the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

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the best day in many days

Today was very full but very satisfying. I was able to forget we were moving and focus on the moment. Despite having a sick fevery boy, I got to get on my bike (after wiping the inch of dust off, hm). Since I have been running the past few weeks, biking felt tremendously good. Normally, I am huffing, mentally beating myself up, and turning back at the first real hill. Today, I felt like I was flying and it was so relaxing to be out riding alone, focused only on how nice the river was, how perfect the wind was, and how I felt taking each hill. Lately the focus has not been about how fast or hard I seem to be running/biking, but my own personal goal setting and breaking. That is so much more satisfying and, ultimately, I perform better.

Later, I ran errands, which normally are less than joyful. And some were not all that fun – give up a little blood, off to discuss ‘issues’ at the sweeper store where I got my new vacuum, return an item elsewhere. But deciding to look at mud kitchen supplies was rather uplifting and exciting. I found some sweet scores at the local Goodwill and, perhaps feeling nice toward me because of the blood donation bandage I was sporting, the clerk made the deals even better with some extra discounts. Wonderful!

We have been admiring the mud kitchens at a few blogs (here, here, and here). I told Elliott as soon as we moved we would set it up. But we are putting a lot on hold here for The Move. When we move we will: live on a farm, get chickens, build a banging wall, make a mud kitchen, get out all the toys we have packed away, get out your work table and tools, and so on. And with many things likely to remain in boxes while we face a possible year in an apartment, I felt tired of saying “when we move”. Plus, I got to enjoy myself finding these treasures and seeing the delight in little boy’s faces.
But the best treasure and surprise for my boys was a little wooden pink table. It was marked $9.99, but the senior discount knocked it down to $7. Elliott has been saving free paint samples we got online – a buttery yellow he picked out – to paint an item all his own. Again, this was something I kept saying we would do soon, once we moved, once we found the right piece of furniture.

When I arrived home, Oliver was in a funk, so I allowed him to dig right in to the giant bag of pots, utensils, and baskets. He was delighted and immediately set to transporting some items right to the mud kitchen. His delight makes me so tickled inside.

 

Elliott jumped in too, forming an attachment to the beeswax pot I got. (Finally, a dedicated pot to melting wax and candle making, which was Elliott’s idea after a visit to Conner Prairie.) He also wanted to organize the shelves and remove stickers to get them ready. It was hard to convince him that tomorrow he would feel more like painting shelves and dipping candles. He was ready to set to work today, fever and all.

 

To put the icing on the cake of a day, my food processor and immersion blender arrived early. Whipped cream for our fruit at dinner and cracker making in the near future made for a very satisfying end to the day. And a little boy’s delight in the packaging was just fantastic.

Now, off to a glass of wine and playing Ticket to Ride with Mike!

dyeing eggs for Easter

After seeing so many sites with gorgeous naturally dyed eggs and an earlier attempt at it with friends, I knew I wanted to try many foods to find a few that worked. Yesterday, I tested a few by myself – cumin, blueberries, and spinach. Only blueberries yielded a lovely dye that clung to my eggs. Today, in case a few proved disappointing, I selected many food items from the list on this website, choosing what I knew I had in the fridge, freezer, or cabinet.

We used lavender, chamomile, coffee, beets, carrots, parsley, blueberries, cranberries, and grape juice. I prepared the food items by boiling them in water for 5-15 minutes and straining the liquid into my dye cups. In the case of beets and grape juice, I merely dumped the liquid from canned beets into the cup and poured the fruit juice right from the fridge. To each dye cup, I added roughly 1 dump or 2 tablespoons of vinegar. While tending the stove to keep Oliver away and making lunch, the house was coming undone. Oh well.

I got labels ready so we could remember which ones yielded the best color and repeat with our extra eggs.

Elliott was eager to check on color, while Oliver sharked around, eager to pull off the tablecloth. The first batch proved exciting for beets, blueberries, chamomile, coffee, and lavender. Carrot and parsley resulted in no color change, so we just put those eggs in another color, but added rubber bands for effect.

 

After they drip dried a few minutes, I grew impatient and rolled them in a paper towel. This resulted in some that were a bit splotchy, but others held their color well.

Overall, we were quite happy with the shades and variety. Lovely, eh? There is still time today… what do you have in your freezer or cabinet to work with?

Take a tour… part five

For the fifth, and final, house tour post, I will start with Elliott’s room. Once Oliver was crawling, we had to find a way to keep him safe from small toys. Elliott learned at a young age some items were not for eating, and I believe Oliver will be quick to figure this out. But right now, everything is sampled and felt with his mouth. Legos posed a real hazard. So once we determined Elliott had long enough legs (with the help of a stool), he got a gate for his room. On the other side of the gate is the stool so Elliott can step over and get in and Oliver cannot walk off with the stool. Oliver loves watching Elliott play and listening to the music from Elliott’s CD player. And I love not  running over every five minutes to supervise. In case you are wondering, we cannot just close the door and have it click shut because of Elliott’s door slamming ‘habit’. To curb that, a few months ago we put thin foam tape along the inner edge. Right now, it does not close completely and, when slammed, it slows down just right!

Elliott’s drawers in his dresser do not allow him to be independent in dressing, so I selected seasonally appropriate clothing and organized it out on his shelves. He has 10-12 long sleeves, 8-10 pairs of pants, 4-5 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, 2-3 sweaters, and a variety of warmer and cooler pajamas. He is able to open his sock and underwear drawer so those remain in the dresser. Because our weather has been all over the place, we still have a mix of clothing. Once winter hits, we will remove the lighter clothing and add more warm choices. For months, this has been a wonderful solution. He has just enough items to choose from and I no longer worry the drawers will fall out on his toes.

Under Elliott’s bed are bins of trucks and cars and stuffed animals. He also has an old stereo to play CDs on, set low for ease of use on a Daddy-made table . This is another big attention grabber for Oliver. He loves buttons, even if it messes up the tune he was dancing to. Yet another reason to keep him at a distance, just watching and dancing by the gate. Elliott has one of our two fish tanks in his room to keep him company and is a very responsible feeder – with a very tiny scoop and tiny container of food. On the Daddy-made Lego table there are always new ‘special’ Lego vehicles being built so it always seems to be rather busy (messy). Next to that is a selection of books, which get changed every month or so. Of course we need a cozy space to read and the guest futon serves nicely for that.

In the laundry room, we keep the child-sized broom, dust mop, swiffer cleaner (easy to adjust to child size by removing middle snap-in section), dust wand, dust mitts, window cleaner, spill cloths, and a small vacuum. These used to be out in the living room, but as furniture was rearranged and Oliver began pulling up, we moved it behind a closed door. These supplies are fabulous… Elliott sweeps his lunch crumbs, washes windows whenever he pleases (typically when we have guests!), and occasionally dusts a few shelves. The best part is that he is completely able to clean up most messes without an adult.

 In the bathroom we have pulled out Oliver’s small potty to begin that fun-filled stage. We started about this same age with Elliott and found that while overall the process took longer, we were daytime dry earlier than typically expected. We followed a lot of the advice found in Diaper Free Before 3. And it was just right for Elliott… he was so proud of himself and eager to take part in learning this life skill. I am hoping for an even smoother transition since Oliver has such a good role model! Not visible are the baskets of underwear, spares for all the changes we will be making each day. The stool pictured is the lower one that Elliott can use now. We are saving the first stool Elliott used, the taller, two-step stool, for when Oliver can be sturdy standing at the sink.

In the corner we have a towel at Elliott and Oliver’s height and the mirror hung low, for checking a goofy grin or brushing teeth. We left one drawer without a child lock for wash cloths and toothbrushing items. Elliott is quite good at washing his own face on nights we skip a bath and is working towards flossing and brushing independence. He wants a little too much personal time though, slamming the door and practically yelling at us if we suggest he needs help. Unfortunately, when it comes to his teeth, he still does need some help flossing or brushing well.

 

Oliver’s room is by far my favorite for lighting. He has four window to see tree branches and our tall grasses swaying. But the winter is harder because it is the coldest room in the house. Aside from his dresser and cabinet (both complete with pinch-free child locks), he has a floor bed, a low book shelf, his walker wall, and his toy shelves which are just below the towering children’s ‘library’. While he is nearly beyond the use of the rail on the walker wall, he delights in himself, walking towards the mirror and laughing. The floor bed has gone as well for him as it did for Elliott. He occasionally stays up to play, but will fall asleep when he is tired. In the morning and after naps, he can easily self-entertain for at least 15 to 30 minutes since he has access to toys and books without any hazards for us to worry about.  Oh, and see that sweet little pillow? Elliott designed it after he saw the one I made for him room. It is an island with volcanos, trees, and a sun. Oliver is so lucky to have a brother like Elliott!

 

It has been fun showing you my home,  a bit of what the boys are up to, and how we try to foster their independence with our home environment. Because of the efforts put forth, I love our cozy little house and the feeling of security I have when we are all home together. I hope your home, whatever kind and wherever it is, makes you feel peaceful together.

 

food with the bigger wee one

All the trust we have given to big E in regards to meal time and eating have turned out to be wonderful preparation for caring for himself and his family. This has been extremely helpful on days when I have my hands full with little O or I am preparing meal items big E is not able to participate in.

 Some things we have gradually allowed big E to do on his own:

  • access his own dishes and cups in a low cabinet
  • putting away dishes, either handing some to us for high shelves or placing his own in his cabinet
  • setting the table with plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and condiments
  • serving himself a drink of water or milk from the refrigerator

 All of these steps occurred when we noticed big E accomplishing a new skill and needing more trust and responsibility. For instance, when he finally discovered he could open the refrigerator and repeatedly he seemed to get into mischief in there, I gave him something he was allowed to do – serve himself water. Once trustworthy with getting a glass, serving himself water, shutting the refrigerator, and walking to the table, we then placed a child-sized pitcher of milk in the fridge for him. With mastery of one skill he got to move on to a new challenge.

From serving himself drinks, he then decided he could serve himself an apple or a cheese stick from the refrigerator. From there, he thought he could self-serve from our pantry. The trouble is, I did not want him always climbing up to get food items or choosing unhealthy snacks (yes, we have just a few in our pantry!). So after reflecting that telling him “No, wait for me” in an angry voice was not the solution, I made a plan. But this was something that took me a while to see the pattern in and it was only by about the twentieth time I said it that I realized it was not working. He was ready for more independence and showing me.

I placed a small bowl in the refrigerator. In it is a yogurt, a dish with washed and ready-to-eat fruit, a few dishes of washed and cut veggies, and a few cheese sticks. I also prepared small plastic baby food containers for the pantry with various yummy and healthy snacks: raisins, pretzels, nuts, crackers, and cereals. I realized any container for either place would work as long as he could know what he was choosing without opening every container – either by being clear or labeled with a picture or writing. I opted for clear to save myself the work of labeling each one. I also wanted to make sure the container had an easy to open lid so he could be independent in opening it without spills. I placed them on a low shelf in the pantry. Because I know my son’s skill level, I knew he could already open and close the fridge carefully, open a yogurt on his own, get a spoon to eat it, open a cheese stick, carry a bowl of food carefully without spilling, open the plastic containers easily, make a choice from the ones offered, and clean up afterwards. All of this is important when giving a new level of trust or a new challenge so they can succed – they have to have mastered all the other skills to take on some new challenge without frustration.

Today I showed him his choices and explained what he was allowed to do: get a snack on his own if I was unable to assist him when he was hungry, choose one from the cabinet and one from the refrigerator, and how to clean up afterwards, replacing any large uneaten portion to the proper place and placing dishes by the sink. If he needed help with a different snack or cutting something, he would be expected to wait. If I was engaged in preparing a meal, he might hear me tell him “No”. He was receptive to those limitations. He may be less so when we have to enforce them, but that is another day!

The extra time it may take me to help him towards independence is important to me in the long run. By showing him how to care for himself, he becomes more capable and frees me from some of those tasks he can do for himself. And it boosts his confidence in himself, one small step at a time. Unfortunately, I did not have the camera ready to capture his satisfaction at serving himself his entire snack, but it was great!

food with the wee one

This post will actually be a two part post. As I was arranging big E’s snacks for the next few days, a new system we will test starting tomorrow, I was thinking over the steps we took to get him to this point. Which brings me back to the beginning, where little O just happens to be.

Little O has been on the mushy, sloppy food and some finger foods diet for about 2 1/2 months now. He knows how to have a bite, can pick up some items with that wonderful pincer grasp, goes after the spoon to do it himself, and is tickled that he can slurp water. With big E, we followed the Montessori method and used a small chair and a weaning table (the white table pictured in this post). It was wonderful for snacks and meals. I found it easy to clean up, easy to keep him seated. And it kept him near the ground so he could crawl/walk to the table when hungry or leave when done (after a hasty clean up by Mama). But with little O, he is just not interested in the weaning table because the first few times he came to the big table in his high chair, he had so much fun watching big brother eat. So now, we exclusively give him solids at the big table and will just reserve the weaning table for crafting and activities as he grows.

There are a few elements that I have found to make meal time more conducive to our children’s sense of independence:

– the table and seat/high chair

– the bowls

– the utensils

– the cup

– the language and attitude

While a weaning table and low chair would be my first choice, it just is not always easy to fit in another piece of furniture or, like the case with our #2 child, baby just does not want to be left out of all the fun! Since we do snacks with big E too, little O is never alone at the table. For a high chair, I chose the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair because it fit right up to the table we owned. We did not want a tray that forced him to sit farther from the table or a chair that was taller or shorter than the table. We wanted him to be right in there with the rest of us. With the Tripp Trapp, there is a nice baby rail that comes off to allow easy clean up or fully remove when the child is ready. When big E was around 18 months or so, we removed it and gave him a lesson on getting up and down safely. With many reminders, he learned how to be independent getting up and down from the table. (And when he got down, he was down. The meal was over!)

The bowls we use are child-sized, about the size of a small 1-cup storage bowl, similar to these or these. They are clear so little O can see the food he is being served. And they are glass. Contrary to popular belief that you should give a child plastic since they might break glass, Montessori principles encourage the use of glass, porcelain, and metal in the classroom to show a young child they can be trusted, they are worthy of that trust, and they must learn to take care of these items. Plastic feels cheap and is thus treated cheaply – tossed on the floor or beaten on. And if one feels an item is indestructible, one is also less likely to intervene and stop abusive, inappropriate behaviors immediately. I am not suggesting that I let little O have at them and break one though! Through language and gentle actions, I hold the bowls while he investigates them. I stop him from throwing them overboard and demonstrate how to place them on the table. And this is not accomplished in one day, or two days, even in a month. But we reap the rewards later, much later, when a child cares for the dishes – they can help set and clear a table, empty the dishwasher, and serve themself a snack – with an inner satisfaction that they are trusted and a responsible part of the family. And, another perk – we no longer have oodles of cruddy plastic bowls taking up space in the cabinets. (But we do occasionally break this plastic ‘rule’ – for on the go car snacks, we actually opt for plastic dishes or cloth snack bags or *gasp* plastic baggies)

For utensils, I loved the idea of a simple, all metal baby spoon and even own a few. But while my babes have cut teeth, these spoons have not been easy on their gums. For this reason, we did purchase coated spoons. They hold a small manageable bite, they are easy for a baby to take hold of and try to feed him or herself, and they are so simple they do not detract from the learning process of eating.

Since we chose glassware for bowls, we also chose a clear glass for a drinking cup. So many people laugh at the idea of the ‘baby shot glass’ but then after a moment, they realize that a baby can go from breast to cup and totally skip a bottle. Or, if bottle fed, they can be transitioned much earlier to a cup without the sippy cup transition. To some people, this is just shocking news. Not a sippy cup, but a real cup. From the moment we offered solid foods, we offered water in the cup. At first it was only 1/4 of the way full and I offered the water up to his mouth. Eventually little O learned how to hold it with two hands, but not tilt it back to drink (so I took over for that part). Now, he can hold it and tip it (but I have to slow him down if he gets too happy and pours it on himself). To get to this point was 2 months of skill development, and I know there are still more things to learn: controlling the cup to only sip the amount he wants, setting the cup down on the table, asking for more, transitioning to a larger cup (but not an adult juice glass yet!), learning how to drink with control on the go with straw cups, and learning how to drink from different sized cups while out and about. But look at the satisfaction!

If you are venturing to try this approach with a child, you must have patience. I still am frustrated the day carrots get dribbled down my leg, but I try to recognize each day what little O is learning at the table and when he ‘masters’ a step, oh, I feel his happiness at HIS victory! If it is overwhelming, start slow with one new change and observe how it goes over several days. That will be better for your baby too. You cannot totally mix up their routine in one day and expect an easy transition. We also have found sign language to be extremely helpful for meal times and eases a baby’s frustration since they eventually learn to express they want more or that they are full and done. Eventually you could move beyond those two basics and add done, drink, milk, water, even please. It tickled me to no end to see big E at such a young age sign ‘please’ ‘more’. Start early, as soon as you start with solids even. Results may take some time, but communication early on is so helpful and rewarding. And don’t worry: signing does not hinder verbal language development. In fact, it often allows them to speak sooner along with many other benefits.

And since all these skills revolve around food, feed your baby what you grow, shop for good foods at a local farmer’s market, or buy the yummiest foods you can find! What they are fed now sets their eating behavior and tastes as they grow. Let them try new tastes ‘straight up’ – no need to hide veggies in anything! Let them eat what you are eating when possible, grinding it up if needed. We love the Kidco grinder. Meal time is full of valuable life-long lessons in behavior, nutrition, socialization, and care of self and personal belongings. 

Just remember, with wee ones, independence is slowly, s l o w l y, learned. With each new opportunity you offer, there are a lot of restrictions until they can be trusted. Observe them and how they are mastering something before adding more challenge than they can handle. I will be back tomorrow to show what we are now trying with big E to give him more independence.

creativity and the little one

My oldest little one, big E, well, he loves to craft. Markers, glue, scissors, and lots of paper make for a happy boy. And I encouraged it from the start. I left out the paints and crayons and all the needed tools – a choice he could make anytime of day. And it was going great until about the age of 3. With being older and more skilled, I noticed more messes that resulted from bigger projects. So materials started disappearing off the shelves, I began encouraging him to choose other works, even getting angry and stressed over the mess (ultimately, he gets in so deep, he needs rescuing and help cleaning up – not cool when  we had a newborn). The other day on the verge of losing it yet again, I was finishing up my Facebook time. A friend found a link to a YouTube video of Sir Ken Robinson, who I had actually had the pleasure of hearing speak at the AMI Refresher Course back on February 14, 2009. Here is the video I got to hear yesterday. It is long, but worth the listen in my opinion. While I listened, I ignored the crafting table. Twenty minutes later, this is what he brought over to me:

Lesson learned. When I keep my nose out of it, he is a happy creative boy. And the paper pieces, open scissors, glue stick on its side, pencil rolling on the floor? He was also very willing to clean up the resulting mess after he was done working. And when I had to pick little scraps off the floor that night that he overlooked, I was just fine with it.

Some tips for crafting with young children:

– There is no need to make every project a parent-child project. While it is great to make a project you have seen in a magazine or do a big one together, this does not and should not be the bulk of your child’s crafting. They are creative thinkers and need time to work on their own ideas, not someone else’s.

– After showing a child how to carefully write and draw with crayons/marker/pencils, put an age appropriate amount out on an accessible shelf. Make sure to include a mat to protect your table and paper that fits onto the mat. If you have a low table for them to work at, this is even better. They need a place to work at that fits their body and is always there when they want to work. If your kitchen table is your craft table, a lot of struggles may ensue when it is time to set the table for dinner and the crafting materials are still in use!  At first, you may have to remind the child where they can write (on the paper). But what happens when they do not? Well, without a lot of fuss, have them clean up the mess they made with you and then put them up, out of sight, for one day, two days… Later, give them a chance again, demonstrating again where they can write. For a young toddler or young child, it is important to state where they CAN draw, not where they CANNOT draw.

– As a child is able to be trusted with one medium, make more room on the shelf for a second, or rotate in new choices. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, chalk, clay, watercolors. Introduce them and make sure they have everything handy to use them. For instance, to do watercolors, they need high quality paper, a mat, a brush, a bowl for water, a pitcher to get more water, and a bucket to put dirty water in. You do not want them emptying that tiny rinse cup in the bathroom if they have to cross two white rugs to get there! And don’t forget the sponge or rag to wipe up drips and spills. They will happen and there is no quicker way to kill creativity and discourage working with art materials than to yell over the mess. Trust me, I know.

– When crafting together is happening, make each project your own. Your work and your child’s work. You choose your colors, design, and medium. Allow your child the same freedoms. It may not be what you would choose, but what a sense of independence and satisfaction with their own work at the end! And if they do not like their work at the end? Well, they are then able to reflect on their own choices, not a parent’s choice.

– And if you absolutely cannot tolerate the idea of crayons and markers at first, start with sticker and paper. Put something in their hands. Trust them and you may be happily surprised.

Here are two setups we are using for our boys.

I put out coloring for the very young child at one, watercolors for the older child at the other. Notice that the crayon set up has only three chunky crayons and only white paper for the youngest artist. This helps to focus the toddler on how crayons work and what they are making. Chunky beeswax crayons write well and are easy to hold. The white table and low chair are from Michael Olaf. They served big E from sitting age to about 3. For the watercolor set up, since the older child has more concentration, they are able to set up the materials, use them, and clean them up. It is a bigger work, more responsibility. The green table and blue chair were garage sale finds (with dings to show it). The table is from Ikea. The chairs are old school chairs my mother passed along to us. With two chairs it is great for snacks with friends or crafting with friends. There are lots of options out there. Just find one that fits your child, cutting down table legs if you must.