, gained me just enough time to, mostly, get it done in the mornings. We sold the idea easily to the girls as they’d get an extra hour of ‘daddy-time’ every night.
  • ‘Snack’ lunches, when I discovered them, are amazing. We haven’t been eating the kids’ snack food as much without school and picnic outings so, a couple weekends ago, when I had leftovers that the kids didn’t like and I wanted to stay away from making more pasta I decided to throw together a lunch out of the random snacks we had. The kids absolutely loved it and quickly requested it for the next day. I started making it more often, the night before, and would let them chose one thing to add to their lunch and I filled in the rest making sure it was kind of balanced and might force them to try things they didn’t prefer.
  • I read somewhere to use a lunchbox for school lunches at home although I can’t remember the exact why. Using it adds to the dishes as a lunch box takes longer to clean than a plastic plate but I decided to try it during the second week. At first I thought it didn’t matter as the kids didn’t seem to care but by the end of the week when I made some hot food and gave them a plate I got in trouble. Last week I kind of skipped lunch boxes again with ‘spring break’ as I was using reheated leftovers or cooking pasta fresh for lunch but I started using them again over the weekend. This has been amazing enough, especially when combined with the ‘snack’ lunch idea, that I actually bought Zoey a lunchbox to match Ada’s school one and bought two extra snack-sized bento boxes to make their food fit easier.
Used their new snack-sized bento boxes to make a yogurt parfait. Both opened boxes are next to each other filled up with a simple and easy lunch.
I’m really bad at saving items a bit too long to surprise the girls. I kept telling myself I should stop and use them sooner… but I’m now so happy I have random things I’ve saved. Those ‘hamburger’ candies we got along with a fast food kids meal back at Christmas time. I finally remembered them on the weekend and pulled them out to go with the ‘make your own parfaits’ I came up with. The bottom section has plain yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. The top right section has granola and honey nut cheerios to top the yogurt with while the oranges can be eaten alone or, I guess, thrown in too. I added a cheese string in case they were still hungry.
  • I sometimes try to plan sides (or meals) along with my planned leftovers. This can be small like make a double batch of rice so you can easily heat it up with yesterday’s leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Or if I’m making pasta with tomato meat sauce for supper and I have cottage cheese on hand I try to make a double batch and use the leftovers to make a quick lasagna. Another instance, a couple weeks ago, I grabbed a bag of frozen raspberries and blended them up with water and a bit of lemon juice to make a raspberry sauce… was thinking a spin on applesauce. I let the kids have a large spoonful for dessert, filled a tray in their lunchbox for the next day, and then I froze the leftovers in silicone ice cube trays. After they were frozen I popped them out and put them in a Stasher bag to surprise them with later. I actually took the large LEGO® people out of the freezer one night for their lunch the next day and it was perfect. The next day at lunch you could still see the vague LEGO® shape but it had thawed enough overnight that it still worked as a cold raspberry sauce to eat up.
Closeup of both bento boxes showing the contents listed in the caption. Additionally, there's a plastic (Ikea) spoon laid out in the larger hole with the granola and slightly opened cheese string.
I made the raspberry sauce while planning out their ‘snack’ lunch. This time I combined it with dehydrated mango (they both chose it that night), peanut butter granola they like to eat as a snack, and a cheese string.
The flower tray is half filled (back empty) to the left while the LEGO person tray is completely filled to the right. In the back you see the bottom of the emptied blender jug.
After packing their lunches I threw the leftover raspberry sauce into silicone moulds to easily surprise them with later on. After they freeze I move them into a freezer or Stasher bag so they take up less room.
Closeup of the bento boxes side by side. Both LEGO® people (female and male) are shown. The other pockets, slightly cut off, show the dried mango slices, halved Z-bar, bun with cream cheese, and grapes.
A couple days later when I was looking for something to fill their bento boxes with I remembered the frozen raspberry sauce. I showed the girls the night before as I packaged it (shown here) so they could see the awesome LEGO® people before throwing them in the fridge so they could thaw overnight. Eating them frozen would’ve also been fun and I still have the rest in the freezer to do that with later.
  • I try to make a rough outline of what tomorrow’s meals will be sometime before going to bed. It can be range from specific meals like recipes I want cook, already packed lunch boxes, or leftovers to something more general like just a reminder to look up recipes to cook a specific meat product in the fridge whose best before date is coming up. Having a general idea on supper makes going to sleep so much easier.
  • On that note reminders in general makes life so much easier. I have an iPhone so whenever I think of something I need to do I tell Siri to remind me. Then as I go about my day I can check my notifications to see what reminders have come up, if I have time, and otherwise they sit there waiting for me to have the time. This can be a general reminder, like adding a grocery item to my shopping list or seeing if I’m out of something specific, which I then set for five minutes from now so I can be reminded about it soon. I also set reminders in the future like if I want to make something specific for supper (set the reminder at 2 p.m. of that day so I’m reminded before I start worrying about I should make) or laying out something specific the night before (like a recurring weekly reminder, when school was on, for Ada to lay out her school shirt or put her library book in her backpack). Setting a reminder and ‘forgetting’ about it helps me not worry about whatever it is since I know the reminder itself will be there to help me out.
  • I’ve also been trying to be more grateful. Back in January of 2018 I came across the Grateful app on the iPhone. At that point I only used it about three times but later, May of 2019, I started using it daily (free version allows 15 entries but it’s cheap to upgrade) to help me be more grateful and positive. The app allows you to choose, or make your own, prompt where you then fill in your response and can, optionally, add up to five images. This can be something majorly awesome about your day or something small like a cute quote your kids said, something small you accomplished, or the fact your constipated kid pooped. Writing it down helps you dwell on the positive and looking back through the app, seeing an entry pop up on the phone widget, or looking at the exported PDF helps you see the good about your life instead of dwelling on the negatives that may have seemed insurmountable.
Screenshot of my Grateful app showing things that 'made me smile'.
A snapshot of my Grateful app from the beginning of April. It’s super simple to use.

Cool Things

I also wanted to share some of the cool things I’ve found online that made me smile.

First the Items I Enjoy

The ACM Digital Library is offering free access to their digital library until June 30th, 2020. I haven’t had a chance to check it out but it’s on my to do list.

Screenshot of the ACM Digital Libary's homepage.
Screenshot of the ACM Digital Library taken on April 11th, 2020.

It’s been harder to focus on books lately but for the last while I’ve been reading  ebooks offered free through NetGalley for the price of an honest review. Some books listed on their site you can read immediately while others you need to be approved by the publisher first. In addition to NetGalley, if you like reading ebooks, you can also look online through your public library’s website or get free ebooks through Amazon (if you have prime) using their prime reading program or choosing one of several books offered each month through First Reads.

Screenshot of NetGalley's homepage.
Screenshot of NetGalley taken on April 11th, 2020.

If you’re looking at learning something new I’ve been working on the 100 Days of Python that I bought and started back at the end of January and have, so far, kept up by working on it an hour a day. I never seem to make it a priority but if you’re looking at learning something else Coursera has a bunch of free courses in a diverse range of subjects. I joined their course about the Coronavirus disease but have only managed to complete the first two weeks… so far at least.

Screenshot of the TalkPython #100DaysOfCode in Python page.
Screenshot of the Python 100 Days of Code website taken on April 11th, 2020.

If you’re looking at learning embroidery I loved the kit I bought from Nerds and Needles (as I type this she only has digital patterns available). I posted my finished TARDIS from her a while back. More recently I bought a kit through Namaste Embroidery to give myself a crash course in thread painting. Not sure when I’ll make time to crack it open but I can’t wait for when that happens. If you’re looking at learning crochet or knitting I can’t recommend Ravelry enough. It’s an amazing, free to join, website that lists all yarn, tools, and patterns. You can filter the patterns by whether they’re free, and loads of other stuff, and if you want a paid pattern many of them can be bought directly through Ravelry without dealing with a third-party website each time. Their community is amazing if you have any questions. With all my sewing lately I haven’t been crocheting (never could figure out knitting) but they have the ability for you to list all your projects (along with your favorites, library, yarn, etc) so you can see what you’ve made, easily re-find patterns, and see how much you’ve improved over time.

Screenshot of the Nerds & Needles Etsy page showing some of her amazing embroidery patterns.
Screenshot of Nerds & Needles Etsy shop page taken on April 11th, 2020.

If you have yeast, salt, and flour on hand I love making simple bread dough through Bread In 5 Minutes A Day. If there’s room in the fridge I try to keep the dough pre-made so it’s available when I need to make hot dog buns, a loaf of bread, or mash leftovers into dough for my self-titled ‘sandwich bread’. I posted previously about BreadIn5 twice with a general overview (from January 2018) and my sausage hot dogs more recently.

Closeup of the cut open sandwich bread filled with leftover chicken and bacon combined with diced brie.
That day I rolled out some bread dough before sprinkling it with leftover chicken and bacon that I had frozen and defrosted earlier. I then cut up some Brie and added it on before rolling it up so all the filling was stuck inside the dough. I baked it at 425°F until the top was browned and it was cooked through.

The Tunes To Fight Gloom series of videos from The Holderness Family has become my weekday morning tradition and makes me smile. They’re amazing! I think my favorites are the Barenaked Ladies Parody One Week and their “Sanitized Songs” Quarantined Medley.

Screenshot of The Holderness Family's YouTube homepage.
Screenshot of the Holderness Family’s YouTube page taken on April 11th, 2020.

I know I’ve talked about Pilates a lot but I absolutely LOVE Robin Long’s membership program the Sisterhood so when I saw she reopened the Strength and Stress Relief Challenge I had to add it in. If you want more information about her Pilates I’ve posted about it a year ago and then again a month or so ago when I mentioned my favorite workout videos. If you don’t want to workout or already have a workout plan that works for you she’s also come out with a podcast that’s incredible.

Screenshot of the Pilates Strength and Stress Relief Challenge signup page.
Screenshot taken of the Robin Long Pilates Strength and Stress Relief Challenge sign up page on April 11th, 2020.

Some of the Stuff the Kids Have Been Enjoying Are

We used to live in Edmonton, Alberta whose library system was rated one of the best in North America. Since the shelter in place started I’ve noticed they’ve uploaded a lot of content to their YouTube channel and a section on their website is dedicated to EPL from home. Although your library is probably closed you can still check what digital offerings they may have and look up other libraries if you need links to more content. Our current local library just started offering twice a week story time sessions through Facebook Live and I love how if I miss it I can find them under their video heading on their Facebook page. The kids have only watched the one from EPL but I’m excited to show them the new one from our current local library.

The first four rows (five across) of the Edmonton Public Library's videos hosted on YouTube.
Some of the Edmonton Public Library’s videos on their YouTube page. Screenshot taken on April 11th, 2020.

Also through Facebook I found out that Kristi Yamaguchi is doing twice a week readings on her page. You can join the Facebook events or look at her past videos to watch. So far we’ve watched her read Dream Big Little Pig and Maneki Neko, the Tale of the Beckoning Cat. After the first one I went onto YouTube to show the girls Kristi’s amazing figure skating and then went on to show them the awesomeness of Kurt Browning and the paired skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. They’ve decided that Kristi is their favorite though they laughed with Kurt and were blown away by Jamie and David’s tricks.

Screenshot showing Kristi Yamaguchi's nine most recent Facebook videos.
Screenshot of the videos listed on Kristi Yamaguchi’s Facebook page taken on April 11th, 2020.

I haven’t heard of him before but very recently we came across Gym Class with Adam Rosante through an Instagram post by Parents. Three times a week he does two live gym classes; one for kindergartens to third graders and another for fourth to sixth graders. So far we’ve tried his first one (K-3 on Wednesday April 8th) and Ada seemed to love it although Zoey, not the targeted audience, got distracted. I can see adding this to our routine when we need to move especially if I want to join in with the girls (so they don’t just sit and watch like Ada’s been doing with Cosmic Kids Yoga lately).

The video page on Adam Rosante's YouTube account showing the latest ten videos.
Screenshot of Adam Rosante’s YouTube videos including Gym Class with Adam taken on April 11th, 2020.

I posted Mo Willem’s Lunch Doodles through The Kennedy Center before but I had to share again as they’re so amazing. We’re behind now but watching the first several episodes at the beginning of the shelter in place really kicked Ada’s doodling into overdrive. I’ve printed out his worksheets for the later episodes and I’m now patiently waiting for the girls to want to watch more.

Ada and Zoey standing beside each other. At their feet are two of Ada's doodles on the ground. Ada, on the left, holds her version of Gerald while Zoey, on the right, holds the instruction sheet for Gerald the Elephant.
Ada, five years old, blew me away with her artwork even after the first two episodes. Zoey, three years old, loved to doodle while watching from beside Ada. I didn’t realize until after I took this picture that Zoey chose to hold the instruction sheet instead of her drawing.

The Bay Area Children’s Theater started up a Creativity Corner with videos (under the Challenges menu and hosted through YouTube) that comes with accompanying printables (under the menu heading activity sheets). We’ve watched three so far and the girls absolutely love them. After watching Chef Olive’s restaurant, which featured making a menu, Ada ended up creating a restaurant in our living room complete with a ottoman table, four chairs made out of different stuff, and a play area (collapsed tunnel on it’s side filled with DUPLO®) that she got Zoey to sit in for a while.

The latest two challenges on the Creativity Corner are shown in the image.
Screenshot of the challenges listed on the Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s Creativity Corner website taken on April 11th, 2020. You can find the accompanying printables under ‘Activity Sheets’.

The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose just started up a virtual discovery museum that they live stream on their Facebook account. It looks like one of their videos from the first day, Friday, was posted to YouTube along with a new series about the Virtual Museum Educators. The rest of the videos seemed to have stayed up on their Facebook page. While writing this I wondered what other places might also be doing so I just quickly checked in on the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito to find them bringing research-backed home activities to you. The Tech Interactive, in San Jose, put together a collection of lessons and activities and, apparently, hosted a live discussion for high school students titled Leading Through Uncertainty with Miss CEO on the 9th. They have an upcoming Tech Challenge Virtual Showcase on April 25th and 26th. The TELUS World of Science in Edmonton lists several science experiments you can do at home and it looks like they have a bunch of cool videos on their YouTube account. The Vancouver TELUS World of Science also looks like it has a bunch of resources. The Monterey Bay Aquarium blew me away with their changed new homepage look to allow you to experience the aquarium online including meeting the animals, seeing the live cams, and trying some remote schooling (paired with a video of a school of fish). I especially love their main heading “Welcome to the Monterey Bay Aqarim. It’s just not the same without u.” I’m currently pausing typing this up to sign the kids up for the pre-kindergarten to grade two online course (they have various courses and guided activities for all grades) and printing out the sea otter lunch bag puppet pieces. If you have any favorite museums, discovery centers, or aquariums now seems to be the time to check their website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel and they may be posting your child’s favorite content with their favorite people or animals.

The YouTube homepage for the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose showing their three most recent videos all within the last two days.
Screenshot of the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose’s YouTube page taken on April 11th, 2020.

If you’re looking for live animal cameras I posted several links, including many from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, back while we were stuck inside because of the smoke from the forest fires about two years ago. If you’re looking for really cool science videos the girls have been watching, over the last year or so, Smarter Everyday and Mark Rober (who has just started live stream science classes). Their topics are diverse and entertaining, mostly, for the toddlers, kids, and adults.

If you want something that isn’t online I posted an overview of all my sensory play activities about a month ago. A couple of weeks ago we took our emptied laundry detergent bottles that we hadn’t yet repurposed and filled them up with water for the kids to play with. Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Last week I thought to give Zoey a bin with plain and soapy water and some pipettes and bowls. She loved it! I later changed it up by adding some food dye to the bowl so she got to convert all the clear water to orange on her schedule.

The photo was take outside. To the left Zoey is rolling up her pants about to get in the bucket of soapy water like her sister. To the right Ada is standing in her bucket of soapy water flinging some of the soap bubbles to the right.
The kids had a blast with the soapy water but no matter what if you give them water they will stand in it.
Overview of the yellow bin with vaguely soapy water in it. In the center is a white plastic bowl with soapy orange water in it. Underneath the water you can see a metal spoon, to the right, and orange water spreading, on the left, from where Zoey is squeezing an upside down bottle with orange water in it.
After Zoey had had a blast with the soapy (originally only in the bowl) and plain water I changed it up by adding a bit of red and yellow food dye to the bowl. She squeezed the bottle and after putting it in the bowl loosened her grip to fill her bottle so she could spread orange water into the bin.
The bowl has been moved to the right side of the bin so you can't see the metal spoon. The bottle has had it's lid removed and now sits lidless to the left. There's a pipette filled with orange water above the bottle and about to be squirted in.
After adding some orange to the bin she next used her pipette to transfer more orange water back into the now lidless bottle.

Overall I’ve been trying to listen to what the kids want to do and guiding them from there. No matter what you want to do and how cool your idea is I’ve found if they aren’t ready for it it may not be fun and it’s better just to save it. Last week, one morning Ada somehow got it into her head to make “Happy Coronavirus Day” cards so we each grabbed a sheet of paper, I looked up the coronavirus molecule, and we drew it. They weren’t given to anyone and now I’m kind of wondering what happened to those papers but it was a fun time before we went onto other things.

I hope you aren’t feeling too confined right now and are, hopefully, staying healthy. I hope these ideas help you out and I would love to hear what your favorites might be in the comments below. If you come up with any other great ideas I’d love to hear about them. If you’re interested in getting updated on any future posts, currently once a week on Wednesdays, I share to my Facebook page and Instagram account although you are more than welcome to join my email list located right under the search bar either to the left-top under the purple arrow, if you’re on a wide screen device, or underneath this post if you’re on your phone. I hope one or more of these ideas help you find a bit more balance in your week and the rest of your month goes well. Stay safe out there.

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