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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!