Posted in family life, musings, Uncategorized

beauty in the little things

newborn baby giggles as little girl slips, milk-drunk, into sleep in my arms…

the smell of fresh bread, sweet and citrusy, to celebrate Epiphany…

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it got a bit lopsided but tasted delicious!

warm sun and a cool breeze and a couple hours at the park with my family…

little boys all crazy smiles running through the splash pad in the cold…
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warming up before heading back into the spray

sunlight on baby girl’s face, streaming through the window to the changing table, holding her spellbound for a good twenty minutes…

little boy hugs, head laid down on baby’s tummy, arms ever-so-gently tucked around her…

big boy love, wild and exuberant, caring and protective, running joyfully in each morning to say hi to the baby, showing her his toys, getting up at dinner to check on her…

tiny fingers capturing us all with their utter perfection…

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not forgetting that tiny perfect nose and mouth and chin of course! or the perfect chubby curve of that tiny cheek…

Postpartum is hard. But in with the hard times, there is so much beauty – beauty in the new life, beauty in the old familiar everyday that keeps on going on – and the beauty is what keeps me going on as the old and the new become one.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

oobleck!

After discovering Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, by sheer random luck at the library last week, and enjoying it on the basis of its story alone for several days, I told Rondel that oobleck was actually something we could make at home. I wasn’t sure if he would want to, but he spent the whole next day (while I was at work) telling my husband how he was going to get to make oobleck with Mommy, so at that point it was going to have to happen!

And happen it did:

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Oobleck is, in its simplest form, a mixture of cornstarch and water. We added some food coloring to try to make it green like it is in the Dr. Seuss book, but we obviously should have added more! The proportions of the two ingredients have to be just right (approximately a 1:2 water:cornstarch ratio), but when they are, the mixture stops behaving like a liquid or a solid and becomes a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, the way it responds is based on the force you apply. Let your hand sink down slowly into the bowl and it feels like water; try to pull your hand back out quickly and the substance instantly hardens around you. (For a good overview of the science, check out this article from Cornell).

I spent a lot of time just playing around with it on my own before I could convince the boys to touch it, but after they got over the initial weirdness of it they didn’t want to stop. Rondel in particular enjoyed the odd sensation of it and kept immersing his hands in and pulling them out again over and over and over. In fact, because our air is so dry, I had to keep adding water to the oobleck so he could keep playing with it as long as his interest held – which ended up being about an hour and a half, and would have been longer if we hadn’t desperately needed to put Limerick down for a nap.

Oobleck is definitely a messy activity. Because of the way it sticks to your skin, it’s not going to stay nicely contained in a mixing bowl! However, since it’s just cornstarch, it does hose off of everything fairly easily (much to my neighbors’ relief… the newly returned snowbirds aren’t used to the kids playing in the common area and were worried about the mess). It will also dry out your skin, so it might be good to have lotion on hand for after the clean-up. This was my first time playing with it as well, although I’ve read about it before, and I highly recommend it (and the book!) for both you and your kids!

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

When Rondel fell in love with dinosaurs this fall (with Limerick close on his heels, as always), I was at a bit of a loss at first as to how to feed this love with good books. I spent a lot of time searching through recommended book lists online, as well as combing through the library catalog, and ended up bringing home quite a few of various genres, lengths, and reading levels. While I think that all of the books we ended up trying out were good books, some were definitely better than others for a young preschooler and a toddler! Two important aspects that stood out to me were quality illustrations and accurate but accessible information. In other words, mediocre art or dumbed-down language made a book annoying to me and, what mattered more, less captivating or engaging for the boys. Drawings that captured the wonder and drama of the dinosaurs could keep them riveted, and detailed information at an accessible level answered their questions and gave them a foundation for their own imaginative dinosaur play. All of the books we ended up truly loving had at least one if not both of these attributes.

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D is for Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Alphabet, by Todd Chapman and Lita Judge

This book was one of the best. The alphabet format allowed it to move through a wide range of dinosaur topics (some pages focused on types of dinosaurs, others on specific species, others on basic scientific concepts, and still more on fossil discoveries and paleontologists) without becoming overly long and unwieldy. Each page had a short poem to go with the letter and a well-crafted illustration to accompany the poem, but the unexpected bonus on each page was the extensive sidebar of supplemental information. I never read a full sidebar to the boys, but I almost always grabbed one or two sentences from them to give them more information about the drawings (which were incredibly detailed and thus led to detailed questions from the boys). This book also spent some time on extinction and what happened to the dinosaurs, which helped Rondel understand why he couldn’t just go out and find some real dinosaurs!

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Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Jacqui Bailey

This book tells the story of a dinosaur who comes to an untimely end, slowly fossilizes, and is eventually discovered and reassembled. The science is good (one section describes how bone turns into stone at a microscopic level!) and punctuated by humorous thought bubbles from the dinosaur himself; information is broken up into segments and sidebars so that the discerning adult reader can add more or less information and time to the story as is appropriate for the listeners’ attention span at the moment. Sometimes we read them all and sometimes we skipped most of them… But more than any other book we found, this book explained fossilization and described paleontology in a way that a very young child could understand and get excited about. And since it’s rather incomplete, at least in my opinion as a scientist, to just learn about dinosaurs without understanding how we’ve obtained that knowledge, this was an invaluable resource (not to mention that most other dinosaur books will just casually mention “dinosaur fossils” and expect the reader to know what that means). It was an enjoyable book for me to read aloud and surprisingly to me, since I thought it might be a few years beyond them still, it was enjoyable for the boys as well. They even asked for it at bedtime!

In addition to these books, we had a few Eyewitness/Atlas type of books that gave broad overviews of the dinosaur era; they weren’t the sort of thing we could read straight through, but they tended to have excellent illustrations and exposed the boys to the vast spectrum of dinosaur species that existed. We also borrowed the Wee Sing Dinosaurs CD from the library and Rondel begged for it every car ride to the point of tears… but while it was a huge success with him, it drove my husband absolutely crazy! The songs are cute but far from high musical quality, and they will be stuck in your head forever once you’ve heard them a few times…

The rest of the books we brought home were either over the boys’ heads or not really at the same level as the two above. I am looking forward to reading the Magic School Bus books with them when they’re older, as I loved them when I was a kid and the dinosaur one seemed quite good when I skimmed through it this time around, but so far the boys have very little interest in them. It would also be nice to find some decent dinosaur fiction! Rondel doesn’t need the storyline aspect to stay engaged, because the dinosaurs themselves are the draw and poorly done stories detract from that, but I would enjoy it and I believe Limerick would as well (and a book that appeals to both of them is always welcome).

So there is my very short list of excellent recommended books for the very young dinosaur lover! With these, some dinosaur atlases, and some dinosaur figurines (accurate ones of course!), you should be set. Even your one-year-old may go around saying things like “metriacanthosaurus” and correcting you if you don’t pronounce “parasaurolophus” correctly, and your three-year-old should be prepared for months of dinosaur pretend play involving such things as turning into a dinosaur fossil (by being buried under pillows and blankets for “millions of years”), hatching from a dinosaur egg, roaring like a giganotosaurus, being eaten by a T. rex, and ramming his head into everyone like a pachycephalosaurus. (Results not guaranteed).

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

to my sons’ grandmothers

One of the greatest gifts my children have been given is the chance to know both of their grandmothers well and form deep, personal relationships with them. There is something special about the unconditional love and care of a grandma, particularly when coupled with their wisdom, experience, and maturity. When I am concerned about a certain behavior, my mom or my mother-in-law can provide the perspective her own years of child-raising have given her; when my patience has run out or my tank is empty, they can support me with their time and prayers; and when I worry more about my parenting or how people judge our family, they can simply give their love and acceptance to my children.

At family gatherings, I often notice some of our relatives looking askance at Rondel, for his odd physical behaviors (spinning, licking, etc.), or for his intense emotional reactions (especially in the uncomfortable, overstimulating environments that often surround family events), or for his particularity and attention to detail (which he hasn’t yet learned to express gently…). And it hurts me a lot. I want to go into “Mama Bear” mode and totally destroy the people who judge my son poorly, especially when they go beyond glances and start making snide comments. I try not to because that’s not the example I want to set for my children on how to interact with the rudeness and criticism of the world, but that’s my visceral reaction…

And so it means so much to me when my mother-in-law comments on how fascinating Rondel is, how sharp and attentive he is – when she notices his quirks and differences with affection and love instead of judgment. She’s not oblivious to his sensitivities and struggles, but she simply accepts them and loves him not despite them but because of  them, in a way, because they are a part of who he is. I don’t think I can fully express the gratitude I have for her because of that, despite all the differences we have in general about raising children 🙂 And because I’m apparently ridiculously blessed, I know I can count on my mom to have that same attitude and perspective towards my children.

So thank you, wonderful grandmas 🙂 Our little family is so much richer, emotionally and relationally, because of your presence and your love.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

sensory bedtimes

After a grueling bedtime battle a couple nights ago, I decided our bedtime routine needed some adjustments, for Rondel’s sleep and my sanity.

Rondel has a history of sleep troubles. As a baby, he became overstimulated extremely easily and had difficulty calming his mind and body back down, even when he was very tired. We would mostly just have to pace back and forth holding him to help him slowly ease down into sleep; I could recite poetry to him but singing almost always made him cry. We could snuggle together lying down if he was in just the right mood: otherwise it was either not enough stimulation (and more pacing was needed) or it was too much stimulation (and the end of the world was at hand until exhaustion won out, since he panicked if he was left lying alone on the bed). Despite my personal fondness for co-sleeping, Rondel transitioned to his own bed early on, because any movement or noise during the night would wake him up, which would make him want to nurse, which would make him pee, which would wake him up again in a vicious cycle.

As he got a little older, we had countless tear-filled nights where we tried to separate the bottle from his sleep associations, hoping that it would help him self-settle after a midnight half-waking, and also reduce the peeing problem noted above. It did help – he doesn’t wake at all anymore to pee, and has only had two or three nighttime accidents since he learned to use the potty – but it was a long and painful process. We installed blackout curtains in his room to try to help him stay asleep longer and fall asleep more easily; we have either the ceiling fan or the humidifier on every night to create enough white noise that the sounds of the house or the nearby roads don’t wake him up. I even tried various essential oils, though I didn’t notice that they had any impact.

Lately, he’s been sleeping fairly well, and I had been happy with how things were going. We’d finally established a consistent routine that worked for both boys together without being overly lengthy or complicated, and while Limerick had been waking up with bad dreams or wet diapers, Rondel had mostly been sleeping through the night (a good 10 hours every night at that!). But that bedtime a couple nights ago was an entirely different beast – yelling, roaring, tears, and a very sleepless Rondel until about 3 hours past his typical bedtime. I knew none of us could handle that happening on a regular or even semi-regular basis, so I spent my down time at work the next day researching sensory/Aspergers/ADHD bedtime tips (not that he fits under any of those labels overall, but his sleep issues have some overlap). We already had the basics covered, with the blackout curtains and white noise, but one idea that I found intriguing was using some sort of a nightlight, particularly a non-constant one like a lava lamp, to give the mind something to keep it occupied in a monotonous way until it can wind down into sleep.

Tonight, by somewhat of an accident, we ended up with a flickering electric candle in a cut glass box, up on a shelf where Rondel could see it lying down, and he fell asleep with fewer random sounds/questions/comments/dinosaur roars than he has in weeks. He seriously just lay in bed, watched the candle flicker, and fell asleep in less than 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but I’m going to try it again just in case!

Posted in Uncategorized

apple-printing!

The official beginning of fall has actually coincided with the onset of beautifully cool weather here in the desert, and I’ve been accumulating fall activity ideas to do with the boys. Apples are going to be our loose theme for the next two or three weeks, followed by pumpkins in time for October leading into Halloween. We just picked up a couple apple books from the library on Saturday (and have more on hold since everyone else seems to be into apples right now too!), and Saturday morning we tried out some apple printing.

We cut one apple vertically so the prints would have the recognizable apple shape, and the other one horizontally so the boys could see the star inside (and hopefully get it to show up in the prints too). At first I just gave them the apple halves, but it ended up being difficult to get the apples out of the bowls of paint, so I stuck popsicle sticks in two of them to use as handles. It worked pretty well! I think that brushing the paint onto the apple would allow you to get more even prints; dunking tended to give us an excess of paint for the first stamp or two. The prints would also probably be better – as in, more apple-like – if the boys hadn’t taken bites out of them all 🙂

I made the paints from flour, water, and food coloring (with some salt so the leftovers would last, and some baking powder so we could use it as puffy paint), because I knew the apples would be impossible to resist. If it’s any indication, we’ve gone through 10 apples in the last 5 days… so I needed our paint to be completely edible. I may have done more actual stamping than the boys, but they had a great time – we spent almost an hour and a half on the project, not including all the cleanup, and that’s a long time for a 3 year old and a 1 year old!

And they got into the painting too:

We didn’t microwave the paintings to make the paint puff, and when it dried it really curled the paper up, but the boys are far more interested in the process than the product so I don’t think they cared. Actually, I don’t think they even noticed… I hung the papers to dry on a clothesline in the garage but I probably could have recycled them without triggering any emotional danger zones 🙂 I’m pretty much the same way with my own art, though, so I like it!

All in all, a great start to our fall apple “unit study” and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning together!

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

more pancakes!

So, I know I’ve posted about pancakes before. What can I say, they’re still a hit around here 🙂

I am on the search for a good pancake mix, though, too simplify the process even more; I’ve tried the recipe from Like Mother, Like Daughter but it wasn’t our favorite, and I’m planning on trying the whole-grain mix from King Arthur Flour next.

In the meantime, however, I used up all my wheat berries and haven’t made it out to east Mesa to buy more… so the other night when I planned on pancakes and hadn’t yet realized my critical shortage, I had to find another recipe ASAP (it was either that or come up with an entirely new dinner plan thirty minutes before everyone was going to need to eat – yeah, not happening).

I ended up using Mark Bittman’s recipe from the New York Times, which is a very basic white flour pancake recipe, but I made it special by adding some small diced pears (which we needed to use up anyway) along with some cinnamon and cardamom. I don’t think anyone else in the family gets bored of eating the same pancakes every time we make them, but I always want to try something new or different, and the King Arthur Flour mix recipe had provided some add-in suggestions that got me thinking. And ever since I discovered Smitten Kitchen’s pear bread recipe I’ve been unable to separate pears and cardamom in my mind, so I added some cinnamon and cardamom to these pancakes as well! (Incidentally, the pear bread recipe doesn’t actually call for cardamom, and I don’t remember why I originally added it – but it makes the bread really stand out from otherwise similar applesauce/spice cakes. What can I say, I modify all the recipes I touch.)

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Lightly drizzled with maple syrup (for Limerick and I) or just butter (for Rondel, who thinks he doesn’t like syrup), and accompanied by hash browns and sausages, they made for an incredibly luxurious dinner 🙂 Even my picky eater didn’t seem to notice or mind the small pear chunks scattered throughout, which was my main concern, and the sweet tooth of course thought they were a step above normal pancakes.

So – if you’re looking for a special occasion pancake, that may be more of a treat than a seriously healthy food, I would recommend this one! Once I get more wheat berries we’ll go back to our whole-grain pancakes, but these are quite good and, at least with the add-ins, don’t leave me missing the rich depth of the others. I’m already starting to plan different fruit and spice combinations to play around with – maybe something with cranberries and apples? Any suggestions?