Monday, February 27, 2012

January Kindergarten Review: Oceans and Marine Life

Ready to explore the Aquarium!
One of our Christmas presents was a membership to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, so we grabbed that inspiration and decided that Oceans and Marine Life was a great thing to study in January.

Two fascinated learners.
We start each new topic by generating a list of questions on our school white-board: Why do dolphins jump? Is a whale a fish? And so on. We use these questions through our the month as a treasure hunt - looking for answers as we explore. We don't usually find all the answers, but working together to find our questions creates immediate interest and gives me a touchstone when life gets in the way of lesson plans. 

We always check out a big stack of related books and go hunting through our bookshelves for related books. One of my favorites this month was My Visit to the Aquarium by Aliki - such beautiful art work.

Brother-Bug wrote a book report on a book we read about sharks - learning not only about sharks, but also how to write a book report (he dictated and I wrote).

He made a basic food chain picture and drew a lot of pictures if sea creatures. We talked about our favorite sea creatures and got a deck of cards with sea creatures on them, using them to play (what else?) Go Fish. These cards were great, with facts about each creature on the cards.

We got out the jellyfish we made about a year ago and hung it up. It's a simple project that we made up, using blue cellophane and bubble wrap.

Watching the jellies...
By far the best project was making our windows into ocean zones, as I wrote about earlier this month.

We watched several nature documentaries on oceans, and also this amazing animation of what happens to a whale carcass. That was my favorite thing. So beautiful and creepy and amazing.

Finally, we read Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and then watched the Disney version. We had a lively discussion that spanned several days about what was the same about the story, what was different, and why that might have been.

All in all, it was a great month. Onward now (and very much upward!) to the heavens and a study of Space.

A Labeled Pantry

Clearly labeled. All the same size and shape.  
We do most of our dry good shopping in bulk. This ends up in an assorted mish-mash of jars and bags that crowd the pantry shelves. It's so hard to find what I need with out dismantling an entire shelf!It gets even more exciting when I unpack and put away a bunch of grains and beans from my Lonesome Whistle CSA.

On my last deep-clean-the-kitchen-day, I started with tackling the pantry. I was in there for hours. I came up with a system for storing and sorting my bulk dry goods that I am just tickled about.

Problem: Inconsistent jars and bags make storing and finding difficult.

Solution: I have lots of canning jars, and all thing considered, canning jars are pretty darn cheap. And things look so much better when they are all standardized.

New Rule: everything in the pantry should live in a canning jar.

I think this is the best use of sheet space...
Problem: I just am not that good at remembering to label things... Now which was the rye flour? Was it this? Or is that buckwheat...

Solution: Laminated card stock inserts for my canning jar done lids. So easy.

I laminated 8 pages of white card stock and cut out lots of narrow mouth and wide mouth sized circles. One goes in the top of each jar. They get labeled with a wet-erase marker. When I wash the jar or fill it with something else, I can wipe off the label and re-use it.

New Rule: All jars must be labeled. Taking the moment to create a label when I put groceries away will save me a world of searching later.

As always, I was amazed at how much space my pantry actually has when I use standard containers and organize the heck out of the space. Already I am excited to put away my next batch of beans and grains from my CSA - they look so pretty and tidy in their labeled jars!

Daily Haiku: February 27th

Expectant dawning
as we prepare for new guests.
Today we get chicks!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recipe: Sweet Potato & Beef Stew

Here's the thing - I'm not usually a huge fan of your standard beef stew. It's okay, but the flavor combination never enthuses me. So I set off a couple of days ago to do something different. And I did - it is still stew and has many of the qualities of stew that we all know and love. But the flavors are new, to me anyway.

Sweet Potato & Beef Stew with Caramelized Onions

2 onions
1/2 stick of butter
4 cloves of garlic
1 pound stew meat (or chuck cut into cubes)
1/2 cup flour
1 leek
1 large parsnip
2 sweet potatoes or yams
4 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
Rosemary, salt & pepper to taste

I used my slow cooker for this, but it should be easily adaptable to stove top.

Night before: slice the 2 onions and toss into the slow cooker with the butter. Set on low for 8 hours. Wake up to Caramelized Onions. This is a good thing.

In the mid-morning: cube parsnip, sweet potatoes, and slice leeks. Mince the garlic. Dredge the stew meat in flour and brown in a skillet with the garlic. Place veggies, meat, herbs, and beef broth in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with crusty bead and salad.

Monday, February 20, 2012

I Find Cowbird: A Story

A friend pointed me in the direction of Cowbird. It is a place of story. I love it. I published my first Cowbird story just now.

You can read it if you want to:  I Hear the Frogs

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Daily Haiku: February 18th &19th

For Sister-Bug, on the occasion of her night-weaning:

Up before the birds,
I watch the sky transforming
as I cuddle you.


A friend, shelf of books,
a plot to dig hands into earth:
The necessities.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How To Make A Jellyfish

Last year Brother-Bug was interested in jellyfish. We got books out of the library and delved. The eventual result was a large jelly that hung from our ceiling for months.We found it recently and hung it up for our month of studying Oceans and Marine life. It looked really good with our oceanic windows.

It is a very simple project. You will need:
A large piece of bubble wrap
A piece of colorful cellophane (usually sold or found as a gift wrap supply)
Lots of clear or white twist ties
A good plastic bonding glue

Optional - a pack of silver rik-rak and small colorful cards.

Cut a large rectangle of bubble wrap - approximately 12"x36". Glue the 12" side together making a cylinder and let the glue dry thoroughly.

Using the scissors, snip holes around the top and bottom of the cylinder, abut an inch down and 3/4 of an inch apart. Thread one twist-tie through the homes, gathering up the cylinder. That's the top of your jellyfish.

Crumple the cellophane and put it in the gathered cylinder. Use a twist-tie to gather the bottom closed. Squish the cylinder flat-ish to make the jellyfish "head".

Cut tentacles out of bubble wrap - about 24" long and 1-2" wide. Use the scissors to poke a hole in one end of each tentacle and around the bottom of the "head". Use a twist-tie to secure each tentacle in place.

Optional Rik-Rak: tie long strings of silver rik-rak to the bottom center, using the gathering twist-tie as an anchor. Some jellies have two kinds of tentacles much like this.

Optional Cards: we wrote some of the facts we learned about jellyfish on small cards and stapled one card to each tentacle.

Hang in a window to catch the light! I imagine how cool it would be to make a lot of these and float them on a large room... Maybe lighting the cellophane with LEDs...

One bubble-wrap jelly fish.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kids Grow Like Weeds

Brother-Bug is learning to write and plays all the time with basic adding and subtraction. Beyond providing occasional forays into the idea of writing and ciphering, I have done little to "get him there". Mostly he got there on his own.

Sister-Bug lives in a musical where she sings many of her thoughts, picks up music all the time, and frequently requests that I sing (often inventing) songs of her choosing. "Mama, sing me a baby hippo song!" Beyond having music in our lives, and loving to sing for myself, her interest and aptitude in music is self-led.

Both my kids fall into "cognitively advanced" when we go to the pediatrician. I've never done a darn thing to get them there - besides just the way I parent and hang out with them. No baby genius programs or Toddler Mandarin or what ever. In fact, a lot of the time I just let them do whatever they are doing without my input. Sometimes I join in. Sometimes I intervene in the interest of kindness and safety. Sometimes they join me in my work around the house. Often we read. More often we converse. Always we are (all of us) learning.

This is, to me, the essence of homeschooling. Our days unfold. We do a little school work now and then, but at 5 and almost-2 I think we learn more just enjoying our day. So my kids might grow a little wild or leggy like a healthy weed. Of course... most weeds are super nutritious....

Brother-Bug as a baby "learning" about mud as we garden together.

Thanks to Beverley Paine at Life Learning Magazine for inspiring this post. If you are interested in kids education, it's truly worth the read. And thanks to parents like Beverley and my mom who decided to break away from the norm and educate their own. They made this so much easier for me!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Calypso Beans

Beautiful. Striking.
Of all the delightful items in the grain & bean CSA, I think the Calypso beans are my favorite. I was so happy to cook them up, and especially happy that they retain much of their color and pattern when they are cooked. I was a little worried they would be like red lentils - so pretty dried and so blah when cooked. But the black and white fades to ivory and charcoal grey and is still very striking.

Their texture is creamy and perfectly starchy; Kasey compares them to new potatoes. My batch didn't hold their shape as well, but I think I over cooked them or added too muck soda to the cooking water. They have the less robust flavor of a white bean, but more complex than your average white bean. Our tester bean-pot (beans, olive oil, salt, herbs) was heartily enjoyed by all of the family. Brother-Bug made some comments about eating the cow-beans.

The leftovers made into one easy lunch and one fabulous dinner.

For lunch I re-warmed the beans and tossed them with baby spinach and a generous amount of Gorgonzola. Simple. Divine. Deeply satiating. The warm beans wilted the spinach and softened the Gorgonzola, and the flavors merged in a wonderful way.

Cooked Calypsos - still so striking to look at.

Dinner was more complex than tossing some beans and spinach.

Delicata Squash Stuffed with Calypso Beans

3 Delicata squash (though probably any winter squash would work)
1 cup cooked Calypso beans (if you can't get Calypso beans, try a good white bean)
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
Salt, pepper & herbs to taste.

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half and lay open side down in a baking dish with a little water. Cook until easily pierced by a fork, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350.

(Note: I always scrape squash seeds and strings after I bake them. The softened squash is far easier to work with.)

While the squash cools, mid the remaining ingredients together (reserving half the grated cheese) in a bowl - adjust for taste and personal desire. If I had been making this for adults, I think some red chili flakes would have been good, but that was not an option for my kids.

Scrape the seeds and strings from the squash. Leave the flesh intact. Fill and then over-fill the squash halves with the bean and rice mixture. Top with the remaining cheese. Place the squash in a baking pan and pop in I the oven until the cheese is all golden and good.

The only bummer here is that the cheese on top hides the beautiful beans.
 This squash is a balanced meal in itself, but a salad makes a nice accompaniment.


In other bean and grain news, I started a sourdough starter with half white flour and half Kasey's excellent whole wheat flour. I've never made my own starter before, so I am excited to see what happens and how it turns out.

Daily Haiku: February 13th

Here come our chickens.
Today a dream of fuzz balls,
soon a bowl of eggs.

One coop in progress.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Living Under The Sea

I'll be writing my kindergarten wrap up for February pretty soon, but thought I would share a couple of the awesome projects we did during our study of Oceans and Marine Animals.

Our major project was making the three windows in our main living area into three different zones of the ocean.

The project itself was super simple. I taped blue cellophane (from the gift wrap section of the craft store) over the windows.

The Open Ocean: Moon jellies, a tiger shark, cod, tuna, and a skate.

For each zone we researched what animals would live in that zone and selected a handful to display in our "aquarium". I cut the appropriate general shape of each creature out of construction paper and taped it to the window. Brother-Bug helped decorate the cut-outs with crayons and markets. We labeled each creature with its common name.

The Continental Shelf (Coral Reef): Octopus, Moorish Idol Fish, Coral, Manta Ray, Anemones,Clown Fish.

I kept the creatures, colors, and shapes basic and simple because we are doing kindergarten. If we were a little older I might have found actual pictures of the creatures to cut out, or done more complete labels and descriptions... We could have made it a lot fancier and/or complicated; if we repeat this project in the future we probably will add some facets.

The Dark Zone: Female Angler Fish, Vampire Squid, Red Comb Jelly, Brittle Star, Deep-Sea Crab, Sun Star, Gulper Eel, Deep-Sea Urchins (Brother-Bug's favorite zone).

The best part was watching Brother-Bug explain the projects and zones to friends, identifying creatures as he went along each window. He also incorporated his new ballet moves into underwater dances of each creature. It was so fun and hands-on that he seemed to retain a lot of the information.

I wonder what else our windows could become?

Friday, February 10, 2012

So You Forgot To Soak The Beans?

So many beautiful beans in the world...
This is a perpetual issue for me - I can remember to get dinner going early enough, but I think I have remembered to give my beans am overnight soak maybe half a dozen times in my adult life. For years this frequently prevented me from cooking bean recipes.

Finally I read Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, in which he does not insist on pre-soaking beans.

"[The myth of soaking beans...] is the most egregious, and the most harmful , because it has given millions of people the idea that beans must be prepared well in advance. Although soaking speeds cooking, it does not do so significantly. If you soak most beans overnight you will shave fifteen to thirty minutes off the cooking time."
(Bittman; How to Cook Everything; pg. 500)

Equipped with his ideas I began to explore cooking beans in a satisfactory and short-sighted way that works for me.

Bittman's recommendation is to cover the beans with water, bring to a boil, cover loosely, and simmer (stirring occasionally) till done.

I tried this with several types of beans and found it worked, but didn't quite cook the beans to my taste. My adaptations work as follows:

Warm water in a tea kettle and pour over rinsed beans. Lid the soaking beans and let sit for 30 minutes or more. Strain and rinse.

Stove Top:
Put the beans, a teaspoon of baking soda (I use about one teaspoon per cup if dry beans - very approximate) and ample water in the cooking pan. Turn on high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer till the beans are tender. This should be between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the beans. I never time them, but instead check them periodically.

Slow Cooker:
Place the beans, baking soda, and ample water in the slow cooker. I then turn mine to high for 6 hours. This might make my beans a little mushy, but I usually check them frequently throughout the day if I am home and turn the cooker off when they are done.

This works especially well with fresh beans, such as the heirlooms I have been playing with from Lonesome Whistle. And if you are cooking beans, make a double batch. Take half of the soaked beans and freeze them in their soaking water. They are ready to cook when you have even less time than usual!


As an aside, I highly recommend Bittman's book. It's an excellent go-to for any and (almost) all cooking questions.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Those Other Mothers

Look at the time - it's early in the morning or late at night... Sister-Bug has been up all night with a nasty tummy something. The poor little thing wakes up in agony every few minutes to shriek and writhe.

(I have thoroughly checked her and ruled out the need for immediate medical care... I'm guessing a very bad gas bubble.)

It was a long day today, visiting my sister in California and adventuring around her haunts. We aren't in our own bed, which makes this harder. And every few minutes I must be ON. On for crooning and tummy rubs and sitting up rocking, or anything else that eases this baby's discomfort.

And I do it.

It's very zen. We are here and now doing this because there is nothing else to be done.

It is nights like this that I feel the Other Mothers. These are the mothers that span time and place. Mothers of ancient Sumeria or present day Finland. Pioneer mothers or exiled queens. My ancestors, and any other mother who has sat up with a sick child, all night long, dredging compassion and patience and one more lullaby from the depth of her weary being.

I feel their hands on my back when I want to lay down, but must remain sitting. I feel their hands gently over my mouth when I want to scream with tired frustration. I feel their love pouring over me, enabling me to continue pouring love over my child.

I am so grateful for those other mothers - the ones who have sat up in the past and the ones who are sitting up tonight. And I hope, someday, my spirit can fly to a future mother as she sits rocking all night long.

Friday, February 3, 2012