Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Flying Flowers! That's Awesome! a.k.a. - Preserving Creative Moments

Yesterday was a sick day... for me.  Not your traditional sick day.  It was oddly and wonderfully creative.

The rocks came out.  Pictures were taken.  Workbooks were done. Lunch was had.  Rest time was treasured! Then as if by some miracle the kids disappeared, reappeared for paper and other supplies and then were mysteriously quiet.  Ominously quiet...  

Then the invitation came.  "Mama, come up here and create with us!"  I have to admit my stuffy head preferred to stay horizontal on the couch.  However they had been playing so well I had to see what they were up too.  In the upstairs hallway was a hastily created art space.  Busy beavers had been drawing, cutting, and taping their creations with copious amounts of tape to their bedroom walls.  Their work was beautiful and peaceful!  The next offer was to decorate our room.  I love my kids artwork, but too often it becomes clutter.  How could I preserve this moment of creative tranquility without miles of tape?  With a moment of clarity, I had it!

I dashed into the art room to nab a large empty picture frame and some fabric for a background.   We then sat down to create; the kids drew the pictures and I cut them out.  Then using the inside cardboard from the frame for a guide I trimmed the fabric to fit the frame.  Once the fabric was cut we laid out our pictures, including the underground digging machine, on the fabric until everyone was satisfied.  During this process Nate decided that the "Nate" and "Elli" in the picture should be holding hands.  Elli helped me paint Tacky Glue onto the back of our pictures and glue them to the fabric.  In our excitement we went ahead and framed it before Papa came home (If I were to do this again we will wait for the glue to dry before framing as the glue faded one of Elli's pictures).  The kids are so excited to see their creations framed!  
All of us riding the train by Nate.

Elli's caterpillar, butterfly, and flowers.
Nate's houses, digger, and mouse houses at bottom.
Elli's sun and fairies with flying flowers/birds above the house.

The completed masterpiece!

We now have a wonderful art piece that honors the kids' creativity as a 3 and 4 1/2 year old!  

How do you honor your kids' creations?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Creative Snacking

Snacks To Go!

This morning I found the arrival of Pi day on my computer and thought what a great day to make Pie!  However when I went to the kitchen I abruptly remembered, when I saw Jeff eating a slice for breakfast, that he had picked up and cooked my only favorite store bought pie:  Marie Callender's Razzleberry pie.  So in sharp contrast to the idea of pie, I'll focus on easy healthy snacks.  These thoughts may not be new, but they do serve as a nice reminder to refocus!

Like many we're trying to make healthier life choices (I know pie for breakfast doesn't shout healthy... but it's Pi Day!).  One prominent area that we can easily change is our snacking habits.  Keeping healthy snacks close at hand makes this a lot more probable.  This morning we sent Jeff off to work with a week's worth of healthy snacks to keep in his office.  I found four canning jars, any recycled jar will work, and filled them with some favorites.  Pistachios for a bit of salt, raw almonds for a bit of staying power, craisins for that tart sweet, and some dark chocolate chocolate chips to provide the little pick me up to avoid the vending machine's 3:00 pm shouts from down the hall!  Nate also added to Papa's healthy snacks with a quick trip to the fridge, returning with an apple.   

Nate's Healthy Addition

It's easy to check out the nutritional benefits/pitfalls of your favorite snacks through a quick web search.  Pistachio's and almonds may reduce cholesterol, have needed fats for our bodies and contain valuable antioxidants.  These are all benefits not found in the cookie from the coffee shop or the vending bar candy bar.  

At home we're also keeping things such as cheese sticks, yogurt, raisins, and of course apples.  Tortillas with peanut butter and banana or apple are also favorites.  I also find that pre-packaging snacks in single servings is helpful.  

What are your favorite snacks?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Snowed In? Bake Bread!

Pictures coming soon!

Today we were snowed in and while I make bread on other days too, it seemed the logical choice.  Homemade bread is a favorite at our house and there is nothing quite like being greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread after shoveling mountains of snow.  I have my mother's recipe; I fondly remember coming home from school to this smell ... warm white bread spread with butter...mmm.  I've been looking for ways to improve the nutritional content without making it seem heavy, and think that I may have hit on a perfect combination today.  It's probably still not the healthiest of breads, but it's better than straight white and it still hit the spot for a yummy yeast bread. So without further comment here it is:

Snowed In Bread
Yields 3 loaves in standard bread pans
I used a mixer with a dough hook, but you can certainly do this by hand.

In a large mixing bowl (You'll add all other ingredients later), whisk (by hand):
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup warm, but not hot water.

Let this rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, melt 1/2 cup shortening and grease your bread pans.

Once the 10 minutes is up, beat in:
1 beaten egg
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup melted shortening (I add this last and slowly with the mixer running so it won't cook the egg.)

In a large bowl sift:
2 cups whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups white flour
Add in:
1/4 cup ground flax seed

Add flour mixture one cup at a time to the wet ingredients mixing thoroughly after the addition of each cup.  If you are mixing by hand at some point you will need to knead the rest in by hand.  Once all flour is incorporated, knead for 10 minutes.  You will have a smooth, but slightly sticky dough.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured counter-top and knead in just enough flour to make dough less sticky. (I used about an 1/8th of a cup.

Grease bowl and return dough to bowl.  Wet a dish towel with hot water, wring out, cover the bread, and place in a warm area.  Let rise for an hour or until the dough has about doubled.

Punch down dough and dump out on a clean counter-top.  Divide into three equal pieces and place in prepared pans.  Re-wet dish towel with hot water, wring out, and cover bread.  Again place in a warm spot to rise for an hour and a half.

Place loaves in a cool oven.  Set heat at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then turn heat down to 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Bread should be pulling away from pan, be golden, and should sound slightly hollow when tapped.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pans.  Tip out and finish cooling on a wire rack.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe found in the blue covered Joy of Cooking.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Let the Decluttering Commence...

So I confess, I'm a major clutterbug... So this challenge will be interesting!  Stay tuned for details of my success/doom... :-)  


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Princess Party

Today we hosted a princess party for our three year old princess, Elliana.  I'm finding that birthday parties are getting easier and new ideas start to evolve.  For Elli's party we kept it relatively simple, but I wanted to share a new idea that I had. We often do scavenger hunts at parties.  Nate's birthday parties, being in June, have seen their share of  peanut scavenger hunts. This equals a big bag of peanuts in shells hurled throughout a defined area and preschoolers with lunch bags hurriedly scampering around to collect as many as possible.  (Yes, we check beforehand to make sure none of our guests have peanut allergies.)  However with Elli's birthday this was not quite possible.  Preschoolers trudging through waist-deep snow desperately searching for peanuts does not create a picture of mirth and delight, unless you are a local squirrel.

So back to Elli's Scavenger Hunt.  The kids really wanted candy, and I wanted balance.  The solution:  I created this checklist:

Each child was given a bag and this list.  During the directions, parents and older siblings were encouraged to help the younger party goers find the specified number of each item.  This list helped each child get an equal amount of the loot while assuring that none of the parents were terribly upset about the excessive amounts of sugar entering their homes.  We also asked that the kids not eat the candy while at the party since we would soon be having cake and ice cream.  I wondered as I was explaining it if it was too abstract for our group of three year olds, but most seemed to get it and parents were great helpers.  The free for all on the foam glitter stickers (Tubs of these can be found at most craft stores) enhanced the experience without upping sugar consumption.  Another by-product was that the kids were doing early math.  They had a graph and had to match up and count their treasures.  After all the littles were content, the three older siblings were sent in to glean all they could find ... aka clean up the room :-)!  Everyone was happy when they came back in for cake and ice cream.

Here are a few additional things which lead to its success...

The guest list - Elli chose from one primary group of friends.  She wanted her playgroup friends. This was an easy group and nobody was left out.  We had four friends and some of their siblings.  Most of the parents knew each other and visited easily.

Defined play areas - While our space is not huge we had an area set aside for the doll-house, kitchen play-set, finger puppet theater, an art table with paper and stamps, and a Lego area for the older siblings.  We encouraged free play.

Cool music - Pandora.com set on the Recess Monkey station rarely steers us wrong.  A lively band made up of teachers with a great sound that parents enjoy too.

Healthy snacks before cake - When guests arrived they were greeted with a tray of apples, cheese, crackers, pretzels and baby carrots.  I shared with parents the drink options and encouraged them to help themselves whenever their child was thirsty.

Bedrooms were off - limits - While we often allow friends to play in the kids rooms, we decided against it for the party.  This isolated the mess and made clean-up much easier.

Shopping clearance - I often keep my eyes open for good bargains.  Napkins, decorations, and favors were bought at a fraction of their original cost.  Plates and cups were purchased at the Dollar Store.

Prepping of the Birthday Girl - We want to assume that we've taught our children well and they'll automatically be a gracious hostess, however this is a learned skill.  The day before the party Elli and I had a conversation about welcoming our guests, looking for cards first when opening gifts, and being sure to say thank you to our guests.  I reminded Elli of these points a few moments before guests started arriving.  She did beautifully.

Gifts or cake first?  We opted for cake.  Elli got the first piece and was able to start eating.  Then when she had eaten her fill she was able to clean up and open presents while her friends finished their cake and ice cream.  I saved her leftover cake for later.

Keep decorations simple.  Too much can be overwhelming to preschoolers and become a stress to you.

Clean as much as you can in advance - This was especially good since I ended up spraining my ankle late morning after a morning of cleaning.