Independent Creativity

I've been nursing a nasty tooth infection that led to a root canal and a few days of some pretty strong painkillers. I'm off all the crazy stuff now, but still a bit sore so I have been sleeping in a bit and not the most "present" of parents.

Ping-ping the penguin here to cheer me up. Love his flipper feet!

Claire presented me with this "get-well" gift two days ago and I'm just so tickled by her creativity. See the clothespins and the bits of torn green streamer paper? The shiny foil carefully folded just-so in the corner? Aren't kids just amazingly creative when you provide materials without direction?

I'm always impressed when materials are used in new ways. Take Anastassia Elias, sure I've seen lots of crafts with toilet paper rolls. We've done our fair share here -- snowflake ornaments, owls and birdfeeders. I so admire Anastassia's ingenuity -- who thinks to create tiny little worlds inside a tube of toilet paper?!

We need more creativity. And not just in art. Creative thinkers are problem solvers -- inventive and ingenious.  I can't help but think that if we encourage expression in the arts at a young age - a space and forum where children can mold, shape and showcase their ideas - that it will bleed over into other fields as they age and choose their life's path.


Milestone Moment: Child's First Library Card

No craft or witty project today, just a proud kid showing off her very first library card! At 5 years old, our local public library lets the kids have there own card to check out materials and Claire couldn't be happier.

To help manage the LARGE amount of books, movies, video games and magazines I bring home myself, I've decided to limit Claire's checkouts to five items. This should keep me from having to pay too much for the "fines of shame" when books are inevitably late.

The librarians made a big deal of the card, coming over to offer handshakes and congratulations as well as a packet of new bookmarks and stickers. How sweet!

Fairy houses and my thoughts on Disney's Tinker Bell

I've noticed an explosion in imaginative play this past year. From gnomes over the summer (thanks to the beautiful book we checked out from the library) to today's obsession with fairies, the world of this preschooler seems filled with magic.


Claire spent days working on fairy houses on our front porch. She's used rocks, sticks and leaves and is now begging us for a handful of bricks so the fairy folk will stay warm through the winter.


A Rhinocerous in our BACKYARD!

Ok, so my title is slightly misleading, but still -- check out this awesome beetle we found outside! You know the bug is big when you can HEAR it crawling around under the leaf litter:

What a great find! If you were wondering, it's a beetle in the dynastinae family, a rhinoceros beetle. Just check out that horn, if you've found a cooler beetle, I want to see it.

If you're on the hunt for a beginner's field guide to identify the creepy-crawlies, I highly recommend you check out the Peterson's First Guide collection. I think we've checked most of them out of the library and the insect and bird ones will make an appearance under the Christmas tree this year. I find these guides are great for an intro to taxonomy without being too bulky and overwhelming for little hands (and at $6.95 I won't cry for too long if they're lost).

Claire loves to watch the bugs do their work, the insect world is certainly a fascinating place. I loved her reaction when we tipped over a log and found a nest underneath with oodles of ants running around. Check out her estimation skills below, judging by her confidence in the number, I'm sure there are exactly 88 ants. Heehee!


Pattern Playtime

When I hear the sound of plastic beads hitting the art room floor I usually means that for the next 3 days I'll be vacuuming up accidentally scattered beads from the entire house (and it sound like machine gun fire, I'm sure it's not good for my vacuum).

Sometimes though, there's a creative mathematician on the loose who must be loocking for something new to sort. What a funny little creature Claire is lately. Sort, sort, sort. She's a young taxonomist at work I suppose and I'm certainly enjoying all her explorations, ESPECIALLY when she cleans them up afterwards!


Garden Gnomes and Garden Toads

Getting dirty is a skill set Claire especially excels at.

The muddy project Claire is working on in the photo above was inspired by a book we checked out from the library about gnomes.  Claire was enthralled by it, and I must admit that I was as well. Growing up, I absolutely
Gnomes by Will Huygen
LOVED the Nickelodeon show "David the Gnome." Turns out the whole show was based on this book by Will Huygen. The illustrations were beautiful and I thought the premise of the story (and the gnome interviews) were endearing. The fact that we found this in the non-fiction section (it was in the oversized book collection) has convinced Claire that gnomes are really, truly, real. 

Forgetting the fairy houses of last week, Claire wanted to build a gnome house complete with a barn for a toad she found, surely the gnomes would enjoy transportation via hopping?

I think her construction technique was spot on. Lots of "logs," mud to glue them all together and a thatched roof made of leaves. The toads in the yard are quickly learning to avoid the grass when Claire is afoot, this little one was forced to "enjoy" the barn she built. He hopped away a while later, but I'm not sure he actually disliked the place.

While Claire played with mud, I worked on getting dirty myself. The side garden is almost finished. Lots of mulching left and a few more plants to go in the shady area and I'm done. I think I've personally planted about 95 shrubs and that's not counting the ones we put in during the fall months (thank you Lowes for the AWESOME clearance steals). Now I'm spraying them all with putrid smelling junk because the deer near my house pay zero attention to tags labelled, "deer resistant."

My freezer better be stocked with venison this year since I'm providing so much food for them.

Playing Show and Tell with a bunch of great blogs!


The best plans are the ones you didn't have...

Enjoying the summer's first honeysuckle. I introduced Claire to this little bit of magic and of course she was smitten!

My GPS died a couple of months ago and I've been braving the streets of suburbia with no guide, aside from my four year old backseat driver (who ALWAYS points out when your "dinkers" are not being used when turning).
Log chimney. So pretty!

I have a nice group of parks and libraries that are easy to get to, but I cling, CLING! to that GPS once I venture outside a 10 mile radius of my house. For a little background info: I grew up on Long Island and everything was laid out in a grid. You had to try, and I mean really try, to get lost there, which of course I did. Embarrassingly often.

Here, the county roads names frequently change as they wind up and over the mountains. Things are relatively well marked, but not always.

With that in mind, rewind to last week when I had plans to visit a peony farm mentioned in Martha Stewart's magazine. I blew right by the one of the last turns and without realizing it, traveled through an additional two (unmarked I swear!) towns and wound up at Jockey Hollow National Historic Site. Since it was on my list of must-see places anyway (well, insofar as driving past the brown signs on occasion and adding it to my mental list) I decided this was now our destination.

If parenting has taught me anything, it's that making plans is futile and and life is more enjoyable when you roll with whatever you're dealt.


Tadpole Observation (A Cautionary Tale)

In early spring the frogs gathered by the hundreds in our small pond and spent a very noisy weekend engaging in...well, you know. Think Woodstock, 1970s, lots of free love and partner swapping. Egg upon egg upon egg was floating in the water. It was so remarkable I had to photograph it. See an earlier post here.

Really, it was a bit ridiculous.

I swiped a few eggs for observation and we watched tiny tadpoles hatch and devour algae and leaf litter in a tank set up in the office. We'd keep them for a few days then dump them back in the pond to experience bigger digs. Rinse and repeat. We're on the fourth or fifth tadpole infusion here.

Except this time, I scooped something else up too. Leeches. A lot of leeches.

We've seen a few tadpoles in the pond with a leech attached to them, but they seemed just fine. The leech would glean a blood meal and off they'd go, right? All knowing Google told me the leeches in my pond primarily ate the detritus in the muck at the bottom.

Google was very wrong.

Last night we noticed a tadpole in the tank had a leech on it. And then 2 and then 4...and I didn't want to try and remove them because I thought detaching them might injure the poor guy more.

Checked on the little guy this morning and there is nothing left of him but some translucent skin and a dark green little mouth. Looks like they saved the lips for last. Ugh. Shiver me timbers.


How on Earth to find time for blogging?!

I subscribe to many [too many] blogs and I'm constantly amazed that people find the time to write -- seriously, how do you gals do it?! I have a number of things working against me here. There's the gorgeous scenery when I look out from the office window:

Between staring off into space at that mountain in the distance or our little patch of spring bulbs,  nothing is getting done. Next thing I know, I'm wandering outside, pulling weeds and dead-heading daffodils and chasing after Claire whose practically upside down trying to fish more tadpoles out of the pond. Another blog post, auto-saved and forever archived because I've lost my train of thought.
Then there is my love affair with long run on sentences and 900,000 word blog posts. I'm wordy in person too. And don't get me started with yapping on the phone, my favorite pastime since I was 14. And Facetime! Right smack there on the computer's task bar -- very bad for productivity Apple, very bad indeed.

And then there is this kid who worms her way into the office with her too-short bangs and cuddly bear and says, "Mommy I've made a whole picnic, come eat." And then this post too must end as duty calls and pretend picnics are way more fun. But at least I'll post this entry.


A Craft for Little Bookworms

These cute bookworms caught my eye and I just had to share! I know the knotting might be tough for little hands, but with a slight method change (glue on some legs or use pipe cleaners) it will be accessible to even the youngest crowd.

One of Claire's favorite Christmas gifts this year was a butterfly kit and we're getting ready to send off for our caterpillars. I think we'll try and make a few of these first, what a nice tie-in!

Head over to Impress Your Kids for the full tutorial.


In Praise of Mud

The day after I blogged about Claire amusing herself swinging from vines and sculpting with mud I read this article:

Young girls who play in the mud tend to end up healthier than those who don't, according to a researcher at Oregon State University. (AP Photo)

A dirty tub is the least of my worries at this stage and we've made trips to the park for the sheer purpose of puddle jumping (our local playground gets the best puddle located just near enough the "parent bench" for me to watch but not get spattered).

I year or two ago, I met up with my girlfriend at the park and we were letting the girls enjoy some puddle jumping. Parent after parent came up to us warning us the girls were up to no good. I wonder (as the article above suggests) if there really is such a bias to "dirty" play for girls.

Or perhaps they didn't want to say yes to their own kids. Who knows.

Around 2 years old in the driveway's muddy puddle.

 And here's Claire in August of 2008, I can't believe how LITTLE she is and how much her voice has changed since then!

And here is a picture of my cutie all cleaned up! Just found this on my computer, these digital photos seem to play and hide and seek on my hard dive at times!


Claire of the Jungle

We've been in brush clean up mode these past few weeks, hauling the old, dead cedar trees over to the fire pile and waging war on the wild thorn bushes on the side yard. The weather has been indescribably gorgeous and I'm so glad to have the chance to spend all this time outside during the day with my little munchkin!

Of course the "pick up sticks with Mommy" game gets old quickly but Claire has kept herself busy (and fit!) swinging on grapevines and playing in a giant mud pit. The [really] dirty laundry has been worth it. The yard is nearly cleared and ready for planting! Can't wait to share some before and after pictures once we get our landscaping in!


The chickens seem thrilled with the warmer weather too -- they're constantly on the hunt for green sprouts (eat those weeds, girls!) and the grubs and slugs don't stand a chance. Claire has started gathering the eggs in the morning on her own and I love watching her weave her way up to the barn jumping over logs and then carefully walking back down to the house with the chickens trailing behind. When she runs, they run. It's a pretty funny site to enjoy while I drink some coffee


Celebrating Our First Harvest!

What's tiny, red and tastes a bit spicy?

Say hello to our first radish!

Ok, so it's not much, but I am SUPER excited to show off our first vegetable straight out of the hoop house.  Claire was so eager to pick something other than lettuce leaves (she's been munching on them for weeks whenever we would walk up to water) so I gave in and let her pick a radish from the pot.

These are the ones we planted back in December. They grew s-l-o-w-l-y in our unheated greenhouse, but grow they did. The January and February ones are just as far along. Claire described the flavor as being "like spicy pepper, but it was good too [at the start]."

The rule in our house is that you must try food. You may not like it, but give it a shot. Even parents have foods that they don't like (don't you try to sneak any olives onto my plate!), but we should always have a try to see if our tastes have changed. Claire could live on broccoli, kale and garlicky spinach and she loves (gasp!) brussel sprouts. Really, the only things she doesn't enjoy are mushrooms, olives and (lately) raw tomato. And bread...we almost never have sandwiches because she never eats the bread.

Claire has shown me that it is entirely possible to eat PB&J without the bread, it's just very, very messy.

Are you gardening with your little ones this year? 


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Just a quick post to wish you all a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I posted last year about a frugal find for exploring sculpture and how we tied it into learning about  Saint Patrick and wanted to share for those of you new to the blog. Enjoy!

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I hit the jackpot! Have you seen those Magic Nuudles Bloxx? They look like a fantastic craft material and I love the idea of exploring sculpture with them but they’re a bit pricey.  I found a cheapo option in shipping supply aisle at Staples - cornstarch packing peanuts! They’re not quite as colorful, but for $10 you’ll get more than triple the amount of fluffy fun. Of course…an even cheaper option is to hang on to your packing peanuts when receiving mail!


A damp sponge was just the right amount of moisture for Claire - a little goes a long way in getting these guys to stick together. If you are too generous with the water, the result is sad and disintegrated noodle goo. Claire added on lots of file sorting stickers and I helped with a bit of pink yarn for the tongue. And voila! A cool snake sculpture! I can’t wait for Claire to try some more shapes, right now she’s only interested in sticking them together end to end. I suppose we’ll slowly work our way up sculpting the Eiffel Tower, heehee!


I've got a book on hold at the library by Sheila McGill-Callahan called The Last Snake in Ireland. It's a perfect literature connection for this activity and Saint Patrick's Day! We've read it before and its a hoot to read out loud. 

I’m off to drive away the snakes like Saint Patrick. I suppose clearing my table of cornstarch serpents isn’t quite as impressive as driving them out of Ireland, is it?


Early Spring Nature Activities

If you missed out last year in creating a nesting material dispenser for your backyard birds, buy some onions and hang on to that bag because now is the time!

Last year we left out bunches of sparkling ribbon, pink yarn and batting and were treated to some pretty fabulous nests. We're in a new house now and while walking in the woods, my husband found this nest on the ground for us to examine, take a close look...

Remember not to take nests still on trees, some birds will revisit the same site year after year!

Do you see the dental floss and the blue string from a nearby tarp? We'll be spending the afternoon here hanging some yarn remnants on bushes and waiting for the song birds to arrive. With the warm weather our area has been experiencing, we're expecting the first robins of the year any day now. If you already have a feeding station set up, add an onion bag filled with goodies for your nesters (be sure to keep the string snipped to about 4 inches).

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If you're looking for a literature tie-in for this activity, I highly recommend The Best Nest by P.D. might just know one of his buddies, Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). This book about a bird couple and the pursuit of the perfect place to live.

In other spring news, the wood frogs have been busy in our pond and there are a few THOUSAND eggs just waiting to turn into tadpoles (we might bring a few indoors to watch!). They sound rather like the chickens in the morning, not your usual "ribbit" at all!

Hooray Spring!


The Happy Monkey House


Blanket forts, tree houses, tucked away's obvious that the kiddie crowd loves to have places and spaces to call their own. Claire is no exception. Santa dropped this cardboard house off at Christmas and for the following 4 weeks Claire meticulously colored and embellished it in her own style.

Now if you've spent any time at all here at the blog, you know I'm a "color outside the lines" kind of gal so picking up this house was a little out of character for me. But I am so glad I did because Claire loved it (and I was able to bury my nose in a bunch of books for hours at a time - BONUS!)                                                                                                                  I dubbed this "Happy Monkey House" because all over the outside of the house Claire drew happy smiley monkeys. These are quite different than her people drawings, a keen eye will notice the pronounced monkey ears (often colored in). A friendly family of millipedes live over the door (I'm sure this is my fault).

The aforementioned skylights in
their full glory. Future architect?

But by far the most interesting of modifications are Claire's skylights. Yep, it was dark inside the house so Claire punched an assortment of holes in the roof to let more light in. Like I said, I had my nose buried in a book...apparently she did this very quietly.

I can't ignore the genius in the idea, but Dan and I asked her to refrain from poking more holes. Her response? "It's ok, I'm done now with those I can see in my house."

Speaking of things to see, when not coloring the outside scenery, Claire was hard at work decorating the interior of the cottage. You guessed it, more monkeys. There's one frown-faced fellow in there and a picture of Dan and I even made it in (I feel honored).

Happy Monkey House is stowed in the basement right now. After giving up half the living room for nearly a month I've reclaimed the space but I'm sure we'll bring it out again. All of the monkey portraits that hung from the ceiling have a new home too but you'll have to wait to see it!



Greenhouse Gardening in Winter

We used an eye dropper to water at first
so the seedlings wouldn't float away

We're so lucky to have two large hoop houses at our new house. Right now I'm mainly using them to over-winter some perennials that didn't make it into the ground, but back in December I thought a little experimentation with  growing vegetables in the winter would be fun.

I was unable to find a lot of information geared towards the home gardener about growing vegetables in unheated hoop houses. In fact, most everything I read said plants would continue to grow if established, but that starting seedlings was near impossible. The previous homeowners left us an abundance of styrofoam coolers and I figured if I nested a few of them together and covered them with bubble wrap, we might be able to get some seeds going, even (fingers-crossed) in the winter.

So far, everything we've planted has sprouted! I went with all cool season veggies (carrots, peas, lettuce, radish, chard, beets) and Claire's been gently watering them every other week. Everything is growing, but slowly. The plants sown on December 19 and the plants sown on Jan 15 are about the same size.

Claire made a great observation that ALL the seedlings look alike at this point in their growth. Of course it was phrased more like, "Mooooommmmy, you mixed the seeds up. They're all the same <pout pout pout>."