Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review: Catholic Family Fun

I am beyond delighted to be today's stop on the Catholic Family Fun Book Tour!  Read on to find out about Sarah Reinhard's fantastic new book!


"Mommy, come play me!"  This is the call of my two-year-old, as he makes a beeline for the backyard the minute we walk in the door.

I am still dressed from work.  Dinner is not on the table.  But those big green-brown eyes are pleading not just for play, but play with me.

I'll be the first to admit that I try to do too much.  I want to provide fun and meaningful play opportunities with my son (have you seen my Pinterest boards?!).  I want to get down on the floor and play with him.  I struggle mightily with balancing that desire with the other things that pull at my  heart  - building a deeper relationship with God (and fostering my son's relationship with Him); tending to my marriage - and demand my attention - practicing law (and running my own law office); serving as the family cook, the resident errand-runner, the well-intentioned housekeeper, and the laundress.

So when I heard that one of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Sarah Reinhard, had published Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless (the emphasis is mine), I sat up and took notice.  And when I received Sarah's book in the mail, I immediately keyed in to the part of the Appendix entitled "Activities Organized by Prep Time."  (Sarah also has ultra-handy reference lists of activities organized by duration and cost!)

Moose is an outdoorsy kind of boy (there's a redundant phrase, if ever there was one!), so in order to give Catholic Family Fun a true "test" and to coincide with celebrating Earth Day, we took to the backyard to try out Sarah's Nature Hunt Creation.  We scouted out a rock (to make a Pet Rock) and some newly-fallen rose petals (to make pressed flowers).  We talked about the birds' beautiful songs (we have a lot of visitors in our backyard right now).  The Moose tossed the rose petals in the air over and over to fall on his head.  Keeping in mind Sarah's suggestions for a "Faith Angle" in her activities, I casually reminded my giggling Moose that wasn't it nice of God to make all of these things for us to enjoy.

He stopped mid flower petal throw, looked at me, and said, sure-as-can-be, "Jesus loves me."

"Yes, Sweetheart, He does!"

And the petal tossing recommenced, but now accompanied by an only slightly off-key rendition of "Jesus Loves Me".

Because Moose's 29 month-old attention span is, well, the attention span of a 29 month-old boy, we didn't get to the "creation" part of the Nature Hunt Creation, but our rock, rose petals, and Sarah's ideas are ready and waiting for the next time he wants to sit still at the table and "make art" - along with a host of wonderful-while-not-overwhelming ways to add fun to our time together.

But there's something deeper and more wonderful going on in Sarah's activities that I realized while I was reading through the book and during our nature hunt:  while I am responding to the call of "Mommy, come play me!", I can also strengthen our whole family's bond and sow the seeds for the Moose's own faith journey.  It is not simply a matter of multi-tasking, and, in fact, it shouldn't be.  It doesn't matter if his Mass bag is the best on the block (it isn't - at least not for him in this hurricane season of his little life).  What I should be doing is inviting God to our moments of play, our meals together, and our dealings with others - even when we're not at church. Sarah's book reminds me that all the things I am called to do are not compartmentalized, but part of God's whole plan for me, my son, my family.

Thank you, Sarah, for giving me a new (and less stressful) way to look at the way I share my faith with my family, and for putting together such a wonderful resource - both the Catholic Family Fun book and in the additional resources on the book website!  I am looking forward to realizing all the ways that Sarah's activities can grow with the Moose, and give deeper roots to our whole family's faith.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tot School: E is for Elephant

 ~Moose is currently 28.5 months old~
 Letter of the Week: Ee
Object/Theme of the Week: Elephant/Zoo
Book of the Week: Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Moose has been a fan of the zoo since his first trip to Zoo Atlanta last August.  He is also an enormous fan of lift-the-flap books.  So although this book is a bit light on text, it is a favorite, and it was easy to convince Moose to read it daily.  He is familiar with most of the animals (elephant, giraffe, monkey, frog, puppy), but reading this book during the week was a good opportunity to talk about the lesser-known ones (camel, snake).  I also brought out Eric Carle's 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo (he actually counted some of the animals at one sitting) and One Night in the Zoo by Judith Kerr(which is such a beautiful book, but which he hasn't been captivated by the way I have). 

This week I enlisted Moose's help to gather the items for our sensory bin.  We went on a scavenger hunt to collect some natural items to go with our zoo animals.

Finding natural items was the easy part.  Keeping them in the pail was the hard part!

The bin used some of the animals from the Fisher-Price Little People Noah's Ark , along with some colored rice I made, and some textured balls from Oriental Trading.

Once again the bin was a hit!

Moose enjoyed exploring how the rice felt in his hands.

And used the measuring spoon I put in the bin to feed the animals (wish I'd gotten a picture of that!) as well as practice scooping and pouring.

Then Moose decided that he needed to see how the rice felt on his feet and climbed into the bin.

He insisted on taking a photograph of his feet propped up on the side of the bin.

I should not have been surprised that the exploration ended in dumping the bin.  It gave us the opportunity to practice sweeping.

I guess he was in the cleaning spirit, because he insisted on helping clean the sink in our powder room.  Thank goodness I made the switch to gentle, non-toxic cleaners when he was born!

I also put out Moose's Melissa & Doug Safari Puzzle this week.  He tells me he is putting each animal "in bed" when he puts them in their correct slot.

We ended the week with a Friday afternoon trip to Zoo Atlanta.  Moose was excited to watch one of the zookeepers feeding the flamingos.

He identified the elephant and giraffes without any prompting this time!

He also got to see his favorite animal - the panda - eating dinner!

(I just wish I'd found this great zoo scavenger hunt before our zoo trip!)

It was a great week!  I loved watching him "care" for his animals: "feeding" them in the bin, and putting them in "bed" in the puzzle.  I think the emphasis on the zoo this week made our culminating zoo trip even more memorable than usual (he brought it up at dinner Monday, telling Daddy Moose what animals he saw at the zoo - again).

Linking up with:

Tot School Montessori Monday

Disclosure: this post contains some affiliate links.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Detour: Either Way, Moms Are Changing the World

I started today intending to write a 7 Quick Takes post reflecting on Lent and Easter.  But then this post over at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum caught my attention and an email exchange with my friend, Nikki got me thinking . . .

At the heart of Sheila's post (and, I am sure, many others out today in defense of Ann Romney) is the pull many (most? all?) moms feel between the desire/necessity (depending on the family's circumstances) to participate in the workforce outside the home and the desire/necessity (again, depending on the family) to stay at home to raise their child(ren).

In the pulsating blogosphere, there is this constant tension between moms who staunchly believe that staying home with the children is best for the children, even their calling or vocation, and moms who think they can best set an example for their children by being a contributing force in the corporate sphere, politics, or the arts. 

Let me tell you, as a mom who spends three days a week in an office and two days a week at home with my son, I feel that tension.  Some days I wish I was at my son's side full-time as he discovers the world; other days I yearn to be back in the courtroom. 

When the "second wave" of the Western feminist movement took off in the 1960's, it was about a woman's right to choose whether she stayed at home and raised a family or climbed the corporate ladder.  Up until then (and, some may argue, even now, depending on the field or the geographical location) some career paths weren't even open to women.  

Feminists bucked the idea that women had to stay home, clean house, change diapers, and train up the future generation.

Like many movements, however, I think it may have swung too far the other way.  Now, if we read between the lines of the Hilary Rosen vs. Ann Romney buzz, there's a belief that we owe it to our bra-burning feminist predecessors to kiss our children goodbye every day and don our power suits, even if that's not what our heart tells us is right.  Sheila's post sardonically asks, "if we stay home with our kids, [do] we somehow “betray the sisterhood” or something?"

I don't think that's what feminism is meant to be about.  Or, at least, it's not what it ought to be about. 

Likewise, though, I don't think that's what the mom-supportive feminine movement ought to be about either.

It should be about choice.

Women started out wanting women to have a choice.  Men were the "enemy".  Now?  Women are telling other women what to do (in both directions)!  We've turned on ourselves!

My friend Nikki said it best, "Raising kids is hard no matter how you do it. It is not harder or easier to stay home or work [outside the home] it is just a different kind of hard."

We women ought to support one another in our choices: whether we choose to change the world by legislating for change or curing cancer; or whether we believe in changing the world, as Steven Curtis Chapman put it, "one little heartbeat at a time".  Either way, we women are doing the hard work that will shape the future.

Enough with the mommy drive-bys!  If we have the time and means to be perusing the blogosphere pondering this issue, we need to be thankful to live in an era and place, and under circumstances where BOTH staying at home and working outside the home are available options (for many Western women, their economic circumstances dictate the role the must play, and, heaven knows, our sisters on the other side of the globe to not have that luxury!).  We need to have each other's backs - if we don't who will? 

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.  I have dishes to wash.  And a hearing to prepare for.

Image: Ambro /

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tot School 2.0

Happy Easter from the Moose family!

This week marks a reboot of our Tot School efforts.  I mentioned in passing awhile back that the Moose had been having some fairly major discipline difficulties.  I suspended my Tot School efforts temporarily while we worked through the hitting/screaming/throwing/public tantrums, and also took the opportunity to reevaluate what was working (and not) for Moose's Tot School experience.   

Because Moose attends an educational daycare three of the five weekdays, it takes the pressure off me as far as what I feel I have to provide for him educationally at this point.  It gives me the luxury of doing with him only the things he really likes and supplementing what he is getting at school both on the weekdays we are home together as well as on the weekends.

So the new plan is this:
  • Weekly theme based on the letter/value word of the week at school
  • One book that goes with the weekly theme that we read daily (inspired by my reading of Before Five in a Row)
  • Other books, as Moose's interest dictates, to tie in with our main book
  • Sensory/motor skill/Montessori-inspired activities that may or may not directly tie in with the theme
  • Coloring/art/printables as Moose's interest dictates
  • Practical life/chore activities as appropriate, since Moose is at a stage where he is constantly begging to help
 ~Moose is currently 28 months old~
 Letter of the Week: Rr
Object/Theme of the Week: Rooster/Farm & Easter
Book of the Week: Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Moose received Big Red Barn as a shower gift but has never taken a huge interest in it (despite his love of animals and animal sounds).  This time around, though, he got very involved with the story!  He enjoyed trying to find the butterfly that is on (nearly) every page.  He began the week calling it a bee; by Wednesday he called it a butterfly, and the concept of a different insect cemented even better when we got to watch a beautiful butterfly for nearly 10 minutes near our mailbox on Wednesday.  He also really got excited watching the lighting in the pictures change as the animals' day progresses from full sunlight, to dusk, to dark.  He even told me to whisper the last few pages of the book since it was dark and the animals were sleeping.

We also sang along with one of his favorite YouTube videos, "Animal Sounds" from Disney Junior's Choo Choo Soul series.

The farm theme from school lent itself nicely to the Easter activities involving eggs. 

We started off with our first sensory bin:
(Easter grass, daffodils, eggs from Michaels; two shakey eggs from Lakeshore Learning mixed in as a surprise; wind-up bunny and cheeping chick from Dollar Tree)

The bin was a HUGE hit, even if it did involve throwing Easter grass all over the kitchen! 

I put together an Easter egg sound set inspired by this post, using a quarter, rice, and beans as the three different sound-makers.
I was not at all surprised that Moose was more interested in opening the eggs to discover the source of the sound than matching the sounds.
Thanks to some expanded egg ideas from the Teach Preschool blog (one of my new favorites!), we also used our plastic eggs for water play (scooping and pouring).

Moose never misses an opportunity to get his hands wet!

I prepared a sorting activity using some cute erasers I picked up in the dollar bins at Target, but we never got around to that activity.

We did, however, spend plenty of time playing with the Play-Dough in Moose's Easter basket!

Plus, we spent plenty of time outside!

Given Moose's delight in our activities this week, I am very hopeful that this little revamp of Tot School will be a successful one!

Linking up with:

Tot School Montessori Monday
(My apologies for the broken Montessori Monday button - it is showing up in preview, but not once I hit publish! The link, however, should work.)

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Most Egg-cellent Adventure!

My friend, Nikki, and I decided to try natural egg dyes with our kids this year (her son is three weeks younger than Moose and her daughter is almost six).

But before I begin, Nikki and I have been talking a lot lately about honesty in blogging.  She doesn't blog (although she ought to - she's one of the funniest people I know!) and I only dabble, but we're both avid blog readers.  More than a few times, we attempt (or ponder) an activity we've seen on a favorite blog and think to ourselves (or each other) it would SO not be that easy/wholesome/idyllic in my house.  (We're not the only ones: see #8 on this awesome mommy survival guide.)

So I'm starting with the gratuitously perfect photo of our finished eggs (go ahead, scroll back up so you can see it again), complete with fresh-baked millet muffins in the background.

And now for the nitty gritty.

We started planning our dyes last week with this article on natural egg dyes.  All was going well until I went to pick up the chlorophyll caplets at Whole Foods on Saturday and I turned green when I saw that the least expensive bottle would set us back $18!

Back to the drawing board we went and found this article with some other ideas for green.  We settled on green tea for the green dye base to round out our lineup:

Pink: juice and two beets from a jar of beets
Yellow: two eyeballed tablespoons of tumeric (boiled in 1c water)
Green: six green teabags (boiled in 1c water)
Blue: 1c frozen blueberries plus 1c water
Brown: 1c strong coffee

As much as we prefer to use organic or local eggs in our cooking at home, we were afraid the brown (and other shades) wouldn't pick up the dye well enough (and retain the kids' attention), so we used white eggs.

I'd love to give you some photos of our natural dye concoctions simmering on the stove, but we tended to those tag team while chasing the two-year-old boys and trying to have a conversation, so I'm afraid you're out of luck.

Because Nikki has more mommy experience than me, she wisely set us up outside on a hose-down-able plastic table in the grass and instructed me to bring "grubby" clothes for the Moose and myself.

Making a mess is always a hit with kids!  

You may be thinking that the dear little hands above are smaller than the Moose's.  You would be right.  This is Nikki's son, enjoying the pink dye.  The Moose took one egg, tested to see if he could bite it (nope), slam dunked it into a dye cup, declared himself all done, and took off for the swingset (he did return, briefly, to test how well a hard-boiled egg worked as a hammer). 

Nikki's daughter graciously modeled the blue/purple dye for me.

All in all, I think our eggs turned out beautifully:

Not as intense as artificial colors, but then again, the kiddos weren't exactly patient enough to leave them in a particular dye cup long enough to let the color get really deep.

Oh and the bonus learning game?  The kids tried smelling the dye cups and guessing where the scent came from!  Moose correctly guessed the coffee brown dye on the first sniff (and even through the vinegar!).

What does that say about my coffee consumption?  (And maybe that means coffee was a good thing to give up for Lent . . .)

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's CSA Time!

Photo from Moss Hill Farm

This year, we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and are splitting a share with another family.  It's our first week of getting a box from the Moss Hill Farm CSA and I'm beyond excited! This was the update from Farmer Floyd this morning:  "I think we will have Joi Choi, carrots, beets, radishes, leeks, onions, 2 kinds of lettuce and winterboro kale."

So I've been spending my lunchtime trying to figure out what to DO with it all!  Enter Follow Me on Pinterest . . .

At this point, this is what the adult menu for next week looks like (Moose still mostly has his own menu, and samples ours to test out his tastebuds):
  • Sunday: use leeks in a quiche (this makes me nostalgic for England, where leeks are a quiche - or tart, as they call it there - staple);
  • Monday: Asian stir fry using the Choi and some onion; 
  • Tuesday: leftover Shrimp and Orzo bake (which I'm making for dinner this Friday)
  • Wednesday: we have a standing dinner date with close family friends
  • Thursday: leftover quiche
  • Friday: leftover stir fry
I also plan to: Only the radishes have me stumped.  I wish my dad lived closer - he loves raw radishes on his salads!  The only semi-promising thing I've found is making pickled radishes, but I'm skeptical.  If you're interested in seeing what I found so far, check out my CSA board on Pinterest.

I really no idea how much of everything we'll have (pick-up is not until Thursday).  And we will split with another family.  These first few weeks will be more of a guessing game, I imagine, and I'm open to pretty nearly any suggestion on how to best take advantage of these beautiful vegetables we'll have.  

What are your favorite seasonal produce recipes?