Monday, December 30, 2013

Belated Christmas Post

Our tree, 2013
Well, I had every intention of writing up some kind of lovely post, with lovely photos, sharing our "Simple" Christmas celebrations. I planned to share photos of our tree, decorated with handmade ornaments. I planned to tell you all about some of our Holiday rituals and traditions.

But, Life being well, Life... things happened. I was behind on finishing handmade gifts. I had to work the Monday before Christmas Eve, and found myself scrambling to finish baking and other holiday preparations late into the evenings. We began our official celebrating on December 24th, and had several days of visits with various facets of family. In the midst of this, (on Christmas morning, in fact) one of the kids began a two-day run of a horrible stomach bug. We did our best to just keep on keepin' on, trying to make the best of the holidays in spite of a few setbacks. We had our final day of Christmas celebrating yesterday, when we enjoyed a nice visit with family who came up from Maryland, and then it was back to work today. Somehow, Christmas is officially over.

Well, mostly over. I am still in the Where to Put the Stuff phase of Christmas, and have yet to un-decorate and take down the tree. This will (hopefully) happen on New Year's Day. While doing this, I will try to hold onto some of the pleasant memories I have of this last week:

~ Making gingerbread houses with my Bunch, laughing and eating way too much candy.

~ My youngest (who still "believes") scurrying up the stairs to go to sleep so Santa would come.

~ Staying up late on Christmas Eve with my brother, filling the stockings, putting out the "Santa" stuff and finishing the last-minute wrapping, cracking ourselves up as we were overtired and punchy.

~ The big smiles on the kids faces as they opened their gifts.

~ Sitting by the tree, relaxing and visiting with Family.

~ Enjoying some Quiet Time with The Man, counting our Blessings.

~ Listening to the sounds of 8 kid cousins running around the house, laughing.

As the New Year approaches, I will also be reflecting upon the events of the past year, and thinking about my New Year's Intentions for 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Solstice, 2013

Last night, my family and I celebrated the Winter Solstice. I was very excited that we had a lovely cover of snow the week before, thinking how wintery and lovely everything would look for our feast. Then, the two days before Solstice, we had a "heat wave" and rain, washing all the snow away. So instead of a cover of crisp, white snow, we had puddles and piles of slush. We also had for forgo a couple of our favorite Solstice traditions... Ice lanterns (too warm) and s'mores by the fire pit (all our wood was soaked) ) However... we didn't let Mother Nature's silly whims keep us from celebrating the longest night (and the return of the light!) Here's a little glimpse at our Solstice Feast:
The table, all set for our Feast. We light candles all around the room,
as a reminder of the returning light. 

Our centerpiece... a narrow wooden tray, with votive candles,
 twigs, pine cones and evergreen.
Evergreen boughs and candles on the windowsill of our large kitchen window.
Some appetizers, to start... crostini with cashew cheese, carmelized onion and fig
(these were absolutely delicious with a glass of Pinot Grigio!)
and a little tray of crackers, carrots and figs for the kids. 
Winter Salad... mixed baby greens, pear, cranberries and walnuts.

Vegan root vegetable stew and fresh-baked multigrain bread.

Dessert! Hot Chocolate and  chocolate peanut butter bar cookies. 

The rest of  this week will be quite busy, I'm sure... but I will venture to post about our Simple Christmas as soon as I can. Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

It's been quite a year, with lots of ups and downs... all of which have made us extra-specially Thankful. I do LOVE Thanksgiving, and I love celebrating this holiday with my beautiful Bunch.

Our "Thankful" banner... we write things we are Thankful for on the leaves.

Appetizers... crackers with garlic onion jam and sharp cheddar,
crudite with dip and Autumn Bruschetta.

Centerpiece made of assorted gourds, flowers, pine cones,
 twigs, acorns and tea lights on an old wooden box lid.

Vegan Thanksgiving Feast! Nut loaf, corn on the cob, maple roasted carrots,
sweet potato biscuits, multigrain bread, green beans amandine, cranberry sauce,
apple-cranberry stuffing, and mashed potatoes.

We forgot to light the candles on the centerpiece at dinner!
But we made sure to light them for dessert. 

Dessert... pumpkin pie, fresh whipped cream, sugar-spice cookies and tea. 

Wishing one and all a Blessed Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli

 Last week, we celebrated the beginning of Autumn with a special Harvest Feast. At the center of this feast were some big, fat, delicious pumpkin ravioli. Ladybug and I had such fun making them!

Ladybug, rolling out the pasta dough
Adding the pumpkin filling

Sealing and cutting (we used one of these)

Dinner! Pumpkin Ravioli, topped with sage brown butter, roasted fennel and onion
and sauteed kale.

We didn't really follow a recipe... sometimes we are just crazy renegades in the kitchen! We started with pasta dough made from white whole wheat flour, mostly because I didn't have a chance to get semolina flour... but honestly the wheat flour was a nice "harvest-y" compliment to the pumpkin filling, so that turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Speaking of the filling... we kept it pretty simple. Just mashed roasted sugar pumpkin, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and just a hint of cinnamon. We topped it all off with some sage brown butter, and roasted fennel and onion. It would also be delicious topped with a white wine cream sauce, or a dairy-free "cream" sauce if you prefer to keep things vegan. I definitely plan to make these again.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

DYI Project: Old Window=Wall Decor

So, when we were decorating our new kitchen, we ended up with a blank wall which really needed something hanging on it. We had already burned through our budget, so we didn't want to spend money buying something to hang there. So... Ladybug and I decided it was DIY time!

We happen to have a bunch of old windows on hand, saved from when we put in some replacement windows a while back. We pulled out one we liked, then we dug out a few old hooks we had in the basement. We also got some screws and some picture hanging wire. Then we got down to business! (Or rather... Ladybug did, while I took pictures!)

First she cleaned the dust and grime off the window...
it was pretty dirty from sitting in storage for a couple of years.

Next, she flipped it over, and put in some screws and wire, for hanging.

Next, she installed a few old hooks in random places.
We thought they might come in handy when it's time to dry our herbs this fall. 

Then, we hung it up, and finished it off with some sticks and dried hydrangeas from the yard. 

There is nothing fancy about this project, but that's one of the things I love about it! I've seen a lot of different projects using old windows, which involve painting, or adding pictures, shelves, etc... but I just adore the look of old windows, and I think they are just beautiful on their own. The other cool thing is that it was made of things we already had around the house, so it didn't cost anything to make, AND... it was simple enough that a 13-year-old was able to do it on her own. 

Also... see those gourds on the table?? We got those yesterday, at the farm... the first little bit of AUTUMN in the house! Fall officially begins at 5pm today! I do love Autumn in New England. Next post will be all about our Harvest Feast, to celebrate the Equinox.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New Kitchen

So I've rattled on quite a bit here about our Kitchen Renovation. It was a project that was LONG overdue... the kitchen desperately needed to be redone when I first bought the house in 2007... but things happen, and for 6 years fixing the kitchen kept getting pushed to the back burner. But finally, this summer, we took the plunge and just did it! It was quite an experience, taking on a renovation like this, and I learned A LOT. We had a lot of things that needed to be done (updating electrical and plumbing, replacing the falling-apart cabinets, taking care of damage done by animals getting into our walls through our previously rotten eves, replacing the subfloor and floor, etc) and a lot of things we wanted to have done (taking down a wall to give us more space, taking down a drop ceiling, putting in a built-in bookshelf, repainting, etc) We also had a limited budget to work within. This was where the real challenge came in. We started by making a list of everything that we would absolutely needed to do, and all the things we would like to have, if we could. We then set about figuring out how to get that list down to a something that would reasonably fit our budget. We made sure to allow a little bit of "wiggle room" in the budget, in case of unexpected surprises (all too common, in old homes!) We were very lucky to find a great contractor who was willing to work with us to help make this dream a reality. By forgoing some "unnecessary" things, going with some cheaper options in flooring, lighting, counters and cabinets, and by doing as much of the work as possible ourselves, we did manage to find a way to get a great kitchen within our budget. Here are some photos of our 9 week adventure:
"before" photo of the large window, with an awkwardly-placed
radiator cover. This always bugged me!

In the midst of demolition. It was fun finding all the old wallpaper!

The Man, taking down the center wall 
The center wall, down to the studs.

Where the center wall once was! We have a column
at the chimney, and a very useful island. 

FINISHED!! View from the kitchen doorway, looking right. 

View from our homeschool area

Add caption

View from the homeschool area, looking toward the dining area.
Notice the large window... we put in a built in bookcase next to
the old awkardly-place radiator. Much more visually pleasing!

View from the dining area, looking toward the homeschool area.

corner between the stove and the doorway. 
I am SO happy how this renovation came out. The kitchen is the heart and soul of our home, and our family truly LIVES in this room. It was well worth every penny spent and every hour of work!

By the way... you can see detailed posts about the homeschool area and our Command Center Wall here and here. 

Next post... a fun DIY wall art project, using an old window!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Home Command Center

 Last post I showed off our newly-organized Homeschool Corner, and I promised to talk a little bit about our Home Command Center wall. First of all... what IS a "Home Command Center?" Generally speaking, it's a place where you can keep track of schedules and daily business.  Some Command Centers are fairly elaborate, with in-and-out boxes for mail, places to hang backbacks, bulletin boards, calendars, key hooks and more. We keep ours fairly simple and streamlined, because that's what works in our space and in our lives. Our Command Center is located in our kitchen, in our homeschool corner, but other good places to put your Command Center could be a by the front door, in a mud room or hallway... pretty much anyplace where your family will be able to refer to it often as they come and go through their daily routines. Here's a detailed look at our Home Command Center:

The most important feature of our Command Center is our calendar. We use a dry erase calendar, so we can easily make changes as plans change, and we like to color-code our calendar, to make it easy to see, at a glance, what's happening each day. We keep our collection of colored dry-erase markers in a basket on the wall next to the calendar, so they're within easy reach when we need to write something down.

Another really important part of our command center is our magnetic chalk board. This holds our weekly menus,  and we use it to jot down things we need to remember to pick up at the grocery store. We keep some chalk in the basket along with the calendar markers.

Along the bottom, we have clip boards for the kids' lists of daily chores and responsibilities. We have the lists in plastic sleeves, so if they want to they can check things off their lists with a dry erase marker. The next day, we wipe it clean so they can start again.

Other items on our Command Center wall are a clock, some inspirational art, and... our Family Rules:

I'm pretty happy with how this wall is functioning for us, though, like anything else in our home, I may end up "tweaking" it from time to time as our needs change.

Next post... I will be sharing photos of the rest of our newly-renovated kitchen!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Homeschool Area Tour!

New Homeschool Area!
Last post I gave a sneak peak at our new Homeschool Area, and promised a tour soon. So… without further ado, here’s how we have it all organized:

In the cabinet on the left, we have the kid’s tote bags, which contain their daily work: current math book, binder, writing journals, whatever else they might be working on at the moment) We used to use baskets for daily work, but the totes work so much better, as they can take their stuff to wherever they feel like working that day… their rooms, the back porch, the big chair in the living room, etc. On the shelves above we have basic supplies, such as pens, pencils, rulers, and small office supplies. These are stored in various baskets and jars, which we have collected over the years. We also have some homeschooling books, and the binder I use to keep track of what they’re doing all year.

Left side cabinet, for basic supplies and daily work.
I put cork tiles inside the door to post notes and lists.

The next big bookcase is where we keep all of our math, science and social studies stuff. On the top shelf, we have a box of math manipulatives, and the laptops. Under that, we have all of our various math books. (Math is the only subject we really use curriculum for, and we have collected quite a few math books over the years!)We also have boxes with place value blocks and geoboards. Hidden away in the cabinet, we have a bunch of science things and some social studies/history/geography stuff. We don’t do any formal lessons in these areas, but instead just provide lots of materials and books for them to explore.
Math, Science and Social Studies cabinet. I put cork in these doors, too.

This is our Nature Shelf. I wrote about our old Nature Shelf in this post and this post. We loved our old Nature Shelf so much, we just had to make sure we had one in the new space! The small baskets hold "Earth Treasures" that we have decided to keep... things like unusual rocks, shells, some dragonfly wings we found in the garden, and the shell from a robin's egg.
Our Nature Shelf. Right now it holds a basket of acorns, some sea shells,
a piece of a wasp hive and a stick etched with interesting little bug trails.

The tower in the corner is where we have our drawing/writing stuff (except for that basket on the top shelf… that’s where the computer cables and accessories are kept) The second shelf holds dictionaries, thesauruses and jars of writing prompts. Below that, we have boxes of markers, crayons, and colored pencils, and paper trays with lots of kinds of drawing, writing and construction paper. The bottom shelf holds lap-sized dry erase boards and assorted dry erase markers.

Dictionaries, thesauruses and jars of writing prompts.

Next we have the Art Cabinet. This is just full of all of our art and craft supplies, except for the bottom shelf, which contains Noodle's extensive Car Magazine collection. 
Art cabinet.

The baskets along the top of the shelves contain back-up school supplies, and lesser-used craft stuff. I'm really happy with how this space turned out. I love that we are able to have lots of tools and resources at our kids' disposal, so that they may explore and learn in meaningful ways... and I'm especially glad that we now have a way to keep it really organized, so they can make the most of those resources!

So that’s it! Our new Homeschool Corner in our New Kitchen! (which, by the way, will be finished by tomorrow! Pics of that coming soon!) Also…  I plan to write up a post about our “Family Command Center” wall in the next day or two… here’s a sneak peak:

But for now... it's time for this Mama to get things ready for tomorrow... Our official "First Day of Not School."  I have a special breakfast planned, along with some special activities!