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Baby body tracing | Toddler art

18 Jul
Bug ponders how to add more decoration to the tracing of the Lil Guy.

Bug ponders how to add more decoration to the tracing of the Lil Guy.

We are still recovering from our big trip back East, so I was looking for a quick project to do with the Bug after she got back from gymnastics class today. As I often do, I consulted Tinkerlab, specifically the “12 Art Projects for Toddlers” post. Body tracing! That seemed like fun. (Note: This post contains affiliate links.)

Body tracing!


  • Big piece of paper or cardboard
  • A pen for tracing
  • Various art supplies for decorating

I pulled out a roll of medical exam table paper — which I use for pattern tracing — and unspooled a length of it on the floor. “OK, Bug, lay on top of the paper,” I said. She was not going for it. So I thought we’d try it with the Lil Guy, who at 4 months, is too young to protest. I moved the paper to our rug, laid him down, and started tracing. “No, I do it,” Bug said, taking the pen from my hand and scribbling on the paper (to her credit, she only got a tiny bit on the Lil Guy). I grabbed a crayon and finished tracing, and when she relinquished the pen, I retraced his body.

Bug grabbed her dot markers, and we moved the whole operation outside. Since the tracing paper is thin, I put my cutting mat underneath it. I’ve learned from attempting art projects with Bug that you need to keep the momentum going. So although I would have preferred using cardboard or something I could throw away underneath the drawing, I went with something that I could grab quickly. We taped the paper to the mat, and Bug started dotting away.

She doesn’t often ask for the dot markers, so I decided to take a cue from Rachel Doorley and let her guide the choice of materials. Since I left the Scotch tape out, Bug wanted to play with that. I kept that out, and also grabbed two rolls of Wasabi tape that I bought. One looked like stained glass, so I used that to call back the memory of some gorgeous stained glass windows we saw in a seafood place in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “Remember those stained glass windows we saw? This tape reminds me of that.”

When she noticed some sidewalk chalk on the ground, we pulled out the chalk, which was less interesting to her. By this point, she understood where the art supplies were, and she pulled out some puffy paints her aunt gave her. I made a rule that we could only keep two art materials out at a time, so we put away the chalk and dot markers and kept the puffy paint and tape. Squeezing out just the right amount of paint was a little too fine of a motor skill for her, but she had fun globbing it on the paper, which began to rip under the weight.

I noticed her using the tip of the paint applicator to drag lines through the paint puddles, so I grabbed a couple of twigs from our yard, as well as some leafs and two clovers. We dragged lines from the blobs of paint and tried to use the leaves as stamps, which transferred shapeless globs of paint on the paper rather than leaf-shaped globs of paint, as I was hoping.

The whole activity kept her occupied for about an hour, which is a really long time for her right now. The Lil Guy admired our work on his outline from the vantage point of his bouncy chair. When we were done, I put the whole thing on an outside table to dry so that the dogs wouldn’t get paint on their noses.

The one thing I would change next time is the paper. Bug headed into her playroom with the last of our homemade play-dough, and I remembered that we had a roll of drawing paper attached to her play table. The drawing paper (from IKEA) is far sturdier than the tracing paper I used, and wouldn’t rip as easily under toddler hands and pools of paint.


Homemade veggie tempura as a first volley in the fight to get dinner on the table

31 Dec

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged since February. Not that I’ve been diligent about it recently, but that’s kind of ridiculous.

This has been a bit of a crazy year, with me back in school, Dave starting a business, the Bug becoming a full-fledged toddler, and us expecting her little brother in March. I can honestly say that I haven’t cooked much beyond subsistence cooking for the past four months, and when I have attempted something more adventurous, it’s been a disaster (I am thinking ruefully of the Brussels sprouts I burnt while watching the Bug and making dinner for my in-laws).

The lack of making things has made me feel very unlike myself, and now that finals week is over (or, for me, finals weeks since I had a bunch of huge projects due), I have gone into a bit of overdrive, catching up on Christmas crafts and trying to figure out a better approach to cooking, one that will help us get fast, reasonably healthy meals that include at least one vegetable that’s not potatoes on the table before the Bug gets so hungry that she starts to throw a fit, which gives us about 15 minutes after she gets home from daycare.

My friend Kitty recommended Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal, which is for people like Dave and me: parents who care about family dinners (and who used to cook all the time) but who just can’t seem to get something healthy and tasty on the table. After an aborted attempt at starting a couple of weeks ago (I forgot that I wouldn’t be home for something like 3 evenings), I cooked the veggie tempura, and it was really, really good.

Part of the plan is to do a report card on each dinner to see which ones are worth incorporating into your regular routine. I’m going to try to do that here. My ultimate goal is to have two weeks’ worth of easy, tasty dinners and then just work the repertoire until I can cook them without a recipe. I have two and a half months to do it until the lil guy comes. Crossing fingers…

Vegetable Tempura, Dinner: The Playbook p. 178

  • Meal: dinner,
  • Kid tried?: Yes
  • Keeper?: Yes
  • Cook’s grade: A-. Tasty, short list of ingredients, but frying is messy and took a while. Next time, I would use the bigger Dutch oven to do larger batches and reduce overall cooking time. However, there was plenty of time for the first batches to cool down and not be so “hot! hot!” for the Bug by the time we ate dinner.
  • Kid’s grade: A-. Bug ate carrots and enjoyed them.

Curried carrots, Dinner: The Playbook p. 155

  • Meal: Dinner for the Bug only (side to an Amy’s frozen burrito)
  • Kid tried?: Yes
  • Keeper?: Reserving judgement. Need to try again.
  • Cook’s grade: A. Super easy to prepare. I made it as a quick side to make me feel better about giving the Bug a frozen burrito (heated up, of course) for dinner. However, I was only making a little bit, so I didn’t measure the ingredients and didn’t really watch the clock as it cooked. Carrots came out a bit too mushy and with less flavor than I expected, but again, this is probably cook’s error not fault of recipe.
  • Kid’s grade: D. Bug ate one, then put two more in her mouth and spit them out. “No like.”

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Things you can do while nursing your baby OR how to stay mentally challenged while your baby chows

13 Jan

The Bug is a really good baby–super smiley, generally happy, sleeps pretty well. But for the first seven or eight months of her life, she would take FOREVER to eat. She’d often eat for 1 hour, every 2.5 to 3 hours. When you spend several months feeding your baby for about 1/3 of every day, you quickly discover how limited your multitasking options are. Specifically, you can only do things that you can do

  • while sitting down
  • with one hand/arm
  • that don’t involve anything hot, sharp, or otherwise potentially dangerous

My hobbies are:

  • running
  • sewing
  • playing mandolin
  • knitting
  • cooking/baking

Totally incompatible.

So, if you’re like me and are wondering how to put that time to good use, here are some suggestions.

1. Catch up on social media, shopping, email, etc. You already knew about this one. My recommendation is to limit it to once or twice a day. The internets can be an enormous time suck under normal circumstances, but when your brain is trying to function on very little sleep, it can be all too easy to go for the lowest-hanging fruit and check Facebook  or Zulily (again). RESIST THE URGE.

2. Plan your day/week. Nursing is when I go over my to-do list. I’ll often make phone calls I need to make, do simple online tasks I can do from my phone (like pay bills), and even figure out what I’ll make for dinner that week, researching recipes online, and then make a shopping list.  It’s not easy to do one-handed, but it is easy to do that stuff when the baby is occupied.

3. Read. You knew this one, too. But you may not know that now is the perfect time to switch to a digital reader–Nook, Kindle, even the iBooks app if you have an iPad or iPhone. Not only can you read ereaders one-handed, but if you download the book reading app to all your devices (e.g., tablet, computer, and phone), you have your book(s) everywhere you go–and already synced to the last page you read–so you are almost never without reading material. For example, I have a Paperwhite, but I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, iPad, and computer. Also, if your ereader is backlit, you can read with minimal light during those late-night feedings, keeping you occupied but keeping it nice and dark for your little one. I even converted some of my print subscriptions to digital so I could read the NY Times and Martha Stewart Living on my iPad.

4. Take a class. There are lots and lots of companies offering online classes these days–everything from college courses (available through iTunes UCoursera, and Open Courseware), to guided programming classes through Codecademy, to crafting and cooking classes through Craftsy. Many of the college courses are free, although you only get the lectures and you have to track down the materials on your own. I am going through a literature class, but I downloaded almost all the books and stories to my Kindle. Craftsy’s classes are paid, but the one I took (Sewing with Knits) was incredibly comprehensive and, considering that, extremely fairly priced. Also, if you “like” them on Facebook, you can get discount codes. Craftsy’s platform is also really handy — you can watch the classes on your phone, tablet, or computer, and take notes right in the app. Also, for the sewing classes, the patterns for all the items you sew are included. Craftsy recently began offering photography classes, if you want to take better baby pictures. Obviously, you can’t sew or take photos one-handed while nursing, but you can watch the videos and then spring into action when the baby is done feeding.

5. Pick up a new skill. You don’t need to go through a formal class to learn something new. You can pretty much learn anything from YouTube, such as how to refinish furniture, cover the back of a bookcase with wallpaper, attach a binding to a quilt, make marshmallows. In fact, I learned those things from YouTube. Watch the videos while you nurse, and then you can do the actual work during precious nap time. If you want to learn a language, the Pimsleur series is all audio-based, and although it is expensive, most well-stocked libraries have several languages available for borrowing.

6. Teach your dog to play fetch — politely. This is a random one, but your dog, like my dog, may be feeling a bit ignored since the baby came around. If you’ve ever played fetch with him, leave a ball out. We keep all his toys in a doggy toy box in our living room. He’ll often bring me the ball while I’m feeding the Bug, but I can only throw it for him if he basically places it in my hand. I toss it gently to the other side of the room, it bounces off the walls and furniture, which makes the game more challenging for him, he brings it back, and we repeat the whole thing. If your dog isn’t ball-oriented, but likes to play tug (and isn’t too aggressive about it), you might be able to play tug when he brings you a toy, too. Whether this is a wise thing to do depends on you and your dog. I was always taught that you shouldn’t let your dog win at tug, and it’s harder to keep a grip on the stuffed hedgehog when you only have one arm free.

7. Learn songs. I play bluegrass, and there’s a lot of singing involved: you need to learn lyrics, lead parts, harmony parts, etc. I use some of my nursing time to learn new songs and polish up old ones. But I also use it to learn songs to sing to my baby. Since I started doing this the first week, we have an ever-growing repertoire of songs that, when I start singing them, immediately calm her down. It’s really amazing, especially when she gets fussy when we’re in the car or someplace else where I can’t immediately take care of her. If the song isn’t on your phone, play it through an app like Spotify and look up the lyrics online.

8. Listen to podcasts. I admit, I’m not a huge podcast listener. Sometimes, after having a baby cry and fuss at me during the day, I really treasure any moment of quiet I can find. But there are a few podcasts that I listen to semi-regularly. Download an app like Downcast, Doggcatcher or Stitcher to search for and play podcasts.

There are other kind of boring things I do (such as knee exercises — zzzzz), but those are the main things that have kept me sane and helped prevent my brain from turning to mush.

Make your own yogurt

13 Jan

Homemade yogurtLast year, I started making my own yogurt, but I quickly got kind of lazy with it. I justified my laziness by wanting to support Straus Family Creamery, which not only makes amazing, though expensive, yogurt (OMG it’s so good) but is a local business.

Making yogurt is actually pretty easy, but you have to stay by the stove and pay at least a modicum of attention to what’s going on there. With a baby, that can be a challenging thing to do. But if you’re, say, making your own baby food and at the stove already, it’s easy to fit in. All you need is another saucepan. So since I was making apples for the Bug and almost out of yogurt and didn’t feel like going to the store, I decided to make some last night.

I use this recipe from Martha Stewart Living because it’s really, really, really, really easy. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

  1. Heat a quart of milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it reaches 180 degrees, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding. (When it gets to about 150 degrees, keep a close eye on it. The temperature rises quickly.)
  2. Take it off the heat and let it cool to 115 degrees.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the warm milk into a measuring cup and whisk in 3 tbsp of your favorite yogurt, then whisk this mixture back into the rest of the milk.
  4. Pour the whole thing into a mason jar without the lid. Wrap it all up in kitchen towels, covering the top, and put it in a warm spot for 5 hours (or longer, if you like thicker yogurt). I usually let it sit overnight.
  5. Put the lid on, and stick it in the fridge.
  6. Pat yourself on the back because YOU JUST MADE YOGURT!