Friday, May 28, 2010

Books to Share with Little Ones

Here's my vision: after nursing her little brother and tucking him into his bed, my little girl and I tiptoe off to her new "big girl" room and cozy up in her bed to read stories.  "Big kid" stories with true story lines and descriptive words and beautiful illustrations (but moving toward more words than illustrations).  During the dark, winter months, maybe we'll read by candlelight.  During the summer months, when it's still light outside when we're heading off to bed, we'll read by the rosy glow of the setting sun. 

I've been searching high and low for some seriously sweet and light tales to read to my very sensitive and tender-hearted girl.  Although she'll be turning five (I can't really believe that, but the math adds up to five!) in a few short weeks, she's really not at all ready for some of the more heavy drama and suspense that many reading lists have recommended for fives.  Just a couple of examples: she sobbed profusely and made me turn it off when Peter Rabbit got caught under Mr. McGregor's fence in this DVD version of Beatrix Potter's lively tales.  And, watching that evil cat Lucifer try to get those sweet Cinderella mice proved too much for her to bear.   Of course, both of these examples cite movie versions of stories.  And I think the combination of sight and sound on the TV screen makes the story come alive a little too much.  I've observed that her tolerance level for such dramatic scenes increases when it plays out on the storybook page.

So, I stumbled upon a couple of books that are not yet chapter books, but have more words than the books we read during the day with her little brother joining us.  She has the attention span for longer reads, but we're limited to reading shorter, simpler books so as to include her nearly two year old, I-must-stay-in-constant-motion sibling.  These books contain a series of stories, or vignettes, if you will.  And they involve animals (which are our favorite kind of characters).

The first is by Cynthia Rylant (we almost always have one or two of her books in our book bag on return trips from the library), called Thimbleberry Stories.  I came across this book in the Chinaberry catalog.  I mean, come on, do you see that squirrel in slippers, cleaning his thatched home?  That doesn't look like a book that will scare my daughter, does it?  Truth be told, only time will tell.  I haven't given the book to her yet, and I haven't read it yet either.  I prefer to read books for the first time with my children.  That way, I'm just as excited to see the outcome of the story as they are, and I think that comes through when I'm reading.

The second book I chose is James Herriot's Treasury for Children, a collection of happenings in the life of a small-town veterinarian, set in the English countryside.

Amazing illustrations: warm, homey, inviting...

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Brambly Hedge series.  I got her a set of these books for Christmas.  We choose to read them during Rascal's nap, so we won't be interrupted.  To be completely honest, the stories fell flat for me.  I expected to love them.  I wanted to love them.  Every review I had read online loved them.  Maybe they were built up too much in my mind.  But, aside from Winter Story, the tales just seemed a bit stale.  Regardless, I would read the Brambly Hedge every day just to gaze at the lovely, intricate illustrations.  Pure beauty.

So, that is a very brief selection of books for the slightly older, little one.  Looking at books for my son, who turns two in just over a week, I think this is going to be a winner:

Yes.  I have two copies of this book.  A couple of years ago, Oh, What a Busy Day was out of print.  I went online and found prices for used copies of this book ranging from $30.00 to $700.00.  Yes, I know.  Unbelievable.  But, countless reviews and blogs had cited this book as a staple in any child's reading collection.  I was convinced that my daughter had to have this book (although, it takes very little to persuade me to buy any children's book).  So, I splurged on the best used copy I could afford.  I think it's a 1976 edition (it's the one on the left).

Then, naturally, someone got smart and decided to start reprinting the book in April of this year.  For less than $10.00!!!  Yes, I know.  Unbelievable.  It is exactly the same book that I convinced my husband that I had to buy, no matter what the cost, just a few years ago.  Exactly the same. 

Which is 99% a good thing.  The reason I say this is because I was hoping the new edition would be without a particular two-page spread.  There is a horrible (completely my opinion, but I hardly think I'm alone in thinking this is inappropriate in a children's book) story about two children going out into the woods and dying there.  Complete with birds dropping feathers and leaves over the children to "bury" them.  Yes, I know.  Unbelievable. Why, oh why, put such a story in a book for children??  The first time I read the book to my daughter, I started reading that awful story and immediately sensed where it was going.  I told my daughter that they were napping after their long journey to the woods, so they would have enough energy to walk back home in time for dinner.  

I put the book back on our shelf and didn't touch it again for years.  I contemplated re-selling the book.  Since it was still out of print, I figured I could make a little money.  But, the rest of the book is delightful, and I hated to get rid of a great book just because of one story in it.  So, I considered just taking my x-acto knife and cutting the depressing little story out.  But, as my husband pointed out, I could never re-sell the book if I removed any pages from it.  So, it has been sitting on my bookshelf all this time.  Not being read.  Not being enjoyed.  And now I have two of them.  I decided to keep the 1976 version on the shelf, since it has more monetary value than the 2010 edition.  Maybe one of the children can sell it years from now and buy themselves their first car.  I am going to give the brand-new copy to my son (although I know my daughter will pore over the pages as well).  My son is the energizer bunny, except instead of beating a drum, he wields a wrecking ball.  Every day is a busy day when it comes to mothering him.  So, the book seems an appropriate choice.  Gorgeous, colorful, detailed illustrations give little eyes plenty to take in.  It's a very whimsical, fun read.  Well, minus those two pages, of course. 

I also have my eye on the Big Alfie series.  It looks like a charming collection centering on life for a young boy and his sister.  We have so many books where the central character is a girl, I love the idea of a series of books where a little boy is highlighted.  Especially a tender, thoughtful, creative, brotherly boy.  So, I think I will trust the reviews I've read, and start collecting books in the Big Alfie series.   If anyone out there has read Alfie, I'd love to hear what you thought.  Or, if you have a particular favorite book for the little crowd, please do share.  I'm always looking for new additions to our home library or to check out from the public library.

And that is making just a small dent in my bank of ideas on books for children.  I love books, but especially picture books.  I could discuss books all day.  In fact, I have.  I started this post early this morning and I'm just now finishing it at 11 pm.   :)   Good night!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spoiling My Man

We officially entered into our "busy season" last month.  We have 12 celebrations of either holidays (like Easter and Memorial Day) and birthdays in our little family in the span of 8 weeks.  That adds up to a lot of gathering and feasting (even when we double up on some of the birthday parties).  But then we have a social "drought" from July through September, so we have adequate time to recover before autumn and the upcoming holiday season hits.  My husband was the guest of honor a couple of days ago.  My gifts to him included:

*Removing all unpacked boxes from the house, and then cleaning said house. {As for the boxes, I carried them down to the garage.  I'm not sure why I thought having to stare at them sitting in my house for the last 4 months was going to make me empty them sooner.  It didn't.  Frankly, their presence just stressed me out.  This way, I can (and will) take up one box per week from the garage and empty it (either by finding homes for the items or by donating them).  The clutter stays out of our living space and I can tackle the boxes one at a time.  If absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder, maybe that'll be the kick I need to get rid of the stuff once and for all.}

*Filling his collage picture frame that he keeps on his desk at work with updated photos of us all.

*Tucking, inside his lunch box, an impromptu drawing I made of him (which, if I had known he was going to hang it up next to his desk, I would have spent more time on it!)

*Hanging some artwork and other surprises that I had ordered, all by myself (not the ordering, although I did do that all by myself, but the hanging part -- I hate hanging things on the walls myself.  I'm always fretting whether the nail is going to hold the object, or it's crooked, or not centered, etc.)

*Helped Roo decorate a plate with a drawing of herself holding hands with her Daddy.
*Made one of his favorite dinners: Cider-glazed pork chops, baked potato fries, applesauce (not from scratch, though. I looove homemade applesauce), lemon/hazelnut green beans.  And for dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Trifle, which was, in a word, AMAZING.  How can you go wrong with layering fudge brownies, pudding, whipped peanut butter, peanut butter cups, sweetened sour cream, and heavy whipped cream?

It was a day without bickering, complaining, lots of phone calls to Daddy at work to check and see how his birthday was going, homemade birthday cards, great wine (for me) and beer (for him) with dinner, the children going to sleep peacefully and without incident, and the two of us sitting on the front deck listening to the orchestra of birds die down as the moon and stars made their appearance.  It was simply lovely.  That night, just like a child who had just celebrated the perfect day, my husband wondered aloud, "Why can't every day be my birthday?" 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Standing Tall

Oh, how I love this old tree in our backyard.  It's definitely seen better, stronger days.  There are signs of rot.  Various snowstorms and windstorms have taken their toll on this magnificent giant.  But even yesterday, with 60-70 mile per hour winds, this tree didn't back down (which is more than I can say for some of the other trees around our house).  It gently swayed and moved with the gusts, giving a creak now and then, but staying strong. 

My husband wants to cut it down.  He says it's only a matter of time before it gives way.  And, unfortunately, if it did fall in a storm, there's no guaranteeing that it wouldn't fall in the direction of our home. 

But I argued that it was still strong and hardy and would stand for a few years yet.  {Of course, I wasn't at all sure if this was true, but I had to defend my tree!}  Besides, I said, look at all of those holes in the trunk.  Too many of our dear feathered friends call this tree Home. 

Not to mention, we'd be depriving this little forest gnome of his little peek-a-boo spot.  We can't have that, now can we?
So, for now, the tree stands.  I convinced my husband to let it be, and leave its final demise in the capable hands of Mother Nature.  So, rest assured, dear tree, you can go ahead and open those reluctant buds of yours.  It's springtime and we're waiting to see your beauty unfurl.

Friday, May 21, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment}
hitting life's "pause" button
no chit-chat
just a single photo
a glimpse
our life, here and now
forever etched in my mind
and in my heart

...inspiration courtesy of SouleMama

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cheap, Easy Thrills for the Under-Five Crowd:

I have been wanting to steal some time away in the craft room for weeks now.  But, truth be told, I really need to concentrate when I sew because I have a tendency to make a lot of mistakes if I am even slightly distracted by the general chaos of young children playing nearby.  So, I've been forced to wait until after the littles are in bed before I can attack any sewing projects.  But, then I'm entering my sleepy time too, and often don't have the energy or focus to sew.

The past few days, I've been able to make great strides in sewing curtains for my daughter's new bedroom.  AND, I've been able to accomplish it during the day.  While the children are wide awake. No one was more amazed than I.  How did I do it?  I came up with a few activities (no-mess, no-fuss activities -- as this is a crucial component to making this work) for them to occupy themselves while I sew.

Here are a few examples (just in case any moms out there are looking for easy entertainment for their little babes that doesn't involve plopping them in front of the TV):

By the way, the photo at the top of this post is my son "painting" the wood stove with water.  You could just as easily give your kids a cardboard box or (if the weather is nice and your little me-time project is something you can do outside while they play, like reading, embroidery, knitting, etc.) have them "paint" the outside of the house/garage/driveway/sidewalk with a bucket of water and some brushes and big sponges.

A popular one around our house: popping bubble-wrap by jumping/dancing:

My daughter loves moving my sewing pins from one pin cushion to the other.  Again.  And again. This activity alone usually buys me about 20 uninterrupted minutes (And, no, that band-aid isn't from her sticking herself with a pin.  :)  This is a pretty safe activity for those over age 2):

Playing with buttons is a great tactile experience.  It's even better if you provide tiny containers for them to put the buttons into, close them up, take them out:

My scrapbooking supplies have been sitting idle for ages.  Might as well find some use for them (these are chipboard pieces, so they stand up to a lot of handling and abuse):

Just finding a way for them to play with their regular toys in a new way is a successful tactic.  Here I tied some yarn to a wooden firetruck and a leash to a car.  Now, what used to be strictly push-toys that required them to kneel and scooch their vehicles along, are now pull-toys that can be quickly pulled to follow them around the house.  Believe it or not, this little idea kept them busy for over an hour.  So, either I have children who are easily entertained, or this was a brilliant idea on my part. ;)

And, finally, our last entry for today's "Easy, Cheap Thrills for the Under-Five Crowd":
Sticky notes on a window.  This photo shows them plain. To make this activity last longer, I usually encourage my kids to decorate each individual sticky (with pencil-- no markers or crayons when I'm not right there supervising.  This rule applies only to my son, my daughter is responsible enough to use paints/markers without being directly supervised) before sticking them up on the window:

So, by incorporating a few fun and easy ideas into our day, I was able to finish sewing my daughter's curtains and paint the hallway (and I even had time to take these photos and upload them!).  Good stuff.  I love sneaking a little more productivity into my days.

This post was completed in 29 minutes (even with all of these photos!) as part of Steady Mom's 30 minute Blog Challenge.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary...

A couple of weeks ago, determined to make a dent in the looming pile of (still!) unpacked boxes, I asked Roo to entertain herself while I went through the boxes and tried to find a new home for each unpacked item (all the while muttering to myself, "Why did I bother to pack THIS??").

Here's what she came up with (yeah, not at all sure why that picture loaded sideways):

She found a package of pipe cleaners in our art supply and the piece of Styrofoam came in the shipment of dishes that arrived last week.  She created a "flower garden."  Lovingly planting each one and watering them with her mini watering can, she declared it "a happy and very magical garden where the fairies come to play."  And, seeing how we currently have 8 inches of snow on the ground in mid-May, I can safely declare that her pipe cleaner garden is the only garden she'll be watering for awhile.

She admired that garden and planted and re-planted the flowers for a couple of hours.  During the midst of my unpacking, I heard Roo crying and using a harsh tone with her little brother.  Coming upon the scene, I asked what was wrong.  Through tears, and clutching a yellow pipe cleaner in her hand, Roo said, "That little boy planted a tulip in my garden of daisies!!  Doesn't he know that this is a magical daisy garden, not a magical tulip garden??" 

Trying my best to take her little brother's offense seriously, I suggested we scavenger another piece of Styrofoam for him to plant his own garden.  That way he could mix tulips and daisies up together to his heart's content. 

Here's Roo putting her flowers in the sunny window so that they can grow.  {And, yes, she is wearing a fleece pullover underneath her dress.  She insists on wearing a dress everyday, be it over her pajamas, her winter coat, or whatever she happens to be wearing that day.  We get some odd looks from passersby, but we don't mind. :) }

Friday, May 14, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment}
hitting life's "pause"  button
no chit-chat
just a single photo
a glimpse
our life, here and now
forever etched in my mind
and in my heart

...inspiration courtesy of SouleMama

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mmmm...Start the day with a little sweetness:

I just wanted to pop on here tonight and share a wonderful recipe for coffee cake that I made for Mother's Day brunch.  It's full of cranberries, orange peel, cream cheese, and it is sooo yummy.  Even my dad and my brother-in-law, who normally don't partake in cranberry dishes, ate second helpings of this.  Of course, lots of sugar and cream cheese will have a tendency to make just about anything palatable. 

My children helped me make this the night before Mother's Day.  While watching me chop up the frozen cranberries, my son said (over and over with the most forlorn expression), "Sad berries.  Berries so sad.  Chop. Chop."  And as my little kitchen helpers sat on the counter top assisting me, I heard myself saying something that probably doesn't fall under the category of typical meal preparation talk: "If it falls on your sock, don't throw it in the mixing bowl." 

I have several old issues of Taste of Home, and this came from one of their recipe contests for coffee cake.  It was tough for me to choose which one to make.  I figured I'd just start with this one (which, by the way, was a runner-up, not even the winning recipe) and work my way down their list.  So, without further ado, here's the rundown:

Creamy Cranberry Coffee Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 Tbsp grated orange peel

Cream cheese layer:
1 pkg. (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter

In a large bowl, combine first 4 ingredients.  Then combine the egg, orange juice, butter, and vanilla; stir into dry ingredients until well mixed. Fold in cranberries and orange peel. Pour into greased 9-in. springform  pan.

In a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Add egg and vanilla; mix well.  Spread over batter.  Combine the flour and sugar; cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle over the top.

Place springform pan on a baking sheet and bake @ 350 degrees for about 70 minutes (I checked mine beginning at the 60 minute mark) or until golden brown.  Be sure not to overcook!  Cool on wire rack for 15-30 minutes before removing sides of pan (I didn't remove mine until the next morning -- after it safely made the journey to my parents' house).

My favorite part of this cake is the custard-like layer right there in the middle.  I'm not a fan of dry, crumbly coffee cakes (is anybody?).  There is definitely zero chance of this cake tasting dry or crumbly.  It turned out moist, creamy (with just a bit of crunch from the topping), and had just a hint of tanginess from the cranberries and a light citrus zing from the orange peel.  A perfect balance of flavors.  A must-try for your next brunch or, really, any morning when you need a little motivation to get out of bed and start the day!  If there had been any leftovers from our Mother's Day brunch, I would have raced down to the kitchen the following morning to eat every last morsel.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Little Something for Me

Happy Sunday, everyone!  Pictured above is a little gift I bestowed on myself for Mother's Day this year.  Sometimes we have to treat ourselves to non-essential, but pretty things, don't we ladies?  I saw this necklace gracing the pages of many blogs lately, and I just knew that it was destined to become my new "everyday" necklace.  A staple in my jewelry wardrobe (other than my wedding rings, of course). 

I love the sentiment stamped on it, "hand holder, dream soother, love giver."  Plus, I'm partial to the word "Mama," the way in which both of my children refer to me.  I honestly feel that wearing this necklace makes me feel more present and aware of some very important components to my "job."  When my son is screaming and crying inconsolably for the third hour in a row, I finger that silver medallion hanging around my neck, and I am reminded to be a "love giver."

I opted for the large link chain instead of the sterling ball chain because I love the flowy openness to it (another visual reminder to stay open and receptive throughout my day).  And I also think the links look like a series of wedding bands: the symbol of never-ending love, a love so deep that there is no distinct beginning or end.  I feel that the unbreakable bond that characterizes a wedding ring is just as easily (if not more so) adapted to the love we mothers have for our eternal love.

I do think that all women have an innate nurturing spirit.  We expend inordinate amounts of energy loving, nurturing, and taking care of the people in our lives -- whether those people are children, husbands, friends, or parents.  So, to me, Mother's Day is a day to celebrate all women and the way we make this world a better place by being in it, taking care of our dear ones and making them feel like the treasures they are.

Friday, May 7, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment}
hitting life's "pause" button
no chit-chat
just a single photo
a glimpse
our life, here and now
forever etched in my mind
and in my heart

...inspiration courtesy of SouleMama