Saturday, November 30, 2013

November's Changeable World

(I know I just posted a Nature Study post, but I've been working on this one for a few weeks, and since the month is almost over, I think I'd better post it while it's still November!)

The average temperature here on P.E.I. for this time of year is usually about 4*C (39*F). In reality, though, November is rarely average. We alternate between unseasonably warm and unseasonably cold. We have spring-like showers one day, and snow squalls the next. The first day of November was warm enough to go out with just a sweater. It got cold very quickly, though, and we had our first snowfall early in the month. Our nature walk the second week of November was quite cold (around freezing). The boys were not very happy at first, but soon I had them swinging their arms and walking fast to warm up. We walked through the woods in Victoria Park. Most of the leaves had fallen, though one or two trees still clung stubbornly to theirs.

We saw a few living things. JJ (3) seems to have the keenest eye. I believe he spotted both of these first. (I believe the little green insect is a Katydid, but I don't know about the butterfly.)

We also spotted some beautiful red berries with interesting leaves...does anyone know what these are?

Our third walk was beautifully warm, around 10*C (50*F), alternating sun and showers. Unfortunately, one of the showers caught us minutes after we started on our walk. Still, it was warm enough that I didn't feel we needed to turn back immediately, and the rain did let up a few minutes later.

I was amazed to see some green ferns, and some blooming water hemlock.

Then, surprise! The next day it snowed, and the day after that, the boys had fun playing in it.

Let's hope this love of playing in the snow lasts through December, January, February, March, and April!

I am linking up with Nature Study Monday at Fisher Academy International.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Saturday Commonplaces 2

On "Virtuous Womanhood:"
My dryer stopped tumbling last week. I haven't had this particular dryer very long, (I bought it used) so my heart sank at the thought of finding a new one again so soon. Before I sank into despondency, I looked it up on google. There I found a lovely repair video using the very dryer model I own. Following the directions, I unplugged the dryer, opened it up, and retrieved the broken belt. Then I ordered a new one, and waited. The new belt arrived on Friday, and it took me about 15 minutes to install. A real repair person would have taken five minutes, but hey, I did it! I probably paid about $20 in the mean time to dry my clothes at the laundromat, but even with that included in the cost, it was less than $50. I'm sure you'll agree that if the Proverbs 31 woman had a dryer, she would have done the same.

On Homeschooling:
I finished reading Cindy Rollins' "31 Days to Morning Time" blog series this week. It was such an encouragement. Some of the topics covered (Plutarch and Shakespeare) were not applicable for my season in homeschooling, but I know I will go back to this series regularly throughout my homeschooling years. (Here's hoping she writes a book!) I especially enjoyed the last post in the series. It reminded me that though my life with little ones is sometimes crazy, I am doing something of value when day after day, week after week, I spend time every day reading Scripture to my children, praying with them, repeating the 23rd psalm with them (our current memory work), singing the same old psalms and hymns over and over, introducing new ones, reading poetry, drinking tea.

On Cuteness:
JJ was sitting on the couch "reading" Green Eggs and Ham. He did pretty well paraphrasing the content, with slightly more politeness: "No, I don't want green eggs and ham, please."

In Appreciation:
One of my favourite things to do is to sing, especially to sing with my choir, the Good News Singers. I am so thankful for Stephen, who makes it a priority to let me go and sing, and takes care of all the children while I do it. He's good like that...he thinks it's important for me to go to homeschool support meetings, too, and does his best to make sure I get to go. I think he's a keeper!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Birds of November

This month the "Getting Started Suggestion" over at the Handbook of Nature Study blog was to choose birds as the focus of our nature study for the rest of the term. I jumped at this suggestion, as we had already seen a pileated woodpecker and mallard ducks on the first of the month. It seemed like a promising beginning!

Our second nature walk was in the woods at Victoria Park. We kept a sharp eye out for birds, but all we saw were crows, crows, and more crows.

Can you believe I was disappointed? Crows are so common here, it was almost as though I hadn't even really seen them. I can't remember what made me think again, but eventually I did. I don't know very much about crows at all. I looked them up in my trusty Handbook of Nature Study (page 124), and I learned a few things. I'll share a few with you that I hadn't known before.
- "Both parents are devoted in the care of the young, and remain with them during most of the summer."
- "Crows gather in flocks for the winter; these flocks number from fifty to several hundred individuals, all having a common roosting place, usually in pine or hemlock forests or among other evergreens."
- "When crows are feeding in the fields there is usually, if not always, a sentinel posted on some high point so that he can give warning of danger." (HoNS, p.125)
I think the sentinel must have alerted the flock of crows we saw, because they were wheeling around in the sky above the woods and making an awful racket.

We took our third nature walk on the Confederation Trail in Murray River. We heard several different bird calls, including a chickadee, a crow, and a blue jay, but we didn't see a single bird. It may have been because it was raining at the time. Driving along the road afterwards, we suddenly came upon a field of Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls!

The Handbook of Nature Study didn't have much about gulls, but my Formac Pocket Guide to Prince Edward Island Birds had several varieties. Besides the Ring-billed Gull, I have also seen Herring Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls this week. I don't think I ever noticed before that there are so many varieties of gulls.

My November list of birds so far:

Pileated Woodpecker
Mallard Ducks
Blue Jays
American Crows
Common Ravens
Herring Gulls
Canada Geese
Ring-Billed Gulls
Great Black-Backed Gulls
European Starlings

I haven't had a chance to go out and buy a birdfeeder yet, but I hope to do that within the next couple of weeks. I'm really looking forward to doing more bird studies!

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Commonplaces

Random notes from my week...

On Homeschooling:
I stumbled across Cindy Rollins' blog series "31 Days to Morning Time" this week. While I haven't finished reading it yet, it has been an affirmation of what we already do, and a vision of how we can continue to use our together times in the morning for more than just devotions, memory work, and enjoying poetry.

I am so thankful for the homeschooling community here on the Island. It is good to have not only the support, but also the skills of other homeschoolers. This week we learned some French together at our homeschool co-op. Jo taught the children several phrases using fun songs and games. They were all words and phrases I knew (Bonjour, Comment t'appelle-tu? Je m'appelle ..., Quelle age as tu? J'ai ... ans.), but I really felt she helped me move beyond overthinking methods of language learning, to just jumping in and doing it. I hope she does it again...every week. I took what she taught and reinforced it for a few minutes every day. I think it's a great start.

I also went and had a knitting lesson from another homeschool mom. I did learn to knit as a young child, but haven't done it since. I wanted another handicraft to enjoy and teach to my boys, and when Alice offered to teach it, I jumped at the chance. She refreshed me on my knitting and purling, and when I came home I found a scarf pattern and started one. Here it is so far:

Stephen teased me that I chose a lacey pattern so no one would notice all the holes. I truly didn't choose it for that reason, but it's working out fine so far. I've got to tell you, though, knitting is addictive. I'm going to have to limit myself so I can get my housework done!

On bringing up boys:
Sometimes I think about the pornography saturation of the society we're bringing up our boys in, and I am afraid. This week I was both further terrified and encouraged by an interview with Josh McDowell on Nancy Leigh DeMoss's "Revive Our Hearts" radio program. He makes the point that it is practically impossible to shelter our children from this issue in the technological age we live in. If we unplug our computers, there will be a smartphone somewhere. If we have neither, we can still not control our children's friends' devices. Chances are that some day they will stumble across pornography. But we do not have to live in fear. McDowell's advice:
1. Develop a strong, loving relationship with your children, one where they feel free to come to you with any issue.
2. Teach your children from the time they are babies a healthy, godly, positive view of their bodies and sexuality. The stakes are too high not to be open and frank even from a young age. They need to know that the real thing (sex between a husband and wife) is wonderfully designed by God and is worth waiting for.
3. Come up with a strategy with them to deal with the first time they stumble across pornography.
I felt this was very helpful and worth listening to.

On Food:
I grew up eating kale cooked and mashed with potatoes in "boerenkool stampot", a Dutch version of colcannon always enjoyed with smoked sausage on the side. Up till the time I married Stephen, I had never heard of eating kale raw. Stephen, on the other hand, grew up eating kale salad, and had never heard of eating it cooked. Every time I served him kale, he would tell me again about the delicious kale orange salad of his youth. He always enjoyed it cooked, but still it was strange to him. Now I've been on Pinterest for a couple of years, and kale salads pop up all the time. I've tried a few and loved them all, but they just didn't do it for Stephen. So now, after all these years, I have finally tried his "recipe." Here it is:
Chopped Dates
I used curly kale (it's all my little No Frills carries, and I rarely go to another store these doesn't tend to make many stops when one is hauling three little boys along), and it was a bit tough. I would love to know where I can find the lacinato variety, which is supposed to be more tender. I used three stalks (stems removed, leaves cut finely), and three oranges. I cut the oranges into eight wedges, then cut the peel off and cut the wedges in half. I put in a small handful of raisins, and skipped the dates because I didn't have them in the house. Then I moistened it all with mayonnaise.
It was delicious, but I felt it needed some crunch. If I dare to mess with Stephen's recipe, I may add celery, carrots, apples, even onions next time.

On Cuteness:
I was sweeping and mopping upstairs this week. JJ wanted to help, so he took over the mopping. And when I say "took over", I mean it. I tried to borrow the mop for a minute, and he said, "No, Mama! You're the sweepah-man, and I'm the moppah-man."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Time of Wonder

I can't believe now that I almost passed this book by. I came across it at one of our regular library visits, flipped through it, and set it aside when I saw it had over 60 pages and wasn't really a story. But for some reason I came back to it and took it along. It was a Robert McCloskey book, after all, and I knew that several of his books (though not this particular one) are on the Ambleside Online list for Year 0.

At home it sat in our library basket for a few days until I finally got it out to read at one of our poetry teatimes. I wasn't sure how it would go. Maybe I would just read a few pages. Imagine my wonder when my (perfectly normal) five- and three-year-old boys sat spellbound until the very last page. Well, almost. JJ started making some noise while I was reading the last page, but SA shushed him and made me read it over again. It was a magical moment.

But even after that, I still wasn't sure if that was a one-time occurrence, or if the book would continue to appeal to them in the same way. I put it on the table in a pile of books for the next day's teatime, just to see if they'd ask for it. And they did. And we read it again. They kept requesting it, not every day, but regularly. Sometimes we only read the second half of the book (the part with the building storm). By the fifth time we read it, JJ was saying his favourite lines with me.

The rain comes closer and closer.
Now you hear a million splashes.
Now you even see the drops
on the water...
on the age-old rocky point...
on the bayberry...
on the grass...
Now take a breath--

(JJ chimes in) IT'S RAINING ON YOU!

So what's the book all about? It's about an idyllic summer on an island in Maine. It doesn't really have a storyline. Rather, it drifts from memory to memory...dark clouds approaching until you're standing in a shower of rain; fog lifting as the sun rises; swimming with friends, then building castles on the beach; sailing among the islands; getting ready for a hurricane. The language has a rhythm to it, and it evokes feelings of excitement, of peace, of anticipation, of awe at the power of a storm. I know, it doesn't sound like a book little boys might be enthralled by. But they were, and are.

Why don't you try it and see what your little ones think of it? I'd love to hear how other children respond to this book. (I think I'm still in disbelief at how much my boys loved it. Who would have thought?)

I'll be linking up this post with Read Aloud Thursday over at Hope is the Word blog.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Baking with my Boys

Sometimes it seems like every other mom but me is helping their preschool children paint, cut, glue, apply glitter, and sculpt. Oh, I've made several recipes of play-dough, and we have paper, crayons, pencil crayons, markers, scissors, and glue. (The glitter seems to have mysteriously disappeared.) But that's as far as it's gone for me. The boys take it (or do not take it) from there.

I've been feeling a bit less guilty about that since I've started reading Charlotte Mason (Let them play outside, she would say.). I've also begun to think about the things I do love to do with my hands. I am not devoid of creativity, even though I'm not that handy with paper and scissors. One of my favourite things to do is to bake. I don't usually get too fancy (I save my creativity for the flavours), but if I am going to be artistic, it will usually come out in my baking. I think that for me, this is going to be the arena of crafting creativity to explore first with my children.

Today we made Honey Cakes, from Cook it Together by Annabel Karmel.

First we made the cupcakes. I had the boys help me with everything they could do...measuring ingredients, dumping them in the bowl, mixing them together. When they had been baked and cooled, we made marzipan bees and flowers to decorate them.

SA "painted" most of the bees with chocolate (we used a Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off), and JJ helped me put the sliced almond wings on. They both helped with the sprinkles.

They were ready in time for our poetry teatime. Somehow the poetry wasn't keeping their interest as much today...

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how often we will make things this special. We don't need to, though. All that needs to happen is that I take the time periodically to include the boys fully in my baking. It won't be a very efficient way to bake for me, but it will be an excellent way to teach them. I do love the Annabel Karmel book, not because I need it, but because ever since we brought it home from the library, the boys have been poring over it, deciding what to make. The illustrations show children making things, and they were very inspired.

Here is the recipe for the Honey Cakes. They were delicious...think cake that tastes like snickerdoodles with a hint of honey. The marzipan made them quite sweet, but the fun they had with it made it worth it this time.

Honey Cakes

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp. honey
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp. apple sauce
2/3 cup self-rising flour (I just added 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt to the measuring cup before measuring the flour.)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

7 oz marzipan
melted chocolate
slivered almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with 6 baking cups. Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Pour in the honey and beat everything together until fluffy.
2. In another bowl, beat the egg, vanilla, and apple sauce, then beat this into the butter mixture. Sift over the flour, cinnamon, and ginger.
3. Fold in the dry ingredients by running your spatula around the outside of the bowl and across the middle until everything is well mixed.
4. Fill the baking cups with the mixture. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until risen, golden, and firm to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
5. To make the bees, shape the heads and bodies from marzipan and gently squash them together so they stick. Cut out flower shapes.
6. Paint on the bees faces and stripes using melted chocolate. Push slivered almonds into the sides for wings. Press sprinkles into the flowers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

All Baker-Mans and Musicians...

JJ (3) was playing with playdough. I watched as he carefully rolled small balls of playdough and inserted them neatly into mini-muffin tins. Then I noticed that he had my pastry brush. He brushed each muffin carefully (Egg-washing them the way his Opa, the Dutch Baker, does.). SA reached for some of the playdough. JJ stopped him. "No! I need it. I'm a Bakah-Man."

Another day SA (5) was playing the piano. I was surprised and pleased when he started "sounding out" some chords: C-E-G, chord, chord. I told him, "That's a chord." "Uncle 'Kenzie was doing it," he replied. Pretty soon he had JJ doing it, too. I was proud of them, but ashamed of myself. How could I (musical, piano player, choir singer) have let them have their first music lesson from their 11-year-old uncle whose interests thus far seem to lie more in sports than in music? The truth is, I have underestimated how musical they are just because they don't sing in tune yet. (We do sing hymns together every day.) It's time to start thinking about teaching them some music.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Exploring a New Place

We went over to New Brunswick last weekend. While we were there, we got together with Renee and her three girls for a nature walk at Mapleton Park in Moncton. My mom came along too, and she's the one who took all these pictures. The weather was a balmy 14 or 15 degrees, gorgeous for the first day of November (We often have freezing temperatures here this time of year.). I was amazed at how big this green space was. I think I could even live in the city if my house was near enough to a trail like this.

The tamaracks were in their full glory:

The highlight of our walk for me was that we saw a Pileated Woodpecker. I don't think I'd ever seen one before. They are very large, I'd say as big as a raven. This one was drumming away at a dead tree. It looked as though the tree was ripped open in spots, and I realize now that this must have been the work of the woodpecker as he drummed for carpenter ants. His drumming was much slower than the rat-a-tat-tat I've heard before from smaller woodpeckers.

For the boys, though, I think their favourite part was feeding the Mallard ducks in the pond. There were quite a few. I wonder if there will be ducklings if we go back in the spring. We might have to try to do that!

We read Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings this week again, and JJ was quite excited to recognise the ducks in the book as the same kind he had fed last week.

We enjoyed close to 2 1/2 hours outdoors on this nature walk, and I was so glad we took advantage of the warm weather, because it has not been anywhere near that warm since!

I am linking up to Nature Study Mondays at the Fisher Academy International blog.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Book for Poetry Teatime

As we continue to enjoy our "Poetry Teatime" daily, I thought I'd share one of our favourite books that we've used recently.

Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost

My children are still a bit young for Robert Frost (ages five and under), and yet I don't think he is a bad choice for when you decide to step out and explore beyond Mother Goose and Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses. There are many connection points for children, as Frost mentions cows, apple orchards, and many other country themes. It's true that they may not grasp the full meaning of the poems, but it may be that even I do not. I think that the best poetry is poetry that grows with you. A child may hear "The Road Not Taken" and picture in his mind his last nature walk in the woods, where there was a fork in the path. I, with a fuller life experience, may muse about the choices I've made in my life and the difference they've made. Someone with different life experiences than mine might experience this poem in a much more profound way than I do. I think it would be a mistake to keep poetry from children just because there is very little possibility they will fully understand and appreciate it. They enjoy it in their own way, and it is enough for now.

This particular collection is edited by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by Henri Sorensen. The paintings are beautiful. I know Ambleside Online recommends this series with reservations because of the illustrations (I think the reasoning is that it is better to be drawing vivid pictures in your imagination as you hear the poetry.). But for my pre-reading children, the illustrations allow them to choose which poems they would like to hear, and come back to their favourites. I have a couple of issues with the editing, though. First, they did not include "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" which, along with "The Road Not Taken," is probably one of the first poems that come to anyone's mind on hearing Robert Frost's name. I also found the inclusion of "Out, Out --" a bit of an odd choice for a book intended for young people (A child is cutting wood and accidentally cuts off his hand, then later dies because of his injury.). Finally, each poem has an explanatory note of two or three sentences. I'm not sure how necessary or desirable this is...I think I'd prefer to allow the reader to take what they can from the poem as it is. However, these notes are short and written in fine print following the poems, so they are not as obtrusive as they might have been.

Overall, we have enjoyed this collection very much. The boys have even discovered some favourites that they like to hear over and over again. (SA likes "Mending Wall," JJ likes "The Cow in Apple Time.") This was a library book, but I have added it to my "to buy" list. I look forward to checking out other poets in this series for our poetry teatimes.

I'll be linking up this post with Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word blog.