Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Painting with Marbles

If you are looking for a mess-free way to incorporate painting into your preschooler's week, I have just the thing: marble paintings. They are fun, easy, and the results are quite lovely.

We love painting around here. And, usually, I am a good sport when it comes to the messes that inevitably come along for the painting ride. Lately, however, I've been trying to conserve my energy for little things like feeding my family and basic hygiene. Enter the marble paintings. This technique allows my daughter an outlet for working with paint, but requires minimal set-up or clean-up on my behalf. Win-win, I'd say.

First, find a shallow box (a shoe box is fine, even a pizza box lid would work here. But do try to keep the box size manageable for your child to hold). Place a blank piece of paper in the box. Round up some marbles and paint (we used tempera).

You can either squirt the paint into individual cups, as we did, or you can paint the marbles with the desired paint. As I mentioned, I wanted a relatively mess-free experience, so we opted for paint cups.
Drop your marble into the paint and swirl it around to coat the entire surface of the marble. Then remove from the paint (we used 2 forks, to drain the excess paint and to keep fingers clean) and drop onto the paper. Pick up the box and tilt it side to side, forward and back. Go on, really give it a good wiggle! The marble makes a neat trail as it rolls around on the paper.

Once the paint has worn off the marble and it stops leaving much of a trail, you can re-dip it in the same color or move on to the next marble and the next color (this is assuming you are meticulously neat and have one marble per paint color, and go to great lengths to keep them separate, as we did. Well, I did, anyway).
As we did painting after painting, my daughter pretty much scrapped the 2-fork method of removing excess paint and used her fingers instead. She really got a kick out of plopping a heavily-coated marble on the paper. It made such a pleasing "plop" and puddle of paint in that spot before being rolled around the box.
Children love doing a familiar activity in a new way. It's fun to take paint and use objects other than a paint brush or fingers to make a picture. We've experimented with using combs, forks, sponge pieces, etc. and get different (but great) results every time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fresh from the Library: Books with an Autumn Theme

As usual, I changed the books in the sidebar, but have been pokey about writing a post about the new finds. Now that Fall is officially here, we thought some autumn-themed books were in order. So, here are the latest books to make the journey from the library to our home:

This book is fresh and fun. The illustrations are very "folksy" and mostly black and vanilla, with touches of red and yellow. Very eye-catching to my little ones. The tale itself runs along the lines of "The House That Jack Built," one line building upon another and another, previous lines repeated after a new line is added. Cumulative text, I think they call it. I know that makes absolutely no sense. But it doesn't matter because it's a delightful read. Go check it out. My daughter loves that the little girl and her Papa shared the pie with the animals at the end (she was quite worried, as we were reading along, that the animals would be forgotten). My son likes to point out the sneaky fox and the cat on the pages (and the cat is hiding in the tree eating pie on the last page, which my son finds amusing. Not sure why, but whom am I to question the sense of humor of a one year old?).
Hush! A Thai Lullaby: this was a favorite of Roo's a few years back (my, has it really been years?) and I thought Rascal would enjoy it. He did. But I'd have to say Roo enjoyed the encore presentation the most.

There's something so appealing about this story (For me, that is. My husband detests this book). The bright, contrasting illustrations are lively without being overstimulating. I like the fact that they feature some unusual backyard creatures making less traditional, but more accurate animal sounds: the pig says, "uut, uut" instead of "oink" and the frog says "op, op" instead of "ribbit."

The story line is one I know well: a mother trying to keep all noises to a minimum in order for her sleeping boy to stay a sleeping boy. Well, while she encounters one noisy critter after another, her mischievous little toddler has awakened and is monkeying around the hut, having a blast. My daughter likes to point out on each page what particular mischief the little boy is getting into (and noticing when his antics mirror that of the particular animal the mother is trying to quiet: for example, the baby is swinging by his arms from a beam, while the mother is pleading with a monkey in the trees to hush).

Maybe what appeals to me the most is the ironic truth running through the pages: the mother tries her hardest to quiet the noises in the environment to make it as sleep-inducing as possible for her babe. And then, after all that commotion and expended energy, she finally retreats to bed (although "bed" for her really isn't bed, but a windowsill on which to lay her head. Also sounding way too familiar to me) herself. Then, just as she's nodding off, the baby is WIDE awake. At least, that's the way it goes around our house.

Sheesh! That's a lot to say about a single book. And, frankly, I'm feeling wiped out. We did manage to pick up a few others, but I think I'll just list them and add a quick note or two!

Pumpkin Moonshine: To be honest, my first thought was that this was about underground whiskey-making. Really. Maybe I've just watched too many Little House on the Prairie episodes. That ol' Mister Edwards and his moonshine, you know. Anyway, it is actually a cute little Halloween tale written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor, the works of whom I absolutely adore.

Leaves: My husband says that this is just a shorter version of Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (which I will discuss another day because it is one of the selections in our Autumn Book basket). I agree that there are similarities: there is a young animal (in this case, a bear. In Fletcher, it's a fox) who grows concerned when he sees leaves falling off the trees. In both stories, they try to put the leaves back on the trees, to no avail. In Leaves, the bear hibernates in his leaf-filled cave and when he wakes in Spring, he thinks the new buds are there to welcome him from his long winter's nap. In Fletcher, the young fox discovers that bare trees can be just as beautiful as those clad in yellow and orange leafy-goodness. Both books sweet additions to your Fall reading list.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Could I BE wearing any more clothes??

Just a side note: Does anyone out there recall the "Friends" episode when Joey puts on all of Chandler's clothes at one time?? This totally reminded me of that one. Classic.

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and I must say that stumbling upon Roo playing dress up with the clothes in the laundry basket made me forget every ill moment from the last few weeks (heck, maybe even the last few years). I laughed until I cried.

Apparently, digging through the clothes basket (at least they were clean) for outfit assembly has become a popular activity for her lately. Too much time to kill while Mama napped, me thinks.

I love that she's getting to that oh-so-fun dress-up age. I was the Queen of dress-up when I was young. I recall asking permission from my Mom to play in her closet every day for a huge segment of my growing-up years. The shoes, scarves, gauzy blouses, hats, gloves, jewelry -- oh, it was pure heaven to me as I created and paraded around in my mini masterpieces! And when my Mom indulged me in taking a few photos of the ensembles of which I was most proud? Well, it made me feel so important that my Mom would "waste" actual film (as it was in those days) to capture my creations.

So when I saw Roo all dolled up in underwear, tube socks (as leg warmers and elegant elbow-length gloves), pants as hats, and long-sleeve shirts turned into tights, I just had to snap a few. And then a few more.
Oh my. I think I may have created a monster: I didn't even ask her for a pose! Looks like a dress up box filled with treasures is on the agenda for Christmas this year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Things We Take For Granted

I think we've all heard the words. And, if you're like me, you've probably rolled your eyes after hearing them. The past year and a half has dealt to us much struggle and disappointment (along with countless blessings too, I must add. Can't forget about those blessings!). At times, it bordered on unreal, as things spiraled down and down until you couldn't possibly ever believe the spiraling would stop. Many well-meaning family and friends (and even casual observers of our situation) would shake their heads and say with a smile, "At least you have your health." Cue: eye roll, please.

Apparently, when all else is in the proverbial toilet, one is supposed to take comfort in the fact that one's health is above average. Always seemed like a trite and flimsy viewpoint. Even a little insulting. Not anymore. I will never again roll my eyes upon hearing those words. There is nothing trite about it. Health matters.

There's nothing trite about wanting to read storybooks to your children, but you can't because your vision is blurry and you're too weak to hold the book open.

There's nothing trite about wanting to fix your family breakfast, but you can't because standing up makes the room spin and you start throwing up.

There's nothing trite about wanting to give your kids a bath, but you can't because you haven't found the strength to shower yourself in nearly 3 days.

There's nothing trite about wanting to comfort your crying baby, but you can't because any sound that hits your ear makes you cringe in unspeakable pain.

There's nothing trite about wanting to listen to your child excitedly tell you about her trip to the store, but you can't because your system is so overloaded by pain-killing narcotics that your mind is total mush.

There's nothing trite about having your health. When you have your health, you have options and choices. Sure, it's up to you at that point whether you choose to exercise those options and choices. But, they are there for the taking! Normally, my day is filled with choices and options:

Sure, it's a pain when the baby cries for hours on end and won't sleep, but at least I can pace the floor with him. Or I can sing. Or I can cry too. ;)

When the children are squabbling and whining over every little thing, I can whisk them both off to the kitchen to make a special treat. Thus, eliminating an escalation of frustrations and having a new snack to nibble. There's something magical about cracking eggs and stirring flour in a big bowl. And my son loves the sound of the mixer (go figure. I say go with what works, and the mixer works for entertaining him and staving off crying jags).

When I am overwhelmed by laundry, cooking, and cleaning, I can choose to dive right in OR I can wave the white flag and surrender with the kids and a stack of books on the couch (surrendering is almost always the best plan!).

But when something overtakes you and eliminates your choices, great sadness sets in. I have felt so powerless and almost non-existent these past two weeks. When you are not part of life and the living going on all around you, it is a very lonely and sad place. Never can I take for granted my health. Not being fit in my mind and my body has cost me dearly. I have missed out on the joy, the silliness, the daily laughs. My children have grown another 13 days older, and I have missed it. Everything. The big, the small. Of course, I'm not the first to say this, but at times like these, you realize that the small moments really are the big ones.

I missed my daughter "reading" to my son, "because Mommy's sick and needs to rest for a few whiles."

I didn't hear the cute songs my daughter made up while she built some really impressive train tracks and tunnels this week (but my Mom and my sister did hear and told me there were some precious lyrics thrown in there).

I didn't hear the calm and comforting voice of my husband reading the stacks of library books as he became the one and only bedtime storybook reader.

These past two weeks I have spent more time in emergency rooms and in CAT scans and MRI tubes than I care to recall. I have been receiving painkillers through IVs, assorted prescriptions on my kitchen countertop, and through a continuous dose from the skin patch on my chest.

If you don't know me or I've never mentioned it in the past, I am one of the biggest anti-pill people you'll ever meet. I didn't choose drugs to numb the pain from my 2 herniated disks and broken tailbone after a riding accident. I chose hypnosis for childbirth. I even told the doctors upon discharge from the hospital after major intestinal surgery: "Keep your prescriptions. I won't use them." I just don't like popping pills. Even if I need them, I try to find another option. So, this constantly drugged version of myself really isn't "me" at all. But if it's a choice between a writhing-on-the-floor-with-pain, sobbing, hysterical me or a much quieter, albeit still miserable me, I guess I'll choose the one that doesn't scare my children and my husband so much.

And I will pray fervently for the day when I'm feeling so good that, on those crazy days to come, I'll smile and remind myself that at least I have my health.

{No worries about this blog space becoming a serious and depressing place to visit. Just wanted to get my thoughts down, for my own reference more than anything else. But reading through it makes me want to hug my dear ones a little tighter and squeeze as much fun into our days as possible. And that's why I posted it here. Back with more uplifting thoughts soon!}

Monday, September 7, 2009

To Cap Off Our Summer...

We spent part of the Labor Day weekend laboring in the fields: picking strawberries and raspberries in the sweltering heat. Ugh! But (as I pointed out to my husband when he balked at the price of our organic berries) the whole experience was totally worth it (and you can't put a price on family fun, can you?). I also cut several bunches of basil and some fresh flowers too. In the end, our tummies and our baskets were full of sun-ripened goodness.

This farm is one we regularly visit every year at this time. Everything is grown organically, so I don't worry when the little ones eat more than they pick! It's so quaint and welcoming. As one of the workers told us, "Everyone who comes here to pick berries or vegetables is happy. I am so lucky to work around happy people surrounded by beautiful gardens for a living!"

Our little guy had a blast. He trudged up and down the rows, holding tightly to his berry of choice in his sticky, juice-covered little hand!
And we were amazed by how fast Roo can pick berries. A year or so ago, she spent more time eating berries than filling her basket. But this year she was very focused and task-oriented (which was probably why it cost us so much more this year than in years past -- paying by the pound adds up quickly with a nimble-fingered four year old helping you!).

A stop in the farm's general store is a must. They sell these delicious treats called fruit logs: dried fruit (from the local harvest) rolled in coconut. Apple-cinnamon, peach, strawberry-cherry, and lemon are among the flavor choices. They are so soft and chewy. The perfect sweet to top off our picnic lunch.
I have plans for cobbler and coffee cake with some of our berry bounty. I will freeze the majority of our pickings to enjoy in the coming fall and winter. As for the basil I picked, there will be lots of pesto. We put pesto on almost everything: pasta, roasted veggies, chicken, burgers, and sandwiches!
We spent the rest of our weekend biking, going for long walks, and lolling around in the hammock at our family's BBQ. It was pretty much the quintessential long holiday weekend.

My contribution to the BBQ meal was sweet corn-on-the-cob and this pie:

I can think of few better ways to cap off the summer season than with a fresh peach pie! Definitely what made it extra special was the cream cheese crust, which ended up tasting like a giant sugar cookie (in fact, the crust did turn out about a 1/2 inch thick--just like a cookie). Fresh, sugared peaches piled high on top of a cookie crust and topped with whipped cream? It's hard to go wrong with that, isn't it?? Mmmm! The only unfortunate part was the lack of leftovers to take home! :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Win-Win Scenario: Eco-nomical & Eco-friendly!

I've always been a recycling kind of girl. But I've always sensed that we could be doing more to harm the earth less.

This was especially so when I saw and read how they managed over at Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea to whittle down their trash output. I was astonished and amazed. Not to mention, completely inspired! Surely our family could lessen our impact on the landfills by making some wiser choices and scrutinizing what normally gets tossed on a daily basis. I now find myself analyzing each object in my hand as it's poised over the trash can: Can I recycle this? Can I turn this into something useful? Is there a waste-free alternative to this product (such as filling up my own jars/cloth bags in the bulk food section of Whole Foods)?

So, when I came across this article in Family Fun magazine, I couldn't wait to try it out. It takes recycling one step further: take what is recyclable and give it a second life in your own home, instead of in the recycle bin.

We already had the items on hand, so we set to work. I loved the idea of creating a reusable sandwich container for my husband's lunch. I hate using plastic sandwich bags, and the few plastic storage containers we do have (I am slowly weeding them out) don't fit compactly into his lunch box.

The great thing about both the sandwich container and the little snack box (I filled ours with fresh fruit pieces one day and trail mix the next) is that they are washable: the milk jug is plastic and the snack box is made from small juice or milk/whipping cream cartons, which have that slick coating on the inside. So no matter what food they held the previous day, no trace of food/liquid is left behind once it's washed. We have been using and reusing ours for a week now and they are still holding up just fine.

If you want to make these yourself, follow the above link to the instructions on Family Fun's site. However, they are super simple and I'll give you the quick rundown here:

1. Obviously, start with washed and dried milk jugs and cartons.

2. Draw a cutting line as pictured here, making the four "flaps" of your container, one flap being the longest. Note: I didn't make my tallest flap long enough--it ended up not folding over far enough, but it still works.

3. I made the dotted lines, but I didn't use a thumbtack to pierce holes along my dotted lines as the article instructed. It just didn't seem necessary (plus then I would have had a certain four year old begging to try her hand at poking holes through the plastic. And that idea just had disaster written all over it). I just creased along the dotted lines and folded them back and forth a few times to make the container easier to open and close.

4. When making the snack box using milk cartons, just snip off the top and cut down each side until you can close up the box like so:
As I stated before, the top flap on my sandwich container doesn't extend far enough over the front to close with an adhesive velcro dot. You'll see in the photo (directly above) that I tried cutting a slit in the front to fashion a closure of sorts. It didn't work. The top kept popping out of the slit. So, that's where the ever-handy rubber band comes into play.

Now I'll admit that I felt compelled to put a note inside my husband's lunch box, reminding him not to throw away the empty food containers. That would defeat the purpose of this project just a bit, don't you think? I thought that since they were made of materials that normally get thrown away after consumption, he might do just that. But, he dutifully brought them back home again. There may be hope for making my dear hubby "green" yet!

My husband said that his friends at work harassed him today about having a wife pack his lunch in "garbage." Nice, huh? Well, my beloved defended me and told them about my wish to instill eco-friendly thoughts into the minds of our children through activities such as this one. He added that, "If my wife is happy, I'm happy." Now that's a smart man.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The 12 Weeks of Christmas

I know what you might be thinking, "Did she just mention Christmas? Is she seriously going to launch into some Christmas-related post?" The answer is yes. Yes, I am. But before you abandon ship and click away to visit a non-Christmas post on a different blog, allow me to explain.

I love Christmas. I mean, I LOVE it. Always have for as long as I can recall. And every year since entering adulthood/parenthood, I have vowed to experience a leisurely, relaxed-pace, mostly handmade, tradition-filled holiday. I usually end up filling the pre-Christmas weeks with heavily exasperated sighs, rushing and running around like a madwoman, spending too much buying what I would have made myself-- if I had more time. As my husband pointed out to me last year, "You know what day Christmas is. It never changes. Why are you always caught off-guard with too much to do and too little time?" This coming from the man whose wife chooses and buys/makes gifts for his family as well as her own, I might add (snarkily). So, of course, the holiday crunch doesn't quite hit him as hard as it does me. However, I digress...

So in January of this year, I joined the Rudolph Club (online group whose members take the 25th of each month to do some Christmas-related task, thus spreading it out over the entire year instead of cramming it all in at the last minute). I participated in January and, well, just January. Yep, one month in and I ran out of Rudolph steam. Pathetic, I know.

Part of the problem for me is that I cannot find the will to do Christmas stuff when the weather doesn't cooperate. Sewing a Christmas stocking while sweat dots my brow just does not compute. I need cloudy, gray, chilly days in order to "do" Christmas. We don't see a lot of those days from April through October.

However, I have found that if I dress lightly and work at night (when I can't see all the lush green-ness outside my door) with the air conditioning cranking, I can coax myself into finding a bit of Christmas spirit. Cup of cocoa and lots of mini-marshmallows required, of course. And Christmas music. Obviously. My Christmas music collection is always at my fingertips because I have been known to listen to it at odd times of the year. When we were little, my sister and I would listen to our Christmas records (records--am I dating myself here??) in the middle of summer. My Mom's only rule was that we had to turn the music off before my Dad came home from work. My Dad is not a huge fan of Christmas music at Christmastime, let alone on a day in mid-July.

So, with September fast approaching (scratch that -- September is HERE!), I thought I would fully commit to my idea of the 12 weeks of Christmas. Why 12 weeks? Well, in the perfect world that exists in my dreams, I am finished with all the heavy Christmas preparations by December 1st. This way, I can wile away the three weeks before Christmas doing the light and fun stuff: baking cookies, watching Christmas movies, nightly walks to look at the Christmas lights, ice skating, sledding, reading Christmas books, gazing at the decorated tree, etc. I'd rather not be wrapping and shipping presents, writing out Christmas cards, scrambling to find that last-minute gift, coming up with holiday menu plans, fighting my way through the baking aisle of the grocery store, or frantically sewing (and, thus, using my seam-ripper because of said frantic sewing) late into the night.

September, October, and November = 12 weeks. For me, a little accountability goes a long way. Therefore, I will be sharing my progress here on a weekly basis. Stay tuned (and join me if you'd like! I'd love to hear ideas from others out there!).

*Edited to add: Before publishing this post, I googled "12 weeks of Christmas" and found that I am not alone. Several others are trying to get a jumpstart on the holidays as well. Nice to know I'm in good company. Go forth and plan!