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We had a fairy tale kind of snow day on Thursday, the kind you dream about when you’re a kid. A big snow was forecast days before it hit, we hit the stores and stocked up on all the important stuff: cookie ingredients, and, well mostly cookie ingredients. We got more than a foot of snow overnight on Wednesday (which is pretty big doings around here) and we promptly suited the kids up in the morning to go out and enjoy it.

Watching Ada navigate her way through what must have seemed like towers of snow reminded me of a big snow we got back in February of 2010 when Xavier was almost exactly Ada’s age now and we were a little family of three.

Xavier on Snow Mound 2010 - 2014

When he triumphantly climbed up on a pile of snow, it reminded me immediately of the huge snow bank we shoveled when digging our car out of our spot in our tiny townhouse lot back in 2010 and how we gave Xavier a boost up onto the bank to his absolute delight.

Xavier in Snow Smiling 2010 - 2014

Of course, I had to dig up all of the old photos. It was a fun–and amazing–trip down memory lane. The photos where Xavier is making an expression he still makes now, the ones where he looks just like Quinn or Ada, the ones where he seems so very, very young are all so fascinating to look at now.

Xavier Smiling to Side 2010 - 2014

Of course when you’re looking at your little toddler, you have no idea what your child will look like when they grow up, how they will behave, what habits and expressions are the ones you’ll continue to see over and over in photographs taken throughout their lives. It’s only in retrospect that you marvel at those things. And oh how fun it is to marvel.

Xavier Snow Shovel 2010 _ 2014

The most amazing thing is that these photos are just four years old. Four. Years. I can’t imagine what kinds of changes the next four years will bring, and the next four after that, but you better believe I will be drinking it all in, trying to stop and gather as many moments as I can while these little ones’ childhoods whiz right on by.

valentine wrap-up

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In an effort to come through on my promise to update you on our Valentine crafts from this year and last, I’m wrapping up my series of Valentine posts with photos from two projects from last year: a craft I made for the kids’ preschool teachers and Quinn’s simple but cute Valentine cards.

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Last year’s holiday season was a little crazy since it was our first one with three little ones. Despite my best hopes, I wasn’t able to put together anything special for the teachers in December, so Valentine’s Day was the perfect opportunity to thank them for the great work they do when things were a little calmer.

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I opted to make coffee cup cozies. They are simple to put together and easy to make in bulk, so I was able to make one for each of the boys’ teachers, the teacher assistant, the director, the music and yoga instructor, the enrichment teacher, and the two dedicated art teachers in a couple of evenings.

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I included a coffee shop gift card inside the sleeve for the teachers that worked with my kids on a daily basis that I hadn’t even managed to get a small store bought gift in December. They do such incredible work with the kids and absolutely deserved the gesture, small as it was.

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I lined the sleeves with a bright red and white dot fabric I had on hand and found little heart buttons that made for a cute latch. The teachers were really pleased with the gifts, which they can hopefully continue to use throughout the year.

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We kept Quinn’s cards simple. He was two last year and ready for a hands on project, but nothing that would take too much time or effort. Hand prints are a great go to project for little hands since they are adorable no matter how messy. We added little punched out hearts and a cute message inside, and the cards were done.

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That’s it for the Valentine’s blitz this year. Looking forward to gathering ideas for the next time around.

Quinn Valentine 2014_Cant Disguise

Just about everything has been postponed around here because of the big snowstorm that hit us Wednesday night, including Quinn’s preschool Valentine celebration (and, incidentally, my post about his Valentines).

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But we are ready with some really cute ones (if I do say so myself) when his class meets up again.

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As is his custom, Quinn made sure to not only obtain a big scratch on his face just before we took the Valentine’s Day photos, but he was also ridiculously uncooperative about getting his picture taken. We did manage a couple of good ones, and I opted for the silly shot of him with a mustached disguise and another couple of cheesy Valentine’s puns. Might as well get it all out of my system since I have to wait an entire year before I get to do this again.

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Quinn’s Valentines are pretty cute on their own, but I thought it would be fun to include something for the kids to play with. His class is so fun and all of the kids enjoy being goofy and hands on, so I thought they might enjoy some silly stick on mustaches. I found a twelve pack of packaged sets of three different mustaches for about $5, but the packaging was pretty plain and tacky, so I whipped up a fun message and folded and stapled it over the cardboard tab at the top of each pack and–voila!–a fun Valentine with a matching fun little favor.

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Despite his best efforts to make it difficult for us to get things together, the cards (and the puns) are so very Quinn and he is super excited about the final product. I’m sure the kids will enjoy with them when they have their belated celebration next week.

Ada Valentine 2014

Since she was only about six months old last year, this year was Ada’s first experience exchanging Valentines with friends. While she is much more aware of all the festivities this year, she’s still only a year and a half old, so most of the fanfare is for our benefit rather than hers.

Still, we had a lot of fun making the celebration fun for her and Ada really seemed to enjoy it.

For her Valentines, we went with a similar technique as Xavier’s, but I personalized the cards with each friend’s name on the computer and used the same font to address red envelopes for Ada’s playschool Valentine exchange.

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Each child in the playschool class was tasked with bringing in a homemade mailbox or envelope to collect their Valentines and while I had big hopes of elaborate shoebox art, I wound up finding a great pink and white polka dot cardboard mini suitcase from a craft kit I bought a long time ago for Xavier and decided it was perfect. My mother sewed Ada a couple of toddler-sized messenger bags for Christmas and she loves stuffing them with little toys and carrying them around the house, so I figured this would be a nice addition to her collection.

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I saved the task of decorating the suitcase for the night before the exchange and of course by then Ada was too pooped to be of any help. My procrastination turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the boys had a great time picking out stickers and covering Ada’s Valentine suitcase with sparkly Valentine fabulousness after she went to bed. It was wonderful to see them take such care with where each sticker would go, carefully pressing each one down out of worry that Ada might try to peel them off, and deciding to cover not just the outside of the box, but the inside, too. Those guys really do love their little sister and absolutely spoil her with affection and attention.

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IMG_9848They were excited to send her off in the morning with her new accessory (which she happily posed with–notice the classic “Cheeeese!” pose in the top left photo in the collage below). The playschool kids had more fun than I would have imagined receiving their Valentines. The one containing a little mini flute and the message “You blow me away!” was a particularly big hit.

Ada Valentine Playschool Collage

All in all, it was a fun celebration for all of us and a great reminder (for me and the boys) of just how fulfilling acts of kindness for others can be.

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Apparently, I have a thing for bad Valentine’s puns. But hey, if you’re going to let your cheesy flag fly, Valentine’s Day is the holiday tailor made for it.

With both boys in preschool last year, we went handmade all the way and Xavier’s Valentines were the most hands on. I kept gravitating toward designs that included something (other than candy) that the pint-sized recipients would find fun and might actually use, which is why we ultimately opted for these crayon Valentines. (The photos and tutorials that inspired our project are here and here.) The terrible play on words was all for the parents. And Xavier was all over a project that involved crayons and the oven. What four-year-old wouldn’t be, honestly?

We started our project with a silicone mold with heart-shaped cavities. In a perfect world, I would have saved all of our little broken nubs of crayon to make our heart crayons, but in the world I lived in at the time, I had probably long ago thrown out such nubs. So we actually purchased a couple of new packs of crayons and sorted them into color families. Peeling the crayons was tedious, but breaking them into pieces was, as I remember, one of Xavier’s favorite steps.

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After the cavities were filled, we baked the crayons at a very low temperature for a few minutes until they melted and then set them out to dry. The marbled results were honestly better than I expected as I was sure the colors would all run together.

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We used pre-cut paper hearts in red and pink for our base and cut out smaller white hearts with specialty scissors to glue on top. I had Xavier address the back of each pink or red heart before I attached anything to them so any mess ups were easily recycled and replaced before anything was attached.  I let Xavier decide who would get which color crayon (a process which, as I remember, he made much more complicated than it needed to be but also relished in). We attached the crayons to the white hearts with Zots (which worked surprisingly well, as the crayons were fairly heavy) and the sticky dots were easily removed when the kids wanted to use the crayons.

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We added the obligatory cheesy message around the crayon hearts (“Happy Valentine’s Day, for crayon out loud!”) and–voila!–fun and functional Valentines.

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It makes me nostalgic to think of how difficult Xavier found the process of writing his own name on each heart last year, and how much simpler (and enjoyable!) he found the process of writing both his name and his friends’ this year. (Note how he converted the “oops” on the one below into a flower–it makes me smile every time I look at it.) He’s certainly come a long way in one short year.

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Xavier's Valentine 2014

Yes, I’ve been away for a while despite wonderful intentions to tell you all about our fall and winter adventures. But I’m back, guilt free, to spend the week telling you about how wonderful the children’s Valentines turned out this year (and to update you on last year’s Valentine projects, since, well, I have the photos so I may as well pack it all in to one wonderful Valentine fest.)

This year’s successes are due in very large part to my mother’s willingness to let us be her guinea pigs to try out some of the new flash equipment she got for Christmas. I literally threw some red clothes and a few Valentine’s props in a bag with a couple of vague ideas in mind on our way out the door to visit her and the rest of the magic is all hers. I’m so ridiculously excited about how the photos–and the Valentines–turned out, especially with the last minute nature of the whole thing.

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Up first is Xavier. He is exchanging Valentines with all 21 classmates and his two teachers and, because of the monumental task of having a couple dozen early readers match names to handmade mailboxes, they are actually taking the entire week to deliver them. He had to bring all of them in to school, hand addressed, yesterday.

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By far the most cooperative photo model these days, it was tough to pick one photo for his card.

I had seen some sample Valentines where someone had taken photos of a child holding a blank heart and used that space as the canvas for the child to write each friend’s name, so that was our goal. We used a white foam craft heart we had left over from a previous year’s stockpile of craft supplies. I didn’t want the cards to get so big that they wouldn’t fit through the opening in each shoebox mailbox at school, but I also didn’t want to make the heart so small that my budding writer wouldn’t have enough space to fit some of his longer classmates’ names. Since I was printing the cards myself on 8.5 x 11 sheets of photo paper, I could make them whatever dimensions I liked, so I went with a tall and narrow design that would fit through each mail slot, but leave enough room for names. The printed cards are 4 x 8 inches.

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After some trial and error, we discovered that a Sharpie worked best on the glossy photo surface and a black crayon was perfect for signing each card on the back without having any writing show through the front in the light.

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I’m really happy with the results and so is Xavier. Of course, some of the longer names were tough to fit completely in the white heart, but they are still perfectly legible and no less adorable (in my humble opinion). All in all, it was a fun and surprisingly easy project that gave Xavier some ownership without getting too difficult and tedious.

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Tomorrow, I’ll share the Valentines Xavier and I made for his preschool class last year, a much different, but equally fun project.

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With the craziness of Halloween and the long weekend at the cabin that immediately followed because of a school holiday, I nearly forgot to post photos of Quinn’s monster costume as promised. I’m hoping we’re not too far past the big day for you to enjoy another little monster fest. Here’s the three-eyed yellow monster preparing for his preschool parade (with little sister monster Ada in tow).

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