Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Magic Garden

So, if you plant things in a garden and add water and lots of sunshine, and pull a few weeds from time to time, vegetables actually grow! I know that's what's supposed to happen. But when it really happens, it still shocks me.

So far, we have enjoyed mountains of arugula and spinach, a first harvest of broccoli and now second blossoms. And last week we picked our first cucumber which was somehow more sweet and flavorful and cucumbery than any cucumber I have ever had. This gardening thing is amazing!

The kids have continued to fill their cheeks and bellies with fresh fruits. First strawberries, then cherries and now raspberries are in bloom. If left unattended, Vance could eat his body weight in raspberries no problem.

And even Fifi, picky eater extraordinaire, can't resist the temptation of nature's bounty. Here she is sucking on a basil leaf she had just plucked. It turned out she didn't like it (though I'm not sure I would particularly enjoy sucking on my favorite herb without accompaniment, either), but I am pleased she gave it a try.

Some other vegetables slowly getting ripe are jalapenos, tomatoes and cucumbers. We'll also have a few zucchinis soon, some onions and red potatoes and more watermelon than we'll know what to do with. There are a few corn stalks in there as well, but we're not sure we've got what it takes to make them succeed. We shall see.

We're also starting to collect seeds, keeping our fingers crossed we'll have a plot to sow them in next year....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bingo Markers: They're Not Just for Old Ladies Anymore

This was totally random. But, one day while at CVS, I found this pile of old and dusty, really gross looking plastic bags containing Bingo markers--the liquid stuff that you can dab perfect circles onto Bingo boards with. They had big fat "50% off" tags on them, and so, naturally, they became mine. Even sweeter, these items were so old and random that they didn't even show up in the register's database. So, the friendly check-out guy gave me four bags of them for $2.00.

I wasn't really sure what I'd use them for, but I knew one day I'd be glad to have them. That day came last week. We were bored and uninspired. I took out the bingo dot makers and some white paper and left my kids alone to create. I wasn't sure what I would find. But I was impressed in the end.

Although Vance mostly made a series of random dots, he went back and turned a couple of them into spiders.

And while Fifi's dots also started out random, she connected the red dots by a running line that I think makes the piece quite inviting.

I'm definitely pushing myself more to step back and let the kids do their own thing. And I've discovered that is the secret to pleasant surprises.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Itsy Bitsy Spider (Enlarged to Show Texture)

Fifi and I read Charlotte's Web recently, which was a little more enjoyable for one of us than the other. I think we'll revisit it in a few years when Fifi is ready to really get sucked in by a character and will bawl her eyes out like I do whenever I approach the end.

Right after we finished the book and were ready to put it completely to rest, I stumbled upon a picture book at the library called Up, Up and Away. Not to be confused with other books of the same title, this book is entirely about baby spiders. You know how Charlotte's babies mostly all flew away breaking Wilbur's heart a second time? Well, this book goes into precisely-rendered depth about the life cycle of a spider. And yet, it's kind of cute.

I was happy that Fifi made some lovely connections to Charlotte's Web when we read the spidery picture book. But I was even happier when we decided to make a spider web out of white yarn. It was fun and satisfying and sort of a big tangley mess; but, it increased our appreciation for the talents of spiders and Charlotte in particular.

No spider web would be complete without a spider and some six-legged victims. We fashioned Wikki-Stix into the predator and prey and even had a cursory discussion about insects versus arachnids. (In other words, I shared the extent of my knowledge: one has six legs, the other eight.)

Sadly, I thought it prudent to remove the web before Vance napped in the bed it surrounded. So our webtastic pleasure was short-lived, but I trust long-remembered.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sorting Sequins

Very often, I get an idea for something to do with the kids and I just do it, not paying a whole lot of attention to which ability level it really suits. In those instances, I tend to give Vance a lot of assistance so he can complete the same project his sister is doing with ease. But that's not really fair.

This time, I varied the project so each child could complete it in his or her own way, learning what he or she was ready to learn or practice.

We started with empty egg cartons--those pre-school activity gems--and a jar of flower-shaped sequins. Fifi got to work sorting her sequins into the individual egg spots, differentiated by size. Vance had fun just filling and emptying the egg spots and opening and closing the carton.

Next, I wanted them to tally their sequins. For Vance, a young pro at counting, I made spaces for him to glue groups of sequins in quantities from one to ten. I encouraged Fifi to make a chart showing how many of each size sequin she had. She blew my mind when instead of writing "11" and glueing down a mess of eleven sequins, she formed the number eleven out of sequins. She hoped to do the same with the other numbers, but the smaller quantities were not always conducive to number art. Nonetheless, she found a way to convey how many of each shape she had.

Each kid had their own project, their own way.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keeping the Mystery Alive

Last month my husband treated the kids and me to a hike in the woods. It was for Mother's Day, and what made it extra sweet was that he kept his plans a mystery. It was fun to try to guess what was coming by the few clues my husband was forced to share--we had to know what to wear, after all.

For Father's Day, I went the mystery route myself. I kept mum until we arrived on the waterfront and my husband was finally able to guess where we were headed. We took a ferry over the Delaware to visit the Camden Children's Garden. For you Philly folk, if you haven't been there yet, I recommend it. It's a small, quiet place, but quite lovely and fun. Add a ride on the ferry and a picnic lunch and you've got a pretty cool day. Don't tell anyone where they're headed, and it feels even more special.

And, if they don't know where they're headed, they can't complain!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sixteen Paths Diverged in the Woods

And I, I took the path of least resistance.

One convenient thing about being a blogger is that you get to create your own reality in a way. You can extremely edit your life in order to appear to the masses in the way you wish to be perceived. I try not to abuse that privilege. My blog has a theme and I aim to cast portraits of successes and failures within that theme. But always, I admit, I strive to appear more or less put together. I don't broadcast my breakdowns and most embarrassing moments or those times of utter laziness or lack of consideration that occur at least once daily in my unpublished life.

The fact of the matter is I'm living a life and then curating my posts to highlight the prouder moments of that life; or at least those moments when I'm still trying. Today, however, I don't have the energy to put my best foot forward. Today, instead, I comes to terms with my double identity. In real life, I'm kind of insane.

Me, at a more pleasant time.
I don't have photo software right now,
so had to steal from the archives.
Over the past three weeks, I have added to my overflowing plate a graduate-level online course which I thought would be easy (wrong). I have been dealing with an incredibly sick child whose needs include multiple trips to doctors and horribly uncomfortable procedures. As a result, I am doing laundry every single day and changing sheets in the middle of the night.  The picture software on my computer crashed. As a matter of fact, my whole entire computer is held together by a thread and I finally have faced the fact that I need to replace it. I have not cleaned my house in over a week and am simply averting my eyes when I enter certain rooms. Oh, and did I mention Vance is potty training right now?

So, you know what? Today there are no posts of cool art projects or creative ways to pass the days with my kids. Today there are probably more videos than I care to admit and certainly more junk food than is ordinarily permissible to me. Today I will likely be shooing my children off to play so I can complete some time-sensitive task that I irresponsibly procrastinated on. Today I'm keeping it real.

(And, for the record, I actually typed this post in advance. So really, today is probably much worse than what this post suggests!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Because City Sidewalks Are Not Dangerous Enough

I've already shared about making chalk outlines on the sidewalk, but we have one other favorite chalk-on-the-sidewalk activity that helps pass the time as we wait for dinner to cook or swim suits to dry. It's making obstacle courses.

We make spots for kids to safely walk on, and fill the spaces in between with all sorts of chalky danger. When I'm in charge, I stick to the standards: rushing river (blue scalloped lines), fire (orange and yellow spiky flames), lava (I don't know why I go with purple on this) and the occasional predatory sea creature or invented monster. The kids help out by adding their own zany obstacles: a false step that actually explodes if you step on it (it's marked with an X), a pack of angry bees, and the somewhat random, but just as potentially dangerous, scissors.

The path winds its way along the sidewalk and ends with a secret treasure which is usually drawn under our neighbor's bench.

It's fun to watch the kids bob their way through the tumultuous urban jungle. But, it's even more entertaining to hear their narration as they go.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Whose Artwork Is It, Anyway?

I was telling my friend about a recent score on fabric paint using a 50% off coupon at A.C. Moore. In response, she asked if I ever buy craft supplies under the guise of children's activities when really they're for me. I shook with guilty laughter. I hadn't thought of it like that. But in reality, it was me who wanted the fabric paint. I had a vision in my head of a painted T-shirt and basically roped my kids into being the minions of my art direction.

I forged ahead with the project, but you know what? It wasn't worth it. The kids were never really vested in the painting. And then, after three rounds of painting, they didn't even want to wear the finished products!

A lesson I've sort of learned (but will surely ignore from time to time in the future when I have an idea that simply must be realized) is that it's good to set parameters, but you've got to let the kids make their own art.

Friday, June 10, 2011


It is amazing the difference in how we live between the winter and the spring. In the winter, I try to get my kids outside as much as possible, but it's always kind of a drag. In the spring, however, we all just want to be outside every minute of the day. And it's wonderful!

We've been hitting the playground every day and playing in our yard or neighborhood when not at a park. But it's not even enough. The cool breeze is still blowing! The happy birds are still chirping! Pretty flowers are still blooming! And so we take our meals outside as well, dinners on the patio and picnic lunches. Sunshine is just so good for our spirits!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Do you ever have a moment with your kids when you think, this is a memory in the making?

 We took our kids on their first ever camping experience over the weekend. As they unrolled their sleeping bags, made s'mores and played flashlight tag, I kept picturing the scenes like faded Polaroids. For years I imagine (especially Fifi who is old enough to retain long-term memories at this point), my kids will look back and fondly remember these days. They were kind of perfect, these days. Everything smelled like earth or campfire smoke; dirt caked every pore of our bodies; and we all slept within one dark and quiet tent peacefully surrounded by the sounds and smells of nature. We all got along beautifully as we hiked and swam and smacked mosquitoes on one another's bodies. It's humbling to think I'll one day be part of very fond memories of two precious people. I hope I'm right. I hope they'll keep a snapshot of this sublime family adventure inside their heart until they can attempt to recreate the magic with their own kids. I know I will.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

To the "At" Mobile!

Fifi is four and a half and on the cusp of learning to read. Reading comprehension is my passion as a teacher, and I work with my own kids on it whenever I can. But, watching my little girl make sense of the letters on a page for the first time is a thrill I cannot measure!

She's not reading yet, but she's on her way. And of course, I am doing what I can to get her there. I've got her recognizing word families now, like the "at" family in our "At" Mobile. Once you know how to spell at, you can spell a bunch of words that rhyme with at.

Since I wanted Fifi to make pictures for her mobile, I guided her towards words that lent themselves to illustrations (cat is easy to draw; sat, a little less so). We settled on cat, hat, mat, rat and bat. It was her idea to type the words, which I thought was smart. The computer is an instant motivator and, since the mobile would sway in the breeze helping her learn for months to come, it's a good idea to have very legible words.

She loved making the mobile (it's a mobile--what's not to love?) and now thrills at pointing out other words in the 'at' family. "Mommy, we forgot 'that'!" Yeah, as if that would be easy to draw.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wait Your Turn

My kids are fairly good at taking turns, probably about as good as any pair of siblings under five who spend darn near close to every single breathing moment of their lives within ten feet of one another. They exercise the "Eeny-Meeny-Miney-Moe" strategy; they've picked straws; they've mastered "Rock, Paper, Scissors;" and, on occasion, one of them will offer to go second out of mere kindness.

The one realm of turn-taking, however, that they can't seem to master is when it comes time to wash their hands. It could be the perception that whoever washes first gets to eat first, but since neither one of them is all that fond of mealtime, I can't imagine that's the reason it's so difficult. Regardless, there have been many tears and many shoves when the dinner bell rings and the children rush to the sink-side step ladder.

Enter photographs on popsicle sticks. Problem solved. We wash hands according to whose picture is in front. After hands are washed, the pictures are rearranged for the next turn. Peace reigns!