Monday, December 29, 2014

Crafting Together

This year we made rolled beeswax candles to give as gifts, and it might just be the most fun-to-make gift we've ever done.  It's not original.  It's not elaborate.  But, (and I hope our loved ones think so, too) I think they are a classic beauty.  The icing on the cake was how lovely and truly relaxing it was to make them together.  I'll go back to this project again and again.  (And also, back to the bee keeping supply store where we bought the sheets of beeswax.  We have our eye on supplies to make lip balms next time.  And molded candles after that.  And then we'll see what else strikes our fancy!)

Linus will demonstrate the process, in the spirit of a remarkably family-friendly project.

 We opted for two tapers per sheet, 
so we measured it and found the halfway point,
scoring with a butter knife at the top and bottom edges.

 Using our marks at the top and bottom,
we used a straight edge to score a complete line.
No need to saw, just press it into the wax.
Then, pick up the wax sheet and bend it.
It will break into two pieces.

 Lay the wick along the edge and trim to size.

 Press the wick along the edge to keep it in place.
Curl up the edge so that it covers the wick.
Then, roll, roll, roll.

 Press the seam from top to bottom to seal it.

I just love them!  Thanks, Linus <3

Friday, October 31, 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014


This summer the library set out a cart with a hand-written sign taped to it that read, "Take a puzzle, leave a puzzle."  Except that someone made a correction, adding a caret and inserting "or" after the comma.  In other words, a very informal puzzle "exchange."  As if we didn't love the library enough already!  

"Can we take one?!  Can we take one?!"  
Sure - we'll bring one back in tomorrow as our exchange.  Not that we needed to, of course.

After (very) thoughtful consideration, we picked the international birdhouses.  That was a very sweet way to spend the afternoon.  "Can we get another?!"  What, are they kidding me?!  I LOVE puzzles.  I've had just lukewarm success in convincing my family to make a sustained effort with me.  Now Linus wants to do all the puzzles in the playroom.  Which is great, because there are many, and I can scarcely justify their occupation of precious real estate when nobody does them!

(I guess I might as well be honest and admit that I used our new interest as an excuse to finally buy one of these puzzle tins from a favorite little store downtown.)

On one of our return puzzle cart trips, probably against my better judgement, I agreed to a much bigger, much more difficult puzzle.  It's okay, I reasoned with myself, I have a good idea for a puzzle-saver.

Made from supplies we had on hand, the puzzle-saver has worked well!  I cut a piece of felt the size of my table.  (The remaining piece will be transformed into Robin Hood's hat and shoes on Sunday!  And this is why I always say every house should never be without felt and pipe cleaners.)  I cut a pool noodle the length of the table (the short side).  And when we need to put the puzzle away for meals, we just roll it up and tie it with ribbons!

P.S. And if you take a mama to a museum that fall and her children say this is their favorite painting from the day, and it comes as a puzzle in a tin...

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Summer I Knit 12 Washcloths

Yep, it's another "I've always wanted to..."

Well, I have always want to learn to knit.  I know how to crochet -- I taught myself in college, using a book that had a very good left-handed set of instructions.  I don't know why I didn't ask my grandmother to teach me before I moved away -- she crocheted beautiful tablecloths and doilies.  Oh yeah, that's why.  Because I was a teenager who never -- not once -- thought a crocheted tablecloth or doily was "beautiful."  I recall being mildly amused by the crocheted snowflake Christmas tree decorations that my parents problem-solved their way through a stiffening process so that they'd hang on the tree properly.  (Remember how there used to be no internet?  So weird, right?)

I did try to learn to knit once before as an adult.  It was during lunch, when I was pregnant for the first time.  Someone at work kindly organized a lunchtime meet-up (remember how there used to be no Meetup?) to teach anyone interested.  Well that did not land AT ALL.  Knowing that if I didn't pick it up within two months, I was done for (I had no illusions about having much free-time after a much awaited baby arrived -- I anticipated much baby-staring-at time, along with, you know, other baby-related things) was not the right kind of learning environment for the task.  Oh well.

But I was patient.  (It's a new thing I'm trying to cultivate.  Working better in my forties than it ever has.)  And the Universe presented me with a fortuitous overlap of activities: a potluck in the park (with a knitting friend) and Knit in Public Day.  I took it a step further and made it Learn to Knit in Public Day.  (You can learn to knit with her, too, by checking out her blog!  She is a fantastic teacher!)

I've been known to keep a pretty full schedule.  And to get by on not so much me-time (another work in progress).  So, I'm taking it slow.  My lovely friend taught me just one thing at a time.  And I took just that one thing and practiced it over and over and over until the next time I saw her.  My brain is crowded.  Bite-sized chunks taught by a real-live-person has been such a treat.  My family got a kick out of watching me cast on.  And pull it off the needle.  Cast on.  Pull it off the needle.  For days.  And then, knit knit knit knit.  Pull it off the needle.  "Don't you want to try something new?  Don't you want to make something?" they asked.

It was so liberating to just PRACTICE.  I wasn't concerned with a final product.  I didn't care about making mistakes, experimenting, testing out ideas about how it was working.  Lori Pickert (Project-Based Homeschooling) calls this "lowering the stakes."  I was able to get to know the process because I wasn't focused on the product.  (Such a concrete reminder for when I have my parenting hat on, too!)

Another friend (are you seeing a theme here?) tweeted about a washcloth she was knitting.  I was admiring it and looking forward to the day I, a knitter-in-the-making, could produce such a beautiful pattern.  She tweeted the instructions, and to my great surprise, I COULD UNDERSTAND THEM!  I was, you can imagine, pleased.

But why did I need to make so many?  Wasn't that dull?  Wouldn't I like to learn other things to knit?  Sure -- I will learn other things.  It wasn't dull!  I experimented with different yarns and sizes, and I'm still learning, so they're all experiments of more subtle elements.  I made a few with seed stitch -- we call them "massage cloths."  And really, is twelve really "so many"?  We own more store-bought washcloths than that.  And they need replacing.  I'm just being economical.

I really need a creative outlet.  And it has to fit into the lifestyle I have at the moment.  I mostly knit at the table.  Some of us sit, eat and chat, and leave the table.  Others in my family have... a different way.  So, I sit, eat and chat, and when I'm finished but they are... not, I knit.  Maybe two rows, maybe ten.  Doing something predictable and easy to put down when the milk gets spilled is just right for now.

(And, of course, I found a couple good picture books about knitting, too!)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Game Spotlight: Iguana Factor

I was green.
I did not win.
Iguana Factor has been on our shelf for years.  Correction, it's been between the shelf and the wall for years.  I thought it was a game useful only for practicing  multiplication facts.  Which is fine.  Multiplication facts are important.  Knowing them makes a lot of things easier to do.  But...

I realized yesterday that maybe I should check in on multiplication. Honestly, I can't keep up.  What does my sixth-grader know these days?  I thought this might be an interesting way to get some insight.

Guess what?  It's a FUN game.  It's really as much a game of strategy as it is a game about multiplication.  It works for players at all levels.  Linus was on my team -- great even for number recognition and practice.  Don't let the "educational" look fool you  -- it's like a two-for-one!

I've got to go -- I promised more rounds!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Game Spotlight: Jumping Pixies

We had to leave a friend's house before we had the chance to try out this game.  She loaned it to us (you know, because we have no games of our own) -- and it is just lovely!

It meets so many of our game criteria:
:: It's FUN
:: It's fun for each family member (where abilities and interests range widely)
:: It doesn't have to be long

Launching is involved.

Bonus Bonus:
It makes us all giggle.  A lot.

Bonus Bonus Bonus: it's SO CUTE.  I mean, would you look at this little pixie?!
I need to make some of these.  Yes, maybe as part of a game re-creation.  But maybe just because!
Don't you think we could find all sorts of things to do with them?
(I'm seeing them filling our pockets...)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Summer... of... Mystery

One of our favorite family traditions is summer reading; we gather ideas all year.  Freer summer days mean more time to settle into bed slowly.  And now that we're vacationing in our guest room all summer on a great big fluffy bed -- all the better.  

We kicked it off right with A Long Way from Chicago and then moved on to The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Return to Gone Away.  Sela requested one of her American Girl mysteries, which takes place at summer camp, Mystery at Camp Nokomis.  They both liked the summer-themed mystery so much they requested more, more, more AG mysteries.  And then they deemed it "The Summer of Mystery."

So, since we love Kit, we read Missing Grace and Danger at the Zoo (which I can't say -- or think -- apparently, without adding "dun dun duuuuuun").  And then who could turn down a mystery titled The Hidden Gold, which takes place on a riverboat on the Mississippi?  Now we're about to discover the culprit in The Cry of the Loon.  I thought we were moving on to Molly's Spy on the Home Front or Julie's The Mystery of the Paper Daughter, but Linus has called an audible.  He has just discovered a book called Race for Revenge.  Yep, that's a Speed Racer book, and I'm told it's a mystery.  Oh!  And, I almost forgot -- we are also listening to Dumpling Days -- which is great.

Usually, we go for classics as our summer reads.  I love to soak up those well-crafted stories, steeped in rich language.  But, we were in a bit of an in-between place this summer.  I wasn't ready to re-read some of the gentler summer books we've read, and Linus isn't ready for some that we have on deck (Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island).  And that's just fine.  I love that we read together.

(For more of our summer reads, check here, here, and here.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lunch! And a Gardening Tip*

Well, my garden has been pretty neglected this year.  They say you can't have it all.  And this season we had a lot -- but none of it was in the garden.  We've traveled, we've relaxed, we've read, we've pursued interests, we've museumed.  Yep.  So far -- it's been a great summer!

Today we woke to overcast and cooooool weather.  HOO-ray.  So, I tackled some weeding & some trimming, and on top of the satisfaction of getting back to the garden, we also got LUNCH!  (I always try to keep marinated fresh mozzarella on hand in the summer.)

It's so cool today -- if I can convince my husband to sweep the back patio, I might just wash off the table and serve dinner out there.  And turn on the oven for cookies.  Blue Ribbon Day. 
Also, please will you send me your favorite recipes for leeks and eggplants?

Oh, I almost forgot that gardening tip* I promised!  
1.  Plant your garden in spring.
2.  Water it a regular amount for a couple of months.
3.  Pretend you don't have a garden.
4.  Go back to the garden that you really do have, use your entire arm to lift the overgrown plants, and scoop up all the snails that are just hanging out in big parties in your garden.  The trick is to let them get lazy, complacent.  They were not expecting to see me.

*Or, maybe just garden responsibly.  Your choice.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Make + Listen Along: The Soundtrack

 It's been ages since we could Make + Listen Along!  But, we did it up right this morning.

Sela made the tastiest scones.  Imagine the flakiest pie crust you've ever eaten.  And now imagine it with heavy cream included.  And with a little cream and sugar on top.  Yeah.  (It was from Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey Treats for Kids.  Pretty great for mamas, too.)

I made the pillow Linus requested for his birthday.  It's from Lotta Jansdotter's Simple Sewing -- I love this book.

And Linus made Lego houses, vehicles, battles, car chases, and all the other bits that come with such things.
We worked to the glorious soundtrack of home: our new fish pump and filter, birds in the backyard, utensils clanging, scissors snipping, lego wheels whooshing.  And not to the soundtrack of "out."

What's music to your ears?  Share your soundtrack!

Friday, June 20, 2014

On Second Thought...

Believe me when I say that I never, ever (EVER) wanted to go on a "staycation."  NEV-ER.  It's "vacation," but we're "staying"?  Thank you no.  Do not sign me up for that.

Well... time passes.  Things change.  And apparently:  Timing Is Everything.

I am eating my words as we enjoy a fabulous, all-expenses-paid staycation in our guest room.  I am not exaggerating when I say we have barely left the room!  And why would we?  Check out these amenities:

A giant feathery bed (the Westin Heavenly bed has nothin' on us)

Relaxing lavendar sachets & an ample library within arms reach at all times

Fancy finery & linens
(Pets acceptable -- strike that -- encouraged)

Fresh (extremely) local produce (we might have to leave our room to deal with that tomato...)

Classes available 
(I'm currently enrolled in three)
Beginning Quilt Blocks
Knitting 101

Project-Based Homeschooling
Journal Class

Additionally, we have:
:: In-room movies
:: Audiostory library
:: Internet access
:: Foot baths & neck warmers
:: Bedtime stories

Okay -- I'm officially sold.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Art Together giveaway!

Amy at Amy Hood Arts is always doing something creative and artsy at her place.  She believes in the value of experimenting and creating, and she's a strong advocate for making art together with our children.  Which is exactly what she calls her art-focused e-zine: Art Together.

She's put together a brand new issue, and we were eager to check it out!  So that's what we did this week.  It is packed with goodies.  There is so much to read and do.  And do and do and do.  We've only scratched the surface this week.

Making even one of the projects, just made us want to make more and more of that project.  I've never made a collage like Amy's before.  She included prompts and a playful format that even a beginner like me could use to grow some new creative vision.  I'm hooked, for sure.  What a clever approach!

My girl who can't keep her nose out of a book for too long, chose Amy's book-making project.  I think this will be the Summer of Books in a whole new way this year.  I am brimming with ideas for how we'll use all the books I sense we'll be making.  They're beautiful, full of heART, and wide open for more exploration.

Amy has kindly offered to give a lucky Home With Heart reader a free copy of Art Together Summer 2014: Mixed Media/Collage!  This giveaway is open to anyone worldwide.
To enter simply leave a comment on this post by Saturday, June 21st.  The winner will be selected randomly and announced here on Sunday, June 22nd.
(Be sure to leave your email address so that you can receive your prize!)

You can purchase Art Together Summer 2014: Mixed Media/Collage, as well as previous issues, by visiting her website.
Use the code ARTPLAY to receive 20% off any Art Together purchase.  Offer expires July 31.

I know that Amy will leave you feeling inspired in a whole new way!  Grab your glue & scissors...

A winner has been chosen using a random number generator.
The winner is Karen!
Congratulations, Karen, and thank you to everyone for commenting!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Little Library Bag

Some of my favorite moments are spent reading to my kids.  Sometimes on the couch, with Linus snuggled up beside me, his arms wound around one of mine.  Sometimes on the floor or at the table, while they work on their own projects.  In the car, while we wait for one thing or another.  In the backyard in our new fort.  On our bed, just before the tucking ins and good night kisses.

I share many of our favorite chapter book reads in the sidebar, but I've long wanted to share some extra special picture books, too.  Here are some from our little library bag this week.  These were bedtime reads.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I picked this one up because we spend our summers at the local art museum.
Even more inside than I thought we would find!

What Is Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle & Friends

Talented friends.  Funny friends.  Inspiring friends.  Friends we like, too.

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi & Ron Barrett

Classic for a reason.
I first read this book to a group of four year olds twenty years ago.  That left a mark.  On my heart.  So fun to share with my own kids.  Giggles galore.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Creatures in Our Kitchen

::  Triops have been around for 200 million years.
::  They are crustaceans.
::  They live in standing fresh water, mostly temporary rainwater pools & are rarely found in permanent water sources.
::  Eggs survive drying and freezing & hatch when pools refill with water.

We don't keep proper pets.  I'm wise to the whole "who will take care of the animals?" bit.  But, I feel we do need creatures around sometimes, of some sort at least.

We did a double your pleasure, double your fun life science extravaganza this spring.  Triops AND butterflies.  Our kitchen/nursery was a hotbed of hatching-emerging activity.  Wild times here.

I sure do love being a homeschooling family.  With a big chalkboard.  We kept track of what we were growing, when to feed, how much to feed, who was doing what.  Linus was first to run down to give us the triops count each morning (big ones sometimes eat little ones -- eek).  Sela tended to check on the butterflies on her morning stroll through the house.

Right now we have several mysteries we're working on.  One: what are those creatures that hatched in the tank that don't look like triops?  And, two: what should we feed these water creatures, now that we've run out of the food that came with the kit?  

We've now released our butterflies.  We watched all five little (dead-looking on arrival and often thereafter) caterpillars form chrysalides, but we only had the opportunity to see one butterfly emerge.  The others all did -- just not when we were awake.  Watching the process unfold was a really special experience -- I'm so pleased we did it.  Next time, I'd like to carry our adventure over into raising a second generation, as Shelli did.  You can read about it here.  Very inspiring!

Now I'm trying to figure out what other creatures would fit nicely with our offbeat-pet lifestyle.  Suggestions welcome. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Is It Nighttime Yet??

It's a time of regrouping around here.  In some small ways -- because it's summer, and we can change gears and change focus.  And lose some focus.  In some big ways, too.  Sometimes, things come together (or fall apart) in a way that simply insist you take a look at how things are working.  Life can be... intense.  

So, some stepped up self-care is now in the mix.  In the last month, it's been cranial-sacral chiropractic appointments, acupuncture and Chinese medicine, various western med perspectives, SLEEP, no caffeine -- yep, it's all on the table.  I'm fine.  But, changes are required.  

The first order of business has been a nightly herbal foot bath, recommended by the Chinese medicine practitioner I'm seeing.  Each night as I move through the ritual of setting up my soak, I think, "Doctor's orders!"  What better way to end the day, and the "doing"?  I literally cannot get/do/make that for you -- my feet are in a tub of water.  (I have been asked to do this for a whole month.  A whole month.  Yes, I willlllllll.)

This topic (self-care, that is, not wet feet) reminds me of a favorite conversation among parents.  Years ago, a friend had a beautiful idea for a group aimed at supporting parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers.  She asked me and a couple of other colleagues to join her in starting it up.  We called it the Family Connection Program, and I had the pleasure of running the program as well being on the steering committee.  Every week we had time to talk about topics that families were interested in.  One of the most memorable for me was about caring for ourselves.  On this morning, one mother talked about how restorative it was to go away for the weekend without her child.  Another mother shared that on that rainy morning (as on many others), she sat in the car in the parking lot for five minutes before joining us.  Her two kids were buckled into the backseat happily listening to a favorite cd, and she sat quietly in the front with her hot tea.

Caring for ourselves can come in so many packages.  It isn't one-size-fits-all.  It isn't even one-strategy-always-works-for-you.  And sometimes we think we're doing it -- and it turns out, we're not.

The other day the kids and I were out, and we needed lunch.  So aware of accumulated wear and tear -- and that the day before had been my birthday! -- I decided we would go to lunch somewhere we had never eaten before.  (Are you picturing your children's eyes widening at this decision in the backseat like my children's were?)  Yes.  That's right, kids.  I enjoy doing new things.  I like trying new things on menus.  I realized just how long it had been since we had done something new.  I like new!  I need new sometimes!  We had a lovely, lovely lunch.  Everyone found something on the menu they liked.  It was just what I needed.  (Until the sun set, that is, and I could get my feet back in the tub, that is...)

What's happening here??  Let me get a closer look...

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Month of Poetry

April was National Poetry Month.  And we're kind of a wordy bunch over here, so we had lots of fun with that!

It reminded us to peruse the poetry section of the library at every visit. 

It guided cd selections for our daily commutes.  We enjoyed everything from A.A. Milne to Silverstein's Runny Babbit, to this new gem, with classics sung by Natalie Merchant.  My personal favorites have to be Adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash (done in bluegrass-style), The Janitor's Boy by Nathalia   
 Crane, The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe -- oh no!  I can't choose!  It's really, really good.

We celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I wonder if my friend will recognize this poem I carried in my pocket.  It's the copy she gave me a few years ago, when we celebrated it for the first time.

We had a poetry party with friends.  Kids, mamas, kids and mamas together, shared a poem they had memorized.  Sela chose Puck's final speech from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Linus and I shared an original co-created work.  About a dinosaur.  Four sweet, sweet little lines.  One proud, proud smile.  And a salute.  Go figure.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pen Pal Love

For Poetry Teatime this week we visited the regions of our stateside pen pals.  Which reminds me -- I really think you need some pen pals.  Ours are so wonderful (in the US and outside!).  We've received letters, drawings, paintings, cards, photos, handmade goodies, stickers.  We all look forward to checking the mail these days -- and we never know when we'll get rewarded with an envelope from a friend.  (It's gotten me writing more cards and letters, too.)  

The hands-on support I give each child is different, based on their ages.  But here are a few thoughts on the subject.

::     Corresponding with a handful of pen pals for each child works really well!  We never have to wait too long for a letter because they're coming from several buddies.

::     Putting address books together with each child was very fun!  (I loved tabbed books when I was a child -- did you, too?  And gold-edging?!)

::     Keeping a basket out that's filled with notecards (pre-printed and blank) and colorful envelopes makes spontaneous writing easy.  We keep our address books and stamps there, too.

::     Hanging our latest arrivals in a special spot allows us to enjoy our mail longer and reminds us who we owe a letter.

 ::    Also, it gives me lots of opportunities to say "correspondence."  (Go on, try it... )

We've had some interesting conversations about all sorts of things related to sending and receiving mail from "other places" -- geography, history, culture, food, weather, science, language, money, government -- to name a few.

But mostly, it's just a lot of fun!

A big, warm thank you to each of our pen pals, 
stateside & across the sea (as Linus says).  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Greet the New Year & Encounter Happiness!

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

2014 is the year of the Green Wood Horse

"If you hurry through long days, you will hurry through short years."
- Chinese proverb

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Project: Anything That Goes

What is Linus interested in?
Action.  Things that move.  Preferably, things he can make move.

That Santa -- he's a smart guy.  He brought a Thames & Kosmos Air + Water vehicle set for Christmas.  Boy, do they make some great sets!  (I imagine we'll have a few of these when it's all said and done.)

We've built a few of the models so far.  This was the "tank," and it got great reviews!

I love this activity as an illustration of how much (academic) learning is happening using a project-based learning approach.  And to be clear: this isn't the real point.  But I think it's worth noting.  He's just "playing."  He loves to make things go.

"I want to build this, Mama!"
"Where does this piece go?"
"Do we have two big circles?"
"If we snap all of these together they make a chain that connects the gears."
"I can do it!"
"We need a ruler!"
"Fifty pumps to make it go!"
"When I pump it, the water goes from this tank to this bottle."
"We need signs!"