Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: December, 2008

The closest we’re getting to snow…

…at least until we head to Illinois on Christmas day.


My friend Nancy gifted up with these nifty snowflake forms, as well as beads and ribbon, so the girls and I decided to give it a whirl.


This was one of those projects that is simple and yet more challenging than it looks.  All of us experienced filling one length of wire and then tilting the frame wrong, sending the beads flying.  One good idea I had was making a clay stand that we could stick the frames into; the only limitation was that you can only do that for the first half of the ornament.  In the end, it seemed to work best if we worked together on these; sometimes we put the beads on together, and other times I did the second half of the snowflake.  The end result was pretty pleasing, and also made an impressive dent in my embarrasingly large backstock of beads (who knew I had so many blue beads??).  I hung them from the pass-through between the dining room and kitchen, so I get to watch them twinkle when I do the dishes.


Not a bad substitute for the real thing, if I do say so myself.


Fizzy Bath Salts


My little Anna loves fancy body care products, and a favorite treat are bath fizzies from our friend Rachel.  Both for fun and to economize, a project we’ve planned for some time has been to make our own batch.  Recently, though, I happened upon this video, which entranced the kids and led us to try making fizzy bath salts.  Turns out they are both simpler to make than the fizzies (just mix a few ingredients together) and (if it’s possible) even more fun.

Before we made a big batch for gifts, I did a test batch for the kids to try out.  It was a huge hit.  I gave them each a small tupperware container of the salts and a spoon, so they were able to sprinkle and scoop to their hearts’ delight.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from the above link:

Fizzy Bath Salts

  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups Epsom salts or bath salts of your choice
  • a few drops of essential oil (for the holiday, we used peppermint)

Not much to this…just whisk everything together.  We had to sift the citric acid and salts to get out lumps.  A little essential oil goes a surprisingly long way.

Perhaps influenced by my commercial cooking background, we made an 8x batch, giving us plenty for gift-giving.  Here come the action shots:



This was one of those perfect projects for Anna, who loves mixing and scooping and measuring.  She especially enjoyed packaging the salts into their jars and bags.  Using a measuring cup and a knife, she carefully put exactly one cup into each container.


Maggie and Anna took charge of making tags for all the bags, a task involving a lot of concentrated writing and a lot of messy rubber-stamping.


(How do you like all that morning hair?  Thankfully, I did take the girls to get their hair cut today.  So perhaps in future pictures you will actually be able to see their faces.)

This turned out to be a great gift project.  Simple to make (even on a large scale), inexpensive ingredients, and something that we know will be really fun.  So fun, in fact, that I need to grab a couple of those jars and set them aside for the girls.  They deserve a little minty bath fun too, I think.

Cookies! (recipe included)

We had a great time making cut-out Christmas cookies this week.


This is one of those times that I throw my usual healthy baking aside.  We use white flour, white sugar, lots of frosting and sugar and colored candies.

There was mixing…


…and cutting out…


(yes, Maggie is in her pajamas, and no, this picture was not taken in the morning)

…and then some painting.


We kept some cookies unpained to decorate with frosting and candy.  The girls decided that we were in Candyland, and that “In Candyland, you use icing for glue!”  It was a concession for me to use the squeeze bottles of glue, I mean frosting, but I’m glad I did; they were easy to work with and  made this part of the project doable.



Of course, not quite all the icing went on the cookies.


Our favorite roll-out cookie dough comes from an old Wilton yearbook.  When I googled to look for a link to the recipe, I noticed they’ve changed it considerably, so I’m going to include this old standby.  It gets points for being really easy to work with, needing no chilling, and actually tasting really good.

Roll-Out Cookies

Source: Wilton Cake Decorating Yearbook, 1993

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or more to taste
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 convection).  Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk together baking soda and flour.  Add flour gradually to butter mixture until encorporated well.  Dough will be fairly stiff.  Don’t chill!  Roll to about 1/8 in. thick or as desired.  Bake on an ungreased sheet for 6-7 min (5 convection) or until lightly browned.

To make edible tempera paint, gently whisk an egg yolk or two in a small bowl.  Divide into separate containers for each color.  Add food coloring a few drops at a time until desired color is achieved.  Note: paint before baking!

Note to self: go outside!

Today was one of those days that it’s not so easy being the little sister.  Maggie was very involved working on a writing project on the computer, thus tying up both the playmate and the computer.  I was determined to accomplish some cleaning around the house, so I was alternating between doing chores and giving attention to Anna, but frankly, it wasn’t really enough.  There was more than a little yelling and complaining by the little one over the course of the day.

And then, we went outside.  Mopsey needed to be taken out, so I suggested that Anna and I do that together.  First, Anna had some play time on the deck, checking out the current status of various potions and mixtures on the table.  She then joined me in the back yard, jumping into her swing and proceeding to make up songs as she was swinging, head held back and eyes closed as she reveled in all the swinging sensations.

Some exerpts:

I love my Mommy

I love my Daddy

and of course

I love my sister Maggie

I love swinging in my swing!

I love swinging in my swing!

I love swinging in my swing!

It’s so cute

and so fun

and I love it.

We chased Mopsey around the yard, and in particular did small laps around the cedar tree.  That was occasion for another song.  And then she rode piggyback to the house, and made up another song along the way.

And while Maggie was still writing when we got inside, and I was ready to tackle more of my chores, Anna was able to find her own groove a little more easily.  And I was more able to breathe and move in and out of what I was doing.

I think I need to put a sign up for all of us:  Go outside!  You’ll be glad you did!

Ornament Mania, phase two

Okay, so we did make clay ornaments.  It was really really fun.  One of those projects that I enjoyed at least as much as the girls.  Maybe more, even.

We didn’t do anything too fancy, just rolled out sheets of clay and cut it with cookie cutters.  A few got beads or embellishments before drying.




(I would like to note, for the record, that in the above pictures, both the children are fully dressed in actual clothes.  My mom was teasing me that most of the pictures on them on the blog are in their pajamas.  And yes, these pictures were even taken in the morning.)

And then, of course, there was the painting.  And the glitter.  Lots and lots of glitter.  So much glitter, in fact, that Steve suggested a moratorium on buying any more for awhile.  (horrors!)



The girls had a great time with the painting.  It’s pretty amazing to see the developmental shift in Anna–it wasn’t very long ago that most painting degenerated into mixing all the paint colors together and smearing them onto her body.  Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that, but it doesn’t work so well with acrylic paints you’re sharing with your sister.  So the two of them were able to share a pallette of paints and work on their own for a good long time.  Anna was in charge of the glitter, and Maggie reported that as she started to sprinkle it, she said, “And now the Christmas village is transformed into Glitter Town!”


So, while the glitter is going to be lingering for awhile around here (folks keep telling me I have a sparkle or two on my face), overall it was pretty easy to bundle the kids off to bath and bed while I whisked away the biggest parts of the mess.  I’m always so glad when I can manage to say yes to the fun and messy project without feeling overwhelmed in the end.

The best part of this is that our little tree is entirely full of handmade (mostly by the kids) ornaments.  They lovingly place them and then rearrange them, but are so proud and pleased with their creations.  They coo over the tree they picked out (less than a couple of feet high), and wax poetic about how much they love the tree and how perfect it is.

Perfect, indeed.

The garden in winter

I am a fairly new gardener, and this is the first year that we’ve really had anything edible growing through the winter.  I’m amazed at the heartiness of the salad greens–their leaves look so tender, but they hold up through the frost.  We have more arugula than any one family could eat in a salad–I found a recipe for arugula pesto, so I think I might try that. We also have the usual sturdy winter greens growing–kale and broccoli and cauliflower and brussels sprouts.


Also exciting in the garden are new seedlings peeking up.  It’s hard to believe that there are new little plants growing in December!


These are little fava beans, a winter hardy bean that (like all beans) will help renitrogenate the soil.  I admit that I haven’t ever eaten fava beans, but it was appealing to plant a cover crop that is actually edible.  Our planting day consisted mainly of planting seeds and Anna digging them up (they were buried treasures, you see), so I’m encouraged by how many plants are actually growing.

This week, we took advantage of an unseasonably warm day to do some work in the garden.  While Maggie ran around the yard with Mopsey, Anna jumped right in and helped me with the garden chores.  We started by ripping out all the frost-dead plants that will still lingering.  This involved a lot of untangling peppers and tomaotes from their wire cages, which Anna really enjoyed.  We then moved onto some planting.


Right there, she’s planting more fava beans.  It’s probably too late for them to do much growing, but she was very excited to try.  We also had a good time separating the garlic cloves and planting them.


Anna was very determined to do her own planting.  She carefully poked holes in the soil, and would hold her clove up for inspection, making sure it was oriented in the right direction.

After we were done planting, Anna took charge of fertilizing as well, sprinkling each of our growing plants–including her beloved broccoli–with small spoonfuls of plant-tone.  Meanwhile, I pulled down the cucumber trellis and hauled all the other frames in for winter storage.

It’s a little hard to believe how soon we’ll be starting the spring garden.  Around here, peas go into the ground in February–so the growing season starts early.   It’s kind of exciting that it’s happening already, that soon there will be new blooms and new foods to eat.  At the same time,  I want things to slow down and stretch out so I can enjoy what’s going on now, not rushing into the next phase.

Not so different from life with kids, is it?

In pursuit of salted caramel hot chocolate


Ever since my friend Nancy uttered the phrase “salted caramel hot chocolate” last Friday, I’ve been a little obsessed.  Although my original intention had just been to go to Starbucks and buy one, our weekend was kind of crazy and I couldn’t get there.  Instead I assembled some ingredients during my trip to the grocery store and decided to try to make my own.

I googled for a little advice and inspriation, and came upon this recipe.  It seemed a bit outrageously sweet and rich to me…6 ounces of sweetened chocolate plus 1/4 cup of sugar plus heavy cream in one cup of milk?  I toned it down a bit, using 1/3 cup of Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips (about 2 oz.) in straight whole milk (although admittedly the whole milk I get is extrememly creamy).   I omitted the extra sugar but did stir in a spoonful of Whole Foods Caramel Sauce.  I just warmed the whole thing in the microwave and stirred it until all was melted.  I topped it with whipped cream (from a can!), a drizzle of the caramel sauce, a sprinkle of turbinado sugar, and a sprinkle of coarse salt (I used Redmond Real Salt).

Phew!  This was still so sweet and rich that (I’m not kidding here) it gave me a headache.  And I’m no lightweight when it comes to sugar and fat.  I think it would have been okay if I’d just drunk half, still with a full portion of the toppings.  The turbinado sugar was superfluous–why include that at all when the caramel sauce is so tasty?

Next time around, I basically made regular hot cocoa boosted with a little chocolate.  Here’s the recipe.  I have no idea if it resembles the beloved version from Starbucks, but I like it.  By which I mean that it’s a good thing that I have a finite amount of good milk around here, or I’d be drinking it every day.

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

  • 3 tbl. best quality cocoa powder
  • 2 T. sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/3 c. chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet, they are really good)
  • 1 tsp. caramel sauce (or to taste), plus more for drizzling (I used Whole Foods Caramel Sauce)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • For topping: whipped cream and coarse salt

Combine the cocoa powder, sugar, salt and water in a saucepan; heat gently until simmering.  Stir in the chocolate chips and caramel sauce and stir until all is smooth and melted.  Whisk in the vanilla and milk and heat through.

To serve, ladle into small (6 oz.) cups.  Generously top with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce (it will require melting if it’s cold), and a sprinkle of salt.

Makes 4 servings.  Which may or may not feed 4 people.


Ornament mania, phase one

I can’t remember the last time I made Christmas tree ornaments.  While we managed a bit of gifty-holiday crafting last year, we didn’t do anything in the realm of decorations.  I’m not exactly sure why, since some of my still favorite ornaments are ones I made when I was around the girls’ age.  At any rate, we’re doing our best to make up for lost time around here.

Our advent basket activity for Sunday was to decorate ornaments,  and included in the bag were flat wooden shapes in various holiday shapes.  I pulled out some paint and glitter for the girls, and we were ready to go.



I admit even I was surprised at how the girls took to this activity, especially Anna.  She attacked the project with an unusual focus and intensity.


And did I mention there was an extraordinary amount of glitter involved?


As we’re getting started, Maggie suggested that we “put on some Christmas music to listen to while we’re crafting.”  I love that she’s using that word as a verb.

So far, these handmade (if slightly out of scale) beauties are the only ornaments on our beloved, tiny tree-in-a-pot.  At this rate, I think we might fill it up without unpacking any of the ornaments in storage.


Tomorrow:  we tackle ornaments out of clay.

The Christmas Village


I realized that part of the girls’ enthusiasm about decorating for Christmas has been that they don’t see all the stuff as decorations, they see it as toys.  With a few  limits, I’ve decided to go with that.  In the corner of the living room, we set up what the girls are calling “The Christmas Village.”  Although we have had a couple of mishaps (a broken hand on the baker and a crunched ice skater), they were all fixable with a little glue.  And overall, I decided it was better to have these things loved to death than leave them boxed up for fear of breakage.

And love them they do.  With the addition of a variety of playmobil people, it’s a fair and a village and Santa’s workshop.  Day after day, I hear one or both of them talking away as scenes unfold in that corner.  One evening, I came upon Anna and found the village mostly cleaned out.  I asked her where everything was, and she told me she had put everything in the cabinet because a twister was coming through town.

So we may end up this year with a few less intact decorations by the end of the season.  But I think we’ve started a magical tradition.  Which seems a lot more precious.

Yes, quinoa can be really tasty.

Actually, I’m not a hard sell on quinoa.  I like its funky texture, and–as someone who doesn’t always gravitate to the healthiest choices on the menu–I love that it’s so good for me.

This recipe for a cheesy quinoa casserole is liberally adapted from one I found some time ago in Vegetarian Times.  It was a great way to dig into my weekly portion of farm fresh milk and eggs, plus local Amish cheddar.

Cheesy Quinoa Casserole

  • 1 tbl. olive oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup or more of other chopped veggies (I used carrots and celery; bell pepper would be good, too, I think)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (preferably whole)
  • 1-1/2 cups grated cheese

Preheat oven to 350 (325 convection). Saute the onion, garlic, and other veggies in the oil/butter until soft.  Add the quinoa and saute until opaque, about 3 min.  Add the stock, salt, and pepper, and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook over low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and milk together.  When quinoa is cooked, stir into the milk mixture along with the cheese.  Pour into a greased casserole (I used a big shallow one) and bake for about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned.


I found this really satisfying–just the kind of cheesy yumminess that I missed when we were off dairy for so long.  I think it would also be great for anyone who is gluten-free, as it gives sort of a mac-and-cheese experience without the mac.  I also think there are a lot of possibilities for tweaking the seasoning and using more/different vegetables.