Thursday, November 8, 2018

Halloween 2018: The Ghoul Scout and the Greencloak

As the kids get older and older, the days go by faster and faster. When they were babies, I often felt like the days dragged on interminably. I'd invent adventures to get us out of the house, or we'd just hang out, for days on end, with finger painting and the sandbox and cheese cubes and picture books. I was often lonely, often bored, but not always. Often, I was perfectly content to sit in the grass and watch my baby eating from a strawberry in each fist.

Now I feel like the days pass before I have time to take a breath. One kid wants to go to the library. The other kid has ballet. One kid has a highly rigorous class that has to be studied for every single day. The other kid has a sleepover, and then a birthday party, and then a playdate. There's an online class to set up for. There's French to study. A volunteer application to help with. An all-day workshop in another city that one of them has to be driven to, while the other is picked up from yet another sleepover and driven to yet more ballet and then taken to another birthday party.

September just flew by. So did October, and by next week November will be half gone. And once again, I didn't celebrate Halloween half as much as I wanted to. I didn't do every single family activity on my mental to-do list, didn't make every moment magical, didn't even get a photo of Syd trick-or-treating, and next year the kids will be even older.

Basically, I'm a mommy blog failure.

Ah, well. It was magical enough, I suppose:

We did have one good lesson on El Dia de los Muertos, and the kids made truly horrifying sugar skulls.
The kids and I did have a Halloween-themed breakfast of mummy dogs, although I forgot to make the black ketchup to go with it. Red ketchup is just as spooky, fortunately!
We could simply not find the time for our family tradition of a full Halloween feast, but Matt still managed to make us mummy meatloaf, and we ate it past 9 pm, because that's when everyone is finally back in the house after their evening extracurriculars.
He also made the BEST Halloween cocktail, a vampire margarita. It's a regular margarita with red wine carefully poured on top. Isn't it gorgeous? And it tasted just as good!
Syd made her own costume from scratch this year--I'll take the extra expense of buying her fabric and a pattern for the pride that I feel watching her be so hard-working and creative.


She's a very detail-oriented kid, and even cut a fallen tree branch into a big, wooden button, drilled holes into it, and sewed it to her cloak by hand, because that's just how she wanted it to look.
I didn't take a single picture of her trick-or-treating, but here she is barefoot in the 40-degree air this morning out on our unswept back deck.
She is a Greencloak from the Spirit Animals series, for those of you playing the home game.
Will actually worked really hard on her costume, too, this year. She got out her old Cadette vest, the whole family spent an evening watching Jurassic Park while drawing and coloring badges, and we turned her into a Ghoul Scout, complete with plenty of Ghoul Scout badges:


I love these badges that the girls made to try to play on actual Girl Scout badges. The Archery badge is the best!

Matt did these.

These are my contributions!
I LOVE Syd's badges, especially the Day Camp badge that shows a Ghoul Scout eating a bear. Lol!


Good skills for any Ghoul Scout to know!
LOVE the dragon.

We watched a bunch of ghoul makeup videos on YouTube, but I'm not sure how much attention Syd was paying, because she kinda went off the rails here.



Oh, well. She IS very ghoulish-looking!


Confession time: the kids didn't carve their Jack-o-lanterns until THIS weekend.



The one thing we DID do, I suppose, is a flat-ton of trick-or-treating. It just kind of escalates every year. Every year the Greek organizations on campus do trick-or-treating the year before Halloween; we did that one year, and it was so fun we keep going back. So that's a bunch of candy. Up until the last minute we thought that Syd was going to miss Halloween trick-or-treating completely because of ballet class, so we joined our friends for trick-or-treating at a state park the weekend before Halloween. Another bunch of candy. And then Syd's ballet instructor convinced the department to cancel pre-pointe class on Halloween night so that the ballerinas could trick-or-treat after all. Even more candy!

SO much candy:


We're still eating that candy, and Will already put back several pounds of it for making gingerbread houses next month. It's ridiculous, and yet that's what the kids were super into this year, so that's the source of their happy memories someday, so that's what we did.

MY happiest memory might be sitting on our bed, eating plates of mummy meatloaf off our laps, me with a bloody margarita, watching Doctor Who because they took Nightmare Before Christmas off of Netflix (grr!).

Here are my reminiscences of Halloweens gone by:

  • Halloween 2017, when Will had the most amazing costume EVER even though I almost died helping her with it
  • Halloween 2016, when I lived my dream and made us all Hogwarts uniforms
  • Halloween 2015, when we made those ridiculous trick-or-treat cookies
  • Halloween 2014, when the kids weren't even home with us!
  • Halloween 2013, that blissful year when the kids made their own costumes
  • Halloween 2012, when the hipster development in our neighborhood was finally finished and trick-or-treating got crazy awesome
  • Halloween 2011, when Syd dressed herself as a skimpy-on-top "leaf mermaid" and people kept asking her if she was cold
  • Halloween 2010, the year that we threw a party!
  • Halloween 2009, with a clown and a "baby deer"
  • Halloween 2008, with the bunny and the zebra
The Halloween posts alone make mommy blogging worthwhile. Without this blog, I'd never remember so many sweet details from our families Halloweens throughout the past decade.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Homeschool Book Review: The Art of Doodle Words

I'm happy to admit that art is the hardest subject for me to incorporate into our homeschool. Syd is a gifted artist and needs lots of art enrichment, but resents any art instruction that doesn't come from her father, who fortunately is also a gifted artist, but is not at her beck and call, and certainly not during the average school day.

Will's gifts lie elsewhere, which means that she needs art just as much but is often clueless about how to go about it, and reluctant to pursue it.

I try to incorporate a weekly hands-on art project that both kids can engage in despite their varying skill levels. I've tried and so far failed but have high hopes to try again in the winter semester to include a comprehensive art history study. What has worked most consistently, however, for several months now, is to include daily art time in Syd's weekly homeschool work plans. She is generally left to do what she pleases during this time--mostly mermaid drawings or more panels for her comic strip about office workers who are also cats--but is expected to be accountable for what she's been working on, and to keep a portfolio of her work.

Every now and then, however, I come across an art book that I think Syd will really love, and I'll assign it to her for her week's work. Such it was with The Art of Doodle Words, which I received for free from a publicist. I handed it off to Syd, said, "Here you go. Show me what you make!" and left her to it.

And she made lots!




The book is super clever, in that it shows you how to incorporate themed doodles into words, kind of like your own Google Doodles. It's the perfect book for a tween who loves to draw, loves things to be cute, and is extremely clever.

I love her whale:

Her cat is a little more abstract, but I can read it, especially the yarn ball "C":
Here, I think, is where she really started to get the hang of it. All of "BACON" is made of bacon--except for the "O", which is an egg, and her cotton candy looks just the way that I feel after eating cotton candy:


I actually didn't even see, at first, that the dots on the "I"s are the eyes of the smiley face. How clever is that?!?

I like the way that Syd started to play around with the concept more after a while. She didn't doodle the actual letters in "DREAM," but played more upon the overall idea of dreaming to make a more complex sketch:

And now she's moved into slogans!


The pizza would look cute in color, I think, but I really like the bites taken out:

 And the fox is very adorable and autumn-themed:



This was such an easy book for Syd to follow, and the concept was clear-cut and easy to recreate, but it was a very valuable way to spend a week of art, because the extensions to this idea are unlimited. We've got this book in our home library now, shelved with our other art books (because you know that I have our home library shelved according to Library of Congress call numbers, right?), so that Syd can continue to refer to it as her interests change and experience grows. Syd's also really into black and white right now, but I think these would look well with color, Prismacolor markers or perhaps even watercolors.

That was by far the easiest hands-on art unit that I've ever planned!

P.S. Want to learn more about our hands-on homeschool and all the fun projects that work (and, more importantly, don't work!!!)? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

She Made Homemade Gummies

Our Syd has looooong been obsessed with gummies. Like really. They're her favorite thing EVER. She's always thinking about them. Every time I ask for grocery shopping requests, that's the first thing that comes out of her mouth and I have to make her tell me something more reasonable to eat for lunch. She collects the empty wrappers from whatever gummy candy she does manage to manipulate people into buying her. She traded away lots of premium Halloween candy to Will in exchange for all of Will's gummies.

She LOVES gummies.

Obviously, the kid's obsession with store-bought junk food is no end of annoying to me, and so every now and then we've tried different DIY versions. We've done the Glee Gum's Make Your Own Gummies kit twice, and working with carageenan is pretty awesome, but Syd did not find the texture or flavor to be similar enough to her junky, yummy, store-bought gummies. For a while Syd was also pretty into trying to make her own gummies (mostly inside soda bottles, because she REALLY wanted a giant gummy soda bottle) using flavored Jello and extra gelatin, but those always tasted like lightly-flavored plain Jello--barf!

I thought that I had the ultimate solution when I read Confectionery House's gummy recipe, especially because they also sell a starter kit with all of the ingredients included. I splurged on the kit, had Syd pick out a couple of molds and a candy flavoring, and one evening (which explains the crappy lighting in these photos--sorry!), Syd made herself a batch of gummies:

mixing the gelatin 
pouring the gummy solution into the molds

The recipe was super easy to use as written, although I think that the instructions to add the flavoring oil "to taste" really made us go wrong. Syd was squeamish about tasting the liquid gummy solution and stingy with the flavoring oil that she knows is super expensive, and so although the gummies looked perfect--



--and their texture was absolutely spot-on--


--she did not like the way that they tasted:


Without enough flavoring oil, they basically taste like straight glucose, which is not a taste that I recommend:

the face of a man who does not like what he is tasting
Syd solved the problem somewhat by adding powdered citric acid to make the gummies so sour that you can't taste anything else:


We have enough of the supplies left to make another batch, although Syd isn't very enthusiastic, discouraged as she is by this first try. When we do try it again, however, I'll supervise better and make sure that she uses plenty of flavoring oil--I'll even taste test it like you're supposed to!--and I'm hoping that more flavor, combined with the spot-on texture, will be a winner.

I mean, I guess? It's not like this recipe is health food, although I guess we're avoiding the preservatives and most of the food dyes. But I do think it's valuable to show Syd that good homemade versions of whatever she likes CAN be made, even if the store-bought crap is still cheaper and more convenient.

Personally, I'd still love to play around with other DIY gummy recipes, especially ones that use natural sweeteners and healthy ingredients, although I'm not in love with the idea of putting in all that work only for the kid to turn her nose up, as I suspect she would, due to the fact that they're not going to look and taste like sour gummy worms or whatever. 

But winters are long, so maybe we'll give it a try one gloomy, chilly day. If so, here are the DIY gummy recipes that I've been collecting for us:

  • gummy polymer chemistry. I like that this recipe includes the science lesson that explains polymer chemistry. That would make it a good science enrichment for our gloomy, chilly day!
  • homemade healthy gummies. I like the idea of using these gummies to sneak in ginger, cod liver oil, or whatever other superfood I want the kids to have against their will. You think they'd notice if I made them some raw garlic gummies?
  • Jello soda bottle. This is one of the kinds of YouTube videos Syd watched that made her really want to make her own. I do feel like we could use this recipe to make a gummy soda bottle--maybe that will be Syd's motivation to try the recipe again! Or possibly the giant rainbow gummy cake would be more her speed these days...
So that's the order of operations, the next time I can tempt Syd away from the candy aisle and into the kitchen with me:
  1. Retry this recipe with more flavoring oil, until we have a good, authentic gummy recipe in our pockets.
  2. Try out healthy gummy recipes until we've got one that Syd likes, even though she'll never admit that she likes it as much as she likes sour gummy worms.
  3. Use one of those recipes to make some of the ridiculous gummy novelties that make the kids eyes grow big. I will not stop until someone has said "Wow!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

To the Apple Orchard, Nine Years Later

I have long campaigned with the children for a four-day school week, so that we can take a day trip or have a relaxing day at home without fuss. They've never gone for it, because they know good and well that this will only mean more work assigned to them for the remaining four days, but this semester I reworked our entire work plan scheme to have fewer daily assignments and more "due by the end of the week" assignments, and as part of the process I gave us a four-day school week.

I love it. The kids do, too. I should have insisted upon it earlier.

Mind you, some weeks we waste that free day on a Monday, making up work that the kids just didn't get done by the previous Friday, but overall it's been a dream to have that day in the plans, and not have to shuffle everything anyway every other week because obviously we've always taken day trips.

And one of our favorite day trips is one that I've just realized we've been doing for NINE years now! Check out the tiny little peanuts that I took on our first trip to an apple orchard in 2009:



They've grown in so many ways--


--and yet haven't changed at all...



To be fair, eating apples right off the tree IS the best part of the apple orchard:







Of course, as late in the season as we tend to go, it is a little harder to get your hands on them:


Oops. You're not supposed to take off so much stem and leaves, but she did pretty well considering that she had to leap for it:


We did a much better job getting the high ones back in 2013, the year that we convinced Matt to go with us:



Fortunately, we did have a helper on this day, too:



 This was Luna's first trip to the apple orchard, and she had herself a wonderful time:







During our picnic lunch (apples, of course, and things to spread on apples)--


--the kids were goofing around and discovered something brand-new about our beloved doggy that we've had for almost two full years now:


Why, that doggy loves apples!

Turns out that she'll even learn a new trick for an apple!


The kids had so much fun getting Luna to do tricks and rewarding her with apple that I had to ready-reference real quick to make sure that it's okay for a dog to eat, like, an entire apple in one sitting.

Thank you, Google!

An important part of the apple orchard experience is paying too much for a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin:


New this year, however, was the snack shack, which has never actually been open when we've visited before. Obviously, then, we had to buy an apple cider slush, a piece of apple pie, and an elephant ear. Take a bite, pass it on, and repeat!


Another important part of the apple orchard experience is coming home with waaaaay too many apples.

Or at least, I thought that I was coming home with way too many apples, but 1) I now have not a toddler and a preschooler, but a tween and a teen (and a DOG!), and 2) at a garage sale over the summer, I bought one of those apple peeler/slicer/corer thingies for a VERY low price, and I brought it out for the kids when Will complained about peeling an apple. They never listen to me when I tell them that you can eat the entire core, and that the peel is full of fiber.

The chickens, at least, have been thrilled with all of the apple peels and cores that they've been getting, and we ran flat out of apples in one week. Before I could make any applesauce. Before I could bake a single pie. Before I could juice anything. Before I could dry apple slices or make apple fruit leather or apple butter. Before the kids had even gotten tired of eating umpteen apples a day and keeping the doctor away!

And that's how nine years after our very first trip to the apple orchard, we've now become the family that makes the trip twice in one season.

I hope they have the snack shack open when we go, because that apple cider slush was VERY tasty!

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