Friday, January 28, 2011

Very Last First Time

Our homeschooling book this week was Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews and Ian Wallace. It's about an Inuit girl and her mother in northern Canada. They gather mussels from the ocean floor, under the ice, when the tide is out. It was a pretty interesting book. The title refers to the fact that the first time you do something on your own is your "very last first time".

Monday, for social studies, we placed our story disk on the map in Ungava Bay in northern Canada. We also talked about first-time experiences and the special things we do with mom and dad.

We talked about crisis thinking for language arts on Tuesday. We learned what constitutes an emergency and what you should do if you have one. I taught Aidan how to dial 9-1-1 and we practiced situations in which it's the right thing to do. I am currently taking bets as to how many days it will be until I regret teaching him this. Aidan considers building a "giant gear machine that falls over" worthy of emergency action.

For art, on Wednesday, we made ice wreaths. I found this craft on an awesome blog that is full of great ideas called The Artful Parent. I regularly read the blog and we find a lot of great projects and art forms to try. We made ours with a Valentine theme and added glitter, foam hearts and a red ribbon to a bundt pan full of water. We left it outside to freeze, removed it from the mold and hung it up outside. I am quite certain that it will stay frozen out there for A LONG TIME. I think these would make awesome Christmas decorations on our windows next year if they were filled with more natural elements like pine, berries and pinecones.

Thursday, for Math, we reviewed ordinal numbers. This weekend, for science, the guys are discussing levers and fulcrums, which should be fun for both of them! We continued with our handwriting practice, working on O, P and Q and started working on simple addition problems.

We're looking forward to a fun weekend with friends and a great concert tomorrow at the Detroit Symphony. Their Tiny Tots Series is really nice and is continuing even throughout the musicians' strike. In addition to the concert, they offer kid-friendly activities like a musical petting zoo, face painting and crafts. Tickets are still available for tomorrow's show, The Candy Band. They're a group of four Detroit moms who play "kid-friendly punk". I am curious to see just what that means!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Iron Craft

This week, I joined up with a fun online group called Iron Craft. It is a group of people committed to working on a new craft together each week. They began in January; but, I just discovered the blog this week. Every Thursday, they select some sort of theme or craft to be completed by the following Wednesday. The projects don't seem to be anything too large or complicated and they use all different crafting methods. You aren't required to do every project either, so I don't feel too stressed about joining in.

The challenge we received today is to make a handmade Valentine for someone special. It can be any sort of handmade item: a paper craft, fabric craft or even a baked good. I was really excited by this challenge because I had already planned a fun Valentine activity with the kids this week that will fit in perfectly.

We all post our projects the following Wednesday. There are quite a few people participating. It will be fun to see all the great ideas and also to try out some new types of crafts. If you are feeling inspired, it's not too late to join!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fun and Frothy

Sooo, I really like my milk frother. It does an awesome, awesome job steaming and frothing milk for all kinds of fun beverages. It also allows me to stay inside my house with my children and still enjoy lots of great coffee shop drinks. I can never get out of Starbucks without a screaming fit, a chocolate milk, an apple juice, a rice krispie treat and a cold sweat. I also must endure the horrified looks of other customers who are appalled that one might try to enter with more than one child or a giant double stroller. The frother also comes in handy for play dates.

While the kids are busy with some highly educational activity
or developmentally appropriate exercise...

you and your friend can do this:

One of my coffee shop favorites is a chai latte. I usually buy the chai concentrate and mix it with steamed milk. I like that it comes in decaf, especially after my morning Mt. Dew. Don't judge... Adelaide had her fair share of prenatal Mt. Dew and she turned out just fine...mostly. I found an awesome recipe the other day for a spiced chai concentrate. I decided to give it a try and it turned out pretty good.

You start off with boiling water and add your own black or green tea bags. I used a decaf black tea for mine. You remove the water from the heat and add your spices: cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, whole cardamom, star anise (the recipe calls for two, one would be enough for me), black pepper, ground nutmeg, and orange zest.

You let it sit for a bit to steep and then strain. After straining, add vanilla extract, honey and brown sugar. The recipe called for 2/3 cup brown sugar; but, I think I will use a little less nest time. It was a little sweet for me.

Now, you have a concentrate to warm up and mix with steamed milk. I added a little froth and cinnamon on top to up the fanciness quotient. This is my favorite late afternoon treat after we have finished our school work, Addie's nap is almost over and the day is winding down.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's Soap!

A few months ago, I learned how to make soap at a Mom's Night Out event. My friend, Cheryl, the queen of all things crafty, taught us how to make glycerin soap. It was so much fun that I couldn't wait to try it out. My mom gave me some soap making supplies for Christmas. Yesterday, Aidan and I decided to give it a try.

First, we chunked off some glycerin from our tub and melted it in the microwave. We wanted to make some different colored bars so we only melted a little at a time.

Next we added in the fragrance, honey almond, and the coloring.

Our soap molds came with little rubbing embossing plates. We chose three patterns we liked and used a little wax to stick them in place. We rubbed the molds with vegetable oil and filled them with our soap mixture. We sprayed the backs with alcohol to avoid air bubbles.

Then, we waited....

It took about two hours for them to harden and then we removed them from the molds. They turned out really cute. The kids were excited to use them for bath night. They were in there with them for about an hour. By the time they came out, there wasn't much left of their soap bars. I didn't really mind, though. They were so fun to make, I can't wait to do it again!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Night of the Moonjellies

This week, our homeschooling lessons focused around the book Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha. We have really enjoyed this book. It is considerably shorter than some of the books we have been studying lately. Aidan and I were both glad to have a fun, short, light-hearted book this week.

We didn't do any school work on Monday. Matt was off from work for the holiday and my mom was visiting for the weekend. Tuesday, we doubled up with social studies and language arts. For social studies, we talked about what it would be like to operate a small business. Aidan already has big plans for his future machine shop. He plans to be the sole owner and manager. His only employee will be Matt, who will work there "in exchange for the spare parts (Aidan) doesn't want". For language arts, we made a list of all the great foods mentioned in the story.

Wednesday, for art, we made our own jellyfish. I found a great instructional in our Family Fun magazine. They were fun to make with supplies we had on hand and turned out pretty cool.

(Moonjellies have an affinity for white wine.)

For math, on Thursday, we learned about money. We counted quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, making all sorts of combinations. When we were finished, Aidan deposited them all in his very large, very heavy piggy bank. Well, not the quarters, those went in our Marvin's fund.

This weekend, for science, Matt and Aidan plan to learn about bioluminescence and chemiluminescence. We also checked out some fun books from the library on jellyfish and ocean life. In addition to our Five in a Row lessons, we're continuing a daily math lesson and working on letters and handwriting.


Flaxseed-infused pancakes were on the kids' breakfast menu at our house this morning. Erring on the side of caution, we decided it would probably be best if we stuck close to home (and our bathroom) today. Days spent at home are usually my favorites. Everyone is calm and relaxed and I can usually get a lot done around the house. One of my favorite activities on homebound days is baking bread.

It took me a very long time to find baking methods and recipes that lived up to really good bakery bread. I love good bread and I am usually willing to pay for it. I'll take a loaf of Zingerman's bread over a manicure or a new outfit any day. However, budgets being what they are, even I must pass up the eight buck loaf on occasion. Over the years, I have tried lots of scratch bread recipes and mixes and have owned and given away two different bread machines. Everything just fell short of my expectations. Then, last year, I discovered James Beard's Beard on Bread. If I could only have one cookbook in my kitchen, this just might be it. Everything I have made, from the first loaf on the first day, has been outstanding. If you have an oven and the slightest motivation to use it, you NEED this book.

This morning, we decided to try the challah recipe. I love challah! It is probably one of my favorite breads; but, until today, I had never made it at home. The recipe was really pretty simple. Other than some eggs (Thanks, Chickens!), a little sugar and poppy seeds, it was not remarkably different from most other bread recipes. I mixed the dough up early this morning, while the kids were still able to occupy themselves. I let the dough raise for a few hours while we played. Before lunch, I punched down my dough, made my braids, and formed two nice large loafs. They rose through the afternoon, while Addie napped and we finished Aidan's school work. Forty minutes in the oven and they came out looking beautiful. I even snuck a shower in while they were baking!

I am really happy with the results and hope they taste as delicious as they look! I haven't had a chance to taste it yet. I have been pretty busy taking care of the kids today -maybe I'll cut it down to a half tablespoon of flaxseed tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Relaxing Hobby of Knitting

I learned to knit a little over a year ago on the way home from our yearly shopping trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. My Aunt Glenda taught me how to make my first washcloth. By the time I had completed it, I had picked up about twenty stitches and left quite a few holes along the way. I was very proud of it. I quickly moved on to scarves, which are really just long washcloths in disguise.

My first big project was a pink sweater and matching hat for Adelaide. It was knitted in pieces and still did not require me to add or drop stitches; which, I was still only able to do on an accidental basis. It took me about a month to complete and required a lot of moral support from my knitting buddies.

When I finally worked up the nerve to start purling, I was able to make wool diaper covers for Adelaide. These required creating ribbing with a pattern of knit and purl stitches, as well as increasing, decreasing and picking up stitches. Hats, knitted in the round, also required more concentration. And thus the days of peaceful knitting came to an end. Now I had to concentrate. That meant no TV, no talking, no background noise and no distractions of any kind, a state of calm that rarely exists in this house.

And so I knit. Hands and jaw clenched in terror that I will make a mistake. I have no idea how to fix mistakes. I also count (badly and repeatedly) and try to keep track of my place in the pattern. Also, I yell, at anyone who asks me a question, brushes against me or causes any sort of background disturbance of any kind. My family treads lightly when my needles come out. They know I'm busy, "relaxing" with my knitting.

Right now, I'm working on a surprise project for my husband for his upcoming birthday to show how much I care. Just last night, as I was working on this, my most complicated pattern, he sat down to talk for a few minutes. I quickly ended that...I'm trying to count for goodness sake!

So now I make sweaters, scarves, diaper covers and hats for my wonderful, sweet family, all the while screaming at them to leave me alone. I'm sure they appreciate the gesture. Remember, nothing says "I love you. You're special to me.", like a hand-crafted gift. These gifts conveniently function as apology gifts to those you have mistreated in the process.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Still Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been keeping us very busy lately. My blog posts have dropped off considerably as homeschooling time has increased. I find that on most days, we have time to either do things or write about them; but, not both. We're still using Five in a Row as our main resource and we've just about finished up volume 1.

Since my last posting about Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, we have covered the books Madeline, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, Storm in the Night, The Rag Coat, Papa Piccolo, A Pair of Red Clogs, Lentil, Cranberry Thanksgiving, Another Celebrated Dancing Bear, Grandfather's Journey, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Katy and the Big Snow. Most have been great, a few have not. We've done a ton of fun activities and found a way to relate just about any subject matter on earth to gears and machinery, our nod to a custom-made education. We've had some great museum trips, performed some cool science experiments and crafted some awesome art projects. Math and Science still seem to be the favorite subjects.

After Christmas, we started using daily workbooks to help with simple math, handwriting and phonics. We're in our second semester of Music Together and both kids seem to really enjoy that time, as well. Our second volume of Five in a Row is on order and we're patiently awaiting it's arrival.

This week's story, The Glorious Flight, seems to be a hit. We've crafted our own little books with a map of the English Channel, practiced some descriptive writing (or in our case, descriptive talking) and made paper airplanes. Tomorrow, we plan to head to The Henry Ford Museum to study some early aircraft. Friday, the guys are discussing the science of flight and doing their own experiment. This weekend, a trip to the Auto Show will round out a discussion on the "process of invention". We're also working on some very simple math and handwriting practice.

I'm still happy we decided to homeschool and starting to make plans for next year. There are literally hundreds of options and the choices are definitely overwhelming. I'm trying to narrow down my choices for next year so that I will be prepared when all of the homeschooling book fairs and conferences come around. At last year's conference, I found myself sitting in a corner with a three foot tall stack of catalogues, a cold hot dog and a can of Mt. Dew, trying to navigate my way through the endless options.

Chickens... and the Men Who Love Them

As most of you know, this summer, during a visit to Ohio, we purchased three chickens at the Canfield Fair. Matt and I had spent more than a year discussing getting chickens. We had not, however, made a plan, built a coop or bought so much as a bag of cracked corn. Yet, on the final night of the fair, at the closing hour, there we stood with a box of chickens and a dream.

Most of our family thought we were insane. My aunt loaned us a dog crate and wished us good luck. The girls spent their first evening in the dog crate in my parent's garage. The next day, we checked them every hour for what we assumed would be piles of eggs spilling from the cage. No such luck. We decided they looked depressed and nervous in their cage, so we let them out in my parent's backyard to "relax" before their four hour car ride to Michigan. Getting them to come out of the crate took a little persuasion. Getting them back into the crate took two adults and a preschooler chasing them through two neighbors' backyards until we corned them in a basement window well. No problem, we thought, they just need a proper home and this will not happen again.

We had read about Joel Salatin's chicken tractors and earlier in the year we spoke to a farmer at the Maker Faire in Detroit who was exhibiting his own chicken tractor creation. We quickly decided this would be the best route for our backyard chickens. Matt was quite sure he could whip this up in an evening with supplies we had on hand. Two weeks, a hundred and fifty bucks, twenty-six chicken escapes and zero eggs later, the chickens moved into their tractor. Boy, were they glad to get out of that dog crate!

All throughout the fall, Matt continued to make "coop improvements". Maude, his favorite hen, was the inspiration for these improvements. He was constantly adjusting, rearranging and painting their abode, always with her in mind. He cares for Helen and Blanche as well; but, no one holds a candle to Maude, not even me. When late fall rolled around, Maude, no longer a pullet, finally laid her first dark brown egg. Helen and Blanche followed quickly with light brown and bluish-green eggs, respectively.

Now that winter is here, we have added a light to keep the coop warm and encourage year-round laying. The girls each oblige us with an egg a day and the eggs are always waiting for us in a neat little pile each morning. We have added a pricey "poultry fount warmer" to keep their water from freezing. Last week, they were moved near the house to block some of the wind and keep things even cozier. I expect that one day soon my belongings will be moved into the garage in order to make room in the master closet for Maude's cracked corn and grit.