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!

my treasures

So a request came in to see some of my sweet finds from my trip. Please remember, antique and junk shopping is all in the eye of the beholder!

                  

 

(boots for Elliott, shoes for Elliott to grow into, apron, Lake Michigan super-smooth rocks and wood, uber monkeys, alpaca yarn, napkins, necklaces to become beads for bead stringing, Oliver’s wool blanket, tag showing it was made in Piqua, Ohio!, oil cloth and kimono fabric, bells, my bracelet)

 

The only item I could not photograph is Santa’s red wooden rocking fire truck for Oliver. We immediately stashed that in the garage, covered with a giant sheet. Uh, Santa hid it, I mean.

I was tempted by many things on this trip… but our house is only so big and, really, we need nothing. Mike is lucky I resisted and did not arrive home with a few living room chairs, a retro dining set, and a few sweet lamps. My choices were often tempered by finances. I only broke down and purchased the apron and bracelet for myself since they were so cheap! See, the rest I could justify since it was for someone else! I love how that logic works. Everything felt like a splurge – a little nice and a little guilt.

take a tour… part 4

After seeing a friend’s blog of her home, mine is feeling a wee cluttered. Frankly, it always feels that way to me. Day in and day out I see the items that bug me and nag me. I have all day to fuss over the messes. On one hand you could say we have such busy, full days we have all of it out because we work with all of it. Or we have two children so we have to have so much more stuff out to meet both their needs. Or I am a crummy photographer, not taking nicer simpler pictures. But what you see is what is really there. I wish it were that easy to shift the blame. I know the real reason is because we are often too busy, or lazy, to remove what is underused or what we are completely done with. For instance, in doing this blog post, I was too lazy to take out what we were done with before pictures. I just let it go. I did manage to clear some of our nature table, though it typically has to be spilling over the tray onto the floor before I remind Elliott we should remove a few ‘treasures’. With reluctance, I will continue our house tour, trying to focus on the positives of the space!

Being able to see what my boys are up to with a quick glance is wonderful, making me feel a bit closer and more connected.  And if someone is not visible, they are almost always within ear shot, giving me time to step in if needed or listen and observe from a distance. For this reason, I love our house. From this second living room I can see many directions and hear everything. I can watch children out the back sliding doors or have a wide open area to work and play on the floor. This is where we tend to play board games with Elliott, wrestle around with Oliver, or hang out with friends during playdates.

We have Elliott’s work table and will be bringing Oliver’s smaller, shorter one back in from the garage soon. The upper shelves hold our Montessori materials – the bead materials for mathematics, number rods, geometric shapes cabinet for sensorial work and inset tracing, and the ten boards (more mathematics). On occasion Oliver has begun to notice these items, but I try to keep the more dangerous small beads and materials to the back. We also have out a few shape puzzles for either boy, plenty of plastic Mr. Potato head pieces, and many Schleich animals and dinosaurs for scenes, sorting by continents, or, lately, setting up as family sets across the whole floor. I am so happy Santa thought of these because they are so realistic and beautifully made. They are a favorite for both boys. Under the shelves, and oddly never noticed by Oliver, are boxes of the moveable alphabet and a rug for laying out words.

  

More fragile materials are up higher or pushed back from Oliver here too. I have out the binomial cube, puzzle words and phonetic reading commands, and sequencing puzzles. Sandpaper letters, sandpaper phonograms, and chalkboard had to be lower since they are so heavy, but they do attract little fingers. We have had a few close calls! Below that is a dressing book, shape sorting, container opening (small objects inside the box for Oliver to practice opening) and some wood blocks. The bottom shelves are mostly directed towards Oliver but Elliott is still interested.

While Elliott started learning print at his Montessori school last year, I was trained with showing cursive first. So I had already ordered cursive sandpaper letters and a cursive moveable alphabet while he was learning to print his name. While he is able to recognize the sounds either way for a majority of the letters, he still shows little interest in really wanting to write or read. I am trying not to push anything but only show him something when he seems interested. When interest wanes, I give up for the time being. Working with mom can frustrate him more than I think he would normally get in a classroom setting.

 

 In the hallway we have a frame from Michael Olaf with changeable Bit of Intelligence Cards from The Gentle Revolution Press. I love this frame and the pictures that perfectly fit. Quickly, any time I please, I can slide the current picture out the top and one of the nine others behind it can be the new natural picture or art for the time being. When those 10 have cycled through, I sort through my giant stack to find more. They are lovely images with 10 facts about the pictured scene or item. We have paintings by a variety of artists, leaves, insects, butterflies, musical instruments, and flowers. The boys seem to appreciate the subtle change in the environment and like having lovely images right at their eye level.

Next to the kitchenette we have a large bin of dress up clothing and a puzzle of the United States. While I love our puzzle maps, the World puzzle and North America puzzle had to be hidden in our room because Oliver was eating Asia and all small Central American countries. He has not yet acquired a taste for Rhode Island or Vermont so for the time being we can leave this puzzle out.

If any area is where the clutter is at, it is always the nature table. Elliott is a treasure hunter. Small or large, it makes it way here. Feathers, nests, nuts, leaves, seeds, rocks, shells, squished bugs, butterflies, even found trash all get displayed for a period of time. We also keep arts and crafts on this shelf because we can hide so much in the drawers and cabinets. In the open areas, we have finger knitting, bead stringing, sewing, handmade books on the natural world (life cycle of a seed, land and water forms, how a chick is born), play dough and tools, and a bead craft. Inside the cabinets are markers, pens, pencils, stickers, papers, cards with envelopes, stamps and ink pads, scissors, a stapler, a ruler, tape, glue, a pencil sharpener, any necessary supplies a four-year old needs to make anything crafty. Paper crafting is very important here. Oh, and a mat! This is quite important for the period before something has been mastered (drawing on paper, gluing only on the intended item). All of these items were gradually added to Elliott’s shelves, being introduced one at a time so he had a chance to practice and learn. Typically I even set up each activity with its own supplies. For example, for gluing, I put out a glue stick, small papers to glue, a special mat just for gluing, and large papers to glue on, all contained on a tray. Once shown how to handle the glue, he had everything he needed gathered together so he could practice and gain control, repeating as much as he wanted, but not distracted with all the other craft choices. Once he mastered that, I changed papers, tried new types of glue and then, finally, added glue to his regular crafting supplies. I did this same slow introduction process with cutting work, stickers, stapling, stamping, markers, colored pencils, and painting.

 

 

 

 

* Please note no animals were harmed in the filling of the specimen jars. All specimens collected had already perished. Elliott is just that good at finding dead things outside. Recall the squirrel?

 Next on the tour… the boy’s bedrooms and the bathroom. Oh, the excitement!

making it better

When so much has been overwhelming and difficult, I am happy to find there is a lot lately that just has made each day a little better.

  • watching my little baby become a little boy, so suddenly

 

  • seeing that same little boy enjoy being 1 so much and partying until he dropped

    

  • the sweet clothing we scored at Goodwill, including two Hawaiian shirts, one for each boy

  • venting at knit night and finding I am not alone in my troubles, plus getting at least three rows knit (a first in over a month)

 

  • my new birthday sewing machines and table ~~ These make me giddy! I realize one will have to be sold, but to get the table, I had to buy both machines at the antique shop. I had to, I’m telling you. 🙂 Plus, the boys were so patient while I inspected each machine, loaded them, and paid for them. I was so proud. It made the whole day just go wonderfully after that.

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.