Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Few Fun Things

daddy brought home a snake...

reuben brought home a snail

and a mothwaaayyyy too much excitement on the first day of school

(c'mon, reese, SMILE)
morning walks to the park

swinging in the sun
this week: first time pulling up to standing!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Cow Pies & Mullets

Playmobil Quote of the Day:

"What's that in your hand, Mom? Oh....two poops and a hair?" --Reese, age 4

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

And Then There Were THREE

It's true: Our chicken house is becoming quite the lonely place to be. Lost another one this week, and though we're thankful to not be mentally muddling through a raccoon "robbery", we are dealing with the fact that we have absolutely no idea what killed her. Yesterday afternoon, while Justin was here on lunch, the boys were looking out the window and noticed there was a chicken that had flown over the fence. Justin went out to put her away (thankfully telling the boys to stay inside) and as he ushered her into the yard, he spied a limp little body out by the back wall. No blood, no bites, not a scratch on her.

So....c'est la vie. Or not, as the case may be. The boys weren't any more upset this time than the last, though this time they did come out and get a bit of a lesson about what a dead chicken looks like. I'm feeling sad that our egg ration is depleting. (We didn't eat any of the eggs from the nests yesterday, not knowing if they were safe.) Farmer Justin is feeling sad that he lost yet another member of his flock.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 3

M week!

We ate muffins,
played Barrel of Monkeys in math,
stared at a jelly jar full of m&ms all week before finally charting our guesses (1-100) on Thursday, counting them and eating them, yum!

and.... we made mud!

(we were supposed to learn to mop, too, but somehow that didn't get done....)

Friday, September 19, 2008

When White Boards Attack

Mama's quote of the day:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Week of School, part three: Eat Local Week


I know: I'm a little late posting this....this was actually our Week Two project...

The second week of September is Eat Local Week in Bellingham, when everyone rallies together to celebrate our diverse local food and agriculture. Restaurants, local businesses, community members and even the schools get involved. Last year our little family felt that we were doing our part by purchasing a share in a CSA; this year, we decided to take it a step further and make Eat Local week into a social studies project, to occupy us while we waited for our Story of the World books to arrive.

The mission: To create four (school-day) dinners using only ingredients found within a 100-mile radius. We thought originally that we'd like to "eat local" for every meal for four days, but I panicked thinking of all the staples I couldn't use (my boys eat a LOT). Like rice. And flour. Then Justin had the great idea to cook local dinners, and map our breakfasts/lunches/snacks to see how far THAT food had to travel to reach our plates....and contrast it to our dinners. I liked this idea much better.

So.....last Saturday, Justin took the bus to the market and stuffed his huge backpack FULL of fresh produce to the tune of about $30. Not a bad start. We loaded it all into a big wicker basket in the kitchen and waited for Monday to come.

I decided it would be appropriate to kick-start our week with a meal made out of our chicken eggs, being as they were absolutely the most local food we had available. It wasn't until about the middle of the day that I realized I had no way to cook the eggs (I was going to make omelettes) without butter. Hmm. This was going to be more complicated than I thought.

A call to Justin, and he came home at dinnertime with a pint of rich, heavy cream from Twin Brooks Creamery (Lynden).

(makes you lick your lips just thinking about it)

A few minutes in the mixer on high and we had wonderfully creamy, homemade butter:

Dinner: MUCH later than usual. Worth the wait? Absolutely. On the menu: Omelettes with eggs from the backyard, a smidgen of gouda cheese made in Ferndale, green and purple bell peppers and walla walla onions from the county, and fried yukon gold and red potatoes on the side (also from the county). I gave myself salt and pepper to use as freebies. Everything else was local.
On Tuesday, I chose a stewing hen Justin bought from an Acme farm. I've never cooked a stewing hen before--the meat is much tougher, stringier, and less edible than broilers--but I wanted to see what I could make of it. I cut off the breast meat and set it aside, then hacked the rest of the bird (bones and all) into 2" pieces. This went into a soup pot with some of the homemade butter to fry.

When the meat was brown, I pulled it out and added a couple of chopped walla walla onions to the pot, and stirred them around a bit until they carmelized. Then I added the chicken back in with about 2 1/2 quarts of water, and simmered it for three hours or so, and it became a wonderfully rich, brown stock. When the stock was done, I strained out the chicken and onions, and started again with my empty pot. In went more butter, and the white of an enormous leek sliced into rings, and a few minced cloves of garlic. These all sauteed together for a few minutes before I added the strained stock back in and brought it up to a boil. Time to add the chopped breast meat and simmer for another couple of hours.

About a half hour before dinnertime, I threw in an entire bunch of chopped, fresh beets, a bowl of chopped potatoes, and some orange, yellow and purple carrots. I was on the phone with Janet when I tossed the beets in and I yelped, as their brilliant color immediately perforated every ounce of the soup. I fumbled around trying to explain to her that no, nothing was wrong, it was just that "the beets turned my soup red". Well, duh!

When I went to serve up the deep soup bowls, finally (seven hours after starting the stock!), I realized I had a few butterflies about the finished product. Soup is one of the foods I make most often, but I always serve it with a salad or hearty bread, in the event that my children don't eat much of their main course. Tonight there was only soup (we had greens but I didn't know what to use as a dressing, so I didn't bother putting them on the table). It was all or nothing here. We were rewarded when we took our first bites and all began moaning and grabbing our bellies, murmuring how good it was. Life-giving food, this. Unparalleled goodness. Even the little ones went back for seconds.

After that, Wednesday's dinner was much simpler. I planned simply to bake some more of the trout still in our freezer from our kind neighbor (FYI: there WAS some debate in our household over this meal, as the fish, though locally caught, was most likely farmed.....Jury's still out on the exact details and whether the meal truly passes inspection.) Our vegetable cache was dwindling, so I piled us all into the car and we went to Fairhaven to check out the Wednesday market. Though much smaller than its Saturday comrade, the market did not disappoint, and gave ample opportunity to fill our mesh bag with just-picked corn ("so sweet it makes my cheeks hurt thinking about it," said the stall's owner), tart apples, and crisp cucumbers (plus the obligatory cookies from Mt. Bakery). I realized as we drove away that I should have bought more than I did (see Thursday). Dinner that night was trout (cooked without spices or flavorings), hot corn, tomato and cucumber slices, and a full skillet of Pommes Anna, which used up the rest of my butter, sadly, but whose crisp chips were well worth the sacrifice.


Thursday: the last night of our Eat Local experiment. We were running painfully low on local food. I considered calling it good, throwing in the towel, and ordering a pizza. The last minute lunch-break shopping trip I planned was cancelled when Justin got called into a meeting and couldn't sit with the kids. We tossed around the idea of taking the family downtown for Ferndale-based Hempler's sausages...but then, I could buy those myself at Haggen for less money. We settled on this plan. Justin would be home at the usual time, I'd run down and get some sausages, we'd eat a little on the late side. No problem.

Well--you know. I was walking across the parking lot at Haggen when I realized I left my grocery money on the counter at home. And my wallet. I remembered that the drive-up at the nearby credit union was open late, so I got back in my car, drove the two blocks down the street, withdrew some money, and drove back. How silly. I walked straight back to the meat department, fully expecting to see advertisements for local poultry and Skagit county beef, but there was none of that. I found the extensive Hempler's section, but couldn't locate any info about where the meat was grown. Does a local processing company count as eating locally grown food? I didn't think so. Was I splitting hairs? Was I making this far too complicated? Would we eat before dark? Did any of this--the whole experiment--even matter?

I finally asked the girl behind the fish counter (couldn't locate the meat man, and I was running short on time) to direct me towards anything from Whatcom or Skagit county. She told me that sometimes they had Lummi Island salmon...but didn't that day. I told her that didn't help. She blinked at me a few times and told me that some of the packaged chicken was Washington grown. I told her that didn't help either. I said it nicely though (sort of), and thanked her before I left the store--empty handed.
By the time I reached the next store, now nearly on the opposite side of town, I was feeling deflated and sheepish. And frustrated. And hungry. I knew, however, that this little locally-owned natural food store would have what I needed. I left there with one single $40 bag of groceries. Skagit River Ranch beef sausages, a 5 lb bag of local carrots, more corn, two heads of broccoli, a jar of Maranatha peanut butter from the sale shelf, and a big glass jar of Twin Brooks whole milk with which to make pancakes in the morning.

We eventually ate dinner on Thursday night. The sausages were good but I was grumpy and missed my mustard. The corn was so good that it (almost) made up for it!


So, there you have it. A post that took four days to live out and nearly two weeks to type....I used to have pictures on here but they caused the whole post to crash multiple times. I'll try to add them in tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Mama Is Learning

1) First-Day-Of-School-Hot-Cocoa is a contradiction in terms.

2) My homeschool needs a recess teacher.

3) Homeschools have bullies too, sometimes.

4) The first week of school brings anxiety, excitement, tears, and the need for extra sleep...whether the boys leave the house for school or not.

5) Sometimes the most frightening moment of parenting comes when you discover your toothbrush is in a different place than where you left it. (I know, it's not school related, but it's true, yes?)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

First Week Of School, part two: Lesson Plans

We survived our first week of school! (one down, 35 to go) Had a bit of a slow start since our school weeks are usually only four days and Monday was a holiday. But I am thankful to be easing into it, since it's really the first sort of formal schooling for both Reese and Reuben, and since Cole is coming off of a summer of literally living out of doors. We've all needed an extra dose of grace this week.

Here's what we're studying! (I love hearing about what materials people are using--what's working, what isn't working, what brilliant ideas you have that I can steal! So feel free to post your lesson plans too and maybe I will come take something of yours *grin*)

Reading: Tons and tons of reading aloud. We're intermixing "kids' choice" library books with Sonlight Core 1 Read-Alouds, Daddy's choice "Wizard of Oz", folktales from a variety of countries and cultures, Bible stories, and other "ancients" literature. Cole and I just started "Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad" in our afternoon reading. It's very difficult material for him--I'm literally stopping every half-sentence to explain vocabulary, backstory and plot lines--but we're both loving it! Our mandatory "no TV or computers for the entire school week" rule is lending itself to much more reading around our house. Cole is working through his "I Can Read It" Sonlight Core 1 readers (see Language Arts), Reuben is learning letter recognition and sounds, and Reese is doing basic phonics and early reading exercises. We do all three of these simulateously in the mornings, so that the younger kids get the benefit of whatever info they might glean from Cole's lessons, and so that Cole gets the benefit of review through what his younger brothers are learning.

Writing: We've used Reason For Handwriting for the last couple of years and I'm loving it thus far. We chose it simply because the "style" of letters was the most similar to the lettering that both Justin and I learned as children. Beginning with the Grade 1 books, the writing exercises are all scripture verses, too, which I love.

Math: Horizons math books aren't very "hands-on", but Cole and Reese have done well with them, so we'll continue in this vein unless we hit a snag. I like that the workbooks introduce a concept, stay with it for a bit, move on to something else, and then circle back, over and over again. This method seems to be greatly effective in reinforcing abstract concepts in my boys' minds. Additionally, I'm trying to add a lot of my own manipulatives and real-life applications these days. We'll play a lot of games, cook, make our own colorful charts, count, sort, add, divide the buttons in Mama's button box, etc.

Spelling & Other Language Arts: For now, we're working with the Sonlight K and Core 1 LA materials we already had on hand. The programs are pretty all-inclusive, so spelling, dictation, grammar, vocabulary, narration and readers are all pre-planned and pre-organized. I did order a copy of First Language Lessons and we might supplement with that...or use at a later time.

History: This year we'll use Story of the World for the first time! I'm uber excited about it; history was always the one subject in school I just couldn't wrap my head around. I loved the stories and was able to memorize dates just fine--but I never could seem to comprehend which historical events were happening simultaneously. Learning American History separate from European History and so on created the illusion in my head that there were way more historical periods than actually existed. So for my own kids, I purchased several of the Usborne history materials, but I felt like I was falling into the same rut. I'm so excited to begin Story of the World and am hoping it will fulfill my expectations of presenting history in a linear way that will make it wonderful and appealing to all of us! Our books have been delayed in the mail, though, so next week, we will be working on an alternative social studies project....more on that to come (in part three of this post)!

Science: This week we will beginning Sonlight Core 1 Science...the last of our materials just arrived a few days ago and I haven't had a chance to peek at them much...so will have to update you later!

Bible: Our Bible reading falls into the "ancients" read-aloud category. For memorization, though, I have chosen Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
which I'm sure will take us at least eight weeks, if not sixteen. But I'm feeling deep emotion about this passage, as I've recognized that every other word out of my mouth the last year or so seems to be "it's not time for that, it's time to (fill in the blank)." I don't want to be a mother that is continually telling my boys that they can't wrestle, or be loud, or dig up the flowerplants...I want to be a mother that teaches her sons to recognize when those things are appropriate, and conversely, when it is appropriate to be silent, to embrace, to plant, to build. So I'm thrilled that God (and Solomon), in their wisdom, included this passage in the Holy Book and thankful for the opportunity to teach it to my children and watch its seeds begin to come alive in them.
Art: Ooh, this is a hard one for me. I am pretty much of the mindset that children should do art all day long! ....but I am hopeless when it comes to artistic creativity. Thankfully I married a man who is artistic to the core. I'm not planning a separate "art" segment yet, because I'm anticipating that the SOTW workbook will be full of crafts and art projects. If it turns out that isn't true, then Justin will take the reigns, and Fridays will become "Art with Daddy" days. And they just might anyway.
Montessori: On top of everything else....we'll focus each week on a different Life Skill to be taught in detail and practiced intentionally. Wonderful, majestic things like Saying Thank You (without prompting), Washing Dishes, Sewing, correctly Setting A Table, Sweeping, and (Daddy's favorite!) Being Silent. Hooray! I love how this instruction will further enforce the Ecclesiastes passage we'll be studying.
Whew! Is that it? What a whirlwind this homeschool thing is. As with every other area of parenting, it's dawning on me that homeschool, too, is more about my education than my childrens'. Thank you, Lord, for using these boys to refine me!
"But women will be restored through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety" I Timothy 2:15