Sunday, February 25, 2007

Back to Nature

We've moved on, put the math books away - although the Gnomes still grace our shelves and our abacus still rattles daily - and have gone back to nature. Or, rather, Natural Science. It's our second natural science block and we're revisiting our old friend Grandforest Tree.

I think we'll spend two weeks here. Nightowl really enjoyed reviewing her work from our Fall Natural Science block (it's wonderful stuff). Now we're doing a few winter/early spring Natural science projects. The plan is to do an even larger SPRING natural science block in April. We've revisited her tree friend, read several stories about the forrest in Winter, gone on a nature walk, and have created a rotting log terrarium. We're also collecting tree seeds and next week we will plant them in small cups. Hopefully, we'll have a good start that we can transfer to our Lasagne Garden this spring. So far Nightowl has collected: apple seeds, buckeyes, acorns, and evergreen seeds (we removed these by warming up the pinecones).

However, our favorite project thus far has been tapping trees and collecting sap for maple syrup. We have a group that meets every other week. And last Thursday we went out to the woods, tapped trees, collected sap and learned how to make maple syrup. It was way cool. Sure we've all read about tapping trees and we all love syrup but these kids actually got to do it. Very nice. We ended our afternoon with a pancake and maple syrup lunch and long romp in the woody outdoors.

Now, we're feeling quite inspired and are planning, this, week to tap the maple tree in our front yard. Turns out there an entire culture of "in-town tree-tappers." All the gear and instruction kits are available at our local hardware store - who knew! We're not sure if we'll actually get any sap or any syrup, but then that's not really the point here is it? Updates on this later. In the meantime here's some images of our sappy adventure. Sweet!

Drilling the hole.

Choosing the tap. Tasting the sap.

Preparing the collection jug.

Boiling the sap.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Last Week

In a nutshell: Big Midwestern snowstorm. Our little enclave received: ICE (lots of it). Chillymamma was off from work for a couple of days. Our power was out for only about 8 hours (we we're luckier than many of our friends ). So we snuggled together and made the most of it:



Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wednesday Watercolors

Nightowl has been watercolor painting every Wednesday since early September. We are using the wet-on-wet technique advocated by Waldorfers everywhere. This technique requires that a heavy weight of water color paper be submerged in water until nearly saturated. The artist then uses diluted watercolors to create art.

It's a tricky business this wet-on-wet painting. It's difficult to paint outlines - the concrete stuff of Nightowl's imagination. The painter needs to connect with the technique, working with the flow of the color from the brush. It requires patience, an open mind and a willingness to be flexible.

Truth be told - our painting hasn't gone so well. I had no idea (until recently) how to mix the colors. Some of our paintings were vibrant but most were washed out and barely visible when dry. Very frustrating. Nightowl was discouraged and I was sick of the whole business.

However, thanks to our recent workshop with Barbara Dewey and a cool "how to mix paint post" from Fairie School we are finally on our way.

I use several printed resources for painting but my favorite by far is How to Do Wet-on-wet Watercolor Painting and Teach It to Children by Rauld Russell. Unlike most other sources Russell recommends using 8 colors: Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Vermilion, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Lake, and Purple Lake. This is quite different from the usual three color recommendation but as we're colorful folk - we like it!

Although we had progressed to using more than one of the washed out colors we've opted to start over with single, better mixed colors. Nighowl is really taking to painting again. She's more relaxed and open to the process and pleased with her results.

We did cobalt with Barbara (See the above photo. Nightowls' painting is second to the bottom on the right).

We have done some work with Purple Lake.

Purple Mountains - by Nightowl and Aleisha

And today we tried Prussian Blue - Nightowl's favorite by far.

Ocean and Sky - by Nightowl

When we started painting I created a little story to go with the painting. We dropped as the painting became so unsatifying. We might go back to eventually though. It goes something like this:
At the beginning of time there was a beautiful Goddess. She sat on carved wooden thrown. At her side sat her companion the Imp - a prankster and joker.

One day she explained colors to the Imp. Red is a gift from the Red Fish of the Red Sea. One day the Red Fish gave me a shining red scale. From this comes red. Blue is a gift from the Blue Bird of the Blue Sky. One day the Blue Bird gave me a blue feather. From this comes Blue. Yellow is a gift from the Mainden who works in the Golden Field. One day she gave me the petal from a rare Daffodil. From this comes yellow. The Goddess carved a paint brush handle from the Tall Tree's limbs. The King Boar gave her a gift of bristles from his chin to make the brush. She gave the brush and the colors to the Imp: use them wisely and carefully, she told him. Take care to keep your colors clean and pure, your brush clean and soft.

One day the Goddess was creating the sky and the sun. She created a blue sky with a yelllow sun. Then she created a yellow sky with a blue sun. She thought about which combination she liked the best. All this painting made her very tired so she lay down to rest. Her companion, the Imp, smiled and laughed. He took his paint brush and mixed the sun and sky creating deep green. When the Goddess awoke she was startled but not angry. The Imp was quite pleased with trick.

Craft Log #2

We've been crafting away during the past few months; it feels like time to take stock of what's been completed by Nightowl thus far:

Completion of the fuzzy warm scarf and the fuzzy warm doll-scarf with fringe.

Festive door wreath. Nightowl collected these pine twigs during one of our walks. She wove it into a wreath and decorated it for the holidays. It still hangs on our door.

The puppets (A Prince of a Tale...)

Rosetta! (Back to school...)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Grumpy Day

That's what it's been. Due to anxiety in other areas of my life I'm not sleeping so I'm exhausted and nervous. Nightowl, having been cooped up in-doors due to cold weather is fidgety and whiney. Bearcub is....well, she's nearly two, enough said.

This morning my kids kept poking me:
"Mommy, get up we want breakfast!" - Nightowl
"Eggs!" - Bearcub
"Mrrumph" - Me, pulling the pillow over my head.
Ok, I got up. We did our thing but overall it was a kinda grumpy, blah day. This morning Nightowl announced "Mommy, I need time to play today." She disappeared into her room aka the land of dolls and make believe. Bearcub would not allow herself to be dressed and spent much of the morning in a diaper, one snowboot (the right) and a frilly headband, all the while demanding:
"Mama! Coat! Cold!"
"How about clothing?" I'd suggest picking up the outfit for the 15-millionth time.
And then she ran screaming the other way. Our house has a circular floor pattern so giving chase has all the makings of a cartoon adventure.

Eventually we pulled it together (sort of). Nightowl descended to help make the bread, play the violin, read some books, and do science experiments at the kitchen work table.
"What happens if I mix cornstarch, water AND potato starch...ooooh!"
Bearcub did eventually dress, this of course was only after she had removed her diaper and dumped it's contents which....well, let's just say it was pretty disgusting.

At the end of the day we headed outside for some snow play and driveway shoveling. In some ways, an hour outside cured everything. As we headed in for dinner ("Not leftovers again!" - Nightowl) we discussed the prospect of snow ice cream for dessert. This sweetness was wonderful and cheered us all. Of course, Bearcub did have quite a fit when, while trying to help make the ice-cream, she grabbed the bowl, dumped it's contents and was immediately removed from the area. But what can I say? She's nearly two. Heaven help us all.

Snow Ice Cream Variation #1
1 egg beaten
1 tbs vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
Mix all ingredients, add clean snow, serve.

Snow Ice Cream Variation #2
2 cups full fat coconut milk
1 tbs vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Mix all ingredients, add clean snow, serve.

All's Fair....

I completely forgot to post about our recent science fair - oops! Our local homeschool cooperative runs three learning fairs every year: biography, science, and international. Participation is optional, non-competitive and open to all ages.

Nightowl particpated in last year's science fair by creating a poster of the solar system. She was game this year as well. The topic she chose: shells. She had found a large cache of shells in a basket in our garage. She's been examining them for the past few months and was eager to share them with others.

In preparation we talked about what a science fair is, what she'd like to learn about the shells and what she'd like to present. Then we were off to the library for books, and the craft store for a display board.

We looked at the shell books together - but apart from that this was her thing. She decided she wanted to know:

1. What lives in a shell?
2. What color are shells?
3. What are shells called?

She discovered answers to these questions in our reading time together and created a display - on her own. I was called in to help with spelling but other than that I was hands off (the observer is never an easy role for me so I learned a little lesson too). As you can see she pulled it off and even felt comfortable taking questions from the audience:

Now she is excited about the International Fair. She's already selected her topic: The Philippines. She's into cooking right now so for her project she will be learning to make three different, traditional Filippino dishes. I suspect that I'll be called in to help decipher the recipes and handle the heat source. Sounds good.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

At the End of the Day

Tuesdays are becoming bake and cook days. Stay at home, do the schooling, bake the bread and some other culinary delight requested by Nightowl.

Last Tuesday we began before breakfast - starting the bread sponge, putting the stock on for chicken soup. It was about fifteen degrees outside but we spent the day cozy and warm working in the kitchen. Nightowl helped to measure, stir, pick out ingredients. She is becoming very good at kneading and she's learning to handle a small knife for cutting. She always gets a small piece of dough to make her own creation as well. On this day she made a small cinnamon swirl loaf to share with Bearcub. In between the kneading, rising and adding soup ingredients we went about our business of lessons and learning. Even the Bearcub was remarkably unfussy.

By dinner time the kitchen was clean, the bread was was warm from the oven, the soup simmering and ready to be served. Chillymama came home. We had a lovely meal and discussed our enjoyable, busy day.

Chillymama opted to take care of the dinner clean up. As it was my night to work I went to my office to pack up my computer and files, getting ready to head out of the house. Then I heard the cry of "Oh no!"

Oh yes......

In our relaxed evening enjoyment we'd forgotten our beagle's odd and unnatural ability to leap from the floor to the counter-top. When I arrived downstairs I found Sunny, our 12-year-old hound, enjoying the last of the newly baked loaves.

Nightowl cried a little for the lost bread and I confess it made me very angry - all that work! But, after a few days I still had the great memory of our busy, cozy day. And as I remembered his swollen bread belly I kind of had to laugh. It's a good reminder that at the end of the day there is usually much to be greatful for - even if the dog does demolish the fruits of your labor.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Math, baby!

During the last couple of weeks we've been working on math: number sequence, the four processes (+,_, *, /), patterns, quality of numbers. Nightowl is really liking this subject. She asks for math every day. We are having a lot of fun with it. I'm trying to organize some dramatic math play with friends - hopefully this will evolve.

I have Nightowl here with me and I've asked her to share some of her thoughts about what we're doing these days.
Ok. I'll type whatever you want to say about what we've been doing lately.
We do Gnomes. Math Gnomes. How about you type their names?

You tell me their names and I'll type them.
Divide. Minus. Plus. Times.

What do they do?
They collect jewels.

Really? Where?
In the cave.

Why do they do that?
For the kind, kind, kind king who gives them nice homes.

So what do you do with these Gnomes?
They go on different math adventures. Like they help the squirrels find out how many nuts they have. Plus gives the squirrels more nuts if they need more. Minus takes away the nuts. And Times tells them how many times times makes...I guess. That one is tricky.

Hmm...what about Divide?
Divide divides nuts for the squirrels to share.

How do you have these adventures?
Sometimes we pretend to be the Gnomes. Sometimes you use a number grid. And you put down the numbers of all the steps they had to take. Like when they visited the Elf Queen. The squirrels in her kingdom needed help with their nuts. She asked the King if any of his gnomes knew how to count. He said yes. He said to his four Gnomes, when I saw this letter I thought of you, my funny little gnomes. So the Gnomes went to the Queen of the Elves. She said that the squirrles needed help because they have a lot of nuts and don't know how many they need.

What do you mean about the hundred steps?

The Gnomes asked the king how to get the Elf Queen. The King said that they needed to go 100 steps in any direction and once they went 100 steps the directions to the Elf Queen would magically appear in their hands. So the Gnomes went 100 steps.

Did you help?
Yes. I put down the numbers so that they would know how many steps they had gone.

Was it hard?
A little bit hard. It took me at least two days to get all 100 numbers.

So what do you do once the Gnomes are with the squirrels?
We pretend to be the Gnomes and the Squirrels. We help them figure out their nuts - they have a lot of nuts.

Which one are you?
I was all the Gnomes. Mommy was the Squirrles. Now I'm getting tired of talking.

Ok. Do you want to say anything else?
We made clay gnomes. That was fun. I made Divide and Plus. Mommy made Times and Minus.

Awesome. Anything else?
That's all I can think of. That's all for now.