Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Painting from Alienor: Piggy and Me Over the Rainbow

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Morning's Knittings

I finished up this little guy for my little Arthur, the pattern is from "Knitted Toys" by Debbie Bliss, "small bear in Wellies and sweater". I gifted him with the bear a couple of weeks ago, and the yarn has felted like a well-loved toy. Then, at Arthur's request, when I finished the sweater, I wrapped the whole thing up and gave it to him all over again. He loved it, and his next question; "Mama, can you wrap it up when you finish the next pair of boots and sweater?"

Bear for Arthur

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Inspired by the water colours in "Turkey Girl" Alienor paints the story

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Lily's Lovely Solar System and Moon Phases

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Note on Lily's Moon Phases

My little Lily is a slight perfectionist, don't know where she got that, but let's just say I've mellowed with the years. She drew and redrew the two astronomy drawings I posted, and was dismayed to find that in her last drawing she had reversed the waxing and waning positions. I think it is beautifully done and I am posting it anyway.

Aragorn's Artistic Solar System

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A Last Week of Autumn

I awoke to a humdinger of a thunderstorm this morning, a real giant of noise, lightening and pouring down rain. I took it as a reminder not to rush into winter, not to join the Christmas craze already beginning, but to linger a little in autumn, in today. Our lesson plans for the week reflect that desire, I thought I would share them here.

A poem from Robert Frost:

The Last Word of a Bluebird

As I went out a crow
In a low voice said, "Oh,
I was looking for you.
How do you do?
I just came to tell you
To tell Lesley (will you?)
That her little Bluebird
Wanted me to bring word
That the north wind last night
That made the stars bright
And made ice on the trough
Almost made him cough
His tail feathers off.
He just had to fly!
But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax-
And do everything!
And perhaps in the spring
He would come back and sing."

I love the joyful, hopeful note to this poem. Winter is coming, but spring will follow, so "wear your red hood and do everything!" This was actually the last part of today's lesson that I discovered, but it so beautifully complements the rest that it made the whole scheme shine like a gem.

Grade Three
Alienor has been working on Native American stories and culture these past two months. Today's story is a local one, from the Sioux nation: "How Turtle Flew South for the Winter," that can be found in "Keepers of the Earth," by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. Last night we finished up "The Turkey Girl," by Penny Pollock, which is not about Thanksgiving, but rather a Zuni Cinderella tale, minus the happy ending.

She requested to cook us lunch today, so she will make us "stewed pompion," from the book, "1621, A New Look at Thanksgiving," by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac. Tomorrow we'll cook up another recipe from the same source; "Nasaump." This will be our group read-aloud for the beginning of Thanksgiving week. It is a National Geographic book, with fantastic re-enactment photography and a realistic look at the culture of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people at the time of the legendary first Thanksgiving meal.

Alienor's other projects for the week; finish her tepee, made on the model given here:
She will also be weaving on a lap loom, making projects for Christmas presents, and she and Lily are both busy with some top-secret knitting.

Arthur and I will read from Grimm's Fairy Tales; The White Snake, a tale of struggle, sacrifice and gratitude for good deeds done. (It too, seemed fitting for this week.) We will read verses from "Autumn" by Wynstones Press. We will paint a turkey today and paint from the story tomorrow.

Seventh and Eight Grade
Lily and Aragorn are in their last week of an astronomy study. The moon is the topic. Today we'll study a lunar calendar and look at two peoples who have used or continue to use one; the Egyptians and the Muslims and paint a picture from one of their festivals, au choix.

Have a great day and, for the Americans, a lovely Thanksgiving week, more recipes coming soon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's For Lunch? Part II

If you read the below recipe earlier today, you will be missing one part of the instructions;

After cooking, mix the soup in a blender, until it is completely pureed. THEN add the cream.

If you are awake as I am today, you may need this note as well; do not use PUMPKIN PIE MIX unless you want to have some explaining to you when your daughter/husband/partner asks; "What smells like cinnamon?" Dang.

Writer's Block or Procrastination?

Writer's Block or Procrastination?

It's something to think about when assigning writing assignments to the children, only to find them walking around with a pensive air, "doing research" on the topic before beginning or mysteriously strumming a guitar in the corner, all thoughts of the project forgotten. Perhaps it is neither, perhaps this is simply part of the creative process, to be cherished and honored. This is November and for the first time I have given myself the goal, along with millions of other insane people doing "NaNoWriMo", of jotting down 50, 000 words of a novel in one month.

So far, this morning, I have entered an essay contest to win tickets to a Harry Potter event, ( way too cool to pass up), checked my email (who doesn't), posted a reply to a Waldorf homeschooling group, (it was a very moving post), sent a quick note to a friend, (a timely thing that couldn't wait) checked the weather forecast, in two different cities,(you never know), written in my food journal, (or I would have forgotten to add that fabulous homemade, gluten-free pizza my hubby made for me last night, mmm, not likely) made myself tea, (sleep is so dehydrating) played with the dog, (poor, fuzzy little guy) and written 0 words of the daily 2000. Maybe I should employ Lily's typewriter instead of this distracting computer. Sure, then I would finish a knitting project or paint the bathroom before settling down to write.

Have a fruitful day, I'm going to go write 2000 more words!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dessert Anyone?

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A Birthday Cake and Cider

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Traditional Baptism Cake

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Leeks, Sardines and Other Odd Foods

We love to eat, we plan our days around cooking for each meal, food means serious business in our house. I imagine if you have tuned in to any of my posts in the past year or so you perhaps might have gleaned this info along the way.

I also think about food. I mean I think about food a lot; things like; "Is baking the best way to cook this? How about making that over the flames in the fireplace? What if I added raw honey instead of white or even brown sugar? How about Stevia or maple syrup?" I also have to wonder, with the number of allergies and food sensitivities that we have; "what will make granola crunchy if I omit the nuts and the corn syrup? How can I make a gluten-free taco pie? Will rice milk work in chocolate chip cookies?" and last, but not least; "how can I include more healthy ingredients in what we eat? Would they notice the flax seed in the smoothie or the spinach in the quiche? Will they eat organic, baked chips?"

I will be talking about ingredients that don't always make the top ten list in American kitchens. I will start out with very simple recipes and move on from there. I will have vegetarian and meat dishes both, as we respectfully consume poultry and meat that comes from animals that have lived good lives in our house. I am having fun already.

So, I am happy to see so many of you have joined me on this food adventure. Get ready for a great journey. We'll share recipes and secrets and enjoy happier, healthier lives while we're at it. Here's to you! (Toasted with a fine glass of Bordeaux, 1988.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let's Talk Food

Inspired by a discussion began on The Itchy Homeschooler, I thought it would be a fun challenge to introduce the topic of healthy eating, or even just plain food, real food. In her post, Marlis talks about how out of the ordinary it has become to see a shopping cart filled with fruits, vegetables, beans and meat these days. In fact, it was so exceptional, that an elderly lady complimented her husband on his healthy habits. (My husband would have said she was flirting with him, had he been in his shoes, but then again, he's French.)

We have the same problem at the check-out that other people mentioned in the above post; the cashiers never know the names of our "exotic" vegetables like leeks, swiss chard or belgian endive. So why are we buying such weird food anyway? Do our kids eat this stuff? Sit down with a cup of tea (or red wine if it's past five), and enjoy the food adventure that is about to begin. If you eat real food or are on the road to doing so again, join in the discussion and share your thoughts. It may not sound easy, but it is worth every second of your time for the way you'll feel and the state of your future health.

When we lived in France, we ate French food, of course. Well, after I learned to cook, that is. Before that, we ate pasta, omelettes and Chinese food because that's all we knew how to make. I went to the farmer's market twice a week to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and meat and picked up things like flour, milk, yogurt and spices at the supermarket. I bought rice, soy sauce, bean sprouts and fresh litchis at the Chinese grocery shop.

When we moved to the States, childhood favorite convenience food came naturally to fill in the holes in my noon menu. We would have canned soup, fish sticks, frozen pizza, peanut butter and even hot dogs during the week days. A number of years ago, I came to the conclusion that we needed to stop all preservatives, which meant no more processed food of any kind. Ugh, "so much more cooking", is what it felt like. However, once we chose to walk that path, it became habit, just normal instead of drudgery. So much is in your attitude. We became healthier and our budget a little leaner. We continue to refine our diet, removing much of the sugar, eat a lot less grains, less dairy and more vegetables. Saturday is still pizza night and I still bake, just less often.

In this spirit, I thought I would offer easy recipes for those just starting out cooking for themselves and for those in search of a new meal idea, aren't we all? Please share your own meal ideas, my menu is starting to look old!

A word on planning; this is what works for my family. Please take the ideas that work for you and leave the rest. We have five children and little time to think about what to cook twice a day, so it works to have a weekly menu on the side of the fridge that we cook from. We use that menu to write a list each week for the grocery store. We usually pick up milk and produce another time during the week.

As for the children, there are a few things that help to form or reform their eating habits. Example is one. If both parents are on the same page, i.e. no one is advocating, buying or making extra food, it makes it easier. The other is household content. If your house does not CONTAIN any other food, they might eventually give up and eat the healthy food that is available, then again...some kids are very stubborn and very creative, you'll have to rise to the challenge of being equally creative, but not necessarily stubborn.

The first recipe is in the next post.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Astronomy Class

We love to hang out on the roof. Not the big ol' steep roof of the house, the smaller, gentler one over the garage. You can step out the window of one of the bedrooms and see the whole sky. It's perfectly safe because there is a flat roof adjoining it (for anyone inclined to worry...grandpa).

Once in awhile we go out on the roof, when there is a full moon or a night of shooting stars. We are in the midst of an astronomy block at our house, so it was a must. This time it was to see October's full moon, what a beautiful night for stargazing!

It's Past my Bedtime AND I'm on the Roof!

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Time to Focus

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Keeping Puppy Warm

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Culture Kits

We had so much fun discovering our culture kit that it deserves another mention here. These are kits that some libraries own that can be checked out for a week or two, that are full of memorabilia from one country. The Russian one contained what you see in the photos below, plus story books in English and Russian, school books in Russian, posters, video cassettes and all sorts of shoes. It is a great beginning to the study of another culture.

We spent the week reading legends and stories from Russia and planning for our festival. The piano players in the family learned a Russian tune on the piano and the friends who joined us played us one as well. The only food I could think of as definitely Russian and easy to find were blinis and caviar (no one was old enough for vodka). I apologize to my Russian friends for being so very uneducated on Russian cuisine, but time was a little short that week, so my research in that department had been aborted.

Well, the caviar was easy, but blinis were not to be found in the local supermarkets with as much ease as I'd remembered. I spent half an hour walking the aisles with three different gentlemen from three different departments searching for, "what was that again? blankies? baninis? are them like tortillas?" They all clearly thought I was off my rocker and needed help of another kind than that they could give, but I stuck to my story, no one called the authorities and in the end, I gave up and bought a gluten-free crepe/pancake mix instead.

We made them at home from scratch. My friend Elizabeth and I stood at the stove making blini after blini, from a recipe I'd found online. We had a feast and lots of fun.

PS. Note on culture kits and your library. Apparently, after the initial enthusiasm for these tools back in the 90's, the librarians endorsement of them faded, as the task of checking in over a hundred individual items grew old. You may need to ask the librarian very nicely if they are available for check-out. Thank you to my friend, Joyce, a veteran homeschooler, for sharing her knowledge of the kits and many other topics as well.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Baby Girl Turns Nine

Alienor is not the baby of the family, but she is my little girl, and it still seems she should be about ten months old, toddling all over, a cherubic smile on her sweet face. Well, she grew. She is now a kind, considerate, spirited little girl. A big hug and kisses to you, my darling, happy birthday!

Happy Birthday, Alienor!

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pop, Hugh, Cathy

I guess that if I am chronicling our lives without school, I need to include significant, yet really hard to write about events. There have been a few these last months, and I have been at a loss to put them down in writing. I will try now, since it seems trite to go on posting my knitting pictures as a substitute for what is really going on around here.

Oh, these are also beautiful, sunshine-filled autumn days. We have had a Russian activity week, a Halloween party, walks in the woods and baseball games in the backyard, good times. Along with that though, there has been sadness and mourning.

It feels these days, as though a whole generation of lights is blinking out one by one, much too quickly, as shooting stars barely give you time to gasp in wonder before they are gone. These past few months have seen the passing of one grand lady and wonderful friend the same day as another and my most-favorite great-uncle, Hugh, an amazing soul and mind. Now it has come time, once again, to say good-bye, today to my grandfather.

I cannot find the right words to honor the memories of these three. Cathy was all that is good and sweet and wonderful. She had the ways of a really marvelous grandmother, combined with talents in many areas and a great intellect. She was versed in art and politics and literature, taught first grade for forty years and traveled far and wide. She was very much a part of our family and her absence has left a great hole in our hearts and lives.

Uncle Hugh was an amazing person. He and his brother, my grandfather, were both intellectual, curious, ever-learning and slightly quirky individuals. Whereas my grandfather was very interesting, but mostly cranky to kids under the age of eighteen, Hugh, who had no children of his own and was not obliged to see us very often, was wonderful.

From forever, what I remember most about Hugh was his gentleness. He was soft-spoken and had a good heart. He and my Aunt Babe were completely different from the other adults we knew. They talked to us as though we were adults too and shared stories from their fascinating lives. They had lived in and traveled to a lot of places and done many things, and they knew all about books, my favorite topic in the whole world. I still treasure the copy of "Shirley Temple's Storybook" they gave me when I was young. I used it in college for a fairy tale painting model and I have read it to my children so many times they know it by heart.

My grandfather, not Hugh's brother, but my father's father, was a big part of my life growing up. Pop was funny, he was present. I remember the smell of his great big cars, all plush and cozy.I spent hours at their home, gazing up at the old magnolia tree, drinking 7-up and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies at the big kitchen table. My sister and I would run around the yard, watched like hawks so that we went nowhere near the big street out front. My grandmother would be shelling walnuts on the porch or cooking in the kitchen, always busy, and my grandfather would be up to his elbows in grease working on his car in the garage.

The big question Pop had for me in life was; "Are you Irish or German?" and I remember always forgetting which one I was supposed to answer. I was actually half and half but "Irish" was the right answer.

Though they had always lived in the city, my paternal grandparents made sure we knew where we came from. I heard stories about and frequently visited the family farm, by then held by another relative, but still home.

The most important thing my grandfather ever did, as far as my life is concerned, was to have and raise one great man: my father. Somewhere in his childhood began the roots of who he was to become; a loving, hard-working, generous man who cared enough about his own children to be there for us. Thank you, Pop, for beginning it all.