Friday, October 21, 2011

Five... going on retired auto worker.

This week my sweet fella turned five years old. I can't believe how much our lives have changed since my "machine guy" came along. I'm so happy to be fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with Aidan, Adelaide and Annalise. The time goes by so quickly; but, I can honestly say that I have been there for just about every moment. Now, I do plenty of complaining about all the things I have to do everyday and I am definitely not the most patient of moms; but, the truth is, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Everyday is truly an adventure with my crazy troupe. They are always up for anything and the best buddies a mom could hope for.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oodles of Noodles

My children LOVE their noodles. Aidan takes them with butter, Addie takes them any way and they both will sprinkle their own cheese on, so don't even THINK about trying to help. They like noodles of all shapes, sizes and colors. The only constant is that no matter how much I cook, there is never enough. A box of spaghetti used to make three dinners for Matt and me. Now, a box isn't even enough for one family dinner!

A few weeks ago, we decided to make our own pasta. I love homemade pasta and it is so simple to make. I use my mom's old hand-me-down pasta maker and it works beautifully. Pasta machines can be a great garage sale find if they're clean and rust-free. I know pasta maker attachments are available for mixers; but, I've never tried those. You can also use a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta maker.

I use a really simple recipe from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. Most pasta recipes are pretty similar. I've tried several and this one turns out consistently great pasta. It's also quick and easy. Just make a well in 2 cups of flour and add to it 2 eggs plus 2 additional egg yolks and mix with a fork. You may need to add a small amount of water if the dough is too dry. Knead the dough lightly, wrap it in plastic and let it sit for an hour. Halve the dough and feed it through the widest setting on your pasta machine, flouring as needed. Continue to feed the dough through narrower settings until you're happy with the thickness. You can now either feed it through the noodle blades or cut it by hand. Toss your noodles with flour to keep them separated. Fresh pasta will cook much more quickly than dried and should be cooked right away.

Personally, I find it's always best to have a buddy (or three) around when you're making pasta. For this pasta-making party, I fed the dough through while Addie turned the crank. Aidan manned the camera and Annalise, less than happily, worked the peanut gallery.

A Blue Hat with a Red Button

A few weeks ago, Aidan accompanied me to the craft store. He's always up for a good Joann's run. We were wandering around looking at all the fun treasures when he informed me that he was going to need a new "fall hat". He calls it a "fall hat" because last year's hat was autumn leaf-colored. He very specifically requested a blue hat with a red ceramic button. We found a pretty blue, wool blend yarn on sale and a highly-overpriced red ceramic button.

I used a super simple pattern from my favorite hat book, Itty-Bitty Hats by Susan B. Anderson. The book has tons of awesome hats. Many are beyond my skill level; but they are fun to look at nonetheless. I've made several hats for the kids from this book. I'm looking forward to trying some of the tiny baby hats for Annalise this winter.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bees and Ducks

Our school days and weeks have been flying by quickly. With Aidan's increased workload, Adelaide's new participation and Annalise's frequent need for snacks and snuggling, the hours go by very quickly around here. I have been trying to post a weekly wrap up for our school work; but, I'm afraid I've slipped a few weeks behind.

For the end of September, we read The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco. The kids both enjoyed the book. We are big honey bee fans around here! Set in Michigan, the story gave us the opportunity to learn about our state's geography and symbols. We also studied onomatopoeia, stringed instruments and, of course, honey bees!

Last week, we read Daniel's Duck by Clyde Robert Bulla and learned about artists and the artistic process. We talked about the sort of activities we could work on over the long winter indoors. Plans were made to craft items to enter in our favorite summer fair. We also practiced a little "play doh carving".

Over the past two weeks, we finished the remainder of Aidan's review work in letter sounds and math. He's very enthusiastic about learning to read and can't wait to work on some new math skills.

Most exciting of all, Aidan began drum lessons. He has wanted to learn to play the drums for a long time. He received a nice drum set from my parents last year; but, I thought he was still a little too young for formal lessons at the time. We just finished our third lesson and couldn't be happier with our awesome instructor and everything that Aidan is learning!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

16, 17, 18... 41.

The Iron Crafters have been very busy over the past few months. The last challenge I participated in was #18. They are all the way up to #41 at this point. I have been following all of their challenges and enjoying seeing the results each week. I've even had some great ideas; but, I just couldn't seem to get things together to participate since Annalise has come along.

This week's challenge, Boo, seemed doable. I already had plans to make some festive Halloween tutus with my friend, so I decided to post the pictures. My usual model, Adelaide, was busy NOT napping in her room. Annalise, who was also NOT napping today, was happy to take on the job (mostly).

I made matching leaf-colored tutus for the girls. I used alternating brown, green and dark orange tulle for the skirts. I chose these colors because I thought they would work well for Halloween; but, the skirts would wear all the way through Thanksgiving. The hats were purchased crochet caps that I embellished with silk flowers. I swapped out the flower centers for some fabric covered buttons. I wove my favorite sparkly ribbon through the hat for a little extra glamour.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Organ Butts and other Science-y Stuff

I feel I should begin by stating that the following puzzle manufacturer did not in any way compensate me for this blog post. In fact, given the opportunity, they may have paid me NOT to write it.

Adelaide is my puzzle girl. She loves puzzles of any kind and will build the same one for hours and hours. I find piles of puzzle pieces all around the house and we are forever fishing them out of couch cushions and from beneath appliances. Amazingly, we very rarely actually lose a piece for good.

Her favorite puzzle by far, the one she builds more often than any other, is her body puzzle. We had a boy version for Aidan that she loved. I found a girl version for her this spring and she is constantly working on it.

The puzzle is actually rather intricate for her. There are several layers to the puzzle: organs, skeleton, muscles, skin and clothing. In order to keep things straight, she has come up with several terms she uses when discussing the many pieces. Working our way from the bottom up, we begin with "organ butt".

"Organ butt" lies neatly beneath "muscle butt" and is complemented by "muscle shirt". She has been a bit distraught lately, as we have been missing a "skin arm" for a few days. The top head, with hairclip, she refers to as "Adelaide".

Our favorite piece by far, is the one she refers to as "Grandma Barb". Here is a picture of my mom. I'll let you judge for yourself.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Apples and Lighthouses

We just finished up a really fun week of school. Our book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift, was loved by all. It is a fictional story about a real lighthouse and the George Washington bridge in New York City. In the story, a once proud lighthouse begins to feel quite small when he compares himself to the enormous bridge being built beside him.

This story gave us an opportunity to learn about the difference between taking pride in a job well done and becoming boastful. We discussed personification as it is used in the story. Aidan drew a picture of some smily little "personified" oil drops for me. We made some drawings showing contrasting size and also learned about lighthouses. We made little red lighthouses at the end of the week.

We are continuing to work our way through more letters in our reading book. For math, we worked on patterns and geometric shapes. In handwriting, Aidan practiced vertical and horizontal lines and backward circles.

We took an awesome trip to an apple orchard with friends. The kids had a blast on the hay ride, picking apples, petting goats and playing in the hay maze. We shared donuts and cider with each other and about a millions bees! We have been eating our way through our giant bag of apples.

This weekend, we visited another great farm. Three Cedars Farm had tons of free activities for the kids like a giant corn box (instead of sand), the cutest petting zoo ever and a tractor derby track.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Millions of Peaches

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our annual family peach harvest. We have two peach trees that we planted about five years ago. They started as tiny little saplings that altogether produced one peach the first year. The trees ripen about a week apart. This year, we picked about forty pounds of peaches from the first tree and almost the same from the second one the following week. We ate as many as we could, baked a few pies and froze some halves for smoothies this winter. I have given up attempting peach jam. It just never seems to turn out for me.

We also gathered our very first pear crop. These trees were planted at the same time as the peach trees; but, have taken a long time to mature. Our yard is also home to four apple trees that produce a large assortment of small, sour, wormy apples and one plum tree that refuses to give up the goods.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Strong and Good

We just finished up our second week of school. This week, in addition to our reading, math and handwriting work in the afternoon, we added a Five in a Row book in the mornings. Addie is joining us for this part of our school day. We start each morning with a Bible story and then add another day to our calendar and adjust our weather wheel (mostly to "cold" this week). After we have finished these activities, we read our Five in a Row book and work on some sort of planned activity.

Our first book this year was They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson. We are still finishing up the second volume of FIAR from last year. On Monday, we talked about our family and made family trees together. My kids love the Jesse Bear books by Nancy White Carlstrom and I found a copy of Climb the Family Tree, Jesse Bear! that went along nicely with our lesson.

Tuesday, we learned about italicized words and made drawings of the Eliza Jane Hopper, a ship mentioned (and italicized) in the story. I also started a vocabulary notebook for Aidan with new words we learned from the book.

For art, on Wednesday, we talked about symbols and Aidan made a poster with symbols for each member of our family. These included a gear, a princess, a pink scribble, a bunch of machinery parts and a cooking pot. Can you guess which one he feels is representative of me?

For science, on Thursday, we learned about honey bees. We found a great series from the library called Real Readers. Honey Bees by Sharon Kahkonen was just the right amount of information for my kids. I find that sometimes science books are either too simple or too complicated; but, this one was just right! I am skipping the math lessons for FIAR this year because we are using Math U See daily. On Fridays, we are working out of some health workbooks I found for the kids. This week we learned about the five senses.

For our afternoon work, we finished learning about short vowel sounds and moved onto consonants this week. Aidan has informed me that he is already well aware of all that I am teaching him and would like to move on as quickly as possible. So much for a review! We finished up the second lesson of Math U See this week. We are still basically reviewing counting and writing numbers. Aidan has a great grasp on what we're learning, so I'm using these review lessons as a time to practice listening, following directions and doing what you're asked. These tasks are much more difficult for my buddy than counting and writing. I'm loving our handwriting book. I've noticed big changes in his handwriting and posture in just the two weeks we've been working. There are so many different handwriting books out there; but, I feel we made a really good choice.

We also had time for painting, cooking, singing and crafting together. We made these fun Numeral Sun Catchers from an idea I found in Easy Math Art by Cecilia Dinio-Durkin, a book I picked up at a library book sale. The number (3) is a little tough to make out; but, they're in there! We also joined up with our church mom's club for the first time this year. The kids seemed to really have fun in the childcare room and I had a great time socializing with old and new friends -well, except for the "Getting to Know You Game". I, as a personal rule, hate "Getting to Know You Games". It's not that I don't want to get to know you. I just don't want to play the game.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Farmer's Dozen

Every autumn, for the last five years, I've considered starting a Christmas cookie baking business. This year, I finally decided, was the right time. And by "right time", I mean we have a four-month-old baby, two kids beginning preschool and kindergarten homeschooling, are in the process of house hunting and Matt has been regularly traveling to Kansas City for work, a week at a time. Oh, and it will all occur during those ever-so-peaceful two weeks before Addie's birthday and Christmas! Things should go rather smoothly, I imagine.

I've spent some time putting together my favorite cookie recipes that turn out consistently great results. I'm offering almost two dozen varieties including clothespins, gingerbread, pizzelles, cake balls, macaroons and kiss cookies. Cookies can be ordered by the dozen or as mixed variety trays. Orders will be due in early December and I'll offer pickup days the week before Christmas for my Michigan friends. Ohio orders will be available Christmas Eve or possibly sooner. I'm hoping all of my busy cookie-loving friends and family will take advantage. Prices are lower than most bakery offerings and the cookies are much tastier!

If you are interested in receiving an order form with full cookie descriptions, you can leave a comment with your email address, send me an email or see me out on the town!

Disclaimer: The above-photographed sweet little hands will not be placed in YOUR cookie dough (unless specifically requested by you).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kindergarten Begins!

Kindergarten began in our house this week. Aidan has been really excited to get back to his school work and we had a great first week. We are doing considerably more work this year than last and I decided to ease into things gradually. We started this week with our afternoon school work.

Aidan has decided he would really like to learn to read. We are using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise. The beginning lessons are basically review for us; but, it's still nice to brush up on our letter sounds. I think the book will be a great fit for us.

We are using Math U See for the first time this year. We are beginning with the primer; but, I think we will move through it fairly quickly. Aidan LOVES doing the worksheets and I have to hold him back a little or I think he would try them all in a day.

For handwriting, we're using the Zaner-Bloser Handwriting series. The book makes me feel a little nostalgic; as it's the same series with which I learned to write. The book actually smells familiar, if that makes any sense!

Tomorrow, we're planning to add in our morning work. I'm going to finish up Five in a Row Volume II and Volume III. I'm hoping to include Addie in our Five in a Row plans. She already loves doing arts and crafts with us and I think she will enjoy doing more school work this year.

For her part, Annalise's work seems to consist of testing out her bumbo and drooling!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Birthdays and Beets

Today is my friend Jessica's birthday. In honor of this special day, I thought I'd share a recipe that combines several of the items she dislikes most: beets, cabbage, hot, humid conditions and grilled meat. I gave her the heads up about it. Still waiting to hear how many jars I should wrap up for her for the big day.

I'm a relatively new beet-lover. They seem to grow well in our garden and we usually find ourselves with an overabundance of them. This awesome smoked beet recipe from Jamie Oliver is my favorite way to prepare them for eating. However, last year, we had eaten all the beets we could manage and still found ourselves with more. So, I turned to my favorite canning cookbook and found this recipe for Red Root Relish. I had most of the ingredients on hand, so I decided to give it a try. We weren't really sure what we were going to do with it at the time.

Soon after I made it, we discovered some great bratwurst at our downtown farm market. They are made by Neil Smith of Garden Gate Farm. The bratwurst and relish go together perfectly. This year, when we ordered a pork half from Garden Gate, we had them make all of the sausage into bratwurst. Yesterday, I decided to make a new batch of relish, as we were running a little low. This recipe is fairly simple and straight forward, especially when compared to some of my past canning projects.

(From the Ball Book of Home Preserving)
(makes 4 pints)

4 c. peeled, diced cooked beets
4c. finely chopped red cabbage
3 c. white vinegar
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. finely chopped onions
1 c. seeded, finely chopped red bell pepper
1 T. prepared horseradish
1 T. salt

First, you 'll need to cook the beets. Clean, trim and cover them with water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and boil gently until tender. Mine took about 35 minutes. Rinse in cold water, cool slightly, peel and chop.

Next, you'll need to prepare your canning supplies. My canner takes a LONG time to come to a boil on my glass cooktop. (I believe you are not actually supposed to can on a glass cooktop. An alarm usually sounds when I do. I'm not sure if it's the heat or the weight; but, I always ignore it. What can I say? I live life on the edge.) Wash your jars, rings and lids in warm, soapy water. You'll sterilize them later.

In a large saucepan, combine all of the above ingredients and bring them to a boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you're relish is almost done, place your jars, lids and rings into your boiling canner water to heat and sterilize them.

Ladle hot relish into hot jars, remove air bubbles with a butter knife and adjust head space to 1/2 inch. Wipe your jar rims clean and screw on your lids. Place jars in your canner and bring water back up to a boil. Process for 15 minutes, then remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes before removing your jars.

Allow them to cool undisturbed. When you hear the lids pop, you will know your jars are sealed. When the jars are completely cool, you can wrap them and give them to friends as birthday gifts.