Things to Do - Say Goodbye to 2010!


Today is sort of a bittersweet day for me as it marks the end of my Project 365 (one picture a day for a year). On one hand, I'm so excited to finally put down the camera. On the other hand, I'm a little sad about seeing our year in photos come to a close. For more on the 365 Project and for some of the pictures, please click here to check out my guest post on Bad Hausfrau (and while you're there, look around Kelley's blog, it's full of cool stuff).

Have a fantastic NYE's everyone! See you in 2011! And if you're looking for family-friendly New Year's Eve Events in the DC area - click here for a fantastic list. KidFriendly DC also has some great suggestions (for both NYE and New Years Day).



Things to Make - A Pueblo Village

Before you laugh (okay, so while you laugh) remember it is the process not the product.

Two weekends ago, T had a fever and my husband had to work, leaving me completely homebound with the kids (without TV, which is an entirely separate story). After a moment of panic and depression, I pulled myself together and thought "all-day craft project?" So I scanned my favorite kids' project book - More Than Moccasins: A Kid's Activity Guide to Traditional North American Indian Life (A Kid's Guide series) (for other posts on the book, click here and here) and tried to find something based on materials we had on hand. After a quick glance of the recycling bin I realized we had enough boxes to make a Pueblo Indian village. Scroll below to see how I made this into an all day task. I'm really proud of us on this one, as we're not usually the best at staying home for long periods of time.

After I cut doors and windows into the boxes the girls painted them. Yes, I'm aware that painting on shiny cardboard is pretty difficult, but sometimes you have to use the materials you have. A more motivated mother may have wrapped the boxes in brown paper first. But I wasn't feeling that motivated.


After the girls finished painting I made moldable clay using the recipe photographed above from Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. Unfortunately, the recipe produced a sticky, hard-to-work-with substance, so I added some cream of tartar and extra flour, which worked much better (cherry koolaid mix made it smell so yummy). I assumed that the moldable dough would somehow be different than playdough (maybe it would dry harder?) but it really wasn't, so I still recommend the easier recipe used here. F then made pots out of the moldable dough. Here's the recipe I used:

*1 and 1/4 cup flour
*1 cup boiling water
*1 pkg powdered drink mix (we used cherry kool-aid)
*1/4 cup salt
*1 tbsp oil
*2 tbsp cream of tartar

*Mix powdered drink mix, flour, and salt. Add oil. Add boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon. Add cream of tartar. Let cool.


After I put T down for his afternoon nap, the girls and I scavenged outside for natural materials to decorate our house, especially sticks to build ladders. Obviously, as Virginia's climate is completely different from the hot, dry southwest, we dropped any pretense of historical accuracy; except the Pueblo Indians used natural materials and we used natural materials, so at least we kept with the spirit of the project.


Making a stick ladder proved difficult, dad ended up breaking from work for a little while to help us construct one. We read in our book how the pueblo dwellings had holes in the roof for exit and entry. P thought it important that we use several leaves and branches to hide the holes, in case of enemy invasion. Finally, after much "natural" decorating, we had our own village (see top of this post for the final product).


Obviously, we now needed people to live in our village. The small doors eliminated most of the girls' dolls, so we ended up using Candyland game pieces. They seemed to like their new home, though they slept a lot in the leaf hammock pictured above. Then P decided they needed wives and so went the rest of the afternoon.

Obviously our little village was neither historically accurate nor incredibly beautiful, but it kept our day moving along. And hopefully my kids learned a little bit along the way. What about everyone else? Any good ideas for winter sick days?


Things to Do - Celebrate the Solstice


I'm not sure why the solstice has become such a big event for me. In part because the more I learn about the history of the holiday, the more in awe I am of how many traditions have survived in modern times - such as lighting candles and decorating with evergreen . Further, Christmas with children comes with a lot of pressure (the big man in the red suit) and the solstice presents a nice opportunity to forget about Santa for day.

After the pinata debacle in October (click here for backstory), I promised F a special playdate with a new, full pinata and the solstice served as the perfect opportunity for such an event. Due to the small size of our house, we needed to keep the guest list pretty tiny. For the kids, I had crackers and masks and noisemakers. Plus, cupcakes for decorating and a pinata for attacking. For the moms, I had wine. Yum. Not exactly traditinal fare, but all in all a good afternoon. There's something sort of exciting about a lone butterfly soaring through winter's naked trees.

I learned an important lesson - don't bake red velvet cupcakes with children. The red dye gets EVERYWHERE.

Another important lesson, if you plan on taking pictures of children with a pinata, it's best to use bags that don't say Safeway and Target. For aesthetics.


The kids loved the masks, they created an afternoon of superheros. I also bought Window Mega Markers, so all the kids could participate in "decorating" the house. One week later, I still haven't erased everything.


Things to Do - The First Snow of the Season


No matter how old I become, something magical always seems to encompass the first snow of the season. In Northern Virginia, the first "real" snow occurred last Thursday. The girls were in preschool when the flakes began, but T and I had a wonderful time watching the blanket of white appear. He kept grabbing my hand and leading me to watch with him at the backdoor, pointing and jumping. Later in the day, my husband came home early from work (which rarely happens these days) and took the girls outside while T napped. Then that night we had friends for dinner and the kids colored and played veterinarian with Mrs. Dog, while the adults drank a bottle (or two) of wine. All in all, a pretty ordinary day, but somehow the snow made it all seem special. And reminded me how blessed I am for everything in my life.




Things to Read - Last Minute Gifts for Everyone On Your List



*For Babies and Toddlers
In My Tree

Sara Gillingham wrote a whole series of these books, including - In My Tree, In My Nest, In My Den, In My Flower (In My... (Chronicle)), and In My Pond. We don't own them yet (though we will after Christmas), but I'm a huge fan of the work of the books' illustrator, Lorena Siminovich , so I'm sure these will be beautiful in every way (the reviews have been stellar), plus apparently the books' characters turn into "puppets" - how cute is that?

*For 2-4 Year Olds
When You Were Small

Sara O'Leary's When You Were Small has become one of our family's family books. We especially love the beautiful illustrations by Julie Morstad. Even though F's somewhat outgrown it, she still likes to get it out and laugh at all the pictures (esp. the one of the small little boy in his father's pocket).

* For 3-5 Year Olds
How to Build an A

I had never heard of Sara Midda before Kelley's fantastic guest post (click here) on her favorite picture books for big kids. While purchasing Growing up and Other Vices, I decided to purchase on of Midda's children's books as well. P loves How to Build an A. After watching F spend the last year learning to write letters, I realized how much young children struggle with basic calligraphy, especially when each adult likes to put their own "spin" on how they write a letter. So for P this book has been a great tool. It comes with a set of blocks that kids can use to craft all the letters (the book illustrates how). P thinks of letter making as a game and she continually challenges us to beat her ("Can you build a Z mom? It's really tricky."). Seriously, best alphabet book ever.

*For 5-7 Year Olds
Why?: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book about Nature, Science and the World around You

F loves this book so much that she sleeps with it. The book contains short, simple answers to many preschool-type questions (Why does popcorn pop?, How does my cut stop bleeding?, Why do ducks waddle? Why do I have to brush my teeth?). The book divides the material into six categories - bathtime, supermarket, nighttime, outdoor, kitchen, & farm animal. I even learned a lot that I never knew before. All F's friends seem to like the book as well (I've spent many a playdate reading it to them), so it's sure to be a hit with your own children as well.

*For Children 8-12
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

A first grade teacher in my bookclub recommended this book, even though the story is geared at children it stood out as one of the best books I read this year. Kate DiCamillo's perfect story of the adventures of a china rabbit may make you cry at times, but the story is so beautiful you will love her for it.


*For the Traveler
The Shadow of the Sun

Earlier this year, a friend recommended this series of essays on Africa to my husband and me. We both loved them and have subsequently loaned the book to other friends as well. I often find most writing on Africa overly sentimental or unbearably depressing, whereas Kapuscinski - a Polish journalist who has covered Africa since 1957 - strikes a nice balance between the two. The book gave me a feel for the country that nothing else I've written ever has. I highly suggest it.

*For the Person Who Needs To Know Why
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Yes, we all know a recession exists. And we all know that credit default swaps have something to do with it. But for most of us, a large fog surrounds those two statements. Micheal Lewis's The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine explains the mortgage crisis in layman's terms. The book may make you tear your hair out in frustration over what occurred, but it does a great job explaining HOW it occurred.

*For the Mom
Life Among the Savages

Despite the fact that Jackson wrote this novel in the 1950s, it's amazing how much in common today's mothers have with Jackson's life (except we know longer smoke on the way to the delivery room). Jackson's antidotes about raising small children are funny and timeless. Several of her tales had me laughing out loud.

*For the Environmentalist
The Year of the Flood: A Novel

Atwood's no stranger to futuristic fiction (The Handmaid's Tale (Everyman's Library) has become a modern-day classic) and in the last few years she's returned to creating imagined prospective societies Oryx and Crake and, its more recently published companion novel, The Year of the Flood. I found this book an easy read (though snarky) based on an underlying message of environmental woes and corporate greed. Sure to make every environmentalist say "of course, of course."

*For the Foodie
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (Random House Reader's Circle)
In this book, Ruth Reichl, the former editor and chief of Gourmet magazine, chronicles her memoirs through food. Reichl's stories are both funny and well-told. Plus, each chapter ends with a recipe. A great read.

*For the Bookclubber
The Help

I've noticed that most bookclubs tend to read the same books. Though I'm not sure why this occurs, if one "bookclub" must-read exists for 2010, it is surely Kathryn Stockett's The Help. The fictional novel centers on the interactions between white women and the hired black "help" in 1960s Mississippi. It's an incredibly easy read (I couldn't put it down) and it really does make you think about racial relations then and now. And how we treat people in general.

*For the Comic
Holidays on Ice: Stories

I haven't read that much Sedaris and I've been told that this is not his best work. Still, I think it's worth reading if only for the first essay, where Sedaris chronicles his experiences working as a Macy's Christmas Elf. It had me laughing out loud. Pee your pants funny.

*For the Creative Type (or the Person Who Hopes to Become the Creative Type)
365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Every Day and Change Your Life!

This journal looks amazing. Full of daily tasks to keep the artistic juices flowing, such as Day 26 "Make something portable (or that seems portable) that normally isn't" or Day 53 "Make something in which the sense of smell is the essential component."

For more suggestions, DesignSponge has a WONDERFUL book gift guide. Click here to check it out.



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