A Full-fledged Toddler

October 30, 2009

Two weeks ago, she finally got it, and became, as my friend Zeile would say, Walky Walkerton.

Here are her first steps:

And now, as you can see, she fully understands the advantage of walking (that you can hold something in each hand while you’re moving across the room). (This video also demonstrates how quiet the house is when Eli and Henry are both at school.) (It also shows the destruction and mess they leave in their wake right before they walk out the door.)


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Count up your house

October 29, 2009

Once again Amy from Let’s Explore provides us with an awesome little activity. She made up a downloadable sheet where kids can go through their home and count how many of each item (chairs, windows, bathtubs) there are. I don’t know about your kid, but Henry was so excited about this he could hardly stand it. “I can’t play right now!” he yelled to the neighborhood posse at the door. “I have to count things!” You can see from the scan that our sheet is getting kind of beat up. That’s because Henry likes to carry it around and refer to it often.


CATEGORIES: activities

HOLY CATS! Charley Harper biology book find!

October 27, 2009

Today is my day to channel Vintage Kids Books My Kid Loves.

My mom visited us a week or so ago, and brought with her a bunch of books she’d picked up at the library sale in her town. They were all animal encyclopedia books, for the most part, because those are Henry’s bread and butter (literally, sometimes, since he is the boy of, “I don’t need food! Just need books!”). He spent hours going through all of them, and at one point I sat next to him and started leafing through this great-looking Golden Book of Biology.

I looked at it for a minute or two, and had this feeling of, “Why do I want to decorate my entire house with the illustrations in this book?” I said, out loud, “The drawings in this book are amazing.” You know how I have a bit of a bird fetish; this book is a wonderland of amazing bird drawings. Then I flipped back to the front and saw “Illustrated by Charles Harper” and a little bell went off in my head. “I think…” I said tentatively, “That Charles Harper is this famous design illustrator guy. If it’s the guy I’m thinking of, his estate just reissued a bunch of board books, and last year Old Navy sold some coloring books of his images.” I checked on Amazon.com, and sure enough, it’s the same guy (later known as Charley Harper). Copies of this book start at $250.

I spent a good hour curled up in the corner, going through this book. Every page has multiple, full-color, amazing, beautiful illustrations. The birds, like I said, are phenomenal. Now I just have to figure out how I can relegate this book to my side of the bookcase, both to keep it in the pristine shape it’s in, and also so I can refer to it as the jumping-off point for every design decision I make, ever.



Children’s Book of the Week: A Dark, Dark Tale

October 26, 2009

A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown

My kids can be scaredy-cats when it comes to some things. I remember reading one Anthony Browne story to Henry, and we got to a page with a giant gorilla, and Henry just snapped the book shut and said, “I don’t want to read any more.” We never finished. And we barely got through Jumpy Jack and Googily (we probably only got through it because it was clear something silly was going on).

So it’s a little unbelievable to me that they love A Dark, Dark Tale because, until you get to the end, it really does build up with lots of scary suspense. But it’s a fast read, so the suspense doesn’t last long, and it’s perfect for giving you that shivery feeling without anything scary actually happening. The story starts in a “dark, dark moor” then goes to a “dark, dark wood” then a “dark, dark house” and a narrower and narrower focus until you’re looking at a dark, dark box in a dark, dark closet. I’ll leave it to you to find out who lives in the box, but it’s nothing scary, and you’ll all breathe a sigh of relief after all that build up. This would be a good one to read in anticipation of Halloween, to show that sometimes things can seem scarier than they really are.


Snuggly Snugglers

October 23, 2009

So while Henry has his own rituals for the morning of the first day of school, the afternoon of the first day of school had him peeling off his clothes and climbing into Dave and my bed. Which led Eli and Zuzu to join in, which led to this, one of my favorite photos of them ever. Could their individual personalities be more perfectly captured in a still photo?


CATEGORIES: Eli, Henry, Zuzu

Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake

October 21, 2009

I always (over-indulgently) let the kids choose what kind of birthday cake they want. This year Henry picked “blueberry cake with chocolate frosting” which sent me in a bit of a panic. I mean, that’s not usually something you see, and I wasn’t really feeling like I had the time to invent a recipe and try out several iterations (or give a bunch of 6-year-olds an untested made-up cake).

When I was scouring the internet for recipes, I ran into a few for blueberry lemon pound cake, which sounded so good, and also sounded like something that Henry would really, really love. So I did what any normal mom would do and dropped major hints that blueberry lemon pound cake would be better than cake with chocolate frosting, and Henry agreed.

Henry’s party was fun, I guess. Somehow 6-year-olds are a whirling mass of early sassiness and competing emotional needs, and parts of the party were a bit of a drama fest. By the time we got to cake, I was so tensed up that I robotically cut hugely enormous pieces for each kid, until Dave caught me (and saw his available cake portion rapidly diminishing) and squawked, “What are you DOING?” Yeah, a kid doesn’t need a 4-inch piece. Whatever.

I will say that it was delicious cake, and made even better because, just as we started to make it, our neighbor magically appeared with a huge container of blueberries he’d just picked from the giant blueberry bush in his yard. You make the cake in a bundt pan, and then brush it with sugary lemon syrup afterwards. (Sugary lemon syrup: that’s probably all you need to know.)

Next year: no party, maybe. If we can get away with it. Might just go to Storyland instead, or something.

Blueberry Lemon Pound Cake (from epicurious.com)

For the cake

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated lemon zest
  • 3 cups picked over blueberries, tossed with 1 1/2 tablespoons flour

For the syrup

  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Make the cake:
In a small bowl whisk together the milk, the eggs, and the vanilla. Into a bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, and the salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the zest until the mixture is light and fluffy, add the flour mixture alternately with the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating the batter after each addition until it is just combined, and fold in 1 1/2 cups of the blueberries. Spoon one third of the batter into a greased and floured 10-inch (3-quart) bundt pan, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining blueberries over it. Spoon half the remaining batter into the pan, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining blueberries over it. Spoon the remaining batter into the pan, spreading it evenly, sprinkle the remaining blueberries over it, and bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until it is golden and a tester comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, poke the top immediately all over with a wooden skewer, and brush it with half the syrup. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, invert it onto the rack, and poke it all over with the skewer. Brush the cake with the remaining syrup.

Make the syrup while the cake is baking:
In a small saucepan combine the lemon juice and the sugar, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and remove the pan from the heat.



Drive By Press

October 20, 2009

A few weeks ago Portland was treated to a visit by the fun guys of Drive By Press, sponsored by MECA. My neighbor alerted us to it, and since I always have about a million blank t-shirts hanging around, I grabbed a bunch and we went on down. It’s very cool: these two guys basically live out of their van and drive around to college campuses, printing their wood-cut images on t-shirts and talking about printmaking in general.

As soon as we showed up, Eli fixated on this big scary Mexican wrestler image, and he was the first one to get a shirt printed (because he was so immediately decisive) (I of course kept saying, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want that big scary one?”). I have to say his shirt looks fantastic, and it is definitely his favorite shirt. He’d wear it every day if he could.

We got four shirts: the Mexican wrestler for Eli, a campfire for Henry (with smoke that is shaped like a skull-and-crossbones, appropriate given his current pirate leanings), boom boxes for Dave, and funky little glasses for Zuzu.


CATEGORIES: activities

Children’s Book of the Week: Jeremy Draws a Monster

October 19, 2009

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty

The first time I read this book I got to the ending and said (out loud, mostly to myself), “What happens in this book?” Eli turned to me and said, “A boy draws a monster.” Yes, that does happen. But when you read it a few more times, it becomes clear that Jeremy is the monster.

Jeremy lives in an apartment on the top floor, and doesn’t leave, but just watches the other neighborhood kids playing together in the courtyard below. He draws a monster, who shares some physical characteristics with Jeremy (mostly, that they both have a 3 on their shirts). The monster is rude and demanding in a way that is remarkably similar to my children when they are being rude and demanding. Finally, Jeremy draws the monster a one-way bus ticket and sends him away, and then the neighborhood kids want to play with Jeremy.

My kids definitely didn’t get the whole Jeremy Is the Monster thing, but we explained it to them, and they did definitely get the concept of all of us having a bit of a monster inside of us, and that we have it in our power to send the monster packing. Nice.


Your Weekly Zuzu

October 16, 2009

At the end of the summer, we went to Palace Playland* at Old Orchard Beach. Before you think we’re completely insane (Old Orchard Beach’s motto seems to be: Where Everyone is A Little Bit Misshapen, and Some People Are Noticeably Drunk), let me tell you that Henry is a carnival ride nut and we hadn’t gone to any sort of county fair, and somehow Palace Playland seemed like a nice end to the summer. The children had a great time, and didn’t seem to notice any of the other people. Henry went on all the scariest rides he could, and Eli drove a long-haul trucking ride (I think it was called “Convoy Race”) six times. At the very end, Zuzu finally got to go on a ride, too.

Boy, oh, boy did she ever love the carousel. When it was over she clung on to that golden pole with all the strength she could muster, and absolutely wailed when we peeled her off.

*I like the missing word on the tagline on the Palace Playland website. It says, “New England’s ONLY Beachfront Amusement.” As if, in all of New England, with its thousands of miles of gorgeous coastline, Palace Playland is the only thing worth doing. Or the only thing that’s amusing, I guess.



Summer Jar: Make Your Own Monsters

October 13, 2009

Without a doubt, my favorite Summer Jar activity was making our own stuffed animal monsters. We got the instructions from Craft, which were blissfully straightforward. First, the boys drew pictures of what they wanted their monsters to look like.

Henry drew a wacky elephant thing, and Eli drew a rectangle with a belly button. Then they chose fabric from our scrap bag, cut out the outlines (tip: don’t forget to cut the shape a little bigger than the paper cutout, to allow for the seam), and I sewed them together. The boys stuffed them while I worked on eyes and mouths. Eli suddenly took a great interest in sewing while I was doing the second eye for his monster, so I let him sew a bit on the eye, and a lot on the mouth. He totally has the fine motor skills to do it, and was working really hard on sewing his little monster parts. This was really my favorite part — the investment Eli put into the thing now means that his monster is one of his favorite stuffed animals. Here they are, finished:

I told them they had to name them, and they thought about names really earnestly, until Eli came up with “Soup” as his monster’s name, which led Henry to choose “Pizza.” So here you have it, Soup and Pizza. (This also led to a funny interchange when we briefly looked at a preschool for Eli. The preschool served breakfast and lunch, which was a big disappointment to Eli, who had been looking forward to bringing his lunch in a lunchbox. The school director said, “You could still bring your lunchbox, and you could put a favorite stuffed animal in there.” I said, “You could bring Soup in there,” and the director looked kind of worried and said, “Well, we do serve lunch, though, so he really wouldn’t need to bring soup.”)


CATEGORIES: activities, crafts
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