Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – social distancing with littles

I tend to use field trips and excursions (and even errands!) quite liberally with the kids: as a way to break up a long day, cut through moodiness, provide structure, and create enjoyable and educational experiences. So being stuck at home all day, every day, has been a bit of a challenge – though I’m sure not nearly so much of a challenge as it is for parents accustomed to being away from the children most of the day. I’ve been aiming for one new or different activity each day to break up the routine, and we’ve been diving more deeply into some regular activities as well. For your inspiration, here are a few of the highlights!

  1. The Dome Tent: we have a climbing dome out back, and the boys helped me move it into the lawn and cover it with sheets (using chip clips!) to make a tent! The kids hung out in it, hung upside down in it, and hung in a swing from the center of it (I put the swing up after I took pictures, but it was Aubade’s favorite part). It needed more openings so the breeze could keep it cool in the sun, though 🙂
  1. Water (and mud): with a sprinkler and some pipes, the boys discovered how water pressure can force water up through a vertical pipe, how the water will seep out of any crack when two pipes are joined, and how to make the water spray everywhere by blocking part of the opening and thus increasing the pressure. They also filled their pipes with muds and pretended they were magic mud sticks.
  1. Custom Pancakes: We eat pancakes a lot, but we’ve been eating them even more recently, because I started making them look like letters (for Rondel), numbers (for Limerick), and cute animals (for Aubade)! I love when the kids eat pancakes because my recipe is 100% whole grain with no added sugar and a secret addition of some type of vegetable. These days we’ve been using up the frozen pumpkin and butternut squash from last summer’s harvest, but carrot is also good, as is a half and half blend of spinach and banana (for quite vibrantly green pancakes that are amazing with chocolate chips and walnuts mixed in!)
I’m lucky – the kids are quite forgiving of lumps and irregular shaped ears lol. Also it took me way too long to realize that if I shape the numbers and letters as mirror images I’ll be able to have the better-looking side of the pancake visible when they’re right way around on the plate. This batch would have the ugly bubbly side on top.
I was trying to make a cat, but Aubade was convinced it was a mouse…
  1. Lots and lots of reading! All the kids are starting to get excited about reading, and it makes more reading possible when I’m not the only one who can do it (my throat does get tired, and also now we can rotate who is listening so everyone gets a chance to not be just listening). Aubade has memorized Old Hat, New Hat by the Berensteins and likes to read it multiple times a day; Rondel puts so much expression into the words that it’s like listening to a dramatic audiobook with all the added nuance and humor he conveys; and Limerick is beginning to devour everything he sees with the craving of insatiable curiosity and an intensity bordering on perfectionism. We’ve spent hours just reading out loud to each other (I read the entire The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just this week out loud to Rondel, just by way of example…)
  1. Uno: the boys very recently discovered the card game Uno and have been wanting to play it all day every day. I’ve been using it as an incentive, or to give rhythm to the day: I’ll play three games of Uno now, but then I’d like you to exercise your body before the next set of three, or exercise your mind with reading or with math. We talk about the importance of using our minds and bodies and stretching them to do hard things, and then break up those more challenging things with some fun and relaxing Uno games, and it seems to be working well for now.
  1. Leaf Rubbing: To get some outdoor time and for a unique art project, we took a walk around the block collecting interesting-looking leaves as we went. Our neighborhood is rather weedy, so we were able to get a wide variety of leaves while only pilfering a very few more cultivated plants reaching out over sidewalks 🙂 And of course we had some good leaves to use from our own plants also! Once we got back, we laid them out on the counter, covered them with plain printer paper, and rubbed crayons over the paper to generate the impression of the leaves below. Juniper wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, though it was still good, but the Hong Kong orchid and mallow leaves were stunning. And Rondel used black crayon over a longwise half of a wild arugula leaf to make something that resembled a jagged blade.
  1. Costumes: one day, we pulled down the box of old Halloween costumes and had fun dressing up and playing pretend as the various animals and conglomerate creations to be had there. Rondel loves his alligator outfit the most, while Aubade prefers to rotate through all the options (and her princess dresses) rather rapidly…

Between all these things and more (and I have more ideas stockpiled for the next idle moment!), we’ve managed to keep TV time to a minimum without getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the same place for so long. I’ll definitely be glad when the libraries and museums and zoos are open again, but I’m not going to jeopardize the health of my community over boredom or frustration. Instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to creatively connect with my family even more than normal.

I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum today if you want to join the linkup! She’s posted a few times in the past week or so with helpful and humorous thoughts about isolation and quarantine (with two medically fragile kids, she’s been less complacent about it than a lot of people).

How have you been handling isolation or social distancing? Especially those of you without backyards or easy ways to get time outside, how have you managed to create a sustainable new rhythm of life?

Posted in learning together

learning together: erupting citrus!

Inspired by one of Limerick’s class experiments at our co-op, we spent an afternoon watching baking soda and citric acid react explosively in our kitchen 🙂

Limerick applying the baking soda to the lemon! (and his shirt, lol)

One thing I really liked about the way his co-op teacher presented the baking soda/lemon juice reaction was that she asked a lot of questions designed to help the kids come up with hypotheses and logically critique those hypotheses. Each lemon volcano had three components: the lemon, the food coloring (to make it look more like lava!), and the baking soda. So she asked them what they thought made the eruption happen, for example, and when a lot of the kids said the baking soda, she pointed out that the baking soda wasn’t making fizzy bubbles when it was all by itself in the bowl!

Limerick at co-op, right after adding the baking soda to his lemons.

So when we replicated and expanded upon the experiment at home (Rowan was so jealous that Limerick got to do it at co-op and he didn’t!), I tried to ask similar leading questions. We also decided to test other citrus fruits with the same reaction, so I had the kids think about the differences between the fruits and guess which would make the biggest reaction beforehand, so we could compare our hypotheses with our results.

To my surprise, the two types of oranges we tested had drastically different results. The big navel orange was even less reactive than I’d expected, while the small juicing orange was almost as explosive as the lemon! The grapefruits were also quite dramatic, being overripe and thus extremely juicy and very fun to squeeze everywhere to create great “lava flows” of fizzy reactive liquid. I do think the lemons were still the most reactive, although the results were not anything like quantitative 😛

While we didn’t draw chemical diagrams and get into the atomic reason acids and bases react, we did have a lot of fun exploring the reaction itself! It’s such an easy and exciting way to see how different types of substances can interact.

Posted in book lists, family life

book-based activities: troll cupcakes!

The main branch of the Mesa public library system – our family’s current go-to library – does an excellent job of displaying children’s picture books to catch the attention of kids and parents alike, and additionally of rotating those picture books to highlight different excellent choices every week. I’m sure if I went to the library two days in a row I would notice at least some of the same options on display, but with our current 1-2 week interludes they are always all unique. With three little ones to keep an eye on, it is much easier for me to grab a few of the display books that look promising than it would be to scan the shelves (although I try to do that too, usually when we’ve found an author we enjoy).

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed a book that caught my eye for both its artwork and the clever twist hidden in its title: Troll and the Oliver, by Adam Stower.

trolloliver

It’s just a little thing, using the article for the person in the story instead of the monster/troll/villain, and it made the boys laugh too.

The story is that of a troll attempting to catch a small boy named Oliver, who continually eludes him while singing songs about it. At the end of the book, after a hilarious turn of events, the two of them discover that trolls love cake, and they end by baking cakes for all of the trolls in the woods. And after the story ends, the author includes a recipe for cupcakes, along with ideas for decorating them to look like trolls! Needless to say, my boys were adamant that troll cupcakes had to happen.

So, with a few alterations to the recipe (which had no leavening agent – is that normal?), and a trip to the grocery store for some cupcake topper decorations, we made it happen!

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I have a tendency to let myself get carried away in the current of the kids’ excitement, so per their request we made twelve different colors of frosting (one for each cupcake) so that each troll could be truly unique. Rondel made sure that everyone got to pick the colors they wanted without choosing a color someone else already had, Limerick discussed the intricacies of color mixing, and Aubade tried to eat the frosting by the spoonful every time I glanced away from her.

Somehow we managed to get frosting on all the cupcakes without completely covering the kitchen in it, and we even were able to decorate the cupcakes instead of simply eating all the decorations plain first! (You should see the kids when we decorate Christmas cookies… the vast majority of the sprinkles seem to end up inside them rather than on the cookies.) Rondel decorated all of his, Limerick and Aubade each did one, and I did the rest. Aubade ate hers before I got a picture, unfortunately… although to be honest it is good she ate it right away because she had managed to lick the whole top of it before I frosted it!

Aren’t they adorable? The fuzzy ones have shredded coconut for their fur – I liked especially the texture from the extra wide flakes. I do think overall that either slightly bigger cupcakes (these were quite small, even on top) or slightly smaller decorative objects would make things easier, as would slightly moister frosting (and more of it per cupcake) to help things stick.

All in all it made for a fun morning, if also a lot of dishes 🙂 Rondel is already asking when we can make them again, and it’s only been three days! And I have to say, tying a book into normal life in such a fun and memorable way can only serve to make reading even more appealing and exciting than it already is.

What are some of your favorite picture books to bring to life, and what do you love to do with them?

Posted in family life, recipes

St. Nicholas Day (and a recipe for cookies!)

Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…

However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!

I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.

Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!

But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).

And now for the recipe itself!


St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies

Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
  2. Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
  3. Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
  4. Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
  6. Preheat oven to 325° F
  7. Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)
  8. Enjoy!
Posted in art, family life

finger painting in the new house

One of the best features of our new house is the large, open island counter. There’s plenty of space for chairs to be pulled up all around it for the boys to stand on, and ample room for projects and supplies to be spread out. We’ve obviously used it a lot for baking (so much nicer than my old tiny kitchen for rolling out pizza crust!), but I’ve also been trying to use it for crafts and other messy or artistic activities.

I decided to try out an unattributed edible finger paint recipe I found on Pinterest which was basically cornstarch, sugar, and water cooked together. The boys were just as excited about making the paint as they were about actually painting – they helped me measure the ingredients, and then helped me decide which colors to mix up in each of our little bowls.

The paint had a gloppy, jelly-like consistency – I would hesitate to call it paint, and I wouldn’t recommend the recipe. It was fun to squeeze and mush around, though!

The boys experimented with the paint for a little while on paper, but their main goal was to paint themselves:

Rondel painted himself to look like a bear and even gave me a roar for good measure!

IMG_7537

And of course, since it was edible, we let Aubade join in when she woke up from her nap, to her great delight:

An additional benefit of the whole exercise (besides the creative fun and sensory play) was that the boys agreed to have a peaceful bath afterwards and didn’t even complain about having their hair washed!

One thing I have noticed about the boys with these kinds of projects is that Limerick gets very focused on the process, carefully and meticulously repeating the same motions until he can perform then to his satisfaction; he has a definite goal in mind and won’t easily be distracted until he’s accomplished it. Rondel, on the other hand, is far more exploratory with the medium at first (that was his hand in the bowl of yellow paint above, and he in general loves the tactile sensations of these types of activities once he gets past any anxieties) but seems less self-directed than Limerick. If he has a goal, he doesn’t always remember it or stay focused on it long enough to make much headway towards it. And yet he still seems interested and engaged with the activity, so that’s good. I guess it is just two different ways of approaching the world!

Posted in family life

a review of Falcon Hill Park

While the weather was still fairly cool, I tried to take the boys hiking a couple times as a different way of challenging them physically and getting them out in nature. On the first occasion I was rather too ambitious and took all three of them to Papago West on my own. While the hike up was enjoyable for everyone, I ended up carrying both Aubade (obviously) and a screaming Limerick all the way back down to the car… he had fallen and hurt his leg, and was crying because he wanted to hike back but was too hurt and too scared of falling again to actually do so. Poor kid. Rondel surprised me with his independence and bravery, though! It was quite slippery coming back down with all the loose gravel, and although he was afraid and also fell, he summoned up his courage and managed to hike all the way back down on his own (it helped that he was willing to scoot on his bottom over the steepest parts… Limerick refused to try that).

Anyway, for our next hike I took full advantage of the adults in our life and convinced both my parents and my husband to try out Falcon Hill Park with us – because, as challenging as it can be to hike with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I believe it is worthwhile to accustom them to hiking and hopefully help instill in them a love for getting out into the wild outdoors (at the very least, it is worthwhile for me with my children because hiking is one of my favorite activities! So there may be some ulterior motives here… 😉 )

This is really a neat little park – there is a playground with three different playscapes, large grassy fields, and this small mountain tucked away in the back, still in its native desert form. We played at the playground for a while, waiting for my parents:

This time, Limerick decided to be the intrepid hiker while Rondel was intimidated by the steepness of the trailhead, and ended up playing at the playground with my mom the whole time instead. And honestly, while the mountain is low enough that the hike isn’t too taxing for a small child, the trail is not well-marked, is often steep and gravelly, and often involves climbing over boulders and around bushes. It was doable because we had at least one adult for each kid, so that my husband could carry Limerick down while my dad carried everyone’s water. (Never hike without water in the desert!) I wouldn’t attempt it on my own for another few years though!

In short, we had a great time at the park but I’d advise other moms with young kids to be prepared with extra helping hands if attempting the hike, and make sure your kids (and you) are wearing good shoes.

Posted in family life

how we celebrated palm sunday

We started with leftover pancakes and stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. The boys got so excited by the stories that we built Jericho from couch cushions, marched around it seven times, yelled as loud as we could, and watched the walls fall down! We all took turns being inside Jericho and being the Israelites marching outside. (The Jesus Storybook Bible, oddly enough, omits the story of Palm Sunday, as does the Children of God Storybook Bible, so we read other stories this morning instead – most of Holy Week and several from the OT).

I really wanted to take the kids to church but we were all exhausted and slightly sick so that didn’t happen. We did sing together though! From somewhere in the far reaches of my brain I recalled some simple, happy praise songs and in the spirit of the day we sang Ho-ho-ho-hosanna and Praise Ye the Lord several times each.

For the same reasons that church didn’t happen, I knew that naps had to happen, so I told the boys that if they stayed in bed for quiet time until their lullaby CD was finished, we would make Palm Sunday cookies together (the CD is long enough that they usually fall asleep before it’s over). Rondel is extremely bribable these days, especially by sugar… I don’t want to make it part of our regular routine, but I needed them to rest so I could help the sick baby be comfortable and rest as well.

And then we made the promised cookies!

I’m not sure if the boys had used cookie cutters before, but they got the hang of it fairly quickly and only had a few mishaps even with the crumbly shortbread dough! Rondel helped me roll it out once also, and did a pretty good job considering how young he is and how infrequently he’s used a rolling pin. And whenever something didn’t work perfectly I just said, we can fix it! or, we can roll it out another time and try again! So we were able to get all the cookies made with minimal stress on anyone’s part, although I did have to strictly enforce access to the unrolled dough to prevent them from eating it all as fast as humanly possible.

During dinner I found our Bible Animal Stories book and read the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of a donkey (we have a lot of kids’ Bibles floating around our house…). It captured the excitement of the event really well, how everyone would have been so caught up in the enthusiasm and carried away in the emotion. It always amazes me how just a few days later those same people would be caught up in the storm of accusation against him.

I hope you all had a wonderful Palm Sunday! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!