Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer's Simple Things - A Tea Break

This is the time of year where abundance is everywhere.  The garden is overflowing with veggies.  The orchards are heavy with fruit.  And, if you are like me, and preserve as much of this as you can for the winter months, there is a good chance that you are overwhelmed with it all right now.  Your house is falling behind in a messy shambles.  The laundry is piling up and looking like a colorful ghost standing in the corner of your hallway.  You might be lucky enough to have about 80 lbs of tomatoes sitting in your library next to the bushel of peppers and zucchini.

Perhaps your toaster oven broke a couple of weeks ago, and you are still trying to figure out what model you would like to purchase next and when you will be able to get to the store to purchase it.

From all this, it is nice to take a little break with a nice cup of organic fair trade tea.

And sit at your favorite spot on the back porch to drink your hot beverage despite the near 90 degree weather.

To gaze out in front of you at the beauty that fills your backyard.

Ignoring the toaster oven that your hubby had to rush out of the house smoking and stinking of electrical burn.

Ignoring the laundry that is hanging over your head and out in the yard.  It can wait.

Forgetting for a few brief moments that the grass needs cut.  And the kids are inside working up large appetites.

Forgetting that the tomatoes are calling to you, waiting to be juiced and canned.

Forgetting everything.  Emptying your mind for a brief moment.  Letting some of the energy from the beauty surrounding you seep into your being.  Recharging you for what lies ahead.

Reminding you that you can do it if you take one thing at a time.  Reminding you of yourself.

Reminding you that you are not alone.

What simple things pick you up in the summer?

** Visit Kim, The Inadvertent Farmer, for more Summer's Simple Things!!!  **

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Sisters

I have 4 sisters.  I have known each one of them all of their lives.  We are all very different from one another, but our sisterly bond is unbreakable.  Our relationships have grown and changed so much in our lifetimes, while our bonds have strengthened.  I take comfort in the knowledge that if I really need something, anything, my sisters are there for me.

We all live within an hour of each other, and we try to get together often for a Sister's Night.  Friday was one such night.  We went out to dinner and then downtown for some drinks.  We talked and laughed and laughed some more until we cried.  We had a great time.

Here's to sisters! 

(Just so my brothers don't feel left out, I have 2 of them, and love them both dearly too.  But, as they are not sisters, they were not as Sister's Night.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chilly Mornings

Mornings have been chilly here.  I came down this morning and found this curled up on my living room floor...

That's his sleeve his head is sticking out of.

Good day for a warm breakfast!  What's your favorite warm breakfast?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thinking About School

There has been a touch of fall in the air lately.  It's kind of nice, on the one hand.  Fall is my favorite season.  On the other hand, it naturally induces some sort of panic deep inside me.  Fall is the time of year we batten our hatches for the winter.  Although we are not quite at that point yet, this weather has been making me very aware of it's impending arrival.  Fall is also the time school traditionally starts. 

As a homeschooling family, we are a bit more free to work out our own schedule.  We never start officially working until after Labor Day, and even then it's loose until the harvest has been completely pulled in and taken care of.  During this time, we focus more on independent learning, reading, arts, etc - things the kids can do without much guidance from me.

Our homeschooling atmosphere has changed every year since the beginning.  Each year we seem to find a new spot that suits us better.  My husband's cousin picked up a couple of old desks a local school was getting rid of, and she gave them to us!  The kids were so excited to have these "new" desks.

Sweetpea graciously cleaned them all.  There are 2 new-to-us desks like this:

And the old wee one I picked up out of someone's trash 6 years ago.

After they were cleaned, we set to finding places each kid will be comfortable working.  Sweetpea's stayed where it has been for the last 6 years - in one corner of our dining room, where Munch used it when she first started, where Boy used it last year, where she will do all her most difficult work for the year.

Working hard and staying very very focused, as every 3 year old must do.

Sweetie, your shoes are on the wrong feet...


Boy chose a place to work in another corner of our dining room, directly under one of the wall sconces that he considers his own personal light.

Since he is entering the first grade (hard core work, to be sure), he is anxiously awaiting the start of the year.  He did ask if he could have Saturdays and Sundays off each week since Daddy is home those days.  Of course.  That can be arranged.

Munch, who is starting 5th grade, is not so anxious to begin.  She's very content to read the Narnia series and the first Harry Potter book over and over and over and over again.  She has chosen (if she must choose) to work by the window in the living room, providing plenty of scenery for her weary eyes.  As the child of 2 parents who wear glasses, she is quite determined to Never Ever have to wear them in her life.  I hope she can do it!

We are on the lookout for a new and cute thrifted chair to replace this one for her.  Something cute and girly to entice her into her studies!

Our homeschooling style has been very eclectic from the beginning.  We don't purchase any curriculum packages.  Instead, we go to the library and search the shelves for any old textbooks we might be interested in using.  Then I search the web for used copies of these books using http://used.addall.com/ to find what I am looking for.  We tend to use many workbooks for the younger grades, and then move to the used textbooks as they get older.  For many subjects, our only resources come from the library.  We choose a topic and then search out the computerized card catalog for books that will teach us about what we want to know. 

It does take some effort to piece together materials like this, but we find it rewarding.  It gives us the freedom to custom tailor each subject to our children.  And we save a lot of money (not to mention natural resources) by purchasing used books and utilizing the library.  Afterall, that is what the library is for!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Making Bread With Daddy

Once a week, my hubby makes the family bread.  He took over this task when I was hugely pregnant with our second child and couldn't comfortably reach the counter.  (He was 9.5lbs after all...)  Each week, he has a wee helper.

It's great fun for the both of them!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer's Simple Things - Critters

We were sitting at the table having tea the other morning trying to plan out our weekend.  I was looking out the window enjoying our magic beans that are finally starting to bloom.

They are really scarlet runner beans.  But we call them magic beans because when we were first given the seeds, we had no idea what kind of beans they were - just that they were the most beautiful shade of orange.  We grew them in our garden where they happily attracted all sorts of lovely things.  Since then, we have grown them nearly each year in our garden for the pure joy they provide.

Anyway, back to the story.  So, we were sitting there drinking tea, discussing the weekend, and I was staring out the window with my standard morning glazed look, when I saw this!!!!!

Through the screen.  Beyond the laundry.  Sucking happily on the magic beans.  So lovely.  Let me zoom in for you...

I called the kids to come see, but I had no hopes of taking any pictures of it through the screen.  But Nick, with his super hero powers of taking pictures in weird circumstances and actually making them look good, came to my rescue.  We got only one picture.  That's all it took.

It's not hard to see why this little hummingbird would love these flowers.  They are orange, sweet smelling, and I'm sure contain heavenly nectar.

Hummingbirds are just one of the many wonderful critters we have been enjoying this summer.  What sorts of creatures do you have flitting around in your world?

**  Check out Kim's Summer's Simple Things Series to see what other people are doing this summer!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Swiss Chard, and Cucumbers

This pasta dish could not be any easier on a night you don't feel like cooking!  Not that Friday was that sort of day for me.  I really felt like getting sandwiches for dinner, but all the summer goodness from the garden wouldn't hear of it!  So, I started cooking anyway.  As with many things I make, I had no recipe, not even much of a starting idea when I began cooking.  I just had a vague idea that I wanted pasta with fresh tomatoes.  I boiled a pound of pasta, gathered my tomatoes, and perused my garden veggies for some inspiration.  I noticed some swiss chard impatiently waiting to get used, and half a cucumber sitting there with a dejected look about itself.  That's when dinner happened.

I put the boiled pasta back in the pot, and drizzled it with olive oil.  Then I cut up a ton of tomatoes until it looked like a good amount to me (read: until I got tired of cutting tomatoes).  I used mostly smaller tomatoes that i only had to halve or quarter in as many colors as I could find.  Then I cut up the half cucumber into little cucumber "triangles", sliced the swiss chard into little ribbons, threw that all into the pot, and salted the whole thing to taste.  It sat for just a bit to let the salt juice the tomatoes and chard, and then we ate.  I really liked it sprinkled with nutritional yeast.  I'm sure it would be wonderful with grated romano cheese.  But the best thing about it is that it's great just as it is.

What do you like on your pasta?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Many Monarchs

Over the last few years, we have raised many many monarch butterflies from egg to butterfly.  Monarch butterflies are one of the most interesting butterflies.  Their life cycle is so very interesting!

A single monarch butterfly will go through four stages during their life - egg, larvae or caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis, and adult butterfly. They start out as a wee itty bitty egg that is about the size of a pinhead.  Female monarchs only lay their eggs on the milkweed plant.

After they hatch from the egg, they enjoy their first meal - the egg shell.

Then they feast on their favorite (and only) food - the milkweed plant.

Monarch caterpillars grow at an alarming rate!  They molt, or shed their skin 4 or 5 times during their caterpillar stage.  Each time, they emerge bigger.

It takes about 2 weeks for the caterpillar to reach it's full size, which is about 2 inches.  When it's ready, it will attach itself to the underside of a leaf.  If it's in captivity, it will attach itself to anything sturdy it can find...

like the shelf of our hutch.

They hang in this "J" formation until they are ready to form their chrysalis.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch them in the act of forming the chrysalis, you should watch it!!!  It is fascinating!  Don't bother trying to run for your camera, you will never make it back in time.  It's better to just watch and enjoy.  This is what the chrysalis looks like right after the caterpillar has wriggled off it's skin, but before the chrysalis has had a chance to harden into it's beautiful jeweled loveliness.

Now after it has hardened.

You can just make out the jeweled parts of the chrysalis in this photo.  It does not do it justice at all. 

After about 2 weeks, the chrysalis starts to change.

It's thinning out and becoming transparent.  You can just see the butterflies wing.  It gets more and more translucent as time goes by.

Until it starts to split down the side.

Until... woosh!

The butterfly pumps it's wings full of the fluid it's been storing until they are fully expanded.  It takes several hours for the wings to completely harden.  After a couple hours, the butterfly will not mind being gently held.  This is a good time to let your children (if they are careful) hold the butterfly.  We have just as much fun releasing the butterfly as we do watching the life cycle changes.

They will sit for a long time out on a flower before they are capable of flying away. 

Here is a picture of a female monarch.

And, here is one of a male.  Notice the 2 dark spots on the backs of each wing.  These are glands that only the males have.

Raising monarchs has been such an enjoyable task for us and for our children.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.  You need a constant fresh supply of milkweed plants at your disposal.  And you will want a nice safe place for them to munch and grow.  Here's our basic setup - a large couple gallon glass container with a screen fitted on top.  Inside we have a jar with water where we put fresh milkweed leaves.

Monarchs are special because they migrate each winter.  The species goes through 4 different generations each year.  The first, born in March and April, are the offspring of the fourth.  The second generation butterflies are born in May and June, and the third in July and August.  Each of these generations lives only as long as it takes to lay eggs - 2 to 6 weeks.  The fourth generation, born in September and October, will migrate to the warm climates of Mexico or California.  They will live for 6 to 8 months, and begin their journey back to the place of their forefathers.

You can learn more about monarch butterflies at these sites: