Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and New Directions

Yesterday, I spent a significant portion of my day washing walls. I'd like to tell you that washing walls is something I do with regularity, but I'd be lying if I did. I washed walls yesterday as part of a completely consuming need to clean and organize. (No, I'm not pregnant again, but thanks for asking. Smile.) 

My son was at a sleepover with his auntie and cousins, and the two girls were sick- so sick that they were both quietly watching movies and listening to audiobooks without comment or constant demand for snacks. I suddenly had time on my hands, which is something I rarely have. Finding myself standing quite still in my kitchen at one point, unsure what to do next, I decided to dive headlong into the cleaning and organizing that my house so badly needed.

I love to clean and organize. (Yes, yes, I know. It's an illness.) The more I cleaned, the more energized I felt. Where I'd been feeling trapped by my house and circumstances of late, I began to feel content with what I have, and even proud that our family has been able to do so much with so little. (For a bit of background on that you can check out Our Story.)

The best part of this energy surge? I'll tell you that a sparkling clean house was super great, but the better result was the mental clarity it afforded me. I think well in clean, organized spaces, and the mundane repetition of cleaning walls yesterday really gave me a chance to think about life- big picture life- and my path in it.

I came up with a couple of truths that have been there all along, but that I've been burying deep because I wasn't yet sure how to handle them.

1. I have too many ventures going. They're fun and interesting and I like each one of them on their own, but all together they're more than I can reasonably do at this point in my life, with three young children.
2. I have to re-establish my life priorities, because I'm starting to let the little stuff crowd out the big stuff. ("Yes, I'd love to be on that committee, and in order to make that meeting I'll cut our school day a little short and serve frozen pizza...")
3. I need to have an action plan for my goals, which are useless without action needed to make them reality.

So, in between loads of "puke laundry" (lovely term, I know) yesterday, I sketched out my list of priorities. Then I added some action steps, and shared them with my husband when he got home from work. He added a few of his own, and we worked on our family plan together. The plan will likely take some tweeking over the next few weeks, but it's a plan- a starting point.

Do you ever make goals and action steps to achieve them? Do you follow through when, and if, you do? I admit that I have had mixed success in the past, but when I really take a look objectively, I see that the times I've failed to meet my goals my heart simply hasn't been in it. Sure, we're adults, and the reality is that sometimes we're going to have to do things that we don't necessarily love in order to ensure the "survival and thrival" of our families. And that's OK, because if life were all lollipops and gumdrops then we couldn't possibly accept the good times for the gifts that they are.

So this year, I'm doing things a bit differently. Rather than radically resolving to change some big aspects of my life in a (mislead) effort to make them what I want, instead I'll be making a series of small changes to make what I've already got going on more feasible. I'll be working on cutting out some of the things that I'm participating in that don't really resonate as important in my soul. I'll be working on some time management strategies to help me more effectively accomplish the tasks I do warrant as sufficiently important. I'll be taking the few real changes, and breaking them down into smaller, more "actionable" steps, in an effort to make the improvement of one woman, a wife and mother, a realistic and enjoyable journey within the context of family life.

I'll be starting my 2013 journey in January with a series on healthful, responsible eating. For those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, you'll know that healthy eating/food production is near and dear to my heart. So what better place to begin my "baby steps" toward defining my priorities for my family and blog? In January we'll explore what GMOs really are, what whole food eating means for you, your family, your community and your earth, and we'll discuss some practical ways to make that happen for your family.

I hope that you will join me in my next food adventure in 2013, and all the other adventures I'm sure to find along the way. I hope also that you'll follow your gut toward your own truth and reality as we welcome a new year, full of wonder and promise.

Happy 2013 to all!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Party for Kids

I had planned to put together a post for you, with pictures, from our kids' New Year's Eve party, which I hoped to hold tomorrow.

But a bout of the stomach flu has put all hopes of such an event far, far from the realm of reality, so instead I'm sharing with you my plans and activity links so that you can put together a party on the fly if you choose!

Happy New Year to you all!

The sensory idea:
Shivery Snow Slime by Growing a Jeweled Rose. She has some amazingly fun ideas for kids which incorporate slime, which I will have to do another time with the kiddos, but I thought the glittery, cold slime idea would be perfect for a wintery new year's celebration tonight!

The craft idea:
New Year's Wishing Wand by Cathy James. This is a quick, low-mess craft which can be used in a variety of ways by kids of various ages. Make a wand and use it to make wishes, to grant wishes for others, or as a dance prop.

The snack idea:
Making clock-face cupcakes (kind of like these brownies described by Amanda at The Educator's Spin On It). The plan would be to make cupcakes (using your favorite recipe or mix), and to add a clock face with frosting or chocolate chips, with both hands pointing to the "12".)

The fine motor skill idea:
Use the "Happy 2013" block letter template from The Educator's Spin On It, and use any variety of methods to fill in the block letters. You can use Q-tips to dot rainbow-colored paint in the block letters, or do what we're planning: using glue to adhere sequins and glitter.

The gross motor skill idea:
Creating a New Year's Memory Scavenger Hunt like this one from No Time for Flash Cards. The idea is that each family member volunteers a fun memory from the last year, and Mom or Dad writes it on a ribbon or small piece of paper. Each memory is put into a small container (like a plastic egg) and then hidden for the kids to find! As eggs are found, they can be tied or hung on a small tree to admire.

The song idea:
We'll be singing this new year's song by Jean Warren, to the tune of "happy birthday." We'll be dancing as we do it too, and just might include some other favorite popular songs to really get our groove on. You can be sure that we'll get out our musical instruments basket to help us jam, and we'll be using our wishing wands (idea above) and dancing sticks.  Hummm, I think we'll be using our dancing ribbons and silks to help us too!

The school work for the day:
I have printed out this New Years packet from Cassie at 3 Dinosaurs, designed for kids 2-7. It's free and there are tons of fun, educational ideas in one place! All you need is a printer and some paper (and I'll be laminating some activities for future use).

Supplies Needed for all projects:

Shivery Snow slime:
Iridescent glitter
Borax
Warm water
School glue
 
Wishing Wand:
Contact paper
Cardstock or heavy weight paper
Small glittery bits (sequins, gems, etc.)
Narrow stick or rolled piece of paper
Ribbon for decoration
Scissors, pen for writing wishes, if desired

Clock-face cupcakes:
Your favorite cupcake recipe ingredients or mix
Light colored frosting
Frosting gel tubes, or other edible, "writable" food, like dark chocolate chips for example

Fine Motor Skill 2013 template:
Q-tips or small paint brushes
Glue
Sequins or other shiny, glittery bits

Scavenger Hunt:
Plastic eggs (like those used at Easter)
Scraps of paper or ribbon to write memories on
Pen, scissors
Tree to put memories onto, if desired
Pipe cleaners to make 2013 tree topper, if desired

Happy 2013 to you all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Crazy Gratitude

My first daughter Ava, smiling despite herself. A good lesson!
I am writing to you from a place of gratitude today. A pure and true thankful place. But it didn't have to be this way- and in fact, might not have. Except for grace. Grace really delivered me today.

So, it's the Winter Solstice. Happy Solstice! Did anyone else do something special to commemorate the return of the sun to our darkness? I had so many wonderful things planned, but you know... life intervened.

I intended to wake the children at 6:12 a.m., the exact moment of the earth's farthest tip from the sun.
I tried that, but two of the three slumped back to bed with hardly an acknowledgement. 

I intended to take them to the beach this morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean as a special tribute to the blessing of the sun in our lives.
It was snowing hard enough at quarter to seven, when we had to leave, to obscure our hands in front of our faces, much less a sunrise. So I let that go. 

I intended to bake gluten free hot cross buns as a special treat to mark the occasion, but before I got my baking ingredients out I made the mistake of checking my email and discovered- to my horror- that I'd missed an article deadline. I went to work immediately, serving the kids cold pizza for breakfast. 

I intended to make Waldorf window stars with the children to add a bit of color to the otherwise bleak landscape of winter.
The company I ordered the paper from made a mistake and sent the rest of my order without the paper, which I only noticed late last night as I was trying to set up today's affairs. 

I intended to run to the bank, drop off my super late Christmas cards at the post office, and to pick up my new glasses at the eye doctor this afternoon.
All of these tasks were thwarted thanks to a freak wind storm which took out power to all three (all three!) towns I needed to travel to. Of course, I didn't find this information out at once; instead I had to drive for three hours to find each item out individually, sitting in traffic thanks to a downed tree at one point for almost forty-five minutes. 

I intended to cook a warm, traditional dinner for my family tonight.
Instead, I walked through the door with three children at dinner time, having stopped at my favorite local grocer for snacks on the way. I served Applegate farms gluten free frozen chicken, Alexia french fries**, and some cut up apples. 

I intended to savor some awesome books about the solstice together as a family tonight.
Instead, as I came through the door my chocolate lab bounded by me and ran off into the night. She only does this when she does something wrong, and further investigation revealed she had, in fact, ripped up our couch. Ripped up our couch!!

Deep breath.

But...

I choose to live in gratitude. Sometimes more successfully than others, but that's perhaps just the reality and truth of life. Today, I managed to be grateful down to my bones for a variety of things. 

 For...

*The security of my home, despite a big storm
*The welcoming arms of family, no matter how difficult the day
*That I have enough money in my bank account to stop and get the children a snack when we're out for an unexpectedly long time
*That I have the knowledge base to buy all natural foods so that even when they're not homemade I'm not too worried
*That I had time and resources this morning to pull together an article, even if it was a bit late
*That my husband chose today- of all days- to bring home some locally made chocolate truffles just because he loves me
*That after several years of homeschooling I have learned to put off a day's school events with placid acceptance if necessary
*That I'm not too blind just yet to wait to get my new glasses until next Thursday.
*the divine providence which reminds me that tommorrow is another day
*The fact that we have some friends who will be getting rid of their old couch before too long (and the hope that we might be able to acquire it!)
*that even when my problems seem large- they aren't.
*the delicious, universal appeal of pistachios to bring a family together at the end of a hard day, no matter what has transpired.

What about you? Are there blessings in your life which don't stand out as such at first glance?

**For my readers with celiac disease: Alexia fries used to be completely gluten free, but since undergoing a manufactoring expansion in 2012, some fries are now produced on dedicated lines, but in a shared facility. Essentially, consume at your own risk.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Themed Montessori Shelves

I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming Christmas holiday this year, and for whatever reason I've really been in the creative zone when it comes to Christmas crafting. I've been working on some themed ideas for quite a while, and then I saw Lori's post on the same thing from Montessori MOMents last week. I encourage you to check out her ideas because she's got some great ones!

Here's what you can find on our shelves this week:

1. Gingerbread playdoh work. I used this recipe, from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle and it turned out really well, although I used more spices than the recipe called for. I provided a rolling pin, muffin tin, and come cookie cutters, plus a few beads and sequins for gingerbread man decorating, and the kids helped themselves to some great fine motor work.

2. Red, green and white, candy-cane scented rice pouring. Oh yes, it was as awesome as it sounds, and yes, this became the instant favorite pouring activity. You can check out the post on how we made it here.

For my younger daughter, age 21 months, who just started pouring activities because she wants to be *just* like her big sister, we used some Christmas colored pom poms as a starting material, rather than rice. She loved it!

(We also continued to use the rice in a sensory bin, which we created last week.)

3.We used Christmas colored pom poms and buttons for sorting and tweezer transfers, as well. (Ben, age 6, worked on tweezer transfers with the buttons, Ava, age 3, worked on tweezer transfer with pom poms, and Eleanor, age 21 months, worked on sorting colors.)

 4. We created some Christmas-themed geoboard work, which you can read about here. This Christmas tree is a sample of a design that I created, and the kids imitated using the boards.

5. I set out a large bead lacing basket using pipe cleaners for my 21-month old. She's been watching her sister do her lacing cards (pictured below) and has become interested in doing the very same thing. Since the pattern of lacing is still a reach for her, I started her out using pipe cleaners for their rigidity and large wooden beads for their weight.

6. Christmas-colored lacing cards for my 3 year old.

7. My Christmas tree activity, which I used as a size sorting activity in the same way one uses rods. I set out the paper cut outs in random order, and the child was asked to sort them by size to make a Christmas tree. This was perfect for my three year old, and my 21 month old liked to "help" her. My six year old was inspired to make his own version for his sisters, which required some great practice as well.
8. I recently discovered these glass magnets (which look like Christmas tree ornaments to me), and I used them to make a letter identification game for each child. I cut out two Christmas trees and wrote uppercase letters on one, lowercase on another. Since my 6 year old has a clear grasp on letter identification at this point, this activity was geared toward the younger kids. As I called out a letter, the child needed to add an "ornament" to the tree which covered the letter, which eventually produced a fully decorated tree. (As a note, this was a review since I only included letters for which we'd already done three period lessons.)

9. Since we're hoping that Santa will bring us some sandpaper numerals, we're still using these puzzle numerals to conduct our three period lessons. To create a bit more festive atmosphere, I changed out the counting coins to red, white and green. Simple, yet effective. (Smile.)
Despite the fact that this may be the worst picture I've ever taken, I'm sharing it with you anyway, so you can see the full layout. I can't wait to do a few more Christmas-y crafts to really finish decorating the schoolroom!

What do your shelves look like these days?


Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas-themed Geoboard Play

Well, we had some fun mathematics-inspired Christmas celebrating today! We have been very excited by our geoboards lately, and have been using them in a variety of ways.

Today, I broke out some graph paper and got to work designing a few sample Christmas designs which could be made on the geoboard. I did this completely on the fly while we were cleaning up from breakfast, so I'm sure it can be done in a much more professional way, but it was just fine with a "homemade look," too. Both Ben (6) and Ava (3) had a try recreating the designs I made, and all I did was draw a few designs on the graph paper with permanant marker. Don't you just love it when things fall into place?

We talked all about the shapes the children used while they were building their designs, and for my older child I have begun to ask the more technical questions about what really makes a shape a shape (equal sides, 90 degree angles, etc.). I love that this sort of higher level thinking flows so naturally from hands-on exploration of materials. 

Here's how the materials looked on the tray:

Our Christmas tree-
 Christmas star-
 Christmas wreath (I admit that I wish I'd had some green rubber bands on hand for this one)
 Christmas Candle-
Fun, right? :)

The kids continued to play after they had figured out each of my designs, and they created a few more of their own: a manger, a house with a chimney, a donkey (for Mary to ride on), a present with bow, a candy cane, and a sort of smiley face to show how happy everyone must have been when Jesus was born.

Do your kids like to play around with Geoboards?

I'm linked up!
Living Montessori Now's Montessori Monday 
I Can Teach My Child's Show-and-Share Saturday 
The Iowa Farmer's Wife's Sunday Showcase

If Only They Told Me Love!

Nat and Jacqui from If Only They Told Me have created the most lovely write up of our interview from last week. Check it out here, and while you're there have a look around at some of the great product reviews and resources these two moms have to offer.

Happy browsing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Candy Cane Scented Sensory Bin

Today we made a quick craft that will last us for the four+ weeks until Christmas.

I know that I've talked a lot about not liking rice bins, mostly because those little grains get everywhere and they are very hard to pick up with a vacuum. Still, every once in a while I'm willing to put up with a rice-related mess in the name of celebrating and learning. So, put up I did.

Here's what we used:

That's 10 lbs. of white rice, two plastic baggies, red and green food coloring, peppermint essential oil, hand sanitizer, and a bin for play. (I later switched out the bin pictured for a longer, shallower bin to allow more children to play at it.) You don't need as much rice as I used- just enough to occupy your little one. Five pounds would be plenty for single-child households, I imagine.

Last week, Growing a Jeweled Rose posted a slightly different way to do the same idea, and you can read her take on this project here. Of course, I saw her post only after I'd finished our project, but I liked her idea of using peppermint extract instead of essential oils. You can use whichever you have!

What we did:
 First, we poured some rice into a plastic baggie, then added about 4-5 squirts of hand sanitizer and half a bottle of red food coloring. The more coloring you use, the darker your rice will be, so you can add it in stages to ensure you achieve your desired hue.
 Then we sealed the bag well and shook, squeezed and tossed the rice to disperse the color evenly.

 Then we repeated the process with the green food coloring. We left some rice uncolored so that we'd be able to add white to our final product.
 We then spread out our rice onto a baking pan and shallow bin respectively, to allow them to dry. They both dried completely while we were outside playing, even though the red bin had a thicker layer of rice than the green. I imagine the drying process was quite short as a matter of fact- you know your rice is dry once you can touch it without coloring your fingertips.
 Last, we mixed the colors together and played!

 ...aaaaand here's the clean up. At least the artsy culprits are also willing to help put things right again. :)
Did I also mention that my entire house smells amazing? Yes, the mess is hard to take, but the joy on the kiddos faces is well worth the 10 times I'm going to sweep and vacuum today. And hey- peppermint is an energizing scent on the aromatherapy scale, so at least I'll have plenty of energy to tackle that cleaning job. :)

I'm linked up to Montessori Monday and Living Life Intentionally's TGIF Linky.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Homemade Pumpkin Yogurt with free printable recipe for kids


We're still working through our supply of pumpkins here at the Simple Little Home, and we are loving every minute of that. We have some serious pumpkin fans around here.

Last week we created a simple recipe for making pumpkin yogurt that kids can help with. In fact, it's a great recipe for kids to do on their own since it requires no baking or hot surfaces, includes a pictorial recipe for beginning and non-readers, and tastes really yummy too. Plus it has several servings of veggies in it! Go ahead and print out the kid-friendly recipe and try it out for yourself.

You will need:
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 cups yogurt (store-bought or homemade)
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

The process:
Blend all ingredients well and enjoy!

I recommend that you try this yogurt topped with homemade granola, served still warm from the oven. Add about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg to the granola recipe for a real, fall-inspired treat!

How to Make Your Own Pumpkin or Squash Puree

Thanks to those of you who have written to me to ask about making your own pumpkin and squash puree. I use these ingredients as staple items in a lot of recipes, so I thought I would share how I turn the raw veggie into the finished product. (No more Libby's cans of pumpkin for us!)

The process is ridiculously simple, actually.

You will need:
Several pumpkins or squash, any variety
1-2 tbs. butter, optional

The process:
1. Cut the pumpkin or squash in half (be sure to put the stem on one end and the end on the other).
2. Scrape out seeds and other "guts." You can reserve these to use in making roasted pumpkin seeds, or you can compost them. Chickens love pumpkin seeds, FYI, so if you have them leftover you might share with your feathered friends. If you wish, you can add a small pat of butter into the cleaned out bowl of each pumpkin.
3. Put the pumpkin or squash into a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet. If necessary you can cut a small section off the bottom so the pumpkin/squash half lays flat. The length of baking time will depend upon how many pumpkin/squash you're trying to bake, and how large they are. For one sheet of six pumpkin halves you can estimate about a half hour. You want to cook them until the flesh is fork-tender.
4. Remove cooked pumpkin or squash from the oven and allow to cool.
5. Once cool, use a fork to scrape out the flesh from the skins. Discard skin.
6. Use an immersion blender to puree the pumpkin or squash flesh until it is soft and creamy.


The finished product:
Puree can be frozen for several months, or used right away. It also keeps in the refrigerator for a couple weeks if you can't get to it immediately.

Interview with If Only They'd Told Me

Hi all!

Come check out the interview that I was so fortunate to do with Nat and Jacqui from If Only They'd Told Me last week. I had such a blast talking with these lovely ladies about natural living, and slowing down even when you're raising a busy young family. We talked about what works well for us at the Simple Little Home, and also some things that I continue to work on.

Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Emily


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

From our family to yours, happy Thanksgiving! May your blessings be many and your day filled with love.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Organizing Recipes

While I love, love, love, love, love Pinterest, and I've been known to love, love, love, love, love a few hard copy magazines, what I don't love is organizing all the amazing ideas each produces. Where can I keep all these amazing ideas so they'll be handy for me to draw inspiration from on some rainy day?

Here is how I have, over some time, come to organize my recipes so they are conveniently available to me when I need them.

The process starts here, where I sort recipes by category. In case anyone is wondering, I use these as my categories: appetizers, drinks, snacks, desserts, lunches/dinners (further broken up into vegetarian, fish, chicken, pork and beef), breads, breakfasts, soups, salads and misc... in no particular order.
As you can see, I keep my phone handy, as well as a cup of tea, my shopping and meal planning lists for immediate inspiration, and tissues because I currently have a cold. :)

I also take this time of sorting to rid myself of old and duplicated recipes. My recipe philosophy is simple: if I've made it twice and we don't LOVE it, then I toss it. There are just too many amazing ways to prepare food in the world to waste my time on things we don't really love.

Next, I put recipes into my recipe binder. Since I tend to cut recipes from magazines and print out from the internet (on full pieces of paper), I use a 3-ring binder to organize. As I have time, I put each into a sheet protector so that when I decide that I'll be using that recipe this week, I can quickly clip it into my home control journal for easy access throughout the week. I even put smaller recipe cards into sheet protectors so they are all a uniform size to organize. As I find recipes on the go, I tuck them into the pocket folders at the beginning of each section until I do my meal planning (once per week) and can put them all into the sheet protectors.

 Here are my recipes for the week, being tucked into the "meal planning" tab in my home control journal.
Want to see a few of my final weekly meal plans? Check out my "Menus" tab here.

What about you? How do you organize your recipes?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quinoa Bites

These quinoa bites are fantastic little snacks, lunches, or side dishes for dinner. They are easy to make in bulk and freeze very well, which make them a great time investment in your cooking. They are also whole food friendly and gluten free. What else can you ask for? Oh yeah, they're a big hit with kiddos, too. We use them a lot as substitutes for tater tots.

You'll need:
2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrot
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp Italian seasoning (or oregano/basil mix)
Salt and pepper to taste, I recommend about 1/2 tsp of each

The process: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease mini muffin tins or line them with paper liners.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
When ingredients are well mixed, gently press enough mixture into each muffin cup to fill it. The cups will shrink slightly while baking.


Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the mixture is well set.

Serve bites with a dipping sauce of your choice. We prefer honey mustard sauce, but ketchup and BBQ sauce are also delicious.



Enjoy!

To freeze, just cool completely and put into a freezer-friendly container before putting them into the freezer. To reheat, warm in an oven or microwave until reheated.


 

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