Monday, October 27, 2014

Sensory play: the hidden secret of happy parents?

It is one of the quickest and simplest ways of finding that sweet spot in your day with little ones. The prospect of playing with a new goo or slime or dough is pretty irresistible to those sweet, smart little people in our lives, and will trump just about any other activity—yes, even tv time. Sensory play, to put it in lingo we can all understand, is the bomb dot com. Many are inexpensive and easy to make, non-toxic and often they're reusable. Win win win winnnnnnnn.

Last week I was looking up craft ideas and found Fun at Home with Kids, and this recipe for Pretend Frozen/Melting Ice Cream. I was intrigued, and decided to make some that evening since I actually had all the ingredients on hand.

Today we took our "ice cream" out to our back porch and I let the boys experiment with it and get creative. They had a lot of fun, and I recommend making this stuff if for no other reason than it provides an excellent introduction to imaginative play time. My boys did very little ice cream play, but it soon became mud for their monster trucks and body paint. When they started winding down, I brought out a couple of buckets of water and rags and encouraged them to clean up and wash all their utensils. They worked on that for a while, and then it turned into a naked party, which of course was the best fun of all. We ended it all with an early afternoon bath before snack time and some Reading Rainbow while I fixed supper. (Side note: this was their first Reading Rainbow experience and Seb kept yelling from the living room, "Mom! Did you hear that?!" Oh RR, you're so good.)

Do you have any trusty sensory play recipes or activities? I'm eager to try a version of slime and this playdough next. Here is a huge list of sensory activities and recipes for children—even some for babies! Be sure to let me know what you try, and enjoy watching your little ones explore and have fun!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Farm Day epiphany

One thing I know to be true is that when life feels really hard, and you feel zapped of 110% of your energy, and this feeling of complete nothingness is followed by an unexpected space of time that's truly peaceful and simple, clarity inevitably dawns. Living in Germany and being uncomfortable to some degree for 11 months made me realize this in a very real way. Growth and maturity are the outpouring of struggle. One of our top fears as we prepared to move back to the states was that we would get too comfortable again. That we would stop taking charge of our lives, and stop putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. In a foreign country, the only option was be adventurous. But here? In Texas?

My weeks with the boys have gone from 5 to nearly 6 days as Cody's load increases, and the inevitable time of paper writing approaches. Add to that a terrible case of the hormonal crazies on Thursday and Friday this week, and my children have one pretty zapped mother hen. There was an event going on today, and I had told my friend that we would be there. And so we found ourselves at Farm Day.  It is a bi-annual community event hosted by the World Hunger Relief farm in Waco. Friends (previously friends of friends... thanks for sharing them with us Cases!) are interning on the farm this year, so we were excited to see what this big event was all about! Highlights included a petting zoo area, horse rides (one was a percheron, Dad!), pumpkin painting, several local vendors, farm fresh meals, and live music. Miss Vivian was even there to do a special Farm Day storytime! Sadly, we missed it because we realized we had lost Bruno's shoes somewhere between our car and the farm, so, that was that. And then of course Seb's favorite part: the compost toilets. I'm only kind of kidding... I guess there's just something about getting to dump a big scoop of wood chips in the toilet.

We spent a good chunk of the blazing hot day there, and if you don't believe me, just check out our October sunburns

But of all the good moments, the best for me was this one:

I talk an awful lot about how I'm just not good at being a mom. Sure I'm not a bad mom, but mothering is not something that gives me a thrill. This is hard because, well, I am a mom and one that stays at home, at that. And it's hard because I love my kids. How can I not love mothering and yet love my kids? I get so weighed down by all the giving. And then today, sitting against some straw bales and listening to a song about simplicity, I realized that I didn't have to keep telling myself that I'm not good at being a mom, or that I don't love being a mom, and that it's somehow counterintuitive to who I am. What would happen if I just told myself that I love being a mom? Novel idea, I know. I don't need to be overwhelmed by what each day might hold, because I have the unique privilege of making it the best kind of day for us. I need to be creative and make motherhood my style of motherhood. I need to make things with and for my kids, be adventurous, go outside, eat outside, and wake up each morning telling myself that I love it—I just L.O.V.E. love it. Put yourself joyfully in the right situations, no matter how uncomfortable, and pretty soon you'll realize that your reluctant choice to act is now the eager desire to act. In Germany, it was the time to embrace the uncomfortable things external to myself. And here? I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm here to embrace the internal, the spiritual, the day to day.

As we drove home after Farm Day, Sebastian said, "Do we have to wait a lot of days until the next Farm Day?" I answered yes, the next one would be in the Spring. To which he replied, "We'll be sure not to miss it!" Thanks, Farm Day, for all the things.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Our sandy park

There have been some things about moving to Waco that have had me very weirdly unnerved. As in, they're not serious things, but in the scheme of every day life, they hold a certain amount of importance to me. I didn't realize one of them until today, when I tried to makeup to the boys for all that closet cleaning I did yesterday with a day full of all fun and absolutely no cleaning. Today held promises of not only a trip to the museum in the afternoon, but a new park in the morning. My kids love nothing more than the promise of a new park.

We've tried a few, but honestly I've tried to avoid park-hunting and leave that to Cody on the weekends. There is one park that we can walk to, but it's not very big or interesting, and it didn't take the kids long to realize that if we were walking to the park, it was going to be that one lame playground and would immediately suggest alternate ideas (like, "how 'bout a new park...?") So today, I took a risk, and we hunted down a park that a stranger-turned-friend recommended to me when she found out I wanted a park with sand. So we went, and there was sand, and some things started to come into focus.

I've been a little depressed about not having a park that we claimed as "our park." You know, the park that the kids assume you're going to when you say, "Hey, let's go the park!" If you have toddlers and you don't have a park, find one. It's best if it has sand. All the parks in Germany had sand, and if any of you followed me on Instagram, you saw that we spent a lot of time at the park. It was such a huge part of our existence, and although taking my kids to a playground has never been one of my favorite activities, my life felt off-kilter without that routine. I hadn't expected it to be difficult to find a park that felt right to us, but I felt relaxed and happy to be at the one we visited today. And I could tell that Seb and Bruno felt that same sudden wave of peace melt over them as they finally got out their little Spielstabil cups and shovels again and got to work. Some other kids brought toys too, so they traded and negotiated and once Bruno came up to me and said, "Mommy, I have some new friends!"It felt so normal, and their play was peaceful and creative and dirty. Seb stood at the bottom of the big slide and reassured a tentative Bruno that he would catch him. Later, I looked up to spot Seb pushing Bruno on the swing, just because. When he was finished, I lifted Bruno out of the swing and made sure he knew that it was because "Basti loves you so very much." I wish you could have seen his smile.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


A pumpkin patch in too warm weather, an impromptu father-son ice cream date on our front porch, seasonal crafts, creating and Suzanne after the little ones are in bed, a tidy and clean home, and spurts of quiet with a hot drink in my hand. These are the moments that have kept me... sane? calm? The right word fails me. I have had very low moments since moving to Texas. There is an ache in our hearts for Germany, and yet a simultaneously reassuring and oppressive realization that we are going to be here for a very long time. The only thing I can do is sit, and wait, and rest in the knowledge that no matter how slowly I might acclimate to life in Waco, I will. When our 5 years are up, I'll be sad to leave. I laugh a little when I tell myself this simple truth, but instead of trying to speed up this feeling of home, or focus on my less than happy feelings right now, I've been trying simply to be here and take it slow.

Quiet, creative moments have always been a source of refuge for me. And I find this to be true now, more than ever. It's been hard not being surrounded with the features of Baden-W├╝rttemburg. I felt like the world around me was teeming with beauty and calm, and my mind had never been more active. I soaked up the colors of the Schwabian Alb through every season, and memorized every mundane detail around me. My ears were filled with foreign words which I mysteriously understood (mostly), and when my babies spoke, their sweet blue eyes upturned towards mine, I could have mistaken them for little German boys. Their words flowed freely, and their accents were flawless.

Things are so very different here. Is this culture shock? Or something more permanent? I knew that I would miss our lives in Germany, and yet, it's worse than I thought. I don't spend much time trying to sort through these thoughts, knowing that time will fix things or change them. We are here now, and I am thankful for the things we do have here (namely time-zone proximity to our families!). We have been blessed with some sweet and caring friends, and a city that has an amazing museum for our boys to explore weekly, an incredible zoo close by, warm weather that allows for bare feet in the dirt, and the same sweet children and husband that warm me with their smiles and love.

I am thankful for these things, and try to slowly sort through my thoughts on how we can live better, how we can be the Streckers that lived in Germany, even though we're not there anymore. That place changed us, most certainly for the better, and so, we're tip-toeing our way through this faraway land of Texas, and are thankful for simple things like a sunny, albeit strangely green, October.