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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall Traditions

Every fall, usually around the middle of September, the kids start bugging me to go and buy pumpkins.  We aren't big on Halloween at our house so I am not hyper-motivated, but I do like pumpkins for fall decorations and we eventually (mid-October) make the trek to the pumpkin patch to pick up a few.
 The kids had great fun running around and helping each other find really good ones.  They get to pick a pumpkin from the price section that most closely corresponds to their age.  This used to be quite a deal for me, but since the most expensive pumpkins are $5 (I exclude the more expensive "premium" pumpkins from the acceptable categories) and I now have 3 children who are at least 5 years of age I don't get off so cheaply anymore.  Still, five dollars for a pumpkin bigger than Blair isn't a bad price!
 Once we got home, only the boys wanted to carve their pumpkins.  As soon as Cam figured out what he really had to do, his enthusiasm waned as well.  Why do children who love to be muddy and dirty balk at cleaning out a pumpkin just because it is a little slimy? 
 This year was Ian's first chance to carve his pumpkin with no motherly assistance.  I may have hovered a bit when he was wielding the knife, but I managed not to interfere.  It took some restraint, let me tell you! 
Happy autumn from the Kolstes!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Science Experiment #30

This week's experiment comes from Brynn's second grade science book.  It really isn't so much an experiment as a demonstration and a puzzle.  The activity came from the section in her book about teeth - you know, what they are made of and how they grow and that sort of stuff.  The textbook suggested that the student bite into a piece of apple or other stiff food to get an imprint of their teeth so that the student could see how the teeth fit together and how they do their job of chewing food.
I decided it would be more fun for each of the kids to make a bite impression in a piece of cheese and then use their observation skills (observation being one of the steps in the scientific method, after all) to try and figure out which piece of cheese belonged to which mouth - kind of like a detective.  I also took part, just to add another tooth pattern to the group.  My adult-sized bite was an immediate give-way and everyone was able to correctly identify my piece of cheese.  After that it got more complicated.  They looked at the jagged edges of the cheese and at each other's teeth.  They ordered each other to smile and to open wide and then finally made their guesses.  They were all able to identify their own teeth marks, and Brynn's obviously missing teeth made her bite mark easy to identify, but Ian and Blair's marks were too similar and confused the observers.
It was a fun little exercise in observation as well as a good demonstration of how each person is unique.  And of course it ended in the best possible way: with a snack made up of leftover cheese.
Happy science, everyone!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Crab Apples

We have lived in our house for several years now, but it wasn't until about a week ago that we realized that one of our little trees was a crab apple tree.  They are the little tiny crab apples that look more like cherries, but they are in fact apples and they are also fairly sweet.  
I got rather excited that we actually have a fruit tree in our yard, so yesterday I picked a bunch from the bottom set of branches and then went to consult the internet to find out what I could make with them.
The downside of having the tiny-sized apples is that there is a lot of roughage and not a lot of flesh, but eventually I figured out the most efficient way to remove the stem and prep the fruit.  After that it all went into the crock pot for 16 hours.  Yes, you read that right, I started them on the 6-hour temperature setting, and while they smelled delicious at the end they were only barely starting to soften.  So, I reset the pot for the 10-hour cycle and went to bed,  In the morning I had a lovely crock pot full of mushy crab apples.  Eventually I got around to the next step in preparing them, using a potato masher and a strainer to push all the crab apple sauce through but leave the seeds and skins behind.  In the end I got about 3.5 cups of mash, which wasn't much for all the work, but it was a very tasty 3.5 cups.
As a final step, I made Crab Apple Butter, with the recipe I found on the internet.  Wow, is it tasty!  I think that tomorrow I am going to have to make some fresh bread to spread it on.
Does anyone else know of any uses for crab apples?  The internet tells me they make a really good cider, but I'm not sure it would be worth the work.  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Science Experiment #29 or How to Tell If Your Mom Is Crazy or Just A Nerd

This week for science we studied Acorn Weevils, although the study wasn't intentionally sought out or prepared.  It went something like this:

Kids: "Mom, can we put this stuff we collected in a bowl?  We think it looks nice."
Unsuspecting Mom: "Sure.  Acorns and Japanese Lanterns are so pretty in the fall.  What could possibly be wrong with having them inside the house?"
 School was progressing normally, several days later, when Unsuspecting Mom suddenly grabbed one of the acorns out of the bowl and began staring at it intently.  The kids glanced at each other with raised eyebrows and whispered, "Well, maybe Mom has finally gone off the deep end.  She is acting rather weird.  Still,  she isn't TALKING to the acorn.  If she were talking to the acorn we'd really need to be concerned about her sanity."  

But then their worst fears were realized when Unsuspecting Mom actually spoke to the acorn: "What is that?" (What they didn't know is that their mother wasn't speaking to the acorn specifically, but rather generally to the gathered assembly of people and acorns and other soon-to-be discovered beings present in the room.)
 Unsuspecting Mom (known as U.M. in future) held up the acorn in question for inspection, pointing out a little tiny round hole drilled in the side of the acorn.  The children, while remaining suspicious of the state of their mother's mental abilities, were intrigued by the hole.  They watched as U.M. dumped out the whole bowl of acorns on to a plate and then sorted back the various items.  They noted that each acorn had a similar tiny hole.
After all the holey acorns had been put back in the bowl there remained some small white balls left on the plate.  Then it happened again.  U.M started talking to little white beads.  "And what are you doing in my house?" she asked.
The children were just preparing to freak out about U.M.'s strange tendencies to speak to inanimate objects when one of the objects moved.  In fact, it began to crawl.  "EWWWW!" shouted the children.  "Those are bugs!  How did they get in there?"

"I think," announced U,M. "that you brought them when you brought the acorns inside.  I think they were living inside the acorns and ate their way out."

And so it proved.  After doing some research online we discovered the our acorns had been hosting Acorn Weevil larva.  These critters live inside the acorns all summer, and then when the acorns fall to the ground they eat their way out and burrow into the dirt.  One or two years later they crawl back out of the ground looking like this:
Apparently squirrels can smell the presence of the weevils and leave those acorns behind during their fall feast, increasing the likelihood that children in a collecting mood will bring in weevily acorns as a gift to their unsuspecting mothers.

So, how can you tell scientifically if your mom is crazy or nerdy?  If she talks to acorns she is crazy, but if she talks to bugs she is only nerdy.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Is It A Camping Project or A Science Project?

Happy October, everyone.  Can you believe it is really and truly Fall already?  I was a still dealing with a bit of denial until this past weekend, when we went camping.  When you wake up to brisk temperatures in the 30s, you have to face the facts that the season has changed and Autumn has truly arrived.  Camping in such weather is indeed a project, since you have to be well prepared to stay warm.
We also managed to squeeze in some educational experiences while we were project-camping: we toured a cranberry bog and learned all about how cranberries grow and how they are harvested.  I'm chalking that up as a science project (since we missed our official Thursday experiment)!
In case you didn't know, cranberries are grown in sandy soil in sunken fields called bogs.  Those bogs are only flooded (like in the Ocean Spray commercials) to make harvesting easier, because the berries float.
The best part of the tour was buying 5lbs of fresh cranberries only feet away from the bogs they were grown in.  There is nothing quite as satisfying as ending one project with ingredients for future projects!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Soup Making

Well, it seems that my project lethargy continues, so my son has stepped up to the plate to fill our family's quota of "making stuff."  In his history book he is reading about how Christianity spread out from the former Roman Empire into the rest of Europe.  The book had a discussion on monastic life and suggested that the student make a "Monk's Meal" to get a little idea of what it felt like to be a medieval monk.  Ian jumped all over that idea, He decided to make a simple Lentil Soup.
 He practiced some knife skills, cried a few tears over the onions, reviewed doubling fractions (the recipe was way too small), and produced a pretty tasty end product.
Bonus for me: I didn't have to make supper!  Next time I'm going to teach him the medieval habit of "washing up."

Lentil Soup Recipe:
1/4th cup Olive Oil\
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
8 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
1 can (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
2 TBSP. vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots, and celery; cook and stir until onions are tender.  Stir in garlic, bay leaf, oregano, and basil; cook for 2 minutes.
2. Stir in lentils, and add water and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for at least 1 hour.  When ready to serve, stir in spinach and cook until it wilts.  Stir in vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings

Friday, September 25, 2015

Science Experiment #28

I'm gonna be honest with you.  I seem to be suffering a severe lack of motivation these days.  My get-up-and-go, as they say, got up and went.  I've been managing to stay mostly caught up with the laundry and dishes, but not much else.  I think it is a case of post-Aestas (Latin for summer) Depression.  I'll recover as soon as the leaves start to change color and the fall chill gets the blood moving again.

Despite all that, I did manage to get the kids going on their weekly science activity.  I gave them buckets and sent them out into the yard to collect seeds and fruits.  They wandered around for a while finding seeds and other things (The most notable "thing" was a bat-the mammal not the toy- huddled in a ball on the ground.  Thankfully they did not touch the bat.  When I went back later to check on the bat it was gone, so I have no idea what was going on there.).
After they had collected for a while we brought their findings inside and organized them on a large sheet of paper.  Once we had them all separated we counted 16 different types of fruits and seeds.
We talked about all kinds of seed words like "legume" and "pome" and "fruit" and "nut" and "grain", each of which they were able to find an example of in their collection.
It was a nice and quick little nature study, and didn't require much productivity from me, so it worked out perfectly.

Happy science, everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Science Experiment #27: Hatching a Butterfly

Image found at

This week's science experiment  actually started several weeks ago, when I spotted a caterpillar on the sidewalk near my Butterfly Weed plants.  It was a rather distinctive color, so I immediately began to investigate.  I was hopeful because two years ago the kids and I went on an epic "Search for a Monarch Caterpillar" which ended in failure.  Last summer we also kept our eyes open whenever we were near milkweed plants, hoping to find a caterpillar we could raise, but again we were unsuccessful.  Then wouldn't you know, here was the very creature we had been searching for two years for, crawling along in the middle of the sidewalk.  I quickly gathered the kids and we collected our specimen.  Ian made a quick tour of the neighborhood to search for milkweed plants to gather and I ventured into our basement to dig out our dusty bug cage.
For the next few days the caterpillar wandered around inside the cage, doing what caterpillars do: eating.  Then after about 3 days (I know, I should have been keeping a journal of observations or SOMETHING, so I could be more precise and scientific) we made one of our random observational visits and the caterpillar had attached itself to the side of the cage and entered its pupal stage inside a green chrysalis.
After that nothing happened for about 10 days, except that we pulled the dead milkweed plants out of the cage so that we could see better.  On the 10th, or possibly the 11th day, we observed that the chrysalis was beginning to change color, and by the 14th day it had become clear and we could see the colors of the monarch butterfly inside.  He was about to hatch!  The only problem was, we were getting ready to head out the door that morning to attend our homeschool group, so we were afraid we'd miss the culmination of our experiment. There was nothing to do but pack up our little pet chrysalis in the car and headed off.  Midway through the morning "Orangy" (affectionately named by Brynn) hatched out of the case and all the kids got to check on him as his wings hung down and began to fill out and his body transitioned to the shape we are familiar with.  It was all very exciting!
A website I checked on the subject of raising monarch butterflies said that we shouldn't release our butterfly into the wild until the day after it hatched, so since Orangy didn't seem inclined to fly anyway we kept him in the cage until yesterday.  We carried the cage outside and set it down on the patio and then waited to see what happened.  Nothing.  He just sat.  Eventually the kids and I headed off to other tasks and eventually the butterfly flew away.  Thankfully it was a very unemotional parting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Summertime Stepping Stones

Hello!  I'm still here!  Well, I wasn't here for a while (let's call it "due totechnical difficulties"), but I'm back now.  So, to catch up: summer was good.  We had lots of adventures and fun times with friends and family.  Now school has started again and we are getting back into that routine.  But, before we leave summer completely behind I thought I'd share some photos from one of our annual summer projects: Hand Print Stepping stones.
The process doesn't change much from year to year: I go to Hobby Lobby and buy the mix, we add water and stir, dump the mix into the mold, insert hands, remove hands, decorate, and let dry.
This year one thing did change, however.  Cam was actually willing to have his hand printed and didn't scream like a banshee when it was his turn.  It was a developmental milestone.
Once these stepping stones were dry they joined the stepping stones from previous years in lining my backyard flower bed.  It's fun to see the kids wander from stone to stone, finding their baby hand prints and laughing at how they don't fit any more.  It's a summer tradition I am really glad I started and I intend to keep it going forever (or until my adult children refuse to return home in the summertime to cooperate).

P.S.  To check out previous stepping stone projects click here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Aaron's Bridge to Somewhere

This is our swamp.  I know that when most people brag about their properties or write descriptions for real estate advertisements they don't announce that their yard is bounded on one side by a swamp, but that is the case in our yard, and we embrace it.  Except the mosquitoes that fly out of the swamp.  We squash those.
This swamp separates us from our neighbor to the west, which happens to be an overgrown empty lot.  The lot has been for sale for as long as we have lived in our house, and as far as we know there has never been the slightest bit of interest in purchasing it.  We don't really mind having no human neighbors in that quarter - the peace and quiet is nice - but we do have an interest in the property (although not buying).  You see, the road our house faces is very busy and isn't a good place for young children to be riding their bikes but the road in front of the empty lot is much quieter and is a wonderful road for riding.  Aaron the Engineer decided that it would be fun and practical to build a bridge across the swamp so that the kids could cut through to the side street and ride their bikes in safety.
It took a few weekends, but the bridge is finished now and the kids are enjoying the adventure of using it to go on little roadtrips together.