Thursday, June 21, 2012

To Spain and Back!

Three years plus and we're still here in Prague. Still trying to get our feet on the ground and find that rhythm that makes routine seem boring. It's been a rather emotional past year around here and so there's been a long absence- almost a sabbatical, I suppose. But summer has come 'round again and like all good things under the sun, it feels good to reach up and reach out. Our first travel out of the country this year was a road trip down to the Spanish coast. With the littles and minimal luggage - we headed out with hopes of pulling the whole thing off with content children (ages 2, 4, 6) to boot!

Here's my five cents, if you ever get the itchin' to get away and are compelled to take the little lovelies with you!

1. Leave after lunch or close to bedtime. They will have burned some energy and will have enough in their stomachs to keep them from begging for snacks as soon as their bottoms hit those car seats.

2. Media is a driver's best friend. When you know they have hit their "staring-out-the-window limit" - give 'em the toons! There are times when too much T.V. is ok - long haul travel is one of them!

3. Hotel beds are your personal trampolines.  In fact the whole room should be treated as an activity center.  After being cooped up on the road for 4 - 6 hours at a time, the kids deserve to jump, run, chase and scream a bit - it's just one night. The beds and neighboring guests will survive - and your babes will build positive memories of those road trips with mom and pop.

4. Lollipops are the ultimate pacifier - buy them big. Seriously, I don't buy the kids lollipops often. So, when we are waiting in line for entry to a beautiful cathedral or the bickering becomes a bit too intense in the car, I whip out the lollis - it's a quick fix in a tight situation.  I teach my kids plenty of self-control and expect a lot from them behavior-wise. We live in Prague, and there are some strict standards here about how kids should behave in public - something along the lines of Victorian England - seen and not heard, that kind of thing.  The "lolli - gagging" is the exception, not the rule. A tool used rarely but effectively.

5. Keep a balance between the sight-seeing and all that's lovely in-between!  As I look back over the photos of our little adventure, I'm reminded that the kids had their best times (and so did mom and dad) when we were traveling between sights. Climbing trees at a park or chasing pigeons in the local square. Playing in the water at some lovely fountain or exploring an interesting window display.  At one point we all simply plopped down in a French public garden and played a game of charades. It's one of the sweetest memories of the trip!

I know I'm not the only one out there who hits the road with a car full of kids and no fear!  How do you do long-hours travel with kids?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cute and Clever Springtime Blossoms

Spring has sprung, the sunshine is here, and sickness has finally been banished!  And so, gearing up for the summer with the kiddies, I thought it right and proper to get ourselves moving and start creating more art. Finally!
Here's a simple but lovely project I got from this little Czech art book.  I've learned a thing or two about the way Czechs educate here and have developed a little saying to remind myself of it. It goes a little something like this: It's not just what you teach; it's how you teach it.  I don't mean that in the be "nice" or "funny" or "patient" kind of way (all important and beneficial).  I mean be clever - the process of getting to that final product should be smart too.
This project is easy-peasy and yet inspirational for all - my 3 year old loved it and my 5 year old was into it too.  They were surprised to see how a simple drip of watercolor paint could instantly turn a colored circle into a lovely flower.  
We had a whole field by the time we were done - these survived long enough to shoot.  My baby added the sunshine with a bit o' yellow and aqua pastel was used to create the center of each flower (as you can see way at the top)!  My son woke up the following morning asking if we could "please do an art project again today!" Just the inspiration a mother needs during spring time in Prague!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Presentation Matters!

My son loves big, plastic, ugly trucks.  With no encouragement from me (the truck was a hand-me-down), he has embraced all things wheeled with a passion only rivaled by his love of animals.  When I think of presenting my little one with a new project or activity, I usually think about it from my aesthetic - natural and neutral.  This, of course, usually leads me to the beauty of the simple woven basket (unparalleled in home decor, I do declare).
My babe, however, has not yet embraced my love of the basket. After presenting him with some new colored pencils in the basket above, he drew about 4 lines and was ready for some action.  Down he wiggled off our stools and back he came with that monstrosity of a plastic truck you see.  I think he needed a little bit of him up there at the table.  And I think I needed to embrace some of his interests as I introduced him to mine as well.  And so, said colored pencils were dumped into that there truck and those pencils instantly did double-duty - at once drawing utensils and a trucker's haul!  My babe was pleased as punch! Here's to embracing gaudy plastic toys in new ways with my little one's idea of beauty in mind!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Water-Only Christmas Paintings and a Fancy Snowflake Curtain!

Found a cute and easy-peasy way to bless my kiddos with mommy-made "Just Add Water Mini-Paintings" they get to complete thanks to Ucreate.  Picasso, I am not, but practical I can do!  This fits the bill.  The goods include: watercolor paper, watercolor pencils, and a permenant marker.  The watercolor paper and pencils are available on the cheap from Tesco!  I used a black CD/DVD pen for a Sharpie as they're just as permanent.  I'm thinking these could make nice little over-sized Christmas gift tags that double as a little bonus gift for some nieces and nephews of mine.
While the authors over at Ucreate ran their watercolor paper through a printer to get their pics, I decided to just draw my pictures with the permanent marker and then used the watercolor pencils to heavily color just the inner edges of the black lines.  The kids then go over portions of the painting with a wet paint brush to spread the color around and fill in the painting.  I'm thinking this will also make for good on-the-airplane creativity, as you just add a bit o' water to make the magic happen!
For those of us who aren't the greatest of drawers, it's the abstract stuff that really makes one feel accomplished!  Before the sick season started, I found this post over at Poppytalk and dreamed of giving it a whirl.  This represents the start of a very grand snowflake curtain to hang at our kitchen window! These aren't the 6-pointed snowflakes, mind you, but who's really counting?!  My kiddos enjoyed cutting, and it isn't much to tape the edges together to create this delightful Christmas curtain.  

I'm off to join the hubs in making some delicious Czech Christmas cookies!  He makes them every year, and it's his signal that the Christmas season is finally really here at home.  Now that the kids are taken care of, it's the grown-ups' turn for some Christmas-making!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Have Been Forced to Receive!

My kids are basically (what's a bitty cold to me) healthy!  Ah, just in time for Christmas!  I, on the other hand, am very much still in recovery mode.  Let's just say I'm getting to know my way around my local Czech hospital quite well.  In the midst of the drama, I've had to submit to a whole lot of loving from friends and family who have given their encouragement, time, and food (get a load of all that tupperware)! It's not always easy being on the receiving end at a time when I have nothing to give in return. But, I know this is what's at the heart of the Christmas season and I just need to let it be and welcome it with a very thankful heart.
My hubby's been doing a whole lot of giving lately - taking up much of my slack and stepping in Dad-style with the kids!  Happy children spending time with Dad: priceless.  Sawdust all over the floor in the kids' room: ehh, I can deal with that.
Good, homemade carrot soup from friends (with homemade bread to boot).  Of course my 3-year old didn't want to eat the free, hearty, healthy fare that I (very thankfully) didn't have to slave over - until she got to sip it with a straw.  At this point in time, I contemplated blending all her meals and just serving them in liquefied form with a choice of straws.  Yeah, it was that easy.
My oldest takes showers independently now. Yay for the both of us!  We let the shower time stretch a bit with some shaving cream play on the shower doors.  He loves it.  I get a few more minutes of rest.  And the doors get pretty clean after a quick rinse down!
Spending quality time with the Bear that doesn't require burning a lot of calories has been eye-opening.  Found out the little guy likes Let's Go Fishin'.  I'm thinking there has got to be some kind of hand-eye coordination skill he's learning here - these fish move around pretty fast while he tries to grab them!  Join me on this one!
More tactile love for the little guy.  A mini-sensory box with hidden animals in some dyed pasta the kids and I made a while back.  The bear enjoyed the sound and feel of the pasta and sat with his bin for about 20 minutes.  Low-key fun that brought big smiles to my little guy's face and blessed my heart.  

For all the presents that don't go under a tree - I'm thanking God for these gifts given and those not yet received.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Re-Readable Books for All Ages!

Still at home sick, we're reading more than usual!  As I live in a foreign country with a limited choice of books in English (that are scary expensive), I make sure to pick wisely when I do buy abroad or off Amazon.  I love books and (joy!) all my children love them too.  Trust the list - these are books worth owning!

The 20th-Century Children's Book Treasury: Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud by Janet Schulman.  A great book to own for you, the kids, and grandkids to come!  It includes a variety of classics along with a guide to which books to read for a given age.

Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales by Beatrix Potter, preferrably in the little boxed set that will oneday lead to someone's blindness!  My kids are motivated to read more of Potter when the collection is divided into individual books and laid out before them!  We read my childhood treasury boxed set.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition by H.A. Rey along with any other Curious George book you can get your hands on!  These books really reflect the curious spirit of a preschooler.  And are somehow exciting over and over again! And for kids not reading yet, the illustrations are many and engaging enough for them to follow the stories visually when "reading" alone.

HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics: A Child's First Collection by Tegen Katherine.  Another great collection in a large-format book that would impress any kid!

Make Way for McCloskey: A Robert McCloskey Treasury by Robert McCloskey.  I've been falling in love with this classic writer more and more.  McCloskey's pace is slower, but stick with it and you will be won over.  His engaging illustrations coupled with an easy, yet richly descriptive writing style is quite endearing.

The Word and Song Bible by Stephen Elkins. Many of the Bible stories are coupled with fun illustrations that capture my 3-year old's imagination.  The CD that accompanies the Bible is a good one too!

A Family Treasury of Little Golden Books. A solid collection with a variety of stories - some with many illustrations and simple stories for the wee ones, and others with fewer illustrations and more complex stories for your older ones.

By now you must have recognized the theme here -  treasuries!! The right treasury (good stories with a fair amount of illustrations) is a great deal.  Treasuries are also good for travel, good for the pre-reader browsing on his or her own, and very good for the parent who needs the read-aloud variety!

Which books do you consider "re-readables"? 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Accessible Abstract Art - Mondrian Collage

One week of bed rest for almost an entire family at home has definitely inspired me to search (hunt down like there's no tomorrow) for ideas that are fresh, creative and thought-provoking for the kids and me!  This Mondrian Collage inspired by a fantastic art teacher and her blog is a fresh approach to some of the common materials we have in our home.  We used black construction paper cut in various-sized strips, white construction paper for our canvas, glue sticks, and crayons (didn't have the oil pastels) in primary colors and grays.
And, oh what loveliness was made!  My eldest child - ever the organized one - created a star and colored right on the black strips.  Normally I have a plethora of art supplies at the ready, but I think he appreciated the limitations of this project, continuing to slowly add to it for some time.
My younger kid on the other hand, prefers to get things done.  She enjoys the process, but doesn't want it to be too, too long.  Hence the three long strips because she's "thwee" years old.  Despite basically having only four colors to work with, she  was still inspired by the "rainbow" pallette.
Here's the Bear baby creating his own composition on clear adhesive contact paper.  I never used to be one of those "but the baby will feel sad if he doesn't get to do it too" moms, but it's actually true with this little guy.  He cried for me to put him in his high chair so he could create a little bit of loveliness of his own!
The kids were so proud of their artwork, they immediately ran to the fridge to "frame" it.  After displaying his piece, my son exclaimed, "That was a lot of work. This was a good project, Mommy!"  Music to a sick mama's ears!
I had a little fun with Mondrian myself!  One of the interesting aspects of this project was how the bold construction strips and limited palette inspired them (us!) to design and color.  Here's to simple, thoughtful, accessible, abstract art!