Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Little House books and Sustainable Living

For many years, I've been fascinated (read: obsessed) with sustainable living. I'd love to raise our own animals, make our own butter and yogurt, bake our own bread, grow our own food; live off the land, so to speak. Some of this we do, sometimes. We usually bake bread a few times a week, have a small garden, we used to make our own yogurt (and the boys want to start doing this again) and occasionally, make butter, just for fun. Today was one of those butter making days - and the boys LOVED IT!

We are still reading through the little house series, so for our read aloud picture books today, we read books related to farming or pre-1900's living. We read The Ox Cart Man which we all loved. Its a library book, which we will soon own. The boys (and I) loved the way that each member of the family made things to sell at the market. Next we read Eating the Alphabet. Following that book, we read 1001 Things to Spot on the Farm and learned about many different kinds of farming (dairy farming, chicken farming, honey farming, and more). This was also a fun math lesson as we counted, divided, practiced fractions and addition. We also read Sugar Snow from the Little House Picture Book series. I would love to get my hands on some maple sap to make maple sugar and maple syrup with the boys.

We wrapped this up with homemade butter (each boy made his own) and homemade biscuits. The boys were so pleased and so proud of their work. Nicholas is planning our next family business - butter makers, lol. We tasted our butter on biscuits and saved some for Dad. We'll be doing more of this soon, I'm sure :o)

Monday, January 28, 2008

More from the garden

Today, the spinach and lettuce are outside beginning the hardening off process. The old broccoli plants have been pulled up and composted. The soil has been turned and compost added. Even with the coldish weather (30's and 40's), the new broccoli plants look happy. Hopefully, they will be joined soon by the spinach and lettuce.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today's Learning

Currently, the boys are doing math with M&M's.

I have 6 blue ones. I ate 2 blue ones. How many do I have left?

I have 5 groups of 4 colors each. Four, 8, 12, 16, 20. 5 X4 is 20.

They are having fun (thank God! - its not usually this smooth - lol). Earlier, Nicholas also did a worksheet from Math U See, which he enjoyed and two pages from his Explode the Code book.

This morning, we read about caves and about rainforests in the Usborne Children's Encyclopedia, at Nicholas' request. I'm going to consider that Science and geography. Then, Andrew asked for me to read aloud about WWI and WWII in that same book. History . . . check!

We also read Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet by Chris L Demarest. Phonics . . . check!Alpha Bravo Charlie

Nicholas asked for Dance at Grandpa's: My First Little House Books. We are reading through the little house books again before bed (just finished On the Banks of Plum Creek last night). When he saw the picture book at the library, he decided to check it out to enjoy as a read aloud. Literature . . . check!

This after noon, we are going to do some work outside in the garden, turning compost, caring for seedlings and planting new seeds. We are also going to plan the boys' spring gardens. We need to measure and mark the area for the gardens and decide what they will contain. I'm enjoying Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy. I'm sure some of her ideas will make it into the boys gardens. Science, math, nature study, botony . . . check!

We will also read Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson and then read some books about how Crayons are made. We will probably also watch this video about crayons being made. Literature, social studies . . . check!

If time permits, we will also make brownies - both yummy and a math lesson in measuring :o) We'll use Alton Brown's recipe from the Good Eats Episode "Art of Darkness II". In it he talks about emulsions, the history of chocolate, making chocolate and more. Math, history, chemistry . . . check! (ETA: brownies are in the oven - they smell wonderful! We could not find our one cup measuring cup, so we had to use our 1/4 cup measure. That worked even more math into our cooking. Now the boys have really worked up an appetite).

Other lessons they've had today: whining does not convince Mom to give you your way, keeping a home and caring for their things, food and nutrition, getting along with others (sometimes known as aggressive negotiations), caring for pets, sharing and taking turns and using their imaginations. What a great learning day!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wintry Mix

That's what the weather is like here right now - some rain, some sleet and some SNOW!! Being from the Deep South, this is a once in a decade sort of thing. The boys are outside making "snow men" which are about 1 inch in diameter. What fun! If I can ever get my computer back to working properly, I'll post some pictures.

All this exciting weather has brought our A.A. Milne birthday celebration to a screeching halt. Before the snow started falling, we did manage to make some honey butter for our yummy biscuits. Tonight, by the fire, with our hot chocolate, we will read our favorite Winnie the Pooh stories while we watch our wintry mix fall.

Honey Butter

1 cup of butter at room temperature
1/4 cup honey

Mix with hand or stand mixer until well combined. Store in refrigerator. Wonderful on hot biscuits or rolls.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A.A. Milne

Did you know that tomorrow is A.A. Milne's birthday? Since Winnie-the-Pooh is one of Nicholas favorite characters and we love the book so much, we are going to have to do something special to celebrate. I'm envisioning lots of reading aloud and something with honey. I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My favorite Sweet Potato Recipe - Yummy!

Smothered Sweet Potatoes

Peel and thinly slice one or two sweet potatoes. Place one tablespoon of butter per sweet potato into a warm skillet until melted. Place sweet potatoes into skillet. Add salt to taste. Stir occasionally to make sure all slices are buttered and salted. These slices will brown nicely as they cook and the smell in the kitchen is heavenly. Yummy!

Gardening Geek Alert!

I confess. I am a geek - especially about gardening (although my bet is that you already knew that). I think maybe I'm really a farmer trapped in a suburbanite's life. Anyway, while surfing for more information on growing berries and fruit, I stumbled upon this website about how to grow PINEAPPLES at home!! I am so trying this.

The picture to the left is a pineapple grown from the cut off top of another pineapple, bought from a grocery store or market. Patience is required since it can take up to 3 years for it to fruit. Still, its a free plant since I usually throw out the tops. Besides, it ought to be fun to see what happens :o)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Our Favorite Smoothie Recipe

We love this smoothie! Its something we have almost every day. I don't measure, so these are approximations.

1/2 bag frozen strawberries (8 oz)
1/4 bag frozen peaches (4 oz)
1 cup orange juice
1 banana cut into chunks
1 cup yogurt (we like either strawberry or plain)
The contents of 4 Omega 3 (fish or flax)Oil capsules

Add all ingredients to blender. Blend until smooth. Add water if it is too thick. Serve with a straw - its more fun that way :o) This recipe makes 4 small or 2 large smoothies.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Illustrated Dictionary Of Math Kid Kit is Great!

The Math Kit explores concepts such as fractions, geometry, and measurements. The Kit includes colorful wooden tangrams, 3 different multi-sided dice, graph paper, a geometric ruler, and the Illustrated Dictionary of Math - filled with over 300 illustrations and diagrams as well as internet links to hundreds of games and activities.

I cannot say enough great things about the Illustrated Dictionary of Math. This amazing book covers all math concepts from counting through advanced math. It includes internet links on many of the topics for further information and also many links for drill and practice. The book coupled with all of the useful math goodies make this kit something every family should own. At $19.99, this kit makes a great gift!

We did it!

We planted a new crop of broccoli in our garden today. We put 18 plants into the ground today. I cannot believe that broccoli does so well here in the middle of winter, but it does. The spot its in gets enough sunlight to keep it warm by day and on the rare occasion of freezing nights, we have ways of keeping these little plants warm. This is going to be a fun experiment. I can't wait to see what happens!

We also started some lettuce seeds today. Nine lettuce seeds to be exact. If these germinate (we sowed them in pots inside, so they should germinate), we'll sow another 8 in a few weeks for a staggered harvest. Between these lettuce and the spinach we sowed two weeks ago, we might have a nice spring garden.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The boys found a dead butterfly in the shed this morning. Nicholas, who is very tenderhearted, wanted to help the butterfly get to butterfly heaven (his idea). They were outside and I was inside, when I saw Andrew coming in to the house with tears in his eyes and a big sad lip. He told me that Nicholas was holding a butterfly funeral and was singing a song for the butterfly. It was really sweet and melancholy. Since I can't sing it for you, here are the words, sung to a slow version of "Happy Birthday".

Happy Butterfly, go to sleep.
Happy Butterfly, sweet dreams.

::::snif, snif::::

Monday, January 7, 2008

Telling the Time

Here's a fun book for learning to tell time. Its called Telling the Time. It has a movable clock built right into the book and this clock is visible and usable from every page. It makes practicing lots of fun!

Here's a fun website for making telling the time worksheets. We've enjoyed using these for practice, too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

From our garden

Today we harvested broccoli from our garden. This the first time we've ever been able to get it to grow well and actually be able to harvest and eat it. This is so exciting for us, as we are all broccoli lovers (especially Nicholas - its the ONLY veggie he'll eat!).

So, here are a few things I've learned about growing broccoli. First, nine plants are not enough. I naively assumed that the florets would grow as big as they are in the grocery store. I wasn't thinking about the fact that we are not using pesticides (pests were not a problem - I guess because its too cold for bugs right now) or chemical fertilizers. I'm hoping to have larger florets next season, after the beds have been composted (we're making some nice organic compost). Regardless, I plan to fill the whole square foot garden block (16 blocks) with broccoli plants.

Second, I need to plant them a little earlier in the fall. We planted them about 2 weeks too late (last week of September). I think they might have had a quicker start with a little earlier planting. We are lucky that we live in the Deep South so a fall/ winter garden is very do-able. As a matter of fact, it might be a good idea to plant a few each week until at least one bed is filled with broccoli. That way, we can stager the planting and stager the harvest. Since we have 4 beds, it might even be possible to plant more than 16 broccoli plants, since not much else grows at freezing temps.

Third, I think the plants need more sunlight than they get right now (we have lots of big trees in the yard). It would be nice to find some way to help them get more light.

We plan to put new broccoli plants in the ground soon for a late winter/ spring garden. These I want to start indoors from seeds, and I think we'll need to do that soon. I'd also love to grow some leaf lettuce and spinach indoors this winter. I guess we'll need to do some research and lots of experimenting. We'll update in a few weeks to let you know how its going.