Sunday, February 27, 2011

Follow the Drinking Gourd

Last week, we studied the book Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter, a story about the underground railroad. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a song that told of the "map" north to freedom. The drinking gourd was the big dipper, an important part of the "map" used by the runaway slaves. We found a nice CD at the library that had a great version of the song as well as some other awesome songs, poems and stories about civil rights.

On Monday, for social studies, we talked about slavery and the underground railroad. We looked at a map tracing traditional routes slaves used to reach Canada through Ohio and Michigan. For language arts on Tuesday, we discussed the underground railroad as an "analogy".

We studied the paintings of Paul Gauguin on Wednesday for art. The author's illustrations are very similar to Gauguin's work. I found a great (incomplete) set of art books on the library book sale rack last week, Ernest Raboff's Art for Children series. I was really happy to find them to add to our home library. I'm sure they will come in handy in years to come and I'm going to keep my eye out for the missing volumes.

For math, we continued studying units of time, reviewing what we learned earlier and adding in some new concepts. This weekend, the guys studied constellations using H.A. Rey's Find the Constellations (another great library book sale find). They had to wait until this evening, though, for a clear sky to see some stars.

We are VERY ready for spring around here. The days in the house are getting longer and longer. We've done lots of basement bounce-housing this week and are trying to find activities to fill the hours. We will all be very happy when we can start spending more time outside.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hometown Crafts

This week's Iron Craft challenge was "Hometown". I was excited about this one because I am a HUGE fan of my hometown. Even though we've been gone five years, I still miss home every day and we head back for lots of visits.

Youngstown was an old steel town, so I decided to make a steel town shirt for Aidan. He is a big fan of "the steel making process", as he calls it. I went to the Center for Working-Class Studies website and found some awesome photographs. The photo I chose is a picture of the Jeanette blast furnace. This blast furnace was the last of it's kind to shut down in Youngstown; and, was one of the oldest in the country. It's a classic Youngstown image and the "Jenny" in Bruce Springsteen's song, "Youngstown".

I printed the photo and Youngstown logo onto iron-on transfer paper and just ironed them onto a plain white shirt. Aidan seemed to like it. He wore it yesterday and now it's covered in chocolate eclair stains...oh well, at least I know where to get another one!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Owl Moon

This week was all about owls, normally a cause for concern in this house. Aidan has been terrified of owls for about two years now. This has been a major source of disappointment for my husband, a lover of all things owl. The owl that started this reign of terror is a little animatronic owl at our downtown library that quietly hoots at you as you enter the children's section. My son was so terrified of this owl that the mere thought of visiting the downtown library used to bring him to tears. For the past few months, he has been able to work up the nerve to cover his ears, close his eyes and run as fast as humanly possible past it. This, and the assurance that the owl was hooting at Adelaide, not him. Adelaide doesn't seem to be bothered by this owl in the least.

A few weeks ago, my husband took the kids to the Cranbrook Institute of Science. When they arrived, they found that the museum would be closing shortly. So, they decided to head outside and walk around the museum grounds. There, they found some owls. These real-life owls were apparently not as terrifying as the menace at the library because everyone came home excited about owls. They returned the following week for another visit.

This came as quite a relief to me because our school book this week is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. It is a beautifully illustrated story about a child and father on a nighttime owling trip. We fearlessly read it everyday. For social studies, we talked about special times we have spent with dad and drew pictures of those events. For art, we studied tiny details in the drawings. We learned about seconds, minutes and hours for math. Our science lesson involved a little study of owls and a homemade owl book. This weekend, Matt and the kids headed back to Cranbrook for more owl studies while I made these fun cupcakes for dessert tonight. I think they were a hit!

Friday, February 18, 2011

DIY Napkins

Two facts: my family uses LOTS of napkins and I do LOTS of laundry. While considering these facts, I came to the conclusion that amidst all of the clothes, diapers, towels and stuffed dogs I wash on a regular basis, a few cloth napkins would be hardly noticeable. So, I have gradually been transitioning us to cloth napkins. Nothing too fancy, mostly fun, bright-colored napkins I already owned. They have really cut down on our paper napkin use and do a much better job of cleaning up blueberry covered faces and puddles of smoothie.

I decided to try sewing some napkins of my own. I have seen a lot of postings lately with cloth napkin instructions. Some are really cool; but, most were a little more complicated than I wanted for everyday napkins. I decided to branch out on my own a little.

First, I purchased a super cute bundle of coordinating fat quarters. I had intended to just buy some fun individually packaged fat quarters; but, I really liked the fabrics in this bundle. Fat quarters are awesome because they don't require any cutting. They are already perfect sized napkins.

Next, I folded and pressed in the raw edges a quarter inch at each end twice to make a finished edge. I stitched these with a coordinating thread and then did the same to the other two opposite ends. This allowed me to make fairly uniform finished corners. A lot of tutorials I looked at used smaller hems; but, I wanted something easy to sew and sturdy for lots of washings.

I think they turned out really cute. They're fun to use and do make us feel slightly fancy; well, as fancy as one can feel while people are climbing on you and screaming at you while you eat. I can't wait to try out some more fun fabrics!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bars of Gold (Soap)!

This week's Iron Craft challenge theme was "The Midas Touch". We were supposed to craft with some sort of gold. I'm not really into the whole gilt thing, so we decided to try some golden soap.

We followed the same basic soap-making instructions as before. This time, instead of using a soap coloring, we added a powder made of golden-colored mica and titanium dioxide. It made the soap golden and opaque. I thought they turned out really cute. We also scented them with a great citrus essential oil we purchased from a woman at the Farmington Winter Market.

After we finished the gold bars, we decided to make some fun green ones for St. Patty's Day. I didn't rinse out our measuring cup and the green ones ended up having some cool gold sparkles from the leftover mica powder. If I can find some small coin-shaped molds, I think it might be fun to make some smaller green and gold soaps to hand out for little "pots of gold" on St. Patty's Day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Fun

Valentine's Day with the kids this year was really a lot of fun. We had a great time making little gifts and cards for our friends and family over the past few weeks, and actually got them delivered on time. We made some fun Valentine crafts and ate lots of sweet treats!

Since the holiday fell on a Monday, we decided to celebrate yesterday. We started with a fun Valentine breakfast with pink heart-shaped pancakes, pink yogurt and purple smoothies. We exchanged some little Valentine gifts. Aidan loved his little gear and brad set and started crafting right away. Addie took her jar of bubbles into the bathtub and got to work after breakfast.

I gave Matt the little picture I had embroidered for him. I found this awesome idea at The Modern Lady. She even has a free pattern you can download that makes this project super simple. This was my first embroidery project; and I wish I would have used a few more strands of thread; but, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. I can't wait to try something else, maybe some kitschy dish towels.

This morning I woke up to find beautiful pink tulips and a cheery note from my family. Tonight, we had strawberries and chocolate fondue for dessert to finish up our holiday celebrations. Everyone had lots of fun dipping and munching, until Aidan stabbed himself in the hand with his fork. We bandaged him up and he went right back to dipping, so I think he will survive.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hello Lentil, I Love You!

This week we finished up Five in a Row Volume One with Who Owns the Sun? by Stacy Chbosky, a book about slavery and freedom. We talked briefly about slavery and injustice for social studies. For language arts, we learned about periods and question marks. We made some watercolor paintings for art using the book's illustrations for inspiration. For math, we practiced counting various items throughout the book. We also continued with some daily math and handwriting lessons. Aidan really seems to enjoy math so I'm trying to take advantage of his enthusiasm.

Today, for science, we learned about good nutrition and made a little book about food groups. Aidan seemed to really latch on to the concept that eating well makes you healthy. Earlier in the day, he had made repeated request for doritos. I had told him that he could have some after he ate some fruit and we finished our school work. Well, after our discussion (and his nectarine), he decided that cheese slices would be a healthier choice. I couldn't have agreed more. About an hour later, he asked if we could make oatmeal. He has not eaten oatmeal in more than a year, and the last time I offered it to him for breakfast, he threw up at the table. We made a pot of oatmeal that I was sure I would throw in the trash. Instead, he ate every bite of it and asked for more! Needless to say, I was shocked.

Curious to see how far I could push this, I asked him if he wanted to help me make dinner. We looked through some cookbooks and browsed some websites for ideas. He had just about settled on steak when he declared, "I think we should make lentil soup!". I asked him a few more times and he assured me that's what he wanted. So, into the kitchen we went to make a pot of French Lentil Soup. He helped me chop and measure lots of veggies and add lentils and tomatoes. We let it cook for a while and I made some biscuits for backup in case things didn't turn out well. I also figured Adelaide, who was sleeping through this food revolution, would not be pleased to wake up to a lone pot of lentil soup . When the soup was ready, I asked him to come taste it and "see if it needed anything". He ate a big spoonful and told me, "This lentil soup tastes perfect".

Now, before I nominate myself for "Teacher of the Year", I suppose I should address what may be a socialization issue in our homeschooling plan. While I was cleaning up the kitchen, he found a runaway lentil that had escaped the pot. "Hello lentil," I heard him say, "I love you". He then promptly fished a few more out of the sink and rinsed them in a colander. He took his "lentil buddies" to the table and began conversing with them. I asked him if they had anything to say back. "No," he told me, "they're a grocery, not a friend". He then asked for a tupperware bowl with a lid so he could keep them in his room. Aidan and the lentils are now watching TV together while I finish up dinner. I'm very curious to see what happens when an entire bowl of his "buddies" are placed before him.

DINNER UPDATE: The soup was very good. Neither child ate it. Addie now has a tupperware bowl of "fellas", too.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Snow Queen

This week's Iron Craft challenge is a contest. The winner will get an awesome bag of craft goodies and the title of Iron Crafter! The theme was winter. I don't know about you; but, winter always makes me think of two things: snow and TUTUS! So, I decided to make Adelaide a Snow Queen Tutu. It was really fun to make and she's having a blast wearing it. I took a tutu making class this summer; but, if you are interested in making one, there are about a hundred online tutorials. I really didn't want to go out and buy a bunch of supplies, so I put it together with items I had leftover from some other projects.

First, I made a waistband with three-quarter inch no-roll elastic. I like to put the elastic around my leg before I start adding the tulle. I saw it online somewhere and it really helps keep the skirt under control as you add the tulle. I used mostly white tulle with a little ballerina pink and sparkly pink for accent. I cut mine at twenty-four inches which will give you a skirt that's just a bit shorter than twelve inches. I like them shorter so that they puff out like a true ballerina tutu.

After I tied all of the tulle onto the skirt, I flipped it right-side out and trimmed up any rough edges. I threaded some wide satin ribbon through the waistband to create a little more shimmer and made a bow in the back. Next, I trimmed the backs off of some snowflake buttons and glued them all over the skirt. Finally, I glued some little swarovski crystals around the tutu to make it even more sparkly.

I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I was able to make it with supplies I had on hand in about two hours. Best of all, my little snow queen LOVES it!

Monday, February 7, 2011

One of my Funny Valentines

I finally finished my sweet Adelaide's valentine dress. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I used a McCall's pattern (M5835) and some pretty old-fashioned Valentine fabric from Joann's. It was more difficult than any other patterns I have tried; but, it gave me a chance to try out some of my fun sewing machine feet and learn some new skills.

I had to make lots of ruffles which I hadn't done before and I decided to try out a pretty decorative heart stitch for the dress hem. I was terrified the entire time that I was going to screw something up; but, it came out just fine.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my new sewing machine. It just works all the time; which, for me, is a completely new experience. It was the best birthday present ever!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rise and Shine

I have been wide awake since three o'clock this morning. I'm not really sure why. It could have been my husband's snoring, or Aidan climbing into our bed or the running debate in my mind about the benefits and risks of the raw milk we were given. At any rate, I couldn't go back to sleep.

So, I made these Cherry Almond Scones and a pot of tea. They were super yummy and just the sort of "quiet" recipe one can make in a little house in the middle of the night. As an added bonus, I ate the first one so early that by the time everyone else got up, I was ready for another.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Clown of God

Our Five in a Row book this week was a really interesting choice. The Clown of God by Tomie DePaola is based on a french legend about a poor juggler whose final gift brings about a miracle. This french legend is based on an even older medieval miracle play. It is a beautifully written and illustrated story.

I had mixed feelings about reading this story to Aidan. The main character dies near the end of the story and Aidan is very sensitive to the notions of death and heaven right now. I try to answer his questions when he asks; but, I also try to avoid bringing up the topic whenever possible. The story is also fairly long and filled with some difficult concepts.

I decided to go ahead with the story and had planned to just move through it quickly without delving too deeply into it's meaning. I am so glad I made that decision. Of all the books we have read so far, I think this one has captivated him the most. He sits beside me completely engrossed every time we read it. He asks really great questions and has drawn some amazing conclusions. Today, during our final reading. he even pointed out the circular aspect of the story. For my part, every time I read the story I love it even more. It is very simply told; but, almost magical.

This retelling is set in Sorrento, Italy. We had already read a few stories set in Italy this year, so we didn't spend too much time discussing the country for social studies on Monday. Instead, we talked about elderly people and the ways we could help and respect them. On Tuesday, for language arts, I asked Aidan lots of questions about the story to gauge his actual comprehension. For art on Wednesday, we looked at church architecture and compared the illustrations with our old home church back in Ohio, St. Patrick's. On Thursday, for math, we practiced more grouping and some very basic concepts of multiplication. This weekend, Matt and the kids plan to head to one of our local science museums for some gravity studies. We also continued working on math and handwriting, studying basic addition and a few more letters.

Next week, we will finish out Volume One of Five in a Row. The next collection of books has already arrived and we can't wait to start working our way through it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Showing the Love

Love is in the air at our house! The kids have been busy this week working on some new Valentine crafts. I realize we still have another week until the big day; but, I like to spread out our holiday fun as long as I can. I find that when I save everything until the end, we tend to run out of time and rush through activities.

On Tuesday, we made Valentine shirts based on a fun idea we found here. Ours didn't come out quite as well as hers did. I couldn't find the large size heart doilies AND I let the kids make the shirts themselves. They still came out cute and they were both very proud of their work.

Wednesday, the kids made little Valentine door knob hangers for their rooms. Aidan only worked on his for a few minutes and he was on to the next activity. Adelaide actually worked on hers for quite awhile. It's hard to tell from the end result. After she glues things together, she likes to pull them back apart. I guess that's "process art"! I found these little kits at our local dollar store. Anything that entertains the kids for more that two minutes and only costs a dollar is alright by me!

Today's crafting was all about showing the love to Dad. The kids were very excited to celebrate Matt's birthday. We wrapped presents with our homemade paper and baked a cake. Aidan decorated it with his own signature GIANT clump of sprinkles.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Heart of Conversation

Last week, I posted about an online craft group I recently joined. The Iron Craft Challenge #5 (my first) was "Be Mine". We were supposed to create some sort of Valentine for someone special. It could be any kind of craft or treat, not necessarily a papercraft. I was really excited because I had already planned a fun Valentine project to complete with Aidan this week.

I found a great recipe for homemade conversation hearts. It was really simple and only required a few ingredients, most of which I already had on hand.

We started by combining and warming unflavored gelatin, corn syrup and water. We dumped this into the mixer and slowly added LOTS of powdered sugar. We added the flavoring (vanilla) in at this point because we were only using one flavor. I didn't want to invest in all of the fun candy flavorings until I knew the recipe would turn out.

We dumped our very sticky dough onto a powdered sugar-dusted board and kneaded it until we had a nice smooth dough. Then we divided the dough into pieces and kneaded gel food coloring into each section.

We rolled the dough out and cut out tiny hearts and even tinier hearts for what felt like ten years. My fingers literally bled. (Doesn't this sound like a fun project?) The dough dried out pretty quickly so next time I would cover the unused portions with a damp towel to keep them softer. Then we left all of the hearts to dry on parchment-lined cookie sheets for a full twenty-four hours.

The next day, we got out our fun edible ink markers and wrote tiny Valentine messages on our hearts. Aidan practiced writing his alphabet letters and making some cool shapes and "words".

Once the ink was dry, we packaged them for our friends in little homemade tulle bundles. I had a ton of leftover tulle from my tutu-making fury this summer. We tied them shut with some fun Valentine ribbon and added our friends' names. We can't wait to hand them out to all our favorite Valentines!