Monday, June 4, 2012

Test Kitchen Tuesday: From Ground to Table

This year, I decided to hold no expectations from our little garden. Last year's garden did not go well at all. So while I tried to learn from that experience, and carry over the knowledge obtained to this year's garden, I maintained that I was going to put the plants in the dirt, water them, weed them, keep them free of pests, and whatever happens will happen. This year, we kept it small, both out of necessity and practicality. We no longer live on the three acres that we had use of last year. Our yard is very small, and many people would not think of growing vegetables! I think this has been to our advantage, because it is not as overwhelming and I am able to care for the garden much better. We also are using a raised garden bed and other containers, giving us more control over the soil. And finally, we did not plant seeds this year, but bought young plants already started to transplant into our garden. Again, this served to keep me from getting overwhelmed, and allows me to get more familiar with the plants I am growing before trying to get them to grow from seeds. The end result to these changes from last year-sweet (small but mighty) victory. It might not look like much, but compared to our yield from last year it is bountiful. Okay, that might be stretching it a bit- so far we have three varieties of lettuce that we are enjoying, and this week- broccoli!

We have had an extremely warm spring this year. Actually, it seems in a lot of ways that we skipped spring and went straight into a very hot summer. A lot of produce has been ready weeks earlier than is typical for our area. So I wasn't surprised when I saw beautiful broccoli florets peaking up over the leaves. I was, however, surprised at how quickly they went from beautiful broccoli florets to beautiful flowering broccoli!

At first I was disappointed. No broccoli again this year. And that is the item that the kids really wanted to grow themselves. But wait! Why not!? Are flowers of the broccoli really inedible? We eat the buds, after all! So the kids and I did a little research and found that the broccoli flower is in fact edible, and furthermore- get this- it tastes like.... BROCCOLI! So we dove into this as a learning experience for not only the kids, but also the adults. As we filled our bowl with the stalks of tiny yellow flowers, I excitedly emphasized how cool it is that we planted this broccoli, and it grew into flowers, and now we were going to eat them! The kids seemed very excited.

Now the most tame way I can think of to try an unknown food, is a soup. Perhaps because it is an unknown within a substance that has come to be so comforting- who doesn't take comfort in a nice bowl of warm soup on a chilly day or when one is sick. So that is what we will do with it. We'll make it into a soup. This idea was inspired by this recipe at There were a lot of ingredients that I did not want to include in my meal, however, so we came up with a recipe that has a bit more of a whole foods approach.

About 4 tablespoons olive oil
pat of butter
1/4 small onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 6 large leaves fresh basil
a few sprigs fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
fresh oregano
about 3-5 cups flowered broccoli, stems and leaves included, chopped coarsely
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese

Finely chop the herbs and broccoli leaves together. Heat the oil and butter in the bottom of a stock pot, over medium heat. Once the butter melts and the oil shimmers, add the onions, garlic, herbs, and broccoli leaves. Stirring constantly, cook until the onions begin to turn clear. Be careful that your oil doesn't get too hot. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the broccoli and simmer for a moment. Slowly stiir in the greek yogurt and milk, reserving 1/4 cup of milk. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk the milk into the cornstarch using a fork. Slowly stir the cornstarch mixture into the soup and bring back to a simmer until soup is thickened. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. A little at a time, sprinkle the shredded cheese into the soup and stir until melted. If the soup is too hot when you add the cheese, it will turn out grainy and lumpy. Stirring in very small amounts at a time when it is off heat will allow the cheese to melt smoothly and evenly.

Ladel into bowls and garnish with more shredded cheese and a couple of the broccoli blossoms!

You can add other veggies like carrots and potatoes, and if you want you can add bacon too. But the thing I like about this soup is that its simplicity really let the flavors of the herbs and the broccoli flowers sing. I could really taste each individual ingredient, and I don't think that would have been the case if I added more flavors or a stronger cheese. But this is very basic and you can mix it up with whatever you want or like!

We served this with a salad of the greens from our garden as well, and sausages. I was worried that the kids would not eat dinner, but they continued to clean their plates and ask for seconds, thirds, fourths... until we had none left. Salad, flowers, and all. I think that is wonderful testimony to the notion that kids will eat vegetables that they've helped grow and prepare.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Long Weekend Fun

This holiday weekend is hot, hot, hot! And for the first time in my life, I am living with no AC of any kind. I have lived with central air, I have lived with window units in just a couple of rooms, and I have lived with a unit in just one room. But never lived without having the reassurance that there is somewhere to go to escape the heat.

To cool off in our yard, we decided to break out the very popular water table. I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to also try out sidewalk painting! It is very simple, and took all of our minds off the beating heat.

What you need:
Food Coloring
Paint Cups or other containers (yogurt containers or old empty play dough containers would be great!)
Small bowl to mix the water with the color
Paint brushes
a good piece of sidewalk or driveway

In a small bowl, mix about 3-4 tablespoons of water with 6-10 drops of the desired color of food coloring. I like to mix the color into the water first, because that makes the color very even, and easier to mix in. In the paint container, put about 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch. You want there to be more water than cornstarch, however the consistency is up to your preferences. If you don't add enough water, the paint will be hard to spread on the sidewalk and will just kind of blob up. If you've ever made oobleck with your kids then you are already familiar with the reasons why! But you also don't want it to be too watery, because the paint will run all over and won't be much fun. At any rate, place the cornstarch into the container. Slowly add the colored water until you get a consistency that you like, stirring as you add. Repeat with as many colors as you wish to have. The kids had a lot of fun helping to make it.

Take it outside, and find your inner Picasso! Or, in my kids' case, Jackson Pollock!

As the sun dries the water from the mixture, the paint will start to look more chalk like.

A word of warning- food coloring WILL stain clothes. While making this and playing with it outside, I suggest the kids wear clothing that doesn't matter if it gets stained, or let them wear art shirts. This (just like sidewalk chalk) seems to be attracted to pants especially, so dress accordinlgy and don't send me an angry email that this ruined your child's best party clothes- I warned you! But this I can tell you, the FUN we had with this is worth every messy detail!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday Test Kitchen: Graham Crackers

Graham crackers are something that I have been wanting to bake with the kids for a long time. I have made several other kinds of crackers in the past, but because the ingredients are somewhat expensive and not something that I generally keep on hand, I have put it off. But I finally decided, after mulling over the guilt of the ingredients list on most store bought boxes of grahams, that it is time to try. I used Alton Brown's recipe from although that recipe meausures ingredients by weight. I thought this would be a wonderful time to let Jonah practice weighing things, until I turned on my kitchen scale and found that the batteries were dead. So I used the approximate volume measurements instead. Cooking with kids involves a lot of ingredients being spilled on the counter, half a tablespoon might end up oozing down the side of the bowl rather than in the bowl, and so on. So even though Alton is extremely precise in his measurements, I found that it is okay to eyeball things and adjust according to any ingredient mishaps. We also had to make some last minute equipment changes.

1 1/2 cup + 1 tsp graham flour
1/4 + 3 Tbl cup all purpose flour
5 Tbl sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder (aluminum free)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbl unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
4 Tbl + 2 tsp molasses
3 Tbl + 2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a bowl, combine the graham flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Mix until combined evenly.
Add the butter and use your hands to incorporate the butter with the dry ingredients. This involves squishing the butter and flour mixture between your fingers, until it is evenly incorporated and about the consistency of corn meal. You can use a food processor to do this, but ours was found to be missing a part. Plus, this is more "hands on" for the kids. (wash their hands very well, and my general rule is that any foods the kids have had their hands in, is ONLY for our own family.)
Using a stand mixer (or continuing to use the food processor if that is what you already used for the butter) add the molasses, milk, and vanilla. Start on low and gradually move to a medium high speed and mix until the dough is starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should take 30 seconds to 1 minute.
And of course, here is evidence of the "measuring mishaps" I was describing above! about 1/4 of the molasses did end up on the table, so I added what I thought looked like the amount that had been spilled. The taste was still very good, so don't sweat small spills.

Remove the dough from the mixer or food processor and shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap or place it in a zip top bag (we don't keep plastic wrap in the house, normally) and place in the fridge during naptime, or at least for a half hour.
Our dough ended up being in the fridge for quite a while- nearly five hours- because Jonah's nap went super late. When we removed it from the fridge, it was way too stiff to roll out. It needed to sit out for about 45 minutes or an hour before we could roll it. I don't think it would have needed to rest at room temperature like this if we had only let it chill for the recommended half hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Unwrap the dough and place it on top of a piece of parchment paper. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of it. Roll the dough out into a rectangular shape, about 1/8 of an inch thick. I like to use my canning headspace measurer to make sure that my dough is rolled to the correct thickness. Here you can see that it is about half way up to the 1/4 inch mark.

Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into rectangles. Don't worry about making them perfectly even, or making perfectly straight lines. If you allow your child to help with this step, monitor them closely.

Using a fork, poke each rectangle about 3 times. This will allow air to escape and keep the crackers from getting large bubbles. The kids really enjoyed this step!
Place the dough and parchment paper onto a cookie sheet and bake until the crackers rise a bit and begin to turn a bit darker brown around the edges. The original recipe says 25 minutes, but ours were starting to burn around the edges at just 15 minutes, so keep an eye on them.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Break the crackers apart along the lines and enjoy!

I would like to try replacing the molasses with honey and bananas to create a cinnamon-banana graham cracker. This is a very basic recipe that seems like it would lend itself to a few variations, although with something as plain and simple as a cracker, the chemistry can easily be thrown off by ingredient substitutions. It is definitely going to be worth bringing back into our test kitchen on another rainy day!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things Friday

1. When my toddler wraps her arms around me for a hug, and starts patting my back

2.The few moments before bedtime, when the whole family is on Jonah's bed for night time stories and lullabyes.

3. Belly laughs during an impromptu tickle session

4.Watching my children cooperatively set up a tea party, complete with pleases and thank yous

5. Seeing my son, who two years ago was diagnosed as being autistic, walk up to another child and say "Hi, I'm Jonah. Her is Evie. Let's play firefighters!"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fired From Oscar Meyer- No Weaners Here!

I can sit here and tell you that the global average age for weaning is 4 years old. I can tell you that naturally, mammals typically nurse until they get their first permanent molars- around age six for humans. I can say that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding children until the age of two years old, and that the American Acadamy of Pediatrics says that mothers are "encouraged to continue breastfeeding through the first year and beyond as more and varied complementary foods are introduced." Let me re-stress that: Through the first year and beyond. One more time: and beyond.

I could tell you that she isn't ready. I could tell you that Michael Jordan was breastfed until he was 3. I could tell you all of these things and then some. As if I have to defend the choices I have made for myself and my child.

The truth is, most often times, I do. Because this little girl:
Is no weaner. And she will also be two years old next month. Yes, I breastfeed my nearly two year old. My beautiful two year old baby girl. My baby. In many ways, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, two year olds are still babies. They still need the antibodies and nutrition found in breastmilk. They still need the reassurance and emotional stability that breastfeeding provides. They still need the quiet bonding time with their mothers.NEED. As in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If other babies and mothers find other ways that help them with these things, then that is wonderful; it works for them. Live and let live, right?

Yet when people find out that I nurse my nearly two year old, I have to defend myself and my daughter. As it has been from the start, the game of nursing is changing for us.

For example, I try my hardest not to nurse her out in public, if at all necessary. Not because I am ashamed, or because I am a "closet nurser." But because I am unsure whether or not the laws that protected me and my babies when they were infants, still protect us now that my nursling is what society calls a "toddler."

When this picture was taken while enjoying a Cleveland Indian's game at Progressive Field, the law was on our side. I could breastfeed in any public place where both I and the baby were allowed to be. We were allowed to be in the stadium, in those seats. We bought the tickets legally. No one could ask me to leave that seat for the sole reason that I was breastfeeding.

Now however, I am unsure. I cannot find specifically that it protects a child beyond infancy. And so, to avoid awkward confrontations, I try to sway her attention to other things, or find someplace very private (but still not the bathroom!) Another reason is because she is beginning to read other people's emotions and reactions to things. When people see her asking to nurse, comments are made, glares are exchanged. I don't want her to think that what she is doing- the wholesome and natural and RIGHT thing (for her)- is wrong, just because other people say it is.

And because well meaning friends and family members have said to me "you just need to do it." Let me share with you, our attempt to night wean my dear daughter. I began wondering if everyone else was right. Maybe we would all start getting good nights' sleeps if she weaned. Maybe we would all be happier. I wouldn't be so stressed during the day. Maybe, just maybe. Worth a try, I thought. The plan seemed simple. I would create timeframes during which she could nurse at night. If she woke and fussed during a time that was not within the designated nursing time, then I would hold her, cuddle her, sooth her back to sleep. The idea was that this would help us lengthen the periods of time between night feeding. It seemed to be working, so we moved onto phase two. Knocking out one nursing session.

This is where it turned sour. She not only cried during the time she wanted to nurse and was not being allowed, but she started to scream and cry at the start of bedtime too. Before our attempts to wean, we would do our night time routine (which includes nursing) lay her in her bed, and walk away. When she would wake up at night, she would nurse for 10-15 minutes, climb out of my lap and go back to bed on her own. Now that I think about it, it was relatively easy. After our attempt to wean, she screamed while we were putting her to bed. She woke up within an hour and began screaming again. She developed terrible separation anxiety, and I would have to wait by her door for her to fall asleep. If I didn't, she didn't sleep that night. She would scream. all. night.

During the day, she became very clingy. Where she was once my independent and self confident girl, she became insecure and needy.

Her whole demeanor changed.

Because we tried to wean before she was ready. My way of coping with this was to give her what I could see that she needed. We began nursing through the night again. She has decided on her own that one nursing session at night is enough. She has gone back to putting herself back to bed after only a few minutes at the breast. We are all sleeping better. I am not as stressed during the day. We are all happier. Because we did what was right for our family. Because I followed my little girl's cues. Does this mean she will go off to college breastfeeding? No. I know there is such a thing as natural weaning. It happens every day. Does this mean that I am a "slave" to my child? I certainly don't feel that way. I enjoy the bonding time. I know that soon she will be grown up. She will be interested in shoes and hair and prom... So I will continue to do for her, what she needs now.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pepper Shamrock Stamps

This morning we had eggs inside of pepper rings for breakfast, and we didn't eat all of the peppers, so I thought we should use them for a little "Luck o' the Irish" art. I have always loved St. Patrick's Day. Even though I have always lived in a place where winter lasts well into April and often even into May; even though my birthday is just two days after St. Patty's day and I was born in a blizzard... the decorations of vibrant green plants, shamrocks, spring rainbows, all lift me up and out of my winter funk. 

Most of our activities this week are themed around rainbows. I thought that would be a fun way to incorporate some learning activities into all of the fantasies of leprechauns and pots of gold. Of course as the children get older, we will be teaching them about St. Patrick, why there is a day to celebrate him. But for now we are having fun making pepper prints of shamrocks
Simply cut a pepper laterally, dip it in green paint, and use it to stamp the shape! It is a fun coincidence that the shape of the pepper, especially towards the bottom, resembles a shamrock.
Keep some damp cloths nearby to wipe paint from hands, because the smooth skin of the pepper makes it difficult to pick up with slippery paint on your fingers! I thought about cutting the top of the pepper in a way that would make a handle, but in the end decided not to go through the trouble.
Although the kids are still learning what a shamrock is, they really had a lot of fun stamping the shape of the peppers.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Moments of Beauty

When I was young, the church that my family attended would have a time for congregation members to share "joys and concerns" for which they would like to have a prayer. Every week, one particular elderly woman who was known to be quite eccentric, would stand and share her "moments of beauty" with the church. Moments, small and large, that struck her as something that was God-filled. Moments when, even just for a fleeting second, she had something beautiful in her heart.

Today was a beautiful day for a run. Mid 60's, sunny, cool breeze. My training schedule said I should only take seven miles, but instead I went for nine. And along the way, I had several moments of beauty that I would like to share. Am I becoming a kooky eccentric old woman? Well, I turn 30 this week, so I may well be on my way!
1. Passing by gardens filled with purple, white, and yellow crocuses in full bloom; tulips and daffodils appearing to be nearly ready to burst open from their buds. A tad early this year, but beautiful just the same.

2. Hearing a group of children laugh as they played baseball.

3. Running on a work of art

4. Being near the tennis courts and realizing how much I miss my tennis partner and best friend- it would have been a great day for a pick up game with a friend. It's always nice to think of an old friend when they are living across the globe.

5. Seeing an elderly couple holding hands and smooching every now and then as they walked on the path in the park. I hope Daryl and I are as affectionate towards each other as we age.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hat Counting Felt Board

Felt boards are often items that parents see in preschool classrooms and say "That would be neat to have at home!" It seems as though these fun learn-and-play items are only available to teachers or day cares. I want to show you how anyone can make a felt board for their playroom, and it only costs around $10! The one I picture below cost about $7 to make. I don't have any pictures of the process of making the board; I tried but technology hates me this week.

~Large piece of sturdy cardboard (I used a board that I found with the posterboard at my craft store)
       ~ply wood would work too, if it is thin enough to fit the frame, and would offer a more sturdy felt board.
~Large frame with no backing or glass. My craft store has a clearance rack for frames that are just the wooden     framing, for a few dollars depending on the size. The one I chose was $3
~Large sheet of white felt. These should be next to or under the smaller sheets of felt, folded and in plastic packaging.
~Hot Glue Gun

Step 1.
Cut the board to fit inside the frame. Cut the felt so that it gives a 2-3 inch border around the edges of the board (if you place the board in the center of the felt, there should be 2-3 inches of felt surrounding all sides of the board)

Step 2.
Lay the board in the middle of the felt. Cut a diagonal line from the corner of the felt to its corresponding corner of the board. Then cut a line that goes straight from each corner of the board to its corresponding straight edge of felt. So you are essentially cuting triangles out of each corner of felt, to help it wrap around the board a bit easier.

Step 3.
Fold each side of the felt around the back of the board, so that the felt is tightly fit around the board. Hot glue each side as you go.

Step 4.
Secure the felt covered board into the frame. If your frame did not come with fasteners, it can be stapled in.

You now have a home made felt board for your play room! To make the hats below, I simply cut hat shapes out of red felt, added white felt stripes with my glue gun. It was a fun counting activity for the kids during Dr. Seuss week! You can also make items for your kids to sort by color, size, or shape. And you can even create the characters and scenes from your kids' favorite books. Although that can be very ambitious, it gives children the chance to interact with literary characters and act out their story, or even change their story if they are feeling imaginative! It might not look 100%, but no one will be judging you. Chances are, your kids will be the only ones who see them, so who cares if your felt board has that "home made" edge to it. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Yertle the Turtle Stacking Blocks

Yertle the Turtle is the story of a turtle king, who wanted to rule all that he could see. He ordered all of the turtles in his kingdom to stack themselves up, so that he could see more and more and therefor rule (so he thought) more and more.

This book has been a favorite of ours this past week. The kids have been in love with turtles lately, so this seemed like a logical story to include in our Dr. Seuss week. They also have both been very interested in counting, and stacking things up. Wouldn't it be grand if we could combine all of these interests into one activity?

Find a few boxes of varying shapes and sizes. You want the basic shape to be rectangular, but it was fun to have different dimensions of rectangles to stack. Wrap each box in green construction paper or wrapping paper. I ran out of green paper, and Jonah pointed out that the turtles in the book are actually a blueish purple color, so I started using blue and purple paper as well. The color variety was a lot of fun!!!

I suggest covering the boxes with a top layer of clear contact paper. This protects them from drool, chewing, sneezing, ripping, and wearing down quickly.

Cut turtle heads, feet, and fins from construction paper and fasten them to the bodies with tape or glue. You can laminate these and then glue them on for extra strength as well. Add googly eyes if desired. (I liked the eyes, but Evelyn was insistent on picking them off. she even snuck up to our playroom during naptime, picked the turtle eyes off, and came back downstairs to give them all to me!)

Let the counting and stacking and knocking over begin!!! I made six turtles, because that was all I had the energy and time for. I am hoping to continue to add new turtles to our stack as time goes on!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thing 1 and Thing 2 craft

I got the idea from this site, and I found it on Pinterest.

This is a fun way to create the mischievous (and curiously beloved) characters from Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two. I also chose it because it provided a fun way to encourage Jonah to touch paint- something which he has quite an aversion to!

First you paint the child's hand red, leaving out the ring finger and a small circular area in the palm. Help the child stamp their hand onto the paper. This is the Thing's body.Turn the paper around, so the print you just made is now on the bottom.

Clean the red paint off of the hand and paint the palm white and fingers blue. You can also paint the very top of the hand where the palm meets the fingers, blue. Help your child position their hand to stamp it just above the body.

Allow it to dry and then use a sharpie to draw the face. Paint a white circle into the open part of the red hand print. When that is dry, write either Thing 1 or Thing 2 in the circle.

It appears in some of the pictures, that the paper I used is white. It is actually a pale yellow. Manilla, light grey or beige would also work. Something that is a bit more than plain white, but not too bright or dark or it will not work well with the bright colors.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dr. Seuss Fun with Food

Do you ever play with your food?
Do you find it puts you in a good mood
to make gravy volcanoes out of beef that's been stewed?

Then look no further, my chap
because here's a plan with a map
for ways that aren't rude
to play with your food.

For Breakfast, Green Eggs and Ham:

An oldie but a goodie! Use food dye to color scrambled eggs green. Add cubed ham, or make them into a ham omelet. It might be a good idea to include the kids in the coloring of the eggs. Some kids have an aversion to foods died strange colors, and it might help if they are the ones doing the dying!

For Snack, Cat Hat Stacks:

I came up with this idea last minute in the grocery store when I had one child begging for bananas and the other one begging for strawberries. Wash and slice a strawberry, discarding the stem and leaves. Slice a banana, and reassemble the strawberry slices, placing a banana slice between each strawberry. Hold the stack up with a tooth pick. It was harder than I thought to find strawberries and bananas that were near enough to each other in circumference for this to work. If this is a major problem for you, these would be cute as fruit kabobs as well!

For Lunch, Cat in the Hat Sandwich and his trusty sidekick "Fish":
I am very proud of this. It took me a while to plan and execute, and I am very pleased with the results.

For the cat's face- I cut a piece of white bread  into a squat oval. Then I trimmed a piece of white american cheese to be just as long as the bread, but a but more narrow. I also cut triangles to use for the ears from the scraps of cheese. I placed the cheese on top of the bread and toasted it in the toaster oven until the cheese had melted and the bread was starting to brown on the edges. I had hoped for the bread to get a bit darker when toasting, but didn't want the cheese to get beyond the "just melted" stage. After placing the cheese-bread onto a plate, I added raisins for the eyes and nose, very thin carrot sticks for whiskers, and a small piece of apple peel for the mouth. You'll see where I got the apple peel from in a second.

For the cat's hat- I cut an apple in half from stem to bottom. Then I scooped out the core and removed the stem and blossom. Using a butter knife, I scored horizontal lines across the apple skin. I then very carefully used the butter knife to peel the skin from the apple on alternating stripes. Because the Cat's hat is never empty, I put a spoonful of peanut butter into the hole where I scooped out the core.I placed this on the plate, right up against the top of the cat's face. I cut a second apple horizontally so that I had a round slice. I then cut the slice in half, to make a half circle, cut out the seeds, and placed this slice skin up, for the brim of the hat.

Serve with goldfish crackers.

Dessert, One Fish Two Fish Jello:

Prepare a box of blue Jello as directed. Pour the Jello into custard cups for chilling in individual servings. Once the Jello is set, or after dinner, the kids can choose which gummie fish to "swim" in their fish bowl. Simply push the tails of the gummie fish into the Jello. This is extremely simple, but brings so many smiles! Tip: I got the frothy sea look in the two pictured on the right by using a fork to whisk air bubbles into the liquid before chilling, or you could gently pour it into each bowl for a more glassy look.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Community in Grieving

(Warning for sensitive content. School shooting and funerals discussed; offensive language used)

What can I say about today? Today I drove through a town, which is usually the source of pleasure for me and my family. A trip to Chardon Ohio has always meant apple picking, a trip to get fresh eggs or honey. It's an idyllic northeast Ohio town, just north to where I grew up.

Today however, the apple orchards were lined with trees adorned with black and red ribbons. Signs with hearts were scattered across yards. My car navigated the winding roads, passing makeshift memorials and home made tributes. The site of the town, which usually makes me smile, brought me to tears. Such pain today. Such loss.

I parked my car on Main Street and continued to walk the rest of the way to the church. Teenagers wept openly in the streets. Mothers held their babies a little more protectively than usual. In a town where you could walk the streets for hours and not see a cop, I lost track of how many patrols I encountered. I was attending the funeral for two reasons. The first reason was, like everyone else, I had an amazing sense of grief regarding the events that took place in the beginning of the week. I had to let go of my anger, my sadness over the senseless loss of life so young. I had to join the group in letting the community know they were not alone in their grief.

On Monday February 27th, the unthinkable happened in Chardon. Mothers and fathers dropped their children off at the high school. They probably discussed the after school schedule for the day, whether or not lunches were forgotten. Maybe they talked about grades, or choice in clothes and music. Maybe they remained silent. Some of the families said good bye to their students either at home or in the school parking lot, and it was the last time they saw their child alive. Moments later, before classes began, a boy opened fire in the cafeteria. Three students were fatally wounded. One remains in serious condition and another has just been released from the hospital.

As a mother, I had to stand with this community so close to home. I cannot begin to fathom dropping my child off at school, and an hour later learning that he is dead. It is a thought that is too immense for my soul and heart.

But a second reason that sealed my decision for going was a tweet made by the infamous Westboro Baptist "Church." They declared that they would be picketing the funeral. For those of you that are unaware of the WBC, just imagine the most vulgar, inappropriate, despicable person that you possibly can. They frequently picket the funerals of victims of acts of violence, or soldiers. They spit on people entering the funeral. They call those mourning the dead "Fags, cunts, sluts, queer, dykes." Yes, I typed every one of those hateful words, because I want to share with you how low the members of this hate group are. They call a mother burying her child a slut and a whore, as she is mourning. A mother who did nothing. To say they call names is not descriptive enough to depict their black souls. And they were threatening to come to MY corner of Ohio. MY turf. Well let me tell you, Westboro Baptist Hate Group: There is no tolerance for you here.

And so I joined the hundreds of people, who out of love and support, went to lift the family up during this difficult time. We stood, surrounding the church, so that we would bear the hate slurs, the spitting, the obnoxious signs, rather than those trying to say goodbye to a son, friend, and student. We stood to show those in mourning that for every hateful soul, there are a hundred people with compassion in their hearts, ready to walk down the road of grief with them. Compassion and love won. I will not say any more about the Westboro Baptist Hate Group, other than they did not show up. Rumors, including word from a police officer, were spreading that they had been in the area, but left without sounding off at all. This was the best case scenario for us. The community was surrounded by nothing but love and solidarity.
The line of support for the victim's family went on as far as one could see

As ten o'clock neared and everyone in the crowd was suffering from frozen toes and shaky knees from the cold, the motorcade arrived. I was amongst a group of students who did not feel they were emotionally prepared to be inside the church, but wanted to pay their respects. Upon seeing the hearse, a young girl standing next to me burst out in tears. "I just don't know why!?" she sobbed. I put my hand gently on her back. "We're here with you." I softly said. The woman to her other side placed her hand next to mine "We're all here with you." She reiterated. The girl calmed and we hugged. She said "That was all I needed; I'm ready to go home now. I don't know who you are, but I love you for coming." We hugged again briefly and she broke away from the group, walking toward her home, still sobbing slightly.

And that is all that I can really say about today. As everyone finds a new normal, as parents regain the courage to say good bye to their children in the morning, as students battle the grief of losing friends, of being in a place where suddenly they were threatened, as we all find our footing on this path that has been laid out- Chardon, we are with you crying, and we are with you healing. We are all with you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Happy Birthday to an Icon

One of my heroes while growing up was, and always will be, Theodor Seuss Geisel. He was of course better known by his children's book pen names Dr. Seuss and Theo LeSieg. On Friday, March 2nd, would have been the late children's author's 108th birthday. This date has also been reserved as "National Read Across America Day" during which many communities are holding read-a-thons and attempts to break records for reading related events.

I had wanted to share with you a whole week of activities that I have planned to celebrate my favorite author. Unfortunately, my ancient laptop has finally bit the dust and my computer access is highly limited at the moment. So for now, I will share with you some of the ideas that I have planned. I will make my best attempt to post our personal experiences with the activities through the week. I have categorized the activities with the books that they go with. A good starting point, before you jump right into these, would be to check out the websites:
and (I will refer to this further on in the post!)
Oh the Places You'll Go
~Discuss different jobs that your child could have when they grow up. Glue a paper doll die cut to a piece of paper and have your child decorate it as what they would like to be or do.  
~Make a balloon wall! Cut balloon shapes out of construction paper and have your child look through magazines to find pictures of things they would like to see or places they would like to go. Help them cut out the pictures and paste them to the balloons collage style, and hang them on a wall where they can look at it and be proud

The Butter Battle Book (my personal favorite) AND/OR The Sneetches
~Use multicultural paper doll die cuts to discuss how some cultures are different and do things in a different way. Have your child decorate the dolls using different materials. Then emphasize that even though we do things differently, and might look different sometimes, we all do things that are similar too! We all eat, sleep, play games, love our mommies, feel sad sometimes and angry sometimes. If you feel it is appropriate, discuss including everyone in games, even if they are different.

Cat in the Hat
Okay, so what would a week of celebrating Dr. Seuss be without giving a nod to this beloved book?
~Play a rhyming game. Look at some of the words in the book and see how many rhyming words you can come up with
~Make rhyming cubes. I haven't worked the details out on this one, but my plan is to make paper cubes, oragami style, and use a sharpie to write letters on each side of the cube. The child can then build a word using the cubes, and flip the first cube onto different sides to make a different word that rhymes with the original.
~ Pin the Hat on the Cat. Use a computer to print a large picture of the Cat minus his hat. If you are artistic like I am not, you can always free hand it onto posterboard as well! Make a hat or two and use two sided tape or single sided tape looped over to make the back sticky (or if you want a version that will last, you could use felt and velcro!) Play the game as you would pin the tail on the donkey
~Cat Hats. Cut a middle out of a paper plate, so you have an open circular strip. Help your child use construction paper to make a white and red top hat. You might want to make the top hat shape, and allow your child to paste the colored stripes on. If you want to do something different, offer a variety of colors! Staple the hat to the middle of the paper plate strip. Use a paper hole punch to punch holes in the ends of the plate and tie string to it, to help you size the hat to your child.

Yertle the Turtle
~Make several turtle "blocks" out of shoe boxes, tissue boxes, small packaging boxes (the kind you might get from Amazon etc) Use green construction paper to cover the box. Allow your child to help decorate the "shells" and cover with clear contact paper to add durability. Make turtle heads, arms, legs, and tails from different shades of green and brown paper. Cut them out and laminate them. Hot glue them to the boxes to make the turtles. Have fun making your stack of turtles as tall as you can! Have your child count as you stack together! It is more fun if the turtles are several different sizes.
~ Paper Plate Turtles. Place a paper plate in front of your child right side up. Help them cut and paste turtle arms, legs, a head, and a tail, to the edges of this plate facing up, or you can create the turtle parts yourself and have the child place them if they are younger. Place a second paper plate over top of this one, bottom side up, and staple the plates together. Older children can paper mache the "shell" and paint it, and younger children can use geometric self adhesive "foamies" to decorate their shells. Add some dried rice or beans to the plate before stapling them together if you would like to make this into a musical instrument

My Many Colored Days
~Color Felt Board. Create different colored felt items for your felt board. If you don't think you could have one, trust me it is easy! Cover a piece of poster board with a large piece of felt. Put it into a cheap off the shelf frame from a craft store. Voila, felt board! For this activity, create items in groups similar to color. A strawberry, a red shoe, a red flower etc. Then do the same for other colors- a blue crayon, a blue bird etc. Encourage your child to sort the items into different colors on the felt board. Really all you need is felt (found at a craft store) some scissors, and a glue gun.
~Feeling Faces. Use a few blank sheets of paper to draw the outline of a face. Ask your child to draw a sad face, a happy face, etc. Label each face with what emotion it is. Use clear contact paper to laminate the pictures, and bind them together with a loose binder ring (found at office supply stores.) Use the book your child made to discuss emotions and what to do when he is feeling sad, angry, happy etc.
~Feeling Magnet Board. This is something else a lot of people think they don't have the resources to have in their playroom. If you have a cookie sheet, you have a magnet board! Or if you want a fancy one, you could buy a piece of sheet metal from a home improvement store and frame it similar to the felt board above! At office supply stores you can usually find magnetic business card sheets for printers. Use those and construction paper to create facial features in different emotions. A smily face, angry eyes,sleepy eyes, a few different noses. Let your child make up their own faces! (Tip- you can use the computer to help with the creation of your facial features!!!)

The Lorax
Okay, yeah I'm getting on the Lorax train. Quite frankly, I'm pretty pumped about the movie that will debut on Dr. Seuss's birthday. Yes, I will attempt to take my children to see it, since Jonah has no school on Friday. It will be their first theater movie, so we'll see how much of it we get to enjoy!
~Talk about things we can do every day to "save the earth." Include the children in separating recycling, turning out the lights and electronics, switch to dish cloths and rags for the day instead of using paper towels. Depending on the age of the child, there are a lot of activities. Do a little online searching for kid-friendly eco activities!
~ Go to the Lorax Project website I have listed above. Click on "Info" and a list of places that need help are listed. Choose a place and explore it. Do an internet search with your child to find pictures of animals or plants in these areas that are endagered because of humans. Have your child draw a picture of the animal. Talk about ways that you can help. Talk about things that you might already be doing.

Bartholemew and the Oobleck 
~Make your own oobleck! Help your child pour some corn starch into a mixing bowl. Add water while stirring until you have a thick liquidy, but not watery, substance. Notice that it spreads out and acts like a liquid when you are not touching it, but if you poke it hard or try to throw a bit of it down, it acts as a solid! Even if your child is too little to understand all of that, they will still have fun playing with this stuff! To dispose, scrape as much as you can into the trash can, and then rinse the bowl. It will clean up with water from the table!  

The Birthday Bash:
On Friday we are going to have a Dr. Seuss birthday party. We will start the day with real green eggs and ham. I will let the kids help dye the eggs. (although in the book, they are pictured as sunny side up eggs with green yolks- I still haven't figured out a way to replicate this, so my kids get green scrambled eggs, with cubed ham in them)

We will then play our Pin the Hat on the Cat game and make our Cat Hats before reading our pledged 20 minutes together and having lunch. I am not completely decided on lunch yet, but I would like to somehow fashion the Cat in the Hat's head and hat out of sandwich stuffs. Tomatoes and ham for the hat stripes, cheese and olives for the face. It is still a thought in progress. But lunch will definitely include a one fish two fish jello dessert! Then we will be heading out to the movies, sporting our newly made Cat Hats.

That is the plan, anyway! I'll try my hardest to post the details of how certain activities went!

Are you planning to do anything special for Dr. Seuss's birthday? Leave a comment and let us know what!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Encouraging Children to Explore The World

 It's no secret that I love to travel. My bucket list is speckled with places to see and things that I want to do thousands of miles away. The appeal that travel has on me stems from the fact that there are so many amazing things in this world; cultures rich with history; plants, animals, and people, all waiting to tell a story. I have always known that I wanted to instill this curiosity about the world into my children, but how do we go about it with children so young?

This past week, we have been on vacation with my husband's family, in a place that is very different from where we live. Although Arizona, at first thought, may not seem like such a different culture from Ohio- after all, it is a relatively short plane ride away, in the same country, with the same chain restaurants and big box stores- Daryl and I took this opportunity to focus on the rich cultural diversities that we can find right here in our native country. When it comes to the landscape, Arizona is noticeably different for the children. Jonah literally thought that our plane had landed on another planet. Of course to a three year old, "Phoenix" sounds an awful lot like "Venus."

While commuting, we pointed out the mountains, the buttes, the desert ground and plants that were strange to us, things that we just don't see in our little corner of Ohio. We met with a family that Daryl knew from college and encouraged the children to play and talk to their children; they met the family chickens and played games that their friends don't play back home.

We also chose activities and destinations that encouraged them to learn about things different from what we know at home. We fed a giraffe at the zoo, and came nearly nose to nose with monkeys (while these creatures are not a part of Arizona wildlife, these are still experiences we cannot gain at home.)

We got up close and personal (but not TOO close) to desert wildlife and plants at the desert botanical gardens. We learned about cacti.

We met a ground squirrel.

We said hello to a cactus dwelling bird.

We even met some friends that were familiar.

I encouraged them (unsuccessfully) to try foods that had culinary roots from nearby Mexico, and fruits and veggies that were grown local to the area where we were staying, although we also had familiar comfort foods available in our kitchen at the resort. And above all, they were encouraged to just be kids and have fun!

I know they will never remember the specifics. They will not remember the names of the animals, they will not remember seeing a cactus, they will not remember looking at a mountain in the distance and shouting "A volcano!!! YIKES!" But what I hope they are beginning to develop that will stick with them throughout their lifetime, is a sense of wonder and curiosity about how people live and why cultures behave a certain way; I hope that the seeds have been planted that will grow into a drive to explore a world full of interesting stories and places. And I hope that this curiosity and drive will foster a life of compassion and understanding for cultures and individuals that are a bit different from what we have grown used to in Ohio.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Chocolate-Covered Strawberry" Oatmeal Pancakes

Valentine's Day occurred in our house a few days late because of our vacation to Arizona. It crossed my mind to pack everything up and take it with us to create a fun day for the kids, but we decided to pack very lightly and all of our pink, red, and heart shaped items were left at home. I wasn't going to let the kids miss out on their day of fun special treats, though! They don't know that the rest of the world celebrated love and romance nearly a week ago! My favorite part of the day is probably breakfast, because the kids are always so delighted to find heart shapes somewhere on their plate! The oatmeal in these pancakes make them a little more hearty (pun intended) than regular pancakes, and also replaces wheat flour and sugar in the overall volume of pancake that you are eating. The chocolate chips are optional; I thought I'd throw them in as a special treat on a holiday!

1 batch of your favorite pancake batter
1/4 cup of skim milk
1-2 cups quick oats
2 cups frozen strawberries, mostly thawed and chopped coarsely
about 1 cup chocolate chips

Prepare your favorite pancake batter or mix. Add in the extra milk, oats, and strawberries. Mix until well incorporated, with 3-5 strokes of your spoon. Do not over mix the batter, it may be lumpy, just be sure that the oats and strawberries are evenly distributed.

Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium-low heat until a pat of butter or drop of water "dances" on it. Butter the cooking surface well. Use cooking spray or butter to lubricate the sides of  metal heart shaped cookie cutters. Place a metal heart shaped cookie cutter on the cooking surface and use a spoon to place batter within the cookie cutter, making sure that batter covers all corners. Drop a few chocolate chips evenly throughout the surface of the batter. When the top of the batter appears "play dough-ish" and bubbly, use tongs to hold the cookie cutter as you push the shape out gently with a butter knife. Use caution here, the cookie cutter will be HOT! Once the shape is out of the cookie cutter, use a spatula to flip it over. Cook for another minute or so, until the bottom of the shape is slightly browned and the chocolate chips are melted. You may need to use the butter knife to trim any stray batter.

You can also use this method to cook eggs into heart shapes, but Jonah has been asking for pancakes for breakfast all week.