Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall Menu Plan

Here's our menu plan for the week. I thought I'd share in case anyone else needs a pre-planned menu for the week. :) As always, it's gluten free and whole-food friendly, plus it uses mostly ingredients which are in season right now. Recipes and links are included!


A quick overview: eggplant rollatine, southwest stuffed peppers, roasted grape and goat cheese sweet potatoes, baked pumpkin oatmeal and much more.

Weekly Letter Displays

Visualizing a learning target on a regular basis helps to establish those lovely neuro pathways which help all of us (not just the younger set) to retain information.  The more frequently we see new information, and the more ways we encounter and use that information, the more likely we are to move it into our permanent information storage brain areas.

Soooo, each week I set up a small display in our school room of the letter we're working on. This idea was inspired by the amazing set up that Carissa over at 1+1+1=1 does for her preschooler(s). Mine is no where near as fancy as hers, but I do try to include a few small items which help our kids to think about the letter they're learning and what words it might begin. I put upper and lower case letters on a small wooden tree (known around here as our "letter tree"), some puzzles, a toy or animal beginning with the appropriate letter, our Alpha Tales book, and our sandpaper letter. If I have something else that seems appropriate I add that too- it isn't an exact science.

This takes me no more than 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of the week, but provides great visual stimulus throughout our study and provides an opportunity for the children to access, and explore, the new information independently.

If you're curious about how we incorporate our letter of the week work into our morning routine, then read this post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bottling Our Honey

This week we've bottled the honey we harvested last week. For details on the harvest, check out this post.

The bottling process proved to be much less of a challenge than the harvesting and extracting. It really was as simple as it sounds: the honey was in the 5-gallon bucket, and once it had finished sitting for a few days (to let out the oxygen bubbles), it was ready to pour into bottles. That's it!

Since we believe that raw honey is best, there is nothing to be done but bottle. Literally- honey doesn't go bad, so there is no "canning" process, and since we don't believe that "pasteurizing" the honey is beneficial, we don't do it. We want all that healthy, lovely pollen in our honey that will help to fight seasonal allergies and provide antioxidants, among other benefits.

So, the process was simple. Here's what we did:

Poured the honey into a five gallon bucket, designed for honey bottling, with a spout at the bottom:

 When one jar was full, we shut the spout, grabbed another jar and began again. Easy!

When both bottling nights were complete, we had 62 bottles. Below the first night's harvest is featured, which was 48 jars. (The second harvest was only fall honey, which is less plentiful but tastier and healthier.)

We spent another night putting on labels, and the jars which will be sold were brought to the farm (they are exclusive for CSA members at the farm where we are members, and Garrett keeps his bees). We kept some to give as gifts at Christmas, and some for family use.

All family members had a lovely tea with honey to celebrate!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dress Up Jack-O-Lanterns

I'm not afraid to tell you that I had an absolute blast doing this with my kids today. Seriously. Fun. Times. I cut out the pumpkin and something in me- something deep, deep in my soul that I often repress in favor of being a grown up- was freed, and I spent the better part of the afternoon with one or another of my children cutting out felt pieces and making hilarious faces on an unsuspecting felt pumpkin.

Now who doesn't want to giggle away an afternoon doing that, I ask?

The process was simple. I got down my felt board, which is nothing more than some black felt covering an old cork board. (I hang it on a wall in my schoolroom for easy storage, with either a poster over it or some themed felt cut outs.)
 Next, I cut a simple pumpkin shape from orange felt. I swear to you, the rest just fell into place. My son woke up from a nap just at about this point, so he happily joined in the cutting and decorating himself. He made several hats, wigs, and even a bridal veil, all the while putting in requests for me to make specific items as well (that's where the vampire teeth inspiration came from). No templates were used, no pictures to inspire- just pure, silly, creativity. By the time the girls were up, we had quite a selection of odds and ends to play with.

The next step was simply to play! We had such fun- and such laughs- making our jack-o-lantern look silly. Best of all, storage is a cinch and this game can be used again, and again, and again. I'm thinking about re-using some of the parts for a themed snowman or flower later this year...

What creative ideas can your family come up with?

I'm linked up!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mystery Letters Game

This is a take off of the Handwriting Without Tears mystery letter game, which is used to help reinforce proper letter formation techniques. If you're not familiar with the HWT program, you should know they advocate using consistent language when teaching young children to write their letters. For example, the HWT teacher instructs her child to make F by making a "big line down, froggy jump to the top, little line across, and another little line across." She instructs her child using the same language each time they make an F, and uses the same language for all letters in the alphabet.

It's no secret that I adore the Handwriting Without Tears program, but I don't think the specific wording used in the program is the key to learning per se. Rather, I feel the consistency of whatever language the teacher chooses to use is the key. Just. Say. The. Same. Thing. Each. Time. and you'll be just fine.

One of the simple preschool and kindergarten games the HWT program recommends is called "mystery letters," where a teacher builds a letter on the board, step by step using the familiar language, and students try to guess what the letter is before it's complete (or complete their own at their table). For instructions from the Handwriting Without Tears Froggy Jump Gazette, go here.

Since we're homeschoolers, we changed this game up a little to increase the personalization and, well, the fun factor. :) A friend gave us a package of this Alex Amazing Paper, which changes color as you write on it. This neat-toy-turned-school-time-prop is effective because in order for the ink to change color on the paper a chemical reaction must occur, which takes a second or two, thus giving the student some extra time to process the information being given to them. Neat, huh? They have time to prcoess that the parent is telling them "big line down," and to consider what that means before the visual cue of a colored line shows up on the paper. The crowd-pleasing affects of this lesson on the under-6 set have absolutely nothing to do with the ink changing color, of course- the appeal is pure learning. *ahem*

Once I tried several of the letters that I'd already taught my preschooler, and even tried a few new ones, she was ready to try it out for herself. The appeal of the fun paper even convinced my kindergartener to write some of the letters for his preschool sister, making some great quality sibling time and a great impromptu review for him. I just love it when learning is quick, easy, fun and meaningful, don't you? 

By the way, I am sure there are myriad other ways that this paper could be used for learning fun. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Extracting Our Honey

Garrett's been beekeeping for a couple of years now, but since he's been able to grow the apiary (that's fancy for "bee yard") so quickly he hasn't harvested honey from his hives, instead leaving it for the bees so they would be well nourished to build up their new homes. To date, we've never taken more than small tastes from each hive (all in the name of quality control, of course...).

But this year, perhaps in response to his wife's *ahem* desperate pleas for some raw, local honey that doesn't cost us $16 per pound, and in recognition of the fact that we use honey and maple syrup almost exclusively to sweeten our food, Garrett has put off growing the apiary and focused on harvesting some honey.


So tonight I share with you the scenes from my kitchen yesterday afternoon, but the photos can't justly describe the experience. All five of us were positively giddy as we filled the extractor with frames heavy with golden liquid, pumped the turnstyle to exact just right amount of centrifugal force to pull honey from the comb, and dipped our fingers into the dulcet mass flowing with the grace of a ballet dancer into the five gallon bucket below.

And we got five full gallons before the night was over. 

We were sticky, messy, and jubilant as each of us took turns holding the filter nets, turning the extractor and munching on the fresh bees wax as if it were chewing gum.

Such heaven, this lovely day. 
Garrett pulled an entire box from his hive- a box containing 8 frames full of capped honey.

A tool called a cold knife is used to carefully cut the top layer of wax, or the "cap" off the honeycomb, revealing the finished honey underneath.

This shot is taken looking down into the extractor, (commonly known as the "frankencrank" by our local bee club) with one loaded wooden frame of honey on the right side.
This is the machine, fully loaded with two frames of honey.
Then, pure muscle power must be applied to the crank, which turns the frames inside the drum of the extractor, pulling the honey out.
The moment of triumph as the first stream of honey is released from the extractor. This moment was years in the making!

Pouring down into a food grade 5-gallon bucket, fitted with a filter net to catch wax particles.

This view is a frame of honey just removed from the extractor. Garrett will put it back into the hive, where the bees will finish cleaning it out and will re-draw the honeycomb.

Ava samples. :)

This is a close-up of the honey in the sieve. Particles of wax can be seen, trapped on the surface. I'll be collecting those for lip balm.

Happy boy. (Picture by Ava)

Total family effort. (Photo by Ava)

The sieve being removed from the top of the bucket at the end of the night, full of wax particles I'll soon be using for other projects.
We're done for a couple of days, while the rest of the cappings (wax caps we cut off the comb to get to the honey, which can be used to make lip balm and candles) drain and the bubbles come out of the bucket of honey. In a couple of days we'll begin to bottle!

By the way, my whole house smells like honey- right out to the driveway. Love.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Staying Simple

I'm going to cut right to the chase here: I bought laundry detergent this week. And dishwasher fluid. Commercial brands, no less.


For someone who takes great pride and sense of personal acheivement from making homemade, earth-friendly versions of these two things I must say this is a break from the norm. But I had my reasons...

I (obviously) write a blog called Simple Little Home, and I am passionate about living simply, frugally, and intentionally on our earth. These are things absolutely central to my being- a big part of what makes me tick.

But sometimes these things compete for my attentions, and become somewhat mutually exclusive. I realize that sounds sort of off base, but I find that every once in a while being too "gung ho" about DIY creates stress, which in turn degrades my quality of life.

Have you ever been there?

It seems to happen to me suddenly- I run out of laundry detergent and baking soda at the same time so I can't make more right away. Then I run out of rice and potato flour at once so I can't make bread on my regular schedule. Or we're home from vacation and I have more laundry to do than usual so I put off my freezer cooking or lesson planning. (If you've ever done either you'll know that those are only temporary time savers because both come back to bite you when it's dinner or school time and you've got nothing planned...) It seems that the little things conspire so that every once in a while I must stop doing everything to sort of re-set the clock and get things back in order- in order of my priorities, that is.

This week I'm taking it slower and giving myself permission to sit. Still. For. A. Few. Minutes. Because it isn't necessary to do everything perfectly all the time. Or even most of the time. What's most important is that I keep my priorities straight, and that means spending time with my family (and just myself!).

This week, because I bought some of the "essentials" our family uses instead of making them, I have spent more time:

reading all the books my children ask for,

playing along with them in the yard,

reading a grown-up book for pleasure,

staying up late with my husband for a grown-up dinner with wine,

intentionally enjoying the sensation of the sun on my face

and my family gathered around me.

Likewise, this week I have given myself permission to not:

blog about every moment of our lives,

talk on the phone for more than a half hour with friends in the middle of the day, no matter how much I'd like to forget about everything else that's going on,

do much food preservation even though we're at the height of the harvest,

feel guilty about the things I'm not doing,

think too much about the future in favor of savoring the present.

There are so many, many, many ways to be good to our earth, each other, and ourselves. (And thanks to Pinterest I know about them all!). This week, I am just trying to remember that I don't have to do all of them right now.

Phew! That feels better.

Do you sometimes give yourself permission to just let go? (Come on girls, tell me it's not just me!!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Making a "Toddler Touch Collage"

We had some leftover sandpaper from making my sandpaper tracing letters last week, which caused me to think about what we might use it for. Because, you know, I don't throw anything away without using it a few dozen times first. :)

As I thought about the sensation of touch, a mini lesson came to mind which asked the kids to think about the different kinds of art. We always assume art must be seen- beautiful paintings and sculptures must be taken in with the eyes, of course. But what about music? The sense of hearing. And a delicious meal? The sense of taste. The smell of a beautiful flower arrangement? The sense of smell. These things all constitute art, right? You get the idea.

So, we discussed the sense of touch and how we can create art which appeals to that sense. This project was fun and relevant for the older kids because of that discussion, but was perfect for my toddler because she had free reign to explore and create at will.

Here's what we did:

I pulled as many different tactiles as I had on hand for this impromptu lesson. I'm sure you could find lots more interesting things to add with a little planning. I used sponges, pom poms, some scrap foam, leftover sandpaper bits and some cut up transparencies. We used simple glue and a cardstock paper for the collage base.
 I helped my toddler cut the shapes into manageable pieces and then let her creativity rule the day. I encouraged all the children to feel each piece of the collage before they adhered it because we were going for a piece of art which appealed to the sense of touch, not necessarily the sense of sight.

 The finished products: each child  chose a different assortment of materials and each piece was arranged differently.
 Once they dried the kids were very generous about letting others touch their art to get the full sensory experience, which was neat.


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