Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Those Hours Before Trick or Treat

I guess there is no better day to discuss "The Witching Hour" than Halloween: those hours between nap (if you're lucky) and trick or treating.

Here is a quick, easy, use-what-you-have-on-hand way to kill some time and get in the Halloween mood...a Halloween bath.  I've talked before about play baths...we decided to put a holiday spin on it.

Here is what we did...use what you have laying around and have fun!

-Orange crepe paper "web"
-foam pumpkins
-hair gel/googly eye squishy bag on the wall
-orange and white balloons- pumpkins and ghosts
-spider and skeleton rings
-shaving cream "ghosts" in the water
-glow sticks in the tub (this is really the best part)
-orange and black paint mixed with shaving cream (so it washes up easily)
-battery operated votive candles
-a bit of Halloween music (thank you pandora!)

Set the stage- I don't let the kids come in until it is all ready- the suspense is half of the fun.

monster faces

There is no better place for paint than the tub!
Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thoughts on the Election

Matt and I were discussing how to teach the kiddos about the election.  The obvious stuff like what is a ballot, a candidate, a vote...and then less obvious stuff like what should a president be like.  We came up with things like wise, thoughtful, careful, honest, peaceful, firm, fair and trustworthy.  

To be honest, I am feeling good about our current president...I feel that I can put him up in front of my kids as someone who does his best to embody those presidential characteristics while doing a very difficult job.  His policies may not be perfect, he may not have made as much change as hoped for, but I truly believe that he is a good man. He will have my vote, as he did four years ago...when Matt and I walked down to Grant Park with our baby boy to celebrate his victory.  I still believe that he is the current best choice for America- as I did when I sat with my African American students on the West side of Chicago and celebrated the inauguration of a man who looked like them.

That said, I am not "campaigning" for him too much in front of my kids.  It is humbling to look at the election through the eyes of a four year old who is not yet jaded or full of self-interest.  I believe you have to teach kids about politics in a way that first allows them to trust in our leaders and the democratic process before you introduce them to partisanship and negativity.  They must buy into democracy before it will be important to them; they must have a vision of government at its best before they can work to make that a reality.  No matter who wins, I want them to feel safe and secure that our country is in good hands.  

So no, my kids won't be canvassing the neighborhood.  They will, however, be learning about both candidates, spying election signs out the car window and GOING WITH ME TO VOTE.  The most important thing for us is that they learn to participate in democracy...and that they develop the wisdom to continue to participate in the future in whatever way they see fit.  

Happy Election Season 2012.  May we all come together to support our candidates but remember that in the end, the fact that we live in a democratic society where we have the right to debate, argue and VOTE makes us all winners.

Grant Park, 2008 with Matias...exactly 1 year old.

Dancing on the outhouses...that's the kind of passion we should all have!

Inauguration Day


Monday, October 22, 2012

Garden Journal #9

Violet's garden in October

Cleaning up

Planting bulbs

Summer in a bowl!

Surprise pumpkin!

The gourd vine was VERY happy 

The garden has nearly come to an end this year.  We had a pretty decent crop...and really enjoyed how involved the kids were this year.  Had no problems going fence-less.  The watering system was handy, but it didn't seem to water the beds very evenly, nor did we use the water from the rain barrel as much as in past years.  Back to the drawing board for some revisions.  The only total failure was the broccoli.  The pepper plants we planted from seed never yielded anything, but the ones we bought as plants did great.  Next year I want to plant the herbs right into the ground so I don't have to remember to water them separately...they didn't do well, through no fault of their own!  The strawberries managed a few little ripe berries, but not a ton.  The biggest surprises of the year were the pumpkin and gourds that magically appeared...likely seeded from the ones we chucked into the compost last year.  So our front yard has a nice little fall decoration, and we have a jack-o-lantern waiting to be carved.  

Violet's garden has been tilled and we planted a bunch of bulbs and flower conjunction with reading Miss Rumphius.  Hopefully Spring will bring us beautiful tulips, daffs, iris and crocus (though I did see a squirrel having a little snack of bulbs out there before we covered the bed with leaf mulch).  We may even get some lupine from the seeds we scattered.  Time will tell!

We are still getting a few red tomatoes from the vines, kale, and we haven't yet harvested our carrots or beets.  Our neighbors took down a huge tree in their backyard, so next year our garden will have a lot more sun- yea!  I am not usually pro tree cutting, but this was not a particularly nice tree- it just dropped millions on leaves on our yard starting in about July.  It is always fun to look ahead to what next year will bring...before we're even done enjoying the veggies from this year!  As always, Matt will spend the winter dreaming up new irrigation systems...but he promised he won't make us move any more garden beds next year :)  Happy Fall!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Homeschooling- The Plan

Our calendar

Our "homeschool room"...aka, the living room.

My monthly lesson plans- I just fill it in week by week, not a month in advance

We're starting to get into a bit of a groove with this homeschool stuff.  I thought I'd share a little bit about what we do and how I plan for it.  Sunday nights I take a while to read through our story for the week...we have been working through The Book of Children's Classics, which includes stories like Corduroy, Ferdinand, Miss Rumphius, selections from Homer Price, Pippi Longstockings and more.  We're about two thirds of the way through, and so far the kids have loved every story.  After reading the story, I jot down some ideas for loosely-linked thematic activities, and I usually print off a few pages or projects I find online.  For example, when we read Pig Pig Gets a Job we talked about community helpers and different careers.  When we read Ferdinand, we talked about measurement.  This week we are reading Winnie the Pooh and learning about bees and honey.  I try to include a math activity or two, as well as art projects and a science or social studies connection.  I'm pretty flexible...we run with what sparks their interest.

After jotting down the basic plan on my monthly lesson calendar, I write the activities for the week on a white board for the kids to see.  As we go through the week, we check off the things we've done, add new ideas to the board and work our way through most of it.  We rarely get to all of it, but that's okay.  I find a weekly list to be about right- a daily list was too structured, but it is good to have the plan visible.  

Besides our story and related activities, Matias is working through a daily math book like this...he generally does the whole week's worth in one sitting and grouses at me when I don't let him complete the next week's work (mean mom...this kid is going to learn us out of house and home!)  We also are reading through Willy the Wisher, which is a collection of critical thinking stories that asks the kids questions- it is something I used when I was teaching.  Finally, Matias is also working through his math facts- so we spend time on those while the girls are napping.  Sometimes we play cards or checkers, flashcards, or if he's been very good, we will "play" Khan Academy online together.  I wish this had been around when I was struggling through math...he really loves the teaching style and the way the program displays his progress through concepts like addition, subtraction, representing numbers, telling time, etc.   It is a cool site!  Like I've said before, Matias is a math LOVER...he begs for these activities.  I swear we are not pushing it on him...I know that watching math videos is not most 4 year old's idea of a good time, but it is his!  I also try to do a bit of handwriting with them each week- copywork, working on letters on a whiteboard...something fun.

Add to that an attempt to get them outside for at least a little while each day, tae kwon do, piano, swimming, playdates with friends and taking Violet to preschool, and that about fills our days!  

I am certain that our routine will change many times, but for the moment, this is how we roll.

Monday, October 8, 2012

French Dinner

Last week we read the story of Madeline and talked about France.  We decided to end the week with a Friday night French dinner.  The kids greeted Daddy with "Bonjour Papa", played French music we borrowed from the library, decorated with Madeline dolls and the French landmarks from our Amazing Places cards and most importantly...made a batch of crepes.  We filled them with delicious French favorites (well, Swiss favorites anyways) like Nutella, Ovomaltine spread and homemade cheese from our time in the Swiss Alps.  Then Matias shared the lapbook he'd been working on with the family and quizzed us on French trivia.  It was a fun Friday night!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pumpkin Patch Brownies

Happy October!

Everyone has those "it's not ____ until we've had ____" treats.  For me, it is not Fall until we've had Pumpkin Patch brownies.  I always wait eagerly for the candy pumpkins to show up in stores.  Yes, I love them so much that I craved them in July while pregnant with my son.  My husband managed to find candy corn, which was a close second and much appreciated, but there is nothing quite like the pumpkins.

My mom makes these frosted brownies topped with pumpkins and they are terrific.  My sister is an October 31st baby, so we always have reason to celebrate Halloween.  I won't go into details on how to make them- I'm sure you can figure that out from the picture.  I am a big fan of the chocolate icing recipe on the side of the Hershey's cocoa box. Enjoy!

Catch a Glimpse Button

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Waxed Leaves

How beautiful are the trees right now?!  We are all enjoying the Fall colors and wanted to preserve a few of them.  Sunday we took a family walk around the neighborhood and collected some really beautiful leaves.  Then we dipped them in beeswax to preserve them, and then strung some and made some into a wreath.  It was a much simpler project that I had feared, and they turned out great.  My only warning- use a junk pan (thrift store perhaps), not your everyday cookware.  We used pots from Violet's mudpie kitchen and were glad that we did- the wax will be on there forever.  
Violet and Matt sorting out our finds

Melting our little beeswax bear...turns out the eyeballs were the last thing to melt, making it slightly unnerving.  We made a doubler boiler with two pots from Violet's mudpie kitchen.

dipping the leaves and drying them on waxed paper

We used a needle and thread to string the leaves into a chain

Makes it look nice and festive for the season

Here we just pinned the leaf stems to a styrofoam wreath form from the dollar store...I think it turned out kind of neat!  

For the Kids Friday

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Art Table Woes

The art table is one of my kids' favorite parts of our home.  It sits in the corner of the kitchen and is quite literally used every hour of every day.  The drawers hold stamps, playdough and a broom and dustpan.  The metal basket holds the kids' journals, paper, notebooks, stencils, scissors and glue sticks.  There is a jar of crayons and a jar of colored pencils on the table, and a bulletin board to display their work.  Oh yeah- and the scraps, pencils, crayons and stickers on the floor of course.  That's a given.

Our art center has worked great ever since Violet graduated from "rogue artist" into an "I will create without coloring on your walls" artist about a year ago.  There is only one problem- 18 lbs and 29 inches of cute destruction.  Crayons in the mouth, ripped pages, making off with the's BEATRICE MAE.

Sooo...we need a new solution.  Art supplies higher?  Somehow teach M and V to actually put the supplies away when they are done with them?  Hide the table in M's room?  I really don't love the idea of it leaving the highly-supervised kitchen area.

Any ideas?  I'm thinking this might just require a trip to Ikea :)  Awww...shucks.

In Lieu of Preschool For the Kids Friday

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lend me your ears...

It works!  It actually works!  How have I gone my life without knowing this trick?  I mean, I live in the midwest...we love sweetcorn!  I am never willing to boil an entire pot of water to cook one ear of corn, but this I will do...and have been doing all week!  Nothing better than a fresh ear of corn for lunch!  Enjoy this video from "Grandpa Ken" (yes, I have a Grandpa Ken, no this is not him).

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