Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday Thesicle

With unfettered fervor is the only acceptable 
way to achieve ultimate success in a fulfilling 
corn-husking experience. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How a Gutter Changed My Life

It always feels awesome to save space in our small condo. It makes me feel like I’m in on a secret. Mwahahaha, I know that there are three shelves in that closet and you only see two!

Last week I came across a photo on Facebook that a friend had posted. It was a gutter as a bookshelf! Gasp! What a superb idea. I tried explaining it to Brian who just wanted a picture. That same day we went to Home Depot to get the gutter ($4 for a 10 foot gutter), and the next day he put it up as two different book shelves. We were insulted by the fact that we would spend a little over $4 due to hardware on the gutter but would have to spend $15 to put end caps on them. Why spend the same amount we would pay for a crappy little shelf at Target when all we’re using is a gutter? So we didn’t get end caps. It would look nicer with them, but it’s the principle of the thing.

It’s not that we lack in bookshelves for the boys’ books. In fact we have enough room for all their books in their room. The problem is that they do not know how to put the books on their shelves with the spines out-- instead they stack them and the stacks inevitably fall over and the books migrate across the floor and under my feet in the dark.

We do a lot of our reading in the living room so books just get left there, and we have no good place to put them. They were on the end tables and under the end tables and spread on the couch and under the couch. So by putting the shelf above the wheeling art table that is behind our living room recliner, we save space, it looks nicer, we can see all of our book choices, and the boys can clean them up themselves! So money.

Brian put the other half of the gutter up in the boys’ room. Same story there. This frees up bookshelf space that we will probably use for more toys and clothes as their toys and clothes get bigger.

Cha-ching! Thanks for the super idea, Kamber. If there are more ideas where those came from, I can’t wait!
Below our counter, above the art table that we wheel out for art projects,
and behind the recliner. Tight squeeze, but better than the floor.
On the boys' bedroom wall below the high shelf and tucked in under
the space posters

Saturday, May 26, 2012

That's So Weird: On Being Dogs and Trains

One thing I hate thinking about as the boys get older is what kids can do to other kids with their words. I’ve seen it primarily as a teacher, but I also remember it from growing up. Kids can be so cruel and I’m leery of what they might say to my boys, especially because of Cal’s eye. I want to teach them to be strong and self-confident enough to handle the jabs and teases that come from just being around other kids.

I was reminded of what peers can do today at storytime. There’s a train table by the little stage at the bookstore and after storytime was over there were was one fairly old kid there—maybe 8 or 9—and another one a little younger who seemed to be taking lessons on everything the older kid did and said. Clark started playing at the table. He picked up a little bus and started pushing it around on the train tracks. To his follower and everyone in the children’s section, the older boy loudly mocked, “Look! That kid is pushing the bus on the tracks. He thinks it’s a train! That’s so weird!” This made his follower laugh.

I don’t think Clark even heard them, but I did. I had two thoughts: that kid is a big dumb jerk and way too big for the train table, and: if Clark is getting made fun of for this pretending, he will have way more to endure since he is constantly pretending. Both thoughts made me sad and made me want to keep the boys away from all kids for as long as possible, but of course that isn’t possible or even healthy.

After that incident that disturbed me, the boys and I made our way over to our clubhouse to pick up our pool passes. Some readers may remember that the boys have a sordid past with the pool and with large bodies of water in general, but today they just wanted to stare at the pool and the people in the pool and talk about them. On the way home I turned around to see both boys on their feet and hands. “Look mom, we’re dogs!” They yelled. Almost the entire way home from the clubhouse, minus when we crossed the streets, they were dogs. They named themselves Doo-doo and Wah-wah, and at various times on the walk, needed to be scratched.

As we got to our building they climbed the stairs like dogs and we stopped at our two favorite neighbors’ homes to show them that they were dogs. Mysteriously, the dogs’ names changed twice more as they introduced themselves to both neighbors, who played along wonderfully (Thank goodness one of them is a first grade teacher and the other one has grandkids). Inside I played along by making the dogs peanut butter and jelly dog biscuits and string cheese bones and letting them eat on the floor. I even held the cup while Cal tried to lap up his water.

I know playing this way isn’t bad, in fact I love all their pretending and I love pretending along with them, but I hope their wild imaginations don’t make them targets for mean jokes down the road. I have no idea how to combat that, other than teaching them not worry about what other people say. But I don’t know exactly how to teach that either. I am infinitely thankful that they have each other to stick up for in this journey of childhood; to be dogs together and to drive buses on train tracks. 

Doo-doo and Wah-wah scamper home.
Wah-wah gobbles up his biscuits while Doo-doo contemplates his.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday Thesicle

The greatest baseball players never take off their 
batting gloves. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shenandoah National Park: Day Trip

I’ve had this fear that my boys will grow up not knowing much about forests and rivers and basic agriculture: things like the fact that corn grows on stalks, not on trees, but more importantly that none of it grows at the grocery store.

Since I grew up in a little house in a big woods, this fear makes sense. I basically had pine needles stuck in my hair for most of my childhood and made more varieties of mud pies on the stone kitchen counter by the creek than anyone ever has or ever will. (boo-ya) Now my boys know roughly how to navigate the bus routes we take and the metro—including the names of many of the metro stops in DC, but last night Clark asked me what a corn tree looked like. So, I’m always conscientious to teach the boys about nature whenever I can. 

The boys know signs for various outdoor activities that they’ve never been a part of, specifically because of the outdoors DVD in the Signing Time series. So when I decided I wanted to go to Shenandoah National Park for a picnic and some hiking on Mother’s Day, the boys piped up excitedly that they wanted to find hiking sticks. Yay! They knew about hiking sticks!

So, on Mother’s Day we took a trip to Shenandoah. It took us a little over an hour, driving from Reston, to get to the northern gate of the park, just outside Front Royal. If you get off Route 66 at Markham and onto Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) you can drive the last few miles on a more scenic road. From Front Royal, follow the signs south and you’re there.

One of the first overlooks
It costs $15 to get in, and your pass is good for a week. The park itself is gigantic, but for a day trip with two three year-olds, we picnicked at the first picnic area and hiked at the first short trail and called it a day. Camping for several days or even a week would be an excellent way to experience the beautiful park. The boys hiked for about a mile on a loop. I was surprised how long they were able to go and how much they liked it. Only as we climbed the hill back toward our parked car, did they ask to be carried. And that was during their normal naptime, too! We saw some deer, birds, lots of butterflies, squirrels, caterpillars, and a giant millipede. The boys found hiking sticks. Cal named his Trail Stick and Clark named his Climbing Stick.

On the way home we stopped at the Apple House, which is right by the entrance to 66 at Markham. They have apple donuts that are somehow always warm, as well as some decent pulled pork and burgers and such. We had dinner and donuts, nestled amongst the many souvenirs, and headed home. The boys slept all the way.

Now my boys know how to hike in the woods, what a millipede looks like, and that grass can whistle. Not so bad for two little suburban chaps whose default answers about where things come from are “Costco” and “Harris Teeter.”

5 Shouts!


A shark in the meadow!
Always the clown

Please notice the charming mud on Cal's face.

Ahh. Open space.

On the hike!

Mr. Millipede

Happy Hiker A

Extreme Happy Hiker B

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mommy Page Interview

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Mommy Page and they sent me some interview questions. I know some of you have already read it, but here is my Mommy Page interview.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How the Prairie Dogs Rocked the National Zoo

Two weeks ago we took a trip to the National Zoo with some friends, including the boys’ friends Andrew, and little Chloe from Adventures With Little Bear. The trip is more tedious than normal for us as public transportation-ers because we have to transfer metro lines, but due in part to the excitement of having Andrew on the bus and metro with us, the boys barely noticed the extra waiting and jostling.

Sit in the front car! Boys love it.
The zoo is just a few blocks away from the Woodley Park/National Zoo metro stop, and it’s free. In the past my National Zoo experiences have been varied. One time we brought the boys when they were way too young, it was way too hot, and way too crowded. The perfect time was last fall, middle of the week, with my parents and brother. Cooler weather, fewer people, happier animals, and more help with the boys. In my opinion, if you want to go to the zoo, do it in the middle of a week and before school is out, or in the fall after it’s in session. I want nothing to do with walking all over creation in 100% humidity while pushing a stroller full of toddlers through throngs of sweaty people.

The first thing we did at the zoo this time was wait for the sloth bear to come out and suck termites through a straw, but alas, the sloth bear was not up for the audience at his meal and he hid from view while the slightly flustered employee rattled off sloth bear statistics. If your kids have an animal they are especially interested in, either look online before, or ask someone if they allow visitors to watch a feeding and plan to be in the right place at the right time. I make no guarantees about the sloth bear.

Scaling a  mountain waiting for the sloth bear
Four little monkeys watching the zebras
We managed to see a red panda and one of the giant pandas that the zoo is known for. The boys’ favorite part was touching fossilized panda poop on display. Of course. They think anything on the topic of poop or any word that sounds like poop is hilarious. I’ve come to believe it’s hardwired into boys to be that way, because they didn’t get it from Brian and me. I’ve had other moms of boys say the same thing.
The kids liked interactive displays like this one.
Since the renovation of one side of the elephant house (they’re still working on the other side), it is much easier to see the elephants, and it makes me happy that they have a much bigger home. The suspension bridge over the elephant enclosure is cool and only makes me a little nervous. There are also a couple other viewing places down below if you’re not into suspension bridges.

This last time we didn’t make it into the monkey house or small mammal house or reptile house, but all of those places are fun unless they’re crowded. The big cats are impressive to see. We got an outstanding, toothy yawn from a lion. The boys’ favorite part of the cats exhibit was touching a big ball that lions had played with, because they could touch the teeth marks and claw-scratches.
I know, I know. I should be a wildlife photographer.
The lion ball!
The whole way from the gate to the end of the zoo is downhill. I urge you to keep that in mind while gauging your tiredness. The farm animals are near the end, and we’ve actually never made it quite that far, though I’ve heard that especially the smaller kids like the farm animals.

Chloe had to leave before the best part, unfortunately. Surprisingly, it was the Prairie Dogs. Not because the animals themselves were cool, but because behind them is a kids’ prairie dog maze! It’s a bunch of plastic playground-y tunnels with various places kids can poke up and see out of, like prairie dogs! The three boys became squealing prairie dogs for a long time, and were extremely reluctant to leave their tunnels.

 The next favorite thing for them was dancing in the spray from the misters as we made our way up 
out of the zoo.

As far as eating, I recommend packing a lunch or snack and drinks, unless you’re cool with paying $9 for a standard hamburger or chicken strips, or if you don’t want a soda the size of a small water heater. There are a lot of tables to spread food out on in various places throughout the zoo.

Overall it’s a fun and worthwhile outing, albeit a bit tiring (especially if you metro). I recommend figuring out what your kids want to see the most and going there first so you don’t get worn out before you actually get to see the cool stuff!

5 Conditional Shouts! *Go anytime but the summer, know what you want to see, and allow enough time so you’re not rushed or utterly drop-dead tired by the time you leave.

Riding...a frog face?
Ahhhhh! Little misters in the mister
(sorry, couldn't help it)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

NOVA Fine Arts Festival!

This morning we headed across the street to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at Reston Town Center. My favorite artist's booth the past few years has been my favorite because it reminds me a little of the idea of gingerbread houses and scenes. A woman makes robots out of found objects she buys at antique malls and pawn shops. And the boys love robots, so that's the artist's booth we spent the most time at. Then we watched a band play a little, went to the children's art tent and made paper plate tambourines, and painted on the community mural. We met Brian for lunch ($10 off at town center restaurants with $10 donation to Greater Reston Arts Center!) and then the boys begged to take Dad back to the robot booth on the way home. It's a beautiful day, the festival is open for another hour or so today and all day tomorrow. Get out there!
Brother Bots

Robot on a rocket!

Watching the band play (specifically the guitarists) 

Making paper plate tambourines 

playing tambourines!

getting set for the mural painting

Cal was painting clouds on top of everyone else's paintings.

They could have done this all day.

Future Lake Anne Dolphins!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Vinegar and Baby Powder

The other day I discovered that our dining room had been overtaken by brazen, ravenous ants. It’s no wonder that they were attracted to a certain area in the house—where the boys consume food with their formative eating skills and fledgling hand-eye coordination. It was easy work for lazy ants.

I did the thing where you see some ants together and then you look farther and see more and then farther and more, and it makes your stomach sink because you have been invaded and you didn’t even know it. I had three kids in the house. How was I supposed to keep them out of the ants, while still feeding them, and try to figure out how to get rid of the ants? The vacuum is the easiest band-aid. I did that a few times, but clearly was only vacuuming the tip of the proverbial iceberg. 

Stupid ants
A friend and her twins were over in the morning shortly after I discovered the ants, and I had her run out and buy me some ant traps and ant gel, which I had never used. First of all— I’m blessed to have friends who will drop what they’re doing and buy me ant repellent.  Secondly—it didn’t work. I waited for 8 or 9 hours and they were still swarming the baseboards and clinging to anything resembling food, except for the ant traps. And the gel wasn’t safe to use since the area was accessible to children.

Later, when everyone had gone to bed and the house was silent (This may or may not be the best part of my day), the ants still scampered like the invading scoundrels that they are. I got online and looked up ideas for getting rid of ants. Fascinating. Not really, but the result I got was.

After washing down the baseboards and walls around where the ants were with half vinegar/half water rinse, and dowsing the baseboards and nearby carpet with baby powder, I woke up in the morning to a completely ant-free dining room! They haven't been back and it's been two days now. 

Don’t spend money on (insert popular brand of ant repellent here)! Get out your vinegar and baby powder and draw the battle lines.

Ant enders

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Incident of Which We May Now Speak

Not so long ago an incident went down, or rather, when up in our house that I am just now feeling comfortable enough to write about. One morning I walked into the boys’ room to see this on the wall.

This is not crayon. Nope. Sharpies.
My initial reaction was total dismay. Cal, Sharpies in hand, might as well as have punched me in my feelings and laughed. I know that’s not a thing, but still. You know what I mean. I felt personally injured. That kid knows that drawing on anything other than paper or the window (but only with window markers) is wrong. He had just gotten in trouble a few days prior for using crayons on his dresser. Now this.  I don’t remember exactly what I first said, but it was probably just whining and moaning as I shook with anger.  Brian had to calm me down as we talked about discipline measures. To me at that moment, nothing except maybe water-boarding would be too extreme.  

I suppose what we settled on was more level-headed. We had to take everything into consideration: The day before he was praised highly for how well he was coloring in the lines. In fact, he colored twelve space shuttles, skillfully staying in the lines for the most part. 

Cal's are the 12 monochromatic ones. the others are Clark's.

On the wall, he had spent plenty of time coloring in each of the truck wheels on the wall. He clearly had been at this for a long time. How had we not heard them? He (and maybe Clark) had been at this a long time. They marked the lampshade, the radio, the wardrobe/dresser, the shelf, the sheets, the outside of the bed, the inside of the bed, the top rails of the bed, the middle rails of the bed, Cal’s pajamas, and Cal’s body.  

How could we have let them both be awake for so long and not noticed they were up? Also: it’s not their fault that someone left Sharpies in their reach, particularly when they were bored and Cal was trapped on his bunk. I still have no idea when or where I left Sharpies in their reach. It’s still a mystery. Whenever we asked them, they said a different spot, so we gave up on sleuthing it out. Anyway, we ended up giving them several stern talkings-to and if anything else like this happens we will not be so passive about it. Because I'm perfectly rational, I was mad at the Sharpies themselves and let them sit with out the lids on for a few days, drying up in a prolonged, painful death. 

Now. Any ideas for how to get this stuff off the wall? The bed? The shelves? I’ve had some luck with hand sanitizer on the wall, and Colgate toothpaste worked some on the dresser. Sunblock got it off his neck, legs, and foot. Stain stick didn’t take it off the sheets. I haven’t even tried the lampshade, but I’m guessing that’s finished. 

Any other ideas? As soon as we get it cleaned off the best we can, we will paint over it. I guess. I kind of just feel like leaving it up. Maybe I should let them draw on that wall all they want? The other day they were pretending the scribble-wall was their map while they flew their bed like a space shuttle. Maybe leaving it would promote creative play. As if the little pretenders need creative play promoted. 
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