Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Science Fun!

My Big Girl was lucky enough to be part of really awesome program recently. She spent a week in a Starbase classroom at a local college.

The Starbase program is a S.T.E.M. program -- science, technology, engineering and math -- that is run by the Department of Defense. She spent four full days learning in the most creative of ways and doing hands-on experiments under the guise of great, enthusiastic teachers who each had a sense of humor and kept the class engaged. I spent one day at Starbase and came away with such respect for this program.

It is how kids should be learning all the time! They kids designed crafts to carry hard boiled eggs as they traveled down a zip line and smashed into a bowling ball. They made "rockets" in an Alka Seltzer experiment. They designed space shuttles. They learned about atoms and molecules; liquids, solids and gas; what the periodic table is; and numerous other science concepts and theories. They received call names -- Big Girl was Harbor Seal, after a favorite animal -- and they wore their uniform (T-shirt) every day. They designed a necklace that looks like a piece of space craft and it was created out of plastic on a 3D printer. They worked in groups every day and didn't have daily recess beyond their lunch break, but it did not matter to these kids. It was fascinating and fun. At the end of the program, the kids received a certificate as well as took a test to see what they learned. They also took a test to see what career choices might suit their talents and interests.

These kids enjoyed the program so much that when they returned to "regular" school on Monday, it was a bit of a letdown! I know that as a mom, I would love to see more opportunities like this for our children.

If you have a fifth grader, please be sure to investigate this program and see if it is in your area. You will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Easter on the Brain

I've been writing a ton about Easter for Yahoo Voices:

Click on the links to read each story. I've tried to create helpful, interesting content.

Easter is not far off. I'm ashamed to say I haven't been shopping for basket trinkets yet, but I will step it up soon. The kids and I put out the Easter decor last weekend, replacing snowmen and hearts with bunnies and chicks. Our Valentine tree turned into an Easter tree.

I'm starting to get sick of dreary winter. Looking forward to spring, outdoors and gardens...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

TWINS TUESDAY: Gosselins are back tonight

Kate Gosselin and Kendra Wilkinson
 -- Getty ImagesAccess Hollywood

We get treated to a glimpse of the Gosselin multiples tonight when the Kate-Plus-8 crew returns to television at 8 p.m. tonight. Kate Gosselin will star on tonight's episode of "Celebrity Wife Swap" on the ABC network, swapping with former "Girls Next Door" star Kendra Wilkinson.

Should be interesting, right? Kate has 8 kids and no husband; Kendra has one tot and a husband.

"Wife Swap" can be rather unflattering, so I will be interested to see how this all plays out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It is easy to write about how hard it is to be a mom of multiples. Double the trouble. Double the work. Double the mess.

But there is, truly, double the blessings. Double the fun. Having twins is, indeed, a joy.

I always wanted a "bigger" family. Maybe not Duggar-big, but big. But I also knew my personality, and if I was to have a bigger family, it would come with breaks in between. Maybe one kid every five years? (Ha!) That didn't happen. And that said, God has a different plan for us, doesn't he?

It is so much fun to share in the "fun" of little twins. They love each other. They miss each other. They tease each other, which is sometimes exhausting, but it can be funny. And they pine for each other. And they talk in their tiny little voices to each other, encouraging-bossing-supporting each other.

There is so much joy in that. Having two little ones the same exact age means they enjoy the magic of Christmas together, the joy of running in the grass barefoot together, the joy of holding hands together on the first day of kindergarten. They have each other, forever, to share in experiences, whether boy and boy, girl and girl, or boy and girl. They share something that few of us will ever know. They are always the exact same age. They shared a womb together! They have known each other longer than anyone on this earth has known them (except, maybe, me!).  And I am grateful they have each other.

And I am now truly grateful that Big Girl has the joy of having two -- TWO!! -- siblings. I thought she would never have one, and she has TWO. A brother AND a sister. There is so, so, so much joy in that. They will be her siblings forever, and I know -- I know! -- she will love them forever, despite a seven-year age difference.

Our family may not be Duggar-big, or Gosselin-big, but it is not small. It is big, a just-right big. It is full and it is full of love. Twins bring double the blessings, double the joy, double the fun. Moms are forever changed by twins, and I am one of those moms. I am proud of my pair, and I am proud of me for being able to handle it all. It is exciting to think of all that is to come.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We Survived NEMO


It has been a crazy weekend, but we survived the blizzard. School has been out, but will return tomorrow. I am extremely busy during the next two weeks, so posting will be sporadic as I take care of life's issues.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Mom's Guide To... Valentine's Day

I love this little jar!
I would love to make something similar.

Valentine's Day is coming! Are you excited? Focus on being with those you love, big and small.

And as far as Valentine decor goes... well, I am a sucker for pink and red. I love it.

As soon as the New Year arrives and the Christmas decor is packed away, I take out a few Valentine items to mix in with the leftover snowmen and snowflakes. Of course, we have our Valentine tree:

White tree, red and white ornaments that are not Christmas-y. I have white lights on every night when we are watching TV. So cozy! And the nutcracker on the left is carrying a sled in one hand and has hearts on him. He is a cute "winter" decoration, not just Christmas.

We also have this cute Little People set:

It was Big Girl's, and it's fun to pull it out every year. I wish we had more "holiday" Little People sets, especially now with the twins. At least they are festive and kid-friendly if you choose to put them on a shelf. (You can also see a kid-friendly Valentine pillow behind it. It has Cupid on it.)

Earlier this year I found a cute Valentine banner kit in Target:


It was only $1, and I had Big Girl work with the twins to complete it one night while I as making dinner. It came out cute, and I hung it across the top of our kitchen chalkboard. She was so good with them and it kept them busy at "the witching hour," which is what I call the 4:30-6 p.m.-ish time where I am making dinner and everything falls apart. I must write a post on this in the future!

But back to Valentine's Day! There are so many great little ways to celebrate. I don't believe in making other holidays like the grand gift-giving that goes on at Christmas. Hubby and I have stopped the V-Day gift giving, but I do give the kids tiny treats. This year, I found little felt bags at Target's Dollar Spot, and each has three treats: a small heart-shaped candy box, stickers (or a small notepad for Big Girl) and one tiny, tiny toy. Except for the toy, each thing was $1 each. The toy ranges from a 97-cent Matchbox car for Buddy Twin to a $3 Disney Princess cell phone for Bunny Twin and a $4 Lego Friends for Big Girl. That's it. Not a lot of cash needed (we don't have a lot, anyway), but still tiny treats to celebrate our love for our kids. If you are still searching, check dollar stores and Target's Dollar Spot for great treasures. Our little heart candy boxes also came from Target, $1 on sale. This is just enough.

If you can't find the banner kit shown above, it's pretty easy to recreate it with scrapbook paper, stickers and string or ribbon. I also saw this great idea on Pinterest:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

Isn't it cute? It's just playing cards and ribbon. This would be a great Valentine decoration that doesn't cost much, if anything, at all.

Of course, I also plan on making treats for the holiday. When Big Girl was little, I used heart cookie cutters to cute out frozen waffles, sandwiches, and just about anything. You could serve "red" food, like strawberries and apples, or make strawberry milk.

Or even simple Funfetti cupcakes are festive enough:

Big Girl, circa 2010, with Funfetti cupcakes for Valentine's Day.

It doesn't have to be fancy. Sometimes simple is better, right? I love this idea:

Valentine Chex Mix! Doesn't it look like a cute little treat? And it's not difficult. I also like this variation on a festive snack mix, called Cupid Crunch:

Both would be great to enjoy while watching Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown.

You can also whip up a batch of this two-ingredient treat:


So those are just a few simple treats from my Pinterest findings.

As for the actual valentines? Big Girl wants to make her own, so we will be tackling that before the holiday. Our school doesn't allow food/candy anymore, so this limits our options tremendously. But I have a few ideas up my sleeve to suggest to her. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Laura Week: Weather!

It's the last day of "Laura Week," and considering what's about to hit us later today here in the Northeast, I'd say it's a good day to crack open this Laura Ingalls Wilder book:
The Long Winter (Little House)

It's perfect reading for a blizzard! I think I'm going to re-read my ancient copy today. It's one of my favorites.

It's also a good day to check out the blog Wilder Weather. It's a blog devoted to the weather of the "Little House" books (and a few other things). There's a Facebook page for the blog as well. They are worth checking out.

I should also mention that "Little House" made the news this week! There was an article in national newspapers on how doctors researched Mary's blindness -- and Mary is Laura's sister, for you non-Laura fans -- and believe that it was not scarlet fever which caused her blindess. You can see the article here.

Today, when you have cabin fever, you can also spend some time sprucing up your little house. Whether you live in a log cabin or not, you can still feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder with some simple touches around your home.

Photo from an article on how to decorate like
"Little House in the Big Woods."

Break out the red-checked table cloth, rag rug, quilt and tin lanterns. Bake some bread and make some butter! Or try Laura's Gingerbread recipe. It was delicious.

And if you have not already, read my Yahoo! Voices story on my love for Laura here. Or browse my Laura and Little House Pinterest board here.

If you missed "Laura Week," you can find all posts related to Mrs. Wilder on this link.

Enjoy the blizzard, dear readers. Stay safe, and warm. 
See you on Monday!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Laura Week: "Birthday" Cake!

Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!!

And since today is her birthday, how about we celebrate with some cake?

On Sunday, I gathered up the little ones to make a very special recipe: Laura's Gingerbread.

The recipe is a popular recipe from the writer and historian; It is a gingerbread cake, not a gingerbread cookie. It has been baked many times by her fans, and chronicled on many blogs, but I had never tried it myself. Since Laura's birthday is Thursday, I thought that this week was the best time to try it out. And on Sunday, Big Girl was home, and it was fun to explore a historical recipe.

The ingredients are rather simple. Here, look at the first part of the recipe in Laura's handwriting:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

At one point, I thought I screwed up the recipe, and crossed my fingers while it baked. But sure enough, it came out great! Here is the recipe I followed:

Laura's Gingerbread Cake

Mix together:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup shortening

2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 cup boiling water 

Mix ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp salt

Add the flour mix and mix.

Then add in 2 eggs, well beaten.

Pour into a well-greased pan 9x13 pan. (I used a glass pan; some other versions use a 9x9 pan but mine came out just fine.) Bake at 350 degrees, for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

It came out much better than I thought it would. Some reviews stated that there was not enough spice to it, but I thought it was delicious. And so did all three kids. They all wanted seconds! (And Big Girl requested some in her lunch box tomorrow.) I will definitely be making this again.

You can also add raisins, candied fruit or nuts, and some recipes suggest a chocolate frosting. I think a dollop of whipped cream would be lovely, or a sprinkling of powdered sugar. It's a perfect "coffee cake," so if you need to bring something to a winter brunch, try it out!

When we were mixing everything up, I let the kids smell each spice, which was fun to watch the expressions on their faces. They also loved watching the molasses go into the bowl. And when it was baking, they could not wait to see it come out of the oven, because it smelled devine. I make gingerbread cookies every Christmas, and this was as fragrant as that time of the year.

So make a birthday cake for Laura tomorrow. Bake some gingerbread!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Laura Week: Celebrate!

Laura's birthday is tomorrow! Party!

I want a pioneer party for my birthday. Big Girl has not requested one yet, nor have I been able to convince her. Her Laura reading is usually in the winter, which means by the time her summer birthday rolls around she wants something different.

But nonetheless, I keep pinning pioneer parties. So I will share my links, which are plentiful on my Laura and Little House Pinterest board. (This is just a "linky" post, so I apologize... But everyone else has such great ideas!)

I think this one is my favorite:

This one is also a big favorite:

(The Homespun Heart is a favorite blog of mine -- I read it every morning. Monica is so inspiring!! And she is a Little House fan.)

This is an adorable party that used a lot of Holly Hobbie elements -- remember her?

Here's a cute party with a really adorable covered wagon cake:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

This one had a ton of "faux" things that made it real:

And if you need a gift for a Laura fan, how about this:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

Or this:

I know, so cute.

Pioneer parties are adorable. I still have hope that Bunny Twin will want one in the future! If not, I may just have one for all the little girls in my life with no special occasion to celebrate, other than loving Laura.

Tomorrow is Laura's birthday! Look for a post on some special cake to celebrate.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Happy Blog-iversary to Me!

One year. Today. Yay me!

Laura Week: The Music of Little House

There are 127 songs in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books. For anyone who has read them, it's not hard to imagine. Laura's Pa played his fiddle all the time, and we are given snippets of lyrics to songs that were spiritual and folksy and ethnic and a slice of Americana.

There have been a handful of albums dedicated to the music of the books, primarily because it plays such a major role in the stories. It's amazing, but listening to the tunes actually does enhance reading the series even more. When you are just reading lyrics and do not know the melody, it is purely poetry. But put a tune behind it, and the emotion is intensified. Some of the albums focusing on "Little House" music are:

  • 2005's "Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder"
  • 2006's "The Arkansas Traveler: Music From Little House on the Praire"
  • 2010's "Pa's Fiddler: Charles Ingalls, American Fiddler"

Last year, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the "Little House" television series, produced a PBS special with numerous country stars performing the music. "Pa's Fiddle Project" brings all the classic songs to life:

I just love this clip. The soundtrack was also released as "Pa's Fiddle: The Music of America," and is available on Amazon via download.

Pa's actual fiddle is on display at the museum at Laura's Missouri home. Some day I hope to travel to see it in person!

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's Laura Week!

Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthday is Feb. 7, so all week long I will be paying to homage to one my favorite women in history and the books she wrote. My real love for Laura and her books can be summed up with this quote:

The simple life. Laura lived the pioneer life, and wrote about the pioneer life. She was a farm wife, and she wrote about living on a farm. To her, it was a simple life, but she celebrated it. Today, many of us yearn for the simple life, which is why her books still persevere.

These lessons of the "simple life" can be passed on to the next generation. I truly believe that modern children can still find valuable lessons in Wilder's writings, especially if you make them exciting to young readers. Every time I get asked to read to my daughter's class, and I am allowed to bring in something to read, I choose something from her books. A chapter that can stand alone as a story. And you know what? By the time I am done, all the kids -- even the boys -- have paid attention and have laughed and marveled at how different life was at the end of the 19th century.

So where do you start? It helps to start at the beginning, with "Little House in the Big Woods." It's an easy read and perfect to read aloud at bedtime. If you have a son, and want to interest them as well, try "Farmer Boy," about the childhood of Laura's husband, Almanzo. It has many funny tales perfect for young boy. (As a little girl, I wanted nothing to do with "Farmer Boy," but when I read it as an adult, I was so disappointed that I didn't enjoy it as a child! It was as good as the other books.)

I love reading Laura's books in the winter. There is something wonderful about revisiting her stories when it is cold outside. Since many of her stories deal with surviving winter, it just seems appropriate.

There are so many great resources for learning about Laura and her life. Of course, there are museums at all the places she lived, each with a website and many with a gift shop filled with pioneer-related goods. Many homeschooling families do units on her books, which means there are dozens of resources available on the Internet with links, projects, lapbooks and more. Dozens of books have been written about her life and about her books, and many are still available in print.

To start small, here are some great little printables to encourage kids to read Laura's books.

Artist Cheryl Harness offers some great coloring pages featuring Laura on her website. They are perfect for older children, as you can see from the picture above.

Here's another great printable:

It's a 3D model of the Little House in the Big Woods. You can layer the printables and make flaps to see inside. This is a great project for new readers to the series!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum has a wealth of printable activities for kids.

The HarperCollins' official Little House site has many activities, as well as information on all the books.

There's also another great coloring page available online:

It's a coloring page of the postage stamp issued a few years ago in honor of the books.

This week, we'll be covering many Laura activities. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Recipe: Kielbasa and Potatoes

I had kielbasa on my menu plan the other night, but I wanted to try something new. I looked up a few recipes, and came across this one.

It was so easy! Just four ingredients: potatoes, kielbasa, onion soup mix and canola oil (NOTE: I cut back a little on the oil from the recipe). And it's oven baked, so once it's mixed together, you just let it cook without having to stand over the stove.

I pulled out my favorite frozen green beans from Aldi as a side dish (cooked in a little oil and garlic), as well as some applesauce. It was snowy night, and I was thinking comfort food.

It was really, really good. All the kids seemed to like, especially Bunny Twin. Hubby liked it as well, so it's going into the rotation. The "easy" factor is huge with me -- I have a hard time standing over a stove cooking at dinner time with kids at my feet. This doesn't require much hands-on effort at the last minute, which was great!

I'm even considering making this at Easter -- kielbasa and potatoes are great for that holiday meal.