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Checking out “Tramping Demons” – he was riveted. (“Why are they stepping on those guys!?”)

We didn’t manage to make it to the Art Institute of Chicago in February to check out the Chinese Art, so we took advantage of a clear day on our schedule yesterday to hop the train downtown to see what we could find.  I made a little scavenger hunt, so we needed to find five things: Buddha, A Bird, An Arrowhead, a camel, and as many dragons as we could see.  We found all of those and more in AIC’s splendid Chinese Art galleries – and got a spontaneous personal tour of the Dragons in the collection from a lovely AIC employee.

imageBeing that the kid is three, we didn’t spend too long at AIC – but we also checked out the Thorne Miniature Rooms, and I was surprised to find that dude is now tall enough to able to see into the little windows without my assistance. Thanks to my Mom, we’re AIC members, and it’s a wonderful way to see the museum with kids over the course of a year – 30 minute jaunts to see one or two things work way better for us at this age than trying to see everything over a few hours. We made sure to exit via the Nicholas Bridgeway over Madison street, which kiddo adores – and which drops you off right by The Bean in Millennium Park for a truly Chicago-tastic experience.

We wound up with some extra time to kill before meeting my husband for lunch, so we took a transit adventure. Kid is obsessed with Chicago’s buses and trains, and has been learning about numbers based off the numbers of the buses, so we took a few new ones and he was delighted.

Then we did some letters during a Starbucks break. He’s also determined to make his letters, so we do a lot of practicing with help from an A-Z coloring book.
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Our last stop before lunch was to Open Books – the best darn bookstore in Chicago. They’ll be moving to a new location this spring, and it’ll be slightly less convenient for us to get to.  By that, I mean we’ll have to spend a few more minutes on the train, which is no big deal. In the meantime, though, we’re going to be stopping by as much as possible because kid and I both love it. image

We’ll return to AIC mid-month, when they open an exhibit of Irish Art just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and perfectly timed for our Gaelic month. ;)

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Not-so-fairytale-days.

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My husband has been rehearsing a show, opening a show, and beginning rehearsals for another show these past few weeks, so kiddo and I have been left to our own devices a lot of the time. Kiddo and I adore each other, really, and most of the time we’re able to plow through even my occasional exhaustion.  However, I think we’ve reached a saturation point.  I’m tired, he’s being driven crazier by the bitter cold temps in Chicago that have kept us largely indoors for a while, and there’s a general air of crankiness surrounding our whole house right now.

We’re just done. (Even the cat, I’m pretty sure.)

All of this came to a head with a rather lengthy discussion/battle this morning regarding the pile of toy chaos in the living room, who would pick it up, and – if it wasn’t picked up – all the things we wouldn’t go do; go to the bookstore, go on the bus, go have a fun dinner with friends, go to our play space tomorrow. This discussion began around 9:30am, and at 1:00 – faced with the prospect of being trapped indoors for another day – I ended it. (Granted, by this point I’d already revised our day plan to exclude the trip to Open Books I really wanted to take, but alas.)

He – age 3.5, mind you – made his case strongly. “Mama I CAAAAAAAN’T pick up the toys all ALONE!”

I – age 32, FYI – countered. “Dude, if I have to pick them up they’re going in a box in the garage.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Yes, sir, they are.”

“I want to pick them up in a MOMENT.”

“You’ve had fourteen MOMENTS.”

“Just ONE moment.”

“No more moments.” *Mommy goes to find a trash bag.*

*Kid sees trash bag and wags finger at me* “Nononononononononono.”

“Dude, pick up your toys.”

The toys are now picked up, but he did lose one toy – a Cars 2 book set that includes 12 small car figures and a map for them to race on.  Only 10 of the small cars can be located at present, so until he hands me the missing two (or until, more likely, I step on them) the set lives up on a high shelf.

Apparently I do negotiate with terrorists.

March Learning: Gone Gaelic

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In March, everyone in Chicago is suddenly Irish.  We’re a city that revels in the arrival of St. Patrick’s day, by dyeing the river, launching a billion bar crawls, and basically painting the town green.  To coincide with this, we’re turning our attention from China to Gaelic/Celtic matters this month.

  • My husband is determined to get kilts for himself and our kiddo. He’s emailed family members looking into our family tartan, as there is Scottish blood on his side of the family.
  • We’ll be hitting up the library this week (not on Monday, FYI – All ChiPubLib locations are closed on 3/2) to raid their books, DVDs, and music selections. I’ve special ordered the Sleeping Bear Press “S is for Shamrock” after being super impressed with their “Z is for Zeus” back in January. There’s also a Tales from Shakespeare book I might track down that includes a (seriously abridged) version of MacBeth that might prove interesting.
  • As St. Pat’s gets closer, we’ll be heading downtown for the dyeing of the river and the launch of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Irish Art exhibit opening in mid-March.  We’ll also decorate the house for St. Patrick’s Day, and learn about leprechauns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
  • Potato science experiments!
  • Watching movies set in the region/documentaries – including “Brave”, “The Secret of Kells”, possibly “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”, and if I can get my hands on the film versions of “Brigadoon” and “Finian’s Rainbow” I’ll throw those in the mix, too. Obviously, we’ll be listening to the cast recordings. (Musical theater nerd, here.)
  • We’ll be cooking all sorts of themed goodies. Don’t think I won’t make a Chocolate Guinness Cake.

Additional learning will involve our March trip to Indianapolis. ;)

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After spending a month reading books about China, I feel like I should share a few of our favorites.

Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mostel, illustrated by Blair Lent – I remember being read this book as a child, so it was one of the first titles I looked for. My kid loves (LOVES!) to have this read aloud, and to chime in every time we come to “Tikki Tikki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Peri Pembo” – he’s even named a stuffed dinosaur after the title character.

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz – This colorful & simple book has been on our bookcase for a few years already, and it’s a year-round favorite. Told from the point of view of a small child, it’s a really good introduction to the Lunar New Year Celebration and traditions such as cut red papers, the Dragon, and the special foods.

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Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo, illustrated by Beth Lo – A wonderfully told and illustrated book about a Chinese-American family living in the Chicago/Indiana area discovering soybeans being grown by a local farmer for pig food, this book would be a really good one to utilize if talking about how important family is to the Chinese people.

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Ma Jiang and the Orange Ants by Barbara Ann Porte, illustrated by Annie Cannon  – When the men in Ma Jiang’s family are called off to go build The Great Wall of China, their family business – selling orange ants – is put on hold and she and her mother and baby brother struggle to make enough money to eat. A clever girl, Ma Jiang saves the day by figuring out how to catch the ants.

Legend of the Chinese Dragon by Marie Sellier, Catherine Louis, and Wang Fei – If you ever wondered where the Chinese Dragon came from, this easy book will help explain through folk legend.

The Little Stone Lion by Kim Xiong – We’re crazy about this one, and will add it to our bookshelves very soon. A village’s Little Stone Lion (it’s only guardian spirit) tells of how it knows everyone and remembers everything that ever happened in it’s village. The art in this book is gorgeous.

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Photo lifted from the chroniclebooks.com blog to showcase how luscious this book is.

Beyond the Great Mountains: A Visual Poem About China by Ed Young – Not really one I’d put in the hands of small children, this is one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever seen. It opens sideways and each page is beautiful.

I’ve come across most all of these on the shelves of the Chicago Public Library (along with CDs of Chinese classical and folk music and DVDs of documentaries about Chinese History), though a few of the books I purchased from Open Books. Finding great material about China was such a breeze, I’m probably spoiled for future units. ;)

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For those of us needing a reprieve from the bitter cold of winter, there are a few wonderful and warm plant-filled places in Chicago in which to escape – the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Butterfly Haven, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and parts of the Chicago Botanic Gardens, to name a few. Yet, in my ten years in Chicago, I’d never gone to (what I’d heard is) the best – the Garfield Park Conservatory.  Having made my first trip today, in which kiddo and I fell in love with the place, we will absolutely return. (“I want to come here every day!” – my lil dude)

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The Conservatory is a sunny and humid haven on a cold day like today.  For a few hours, and for free (with suggested donation) you can pretend it’s summer while you wander through two acres of beautifully cultivated plants and flowers, waterfalls and landscapes. We went with a friend and her little girl, and as the adults soaked in the sun the kiddos marveled at the flowers and ponds.  image

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For families with kids, it’s a great place. It’s located right off a Green Line CTA stop, and there’s easy and free parking right outside. Inside, there are activities and things to notice.  We spent the majority of our time in the Children’s Garden, where our kids had a wonderful and immersive experience – playing in a big bin of soil, looking at things through magnifying glasses, spraying plants with water bottles, and going down a huge slide. My son seriously watered plants happily and on his own for an hour with a spray bottle, getting up close to lots of plants and down in the dirt.
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As if falling in love with the place wasn’t reward enough, inside the Children’s Garden there was a big dragon installed to celebrate Chinese New Year – so it made a perfect bookend to our month-long unit about China and Chinese New Year, which we’re wrapping up in the next few days.
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imageI urge you, citizens of Chicago, to visit the Garfield Park Conservatory and fall in love with it. I’m sad it took me ten years to visit!

Readying for Lunar New Year!

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The Lunar New Year celebrations are this coming weekend, so it’s time to get the house decorated.  With help from Pinterest, “My First Chinese New Year”, and what we’ve learned so far in February, we made some paper crafts to decorate this afternoon.imageLooking for a bunch of great ideas on how to learn about China? This list is the best.  We have a little friend coming over on Friday, and we’ll be making a Dragon. :)

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