Posted in family life, musings

holding Limerick through a meltdown

Tonight Limerick had a meltdown. He doesn’t have them as often as Rondel, but when he’s tired his big emotions can overwhelm him, and little things will push him over the edge. It’s par for the course when one is almost three years old!

When the meltdowns occur, there are two ways I can respond. First, I can try to reason with him in an attempt to make him feel better and stop crying. I have to admit that this is my default reaction, especially if other kids are awake, because I tend to be a logical problem-solver rather than a savvy emotional guru. However, it almost never accomplishes anything, especially with Limerick. He isn’t the most reasonable person at the best of times, and when he’s tired the sheer strength of his emotions renders his logical mind inaccessible.

The second response, which I’ve learned from parenting experts and cannot take credit for, but which I’ve found through experience to be far more effective, is to simply be present and available. With Rondel that typically looks like pulling him to me and hugging him until he calms down, because physical touch is one of his main ways of communicating love, but (as I’m discovering) with Limerick I usually need to sit a few feet away from him – say, on the floor beside his bed if he is in bed – and let him know that I’m there for him and that he can come sit with me if he wants. Slowly, as the emotional storm passes, he’ll scoot closer and closer until at last he is ensconced on my lap, rocking in my arms, restoring peace in his heart.

It’s becoming more instinctual to respond the second way, instead of remembering it only after I’ve reached the point of frustration and anger myself (I think the Zoloft helps me take that moment to stop and remember who I want to be as a parent, for which I am quite grateful!), and it is so rewarding.

Few things in parenting feel worse than going to bed having yelled at your exhausted and irrational toddler for acting out his exhaustion and developmental state, knowing that you’ve fallen so far short of your parenting ideals that it’s as if you ended up in a pigsty when you had intended to aim for the stars. But few things feel better than holding that toddler in your arms as he sniffles and hiccups away his final tears, gazing up at you as if you were their only solid ground in the middle of a buffeting ocean. No one enjoys a meltdown, but through it one can build deeper trust and connection than play and happy moments can provide on their own.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized


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:


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 family life

happy birthday, limerick!

Dear Limerick,

Today, you are two years old.

You are very proud of this fact. You have been telling me for weeks that you are only one now, but that you will be two soon! The prospect of having a number “2” on your birthday cake is also quite tantalizing for you, ever since you found your old number “1” candle in the pantry. I won’t be surprised if you start asking about a number “3” candle in short order, though – you like keeping those numbers together!

It’s hard to remember sometimes that you are just now barely two years old. You speak in long, fluent, clearly understandable sentences; you can write all the letters of the alphabet in both lower and upper case; you can count up to 10 and write most of the numbers; and you have several books memorized to the point where you will sit and “read” them to me instead of the other way around. On top of that, you run, jump, hop, and wrestle right along with your older brother, and climb with incredible balance, coordination, and lack of caution (you’ve almost given me a heart attack several times, up on ladders and bridges higher than my head, but you’ve also made me proud of the way you focus on your goal and keep trying until you accomplish it).

Most of the time you seem like a fairly laid-back little guy – you take the yelling and pushing and bouncing dished out by your three-year-old big brother in good grace (and often provoke it with a big grin on your face!). You try whatever crazy new food I come up with, and usually eat a decent amount of it even if you don’t really like it all that much. If another kid takes the toy you’re playing with, you typically just find another and keep playing and exploring the world around you happily. You banter and laugh and do ridiculous things with me and Rondel and Daddy that make us all fall over laughing together!

However, you can be extremely intense when you’re concentrating on something that you want to be able to do! When you’ve decided that you’re going to open a door or pick up an object (no matter how high the handle or how heavy the item), you won’t give up until you’ve figured out some way to do it all by yourself. “You want to do it! You want to do it!” is the cry we hear all day long, since you’ve picked up Rondel’s habit of referring to yourself as “you” – and while it can lead you to great frustration, your perseverance and desire for independence also empower and strengthen you. “You did it!” I tell you: and the joy on your face at doing it, whatever “it” was, is deep and authentic and beautiful. In the same way, when you play independently, you are often serious and unsmiling, intent on the task at hand, focused on discovering or accomplishing something to which you’ve set your mind.

The physical world around you is your easel and paint, the clay in your hands, tools and raw material for you to work with and shape. You inhabit that world with an ease I still don’t have, absorbing its power and potential with uncanny natural ability, creating, building, making with talent beyond your years. It amazes me to watch you practice and develop those abilities even more, with no more motivation than your own internal joy in the process of it.

You are two years old today, little man with the deep blue eyes and charming smile, two years old, and I can hardly believe how much we’ve already gotten to do together! I can’t wait to see what all the years ahead of you will bring.

I love you,


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.


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!


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

water balloons in october…

So after our beautiful 2-3 weeks of cool relatively autumnal weather, summer decided to visit again and we’ve had highs in the 90s for a week or so straight. Sigh.

The boys have enjoyed pulling out the water play again for one last hurrah, though, and we took advantage of the chance to use up the last of our water balloons before the dry winter could render them useless.

You can tell from the long sleeves that it had been cooler in the early morning, at least 🙂

Both boys’ main objective seemed to be popping the water balloons as quickly as possible, so they mostly just threw them into the rocks as the most reliable way to get the pop to happen – they didn’t always throw hard enough to get them to pop on the concrete. Limerick also enjoyed stomping on them as an effective way of making them pop, and Rondel humored me enough to play catch a few times and throw the balloons at me instead of the rocks.

Limerick also kept calling them bubbles, for some reason (maybe because bubbles also pop?), which Rondel found absolutely hilarious 🙂

It may not be much of a fall here in the desert, but we’re finding fun things to do with what we have, and enjoying our colored leaves and pumpkin vicariously through our picture books. Maybe next year we’ll make it up north to see the changing colors in person!

Posted in family life

a little stegosaurus!

There’s a little stegosaurus running loose around here!

(His tail still needs another row of plates but he can’t wait!)

He looks pretty friendly to me, and he’s definitely excited to see the moon still up in the morning sky.

I mean, have you ever seen such a smily dinosaur?

I wouldn’t want to get spiked by that tail, though! Even friendly little stegosauruses can be fierce when they need to be.

Someone remembered that stegosauruses walk on four legs!
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.


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

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 family life

Being three

Three is such an interesting age.

The three-year-old is developing his sense of self, expressing his own opinions, exercising his will, and pushing for the things he wants. The easy compliance of the 1.5-2.5 year-old child, who occasionally tests boundaries but in general finds happiness in doing the will of the parents with whom he’s deeply attached, fades away. And the (sometimes difficult) thing to remember is that this separation of the child’s self from the parent’s self, as expressed by defiance, disobedience, or a different of opinion, is a good and healthy thing: a necessary part of growing up and becoming an individual. It is good for a child to begin to ask why a certain behavior is prohibited while another is encouraged, so they can develop a conceptual of morality and ethics instead of thinking of right and wrong as no more than a list of arbitrary rules. It is good for a preschooler to begin to process and understand his own emotions and desires, as distinct from his parents’ emotions and desires, as a first step for perceiving and responding to the emotions and desires of other people.

(As a note on that last point, the 3-4 year old child does not yet have a true sense of empathy; they just haven’t learned to observe other people’s feelings and mirror those feelings back in a compassionate way. Neither the brain development nor the social maturity is there yet! This is the time to begin overtly teaching the principles of empathy, however, building on the foundation of emotional connection and unconditional love that we have hopefully laid during the first few years of life. Learning this information consoled me greatly after I observed Rondel and another little boy at church engaged in an angry shoving and spitting match…)

But while all this development is going on under the surface, it tends to manifest itself in a huge variety of behaviors. Pretend/imaginative play soars to a new dimension: Rondel, always a storyteller, has now taken to creating whole worlds in his play, with characters who persist from day to day and whose relationships and interactions mirror what he himself is learning about friendship and kindness (as well as whatever frustrations he may be feeling…). On the flip side, controlling behaviors can also escalate, as the child finally has definite opinions of his own about what is the correct way to play with a certain toy, for example, and lacks the empathy to understand that different people may enjoy different ways of playing with the toy in question. As their emotional perception grows, they see and understand when others are upset but usually can’t guess why, and aren’t sure how to respond to the emotions that may scare or confuse them. Rondel tends to lose his cool completely when Limerick starts crying about something, screaming at his brother to stop crying and please be happy again! The intensity of the emotion, coupled with his own inability to understand it or do anything about it, overwhelms him. But when he’s simply presented with sadness, minus the raw intensity, he genuinely wants to help and will come over to give hugs and kisses to the person identified as sad.

It’s difficult to deal with at times, because the three-year-old is changing so fast in so many ways, and acting out in response to those changes, but at the same time fascinating and exciting to watch that development take place! I also like to think it is giving me some practice for adolescence 😉

Posted in recipes

Mac and Cheese!

One of my consistent pregnancy cravings is Kraft macaroni and cheese – it’s not a particularly appealing food to me most of the time, but I really really want it in that first trimester! It probably helps that it is quick and easy to make if I’m feeling worn out from the hormones and just need something fast to feed the boys for dinner… but I feel somewhat guilty every time I make it, and I wanted to find an alternative that would be healthier for the boys as they’re growing and for me as I’m helping a new baby grow. I’ve had a great baked mac and cheese recipe for a few years now, but it is a labor of love and a misery in the summer (three burners and the oven on all at once in a tiny heat-trapping kitchen – not enjoyable).

Well, somewhat on a whim a couple weeks ago, I wondered if I could adapt that baked mac and cheese recipe to a stovetop recipe and still retain that rich, smooth, cheesy texture and flavor. I was doubtful, remembering many grainy cheese sauces from my mom’s attempt to replace the Kraft mac, but I decided it was worth a try. And to my great surprise and the boys’ great delight, it worked! We’ve made it at least four times since and Rondel’s asked for it for dinner, lunch, and even breakfast many more times than that.

Essentially, I make a simple roux with butter, flour, and milk – about half the milk I needed for the baked mac – add some shredded cheddar, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and maybe a touch of salt, and then mix the drained noodles with the sauce after the cheese has mostly melted. Some keys are:

  • make sure the flour cooks sufficiently before adding the milk
  • avoid over-browning or burning the flour
  • stir thoroughly while adding the milk so no grainy floury pockets are left unmixed
  • keep the heat low so the dairy doesn’t scald or develop a skin
  • use a noodle with lots of texture to hold the sauce
  • don’t skimp on the cayenne! The dairy mitigates the spice, but the pepper still manages to make the cheese taste sharper than it otherwise would, and enhances the cheese flavor that might otherwise be dulled by the milk, flour, and pasta.

I think high heat and insufficient whisking of the milk into the flour-butter mixture were at fault the one time our noodles were a bit on the grainy side.

We’ve been using a tri-color rotini noodle we found that apparently will provide about half a serving of vegetables in a normal child-sized amount of pasta – so the colors make the boys excited, and the added health benefits make me excited!

Anyway, for 8 ounces of pasta, here is the recipe I’ve settled on:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 lb shredded sharp cheddar cheese (approximately – I just fill a bowl)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • pepper and salt to taste (I usually omit the salt)

If you know how to make a roux, this will be a piece of cake. If you don’t, the technique is pretty simply to learn. Start by melting the butter at low to medium-low heat, then mix in the flour. Let the flour and butter mixture cook at low heat for at least 5-6 minutes, until the flour starts to brown (if it browns more quickly, turn down the heat!). Slowly, stirring constantly, add the milk to the browned flour-butter mixture, making sure to fully incorporate all the milk as you go. Finally, add the cheese and spices!

The whole sauce is then stirred into the cooked pasta and everyone can enjoy! If I make the sauce while the pasta is cooking (and the water coming to a boil), I find it doesn’t take much more time than the boxed mac and cheese, although the clean up is a bit worse – and the taste and nutrition are far better.

Posted in family life

Traveling with toddlers, part 2

…schedules, routines, logistics, and sanity…

If your toddlers are anything like mine, they do best with predictable routines, familiar places, and people they know. They also tend to wake up early, go to bed early, and require multiple meals, snacks, and at least one nap every day. In normal life, where the family schedule accommodates these routine toddler needs, it’s not a big problem – but when every day is spent in a new place with extended family who aren’t accustomed to operating on toddler time, it can be more of a challenge.

For instance, what do you do when your toddlers are up at 7 but a few of the adults in the group like to sleep until 10? You can try to keep your kids quiet in the house during their most energetic hours, or you can take them out on your own with the result that they are going down for naps just as the rest of the family is finally up and ready – neither of which are great options! We used both of these options at different times, depending on how the previous night went, but I think the ideal solution would be to have an outdoor play space within walking distance, so the kids can get out of the house or hotel without getting totally worn out from a big excursion. Of course, this can be difficult to plan in advance!

The other big adjustment we found helpful for the trip was counting on car time for snacks and naps. If you’re visiting a city where most activities or people to visit are a 30 minute drive away (or more), coordinating a drive with a tired hour or bringing along food lets you get in the essentials without making the whole group sit around the house for an extra hour or so. With my parents, my brother, my sister and her husband, my grandmother, and various other family members who lived in the area, the added flexibility and time saved by utilizing car time was huge.

In the end, though, you can never really predict how a toddler will respond to the more spontaneous and potentially overwhelming schedule of a vacation, and it’s important to remember that. Encourage them when they are doing well, and reassure them when they’re struggling – after all, you are their one constant through the craziness of travel, and they need to know they can count on you to understand, love, and empower them. Don’t be surprised if they are a bit more clingy and cuddly than normal, especially at bedtime! Just enjoy the extra closeness and remember that they’ll be back to normal when they’re back home in their regular routine.