Thursday, April 2, 2009

Weekend Without Mom, Apr.4-5

Since I'm going to the Startup Weekend in SF, the kids will be without the mother. It lasts from Friday night to Sunday night. The longest my husband has been with the alone kids - five hours. I tried to plan a simple kind of a weekend for him to minimize stress (and with everything written out).

08:00-08:30 get up, get kids dressed
08:30-09:30 eat breakfast (pancakes & sour cream & jam), if extra time watch Russian Jungle Book
09:30-10:00 drive to Palo Alto Junior Museum
10:00-12:00 Explore Palo Alto Junior Museum
12:00-12:30 drive home
12:30-13:30 set table, eat lunch (turkey pot pie)
13:30-14:00 play outside in the garden with the ball ("soccer")
14:00-17:30 sleep, eat a snack (lean pockets in ziplock bag in freezer), play; if kids wake up before 16:30, go to Oakmont Produce to buy organic strawberries for dinner
17:30-18:00 drive to L.'s drawing class
18:00-19:00 class, walk with A. outside in the park
19:00-20:30 make pelmeni, set table, eat dinner, put kids in bed

SUNDAY, April 5
08:00-08:20 get up, get kids dressed
08:20-08:45 eat breakfast (waffles with yogurt)
08:45-09:00 prepare food to go
09:00-10:00 drive to Oakland Zoo
10:00-13:00 see the zoo, eat lunch
13:00-14:00 drive home
14:00-16:00 nap
16:00-18:15 snack (salami & cheese & cream cheese & bread); Ortega Park
18:00-18:30 drive home
18:30-19:00 dinner (stuffed cabbage)
19:00-20:30 play, go to sleep
23:00 hopefully, mom comes home & collapses

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No classes

Yesterday I cried for the first time in many months out of sheer despair over the behavior of my child. We went to the 3rd soccer class with L. and he refused to go out on the field. I tried probably 15 different approaches, short of bribes and threats, and nothing. The two coaches tried to talk him into joining the game - and nothing. Today, he refused to go to his music class too. I feel quite helpless, for I don't know what to do. The only approach that I think can work at this time is bribery and I'm just not sure I want to do that. On the other hand, those classes are for his enrichment and development (music for memory and soccer for gross motor)...

I guess I'll have to wait for next week and see what happens then.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reality vs. Plan, March 28

Reality report for the plan of March 28.

Because we came very early to the cable car stop (9am), there was virtually no line and we sat on the outside seats. Of course, there were people in front of us holding the poles, but that cannot be helped. It was a nice ride up and down the SF hills, that took us all the way to Powell & Market, from which we walked to the Asian Art Museum.

Unlike our first visit, the kids were not as entranced, not surprisingly, as this particular museum material is harder to appreciate for ones so young. We enjoyed looking at the swords, animal sculptures, and of course, going up and down the escalator. Then we wanted to take the trolley back to North Beach, but it was broken. Well.

We took the taxi (we could have taken the metro, but there were 6 of us, and taxi was cheaper and faster) to Rose Pistola (reserved on OpenTable). On this, our third, visit there, we ordered smoked salmon & soft egg appetizer, sweet potato gnocchi with prosciutto, and chicken with asparagus, all very well done. This left us just enough room in our bellies to go next door to Gelateria Naia‎ (Rocher ice cream, mmmmmmmmmmm!). We found that for our family, splitting two entrees, occasionally adding an appetizer or a dessert, is usually a perfect amount of food for four.

We then walked to our garage (we parked at Hilton; we should have looked around the corner for cheaper parking). We did in fact quite a bit of walking, but it was a good day to do that.

After we drove home and put kids down for their nap, we left instructions to my parents, and jumped on the rare opportunity to go to theater. For dinner before the performance, we went to Emile's in San Jose, our second time there, and it was a bit underwhelming. We ordered cream of mushroom soup (good but average), les grenadines des troi roi (supposedly on grilled potato croutons, but in fact on just mashed potatoes), and roasted moscovy duck breast a l'orange with wild rice (solid but unexciting). Certainly, made us wish that we try some place else for the next time. The performance, however, was great. We saw Camelot, which in my haste to find something interesting I took to be a play, but was in fact a musical. The performers were professional, the set design incredible, and the story surprisingly complex (as average musicals go, of course).

Friday, March 27, 2009

Plan for March 28

light posting: grandparents in town

07:30-08:00 get up, get dressed, get breakfast to go
08:00-09:00 drive to garage at 590 Bay St, SF
09:00-09:10 walk to Hyde St. and North Point St. cable car stop (twd Columbus Av, right, left on North Point)
09:10-09:50 take the Powell-Hyde cable car to Powell-Market (end of the line)
09:50-10:00 walk to 200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Asian Art Museum of SF) (20)
10:00-11:30 explore the museum
11:30-12:30 take F-line streetcar from 9th & Larkin (or 8th & Hyde) to the end Jones St & Beach St (see stops at
12:30-14:00 walk to Rose Pistola (532 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA; RESERVED for 1pm)
14:00-15:00 drive home
15:00-17:30 nap time; prepare grandparents for the evening (ask to buy plain yogurt & milk)

- grandparents: have dinner with kids, walk to the produce store to buy fruits & milk, play, read, sleep
- parents: dinner @Emile's restaurant, Camelot @Montgomery Theater in San Jose

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Memberships & Competition

My oldest L. (3.7-yr-old) has reached the stage where he wants to be first all the time. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite understand that in order to be first, you have to make an effort, you can't just expect others to step aside. So, in the morning, L. wants to dress faster than A. (whom I dress), and gets very upset when that doesn't happen (which is pretty much always because L. dawdles).

So we get to have these conversation where I explain the meaning of competition to him, but that hasn't quite helped him feel better about it.

On the plus side, Cali weather is finally shaping up, and we've bought the Gold Pass to Great America & Gilroy Gardens, which are opening very soon. This Sunday we'll renew our Oakland Zoo membership, which means we will have five memberships:
  1. CA Academy of Sciences
  2. Oakland Zoo
  3. Gilroy Gardens
  4. Great America
  5. San Jose Children's Discovery Museum (CDM)
This should give us plenty of variety over the summer and fall. Add in occasional fun events like Maker Faire (yeehaw, bought tickets for that too), and voila, meaningful family weekends.

Before kids, we would never get memberships, but if you plan to go to these places twice or thrice (which, chances are, you would), the memberships are more cost-effective.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Injuries and Recipes

Yesterday, our son A. (2.2-yr-old) almost lost his eye. He was running and hit his eye right on the edge of the platform that supports our staircase railing. The cut was less than 1/4 inch away from the eye. Strange, how easily children can come to disability or death. L., being older (3.7-yr-old), had more accidents. When he was about a year, he fell down almost a complete flight of stairs onto hard tile floor. When he was 3, he almost drowned. I can't say that we're very careful parents, we're pretty laid back about baby-proofing (more of the 'remove the temptation' philosophy, rather than 'let's cover everything in plastic' philosophy). On the other hand, our kids (knock-knock on wood) have had very few serious or unserious injuries, i.e., very few cuts or bruises or bleeding of any kind. So, rationally, I have to pronounce yesterday as "one of those days", but of course, there's some nagging thought remaining "maybe I should do something about it".

Today I made another attempt to make granola, this time using Mark Bittman's recipe ( as a base. My adaptation:
1.5 cup of rolled oats
0.5 cup of rye flakes
2/3 c chopped almonds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp wheat germ
3 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp psyllium husks
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp of agave syrup
2 tbsp of brown rice syrup
little less than 1/4 c oil
1.5 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dried currants (after cooking)
I also added 1/4 salt which I won't next time: it came out a bit salty. And, despite what seems like tons of syrup, didn't really come out all that sweet. Also, I overcooked it AGAIN! Argh. I have to learn to take it out before it is the right color, because it continues cooking and crispens outside the oven.

I also made some meat for my salad, a variation on "nedosicheniki": cut up lean beef into small pieces (0.25-0.5 inches); fry on high without oil until no longer red; add thyme, powdered garlic, and red wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated; add egg and fry until the egg is cooked; divide it up and freeze it. I take half a cup of this meat, warm it in the huge microwaveable glass bowl, add several handfuls of salad, a bit of olive oil, a touch of parmesan, and voila, a filling lunch or dinner.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reality vs. plan report, March 22

Given that I finished all the clean-up the night before, the early morning was quite lazy: we got up, I made some "grenki" (dense white french bread baguette, sliced and fried in eggs), added granola and cottage cheese to the table, and we all had lazy breakfast. We talked, we played, and then we had our first guests - from the Russian group, four kids in total, with their parents. We read a few stories, we played, but didn't get a chance to play a game outside (I thought it was too slippery after the rain), maybe next time. Then we had lunch, watched Shrek (we were too lazy to do anything else), had a nap, woke up just in time for the next set of guests, played with them, after the guests we listened to some music, had dinner, and it was basically time for bed. Nothing extraordinary.

In one word, lazy. It's good to have such days, given how busy with activity and travel most of our weekends are. It's good, occasionally, to recharge.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Plan vs. reality, March 21

Pretty smooth sailing. It actually rained (which I didn't factor in), but lucky us - the rain started only when we got into the car to drive home. Woke up pretty late, 8:45am, but plenty of time to dress and eat breakfast. Drove to CDM, parked really close (since we came early), went in for an hour and a half. They have two new exhibits, "Out on a Limb" (looks pretty but there's little to do) and water play. The kids really enjoyed the last one, of course, getting wet despite the aprons.

Upstairs, it was all old stuff, but they both got a huge kick out of a pyramid mirror, where you could see multiple you. I find the museum a bit boring, and it's really a solitary experience at this point: the kids play by themselves, one each, and we just follow them around, occasionally voicing a concern, a warning, or a suggestion. A good place to kill time, and excellent for rainy weather (albeit crowded), but not at all in the list of my favorites.

Then we walked to the Tech, a nice 15-20 min walk and the weather cooperated, bought the tickets for the Flight of Magic IMAX movie, had lunch in the cafe, and played in the store for a few minutes before the show. I took lunch to go, and it was a huge hit: chicken-celery pirozhki (which I heated at home and wrapped in foil and towel), havarti cheese-cream cheese sandwich, baby carrots, campari tomatoes, apple sauce and water. The movie was pretty good, although I wish they spent more time talking about how people learned how to fly (starting with Daedalus, not just Wright Brothers) instead of spending the largest proportion of the movie talking about Blue Angels who were preparing for the air show. The kids enjoyed it, of course, although A. (2.2-yr-old) enjoyed it only the first 20-30 min and spent the rest of the time trying to talk and walk around. Sigh.

We walked back to CDM, spent an hour at the birthday (it was a short event; they reserved the room for an hour), and drove home to nap. Unfortunately, they don't reliably fall asleep at nap time, so whatever we plan for after the nap, often doesn't happen or morphs into something else. As it was today. They played with each other instead of sleeping, so after an hour we separated them into different rooms, meaning they didn't fall asleep until almost 5pm. So I ended up going to Whole Foods by myself, which in this case turned out to be a boon: I was shopping for obscure things for my granola & kids' breakfast biscuits (wheat germ, flax, brown rice syrup, amaranth, rye grain flakes, etc).

After dinner, they wanted to play with flashlights, so we turned off the lights in the living room, handed each a flashlight, and off they went running after each other like crazing and making a "moon" and "sun" on the ceiling (they made me "fall asleep" when it was the moon, and "wake up" when it was the sun).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eating out as entertainment

Eating out with kids is great (well, doing almost anything with them can be great). You kill more time eating out than at home, you get to try things you don't usually cook, kids learn to select (well, sometimes give their input that occasionally gets incorporated), they learn to behave properly and use the utensils & napkins, they drink more water (because we never order drinks), and did I mention that you kill more time that way?

Eating at my husband's cafeteria at work:

Weekend plans, March 21-22

As per usual, our hope-plan for the coming weekend. Very social, this one.

Saturday, March 21
08:00-09:30 get up, get dressed, eat breakfast (rice-raisin kasha)
09:30-10:00 take lunch-to-go, and birthday gift; drive to Children's Discovery Museum (180 Woz Way, San Jose) & park
10:00-11:00 explore the museum
11:00-11:30 walk to The Tech (201 South Market Street) (20)
11:30-12:00 buy tickets for Magic of Flight, eat lunch at the cafe, play in the store
12:00-12:45 watch IMAX movie
12:45-13:00 walk back to Children's Discovery Museum (20)
13:00-14:30 meet a classmate for birthday celebration
14:30-15:00 drive home
15:00-17:00 nap time
17:00-18:30 shop with kids at Whole Foods
18:30-20:30 dinner, games, cartoon & pjs, reading, sleep

Sunday, March 22
08:00-08:30 get up, get dressed, eat
08:30-10:00 play in the park with papa while I clean the house
10:00-12:00 russian playdate/story time at home
12:00-12:30 lunch
12:30-14:00 go to the mall to return shoes & trunks & buy new ones
14:00-16:00 nap
16:00-16:30 play in the yard with cars and papa
16:30-18:30 daycare friends are coming to visit
18:30-20:30 dinner, games, cartoon & pjs, reading, sleep

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pirozhki, Attempt 2

Since today is Wednesday aka music-lesson-instead-of-dinner day, it also means "cook-something-we-can-eat-in-the-car-on-the-way-there" day.

I tried two more pirozhki fillings:
1) canned salmon, scallions, and boiled eggs
2) boiled chicken, fried onion, celery, and butter

I also replaced half of the flour with whole wheat flour (didn't rise as high, of course)

Fish came out pretty tasty, albeit not cohesive (once you bite it, you have to watch it because the filling easily falls out). Chicken ones I froze, so we'll discover how it tastes next time.

I also tried to make "ponchiki" (a bit like donuts) by deep frying the remaining dough in oil. Well, that was a fiasco. a) I burnt my finger. b) ponchiki didn't cook all the way through. c) since I don't use a lot of sugar, they tasted more like dinner rolls, rather than dessert. Oh well, they're not that healthy anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cardboard ship

Here's a quick toy I made: a cardboard ship. We received a large package from Amazon, and it seemed a shame to throw out the big box. So, using scraps I found in the garage,

1. I cut off the tops with a knife, folded the two longest ones in half, and hot-glued to the front and the back of the "ship".

2. Taking a throwaway thick piece of wood, I drilled a small hole in the middle of it, just big enough to put into it a dowel. I hot-glued the whole thing to the bottom of the "ship".

3. I cut off a triangular piece of yellow cotton and hot-glued it around the dowel, as a sail.

4. I took a thick heavy dowel piece that was about one-half-of-the-box in length and hot-glued it to the bottom of the "sail", so it would actually look more like a sail keeping the triangular shape (so the two legs of the triangle are dowels).

5. I used one of the cardboard tops that I cut off for a flag: cut it into a triangular shape, wrote my sons names on it, folded around the "mast" and hot-glued it shut.

6. Then I put a piece of navy fabric under it to simulate a sea.

It took me around 30 minutes to complete. As you can see, the goal was to do it very quickly and use whatever I already had.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reality vs. plan, March 15: Academy and Dumbo

Reality vs. plan report for March 15 (see the plan in earlier post).

When we woke up, my husband told me he has a cold and doesn't feel up to the trip, so off we went, just three of us. I get really tired during such outings, the stress of trying not to lose the kids in the crowd, not preferring one child's desired path over another, making sure they stay together, and answering all questions and pointing out things. With another adult person, you at least get an occasional respite.

Because the crowds at the California Academy of Sciences are not letting up, even though it's been open for 6 months now, we bought the membership and have been coming there an hour before the member hours start. What do we do for an hour? Well, if my husband was with me, we'd let them just run around in the beautiful park-like area between the Academy and DeYoung Museum. Since he wasn't, I took my laptop with me, which is filled with all sorts of digital books for the kids, and we just sat on my sweater on the ground and read. The kids were so engrossed that we didn't even notice the time. This time, we ran straight to the restaurant to make reservation for lunch and straight to planetarium to get the passes. They were for 10:30, so that's what we saw first (right after the short stroll through "Africa"). The show placard warns that it's not advisable for kids under 6, but we decided to wing it anyway, since how can one know if it's true for your kids unless you experience it? Well, if you read the post from yesterday, you can imagine how A. behaved (wiggly and talkative), but L. (more than 2 years below the guideline) of course liked it - it was about space, after all. He knows all the planets, and sometimes remembers other things we talked about (the orbits, lack of water and air on other planets, various spacecrafts, how you get there, etc). He recognized the satellite immediately. Some of the topics were pretty complex, but the show is only 30 minutes, and is certainly enjoyable on various levels of your understanding of the subject. The verdict: know thy child.

Then we skipped the butterfly exhibit, because the lines were huge (and I'm not a big fan anyway), and went down to the Aquarium where we did the usual route (tropical fish, jellyfish, all sorts of weird fish, touched the sea star, admired the alligator and turtle, etc). There were other parts of the museum left, such as the whole "fragile planet"-type exhibits, but we've seen them before, and I thought it was more important to give them time to just run around in the outside courtyard of the museum for 20 minutes until our lunch reservations. Impressively, the host recognized us from last time. Unfortunately, they phased out the incredible mushroom ravioli we all loved last time; so we ordered the new ricotta(?) ravioli (ouch, spicy), tagliatelle with meat, the very enjoyable duck confit salad, and chocolate mousse bombe. Solid 3.5-4 stars out of 5. Then it was time to drive home and nap. Of course, A. fell asleep in the car.

I must say, this is our fourth time to the museum, and it really does not compare favorably with the Field, Smithsonian or NY Museum of Natural History. You'd think there'd be at least one museum of such stature on the West Coast. The Academy, however, is pretty small; the biggest part is the Aquarium, the Natural History part is very bare, and Planetarium with a short show and no related exhibits - hmmm... Of course, since it's the only such museum in the area, we have no choice.

Once we got home and L. got his nap, I didn't feel like going to the mall without my husband even though we really need to buy those spring-weather shoes. So we watched Dumbo (which was scheduled for yesterday). A pretty sweet movie, with none of the stupid contemporary references permeating recent Disney movies, such as Aladdin etc; at one hour long, shorter than most Disney flicks; the end is a bit too capitalistic for my end (so he got rich and that's why no one mistreats him or his mom? feh).

After dinner, we played some hilarious games, such as throwing a pillow to knock A. off his feet (he asked me to do it again and again, for almost 30 minutes), and dropping little people into a chute ("slide", made out of hollow fence post with one side cut out - for a different former project).

Good, albeit more tiring than usual, day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dinosaurs & Flamenco, aka Reality vs. plan report, March 14

Reality vs. plan report for March 14. (See plan in earlier posts).

Yesterday I was working till late, so I made the pancakes before I went to bed (at 3am). So my husband woke up with the kids, they had the pancakes and then they were supposed to watch Dumbo, but he couldn't find it (men!), so they just played together until I woke up at 10:30, quickly packed a gift for the birthday girl and off we went to the Shoreline Lake. It was colder than we thought, but moderately enjoyable. After the birthday, which was (at least in theory) mermaid-themed, I asked my oldest L. (whose classmate's 4th birthday we celebrated) what he wanted to have for his 4th celebration in July, and (after we listed some possibilities) he said "Dinosaurs". As we drove home, I impressed on L. how important it is that they get a nap and not play together in their beds as they're wont to do. Amazingly, he listened and actually didn't make a peep when I put him in bed even though my youngest A. (2.2-yr-old) made all sorts of noises. They both fell asleep about 10-15 min. afterwards, which rarely happens unless they're completely worn out (which they weren't).

As they were napping, I researched dinosaur birthdays and apparently (hah!) it's a very popular theme, so I'm overflowing with ideas. We'll see.

After the nap, we drove to Redwood City and explored Jigsaw Java. It's an interesting idea: have a place to play all sorts of jigsaw puzzles along with coffee & hot chocolate. The execution was kind of blah. There weren't enough interesting (or non-branded) puzzles for my oldest, let alone my youngest, and the coffee was more of the office variety as opposed to Starbucks. I coaxed L. into making a Curious George puzzle (25 pieces) by pointing out the age on the box (3+) and heavily helped him; I suppose I can judge it a lukewarm success since he is really not into puzzles and gives up very quickly. He did like to see it all completed (even though it was 80% my effort) and wanted to do another one, the desire which faded as soon as I removed the pieces from the box. So we walked 0.3 miles to Barnes & Noble and my husband read L.-selected Wizard of Oz, while I read "Where's Spot" and other Spot stories to A. Then we walked back to Angelica's Bistro. The kids enjoyed the walk as the path took us under the railroad bridge and they saw Caltrain(?) pass by.

The flamenco dinner & show was a little disappointing, but mostly because of my inflated expectations. First of all, the seats we got were to the left of the stage meaning the thing that we could see best was the back of the guy who played the drum. And we couldn't really see the dancers' feet which for me is the most important thing in flamenco. Apparently, if we called earlier to reserve the seats, we would have gotten better ones (as opposed to just showing up early). Secondly, even though I looked up the regular menu beforehand and judged it to be good, they had a "special" menu. Not sure whether this "special" menu is reflective of how they usually cook food, but it was pretty basic (more homemade rather than "restaurant" food). We ordered pineapple-ham crostini, penne bolognese, salmon with mango salsa & roasted potatoes, and nutella-honey-banana crepe. As always, we split all of it among four of us. Thirdly, I always expect more out of A. than what L. was in fact capable of in A.'s age (because I forget how he was). So, A. was very wiggly and although he paid attention (and even tried to imitate the movement of the dancers' arms), he clearly is not yet ready for a formal concert. So, in that regard, it was a good experiment, as it yielded an answer to a hypothesis. (After I went home, I looked at my baby notes, and of course, L. was older, 2.7-yr-old, when we took him to his first concert and he was ready then).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Playdate invitations

Whenever my oldest son L. (3.7-yr-old) wants to invite someone over to a playdate, I make him "write" an actual invitation. I print out two pages, one black and white simple text with some spaces left for pictures and second with color pictures. L. cuts out the color pictures and glues them into the appropriate space in the text. Then he signs the letter with his name. Of course, at this stage I guide his hand on 70-80% of this task (his fine motor skills suck). Still, both he and the kid he gives the invitation to get very excited and form a closer bond just by the simple act of such a formal invitation.

On another note, after my huge cooking day, I had just a few chicken breasts left over, so I decided to experiment (I obviously don't experiment with dishes I cook in bulk). I had some apples almost rotting away, so the Braised Chicken with Apples and Sage recipe from Epicurious came in handy. My modifications: used only 3 chicken breast halves and left the same amount of all other ingredients, except brown sugar (I added just a touch less), added a bit of lemon zest and parsley, used dry sage instead of fresh, and served with wild rice. It wasn't sensational, but a great solid dish to add to the variety.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bean bag game in an hour

This project, amazingly, took me less than an hour (about 50 minutes).

I took an piece of wood I had used for another project, a side table that A. broke, leaving me with a great piece of stained wood. I used an empty sour-cream container and a pencil to trace 6 circles on the unstained part of the wood.

I drilled huge pilot holes in each circle and jigsawed the circles out. Then I took a small paintbrush and white paint and drew numbers next to each hole (to signify the amount of "prizes" if the bean bag fell into that hole).

Then I got my sewing machine out, took a piece of nice cloth diapers that we never used (since we chickened out to standard, earth-unfriendly diapers in two days after the birth of our first son), and rice.

I quickly cut the cloth, didn't bother hemming it, just folded it, sewed across three edges, put in rice, pinned the fourth side and sewed across it, sewing it shut. I finished two toss bags (for each boy) in a few frantic minutes just before dinner.

Now, in theory I should sand the hole edges but I don't have the right sander;
and I need to make more toss bags; and I probably should attach something to the board so we don't have to use books to prop it up; but still, very quick project.

We played just a little bit today, because I didn't have any prizes prepared except little people. Unfortunately, the kids built a "fence" around a spaceship launching pad using most of our little people yesterday, so I only had 4 available to me as prizes, so the game didn't last long. I should use marbles next time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Once-a-month cooking

Ooof, I just finished my bout of cooking. The idea of once-a-month cooking is brilliant: once a month (or another interval, depending on the size of your freezer, ability to cook quickly, etc) you buy loads of groceries, cook them in various ways, freeze them, and enjoy for as long as they last without having to set your foot in the kitchen until they're finished. It took me a while to get a hang of it (in some ways, I'm still learning the best ways). Here's what you need: a standalone freezer, tons of freezer-friendly containers, a variety of freezer-friendly recipes, and a few days that are relatively free.

I used to freeze everything in Ziploc bags, because they take up least amount of space, but a) they're expensive, b) environmentally-unfriendly, and c) I found a better way: IKEA Distans Food Saver (7x2). They're four cups, which is exactly what I need for my family of four, given that one cup is one serving.

How to find freezer-friendly recipes? Almost everything you can make is freezer-friendly; exceptions are vegetables that contain quite a bit of water; for some reason, boiled eggs; and things that separate into water and fat (such as cream). The best way though is to try freezing a small portion to see what happens to it. I also found that rice (and other grains like buckwheat) freeze weirdly: it requires extra minutes in microwave when heating, otherwise it tastes strange.

For the month batch I try to select a variety of grains and meats, never making less than 6 dishes, usually more (this month it was 14). Grains are things like brown rice, buckwheat, couscous, pasta and meats are chicken, turkey, pork, veal, and beef (occasionally in the form of franks or ground). I prefer recipes that mix meat and the side, but I'm game to try anything that's easy to cook and adds to variety. I usually sit down and put together a list of recipes, a shopping list and a cooking schedule so I can use this group of recipes again in the future. I currently have seven groups of recipes that I rotate so the dishes do not become tiresome.

I usually do an evening of active grocery shopping, followed by a day of cooking. Sometimes if I don't have a whole day, I split the cooking into a chopping day (preparing all ingredients) and actual cooking day (to ensure that I cook all of my 350F recipes at the same time, all of my 400F recipes, etc, to maximize the use of the oven).

Now both of my freezers (refrigerator and standalone) are full, and for the next month or so my cooking is going to consist of taking a container out of the freezer the night before, making an occasional salad and frying an occasional fish (I like it fresh). Leaves more time for the kids.

Here are some of the recipes I used this time.

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 can chicken broth
2 tablespoons of preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
Cook rice. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Boil onions in broth and white wine till most of the liquid is gone. Mix everything.

Spaghetti, salt, garlic, olive oil, cheese, parsley (optional)
Cook spaghetti with salt and water. Strain. Chop garlic & parsley. Pour olive oil into deep pan, put garlic, fry for one minute, add spaghetti, fry for 5 minutes; turn off, add cheese and parsley.

2 lb beef, 3 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 3 medium onions, sliced; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1/2 c flour; 1 cup beef bouillon; 1 can of beer; 3 tbsp brown sugar; 1 tbsp parsley; 2 tsp thyme, salt
Slice onions, cut beef into serving size pieces. Brown on both sides in 3 tablespoons oil to which you have added 1 tbsp lemon juice. Remove steak to casserole. Layer onions and garlic over meat. Sprinkle flour over top. Preheat oven to 325F. Now combine bouillon, beer, sugar, parsley flakes, thyme, salt. Pour over steak and bake uncovered in 325 degree oven for 3 hours.

4 Servings, about 3 ounces each; Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless 1-1/2 pounds; Bread crumbs 1 cup; Vegetta; Garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon; Onion powder 1/4 teaspoon
1. Remove skin and bone; cut thighs into bite-sized pieces. 2. Place breadcrumbs and spices in plastic bag. 3. Close bag tightly and shake until blended. 4. Add a few chicken pieces at a time to crumb mixture. Shake to coat evenly. 5. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a cooking sheet. 6. Place chicken pieces on cooking sheet so they are not touching. 7. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.

1 can of salmon, 4 oz breadcrumbs, finely crushed, 1 onion, finely diced, 2 eggs, 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 ts dill
Trim canned salmon of large bones and skin as desired. Mix well with other ingredients. Form into patties and fry lightly in oil until golden brown.

2 lbs ground turkey; 5 ea potatoes, mashed; 1 ea egg, slightly beaten; 1/2 c mayonnaise; 1 tb lemon juice; 2 tbsp celery; 1 can green peas, drained
Cook & mash potatoes. Stir in egg. Spread in well oiled 9-inch pie pan. Combine mayonnaise and lemon juice; stir in turkey, celery, and peas. Spoon into potato crust. Bake at 375F 15-20 minutes or until hot through.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Picking toys and activities

A friend asked how I have time to pick daily activity and toys for the kids. Simple: I do it randomly. I've got a tiny little script, into which I load the list of all the toys I have out on the shelves, and which then spits out a random element of that list. If I can't think of what game to play with that toy in 3-5 minutes, I skip it and select the next random toy.

I use the same script to select an activity of the day. It gets trickier with activities though, because they usually require preparation time which I currently (and probably also in the future) do not have. So far, I've decided to have the following weekly activities:

  1. math
  2. learning to read
  3. art/letter to family
  4. sports
  5. puzzles/tests
  6. table games
  7. water play ("bath")

So far, we've been able to actually do only one-three activities per week. I have to figure out how to do more with minimal prep time. It's also hard to figure out how to engage both kids who are right now very far apart cognitively. In the near future, I'd like my oldest to decide when he wants to do which activity, so he's more engaged with planning and feels more in control. Wish me luck!

Weekend plans, Mar. 14 and 15

Our weekend plans with kids (2.2 and 3.7 year old A. & L.), report on how they matched up with reality afterwards.

07:00-09:00 slow morning: wake them early (to enable early nap), get them dressed, make pancakes with them
09:00-10:30 watch Dumbo (for the first time!)
10:30-11:00 pack the gift & cherry pirozhki, drive to Shoreline Lake
11:00-12:30 celebrate daycare classmate's birthday
12:30-13:00 drive home
13:00-13:30 read books to both upstairs
13:30-15:45 nap time, no snack afterwards (will at jigsaw java)!
15:45-16:15 drive to Angelica's Bistro (863 Main Street, Redwood City)
16:15-18:00 walk to Jigsaw Java (0.1mi, 846 Main St.) (if doesn't work out or when closes, Barnes & Noble Booksellers (0.3mi, 1091 El Camino Real), Slavic Bookstore (0.6mi))
18:00-18:30 walk back to Angelica's Bistro
18:30-20:30 flamenco show & dinner *
20:30-21:00 drive back
21:00-21:15 sleep right away
21:15-23:00 parents' "free" time

07:30-08:00 get up, get dressed, get breakfast to go
08:00-09:00 drive to SF, listen to audio books
09:00-10:00 get in line for CA Academy of Sciences
10:00-13:00 get into the museum, get planetarium tickets and reserve restaurant right away, explore the museum
13:00-14:00 drive home
14:00-16:00 nap time
16:00-17:30 go to Ortega park, play ball
17:30-18:30 get back home, set table together, make salad
18:30-19:00 dinner
19:00-19:15 tonight's activity: math
19:15-19:35 tonight's toy: little people (try these activities)
19:35-19:45 clean up
19:45-20:00 watch cartoon, change into pjs, clean teeth; put A. in bed
20:00-20:30 read to L., put him in bed
20:30-23:00 parents' "free" time

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reality vs. plan - Mar.8

Reality vs. plan report (see posts below for plan for today).

Completely dropped the ball in terms of checking the hours for Silliman Aquatic Center. As we set out in our car toward Newark, it occurred to me to check. Well, hah, they were already closed. Thankfully, my 3.6-yr-old A. is already old enough to be able to understand my explanation without throwing a huge tantrum. So, instead we went to the Valley Fair mall to buy shoes. Of course, the mall was closing up too when we got there (duh, Sunday). My patient children got back into the car and off we went to the Santana Row. There, finally, we walked around, listened to the free concert, and read some books in Borders.

Verdict: check and re-check opening hours.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reality vs. plan - Mar.7

So, reality vs. plan report. (See post below for plan for March 7.)

We woke up later (much later, at 8:30), because when the alarm clock woke me up at 7, I thought "Feh, sale-shmale, we'll figure something out" and went back to sleep. As it turns out, I was quite right to do so: the Outrageous Outgrowns sale sucked. Well, it might have been okay if we were looking for clothing, but we were looking for shoes. There was very little of that, and toys and books were pretty abysmal. So we ended up spending 15 minutes at most there, and were only 10 minutes behind schedule, which had padding planned into it anyway. We thoroughly enjoyed the Jungle, although it tired all of us out (which was the point). We climbed, and crawled, and rolled, and slid, up, down, left, right. This particular location is quite large (a plus) and noisy (a minus).

After we came home (youngest A. fell asleep in the car, but we woke him up) and had lunch, we drove quickly to the post office to get the kids their passports (so we can go to Canadian Niagara Falls in May), but it was by appointment only. We made our way home, had a great nap, did some quick-draw shopping (Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods), and went home for dinner. It's great to shop with kids: 1) they ask questions; 2) at Costco we get to try food samples; 3) also at Costco, they learn to sit side by side in the huge shopping cart; 4) they learn about things we buy and don't buy.

As always, activity of the day didn't go as planned: they simply refuse to play along a planned route. Which is, obviously, fine; I'm satisfied to at least push them in some way toward something new. I planned that we would use our play stove and cut-out food and spoons, and pretend to cook and serve the food. Well. Youngest 2.1-yr-old A. only wanted to play with the toy we bought at the morning sale; we thought it was Lego but it turned out to be some wheels-and-sticks constructor for much older kids. A. didn't mind it, he just spent the whole evening shoving little pieces in and out of the box. Oldest 3.6-yr-old L. took a bucket, one of the constructor sticks, and started cooking various toys on the couch. He would come up to me and ask what I wanted to eat, and then go to the bucket, cook it, and bring it to me. So, beads were pasta, jumbo lego piece was meat, toy man was salad, and so on. He even put on my IKEA soft slippers on his hands to serve as mittens against the "heat" of the stove.

Here are the recipes of the day.

For the morning, we had rice raisin kasha, a great and filling breakfast (freezes well, too). Ingredients: white rice, raisins, cream, milk, vanilla, a touch of sugar. Cook rice until almost done, drain, put back into the pot. Reduce heat. Add cream and milk, in proportion as function of how much fat you want in the dish (if no cream, milk and butter works fine too), add as many raisins as you like (the more the better), 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla, and a touch of sugar (raisins are sweet by themselves). Mix everything and let it stay on the heat until rice is completely cooked (if necessary, add more milk; the consistency of the kasha should be such that it's easily stirred with a spoon). Cover with a lid and let it sit for 10-15 minutes (gives the raisins time to plump). Yumm. Ours came from the freezer, because we rarely have time to cook anything of substance in the morning.

For lunch, we had my family's signature, builder's salad. Ingredients: boiled white rice, doktorskaya sausage (can also be boiled franks or boiled chicken), boiled eggs (optional), cabbage, mayonnaise, sour cream. Shred the cabbage (my mom does it manually, we do it in the food processor, you can also do it with a knife) and beat it a little with a mallet to make it give up the juice. Add rice in the same proportion. Add meat to be about 1/3-1/2 of the total. Add eggs, and dress with half-mayonnaise, half-sour cream mixture. For the best taste, do the salad the day before. We do it without eggs to cut down on calories.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bad toys

My featured toy of the day didn't work out: fish maze with little metal balls and magnet wand to use to move them around (Educo Wood Magnetic Maze, Go-Fish-Go). The kids have never paid any attention to it, so today I showed them how to play with it. One minute of interest. So, I'm faced with a dilemma. The toy is supposed to be good for them (develops fine motor skills). Do I keep it hoping that they will grow into it? Do I give it away? Obviously, I face this dilemma with many toys. I'm a pack rat, so it's very painful to get rid of things. On the other hand, my pragmatism tells that if they've never played with it, expressed no interest in playing with it, no matter how much I tried to elicit it, then it's a classic sunk cost scenario. Off it goes then... *Sigh*...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Weekend plans, Mar. 7 and 8

As per usual, our weekend plan-hope with kids.

07:00-07:30 get up, get dressed, take socks for all (30)
07:30-08:00 eat breakfast (rice raisin kasha) (30)
08:30-10:00 outrageous outgrowns children stuff sale @Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Gate D, 344 Tully Road, San Jose, CA 95111 (
10:00-10:30 drive to The Jungle (950 El Paseo De Saratoga, San Jose, CA 95124)
10:30-12:30 play climb at the gym (60+60)
12:30-13:00 drive home
13:00-13:30 lunch at home
13:30-14:00 play, read
14:00-16:00 nap time
16:00-18:00 food shopping with kids @WholeFoods and Safeway
18:00-18:30 set table together
18:30-19:00 dinner (30)
19:00-19:15 tonight's featured toy (20): stove (bring the measuring cups & spoons, pretend cook)
19:15-19:20 clean up (5)
19:20-19:40 tonight's activity: paper puzzles (20)
19:40-20:00 cartoon and pj; sleep
20:00-20:30 read to L.
20:30-20:40 put L. in bed

SUNDAY, March 8 - Happy International Women's Day
07:00-08:00 get up, get dressed, pack paints for a craft project and soccer ball
08:00-10:00 drive to De Anza Plaza, get breakfast @Boulanger, go to Santana row, read at Borders
10:00-10:30 drive to Shoup park (400 University Ave, Los Altos, CA 94022)
10:30-12:30 Russian play date
12:30-12:45 drive home
12:45-13:15 lunch at home
13:15-13:45 play, read
13:45-16:00 nap time, pack swimming things
16:00-16:30 drive to Silliman Activity & Family Aquatic Center in Newark
16:30-18:00 swim play (30+60)
18:00-19:00 dinner at Olive Garden Italian Restaurant (39145 Farwell Dr, Fremont, CA 94538)
19:00-19:40 drive home, play
19:40-20:30 all sleep-related stuff

I would also absolutely go to this puppet show Two Tales of Beatrix Potter - Jemima Puddle-Duck and the Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit, but the Ticketmaster surcharge is insane (would come out to $100 for us - for a puppet show?!), and I don't have time to buy it in person.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Not-too-sweet Cookies

I don't really cook or buy cookies, but my kids love them as on-the-go snack. We used to buy the Russian tea biscuits just for that purpose, but we're trying to save money and those biscuits are not exactly the healthiest they can be either. In comes Google and cook's intuition. Here is one of the recipes that worked pretty well for us. Note: don't reduce sugar, I've already reduced it by half or more to make them just a touch sweet, but no more than that.


2 large eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil (add if too little), 3 tsp vanilla extract, 1 1/3 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 cup flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, then add in oil, vanilla, lemon zest, sugar. Combine until mixed. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare ungreased cookie sheets. Make little balls from one teaspoon of dough and place on the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with a glass bottom dipped in sugar (re-dip after each cookie). Works best if use a patterned glass (I use their Target sippy cups, which creates a sun pattern). Bake for 6-8 minutes.

Here's another, Nantaises Butter Biscuit. When doing this recipe, I halved the sugar, and to save time, instead of cutting out circles, I just made it into a log shape, chilled, and then sliced thinly into circles.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Organizing the fridge

Cooking for working family is tough. The worst-case scenario (for me, at least) is deciding on what's for dinner and cooking every single evening. Who has time for that? One day I'll post about my once-a-month cooking, but for now, here's how I try to organize the fridge. Because most of our meals are in the freezer until needed and I don't really cook much between the big cooking days, the fridge is fairly empty. So I take plastic containers, put the day's worth of food in them, and label it. Generally, I can do it only for 2-3 days worth of food. This labeling serves two purposes: 1) I don't have to think about it every day, and, more importantly, 2) The food is less likely to get lost in the fridge and go bad. Inside each plastic container, there usually are smaller containers or Ziploc bags that are labeled 'breakfast', 'lunch', and 'dinner'. If needed, I also write something like 'add tomato salad' or 'add mayo'. I use masking tape and a Sharpie to do the labeling.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Playdate vagaries

Today we hosted a large play date (12 people) at our house, mostly kids A.'s age (around 2 years). It was a bit of a bedlam, as to be expected. As for unexpected, that happened when I was reading children stories. The first few went ahead fine, but the with last one I hit a snag: a Russian children's classic Barmalei (by Chukovskiy). I forgot that many people don't read classic fairy tales to children, because they're afraid to traumatize them (or propagate outdated stereotypes). The story talks about a pirate and brigand who lives in Africa and eats children, the children cry, he doesn't relent, a crocodile eats him, he repents (inside the crocodile), the crocodile lets him out, and Barmalei is reformed. Millions of Russian children grew up on this story with no apparent ill effects.

It was particularly ironic to get evil eye from other parents at this particular author, as Chukovskiy wrote extensively about value of fairy tales in children's development and castigated 1930s (?) movement in USSR to abolish anything fantastical in children's literature so that they receive only what is educational and pragmatical.

Note to self, then: preview whatever I'm going to read to other children.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science

I've been putting off blogging until my camera USB cord arrives, because it's more interesting with pictures. It is, however, taking its sweet time, so I better write before I forget, and illustrate afterwards. (Updated: obviously, it's arrived, hence, pictures).

So, Lawrence Hall of Science.

On the minus side:
  • It's a bit expensive and has no discounts like AAA
  • It's a bit far for a regular trip, and unlike CA Academy of Sciences, there's nothing else around there.
  • The cafe food is bleh.

    On the plus side:
  • Very well designed for young children
  • Dynamic: exhibitions change often
  • Inside and outside play/exploration areas
  • Great view of the bay and the bridge

    We started off exploring the "free" areas next to admissions booth. The kids are too young to really understand the math games, but they liked manipulating the objects. I tried to get my oldest L. (3.6 years) interested in the Towers of Hanoi; he could understand the rules, but apparently not the solution. Still, it was fun for a bit to see him grapple with it. Then we played a bit in the toddler area with its soft construction blocks, pyramid mirror, and the wall track for little balls.

    We spent quite a bit of time outside, with L. exploring the stream and throwing things in the water to see them flow, and with A. (2.1 years) excavating with two shovels. L. found a stick, first pretending it's his tail, and then, his weapon.

    Then we went back inside to explore the water play area which shows various uses and effects of water, huge rotating Earth, and new exhibition of Grossology (excellently produced).

    At 12:30, we left for Mezze in Oakland. Pretty good food, although smaller portions than we were expecting and brunch menu as opposed to lunch I was expecting. We ordered a burger, a smoked salmon and bagel plate, two scrambled eggs on the side, and a chocolate croissant pudding. We shared everything as always. The pudding turned out to have a bit of alcohol in it, marking this the second time we gave them alcohol (inadvertently, obviously).

    Then we walked back to the car and played in the playground right next to it (a block away from the restaurant).

    Drove home. Good day.
  • Friday, February 27, 2009


    Regardless of my schedule for Sunday, we ended up going to IKEA today. I was tired and really didn't feel like making dinner, and IKEA has the cheapest healthy-ish food, and very kid-friendly. We are lucky to live fairly close (15-20 min. drive). So we drove up, and first we had dinner (lox & greens salad, boiled veggies, mac & cheese, meatballs, small bottle of chocolate milk, and water: $18 total for four). Then we did the mandatory slide exploration, played with various toys on display, checked out the mattresses, investigated multiple reflections on the wall mirrors, talked about how the lights work, and took a ride on a huge flat shopping cart (next to 2 shelves for our garage). A good cheap evening, all-in-all.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.28 and Mar.1

    As always, these plans represent our desired activities with children on the weekends. We plan so we can do more exciting things together, sight-seeing as well as errands. We plan ergo we experience more. Why post? Hopefully, to provide inspiration to others.

    Saturday, February 28
    - Lawrence Hall of Science
    08:00-09:00 Eat breakfast, get dressed, pack to go
    09:00-10:00 Drive to 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720
    10:00-12:40 Explore
    12:40-13:00 Drive to Mezze, 3407 Lakeshore Avenue (reserved)
    13:00-13:40 Lunch
    13:40-14:40 Drive home
    14:40-16:00 Nap time, reading, prepare for after-nap activities
    16:00-16:30 After nap, together with kids clean up the car: have kids pick up garbage under & next to their seat & wipe down their step stools
    16:30-18:00 Shop for fruits, go to Borders at Mathilda
    18:15-18:30 Set the table
    18:30-19:00 Dinner
    19:00-19:15 Tonight's activity: math
    19:15-19:35 Tonight's featured toy: wooden blocks with letters (build a tower with A., read with L.)
    19:35-19:40 Clean up toys
    19:40-20:00 Cartoon, dress in pjs, clean teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read to L., put L. in bed
    20:30-23:00 Parents' "free" time

    Sunday, Mar.1 - Easy day
    Note: the beginning of spring is celebrated in Russia with making tons of pancakes.
    07:30-08:00 Get dressed, make pancakes
    08:00-08:30 Eat breakfast, celebrate spring
    08:30-10:30 Clean the house, play with kids in the garden
    10:30-12:30 Play date at our house
    12:30-13:00 Lunch
    13:00-14:00 Play soccer, read
    14:00-16:00 Nap
    16:00-19:00 Go to IKEA, play & expore, eat dinner there
    19:00-19:15 Tonight's activity: sports
    19:15-19:35 tonight's featured toy: tambourines, push toys race
    19:35-19:40 Clean up toys
    19:40-20:00 Cartoon, dress in pjs, clean teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read to L., put L. in bed
    20:30-23:00 Parents' "free" time

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Astronauts & Shelves

    Featured toy of the day: little plastic astronauts & planets from a tube. We built a little perimeter fence around the space ships & astronauts from the IKEA wooden blocks in a cart, placed planets outside the perimeter, and did the countdown for each space ship (5-4-3-2-1-0-go!). 2-yr-old A. didn't care, so he built a little tower; 3.5-yr-old L. did the countdown with gusto and flew space ships (shuttle, satellite, rocket, etc) one each to different planets.

    Of course, given that they're kids and enjoy the cheapest entertainment best, they spent the rest of the evening playing with parts of the bookshelf I was fixing. A while back I half-built them a children's bookshelf. I wanted to cut off the sharp edges off the sides in view of our playdate on Sunday replete with 2-year-olds. So I disassembled the shelf and placed the horizontal parts on our couch so they would be out of the way. The kids spent fifteen minutes or so pretending they're rails and shoving all sorts of things on and under them.

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Pirozhki as solution to picky eaters

    As any toddlers, my kids are fairly picky. My youngest A. (2) is just entering that stage, while my oldest L. (3.5) is slowly exiting it (I hope). One thing I've been trying is making pirozhki. With bread machine, making the dough is quite easy. The trick is finding interesting and healthy stuffing. So far, I've tried apple & banana (bleh: mostly banana's fault, I think) and eggs&rice (yum-my!). The kids are instantly attracted to them, they're easy to pack, and most freeze well. Next up: try a more whole wheat dough (as it is, we hardly ever eat white bread) and try more kinds (chicken & celery; frozen cherry; etc).

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Early reading, Russian festival verdict

    So, things didn't go quite as envisioned (when do they, with kids).

    A. Festival:
    We've gone to the Russian festival in SF twice before, and enjoyed it. First time, well, it was the first, novelty of it certainly was interesting. Second time, there was a pretty good song & dance concert which both of our boys enjoyed. Third time is the charm? Not so much. The food is a highway robbery and it's ridiculously bad (come on, it's hard to botch up buckwheat & mushroom julienne). The concert which we could attend was performed by kids, which is great if you're that child's parent and mildly interesting if you're simply any parent (for a different, somewhat schadenfreudenish/apprehensive reason), but not so much in terms of artistic quality, obviously. All in all, the experience was a bit bleh. Plus, a huge blow for us: the library sale had meager selection (we bought one book, whereas the first time, we bought 30).

    Verdict: kind of interesting, if you've never been; second time: skip it.

    B. Early reading:
    We've been skating the edges of pre-reading (in Russian) with my oldest, 3.5-yr-old L. for a while now. He's known all the capital letters for at least 6 months, he can tell the first and last letter of the word by ear, and often middle letters as well, he's able to put together two and three letter combinations when asked (we have a game), he can read with my assistance a significant number of words in headings of books and poems (we always do that, when we read a book, if we see anything written in capital letters). So, I decided to start him teaching him how to read proper, following a textbook. What a spectacular flop! Not quite sure what doesn't click. First of all, he didn't seem interested. Maybe it was just this day? Secondly, he didn't seem to get it at all. Even such obvious things as MY (moo) next to a picture of a cow. Maybe it was the context of learning a lesson? He certainly has done such easy two-letter reading before, when we're reading a book or playing a game. Or, of course, maybe he's simply not ready at all and I'm just have a strong case of "people remember successes better than failures" bias with regards to his reading successes. Or maybe it was just this day.

    Verdict: try next week again.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.21 and 22

    This is what our complete day would look like

    Saturday, Feb 21

    07:30-08:00 Get up, get kids dressed
    08:00-08:30 Breakfast: fried eggs with scallion, with bread & milk
    08:30-09:30 Go to Walgreens to make children passport photos
    09:30-10:00 Drive to SMART to recycle old lightbulbs & paint (301 Carl Rd, Sunnyvale, CA 94089)
    10:00-11:00 Drive to SF (2450 Sutter Street)
    11:00-14:00 Enjoy the Russian festival; eat Russian food for lunch; then concert @12:15;
    14:00-15:00 Drive home
    15:00-16:30 Nap time
    16:30-18:00 Have kids clean the car, quick run to Trader joe's, have L. write letter to family
    18:00-18:30 Prepare dinner: potatoes, meat, salad, grapes, set the table
    18:30-19:00 Dinner
    19:00-19:35 Sports activity; Build spaceport for astronauts
    19:35-19:45 Clean up
    19:40-20:00 Pjs, cartoon, teeth; put A. in bed
    20:00-20:30 Read book to L., put him in bed

    I won't go in as much detail (here) for Sunday. The point is really to show what kind of activities we do that you can adapt, not our specific little errands and plans.

    Sunday, Feb.22
    10:30-12:30 Play date
    12:15-13:15 Drive home, set table, eat lunch, change into good clothing
    13:15-14:00 Clean house for babysitter
    14:00-15:00 Drive to Mission City Opera & Vocal
    15:00-18:00 Enjoy the opera Marriage of Figaro with L. & DH.
    18:00-19:00 Drive to Art-cafe Samovar, get some quick food at the store for on-the-go dinner
    19:00-21:00 Concert
    (the musical performances are for 3.5-yr-old L.; 2-yr-old A. gets to stay home: not ready yet).

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    African animals from a tube

    Both our kids like animals, especially 3.5-yr-old L. We have quite of a few animals "from the tube", one of those globe-capped little plastic tubes (about $10) with small plastic animals. The kids play with them regularly, mostly by moving them around in cars, putting them in jars, and so forth. As part of my plan to find interesting new ways of playing with the same toys, this was tonight' activity (for my older, L.): we took out the set with African animals (giraffe, gorilla, lion, etc), IKEA's huge Picture Atlas for Children, and asked him to match animals with pictures. Another 10 minutes occupied. Hooray.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Picking mushrooms

    We have a fantastic set of wooden mushrooms. As part of my plan to feature one toy a day in some specific way, so they don't end up playing with the same one or two toys in the same one or two ways, we did the following tonight. Right after I finished my work, set the table, and right before the kids came home for dinner, I ran into our garage to get:
    - two baskets
    - a whole bunch of non-transparent containers, from sour cream, ice cream, cottage cheese
    (yes, I'm a pack rat)
    I threw the mushrooms on the floor and placed the containers over the mushrooms and next to them. This took about 5 minutes.

    After we finished dinner (of course, my oldest peeked a bit, even though we asked him not to; he came running and very surprised: "Look, I found a mushroom!"), we went "picking mushrooms". I gave each boy a basket, the 3.5-year-old L. got it right away, but I had to help my 2-year-old A. to understand about picking up a container, looking to see if something was there, trying another one, etc. All in all, a good bit of fun, although very short (5 minutes probably). L. continued to play with mushrooms for the rest of the evening, dumping them out and collecting them again from the floor, cooking them, trying to feed my husband the Amanita muscaria (he knows it's poisonous), and so on.

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    At the CA Academy of Sciences

    Crazily enough, we decided to go to the CA Academy of Sciences. The craziness was on several levels: a) it was President's day, an assured crowd day (beyond the normal overcrowdedness of that museum); b) it would be just me, my mostly obedient 3.5-year old and my unreasonably adventurous 2-year-old (my husband had to work); c) I forgot I wanted to come a bit earlier, to make sure we didn't stand in a huge line; d) it was raining like crazy, and the umbrella doesn't really cover the little kids.

    Nonetheless, it all worked out. The (membership) line was short and mostly under the roof. I took two harnesses with me (Target bear & monkey); yes, I got some evil eyes from some parents, but you know what, they were 2 adults per one child in the stroller, and I wasn't. I had my oldest choose the one he wanted (at some point, I'll have to figure out how to take turns choosing, when my youngest will get choosier), and they didn't mind it. We didn't make it (yet again) to the Planetarium, but we walked around the Aquarium, pointing out fish, their colors, the type, and so forth, and then off to Africa (which I must admit is a bit boring, it's all antelopes & gazelles, which to my youngest is pretty much all "deer"). The restaurant was unexpectedly fantastic, ravioli were amazing (although I wish I knew that they took reservations for lunch inside the museum). We sat outside a bit once the sun peeked out and read a book. At 1pm, it was time to drive home and take a nap.

    The verdict: buy the membership and check out the restaurant.

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Toilet training

    We're really glad that we bought Potty pal toilet seat. You install it instead of your normal toilet seat, and the kid's one hides inside the lid. It looks great, you don't have to worry about guests, washing is easy, it doesn't wobble, what's not to like? It made an impression on my oldest, because he felt it was his own, special.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Weekend plans, Feb.14

    08:30-09:00 Drive to Fremont station (2000 Bart Way, Fremont, CA 94536)
    09:00-09:15 Buy tickets to Lake Merritt (Richmond line, or Daly City line at 9:28)
    09:10-09:44 Take BART to the Lake Merritt station
    09:44-10:00 Exit at 9th Street and turn right
    10:00-12:00 Explore Oakland Museum of California
    12:00-12:40 Eat lunch at the museum
    12:40-13:00 Go to the station
    13:00-13:04 Wait for train (Fremont line)
    13:04-13:37 Take BART to Fremont
    13:37-14:10 Drive home
    14:10-16:00 Nap

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Space Balloon

    With my 3.5-year-old L. we read a book about space flight. I was trying to explain to him how a rocket flies (using a picture shown in the book, with one arrow pointing from the tail of the rocket and another one pointing out toward space), but I wasn't getting anywhere. Then I remembered that we had a balloon from a friend's birthday party. So I blew it up, explained about the air coming out, what the word "experiment" means, and off it went in crazy trajectory. He was ecstatic! My 2-year-old A. noticed our activity and wanted to join in. Interestingly, L. enjoyed mostly the crazy balloon flight, whereas A. was giddy about how something big appears all of a sudden from a tiny piece of material. We ended up doing that for almost half an hour: blowing the balloon up and letting it go.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009


    This is my I-am-ashamed-to-say-which-number-th attempt to start a blog. My inspiration now is that I often meet other parents who wonder what we do on the weekend and how we manage. With two kids under 4, I've accumulated a number of tricks that I'd like to share with others, in hopes they will be helpful.