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A Year of Trying to be a Better Mom

Birthday Cake for the President August 5, 2010

Lately Zach has been very into the idea of birthdays. The trouble is that our whole family has winter birthdays. Well, Pete’s may technically be spring, but March is still winter in my book! Last night Zach wished me a Happy Birthday. I explained to him that it wasn’t my birthday, but it was the president’s birthday and if he wanted, the next day we could make him a cake. Zach thought that was a good idea. Of course he did!

We had to go to the grocery store today for typical staples like bread and milk. I decided to keep this cake activity simple today and do store-bought. We walked down the cake aisle to pick out a mix. Hmmm. What kind of cake would the president like? Funfetti. Definitely Funfetti.

Yum. Funfetti.

Zach has done the cooking and baking thing a bunch of times. He really likes to help. So, I thought I’d try talking about some simple math with him today. I didn’t expect him to really understand at this point, but talking about it can’t hurt. So, rather than just counting the 3 eggs we put in, I asked him how many eggs we had left after each addition. So, after the first egg was added I said, “OK. We put in 1 egg. How many more do we need to make 3 eggs?” He said 2. Now, I think that was just a fluke, but hey, I congratulated him on the right answer! That’s how he learns.

Other things I talked about as we baked: where we live, the country, the leader of our country is the president, the president’s name is Barack Obama, it was Barack Obama’s birthday and that’s why we made this cake. By the end of the night if you asked him who the president was, he could say, “Brack Oh Mama!” Pretty close!

Cracking eggs, he's gotten good at this

Stirring

Nothing says "Presidential Birthday" like Funfetti cake

Once the cakes were baked is when the “Torture of the 2 1/2 Year Old” officially commenced. He wanted to eat it right away. But first, the layers had to cool completely. And then I had to frost them. And then we had to add sprinkles. And then he had to eat his dinner first before he could be allowed to eat any dessert. You’d have thought we were pulling his little fingernails out one by one they way he acted. But FINALLY it was time to eat.

I cut us each a slice and put a candle in Zach’s. And just like every birthday party he’s ever had, he began to cry hysterically. At first I thought it was because he was impatient and just wanted his cake. But now I think he might be scared of the candle! I’m not sure. We did manage to sing Happy Birthday to Barack Obama though.

What's a birthday cake without a candle?

Sobbing during the birthday song

Digging in

Now we're happy!

What did Zach learn today? Some simple math (or, at least I introduced him to the questions of simple addition and subtraction). He also learned who the president is. And patience. Oh patience. Waiting for cake is HARD. And tasting cake in all it’s stages is sensory learning (powder vs. batter vs. dry baked vs. frosted baked).

What did Mommy learn? Toddler patience is a hard-fought battle. He did surprisingly well, considering! Also, we need to figure out this birthday candle thing before his 3rd birthday!

 

Making Butter August 4, 2010

You know how when you cook a special recipe that requires ingredients like heavy whipping cream and you never use all of it? Well, I made such a recipe recently. I’ve been wondering how to use up the rest of the whipping cream before it would expire. I suppose an obvious answer would be to whip it…and make whipped cream…but I had nothing to eat whipped cream on. Though don’t think I’m above eating whipped cream by the spoonful. I mean…no, no, I never do fat-tastic things like that! Never.

Anyway, I was browsing activities to do with preschoolers and came across these instructions for how to make butter. The only required materials were whipping cream and a jar with a lid. I had all of those. Perfect!

Supplies: Whipping cream with a lidded container

Now all I had to do was pour the whipping cream into the container and shake. In about 10 minutes time, the directions said, we would have butter. And, I’m not gonna lie, these are the thoughts that went through my head, “Wow. Only 10 minutes. Why don’t people make their own butter more often?” And I was also imagining it would turn out all lovely and smooth, like a tub of Country Crock or something. Um. No.

This is what we started out with

After 10 minute of shaking, there's some butter

After 20 minutes, still has liquid in it

After 30 minutes. Dang. This is why people don't shake their own butter. It's still liquidy (though you can clearly see the butter)

And here is what Zach looked like, shaking the butter, during all of this time.

Beginning shakes, enthusiastic

After 10 minutes, a little tired out

20 minutes?? Mom...I'm all done shaking...I'll just sit here and sip my milk while you finish up. Kay?

Don’t worry, we alternated shaking turns. And while we were shaking, of course we had to sing shaking appropriate songs. Like “Shake your booty” (except I changed it to “Shake Your Butter”…clever). At the thirty minute mark I decided to call it done. We could see that there was, in fact, butter in the container. No need for a whole tub! So, we did a taste test.

Getting a small sample

Yep, tastes like butter

Then I drained the rest of the liquid and put the butter in the fridge. Maybe we’ll use it on toast tomorrow morning!

It looks like cottage cheese, but it's butter

What did Zach learn? About physical changes. Shaking up the cream churned it into butter. It was a little science experiment. I asked him what he thought the cream would do (he didn’t know, obviously). He did say it went poo poo on the potty. Um…can you tell we’ve been talking about THAT lately?? Then, as we were shaking it up, I asked him to feel the differences in how the cream felt in the container. It was pretty interesting, at about 3 or 4 minutes into shaking, I could tell we had probably produced whipped cream, the container felt much lighter and you couldn’t hear liquid sloshing around. Then after 3 or 4 more minutes, the liquid sound returned.  The fat particles from the cream were separated out from the liquid, the fat was sticking together in the butter. At least, that’s my explanation for it. Pretty neat. Oh–and tasting the butter adds a sensory experiment to the learning. We didn’t do this, but it probably would have been a good idea to taste the cream before making it into butter, to talk about the differences.

What did Mommy learn? All of the above. Plus…use a lot less cream next time! And shaking butter is hard work. THAT’S why people just buy it pre-made. Though, maybe I could whip it in my Kitchen Aid? Maybe I’ll perform a mommy science experiment some other time when I have about to expire cream to waste.

 

Recycled Paper Bag Tiger Puppet August 3, 2010

Zach, Emily, Isaac and I had some errands to run today. We were out and about during that critical hour when kids suddenly become ravenous. It’s one thing for mommy to wait for lunch, but Zach…well…his inner demon emerges within about 2 minutes of deciding he’s hungry. Now. So, I had a crucial parenting decision to make: deal with the tantrums in public, or hit a drive thru. McDonald’s it was!!!

Now, before you make a critique of Zach’s nutrition for the day; he basically ate his side of apple slices (not fries) and nothing else. The boy loves his fruit. He also drank his milk. So really, it was my wallet that hurt more than his tummy today! We won’t talk about what I had to eat (but, am I a sucker for those fries, oh boy).

Anyway. Happy Meals these days come in paper sacks. Not the nifty cardboard boxes we got as kids. When I saw the bag I thought, “Cool. A craft supply.” Yeah, how nerdy am I?

Happy Meal Sack

So I took this paper sack and turned it inside out. A blank canvas perfect for paper bag puppet making! A tiger paper bag puppet to be specific.

Happy Meal Sack turned inside out

Aside from a paper sack, here are today’s supplies:

Paper sack, black construction paper, orange construction paper (not pictured, oops), scissors, glue, googly eyes, orange paint, paint brush

I decided on this project for several reasons, besides the availability of a paper sack, that is. 1.) Zach has acquired an imaginary tiger. We pet the tiger, we watch it eat grass (apparently this tiger is a vegetarian), we make it go away when it is scary. So, I thought it would be fun to personify an animal he likes and 2.) It’s an opportunity to practice cutting with scissors, which is a fine motor skill.

First, Zach painted the paper bag. Actually, I had to BEG him to do this. He’d already spotted his new safety scissors and was semi-obsessed with wanting to cut things.

Painting the paper sack orange. Or, terra cotta, if that's the paint color you have.

While waiting for the paint to become reasonably dry, we cut stripes, whiskers, ears and a nose out for the tiger out of our black and orange construction paper.While I was holding the paper steady for him, Zach was actually surprisingly good at using the scissors. I bought a special kind that has a little plastic attachment on it that helps the scissors bounce back once he squeezes them. Once he gets the hang of the motion, I can turn the plastic part the other way and Zach can do all the cutting on his own.

Cutting the orange paper

Then Zach glued the stripes to the orange bag, to make it more tiger-like. At this point in time, Pete came home from work. Pete was astonished to see that Zach could glue and cut things and that I wasn’t doing it all for him. If my kid doesn’t learn colors or the alphabet after this year of projects, by golly, he will know how to make random stuff out of paper and glue!!

Glueing

And sticking

Of course, now that Daddy was home, Zach wanted nothing to do with craft time. Yeah, yeah. I get it. Mommy is second-fiddle to Daddy. Don’t worry. I’ll make this tiger by myself. No, really. It’s fine.

So, I finished gluing on the whiskers, nose, ears and googly eyes to make a lovely tiger puppet.

What a lovely tiger puppet

Zach did play with the puppet later though!

Rawr

What did Zach learn today? He worked on the fine motor skills of scissor usage. We also talked about colors–black and orange.

What did Mommy learn? That Zach is suddenly a skilled scissor user. Who knew? Guess all that playing with cotton balls played off!

 

Sidewalk Chalk Paint August 2, 2010

Zach loves to paint. He also love to be outside. So, when I saw this activity on No Time For Flashcards, I knew he would love it.

Doing activities outside these days takes careful planning. Since we live on the 2nd floor of our condo building, it’s not just a simple matter of stepping outdoors to get to the yard. There are stairs to navigate. And 2 babies to carry. And a toddler’s hand to hold. And supplies to bring. Just getting set up takes me 2-3 trips up and down the stairs. By now though, I’m an old pro at getting the whole kit and caboodle down to the ground level.

Here are the supplies for today.

Cornstarch, water, food coloring, brushes to paint and stir, containers to hold the paint, and a tennis ball

First, I simply poured a bit of water and a bit of cornstarch into the containers (I have no exact measurements here) and stirred until I got it to about the consistency of milk. And that’s Whole Milk, rather than Skim Milk.

While using the paintbrush to stir, Zach kept saying, "Making circles. I'm making circles."

After this (and all of my aforementioned efforts at getting downstairs), rain thwarted our plan! Drats!! Never fear, I have no problems using sidewalk chalk upstairs on the deck, dry, under our awning.

Next, I had Zach help me squirt food coloring into the mixture to color it. This requires A LOT of food coloring. And by A LOT, I mean…think red velvet cake a lot. Don’t be shy, just put food coloring on your grocery list for next week if you try this!

Zach liked this part best, he went to town adding the food coloring to the cornstarch mixture

Once the color is mixed into the cornstarch and water, it’s time to have fun. We tried “painting” with a tennis ball by soaking it in the chalk paint and bouncing it on the deck. This lasted all of 3 throws before the ball rolled off the edge of the deck and down to the yard, but it does make a cool effect. Kind of Jackson Pollock-like.

Dip the tennis ball into the chalk paint

Fresh tennis ball paint splatters

This is what they look like dry

After the loss of the tennis ball, we turned to paint brushes. Zach painted the deck and asked me to draw him pictures. We made circles, rectangles, triangles and hearts. He asked me to draw snakes. He even asked for a birdcage! Apparently, while watching Jack and the Beanstalk, the Giant keeps a golden goose in a birdcage and Zach had it on his mind.

Zach painting the deck (don't worry, rain will wash this all away, just like it does with chalk)

My repainted deck

What did Zach learn today? This project is kind of neat in all of the areas of learning it encompasses. It covers science: similar to our tie dyed milk experiment, you can talk about what happens when you mix things together. What will happen when we add cornstarch to water? The water turns white. It thickens. What will happen when you add color drops? The mixture changes color. We learned about colors. We learned about shapes (which is a building block to learning math). He got to be creative and creativity helps him have an open mind and develops problem solving skills.

What did Mommy learn? How creative Zach is getting and how he is starting to connect one activity to the next. Watching a movie translates, through his imagination, into the art and activities he does. Oh, and a tip for my friends. If you’ve just paid for an expensive manicure, wait until it wears off to do this activity. Here is what my hands looked like at the end of the day:

My dye stained hands. Don't worry, it washes.

 

Oshkosh Weekend

Over the weekend, Pete and Zach went on their 2nd Annual Father-Son Oshkosh Airventure Camping Weekend. Whew. That’s a mouthful!

They left on the road trip Friday morning and Zach was EXCITED. We had been talking about the upcoming trip by telling him he was going to go camping with Daddy, and that he was going to see airplanes, and they would be at Oshkosh. This summer, as we’ve taken our many, many road trips, Zach has started anticipating them. You can tell him he will get to do something in the future and he looks forward to it. It’s great that he can grasp this concept of forward time now.

Anyhow, they got to the campsite and set up the tent and grabbed some grub before heading out.

PB&J and a lollipop, sounds like a well balanced meal

After camp was set up, they went to see the sights. They saw:

The Ultralights

The Erickson Air-Crane Helicopter

A fireworks show

And Zach even got to sit in the cockpit of a DC-3! This plane hadn’t been flown at all in 12 years. The owners restored it in 12 weeks just to fly it to Oshkosh. For those that don’t speak “airplane” (like me), a DC-3 is one of the first mainstream airliners. This year, at Oshkosh, it was a special tribute year to the DC-3.

This, is a DC-3, in case you didn't know

Clear for take-off

Of course, my favorite picture from the weekend has got to be this one! Zach got to “fly” miniature airplanes that look like the real thing. How awesome are these? I’m thinking Christmas present :).

There are pedals that make the plane move and the propeller spin

While the boys were out having boy time in Wisconsin, the twins and I stayed at home and had some wonderful baby and mommy time. They practiced their crawling (Isaac is SO close), their sitting, and Emily tried to do backflips. Really, I think she’s happier hanging out upside down that right-side up!

After all of the things that Zach got to see and do, what did he tell me when he got home on Sunday? That there was dirt! And that he wanted to take a shower. Silly kid!

What did Zach learn this weekend? About airplanes and other aircraft. He also got some bonding time with Daddy, and that is really important. It will help build their relationship and Zach will know he can always trust his Daddy. They also built upon a tradition I hope they can carry out every year.

What did Mommy learn? Is it bad to say that it’s pretty easy with just the two babies? Two year olds can be exhausting! I sure missed him though!

 

Whoa…is it dusty in here or what? July 30, 2010

Um, hi.

I know, I know. I said I would write. I said I would write EVERY day. And I intended to do that. And then, well. You see, I got BUSY. And I bet you can hardly imagine that, as a mother of now nearly 7 month old twins and a 2 1/2 year old, I might be busy. But I was.

Sorry for neglecting you, my precious blog. Sorry for abandoning you, my handful of faithful readers! I am back. And that’s the thing about journeys right? You may get off course, but it takes just one step on the old path to get back on it again. So. Here I am.

And never to fear. I may have been too busy to write (and boy do I have the list of excuses, but I’ll spare you), but not too busy to be keeping my children busy!

To fill you in on the past almost 2 months, I’ll just do a sneak peek here. Then, as I have time, I will update these sneak peeks with posts and tutorials. But I will simply move forward as I do that, so as not to create an even FURTHER backlog as I try to catch up.

So, since we last spoke. Here is what we have been  up to.

We….

Wrote our own songs & lyrics

Went on quite a few road trips to Michigan and Minnesota

Got to ride on Grandpa's tractor

Got to see our G.G. when she came to visit

Made a fort out of blankets in the living room

Painted picture frames for all our grandpas

...and for Daddy

Painted a t-shirt for our cousin, Ethan, because it was his first birthday

Made the wrapping paper for Ethan's present

Celebrated Father's Day

Learned to use a train whistle

Went to a BBQ at Uncle Chris' and made new friends

Went out for ice cream

Flew remote control toys with Daddy (this is a helicopter)

Painted the letter D

Made a Chinese "Dragon Kite"

Made thumbprint art

Killed time at the Dr.'s office by practicing shape recognition

Made an entire orchestra's worth of paper plate and cardboard instruments, like this Paper Plate Violin

and this Paper Towel Tube Flute

and these Paper Plate Cymbals

and finally, a cardboard box "Color Piano" (I think my kid is going to be a musician one day)

Had to go in the basement and hang out because of tornado sirens

Made thunder noises with a big sheet of paper and talked about weather (so it's not so scary next time there is a big storm)

Did 4th of July themed activities like hand print fireworks with Mommy

and lit up "snakes" with Daddy (insert Mommy "eyeroll" here)

Got our first set of golf clubs at Grandma's house in Minnesota

Went to the splash park (and the beach, and played in our sprinkler, and played in our kiddie pool)

Started solids

Found our feet

Went to Aunt Ciana's graduation party in Michigan

Made an awesome race car out of a big, cardboard box

Played "house" and "restaurant" and "this is where the puppy lives" with a big, cardboard box

Painted whatever we wanted with brushes

Made scribble drawings

Played with Easter Eggs (again)

Pretended to be a puppy (a lot).

Decided that THIS is how you play with a bouncy seat (and there's no stopping us)

Started trying to CRAWL (Mommy says, "AHHHH!")

Played with textures like crinkly newspaper

Made an elevator on our living room wall

Painted with noodles. How silly!

Decided we should do things, "All by ourselves"...like put on our sunglasses.

We went to the park, and on playdates. We pretended to be puppies and frogs. We developed an imaginary tiger as a friend.We colored and painted and cooked and made things…like I said…we were BUSY.

And there you have it. Whew!

(please check back for individual posts on these projects as I get time to update them. I will link the posts to the pictures.)

 

Day 46: Nature Walk Collection June 3, 2010

Nature Walk? Girl, you live in the city.

Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re about as urban jungle as it gets. Most of our “nature” has been planted by man alongside paved streets and concrete sidewalks, in cement potters and next to railroad tracks. Here are some prime examples of “nature”, Chicago-style:

"Nature"

"Nature"

"Nature"

"Nature"

So, not much to go on. But luckily, there are some cute little green spaces that neighborhood associations plant along the way. We decided to visit one today. There is a block long garden path not far from us that we decided to walk to. This was our “nature walk”.

Garden Walk

Prior to leaving for the walk, I labeled a few envelopes with different colors. I had red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown and black. I wrote the name of the color on the front of the envelope, along with a scribble block of color underneath to show it more. I also filled in a little color on the back of the envelope at the opening.

Front of the envelope

Back of the envelope

Then on the path I let him just sort of find things. Every time he did, I asked him if he wanted to add it to our “collection”. He enthusiastically said, “Yes!” So we would sort through the envelopes to find the one that matched whatever we were looking at and we would put it in. My only rule, since this was a planted garden, was that the object had to have fallen to the ground already. We couldn’t pick it. Unless it was a dandelion, I’m pretty sure they don’t care about those!

Our first encounter was with a butterfly! A black, orange and white butterfly. Zach spotted it right away. The little creature did us a favor and didn’t fly off when we stopped to admire it. Zach bent over it and said, “Hi butterfly. You’re cute. Cuuuuuuute. Cuuuuuuuute.” He says the same thing to the babies, pretty funny!

"Cuuuute, cuuuuute" Butterfly

Close up

After that he would walk along the path and find things. We’d see what color envelope it matched and we’d put it in.

Feeling the needles of a pine tree, he said it felt like a broom. He's right.

Green pine needles

Brown stick

Oh snap! Mommy didn't make a white envelope. Oops.

As for other wildlife, we saw:

A bee

Another butterfly, this one was actually really pretty on the front side, a nice bright blue. But it flew away too fast for me to get a front pic of it, so here is the back.

Bird

We also saw a cool dragonfly (and some other bugs), but he was too fast for me to take a picture of. At the end of the walk we had collected enough stuff to fill most of our envelopes, only blue and black remained empty. But since the butterflies covered those colors, we certainly found them, we just couldn’t take them with us.

Our nature collection

What did Zach learn today? To observe and appreciate nature (at least the nature in our surroundings). We encountered and observed some wildlife. We also talked about colors, though I didn’t push them on him, I just sort of suggested.

What did Mommy learn today? I didn’t press the lesson today, I planned on it, but I just let it happen. I didn’t ask him what the colors were, but was sure to point them out. He’s been really resisting questions lately, so I let them go. This seemed to work better.

 

 
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