Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Experiment #12: Homemade Conversation Hearts

Our "conversation" Japanese flower blossoms

Well, hello again. I thought with the pending holiday that it would be a good time to start my virtual conversation up again with my aptly chosen DIY project. Clever me.

So with that, Happy almost-Valentine’s Day! I almost made this post in enough time to be useful on the holiday. As I don't yet have Christmas cards out from 2011, I consider this an vast improvement. 

And Happy Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, for that matter. Since that’s how long it’s been since I last posted. Good grief.

No excuses. I’ve just been attempting to rediscover some form of balance in my life again. And put a lot of miles on the car. A lot. We managed to travel close to 8000 miles through 9 states on several amazing (but not relaxing) trips to visit friends and family. All five of us. Three carseats. In a Toyota Camry. Oh yeah. But that’s another story for another time.

Today, we’re talking about talking. And candy.

Over the past year I have fallen back in love with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Much like The Cosby Show, Little Women has a whole new level of awesomeness when you revisit it as a parent. Hilarious anecdotes disguised as fiction along with brilliant nuggets of timeless wisdom that previously flitted way, way over my head. And FYI, I’m fairly positive that Cliff Huxtable’s character was based almost entirely on my dad. It’s kind of eerie, actually. But I digress.

Much like Marmee noted in Little Women, I'm realizing how scary it is that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I [am] their example. Consequently, there are lots of things I’ve been working on in myself over the past 6 months, and the most ominous one, by far, is my intense temper and impulsively spoken words. Jo and I are kindred spirits (and Anne Shirley, for that matter), but I so wish I could be more like Marmee who has learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away for a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked.

But alas, I’m stuck as Jo: How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me, for the sharp words fly out before I know what I’m about, and the more I say the worse I get, till it’s a pleasure to hurt people’s feelings and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear.

Because it’s pretty humbling to see your little lady of four and three quarters years throw her arms up in the air and bellow, “AAARRRCCCCKKK! MA-DE-LINE! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?!? GET OVER HERE NOW! NOW!!!” Then realize it is a spot on impression of me.

So I’ve been working on delaying my reaction time and trying to check my words and harshness.

And I’ve been getting better! Sort of. For example:

18th glass of milk of the day hits the floor (I might now mention that because it is Madeline’s milk, it also contains a giant glob of unrecognizable mush that once was her dinner and has been covertly placed in her cup, piece by piece, over the course of the meal – not to try trick us into believing she “cleaned her plate” – she just likes to put things in her milk). I take a breath, close my eyes, say a prayer, look at those cute little faces (that are inevitably covered in food bits, markers and snot) and say,

“It’s ok.” Flash a smile at Madeline that looks more like a grimace. “Please get a rag and I will help you clean up the floor.”

“Is it really ok, Mom? Because you don’t look like it’s ok. Your face looks funny.”

Strained sweet voice.“Thank you for being so observant, Nora. No, it’s just lovely when Madeline spills her milk.” Oops…I didn’t mean to add that sarcastic bit. But that’s ok. She’s four. She doesn’t get sarcasm yet.

“Is it really lovely, or are you being sarcastic?” What? Who taught her sarcasm? It was NICK! That’s not fair! NOW I CAN’T BE COVERTLY SNIDE! I can’t believe him…why isn’t he home yet? WHY?

Phone rings. It’s Nick. I grudgingly answer.


“Um…(nearly audible gulp)…hi Kristin. Just called to say I miss you guys. Is everything ok?”

“Just fine.”

“Really? Should I come home? I can come home if you need help.”

“I DO NOT NEED HELP! We’re just fine. Your child just spilled milk all over AGAIN. And apparently, Nora learned what sarcasm is.” Pregnant pause for effect. “I wonder how that happened?”

“Uhh…isn’t that a good thing? That’s an advanced developmental milestone.”

Seething. Teeth gritted. Don’t say anything snotty. He didn’t do anything (yes he did!!).

“Wow. Is that something you learned while you were having fun at school and I was wiping poop and cleaning up a gazillion glasses of spilled milk? Are you still glad I got my masters in poop wiping and milk cleaning? I have to go. I have to get them ALL to bed now.”


“Bye. Nick.”

“Umm…bye?” Almost inaudible, “I love you…”

“I LOVE YOU TOO!” Click (actually, my cell phone doesn't's more of a blerpt).

Yup. So, Mom and Dad, still impressed with how patient I have become?? But this is progress since it took a good 2 minutes for me to get nasty. 

Given my snail pace progress, I've been working on placing myself into more high stress situations with the girls to practice, which may sound sadistic, but it's been good. I still mess up. A lot. And so I apologize to the girls. A lot. But maybe it’s ok for them to see my s-l-o-w progress, because situations like this have begun to crop up:

Madeline trips onto Nora’s lego castle. As she flails, legos fly. She seems to like this effect, so she flails again, a bit more vigorously than before. Nora turns into an explosive volcano and yells, “MA-DE-LINE! I can’t believe you did that! Why don’t you watch where you are walking! You RUINED IT! MOOOOM!! Go to time out! Now! I'm counting and you will lose your privilege! Ooooooone...twoooooooo....” Madeline flashes puppy dog face and a single tear rolls down her cheek. She grasps Nora in a hug. “I am sowwy, No-wah.” Nora’s face relaxes and she sighs.“It’s ok, Meggie. I’m sorry I yelled at you. That wasn’t very nice. Do you forgive me?” “It is ok, No-wah.” Hugs all around.

In another attempt to practice controlling my responses, yesterday, late afternoon (the day before Nora’s preschool Valentine’s Day party), I decided to have the girls help me make conversation “hearts” (we only had flower cookie cutters, so Nora had to keep correcting me that they weren’t actually hearts) for Nora to give to her classmates. The girls were thrilled to make “dough dough” – especially when it’s ALL sugar. In typical Kristin fashion, I had yet to start (or even plan dinner) and hadn’t actually checked the ingredient list all the way through, so I was 1 1/4 pounds short of powdered sugar. But who needs to plan?!

And you know what? After the first 5 minutes where I growled at Madeline to keep her fingers out of the fluff and snipped at Nora to stop pestering me for “one more taste,” I had this grace-filled mental shift when Madeline, completely unprompted, looked up at me and said, “Mom. I just love you so much.” And that was all I needed. We had a blast, (even though they were sticky messes at the end and we ate scrambled eggs (again) for dinner) and we ended up having a great chat about all kinds of things, including sharks, wedding cakes, Dinosaur Train, and how hard it is to not freak out and say mean things when you’re frustrated.

It was a great night all around. And the candy was pretty yummy, too.

REALLY sticky dough
Shamelessly stolen and ever so slightly modified from this recipe from the Food Network Magazine.

Time to completion: 50 – 120 minutes, depending on how much dough squishing and ingredient improvising you have to do. PLUS 12 –24 hrs to dry out.

Cost: Ok, this is not exact by any means, but probably a couple bucks? We ended up making a half recipe due to my lack of planning, which made about 130 (albeit too thin) 1in x 1in flowers. It’s gotta be cheaper (and tastier!) than buying them at the store. 

               1 1/4-ounce packet unflavored gelatin powder
               1 tablespoon honey (the original recipe called for light corn syrup)
               1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
               1/8 teaspoon salt
               2 1-pound boxes confectioners' sugar (about 8 cups), plus more for kneading
               Assorted things for food coloring (we used turmeric, raspberries and blueberries – and a few drops of blue food coloring)
               Assorted extracts (we used peppermint, almond and the raspberries), for flavoring (optional)
               Food decorating pens, for writing (we skipped this)
               Electric mixer (preferably stand)
               Cookie cutters (or be creative)
               Parchment paper
               Baking sheets (or something else to let them dry on)
               Plastic wrap
               Rolling pin

1. Whisk the gelatin, honey, vanilla, salt and 1/2 cup boiling water in a stand mixer bowl until the gelatin dissolves.
2. Beat in the confectioners' sugar on medium-low speed, 1 cup at a time, to make a stiff, sticky dough.
3. Slop the dough out as best you can (it’s really really sticky) and plop it onto a pile of powered sugar for kneading. Knead until the dough is smooth, pliable and slightly tacky, adding powdered sugar as needed. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.
4. Take one piece (MAKE SURE TO COVER THE OTHER THREE PIECES IN PLASTIC WRAP) and add food coloring and flavorings and knead (NOTE: be careful with turmeric - too much and you'll have nasty tasting hearts - I also added almond extract to disguise the flavor and those were by far my favorite!). I had to add more powered sugar here.
Turmeric and almond extract - a little goes a LONG way
5. Roll out the colored dough on the parchment until 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. (I made ours 1/8 to 1/16 inthick – the thinnest ones were WAY TOO THIN – that’s what happens when you don’t read the directions carefully)
6. Cut into hearts using 1-inch cookie cutters or be creative with a knife
7. Move shapes to parchment paper to dry and then repeat with the remaining dough, using different colors and extracts.
8. Let the hearts sit at room temperature, uncovered, until dry and hard, about 24 hours, flipping them halfway through – this is then where you’d write messages (we opted not to since I didn’t have a pen).
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
So these conversation “hearts” are nice symbols of where I’m at - imperfect progress (a phrase from the book Unglued by Lysa TerKeurst that I’m reading with my group of gals that deals quite well with this very issue). I’m trying and succeeding and failing and saying lots of prayers (which, if I’m honest, is me getting my sarcastic vents out to God instead of to Nick and the girls. But that’s ok). And trying to live by Marmee’s advice that I hope to one day share with my little women: My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidently as you come to your mother.

And a completely unrelated side note: For those of you who have not yet seen Jim Gaffigan’s Mr. Universe (it’s on Netflix instant), go watch it right now. 

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