Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Edible Education

In an attempt to make our math lessons more "hands on" (or in this case, more "sticky-hands on"), I took our lesson to that tried and true arena of learning: the kitchen. Our first math unit has been on same/different/similar, so I thought that decorating pairs of cookies would be a delicious way to illustrate this concept.

We used recipe number 2 of these sugar cookie recipes, and it was just about the best sugar cookie dough I've ever had. We made the dough one day, then cut and baked them the next morning, then decorated them in the afternoon. I let the girls pick out all the cookie cutters, and we made two of each shape to decorate either the same or different. I think the spray-can frosting is pretty awful, but it's super easy and simpler to manipulate than a piping bag (also, I don't own a piping bag, and had no more butter to make frosting anyway, so there you have it).

Darling made time for her math lesson before her wedding. Such dedication to her schooling!

I think it was a smashing success. I'm so proud of Doodlebug, especially, who has been pointing out things that are the same or different ever since! Darling was more interested in eating the cookies and then getting back to playing dress-up.

They decorated the cookies themselves. While they earned an A for math, let's just say that I know two little ladies who will never compete on Cupcake Wars. ;-)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cucumber Conundrum

Refreshing Agua Fresca.
Have you ever grown cucumbers? If so, then you know what I mean when I say I have got to find ways to use them up. Now, I know everyone says "pickles" but I have neither the time nor the inclination to make pickles right now, so that's just not going to happen. I've had my fill of cucumber, tomato, and feta salad, and today I was on the search for something new to do with the 'cukes on my counter.

My search brought me, as always, to Simply Recipes. I love this site. If you have not visited before, you must. It has saved our family dinner too many times to count. Today, it saved my cucumbers. Wanting to try something new, I decided to make the Cucumber Lime Mint Agua Fresca. I have tons of mint growing in my garden, so I decided to go for it. I used chocolate mint instead of spearmint, and lemon instead of lime, but it was quite tasty just the same. I would recommend it if you want to try something different!

Prolific chocolate mint in the garden.

Since I'm obsessed with vegetables, of course I did some research on cucumbers to learn more about them.  I learned that this widely cultivated veggie, which I always seemed to overlook in the grocery store, was thought to originate in India, and is actually very nutritious. They are part of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes pumpkins, melons, zucchini, and other squashes. Because of their unique combination of phytonutrients, including lignans, cucurbitacins, and flavanoids 'cukes can actually provide you with anti-inflammitory and anti-cancer protection, while fiber, a healthy dose of vitamin K, and a high water content keep you regular. Who knew? You can head over to World's Healthiest Foods if you'd like to learn more.

Freshly picked.

I decided to give some to the kids, since I try to sneak vegetables into their diets at every possible opportunity. The girls turned their noses up at it, but they did try it. Pumpkin, however, ran over immediately, pointing and saying, "Sip dat! Sip dat!" I gave him his own in a sippy cup.

After the first sip--I love his face!
 He drank the whole thing. I enjoyed it, too, and found it extremely refreshing on this hot day. So even though the girls didn't like it, I consider it to be a successful recipe.

He decided he liked it, though.

 I have lots more 'cukes on the vine. What is your favorite way to eat a cucumber? I need some suggestions!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Our first science unit on ants have been a success so far! And most of that is due to some very busy insects building away in our flower beds. A couple of days ago, Doodlebug picked up our bird feeder that had fallen off a tree into the flower bed, and we discovered that the ants had built their nest underneath it.
Our windblown bird feeder made a great home for ants!

 It turned out to be a living example of what we had read! Moving the bird feeder allowed us to see rooms and passages the ants had built. With their roof suddenly gone, the ants were in a panic, trying to carry all the eggs and larvae underground.

See that little white thing the ants are all over? That's the larva
We saw one worker ant struggle to carry a larva underground and another come to help it. 

We could also see the difference in size between the soldiers and the workers. Those large ants that you can see are the soldiers, and the little specks are the workers. I believe, but am not certain, that the winged ant in the middle left is a young queen. Probably not the nest queen, because we read that their wings fall off when they begin to lay eggs.

Some little girls enjoyed observing the ants in their natural environment. What we didn't realize when Doodlebug moved the bird feeder was that the ants were storing their eggs on the underside of it. When we returned the bird feeder to the ant nest, we discovered all their eggs had fallen off into a big pile. See the little white specks there?

The ants had already discovered their missing stash and were busy moving them all underground, where it was safer. We came back a little later and every single egg was gone. Ants are highly organized and efficient!

Here are the books we have read and enjoyed about ants to far:

I wonder what our unit on butterflies will have in store?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Words of Wisodm

On a piece of paper that was once part of my credit card billing statement that says, "This page was intentionally left blank" I have written some Bible verses/words of wisdom that really spoke to me in this stage of my journey as a parent. I was so inspired when I read them that I immediately grabbed the nearest piece of paper (thus, the credit card statement) and scribbled them down. I've never transferred them to something that's prettier, I just folded it up and have it in my desk drawer. I pull it out every morning and read the words there. Each morning, the words still speak to me, so I thought I would share them.

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

"A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul." Proverbs 18:7

"He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin." Proverbs 13:3

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11

I think of these words all day long as my kids and I go through trial after trial. Yesterday, I recalled that last verse as I battled for two hours with Pumpkin when he threw a tantrum over his cracker being in pieces, and then he would not say he was sorry for throwing the tantrum. I recalled those words and held fast, and he did, in fact, cave in and say he was sorry. It was a testament to the fact that children understand so much more than we think they do. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was letting me know that he knew. He's got a stubborn streak. I just can't imagine where he got it from. Certainly not from me. (wink)

Do you have any words of wisdom that you live by, that give you encouragement when things are hard?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three Projects

Today I want to share about three works-in-progress. The first is the Baby's Texture Blanket. It has been on my queue for a long time, and I'm so excited to finally make it. The colors of this blanket are so vibrant and playful, it makes me happy to work on it.

Aren't the colors yummy?
The yarn is the discontinued Cotton Stria by Manos del Uruguay, and it is working up light and airy on size 6 needles, yet it's soft and snuggly at the same time. I'm using 24-inch circulars to knit back and forth. I love it so much and cannot wait to finish it so I can ship it off to the recipient.

The next project I want to share is a pattern that I am test-knitting, and I think it's just wonderful. Yemma's Dress has a simple bodice which is knit top-down in the round with a gathered, fabric skirt. I think the combination of knitting and sewing here is genius, because you get the best of both worlds: a super-cute dress that is totally wearable in a fraction of the time, and the sewing part is simple enough for any beginner (which is definitely me!).  I've already completed one, but it's turned out a bit big, and I learned an important lesson: always wash your swatch the same way you will wash your finished garment!

This is the fabric we've picked out for Darling's dress. Isn't it adorable? Darling insists on having the top pink, but I think I might make the smaller size for Doodlebug in the green, too, since I've learned a lot about fit through trial-and-error of the first one. I have two full yards of fabric, which should be plenty. The yarn is Knit Pick's Shine Sport in the green apple and cosmopolitan colorways, respectively.

And finally, I wanted to share my very first fully-sewn garment, a skirt for Darling. The pattern is part of the book Stitch by Stitch, by Deborah Moebes. The concept is to use pre-cut 5 x 5 squares of fabric collections, called charm packs, so there is no cutting, which is perfect for the beginning sewist (again, me!). The charm pack I chose is called Ruby by Moda and I think it's just about the cutest fabric I've ever seen.

I am obsessed with bright colors at the moment. Since the start of school, crafts have taken a back seat, but I do try to work a little bit on one every day. I'll share more when they are finished.

Have a great day!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Today's the Day!

This is it: the day we start homeschooling. When my oldest was born, it seemed like this day would never come, but here it is! And at the risk of sounding cliche: it went by too fast. It seems silly that I am so nervous and anxious about it. I mean, I was homeschooled myself, for Heaven's sake! I should have this in the bag! And it's just kindergarten: alphabet, cut and paste kind of stuff. Right?

I was listening to a download by Steve Lambert, husband of Five in a Row author Jane Claire Lambert, speaking at a homeschool convention. He put into words what I have always thought, but have never been able to clearly express. To paraphrase:

You, the parent, are solely responsible for how your child is raised and educated. You can do all the work yourself (as in homeschool), or you can contract out some of the work (such as sending them to school), or you can contract out all of the work (boarding school, maybe?), but in the end when you stand up to be evaluated, only you will be responsible. Those other teachers and nannies and mentors and daycare workers won't have it on their heads. So you have to make sure it's done right, and there is no second chance.


"It's just kindergarten. It's just kindergarten. It's just kindergarten."

But I have my paper bag handy, just in case....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Of Melons and Memories

Last night we picked our very first watermelon from our garden! We have been waiting and waiting for it to ripen. Every day, all the kids and I march down to the garden (which is, by necessity, at the very farthest corner from the door as it could be) and check on our watermelon. It is a variety of ice-box watermelon called Sugar Baby, which is a very popular small heirloom variety. It's called "ice-box" because it will actually fit in the refrigerator. We have only one vine, which I am actually growing up a trellis as an experiment because it requires so much less space. I first read about that in Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew and it's going well so far. One melon did crash to the ground prematurely, but I suspect that had more to do with bugs that anything else, because two melons are waxing fat and happy, dangling from the top of the trellis.  I'm growing cantaloupes this way, too, and they will fall off the vine when they are ripe, but I actually like that, since my trellises are not too high. I always know when one is ripe without them busting when they hit the ground. Speaking of busting, Darling begged to carry the watermelon back to the house, then immediately dropped it as soon as it was in her hands. I love that girl so much. I couldn't help but laugh. It busted a little bit (you can see it in the picture), but it didn't affect the flavor one bit. :)

It was sooooo juicy. The juice just ran out everywhere when I cut into it. It dripped down little chins and turned little hands sticky and was such a mess to clean up. But a lovely mess, because it was a homegrown mess in every sense. We had such a good time eating it. I taught the kids how to spit out the seeds as they ate. Darling caught on immediately and became an expert seed spitter. Doodlebug had a bit more trouble and the seeds just sort of fell out her mouth (I picked all the seeds out of Pumpkin's melons before giving them to him). I never could get a good picture of them spitting the seeds, but I wish I had been able to. Oh well. I have some blurry ones for my own memories.

When I was a child, my grandparents lived out on some acreage, and they grew watermelons every summer. My aunt, uncle, and cousins would come down and Papaw would put all the melons on ice in preparations. In the afternoons we would gather on the deck and cut open the most enormous, juicy watermelons you've ever seen and pass the salt shakers around. I don't think any watermelons have ever tasted so good as those from my childhood. When we were all done there was a contest to see who could hurl the rind the furthest. I don't think I ever won, not once. I guess hurling watermelon rinds was just not my thing.

As you can see, we completely devoured our watermelon. The kids ate it like it was their last meal on earth. Pumpkin had an enormous pile of rinds in front of him, and he actually gnawed one rind until there was hardly anything left, then carried another rind around with him all over the yard. I guess he was saving it for later. We all felt extremely proud that we grew it ourselves. It makes me happy to think of what a lesson in patience and perseverance (not to mention botany!) this was for them. I hope they will cherish these memories as much as I do. I can't imagine a better way to spend an evening.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


A momentous day for our family arrived a few months ago: the day I decided to start reading aloud chapter books with the kids, and not just picture books. I had been dreaming about that day for a long time. If you have books that are special favorites from your childhood, maybe you know what I mean. I couldn't wait for the day their attention spans and memories were developed enough to handle a story spread out of many days. Reading some of my favorite children's classics with them has been such a treat, and I'm trying to savor every moment.

When I say I'm reading aloud to "the kids", I mostly mean to Darling (who is now 5). Doodlebug (3) is always included, but she gets up to play, then comes back to listen to what she finds interesting, then moves back to her baby dolls and so on. As long as she's in the room, I think that's fine. Sometimes Pumpkin (not yet 2) is present for the chapter read-alouds, and sometimes he has already gone to bed. He gets his own special reading time with Mommy, separate from his sisters' reading time, as part of his nighttime routine. I'll combine the reading time when he is older.

Reading time has always been a fixture in our bedtime routine, often getting stretched out from our usual thirty minutes to nearly two hours. We always read before bed, but I am thinking about adding a second reading time, maybe after lunch. What does your read-aloud time look like? I would love suggestions. I have tried to surround my kids with books from the very beginning, and even though none of them can read yet, they have already started a love affair with books. Pumpkin even takes board books to bed with him. I'll peek in on him in the mornings sometimes and he will be sitting in bed flipping through the pages, looking at pictures, pointing and chattering. One day I hope to get a video of it, it is so precious to watch. I hope this is the start of a life-long love of learning.

Back to our chapter books.

Our very first chapter read-aloud was Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. The Betsy-Tacy series is one of my absolute favorites. I have completely worn out my copy of at least six of the books. As I got older I mostly re-read her high school years, and then I fixated on Betsy and Great World, and especially on Betsy's Wedding for a long time. I probably read it close to a 30 or 40 times over the years. I loved it so much, and it was always next to my bed when I was a teenager. I had forgotten, though, how wonderful the very first books are. It was a joy to read, and both of my girls enjoyed it immensely.  We finished it in just a couple of days, as I was unable to resist whenever Darling would say, "Let's just keep reading." We started Betsy-Tacy and Tib and were over halfway through it when they went with their dad for a week. It was hard to pick back up where we left off, so I decided to just start a new book, The BFG by Roald Dahl.

I've been surprised to learn that whenever I mentioned we were reading The BFG, no one had heard of it. Really? I guess it's not his most popular work (I suppose the a story of how giants steal children and eat them doesn't have as much mass-appeal as a flying, giant peach or an eccentric chocolatier), but I remember my mother reading it to my brothers and me when we were little. I especially remember the part of the carbonation going down instead of up. Isn't is funny what sticks with you? Anyway, my girls and I all enjoyed it. We moved on to James and the Giant Peach, also by Roald Dahl, which we just finished last night. It was an enormous hit with everyone. Doodlebug said she wanted to ride on a giant peach. Darling said she was sure there was a giant peach roller coaster somewhere we could ride on. I remember these stories being fresh and captivating when I was a child; and they are even more so  now. Roald Dahl wrote classics, that's for sure. I can't wait to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, I really want to move on the Chronicles of Narnia next. We will start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and read the series in the order the books were written. I know that most of the collections now put the books in chronological order, but I don't like it that way. I think it's so much nicer, more Narnian, when the timeline jumps around.

*8/14/11 Update: we actually started Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, which Darling loved so much that we finished in three sittings---and most of that was in one sitting.

While I might have waited to delve into Narnia with the kids, I am a little bit paranoid that they will see the movies before they read the books. While, for the most part, I'm a fan of the movies of classic books, I think that every child deserves the opportunity to form their own opinions about the story first, in their head. Once they see the movie, they will forever envision those characters as the actors who played them, and they will never get another chance to form their own visions and make the story their own. This is one of the ways that movies can never be as powerful as great literature.

And lastly, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease if you need extra recommendations for great books. I have my mother's copy from the '70's. While it is a fantastic list of books that make wonderful read-alouds, and a useful tool in building a solid home library, it is also a very informative about the importance and power of reading aloud to children even after they can read themselves.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Is it August already? It must be: it is hot! The wind is hot, the grass is hot, the water is hot. The pool is more like a hot tub by the end of the day, and the water flows hot from the faucets. We have had just a few summer thunderstorms (maybe two) in the past few weeks, and are desperate for more rain. Hot, hot, hot! The thermometer on my car read 108 today as the kids and I drove home from the market. Tonight I let them play much longer outside than usual--until 8:30. The sun was setting. It’s just too hot to play outside at any other time of day. They were having such a good time swimming and playing that I hated to bring it all to an end. Darling is really doing well with swimming. She is really starting to stretch out her movements and keep herself afloat while she moves through the water. She amazes me every day. Doodlebug is still shy about the water and wants her floaties. I have no problems with her leaving the shallow end-- that makes her too nervous! She is like a little water bug, though: she loves to splash! Pumpkin is quite the little daredevil. He did not want to get in the pool (the water was hot!), instead I let him play with the hose for a little bit. Then he wanted to swing and climb the tower. He also is very fascinated by the ants that have made a home in our flower bed. He watches them scurry around for many minutes at a time, and can very clearly say “An-tuh!”. He is very explosive with the t-sound! I know I will miss that when it disappears.

I found a pill bug (I used to call them roly-polies), and showed it to the kids. I had always thought that it was so much fun the way they curl their bodies up when you touch them, but the kids were far more interested in the dragonflies. There must have been two dozen dragon flies zipping over the grass in our backyard. Darling decided that she wanted to catch one, so she chased them around for several minutes with her net before she came to me, panting and sweating, and asked if I would please catch one for her. Lol. I hope the neighbors didn’t see me stalking dragonflies and waving my net around like a madwoman. I caught one, though! We put it in a pickle jar and looked at it closely, with its double, iridescent wings.

Then Doodlebug was determined that she would catch one, too:

This dragonfly had a yellow body, and it was not happy to be caught! I told the girls it would suffocate if we left the lid on the jar, so Darling took the lid off so it could breathe, and of course it escaped. Everyone was happy for it to fly to its home, though. That gentleness towards animals makes me so happy to see. I try to encourage that every chance I get.

As you can see, Pumpkin was more interested in the marigolds. He loves the garden and is always poking around there whenever we're outside. He loves to help me water and insists on holding the water hose. It warms my heart the way that he wants to help me. I want to nurture that quality--I hope it won't ever fade!

As you can see, we're always up to something and yet not really up to anything. How are you spending the final days of your summer break?