Archive for February, 2011


week in review

   Posted by: liz    in classical conversations, homeschooling

“why do you always talk about what your kids are learning each week?”

when you are 100% responsible for your child’s education, and when you are an overly organized, crazy about documenting ANYTHING mother like me in the first place, you tend to make note of what you’ve learned. homeschooling blogs are all over the internet and we like to see how we teach our kids, get ideas from each other, and see how other homes incorporate different or similar curriculum. and the PA homeschool law is probably the strictest (each state has their own), so i’m practicing for when i have to turn in my legal paperwork for the first time (next year!).

our week was a good one, despite the single-digit temperatures. in addition to our monday morning co-op, we had a field trip this week as well, and then i cooped us all up inside for two days straight as the temps bore down hard with a cold wind. by last night we were all ready to get outside again, so hopefully today will see us out and about a bit (rollerblading this afternoon!).

we had a friend over for dinner (company!) on monday (Molly) who was just about to leave for vietnam for five months. she used to babysit the boys when she lived in town, and we’ve kept in touch as she’s gone through college. this morning, she skyped us from Ho Chi Minh City!  we had a great time looking the city up on our world map and relating its distance to us and to the countries we’re learning to draw this week (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, former East Prussia).  while Molly was visiting, the boys were so excited to re-enact the science experiments they did in class that morning.

thank goodness our copy of Janice VanCleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre and Incredible Experiments arrive in the mail this week so we could make concrete and “do and redo” the molecular and energy-conducting experiments we did on monday. i’m eagerly awaiting our Great Artists book to arrive (due today!) for our “Fine Art Fridays” enrichment activities.

for more great science fun, have you seen Beakman’s World?  its four seasons are streaming on netflix and each episode is packed full of science facts and fun experiments. we’ve re-enacted experiments from that show as well in the comfort of our kitchen.

this week was our official start of real math lessons for adam. our curriculum starts at a very basic level and stresses the importance of starting with numbers before the child begins to count (as counting by ones is a hard habit to break when learning how to add in your head). our first few lessons, recognizing bundles of objects by 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s, was met with much pomp and circumstance by all the boys. the older two boys loved sitting in on our lessons, and helped me with teaching.

we’ll be busy this weekend making valentine cookies, cards and crafts. iv’e already been gifted with a lovely paper heart from adam, and we can’t wait to get our heart shaped cookie cutters out.

have a romantic, love-filled weekend!


surprised by snow

   Posted by: liz    in family fun

we had a field trip planned for yesterday morning and OH! how i dragged my feet about going!  it was 20 degrees outside, the roads were snow covered, and the field trip was a hike outside for two hours. not really my idea of family! fun!

i planned and organized the winter outing (which included snow-shoeing!), so i couldn’t really back out on everyone because i didn’t feel like going. so, i pushed forward through my unwillingness, and began packing up our snow clothes, warmed up the van and off we went, just in time.

once i got to a major road (we’ve got about 8 miles of “back roads” before we hit a major road), the drive was fine. and once we got there, the environmental center, which is in the middle of the woods, was like a snow globe…each tiny branch on the trees covered with snow. so quiet.

the group ended up being about 5 students short, so the staff had to rearrange our tour. every one of us got a pair of snow shoes…the littlest kids had “bear claw” snow shoes which i found to be adorable.

i froze…yes i had two pair of wool socks on and i still froze. but i wasn’t doing this for me. i wasn’t even doing this because it was the right thing to. i don’t even know the WHY of me walking around in snow shoes on one of the coldest days of the year, but that doesn’t matter. the sun was glorious, i got to spend time with my littlest one while my two older boys were able to walk around in the “big kid” group without their mama.

when sawyer walked back in from their walk and exclaimed, “that was awesome!” and when adam kept reaching for my hand during our walk, i knew that making the not-so-easy decision was the right decision.

leaving my comfort zone, my oh-so warm comfort zone, is demanded of me. as i shivered through our snowflake investigation, i remembered reading something about parenting lately that struck me deeply:

“[parents] live in the midst of holy teachers. sometimes they throw tantrums, whine…sometimes they cuddle and kiss us…In the good and the bad they mold our hearts, shape our souls, and invite us to experience God in newer and deeper ways.”
ary thomas/ sacred parenting

it’s one of those mysteries of the faith. perhaps not as mysterious as the creation of the world or God in the flesh…but the daily, juxtaposed mystery of finding more joy (or earthly satisfaction) in living for others.

i am ashamed to admit to you how unwilling i am daily to live this way. let’s just say i’m working on it. when i finally give in and do something that i fight against because “i just don’t want to,” i am surprised at how wrong i was in resisting in the first place: i’m shocked at how much i enjoyed the field trip yesterday! i was in such a good mood after the field trip that we splurged and went out for lunch before returning home.


obligatory monthly farm pictures

   Posted by: liz    in farm

the sheep love to eat, especially when it’s cold. they need as much energy as possible keep warm. yes, that wool keeps them warm, and even the donkey, without the wool, stays warm in the bitter temps. but it helps to stay warm when you’ve had a good amount of hay and water!

the animals normally greet us by walking up to the gate when they hear us open and close the house doors. but if the snow is too deep, they wait inside the barn, or meet us at the barn door.

of course i have my favorite!  violet, who is really dark brown, nearly black, but the wool grows out brown. we suspect sun bleaching, but aren’t completely sure. this is western pennsylvania, afterall. sun is not seen so much during the winter. she is always sporting the most hay and straw stuck to her wool during the winter.

we’ve had to lock the goats in their pen in the barn for the last several weeks. they were getting very greedy at feeding time, and with those horns, the sheep and donkey were afraid of them!

it’s so easy caring for sheep during spring, summer and early fall. it’s the winter that will test your dedication to hobby farming!


a cooking challenge

   Posted by: liz    in food

a long time ago, in a galaxy….nevermind.

a long time ago, i stole or borrowed (not sure which) my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. it’s straight out of the Cold War. no, the 60′s free love revolution. i’m actually not sure how old it is because i can’t find any copyright information in it. i looked it up and found out it’s at least worth $63 and i guarantee you it’s not because of the quality of the recipes inside!

i’ve made a few things from this cookbook before. but only in the dessert section. my brother Andrew and I made the Bonnie Butter Cake found in the cakes and frostings section of the book. It’s a mammoth of a cake and melt-in-your mouth delicious, as long as you eat it the same day it’s made. it’s hard as a rock the second day, so make sure you make it for company.

this book refers to guests as “company” not as “entertaining” or “hospitality.” I remember when we used to call guests “company” and we’d “visit” with them in the dining room after the meal (translation: sit and talk after the meal).

this book is chock-full of fabulous meal ideas for your company! begin the meal with clever small plates and appetizers like “Petals ‘N Pickles.” other mouth-watering recipes included are, “Frosted Liverwurst Pate,” “Ambrosia” and “Sunburst Salad.”  You know you’ve been searching your mom’s and grandmom’s recipe lists for that jello salad that has the shredded carrots….it’s Sunburst Salad!

The writers for the Betty Crocker cookbook are sure to bring a smile to your face and a tickle to you heart. They truly believe that food is the means to all happiness:

Watch early-morning moodiness dissolve into a sunny smile. All of these sweet breads can turn the trick – and they can do it even faster when served piping hot with plenty of BUTTER.”

“No perfume can compare with the heady aroma of homemade white bread!”

“Mary’s sleeping over! Jim’s bringing a GIRL home from college! You’ve asked friends to come for brunch after church. Or you just woke up this morning so full of goodwill that you wanted to make the day special. That’s the day for any one of  the good things in this section. Our testers tell us they’re delicious!”

“Meat: your meals and your budget revolve around it.”

“Simple, classic salads! Slimming, health-brimming salads! Crisp, cool salads! Bright, sparkling salads! Taste-tempting salads! You’ll find your skill with a salad makes its own contribution to the quality of life in your house.”

There is even a “recipe” for frozen vegetables in the Vegetable section that basically tells you to read the back of the frozen vegetable package. Brilliance!

I am considering making a whole meal from this cookbook once or twice over the next few weeks. Starting with the appetizer, main course with side salad and vegetable dish, and dessert. You can join me! Photograph your dish, and make it look like the one from your Betty Crocker cookbook. Don’t have one? There’s bound to be a fantastic 1960s cookbook at your local library just waiting for you to check out.

More details to come. But first, I leave you with more Crocker goodness.

Appetizers: A special little something any old night to tell your favorite family, “I’m so glad you came home!”

We used to make Sukiyaki a lot.

Galaxy Cookies!  Otherwise known as sprinkle cookies.

I think it would be fun to document meals made from an entirely different era. Go find yourself a great cookbook and let me know if you’ll be joining me!

on monday morning this week, i woke up to make cinnamon rolls for the boys as we had to be out of the house (that’s me and three boys) by 8:00 at the very latest. normally, the boys are getting out of bed between 7:45 and 8:00, so this was a giant feat. and i needed to shower.

when the rolls were in the oven, i ran through the shower, then woke the boys up at 7:00. by the time they were awake, the rolls were ready to be frosted. it all went so smoothly. then i remembered that i had to pack a lunch! and we didn’t get out of the house to grocery shop this weekend, so i needed help coming up with snacks to go with the sandwiches on the last bit of bread we had left. fortunately, my superhero husband popped up some popcorn and we rustled up the last apple and poured some milk in a thermos and we were good to go.

i need to plan better on sunday night for our future monday mornings.

i’ve never had a problem with mondays. i love our week days. i love our weekends too. but now, our mondays are our favorite day of the week!

it’s the day where we meet with 30-some other students and begin recitation of a history timeline starting with the beginning of time. we’re up to the “First Intermediate Period of Egypt” and hearing your 4-year-old say that is just hilarious. :) we pledge allegiance to the flag, we pray, we sing, we break into smaller classes where for 2 1/2 hours incredibly gifted and generous tutors (who are other homeschooling moms or dads of the group) spend time with small groups of our children, introducing them to the grammar, the language of geography, latin, history, math, english grammar, and science. if that’s not enough, they also do an art lesson AND a science experiment or two in each class.

then we break for lunch, recess, and are free to go. this is how Classical Conversations works, and we are finally a part of this community. i couldn’t be more thrilled. and this won’t be the last time i post about it, i’m sure!

this week we also made a groundhog craft:it’s a groundhog coming out of his hole and NOT SEEING HIS SHADOW!  the craft instructions said nothing of cotton around the rim of the cup, but we all know there is a lot of snow on the ground (and we live near punxatawney!), so i pulled out my trusty glue-gun and our craft had snow.

when i asked adam why he didn’t look at the camera and smile for the picture he said, “because the groundhog is already looking at the camera and smiling!” oh.

i’m loving the addition of geography to our daily lessons. i love watching them pull our our giant world map and point out “the netherlands” to me. during our prayer request time this morning. i asked them to pray for my friend naomi who was to leave Egypt this morning. later this afternoon she update her facebook status to say she made it out of Egypt and to Amsterdam where she’ll leave to head back to the States tomorrow. i told the boys that she made it out safely and told them that Amsterdam was in the Netherlands. and if not for our geography lessons, they would have thought that Amsterdam was a few streets over.

this morning, adam asked me if we could start math lessons. i told him “SURE! let’s do it now!” to which he responded, “not today. next week, sometime.” i don’t think he knows exactly when next week is, but i’m ready to start him on level A of our math. it will be sweet to go back to the beginning of math again. kindergarten math is so sweet compared to the complexity of 2nd grade math.

it’s been a good week. we’ve had ice and snow, but not nearly the extent that a lot of the country had it. we had a snow-fall of 18″ last february and i’d rather go another 5 or 10 years before that happens again!


“A light to Reveal You to the Nations…”

   Posted by: liz    in faith, family

It is just before 7:00 a.m. as I type this, and the sky to the east (to my right) is just beginning to lighten. This is the earliest I’ve seen light at this hour in a long time. So no matter what the groundhog says, I am content to know that spring is right around the corner!

I found Rembrandt’s work (to the left) of Simeon in the Temple purely by accident. The boys all touched on Rembrandt in their co-op on Monday, and I wanted to show them some more works of his. When I found this, I was amazed at how many paintings of New Testament stories he painted in his lifetime. This one is thought to have been his last.

It’s been 40 days since Christmas, which makes today the Celebration of the Feast of our Lord or the Feast of the Purification or Candlemas. (Another reason I am including this painting in this post)! It is the day to bless the candles in the church, or in your home, and say the song of praise of Simeon (whose words are always on our lips as we sing the Nunc Dimitis):

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.

So whether you celebrate six more weeks of winter or an early spring, whether you bless the candles in your home or remember the faith of Simeon and Anna in the temple when they beheld the Messiah, think on the light that this day celebrates: more light returning to our days and the light of the Messiah, revealing God to the nations.


Hay and Straw

   Posted by: liz    in farm

Yesterday, Kenny and I worked together to stash away our second delivery of hay in the barn (okay, he did all the work, I was merely the hay loft organizer). Hopefully these bales will last us well into spring, so the pasture has time to get thick and juicy for the summer months of grazing.

The barn smelled of autumn again, with the addition of these meaty bales of nourishment. With the ice and snow to come today, it was a bit of a tease as it smelled of 60-degree weather (but certainly didn’t feel it!). The animals were locked in their pens munching on grain and a few flakes of hay while we worked to store their food. I noted at how peaceful and quiet it was in the barn as they munched away, making no other sound. Humans have a tendency to make such noise when they add their voices to a peaceful barn.

I was born and raised within city limits. “Country” was at least an hour drive and seldom visited. I preface this post with that information because I’m embarrassed about some of the lessons I learned just recently about hay and straw, namely that they AREN’T the same!

Hay and straw are COMPLETELY different, even though they (only slightly) look the same when cut (in bales). At the end of this post, you will know which is which in the below picture:

Hay is full of green grasses (like alfalfa or timothy) and it give animals all the nutrients and food they need in winter months.
Straw is merely empty stalks of grasses (such as wheat or barley), and animals don’t eat it, they sleep on it.

Hay is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. You give animals a few flakes at feeding time – not the whole bale (or you’ll have run out by January).
Straw is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. Obviously farmers use the same machine to cut and bale straw as they do hay.

Hay bales are roughly 40 lbs each and very hard to get up into the hay loft if you are weak, like me. Unless you have a brilliant husband who invents a pully system.
Straw bales are roughly 20 lbs each, and make you feel really strong if you think you are carrying hay.

Hay is cut three times in a growing season, and “second cuts” is the most nutritious.
Straw is only cut when the wheat or barely or corn is dried out (usually once a season).

Hay bales are greenish brown.
Straw bales are a bright yellow.

So now you are well-versed in a few of the differences between hay and straw. I hope this information is helpful to some of you. I wish I had read it five years ago. I would have impressed the neighbor farmers more with this knowledge, although they’re good people around here, and don’t generally laugh at you when you ask for some straw to feed your animals.