Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bird Watching

Well folks, we have an avid bird watcher in our family.  He has sharp eye sight, great attention to detail, has mastered matching the birds in our yard to those in his bird book, and he's three years old.

Our Mannchen LOVES birds.

With that in mind, and our winter theme, this week we have been learning more about birds and what they do during the winter.  Some change colors/feathers, other migrate south, and many of those around us are in greater need of food sources.  We have made suet cakes, cranberry rings, and popcorn heart bird feeders.  All are on display outside of our large dining room window and we enjoy watching our feathered friends enjoy their treats during our meal and craft times.  It's quite entertaining and I'm overjoyed that my little ones find nature (even the nature in our own backyard) so wildly fascinating!

Cranberry rings and the homemade suet cake in the feeder. The popcorn hearts weren't made when I took the pictures...oops.

Our daily rhythms are continuing to become more second nature and we all are benefiting from the ease found in that.

On the flip side, we have made a major change this week. Both kids are sharing a room least for now. The heat pump that heats our downstairs has been faulty for awhile. Over the weekend it went out...for good. We moved Töchterchen's mattress onto the floor in Mannchen's room to make sure she wouldn't get too cold at night. They have been doing MUCH better than our first attempt at moving them into the same room last summer. I've found it made a huge difference once I removed every single possible source of light. When it's pitch black in the room, a lot of the excitement is gone. Are they perfect angels that settle right down and fall asleep as quickly as they do when in separate rooms? Heck no. But they aren't running around, screaming and laughing either. Progress is good.  We are giving it a solid week or two before we decide to move Töchterchen's entire bed upstairs.  If bedtime gets crazy again, it's back downstairs for the little miss.

Enjoying our ice lanterns over the weekend.

 Experimenting with Töchterchen's growing hair!  I love having a girl.

Today, while I was making lunch, things got quiet.  Very quiet.  And every mom knows quiet isn't always good.  I peeked around the corner, expecting the worst, but instead found my precious, sweet, lovable babies playing games together.  Here they are setting up the "Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel" game.  I had to snap a picture before the moment was gone - but thankfully it carried on for about 20 minutes, allowing me to pull lunch together in peace.  These precious children we were blessed with constantly amaze me.  They are so sweet, so imaginative, and so all around AWESOME!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making Beeswax Candles

Here's a quick tutorial on how to make beeswax candles. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be far easier than I imagined and I'm really excited to make them again with the kids.

 Get your hands on a pound (or two or three...) of pure beeswax.  Don't get cheap here.  Get the real stuff.  Buy local if you can - it won't cost you anymore!  Pure beeswax smells heavenly, burns clean, and even purifies your air.  Great stuff.

I was only making five tealight candles and two floating candles - this was plenty of beeswax for that.  Each block was about 2.5" square and roughly half an inch thick.  Cut or break the wax into pieces small enough to fit into your double broiler.

Ok, so I don't have a double broiler, so this is what I used (and I'm saving the can to make it my official candlemaking can).  I only cut the pieces enough to get them in the can.  I knew from grading beeswax when making lotion that it can be a pain to get off of things - use a knife you don't mind getting it stuck on and a can or pot that you won't mind using only for this purpose.  In fact, I even stirred the wax with a small wooden dowel to completely avoid having to clean it off of things.

Wax in the can, water in the pot.  Turn onto medium to medium low heat.  Stir occasionally - not sure you even need to do that, but I can't resist. 

 While the wax is melting, get your wicks ready.  I'm cheap (or ghetto or thrifty or smart - call it what you like), I reused the metal holders from the tealights that I already used.  Twelve of those little suckers costs $3.  That could add up quickly!  Thread the wick through the clip and clamp with needlenose pliers to secure it.

Like this.  I forgot to get a picture of this part, but once some of the wax has melted, dip the wick in the wax to make it stiffer, allowing you to make it stand up straight.  Also, dip the bottom of the clip in the wax and secure it to the bottom of your mold.  Probably should have taken a picture of that step also, sorry.

Once your wax has melted, pour it into the mold.  Silicone molds/baking pans work great for creating candles.  Once the candles cooled, they popped right out.  I did have to prop up the wicks right after I poured the wax in - the hot wax melted the wax already on the wick, but after 2-3 minutes they were good to go on their own.

Finished tealight candles!  I didn't have the same problem with the wicks dropping over in these.  I think it was because they were so small and cooled so quickly.

Next time, we're going to refill old votive holders!  I've also seen where people used various sizes of canning jars.  I think I'll try that to create larger candles that will last longer.  The tealight candles only lasted through dinner, breakfast, and half of lunch today. 

You can also make dipped taper candles using beeswax, but that's an experiment for another day!


Friday, January 18, 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. Inspired by Soule Mama.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hopes of Snow

The forecast is calling for a possible 1-2" of snow.  So, naturally, the school district has already called for a two hour delay.  I'm pretty sure that even if it does snow, nothing is going to stick to the roads - it's been WAY too warm for that lately.  It's all rather silly to Hubby and I the way people around here react to snow and winter weather, but you can't really complain about getting an extra morning to "sleep in".  Ok, that's a joke, the kids get us up just as early whether it's a work day for Hubby or not.

IF it does snow, it would be perfect timing for our homeschooling lessons!  Tomorrow will be our last day discussing snow and ice.  We've kept the same poems and songs during circle time for two weeks now and I love that the kids are starting to say/sing them with me...or spontaneously on their own.  I think I'm going to keep one or two throughout the entire winter season to really help them learn them. 

This was our third week of homeschooling.  I think I should actually say "homeschooling" - the quotations are needed because it's a loose interpretation of the word.  Really, it just feels like we're playing and maybe "unschooling" would be a better word to describe what's going on around here right now.  I've focused on establishing a stronger rhythm to our day and adding circle time...but that's really it.  Everything else is creative learning, playing, and getting the kids more involved with helping around the house.  (Sidenote - they are excellent laundry helpers, table setters/clearers, and sous chefs!)  I feel like we've either had a fabulous week or this added predictability to their days really is as magical as everyone says.  They have played together independently for hours this week, helped around the house, and some of our former struggles around getting ready in the mornings/mealtimes/bedtime have nearly disappeared.  Besides a playgroup/bible study on Tuesdays and gymnastics on Wednesdays, our weeks are free from running around and over planning.  Their little imaginations are running wild and it's an absolute joy to watch.

I didn't do as many planned crafts this week.  We focused more on two stories - "The Story of the Snow Children" and "The Tomten".  I made little chararcters for each (and totally copied that idea from a sweet friend of mine and her tutorial found here.)

I am also trying to add more rhythm in our daily activities.  I have decided to make Mondays painting day - thus on Monday, they just enjoyed unstructured painting time. Tuesday is play-doh day. As they get older, we'll start to use modeling beeswax, but for now we are sticking with the easier to mold play-doh. Wednesday is gymnastics and library day. Today (handwork day) I used their paintings to make sewing cards, which they played with as their handwork activity. Tomorrow (craft day) we are going to make a few more snowflake crafts (borax snowflakes and ...I'm not sure yet...). I'm constantly reminded of how much my children relax and thrive under predictability, so I want our daily activities to offer that to them it makes my planning easier.  We also have specific chores for certain days of the week to help further reinforce this.

This week's chalkboard poem.

Our Tomten, hiding in the hay loft of the barn!

The snow children, Poppy, and the snow princess.

Our sewing cards.  I punched a bunch of holes around each of the shapes.  Then I tied a piece of yarn to one hole and used masking tape to tape the other end of the string (to reinforce it, making it easier to thread it through).  I do have blunt end plastic needles for the kids, but I can't find one and my children don't handle it very well when one sibling gets something that the other doesn't at craft time.  When it resurfaces, we'll go back to using the needles. 

I was so proud of Töchterchen, she did this all on her own!  Sure, there's some craziness going on, but I was extremely impressed that my two year old baby girl stayed focused long enough to do so many good stitches!

Friday, January 11, 2013

:: Right Now ::

Right now I am...

:: listening to Mannchen tell Hubby what we learned today in "school".

:: wishing I'd planted twice as much broccoli, three times as much spinach, and at least four times as much swiss least...maybe twice that. 

:: joyful it's Friday.

:: thankful for a three year old that will eat anything, provided I tell him it is "firefighter" food first.

:: trying to embrace the "spunk" of our two year old...and at the same time finding myself in love with her sass and complete "daddy's girl" attitude.

:: wishing winter would come to Southeast Virginia.

:: excited Hubby's application to Tech is complete!!!

:: terrified of how our rhythm and daily life may change if Hubby goes back to school full-time and I have to work part-time.

:: loving the flow of our days recently.  The kids play well together, independent of me.  Our mornings have found the flow and rhythm I always hoped for.

:: laughing at how independent my babies insist on being.

:: silently cursing myself for ordering wipes from amazon, but accidentally scheduling the first delivery for February, not January.  Now we're out and I'm praying no one poops until I go to the store tomorrow morning.

:: realizing a clean house is way over rated and finding peace in the mess that is our life. 

:: falling further in love with my precious little family by the day.  Family is the greatest gift.

"Right Now" post was inspired by Soule Mama's "Right Now" posts.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Week 2 - Snow and Ice

Well, I've kept it up for two weeks in a row now...our second week of homeschooling is another success.  This week we're learning about snow and ice.  Next week we will continue to learn about snow, ice, and winter weather.  Ironically, it's crazy warm here right now.  Sunday has a high in the lower 70s.  I think it's confusing the kids.

This week we added Circle Time to our homeschooling adventure.  We have a song to start it - the singing really helps get the kids' attention and bring us together.  Then I have several other songs and poems we say together.  They enjoy doing each one two or three times.  I like that because they are trying to learn them!  This week's favorite is a little song about a snowman that goes to the same tune as "I'm a Little Teapot".  I've been trying to read a book during this time too, but sometimes we get a little too excited while singing.  To end the time, I have another song about fairies and giants that leads the kids to the table for our craft and a short alphabet lesson.  It's starting to become a little more of our daily routine, which gives me confidence that soon it will be and once it is, it will be so much easier to keep it up!

This week's blackboard drawing and poem.

"Snow" decorations for the windows - contact paper with tissue paper, sequins, and glitter!

Check out that mess!  We were having FUN!  One day after naps we made snowflake cutouts from coffee filters and enjoyed popcorn with hot cocoa...despite the warm temps outdoors.

All cleaned up and we now have a fully decorated window.

Snow covered trees.  Earlier in the week, I had the kids water color a large piece of paper in blues and purples.  I cut out a tree trunk shape and LOTS of small squares of white tissue paper.  The kids glued everything together.  This was Töchterchen's...I helped her.

This was Mannchen's.  He wanted no part of doing the craft the way I intended.  I struggle with forcing him to follow directions or keeping the peace and letting him showcase his own artistic desires.  Today, I kept the peace and he really enjoyed his way of doing things.  Plus, he was so proud of his "super cool" tree when he finished.

This week's nature table.  It's hard to see, but there are paper snowflakes on our tree.

Hubby and his dad cut out this rainbow from a scrap of wood.  I painted it this week for the kids.  They've enjoyed it a lot!  I'm excited to incorporate it into our lessons in the spring - St. Patty's Day and when we discuss rain and rainbows after the rain!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Homeschooling - Take 2

I attempted to follow a homeschooling program with the kids in September.  We did a good job for a week, maybe two.  Then it just became too much of a struggle to plan, organize, and get two munchkins to co-operate....and it all fell apart.  I still tried to incorporate small bits and pieces of the themes from each week into our daily routine.  I just wasn't putting together anything organized.  Then, in December we had a great time with the advent activities and I felt re-inspired to give homeschooling another try. 

We are following our own Waldorf based style.  I had planning guides for the fall, but I don't for the winter/spring.  I tried to come up with themes that fit into nature and the seasons, while incorporating the Waldorf festivals.  I've decided this year is just laying the groundwork and we'll add to the themes and lessons each year.  I can adapt the themes and lessons according to the kids' interests as they grow older.  Töchterchen is still roughly a year younger than I think is ideal, but I know Mannchen is ready and I think the added structure and rhythm will be great for her.  I just have to get creative in order to adapt some of my crafts to her or I have to make sure it's an activity Mannchen can do mostly in his own, while I help her.

Side note - if you don't know what Waldorf education is, I highly recommend you look into it.  We feel like it is a good fit for our family right now because it helps children pay attention to the great outdoors and fosters creativity.  Our greatest hopes for our children's early years of "education" are that they develop critical thinking skills (i.e. a vivid imagination) and kindness towards others and the Earth.  I see no place for technology in fostering or aiding either of these skills.  They get to watch a small amount of TV each afternoon, but that's about it for them.  The rest of their time is spent playing, reading, and exploring.

This week has been a huge success so far - the extra months of development were a huge help. Plus, I am more organized and it helps me that we're forming more of our own curriculum. I've found great ideas on Pinterest, through a good friend, and from a large variety of blogs from Waldorf homeschooling mamas. I'm really excited about what we're doing and what I have planned. I hope to be able to share a weekly post about what the kids are learning/making/doing!

We have been learning about what hibernation and how different animals survive the winter.  I love it when I get moments to explain to them that not all living creatures have it as easy as humans - the birds and bears can't drive to the grocery store whenever they need to! 
Two little bears, snug in their den!

Working on his craft to go with the book, "The Mitten" - a longtime favorite in our house.
Mannchen's colored and cut animals - all on his own!

Another shot, courtesy of Mannchen.  He wanted a close up of his favorites - the bear, mouse, and rabbit.

Töchterchen's finished product.  I did all her cutting, but see used her safety scissors to add a few pieces of "confetti" to her mitten.  She did the "sewing" of the mitten mostly on her own!  I was impressed.

Töchterchen finished much more quickly.  While Mannchen continued working, she entertained herself my spinning in circles with our free grocery store balloons, while singing her "Ballerina" song.  She makes herself dizzy and thinks it's hilarious.  Silly girl.

Our school corner.  I made a planner with all the extra felt in my stash and we added a (very) small nature table.  I was excited to add the nature table that will tie into our themes and the season.  Plus the kids love to display their outdoor treasures indoors.  And, of course, we have a basket of books that go with our theme.

Little closer view of the table.  In the bowl are things the kids have collected from outside.  Right now it's holding holly branches and pinecones we collected from the local college campus when they rode their Christmas bikes around campus the other morning.

Mr. Bear in his den.  The kids are making smaller dens of their own tomorrow.  I have two smaller knit bears for their dens.  They are going to be very excited to have their own!

Poem about a hibernating bear that I found online.  I forget the website now, but I think it was someone's blog.  We've had to re-draw the picture several times due to my little artists' love of coloring on the chalkboard and wanting to help create the picture.

Today during lunch, we spotted a lot of our favorite birds stopping by for a visit. 
Woody the woodpecker.  The circle on the right is one of our activities from yesterday - ice suncatchers.  Too bad our winter days aren't cold enough to keep the ice frozen.  By dinner, it was mostly gone.

Mama Redbird (The kids and I know it's a female Cardinal, but they love to call them redbirds.)

Daddy Redbird

Daddy Redbird came a little closer.  Neither of the cardinals have yet to come to our bird feeder this season.  Last year, they were ALL about it.  Maybe soon!

Happy New Year!!!