One of Kaspar's favorite houses along the trail.
Kaspar's been on spring break this week, so aside from a major work meeting on Tuesday and some email-businessy-things that just couldn't wait, my regular weekly to-do list has been forwarded to next week's calendar in favor of fresh air, time with close friends (we love it when our coastal peeps all land in town for South-by!) and all-around Kaspar-oriented action. We've ridden the train at Zilker park, seen a few bands, attended a birthday party, knocked out some doctor's appointments and made frequent stops at the library. Next year, we plan to rent our house out for SXSW week, and to skip town entirely for somewhere exotic and fun, but for now we've enjoyed just hanging close to home, switching up our pace a little bit and taking in some of what Austin has to offer.
One of my dates with Kaspar this week took place at the Zilker Botanical Garden
; we've been many times before, but we went yesterday for the garden center's 1st Annual Faerie Architecture Show. (I'm just going to put it out there right now that I feel really awkward and nerdy spelling fairy that way, but since it's the official approach taken by the gardens, I'm rolling with it when referring to the event itself.) Our family's been busily welcoming spring
for the past couple of weeks, and I planned to do some fairy-house building with Kaspar (as a perfect, age-appropriate, seasonal outdoor activity) sometime soon. I knew he'd be into it -- which surely won't be the case in a few short years from now -- and when I saw the botanical garden's announcement of their own Faerie (wince) House event, I knew immediately that Kaspar would get a kick out of it, and that it'd give him some context for our own house-building project, later, at home.
We arrived about an hour and a half before Kaspar's usual nap time. The parking lot was pretty packed, as swarms of families, playgroups, kids of all ages and countless little girls wearing frilly dresses and fairy wings arrived at the gardens, clearly headed for the fairy houses, too. Despite the crowds, it didn't feel
crowded. After paying a mere three dollar entry fee (the gardens used to be free, but there are few valuable things in this world that can be had for $3, and I'm happy to support this beautiful local fixture at this level), we easily found a parking spot and made our way into the visitor's center/gift shop to get our bearings. A (sweet, senior citizen) volunteer immediately highlighted, on a map, the path we'd want to take for the houses, and then led us -- along with another family who'd just arrived -- to a bright room in the back of the building with a few fairy houses on display. She clearly took genuine pleasure in watching the kids' eyes widen as they took in the tiny details, and then wished us a good time exploring the gardens, and the houses that were to be found there.
We headed outside, around the parking lot, and then down a small slope to the beginning of the looped path where the fairy house 'hood began. A large group of moms and kiddos arrived just before us, and the kids all started running down the slope; Kaspar got caught up in the excitement and ran down with them (then stopped abruptly to re-locate his mama). There were other families already making their way around the (large, wooded) loop, as well, but everyone quickly spaced out as kids and parents moved at different paces. It was fun to overlap with others, actually, as the kids would point the houses' unique features out excitedly, and then naturally sort of talk with each other and show each other things, while parents exchanged smiles, took photos and said friendly hellos. Kaspar really got into looking at the houses (some of them were pretty amazing), and then running to find the next one -- he found a few I'd have otherwise missed: little squat ones tucked under low-lying ferns. And he even started pointing to natural formations -- large rocks, knots in trees -- and announcing them as fairy houses, too. He definitely got the idea.
The gardens themselves extend much farther than the fairy house loop, but we've explored the extended grounds before and will do so again. Kaspar set our pace on our house tour, and completing the small loop took exactly as much time as I'd thought we should probably spend there before he petered out and would be ready for some lunch and a good doze. We sat in a shaded gazebo and sipped water, to mark our transition, and then made our way back to the car. On the way home, we talked about our favorite fairy houses we'd seen (he liked one with a giant pet turtle in a little fenced-in pen beside the main residence), and about building one of our own later that day. After his nap, we spent a couple of hours collecting materials like moss, rocks, and sticks from the woods behind our house -- in itself a throughly absorbing job for a small child -- and then Aaron assisted with the actual fairy house construction while I fielded a few of those aforementioned work-email-things. They'd (meaning Kaspar) deconstructed whatever they ended up building by the time I went out to admire it, but Kaspar stashed the materials back in the paper bag we collected them in, with the expressed intent of building another house at a later time. Since this sequence of adventures, he's continued identifying fairy houses in everything from extra-elaborate arrangements of tree branches to the most basic of bird feeders. His imagination is running wild.
The fairy houses will be set up at Zilker Botanical Garden through May, with a Starlight Faerie Trail Walk going down on March 15 (that's tomorrow!), a Faerie Tea Party on April 20th, and a Faerie Landscaping Workshop on May 11th. Whether you attend one of the organized events, or just go check out the houses freestyle, like we did, you -- and your littles -- will enjoy yourselves. Highly recommend.
I'd totally live here.
Texas winters confuse my Northeastern sense of seasons -- we basically jump from 80 degrees one day to 60 the next, for several months between the winter holidays and sometime in April, before the real heat
kicks back in -- but spring is nonetheless unmistakable. Friends shared photos on Facebook of a snowy Brooklyn sunrise this morning while we stepped outside into a gentle, misting Texas rain. I adore rainy days and am usually disappointed by their brevity here in Austin, but today's rain picked up and found its steady rhythm right up until the time Kaspar came home from school. Then, the birds began singing, the breezes smelled of watered earth, and we headed outside for a walk, to hunt for the many signs of spring.
Kaspar, like all kids, loves seasonal activities; reading books about the seasons, talking about what distinguishes them, and making time to experience their changes together helps him to connect with his environment, and to expand his understanding of his world (not to mention his vocabulary). Now three years old, he has the motor skills and attention span for more complex activities -- like origami or fairy-house construction (see below) -- and he's still filled with wonder at this planet's every detail. Spring is a particularly magical time of natural regeneration and growth, and celebrating the season as a family reminds us adults, too, of the wonder that's all around us, just outside our door, and within our homes and hearts. Read on for ten ways we're celebrating springtime with our preschooler; I hope you and your kids have fun with these ideas, and expand upon them. Please feel free to share other ways you've found to celebrate spring, too, in the comments!
Kaspar discovered a "Daddy snail and baby snail" while searching for signs of spring.
1. Take a walk in the woods (or just around your neighborhood) and search for signs of spring:
Spring can be found through all five of our senses. The sounds of birds singing; the feeling of warm breezes or cold mud on our skin; the smell of thawing (or just-rained-on) earth, the taste of seasonal produce and the sight of daffodils, earthworms and budding trees all speak to us of springtime. Walking without a physical destination or a time commitment, but instead with the express purpose of paying attention to one's senses and surroundings, helps kids cultivate mindful awareness in the here and now, which is oh-so-enjoyable at this time of year. 2. Do some spring cleaning:
I've been clearing out my closets
(and bringing in the house-cleaning pros) for a couple of months now, and have been enjoying every inch of my less-cluttered, spic n' span space. There's really something to be said for getting rid of what you don't need, on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels, as well. All three mark important -- and easily-shafted, when things get busy, so it's all the more important to make a point of prioritizing them -- practices for parents... and all people, really. You'll find, in this practice, those shoes you haven't worn in two years, but also the secret to sanity. As it happens, kids love to clean, too. But let's be honest; they're not always all that effective at it. Don't let that stop you from cleaning house as a family; giving kids real jobs to do
provides them with a sense of independence, accomplishment and capability that's worth so much more than properly-folded laundry. Expand upon the definition of 'real jobs', too; Kaspar held a car wash in our driveway last week, and proceeded to "clean" all of his Hot Wheels cars for over an hour. Materials? One container, some water, two wash cloths and a few toys. Cost? Zero dollars. One hour of outdoor, TV-free, self-directed entertainment? Priceless.
3. Celebrate the solstice:
Last year, we celebrated Easter
, because I missed the solstice entirely and Easter was a (totally successful) backup plan. But this year, we're on our game! The solstice is officially March 21st, but we're going to do our thing on the 23rd, since the latter date is a Saturday. We're planning a picnic with friends complete with some outdoor playtime, and perhaps with a bit watercolor painting thrown in. At home, we'll plant some flowers in our backyard (our zinnias
ended up thriving last year -- they got HUGE -- and they needed exceptionally little care), read some springtime books -- here's a good one
for kiddos about the equinox itself, with lots of ideas for ways to celebrate, and here's another lovely one
about a little boy's anticipation and enjoyment of spring -- and start a few new family traditions: making a springtime altar and having a treat hunt around the house are definitely happening. 4. Grow and bloom:
This idea comes from the book I Love Dirt!
, a wonderful resource for outdoor-oriented activities with kids. It's pretty simple, but preschool-aged kids love it; younger toddlers will, too. When talking/learning/exploring on the topic of plants growing from the earth, suggest to your kids -- and believe me, if you DO this, they will too -- that you and they act like new blades of grass, or new flowers. Crouch low to the ground, and then grow! Bloom! Slowly stand up and stretch toward the sky. Then do it all again. This will bring out your kids' inner yogis
(who, trust me, aren't very hidden at all), and get their physical-activity endorphins pumping. 5. Start a garden:
Whether you're re-potting a few countertop-container herbs, starting vegetable seedlings that'll eventually move outside, or putting a whole bunch of stuff in the ground itself, gardening is a wonderful way to get kids working with their hands and connecting with their food.
Source: Gardening Adventures with Alexis
6. Install a bird feeder
: By which I mean, hang one up on a branch outside your house. (Or, if you don't have branches, from your fire escape or whatever!) This doesn't have to be expensive; you can make a bird-feeding craft
, or go for something more permanent (hummingbird feeders are cool), but be sure to involve your preschooler in every step of this project. They'll love it, from start to finish. And, if you build it, they will come -- birds, squirrels, and all manner of endlessly-fascinating wildlife to watch for weeks and months to come. 7. Make origami butterflies:
Kaspar's Montessori class recently learned about -- and made -- origami for an entire week, and the kids loved
it. They learned to make frogs and butterflies; you can find lots of kid-friendly origami instructions
online. We attended an art opening/open house event at Kaspar's school and admired all of the folded-paper butterflies
, which decorated his classroom's windows: a wonderful, colorful decorating idea for crafty preschool-aged kiddos in the mood for spring.
8. Visit a nursery, and/or your local botanical gardens
: Prompted by my recent (vertical) nesting
instinct, our family headed over to a local nursery last week, and returned home with two new houseplants. One is now hanging in our kitchen, and the other's a floor-plant in the living room. Before we left, however, we explored the heck out of the place, which boasted a balmy green house, a koi pond, a funky little cafe, and plants everywhere
. (Obviously, right?) It felt like some kind of car-free, super-green alternate universe to me, anyway, not to mention Kaspar, who was out of his mind with happiness, high on fresh oxygen and free to roam without recourse... within eyesight and earshot, of course. We were there for well over an hour, and although -- after multiple reminders that it was time to leave -- we finally carried a kicking-and-screaming Kaspar back to our car (THREE years old, y'all, is a bit of a challenge at times), it was time well spent. Little man slept like a baby that night, and has been asking to go back ever since. We certainly will, but we might revisit our local botanical gardens
first. We've been before, but not since last spring, and rumor has it the place is about to be filled in beautiful blooms.
At our local nursery. (Kaspar carried that flamingo around the whole time.)
9. Jump in puddles:
This is another simple one, but it's not overrated. Kids love, love, love puddle-jumping, as we've all noticed. It's pretty fun for grown-ups, too. It really doesn't rain very frequently here, so when it does, I insist on going outside immediately and running around like a lunatic. Kaspar can never quite believe his luck, and jumps right into the action. Best rain-play follow-up activity? Get out of those wet clothes and into a warm bath, kiddo and all. 10. Build a fairy house:
while you're out in the woods, the garden, or your backyard, why not build a house for some springtime fairies
? It's like fort-building, only in miniature: your kids will re-imagine sticks, moss, wildflowers, rocks and other natural materials into walls, beds, roofs and chimneys. This is fun on one's own (watch kiddo concentrate) or as a collaborative project among friends or siblings, and it's a great way to spend a weekend morning outdoors.
The newbie's getting serious.
I wrote on Parenting.com today about my approach to diet during pregnancy
; in a nutshell, so to speak, I'd thought, before becoming pregnant, I'd avoid all of the foods Kaspar's allergic to while baking baby #2. Not only did my first trimester cravings blow that plan out of the water (hello, junk food), but -- now that I'm in my second trimester, or will be tomorrow -- I'm not only feeling far more energetic, and 'normal' in general, including in terms of the foods I'm craving (hello, wholesome healthy stuff), but I've got a game plan for *hopefully* setting new-baby up for an allergy/eczema/reflux-free start. That game plan is the full GAPS diet
. Sans the nuts and wheat, the former of which is allowed on the full diet and the latter of which is allowed (in sourdough form) if no digestive problems are present... but since neither digests super easily for anyone and since both are major allergens in general, I'm just avoiding them. Easy enough. I've read the GAPS book
, which is densely packed with nutritional information; it corroborates with what I've learned over the past three years, and what's been working, overall, for Kaspar. And since we already eat nutrient-rich, real-food fare up in here, I'm only having to tweak a few things to transition into GAPS-ville. The diet basically heals and seals the gut, thus healing immune system-related health woes (of which Americans suffer many, food allergies among them). I'm planning to take Kaspar, and our family, through all of its stages once baby's here and the timing is right, but for now we're starting at the least restrictive, most nutritionally broad place -- the "full" GAPS diet -- as per the recommendation for pregnant women. Anyway, go ahead and read up via my post on Parenting, and on other blogs, like this one
. Then get to your farmer's market and into your kitchen, cuz the best part of this approach to gut-love is that you get to fill your belly with good, nourishing food.
I should mention that there's quite a bit of meat involved in the GAPS diet. I was grooving on a mostly vegan
spurt a while back, which felt light and clean in my body at the time. I think I needed to detox in a major way and sort of reset once our two years of sleep deprivation resolved to some degree, and eating tons of plant matter helped get that work done. (As did an Ayruvedic cleanse I did a short while later. I felt like a whole new person after that. Still do.) But I then found myself drawn toward meat again -- high quality, locally-sourced meat that hasn't suffered
, that is -- and whenever I get acupuncture I'm told I should be eating it regularly. (Something about building my blood.) Pregnancy only increased my desire for it. So, while it may feel like I'm somewhat all over the place on the subject, good meats remain a part of my, and our family's, diet. As far as GAPS is concerned, that's a healthful thing, especially for expecting mamas.
With that in mind, I made a recipe from the GAPS book (linked above) last night, tweaking it a little to my liking. Aaron and I have each made stuffed peppers before, but only vegetarian versions (they make for an attractive, and generally popular, veg dish). Thus, last night's version -- which were definitely not vegetarian -- were quite different than our previous renditions. They meat is flavorful, but dense. I definitely suggest eating these in a bowl with a good amount of the stock they cooked in surrounding them. I chopped mine up a bit in the stock so as to create a kind of soup, and that was delicious. I also suggest adding whatever vegetables you'd like to the meat mixture before stuffing the peppers, and some cumin. If you're eating dairy, throwing some shredded, raw cheddar cheese in with the meat mixture before cooking would also be kind of amazing... In short, these stuffed peppers are filling and tasty, but I could tell -- even at first glance -- the original recipe was written by a doctor, rather than a chef. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nourishing Traditions
cookbook, which is due to arrive at my door any day now; it's recommended by the GAPS people and boasts an index full of mouth-watering recipes. (I peeked at its back pages on Amazon.) Anyway, I've gone ahead and written out my improved (and yummy) stuffed peppers recipe below -- feel free to tweak it further. If you do, let me know what works well!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe!
I've been taking it easy on the blogging over the past several weeks due to general first-trimester sea-sickness
, plus some winter-sickness action, but both appear to have mostly passed. (FINALLY.) I've been feeling a bit better for a little while, actually, but things have been so busy around here -- we've had grandparents in town, birthdays, workdays and, um, a string of late-night Downton Abbey
marathons (Aaron and I are catching up to the current season, thanks to Hulu Plus) -- that I just let this here little website sit pretty for a minute while tending to life at large. Anyway, thanks for your patience. I knew you'd understand. ;-)
Despite the nausea and the head cold and all of the busy, I'm still feeling pretty nesty as of late. My home-improvement passions at present seems to revolve those things at eye-level and above, perhaps because our house is desperately lacking in that department, except in Kaspar's room
. My list of projects for 2013 includes hanging house plants, window treatments and our art. (Also, this
in the hallway outside our bedrooms.) And because -- and I truly believe this -- intending something strongly enough to actually write it down often spurs the universe into collaborative action, we received a mysterious, large package in the mail just days after I made a note of these items that'll soon grace our vertical space. Inside were six paintings Aaron had sent to San Francisco for an art show two years ago, but which disappeared before arriving at their Mission district destination, never to be seen again. We've even moved
in the meantime, and yet there they were, at our (relocated) door, out of nowhere, several weeks ago. They're gorgeous and I love them, and I'm so glad they made their way back to us, because now we have a stash of art to hang on the walls, as intended. Aaron played the whole thing really cool, but I could see in his eyes that the reunion with his work was a joyful one for him, too. Now he gets to bust out his art handler skills and get these babies up (I'm not being lazy -- he won't let me hang the art), along with the painting he made for me
, for Christmas, and two or three of our favorite posters (framed -- this isn't college) we've been staring at, at ground
level, for over a year. Yay, art.
As for house plants and window treatments, I'm going to need to educate myself on each item before diving in. I'm excited for both, though, the former for their aesthetic lushness and air-purifying powers, and the latter for color and character which will no doubt surpass our current stock of venetian blinds.
In the meantime, I've made a couple of first-trimester-friendly (read: nausea and exhaustion-proof) projects and hung them above our kitchen table. They were suuuuper easy, and they give our space a fun, festive vibe. First, I created some scrap fabric bunting, shown in the photo at top, using -- you guessed it -- scrap fabric and a hot glue gun. This took all of half an hour, and felt as satisfying as a sewing project
without the grueling... how-do-you-say... sewing. I chose the fabrics and their arrangement pretty randomly, but I love the way the colors work with the one painting of Aaron's we already have hung on the far kitchen wall. Aaron says it looks like a birthday party in the kitchen now, to which I say "exactly."
The other project I hung I created from the star-shaped cinnamon ornaments we made
for our tree this past holiday season. (We followed this recipe
, at the time-- a great family activity, but make sure the littles don't taste the dough, as the spices are intensely concentrated, and will burn baby lips. Youch.) They still smelled so good when we finally undressed our tree, late in January, that I didn't want to throw them away. So I strung and hung them up, as a garland, across from -- and providing balance for -- the bunting, with the hanging lamp above our table serving as an anchor for each, in between. I love the stars' natural, earthy appearance, and although their cinnamon-clove scent is subtle, it's still there. In fact, because both the bunting and the stars are high enough to clear our heads when they walk underneath, both are subtle, in a way, and a little surprising. I think they give the room and its inhabitants an unconscious lift.
Stick around for posts on hanging house plants and window dressings. (And even baby beds that extend from above
.) Let me know if you have tips, ideas or inspirations for eye-level-and-up nestiness, too!
We joined Kaspar for an early birthday celebration at his school this morning. (He's actually turning three on Monday). Aaron and I shared photos and stories from when Kas was one and two, his class sang him a song as he "walked around the sun" three times, and he proudly distributed his homemade (hypoallergenic) chocolate chip cookies
to his friends and teachers. It was pure sweetness.
In other news, I've been sick
for a week! (Don't worry, I'm not contagious at this point; those cute kiddos won't get sick on my account!) We'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming here on Alt-Mama just as soon as I'm feeling halfway normal again. ... Which better happen soon. Sheesh.
I was recently interviewed by YourBabyBooty.com
, an amazing website full of empowering information for parents! Check out the video (click here
, or on the image above or below) and share with anyone you know who's hitting up against a wall but knows, deep down, there must be a way through.
Kaspar and the cutie next door play some Toca Train