Friday, September 9, 2011

Family Fridays: (Not) Back to School Pictures

Our boys aren't really going back to school right now because we are always trying to learn at home! But there are so many cute back to school pictures of kids this time of year, so I wanted to share a couple of pictures of our boys.
Enjoying the end of summer
Feeding the fish
"A Tow-tow" (Toby the Train)
All the boys reading together
Aaron likes his new backpack
A lot
Now I can carry my books around!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DIY Grape Frozen Yogurt

I like grapes, but grape flavored things are not usually my favorite probably because they usually taste quite fake. This frozen yogurt is not at all like the grape popsicles or candy that too often reminds me of cough syrup.  You just taste the natural flavor of the real grapes.

Homemade Grape Frozen Yogurt Recipe

  • 1 cup grapes
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 cups plain yogurt (homemade works great)
  1. Wash the grapes. (I didn't bother to peel them because I am lazy and don't like to peel fruit when it isn't necessary, and I really don't like the thought of peeling grapes.)
  2. Put grapes, sugar, and 1 cup yogurt in the blender, and blend until smooth. This gets all ingredients super-smooth really fast. You can't even taste the peel. You can only see small specks in the yogurt. The grape peels gives this frozen yogurt its pretty purple color, and this natural purple color (from the phytochemical resveratrol) is thought to be good for your heart.
  3. Stir in remaining yogurt to prevent thinning the mixture to much.
  4. Freeze in an ice cream freezer, or follow these directions to freeze in your regular freezer.
This recipe makes about 1 quart or liter of frozen yogurt.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DIY Chocolate Chips

I have mentioned before that regular Chinese chocolate isn't much tastier than a good candle and that good chocolate is really expensive here. So when I found a post about making your own chocolate chips on the heavenly homemakers' site, I definitely had to try it out. Honestly, I had never thought of making my own chocolate chips before but am very glad I tried. I can make them for less than 1/3 of the normal price here. I adjusted the recipe slightly, because the original recipe was intended to make chocolate chips healthier, but I mostly just wanted a cheaper option.

Homemade Chocolate Chip Recipe

  • 2/3 cup butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or sucranet)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  1. Put all ingredients in a glass double boiler, or make your own doubler boiler out of a glass jar and a sauce pan filled halfway with water.
  2. Heat slowly over simmering water until butter melts and sugar and cocoa powder dissolve. I couldn't get quite all of my chunky sugar to dissolve, but this didn't change the taste at all.
  3. Pour into a silicone or parchment lined pan and cool in the refrigerator.
  4. Once hardened, score with a knife or pizza cutter, break into chunks, and enjoy.
  5. Or store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
(This recipe makes about 2 cups of chocolate chips/chunks, about the same as a standard bag of chocolate chips.)

These chocolate chips taste amazing. I have to stop myself from eating the whole pan. Seriously, this is like very high quality dark chocolate that you would normally have to pay much more for, even in the States. They are really good in ice cream and frozen desserts because they are softer than regular chocolate chips. However, as Laura notes, and was my experience as well, they tend to melt into baked goods because they are so pure. I have also just poured the melted chocolate mixture over desserts, like this cheesecake, after it was cooled, instead of putting the chocolate chips inside like usual. This was just like pouring any other melted chocolate and was great.

Can you see the baby chocolate chip monster ready to attack?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dinosaur Themed Preschool Snacks

In August, we studied dinosaurs. Like I did in July, I made some special foods to go along with our unit study. This time I created dinosaurs from homemade whole wheat cracker dough, whole wheat roll dough, homemade pretzel dough, and cut up eggplant. I also let the boys color hard boiled eggs to let them pretend they were dinosaur eggs.

Dinosaur breadsticks
Playing with Stegosaurus Breadstick
Eating a Stegosaurus
Pretzel Dinosaur
Coloring "Dinosaur Eggs"
Eggplant Brachiosaurus, Pretzel Compsognathus,
and Dinosaur Egg
Cracker Dinosaurs

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 家人

Hello little sister
Mèimei hǎo (妹妹)
After you learn how to use basic greetings in a foreign language, it it a good idea to learn how you should address or refer to the people you come in contact with. Just and in America, you don't want to say, "Hey Dude" when you should be saying, "Hello Mr. So-and-so." You don't want to address people in the wrong way in a foreign language.

Here it is very common to refer to everyone using family terms. This means that in general you would refer to everyone, unless it is a very formal situation, the same way you would refer to your family (jiārén, 家人). It is fine for me to refer to anyone who is the age of my grandparents by the names for paternal grandparents. For children especially, it is almost expected that they will call all adults, grandpa (yéye, 爷爷), grandma (nǎinai, 奶奶), uncle (shūshu, 叔叔), or aunt (āyí, 阿姨) based on the particular adults age.

Perhaps the first question asked about any child, besides asking if our boys are twins, is their age. And then if they can't figure out the gender (because the kid isn't wearing split pants, and/or hasn't gone to the bathroom publicly lately), they will ask if it is a boy (nánhái, 男孩) or a girl (nǚhái, 女孩). This is in part because here they have separate words for older sister (jiějie, 姐姐), younger sister (mèimei, 妹妹), older brother (gēge, 哥哥), and younger brother(dìdi, 弟弟), and usually children call all other children by the appropriate relational term.

This can take a little getting used to, because we don't usually refer to strangers as family in the US. However, it does have the advantage of not having to remember quite so many names. Which is really good for me, because I am having a horrible time remembering Chinese names.

Does anyone have a question about the language or culture here? Or a topic idea you would like to see for future Mandarin Mondays? I have a list of ideas started, but I'd like to make sure that I am writing about things that others would find interesting as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dinosaur Themed Preschool Activity: Dinosaur Sensory Bin

I haven't done much with sensory bins for the boys before, in part because I just heard about them not that long ago, and in part because our little boys already love to explore everything with their hands anyway. Playing outside and eating seem to give lots of opportunities to explore with their senses, without making anything special, but this dinosaur unit seemed to lend itself well to a sensory bin, and we already had everything on hand. It really didn't take any time to throw the dinosaurs, fossils we made and hunted for, and some plastic shovels in a tub with sand after all.

Preschool (or Tot-school) Activity: Dinosaur Sensory bin

  • A bucket or bin with some sand or rice in it
  • Dinosaur fossils, plastic dinosaurs, or even dog bones
  • Small shovels if desired
Arrange the items in your bin, and then call the kiddos over to explore it. We put this on the balcony so sand wouldn't get all over the house. We practiced naming dinosaurs for a while and talking about other things like the different colors in the bin as well. The boys played for much longer than I thought they would with this simple set up. Andrew played with it for about 1/2 an hour, and Aaron spent almost 2 hours straight playing with the bin the first day I put it together. They kept asking to play with it for quite a few days afterwards too. Perhaps I should try sensory bins more often, as they had so much fun with it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dinosaur Themed Preschool Activity: Archaeological Dinosaur Dig

In August, we studied dinosaurs and did so many fun projects that I haven't had a chance to write about them all yet. For this project, we took the dinosaur fossils we made to the park in our apartment complex and buried them in the sand, and then the boys got to dig through the sand to find them.


Preschool (or Tot-school) Activity: Dinosaur Fossil Dig

  • Dinosaur fossils, plastic dinosaurs, or even dog bones to dig up
  • An area of sand or dirt to dig in
  • Small shovels, rakes, and/or pails to dig with

  1. Hide the "fossils" in the sand.
  2. Have the child dig through the sand or dirt to find them. Tell them how many they are looking for, so they can count them and be sure to find them all.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Dinosaur Themed Preschool Craft Idea: Dinosaur Fossils

    In August, we learned about dinosaurs. We did so many fun things that I still haven't written about them all. For this project we used a simple salt dough recipe and some plastic dinosaurs to make our own "dinosaur fossils."

    Preschool (or Tot-school) Craft Idea: Dinosaur Fossils

    • 1 batch of salt dough
    • plastic dinosaurs
    • cookie sheets or other baking pans
    • oven (optional)
    • paints (optional)

    1. Mix up a batch of salt dough, and let it rest for 20 minutes. Use this time to hunt for all of the plastic dinosaurs that have suddenly gone missing in your house. No, I didn't plan this part of the activity, but it worked out to be fun though.
    2. Divide the dough into balls. We have big plastic dinosaurs so we just made 6, but if you had smaller dinosaurs you could make a lot more.
    3. Flatten into a roughly oval shape and press a different type of dinosaur into each piece of salt dough.
    4. Bake, or let dry.
    5. Have fun with the dinosaur fossils by painting them, naming the different dinosaurs found in each one, putting them in a sensory bin, or going on an archeological dig for dinosaur fossils.

    DIY Salt Dough

    Salt dough can be used to make all kinds of things like decorations, ornaments, and even dinosaur fossils like we just used it for.

    Salt Dough Recipe

    • 2 cups flour
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup table salt
    1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and knead until smooth.
    2. Let sit for 20 minutes.
    3. Roll out and cut with cookie cutters, shape into desired design, smash a dinosaur in it, or make whatever you want.
    4. Bake at 200 F for about 4 hours or let air dry in a dry environment for up to 48 hours.
    5. After the objects are completely dry and/or cool, they can be painted or sealed with varnish if you desire.

    Family Fridays: Learning

    Nate started up classes again this week. This semester he has class in the late morning, although this could change if they need to move classes or students around.

    This means that he is around and can sometimes participate in our morning breakfast/school routine of reading the Bible and Bible stories, doing memory verses, practicing a few Chinese and English flashcards, and a word book or two mixed in with our weekday granola and yogurt/milk breakfast. Aaron currently cannot function civilly without granola and daily readings. Even if the rest of us wanted to take a day off or do something different, he has to have those two things to start the day off right. He is a boy who loves his routine.

    Since daddy comes back later, and therefore lunch is later, we're trying out a snack-'n'-school time also. This week I have been just been reading books to them while they have a snack. We've read English, Chinese, number books, word books, simple funny stories (Pooh, Clifford, etc.), anything we pull out of the book bins for the day. Aaron asked today if we could do snack-'n'-school a second time. He has been having so much fun.

    After that I've been having the boys sit at my new desk with me and listen to some ChinesePod lessons. This has been helping me make sure that the boys and I are getting more time studying Chinese in our day. Then we do some computer flashcards (mostly for Andrew who is still just starting to learn how to read). We've been doing the flashcards while listening to some classical music, picked from recommendations by my brilliant mother, who has a Masters in Music Education. Andrew loves the music and likes to dance and bounce along as we do the flashcards. He will focus for much longer periods of time while the music is playing. He has be getting more and more interested in learning lately, but the addition of music playing in the background while we do the computer flashcards seems to make it even more fun for him.

    The boys have also been having lots of fun learning about dinosaurs in August and have been super excited to start a train unit for September. They like to use their reusable preschool workbooks all the time, so they don't have any particular set time to use them. I am sure our schedule will continue to change over time, but we're enjoying this new routine for the moment.


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