Doesn’t It All Go By in a Blink

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Broken arm to start off the hot months.

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Baby’s first haircut. Goodbye curls:(

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.” ― L.M. MontgomeryAnne’s House of Dreams

When every day of summer lasts a million years (this is how it feels anyway) I find myself forgetting that I only really get a handful of summers with my kids.  What I mean of course, is a handful of summers when they are still mine.  Before they’re begging to go over to friend’s houses and to summer camp and into the future without a backward glance.  It isn’t my wish to keep them little forever- little kids are an incredible amount of work.  But I do love the innocence.  I love the soft cheeks, the concept that mom and dad can make everything alright, and the way they sleep without anything weighing them down.

These are a few pictures of our summer so far- a blur of manic energy contained in a few photos.

 

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July garden.

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Calvert Marine Museum, terrapin.

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Indoor Beach Day

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The new balance bike.

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Water table fun and bug catching.

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First full family campout, Elk Neck State Park, MD.

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I capture the castle.

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I’m 3 today!

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Life is good.

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Oh yes we DID bring the clip-on highchair.

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Best Old School Toys

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New school 2011

20140323-142236.jpgWe didn’t know it at the time but the toys we grew up with in the early 80’s were simply the best.  Many of them are no longer being replicated, at least in the way we remember them.  Wooden Tinker Toys are no longer being sold- there are plastic versions in “girl colors” and “boy colors” but nothing like what we remember. Mr. Potato Head, which used to be rather well-made, has evolved into a cheap and unfortunate tuber. The two new Potato Heads we bought new a couple months ago are impossible for my preschooler to do by herself and even though the female has a throw-back hairstyle they shout “Modern!  Shiny! 21st century! Junk!” The pieces don’t fit well, the glasses fall off, the hair thunks to the floor at the least provocation.

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Old school 1983

Last week on a vacation in upstate NY my family was lucky enough to run across not one, not two, but three old school Potato Heads from 1983.  The year is printed inside the butt flap in case you’d like to know when your own model originated.  Now I’m not looking forward to answering questions about Mr. Potato Head 1983’s pipe(which is kinda cute if you don’t think too much about it) but you can’t dispute that the toys were built to last, to be functional, and to be fun.  They were more than money makers.

When I was a bit older Domino Rally came out and I thought it looked incredibly entertaining.  I got it for Christmas that year and couldn’t have been more disappointed.  The loop-de-loop malfunctioned repeatedly,and  the track was always falling apart.  I should have realized then that the era of good toys was ending.  If I’d made that realization I certainly wouldn’t have given away all the tangible pieces of my childhood.  I would have kept them for my own kids.  Alas, here I am searching thrift stores whenever I have the chance.  My husband just rescued his childhood collection of He-Man action figures from his parent’s attic.  We are both ridiculously excited about this.

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Tinker toy telescopes

For the most part we try to buy wooden toys and toys that are 2nd hand.  Even better are toys that are wooden AND 2nd hand.  Fortunately for me and for my kids, my dad is an amateur toy maker.

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The Myrtle Turtle and a VW bug.

I grew up playing with a handmade pull-duck with leather feet that flapped along on a rolling wooden wheel.   I learned my states early and confidently because I had a huge wooden map of the USA with puzzle pieces of all 50 states.  I had a wooden whale puzzle that had only 5 pieces but was deceptively difficult and my dolls got rocked in a handmade cradle which eventually got donated to the Para Los Ninos foundation in Los Angeles.  To my everlasting regret I didn’t keep most of the gifts my father made.  I only have the whale puzzle, a jewelry box made out of a tree limb, and a giant rocking cow named Bessie.  Incidentally, Bessie weighs about 50 pounds and won’t be living with us forever:)

My dad has begun making wooden toys for my kids.  It’s a very lucky thing to have a toy maker in the family.  My daughter has her own pull mouse which she delightedly drags all over the college campus down the road and my 11 month old has figured out how to push his wooden cars across the living room.  I absolutely love watching them play with things that didn’t come in a box.  Things that were made by a real person, things that have imperfections (not referring to Mr. Potato Head here), toys that encourage activity instead of passivity.

It’s a changing world.  I do see the advantages of having a preschooler who knows how to use a variety of computers.  But I also see the need to teach our kids how to build with their hands and how to race real wooden cars.

What’s your best old school toy?

DIY Story Stones: Toddler Gift

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DIY Story Stones

‘Tis the season for gift giving.  It can sap the life right out of a person.

Which is why I present to you parents of little people……Story Stones.  Here’s why they’re awesome:

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Collecting the stones last summer.

1.  They are a gift that keeps on giving.

2.  They are fun to collect with your kids. (Shopping is NOT fun to do with your kids)

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Telling a story.

3.  They encourage creativity.

4.  They’re virtually free.

5.  You can customize them to your child’s interests.

6.  You can make them yourself.

If you happen to live near a river you’re in good shape to go ahead and start this project.  If not, you’ll have to find another area to collect some large flat rocks.  Summer 2013 001

This step was a bit difficult in my part of Southern Maryland but I managed to get some small flat rocks from the Chesapeake Bay.  I was only able to find a dozen that were large enough but it’s a start.  In case you can’t find very many remember you can also use the backs.

Next, invest in a jar of Mod- Podge- the glue/adhesive that can be found at Michael’s and other craft stores.

Then, cut out magazine pictures or find stickers your child would find interesting.  Generic things might work best- they allow for more creativity.

Apply the pictures/images to the stones with the Mod-Podge as if it were glue.  Wait for it to dry then seal over the top of it with the Mod-Podge.  When mine dried they were still a bit sticky but after a few weeks it went away.

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Side story intersecting the main story.

Finally- the fun part.  Make up stories with your kid!  The use of the stones makes it easier for them to come up with ideas about what happens next.  You can lay them out in a line as the story gets longer.  If there is a side story about one of the characters you can have it intersect your main storyline.

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Placing a story.

When we play with

them I usually start the story.  “Once upon a time there was a taxi driver named

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Getting organized.

Rosie.”  My daughter will place the next stone, “Her favorite thing to do was read books.”  My turn- “While she read she ate bananas and drank lemonade.”

If your child loves to read these might be a big hit- my daughter LOVES them.

If your child does not love to read, perhaps they would consider this a fun alternative.

DIY Soft Pretzels with Kids

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The Very Best Present

Recently my mother sent me the Very Best Present.  It’s the book entitled I Can Make A Rainbow by Marjorie Frank, copyright 1976 by Incentive Publications.  Amazon is currently advertising a used copy for $3.98 right here.  New copies run for $25.  It might be the best money you ever spend in your life.  If you don’t believe me just take a minute to absorb the enticing back cover which reads,

“Come away with me on straw-whistle winds to the lands of goozles and whiffle-whomps and astronaut princes and soap-bubble pies and I’ll let you touch bright yellow drops of sun and pale washes of moon and stir your hand in mad rivers of purple elixir with whirlpools of winged witches and striped crocodiles.”  Fantastic, right?

The book doesn’t disappoint.  It’s got it all- things to do with paper, yarn, paint, cloth and string.  Things to do with food, things to carve, mold and sculpt, and special things to make.  There is even a whole chapter devoted to, “Things to Do When There’s Nothing to Do.”  How can you go wrong with that?

If you know a toddler please do their parents a favor and give them this holy grail of wonderfulness.  Do it soon because those parents wanted this book yesterday.

20131020-010739.jpgThat said, what I really wanted to write about was how fun and easy it is to make giant soft pretzels with your toddler.  Unfortunately my toddler was having a bit of day today due to a skipped nap and opted to spend the designated pretzel-making time engaging in such shenanigans as whimpering , pleading, shouting, and banging.  Always with the banging.  Still, I firmly believe it WOULD have been very fun for her to help with these super easy pretzels.  Where did I find the recipe you might ask?  Why, I Can Make a Rainbow, of course!  Learn more about it here.

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Measure 1/2 cup warm water into a bowl.  Sprinkle 1 package yeast on the water and stir until it dissolves.  Separate one egg yolk and white.  Keep the white for later.  Mix the egg yolk, 1/4 cup honey or sugar, 1/4 cup margarine (I used butter) and milk (I used coconut milk) into the yeast.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and enough flour to make a stiff dough.  For me this was 4 cups although the recipe calls for 5.  Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5 minutes, let it rise for about 1 hour, cut it into strips about 1 inch wide (use a pizza cutter if you have it).  Fold each strip in half and roll it into a rope.  Shape them into whatever you want and put them on the cookie sheet.  Beat 1 Tbsp. of water into the egg white and brush it over the pretzels.  Sprinkle each one with coarse salt.  Bake at 425 degrees until they are golden brown (15-20 minutes).  Serve with mustard or…. anything else.

20131020-010711.jpgNext time I make these I’m going to use fresh rosemary and garlic and the time after that I’ll try a dipping sauce with caramel and chopped almonds.  Basically I’m wondering where these pretzels have been my entire life.

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Explore the Calvert Marine Museum with Toddlers

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Watching the otters Bubbles and Squeak

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The Calvert Marine Museum is well worth the annual family membership fee of $60.  It’s a wonderful option for those very hot days, very cold days, very wet days, well you get the idea.  Although the exhibits don’t change much my daughter doesn’t mind.  She looks forward to checking in with the rays, the terrapins, the sea horses, jellyfish, and the otters most of all.  On good weather days there is a lovely wooden pavilion for picnicing, a boardwalk, a covered area housing a large antique boat collection, and the best feature- the Drum Point Lighthouse which is open from 11:30-12 and then again sometime in the afternoon.  Naptime has made it impossible for me to ever go in the afternoon though so I wouldn’t know about that.  That’s only for the parents of Older Children.  The lighthouse boasts several separate rooms and although the winding stairs are quite tricky with a toddler in tow it’s well worth it.  A tip from a sadder-but-wiser-girl: do not wear a skirt as the updraft can be gusty.  The history of the lighthouse is my favorite part- many different families (something like 15 of them) raised their kids in it and I always have a great time imagining them gathered around the table on a blustery day or sending a home-made slinky down the stairs.  When the kids were school-age they took a boat to the mainland  (the lighthouse used to be quite a ways out in the water) in order to get their education.  Just imagine a boat instead of a school bus.  Those lucky little buggers.

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For those of you with toddlers there is a Sea Squirts program that happens twice or thrice a month (see website)- it’s free but if you want to stay and look around afterwards you will need to pay the daily admission fee.  For my money I’d rather just take my kids there on a quiet day.  There are so many people that attend the toddler program I’ve never been able to hear anything and my toddler gets impatient with all the waiting.  If I didn’t also have a baby attached to me I might find it a bit more manageable.

Besides the animal exhibits there is also a Discovery Room which is wonderful.  It has a fossil digging area with experts on staff to help the kids identify what they find.  There is a sailboat replica that the kids can climb in-  it comes complete with a set of life vests and sailor hats as well as a marine backdrop which makes for great photos.  Perfect for the grandparents.  There is even a mini lighthouse along with keeper quarters.  Lastly there is the staffed touch tank.  My kiddo doesn’t seem to care about it either way yet but one day she will.  I’ll be sure to be there when that day arrives.

Little Explorers at Historic St. Mary’s City

The remains of an ancient settlement are located only 3 miles from my house.  Well, maybe not ancient, but by USA standards it’s pretty old.  1634 to be exact.  St. Mary’s City was the fourth permanent settlement in the New World and the first capital of Maryland.  It is supposedly one of the best archaeological sites in the nation because although the whole city dissolved when the capital was changed to Annapolis in 1695,  the site was then left undisturbed for ages.St marys citySt marys city 2

Originally I thought that touring St. Mary’s City would have the same feel as visiting Williamsburg or Jamestown but no.  st marys city churchAlthough there are some folks wandering around in colonial garb there is no Disney-like feel to the place.  It’s quite calming and relatively unchanged so it is possible to stand on the cliff overlooking the St. Mary’s River and imagine that it’s really 400 years ago, just you and the water.  Structures have been erected where the remains of dwelling places have been found- rather ghostly silhouettes of a place that once was.  There are trails, a museum, a plantation, pigs (at least I’ve heard tell), and a visitor’s center.  It’s certainly worth a look.

An added bonus for those of us with small kids at home is that there are special programs.  Little Explorers focuses on kids age 3-5 and although my child is only 2 years, 4 months sometimes I get desperate enough to sneak into places I shouldn’t.  This was one of those times.  Looking back on our visit last Wednesday it occurs to me that the focus was most likely more specific than “dug-out canoes”.  However there were so many children present and so many strollers with younger tag-along siblings that I would be hard pressed to tell you what the whole purpose was.  Looking back I mostly see flashes of color and chaos.

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Sensory box

There was a mini parachute, this I know. Autumn 2013 032 There were bins of sensory activities to keep the kids busy before the main event occurred.  It seems to me there was a story at some point.  Can you tell it was a bit chaotic?  My kid was happy so I was happy.  Autumn 2013 033Eventually we were asked to paddle pretend canoes out to the woods where an actual dug-out canoe was stationed still smelling like the fire used to break down the interior wood.  Then it was a mad scramble for an oyster shell in order to scrape, scrape all the soot out.  Did my child have any idea why she was scraping soot?  No.  Did she care?  No.  Did I care?  A little bit.  But with 50 toddlers maybe I should have just been grateful to get out of there alive.  Besides, my daughter was happiest spending her time jumping from one canoe support beam to another.

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There really is a canoe under there.

Well, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ’em drink”, I guess.  50 soot-covered toddlers then paddled their way back to the visitor’s center to create toilet paper tube canoes.  Yes, it’s possible.

There is a great picnic table set-up so many groups stayed for a picnic lunch.  Now that fall is here I think there are only one or two more of the Little Explorer events until Spring.  I’m ok with that.  By then maybe I’ll be brave enough to go back:)Autumn 2013 037

Just Look at It

Autumn 2013 019In my opinion this is the very best time of year.  All of my favorite holidays are still stretched out before us complete with promises of trick-or-treating, cranberry jello, and candy canes.  The weather is perfect, I get to do the annual search for my box of sweaters, and the local farms are open for business.  The drudgery of winter is a long time off and the promise of spring pollen doesn’t have me quaking in my boots just yet.

Currently our family has plans of building a leaf press and it is possible that it will be complete in time to preserve some of the fall foliage.  Autumn 2013 033

We’ll be doing leaf prints this fall too and finger turkeys of course and in honor of Halloween we’ll be busting out all the costumes we own and wearing them regularly until Halloween.  Or maybe even Thanksgiving.  Or Christmas.  Well, all the time really.

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Just look at it Mom!

Sometimes I get so excited about all of these things that I forget to pay attention to Right Now.  Lately I’ve been strolling through the local college campus with my kids urging my toddler to, “Come along,” and not really honoring her need to move slowly through the ever-changing atmosphere.  My desire to cover ground and to get a bit of exercise out of the walk are in direct conflict with her need to be present in her life every moment.  To her that means picking up a rock every single time we get out of the car or back in it again.  There are rocks in the corners of the carseat, rocks in the corners of my kitchen, I find rocks in places that rocks could not possibly be if it weren’t for my toddler.  To her being present means finding beauty in every single leaf rather than taking a broad sample.  I was feeling a bit done with investigation last week by the time she brought me the 5th leaf, the 10th leaf, the 50th leaf.  This was because I was hungry, thirsty, and ready to be done pushing the double stroller up hills.  My two year old had to say, “Just look at it Mom!”  So I did.  I sat back down and I looked at another 50 after that.    She will teach me volumes, this little girl.  I just have to pay attention.  That’s not hard.  Why do we make it so?

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