Friday, July 31, 2015

Nitrogen Cycle

I've shared before the link to the Nitrogen Cycle as a Felt Board Lesson, Montessori Style. This lesson is GREAT and I had so much fun making my felt board pieces! You can see some pictures of this lesson in progress at an exhibition of student work a few years back.

But I'm always looking for more resources to help students understand the relevance of Nitrogen and its cycle. I recently discovered a wonderful episode on Hulu Plus (requires a subscription) which is perfect. It is from a BBC Earth show called The Great Rift: Africa's Wild Heart.

The episode (Season 1, Episode 3) is simply called Grass.

Throughout this episode the narrator draws a lot of attention to Nitrogen. He explains the importance of Nitrogen to the living things of the area, and it made the relevance of this element crystal-clear, without being too pedantic. Highly recommended when studying Chemistry, Ecology, or Agriculture!

P.S. I just finished watching Episode 2 Water and it's actually about Plate Tectonics. Wonderful for Geology or World Geography: Africa!!!

Coffee Bean Crafts

Woke up this morning feeling very craft-y for some reason. First up, starting a houseplant from a pineapple top. Natalie and I tried this unsuccessfully last school year, but I think these instructions are better. Next, my husband gave me some extra coffee beans from local business Steam Shovel Coffee and I went looking for coffee bean crafts. LOVED the concept behind the sunflower wreath but I wanted something simpler so I went with the candleholder.

Finally, the baby has discovered his feet. He stares and stares at them but can't yet grab them. I want to sew him two simple felt ankle bracelets (strip of wool felt which fastens with snaps) with jingle bells on them. I have some bells leftover from Christmas crafts. To avoid a choking hazard, you would never put a child down and leave him/her unattended while wearing these.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Roasted Okra

I'm really starting to understand the phrase "Summer's Bounty." Adam went out fishing on Saturday and came home with 19 fish! So we used some fresh thyme, oregano, and parsley from the garden and had Whole Roasted Fish with Herbs. Wonderful!

His grandma brought us a bag of apples, which went into Caramelized Apple Slow Cooker Oatmeal. This is my new favorite breakfast recipe.

And a coworker is swapping veg with us, our spaghetti squash for her tomatoes. Adam brought home a big bag of tomatoes... and I picked our first okra from the garden yesterday (we have 8 happy healthy plants!). So I made spaghetti squash with Roasted Tomato Sauce and parmesan cheese. For the okra, which also cooks at 425, I cooked it in the oven alongside for the last 8-10 minutes.

Roasted Okra: Simply slice it crosswise to make little flowers, put in an oven safe dish, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper, and roast at 425 for 8-10 minutes. There's no slime at all and it's really yummy.

I've recently learned that you can freeze tomatoes whole and then thaw them later to use in sauces. What a great idea!

Yes, we are still getting organized for homeschool planning. Today we got the forms to register as homeschoolers. Every state is different, so check to see what's required where you live.

Our state is nice because public school access for homeschoolers is allowed in Illinois. That means that my oldest daughter doesn't have to go full time to public high school next year; we can pick and choose which subjects we want her to take and enroll her part-time. We will need to request this by May 1st of next year.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chipmunk Repellant

It is beautiful right now in the garden, even with all of our planting mistakes (err... lessons learned), and the animals are enjoying it as much as we are! We recently watched a little chipmunk run off with a little green tomato in its mouth and when we went to investigate, sure enough it was one of ours. We know this because we only had 3. Now we have one. The same day I went to the garden and walked in and surprised a rabbit! So I researched rodent repellant and found a very handy tip for making a garlic spray.

Gardener to Gardener Almanac & Pest-Control Primer: A Month-By-Month Guide and Journal for Planning, Planting, and Tending Your Organic Gardenis full of practical tips from other gardeners. We are trying the garlic mash, an idea shared by Frank Daley of Menomonie WI. We will crush an entire head of garlic, put the mashed up garlic in a jug, fill it with water, and let it sit in the sun for several days to ferment. Then we will strain the potent liquid, put it in a spray bottle, and spray it around the perimeter of the garden in the evenings. He says to use it several nights in a row.

The garden has inspired a lot of cooking, and now that Zac is two months old (and 11 1/2 lbs and 24 inches long) he is taking longer naps, which means I can spend time cooking again.

Cucumber - I took the cucumbers which a friend gave us and used them in a Cucumber, Dill, and Orzo Salad.

Oregano - We used the fresh oregano from our garden in Creamy Tomato Soup. The amount of time it takes to cook, 45 minutes, is perfect for Roasting Garlic, which we spread on pieces of baguette.

Basil - We have used the fresh basil in our garden for a couple of things! Pasta Shells with No-Cook Tomato Sauce (a favorite in our house), Italian Tomato-and-Bread Salad, and, of course, Fresh Basil Pesto. In fact, we had spaghetti squash today for lunch with some pesto on top and the leftover tomato soup on the side.

These hot summer days have also inspired Brewed Sun Tea, which will go well with our fresh mint!

As we watch our garden, we can't help but marvel at the perfect pumpkin which hangs suspended from our fence. It is absolutely gorgeous, and 100% volunteer. In fact, the entire squash extravaganza which you see pictured below is 100% volunteer, consisting of a spaghetti squash and a pumpkin plant which both came up unexpectedly in the compost pile. And the perfect book to explain the idea of volunteer plants which take over your yard??? Too Many Pumpkins

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Color Coding

I am a girl who loves color coding. I don't know why, but it works for me!

My daughters (6th and 8th grade) will be recording their individual work throughout the school day in black & white composition notebooks, called Plan Books. This is a method we learned from the last private school I taught at, which was a Montessori school. There, children planned their own day and recorded their lessons as they completed them. We will be more teacher directed with Waldorf, but as a homeschooler there is so much you do that counts as a lesson (for example, walking to hunt for morels = Nature walk / Science lesson) and it should all be written down.

How to Find and Identify Morel Mushrooms

I have yet to research how much the state of Illinois monitors their homeschoolers but, regardless, we would have documentation of student work. This includes my plan book, their plan books, and artifacts such as their main lesson books, portfolio of work samples, and photos and video recordings of lessons.

Our color coding is simple. Each day gets a page in the composition notebook. Write the date at the top and each work on a separate line. For older kids, they can write their start and stop times. In the margin, put a colored dot. Put a key to your colors in the inside front cover. This method also helps children to easily see if there's a subject they are doing too much or too little of.

Yellow - language
Orange - cultural (history & geography)
Red - fine arts (art & music)
Purple - practical life (knitting, woodworking, cooking, gardening, etc.)
Blue - math
Green - science
Brown - physical education
Gold - penmanship (and, in Waldorf, form drawing)
Silver - foreign language

I thought up the Gold for penmanship because I was thinking of illuminated manuscripts. In Montessori we introduce penmanship in the Fourth Great Lesson.

Silver is a new one for us, and I'm choosing to use it for foreign language because that is the KEY to experiencing foreign cultures. We are studying Latin (this is a really helpful page showing a complete comparison of introductory Latin programs) this year. I loved Latin in school and I am comfortable teaching it. It will help Natalie as she heads off to high school, plus it goes well with a study of Medieval Times.

We chose Latina Christiana.

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Plan Book

Getting excited about next school year!!!

This roomy flexible book will work well for multiple children & grades.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Milk Bath

We've just added a hummingbird feeder and an oriole feeder to our yard. I know my Grandmommy would be thrilled at all my husband has done to attract wildlife!!!

We often set out nuts (in the shells) for our chipmunk, and Adam is making a squirrel feeder next to hold dried ears of corn. Even the deer walk through the yard each night to visit our bird feeders and lick seed out of them. And I'm pretty sure the raccoon visits our compost, although that one was not deliberate. We also planted more bee and butterfly plants this year: black-eyed susans and bee balm.

Hummingbird Nectar Recipe - Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

The mysterious round green thing growing with our squashes is a pumpkin! It's turning yellow-orange.

But the actual recipe I wanted to share today is our Christmas present craft idea for this year. Each year we make a present en masse and the children choose who they would like to make the gifts for from our list of family and friends. We have been doing this for eight years. Borax crystal snowflakes, sock drawer sachets filled with silk and spices, lemon sugar hand scrub, soaps with dried lavender and crushed apricot seed, rolled and decorated beeswax candles, handmade star-shaped paper pulp ornaments with flower seeds embedded in them so they could be planted in the Spring, knitted kite bookmarks, wet felted "soap in a sweater" (that was last year's gift)...

Now we are going to use up all the dry nonfat milk powder I have in the cupboard. I was looking at our Burt's Bees Buttermilk Bath Soak

and saw that the ingredients are simply nonfat dry milk, whole dry buttermilk, and fragrance. I thought to myself, I bet we could make a bath soak with all that milk powder I have on hand. So I found a great recipe online, and since we have a large collection of essential oils, and lots of nonfat milk powder, we can easily make this gift with very little expense. (She chooses to use spearmint but we can use other options.)

The girls can choose their gift recipients and decide on what scent that person might like best. I think this gift idea will really work well!

Mint Milk Bath Recipe

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bubble Wrap

My project for the next month, while the girls are finishing up their vacation at their father's farm, is to unpack, sort, and organize all the boxes in our garage. Some of these were packed in 2005 and have come with me from move to move. I am saving all the bubble wrap -- several large trash bags full -- and I thought it would be great to have a Bubble theme to Leah's birthday party. Mind you, this birthday isn't until November. And she'll be turning 12. But I still think it would be awesome to cover the living room and dining room floors with bubble wrap and just let them have at it. We could make homemade bubble solution as a party favor. Or do flat wool pictures by wet felting pieces between two layers of bubble wrap. And go to QQ Bubble Tea for treats!!!

Make a Felt Flower (pdf)

Felt Flowers Embellished with Yarn (pdf)

Today this plan solidified when I heard on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! that bubble wrap is no more.

Listen at the 5:56 mark.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dinner and a Zoology Lesson

Put the baby in the sling and went out to the garden to pick squash blossoms for dinner. Thank heavens for our renegade ENORMOUS squash plant!!! It has now developed a second mystery squash, one that is dark green like a zucchini but perfectly round like a ball. Anyway, squash blossoms we have in abundance. So, it's Squash Blossom Quesadillas for supper.

After I picked a bowlful of male blossoms and those which had filled up with rain during the torrents last night and fallen off the vine, I stood outside by the compost bucket and made sure there were no animals in the bowl I was about to take inside. I had a wonderful time!! I found the most adorable mini cricket and some teeny tiny slugs, a bee, several ants, and a bunch of beetles... including a pair of mating beetles which was fascinating to discover. Every blossom I opened was a window into a tiny world. What an incredible zoology lesson for kids!

Farming & Gardening isn't just a block for third grade. It is a life long journey for all of us.

By the way, the straw bales have been wonderful as raised garden beds. Adam and I plan to get a bunch more bales in the fall, set them in their spots for the winter season, and then flip them over so the fungus is on the top, add a few inches of compost, and plant right in the top of the bale. Our volunteer squash is happy in the compost pile -- our potatoes, watermelon, and tomatoes are happy in the straw bales -- our rhubarb, basil, and the other herbs are happy in the ground. And a lot of things didn't survive but that's 100% ok.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Books for Sale

The sound of rain outside, the smell of Applesauce Muffins in the air, the sight of the baby snuggled in Meemaw's arms... and a moment to post the duplicate books I found while organizing my library. That label maker from my husband may be one of my favorite gifts of all time!!!!!

I am linking to Amazon so you can read more and I'm listing prices below each book. Please visit and click on Contact to let me know what you are interested in. I will add a flat $5.00 for shipping. Doing this as a blog post is an experiment, but I think it will work better than a post to the Yahoo Group, where people have to keep asking if things are still available. I will update this list when things sell to indicate that they are no longer available.

UPDATE: A friend of a friend of my husband's (so, I guess I should call her a stranger but there was still a connection there) lost her entire house and all her possessions in a fire. My husband called to tell me and to say that they have four little girls, and did we have any extra clothes? So I immediately starting packing things up. We gave them six totes of clothes, books, handmade Waldorf dolls, wooden toys, art supplies, and so on. Nearly all of the books below were put in their care package. The ones with prices listed below are the only ones still available.

Newbery winner

hardcover, missing dust jacket



Early Childhood

Nature Study

Fables block

Fables block

hardcover, missing dust jacket $2.00

hardcover $3.00

Toymaking - Festivals

Saints block
Caldecott winner

Housebuilding block

Housebuilding block
hardcover, ex-library

Local History & Geography block
paperback $3.00

Art - Creative Writing
paperback $3.00

paperback $3.00

paperback with CD
never used $3.00

I also have Playing and Teaching the Pentatonic Flute and the Pentatonic Recorder by David Darcy. spiral bound with CD. never used. $15.00

Next project: untangling the Dancing Fairies Silk Mobile.