7 quick takes, rainy days, van

Seven Quick Takes: the Kyrie Eleison edition

SuperSam has been avidly reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz since he bought it with his Christmas gift card at Barnes and Noble week before last. It is a nice hardback copy, and it has a label in the front.

I think he was almost as excited about the label as the book itself.

We have also been reading it out loud with him before bed each night (although he keeps telling us what’s going to happen, since he’s read far ahead). George hasn’t read the book before and is surprised at how different it is from the movie. I have read the book before and am still surprised at how different it is from the movie.

Sometimes, I think I shouldn’t watch movies that are made from books at all. I feel like the movie producer has taken over my brain with his choices. Even if his choices aren’t bad, my brain likes to make its own decisions, you know?

My children have been playing “Nativity” since the first week of Advent. I suppose we can’t expect them to stop their favorite game just because the liturgical year is moving on without them. Still, I’m starting to tire of hearing them address each other only as “Joseph,” “Mary” (or sometimes “Blessed Virgin” with a hard “g”) and “Baby Jesus.”

Sam is always, always Mary. He puts a blue blanket on his head and directs all the action. Nora (Joseph) waits upon him hand and foot, fetches things, and generally does whatever he tells her. Lucy (Baby Jesus) is more likely to go rogue and refuse to follow his directives, at which point he always tells her she’ll need to take a break and think about how she’s getting along with the rest of the group.

He’s obviously identified Mary’s important role in the Incarnation (and claimed it for himself), but I’m not sure he has the group dynamics down quite yet. I did try to talk with him about it, reminding him that Jesus is really the reason for the whole story. He retorted that Jesus wouldn’t have gotten very far without a mama to change his poopy diapers.

Incarnational theology, five-year-old style.

We’ve gently started back to school again, and we’re getting lots of questions from friends and family about how things are going. In fact, I think the questions are frequent enough that they (and the answers to them) deserve their own post. Next week, look for a homeschool FAQ from me. (Just don’t expect me to dispense any advice after just one semester of homeschooling).

Afternoon nap time here is sacred. I’ve been battling the fatigue and sickness of first trimester pregnancy these last couple of months, so an afternoon nap has become even more critical for me. The twins have always been good sleepers, so it was usually just Sam I had to convince to respect “quiet rest time.”

Last week, with no warning at all, the Sisters began a series of Twin Naptime Fiascos. They’ve taken to throwing their stuffed animals out of the cribs and then shouting for them, dropping their blankies on the floor and then crying for those, jumping on their mattresses like trampolines, beating on the walls, etc. Yesterday, they both pulled their baptismal crosses off their walls above their beds and pointed them at each other while yelling, “Kyrie Eleison! Blam, Blam-o!” and making shooting noises.

Clearly this is a spinoff of the earlier game this week.

Anyway, it’s not conducive to rest.

I haven’t figured out what to do yet (other than moving the crosses, of course). They usually go to sleep eventually, about the time Sam is getting up…and since Sam doesn’t really have a low volume setting, the girls’ afternoon nap is often short-lived.

Adding another baby to the mix ought to help straighten things out, don’t you think?

I got one of those fun corporate parenting emails last week advising me that obedient children have parents who consistently enforce rules. “If you want your child to obey, be less wishy-washy,” it said. “Be sure to have consequences for behavior and apply them consistently.”

I’m not sure exactly what they think I’m doing all day if not enforcing consequences and applying them consistently. I’m certainly not doing housework, cooking, writing or running. Sometimes it feels like the whole day is just passing from one child to another and dealing with three categories of behavior:

  • Sibling-on-Sibling Violence (“Your sister’s hand is not food, please do not bite it.” “We do not use our hands to strangle people.” “She had that first; you need to ask for a turn before you take it out of her hand and smack her with it.” “Please don’t wipe your nose on her hair; get a tissue instead.”) 
  • Social Boundary Stuff (“Please make sure you are wearing underwear when you sit on the couch.” “It’s important to flush after you use the toilet.” “We don’t yell ‘Kyrie Eleison’ at our neighbors- they don’t understand that game.”)
  • General Parental Testing (“We have already tucked you in, given you more water, moved your nightlight so it doesn’t make the shadow on the wall look like the Cowardly Lion is eating Toto, and found your stuffed Spinosaurus. Now GO TO BED.”)

The idea that having and enforcing consequences would automatically result in well-mannered, obedient children seemed perfectly logical to me…before I had any children.

Oh, well. If they grow up to be delinquents, I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that they are super-smart and just like to push limits (“to see what will happen“).

It sounds like the dreaded “polar vortex” is on its way back. We’ve had little spurts of snow (not enough to play in, but enough to make it cold and slick and muddy outside). My philosophy about cold, rain and other “yucky” weather is that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. As long as we have the right stuff to wear, we can still go out.

Philosophy-schmilosophy. I just haven’t felt up to it, so we haven’t gone outside much recently.

Happily, the folks at Imagination Tree came up with some great ideas of things to do inside to pass the time. I have my own favorite stuck-inside activities, and I’m sure you do, too…but if it’s going to be freezing again, we could probably all use some new ideas for our lists.

Ever since we reluctantly joined the ranks of minivan drivers last year, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with our van. I firmly believe that once you buy something it should never break, ever. Unfortunately, our van has some issues. Most of them are minor, but lately, the transmission has been slipping. One minute, all is well, and the next minute, the van won’t shift into the next gear (and we have to pull off on the side of the road, turn it off, wait a few minutes, and turn it on again while praying that it will work).

We don’t have a great history with vans. We borrowed one from a family friend to go home for Christmas when the girls were three months old. On the way down (on Christmas Eve), the engine started making a funny noise. We pulled off in an empty Barnes and Noble parking lot, where the van promptly caught on fire. Sam was delighted when the fire trucks came, but the rest of us were less enthusiastic.

I was brought up to believe that Hondas and Toyotas are superior to all other cars, yet it’s a Honda whose transmission is threatening to leave me (the pregnant lady with three little kids) stranded on the side of a highway someplace. Not ideal.

George is meeting with the man who sold us the van last year to see what can be done…replace the transmission with a used one? Trade it for another van?

Got a van you love or hate? Tell me about it. I’m about to be done with this one, I think.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Best Idea Ever, dance, playlist, rainy days

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 4: Dance yourselves happy.

Once upon a time, it was a dreary, gray February day. Everyone here was in a dreadful mood. Two of my three children awoke in this state. The third child skipped her morning nap and then joined the other two in their funk. I tried to fight it – I got everyone outside to the track so SuperSam could ride his bike (which he then refused to do). I made their current favorite (peanut butter on toasted English muffins with fruit) for lunch, and SuperSam threw it on the floor. Despite my best efforts, I absorbed the darkness from them, and instead of taking action to change the climate in the house, I sank into the funk…at least until after nap time, when I decided it was time to do something about it.

Nothing like some 1950’s doo-wop to cure a case of the mid-February grumpies, right?

SuperSam and I had created a Spotify playlist a while back with our (okay, mostly his) favorites from the 50s. (Some of the songs I suggested were “too slow.”) After some fun conversation about Phil Spector and the wall of sound and how Elvis Presley looks exactly like this certain dinosaur from PBS Kids’ series Dinosaur Train, I persuaded SuperSam to get up and dance. He did it for only a minute and then left to play with his Celestial Buddies…but Nora was hooked. She wiggled and bopped and shook her head and waved her arms, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that Lollipop by the Chordettes is her new favorite song. (“Pop. Ah-dinnn.“)

Nora and Saturn…”1-2-3-kick, 1-2-3-jump!”

How can you argue with that?

So this afternoon, we put on the music and had a dance party. Here is our playlist, if you’d like to listen along. If you don’t have Spotify on your computer, you’ll need to install it (but it’s free and easy to do). Enjoy.

activities, Best Idea Ever, dramatic play, projects, rainy days, recycled materials, SuperSam

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 3: Build a rocket out of boxes.

On a truly cold day, outside play is not practical for our family. Lucy isn’t walking yet, so she gets really cold if she’s just sitting in the swing or being pushed in a ride-on vehicle. SuperSam dislikes wearing coats or anything with long sleeves, so clothing ends up being a battle on particularly cold days. And Nora won’t leave on her mittens, so her hands get cold quickly. I’ve heard it said that there is no bad weather for playing outdoors, just bad clothing, and I generally agree…but if the children in question won’t wear the appropriate clothing, it’s hard to make it work.

So, on a recent bitterly cold day (when everyone was cranky and bouncing off the walls), I pulled out the giant cardboard packing boxes I’d been saving since Christmas. Add a box cutter, a roll of duct tape, and some crayons, and we had a morning activity waiting to happen.

I assumed we’d build a fort or a playhouse of some type, and I started putting the boxes together with that in mind. End to end, we had about a refrigerator box and a half’s worth of cardboard real estate with which to work. The Sisters set to crawling in and out of the boxes immediately. SuperSam grabbed some bubble wrap, held it up to one end of the boxes, and said, “This can be the windshield. It is thick enough to withstand the rays of the Sun when we do a flyby.”

That’s when I realized we were actually building a rocket. (Silly me.)

SuperSam got out his tool box and passed out hammers and screwdrivers to The Sisters, and they all started happily banging away. I cut some windows in the boxes and taped everything together while SuperSam added some coloring and numbers (“like NASA has on their rockets”) to the sides of the structure. Then Captain SuperSam and I made a seat out of a smaller box so he would have a place to sit in the cockpit. He insisted that Navigator Nora have a seat, as well, and I persuaded him that making one for Lucy would be the kind thing to do. (I don’t know why Nora gets all the best gigs in these situations.)

Finally, we made a control panel by gluing buttons and knobs (caps from gallon milk jugs and various bottles) on the bottom of a little box. The spacecraft was ready for flight.

The children played in it all week, first in the kitchen, where we had built it, and then later in the living room, where it took up almost all the floor space. It is currently stationed in SuperSam’s bedroom, where it will remain until he gets tired of playing in it. He tried to fit his bed inside, but the box wasn’t quite big enough for that. He did take a nap earlier this week just inside the opening of the rocket on the floor. “I’m training to be an astronaut,” he said, “so I might as well learn how to sleep in a rocket.”

activities, rainy days, sensory play, SuperSam, water play

Play with Water Beads

They bounce. They roll. They’re slimy. They disappear when you put them in water. They are the coolest things that didn’t exist when you were little. Water Beads!

The brand name is Orbeez, and you can buy them in many colors from Amazon, among other places. I found some clear ones at The Dollar Tree and bought two containers. (I love that store.) I have been saving them for a day when we need something a little snazzy to perk things up around here. I thought it would be a bad weather day…but it turned out that we needed just such a novelty to snap SuperSam out of a funk during his sisters’ nap.

We put the beads in a clear plastic shoe box, and he dove right in. (Not really, but almost. I think he would have stripped off his clothes and gotten into the box if it were possible.) He poured them in and out of containers, scooped them up in his hands, stirred them with spoons, and squished them to see what would happen.
After a while, he said, “What would happen, I wonder, if we put them in water?”
We decided to find out.
I filled a clear plastic measuring cup halfway with water, and he started dropping them in…and something amazing happened.
I thought they had dissolved. (I know, that makes no sense, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me.) We couldn’t see them at all. We held the cup up to the window, shook it around…no sign of the aqua beads. Then SuperSam stuck his hand into the cup and yelled, “THEY ARE STILL IN THERE!”
He was kind of spooked, actually.
We decided it was a good thing we had bought clear beads (all they had at the Dollar Tree) instead of the colored ones – this cool discovery would never have happened otherwise. 
The Aqua Beads were everything that water play usually is and more. We had a great time with them. They came out two more times during the day for “experiments” before I caught SuperSam trying to fill the bathtub with them “so I could see what it would be like to get under them with my whole body.”
“This AquaBead looks like Haumea.”
If anyone wants to sponsor this project, I am willing to host it in our bathroom. Please send donations of AquaBeads to SuperSam at our address. 
activities, celestial buddies, mail, planets, post office, projects, rainy days, SuperSam

Interplanetary Mail…SuperSam goes "postal"

Given my history with the post office, one might think I’d be reluctant to recreate it here in my house. SuperSam and his planets need to send Valentines to each other, though, and he has decided to be their postman. “I need a postman bag,” he said, “and a postman hat and outfit.”

I think we have this dapper postman guy to thank for that. Our local mail delivery lady looks nothing like this.

Postman from Clifford Barks by Norman Bridwell

With no mailman hat, I am improvising. We created some mailboxes out of coffee cans from Trader Joe’s. We covered them in bright paper, decorated with markers and stickers, and nailed the bottoms to some scrap wood to make them stand up. I stuck the ends of the pieces of wood into an upturned cardboard box (just cut x’s with a box cutter and pushed them in). We covered the box with green construction paper “grass.” and voila! Mailboxes.

I didn’t look on Pinterest. There is bound to be someone who has made cuter, easier, snazzier mailboxes. There is probably a step-by-step tutorial about how you can do it, too. I am not that woman, as usual…but I am happy to report that the boxes are sturdy enough so far to withstand the forceful play of my three small people. (The Sisters have found their boxes and like to hide items in them and find them again later.) Besides, there’s a lot to be said for using what you have on hand when you need to do something like this.

SuperSam: Mama! Let’s make a post office!

Mama: Great idea! First, we need to drive an hour to the nearest craft store to get cute Valentine-themed contact paper and brads that are heart-shaped!

Yeah, that’s not my life. I think if Macgyver’s mother had been a preschool teacher, she would have been kind of like me: resourceful, creative, able to make something functional out of almost nothing. Pretty, color-coordinated Valentine contact paper? Meh.

Continuing with my “function is more important than form” theme, we also made a mailbox out of an empty Tide detergent box by covering it in blue paper and cutting a slot in the lid with a box cutter. (SuperSam added the planetary graffiti. I guess he thought it needed some cutening up.) The little postman gleefully retrieves the mail from the box, puts it into his mailbag, and delivers it to the appropriate post office box. We added some “window” envelopes that had been headed for the recycling bin and some catalogs.

SuperSam gets up really early (well before 6:00 AM every day), so we sometimes leave out “invitations” for him in case he needs something new and different to work on in the mornings before everyone else is ready to go. I have come to really enjoy being awakened by the sound of his voice down the hall, talking excitedly about what he’s doing with the materials I left for him. Before going to bed, I set out a tray with paper, envelopes, colored pencils, markers, and labels for him.  I also left some “mail” in his box, including a note from the newest Celestial Buddy, Earth. The next morning, SuperSam played with this stuff for about 40 minutes, chatting animatedly with Earth about writing letters to all the other planets. By the time I came to the kitchen, they had covered the floor with mail. Exciting!

The postal serivce here has been in high demand as all the Celestial Buddies write each other letters on personalized stationery created by SuperSam. He even made stamps out of the labels (with pictures of planets and constellations on them, of course). Apparently the cost of sending a letter from one planet to another has not been affected by the economy…and if the volume of mail is any indication, these planets prefer to stay in touch the old fashioned way.

activities, projects, rainy days, SuperSam

Cloud Dough

Cloud Dough…it’s the wonderful sensory dough you probably haven’t tried yet. (Probably. Have you tried it? I hadn’t heard of it.)

We found the recipe at Tinkerlab, where Rachelle has a great post about her experience making cloud dough with her two daughters. (She has a lot of other wonderful stuff, too – check it out if you haven’t before.)

We used flour and baby oil to make our dough. The original recipe calls for 8 cups of flour. We were smack in the middle of cookie baking season over here (meaning we were going through lots of flour already), so I followed Tinkerlab’s suggestion and cut the recipe in half (using 4 cups of flour and half a cup of oil).

Here’s what to do if you want to make your own batch of cloud dough:

Put the flour in a container. (We used a large underbed-type storage box with a lid.) Form a mountain out of the flour, then make a crater in the top of the mountain like a volcano.

Pour the oil into the crater.

Use your hands to mix the oil and flour together until the mixture is crumbly.

Then play with it. That’s it. The more you handle it, the better the texture will be. It’s okay if there are some oily lumps and clumps…you can work them out as you play. You can mold it into shapes and sift it like powder. The dough has a soft, smooth texture, and it smells nice, too, thanks to the baby oil.

This project was fun. It was easy. And really, it was not bad to clean up. SuperSam made it snow on his dinosaurs. He made “snowballs” from the cloud dough and made the dinosaurs throw them at each other. He made handprints. His dinosaurs made footprints. Then he made footprints…because he wanted to see what the dough would feel like on his feet. And really, why not? The floor was pretty much covered in flour already. (I did put him straight into the tub afterward.)

We have been storing our cloud dough in the box with the lid on it for over a month now. Each time SuperSam has pulled it out to play with it, it has had the same great texture…it hasn’t dried out or gotten moldy or anything yucky that sometimes happens to these kinds of sensory doughs.

SuperSam’s evaluation: “Everybody should make this and play with it. It will work best if you have some dinosaurs or astronauts to put in there. I wouldn’t use your best cars or trains with it because they might get a bunch of flour caught in their wheels, and you wouldn’t be able to clean them very well because they can’t go in the bath. But you can always have a dinosaur wash if your mom will let you.”

activities, bath, Best Idea Ever, parenting, rainy days, SuperSam, water play

Best idea ever, Vol. 1

Sometimes the best idea ever is the simplest thing…the kind of idea that, when I see it someplace (or even better, when it unfolds in my own brain!), makes me wonder why I hadn’t thought of it before. It seems obvious, like it was right there in front of me all along.

Brilliance can be simple. Things don’t have to be complicated to be pure genius. Sometimes, parenting small people produces special opportunities for these remarkable ideas to surface- and when they do surface, I think we should be sharing them with one another.

With that in mind, I give you The Best Idea Ever.

(Okay. It’s possibly not really the best idea ever. That’s not the point. The point is, it’s a great idea, and it’s simple, and you can do it, too, and you’ll be glad you did.)

Are you ready?
Here it comes:

Wash your toy dinosaurs in the sink. With bubbles.

Ours were really dirty after being in the moon sand box. Today we cleaned out that box to make cloud dough and rescued them…all covered in sand and cornstarch. Poor dirty guys.

They got a bubble bath in the sink, complete with bath toys and snuggling in a warm towel afterward.

It felt like an Advent miracle- the carnivores and the herbivores shall lie down together, and a little child shall bathe them…and that little child shall be kept busy, happy, engaged, and relatively quiet during his sisters’ full hour and a half morning nap.