Our Makeshift Kitchen

Given Hadley’s propensity for pretending to be a cook with his beloved play food, I’ve been jonesin’ to get him (or, more likely, make him) a play kitchen for, like, ever. But, it’s kind of useless in our house. We live in just shy of 1,000 square feet and, while it works now, there’s not a ton of “just his” play space. It’s one of the things we’ll be looking for when we eventually move, hopefully in 2015.

But, for now, we’ve gotten creative. We use bins and baskets to store most of his toys, but his “food” and anything he likes to use with it (like empty containers or spoons) has their very own makeshift home.

We have these cool but slightly crooked-door built-in cabinets between the living room and dining room. The living room side houses DVDs (perfect size) and one of the dining room ones holds decorative stuff. Awhile back, however, I cleaned out the final cabinet and decided it would be all Had’s.


It isn’t much, but finding a space that’s his very own is awesome. Oh, and he’s also only getting into my cabinets a fraction as much as he used to and he hardly gets into those “no, don’t touch” places as much. And, yes. We sucked at toddler-proofing.

I still hope to create a mini kitchen area for him in some future playroom, but for now, this spot doubles as an oven, a pantry, a fridge, and more. Pretty much whatever his mind comes up with, which is incredible.

What are some tricks that you’ve used to contain the clutter or give your little one some space that’s his/her own? I love seeing alcoves and bedroom closets transformed into little nooks just for them to play in, too. So cool!

Holidays, the Simplified and Low-Stress Way

It’s probably no secret how excited I am about the holiday season this year. November is a crazy-arse month in our household, but we’re all really looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas (including the build-up to it). New Year’s maybe a little bit, but the whole holiday thing has us downright bouncy.

Last year, it was a different picture. I always enjoy listening to the Christmas carols, and seeing the magic through Hadman’s eyes last year was uplifting, but for some reason I just wasn’t super into it. We all have years like that, don’t we? It’s one of the reasons I wrote this little ditty about getting into the spirit of the thing.
The holiday season can clearly be a super stressful time. The gift that should’ve come a week ago that still hasn’t arrived. Trying to give that one impossible-to-shop-for person the best gift in the world. A million things to do and only this many days to do them. Traditions you want to uphold. Happiness you want to spread. Food you want to make.

I get it, I do. But, the last couple of years with a kiddo around have also helped me to take a few steps back and evaluate the situation. One lesson I did learn last year, especially since it was our first year with a very mobile child who was “getting” the idea of things more, was how to simplify. Since I wasn’t super into it and I was a pretty tired new-ish mama, I put in the bare minimum to get the most out of it. It was still a special, memorable, nice year, so this year I hope to maintain the simplicity, but with a touch more joy and magic.

Here today are the things I learned that perhaps you can try, too. 🙂

Pick and choose.

This is the first step, and it’s a biggie. Make a list of all the things you do (or think you should do) for the holidays and give them a deep, hard look. How many of the things do you HAVE to do? Which ones do you and your family look forward to? Are there any things that you can do but on a much lesser scale? Which of the things are you doing out of obligation, either to just maintain a tradition or because you feel guilt-ridden to do it? Take a red pen to the list. Feel free to do this with your significant other or even bring your kids in on the conversation. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) attachment they have to certain things.

While you’re at it, lower your stress level by making one long (or short!) gift list to keep tabs on what you’ve gotten or still need to buy. I keep mine on Google Docs to avoid any inadvertent surprise-ruining moments, along with how much I’ve spent on each item (budget, people!).


Deck the halls!

Decorating for the holidays can be a super fun thing…or a major drag. This advice may sound like more work, but it really does help: pick a theme. Look at all your ornaments. Do they look like a mismatch of fun family interests and classic-looking ornaments? Embrace it by creating a 1950s-style of decor. Sprinkle your favorite ornaments around your home or on a plate/bowl as a centerpiece (add some greenery or a candle in the middle and it’ll look totally intentional), hang a festive pendant banner or wool ball garland (how fun!) and you’re done.

Or, do you have plenty of different colored ornaments floating around? Pick a two or three color theme and stick with it. Last year, we had an outdoorsy/winter wonderland sort of theme, along with extra branches of greenery from the tree, scarves to decorate the tree and along tables, and neutral and brown colors around the house. It was simple, yet warm, and helped me feel less overwhelmed, feeling like I didn’t need to use ALL the decorations in storage.

You can also throw all caution to the wind and pick out your absolute favorites. Who cares if things don’t totally match? Do what will make your heart sing every time you look around!

With Every Christmas Card I Write…
 
While evaluating your usual holiday to-do list, ask yourself if writing Christmas cards is a must-do. Aside from being eco-friendly to skip this task, it’s a huge task off your list. It’s never just writing the cards; it’s finding and buying them, buying stamps, tracking down updated addresses…you know the drill.

So, ask yourself: Do I feel totally weighed down by this task, or do I enjoy it? Do I feel guilty every time a Christmas card arrives from someone I didn’t write to, or does it just touch my heart that I was thought of fondly? Are there people on my list whom I’ve lost touch with; can I whittle down the list? Can I simplify the process with personalized pictures of our family with pre-written greetings? How many of my friends are online and could be forwarded a family photo and greeting instead of a card?

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we do cards (we always do them, but we strangely enjoy it), we always write a few sentences; we’re old school like that. I’m not a fan of just signing our names or sending a personalized family card with pre-typed messages, but there is nothing, NOTHING wrong with anyone who does it this way! It’s all about simplifying the tons of holiday tasks that weigh us down.

Even if you shave ten people off your list, it saves you some time. And, if all else fails, we like to do our cards over some hot tea or cocoa while watching our favorite Christmas movies after the little guy goes to bed. Making it a relaxing experience while getting in the holiday mood with Jimmy Stewart or Charlie Brown helps a lot.

Cookie Monster

Ohhhh, Christmas cookies. What a quandary this one is in our household. See, I was raised making tons of cookies (and pretty enjoyably so), eating them and sharing them with neighbors and…yeah. That was my thing. But, Dave (who thinks that chocolate chip is a holiday cookie, I kid you not) doesn’t really eat them and Hadley’s 50/50. And, wouldn’t ya know, all the batches create a million cookies each. Grr.

But, I don’t want to give it up. Instead, I make one type that I particularly like and one that I know the family will actually eat, including some form of cut-outs for Hadley to help with. This year, I may hook up with my mom so that we bake together and split the batches; she’s in a similar position.

So, my advice is to A) divide and conquer (hook up with friends/family to bake together and split the results – I way prefer this to a cookie exchange, but you can do that, too), B) simplify the amount of cookies you’ll be making down to your favorite, C) FREEZE what you can (frosting doesn’t always freeze well, so frost after, but if you bake some NOW and defrost some as you need them, it’ll save you time later), and D) gift what you make to letter carriers/teachers/neighbors/anyone!

Entertaining vs. Obligations

There’s a big difference between enjoyable entertaining and fulfilling obligations to hang out. Even before we were parents, we weren’t big goer-outers (formal term, yup) and cherished our down time to work on projects or just hang out watching a favorite holiday movie. We LOVE hanging out with our loved ones A LOT, but have long since figured out that we just need to stretch out the frequency of hang-outs, especially after the little guy came along. If that means saying ‘no, thanks’ to an invitation or two, so be it.

The idea of “entertaining” also needs to be analyzed. Are you going to do a huge rivals-Thanksgiving feast when a few friends are coming over just to hang out for awhile? Or can you do a simple meal or a few basic, delicious snacks with a festive beverage? Remember that your friends and family are coming for your company, not for your level of decoration or fanciness.   

Finding Inspiration

I love Pinterest, but between the fact that my family lovingly puts me in my “who do you think you are, Martha Stewart?” place if I go overboard and the fact that Pinterest Perfectionism is a real, honest-to-goodness disease that I’d prefer not to catch, I take it with a grain of salt. I think that’s the best way to do it, really.

So, I pick my bits of inspiration – maybe one new recipe to try out or a neat homemade gift idea that doesn’t contain too many steps – but I don’t try to Pinterest-ify an entire shindig (or an entire holiday, for that matter!). After all, that’s FAR too much pressure to put on a very average person like me, and it’s definitely not the reason for getting together in the first place. It’s just not. 😉

Gifting

This is a big one for parents of little ones, but we can all stand to look at our gift-giving practices to see if they can be put on a little diet, too. People have been reeling in the toy-giving, which we appreciate (it still happens, of course, and we want folks to enjoy buying for the little guy, but his first Christmas was insanely overboard). This year, though, Dave and I set a smaller budget for ourselves (along with a “one free gift” idea), and a bit for Hadman, too.

My side of the family has also decided to stop our Secret Santa tradition and just get for the four grandkids and my parents. It already feels pretty weird not to get for someone (a sibling or in-law), so who knows? Maybe we’ll reinstate it. But, either way, it’s a good way to have your family cut back — do a Secret Santa where you’re only getting for one person rather than 8 or 10 (or more). It also adds a fun element to gift-opening, figuring out who got whom.

It truly is about the time spent together, or the exchange of experiences rather than stuff, stuff, stuff. Oh, and since you will inevitably be shopping, make it far simpler on yourself and do as much as you can online. Believe me. Isn’t shopping in PJs far more relaxed? (Please. Don’t shop publicly this way. That was my high school look; we don’t have to go there again.)

Traditions or Burdens?
   
There’s a long list of holiday activities that you and your family can join in when celebrating the holiday season. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that list growing ever longer and even more complicated. Elf on a Shelf? Complex advent calendar activities?  
Chat with your significant other to see which things matter most. We’ve finally settled between real and fake tree (our fake one bit the big one a couple of years ago, so the last two yes-with-a-baby-around years we bought real), so since it’s something we’ve decided to make into a tradition, we’ll stick with it. In other words, if it’s important to you, keep doing it. If it’s not (or you find that it’s not worth the time you put into it — like those eight types of cookies that no one eats, or the real tree that you have to vacuum up after twice a day, not that that happens #okaysometimes), make a concerted effort to purge it from your holiday routine. And don’t mourn the loss too much, it zaps valuable energy you could spend having fun.

Speaking of Which… Schedule fun!
Remember how I said that November is a wackadoo month at school for me? It goes far too quickly and is spent prepping for and putting on a Book Fair, in addition to getting ready for Thanksgiving and trying to get holiday shopping underway (luckily, I don’t host Thanksgiving, so that helps a lot right now, although I make an equivalent meal at a different time…mmmm, leftovers). So, at such a nutty time, my husband and I try to schedule in a couple of dates, or dinners/meet-ups with friends who recharge our batteries, whom we haven’t seen in awhile, and we truly look forward to our time with family at Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving, we also get a sitter so that Dave and I can spend about half (or more) of the day getting some shopping done together. We figure out our Christmas cards (still unsure about buying or having some family ones made up this year), do some shopping for the monkey and other folks on our lists, and grab a quiet bite to eat. It’s an awesome, calm tradition that lets us focus on ourselves and our little family and the happiness of the season ahead.

When December hits, we also put IN PEN certain events that we look forward to annually (like when he meets up with an old co-worker/friend to read “The Polar Express” to kids and our annual trek to see THE Santa). Simple things like a drive to a local Christmas light show on a random evening or remembering that cookie-baking with a toddler can be a fun activity rather than a “gotta get it done” chore. You can keep the fun times to a minimum or pile them on, depending on how you and your family are feeling.

Because, at the end of all the stressful times that the holidays bring, isn’t it really all about having fun with the ones you love, finding gratefulness for your blessings, and doing more for those who are lacking?
 

Learning + Toddlers = Fun

For those a bit late to the party, I’m an educator by trade. (Some might say that a school librarian isn’t an educator, but dudes…I educate.) While I have no idea whether this is my lifelong calling, it’s definitely something I strive to do on a daily basis, whether the kids are in my classes or under my own roof.

But, when you have a two-year-old (or any toddler or kiddo, for that matter), it’s not always practical or realistic to have nice sit-down lessons. At this age, it’s all about making things palatable, like hiding veggies in meals and smothering things with cheese. (We all do it, guys, there’s no shame here.) Life’s also all about fun (as it should be), and it can be surprising what simple things kids can deem as a good ol’ time.

So, today I’m here with a few tips on fitting some simple, fun learning into your little one’s day. Even if you just pick out one or two to try here and there, you can feel a little bit better about the amount of times he’s watched the same Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat. (Or, in our house, Duck Tales and Mickey Christmas Carol. Yep. It is what it is.)

Use toys as learning tools. We tend to over-think the early learning process. Simple is totally best at this stage. So, things like simple mathematical concepts are totally doable. “Let’s count how many farm animals you have!” (Depending on his/her stage, count along. Hadman’s great up until 13, but then repeats it several times and skips to 17. We’re working on it. ;-)) You could also line up four Legos, have him count them, then take one away and ask how many are left. Simple addition/subtraction like this will get his mind thinking in a different, problem-solving way than basic counting.

Magnet letters are my BFF. I need to buy another set since he’s used the crud out of these (read: half are missing), but our Melissa and Doug magnetic letters LIVE on the fridge. Recently while waiting to get packed up, Hadley had a bunny toy and a stuffed baby doll in his hands. We named what they were (“bunny” and “baby”) and while making the “B” sound several times, I asked him what letter they start with. He ran to the fridge and immediately started to search for the “B.” I’ve found my favorite new game, folks, and he LOVES getting claps and hugs for correct answers. Believe it or not, toddlers are people pleasers. 

Potty time is learning time. Let’s face it: waiting for potty to come out is a boring (sometimes excruciating) job. Turn it into a fun time by reading short board books together, doing a rhyming game, learning “patty cake” (Had can now do it all by himself. My proud mama heart bursts!), singing the alphabet, naming the parts of the body, and more. When I do the alphabet, I’ll pause for him to say the next letter, or lately we’ve even started trying to name things that start with the letter sound. Vowels are a challenge since they take on the sound of the letter following it (for example, “elephant” sounds like “L”), but moments like “What starts with an ‘M’?” “MAMA!!!” are awesome. (This tip goes for bath time and commutes, too.)

Never too early to read. Okay, so maybe you’re not like us. Maybe you don’t have a bedtime routine down yet. Maybe you thought your infant was too little to start reading to. It’s totally okay! Just know that it’s NEVER too early or late to read with your little one. There are so many studies touting the importance of early reading — that they feel love and security in the routine and one-on-one time, they learn the proper care and use of books (modeling how to turn the page properly and that we can’t turn the page until we’ve finished reading all the words), that books can teach AND entertain us…the list goes on. Establishing the routine also helps them settle down and learn expectations for each night; in other words, we have very little divergence from the regular routine (once in awhile I’ll bring him a sippy cup of water, but even that is pretty rare). Another awesome side effect? Seeing how their personal preferences and interests develop.

Give art meaning. I often draw a holiday symbol as a little coloring sheet to mix up our usual Sesame Street coloring activities, but you can take this a step further. Give your little one a sheet of white paper and ask them to draw something and describe it. (Sometimes it’s one word, sometimes it’s a full sentence.) Then, either write the sentence/phrase below the picture or post it on a piece of construction paper with a separate sentence strip below it. Show this to your child and read the sentence. You could also do the same with plenty of seasonal or concept-driven themes. For example, an apple stamping and write a fact from an apple book (or a basic fact like “Apples come from apple trees.”) to create a sense of importance to the art, but also teach a simple lesson.

Can’t say enough about independent play. I’ve heard that boys are better at this than girls, but I also feel that it depends on their environment. Hadley is, for the most part, an only child (aside from pets). He’s the only little one at his grandma’s house during the day. He’s the only little one at home, for now. While we do play with him often, he’s quite content to seek out his own time to play and pretend. I, however, was the fourth and youngest child in my family. I was used to having people play with me, so as I got older and they weren’t into my little kid games anymore, it stung and I had a very hard time playing independently. I truly believe that a greater imagination is developing in our little guy, as well as additional skills that I may not have been blessed with. People need to know how to be alone, how to occupy themselves happily, how to have an internal dialogue. I truly think it leads to deeper thinking and connecting, so I’m happy that our buddy is so happy doing this.

If you have more than one child, it’s AWESOME for them to play together – don’t get me wrong! They need that social interaction and to learn the ebb and flow of proper communication. However, trying out alone time (even if a couple times a week for a short period of time) will help them to develop this additional those imaginative, independent-thinking skills.

Kinetic play is just as important as the alphabet. We haven’t done a ton of this, but have just recently started to get into it. Let’s just say he LOVES it. We’ve been using traditional Play-Doh (I know! An eco-mama who doesn’t make her own flour-based solution?! Blasphemous!) and he adores squishing and poking his fingers in. He’s amazed by the rudimentary dinosaurs, heads, and other animals we make for him to play with — to think, he’s completely non-judgmental of poor artistic ability. (Dave’s awesome at it, though.) Getting hands-on gets neurons in his brain moving that haven’t hopped, skipped and danced before. I’m thinking of making a SIMPLE seasonal sensory box to up the fun (and brain activity).

Don’t be afraid to make a mess. This one can apply to the Play-Doh or any other artistic activity…or, heck, play, for that matter. It’s just not worth obsessing over a train track that takes over your entire living room floor or the fact that the paint project your kid’s mastering also includes painting every. single. finger. Besides, it’s not what life’s about. At any given moment, we have cat toys, random Little People and play food strewn about or stuck in unexpected storage spots. It is what it is. Visit anytime. 😉

That said, now’s a good time to teach responsibility. Yup, we can make a mess. It’s totally cool. But, we’re hitting on the “don’t play with the next thing until you pick up the last thing” rule in our house. We’re trying to keep it low-key and relatively fun, though, by making it a team effort. Sure, the kiddo is the one who made the mess in the first place, but by teaming up and helping him it seems like a) a more manageable task and b) almost FUN! “Let’s see how many puzzle pieces we can each put away!” or “Hadley, I forgot where the train pieces go. Can you show me, please?” can be a good starter.

Or, if your little one hasn’t started “helping out” yet, start by explaining the reasons. We already have, and he’s catching on a little at a time. Making them aware of a mess is the first step, stating that it’s okay but that it needs to be picked up is the next step, then just getting them to put ONE toy away is the final. Moving from this stage will happen gradually but surely, and the day that your child puts ONE toy away without argument seriously feels like you won the lottery. SIDE NOTE: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood uses a great, short clean-up song that we sometimes sing to make it fun. Some moms hate these songs, but I’m a Daniel junky.  


What about you guys? Any tips to add to the list?

Hadleyisms 3.0

 
Hey, guys. Back for a trip down Hadley lane. He’s been super, super verbal lately, and truly seems to enjoy being able to finally communicate sufficiently with us. His sentences are even evolving; sometimes just a noun and a verb, but more often than not they’ll include adjectives and more.

And I totally wish you could actually HEAR a lot of these phrases. When you see them written flatly on a screen, they don’t show the depth of his character or the bubbly way that he speaks. Y’all are missing out, folks.“Yittle bit?” This has been his big one. He’s asking to do something, and thinks that asking for a little (“I rock in chair yittle bit? I eat yittle bit cookie?”) that he’ll be likelier to get a yes. It’s actually pretty genius, and the way that he says it (along with his two little fingers showing how little he’s asking for), he knows full well it’s adorable. I’m just learning not to laugh and blow my “tough cop” attitude. (It’s usually when he’s stalling to go to bed.)


“Today?”
(He actually means “now.”) “We go outside TODAY?” (voice rises at end) “We eat lunch today?” “Me pet kitty today?” I mistakenly told him, “Oh, you mean ‘now’, right?” once, and he started using it immediately. Luckily, he slipped back into his “today” requests, which sounds far less demanding and even sweet. 

“Happy day!!!” He often starts dancing around and saying this at the most mundane of moments. Can’t say much more than that. It’s absolutely heart-filling.

“Circus Boy!!” Apparently I’m a human trapeze or something, because Hadley LOVES to climb up me, jump on my legs, pretend to “fly” (I hold him up), etc, all while shouting “Circus boy! I a circus boy!!” How he even knows what a circus is, I have no clue. Maybe from an old Mickey Mouse or “Peg + Cat”…? And how he knows about Mickey Dolenz’s first stint into fame, I’m even more clueless. (crickets chirping)

“Daddy, you a good person.” Dave wrote about this one, but it begs to be told again. This came out of the blue one day as Dave drove him to his mom’s. I had talked to him the day before in the car; just a stream of consciousness type of conversation, but I chatted about how nice and good his daddy is. Apparently, it stuck.

“I brave! I a brave boy!” This came about for his flu shot (yes, we immunize and do the flu shots, although there’s tons of conversation between Dave and I as to whether it’s worth it). Since I know he’s of the age to rationalize things better, I had a big talk with him before we went for the shot, and bravery was a big part of it. When I picked him up to go to the doctor’s, he was ready and brave! This continued the next day during this conversation with his daddy…

(After Hadley coughs in the back seat.)
“You okay, buddy?”
“Me no sick, Dada! Me BRAVE!”
A moment later, puts his arm up in the air.
“Me SUPER!”
“You certainly are, buddy.”
Doesn’t that just say it all?

Halloween Recap

My mind is totally heading towards Christmas (fully determined to have a low-stress, AWESOME holiday season this year), but I realized I should probably give a Halloween update before I forgot.

Because we all know I’m really, really good at forgetting. Like, expert.

The costumes came out, for the most part, great. Note that I said “costumes”…plural. Yep, Dave and I dressed up, too.

So, after all that talk of the awesome things Hadman could be, he still wouldn’t give up the apple idea. Luckily, I dragged his apple hat (homemade by a sweet relative before he was born), bought a super cheap, bulky red sweatshirt (Goodwill #1), and glued a worm and “organic fuji #5464” sticker to it. Green corduroys and a small basket that looks exactly like an apple basket (Goodwill #2 – tied my own twine to it), and he was frickin’ ecstatic. Like, he didn’t care how horribly ghetto and abstract the entire thing was. Not a bit.

The night before Halloween, I decided to see what we could put together. I grabbed two plaid shirts (Goodwill #3 & #4…mine was more gingham, actually) and a pack of bandanas from Kmart and we were good. Jeans and two silly braids later, we were farmers. Or, as Dave liked to say, “Apple growers.” Get it? We’re growing an “apple” …because our kid’s an apple, ya see. *ahem*

Even layering our clothes for the chilly night still looked like farmers. Pretty neat!

So, anyhoo, this is how it all went down. Dave picked Hadley up early from his mom’s house, we got the both of them all gussied up, and we sped carefully to my mom’s house the town over. We went trick-or-treating (I appreciate that, although we got a couple of pieces of toddler-friendly candy, she “treated” him to animal crackers, some organic bear grahams, etc) and grabbed a slice of pizza and this picture before heading back home. Hadley and I went to a couple of houses while Dave handed out our treats.

I tossed Hadley in the car to go to my uncle’s house (the man gives away FULL-SIZED CANDY BARS, people!) where Hadley did the perfect “trick-or-treat, Unca Mark, I wuv you!” recitation. Seriously, picture my heart jumping out of my chest, I was so proud of that little boy.

Then, we headed home, gave Had his own dinner and a few tastes of his “treats”, and waited for Daddy before watching Charlie Brown.

Dudes. It was perfect.

Oh, and, for the record: Comic books + spider rings + glow-in-the-dark fangs (although they didn’t seem to glow, no matter how much light I gave them) = HUGE SUCCESS!!! The kids didn’t miss the candy one bit. #tealpumpkinsFTW

Back to Vermont

Long one today! Grab a cup of coffee and prop your eyes open with toothpicks, folks. 😉

Have you noticed that we have a bit of an autumn tradition? Yep. Every year, we make it a point to take a quick overnight trip to Vermont. Our first stop to the state was actually early on, when we were first dating, to attend a friend’s wedding. We fell in love with the state and its awesomeness back then, so we returned for our honeymoon, for our one-year, three-year, and now our four-year anniversaries. (Our second-year anniversary, Hadman was only a few months old, so we nixed it.)

We had taken to pretty much following the same equation every year: head to Middlebury, hit up the co-op to stock up (and shops if they were open), have “tea on the veranda” at the inn, and crash until dinner. The next day, waffles at the inn (a MUST), followed by a slow trip back home, stopping in at antique shops and Camelot Village along the way.

This year, we adjusted things a bit. We’ve been noticing some changes; some of our favorite antique haunts on the way home had closed, and because we visit Sunday into Monday, a lot of shops in Middlebury are closed. So, we headed out early on a Saturday morning. We also added a couple of stops and deleted a couple of unnecessary ones.

The foliage from NY into VT was absolutely perfect this year. Sometimes they’re not even close to turning; other times, there are very few trees left. We lucked out this time! So, after a quick gas-up and a grab of a couple of local egg white sandwiches (Hadley ate at home before we left), we were on our way.

This time, we stopped at the outlets near Queensbury. It was a very last-minute thing, and I promised Dave that we’d be there no longer than 30 minutes (just to run into a couple of kiddo stores). I was true to my word, and in no time we had a few deals and were back on the road. Woohoo!

By the time we rolled into Middlebury, Had was napping in the back and needed far more time to do so. So, Dave checked in with the inn (strangely enough, our room was ready early), and we tag-teamed staying in the car with the sleeping munchkin while grabbing potty breaks and lunch. I ran to the co-op nearby to stock up on salad bar fixin’s (and, ahem, homemade organic desserts), and we all enjoyed the quick lunch in the car. We’re fancy.

After getting settled into the room, we explored the town and did some small shopping. The shops ranged from quirky to adorable to kitschy to stylish to traditional (we finally hit up the Ben Franklin! And it was exactly what I imagined it to be, LOL). Hadley picked out our Christmas ornament (a sterling silver old-school truck hauling a Christmas tree) before melting down, so we high-tailed it to the park to get some energy out. Let’s just say — LEAVES!!! And an awesome gazebo was icing on the cake. A sweet local guy ran over to take our picture without us asking.



By this time, we decided to head back to the inn, and tea was almost over so the only cookies left were ones I wasn’t sure had nuts (Hadley’s okay with peanut butter so far, but we haven’t tried any other nuts yet), so that was kind of a bust. We went to our cozy room to relax, play, watch TV, and get ready for dinner.

We always like to eat dinner and breakfast at the inn since they go out of their way to source their food locally and it’s always a good meal. This year, we were a little disappointed that our waitress didn’t offer any children’s ideas (last year, the waitress was a sweetheart and worked hard to make suggestions), so I had no choice but to give him some of my food and some healthy snacks I had brought along. I know this probably ticks off wait staff, but I would’ve been happy to purchase a meal for him…had it been offered.

Otherwise, our meals were delicious and Hadley, while coming close to having some “bother folks near us” moments, maintained his composure pretty well. *huge sigh of relief* Seeing a couple of other young children in the space helped calm my nerves about it, too. 😉

After a good night’s sleep, we got dressed and ready in the morning, excited for breakfast. It’s always more casual, so I tend to be less nervous about Hadley acting out (which he did, a little). I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s going to happen and we try hard to maintain our patience and have a conversation with him or try distractions, but ultimately it’s the life of a toddler. Poor thing has only so much of an attention span.

There were waffles! So, we loaded our plates and went to town. Hadley had made a little friend who came over to greet him, which was downright precious. All while eating breakfast, though, my thoughts were onto our next adventure…

See, we weren’t able to go apple-picking locally this year thanks to weather and scheduling. So, I figured I’d see if there were any local apple orchards or pumpkin patches so that we could at least do SOMETHING fall-ish while in VT. These weekends seem to breeze by so quickly that before you know it, it’s winter. So, when I discovered Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury, I couldn’t wait to get there.

It was everything I hoped for and more! We were the second customers of the day, so it wasn’t busy at all. They had a wagon to pull him around in, plenty of apples, tons of pumpkins to choose from, and the woman running the place adored Hadley (her grandkids are out of state, and he’s such a ham it’s hard not to fall for him). It. Was. Perfect.

After loading up on apples, pumpkins, gourds, cider, and a couple of donuts, we hit the road.

We only visited one antique shop (and didn’t find anything, which is fine), and stopped at a maple shop to pick up some candy for folks back home, then meandered towards Bennington. Starving and unsure of what there was to eat locally, we found a Stewart’s and I grabbed burgers before we high-tailed it to the monument.

We love visiting this thing, and I’m not sure why. We can relax on the green (it’s where we ate lunch; Hadley sat still, can ya believe it?!), Hadman can get his energy out and run around, Dave can get his annual “picture with a militia man”, and we can get potty breaks before heading to our last stop – Camelot Village.

Dave was kind enough to let me go inside and look around (we brought Hadley in and he was doing fine, but Dave thought it’d be nice to get him outside for awhile longer before the long haul back home). I saw some awesome stuff and almost grabbed a thing or two, but more than anything it was just nice to have the chance to look.

Then, before we knew it, we were home. The trip back does get excruciating, but the fact that we were traveling on a Sunday made the traffic far easier to deal with.

So, there’s all the boring details of our trip to VT! It’s somehow an exciting, relaxing, fun, at-times stressful trip that we LOVE to go on, but that I LOVE getting home from all at the same time. Like, after we do it I feel like we can hunker down for the winter (unless we want to take a quick day trip to Mass to see friends). Either way, it’s always invigorating to see a place that feels like home but that takes us to a new comfort level every year.

Oh, and you know we stocked up on soap while we were there, right? That’s our thing.

Our Lil’ Pumpkins

I wanted to fit this post in before Halloween, but because I’ve got tons of posts piled up, it gets its own day! Hurrah!

Pumpkin time! Dave‘s gonna get into the pumpkin carving and everything, so I figured I’d just share a few pictures and chat more about the painting. Yep, we did one large “family” pumpkin to carve (we asked Hadley what kind of jack-o’-lantern he wanted {a HAPPY one!} and what shapes he wanted for the eyes and nose, and whether he wanted it to have teeth, etc) AND took three mini “pie” pumpkins to the next level with some paint.

Just ’cause. Plus, he’s never painted, so I figured it was time. (I know, I’m hanging my mommy blogger head right now. He had never touched paint!)

So, here are a few action shots of the pumpkin carving planning, reaction and the spooky fun effect…

Awesome, right? He picked the shapes (hence the animated picture of him with “round eyes, Mama!”). After staring at it for a few minutes, it starts to look like a Sesame Street Muppet. Totally appropriate.

Anyhoo, on to the messy stuff!!!


 
So, adorned in Daddy’s old t-shirt, we plopped him into his “high chair” (the SpaceSaver kind), handed him a pumpkin and a brush and he went to town. Pretty much. I mean, I asked him what colors he’d like (purple and red for one, blue and green for another, and he was mute about the last choice, so we rounded it out with orange and yellow), loaded up the brush for him, and he much more enjoyed painting his hands than the pumpkin. But, then he’d massage the heck out of the pumpkin, so they each ended up with some amount of color.


I also gave him a piece of paper at the end to continue practicing his new-found artistic skills.

One of my favorite things about the painted pumpkins is that they add a nifty bit of color to the stoop — AND they totally go with our new welcome mat. Hooray for happy accidents! I even got a teal pumpkin out of the deal! Plus, they make me grin when I see them. So cheery. So Hadley.

I ended up spraying them with several coats of a satin sealer since this type of paint tends to come off in the rain.  Oh, and you know I totally whisked him away to the bathtub immediately (Dave had it ready to go for us). It was hardly a mess at all, which makes me think we can do something like this more often. Probably for the next big holiday. TURKEYS!!!

To Pinterest I go…

Anyhoo, here’s the final cheery product…

In the interest of full disclosure, our carved pumpkin bit the big one within a day of this picture. I think the humidity (and the fact that the pumpkin was a couple weeks old) meant its days were numbered. Oh, well. We had the fun experience and at least Daddy got a great picture for the ol’ memory file. Now I’m REALLY glad we painted a few little ones!

The Love Triangle of Luis, Maria and David

We’ve been watching a tonload of old Sesame Street episodes lately. When I say “old,” I mean OLD. Like, 1970s and early ’80s old. And we love them.

Hadley sings the theme song (has yet to say the words “Sesame Street” although he knows ALL the characters, most of the humans included) to let us know he’d like to watch. So, since Netflix took the newer episodes off, we pull up some that we’ve saved…ahem…I won’t say how. 😉 I kinda love that it’s not Elmo and Abby Cadabby-centric. No offense to them, but it’s more watchable this way.

When Hadley watches, enthralled, it’s neat to see it through his eyes; he’s a first-time watcher. For Dave and I, it’s complete nostalgia (and you know how we feel about nostalgia). I’ll shout out, “Ohh! This was my favorite song!!” or Dave will exclaim, “I remember this one!” It’s fun, even if there’s the occasional, “Wow, was that appropriate for us to watch as kids?” moments. The new DVD versions of these shows actually have a warning in them, that they’re not up to today’s standards and shouldn’t be used as a learning tool today…but, seriously, I wouldn’t have known my alphabet, numbers (in English and Spanish), and been able to skip our equivalent of pre-K if not for an incredible babysitter and “Sesame Street.” I’m fine with him watching it.


As adults watching, though, we start to look into things more. This show’s been on SO long, and we may not have realized it as kids, but there are full-on storylines that are subtly strung throughout the years. Dave even read a behind-the-scenes book about the goings-on, then to now, at the Children’s Television Workshop. It’s neat stuff. And, in a weird way, the more we watch it, the more we see a quiet little soap opera of adult levels developing.

Relationship triangles were a thing. Maria and David were an item from the time that he started in 1971. By 1988, David was on his way out (depending on what you read, he was suffering from stomach cancer, or, according to insiders, severe mental illness and possible drug abuse, dying months after he left the show) and Maria was suddenly in love with the kinder, gentler Luis. I think Dave and I kind of laugh at the push-over that Luis seems to be, but in real life I would imagine that Maria and David’s high-strung, LOUD personalities would probably create for a volatile relationship.

Don’tchya think? Either way, the inter-racial relationship was HUGE for its day, so it’s fun to see a kids’ show, of all things, breaking down these huge barriers. (If it had been a relationship between an African American individual and a white person, though, I’m not sure it would’ve gone over as well.)

Bob and Linda are one of our favorite couples (and characters, separately), but why didn’t they get married? And seeing the ever-patient Bob we think of today losing his $%#& when Gordon suggested changing Woof-Woof’s name to the pup we all know and love, Barkley? He’s still my favorite, but I never thought he raised his voice. Ever! And his reactions to the never-seen-by-adults Snuffleupagus (see? Things WERE different) were downright snarky. Kinda humorous to see, but still.

Oh, and speaking of Snuffy, Dave looked into it and discovered the reason that they finally revealed Snuffy to the adults. Apparently with a rise in child abuse cases, the idea that a child (in this case, Big Bird) telling adults about something important and having the adults blow him off and not believe him sent the wrong message. What a sad thing to think about, but I’m glad that Sesame Street has remained sensitive to the voices of children and is willing to make changes for the better. (Still waiting for a gay character, though. Well. Openly gay. Has that happened yet?)

My favorite part, however, of the entire series has a very personal connection. Dave hasn’t found the episode yet, and I’m not really sure I want him to, but it was when Mr. Hooper died. They re-aired the episode throughout the years (it aired originally in 1983, after the actor who played him actually passed), and I was incredibly lucky that it aired about a month or two after my father passed away in 1986.

I was four, laying on my stomach at my babysitter’s house, as Big Bird came to grips with the loss of his dear friend. Suddenly, all of the emotions I had witnessed and thoughts that hadn’t quite sunk into my little brain made sense. Simultaneously, I was hit with a ton of bricks yet comforted by the knowledge of it all. Finally understanding. All of the puzzle pieces fit, although the puzzle was still very much fractured.

I floated out to the kitchen where our super strict sitter was making lunches, and as she sternly turned around to me, with the confidence of an adult, I asked if my daddy had got into heaven. She was a close, close friend of the family and loved my father, too, so she broke down and grabbed me with the tenderest of hugs. She said yes, and that he loved me very much. I simply nodded, with tears streaming down my face, and rejoined my friends watching the show.

It was an integral moment of my life. I still am not resigned to the idea of heaven, or what happens post-death, but the understanding of the “forever separation” that is death and the fact that it doesn’t diminish the experiences and feelings you shared with the person before the loss was, simply, profound.

Thanks, Big Bird. I’ll never forget that.

On that sullen note, did “Sesame Street” have an impact on your life? Do you have any favorite moments, simple or funny or profound or educational, you’d like to share? Or were you more of an “Electric Company” kid?

To Avoid or Not – Teaching About Death

For many, death is the scariest part of life. It’s not often discussed openly, making it more difficult for people to deal with when it does inevitably strike a loved one. It’s grim, it’s frightening, and there are tons of emotions tied to it, so it’s best just to not talk about it. Right?

Wrong. At least, I think it’s wrong to avoid it. For my family, it was an early fact-of-life lesson. Our dad passed away after a long battle with an aggressive skin cancer in 1986, leaving a wife and four kids broken. I was just shy of four years old, and while I was told what happened, I wish I had been given a better understanding behind it. It wasn’t until months later when Sesame Street taught me via Mr. Hooper’s death that I would never see him again. It was agonizing, but I finally got it.

So, the concept of loss, a general loneliness, and a premature sense of adulthood followed me through my childhood (and quite possibly my siblings, of course). But, because of it, I worked on my issues and became better able to handle the hardest points of life (eventually). I still miss the crap out of my dad and wish I’d known him better than a three-year-old can know someone, but we’re lucky for the family we have.

I decided long ago that, while my wonderfully kind stepfather would be known to Hadley as one of his true grandfathers (“Papa”), he would know and remember that my father, well, existed. Which means that I would inevitably have to discuss with him the topic of death.

And guess what. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

 

Yes, our son is just over two years old. But, he’s already experienced some loss. My dear, dear grandfather passed away last year, and Had’s grandparents had to put down a beloved dog that used to greet and play with him everyday.

We visited my grandfather regularly, so the night that I drove home from the hospital after witnessing his last breath, I knew I’d have to explain it. At age 7, I was in a tonsillectomy-induced stupor when my great aunt Kate had passed. While my mother insists she told me when it happened, the following summer I asked about it and was shut down immediately. It stung. I didn’t want a repeat when one day, out of the blue, Hadley starts asking about “Mama Gampa.” (My grandpa.)  

The first thing to remember, whether you’re just talking about the general concept of death or a particular person or pet, is to keep it simple. Like, stupid simple. I’ve come to learn that over-talking anything is an easy way to have a kid zone you out and not understand. Hmph. Maybe I should stop over-explaining stuff for you guys when blogging. 😉

I told him in two short sentences, tops. I first made sure he remembered the proper individual I was talking about, then explained that Grandpa had gotten sick and had to go away. Watching it sink in, his head slowly nodding, I then told him that we wouldn’t be seeing him again, but that we can always enjoy the memories we made with him. He totally got it, and even told me he was sorry for ME. Talk about tears — but, that’s actually another important point…

Crying is totally okay. This is more for the grown-ups than the kids, but regardless, it’s important for everyone to remember it. We had family cry sessions after Dad passed away, but it eventually became a very private thing to do. I still cry about him (and Grandpa, actually, who was more than a second father); it’s not a loss you ever get over, nor should one have to, but how we deal with the feelings is what’s important.

So, when I explained to Hadley what had happened with Grandpa, or talk to him about Dad, or when I told him that his poor grandmother had to put down Dawg, I was tearful, openly. I didn’t try to hide it. It was part of the lesson. YES. DEATH IS SAD, AND THAT’S NORMAL AND OKAY.

Kids get it.
They’re more astute about others’ emotions at times than we are as adults. It’s best to respect them enough to be open with the facts and open with those emotions.

Speaking of kids totally being aware, here’s where things get creepy. We’re not super religious. Hadman thinks a cross is the letter “T” (I’m equally embarrassed and proud about that — letter recognition, y’know). But, both times I spoke with him about the deaths were at bedtime, in his crib, in a dark room when he was calming down for the day. Both times, he pointed over my shoulder as if he saw something…or someone. He barked when Dawg was put down. He talked to Grandpa when he passed. “Hi, Gampa! Hi, Gampa!” Both terrifying; both somehow strangely calming.

They know and “see” better than we do sometimes.  

One final word of advice is to help them remember those who have passed. Pretending that the person never existed sometimes makes an individual feel like they need to do the same; that they’re not allowed to ask questions or talk about the person.

I’ve asked a lot about my dad over the years, and there were times I knew my mother wasn’t in the mood to discuss it, but she always answered my questions. Sometimes short responses; sometimes longer. Plus, his picture has always been around our house as a constant welcome reminder, and we helped out at the cemetery all the time.

The tree next to his headstone was quite young when he was buried. Over the years, I took a lot of comfort visiting to help plant new flowers and dusty millers and to clean off the stone. We’d excitedly ask for the empty plastic jug we used to fast-walk (running in a cemetery = not okay) back from the filling spigot. As a teen, I would go to the cemetery to sit at atop a large mausoleum built into a hill to enjoy the peace and feel closer to him.

Today, the tree is matured. Both of my mom’s parents have joined him, just two rows away. But, the peace is still there. So, I feel it’s important to bring Hadley there from time to time so that he realizes how normal death is and that, if he has any questions, it’s totally fine to share them.

Besides, for a stick and rock collecting boy, it makes for an awesome nature walk.

Costume Brain Barf

Well, that’s a graphic title. Hmm. Sorry about that, but my brain is definitely barfing all over this post. Lots of thoughts goin’ on. None too bad, though.

I’m not a big blood-and-guts fan. Scary movies are just unnecessary (to me; if you’re into them, enjoy! We all have our guilty pleasures).  I also try not to expose our little guy to media (movies, TV, music) that isn’t age-appropriate. Maybe I’m that prudish mother I never thought I’d be, or maybe my education background has put my jaw on the floor too many times (watching “Family Guy” in second grade? Seriously?!), but it’s just who we are as a family. Over-the-top or not.

Believe me, though. I enjoy watching him experience things that he’s old enough to wrap his head around, listen to a fun new pop song, and see what interests arise in him. Fascinating, and so fun to be a part of. Really.

I’m also not anti-Halloween. I get a little anxious over the mischievous activities (and excuse for mayhem and law-breaking), but for the little ones, it’s downright awesome. Heck, we’re actors, so it’s in our blood to put on different clothes and pretend to be somebody else. It’s how we do, yo. The candy’s a bit much, but our rest-of-the-time attempts at clean, organic living don’t dictate that we need to forgo the fun; for now, we’ll just go to our relatives and maybe a friendly neighbor or two, leaving us with just a small handful of special sugary treats.

Oh, and my mom set the bar HIGH in the DIY costume realm. I don’t remember ever buying costumes, although we did go to a costume shop annually to get ideas. (Awesome tip right there, folks!) My favorite was the year that I was missing tons of front teeth, when my mother turned a princess costume into a last-minute tooth fairy outfit. Genius. And, the older we got, the greater the competition between my older siblings to see how creative their Phantoms of the Opera could be. We also borrowed awesome dresses and bonnets for “Little House” costumes (even though I was super sick that year and couldn’t actually trick-or-treat), and I swear we all used a black graduation gown as a foundation to many a costume.

Anyhoo, as an infant, Hadman was his spirit animal — a giraffe (which was more of a sweatsuit than anything else, and the pictures of which are lost in a digital avalanche). Last year, he was Charlie Brown. It was perfect.

My goals for Hadman this year are to keep it relatively cute (um, no blood or “over his head” references…as awesome as those may seem, I’m creeped out by a kid dressed up as Chucky), something in his realm of knowledge, and, the big thing, COMFORTABLE, COMFORTABLE, COMFORTABLE. He’s also hit-or-miss with keeping hats on. Hmph.

He’s got a variety of favorite books. He’s allowed to watch TV (and Netflix, sigh), so there are a handful of characters that he knows well. Heck, he’s even familiar with superheroes (Dorky Daddy reads them), although I’m not sure he understands the concepts behind them yet.

When asked what he wants to be, he tends to bluntly say “Apples. And ‘nanas. But apples.” Um. As fun as that sounds, an apple costume is a bitch to put together. And he’s not THAT big of a fan of bananas, so to make him one just seems…cruel, LOL.

Here are a handful of the ideas that I’ve found charming and quite possible for the munchkin. The cool thing about some of them is that they can go to live in a future dress-up trunk for daily use. Plus…oh, the cuteness!

The scarecrow and cowboy costumes are both missing origination links. If you’re the owner, please let me know so I can credit! Oh, and click on the chef link — so many awesome ideas!

 
– He’s not into planes yet, but that pilot costume (probably without the airplane) is awesome, warm, and half the outfit can be made of regular clothes. So cute and classic, right??

– Okay. I’m totally going to make a couple of these no-sew superhero costumes, regardless of our Halloween plans. So simple, so much fun, so “our guys.”

– This is the perfect scarecrow!!! It’s actually comfortable; imagine that! Cloth and yarn instead of the scratchy, hay-filled version? Sign me up.

– Hadley’s pretty enamored by Kermit (he’s the only non-Sesame Street Muppet he knows…well) thanks to Netflix and “The Muppet Movie” in its queue. Although this is a little guy here, it would be easily adaptable for a “big kid” like ours. 😉

– Okay. The idea of “Hadman the Chef” is a stroke of genius. One of his favorite pretend activities is to “cook” and “make soup” with all of his handmade felt food. Much like the hero costumes, I’d like to make a chef’s hat for future use, too.

These are just a few of the super adorable ideas I’m considering. I’m ultimately going to run a few of the ideas Dave has helped me narrow down by the little guy so that he knows what’s going on and it isn’t a huge (unwanted) surprise come Halloween.

What about you? Are you a store-bought costume person? Or a DIYer? What’s a favorite costume of your childhood?