Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Letter To A Home Town - The Science of Thanksgiving

Twisted Paper Bag Thank You Tree
The Science of Thanksgiving

Ahhh Thanksgiving: that glorious celebration of hedonism in honor of our foremothers and forefathers. What a wonderful way to pay homage! 
That could be sarcasm, but for once it is not. (Though it is easy to poke fun at a holiday marked by excessive consumption followed by napping.) The way I see it the hedonic quality of the day has the potential to be a positive thing. I know it doesn’t sound that way, but hear me out. There is some science to what I am saying.
Hedonism is, by definition, the belief that pleasure and happiness are the most important goals in life. This doesn’t sound so bad by itself, but hedonism is often associated with self-centered excessive behaviors in the quest for happiness. That is the downfall part. Happiness is a matter of perspective and some people are bound to overdo it.
In psychology there is a theory related to this called hedonic adaptation. In laymen’s terms it goes something like this. Everyone has a baseline of happiness. We hit that baseline by doing what we always do. If we experience significant positive or negative things it will impact our level of happiness, but only so long as those things do not become the norm. If they do become the norm (doing what we always do), we acclimate and that new normal becomes what is needed to achieve base happiness. It is a bit like jumping into a pool. Even if it seemed cold at first, you get used to the water.
This of course begs the question, if we always return to a stasis then how do we achieve greater happiness? One sure way is to actively plan out positive experiences that break normal patterns. This is where Thanksgiving fits in.
Not only is Thanksgiving an invitation to break from our normal routine, there is an increasing body of research pointing to gratitude as a vehicle for happiness. It is being found that people who consistently practice gratitude have lower blood pressure, higher immune systems, feel less isolated and experience more optimism, joy and happiness. That’s right – when on a hedonistic quest for pleasure and happiness it will serve your purpose to show appreciation for what you have and those who helped you out along the way!
I encourage everyone, when you get together with family and friends this week (and in your everyday), raise the bar. Make sure the people in your life that matter hear that from you. Tell a story of how someone right there at the table made a positive influence on you. Make a poster of things you are thankful for and invite everyone to add to it. Let grace last the whole meal instead of hold up dinner. Most of all, let your quest for happiness be laced with gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
               I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Neighborhood Beautification Projects

I love our apartment, but the block that we live on is ugly. It is under an elevated train. It is poorly lit. Our front door has been graffiti tagged (along with most of our neighbors). There aren't any trees. But I love our apartment. I said that right? Tucked in behind the barber shop, with the mural of the dolphins, and the chickens in the back yard; this apartment feels right. It feels like home. I've tried to tell myself that it doesn't matter that outside the front door leaves much to be desired... But it does. So this summer I decided I'd change it at least a little bit; give our block some love and color and give the people who pass by a reason to smile.
No place is ugly where there are smiles.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

W is for...

Watercolor Ws
We have started doing letter days a few times a week. We aren't doing them in any particular order. Instead I ask Figlet what letter she wants to do and we talk about possible things that we could do with that letter the night before. The short planning time can be a challenge, but it keeps the lesson grounded in real life examples in our everyday. Here are a few pics from our W day.
A White Whale on the Wall

Watering the plants

And herself

Washing toys in the Watertable

We also took a walk, danced to the Wiggle Song (Yo Gabba Gabba's Hold Still), waved to our neighbor, and read Where's Walrus by Stephan Savage.
It was a Wet, Warm & Wonderful  W day!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Building a House - Little Kid Project

Building a House
Age: 24 Months - 5 Years (younger ones need more supervision)
Time: 15 min (+ Prep)
Theme: Houses, Homes, Construction
Books: A Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic & The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster
Heavy Construction Paper or Card Stock (for background)
Construction Paper (for roof, door, windows)
Craft Sticks
White Glue
Adults get to use Scissors
Prep: Precut roof, door & windows. For the roof make a 9” square from a standard (9 x 12) sheet of construction paper then fold into a triangle twice- this will create score lines to cut along for 4-1/2” right triangles. The remaining edge of the sheet can be cut for rectangular doors and windows of assorted sizes.
Activity: Each child gets a sheet of heavy paper, roof, a door, a few windows, several craft sticks and white glue. Let construction begin! Remember: houses come in all different shapes and sizes, so there is no right or wrong to the construction.   
Notes/Tips: Older kids can practice their scissor skills by cutting the pieces themselves. Craft sticks may slide while the glue is wet so it is best to let this project dry flat. To help portion glue put it in a tray or cup and apply with a paintbrush.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Peach Plum Honey Jam

Peach Plum Honey Jam

4c combined Peaches and Plums (I used 2 parts peaches 1 part Italian plums)
2T Lemon Juice
1c Apple Juice
1pkg No/Low Sugar Pectin
1c Honey (I used wildflower)

Prepare the fruit: pit but leave the skins on then either chop small by hand or in a food processor on pulse.

Mix together fruit, lemon juice, apple juice & pectin in a large pan. Bring to a heavy boil, stirring continuously.

Stir in honey. Return to a heavy boil for 3-5 minutes again stirring continuously.

Skim any foam, then can it up in 1/2 pint hot sterile jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10 min.

 Makes about 4 jars

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Letter Recognition Activity with Water Colors

One of the things we have been working on this summer is letter recognition - by sound, sight and name. 

An activity we tried that was a lot of fun was an Alphabet Seek and Find that I designed (sort of like the activity I wrote about here).

I prepared a 12 x 18 paper by dividing it into 2" squares in white crayon, then entered the letters of the alphabet, her name, numbers 1 - 12, etc. also in white crayon. Then she used watercolors to 'discover' what was hidden on the paper.

As she went along we came up with words that started with each letter, guessed what letter could be found next - sometimes skipping ahead a few spaces and guessing what letter and numbers would be there - And of course it was great practice for fine motor skills and color mixing too.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Magic Wands - Little Kid Art Project

Magic Wands

Age: 18 Months – 5+ Years (younger ones need more supervision)

Time: 10 min (+ Prep)

Theme: Magic

Books: The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

Adhesive Backed Felt or Craft Foam
Yarn & String Scraps
Adults get to use Scissors

Prep: Fold felt/foam and cut doubled shapes for wand tops (roughly 1”). Leave the folded edge intact (this way the pieces are more easily folded closed). Cut yarn and string into various lengths 4” – 12”

Activity: Each child gets a chopstick, a felt/foam shape and several pieces of yarn/string. Take the backing off of the felt/foam and place the top of the chopstick in the middle of the sticky side (littlest artists will need help with this). Choose what types of yarn and string your magic will travel on best. Add them to the sticky side too. When you have enough magic strands, close the wand top. Practice your magic. (Don’t forget to change everyone back to their original form before dinner!)

Notes/Tips: Kids who are learning scissor skills can practice on the yarn & string. String cuts best when held taunt, so this is also an opportunity for teamwork. In a group setting, magic wands can be used as ‘talking sticks’, indicating whose turn it is to speak. Foam stickers also work as wand tops.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Letters to a Home Town - My Tweenager

My Tweenager on a Family Outing
My Daughter the Elder just had a birthday. She turned twelve. It was a pretty standard birthday, but to hear her tell it, it was a life changing event. On that day she was thrust, (or maybe she leapt) over the threshold of childhood. Now she is an almost-but-not-quite-may-as-well-be-close-enough-can’t-you-just-say-I-am-a teen. Apparently being called a tween when you are twelve just isn’t cool.
Not much that I do is cool these days. She lives in perpetual fear that I am going to embarrass her. When she invites friends over she makes me swear that I’ll behave. When the doorbell rings she gives me that look before she answers. She takes phone calls into another room just in case I decide to play the peanut gallery and make comments on the side. I am a high risk of anti-cool.
Now that she is twelve she is making it abundantly clear that if I ever want the chance to hang out with my big girl again, I had better shape up. Peer pressure is not limited to her fellow classmates; she is muscling me. No more fart jokes. Adults aren’t supposed to think those are funny. The wardrobe; it needs some serious adjustments. And just because you know what the Harlem Shake is DOES NOT mean you can demonstrate in public!
There are of course exceptions. It is permissible to hang out at home - when no one else is around, and she isn’t on the phone, or the computer, or tablet. We can go to the store together - as long as I am buying the items of her choosing. And we can do ‘other stuff’ as long as it is far, far, far, far from home so that the chance of bumping into any of her classmates is absolutely nil.
She is, of course, making her own way into awesomeness. At twelve, it is all about the look. She has dipped into the wardrobe that her big brother left behind; freaking the tomboy style. Her short tousled hair now has a red flare thanks to some temporary dye (next week it may be purple or green). Most importantly she now has the ultimate teen accessory; for her birthday she got a phone. (This gift would have elevated me into the ranks of coolness – If I have made it – but I didn’t. The phone came from her dad thus buying him forgiveness for being seen together in public any time soon).
To spite all of the fresh effort being dedicated to cultivating cool, that day when she turned twelve wasn’t the start of it. My Daughter the Elder has been that way for a while now. She likes sushi. She is a purple belt in mixed martial arts. She gives great hugs. And she has a wonderful sense of humor. (Don’t tell anyone but sometimes she even laughs at my fart jokes.)
I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Swiss Chard with Polenta & Egg – A Very CSA Dinner

Our CSA season kicked off this week and our first share featured Swiss chard, garlic scapes and onions. I had tried this recipe with the polenta we got from our winter CSA and some frozen greens so I was excited to change it up and make it with everything super fresh. The results were delicious!
Swiss Chard with Polenta & Egg
The Polenta Part
3/4c Polenta
1c Milk
2c Water
1t Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/4c Grated Parmesan Cheese
Bring milk, water and butter to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, then slowly pour in the polenta, stirring briskly so it doesn’t get lumpy. Simmer for about 20min stirring regularly. Add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese in the last few minutes.
The Swiss Chard Part
+/- 1/2lb Swiss Chard Washed with stems removed and ripped up
2 Green Onions chopped
1 or 2 Cloves Garlic (Or a few Garlic Scapes if you are lucky enough to have them) chopped fine
Olive oil or butter for the pan
Salt & Pepper to taste
Sauté onions and garlic, then add in the Swiss chard. Cook until tender. Salt and pepper to taste.
The Egg Part
1 or 2 eggs
Fry sunny side up over low heat with a lid or over easy if you are good at flipping
The Presentation
Stack it all up, starting with the polenta, then chard then egg. Take a picture – because that is what CSA hipster foodies do – or you can skip that step and just enjoy!
Inspired by a recipe on http://www.alexandracooks.com

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sand Paper Castles - Little Kid Art Project

Life has been quite busy lately so I haven't been posting projects as regularly as we have been making them. One project that we did were sand paper castles. The project was a great success so I made sure to snap a few pics. About a week later I saw this Kiwi Crate post... I guess great minds think alike.

Theme: Summer, The Beach, Sand Castles

Book Ideas: A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, Hamsters to the Rescue by Ellen Stoll Walsh, The Sand Castle Contest by Robert Munsch (older kids)

Heavy Grit Sandpaper (1 sheet should be enough for 4 - 6 kids)
Background Picture (we found this stock pic) or plain paper works too
Glue Stick
Adults and Big Kids get to use Scissors

Prep: If using one, print picture to use as background. Cut sandpaper into simple geometric shapes in a variety of sizes no greater than 3". Be sure to create a few semi-circles for bridges and narrow rectangles for towers.

Activity: Each kid gets a background, a glue stick and several castle pieces. Design your own castle! Does it have a draw bridge? A moat? Towers with high spires? Maybe there is more than one on your beach. Let your inner architect play!

Notes/Tips: Bigger kids can cut their own pieces. This can easily be a scrapbook page project used along with photos from your own day at the beach.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Paper Pig Puppet - Little Kid Project

Paper Pig Puppet
Age: 18 Months - 5 Years (younger ones need more supervision)

Time: 10 min (+ Prep)

Theme: Pigs

Books: Pigs to the Rescue by John Himmelman, Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems
Pink Construction Paper
Extra Small Paper Bag (beverage size)
Glue Sticks
Adults get to use Scissors

Prep: From the pink paper cut 2 triangle ears and an oval for a snout. For the hooves cut 4 rectangles about 1” x 2” then add a small notch at the end of each. For the tail use a circle about 1-1/2” cut into a spiral.

Activity: Each child gets a small bag, 2 ears, 4 hooves, a snout and a tail and a glue stick for putting it all together. Once assembled, trade the glue stick for crayons. Add eyes, nostrils, spots, clothes, mud, anything you like. Then it is time for a pig party!

Notes/Tips: Older kids can practice their scissor skills by cutting the pig pieces out themselves. Beverage size paper bags are just the right size for little hands, but you can use lunch size bags too, just make the pig pieces bigger.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Parsnip Morning Muffins

Still have some parsnips hanging around in your fridge from your winter CSA share? I found an unusual recipe in a seed catalog from Baker Creek (http://www.rareseeds.com/) that is just the thing. Of course, I had to give it my own spin. I hope that you enjoy!

Parsnip Morning Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
1 > 1-1/2c Raw Parsnip finely grated
3/4c Coconut Milk
1/2c Oil (can be coconut oil but not required)
1/4c Apple Sauce (can be replaced by more oil)
1 Egg
1/2c Sugar or Honey (omit applesauce if using honey)
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Orange Zest
2c Flour (I used a mix of white and wheat)
1/2c Grated Coconut (optional)
Preheat oven to 400
Mix up all the wet stuff then fold in the dry ingredients. Spoon into lined or greased muffin tins.

Bake about 25 minutes.

These smell great warm but taste far better after they have cooled completely.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Watercolor Seek & Find

The Figlet has been enjoying hide-and-seek more than ever lately, so the last time we got out the water colors we made a little game of it.
I used a white crayon to draw hearts all around the paper before I gave it to her for painting. She was delighted every time she found one!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Love You Little Bit Purple

"I love you little bit purple!" she tells me with her head tucked under my chin and arms wrapped as far around as she can reach.
I do not know how or why she decided that colors would be the means by which she measures love. It has been that way almost since she learned to recognize them by name. Who am I to argue? It is not as though I have a better system to offer. No matter how wide I open my arms, how high I reach, how many kisses I dispense, I could never accurately describe or measure my love for her. Color seems as good of a way as any to quantify. 
"I love you little bit orange." I tell her in return. "Yeah" she mumbles into my chest "and a whole lot green."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Kid Led Science with a Balloon

It started with a red balloon. We went out to dinner for Valentine's and the Figlet, being all cute and stuff, received it from the waiter (I think she won him over when he spotted her sampling the Rainbow Roll).

To spite her insistence on holding it herself and the tantrum that ensued when a loop was put in the string, the balloon made it safely home via the train. From a mom perspective that was surprising in itself, but what followed was the truly amazing part. It was nothing short of... Science!

First she tied the balloon string around her bag to see if it would fly. It didn't. Concluding that it must be too heavy, she dumped the contents onto the floor and tried again. Still too heavy. So she proceeded to test:

All the 'people' that were in her bag
(who might want to go to the moon)

A small wooden ornament
Which flew!
Her and I on a chair
(She said I was too heavy)
Her juice
When Daddy came home she demonstrated
by testing his juice
Her toothpaste

Then the wooden ornament again
Because it is so cool when it works!

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Make a Secret Message Card

 I was going to make these with the school age kids I work with today, but a snow storm got in the way. I was really excited that they were going to be able to use this process for Valentines cards. Unfortunately the next time we meet will be after the holiday. Sigh...
The idea is to use Alphabet Noodles  to create cards that contain secret messages that can be revealed by rubbing over the area with a crayon. The card itself is like any basic hand made card, but the message is spelled out in pasta then hidden under an extra layer of paper. The lighter weight the 'cover' paper the more clearly the message shows when you create the rubbing, so be sure to use 20# (copy paper weight) or lighter.
A test rubbing made with heavier paper


Letter to a Home Town - The Seemingly Endless Journey of Potty Training

Our sleep anywhere girl...
It is never going to end! I am almost sure of it: Potty training is an everlasting process and I am destined to have a key role in keeping that little bottom clean for all of eternity. I know it isn’t true, but gads, it sure does feel that way. We have been actively potty training for more than half of the Figlet’s short life!
The duration is, in many ways, our own fault. The interest was there early, so we jumped at the opportunity. We set the potty up in back corner of the kitchen (the room central to it all). We had a few no pants days. Much to our surprise, it worked. It wasn’t 100% but she started using the potty pretty regularly. It was cause for celebration! We danced. We sang. We composed odes to the long forgotten diapers of yore. But then the weather got cold. Pants became more essential. She had trouble getting them down. More importantly, Figlet got bored and digressed. She wasn’t as ready as we’d hoped.
Sometimes I think that those guys that wear their pants down around their thighs are mocking me. They know how much bare bottom I have seen. Somehow they sense it. They know how happy I would be to never again have to deal with anyone rushing with pants round knees, leaving a dribble trail en route to the potty. They sense my fleeting hope of it ever ending and threaten to drop trou just to rub it in.
When warm weather arrived, her interest began to rekindle. The dusty potty in the kitchen corner saw increasingly regular use. The diaper count dwindled to half what it had once been, remaining essential only for overnights and outings. The potty traveled with us when we went away for a few days but was largely ignored. Using the potty was a home thing, which was progress. But then it wasn’t. It was just a stand still.  
When it comes to potty training, my present self laughs at the self of the recent past. You thought THAT was going to be the last case of diapers you’d buy?! You thought that pull ups would be anything more than poorly fitting diapers that are a pain to get on? You thought that calling training pants ‘fancy pants’ it would be incentive to keep them dry? You thought that you’d be done with this by now? Bwah, ha, ha! You have been through this before! You should have known that the Figlet would dash such dreams into a puddle on the floor - repeatedly!
I do know that potty training won’t last forever. The Figlet is making progress again. At home and on short outings ‘fancy pants’ are the rule. Accidents happen. When they do, I give our washing machine a little hug, the then remind myself the potty training golden rule: It will be over before her college applications are due.
I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hummus made from Orange Lentils (That Insist on Being Called Red)

Why are they called Red Lentils? They are obviously Orange!
I got tahini in my Christmas stocking but seeing as Santa didn't bring any chick peas I hadn't made hummus yet. Today I came across a recipe for red lentil hummus on www.chow.com  and decided to try it out. Of course I can't leave any recipe as is, so below is my version. I must say, it came out quite good!

Hummus made from Orange Lentils (That Insist on Being Called Red)
1c Red Lentils
2c Water
2 Cloves Garlic
4T Tahini
4T Olive Oil
1/4c Lemon Juice
Dash Red Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper to taste
(I used sea salt and a fresh ground pepper mix)

Bring water and lentils to a boil then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils can be easily mashed. Drain any excess water that remains (there won’t be much). Allow the lentils to cool a bit. Peal and crush garlic. Add them to lentils along with the tahini, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir vigorously with a fork or a wire whisk until the mixture is creamy. Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Can be served at room temperature or refrigerated for later use.

Hummus is UGLY But Soooo Yummy!