Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Popcorn Garlands

Today I learned a few thing about making popcorn garlands.

Just about anyone can participate (notice the look of complete concentration. I love it!)

BUT, the popcorn has a way of disappearing. Caught red handed, Zosia!

And I think the window is a fine holding place until we get a tree. We used plain old needles and thread and a big batch of plain popcorn. I'm wondering how long it will keep. Any tricks of the trade out there?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

See, I was so busy, I didn't even have a chance to say Happy Thanksgiving! I hope all of you who celebrated had a wonderful day: oh, I am so thankful for a fridge full of leftover turkey. Those of you who know me well know that Advent is one of my absolute favorite times of year. Every year's Advent is a little different, which makes it absolutely thrilling to be here at the first Sunday of Advent. What little epiphanies does this season hold for our family? What things will we learn, grow to understand, or see in new ways?

We are all on a journey of faith together. Taking the time to sit down together as a family to reflect on this season, on what it means to have divinity in our midst, is a way that we can all grow together in faith. So of course I was absolutely giddy to pull up our holiday decorations from the basement, to have my two girls spend the whole afternoon playing with the nativity together. With our "Swinging Christmas" pandora station in the background and a fabulous fire built by my husband who is finally getting into his firemaking groove, it was perfect!

I'm not exactly sure what this year's Advent rhythm will hold. I do know that as soon as we set a "routine," the children will hold me to it. Ben and I like to do a little reflection together in the morning, often from this book. Old Befana has become a perennial favorite around here, and a big stack of special holiday books has been pulled from storage. Perhaps a special holiday craft or treat is in order?

We shall see! Let the excitement begin.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Preparations

Thanksgiving preparations, you must be thinking, right? You, like I, may be hosting Thanksgiving dinner in just two short days, complete with two turkeys. Perhaps you, like I, need to clean your house. Perhaps you, like I, have just plenty to think about that needs to get done this week, no, that needs to get done today. So really, Thanksgiving is what should be on our minds. Right?

No (and perhaps this is a bad case of procrastination). You see, for the past several years we have set out to have the materialistic part of Christmas prep done before Advent even begins. I am not the best shopper to begin with. When done in the busiest time of year, when everyone else is also shopping, and when I am trying to quiet my mind in preparation for the birth of Jesus, whew!

So this past week, I have been bustling around trying to convince myself that Christmas is actually occurring this week. Not the real Christmas, but the presents part of it. You know how we are: we try to make as many of our presents as possible, try to give meaningful gifts, etc. But there are still little things that need to be purchased, whether they're books, socks, or supplies for your crafts. I may or may not have even spent this past weekend listening to Christmas carols (oh, I know, what a bad Catholic thing to do!).

There are a lot of things we will be doing in the days following Thanksgiving: spending time with friends and family, perhaps spending some time outdoors, and this next Sunday, starting the hard work that is waiting for something pretty magnificent to happen (Zosia just walked up to me and said, "Mommy, I want Advent to be short this year, because I really want it to be Christmas!" I get the feeling!). And in the weeks of Advent, I hope to make many thoughtful things, share our bounty with dear friends and beloved family, and really enjoy what it means to be waiting for Jesus to be in our midst. But thankfully, going to the mall will not be on my schedule.

I'll try to be back here between now and Thanksgiving, perhaps to share a favorite recipe. What are you making? Where are you going?

(And for those receiving gifts from us, don't worry, I haven't already made this year's Christmas cookies. These pictures are some of my favorite things from Advents past).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Few Smiles for you

while we take a bit of a break to restore the family to full health. Ah, at the end of the day, life is quite good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leaf Raking

Lily is quite happy, because not only is it leaf raking day, but she has a secret.

Something wonderful is hidden within these leaves.

Ta da!
(photos by Ben)

I think that leaf raking day must be the best day of the year: not only do big piles of leaves magically appear all over the yard, but you get to play outside all day and even eat all of your meals outside!

And for the adults it isn't all bad, either. Especially at the end of the day when we all collapse next to an outdoor fire, some other tired out neighbors pile into the yard, and we all just relax, chat, and roast hot dogs.

This must be suburbia's equivalent of a harvest day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dream Catcher

We have quite an elaborate bedtime routine that includes, among so many other things, praying for our dreams. Each girl loves the moment when we ask her "And what would you like to dream about tonight?" The list begins, "Merry-go-rounds, ice cream, chocolate, my family" and goes on and on. Lily in particular will come up with the most creative answers ("Stars" "raccoons" and many more). Zosia has been learning about native Americans in her preschool class, and was quite tickled by the idea of making her own dream catcher: a beautiful physical illustration of what we had been trying to tell her all along. God protects our whole selves: our waking selves, our sleeping selves.

Here's how it works. The dreams that are floating around the room enter into the web. The bad dreams are confusing, confused thoughts, and they get caught in the web. They stay there, and get eaten by that spider (the bead in the web). The good dreams trickle down to the feather that is hanging from the dream catcher, and drift right down to the sleeping mind.

The verdict this morning? It worked! And don't we all need more dreams about ice cream? Yes, I do think so.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

About the Baby

You all must be wondering about Hugo. We spend so much of our day oohing and ahhing at him that it's a miracle that every blog post is not about him. We are actually obsessed with him, every single member of the family. Especially the girls. They are at once his mothers, his playmates, and his most enthusiastic fan club.

Sometimes I sneak him into my bedroom just so I can spend five minutes snuggling him all by myself. It's selfish, I know. But he's simply in quite high demand, I'm sure you understand.
Well, it turns out that such fame isn't necessarily the best for taking pictures. This weekend we placed him on a blanket in the warm autumn sun and thought, "Here. Now we will take some pictures." Selma ran up to lick him, the girls surrounded him like bees on honey, and then he spit up.
Oh, we all had a good laugh. And this guy? He is just his good old self. Level as his dad. Tall like his sisters. Curious and attentive to all of the life that is happening all around him. He is quiet, but never shies away from the chance to interact with anyone who is interested. He loves to "stand up," but spends more of his time mysteriously scooting a few feet in one direction or the other while we aren't looking. Is he crawling? It certainly doesn't seem like it, but how is he getting around so well?

Yes, it seems that a special place had been waiting for Hugo in this family of ours all along.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apple Crisp

The apples are delicious, seasonal, and abundant. And we really are quite content to just eat them any which way: straight off the core, sliced with cinnamon on top, dried. But sometimes it's worth it to indulge in a wonderful seasonal treat and this is where the Apple Crisp enters stage. It's delicious, fresh, and a bit easier than a pie.

This afternoon I was quite tickled to find myself in the kitchen with just my absolute favorite kitchen helper while the littlest two were resting (read: napping and taking a somewhat but not entirely quiet time). She did all of the apple prep thanks to our handy-dandy-on-loan-to-us-apple-peeler-and-slicer. These are so wonderful for little kids to use!

Have I mentioned that four is really a wonderful, magical age? If you find yourself in a situation where a toddler age might be rubbing you the wrong way (and haven't we all been there?), just remember that four is amazing. Truly graceful, inquisitive, and so incredibly sweet. Quite possibly the perfect age. And now for this apple crisp.

We made two: one for the family, because it is one of Ben's favorite's, and one for a sweet neighbor, because don't we all need to show someone a little love each day? Zosia was quite excited, and sat down to enjoy a nice hefty slice after the other kids were in bed and she had finished her reading lesson.

Apple Crisp

6 apples (we used cortland, which were grown locally), peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Crisp Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick utter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup shopped pecans (or walnuts, or almonds)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine apples, sugar, flour (but just the tablespoon and a half) and cinnamon. Turn the mixture into your baking dish (a 9X13 works, but we used two smaller casserole dishes)
2. Make the topping. Combine brown sugar, butter, flour, oats, pecans and cinnamon in your mixing bowl and mix together until the mixture is uniformly crumbly.
3. Distribute the topping over the apples and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.

Enjoy! What have you been baking lately?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Side View

Months ago (years ago, really) I had the hope of embarking upon a family silhouette project. I got about as far as one silhouette and then got derailed by who knows what. When I found this tutorial, I realized I had to give it another try. One trip to the thrift store and one rummage sale later, I had my plates all lined up (nothing too fancy... we could upgrade to more vintage-y plates at some later date should I find them). When we had some friends over, we embarked upon the project, and voila! I actually think the one of Selma (at the bottom) just might be my very favorite, although each silhouette really does bear the likeness of its subject.

A few tricks we learned along the way. Don't use too much Mod Podge: a thin layer under and a thin layer over your paper cutting is best. You can add "pearls" through getting creative with a hole punch. And I later learned you can even diy your own plate hangers (ours are courtesy of Target).

Those who know me well know that I move our furniture more than I switch my outfits, but I think these guys are here to stay!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Recycled Paper

The other day we were sitting together around the breakfast table. I asked the girls what they would like to do together, and Zosia, without hesitation, declared "Make paper." She had actually said she would like to do this a couple of times before, but on this day, I thought, "Okay, why not?" After sitting together for a few minutes around my laptop looking at youtube videos of recycling paper, we knew what we needed to do.

First, assemble your supplies:

a tub of old paper (junk mail, scraps from cutting projects, even tissue paper or tissue itself works!)

A piece of mesh fabric or a screen. I put it in a cake pan that was not fully closed, but as we went, just put it on a plate and drained it slowly. So I guess all you need is the mesh and a plate.
Flower petals or leaves. This is optional, but a nice touch.

A piece of felt and some towels (I found that cloth diapers are best, as they are super absorbent. You could also skip the felt if you don't have it and just do a towel or cloth diaper)

And a blender. Okay. Now rip your paper into pieces, fill your blender with it, and fill it with water. Blend (pressing down as necessary between actual blending: it should have plenty of water and be pretty easy to blend).

Now it should look like this:

Pour it back into that container, and mix in your petals or leaves:

Now here's the step I don't have a great picture of because I was too busy actually doing it: ladle some of your mixture onto the mesh cloth which is on a plate. Gently drain it out with your hands as the paper mixture settles, spreading it carefully as you go. When the whole plate is covered with a thin layer of "paper", invert it onto your felt, which is resting on a towel or cloth diaper:

Now pat, pat pat. Of course both girls loved this. You may need to get in there and press down quite firmly (the more dry your paper now, the sooner it will be fully dry).

Gently peel away the mesh cloth, and you have something like this:

The girls couldn't resist leaving a hand print:

Wait for a few hours, and your paper will be dry enough to gently remove from the towels onto a drying rack. Now just leave it, preferably in a sunny warm spot, for a day or two (we ended up finishing the drying process in a warm oven, actually: although you would want to watch this closely).

And despite how messy it may look or sound, this was actually quite an easy activity to do with two toddlers helping. All that required clean up was the tub, the blender, and a few damp cloths to toss in the dryer.

Have you recycled paper before? Any tricks of the trade?