We’re not really into big festivities round here – it comes with being far away from family, and Amie isn’t into presents and all that (yet). We spent some lovely days with friends in NYC. They’re into big get-togethers with hour-long conversations, heaps of good food and frequent bursts of laughter any time. You find yourself in the middle of that wonderful city but you just can’t make yourself get up and go places!

Perceiving a definite slow-down on other blogs, I decided to take a little time off too. The free moments here and there I devoted to the “bari” or “badi” – as Anja called it, in Bengali: the little house I was making for Amie, I mean the Manushes.

I spent more time on it than I planned to, for several reasons: the paint was such that it needed several coats, I changed the colors and design midway through, I got very, very into it and, much to my surprise, Amie let me work on it once in a while. It was very relaxing, in the evening after she had gone to sleep, to spend 15 minutes with it. I’ve never been a knitter, but I guess this comes close.

Baba Manush on his new staircase (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Baba Manush proudly surveys his domain from his new steps.

Baba Manush on his new staircase (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

I used two Annie’s Homegrown boxes: Cheddar Bunnies and Mac’nCheese. Seeing how heavy-footed those Manushes are, I made the staircase very strong, with reinforcements and lots o lots of cellotape!

dollhouse almost finished (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Then I decided to change the color scheme

It needs a little more work, some finishing touches. Hope to report back on that soon!

DH is the one who drops Amie off at daycare in the mornings on his way to work. Every morning I rush him/them. Amie by now knows the mantra: “I need to go to office, Baba needs to go to office, Mama also needs to go to office, in the study!”

(This concept, by the way, of all three of us having to do a good job at our respective “offices” really helped her change her attitude about daycare.)

That’s how it is, folks. The moment they’re out of here I rush to the study and start writing on my novel – and occasionally, when inspiration is low or I need a break, on this here blog-thingie. The moment I started realizing the novel might actually bring in some money, I really started considering it as “a job”.

(Note the difference between job and work. The writing was always “work” and therefore worth it, vauable, praiseworthy, proud… But in this society, once work becomes lucrative, the worker gets to have more say -  whether I like it or not).

So this morning it was 8:30 (the time daycare opens) and DH was still in his PJs, checking his email on his laptop (“It’s urgent: it’s work!”). I rushed him – in these cases I don’t mind the nagging – and he laughed and said: “You do this thing in the morning: kicking us out!”

And I said: “You bet I’m kicking you out! My working day just started and you’re still here on my time!”

Don’t worry, it’s all said in a cheerful tone, but this morning I realized that I was also very serious.  And so did DH, I think…

Amie in the meantime was drawing Boo again:

Boo by Amie 20 December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie was never interested in TV, but on the flights to and from Singapore she got hooked on the movie Monsters, Inc. She now asks to see it every day, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about how much she loves those characters, talks about them all the time, pretends to play with them and be them, and today – just today, an hour or so ago – drew them.

This is Boo:

Boo! tadpole drawing by Amie 19 December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

This is Sulley:

Sulley tadpole drawing by Amie 19 December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Methinks these drawings need no explaining! They all have their legs and arms, Sulley has his thick coat of blue hair, and “he’s scared of Boo, so he is screaming”.

When I asked her where their bodies are, she pointed to the heads and said: “There”. So they’re the typical tadpole figures any primer on children’s art begins with. She was already putting tadpoles together with play dough, but her control over pens wasn’t good enough, and until yesterday she was drawing stripes haphazardly.

Today she drew slowly and with care, explaining as she went along, needing no direction from me. She  even glanced at the DVD sleeve of the movie to see if she got it right, so there was no question of her intention to represent as closely as she could.

“Two eyes, one mouth, a nose, hai-ai-air, two legs, two arms – lo-o-ong… It’s Boo!”

News alert.

This is in from the Childbirth Connection:

Relentless Rise in Cesarean Section Rate
The National Center for Heath Statistics has just released the preliminary U.S. national cesarean rate for 2006: 31.1%. This rate has increased by 50% in the past decade, reaching a record level every year in this century. The most common operating room procedure in U.S. hospitals, cesarean section involves considerable morbidity in women and babies and expense for private payers/employers and Medicaid/taxpayers.

They have a .pdf of a Mothering Magazine article called “Cesarean Birth in a Culture of Fear” on their website. And lots of other information. They’re definitely worth a visit.

Today Amie asked if we could go to the library. Not knowing the weather conditions outside – comes with living in a warm and cosy basement – we got all dressed up. Then we walked about 5 yards in 20 F in a biting wind on an icy pavement and… turned back. It was brutal. Amie, who doesn’t like her expectations frustrated these days, totally agreed on a change of plan.

Amie December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

 (Drawing Amie’s hand: note the PJs and the concentration)

We played with the Kapla blocks, the wooden train set, read books, drew pictures, made puzzles and danced and drew our hands and ran out of ideas. Then I remembered this cute caterpillar at Middlemonth as well as the old egg carton I just tossed in the recycling. A good excuse to break out the paints! Amie helped with most of the painting, dipped the Q-tips into the black paint, and loved testing whether the thing was dry already (she also loves washing her hands).

Caterpillar December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

People, I’m thinking it is time – so long-awaited – to plunge into the KidsCraftWeekly archives! I have been telling myself for long time not to go and look at all the wonderful crafts we will soon be able to do together. I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait. But I think – yes - we’re ready!

Ok, I think we finally found the ultimate building blocks!

Baba and Amie building with Kapla (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

(Baba and Amie play with the Kapla blocks) 

Looking for a birthday present to give a thee-year-old, we stumbled upon these Kapla Blocks.  My first reaction was: huh, so what? They are simply wooden blocks or rather miniature planks. But then you take them out of the box and set them down, and you know: this will last forever.

There are no screws, bolts, glue, anything, yet you can make amazing constructions with them. And they are so very well crafted: set them on any side and they will stand, firmly. In other words, it’s not like you will be building a house of cards or playing a game of Jenga. Hooray for absolutely straight corners!

They are also entirely made of beautiful natural wood grown in 100% sustainable forests in France.

We got an extra 100-piece box for Amie and she loves it. So far she has made bridges, bridges, like in the picture. And she has knocked down houses not of her own construction. That’s an issue worth a post of itself, but suffice it to say it goes like this: “Amie don’t be naughty!” “I’m not naughty, I pretending to be naughty!”

After the disappointment with the Wedgits (*) - they promise no phtalates but what’s with the smell? – I was on the look out for something naturally woody and not too pricey. I think this might be it.

(*) I’m not throwing them out as yet: they might become more appealing to Amie when she gets a little older, but so far she is not keen on them.

Have you seen Amie puzzling (video to the right)? She was only 18 months old and really into it: fit-the-shape peg puzzles as well as jigsaw puzzles. After a while she lost interest and moved on. I wasn’t heart-broken, because I knew that by then she had memorized all the puzzles and wasn’t, therefore, really puzzling anymore. I described all this in First Puzzles for a Child Under Two Years.

Today she asked to make puzzles again. I had to dig them out from behind hundreds of children’s books (I am not kidding). Two hours later, this was the result:

Amie with finished puzzles, December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

As before, I mixed up the 16 same-shape-and-size but different-pattern pieces that fit into two boards (described in A Child’s First Puzzles), and the 16 geometrical shapes that also go into two different boards. She wasn’t even challenged.

  • Touch still first, visuals second

Then I also mixed up the pieces of the eight 4-piece jigsaw puzzles (the penguins, etc. that she puts together in the old video). This was a way of forcing her to look at the images first, before resorting to the shapes and the fit of the pieces. She had no trouble with selecting the right pieces, but when she turned to the puzzling, it was clear that she is still predominantly guided by touch.

Even so, though she was still and often trying to fit a corner piece (which seems to be a visual, not a tactile clue) into the middle of a puzzle, or trying to attach the zebra’s head to his tail, it was much easier to talk her through it. I merely had to point out to her that it was a corner she was holding, and that she might use it to fix the zebra’s head, or that it might fit in the upper left corner, if she turned it a bit, and she was on it.

  • “Fix it” with visual and directional pointers

Most of my help was purely verbal. “Why don’t you fix the zebra’s head” and “fix the giraffe’s neck?” were sufficient pointers. I found that the combination of the word “fix” and a brief description of the two parts she is supposed to join together seems to be the best way of directing her to pay attention to the image. 

Alos invaluable were the directional clues: “to the left, right, above and below” this or that piece. “Turn it a little”.

Amie puzzling December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Thus we moved up to the little suitcase, the Crocodile Creek collection of four puzzles: one 4 pieces, one 6, one 8 and one 12 pieces. They’re tough: they certainly not designed with young toddlers in mind. Most pieces have a jumble of zebra stripes or simply a flat expanse of background that even I had to study closely to figure out where they went! But I talked her through even the biggest puzzle simply by giving her visual clues about the image and directional clues about where it should go relative to the other pieces.

Amie puzzling December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

  • 24 pieces!

In the end we did two 24-piece puzzles of “Nijntje” (in the picture they are right behind her right hand). Even those she completed without my even touching a single piece. And in the end she was getting the hang of it.

“Let’s fix the rabbit’s head,” she mumbled. When I pointed out that she might turn it around, she said: “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ll do it. I’ll try. I’ll do my best.”

I trust you, dear. Don’t worry.

(Check out more pictures of our puzzling adventure today in my Flickr badge)

snowstorm 13 December 2007, Brookline (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

It started snowing here on my way to pick up Amie from her daycare, around one. On the way back she found it so peaceful she fell asleep in the stroller (it’s a ten minute walk). It really is rather magical and eerily calm when those flakes start coming down.

While she naps I stole a moment to put the first layer of paint on the interior structure and the large furniture. Don your hard hat and your smocks, please!

dollhouse construction: primer (c) Katrien Vander Straeten Doll house construction: primer (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Phase II: First layer of primer

Isn’t that this week’s issue of the New Yorker? Why, yes it is! Honestly, who has time to read the New Yorker anymore?

Then I stole a moment to write you this.

And now I’m going to steal some more moments to finish chapter 8 of my novel.