Posted in family life

on the first day of Advent…

Thanksgiving pictures will be up a little late because I forgot my camera at my in-laws’ house and will have to wait a few days for it to be returned (my FIL fortunately works fairly close to our house, despite living rather far away – I don’t envy his daily commute).

However, life in our house has moved on from Thanksgiving to Advent with what feels like incredible speed. The downtown area where we live is fully decked out for Christmas, with a whole street blocked off for a three-story Christmas tree, photo ops, and continuously-playing holiday music. Even our church this morning (to my disappointment) was fully decorated and singing Christmas carols all service long, and I honestly felt overwhelmed by it all. I love Christmas – don’t get me wrong! – but I love Advent even more, and the abrupt switch from ordinary time to Christmas, without the slow build-up and growing anticipation of Advent in between, made me feel like Christmas was just being dumped on me at the expense of the specialness and wonder of it all. I can’t remember feeling like this in the past; for some reason I am just not ready for Christmas this year, and I’m hardly even ready for Advent. I need time to live the lamentation and longing of Advent, to prepare my heart for the unbelievable joy and promise of Christmas… maybe I just need to spend time alone in the daily readings for these next few weeks, immersing myself in the pattern and calling of the Church.

For now, though, I did bring out a few decorations and the Advent wreath (and discovered that I only had two whole candles, one purple and one rose, along with five or six candle stumps… ah well, our Advent may be interrupted by the baby anyway!). I had hoped to do the Jesse Tree this year with the boys, but I didn’t find/make a set of ornaments I liked in time, so we’ll just be reading the stories without the visible accompaniment. I did find a great children’s Bible with beautiful, well-written stories that are still short enough to easily add to dinner and the Advent candles, so we’ll be using that for our Advent readings as a family and keeping the Jesus Storybook Bible in regular circulation with our picture books – Rondel has been choosing it for his bedtime story for a few weeks now, and I don’t want that to stop! Anyway, this is our new one:

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The illustrations are done by different artists from around the world, and represent different artistic styles as well as different ethnicities and cultures – and they are all absolutely beautiful. I’ve read quite a few of the short (two to three page) stories on my own, and read the first one tonight at dinner; I’m looking forward to the rest! I’m especially excited that Ruth and Esther are both included here, as they are not in the Jesus Storybook Bible.

One thing that gave me hope for the season in the face of my own lackluster feelings so far was Rondel’s reaction to helping me pull out some preliminary Christmas decorations, and finding our nativity set amongst them. My plan was to introduce the characters slowly throughout Advent, like I did last year… but Rondel spent the whole afternoon playing with the people (pretending they were random Bible characters like King Darius and Daniel because we haven’t read the Christmas story for a while!) and chose the baby Jesus for his bedtime snuggle toy tonight. So that was significantly sweeter than my well-laid plans would have likely been, and a gift for me to see his delight in the season even if it isn’t rolling out perfectly and liturgically correctly. My goal is to meet him in that joy, and make the most of the Advent time we have before our baby comes, instead of morphing into my inner curmudgeon…

I hope your Thanksgiving went well and that you are entering Advent with a more Christ-centered and joyful heart than I have had so far!

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Posted in family life, Uncategorized

oobleck!

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

And happen it did:

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

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

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

Posted in 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,

Mommy

Posted in family life

learning character from Dr. Seuss on a hard day

When your morning is characterized by yelling (from everyone), tears (from everyone), apologies (from everyone), toddler aggression (from both boys), strict boundary enforcement (from me), and overwhelming fatigue (probably from everyone but definitely from me), a blissful three hours at the library is a gift and an answer to prayer. Surely it wasn’t coincidence that we stumbled upon a Dr. Seuss book I’d never seen before, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, in which crisis is only averted by the remorse and sincere apology of the culpable character…

I am forever grateful for the forgiving love of my little children, even as they drive me up the wall, and I will forever try to pick up the pieces, start over, and love them as best I can in each moment. And when I lose it and they lose it and we’re all a wreck and the day feels ruined before it’s scarcely begun, we can remember King Derwin of Didd and admit our fault, say we’re sorry, and begin to rebuild together.

Posted in family life

our first martinmas

Around the beginning of the month, when I was holed up with the stomach flu and browsing the internet rather more than I should have been, I discovered that November 11th is a traditional Christian holiday called Martinmas, or St. Martin’s Day. It falls in between Michaelmas (on September 29, which I know nothing about but will have to plan for next year) and Christmas, and is part of the fall liturgical festival calendar. Apparently it was a rather important festival throughout much of Europe for centuries, as a combination of celebrating the harvest and celebrating St. Martin: we give thanks for the bounty with which we have been blessed, and remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors to bring light and warmth into the world for the good of the needy around us, as St. Martin did.

St. Martin of Tours was a young Roman soldier in the emperor’s bodyguard when he and his companions happened upon a beggar, clothed only in rags against the impending snow. While his companions ignored or mocked the man, Martin felt that he should do something, and not having excess with him, he cut his own cloak in half so the man could be warm. That night, he had a dream in which Jesus appeared wearing half of Martin’s cloak, telling the angels that as Martin had done for the beggar, so he had done for Jesus Himself. Martin went on to become a priest and eventually a bishop after finishing his service in the Roman army, and played a part in the establishment of orthodoxy in the days of the Arian heresy, while always continuing to live humbly and in service to the poor around him. This combination of compassion and truth is symbolized by the emphasis, at Martinmas, of warmth and light – both seasonally important as well as the weather begins to get colder and the days get shorter!

Some of the traditions associated the day include a clothing drive (to help the poor and homeless prepare against the coming of winter), a bonfire celebration, and a lantern walk (with songs, followed by goodie bags for the kids traditionally filled with fruits of the harvest such as nuts, dried fruits, and other special treats). We did all three of these this year in a very impromptu event with a couple other families we know, and while I was incredibly anxious about the whole thing, everyone told me it went well and that they enjoyed it, so I should probably stop feeling like it was a total let-down for everyone… after all, we had fellowship and food if nothing else, and we have a huge box of clothing and food to donate to our local clothes closet and food pantry. I wish I had gotten some pictures of the boys with their lanterns – they both successfully (and rather nonchalantly) carried mason jar lanterns with real candles inside of them for the walk, which greatly impressed me – but it was dark, and I needed to lead the walk, and my auto-focus was struggling. Maybe next year! In my efforts to remember the saints more and follow the rhythms of the liturgical year more closely, this was a special treat and easier to talk about with my kids than the death themes of Halloween and All Saints/All Souls days, so I think we’ll be trying to make it a tradition.

Have any of you celebrated Martinmas before? What are some of your favorite traditions surrounding the day?

Posted in book lists, family life, Uncategorized

books for the youngest dinosaur lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in family life

at the pumpkin farm

This post is a bit out-dated already, since we went to the pumpkin farm in time to get our Halloween pumpkins 🙂 but since we were all hit by the stomach flu starting the evening of our visit, we’ve been a bit distracted by laundry, bathroom-cleaning, and attempting to carry on normal life with lingering fatigue and nausea. I think we’re all better now – but the boys are starting in with sniffles and hoarse voices so I guess we’re in for a round of something new. Ah, fall with toddlers 🙂

The pumpkin farm we visited has a huge variety of attractions and activities available, but we honestly only made it to a few of them; I wanted the boys to be able to just enjoy themselves on their schedule instead of having to rush from thing to thing to thing just to say we did it all. Rondel especially takes some time to acclimate himself to a new place, and I wanted to give him that time so he could enjoy the morning as much as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing they wanted to do was snack 😛 so we spent some time eating, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells around us, and deciding what we should do next. Also unsurprisingly, they both ran to the bounce pad first of all, and since we were there on Tuesday for the farm’s toddler discount day, we didn’t have to worry about a bunch of older kids bouncing around and making it dangerous or intimidating for the little ones. I even got on and jumped around for a bit, regardless of how silly  must have looked with this huge pregnant belly! It was so much fun 🙂

As is typical for each of them, Limerick instantly ran out into the middle of the bounce pad, while Rondel sat with me on the edge for the first five minutes or so watching everyone else, talking to me about life, and occasionally snuggling up to me.

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Look at those beautiful eyes! He’s probably thinking, “Stop taking pictures and pay attention to me, Mom! I’m talking to you!”

But after that, Rondel joined in as well and had an amazing time jumping, running, rolling, and more; the boys are at an age where their sheer physical energy astounds me, and I’m always looking for fun ways to burn it off – this was definitely a good one.

We spent most of our time here, but did walk around a bit more of the farm and took a little train tour around it as well.

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Limerick investigating some straw from a hay bale 🙂
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Some unripe grapes growing along the fence – Rondel and I tried a few anyways 🙂 I’ve enjoyed the dry-sour tang of unripe grapes since childhood.

Finally, on our way out, we stopped to choose a pumpkin for each of the boys. While they each picked one just slightly too large for them to lift independently, Rondel simply asked me to put his in the stroller for him, while Limerick struggled for a long time to lift his off the ground and onto the hay bale. I eventually had to take it away from him because he was falling apart in tears of frustration and we needed to head home for nap time – I felt so bad for him 😦

Overall, though, it was a good experience (though cooler weather would have been nice), and a special part of fall in a place that doesn’t get most of the traditional autumnal highlights.