Sunday, December 06, 2009

Maylin's photos from Rhode Island (part I)



Maylin's photos from the Conservatory of Flowers



Maylin and I went with our friend Meghan to the Conservatory Flowers in San Francisco before Thanksgiving to see a special exhibit. Here are a couple of her best photos from that day.

Maylin's photo of Stefan


I just think the composition of this photo is soooo cool! And the contrast of the black and white, the dashes of color -- I love it. I hope to share more of Maylin's talents soon!

Cody, the newest addition to the family


Isn't our little guy a cutie? We found Cody online through petfinders.com. I highly recommend it! You can find a rescue dog through an advanced search -- sex, breed/mix, age, and location. We searched for a male "baby" of retriever/shepherd origins, saw his photo (he had floppy ears in the original photo), and just fell in love with him. This photo was taken of him in our front courtyard. He is now 3 1/2 months old and is a really sweet, cuddly guy. We miss Leo, who passed away on November 1, but we're happy to have a furry creature to love now.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Moist oatmeal breakfast bars

I made these for the first time this morning, and everyone who's tried it loves it. I guess it is possible to make something really healthy AND delicious!

This recipe has been adapted from an oatmeal fruit bar recipe from Sara Snow's Fresh Living book.

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup Turbinado (raw) sugar (granulated probably works fine, but may be sweeter)
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 small apple, peeled and chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups dried coconut
3 cups rolled oats

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking pan. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients and mix. Stir in fruit, nuts, coconut, and oats. Press mixture into pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges just begin browning. Let cool before cutting into bars.

Best online education resources for free! (part I)

Fun science activities with PDF instructions and videos:

http://www.exploratorium.edu/afterschool/activities/index.php?activity=136&firstDisplayedItem=4

Maylin made a cool jitterbug that jiggles with the help of a battery and motor.

The Asian Art Museum has great educator packets on different regions of the world. The prices listed are for the printed books, but the PDF format is free to download. There's lots of info, plus some related arts and crafts projects as well.

http://www.asianart.org/educatorresources.htm

Monday, November 23, 2009

Teaching kids poetry: haikus

Maylin took a writing class where she wrote an ode to a bear. I thought she didn't have any interest in poetry, but after we brought her ode home, she wrote a few more! (I think she caught my enthusiasm because I actually wrote some odes first and then she followed suit.) That night, I made her a little booklet entitled, My Poetry Book, with a neon green cover. She woke up the next day to this on the kitchen table. Maylin was so excited to begin our first poetry lesson together. On the first page I had written the syllabic rule for the haiku, a three-line poem (5-7-5). I also included some of my own samples, including:

Cool rain hits my face
Mouth opening, I giggle
As joy showers me

The next page had a haiku brainstorm area with columns for nouns, adjectives, and verbs. She came up with about eight for each column, and proceeded to write three haikus in a row! After she had run out of words from her brainstorm, I suggested taking a break -- but no, she wanted to keep going, to my pleasant surprise! She had to brainstorm again for my words and then wrote two more haikus. Here are my favorites:

Windy, sandy beach
Sandcastles are fun to build
Swim and run with me

****

I want sweet candy
I don't want gross broccoli
Is it sweet or gross?

Teaching kids poetry: cinquains

Here's a great site for learning about cinquains, which are five-line poems with the syllabic rule of 2-4-6-8-2:
http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=43

Here's my sample to give to Maylin:

Popcorn
Tasty, wholesome
Eating, crunching, smiling
A yummy snack that's good for me
Orville

Now I have to do some research on Orville Redenbacher so I can do some explaining. I'm also going to look up some famous cinquains. I believe it's a French form, so I'm going to look for some French ones! Fun!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Awesome (healthy) muffins!

There's a really great recipe called Ruthie's 8 Grain Muffins, which comes on the back of a Bob's Red Mill package of 8 grain hot cereal. I've adapted the recipe for people who can't access Bob's stuff, and I've made it a little healthier by substituting butter for margarine and white whole wheat flour (no, it's not bleached -- just a softer winter wheat variety) for the white flour. You can also use whole wheat pastry flour, but it'll be pretty crumbly. If you can only access regular whole wheat flour, try it and let me know how it goes. Actually, maybe I'll try it and I'll let you know. The whole wheat flours do make the light, tender muffins a little sturdier. I was tired of cleaning up piles of crumbs after my toddler.

I think these are the perfect healthy muffins. Let me know what you think.

Awesome (healthy) muffins

1. Turn your oven on to 400 degrees.
2. Mix the following ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes (you can do the other steps in the meanwhile):
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (plain or vanilla yogurt works, too, but I think the buttermilk is better)
1/4 cup cornmeal (at any supermarket)
1/4 cup almond meal (grind your own or buy at Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup flaxseed meal (I think you can find this at TJ's)
1/4 cup oat bran (can find at TJ's)
3. In a larger bowl, melt 1/3 cup of butter, using electric mixer, mix in 1/2 cup of Turbinado or regular granulated sugar, add 1 egg, and mix again.
4. Sift the following ingredients in a medium bowl:
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of white whole wheat flour
5. Add ingredients from step 4 to step 3. Mix.
6. Add ingredients from step 2 to step 5. Mix.
7. Spoon batter into 12 paper muffin cups that have been placed in a muffin tin.
8. Pop into oven for 15 minutes.
9. Gobble them up!

[Note: I accidentally left out the baking powder, baking soda, and the salt one time (I know, I think I was over-multi-tasking and sleep-deprived) but the kids still loved it -- and a playdate friend as well!]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Maylin's first compilation CD

For one of Maylin's birthday presents, I put together a CD of her favorite songs downloaded from amazon.com. She picked all the songs herself. It was wonderful to see how happy she was to hear her own CD. Such joy! That was the best $13 I ever spent!

1. Axel F (Crazy Frog version)
2. Who Left the Dogs Out
3. Everybody Dance Now
4. Lollipop (that old doo-wap song)
5. Don't Walk Away (a Hanna Montana tune she heard on the plane)
6. Good Morning Baltimore (Hairspray musical)
7. I Can Hear the Bells (Hairspray)
8. Without Love (Hairspray)
9. That's How You Know (Enchanted movie)
10. Ever Ever After (Enchanted)
11. Axel F (original)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Homeschooling a success so far

Well, I realize I haven't really talked about homeschooling much in my blog (maybe I haven't been talking much about anything at all, really), but just so you know, it is really going great. Maylin and I are a good pair for this -- she's a good student and listens to me (most of the time) and when I'm prepared, weeks are great. When someone's sick, things slow down, but we make up for it on the weekends. We have a very flexible schedule. Sometimes Maylin will do some work in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some in the evening. She is often motivated by 10-minute bites of a movie. 2 pages of math will earn her 10 minutes of watching. A writing worksheet earn the same as well. A chess game counts, too. Maylin gets the most work done using this reward system.

Our language arts work is all over the place. We'll have spelling tests, phonics worksheets, reading, story-writing, book-making, writing games...mixing it up seems to be key. Our math curriculum is Singapore Math. Maylin's almost done with her first book -- her big reward is a scooter. Sometimes she likes math, sometimes she doesn't. I still need to figure that piece out.

For science, we'll do experiments using household products like baking soda, borax, and vinegar. I usually have her write up a report afterwards. Fortunately, she still says she loves science. Oh, we also work through the Evan-Mohr books. We're in the vertebrate book presently -- it has great worksheets and lesson plans. I've woven in trips to the Oakland Zoo and the Natural History Museum (NY) to supplement the unit study. And soon, we'll visit some week-old puppies to help study the life cycle of vertebrates.

Social studies has included map-study, worksheets, and journal-writing after trips. I need to work more on integrating this into our daily studies.

Maylin also takes Chinese, French, piano, chess, and karate. I'm teaching her the piano, but it's hard because she doesn't have much interest in it. But that karate...she loves it. It's the perfect activity for her. She likes working hard, doesn't mind repetition, and is good at memorizing a series of steps (forms). I'm quite proud of her. She'll be testing for her yellow belt soon.

I'm not worried about her not getting enough socialization -- she has plenty of opportunity in her extracurricular activities.

Some great online resources that Maylin likes to use:
http://chess.math.com/ (so she can always have the computer to play against)
http://www.typingweb.com/ (a free site for learning how to type -- she's already learned homerow and the top row -- her accuracy is quite good...and she loves it!)

Little furry bundle of joy

We've got a new puppy! I know, our wonderful dog Leo passed away recently, but Maylin was just crazy about getting a new puppy. Everyday she voiced her wishes. I thought it wouldn't hurt to look online. Found a great site, petfinders.com, which I believe specializes in rescue dogs because they were mostly mixes. You can do an advanced search by breed (mix), sex, age, and location. Our puppy was being fostered in Richmond, so it happened really quickly! I e-mailed our adoption application Wednesday night, the family met the puppy at his former home Thursday night, we got to take him Friday night for a short trial period, made our decision right away and turned in our paperwork today. I can't imagine how lucky we are! It was fate.

We are in love! Cody's a golden retriever-Australian shepherd mix (I was specifically looking for a retriever-shepherd because that's pretty much what Leo was -- we like that kind of temperament and look.

He is about 3 months old, tan and white, and is a real sweetie. Very obedient and learns quickly. He's only had a few accidents so far.

Let's hope I can get a photo up before he grows out of puppyhood!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Natural cleaning, part I

Maylin had a little science lesson today as I tried to get a blood stain out of some bedsheets (Stefan had a bloody nose one night). I hate using chemical treatments, so I thought I'd experiment with baking soda and vinegar. Maylin spread a layer of baking soda over the stain and then dumped some vinegar over it. We got some fantastic bubbles going! Stefan loved it! We repeated this many, many times, to the delight of my kids. And you know what? It did a pretty good job on the stain. It didn't completely eliminate it, but it's barely there now after a tumble in the washer and dryer! We called this experiment Bubble Action. We're going to see if this same method will work on our old carpet stains. Woohoo!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I'm back!

We had a long trip to Ohio, Rhode Island, and New York, with the kids in tow. A couple days after we got back, I got sick. Now John and Maylin are sick. Stefan's got a little cough -- hoping that it doesn't develop into what the rest of us have...he's had it so rough, with the scarlet fever right before our trip.

I've got a lot of photos to post, which means it's going to take awhile until I get them all up. Maybe I should post in bite-size pieces. I have this problem of inaction when I get overwhelmed by the size of a task.

The Rhode Island bit of the trip was really inspiring for me. We were at Rhode Island School of Design for John's 20th grad school reunion. Just being surrounded by artists and designers was exhilirating! The positive comments from artists/designers that I got on the name tag I hand-lettered (darn, I left it somewhere), the book I made (in a kids' art workshop), and a drawing I made for Stefan on a dinner table (papered at a restaurant) made me really proud. They asked if I was an artist! I don't feel that same pride when people ask me if I'm a musician. So I think I'm going down the right path as a visual artist. I have a lot of work to do, but it'll be such a fun process. Also, I met some great artists at the RISD Art Sale, and realized that I felt so at home with these people. I felt like this was my community -- the community I wanted to be in. Yes.

Gotta go. Stefan just woke up from his nap, unhappy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sorry I don't have new photos up

Our external hard drive went kaput. Yes, that's right. All of our precious photos are inaccessible at the moment, but hopefully not lost forever. And this happens just in time -- I was just about to make some photo books, post our Hawaii photos, share camp photos...waaah!

Stefan speaks!

Stefan was off to a slow start speaking, but I wasn't ever really concerned, though other people, including our pediatrician, were. Now, he's coming up with so many words each day. Today, he surprised me with "pink" when he pointed to his oil pastel (he also said "orange," but he's done that before). And yes, give your kids good art supplies now. Crayons are boring and pretty colorless compared to pastels, markers, and good colored pencils (Prismacolor are my favorites -- pricey, but check clearance sections in art stores). Anyways, Stefan also can recognize and recite eight letters of the alphabet and the numbers 1,2,4,5, and 8. When I'm homeschooling Maylin, he will often repeat what Maylin is spelling or reciting. How exciting! I know some kids Stefan's age are probably already speaking full sentences, but I'm not worried. Stefan can point to and say "steam" and recognize a multitude of objects, including construction equipment and vegetation. He also says "engine" for fire engine. Too cute!

Butternut Squash Bisque (an elegant soup)

A beautiful and delicious orange-colored soup. Use a good bread knife (serrated for trimming the skin off the squash and cutting it into rough cubes).

Version from 9/20/09

Ingredients:

1 medium-sized butternut squash (about 1.5 lbs.), cut into rough 1/2-inch cubes
2 T butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-5 cups hot chicken broth
1/4-1/2 t. ground white pepper
salt
extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 cups water
chives, finely chopped, for garnish (the tiny, tubular kind, not garlic chives)
sour cream (optional)

Directions:

Heat olive oil in large pot. Add onion and cook until softened (try not to brown), about 5 minutes. Add butternut squash, 3 cups chicken broth, and 1/4 t. white pepper. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until tender. Let cool slightly. Transfer half to food processor and puree. Pour into large bowl. Puree remainder and pour back into pot. Add first half to pot. You may need to add 1-2 more cups of chicken broth if it's too thick. You can refrigerate and serve the next day. I served the same day. Before serving, bring to boil again, reduce heat and simmer for a little bit. At this point, I add a little olive oil to make it shiny and smooth, add water as necessary (I don't want it to be a squash puree, but a soup consistency). Add up to 1/4 t. more of the white pepper if you can't taste it, and salt, if necessary. Serve with an optional dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the chives. Gorgeous!

Pan-Roasted Veggie Lasagna Recipe

This recipe was requested by a friend. I used the lasagna and Italian tomato sauce recipes from Mollie Katzen's The New Moosewood Cookbook as the basis for this recipe. Major difference is that her veggies were not pan-roasted which is why I think she adds honey to her sauce. I will omit the honey next time, since the pan-roasting sweetens the vegetables. Also, with this recipe, feel free to oven-roast the vegetables and make any necessary substitutions. I substitute ALL the time.

Let's start with the sauce. (As with any recipe, read through BEFORE proceeding).

Pan-Roasted Veggie Tomato Sauce (this version made 9/20/09)

Full of flavor and slightly sweet -- you won't miss the meat!

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
about 6 organic fancy zucchini (the small ones)
about 1 lb. medium white mushrooms, thinly sliced
about 6 organic fancy zucchini (the small ones)
1 yellow onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
handful of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, finely chopped
handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
6 organic dry-farmed tomatoes (small), roughly chopped
2 cans of organic diced tomatoes (or one large 28 oz. can)
1 can of tomato paste
1 T. honey (I'll leave out next time)
extra-virgin olive oil
salt
4 t. dried basil
freshly ground pepper
very fine garlic powder (I can only find this as Costco -- the stuff usually found in the supermarket is too coarse and doesn't taste fresh)
1-4 cups of water

Directions:

Okay, this is a bit labor intensive, but I think, is worth it. Oven-roasting may be much faster as you'll probably be able to fit more veggies in your oven at one time than you can in a skillet. Try 400 degrees for 20-40 minutes, until slightly browned (or charred).

I pan-roasted the veggies individually because over-crowding in your pan will prevent the ingredients from browning -- they'll just end up sitting in a wet soup. Put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in your skillet (I happened to use a Dutch oven) and cook one of your bell peppers over medium high heat. Add a little salt and garlic powder halfway through. Cook until browning starts happening. Remove to a large bowl. Do the same with the other bell peppers. Do the same with 3 zucchini at a time. Then, do the same with the onion and mushrooms (I threw them in together for no real reason -- to save time, maybe? maybe the pan-roasting thing was getting a little old?). Keeping the onion and mushrooms in the pan (oh wait, these guys didn't get the garlic powder treatment, but I did add the dried basil, fresh basil, and parsley here, before doing the next step), add back the other veggies, the canned tomatoes, the fresh tomatoes, the tomato paste, the honey (if you want), and 1-2 cups of water (to your liking since it will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are -- the dry-farmed ones are sweet and flavorful, and not watery like typical salad tomatoes).

Stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Season as desired with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and simmer for 10 more minutes. You're done! I put it in the fridge after cooling since I was doing my lasagna assembly the next day.

Lasagna assembly:

Ingredients:

12 lasagna noodles (I used De Cecco, but usually use Barilla), uncooked
2 cups organic lowfat cottage cheese (one container)
1 lb. grated mozarella
nearly all of the sauce above

Heat oven to 375 degrees. (I reheated my sauce on the stove, thinking it would help the noodles cook faster. Also, I added 1-2 cups more water because the sauce was looking too thick.) In a 9x13 dish (mine was glass and slightly bigger by a half-inch on both sides), put a little bit of the sauce. Lay down four noodles, put down half of the cottage cheese on top -- in blobs, about a third of the sauce, and then a third of the mozarella. Another four noodles, the rest of the cottage cheese, a third of the sauce, and then a third of the mozarella. The last four noodles, followed by the sauce and the mozarella (I omitted the parmesan because I forgot to buy it!).

Place in oven, loosely covered with foil, for 40 minutes. Then, remove the foil, raise the temperature to 425 degrees, and bake for another 10 minutes. It should brown nicely on top and be bubbly throughout (I had to turn mine around because the front wasn't bubbling -- oven cooler in the front). Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing and enjoying!

The assembly is fun if you do all the hard work, meaning, the sauce, the day before.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Free skeleton cut-out

I thought I'd share with you a fun project that is totally free and educational! I hope I'll have time later to flesh out the details for you, but here's a general overview. You can probably figure it out. You'll need a scanner/printer, hole punch, brass fasteners, glue or glue stick, scissors, and a large cereal box (I used the front and back of a Costco Cheerios box).

Step one:

Print out this skeleton cut-out:

http://www.benjerry.com/fun/halloween/assets/images/skeleton.gif

Step two:

You can stick with this size, though you'll end up with a smaller, 12-inch tall skeleton. Or, to get a nice, 24-inch tall one, you can cut out your needed pieces (I eliminated the bones holding ice cream) and print out, enlarging 200%. You will have to print out the skull/rib cage/pelvis twice (upper and lower) to get the entire length of it. The other pieces I scanned in 3"x4" or 3"x5" blocks (example, scanned an upper arm bone, a lower arm bone with hand, and knee caps together).

Step three:

Glue your pieces onto the cardboard cereal box and cut out.

Step four:

Punch out holes and insert brass fasteners.

Step five:

Play with your skeleton, learn about your skeleton (this link has a nicely-labeled skeleton: http://teachhealthk-12.uthscsa.edu/curriculum/bones/pa12pdf/1202A-all.pdf), and/or hang it up with a string or stick it onto the wall.

Hope to include some photos when Maylin begins work on it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blog revival starts now!

Well, hello, stranger! It's been a long time since I've blogged. Seems I've taken a long summer vacation off. But, I think it's time to come back now that things are starting to settle.

To recap the summer, I hosted two weeks of camp at my house for seven of Maylin's friends each time. We had a lot of fun learning Chinese songs, playing games, doing arts and crafts, running around outside at a nearby playground, cooking, and baking. The most popular activities included food -- making lemonade (in June), cutting and eating a pineapple (Mr. Pineapple, to be exact -- he got a haircut), making whole wheat waffles, and baking a whole wheat quickbread (gotta send out the recipe soon). The second week was a lot easier since I had a better rhythm, knew how long activities took and which activities were more successful, and had a better group dynamic and gender balance. I got rave reviews from the kids -- "best camp ever." I would still make changes if I continued this next summer -- fewer kids, shorter day. Instead of 9-4 pm, I'd end at 3 pm. Fewer kids because I want to get to know each child better. I'd also have more activities in the afternoon -- one craft, one cooking activity, and a playground trip wasn't enough. They enjoyed their free time, but I think, in retrospect, it was too much free time. I prefer to have a bit more control.

John took me to Hawaii for our real honeymoon and I took the kids to Seattle to visit my best friend (more later, and pics later, too -- just having problems with my external hard drive). Seattle pics are on my flickr site, actually.

Maylin and I started homeschooling in August. It's been fun, but a lot of work. Looking forward to sharing the details with you later. Our latest successes included counting by two's hopscotch-style in the house forwards and backwards up to 40 (we have a concrete floor and used the sidewalk chalk on it), coloring/cutting/pasting vital organs onto Maylin's traced body, and visiting the Bone Room in Albany yesterday to check out their various animal skeletons and insect specimens (which are the vertebrates?). Our favorite way to study math? On the couch, cuddling each other, and our workbooks and pencils. Stefan is pretty good with all of this. He's learning at the same time -- knows lots of his letters and numbers already. And he plays on his own so well. Perfect for homeschooling.

Maylin's also resumed her Chinese classes, started karate, and will be taking a chess class starting Friday. I'm also trying to get back into piano with her (she wrote her own song and I taught her how to play it!). That was a cool experience.

She also loves doing science experiments. For a few days, we were doing one a day, complete with written lab reports! I just love it when she says, "I love science!" or "I love math!"

Maylin writes, but I think I'm behind with grammar and phonics. MadLibs are really helpful, but I think I need to step back a little. I can't keep reminding her what an adjective is. She's got to learn it. I'll think of some fun way. Maybe we can stick the words on our bodies. I could be the noun, and she could look for adjectives to stick on herself, and then she could stand next to me in the correct position.

My precious morning hours are almost over. Time to bake bread for our charter school (supporting our homeschooling) potluck. Take care!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Emergency toy: stale cornmeal

When my concrete floor gets pretty dirty and I know I'm going to be vacuuming soon, and the kids are starting to melt down, it's time to haul out that stale cornmeal I've been saving for moments like these (stale cornmeal that I've been hiding from my husband because if he knew it was rancid, he'd toss it). I start out pretty conservatively, pouring about a cup into a broiler pan or a jellyroll pan (you can pretty much use any pan with a lip). The kids can draw pictures or abstract designs with their fingers. Stefan (almost 2 years) was proud of his curved lines. We reviewed his alphabet. Eventually, Stefan dumped the whole container out into the pan which meant it was faux beach time! Bring out the spoons and cups. Maylin and Stefan both had fun with this. Stefan then proceeded to empty the pan onto the floor. Game over! Time to vacuum!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lessons from camp

My first week of camp for primarily 6-7 year-olds was great! It looked like the kids had a really great time. And I learned so much! First, that it's a lot of hard work. Every night (around 10-12 pm) I spent probably a couple hours planning the following day (I did do some homework starting several months ago, but I had to make several adjustments due to group interests, group dynamics, etc.). I'd wake up around 6 am to shower, have a quickie breakfast of yogurt and maple syrup, and begin prepping activities and cleaning up the house. I wouldn't finish that until 9 am, when camp is supposed to begin. The kids would trickle in, so I couldn't do my originally scheduled activities...eventually, it became a free drawing time at our large, extended dining table until I had a critical mass. It was a good time for me to chat with the kids and get to know them better. Then, we'd have "couch time" (formerly known as "circle time") and sing a couple songs in Chinese (a greeting song and a washing hands song, for use before lunch). [These kids were really good singers! They loved learning the meaning of each word. This is an ideal age for teaching foreign language!] This would be followed by storytime (biggest hits: Traction Man by Mini Grey and What Time is It, Mr. Crocodile? by Judy Sierra). Depending on the energy (or appetite) at the time, we might play music games or have a snack of organic fruit and nuts. Afterwards, we'd usually go to the playground across the street and they would play on the monkey bars or climb the jungle gyms. One day, they flew the paper airplanes they had folded and decorated. Sometimes, we played circle games, did a relay race, or played a tag game. The kids also made several catapults out of Kapla blocks.

Depending on how much time we spent at the playground, we might do an art activity or go straight into lunch. After lunch, the kids had some free time to play with toys or ride our horse swing in the backyard. They learned how to take turns in a civil manner (each kid could stay on for a count to 50). If things started to sour, i.e. the energy wasn't positive anymore, we would go into another activity -- sometimes hip hop dance, sometimes another arts and crafts activity. Twice, the kids made fresh lemonade from the Meyer lemons they picked themselves, and they also helped make Belgian waffles, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and French chocolate cake, all from scratch. For many of them, it was the first time they were allowed to operate a mixer on their own. It was so exciting for them.

It was free time until their treats had baked and cooled a little (only a little!). Then it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. One afternoon treat they especially enjoyed was the fresh pineapple. I cut it in front of them and passed around the spiky trimmings for them to examine (and taste). I was lucky that the pineapple had reached the perfect ripeness that day. The kids just gobbled it up and asked for seconds and thirds.

I learned that there needs to be a nice balance between free time and structured time. Earlier in the week, I think I erred on too much structured time. I put pressure on myself to ensure that the kids were either learning or creating. I had forgotten that kids sometimes just need to play. Free time always had to be closely monitored because sometimes there were clashes -- the more dominant ones interacted negatively with the more sensitive ones which resulted in hurt feelings and sometimes tears. For example, a child may be excluded from a game or a child may not follow the game's rules and subsequently be spoken harshly to. I had to incorporate some activities for the kids to learn more about each other and how to really listen -- hopefully, resulting in some growth in the empathy department. In one activity, the kids paired up, spent some time getting to know each other better, and then introduced their partner with name, favorite color, favorite camp activity, and something they're proud of. In another activity, I paired up the children again, who took turns with the blindfold. Their partner had to guide them verbally through an "obstacle course" until they reached a posted U.S. map. The partner had to guide verbally again so that the child could "land"/adhere their self-decorated cut-out airplane to the map (and not "crash" in the water).

The last 10 minutes of camp, I was a little bit more lax with the free time monitoring since the children were playing their own made-up game in the backyard and looked like they were finally coming together as one cohesive team. I checked on them every couple of minutes while cleaning up our last activity, but still we had an incident. One child didn't follow the rules and was "punished" by two leaders of the game by having her pants pulled down. Fortunately, the poor child was not distraught in any way. But Maylin was. (The previous week, Maylin expressed her relief that she wouldn't have to return to traditional school and be a witness to children being bullied and humiliated. She herself was a frequent victim in preschool while we were in Paris. I didn't learn how frequent it was and how much it bothered her until her recent tearful confession.) My lesson learned is to never leave them unattended, even when it looks like things are going well with the children. Looks can be deceiving.

Another lesson learned is transitioning from one activity into another. When the kids are waiting for something to begin (and are getting antsy), it's best to keep them occupied and entertained. Two games that are perfect for this age are "I Spy" and "20 Questions." The adult can initiate it, and the children can finish it up on their own while the adult finishes setting up the next activity.

I also learned that it's time to stop playing a game of chance (in our case, homemade bingo) when the same person keeps winning time and again (even after switching cards). Everyone else gets pretty jealous (temporary tattoo and sticker prizes involved) and feels it is an unfair game. The last couple days of camp, I stopped giving out the tattoos and stickers altogether, and then energy was much better. Less focus on "stuff" is always good.

I learned which arts and crafts activities work better. Anything that doesn't require drawing is pretty safe. We had some tears when a child got frustrated with his own drawing. I could relate because Maylin was the same way. When a very visual child can see the end product in his/her head but cannot execute it, it can be very upsetting. I tried to teach the child to "practice" on a scrap sheet before drawing the final version. The most successful project was the paintings done with foam dot brushes. The children mixed their own colors of tempera paints and then used brushes of varying diameters and colors to make their paintings. Another favorite was the bleeding tissue paper watercolor paintings. Bleeding tissue paper is an excellent and inexpensive product that releases watercolor paint when water is brushed over it. Tear and place the pieces of tissue paper on the paper first for best results. One child had a really special painting that Maylin and I tried to recreate.

We also did v-fold pop-ups and tissue paper flower bouquets which had amazing results, but required more adult assistance. My least successful project was the bean mosaic on homemade salt dough. Some looked pretty cool with designs using red lentils, gray-green French lentils, and shiny black beans. The main problem was the salt in the dough. One child had cuts on his hands -- so you can imagine. "My hands hurt!" Kids shouldn't feel pain during a craft activity. Yikes.

For this particular group, the hip hop dance wasn't something that most of the kids wanted to do. They were actually pretty good, and I really had fun teaching the routine (half borrowed, half original). It's too bad we didn't get a chance to show off to the parents -- but we had early pick-ups, babysitter pick-ups, and late pick-ups. I have to let the parents know in advance next time if we're going to have a performance. I should have at least videotaped it.

My tag-teaming parent volunteers were great and I wouldn't have been able to do camp successfully without them. I think I still need to learn how to utilize them better. I need to learn how to delegate instead of trying to do everything myself.

Well, it's been a great learning experience, and I'm looking forward to my last week of camp which is in August. It'll be a new group of kids so I'll have new dynamics and personalities to work with. I like the challenge of adjusting to those dynamics and personalities, and energy levels at a given moment, and individual and group interests. Quite a juggling act but it energizes me! Though I planned so many activities, I think my best time was when I could just sit down and chat with the kids and make them laugh with my silliness.

Photos to come.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Camp Armitage day 1 and 2

The weather has been perfect for a kids' camp at our house. This is the first time I've done this -- pretty much a grand experiment of mine. I like working with kids, and there was definitely a need for a quality camp with varied activities. We have 7-8 kids (including Maylin) doing these day 1 and 2 activities: hip hop dance, singing, storytime, outdoor games at the playground across the street, trips to the park, baking (chocolate chip cookies so far), art projects (bean mosaic, bleeding tissue watercolor painting, clay, origami), indoor games (bingo), and face painting. I also prepare 2 snacks a day, with the kids bringing their own lunch. I have a parent helping at all times, so that's been really great. It's exhausting, but fun and challenging. I have to come up with some team-building activities now as personalities begin to clash and alliances begin to be formed. I need to do some homework tonight. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Still tweaking my chocolate chip cookies

I realize now that my recipes are not set in stone. They can always be improved upon. My soft whole wheat chocolate chip cookies were actually a bit gritty and hard. Now that I've substituted whole wheat pastry flour for regular whole wheat (and even white whole wheat flour), my world is a little brighter. What awesome stuff! It's the best healthy substitute for all-purpose flour. I've also changed the baking time and temperature to achieve the perfect look for my cookies. Still playing around with the amounts for vanilla and salt -- almost there!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Creature of habit/low-fat chocolate cake recipe

Darn! I just said I should ease up on the baking, but I can't help it -- I gave in and baked something sweet. But here's the compromise -- it was LOW-FAT chocolate cake. And it was a really small cake. Teeny-tiny. You'd probably have to triple it to fill an 8-in. square pan. The cake was delicious, moist, and perfectly chocolate-y -- and guess what? No butter, no oil, no shortening. The secret? Chopped dates! Here's the recipe if you want it. Great for that chocolate craving without going overboard. I put my batter in an 8 in. square pan to save time (no time to grease 12 tiny cupcake receptacles). The cake was really flat, but since I was just doing it for us, it didn't matter. I'll triple it for friends and extended family.

Loving life

Hey, everybody. I actually have a few free moments to just sit and think. Things have been going great. We're all looking forward to summer vacation, especially Maylin. She cried last night, not wanting to go to school today. She had a tummyache, too. We are both affected physically by stress. I explained to her that it was normal and gave her all my symptoms of stress -- nausea, slight temperature, gastrointestinal problems, etc. Fortunately, by morning, she was not as bothered and I was able to get her to school. I wanted to stay for their school's assembly, thinking that we'd be able to catch the children's book author visit (but I heard it was later in the morning, not opportune for me), and ended up leaving early because Maylin didn't want me to stay. I might have mentioned this before. She usually doesn't want me to stay in the mornings to read with her in class like some of the other parents do because she's afraid she's going to get really upset later, not wanting me to go at all. Maylin's very much attached to me and is very clear about it.

Remember all the bread-baking I was doing -- all those sweets I was making? I really need to slow it down. You know that phrase, "You are what you eat"? Well, there's a wad of dough kind of hanging down the front of my mid-section. It's time for it to go. John has been very good and has been willing to watch the kids four times a week while I go to my hip hop classes. The exercise is covered, but my tummy is not easily satiated these days -- it's used to the onslaught of regular treats. I'm trying not to suffer through carb withdrawal -- I permitted myself some low carb toast, brown rice, and today -- uh hem, two pieces of Valrohna chocolate. The nutrition fact label said one piece was worth 240 calories! Ouch! I had to read it more carefully. It turns out each square was actually worth about 75 calories. Their one "piece" serving size was pretty hefty.

Gotta go pick up Maylin (and wake up Stefan from his nap -- darn!). This won't be a problem next year since we're homeschooling!!!

See ya!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Maylin loses two front teeth


Last week, Maylin lost her two front teeth and we started homeschooling unofficially! We had a meeting with our education coordinator (EC) at the charter school where she is enrolled in the fall and it was so great! It was like Christmas! We got to take home tons of resources -- textbooks, workbooks, math manipulatives, dominoes, and even a how-to pop-up greeting card book to borrow. And our EC totally thinks like me! It's bizarre! When I asked a question, she often had the perfect answer or solution. Oh, and I got to take home a cursive handwriting workbook for Maylin, which is normally for third graders, but I knew she'd be so into it. She's completed about 20 pages by now! She loves it!

Tonight, after we read our books in bed, she complained about a tummy ache. This time, she knew why. She didn't want to go back to school, and it hurt her tummy thinking about it. Then she asked how many days of school were left. I told her 14 days. She was excited and relieved at that point and said her tummy instantly felt better. Phew!

Here's a couple photos I took today. She did a really cool "sculpture" in the carport with some nature items from the front yard.

Caroline paints again!



My daughter's school is having a silent auction this weekend. I'm donating two paintings which I completed today! "Four Penguins" was done during Stefan's nap, so you can tell I had more time to think about it. "Butterfly on Red" was kind of thrown together while Stefan was awake and a bit grumpy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Delicious coffee cake recipe

A friend has requested that I share a cinnamon coffee cake recipe. This is a light and soft, finely-textured cake with a cinnamon-sugar-nut topping. With a light lemon flavor. I've never had trouble executing this recipe. Some coffee cakes are heavy on the baking soda -- and you can still smell and taste it! Ick! This one never has that problem. Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

Ingredients

8 tablespoons (1 stick) of softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (creme fraiche is even better -- easily found at Trader Joe's)
1 1/4 cups cake flour (finer than all purpose)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (microplaners do the best work on lemons -- avoid the white part of the rind)

Topping

1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and lightly flour an 8-inch square pan (but I think I've always used a 9-inch round pan). With an electric mixer, mix butter, sugar, eggs, and sour cream/creme fraiche in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dry to wet, add lemon zest, and beat until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle over the surface of the cake. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve from the pan while warm. Yum!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Blackhawk Automotive Museum






We took the family here last month, along with the wonderful friend who remodeled our kitchen. Maylin took three of these photos. Which ones??? By the way, this was the site of one of John and my first dates. Yes, we love cars...

Kidcraft: coloring Easter eggs



Last month, we colored our eggs at home for the first time. It's actually quite easy and you get beautiful results! No need to buy those kits from the supermarket. If you already have food coloring and vinegar on hand, you're good to go.

Put 20 drops of food coloring into an old jam jar or coffee mug. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 cup of room temperature water. Mix. Gently plop in your hard-boiled egg into the container. Leave in container until they reach the desired saturation. You'll have to check periodically by scooping the egg out with a spoon. Place back in egg carton to dry.

For the cool stripes, wrap a jumbo rubberband around the center of the egg before coloring. Remove rubberband after immersion.

Stefan wasn't interested in the activity, but we had a two year-old who was into it. His mom did most of the work, but I think he felt involved. This activity is probably best for ages 3 and up. Maylin, a six year-old, loved it and couldn't stop coloring eggs. You probably should have a dozen eggs per child on hand. Sounds like a lot, but really, this is quite addicting!

Field trip to the Little Farm at Tilden Park, Berkeley




The first graders at Maylin's school took a field trip to one of Berkeley's treasures -- the Little Farm at Tilden Park. Not many cities can brag about a farm within the city limits where kids can actually get up close and feed the animals! Stefan and I arrived before the schoolchildren and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the piglets nursing!

Photos taken April 17, 2009.

Friday, May 01, 2009

My new soft chocolate chip cookie recipe (whole wheat)

This is my healthier version of the soft chocolate chip cookie. Tweaked King Arthur Flour's whole grain recipe for soft chocolate chip cookies.

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Cream (mix) together:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup of brown sugar (not packed)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar

Add and mix:
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In separate bowl, whisk together:
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups whole wheat flour

Add dry to wet and mix.

Stir in 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips.

Place parchment paper on cookie sheet. Using a cookie scoop (I had to use a one-tablespoon one because that's all I have), stack two scoops on top of each other. Use wet fingertips to flatten dough stacks into 1/3 inch-high discs and to smooth the edges (this step will give your cookies a smooth, uniform look).

Bake for 9-11 minutes -- just until a few cookies start to slightly brown on the edges. Don't overbake or these babies will be probably as hard as a rock.

Let cool on sheet for a couple minutes. Remove to cool on a rack. When completely cool, immediately store in airtight container. Do not eat these cookies right out of the oven. For some reason, the chocolate chips didn't taste right melted in this particular cookie (and King Arthur Flour's version as well). Not sure why, but they taste great after cooling and storage for a couple hours.

Maylin's hiphop class loved these, but then, they have loved all my cookies so far.
Cookie #1: soft snickerdoodles
Cookie #2: grammy's chocolate cookies (from Martha Stewart's cookie book -- I've hijacked this from the library, I mean, I've renewed it about three times)
Cookie #3: soft chocolate chip (whole wheat)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conducting duck


Mama Duck attempts to conduct Beethoven's Ninth backwards. Her babies are confused. Photo taken early April in Blackhawk, California.

Little Red Riding Hood


Stefan plays the role of Little Red Riding Hood on the patio of a Mexican restaurant in Blackhawk, before a visit to the car museum in early April.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beautiful music, part II



If I could play as well as Julia Fischer, I would play this Sarabande by Bach this way. Why can't we get more of this honest, unpretentious playing from other celebrated musicians?

Beautiful music, part I



I'd like to start sharing music with you on my blog, alongside everything else. If I can get my act together, I'll record something for you, my own singing, maybe an original composition...hmmm...but for now, here's a gorgeous piece by Antonio Vivaldi, sung exquisitely by Cecilia Bartoli. Here's the translation thanks to Wikipedia:

Sposa son disprezzata (in Italian)

I am wife and I am scorned,
I am faithful and I'm outraged.
Heavens, what have I done?
And yet he is my heart,
my husband, my love,
my hope.

I love him, but he is unfaithful,
I hope, but he is cruel,
will he let me die?
O God, valor is missing -
valor and constancy.

Everything from scratch

Well, almost everything. I am weaning myself from as many processed food items as possible. I don't buy cookies anymore. I bake them all myself from scratch. I try to avoid buying bread -- I can bake it myself. Pizza? I'm doing it on my own now, sauce and dough. Ice cream? Homemade. Oh yeah, it's a lot of work (mostly planning), but it's worth it. I like being self-sufficient, and I also like knowing exactly what I'm ingesting. I hate looking at the ingredients on a package of cookies or crackers and finding things I don't recognize and things that I do that I know are bad for you. No more transfats! I don't bake with shortening anymore (there's a load of transfats right there). Of course, I'm still going to buy an occasional package of hot dogs for the kids (but no nitrites or nitrates!) and some frozen potstickers -- although I'm feeling much more comfortable making my own now. I just have to learn how to make my own wrappers -- which I hear is simple but seems really time-consuming.

Life is very food-oriented these days. I have to really be organized to make sure I've got about two loaves of healthy bread baked a week, homemade cookies for Maylin's hip hop class snack, and meals made of mainly whole foods. It might be interesting to find out if I'm saving money going this route. I'm definitely saving money in the bread category. I always feel like the supermarkets are robbing me when it comes to bread. Come on -- over $4 for a little loaf of whole grain bread? And I know it's $2 wholesale. And it's even cheaper when I make it at home.

Okay, gotta check on the bread. See ya. Eat well. Take care of that body. Everything hinges on your health.

Am I still here?

Oops, blogging went by the wayside. I am exhausted right now, but just wanted to say that all is well over here. We did have a bout of the stomach flu last weekend but we got over it just fine.

I have a beautiful new kitchen now. Designed by John, executed by his best friend from Ohio. I'll post pics when I get it cleaned up again.

Stefan is an amazing child. Still very loving, sociable, giving. Seems to have a gift for music -- he can sing the first four notes of our clean-up song that we learned in Chinese class ("dah-dah-dah-dah"). Did I mention I've been taking Chinese with Stefan? It's been an excellent review for me. I've never used so much Chinese since age five! And whenever we sing the clean-up song, Stefan actually cleans up! John says that that song alone is worth the class fee.

Stefan is also very much an intellectual. Loves numbers and letters, and can identify so many things! He knows most of his animals, including giraffes, zebras, and flamingos. He still can't actually say the words, but when we ask him to find the pictures in the book, there his little index finger goes.

He's a boy, so he's also into cars, trucks, trains, planes, fire engines, construction equipment. Can all boys at the age of 19 and a half months identify a forklift?

Maylin had been really focused on her artwork, but now, she's a bit more balanced. She's doing great at ballet -- a real natural. And exquisitely beautiful, perfect lean body, long legs. For those of you who know ballet-speak, she was able to do a passe in releve with her arms over her head. Unbelievable! Without really being taught. It was just demonstrated to her. She also just started taking hip hop classes and is great at that as well. I was quite a good dancer as a young girl -- it's neat to see that that part of me is in her.

Maylin's also taking Chinese (over a year?) -- and I've actually heard her speak to her teacher in Chinese. Wow.

This summer, she'll be doing soccer, swimming, ceramics, and Camp Armitage! What's Camp Armitage, you say? Well, it's this little (rather, big) idea that I had in October or November of last year. At the time, I was having fun teaching different subjects to Maylin's classmates. Wouldn't it be great to teach these kids out of my home whatever I wanted? My interests and talents are diverse -- if I taught different things, I wouldn't get bored. So, I sent out an e-mail to parents of Maylin's friends to see if this idea was worth pursuing. There was a resounding "yes," and within a week, I had fourteen kids signed up for camp, for two separate week-long sessions. I offered to teach some French, Chinese, singing, piano, science, arts/crafts, cooking, and baking. Did I miss anything?

You might be thinking that I'm nuts to have eight kids (including Maylin) taking over my house for five days in a row, 9-4 pm. I actually think it'll be great fun, and I've got parent volunteers and my sister-in-law to help, so I think everything should be under control. I've promised several people that I would blog my adventure, so check in here once in awhile.

I've received my first registration form and check, so that's exciting! I haven't worked out all the expenses, but I should be able to at least break even. The other exciting thing is that I'm designing a camp t-shirt for the kids so I can spot them quickly if we go to a crowded park.

I am seriously into baking now. I've got two whole wheat loaves in the oven at the moment. I have a lot to learn before I teach the kids how to do it. I'm pretty good at the cookies although I'm trying to find out how to make my cookies consistent visually from batch to batch. Two batches ago, my molasses spice cookies were delicious and a beautiful dark brown. This last batch, they were delicious, but a not too appealing lighter brown. I'm scratching my head on this one. I've also been making my own pizzas, including the dough. Trying to perfect that. Sometimes my crust is like a cracker. I want a soft crust on the edges, but crispy on the bottom. I just ordered a baking stone, so that might help solve a part of the problem.

I recently got this crazy idea of doing some cooking shows for kids -- for TV, or youTube. John thinks I'm nuts, but I think it'd be so cool!!!

Last thing, I'm also into making ice cream. It's my latest project. In the last week, I've made two ice creams. My lemon one was pretty good, and my strawberry has an awesome flavor but leaves a sticky residue on the spoon. I'm pretty sure I overcooked my custard, but does that have anything to do with the residue?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First flourless chocolate cake a success!

Delicious, beautiful, and pretty easy! Try this recipe from Martha Stewart.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Maylin models my t-shirt design



I am proud to say that Maylin's favorite t-shirt to wear is designed by me! This was designed in November 2008, produced in December 2008, for the Berkeley YMCA.

I almost forgot to mention that Maylin has actually been borrowing clothes from me. 3/4-length sleeves for me are full-length for her. Can you believe it? Six years-old and she's already in my wardrobe! At this rate, she'll be outgrowing my clothes by age ten!

My boy at 18 1/2 months



Stefan can occupy himself quite nicely with a box of cars or even some books. Sometimes, when it seems too quiet, I'll ask Maylin where Stefan is. She'll reply, "He's reading in my room," and there he'll be...just sitting quietly next to the bookshelf with a book in his lap, looking at the pictures and delicately turning the pages with his beautiful, tapered fingers. Though he's not speaking very much (animal sounds are the preferred utterances at this point like "moo" and "rahrr"), he seems to be building quite a vocabulary as demonstrated by his ability to point to pictures of things that we ask him to locate. It always surprises me how quickly he picks up new words. Since last month, he's shown a growing interest in letters and numbers. He'll probably start reading early.

Stefan's still very loving. We were lying on the bed next to each other, with my face next to his. His arm was around my neck -- he kept pulling my face closer to his, encouraging a kiss onto his cheek. I don't remember how many times he repeated this action, but I was very happy to give him so many kisses.

He's also still very social and giving. He will often offer perfect strangers a beloved Hot Wheels or a dump truck or a train, and will not expect it back!

Nursing is pretty funny. I think I'd like to wean him around 2 years, but I'll play it by ear. It seems his desire to nurse has been ramping up. I love how he usually shows it. He'll come up to hug me and then try to lay down in my lap. How can I say "no"?

Perfect chocolate chip cookies, at last! (edited 3/26)


It's been almost two weeks of non-stop chocolate chip cookie baking at this house, despite the lack of a real oven (I've been using a toaster oven with a convection option.) And I've got the belly to prove it!

Ever since a friend baked some excellent chocolate chip cookies for me (a nutty, cakey version), I've been on the quest to find the perfect, classic chocolate chip cookie. Everyone's got their own opinion on what's perfect and what's classic. My take on perfection for a classic chocolate chip cookie is not the Tollhouse version which is more of a crispy cookie through and through. Soft and cakey is sometimes nice (which many people like -- check out the one from the Best Recipe cookbook put out by the Cook's Illustrated magazine), but it wasn't what I was looking for this time. Chewy towards the middle, crispy towards the edges. There has to be some give when you bite into it, so not too soft unless it's right out of the oven. Also, visually, I wanted a cookie that didn't thin out towards the edges, with just the right amount of spread. Lastly, I wanted a semi-healthy cookie -- meaning a need for some whole wheat flour.

After trying four "classic" recipes, I have settled on a slightly altered version of the famous Neiman Marcus cookie. There's some urban legend that accompanies it, but I won't bore you with it here (you can google it if you like). There are several different versions online of the famous cookie recipe, but the one I used is directly from the Neiman Marcus website.

I didn't really change it too much. Just substituted 3/4 cup whole wheat flour for 3/4 cup all purpose flour and ommitted the espresso powder because I didn't have it. Be sure not to overbake. My little convection oven cut the baking time by more than half. 9 minutes instead of 20 minutes.

I believe the cookies don't overspread because they're baked at a lower temperature than in most other recipes. 300 degrees vs. 350 or 375 degrees is a big difference. It gives the cookie time to spread evenly (middle and edge at almost same rate).

Try the unaltered recipe. It's really great, too. It'd also be more convenient for those of you who don't have whole wheat flour on hand but REALLY NEED to make chocolate chip cookies RIGHT AWAY. Enjoy!

By the way, I used a one-tablespoon cookie scoop (the recipe specifies two tablespoons). Makes it really quick. Be sure to flatten them down to about a 1/3-inch high disk. I do that by hand, and touch up the rough edges with my fingers as well. These little cookies are quite cute and are great when you're concerned about portion control. If you want gorgeous, pro-sized cookies, stack three tablespoon scoops on top of each other and squash them down to a 3-inch diameter disk. Beautiful. Bake-sale or bakery-worthy.

[Addendum:
Well, the next day, the larger cookies held up better than the 1-tablespoon little guys. The small cookies came out kind of hard after storage in a cookie tin. The 2-tablespoon and 3-tablespoon cookies were nice and soft still. Just be sure to not overbake. Just when the bottom edge starts to turn brown on some of the cookies, it's time to take them out! By the way, my friend Meg recommends using whole wheat pastry flour. I will definitely give that a try. Just bought some today!]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My little science secret

It's no longer a secret! Here are some great links to fun science projects you can do with your kids -- classroom and at home. Have a great time learning science!

http://exploratorium.edu/snacks/index.html

http://exploratorium.edu/afterschool/activities/index.php

Where does all the time go?

We are in the middle of our kitchen renovation and it seems housekeeping duties triple as a result. More dust, washing dishes by hand (wow, it takes forever! I remember I used to enjoy it the slow way), creative cooking without my range (saved by slow cooker, rice cooker, and toaster oven)...Stefan's also not making it easier. At eighteen months, he's decided that it's fun to dump his drink (and his glass afterwards) onto the floor. I scold him and he just smiles and says "sorry" in his own irresistible way -- by hugging my leg. Geesh, I can't stay mad for long.

I am loving my toaster oven (which doubles as a convection oven). I've made three or four batches of different chocolate chip cookie recipes already! After a few more recipes, I'll share with you my fool-proof favorites.

Oops, gotta go. More later.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Free online 3-D anatomical model of the human body!

One of Maylin's favorite activities to do with Mommy is to color in her anatomy coloring book (when I locate it, I'll give you the exact title -- it's actually used as a text in many educational settings). And boy, do we love the digestive system! I was looking online for a plastic anatomical model to buy if reasonably priced, but the only affordable ones were tiny! Not for little kid fingers! I mean, who wants to take out a stomach that's the size of a fingernail? Not me and not any other kid either. :)

I happened across this fabulous free resource online. Check out www.visiblebody.com. Watch the demo and you'll see how fantastic it is. You can study the all aspects of the human body in 3-D! I just started playing around with it and was able to isolate just the skeleton and digestive system. You can make organs disappear and reappear, you can rotate the figure in all directions, you can zoom in and out...it's great fun. Can't wait to show Maylin.

Be sure to download the plug-in after you activate your account and click the "launch" button otherwise, you'll see nada.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Back into the ballet slippers

Maylin's into her second session of ballet at her new dance school. She had a great time the last session, but now, she's beginning to say she doesn't want to do it anymore (she said the same for swimming and now we're taking a break until summer). She says her legs hurt during class, and I tried telling her that that means her legs are getting stronger, that it's a part of getting better at ballet. I told her that I took ballet as a little girl as well and she seemed very interested. I thought maybe I could revive her enthusiasm for this art form if I had her watch me take a ballet class. Maylin thought it was a great idea.

So two days after her complaint, she accompanied me to my class. We walked hand in hand and talked and laughed together as we approached the school. I got into my leotard, tights, skirt, and tight ballet slippers (my wide feet were not made for the slippers I had on) and entered the very full class. Maylin watched from a window in the hallway. I knew I'd probably do okay with the barre work, as long as I had someone good to follow. So, I was pretty decent on right side because the woman to the right was a regular, but I was a little embarrassing on the other side because the woman to the left was new like me (but had LOTS more ballet experience). In fact, everyone had LOTS more ballet experience. It really showed when we went to the center of the floor to do some short routines. I never mastered the pirouette before and it showed. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one having trouble with pirouettes, but I was the only one who was seeing some of these steps (rather standard, I believe) for the first time. I was feeling way out of my league.

The teacher was very kind and offered to get me caught up if I came every week, but I don't see myself doing that. Maybe if I didn't have a family that I want to spend time with...to make waffles, pancakes, muffins, or crepes for.

So let's see if Maylin complains again this week about ballet or finds that she's been inspired to continue. Let's hope it's the latter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sans oven

My oven died this week, just when I was ramping up my baking! Also, I had just checked out two bread-baking books, and purchased one from amazon.com. I am suffering from home-baked goods withdrawal...fortunately, we're redoing our kitchen pretty soon and I'll have a brand-new oven to use in April!

I had a mental breakdown last Friday. Over the last week, I started getting more and more depressed. I didn't figure it out until I finally gave myself a break by ignoring my family and holing myself up in my room for hours knitting. (Don't worry, John was watching the kids.) Stefan lost his precious second nap, which meant I lost two hours of free time to myself. Time during his first nap was going to cleaning the house. Now, I figured it out -- just let the house get dirty and keep my sanity!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Down and dirty

One of my favorite photos of Stefan. He's too pretty to be a boy! Taken in October.

Best Belgian waffle recipe

Months ago, I kidnapped my mom's seriously underused Waring Pro Belgian waffle maker and had been on the quest for the perfect waffle -- moist interior, crisp exterior, and a little healthy, too. Recipes from my cookbooks took a lot of work and though sometimes crisp, were quite dry inside if not eaten immediately. I have adapted this recipe from one I found on the internet here. (These waffles make a great snack later in the day, especially when toting children around to museums and zoos.

Makes 4-5 large Belgian waffles (I often double this recipe for leftovers)

Ingredients

DRY
1 cup white, unbleached flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flaxseed meal (if not available, then add 1/4 cup canola oil to wet ingredients)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

WET
2 eggs slightly beaten
1 cup milk (reduced or whole)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick of butter, melted

Sift together dry ingredients in large bowl with whisk. In another bowl, whisk together wet. Gently mix wet and dry until dry is just incorporated. Use 3/4 cup of batter per waffle in machine. I use the 5 or 5 1/2 setting. Using chopsticks is a great way to safely remove your waffle from the machine without scratching it. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven if not serving immediately. I often put them on a cooling rack so they don't get soggy on a plate. They taste wonderful later in the day after a toasting in the toaster oven. I often serve with maple syrup or blueberry preserves (Trader Joe's Fresh Blueberry Preserves are my favorite now).

My Paris baby growing up

Here's a favorite photo of mine of Maylin taken in October, a couple of weeks before her sixth birthday. This morning as I was about to awaken Maylin for school, I marveled at her size and beauty and lamented (just a little bit) the loss of the baby she once was.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quick whole wheat bread (no yeast, no kneading)

The price of my favorite daily loaf is forcing me to bake my own. And I've been doing it for three days straight without kneading and without waiting for dough to rise. My entire family loves it, too. Impossible, you say? This is a recipe adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe for quick whole wheat and molasses bread. I found his quick bread delicious, but a little strong flavor-wise (too much molasses). I substituted half of the molasses with honey and it improved quite a bit. If you don't like molasses at all, substitute the entire amount of molasses with honey. Works just fine. If you leave out the cornmeal, it should be just fine, too. This bread is a little on the sweet side. If you want, you can probably cut the honey in half. Here's my version:

Quick, Easy, and Delicious Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients

DRY:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

WET:
1/2 cup honey
1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt

Directions

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8x4 inch nonstick loaf pan with oil or butter.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients. Stir the honey into the buttermilk or yogurt in a separate bowl. Combine wet with dry ingredients. Pour into pan. Bake for 45 min. to an hour, or until a chopstick inserted into center comes out clean (when you can smell your bread, it's time to test it). Tastes wonderful with cream cheese.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

They amaze me everyday

My kids! What wonderful treasures they are! I have been enjoying them so much. Maylin continues to make beautiful artwork and her reading skills seem to have skyrocketed after the winter break. How did she learn so many words??? She read at an average level before, but now...she's just breezing through so many books! Reading isn't frustrating for her anymore. She really enjoys it! We have been continuing the Hooked on Phonics at home, and she says they haven't really done much reading at school, but I think all the writing she's been doing at school and at home have really helped. Also, perhaps all the time I spend reading to her. We're finally done with all of the Captain Underpants chapter books (lots of bathroom humor-type stuff) and we're now starting into the Chronicles of Narnia, to my relief. Maylin looks forward to it every night.

She also requests that I make her worksheets to do -- math, reading, spelling, telling time, sequence of events...and I'm so glad she doesn't get upset or frustrated when I correct her. What a great student she is. One especially fun activity for her has been M&M math where we use M&Ms to learn addition and subtraction. She gets to eat her manipulatives afterwards!

I want to write about Stefan, but I've got to go. Little free time these days!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Calling all instrumentalists!

Hey! My brother just e-mailed me this link to a competition to participate in the first YouTube Symphony which will perform in Carnegie Hall! I have not read all the details yet, but I do know that we have to submit a video of a recommended piece by January 28. I'll be auditioning the last movement of Bach's Solo Sonata No. 1 in g minor for violin -- but I have to learn it first! Think I can do it???

Here's the link if you're interested:
http://www.youtube.com/symphony
Good luck, everyone!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stefan as Pooh bear


Halloween 2008. Stefan is in Maylin's classroom before the Halloween Parade around the block. All the kids want to squeeze him because he's all puffy and cute in his fat Winnie-the-Pooh suit.

My happy, goofy bunch


I took this photo on Christmas Eve. Stefan had his near-mullet (long hair in the back), Maylin's smushing her face against her daddy, and John with his unshaven, vacation face. They're so happy together! We love our family!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Evil gingerbread man


Almost two weeks into the new year! Hope everyone had a great holiday. We had a relaxing one. Spent a week with Grandma and Grandpa, and a week on our own in Berkeley. It really felt like a vacation! This is the second year of Christmas cooking making in our household. The spritz cookies were beautiful and delicious (Maylin LOVED using the cookie press and sprinkling sugar and candy sprinkles over the treats), and this year, I didn't forget to put the all-important GINGER in the GINGERbread men! I even iced them this year and had a blast decorating. I didn't know icing was so easy to make. Just add enough water to powdered sugar to get the right consistency for easy manipulation (not too drippy, not too pasty). I used the tip of a chopstick(!) for icing maneuvering. So here's evil gingerbread man, kidnapping two gummi bears.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tell me if I'm crazy

It's just after 8:00 pm and I just finished playing the first movement of a Bach partita on the piano. John gave the kids a bath and I enjoyed these free moments for some quiet music-making. The piece is very beautiful and relaxing, and I'm discovering, is more complicated than it looks. It's a two-voice piece at first glance, but when you listen to the line in the right hand, you'll hear another voice wanting to come out. None of my piano teachers ever taught me how to make these voices distinct from one another, but from listening to CDs of other pieces, I've figured it out on my own. It's very exciting to discover these hidden treasures buried in these pages of black dots and lines.

In my free time (rare as it is), you'll find me playing piano or violin these days. I'm afraid knitting has been put aside for the moment (the weather's getting warmer already). I would have a lot more free time if I didn't end up volunteering for lots of things and coming up with crazy ideas. Tell me if I'm loony to take all this on:

- Volunteered to teach two choir classes (kindergarten and first grade) after school starting in February
- Continuing to teach science to Maylin's class
- Volunteered to co-chair a large all-school cultural event (includes making school presentations, making flyers, organizing volunteers, etc.)
- Volunteered to start a brand-new newsletter for Maylin's school
- Idea: film a documentary; possible partner is mulling over my proposed topic now
- Idea: host a one-week music, art, and drama camp at my home over the summer

Friday, January 09, 2009

Horse-swing: father/daughter project


I wish I had a "before" shot of this horse. It was a faded, plastic, discarded, broken rocking horse. John found it on the street somewhere, rescued it, bought some paint, and painted it with Maylin one weekend in November. Maylin has named it "Chocolate" and we all think she's beautiful. Hung with some chain purchased from the hardware store, it's now a great swing in the backyard.

Maylin is a pirate!


I finally took out my sewing machine after about five years! Maylin and I made a simple bandana by taking a square of cool pirate fabric and hemming the edges. Serves as a dinner napkin or pirate headwrap! Ahoy, matie!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Maylin and Leo wish you a Happy New Year!


This photo was taken a couple days after Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa's. Maylin chose this one of her to share with all of you.

Maylin's photo of Mommy and Daddy


Maylin took this photo of John and me outside of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco last weekend. She did a great job!

Stefan's picture perfect



I caught Stefan in a great mood this morning. I got more smiles by saying, "Winnie the Pooh," in a funny voice. Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Super slaw!

I tasted this twice at a friend's house and made it twice on my own. Always slightly different, but always incredibly delicious. Don't be afraid of the peanut butter. This slaw is Asian-inspired and mayo-less. It's the perfect balance of sweet and salty, nutty and tangy. Click here for the recipe.