Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hands and Deserts and Thoughts on Christmas

I have two strong images of God's hands. A friend once said to me that God could hold me in the palm of his hands. I envisioned large, strong, yet gentle hands cupped together, and me curled up asleep in them. At church, the ministers say that God has enscribed our names on the palms of her hands. Again the image is of big hands, hands big enough to contain all our names. So when Alessia brought home this project from preschool, I just sat for a moment and stared at it. Here was God as a tiny baby, a baby so tiny that he could be cradled in the palm of my 5-year-old's hand.


Last week I was teaching Godly Play, our church school program. After my Advent story, one of the girls asked if she could work with the desert box, a large box of sand on wheels that we use to tell Old Testament stories about God's people. I asked her to pick something else this week. She and a friend decided to work with the Advent story. They rolled out the fabric used in the story, a long of strip of purple for the Sundays of Advent, and then at the end a flash of white, for Christmas. "Look! The desert!" That thought has been stirring in my head all week.

When we teach with the desert box, we tell the kids that "the desert is a dangerous place. People don't go into the desert unless they have to." It is interesting to think of Christmas day as a dangerous desert that Mary and Joseph and Christ entered into, because they had to. We also tell the kids that God calls people, like Abraham, into the desert. Perhaps Christmas day is a dangerous desert that God is calling us into as well?


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two Books about Art with Projects

We love books and we love art projects. So books about art that lead to projects are just about the best thing ever.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg is a hands-on book full of ripped and bent pages and flaps that show how the artist sees magic in what other people might see as mistakes. The last time the girls painted I took two big sheets of paper and painted random splotches and lines and curlicues. I used different brushes and colors. I then forgot about them for a month. On a fidgety cold afternoon, I pulled them out and we spent some time wondering what the paint splotches looked liked and then adding pencil drawings. The activity was definitely better suited to Alessia than Olivia. The book has a lot of possibilities for other projects as well, and it's something we'll come back to over and over again.


Mimi's Dada Catifesto by Shelley Jackson is a new discovery for us. It explores the dadaist art movement through a cat and the dadaist human she is wooing. The book led to my kids twirling around the living room yelling "salami" and, much to Adam's dismay, the three of us declaring each other's burps "good sound poems." We also made our first word box for writing poems. I cut words out of the newspaper and put them in a box. We take words out randomly (no peeking per the book's instructions) and lay them out. Alessia reads hers and I read Olivia's. Following Mimi the cat's lead, Alessia has been leaving word poems on the floor at the front and back door for Adam when he gets home at night.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alessia at 5

Oh, my dear sweet Alessia. So big, yet so little.

Last winter, you finally learned to use the potty, and then four months later you taught yourself how to read. You always have been on your own schedule.

Yesterday we read a book about Amelia Earhart, and I explained that when Amelia Earhart was alive girls weren't allowed to do all sorts of things like fly planes and becomes scientists. You cried.

You love to draw and paint pictures, and you love just exploring paint with your hands. You feel much the same about food, and we are still trying to convince you that not all foods (I'm thinking of peanut butter here) are hand foods.

Your television alter ego is Bill from Curious George.

We tell people that you have an "old soul." You are so serious and have a deep sense of melancholy. When we watch Sesame Street you sing "It's not easy being green" right along with Kermit. On the way to school we sing "This is the day that our God has made" and your joy overflows.

You are so silly, and you and your sister can make each other laugh, which makes me so happy.

You've stared a new sassy phase. You pretend not to hear us the first time we tell you not to do something, and the second time you respond with "but I was just..."

When you started preschool last year, it was hard. You found it overwhelming and couldn't figure out why you couldn't just stay home with me. You became so much more social though, and this year you are excited to go to preschool.

We love you more than I can describe. You have always been a wonder to me, and I look forward to being with you as you grow up.


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Mixed Up Signs Game

Today we invented a new game. Like our alphabet game from last winter, it involved taping bits of paper to things in our living room.

There is a series of books about a character called Mr. Pine. He is a sign-painter, and in the book Mr. Pine's Mixed-Up Signs he puts up new signs all over town even though he has lost his glasses! As you can guess mayhem ensues, until the townspeople and the mayor find Mr. Pine, he finds his glasses, and he puts the signs where they belong.

Today I played the part of Mr. Pine. I made signs with the names of objects. I also added little pictures so that my younger daughter could participate. I then taped them up in the wrong places. The kids then ran around finding the signs and putting them in their correct places. The silliness of finding them in the wrong places really appealed to my kids, and Alessia enjoyed reading the words.




Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why I Studied and Continue to Study Italian

I first studied Italian, because it is the language of my father's parents. They came here as children, and they didn't speak Italian with their own children (I can only imagine that WWII had something to do with that). I grew up knowing that my dad regretted not knowing Italian, and when I got to Smith College I enrolled in intensive beginner Italian with the goal of spending a year of my undergraduate studies in Italy. For most of my 20s and early 30s, I didn't use my Italian much. When my first daughter Alessia was born, I decided to try to speak a little Italian with her every day. Now I learn Italian with my girls. I keep studying Italian, because it is the language of my grandparents, and because of the ways that English and Italian words relate to each other. My English is richer with meaning, because of my Italian.
A parasol is for the sun (per il sole) and my umbrella makes shade (ombra). When water falls (cascare) it is a cascade, and when a man falls (cadere), he becomes a cadever. A porter brings (portare) my stuff. When my hunger (fame) is big, I am famished. My hands (mani) get a manicure, and my feet (piedi) a pedicure. With my arms (braccia), I can embrace someone. The nurse holds my wrist (polso) to take my pulse. My bellybutton (ombellico) is what is left of my umbillical cord. A jellyfish (medusa) is beautiful and mythic...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sauce (tomato and apple) with an Immersion Blender and a Freezer

This year I am making tomato sauce and apple sauce. I don't have much time for these types of projects, but I like having a stash of local foods to eat in the winter. I have a new process that involves less hands-on time than the traditional methods and results in less waste.
I cut out the cores and coarsely chop the fruit. I cook it all down, skins included. With the tomatoes I even leave the seeds. Once the fruit is cooked down enough, I turn off the heat, and then blend it all smooth with an immersion blender. If the sauce is too thin, I cook it a bit more. Then I put the sauce in freezer safe containers (sometimes mason jars and sometimes plastic containers depending on what I have on hand). I let it cool on the counter or in the fridge if it's already late in the day, and then into the freezer it goes. That's it.
The tomato sauce has texture. I don't know that I will use it for a plain marinara sauce, but I've been using it in stews, chillis, and pasta sauces that include beans and vegetables. Amongst the texture of the other ingredients, the texture of the tomato sauce isn't noticeable, and it's so healthy with the skins and seeds included.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dying Tomato Plants

Every year I plant two tomato plants. My garden is very small, and I get fresh tomatoes in my farm share. So two plants work well for us. This year, I started Amish Paste tomato plants from seed. The seedlings were healthy, and once in the garden, I trained them and pruned them so they wouldn't get out of control. I have to say, all in all, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Then some leaves died and bumps formed on the vines, and now green tomatoes are starting to drop. I think it is a bacterial infection. Which means I have to pull the plants, and I can't plant tomatoes in that bed for three years.

I love watching tomatoes ripen through the summer. I love eating them fresh off the vine, and I absolutely adore that end of summer ritual - when we pull the plants out of the ground, we strip all the remaining green tomatoes off. Last fall I made a fermented green tomato salsa. It was by far my favorite ferment.

There are a few green tomatoes on the vines right now. I'm pretty sure they are safe to eat depsite the vine's disease. Fermenting works best when the temperature is in the mid-60's, but is still possible in the 70's. We're having a mild summer, and my basement is a little cooler than my kitchen, so I am going to try fermenting them.

I'm also going to plant a little fall crop in the space where the tomatoes are right now. I have some kale seeds and some carrot seeds. I'll try one of those.

The first image is what the plants look like now. They were twice as full a couple of weeks ago. The second shows dying leaves. The third show the bumps on the vine.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flyaway Katy and Messy Outdoor Art

Today we did "Messy Outdoor Art." We put out a big piece of paper on the sidewalk, anchored with bricks. I got out our most washable paint (Crayola is my favorite for this) and a selection of brushes, texture tools, and toy cars. Rather than putting the paint into cups, we put blobs of paint directly on the paper. We ran the cars through the paint (my favorite part), and dipped the texture tools, brushes, and our hands into the blobs of paint. Eventually messy outdoor art led to the kids pretending to be Flyaway Katy. When Alessia was quite little we discovered this book at our local library, and we highly recommend it. Katy is stuck inside with no one to play with on a grey, grey day. She decides she needs a little color, and puts on yellow tights, a pink dress, and her blue blue shoes. It isn't enough though. So she paints her face purple, orange stripes on her arms, and her fingertips purple. While waiting for the paint to dry she flies into a painting of colorful birds and spends the rest of the day with them, before flying home for her bath. The first time we read it, I could see Alessia's eye light up. So I set two ground rules, we spend some time painting on paper first, and we don't paint our faces.

Today, after the fun of playing with paint on paper had worn off, the girls set themselves to being Flyaway Katy. They painted stripes and polka dots on their arms and legs, and flew around waving their wings. When it was time to come inside, Alessia reminded me that the story ends with Katy flying home for a bath, and upstairs we went for a quick rinse before dinner.



Thursday, July 9, 2015

Raising Opposites - Part Two

Alessia wakes up talking. It starts with a shouted "mamma/daddy come see if I'm awake!" If the wrong parent opens her door, she says "I was hoping for mamma/daddy." Then she launches immediately into a story or she picks up on a half finished conversation from yesterday.

Olivia murmurs or at most mutters "mamma, mamma" when she wakes up. When I enter the room she gives me the biggest smile and reaches out her arms wordlessly for a hug. It can take her several minutes to wake up enough to start talking, and when she does it's quiet and sleepy.

A few weeks ago we took our easle outside to paint. Alessia stood, both feet planted, and contemplated her paper. She dipped her brush into one color at a time and put a great deal of thought into each mark that she made on the paper.

Olivia started with the fattest brush in the can. She dipped the brush into multiple colors and made broad strokes, taking a fencer's stance and working with her whole body. By the second piece of paper she had tired of the brush altogether and painted with her whole hands.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Olivia at Three

Olivia is my snuggle bunny. She is cuddly and cute. She stamps pictures on small pieces of paper, and then offers them to me as books and asks me to read them to her. She can make Alessia laugh and is in general a charmer.

She is also the terror of the household. When she's mad she hits and screams at Alessia, and when she decides to have a three-year-old style meltdown, she can spend a half hour looking for reasons to scream no at me. She will march into a room full of toys and other kids and start playing, but if one of those other kids touches her she screams in protest.

She told me yesterday, in a very serious tone of voice, "mamma, I like pretty things. I like fancy things." When we have peanut butter for snack she wants the little silver teaspoon with the flowers on it. She prefers the jeans with the embroidered flowers down the leg, and likes the girly, blousy t-shirts which she calls "dresses."

A few weeks before her third birthday, she had "milk" for the last time. She's a little sad about it, but overall the transition has gone really well. She has transfered all her attention to my belly button, which is very funny.






Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Stuff on Bread for Dinner

We're having one of our favorite dinners. Stuff on bread. I made gf bread and am setting out a wide assortment of stuff that goes well on or with bread. I've found that this is a good way to use up bits of this and that and to provide one dinner for a family with varying tastes. Alessia is a picky vegetarian. Olivia is a picky toddler with allergies. So here it is:

A third of a tub of hummus

A chunk of goat's cheese for Olivia

A chunk of cow's cheese for Adam

A crudite plate made up of half a red pepper leftover from a different meal, the carrots left from Alessia's lunch, and the second tub of buy-one-get-one-free cherry tomatoes

A bowl of hard boiled eggs

Steamed green beans (Alessia's favorite)

Arugula and chive salad from the garden (for Adam and me)


Sometimes I open a can of sardines with this meal. Sometimes I take out some olives. If there's a leftover sausage in the fridge, I slice it up and the meat-eaters among us each get a bit. Whatever goes.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Alessia's Story with Parenthetical Notation by Mamma

Bugs Bunny opened a snack shop after closing his barber shop (Bugs Bunny's Barber of Seville). The snack shop is at the Amtrak station (we take Amtrak to see my family in New Jersey each summer). Amtrak is having a free day (the MBTA had a free day a few weeks ago). Dogs are allowed on the Amtrak (unlike in Cynthia Rylant's book Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train), but cats aren't, because they don't like to go for walks (which is why the new water fountain on the Greenway is for dogs and not cats). Your allowed to blow bubbles on the train since it's warm outside (summer=bubbles), and the train has a snack car (a highlight of our annual Amtrak trip).
At this point I needed to go make dinner, so I'm not sure where the story went from here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Raising opposites


Alessia is a vegetarian. Olivia will tell you her favorite food is meat.

Alessia withers in the face of criticism. Olivia laughs at us when we put her in time out.

Alessia is a plain Jane when it comes to food. She likes her beans straight out of the can. Olivia has been dubbed "the spicy girl." She likes salame and prefers her beans cooked with tomatoes, onions, and bacon.

At the Museum of Science a few weeks ago, some little boys took away the play nectar Alessia was feeding her baby bees. She looked at them as if to say "I don't need this" and stomped off to become a bird. At the same time Olivia charged straight up to the boys, tore the nectar out of their hands, and shouted "these are mine!"

Alessia breastfed for a week. Olivia still has milk twice a day.

Alessia eats plain tortillas. Olivia only likes them wrapped around meat, preferably Yucatan pork, thank you Uncle Anthony.

Alessia is a daydreamer. She is always the last one at the table, eating her peas one at a time by hand. Olivia eats with great focus and NEEDS to be let down from the table when she's finished.

Alessia stays up later and sleeps in later. Olivia likes to be asleep before 8:00 and is up at the crack of dawn

And we love them both. And they might not say it much, but they love each other.




Saturday, February 28, 2015

Activities from the Kids' Junk Drawer

At the ages of 2 and 4, my children have their own junk drawer. You know, the tub with all the small random toys that don't go with anything else. That pack of plastic fish from the aquarium. The dice that they got at the MFA. The plastic pumpkin head wind up toy from Halloween. In the past few months, I've come up with a few activities that make use of the stuff in that drawer.
Make Your Own Eye Spy Game
Using blocks and toys from the junk drawer we created and then photographed a scene like in our Eye Spy books. Alessia is good at rhyming and helped me write the riddles.
Color Sorting
This one was inspired by an episode of Curious George. George helps clean up the city streets, but finds more treasures than trash. When told a pile of junk is not in itself a collection, George turns his treasures into a color collection by arranging them by color. I laid a big piece of paper on the floor, divided it into columns, and wrote the names of the colors of the rainbow with markers. The kids and I then went through their junk drawer, sorting it by color. With older kids, you could probably sort light to dark as well.
Make Your Own Museum
A few weeks ago the kids and I made our own museum of science out of blocks. (Yes, we are that geeky here.) We then used stuff from the junk drawer (and from our Noah's Ark toy) to create museum exhibitions. This activity was really about sorting things by theme - animals, shapes, colors, etc.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Alphabet Game / Un Gioco del'Alfabeto

A post about language in two languages....

(Vedi sotto per l'italiano)

Yesterday we played a new alphabet game. I printed out the letters, but you could write them on small pieces of paper, and we used masking tape. I picked a letter and Alessia (with a little help from me) found things in the living room and dining room that start with that letter. She taped the letters directly to the objects, walls, and floors. We have alphabet books that we enjoy, but Alessia had a lot of fun finding real objects and running around taping the letters to them. We played the game twice, once in English and once in Italian. Some objects ended up with two letters. R for rocking chair and S for sedia a dondolo, for example. L for lamp and L for lampada. This is a game that we should be able to repeat now and then. We'll try it in other rooms like the kitchen or the kids' bedrooms.

Ieri abbiamo fatto un nuovo gioco del'alfabeto. Ho stampato le lettere, ma potete scrivere le lettere sulla carta, e abbiamo usato il nastro adesivo di carta. Ho scelto una lettera e Alessia (con un po' di aiuto della mamma) ha trovato una cosa nel salotto o nel sale da pranzo che inizia con la lettera. Ha fissato le lettere sugli oggetti, sul pavimento, e sullla parete. Abbiamo i libri del'alfabeto che ci piacciono, ma Alessia si è divertito tantissimo trovando gli oggetti e fissando le lettere. Abbiamo fatto questo gioco due volte, prima in inglese e poi in italiano. Alessia ha messo due lettere su alcune cose. R per rocking chair e S per sedia a dondolo, per esempio. L per lamp e L per lampada. Questo gioco si può fare ogni tanto, lo proviamo nella cucina o nelle camere delle bambine.



Friday, January 2, 2015

A preemptive fridge clean out!

This morning Adam took the kids to the library and I tackled the fridge. Normally when my fridge needs tackling, it is because there are things that have gone bad in there. Inspired by The Frugal Girl's blog series "Food Waste Friday" I engaged in a preemptive fridge clean out today. This resulted in:

Four cups of pudding (leftover butternut squash from the fridge and coconut milk from the freezer)

A pan of roasted cabbage for lunch


A fermentation-crockful of shredded and salted cabbage


There is still a whole cabbage in there, but cabbage lasts weeks in the fridge so I have time for that. There are some bits of cheese, but Adam is working his way through those. There are also some carrots in need of eating. I'll make pasta with carrots and onions in the next few days, and if that doesn't finish them up I'll have to think of something else. Roasted? Pickled? Fermented?