Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pre-K Dissertation

I forget where we saw anteaters, probably in some book or video or something. But they must have piqued Fifi's interest because the other day, apropos to nothing, she asked, "How do anteaters know where to find ants?"

I'm not sure how the average parent would have responded to such a simple query, but I decided to use it as a launchpad for my daughter's first ever research report. And I'm left wondering, whatever did we do before the internet?

A few keystrokes, and we had multiple pictures and descriptions of anteaters. We discovered that anteaters have poor vision, but rely on their keen sense of smell to find ants. We also learned that they have crazy long and sticky tongues that they plunge into the ground to suck up ants. Ewwww.

Our research culminated in a one-sentence treatise on the anteaters' ability to find their prey: Anteaters smell ants. Additionally, Fifi had a chance to practice making her S's face the right way (by the third time, she nailed it!), and drew a pretty accurate anteater sucking up a smattering of black and red ants.

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I've turned her off from ever asking a random question out of curiosity again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh My God, They Turned Into Butterflies!

Okay, the cardboard caterpillars did not actually form cocoons (or raccoons, as Vance calls them) and transform into butterflies. But, we did create some handmade butterflies and so I feel justified in claiming we had our own little metamorphosis in house.

The butterflies were fun and took me back to the Mom Crafts 101 classes I failed to sign up for. I feel like before you're allowed to take your baby home, the nurses make you sign a form vowing you will one day make potato prints with your children. Everyone seems to do them at some point. They just never really appealed to me, you know? I think they mostly felt wasteful. But finally, I succumbed to society's pressure and sacrificed some produce in the name of art.

We had already eaten half a pepper, and I found a potato with more than a couple of eyes growing off it. The carrot was actually in its prime, so there was some guilt with that one. But I try not to think of all the starving bunnies.

The pepper made two lovely wing shapes which we decorated with potatoes cut into striped and checked patterns. With a little whittling, the carrot made a perfect body shape. The kids were mostly able to make these on their own by dipping the veggies into the paint and then stamping them onto construction paper. They made three a piece, which seemed like the perfect quantity. And then they made freestyle paintings out of the remaining paint.

The paint said it was non-toxic, so I let my kids eat the pepper and carrots when they were done printing with them. Just kidding. But since I felt the paint was not appropriate for our compost bin, and the veggies would truly go to waste, I was glad the butterflies came out as cute as they did, or else I'd be feeling really guilty.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Very Crafty Caterpillar

Fifi hosted her first-ever sleepover guest the other night. After a fun video, good food and the thrill of sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, it seemed a craft project would be the perfect way to continue the fun into the following morning, and create a keepsake to forever memorialize the big girl event. I know egg-carton caterpillars have been around probably as long as caterpillars themselves, but that doesn't make them any less cute or fun.

While the children giggled upstairs and discussed their favorite breakfast foods, I cut up cardboard egg cartons. I also halved a handful of pipe cleaners and set out painting supplies.

The kids picked springy colors for their multi-legged friends. The rainbow-hued pipe cleaners easily slipped through mini punched holes for the legs and antennae. Glued-on googly eyes and a smile by Sharpie gave the critters spunk. Now we just wait and watch the egg-carton caterpillars metamorphose into egg-carton butterflies.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When You Care Enough to Send The Very Best Scraps

They put my mountain of fabric scraps to good use. They're fun projects for my daughter and me to work on together. They give us another option in the thank-you card department. They involve glue. In short, I love our triangle-dresses cards!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Invisible Artwork

This on-again/off-again affair with Science has got to stop! Love me or leave me, Science. Just stop toying with my emotions!

I borrowed a book--once again, from the library--that sounded like it was the perfect solution to my scientific woes. It's called Science Arts and it intends to incorporate scientific principals into artistic expressions. In one day we did back-to-back "experiments" from the book and in the end, well, I think maybe Science just isn't that into me.

Both experiments involved painting paper with a specific liquid which would appear virtually invisible. Then, we were supposed to apply heat and the painting would magically appear. Only, not so much.

First, we put salt water on black construction paper. Putting it in a warm oven was supposed to make the water evaporate, leaving a beautiful crystal painting. In order to save whatever amount of scientific face I possibly can, I have photographed Vance's attempt. He saturated his paper so thoroughly, that he did get something to show up post-evaporation. Is it crystallized? Well, maybe iodized.

Next up was lemon juice on bond paper. This, I had wanted to do ever since I was a kid and read about it in Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew or somewhere. (Someone had written a secret message to get someone out of jail or something like that. Okay, maybe Encyclopedia Brown wasn't actually in the fugitive business, but I just remember a letter with a hidden message is lemon juice revealed by the heat of a candle. I probably read it thirty years ago, I can't possibly remember all of the details.) Given that history, there was some pressure for success. How'd we do? Let's just say we focus on my verbal skills, shall we? Here's a photo of one sheet pre-heat and another sheet after damn near burning my house down, I held it under the iron--on the highest setting--until I smelled smoke. The difference is, well, there is no difference. They look exactly the same.

If anyone has a science experiment that they think is easy enough for me to succeed at, please let me know. Or, if you succeeded at an experiment and will let me take credit for it, even better.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Wee Little Blog Post

Do you know the story, "The Wee Little Woman"? It involves a woman of short stature, a small cow, a tiny cat, a diminutive stool and a minuscule bucket. Because children's shoes tend to come in wee little boxes, it seemed a wee little shadow box was the perfect way to expand our story.

I drew the characters and props and the kids colored them, opting for a rather Fauvian palette. We reenacted the story a bunch of times using the itty-bitty paper pieces. But then the kids, sort of wee and little themselves, pursued some live theater. It worked out nicely that there were three animated characters and three of us.

Vance impressed me most of all. Not only did he have mad acting skills which surprised me, but the way a person that young could internalize a story in such a meaningful way, blew my mind. Additionally, how he instinctively exposed his nipples when it was his turn to be milked kind of, well, I don't want to say made me proud, exactly, but it did impress me in some kind of way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fifi is Julie from "The Love Boat"

There are some days when the kids make my life really easy. Oh, how I love those days. We had another such day back in November, I believe.

This time my life was easy because Fifi more or less planned the whole morning for us. She acted as cruise director and simply delegated a task or two to me. She decided she wanted to play "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." All I had to do was draw a donkey and make a tail. Easy enough.

With the giant drawing pad already out, Fifi asked if I would indulge her in one of her favorite drawing activities: fill in the plate. All I had to do was draw a plate and some silverware. She took care of the rest. I believe it was spaghetti and meatballs with blueberry sauce.

From there, it was "Let's make more food out of something else!" And so, I just had to put the play foam on the table, help squeeze out a utensil or two and sit back and be fed.

Being in charge gets tiring. Sometimes it's hard to come up with enough activities to fill a whole morning or a whole day. Besides, I don't want to be a parent that sets the agenda all the time. Usually we have a balanced give-and-take wherein I make some suggestions and the kids run with them; and they make some suggestions and I happily oblige. But having my kid determine the course of events for an entire morning is a plan I could get used to. As long as I like her choices, of course.

(I've been nominated for another Top Craft Mom Blog [after their original 50] on Babble. Please take a second to vote for me. Thanks!)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Be Nice or Leave

Sometimes my kids are really sweet. Sometimes they're incredibly funny. On certain days, they're especially creative. And on some other days they're downright mean. Of all the days, I like those last days the least.

Sadly, those days have seemed to be increasing in numbers as of late. I would blame it on winter, as I think winter is to blame for most awful things, but I fear I'd be eating crow when my kids are still mean come Spring.

I definitely don't think my kids are mean people. They're nice people who just act mean sometimes. Either way, I'd like to see less mean. So, we made Nice Bags.

To the ordinary person, Nice Bags look an awful lot like brown paper lunch bags with stickers on them and maybe the crayon-scrawled word "nice." But to a child (whose mother is trying to get him or her to be nicer), a Nice Bag is a reminder of how good it feels to do something nice, and how easy and pleasurable it is to brighten someone else's day.

While the kids decorated bags, they suggested names of the people to whom they should show some extra kindness. I wrote the names out on papers and the kids folded the papers and put them in their bags.

The idea was to take a name out each day and have the kids purposefully do something nice for the lucky person chosen. After a few phone calls to relatives and drawings made for friends, the system lost a bit of momentum. Now (in a less than stellar parenting performance), I usually suggest digging into the Nice Bag only when the kids' meanness reminds me of their existence. Either way, the Nice Bags are kind of nice.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Most Satisfying Art Project Ever

I have to start with a major thank you to my friend Ariane, from whom I stole the bulk of this project. We already love shaving cream around here. But this project took it to a whole new level. I did have to cancel my audition for a hand modeling job due to a certain amount of stainage. But it was totally worth it.

We filled baking dishes with shaving cream, then sprinkled drops of food coloring. The kids used popsicle sticks to blend and swirl the bright colors. Already, I'm sure you can sense how satisfying this project is. So gooey and colorful and swirly! We could have stopped there.

But instead, we went on to find a way to savor the glory for eternity. We pressed cut sheets of watercolor paper on top. Using a clean popsicle stick to scrape off the shaving cream, we were left with beautiful marbled paper!

The mess factor was kind of high, but it was much easier to clean up than I feared. Be sure to keep a roll (and by roll, I mean a whole entire roll) of paper towels handy as well as some dish towels. A plastic tablecloth and smocks are a must.

The kids made six sheets, and they were each unique and beautiful, and because they were made with shaving cream, they even smelled good. But I want more! I am secretly planning my own marbled paper craft night. The kids used the basic primary colors plus green, but I look forward to using a more interesting mix of colors in the future.

After all this, we were pretty satisfied. But hold on to your hats, people, there's more! What to do with all this beautiful paper? Fifi and I argued about it a little bit. Since there was enough paper, we compromised. She got to take a piece to cut and draw upon, and then she would also do my idea. I had each kid turn a piece into an envelope with the help of a mini hole punch, brads, and some yarn. I have a feeling one of our lucky readers may be getting one in the mail soon...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Science Redeemed!

It was hard to photograph because it relies on
back-light for the full visual effect.
We enjoyed a perfectly successful, pretty neat science project! Albert Einstein, I take back all those nasty things I said about you.

Our project was about the density of liquids. But more importantly, it included food coloring, pouring, and seeing items magically suspended.

Everyone started with an empty jar. We poured in half a cup of water and a drop of food coloring. The kids loved shaking that up. They then hypothesized what would happen if they poured corn syrup in. They were surprised to find it settled beneath the water, making a cool layering effect. But when it came time to guess where half a cup of cooking oil would settle, they figured it out!

We then dropped small objects into the jar and were fascinated by getting at least one object to settle in each layer. A marble and a penny sunk right to the bottom. A pom-pom remained on top. And then, oddest of all, a button stayed in the water!

Fifi and Vance then had a gay old time shaking the daylights out of their jars. That led to an inexplicable effect wherein there was a large colored layer on the bottom and a small yellowish layer on the top. We're thinking the food coloring mixed with the corn syrup, but we can't be sure.

See! I told you science wasn't that bad.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Signs of Spring

I was walking by our nearest park the other day, huffing and puffing as I pushed a double stroller, breaking a sweat beneath a wool hat and down coat, attempting to answer a four year old's random questions about food and potholes and why John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt has such a funny name, when something green caught my eye. It was poking out of the gray dirt littered with old leaves and winter debris. I stopped the stroller and my sentence and peered in for a closer look. Indeed! The crocuses were poking through. Spring is on its way!

The kids hopped out of the stroller and galloped around the gated flowerbed with me to try to count how many up and coming stems there were. My thumb is not green enough to allow me to identify the crocuses from the daffodils from the tulips. But no matter. I saw the beginnings of flowers poking through the ground and they filled me with hope and pleasure. Winter is in fact ending. Spring is just around the corner!

I infected the kids with my giddiness and suggested we take our camera out to capture signs of spring. Fifi for one, couldn't wait. She sagely suggested we walk over to the community garden. And so we did.

Vance and Fifi looooooove the community garden. Many of our friends and neighbors are lucky enough to have plots there. In the summer time, it's a place to roll around in the grass, cut wildflowers and pluck berries right off their vines. In the winter, it's a quiet place of open space and enough dirt and dried plants to satiate a kids' need to get messy outdoors. We are fortuitous enough to have a plot of our own this year, since a friend of ours will be traveling and invited us to be guest gardeners in her stead.

One thing I love in particular about this honor is that I know it will be a special bond my husband will get to share with the kids. The three of them are the happy gardeners, while I more so enjoy cooking, eating and gazing upon the fruits of their labor. I looked at our empty plot and tried to imagine it a few months from now. I could perfectly picture the kids in shorts and T-shirts, wet from playing with the hose, and filthy from working in the dirt and eating raspberries. I can hear their squeals as they attempt cartwheels in the grass and struggle to push wheel barrows to and fro. A glorious time it will be, for sure.

I will definitely keep you up-to-date as the garden progresses throughout the year. For now, I'm savoring this quiet time when nature mysteriously starts her rebirth. But the countdown is officially on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Paging Mr. Herman, Mr. P.W. Herman

I don't generally use this blog to plug products, or people, or productions I think people should watch. And Lord knows I've never been paid by anyone to say or suggest anything. But today, I want to stop and give a grand ol' Mommy shout-out to the great Pee-wee Herman (who, by the way, is almost 60 years old).

It is true that I have always loved him and his shows. I remember having recorded the made-for-adults stage play "The Pee-wee Herman Show" on our VCR when I was a kid and watching it so many times I could recite whole parts of it. The day I put together that the hilarious Phil Hartman and Captain Carl were one and the same, I honestly believed that Hollywood was a decent place where good people worked hard for the sole purpose of entertaining me. But then Phil Hartman was senselessly murdered and Pee-wee brought on his own demise and well, things hadn't been quite as magical since.

But the magic still exists! Pee-wee is back on my radar because I happened upon DVDs of his made-for-kids show "Pee-wee's Playhouse" at the library. I know I recently wrote about how my kids don't watch much TV. But honestly, if they wanted to stay up until midnight in a "Play All" Pee-wee frenzy, I'd let them. This show is even better than I remember.

First of all, you probably don't even realize who all is in it. Laurence Fishburn, S. Epatha Merkenson (also know [by me] as "that lady from 'Law & Order'"), and the actress who plays Charlie's mom in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Okay, perhaps I've lost some of you here. But a star-studded cast notwithstanding, the show is still an across-the-board winner.

First and foremost, it is hilarious. The kids crack up over it; and, because it's written on two levels, my husband and I also laugh at every episode. Secondly, it is a lesson in imagination. You know how high that is on my agenda, and well, this show sells it. Pee-wee has fun no matter what he does. And the vast majority of his fun is based in pretend play. It's also wholesome and a wee bit educational.

It's a show I feel good about having my kids watch. So good that I have borrowed the DVDs no fewer than four times from the library--and then, while still having a set out on loan, went and purchased online. They should be coming any day now. And I can't friggin' wait!

I'll get back to Mommy blogging next time. But I thought I'd take some time to share one of my 22-minute pick-me-ups so you can stop guessing just what on earth keeps me going day in and day out. Now you know. My secret is Vitamin Pee.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm Back to Hating Science

Aren't science experiments supposed to prove something? Aren't you supposed to follow the directions and then *poof* some magic, miraculous thing happens in the end and you get to yell, "Eureka!" and walk away knowing something you didn't know moments before? Or am I just totally wrong about how science works? Is this why I was never able to get my stupid light bulb to turn on in high school science labs?

I faced my phobia again....And failed....Again. God, I hate science.

The experiment was so simple. We were supposed to drop a ball of clay into a bowl of water and see how it sank. No problem. Then, we were supposed to transform the ball of clay into the shape of a boat and *poof* it was supposed to float. Do you want to know what happened instead? I'll tell you. The clay got wet. When you put clay into water, it gets wet. When clay gets wet, it gets slippery and gooey and gross and, no matter how you shape it, it sinks in a bowl of water.

Halfway through the experiment, while I tried really hard to convey to my kids that science is fun and that my failure had no connection to my gender, I ran upstairs to get Play-Doh, hoping it might float better than regular old clay. By this time, of course, the water was no longer water. It was murky wet clay slip practically. Nonetheless, when I made a boat-like form out of Play-Doh, wide enough to displace enough water to become buoyant (or so the science book tells me), it did in fact float. Momentarily. Just long enough for me to get a picture and tell the kids they learned something. Take that, science!

Mr. Wizard would be so proud.