Monday, October 31, 2011

D is for Delicious Drumsticks - ABCs of Homeschooling

This week marks the fourth week of using the children's cookbook called Alpha-Bakery produced by Gold Medal Flour. (We are using the cookbook for one aspect of homeschool home economics.)

For each letter of the alphabet, there is a corresponding recipe. So far we've made:

Apple Crisp for the letter A
- Banana Bread for letter B
- Chocolate Chip Cookies for letter C

and now we made Delicious Drumsticks this week.

Delicious Drumsticks


1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted and cooled (we used dairy-free butter)


Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in a bowl. Dip chicken drumsticks into margarine; roll in flour mixture to coat. Arrange in an ungreased square pan, 8x8x2 inches.  Bake uncovered until juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut, about 50 minutes. Makes six drumsticks.

Link up to the ABC's

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Christmas List - 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 43

This past week I read The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans. Last year, I read The Christmas Box that he wrote and enjoyed it. The Christmas List is of the same quality of writing, and is engaging from the first to last page.

The story centers around a real estate developer and manager/investment manager named James Kier who epitomizes greed and self-centeredness. Through his business dealings, he has destroyed many lives and businesses to build his own income.

One morning he is confronted with reading his own obituary in the paper. (It happened to be a case of mistaken identity in which the newspaper thought the dead James Kier was the real estate developer...not the bus driver who had the same name.)

Until a retraction was printed in the paper, James was able to read what people truly thought of him. The hatred and negativity towards him was sobering, at best. The only person to come to his defense was his wife (Sara) whom he was seeking a divorce from, and actually served her papers on her first day of chemotherapy.

Sara knew what James was like when they first met and what good qualities he had at one time. She also knew what had changed his attitude towards life and business - a business arrangement in which his partners took advantage of him and ended up saddling him with a tremendous amount of debt.

Despite being able to work hard and pay off the debt in three years, he became very angry...not so much at the business partners, but more at himself for being so naive, trusting, and letting the business partners "walk all over him. And that's a more dangerous type of anger. It changed the way he saw everything and everyone because it changed the way he saw himself," Sara said.

Being curious as to who the other James was, James Kier attended the visitation at the bus driver's modest home. He was shocked at the support and impact this other man had made in his life, despite such a meager salary and limited resources.

From that point on, James is determined to change his life and leave a better legacy than the one he had so far created. He referred to Alfred Nobel who was the inventor of dynamite. In its intended purpose (to mine or clear land, for example), it is useful. However, dynamite also has resulted in the loss of many lives.

In 1888, Nobel's brother Emil died. In The Christmas List it said, "A French newspaper mistook his brother for him and ran an article with the headline, Le marchand de la mort est mort, 'The merchant of death is dead.' It went on to say that Dr. Alfred Nobel became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before."

Apparently, there even more articles of this nature. "Nobel was so upset by what he read about himself that he decided to change his legacy," The Christmas List noted. "He left his fortune to the establishment of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Thus, James Kier asks his secretary (Linda) to create a list of people who had negatively affected. His goal was to reach each of the people before Christmas and make things right. This was his Christmas list.

Linda made a list of five people and wrote briefs about them to remind James of who they were and what he had done to destroy their lives.

The book focuses on each of the meetings, how he is received, and the ammends he made to each one. Each person's reaction is likewise quite telling of a person's character and ability to forgive. With some people, there was no way that he could make amends. This was both painful to hear and a reality of the damage he had caused.

The Christmas List is a book that I would highly recommend to others. Going into the holiday season, it would make an excellent book to read and reflect upon.

It also gives pause for thought about how each one of us can make a difference in the lives of matter what one's income level is or the resources that are available to each of us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Help Split Wood and Clear Pasture - 52 Weeks of Giving - Week 43

Although this week's project in the 52 Weeks of Giving wasn't something we did to help others locally or globally, the girls still gave of themself and their time by helping me clear the pastures of logs and branches.

The log splitter Sophia, Olivia, and I used.

They also each took a turn at operating the log splitter. Olivia was fine with doing one log on the splitter.

Olivia learning how to split wood.

However, Sophia enjoyed splitting the logs - particularly the larger ones that had to be split many times. 

Sophia operating the log splitter.

By helping get the logs and branches out of the pasture, the girls make it safer for the horses - especially at night when these large objects could be tripped on and/or the horses injured by them.

Wood that now needs to be stacked before winter.

They also helped the environment by reusing trees that were destroyed by lightening or the ash borer insect.  Rather than having the wood simply rot in the pasture, we can burn it this winter in the woodstove and reduce the amount of propane that we use.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pet Therapy - 52 Weeks of Giving - Week 42

On Thursday, Sophia and Olivia brought two cats (Eenie and Shadow) to see their grandfather (Papa) at the nursing home. This is the first time that either cat has been outside the home or veterinarian's office; and in a nursing home.

Dad/Papa with Sophia and Eenie

Eenie did well and responded positively to the attention. In fact, the nurses went around to different residents in the hospice and palliative care unit whom they knew liked cats and brought them out to see Eenie, Sophia, and Olivia.  One lady, in particular, Sophia said seemed to enjoy petting Eenie. She smiled a lot as she watched Eenie walk around.

Shadow, Dad/Papa, and Sophia.
(Sophia is looking at music therapy session that was in progress.)

Although Shadow didn't fare as well in a public setting, he did make a appearance for Dad/Papa. He ended up spending the majority of time under a bench. At least he was quiet while he was there.

The girls are excited to bring Eenie back to see Dad/Papa in the future. Likewise, he is eager to see Eenie again. In fact, three days later he remembered seeing the cats. For someone who is in the late stage of Alzheimer's Disease who has trouble recalling short-term memories, it is impressive that the experience made such an impact on him.

After spending time with the cats, Olivia, Dad/Papa, and I went to the aviary on the third floor. We have visited the birds before, and this is something that Dad/Papa enjoys. 

Olivia and Dad/Papa looking at the birds
in the aviary at the nursing home.

The finches are so colorful, and I think Dad/Papa liked seeing when they flew right in front of him.

Dad/Papa looking at the finches.

The 42nd Week of Giving was such a positive experience for Sophia, Olivia, and I; and one that will be a special memory for us all in years to come.

Carve Pumpkins & Donate to a Nursing Home - 52 Weeks of Giving - Week 41

For the 41st week in the 52 Weeks of Giving challenge, the girls carved pumpkins at their monthly 4-H meeting on Monday, and then helped decorate the outdoor courtyards of a local nursing home with the pumpkins on Wednesday.

This is the second year that the girls have had the opportunity to carve pumpkins at their 4-H club meeting. The club has a strong commitment to community service and aims to do one service project each month.

Sophia carving a pumpkin.

During October, all the children and teens carve pumpkins. A few of the club members visit a local nursing home and place the pumpkins in the various courtyards so the residents can enjoy seeing the color of fall, and perhaps sparking some memories of carving pumpkins when they were younger.

Olivia punching out the mouth of her pumpkin
after Kelly cut out the shape.

The girls and Megan (another 4-H member) volunteered to bring and distribute the pumpkins. All the courtyards had pumpkins in them by the time the girls were done.

Sophia, Olivia, and Megan
by a couple of carved pumpkins
they placed in one of the nursing home courtyards.

C is for Chocolate Chip Cookies - ABCs of Homeschooling

This is the third week of using the children's cookbook called Alpha-Bakery produced by Gold Medal Flour. (We are using the cookbook for one aspect of homeschool home economics.)

For each letter of the alphabet, there is a corresponding recipe. So far we've made Apple Crisp for the letter A and Banana Bread for letter B.

This week, we made Chocolate Chip Cookies for letter C. We used a couple of different types of chocolate chips as well as M&Ms.

All the ingredients were readily available in the cupboard and refrigerator which seems to be typical of the recipes in Alpha-Bakery. None of the recipes require fancy, expensive ingredients. Just simple items that are in most kitchens.

Chocolate Chip Cookies


3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 egg
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (we didn't use any)
1 package (12 ounces) of semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix both sugars, margarine, and egg in a large bowl with a woooden spoon. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt (dough will be stiff). Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons about 3 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until light brown, 8-10 minutes (centers will be soft). Let cookies coool slightly, then remove from cookie sheet with a spatula. Makes about 48 cookies.

Link up to the ABC's

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 42

I'm caught up now the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. As with the last book I read (A Dog Named Christmas), I browsed the fiction section at the library and picked some books that sounded interesting - either the title itself or the content.

Yesterday, I read Dinner with a Perfect Stranger - An Invitation Worth Considering  by David Gregory.

It is a simply-written, very quick book to read. The premise is that a workaholic, cynical man (Nick) finds an envelope containing an invitation on his desk. Without a return address, the invitation to have dinner at a fancy restaurant with Jesus appears to be a practical joke played by some of his friends. He decides to go to dinner and see for himself who this person is and what kind of event his friends have concocted.

The book either would be one that would be well-written and thought-provoking; or it could be one that I would be eager to finish. Unfortunately, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger falls into the latter category.

Thankfully, the book is short (only 100 pages), so it didn't take too much of my time. I was hoping for more insightful, inspiring thoughts and conversation between Nick and Jesus. In addition to the lack of depth, a few sections of book I was uncomfortable with and didn't feel like it was a positive representation of a religion. 

For example, in one section the conversation basically compared three different world religions - Hinduism, Buddism, and Islam - to Christianity. The simplistic way that the other religions were portrayed as well as the underlying current of negativity didn't sit well with me.

After that point, the book seemed to further decline, and lacked the inspiration I had hoped it would offer. After reading some other reviews about this book, there seems to be a quite a split: people either are truly moved and find this book quite life-changing or they greatly dislike it.

Although the book wasn't the favorite one I've read this year (it falls in the bottom five books I've read), there was a section in the book that gave me some pause for thought. It talked about humanity's rebellion and that it isn't always the horrific outward acts that are the worse or that destroy the world. "It's selfishness, resentment, envy, pride..." So, given those four feelings, could many of the current problems we see in the corld relate back to them?

I struggled with the statement, "...there is a purpose to the present time. And one day everything will be made right." Watching my father struggle with Alzheimer's Disease often leaves me wondering about why people have to suffer like this - not only the person with the disease but everyone who the person knows. At this point in my life, I am failing to see the positive purpose of the disease and its effect on my dad and our family.

In Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, the story that follows the statement above has Nick discussing the anger regarding his parents' divorce, the loss of his father in his life, and ultimately his father's death when he was sixteen years old. In the 2 1/2 pages about this topic, it left more questions and a feeling of emptiness than one of comfort.

Honestly, I think there are a lot of books that are more life-changing than this one; and I would tend to encourage others to find those books rather than use one's limited time with this one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Freedom Train - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 41

As part of Sophia's curriculum this year, she read aloud to me Freedom Train by Evelyn Coleman. This is an interesting 148-page book based upon the real journey of the Freedom Train during the 1940s.

The inspirational story centers on a young boy's awareness of the injustices around him, and how things can change for the better.

There's another book that has the same title, but it is about Harriet Tubman. In retrospect, that probably was the book that she should have read given that she is learning about American History and she's in the 1800s right now.

That being said, Freedom Train provided a look at segregation, racism, discrimination (racial as well as class/financial) and its effect on individuals, families, and communities. It provoked some good questions by Sophia about these topics; and gave me an opportunity about how I saw and/or experienced these things in my own life.

The book also gave me opportunity to share some stories that I had heard from my parents who grew up during a time when segregation still existed the Ku Klux Klan was active (my father had some very scary memories of seeing crosses burning on neighbors' lawns during the night).

The actual Freedom Train operated from 1947-1949 and made its way throughout the United States. It would stop only at cities where the mayors agreed to have only one line for those waiting to see the train. Rather than having two separate lines which, unfortunately, was common at that time, they were required to have a single line for everyone.

According to the Freedom Train website, "The Freedom Train was temporary home to America's most precious documents and other unique treasures, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, one of the 13 original copies of the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Iwo Jima flag, the German and Japanese surrender documents that ended World War II, and much more."

The website continued, "Among the 127 documents and six historical flags on board, the Freedom Train held dozens of treasures that were the earliest inspirations for the American experience. Some of these were from a distant and oppressive age, when there was little precedent for the rights of ordinary people."

At the end of the Freedom Train, there are several photographs of the Marines, porters, and line of people waiting to see the documents on the train. 

(This was also read as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.)

A Dog Named Christmas - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 40

This week for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I went to the library and found a book by an author whom I had never heard of or read any of his work - Greg Kincaid. The book, A Dog Named Christmas, is a quick 143-page story that was enjoyable and uplifting.

The book centers around Todd McCray, a developmentally-challenged young man, who hears about a program at the local animal shelter that aims to give dogs a place to live over the holiday season. 

Essentially, there is not enough staff available to care for all the animals at the shelter, so the shelter is asking the public to "bring a dog home just for the holidays." The idea is that families will choose a dog to visit them for a couple of weeks around Christmas and then return the dog after the holidays are over. In reality, many of the dogs are adopted which is the ultimate goal of the shelter - to place animals with loving families.

Todd immediately wants his family to participate in the shelter's program; but his dad (who is a farmer and Vietnam vet) already has dealt with the death of two very special dogs in his life and is not interested in the program.

Eventually, his dad changes his mind. To what extent they become involved and how their involvement changes their lives becomes the focus of the book.

When Tood and his dad visit the shelter, one of the staff members says in response to the question about why some dogs seem excited to see a person and others do not:  "That's a good question. Some dogs are still stuck on their old owners. They aren't ready yet to accept a new family or friend. Every dog in here has a perfect human match. There's not a dog in here that won't act excited when the right person comes along."

She explains that some dogs are easier to place in homes than others. There was reference to the "big black dog syndrome." Generally, dogs fitting this description do not get adopted as quickly (or at all) since there is a supply and demand issue (too many big black dogs and not enough families wanting to adopt them).

There was another section in the book that mentioned a tragedy of war that bothered the dad: that thousands of dogs that served in Vietnam and saved countless lives were never given awards or medals.

Few of the dogs survived, since many dogs sacrificed their own lives to help the soldiers. The ones that did survive "...were callously abandoned. It had to be traumatizing for the remaining soliders to evacuate and leave behind a friend that would lay down his life, not just once but every day."

Another part of the book was about the concept of giving and serving, but being unable to accept help in return. The family's neighbor (also a farmer) said to the father, "The problem is...that you've become so comfortable giving to others that you forgot how to let something or someone give back to you."

What was inspiring about this book was that many families came forth to provide homes for the dogs. A person with more financial resources came forth to fund the renovation of the shelter.  Truly, an entire community worked together to make a difference in the lives of these well as changing their own lives for the better in the process.

This story is a good book for people who enjoy dogs, agriculture, and nature - three things I like. It would be a great book to read by yourself, or aloud to children or to seniors at a nursing home (if there's a reading program offered).

B is for Banana Bread - ABCs of Homeschooling

This is the second week of using the children's cookbook called Alpha-Bakery produced by Gold Medal Flour. (We are using the cookbook for one aspect of homeschool home economics.)

For each letter of the alphabet, there is a corresponding recipe. So, last week we started with Apple Crisp for the letter A. This week we made Banana Bread for letter B.

Banana Bread


3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3 large)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts (we didn't include these)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with shortening (we used spray). Mix sugar, bananas, oil, and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean (60-70 minutes). Let cool 10 minutes, then loosen the sides of the loaf from the pan and remove from pan. Let cool completely before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.


This bread was light, flavorful, and delicious! I've been using a family recipe for banana bread that my Dad's mother used for many years. This recipe is equally as good and easy to make. The ingredients are almost identical, with this one using vanilla, baking powder, and salt while my grandma's recipe does not. The proportions of the remaining ingredients vary slightly. We would definitely make this bread again.

Next week, we move onto the "C" recipe in the cookbook: Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Link up to the ABC's

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuesdays with Morrie - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 39

For the 39th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. 

I watched the movie during the past year which was very well done; and an accurate representation of the book. To me, the movie version (versus the book) is more emotionally-moving.

This isn't to say that Tuesdays with Morrie isn't a worthwhile book to read. It is. In fact, millions of copies of the book have been sold in the United States and around the world. It has been printed in 42 languages. Clearly, the message the book shares is relevent and inspirational.

There are a lot of passages that are worth noting which I'm going to do in lieu of writing a review. I'm choosing to do this because many of the quotes apply to the journey that I (and my entire family) are on with my father who has Alzheimer's Disease.

Although Morrie had ALS, both Alzheimer's Disease and ALS slowly eat away at one's body or mind. Both diseases can transform a person who was independent, brilliant, and giving into a person who is dependent and trapped in a body that no longer represents who they were at one time.

Despite being limited in body or mind, both my father and Morrie continue/continued to teach and impact lives...each in their own way.

The purpose of reading the book, for me, was to be able to see and write down the most meaningful parts of the movie and what Morrie shared via interviews with Mitch.
Basically, the book is described by the closing paragraph in the book:

     Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it is only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their beds.
    The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.

So, each week Morrie (the teacher/coach) shared his insights about various topics with Mitch (the adult student and sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press).

Here are excerpts from the book that I want to remember:

- Dying is only one thing to be sad over...Living unhappily is something else.

- I may be dying, but I am surrounded by loving, caring souls. How many people can say that?

- So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

- The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and how to let it come in.

- [Mitch asked Morrie if he ever felt sorry for himself.] Sometimes in the morning. That's when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands - whatever I can still move - and I mourn what I've lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I'm dying. But then I stop mourning. I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life.

- Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, "Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?"

- The truth is once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

- This is part of what a family is about, not just love, but letting others know there's someone who is watching out for them. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame. Not work.

- We've got a form of brainwashing going on in our country .... They repeat something over and over...[that] owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good .... The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what's really important anymore.

- You can't substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.

- You know what really gives you satisfaction? Offering others what you have to give. I don't mean money...I mean time. Your concern. Your storytelling. This is how you start to get respect, by offering something that you have.

- Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

- Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive. Not my car or my house. Not what I look like in the mirror. When I give my time, when I can make someone smile after they were feeling sad, it's as close to healthy as I ever feel.

- Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won't be dissatisfied, you won't be envious, you won't be longing for somebody else's things. On the contrary, you'll be overwhelmed with what comes back.

- Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.

- Be compassionate. And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.

- Death ends a life, not a relationship.

- In business, people negotiate to win. They negotiate to get what they want. Maybe you're used to that. Love is different. Love is when you are as concerned about someone else's situation as you are about your own.

In terms of Mitch's perspective, he wrote some interesting things as well:

- Morrie might have died without ever seeing me again.  I had no good excuse for this, except the one that everyone these days seems to have. I had become too wrapped up in the siren song of my own life. I was busy.

- Morrie's love for music was strong even before he got sick, but now it was so intense, it moved him to tears.

- Morrie had always been taken with simple pleasures, singing, laughing, dancing. Now, more than ever, material things held little or no significance. When people die, you always hear the expression "You can't take it with you." Morrie seemed to know that a long time ago.

- Morrie believed in the inherent good of people.  But he also saw what they could become.
- Sometimes, when you're losing someone you hang on to whatever tradition you can.

Morrie referenced Marcus Aurelius (a philosopher) in an interview with Ted Koppel. In looking at some of the quotes attributed to Aurelius, it is clear why Morrie liked him. These are some quotes that seem to fit with the lessons in Tuesdays with Morrie:

- Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there.

- Waste no more time talking about great souls and how they should be. Become one yourself!

- The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

- Think not disdainfully of death, but look on it with favor; for even death is one of the things that Nature wills.

- Very little is needed to make a happy life.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Constellations - Big and Little Dippers

Throughout this year, Sophia and Olivia are going to be studying constellations and stars. We started with Polaris, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper.

We used the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey, and the Handbook of Nature Study website to learn these constellations as well as help the girls with their nature journal entries.


According to Find the Constellations, there are only about 2,500 stars at a time that are visible to the naked eye. With telescopes, it's different; giving people opportunities to see millions of stars.

Even though Polaris (with the stress on "lar") isn't one of the brightest stars in the sky (it's only of 2nd magnitude), it's an important star because it gives the illusion of standing still while the other constellations revolve around it (see photograph below). This isn't how it works, but simply how it appears due to the Earth's rotation.

"Polaris is also called the North Star....because it is always north," states Find the Constellations. "When you are looking at Polaris you are facing north, and to your right is east, to your left west, and south is behind you."

The Big Dipper

The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars. It is also known as the Drinking Gourd; and points the way to the North Star (Polaris). The Big Dipper is a part of the constellation Great Bear.

Both Polaris and the Big Dipper are night sky symbols that led the slaves to the Northern states and Canada, where they could live in freedom.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Astonomy Department, "The Big Dipper was also a very important part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape from the South before the Civil War. There were songs spread among the slave population which included references to the 'Drinking Gourd.' The songs said to follow it to get to a better life. This veiled message for the slaves to flee northward was passed along in the form of songs since a large fraction of the slave population was illiterate."

The Little Dipper

The Little Dipper has Polaris at the tip of the handle. It is also called Little Bear, but it looks more like a dipper than a bear.

The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Polaris.

Natural Journaling

Sophia and Olivia each did a nature journal entry about Polaris, the Big Dipper, and the Little Dipper. 

Olivia's journal entry.

Sophia's journal entry.

Grasshopper Nature Study

We have been seeing quite a few grasshoppers recently, so I thought it may be interesting to learn a bit more about them.

Using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, the Handbook of Nature Study website, and an article from Ranger Rick magazine that I had in my homeschool files, we learned some facts about grasshoppers:

- They have two sets of tough jaws. One set cuts the food and the other set moves the food into the mouth.

- A grasshopper's long hind legs are loaded with sharp spikes. The males use these to fight each other by kicking with them.

Grasshopper Legs
Spikes on hind legs.
The "Vs" also are visible to the right of the picture.

- If you look closely on grasshoppers' back legs, there are "Vs" on them.  Below each V is a strong muscle that helps the grasshopper hop.

- Some kinds of grasshoppers can jump more than 20 times their lengths.

- Male grasshoppers (and a few kinds of females) "sing" by rubbing body parts together (e.g., legs together; legs across a ridge on a wing).

- A grasshopper has two ears, one on each side of the abdomen.

- A grasshopper has five eyes. Each of the two large eyes has hundreds of tiny lenses that see shapes and motion. The smaller eyes just sense light.

Grasshopper eyes.

In their nature journals, each of the girls wrote a few sentences about a grasshopper they saw on Sunday in a healing/sensory garden at the nursing home where their grandfather lives.

Olivia's notes about seeing the grasshopper
at Papa's nursing home.

They also included a picture of a grasshopper from the magazine article to supplement their nature journal entry.

Sophia's nature journal entry about grasshoppers.

Walking to Vermont - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 38

This week I read Walking to Vermont by Christopher S. Wren as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I'm still a few books behind where I wanted to be (I should be on Week 42). My goal is to catch up by the end of the month.

The author was a foreign correspondent who retired and then set out to walk 400 miles on the Appalachian Trail. At 65 years old, he did this in five weeks.

The book combines his present journey from New York through the Housatonic River Valley of Connecticut, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and finally to Hanover, New Hampshire with reflections and memories about his work and life overseas.

For me, I much preferred reading about the hike; what and who he saw along the trail; and learning more about what that experience was like. Reading about being a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Russia, and South America (among other locations) wasn't the highlight of the book for me. In fact, I found myself skimming over these sections since they were not what I was hoping to read in this particular book.

What I enjoyed reading about were the geographical and historical facts he included. For example, about 300 years ago, "New York and Connecticut had quarreled over [a] nondescript border strip .... The dispute was settled in 1731 by creating a tract called the Oblong, fifty-one miles long and two miles wide, which Connecticut later gave up." More information about the Oblong is HERE.

Further along, he passed Bulls Bridge which is a covered bridge across the Housatonic River. According to the author, this spot "...gained renown as the spot where George Washington's horse fell into the water back in 1777. The father of our country spent five hundred dollars, big bucks for a fledgling nation that tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, to get his horse pulled out."

Wren wrote about encountering other hikers on the trail - some traveling in groups, others in pairs, and some by themselves. There were hikers who were walking the entire Appalacian Trail - from Georgia to Maine - and others who (like the author) were walking only a portion of the trail.

It sounded like the majority of hikers were making solitary journeys. He quoted Henry Thoreau regarding the value of solitude: "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating."

Another quote in Walking to Vermont was from William Cullen Bryant, and it opened the chapter about Vermont: "Ascend our rocky mountains, let thy feet fail not with weariness, for on their tops the beauty and majesty of earth, spread wide beneath, shall make thee to forget the steep and toilsome way."

It reminded me of driving through Vermont last month and the beauty of the Green Mountains. As Sophia, Olivia, and I traveled through this section of the country, we thought about the slaves who were escaping to freedom along the trails of the Underground Railroad. Crossing through the mountains of Vermont and reaching their tops may have produced a similar thought as Bryant wrote above.

As Wren hikes through Vermont he comes to Aldrichville, a village (complete with a textile mill, homes, farmland, etc.) that once use to exist but has now become part of the forest again. The U.S. Forest Service has a Relics and Ruins program, and has done an archaeological dig here. Some stone walls still remain here along with posted information from the Forest Service.

By the time the author completes his walk, he seems to have a new perspective on his life and retirement. He quotes Chinese essayist Zhou Shuren (who wrote under the pen name of Lu Xun):

"When I was young, I had many dreams. Most of them I later forgot, but I see nothing in this regret. For although recalling the past may bring happiness, at times it cannot but bring loneliness, and what is the point of clinging to lonely, bygone days?"

It's a time to let go and move on with one's life. That, in essence, is what Wren realizes after his 400-mile hike.

Food => Homeschooling, Freeganism, and Food Rescue/Recovery

Today is Blog Action Day and the topic this year is food since the date coincides with World Food Day. Since 2007, Blog Action Day has focused bloggers around the world to blog about one important global topic on the same day.

Over the past year, I wrote many times about how food plays a role in homeschooling Sophia and Olivia.

For example, when studying about different countries for our multi-year, multi-disciplinary study about 26 different countries (one for each letter of the alphabet), we always would prepare at least two recipes from that country. It was a great way to learn about how people eat in other parts of the world.

Turkish Lunch
Ready to enjoy a Turkish lunch.

This year, we are using food in even more ways:

- We are doing a multi-year unit study about the United States by learning about each state in the country. Every week, we have been trying new recipes that are representative of each state. The recipes are from Eat Your Way Around the U.S.A.

Orange Cake from New Hampshire.

- Each week we read a book from the Five in a Row curriculum. There is a cookbook that has two or three recipes that relate to each book. There also is a place to include photographs of the food as it is prepared and enjoyed.

Chopping fresh fruit for a salad.
The recipe tied into the book Madeline.

- For Sophia's cooking class at the homeschool co-op, we are using the Alpha-Bakery cookbook which has one recipe for each letter of the alphabet. Each week, we are making one recipe from the cookbook. So far, we have made Apple Crisp, Banana Bread, and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Apple Crisp.

- We expanded the vegetable, herb, and fruit garden this spring; and tried growing some new items during the summer. This was met with mixed success: the tomatoes, herbs, raspberries, and beans did well. Broccoli, beets, and carrots were not as productive as hoped. Although it is nice to have the garden, the majority of the fresh produce we used during the summer came from farmers who we supported at local farmers markets.

Olivia Planting Beans
Olivia planting beans in the garden.

- The girls learned how to dry and preserve herbs; tomatoes; and fruit during the summer. They also will be helping with canning applesauce in the fall as they do each year.

Basil growing in the garden.

- We donated food to the food shelf several times this year as part of our 52 Weeks of Giving challenge. We also have prepared meals for people recovering from surgery and experiencing medical/health challenges.

Taking Food to a Friend Recovering from Surgery
Bringing homemade food to a friend
recovering from surgery.


A couple areas that I want to share with the girls about and learn more about are the issues of food waste as well as food rescue/recovery. I remember these "real-life lessons" when I was a child.

My parents, who were raised during The Depression were very resourceful and frugal. In addition to growing some of their own food, we regularly visited the farmers' market (often at 5:30-6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning) so they could reduce their food bill. The produce was less expensive than in the grocery store; and they were able to buy in bulk to can and freeze items for use during the winter and spring.

One of my most vivid memories of going to the farmers' market sometimes after it closed. Some of the farmers would throw unpurchased food into the dumpsters. This bothered my parents because the food was perfectly fine and could be used. To them, it was such a waste.

They lifted my brother, sister, and I up to the dumpster to retrieve the vegetables that had just been thrown in it. We took the food out and my parents brought it home where they washed, and prepared and/or preserved it.

Recovering food like this was both an environmental/waste issue for them as well as a financial issue. My father was a school social worker who had a very limited salary for only nine months out of the year; and my mother was a stay-at-home mom.

We were, according to the financial charts, poor and qualified for free or reduced lunches (depending on the year and how much income my parents earned). So, being able to supplement the food budget with recovered food was essential to surviving.


Today, there is a movement called freeganism. According to Wikipedia, freeganism " an anti-consumerist lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources."

Wikipedia continues, "Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed."

An article in Marie Claire states that "...freegans rarely go hungry thanks to the colossal amount of food Americans dump every day — 38 million tons annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Here's another way to look at it: The United Nations says our leftovers could satisfy every single empty stomach in Africa."


Another aspect of food recovery that I would like to incorporate into homeschooling is based on an article that I read about a woman who lives in Vermont who visits local businesses and restaurants that donate fresh produce, expiring food, and prepared food. She then delivers the food she collects to food shelves as well as agencies that serve people who are homeless.

In Minnesota, one in ten people struggles with hunger. At the same time, "In Minnesota alone, we throw out more than 715 million pounds of food each year. State officials say that's how much we send to landfills or garbage burners," according to Julie Siple of Minnesota Public Radio in this article.

She continued, "Hunger relief organizations are increasing their efforts to save the portion of that food that's edible — and get it to hungry Minnesotans."

Locally, the food shelf that serves the community where we live does receive donations from some local businesses of pastries, bagels, and other baked goods. Being a part of this effort would be a worthwhile goal - educationally as well as environmentally - during the upcoming homeschooling year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A is for Apple Crisp - ABCs of Homeschooling

One of the things we're doing this year for homeschooling is using the children's cookbook called Alpha-Bakery produced by Gold Medal Flour.

The cookbook was given to Sophia by her homeschool co-op cooking teacher. The assignment is to make one recipe per week for the school year. So, we are starting from A and working our way to Z. This week's recipe was for apple crisp.

According to Alpha-Bakery, baking helps "...develop valuable hand and eye coordination. [Children] refine small motor skills and build reading and arithmetic skills, too."

Baking helping children "...develop a sense of accomplishment. They can see, taste, and share, with pride, the results of their efforts," Alpha-Bakery adds.

Apple Crisp


4 medium unpeeled or peeled cooking apples, sliced (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup of Gold Medal all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of quick-cooking or regular oats
1/3 cups of chopped walnuts (we didn't include these)
1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup of margarine or butter, softened (we used dairy-free butter)


Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the apple slices in an ungreased 8-inch square pan. Mix remaining ingredients with a fork; sprinkle over apples. Bake uncovered until the topping is golden brown and apples are tender, about 30 minutes. Makes about six servings.

Under the apple crisp's top layer are
tender apple slices covered in a brown-sugar syrup.

The apple crisp was easy to make and delicious. It tasted great both hot and cold. Sophia and Olivia both enjoyed making apple crisp, and are excited to try the next recipe in the cookbook.

Link up to the ABC's

Monday, October 10, 2011

Learning about Geography through Food - Vermont

The third state we learned about as part of the multi-year, multi-disciplinary study of the United States was Vermont. Sophia, Olivia, and I enjoyed traveling through Vermont last month, and sampling some of the food produced there including:

- Ben & Jerry's ice cream. In 1978, Ben & Jerry's was established in Burlington, Vermont, in a renovated gas station. What we liked about this company was that, when possible, they purchase ingredients from local farmers. They also have a strong commitment to giving back to the community through service.

The girls outside Ben & Jerry's factory.
We went on a tour and enjoyed samples afterwards.

- Chocolate from Lake Champlain Chocolates. This company, likewise, also supports local farmers and the community through service. All the butter, cream, and milk they use in their products comes from Vermont farmers.

We learned how chocolate candies were made,
and tasted samples of chocolate and candies during the tour.

The girls also purchased some maple syrup since Vermont is the number one producer of maple syrup in the United States. We had hoped to visit a farm where maple syrup is produced, but the one we planned on seeing was inaccesible due to the hurricane and flood that affected that area only a week prior to our trip there.

When we returned home, we studied about Vermont in greater depth. One way Sophia and Olivia are learning about the different states in the United States is through cooking. For Vermont, they made several recipes from Eating Your Way Through the U.S.A.: Roast Turkey, Stuffing, Maple-Coated Walnuts, and Baked Apples.

Vermont's ninth top commodity product is turkey. This follows dairy products, cattle, and chicken eggs amongst other non-livestock products.

Rather than roast an entire turkey, the girls roasted two turkey legs. They seasoned the meat with a variety of spices and then put it in the oven while they made other items for dinner.

Roasted Turkey Legs. The girls both enjoyed this recipe.


The stuffing recipe in Eating Your Way Through the U.S.A. included three hard-boiled eggs in addition to the staples - like bread, mushrooms, onions, butter, and broth. There also some ingredients that I typically don't use - like nutmeg and mace.

Normally, I use sage and rosemary as the primary spices when making dressing, so this was an interesting change from what we typically eat at Thanksgiving.

Stuffing to go with the turkey.

Maple-Coated Walnuts

The recipe in Eat Your Way Through the U.S.A. suggested using walnuts. However, none of us like walnuts, so we chose a combination of mixed nuts. Using maple syrup and water, we made a glaze on the stove, mixed it with the nuts, and then baked the nuts and glaze in the oven.

Maple-Coated Mixed Nuts.

The girls liked this recipe. The only challenge is that it is rather sticky. Having a wet cloth nearby to clean your hands is necessary. Other than that, we enjoyed this treat.

Sophia and Olivia enjoying a Vermont-inspired meal.

Baked Apples

We made baked apples with brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, and dairy-free butter. It was an easy recipe, and baked while we ate dinner. When we were done eating, we took the apples out of the oven and tried them. 

Sophia and I liked the baked apples; and Olivia didn't. I remember when I was growing up and we would have baked apples for dessert. Each person would pour some cream into the bowl along with their apple. The girls and I used the light syrup that was in the pan instead to pour over the baked apples.

Trio of baked apples.

Learning about Geography through Food - New Hampshire

Continuing on with learning about different states in the United States through food, Sophia and Olivia made two recipes from New Hampshire. Both recipes were from the Eating Your Way Through the U.S.A. cookbook which is part of the Cantering the Country curriculum.

The recipes they made include: Roasted Corn Chowder and Orange Cake. A third recipe - Whole Wheat Bread - is something they will make during the upcoming week.

Corn and Potatoes

According to the New Hampshire Ag in the Classroom program, one of the chief commercial crops produced in New Hampshire is sweet corn.

"Potatoes were first introduced to the New World in 1719 by colonists arriving in New Hampshire" noted Eating Your Way Through the U.S.A.

Roasted Corn Chowder with corn, potatoes, and orange peppers
in a vegetable stock seasoned with a variety of spices.
It is thickened with dairy-free milk.

Although the girls didn't care for the soup, I thought it was good, dairy-free, vegetarian soup.


When one thinks of New Hampshire, oranges and orange cake aren't typically the first things that come to mind. Why would a recipe for Orange Cake be included in Eating Your Way Around the U.S.A.?

On the website The Food Timeline it states that Orange Cake " one of the few recipes we find specifically connected with the state by title. Recipes do not adhere to political boundaries. They are more closely connected with region and culture. That explains why food historians generally group New Hampshire's foodways with those of the other New England States.

"The orange cake recipe...was enjoyed by many people of the New England region. The recipe and the ingredients were introduced to our country by early English settlers."

Orange Cake.
This simple cake with an orange glaze was enjoyed
by everyone who tasted it.

Another positive aspect of this recipe is that it is dairy-free which means that Sophia can eat it.

Wheat and Honey

New Hampshire is not known as a top producer of wheat. In terms of crops, New Hampshire receives the most revenue from greenhouse and nursery products; home and garden plants; Christmas trees; and hay (for cattle and horse feed).

From a culinary standpoint, sweet corn and potatoes represent the leading vegetable crops while apples are the leading fruit crop.

So, it's questionable why Eating Your Way Through the U.S.A. would include a recipe for whole wheat bread in the New Hampshire section as being representative of that state's food.

That being said, one of the ingredients in Whole Wheat Bread is honey. When we were in New Hampshire in early-September, we purchased some honey. The honey is very dark compared to the honey in Vermont. It will  interesting to taste the difference between the two types of honey from neighboring states.

This week we will be making Whole Wheat Bread and will post a picture here. We're looking forward to making it since we like homemade bread...especially the more "hearty" bread with whole wheat.