Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: May, 2011


Amazingly, Cate turned ten on Sunday.  My thoughts couldn’t help but turn to her birth and her not-so-peaceful arrival in the world, which seems like both yesterday and a million years ago.  And to reflect on this extraordinary journey with this amazing little person who made me into a mother.  How she was born amazingly alert and with a huge head of red hair–neither of which seemed unusual to this new mama, since I had nothing to compare it to.  How this intensely engaged and never-sleeping infant and toddler has grown into an amazing not-so-little person who I feel lucky to know.  We celebrated her day with kayaking and swimming and bike-riding and stuffed shells and cupcakes.

I pulled together a somewhat random collection of photos of Cate from her first birthday (when I received my first digital camera) to the present.  It’s funny how the pictures show that change from baby chubb into the big girl I see today.  Sort of.  It’s still hard to believe I have a child who is starting puberty.  Or as she likes to say, “pubertizing.”  Notably missing from this collection are any ballet photos, but there are some great ones here.

Happy Birthday, Cate!  I am so glad that you were born!


The return of Chocolate Lips

She’s baaaack!  (Her original appearance was here.)

Turns out that in spite of our many uses of strawberries last week, we neglected one of the most important:  chocolate dipped strawberries.   That neglect all comes down to me–I think the girls were asking on a daily basis to do it.  So when we had a nice collection of strawberries picked from the garden, we seized the moment (and, okay, braved the mess) to make a few.

This is  perfect example of a great little project that seems like more trouble than it is.  We melted the chocolate in the microwave, and then it was just a matter of rinsing the berries and dipping them.  We did a small batch, so they all fit on a small tray lined with wax paper.  The only messy clean-up was the chocolate bowl.  Well, that and the kids.  And the bathroom after Chocolate Lips decided to clean herself up.  All-in-all, though, there was a good messy-to-fun ratio.  And holy cow, I’d forgotten how delicious chocolate-covered strawberries can be!  Tart-sweet berries with a crunchy chocolate coating–yum, yum!  Hmmm, maybe we need to make some more today…I’m sure there are more berries in the garden that need picking….

C is for Conifer

We love They Might Be Giants.  Their “Here Come the ABCs” and “Here Comes Science” have been in regular rotation every since we discovered them last year.  A favorite of Anna’s has always been “C if for Conifer,” and I often hear her singing as she walks through the house: “Cones for seeds, most with needles for leaves, C is for conifer, my kind of tree.”  This has lead to a number of questions about conifers.  For example, the song says that there are more than 500 kinds, but how many kinds are there in North America? (Not as easy a question as you might think).  And then, of course, Anna started noticing how many conifers there are in our yard and in other places we visit regularly.

“I want to do a project on conifers!” Anna finally said to me.  As she is not so inclined to be this direct about wanting to learn things, I’ve tried to jump right on it.  Last weekend, I equipped her field bag with a notebook; pens and pencils; Petersen’s First Guide to Trees; wax paper bags for collecting samples; paper and crayons for bark rubbings; and a camera.  We spent some time out in the yard, taking samples and identifying some of the trees in our yard.

It was a good chance to help Anna learn how to use a field guide for identification.  For example, the leaves of the first tree we looked at resembled the picture of Arizona cypress, but when we checked the range of that tree, we found that it doesn’t grow in the eastern United States.  Although I love the First Guides for their simplicity (not to mention their light weight for little explorers), we decided that next time we needed to bring the full-sized guide.  There just weren’t enough varieties in the smaller guide.

Anna has big plans–pressing her specimens in the flower press, and making a book about different kinds of conifers.

In the meantime, here’s an Arbor Day video podcast that includes “C is for Conifers.”

Strawberries, every which way.

Strawberry season is in full swing around here, and we finally got out to do some picking this past week.  I’m finding that our spring has been unusually full, and it’s been harder to fit in all our favorite May activities.  I need to remember next year that this is one of our favorite months for lots of playing outside, and it makes sense to keep the calendar clearer.

Anyway, we finally did find some time to pick berries, and made it home with about 15 lbs.  A medium-sized amount by putting-up standards, really.  But I admit that it took me almost a full day to settle in and start processing the fruit.  I was a little paralyzed by the possibilities–freezing?  jam?  drying? fancy strawberry desserts?

I opted for a little of each.  On the top of my list was they drying, because dried strawberries were such a big hit last year.  I actually hid my store of dried strawberries away so that they would last more than a few weeks–I stingily parceled them out over the course of the winter, making them last as long as I could.  So I knew that one priority would be to get a load into the dehydrator.  It never ceases to amaze me how much food goes in to my (not all that big) dehydrator and how little comes out (I ended up with about 3 cups of dried fruit), but I also love that feeling of saving strawberry magic for the dark days of winter.  If I can just manage to hide the jar well enough, that is.

And I couldn’t have so many strawberries and not make at least one batch of jam, especially since strawberry is the only kind of jam that Anna will eat.  I have been experimenting more with no-pectin-added jams, so I tried this recipe.  I committed a jam-making sin and doubled the recipe, but it didn’t seem to do any harm, although the cooking time was longer.  I was really happy with how it came out–I love the soft, spoonable texture.  Anna was less thrilled; she loves the very low sugar jam that I can make with Pomona’s pectin.  So it looks like I’ll still be making another batch with her in mind.

By the time the drying and the jam were done (along with lots of just plain eating along the way), the berries were almost gone.  I managed to squeeze out one batch of strawberry ice cream (I used this recipe, leaving out the pomegranate juice and stirring in chopped strawberries at the end), and then put the rest in the freezer before they were past their prime.

It’s feast or famine.  In a matter of days, we go from having a ridiculous abundance of strawberries to none at all.  That’s fresh produce for you!  Fortunately, we are now getting some berries from our own garden, so that can hold us until we get out picking this coming week.  And then the cycle starts all over again.

Risotto tastes so much better than it looks.

..which is why the only photo I’m going to include is this one, where you can’t see it all that well.

I love risotto, and have been wanting to make some since the asparagus started coming in.  Somehow, it’s taken until now for the stars to align enough for me to make it happen.  Although even this effort was not without its stumbles–when I went to get an onion from under the sink, the whole back was kind of soft and moldy.  (I think I need a different place to store potatoes and onions in summer!)  I managed to salvage a few tablespoons of minced onion, but set off to borrow one from the neighbors–and came up completely empty handed.  I’m not sure how it’s possible that no one on my block had an onion, but I made do with what I had, throwing in a few chopped scallions.  Between that and my general Steve-has-been-in-Colorado-all-week Friday afternoon malaise, it was nearly 8 p.m. before the risotto was actually finished–a late dinner for us, since we like to be moving toward bedtime for the kids by then.  Fortunately, the kids were entirely uninterested in the risotto, and were happy to mainly dine on strawberries and peas from the garden, listening to the finale of Harry Potter #4 while I stirred and stirred and stirred.

So it was late when I sat down to my gorgeous (-tasting, if not -looking) dinner of ham and asparagus risotto and a lovely little salad of spring greens and snow peas from the garden.  I’d love to tell you that Steve came home from his trip and we all had a pleasant dinner where we reconnected after our week apart.  But his plane was delayed and we didn’t see him until much later.  And to be honest, at the end of the week, the girls and I are often togethered out, and are just as happy to have a little apart time.  Doesn’t fit the image of family togetherness I might like to project, but it works for us.  After all, it wasn’t too long before we were all snuggled up in bed together to sleep.  In the meantime, the girls hung out with Harry Potter, and I sat quietly enjoying my meal and the view of the falling rain watched a little Top Chef Masters.

And when Steve came home, he did the dishes. What a good man.

Harvesting Lunch.

This time of year, I always think about heading out to the garden to find something for dinner.  Mostly right now it’s an abundance of lettuce, maybe a few carrots and peas (enough to snack on, not enough to cook and eat.)  We’ve had lots of kale, and about every 2-3 days we make a nice cutting of asparagus.

I’m not sure why I haven’t been so much been thinking about harvesting food for lunch.  Maybe it’s because our days get busy, and I’m often scrambling to shove a plate of food under the kids’ noses before we race out the door for some activity.  Or that it’s usually first thing in the morning that I take a wander out to check on the garden.

But yesterday morning it was nearly noon before I headed outside to see what might be newly sprouting.  Cate was with me, and what we found was the result of warm days plus lots of rain–a big explosion of growth.  The snow peas plants were suddenly covered with pods, and the asparagus bed had tons of shoots that needed cutting.  Most excitingly, we found these:

I planted the strawberry bed last year, so this is our first season to harvest.  The plants have been looking great and producing like crazy, but have been slow to ripen completely.  But yesterday there were finally some ready.  It was literally a treasure hunt to look for them.

We didn’t want Anna to miss out on the fun (my girls are lukewarm gardeners, but enthusiastic harvesters), so we ran back inside, coming back with baskets, knives, and Anna.

The favorite activity (i.e. the one the girls are most likely to engage in mortal combat over) was cutting the asparagus…

…but there was also much fun to be had picking peas and strawberries, which have the added advantage of being able to be eaten on the spot.

One of our favorite discoveries was that we were not the only ones eating the berries.  On the outside of our fence (erected last summer to protect the garden from nibbling bunnies), we discovered that they’d managed to snack on some of the fruit.  Since most of our harvest seems to be well protected we didn’t begrudge them those few bites.

So we headed inside with our baskets full.  Anna said, “Now we can go and eat our fruit and vegetable-full lunch!”

Which is exactly what we did.

Being there.

I never imagined that I’d be co-sleeping when my kids were 9 and 6.  Back when I was pregnant with Cate, The Plan was to co-sleep for 3 months and then transition her to a crib.  But like so many of the plans that were in place before there was an actual baby to contend with, this one went quickly by the wayside.  The crib was never used for anything but storage, and Cate slept with us until she decided to move to her own bed at about 2-1/2.

And then there was Anna.  We never even set up the crib for Anna, and she slept with us from the beginning.  A much more intensely attached child than her older sister, she not only slept in the bed with us, she generally slept in full body contact with me.  And unlike her sister, who responded to nightweaning like a pro and was sleeping nice long nights by the time she was two, Anna woke and nursed at night for years. And years.  And then once she was done nursing, she kept waking up at night.  It’s only now, at 6, that she consistently sleeps through the night.

At various times we have encouraged Anna to start out the night sleeping with her sister, in the room that they share.  For a while they shared a double bed, but Anna’s gymnastics made it hard for Cate to sleep.  So we got a bunk bed for their bedroom, giving Cate a little bit more of her own space.  I’d put Anna to sleep in her bed, but she never stayed there for the whole night.  She was still waking up at night, but we just kept limping through with broken sleep for all of us.  Steve and I enjoyed getting to crawl into bed together again, and we tried to keep the faith that one of these years Anna would eventually sleep through the night.

And then there was Christmas a couple of years back.  At my brother’s house, Anna and Cate and I all slept together in one big bed.  Miraculously, night after night, my terrible sleeper slept through the night.  Although there were other contributing factors, I think that being snuggled all night between Mama and big sister made a big difference.

So we changed our plan.  Anna started out the night sleeping with me (which she preferred anyway), and suddenly she was sleeping so. much. better.  I think the transition of waking up in her room and then coming to our room had been waking her up so thoroughly that she often never got entirely back to sleep.  But when she was right there with me, I could reach out and pat her when she stirred, and she’d often go right back to sleep. I missed the time with Steve but we both figured it was more important that I was getting some good sleep, so that I would actually be pleasant to be around when we were able to be together.

At this point, Cate was still happily sleeping in her top bunk.  When Steve went out of town, we would have “sleepovers” all together in my bed, but as a rule she slept in her room alone.  I’m honestly not sure when that shifted, but eventually it became clear that she would much prefer to sleep with Anna and me.  And I saw no reason to discourage her, since whether she was there or not, I was going to have Anna with me.  There is also something especially sweet about the nighttime snuggles with Cate, who is getting to be such a big girl.  While I sometimes feel overwhelmed by Anna’s ongoing need to have me right there with her all night long, these moments with Cate feel so precious, as I know it won’t be long before she’s heading out into the world and feeling much too big for such things.

We sleep with Anna in the middle, who now happily sleeps all night long between the two of us.  Well, mostly between.  Sometimes one or the other of us finds ourself UNDER Anna.  But Cate can sometimes return that favor.

So now our bedtime routine is to crawl into bed all together, reading a favorite book.  Lately we’ve been loving the Nancy Drew series, which makes everyone excited to get into bed, but not so excited to turn off the light and go to sleep–every chapter ends with a thrilling cliffhanger.  For better or worse, there are kisses and wrangling and snuggles and kicking and antics and all measure of sister madness.  And eventually, there is sleep.

In the middle of the night, if Anna stirs, she will usually murmur “Mama…”  And while the tone of this word was once frantic, it’s now so peaceful, as if to say, “Sweet mama, you’re here, I’m okay,” before she reaches out an arm for me, finds me there, and goes back to sleep.

As a mother, I am constantly reminded of all the ways in which I am a work in progress.  I struggle with my short temper, and I wish I were more organized.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my various responsibilities.  But this, I can do.  I can crawl into bed with these two girls and just be there.  Which I think makes us all breathe a little easier.