Discovering King Tut’s Tomb

Or maybe this post should be titled “Having too much fun homeschooling.”  For our history curriculum we use Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World set.  This year (the first year) we are studying ancient history.  The basic curriculum is this: we listen to a chapter on the audio CD, then, in the workbook do a map page and a coloring page.  On another day we read library books about that particular time period or figure in history or folktales from that country.  Now, SWB’s workbook also had activities that you can do to reinforce the learning and I don’t usually do those.  They tend to be crafty type things and I’m not a crafty type.  But this one sounded like fun.  The activity book recommended that if you have a small space in your house to recreate opening King Tut’s tomb like Howard Carter and his team.  Well, we just happen to have a little cubby under our stairs.  And that’s where the fun begins….

As any good archeologist would do, the kids first had to make an inventory of what they saw and draw pictures.  My role was the all-around local lackey who does the grunt work!

Gingerbread!

004005My daughter has been asking for the past two years when we would do a gingerbread house and I finally succumbed. I bought one of those kits you see in all the stores and it was surprisingly easy and fun. unfortunately, I pulled it out to try to cheer my little ones up. They are sick today with fevers and have been so lethargic I hoped it would make them smile. It did, but it’s hard to see my normally sparky kids so worn out. We did have fun though putting it all together. Here’s a few photos. Doing this kit reminded me of the Christmas when I was a kid when my mom and brother made a gingerbread house, people and some other stuff totally from scratch. I don’t remember helping to make it, but I do remember eating it! I have a feeling this store-bought-kit gingerbread won’t be anything like my homemade memory, but it will be fun to watch the kids break it apart. We’re planning on taking to our Harris-side Christmas dinner and let the under-10-group break it up. When we were done with the kit, being the dorky homeschool mom that I am, I showed the kids some photos of fancy gingerbread houses and stumbled upon this video of the history of gingerbread. I hope you enjoy it too. I had no idea the tradition of making gingerbread was so old and meant so much!

Fall Reading Round-Up

This blog was created as a way to catalog my loves of reading, cooking, community work, and the activities of a-trying-to-do-homeschooling person.  So, in the spirit of all of that, here is my fall reading round up.  I’ve really enjoyed some of our/my books this fall.  Many are old favorites with some new ones too.  First I’ll list my books, then the ones I’ve been reading with the kids.

  • The beginners guide to Backyard Chickens by Eric Richardson.  This is one of several “chicken guides” I’ve picked up.  We’re considering taking the plunge next year and getting our own hens.  We’re allowed by our zoning laws and have the room.  I’m just a little nervous about keeping them warm in winter and keeping out predators.  I think I’ve found the coop I want to build so we’ll see.  
  • Kaytek the Wizard by Janusz Korczak.  This book was not a modern day wizard story and therefore didn’t have the ease of reading or typical writing of a new book.  What made it interesting was the author.  Here is a brief bio:
    “Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Dr. Henryk Goldszmit, a pediatrician and child psychologist who famously ran a central Warsaw orphanage on innovative educational principles; when his children were transported from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 Korczak insisted on staying with them and died with them in the Treblinka concentration camp. Korczak left behind a large written legacy, including books on education, plays, essays, letters, and of course, novels and stories for children, including King Matt the First. ” My grandmother’s side of my family is Polish and I enjoyed reading this book for its historical content.
  • The Social Media Survival Guide for Non-profits and Charitable Organizations by Sherrie A. Madia, PhD.  Very helpful tool for non-profits trying to get into the social media game.  I will be using parts of this book in my class at Edison Community College.  However, I unwillingly became the permanent owner of this library book when my son spilled my coffee over it.   He was trying to hug me so I guess it’s ok!
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.  I didn’t read her first book, The Happiness Project, but this one did appeal to me. However, I found it hard to finish because, like some of Eat, Pray, Love, I got a little tired of the self-focused tone of the writing.  But there are some good parts and some good advice and great quotes from all over the literary map. 
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein.  Need I say more?

Children’s Read-Aloud Books & History Books:

  • This fall we added history to our homeschooling subjects and have been following the Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer.  Each week we listen to a chapter from the audio version and do an activity and map work from the activity book.  Then we follow up with books from the “literature sugestions” section.  We have loved this program and the follow up books have been great. 
  • One of the favorites from the Story of the World has been the Gilgamesh Trilogy by Ludmila Zeman.  The three books are Gilgamesh the King, The Revenge of Ishtar, and The Last Quest of Gilgamesh.  The illustrations are amazing and  we have all learned a lot about this ancient story.
  • Three Tales of My Father's DragonTree Tales of My Fathers Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. My kids absolutely LOVED this book and I’m so glad I came across it in a reading list as most people nowadays have never heard about it.  It was so sweet.  Here’s a synopsis from Amazon: “The classic fantasy trilogy of Elmer Elevator and the flying baby dragon has delighted children and their parents for generations. Now, on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary, Random House is proud to bring the three timeless tales together in one beautiful commemorative edition, complete with the original delightful illustrations.  A Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book, My Father’s Dragon is followed by Elmer and the Dragon
    and The Dragons of Blueland.  Each story stands alone, but read in succession, they are an unforgettable experience.”
  • Trumpet of the Swan by EB White.  I had never read this book and we all loved it.  We laughed and the kids could not wait to read it at night. 
  • Charlotte’s Web by EB White.  Again, my kids love this.  However, we are getting to the end and I am curious to see how they react to Charlotte’s death.  I also found the original cartoon movie at our library which we’ll probably watch this weekend.

Cooking: I gave myself a subscription to Bon Appetit Magazine and just got my first issue-just in time for Christmas cookies. There was also a piece on perfecting potato latkes. I really want to try to make potato latkes for Hannukah this year.  There isn’t a drop of Jewish blood in our family, but I think it would be fun to make these latkes and introduce the kids to some other traditions.  I also have been going back to my copy of Sur La Tables’ Gifts Cooks Love.  I think for my “give-away” gifts I’m going to make their Mexican Hot Chocolate Mix and pair it with these marshmallows!

Quick! Post while the kids are distracted!

I subscribe to a few mom & food centered blogs and there are two (One Hundred Dollars A Month and Life As Mom) where the author posts frequently.  Like every day.  I wonder HOW do they do it?  I mean, I barely have time to sleep some days.  Yup, we’ve hit the stage where the kids are in activities, but I’m the one trucking them around.   Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying this.  My kids are fully interactive and make me laugh with their antics.  We’re also going through all the age-appropriate training that comes with school age kids.  You know, reminding your kids to respect their elders, be friendly & kind toward others, etc.

This year we kicked off our homeschooling year in full swing.  Both kids are now enrolled as one of Suzy Ally’s “GrandArt Kids” and loving their lessons with her.  Gwen has started piano and, thanks to a donated full size keyboard, she can practice regularly.  We’ve got Brukner homeschool nature club once a month and a group homeschool science class.  We’ve got scouts. We did an amazing program at the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of their homeschool Mondays.  The biggest adjustment was having the kids both in soccer.  I can see how it becomes an American rite of passage- we got to spend 3 days a week at the soccer field.  Gwen’s team, the green snakes, did really well winning most of their games and having a coach that worked with them.  Luke’s team, orange crush, didn’t win one game and hardly practiced.  But I’m ok with this- I think it was what both kids needed.  Gwen tends to be, well, lazy.  She’s pretty content to lay around and draw or look at books all day.  That’s great sometimes, but other times you do need to work.  Instilling in our kids that work is something that is part of all of our lives is important to us.  I was happy to see Gwen responding well to a coach that also made her learn all the positions and do a little extra.  For Luke, he is super-energetic and we wanted him to play soccer as an outlet for that energy.  We just wanted him to have fun and meet some new kids.  But he also tends not to take losing well-whether it be a family board game or a game of tag with friends.  This experience taught him that winning isn’t everything and you can still have a great time.

In the midst of all that, we bought a van.  Over the summer our/my volvo station wagon was hit by a deer.  In evaluating the situation we decided it was time to upgrade.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  I loved driving my volvo.  Part of it comes from my hippie Vermont childhood.  About half the state drove an old beat up volvo wagon because they are great on snow and just keep on ticking.  However, they are expensive to repair and ours was needing a lot of work anyway and the deer strike was the nail in the coffin.  On the other hand, my kids wanted extra leg room and the ability to carpool with friends.  So we found, after about 2 months of searching, a 2008 Honda Odyessy.  It’s probably the nicest car I’ve owned and I think, with it’s navigation system and other bells & whistles, it might be smarter than me.   The other plus is that now we have this super-roomy vehicle so my secret master plan of homeschool-by-travel just might work!

The kids have been so much work right now, but in the end I do love it and them.  We’re making such great family memories with all these activities.   I recently ran across a post in a British blog I like, Artspip, about Lovebombing.  What a concept!  But more than that, I love the word.  Lovebomb.  (Hey there-how ’bout I lay a lovebomb on ya?)  I miss my old career at times, but I am grateful for this time and know it will go all too fast.  Now excuse me while I make these pumpkin bars for a brunch this weekend….

Vegan Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bars

Ingredients {slightly adapted from Frugal Vegan Mom}

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice mix
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup canned  pumpkin {I used pureed of course}
  • 1 1/2 cup {soy} semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 13 x 9 in. baking pan* with parchment paper {for easy removal}

In a medium sized bowl sift together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a mixing bowl combine the sugar, oil, vanilla and pumpkin. Once mixed gradually stir in flour mixture until smooth.  Fold in the chocolate chips and bake at 350 degrees for 28 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.  Cool 1 hour. Slice into 2 inch bites and store in an airtight container.

Ode to the garden

The garden in May

“I will NEVER have a garden!” my 15 year old self exclaimed.  When I was a kid we had a HUGE garden and guess who’s job it was to weed it?  Me & my brothers.  Ugh, I couldn’t think of anything more boring.  Yes, it was great eating food right out of the garden, I still love my mom’s zucchini relish recipe, and using my brother’s broken hockey sticks for cucumber trellis was genius, but me garden?  No thank you.  As with most things you change as you get older.   Over the last 7 years of living in a big yard I have come to enjoy gardening to the point I think I can call it an official hobby of mine.  Three years ago we put in an asparagus patch and this was the first year we got to taste the harvest.  There is nothing so delicious as harvesting asparagus, throwing it on the grill, and eating it all within an hour.  This year we also re-arranged our garden to maybe get some better harvests and boy did we ever!  The tomatoes have been amazing!  Now I’m getting the itch to do more.  I’ve been inspired by the blog “One-Hundred Dollars A Month” by a seattle area mom with the pseudonym Mavis Butterfield.  Mavis’ goal is to feed her family of four on $100/month so she can use the savings to travel.  She does this by converting her entire yard to an edible landscape complete with greenhouse and chicken coop, bartering, getting free “throw-away” food from supermarkets, coupons, etc.My hope was to plant a fall garden to take advantage of cooler weather crops.  I dug out some extra pea, bean, spinach and lettuce seeds and as my green beans died off I thought I could replant.  I also wanted to try beets & kale. My friend Christine has had some kale adventures in her blog “Please repeat.” And in the last year my husband and I have discovered with love beets!  Who knew?  So I went to my local gardening center to try to find seeds or, if I was very lucky, some starts.  Apparently, I don’t live in an area where people do much fall gardening because at this very well-known garden center not only were there no starts, there were no seeds.  At all.  They did have rows and rows of fall mums, but nary a vegetable seed to be found.  This just goes to show that I need to plan better.  Next year we hope to add another garden bed (or two!) and expand my tilled area to include more room for pumpkins/squash and the husband and I have other pet hobbies we want to explore (bees for him, chickens for me).  My goal is to turn as much of our big yard into edible as possible.  It’s a lot of work, but enjoyable too in a meditative way.  I care and nurture my kids much like the garden, but my garden has yet to yell at me, get into fights, or not clean up its toys.  It does get sick on occasion, but at least not all over me.  Maybe someday my yard will be more like my friend Martha, whose blog Scrumptious Life says it all.

Tomatoes, Zucchini and some Zucchini Bread from the harvest.

In the meantime, enjoy this gazpacho recipe.  It’s a conglomeration of two recipes in The Raw Food DeTox Diet by Natalia Rose and I’ve been making it all summer to devour our delicious tomatoes.

Gazpacho

  • 5-6 large tomatoes-coarsely chopped
  • 1 cucumber peeled and seeded
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 C. olive oil
  • 1/3 C. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper- diced
  • 1-2 ears of corn, cut off and cooked for about 1 minute

In your blender/vitamix take the garlic and chop up.  Add the cucumber and tomatoes, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and soy sauce.  Set the blender to chop and then puree.  In your soup bowls add the red pepper and corn and then pour the blended tomatoes over it.  Season with salt and pepper and enjoy.

PS: I like this with some olive oil flat-bread that I make using the recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and topped with a garlic/red pepper olive oil from Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics Cookbook.

Summer Reading Round-Up

Every summer it seems like the days stretch before me and I’m going to fill it with SO MUCH!  Especially books.  I fool myself into believing that I have the same kind of time as I did as a lonely-can’t-drive-yet-high schooler.  The amount of time may be the same, but my life is filled with SO MUCH! Kids activities, being a wife, caring for parents, having a garden-the list goes on and then poof!  Fall is here.  Today is the first day of school for our city and summer is winding down. I still read a lot in the summer and enjoyed my book choices this summer.  Here’s a reading round up….yee-haw!

1) The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel– This is an economics book, so it’s not for everyone, but it had some great points on how and what we value and the true cost of things.  Mr. Patel works a great deal with food systems in developing countries, but his background in economics is solid.  This was not the trickle down economics book, but rather a book that faces the reality that nothing is free and our $2.00 cup of coffee costs about $200 to produce in terms of labor, fuel, and materials.  My favorite quote from this book though was one I’ve seen attributed to others so I’m not entirely sure if Mr. Patel actually said it first or was just re-using.  “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged.  One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world.  The other, of course, involves orcs.”  Now, I loved both The Lord of the Rings books and I’ve read Atlas Shrugged about 4 times (still can’t get through the John Galt speech though) and I laughed out loud when I saw that bit.

2) 9780393059748_300 The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer.  Those who know my homeschooling tendancies know I love Susan Wise Bauer.  Really, I want to be her when I grow up or she’s the person I would love to be friends with and get together for coffee.   She was homeschooled when homeschool was certainly not cool and barely legal, she went on to become a professor at The College of William and Mary where she still teaches and homeschools her four kids on a farm in VA.  I use some of her homeschooling materials now, but this coming year we are starting history using her Story of the World series for kids.  So I thought to myself, “you know I do like history, but haven’t taken it since college.  I guess I’ll read SWB’s adult version.”  This is a tome, but if you enjoy history it is worth the time.  What I like about SWB in this book is she is not trying to give you all the little details.  Rather she pieces together what is happening across the globe in the same time periods.  So you get what is happening in Ancient India and China alongside what is going on in Ancient Egypt.  I loved that.  So much of the school-appropriate history just focuses on the big stuff and we forget that there were other peoples, cultures, and contributions happening all over.  I also like SWB’s writing style-she is coherent and gives the facts, but also throws in her own snarky observations for the occaisional funny.

3) This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman: While trolling through the library catalog looking for books on having backyard chickens (yes, we are considering; no, we are not jumping into it) I came across this memoir.  It was about a family who, in the 1960s purchased sixty acres of land in rural Maine and tried to build a self-sufficient lifestyle.  This was on the tail-end of the 60s and moving into the more conservative 70s.  The author writes about her parents struggles as homesteaders and trying to live an ideal while also herself being a child in that environment.  The marriage struggles even as their work prospers and when the author’s younger sister tragically drowns the family comes apart.  One reviewer compared it to Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle and I would agree.   IT is a moving memoir and an interesting warning for those who might idealize farm life.

4) False MermaidFalse Mermaid by Erin Hart: Now this was a beach read!  Erin Hart has written three mysteries involving an Irish-American pathologist Nora Gavin who specalizes in ancient bog remains.  This was the latest one.  It follows Dr. Gavin as she travels back to the states from Ireland to look into her sister’s death and she thinks her sister’s husband is the prime suspect.  I would recommend reading the first two, Lake of Sorrows and Haunted Ground, before reading this one because it helps to know the storyline.  However, if you like good mystery novels with a little murder and romance thrown in it is, like I said, the perfect beach read!

5) The Pellinor Series by Allison Croggon (The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, and The Singing): ok, I’ll admit it.  I have a fondness for young adult fantasy books.  The Harry Potter series is one of my favorites and every so often I’ll troll through the library to see what is on the shelves.  I guess I like this genre because it has absolutely no bearing on my life and the young adult versions don’t get bogged down by adult worries.  My husband reads the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series and each time he starts a new book he says how much he hates the series, but feels compelled to finish it.  I don’t want to to feel like that, so I go for lighter stuff.  This was a series by an Australian author and of course it is compared to Tolkien.  Folks, nothing can beat J.R.R. so stop trying!  But it was a series that had a strong female hero and I liked that.  The series follows Maraed and her brother Hem, who are orphans and bards (in this fantasy a bard has some magical powers…I guess it would be a wizard who sings).  They, of course, have a huge quest and get help and hinderences along the way.

Along the way I also discovered a cookbook I love, Supernatural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, and a great read-aloud series for my kids, The Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuinProduct DetailsThe Catwings series has four short books about a group of cats that were born with wings.  My daughter, who loves cats and horses and unicorns and butterflies, loves this series and it is well written (it should be since it is by Newberry award winning LeGuin).  We’ve read The Catwings, The Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, and are now starting Jane on her Own.  This summer, as every summer, I’ve had an overabundance of cherry tomatoes and I never can eat them all on salads or plain.  I discovered an amazing recipe in Supernatural Every Day for oven roasted cherry tomatoes and I love it.  It’s awesome to eat on bread, but the author mixes it in with her salads too. Below is the recipe.

I make these roasted cherry tomatoes constantly when cherry tomatoes are in  season. The tiny globes collapse and caramelize, while their flavor concentrates  tenfold. I keep them in glass canning jars in the refrigerator, to add little  explosions of flavor to any dish that needs them.

When selecting cherry tomatoes, look for baskets of various colored  tomatoes—red, orange, and yellow. I love the combination of colors, but using  all same color is just fine, too.–Heidi Swanson

Active time:5 minutes | Total  time:1 hour

Roasted Cherry  Tomatoes Recipe

Ingredients

| metric conversion

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, whether red, orange, yellow or a  combination, stemmed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespooncane sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoonfine-grain sea salt, plus more to  taste

Directions

Buy the Super Natural Every Day cookbook1. To make the roasted  cherry tomatoes, preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Adjust the oven rack to the  top third of the oven.

  • 2. Slice the tomatoes in  half and place them on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • 3. In a small bowl, whisk  together the olive oil, sugar or maple syrup, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange  the tomatoes in a single layer, cut-side up, and roast, without stirring, until  the tomatoes shrink a bit and start to caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60  minutes.
  • 4. Nibble the roasted cherry  tomatoes straight off the baking sheet. Or, if you aren’t using them  immediately, let them cool and then scrape them into a clean glass jar along  with any olive oil that was left in the baking dish or sheet. Sometimes I top  off the jar with an added splash of olive oil. The tomatoes will keep for about  1 week in the refrigerator.