Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Guitar

Something Mr. M acquired last week, when in NY (thanks to the generousity of his cousin, Alisa). Now he is a drummer AND a guitarist. He takes his guitar very seriously, by the way. A few times he'd interrupt his performance because he "had to tune a guitar" (yes, he pretend-tunes it).

BTW, in this video he plays a guitar but sings "I'm a drummer, drummer, drummer!"

Grandpa Ron, this one is for you!

Road Trip Synergy

Most of the blogs I read are either business-related or are all about cooking, crafting, and kids. The big exception in this line-up is The Simple Dollar, a blog about sound money-saving advice.
A few weeks ago The Simple Dollar author, Trent, was talking about synergy. As he explained it in his post, synergy was doing something that was good in the long term while perfectly enjoyable in the short term.

Well, here's how it applied to us. Lately we had to drive to NY a lot. It's typically a 9-hour drive along I-95, longer actually with all the traffic around Richmond, Washington, D.C. and then all through New Jersey. In short, too long for our little one to make in one day. So we used to drive it in 2 half-days stopping overnight somewhere 30-minutes south of Washington, D.C.
But it sucked anyway - traffic, boring I-95, even more boring NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, crummy rest stops, horrible roadside motels... So instead of taking I-95, we took the backroads and I-81. Instead of spending the night at a 1.5-star motel somewhere on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., we stopped at a 2-star one in Hagerstown, VA.

The drive itself was a lot more scenic, going through rural VA, MD and PA. Apart from a few miles in NJ, there was no traffic to speak of (since we didn't go through any major metropolitan areas). The hotel in Hagerstown was pretty basic, but it was much cheaper than anything reasonably safe we would've found for the same price along I-95.

And we got to do lots of stuff that was fun for all of us.

When we arrived in Hagerstown it was already pretty late. We checked into our hotel and found out that there was going to be a little classic rock show in the bar area. The musicians just arrived and were setting up. Perfect for our Little Drummer. He was so excited to see the real instruments. And of course, he got to play the drums.

The next morning we didn't have to get on the road for a few hours. So we decided to drive around. That's when Chris saw a sign for the Antietam Battlefield. Don't ask me what it is with my hubby and battlefields.

So we drove through a lovely town of Boonesboro to the battlefield. Little did we know, it was the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. We drove and walked around the battlefield for a little while, climbed the observation tour, then checked out the bivouac re-enactment.
A bunch of people dressed in period costumes set up a camp and were going about the daily business of cooking, chopping wood, mustering, setting up a field hospital. And there was even a little concert (oh, the drums again!).

On the way back from NY a week later we stopped at the same hotel. Unfortunately, they didn't have a concert that day. So instead we drove to Sharpsburg to check out the Heritage Festival (more drums) and then - Boonesboro for lunch (local pizza and ice-cream) and a little walk-around.

So all in all, it was a very pleasant drive that felt like a mini-vacation. We used to dread going to NY, but now we actually look forward to the next opportunity.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Coolest Room for Toddler

Finally, after a month of planning and another month or so of hard work, Drummer Boy's new room is ready! And it turned out totally awesome.

The old room, while also pretty large, had only one west-facing window and, thanks to a large tree right outside, stayed dark even on very sunny afternoons. The new room (our former master bedroom) with three east- and north-facing windows gets plenty of light. That was the main reason for the switch.

Mr. M used to not want to spend a single waking moment in his old room. Now all he wants to do is play in his room. We had a few playdates up in the room and both little ones and their parents had a blast.

Ok, ok, so here are some pictures. I'm going to start with the Art Center:

By now we've accumulated quite a stash of art supplies - chalk, markers, crayons, paints (all washable), play dough and play dough tools, paint brushes and stamps, pipe cleaners, foam stickers, regular stickers, papers, Wikki Stix and other odds and ends. Plus some books for inspiration for me and coloring books for Mr. M.

I sorted all this stuff and placed it on easy-to-reach cubbies. By the way, the cubbies are made out of old dresser drawers - an idea I saw in one of my design-on-a-dime books. A word of caution here - attached the cubbies securely to the wall was a very labor-intensive task that required A LOT of hardware.

Next, the bedroom part of this room:
Ever since he was about 13 months old, Mr. M's been sleeping on a twin-size bed (and before that he was in our bed). At first we simply put a mattress on the floor for him. He loved the arrangement since he could get in and out of bed very easily even before he could walk. Now that he's a toddler, we feel he's ready for a big-boy bed. So I found a used captain-style bed (with storage drawers) on Craigslist for $80 and the hubby painted it beautiful chocolate brown.

We put a moon night light (IKEA) on the wall, glued some glow-in-the-dark stars and hanged a small organizer (also IKEA) to hold Mr. M's bed-time books and providing an easy-to-reach place for his drum sticks, the Monster puppet, and M's glasses.

The wall looks a bit bare at the moment, but the idea is to use the space for hanging a rotating collection of posters that reflect his interests (right now these would be maps and musical instruments). I was also thinking about adding a solar system mobil, but not sure which one to choose.

The bedding is another thing we're working on. I wanted to find something really cool that would work with the room and with M's interests. So, after a lot of searching, I found this awesome set over at The Land of Nods. It'll have to wait a bit though since it's kind of pricey.

Judging by the reaction from some of our little playmates, what comes next is the coolest parts of the room - the monkey gym:

For now, all we have are the rings and a 7-rung rope ladder. Both are from IKEA (we actually had to buy 2 rope ladders and combine into one since a single rope ladder only has 4 rungs). What we hope to add later on are rock-climbing holds on one wall and a wooden vertical ladder on the other one.

Also, the way the ladder and the rings are attached to the ceiling makes them easy to remove and swap for something new. We'll be taking the ladder down shortly (Mr. M is still too young for hit) and replacing with a IKEA swing. Also, after combining two rope ladders into one, we had 2 ropes and 1 rung left which we might convert into a trapeze. We're also looking into buying our own Rody (the green inflatable creature in the picture, currently on loan from a friend) and possibly a small trampoline.

Some might think it's kind of an overkill. But ever since Drummer Boy was diagnozed with low muscle tone, we've been on a lookout to add fun challenging toys to his daily surroundings that would build his gross motor skills.

Next stop is the reading corner.

The truth is, Mr. M's books are all over the house. Nor does he sit in any particular spot when he wants to read. We both read to him a lot throughout the day, usually on a couch or in bed, but many times simply on the floor.

But this shelve is a nice way to keep books organized. And it was such an awesome flea-market find - only $10! Of course, the hubby had to fix it and paint it and now it looks very posh (hopefully). It also allows me to separate English-language and Russian-language books and keep two sets of letter blocks. The top of the shelf is a great display area (right now it houses a little dinosaur diorama that I put together a couple of months ago). I'm also going to add some language-themed artwork to the wall above as soon as I get around to it.

Across from the reading center and right next to the art center, we have the math, science and general play center.

Right now I keep string bids, simple math toys, puzzles, shape sorters, and little toy animals here. The shelves do not provide a lot of storage, which is fine with me since it reminds me to rotate toys regularly. Our budding collection of Mr. PotatoHead is on display here.

I thought about adding a train table, but decided against it as it would take too much space. Plus it's not very versatile, in my opinion. A simple rug (from IKEA) serves the purpose. Plus Mr. M prefers floor-level play space.
Right now Mr. M is into trains (yes, again). Only this time he can actually connect the tracks and help build the huge tower-tunnel. The blue bins that sit on top of a white shoe-organizer shelf (and that I got at a flea market for $1 each) store extra train tracks and building blocks.

The blue peg board is empty right now. I originally intended to use it only for artwork display and storage for some of the toys (such as little hand-tools and odds and ends that can fit in small buckets). But then I realized that it can be incorporated into many math and science toys (but that's for a different post).

Art displays

We created 2 areas for displaying Drummer Boy's artwork. One is a simple DEKA wire (from IKEA, again) that can hold a lot of stuff. This is more of a movable exhibit and is set up to be changed very often. It is also handy for drying the artwork.
The second area is of a more permanent kind. I got a bunch of cheap frames (you can probably guess where - IKEA). Right now we only have 6 of these frames up. But as Mr. M creates more master pieces, we plan on taking up the entire wall and even the space over both doors. Oh, some Mega Blocks in wheeled carts (these ones are from Target) found a home underneath the art display.

And now, the mystery door to the left of the Mega Blocks... It's actually a walk-in closet.
Wow! - some say - a walk-in closet for a 2-year old, isn't it a bit too much? Not at all! Especially considering a very odd configuration that basically allows to use only 1 short wall for shelves. But we're making the most of this little space. It also helps that Drummer Boy doesn't have too many clothes.
There's actually room for off-season storage (on the top clothes rail and in the baskets on the shelves). The in-season clothes are within M's easy reach - on the bottom rail and in the drawers.
We also use this space to store extra toys that we periodically rotate. And of course, there's a peg board for extra storage in the future). Mr. M doesn't care much for shoes. Most of the times he gets by with just one pair that he wears to shreds at which point we get him another pair. So we re-purposed a shoe organizer as an overflow art supplies and odds and ends storage.

So the room is mostly finished. I'd love to add some art work and a few finishing touches. A monkey gym will be expanded in the nearest future. But I'm not in a big hurry to get a finished product here. After all, this room is meant to grow and change along with its owner.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ode to Puff Pastry with Recepies

I love Puff Pastry because

when things turn from bad to worse -
my toddler is throwing a tantrum, my hubby is late from work, my cat ate too much grass outside and looks like he's going to choke -
when I'm completely and utterly exhausted to flip through cookbooks and take-out sounds as bad as it looks -
I take the pastry out and set it on the counter.
Then I retreat into my protective shell for about an hour (that's how long the pastry'll take to thaw).
Next I turn on my imagination and let recepies' stack take a short vacation from being thumbed through.
I chop and slice and mix and add a spice or two (or four) and some cheese.
The oven is preheated to 400 degrees (Farenheit).
I get back into my protective shell for a short 30-minute wait.
And then, as I take this beautiful pastry - savory or sweet or both - out of the oven, things miraculously change somehow.
My toddler is on his best behavior, my hubby is back from work and even my silly cat gives an appreciative "meow".

I love this flaky goodness - Puff Pastry!

Now is a good time for those recepies, don't you think? Well, last week I was running out of dinner ideas, time, and energy all at once. Besides, my fridge was nearly empty. I thought about making another pasta dinner. Well, I can live on pasta for weeks since there are so many yummy ways to serve it (more on this some other time). But my hubby thinks that 2 pasta dinners a week is plenty enough...

Anyway, I remembered that I had a package of Puff Pastry in the freezer with 2 puff pastry sheets in it. That'd be enough for a main course and a desert - perfect! So here's what I did:

Puff Pastry Savory Tart

I topped a sheet of puff pastry with thinly sliced purple onion, home-grown cherry tomatoes and basil, and fresh corn (sliced off the cob, of course). I sprinkled it with some leftover heavy cream and crumbled goat cheese.

Puff Pastry Desert Tart

I had a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese in the fridge (another stample I absolutely love) which I mixed with the remaining heavy cream, and a dash of cinnamon. I spread the mixture evenly on the puff pastry sheet. I then arranged the toppings - sliced grapes, fresh figs (not something we have regularly, but they were on sale), and chopped plums. I then drizzled some honey over the tart.

It took both tarts approximately 25 minutes in 400 degree oven. And they looked, smelled and tasted GRRRREAT! Needless to say, my toddler loved the idea of a "pizza" and a pie for dinner!

Our Pre-Harvest Season Scarecrow

This simple scarecrow project I did with the Drummer Boy a month or so ago. I felt really inspired by one of my favorite blogs, Filth Wizardry.

The only problem was that unlike the super-mom over at Filth Wizardry, I am a newbie. And so I don't have a secret stash of empty containers, scrap paper, leftover wood, and other odds and ends and leftovers from previous fun projects (but guess what - I'm working on it).

So I had to make some substitutions:

  • Instead of scrap wood for scarecrow's frame, we used dry branches and twigs from trees that my hubby cut months ago and that still litter our backyard.

  • We didn't have any paper to shred to use as stuffing and I couldn't think of any other convenient stuffing material, so we skipped this step.

  • And as fun and freaky as it would've been to use Drummer Boy's photo for the face, we had to make do without it.
Of course, I could've used a photo cutout from a cover of one of the magazines. But then I thought of a better idea - I took a small paper plate and let Drummer Boy draw a face on it (ok, he's only just learning to draw stick figures, so the result looked nothing like a face).

I also traced Drummer Boy's hands onto sheets of paper, cut them out and used as scarecrow's hands. DB thought it was a hilarious idea - he loves tracing.

Finally, we used plenty of duct tape, scotch tape and twine to hold the contraption together to DB's sheer delight and complete freak out by our cat. Reflecting on this project now, I think duct tape was the most critical component!

First Collage Art

This simple and free collage project was perfect for us. I did it first with my 2-year old Bee Bop Drummer and then again with his 5-year old pal and both times the kids loved it. And in only took me a couple of minutes to set up.
First, I went through my stash of old magazines and tore out the most colorful pages (usually the full-page ads). I then cut these pages into narrow strips and further into small rectangles and triangles. The DrummerBoy doesn't use scissors yet otherwise it would've been a great add-on activity (will keep in mind for the future). Also, next time I might try shredding some of the pages.