Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ellie and Eli: A Retrospective

This week marks the departure of yet another set of family friends.  Pat, Jenn, and Eleanor will soon leave us for the greener, flatter pastures of Atchison, Kansas, where Jenn, a native Buffalonian, will once again have to endure winters more suited for polar bears than people.  Jenn and I first met when we lived at Perry Place, a tiny DC row house packed to the gills with girls (six or seven, to be exact).  Jenn was a basement dweller and I lived on the second floor, so although I admired her organizational skills and sunny demeanor from afar, we did not truly become friends until the arrival of Eleanor and, six months later, her beloved Yai-yai.

I just wish I had a best friend as cute and bald as me.  Where might I find such a one?
Eleanor and company were Elijah's first visitors.  From then on, the two were best buds.  Just ask Eleanor (but don't ask Elijah).  They would play lots of fun games, like "steal Elijah's binky" or "squish Elijah's head" otherwise known as hugging.


Mom, did you see what Miss Lisa brought me to play with?
Yes, these two were meant for each other, though they are opposites in every way, Eleanor started sleeping through the night at around negative three months old.  Elijah finally joined her in that about a month ago.  Elijah likes seaweed salad and curry tofu.  Eleanor likes cheese, and sometimes bread.  Eleanor has been crawling, walking, jumping and falling off the backs of chairs for what seems like a year.  Elijah, ever cautious, thinks he might try jumping on his sixteenth birthday.  They go together like bacon and peanut butter: a delicious if unexpected combination.

Elijah's smile here is actually a cry for help.
Elijah's name (Yai-yai) was on of Eleanor's first words.  When he is not around, she carries a much loved, crumply-looking picture of him around the house.  It has taken more than a year, but Elijah is finally beginning to appreciate having a groupie.  But alas, this relationship will be put to the test in coming months, as Skype replaces leisurely lunches and rides in the double stroller, and Eleanor undoubtedly finds a new object of her adoration and affection.  Don't worry, though, Ellie.  We will make sure that Elijah doesn't forget his first frenemy best friend. 






Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Books to Live By: The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss


The Lorax said, 'Sir! You are crazy with greed.
There is no one on earth
who would buy that fool Thneed!'

But the very next minute I proved he was wrong.  
For, just at that minute, a chap came along,
and he thought that the Thneed I had knitted was great.
He happily bought it for three ninety-eight.

I laughed at the Lorax, 'You poor stupid guy!
You never can tell what some people will buy.'

The Advent season is upon us, and I can think of no better time to spotlight this book.  Sure, The Grinch is a good one, too, but there's something about The Lorax that I just can't get enough of.  Not so long ago, when Elijah had the patience for more than One Duck Stuck, or at least lacked the mobility to express otherwise, we would read this book at least once a day, and I never got sick of it.  Intoning the flowing, tripping, rhyming language got more fun with each rereading, as I tried to hit a Lorax voice that was "sharpish and bossy," but later converts to a "cruffulous croak."  

The book is often read around Earth Day, as it's environmental message is obvious.  Less obvious, but much more discomfiting, is the message about consumerism.  Most of us will never own a factory, or chop down a forest, so we can say that if we did, we would certainly make sure that we weren't spewing gluppity-glup.  But what about that mystery man who bought the Thneed?  If he and so many others hadn't convinced themselves that, "A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!", the Once-ler would have been quickly out of business, and the Truffula Trees would have been spared the Super-Axe-Hacker.  So, I challenge you, then next time you read this story, take special note of the faceless man walking away with the Thneed on his head.  What Thneeds can you do without this Advent and Christmas season?

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Country Thanksgiving


As I mentioned, Kurt, Elijah and I loaded up the Camry and rolled to West Virginia for Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the highlights:
A sumptuous spread (including five fresh turkeys)

A frolic in the wood pile, heaven for the stick man

Porch sitting with old friends

Frog shaped dinner napkins


Elijah and Miriam, together again

A great big thank you to everyone at Bethlehem Farm who hosted us.  It was a needed breath of fresh air for us city-dwellers, and we are truly thankful for all of the many blessing that were showered on us this weekend. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

{this moment)

{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.
 ... 
Thank you to Amanda Soule of Soule Mama for the words and inspiration.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!


Many blessings to you and your family on this day of gratefulness.  We will be enjoying good food and good company in West Virginia.  May your potatoes be sweet and your day be sweeter (and may your turkey not be green.)  Many thanks to Brittany for the hand-inspired art.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Art with gusto

A few weeks ago, I bought a pack of Crayola Twistables Slick Sticks for Elijah at the recommendation of Jean over at The Artful Parent.  In fact, they were the very first art materials he ever used (as long as peanut sauce doesn't count), something that I plan on writing about soon.  I heartily agree that they are better than crayons in that you don't have to press nearly as hard to get smooth, vibrant color.  Really, they are fabulous.  And it looks like I'll be buying some more very soon.

Here's what happened: with no school yesterday, three of the Sisters descended upon our household ready to play.  I set them up with the Slick Sticks and a long sheet of paper, which they quickly filled.  I don't know if it is the awesome color quality, the ability to fill a large area quickly, or the vaguely elicit sensation of coloring with lipstick, but the girls were in love with the Slick Sticks.  So, after the paper, they moved on to decorating whatever we could find...like boxes...


...and random scraps of cardboard.

Tricia had so many layers of color that I suggested she experiment with scratching a design into the surface with an empty mechanical pencil.  This is definitely a technique to be used again, perhaps for a project all its own.

At one point, Brianna was working with both hands at once.

An hour or so later, they had exhausted the Slick Sticks, if not their creativity.  FYI, yellow and orange were the last ones to go.  The frugal part of me was a little sad to see the kids run through the supplies so quickly, but fortunately, the fun part of me quickly shushed the frugal part.  After all, in a cost/enjoyment analysis, these were practically priceless.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Books to Live By: The Big Orange Splot

Ages 3-Adult

Elijah got this book in a bundle from the pediatrician in honor of his first birthday.  I didn't think much of it at first, mainly because I am admitted children's book snob and the illustrations are rudimentary to the extreme.  Well, shame on me for judging a book by...well, you know.  I almost cried when I read the whole thing through.  It tells the story of Mr. Plumbean, who, following an unfortunate incident involving a seagull and a can of orange paint, decides he no longer cares to live on a "neat street". The refrain of the book is, "My house is me and I am it.  My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams."  For kids, the lesson is one of creativity, acceptance of self and appreciation of individuality.  Or, as Patricia put it, "Being different isn't weird."  

For grown ups, it goes beyond that.  What a gift it would be for each of us to be able to say, "My life is me and I am it.  My life is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams." 

For questions and activities to use with kids, plus some sample kid art, keep reading.

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 Blessings of a Small House

That's us in the middle.

1. There's less to clean (including only one toilet to scrub).
2. We never had to use a baby monitor.  (Elijah the screamer deserves some credit for that one).
3. No basement/spare room/secret storage space means that excessive clutter is not an option.
4. "Dinner's ready," or "I'm out of toilet paper," can be heard throughout the house, even when spoken in a normal tone of voice.
5. Cozy is not just a euphemism for small:/ˈkōzē/ adj.  Giving a feeling of warmth, comfort and relaxation.   Our house is cozy.  And I love it.


Friday, November 18, 2011

{this moment}

{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.
 ... 
Thank you to Amanda Soule of Soule Mama for the words and inspiration.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Me time



"We are like characters in a story.  Our essential self is not back in the intro, waiting to be discovered.  Who you are is where you are.  When you are married, your essential self is married.  As the story grows, so does your character.  Your children change you into a different person...Look out-look at the people who made you what you are-your husband and your children.  Study them.  They are you.  If you want to know yourself, concentrate on them.  If you suddenly panic because it all happened so fast and you don't recognize yourself, what you need is not time alone.  What you need is your people." - Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years

Let me begin by saying this: I relish my alone time.  Once a week, thanks to a swaperoo with my dear friend Laura, I have three hours in the morning of uninterrupted writing time, which is at least partially spent drinking tea and staring into space.  When Elijah was new, and was usually awake from 3-6am, I used to put him in his crib mid-morning and let him cry for ten minutes while I took a shower.  Sometimes, moms just need a break.


That said, I don't consider that time to be what truly makes me who I am.  I have found that when I really feel down, or overwhelmed or in need of some quiet time, Elijah makes a great companion.  We go somewhere like the National Arboretum or the Fransican Monastery where the air is fresh and the hazards are minimal and we just sit.  Or scoot, as the case may be.  I also look for coupons (Living Social, Groupon, etc.) for frozen yogurt or smoothies and save them for the times when we need to get out and see some people, but maybe not actually talk to them.  These are the "me times" that I really love.     


When we ate dinner with our best friends Sarah and Justin for the last time before they moved away, after they left I felt inexpressibly sad.  So I crept upstairs. gently lifted a sleeping Elijah from his crib and laid him on my chest for a snuggle.  I needed to be alone, but not all the way.


One of our recent favorite books is The Big Orange Splot, which I would love to talk more about on another day.  Today, I will leave you with this quotation from the story. "My house is me and I am it.  My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams."  Elijah and Kurt are my house, they are me, and I am them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Halloween may be over...

but pumpkin season is just getting started.  Check me out today over at Endless Simmer for instructions on how to make your own Pumpkin Pie Stuffed Pumpkin.  Also, for more great pumpkin recipes, check out 100 Ways to Cook a Pumpkin.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lentil Art


Yes, you heard me right.  I usually save my lentils for soup, but sometimes art demands the unconventional.
The twins had a day off from school last week, so in my effort to incorporate more open ended art into our lives, I set out a long piece of paper (thanks Mary), some glue, magazines and scissors.  When we carved pumpkins not to long ago, Brittany was more interested in chopping up the leftover bits then the actual carving, so I wanted to make cutting a priority in this project.  After changing into appropriate art-wear (read: bunny ears), Brittany got right to work.


She cut around various pictures including an IPhone, and informed me that they were all rectangles.

Brianna went with a more abstract approach, cutting and tearing little pieces and gluing them in a line.

Although she started with a glue stick, Brittany soon embraced the joy that is emptying an entire bottle of glue onto a piece of paper.  At first I hesitated at this approach, but I remembered this post from Jean of Artful Parent, and I stepped back and went with the flow.
She wanted something to stick into the glue, and I had no beads handy, so lentils it was.  This mixed-media masterpiece took about 3 days to dry, but when that finally occurred, it became the first work of art to be displayed in what I hope will become a permanent art center.  More on that another day.  The twins have all of next week off.  I wonder what other foods we might repurpose as media.  Thoughts?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crossover food: Biscotti

There are some foods out there (Fruit By the Foot, Lunchables, Gogurt) that can only truly be enjoyed by children.  And then there are others (blue cheese, coffee flavored ice cream, salad) that are mainly the purview of adults.  Fortunately for us parents who would rather not moonlight as short-order cooks, there are plenty of foods that for one reason or another can be enjoyed by all.  In our family, biscotti certainly fit that category.  For the grown-ups among us, they elevate and ordinary cup of coffee into a relaxing cafe experience.  Like doughnuts, they walk the fine line between dessert and breakfast, but unlike doughnuts, there are no unpleasant late-morning consequences afterward.  


For Elijah, the biscotto is a combination cookie/teething biscuit that he can happily tote around with him for a good hour, alternating between eating it, banging it on the storm door and taking it in and out of a Gladware container.  A batch takes a little over an hour to prepare from start to finish, and lasts all week.  There are endless permutations of this humble yet elegant fare, but gingerbread is our current favorite.  Oh, and as you can see, they are pretty photogenic, too.  (Thanks, Kurt)

Gingerbread biscotti (adapted from Allrecipes.com)
Makes approx 24 three-inch pieces

Friday, November 11, 2011

{this moment}

{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.
 ... 
Thank you to Amanda Soule of Soule Mama for the words and inspiration.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Toys I Love: Hammer Ball Box



Yesterday I was cleaning out the toy box and I was, as usually, impressed with all of the "toys" that Elijah loves:  a stick, an empty yogurt container, a Christmas tin, an old set of keys.  Recently he had a lot of fun with a Snickers wrapper, handing it to me and then laughing as he snatched it back.  Around four months, his favorite plaything was something we called "Man in a Can", which was a large Lego character in a Parmesan cheese can.  He liked to play with it at mealtimes, though, and it got so crusty that it had to be "lost".  Good thing it was pretty much garbage to begin with.  And don't worry, the Man was spared when the Can was tossed.


All of this is to say that I wonder if it is ever worth spending money on toys.  Sometimes, though, the answer is yes.


When Elijah got a Barnes and Noble gift card for his birthday (thanks Todd and Suz!)  it may shock you to learn that the Queen of Children's Books (me) did not want to buy him a book.  Here's the thing, though.  Why pay $17 for a new picture book when you can get great picks like Olivia or The Bad Beginning at Value Village for 70 cents?  If there were a particular book I had been hankering for, I would have jumped  on it, but Elijah's shelves are teeming with good stuff (and one favorite singing Veggie Tales book that my mom should be punished for purchasing).  So, gift card in hand, we rolled past the bookshelves and over to the toy section.  If you haven't checked out the toys at BN lately, do it.  They are all about the eco-friendly, open-ended, make-this-former-teacher-drool target audience.  When I saw the hammer-ball-box, though, I knew I had found what I was looking for.


A product of PlanToys, this thing is all wood with vegetable based dyes, buzzword, buzzword, etc, etc.  I had been looking for something like this for awhile, but unlike that wire and bead thing, the chances of finding something like it at the thrift store with all the pieces was rather slim.  We left BN with that and a PlayMobil pirate ship (Kurt's choice) and fifty cents to spare.  The pirate ship has already taken a few trips in the high seas bathtub, but the hammer ball box has truly been a playtime revelation.  I tried to get a video of Elijah and the HBB in action, but every time he was playing with it and I went to get the video camera, he stopped.  Ain't that the way.  I did manage to get a picture, though,  and if you look closely,  you can see where the hammer is slicing through the air.

 

He has figured out that it also works with metals spoons in place of the hammer, but not plastic ones.  Also, a tennis ball will not go down the hole.  Since it's acquisition, the toy has gotten play every day, an honor previously held only by his beloved spoons (or, as he calls them, sppppppp).  Kurt is mildly concerned that Elijah will not always confine his hammering to inanimate objects, and since the kid is a mini-Thor, I can see that.  For now, though, I can't get enough of the look of joy on Elijah's face when the balls come rolling down the ramp and surprise!  onto the floor again.  He looks darned pleased with himself, and why not?  He is the master of the universe, or at least the one contained in his little hammer ball box.


PS PlanToys deviously included their drool-worthy catalog with the HBB. and drool I did.  When the grandparents ask what the kids want for Christmas, you may want to send them here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Baby soup


I am about to tell you something that you will either think is genius (says me) or horrible and disgusting (says Kurt).  So, be warned.  

For any of you who have met Elijah, he can eat.  And eat and eat.  He likes everything (except, as of this past weekend, tuna).  Therefore, I try to give him a version of what we are eating for his own dinner.  He's had many kinds of curry, hummus, fried green tomatoes, cheese and onion pancakes and the list goes on and on.  The problem we have run into recently though, is that the weather is finally cooling off, which means that Kurt is willing to eat soup for dinner (begrudgingly, and only with cheese).  But Mr. Elijah doesn't like to be fed; he likes to feed himself.  He is not too bad with a spoon when it comes to thick things like broccoli with peanut sauce or oatmeal.  Soup is trickier, though.  Enter my genius idea.  


We had taco-lentil soup, a family favorite, for dinner last night (for recipe, see below).  I poured Elijah a bowl and thought, How is he ever going to eat this?  Then I saw the yellow box like a beacon of hope atop the refrigerator.  Cherrios (actually Joe's O's)!  I put in a handful, and like a dream (nightmare?) they became one with the liquid, creating a mush, sticky, toddler friendly texture.  I blended them a little bit with the hand blender, but I think this step may have been superfluous.  Elijah ate it up.   Kurt nearly gagged.  And I thought to myself, Soup problem solved.  Bring on the winter.  

PS Fun family fact: The title of this post may have alarmed you at first, but baby soup is what Brittany used to call a bathing suit, and I still think it's funny.   

Taco-Lentil Soup (originally inspired by Danielle Tamashiro)

2 c. lentils
4 c. water
2 regular sized or one large can of diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 packets taco seasoning; 
Or, in place of taco seasoning,  1 T. each cumin, chili powder, oregano, paprika, 1 t.  salt and 2 cloves chopped garlic
Optional: whole corn kernels, diced carrots, green chilies


Simmer all ingredients until the lentils are soft.  Remove and blend 2 c. or more of soup for a thicker texture.


Top with shredded cheddar cheese and crushed tortilla chips




Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why I (Usually) Make the Bed


I am a slob.  Somewhat reformed, perhaps, or at least trying to be, but a slob no less. Is it genetic?  Or a rebellions against my clutter-free upbringing?  Who knows.

Recently, I started making the bed.  It's been about a month.  Sad, I know.  It only took 18 years of living at home, 4 years of college, 2 years of living on my own and 3 years of marriage.  But now that I do it, I don't know why it took so long (sorry Mom).  

It is amazing how this one 30 second thing:
  • transforms the look of the room
  • makes the bedroom feel more like a part of the house
  • takes the bed from crazy town to useful (folded laundry, anyone?)
  • gives me a jolt of peacefulness before I go to bed
It really has become a habit and if I somehow forget to do it in the morning, it niggles at me so much that i can't do anything during naptime until it's done.

So my apologies to roommates and housemates past.  Mom, you were right (as usual).  I'm sure none of you out there, dear friends, are as messy as me...but just in case you are, I challenge you to try this one thing for three straight weeks and let me know how it goes.  Now, if I could just remember to dust the ceiling fan...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Urban Parks, Part 4: When is a park not a playground?


In talking about DC parks, I would be remiss if I did not mention two additional green spaces that Elijah, Kurt and I love to visit.  Sure, we have some great playgrounds, but sometimes you really want that feeling of the great outdoors.  We are within an hour of Great Falls National Park, and last week the family hit up Mount Vernon, which was not only historical, but also gorgeous.  I wish my backyard had a panoramic view of the Potomac River.  Both of those places make great day trips.

Sometimes, though, us city dwellers just need a quick breath of oxygen-rich air.  When that happens, I like to head to Rock Creek Park or the National Arboretum.

Rock Creek Park, located in NW DC, is just right for hiking with kids, and the adults can pretend that the have left the noise and grime of the city far behind.    A few weeks ago, we spent a beautiful fall morning walking around with some friends and their daughter.  The ground was a little wet, so I let Elijah pick up leaves and acorns in the parking lot before we set off.

Wow, Mom, this park is great.
After that, it was into the carrier so that we could tackle some of the off-road trails.  Elijah didn't like being constrained at first, but then he happily dozed off to the sound of chirping birds, which according to him say, "Woof".

While Rock Creek Park makes a great family outing, when it's just me and the kids I prefer the National Arboretum.  It's about fifteen minutes from home, never crowded and full of adventures waiting to happen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

{this moment}

{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.
 ... 
Thank you to Amanda Soule of Soule Mama for the words and inspiration.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sidetracked

I was going to write a lovely, insightful blog post today.  Well, I was going to attempt to write a lovely, insightful blog post today.  But then I opened the mailbox and these were inside:


Sorry friends, that blog post will just have to wait. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ten Reasons to Go on Vacation Without Your Children


That's right, we did it.  We went away without Elijah for two whole days.  A big thank you to Kurt's parents for making it possible.  And despite a power outage, unseasonably early snow and of course, missing Elijah, it was worth it.  Here are ten reasons why:
  1. Mmmm hmm.  Yep.  You know.
  2. We got to stay up late...
  3. ...and then sleep in.
  4. I read a whole book.  A totally worthless, non-edifying, wondrous book.
  5. Elijah got two whole days of uninterrupted Grandparent Time.  And, more importantly, Grandma and Grandpa got two whole days of uninterrupted Elijah time.
  6. My crossword-a-day calendar advanced from mid-August to early-October. 
  7. Hello Silence, my old friend.
  8. Our schedule was not confined by naptime.  
  9. I could eat doughnuts for breakfast without worrying about the long-term impact of my nutritional choices on Elijah's dietary schema.
  10. Two days was just long enough to make us realize that our lives were good before, but are so much better now, thanks to a certain bald-headed ball of cuteness named Elijah.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of coming home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Three years of Halloweenies

 Two years ago, Kurt and I first engaged in the parental custom of dressing up unsuspecting infants and toddlers in adorable costumes for the purpose of taking cute pictures;  and then parading them around the neighborhood so that others can appreciate their cuteness and give the children candy for us (the adults) to eat later.

Here we are two years ago, when the twins were almost three and Elijah was still a distant glimmer not yet on the horizon:
 
 In the picture above, I believe the objective was to get Brittany to growl like a dragon and Brianna to flap her wings.  You can see how well that went.  After that we just resorted to capturing their natural cuteness, which was much easier to do. 


Then, last year the twins were old enough (almost four) to express their costume preferences, which for anyone who is a parent to a girl, or who has ever been one, was not surprising.
I went semi-homemade with the costumes, piecing together the outfits from the Target $5 section (including the black leggings underneath) and making the crowns and wands with scrapbook paper, clear tape, paper clips and shish-kabob skewers.  The princess were joined by Elijah, who was originally going to be a bear, but then it was 80 degrees outside, so we had to resort to plan B.
The facial expression does not exactly match, but what do you expect from a 6-week-old?

To see what nonsense transpired this year, click the arrow.  A hint: One person decided to be the same thing as last year.  And has already declared that it will be her costume next year as well.