Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gingerbread Holidays

This is what our kitchen looked like Sunday before Christmas. And pretty much on Monday, too... and not much different on Christmas day. This year, the kids were way into baking, even more than last year, and Jules even made the pizzelles all by herself from start to finish. Em and Sam are working on our baking center—a part of the counter a few inches lower than the rest, making it easy to roll out dough with leverage and having the added advantage of being perfect kid height. Yes, Em decided to get in the baking spirit by dressing in her colonial attire. She does love to be in character.

This year, we added gingerbread houses to our repertoire, something we've been wanting to do for a couple of years, but never quite found the time. Once she heard this, our generous friend Madeline insisted we borrow her stoneware gingerbread mold since they would be away over the holidays. (We've considered holding it hostage to get them to visit in the spring, but that wouldn't be very nice, would it?) It took all day Christmas eve to bake enough pieces for three gingerbread houses. By evening, they were cool enough to begin to assemble.

We cut down some egg cartons to place in the middle of the house, giving us some structure to work against. Before dinner, we made some royal icing and glued the houses together, giving them plenty of time to dry before decorating. By the time we were done eating, everything was set to go. The kids had a blast, and we all decided that this was the perfect way to wile away Christmas eve—it gave us all something to focus on besides just the anticipation of Christmas morning!

Everyone had fun eating and decorating, and by the time we were done, Sam decided we should make a gingerbread house for every holiday occasion, already making plans for his Valentine's house.

Of course, the next day (note the sleep mask from Santa) the girls decided that their houses weren't quite done after all, and they spent another afternoon decorating, this time with colored royal icing for garland and windows.

The finished products from left to right: Julia's house, Em's house, and Sam's house. I'm looking forward to making a Halloween house next year—yet another wonderful idea of Madeline's.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My friend Madeline

After we left Williamsburg, we headed down south to Georgia where my unschooling friend Madeline lives with her amazing organic-farmer husband, Nicolas, and her two fantastically adorable and impressive sons. We drove 9 hours just to get there, and I woke up at 5:15 am to get us out of the hotel and to her place at a decent hour. And every bit of it was worth the effort!

We had so much fun and felt so welcome in their wonderful home that we really didn't want to leave when the time came to drive up to the Lovejoy's for a house concert with Amy Steinberg. I think that's why we dilly-dallied so long, lingering over these amazingly moist pancakes that Gillen made for everyone. Gillen was an amazing cook, totally comfortable in the kitchen, and he and Julia bonded over chocolate and baking for Madeline's birthday (though I hear he does that with all the girls).

That afternoon we enjoyed a lovely visit to their farm where we took a nice hike out to a beautiful meadow and field of quartz crystals. The kids had a blast playing "predator," a combination of tag and hide-and-seek through the tall grass. We lucked out that there were no hunters on the property that day, considering it's deer season. Along the hike we got to see a beaver dam and the habitat they're creating in the woods. Crystal hunting was such fun, kind of like being on a geology dig, especially after our recent trip to the Smithsonian rocks and gems collection and Luray caverns (more on those trips later). I kept finding these amazingly perfect small crystals that looked bizarrely like teeth from a crystal monster. I kept envisioning this giant mouth full of crystal teeth along the lines of the abominable snow man or something.

We had a perfectly relaxing, beautiful day with everyone, and luckily we were all smart enough to go to sleep far earlier than we had the night before. The worst part about the whole visit was having to bully them into letting me help, though Nicolas was pretty much a push-over in that arena. I would have stayed and helped him at the farm all day if I could have—hopefully without botching the job too badly along the way. Next time maybe I'll have Jim along with me for a trip to my mom's place, and I'll get to do just that. Though if he'd have seen their hunting set up, he would've been itching to be out doing that! (For the record, I do believe Gillen is at present the only hunter in their family—see another great evil way to get Gillen to push for a trip up here in the spring!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stepping Back In Time

This past week, the kids and I have been on one of our whirlwind trips, gallivanting across the South. We began at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA, and had a raucous good time! While there, the kids and I enjoyed a 2-day pass to Colonial Williamsburg where we had loads of fun stepping back in time and imagining ourselves living in 18th Century Virginia. The highlight of the trip for me was exploring the Great Hopes Plantation site, which is growing slowly and beginning to take shape.

They've been building this plantation for the last several years using all period tools and techniques, and it's been amazing to watch the progress. This trip I learned from one of the interpreters that this plantation would have had about 150 acres of tobacco and 50 acres of corn production, relying on only about 7-10 slaves to do that work, a number which I find absolutely dumbfounding when I consider the amount of work these people were required to do, knowing as I do now what it takes to farm just one acre.

Sam's favorite part, not surprisingly, was learning all about the weaponry and what it meant to join the army. We spent quite a bit of time at the magazine listening intently to all the descriptions of the guns, bayonets, militia, and military innovations. While the girls had their own costumes from our last trip about 3 years ago, Sam decided to rent a costume this year, which meant he was given a letter with several different assignments, one of which was learning to drill, which he was able to do both days much to his great pleasure. The girls were thrilled just to dress up and enjoy all the attention it garnered them throughout the streets. Em, particularly, was in her element as she role-played the entire two days we were there.

We spent our third day at the Jamestown Settlement where we spent a cold afternoon learning all about the voyage over to the New World on the Susan Constant, what it might have been like to live in Powhatan village, and the significant differences between life in a native village and a colonial fort. Of course, once again, the highlight of the day was learning all about the weapons and armor and getting to watch them fire a musket. Sam was thrilled to hold the shield for his musketeer, a very important job as the musketeer needed all his hands to load and fire. Although, just as interesting was the time was our time spent talking with a female blacksmith about the trade now and then. She had a wonderful way of talking with us, interacting with the kids on the same intellectual level as an adult, and I kept wanting to ask if she weren't homeschooled but never quite managed to work it into the conversation.