New Favorite Toy? A Bag of Rice

The other night I was reading Jamie Martin’s Steady Days (by the author of the beloved blog SteadyMom) and came across the most brilliant idea. Create your own portable rice table by pouring a giant bag of rice into a plastic underbed storage bin. So simple, so perfect!

Rice table

So yesterday, while we were at the grocery store stocking up for the 18 to 24 inches of snow expected this weekend (um, yikes!), I saw a gigantic bag of rice on sale for $6. I knew I already had an unused storage bin at home, so I tossed the rice in the cart.

Now, I can’t even begin to describe the hideousness of that particular trip to the grocery store. The parking lot was packed, and when we finally got inside, the kids picked up on the atmosphere of grumpy grown-ups immediately and just dissolved. They were both in tears within 30 seconds of entering the store. It was heartbreaking, but we had to soldier on. The toddler did not want to be in the cart, and was lashing out by attempting to pull everything on the shelves. The five-year-old wanted to push the cart herself but we were shoulder-to-shoulder with other shoppers. And when we were finally done, even the express self-check-out line was a 20 minute wait. Oh my, I thought my poor little ones were just going to go to pieces. We salvaged the outing with a silly face contest, but we were still all pretty wiped out when we got home.

And then I remembered that rice. As soon as the toddler was down for his nap, I pulled out the bin and poured in the rice. I grabbed funnels, spoons, and cups, and the five-year-old set to work. She was still at it when the toddler woke up and joined her. Three hours later, there were mighty protests when I had to put it away to clean up for dinner. Folks, they played with rice all afternoon.

More rice table

Yes, it did mean I had to vacuum before dinner, which is not usually part of my routine. But it was a very small price to pay.

We may be about to be snowed in for a few days, and let me tell you — this mama is feeling mighty grateful to have another trick up her sleeve. Thank you, Jamie!

Blizzard Mittens: What do you do when you’re snowed in?

What do you do when you’re snowed in? Well, when you have a toddler who refuses to wear his mittens because they’re just not comfy enough… you make mittens. Because, well, this snow is going to be here for a while. And mittens are just not optional clothing items right now.

Blizzard mittens

Actually, we’ve been doing quite a lot. Of course, the rice table has gotten a lot of play. The teenager has played piano (she’s working on New York State of Mind) and sewed. We tried our hand at felting for the first time — and the toddler now has some highly-prized balls of felted wool. We made a fantastic Indian vegetable stew from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook — outstanding. We made popcorn. We played in the snow. We shoveled the snow. We read books. We watched the birds. We made fires. We baked bread. We made snow ice cream. We used our bag of tricks quite a bit.

Matching set

And I made a pair of mittens to match the toddler’s hat. Thank goodness I had enough yarn left over, since I clearly wasn’t going anywhere for supplies! I used the basic mitten pattern from The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. This is a fabulous book to have on hand because it gives the basic structure for the things you would want to knit most often, including exact directions for just about any size and gauge you might possibly need. It is a great reference, and comes in handy time and again. The best part about this mitten pattern is that the two mittens are identical — no need to worry about right and left.

He loves them. He has been wearing them around the house. Which is completely adorable, and useful because… I see more snow in the forecast! Oh my. I might have to think of a few more things for that bag of tricks.

Light and Shadow: How to Teach DIY Projects to Kids

My five-year-old daughter is a scientist. It is my firm belief that all children are natural scientists, but my five-year-old has embraced this persona with her whole being. She observes, she classifies, and she questions. We sit in the kitchen and watch the birds at the birdfeeder, and it is not enough for her to learn their names — we need to get out the bird book and read about their migratory patterns, what color eggs they lay, whether they are native to this area (who knew that starlings were such recent additions to the U.S.?), etc. I am constantly learning from her insatiable curiosity. It is such a gift in my life.
So last week, on a rare bright and sunny winter day, she commented on the length of her shadow and that she had noticed that her shadow seemed to change size. “Why is my shadow sometimes really long and going far away from me, and why is it sometimes just a little puddle around my feet?” An excellent question. So we set out to answer it.
Sure, I could have read her something out of a science-for-kids book. We could have talked about the angle of the sun. But I’ve found that, whenever possible, it’s better to show than to tell. So we set up an experiment. We placed a doll in the center of a long piece of paper. Then I used a bright flashlight to simulate the sun, first shining from one side of the table, then slowly moving upwards until it was shining directly down on the doll (apparently she was standing on the equator, but nevermind that), and then gradually moving to the far side of the table. We traced the shadow of the doll at five different places. And sure enough, she concluded that shadows will be long at the very beginning and end of the day, and smallest exactly at noon. Question answered, and the best part? She answered it herself, from her very own observations. There’s no better feeling for a budding scientist.

Next week? I can’t decide between using a ball and flashlight to demonstrate the phases of the moon, or how the angle of the sun affects the seasons. What do you think? Any favorite science experiments to do with preschoolers? What are your budding scientists studying right now?

Snowcation: This is how we enjoy the vacations!

It is currently snowing some more on top of the two-and-a-half feet we already have on the ground. I think we have officially entered the realm of the bizarre in terms of Maryland weather. And yesterday, they announced that the kids will be off school until next Tuesday.
Now, here I must admit… I am human. I am growing weary of tripping over snow boots, of having a drying rack full of soggy mittens and hats taking up half the hallway, of sweeping stray rice from the rice table off the floor. I am, indeed, feeling a bit wistful for my usual routine.


I am also, I must admit, having a wonderful time. I am thrilled to see the pastimes the teenager comes up with when she’s not swamped with homework and rehearsals. My heart is warmed by how beautifully the children are playing together. I am continually amazed by their creativity and resourcefulness.

We are getting the gift of time together — peaceful time, in which there is not much that needs to be done besides watching the snow fall, and keeping one another entertained. How many times in our fast-paced lives do we get this chance? There is no shopping to be done — all the stores are closed. There is nowhere to go — the road isn’t plowed. We can just be together… reading, playing, singing, dancing, telling stories.

I am making a concerted effort to let go of my irritation over the piles of boots. Before we know it, this crazy winter will be nothing but memories. And so far, we’re storing up some pretty good ones.

Stay cozy, everyone. And if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by our play dough bakery, where the baguettes are “scrumptious!”