Friday, August 30, 2013

Alphabet: F

Since the suffocating heat and humidity kept us indoors the majority of the week, we were able to focus a lot of attention on the letter F. We picked out quite a selection of books at the library and then set to work learning about fish and frogs. I grabbed a firefly book at the library on a whim, and I wish I would have planned some projects on the insect since the book interested Spencer so much.

Our door letter for F was a frog.

And we learned about a frog's life cycle from a pin wheel template I found online. Spencer thinks it's a clock and periodically tells me the frog says it's 40 o'clock. Perhaps we should dedicate some time to study clocks and time-telling.

We braved the heat one morning and did a project with fly swatters. I drew flies on a large piece of paper and lettered them. The goal was to swat the flies with the letter F. Because of the weather, this activity wasn't as big of a hit as I thought. We wanted to retreat back into the chilly air conditioned house. First we stopped at the sprinkler to hose off the paint and cool down.

We dedicated a whole day to creating an ocean. First we colored some fish stickers with Color Wonder markers Spencer got for his birthday. Then we painted a large piece of paper blue. Once that was dry, we stuck the fish stickers on our ocean. I'm pretty sure this was the boys' favorite activity.

We ended the letter F by making paper plate fishes. The boys decorated them however they wanted, using markers, stamps, stickers and glitter.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mourning the Loss of Color Blindness

"Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands."
-Anne Frank

As I was flipping through channels the other day, trying to find a show to appease my four-year-old while I cooked supper, I was stopped dead in my tracks. He declared shows he previously loved "girl" shows. Until this moment, he hadn't associated with gender stereotypes. We've never encouraged or discouraged things based on our children's sex. Spencer's first favorite color was pink. He's always preferred Minnie to Mickey Mouse. When he said he wanted a doll like his best friend's, I went out and got him one. But lately he's been labeling things as boy or girl; and each time my heart shatters into tiny pieces. I know this is a small fracture in the world where he once saw things through innocent eyes; and soon this fracture will grow so big that he'll completely lose identity with the little boy who once saw pink simply as a color. I'm mourning the loss of my son's color blindness.

Soon enough Spencer will start kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school, graduate and move away. It is becoming so apparent that my days with him are limited. My opportunity to instill good morals, manners and the biggest heart to love and accept all colors of the world are numbered by the day. One day he will be faced with the world's big issues, and I hope in these early years that I've armed him with enough ammo to take it all on. But at least for now--today, tomorrow, and a few years to come--a hug and a band-aid cures all ailments.

As for his little brother, I'm still cultivating the individualized interests in him, whether it be the all-american boy sports, tractors, trucks or catering to his more nurturing side with dolls and stuffed animals and loveys. I'm all too aware that someday he, too, will lose his color blindness.


More "Hanging onto Summer" moments.

The other day the boys and I found ourselves at a park with a man-made lake, a nice little swimming hole. With the best intentions, I told them they could go look at the water, maybe throw some rocks in. We took our shoes off and walked the water line, enjoying the abandoned beach that is undoubtedly cluttered with bodies on a typical summer day. Before I knew it, one boy fell in, soaking his clothes and the other followed suit. Throwing out all the rules, I stripped them down to their underwear and diaper and they ran and jumped and splashed in the water. Once people started drifting in, we made the naked walk back to the van. No towels. No dry change of clothes. And no extra diapers. What's a mommy to do? Spencer rode home in the nude. Ashton wore a makeshift diaper. It probably tops the charts as one of the best days of the entire summer.

Now that the summer is winding down, we've been visiting as many parks as we can cram into these last few weeks. Last week we chose a very scenic one for our picnic and then explored the vast beauty, spending the majority of time at the teensiest of creeks. It's always water that wins with my boys.

Last week we had a play date with some friends at the same park where we had our spontaneous swimming adventure. As I pulled into the parking lot, I specifically told Spencer and Ashton that we were not going in the water that day. Sure enough, we ended in the water. And, of course, I was as ill-prepared this time as the last. No towels, no change of clothes and no extra diapers. But this day probably ranked up there in the top ten as well.

And last weekend we brought the best aspects of camping to our backyard: a bon fire, roasted hotdogs and marshmallows, complete abandonment of house rules. We sat around the fire with our adult beverages as the boys ran naked in the yard. Another top ten moment, for sure.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Alphabet: Review A-E

It's been a bit crazy in the Mahlke household as of late. And when I say crazy, I really just mean we've had multiple days out of our routine, which literally does translate to crazy in my family. The boys are creatures of habit and we all pay if we stray too far off the grid. Because of our busy schedules and then playing routine-catchup, we have taken a bit of an alphabet project siesta. But we're baaaaack!

This week we reviewed the letters we've learned so far as a nice refresher. I used our door alphabet projects as a starting point, and we talked about each letter. Well, mostly, I alligator-chomped, bee-buzzed, crab-pinched, duck-quacked and elephant-trunked them around the room. But they laughed. They were engaged. It was a successful alphabet review.

One morning during breakfast Spencer worked through several pages of an alphabet workbook.

We brought our review outside one afternoon, armed with chalk and squirt bottles. I drew bugs on the driveway and each bug was branded with a letter. Apparently I am not a talented artist because Spencer asked me why I was drawing a sun. The goal was to squirt all the bugs with the letters I wrote on the driveway. Ashton whined and fussed that he couldn't squirt the water into his mouth, but Spencer willingly participated in this activity. Once all the bugs were doused, he continued squirting whatever he pleased until he drained the water bottle and came begging for more. I'm fairly certain the water bottle was a hit; the alphabet activity was just the means to an end.

Another day during snacks I pulled out some paper, Q-tips and paint and encouraged the boys to trace the letters I had pre-drawn on the paper. Spencer attacked the E like it was his job, less enthusiastically outlined the D with the Q-tip and then forwent the planned project completely and painted as he pleased. Ashton, on the other hand, never attempted to follow the rules. He dove right in painting his hands and mouth and ears (duh, Mommy, that's what Q-tips are for!) and whatever else he could get at before I redirected his hands.

I hung the Q-tip pictures on the artwork board below our review flashcards. Throughout the week we periodically discussed the letters on the board.

For our final activity I taped a big piece of heavy paper on the coffee table and drew a race track and a bunch of garages. Each garage was assigned a letter. I also wrote numbers on pieces of tape on cars*. The object was to park the cars with the corresponding letters in the garages. This lasted for all of two minutes before I gave up and we just raced around the track. It's also become a field for a John Deere tractor and a helipad for a rescue helicopter. And it's been torn and taped.

*Footnote: I'd like to state for the record that no Hot Wheels (not to be confused with Matchbox cars) were harmed in this activity.

<---Alphabet E --- Alphabet F--->

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hanging onto Summer

"Childhood is the most beautiful of all life's seasons."
-author unknown

As the summer winds down, everything seems to minutely be shifting toward the change of seasons. Cooler nights and crisp mornings. A stray amber leaf betraying her green sisters. Temperaments flaring. Long summer days dragging into boredom. Weekends crammed with belated attempts to accomplish everything on the extensive summer bucketlist.
We've been on a mission to discover new parks before the end of the season.

The longing for structure is apparent in my household. The excitement of summer is quickly dwindling into tedium. And everyone knows boredom breeds ill-tempered, misbehaved kids. I'm grasping to hold onto the excitement of summer with the tips of my fingers because I know what's around the corner. The long, hard days of winter. But even I cannot deny the pull of fall. Fall is like a magnet sucking you in, and before you know it, you're knee deep in snow and even crabbier, misbehaved kids suffocated by the tedium of our house.

I've been taking an active stance against the change of seasons. Slowing down time has been the biggest obstacle, especially on the long, hard days that I so desperately want to hurry and cross the finish line. The fast-paced, go-go-go lifestyle that we've been leading as of late has made for some disagreeable little boys and for some unpleasantly long, painful days. Because of this we've been taking stock of things, examining our plans, making changes when necessary, truly paying attention to our kids' needs versus the items scribbled on the calendar.

A picnic is always better jazzed up with a parade of construction trucks and tractors.

Saturday was one such day where we threw everything planned out the window after a morning of whiny, arguing and misbehaved children. Instead we loaded up the boat and enjoyed a peaceful evening on the river, just our family of four and the great Mississippi. Subway catered our supper and nature provided the scenery. It was exactly what was needed.

Here's to many more summer days ahead of us, and enjoying all the moments in between.

This nifty travel wine mug is compliments of my friend. Best birthday gift ever.

Don't be alarmed: this is the only alcohol our cooler contained. Ya know, the responsible parent bit and all.

Monday, August 12, 2013

His Birthday, My Birthday.

I nearly cried all those years ago during my first prenatal visit when I discovered my baby's due date was three days before my birthday. It was like a bad flashback to my wedding planning when I realized the only available dates were during *gasp* my birthday month. So now not only was I sharing my birthday month with my marriage, I was pretty much sacrificing my birthday completely for this little being I just created. How dare he?! Here we are four birthdays later and I'm over it. Mostly over it. OK, so I'm working toward being over it. But we've made progress. What can I say? I LOVE birthdays. A lot.

Last year Spencer's party was on my birthday and this year was no different. On Saturday if you asked Spencer whose birthday it was, he would adamantly exclaim it was not Mommy's birthday yet. Mine was at night; his was during the day. Get it right, people!

I spent quite a lot of time preparing for the big party. I don't normally go all out, but I do like to make them special. The theme came about from Spencer's love affair with Finn McMissile chasing bad guys. I'm not in love with character birthdays, so I decided to go a different route, using the Cars character as inspiration. That's how the spy theme came about. I scoured the internet for ideas and then worked to recreate them myself for much cheaper.

Although the party was a success, I'm contemplating not doing a big party for Spencer next year. He said there were too many people and it was too loud for him. He prefers smaller groups. Perhaps next year there will be two small ones so as to include family and friends separately.


The invitation.

The decorations.

The party favors.

Spy badges.

Spy sign-in.

A fingerprint scan app on my Kindle.
I used an inkless fingerprint kit to create their spy badges. 

They each came up with their own unique spy name.

The crime.

Reading the mission to the spies.

Evidence #1: Dog bone in the jewelry box.

Evidence #2: Follow the dog paw prints.

Evidence #3: A letter.

Evidence #4: A map.

Evidence #5: A briefcase.

Get the bad guys!!!

The guests.

Guestbook page for Spencer's scrapbook.

The gifts.

Ashton colored his brother's present.
I made him a quilt, pillowcase and valance.

The food.

The cake.


Once the afternoon faded to night, and the party guests tapered off, I shrugged off my dress in exchange for my night attire. My mom, sister, brother-in-law and a handful of my closest friends hit the small downtown bars to celebrate my birthday. If anyone asked, it was my 24th birthday. Surprisingly, that age wasn't questioned. Not bad for a 32 year old to pass as a young 'en, eh?

But young 'en I am not! I am quite out of practice with the bar scene. You couldn't tell Saturday night. We tore up that dance floor! And laughed. Oh my goodness, we laughed! If my birthday celebration is any indication of how the year to come is going to be, I'm thinking year 32 is going to be hard to beat.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our birthdays--the gifts, the cards, the well-wishes, and most importantly, your presence. We love all of you so much!
Getting a start on the Thank Yous.