Friday, September 28, 2007

Week of Wonders in Review

Last week I wrote about wanting to bring more structure to our days and weeks. This week we tried to implement the plan, and I'm happy to say we were successful! I loved having a predetermined direction to follow, and even though some of these activities did not take more than 30 minutes, it was enough to give us all a sense of accomplishment and fun that then permeated throughout the rest of the day. The planned outings were also a good way to force myself to get out... sometimes the thought of leaving the house with two kids is overwhelming so I avoid it. But somehow this week it was all painless, and the more I do it the easier it will get I'm sure. Here's what we did.

Making Marvels Monday Mornings
: We made paper garlands

On the Move with Mama Monday Afternoons: We visited the Long Branch Nature Center and Trail, which we have driven by a thousand times and never stopped at. The center was closed but we explored the trail and creak and fell in love. It's a new favorite place!

Yummy in my Tummy Tuesdays: We made red and blue popsicles using a bag of frozen berries and honey.

Wonderful Words Wednesdays: We visited the library and discovered the adorable Little Rabbit series of books.

Thumping in the Park Thursdays: We were not able to thump in the park because it looked like it might thunderstorm. Instead, we thumped around the backyard and played with a new hula hoop until the rain came.

Fooling Around with Friends Fridays: We visited my sister and her boys Alex and Nico. We are so lucky to have them just five minutes away. They have a beautiful collection of "boy toys" like trains, ships and cars that Sabrina always enjoys. We also had lots of yummy snacks and Sabrina got some fun presents to celebrate her entrance into the world of academia. But the best part was 20-month-old Nico pointing at Cassandra with his chubby little finger and saying "Baby CC" for the first time!

Books About the Nation's Capital

There aren't very many good children's books set in Washington, DC, so I thought I'd point these two out for those who live in and around the city. Call Me Madame President by Sue Pyatt, who also happens to be the owner of the local toystore Kinder Haus Toys, is a clever rhyming story about a little girl who dreams about being President of the United States. You Can't Take a Balloon into the National Gallery by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman is a wordless picture book about a big orange balloon that travels all over the city on a tour of monuments and even the White House. Both books feature very detailed illustrations that yield surprises with every new reading. Sabrina really enjoys the books and gets a big kick out of seeing familiar things on the page or coming across something in real life she first discovered in the books.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Uses for Crayons

I've been getting lost in the blogosphere looking for great kid-related blogs for about a year now and thought I had them all on my radar, then sudden, happy day, I find a new treasure. How could I have missed scrumdilly-do? Not sure, but it is a wonderful blog full of craft and activity ideas with step-by-step instructions and pictures.

The two talented women behind the blog come up with fun and unique crafts sure to please children of all ages and their parents. I love that they use very basic materials we all already have--crayons, tempera paints, paper plates. And they are able to come up with fun new ways to use things kids might have tired of. For example, crayons take on a new life with these neat tricks. Plus, these ladies cook, do book reviews, and have lots of insights to inspire us mamas. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back to School Night

In the Reggio Emilia Atelier

Back to School night was yesterday and I could not sleep afterwards from excitement and all the ideas buzzing through my head... and the sugar in my blood too I suppose since lots of treats were served. It was so great to spend some time in the space that Sabrina inhabits three days a week. I could see little things she has mentioned about the school and learn more about how her days are spent. Here are some things from the evening that really make me happy:

*The parents in our classroom decided to take turns making sure the classroom always has fresh flowers, so we'll be bringing flowers once a week. When possible we've said the children would be involved in picking or selecting the flowers so they can take pride in contributing to the beauty of the room.

*The school provides snack (it often ties in to stuff they are learning), but we also will take turns bringing a snack once a week. We agreed it has to have input from the child, so a baking project, or something the child helped assemble. Again, we want it to be something the child can talk about and feel proud of.

*The school has a dedicated art studio or "atelier," in Reggio Emilia speak, that is chock full of fabulous materials. The art teacher takes children in just a few at a time so she can really guide them in exploring techniques. You should see some of the stuff these three- and four- year-olds make. The art teacher talked about how she tells the children to have "courage" when they are creating art. Wonderful and inspiring advice.

*The hallways and classrooms are covered in the children's art, self-portraits, collages, mobiles. It's magical.

*One of the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach is documenting the children's art, activities, play and work so as to validate their acts and interests and to communicate with parents. The teachers photograph the children and put the pictures all over the room the very next day. They put the pictures up where the activity took place so next to the blocks are pictures of the children building with blocks, in the reading nook are photos of the children reading etc.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Paper Garland Project

We did it! This was as fun and easy as I had anticipated. Using construction paper, a gardening catalog and some hemp twine, we made this garland inspired by so*sage. We used one staple to secure the circles together and another to secure the twine. Then we taped small circles over the staples to finish off the piece. A tip: Sabrina got impatient with all the time I spent cutting the circles so next time I think I will precut the colored circles without her but let her select the images she wants because she really enjoyed looking at all the flowers and selecting her favorites.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Crafty Flower Centerpiece

big wood beads
wood craft sticks
two small vases
two pretty hands
fun flowers for the dinner table

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cuisine Chic

I'm looking for matching aprons for us to wear on Yummy in my Tummy Tuesdays and whenever else Sabrina helps me in the kitchen. Cooking, and especially baking, is definitely a favorite activity and she's always very proud of the results. I also find she eats her dinner better lately if she's helped prepare it.

But I'm coming across only a few apron styles available in both adult and kid sizes that I like. This is when I really wish I were more skilled with needle and thread so I could make something
like the talented and stylish mom behind shimandsons. I'd make mommy, preschool and baby (and maybe daddy if he went for it!) aprons so we could all match!

I like these cupcake cuties in mommy and kid versions.

These Route 66 aprons are fun and I love the pockets.
Mimi the Sardine carries fun and practical aprons in oilcloth fabric, but I just got tablecloths and bibs from there and would like to explore other options.

Traditional smocks: lovely, reversible, great coverage.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Week of Wonders

There's lots a parent can learn from the way preschools structure children's days and weeks. For example, at Sabrina's school many of the activities have fun little titles like "Dee's Delights" named after the teacher who guides the children in delightful activities such as baking, gardening or crafting every Thursday.

Inspired by this, I've been thinking of assigning particular activities to each day of the week at home too. This would help me get more organized with getting materials and setting the stage ahead of time and give Sabrina something to look forward to each day. By the time I get this system down, CC will be ready to participate too, although I absolutely believe that she already gets a lot out of seeing and hearing all the activity around her.

I'm a stay-at-home mom on Mondays and in the afternoons Tuesday through Friday, so here are some goofy names I've come up with for the structured part of this time. I've picked things I know Sabrina really enjoys so we have something proven to be a hit to anchor each day. The rest of the time we'll be lounging around, cuddling, dancing, reading, playing and everything else that does not need a name.

Making Marvels Monday Mornings: arts and crafts activities

On the Move with Mama Monday Afternoons: discovering new places and visiting old favorites

Yummy in my Tummy Tuesdays: cooking and baking

Wonderful Words Wednesdays: this has been on the calendar since Sabrina was 18 months old; on Wednesdays we go to the library

Thumping in the Park Thursdays: Sabrina used to go to the park almost every day before preschool, so want to make sure she still gets to go regularly

Fooling Around with Friends Fridays: invite friends and family over in the afternoon or evening, or go visit with someone

Is this too much? And I mean too much in an alrighty now, let's not get carried away kind of way... Well, we'll see. I'm going to try to start this schedule next week, so stay tuned for updates on how we do. Also, would love to hear about any other ideas on ways to structure the week.

Image of t-shirts found via HipHipUK.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Planning a Trip?

Map of Barcelona by Frederique Daubal

I love Bugaboo's daytrips feature with its gorgeous maps by a variety of artists and carefully edited list of places to visit with kids. If you're going to any of the locations covered make sure you download the map and information. That way your little ones won't miss out on visiting Barcelona's Chocolate Museum or Dublin's Phoenix Park, one of James' Joyce's favorite places and now home to a playground.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Paper Garlands

These garlands by so*sage are so*beautiful I just want to string my entire home with them! I've got the shop bookmarked and am itching to hit the purchase button and get my handmade with joy (as the tagline promises) beauties sent in from Paris. These works are also inspiring me to try something similar as a craft project with Sabrina. We'd probably use construction paper, scraps of wrapping paper, some old books that are on their way out. I'm sure we wouldn't achieve anything as lovely as so*sage's pieces but it seems like a wonderful way to fill the afternoon with color and fun.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Cassandra, or CC as we call her, is nearly five months old and we are just now getting around to sending out her "birth announcement." The truth is, it seemed a little strange to announce her arrival since everyone in our world learned about her birth via email about five hours after it happened. Plus, by now anyone who cares to look has seen hundreds of photos of her and the rest of us on flickr. Welcome to the modern age.

But we knew we had to send something out or our slacking would come back to haunt us when CC realized 10 years from now that Sabrina had had a birth announcement. So we thought of this mailing as more of a memento for friends and family and decided on a mosaic photo montage of CC as she has grown in the months since her birth. We designed the mosaic on Big Huge Labs and ordered the cards from We LOVE them. They're simple, cool, printed on very good quality matte paper, and--lucky for all those families whose stainless steel fridges won't support magnets-- fold to stand on their own.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Preschool Day 3

I promise I'll only do the preschool blow-by-blow this first week. You will not have to read about Sabrina's entire career as a preschooler. It's just such a big deal! This morning we had more tears and a request to be left in the book nook with the purple lizard. In general, there was lot more crying from all the children today. It seemed like everywhere you looked someone was clinging to a parent and weeping.

While Sabrina was at school doing preschool things, I counted the minutes until pickup time. I wasn't even able to have some fun alone time with Cassandra because she was fast asleep. Instead I busied myself tidying and organizing Sabrina's room... it won't stay neat for long with the weekend coming up! I also delighted in little things around the house that are her doing, like a cluster of smiley face stickers in my study.

I got started on the school days book that I mentioned before. After going back and forth on what type of format I wanted (scrapbook, album, notebook, even considered starting a blog...) I settled on a classic desk planner. I love the simplicity of this Swedish one by Burde. Because school is only three days a week there's plenty of space for pictures and decorations. I got a star stamp so Sabrina can assign "stars" to her days, or simply have fun adding some stars to the pages. I plan to rip out all the pages that are irrelevant and that way the book won't get too bulky with the things we paste in.

I got to school early again. I had this awful vision of being late and Sabrina's searching eyes looking for me as her classmates get picked up. The children were in the playground and I could see Sabrina on the monkey bars , face to face with another girl, laughing and swinging her legs around. She was as pleased as I've ever seen her, and I could tell that at that moment she had everything she needed to be happy. What an amazing thing it is to see your child outside of yourself.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Preschool Day 2

Today was Sabrina's first real day at preschool. Separation anxiety set in for the whole family starting first thing in the morning and nobody had an appetite for breakfast. Then there were tears when it came time to say goodbye and for a little while I was crazy stalking mom going around the building to peek in through the classroom window. Then Patrick and I sat at a nearby coffee shop talking about Sabrina and waiting for pick up time. We were the first ones outside the door, 15 minutes early.

But all's well that ends well. We got a lovely report from the teachers and, after a long nap, from Sabrina too.

the bunny

the crackers

the stairs

the lizard

the glue

the sparkles

the bicycle room

the children

the little room

the sand

She fluttered from topic to topic and she's still talking about it upstairs with Patrick as I write.

Of course we spoiled her for the rest for the day. We showered her with a lollipop, flowers, a new book (D.W.'s Guide to Preschool) and the Ashley Goldberg print. She got her favorite dinner (pasta and meat sauce) and raspberry sherbet with a sugar cone for desert. She stayed up late and we read twice the number of books we usually do. If we can keep up this level of coddling I think she'll be ok with staying in preschool!

Preschool Day 1

Day 1 of preschool was a short morning with parents, so all fun and games. Sabrina loved it, and as was to be expected dove right into all the art supplies and play kitchen. In a little over an hour she…

painted two red circles

painted two red smiley circles

painted two other smiles on the circles meant for hand prints

wrote her name

made a big drawing of a "sun on a rainy day and lots of clouds
in the sky"

made a circle collage with paint and sequins

served dinner to the happy lizards

served all kinds of fruit to the baby dolls

gave two banana treats to her mommy and daddy

read a few books in the cozy reading nook

adopted the fuzzy purple lizard

filled a teapot with sand and served it to all the
baby dolls (oopsie)

talked a little to a girl named Natalie who has an older sister
also named Sabrina

used scissors to cut playdoh

got her school t-shirt and bag

drank from the water fountain twice

washed her hands twice…

What on earth will she do when she's there for four hours?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Poetry for All

Illustration by Brandon Reese

I love the Poetry Foundation's interactive poetry tool. It allows you to search for poems using all kinds of criteria such as age and topic. Very helpful if you're looking for the perfect poem for a birthday or celebration. School days are on my mind... so I looked up poems about school. Did you know there's more to Mary Had a Little Lamb than the four lines we all recite? It's a charming little poem about school, friendship and love!

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about
Till Mary did appear.

Why does the lamb love Mary so?
The eager children cry;
Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,
The teacher did reply.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Happiness is having your very own umbrella.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mis en Place

Ingredients for brownies

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of baking with my mother and grandmother. Yet I haven't grown up to be much of a baker. I lack confidence and find baking quite stressful, which, I've been told by those who love baking, it should be absolutely the opposite of. Me, I check and double check the ingredients and measurements because on more than one occasion I've left something key out or measured 1/2 a cup instead of 1/2 teaspoon. Adding the diversion of a child's help makes for both a bad experience and bad cake.

But of course I want my children to have wonderful memories of us baking together, so during nap time, with no distractions, I focus on measuring, counting and prepping. I assemble my work tools and ingredients like they do on TV, everything neatly lined up and sorted into bowls and cups. Enter little pastry chef Sabrina, refreshed from her nap, ready to exercise her wonderful pouring, mixing and finger dipping talents.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

We Love Saturday Birthdays

Banner made with letters printed from flickr

Our handsome Mr. Good + Happy Day gets ready
to blow out his candle.

Making treats for daddy.

Releasing balloons and wishes, a new tradition
inspired by the nienie dialogues.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Giving Tree

When Sabina turned one we planted a young crabapple tree, which blooms with pretty dark pink flowers right at the end of April for her birthday. In the summer it grows shiny little red crabapples, a bit tart but fun to pick for Sabrina. The tree is still small enough that she can reach up and pull them right off. I don't think she ever goes to the backyard without connecting with her tree. It's the best gift ever.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Life Inspires Art, Art Inspires Life

I love witnessing how parenthood transforms artists' work, especially the work of artists I knew and loved before they and I became parents... it's like we're traveling this path together. One of my favorite artists is Nikki McClure... she is in fact a family favorite. Her images of celebration, work and community pepper our home in the form of books, calendars, prints and cards, inspiring us to live a better life. McClure's pregnancy and passage into motherhood are reflected in much of her more recent art. I find she really captures the magic of childhood and family life and depicts the simple, sweet, yet profoundly meaningful life so many of us strive for.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Food for Play

Pizza from mahar drygoods

I love the new trend in play food that plush you has documented so beautifully. Seems like wood is out and textile food is in. So fun... and very tempting. Too bad we've already invested in a lot of very nice wooden play food, and Sabrina makes pretend food out of all kinds of things--sand (it's dough), play jewelry (it's pasta), crumbled up tissue paper (it's fruit), and rolled up socks (it's cupcakes). In that spirit, I love these ideas from kids craft weekly for making your own pretend food. Great activity and then you get to play with it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Children's Watercolors

It annoys me to no end that so many children's art materials are of poor quality. Don't get me started on thin paper and those skimpy plastic brushes that come with paint sets. Because I paint in watercolor I'm particularly picky about watercolor materials. Really, unless they have a good brush and nice absorbent paper kids don't stand a chance with watercolors. Of course buying real artists' materials can get expensive and young children probably wouldn't do well with mixing color from tubes. But after some trial and error (and a few times succumbing to giving Sabrina my $3/sheet paper) we found readily available and relatively inexpensive materials.

We like Melissa and Doug's deluxe watercolor set, which includes a nice assortment of colors that dilute well and stand up to repeated soaks. Something I've noticed people often don't know is that you should pre-moisten the paint cakes before giving them to your child. A drop of water in each color is enough.

Alex toys makes the best kids' watercolor paper--it's actually better quality than any of the middle-range papers at art supply stores.

When it comes to brushes, just buy the real thing. They aren't cheap, but if you wash (get synthetic hair for easier cleaning) and dry them well after use they should last into your kids' teens.

And now that your little artists are all set for watercolor bliss, here are some fun ideas to try.