Monday, October 31, 2011

Stop and Give Me 20

While hanging at my friend Laura's the other day, I read through a small but mighty book called Loving the Little Years.  It's brief, but contains many nuggets of wisdom from a mom of five children ages five and under.  I read through it in one naptime, and a few thoughts stuck with me.  One is the idea that 20 minutes in the life of a mom can be just the right amount of time.  

*One quick caveat before I go on: I did really like this book and find it worth reading, but the author is clearly very pro-spanking, which I am not.  Perhaps I will get into that more later, but know that although I did not agree with her on that particular point, I found many of her other insights to be worth holding onto.

So, twenty minutes.  The author, Rachel Jankovic, talks about a time when everything seemed to be spinning a little out of control, with children simultaneously needing all manner of things and Mommy feeling pulled in all directions.  When this happens, she recommends looking at the clock, then doing one thing at a time until the storm passes.  She says by the time you look at the clock again and twenty minutes have passed, you will be amazed at how much better things are.  This totally resonated with me.  It really is amazing what can be accomplished in twenty minutes.  So, I decided to take it one step further and actually time what I could do in twenty minutes.

Last week at ten o'clock, I went downstairs to turn out the lights before bed when I realized that the kitchen was a mess.  It had been a rough day for both me and Kurt, and somehow we had managed to avoid/forget the kitchen cleanup.  It looked like this: 

I will say that when you have kitchen the size of ours, it doesn't take much for it to look cra-zay.  My immediate temptation was to go to bed and deal with it in the morning.  But then I had a thought.  If I set the timer for twenty minutes, it would go off at 10:20 and I would still have 10 minutes to get ready for bed.  Whatever wasn't done in twenty minutes could wait.  

Twenty minutes later, the timer beeped.  I wasn't quite done.  I needed perhaps five more minutes to put on the finishing touches.   But, in twenty minutes, the task had become infinitely more manageable.  I was more than willing to see the job to it's conclusion.  Which was this:
Much better, huh?  The counter on the left is still full, but that's because I prefer to let our dishes air-dry for sanitary reasons, and they don't take long to put away in the morning.  Tons better, and I could go to bed in peace.  So, my challenge to you is to get a working kitchen timer, and the next time you just can't bear the thought of (fill in the blank: folding laundry, taking out the trash, mopping the floor), stop and give it twenty and see what happens.  I'll be right there with you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

{this moment}

I've been wanting to do this ever since I saw it over at SouleMama, so here I go...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

That's one spooky pepper

Kids' crafts are fun, but sometimes us grown-ups need to unleash our creativity, too.  As you can see, a green pepper was the victim of my craftiness this time around.  Read more about it at my Endless Simmer post here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open-ended fall art

I could go into a long-winded diatribe on the trouble with my "children's" art projects (the project presented to the child, not what the child produces), but many before me have already said it better than I could.  In fact, there are whole books on the subject.  

After reading these thoughts and others, I knew I needed more open-ended kid-centered art in my life.  Fall is my favorite season, so I used that as a jumping-off point and gathered my supplies.  In addition to what's in the picture, we used paper plates, leaves collected from outside, and fake leaves from the dollar store.  There are cookies in the black container, because no one likes to do art on an empty stomach.
Regular and sponge brushes, glue, black foam board, egg cartons, paint

The Sisters haven't had a ton of free-form art experience, so I tried to give them some guidance without telling them what to do.  Even though I would have enjoyed participating myself, I didn't want to run the risk of creating an "example piece".     

I laid out a piece of black foam board for each of the girls, then put yellow, orange and red paints on paper plates with various brushes to choose from.  Other plates held the leaves, real and fabric.  

Once the supplies were out, the kids jumped right in.

Noelle trying out different colors and brush strokes

Gabby swirling with the sponge brush

Who needs a brush when you've got your fingers?


One thing that ended up being great was that foam board is smooth enough to allow for lots of maniputation of the paint once it had been applied.  At one point, I wondered if this project would ever end, or if the kids would just keep adding more paint.  Especially with the little ones, the phrase "more is more" came to mind.
Gabby and Brittany's final paintings

Noelle, who is in second grade, took a slightly more restrained approach

The project took about an hour, including clean-up.  The kids don't get home from school until five, which makes find time for art a bit challenging, but the success of this project makes me excited to dig into some more.  We could use different supplies, or canvases, or themes, or colors...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stick Man (Scooty-scoot)

Scoot softly and carry a big stick

In case you haven't seen him lately, Elijah is a scooter.  Not a crawler, a creeper, or a roller (although he can do some of those things, with varying degrees of success and/or prompting).  And yes, he is 13 months old and no, he is not walking.  Before you tell me not worry, I will tell you first that I am not.  Worrying that is.  I'm talking to you, random security guard at the National Portrait Gallery.

No, Elijah is a scooter, and I never get tired of the look on people's faces when they see it for the first time.  He's fast, too.  In fact, he's been known to give Kurt a run for his Cheerios in a father-son scoot race (see below).

But why scoot?  It could just be that Elijah scoots to the beat of his own drum, but I also have some theories.  First, we have hardwood floors.  Not so good for the knees.  Second, it makes it easier to look at stuff without twisting your neck.  Third, he has that big ol' cloth diaper for lots of extra padding on his cute little bum.

Really, though, it's all about the sticks.  Unsharpened pencils, spoons, maracas, toy hammers, and of course, when we're outside (or when he brings them inside), sticks of all shapes and sizes.  It would be hard to hold one of those in your hand while crawling, and I imagine it would be nigh on impossible to hold one in each hand, as Elijah is wont to do.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Flaherty

For those you who may not know, I used to be a fifth grade teacherOne area where I struggled to find  balance was in assigning projects.  I am not crazy about homework to begin with, and projects can, if used incorrectly, exacerbate the problem.  They can put an unfair burden on parents, particularly those without access to resources like the library, a printer, or the internet.  As I recall from my own childhood, there a few phrases as stressful to parents as, "I have a project due tomorrow."

On the other hand, good projects can be the homework antidote.  They can reinforce learning, and allow students the opportunity to be more creative and exploratory than time and material constraints of school allow.  They can open avenues for multiple learning modalities, and are easily differentiated for students from struggling to advanced.  

When Patricia asked me last week for some poster board to complete a project for her fifth grade non-fiction (science and social studies) class, I couldn't resist.  Rather than just bringing by the supplies, I had to check out this project.  I could tell as soon as I saw the packet, this project was a good one and I couldn't wait to help.  I asked permission to spirit Tricia away to my lair dining room table so that we could really dive into this thing.

Keep reading to see the four factors that made this a perfect project in my humble opinion.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Urban Parks, Part 3: The highlight reel

So, now you know why I'm on the lookout for great parks, and what I look for in a park.  All that was to set up for today's post, which is the one I'm sure you've all been waiting, at least if you live in DC:  my favorite parks.

Before I begin, though, a word about this (short) list.  It is by no means exhaustive, or even very inclusive.  It is simply a bit about four parks that I and the kids in my life really like.  There have been many others, so mediocre, some truly terrible (I'm talking to you, first and Florida NW).

I am sure that there are tons of great parks in other parts of the city.  I have a feeling from the bit that I've seen,that those who live in upper NW, Eastern Market and now Columbia Heights would not even need a list like this because the cool parks are known and walkable.  So, fellow NE/SEsters, this list is for you.

Park 1: "The Orange Park"
Location: Next to THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave., S.E. Washington, DC 20020 

Why it's great: If you aren't from here (DC) or even if you are, you might not know about the "other Washington" that lies east of the Anacostia river.  Tourists don't go there, and neither do national politicians.  If you live in the city, I recommend a trip over there to see how many Washingtonians really live.  When the twins lived there, we searched high and low until we found a park to call home.  This is it.  It is gated and locked at night, which means it is usually trash- and glass- free.  Their are two playgrounds in the same enclosure, one for toddlers and one for big kids.  Both have a lot of ramps, making them accessible to kids of varying ages and abilities.  THEARC is open during the week (and I think Saturdays, too) and there are nice, clean bathrooms there.  This park was so beloved by the twins that Brittany once cried when we drove past looking for a parking spot because she didn't think we were stopping.  

What could be better: The swings are located in a separate area, and are often muddy underneath.  At last check, some of the baby swings had fallen into disrepair.  Also, although it is almost always unlocked, one time it was not. 

Park 2: Langdon Park
Location: Betwen 18th and 20th Sts., just south of Rhode Island Ave.
Behind the Woodridge library

Why it's great: Sometimes, like they say, it's all about location, location, location.  This park has all the geographic perks a mom could ask for.  The playground is really far from the street on all sides, and there are some nice shade trees dotting the landscape.  It is down the hill (a big hill) from the library, where they have a non-crowded toddler storytime on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30.  And, of course, the library has bathrooms, which are clean and indoors.  The playground was redone a few years ago, and seems to be designed for ages 4+.  There are baby and big kid swings, and a sweet dinosaur to ride (See above).  Also, for moms in need of a caffeine hit, there's a 7-11 right up the street, on the corner of Rhode Island and 20th.  Finally, there's an amphitheater with wooden benches where I used to take my students to hang out and read, which could be great for staging impromptu productions of All's Well that Ends Well.

What could be better: It can be a little trashy (sorry park, but it's true) and the bathrooms are not super-close, which can be a key factor in preventing toddler accidents (or not).  In the summer, the kids from the Mayor's Job Program hang out there, so sometimes there is some inappropriate language flying around.  It tends to be empty of other little kids usually, which could be good or bad depending on what you're going for.

Park 3: The playgrounds at Kennedy Rec Center
Location: Corner of P and 7th Streets Northwest
Why it's great: It's in northwest DC, but totally accessible to us Northeasters, especially those who live close to the line like I do.  Also, it is but a few blocks from the Mt. Vernon Sq./Convention Center metro stop on the Green and Yellow lines.  It has separate big and little kid areas, and the toddler playground is one of the most developmentally appropriate ones I've seen.  The twins love the giant abacus and the restaurant-style pass-through, where I have been served many pretend hot dogs and ice cream cones.  The toddler area is completely fenced in, and the rec center provides nice, clean, close bathrooms.  This park also has a big field, tennis courts and a basketball court.

What could be better: The ground covering is mulch, not awesome rubber sponginess like the other parks on this list.  Also, no swings.  Sad.  The rec center isn't open on Sundays, which means neither are the bathrooms.

Park 4: The park at Ledroit
Location: Secret - Just kidding (sort of)
Elm St NW between 2nd and 4th
From NE DC, take Rhode Island Ave, turn left on 3rd St NW.  Street ends at the park

Camera-shy Patricia

Why it's great:  When the kids and I found this park on Columbus Day, I seriously wondered if I would ever go to another DC park again.  This park has everything a kid and parent could want: separate toddler and big kid areas, each with their own set of age-appropriate swings; a working water fountain;  crazy, nausea-inducing spinning things; and lots of playmates.  This park just opened in June, and I cannot say enough good things about it.  It even has a community garden and a rain garden It is walkable from the Shaw/Howard university metro, or, if you live near Brookland or Eckington, it's just a short trip on the G8 bus to Third and Rhode Island NW, followed by an even shorter walk to the park, just a few blocks north.
What could be better: I have only been going to park for the last few weeks, but a consistent thing that I have heard from other parents is that in the summer, it is hot and because the park is new, the trees are small and there is very little shade.  When we were there, Brittany, after some convincing, used the port-o-potty on site, but it did have a padlock on it that was not in use, so I don't know if it is sometimes locked.  The park can be a little tricky to locate at first, but it is totally worth the hunt.
So, there you have it - four fabulous parks where your kids can expend lots of energy before taking a nice, long nap.  Once the weather gets to cold for the park (I'm from Illinois, so that should be about December by my standards) I'll let you in on some of my favorite kid-friendly indoor spots.  Happy parking!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I don't want to be a vegetable sneak

Mom, you're right, this broccoli is delicious.

I love vegetables.  Steam them, saute them, give them to me raw of just turn me loose in a garden.  Each season has it's special treats: asparagus and arugula in spring, cucumbers and peppers in summer, squash and more arugula in fall, turnips and beets in winter.  Heck, I even like kale.

You'll have to check with my mom on this, but I'm pretty sure I've almost always been this way.   So, when I see things like this,  it makes me sad.  I mean, the header says "hiding healthy foods in kids' favorite meals".  The subtext of this is that kids' favorite meals are naturally unhealthy, and so it is up to us parents to trick our children into eating foods that are good for them.  Well, I think that is dumb, and the twins' love of whole wheat peach-apricot bars backs me up.

So, when Kurt and I decided/realized that Elijah was not eating enough veggies, my initial idea was to buy some frozen carrots, broccoli, etc. and defrost them as needed to accompany his meals.  I will say that Elijah is a heroic eater and will basically try anything, so my hopes were high.  I quickly realized, though, that taste aside, broccoli was going to be a problem, mainly because it is best eaten by people with molars.  

I pulled out the immersion blender and got set to break down the broccoli forest, but I needed some liquid.  I could have gone for water, but instead I chose...peanut sauce.  Since we realized last week that Elijah is not allergic to peanuts, it has become his new favorite food and we had plenty on hand.  But I started to worry.  Was I becoming a vegetable hider?  Will Elijah be scarred for life, only willing to eat onion rings and carrot cake to get his daily allotment of vegetable-based vitamins?  Then, two things happened to make me calm down.  1) I tasted my concoction and you know what?  It still tasted like broccoli.  Broccoli with peanut sauce.  2)  When I eat vegetables, I don't eat them plain and cold, so why should he?

Looks gross, but is actually quite yummy

Now, I am sure I am going to eat my words about not disguising vegetables when I am one day doing battle with a four-year-old who only eats white foods.  But until that day comes, I prefer giving Elijah broccoli and peanut sauce to brownies made with spinach.

Easy Peanut Sauce (adapted from Joy of Cooking, Georgia Peanut Soup)

2 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, chopped
2 T flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 c. natural peanut butter

Saute the garlic and onions in the butter until soft.  Stir in flour on low heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add chicken stock and simmer until the soup begins to thicken.  Stir in peanut butter.

You can also add a little lime juice or hot sauce to taste.

For a slightly more complicated, and adult, peanut sauce recipe, look here, then scroll down.

But Elijah says this one's just great.

Ravioli regret

This weekend we went to Maggiano's and I made a mistake.  Sure, the beef with pappardelle was good, great even.  But I chose it over the butternut squash ravioli.  What was I thinking?  Fortunately, we took home some leftover lasagna, so my craving for carbs stuffed with awesome did not go unmet.

Today, you can check me out over at Endless Simmer, writing about another delicious filled food, Korean dumplings.  

 With all the germs flying around here, that soup is looking mighty good...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Elijah and the Giant Peach

Everyone's a bit sick in our house, so amid the blowing, suctioning, crying, coughing and generally nastiness that is in abundance here today, I can't say I really feel like writing.  So here's a cute picture of Elijah instead.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Weekend fun

Yes, this post is late.  And yes, this post is short.  I am still getting the hang of this daily blogging thing and I am realizing that I need to do Monday's post on Friday because the weekends do not provide reliable writing time.  There is too much other fun to be had.  Our good friends Marty and Su visited with their son Liam, who is the same age as Elijah.  Check out the video below to see how these two dudes hit it off.  

Warning:  This is a loooong video and only grandparents are expected to watch the whole thing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Urban Parks Part 2: What makes a great park?

So, yesterday I pontificated on how I came to love parks, and how that became a challenge when I moved to Washington, DC way back in 2006.  In the intervening years, I have been all around town as well as the outlying areas (read: suburbs), and have seen so many parks that I feel confident in sharing some tips about what to look for in a park.  Some of these may ring true for all parents in all places, but some are certainly city-specific.  Of course, this list is by no stretch comprehensive, and I would love to hear what you would add.

A great city park has many (preferably all) of the following:

    Brittany (18 months) charging up a ramp at the "orange park"
  • Separate areas for big and little kids Particularly in the summer, it can be overwhelming for toddlers to have to navigate around running screaming people who are at least twice their size.  Also, I tend to tell my kids that if they can do something (climb a ladder, crawl on top of a tunnel, cross the monkey bars) basically on their own, they might not be ready for them.  That's a fine rule, but it doesn't work if their is nothing that they can do.  Toddler sized playgrounds, preferably with lots of ramps and few drop-offs, are perfect for fostering independence and encouraging safe risk taking.
  • A gate that is locked at night  This is essential to keeping out the aforementioned unseemly element, and generally keeping the park safe, clean and generally in working order.  We have had the problem of the park not being unlocked, but its only happened a few times, and the benefit is worth the risk. 
    Look past the super-cute baby dino and notice the red rubber "flooring"

  • Squishy, rubbery flooring Mulch is okay, but can be splintery, especially when you try to eat it.  Gravel makes great ammunition for toddlers practicing their throwing skills or big kids making trouble.  It seems like many parks are going to this rubber ground cover, and I love it.

After the jump, five more tips, and Elijah swings pensively.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Urban parks, part 1: There's nowhere to park in this town!

We love parks!

Growing up, there were always parks.  In the first house I remember, on Elm Street, there was a park across the street, or rather, across a street and a large open field.  I lived in that house from first grade through sixth, and a lot of time was spent at that park.  From the time I was in second grade or so, I could go there with my friends, parent-free.  My best friends Steve and Ben lived close by, and the three of us would play "lava monster" or stand in the baby swings discussing such serious topics as what to dress as for Halloween.  I realize now that my parents could probably actually see us the entire time from the front porch, but it still felt like freedom.  It was far enough that we had to "go there", but close enough that if we started running when the first raindrops fell, we'd make it home before the storm hit in full force.

Then, in sixth grade, we moved about a mile up (down?) the road, and we could not actually see the nearest park from our house.  This was sort of perfect because by then I was old enough to go to the park with some friends and say I'd be back in an hour without too much parental concern.  We were a bit big for the playground by then (or so we said), but there was a "pond" that was flooded in the winter to make a 1/2 foot deep skating rink and a creek for poking around in.  There were no cell phones then, so if my parents needed me, that had to walk the four blocks, or just wait for me to come home.

Keep reading!  After the jump, I finally make my point.  And Brittany rides a dinosaur.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How I Spent My Monday

One of these days I plan on posting about the urban park situation as I have experienced it these past five years.  For now, suffice it to say that on Monday, we found a good one.  Just take a look at those faces and you'll see what I mean.

This slide is awesome!

Alright Lisa, less pictures, more playing.
This park is even fun upside down!
Life is good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The calendar says its October...

...but my garden says differently.

Tomatoes picked on Sunday, October 9th

Fortunately, when it comes to eating them, I have plenty of help.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A word or two about Columbus Day

The twins are off school today and I am looking forward to spending much of the day with them.  I do wish, however, that it were a different holiday.  There are so many worthy people in American and world history that we could honor.  Christopher Columbus is not one of them.  

I have been to the island of Hispanola, in the Caribbean, where Columbus first landed when he "discovered" America in 1492.  I have been to both sides of the island, to Haiti and to the Dominican Republic.  There are no Native people there.  He, and others like him, are the reasons why.  

To learn more about this, I recommend the following-

For teachers: Check out Rethinking Columbus, a Rethinking Schools publication.  I have this, and have used some of the activities with students as young as fifth grade.

For kidsEncounter by Jane Yolen.  Great on its own, or to compare/contrast with most other Columbus books.

I hope you enjoy your holiday, if you have one.  
Now, any thoughts on who we should honor instead?  I am open to suggestions.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Toys I Love: That Wire and Bead Thing

It doesn't have a name, but we all know one when we see it.  Like an abacus from Alice in Wonderland, it twists and turns, winds and weaves.  It comes in varying sizes, with countless permutations of colors, shapes and configurations.  A staple of waiting rooms everywhere and around since (approximately) the beginning of toys, it's a toy that has withstood the test of time.  Yes, that's right.  I'm talking about that wire and bead thing

Of course, it probably does have a name; if not one that it was born with, then one that has been commercially bestowed in the years since it's invention.  The one above, however, as well as the one below, came from my favorite store, which, in case you've never met me, is one Value Village, sometimes also known as Unique Thrift Store.  As a result, they came nameless.  VV always seems to have a few of these, and they are the perfect thrift store pick-up because all the  pieces are attached.

Why do I love this toy?  Well, first of all, it meets two of my top toy criteria: no electronics, no plastic.  It appeals to all ages.  (I'm not kidding.  I caught my husband playing with it one day.  By himself.)  It's durable.  It's all one piece.  It looks cool.  It addresses areas like fine motor skills, colors and shapes, and sorting.  And, oh yeah, it's super-fun.  Just check out Eleanor's smile.

Ellie enjoying her b-day gift from Elijah

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's simmering today?

What does this:

have in common with a certain mulleted television character?

Head over here to my current Endless Simmer post to find out! 

(For any of you who are new here, I am a sporadic but earnest contributor to ES, a delicious blog about anything and everything even tangentially food and drink related.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Olivia

"You wear me out, but I love you anyway."
"I love you anyway, too." 
-Olivia  by Ian Falconer

When I go to Value Village, there is a list in my head of certain children's books that I cannot pass up.  My husband would declare that such a list does not exist, because a list, by definition, has definition.  That is to say, it is finite.  And my love for children's books is limitless, I will grant him that.  However, there are books that I will buy even if I already own a copy (or two) because a) children's books make the best gifts and b) I am genetically unable to pass up a bargain.  Olivia, by Ian Falconer, is most certainly one of the those books.  I could go on about it here, but I cannot do it justice.  You must read it yourself.  Especially if, based on the above quotation,  you think you might be a parent of an Olivia. (Ahem, Beth.)

So, I picked up a copy of Olivia a few months ago, and when I got home, I realized (gasp) that it was missing some of its pages.  Which turned out to be awesome because it allowed me to feel no guilt whatsoever about cutting it apart to make a one-of-a-kind birthday gift for Elijah's dear friend, Olivia-sister of Gus and Sam, daughter of Laura, and possessor of approximately 30 times more hair than my son.  Happy birthday, darling girl.  Here's to many more years of wearing your mom out with excessive cuteness.

Note: To make the box, I painted it red with craft paint, glued the picture from the book on the lid, added border cut from a black magazine ad, wrote on it with a silver Sharpie, and painted over the whole lid with Mod Podge. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

One year and two weeks ago...

One cool thing (among many) about having Elijah at a birth center is that I can show him exactly where he was born.  I don't have to sneak past the gatekeeper or the L&D ward at the hospital, or try in vain to remember one room number out of hundreds of possibilities.  The Family Health and Birth Center has two birthing rooms (three in a pinch) and on Friday I took Elijah back there for a little photo shoot and stroll down memory lane (which fortunately gets fuzzier by the day).  Here is my big man on the bed where he was born just 12 months ago.  Crazy, huh?

There's something familiar about this bed...