Monday, August 31, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

For today...August 31, 2009

Outside my window...a huge canopy of shade. My, our backyard tree has grown enormously this summer. Must be from all that rain!

I am thinking...about how we can wring out the last drops of summer before Labor Day weekend. I'm thinking berry-picking!

I am thankful for...the perspective we gain every week when we take our son to Children's Hospital for treatment/therapy. While we are there, we sit near/pass by/chat with/smile at many sick children with health problems much more serious than our child's. So, while we feel frustration and fear regarding the challenges our son faces now and in the future, I do know that there are parents out there facing much bigger frustrations and fears for their own children. I always try to include these families in my daily prayers.

From the kitchen... -black bean and shredded chicken enchiladas, a mixed green salad with fresh and super yummy orange tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market yesterday (they smell so sweet and fresh--just like summer!). Plus, I've got some whole milk yogurt cooking away in the yogurt maker.

I am cargo pants, white sleeveless top, white socks and my "indoor" sneakers.

I am creating...a to-do list for upcoming Christmas crafts (yes, I realize it is still August. But there was a hint of autumn in the air just the other day, and it got me to thinking...)

I am escape to the bookstore this week, I think. An iced mocha, a stack of magazines and books, and a comfy chair...sounds like the perfect getaway (even if it's only for an hour).

I am reading...A Child's Garden by Molly Dannenmaier. Completely and utterly enchanting and inspiring!

I am get a handle on some of the pits of chaos reigning supreme around here and re-establish some order. I think the little stacks of clutter here and there are contributing to some negative energy vibes (not to get all new age-y on you, but what I'm trying to say is clutter makes me cranky!)

I am daughter singing random lines from our current stack of library books. I love that rather than just speaking the words, she pretty much sings everything these days. I also hear the pleasant hum of the baby monitor while my son sleeps upstairs.

One of my favorite things...when my husband accompanies me and the children on the big grocery shopping trips we make twice per month. It's so nice having his company and he helps distract the little ones while I concentrate on my giant list!

A few thoughts for the rest of the week...other than the aforementioned clutter-banishing, I plan on a trip to the library, a visit from my sister, a trip to Children's, and later in the week I'm going to get fresh market peaches to make this special peach pie with cream cheese crust for a Labor Day party this weekend. Yum!

A picture thought I am sharing...look at this busy bee gathering nectar before summer runs out. "Stocking the pantry shelves" for winter, if you will. :)

For more Daybook links, hop on over to The Simple Woman's Daybook site.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Best Playdough Recipe

When my daughter asked to do playdough in the past, she was met with reluctance on my behalf. Maybe it had something to do with a classic rookie mom mistake: I let her play with it on our coffee table, which is located in our carpeted family room. And I did this for years. Rather than finding a more appropriate place, I finally chose to ban the playdough play altogether. Truly a shame, because she loves playdough.

Nowadays, I am the one to suggest playdough as an activity. Why the change of heart? It boils down to two things:

1. I wisely contrived a plan to spread a vinyl mat/tablecloth on our ceramic tile hall. So, even if playdough bits stray from the mat (which --who are we kidding-- they will), they fall on the tiles instead of getting embedded into the carpet. Embarrassingly, this hard floor=easy clean-up concept took me years to grasp.

2. While strolling through the blogosphere, I found a recipe for playdough that is perfect. I have tried no less than half a dozen different playdough recipes in the past. Sure, the ingredients are all similar to some degree, but the results have been anything but similar. We've had: too wet, too dry, too stinky, too much, too short-lived (dried out in record time), etc. etc.

The following aspects make my new favorite playdough recipe a winner:

*it makes just enough. I'm not stuck with cups and cups worth of playdough that required the emptying of every salt shaker in the house and left me with no flour to make muffins later on.

*the recipe is so simple and straightforward that my daughter can make it all by herself (okay, she needs me to give it a good stir to smooth the lumps, but the rest is all her).

*it keeps in the refrigerator for quite some time as long as it's in a sealed bag.

Best Playdough Recipe

(found here, which is a delightful blog in many ways, so check out the non-playdough related posts too!):

4 Tbsp white flour (on humid days, I find that I have to increase the amount by another Tbsp or so)

2 Tbsp salt

A splash of vegetable oil (the original recipe calls for a dropper-full, as it is intended as a Montessori activity. I didn't have a dropper on hand, so I guesstimated here)

2 Tbsp water (if you want to color your playdough, add food coloring of choice to the water before mixing it into the rest of the ingredients)

Combine in a bowl and stir. Then knead to really incorporate the color (if used). We kept our first batch in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. We found that subsequent batches kept fresher longer if stored in one of those plastic snack-sized baggies (which, on the whole, I try to avoid using, but one little baggie can be used indefinitely for playdough storage).

We made bracelets and watches. Now we make a new batch of playdough on a regular basis. Throw in some cookie cutters, a garlic press (to make hair/grass/worms/spaghetti), spoons, forks, butter knives, plastic cars, or any toy that makes great tracks and is easily washed and have some fun. Just make sure you have the fun on a non-carpeted surface (ahem). Although, I'm probably the only Mom out there who needs a reminder like that! ;)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Better than a Snack Pack

I came across Organic & Thrifty recently and it is chock-full of healthy information and ideas. I was skimming a post about healthy lunchbox alternatives and found this recipe for "pudding." If the chocolate moustache around my daughter's mouth was any indication as to how much she liked this, I'd say we have a winner. Better yet, I had the few basic ingredients on hand and this snack packs a nutrient-dense punch!

Chocolate Banana-Avocado Pudding:

Puree one avocado with one banana in a food processor. Add 2 tsp cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp honey or to taste. (the banana I used was super ripe and very sweet, so I didn't need as much honey). Blend and serve!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trying to Keep the Heart at Home

I'm not sure why, but my home has been looking anything but haven-like lately. I know what it is I should be doing, but I find myself doing just the opposite. Laundry needs folding? I think I'll sit and read this magazine. Dry dishes in the dish drainer, awaiting their journey back into the cupboards? Hmm...I think I'll read some of my favorite blogs. Aaack! Why can't I get myself in domestic gear?

I have spent many hours devising a house cleaning schedule. After trial and error, I developed a morning and evening routine that works. I have it posted in my Home Management Notebook. I am well aware what tasks are supposed to be done on what days. Everything looks good on paper. But follow-through? That seems to be sorely lacking.

I am one of those people who feels weighed down by clutter and disorder. I would even go so far as to say that a messy house depresses me. This blog has been neglected lately because this space is supposed to be about how I attempt to make all aspects of my family's life comforting and secure and peaceful. How can I write a post for a blog called "Our Haven on Earth" when my husband keeps asking me when I'm going to clear the clutter off our kitchen counter? Or the miscellaneous spills that were never wiped off the stove burner drip pans set off the smoke detector? {In my defense on that last one, our smoke detector is too close to the stove and seems to be super-duper sensitive to boot} Those occurrences hardly seem like they would take place in a "haven." To ignore that fact and wax poetic about homekeeping would make me feel like the world's biggest hypocrite. A fake.

So, I've been doing some thinking. Something must change. But, before we can change something deep-rooted in ourselves or our thinking, it helps to understand the "whys" behind the issue.

Why am I suddenly having trouble taking care of my home and myself? Okay, not taking care of myself is not really a new issue, but I have been more neglectful than usual of my needs and desires as of late. That's a post for another day. But why the domesticity nosedive?

I have noticed, since we began house-hunting in May, that I seem to have "checked out" of the home we currently inhabit, and have set my sights on the future home instead. Mind you, we haven't actually found the future home yet! But just the idea that we will soon (hopefully) be leaving this house in favor of greener pastures, has led me to abandon any energy or focus that I would normally be putting into here.

But then I realized that God has already blessed us with a comfortable and cozy space to call home. We are living in it right now. Today. Maybe He is waiting for me to show my appreciation and gratitude for our current living situation before He blesses us with the housing situation we desire. Sure, our current home has limitations and drawbacks, but it is also where we hang our hats. At least for the time being. Whether we move out next month or next year, I need to stake claim on the house we inhabit now. Victoria Moran, the author of one of my favorite homemaking books, "Shelter for the Spirit," puts it best:

"This is your home, whether you own it, rent it, or were born into it. Home is where you go to refuel--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You no more need to own the house for this personal refueling than you need to own the service station to get gas. When your soul claims an address as its own, it doesn't matter if you stay there six months or the rest of your life. While you occupy the space, it is undeniably yours."

I've written in the past about trying to be more present and "live in the moment." I have been successful doing this with regard to my children. It has taken practice and diligence, but I've managed to be more connected during our crazy days. Many times I have had to remind myself to take a deep breath, slow down, savor, and throw myself right into their lives and whatever activity they're doing at that moment. Kids are so great at living in the moment. It's the only way they know how to live.

So, now that I'm comfortably and more naturally being present where my children are concerned, it's time I add a new challenge: being present in my home. My belief has always been, and still is, that "house" and "home" are two different things. To me, a house is a structure. An inanimate object. But a home shelters us physically and emotionally. It is literally pulsating with life. A home is where love gathers. A place where we "shore up" in order to cope with the world outside our familiar front door. That is why I always refer to myself as a homemaker rather than a housewife.

I need to get back to the me that loves "making home." She's in there, I know she is. Heck, I hear she's even got a blog devoted to it! :) Got a little sidetracked lately, that's all. I blame it on the summer heat.
Well, I'm off to tidy up the mayhem around me (really, I'm going to shut this computer off right after I post this). Typing my thoughts out in this fashion seems to have lit a little fire under me. Sorry for the rambling and jumbled-up parts (which pretty much pertains to the entire post). My thoughts were everywhere tonight. Thank you to any faithful readers who followed along this discombobulated path of a post!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beating the Heat

As we continue to brace ourselves against hot and icky weather, we've been forced to find some new ways to be entertained inside. Pictured above, you'll see quarters adhered to my daughter's feet with clear packing tape. Well, think of these as really, really cheap tap shoes. I took a marathon tap/ballet/jazz combo class when I was her age, and I just loved wearing my tap shoes every chance I got. I was telling her some story about "When I was a little girl..." and the topic of tap dancing came up. When Roo asked me what tap shoes were, I realized I've denied my daughter the thrill of standing in front of a mirror in leotard and tights, with a bunch of other cuties, to tap and twirl to her heart's content. While enrolling her in some sort of dance class is on the agenda someday, I figured I could fashion some tap shoes right now. I know I didn't coin (hee hee) this idea myself. I've seen tap shoes made from loose change several different spots in the past. Just tape them onto the heels and balls of the feet and off you go:

Being confined inside has also brought renewed interest in the doctor's kit. Here's Roo using the "checkoscope" (that's 4 year old medical lingo for stethoscope, by the way. She says it "checks" to make sure the heartbeat is strong and clear. So, based on that rationale, checkoscope certainly deserves heavy consideration as the newest word in medical terminology) to listen to Rascal's heartbeat:

Yes, they are wearing long sleeves and pants even though I just complained about a heat wave. I am guilty of running the central air just a bit too much, I think. I still feel hot even when they start getting chilled. So I dress them appropriately for the arctic blast that blows through our vents in order for me to stay cool (and, thus, less cranky).

Fortunately, he sits very patiently through this thorough examination. Every time. And it happens about a dozen times per day. I love the doctor's glasses she's wearing. And I also love how she makes up a random temperature: "Ah, 422.5... that's a little bit on the high side."

A couple of the benefits of the doctor's kit being used around here is the chance to learn some new vocabulary: otoscope, reflex hammer, syringe; and I think it has definitely helped our son learn to sit patiently at the real doctor's office while they do various tests and exams. After what his sister puts him through (again and again), his actual hospital visits are a piece of cake!
While I was putting Rascal down for a nap, Roo adapted this bridge from a wooden garden stake and the Bounce and Spin Zebra (it's about time that zebra carried his weight around here. He's been sitting idle for months).

I can wish for "sweater weather" as much as I want. It isn't going to make Fall come soon enough. So, in the meantime, we will keep hunting down new activities to wile away the hot summer days.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Library Trip

Finally! We have some fresh reads from the library. Now that Rascal is much more willing to sit through a book, I checked out a couple of books that Roo liked when she was his age. They are simply written, with engaging illustrations. When I sit down to read them to Rascal, Roo stops whatever it is she is doing, and comes over to listen too. So, I guess they're still favorites of hers even 3 years later. [As usual, all book cover photos are in the sidebar, for those of you who like to judge a book by its cover--literally! I know I'm one of those ;) ]

The first one is Blue Bowl Down: An Appalachian Rhyme. I can't remember how I first came across this book several years back, but I'm pretty sure it was purely a happy accident. One of those I-was-looking-for-a-different-book-when-this-one-caught-my-eye kind of thing.

It is a large book, with illustrations that fill each and every page in its entirety. When you read this one, it helps if you inject a kind of rhythmic, lyrical beat to the words as you speak them. Don't worry about how you do it, just do. When my husband reads it, he just reads it like he's reading any storybook. And the kids don't like it that way. They like the chant-like version they get from me. The book just flows better when you do it.

Regardless of how you read it, the sweet pictures of Mama and toddler making bread together is a comforting, homey scene. Every time I read it, I feel compelled to institute a regular bread making night in our weekly routine. I found the author's explanation behind the bread making tradition an interesting snippet at the end of the book.

My son's favorite thing to do when we read this one is to point out the playful kittens on the pages, as they are sometimes hiding! Overall, we find it soothing and calming. A great bedtime read-aloud.

Little House, Little Town is a bright and cheerful book. It follows the day in the life of a baby and the community in a busy town: turning on sprinklers, hanging laundry, running errands, riding bikes, climbing trees, and (as the book comes to an end) everyone heading for home and bed. I think my children like it because its pages are filled with familiar sights that they encounter in their own day.

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear works so well on many levels: beautiful and humorous artwork, exciting and mildly suspenseful storyline, promotion of social values such as sharing. We absolutely love the adorable expressions on the sweet little mouse's face.

The next few books are geared more toward the 3-5 year old crowd, but my son will sit and listen to them too occasionally.

My daughter loves the My First Little House books. Unfortunately, our library doesn't carry all of the titles in the series. Of the ones it does carry, we have checked them all out at least once. This one, County Fair, was the last remaining book in the series that we hadn't checked out before. The reason being, it centers on Almanzo Wilder as a boy, not Laura Ingalls. My daughter is familiar and very fond of Laura, and I wasn't sure she would want to hear a story about this stranger named Almanzo. I was wrong. She enjoyed this book, but not nearly as much as she enjoys the stories starring Laura Ingalls.

On next to the "Sheep books," as we call them. There are more than a few books in this series as well. Sheep in a Jeep, Sheep in a Shop, Sheep Take a Hike: they are all hits around here. My daughter just turned four and loves rhyming words in our daily round. So, since these books have rhyming text, she is a fan. Plus, the pictures are cute and the sheep are given such human facial expressions! Lots of detail and things to point out, which makes reading more fun for her and for me.

So, those are are latest winners from our library trip. The library is such a wonderful resource, it's a shame not to make full use of it! Going to seriously try to get back to making our trips there a weekly event.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Watercolor Resist: Magic Pictures!

Watercolor resist technique is so simple that I can't believe I haven't thought of doing it earlier. I've seen it done and have done it myself, but have not introduced it to my daughter prior to yesterday. For those who don't know, watercolor resist involves marking white paper with a white crayon or candle, and then painting a wash of color over the paper, bringing to light the crayon design. The wax crayon repels the paint, thus exposing your picture. In fact, it's the same technique we used on our Batik Easter eggs this year.

First I gave Roo a white crayon and had her make a picture. But, since it is white crayon on white paper, she was less than thrilled with the results. I encouraged her to keep at it and fill her paper in as much as possible, so we would see a good design. Since she wasn't aware that we were going to go over it with paint, she couldn't understand my enthusiasm for what seemed like a lackluster art project. However, once we washed watercolor paints over the paper, she was a little more interested (a little, but not much).

Wanting to step it up a notch and grab her attention, I drew a few pictures of familiar objects: animals, trees, little girls on swings, etc. I didn't have the easiest time because it is pretty difficult to draw "blindly." I couldn't tell where one part of my design ended and another part began. It was like playing Cranium or Pictionary when you pick the card that says you have to draw with your eyes closed. I suppose I could have taken my white paper and white crayon into better lighting, but my 4 year old isn't picky and I didn't feel like getting up to hunt down more agreeable light. To her, the semblance of any object was better than scribbles.

Then I had her use the darkest colors from the watercolor set and "uncover" the magic picture hiding on the paper. Once I put the whole "magic" spin on it, she was game! And we made (or shall I say, I made and she painted) a dozen pictures. She loved the anticipation of waiting for me to come up with my idea and draw it while hiding behind a "wall" of books at the table, ensuring that she wouldn't see what the magic picture was going to be until it was unveiled with watercolors. The more secrecy and excitement I displayed while drawing a picture for her (shielding it from her eyes from every possible angle), the better!

When my sister came over to visit with her six year old son, we tried the activity again. I handed my nephew a piece of paper onto which I had drawn a farm picture (I did this before they arrived). I didn't tell him anything about it, just handed it to him and said, "Here's a brush. Go paint." He wasn't in the mood to paint, but once he got started and saw an emerging picture, he enthusiastically declared this a winner. My sister and I churned out drawing after drawing for them to discover.

Normally, I don't like to play such a major role in art projects. I don't like to impose the idea on kids that art has to look like something specific or recognizable. Generally, to me, the more abstract, the better. But, since 90% of the art projects we do around here are free-form and child-led, I think a diversion from that is perfectly acceptable once in a while.

An art project that requires only 3 materials and lasts more than 5 minutes? I'm all for that!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Today, Inside. Today, Outside.

In this "Today, Inside/Outside" series, I will be turning my attention to simple snapshots that capture something memorable about our space that particular day inside and, well, outside!

I seem to find myself caught up in a whirlwind of daily demands and activities that steal the living-in-the-moment focus that I've been attempting to implement. Most of the photos in these Inside/Outside posts will probably not appear magnificent to the casual observer. That's okay. They will most likely represent the moments that I want to remember long after this day has passed. Perhaps they will be photo glimpses of something I'm hearing, smelling, creating, touching, eating, seeing. Maybe simple or significant or silly or heartbreaking or peaceful or thrilling or once-in-a-lifetime moments: frozen in time for my overloaded/overthinking brain to recall and reminice about someday down the line.

I'm always on the lookout for ways to slow down and look around me, to find that treasure hiding under the surface, waiting to be discovered. That's the main reason I take part in The Simple Woman's Daybook. It forces me to be present and note what I see, hear, think. This is like that, except in pictures. With a few words or no words at all, depending on what the photos are saying to me that particular day. So, without further ado...

Today, Inside:

Despite the hand in the picture frantically grabbing for a cookie, these cookies could not be classified as "the best oatmeal cookie recipe" that the article claimed they would be. Never mind, it did give me a chance to spend some one-on-one time in the kitchen baking with my 4 year old helper. So even though the recipe was a flop, I don't regret the time we spent making them.

Today, Outside:

"Tiny swimming pools for the fairies," quipped the girl who loves all things magical, when she saw these on the lid of her sandbox this afternoon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer Book Basket review

Well, we're more than several weeks into summer and I just recently changed out the Spring books for ones celebrating the Summer season. I know, I'm just the model of efficiency and organization, aren't I? Just one of the many things I haven't managed to stay on top of these days, I'm afraid. Mother Nature, however, is keeping pace with the changing seasons: it's been hot and sticky and our air conditioner is getting quite the workout. The links to our newest crop of books are below and the cover pictures are in the sidebar if you're interested.

The first book added to our basket is, of course, Summer by Gerda Muller. I just love these wordless board books. The detailed illustrations fill up the whole page, which is very eye-catching to my little ones. I love how we see new little things each time we flip through the pages. I also adore how this series of books focuses on the simple pleasures; sort of the quintessential "do's" of each season. Be it winter, spring, summer, or fall, each season has activities and experiences unique to that particular time of year. These books highlight that in a delightful way!

The next two books are part of a series known as Percy the Park Keeper by Nick Butterworth. They are: Percy's Bumpy Ride and After the Storm. Roo is quite taken with these books. They are clever and cute and feature animals as the main characters (along with Percy, of course). Every time we have a storm or Roo sees a downed tree on our walks, Roo will say, "It's just like in the book, After the Storm." I can safely assume that a book has made its impression on her when it comes up in daily conversation. One of the highlights of these books is the fold-out pages. The one in the back of After the Storm is especially impressive: a fun little conclusion. Plus, it's done in great detail and HUGE.

I left All the Places to Love in the book basket because most of the scenes contained within could occur in Spring or Summer. For instance, the blueberry picking and sailing bark boats down river come to mind as summer activities. So, this book seemed appropriate to carry over from the Spring book basket.

I'm sure I have more books on the shelves that I could place in the Summer Book Basket, but I would never get this post up if I tried to make this an exhaustive list. Pretty soon, we'll be due for the Autumn Book Basket, and I didn't want to skip over our summer choices. So, short and sweet it is!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nature Bracelets

We were driving around house-hunting (yet again) today, and I thought of a little craft to keep the little ones busy while we stopped at each house to scout out the property. Although, calling it a "craft" is a stretch, as it is far too simple to really qualify as such.

When I was young, my sister and I and our neighborhood friends would make these nature bracelets. They are basically masking tape loops around the wrist, onto which you stick bits of nature: flowers, grass, buds, tiny stones, sticks, and moss. Really, anything (well, as long as it's not too heavy) goes! I even recall sticking expired bugs and butterflies to mine when I was about 6 or 7 years old (after I had sadly left them too long in the glass jar home I made for them).

So, once we reached the first property today, I wrapped a loop of masking tape around Roo's wrist. Then, for durability, I wrapped a second loop directly on top of the first. I sent her off to gather and stick whatever she could find. The hills were blooming with wildflowers, so we were not lacking for materials.

I think I may have gotten a little over-involved in the project, picking out the prettiest flowers when Roo seemed to be gravitating more toward sticks and stones. In hindsight, I should have let her put whatever she chose on her bracelet, instead of focusing on making it look good (to me). I guess I couldn't help myself -- I got caught up in reliving childhood memories or something. We will definitely make more of these bracelets this week in our own backyard, and I promise to restrain myself from taking over: just set her free and let it be completely her own creation.

For once it wasn't raining on our house-hunting expedition (we had been 7 for 7 when it came to rain/sleet/hail while on our little day trips scouting out future houses).

I can never see enough barns -- how I would love to own a horse again someday!

A Man on a Mission:
Even Rascal got in on the "jewelry"-making: collecting sticks and pinecones and bringing them to us.

Now all she needs is the dress and she's ready for the prom! Just kidding. Thankfully, we have quite a few years before we have to worry about that!