Thursday, September 29, 2011

Black Hill Boat Ride

The girls didn't have school today, so I had signed them up for a boat ride and story time at Black Hill Regional Park. Julia has been to a couple of these programs, but this was Evelyn's first. It was a cloudy, drizzly day, but the pontoon boat had a roof, so we stayed nice and dry during the hour-long excursion.Turtles prefer to be out in sunny weather, so we were lucky to see even one today...and here it is!
We saw lots and lots of Canadian geese in and around the lake. But we also caught a glimpse of this gray lag goose, hanging out in a patch of wildflowers.
The girls kept track of the things they saw on a scavenger hunt paper. Shortly after seeing three deer, Julia got right to work coloring the picture of a deer.
We were hoping to see an eagle while out and about, but we didn't. However, we saw the next-best thing: two great blue herons. We girls had a great time cruising around the lake this morning, looking for and learning about the wildlife that lives there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rainbow Cake

A couple of days ago, I came across a recipe for Rainbow Cake. The girls really liked this idea for a birthday cake, so I thought I would give it a try. Oh, the girls also insisted that I put 36 candles on my cake, so here we go-Julia couldn't wait to sing the "Birthday Song" and have me blow out the candles...

...and this is why Julia was so impatient. She wanted to see the inside of the cake! Julia helped me make, bake and frost the rainbow cake this afternoon, and she was very proud of her creation.
Here's Evelyn, digging into her colorful piece of cake.
Julia was all smiles, eating her cake and ice cream.

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Pancake Day

I wasn't sure what to make for supper tonight. At about 5:00 p.m., I found out it was National Pancake Day. Then I came across a new recipe for buttermilk pancakes. The answer to my dinner dilemma was clear: pancakes.

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
We now pause for sous-chef identification...brought to you by Julia!
Mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another bowl. Then combine the wet and dry ingredients, but don't over-mix. Be sure there are still some lumps in the batter. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
Finally, start cooking your pancakes. I like to use my electric skillet for pancakes, and I had the temperature set to 350 degrees. We girls thought the pancakes were great. However, Troy prefers fluffy pancakes, and these were too flat for him. So we decided to compromise by taking turns between making this new recipe and the old recipe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

National Book Festival

Evelyn and I headed to Washington, D.C. this afternoon to check out the National Book Festival. The festival, hosted by the Library of Congress, took up most of the green space in front of the Smithsonian museums. Several author talks were going on at the same time, one tent held a mini-bookstore, there were book signing tents and still other tents housed children's activities. While we enjoyed many aspects of the book festival, our main focus was Jon J. Muth, a children's book author and illustrator. Muth drew the poster for this year's festival, which made him even more of a celebrity. We got to the book festival in time to hear Muth speak about writing and illustrating children's books. He even read a few pages from his most recent book, Zen Ghosts.
Muth has studied art all over the world, but the biggest influence for his style comes from Japan. He prefers to use sumi brushes, and he makes his own sumi ink by grinding stones together and mixing the stone powder with water. We were so excited that we got to watch him paint two pictures with a sumi brush and ink. Here is his finished picture of Stillwater the panda bear sledding in an inner tube. Watching Muth paint was magical...he started off with what looked like random shapes and transformed them into beautiful pictures of animals.
After listening to Muth speak, Evelyn and I bought Zen Ghosts (I wanted to buy ALL of his books, but I didn't), and then we ate lunch on a bench. Next we headed over to the book signing area, where we waited for an hour before we met Jon J. Muth. We asked him to sign two posters (one for Julia and one for Evelyn) and two books (one for the girls and one for Evelyn's 2nd-grade teacher). It was while Muth was signing that Evelyn asked him two questions: (1) Do you paint with water colors? (2) Where did you learn to draw? He replied that yes, he paints with water colors; he also asked Evelyn if she paints with water colors, to which she enthusiastically replied, "Yes!" His other answer was rather vague in that he learned to draw when he was young. After reading more about him, we found out that his mother encouraged Muth to pursue art at a young age. Sounds like what we do with Evelyn...we'll just have to wait and see where Evelyn goes with her artistic talents!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Painter's Helper

I finally got around to painting the rest of the living room today. I did the first coat this morning while Julia was in preschool. Even though the three-year-old redhead wasn't underfoot, the two-year-old feline most certainly was.
Here's Rosie, with the classic "Who, me?" look.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2 + 1 = 3

Julia had a dental checkup this morning, which went fine. But that's not the exciting news of the day. She wowed me by solving a simple addition problem.

As we walked out of the dentist's office, I told Julia that we needed to go to two stores, the library and one other store. "Where are we going?" Julia asked. I repeated our agenda: two stores, the library and one other store. "So we're going to three stores?" Julia wondered. Nice work with the addition, Jules!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sleepy Time

Look at what I found when I checked on the girls last night.....

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain

I honestly can't remember the last time we went to Sugarloaf Mountain, so we were long overdue for a hike. Today's weather was partly cloudy with the temperatures in the mid-60's, which is perfect for climbing a mountain.
For the first time, Julia hiked to the top of the mountain all by herself. She did just fine on the 20-minute hike, which is a 300-foot climb over a stretch of 1/4 of a mile.
Once we made it to the top, we spent some time climbing all over the rocks. Remembering her trip to the Rocky Mountains earlier this summer, Julia kept commenting that we were on a rocky Sugarloaf Mountain. We went back down the mountain, and Julia only needed to be carried for about five minutes during the descent.
As we drove home from Sugarloaf Mountain, we spotted this guy hanging out in a dead tree. This bald eagle was in a tree close to his nest, near Black Hill Regional Park. This might have been the same eagle we girls saw in June. How cool to see the national bird at the end of our excursion!

Overseeing Her Kingdom

One of Rosie's favorite perches in the new house is the second-floor landing. She likes to hang over the edge and watch us, just like any other cat with an inferiority complex.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Painting Ceramics

We girls headed up to the Painted Cone in Urbana this morning. The Painted Cone's name says it all - you can paint ceramics and/or eat ice cream, all under one roof. We girls have been there before to enjoy their ice cream, but today was the first time we went there to paint. The plan was for the girls to each paint a light switch cover for their rooms, but the shop was out of light switch covers. Plan B: the girls could choose something else to paint.

It took some effort, but after longing for a princess, I persuaded Julia to paint a plate. The painted (and then kiln-fire-glazed) plate will be safe to eat off of, which makes it practical. I also didn't think Julia would have the patience to paint a 9-inch tall princess. Julia agreed to go with the plate, she chose her six colors and then set to work.
The last time we were in the Painted Cone for ice cream, Evelyn had been admiring this donut piggy bank. So she was thrilled that there was one available for her to paint today. Just like with Julia, I let Evelyn pick her colors, and she got right to work.
After painting green, pink and purple splotches, Julia didn't want to paint any more because she was "tired." So I took over, filling in the empty spaces with red, blue and yellow. Julia watched me paint, and she told me where to put which color. When I was almost finished, Julia got a second wind and wanted to have the paintbrush back. She then added a few finishing touches with pink and purple paint. I honestly have no idea what Julia's plate will look like after it has been fired in the kiln, especially with all the layering of colors she did. It will definitely be unique!
Evelyn painted the base of her donut a beige color, then she painted the icing pink, and finally she painted the sprinkles various colors. I think this donut piggy bank will look really tasty after its kiln session. We'll just have to wait and see!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Monochromatic Lunch

True, we push Julia to try new things at supper. But lunch-time is reserved for her favorites. This afternoon the menu consisted of cheese quesadillas, chips, applesauce and milk. Clearly the colorful food comes out at supper.

Meadow Story Time

Julia and I went to Black Hill Regional Park this morning for a story time about meadows. Actually, it was much more than a story time - we saw a puppet show telling us about habitats, Julia decorated a visor with stickers, we wandered through a small meadow (butterfly net and magnifying glass in hand) to look for things that live and grow in a meadow, and Julia took home another craft and some coloring pages.

Julia strung together the parts of her caterpillar craft all by herself...while Rosie watched and waited for a chance to pounce on the shoestring.Something else we had with us during the meadow hike was a tape bracelet. The tape went around my wrist, sticky-side-out, and we collected seeds, leaves and flowers during the 15-minute walk. (The bracelet is the narrow rectangle in the picture below.) We have another story time at Black Hill in two weeks, and I can't wait to see what fun things we'll do then!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pillow-and-Blanket Fort

Yesterday Evelyn built lots of different forts in the living room. It was tricky finding a design that would stand up on the wood floor, but she finally figured out how to position the pillows and blankets. (Having a sturdy ottoman certainly helped!)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mealtime Breakthrough

To say that Julia is a picky eater is an understatement. To say that Julia is stubborn is also an understatement. Those two characteristics make for some interesting mealtimes...such as Julia only drinking a glass of milk for dinner.

This evening's menu was grilled chicken, peas and homemade macaroni salad. Julia's plate had four bites of chicken, three peas and 10 pieces of pasta. Much to our surprise, Julia devoured the chicken. Why is this such a big surprise? For the first time that we can remember, Julia ate real chicken (not chicken nuggets). So I was quick to give into her request for more chicken.

When she asked for a third serving of chicken, I told her she needed to eat one pea and one macaroni. Julia absolutely, positively refused. Until she saw the extra chicken (on my plate and Troy's plate) disappearing. Then, miracle of all miracles, Julia ate all of her macaroni salad and one pea! We praised Julia for eating her dinner, but we didn't go overboard. You could tell that she was also proud of herself for (finally) trying new foods. Plus, she got a serving of Mississippi mud cake for dessert!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Best Cookies Ever

A couple of days ago Julia and I made Peanut Butter Snickers Cookies. The recipe calls for regular Snickers candy bars, but I prefer to use the "Be Squared" Peanut Butter Snickers. I have made this recipe a couple of times, and the cookies turn out perfect every time. Want the recipe? Click on the following words: Peanut Butter Snickers Cookies.

Tonight Troy proclaimed that these cookies are the best cookies ever. He said they should always be in the house, and I should make one or two batches a week. You know these cookies must be good if they took the place of his previous favorite - snickerdoodles. I'm surprised there are still some left in the house!

Grocery Store Funnies

This morning Julia and I went to the grocery store for the weekly shopping trip. Shoppers recently got shopping carts that have little cars attached to the front, and Julia just loves driving around the store. She also likes honking the horn. While we were in the bread aisle, Julia was beeping the horn. Not really paying attention to other people, I said, "Beep, beep!" in response to Julia's honking. I actually made a guy next to me literally jump out of the way! I quickly apologized, saying that Julia and I were playing a game...

Later on in the store, Julia and I were making weird noises that we hear on episodes of Shaun the Sheep (a claymation show based on sheep on a farm). As luck would have it, I was making a vomitting sound just as one of the grocery clerks rounded the corner. The clerk ignored me, and I made a mental note not to embarrass myself like that again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Letter "A"

Yesterday at preschool, Julia learned about the letter "A." Everything about this lesson - from what she colored and wrote at preschool to what she verbally tells everyone - lets me know that she has completely different academic strengths compared to Evelyn.

The first thing I noticed when she brought this coloring page home was the way she tried to color the picture (inside the lines). Her fine-motor skills at age three are much more controlled than what her big sister's were at this age.

Then, there is the actual knowledge of the letter. She has been telling everyone she meets that the letter "A" is for apple. This afternoon at home, while drawing on a piece of paper, she tried to write the letter "A" on her own. If you look closely at the paper below, you can see where she wrote both the big "A" and the little "a" by herself. Evelyn didn't take an interest in letters or words until she started Kindergarten.

Evelyn is an excellent reader now - reading far better than what's expected of a second-grader. My guess is that Julia will sprout sooner than Evelyn did (she already is), but then be at about the same level as Evelyn when she hits first and second grade. Only time will tell!

Too Much Rain

One of our neighborhood friends, who lives just a couple of blocks from us, gave me the total from her rain gauge. Since Monday morning, we have gotten 13 inches of rain. About 5 inches fell just last night, so all of this is resulting in flooding and water problems.

Here's a picture of what Great Seneca Creek (note, it is supposed to be a creek) looked like on the walk to school this morning. Judging by the flattened plants and grasses close to this morning's water line, we could tell it had been about a foot higher than this.
The ridiculous amount of rain has also resulted in two significant leaks in the basement of our new house. Hopefully those leaks will only occur when have a bunch of rain, which doesn't happen very often.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Julia's First Day of Preschool

Julia started preschool today! She was both nervous and excited about it. Julia is familiar with the preschool (ELF School in Boyds), which added to this morning's excitement. The girls' babysitter's son went there the past two years, and Julia tagged along for drop-off and pick-up.

When Julia got to her classroom, individual placemats with play dough were spread out on the tables. Julia found an empty seat and got right to work, manipulating her dough. I said good-bye, and that was that.

When I picked her up two and a half hours later, there were two things she talked about: playing with play dough and eating bear crackers. When asked if she had a good time, Julia enthusiastically answered, "Yes!" We know this preschool is top-notch, and we're glad that Julia's first educational experience will be a positive one.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Laundry Cat

Here's the little spaz in the laundry basket. You can tell from the wild look in her eyes that Rosie is all fired up and ready to play.