Sunday, August 21, 2011

Volunteering at Cormier Woods

We volunteered at Cormier Woods the other day.  We've hiked the trails a few times, they were looking for was a match made in volunteer heaven. 
The husband came along.  Boy, was he a trooper.  Our guide, for lack of a better term, was Susan.  She was so responsive to the boys.  She was patient and gentle.  Our job for the day, or rather, hour, was to paint yellow trail markers on the trees and sign posts.  My boys were a bit painty, but no matter.  Eli started pointing out mushrooms as we walked the trail.  He didn't know one mushroom from another, but was eager to point them out and talk to Susan.  She pointed out sassafras and yellow birch, which the boys sampled.  We also talked about princess pine and poison ivy.  When we came to the blueberry patch, she guided the boys to the high bushes and picked berries with them.  There's a pear tree on the property and we all enjoyed a snack.  It was such a lovely day to help out.  This was our first family volunteering opportunity.  I have to say that I enjoyed it as much as the boys did.  I do think, however, Susan could have painted those circles in a quarter of the time it took us to do it as a group.  We'll definitely go back and hike the trails and help out again.  You should too. 

 So happy to be helping!

Painting circles. 

He insisted on picking his own pear.

Coral Mushroom


The boys checking out a grasshopper.

Rock and Mineral Scavenger Hunt

We're so fortunate to live near some state parks.  The DCR in Massachusetts offers a variety of activities for the kids.  After planning for our Magic School Bus Inside the Earth day, I sought to supplement the learning and found the DCR's Rock and Mineral Scavenger Hunt.  Perfect!  We all showed up at Purgatory Chasm for the hunt and had such a good time.  Even some families that didn't do the Inside the Earth day came along.  There was one other family there who didn't homeschool.  Um, I'm thinking because we're all so rambunctious we scared them off...whoops!

Eli talking rock shop.

Grif found some mica!

Off to find "something that gets smaller"...

Getting the lists.

Talking about how rocks are made and where they come from.
This scavenger hunt really reinforced and complimented what we learned about in the book.  A big THANK YOU! to our guide, Katherine.  She was enthusiastic and simply amazing with this very large group of kids. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wildlife Gardening

I know, three posts in less than 12 hours.  We've been doing a lot.  Plus, I got a new phone with a camera better than the one I had.  Lastly, I need to document everything because Eli is now of reporting age.  Consider this our curriculum journal.  Please bear with me...
We got a book called Wildlife Gardening by Martyn Cox awhile back.  It always seems that my kids "discover" books weeks or even months after they make their way onto the bookshelves.  I digress...
Eli loved this book.  He loved it so much that he left it out in the rain one night.  I had to buy another.  Now, before you begin the lesson on spoiling and learning lessons...he's five and he really did love the book.  And I loved how much he loved the book.  He carried it around with him everywhere - the car, the bathroom...outside.  He wanted to do every project in the book immediately.  Then, it got wet and I couldn't even separate the pages.  I tried drying it and, well, it was awful.  So, I ordered another copy and it came today.  Eli was off to build a frog and toad home (page 56).  Then he wanted to build the pond (page 14).  Sure, we'll build the pond today.  He'd been asking about the pond for about 2 weeks before the book got soaked.  We discovered a plastic bin that I had put weeds in to die off before I threw them in the compost pile.  The bin was full of water...and larvae.  Now we could do pond dipping (page 52)!  We found mosquito larvae and some other larvae.  I have no idea what they are...except just iggy. 

Dip #1  A fly got stuck.  Poor little guy...

Dip #2  Mosquito and unidentified larvae.  They were see through...maybe crane flies or midges?

Dip #3  The dark one in the upper left-hand corner is a mosquito larvae.
This "pond" was not what Eli had in mind - he wanted to reproduce the pictures in the book.  I dug the hole, of course, because the spot he chose was littered with poison ivy roots.  Plus, it ended up being a foot and a half deep, a foot and a half wide and three feet long - about.  I didn't actually measure.  It took us about an hour and a half from start to finish.  The boys worked hard transplanting flowers and grass, gathering stones and sand.  Odin even helped to lug water across the yard.  What a trooper. 

The beginning...

A hard working Odin.

I had to throw it in...

Tonka really makes those trucks tough.

Admiring their own handy work...
I really like this book.  I also really like the team work my boys showed and their enthusiasm for creating.  While digging, Eli said, "I've been thinking about this a lot for a while - are people litter?  Like, does the Earth think that people walking around it are Earth's litter?"  I love that boy. 

Inside the Earth

What I love so much about the homeschooling families we surround ourselves with is their desire to come together as a group and share and enjoy different experiences their children are interested in.  One momma wanted to increase her children's exposure to and love for science.  What better way than to utilize the Magic School Bus series?  We got together the other day with some other families and read Inside the Earth.  It was pouring rain, so instead of collecting rocks outside, Science Momma put together some wonderful impromptu activities based on the book.  We, um, I mean, the kids created composite rocks with clay.  Some got together and completed a glow-in-the-dark puzzle of the earth's rock layers.  Another group drew their favorite rocks - fluorite, granite, mica, etc. 
When we arrived back at home, the boys scoured the driveway for rocks.  They found quartz, composites, granite and a bunch we couldn't identify.  We have Rocks and Minerals, one of Peterson First Guides, but the pictures are of shiny rocks on display, not dirty, unpolished ones in the backyard.  We also have Simon & Schuster's Guide to Rocks & Minerals.  That book is beautiful, but it boasts 1,000 spectacular illustrations.  We might have to "upgrade" to more child-friendly identification books.  Who am I kidding?  Not more child-friendly...more adult friendly!  There must be a rock-collecting book for dummies...

Springs and Verniers

The husband is pretty cool.  I think I'm a bit biased, but that's okay.  The kids think he's pretty cool, too.  Not just because when they ask for stuff he gives it to them, but because he spends time with them exploring and discussing.  "Daddy, can we do something with you?  Not like toy stuff, but like work stuff."  The next day, the husband has put together an activity that amazes and puts him high on a pedestal, yet again.  This happens about once a month, which is probably just enough for the husband's sanity, and his ego.  I'm creating activities, working in curriculum and making the most of each moment all day long, or at least once a day.  It's a new sort of experience for the husband.  But, when he does do it, he does it well.


Springs and things.
I didn't make it outside fast enough to capture the kids on film sitting on the springs and bouncing.  What's more fun than that? 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Squirrels, Chipmunks and Ben Franklin

I got a box of books from a friend a long while ago.  They were placed on the bookshelf along side the rest.  Almost a year later Eli finds a book about Ben Franklin and the Magic Square.  After several readings of the book, Eli decided that he loved magic squares.  He also decided that he would like to create things and put all his ideas in a book.  His first invention - a house for a squirrel and chipmunk to live in.  Please remember he's five. 
He went to bed and momma started the research on squirrels and chipmunks. 
I printed out pictures for him to color.  Not cartoony pictures, but somewhat realistic ones.  I found a section in the Handbook of Nature Study on both mammals.  I printed out some of the referenced readings from  I was able to find Bannertail; the story of the gray squirrel on Amazon, but it was a bit pricey for me.  Sorry, Amazon. had it for free.  I like free.  I had to copy and paste the text into a Word document and then do some editing so it wasn't on several pages. 
I also used's squirrel theme unit.  Edhelper charges about $20 a year, but it's totally worth it.  I can create word searches and math sheets and find complete themed activities in one place.  I like having things in one place for easy access.  Makes life a bit easier sometimes. 
Unfortunately, our yard is void of squirrels.  Darn cats either scare away or eat everything around.  Field trip!  Well, we'll go visit grammy and papa and rodent watch this week. 
I know Eli will draw his plans for his habitat.  He's a diagram kid.
Then, we'll follow it all up with building the squirrel and chipmunk house.  I have no idea if anything but earwigs will actually live in it, but we'll see.  It's all a learning experience...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homeschool Summer Camp

There are bags of groceries that need to be put away, kids to be played with and coffee to be drunk, but I need to just sit...and type, apparently.  It's been one heck of a long week!  But it's been amazing.  I had this idea of hosting a homeschool summer camp.  My kids are still wee ones that aren't going to go far away for some time.  I don't want to send my kids far away either.  And even if all those things lined up and they were ready to go, I just couldn't afford to send all three to a summer camp!  In walks a brainstorm...let's host one for the families we know and love. 
I have excellent organizational preparation skills.  I love spreadsheets.  I love charts and graphs.  I love researching on the internet and through my books.  I could PowerPoint along side the best of them and no one would even think twice about it. 
I have terrible implementation skills.  Well, let me rephrase that - when kids are playing and I don't have a boss telling me what to do, I have a tendency to just let the kids play and ignore my scheduled cooperative game paired with a catchy camp song. 
I had fabulous plans.  The kids just wanted to play...or as we found out...just wanted the mommy's to do the crafts for them. 
Positive spin - The mommies had a wonderful time making Cat's Eyes and gimp lanyards and beading while the children played water games, delved into the sandbox, hunted for an array of bugs and chased one another around, laughed and had a good time. 
Tonight we're ending the week with a pot luck bbq, fire and s'mores.  Who knows, maybe we'll sing a few songs around the campfire.  Or maybe just the parents will...

Here's what my planning looked like for a day:

CIT - Sarah
10am – 2pm

Opening ceremony
Activity 1 – Sand-glue sculptures, Hike to stream, making lemonade and solar cooking, and finger knitting.
Story, Lunch, Songs.
Activity 2 – ice cream making. Nature journaling.Free play.Water play.
Closing ceremony

Here's what actually happened:
CIT was taken by grandparents all week
Whenever people could get their children out the door - whenever people could get their children back in the car.
Everyone went hiking to the stream.
Cram food into your mouths, or not eat, or eat other people's food because it's clearly better than what your mom brought you.
Bug hunting, sandbox playing
Ice cream making, but not being a huge success because the salty ice got into the ice cream, giving it an entirely different flavor.
A two-year-old finding amusement in spraying everyone with the hose...
Run around and do whatever until mom tried to get you back into the car.

Would I do it again?  Definitely. 
Kids who normally don't play together got a chance to get to know one another.  New-to-homeschooling families were able to come to hang out and not worry too much about their kids.  Getting together at a playground certainly has it's benefits, but kids aren't really forced by the environment to even notice another child.  Free play in a confined area was more conducive to letting common interests shine through and allowing kids to discover that energy at their own pace.  Outside of a few squabbles over shovels or toads, there were no big arguments.  The youngest was three-weeks old and the oldest was ten.  Girls, boys.  Dolls, bugs, guns, swords, sand, swings, hugs, kisses, water and sun.  It was a pretty great week. 
See you next summer!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fun With Shaving Cream

Rules:  Don't eat it.  Don't get it in your eyes.  Have fun.

He ate it.

He got in his eyes.

They had fun.
1 out of 3 ain't bad...

Cock A Doodle Doo

We bought some Auraucanas in the spring.  Three, to be exact.  While on vacation, 2 of them were something.  A hawk or fox, I'm assuming.  It was sad, but I was glad we had one left.  The lone Auraucana did not adjust well with the existing hens.  They bullied her because she was smaller and younger.  She could only eat when they weren't around, or else she'd get pecked.  She also started roosting on top of the coop and not inside it.  Then she started showing interest in the spending time with the Cornish Cross gals.  I let her in their coop and it's been bliss ever since.  Two days ago I heard the strangest and unexpected sound...a cock a doo.  It wasn't a full-blown crow.  It sounded like a boy mid-puberty, voice cracking.  I looked up.  It was the Auraucana.  She became a HE. 
We didn't want a rooster.  But, we've decided he's kind of cool.  Right now he guards the Cornish Cross.  And he's super funny about it.  The husband and I stood and watched him with his girls.  All our coops open up into one common pen.  We held a poultry mixer yesterday.  I let the hens out of the pen to free range.  Then I let the Cornish Cross, Mr. Rooster, the other 3 hens we have that are a little younger and the two turkeys, which are male and female, out to mingle.  The turkeys are kept with the 3 younger hens.  Our plan is to move the hens into the Cornish Cross coop once they are processed.  The turkeys will have their own coop.  They coexist quite nicely right now.  The turkeys and hens stayed together.  Once all the Cornish Cross were out and the rooster realized there was a Tom amongst the bunch, he herded all ten of the girls back into the coop.  It was amazing to watch.  The Tom turned backwards toward the rooster, raised his tail feathers and did this thing with his...backside.  I'm not sure of the proper terminology for any of it, so for lack of a better description - it looked like he was making his bum talk to the rooster. 
Now, the rooster is completely skittish of all human contact and didn't try to attack either the husband or me.  He just ran away.  The last thing I want is an aggressive rooster.  For now, he's cool.  And we can't hear him in the house, so he'll stay.  We've also decided to see if the two turkeys will produce offspring, instead of processing them this year for Thanksgiving.  This is going to get interesting!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Soul Pancake Book Spine Challenge

So, I thought this was cute - A book spine challenge.  Gather up some books, create a poem or saying or what have you, take a picture and done.  I did this.  For some reason, when I tried to create an account, I got a webpage error and couldn't see the squiggly words at the bottom to decode.  Alas, no account - no submission. 
I've decided to do it here. 
And I thought it would be cute to do with my kids later on as an extention of a poetry lesson. 
Okay, so it's a little gruesome, but I had a silly chuckle. 
What books do you have on hand?  Let's see what you come up with! :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Camping Eats

Camping, for some reason, always inspires thoughts of hot dogs, beans and s'mores.  While I am a big fan of all three, the thought of eating all three all week makes me want to, well, think of other options. 

I decided to try out hobo packs after reading an article from Simple Bites.  These are not a new creation, but I've never tried them before.  I wanted something everyone would voraciously eat after a long day of canoeing or swimming or ...camping.  I decided on pork kabobs, burritos and beef stew packets.  For the beef stew I used this recipe.  I didn't use bouillon, but I did use some balsamic marinade.  I also par cooked the veggies for a few minutes before adding them to the meat.  After I mixed everything all together, I put them in packets, labeled and froze them.  I also did bean, beef and cheese burritos in the same manner...prepped, assembled, labeled and froze.  For the pork kabobs, I marinated the pork in barbecue sauce overnight.  Then I froze the pork.  All the packets stayed frozen until I needed them.  I put the pork on the bottom of the cooler, beef stew somewhere in the middle and the burritos on top for the 2nd night.  All items were thawed for cooking and still a wee bit frozen. 
I bought wooden skewers for the kabobs and soaked them in water all day.  I laid them out in a shallow aluminum pan, poured water in and let them sit while we went on a canoe trip.  I am happy to say that the skewers did not burn at all and they were not hot to the touch when I grabbed them to turn over the kabobs.  I wanted to buy pineapple for the kabobs, but forgot.  We had tomatoes and baby bella mushrooms left, so that's what made it onto the skewers.  Those were marinated with the pork for an hour, just to give the mushrooms some extra moisture. 
We didn't eat hot dogs once on our trip. 
We also didn't eat s'mores.  Two reasons for that.  Number one...I thought I didn't bring the graham crackers and the chocolate was smooshy.  Number two...we brought campfire cookie dough and the makings for an over-the-fire oven.  This is not my recipe at all.  And I can't remember where I found it.  I have a list of sites it could be from, but I haven't been able to find it.  But, it was so yummy, I need to share it.  This is the recipe with my adaptations.  Tweak it anyway you like.
Campfire Cookies (Yield approx. 40 cookies)

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (Kosher salt works well)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened 
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3/4 of a bag of dark Chocolate Chips 
1 package chocolate graham crackers
Mini-Marshmallows for topping

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Beat butter, sugars and vanilla in a large bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating after each addition.
3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in another bowl and gradually add to the batter. Stir in chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbles.
4. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (This will help your cookies to rise, as the butter bakes up better cold).
5. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
6. Press 3 mini-marshmallows (or more, if you'd like!) into the top of each cookie.
7. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

You can bake it in an oven at home or you can try what I did.  I took a cardboard box and covered it in tin foil.  This was not an easy task.  I put five cookies on a small aluminum baking sheet and waited.  Nothing was  happening.  Right.  I need to keep the heat in.  So I made a door.
and kept the door from opening with sticks.  It was a very arduous process.  Well, not really.  Just a lot of waiting.  And more waiting. 

Then my brain started working.  Why in the world was I using a gigantic box when I could get the same effect from using my cast iron skillet?  So, that's what I did.  I put the baking sheet in the skillet (if attempting, please make sure you are always careful around all things aflame and hot) and covered the skillet with foil.  Within 15 minutes they were done.  They were delicious.  The rest of the cookie dough was eaten raw because I was not waiting another hour for 5 more cookies. 
I will make these again.  At home.  In an oven with dials and timers and digital options. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blueberry Picking 2011

We pick blueberries every year.  And every year I will post about it.  So there.
This year we were pressed for time so we checked out Patt's Blueberries in Holliston, MA.  It's not a big farm or business.  It's someones home operation.  They have an amazing amount of blueberry bushes and their berries were super yummy.  The owners were friendly and helpful.  You don't need to bring your own containers, they provide cans for picking and bags for toting home.  The berries were $2.50lb., which is fifty cents cheaper than the place we usually go.  We made a pie and ate the rest.  Yum.

My diligent helpers.

He thought they were yummy, too.

Blueberry eating deserves a rest.