Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Parenting Lessons from Children's Books: Charlotte's Web

Pinned Image

illustration by Garth Williams

I want to be a mother like Charlotte A. Cavatica.  A strong theme in Charlotte's Web is said to be the power of friendship, but I think that more than a friend, Charlotte was a surrogate mother to Wilbur.  She comforted him, sang him to sleep, she never spoke down to him, and most importantly, she was his advocate to the world. 

One of the most vulnerable animals on the Zuckerman farm, Wilbur learned of his fate with great horror.  Charlotte promised she would do everything in her power to save him from the smokehouse, and she never    She advised him "... try to build yourself up.  I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying.  Never hurry and never worry! Keep fit, and don't lose your nerve."  Later, it was Charlotte behind the scenes who helped the world see what was special in something as common as a runt pig.  Don't you want to the world to see your "some" kid,  who is "terrific," "radiant," and "humble" too?   If I have to stay up all night spinning elaborate webs to advocate for my kids, I'll do it- and I know you will too.  

I feel like I could write for days on why this spider inspires me as a mother.  She is honest, fiercely loving, wise, and she uses big words without apologizing.   What it comes down to in the end is that most of all, I hope that my sons will say about me, as Wilbur said of Charlotte "I owe my very life to her.  So was brilliant, beautiful and loyal to the end." 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cooking with Kids: Irish Stew

I love a good soup or stew.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, it's soup or stew weather 8 months out of the year, it seems. Pair it with a great bread, and I am a happy woman.   My family tested this recipe last the month and loved it.  It is so easy, and it is nice to have dinner prepped and baking, making the house smell delicious all afternoon. It's a great cold-weather dinner, an especially timely this weekend.   Preparing it on a counter makes this a great project for cooking with your kids.  

1.5 lbs sliced beef for stew meat
2 cups chopped carrots
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 potatoes, quartered (these can be peeled- but I like potato skins)
2 green onions, sliced to about 1-inch segments
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Add sliced beef to the bottom layer of a heavy, oven safe pot or dutch oven with lid.  .  Season with salt and pepper.  Layer vegetables, finishing with potatoes on top.   Pour stock and water, then sprinkle green onions over the top.  Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.   Place lid on top and transfer to the oven where it will cook for two hours.  

Serve with soda bread, or your family's favorite. Our go-to bread is this one.

Kids Can:  
Layer Vegetables
Pour stock
Add Seasoning

Parents should: 
Handle beef pieces
Chop veggies
Cook on stove and transfer to oven

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  Don't get pinched! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Parenting Lessons from Children's Books: The Cat in the Hat

illustration by Dr. Seuss

In Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, the cat sweeps in with intentions of fun, and ends up making a mess of things.  When I read the book with this series in mind, The Cat's balancing act made an impression. He brags:  

"I can hold up the cup, 
and the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship
And a little toy man! 
And look! With my tail, 
I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan
As I hop on the ball!
But that is not all.
Oh, no. 
That is not all..." 

Parents are always trying to find the elusive balance.  Time with kids battles with time for self.  Outside obligations battle family togetherness. Convenience battles nutrition, we battle ourselves as we compare our shortcomings with others-  but that is not all. Oh no, that IS NOT ALL.  Soon, we find ourselves carrying as many things as the Cat, (and if you're like me, some of it is  just for show), balanced precariously on the ball, and we meet the same fate the cat did.  We crash, and things become a mess. 

We watched a very good production of The Cat in the Hat on Netflix.  One part that was very well done is this balancing act. Having done some theater, and my husband and I were impressed with the way it was staged, and curious about the technical aspects of connecting the props. However, those props- the rakes, the book, the cake, the ball- were all crafted to work together and balance properly so that the actor could support them and perform to the best of his ability.  How many of the things you are balancing are crafted to fit together, and how many are just for show?   Can you really maintain your balance while carrying so many things, or can some be eliminated?  And why are you balancing them in the first place?  

Dallin H. Oaks said "We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is no a sufficient reason for doing it.  The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them.  Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority in our lives."    In other words, do you need to fan with the fan as you hop on the ball?  Would it be better to hold the one most important thing, very firmly in both hands so that we know it won't be dropped? 

Some things cannot be put down immediately, but maybe someone else is just as capable of holding it as you are.  Maybe it doesn't need to be held at all.   By prioritizing the things we hold, maybe we will come closer to that magical place of balance and equilibrium, and we won't have to put on a show for anyone.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cook With Your Kids: Chocolates

There are have been a lot of apology letters written by A this week.  So many that he has memorized how to write "I AM SORRY."  This last offense needed a little more behind the apology, so he helped me make some chocolates.  This can be an easy project for kids to do with a little help. 

You will need:
silicone chocolate molds
Candy melts
glass that can handle hot water
condiment bottle 
knife, hand towel and toothpick (not pictured)

Start by heating water while you chop the candy melts.  Smaller pieces help them to melt faster with less chunks unmelted, and help to fit more in your squeeze bottle.  Fill the bottle and put the lid on, the place the bottle inside the glass.

Pour hot (not boiling) water into the glass and let it sit.  Every few minutes, take out the bottle and after drying it, squeeze the bottle to blend the chocolates.  This may need to be repeated  a few times to get all the pieces melted.  This is a great place for kids to help, but make sure you dry the bottle and check the temperature first. 

Squeeze the melted chocolate into the molds.  After filling each space, tap the mold very lightly to help the chocolate settle and spread, and to get out any bubbles.  When you're done filling, put the mold in the freezer to set the chocolates quickly. 

Press each piece out after they have solidified.  They can be eaten immediately! 

Kids Can: 
Help fill the bottle with chocolates
Mush the (dried) bottle to mix the melted chocolate
Squeeze the bottle into the chocolate molds

Moms Should:
Deal with the hot water
Dry bottles off before handing them to kids
Help unclog the bottle


The nozzle will clog after a few fills.  Running it under hot water (pointing down so no water gets in) should take care of this, but a toothpick is helpful, too.
Candy melts can be bought at craft stores, but check out your grocery store's bulk section, too.

This a great parent-child cooking project, and there are many different options for candy molds- we have skulls, pumpkins, and dinosaurs.  Let me know if you try it, and have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Parenting Lessons from Children's Books: The Runaway Bunny

illustration by Clement Hurd

Last month, I read The Runaway Bunny  to A and C for the first time. Since then, it has become a favorite at story time.  Through the book, the naughty bunny creates elaborate fantasies of escaping from his mother. He promises to become a crocus, a rock, a sailboat, but my heart just about dropped out of my chest when he said he would become a bird to fly away from her. Bunny's mother responds simply: 

"If you become a bird and fly away from me, I will be the tree that you come home to." 

I had to take a moment to regain my composure.  What a poetic job description: a  shelter from the storm, a home, a tree that a bird comes home to.  Life holds so many disappointment for children.  Their little hearts are so optimistic.  They are so eager for acceptance, without fear of rejection.  In a way, I welcome the disappointments.  If they are never picked last for a team, if they only have positive interactions from their peers, they won't easily develop a compassionate heart- something I want so much for them to have.  We've already begun experiencing this with A, and it breaks my heart, too.  

I can't shelter him from all of those disappointments, and I don't want to.   I can, however, be his home, his shelter from the storms of growing up, a tree that my little birds can come home to.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Coming Up: March

March feels like turning a corner.  Even though it's still rainy and grey in these parts, I know that this is the month that things change, and winter is no longer looming over us.

March is also National Reading Month, and I've written up a series called Parenting Lessons from Children's Books that has been really fun to write.  I'm excited to share it with you. I can't ignore St. Patrick's Day, either, so look for crafts and recipes to celebrate that holiday.   I'll also share some easy cooking projects and tips for sharing it with your kids.

If there's anything you'd like to see here, please don't hesitate to let me know!  Have a great week, and I'll see you Wednesday for the first Installment of Parenting Lessons from Children's Books!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Welcome to Motherhood Handmade.  I've been mulling the idea of this blog around for quite a while, but never knew exactly what I wanted it to be.  While setting my goals for this year, I was prompted to think about what I am most passionate about.  The first was an easy one: my family.  The second took me a while longer to figure out, but I found the answer in a post I'd written on my other blog, when I wrote " I believe in the power of creativity, and that it resides in everyone."  A trip to a museum with my kids had me contemplating how the two combined, and I concluded "As parents, we are the creators of the life our families lead.  It's an awesome opportunity and terrifying responsibility."  

So, why handmade?  The World English Dictionary defines handmade as "made by hand, not by machine, esp with care or craftsmanship."  I think that handmade implies that there is something more special about an object.  It means that the craftsman or woman put their heart into the work.  It means that the piece is one-of-a-kind, and not mass produced.  It means the recipients possess something of intangible value.  As a stay-at-home mom married to a teacher, creativity is the way we can have things we want within our budget.  We do a lot ourselves- and we usually like it.  The more I make, the more passionate I become about the value of something done by hand.   

My goal for Motherhood Handmade is to inspire you to be the creator and craftswoman of your home, and the life your family leads.  I will share crafts, food, and thoughts on motherhood with you each week.  This new space makes me feel full of hope, excitement, and full of the promise of what it can be.  I hope you will join me here often.