Friday, July 30, 2010

A knitting book even a non-knitter could love

Is it ridiculous to be super-excited about a knitting book, when I can't knit? I don't think so, not when it's this gorgeous! I want just about every sweater in there! Now, admittedly, the author is a friend. But I would love this book even if I didn't know her. It helps that I've seen Lucy in many of her amazing creations:

a gorgeous reddish pink 3/4 sleeve sweater Lucy wore nearly every day for her first year, when she wasn't wearing...

this beautiful green and blue sweater. And more recently, this lovely combo:

Unfortunately, it was way too hot last night to dress Lucy in a Melissa special when we went to her book signing at Webs. Melissa and Cecily had all their sweaters on display, and they are absolutely gorgeous. (I got to try one on, and wanted to walk away with it! Gorgeous green, 3/4 sleeves, leaf detailing at the waist...ooh, ah...). Lucy got her very own copy of the book, signed by her favorite author, of course.

You need a copy, too. Seriously. This is not an ad--I promise! Just a rave review from someone who's super impressed by the work of her friend. If you can trust a review from a non-knitter, you should run right out and get your hands on this book!

Now, I just have to learn to knit so I can get to work on these sweaters!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

In the studio: overhead design

Continuing with my in-the-studio series of happenings from my early childhood program, here's a story from this week.

I came into the studio to find this on the overhead projector:

and this on the table:

Apparently, the overhead-projector design/drawings had been going on for a while.
There were also glass gems:

And chalkboard erasers:

2 kids, working together, on a project of their own design. They chose the materials, arranged them on the projector, and looked at the projected image to draw what they'd made. I love their imaginative use of materials (glass gems on the overhead--expected. But erasers?). And I love the culture of drawing we've established here, so that when they do something cool, their instinct is to draw it.

(I've been inspired by the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, to offer lots of opportunities for children to explore light--as with the overhead projector, which is always available to the children in our studio. And to encourage children to think in more than one "language" (i.e. ways of expressing themselves)--such as here, moving from the "language" of arranging materials to the "language" of drawing.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happiness is a polka-dotted basket

Check out my new basket! I found this lovely polka-dot-lined basket at the thrift store this weekend for 75 cents, and it's my new friend. It goes where I go, so everything I need is close at hand. In it when we headed outside today...

-my crochet pattern notebook
-the book Lucy asked to bring outside
-the book the older children asked to bring outside
-my clipboard for taking notes for the children's portfolios (a future post, I think...)
-my awesome new sewing-project bag--a gift from a friend--containing a soaker-in-the-works.

And sure enough, when the kids were making mud-pies and their play was so much more rich without interference from me, I was able to sneak in a few rows of crochet while watching from afar.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Independence Days challenge: green beans

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge, already? I've been a slacker blogger this week! Sorry. Summer's a crazy time around here, and it's been hot, hot, hot!! (Makes me grumpy.) Here's my meager update.

2. Harvest something:
Eggs. Grape tomatoes. 11 lbs. green beans from our CSA.

3. Preserve something:
4 1/2 pts. pickled beets with anise. 25 pts frozen green beans. 2 qts. frozen stock.

7. Eat the food:
Lots of zucchini-nut muffins. A rice-lentil-carrot-cabbage-basil salad that came out surprisingly well (with mayo/lemon juice dressing). Another, also good (I think I may actually be learning how to make up recipes--finally, at 41!): chick peas, lemon juice, lots of basil, grated carrots and turnips, chopped lettuce and scallions. Delicious zucchini cakes (our new favorite recipe is from Nourishing Traditions). Sweet and sour chard over rice.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sharing the bird love

This week, Lucy and I had an unexpected, much-needed, gift of a free day. We took a road trip to visit my great friend, Julie.

Her unschooled, bird-loving daughters, knowing Lucy's passion for birds, set up this provocation* for her on their coffee table:

My favorite bits:
the pink bird, attached by a hair tie to a paintbrush so she could make it fly,
the small bird attached by wire to the eagle, so it appeared to be flying,
the green parrot, whose curves are aligned with the mussel shell it's set beside.

Later, they donned bird beaks as they made music together.

It was so cool to me that a 1-year-old, a 6-year-old, and an 8-year-old could bond over a shared interest in such lovely ways. Thank goodness for great friends and shared philosphies. It was just what we needed.

* Provocation is a word used in Reggio-inspired teaching, meaning something set up to provoke children's thinking.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In. Pig.



"More. In."

Lucy's beloved Tim and Eric just returned from a trip to Canada, and brought her back a piggy bank. She's going to be rich in no time, because it is irresistible to watch her drop the coins in there. When she asks for "more," you get her more as quickly as possible! She spent a good 20 minutes last night dropping coins "in. in. in."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Independence Days challenge: the container garden is working!

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
Well, I haven't planted anything this week. But I've tended my pots, and I'm thrilled--they're working! I grew things from seed and they're actually growing. Look at those beans, reaching for the sky! And the kidney beans and cucumbers are covered in blooms. Yay!

2. Harvest something:
3/4 lb. purple potatoes (total harvest from one trash can; very disappointing! Wonder what I did wrong this time...). A few more grape tomatoes. Sunflowers, basil, and rosemary from our CSA.

3. Preserve something:
7 1/2 pts. plum jam using this recipe (way more sugar than I normally like to use, but I liked this recipe's simple plan for seed removal and don't trust myself enough to mess with recipes yet). 5 pts. plum jam using the low-sugar Pomona pectin recipe. 4 1/2 qts. dill pickles. 2 pts. anise beets. Dried a bit each of carrots, rosemary, and greens for the chickens.

5. Preparation and storage:
Had a bit of good luck at tag sales this weekend: got a hand drill and a collection of drill bits, a life jacket, and a child-sized spade. And I got a handful of wonderful vintage children's sewing patterns at a thrift store, as well as a pile of great children's books.

7. Eat the food:
A good potato salad with green beans and hard-boiled eggs. Raspberry-plum-lettuce popsicles. Lots of carrots and zucchini. A pretty-good grilled zucchini pizza (would have been really good if I could learn to make a better crust.) Tomatoes straight out of the garden. Nothing particularly interesting, but fresh and good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In the studio: we must paint

When I wrote about the boat-making we've been up to lately, several of you gave me your support for describing more of the kids' work here. I'm thinking about regular "in the studio" posts--sometimes with detail, sometimes just a photo or two--to share some of what we do. Let's say weekly, shall we? Please forgive me when I lapse, as we know I will! (I will edit out faces and names for the children who aren't mine, however, for their families' privacy.)

When the children are quite young--toddlers--they often connect an activity to my house. If they did it the first time they were here, it becomes the thing they associate with the place, and they expect to revisit the experience each time they come. One little girl associates painting with the studio right now. So when she's here, it's time to paint. Here are she and Lucy, exploring the feel of paint on their--and each other's--hands. (You can also see some toes--that's me, and another girl, stringing a necklace on the nearby table. There's none of that "we're all painting now" here--everyone works on their own thing.) It's a pretty bad photo, but you take what you can get when there's drippy paint flying off the hands of two busy toddlers!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Watering the garden

I swear, I didn't pose this for the blog.
(But I did run back into the house for the camera.)

When I suggested we go water the garden,
Lucy said "wet," and climbed into the water bucket.

After watering a few pots, she asked "me?"
When I said yes, she watered herself, too.

I can't stand the cuteness!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lucy's favorite bedtime story

Over time, Lucy's begun to reject the poems and lullabies I used to use to help her go to sleep. "No!" she says. I'm sure it means "no--don't say that--I know you're trying to make me go to sleep."

But I learned a trick from my friend Julie. She used to tell her girls the stories of their days. For some reason, Lucy will accept that. "Do you want mama to tell you a story?" "Yes."

There are favorites. "The seagulls in Bar Harbor." "Swimming in the river." "The bead in the poop." But there's one I've told over and over, so many times that it's developed a rhythm, a repetitive style, a way it must be told. It's "The Mouse in the House."

Once upon a time,
the children were playing in the studio
and they started to call
"Lise, Lise! Come quick!
There's a mouse in the house!"
So I went to see.
"Where?" I asked.
"Under the table," they said.
So I looked under the table, and sure enough, there was a mouse!
A cute grey mouse, with a long long tail.
It was scared.
It scampered away.
It ran under the steps,
behind the suitcases,
behind the blocks,
and behind the baskets.
We tried to catch it.
We tried to put a basket over it.
And we thought we caught it.
But when we lifted the basket,
no mouse.
Where did it go?
We didn't know.
We looked all around, but
no mouse.
So the children got flashlights
to help them look.
They looked under the tables, but
no mouse.
They looked under the chairs, but
no mouse.
They looked under the couch, but
no mouse.
They looked under the stove, but
no mouse.
But there was a hole, the size of a mouse.
Could the mouse be there?
We didn't know.
Maybe if we cleaned the house,
we'd find the mouse.
So we cleaned and cleaned, but
no mouse.
Then it was time to eat lunch.
So we sat at the tables,
and we started to eat,
when all of a sudden,
Audree said
"Lise, look!"
And I looked,
and there, in the studio,
was the mouse.
It ran across the floor,
and behind the baskets,
and it jump, jump, jumped
up onto the blocks
and ran behind the block shelf
and into the corner.
And we trapped it there.
And caught it
in a bucket
with a magnifying lens for a lid.
And we put it in a cage,
with some leaves, so it could hide,
and some cheese, so it could eat,
and a lid, so Eliot wouldn't get in.
We looked at the mouse.
And it was so cute,
with a pointy grey face,
and black, beady eyes,
and big, round ears,
and a long tail,
and cute, pink feet.
We watched that mouse all day.
And at the end of the day,
we let the mouse go.
But not in the house,
oh no, oh no.
Bye, bye mouse.
Not in the house!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plum jam 2 ways

Please excuse my slow mid-week posting lately. For some, summer's a slower, more relaxed time. For us, summer's when life kicks up a notch in intensity--I'm focusing on the current children's work, prepping for four kids to move on to kindergarten, working on enrollment for next year, prepping for the new children, taking care of my own family, and constantly preparing food for storage for the winter. It's a whirlwind.

So imagine me one day this week with 6 children under 6--several using glue guns while they work on their boats; Lucy under my feet or on the counter beside me--processing 12 qts of plums which had to be dealt with immediately (i.e. a day ago; some were already rotting). Crazy!

(Wondering how to can with a 17-month-old? The best moments were these... Lucy sat on the counter beside me with a huge bowl of plums. Her job was to hand me each one so I could slice it with a knife and put it in the pot. That lasted a good while. When she tired of that, she moved on to the floor, where she used doled out small handfuls of catfood into the children's pots and pans and little dishes for a good long time. The resulting mess was well worth it. The less-fun moments involve a hot toddler in a hot sling while I twist my body away from the boiling jam on the stove as I stir...)

I never really trust myself with jam. I sometimes make it too runny, sometimes too hard. So I don't tend to experiment much, though I really dislike the high quantity of sugar used in most recipes. Since the tiny plums were new to me and I didn't know how to get out all those pits without way too much work, I read a ton of recipes looking for the perfect technique. I found one that said if you slit the plums, then cook them, the pits would rise to the surface and you could scoop them out. Perfect. So I made that for my first batch. Insanely sweet (equal parts fruit and sugar), but gorgeous--the longish boiling time resulted in a glowing jam that looks like marmalade (the one on the right). It would make great gifts.

Then I decided to try Pomona pectin. I have a strange aversion to adding pectin--it seems artificial, plus it's one more ingredient I have to buy. I generally use high-pectin fruits instead, or my own pectin, made from quince. But I'd heard such good things about Pomona, and it lets you use so much less sugar. Sure enough, it worked beautifully, setting up with a very short cook time (added bonus!). It looks completely different--more like a butter than a jam. I'll serve this one to the kids (they don't get the super sugary stuff from me; I'm mean like that!). I'll be using the Pomona again; I liked its ease.

12 1/2 pts of plum jam, stored. On to blueberries...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Independence Days: filling the freezer with fruit

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
I'm just happy I didn't kill anything more this week! The container garden loved the heat this week--I can't believe how much the beans grew!

2. Harvest something:
12 qts. cherry plums foraged from a nearby park. 6 qts. raspberries from a pick-your-own farm. Eggs. The last few of our snap peas. The usual garden snacking (Lucy's learned to ask "mint?" just before picking and eating some). Our first grape tomato (which was then cut into 6 equal portions to be shared by the kids at lunch) :-).

3. Preserve something:
5 pts. pickled beets. 8 qts. frozen raspberries.

4. Waste not:
I've started tucking re-usables into my shopping bags so I won't forget them. Yogurt containers and berry boxes go into our CSA bag, because they'll re-use them. Coffee bags go into a specific bag for the co-op, so we can re-fill it. Makes remembering much easier!

5. Preparation and storage:
Our stores are woefully low. We're re-stocking slowly: a few extra jars of coconut oil, a few of peanut butter, a few recycled bottles filled with water.

6. Build community food systems:
I told several people about the cherry-plum discovery. And, of course, being the wacko on the side of the road with a basket always invites looks and inquiries. It feels like my small little contribution to educating the world about the possibilities of foraging.

7. Eat the food:
Lots and lots of popsicles. Favorite flavors this week:
strawberry/spinach/coconut milk
blueberry/summer squash/spinach/water
Lots and lots of kale. Kale chips, of course. And a surprisingly-good what's-in-the-fridge concoction that all the kids liked (loose recipe below). It was such a hit, I made it again today, and the kids kept saying "this is my favorite rice!" Potato salad, cucumber salad, green salad (salad was clearly a theme this week!). Lots of berries, just straight up. And just tonight, I conquered a fear of mine: I made a pie crust. I know, it's supposed to be easy. But I've always hated things I have to roll out--they get stuck to the rolling pin and rip and break. So I buy pre-made crusts. Or mostly, just avoid anything that requires a crust. But today, I did it! It's baking now, but it looked like it worked!

Spicy Kale, Eggs, and Rice
Chop a bunch of kale into small pieces. Saute in a bit of oil until bright green.
Push kale to the side of pan; break a few eggs into the pan, scramble, and cook.
Add cooked rice. Pour in lots of watery salsa (or salsa+water).
Cook until water is absorbed or evaporated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My berry, your berry

I mentioned those cherry plums I'd recently discovered. The kids and I were in the park with nothing to do, and they spotted some yellow fruits on the ground. "What are these?" My first thought was unripe crabapples. But then why were they all over the ground? Then Lucy handed me one she'd bitten (yup, she's teething), and I saw a pit inside. I smelled it--it smelled like a plum. But it was tiny! I'd never heard of such a thing. So I looked it up, and found out they're called "cherry plums." They're about the size of cherries; they can be red or yellow; and they're often used as landscaping plants. Oh, how I love the person who, choosing landscaping plants for a public park, decided upon edible fruit trees! Shouldn't all parks have food we can share? Look at the bounty on just this one tree:

We picked some Saturday--probably a bit early, but I wanted to be really sure we didn't miss them. (I'm hoping they'll finish ripening at home, and then we'll make some jam.)

Andi hung from a branch to pull it low, I picked all I could reach, and Lucy picked up any we dropped on the ground. It was quick work for us to pick 12 quarts of plums.

Sunday was for raspberries. Never mind the humidity and heat in the 90s; we had to pick. We hadn't found a good pick-your-own raspberry place until this year, and they were too expensive to buy in quantity at farmer's markets, so we haven't done raspberry jam in a few years. But it's my favorite! Plus, I want more variety in our stored fruits this year, so I wanted some to freeze.

You can tell Lucy's been raised eating locally. We told her we were going to pick raspberries. She's never done that before, but clearly, pick-your-own is familiar to her. When we got to the farm, I handed her a box and without any further instruction, she went straight to the canes, picked a ripe berry, and dropped it in her box!

Of course, some went into her mouth, too.

And a few into her hat.

(I love these little collections vignettes she leaves behind wherever she goes!)

We only managed 6 quarts before we were melting too much to continue, but that should be enough to keep us busy for a while!

Now my mind is humming the picking-fruit songs. Saturday was "picking up cherry plums and putting them in the basket..." (originally pawpaws--and, hey, looking it up for you, I just learned a ton of new lyrics to this song!). Today was "three berry, four berry, my berry, your berry." Is it just me, or do you have a kids' song for every occasion?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday's Flowers: Sunflowers

Our CSA had beautiful sunflowers available for pick-your-own this week. They bring a bit of sunshine into our curtain-darkened rooms (we're hiding from the hot hot sun this week.)

See more Friday's Flowers at FIMBY.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On failing to make a solar-powered boat

Our days over the past week have been filled with boat building. It began in the river, with simple leaf-and-stick creations.

Back in the studio, I offered wood pieces, craft sticks, corks, and glue guns, and the children began to draw their ideas for more boats.

A quick lesson in the safe use of a glue gun, and they were off on what would become an extended boat-building project.

We're using a tub of water to test our creations for floatability before they're set afloat on the river.

The children return to their boats day after day, adding more and more: an anchor, some "guys," a treasure chest, a sail. But how to make them go? That's been quite the debate. With excited discussion, the children decided they should be solar powered, using tin foil and clear plastic to create the "solar system."

Here's the email I sent their parents today, talking about this struggle to create a working "solar system":

"We barely made it outside this morning, or paused to eat anything for snack, because the boat construction was just too compelling.

The children's work on these boats is so exciting and impressive and beautiful to watch. It's also a little painful. They have these fabulous plans to create a solar-powered vehicle, but only the vaguest idea of how to make that work. This happens all the time in children's creations. They want a car that really drives, a walkie-talkie that really sends messages, an airplane they can actually fly in. And as the adult, you want to talk them down from their lofty plans, so they don't get disappointed. Or make it work for them, so they'll be proud and satisfied. I can't answer the solar-power question (I don't understand it well enough myself). I could research it and offer books and explanations. I could buy a kit. But I don't really think that should be my role--because I don't think that's where the real learning comes in. If they assemble the solar-power kit, do they better understand how it works? Not much. But they will learn that the answers lie with someone else; that they can buy a solution; that they are not capable of finding a solution on their own. J. just asked me to set his boat out in the sun while he napped so it could "charge." What will he learn when he brings it back in? And what will he decide to do about it? I think in the process, he'll learn so much more than he would from my potential "lessons."

Conveniently, this wonderful post came along today, to support me as I briefly questioned my hands-off thinking.

What a thrilling project this has become! I can barely wait to take the boats to the river to sail. (Of course, that's my adult need for the "product" again. My best teacher intentions remind me to slow down and not rush the process, which is the most important part. We may be building for weeks before the boats have their inaugural voyage.) Wait. Watch. Support. Don't push. Don't solve it for them. Let them fail sometimes. It will come...and it will be rich and deep and meaningful and theirs."

I write to the families in my program daily--and attach documentation panels about the work the children are doing--and often, that's my best, most creative work. But somehow, it's felt odd to share it here. What do you think? Do you want to hear about it sometimes?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Days challenge: gardening in the heat

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
Oh, dear. Not only did I not plant anything, I may well have killed several things. I tend to be a very lazy gardener; I put things in and hope they'll survive my neglect. That works fine with my perennial garden, but not so well with all the new edible plants I've been putting in. My 20 new salmonberry and thimbleberry bushes all dried up to a crisp this week with the heat and my neglectful ways. Is there any hope?

However, I'm not a complete gardening idiot. The pots we planted on the driveway are doing well, and nothing there got fried. I've been really happy with the "Mel's Mix" we've been using in the pots, described in Square Foot Gardening (1/3 compost, 1/3 soil, 1/3 vermiculite). The pots don't dry up too quickly, even though they're set on hot cement. And I have some tomato plants I bought as seedlings--I planted 4 in a pot, and running out of room, put the other 2 in the ground beside the pot. The ones in the pot are much larger and have green tomatoes all over them; the ones in the ground have a few flowers. I set the kids to work this week with sticks and string to make trellises for the vining plants. They did a great job, don't you think?

2. Harvest something:
Eggs. All 5 of our currants. (Will we ever have a real berry harvest?). Peas, basil, parsley from our CSA. Lavender, comfrey, black caps. Tried to harvest mulberries, but had missed them, they ripened so early this year! (Shoot!) However, I discovered something new--cherry plums--and foraged a few. Just waiting for the rest to ripen.

3. Preserve something:
Froze 4 pints peas. Dried comfrey for chickens' winter feed. Dried lavender.

5. Preparation and storage:
I spent this weekend cleaning, organizing, and weeding out. Took a load of stuff to the thrift store, and am feeling a lot more sane for it.

7. Eat the food:
We're going easy, easy, easy with meal prep. Examples: Local bread with butter, salt, and lettuce. Coleslaw of Chinese cabbage, scallions, and mayo. Whatever we can think of that will use greens and not require much of us. Sauteed zucchini. Carrots. Pesto.