Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas, the Day I Became a Troll!

This year Nate and Elli were fortunate to receive cross country skis for Christmas.   Nate has wanted them since tuning into the X-Games and Olympics last winter. He has even been asking to make cardboard ones every time we went out to play in the snow.  You can imagine his joy when he opened his last gift on Christmas morning.

Conditions could not have been better Christmas afternoon.  A pristine field with the Sterling Mountain Range rising in the background, a sunny sky, and crisp cool air. We strapped on the skis and the kids had a great time learning how to work their new skis. Nate found it slightly easier than Elli and also did not get "coldy"  as quickly.  After Elli, Papa, Grammy, and Grampa headed in for cocoa, Nate was ready to tackle the hill off to one side of the field.  He wanted to fly like Treva, in Jan Brett's Trouble with Trolls.  We spent quite awhile with him working to master "flying" down the hill and I turned into a troll, pushing him and shouting, "Fly, fly, fly!"  Then "Dog, dog, dog!"

When we went inside we had a cozy cup of hot chocolate and made sure to read Trouble with Trolls as well as our other skiing favorite, Mary Calhoun's Cross Country Cat  before bed.  It's a day that I'm sure he won't forget.  Books certainly spark our imagination and inform our play.  What books do you remember reading and acting out?  

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Project Finished!

For those of you who know me, I do not consider myself to be a knitter. I don't carry around a bag with a cozy little project and sit and knit, well not until the last few weeks anyway!

I am 35 and come from a family of knitters, but have never quite grasped or enjoyed it. My grandmother knits sock and mittens galore plus sweaters, dolls and pretty much anything that can be made by winding and pulling yarn with two, three, or four pointy needles. My mom knits amazingly beautiful and complicated sweaters, socks, and mittens. They are wonderful! When I was 9 or 10 my mom found a soft lavender yarn and taught me to knit and purl. The pattern was a checkerboard scarf. I got about 12 inches in, and that was the end of that. In high school I found a pattern and made a few dish-clothes. That was the end of my knitting until a few years ago when I had another unsuccessful attempt at a scarf.

In October my friend Marilla posted a link to a beautiful scarf she was making. It looked amazingly complicated and made me think of Mom. When I commented on it, she said, "You can do it, it's easy. I'll come show you." (In the meantime I found another simple pattern, found someone to teach me to cast on, had about six false starts, and started another scarf to get my basic "knitting legs" under me a bit.) Early November Marilla came over for an evening of knitting and she helped me to understand the pattern. All knitting! A few yarn overs, and knit two together's and that was it! It began slowly, but she is a patient teacher. The basic skills that Mom taught me so long ago came back and I was on my way!

On Christmas Eve I finished the scarf. It's beautiful, not perfect, but beautiful! Marilla was right, I could do it! And it was fun! So why do I share this story? For two reasons.
  1. To encourage you to go back to a skill that you may not have found early success or enjoyment. Even though I had tried knitting several times in my life with minimal success and much frustration, I tried it again. This time I was in a different place in life, had found a pattern that inspired me, had a willing coach, and had the goal of honoring Mom with a beautiful knit gift. These four factors were each great factors to my success. If I had focused on past failures I would never had started, not to mention finished it.
  2. To encourage parents of young children to introduce them to new skills, even if the kids don't get it. I apparently showed an interest in knitting as a child, Mom acted on that and took the time to teach me. Although I gave up and didn't finish the scarf, the skills had been planted. I know that I often am too busy or too impatient to try to teach what I am doing to an eagerly awaiting preschooler. However this success reminds me that Mom took time. I also hate to admit, but sometimes my motivation for not teaching them is that they might mess up the "perfection" I'm striving for. This thought robs both of us of the joy in learning and teaching a skill. I'm learning that I can give them a simpler version or their own materials to learn. Also to not seek perfection in the finished product, but in the experience (and many times I'm finding there is a level of perfection in the finished craft that surprises me.) I hope to start Nate on knitting this year.
On a side note someone recently shared that scarves are on of the worst items to start knitting as if often feels like there is no end! :-)

Have you had a similar experience?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Having a Hoedown!

Whatever your faith I believe that there should be room to express creativity within that faith. I'm thankful that I have that! I am thankful for parents that allowed this even as a young child.

The nativity for me signals the start of the Christmas season. As a child I would spend hours playing with the set. It was old, but sturdy, and Dad had built a rough barn for it. Every year it was one of the first decorations to come out. While I don't remember a lot of detail about my play, I remember that it captivated me. Once when I had all of the characters out of the stable, Mom asked me what I was doing and I told her they were "having a hoedown!"

This may seem irreverent to some, but it made the story of Jesus real to me as a very young child (I continued to play with the nativity into early adolescence and took great pride as a teen when I was allowed to help Mom set up the porcelain, "no touch" set.). It allowed me to worship my savior, to spend time thinking about who he was and is, to put Christ in the center of my Christmas! Sometimes I think that I need to stop the busy-ness and just sit down on the floor and spent time with Jesus!

A few years ago Mom gave my children a nativity they can play with. Currently Elli's shepherd is asking other Christmas ornaments if they've seen his shepherd stick. Yes, the set will never be pristine... shepherd sticks will go missing, hands, noses, ears will get broken (superglue is our friend!), but the creativity in honoring a little baby born so long ago is worth it!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


We love our local library! Sarah puts together a great weekly program that engages preschoolers and keeps them coming back. Now you may be wondering what that has to do with tamales?

On one recent visit we found the wonderful story of Too Many TAMALES by Gary Soto & illustrated by Ed Martinez. This story is about a little girl, Maria, who is proud to help her mother with the tradition of making Christmas tamales. When her mother steps out to answer the phone Maria tries on her mother's diamond ring which falls off in the masa. They get distracted and Maria forgets about the ring in the excitement of the arrival of cousins. You can probably imagine the excitement this caused later that evening!

This story coupled with our new tradition of having books under our Christmas tree until Christmas morning gave me the idea for a fun evening. This Fall a new Mexican take-out restaurant became a wonderful addition to our community and they have tamales! We ordered up a bunch and gathered around the table to eat them.
As expected we heard the routine dinner chant of, "I don't like these!" Expecting this, I also made rice and had a can of black beans to keep with the Mexican theme and round out the meal. Elli wanted a tamales and immediately started munching. Nate was satisfied with his beans and rice until he saw everyone else enjoying tamales. I think he initially wanted one so he could tear off the wrapper like they did in the story! Anyways he tried it and announced that he now likes tamales! Nate and Elli decided that the thin strips of corn husk that were tied around the tamales would make great additions to our eclectic Christmas ornaments and, after washing them, put them on the tree.

Later that evening before bed we all snuggled on the couch, next to the lit Christmas tree, and read Too Many TAMALES again.

This Christmas season we have enjoyed reading about holidays (Hanukkah & Kwanzaa) and customs different from ours as well as reading some of our traditional favorites:
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  • Lucy's Christmas by Donald Hall
  • Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett
  • The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg
  • Favor Johnson, A Christmas Story by Willem Lange
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore, illustrated by Jan Brett
Leave a comment! What's on your holiday reading list? Do you incorporate diversity into your holidays? How?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cookie Chaos

I am a firm believer in controlled chaos… especially when it comes
to kids and creativity. Today we had a lot of each. Elli and Nate hosted a Christmas cookie playdate with three friends. 5 kids, 2 adults, 1 smallish kitchen and a lot of flour and sugar created an afternoon of delightful memories not to mention filling our whole building with the aroma of fresh baked gingerbread cookies (Sorry if you live upstairs, there's still some left!)

Here are a few thoughts on how we made this work…

I've been cooking with Nate and Elli since they were toddlers. I find little tasks that they can do. It started with banging on pots or playing with measuring cups. Elli can now crack eggs.

I choose simple projects that set the kids up for success. As they gain experience I introduce new skills and varying levels of challenge. I focus on the basics since they are two and four. Baking gives the opportunity to work on basic math skills, memory, and story creation. I talk about the recipes I've chosen and now Nate is making up his own recipes, and surprisingly a lot of it makes sense.

Plan ahead. I do what I can in advance. For today I made the cookie dough, cleaned the kitchen, pulled out the Christmas cookie cutters, and even put the toppings in a separate bowls (This way I could control how much sugar was on the table and prevent extra from getting mixed up.)

Make sure everyone is happy and fed. Today’s play-date was afterschool when kids are typically hungry, so I offered snacks before beginning baking. Healthy food minimized the fallout from the sugar high!

I expect that there will be messes. Eggs will be dropped. Flour will get spilled. Sugar will get eaten and kids will probably get sticky. I plan clean up time. Today, I planned a quick and easy dinner that would not make many dishes. As I was cleaning up today Nate said “Momma, the table looked yummy.” Yeah… it was a sugary mess!

I try to explain what I’m going to do with the kids first. Sometimes this works sometimes not. We ended up with a two inch thick gingerbread man today, but it didn't matter we rerolled him. I try to have the kids work in shifts or take turns. Work together, be flexible. If you’re working with multiple younger children it helps to have another person in the kitchen. Camille was a great cookie chaos companion!

I consider basic kitchen safety. Washing hands, making sure everyone is clear of the oven and having everyone keep their hands away from the mixer make for a safe and fun experience.

I encourage creativity and bring in other experiences. Today we used a potato masher and meat tenderizer to add embellishments to our cut out cookies. Nate and Elli used this technique yesterday when serving up play-dough “tea and cookies.” It was something that I would never have thought up, but looked really cool.

Finally, I don’t expect perfection. If I want a perfectly beautiful batch of cookies, I make them after the kids are in bed. However, my goal is to give kids the experience of being in the kitchen, encourage learning, creativity, and independence so I let the kids try. Sure the cookies might have a lot more flour worked into them than ideal, but nobody will notice when a troupe of smiling, beautifully messy kids offers them one!

Have you cooked with kids? What works for you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Today ROCKS… 105 to be exact!

As you can probably tell from the numerous pictures, we had a really fun day (probably a solid 2 ½ to 3 hours) with an amazingly simple yet strikely complex item. Rocks.

Preparations for today actually began on Thanksgiving when Jeff and the kids cooked dinner and his Grandmother, Aunt and I made the hour trek over to the beach to gather rocks for a Christmas project, This was a great treat as we live a solid four hours from the ocean and walking on a beach at a grown up pace is rare anytime. We started collecting rocks and although I only needed about a dozen we were taken with the variety of shapes, textures, colors, and sizes. So I happily came home with a bucket full!

Today the rocks came out! A few at first and then all of them. Nate and Elli were immediately taken with them. Nate started building a rock wall, and Elli explored texture and size. We stopped, shut off our morning ritual of watching educational tv, and found Nate’s journal. He dictated a story about how George Washington had built a wall for kids to play on after collecting rocks at the beach. The wall fell down and now he was rebuilding it.

As the kids played, they learned. Which type of rocks stack well together; balance. They thought about the parts of our body and how they could use something as foreign as rocks to create a portrait of their Papa. Stories were created. Diesel train engines were made. Elli sorted by color and textures.

I was amazed at Nate’s attention to detail when I suggested that we could count the rocks by putting them into stacks of 10. I thought we would do this quickly and move on, but even this became an adventure. Each pile of 10 needed to be carefully constructed. Once we had our piles of 10, he counted them and discovered that we could count by 10’s. Early math!

One of my favorite sculptures came right before rest time when Nate was working indepently to build what I thought was going to be a catepillar, then possibly a lizard. Each time I asked him what it was he said, “Momma I’m not done yet, you’ll have to wait.” Finally he announced that he was done and that he had made a boy cow, a bull to be exact.

And of course with all this concentration on rocks we had to take a peek and see if rocks were mentioned in the Bible. Sure enough we found lots of references to rocks. We focused in on I Kings 19 where Elijah was waiting to hear from God. God sent a great wind that shattered rocks, but God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake, but he wasn’t there. Then fire, but he wasn’t there. Finally there is a still small voice and that’s where God was … speaking to Elijah. We talked about the importance of taking time to be quiet to listen to God’s voice in our own lives.

So what’s next? I’m thinking some science, rock games or rock art, but I can say for sure that the pile of 105 rocks in our living room will probably not get any smaller or be going anywhere soon!

Crayon Confections

Crayon Confections!

So I've been on a mission to declutter... This week it has been our art supplies. As I sorted, organized, I realized we have a lot of great materials! These included a box of broken and outgrown baby crayons. I have also been extra busy finishing Christmas projects, and needed a project that directly involved the kids on a rainy day.

The kids were excited to help me peel the old crayons, something that they are often asked to not do! They then sorted them into cans and jars by color. Sorting is a great early math project!
We created a double boiler by placing the jars in a pot 1/2 filled with water on low to medium. When the water boiled I turned it down. Once the wax was melted I poured it into some candy molds that we've had stashed in the cupboard for a couple of years. On my first run I filled them to the top making sure I had a little extra of each color to account for settling. However when I went to top them off the tops came up over. That batch went back in their respective jars. The second batch went much better; I left the first filling an approximate 1/8 inch below the top. When it had cooled I was then able to top off to the top of the mold without having a rounded bottom. My kids loved them! If making them look like candies remind younger children that they are not for eating! I plan to put these in mini cupcake wrappers and give away as sets.

Here's how to do it.

You'll need:
  • A bunch of old crayons
  • Clean recycled jars or cans
  • A pot
  • Some sort of mold, I used old candy molds, but muffin tins, ice cube trays, etc. can work well. If using a rigid mold you might want to spray first with cooking spray to ensure you can get your crayons out.
  • Newspaper, to contain any spillage
  • Water
  • A stove
The How:
Kids can peel and sort the crayons. Once this is done the grown up should put the jars in a pot, add enough water to come about 1/2 way up your jars/cans. Place on stove with burner on low to medium. When the water starts to boil you will want to turn the heat down. You will want to stay close to the stove to monitor the melting process. Have your kids spread out the newspaper and prepare your molds. Caution! Wax will now be very hot!! When your wax is melted the adult or teen should carefully pour the wax to about an 1/8th inch of the top. Make sure you reserve some of each color to top off. Once your crayon is set it will be slightly hard and have a dip in the middle. Now you can pour in enough wax to top off the crayon. Let set. 10-15 minutes for smaller crayons. Then tip over and pop out. With candy molds the heat from your hand releases the crayons. If crayons refuse to come out, try filling the sink with very hot water and dipping the bottom of your mold in the water. Use or wrap for a great gift!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A start...


This is the start of my attempt to share my creative wanderings in our often cluttered home, our classic Vermont community, and our amazingly intricately designed natural world.

To frame this blog and share a little about myself. I come from a long line of frugally creative people who have creatively used what we have to make what we need whenever possible. This means we save almost everything... My chosen profession is community recreation where I worked for over 10 years before deciding to have children. Currently I am investing my creative energies into recreating with them. There is so much to explore around us. My husband, Jeff and I have been happily married for 12 years and purposefully strive to live a relatively simple life.

My passions? My God, my husband, my two kids, cooking, random creation, college students, seeing people grow, wandering.

Favorite Quotes? "He is no fool who gives what He cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Elliot. "Not all who wander are lost." A Life is Good t-shirt.

Why the dragonfly? As a camp counselor I was captivated by the beauty of the dragonfly in mid-late summer. Dragonflies were in abundance and I grew to appreciate the intricacy in God's creativity as well as His great love for us. If God has the capacity to create over 5,500 delicate and beautiful species of dragonflies and damselflies to fulfill a purpose in their ecosystems then He must also have a purpose and beauty for my life.