Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lots of Snow

Hooray! Finally, we got some real snow here in Raleigh! And it happened on a weekend too. Can it be more perfect than that?

All our previous plans - going to a Chinese New Year celebration at the Fairgrounds, to a friend's birthday party, to IHOP - been cancelled. Instead we had snow to play with, shovel and, of course, bring inside.

To warm up, we drank lots of tea and ate delicious black bean chocolate cupcakes (they were meant to be brownies, but I didn't have a 9x9 pan and there wasn't enough batter for my 11x8 pan).

And in the evening M insisted on staying upstairs in his room while I was cooking dinner (pasta with roasted butternut squash and kale - yummy!). I heard him talking to himself for a while about trains and toys and going far far away. Then Chris went upstairs to check on him (since M never EVER plays by himself for that long). Turns out, M was busy building this awesome train:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three Little Clouds

Last Friday M refused to go to his preschool. That was the first. He's been going there one half-day a week for almost 2 years (wow, really?!) and this is the first time he said "No" instead of "I want to go "в детский сад". Go figure!
I don't push this issue since it's not exactly critical. I did have an important phone call scheduled for Friday, but I was able to keep M. busy and, most importantly, quiet with some cartoons (Pingu and Ну, Погоди!). I do feel a bit guilty since I don't like using cartoons as a baby-sitter. But hey, he left me little choice, right?
Anyway, the reason for this post is to tell about a super-quick and simple art project we did last Friday. M. painted some clouds with thinned-down white paint. The technique is very simple - just pour a bit of paint onto colored paper and then lift the sheet and move it this way and that so that the paint runs. On the last one, M. added some toothbrush work (with his old toothbrush) to create what we decided was a snow storm.

The most fun part (at least for me) was to ask M. what each of these "clouds" looked like. He said the top one looked like skeleton's lungs. Hmm... My suggestion of "butterfly" was totally disregarded. In the end, he settled on calling it the Octopus.

The bottom left one he called Бяка-Закаляка Кусачая. That was funny, especially since it's been a while since we read that particular poem. But between that time and the time I found a marker (about 1 minute), we both forgot what it was. So when I asked M. again, he said that it was just a little tiny cloud.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chalkboard Wall

Remember how we cleaned out a closet a week or so ago and returned a bunch of stuff to Home Depot and Lowe's? Well, we got enough in gift cards to buy a can of magnetic primer and a paint roller. And we already had leftover blackboard paint from when Chris finished M's little desk.

So, over these last two weekend we primed and painted a hallway wall and turned it into a magnetic chalkboard. We really hoped to move M's big magnetic letters from the fridge to this wall, but apparently even 3 coats of magnetic primer weren't strong enough to hold these chunky letters. We'll just have to look for smaller ones.

In the mean time, we use the top part of the wall as a running grocery list and let M draw wherever he can reach. Oh, maybe now we'll get some magnetic poetry.

Awesome Kids Exchange

I'm so excited about this year's first Kids Exchange (there's going to be another one, in July). Last one I went to was a bust - I spent an hour standing in various lines, first - to get in, then - to pay for my purchases. And 2 hours browsing, trying to find something. And all I had to show for all this time and effort was a big red Elmo that M didn't even care to play with.

But this year the Exchange was fantastic. Of course, that was the first time I went as a seller, which allowed me to shop 1 day early, on Thursday. And boy, did this one day make all the difference!

Oh, I totally blew the budget. Wait, I didn't have any budget set. But I kind of hoped to stay under $100 and ended up spending $125, give or take a few pennies. But check out some of the goodies:

A Kettler trike with adjustable seat, rear bucket (for carrying pretend cupcakes and a Piglet) and a push-handle. The new one sells for $250 at Target. The one I got was a bit used, but in great shape and for only $50!
Some board games - Boggle Jr, Wack-a-Mole, and Sounds of the Seashore and WordWorld memory game - for a total of $10
A few Melissa & Doug wooden puzzles - alphabet, busy board, numbers, states of the USA - for $16 (all pieces included and some puzzles still in the original wrap)
Puppets - hand-puppets Piglet (who now accompanies M on rides in the trike), Pooh, Tiger, Eeyore and a guy in surgical scrubs, who for now is a Vampire - all for $10. And this adorable marionette clown for only $1.
An awesome cash register - fully functional with a cash drawer that goes "ka-ching" and a working scanner - for $5 (it just needed new batteries)

Lots of fantastic hard-cover books, most seemingly brand-new (here's a small sample) - the rest of the budget.
Oh, wait, I'm forgetting a Slide Projector for ViewMaster Slides for ... $2!!! (although it still needs new batteries and slides)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ice Painting

A very quick, simple and frugal art project M and I did the other day when I just couldn't think of anything else to do (after we role-played Honey Cake Mixup story 10 times in a row).

All it takes is an ice-cube tray and food coloring. Oh, and of course some water. Pour, mix colors, freeze, then paint with colorful ice-cubes. And they look utterly delicious too. Actually, M ended up eating a couple of them after cubes melted down to a more managable size.

The result was very messy and cold, but after drying looked like watercolors. And believe it or not, this arts-science-sensory-fine motor skills activity kept M occupied for a whole half an hour!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Anniversary Morning Out

Monday was the 7th anniversary of our wedding. I'm not going to dwell on how time flies, etc. Let's just say, things were different this year. Last year we tried to enjoy a celebratory dinner at the Melting Pot, our little family tradition. And it didn't go very well. Lesson learned - toddlers don't "get" fondue.

So this year, based on the last year's experience and this year's financials, we changed things around a bit. We said, to heck with the whole dinner and night out thing. Instead, we arranged for some extra daycare for M and had the morning out.

First, we went for the late breakfast, yummy bagels, and a chat about our big gardening plans. Since it was a beautiful day, we went on a walk, munching on the black-and-white cookie. Let me tell you, we haven't gone on a walk ALL THE WAY AROUND a lake, any lake, ever since M got out of his stroller almost 2 years ago. We forgot how long it'd take and ended up with only about 30 minutes for the last stop of the morning out tour - the Barnes&Noble bookstore.

This is another thing we used to do every week and just don't get to do any longer - our weekly B&N evenings out. Oh, how we used to get piles of magazines, 2 cups of coffee, sit down at a table in a cafe, and not talk to each other for an hour or so! Nowadays we head straight for the kids section and watch M play with the trains for a bit.

Well, this time we didn't get any drinks and all the tables were busy and we didn't have a whole hour. But we took our piles of magazines to the TV and Radio section of the store (figured, it'd be the least busy), sat down on the floor and spent 30 minutes not talking to each other. Awesome!

All in all, it was probably one of the best anniversary celebrations we've had, right next to the first year's one. And whatever money we saved by not going out to a fancy restaurant ($100), we put towards repaying one of our many student loans.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Making Money from Home

Yep, ok, I'm already making money from home through my social media specialist business. But this year started off a bit rocky with our car breaking down on the way to the movie theater. So, instead of a promised "Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs", M. got to ride in a tow-truck. And please, don't think for a second that he was disappointed. He loved the whole experience - seeing our car loaded onto the truck, then climbing into the cabin and enjoying the view through the front windowshield.

But for us the whole thing wasn't amusing at all (even though we ended up getting all the repairs and the towing paid for by the car shop - another long story). The incident highlighted the fact that our little Kia Rio has 140K miles on the odometer and is unlikely to last much longer; at least not without a major overhaul. Yep, the days of quick oil changes and tire rotations are over, sigh...

And of course the timing couldn't be worse with all the cash flow issues. Plus M. has to start private ($$$) physical and occupational therapy in February, when his Early Intervention program ends.

Back in November, we applied for home loan modification. Our application is still being processed (what's taking so long, I have no idea). But in the mean time, we got a bit of a break with the lower house payments. Still, with these new expenses on the horizon, we simply had to shift into the high gear with the money-making part.

And so we decided that it's time to have our house make us some money. First and most obvious was to sell some of the stuff we didn't need on Craigslist. Surprisingly, it didn't work out all too well (must be the general state of the economy or the fact that we don't really have much valuable stuff that we don't need). I've been trying for about 2 weeks to sell our rustic pine coffee table that we have no place for now.

Anyway, selling stuff is such a temporary fix. Sooner or later we would just run out of things to sell. What were we thinking, right? No worries, we got it under control. And made one of Hubby's dreams come true in the process. He always wanted to be a landlord. Well, since we have a spare bedroom that we never use, we decided to rent it out. Ka-ching!

But did I say it was a "spare bedroom"? Define "spare". It housed all our bookcases and a work desk, but had no bed. Oh, and since we don't have a garage or a large attic, it also served as a catch-all for all sorts of junk (and even a bit of trash).

So you can imagine the kind of frenzy we were in when the day after Hubby put the "For Rent" ad on Craigslist we had several people contact us, all wanting to stop by immediately. We moved the bookcases out. We threw away the trash. We sorted all the junk into 3 piles, donated 2 piles (Junior League and our local library) and moved the 3rd pile into our bedroom.

Then Hubby went out and came back with a twin bed (from Craigslist, for $75). We all worked on putting it together (yes, including M). Then I swept the floor and we celebrated the end of the Epic Cleanup. We got it all done in 1 day (yes, that's ONE).

And so, since 2 days ago we have a renter and so far it's been working out ok. Aside from a few hundred dollars extra each month, we got some side-benefits such as:

  • getting rid of clutter (tax write-off for 2010)
  • finding a few items that we thought we lost and
  • finding some unopened stuff (like screws, LED light, etc) that we promptly returned to Home Depot and Lowe's for a total of $53!
Thinking about it - we should've done this (both cleaning up and renting the room) a long time ago. But as they say, it's better late than never.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Lilac Tree

Did I tell you that I was planning on painting a mural? Well, I wanted to do it for the longest time, but it always seemed so difficult. I'm just not that handy, especially with paint and brush. So then I thought about these stick-on murals, but they were too expensive.

Finally, a few days before the New Year, I decided to give it a shot. I found the picture I liked by googling "tree mural" and looking through the Images.

It seemed simple enough to draw on the wall even without a template or an overhead projector (which I don't have any way and have no idea where to get). But just in case, I decided to draw an outline with chalk. I highly recommend it because if you make any mistakes, it's so easy to fix - just wipe the outline clean with a damp paper towel.

Took me maybe 20 minutes to do the outline, but turns out I drew the tree a bit too far from the corner. Thank goodness I used chalk! So I erased everything and drew it again, this time in maybe 15 minutes. I bet if I tried a few more times, I'd set some sort of record.
I had to leave the tree unpainted for a few days because I didn't have any paint. Originally I wanted to paint it offwhite, kind of ghostly. And so yesterday I went to Lowe's to look for some offwhite paint. Fortunately, they had just what I needed and it was in the mark-down section for only $2.01 for a quart. Apparently, someone custom mixed it, but the color didn't turn out the way they wanted. Whatever, looked good to me.

But when I started painting at home, the weirdest thing occured - instead of whitish, the paint turned the most gentle shade of lilac. It was the exact shade you can sometimes see in PB Kids catalog. Wow! Actually, it turned out more beautiful than white would've ever been. And it worked so well with the existing wall color.

Since I wanted an elfish, dreamy, not all-together-in-the-room feel, I only put 1 coat of paint. So now I have a ton of gorgeous paint left over. Frankly, I was loving my mural so much that I wanted to paint more trees all over the family room, but Hubby looked a bit spooked at the idea.

So I forced myself to calm down and instead drew a little bird (copied from a Twitter background).

Simple Machines - Incline Plane Fun

Without a car on Thursday we had lots and lots of time on our hands and not much to do. And it was just too cold to go outside, especially early in the morning.

Instead we had a little science lesson and learned about simple machines. Actually, we only learned about an incline plane (since it's so simple to set up). All it took was a cardboard mailer tube (with both ends openned), an empty box, some tape, a cookie tray and an assortment of pebbles and seashells (any other small objects will do).

It took me maybe 2 minutes to set up and show to M. and he spent the next 15 minutes exploring all the possibilities this toy provided. He seemed particularly excited to find out that different objects made different sounds when landing on the tray. So I added a tamburine for more sound effects.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow in the Kitchen

Back in NC, it's cold, but no snow. Which is kind of a bummer for M. since he loves the stuff so much. So we had a little snow-y game, inspired by Carol Stock Kranowitz's The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.

The setup is super-simple and requires no prep work. All it takes is a tray or a baking sheet, shaving cream (the foaming kind, not the gel), and some toy cars and building blocks. Then you're all set to play the "snow in the city" game.

When that got a bit old, I just handed M. all sorts of kitchen utensils, an old toothbrush, a little paintbrush and a second baking sheet for some "paint with snow" activity. It's been ages since M. wanted to do any kind of painting with regular paints so this was nice for a change.

Then things got a bit out of hand as M. staged a monster-truck rally (lots of smashing of little cars into pretend buildings and toy trees). Thankfully, heavy snowfall (M. and I clapping and waving our shaving cream-covered hands wildly in all directions) put an end to the carnage.

Brithday Cake for Breakfast

Breakfast used to be the "safe" meal at our house. By this I mean that M. would always eat his breakfast - kasha, oatmeal, pancakes, french toast, yogurt with ricotta cheese, and such. Lunch and dinner were questionable, but not breakfast. After all, the very first thing M. would say after getting out of bed, would be "I want to eat breakfast".

But these past few days breakfast's become a challenge since M. simply refuses to eat whatever it is we have for breakfast. Today was particularly trying since he broke down into a crying fit and absolutely refused to eat (usually he says "no" to everything, but tries and often finishes most his food).

So, we ended up having a birthday cake for breakfast. Thankfully, the hubby baked pumpkin bread last night (yes, from scratch, including home-made pumpkin puree; he's just THAT good!). So I sliced an extra thick slice and cut out a circle (if you ask M. a cake that's not round is NOT a cake). I then "frosted" the cake with some sour cream.

In the mean time, M. was busy making decorations. I put some left-over hard candy, peppermint bark and half a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie in a plastic bag, gave him a toy mallet and advised M. to stop crying and get to work if he wanted to have a cake after all.

He then decorated the cake and sprinkled a few rainbow sprinkles over it for good measure. Then we put two birthday candles in, brought over all our stuffed animals (the mouse, the tiny bunny, Winnie the Pooh, Chef Pig, Cheburashka, the singing dalmatian puppy, and the big bunny), sang the birthday song and enjoyed this wonderful and fairly nutritious cake.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year and Bring On More Travel Toys

Yep, ok it's like a few days late and several dollars short for this one. But hey, I have my reasons. Primarily it's because we were out of town, visiting my family. And when I'm with my family, I NEVER have time to blog. There is just too much food to eat!

First, my mom cooks all the time. Let me tell you, the woman is obsessed with keeping her fridge stocked to the point that the door doesn't close unless slammed hard. Then there are my aunts, each a culinary genius in her own right.

And boy, do they all love to feed you! I mean, if you get an invite from any of my family, be prepared and come hungry, even if it's just for a quick 15-minute stop. If you are a complete stranger, let's say you bought something my parents were selling on Craigslist, and you stop by to pick it up, you WILL have at least some tea and sweets (true story, by the way).

As with many other Russians, New Year is a HUGE holiday. That's why we drove to NY and that's why mom cooked even more food than she normally makes. The table was covered with plates of zakuski and everyone was full even before the main course (or should I say courses).

But it was really perfect. We had some snow early on December 31. The hubby took Mr. M out to have a snow fight and maybe even build a snowman. Well, the snowman didn't turn out which we blamed on the snow being too dry. Still, M. was so excited to finally see the snow. He even tried eating the stuff and found it perfectly agreeable.

BTW, can you believe it - he ate this whole entire bagel?!

This trip marked the first time we drove each way in just one day. Correction - first time with Mr. M. He's always been a handful and we usually took 2 4days to drive to NY and 2 days to drive back, with an overnight somewhere in southern MD or northern VA. With only 4 hours of driving time each day, we would normally pack 1 smallish and quietish car toy and a DVD player.

Well, this time it was going to be 10 hours of driving. The DVD player was on its trip to France along with our friends (who graciously let us borrow this thing from time to time). So we stocked up on various toys and games instead. In the retrospect, it would have probably been cheaper to book a hotel room.

Actually, finding car toys for a soon-to-be 3-year old boy who's not into drawing and fine motor activities and whose rather old-fashioned parents limit his exposure to toy computers and other glowing boxes proved to be next to impossible. Here's what we took with us (half the toys were gifts from grandparents and those were saved for the drive back):

I Spy books - M. didn't bother flipping through them on the ride, but was interested in playing a bit (one page at a time) as soon as we got home.
LeapFrog Text and Learn - "k" is like "karate kick" - a huge hit with M. Unfortunately, not much was learned from it, but in all fairness, M. knows all his letters VERY WELL.

Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song - this was a dud as a car toy (and I put such high hopes into it, thinking that adding interactive music to the experience would encourage M. to spend more time drawing with crayons). In all fairness, outside of the car, M seemed to like the toy more, but still he only spends a few seconds with it once in a while.
Quercetti Super Saxoflute- hooray to saxoflute! First, M spent hours playing with it in NY and then more saxofluting in the car. The best thing about splurging on the Super Saxoflute is you can configure it a dozen different ways, making new instruments each time (same sound though). We even made 2 instruments at a time for some family fun.

Tote-along Travel Memory, Seek and Find Game - personally, I loved-loved-loved this game. M didn't get the point at all. Then again, he can't see as much from his car seat. But there was a moment during our stay in NY when M got bored and it was way too cold to go outside. So I led him on a "Things at Home" scavenger hunt and he loved it. So maybe that's a game he can grow into. In the mean time, it helps me stay awake better than Starbucks.

Home-made pizza game - ok, this was just a very primitive game of pizza that I fashioned out of cardboard and felt scraps and put in a real pizza box (the box is the key to making it really interesting). I didn't spend much time on this toy, no sewing at all since I figured M wouldn't really care much for it. But surprisingly, it was his favorite game on the way to NY. And he played with it some more in NY when we had a truly diverse pretend picknik with pizza, playdoh cakes and tea from a samovar.

Oh, we also took some stuffed animals, a small wooden robot toy and a bunch of kid-friendly CDs.

Ultimately, we are very thankful for DC-area IKEA stores, conveniently located just off of I-95, that provided us with decent food and some good old running around and exploring (and I'm talking about me as well here).