Wednesday, October 29, 2008

some dancing skeletons for Annie

I know, two posts in one day and they're pretty heavy on the photos too. But, Anne, you asked for more cute crafts and are these not the cutest skeletons you've ever seen? I had to get this out stat because it's timeliness will expire in three short days hence the two posts right on top of each other. Enough rambling, lets get to it.
You'll need black paper, white paper, cotton swabs (does anyone call them that or does everyone just call them Qtips?), a black marker or crayon and glue. Cut out small skull shaped heads from the white paper ahead of time and cut several cotton swabs in half. I cut four cotton swabs for each child. They also used five whole swabs too. You can then model it step by step as I did for the four preschoolers I had that day or just let them go at it. I started with having them make a face on the skull and glueing that down first. Make sure the skull is way up near the top. That way you know there will be enough room for the rest of the skeleton. I then moved on to the body, the arms, legs and finally hands, feet and ribs.

We didn't begin with the intent to have them look like they're dancing but that's exactly what they look like they're doing. I didn't know skeletons could look so sweet and funny.

there's a new sheriff in town

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Kids love to pretend and my three are no exception. They act out stories they've made up featuring their favorite characters or they use little action figures and dolls to act out their dramatics. I remade the upstairs bathroom into a dramatic play nirvana. I hung hooks on the wall for fancy dresses or pirate garb and hung a shoe organizer from a towel rod for all those ridiculous plastic high heels, hung a basket hanger from the ceiling for hats and have baskets and bins filled with swords, cutlasses, wands, glasses, costume jewelry and crowns. The kids disappear upstairs and enter the bathroom and when they emerge they are no longer my Sam, Teresa or Katie. They are Redbeard the Pirate, Cinderella, a Wildcats cheerleader, Harry Potter or the Fairy Godmother.

Then the real fun begins, creating and playing out their stories. When I'm not an integral part of the pretend play (Mum, you be the evil witch...Mumma, you can be the ugly old troll) I love to eavesdrop on them as they play together. There is so much conversation betweeen them and it always gets interesting when they mix things up. For instance, just the other day, Harry Potter and Sleeping Beauty were on a mission with a Pink Power Ranger to rescue a hapless kitty from doom. Unfortunately the hapless feline in question was really not very cooperative. He prefered attacking his rescuers which caused both shrieks of laughter and frustration. Today Teresa pulled out dresses, crowns, tiaras, costume jewelry and fancy vests and began directing her brother and sister into costumes and their parts. Sam was the Prince and Teresa took on the role of the lovely Princess. Katie piped up, "What am I going to be?" To which Teresa answered, " can be the minion."

I feel your pain Katie. When I was little my sisters and I played beauty parlor. One would be the stylist and another would be the lucky customer. And me...I always had to be the receptionist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

two fun and easy fall art projects

Finger painted fall trees

The first project involves paint and little fingers and hands so it pays to be very well prepared. I have wet paper towels, paints, paper and paintbrushes all ready to go before I even sit the kids down at the table. Kids who are over 3 can do most of this themselves but I help the little ones by painting their arms myself. Also I will let the older kids do this together but can only handle one toddler at a time with this project. You will need a white piece of construction paper, red, yellow, orange and brown paint, paintbrushes, small tray or paper plate and lots of wet paper towels or a wet washcloth. So here we go!

Paint or have the child paint her forearm and hand brown and then make a print by putting it down onto their paper and patting it down. It helps to say "pat! pat! pat!" when you do this...honest. Wipe the arm and hand down before moving on to the next step.
Then on a small tray or paper plate squeeze some red, orange and yellow paint and let the kids go to town. One of the kids used a paintbrush to brush paint on her hand but they can also just put their hands in the paint and make prints all over the brown hand print already on the paper. This gets very messy. I will often just take the shirts off the kids. I find it easier to wipe them down than smocks. But to each his own, smocks work just as well.

When the child is done painting wipe hands down and body and table and chair and any other surface within reach. And voila! a beautiful fall tree to enjoy year round made with your little one's own two hands.
Tissue paper collage

This project is so simple and actually really very pretty. I promise. You will need clear contact paper and yellow, red and orange tissue paper. And that is it. Simple, I tell you. Again, advance prep makes all the difference between an enjoyable craft time and the most stressful 30 minutes ever known to mankind. I cut squares of contact paper; enough so each child will have two pieces. You will also need to either cut the tissue paper into small pieces or tear the tissue paper into small pieces. The kids LOVE tearing the paper for you so put them to work. First peel the backing from one piece of contact paper and lay it on the table in front of each child.

Then put small piles of tissue paper beside everyone and be prepared for at least 20 minutes of quiet. Seriously...this project never fails to suck them right in. I did have to model for the little ones (1 1/2 years) but after watching me do it once or twice they got the idea lickity split.

When all the tissue paper is gone...because they won't stop until it is...peel the backing off the second piece of contact paper and layer it on top of the tissued papered piece. I promised easy and I deliver and see how pretty these look when hanging in the window!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

cranberry harvest

Fall is probably my favorite season of all. There is so much about it that I love. The sunny days seem sunnier because the air is so crisp. The colors seem brighter. I adore catching the smell of woodsmoke in the night air. The foods of autumn are hard to beat. They are what we call comfort foods; apple pies, breads and soups and stews that have simmered all day. But one of my very favorite of autumn's gifts is the cranberry harvest. I grew up around cranberry bogs. I learned to ice skate on them when they were frozen over. My parents put us up on the old double bladed skates when we were small or pulled us on a sled. We always thought the bog owners were big meanies when they sanded them. Obviously we didn't realize the sand was a necessary part of the growing process. I fell through the ice a few times, right into the watery ditch. Thank god the water's not deep and the bogs weren't all that far from home. While the winter time frolics on the ice are fun, there is nothing that compares to the harvest. I remember being on the school bus as it wound it's way round the towns collecting up the children and coming round a corner and having to catch my breath when we all of a sudden came upon a bog being harvested. The greens and golds of the trees, the blue blue of the water and the bright crimson red of the berries is breathtaking. Even as a child, I got that feeling of awe upon seeing it.

I still catch my breath when I see the cranberry harvest. I think I always will.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

in stitches

I was thinking today it was about time for me to make Katie a quilt. I learned to quilt shortly after I got married. I took an adult learning class at the local high school and ended up loving it. The instructor promised we'd all finish a four block wall hanging by the end of the class. I actually finished a queen sized quilt during the 8 week course. Now I'm not bragging. My quilt is FULL of mistakes and would never be considered a work of art. But I love it so much. When I'm sick or feeling down I like to wrap myself up in it and hibernate. It's full of bright beautiful colors and the traditional pattern is lively. It never fails to give me a boost when I need it.
I've made several more since then. My Mom and I made one together for my brother's son. It was a baby quilt and went together so quickly. It's so satisfying to take these little scraps of fabric and with a little thread create something so useful. My nephew, who's almost nine, came up this summer and I noticed he had his little quilt wrapped around him in the car when they were leaving. I'm such a dork because I kind of teared up a bit knowing he still cherishes that simple little quilt we made him. I made my sister a quilt next. It seemed to take forever. I tried to be a bit more exacting and actually did blocks over because they weren't good enough. When I finished I had a basket full of mistake ridden blocks...the ones that didn't make the cut. I couldn't bear to throw them away even if they weren't all that good so I sewed them up into a quilt and threw it into our spare blanket stash. This humble quilt, made from leftovers, is my kids favorite. When they're sick, that's the quilt they want. When they camp out in the living room or make up a bed on the couch on a rainy day that's the quilt they choose. I asked Sam why he loves it so much and he said the colors are happy. Teresa told me she loves the flowers. Again, here I am being dorky, but I have beautiful quilts I purchased in the same basket and it touches something in me that they choose the one I made.

Of course, I made Sam a quilt. I started it when he was a newborn. I didn't finish it until he was three. My start to finish time definitely suffered after having children. Again, it's nothing a true quilter would brag about, but just seeing it brings me back to the days of being a brand new mom and that there is priceless.

Sam sleeps beneath it as soon as the nights get chilly. Teresa has one too. I didn't start her's until she was nearly three and I just finished it this past January. I remember working on it one day just after she turned five and as she sat with me, rubbing the fabric between her fingers, she said forlornly "someday...someday I'll get to use it." She loves her quilt. She helped me pick out the dozen plus flannel fabrics that went into it and boy oh boy is it ever loud. It's full of polka dots, fairies, princesses, flowers, rainbows and it screams girl. I adore that I can look at it and see who Teresa is because what she loves is all right there.
So now I am ready to start a quilt for Katie. I want to continue the star motif I have in both Sam's and Teresa's. Why stars? Because...I tell the kids I wished upon a star for them and they are my wishes come true. But I don't want to do one the same as either Sam's or Teresa's so I have a little research to do. Since it was so much fun letting Teresa in on the process of her quilt I know I'll be taking Kate to the fabric store with me to choose fabrics too. This will be the perfect winter project. I'll be sure to take pictures and post them to document it's progress. I just hope you're in the for long haul...because when I say winter's project, I don't just meant this winter.


Friday, October 10, 2008

candy for sale...going once...going twice...

Teresa asked me tonight if we could sell candy on Halloween. HUH? I had no idea what she was getting at. She gave one of those exasperated sighs and said, "you know, some people sell candy at their doors. We always go around and buy candy...can we sell some this year?"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

no one said it was going to be easy

I've been avoiding writing about this because I guess I was hoping the whole thing would just go away. Unfortunately life doesn't work like that. At open house a few weeks back Sam's teacher told me "We need to chat." and she raised her eyebrows and gave me THAT look. I immediately felt my stomach sink and my throat tighten and all the alarm bells started ringing. Over the next week I had to continually talk myself down from the edge of panic. It couldn't be all that bad. It wasn't like she needed to talk to me ASAP. She wasn't calling me every day to discuss his behaviour. So it couldn't be all that bad. Right?

We got together to chat last week. She didn't tell me anything I haven't heard before; immature, social issues, easily frustrated, trouble working independently, some crying, stimming, impulsive. Funny how having heard it before doesn't make hearing it again any easier. She has worked extensively with special needs students and I am very grateful for that because she is more than willing to make the small accommodations that can help Sam with some of his challenges. But as we talked, she agreed that some things are just who he is and will not change.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do not want to change my son. I love him for who he is. I accept him for who he is. He is sweet and thoughtful and sensitive and kind. He's a kid who worries about tidal waves and volcanoes and yet, is utterly fascinated with them. He plays soccer, basketball and baseball, and none of them very well. But he adores being part of a team and works hard to improve his skills. He's the boy on the team who stops chasing after the ball to help someone who fell. He is all heart. And God! it just breaks my heart that things can't be easy for him.

But what do I do? I don't necessarily want to make him fit in. I just want to make sure he feels accepted and loved for who he is after he walks out our door. How do I do that? We've been cultivating friendships with children. But he needs more than that. I need to teach him to interpret social cues appropriately. I need to help him understand why the other kids do what they do and reassure him that they're not bad kids. Even though he interacts with the best of motives and intentions, he doesn't think others are doing them same, even if they are. He is viewing interactions and comments with and from other children as if they are bad and are being mean. And, lets be honest, he is basing this on past experience. However, he can't go through life with a negative perspective. How do I reverse this belief that the other kids are just plain mean? I think its going to be one of those things that we will constantly be reinforcing and we won't see huge gains but progress will have to be measured in minute baby steps. His teacher was very honest and admitted that she did not think there was much the school system could do to help him with the challenges he faces. I talked with our pediatrician and he echoed this. Kids like Sam, they just seem to fall into this huge gray area. His academics are fine so school doesn't care. He's healthy so there's nothing for the doctor to treat. But he could be headed for a crash. I'm desperately trying to come up with ways to prevent this, without making him into someone he's not.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

With friends like these...

A few days ago my friend gifted me with a loaf of Amish Friendship bread...and a ziploc bag filled with bubbling goo. I devoured the loaf of bread. It was sweet and had crystallized sugar and cinnamon and it was delicious. It was then I turned my attention to the bag of goo. Which, I almost forgot to mention, came with directions. Apparently the whole idea of the friendship bread is to give a friend some bread, as well as a bag of starter to make their own loaves and extra bags of starter to bestow upon friends. As I read the very precise directions I started to feel a little anxious.

Day 1: mush the bag
Day 2: mush the bag
Day 3: mush the bag
Day 4: mush the bag
Day 5: mush the bag
Day 6: Add to the bag: 1 c flour, 1 c sugar, 1 c milk then mush the bag
Day 7: mush the bag
Day 8 mush the bag
Day 9: mush the bag
Day 10: follow directions below

and the actual directions to make the actual loaf of bread followed.

The reason I began to fret, you ask. Well, I couldn't quite remember which day it was I received my loaf and bag of goo. I had it to narrowed to one of two days but not sure exactly which. Do you think it would make a whole lot of difference if the goo ferments one day too long or one day too little? Hmmmm. So I made a decision and marked my paper with what I believed to be day one and started to mush the bag. Was it okay to mush it for just a minute or do I need to mush it for a longer time. What is the proper length of time to mush this stuff? The Amish really need to lay these things out for anal compulsive people like me. I continued to mush the bag each day and then I really effed up.

I forgot to add the flour, milk and sugar on day 6 so I added it on day 7. I mean, seriously, this stuff is fermenting on my counter, can one day change things all that much??? Do you think? Mushing, mushing, mushing for another few days and then I go on to actually make the loaves of bread. I mix and bake them up and they come out looking pretty good.

I can't give both away though because what if they're disgusting because I screwed up the oh so complicated mushing instructions? So I tried one and deemed it just fine, but as I chewed insidious little thoughts ran through my brain. The starter that made this bread could be years, even decades, old. 10 year old flour, milk and sugar that's been fermenting and bubbling on kitchen counters all over the country. How do I know how clean someones hands were that mushed and mixed. And fermented milk. I throw away milk that is old, I don't consume it! How does something that really should kill me with food poisoning taste so good? And what if I ruined the starter because I didn't follow the instructions to the letter. Should I throw it away? That seems akin to breaking one of those email prayer chains. You know the ones that tell me God will curse me for all eternity if I don't send it, within 7 seconds of reading it, to 27 of my closest friends. The Amish are a religious group after all. Do I give the starter to three friends or keep them all myself. I could give them away and pretend to my friends that the starter is just fine and dandy, no need to worry that I may be LYING about which day it is really on. And that gets me thinking too. How do I know someone, like myself, didn't make the same mistakes I did or worse? I could have started with screwed up goo. After exhausting that tangent I start to explore the possibility of keeping all the goo myself and I see myself drowning in bags of bubbling fermenting goo and spending hours upon hours mushing the bags and keeping track of which bags are on which day and the bags just growing exponentially until I have more bags of goo than I could ever, ever give away. And that's when I needed to step away from the friendship goo and take some deep cleansing breathes.
So here I am, still in a quandary, mushing my bags of goo and trying to figure out which friends I should delight with a gift that lets them know just how very much I love them.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

cooking with kids: part two

(she's not making a yuck! face...she's demonstrating the "you don't lick the food" rule)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

this crisis isn't specifically addressed in the parenting books

I had to console Sam this evening because he was desolate that he had lost his best friend. He came down after bedtime sobbing. He told me in a jerky breathless voice that his friend wouldn't talk to him anymore. He told a tale of woe, detailing his pleas to his friend to please talk and his friend's cold reception and complete silence. And you know what I wanted to do? The whole time I was rubbing his back and murmuring words of encouragement and support. Laugh. Laugh till you cry kind of laugh. Holding your sides and hollering "stop! stop!" kind of laugh. His friend, the one that will no longer talk to him? It's a small stuffed dinosaur that he sleeps with. I control him buddy, if you want him to talk, just do it.

Just in case you're wondering, I ended up doing the dinosaur's silly squeaky voice myself and the offender apologized and they made up and Sam headed back up to bed a happy boy. As for me, I am still giggling.