Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: November, 2008

The Advent Basket

Well, it’s not so beautiful…not a dreamy embroidered wall hanging or garland of stockings.  But it’s done!  (Well, almost…truth be told, a few of those envelopes still need a little more filling.  Don’t tell Maggie and Anna.)

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This is one of those projects that I’ve been meaning to do for several Christmases, but am only now managing to get together.  I used 9×12 envelopes, and each is filled with a note or a small gift; the notes suggest an activity or project that we can do on that day.  There are lots of gorgeous examples of this around the web–just google advent calendar and you’ll find them.

Some of the activities I included were:

  • make paper snowflakes
  • go see the Nutcracker
  • make Christmas candy
  • order pizza for dinner and have a picnic watching a movie
  • decorate ornaments
  • go on a special outing with Daddy
  • make our own wrapping paper
  • take a family bath in the big tub
  • make Christmas cookies

For tomorrow, December 1st., our activity is to get out the Christmas decorations and hang our Advent calendar.

If this is a big hit, we may upgrade to a lovely handmade version.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to enjoying all these holiday activities with the girls.

And thus ends NaBloPoMo.  Phew!

One Christmas present finished, almost.

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(If you’re John or Jenny, please stop reading this and don’t look at the pictures.)

What better way could there be to avoid all the laundry and dishes that need doing kick off the holiday season than have a gift craft-o-rama?  So while Steve lay on the bed nursing his out-of-whack back, and the girls played for entirely too long on pbskids.org, I knocked out this set of decoupaged fridge magnets for my nephew.

Inspired in part by angry chicken‘s magnets, as well as all those Scrabble pendants around the web, I’ve been experimenting with similar projects.  One day at the cabin, we were making decoupage magnets and my friend Nancy suggested that it would be fun to make a set of alphabet magnets.  I was charmed by this idea and thought it would make a great gift for my 3-1/2 year old nephew.

I collected some old books from our shelves and the thrift store.  My big score this weekend was a Beatrix Potter book with lots of illustrations that were the right size, which got me excited to get this project going.  As a base, I used a set of 2 x 2 inch wooden tiles from an old and now unused matching game.  I cut the pictures to fit and glued them on the squares; I used tacky glue, but I think a better choice would be Mod Podge, or at least glue applied with a brush.

I printed out letters and words on my computer, and used Mod Podge to apply them on top of the pictures, sealing with another coat.  When they were dry, I flipped them over and used an exacto knife to trim the edges. I may finish with a coat of diamond glaze, but honestly they look pretty good as is, so I may just settle for one more coat of the Mod Podge.

I still need to attach magnets…I was thwarted by a magnet shortage at A.C. Moore today!

Just for fun, here’s a picture of the whole alphabet:

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Now, if I could only make some more headway on my slow-as-molasses knitting….

The best toy of all

In honor of Black Friday, along with my ongoing attempt to streamline our belongings and our play areas, I’ve been reflecting on which toys really get played with in our house.  Not the toys I thing should or would get played with (like, for example, our gorgeous maple unit blocks), but what actually sees action many times each week.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Stuffed animals.  Having an aspiring veterinarian in the house, lots of play around here involves pets and vet clinic visits.
  • Art supplies.  Especially markers and play-doh.
  • Playmobil.  We have a “big kid” farm and a 1-2-3 farm.
  • Play kitchen, food, and assorted pots and dishes.
  • Dress-up clothes and accessories, from playsilks to fairy wings
  • Musical instruments (including our piano, which isn’t really a toy)
  • Puzzles (especially for Anna lately)
  • Games, from board games to computer games

But the thing that struck me the most, as I was making this list, was how much of the play in our house involves almost none of the stuff listed above.  Really, it’s about some imaginary world that Maggie and Anna create together and live out in exuberant detail.  Today, for example, I arrived home to discover that Maggie was a beaver and Anna was a woodpecker.  Earlier in the day, Maggie and Anna were camping together downstairs (although I’m pretty sure that they weren’t actually Maggie and Anna at the time.)  Often these days, there are games riffing on the Rainbow Magic fairies, with roles and characters switching around a lot.

Which is not to say that this play is always peaceful or easy.  With considerable frequency, the girls need me to step in and help them work through a conflict, which often come to a head with screaming and/or physical fighting.  But in that magical way that siblings have, they are often able to move past the trouble and jump right back into the game.

So it’s like a corny MasterCard commercial:

Playmobil Farm: $50

Fancy European Markers: $10

WAHM-made playsilks: $60

Play kitchen and food: $100

A sister: priceless

An old school Thanksgiving

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Special meals in my family of origin have always been something of an extravaganza.  My mom is a wonderful and adventurous cook, so holiday meals were often a time for trying a new recipe or pulling out something exotic or fancy.

So when family Thanksgiving fell to me starting about ten years ago, I followed in those footsteps.  Some of the basics–turkey and dressing, of course–but some new stuff; one year I made wild mushroom bread pudding.  I also made a family favorite, sweet potatoes in orange halves with a sprinkling of mini marshmallows.  I’m sure there were some unusual desserts thrown in, too.

But here’s the thing.  I wasn’t cooking for my family, I was cooking for Steve’s.  Because of geographic separations, I haven’t had Thanksgiving dinner with my own family in about twenty years.  So when the mantle of Cameron Thanksgiving was passed on to me, I started out with a hybrid approach, making some of the dishes that Steve’s mother made, and incorporating others that reflected my own taste and style.  But the truth is, his family really loves the standard Thanksgiving dinner done well.  There wasn’t much enthusiasm for marshmallows or even the fancier stuff I brought to the table.  But what made people smile and rave were dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce.  And to be honest, I LOVE all of that food.  So over the years, I’ve let go of fancy and exotic when it comes to Thanksgiving, and embraced simple, traditional, and delicious.  I save my experiments for other meals.

One of our family favorite’s is Steve’s mother’s dressing (or stuffing, depending on where you come from..although it’s not actually stuffed into anything).  Here’s my version of the recipe:

Kay’s stuffing (a nice big batch)

  • 3 quarts of stuffing cubes (about 18 slices, or 1-1/2 lbs.)
  • 3 large onions
  • 4-5 stalks celery
  • 3 T. butter or oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T. each chopped fresh thyme and sage
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 3-4 cups hot chicken stock (can substitute veggie if you prefer)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the oil in a large skillet.  Saute onions, celery, and herbs with salt and pepper until tender.

Heat chicken stock. Put the bread cubes in a large bowl and moisten with the stock.  If you’re using unsalted homemade stock, you may want to add some salt here as well.

Put in a greased casserole.  This batch size fits perfectly in a glass 9 x 13 pan.

Baking time and temperature is flexible, so you can bake it alongside other stuff.  We usually bake at about 350 for 20 minutes.

Every time we eat this, we wonder why we don’t make it more often.

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.

p.s. The pie was really really good.

A job for the chefs, not for the mom.

As part of our preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, we made pumpkin pie today.  Or rather, Maggie and Anna made pumpkin pie today, with minimal advice and supervision from me.  Originally, it had been Maggie’s plan to do this entirely on her own, but this left Anna so heartbroken that Maggie relented and decided they could do it together.

Anna was in charge of grating the nutmeg.

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The girls worked together on getting the pie shell ready, buttering foil to cover it while it pre-baked.  After I helped them get set up, Anna said, “Come on, Maggie, this is a chef-y job, not a Mommy job.  We don’t need your help, Mommy!”

And the didn’t.  Maggie even put the shell in and out of the oven herself, and did some pricking in the middle.

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In general, when we’re cooking together, there’s a certain amount of jockeying for the position closest to the mixing bowl and arguing over who’s going to stir or measure or crack an egg.  Interestingly, I found that when I stepped back a little (literally out of the room, but still nearby), the girls did much better at figuring out how to make it work, taking turns and helping each other out.  Maggie did a particularly masterful job of playing head chef, keeping track of what needed to be done, while still involving Anna in the process–and thus keeping her happy.

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I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the final product, which I had to put up high to keep away from probing fingers….there are already several dings in the top.  I was actually a little sorry we hadn’t decided to make two pies, so that we could dig into one right away.  Instead, I’ll enjoy the anticipation, and look forward to the girls serving their pie to us tomorrow.

I enjoyed this food survey.

I snagged it from Over the Moon and Sun.  The best part was learning about the foods I’d never heard of (thank you, Wikipedia.)  I also learned that there is very little that I won’t consider eating.  Pardon the formatting weirdness, it’s an artifact of how I cut and pasted.

Here are the instructions, if you want to try it:

a. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
b. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
c. Cross out or italicize any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle Tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. baba ghanous
11. Calamari
12. pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Head Cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/jello
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/€80/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly Pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty Gin Martini
58. Beer
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin

64. Currywurst

65. Durian
66. Frog’s legs

67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears, and funnel cake

68. Haggis

69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (though I have eaten rabbit!)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

A friend who’ll eat bubbles with you

It’s funny how kids become friends, especially when they’re small.  Let’s face it, we choose our kids’ friends for them, or perhaps more accurately, we choose our own mama-friends and then the kids come along for the ride.

But sometimes you really hit a home run all around.  Anna and Oliver were thrust together from birth, both because his mother was my friend and his sister was Maggie’s friend.  And it turns out that they are truly suited to be friends of the heart.  They both share this combination of sweetness and wildness.  I remember once that Anna was pouring sand over Oliver’s head in the sandbox, and his mom Nancy went to intervene–only to realize that actually, Oliver didn’t mind at all.  It’s not unusual for Oliver and Anna to literally or figuratively butt heads–with all the attendant upset–and moments later be happily playing some elaborate game.

Our homeschool group met today at my house to play board games.  It wasn’t long before both Anna and Ollie had their fill and were ready for a change of scenery.  We sent them out onto our deck to play together, where they happily picked up bits of ice and were smashing and throwing them.  When I next checked on them, they had found some bubble stuff and were blowing bubbles.

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Or at least I thought they were blowing bubbles.  In fact, the game they were playing seemed to be more about eating the bubbles…both as they were being blown and afterwards.  And they couldn’t have been happier.

How wonderful to find a kindred spirit.

An abundance of bread

My dear husband spoils me in so many different ways.  But one that I tend to take for granted is the steady stream of extraordinary bread that he brings home from work.  Good old whole wheat sandwich bread, long seedy baguettes, huge crusty loaves two feet across–the bounty never ends.  And because it is (understandably) the only bread I eat, and it keeps coming and coming, sometimes I forget how spoiled I am.

With Thanksgiving coming, Steve asked me if he should bring home some cut-up bread for stuffing, and we discussed the merits of one type of bread versus another.  We decided on Pane Bello, a plain (not sour) white rustic loaf.

And this is what he brought home:

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I wish I had thought to put something in the picture that would more clearly serve as a size reference, but I would say that the big pile of bread was around 2-3 feet across.  A LOT of bread.  Now, having worked in a commercial bakery, I know that being constantly surrounded by larger quantities does throw off your sense of scale.  Suddenly a pound of butter or four cups of flour seems like a pretty small amount.  And I know that Steve was probably standing at the slicer with dozens of loaves that were headed to the compost if he didn’t take them home.

So now our freezer is crammed with this huge bag of bread chunks, some of which are destined to be our favorite, very traditional stuffing.  Perhaps some of my friends who are coming over tomorrow will also go home with some.  And probably some will end up in our compost.  But I am anticipating with relish the mounds and mounds of stuffing we have to look forward to!

Our Thankful Tree

Two posts in a row inspired by Playful learning, this one about the Thankful Tree that we made this week.  We created a tree with paper leaves that described things that we’re thankful for.

I collected some leaves while out walking the dog.  I also picked up a stick and a bucket of sand from the sandbox.  I poured the sand in a quart mason jar, stuck the stick in the sand, and we were ready to go.

We traced the leaves onto construction paper, and I helped Anna with her cutting.  She drew pictures on many of her leaves, and then told me what to write on them…the cabin, candy, the fair.  Anna especially enjoyed punching holes in the leaves and cutting string for hanging.

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Maggie worked more independently, asking for some help with spelling but otherwise doing her leaves herself.  Some of the things she mentioned were primary colors, her family, and all animals.

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Me?  I’m grateful for so much every day.  But on that day I felt most thankful for a table strewn with art supplies and two girls helping me make the most of them.

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Finally, a stationery box!

I have been wanting to do this ever since I saw it over on Playful Learning. (There’s also a nice post on letter writing with children here.)  Well, it’s only taken me two months to put it into action.  A few nights ago the girls were doing some mad impromptu letter writing, and I decided it was time to get the supplies together in one place.

Anna jumped into it before I managed to take a picture of it untouched, but here’s what went in:

  • Letter Paper (also from Playful Learning)
  • Blank notecards
  • Envelopes
  • Stickers (letters and pictures)
  • A list of names of family and friends, for cutting and pasting
  • A list of phrases (“I love you” and “I liked it when we” and “Thank you” etc.) also for cutting and pasting
  • Scissors, glue sticks, pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, and markers
  • Lettering guides

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Maggie and Anna launched into a card-making/letter-writing frenzy this morning, with the grandmothers particularly in mind.

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It’s a good reminder for me….appealingly arranged materials and a clear, open workspace invite the girls to work and play.

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