Thank you for stopping by! Here you will find a variety of things as I post whatever happens to be going on in our home - recipes, crafts, homeschool, birthday parties, travels, meals in muffin tins and more! I'd love to know what you think so please feel free to leave comments!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Alphabet Sensory Tub

I finally got our Alphabet Sensory Tub put together today! I was held back by not being able to find the alphabet pasta I really wanted. So, we are already on the letter C in our letter of the Week, but since I have planned to do a tub every four weeks that features the letters we will be covering those four weeks, we are still good. 
I love how bright and colorful it is!

I started by coloring lots of alphabet macaroni in the same fashion I colored pasta last year. The only difference is that I didn't soak it as long since they aren't very big and I had to keep mixing them up as they dried to prevent them from being a big pasta pancake. I still had to spend a little time breaking them apart after they were dry.  Once dry, I put them in lines in the tub.

Next, I sprinkled letter beads & charms over the pasta. The circular beads glow in the dark! Fun!

Then came all the goodies! We are focusing on the letters A, B, C & D. We have various wood & plastic magnetic letters, large foam letters, tiny foam sticker letters, wooden letter blocks, letter cookie cutters, letter beads and charms on chenille stems, a Bb book and finally items beginning with the letters. A: apple, acorn, alligator, and ant; B: bowl, butterfly, button & bell; C: caterpillar, cross, car and coin; and D: dolphin, dragonfly, dice and dinosaur.

I am also including a small pail & scoop on the side for the kids to play with in their tub.
I don't have any action shots yet since I got this done a little late in the day. They've seen it though and are anxiously awaiting their chance to have at it. I also laid down the law in regard to the tubs - they each get to play at one of the tubs and not together. After a certain amount of time (not sure how long yet) we will switch off. I'd like to say that my kiddos are perfect angels and play sweetly side by side, but I cannot tell a lie. When it comes to the "choice" items in the tubs - like plastic jewel acorns - it's just plain hard to share!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn Sensory Tub

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Or in other words, Happy 1st Day of Fall! It came in with a blah here - cool, rainy & grey. At least a couple of the trees outside my back window have leaves that are starting to change to a lovely deep crimson hue which is quite nice to look at.

To brighten up our day, I put together our Autumn Sensory Tub and introduced the kids to it. It's jam packed full of fun fall finds for fledgling fingers.

I started with the rice that I colored yesterday (here) in four vertical lines. I love the autumn colors!

Then I added: silk fall leaves, leaf buttons, sparkly foam leaves, silk sunflowers, a pine cone, wood mushrooms, wood people, a wooden scoop, a grapevine ball, some sort of nuts, a wooden bowl, wooden bucket, plastic jewel acorns, foam and yarn apples, mini foam pumpkins and squash, yarn pom poms, an apple chalk board with chalk, and bits of green & brown pipe cleaner.

On the side I included an extra yarn apple, a mini basket and the Rubik's cube style fall puzzle cube for extra fun. Laural took to the puzzle cube right away and tried to figure it out. Micah went straight for the acorns as I suspected he would.

It was a winner for both kids, who are still seated behind me on the floor playing with it. I will be putting together a 2nd sensory tub - the alphabet theme I've been planning - this weekend in hopes of eliminating some of the arguments that seem to come along with two kids trying to share one tub.

Have a fabulous first day of fall!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumn Colored Rice

I can hardly believe that today was the last day of summer! It seems like this year is just screaming by at breakneck speed. Although I do enjoy the coming seasons, this has been one of our best summers and I'm really going to miss it. At least the last couple of days have been pretty warm and enjoyable. But, onward and upward, right? So I am trying to get myself into the spirit for autumn by preparing for our autumn sensory tub - which meant making rice in some lovely autumn colors. 

I made a apple-ish red, bright leafy yellow, crunchy leaf brown and pumkin-y orange.

The How-to:

Gather ingredients:
cheap white rice
food colorings
zip top baggies
paper towels
plates (paper or otherwise)

Start by putting 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka in a bag along with your coloring.
My color "recipes:"
Brown: 10 drops red, 10 drops yellow, 2 drops blue (this gave a lighter brown but doubling the amounts would probably allow more color to get into the rice for a deeper hue)
Yellow: 20 to 25 drops of yellow
Red: 25 drops of red but it turned out to be too light (almost neon pink) so I colored it again with 20 red and 2 blue.
 Orange: 10 red and 30 yellow (it was too light with 4 red & 12 yellow so I colored again with 6 red and 18 yellow)

Some people might prefer to use vinegar or rubbing alcohol. I choose to use vodka for two reasons: 1. it doesn't have an odor like vinegar does and 2. rubbing alcohol may leave undesirable residue behind.

Add 2 cups of rice and make sure to tightly seal the bag (or you might have a yellow rice mishap such as mine which called for a break in coloring to pull out my stick vac). Knead & smoosh the bag until the color is evenly distributed through the rice. 

Allow the bag to rest 15 to 20 minutes to really let the color penetrate the rice. Using a mesh strainer, give the rice a quick rinse to clear some of the starchiness. Drain it well.

Spread the rice on a paper towel lined plate and allow it to dry. The rice dries fairly fast and should be ready to play with in 2 hours or less. 

I can't wait - Laural & Micah are going to be thrilled with their new autumn play rice. I think I'd better keep my stick vac handy though...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First Field Trip Of The Year

After church today, we decided to go to Munnell Run Farm Day in Mercer, PA. A little about Munnel Run Farm from their webpage:

The Mission:
At Munnell Run Farm we strive to integrate agriculture and ecology education through hands-on programs for students and adults in watershed management, nonpoint source pollution control, stream ecology, wetlands, forestry and agriculture.
Our vision for Munnell Run Farm is to nurture a conservation ethic in our youth, agriculture producers, and community members in order to affect a positive cultural, economic and environmental impact in our rural community. It is further our vision that Munnell Run Farm shall become a destination for school children, educators, civic organizations, agriculture producers, and families to explore and discover the interrelationship between agriculture, the natural and cultural environments and our economy.

The Farm:

Munnell Run Farm contains163 acres of cropland, woodland, pasture and riparian forested wetland owned by the County of Mercer and managed by the Munnell Run Farm Foundation, Inc., which holds a long term lease and a conservation easement on the Farm. The Mercer County Conservation District provides valuable support for the Farm's mission.  It is located 1 mile north of Mercer, PA on State Route 58 West. Visitors to MRF have an opportunity to explore the interactions of agriculture and ecology in a real-world setting. Featuring outdoor, hands-on activities designed to meet PA Chapter 4 Academic Standards, Munnell Run Farm Foundation, Inc. received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in Education and Outreach in 2003. MRF depends on grants and donations for its educational programs, maintenance, and infrastructure improvements. 

 Some cheerful round bale piggies greeted us as we arrived.

We started by checking out some of the vendors. First up was a visit with an alpaca where you could purchase various items made from alpaca yarn. They were gorgeous and so soft but I can't justify spending $75 for a hat or $32 on a stuffed animal. It was fun to pet Thomas the alpaca though.
Micah wasn't sure what to do with the alpaca at first.

Next, we chatted with some folks representing the local 4H and spent a little time with the animals they brought with them.
A sweet bunny that Micah gave a kiss.

A less than thrilled duck.

A friendly goat.

Laural & Micah both tried the peddle tractor pull. Neither got very far. Laural's legs seemed too long for the tractor & Micah's were too short.

They played on a stack of hay bales

They both got their faces painted. Princess Laural & Pirate Micah. I'm really surprised that Micah went along with it. He has been freaked out by it in the past and has only allowed his hand to be painted.

The Civil War reenactors marched across the large yard area at the top of every hour to fire their guns to mark the time.

We took a ride on a horse drawn wagon which was pretty neat. Laural got to sit up with the drivers on the return trip.

There were loads of cows to be see throughout the farm, including two calves who were hanging out with their moms.

 We also took a ride on a tractor drawn wagon that took us to the back part of the farm where we saw lots more cows, fields & farm equipment in use.

The mom & her baby weren't sure what I was up to. They kept a watchful eye on me. 

We also went into a small trout nursery and looked at the brown trout & golden rainbow trout babies what were being raised there. Outside, both kids got to try their hand at casting a fishing rod & reeling it back in. The both did pretty well with it. I guess they'll be ready to catch their dinner when we go camping next year.

A band called Mandolin Whiskey - kind of bluegrass-ish mixed with some more modern country - played most of the time we were there. There were lots of different types of vendors selling homemade wares, a quilt show, a spinning wheel demo, an archery station where you try to shoot a bow, an ox roast, crafts for kids ( Laural made a farm necklace) and probably more stuff that I just didn't see. It was a wonderful day of fun & learning all for the price of a donated canned good for the Mercer County Community Food Warehouse. I look forward to going back next year!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From (Mayonnaise) Failure, Comes Cake

So, a few days ago, I decided to try making homemade mayo. We have been attempting to limit/eliminate soy in our diets and since the main ingredient in mayo or that salad dressing with zip is soybean oil, those have been cast out of the house. I started with a fresh, organic, pastured egg yolk, some vinegar, a wee bit of lemon juice, mustard powder and salt. Then, using a stick blender, I added safflower oil, a wee bit at a time. It worked right away, I had a lovely thick and creamy mayo forming. I added a a little more and still, it looked wonderful. A little more, great. Still more, perfect. And then, it happened. I added a little more oil and just like that, suddenly my thick, creamy mayo was a thin & runny mess. Well, bummer.

I looked online for any potential fixes and found a site that suggested taking a new egg yolk and then slowly start adding the failed mixture to it, so I tried that to no avail. I appealed to my facebook friends only to get the bad news that I was likely out of luck. Fortunately, one of my friends (Wendy!) suggested I look up chocolate oil cake online. So I did and after some initial contemplation of whether or not I actually felt like making a cake at that moment, I decided to do my typical Dr. Frankenstein job on a couple of recipes I liked and go for it. Here is what I came up with:

Ta-da! It was a total success! So moist and delicious and no need for icing though I did serve it with strawberries and a dusting of powdered sugar. Part of me is secretly hoping the next batch of mayo I attempt will fail just so I can make this cake again! I was thrilled that I could still use my precious (expensive!) organic eggs and oil for something and not have to throw it all away! Next time I make this, I think I might add a little more cocoa for a little more of a chocolate flavor. I like my chocolate very chocolatey!

Debbie's Chocolate Oil Cake
(I don't like the sound of this name but Debbie's Failed Mayo Chocolate Cake isn't any better...)

3 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 C failed mayo mixture (mine had 2 egg yolks, a little under 1 c of safflower oil, 1 tsp vinegar & 1/2 tsp salt)
2 egg whites (leftover from the 2 eggs used in the mayo)
1 C milk
1 C water

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a bundt pan. I used coconut oil. Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Pour into bundt pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until pick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately invert onto a serving plate and allow to cool in the pan. Flip and gently loosen edges with a knife is needed. Flip back onto plate, remove pan & enjoy!

If you want to make this without going to all the trouble of making a failed batch of mayo, use this alternate ingredient list. 

3 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 C oil
1 C milk (you can sour this with 1 tsp vinegar or buttermilk if you want)
1 C water

PS. This is not gluten free. I don't know enough about gluten free baking yet to try to attempt a conversion. I had my kids tested and, while both of them have fairly low numbers, they are inside the normal range so we are allowing a small amount of gluten-y foods into our diet but we are still trying to eliminate most of the wheat for other health reasons.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homeschool Group Meeting

Today was the first homeschool group meeting of the new school year! The kids got to play for a while and then we gathered for a lesson. Barb & Susie did a presentation on coral reefs. The kids started by putting together a notebooking page.

Laural still needs to finish some of the answers & she wants to make it look pretty with some coloring & stickers.

Next the kids did a group project - building a coral reef.

Can you guess what each item of the cake represents? Don't peek, but I'll put the answers below!

Finally, the kids got to make an edible model of a coral polyp.

I only got a couple pics and that was before everything was finished but here we have a banana as the body of the polyp and twizzlers as the tentacles. We added sugar sprinkles as algal growths and a round cracker underneath as the base. I think there were supposed to be oyster crackers as skeletons of dead polyps, but we ran out of time.

A big woohoo to Jeanette who provided snacks - tortillas & salsa, pb crackers & carrots. Yum

Everyone had a great time. The kids got to run around and burn off some energy and the moms got to hang out and chat which is always a good thing when you spend most of your days with only little people to talk with. Before we even got out of the parking lot, both kids were asking when we could do that again. I think they had a good time.

Ok, here are the answers to the coral reef cake question: 

Cake: limestone reef base
Pink Frosting: coralline algae that encrusts & holds the reef together
Green Coconut: sea grass bed in the back reef
Stick Pretzels: branching coral
Cauliflower: individual coral polyps
Bite Size Cookies: plate coral
Sprinkles: sand
Corn Chips: sea fans
Mini Marshmallows: barrel sponges
Chocolate Chips: sea urchins
Goldfish Crackers: schools of fish

Doesn't that sound like a yummy cake? Ok, leave off the cauliflower and we have a winner!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Homeschool Today

We didn't start school last week like we had planned. I made a last minute decision (mostly because I was behind on getting things ready) to wait until after labor day. Laural is going to be doing Heart of Dakota - Little Hearts for His Glory. We actually started this last year but then I got ill at the beginning of October, spent 3 months dealing with that and then another 2 to 3 months recovering. School was put on hold during that time and while I recovered, our school year did not. Even though we didn't follow the curriculum very well, we still managed to squeeze a lot of learning in. So this year, we are picking up where we left off with Heart of Dakota. Since she is already ahead in much of what is covered, we will sort of be rushing through just to make sure there are no gaps. Then we will move directly into Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory. 

Micah is doing Letter of the Week from Confessions of a Homeschooler. He gets very excited when I say that it's time for school! Today, when I announced it was time for school, he ran over & jumped into my arms and shouted "Yay! I love this!" I hope he continues this enthusiasm as he gets older.

Here is a little of what we did today.
Micah made an Alligator A for his ABC book and he also colored and traced the letter A and a.

Laural & I reviewed some of her reading and then she did some copy work & drew a picture to go with it.

Later, she did several pages in her miniLUK books.

We did lots of other things but I didn't think to grab the camera until near the end of our school time. Now, it's time for me to go get a little better organized for tomorrow!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Garden Update (Part 2)

 So, like I said in Part 1, there is a happy ending (though it's not really the end of the garden this year yet) to all the garden drama. Most of my plants have made a comeback - even the lettuce and I have been able to get plenty of good produce from most of the plants. I don't think I can really consider it organic anymore, but at least it's kind of close.

If you read some of my early garden posts, you know that I was having some trouble with some of my plants. For some reason that have not been able to figure out, my cucumber stems split from the ground all the way up and all died but one. It was a sad, pathetic looking little thing and I was fully expecting it to die as well. To my surprise, it survived and during the really hot spell last month, it took off and really began to thrive.
 We went from this (7/9)

 To this (7/29)

 To this (8/8)

To this (8/25)

 To this (8/31)

To this today! (9/3) It's eaten up now, but it was about 8 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter. It was so good! I am also thrilled that there are at least 3 more coming. Yeah, it's not much, but considering I thought they were all lost, this is a big deal for me! 

Then there was my zucchini. It also looked pretty sad at first but it also started to take off during the August hot spell. 

 We went from sad & spindly to...
to producing...
to yummy!
As of tonight, I have 5 or 6 more coming. I am looking forward to having zucchini in my freezer for breads, brownies & casseroles through the coming months.

The rest of the garden is looking pretty good too.
I have 5 or 6 baby watermelons. I hope at least one gets big enough to eat before the weather turns.

 The snap peas are just about finished for the year but they sure have been a yummy treat all summer long.

 I have at least one more meal coming from the green & purple beans.

It looks like we will be getting another pepper. These are supposed to be a variety of colors so I am looking forward to seeing if this one is something other than green.

 And check out the flowers on my purple potato plants. I never knew potato flowers were so pretty. I have 4 purple & 9 white potato plants. I can't wait to pull some of these out of the ground!

After picking through all my lettuce and pulling off & discarding the outer painted leaves, it recovered and is now producing lots of healthy paint-free leaves. All but 4 of my broccoli plants were destroyed by the nefarious stray cat and they are looking pretty iffy. I was considering pulling some of the less successful plants and planting a fall garden, but after all the drama, I honestly don't have it in me this year. I plan to regroup and refresh my spirit over the winter and give my all to a new garden in the spring. Until then, I will enjoy the harvest (though small) the earth has given us this season. I have learned many lessons in this process and will be that much wiser for next year's garden.


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