Monday, December 29, 2008

Handmade Gifts

Quilt Closeup
Originally uploaded by
Pictures by Ann
I made this quilt for Sophia for Christmas. It is based on the pattern in "Bend the Rules Sewing" - a book I checked out from the library.

Modified the pattern by choosing more fabric patterns (there is significance to some beyond color...for example, one has butterflies on it because Sophia loves to raise butterflies in the summer, one has dance shoes because she likes to dance); making it into a quilt that fits a twin bed (rather than a lap quilt); and hand tying the quilt (rather than sewing all 3 layers by machine).

It is stuffed with wool from sheep I use to raise many years ago.

I enjoy making handmade gifts for the girls, especially when I see how excited they are when they receive and use them. Some of my favorite things I received are those that people have made for me - my Grandma's wood recipe box that my dad repaired so I could have; my other Grandma's hand-crocheted afghan; Christmas ornaments that my mom made for me throughout the years; and hand-drawn and hand-painted pictures that my daughters have made since they were little.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Traditions

Having traditions is very important in children's lives. They are something they can anticipate and count on happening at regular intervals - whether its annually, semi-annually, monthly, or weekly.

One of the traditions that the girls look forward to is preparing for Santa's visit each year. On Christmas Eve, they make reindeer food (oats and candy sprinkles); and peel and cut carrots for the reindeer.

They choose 2 cookies and fill a glass of water for Santa and place it on the dining room table.

They write (or dictate and I write for them) a letter to Santa, and then place it next to the cookie plate so Santa can write a note back to them.

And then, with a lot of excitement (yet being quite serious with such an important task), they open the window that overlooks the mudroom roof. They carefully spread the oats and carrots on the roof, and then talk about how Santa's reindeers will land on the roof. They hope that they've provided enough food to give them energy for the night...or until the next family feeds them.

The girls then are able to open one present before they head off to bed early..."because we wouldn't want Santa to fly right over the house because you're awake!"

It's amazing how quickly they fall asleep...despite their excitement.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Playing Outdoors in the Winter

The girls enjoy playing outdoors now that there's more snow on the ground. They can lose track of time as they make snow angels, build snow forts, and shovel paths through the backyard.

The dogs also spend time outside with the girls, and they explore the nature trail together. It's fun for the girls and dogs to find the tracks in the snow left by rabbits, pheasants, birds, and other wildlife.

So many opportunities for outdoor learning and exercise - two elements of homeschooling that complement what the girls are learning indoors.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Window Stars

One of the benefits of being sick is that I seem to have a bit more time to do creative work since I don't have the energy to do much else.

Tried two new patterns of window stars - the one on the left hand side (the smallest one) and the ten-pointed star. The five-pointed star I've done before, but in a different color.

These are three of the stars that will be in the windows for Christmas. Made green ones and white ones as well.

I think it is important to have simple decorations around the home that allow my daughters to focus on pattern and color. The girls are always so excited to see what new patterns and colors I'm making when I make the stars.

Many of the stars I make are for customers for Harvest Moon by Hand (my Etsy shop). Needless to say, when I told Sophia and Olivia that this most recent batch of stars I was making was for them to decorate the windows, they were thrilled.

Simple pleasures can delight children and bring happiness to their days. It was so evident when the girls were told they could decorate the windows for Christmas with the stars. I'm finding that the more frugal, handmade holiday decorations and gifts are just as meaningful to Sophia and Olivia this year. For that...I am truly thankful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Preparing for St. Lucia Day

At the weekly Home Ec class I teach to this group of homeschool girls, the focus was on St. Lucia and the yearly celebration on December 13th (St. Lucia Day).

Read "Hannah's Christmas" which the girls enjoyed. Had a variety of handouts that they could color at home related to Sweden, St. Lucia, St. Lucia's Day, holiday decorations in Sweden (ones made of straw), and three-pronged candles (to represent the Wise Men).

Made Lucia buns and Swedish hard tack prior to class so the girls could taste some Swedish treats. They also tasted Anna's Ginger Thins, Polka Mints (VERY good and strong peppermint candies), and Swedish fish.

They learned about cardamom and saffron, the part of the flower that saffron comes from, and tasted cardamom which was used instead of saffron in the recipes.

Sophia is dressed up as St. Lucia in this picture, Olivia is Star Boy (with her crown falling off...her head is a bit too small for the crown). Two of the girls are holding books that relate to St. Lucia Day, and the other is holding a straw decoration that was from Gammelgarden (an historic Swedish site in Scandia, Minnesota).

On December 6th, the local church in Scandia held a St. Lucia tea party which the girls and I attended. They had a fun time seeing St. Lucia, listening to a violin/guitar duo, and sampling Swedish treats.

Afterwards, we visited Gammelgarden to see their holiday display. The lobby was decorated with gnomes of all sizes. It was quite festive.

For more pictures from St. Lucia preparations, St. Lucia tea party, or Gammelgarden, please visit:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Visit from St. Nicholas

In preparation for St. Nicholas Day, I read the girls books about St. Nicholas and the impact he made on people during his time. They learn about the tradition of St. Nicholas Day around the world. By December 5th, they are eager for a visit from St. Nicholas.

On the evening of December 5th, the girls place their shoes in the mudroom. They need assurance that the outside door will be unlocked so St. Nicholas can get inside and fill their shoes. They go to bed and try to fall asleep right away so St. Nicholas doesn't pass by the house.

In the morning on December 6th, they eagerly go to the mudroom to see what was left in their shoes. This year, St. Nicholas brought them a tiny doll, an ornament from Slovakia, and a pack of gum since each of them love to chew gum (helps with sensory issues since both have sensory integration dysfunction).

They were little gifts...but the girls were so excited. It's something they look forward to...a simple tradition that they can count on and remember throughout the year.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sophia and Olivia Making a Korean Dinner

As part of homeschooling, I do a monthly geography unit (an ABC journey around the world). The girls are now on "K" and I've chosen Korea for them to study (both North and South Korea).

Generally, the girls learn where the country is, what the flag looks like, clothing typical to the area, listen to music from the featured country, do art projects, look at and include postage stamps from the country they are learning about, and cook various recipes.

Cooking, by far, is what the girls enjoy most about the unit studies. They have made and tasted food from: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, and now Korea.

When Sophia was adopted, there was a layover in South Korea. Got a small taste of what South Korea was like, and enjoyed being there.

The girls are helping make dinner which is rice noodles with stir-fried vegetables and beef. The top of the dish is garnished with eggs. Sophia is chopping some of the vegetables in the picture above. Olivia and Sophia are ready to eat in the picture below. Both girls enjoyed the dinner.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Homemade Christmas Decorations

The girls love to decorate the refrigerator with their art work. So, the centerpiece of Olivia's side of the refrigerator is the handprint Christmas tree she's creating.

I clipped this idea from a magazine many years ago. It actually was done on a white sweatshirt with fabric paints. The children's hands were much smaller and put closer together so you couldn't see the prints as clearly.

For Olivia's picture, I painted her hand with green paint and then helped her press her hand on the sheet of white paper as shown in the picture.

She used a paintbrush to paint the tree trunk and snow. The ornaments (red, yellow, and purple) were added all over the tree.

Olivia was very happy with how her tree turned out, and had a lot of fun in the process.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Making Handmade Gifts for Christmas

This year the girls are learning to make several handmade gifts for Christmas. Sophia is making a handprint Santa card. She painted her hand white and pressed it onto a piece of green paper to represent Santa's beard.

She cut a piece of red paper out for the hat and glued it to the paper. Then she glued two googlie eyes on. With her finger, she put two pink dots to represent Santa's cheeks and one black dot on his beard for his mouth. There's also a row of white dots along his hat.

It's a simple craft, but one that she enjoyed doing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Waldorf-Inspired Natural Christmas Ornaments

This year I'm making more ornaments that are all-natural and more aligned with the Waldorf philosophy which I follow in part when I homeschool my daughters.

Some of the ornaments I am keeping for the Christmas tree and the girls to enjoy. Others I am giving as gifts, swapping, or selling. My Etsy shop has some ornaments that are available.

Why do I spend the time and create natural Christmas ornaments? Why do I make natural toys? I found an interesting article about the philosophy behind Waldorf-inspired toys that sums up how I feel about natural toys and decorations.

Generally, Waldorf toys are:

- Made of natural materials. Waldorf toys have simplicity of design. Constructed of wood, fabrics, beeswax, or items from nature, children fill in the blanks with their own minds. Children enjoy the smell, the sight, and the texture of these toys.

- Open-ended and unstructured. Children do not need to be taught how to play with Waldorf toys. Playtime is kept unstructured. Children are led in play by their own minds and thought processes. Toys are meant to inspire children’s imagination, not to stifle or limit their creativity.

- Multi-purpose and versatile. Toys in Waldorf homes grow with the child. Consider blocks as an example. Babies play with the blocks by banging them together and exploring them with their senses. Young toddlers delight in stacking the blocks in a tower and knocking them over. Older preschoolers use their imagination to create buildings or design patterns from the shapes. These toys offer a longevity of use and duality of play.

- Lacking of commercialism. Unlike the common result of modern children’s toys, the Waldorf philosophy emphasizes that less is more. Parents are discouraged from rushing out and “buying it all.” The belief that with just a few quality toys, children will naturally push their imaginations to create greater meaning and purpose.

These four reasons are plenty of reasons for creating a Christmas tree filled with Waldorf-inspired natural Christmas ornaments, and I'm excited to see my daughters' reactions as they enjoy these new ornaments on the tree this year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations

Had this idea in my "Thanksgiving" folder for some time now. The girls are older and thought this might be a fun activity for them to do this year.

Sophia took a sugar cookie and frosted the top with chocolate frosting. On top of that, she placed seven pieces of candy corn (for the feathers).

In the middle of the cookie, she placed two drops of frosting on which she placed Skittles. She topped each with a tiny amount of frosting for the pupils. (It's all in the details, I guess.)

With orange decorator gel, she drew on a beak and legs.

She and Olivia did this during the weekly homeschool Home Ec class I teach. All the girls enjoyed this activity. It's fun...easy...and gives kids a sense of satisfaction of being able to decorate a cookie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benefits of Teaching Children How to Sew

One of the goals I have set for homeschooling is to provide the girls with practical, hands-on lessons in which they can develop life-long skills. Sewing is one of those skills.

Olivia, who is homeschooled at the Kindergarten level, is sewing a scarf by using the blanketstitch along the side. This will create a pocket on one side.

After sewing both pockets, she will sew on two buttons for the pockets and make buttonholes.

She wants to add flowers with button centers on her scarf (3 on each side above the pocket), and she has them lined up and ready to go.

Next to her is her needlebook that is in the shape of a house. She embroidered this earlier in the semester.

Sewing is a great activity for children, especially when they can make something functional. It improves hand-eye coordination. It teaches patience and persistence.

Olivia is proud of her scarf. She has worn it each day, and tells people she made it. Clearly, she has a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas Pickle Tradition

Christmas Pickle
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

The Christmas Pickle is a pickle-shaped ornament hidden in the tree. The child who finds it first on Christmas morning receives an extra present.

While the Christmas pickle is believed to be a German custom, it is fairly unknown in Germany but widely spread across the United States.

This pickle is 3 1/2 inches. Compared to the other pickles, this would be relatively easy to find. It would be good for a young child's introduction to the Christmas Pickle tradition.

It's also a nice alternative to the glass pickles that are so fragile and easily broken by young hands.

This one is made from 100% wool felt, and hand-embroidered using straight stitches and blanketstitching. It is stuffed with wool from sheep I raised.

The first pickle went on sale in my Etsy shop today, and the rest will be available during the week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Girls Ready to Eat Octopus Hotdog Lunch

Not a typical lunch I would make for the girls, but this one tied into a homeschool unit study on the ocean and ocean life after reading the book "Dolphins at Daybreak" (part of the Magic Treehouse series).

The hotdogs were cut into 8 parts at the end with about an inch or so uncut at the top to represent an octopus.

When the hotdogs are put in hot, boiling water the arms shrivel up a bit. They thought this was pretty cool to watch.

The octopus hotdogs sit on a bed of macaroni and cheese (for Olivia) and rice (for Sophia because she has a dairy allergy).

I enjoy bringing books to life for the girls, and one way to do that is through food. As they watched their lunch cooking on the stove, they shared some information they remembered hearing about octopuses (or octopi...whichever form you prefer using) and the ocean. I know they were listening to what I was reading.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Children's Giving Spirits

Each year the girls eagerly look forward to filling box of goodies for Operation Christmas Child (OCC).

According to the OCC website, "Operation Christmas Child brings joy and hope to children in desperate situations around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes."

The girls went to Target and I helped them purchase items to fill two shoe boxes - one for each girl. Once they were at home, they sorted through the items and divided them according to which box they were going to go into.

Sophia and Olivia were so happy to be able to assemble the boxes this year. It is one way that they can give and make a difference in the lives of children who may not otherwise have gifts this Christmas.

Community service is a hands-on activity that I enjoy integrating into homeschooling. It is a simple way for the girls to share their gifts or time with others.

As the girls get older, it is so inspiring to watch their giving spirits develop and continue to impact people locally and throughout the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preparing for Thanksgiving

Taught a Home Ec class to homeschool girls that was focused on Thanksgiving. The two main activities in class were making a Thankful Tree and decorating it with leaves cut from construction paper. Each of the leaves had something for which the child was thankful.

The second activity was a "Fruits of the Spirit Cornucopia." I read about this in a book called "Homespun Memories for the Heart" by Karen Ehman, and modified it for the class.

Gave each of the girls a recipe to make a pastry cornucopia at home. Inside and around the baked cornucopia, you can put fruits and vegetables.

I read the following two sentences to the girls: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (This is from Galatians 5:22-23).

Whatever your spiritual beliefs are...these are good character qualities to possess.

So, I set a table with a display of fruits, vegetables, and grains as well as two books about Thanksgiving.

One by one I named the item I was holding and what the item represented (e.g., love, joy).

(Obviously, the idea I found below can be modified to fit one's beliefs and/or a traditional classroom setting, but I want to share it as I found it so people can use what they feel comfortable with):

1) Love GRAPES (can be shared)
2) Joy ORANGES (juicy and joyfully delicious)
3) Peace PEARS (peace takes a pair)
4) Patience PUMPKIN (waiting for pumpkins to grow, the pumpkin pie to bake, and Thanksgiving)
5) Kindness INDIAN CORN (the Native Americans shared their corn with the Pilgrims)
6) Goodness SQUASH (squash out all hatred and bad things...and you're left with the good)
7) Faithfulness WHEAT (God faithfully provides the Bread of Life)
8) Gentleness or Meekness GOURDS (excavated gourd shell used as a dipper to serve others)
9) Self-Control APPLES (Adam and Eve in the Garden)

As I picked up each fruit or bread, I divided and shared it with the girls so they had a snack and could eat what they were learning.

Reviewed at the end what each fruit, vegetable, or grain represented.

The girls really enjoyed this lesson and snack. They thought the squash was funny...and couldn't get enough of the grapes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hand-Embroidered Felt Elephant Stuffie

Although this was created for a swap on Swap-Bot, my daughters have asked me to make elephants for them for Christmas. I'm going to do this plus create a couple more stuffies (like a giraffe and a zebra...or other animals that live in Africa since that is a homeschool unit study that I'm wrapping up with them now).

The girls enjoy playing and bringing to life what they stuffies that are small like this one would be fun for them to play with and the perfect size for their little hands.

It's important that the girls have all-natural toys to play with. This one is made with 100% wool felt and is stuffed with wool from sheep I use to raise. I embroidered it using cotton floss.

The rich, sensory input the girls receive when they play with toys made from natural materials is so much better for them than playing with plastic toys...or toys that have questionable materials in them.

Last year, there was a huge issue with toys that contained lead. After that, I began making more of the girls' toys by hand. Not only does this give them safe things to play with, but - if they take care of their toys - they are things they can pass along to their children.

The girls and I talk a lot about family heirlooms, and passing things along to their children. I feel a greater need, perhaps, to create a sense of "legacy" and give them heirlooms because they are both adopted from China.

Although they do not have antiques or family heirlooms from their biological parents (who are unknown in both cases), they will have a selection of items that are gifted to them throughout the year...particularly on their Adoption Day Celebration, birthdays, and Christmas.

November marks the Adoption Day Celebrations for Sophia (11/26/01) and Olivia (11/17/03); both their birthdays (Sophia's is in December and Olivia's is in January); and Christmas. A lot of special days in a period of three months!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Alphabet Book with ATCs

Z is for Zebra
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
I am in the process of making an alphabet book for Olivia (my 5 1/2 year old daughter) for Christmas. This project has been going on now for several months, and is almost done.

Each page of the book has 2 ATCs (artist trading cards) - one that I made and one that someone else has made. I've been trading cards through a swap on Swap-Bot with different partners throughout the U.S. It's been interesting to see the different styles of cards that are in the book.

This card is one that I made a while back, but it was never traded. Since Olivia likes zebras and loves the tactile cards (she's legally blind in both eyes and responds better to the tactile/sensory cards), I thought this would be a nice one for her book.

It is made with zebra-printed fabric on both sides. The card is hand-embroidered using the blanket-stitch. The green ribbon is in the shape of a "Z" and has beads hand-sewn on it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Donation to Project Quin

After reading the information about "Project Quin" to my daughters, we were all eager to go through our clothes and make a donation to the children in Quinhagak, Alaska.

"Project Quin" an effort to help children at a K-12 school in Quinhagak, Alaska, stay warm in their cold and very remote, tundra village. The children are all Alaskan natives. Although the village is rich in cultural heritage, the families lack the bare necessities to stay warm.

The bags we donated had shirts, turtlenecks, sweatshirts, sweatpants, sweaters, coats, a pair of boots, snowpants, underwear, socks, and many pairs of pants/jeans. Also had almost 60 diapers and a teddy bear that we included.

The girls and I dropped off our donation at the homeschool co-op they attended on Friday. One of the girls coordinating the drive and her mom were THRILLED with the items we brought. The mother (whose brother is the principal for the Alaskan school in Quinhagak) shared a bit more with us about the impact that the clothing will have on the children.

She said that they had sent a package of clothing they no longer wore, and as it was being opened by the principal's family, a villager came by for a visit. There was some underwear in the package. Knowing the villager had a daughter, they asked if she would want the underwear for her. The villager started crying. Her family was so poor her daughter had never had a pair of underwear. And the daughter was 10 years old.

The other thing the children and their families desperately need are toothbrushes and toothpaste. Because the village is on tundra, apparently the fecal count in the water is very high. All the water must be boiled to be sterile to drink. This process takes over an hour to do, so many of the children (and adults) simply drink pop/soda. As a result, many of the children's teeth are severely decayed.

Part of homeschooling includes community service. The girls love to help, and this was one thing they could do to make a difference.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Muffin Tin Meals

In an effort to get the girls to eat more fruits and vegetables, I needed an idea that might make these things a bit more appealing.

Saw this idea in a Flickr group called Muffin Tin Meals. It's a group where people upload pictures of different meals, snacks, and appetizers in muffin tins. The tins are either 12-count or 6-count.

The tins can be lined with a paper muffin cup or left plain (like I did in the picture).

Since Mondays are busy days with homeschooling and the homeschooling co-op, thought I'd do this idea on Tuesday instead. Thus, "Tuesday's Terrific Tin" or "Tuesday's Tiny Tidbits" was started...either one works for the girls.

The girls were SO excited. The entire tray was gone by the end of dinner.

An upcoming challenge that the group has is to create a tray based on your culture. Since my daughters were born in China, I thought it would be fun to try a Chinese-theme muffin tin.

A couple of the other challenges that the group recently had:

- make a tin based on a child's book that you read (essentially, you're bringing the book alive and doing a food activity with the book...a great idea for homeschooling families!)

- create a Halloween-theme muffin tin. Some upcoming holidays to try could be: Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Years. What kind of tin could be created for each of those holidays?

So many possibilities...

In the muffin tin above, this is what is in each row:

Top row: green grapes, pistachios, teddy grahams, and carrots.

Middle row: peanuts, dairy-free cheese, Swiss cheese, and celery.

Bottom row: dried pineapple, sesame sticks, pickles, and red grapes.

Everything, with the exception of the Swiss cheese, is dairy-free so my oldest daughter (who has dairy allergies) can enjoy the variety of items.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bringing Books Alive Through Natural Toys

Toadstoom Mushroom Felt Toy

Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

One of the gifts I enjoy giving my daughters is bringing books alive. I read a tremendous amount of books to the girls. There are many benefits to doing this, but two that I see every day are:

- the girls have incredibly creative imaginations which is evident when they play. They develop a wide range of stories with different characters and plot lines, and then act them out.

- their vocabulary is extensive and includes words that are challenging and not always used by children their age (not inappropriate language...just words that aren't "easy" and commonly used).

I enjoy giving them tiny, handmade natural toys that I make. In this picture, Olivia (who is 5 1/2 year olds) is holding one of the toadstool mushrooms I recently made.

She loves to play with tiny, all-natural toys that I make...especially when they tie into a book that I've read to her.

Perhaps the most endearing books that have illustrations featuring toadstool mushrooms are by Elsa Beskow. Three titles of books that Ms. Beskow wrote that I've read to Olivia and Sophia are:
- Children of the Forest
- Around the Year
- Woody, Hazel and Little Pip

Additional toadstool mushrooms are available in my Etsy shop. The link to my shop is to the right of this site. Otherwise, please visit

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

29-Day Giving Challenge

Came across an interesting website and concept that I have joined. It's called the 29-Day Giving Challenge ( ).

The concept is that you give one thing away each day for 29 days. Why? According to the website, "Because to see the world change, we have to do something to change the world. Plus, the best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a perpetual state of giving and gratitude."

If this sounds intriguing, you can either start on your own...or you can register on the site and keep track of what you give by creating your own blog. It's inspiring to read what others are doing, and the impact that is being made through the 29-Day Giving Challenge.

I've been keeping track of what I've been doing each day, and it has been a very interesting journey...both in terms of what I am able to give each day and what I have received in return. In both cases, it can be tangible or intangible. Either way, it's been a wonderful experience.

It's worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting in an Historic Election

Since cameras aren't allowed in polling places, this was the extent of pictures for this election.

The girls got to hand the voter receipt to the election volunteers, and then we all held onto the ballot as it was sucked into the machine. I was #1,159.

They have been following the commercials, mailers, and advertisements for the candidates, and made their decision about who they would vote for if given the choice.

During the day, we went to vote at the community center. As much as a 7 1/2 and 5 1/2 year old could be involved in the process, they participated.

Figured out that Sophia will be 19 years old and Olivia will be 21 years old when they will be able to vote for the first time in a presidential election. Until then, they get to watch and look forward to the opportunity to vote for who they feel will lead the country well.

The timing and results for the presidential election this year fit nicely with the homeschool unit study the girls are doing about Addy (the American Girl character who is was an African American slave who lived during the Civil War period, and escaped to freedom). The girls have been learning about Africa (culture, wildlife, geography), slavery, Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and life in the 1860s.

The girls saw a powerful lesson unfold in front of their eyes about what is truly possible in this country in a period of less than 150 years. To move from a point of slavery in the 1860s to having Barack Obama become the next president...that is an amazing and memorable lesson that the girls will never forget.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Making Sourdough Starter in Home Ec

I teach a class to a small group of homeschooled girls on Mondays. My daughters, along with the rest of the Home Ec class, are stirring their sourdough starter. They were so excited to be stirring the yeast, flour, sugar, and water.

On the front table is a science experiment with yeast. I had 4 quart-size baggies each filled with 1 packet of yeast.
- Bag #1, had only yeast.
- Bag #2 had yeast and 1/4 cup warm water.
- Bag #3 had yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
- Bag #4 had yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon of flour.

We let the bags sit for 30 minutes while the girls made their sourdough starter at the second table and ate their pancakes.

After the plates were cleared, the girls sat down and one by one I picked up the bags and let them touch each one so they could see how the ingredients reacted with one another.

They were fascinated that each bag was totally different. Had them write what happened in each bag on their worksheet.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Importance of Family Traditions

This year was the first year that I heard the girls articulate the importance of having family traditions.

Each year, the girls go trick-or-treating around my parents' home (their grandparents). They go with their cousins which is something they look forward to doing.

Because of having a puppy this year and having limited time away from the house, I thought perhaps modifying the Halloween tradition by simply visiting grandparents during the day and showing them the costumes would be something the girls would be okay with. Apparently not.

"I've been looking forward to having dinner with everyone and then going out trick or treating with my cousins!" Sophia said. Olivia agreed.

There was no changing this tradition.

Having traditions that children anticipate and can count on is so important. They can predict what can happen...when it will happen...and have some control over their lives. It provides comfort and assurance in a world that sometimes doesn't always offer that to children.

One thing I did have to modify this year was going out and getting new costumes for the girls. Having had a very difficult year financially because of medical issues as well as damage to the house from the storms in May, I had the girls choose costumes from ones they already had. Sophia chose to be a pioneer girl and Olivia chose to be a giraffe. Although disappointed that they didn't get a new costume, they were happy with the costumes they wore this year.

Another tradition that I do with the girls each year is to add to their "Halloween Bag." The bag Olivia is holding is a pillowcase that I dyed, put an orange ribbon around the top so she can tie it, and thraced her handprint on. In the center of the handprint is the costume she wore and the year.

Sophia also has a bag like this with her handprints, but she chose to use the pumpkin I used when I was growing up.

The girls enjoy looking at how their hands have grown through the years and what costume they wore each year.

Again...a simple activity...but one they count on and look forward to doing each year.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas

It seems rather early to start thinking about Christmas, but this year I'm going to create more homemade decorations and make gifts for others.

This is one of the stars that I thought would look pretty in the window during the holiday season. I'm also selling it in my Etsy shop along with some other red, green, and white window stars.

I was inspired to start making these stars after seeing them at a local Waldorf school. They brightened the windows and seemed to make the school so cheerful and welcoming.

Since I homeschool my daughters, I want to create a similar environment for them at home - one that is nurturing, inspiring, and filled with happiness.

The window stars are things they enjoy looking at, and are excited about - especially when I try a new pattern or use different colors.

This star will have to wait a couple of months before it goes back up on the window. It will join other red, green, and white stars this year on the windows...and hopefully be one of the things that provide the girls with good memories of a beautiful Christmas.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Raising Monarchs in 2008

This is the second year that the girls have raised and released monarchs. Last year, there seemed to be a lot more caterpillars than this year. Read an article during the summer which said that for some reason people were noticing a decline in the number of monarchs. With fewer butterflies, they wondered what next year would be like.

That being said, the caterpillars the girls did find in the backyard were fascinating to watch. They have an indoor screened cage where they raise the caterpillars. Each day, they pick fresh milkweed leaves and put them in the cage.

They watch the caterpillars grow rather rapidly...and then make the crawl up the side of the cage.

"They're in the 'J' position!" I'll hear one day.

They watch...and wait. Take a break. Come back later...and watch....and wait.

One of the caterpillars last year they were able to see change right in front of their eyes. It's an amazingly quick process. This year, they saw the tail end of the change which was interesting for them to watch.

After about 20 days, the butterfly emerges, dries off its wings, and the girls bring in fresh flowers for the butterfly to enjoy. They keep it inside for less than a day, and then release it towards the evening.

This year, two of the butterflies stayed around for a rather long time, giving the girls the opportunity to observe them. One of the butterflies each put on a little "show" for the girls by fluttering right in front of their faces.

They can read about monarchs in a science book, but for them to actually raise, touch, and release these beautiful butterflies first-hand is invaluable. These are experiences that they will remember!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Beauty and Simplicity of Acorns

Acorns in a Hand
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
The connection that Sophia and Olivia have with nature is very strong. Part of homeschooling involves learning about and appreciating the beauty that surrounds us.

The beauty of acorns - the contrast between the smooth nut and the bumpy cap...the lovely shades of brown - is something that the girls notice and love to share with others.

These acorns were brought inside and placed on the nature table so they can be enjoyed each day.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sophia in Apple Tree

The girls love climbing in the apple tree in the backyard. Besides feeling like they're in a totally different world, climbing trees is a great lesson in problem solving. They have to figure out how to use the tree trunk and limbs to move higher in the tree.

That's one of the reasons why I love homeschooling them. If they need a break from what they're working on, I send them outside. Often times, they head right to the tree and climb it.

Clearly, it challenges them in different ways...and brings focus and clarity to what they are working on when they come back inside to resume their lesson.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Repairing Storm Damage

Reroofing Home
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

The start of re-roofing and re-siding has begun on the home. The home was hit twice in May by hail and high winds, resulting in a total re-do of the exterior of the home - the roof and siding.

The strips of exposed wood show where insulation is being blown into the home. About every foot, a hole was drilled and insulation was blown into the walls. In some areas, there was literally NO insulation. Needless to say, it should be warmer this winter.

See that flimsy green insulation? Apparently it has an R value of 2 (I think that's what it was called).

See how it doesn't cover the entire it has all those large gaps between the insulation? That's because it wasn't properly done the first time.

Now I'm beginning to understand why the propane bill has been so incredibly high for all these years.

Will be nice to have the job completed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Feeding Goats at the Apple Orchard

Went to the apple orchard as we do every year. The girls love feeding the goats. Went on a nice walk on one of the trails at the orchard. Got a bunch of apples that we made into applesauce. This year I canned it all rather than freezing it.

This is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling - being able to take "field trips" like this, and have the girls see and interact with animals that we don't have at home. Their phy ed for the day was the beautiful walk on the trail.

Their hands-on math lesson was purchasing an item or two from the orchard's store. (You can see that each are carrying purses that have a little bit of money in it. They used it to purchase treats to eat. In terms of homeschooling, this is a great way for them to learn about counting, money, and math.)

At home, they helped make the applesauce (a home ec lesson).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

This is on the last day of Courage Riders, a therapeutic horseback riding program that Olivia has been a part of since she was 3 1/2 years old.

The person standing next to her is one of the side walkers...a volunteer who donates her time to the program. For each rider, there are 3 volunteers (two side walkers and one lead walker).

Olivia is legally blind in both eyes, has speech delays, developmental delays, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

Because of these challenges, she is able to take therapeutic horseback lessons through the Courage Center. The program has made a tremendous difference in her life.

When she first began riding a few years ago, she couldn't even sit up on the horse. She was slumped over and had very little muscle control in her trunk.

She also was unable to say more than one word at a time. During the program, she put two words together for the first time.

This year, I noticed that Courage Riders included more activities with speech and letter/word identification which was interesting. I continue to find it fascinating the impact that horses have on people, especially children.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Purse for Children's Dramatic Play or Treasure Collecting

My daughters love to carry little purses to carry their "treasures" in...whether it be little rocks or a feather they find outside, or felt gnomes and needlefelted acorns.

This past week, while recovering from surgery, I had plenty of time to embroider this little clutch (or purse...whatever you prefer to call it).

Although this one is for sale in my Etsy shop (see the link to the right), the girls both asked if I could make one for them.

My thought is that as we go on our nature walks, that the girls can carry the purse (it has a cotton yarn handle that is long enough to fit over the girls' shoulders), and place their little treasures inside...a smooth acorn, a beautiful fall leaf, a magical stone.

The felt used for the purse is 100% wool, with the leaf being a plant-dyed wool felt. There is no comparison, in my opinion, between 100% all-natural wool felt and synthetic wool. Wool felt is superior in quality and provides a richer sensory input.

The purse closes with a standard snap, making it easy for children and adults alike to use it.

It is hand-embroidered with tiny blanket-stitches (about 7-8 per inch), so it is sturdy and will hold the items placed in it. It is meant to be an heirloom piece that a child can pass along to her children.

The cover design is a sage-green leaf that has a chain-stitch design on and around it. There are tiny yellow dots made with embroidery floss around the leaf on the pumpkin-color orange felt.

The size of the purse is 4 1/2" wide by 3" high.

It was a joy to embroider this purse...and now I'm ready to begin to make 2 for each of the girls so we're ready for our autumn nature walks.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Interactive Art

This is an interactive ACEO (Art Cards Editions Originals) that I made yesterday. I've been tossing around the idea of how children can interact with art more, and thought of this idea.

My daughters have enjoyed making and trading ATCs. Both have Sensory Integration Dysfunction, and have a strong need to touch and feel things so their bodies receive the input that is needed.

So...this card combines that need to touch and interact with art. I could tell that it is JUST what they needed when both came into my room and asked me to make one for them.

I let them choose their background colors (one chose 2 colors of pink - a light color for the front and a darker one for the back; and the other chose blue for the front and red for the back).

ATCs have been a wonderful, sensory learning tool for the girls, and such a great way for them to learn about art.

This new card - with the panda finger puppet that they can remove and play with - just takes the cards to a new level for the girls who love imaginary play and puppets.

Now a little about the card...the finger puppet and the card itself are all hand-embroidered. The panda is attached to the card by velcro so it can easily come off and be used...and then placed back on the card for a safe place to call "home." The bamboo leaves are sewn onto the felt card.

The card and puppet are made with 100% wool felt. Cotton floss is used to blanket-stitch the puppet as well as the card together.

If you'd like this panda ACEO, check out my Etsy shop. A link is to the right.

Update: Oh my! The panda ACEO sold already and I just listed it a couple of hours ago. It looks like I'll make another one. (It was fun to make. Now I have a good excuse to take a break from housework and do some embroidery this afternoon.)

If you would like a panda ACEO, please email me at or visit my Etsy shop at where you can send me a message as well. I have a variety of colors of wool felt so perhaps there is another color you would like for the background and backing of the card. Just let me know.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Embroidered Henny Penny Taking a Stroll

I've been enjoying making textile artist trading cards (ATCs) recently. This is the most recent one. The size of Henny Penny Taking a Stroll is 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" - so the pieces and stitching are actually quite small.

What I like about ATCs - especially these textile ones - is that it is a great way to use fabric and embroidery floss that you have right on hand. There's no need to go out and purchase anything.

With the economy in a challenging state right now...with gas and food prices so is nice to be able to still create pieces without spending a lot of money.

The other aspect of ATCs that I enjoy is that as a mom who homeschools, my daughters are able to see a variety of different artistic styles from creative women throughout the world. They are able to touch these little works of art that come in the mail...something they can't do when they visit an art museum where you simply cannot touch the art.

Having daughters who both have sensory issues (sensory integration dysfunction), ATCs are a wonderful way for them to touch, feel, and get that sensory input they need - while at the same time being inspired by art created by such a diversity of artists. It's one aspect of art education that the girls truly enjoy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dotee Dolls

Dotee - Fairy Theme
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
I had never heard of Dotee Dolls until recently. The concept is from a woman who lives in Australia. Since she started making these and posting a tutorial about how to make them, they seem to be popping up everywhere I look. So...I thought I'd try my hand at them.

This doll was made for a woman who lives in North Carolina who is participating in a Dotee Doll - Fairy Theme Swap on Swap-bot. I sent this one to her, and I will be receiving a Fairy Dotee Doll from another woman.

Swap-Bot is a great way to connect with others throughout the world. Currently, I'm hosting four swaps on Swap-Bot. See the links to the right if you'd like to be a part of the swap.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Learning the Color Wheel

I signed up for an artist trading card (ATC) swap on Swap-Bot that focused on insects. As a result, I made some extra ladybug cards in the process since the favorite insect around here is the ladybug.

Both Sophia and Olivia were adopted from China, and the ladybug has a special meaning to families who are adopting from China. (The Chinese adoption myth is that ladybugs are a sign of good luck and it is said if you see a ladybug your referral will be coming very soon.)

As I was thinking about what to do, I thought it would be fun to make ladybugs in different colors. The ATCs ended up being two-part. The cover, as shown in the picture, is of two ladybugs.

The top level of the card has a door that opens to reveal what happens if the two ladybugs collide.

The girls LOVED these cards. It was a good review of primary and secondary colors for my daughters. It's visual. And it's something that they can immediately remember when asked, "What color does red and blue make?"

More information about the ladybug series - including how they were made are on my Flickr site at .

This site - at - has some more information about the significance of the ladybug to those in the Chinese adoption community as well as information about how the ladybug is considered to be good luck in many other cultures.

There are many cultures that believe if you are to kill a ladybug then it will bring sadness and bad luck. There are those that believe the ladybugs give good luck when you have one land on you or if you catch one.

This site - at
- has information about legends about ladybugs around the world as well as how to say the word "ladybug" in different languages.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Artist Trading Cards

I've been working on Artist Trading Cards recently which has been so much fun. This is my first embroidered card. There are went to Australia for a swap for fantasy creatures (for Flickr's ATC Beginners group); and the other one went to my oldest daughter who loves unicorns.

This card is embroidered, and is the standard ATC size (2 1/2" x 3 1/2"). The unicorn pattern is a free one that I found on the internet. Thought it was a cute one.

Other cards I've done include collage and needlefelted. Visit and look under "ATC Cards - Available and Traded" for what I've made so far.

If you trade cards, there are generally always some available. I've been making cards weekly so new ones are always being added.

Having two daughters who I homeschool, I'm always looking at things from an educational standpoint. ATCs are great in terms of learning about a variety of things.

The most obvious benefit is creating art and seeing art made by various artists. Both Sophia and Olivia are learning more about collage and how to combine different elements to make them work together in a eye-pleasing collage. They see such a wide range of artistic styles by looking at the cards I've received.

ATCs are an excellent way to learn about geography - U.S. and world. I've sent and received cards from many different states as well as countries (including Finland, U.K., Switzerland, Germany, and Australia).

They're a great way to connect with others who you would never connect with otherwise. I've met other women who homeschool, have children with special needs (both my daughters have special needs), have visited or live in countries I've been to, who live in the same state as I do, or enjoy the same types of crafts.

Off to make some more cards now!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

First Rhubarb Pie of the Season

Although Sophia and Olivia had already harvested the first rhubarb of the season last month, today was the day to make rhubarb pies. 3 of them. 2 standard 9" pies, and one miniature pie.

The pies needed 9 cups of chopped rhubarb. That's quite a bit once you start chopping.

I make pie crusts from old recipe from my Grandma...that uses lard, flour, salt, sugar, and water. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used a trio of flours today: all-purpose, whole wheat, and bread flours.

Although the pie was fine (thanks to a Betty Crocker recipe), the crust wasn't as light and flaky as it is normally. So much for trying to make something a bit more healthy. Next time it will be back to the unhealthy (but tastier) pie crust.

In addition to the rhubarb, the strawberries are producing this year which is great. Fresh from the garden, organic strawberries. The flavor is incredible!

It looks like it will be a bumper crop for the raspberries this year. Over half of the raspberries are transplanted wild ones that Sophia and I planted last year. (They were next to the road that kept getting mowed by the township mower...or eaten by people walking their dogs.)

Looks like we'll be making lots of raspberry jam this summer...a favorite one that we enjoy all winter long.

Summer is a great time for the girls in terms of homeschooling. There are so many hands-on lessons that they are able to do - especially related to gardening, nature, and science. Home economics and cooking is a big part of summer as well as they learn the old-fashioned skills - like canning - that they can enjoy now and as an adult.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pears Starting to Grow

The pears are beginning to grow. This picture was taken on June 21st...the start of the growing season. There doesn't look like there are as many pears this year.

Unfortunately, there were two major wind and hail storms (the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and May 31st). The pear and plum trees were both full of blossoms. After the wind/hail storm...very few remained.

I'm grateful, though, that some pears and plums are growing. Fresh, organic fruit straight from the tree can't be beat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

One of the gifts my father gave me early on was the encouragement to try new things...and to ask for help when I needed it.

He raised bees when he was a child and teenager; and then went back to beekeeping as an adult.

Once I moved to the farm, he gave me his beekeeping equipment, hoping to pass along the hobby.

I tried it under the guidance of a beekeeper for a year. After getting repeatedly stung in my knee and watching it swell to an unnatural size...I realized that, perhaps, beekeeping is best left to people who REALLY know what they're doing.

After a hiatus from having bees, they have returned to the farm now and are being managed by a professional beekeeper. He knows what he's doing. He does this in exchange for having about 4 or 5 hives on the back part of the property. We get the honey when the season is done (from our hive).

So, the girls and I walked out the other day and looked at the hive (from a distance). The bees were busy flying in and out of the hive. They're busy and work...and it is fun to have bees again at the farm.

In the fall, hopefully the girls will have the opportunity to see the harvesting and processing stages...then they'll see the full circle (or cycle) of beekeeping.

I'm grateful that my dad gave me his equipment...and the encouragement to try new activities and develop new skills. Even though I'm not able to the beekeeping by myself...I have tried many things - new things - in the past year. I can thank my dad for being a great role model and inspiration as I challenge myself in new ways during the next year.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Monarchs are Back

June 1st marked the first day that we spotted a monarch here in Minnesota.
Since then, the girls have been looking for eggs on the bottom of the milkweed leaves to see if there are any.

This year we are planning to go out more often and look for eggs and caterpillars, so we can raise more monarchs.

It is such a fascinating process to see them move through the stages from caterpillar to butterfly. Visit to see more pictures of the caterpillars in various stages of growth and the release process.

This evening on our nature walk, we spotted two more monarchs! A nice way to end the day.

Waldorf Inspired Window Stars

I've been making these window stars for some time now. Each new pattern is a challenge to try, and such a joy to see completed.

Each of the stars are created by folding very small pieces of a special translucent paper multiple times. Some of the stars have required 18 or 19 folds per point.

My daughters enjoy seeing the stars on the windows at home...especially when we are homeschooling.

The stars provide color and beauty on days when it seems a bit darker...especially on the days when it is raining and snowing. When it is bright outside, the suns rays just seem to radiate through the stars.

More examples of the stars can be seen at my Flickr site at: . Look under the "Things I've Made" section.

These stars and many others are available at .

Needlefelted Alphabet Set

This is a set of alphabet cards that I made for my daughters who are learning how to read and spell (the older one) and identify letters (the younger one).

Both are hands-on, visual learners. The four picture cards on the corners are either ATCs or ACEOs that are available (the top 2) or traded (the bottom 2).

Each card is the standard ATC/ACEO size (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") and is made with 100% sheep wool. The letter and background are both needlefelted with a single barbed needle onto a white wool base.

The girls have watched me make needlefelted ATCs (and tried their hand at making their own which is a different story). So, I started by making the A, B, and C cards one night. The next morning, they saw the cards and were so excited.
I said, "If I made the entire alphabet so you could put the letters together to make words, would you like that?"
"YES!" Sophia (the older daughter) said.
To Olivia I said, "You could put all the letters in order when you sing the ABC song. Would you like that?"
"YES!" she said.
So, I began working on the needlefelted alphabet set. This was a great way to use the many colors that were in the wool bin (I was surprised at how many different types I had as I was making the cards).
Now that they're done, the girls used them yesterday when they were "playing school" together. I could hear Sophia ask Olivia what each of the letters were...and she used them to create words to teach her sister. "This is how you spell 'cat' ... C - A - T."
They are learning...even when I'm not teaching them. It made me smile.
For families/teachers/home educators, individual cards and the entire alphabet set that look like these are available in my Etsy shop (
For those who enjoy trading ATCs, if you are interested in trading one of your cards for a needlefelted one, please email me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Blue June Sunrise on the 7th

One thing I love about living in the country is the sunrises and sunsets. This one was just so blue. It was so different from the other vivid oranges, yellows, and reds that I commonly see.

This view is looking actually the sun is rising behind me.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Family Traditions

The Tooth Fairy has been making rather frequent visits here this year. This marks Tooth #6. With each visit, the set-up is a bit more elaborate.

Sophia has prepared a snack for her Tooth Fairy, Flossie. On the plate are lavender cookies. She has juice and water to drink (in the cup and pitcher respectively) as well as a couple of chunks of sugar cube ("for extra energy").

The tray was brought up to Sophia's room and placed next to her bed. She wrote a note, placed her tooth in a box for Flossie to find, and arranged some items around her nightstand so Flossie could see them.

The thrill in the morning of having Flossie visit is so memorable. With "fairy dust" sprinkled on Sophia's hair and clothes as well as all around the eaten food and a few coins from is something that is talked about all day.

Sometimes Flossie even leaves notes and handmade cards for Sophia. She keeps every one of them right on her nightstand.