Things to Do - SNOWDAY!


We spent last Thursday's snow day at home with some close friends. The day went something like this - parade indoors, stage a puppet show, make valentines, eat something, dress for snow, run around outside like crazy, guzzle down hot chocolate, repeat . . . And at 5:00 the adults opened the wine.

As a mom, I'm pretty negligent at taking my kids out in the snow, the whole experience just involves SO MUCH preparation all for cold/wetness. Though as a kid one of my favorite things in the world was sledding with my dad, so I'm not sure where my own parental ambivalence comes from. Thus I'm glad my friends came over, sleds in hand, and forced me out of my comfort zone for awhile, now if we could only find Arlington's best sledding hills for young kids - any suggestions? (And in case you're wondering, P INSISTED on wearing a skirt over snow pants, so it goes.)

*My husband and I watched Coal Miner's Daughter the other night (for free, On Demand) and now we can't get enough of Loretta Lynn. Who knew she sang a whole song about the birth control pill? How cool is that? (Plus the lyrics are hysterical). And the White Stripes covered another Lynn song.

*It feels like I've been waiting forever for an article like this, so bravo Peggy Orenstein, especially for the sentence "[a]s my little girl made her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom, I fretted over what playing Little Mermaid, a character who actually gives up her voice to get a man, was teaching her." I hate the Little Mermaid for that exact reason. And I have a ton of anger/resentment about the whole princess movement but it makes the girls SO HAPPY. I highly suggest the article and I can't wait to read the book. How about everyone else? How do you feel about the princess/feminist debate? Is Cinderella a decent role model?

*I love these clothes (link via Modish).

*Beautiful pics of an urban farm.



Things to Do - Buy Your Kids a Camera

The floor seems much closer when you're three feet tall.


Two Xmases ago (2009) Santa brought the girls a camera. At first, F took pics of everything (we filled up the memory card regularly), since then camera enthusiasm has wavered. At times it comes everywhere with us, other times it sits on a shelf for weeks. But in the last few weeks, F's taken decided to start "posing" her friends for pictures, with pretty cute results (see pics below).

Last week, I downloaded the girls' images for the first time in months and, after I erased about 50 black ones, I have to say that there was something sort of beautiful about seeing the kids' perspective on their world. I especially liked all the pics of toys and dolls - everyday things that I would never think to photograph. You never know which of your passions will stick with your children and which will be dismissed, but I'm glad to see that, at least for now, my love of photography has had an impact.



*I loved my wedding (for all of its barefoot and pregnant wonderfulness) but the pics of this wedding are so so lovely that I wish I could get married again and again (to the same man, of course). Dunton Hot Springs looks like paradise. You've got to love Colorado, is there anything wrong with that state (excluding the water crisis)?

*Is there anything cooler than Pinterest? Anything? It's like a huge index of everything you like, just drag and drop. If anyone is interested, I can invite friends to join, so let me know.

*Would you have a problem with another mom drinking wine while watching your kid/kids? Until I read this discussion thread it had never occurred to me that one wine glass could spark so much controversy. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

*This blog is just beautiful. Check it out.

Dinosaurs, ponies, and hamsters - that about sums it up.

Pictures from F's photo session. She said things like "now you sit here, not like that. like this. look at the camera. now try it looking away . . . "


Things to Read - Street Photography & The Story of Vivian Maier

(All images from http://www.vivianmaier.blogspot.com/ )

A few weeks ago a friend sent me this link about Vivian Maier (thank you Jill!) and I found her story so compelling/fascinating/irresistible that I decided to do a blog post about her. A few years ago a real-estate agent named John Maloof purchased the negatives of an unknown photographer while attending a furniture and antique auction, hoping that the negatives would help him with compiling a book about Chicago history. Maloof later learned that the film had previously belonged to the undiscovered and now deceased photographer, Vivan Maier, whom art critics are now labeling the best "street photographer" ever. Really, her work speaks for itself, it's amazing. According to the NY Times, "Ms. Maier’s streetscapes manage simultaneously to capture a redolent sense of place and the paradoxical moments that give the city its jazz, while elevating and dignifying the people in her frames — vulnerable, noble, defeated, proud, fragile, tender and often quite funny." Click here to learn more and to view Maloof's blog of Maier's work.



Places to Go - Longbranch Nature Center (Arlington, VA)


Ugh, winter. On the upside, Virginia rarely receives heavy snowfall. On the downside, this means looking at lots of ugly brown landscape during the colder months. So on days when the temperature rises above 40 degrees, we often head to Longbranch nature center. The trail next to the nature center follows a creek, with lots of rocks to climb on. Even in the dead of winter, the creek maintains a peaceful and relaxing type of beauty. Some days my kids just spend the afternoon playing by the creek, but when we're feeling up to it we'll walk about half a mile down the trail to a little playground and a big field, both of which are perfect for younger and older kids (T loves the red airplane pictured above) with lots of open sun to keep us warm on colder days. After the playground, we'll head back to the nature center and warm up in the playroom for awhile, which includes plastic dinosaurs, real tadpoles, and a playhouse.

When we visited Longbranch a few weeks ago, I brought along my favorite cards from Lynn Gordon's 52 Activities in Nature (52 Series). One of the cards asked the question "if you could be anything in nature what would you be and why?" F announced she'd choose to spend her days as a leaf on the ground "so I could make a crunching sound when people walk on me." P wanted to be "a tree so I could move my branches up and down." When F told her (in the bossy voice F always uses when acting out her big-sister role) that trees can't move their own branches P replied "then I'd be a magic tree." Nice job, P. (For other books suggestions involving kids and nature, check out this post).

In addition to a great nature center and trail, Longbranch also provides wonderful children's classes (topics range from dinosaurs to rainforests to birds and frogs). Click here to download The Snag for Wee Ones, where upcoming classes are listed.

What about everyone else? Any good outdoor recommendations for winter? I'd love to hear them!



Things to Make - Salty Watercolors & Water Painting


Sorry for all the watercolor posts lately - once I buy something I have to use it (click here for past watercolor posts). I learned about salty watercolors from this post in the Artful Parent's archives (wow, there's a wealth of information over there) and i have to say this was one of my favorite kid projects EVER. First of all, the mess factor isn't too bad. Second of all, set up is relatively easy. And, finally, the project occupied the girls for long periods of time with very little parental involvement (YAY!!). If I had a ratings system, I'd give it the highest rating. Here's the scoop:

Materials - Liquid watercolors (or food coloring), Elmers glue (or an equivalent), table salt, a pan or platter (to pour the salt over), and thick paper or cardboard (ordinary paper will buckle from the salt).

1. First the girls drew pictures with glue on watercolor paper.

2. Then we poured salt over the still-wet glue. We used the pan to shake off the salt that didn't stick.

3. Finally the girls touched watercolor-dipped paintbrushes onto the still-wet glue/salt designs. The color slowly traveled through their designs, which was really fun to watch.


If you've ever wondered what the toddler does during craft-time usually he sleeps. But sometimes he doesn't. I probably should let him paint with real paint but it's just so messy, so for now I've tricked him into painting with water. And that works for awhile (until he realizes that his pictures don't look like the girls' pictures).



Places to Go - A Washington Wizards Game


A few weeks ago, a friend lent us her season tickets to the Washington Wizards (talk about amazing seats) at the Verizon Center. We brought the whole family (finally a Friday night out) and everyone (yes, all FIVE OF US) had a great time. First of all, the Wizards won (they beat the Nets) which I understand is somewhat unusual (I know shockingly little about professional sports). Great seats at a winning game were enough to put my husband in a wonderful mood and make him forget about work for awhile. F actually enjoyed learning basketball basics (such as "the goal of the game is to put the ball in the basket", wow we've been negligent on teaching sports to our children). P proved amazing acute at finding the cotton candyman ANYWHERE in the stands ("look, over there, behind that pole across the stadium, look up - I see him! I see him"). And after we finally bought her cotton candy she switched her attention to the ice cream man. T (who really was the wild card in all of this) loves any experience that includes music and lots of clapping, so a stadium full of applause made him quite content. As for me, an hour without whining = pure bliss (yes, my standards for bliss are pretty low right now).
If you're interested, click here for the schedule and to buy tickets.


*A friend sent me the link to this blog. The water and a hangover post had me cracking up.
*I stumbled onto this post of "extraordinary meetings" while looking for photos of Mia Farrow's haircut and it made my day. Who knew that Charles Bukowski hung with Madonna and Sean Penn? I wonder what they talked about. Or Alfred Hitchock and Andy Warhol?
*I really like this Wilco poster by Micah Smith. Wouldn't it look great in a kid's room?
*These handmade suzani pillows are beautiful - I would buy some if I didn't suspect that my kids would ruin them.
*Wow, check out these photos of Xavier Veihan's work at Versailles. Gorgeous. I love the purple balls.


Things to Do - Boys and Cars


As a parent I try (though I often fail) not to make a big deal about the differences between boys and girls. It's sort of a pet peeve of mine when people say "oh, she's such a girlie girl" or "he's just such a BOY!!" (as if that word alone conveys SO MUCH meaning). I think it goes back to awful sex-discrimination work experiences (as we know women can't succeed as both mothers and lawyers because we have "babies on the brain", a phrase which will haunt me for life). It just seems odd that we spend so much of childhood emphasizing the differences between girls and boys and then we expect our children to enter a workforce where these difference are assumed nonexistent (and when differences are acknowledged it is often in a way that minimizes women's worth in the world).

All this being said. Boys do love cars. They just love them.



*If you're looking for something to do this weekend KidFriendlyDC has lots of great suggestions (as always).
*I failed the 1980s theme song quiz (I'm still disappointed in myself) - click here and try it for yourself. Talk about nostalgia.
*I'm loving these beautiful and haunting photos of Detroit's ruins (link via Fine Ting Og Sjokolade).
*For any Murakami fans out there, turns out Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead is composing the score for Norwegian Wood (I'm so excited). Get the info here.
*Wow this blog is cool. I just discovered it and I could spend hours in the archives. Hours.



Things to Read - Knuffle Bunny


For Xmas my mother-in-law gave T a brand-new best friend, Knuffle Bunny, to whom the whole family has grown quite attached. For those of you new to Knuffle Bunny he happens to star in his own series of books all of which my three children love. Yes, that's right, all three of my children (ages 1.5, 4, and 5) love the same set of books - what are the chances? Even better, my husband and I like them too. Here's the scoop:

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

The series begins with Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale in which Trixie (the star of the series) tries to explain to her father that they forgot her Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat (she's too young to talk). I'm probably overestimating the skill-level of my 1.5 son, but he really seems to love this book. He likes to shove it at me anytime he sees me sitting down. I want to believe that he actually understands Trixie's frustration (is this really possible at the age of 1.5?) but maybe he just likes the pictures or the silly sounds Trixie makes. The older kids like it because they know (from helping with T) the level of frustration that comes with trying to understand a toddler's wants and needs.

Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity

In the second book of the series - Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity - Trixie now attends preschool where she brings her Knuffle Bunny for show and tell only to discover that another girl has an almost-identical Knuffle Bunny. T doesn't like this one, but the girls love it. We read it alot.

Knuffle Bunny Too

In the third and final installment of the series - Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion - a grade-school-aged Trixie finally gives up her Knuffle Bunny (donating Knuffle to a baby who needs the stuffed animal more). As an adult this book actually tugs the heart strings a little. My children seem much more accepting of the fact that Knuffle's loss constitutes a necessary step in growing up then I am.

All three books have creative (and amusing) illustrations (I especially love that the day after Trixie wakes her father up in the middle of the night he has a five o'clock shadow). Watching Trixie's progression from toddler to "big girl" really makes it fun to read these books with your children.

(In case you're wondering, the window drawings are left over from this event. yes, I really am that lazy.)


Places to Go - Zoo Classes & Winter at the National Zoo



I love winter at the National Zoo - no crowds and great volunteers (stationed everywhere to tell you about the animals) make for a great visit. When the girls were 2 and 3 I signed them up for zoo class on weekday mornings. Every week the quality of the programming impressed me. Since young children have short attention spans, the first half of the class involved rotating among several stations and activities all geared around the day's animal. For the second part of the class, the teacher read a story and then organized a craft project. And at the class's end, all of the children (and their parents) would walk to visit the day's animal. My kids loved it. I've always wanted to sign the girls up for more classes, but as the number of days of preschool increased* time sort of got away.

Finally this winter we signed up for another round of zoo classes, this time based (cleverly) on the Disney movies (tigers for Aladdin, sealife for the Little Mermaid, pandas for Mulan). And, yet again, I'm impressed by the quality of education offered. For more information - click here. They have classes for all ages - for older kids, the overnight camp looks amazing.

Last Saturday, while my husband worked and the girls attended class, T and I spent the morning exploring the zoo. We had a great time in the bird and small mammal houses - the lack of crowds made it easy to maneuver the stroller and chase a toddler without disturbing other people. T especially loved the indoor flight room. And both of us could have spent hours watching the naked mole rats and meerkats. So much fun.

*The kids' preschool operates on a schedule so that the children attend more days as they age, so 2 year olds only go 2 days a week, whereas 4 year olds go 3-4 days a week.




Things to Make - Marbleized Paper w/Shaving Cream


Last week I posted about making marbleized paper with oil and watercolors. The kids loved it so much that I figured I'd attempt another marbleized project, this time with shaving cream. Shaving cream induced marbleization is all over the web (for both kids and adults), I think I first learned of the technique a few years ago while reading a magazine in the doctor's waiting room. I googled for a refresher and found this tutorial on WikiHow.

On the upside, both girls really seemed to like this project (almost, but not quite, as much as marbleizing with oil). P, in particular, loved the feel of working with shaving cream (which is pretty normal, according to A Passion for Play occupational therapists frequently use shaving cream for working - and playing - with kids. And A Passion for Play suggests different activities to try with shaving cream). Plus, the resulting papers were quite lovely (if I do say so myself). On the downside, the smell of shaving cream (especially in a small kitchen) was a little overwhelming (to put it mildly). And all the paper ended up smelling like shaving cream, making it an odd choice for gift giving.

Here's the scoop: You need - a pan, shaving cream, liquid watercolors or food coloring, a squeegee (or anything flat, like a CD case or even a hard piece of cardboard), and popsicle sticks or forks.

1. Squirt the shaving cream into the pan and use the squeegee (or squeegee equivalent) to make it level and even.

2. Squirt the liquid watercolors (or food coloring) into the pan (on top of the shaving cream). I put the liquid watercolors in several small little bottles (click here to see the ones we used) to make it easier for the girls to handle.

3. The girls used popsicle sticks (but forks would also work) to push the paint around in the shaving cream. This was actually really pretty (well, until they used too much paint and everything turned grey).

4. Place a piece of paper on top of the now colored shaving cream.

5. Scrape the shaving cream off of the paper with the squeegee, a marbleized pattern will remain on the paper.



Things to Do - Buckethead & Warm Places for Cold Days


Parenting can be so odd at times. Throughout December the girls battled constantly, every five minutes someone cried. So I tried to occupy the afternoons with lots of craft projects and books to keep the peace. Then January arrived and now they're best friends again. Totally on the same page, locked in their room for hours planning "balls" for various dolls, completely in sync. Even T's included in many of their plans; F's been "reading" books to him and helping him work with shape sorters. I'm sure by February the chaos will resume. But I must say, I'm loving the peace.


*The Arlington Planetarium is currently showing "In My Backyard", which is geared at children 4-6, click here for info and times. As many of you have heard, the future of the planetarium isn't looking very bright, they need to raise $322,240 in private donations by the end of March or the county will close them down. If you've never been I highly suggest checking it out, it's really a great facility. Click here to donate (every little bit helps).
*KidFriendly DC has a fantastic list of kid-friendly live entertainment venues and their current shows. Circus Acts in 45 Minutes looks wonderful.
*Go Out and Play! posted a summary of all the area's indoor pools. Definitely worth a bookmark.
*The Nature Capital has a listing (including an area map) of all the area's nature centers. I especially recommend Long Branch and Hidden Oak for long cold days inside.
*Finally, I'll use this opportunity to plug my own list of great indoor venues.



Things to Do - Make a Grateful List (December Edition)


Every month I make a grateful list so that during the "ugh" times I can remember the good times (especially in winter). For past lists click here. How about everyone else? Anything you're grateful for this month?

1. Anthology magazine - print is not dead
2. The solstice show at the Arlington Planetarium
3. Sally Mann at VMFA
4. The Velveteen Rabbit at Barksdale Theatre in Richmond
5. The lights display at Brookside Gardens for NYE
6. All the kids' love of the Knuffle Bunny books (Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, and Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion)

7. Date night at Farmers & Fishers (so yummy)
8. Frozen blueberries (my kids live on these lately)
9. Apples from the farmer's market

10. The slides at ICE!
11. Santa Clause's use of Amazon Prime (trust me, he would have been lost and crabby without it)
12. T's love of his belly button
13. Conversations with T - "oh. got. dot. baba? au do bait." (laughs) "au pout au but. da pushy ba ba." "GA!!!!" "Ah, um, uh." "DA!!!" "alf hay de ak ya" (all while pointing to things in a book)
14. F sounding out words (we're finally reading, well sort of).
15. P and her dolls "they all have names but I forgot all their names so I just say 'Hi doll'"
16. An all day weekend workshop at Longbranch Nature Center for the girls
17. T driving his remote control truck off any surface he can find
18. Our first solstice party
19. Xmas Eve service at the Unitarian Church in Richmond
20. A White Christmas
21. P always tucking in various stuffed animals throughout the house
22. Amazon's subscribe and save program (paper towels delivered in bulk, so wonderful, I no longer need to run out to the store for everyday items, plus Amazon's prices can't be beat)
23. P surprising us by cleaning the backroom
24. Our homemade pueblo indian village
25. F making her friend, E, a picture of rainbows with trains because "I know boys don't really like just rainbows"

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE!! Today's my 35th birthday so if you get a chance, have a drink (or two or three or a bottle) for me!

*I love the slogans on these posters especially "Tie your shoes, pack a good lunch, and remember that we're all in this together" and "People, places and things are all great. Study them."
* These do-it-yourself cardboard logs look so adorable that I wish I had a non-functioning fireplace to put some in.
*Ever since I finished Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood: A Novel, I've been somewhat paranoid about how unprepared our family is for living without modern conveniences and how little we actually know about living off the land (i.e. what plants grow in what season? how do you slaughter a chicken? natural herbal remedies? etc.). So I really enjoyed when a friend recommended this BrainChild article, according to which, "[t]he real skill for survival doesn’t have to do with whether you can start a fire. It has to do with whether you can get along with the people around you. In some ways, this has become the skill we’re least good at — building societies and building contact with each other.”


Things to Read - Photography for Beginners

(In the second photo from the top, all books shown are part of Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. In the last photo, on the left is Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition) and on the right is Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs.)

In the last few months, I've had a few emails and questions about photography and cameras. So I thought I'd write a post, which is always a little nerve racking as I'm self-taught. I started focusing on photography as a hobby about 3 years ago when my husband bought me my first SLR camera for Christmas (Canon EOS Rebel T2i 18 MP CMOS APS-C Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens). This means I've never shot film with anything but a point-and-shoot and I've never been in a darkroom (excluding an awful biochemistry lab where I left the door open) so I'm relatively new at this (thus take my advice with a grain of salt).

If you're totally new to photography, the first thing you need to do is learn (by heart, just like a language) all about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This part isn't really fun, it's sort of like school, but if you want to take your camera off automatic (and if you don't, then you'll be pretty limited in what you do), you have to learn it. Plus you should know what every button on your camera does (yes, every button). I recommend buying a supplemental owner's manual, for the Rebel I recommend this book - The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion. I also took an adult education intro to photography class, which, honestly didn't help much. If you are interested in a starter class and you live in the DC area, then I HIGHLY recommend Eliot Cohen's classes (through Glen Echo or the Smithsonian), Eliot is one of the best teachers I've ever had (including law school).

After you learn the fundamentals, I recommend Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. For me, these books provided several lightbulb type moments (as in "so that's how they do it!"). So helpful, in so many ways. Plus, they cover several different types of subject matter (weddings, portraits, studio, nature, sports, etc.)

I never attended an art class before I took up photography, so I knew nothing about composition. For example, I think I felt the ground move when I learned about the rule of thirds, I was so impressed. I found the book Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated Edition) extremely helpful for developing a better trained eye. I've also heard good things about The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, but I find the analysis somewhat scientific and a little hard to read.

For general points and tips, I really liked Chris Orwig's Visual Poetry: A Creative Guide for Making Engaging Digital Photographs, which is full of useful advice and pointers such as "[r]ather than just looking for the picture perfect, I've become interested in the moments in between the action. I look for the ones before or after the performance" and "[w]hile smiles can be wonderful, many times in portrait photography smiles are not the goal." For Xmas I also received Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart, which has several stories about finding inspiration along with general composition and lighting pointers.

Regarding inspiration, I think the best thing you can do is to open a flickr account and find other photographers who inspire you. Visit their blogs, visit their websites. Study them. Try copying their style for awhile. Look for photography exhibits in your area and visit them. Soak up as much as you can. For example, I have a great list of photography blogs on my blogroll, I look to these frequently and though they intimidate me, I still keep trying. Remember that you're a work in progress. One day you may take a great picture and it may be months before you take another great one. So be it. Tackle a 365 project. Make goals. Try harder. Even when you don't have your camera on you, think of the shot you would have taken. Frame it in your mind. I do this about 100 times a day. At least. Also, never miss an opportunity to take a great shot - so you're at a family reunion in bright sunlight at noon (the worst possible time for photos) and there's no shade in site and nobody is smiling - how can you make this work? Try.

I shoot all my photos with a Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-inch LCD (Body Only) (I upgraded from the Rebel about a year ago), which is truly a wonderful camera, and a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Standard & Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras (beautiful for portraits). The lens matters as much as the camera. Really. And I would love to upgrade to an L series someday. For all my flash photos I use a Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing an external flash unit (the pop up flash on your camera results in crappy pictures). I also use Lightroom and Photoshop for ALL my photos. I've spent a TREMENDOUS amount of time learning how these programs work. And I still have a long way to go.

Was this helpful? Please let me know. Obviously I'm still learning and growing, some days are better than others, so, again, take my advice with a grain of salt, this is just what has worked for me (so far).


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