Fun With Old Dessert Items!


Last week when we were heading home from a trip we had some leftover cake and pie.  I decided to turn it into a wacky treat for the kids, so I had Daryl stop at the lake about 20 minutes before we got home.

I told the kids that we were going to have the cake and pie but there would be RULES.  I looked very stern.

You cannot use any forks or spoons.

You cannot use any plates.

You must eat with your hands and you must be messy!

They liked the rules.   So did I!

Alex was mostly confused.  He has such a weird family, but cake tastes good.

Afterwards we washed off in the lake and looked for arrowheads and cool rocks.

Stale dessert never tasted so good.

How low can we go?

We’re doing a different sort of challenge this fall around here. Fuel prices are so high that heating our house is going to be really expensive this winter. Here in Minnesota most people heat their houses with either natural gas or fuel oil (basically diesel fuel). Some people also have fireplaces and wood stoves, but furnaces do the major work. We’re a fuel oil home.

I spent all summer researching alternative energy options but right now there aren’t a lot of other options for us. We don’t get much sun in the winter so solar panels don’t contribute a lot. If we had a lot of land I’d really consider geothermal (which also cools and costs almost nothing once it’s installed) but it requires way more yard than we have to lay the underground coils. I don’t want to be dependent on oil but for the immediate future we are, like it or not. And this winter that is going to be spendy!

We live on a very tiny income (partly funded by money my mother left me when she died) and really stretch it. We bought our house for $2,000 cash 15 years ago. We buy our vehicles used for cash and don’t use credit cards for anything (though we have debit cards linked to our checking accounts). I make most of our meals from scratch, keep a garden, buy from local farmers and cook vegetarian. We use Freecycle if we can when we need something, and we pass things on to others there. We get most of our clothes used or on clearance and we rely on lots of free stuff like the library and art museums for fun. We also volunteer, which gets us free admissions and perks (though that’s not why we do it) and we help others, which often brings unexpected rewards (again, not that it’s the reason we do). We also barter and know how to just do without.

For what it’s worth, we don’t feel poor at all. We eat well, we love our house and we don’t need for anything. I think homeschooling is another advantage for us here, because our kids aren’t in an environment where they think that things like Wiis, cell phones, designer clothes and fancy homes are necessities.

But the upshot is that we get by on a very tight budget!

I’ve challenged myself this fall to see how long we can go before turning on the heat for the first time. I know it’s only a matter of time, but it makes it easier to add another layer and cook up some Mix & Match Cake to heat the kitchen up a little if it’s a challenge! 🙂 I figure every extra day is that much less fuel oil we’ll use. It’s better for us and I suppose a smidgeon better for the planet too.

Today it’s a nice sunny day but it is cold inside! My hands are like blocks of ice. I’m wearing two sweaters, thick pants and fuzzy socks, and still shivering. Perhaps it’s a sign I need to do some exercise like heavy cleaning. 😉 I’m plugging away and leaving the thermostat alone though. Every day I make it is another X on the calendar and another tiny feeling of satisfaction.

Calico Cat Project

Victoria came up with this art idea the other day and she and the other kids did it on their own and surprised me with it.

She drew a simple cat drawing and cut it into 3 equal pieces.  Then she had each kid color their section and she taped them back together.  They each signed their parts and Anna wrote a little letter on her part to me.

Pretty cute, eh?  🙂

The idea could be adapted pretty easily… draw a big fish and cut it in two for two kids to decorate and tape back together, draw a face shape and have each child draw the eyes and their half of a nose, mouth, hair, etc.

Just thought it was fun!

Watercolor 101

This is a nice, simple introduction to watercolors that I thought I’d do with the kids tomorrow.  Though they’ve been using watercolors since they could crawl, this looks like a fun way to concentrate on techniques and effects you can do.  I’ll have to dig out the good watercolors and the watercolor paper for full effect.

I wonder how we could morph this into Halloween or fall decorations…  I’ll let you know if we come up with something  neat!

Lazy Monday

It’s nice to be home for a bit.

Today is shaping up to be a nice lazy day.  It’s beautiful weather and Anna has set up a family pedicure stand outside.  For 5 cents she’ll paint your toenails!  I had her do it outside to keep freshly painted toes from marking up carpets and such, and also to keep the fumes out of the house.

Victoria and Alex started the morning bird watching from the window seat.

The girls got out altered books earlier and made some neat pages in them.

I also read a couple of chapters from Story of the World.  It was a very interesting bit!

The baby played with watermelon playdough and bouncy balls, Jack made a magnet sphere and I’ve started doing some fall cleaning.

Oh, and I transplanted some geraniums and herbs into a window box for inside.  I always bring geraniums inside since they bloom most of the winter and cheer the place up.  We take cuttings and make new plants over the winter, too.  It’s science!  😉

Still to do… math, read-alouds, exercise, cooking and more chores.   In due time, though.  It’s a good day to just have fun!

Digging for Treasure


Yesterday for part of Jack’s kindergarten we harvested potatoes.  As far as Jack was concerned we were digging for treasure though!

The kids really had no idea that I had planted two batches of heirloom potatoes in our neglected perennial garden last summer.  It was all piled with dead grass and leaves to hill up around the potatoes, so they’ve been growing away in secret right next to the children’s swingset for months now.

When I gathered Jack, some hand tools and an old pot and headed to the garden, he didn’t know what to expect.  I raked away the leaves and grass, dug down a bit, and called him over.

He was so surprised to see our very own potatoes scattered in the dirt right below the surface.  He happily raked and dug and searched for treasure with me.  He was delighted at how tiny some of the potatoes were (smaller than a marble in some cases) and all of the kids want to microwave those tiny baby taters for very miniature meals.  😉

We talked about potatoes being part of the roots and we looked at various bugs and grubs we came across.  Jack wanted to plant more potatoes but we talked about seasons and how it’s too late this year to plant things like potatoes because of all the sun and heat they need for a pretty long time.

We’re going to dig some more and see how many we missed today.  Jack is already planning how many potatoes he will plant in his garden next year.  🙂

Watermelon Playdough

This week’s theme at Unplug Your Kids is fruit, so I thought it would be fun to make watermelon playdough.

This is a craft that is great for Sensory Integration work (with the bumps, the scent, the squishing and the warmth when you first make it) and it’s just plain fun.


1.  Save watermelon seeds, rinse and bake until dried and slightly darkened.  We did this since it’s supposed to keep birdseed from sprouting and we didn’t want sprouted seeds in our playdough.  It’s a bit of a science experiment to see if it will work!  Last time we used black beads but I wanted to go for realism!

2.  Mix 1 cup flour, ½ cup salt, 1 cup water, 2 Tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar and 1 (3 ½ ounce) package watermelon jello in a saucepan.  We didn’t have watermelon (I never buy jello but people always seem to give me enough that I have a perpetual stash for crafts) so we used strawberry.  Any red variety will give you the right color, though it might smell a bit different.  Koolaid should also work.

3.  Cook over medium heat until it thickens into a ball that pulls away from the side of the pan, stirring constantly (about 5 minutes).

4.  Dump onto a floured surface and cool until you can touch it.  Dump watermelon seeds on and knead well.

5.  Play!  Store in an airtight container.  We keep ours in a ziplock bag in the fridge and it lasts a very long time.


Note:  This won’t taste good since there’s no sugar but it’s nontoxic in case anybody tries to lick it!  😉

Picnics, Art Day and Betsy Tacy

We’re back from our overnight trip to Mankato and packed in lots of wonderful stuff.

We started out attending a homeschool potluck picnic, where we all ate great food and played/yapped with friends until well after dark….

We got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house pretty late, with just enough time to play a little and listen to Grandma finish up Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.  Daryl and I stayed up too late watching TV together and paid the price today.  In the morning Grandpa made eggs, I went back to sleep for a couple of hours and we packed up to hit Bethany College’s “Art on the Green” event.

Art on the Green had bouncy rides and lots of fun art activities from sun prints to painting to making funny portraits on the computer.  We had very little time to do anything but got to visit with fun friends yet again.

Then we were off to the Betsy Tacy walk.  Costumed volunteers were set up at historic sites from the books all over the neighborhood, talking about life in that part of Mankato (known as Deep Valley in the books) when the Betsy-Tacy books take place and pretending to be characters from the books (who are all based on people the author grew up with).  Current homeowners lent their yards and sometimes porches for the reenactment, and we toured the real Betsy and Tacy houses since the Betsy Tacy Society now owns those sites.

The girls got set up outside the school to play at being 1900’s era children.  Groups came by every 15 minutes to see their part of the tour, where they played as the “schoolteacher” told stories of Maud and Bick (Betsy and Tacy’s real names) and their times in her class.  Then she rang the bell and they all lined up to go inside.

I walked the tour with Grandma and the boys, then dashed off towards the end to meet Lonni and her girls and do the tour all over again with them.  I videotaped it for the Betsy Tacy society too, though I did a horrible job of it!  Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers, right?  😉

We got home just as a pickup truck pulled up across from our house.  Out came Victoria’s best friend from the Wilder pageant and her dad and a friend.  It turns out it was her birthday and they were having a party at Dutch Charlie Creek for her tonight.  They’d been trying to reach us all weekend and were stopping by one last time to see if they could catch us.  They invited all 3 “big” kids out there and we rushed in to make some cards and put together some fun presents.

They had a grand time out there, playing games until past dark and eating lots of goodies.  It was nice for Victoria to see her friend again too (she lives out near Mankato now).  And since they had a cookout, I didn’t even have to make supper!

I’m exhausted, my house is trashed, Alex has been especially cranky, I’m starving and Daryl’s legs are past trashed, but life is good.   It’s been a fun couple of days!

Tomorrow, we rest.  🙂