Too Darn Cute

Friday, October 30, 2015

Grandma's Apple Tree

One of my absolute favorite things this fall has been Grandma's apple tree. There are several apple trees in the yard, but one of them is drooping with apples this year. It is full of sweet, green apples that the kids have come to love.

It has gotten to the point that anytime we go outside, both kids run straight to the apple tree before they do anything else. They each find a good looking apple (Lorelei finds one on the ground and Leo finds a low one he can pick) and happily start munching away. Sometimes, they even need one for each hand.

If I were to hand them an apple during lunch, they might take one bite and refuse to eat it. But there's something magical about picking your very own food. They are so proud of themselves and excited to show me their treasure. These kids cannot get enough apples! 

So far, we've enjoyed fresh apples, applesauce, apple crumble, and apple cider. If you have any favorite apple recipes, send them our way! We still have a bunch of apples to enjoy...

We've had a beautiful, warm October and enjoyed lots of lazy afternoons playing in the yard and munching on crunchy apples. These are the moments I want to remember.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Learning about COLORS

One of the best things about being a mom is watching your littles learn new things. It is so fun to see their curiosity about the world and how fascinated they become with things I take for granted. For us this summer, it has been colors. Leo has really enjoyed learning his colors this year and LOVES to point them out wherever he finds them. He gets so excited when he discovers a flower that is yellow. Or a sign that is yellow. Or a car that is yellow. Can you tell his favorite color is yellow? Actually, it's yellow AND blue and he tells me this about every day. So you can imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon this gem at the library one day:

Little Blue and Little Yellow
Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni

This is a simple story about a blue dot and a yellow dot who are best friends. One day they give each other a big hug and discover that they have become green! When they return home and their parents don't recognize them, Blue and Yellow find a way to separate and then share with their parents what really happened.

The story is not life-changing. It's not really all that interesting, to be honest. But I still really like this book. My two-year-old loves it. It's been a bedtime staple since we brought it home from the library. It is all about his two favorite colors and he loves pointing out where they turn into green. I really enjoy the illustrations because they are very different from most cartoony illustrations these days. It looks like Lionni created each page by tearing shapes from construction paper. A school is made from a black rectangle with nine rough circles sitting in three rows. The pictures are crude and simplistic but I find them imaginative. And it turns out, this is just how it was created. Lionni liked to draw pictures as he told stories to his grandchildren. One time, on a long train ride, he had no drawing materials and, instead, tore out small blue and yellow circles from a magazine to tell his story. Little Blue and Little Yellow (his first book for children) was born from this experience (source). It's a cute little story and it's helped my son start learning that mixing two colors creates a new color. Ever since we read it that first night, I've been dying to do a mixing colors activity with him.

Mixing Colors: After reading this story, my toddler can tell me that blue and yellow make green; a fun extension is to provide an opportunity for him to show that they make green. You can use lots of different materials for mixing colors. Here are a few of my favorites (check out the linked blogs for a more detailed description of each activity):
  • Playdough: This is a kid favorite because the possibilities are endless. Use store-bought or whip up your own, dye it the three primary colors, and let your kid explore. I'd actually start with only blue and yellow so they have a chance to figure out those two colors. Save the others for another day and a new experiment (otherwise it'll all turn into one brown mess pretty quick). 
  • Translucent Plastic File Folders: Cut blue, yellow, and red plastic file folders into strips. Because they are translucent, you can lay them on top of each other to see what they become when they "hug." Older kids will have fun creating patterns and pictures. Tape them to the window for extra fun.
  • Shaving Cream: Dollar store cream makes for a cheap and easy activity with a fun texture. Dye with food coloring, use ice cube trays or cupcake trays to separate colors, and let the kids mix, play, and explore as they please. * If your kids are anything like mine, this is a great activity to do outdoors or in the tub!
  • Paint: I love this blogger's advice on mixing paint. Starting with just two colors is complex enough for toddlers. Let them explore and figure out how mixing works and that different amounts of each color produce different shades. She shares some great tips for different ages that I plan to use in the coming years. Alternatively, use watercolors as a medium for mixing blue and yellow. Draw a simple Venn Diagram with a sharpie and help your child recreate the book's cover by making green. 

We chose to start with shaving cream. In an effort to enjoy the last of summer, we did this activity outside. It was so much fun. My toddler loved mixing the colors together and got SO excited when he was able to make green. Using only blue and yellow kept the activity simple and made sure he was successful. Next time, we'll try mixing red and yellow to help him discover how to make orange. I love that the lessons can build on each other.

That was his special "I made green!" dance. He was so proud. Though my one-year-old is too young to really get it, she still had fun squishing the shaving cream... and then rubbing it all over her hair.

The next book is one that I heard about a few years ago from my nephew who absolutely loved it. I remembered it one day while we were at the library and brought it home hoping Leo would enjoy it as much as his cousin used to. Since then, he insisted we read it at every nap time and every bedtime for over a month. It was an instant fave and we are still reading it at least once a day:

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Written by Eric Litwin
Illustrated by James Dean

This is the story of Pete, a laid-back, take-life-as-it-comes kind of guy. He starts the story in his brand new white shoes and sings a little song to tell us how much he loves them (The story is by a guitar-playing storyteller who likes to include music in his performances. To tell the story correctly, you must listen to his song so you can sing it the right way!). Unfortunately, while Pete is walking through town, he keeps stepping in things and it changes the color of his shoes. But "does Pete cry? Goodness, no!" He just keeps on walking and changes his song to match the new color of his shoes.

The book has a great rhythm and enough repetition that my toddler could start helping me "read" the story after only a few reads. He loves to shout out the new colors and sing Pete's song with me. He has been a bit reluctant to try new words, but since we've started reading Pete, he has started saying red, mud, and wet. I love that he's learning new words and I actually enjoy reading this story with him despite having read it a hundred times. The illustrations are bright and interesting and the story has a great message, too. Here's one of our new favorite games.

Pete's Color Game: In the story, Pete steps in a variety of things that change the color of his shoes. The pattern in the same throughout the book so it is familiar to my son. Sometimes I'll make up a verse for him to figure out. Example: "Oh no! Pete stepped in a pile of bananas! What color did it turn his shoes?" I usually use items around us so I can hold it up for him. He answers, "Yellow!" We'll finish the pattern and then sing Pete's song together. "I love my yellow shoes!"

This works great with my toddler. He has fun with the variety of colors and I enjoy trying to find new items for Pete to step in. If your kids are older, let them come up with something for Pete to step in. This is especially fun while out on a walk or in the grocery store where there are lots of things to look at.

James Dean has come out with several other Pete the Cat books and I'm dying to get the one about his four groovy buttons (all about numbers) to read with my little guy. Go check them out with me!

Do you have any favorite books about colors? What are your little ones learning about lately and what big things (and little things) are they discovering? Whatever it is, go find a few new books to encourage it and enjoy it with them!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Albion Basin

I've lived in seven different states and three different cities in France. That seems like a lot of moving but I am grateful for each one. I've loved each of them for different reasons but I've learned that you can find amazing people no matter where you go and anywhere can be Home. One of my favorite things about moving a lot is that you get to see how beautiful our world is. The sunsets of Indiana, the hills and trees of Pennsylvania, the huge blue skies of Oklahoma... they are all gorgeous.

And don't forget the mountains and wildflowers of Utah! This summer we explored a bit at the Albion Basin. For a couple weeks each year, the basin abounds in wildflowers. It is breathtaking and looks just like a scene out of The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, I think we were about a week late because a lot of the flowers had already faded. I have big plans to spend a day hiking and exploring next summer during the peak of the beauty. But we found some amazing spots this trip, too! The kiddos were not cooperating quite as much as I'd like (when do they ever?) but I still think we got some pretty great shots.

PS: I made that dress! Maybe it deserves a post of its own because it turned out so cute! It's not really ideal for hiking, but great for posing in mommy's pictures!

I'm grateful to live in a beautiful place and explore it with family who lives close. And I can't wait to find more gems like this one in Utah!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Most Magnificent Thing

The Most Magnificent Thing
Written and Illustrated by Ashley Spires

This is a charming story that I can really relate to. It's about a "regular" girl and her best friend, her dog. She is a creative, hard-working, spunky girl who likes to invent things and then build them. When she thinks up THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING, she excitedly gets to work to make it happen. Unfortunately, it's not coming together quite like she imagined and there are several hiccups along the road. But she overcomes her feelings of defeat and finds a way to create something magnificent, even though it may not be perfect.

One of my favorite things is before the story even begins, when Spires dedicates the book to "all the little perfectionists of the world." Ya know how everything is always way harder and way more time consuming than you think it is going to be? Like I said, I can relate to this one. And I bet most kids can. But it's important to learn strategies to deal with those feelings of frustration and defeat. This is a great story to talk about what makes us feel frustrated and what we can do when we feel like quitting.

It is such a fun story and has adorable illustrations. My two-year-old loves it and I love reading it to him. It's a great bedtime story but I would absolutely use it in my classroom, too. Here are a few ideas:

Verbs: Learning and practicing parts of speech is an important part of every grade. This book is great for exploring verbs. Here in Utah, students are expected to "explain the function of verbs" in third grade (standards here). This story could be used to introduce verbs earlier than that or to review them in the later grades. There are SO MANY verbs in it. It's the thing that jumped out to me the first time I read it. This girl is always doing something. After discussing the role of verbs, ask students (individually or with partners) to make a list of all the verbs they can find in this book. Go over a page or two together first so they can see how you do it.

Writing: This story is a great inspiration story to kick-off a personal writing session. Ask students to write about a time when they had a problem and had to solve it. Or when they created something. What problems did they run into? How did they deal with them? What did they create? In fifth grade, Utah students are supposed to "write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences" (standards here). Make sure students pay attention to the event sequence. There should be a clear problem and solution. Ask them to use descriptive verbs in their story like Spires. I love that there are so many different words for "make." Sure, she spends most of the story making something. But there are so many better, descriptive, interesting words for what she is doing. The story would be a whole lot more boring without those juicy words.

Prediction: Prediction is probably the easiest comprehension strategy to practice because it can be used with almost any story! This one is fun because from the first page, we know the little girl is going to make something magnificent. Each page and picture after gives us clues to what it is, but it's not until the very last page that we find out what she has been envisioning all along. To practice, ask students: What do you think she wants to build? How will she make it? What do you think it will look like? What will she do when she starts to feel frustrated?

Experimenting: I'd love to start an experiment or project (or heck, even a math lesson) with this story to talk about how scientists and engineers often spend a lot of time and energy to find answers or make something that works. A big part of their job is to come up with a hypothesis, test their experiment, analyze the results, and then go back and tweak their experiment. It probably won't work the first time but that's okay! Making mistakes is okay. Working hard is okay. The process of trial and error is important in a lot of subjects and professions (just ask my husband, the computer programmer). Failing is a part of finding answers. Failing is valuable. It is usually through our mistakes that we recognize what is right. The girl in the story has to revisit all 14 of her "wrong" inventions, come at her problem from a different angle, and find the parts that she did right before she finally creates the magnificent thing that is just what she wanted. This is a great pattern for us to realize in our own lives. (Related side note: This made me think a lot about the great book I'm reading now called Mindset. Check it out! It's definitely worth reading!)

Are you convinced that this is a great story yet? Go read it to the little tinkerers and inventors in your life. It's got a great message, subtle humor, and a magnificent story!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


This handsome guy is going to be a thinker. It seems he is always deep in thought and even though he's a little guy, I'll bet he has some big ideas and big dreams.

He made us work pretty hard for some smiles, but luckily his mommy knows how to get a few out. It is amazing to watch a woman become a mother for the first time and Natalie is a natural. I love that we live close enough to see her more often and watch him grow. He is such a sweet boy and I feel pretty lucky to be his aunt. Happy four months, Thaddeus!