Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Water Color Resist for Thank You Cards...and Ennui

Josephine had a birthday over a month ago and as planned she had a nice party with lots of friends and family and very generous and sweet gifts. After the party it came time to write thank you notes and I developed a case of preschool art block, similar to writer's block except with an aversion to finger paint and pipe cleaners. Ennui set in. I love that word by the way, but whenever I want to use it in a sentence I stop myself because I'm never sure how to pronounce it, even though I've looked it up plenty of times. Just more ennui.

I taught Jo the word and she told me I was over complicating things as usual (although maybe that was me talking to myself) and would I please put this shoe on her doll and could she please have some gum and Tessie's a meano-moo. Finally, Jo and I decided she'd do some water color resist to make her cards. This is always fun, and it always looks cool, especially if you use liquid watercolors. I cut some watercolor paper in half and Jo wrote all her classmates names and drew them little pictures with a crayon. Then she picked a handful of paint colors which I put in a muffin tin for her and she painted the cards. The watercolor doesn't absorb into the paper where the wax crayon is and the look is really pretty.

The only downside was how long it took us! Jo is still working on making her letters so things are already a little slow going and coupled with my...apathy we'll say, it took a few weeks longer than it should. But it's done now and they look cute and better late than never, right!? And Jo got to practice a lot of writing and work with the liquid watercolors, which we all really enjoy. Of course I then forgot to take a picture of all of them together since the effort of making them nearly did me in and I could only recover (still working on that by the way) by sitting still and sighing deeply.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making Radish Chips with our First Harvest

I have some posts composed in my mind, but have not gotten myself to write them down and hit publish lately. Look, there are auctions of American Girl doll clothes to monitor on ebay, episodes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey to watch, and my latest favorite thing, to read (which scares the pants off me's a horrifying world).

We did something fun today though, and worthy of sharing. We picked our first harvest of the season, a bunch of very pretty and spicy radishes. This variety is called Easter Egg for the lovely scarlett, pink, and ivory colors of the radishes. I like the way radishes taste, but the really fun thing about growing them with the girls is how quickly they go from seed to pretty round radish. We planted this square foot of them a month ago!
While Josephine would need to be medicated to put one of these delicate little things to her lips, she really enjoys picking them with me. She and Tess came out this morning and we pulled them. They grew much better than they did last year, which I attribute to my actually reading the square foot gardening book, rather than just having it around for looks. I only planted sixteen seeds in the square foot so I didn't have to do any thinning, which I think really messed up the roots last year. We still had a few long skinny radishes, but most of them got nice and round and plump. They are really spicy! I wanted to try something different with them, so we made radish chips, using this recipe (essentially you steam the radish for 5 minutes and then sprinkle the sliced radish with paprika, a little cayenne, and salt, and bake for 20 minutes).  Pretty yummy! They were small, but very tasty. They would be good sprinkled on a baked potato, or anything else that could benefit from a small, salty, crunchy condiment. I cannot wait to watch our tomatoes, peppers, borage, cucumbers, and squash (among a few other things) grow this year. 

A few of our radish chips

Friday, May 4, 2012

Some Flubbery Dough and Cake

I haven't meant to let so much time pass between posts! We've had a few things go on in the past few weeks, in particular Jo's birthday celebrations (yes, plural celebrations, multiple cakes...actually seven butterfly cakes and one Chuck E. Cheese cake and sixteen rainbow cupcakes, but who's counting!). In between some of these things Tess and I had a few mornings together, just the two of us, and one morning we made something called, "Rubbery Flubbery Dough." The recipe is from the book "First Art," by MaryAnn Kohl, which is a wonderful book full of inspiring art especially for toddlers and twos.

I'm not sure I loved this recipe! Tess did have fun with it though. The downside to it is that the dough isn't as long lasting as regular play dough (or play clay as Kohl calls her recipe in this book) and it is stickier. But it does have an interesting texture that is pliable and soft and definitely more rubbery than regular dough. I was going to dye it, but Tess requested white, so I didn't add food coloring.

There are three ingredients in the dough; salt, cold water, and corn starch. To make the dough we poured 1 cup of cornstarch and 1/2 cup of cold water into a mixing bowl and stirred that up and set it aside. We put one cup of salt and 1 cup of hot water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil. I think I should have stirred this up better, or gotten the water even hotter, to help dissolve the salt. Anyway after the salt water comes to a boil, pour the water/cornstarch mixture into the saucepan and turn the heat down to low. Stir until the mix is dry and thick. The mixture was significantly stickier when I first removed it from the pan than after it cooled, so if it feels sticky but looks thick and dry I suggest taking it out of the pan and letting it cool. If it's still sticky let your little one knead in more cornstarch. Tess loved that part! Cornstarch has such a cool texture. Actually the cornstarch and water mixture is pretty cool by itself.

Anyway Tess first enjoyed mixing in the cornstarch to make the dough a little less sticky, and then she took our colored popsicle sticks and spent a long time poking the dough with them, I'm sorry, making a cake. Who knows where she got the inspiration to make cake?!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Color Mixing with Popsicle Sticks

Josephine's birthday party was this past weekend and as a part of the favors we gave the kids small wooden birdhouses. I'm not sure they could really be used that way, but they were cute and we also included some supplies the kids could use to decorate them. This week we've been experimenting with painting wood with liquid water colors so Jo painted her birdhouse with them. The liquid watercolors look really beautiful painted on wood, like the wood was stained a really pretty color. The liquid watercolors are a great paint to use on wood, because the wood absorbs the color really nicely.

We did another fun experiment with Tess using wooden popsicle sticks and the liquid watercolors. I bought the girls some colored popsicle sticks a while back but wasn't sure what to do with them. I decided to use them to illustrate to her more about mixing colors. We took a yellow popsicle stick and painted it with red watercolor paint to watch it turn orange, then took a red popsicle stick and painted it with blue (actually 'teal' but it worked) to make purple, and then took another yellow popsicle stick and painted it with the blue to make green. They worked great and Tess really enjoyed it. She then dumped most of a container of gold glitter glue on them to make a sculpture. There is almost no end to the cool stuff you can do with the liquid watercolors! We are going to try to think of more fun things to do with these colored popsicle sticks...maybe even keep painting them and make one large sculpture.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Starting the Garden!

This past week we started working on our garden. I am so excited about this. Last year was the first year we planted a garden and we had fun with it. For inspiration we used a book called Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots and it is such an inspirational and fun book! It has lots of great ideas about gardens to plant with kids. You can pick from themed gardens, like a pizza garden, or a a moonlight garden, but there are also suggestions for popular plants to grow with children. Plants that are popular with kids for one reason or another like pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, hollyhocks, and morning glories among many others.

I don't actually know much about gardening, but I've been having fun learning. We built two raised beds so we could use the square foot gardening method. Although I ignored this part at first last summer, the method relies on more than just the raised bed to work. Depending on the plant you are supposed to plant either 16, 9, 4, or 1 plant per square feet. For the radishes we just planted for instance we planted 16 seeds in one square foot. This way you don't have to thin the seedlings and don't have too many radishes at once. You can also rotate what you plant in each square foot throughout the season. Radishes by the way are one of the recommended plants to grow with children because they go from seed to radish in a little over a month and they come in pretty colors like pink, red, purple, and white. Right now we have one square foot planted with radishes and one with an edible purple flower/herb called borage.

Since some of the garden got eaten up by rabbits last year we are also trying a green wire fence around the beds in the hope that this will deter some of the critters. Today I sent the girls outside with some ribbon to decorate the fence a little and make it look a little prettier! I was inspired by this post from The Artful Parent. The girls liked it and wound ribbon over and over and pulled it out and wound it again. It looks pretty too!

We are still pouring over the Burpee catalog and trying to decide what to plant, but so far we are planning cherry tomatoes, small red sweet peppers, a small watermelon, some mini pumpkins, and a galvanized tub full of potatoes. We will also put in some morning glories and will plant a packet of pink poppy seeds featuring Princess Belle (can Disney market anything with a princess, or what?). We are also going to plant a bean pole tee pee for the girls to enjoy. I can't wait for the summer! What do you love to plant in your garden?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aluminum Foil Challenge

It's great to be back from spring break.  We had a really nice time and I want to write about a fun place we stayed up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I will, but tonight I'm going to write about the "Aluminum Foil Challenge." I "invented" this to get the girls to go outside into the backyard to play. They both like the backyard, and actually Tess loves the backyard, but they are sometimes reluctant to go out at first. So to entice them I gave them a roll of aluminum foil (not including the box with that spiky thing that tears the foil) and told them it was a challenge and to make something and get back to me so I could photograph it. This occupied them for a long time and they were both pretty thrilled with it. It's always the most open ended stuff that engages them, isn't it?

I think there are several items around the house this would work with (and that I plan to try soon): band-aids, a box of Kleenex, a box of wipes, a roll of paper towels, maybe a box of salt. Sometimes it's also a relief (for me) to give them access to something I usually try to keep them from wasting and just let them do whatever they want with it! It's kind of the same feeling I get when I'm having a bad day and I mentally decide to say yes as much as possible with them. So, yes, Jo, take that roll of foil and wrap it around the deck pretending it's Rapunzel's hair, and yes Tess, please rock your aluminum foil baby to sleep.

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Awesome Art Show

This past week has been spring break here at our house and we've had some fun times. We've had some trials too, oh Super Nanny could pass some judgement (and also just other people in the grocery store, at the library, etc), but overall we've had fun.  We had an exceptional time visiting a new show currently ongoing at the Hirshhorn Museum called Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space.

The Hirshhorn is a contemporary art museum and a part of the Smithsonian. It's my favorite Smithsonian museum, and the girls usually love it too.  Before I had children I didn't think much about how children experience art museums.  The girls can engage with paintings on a wall in relatively small doses...but contemporary art is often three dimensional, often has fewer elements and simpler lines than other art, and doesn't usually rely on some understanding of a narrative to engage with the work. Other than the fact that the subject matter can sometimes be too mature, or at least hard to explain, I think contemporary art is so fun to experience with children.

This new show is no exception and is even better than most because it's interactive! You can touch stuff. And while the adults stand around looking at one another awkwardly, the kids dive right in. They had absolutely no qualms about walking into a cube shaped room with a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack blaring, plopping themselves down on one of the many mattresses laid on the floor, heads comfy on a pillow. None of them picked up the emery boards laid conveniently on each pillow and filed their nails (but you can if you go and you should!) but otherwise they accepted the whole thing as if, of course you can lay down on mattresses in the middle of an art gallery. That is why experiencing this with kids is so great. SPOILER ALERT: there are pictures of newspaper clippings projected onto screens in the mattress room and the artist outlined some of the features of the people with cocaine. It wasn't obvious to our little kids though. Unless it was but that hasn't come up yet. Something for the kindergarten teacher, perhaps?

The kids favorite part was running through a piece called Blue Penetrable BBL. This work consists of many cords (they are made of some rubbery feeling material though, not cloth) suspended from the ceiling in the center of a room. Walking though the space is amazing; it's disorienting, and really otherworldly. It's a very cool sensation, although trying to keep track of my two kids made me dizzy. You are left feeling like the whole room is pulsing with movement and light. I loved it! But, I do think it may have given me a migraine. The children could have spent all day just walking though that piece.

The other cool thing we did was re-visit the Dan Flavin piece and use some highlighter pens to make glowing drawings in the gallery. The highlighters looked so much like they were glowing in the bright blue light that people were stopping to ask where we'd bought them! The whole experience was so very fun and unique and if you are anywhere near the DC area you have to check this out and take your kids!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

We Like Lists-Books Starring Girls

Josephine and Tess both love books and reading them books is something I can (almost) always happily do.  Since she first discovered Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious Josephine has loved books featuring a little girl (whether human or mouse or badger) and especially a series of books featuring the adventures of a particular little girl.  This is a list of some of our favorite picture books that feature the same little girl as the main character.  If you have any others you like that fit in this category, please share!

Pinkalicious (Victoria Kann) We like this book, and well, honestly Josephine loves this book. Purplicious has some mature themes for the preschool age group but Goldilicious, and Silverlicious are cute, if a little saccharine.

Fancy Nancy (Jane O'Connor) A cute detail is that in one of the more recent books (Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique) we learn Nancy's little sister's name is JoJo. There are lots of Fancy Nancy books but I think Jo's favorite is "Bonjour Butterfly."

Amazing Grace (Mary Hoffman) Great book about an interesting little girl who assumes the personalities of many of her favorite story book characters even when her classmates tell her she can't. "Princess Grace" is one book in the series and it is great for showing girls (and boys) that there are non-Disneyfied princesses out there.

Yoko (Rosemary Wells) This is a cute series about a kindergarten aged kitten, in a class full of other animals, who has recently relocated from Japan to the US. She brings sushi to share with her friends at school and they decline to try it, making Yoko feel bad. In the end she makes a friend who shares her sushi. In another Yoko book, "Yoko's Paper Cranes," she folds origami cranes to send to her grandparents in Japan, and in "Yoko Writes her Name," she gets teased for writing in Japanese but ends up teaching her classmates to write their names in Japanese.

Katie and the Sunflowers (James Mayhew) We really love this set of books! We have not read them all, but they make art come alive when main character Katie visits museums with her grandmother, who falls asleep and leaves Katie to explore the museum on her own. She meets characters inside paintings who step out into the museum to be with her, and also meets characters in famous paintings that she enters into. These books really get you looking at paintings you've probably seen many times and are really engaging.

For instance, in "Katie's Sunday Afternoon," she sees the Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and makes friends with the little girl in white you can see in the center of the painting. She notices the monkey in the foreground, and the little girl in white laments that no one in the painting is swimming. It's so cool to imagine getting inside these paintings and meeting the characters.  There are lots of books in this series including, "Katie Meets the Impressionists," "Katie and the Mona Lisa," "Katie's Picture Show," "Katie and the British Artists," and "Katie and the Spanish Princess," among many others.

Ella Bella Ballerina and Swan Lake (James Mayhew) This is another nice series of books by James Mayhew about a little girl named Ella Bella. In these books Ella Bella, who loves to dance, is transported into the stories as her teacher Madame Rosa tells her students about the ballets. It's a very accessible way to introduce children to a few classic ballets, including the names of their composers (Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky). In addition to Swan Lake there is one about Cinderella, and one about Sleeping Beauty (the ballet, not the Disney version).

Bread and Jam for Frances (Russell Hoban) These are books starring a stubborn and strong-willed little badger named Frances.  She decides in Bread and Jam for Frances, for instance, that she will only eat bread and jam until she gets totally sick of it and decides she needs to add more variety to her meals.  We also like "A Baby Sister for Frances," and "Bedtime for Frances."  There was also an animated Frances show on for a while that Jo really liked.  The shows were based on the books.

Mirette on the High Wire (Emily Arnold McCully) This series of books is about a determined little girl who lives in her mother's boarding house in France and there meets a famous tightrope walker.  She vows to learn how to walk the wire and sticks with it until she can.  She then helps her mentor overcome his fear of the wire, and goes on tour with him performing all over the world in the follow-up book, "Starring Mirette and Bellini."  There is also, "Mirette and Bellini Cross Niagara Falls."

One Morning In Maine (Robert McCloskey) This wonderful book is about a little girl named Sal who loses her first tooth while clam digging on the coast of Maine with her father. She collects a seagull feather to put under her pillow since she's lost her tooth. She spends the day with her dad and sister Jane, going into town, eating chocolate ice cream, and finally taking their boat home to eat clam chowder. It's nice, and sweet, and really evokes the sights and sounds of Maine on a normal day with two little girls and their dad.  This is the same Sal that stars in "Blueberries for Sal," another great book, which is why I included it here.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (Kevin Henkes) This is a really funny book about a little mouse named Lilly who loves her teacher, but gets in trouble when her enthusiasm over her new plastic purse gets the better of her at school. Lilly has a really funny and realistic personality and goes through impulsive emotions that I think makes it easy for kids to relate to her. Lilly also stars in "Lilly's Big Day," and Henkes has a few other really cute books starring little girls (well, girl mice) "Chrysanthemum," and "Sheila Rae, the Brave." "Julius the Baby of the World," is about Lilly's little brother, and her reaction to him, and Lilly also shows up in "Chester's Way."

Angelina Ballerina (Katherine Holabird) These are pretty popular books, and Josephine would agree that they should be. They are all about the adventures of a little mouse, Angelina, who loves ballet, and her cast of friends, and little sister.  There are too many Angelina books to name here, but there is also an animated series  on Sprout.

Madeline (Ludwig Van Bemelman's) The Madeline books are a favorite here and I even remember them from when I was a kid! You can find "Madeline's Christmas", "Madeline and the Bad Hat", "Madeline and the Gypsies", and "Madeline in London." These books are about a little orphan named Madeline and her escapades.

Eloise (Kay Thompson) This is the famous little girl who lives in the Plaza hotel and gets into all sorts of trouble.  She is also hilarious!  I really like these books because they really sound like they are written in the voice of a little six or seven year old girl. This is what Publisher's Weekly said about Eloise back in 1957; "As everyone who can read must know, Eloise is an overprivileged 6-year-old, the terror of the Hotel Plaza in New York. She is also ill-mannered, ill-tempered and ugly. But she has her charm. She often means well, and her mother neglects her. Even though you know that you would do the same thing if she were yours, you can't help finding this appealing."  It is "a book for precocious grown-ups" after all!

Olivia (Ian Falconer) This is a story about another sassy and precocious child who happens to be a pig. I've read descriptions that say Olivia is like Eloise if Eloise were a pig. She's pretty hilarious too and Jo loves both the books and the television show. Watch out though...your kid might start talking like her, and that will drive you (me) crazy!
So, what do you think?  Do you have any favorite picture book series starring a little girl?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

History Lessons and Colonial Williamsburg

We just enjoyed a fun weekend away at Williamsburg with Tess and Josephine's grandparents (thanks Mimi and Bob!). Williamsburg is a fun vacation destination for us because it offers special experiences that appeal to each of us: the ability to immerse oneself in a dramatic story for Jo, ginger cakes for Tim and me, and lots of gravel and dirt for Tess.  Actually they are shells, not gravel, that cover the streets.  I was asked to pocket many handfuls of shells by a very enamored Tess, and those were in addition to the ones she had in her mouth.

Jo is just starting to understand and absorb some early US history. We checked out two interesting books at the library before we went, "A Williamsburg Household" and "Mary Geddy's Day, A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg."  We have also read some of the Felicity stories.  Felicity is an American Girl doll (also "archived" which is American Girl doll speak for it's gonna cost a lot to buy this doll on ebay).  Josephine does not have a Felicity doll, but we've read a few of the stories, which are set in colonial Williamsburg.  Honestly she is young for the themes presented in the Felicity books and both the Mary Geddy book and particularly the Williamsburg household book talk about slavery in some depth and that's upsetting to have to explain to her. Of course it'll be upsetting to explain to her at any age, but at four her picture of the world is so incomplete that I'm not sure what exactly she took away from my explanation, and yes I do mean please let this topic not randomly come up when we are chatting with a stranger at the store.  Anyway I would still recommend both the books and especially Mary Geddy for a young visitor to Williamsburg.  You can visit the actual Geddy house, which is pretty interesting.

Another of Jo's favorite things to do at Williamsburg is dress up like a colonial girl.  The shops have dresses for sale, you could make one (not I, but you), or you can rent them once you get there. It's pretty fun to watch Jo do her "courtesies" outside each store.  It was a great time!  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wild Violet Jelly

We've been having so much fun this week discovering that some of the plants growing wild outside our front door can be used to make pretty and tasty treats. After making the dandelion jelly and reading more about foraging, I stumbled upon a recipe for wild violet jelly and realized that the pretty little purple flowers growing in our front yard are wild violets. A reward for having an unmanicured lawn!  

The thing is, while looking for wild asparagus, chickweed, or amaranth might sound exciting to me, Jo and Tess (especially Jo) would never go near those, probably not in the wild, let alone on a plate. So my only hope of truly roping the girls in (to not just the foraging, but also the eating) is to look for flowers we can eat, or things we can turn into something sweet. And these little violets are as pretty as it gets, and can be used many ways. To make sure you are picking a violet, look for heart shaped leaves and make sure the flower has five petals.

We spent a few hours outside playing and picking the flowers. Once we'd collected enough, we repeated the steps we'd taken to make the dandelion jelly. We separated the flowers from the stems, gave them a little water bath, patted them dry, boiled them in a cup of water for 10 minutes, strained them, mixed the infusion with sugar, a little lemon juice (and this is a really fun part so make sure your kids watch; the blue/dark purple infusion will magically become a very lovely light purple) and pectin, and cooked it for a little bit.  Find a more specific recipe and instructions for canning here. I'm going to try canning one of these days, but not today, and anyway we didn't collect enough flowers to make enough jelly to can this time. Find yourself a little patch of these flowers and try out a few recipes with them (more inspiration here)!

The color of the infusion before lemon juice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Dandelion Jelly

Today we worked on a project that I've wanted to do with the girls for a long time. The name of this blog was inspired by a story I read in the New Yorker about foraging for food (read it here) and today was our first experience foraging for edible flowers and making something delicious with them.  We made dandelion jelly!

Dandelions may be the scourge of people trying to grow a nice lawn and of gardeners, but they are actually useful and edible plants.  They are also very popular with children, at least mine.  First of all kids think the flowers are beautiful, no one ever objects to them picking them, and the flowers turn into fluffy cotton balls of seeds they can blow all over the place.  In fact Jo admonished me for picking too many yellow flowers today; she's worried there won't be enough "blowing dandelions" if we pick all the yellow ones right now.  A dandelion conservationist!

Curiously, and probably because it's only mid-March, although it feels like May, we really had to hunt for the dandelions.  We walked all around our neighborhood and visited two parks to collect enough to make a small jar of jelly. It was pretty fun just hunting for them, and the girls were able to basically pick all of them. We collected them in a basket and brought them home to clean and pick.

First we rinsed them in water, gently. This made them look really soggy and wilted, but I couldn't bring myself to let them steep in water and use that for jelly without first soaking and wiping them off.  Then I cut the tops off the stem and pulled the flower out of the green stem.  The stems are bitter, so you want to use just the flower, no green stuff.  The girls helped with this, but it is tedious, so they mostly watched me do it.  Jo did think it was so cool to see the blowing dandelion parts buried inside the yellow flower.

I used this recipe, but I cut it in half, because we only collected a cup worth of dandelion petals.  You might want to double it if you're making these as gifts, but if you cut it in half, like I did, it'll make a small amount you can put in a jar and use right away.  I don't have canning equipment, but this jelly will definitely last in your fridge for the time it takes you to eat it.  It's really quick and easy to make once you have the flowers picked, and separated from the stem.

In a nutshell I boiled the flowers in a cup of water for ten minutes, and then strained the infusion and tossed the flowers out. Then I put the infusion back in the kettle and added half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pectin and cooked it, stirring with a wooden spoon. I cooked it for longer than the recipe says, and it seems to have set up okay.  I have not made jelly much so I'm a novice. Once finished I poured the jelly into a glass jar and let it cool, storing in once it cooled in the fridge. The stuff is delicious!  Really good.  The girls thought it tasted like honey, and I agree.  It really is a fun project and I think it's nice to teach the girls about hidden treasures in things we see all around us and take for granted, and even disparage. Although honestly I think this is really a message for me, because to the girls the dandelion is actually beloved.