Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Decking The Halls

I wanted to include Jonah and Eve in the Christmas decorating as much as I could, so this year we used a lot of decorations that they could help make. Last year, Jonah helped make a handprint wreath.  I wanted to add some more handmade decorations this year. These two decorations were easy for my kids to help with, and they are extremely proud to show them off to visitors!

Paper Chain Garland:
Holiday themed scrap paper or colored construction paper
School Glue
Lots of patience!

This is a classic. And also happens to be a wonderful activity for honing hand-eye coordination and other crucial fine motor skills. I cut strips of holiday colored paper, 8 inches long and about 1 inch wide (I eyeballed it, no need to be exact!) It would be really fun to use holiday patterned scrapbook paper, but we had construction paper on hand. Older children can cut the strips themselves. I tried to let Jonah help cut some, and his were- well, not strips! So this year, I did the cutting. I demonstrated to Jonah how to put a dab of glue on one end of a paper strip, and how to bend it around to create a loop.

I then demonstrated how to put a strip of paper through that loop, and create a new loop, so that we had two attached loops. Jonah was thrilled and very eager to try.
and try....

 and try!
With a lot of guidance and help, we finally had a chain long enough for our mantel.

Jonah had a bit of trouble coordinating both of his hands in this task. It was wonderful practice for him to use fine motor skills that he needs to strengthen and really work on. After doing this craft, I will be making a "busy box" for him with paper chain making as an activity. With this as a busy box activity, he can practice these skills year round!

Coffee Filter Snowflakes:
White coffee filters
poster paint or magic/washable markers
work surface such as a plate or art tray
paint brushes

As many times as I have done coffee filter art, it never occurred to me to cut them into snowflakes until this year. There are many variations of this craft, turning coffee filters into butterflies or flowers; some use washable markers and others use food coloring. For school aged children, you can mix this into a chemistry lesson about chromatography or how colored ink is mixed, if you choose to use markers. Just have the kids color the filters with washable marker, spray or drip water onto the markings, and watch the color spread out and the ink seperate colors. We used this as an introduction to our wintery weather unit. Since it had flurried that morning, it seemed appropriate that we create our chilly weather craft in our nice warm PJ's!

We chose to use watered down poster paint. I wanted the snowflakes to look icy, so I picked purple, a shade of teal, and dark blue. I mixed a very tiny bit of each color into bowls of water. The less water you use, the more vibrant the color, but it will be harder for the colors to spread if it is too thick. Then I gave the kids paint brushes and coffee filters, and let them go at it!
I put the filters onto plates, to keep the paint from getting all over the place. You can also use pie tins or art trays. The surface needs to be wiped between each coffee filter.

I was absolutely amazed at how absorbed my kids were with this activity. They painted for nearly an hour. Had I not told them that time was up, then they would have gladly kept painting!
After we were done painting each coffee filter, I set it on a plastic sheet to dry. This process can take a while, depending on how enthusiastic your child was about painting the filter. If it is saturated, you can speed up the process by using a hair dryer (just keep the dryer moving back and forth, don't let it sit in one spot on the paper.) But, a hair dryer may cause the paper to curl.
Once the filters are dry, fold the circle into fourths, eights, and sixteenths  and begin cutting shapes on the folded edges. Unfold the paper and you will have a lovely snowflake to hang in your windows!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home Made Gifts: Instant Chai Mix

When I was working in nursery school, I would often get sweet little tokens of appreciation from the kids and families that I cared for, especially around the holidays. It always touched me to see how much thought parents put into these typically home made gifts. They always had a personal flare on them from the child, whether it was a simple card that the child had drawn on, or a sloppily finger painted ornament. They all made me smile from ear to ear. But one family touched my heart especially. I had cared for all three of the brothers in the family, babysitting them as well as having them in my nursery room. I had really grown to know and love them right down to every red hair on their head and cute little brown freckle on their cheeks! On Christmas Eve, all three boys marched into the learning center, red heads covered with red and green santa hats and freckled cheeks turned up in smiles. The oldest shouted excitedly at my classroom door "Miss Jessie! We made this for you! It's a SECRET SURPRISE, but it's TEA!" The mother explained to me that we had bumped into each other at Borders a month earlier and I had been drinking a chai tea. I told the oldest boy that it is one of my favorite drinks. When the mom asked what the boys thought they should make their teachers for the holidays, the oldest boy had said "We need to make Miss Jessie some chai, because she really loves it." The family presented me with a mug, and tucked inside was a cellophane bag and a tag with pictures of all three boys. The boys had helped their mother scoop and measure ingredients to make homemade chai mix, just for me. I was so touched that the boys wanted to do something so personal for me, that they had recalled our chance meeting and had really put thought into what they wanted to make.

This year we had quite a few gifts to give as tokens of appreciation. When thinking of something that the kids could help me with, I immediately thought of the chai tea mix. It is a very nice and unique homemade gift to show someone that you appreciate what they do in your life. And it is easy to make in large quantities. Young children can easily help you scoop and measure, as well as mix the ingredients. We handed them out to teachers at the Little Gym (there were 15 of them!) our postal worker, neighbors, various friends, and hosts of parties. The ingredients were a bit more expensive than I had anticipated, but this is because of two factors: 1. our grocery store didn't have a generic brand of unsweetened, unflavored tea. The larger boxes were all flavored or sweetened, so I had to get smaller containers of brand name tea, which was twice the cost; and 2. the cardamom was $15 a bottle! If you can't find it cheaply, omit it to save money if you want to make this economical (although it will NOT taste the same, cardamom is a very unique flavor. It will be missing something, but will still taste very good without it.) Of course I also made enough for us to have extra to enjoy at home!

Instant Chai Tea Mix:

2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 1/2 cups white sugar (Vanilla sugar is nice if you have it. Store white sugar in an airtight container with a vanilla bean stuck in the middle. Perfect for this recipe!)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened instant tea
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg

(If you don't have all of the spices and don't want to spend a ton of money, pumpkin pie spice in the same amounts of the substituted spices will do, but again while it will taste yummy it won't be identical to coffee shop chai)

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated evenly. Blend in a blender until the mixture is a fine powder. I did this in batches of about two cups at a time, to make sure it blended evenly. Spoon into small ziptop bags, keeping in mind that two tablespoons (meaning the flatware, not the measuring spoons) makes one cup of chai.I put enough in for three cups per bag. Wrap the zip top bags in festive cellophane and tie with a bow. This part is not necessary, but is a nice touch. I ended up skipping it because I couldn't find my cellophane and couldn't make another trip for more. Put each bag into a mug, which can be found inexpensively at dollar stores. Tie a tag to each bag, or insert it between the mug  and bag, that says "Homemade Chai Tea Mix: Mix two tablespoons into a mug of hot water." and whatever other message you would like.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mommy Moment #527: Don't Stifle my Creativity

Looking over at my 18 month old during lunch, to see her side of the table completely covered in yogurt, I asked "What are you doing with your yogurt?"

Her response was an excited and self-affirming exclamation: "PAINT!"

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Nothing like moving day to simulate the feeling of being trapped inside the reality show "Hoarders"

This week, we moved from our secluded house that was surrounded by farms, to a house in the most densely populated city in Ohio. We are all adjusting to the change in lifestyle, and it is interesting to see what differences the kids are picking up on. For example, being able to see our neighbors' houses.

Jonah: But Mama, look at all these houses! There are SO MANY!

Me: Yep! Look at all of them! It's going to be different living near the city now.... but I think you'll like it.

Jonah: Me too. I like to live here, Mama. But there are so many houses, that's SO silly!
If he's happy, then I'm happy

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red Cabbage

In my family, we have a rather odd traditional thanksgiving dish. My parents meshed dishes from each of their family's heritage to come up with our typical turkey day menu. From my dad's German roots, we get pickled red cabbage. It is somewhat like sauerkraut, but sightly sweeter and more flavorful. While others might crinkle their nose, it just doesn't feel like thanksgiving to me unless the aroma of roasted turkey and pumpkin pie mingles with the smell of red cabbage stewing in apple cider vinegar. There are many variations of this recipe floating around my family, but this is how (after a year of toying with the recipe) I have come to make it.

1 head red cabbage
apple cider vinegar (amount unknown, a few cups, but my dad and grandma would tell you "as much as it takes")
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion finely diced (I only use about 1/4 of it)
1 cup (or so) brown sugar
1 bay leaf
ground cloves to taste

Cut the cabbage into large chunks and put into a food processor. You can finely chop it by hand, but it saves a lot of time to use the food processor for a whole cabbage. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the cabbage. Pour vinegar over the vegetables until it is nearly covered. Add the brown sugar, bay leaf, and cloves. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for several hours, adding more vinegar as needed. If you don't want sour cabbage, add water to the pot as the vinegar cooks down and add more brown sugar. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

This is a great dish to serve with pork, as well. It freezes well, which is convenient since one head makes quite a bit.

An attempt to make trying new vegetables fun and exciting, turned into the realization that a red cabbage leaf makes a wonderful klingon costume! We now have the tradition of wearing cabbage hats any time Mom makes the dish.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Elimination Communication Round 2: Evie's Review

When I was pregnant with Eve, a question I got often (and found odd) was whether or not I'd do anything differently with my second baby, than I had done with my first. Obviously, I had known that this baby growing inside of me would be a different child, a different personality- a different parenting experience! Not only that, but I would have two children instead of one, so of course things will be done differently! I didn't make certain plans for it; I would just wait and see how this baby likes things.

However, one thing that I just knew was going to be done differently, was our use of elimination communication. We started this practice with Jonah when he was six months old. While it wasn't flawless, I consider it successful because Jonah was fully using the potty on his own at an "early age" and there was a long period of time when, even though he had to rely on me to recognize his need to go and to take him, he would use the potty on  regular basis even before he was fully "trained". It had its frustrating moments as do most processes in parenting, but I believe the benefits were well reaped.

Elimination communication is a relationship between mother and baby regarding Baby's need to urinate and defecate. In basic terms, we all have seen a baby making "that face" grunting and squirming. We all have knowingly said "oooh, you're making a stinky surprise in your dipey, aren't you!?" or something along those lines. Or when an older baby wanders off into a corner alone, we KNOW that they are up to something in their pants. Adults, more often than we think about, pick up on the cues that our babies are sending us about their bathroom needs. If you are vigilant and tune into your child during these times, you can pick up on the subtle cues that happen before your child needs to use the restroom, you can take them there, and acknowledge their need to go. No more diapers. This is the best way I have found to describe elimination communication (EC) to western parents. When I describe it this way, I usually am met with more understanding, and more "Oh yeah, I always can tell Little Johnny is up to something!"

The difference I was going to make with Eve, was that I was determined that we would do EC from birth. And that the first 48 hours, she would not use a diaper at all. After she was born, I nursed her on the couch, both of us naked under the warmth of blankets. Taking in eachother's skin, breathing, smell. Exhaustion was setting in and the late night was beginning to turn into early morning. The midwife said it was time to get cleaned up if we were ready. I wanted to stay cocooned like that for forever, just me and my suckling baby, warm with each other. But I was tired and I knew it had to end some time. I was asked where the diapers were. Diapers??? We're not going to... oh but I'm so tired... and mother in law bought the cutest pink sleeper adorned with cupcakes for her to wear on her birth day... but.. no, baby had to be dressed. "Daryl knows where the infant prefolds are, he knows how to fold and pin them." I said, more as a direction to him. So Eve went to be diapered and dressed, and I went into the bathroom. And that was that.

Morning light danced through our bedroom window and Jonah tapped on the door. He wanted to meet the new family member. Today, I said, Today we will take the diapers off. But my mom was there, my brother in law flew in from California, my sister was on her way as well. Okay, tomorrow, when it is just us.

Family gone, finally quiet. No diapers today! But I don't feel so well. I feel pretty awful. In fact, I feel like death. Fever, chills, disoriented, a pain in my right breast. I was threatening to get mastitis. I was sick for several days after. Eve stayed in her diapers. And that is how things pretty much remained.

I did do quite a few trial runs as she got older. She was more mobile than Jonah, at a younger age, so it was difficult to keep track of her. I also find that girls are messier when they urinate without a diaper on. I have always found this to be the case even when I was working in the day care nursery. If a boy peed on the changing table, it had a clear landing point, it stayed in one area. Usually only his pants, and maybe the wall, would get hit. When a girl peed on the changing table however, it would just kind of ooze everywhere. It would wick up her shirt all over her back, sometimes her hair. Roll downwards to her feet, soaking her pants and socks. An entire wardrobe change was typically in order, and sometimes a bath! So with this in mind, clean up while watching for Jonah's cues was MUCH easier than cleaning up while doing trials with Eve. It just wasn't working.

I did, however, continue to acknowledge her elimination needs. I still gave her the "cue" words. When I notice that she is soiling her diaper I give the proper cue that we had designated with Jonah, either "Poopoo" for pooping, or "sssssss" for peeing. And then we would change her immediately. So even with this partial version of EC, she has kept awareness of her elimination and learned to communicate when she is about to or has just gone.

Currently we are to a point with her where she will tell us that she needs to go. She will come to me and grab her diaper, saying "Poop?" Sometimes we are able to catch it either in the toilet or just while she is laying over the diaper, other times we simply are not fast enough. We are currently in the middle of a move across town, and once we get settled, we plan on breaking out the trainer potty to teach her to go there. I am amazed that considering how little we actually followed through on our plans, we (Daryl and I, as well as Eve!) are still seeing the benefits of even just PARTIAL ec. She is not as consistent as Jonah was, but she has maintained an awareness and the ability to communicate to us what her needs are. I am honestly stunned, because I didn't think anything would come of what little we have been doing with her.

I think we might have hit a middle ground for parents who want to try EC, but are not able to make the full commitment required. With Eve, all that we did were two simple things.
1. acknowledge that she is eliminating (Oh, you peed, you're peeing!)
2. give her a means to communicate her need to eliminate (a cue such as "sssss" or "poopoo" that she can easily mimic. We used a sign as well with Jonah but not with Eve because she is much more vocal)

Even if we didn't see her eliminating, we did these things during her diaper change. It took almost no extra effort or time. I do not know if we will do full EC with any more children, if we have the opportunity. I would like to say that yes, we will try harder to make it work if we should be blessed with another baby. Unfortunately we find out that things we thought were the best plan, really aren't going to fit into our lives. But if we decide that EC just won't work with future babies then I don't see any reason not to at least continue to do the two steps above. While the results aren't as bold as when we had done full EC with Jonah, they are still pretty impressive.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mission Completion!

The last couple of weeks, I've been in "re-coup" mode. Aside from giving birth, running 13.1 miles and the journey it took to get to the start line, was most likely the hardest thing I've physically had to do. Not only was my body tired, but I had a lot of catching up to do. Reconnecting with my husband, bedtime stories with my children, spending the weekend as a family rather than scheduling things around my training- I was ready to cross the finish line and so was my family. I haven't had much time for blogging since I finished the race, as any time not spent sleeping has been spent reconnecting with my loved ones and catching up on house work neglected for 12 weeks.

The week of the marathon started out kind of crummy. My right knee was in considerable amount of pain. Jonah brought home a bad cold, which everyone in the house caught. Reluctantly, I took the entire week off from training. I ran 7 miles the sunday before the race, and then not again until race day.

On Friday, the day before the race, I went to see a sports medicine specialist. I had a gait analysis run. Basically I ran on the treadmill for about five minutes while being video taped. The doctor reviewed the tape for about 20 minutes. I got to watch it in slow motion with her while she explained to me how I could be injuring myself with the strides I was taking. She told me that everything about my form looks perfect, good posture, good stride length, nice and relaxed, but the problem seemed to be that I come down too hard into the ground. She examined my knee briefly and said that the kind of pain and popping I am experiencing is commonly referred to as "runner's knee" and can be fixed simply by correcting my heavy stride. "Think propel forward, not drive into the ground." She told me "spring off your toes." You would think that after years of training for my black belt in karate, and even more years spent "propelling from my toes" as a dancer, that I would have that down by now. She also gave me a ton of handouts for various core exercises, and told me that a lot of times coming down too hard is indicative of a poor core. Which I believe, I've been feeling a major need to do corework the last few months!

On race morning, we all had to wake up much earlier than we liked. We were running late. Daryl dropped me off as close to the road closures as he could get, as traffic was really bad and not a parking spot was to be found. He and the kids did not make it to the start until after I had already crossed. The tail end of the group was just heading out. The yellow arch at the end of the road is the start line.

Within the first mile, I came to the Y bridge. It's a bridge that's shaped like a Y. I've driven over this bridge a million times, but running across it, I just felt like everything was so much clearer and beautiful about it. The trees in the valley below the bridge were just beginning to change their color. The sun was rising, and I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day for running. Cool, but not cold. Cloudy, but no rain. Then the winner of the marathon came running the opposite direction on the bridge. Now he was a site to see! I had run 1/2 a mile in the same time that he had run nearly 3. It was incredible. I wish I had taken a camera with me to get a picture of this moment in the race- all of the runners crossing the y bridge, the forerunners meeting us on the opposite side. It was beautiful.

After being routed back around to the opposite side of the bridge and going back into downtown Akron, I finally caught the first glimpse of my cheering squad. My "team" as I called them.
I'm in the middle waving, wearing a pink top. Although wouldn't it be great to tell everyone that I'm the girl closest to the camera!? I knew Daryl was going to get her into a picture at some point...

It was really refreshing to see them. I had expected Daryl to take them to the children's area. He was recieving text messages to update him on when I was crossing check points in the race. I had only asked him to be at the ten mile mark and the finish line, so seeing him at three miles with the kids was nice.

Between mile three and eight was not notable. There were great spectators, wonderful people there supporting the runners. I ran into a couple of my running friends. Not literally, thank goodness, but it was nice to see familiar faces in the sea of 1700 runners.

Then came mile eight. Well, it was actually just before mile nine. I really wish I had a camera coming into this site! One of my high school besties, "B" was standing there waiting for me with her wife. With a marvelous gift of ibuprofen and water. Coming around the curve to their house, I see her standing there, with her belly pregnant with twins. She had tied her shirt up around her waist so that I could see her beautiful baby bump, And she had drawn a smiley face. Her belly was SMILING at me. As soon as I saw her I couldn't stop laughing and smiling. I came in to give her a hug. What a wonderful friend. I don't think any one else would have done that for me. She waddled/ran with me for about a block, giving me words of encouragement, and finally letting me rub the smiling belly for good luck and strength. B, I love you!

It wasn't long after when I was at the point where Daryl was supposed to be waiting for me with the kids. I was a little disappointed that there were gates all along the road at this point, crowded with people. I caught sight of Daryl and the kids, but could not give them five or a hug. All I could do was tell Daryl that Jonah looked like he needed a tissue. I heard a woman behind me chuckle and say "a mother's job pauses for NOTHING." I had really wanted to give the kids a high five, I was disappointed. But I only had three miles left and I was feeling GREAT. No knee pain, very little fatigue, fairly comfortable. Not bad for taking a week off.

It was then that I found myself in a large group, running right along side a man holding the 10:20 pacer sign. Basically he was there to run with individuals wanting to finish the marathon at an average pace of 10 minutes, 20 seconds per mile. I was surprised to find myself in this group and stayed with them for quite a while. He handed me the sign. I said "I have no clue what I'm doing!" He said "Just run, there's nothing to it!" So I did. I carried the sign until it was almost time to break from the marathoners to follow the half marathon course back to the finish. He told me that I ought to consider being in his pace group next year for the full. I laughed and said "no thanks" but I can't deny that he didn't plant some seeds of ambition.
Jonah Cheering Mama in his "Don't Give Up" shirt

I then met a mom who was running her second half marathon. She also has two children and like me, never dreamed of finding herself in this place. We chatted for a bit about the challenges of training with two young ones. Then we came to the hardest part of the course. A very long and steep uphill run. We were so close, we didn't talk to eachother, but we were there with each other, pushing. I kept repeating something I had heard one of the spectators singing to cheer runners on. He had a guitar and a small microphone. He sang "manifest yourself in exquisiteness." I repeated it. Over and over. Those last two miles, my mind was filled with nothing else. Exquisiteness. I will not quit. I will not walk up this hill. I am made for exquisitness.

And we made it.

Running down the street, into canal park where the finish line was. I can't describe what it was like. I was tired. I wanted to quit but knew that I couldn't. One last push- the winner of the marathon then came past. He ran alongside all of us half marathoners. We moved to the side to let him through. I ran with him for less than a fraction of a second. He was moving so quickly, so elegantly. He had run twice the distance I had just run. This *is* possible.

 Coming into the finish was exhilarating. I could not have stopped running if I wanted to. I felt myself speed up. I saw the mom I had met cross the finish line. I felt my legs propelling forward faster and faster. I could have collapsed in a frenzy of emotions as my sneakers hit the red and black rubber check in point. I had always wondered how someone could cry after doing such a thing. But I did, I cried. I cried and laughed at the same time as I was handed food, water, and a medal hung around my neck.

crossing the finish
My phone started ringing in my armband. I fumbled to get it out of the sleeve as I saw it was B. B and her smiling belly. My phone was too dead from clocking me during the race. It would not pick up the call. I later heard her message, a celebratory B and wife, cheering about my time. Way under what I had projected for myself. She had also been receiving text alerts about my progress in the race.

This was more than an achievement for me. This was a realization that I can do big things if I really want to and if I have the support of those who love me. This wasn't just a trial for me, but this journey required sacrifices and support from many, many people in my family. Yes, I ran 13.1 miles in 16 minutes under my projected time. I lost 15 lbs and dropped several pants sizes. *I* did that. But my family helped me in ways that were crucial.

Running is something I recommend to many of my mom friends who want to get fit. I know it is not everyone's "style" but it fits most moms' schedules and our budget. It is something your kids and family can see you do, so you can be a great example to them. You certainly don't have to run a marathon or half marathon, or even a 5k race to see the benefits of this exercise. I really do urge other mothers who are thinking about running to give it a try. Check out the couch to 5k plan or something similar. I don't recommend their half marathon or marathon program for Moms. It was too intense and took too much away from my family. I ended up dropping the program halfway through and using it as a mere guide along with other more "family friendly" training programs. I do, however, HIGHLY recommend the 5k program. It is great because most of the first couple of weeks is walking and building up to running. Everyone I know who has used the program has had success. The workouts only require 45 minutes of your Mommy time. I love it.

A year ago, I ran my first 5k under the program. This year, I was wearing a half marathon finisher's medal around my neck.

Will I continue on to do a full marathon next year? That I don't know. I am content with the half marathon for now. I am content with the idea of doing a few more years of half marathons. But a mom at Jonah's Little Gym class, who has two children the same ages as my kids, ran this as her first marathon this year. Several of my running friends are also urging me. Time will see. I will most likely get back to that in May. For now, don't be surprised if you don't see a running post most of the winter. It's the off season!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Lesson In Manners

One thing that I absolutely do not want to have is rude kids. I have tried to make manners a priority in things that I teach my children. Table manners, in particular. Every day, three times a day, my three year old learns how to properly use a napkin, how to ask politely for items to be passed, how to politely sit quietly (we are working especially on how to properly handle bodily functions such as-dare I say it- farting and burping at the table) and most importantly, how to ask to be excused from the table. Evelyn is introduced to these things but obviously not expected to follow social rules at age one.

Over the weekend, we were visiting the in-laws. We had a nice dinner in the dining room. Jonah announced he was "all done." I said to him "What do you need to ask me when you are done with your dinner?" This is our moment to shine, I thought. I am going to look like such a great mom, with such a well mannered young man!

His response: "MAAAAY I PWEASE BE SCOOOOOOOOSED??? BUUUUUUUUUURP!" It was the biggest most atrocious burp I have ever heard come out of such a tiny person.

We'll keep working on it....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Under the Sea Literature

I found a lot of books with an under the sea or ocean theme, that I was able to tie into other activities. I love it when I am able to do this because it really gets Jonah excited about a book and a theme. Here are the "Under the Sea" books that we enjoyed!

Wiggle Like an Octopus by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback:
 I think Eve picked this book because of the neat holographic cover. But once we got it home and read it, the kids were hooked on what was inside! This book has simple colorful illustrations of many sea creatures, along with descriptions of how they move. We had a lot of fun getting out of our reading chair and moving around like the creatures in the book! This book is great if you're looking for some gross motor ideas.

The Whale's Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe:
 This book is a beautiful tale that sparked a lot of discussion between me and Jonah. The story is very simple, yet has a magical tone to it. Lilly's grandmother tells her tales of when the whales would sing to her. Lilly follows her heart and her grandmother's dreams, to experience something magical and mysterious. Jonah enjoyed the story, but I am not sure if he understood a lot of it. We might be waiting to revisit this book until he is older.

A House for Hermit crab and Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle:

Jonah loved these books. Once again, Eric Carle has captured my kids' attention with his brightly colored pictures and his ability to tell a story portraying the ways in which the world works.

Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert:
My kids really enjoy counting books. Lois Ehlert took them on a colorful adventure, counting fish along the way. Beautiful patterns, shapes, and colors really captivated both kids on every page. We integrated a cooking activity with this book, making sugar cookies and decorating them to look like the fish in the book!

Sea Shapes by Suse Macdonald:
This book is very simple, and points out what different shapes you might see in the ocean. As I discussed earlier, we used this book as an inspiration to use shape stamps to create an underwater scene. It would also be nice to pair this with a shape collage activity. We also used foam shape blocks to build an underwater world right in our living room!

Little Turtle and the Song of the Sea by Sheridan Cain:
Jonah really enjoyed learning about what a sea turtle is through this book. He enjoyed the activities about sea turtles that stemmed from us reading the book. But again, I don't know if he fully understood the plot of the book. He did enjoy it and the topic that it presented!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Under the Sea Art

One of the things that I enjoyed about this theme is that it is so easy to get creative with art projects. It was hard to pick just a few ideas, but the projects I chose gave us a chance to practice skills and concepts that I would like to work on with Jonah.

Sea Shapes, a lesson in geometry:

This idea came from a "take home bag" that I borrowed from the lending library at the preschool where Jonah has speech therapy. The bag came with the book "Sea Shapes" by Suse Macdonald, several foam stamps that corresponded to the book, and an ink pad. The book named several shapes, and then gave an example of how you would see that shape in the sea. For example, the crescent shape can be seen in a dolphin's body, and some fish are shaped like hearts! After we looked at the book and discussed the creatures and shapes that we had seen, I let the kids use the stamps to make their own ocean pictures. At first we used a light blue paper, but we weren't happy with how the blue ink looked on it, so we used plain white printer paper to make the shapes really stand out!
Evelyn was delighted that she could participate as well. Make sure you have WASHABLE and NONTOXIC ink pads while doing this project with little ones! And also, keep a wet wash cloth near by to clean wandering inked up hands (and feet.)

Textured Star Fish, a sensory activity:

Jonah won't touch certain textures, and a lot of times if he gets something such as paint on his hands, he wants it cleaned off right away. So I am always looking for sensory integrated activities that will entice him to touch different textures. We used nontoxic washable poster paint, cereal boxes that I had cut into starfish shapes, and bubble wrap.

I let the kids pick out what colors of paint to use and spread a thin layer of each color onto a plate. I showed them how to dip the bubble wrap into the paint and then use it to "stamp" a textured pattern onto the starfish. Jonah did not want to touch the bubble wrap at first, especially once it got paint on it. But as soon as he saw how much fun Evie was having, he (reluctantly) jumped in. I liked this one in particular because it required him to hold a large portion of the bubble wrap. He wanted to just barely hang onto a corner, but quickly found out that didn't work. Once he got started, he began having fun mixing the colors of paint to get colorful patterns on his starfish.

Paper Bag Octopus, cutting skills and fine motor activity:

Sadly, I have no pictures of Jonah doing this activity as the battery in my camera died. However, here is the original site where I got the idea (and adapted it to fit our needs.)

I had Jonah crumple up bits of newspaper and stuff it into the bottom of a paper lunch sack. Then I helped him put a rubber band around the middle of the sack so that it created a "head" for the octopus.

I let him pick out a color to paint the octopus and we used our texture brushes to paint him. The octopus dried during nap time, and was ready for a face and legs after snack!

I used a sharpie to help Jonah draw a face onto the octopus. Jonah only wanted to put eyes on him, because he didn't see a mouth in the picture of the octopus in his book. Then I let him use safety scissors to cut the bottom of the paper bag vertically up to the rubber band. This was a slow going process, but with patience and time, our octopus acquired legs!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Do We See, Under the Sea?

The last couple of weeks, we have been exploring ocean life. I got thIe idea to do this "unit" because Jonah really had a lot of fun at a recent trip to the aquarium. He sat at each exhibit, wide eyed and taking in all of the colors and combination of shapes and textures, as I kept a very simple conversation with him about the names of the creatures and what he thought they were doing.

We started the theme by discussing what animals swim in the ocean. We had this conversation a couple of times: At breakfast, in the car while driving to speech therapy, while we were shopping and he was sitting in the grocery cart. I simply asked him "What do you think swims in the ocean?" He could come up with a pretty impressive list on his own- fish, seahorses, whales, sharks. Then I asked him about various specific animals "Do cows swim in the ocean??" or "Do jellyfish live in the ocean??" He thought this was a hilarious game!

Later in the week, we added to our conversation: "Where is the ocean?" We looked at a map and various pictures of coastal beaches, boats, and harbors. We talked about how we would get to the ocean if we wanted to go (plane, car), and looked at pictures of a vacation we took to the ocean.  We also talked about what to bring to the ocean/beach on a trip! If only it were possible to follow this particular lesson up with an actual trip to the ocean.

I wasn't sure how much Jonah would be interested in a whole lesson plan geared toward an Under the Sea theme, so I had originally planned for it to only last a week. He was so interested, and Eve was also having so much fun, that I extended it and we are just now wrapping it up after two and a half weeks! This might be something that we will visit again if we have time later in the year.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Ten years ago, I was at Ft. Hood Texas. It was an absolutely beautiful day, I remember that with great clarity. But it felt odd, no one was outside, the streets were empty, there was a heavy silence in the air, even on the bus I rode to work which is normally buzzing with morning gossip. I went to work and had to open the music store alone because no one else had come in yet, which was also really odd. An hour after opening, my boss walked in the door with a small portable TV. He looked at me after I greeted him with a cheery "Good morning!" and said "Oh.. you don't know yet..." and put the TV in front of me right as the second tower fell.  "We're under attack. Someone attacked the Pentagon. And the twin towers, that's what you just watched." We're being attacked? What does that mean? We're under attack, I was really disoriented. I remember sitting down on a small step, and staying there most of the day. We had no customers, so that was just fine. My boss asked if I wanted to go home, I didn't want to, I didn't want to think about what it meant. My (now ex) husband was locked on base and me and my neighbor were locked off base away from our husbands. We bunkered down together in her apartment, ate dinner, and then came the hardest part of my day.

I had to face my second job. I was able to walk to the school, and with each step I thought about how I was going to talk to these children. What questions were they going to ask. Would I be able to answer them. I opened the door to the tutoring room where I had helped children with their homework before and after school. They needed a different kind of help today. I was greeted with tears. Children terrified that their military parents were in danger. Confused. Shaken by what to them seemed to be a very sudden and violent turn of events in their otherwise stable and routine lives. Although they were military children, the majority of them had lived at Ft. Hood or its surrounding areas for most of their memorable lives. All they had known was peace time.

And of course, the questions came. I handled them one by one and we got through them. Some of the questions were about changes in their personal lives, as children had learned that they would be very quickly going to stay with relatives, and they didn't know when or if they would be back. Some of the questions were about the individual people in the towers. What were they like, were they good people, why would someone kill them all if they were good people? Some of the questions were about what was happening on the base, the extra gaurds, the traffic, the security check points.

But to be honest, although it was hard to be open and blatantly honest (saying "I don't know" when I really didn't know,  or "that frightens me a little too" when I really was scared about something, for example) not only helped the children, but it helped me to wrap my head around the events I had seen fall into place. It helped me cope with the images we were seeing day after day in the weeks following, as the rescue mission on ground zero began to turn into a recovery mission. It helped me cope when, for days I had no word from my husband. The kids continued to ask, and I continued to answer. Little by little, we dealt with it. We dealt with the deployments. We dealt with the news that was trickling in. We dealt with the feelings of helplessness as we watched images flash across the television screen and the repercussions of those images trickle into our living rooms as we said goodbye to our loved ones each morning, not knowing if they would be coming home for dinner or sent somewhere untold.

I often think about those kids today. I wonder where they are at. For many of them, the weeks following September 11th were the last weeks we saw each other. I wonder how they continued to cope, I pray for them and their parents who I know were deployed to dangerous areas. Sometimes I wish that I could see them all just for a few minutes, just long enough to ask "Are you okay now?" and give them a hug. Those children are adults now, or the youngest of the group are very close to becoming adults.  I wonder how the experiences that we went through together have shaped their view of our country, of our world. I hope that they found compassion and strength, and learned to let go of the anger and fear.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Feel Your Boobies!

Yes, you read that title right. But you can go ahead and read it again if you're a little confused. In fact, read it over and over until the message sinks in. Feel your boobies!

Ladies, AND MEN, the best defense we have against breast cancer is early detection. A self breast exam takes only moments. You can do this when you take a shower, or before you go to bed; I promise that it won't impede on your schedule. You should examine your breasts every year, and according to the Susan G. Komen foundation, get a clinical screening every three years starting at age 20 and a mammogram every year starting at age 40. states that simply "feeling" your breasts, or using the pads of your fingers to press into the skin, examining the underarm and collarbone areas, may be just as effective as a formal self breast exam. The founder of detected a cancerous mass in just this way. Feeling her boobies saved her life.

So instead of wasting time trying to pretend that you are pregnant on Facebook, playing on everyone's sensitive emotions of joy, disappointment, and possibly even grieving, please take those few moments to feel your boobies. Then, tell someone you love to feel their boobies. If you have a teenage daughter, talk to her about the importance of self breast examination. I promise you, those few moments you take to do this will raise much more awareness about breast cancer detection than pretending that you are pregnant on online social media. (If you don't know what I am talking about, there was a game recently on facebook where women were pretending to be pregnant. The idea was, when anyone would ask about the post, the woman would say "Just kidding! Breast cancer awareness!" But most people never got that message, they simply had their feelings hurt. To add to the ineffectiveness, the message of just "This is for breast cancer awareness" doesn't really DO anything, now does it? We all know breast cancer exists, what we need to be aware of, is how to prevent it, and how to defend ourselves against it.)

And most importantly, if you feel something that concerns, tell your doctor. Don't feel silly or embarassed. March into that doctors office and say "I felt my boobies... and I'm concerned." If you don't tell your doctor what you've felt, then they may miss something important that could save your life!

This weekend, I will be running the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5k race at 8:00am on Saturday. I am challenging myself to make a personal record during the race. I am challenging YOU to feel your boobies, and to let someone you love know about the benefits of feeling their boobies too. Before I lace up my running shoes, I will be feeling my boobies!

I feel my boobies, do you?
For more information, please visit
and Susan G. Komen for the Cure (this page has instructions for formal self exams, and also what each thing that you may find means)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Great Big Canning Adventure: Zucchini Pickles

This year, I decided to add a new layer onto my canning experience. I learned a lot last year, canning jams and tomatoes. This year I am going to take it to a new level and try my hand at pickles. The first pickles I made were Zucchini Bread and Butter Pickles. This is a modified recipe from what can be found in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

6 medium sized zucchini, sliced how you prefer (I did half spears and half round slices- you should have about 16 cups of sliced zucchini)
7 small onions, sliced
2 medium sweet green peppers, finely diced and partially seeded
1/3 cup canning salt
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon powdered mustard seed
1 tablespoon pickling seasoning
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cups white vinegar with 5% accidity
2 cups apple cider vinegar with 5% accidity

First I sliced the zucchini. The original recipe called for 16 small zucchini, but I was not able to find any small ones. So I used fewer medium sized zucchini instead. Half of them I cut long wise, similar to making carrot sticks, to make pickle spears. The other half, I sliced into rounds so that we could have pickles for sandwiches. I placed all of the zucchini and the other vegetables in a very large bowl together, and sprinkled the salt over top of them. Then I attempted to stir everything so that the salt was evenly distributed through the veggies. There wasn't enough room even in my larger bowl, so I took some out and salted them in a smaller bowl before adding them back to the larger bowl.
After mixing the salt through the veggies, I covered them with ice and let them stand for about four hours.
I drained the ice water off of the veggies and combined the remaining ingredients into a large stock pot. I brought it to a boil and added the veggies. At first I had only used 2 cups of white vinegar and one cup of cider vinegar, but I was concerned that there wasn't enough liquid once I added the veggies to the pot. So that is when I added another cup. I brought the liquid back to a boil and turned down the heat to simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables had been sitting in the salt, I sterilized the jars in the dishwasher and did not open the door, to keep the jars hot. I packed the veggies into the hot jars, separating the spears from the slices. I left 1/4 inch headspace between the veggies and top of the jar. I ladled the hot liquid over the vegetables, making sure to include stray onions and spices, leaving 1/4 inch head space. I used the opposite end of the head spacer to slide down the side of the jars and release air bubbles. There were quite a few of them, so I don't recommend skipping this step!! I wiped the rims with a damp cloth and positioned the lids and the rings. I processed the jars in a boiling water canner for ten minutes.

The pickles will need to brine in the jars for at least four weeksbefore they acquire their full-on flavor. We took a sneak peak taste as I was putting them into the jars, and they tasted fantastic (albeit weak) No one can wait until they are done and we can open our first jar four weeks from now!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week In Training Review: First Half Marathon

The last couple of weeks of half-marathon training have been pretty standard. My hours on the treadmill have steadily increased, as the sun is going down earlier every night and it is difficult for me to get out before dark. It was nice at the height of summer, to be able to step out my door after the kids went to bed and the air was cooling off. My route took me past several farms, and it was encouraging to look across the fields to see trees silhouetted against the red and purple evening sky.

It's a different story now if I try to go out after the kids are in bed, when Daryl is home to watch them. Bright headlights in my eyes, honking horns zooming past, the feeling of being trapped between a steep drainage ditch and a car traveling 6o mph. I am not sure why people become so rude after dark, but it can be downright dangerous.

So I keep my outdoor runs for the weekends, or for days when I know the kids will cooperate in the jogging stroller. Luckily, my longest runs occur on the weekends! I finally reached a personal record for distance, running 12 miles in 145 minutes. That was one minute slower than I had hoped (I was aiming for 12 minutes per mile) but that was not enough to discourage me. When I stopped running at the 12 mile mark, I was still feeling like I could have gone another mile, but I made myself stop, not wanting to overdo it. A week later, I went to face my first half marathon, the Buckeye 1/2 marathon. I was confident that I could finish, although I was still sore from my previous 12 mile run.

The course went through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.Many, many years ago I had lived near here and in an attempt to get fit my room mate and I started jogging. The course overlapped the route that my friend and I used to take, and I really enjoyed it. It was very scenic and beautiful. Throughout the race, we ran along views of the Cuyahoga River, catching glimpses of scenic river bends and trees just starting to turn colors. Memories flooded back of canoing along the very same bends. It was peaceful and beautiful. But it was also hilly. It felt like 90% of the course was going uphill. I kept waiting for the downhill portion, but it never came. Although the grade was gradual at points, it was still uphill.

I had told Daryl to wait for me at the ten mile mark, knowing that is a point where I would need some encouragement. The kids had made signs to cheer me on, and Jonah was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words "Don't Give Up." I tried to take a picture of them as I came around the curve for the 10 mile mark and saw them waving and cheering excitedly, waving their signs, but just as I reached for my phone to get the picture, Jonah bolted out into the road towards me. Luckily the other runners saw him and avoided him, and I was on the side of the road closest to him so car traffic wasn't an issue. It was really great to see them standing there. But soon after I passed them, my muscles did begin putting up a fight. My chest got tight, and I could feel my breakfast sitting in my stomach as if I had swallowed a bowling ball.

I started to slow down. I saw the runner ahead of me begin to walk. I looked behind me and saw the two runners behind me begin to walk. I didn't come here to run ten miles, I told myself. Another runner passed me, and then slowed down to a walk. I gave in. I walked. Around mile 11, I looked around and realized that for the first time in the whole race, I was alone. There was one neon yellow shirt trailing behind me. This was also discouraging. It felt like I was dead last, besides the one runner/walker behind me. She began to jog and caught up to me. Great, now I *am* dead last, I was certain.

Are your legs cramping up?" She asked me. No, my stomach and chest. We jogged into the 12 mile marker and took our water cups. We're almost there, we can make it, I told her. We jogged on, just over this hill, she encouraged. Another uphill run, fine. I can see it, I can see the orange cones! I had pulled a bit ahead of her and had turned around a corner. We came into the last leg of the race, veering off the loop and into the complex where we would soon reach the finish line. We can keep running this little bit, I told her, We can do this, she also encouraged. We finished together, hugged and laughed about what a trial we just went through, two complete strangers.
running to the finish line

As we came into the finish line, I could see Jonah and Daryl standing along the side, and Eve in the stroller. Jonah was holding his plastic microphone and shouting cheers into it for me. Jonah wanted to run through the finish line too, and the race staff was nice enough to allow him to go through the arch. He was thrilled, and has told everyone "Jonah raced too! I went to the finish line and I won!" I gave him my finishers medal. He was so proud!

I finished the 13.1 miles ten minutes slower than I wanted to. In all, my goal for this race was just to finish it. My time goal is actually for the Akron half marathon. So I am not upset with myself other than I caved and allowed myself to walk, when I am pretty sure that I could have continued to run. I did learn a few things about race days, which was another purpose of running the Buckeye. I know I need to be more patient in the beginning. Shooting out and doing a ten minute mile right off the bat is not a good strategy if your goal is to make 12 minute miles. I know I need to slow down and pace myself, especially in the beginning of the race, it will pay off in the end. I also know that I need to re-evaluate my pre-race routine and make sure that I eat breakfast at home, to give enough time to digest, rather than shoving a peanutbutter sandwich in my mouth while driving, ten minutes away from the race site.  And finally, I will give myself more recovery time between a personal record long run and a race day. My body is not used to running these distances, so while I might see others who run these routes every week, my body needs time to adjust to the new expectations. A week was not enough time for my body to recover from a 12 mile run and then be expected to make a 13 mile run in race conditions.

So all in all, I think this race was positive. I got my feet wet and learned more about what to expect for the bigger race in Akron. There will be twice as many people, and the spectacle will be greater. I am really glad that I made the Buckey 1/2 a pittstop in my training, just for the experience before throwing myself into the Akron marathon!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Very Hungry Cupcakapillar

Jonah's birthday was on Monday, and I was a bit nervous about one thing. A couple weeks prior, the whole family was driving in the car. From the back seat, Jonah piped up "Go to the party store!" Why? We asked him. "It's Jonah's berfday! Get party hats and balloons and berfday cake!" Later that evening I asked him what he wanted on his birthday hats and cake, a subject I had previously discussed with him. All he had specified was that he wanted chocolate cupcakes and Chuck E Cheese. Now however, his tune was different. "Want.... want.... BUBBLE GUPPIES!!!! Bubble Guppies berfday cake!! Bubble Guppies Berfday hat! BUB BUB BUBBLE, Bubble bubble guppies!!!" Bubble Guppies is Nick Jr's newest show. It's cute. He learns a lot from it and the music they sing is actually enjoyable even for the adults. I would have loved to comply and gotten him all things Bubble Guppies for his birthday. The problem lies in the fact that it's Nick's newest show. They've only aired a pilot season. There is no merchandise on the market. No party hats, no balloons, no cakes.

When he first told me he wanted chocolate cupcakes, I went on the interwebs to find a cute way to present a plain old chocolate cupcake. I found this and was immediately inspired  by coco cake cupcakes! The Hungry Caterpillar has always been a favorite book in our house.  Over the past three years, we have spent countless hours, reading the book countless times.  Jonah loves it! He would appreciate it. Or so I thought before he began asking for Bubble Guppies.

As there are no bubble guppies cakes or figures to put on a cake, and as I do not have the skill required to make our own Bubble Guppies cake, I decided to stick to the plan. I showed Jonah the picture from the above website, and he said "mmmm, very hungry caterpillar for in my mouth! UMMM!" and pretended to take a bite from the picture. Promising, I thought. So that was the green light! Here is how I re-created the cupcake cake and made it our own.

First I made way too many cupcakes in three different flavors. Yellow (the kind Johan picked at the store), chocolate (the kind he originally asked for), and strawberry (because I wanted it!) I also made a mini strawberry cake for the head. I used a small spring-form pan; the same that was used for both of the kids' first birthday smash cakes. I did use cake mix to cut some of the stress out of the weekend, since we were also traveling to Toledo to visit Daryl's family.
Once the cakes were cooled, I frosted the 22 yellow cupcakes for the caterpillar's body. I lucked out in that I had planned for the body to be 22 cupcakes, and that is exactly how many the yellow cake batter made! I tried to make a swirl effect in the green icing by not mixing the coloring all the way through, but that method didn't work very well. I piped the frosting on using a decorating tip and a zip top bag since I couldn't find my pastry bag.

I then set to work to create pictures of the food that the caterpillar ate on Saturday, giving him "a terrible stomachache." On the suggestion of a friend, I used taffy-like candies such as starburst, laffy taffy, airheads, caramels, tootsie rolls, and flavored tootsies. Some of them had to be microwaved for about 7 seconds to get them soft enough to roll out and mold into the shapes I needed. I used a very light coating of cooking spray on my hands, surfaces, and utensils to avoid sticking. I rolled some of the candies together to get the swirling effect seen in the illustrations of the book. This part of the cake was a lot of fun! I felt like I was a kid playing with playdough again. Once I had the candy decorations made, I frosted the chocolate cupcakes with a butterknife and placed the decorations on top.

Then I used six tootsie rolls to make the feet, yellow starburst and green laffy taffy for the eyes and nose, and purple laffy taffy for the antennae. I frosted the mini cake with red frosting and added the face candies.

At the party store, I found some wrapping paper with a leaf and fern print, on clearance for fifty cents! I used it to wrap a cardboard cake sheet (also bought from the party store) to make it look like the caterpillar is sitting on leaves. I arranged the body out of the green frosted cupcakes and then placed the head. I barely had enough room, and was nervous that the head wouldn't fit! I placed the tootsie roll feet underneath the green cupcakes, and the "food" cupcakes along the bottom of the sheet.

I placed rainbow sprinkles along the caterpillar's back as his fur. This was not as tedious as it first seemed, and only took a few minutes.
Finally, I had a Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcake cake that I was really proud of! Jonah absolutely loved it. Before we headed out to meet our family for the celebrations, I let him have a little peek. He was really excited to see it. I was so relieved that he did not mention Bubble Guppies again the entire day! He was too excited about his party and cake to think about what wasn't there.