Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nothing's Better Than Butter

"Laura liked the churning and the baking days best of all the week. In winter the cream was not yellow as it was in summer, and butter churned from it was white and not so pretty. Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty, so in the wintertime she colored the butter.

"After she had put the cream in the crockery churn and set it near the stove to warm, she washed and scraped a long orange colored carrot. Then she grated it on the bottom of the old, leaky tin pan that Pa had punched full of nail-holes for her. Ma rubbed the carrot across the roughness until she had rubbed it all through the holes, and when she lifted up the pan, there was a soft, juicy mound of grated carrot.

"She put this in a little pan of milk and the stove and when the milk was hot she poured the milk and carrot into a cloth bag. Then she squeezed the bright yellow milk into the churn, where it colored all the cream. Now the butter would be yellow.

"Laura and Mary were allowed to eat the carrot after the milk had been squeezed out. Mary thought she ought to have the larger share because she was older, and Laura thought she should have it because she was littler. But Ma said they must divide it evenly. It was very good."

Super and Dude didn't argue over the shredded carrot, but there was some discussion about the best way to make butter. Super wanted hers to be plain, and she refused to let anyone help shake her container after she got tired--she wanted to do it herself. Dude decided to make honey-butter...

...and after his arms got tired, he let me shake his container for a while. We considered using the electric mixer, but Super objected, reminding us that Ma had to do it all by hand. I colored mine with the carrot-milk mixture, and it really does look pretty! It took about 20 minutes of shaking to make soft, homemade butter (and about 5 minutes to spread it on crackers and make it disappear!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Kind of Competition

Hands off! These are for the contest!

Every year we have a cookie contest at our business. It's a holiday party and cookie exchange, but it's known among some of the more competitive types as the "cookie smackdown." You'd be amazed how our perfectly civilized team of employees can transform into ruthless competitors when there are sugary treats involved. The top three winners are chosen by secret ballot, so if you have a lot of kids or your relatives are in town for the holidays, you have an advantage. But the best way to win is to know your way around a really good cookie!

Technically, I'm not eligible to win the $50 prize, but I always enter something, just to see how my baking skills measure up. I make these ginger crinkles every year because the family loves them and they are so easy. They are straight out of my 1984 Edition Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, which was also my high school home ec textbook. Yes, that's right, I was, um, seven when I took home ec. I also made my favorite cookies, the melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies from my 75th Anniversary Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, published in 2004. (I love my BH&G books--I also have one published in 1970 that belonged to Dad's grandmother.)

Sometimes I roll these in red and green sugar, but I didn't have any and didn't feel like braving the snowstorm to get some.

We also made Hershey's Mint Kiss cookies, which are a good choice to make with children because the dough has no egg in it so kids (and Dads) can steal a bite or two with no worries. Plus it's fun to roll them in powdered sugar. Dad always makes peanut butter fudge, "because that's just what you do at Christmas," and we serve coffee and that wonderful pineapple juice and ginger ale punch that brings back my childhood memories of church parties and summer weddings.

In the past we have been really ambitious and made some fancy stuff. One year we made a very rich concoction of Kahlua and crushed chocolate wafers. Another year Dad spread Nutella on Ritz crackers and then covered them in white chocolate--very popular with the kids! The year we attempted peanut brittle was interesting--it had peanuts but it wasn't brittle! This year we're sticking to the old favorites and leaving the fancy stuff to others. You really can't beat a good ginger crinkle and a glass of milk.

That's what Santa gets every year, and he hasn't complained once!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Every Color Known to Man

Our faraway-but-very-dear friend sent the kids a wonderful gift! One hundred twenty colored pencils in a gorgeous wooden case--look how beautiful they are! When the kids opened it, Dude said, "This must be every color known to man!" The next thing he said was, "Can I have a pencil sharpener and some paper?"

Both Dude and Super were suddenly inspired to create some very colorful art, which I will be posting soon. They drew and colored all afternoon. I kept checking on them because, normally, long periods of quiet make me concerned. But in this case, they were just busy!

Thank you, faraway friend! We'll send you some artwork!

Monday, December 14, 2009

That's Alotta Cookies!

Last night we went to a super fun cookie-decorating party! Our friends made an amazing dinner and the kids and grownups alike had a great time sipping hot cider and decorating cookies.

If you look closely, you may notice that some of the cookies are anatomically correct. This is what happens when nine and ten year olds are let loose with cookie dough.

We had our work cut out for us! Get it? Cut out for us? You know, like cookie cutters? Oh, never mind...

Itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini! How do you like the baby with the diaper? Some of the babies got frownie faces because, as the kids said, they needed a change.

The hall of fame. (A.K.A. the ones we didn't eat yet.) Dude was very proud of his "Lemonheads idea." See if you can find it...

This house looks a bit anxious. Maybe he's worried about being eaten.

Dude's house in front (with the peace sign.) Super's in the background (with the fancy peppermint mustache.)

The older kids put together a cute gingerbread train kit...

...and the younger ones turned it into a gruesome train wreck! Once again, nines and tens.

There were plenty of cookies left to nibble with our coffee this morning. And after lunch, and this afternoon, and after dinner...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lousy post

Just a quick list because it's pure chaos here: Jan Brett author study, deer and Star Wars lapbooks, Uno, Jenga, Christmas Shrinky Dinks, playdates with school friends, playdates with homeschool friends, Christmas shopping, putting furniture back in place, headaches from the smell of paint, and HOW do only 4 people create so much LAUNDRY?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crazy, cozy, content

Phase 2 of the home repairs began today. My entire "office area," including the printer, fax, and file cabinet is now pushed into the kitchen, and there are books and office supplies stacked on the kitchen table. There are 3 lamps wedged behind the table so dogs can't knock them over, and about a million framed pictures and knick-knacks are stashed wherever we could find a space. (Do we really have that many photo albums?!) Oh, and all the living room furniture is crowded into our entryway, so if someone just steps through the front door, they can immediately have a seat on the sofa!

I haven't finished unpacking and doing the laundry from our stay at the grandparents' house. Plus, the kids are working very enthusiastically on their very first lapbooks, which means that paper, craft supplies, and research materials are spread everywhere...

Needless to say, I haven't even thought about getting ready for Christmas around here! We'll have to put our living room back together before we can put up our tree. I'm trying to stay zen about it and not let myself get too stressed. After all, I'm looking forward to the end results (a ceiling that isn't cracked, a color I don't hate, and new carpet in the living room! Hooray!)

Dad managed to cook a nice dinner in the chaotic kitchen, and we sat on the floor around the coffee table to eat. We watched Rudolph together (the kids know it so well, they say the lines a la Rocky Horror.) Now Super is playing a game of tug-of-sock with Big Dog. Big Dog is growling but it's awfully hard to take him seriously while he's wearing reindeer antlers.

The empty space where the furniture was has inspired Dude to invent a game. The rules are complicated, but as near as I can tell, you have to sprint from the spot where the printer used to be, through the living room, to the kitchen sink and back, yelling "Yes! No! Yes! No!" He says that he has already earned over 5,000 points.

Time to read The Thief Lord and go to bed!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


We're headed to the library to get books for the kids' research projects (and to pay our fine.) It's cold and snowy, not the best day to be out, but since they're so excited about their topics, we're going anyway.

Since my last post was rather grumpy, I decided to post something more upbeat today. This is a list of just a few things that I love about homeschooling...

You can take "school" wherever you go! We spent a few days at the grandparents' house, and we did a bit of schoolwork in the mornings, read in the evenings, took walks, made cookies, helped decorate their Christmas tree, watched football, and just enjoyed spending time together. Nana showed the kids the pictures she took when she was in NYC last month, and Papa played board games with Dude while Super sat nearby and drew pictures. We even listened to our German CD's in the car.

We are really into our current read-aloud! I love that we can stay up late and keep reading when we want to. It is so wonderful to hear my kids say, "One more chapter--please?"

We love writing letters. I don't know if homeschoolers can revive the civilized custom of sending friendly letters, but we're going to do our part. It's a good way to practice handwriting, punctuation, etc. But more importantly, it's a such a lovely way to communicate with the people you care about! It's also a nice excuse to have tea and cookies.

This morning Super showed me an animal in a book and said, "Mom! I bet you never heard of a pangolin, did you?" She then proceeded to tell me everything about it. "Can you believe it's a mammal, Mom? It's a mammal with scales! Cool, huh?" I just had to smile at her enthusiasm.

A couple of days ago were sitting in the theater waiting for a play to begin and Dude said, "Look, Mom! The stage is symmetrical. The two sides are exact mirror images of each other." A lady in front of us turned and looked at him--she seemed surprised.

I am so thrilled that my kids are studying foreign languages at an early age. They are interested in German and French, so we do both. We have Pimsleur German CD's and a lot of German kids' books. We don't use an "official" French curriculum, but I would love to invest in Rosetta Stone eventually.

Without a doubt, we are less stressed now. Sure, I worry, and I probably always will because it's in my nature. But I'm not picking up tired kids after a long day and then forcing them to do homework. We're not spending our weekends decompressing from a hectic week. And my kids are so much happier. What's not to love about that?