M’s Table/Desk

I made a little table for M! It’s actually going to be a desk, once I build a small ‘hutch’ for the top, and it’s not finished — still have to sand it and stain it. But I took some photos of the process, and I wanted to share how I made it. The construction is very similar to the sink table (I’ll point out the main difference in the instructions). Both are quite easy to build, but I’ve had a few requests for instructions, so here you go!

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New-New/New-Old Dresser

M has a new (old) dresser! Another new dresser. I’ve just been unhappy with that IKEA one ever since I put it together. The pine is low-quality, and after only a couple of months, one of the drawers doesn’t stay in its tracks. Ugh. Live and learn. So, with my pal Ann in town, we went to the antique store today — just like I originally meant to do (and obviously SHOULD have done).

And they had the perfect dresser! For not much more than the IKEA one, to be honest. It needs a little work, but it’ll be worth it. I’m not sure yet if I’ll refinish it — I’d definitely like to (the color is okay, but I think stripping/sanding it down and restaining and sealing would bring out the wood grain), but the finish is actually in quite nice condition. One thing I do need to do is replace the bottoms of the drawers. They’re hanging in there for now, and I lined them with paper to freshen them up a bit. But the big drawer bottom is starting to sag a tiny bit, and it’s just kind of grimy. I’d also like to replace the (metal, not-original) pulls with little glass ones.

The dresser came with a nice mirror, like many of these old dressers. I like it, but I’m not 100% sure I love it in M’s room. It’s much curvier (sort of tulip-shaped) and doesn’t really work with the look of her room. But I still haven’t settled on a bed frame for M, so you never know. Either I’ll decide it’s okay and put it back on, or I’ll store it away in the barn until M is actually tall enough to see herself in it. I really like the height of the dresser — the overall dimensions aren’t really child-sized, but it’s shorter than usual, so it’ll be perfect for M as she grows.

So hopefully I’ll trust my gut next time and not buy new — and hold out for better quality. The IKEA dresser is currently in the work room, where I’m sure I can put it to good use. Oh, and the green block on the dresser in the photo above? That’s M’s contribution. First, she wanted to help me scrub the dresser, and then she needed to do her part with the ‘decorating’!

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Sixteen Months — Playroom

I’m never sure what to call this area of M’s. It’s part of the family room, but it’s not the entire family room. And it’s not really a playroom, since it IS part of the family room. And I can’t even call it M’s corner, as it’s grown to take up much more than a corner. Well, whatever it is, this is what it looks like now.

I’ve changed some things as I get ideas from my Montessori reading. I’ve really cut down on the number of toys that are available to M at any one time, and instead of having everything tossed in a big container together, I’ve separated her toys and put them each in a little basket. She especially likes taking down the basket with the rubber blocks, and she plays with them in a more focused way than she used to when they were mixed in with everything. The little jar with silk daisies is a new addition. I showed her how to take them out and then put them back in, and she spent quite a while doing that today. It takes some precision, but not so much that it gets frustrating.

Most of M’s independent play down here is spent with the blocks (stacking them, knocking them down, moving them here and there, one at a time), looking through her books, or dancing to her music. The short songs on her lion walker used to be her jam, but now she has the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes, and it’s a big improvement. She’s always liked the William Tell Overture (for pretend horse riding, of course), and she’ll keep pressing the button until that one starts playing.

What else is she up to at sixteen months? She’s starting to pick up more signs, thanks to the Baby Einstein signing video. (She would watch that on repeat all day long, if I let her. The puppets SLAY her.) I work on the signs with her, of course, but she’s mega motivated by that video. She’s gotten fairly good at repeating the word ‘doggie’, but she doesn’t use it spontaneously, in context, so I don’t think it counts as a ‘word’. She’s just like a sponge when it comes to understanding new words, though.

Her appetite’s been small lately, but there are a few things I can count on her to eat in quantity. Pasta, always. When we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, she’ll eat an entire bowl of raspberries without pausing (if she’s allowed). She likes them at home, too, but not quite as frantically. She recently discovered juice (from juicing oranges) and loves it. I don’t let her drink much, but I discovered that I can mix her ibuprofen in with a little juice, and she’ll gulp it right down. And Goldfish crackers entered M’s world this past month. She gets so excited when she sees the Goldfish bag.

M’s down to one nap now, most days. Our schedule has been a little less predictable since the surgery (she’s more restless at night and more tired during the day), but she usually sleeps 2-3hrs, going down at 10:00am-ish. I’d like to get that to 11:00am, and then we should be set for a while. During the ten months that M’s been sleeping in her hip brace, she had rolled over about twice — until last week. I don’t know what happened, but she seemed to realize that she is strong enough to move all around. So now she rolls from back to front to back and sits up in bed. I think she’d ideally like to sleep on her side, but that’s one thing she can’t do in the brace. Poor little M!

My favorite thing about M is that she’s so affectionate and cuddly. She loves to play together and snuggle and just be close. She’s really latched onto the idea of holding my hand when we go places, and it’s so sweet to see her reach up to take my hand!

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Cupcakes and Things

First of all, I’m thrilled to say that M’s surgery went really well. She spent one night in the hospital, and we were both REALLY glad to get home the next day. She’s got a long arm cast on, and she’s pretty much just ignoring it. I’m SO glad that somebody told me to get fuzzy socks (adult size) to put over the cast — it makes all the difference to M’s comfort. No worrying about her bonking or scratching herself, and she even sort of snuggles up to it from time to time.

The photos are from the baking we did last week. I measured everything out ahead of time, and then M helped me pour things into the mixing bowl. (I still haven’t bought a new mixer, so we used the food processor to cream the butter and sugar.) I used a recipe from Apples for Jam because it happened to be sitting on the dining room table. We only made a third of the recipe and wound up with six little cupcakes — perfect! M also helped decorate them. Well, she helped decorate two of them (not pictured). And when I say ‘helped decorate’, I mean she poked her fingers in them and then pulled the tops off and ate them. She had so much fun.

I once again brought out my makeshift learning tower (two dining room chairs) for M to stand on, but I’ve just ordered her a real Learning Tower. There’s a deal right now where you can buy the tower and the easel for a discounted price. I think the easel will eventually be fun for M, but it also provides some protection from the large opening at the back. She did a REALLY good job standing nicely on the chair while we worked, but she’s still a bit young for the tower, officially.

I’ve had my eye on one of these towers since before M was even born. Even with that sort of anticipation, I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy having M up at counter height with me. I mean, she looks super, super cute in her little apron. But it’s also just so much fun to see how interested she is in everything. She doesn’t always want to try whatever I’m doing, but she likes to watch. It’s so great having a little helper in the kitchen!

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Parenting Philosophies

As M has gone through various stages — newborn to infant to toddler — I’ve latched on to a few different parenting philosphies or styles or whatever you’d call them. The Baby Whisperer was a huge help in the early months, and I liked reading about Baby Led Weaning when M was starting to eat solids, and of course now I’m very interested in Montessori.

I’m part of a Facebook Montessori group, and I love it — so many great ideas and interesting questions and answers, and generally just a bunch of great people supporting one another. But every so often I see the phrase ‘That’s not Montessori.’ — and that’s got me thinking about whether it matters if something is Montessori or not.

It doesn’t to me, really. This is my take on parenting methods: They fill in the gaps. They give you guidance. But they shouldn’t be a set of rules to live and die by. I think most of us, if we have enough trust in ourselves, know how to deal with a lot of the challenges we’ll come up against. So it’s great when you can find a book or a community that seems to match up with a lot of your personal philosophies. Then, when you come up against a problem (or an opportunity), and you’re not quite sure what to do, you’ve got somebody who’s already come up with a solution. But I don’t understand ignoring your gut or personal situation just to make sure you’re ticking all the boxes.

For example, the Baby Whisperer’s formula is ‘EASY’ — eat, activity, sleep, you (ie, time for the parent while the baby sleeps), repeat. I think it’s important to have a pattern like this in the early months; it helps you figure out what your baby might need, and it just gives some rhythm to the day. But EASY didn’t work for us — AESY did. M went down more easily with a bottle, and she slept better with a full tummy. The point of doing it the other way around is to avoid a dependence on the bottle to get to sleep, which makes sense. Once M was old enough to not need bottles to keep her full during a nap, she had also outgrown her need for them to help her drift off. There was definitely a bit of luck involved there, but the point is that everybody lived happily ever after, even though I wasn’t following the rules. I still go back to the Baby Whisperer forums every now and then to see how other parents deal with nap transitions* — I know it’s a group of folks who take a similar approach to infant/toddler sleep, and that’s very helpful!

I think one reason I’m so gung-ho about Montessori is that I have a lot of questions about how to educate M, now that she’s out of the baby stage. I’ve enrolled in a year-long course that focuses on Montessori for kids ages 2-6, and I’m really excited about it. It’s an on-line course and not terribly time-intensive, thank goodness! I’m curious whether I’ll come out of it being a die-hard Montessorian, or if I’ll still not understand what all the fuss is about certain materials. (I’m hoping I’ll learn why the Pink Tower is so magical, because I don’t get it right now!)

At any rate, I love that learning about Montessori has helped me involve M in our daily life so much more than before. I think that’s what it’s all about! She was playing with the recycling bin yesterday, and instead of trying to think of a way to keep it locked, I decided to use her interest and help her join in. She brought two different recyclables over to the bin and put them in, with just a verbal instruction from me. Clever old M. Then I asked her to help me load the dishwasher, but as you can see in the photo above, I made the mistake of not specifying WHAT she should load into the dishwasher. She does love to lend a hand, though!

* In the end, I pushed M’s morning nap half an hour later, and she suddenly started sleeping 2.5-3hrs at once. (She had been taking two 1.5hr naps since she was ~7mos.) It’s like she got the memo about switching to one nap and said, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ She is truly a magical unicorn baby.

p.s. — I don’t mean for the post to sound self-congratulatory (‘I make all the best choices!’). I was just thinking about why it irks me when people dismiss things out of hand because they don’t fit into a certain method. And why it is that I can become so infatuated with a style of parenting yet ignore the parts I don’t like.

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M’s Sink Table

Tada! M’s new sink table. I think my search for child-sized sinks is what led me to Montessori in the first place. I want M to be able to wash her hands, but even with a step-stool, she won’t be able to reach the real sink for a long time. I’ve seen several Montessori homes with sink tables, either with a basin set in like this or with a bowl simply sitting on top. I spent about a week mentally drawing up plans for what I wanted M’s to look like, and then I quickly sketched it out and made my list of cuts and built it on Saturday morning.

The building part went really fast. My mom gave me a quick-clamp Kreg pocket hole jig (this one) for Christmas. You might think it’s not worth the extra $50 for just a clamp, but it so is. It saved so much time! She also got me the Kreg face clamp and right angle clamp, which are really nice. I don’t want to brag, but the corners on this sink table are sort of amazing, thanks to those clamps. Anyway, what I’m saying is that I put everything together using pocket holes and screws, and it looks good.

The tile on the top was the stuff that was originally supposed to be my bathroom floor. It looked terrible (patchy color and an uneven surface) when the guys put it in, so now I have the larger hex tiles in the bathroom, but there are still a few sheets of this little stuff in the garage. I realize now that there’s a special place in heaven for our contractor and his guys for ever installing this stuff in the first place. It is a nightmare! And I was dealing with only a 14.5″ x 16″ surface. I spent a lot of time using a small knitting needle to scoop out extra mortar that squished up through the tiles (and I had tried to put it on thinly!). It was hard to grout, too. I couldn’t just pull the extra grout off — it wanted to just stay on the surface of the tiles. And (this isn’t necessarily the fault of the tiles) as the grout dried, it start cracking almost EVERYwhere. I had to do a second coat of grout the next morning. Anyway, it looks amazing now, but if I’d had to do an entire bathroom with this stuff… well, I wouldn’t have.

The bowl came from a thrift store. It’s from a Mixmaster-type set. I like that it isn’t too big, but it’s nice and deep. I can put a few inches of water in there without it being so close to the rim that it’ll splash everywhere. There’s a little hole in the tile/plywood top, to the left of the bowl, to slip a finger under the rim of the bowl and pop it out (to empty the dirty water). Once M is agile enough, she’ll be able to do that and pour it in the tub. The jug is for me to fill with clean water from the real sink, which she (or I, for now) can pour into the basin.

I still have to seal the grout and then run a bead of caulk around the edges, where the tile meets the wood. But I’ve got a bit of time to do that. M is having hand surgery on Friday, and she’s going to be in a cast for four weeks after that. So no splashing in water for a while!

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M’s Hooks

Here is a set of little hooks I put up for M’s broom and things in the kitchen. I made the apron for her on Saturday, using some of the canvas I screen printed a few months ago. It’s the perfect thing to protect her clothes when she’s painting or helping out in the kitchen. She likes her little broom — and today, she even used it to push some floor debris around! (Not that she cleaned it up, but pushing it around is still more than I did around the house today.)

I just keep getting more and more fascinated by Montessori-style living and teaching. I’ve always felt in tune with M, but the books and blogs I’ve been reading have opened my eyes to everything she might be capable of, even at her age. I make more of a point now to demonstrate things for her, even if I don’t think it’s something she’ll be ready to try for a little while yet. The broom and the hooks are part of this — putting her materials at her level, so that she can get some experience with them under her belt.

Anyway, I’ve got a few more projects and things coming up. I’m going to try to post about these things more often, even if it’s just to write about some hooks on the wall.

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Montessori Style

I’ve gotten really interested in Montessori philosophies lately. I’ve always been sort of intrigued by the alternative schooling methods (Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio), and you can definitely apply some of the principles from birth, but they seem much more relevant as M gets further into toddlerhood. She recently figured out the concept of wiping something clean, so now she’s in charge of wiping her tray after each meal. She seems to like having a little job to do and the responsibility that comes with it (which is very much part of the Montessori way of thinking). I had hoped she might enjoy wiping the windows yesterday, but as you can see, she was far more interested in spraying (well, purposefully pointing) the vinegar bottle. It’s nice that she participated, though.

Some new little goodies came in the mail today: a vegetable brush, so she can help clean potatoes; some small jugs to practice pouring; little tongs; and an egg slicer. We haven’t used it yet, but I’m really impressed with the egg slicer. I spent a while looking for one that was made of stainless steel and seemed durable, and I settled on this one. It has wires for slicing, and I don’t think there’s any way M could hurt herself with it (besides pinching, but that’s a possibility with any of these). She had a good time figuring out how it worked this afternoon, so I’m going to have to boil up some eggs for the morning.

I spent a long time this weekend reading How We Montessori and Sixtine et Victoire, two beautiful blogs about having Montessori homes. I’m feeling enthusiastic about building a little sink/basin for M to wash her hands at. At this age, even with a step stool, there’s no way she can reach the regular sink. And I’ve been trying to pare down her toys and find the ones that have the most purpose. When she has so many things, ‘playing’ with them becomes more a game of ‘spreading them out’ instead of actually interacting with any of them. Already, I’ve seen that she focuses on a single activity for a longer period of time, which is great. I’m also trying to teach her the concept of putting her toys away after she plays with them (something that Montessori folks claim their kids loooove to do), but that’s going to take a while to sink in. Of course, I’ve always been terrible about that, so it’s a learning process for us both!

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M is such a little kid now! We went to the grocery store for more eggs yesterday, and I thought I’d let her walk around instead of making her ride in the cart. For some reason, she got it in her head that it was her job to push the cart, and she did so through the entire store (I provided the steering and brakes). There were a few times she got distracted and grabbed something tempting, but she’s very good about putting things back when I ask her to. She’s big into responsibilities right now, and the ability to put something back in its spot is more interesting to her than whatever it is she’s found. I’m enjoying that while it lasts!

She’s been going up and down the steps for a while — with my help and a lot of spotting. Usually, when she goes down the stairs, I hold one of her hands to steady her. But she realized she could turn around and go down on her knees, or hold onto the railing to steady herself. So the past few days, when we start heading downstairs, I’ll ask her if she wants me to help, and she gets a very determined look and shakes her head ‘no’. She usually DOES decide she might want some help, after all, once she’s about halfway down the first set of stairs. But it’s fun to watch her see that she can do things herself. It’s like she understands that there’s a learning process, and she just has to work her way through it. She’s always had a lot of patience with these things; she doesn’t really get frustrated — she’ll just stop doing something if she can’t make it work, and she’ll come back to it later. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop as she gets further into toddlerhood, but I do hope she’ll keep that patient nature as she learns new skills.

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Fridge and Freezer Declutter

Last week’s decluttering theme was the fridge and freezer. I pretty much ignored all the daily tasks until Saturday, when my mom was over to watch M, and I was able to take care of it in one go. As you can see from the ‘before’ photo of the fridge, trying to organize with M around resulted in much curiosity and ‘helping’. I can’t blame her for being interested, of course — that’s where so much tasty food comes from!

The fridge was overdue for a good cleaning. I took out the big Brita water filter that lived in there — I’d rather just drink water straight from the tap with some ice cubes, now that I’m trying to avoid plastic more. That freed up a lot of shelf space! I used a basket to corral some of the lesser-used condiments, which means that one of the shelves in the door is now empty. Rob uses lactose-free milk for his coffee and drinks orange juice, so those two cartons can go in the currently-empty spot.

Ugh, the freezer. Is there a perfect freezer? Are those drawer ones any good? I feel like ours is constantly packed, which probably just means I should be less lazy and keep more food in the chest freezer (in the garage). I feel like it’s fairly under control after the tidy-up, though. I used another basket to hold meal-plan leftovers, so I don’t have glass jars teetering on shelf edges every time I open the freezer door. It also became clear that we have way too many fake meat products (most of the bottom shelf now) — hopefully now that I can see them all, we can work I way through them on the weekends. (I removed some of the clutter from on top of the fridge, and now you can see that I STILL haven’t painted the inside of the fridge cubby. Boo!)

Overall, I feel like the fridge and freezer are in a much more controlled state now that I’m using my meal plans. It helps SO much to buy exactly what we need instead of thinking, ‘Ooh, we could have this… some day.’ I decided to beautify my meal plan a little (ie, I pressed a button on the table styles menu in Word), and I’ve uploaded it here (a PDF version) and here (a Word version, so you can make changes). It’s just lunches and dinners for Monday-Friday — nothing fancy, but maybe a good starting point for people who are trying to come up with their own plans. I like not having the weekends planned, so I don’t feel quite so strapped in. And breakfasts vary depending on my energy level in the morning. If there are recipes you’d like, leave me a comment, and I’ll find the link, if there is one.

Also, many thanks to the person who said nice things about twelve22 here. I like the idea that I’m minimalist — because it really doesn’t feel like it! But hopefully once I’ve finished The Big Declutter of 2015, I’ll be better headed in that direction.

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