Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: August, 2008

Wow, wow, watermelons!

The girls and I had a wild watermelon harvest.  The plants are starting to die back, and most of the melons are ripe, so we went a little crazy.  Once the girls learned to check the tendril at the base of the stem, they were prowling through the patch trying to find more to pick.

And after the picking, came the hauling…watermelons are heavier than you might think!

All in all, we harvested five watermelons.  Although part of me would like to say that they are now waiting for us to eat them up as they keep cool in our refrigerator, the truth is that my kids–spoiled by new generation “seedless” watermelons–just aren’t that interested in eating the ones that we grew.  So we took them with us to the cabin, and luckily had just the right number to share with all of the families there.  And tomorrow I’ll be heading to the store for yet another (locally grown, but still!) seedless watermelon for us to eat.

Maggie at the market

Our friend Rachel has a booth each week at our wonderful local farmer’s market.  When she had a baby this spring, many of us pitched in to cover her booth so she could have a relaxing babymoon without those weekly stints selling soap and lotion.  We’ve continued to lend a hand so that she can enjoy that oh-so-brief time with her new little one, usually for about three hours on a Saturday here or there.  We were signed up to work today, but as it turned out, Rachel already had enough coverage.  But when I suggested to Maggie that we wait until another week when our help was more needed, she said that she really wanted to go.  So we did.

Maggie loves the market.  For one thing, there are lots of dogs to meet.  Plus, we often see friends at this weekly community gathering.  Our tiny little market of 5 years ago has evolved into a central event around here.  When we arrived at around 10:00, the place was absolutely mobbed–a far cry from the small crowds that used to happen in the old parking lot that housed the market.  So we worked our way through the people and dogs, saying hello and dodging produce bags as we walked to Rachel’s booth.

Of course, “working the soap stand” is the highlight of the trip.  We found our nametags–Maggie has her own, which makes her feel very grown up, I think.  She had a great time working the crowd, helping customers find sample soaps and make product selections.

And especially exciting was taking money and making change!

There were also fun opportunities for her to feel independent in this safe space, like taking some money and seeking out a snack for herself.  Her pottery teacher is a couple of booths down, and she enlisted Maggie to help her with some shopping, gifting her with a special ceramic button.  It’s such a joy to see Maggie feeling so confident and at ease, finding her way around this small corner of the big world.

For me, this is one more reminder of the importance of giving the kids a chance to do real work, not just make-work.  At the market, Maggie can tell that she is making a contribution, being useful and helpful–and that feels good!  Not to mention all the learning she’s doing.  I’m so thankful to Rachel and her partner Paul (who manned the booth today), who generously welcome Maggie into their place of business with confidence and love.  Aren’t we lucky!

Kids’ Art Jewelry–take 1

Warning: craft-geek post to follow.  Some of you may prefer to skip ahead to where the pictures start.

I admit it–I spend way too much time reading craft blogs, clicking through one link to another and then another.  Which is how I ended up doing this project with the girls.  I was reading Angry Chicken (I would almost swear it was this post, but I can’t find the actual link), and there was a link to this tutorial by Make on Scrabble tile pendants.  Actually, I think it was a link to another site that linked me to that tutorial.  Anyway, I was charmed by these, and it struck me as a project that would be fun for all three of us to do together.

Of course, I made a few changes.  Because I didn’t have all the materials on hand (or available locally), I improvised with what I could pick up–I was too impatient to wait for mail order, and I really wanted to avoid paying for all that shipping.  So instead of using Scrabble tiles, I picked up some small wooden shapes at A.C. Moore. I also couldn’t find any Diamond Glaze, so I opted for a somewhat similar product (I hoped), Paper Glaze, another dimensional adhesive.  Oh, and of course I couldn’t find the bails designed for glass pendants, so I opted for the only kind I could find at my local big box craft store.

The biggest change I made was that instead of using pre-printed paper, I thought we’d use cut-outs from some of the girls’ old artwork.  We did something similar (inspired by this post from Art Projects for Kids) for Father’s day, by decoupaging pieces of the girls’ paintings and drawings onto a small wooden box for Steve.  So, I thought, we could make pendants by cutting out the girls’ artwork in the same style as the Scrabble pendants.  I also thought it might be fun to add buttons, sparkly jewels and/or beads, always popular in this house.

The process was very satisfying.  Glue and sparkly things are generally a recipe for fun.

The basic idea with these is that you cut paper to the size of the wood piece; we found it worked best to trace the shape on the back of the painting so it was easy do see.  You glue that down with a thin layer of glue, and then put some Mod Podge over the top.  Beads and other embellishments to be added as you go.

We left these to dry, and then came back and covered them with a layer of the Paper Glaze.  Although it looked pretty good when it went on, over time it seemed to dissolve some of the artwork underneath, making it a little fuzzy while the clear coat went a little cloudy.  I was a little surprised, since I haven’t gotten bleeding with straight Mod Podge. Not a terrible problem, but I’ve got some Diamond Glaze on order and hope that will work better.

The other technical problem I ran into was with attaching the bails.  First I tried with super glue, which did not work at all.  Which was puzzling.  Then I tried a glue gun, which worked better…until Anna wore her new necklace out into the garden and lost two of her pendants.  (It was not a pretty scene.)  I’ve realized since that the problem was probably due to the fact that the bails are super smooth and shiny; maybe some sanding to rough up the surface would help.  But to be honest, the loss of the pendants was so upsetting to their creator and wearer, I’m probably going to break down and order the ones better suited for this project.

So that’s the saga of this project so far.  I think the reason I enjoy this kind of craft so much is that the girls and I can all three enjoy making things, and often come up with stuff that is beautiful and wearable, not just kiddish stuff made out of foam shapes or plastic beads. It’s such a good reminder to me of the worth of spending money on good quality, real materials for these projects.  It shows in both the process and in the result.

One final photo: sometimes what you really just need to do it a lot of gluing. Or painting with glue.  Preferably while you’re naked.

Breakfast in the rain, then vegetable math

Thanks to hurricane Fay, we had a lot of rain here today.  By the time we were all up and ready for breakfast, it was pouring outside.  It was also unusally dark.  Before I knew it, the girls were rounding up umbrellas and boots and heading out onto the deck, still in their pajamas.  Next, they got the idea that they would have their breakfast (waffle strips dipped in syrup and nectarine slices) out on the deck.  I had left the water table top upside down after its last cleaning, and they had settled on the small space below for the perfect spot for a picnic in the rain.

Next, Mopsey needed to be taken out (something she hates in the rain) and the morning vegetable harvest needed to be picked–so we all headed into the backyard.  The rain got harder and harder as we were outside, but we managed to stay out long enough to gather quite a few veggies before we came back inside entirely soaked.

It was Maggie’s idea that we should “do some math” with the vegetables, first suggesting that we count everything that we brought in.  We’ve just started working through the wonderful Patterns in Arithmetic, which emphasizes a lot of activities involving patterns and sorting.  So I suggested that we try sorting the vegetables in different ways, which turned out to be a great activity for the girls to work on together.

First they sorted the veggies by color:

and then by vegetable type:

They also sorted by shape (what do you call the shape of a pepper? and eggplant)  and then by size.  This led to an interesting conversation about how you compare the size of objects that are such different shapes.  Maggie suggested that we could use water displacement to compare them, but we didn’t quite want to do all that.  Maggie then decided to sort them by length, which turned out to be very different groups than her estimated volume groups.

After that, Maggie came up with idea of doing some “food addition,” which involved creating number and operator shapes out of food and then eating them.  We had to expand our food collection a little, since we couldn’t just  gobble up the eggplants and hot peppers.  Here’s one example:

We took advantage of the rest of the rainy morning to do some crafts (more to follow on that) and of course do some produce-processing–a huge batch of pesto (finally!), roasted grape tomatoes, hot pepper relish, and eggplant-pepper-tomato spaghetti sauce.  Thinking about some zucchini pickles tomorrow, got to get to that zucchini…

So much produce, so little time.

We’re drowning in the bounty of late summer around here.  Tomatoes.  Peppers. Basil. Eggplants. Zucchini. Early winter squash.  Did I mention peppers?

We’ve had a real bumper crop of peppers around here, especially of the hot variety.  The red bell peppers are just coming in, which is a new thrill–I’ve never manage to ripen my own to red before.  But then the question…what to do with all these peppers?  Roast them and freeze them?  Dry the slender hot ones?  Pickle them?  Make more hot pepper jelly?  Try to duplicate the hot pepper relish that Steve’s been hankering for?

And this is just the beginning of the whirlwind of food planning in my head.  We’ve got a ton of basil from our CSA, so that’s easy–pesto.  But what about the zucchini?  I’ve already frozen a lot, but could do more.  I could make a batch of Disappearing Zucchini Orzo, which I really like.  Or I could try the tempting zucchini pickles from my new pickling book.

And that doesn’t even begin to tackle the eggplant and the winter squash (less urgent) and the current crop of tomatoes.

Off to confab with the girls to pick a few of these projects to do on this rainy day.

Sleeping. Or not.

I have never been able to resist taking pictures of my sleeping children. There’s something about seeing those vibrant little creatures at total rest, peacefully snuggled into one bed or another. And now that Maggie and Anna spend at least part of the night together, there are also the priceless pictures of the two of them piled up or wrapped around each other.

Like so many co-sleeping families, we have transitioned through many different sleep configurations. Our latest is that Maggie and Anna start the night out together, or rather Anna goes to sleep in their bed first, and then Maggie joins her later. Steve and I sleep together across the hall. At some point, Anna will wake up–sometimes as early as midnight (though that’s thankfully rare these days) and sometimes after 6 a.m. Steve goes and gets her and brings her to me, where she settles in to nurse and hopefully get some more sleep. Steve heads upstairs for a little quiet sleep before some segment of our family comes and wakes him for the day.

Lately, Maggie has instituted a “morning snuggle,” which consists of our reconvening in the big bed in our bedroom for a big family snuggle. Often, admittedly, with Anna jumping up and down on us. Sometimes the girls are eating their little dishes of vitamins, sometimes Steve is doing a few exercises, but there’s something about just a few minutes, with all of us together in bed together, that helps get our day started on the right footing.

Is there any arena that is more fraught for new parents than sleep? When Maggie was small, I remember interpreting her lack of any regular napping as a referendum on my parenting–if I were a better mother, of course I would know how to get my child to nap. Thankfully, I had a more typical napper the second time around, and could realize in retrospect that Maggie was just not a napper. Of course, Anna also taught me that sleep difficulties can take all shapes and sizes…though she was a napper and easy to get to bed at night (long a challenge with Maggie), it has taken her a long, long time to consolidate her nighttime sleep. And all gentle attempts, from nightweaning to sleeping with Daddy, utterly failed in making that happen any faster.

(Didn’t I say in my post about swimming that I keep re-learning to let things happen in their own time? My kids are such good teachers, and thankfully patient about repeating their lessons again and again.)

For now, I am caught…on the one hand, longing for the stretches of sleep that will make me more feel more human again. I remember the cloud lifting when Maggie started sleeping through the night. And that’s starting to happen, once in awhile, with Anna. At the same time, I treasure those moments when that little warm body snuggles into me, pats me, and says, “I love you, Mama” (or “I love you, nursie,” or just “MILK!”). Just another one of those contradictions of motherhood, I guess…we want them to grow but we want them to stay small, too.

Vilma McClure has a great essay in The Tao of Motherhood in which she talks about caring for your baby in the night. I love it because it’s the only thing I’ve read that doesn’t assume a zero-sum game, in which mother and baby are competing for attention or sleep. She says:

“Who, then, is the doer? Is it the infant who brings the mother through the veil of self-concern into limitlessness? Is it the mother, who chooses to hold sacred her infant’s needs and surrender herself? Or is it the One, which weaves them both through a spiraling path to wholeness?”

Swimming

Kids started back to school today in these parts, and our homeschool group had a not-back-to-school party at the pool. Swimming, yay! All of us around here love to go swimming.

Today’s outing was at a public pool in Raleigh, one of the few around here that remains open after school starts. In addition to the pools, there was a big splashground. Anna especially enjoyed this feature, running around with her friend Oliver, sticking her face in the spray and chasing each other through the tunnels of water. It was especially exciting when she realized that she could control some of the spray herself.

I keep wanting to get some pictures of the girls swimming, but the pool is not the most conducive to photography. Besides the whole water issue, there’s the fact that I’m almost always in the pool with the girls. Beyond that, the fun stuff so often happens really fast and often underwater. One of the few pictures I got of Maggie today was this one…

…which is mainly of her friend Max. That’s Maggie down there in the lower left-hand corner–she’d already landed in the water by the time I snapped the picture. But I think it gives a good sense of the fun they were having. Maggie hasn’t had a lot of time playing with her friends at the pool, so this was a particular treat. She and Max were jumping into the 10+ ft. deep water, trying to touch the bottom.

For me, it’s such a joy to see Maggie in the water. For so long, she was so scared of the water–interested, intrigued, but ultimately very nervous. We couldn’t go to the beach because she was scared of the waves. She wanted to go to the pool, but would only sit on the side with her feet in. Now, she is like a little fish–confident and exuberant in the water. Even when her limited technique makes it seem like she’s working hard and not getting much of anywhere, we often catch her literally beaming in the pool. So of course, we beam right back.

Swimming is just one particularly dramatic example of the value of letting kids do things in their own time. Certainly with Maggie, it’s been the case in many areas that she isn’t ready, and isn’t ready, and then suddenly, she is REALLY ready. Trying to force things has always backfired with her. I’m grateful that we have a life that allows for the girls to take their time about things. Really, it’s such a blessing.

Sunday pickles and more

Sunday has become a big cooking day around here. Some of it is taking care of the bounty of the farmer’s market, cooking the beans and corn and more that arrived in the house the day before. This is food for more or less immediate eating. Then there’s processing produce for keeping–today it was roasting a batch of sweet red peppers to go in the freezer (although Steve enjoyed these so much I think he could have eaten them all tonight). And then there’s get-set-for-the-week cooking, in this case a batch of yogurt and refrigerator pickles.

One of the joys of our garden this year has been the abundance of cucumbers. Although we had cucumbers last year, they were erratic and the varieties were not so well suited for pickling–too big and too seedy. And I never seemed to have enough for a full batch. This year, however, we have been rolling in cucumbers (well, at least until the untimely demise of our cuke patch to a case of angular leaf spot), and this has led me to regular production of our version of bread and butter refrigerator pickles. Technically, I think these may just be a salad, as Steve prefers them with cooled brine, which doesn’t cook the cucumbers at all. And I’m not sure if these are truly bread and butter pickles, as I used fennel seed instead of celery seed; I used fennel accidentally in my first batch, and we liked it, so that’s what we kept with. (Well, except for an intervening batch where I used both celery seed and fennel, but we won’t talk about those disappointing 3 quarts of pickles.)

Here’s the recipe:

2 lbs. pickling cucumbers, sliced as thin as you like

1 lb. onions (I used Vidalia), thinly sliced

1/4 c. coarse sea salt

1 c. sugar

1 T. mustard seed

1 tsp. tumeric

1 tsp. fennel seed

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns

1-1/2 cups vinegar

Layer cucumbers and onions in 2 1-qt. mason jars (wide mouth are easier). Amounts given are approximate, just pack those jars full. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and cook gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool to room temperature; if you prefer a more “cooked” pickle, use hot. Divide evenly between the two jars, and then add spring water to the top of each jar. Shake a little to mix things up. In theory, you want to let these marinate for awhile, but Steve often can’t wait and eats them the next morning.

The best part is that you can re-use the brine several times for multiple batches of pickles. Which is handy when they get eaten as fast as they do around here.

I did make one batch of canned pickles for keeping, and I’d like to try some lacto-fermented pickles, but my last attempt was such a disaster that I’m a little gun-shy. But there’s no question that these simple refrigerator pickles are one of the favorite items around here this summer.

Beady eyes

Inspired by a post last fall on SouleMama, a friend and I ordered a pile of magical wooden almost-toys from Casey’s Wood Shop in Maine. Those goodies have been languishing in a drawer for many months, but I pulled them out this week for a morning art project.

As always, Anna had her own approach to the project and materials. I had laid out fabric to make clothes, yarn for hair, and plenty of glue. Anna took one look at the unadorned wood figurines, and said, “We need beads. Beads would be perfect for eyes and feet, and they need eyes and feet.”

In truth, this project was a little frustrating for Anna, who had a hard time working with the small pieces and getting them to do what she wanted. But soon Maggie joined in, and we all worked together for a bit.

In typical fashion, the girls quickly moved from dressing their folks to playing with them. I’m not sure exactly what the game was, but it involved dangling them from a string (one of the painted ones from Maggie’s earlier string painting project) that was attached to something like a fishing pole. Looked a bit like a noose, but I didn’t point that out…

Our little beady-eyed family. Dad is still connected to the string contraption, but I promise, he isn’t in any danger.

Update: Well, these critters weren’t in danger of strangulation, but apparently were in danger  from the dog, who chewed up poor Mom.  She’s still got her eyes, but there are a lot of toothmarks on her head.  Maybe when we get her hat back on they won’t show anymore!

Scrabble!

So, the subtitle of this post could easily be, “Don’t forget that you’re children are often right.” Maggie has recently become very interested in Scrabble, especially since I’ve started playing with friends on Facebook. I have to confess that I wasn’t all that encouraging. Even when I went out and purchased a new game set for Steve and I to play, I still discouraged her from trying to play. “We’ve got Bananagrams!” I’d tell her. “Really, I think you’ll like that better. Scrabble is really too hard, you’ll only get frustrated.” But she was very insistent, so I reluctantly started up a game with her, on the condition that we wouldn’t keep score.

Mommy, Mommy, when will you learn? We had such fun playing. We did decide to play with all our tiles turned up, so that I could help her when she got stuck. This cooperative approach has worked well so far, and we’ve continued to play that way. And yes, we are keeping score. Despite my deep desire to encourage cooperativity over competition, it’s just waaay more fun when you can work to get a big score for a great word. Plus, I realized that keeping score also introduces MATH into the game, which I hadn’t even thought of. It’s like the unschooler’s dream activity–literacy, math, and fun all wrapped into one game.

It amazes me to realize that we now have literally a lifetime ahead of playing Scrabble together. What fun!