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A Year of Trying to be a Better Mom

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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Days 26, 27 and 28: Repeats, Mommy Out and Mother’s Day Reveal May 17, 2010

This weekend Mommy hosted and participated in a rite of passage we all call a Bachelorette Party. Anyone who has been to a B-Party lately will tell you that they are no longer one night of partying, they are weekend long extravaganzas. While Mommy was out having fun, Daddy was on duty with the kids. You can give him his cookie now.

So, since I was for the most part absent this weekend, I’ll run through a quick retelling of the events and then will reveal the details of last week’s Top Secret Mother’s Day projects! Woot!

Day 26, Friday, Repeat: Today Zach learned the art of waiting for delayed airport guests :). While we waited for friends to arrive, we busied ourselves doing what I like to call the “Hurry up and clean! PEOPLE are coming!” dance.  After our guests arrived and Zach charmed them with his freshly awoken from nap shyness, he asked me for a repeat activity. And, well, I never promised we’d do NEW activities everyday. Just that we’d do SOMETHING. So, we took a repeat visit to the Car Wash, since that’s what he wanted.

Day 27, Saturday, Mommy Out: Friday evening I left to stay at a hotel with the girls. So, Pete was on duty. So here is Saturday, as told by Pete:

Actually, Pete’s entry will come later. Whenever he writes it. In the meantime, here are the pictures from what they did.

Took the "SUV" out for a spin

Went to the playground

Went to Lincoln Square

Learned to fly oak tree "helicopters"

Off it goes!

Day 28, Sunday Sundae: Sunday’s are fun for Zach because he gets to spend time in the nursery at church. It’s his time to see friends his age, play with toys, do arts and crafts and eat snacks. I am told that Zach sometimes can’t be bothered to stop playing with toys to participate in the craft, but he never. EVER. misses snack. This does not surprise me. Then after he woke up from his nap, we went for a walk as a family and got some ice cream at George’s. I ordered myself the most DIVINE chocolate ice cream in the whole wide world, Zanzibar Chocolate and got it in a cake cone. It’s a little serving of bliss and whimsy all at once. I ordered Zach his typical plain vanilla in a cup with a spoon. Today though, he decided he wanted MY ice cream. And nothing was going to stop him from getting it. So, wanting to avoid a big, public temper tantrum, I gave in on this battle and switched ice cream with him. I hope he knows how much I love him. I don’t give up Zanzibar Chocolate for just anyone.

Anyway, I so wish we’d have thought to bring the camera. He had chocolate ice cream everywhere. Up his nose. All over his face. His shirt. His arms. His hands. Man, did he love that Zanzibar Chocolate. He is his mother’s son.

And that pretty much covers our weekend!!

So, to update you on our Super Top Secret Mother’s Day Projects That Can Now Be Revealed. We did 2 handmade crafts for the 3 grandma’s. Both using items that you can recycle from your own home and probably have sitting around right NOW.

The first was Milk Jug Watering Cans. I read so many kid blogs these days that it’s hard to say for sure if I read about it or not. But I’m 99% certain I came up with this one on my own. Woot!

First. Drink a lot of milk. We needed 3 watering cans. So, 3 gallons of milk. That’s part of the reason this particular set of projects took a few days to complete, we had to go through those gallons first. Also, the 2-year-old only has a certain amount of patience for crafts. Doing 3 jugs at once was not happening, but spaced out over a few days was fine. Even if his only job was to scribble.

So, I washed out the milk jug and removed the labels. Then, I took a fondue fork and heated it up over my stove flame. I used it like a hot poker to make holes in the milk cap, arranged like you would see on a watering can. I ran some cold water over the cap after that was done, just to kind of harden the plastic that had softened from the heat.

Water holes

Before going further, I decided to test out the watering can on my own plants, just to make sure it would actually work. It does.

A working watering can made out of a milk jug

Then, I had my child use permanent markers to color on the jugs. We did this BEFORE the infamous dining room table incident and is where we got the permanent markers to use for that other project. But, I used permanent in this case because these jugs are meant to be used to hold and pour water. I figured washable markers would run right off of it eventually, especially if they get stored outside. I did attempt to make them a bit prettier with my own embellishments, but wonder if I should have left well enough alone. Oh well!

Coloring the jug

Pretty

We did this times 3 for our specific number of grandmas. But you should do whatever number you need. In case you couldn’t figure that out.

Then, I tied some ribbon to each handle, just to be festive. And the watering cans were complete. Easy peasy.

Finished projects

The next project we did was coffee filter flowers. These were also super duper easy to make. I got the inspiration for our project from two sources. Here and Here.

I used new coffee filters to make my flowers, but I love the idea of recycling used ones. I certainly drink enough coffee (actually, it’s my only means of survival!), but this particular week I was out of them and so was boy scouting my coffee filters out of paper towels. A trick my roommate in college taught me. He said he learned to do it in boy scouts, hence why I called it that. So, I bought brand new ones so I wouldn’t need to do that, but did not have enough time to drink  enough coffee to recycle them. Make sense?

Anyway–my supplies:

Coffee filters, spray bottles with water mixed with food coloring inside

and

Green construction paper, a black marker and pipe cleaners and scissors (which are not pictured, oops)

First, I took some spray bottles and filled them with water. Then I added a few drops of food coloring in each bottle. This actually took more food coloring than I anticipated. Just a drop or two will instantly turn your (hopefully) clear water into what appears to be a deep hue. But, after spraying a filter or two, I figured out that it actually required more like 10 drops per bottle to color the filters properly. There is still a lot of dyed water left in each bottle after this though, so we will certainly use it for other projects.

Then, I had Zach spray the coffee filters with the dyed water. The spray bottles are actually difficult for him to use. They took a lot of pressure to push the pump down and he would get frustrated, so we did it together. I think a trigger style sprayer would be easier for the little ones. Or maybe we just had especially difficult spray bottles.

Zach spraying the filters

All colored and drying out

After the filters were dry, I took each one and gathered it around my finger in the center of the filter. Then I wrapped a green pipe cleaner (which they now call chenille stems these days, fancy huh?) around each gather to attach the “stem” to the “bloom”.

Connecting the flower to the stem

Then I just kind of spread the filter out a bit to make it look more flower-ish.

Unfurling the bloom

It almost looks like a real flower

After I created all of the flowers, I made some leaves out of the green construction paper. I folded the paper in half and drew a rough leaf shape. I drew it along the folded edge so that when I cut it out there was a crease in the middle of the leaf. This crease would be the part that wrapped around the stem. The leaves created a kind of “card” effect. I made 1 leaf per flower.

Drawing the leaves

All cut and ready to go

After Zach got up from his nap, I asked him to help me with the next part. I asked him what he loved about his grandmas. This was a little bit of an abstract concept to him, especially since his grandmas weren’t there with him. So we looked at some pictures on the computer. I was kind of prompting him, I’ll admit, but he did recognize his grandmas and answered yes when I asked if he liked the things they were doing in the pictures or things that the grandmas do when they are here.

On the front of a leaf I would write, “I love my grandma because…” and on the inside I wrote a reason (“she gives me cookies” or “she plays trains with me” or “she reads me books”, etc.). Other leaves said, “Happy Mother’s Day” on the outside and “Love, Zachary” on the inside.

Outside of the leaf

Inside of the book

If I were to do this again, I’d make the writing on the outside a little further from the crease. It got difficult to keep the glue away from the writing when I did the next step, which was to glue the leaves to the flower stems. Once the leaves were all glued on and dried, our bouquets were complete. 2 flowers for each grandma. And an extra for mommy. Because I want one.

Finished flowers

Oh Grandma, I love you just as much as I love my sippy cup of milk. Happy Mother's Day.

What did Zach learn? Patience. That worthwhile activities are worth repeating. About gravity and toys don’t always need batteries. The concept of love, even when those we love are far away. That we give gifts for special occasions.

What did Mommy learn? Once again, Daddy can handle himself with the kids, even overnight by himself. That worthwhile activities are worth repeating. That I am not 22 years old anymore (we did this cardio dance class that I am STILL sore from 2 days later. OUCH!).

What did Daddy learn? That it’s not so easy getting 3 kids out of the house by yourself in a timely fashion.

 

Day 16: Flowers May 5, 2010

Filed under: colors,flowers,patterns,planting,sensory,water play — Erin Brambilla @ 12:14 am
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s that time of year. The time where flower boxes are being planted in a frenzy to complete some NEED within us to beautify our spaces. This is more challenging for me than others. I have what is not the opposite of a green thumb, but close to it. This will be the 3rd summer of flower box planting for me. The first summer was pretty near disastrous. It got so bad that I pretty much gave up on my flowers and then  my father in law came over for a week and replanted for me! I was equal parts embarrassed and grateful (thanks Wally!).

Last summer, it went better. Not awesome. But better. I planted a few varieties of flowers in each box and they were colorful and lovely. But in the end the ONLY flowers that survived were the Geraniums. I think those things could survive nuclear war. So this year, I just went with what works. ALL Geraniums. Pink and Red.

Given how much Zach likes to play with dirt, and that I still can’t share our super secret craft projects yet this week, we have another planting/playing in the dirt activity today.

To begin, Zach was helpful. He was there with shovel (and dump truck, of course) to help me take the dirt out of the bag and get it into the flower boxes. These pics will probably look a lot like when we planted the marigold seeds!

Home Depot's finest Geraniums

Getting the dirt (he looks a lot like Pete in this pic, I think)

It's like we have our own excavating company!

After a little while though, this was a “been there, done that” situation for Zach and I still had 2 more boxes to plant. So, I set him up with his next favorite thing: bowls of water. I thought this was a good idea because it was kind of hot sitting on the deck in the direct sunlight and the water would be nice. Well, I should have SEEN where that would get me. Dirt. Water. 2-year-old. There is only ONE place it COULD go…MUD! But mud is fun, right?

In this one I showed him what happens when he uses the old flower pots w/ the holes as a "scoop", all the water runs out like a shower. He was AMAZED and delighted by this.

And then the good, "clean" fun turned into MUD

He is completely covered.

As dirty (and possibly scary looking) as that was, I’m glad I let him do it! One, he loved it, obviously. But two, it was kind of a science experiment for him. I talked with him about what was happening to the water when the dirt went in. About what happened to the dirt when it got wet. We talked about how different the mud felt from the water and the dirt. Luckily he kept it pretty much contained and didn’t fling it! Now that I think of it, his brother and sister were sleeping dangerously close by this little experiment!

While he played away, I continued on with the other 2 flower boxes. And well, they honestly got done much quicker without his assistance. I also tried to point out to him the colors of the flowers and their leaves. I planted them in a pink/red/pink/red pattern and tried to talk about that too. But at this point in time, mud had his full attention (and that’s OK!).

At the end of it all, the flowers were planted and one dirty boy got his second bath of the day. Oh yeah, and we tested out the “super secret Mother’s Day project” and it works fabulously.

With Aqua Globes and all

All clean again. I asked him to smile, this is the look he gave me. At least he's looking at the camera!

What did Zach learn today? What happens when dirt gets mixed with water. Some color and pattern lessons.

What did Mommy learn today? If you give a boy dirt, he WILL make mud. And that I could probably have squeezed one more plant into each flower box, but I didn’t have the flowers and wasn’t going to wait to get more!

 

Day 15: Super Top-Secret Post May 4, 2010

Filed under: flowers,playground — Erin Brambilla @ 12:17 am
Tags: , ,

The next few days will be interesting when it comes to posting. I debated how I should do this. You see, there is a very special holiday coming up. It’s called Mother’s Day. You might have heard of it. Well, Zach and I have been working on some very special projects for this holiday to send to certain grandmothers we know. And, well, these grandmothers read this blog (so they tell me 🙂 ). We wouldn’t want these certain grandmother’s to get a sneak peek at what may or may not arrive in their mailboxes, possibly on time, for Mother’s Day and ruin the surprise, now would we??

But, I DO promise you all that after certain grandmothers have opened said special projects and it’s safe to let the cats out of the bags, I will post FULL updates and tutorials on said super top-secret special projects.

Aside from that, today was GORGEOUS outside. Zach asked me very nicely to “Walk, stroller?” and I had to say yes. It was definitely a playground day. So, the three kids and I took off for the park to enjoy the weather.

Before we left, Zach did pick me yet ANOTHER dandelion bouquet.

Better than a dozen roses! Unless you are my husband, in which case, you are not allowed to give me dandelions and call it a day

And then I tried to teach him about the other fun things his favorite “flower” can do. But well, teaching a kid blow on something is hard! He’d “pretend” to blow. Like, purse his lips and make a blowing noise, but not actually push out any air. In fact, he pretty much just spit on it. I will have to make it my goal to teach this kid to blow on a dandelion this week. And then, it will later be our goal to pull all the weeds from our lawn, but hey..I may end up desperate for ideas for activities. So I’ll just call it “lesson planning”.

What do you mean this does something else?

Pretending to blow on the flower

After several failed attempts and finally getting bored of the dandelions, we went to the park for a sunshine filled day of swings and slides. Today, Isaac decided to not sleep through it and join us. And since I’m SUCH a good mother, I forgot a sun hat for him. So, I let him wear Zach’s because Zach got sick of wearing it himself. Isn’t it cute on Isaac?

Isaac wearing Zach's hat. It's the perfect accessory to footed PJs.

What did Zach learn today? That dandelions turn from fun yellow flowers into something else. Hopefully he’ll figure out how to blow on them soon!

What did Mommy learn today? That teaching someone to blow is kind of hard. He knows how to blow into his whistle and harmonica toys, so I’m not sure what’s not translating here. But we’ll get to the bottom of it, don’t worry!!

 

Day 11: Playdate April 29, 2010

Playdate: Noun, \ˈplā-ˌdāt\–: a play session for small children arranged in advance by their parents. (That’s straight from Miriam Webster).

I was going to say that playdates are the socialization of young children. But then, given the current political environment these days, “socialization” might be taken the wrong way. You might think I’m raising a 2-year-old communist. When actually what I’m doing is trying to get him to make friends.

Playdates are important on many levels. 1.) They provide a social outlet for children and this helps them learn to behave in society. 2.) They provide a social outlet for MOMMY. It’s a good hour or so of time where we moms get to talk to other adults, even if it is about our kids. We get to chat with someone who will respond to our queries with more than. “No. Want cookies!!!” Though sometimes I do want a cookie. 3.) They (hopefully) provide a bit of physical activity for our children. The “PC” reason to be thankful for that is the exercise it provides. The REAL reason–it tires them out enough to take a good nap!

Today Zach, Emily, Isaac and I met our friends at the playground. I won’t list their whole names, in case they don’t want to be mentioned on a public blog on the internet, but it was a fun day with K, E1 and E2. There’s not a whole lot to say about the playground itself. I mean, it was a playground. We swung on swings. We slid down the slide. We ran and jumped and yelled and laughed. We stole shared snacks with other kids. All around a good time. Though this particular playground did have something different from others I’ve been to. And it was something that, of course, instantly attracted Zach–A FIRE TRUCK playscape. He spent quite a bit of time steering the truck, making the siren noise and climbing all over it.

Driving the fire truck (another one)

Instead of elaborating on the playground itself. I thought I might enlighten you all on what it’s like to actually GET to a playground with Zach these days. People often assume that it’s the babies that make getting somewhere tough. But really, it’s 2-year-old curiosity. This is how our 2 block trip from the car to the play ground went.

About to start our walk from the car to the park

Me: “OK buddy. Let’s start walking! Time to go to the playground.” I wave my arm toward me to beckon my child to follow me.

Z: “Yeah! Playground! Slide! RUN!!!!” Zach begins to run as fast as he can down the street. His running pace is actually pretty quick and requires me to walk briskly beside him to make sure he doesn’t run into a street. At this pace, we’ll be to the playground in just a few minutes. Which is good. Because as per usual lately, Mommy is running late.

Z: “Run! Run! Run! I running Mommy. Mommy, I running! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

Me: “Yes. You are running. You run so fast. You…” I stop and turn around, realizing he is no longer next to me. And now I see that distraction number 1 has been found. DANDELIONS. And they are EVERYWHERE. You see, it’s the time of year where dandelions litter lawns and the grass along the side-walk. You can’t walk 2 feet without seeing one. And you know what that means? Zach is going to stop at every.single.one.

Z: “Fwower (that’s flower..in case you couldn’t tell). Fwower mommy! Fwower. One, Two, Fee, Four, Six, Semen. Semen Fwowers Mommy.”

Me: “Oh! Did you find flowers. Wow. Those are pretty flowers. Thank you so much for picking…..”

Z: “Run! Run! Run! Run!” Runs off, no longer interested in flowers, dropping all but one.

Me, struggling to keep up: “Zach! Wait! Please don’t run ahead of Mommy!”

Zach, slows down enough for me to catch him. We are now walking at a reasonable pace together.

Me: “Are you excited to see your friends E1 and E2? Are you excited to play with th…” I stop. Turn around to see what is distracting him NOW.

Zach: “Twee. Twee mommy. Twee.” He is hugging a tree. Literally, physically hugging it. Not in the “hippie-cloth-toilet-paper” sort of way, but in the “I-have-my-arms-around-this-tree” sort of way.

Me: “You’re right! That’s a tree!” I Wait a few seconds to see if he’ll move along. Nope. Still hugging the tree, “OK buddy. Let’s keep walking. We have to keep walking if we’re going to see our friends at the playground.”

Zach: “Run! Run! Run! Run!….AHHHHHHH!!! FWOWER! FWOWER! FWOWER!!!” He had begun running, only to realize a few steps in that he had dropped his beloved dandelion somewhere between there and the tree. He is now devastated. Luckily, I spot a patch of 3 dandelions just 2 steps ahead (and 2 steps away from there).

Me: “Oh no! Did you lose your flower? I see three more right here!”

In true toddler bipolar fashion, he goes from screaming to giggling in .02 seconds with this news. Then Zach runs over and picks the flowers, “Run! Run! Run! Run!”

Phew! Good thing I spotted the next 3 flowers!

And…it pretty much goes on repeat cycle from there. We’re lucky we didn’t spot something so interesting as dog poop. Or cigarette butts. ::shudder:: 20 MINUTES LATER, we arrive at the park. PHEW! This is already exhausting! And THAT my friends, is why going anywhere with a toddler (with or without the babies in tow) takes 3 times longer than it ever would without the toddler. So, if you do not have children, take it easy on your friends who do. You never know how long these things will take.

What did Zach learn today? Social graces such as sharing and waiting to take a turn (especially on the swings). I also hope he’s building a bond with kids who will be his friends.

What did Mommy learn today? That as much as it slows me down, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of him picking me dandelions. And I certainly enjoyed hanging out with K. Getting that little bit of adult time in during the week is SO necessary. Oh, and the world is FASCINATED by twins. Ugh! This may be a topic/story for another post. But sometimes I do tire of feeling like we all exist in a fishbowl these days.