Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

New Year's Eve is now upon us and 2012 is waiting in the wings to make its entrance. As we come to the end of 2011, we are each reflecting upon some of the markers on our journey and we here at The Simpson Six are no different. So, come along with us, if you will, to recall some of the events, memories and lessons we've learned in the past 365 days.

2011 started out exponentially better than 2010 ended for our family and aside from the usual bumps along the way, it is ending even better than it began!

A typical scene out our back window in January

January ushered in a cold, snowy winter that kept us home-bound more often than we prefer, but with a new baby, was probably a good thing. We celebrated Christmas in January with Jason's extended family--possibly our new favorite Christmas tradition in recent years. We save our holiday get-together until after the December craziness subsides and have an easy, laid-back time to get together instead of everyone having to hustle and bustle about to the next family dinner. I don't recall who thought up the idea, but they are positively brilliant! Finally, I (Stephanie) started back to providing part-time childcare in January of this year and it has been such a blast to spend my days with not only our little kids, but also with the coolest little pair of brothers I know!

Baby planking

February brought not only more snow, but also ice--and LOTS of ice! Jason was out of school for nearly an entire week straight and then a smattering of other delays and closures due to ice and snow--but mostly ice. We enjoyed a lot of time together, but had to get creative to keep cabin fever from creeping in.

A birthday cake for the birthday girl!

For our family, March starts off Spring in the best possible way--with Lydia's birthday! We had a fun time celebrating as a family at Hollyhock Hill for dinner, and Lydia planned her own Ladybug Picnic theme birthday party, which was fit for our favorite little bug.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Supermarket Sweep

Do you remember the game show Supermarket Sweep, where the contestants are set loose in the grocery store to fill their carts with whatever they choose in a set amount of time? Well, The Simpson Six set out on our own version of this game yesterday afternoon!
Ian with a full shopping cart!
Jason's sister, "Aunt Shannon", gave the 4 kids each a $5 gift card to Trader Joe's as part of their Christmas gift. Well, our kids LOVE to play market and each have a growing collection of "credit cards" (empty gift cards) that they regularly use when they play store or restaurant, so to have their own gift card to their favorite grocery store with real money on it was about all the excitement that they could handle!
One of our favorite things about Trader Joe's is the kid-size shopping carts!
The caveat to this gift, however, is that they were to purchase only items that they had never tried before and to send a picture to Aunt Shannon of the items that they chose. Also, she gave them each a picture of an item to look for while in the store: Caroline was to look for a "Carolima Bean", Lydia was on the hunt for "Lydiasagna", Ian was searching for a "Kianiwi Fruit" and Eliza was trying to find a "Weliza Melon"!

The kids with the papers with their respective "exotic foods" that they were searching for.
While we didn't have any luck finding these exotic foods, we did have a lot of fun looking for new and exciting foods to taste--some new for all of us and some that those of us who have tried it before were finally able to convince others that it's time to try.

Hmmm...are there any dried fruits that we haven't tried?

Caroline decides that she wants to try eggplant.

Looking through the dairy shelves for a new food to try.

Eliza is along for the ride as we search for new produce to try.
Another one of the fun things about shopping at Trader Joe's with the kids is that they get to search for the monkey who hides somewhere in the store. If they find him and go to the coffee counter, an employee gives them a "monkey treat" for finding the monkey! 

Today he was hiding near the cat food--and ready for New Year's Eve!
The four kids even chose something new to try for their monkey treat this trip--fig cereal bars.

The spread of new food items that the kids picked with their gift cards.
When it was all said and done, they picked out a total of 9 new food items to try with a grand total of $21.61:
  • Snapea Crisps
  • Baked Lentil Chips with sea salt and black pepper
  • Unsulphured sweetened and dried mango
  • Pomegranate
  • Asian pear
  • Eggplant
  • Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola
  • Sweet potato gnocchi with butter and sage
  • Feta cheese with caramelized onion pastry bites
Last night they tried the Asian pear with dinner and the snapea crisps for a snack--both earning rave reviews! Dinner tonight will include the Potato Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and pomegranate. Perhaps this will be a game that we play every couple of months to experiment with new foods of the season. Thanks for such a fun, creative gift, Aunt Shannon!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas day

Christmas has come and gone.  While we are somewhat sad, we also have had a lot of fun and have some great memories to look back on.  We enjoy Christmas day, because it is a very relaxed day.  We do not plan anything so that we can go at our own pace.  After letting everyone sleep in as long as they would like, we enjoy a nice breakfast and some play time.  Soon enough, the lure of the gifts sitting under the tree and hanging in the stockings becomes too great, and we gather round the advent house for one last door to open: baby Jesus, ready to lay in the manger.

Fire: Check.  Stockings hung: Check.

Waiting for the last door to open.

Soon after, we begin the process of opening gifts.  We like to let each person take a turn, allowing everyone to see what was in the gift, and also to allow the one opening a chance to play with or investigate the gift before moving on.  Like I said, we have all day, why not make the most of it.

Ian opens while Eliza waits.

The gift wrap is as much fun as the gifts.

A reminder that it is not always fun and games. Or sunshine and rainbows.

Stephanie's mother joined us for Christmas day while Jason's family came out the day after Christmas.  It was two very fun days and a great time of fun with family.

Nine Simpsons in one house.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas break fun

Our apologies for being somewhat quiet for the past week.  We have been enjoying some of the sights and activities around town now that we are on break.  It has been nice to pick and choose our schedule, not having to rush somewhere to make it for just an hour or so.  Our adventures this past week have included going to Jolly Days at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.  They have a fun baking area for the kids to create some fun holiday treats and meals.

A sandwich and cupcake.  Yum!

There is also an 'ice skating' rink, where the kids can slide around in their socks.  It is just slippery enough for the kids to twirl around and slide a foot or two, but not so bad that they careen out of control.  

Man down! Man down! (he's fine, laughing actually)

The kids have the chance to get up close to some of Santa's reindeer to brush their fur and feed them some lichen.

Pretty reindeer, soft reindeer.

An activity that spans the whole area is a scavenger hunt/checklist for the kids to do, and if they are successful, they can earn their elf ears.  Way to go!

4 little elves went out to play...

Of course, what would a winter time trip to the Children's Museum be without a run down the slide.  This year, Caroline was begging to go down the slide from the moment we pulled into the parking garage.  Lydia was very clear that she did not want to ride, but Ian was gung-ho about hitting the slopes.  This of course gave me the chance to have a go at the slide myself.


Our adventures also took us to the State Museum to visit Celebration Junction, located on the third floor.  I mention that, because the lobby is an awesome 3 stories high, and once you travel up the elevator, you have a really cool view looking down.  This time of year gives a great vantage point for all of the decorations that adorn the lobby.  They have a replica train of the one that used to run through the downtown L.S. Ayres store that you can ride.  It takes you in a short loop, where you get to see some fun critters playing in the snow, and there is even a fun friend waiting to pass out a surprise along the way.
Riding the rails.

After the train ride, we did a scavenger hunt for some hidden items in a mural on the wall.  It changes each year, so there is always something new to find.

Our travels took us next door to the State Museum for Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum. This exhibit was way beyond what I was expecting.  To quickly sum it up, Ian was slack jawed and wide eyed the whole time.  Not only is it model trains chugging through various settings, but everything is made out of wood.  All of the bridges, buildings and landscape has been carefully crafted out of wood pieces.  It was a beautiful exhibit that alone was worth admission.

Look! Train!

We then headed downstairs for the interactive family experience, which is a place with some fun hands on activities for everyone.  Down there you can set up and raise a totem pole, learn some basket weaving, what life in a hogan is like, dress up for the period and what a stage coach was like.  This was a fun area that we spent over an hour in, working in each area.

She made it 8 seconds, then wanted down.

And now here we are at Christmas Eve.  A tradition that we have is letting the kids open one present.  They receive new pajamas each year, and this lets them get out a little bit of that 'I want to open a present' tension, and they get fun new sleep wear for this most magical of nights.

Posed shot turns into tissue paper fight!

Each year, I find myself sitting, contemplating, enjoying the still and silent time that Christmas Eve brings.  I take the time to reflect on the past month, glancing at our advent house, thinking about what we have done to lead up to this point.  I ponder the new memories made, the experiences had, the new found understanding of what Christmas is and what this season has to offer.  I smile to myself as I wind down.  God is in his place, all is well with the world.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Busy day

We have had a busy day with several appointments/checkups for the kids, finishing the holiday baking, and conquering WRAP-STRAVAGANZA 2011!!!  Here are a few photos from this evening.

Making chocolate crinkles.  Yum!

Steph finishing up wrapping some items.  Who are they for?

Monday, December 19, 2011


Well, we are on Christmas break (YAY!).  So, I have the opportunity to take some time to work on the blog, mostly with site maintenance and such.  The biggest thing is that we are migrating to our own domain.  I'll be spending the time to get everything moved and working, and will update on that progress.  The content at will continue to be updated, so this address/links will remain functional.  There are also plans to create some more pages and content.  Don't worry, we won't be changing too much, just looking at adding more items and some small tweaks.  We appreciate your readership and look forward to what is to come.

I also welcome any suggestions you might have from a reader stand point.  Your feedback is valued and appreciated.

Thank you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Slow my roll

Admittedly, it is my nature to have a plan or a schedule, hit the ground running in the morning, and try to keep going through the day.  I like the feeling of staying busy and feeling that I am accomplishing something each moment.  I end up hurrying from one thing to another.

Today was the first day of Christmas break.  The first day that I didn't have any commitments to work that I had to worry about.  The first day that I wasn't trying to get things done and cram them in because I've had a busy week and am anticipating another one.  Today was the first day to get to all of the fun, Christmasy stuff that I have been wanting to.  So, did I hit the ground running this morning, rallying the troops to get a move on?


We slept in.

Every person got up when they were ready to.  Some of us hours before others.

I went to bed last night with the intentional thought of not planning anything, not trying to cram everything into today.  Instead, we had a late breakfast, played for awhile, enjoyed a light lunch, and then got on with the day.

It was GREAT!

We then went up to Conner Prairie for their Holidays on the Prairie activities.  On the weekends they have some of the buildings open in Prairie Town for guests to interact with the characters.  It is fun to get into the period with them and banter back and forth.  They also have a gingerbread house competition on display inside the main building.  This part is open for the rest of the season.  Next in line was Discovery Station, their indoor play area for the kids with a market, train station, and farming activities.  This area is always a hit with the kids.

Eliza ready to do some yard work.

Lydia picked an armful of apples.

Caroline and Ian working in the wood shop.
We headed home for a nice dinner of beef, potatoes and carrots that had been simmering all day in the slow cooker (see, more slowing down).  Afterwards, we enjoyed a live nativity put on by Epworth UMC.  They have some live animals from Conner Prairie, warm fires, cookies, and a large collection of nativities from around the world.  

Something that I have to remind myself of, and I pass along:  Slow down.  Take in what this holiday season has to offer.  I think that I will be better off if I miss a few things on my to do list but really enjoy the things that I do get to.  Try it for yourself.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The village and a boy

Last night we had a fun time building a gingerbread village for our advent activity.  We used a kit by Wilton that contains 5 buildings, which is very handy when you have several kids that each want to put their own design touch into the creation.  We used the same kit last year, and it seemed to work out well enough that we went for it again this year.  Stephanie and Eliza teamed up to put together one of the houses while the rest of us picked our own to work with. I like that each of the buildings is a different shape, so there is no competition of whose is done better, each one is a unique creation.  Ok, starting to sound like a Sunday School lesson, on with the photos!

Jason piping out the icing

Eliza is using the force to hold the roof up.

Tornado Ian struck, so Jason is re-erecting the house. 
The village all lined up.  The house on the left is what Caroline made at school.

Close up.

They didn't stay upright, but didn't fall over, either.

This evening Ian had his Christmas program for the Early Childhood Center at Church at the Crossing.  Since it is all 2-5 year olds, the kids are on stage for a quick song and then get to go back to Mom and Dad.  Short attention spans on the kids part = short show, and with cookies afterwards for a sugar buzz, everyone wins!

Ian rocking the claps, and I thought he would be the one not into it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Santa Claus

There comes a point in our lives that we each have to decide for ourselves what we will draw a hard line on and choose on which side we will stand. As parents to four people who we have been entrusted to introduce to the world and teach them how they should live in it, these hard lines are often magnified.

One such hard line that we all have to decide where we fall on is that of Truth, and how we will interact with it. For Jason and myself, we have chosen that we will always choose to speak the truth with one another, our children and everyone that we interact with in our lives. We want there to be no question that the words that we speak are true, to the best of our knowledge. It's easy to say that you will always choose to speak the truth, but much more challenging to put into practice than one might think.

Especially at Christmas time.

You see, we are also huge proponents for exercising the imagination and embracing the magic and wonder in the world--and children naturally have a propensity to explore this realm. So, when the questions started this year from our 6 and 4-year-old daughters about Santa Claus and if he is real, we were required to actively take our stance on one side or the other of the hard line of Truth, while also teaching our children respect for others and an understanding for how and why other families make different choices in their observance of Santa Claus as part of their Christmas traditions.

Since this conversation was one between Jason and our oldest girls in the car travelling home from school, I will turn it over to him to share how he explained Santa Claus to Caroline and Lydia with grace, respect and simplicity.

(tap tap) Um, is this thing on?  Hello?  O, um, ok...So, yeah, there we were driving along, listening to some festive music on the radio.  The girls like to chatter about what they have been up to for the day, usually in a one sided conversation.  I will get asked questions, but never really given an opportunity to answer.  Not this time.  "Daddy, is Santa Claus real?".  (chirp chirp chirp).  I pause, hoping to avert the question and that they will continue on as usual.  Not this time.  The question is repeated.  Another pause.

I gather my wits, racking my brain how I need to explain things.  I open my mouth, and words start to flow forth.  It was some stammering at first, but soon comprehensible speech starts to flow.  It went something like this:

"No, honey, Santa Claus is not a real person.  That name is derived from 
Saint Nicholas who lived a very long time ago.  He liked to help out people by giving them gifts.  He did it secretly, so that they did not know who was giving them the gifts.  He helped them by giving them money or maybe food or clothes, whatever they needed.  Well, some people thought that this was a good idea, giving people gifts secretly to help them out.  That tradition has continued through the years, and what people would do is say that their gift was from Santa Claus.  Do you see how it sounds similar to Saint Nicholas?  So, some parents like to say that the gifts their children get are from Santa Claus because they like to play the secret game with them.  Your mom and I like you kids to know that the gifts came from us, so we decided not to play that game. We didn't feel the need to give them secretly.  

"So, girls, even though your mom and I don't play that game with you, I hope that you understand that other boys and girls parents play that game with them.  They have fun playing it, and so we don't want to ruin the game for them.  We don't need to go around telling other boys and girls that there is not a Santa Claus.  We will let their parents do that when they are done playing the game."

I repeated the last part a few times to make sure that it sunk in, 'DON'T RUIN IT FOR OTHERS!'  As a general disclaimer, I understand that my history on Saint Nicholas may not be 100% accurate, but I think I got the gist of it.  Ok, back to Steph.

When Jason shared with me last night about the pointed question that the girls asked him and how he relayed to them the truth, as best as he knows it, I was struck. The girls knew that they could ask him a question that they have been unable to get a straight answer from many people about, and trusted their dad to tell them the truth. There is something sacred in that relationship and their trust that I hope never gets destroyed.

I want our children to always know that they can ask us the hard questions, and that we will give them the most honest answer that we know. It might not be a popular response, but it's Truth. From where we sit, looking down the road of life, there is too much riding on them knowing that every word that comes from our lips is Truth to give them anything less. Even if it's about a subject as innocuous as Santa Claus.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


We made our first round of Christmas cookies with the kids tonight for our Advent activity. First, we mixed up Stephanie's favorite sugar cookies to chill overnight and bake tomorrow. She has a reprint of the same 1960's Betty Crocker Cooky Book that her mom used when Stephanie  was a child, so we include many of the same Christmas cookie recipes that she's made for 25+ years in our holiday baking each year.

Once the sugar cookie dough was chilling, we mixed up, cut out and baked a few dozen gingerbread cookies together. Thankfully, things went smoothly, so there are no epic stories, but here are some photos from our evening:

Eliza decided to play with the butter box. 
Waiting patiently for instructions.

Adding ingredients.

More ingredients.

Someone sneaking a taste of the dough. She thought she snuck it.

Cutting out the cookies.

Getting them ready for the oven.

Waiting to bake. Messy hands.  Good times.

It's Chicken Broth Day!

Everything you need to make chicken broth is right here!

Last night's roasted chicken dinner is seeing a new life today. In a previous post, I mentioned how we get at least 3 meals out of one chicken to feed our family of 6. While I'm saving the shredded chicken for another night, today I am making chicken stock to freeze and use in many of the soups and other savory recipes that we'll prepare this Winter. You can read about the nutritional benefits of bone broths, such as this chicken stock here.

While I modify it a bit from time to time, my recipe for chicken broth is super simple!

1 gallon of water
1-2 chicken carcasses, picked pretty clean (I like to use 2, so I usually have one waiting in my freezer until the second carcass is ready)
1 small yellow onion, quartered
whatever veggie scraps are on hand (for us, that's usually a few carrots, celery tops, broccoli stalks or a lonely leek)

I put my chicken carcass(es) in a 7-qt. Dutch Oven, or you could use a stock pot. Fill almost to the top with water. Add in the onion and veggie scraps and turn the stove to high until the water comes to a boil. Once it begins boiling, I turn the heat down to a simmer, put a lid on it and leave it alone to simmer for a few hours. Once it's cooked down for a few hours, I turn the heat off until it's cool enough to pull out the bones and what's left of the veggies, then strain the stock from the pot.
What's left is a couple of beautiful, golden quarts of homemade chicken stock!

And when you pull it out of your freezer to make made-from-scratch soup, your family and friends will think you are a culinary genius. You don't have to tell them how incredibly simple and easy it was if you don't want to. It can be our secret.

Update: A photo of the finished product:

Just shy of 3 quarts chicken stock going into the deep freeze!