encouraging your kids to try new foods

I asked my boys for their input when I was selecting seeds for our garden in early spring. My older boy wanted carrots. Carrots seemed like a waste of precious garden space to me. I tried to talk him into something more interesting, but he didn’t waver. Carrots are his favorite vegetable. Raw only, thank you very much.

So we planted a short row of carrots. Our very prolific lemon cucumber vines almost covered them up, but we did have carrots to dig in late October.

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The biggest one weighted nearly a pound, I think. It made its way into a batch of carrot soup not long after we picked this book up at the library:

carrot soup

Of the eleven books we checked out that week, my preschooler asked for this one to be reread the most. On the last page, there’s a recipe for rabbit’s favorite carrot soup. So we made a half a batch one day.

You know that theory about having your kids involved in growing and cooking their food? It seems to hold true somewhat – they do tend to be willing to try new things when they’re involved in the decision making process. Both boys ate a small serving of the soup. The older boy even asked for seconds. And he suggested I write the recipe down before we turn the book in.

But when I offered them carrot soup the following day, they were willing to let their mom eat all the leftovers. I didn’t mind. It was the best carrot soup I’d ever made. (The first as well.)

some of the finest art materials around

This year, our leaf collecting was spurred on by story time. The librarian was reading books about fall. (No surprise there – everyone seems to be on the topic these days so we’ve been reading books about the season at ExploraTots and Kids at the Castle too.) Anyway, what caught my eye that particular day was one of the books the librarian didn’t read but had set aside. I picked it up and added it to our check-out pile.

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Since then my boys and I have been collecting leaves.

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We pick them up off streets and sidewalks whenever we go walking, press them, and turn them into art.

Ehlert’s book gives lots of ideas of what to do with the leaves. For example you can make a butterfly, fish or turtle.

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Buildings and jet planes are fair game too. (Use your imagination- that top of the building below looks like an onion dome, doesn’t it?) Also notice the bird in the lower right corner. My older son was most pleased with his bird.

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One evening I took the book and some leaves to share with friends from Burma. The eight-year-old girl in the family studied the examples from the picture book and made some lovely art. So did her brother and neighbors. They filled both sides of their papers.

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The next day she began collecting leaves herself. I think she agrees with Ehlert and me that autumn leaves are some of the finest art materials around.

why did you put black beans in the brownies?

My four-year-old and I both like to mess around in the kitchen. So I thought we’d give this “nutritious” version of a dessert a try one recent morning.

The day before, I had purposely soaked and cooked some extra black beans along with the beans that were destined for our chili. My son, who does not generally eat black beans of his own volition, pushed the button of our small food processor and watched those black beans turn into puree. He helped measure and add the vanilla, maple syrup, and other ingredients that we blended in. Then we baked the brownies and let them cool while we went to the library.

After lunch, we sampled them. His first reaction was, “Yum.” A moment later, “Why did you put black beans in the brownies?”

For the most part, I’m not a mom who resorts to hiding nutrient-dense ingredients in her children’s food. I think kids ought to learn to appreciate nutritious foods in a recognizable form, but at the same time I’m not averse to making homemade sweets a little bit better for them. So, I’ll probably make them again.

Though my older son said he likes ‘real’ brownies better, he never refused one of these.

school supplies quandries

One of my favorite back-to-school activities is getting the supplies. Back in the day, my elementary school supply list included new crayons, water color paints and a “Big Chief tablet” among other items. I loved the potential of the unsharpened pencils and empty notebooks, the promise of a school year’s worth of learning ahead of us. But I can remember resenting my parents’ choice not to buy certain items on the list if they didn’t think they were necessary. I didn’t like it either when they ignored the specified size or quantity of an item and bought what they thought was a better deal.

I always thought I could do better. But this year, my son ended up with an orange folder instead of a yellow one. The list specified sturdy plastic folders in red, yellow, blue and green. The store we were at didn’t have sturdy yellow folders so I told him orange was close enough. I didn’t want to go to another store to look for one when we’d already gotten everything else – except the one item I never could find. I looked at several stores for the Elmer’s X-treme glue stick the art teacher requested, but never found one. I was planning to ask about this at the open house. I completely forgot. It wasn’t until after the open house was over that I also realized I forgot to include the most perplexing item on the school supplies list: 1 old clean sock.

School hasn’t started yet, so there’s still a chance to rectify two out of my three failures. Perhaps I should order that glue stick for “bigger, tougher projects” online and scrounge up an old clean sock. Imagine the potential!   

growing up right in front of our eyes

Lots of people have been commenting on how tall our kids are getting, but they are growing in other ways too. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that happen in an average day of parenting that remind us of this. For example, on the day our older son returned from camp he started calling me “mom.” Before that it had always been “mommy.”

And sometimes their attempts to sound grown up leave us stifling a laugh. “You look handsome,” I told my younger boy as I helped him button up his shirt on Sunday.

“Handsome is not cool; it’s wimpy,” he informed me.

I start wondering whether I’ll have to change my tactics because my tried-and-true strategy for making owies feel better does not work either. Our soon-to-be first grader slammed his finger earlier this week when he was fiddling with a shopping cart. He let out a loud howl and so I attempted to distract him by saying “Let me kiss it.”

After I did he said, “That didn’t help at all.”

Then there’s the endless, “Let me help” or “I can do it.” They’re feeling the need to assert more independence. They want to be helpful. I get it. But I’m usually just thinking about being efficient, a word that even my three-year-old knows and uses. And it does take a lot more time to let a child stuff the money in the machine when we’re in the self-check out line at the grocery store. Or to buckle himself into his car seat, knead the bread, open the door with the key, wash the produce, or roll out tortillas. I’m left to supervise. Sometimes to redo it after they are “done.”

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I guess I’m often so busy rushing to the next thing that I forget to pay attention to what is right in front of me. So yesterday when we were making homemade tortillas for dinner I ignored the clock and shifted my attention to the cute three-year-old hands holding the rolling pin. They have probably nearly tripled in size since we first became acquainted. The rolling pin seems a bit unwieldy in those hands, but they’re determined to make it work. So I hover – and offer to sprinkle flour as needed. The boy takes delight in using his hands to help make dinner. And I take delight in his delight.


away at camp

Right now my older son is away at Camp Clair, the annual summer event my sister holds at her home for all her school-aged nieces and nephews.

“We’re going to miss you when you’re at camp,” I told our older son the day before he left.

“You’re going to miss me more than I’m going to miss you,” he said.

But by bed time he asked, “Is three days and three nights a long time?” This is how long Camp Clair will be this year.

“Not such a long time,” I said. “And you’ll be with your cousins.”

“I’m going to miss you. Are you going to miss me?” he asked yesterday on our drive up there.

“Yes, we’ll miss you, but Aunt Clair will take good care of you and you’ll have a good time.”

Now the house seems a little too quiet. Our younger son knew it would be. On the drive back home, he suggested we go somewhere else. There was no giggling at the dinner table. No one to compete with him for wrestle time with daddy. No one to ride around the parking lot with after dinner. He has asked several times about his big brother. For him, three days and three nights is a long time.

planning for an unstructured summer

We’re deep into summer vacation, my first with a school aged child. And I understand why moms don’t necessarily think of this time off from school as a vacation. Some moms cope by filling their child’s schedule up to the brim and driving them from one activity to another. But I’m of the view that kids need ample time for unstructured play. By unstructured I mean it isn’t led by grown-ups and it doesn’t involve screens or digital devices.

Kids need enough unscheduled time to get bored – so they can figure out how to pass the time themselves. If you have more than one child, this also tends to multiply the opportunities for conflict, another thing that kids need to learn how to deal with themselves. The earlier they learn these lessons, the better. The trick is to maintain our sanity during their learning process. Here are my tips for managing a relatively unstructured summer:

1. Sign up for a summer reading program. It’ll help keep you and your kids on track with summer reading goals. Spend some time each day reading to your kiddos, but change it up by having your kids read to you. Check out some read-along book and CDs from the library. Your kids can to listen to them over and over while you get other things done.

2. Assign chores when the bickering escalates. I often send the older one to his room to fix his bed when he needs some time to cool down. Other tasks to divert their attention include setting the table, sorting socks, or washing the dishes. Today I put them to work in the kitchen. They cleared their clutter off the floor, I swept, and then the older one washed the floor.

3. Create a system by which your child can earn computer time. In early May, when I grew weary of the repeated request to play games on the PBS Kids website, I came up with a list of tasks my son can do to earn stars. Once he has six stars he can redeem them for 15 minutes of computer time. (Chores assigned for disciplinary purposes don’t earn him any stars, however.)  So far, he’s been averaging computer time less than once a week. He knows what he can do if he’d like more, but at this point, he prefers to do other things rather than do household tasks to earn stars.

4. Go outside. It’s the best place to burn off some of that boundless energy. We’ve been gardening, climbing trees, kicking the soccer ball, riding bikes, and just running round.  My boys still need supervision when they’re outdoors, and so I try to delegate this responsibility to their daddy at least half the time.

5. Institute quiet time. With very rare exception, every afternoon from about 1:30 to 3:00 is quiet time around here. We plan our days around it; I need the time to get my writing work done. The 3-year-old usually takes a nap, but even if he doesn’t, he’s in his room. My kindergartner sort of forgot how this works while he was in school, so there’s been a bit of relearning needed whenever he wanders out of his room, but he’s getting the hang of it again. Kids need some time to themselves – and so do moms.