Posted in art, family life

fizzy apple painting

Our last apple project for the season was fizzy painting on apple templates. The basic idea is to paint the shapes with baking soda paint and then paint over them again with colored vinegar, to create the chemical reaction and “fizzes” on the paper. We used yellow baking soda paste (just baking soda and water, mixed to a spreadable consistency) and red and blue vinegar, so that in addition to the chemical reaction the boys could see the principles of color mixing. Finally, the website I’d found the idea on suggested that the shapes could be cut out and used for fall decorations after the fact (and their apples did look quite nice!), either on a garland or as sun catchers in a window. So there were a lot of different facets to this project.

Rondel demonstrating various phases of the process, from painting to taste-testing (just a heads-up that while baking soda and vinegar are completely edible, they may not cause the most pleasant reaction in your stomach if you eat too much, as Rondel discovered the hard way):

The baking soda paste was difficult to paint with using our foam brushes – it may work better with standard brushes, but I don’t have any of those yet for the boys. The vinegar went on pretty easily, although we did end up spilling a lot of it when one of the bowls was knocked over!

Both boys noticed that orange and green somehow appeared on the papers despite not being in any of the paint bowls, but they were far more captivated by the fizzing. At some point, they realized that they could make the whole bowl of vinegar paint fizz up by dipping a brush covered in baking soda paint into it, and they were both delighted and fascinated.

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In fact, Rondel went so far as to mix all the paints together at the end, just to make the biggest fizzy reaction possible!

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Limerick was too distracted by his paintbrush to notice. though…

While it wasn’t the longest activity, because we ran out of paint fairly quickly, it was a novel and exciting one; both boys asked me to make more paint when it was done, actually, which was a first for a “crafty” sort of activity. Maybe I just hadn’t made enough, since I had made way too much paint for our last craft, but I think their smiles attest to the success of the project even though the apple paintings themselves ended up in the garbage can:

I think I’ll need to plan another fizzing activity, though! I’ve already found a pumpkin one that holds some promise so we’ll see how that goes 🙂

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

Limerick doing dishes

If Limerick hears water running, he is there in seconds begging to be included.

When my husband goes out in the morning to water the garden, Limerick bursts into violent tears if the back door shuts him out.

When I turn on the bathtub faucet to get in the shower, Limerick is somehow immediately there frantically trying to climb in.

And whenever anyone attempts to wash the dishes, he clamors to be lifted up to “do dishes!” too, throwing himself at us and the counter until we set him up by the sink.

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tucked between the sink and the drying rack, surrounded by towels to catch the overflow!

Because he loves “helping” with the dishes so much, we usually let him continue to play with the sink after all the dishes are actually clean, giving him a few bowls and cups to fill and pour, and he will contentedly occupy himself with those things while Rondel and I clean other nearby parts of the house or prepare dinner – so it is really quite a useful thing!

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Besides which, the practice of balancing the full cups and bowls, and the dexterity required to pour them out into another bowl, is really quite valuable for fine motor development.

And he’s just so cute doing it 🙂

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Posted in family life

drawing and drawing and drawing

Right now, at 19 months old, Limerick loves to draw and write. He’ll head downstairs by himself, run to the office, pull out his box of crayons and some paper, and start drawing! (Well, usually he’ll find some paper or a coloring book – other times he just starts coloring the doors, walls, and floors! I’ve hid everything except the washable crayons, which are my new favorite thing…) Lately he’s been drawing and stamping on a magnetic drawing board as well, to the exclusion of most other toys and activities. He doesn’t need the added attraction of anyone else’s presence to find it interesting; he’ll even abandon Rondel or a game they’re playing together to draw.

The other day, at my mom’s house, while Rondel set up the race track and played with cars to his heart’s content, Limerick got to draw with colored pencils. He was enraptured.

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(He was drawing with a yellow pencil in this last shot so it doesn’t show up on the paper very well!)

One of the great benefits of reading aloud for this little boy especially will be the exposure to so many different styles of beautiful illustrations, to give him a myriad of inspirations for his own art as he masters the basic elements of control and direction 🙂 Seeing beauty in so many different books, he’ll begin to notice the details that take a picture from mundane to exceptional, from mediocre to great; he’ll (hopefully) begin to see how pictures can enhance or belie the story that the words are telling, and catch the hidden humor or depth in them; and he’ll be able to create more beauty and tell more stories in his own way.

Of course, he could lose interest in drawing by the time he’s in kindergarten 🙂 He’s rather young for me to be picturing his life path already! But his interest is so much greater than Rondel’s ever was that I can’t help but think there is some deeper natural inclination there. Who knows – but he certainly loves it now!

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – some crafting with the toddlers

The boys being very excited about painting for various and sundry reasons, I pulled out my previous finger paint recipe and took the boys outdoors with some paper and sponge brushes. (A cornstarch-based edible paint would probably be less messy and sticky, but I didn’t have enough cornstarch to make it work. So condensed milk it had to be.)

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I mixed up just the primary colors to avoid ending up with just a brown mess, and I love the way the different colors combined on the paper, brushes, and sidewalk. It was also interesting seeing the different ways the boys painted: Rondel using wide sweeping strokes on the paper, blending the colors together thoroughly and without subtlety; Limerick flinging the brushes in the air above the paper to make fine strings and drips of paint below, far more into the process than the product.

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Rondel absolutely loved everything about painting. He loved mixing the different colors, testing the different brushes to see what they produced on the paper, and creating something from the raw materials available. He didn’t complain once about the stickiness of the paint, even when it dripped on his legs or when he decided to paint with his fingers to see how it compared to the brushes – which is a huge deal for this little boy who is (or used to be?) so sensorily sensitive. He also didn’t panic or get upset with Limerick at all, even when they wanted the same brush or color paint. It was good to see him so involved in the process of creation that he was able to tune out or ignore the physical discomforts of a hot sidewalk and sticky paint as well as the emotional distraction of a younger brother sharing the brushes and paints.

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Limerick dove into the painting process with his characteristic no-holds-barred exploratory attitude (which is one of the things I enjoy most about his personality!), dripping paint off his brush onto the papers and sidewalk with intense interest in how the paint flew and fell, with the side-effect of becoming very sticky and colorful himself… and then suddenly he realized how sticky he was and fell apart, attempting to cling to me with wriggly snuggles in his upset. Being set in the bathtub cheered him up considerably 😛

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In addition to their free play exploration painting, the boys helped me with one of my projects with some acrylic paint on wood. But since I haven’t yet finished the project, all you get are the teaser photos 🙂 I promise you it’ll be a good one when it’s done, and I hope to have pictures of the final product up next week!

Head on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter today for the link-up and share your captured moments of everyday contentment with the rest of us!

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – roller coaster parenting

Parenting is quite the sequence of ups and downs. One night the boys help me clean up all their toys, snuggle up for stories after their bath, and fall asleep peacefully and quickly; the next night the space between dinner and bed is punctuated by a meltdown every five minutes, bedtime itself turns into a two-hour battle, and the house still looks like a tornado hit it by the time I manage to fall asleep.

Last night being one of the good nights (in fact, one of the best, as I re-convinced my 2.5 year old that books are amazing by selecting some slightly more advanced classics and reading them with character voices), it’s tempting to feel like I’ve got this parenting thing down! Of course, however, that would be a delusion remarkably blind to even just the past week of family life…

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But let’s start with the positives from the past week, because they did exist even on the hardest days.

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On Friday I remembered to pick up some sweet potatoes during our grocery run and started rooting some slips for our summer garden! The two on the left are normal orange sweet potatoes (Red Garnets or whatever standard variety the grocery store carries) and the two on the right are purple sweet potatoes. They’re a bit starchier and less sweet than the orange, and Rondel loves them – but as they tend to be expensive we hardly ever buy them. Hopefully this foray into potato gardening is a success! I have a feeling we will have our whole tiny yard covered in vines and leaves and nothing to show for it under the soil…

But for now, we are excitedly watching the potatoes begin to shoot thin white roots out into the water in their jars! The purple potatoes are proving more prolific in the rooting department, but there’s already activity (less than a week after setting these up) in all four jars. The site I found made it sound like there would be both roots and leaves within a few weeks, and at that time I plan to plant the slips as even the cold nights will be a faint memory by that point.

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Despite Rondel having a rather exhausting cold (his sensitivities increase exponentially when he’s sick, and he can’t stand the feel of his nose running even the slightest bit, so our days were a continual refrain of high-pitched moans of “wipe nose!”), I took the boys out to the park Saturday morning just to get them out of the house. Limerick had serious cabin fever, and even Rondel was feeling just better enough that some time running around significantly helped his mood. Sometimes I think some sort of physical activity must be a basic human need for the proper functioning of the mind and emotions… it’s true for most of the people I know, at any rate, and even more true for those of us prone to depression and anxiety.

Anyway, Rondel spent most of the time literally running up and down the sidewalks pushing his dump truck, while Limerick tested his balancing abilities by walking on all the curbs. Then Rondel discovered that his truck would roll all the way down the hill if he gave it a bit of a push at the top, and the two of them ran gleefully after it all the way down, until it crashed into a bush at the bottom. This was then repeated many times, to the great happiness of all involved 🙂

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Did you notice the sweatshirts on the boys in the pictures above? Just a few hours later, they were attired much differently:

Arizona spring weather is just as inconsistent and changing as those feelings of parenting success or failure… one minute we’re all bundled up and the next we’re playing in the water wearing shoes because the concrete is too hot to stand on!

Also funny (to me anyway): Limerick is currently quite obsessed with pouring water on himself, and with oranges. I have no clue why oranges are so incredibly fascinating…

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This is Limerick, thoroughly enjoying himself with his cousins at the zoo:

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And where was Rondel?

Curled up in the stroller, disconsolate, asking if we could please go home so he could take a nap – because it was the first morning he was sick and I didn’t realize it before we had packed up to go out with the cousins as planned. So in addition to putting him through a miserable morning (it was cold, overcast, and windy – great for running around, not so great for sitting in a stroller feeling sick), I spread the cold to my niece and nephew. I suppose it’s always good to have bad parenting days to keep us from getting arrogant about the good ones… so much depends on getting a few spur-of-the-moment decisions right. But that doesn’t make it feel any better when it happens!

Head on over to the link-up today at Like Mother Like Daughter to be encouraged and share everyday contentment with everyone else!

Posted in family life

brothers becoming friends

As the oldest sibling in my family, I liked playing with my brother and sister but sometimes (especially when they were very young) wished they were a bit more mature and independent! I see that with Rondel on occasion as he plays with Limerick – Limerick is always very interested in whatever Rondel is doing, and wants to be a part of it with him, but since he’s still pretty little he has a tendency to knock things over, which frustrates Rondel to no end as he’s typically just managed to balance or build or line things up to his liking when Limerick wanders over. It’s hard to watch sometimes, because I want them to learn to play together well and work through their conflicts, and it’s sad to see Limerick pushed away by his big brother when he just wants to play with him, but at the same time I find myself sympathizing with Rondel when he wants to be able to do something without another small person in his space.

When the boys are running around, though, engaging in full-body activities and practicing large motor skills, they’re a lot less likely to have conflict and a lot more likely to really enjoy being together. I think it might be because Limerick is on a more even level with Rondel in this sphere, or because Rondel is moving around and so doesn’t have a “space” or “activity” that Limerick can mess up. So at night we’ll run through the house playing chasing games, and they’ll practically run into each other and not care that they’re touching each other. And playing outside tends to be the best of all:

We took advantage of a warm afternoon to set up the hose out front and the boys spent the whole time – over an hour – playing in close company, watching each other, copying each other, laughing at each other, and generally building up the positive balance in their relationship. It probably helped that (after taking these pictures) I got in on the fun with them… 🙂 I really couldn’t resist!

My hope for them is that they will grow to be each other’s best friends, closest supports, and greatest encouragers – that they will lead each other into crazy situations, help each other grow, and be there for each other when they need a helping hand or a listening ear. And I think that these early years are foundational for creating the closeness and connection that often prove so elusive later in life.

Posted in family life, recipes

hot cross buns: the Good Friday story and a recipe

One of my challenges this Easter was explaining the story of Jesus’s death to my toddlers. Death isn’t really a concept that they understand, and violent, painful death isn’t exactly something I want to describe to them in detail. I’d like them to retain their innocence until life demands otherwise!

We read some of the stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but they were honestly still a few years beyond Rondel, and I could tell that though he was listening, the words weren’t making much sense to him. So I ended up making it pretty short and simple, just saying that Jesus was hurt and died on a cross so that He could rescue us and make us able to know and love God.

And my best teaching tool ended up being these:

Throughout the day-long process of mixing, rising, shaping, baking, and glazing the hot cross buns, Rondel would keep asking me, in his toddler vernacular, what we would be drawing on top of the buns (answer: a cross) and what Jesus did for us on the cross (answer: see above). It gave him an interest in the story and something tangible to latch on to in the midst of a lot of things he didn’t quite understand.

So maybe that is part of the reason why these buns, which have always felt distinctly non-fasting to me, are a traditional Good Friday food – they help to teach the story to the youngest of us, and remind the rest of us of the truths we either lose sight of or over-complicate.

Bread making is something I do as much by feel as by measurements, but here’s the basic recipe I use for these buns, adapted from America’s Bread Book by Mary Gubser, if you want to make them next year. They are consistently one of my favorite sweet yeast breads.

First, you’ll need to make a sponge. This lets your yeast get active and happy, and if you’re using some whole wheat flour (as I normally do – I was totally out this year though), it gives the flour additional time to absorb the liquid and soften into the dough, allowing the gluten to develop while blunting some of the wheat’s sharp edges that can damage the gluten strands. It also means that your dough will rise a bit faster later on, since the yeast will already have had a chance to feed and multiply.

For a single batch, about 32-36 comfortably large buns, I start with 2 cups warm milk, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups whole wheat flour. (My general rule of thumb for a sponge is equal volumes of liquid and flour. If you’re doubling the recipe, you shouldn’t need to double the yeast as well, although I would still increase it to 3 tablespoons.) This gets all stirred up and then gets to sit, loosely covered, in a warmish, non-drafty place for about 30-60 minutes. Really, 30 minutes is as much as you need, but it can go quite a bit longer if you get distracted with your kids while it’s sponging 🙂

To the lovely, bubbly, slightly risen sponge (releasing that most wonderful yeasty scent into the air), you’ll need to add an egg and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Both of these things can inhibit the development of the yeast, so I like to let the yeast get a good headstart with the sponge before adding them!

At this point you have a good basic sweet bread starter that you could take in a variety of directions. For hot cross buns, I add a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and about 3/4 teaspoons each of cloves and nutmeg. My additions to the buns vary slightly from year to year depending on what I have on hand, but basically you’ll need something citrusy and some sort of dried fruit. You could use 1/2-3/4 cup diced candied lemon or orange rind or the zest and juice of two oranges for the citrus, and 3/4-1 cup currants, raisins, or golden raisins (or a mix) for the dried fruit, and I’m pretty sure any combination of the above would be excellent. I do like the added texture of the larger golden raisins vs. the currants, and of the candied rind vs. the zest and juice, but if you want a smoother roll without those extra juicy bites, both zest and currants will melt into the batter and give you flavor without changing the texture. This year I used half currants and half golden raisins, and the zest and juice option for my citrus – it was what I had, and it was good.

Once the spices and fruits are added in, you’ll want to add white (unbleached, of course) flour to the dough, slowly, until the dough is workable but still soft and definitely not dry. You don’t want it as wet as a baguette dough, for example, because you’ll need to shape it into little rolls and it’ll have to hold that shape, but you don’t want it so dry that the end result is also dry and dense. This is the part of bread making that is hard to precisely describe without showing you in person! And to give you an idea of how variable it can be, the recipe I’ve adapted calls for about 2 cups more flour than I’m ever able to add to my dough – I live in a really dry climate, and it affects my yeast bread significantly, since most recipes have been tested and created in more humid places.

Anyway, when you’ve gotten the dough to your liking, you’ll want to knead it until it starts to look smooth and elastic, and stretches when you pull on it instead of breaking away in chunks. I have a mixer with a dough hook that I let do the kneading for me, typically, because it gives me more consistent results in less time, but there is something very satisfying and cathartic about doing it by hand from time to time, so don’t let the absence of a mixer stop you! This kneaded dough will then need to rise in a large bowl, coated with either melted butter or oil to keep the dough from sticking. Just like for the sponge, this bowl will need to be covered loosely and allowed to rest somewhere cozy until it has about doubled in size, which will probably be about an hour but will depend a lot on the health and happiness of your yeast.

Finally, at this point, you get to shape your little buns! I like a roll about the size of a typical dinner roll or average muffin, a piece of dough that comfortably fits in the palm of my hand and is easy to shape; this gets me about 32-36 rolls. Mary Gubser recommends making them with pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, resulting in 84 or so tiny little two-bite rolls, but I honestly quiver at the though of drawing crosses over that many tiny buns. Also, I never really want fewer than one hot cross bun anyway, so I’d end up eating 3 or 4 little ones at once…

These newly shaped rolls should sit on parchment paper or a buttered baking sheet, under a light towel, for about 45 minutes to let them rise one more time before baking, during which time you can preheat the oven to 375 F. The rolls will only take about 12-15 minutes to bake, even at the larger size, and should be golden on both top and bottom, light to the touch but not too squishy.

To cross them, after they’ve cooled, make a basic glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar to get to a spreadable consistency, pipe with a pastry bag/ziploc bag with the corner cut off, and let sit to harden. I usually only cross part of the batch because they’re easier to store unglazed, and I can glaze the rest of the buns the next day if I need to or just eat them unadorned, which is still very tasty if not quite as edifying and delicious.

Enjoy!

Posted in family life

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – feeding the ducks!

The boys and I went to a new park this week, just a few miles south of our house. To our delight, behind the playground was a lake, complete with ducks!

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Limerick absolutely loves birds and was completely captivated by the ducks. It took him a few tries to throw his pieces of bread into the water instead of just dropping them at his feet, but once he got it he didn’t want to stop.

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We fed the ducks at the end of our time at the park, after a couple hours of running and digging in the sun, and I was a bit worried that the boys would be too worn out to really enjoy it – but they were so excited about seeing all the birds that they got a second wind 🙂 I was amazed at how fast our small supply of bread heels disappeared into those ducks’ tummies.

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Tuesday was free ice cream cone day at Dairy Queen, and there happens to be a Dairy Queen within a block of our house, so I took the boys for their first ever ice cream cone experience. This little man was a bit overwhelmed by the cone in its pristine form, but he got all silly and happy once we reduced it down to more manageable proportions. Limerick was exactly the opposite: he plunged right into the tower of ice cream on the cone, uncaring of the creamy sticky mess all over his face, and ate quite a bit before deciding he was done, about halfway through the ice cream. The upshot of the adventure was that we had 3 good-sized cones and I ended up eating about 2 of them, between my own and helping the boys with theirs!

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This little guy, while decidedly cute and happy, has also decided that it is ridiculously fun to run away from me and generally play keep-away when I call him. It is hard not to let it turn into a game every time, the way he laughs so mischievously as he scampers away! I’m having to enforce the rules a bit more strictly than I wish I had to – it’s like, if you would stay away from the road you could play anywhere in this whole huge area, but because you keep running towards the road with trouble on your face, thinking it’s a game, you’re going to have to sit with me or in the stroller. I feel like his need to test the boundaries keeps him from having as much fun as he otherwise could, which makes me sad for him.

My primary solution is to let him play, as much as possible, in areas where the boundaries are few and far between, so he doesn’t feel as much need to test: a playground where the road isn’t in sight, or where the road is on the other side of a fence; a child-safe backyard; the inside of our house or my parents’ house. In those settings, he can explore and play independently without the constant need for supervision or the shadow of a potential “no” interrupting his agenda.

Any other tips for what to do in places where I can’t control all those variables, and where the boundaries are simultaneously much tighter and much less clearly defined (for a 1.5yr old, anyway)?

Head on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for the link-up today!

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – in which some oddities of my family are revealed

Let me preface this week’s edition of {p,h,f,r} by telling you that all these pictures come from the same day, and that this day is not really that extraordinary of a day for us – I just happened to have my camera on hand for most of it. I feel like my goal is calm, ordered, semi-normal routines, but the reality of our family life is spontaneous, diverse, and weird. Or maybe it is just the things that fill in the routines that are strange… we still do have normal activities each day like naps and meals and baths 😛

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On this particular day we visited the zoo for my nephew’s birthday. I am not a huge fan of large groups of people with small children trying to do the zoo together, but it worked out alright and we were able to go at the kids’ pace. We saw the flamingos and the monkeys and got to go inside the aviary, which are all highlights for my boys. One thing I love about the zoo is getting to see the incredible beauty and diversity of the animal kingdom!

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Their eyes are a bit unnerving, but I love the graceful curve of their necks and the soft overlay of their feathers.

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Another nice aspect of our local zoo is that it has a small splash pad just right for smaller kids – it is a great way to unwind and cool off before heading home, especially when the weather is warmer. Limerick was already past his nap time but the water (and birthday cake) gave us an extra 30-45 minutes with the extended family.

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Rondel hung back at first but about 10 minutes later he was down to his diaper, running and dancing and laughing in the water.
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Limerick ran right at the camera with his signature goofy grin 🙂

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After nap we had a pretty relaxed afternoon, reading books, playing at home, etc., and while I was making dinner I left the kids to their own devices.

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But it was certainly amusing! And we don’t use the dishwasher, so I didn’t really mind the boys playing with the rack. Later that evening I found a pile of random objects behind the office door and Rondel informed me that they had been recycled by his stuffed monkeys, who carried them there in their dump truck (the dishwasher rack).

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Could there be a more random assortment of items?

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This was part of dinner cooking in its early stages – baby gold potatoes cooked in chicken broth. Everything was going well and then I got distracted by the kids’ creativity and hilarity and came running back to the kitchen to discover all the broth evaporated (which was supposed to happen) and the potatoes all sticking to the skillet (which was not supposed to happen). Sigh. They still tasted good though! In my dream house, the kitchen wouldn’t be a little closet of a room disconnected from everything else…

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There would also be better lighting for indoor picture-taking, I think. You know, if we’re dreaming here 🙂 One of the drawbacks of a town home is that there aren’t many available walls for windows!

Head on over to the link up at Like Mother, Like Daughter and check out some of the other blogs! It’s always fun to see the craziness that goes on in other people’s families, to know we’re not the only ones 🙂