Sunday, March 26, 2017

Zoo Animals - Outdoor Nature Hour

In the Handbook of Nature Study, there are two pages dedicated to Animals of Zoos and Parks. There are ten animals featured that were photographed by the New York Zoological Society. Of these, several are ones that we have been able to see at the Minnesota Zoo and Como Zoo in Minnesota as well as other zoos and locations during the past ten years.

Bactrian or Two-Humped Camel
=> This wild animal has been domesticated, and is used in northern Africa and western Asia for carrying loads and people.
=> It can go without water for several days because certain portions of its stomach serve as water reservoirs.

Bactrian Camels at the Minnesota Zoo.
March 16, 2017.

Two camels on the Marco Polo Trail at the 
Roger Williams Zoo.
September 6, 2011

The girls on a camel ride
Olivia and Sophia on a camel ride.
August 5, 2007

Malay Tiger
=> The tiger lives throughout most of Asia from southern Siberia south to Java and Sumatra.
=> The male, much larger than the female, may reach a length of ten feet including the tail.

Siberian tiger at the Como Zoo.
Taken on June 20, 2011.

Olivia's Hand Compared to Siberian Tiger Paw
Olivia's hand compared to a Siberian tiger's paw print.
Taken on June 3, 2009.

Nubian Giraffe 
=> They can reach a height of 20 feet.
=> Although it reminds people of a horse, it is more like a cow in that it chews a cud.

She Just Bent Down to Eat
The giraffe had bent down to eat some grass so
her front legs are in a wider position than her back legs.
Taken on September 6, 2011.

Sophia and Giraffe
Sophia had the chance to feed the giraffe several times 
which she thought was really fun. 
 Learned that giraffes eat 23 hours out of the day and 
they sleep 1 hour. 
 They sleep in 5 minute increments (for a total of 1 hour).
Taken on June 3, 2009.

Olivia Feeding Giraffe
Olivia giving the giraffe a snack. 
We were surprised at the color of a giraffe's tongue.
Taken on June 3, 2009.

Girls on Giraffe Statues
Sophia and Olivia on giraffe statues at Como Zoo.
Taken on October 17, 2007.

Olivia on Giraffe
Olivia on a sculpture of a giraffe at the Minnesota State Fair.
It was carved from a tree that had died.
Taken on August 30, 2007.

The Girls Ready to Go Out Trick or Treating
Olivia dressed as a giraffe and Sophia as pioneer
on Halloween.
Taken on October 31, 2008.

Polar Bear
=> Found in Arctic regions either swimming about in the water or roaming on ice floes.
=> Can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and reach a length of nine feet.

Polar Bear Laying Down with Head Up
This polar bear was watching us for the longest time.
Taken on September 4, 2008.

One of the Polar Bears
This is one of two polar bears relaxing in his new enclosure
at the Como Zoo.
Taken on June 20, 2011.

Polar Bear Outside
The polar bear was walking outside.
The paws were so huge!
Taken on June 20, 2011.

=> They are members of the horse family.
=>  They are white animals with black stripes.

Zebra - Front and Back
The tail almost looks braided on the zebra.
It was still warm enough for the zebras to be outside in October.
During the winter they have to stay inside since
winter in Minnesota is too cold for them to be outdoors.
Taken on October 17, 2007.

Others were animals mentioned in the Handbook for Nature Study that we were not able to see at Como Zoo, but enjoyed learning about. Some are ones, though, that we have seen on other visits to wildlife sanctuaries and/or in the wild:

Wapiti American Elk
=> Actually moose should be named "elk" for they are a true elk.
=> The wapati lives in the western part of the United States and Canada.
=> It is chestnut red in the summer and grayish in the winter.

We saw these elk at the wildlife sanctuary in 
Oak Leaf Park in Glencoe, Minnesota.
Taken on June 8, 2012.

=> The word rhinoceros comes from two green words which mean "nose" and "horn."
=> They live in tropical portions of Asia and Africa.

=> This animal that has four toes, feeds mainly on aquatic plans and grass.
=> It lives in the rivers of Africa.
=> Its name comes from two Greek words meaning "river" and "horse."

=> This animal has powerful hind legs for jumping and short forelegs.
=> The immature young are carried in a pouch.

Ann and Kangaroos
I was able to feed and be up close with a 
bunch of kangaroos in Australia in 1996.
That one on my left side (or the right side of the picture)
was determined to get food from me. 
Had a couple of rather long nail scratches on my upper arm
thanks to that kangaroo.

Virginia or White-Tailed Deer
=> Only the males possess antlers which are solid bone and shed each spring.
=> Their food consists of buds, leaves, tender bark, and various other forms of plant life.

Deer at Feeder
We saw this white-tailed deer near a bird feeder at
Gooseberry Falls (north of Duluth, Minnesota).
Taken on February 26, 2014.

Deer Running
This is a deer we saw running down the road in Ely, Minnesota. 
The entire underside of its tail is white.
Taken on February 24, 2014.

Deer Track
This is a deer track that we spotted in the cornfield.
Taken on March 11, 2012.

Deer in Two Harbors
This was a small deer herd that was not far from us in Two Harbors, Minnesota. 
My father and mother accompanied Sophia, Olivia, and me to 
Grand Marais for a not-back-to-school trip.
We were able to get very close to them which was exciting.
Taken on September 7, 2010.

Deer at Camp Lakamaga
This is a white-tailed deer that we saw at Camp Lakamaga.
Taken on June 30, 2007.

As we looked back on this nature study, we realized that zoo animals - as well as wild animals that are commonly seen here in Minnesota but that others may consider to be zoo animals - have been a strong interest of ours for many years.

It was fun to be able to look back on pictures taken over the past ten years (or 21 years in the case of the kangaroo picture) and see the variety of places we have been able to see animals like these, and the opportunities we have had to interact with some of them.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saving Money and Being Frugal - Week in Review - March 25, 2017

Here's what the week from March 18th-24th looked like:

Progress on Financial Goals I Set for this Week

Last week, I set six goals to work on. This is how I did:

- Bring taxes to the accountant. I've made progress on them. Only three parts left to do - the most difficult ones for me - two businesses and homeschooling because of the volume of receipts and statements I need to condense and total. All other parts are organized and totaled which is a huge relief.

- Take Sophia and Olivia to the local bank so they can deposit money into an emergency fund account that they will each establish. Sophia did this on Saturday, March 18th and Olivia did this on Thursday, March 22nd.

- Help Sophia set up an appointment with a financial advisor to help her set up her first mutual fund/Roth IRA. Talked with a financial advisor earlier in the week about different plans and which one would fit what Sophia is looking for in the long-term. When I bring the taxes into the accountant, we will meet with the financial advisor (they share office space).

- Make a deposit into two Roth IRAs. Did not do this.

- Help Sophia and Olivia set up binders to hold their statements for different accounts (e.g., savings, checking, CD, emergency fund, retirement, college, life insurance). Sophia created her binder on March 21st. Olivia has all the components for creating the binder (e.g., binder, section dividers, page protectors). It's just a matter of putting things in the proper order in the binder now.

- Finish setting up my binder to hold statements for different financial accounts and policies. Did not do this.

Progress on Blog Goals I Set for this Week

Last week,  I set the following blogging goals to work on  as they relate to saving money and home organization:

- Write a blog post about "Paying for College Without Going Broke." I read the book, and wrote a blog post about what I wanted to remember.

- Continue to work streamlining and organizing our home by doing Weeks 11-13 of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home. Finished doing Week 4 (which I had been postponing until a more appropriate time to do the challenge), Week 11 and Week 12. Did not have a chance yet to work on Week 13.

- Write an update about 40 Bags in 40 Days about Days  16-22. Did not do this.

- Make homemade Peppermint Bath Melts. Purchased all the supplies to make these, but have not made them yet.

Smart and Not-So-Smart Purchases

A not-so-smart purchase was a generic version of a peroxide cleaner for contact lenses. Even though the ingredients appeared to be the same, the solution ended up affecting the lenses in that two of them ripped.

That was an expensive lesson. We are buying the brand name version of the peroxide cleaner from now on.

Also, one of our new dogs, Danny, snuck a pork chop bone (about 1" long and 1/4" wide) from the garbage and ate it in a matter of seconds.

Since he is small (about 20 pounds), this size bone can pose a challenge. So, we had to take him to an emergency vet who immediately, upon our arrival, took his vitals and did x-rays.

They found that he had four bones in his stomach - three smaller pieces and one larger piece.

The four bones can be seen in Danny's stomach.
They are on the right side of the photo
about in the middle of the x-ray.

The two options were to:
(1) feed him small meals for a few days and hope that the food binds with the pieces of bone and, as they move through the intestines, provides a cushion or barrier between the sharp edges of the bone and the intestinal walls. OR
(2) do surgery which costs about $1,500.

I chose the former...and the vet said she would as well.

Since we paid for the x-rays, I thought it would be good to take photographs of them since we rarely get to see the inside of a dog.

It was a good science lesson for Sophia today.

Frugal Meals

- Ate leftovers was a good way to stretch the food budget and use up what was on hand.

- Friday night's meal was from Blue Apron that we were gifted from another blogger. Another meal will be on Saturday night.

The ingredients to make two dinners - enough for 8+ meals.

That saved us almost $70 in delicious food this week!

What was on the table for dinner last week:

Saturday - Leftover spaghetti or fresh-baked cinnamon rolls with apple slices. (Sophia and Olivia picked the rolls since they were hot out of the oven.)

Sunday  - BBQ beef and pork on homemade parker house rolls. The BBQ beef and pork was a crockpot dinner I made last month and had a lot leftover. Just needed to reheat it for an easy dinner.

Monday -  Turkey meatballs and green peas. This was a memorable meal. One of the meatballs had a penny in it....and I didn't put it there. It looks like it went through a grinding machine at the processing factory or wherever they make ground turkey.

Sophia cut open the meatball and was surprised to find the coin.

It was really sharp and had jagged edges. She ended up cutting her finger on it.

I'm surprised I didn't come across it when I was mixing all the ingredients together or making the meatballs.

Needless to say, we are all a bit hesitant now to eat ground turkey (or any ground product).

Notified Jennie-o (the company that produced the turkey) to let them know that there was a penny in the ground turkey since there are obviously missing pieces to it and probably in someone else's turkey.

Their response was a mixture of apathy towards what happened to Sophia and defensiveness that it was impossible that the coin was in their turkey because of the size of their screens that filter out items. You would think a company would be concerned and want to make sure no one was hurt eating their products.

Well...neeedless to say, after their response we will not be eating ground turkey produced by their company.

Tuesday - Pork chops with dressing.

Wednesday - Pork roast and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Thursday - Leftovers.
Friday - Za'atar Spiced Chicken with Bulgur from Blue Apron.

This was super good and the portions were overly generous. The recipe says it makes four servings. However, there were probably eight meals that could have been made from the one recipe. Of course, some of the family members ate what we consider a normal dinner portion plus...because it was so delicious...they had second helpings.

We all agreed that continuing with Blue Apron would be a good idea. Not every week (because we need to be mindful of our spending), but perhaps once or twice a month.

What stands out about the meal, too, is that almost every ingredient was used. With the exception of garlic cloves (which will be used for the other meal that Blue Apron sent), there were no ingredients leftover. So, no food waste.

This is a big deal for us because we enjoy trying new recipes and will buy the ingredients. Often times, there are leftover ingredients that aren't used and that we don't have an immediate purpose for (e.g., fresh cilantro, inner part of lemon if only the zest is used, broth). Sometimes, these are then wasted which is frustrating. I liked not seeing that waste with Blue Apron.

My financial goals for this week:

- Bring taxes to the accountant. There is no more flexibility on this goal since after April 1st there is a 10% surcharge for tax preparation. I don't want to incur that fee.

- Help Sophia and Oliva set up their first mutual funds/Roth IRAs after meeting with a financial advisor.

- Go to a Fashion Consultant at the Thrift Store for New-to-Us Clothes. There's a free service where a fashion consultant helps clients at the thrift store find clothes that match their style.

There's a comprehensive profile form that you fill out ahead of time and provide the link to your  Pinterest board that shows examples of the types of clothes you wear. She will pull clothing in your size and style that she thinks you will like. My oldest daughter and I are doing that this week.

- Go to Fare for All. This is a great way to stretch one's budget. They buy food and/or are given food by grocery stores that are put into food packages and/or sold individually.

The produce pack has a nice variety of fruits and vegetables; the meat pack has about a half dozen types of meats; and the mega meat pack has about a dozen types of meat products. There also are special buys and free bread products.

My parents introduced me to Fare for All, and I've gone to monthly buying events whenever I am able to do so.

- Make a deposit into two Roth IRAs.

- Help Olivia finish setting up her binder to hold her statement for different accounts (e.g., savings, checking, CD, emergency fund, retirement, college, life insurance).

- Finish setting up my binder to hold statements for different financial accounts and policies.

Blog as it relates to saving money and home organization:

- Continue to work streamlining and organizing our home by doing Week 13 of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home. The schedule for the year is posted on the link. It's been a very helpful guide to setting up the year and weekly goals.

- Write an update about 40 Bags in 40 Days about Days  16-22 and 23-29.

- Make homemade Peppermint Bath Melts.

- Make natural Vapor Rub using essential oils.

- Make an  upcycled bag holder for plastic bags.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: Paying for College without Going Broke

With 14 and 16 year old daughters, the reality that college is closer than preschool is setting in. How quickly time - and their childhood - has gone by. I have been truly blessed by being able to homeschool them and spend so much of their childhood with them.

Now, it's time to start preparing for their next stage in life: college. I came across a book at the library called Paying for College without Going Broke by Kalman A. Chany and Geoff Martz. It's from The Princeton Review.

There were a lot of helpful suggestions in the book; and I'm happy I read it. I wish I would have read it when they were much younger, though so I could have had a much better college-savings plan in place for both of them.

At any rate, these were some of the things I found most useful for our situation:

What parents can do:

- During the years you are saving for college you should not neglect your other goals, particularly in two important areas: owning your own home...and planning for your retirement.
- While the colleges assess your assets and income, they generally don't assess retirement provisions such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, Keoghs, tax-deferred annuities, etc. Any money you have managed to contribute to a retirement provision will be off-limits to the FAO's at most schools.
- If you have any interest in running a business on the side, this may be the ideal moment to start setting it up. Most businesses show losses during their first few years of operation.
- Colleges now use the tax year two years before college begins (from January 1 of the student's sophomore year of high school to December 31 of the student's junior year in high school) as their basis for deciding what you can afford to pay during freshman year and for the remaining years as well. Thus it would be helpful to remove as much income as possible from this calendar year. (Note: this is the year that we currently are in.)
- During the base year, you may want to pay down your credit card balances...and make the maximum contributions possible to a retirement provision.

- Contact the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office at to get information about state financial aid and any information about affording and paying for a college education. There's a helpful page on the website about paying for college.
- Create a form to track deadlines. The column headlines should be:
====>Admissions deadline
====>Which standardized need analysis forms (FAFSA, PROFILE) are required? When are they due at the processor?
====>Is there an individual aid form required? If so, when?
====>Are income tax returns required? When? What year(s)?
====>Any other forms required? (Business/farm supplement). When are they due?
====>Name of contact FAO at college and phone number.

What students can do:
- Study like crazy. Because colleges give preferential packaging to good students, every tenth of a point she adds to her grade point average may save her thousands of dollars in loans she won't have to pay back later.
- Coaching can raise a student's SAT score by over 100 points. Every ten points your child raises her score may save your family thousands of dollars.
- Use The Princeton Review's 11 Practice Tests for the SAT and PSAT if a SAT review course isn't in your area or is too expensive.

- Earn credits on the CLEP exams.

Filling out the FAFSA form:
- Use the most up-to-date version of the form. Don't fill out last year's form. Fill out the form for the year that you want to receive aid.
- Know your deadlines. Make sure you find out the financial aid deadlines for the college(s) that your child wants to attend.

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and Femme Frugality*

Friday Foto Friends - March 24, 2017

Today I'm joining Deb for Friday Foto Friends. Come join us and share your photos!

I took only a few photos this past week. Homeschooling, doing taxes, cat sitting for my sister, and being out-and-about doing errands took a lot of my time. Not much time to spend just being outdoors casually exploring and enjoying nature.

Yet, earlier in the week, on the first official day of Spring, as I got out of the car in the driveway from bringing Olivia home from gymnastics, this was my view to the west:

and the northwest:

It's still kind of bleak out there with the tan grass and leaf-less trees. Yet, the sky and clouds were pretty to look at - filled with clouds in one area and almost cloudless just a short distance away.

When we were driving home, there was an unusual cloud formation. There was a layer of clouds (horizontal) and one vertical cloud extending what would probably be thousands of feet up in the air. It wasn't a contrail. It was a cloud. It was just so narrow and cylindrical in shape. I should have taken a photo of it.

The other thing I noticed was tufts of fur in the garden. This was soft, downy fur - like that of a rabbit.

There was no other sign of death...just these random tufts of soft fur.

One year we had a litter of rabbits nestled in the middle of a flower garden. The mother buries - essentially - the bunnies and goes out during the day. She returns periodically to check on the bunnies and feed them. Then she'll cover the nest up again - effectively hiding them from predators.

Wonder if she was thinking about using this garden as a place to raise a family...or perhaps just moving through the area.

So many activity is happening outdoors with nature this week: the sandhill cranes have returned and heard the red-winged blackbirds at the pond (pictured above). Lots of birds are singing...including birds that are returning from their winter (southern) homes.

Spring is definitely here!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge - March 22, 2017

1. Setting aside the real March Madness (NCAA Basketball) describe something happening at your house this month that might earn the title 'March Madness'?

We are in the middle of doing the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge and in Week #13 of the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home. We continue to get rid of bags of things that we no longer need or want which is creating more space throughout the home.

After inheriting quite a bit from my parents after their deaths (in 2012 and 2015) and selling their home (in February 2016), I've been going through items that I brought here and either finding a place for them or letting them go if my brother or sister doesn't want or need the items. It's been a long process since they lived in their home for 40+ years and acquired quite a bit.

At any rate, this past week I worked on the refrigerator and freezer; and cleaned the counter so there's more space to prepare meals.

The counter used to be filled with plants
(Christmas cactus, African violets, and aloe vera).
I've relocated them to other areas
so we have more space to make food..

Sophia went through her drawers and has a bag of clothes that will go to the secondhand store. This week, the rest of us will go through our closets and drawers and get rid of clothes we no longer wear.

2. What's a favorite made up word from your childhood or a favorite from your children's childhood? Does your family still use the word today? If there's a story behind the origin please share.

The only word that comes to mind is "froggy." My brother used to say it was "froggy" out when it was foggy.

Foggy morning in Grand Marias.
(Taken on June 17, 2006.)

Initially, it was because he was just learning to talk and thought that he was saying the word correctly.

Later in his childhood he would use that word every once in a while to get my sister and I all worked up (We'd tell him, "It's not froggy it FOGGY!"...and, if he'd insist on using the word froggy we'd beg our Mom, "Please tell him to stop! He keeps saying frrrrrroggy."). 

To have such trivial issues to worry about these days...

3. Will you be doing any spring cleaning now that the season is upon us? Here is a list of 15 quick (under one hour) spring cleaning tasks:

clean out a drawer, vacuum furniture, whiten tile grout, dust the nooks and crannies you don't get to year round, degrease kitchen cabinets, wipe down walls, go behind furniture, wipe down ceiling fans, vacuum the mattress, clean the range hood, wash baseboards, shine the stainless steel, clean out vents, tackle the windows, and wipe down gadgets

Of the fifteen 'quick' tasks listed which two most need doing at your house? Will you do them?

The two tasks that are top priority here are cleaning out vents and tackling the windows.

For vents, I'm thinking more along the line of air duct cleaning (since we have four dogs and three cats) to help with cleaning the air and getting dust and pet hair out of the ductwork.

I also want to have one of the vents and ductwork below replaced. Both were damaged by Shadow (the cat) when he was in his last few months of life. It's been on my list of things to do and Spring seems like a good time to do that.

For the windows, I can clean the inside (the glass and screens). I'll have to hire someone to clean the outside of the windows since half of them are on the second level and out of reach.

4. A favorite movie set in Paris or New York?

I've enjoyed watching these movies (either on DVD or in a movie theater) that were set in New York: Arsenic and Old Lace from 1944, Miracle on 34th Street from 1947, When Harry Met Sally from 1989, and The Pursuit of Happyness from 2006.

5. What's put a spring in your step this month?

Warmer weather! Anything above 40 degrees feels balmy and makes being outside much more enjoyable.

6. Did you ever want to be a teacher? Why or why not?

When I was growing up and was about five years old, I wanted to be a beautician at Jackie Ann's (that's where my mom would go to get her hair done).

By sixth grade, I thought I'd be an archeologist.

As I graduated from high school and entered college, I thought I'd be an occupational therapist.

Professionally, I worked in the development/fundraising/proposal writing/special events field. Eventually, I founded and operated a non-profit organization.

In 2001, that changed when I adopted Sophia and Olivia. By 2003 - after adopting Olivia - I was homeschooling full-time. Being both Sophia's and Olivia's teacher, has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done with my life.

To be able to see them advance in their knowledge, to be able to see when they learn something new and it "clicks," is infinitely more rewarding and exciting than anything I've done professionally.

Each season of homeschooling has been so different - from preschool, through elementary school, middle school, and now high school. It has challenged me to find a method of teaching and resources that inspire and encourage the girls to want to learn.

Did I envision this path as a child? No. It didn't even occur to me. Yet, this path is one that I am so grateful that I have been able to take with them.

7.  What's your favorite floral scent? Do you have this somewhere in your home or maybe in a perfume? How do you feel about florals in food? How about wines with floral notes-yay or nay?

My favorite floral scents are lavender and rose. I use the essential oils of both of these flowers. Often I combine lavender with patchouli or ylang ylang.

When I was growing up, my Dad would buy my Mom Maja soap that was made by Myrurgia.

I always loved the smell of it. It didn't know the name of it at the time. A few years before my Mom died, I asked her what soap she used to use that Dad got for her. She remembered the name and I was so thankful that it is still being produced. I use both the soap and perfume now.

I looked up the description for Maja. It "is an Oriental Spicy fragrance for women. Maja was launched in 1921. The fragrance features nutmeg, carnation, patchouli, cloves, vetiver, rose, geranium, citruses and lavender."

No wonder I like it: rose and lavender are in it!

Carnations were flowers my Dad gave my Mom on her anniversary - two red ones (to represent them) and three white ones (to represent my sister, brother, and me). Geraniums were flowers they used to plant in front of our home in Minneapolis. Pink ones to match the pink-painted house.

In terms of florals in food? I 've tried lavender before both in cookies and a beverage. It didn't taste right. When I grew nasturtiums, I used to decorate salads with the these flowers. The salads were pretty and the nasturtiums added their own unique flavor.

I've seen people use edible flowers in spring rolls and would like to try that this summer.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Olivia finished organizing the Washington County Barn Quilt Trail this past December. There are 18 barn quilts that she designed using The Quiltmaker's Gift as inspiration and a theme for the trail.

I'm still working on the website and hope to have it done this by the end of next month so people who want to see the barn quilts know where they are located and the best route to see them.

At any rate, someone asked her if she would be interested in painting a windmill that they have had laying on the ground at their farm for four years. They wanted a patriotic theme since the husband and son were both veterans.

During July and August 2016, she painted the windmill.

It was a lot different working on metal than wood.

There were also a lot of little crevices, screws, and metal parts that needed to be painted.

The blades were painted red and white. About 3 coats of paint (on top of two layers of primer) covered the windmill.

In January - on her birthday - we received a call. "Are you around? Do you want to see the windmill go up?" Indeed we did!

We drove quickly to their home to see the process of the windmill be lifted off the ground and set into place. It was a beautifully clear day.

Once the windmill was secure, the ropes holding the blades in place during the installation were taken off so we could see how the windmill looked as the wind spun the blades around. It looked great!

Olivia - as well as the homeowners - was very pleased with how it turned out. It was another large-scale painting project she was able to accomplish this year.