Tuesday, January 25, 2011

     I haven't posted in a while because I have been BUSY finally getting the kids rooms switched around.  I kept waiting for a time when I could be in the house for a few hours by my self, but it started becoming apparent that even a couple of hours without kids was never going to happen.  So, I went ahead and dove in and packed up, and even through out, with the kids eagerly helping the whole time.  Anna was surprisingly amicable to having some of her things thrown out or put into storage, and I could not be happier with the new arrangement. 
     Here are the "before" photos.  This was pretty normal for both of their rooms.  Even with mandatory clean up every night, Anna's room would look like this before noon the next day.

     The twins have less stuff, therefore less mess, but definitely room for improvement.

     And now.... Tada!  The "after" photos.

     Now the sleeping room contains only beds and clothes.  It is a cinch to keep clean, and after the first night when Samuel kept saying, "Uh-oh Anna, uh-oh Anna."  they all sleep well together.  They also love the playroom, and since there isn't anything out that they all can't play with, fights have gone way down. Here's how it looks.

     Anna can keep the toys she doesn't want the little ones to get out of reach on the top shelf of the book shelf or on the shelf on the wall.  Her legos are in the closet, and papers and notebooks are in the little desk.  I have most of the books in a storage library.  They can get out new books when they want, but there can only be so many books out at once.  Almost every thing that can be put in a bin or a basket, is in one.  Yes, the room does get wrecked, but it can be cleaned very quickly too.   It feels great to have these two room free of clutter and easy to clean; it motivates me to conquer new areas in my house.  Maybe I'll tackle my craft supplies this weekend.  Yikes!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Five Things To Do With an Old Sweater

    I have several wool sweaters that had been accidentally felted, that I have hung on to for years, thinking that "someday" I would do something with them.  Well, I finally got a sewing machine a couple of months ago, and now I can't stop thinking of ideas for what to do with my old sweaters.   The first thing I made was backpacks for the twins for Christmas.

                                Here they are wearing them.  They love their "packpacks".
     Of course I had to make Anna something out of felt too, so I made her a brush roll to hold her paint brushes.

     The great thing about both of these projects is that they cost hardly anything.  I had to buy webbing and bias tape for the backpacks, but that's it.  The material on the brush roll is from an old sheet, and the pretty mother of pearl buttons are off of an old shirt. 
      I also made play food...
Mittens... (these have obviously been played in; just ignore the dirt)

And Anna made little mice.  Now if I could just find the time to make all the other felted sweater ideas I have.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Our Winter Nature Table

     I made our first nature table today; the purpose of it being a pretty place to display nature finds, and a fun way to reflect the seasons.  I wanted it to look like winter, so Anna and I closed our eyes and thought about what meant winter for us.  The most obvious thing was snow, (we have lots of that right now) so I put a white piece of cotton material down, and we cut paper snowflakes and stuck them to the window.  The next obvious thing was bare trees, and for that I put a couple of branches in a jar with some rocks to keep them in place.  The branches were a perfect place to hang glass icicles.  I've had these for years, but they never showed up much in the Christmas tree.  I didn't even bother to put them on this year, but they look beautiful in our little "tree".  Next we thought about animals that are out during the winter,  so a couple of wool mice Anna had made, a bunny, and an owl made it to the table.  Someday I will make a squirrel and a few birds, since that is undoubtedly what we have the most of.  The next step was to put our outdoor finds on the table, which were  pitifully few at this time of the year.  We did manage to find some pretty Lunaria and a few pine cones.  I also had acorns on hand that I put into a small bowl.  Voila!  Our finished nature table! 
     Here's the little bunny and mice getting ready to eat some acorns.  Someday I will also make a little cottontail, as we don't have any dutch rabbits hopping about here. 

    Our owl, being a finger puppet, was easy to set on a branch, although Anna says he looks uncomfortable. 
     I am sure we will be finding new things to put on our table all the time.

Nature Study/ Snowflakes

     We finally got the perfect snow for observing snow crystals.  Two things are necessary for that to happen. It must be super cold, and there can't be much wind.  This morning I looked outside and knew that this was "the" snow.  Ideally we should have gotten out there when the snow was still falling and we could have caught some flakes on black construction paper, but "ideally" rarely happens around here.  The sun was out by the time we got outside and it looked like the ground was covered in diamonds.  Every little snowflake was reflecting the sunlight.

     Although my camera by no means has the capabilities to capture a single snowflake, this picture gives an idea of how the snow looked.  Glittering isn't it? 
     And you could actually see little six pointed shapes!  I was eighteen before I saw my first perfect little snowflake.  I mean, you see pictures in books, and it's amazing and beautiful, but it doesn't compare to actually seeing a intricate, tiny snowflake yourself. 

     Our yard has been sprouting snowmen lately.  Anna is behind one of them, examining snowflakes that haven't begun to melt yet.

    That's one big icicle!  Actually, Anna finding this inspired me to go ahead and do something that I have been meaning to for quite some time.  We need a place to showcase our nature finds, and that also reflects the changing seasons, so today I made a Waldorf style nature table.  Unfortunately, the icicle could not be displayed, but I'm sure there will be plenty of more heat tolerant nature finds in the future.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our Island Story/ The Coming of Arthur

Here's a couple more pictures for those studying Our Island Story. 
Here is Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.

And then Arthur fighting the Saxons.

Makeshift Bird Feeder

    I feel so sorry for the birds when there is deep snow, and after seeing bird that are normally ground feeders try in vain to get at my log feeder, I decided to do something about it. 

     I also wanted to lure them a little closer to the house so that we could observe them better. 

     So I used what I had on hand to make a very make shift bird feeder out of a pizza box. 

Needless to say, this will only be out while the snow is too deep for them to find their own food, But we have all had so much fun looking at the many visitors, that I think I need to add something more permanent. 

   It has been a great experience watching our little winter visitors; Anna is always calling me to the window to look at some new bird.  It has also given us the opportunity to observe some curious habits.  For instance, Juncos really seem to like the snow, and don't mind sitting right in it. The other birds avoid perching directly in the snow if they can help it.  Towhees will only eat on the ground, and wont even fly up to the box.  I have to sprinkle bird seed under the bushes for them.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nature Walk, Brrrrrrrrrrrr!

     We've been a little lax on taking nature walks lately; it's just been too cold, but today I decided to that I would go out with Anna in spite of it.  It didn't turn out to be one of those nature walk where you lingeringly stroll around looking at the beauties of nature.  We stayed out until Anna said she couldn't move her fingers.  I guess that means it's time to come in!

     We did see some pretty neat stuff though.  Here is what appears to be ice crystals forming in a foot print.

    This is a plum leaf azalea that is growing under a drain pipe.  Yesterday it got warm enough to drip on it, but then it got down to single digits last night, freezing this ice sculpture.

Nature Study/ Animal Camouflage

     The colors out side right now are grey and white.  It's interesting to see how well animals with those colors blend in, and how obvious a spot of color is.  I the picture below it's easy to spot the Red Bellied Woodpecker, but can you see the other animal in the picture?
        This is another example.  Your eye is so drawn the the Woodpecker that you hardly notice the Mocking Bird.
     In fact, it's all but impossible to see.  If you need a hint, it's on the fence post. 
     All these pictures were taken through my window, as it's a little too cold to do any bird watching outside.  It has been a lot of fun watching the birds (and squirrels) come to the feeder.
     Yesterday in the snow, we saw this ambitious fellow getting what he could out of it, and today he seemed to have staked his claim on the feeder; noisily chattering and swishing his tail at the birds.

     Luckily, when he left the birds returned.  Here is one of my favorite birds, The Tufted Titmouse.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Are Things Going at The Half Way Point?

     We are now over half way through our school year.  This is the time when I can start to see how a new curriculum or educational method is working out for me, and get a feel for how things are going this year. 
      Things are finally starting to click for Anna in regards to math.  At the beginning of this year I had a small freak-out over her seeming complete inability to grasp certain mathematical concepts, no mater how many times I would go over it with her.  I did some research on dyscalculia and freaked out even more.  Finally I decided to just relax, and realize that time was on her side.  She was six; I really didn't need to start worrying how I was ever going to teach her Algebra.  Another thing I realized is that if she does have difficulty with math, she didn't need to be a grade ahead, so instead of redoing grade 1, I have been having her go very slowly through the grade 2 math.  This has been a very good thing, and I am beginning to see that what she really needed was time. Time to let her brain catch up with what I was trying to cram into her, and the time it takes to finally have those "Aha!" moments. 
      Today she picked up a quarter and said, "Mommy, this is one fourth of a dollar, because it takes four quarters to make one dollar!"  Now, I have been telling her for months that a quarter is a quarter of a dollar; quarter is another way of saying fourth.  But she just now got it.   Teaching your own children takes a lot of patients, not just over your some times exasperating children, but patients to wait and see the fruits of your labor. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One Room School House- Could It Work Today?

     My sister was talking to me the other day about the possibility of her and a few other like minded parents starting a one room school house.  The idea being that it would be the best of both worlds; a happy medium  between public and home school.  I live too far away to benefit, but the idea really appeals to me.  But then I get to thinking about what it would really entail,  and I wonder if the ideal that we have of one room school houses would be possible to recreate in the 21st century. 
     What comes to mind is the part in Little Town on the Prairie (I think that's the one) where they get the very green and unwise Miss Wilder as a School Mistress.  Miss Wilder starts out by telling the class that she hopes they can all get along and have fun together. Nothing is said about discipline, and it soon becomes apparent that she has no discipline plan, and consequently the class disintegrates into mayhem.  To make matters worse, she is unfair, and even cruel to the Ingalls girls.  The part that is thought provoking though, is even though Miss Wilder is clearly in the wrong, Pa expects his girls to obey and respectfully submit to punishment even when it is unfairly dealt. I wonder how many parents today would hold their children to that standard. 
     In order for a one room school house to work, all the children have to be able to sit quietly and do their work, and in order for this to be accomplished, strict discipline would have to be maintained, and the parents would have to respect the teacher's ruling.  Another book that comes to mind is  The Rainbow, where Ursula Brangwen is rapidly loosing control of her monstrously large class of sixty students. The last straw snaps, and she beats the holy crap out of the main trouble maker in order to gain a little respect.  The mother of the boy does complain, but no one thinks much of it.  It was necessary to gain control.  Obviously this was extreme, (and fictional) but it goes to show the climate of the time.
     Modern parent; sometimes Homeschooling parents in particular, are very concerned with protecting their children from the injustices of the world.  For the most part this is probably a good thing, but there is a lot of fall out because of it.  Authority figures are not held in the same high esteem that they once were, and I can imagine it would be hard for a teacher to maintain a peaceful learning environment while tiptoeing around parents concerns when disciplinary action is needed. 
     I would be very curious to see a functioning one room school house today, and see if it's as idyllic as the past would have us believe, and see how they dealt with modern issues and kids.  I do think the idea of a one room school house is commendable, but would like to see it applied.

Best Bread Ever

    Whats more fun than play-doh, and can be eaten after you are done playing? Bread dough!  I've been making most of our own bread lately, and have had fun trying out new recipes and experimenting with the tried and true ones, and I think I might have come up with the perfect loaf today. 

     This is something the whole family (well, except for Dave.  Kneading bread doesn't really excite him) gets into.  I could use my mixer to do the needing for me, but I actually like kneading bread, and the kids love it.  I let them keep their little creations, and bake them separate. Frankly, I really wouldn't want to eat anything that's been patted, dropped, licked, and smooshed by miscellaneous body parts. (Does this stick to my tummy?)  So keeping their stuff separate is a good idea.

     Anna and Abriel are very into the whole kneading process, whereas Samuel likes to "cook" with it.  I think the first few times I gave him dough he ate it all before I could bake it, and once he thought it would be fun to knead while going potty.  That one made it to the trash. 
    Anna has started to learn that the whole process needs to take time, and that if you rush it, it wont be as good.  It is a good tool for learning patience and delayed gratification, two seldomly taught virtues these days.  

    Here it is!  The finished loaf.  When it came out of the oven Anna said, "Wow, that looks just like bakers bread!"  Whatever that means.  Maybe it looks "professional".  It was delicious; best bread I've made yet.
Here's the recipe below.

Sandwich Bread from the Joy of Cooking, slightly modified by me
In a large mixing bowl, let stand until dissolved:
 4 tsp yeast
 1/4 cup warm water
Add 1 cup warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 Tlb oil
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 Tbl salt
Stir in 2 cups white flour
Gradually stir in 2 1/2 - 3 cups white whole wheat flour
Knead, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is smooth and elastic. 
Coat dough with oil, and let rise, covered, until doubled or more in volume. Punch dough down and form into two ovals and place in two 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" bread pans.  I baked mine in one big pan, but I took out quite a bit of dough for the kids.  Let rise again for about an hour or more.  Bake @ 350 for 40 minutes, or until loaves are brown and sound hollow when tapped.  Enjoy!