December 21, 2011 at 6:00 am
I know how those elves feel.
The past week has been a flurry of sewing to get ready for the holidays.
First, there was the new tablecloth for the kids’ table and the napkins. This was important. Many a cup of cider, tea and cocoa has been served here during the past week. It is imperative to be festive.
Next, were the potholders. So far, we have 16. We had a lot of fun with this — taking all the fabric pieces and putting them together so they coordinate but are sort of funky. We bought a roll of fat quarters because I do not always trust myself to not go a little nutty when it comes to combining patterns. This was the perfect approach. Each fat quarter gave us 4 pieces, and with 8 fat quarters, that gave us roughly 26-hundred-bajillion options. That is an estimate.
I needed to work on the kids PJ pants, which I made using this kind of method. Very fun. A favorite tradition around here.
Finally, I moved onto blankets for some of the little people in our lives, including one very, very special little bambino who promises to make an appearance soon. Hooray!
These blankets are very simple — I have tried quilting, but as you can see above, my math skills limit me somewhat to more basic patterns. Instead, I like to choose a yard each of two coordinated fabrics and sew them together. It is pretty much stress-free, and I haven’t heard a baby complain yet.
I wonder if the elves find themselves indulging in too much chocolate and silly late-night movies as they finish up their work before Christmas. I mean, not that I know anyone who does that …
December 20, 2011 at 6:00 am
And so, we find ourselves being mauled by dogs.
This is how it is each Christmas. We choose a weekend when the Midwestern weather is bearable and we head to a near-by farm to pick a tree.
And while we are there, we are attacked by slobbery, adorable puppies — all part of the attraction of this tree farm. We are licked and sniffed until we consider ever so briefly that maybe we need another dog.
Oh wait, no we don’t. We have this dude.
The trek to the tree farm is one of our traditions. It is one of our favorites — it goes along with the tree trimming party, when we make hot chocolate and eat cookies and listen to Billy Idol being strangled to the tune of Silver Bells.
It is pretty much perfect.
Making cookies is another tradition — and the candy canes that magically appear on the tree Christmas morning. How do they do that?
I have continued my mom’s tradition of Christmas pajamas, given to the kids on Christmas Eve. My mom is a genius like this — kids in matching pajamas make the bestest pictures the next morning … the kids all bleary-eyed and in awe of those candy canes and the stuff beneath the tree.
We have our Solstice tradition too — a special dinner for the four of us. The making of ornaments and treats for the animals — the moonlit walk, the outdoor decorating. The cold, the dark.
We return inside to simple food, and candlelight and it feels like something good.
This year, we have decided to change some things — we will be spending a simpler Christmas closer to home. It will be different, but I hope good-different. It has been a work in progress for years.
It can be so hard this time of year, to be slow. Sometimes in an effort just to keep up, we find ourselves forgetting the most important things — losing our way.
And that, maybe, is why the time after the holidays are so important to us as well. A time of warm socks, good books, hot tea … a time to spend huddled close together — the warmth, the re-emerging the light and family. This, might be, the very best tradition of all.
Mix it Up: Snowy Day Play Dough
December 16, 2011 at 6:00 am
During the really cold weeks of winter when we can’t get out much, I like to make sure to have some sensory things to add to our play here. I think it really helps all of us balance out that too-much energy equation.
One of my kids’ favorite activities is play dough, and I am always looking for new ways to make it more interesting.
So this week we made a batch of Snowy Day Play Dough.
We started with the basic ingredients for the old school homemade play dough, plus almond and vanilla extracts. (peppermint could be fun for winter too!)
Then we added the secret ingredient:
I made the basic recipe on the stove and added the extracts and glitter at the very end, right before kneading.
And there you have it — Snowy Day PlayDough. You can’t see much glitter? I think a little got in there. Much of it also got on the counter, the floor, the table …
Snowy Day Play Dough Recipe
1 cup flour (spelt flour works well if you are looking to make it wheat-free)
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons of oil
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
2 tsp of pure extract like almond, vanilla, peppermint or a mix
Add flour, salt, oil, cream of tartar and water to an old cooking pot. Cook over medium-high heat stirring frequently until the dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the sides of the pot. Remove dough. Make a little thumprint dip in the playdough and add extracts. Knead on waxed paper or parchment to prevent sticking. Add glitter and continue to knead until dough forms a nice smooth ball.
Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.
Happy Snowy Day!
How do you keep your little ones busy when the weather gets really cold?
Our best-loved toys: Ideas for holiday gift-giving
December 13, 2011 at 6:00 am
A couple of years ago, a friend brought her children over for a visit.
As she peeked into our living room, she asked me, “where are your toys?”
And to be honest, if you looked in there today, you might ask the same thing. We don’t have a designated playroom full of small bins. Our toys tend to blend in with the wood panelling a bit.
That’s because we tend to favor toys made of natural materials — wood, cotton, wool, etc.
And, we rotate toys. Usually just a few things are out on our shelves. Everything else we store, and we change out the big toys (like the stable, or the fairy house, or the car garage) every week or two.
But my kids dearly love their toys. They play with them for hours, and often find creative ways to mix and match items, like using a basket of blocks and a basket of small animals to create a zoo.
There are a few toys that we own that are very well loved. Every time we bring them out, there is excitement and new discovery. These are our “top” toys, and many of them I have purchased again for family members or friends with smaller children:
- Musical instruments. Family members were a little surprised when these made the holiday wish list several years in a row. But my kids love music. They put on CDs and play the instruments and dance. They bang away frustrations on drums, the shake away extra energy with a maraca. We have had a basket of musical instruments available to kids since they were babies, and they are always a hit!
- Puzzles. We often pull out wooden puzzles (and now larger puzzles with more pieces) on long afternoons. I still envision my kids as babies sitting at the table with an afternoon snack putting puzzles together with their free hand. Puzzles help with dexterity and problem solving, sure — but they are also a nice, calm, indoor activity when the weather gets cold.
- Blocks. Simple right? But I can’t tell you the number of hours we have spent here playing with blocks. Blocks can build so many things. We have made zoos and towers, cities and villages … blocks are useful for finger puppet play scenery and can be combined with other toys for endless fun.
- Play silks. We always have a basket of play silks handy to be used in play. From dress-up to creating “lakes” in a block village, playsilks can become just about anything — baby blankets, placemats, wings, hats … they are such a versatile toy!
- Dress-up clothes. My children love dressing up. They don capes to go to the grocery store, and dog ears to visit restaurants. We have a huge bin filled with hats, vests, glasses, ties, scarves … mostly old and thrifted. The kids loved getting dressed up and I am all for driving a princess and an adventurer to the library.
- Art stuff. Seriously, this isn’t a toy, but we spend HOURS creating with paper, yarn markers, crayons, beeswax, clay, beads … the list goes on and on.
- A play kitchen. Our play kitchen is always cooking! We have lots of pretend wooden and felt food, and the kids spend many hours cooking up recipes. Sometimes the kitchen is a restaurant. Sometimes it is a zoo kitchen making food for the animals, but it is always, always in use.
- A vet kit. This is one of only a handful of plastic toys in our house that gets regular use. But as a family of animal lovers, we are often caring for fluffy friends.
What do your kids play with most?
Easy Peasy Rice Box Fun
December 9, 2011 at 6:00 am
Oh, the rice box! How many busy days has it saved me? How many times have I pulled it out when the kids needed a calming activity and I needed a few minutes to accomplish a task?
I first heard about creating rice boxes a few years ago from a fellow homeschooling mom. She had several sensory boxes for her little ones — a rice box, a bean box, and even a cotton ball box.
Her children loved them, and I figured mine would too.
Little ones, especially, benefit so much from sensory activities. The ages of 18 months to 3 are the times I have used sensory boxes most, but my children still love them. Actually, I do too. It is really soothing to sit down and run your hands through rice, water, sand, or other materials.
The question I get most often, though, is about the mess. Because a sensory activity will really only work if you don’t dread the clean-up right?
What has worked in our home is to fill a long sweater box with rice, beans, etc. and lots of little tools like spoons, pitchers, different shaped bowls, cups, etc., little cars or boats and funnels — ALWAYS FUNNELS!
We then put the box on top of an old sheet spread out over the floor. (We have hard wood floors.)
We have ground rules: the rice or other material should stay in the box, everyone should be sitting or kneeling (no walking around with handfuls of rice, for instance). It needs to be said, once in a while, that throwing the rice is not allowed. Usually one reminder of that is enough, and older kids usually remember from last time!
We keep a little hand-broom and dustpan near-by for spills (and that kind of becomes part of the play), and when we are done, we bring out the big broom (if doing this on carpet, a vacuum would do the trick, of course!).
We also fold up the sheet as best we can and put “clean” rice back into the box to use again. If we have any “dirty rice” from the floor (we have pets and pet hair), we head for the garbage can. It’s important not to just scatter rice in your yard — for the same reason that people started throwing birdseed and blowing bubbles after weddings.
Really, there isn’t a lot of mess as long as rice doesn’t get thrown, and as long as the activity is sort of a “the rice box is open!” and then “the rice box is closing” kind of activity. I learned that from a Waldorf teacher — the open and closed thing — and it just helps to set some limits, which keeps the mess down.
The biggest thing, really, is to know that there will be a bit of mess, but that it is a nice, calming sensory mess, so in the end, it is probably worth it. My kids will play with this for at least an hour once a week, and if we add different materials (try snow in the winter!), the rice box gets used even more!
MYO: Creative Writing Journals
December 1, 2011 at 6:00 am
Sometimes, an idea comes along just when you need it.
That’s how I felt when I saw a creative writing journal made by a woman in my writing group who is also a Montessori teacher.
She made journals with her class, but get this — she made one for herself too. Because she is a writer. And she models that for her students by sharing her own work. Brilliant!
I was so inspired that I picked up three blank notebooks that night.
That week, we each made our own Creative Writing Notebooks.
I borrowed the idea of including a Table of Contents page inside the cover. I also loved that she had inspiring words written on the cover of her notebook – words like publish and author.
When the kids and I made our notebooks, we brainstormed a list of “writer” words: creative, original, my ideas, thoughts, feelings, observations, expression, writer, write it down, revise and imagine.
We found some greater “writer quotes” like this one from one of our favorite children’s authors, Jane Yolen: “Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing … the rest will follow” and from Will Shetterly: “It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.”
Finally, we talked about some writing prompts, like describing a drawing, or writing about something that makes you laugh, or something that is special to you.
The kids and I spend some time each week writing. I get a chance to work on my assignments for my writer’s group, and they get a chance to practice putting their creativity on paper. Even my youngest, at 4, draws pictures and asks us to write words to go with.
I LOVE these journals, and the chance it gives us all to “write it down.” And I love sharing my love of writing with my kids.
Kids, Books and Food: Chicken Soup with Rice
November 30, 2011 at 6:00 am
I love cooking with my kids. It is one of my favorite activities.
But I really, really love combining cooking with our favorite books.
During the next few months, I am looking to share some of our favorite books and corresponding recipes here. These are simple ideas for helping favorite books come to life, and sharing healthy food with kids. I’d love it if you shared some of your favorite books and the recipes that go with as well!
This first book is a long-time favorite around here. We love Maurice Sendak, and for years we have read Chicken Soup with Rice, a book about the months and how chicken soup is always appropriate.
From the book: “I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice, All seasons of the year are nice, For eating chicken soup with rice.”
We read this book when we make our favorite chicken stock. As we read, the kids chop onions, celery, carrots and parsley. Rice boils on the stove.
When we finish the book, the vegetables go into the pot with a little oil to soften. We add the stock, one cracked clove of garlic, salt, pepper, and the cooked rice, bring it all to a boil and then lower the heat, cooking until everything is tender and the flavors have combined.
Although “all seasons of the year are nice, for eating chicken soup with rice,” we especially like it this time of year.
Do you have a favorite recipe for sharing with kids?
November 29, 2011 at 6:00 am
So I have a few people in my life who occasionally tease me about my organic ways.
They are just joking, of course, and I don’t really take it seriously.
But recently, someone made a joke about me making my own butter.
I hadn’t ever tried it, but you know how these things work — it wasn’t long until I found an opportunity. (Coincidentally we made it in a pre-school co-op class I am co-teaching. It. Was. AWESOME.)
So now, it’s sort of a new obsession around here. Not only is homemade butter very easy (you don’t have to buy a churn, I don’t care what the Internet says), the kids love making it, and we are finding all kinds of different versions and uses for the stuff.
This past weekend we made garlic-herb butter for homemade garlic bread.
We also love to make cinnamon-butter to go with homemade bread. I know. I am getting a little Little House on the Prairie with all this. But I promise, try it once, and if you don’t find yourself making batches and batches of butter, you are a stronger pioneer than I am.
This is more of a process than a recipe. Homemade butter only contains only two ingredients: heavy cream and a bit of salt. We favor Organic Valley’s heavy cream if you can find it. The salt really makes a difference, but we literally add just a pinch.
We make butter by putting about a half-cup of cream into a small jar. We add just a few grains of sea salt.
Then the fun begins. We shake, rattle and roll that little jar until the magic happens. Shaking is great, but when little arms get tired, it sure is fun to roll it back and forth across the floor.
In just a few minutes, the cream starts to thicken, and eventually achieves a whipped consistency. This is perfect for bread and a great way to covert margarine-lovers who think that the spreadability of that stuff negates the uckiness of the ingredients.
If you shake a little more, the butter will thicken and the solids will seperate from the whey or butter-milk. (Buttermilk is great stuff and has lots of uses!)
We keep our butter in the fridge for a few days. We usually make pretty small batches, and make it often.
To make cinnamon-butter, add a just a shake of ground cinnamon to the cream before shaking.
To make garlic-herb butter, mix in minced garlic and finely chopped herbs when the butter reaches the whipped stage and stir carefully.
To make honey butter, add about a tablespoon of honey to the cream and shake like crazy.
To make citrus-butter, add minced orange or lemon zest to the cream before shaking.
Go ahead and give butter-making a try. And if anyone teases you about your efforts, offer them a bite. They will pretty quickly declare a take-back.
My favorite new green smoothie!
November 25, 2011 at 6:00 am
The kids and I are big fans of green smoothies. We all them frog guts, and we are in a special club called the “Frog Guts Club.”
You can join. It is open enrollment right now.
I know green smoothies seem a little scary. If you haven’t tried one yet, you probably don’t buy it when people talk about how “they don’t taste like death,” and “they really don’t make you gag at all. Promise.”
But it’s true. Close your eyes. Take a sip. It will be OK.
This is a recipe for my new favorite green smoothie. I am drinking one this morning, as part of my squirt whipped cream and too much cranberry bread detox plan!
I promise this smoothie is delicious. If you are nervous, just add a little bit of kale the first time.
Tropical Green Smoothie
3/4 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup coconut milk (or more, depending on the consistency you need to get it going)
A few handfuls of kale or other greens
Throw everything in a blender and take it for a spin!
No really … Yum!
November 24, 2011 at 6:00 am
A small list of some of our family’s Thanksgiving thankfuls …
- our pets — a dog, a cat, a rat and 4 fish
- yummy food
- paper airplanes
- good friends
- time together — this 4-day weekend is really exciting for us!
- the new Muppet movie
- extended family near and far
- a new baby on the way (not ours, but still very special to us!)
- the opportunity to write every day
- little friends who come to visit
- falling leaves
- bike riding
- warm blankets
What are you thankful for today?