Thursday, January 31, 2013

Busy Bag: Building Shapes

As a math teacher, this bag just warms my heart.  Theo likes watching the Sesame Street shapes video (and I love hearing James Blunt sing "Triangle") and had developed a real interests for shapes.  Every time we went for a walk last summer he'd point out the octagons and circles.  So that was the perfect time to introduce this bag.

 Materials:  Popsicle sticks, peel-and-stick Velcro pieces

Assembly:  Simply attach Velcro to the ends of sticks.  For shapes with an odd number of sides (triangles, pentagons) you need to put one Velcro piece on the first side of the stick, turn it over, and put the second piece of Velcro on the back of some sticks.  Many of the craftier-than-I mothers online color code the sticks or at least use circle stickers on the end of each stick.  I was very proud of myself for doing some nice color coding, and Theodore almost immediately took off all the stickers.  It was a little frustrating. 

Activity:  connecting the pieces to make lots of shapes.  He could make equilateral triangles,  squares and rhombi, and various regular and irregular polygons. 

2 2/3 years old

Busy Bag: Pompom Push

So, right before Eli was born, I finally got serious about making Theodore some "busy bags".  Through blogs and pinterest I found hundreds of idea, and narrowed it down to the easy, cheap ones I could make for Theo.  This was one of the first I made, and a really simple one that many online moms have suggested.  Even though he was two when I made it, it kept him interested for quite a while.  I'm sure younger kids (once they stop putting everything in their mouths) would like this as well.

Materials:  pompoms (I used a bag with all sorts of different sizes), container with lid

Assembly:  simply poke a hole (or several different sized ones!) in the lid of the container. 

Activity:  toddlers can work to poke all the holes through the lid.  When done, empty, and repeat!

He loved pushing pompoms at 2.5 years old.
 He still asks to do his "pompoms" every now and then, but now he will use them for other purposes as well. 
Still a favorite "busy bag", at almost 3 years old the poms have been repurposed in bulldozer play. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Claymont Steak Shop: Newark, DE Restaurant Week

While we would have loved to try several more new places on Main St, we limited ourselves to one tried and true restaurant (Café Gelato) and one newbie.  For that we chose Claymont Steak Shop.  Technically, it is on South Main St. (newly named), but it is pretty close and was participating in restaurant week as well.  This place is a DE original, and this is their second location.  They haven't been in Newark too long, and their original location is in northern DE almost at the PA line.

While you order at the counter, they do make food to order and they call your name from the counter when it is ready (think Panera Bread).

Waiting on our order.

 Restaurant Week Special:  "2 Large Cheese Steaks that are prepared with our classic fresh cut rib-eye and your choice of toppings Plus an order of Supreme fries that are smothered in melted cheddar, bacon, ranch and topped with freshly grated mozzarella cheese and finished in the oven."
Brian ordered his with peppers and fried onions.


 We didn't really look at their menu, since we were planning on getting the special for r.w.  Since they were voted best cheesesteaks in the state for 2012, we were expecting perfection.  They were pretty good, good buns and fried onions and meat.  However, there just wasn't quite enough cheese on the sandwiches to make it the perfect cheesesteak.  They were pretty good though.  The fries were pretty great-you know if you need a fork to eat them they are going to be tasty. 

Father-Son bonding:  How to properly eat a cheese steak.
 Theo had a 1/4 or so of my large sandwich, and of course loved the fries.  It wasn't hard to get him to eat here, but it would have been hard to change him had we needed it-there are no changing tables in the restroom.  Luckily, he's been a lot more interested in potty training this week, so we didn't need a changing table.  And Eli slept through most of the meal.  He woke up at the very end.

Can we come back once I'm eating table foods?

Baby's Brain: Notes for a developing mind

During grad school I had a theory of learning class with Dr. Jill Stamm, and it really made me regretful that I hadn't decided to major in some sort of neuroscience field.  However, it was during my last semester finishing my masters in math education, and I wasn't about to take any more classes.  But this class definitely prepared me not really for teaching middle schoolers math, but for raising my own children.  Dr. Stamm's focus is on how early development (0-3 years) affects children's brain growth, and I found her class fascinating.  But, a bit frustrating, since I know that by the time kids get to my class in school, so much of their brain is already pre-wired for learning and there's not a ton I can do about it.

The fact that so much of a kid's life is determined by his first 3 years is a little scary, especially since Theo's third birthday is approaching.  I read Stamm's "Bright from the Start" cover to cover when Theo was born, and tried really hard to choose Theo's play, activities, and toys based on the suggestions within.  And though he was a bit slow to talk, I think he has definitely taken off and his brain seems to be a little sponge for learning.

With Eli, I realized I haven't been as careful and purposeful.  I know we have a lot of the "right" toys and activities around here, but am not always using them.  I decided to go ahead and give myself a refresher course, and reorganize my own "baby brain box" (one that is a lot cheaper than the one Stamm's institute sells here).

Below are some of the things most important remembrances for 0-6 month olds:  (*Are ones I need to place a special focus on.*)

Attention and Communication Ideas:
Speak in "parentese" often.
Encourage tracking by bringing a toy across his field of vision.*
Talk during the day, labeling and explaining everything.
Place mobiles (or photos*) 10-12 inches from face.

*Tummy Time*  I've been guilty of holding this baby too much, propping him up beside me, or having him sit in the Bumbo while playing beside Theo.  I was reminded that the pre-crawling motions they practice during tummy time (right arm, left knee-left arm, right knee) is helpful in connecting the left and right hemispheres for the baby's brain.  Skipping the crawling stage doesn't allow for this connection to be built (though other games and activities can help with this if your baby just doesn't want to crawl). 

Getting Vision System Online:
Face imitation games.
Reading books.
Puppet play.
Looking in a mirror (this one is easy since his changing table is beside our full-size mirror.  Every changing experience includes some mirror play.)
Black-and-white cards (high contrast colors and patterns)

Bonding Ideas:
Hold baby as much as possible (wear baby versus carrying in the car seat).
Respond to cries (he doesn't fuss much, so this is not a problem.  But, it also means he isn't asking for attention as much so he may not get as much attention since he is also competing with his brother for it.)
Exploring different "touches" *(I'm planning to get out some of the old board books that have different textures).
"I'm Gonna Getcha" (Stamm recommends this starting at 6 months, but Eli already loves it.  When I nuzzle his neck he will actually giggle.)

Communication Ideas:
Music, rhymes and finger play.
My mother-in-law seems to have an endless supply of rhymes, songs, and finger-play ideas.  I tend to always fall back on just a few favorites, so hopefully writing them all down here will remind me to use them:
Pat-a-Cake (Theo will do this with Eli)
This Little Piggy
The Itsy Bitsy Spider
Twinkle, Twinkle (again, one Theo can be in charge of)
Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes
The Wheels on the Bus
Silly Songs (spontaneously made up, I'm pretty good at these, and when I'm singing to Eli Theo will pretty much stop playing and come listen, and ask me to sing them again)

With these ideas in mind, Eli's brain box includes the following:

Books:  "Fluffy Chick" (textures), Hickory, Dickory, Dock (great version of rhymes with illustrations to discuss), "Colors", "Guess Who" (peekaboo flap book), "Guess How Much I Love You," "On the Night You Were Born" and "In My Tree" (bonding books),  and "Black on White" as well as the b/w art cards for visual stimulation.  The box also includes: a cow rattle, cow mirror, egg shaker, and cow puppet (missing from pic) .  Lastly, a "Splash" CD.  I bought plenty of music for Theo when he was young, but our favorites have always included these free CDs from our church.  They send a new one every 12 months for the next age range and they are fun songs with Christian themes. 

My goal is to work through most of the items in this box within a day (depending on baby's attention span).  But most importantly, the "box" needs to include my own eyes and voice.  I think direct eye-to-eye contact, and a stream of words, songs, or assurances coming from a mother's mouth, are the most important things in raising a happy, confident baby. 

Looks like he likes his box already!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another ABC Book

We have really enjoyed reading the alphabet book that I made for Theo.  At the time I made it, he was starting to really blossom with speaking, saying lots of words.  He can read every word in the book, which is what makes it so fun to read.  Since he wasn't really saying a lot of phrases at the time, I chose to make most of the letter's stand for one word nouns (17 of them), and only added phrases for a few special letters that included his cousins (kissing Kyen, hugging Annalyn, reading with Maci, napping with Aydan and Picnicking with Chloe). 

I'm in the mood to make another book already, this time using "ing" phrases, with as much alliteration as possible.  I started looking for recent pictures that could work, and am already running into a problem... mainly that everything starts with "P".  I can't decide which is my favorite.

Patting Pepper
 Piecing a Puzzle with (Grand)Pa
 Posing with a Pumpkin
 Pulling with a Puppy

This one probably won't be ready for a while (X may be a problem this time), but it's going to be fun to create.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Monthly Picture Outtakes

So, I've been trying to take a photo each month of Eli and Theo together.  Sometimes in matching/coordinating clothes, but not necessarily.  Just something cute.  It's getting a little hard each month.  This time, between Eli chewing on his hand (and shirt), and Theo just being plain ornery, we were barely able to get a passable picture.  But, it was the first good snow we've had this season, and I wanted to showcase their cute new shirts, so even with two timeouts we made it work.  I put the good one on facebook, but wanted to share some outtakes here.
Feet in the air.
 "Tickling" each other.
 Theo was being a bad influence.

The Lion and The Mouse

Since college, I have been slowly collecting all the Caldecott (and Newberry) award winners (and some of the honor books).  I bought this one, The Lion and The Mouse, (the 2010 winner) a few years ago. 

It is a wordless, illustrated book retelling one of Aesop's fables.  I was reluctant to add it to Theo's library since it is so gorgeous, and I haven't actually spent a lot of time with this book yet with Theo, but someone has, because this was what happened during playtime today.

Theo (to Eli): 

"You mouse.  I a lion.  ROAAAARRRRRR!

Don't wake me up!"

It was too cute for words.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Caffe Gelato: Newark, DE restaurant week

So, one of our favorite times of year around here is restaurant week.  While most of the college students are still away, Newark entices us to leave our warm houses to try out new specials at Newark's best restaurants.  Today we visited one of our favorites for a cheap-er lunch than usual-well, it would have been if we had skipped dessert.

I first mentioned Caffe Gelato on my blog over four years ago as the first restaurant we ever visited on Newark's Main Street.  Their specials today for restaurant week were:

French Onion Soup au gratin

Roasted Cauliflower Bisque with aged Vermont Cheddar garnished with crisp pancetta

House-crafted sun dried tomato gnocchi ‘gratinati’ with caramelized onions, radicchio, roasted garlic béchamel and smoked mozzarella 
Prosciutto Panino with sliced apples, Manchego, fig jam, arugula and caramelized onions

I had the cauliflower bisque and gnocchi, while Brian enjoyed the French onion soup and panino.  All four courses were delicious.  My dishes were both very fragrant and delicately seasoned, and perfect on this cold January day.

 Their children's menu is pretty typical, but Theo enjoyed his sweet potato fries and chicken tenders. 

He was just being good the whole time to get his gelato at the end.  He immediately picked out his Strawberry flavored dessert when we walked in and were waiting to be seated, since the gelato selections are right inside the door.  He almost went for "green" (mint chocolate chip), but decided he "doesn't like" chocolate chips-which is the biggest lie I've ever heard.  Two year olds...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cheeburger Cheeburger (Newark, DE)

After having the Chuckbox as our go-to-burger-place in Tempe, we were quite spoiled when it came to finding the perfect burger.  Chuckbox is absolutely the perfect place for college students to get a burger, beer and onion rings (or fried zucchini in my case).  This one-of-a-kind (and location) restaurant cooks the burgers to order on their huge fire pit, and lets you dress it yourself at the fixin's bar.  We pretty much took everyone who ever came to visit us there.

(couldn't find a pic of us there, but here's my brother-in-law and sister-in-law there)

There is really no comparison to it here in Delaware.  And the first few years we were here there were really no burger places at all on Main St. (though there is a Jake's just out of town).  But, as luck would have it, when we crossed the line from needing a college joint to a family atmosphere, Cheeburger Cheeburger came to Main St.  This is a chain restaurant, that seems mostly to be in our area and some of the south.  Some random airports across the country also have a location.  With a 50s décor, their shtick is to have you "invent" whatever you would like to eat.  Their menu boasts over 1.285 million milkshake combinations, and there are about 30 different toppings to choose from for your burger (I like the black olives!).  They have regular French fries, sweet potato fries, and really thin delicious onion rings. 

We took Brian's parents there last weekend, and it was probably our third visit to the new restaurant.  We have yet to be disappointed. 

You get your picture on the wall with this burger if you eat their big burger in one sitting.

Theo loves the car that his meal comes in, it keeps him occupied for a while. 

 Even Eli had a good time!

Now what...?

On Thursday, I surprised my students by telling them it was my last day with me.  After starting the year out on maternity leave, I only ended up teaching this group for about 2 months.  I'm not one for big good-byes, so I thought just telling them on my last day was the best day to go.  My enrichment was having a going away party for a student who is moving, so I used that as my chance to say good-bye as well.

I finalized their grades and had them complete personal evaluations for me during class, so by the end of the day I had every grade entered and the end of the marking period complete.  After chatting with co-workers, I spent some time at my desk just kind of confused with what to work on.  I went to pack up to go home and was pretty confused when I realized I had nothing to take home and put in my bag! 

I really don't mind the teaching-but the grading, and the hours of prep work that can't be done during the school day are what really make me not want to work full time (while raising babies).  I've always envied people who can get their work done during their actual 9-5 hours and aren't always scrambling to get work done before work or taking it home after. 

 My room before we started packing it up.

I love these drawings... they had to use specific types of lines and write the equation for each line used.  These are form last year, just one of the many things that I had to leave behind.

We spent three hours on Saturday, and four more this morning packing up my classroom (two full car-loads of stuff).  As we walked to the playground afterwards (at Theo's request), I started letting the weight of my job lift from my shoulders.  As I was sitting swinging with my baby, and watching Theo and Brian chase each other through the playground equipment, I realized it was the first care-free moment we (all four of us) had had in weeks (maybe months!).  When we got back in the car, I turned to Brian and said, "Now what?"

Delaware Bucket List: DogTown

After we packed up my classroom, we decided to check one place off of our Delaware bucket list.  We aren't really sure how much longer it will take before we make the official move to DC, but hopefully Brian will start commuting before we have made the physical move.

 But back to the bucket list.  Though I taught in a school very near Middletown, DE, I haven't been to very many places in the actual town.  One that I have driven by numerous times and always wondered about is DogTown Hot Dogs.  Located right on the busiest corner in the town, in the quaintly redone "downtown" area, this little place is small enough to contain Theo.  It was pretty packed for a Sunday afternoon, so we chose a high table rather than putting Theo in a high chair (though they had two). 

Their menu features many different styles of hot-dogs, and a few other things, see at left.

I really liked that their kids menu actually had different size items, rather than all one size.  Most of the time the kids meals are too big for Theo, and too expensive for what he'll actually eat.  I appreciated that the meals were smaller and cheaper for toddlers.  The best part was that the hot dog was already cut into bite size pieces in the " Little Toddler " meal!  Add some ketchup and he was ready to eat.  They also have JUICE BOXES!  One of Theo's favorite thing on earth (thanks to Chipotle). 

I enjoyed my No-Dog burger that was on a great not-soggy yet not too thick bun, and the fries were crispy with an almost breaded taste, plus a side of cheese. 

Brian enjoyed a Miami Dream and Fly' N Hawaiian dog on this January coat-less day, and Old Bay tater tots.  Only in the Delmarva region can you get Old Bay on just about anything. 

But Theo's favorite part was the "Big Dog" statue! 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Elijah: 4 months

Jan. 12, 2013

So naturally, on your four-month birthday you awoke me at 4 AM for a feeding.  While normally, I can fall right back asleep after this, today was a struggle.  So, I am writing your letter to you today on time! 

Your infant stage is far behind, as you continue to grow quickly.  You are trying to sit up on your own, and can sit for long periods in the bumbo.  Dada let you try the jumper this month, and you had a great time twirling in there.  A tooth could be coming soon, because you are constantly drooling and chewing on whatever you can find.  Your only real problem seems to be dry skin, and we are trying to fix that.

I can't wait until a week from now, when I will again be a stay-at-home mama with you, and be able to spend all day watching you grow.

Weight:  17 pounds
Length:   26.25 inches
Size:  Same as last month!
Feeding:  Pretty much the same as last month.  During the day you like to eat every three to four hours.
Sleeping:  Last night you slept from 10-4 before waking up to eat, and have been sleeping since 4 as well.  Naps come and go during the day.
Likes:  grandmas, chewing on things, toys
Dislikes:  being hungry, tummy time
*You giggled today!  Grandma found your ticklish spot (your neck!).  It was the sweetest sound!*

Blogging in 2013

Despite the fact that blogger tells me my last post was on Nov. 1, I actually have been keeping up with my blog I just haven't been publishing anything I write (I had no way to upload photos to my computer so all my posts are half finished).  Hopefully that will change soon. 

My computer went down in November.  It was a very sad day, but we found that my original laptop was still alive.  Thus, I've been using it for a couple months.  However, it works at the speed of about a 1990 computer and has no camera for using Skype (amongst other issues like lack of photo editing software-I can't even crop a photo).  Luckily, my in-laws helped me out with a nice Christmas gift to go toward a new laptop, so I'm now happily speeding along on a new computer again (though figuring out the new Windows is taking some time).

When I first started my blog, I mainly wanted to give my distant friends and relatives a look at our life here so they could feel a part of what we are doing.  Several of my friends "back home" (whether that is Arizona or Indiana) have blogs that inspired me to start mine.  However, as we settled here in Delaware and started our family, my blog changed along with us.  While originally I was highlighting the places we discovered here in Delaware, in recent years I have also added on posts with information about babies and toddlers and raising them here.  I use this place as a diary that I hope will be interesting to them when they are older.

As we anticipate moving to DC soon, I assume my blog will change right along with me.  As new posts highlight all the new places we will discover there (picture this mama with a baby strapped in a baby carrier tightly holding the hand of a toddler on the metro traipsing all over DC this spring), I am going to try to be a little more explicit when posting about these places with info that other mamas/dadas would find helpful (such as:  kid-friendly menus, changing facilities, nursing rooms, general age guidelines for places). 

After being here for so long, and bringing two baby boys home to this tiny apartment, it is bittersweet to anticipate our move.  It will be the third time in the last decade that I have left everything I know behind (except Brian), and started in a new place.  But, it should be an exciting new chapter to this blog.  I thought of changing the title to 2304 miles minus 100 miles (exactly how far Brian's work is from here, back in the direction we came from), but I thought that was a little too complicated.