Sunday, September 28, 2008

Edible USA

We had a really fun geography experience this weekend. The idea is
not my own, it comes from an article in Home Education Magazine
(Nov.-Dec.2007) by Audrey M. Smith, titled "Incredible Edible Maps."
We hand-drew outlines of the US, made chocolate chip cookie dough
without the chips, and the kids formed the dough into a giant map of
the US. After it was baked, we filled in the details: blue frosting
lines for rivers and lakes, candy kisses for the Rocky Mountains,
chocolate chips for the Appalachians, gummy snakes for the desert,
gummy fish for coastlines. circles and stars cut out of gum drops for
towns and capitals we wanted to mark, potatoes carved out of tootsie
rolls for Idaho, candy corn for Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, gummy
bear heads atop chocolate chips for Mt.Rushmore, etc. Use your
imagination. To make it big enough, we removed a tray from the oven,
covered it with aluminum foil, and formed the map directly on it. We
foil-covered Florida and other fragile points to avoid burning. It
needed to bake for 15-20 minutes.

It was so much fun that we have decided to do one for our study on
South America, and then maybe for Europe and Asia and Africa and
Australia and Guatamala and Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso and Germany

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Michaelmas follies

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Celebrating the festival of Michaelmas

OK, so this does not look like a celebration held in a decorous and reverent fashion, but it was a celebration in good fun, this was the play part of our day. The kids, familiar with the story of St.George and the dragon, headed to the basement to find costumes and rehearse a play they invented. It was hysterically funny, and a little wild.

Then children and adults alike came together for a time of verses and breaking bread together; pumpkin bread, and cookies and lemonade. They went outside to play and we followed to sit at the table and yack all afternoon.

A special thanks goes out to our friends who joined us who are new to the festival and who participated wholeheartedly and did not even let on that they found the whole thing a

Crocodile Museum

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Dubuque Crocodile Museum

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Dubuque Crocodile Museum

Officially, it is not called the Crocodile Museum, it is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. And there are no crocodiles, just three alligators. But for Charles, the idea of a crocodile is just too cool, and he will always call this the crocodile museum. He and his siblings have been visiting since he was a baby, but this was a field trip with our school district. What a wonderful way to partner with the school system. The folks at the HSAP (homeschool assistance program) went to great lengths to make it possible for entire families to make the trip together, we thank our chauffeur and the event planners.

They had so much fun, and the adults got a chance to talk all the way there and back, so it was a great day for all. We saw giant catfish, otters, a huge tortise and lots more. The day was perfect, so we had lunch out on the deck, and grama and grandpa even stopped by to say hello while we were in town.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Back to School

My favorite season is upon us; cooling temperatures, earlier nights, candles on the dinner table...and fresh pencils, paints, erasers and notebooks! Not to mention good books, beeswax, crayons and yarn. I have stopped questioning the whys of the conditioning that makes some of us school-supply and lesson-plan crazy at this time each year. It just is.

So two weeks into our "school" year, here is what has been happening around our home. We are focusing on North America this month, looking at maps of our area, of the country and the continent, drawing and coloring them and adding information in each child's area of study. The eldest has chosen the Crow Indians to map and study, from a historical perspective, as well as continuing her interest in healing herbs to learn about ones traditionally used by this people. The ten-year old is mapping his favorite poisonous bugs, and looking at the relationship formed between the land they live in, the plants and the people they eat, bite and interact with.

Everyone is doing a bit of math each day, to keep stretch their skills just a little after a summer of mere practice.

We're reading books (picture and longer) on N.America: "Aunt Minnie McGranahan" by Mary Skillings Prigger, "The Boston Tea Party" by Steven Kroll, "Carry on Mr.Bowditch" by Jean Lee Latham and "Indian Captive" by Lois Lenski, to name a few. We are still finishing up Missee Lee, a Swallows and Amazons adventure featuring six sailing children. (And taking advantage of this to work in latitude and longitude and prevailing winds and using a sextant to navigate by.) We will do a brief timeline of US history to keep and fill in as we come across other events later in the year.

We have learned or listened to some great autumn poems and verses, taken nature walks, and reveled in the crisp fall days that have begun.

We have also had days of cuddling up by the fire with knitting and a book on tape to enjoy.

My six-year old daughter and I are reading "The Mary Frances Book of Crocheting and Knitting," as she learns to knit and crochet. She is making a pink scarf for her dolly.

The two eldest received their new penny whistles the other day and have practiced for hours on end ever since.

We have been to visit a friend who fell and is recouping in a nursing home, and another who moved into an independent living home. We attended our library's carnival and plan to take in the Moon Festival there, complete with Vietnamese dancers and Chinese musicians, on Sunday. We have been to the Not-Back-to-School Potluck with our wonderful park day homeschool group. We met with the knitters at church today.

The three older kids have begun their theatre rehearsal again, and are thrilled beyond belief to be back in this group, Charles loves his movie and popcorn time each week while they're gone.

It's a great start to the year.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lighting a candle

There are many reasons we light candles in our house. All of them go back to my mother who loves candles for their light and beauty and my grandmother who lit them for a reason. For each birthday and each feast day, or times when I was going through something hard, I would get a card from Grama to let me know she had lit a candle for me at mass that morning. Today, as each year on this day, I light a candle in her memory on her birthday. I light it in joy, for the life she lived and the love she brought to the world. I light it also in sorrow, for the very short time she spent on earth.

As a child, to me, my grama was perfect. She was patient, she was soft-spoken, she was gentle and she was beautiful. She was devoted to God and the Catholic church she called home. She went to daily mass at six, read poetry at twilight in the back yard, always had a ready supply of red licorice and diet soda (so as not to rot your teeth), and took me along on her daily bike ride in the summer. She brought to me the love of Robert Frost, nature and Brussel sprouts.

Even today, the standards she set are the ones I aspire to; on good days! Her soft-spoken nature has never been as big a part of my make-up as I would like it to be, her patience still costs me all the strength I have to even begin to emulate. But, walks in nature; in the woods or by the river, are top on our to-do list. I start my day before the family gets up with my own special kind of devotion and praise. Reading poetry is a daily affair in our family, and as for Brussel sprouts; well, I cook them and the kids snub them, but I may yet prevail!

Acceptance and love are the feelings I felt always radiating from my grama. I am pretty sure that she would not necessarily approve of my alternative spiritual ideology today, but she would still approve of me. She would continue to let me know that I really ought to try to be more patient, in an oh-so-quiet way, and she would continue to light a candle for me on each special day.

I light one today for her, Grama Rand.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Rats, lots of people think, are nasty little beasts that carry sicknesses wherever they go. This is partly true. In the middle ages millions of people died because of rats. However, today rats are considered as one of the smartest and cleanest animals on earth. They also make very good starter pets. They are small, clean, non smelling, do not take up a lot of space, and are not very expensive. I highly recommend them as a pet to a child like me. I got a rat for my ninth birthday. Now I am eleven and have a rat. But it is not my first. Rats only live up to two to three years.

Living with a rat.

It was my ninth birthday. I had gotten a white girl rat that I named Socks Elisabeth Chenus. I kept her in my room and soon found out I was allergic to her. But, by then I loved her too much to get rid of her. So, I sneezed, and rubbed my itchy eyes and I got through the asthma attacks. I taught my rat to come to me, I potty trained her, and we became the best of friends. When my rat died on November 16th, almost two years old I was very sad. Until I got Al.