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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!

 

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 39: Cherry Vanilla Cupcakes May 27, 2010

Filed under: baking,cooking,counting,friends — Erin Brambilla @ 10:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

On my last trip to the grocery store I decided to add a few different fruits to our usual list. Apples, bananas and grapes get kind of old! So, in addition to apples and bananas, I added cherries and pineapple. YUM. Both are a lot of work, all that pitting and coring and tough skin removal, but worth it! The downside though, is that there are A LOT of cherries in that bag. Like, a lot a lot, ya know? And we have no hope of eating all of them before they spoil. Today I came up with a solution–bake with them. Duh!

Zach, Emily, Isaac and I went to the park for a playdate with some friends. As we were leaving today, I was discussing our weekend BBQ plans with one of them. Upon asking, she suggested that I might bring a dessert or a side dish. Her 3-year-old piped up that I should definitely bring a dessert. How could I argue with that? After promising that I would bring some cupcakes, we all went home.

After Zach finished a marathon of a nap and we had dinner, we baked some Cherry Vanilla Cupcakes together. I’ve never made them before, so prior to feeding them to other people, I decided to test the recipe.

I used THIS recipe.

First of all, look at all of these cherries! Cherries for the cake. Cherries for the frosting. And cherries for the garnish. Cherries. There. I just wanted to say cherries one more time.

Lots of cherries

Then we dumped the ingredients.

Dumping the flour, we counted 8 "dumps" (or 2 cups by 1/4 cup scoops)

Then we stirred them.

He always says, "Stir, stir, stir" as he does this

Then we lick the beater.

Pretty much the entire reason he is so excited to bake with me

Don’t worry. We were done with the beater. Toddler spit will not be an ingredient in these cakes.

Then, we bake. Then, we eat.

Yum!

What did Zach learn today? Nothing new really. Though as always we like to count, count, count while we bake.

What did Mommy learn? Pitting up 30 some cherries is a lot of work.

Verdict on the recipe? It was good. Though I decided not to make the icing. Basically, to me, they were more muffin-like than cake-like. Probably because they are dubbed a “healthy” cupcake recipe. I will more than likely make a more traditional vanilla cupcake batter and just fold in cherries for the real deal. Though, these do make delicious “muffin-cakes”. You know what that means, right?? I’ll be eating one for breakfast tomorrow!

 

Day 38: Easter Eggs May 26, 2010

Say Wha??? Hold on, let me check my calendar.Yep. May 26th. Wednesday. NOT Easter. But why should Easter Sunday get to hog all the fun of these plastic little gems (that sit in my cupboard the other 364 days a year)?

I mean, look at what you can do with them.

You can put them in water and catch them with your net:

You can group them by color:

You can make them sink by pouring water into them:

You can push them around and roll them:

You can sit in a tiny tub of water like it’s a swimming pool and count them:

And you can even eat your lunch out of them:

Cherries

Carrots

Cheerios

I stopped at putting the peanut butter in the eggs, so it's on spoons

Cool, right?

See, no need to hold out for Easter!

What did Zach learn today? How fun using non everyday objects can be to do everyday things. And we talked about the principles of sinking or floating (and colors..again).

What did Mommy learn today? I think kids just don’t eat their veggies if they don’t want too. I’m losing this battle big time. I mean, I put the carrots IN and EASTER EGG. Fun, right? Nope. Not eaten. Those cherries were gone in 2 seconds though!

Also, I’ve been doing some sensory stuff with the babies. They got to feel soft and silky when I gave them some Lovies. And splashed in the water today too.

Emily and her Lovie

Isaac says, 'Grr...I'll eat you up Lovie!"

Chunky Isaac feet splashing in the water

Emily feet in the water

 

Day 36: Snacklet May 24, 2010

A snacklet is a bracelet, made out of snacks. It could also be a necklace (but would then be called a snacklace). It’s fun because it’s an educational activity, but you can eat it!

Today’s supplies:

Cereal with holes (like Cheerios or Fruit Loops) and pipe cleaners

I admit that I bought the Fruit Loops solely to do this project. We don’t normally serve them here, so needless to say we all went crazy with cereal eating and 2 days after I bought them, they are GONE. LOL! What a treat. But, I managed to save enough to do this. Cheerios work just as well, skills wise, but the Fruit Loops just make it look so much more festive and colorful (and teach color). I could have used string instead of pipe cleaners for this, but I wasn’t sure how easily Zach would be able to get the cereal on the string, so I started off easy. Next time, I’ll use string or yarn, he did pretty well with this today. I read about this activity HERE. It helps him with his fine motor skills. As I mentioned, the Fruit Loops can provide a lesson in colors. And you can count each piece as you put it on. We didn’t, but if you wanted too, you could also teach pattern (Red piece, blue piece, green piece. Red piece, blue piece, green piece, etc.). It’s also a nice after nap snack.

So, basically, I just had him slide the cereal onto the pipe cleaner. It was a little difficult to convince him to not eat the cereal first, but as soon as I did one as an example for him and showed him he could eat the cereal later, he was in.

Showing Zach how to lace the cereal onto the pipe cleaner

After doing a few pieces for Zach, I held the pipe cleaner and let him slide the cereal on.

Figuring out how to get the cereal on the "stick", as he called it

Then, after we filled the pipe cleaner up, I tied it to his wrist and let him eat from the snacklet. He thought this was pretty fun.

Tying the bracelet to his wrist

What a fine looking bracelet, I mean, snacklet

Yum!

Then he decided he was confident enough to do the next one himself.

Doing it all by himself

And, if you’re wondering why his face is so messy, it could be because he decided to eat his lunch like this today:

Eating like a puppy

Talk about an imaginative kid! He was pretending to be a puppy this afternoon. And uh, no, I didn’t clean his face before nap. Oops.

What did Zach learn today? He worked on fine motor skills, counting and colors. And he got to eat some yummy (forbidden) sugary cereal (notice I also included some healthy Cheerios too though!).

What did Mommy learn today? How fun it is (however messy) to watch my child pretending. He’s so silly!

 

Day 34: Abacus May 23, 2010

Today I spent the day with some girlfriends at a teeny little store we like to call Ikea. OK, so it’s not so teeny. And it’s pretty much impossible to go there and not get sucked in for a good 4 hours. And besides carrying the world’s greatest selection of particle board and wood veneer furniture, Ikea also has an impressive display of educational, reasonably priced kids toys, like the wooden abacus I bought for Zach.

Zach's new "toy"

According to the New World Encyclopedia (whose website looks suspiciously like Wikipedia, so take this definition for what it’s worth), abaci have been “in use centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu-Arabic numeral system and is still widely used by merchants and clerks in China, Japan, Africa and elsewhere.” In other words, a really long time.

I basically bought it because I knew that Zach would have fun sliding and rolling the beads under his hands, so it’s a sensory toy. I also knew he’d like to count them. The beads are colorful, so I can use it to teach him colors. They are also grouped in 10’s, so we can learn to count by 10 (up to 100). It’s all sorts of usefulness. It also looks like part of the playscape at our local playground and Zach loves to play with that.

So, when I got home from the Ikea-fest, I unwrapped the abacus and put it in front of Zach. He took to it immediately. He slid the beads back and forth. He took the palm of his hand and spun them around (this made him laugh because it kind of tickles). He counted them one by one. And he even told ME the colors of some of the beads. Yellow and Green specifically. On his own. Yay Zach!

Moving the beads over one by one

No. We have STILL not painted that wall. It'll happen. Someday.

Of course, you know that we can’t do anything here without enlisting the help of the front loader and/or dump truck. Zach said, “Yellow tractor. Here tractor, yellow.” I assume the last yellow as for the beads. And then he made the tractor play with the abacus.

Tractor + Abacus = Fun

What did Zach learn today? The abacus was good for all kinds of things: sensory play, color learning, counting practice, imaginative play (with the tractor) and motor skills.

What did Mommy learn? Occasionally I hit the nail on the head in the toy department. And this is great for long-term use as he gets older and learns more math.

 

Day 22: Cotton Balls May 10, 2010

Filed under: counting,fine motor skills — Erin Brambilla @ 9:28 pm
Tags: ,

Yes, today is another day involving random household objects in mixing bowls. But, this is different. Today’s activity is about fine motor skills, not sensory development. See. Different. Even if it is just some cotton balls in some mixing bowls.

All kids focus on different skills at different times and excel at certain skills above others. Zach is a kid who has mastered his gross motor skills. He can jump using two feet, instead of hopping from one, and gets some good air. He can run, and run FAST. He climbs up everything. His verbal skills are OK. He’s certainly talking more and more these days (it’s kind of amazing actually). The area we have never really spent much focus has been fine motor skills, like writing. Or using utensils better, I have never really given him the chance to eat something like soup, for instance. I always feed him foods that have the option of using his hands if he wants. Or foods that stick to the spoon without running off of it, like yogurt.

The other reason, besides being necessary, to work on fine motor skills is that we’re doing a lot more crafts these days. If I’m going to have him help me more with these, he’s going to need to learn to use scissors. Right now he just can’t. So today’s activity helps with this skill. It will also eventually help his hand dexterity and he’ll have an easier time learning to do things like hold a pencil properly. I learned about this super simple activity HERE.

Here are today’s supplies:

2 mixing bowls, tongs, cotton balls

The directions are simple. I put 10 cotton balls in one bowl. I showed Zach how to hold the tongs like scissors. And then I told him to pick up one cotton ball at a time and move it from the small bowl to the big bowl (bonus lesson on sizes and opposites there, oh and counting too!).  I demonstrated first, then asked him if he wanted to try. He was very into it.

Trying out the tongs

We quickly learned though that he is not quite ready for the one-handed, scissor-style tong actions yet. So I did a few with him. And then we just focused on using both hands. Even using two hands required a lot of concentration and coordination on his part to get each cotton ball individually, pinch it and move it over. At times he got quite frustrated (but lots of cheers and encouragement helped).

Two-handed tong action

Eventually, once he got pretty good at getting the cotton balls back and forth between the two bowls, he started getting fancy. He spaced the bowls out and sat in the middle of them. He’d pick up a cotton ball from one bowl, do a spin move, and then put the cotton ball into the other bowl. Kind of like a cotton ball dance. Silly kid.

I was actually quite surprised at how into this activity he was. He jumped right in and moved cotton balls for a good 20 minutes. We’ll have to do this one again and see if we can master the tongs with just one hand. But for now I am quite pleased with the results we achieved today.

What did Zach learn today? He worked on some fine motor skills. Hopefully someday soon he’ll be able to cut paper when making his own crafts. He also got a little lesson in patience. He’d get frustrated with the tongs when he would “forget” how to get them to close. He’d start getting angry and I would have to say, “Think about it. Do you push out or push in to close the tongs?” and he would calm down and think, and then get it right. That is a big step for a 2-year-old.

What did Mommy learn? That again, stuff in bowls is fun. And that Zach does have a desire to learn. He showed me a lot of determination today.