Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Better Butter Battle - By Machine

This could be a stick of butter. But not yet.

It just takes shaking and agitation. And shaking. And shaking. And shaking. And shaking....And shaking. And shaking. Supposedly for 15 minutes. Or not. I shook some more. And more. Aaaand...a little more. More. And, more.

Here is minute 22.

small felted balls

I wanted to experiment making some small felted balls. This would be a trial run for making larger dryer balls for the Bounce-loving Techman, and as gifts.

I started with some roving. You have to really fluff it out to get a lot of fibers available to grab each other during the shock of felting. It is important to pull the roving apart rather than cutting it. Cutting it will cause cracks later.

I rolled the roving loosely into a ball, then filled a small, reusable leftover container with about half a drop of dish soap and a couple of teaspoons of water. After experimenting a bit, you'll see how much water works.

Shake-a, shake-a, shake-a. This is supposed to be all you need to do.

However, ALL of my balls got some sort of crack. Even when I didn't cut the roving. I found that if you stuff a small, thin layer of new roving in the crack, then wrap it around the ball using a little water as "glue," you can heal the crack pretty well.

Aaaaaand, shake.

It worked! These balls were really cute and Starboy loves to play with them. Mine turned out light and fluffy. I have seen others that are more smooth and dense. I wonder if this is because the roving initially was wound much more tightly? I will have to experiment.

If you make a number of these, you can string them together with needle and thread to make a great garland.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Painting outside the box

We joined several other families at a playdate on Saturday for a Waldorf charter school that is forming on our side of town. We are very excited at the possibility of Starboy exploring the world through Waldorf eyes at school. Starboy chose to use the natural pigment paints on the boxes, as well as colored masking tape. He had a chance to see the paint resist the tape, and soak into the lines of the cardboard.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Planes, trains, automobiles and ... the blimp

Starboy thinks you can see the Goodyear Blimp at pretty much any time. And—he sort of does. The airfield is about a half hour south of downtown, and we must see the blimp once or twice a month. He actually recognizes the sound and can differentiate it from all other aircraft. ("No, Starboy, I don't think that sound is the blimp, that must be—Oh. You're right! Look, the blimp!")

So today's trip to the farmer's market, where the blimp swam overhead like a daydreaming goldfish, felt just right.

Watercolor playdate

Mary Jane came over for a play date last week. She loves art, so I try to offer an art or craft project when she comes.

The kids used liquid watercolors on wet watercolor paper, with cutouts of butterflies to stick on. Wet-on-wet watercolor painting is a traditional Waldorf activity. And we have learned to use tissue paper shapes in Miss Molly's classes (I put a little glue in the paint so they would stick when the paint dries, but some of the butterflies tried to fly away and had to be re-glued on.). But I admit, since I hadn't planned ahead, the butterflies, and pretty much the whole setup, we first saw in Miss Molly's class.

Bleeding tissue paper, Miss Molly says, adds an additional level of interest to the child's work and to the finished artwork. Then I gave the kids some salt so they could experiment with what it would do. Starboy put all of his salt in the same place on his work. (The grid lines are from using a milk crate as a drying rack. Note to self: clear off outdoor art table so we can use it as a drying rack.)

Then I brought out the bingo markers. Neither of them had ever seen one. They figured out what to do right away.

I had no idea the markers were going to splat like crazy. I thought they would make dots, like Do-a-Dot markers. When they figured out there was a splat factor, they experimented with how big of a splat they could make. Luckily the watercolors are washable, and the wall that Techman painted was easily cleaned while the watercolor splashes were wet. There are still splat marks on the floor (and the clean laundry I hadn't put away, that was five feet from the project. Note to self: finish chores.)

Mary Jane added salt to her bingo marker work, but Starboy was too busy splatting to add salt.

Wouldn't this make great handmade wrapping paper?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Technology double-standard

Teacher Tom takes the "limited technology" argument to another level, saying that even though Silicon Valley executives protect their children from technology in the earlier years, they have no problem schilling it to others. Read the full essay here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

More motor skills - sidewalk chalk

Starboy's latest thing is drawing roads on the front sidewalk with chalk. This requires a lot of input from Techman and me, and a lot of art direction. Starboy tells us where to put the roads, gas stations, railroad crossings, Home Depot, Yosemite park and more. We hop-to.

Starboy is learning to connect the roads with chalk lines of his own. He does a great job.

Sometimes he actually plays cars on the roads, but mostly it's about creating something outside.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hands-on Learning the Waldorf Way

"Limiting technology" is a theme you'll see here at Mostly Granola. I love to veg out as much as anyone else, but I think there are more constructive things we can focus on, and I think for kids it doesn't have any place at all, when learning is so much more concrete through experiences and activities that include the senses.

A story in the Feb. 2, 2012 issue of the Monadnock (NH) Ledger-Transcript talks about how one Waldorf school offers experiential learning:

"Today, Waldorf schools continue to champion the integration of the senses. It’s not uncommon for students to draw their math lesson, or sing their French conjugations. And though the model has been around for almost a century, it’s beginning to gain attention for its tendency to eschew technological innovations for educational approaches that may seem old-fashioned....


"Awareness of the self is another underpinning of the Waldorf curriculum, and students’ are encouraged to focus. Most notably, Pine Hill classrooms are completely devoid of technology — no computers, no smart boards, no speakers, no cell phones. Pine Hill parents are encouraged to minimize their children’s screen time at home, too."

Check out the whole story here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Counting and 1:1 correspondence

Starboy has been working on counting this week, and on his 1:1 correspondence, another important math skill. He asked me to count the water bottles with him in a Tessy & Tab magazine. I brought out some glass beads so he could practice his 1:1 correspondence, and he quickly figured out he could color-match as well. (I made sure the beads were available in the same pattern as the picture. It looks like the pink bottles gave him something to think about, as he matched the clear beads to them last.)

He played with the setup for at least 15 minutes. And in case you were wondering, the total number of water bottles is "eleventeen."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seeking Simplicity

Starboy and I applied to a preschool today. And nevermind that that kills me. We're just getting to know him, and now he's got to go off to school? Already?

I checked out the preschool last year, so this year wouldn't be a stressful push. It's a great school: Play-based, constructivist curriculum, co-op, great outdoor campus (these things are possible in Southern California), a fantastic mudpie kitchen, and outdoor sound garden (pots and pans to bang on), and chickens.

Are we the only ones in California without chickens?! I digress.

This school, which I'll call The Constructivist Co-op, is our second choice. We like another play-based school with a greener campus a little better, though it's a close competition. The other school is more specific and clear on its mission, while this one has more difficulty describing what it intends to do. The Constructivist Co-op nags at me a little: the yard is a lot of dirt and cement, and everything seems a little grungy. Which it should be, right, if kids are playing—but I feel like every week or so things should get hosed down so the kids can play with "new" toys sometimes. That's very Montessori, but it's a lovely thing for children to feel like some stuff is a new beautiful thing to explore. Of course there is much to be said about poking around in the dirt, as well.

So these things bother me, but I should be able to get around them, especially since maybe I don't have all the information, and so we applied anyway. And Starboy enjoyed playing in their playhouse, and massive sand pit, and mudpie kitchen, and play tent, while we visited. The facilities are great.

Some other moms and kids were there as well, some had come to play and others had never left after the school day. I overheard them talking about sleep training. Ugh. Sharing good iPhone apps. Ack. Nevermind that I was glared at when I answered my cell phone.

There is an extensive dress-up area, and a good half of it is princess dresses. Disney princess dresses. Gag!

Valentine's Party

I held a wee Valentine's gathering at our place last week for some of Starboy's pals. It was supposed to be a park playdate, but we had rain most of Monday, and between that, the cold front, and the month-long series of colds that Starboy and I have been fighting or recovering from, I decided to bring the whole shebang indoors.

The guests each received a personalized Valentine's necklace, from GoTags (hey, they are a dollar cheaper this week than last week! Argh.). This was pretty tricky in the "I don't want to commit with an early R.s.v.p." culture of L.A., combined with the "I have no idea when my kid will nap today" culture of mommyhood. GoTags was great with a quick turnaround when I needed to add a few more necklaces as I continually updated the guest list. I'd recommend ordering a couple of extra "generic" tags for those last-minute adds, like something that says "I love you" rather than a name. I didn't do this, so one child didn't have a necklace to wear at the party, which luckily seemed to go unnoticed since she's only two. Hostess FAIL.

Last year we made wooden heart necklaces, which I have to say I prefer, since they are more natural. I used large heard beads from Casey's Wood Products, with a couple of other wooden beads and some twine.

But I figured that once the novelty wears off, they make great tags for a backpack or lunch bag. Though mostly I saw that the mommies enjoyed wearing them.

I offered two crafts: The stained glass heart craft, and a garland using heart-shaped craft punches with baker's twine. Of the seven kids, about three or four of them worked on hearts and only one finished (the others took theirs home to finish, and Starboy's is still on the window, halfway-completed). Only one mommy wanted to make a garland, and one girl was interested in threading the string through the hearts with a needle.

The mommies brought some delicious potluck fare: raw milk cheese with crackers, quinoa salad, munchies, delicious cookies and treats. The kids had butterfly tea sandwiches with heart wings (cream cheese sandwiches, and I even forgot to put the jelly on them. No one seemed to notice.).

We also had heart-shaped pumpkin muffins using a reliable recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a Wisconsin American club, who adapted it from Gourmet Magazine. Did you follow all that? No matter. Just add some dried cranberries to the original recipe and if baking the mini size, it's 350˚ for about 17 mins. These are basically cupcakes with some pumpkin in them, and they are delicious.

After everyone partied until he hit the wall and was beyond nap time, he tantrumed home with the distraction of a favor bag.

The favor bags included a handmade tag from the paper garland project, a bag of pretzels, a reticulated Valentine with a doggie or kitty picture, a magical red glass heart and some of Starboy's heart-shaped cookies and candies for the play kitchen. I'm not sure if the mommies knew what they were for, as none of the thank-you notes mentioned them! Funny.

Best of all, in the evening, Techman came home with beautiful roses and the fixin's for chocolate fondue with raspberries and strawberries. We'll save my homemade cookies and cream ice cream for another night! It was a lovely day to both celebrate and be celebrated!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Valentine Doughnut Double Fail

We have a new tradition of making doughnuts for Valentine's Day. Techman generally avoids the marketing of what I think he'd call a "faux" holiday, and there's little I can buy him, or make for him, or do for him that seems like a gift he would enjoy.

Except for doughnuts. Techman loves him some doughnuts.

Last year's picture of sheer doughnut beauty and delicacy.

So I was all set last Saturday to fry up some yeasty, sugared goodness, and after getting everyone excited for doughnuts, I mixed up the dough and read the instruction (cue horror movie crescendo): "Refrigerate dough for at least 8 hours, or overnight."

Well, crap.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Building skills with Lite Brite

Starboy practiced his fine motor skills and color matching by building a Lite Brite picture on an old set Grandma had saved. He had to learn how much pressure to use to poke the pegs through the paper and holes. At first he asked for help, but shortly he bristled at such a thing, saying, "I want to do it by myself."

He didn't seem to notice the alpha-clues in each dot to indicate color (B for blue, O for orange), but maybe he did. He seemed mostly to match the color to the picture, but also favor a use of the purple pegs.

He was extremely engaged in making it work. He did tire after about 25 minutes and he didn't get much farther in the picture than what you see here, but the experience seemed to make an impression on him.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Painted candy hearts

Starboy wanted to paint some wooden hearts I picked up at Casey's Wood Products.

He used liquid water colors. They will be sealed with beeswax polish, a separate activity after they dry.
We decided to share them with his friends during a little Valentine's picnic next week. Everyone's mud pie kitchen needs some sweet treats to serve!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beeswax polishing

Beeswax polishing is a classic Montessori activity. It builds the finger muscles, provides sensory interaction, gives practice in step-by-step instructions, and more.

You can buy beeswax to smear on with fingers or a cloth, but I made our own last summer, using Amber Dusick's recipe. (Don't miss her cryingly funny blog Parenting. Illustrated With Crappy Pictures.) It's beeswax from the farmer's market, melted in the microwave with olive oil. It lasts a year or two after you make it, depending on how it's stored.

Rubbing the wax on with a cloth is trickier.

After allowing the smeared beeswax polish to sit for a while, you rub it off with a second cloth. The result is a satiny-smooth finish.

Homemade Valentine — paper heart garland

Last year's marker garland.
This year's painted garland. Is it a garland? Maybe it's just a decoration.

This paper garland is very easy for your one-year-old, two-year-old, or—any age, really, with your support.

First, paint some color on some nice watercolor paper and let it dry. We used liquid watercolors (watered down) and a wide brush.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homemade "Bars"

Starboy loves him some Bars.

Trader Joe's sells them, "So This Blueberry Walks Into a Bar..." They look like granola bars, to fool us into thinking they are sort of healthy, but basically they are cookies. That's what he likes about them.

Starboy "helps" make the bars, by ransacking the utensil drawer and demanding the name and function of each item he finds.

I have an über-granola friend, whom I'll call Natural Mama for now, who found a great recipe online to make them at home. They are sweeter and tastier than the prepackaged ones. Natural Mama's source adapted the recipe from GroupRecipes (which has a lot of delicious variations if you search "fig bar," and good luck resisting if you try "fig goat cheese"), and I have a few tweaks on that version.

The great recipes are for fig bars, but personally I prefer a berry filling for both the sweetness and the consistency.

Homemade Jam Bars
similar to Trader Joe's soft cereal bars
slightly adapted from GroupRecipes and Cate's World Kitchen

makes about 20 cookies

• about a pint of fresh berries, washed and chopped if large
• about 1/2 bag frozen mixed berries
• 1/4 cup sugar

Cook berries and sugar together until they form a thick jam, stirring occasionally to avoid burning, about 20 mins.

Notes: If you're really in a "jam," you can use a good, farmer's market jam, or even a thick jam from a jar, rather than making your own. (See the links above for making authentic fig bars.)

1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick)
1 Tbsp milk (Natural Mama uses almond milk)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups white whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Cream butter in a stand mixer, then beat in the egg, vanilla and milk.

Gradually add the sugar and mix well. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and stir until just combined. Divide the dough in half, as it's much easier to work with this way.

Working on a sheet of waxed paper, pat half the dough into a long, thin rectangle. Place another sheet of waxed paper on top, and roll until 1/8" thin or so.

Spread half of the jam filling along half of your rectangle (the long half), to the edges. Fold the unfilled side onto the filled side and press gently to seal.

Cut into 1" strips and place them on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat steps with second half of dough.

Bake 15 mins at 350˚ or until just beginning to brown. I like them a bit crunchy.

Allow to cool fully before enjoying—jam filling can be incredibly hot, especially to little tongues!