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.
I have four
very pregnant friends right now, and another who just had her baby! More on this soon (wink-wink), but I'm now more certain than ever that baby fever is indeed highly contagious. And although I kind of tapped out my creative Christmas gift stores doing up Kaspar's big present
this year -- and am as a result yet to even send cards to our friends and fam (sorry, y'all, we'll get on the belated shipments soon) -- I just can't help myself when it comes to crafting handmade baby presents.
Though far from an expert sewer
, something about fun fabrics and pregnant pals just keeps calling me back to quilting. (Apologies to any grandmothers turning over in their graves right now at my use of that term in reference to my highly improvisational approach to this hobby.) Baby-size quilts, in particular, give me my mix-and-match color-infused fix, while remaining doable in scale; I haven't yet gotten into sewing to the extent that I find myself lost dreamily in the process, so thoroughly absorbed in the task at hand that I become one with all beings (etc.). Instead, I swear off another quilt every time I hit the half-way mark while making one, disliking the apparent need for attention to detail and the commitment it takes to see the project through. But baby quilts go pretty quickly, and I love them so much every time I get to the finish line that I continue hoarding fabric and planning for the next. In the case of this most recent project, I was so pleased with the final result that I had a hard time letting it go -- but I do (love-hate relationship with sewing or not) have at least one more quilt in me, and I'll make that soon enough. For all I know -- said I to myself -- these girly colors won't be appropriate to the occasion, anyway, so it's surely best to give this one to the beautiful baby girl it was intended for from the start. And of course I'm delighted to do so. I hope it keeps her warm on windy outings, and that she wiles away many a tummy time session examining its bold, contrasting hues.
So who is the little lady deluxe, you may be wondering? I'm sure her birth story will be coming soon; you'll be able to find it here on Parenting.com
. (It promises to be GOOD, so keep an eye out.) Baby's mama, Melanie, has been blogging through her pregnancy on all manner of natural birth and beautiful nursery topic. Read up! Such great stuff. Knowing that Melanie's newest little is her one and only girl-baby to date, I decided to go all out and let the girly colors go wild in her quilt; I thought when I first picked up the pink leopard print that it might be too loud to ever really land front and center in, well, anything I made, but then it paired just perfectly with the almost lacey-looking Mexican skull print... so that was that. (The latter fabric gives it a bit of sass, too, no?) The darker accent fabric squares, which echo some of that bright pink (and bright in general) action, also provide somewhat neutralizing background colors to keep the whole thing grounded. The border and back are a shimmery, smooth blue-and-white gingham. I wasn't sure if that would work. You can't really see the shimmery-ness of it in the photos, but in person, it's pretty nice. I filled the quilt with an organic cotton batting, and will ship it off shortly to babycake and Mama.
For my next quilt, I plan to graduate to fabric shapes beyond squares and more squares. I'm on the lookout for inspiration, so please share any relevant links or ideas in the comments! In the meantime, here's hoping Melanie and her little love are pleased with this simple (squares and more squares), yet super-bright baby blanket. Made with love by me. Because the second most satisfying thing to cooing over a new baby in person is sending something soft for her family to wrap her in.
Do you like it? What are you making these days? Link me to some cute baby quilts I can draw inspiration (if not derive perfection) from!
Checking out the chilaquiles. Also, yes, Kaspar did wear his pajamas all day on Christmas.
Christmas morning was warm and balmy here in Austin, but by evening the temperature had dropped forty degrees, and the wind was a-howlin' through the trees behind our house. Inside, we were warm, and cooking up a kickass batch of chilaquiles verdes
: interior Mexican comfort food at its very best. Not only was this meal 100% Kaspar-friendly, it was 90% made by Aaron -- a nice treat for me in and of itself. I don't believe chilaquiles are traditionally designated as celebratory fare -- in fact, I think they were initially a breakfast food -- but I'm gonna play my Texan card and call them exactly that: this here is holiday eating. Christmas Chilaquiles will certainly be a tradition at our table from here on out, anyway.
Of course, Christmas (and the end of time
) has come and gone, but you don't have to wait until next year to rock this recipe. Or maybe you should -- I can definitely see these impressing your brunch guests this coming New Year's Day. (Because what better food for a New Year's brunch than a breakfast-turned-dinner dish a little bit of kick to it, hmmm?) Whether you want to fake some fancy (shhh: these are easy
to make) or just see your picky eaters clean their plates on a regular weeknight, I recommend chilaquiles. For everything. And everyone. Vamos a celebrar!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe.
The holidays are upon us! We’ve been reading The Grinch and gearing up for a fun celebration, though we approach that, in our family, in a decidedly low-key way. We try to limit holiday travel, and even (erm, especially?) extended family shenanigans; we clear our schedules and cozy up together, at home, instead. This tradition of small-scale winter holidays was born the Christmas before we had Kaspar, when Aaron and I turned down all in-law advances and stayed in Brooklyn, just us, together. We slept in, bought ourselves a Wii, ordered pizza and spent Christmas day ‘bowling’ in our tiny living room. It was the best. Stress free. Since then, Christmas has been more about the kiddo, and less about sleeping in, but still – because it’s a (newish) family tradition – we’re all about lazy, home-style Christmas breaks. (Don’t worry: we make sure to visit with all of the grandparents before and after the holidays happen. We’re selfish about Christmas morning proper, but the season is all about sharing good times with the fams.)
Streamlined, small-scale gifting is a part of that tradition, too. Back in Brooklyn, where space was limited and ‘stuff’ just got in the way, we thought carefully about anything new that came into our home. And while everything may be bigger in Texas, we still do our best to stave off the endless stuff-pile that is American life (especially American life with kids!). We focus on just one or two main presents, per person, choosing items we think will inspire lots of fun throughout the year to come, instead of just ending up in a pile, forgotten. This year, Kaspar is getting a talking, plastic Spiderman action figure (it begins), which Aaron bought for him… and is very excited about. I’m sure Kas will be, too. But his main present is one Aaron and I made together, which was inspired by a photo his teacher sent to us from school one afternoon. In it, Kaspar sat at a small table, wielding child-proof scissors and carefully cutting a piece of paper into a million little bits. Beneath the pic, his teacher typed: “He focused on this work for a full twenty minutes!”
Kaspar is super proud of his new scissors-skills – he’s apparently been showing them off for the rest of the school’s staff, when anyone happens to stop by the classroom – and I’m impressed and pleased with his recent capacity for focus. He loves to draw, cut, and make stuff; if markers, paper, paint or glue are involved, he’s all-in. But what struck me the most about that photo wasn’t Kaspar’s focus, or his craft. It was his work station – the table and chair.
I regularly set up activities for Kaspar at our kitchen table
, at home, and he’s always excited when I do. But if he had a little space to call his own, with creative materials to choose from, I know he’d dive in and get his paper-cutting (etc.) groove on independently. (Independence is his thing these days. Like whoa.) So I hit up Craigslist and found a wooden table and chairs another mom was selling for $25. Two hours later – after running the idea by Aaron and showing him the listing – I had the table and chairs in the trunk of our car, and big plans for their renovation in the front of my mind.
As you may have noticed, I am somewhat impulsive when it comes to projects
; Aaron, on the other hand, is a planner. I’m big on concept; Aaron’s thorough with details. I cut corners, and am content with “good enough”
; Aaron likes to do a job right when he decides it’s worth doing. But, he can sometimes take forever to even make up his mind to embark on something. (For my part, I often embark on said somethings without adequately preparing, then quit half-way through when the somethings go South.) Surprisingly, our very different project-making styles support each other (and cancel their respective pitfalls out) when we go in on things together. Our recent activity table makeover was a perfect example of this unique alchemy.
Aaron actually didn’t feel, at first, that the table and chairs needed to be painted at all. He viewed them with a purely utilitarian eye, and said they’d be fine for a work space for Kaspar just as they were. I, however, felt that of course
they’d need a full DIY makeover. The previous owners (aged 8 and 5) had drawn on them with crayons, and their mom had painted over their surfaces with one coat of white paint. Not only could you see through the paint, but it wasn’t glossy. And I hate the feel of rough paint. Ugh. Besides that, the whole point was to make something amazing out of something that was verging on junk. Concept, remember? (And yo, we were talking about Christmas… we may be low-key, but we’re not total slackers.)
I think Aaron pretty much heard all of this as ‘more to do’ in our long list of lots to do, so I told him not to worry about it; I’d take care of everything. I intended to get the job done right. As in, I intended to do some actual planning and get the proper materials before beginning. (I am so much wiser now that I’m 28!) I headed over to a nearby store, Treehouse
, which is essentially an environmentally-conscious (and independent, local biz) version of Home Depot, bringing one of the chairs with me. I told the head paint guy what I wanted to do, and he deftly interpreted my descriptive words (“shiny, smooth paint” = polyurethane layer, apparently) and hooked me up with a pint of VOC-free bright green paint, and one of low-VOC (no-VOC once dried) polyurethane. (I had some acrylics at home for detailing… And Aaron had agreed, before I left, to rock out his art skills per my conceptual requests once the project advanced to that stage.)
By the time I’d painted the table and chairs green, and added a red border on the table-top (I did this by taping it off, then painting… a good way to work with limited artistic talent), Aaron could see where the project was headed. Which is to say, he saw the conceptual light. I imagined fox and raccoon faces painted, respectively, on each of the chairs, but he suggested we go with stylized silhouettes instead. He also added some deer to the table top. The result is current, yet classic. I love it! (My man's a genius.
) Aaron does, too. And so will Kaspar. We’re going to stuff his stocking with art supplies, and we still need to figure out a kid-accessible shelving/storage setup to house them in (ideas?). But we’re 90% of the way there. Christmas, here we come.
This activity table and chairs cost under $100 total (and we have tons of paint and poly left over), is made with recycled and non-toxic materials, and is completely unique/one-of-a-kind. It also made for a fun bonding activity for the hubs and me (cuz, truth is, that Wii has pretty much collected dust since the little man arrived). Best of all, I know Kaspar will use it all the time. I can’t wait to see his face when he first sees his very own workspace. And I look forward to admiring all of the masterpieces (and shredded-paper messes) he creates there.
Do you like it? What are your kids or loved ones getting for Christmas/Hanukkah/end of Mayan time? Do you have any new-ish traditions? Do you embrace, or stave off, gifty 'stuff'?
Kaspar's friend Tessa is turning two, and her birthday party is this afternoon. She loves books and animals, so Aaron went out this morning to choose a book (about animals) for her at our local bookshop, while Kaspar and I stayed home and created some DIY up-cycled gift wrap.
The inspiration for this project came from Creative Carmella
, but, while I think Carmella's painted photo canvases turned out quite chic and modern, we went for a more rustic, free-form (read: made by a two-year-old) look with our gift wrap. Kaspar, for his part, found his zen of toilet paper roll stamping; he became so absorbed in this activity that we busted out a full five "sheets" of gift wrap -- which I'll no doubt use for holiday gifts in December -- before lunch time. When we'd finished, he admired his work and said, "Tessa will love that I made this." I love that he said that. I also love that we found an awesome use for our rather large stash of paper grocery bags. (I always bring a few of these -- and some canvas bags -- to the store with us, but we somehow always return home with more...)
Want to make some gift wrap, too? Cool. You'll need:
- Paper grocery bags
- Cardboard toilet paper rolls
- Ink pads (we used one that's multi-colored)
For each sheet of wrap, I cut one of the paper bag's corners (where it folds) lengthwise, and then cut out the rectangle bottom (the part that sits on the floor when the bag is full of stuff.) I then trimmed the sheets to what looked like a good size, and lay the bag flat on our kitchen table, print side down. Next, Kaspar simply pressed one end of the toilet paper roll onto the ink pad, and stamped its shape (a circle) onto the bag. Over and over and over again. (Ommmm.)
And here's Tessa's gift!
I love the handmade look! Kaspar's proud of his work, too. Thumbs up all around; this was a cheap and easy project that I can see working well for kids of all ages. (I'll admit I got my toilet paper stamping zen on, too.) Definitely sibling-friendly, and a nice way to save some trees during the holiday season.
What do you think? Love it? Are you digging back through your recycling bin? What are some other green gift wrapping ideas?
This recipe offers a different twist on the rolled sugar Christmas cookies many of us grew up with, without compromising any fun rolling (and cookie-cutting) action. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with traditional sugar cookies, but I’ve landed on something worth keeping here— a new generation of cookies, destined for greatness. I brought a batch to the office (what’s up, 2 Park?!) a couple of years ago, and they disappeared from the communal treat-table within an hour. Now the batch I made last night hasn’t lasted 24; between Aaron, a few friends who’ve passed through, and myself, only one cookie remains. Uh oh. We have friends coming over tomorrow afternoon, and then we're heading to a party in the evening… empty-handed… unless I bake more of these little winter wonders.
I think I’ll do just that.
And guess what. You can, too! And you should! Besides tasting downright awesome, these cookies are 100% whole grain. I do make them with sugar (rather than brown rice syrup or another alternative… let me know if you play around and come up with one that works), but I use coconut oil in the dough and the frosting. And in some camps, that stuff is regarded as tapped from the tree of life. Plus, it lends a light coconut-y edge to the citrus and spice flavors already at play. Yum.
Click "Read More" below for the recipe, and a peek at an alternative, equally stylin' icing option.
We've finally gotten some rain these past few weeks-- the kind of rain I adore; I prefer all-day downpours to intermittent showers. I also find the Texan response to precipitation pretty amusing. Snowfall-- even a once-yearly dusting-- brings this city to a grinding halt. Rain brings its roadways to a bewildering crawl. How these enormous, made-for-the-military trucks manage to coordinate accidents amongst themselves while going 15 mph on straight, flat highways is a mystery to me. But they do it... bringing the surrounding traffic speeds down to 5 mph as everyone navigates their pickups around the scene... in the *gasp* RAIN. But me? I love the stuff. I love sleeping and waking up to its sound, walking in it, driving in it. Classmates last week (btw, guess who finished massage school classes. This girl!) talked about feeling the rain is depressing. It makes me happy. Maybe I'm wired for the Pacific Northwest, where summers are gorgeous and it rains for months on end. Mmmm. Bliss.
Anyway, we're here now, and it's raining now, and I'm pretty blissed out on Austin's wintertime. The rain's lifted during the past several days-- returning for encores at night-- leaving a dry, cool climate behind. I honestly haven't missed snow in the slightest (I could just never get warm in a Northeast December), and as far as I'm concerned, the outdoors air smells perfectly seasonally appropriate without it. Dry leaves, wind, big skies, a wood stove somewhere. It blends. Train whistles, birds of prey, Christmas lights, sunsets... You should see these sunsets. I don't dare take a photograph. It wouldn't compare. For months this past year, I didn't know what month it was. It got hot in late May and stayed that way for what felt like forever. It never rained. But now, there's no mistaking it. It's time for the solstice, for Christmas, for holidays in Texas land.
There's evidence of this indoors, too. A tree, a wreath, windows strung with lights. Gifts piled and stashed in expected, and unlikely, places. And it smells of Christmas. Today I simmered lime and lemon rinds with whole cloves and a teaspoon (or three) of ground cardamom. (Voila, instructions). The scents deepened and made their winding way through every room in the house. And tonight, I baked some cookies. I'll frost them tomorrow. If you're good, I'll give you my recipe.
I saw a commercial while at the gym the other night-- the gym provides my one legitimate excuse and opportunity for watching bad TV, and its commercials, as we mostly watch movies streamed on Netflix at home-- and saw a commercial for Jolly Rancher hard candies. Giant, colored bubble-words burst across the screen reading: Grape! Apple! Watermelon! Meanwhile the voice-over pimped the candies' "real fruit flavor". I wondered (while elliptisizing my way to nowhere for a significant period of time... Yeah, yeah. Glass houses): why not just eat a grape? Wouldn't that get the real-fruit-flavor job done? Then the commercial ended and I resumed switching between House Hunters International and Sixteen and Pregnant and forgot all about my fruit flavor questions. Yet I was reminded of them again today as I inhaled these real December smells, indoors and out; the leaves, the tree, the wreath, the citrus and cloves. I sure loved me some Glade candles-- and, come to think of it, Jolly Ranchers too-- back when I was a kid; now we don't use synthetic scents in our home at all, because Kaspar's a sensitive dude. And synthetic chemicals kill brain cells, so there's that. The main reason for this, though, is that these days I crave the real thing, whatever the thing happens to be. TV's ideal for gym-time entertainment; I lose myself in an hour of synthetics, of fluff (and formulate plans to move overseas... Where is it always raining?). I get buff doing it brainlessly like that, but that's pretty much all it's good for. Outside of gym time, I don't want to lose myself, or my hours. I want to find these things, to live real life, and savor it with all of my senses. The holiday season, and this darker, rainy, windswept time of year fills itself out with Christmas lights, wood fires and baked treats. Whether it bears formal religious significance for us or not, I think it'd be impossible not to notice that this season makes magic of little things, and declares all experience-- sights, smells, sunsets-- sacred.