Crafting and Education Round Up!

I've been working on a few projects with 'A' and 'H' and today the stars lined up just right so that I could take photos of them and show you. While I was doing it I couldn't help but think about 'A' stomach pains yesterday and wonder what caused them. I wish I could be the kind of blogger who just does cool projects with her kids and posts the tutorials for you without throwing in all the personal stuff about food allergies and how I feel about things. I'm not that kind of blogger, so I won't try to be.

First, the stomach pains. To tell you about that, I'll back up two days and show you where we spent the morning.

I took the girls to Emma Willard School in Troy to see Pat McEvoy's painting exhibit. We know Pat from church and she is an amazing artist. Lots of color and light. Lots of flowers! Much to our surprise, she walked in right behind us. She was meeting friends and we all happened to be there at the same time. How often do you get to see the artist and her work together like that? As 'A' pointed out, Picasso didn't meet us at his exhibit at The Clark last summer. Hmmm. There are a few reasons for that, namely, that he's no longer living.

After seeing Pat's work, we headed down the street to X's to O's, the vegan bakery. It was my first time there, and I was excited to be able to walk into a bakery with 'A' and tell her to order whatever looked good. She's never been able to do that. It was a VERY BIG MOMENT. Historical, for our family. She chose the cookies and cream cupcake, 'H' chose the chocolate chip cupcake, and I chose the Tiramisu cupcake. We decided to divide them in thirds and share. Yum! What sugary treat isn't delicious? To be perfectly honest, I could have, and have, made such yummy treats myself. This experience wasn't about the quality of the desserts though, it was about going out in public and eating with 'A', and knowing that it was safe to do so.

And just for good measure, we took home a few canoes (think Twinkies) to share with Jeff.

That day 'A' also ate some frozen organic corn (a new brand for us) in addition to some other things. The next day I realized I was short on breakfast offerings so I made the girls some pancakes. 'A' doubled over with stomach pains. She screamed off and on all day. What was causing it? The pancake recipe was the same as usual. I did open a new can of baking powder for it. Could that have done it? The vegan cupcakes couldn't have contained hidden dairy... could they? I could understand cross contamination issues in a standard bakery, but a vegan one? Besides, if she ingested dairy, she would have had hives on her face. I thought back to the corn. When she was 18 months old, she had an intestinal reaction to corn, and I had allergy tests done. Sure enough, she is allergic to it. Fast forward a few years, and she's tolerating it fine. She eats corn on the cob all summer with no issues, frozen corn, canned corn, corn oil, corn in crackers... corn is in so many foods, did you know that? She's been fine all this time. Perhaps there was something special about the corn she ate. At any rate, her stomach took all day to calm down.

The physical pain is a big deal for 'A'. The emotional pain is a big deal for me. When is she safe? What can I trust? Why do I think I can put my guard down? I have so many questions about food allergies and hardly any answers. 75 days until we see the pediatric allergist in Boston.

Enough of that - let's talk about the maps. The girls have been learning about map making for a few weeks now (remember the room maps?). This week they've been making relief maps. I got this idea from "Maps and Mapping" by Deborah Chancellor.

I gave each child a piece of sturdy cardboard for the base. They balled up pieces of newspaper and taped them to the base. I made a paste (see this for the recipe), and they pasted strips of newspaper over the balls of and tape until they were covered. Then we left it to dry.

The next day, they pasted paper towels over the entire project. The newspaper balls had now become mountains. The paper towels were pasted on the mountains and the valleys. We left it to dry.

The following day, the girls painted their mountains. I used acrylic paints that were watered down quite a bit. They added rivers and flowers and trees to the scene. Then I pasted several pieces of string around each mountain to mark elevation.

Part Two of the project (to be completed later today or on Monday) involves drawing an overhead view of the mountains. The idea is to see what the lines on contour maps mean and how they are made. The girls are having fun with this project, and so am I.

Here are two more crafty projects that have been in the works at our house. The first is something I've been doing on and off since Christmas. I gave the girls each a felt-wrapped piece of foam board, to be used for their "Mary and Laura" dolls and furniture. I was tired of tripping over Lincoln Log villages and thought that it would be nice to have not only a perimeter to the town, but also a way to pick it all up and move it if it's in the way. I occasionally make something for the town or the house, such as this garden and pond, and now I'm making food such as beets and turnips. I like making these little treasures, and my girls love playing with them.

The last thing I'll show you today are these adorable little ornaments. The snowmen are made of little painted handprints! I've had the idea to make these for a few years now, ever since my neighbor told me how to do it. Do you know how hard it is to find blue ornaments? I've spent 2 years looking! Here is the simple Snowman Handprint Ornament tutorial.

Snowman Handprint Ornament

Materials needed:

Round blue ornament
Acrylic paints, including white
Little hands!

Paint a child's hand with white paint. Have them grasp the ornament with the bottom of the ornament in the palm of their hand. You may want to practice this pre-paint. Some children keep their fingers too close together, some wiggle their fingers around while grasping. And some do both.

Release the ornament from the child's hand and place it upside down to dry (I put ours in empty baby food jars). I painted the base of the ornament with white to make a coating of fresh snow. Paint the faces and hats on the snowmen and voila! you are done.




Relief maps using newspaper, paste and paint. When they're finished, the girls will look at them from above and draw maps of their mountains with markers indicating elevation. I used this recipe for the paste:

Papier-Mache Paste

1 cup water
1/4 cup flour
5 cups lightly boiling water

Mix flour into 1 cup water until mixture is thin and runny.
Stir this mixture into lightly boiling water.
Gently boil and stir 2-3 minutes.
Cool before using.


The beeswax candles the girls made using the Valentine kit from their grandma and grandpa.

The warmth of the stronger sun


Maps and Mapping, by Deborah Chancellor

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (we're up to lesson 23, and my goodness, it works)

How to Manage Your Child's Life-Threatening Food Allergies by Linda Marienhoff Coss (I want to cry through this book, tears of relief. Finally I've found some guidance)

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Finding inspiration for dinners from:

Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
Nava Atlas & Lillian Kayte (Vegetarian Express)

Wanting to:

Send my children outside to play while I sit inside and read

A new day!

It's a new day today, literally and figuratively. For some reason I'm thinking more clearly than ever. It's as if the part of me that lives in reality and the part of me that lives in my own fantasyland finally got together and decided to walk down the same path. It's easy to describe the "reality me": she's the one who makes sure the family's minds, bodies and spirits are developing all right; the one who volunteers at church and in the community; the one who takes care of business around the home. The "fantasyland me" could be described as the one who thinks it's possible to cram 100 things into one day; that one more serving of the dinner entree won't make a difference on the scale; or that the cat is going to live forever. For whatever reason, those two spirits met and decided to become one person today.

Does that sound funky? I think so too. It feels good and it feels right, but it definitely feels different. And it doesn't feel like it's any of my own doing. If I were a religious person, maybe I would think it is God's plan for me. But I'm not religious (spiritual, yes, religious, no), so I don't think that way. I sometimes do wonder if there's a higher power in the universe, and if there is, maybe that force is causing all of this to happen. Or maybe not.

Whatever it is, I'll take it. I like this change.

Making valentine's to share with friends tomorrow morning

I may have finally developed my favorite granola recipe. This is the closest I've ever gotten to a recipe I like, at any rate. I'll share it with you.

Mama Jillian's Granola

I don't use nuts in my granola recipes because 'A' is allergic to many nuts. Here is one interesting ingredient I do use: rice flour. I've never seen a granola recipe that uses rice flour. I've seen recipes that call for pastry flour and I've tried them, but there was something about it that I didn't like. I do like the added dimension of some sort of flour, and have been pleased with the way the rice flour bakes in this recipe.

Now for the recipe:

* Edited to add: I forgot to add the rice flour amount to this recipe. It's with the dry ingredients, below *

Preheat the oven to 325.

Mix together:

7 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup rice flour

Mix together:

1 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla OR pumpkin pie spice
scant 1/2 cup boiling water

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and bake for 20-30 minutes, checking and stirring a few times during the cooking time.

Ahhh... Monday!

Ahhh... Monday, you're here! I've always enjoyed Mondays because I like the shift in routine that the new week brings. Before I had children, back when I worked full time (for pay), I enjoyed the reentry into the hustle and bustle of the work week. Things are different now. Our family is busy, busy, busy all weekend long, and although we all enjoy it immensely, I look forward to Mondays as a day of rest, a time to regroup, a time to get in touch with our sources of energy again.

Today is no exception. Over the weekend my sister came to visit, and we went to see the film Inside Job (it left me feeling depressed and angry). I didn't work on Saturday at the farmer's market this week, but still we went to pick up our vegetables. On Saturday night we headed out to Galway to hear Dan Berggren play his guitar with the Jamcrackers at the Cabin Fever Songfest. By Sunday morning it was clear that the girls had both caught a cold and were too sick to go to the UU service. They rested and saved up some energy so they could attend their skiing lesson in the afternoon. I snowboarded and wasn't thrilled about the icy, heavy snow. By the time we finished up, I was happy that I had taken the time to make Healing Soup earlier in the day. We all needed a little healing.

So today, on this sunny Monday, I'll share some quiet time with my children; plan meals for the week ahead; read a bit, to the girls and by myself; and perhaps stop at the library to pick up a few new books.

Last week the girls and I got creative with crayons. We peeled the paper wrappers from old, broken crayons, cut them into small pieces, and then microwaved them in heart shaped molds until they formed new crayons. I've learned a few lessons from this activity. First of all, if anyone ever tells you that it's easy to do, know that they are lying. It's messy. We used the regular waxy crayons you get at a restaurant or in a Crayola box, and the wax left a film on my cutting board that I had to work to get off. It's also probably a bit toxic. I know that the crayons say "non-toxic" on them, but are they really? Aren't they made of petroleum? I'm wondering how bad it is to breathe in the melted crayon fumes. I suppose soy-based crayons would be a better choice.

The next time I do this, I think I'll melt crayon pieces of the same color in one dish, then pour some into the mold, let it harden, and repeat with different colors. I know, in one breath I say it's toxic, and in the next I'm talking about doing it again. Anyway, adding all the crayon pieces to the mold and melting them at the same time produced odd results. Some of the crayons melted too quickly, making brown hearts, and some melted too slowly, leaving larger, unmelted pieces in the hearts.

Perhaps the funniest moment that day came when 'A' said to 'H', "When you grow up, maybe you can be a crayon maker!" And 'H' said, "NO! I want to be a Queen!" Hey, look at me - I'm both a crayon maker and a Queen Bee.


:: Chickadee arriving at the feeder ::

Things here are Good, with a capital "G." We've been watching the birds and living in harmony with each other. 'A' continues to plow ahead with learning to read (she's still not excited about it - she's not inclined to sit down with a book unless I suggest it. But that will come.). She loves, loves, loves to do math. She just "gets it." Today we played a math game that is similar to Go Fish. We use number cards and instead of asking for cards that give us matches, we ask for cards that will make pairs that add up to ten. It's a good way to make math drills fun. Really, you're just memorizing the sets that add up to ten. I use the number cards that came with the Rightstart math kit I purchased. There are six of each number card. I suppose you could use two regular decks of cards too, using the Ace for the number one. Or you could make your own using card stock.

Little House on the Prairie continues to be a BIG THEME in our home. 'A' wants to wear her prairie dress every day, and the girls role play all day long. I've even started weaving the Ingalls family into the math lessons: Laura and Mary each twisted four sticks of straw. Ma came out and wanted half of what they had twisted for the fire. How many did she take?

:: Chickadee eating at the feeder ::

The big news for me is that I met with a group of moms who all have children with severe food allergies. Ahhh.... what a satisfying experience to be in the company of other people who go through the same things I go through on a daily basis (living in fear that today is the day our child will die; washing our hands a million times just to stay clean; cooking everything from scratch; saying no to endless social invitations because the risk of an anaphylactic attack is too great... I could go on and on). We spent hours talking about how we manage it day to day... keeping our children safe, and keeping our anxiety at bay. I didn't realize how much I needed them. I live so much of my life in a bubble, and it's so good for my spirit to be with others who live in similar bubbles too. It's informative and it's healing.

:: Chickadee leaving the feeder ::

The snow is coming down today and we'll leave the house only to play in it and fill up the bird feeders. Soon the girls will help me make bread for dinner and granola for breakfast tomorrow. I'm still looking for the perfect granola recipe. Any ideas? Our bread will pair well with pasta. This recipe uses semolina flour and is hearty and satisfying. And the best part is, there's no kneading involved. None!

No-Knead Golden Semolina Bread

1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil or garlic oil, plus additional for drizzling
2 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor, optional
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1 cup semolina
2 teaspoons pizza seasoning, optional, for topping

1) Lightly grease a 9" round pie pan or cake pan, and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil in the bottom.

2) Combine all of the ingredients, and beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for 3 to 4 minutes; or mix in a bread machine set on the dough cycle for 10 minutes or so.

3) Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough is very puffy.

4) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape it into a ball.

5) Place the ball into the greased and oiled pan, cover the pan, and let dough rise for 60 minutes, until it becomes puffy. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

6) Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger. Drizzle it lightly with olive or garlic oil.

7) Bake the bread till it's golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven, sprinkle with the pizza seasoning or dried herbs of your choice, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!