May 31, 2012

Fun Little Things: Joy of Toys

Living in a fairly small space with a toddler can be a challenge. Sure they are small but the stuff! There is so much gear and so many toys, it's hard to prevent your own space from being swallowed up by the sea of kiddo loot.

I've seen a number of strategies work for different friends; a giant chest that keeps toys out of sight, picking up and storing everything in the kid's room at the end of each day... but truth be told I am a bit of a toy lover and so I liked the idea of finding a way to coexist with the rainbow of trinkets.

Since we share our adult space with toys and we are both designers, I do like to select items that are well made, will survive to hand down to new children, and that I enjoy looking at. I am fully aware that as Little Smith gets older I won't always have this luxury. For now though, I do sincerely believe that exposure to great materials and good design at an early age is important for a child.

Many of our toys are wooden hand-me-downs or thrifted and those are really the best, but I'm always green with envy when I see great treasures that I can't find myself so I thought I would feature a few of our favorites that you can get your hands on. All of these toys are not only well constructed but they put a smile on my face when I trip over them for the four hundredth time. True they aren't the least expensive on the market, but I prefer quality to quantity and all of these have held up to being tossed and chewed on a daily basis. 

P'Kolino Multi-Solution Shape Puzzle: When we first received this puzzle as a gift I fell in love with the bright colors and quality wood construction but worried that the open ended solutions would be too challenging. To the contrary, it has quickly become our favorite puzzle. Little Smith gets frustrated easily (I think he inherits that one from his father!) so traditional puzzles get thrown around more than solved. This one is wonderful because he can always find a home for each piece and he also loves sporting the large wooden rings as bangles; a puzzle and a fashion statement all in one. I'm eyeing the rocket ship version for his second birthday.

Green Toys fire and dump trucks / Playforever race car / Kid O car and truck: Car was one of Little Smith's first words, followed by what I have decided is his first full sentence of "caar, vroom vroooooom". He is gaga for cars and these are a few of our favorites.

I love the Green Toy products because they are made from recycled material and are large and chunky, making them easy to play with even for babies. The plastic is thick and durable and our trucks look brand new despite a lot of abuse. They don't glide easily, so these guys aren't going to win a floor race any time soon, but they have moving parts and the wheels spin freely when they're upside down providing lots of entertainment.

The designs of all of the Playforever products are just beautiful which, along with truly great construction, explains the high price tags. This race car is definitely a mama favorite on looks alone, but Little Smith really loves the rubber wheels and the racer's head makes a perfect handle for gliding around the floor.

The headlights on the truck and car by Kid O are Little Smith's favorite part. They don't actually light up but just the reflection is enough to captivate pudgy little fingers. The clever handle shape of the car made it one of the first that he actually got moving and the back of the pick-up truck is a favorite spot for storing letter blocks. The shiny plastic does get a bit scuffed over time but is good heavy quality, plus the retro-meets-futuristic designs are a lot of fun.

Melissa & Doug frog / Vilac ladybug / Plan Toys alligator pull toys: Watching Little Smith drag these guys around is somehow very entertaining, simple pleasures! He's getting better at it all the time and the latest thing is assembling a whole collection and pulling them in unison. Pull toys seem to be the one toy type that is still widely available in wood, so classic. These three win the prize in our house for durability, fun moving parts, and sheer cuteness.

Sprig Toys stacker: When I think baby toy my mind immediately goes to the traditional cone stacker. I'm not a fan of the thin hollow plastic ones and while I like the look of the wood versions, the dowel that sticks out when the rings are removed seems like it might be slightly dangerous. There is a version by Green Toys that I came close to getting but my heart was really set on rainbow colors (I'm kind of a rainbow fanatic) and it didn't seem to 'stack' so much as 'nest'. I'm glad I held out because my mom found this one from Sprig Toys and it's the best of all world's. It is made from recycled plastic, stacks with different shape cut-outs, and even has little beads inside each of the pieces so it doubles as a bunch of rattles. We have gotten so much use out of this toy at various stages, I just love it.

Yes we are still slightly over-run by toys, but most of the time I actually love being surrounded by the fun and color and all of these brighten my days. We're still working on getting Little Smith to help and put things back on the shelf when he's done, he's pretty resistant to clean up (that one he gets from his mama!).

May 30, 2012

My Fella's

As soon as I learned we were having a boy, I started thinking hard about what it is to mother a little man. I spent most of my life imagining having a girl and a mirror of the mother-daughter relationship that I was raised in. The idea of a boy was exciting, but very foreign and it did worry me.

In many ways men are a mystery. My own father is captivating and talented, but parenting is not one of his strengths. He was always a part of my life but never familiar or comfortable. I simply didn't grow up with many men around, but I am grateful that I learned a lot of independence from my mother and also my strong aunts. I like to solve my own problems and I believe a lot of my determination and drive comes from the example of self-reliance set by the women in my life.

Throughout my pregnancy I considered how I would raise a man when I don't truly understand them, and eventually I realized that all of the lessons that I cherish from my own upbringing are equally valuable to a boy. I resolved that although they are different creatures, the act of mothering was essentially the same and I made peace with the idea, just in time to welcome my sweet boy into this world.

Of course once you have a child all of the analysis and mental preparation seems laughable. It all just kind of happens and every plan and expectation goes out the window. I quickly realized what should have been obvious- the huge oversight in all of my pre-baby parenting anxiety; unlike me, my son has a very present father.

Watching my husband transform into a dad has been a joy beyond explanation. Yes, I knew he would make a good father, but it's impossible to imagine what that really looks like until it's here. He is patient and fun and so proud. He reads in silly voices, runs in circles and teaches about cleaning up. He has the magic touch when it comes to coaxing sleep or trying new foods. Little Smith literally lights up when he comes home, it's far beyond what I could have ever expected.

Right now, the two of us are everything in this little guy's world and its a privilege to have a partner to share the responsibility and the bliss. I am comforted that Little Smith has such a loving father and I also have ever more respect for my mother and all single parents who shape a little person's world and create a family without a team-mate.

The connection that I have with my son is every bit as deep as the one I shared with my own mother. Still my relationship with my child will likely be very different from the one I grew up with, not because he is a boy but because he has this father. I am so proud to call these two men are my family and I trust and love them from head to toe.

May 29, 2012

Snapshot: 19

dungeness bay, sequim WA / august 2006

A beautiful day on a great camping trip out west; most of my favorite vacation memories have involved road trips. We haven't taken a good one since having Little Smith and we are seriously thinking about it/ planning for this summer. He's a bit young and not always a fan of the car so disaster is a possibility, but if he's inherited anything from his parents then road tripping is in his blood. Crossing my fingers that we make it work.

May 25, 2012

Details A5.02

lookout climber breakfast tough day meltdown (still tough day) bedroom window sill hello

It was a good and low key week here. We did go to the beach last friday and had a blast (but no camera). Our friends have a house one block from the water and it was low tide so the boys just ran and ran and threw sand... toddler heaven. We've been working on our garden and making a lot of trips to the park.

We scored a kid's platform for the kitchen at a yard sale for $40 which was a thrill since I've been wanting one for a while but it seemed so expensive. Now Little Smith can help in the kitchen and look out the window day and night and it's pretty much his favorite place.

We have had more than typical grumpy moments and meltdowns, new teeth or just a rough few days? We aren't quite sure but there's been enough smiles in between to keep us happy.

Last night was the end-of-year faculty party for the college where I teach one night a week and I stayed out late and woke up early, so I'm feeling a bit lazy this friday. Tomorrow we're heading to my mom's and meeting up with some friends for a hike as long as the weather is good. Hurray for long week-ends, hope you're getting an extra day to enjoy too.

May 24, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pie is the queen of baked goods. Even guests who claim they don't like sweets and want to skip dessert cave when they see a slice of warm pie up for grabs. I do bake pies a good deal but I have never made a strawberry rhubarb, this is my very first. When I saw these beautifully minimal photos I got into a strawberry-rhubarb lather and knew it had to happen.

Often people are intimidated by making pie crust, but in fact it's very easy and I use a recipe with all butter (no shortening) which means that you probably have all the makings of a great crust in your pantry right now... so what are you waiting for?! Let's make a pie.

Flaky Pie Crust: from 'How to Cook Everything' by Mark Bittman
(this makes two 9"crusts for top and bottom, if you want to do a crumb topping you can cut this portions in half)
  • 2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into tbs slices
  • 6 tbs ice water
Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the butter and blend until it looks like coarse cornmeal (little balls of butter),this will only take a few seconds.

Transfer to a bowl and add the water, gathering the dough together with a wooden spoon. If it looks too dry to gather you can add another tbs of water. Gather the dough into a ball with your hands. Cut in half and make each half a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and flatten slightly to a disc. Freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Of course you can also freeze it ahead of time and let it soften a little before working or keep it in the fridge for a few days).

Rolling out the dough between layers of plastic wrap helps prevent sticking (you can also roll it out on a lightly floured countertop). Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap, flour the dough lightly and lay another piece of plastic wrap on top. With a rolling pin, roll from the center out adding a little flour as needed to prevent sticking. Turn and flip the dough occasionally so that you get an even circle. Go slowly so that you minimize cracked edges, but you can repair the cracks with the ends of the dough using water to 'glue' the pieces together.

When the dough is about 10" you can transfer it to your pie plate. Fold it in half and center it on the plate, then unfold and press the dough into the plate all around. Trim the excess from the edges leaving about a half inch. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Repeat the process with the top crust but leave it between the sheets of plastic wrap and lay it on a baking sheet to refrigerate.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie: slightly adapted from a combination of Mark Bittman and 'The Joy of Cooking", 1997 ed.
  • 2 1/2 c strawberries, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 3 c rhubarb sliced in 1" chunks
  • 1 c sugar plus a bit for sanding the top
  • 2-3 tbs cornstarch (more cornstarch will make for a less runny pie)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 2 tbs butter
  • milk for brushing on top
Slice the berries and rhubarb and mix in a bowl with the sugar, cornstarch, and spices. Set aside for at least 15 minutes then remove your pie crust from the fridge and fill with the fruit mixture.

Carefully remove your top crust from the plastic and cover the pie. Press to seal the edges, then trim the top crust leaving a 1/2" slack. Fold the edges under and either press all around with the tines of a fork or press one finger out while you push in with two fingers from the opposite hand to decorate the edges.

Refrigerate while you heat the oven to 450 degrees, then brush the top with milk, sand lightly with sugar, and cut three 2" slits in the top to release steam.

Place the pie on a baking sheet to collect any juices and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 45 minutes or until the pie is golden brown in color. Remove and let cool on a rack, it's best to let it cool to almost room temperature so that the juices don't run too much.

This really is the perfect summer pie, sweet and delicious and the beautiful bright pink color. I'm going to be making a few more of these. Plus rhubarb is so exciting that if you budget for an extra stalk it's ready-made toddler entertainment while you bake.

I do know that raw rhubarb is supposed to be tough to digest, so he wasn't eating this... more using it as a trumpet, sword, and conductor's wand. He's a pretty good sport helping out in the kitchen and he was very pleased to be rewarded for the patience with a (small) slice of pie. Too bad it's all gone, now I want some more!

May 23, 2012

Kitchen Herbs

Herbs have finally been planted on our little back porch off the kitchen. Thyme, sage, oregano, and rosemary... along with a few other treats. I like having these so accessable for cooking and keeping them in planters makes it easy to shuffle inside when we have a frost so they last well into the fall.

Little S has certainly inherited my love of getting dirty, he was in heaven helping us out and throwing around soil all afternoon. We're both lucky that Big Smith likes to clean up or else we'd just be happy wallow in mud pies forever.

Watering the plants each day has been a fun (and very wet) chore, and now we get to cook up some yummy herb-filled dishes. Hello summer!

May 22, 2012

Snapshot: 18

on the move / august 2011

We didn't keep track of exactly when Little Smith started crawling. I try to trace it back in pictures but it seems to happen very suddenly; at eight months he's a lump and at nine he's getting into trouble anywhere he can find it. I loved this stage, finally being able to see what he wanted and how his mind worked. He's a curious kid this one! I can't believe he's almost a year and a half.

May 21, 2012

Something Old Mail Storage

Our space isn't that big so sometimes I'm hesitant to bring in new furniture in the name of organization. After a fair amount of hemming and hawing we finally agreed that we needed something to control our mail/ change/ keys/ tons of little things that trickle in and land in mini-piles all over our house.

My mom's barn is a treasure trove of great finds and on a recent visit I spied these old mail cubbies that were just about perfect for the task. I love the rustic finish, although it's a little different from the aesthetic of the rest of the house. We did think about painting these (and honestly part of me still wants to do it)... but all the labels and paint drips are too cool to cover and I didn't want to ruin it for future enjoyment so we're going with it.

We tend to use the back door more in the winter and the front door in the summer, this has to do with both conserving heat and directing muddy boots. Since everything is better on castor's!, we put this guy on wheels (from Ikea- we liked the shiny new contrasting with the old) so that we can easily push it from the back door to the front to maximize the likelihood of collecting all our odd-and-ends in each season. The base of the cabinet isn't very thick, so we screwed in a piece of 1x and attached the castor's to that. It is recessed from the face on all sides so that you don't see it unless you get down low. (We are debating using a larger piece of wood to articulate more of a base but we'll see if we get around to trying that out!)

I'm looking forward to sorting through the piles and getting this thing stuffed, plus I discovered it's the perfect size for Little Smith's shoes at the moment which will work like a charm. We're hoping to spend most of our time outside in this nice weather, but it's fun to have something new (old) to greet me when I come home.

*footnote: In a twist of irony on the day that I post something on wheels, I just discovered this lovely mention of Little Smith's skater book cubby on Handmade Charlotte! I'm tickled to see it there and happy to find a great new blog too.

May 18, 2012

Spring Mini Moments

we all scream for ice cream maple puddle pots joy peeping at the bouncy house water-logged carrot up! harvard street fair

Every single year at about this time I find myself looking at all of the green tree canopies and wondering when summer arrived. I know I saw those leaves start to unfurl, but I always miss the moment where it gives way to full on summer. The weather is finally cooperating and I hear we are in for a beautiful couple of days.

Today we have plans to visit one of Little Smith's pals at the beach... woo hoo! We don't get to the water that often so hopefully traffic will cooperate, naps will happen, and it will be a fun adventure. Now I just have to locate my swimsuit and cross my fingers that it fits!

May 17, 2012


I don't check the weather reports. It's not a firm commitment, if I'm going on a camping trip I'm not too stubborn to see if I might need that extra tarp,  but day to day I prefer to gamble and let it all unfold. Big Smith is the opposite, obsessed with the weather. He usually gives me the cliff notes each morning, get outside today it's going to be beautiful... bundle up, there's a cold front coming in...

The funny thing is that he's usually inside all day and works such long hours that he often doesn't know first hand if his weather predictions came true. He'll look through my photos, surprised that it was nice enough to go to the park or so chilly we needed the big coats. Of course I am grateful for his hard work and also for this time at home with my little guy. One of the many upsides is that I'm much more connected to the outdoors. I used to spend most of my days in a temperature controlled loft space with the shades drawn to prevent computer glare. It was a wonderful job and there is much that I miss, but the daily blackout from the natural environment is one thing I have gladly left behind.

After a couple of weeks heavy on rain, days of being cooped up inside and driving everywhere, I was determined to do a few errands on foot; the post office, the bank... but clouds were looming all morning. I finally decided it was time to make our move and (as if it was a practical joke!) the moment we set out the raindrops started falling. We retreated just in time before the heavy downpour hit. Little Smith stood at his favorite perch by an open window, watching the spectacle and getting a little wet.

The storm lasted a few minutes and then, just as suddenly the sun broke through, turning every raindrop into a glistening bead of light. Little Smith was delighted, it was a small but special moment. We got our errands done and splashed in a few puddles along the way, and when Big Smith got home he looked at these pictures and asked, did it rain?