Birds In Our Backyard

Back in the early spring, I got a call from a friend of mine from my Early Childhood PTA group. She asked me if I would be the Environmental Chairman for the group for the 2009-2010 year. In a sleep deprived stupor I said "Sure!" without really thinking it all through. I love the position but this may have been a bad year for me to take on any more responsibilities since I'm struggling with all that's on my plate already. However, I have fumbled my way through and have some great events and outings scheduled to get the kids outside and learning about nature and their environment.

We had our first outing today. Last year when I was speaking at some of the Park Board meetings, I met a woman named Marsha Gavitt who is an expert on local birds. I got in touch with her to see if she would be willing to talk with our children about local birds including helping them tell different birds apart so they might can identify some of the birds they see out on the playgrounds. She was delighted. We met at the Grapevine Botanical Gardens and had a great turn out.

I brought some plush birds that have a button on them that the children could press to hear the bird's song. The songs are from actual recordings taken by the Cornell Lab of Orinthology. The kids really loved holding the birds, seeing the difference between the birds, and hearing their different songs.

My kids have fallen in love with these birds too. Rachel crawls around while dragging one around with her and Nicholas just loves to press the buttons to make them sing over and over and over again.

I gave the children their own bird badge that they could wear around their neck. It has pictures of the most common local birds that they might see. The pictures are numbered and on the back is a list of the names of the birds. I hope that this will help some of the moms learn how to identify birds as well! We also did a craft in which the children threaded Cheerios on a pipe cleaner to make their own bird feeders to hang from a tree branch at home. The craft was cheap and super easy for most of the children there. Putting the Cheerios on the pipe cleaner also made for a good fine motor exercise. Plus there was the added benefit that the craft was edible for those kids who were getting fussy and hungry.

I had a good time and I'm pretty sure the children enjoyed it as well. Maybe this won't be so difficult after all. I'm just a little sad that I'm doing all of this at a time when Rachel is still too young to really participate in the activities. But she enjoyed being at the gardens, playing with the plush birds, and snacking on Cheerios.

A Gross Science Experiment

I've always loved science. I even wanted to be a micro-biologist at one time in my pre-children life. Of course, science experiments are lots of fun for me, especially gross ones :) Check this one out...

We are always talking to Nicholas about the importance of washing his hands even if he doesn't see that they are dirty. He usually counts to 20 as he rubs the soap on them to be sure that he is washing them long enough. However, sometimes he tries to skimp by counting really fast or not using soap. So I found a little experiment to do to show him how germs can be places even when you can't see them.

All you need are three pieces of white bread (lighter color will show the growth better than wheat bread); three clean jars with lids numbered 1, 2, and 3; a sprinkle of water; and a magnifying glass.

We would have liked to have used three whole slices of bread but we had small jars to work with so we had to cut three smaller pieces from a single slice of bread.

Touch only a tiny corner of one of the pieces of bread and place it in jar #1 and screw on the lid.

Sprinkle a tiny bit of water on another piece of bread and leave it outside for 20 minutes. Place it in jar #2 and screw on the lid.

Sprinkle the third piece of bread then rub it between your hands and along the kitchen counter. Our piece got rubbed well with little boy hands, along all of the kitchen countertops, dropped on the floor, then rubbed on the floor. Place piece of bread in jar #3 and screw on the lid.

Place the jars in a dark place and check on them every few days.

Out of sight, out of mind, right? I forgot about our jars and we checked on them in a few weeks! Ewww!

Jar #1 showed little activity at all. Jar #2 had some interesting white and crusty yellow growth on it. But the one we really had fun with and wiped all kinds of germs on was obviously the most fun to look at. It had significant growth of some funky green fuzzy stuff.

What does this teach us? First, it means Mommy is in desperate need of a maid because I don't have time to cherish the days with my children AND have a clean kitchen. But it also taught us that even though something looks clean, like a piece of bread or your own hand, it may still have lots of germs and bacteria on it. Ahhh, I love a lesson that is taught in such tangible, albeit gross, ways!

Nicholas had fun using his tweezers and looking at the bread with his magnifying glass. But I had fun watching how excited he was learning the point I was trying to get through to him.

I've gotten in the habit of taking off my shoes when I come inside. I started doing it mostly for comfort but after having shampooed the carpet and seeing all of the gross stuff that came out of it, I'm a big believer in trying to keep the dirt and germs at the door now. But Nicholas and Stuart don't follow my same line of thinking so I have to throw in some propaganda now and then when I get the chance. So while I was talking about the invisible germs on the bread, I also mentioned how we bring dirt and germs into the house when we walk from outside to inside with our shoes. Nicholas decided that we should repeat our bread experiment and test one piece of bread on the bottom of our shoes after walking around outside and another piece of bread on the bottom of our feet. I love how he is taking our experiment and expanding on it with our new hypothesis. My little scientist in the making :)

Playground Photographer

Recently we spent an afternoon at a local playground. Nicholas combined two of his favorite things to do - playing and taking pictures. He brought his camera to the playground. He played for a while then took pictures for a while then played a little more. He took pictures of trees, our family, the play equipment, and even new friends he met at the park that day.

Saturday Morning Soccer

Nicholas is in the GLASA soccer league. His team is the Dark Knights. The kids have a blast and they try really hard. But the other teams they play against are really hard core soccer players and the Dark Knights just can't seem to win a game. Actually, they haven't scored a single goal yet, unless you count the one that they scored for the other team! But again, they are learning a lot about soccer and having fun doing it.

Even Rachel gets into the game by helping to cheer them on...

Playing with Daddy

I love it that Stuart enjoys getting down on the floor and playing with our children. Of course, the kids love it too! He's such a great Daddy!

Rachel enjoys playing with Nicholas' Leap Frog activity table. She stands up on one side, plays with all of the activiites, then cruises around to another side to play with more activities. She spends quite a bit of time here each day. I remember Nicholas loved this toy too when he was Rachel's age.

Of course, from time to time, Rachel has to take a break from play time in order to take an important phone call on my cell phone...

The Rock Hunter

Grandmother Chance gave Nicholas a Rock Hunter kit for Christmas last year. As with many things around here it got misplaced and recently rediscovered. So Nicholas got to experience the excitement of his present twice :)

The Rock Hunter kit is really cool. There were three rocks and an arrowhead "hidden" in this faux rock. The kit comes with safety goggles, a hammer, chisel, velvet drawstring bag to hold your treasures, and a poster to teach you about the rocks you find.

Nicholas was very precise with the hammer and chisel, at least for a little while.

Then he threw down the hammer and just pounded on the rock with the chisel. Ahh, he has the patience of a 5 year old :)

Ooops, notice the new band-aid on his finger. Learned a lesson the hard way but he's fine. And he has an arrowhead to show for it. And what's that? Another stone is starting to be revealed in the rock!

Found a nice chunk of green Aventurine!

More chiseling reveals a cool piece of Chalcedony and Amethyst.

A fun project for learning about rock hunting, chiseling, and patience :)

Then What Would You Do During The Day?

Nicholas loves to invent things. He builds machines with Legos or Tinker Toys and then tells us the neat things they can do (even if they really can't do them). Recently Nicholas asked me if there was something he could invent for me. I said that I could use something that kept the floors clean. It would need to pick up toys, vacuum, sweep, and mop.

Nicholas quickly replied, "But Mom, you need something to do during the day while I'm at school. If I made that invention then you'd have nothing to do. No, I don't think I'll make that."

Rachel is 11 months old today

Rachel turns 11 months old today. What a wonderful 11 months it has been! She is such a joy in our lives. Nicholas absolutely adores her. When Rachel wakes up in the morning and starts babbling, Nicholas wants to be the first one in her room to greet her. He loves to play "tickle attack" with her. They also play chase together as they both crawl around on the floor taking turns chasing each other and cackling with laughter.

Rachel has learned some baby sign language. Sign language is just great way for babies to communicate their needs when they are too young to speak. She can make the sign for "milk", "eat", "more", "diaper change", and "all done". She can also speak a few words such as Dada, Mama, done, up, nite nite. She also tries to say diaper but it just comes out as "di".

Rachel has three teeth - her two top front teeth and her lower right front tooth. She loves almost all of the Gerber baby foods. When she is tired of eating she will rip off her bib and shake her hands to make the all done sign while she says "done". Don't even bother offering her more food after that. She will swat at the spoon with her hand and green baby food will go flying everywhere. I know this from experience. She likes foods that she can feed herself like Cheerios, small pieces of bread, chunks of banana or avocado. But these get messy because she either ends up smearing them all over her high chair or throwing them over the side on to the floor where they get stepped on by us. She still struggles with drinking from a sippy cup. She doesn't like tipping it back and ends up sucking air. Then she gets mad and throws the cup to the ground.

Rachel is not very fond of diaper changes. She doesn't cry but she does squirm and flip over as she tries to crawl away from you. This is especially fun when I've just removed the poopy diaper but haven't had a chance to clean her up yet. Oh yes, that's fun. Now I have to be sure to have several baby wipes ready to go and the clean diaper within reach so I can get her changed as quickly as possible. Sometimes I feel like a cowboy wrestling a calf to the ground and trying to tie up it's legs as quickly as possible.

Rachel can cruise around while holding on to something with one hand. She is always exploring and trying to get into everything.

She can even hold on with one hand and squat down to pick toys up off the floor.

We regularly hold both of her hands and try to show her how to walk but she will take a few steps and then try to flop back down to the floor to crawl so she can get where she's going more quickly.

Rachel loves board books. She has most of Nicholas' board books except for some that were loved on so much that they have fallen apart. She doesn't try to chew on the books much anymore but she still isn't ready to really sit and listen to a story being read to her. Instead she just likes to turn the pages. And she has a fascination with the covers of the books. She will look at the cover then turn to a page in the book. Then she has to look back at the cover of the book again to make sure it is still there before turning to another page in the book. It makes it very difficult to read a story like that but she is enjoying the books in her own way and that's all that matters.

Rachel loves bath time. She splashes in the water, crawls around in the tub, and likes to chew on Nicholas' sea creature bath toys. When bath time is finished, I used to be able to pick her up out of the tub and stand her up so she could hold on to the tub then I would easily put her hooded towel on her and then grab her in my arms to start drying her off. But now, she's got to much exploring to do to wait on me. When I stand her up outside of the tub, she quickly drops down and crawls out of the bathroom, dripping wet and slipping and sliding all over the floor. She is very quick and determined. I'll have to figure out a better way to get this towel on her now!

We love these hooded towels that a friend passed along to us.

She loves to wave to herself in the mirror.

She still likes to sleep a lot and still takes two naps a day. However, there have been times when she has completely missed her afternoon nap and not had a total meltdown so I see her giving that one up in the near future. When she wakes up from a nap, she often calls for Dada. Yes, she's a little stinker! The two of them have come up with a cute game. Rachel throws toys out of her crib and Stuart throws them back in. She will just giggle and squeal and keeps the game going forever.

One of her favorite toys is a box of wooden alphabet blocks that my brother gave to Nicholas. She loves to take each block out of the box and throw it on the floor. Then she will pick them up one by one and put them back in the box. She also can't resist knocking down any attempt at a tower that you might try to build with the blocks. Her other favorite toys include Nicholas' bat cave and the action figures (they are fun to chew on), looking through books, Mommy's cell phone, and a little Fisher Price train that we bought for Nicholas when he was about 6 months old.

For a while, Rachel did not like walking around the neighborhood in the stroller. I'm not sure why but we couldn't even make it down the street to Nicholas' school without her getting fussy. She's doing much better now. She loves to walk Nicholas to school. She "talks" to his friend that we pick up on our way and she laughs and waves at the crossing guards (of course they just love her!). After we drop the boys off at school, Rachel and I often go for walks around the neighborhood for a little while. I have to make sure that I have toys, snacks, and a sippy cup for her and I still don't venture off too far from home in case she starts to have a meltdown.

Little Rachel will be a year old in the blink of an eye. She's not so little anymore but she'll always be my little baby.

The Littlest Tiger Fan

Rachel is our littlest Tiger fan! GEAUX TIGERS!

Tonight we watched LSU play the University of Louisiana - Lafayette. We had fun cheering when the Tigers scored and we even started putting our hands up to make the referee hand signal for a touchdown.

Rachel watches everything we do and tries to imitate us so it was only a matter of time until she started doing the touchdown hand signal with us when we cheered.

What a cute little Tiger fan! And I'm sure her cheering helped those Tigers win over the Ragin' Cajuns with a final score of LSU 31, UL-L 3!!!

Strike A Pose

Since the paparazzi was on her anyway, Rachel decided to strike a pose for me.

Wild hair day!

And then she was all done. Check out her two little teeth. She's got her second upper front tooth coming in now but you can't see it very well yet.

Six Flags!!

Every year we make the trip to Arlington for the Pepsico Frito Lay employee party at Six Flags where we get the run of the park from 5:00pm to midnight. Every year I have to get this same picture as we enter the park. We went to the Six Flags party last night and I said I wasn't going to get this picture again this year. But at the last minute I pulled out the camera. I just like that they close the entire park just for our private party!

Of course, Six Flags is a not a Pepsi location. All through the park you see vending machines selling only Coca-Cola products. So I thought it was really cute to find these signs on the vending machines....

We did enjoy our fair share of the complimentary Pepsi and Frito Lay products. Throughout the park there are stations full of various Frito Lay chips and iced down Pepsi products like Aquafina, Gatorade, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, and of course Pepsi. They are all free with no limits so our tummies were never left wanting for anything.

Nicholas brought a friend of his and they spent several minutes trying to decipher the map. They were quite cute as they discussed where they were and where they wanted to go although I'm quite sure they really had no idea what they were talking about since even I can't read the Six Flags map very well.

We spent most of our time in Looney Tunes land where the rides are more geared towards younger kids. One of Nicholas' favorite rides here is the roller coaster. It is just two laps around a track that goes up and down but it gets quite a bit a speed at times and can be scary for little ones. But not these boys. They loved it! And I got a good seat right in front of them and was able to take lots of pictures of them screaming while smiling :)

They also rode a hot air ballon ride with Stuart. They loved how the ride went up and everyone spun around but the boys quickly learned that they could spin the center wheel to make their car spin around separately as well so they were going extra fast. Stuart was not so fond of this ride but notice Nicholas' tongue helping him to spin them even faster...

I really don't know how they did this, but the boys ALMOST talked me into riding on the Aquaman ride with them. This is one of those rides where you are in a boat and at the end you come down a hill and splash into the water. I really really almost did this with them but then came to my senses.

With our free tickets to the park, we also get free Daffy Dollars which is like "Six Flags Money" and can be used for food, drinks, games, or souvenirs in the park. We always eat dinner before we go and have plenty of free snacks while there so we get to spend all of our Daffy Dollars on toys and souvenirs. We got each boy his own super hero cape. Nicholas really enjoyed strutting around in his Batman cape...

Of course, they had to ride on the Tea Cups, another spin-around-as-fast-as-you-can kind of ride.

They tried a new ride this year which was designed to feel like you are falling from a skyscraper. It goes straight up and free falls a little and goes back up and free falls a little more. Eventually it works up to letting you feel like you are free falling all the way down.

Before we left we stopped back by the toy shop to spend the rest of our Daffy Dollars. The boys each got large super hero action figures. On the way out to the car, both boys were tired so we let them sit and rest while Stuart got the car. They both fell asleep before we got home.