Friday, June 16, 2017

Cut-off Shorts and Drawstring Pants

Every time the seasons shift, the kids and I go through the tedious chore of going through our huge off-season clothing tub and forcing the children to try on anything that looks like it might fit.

Will loathes this chore as much as anyone can hate something that's not facism, and requires at least one, and sometimes two, Come to Jesus talks before she can finally bring herself to do--the horror!--Something That She Does Not Want To Do.

The pro to this is that she'll wear anything that fits. Just does not care. Literally pulls the top items out of her shirts bin and pants bin and puts those items on and wears them, utterly oblivious to how she looks. Syd, on the other hand, although she is happy to try on all the clothes that I present to her, is far pickier about what she'll actually wear, and since by the time something is her size, it either goes to her or to the donation bag, there's more in-depth conversation about what might go with what else in her wardrobe, if something that she doesn't like now would be improved with a stencil or the judicious application of scissors or perhaps with vat dyeing, if maybe she'd rather wear it in the winter with something warmer underneath, etc.

You'll be simply shocked, I'm sure, to know that my wardrobe is a lot more simple. I made do with one pair of shorts last summer, but I wanted more this summer, so I went to Goodwill, found three pairs of pants that I liked, bought them, took them home, cut them off at the knees--

--and hemmed them. Done and done!

I also wear a lot of drawstring jammies around the house, so I figured that while I was at the sewing table, I might as well mend the ones whose drawstrings worked their way out over the past few months:


and done!

If you've never replaced a drawstring before, here's how to do it--it's super easy.

So that's our summer wardrobe taken care of, although I know that the kids long for more leggings, their favorite piece of clothing to wear (also the most fragile, easily stained and highly prone to tears, grr!). Leggings are actually pretty quick and easy to make, and I've even figured out a way to make them out of old T--shirts, so they're for sure on my to-do list...

Maybe for winter, though.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Homeschool Science: Yeast is Alive

The other day, Syd and I were baking bread together. She was making peasant bread for that night's dinner, and I had found that inexplicably, I have flaxseed in my pantry (where do I get these things?!?), and so I was making up the dough for a whole wheat and flaxseed bread recipe that I'd found on Pinterest.

I was pretty excited, because the dough also calls for steel-cut oats, which are all I have. Recipes NEVER call for the kind of oats that I have!

Although we've made that peasant bread recipe several times, it occurred to Syd on this day to ask why it has sugar in it, if the bread isn't sweet.

"The yeast eats it," I said, attention about one-quarter on her and three-quarters on my recipe. It calls for so many odd ingredients that I own but rarely use!

As soon as I finished speaking, the entire world seemed to pause, and then Syd belted out, "You mean yeast is ALIVE?!?"

It turned out to be the perfect afternoon for an impromptu homeschool science lesson!

Yes, yeast is alive. It's a lovely little fungi--in fact, it's this lovely little fungi.

I don't always encourage Wikipedia as a reference, but it's a great resource when studying living organisms, because there each entry has the entire order of classification; we like to click down the order, seeing how the categories narrow and how each species fits more specifically as they do, until finally you're left with just that one specific species of baker's yeast.

Brainpop also has an excellent video about fungi, with a lot of mentions of yeast. Syd really enjoyed it, and then came and told me all about athlete's foot while I was trying to eat lunch.

Years ago, Syd and I explored anaerobic respiration with yeast, so we repeated that same demonstration of putting a yeast and sugar solution into a bottle, then fitting a balloon over the lip of the bottle:

First there's not much to see, but after a few minutes there's already a change--

--and after an hour there's a BIG difference! That anaerobic respiration consumes sugar and expels carbon dioxide. It looks like this:

We made a second solution of yeast, sugar, and water, and as soon as that one was nice and frothy, we got out our microscopes to take a few peeks.

I LOVE our digital microscope, and we use it tons, but it wasn't suitable for viewing actual yeast cells. What we COULD see with it, however, was pretty cool--we could see the bubbles of carbon dioxide forming!

The halo of lights that you see in each bubble is not miraculous new life, but the reflection of the lights on the microscope. Syd was less wowed after I explained that to her.

Our Brock magiscope just got us to the 400x threshold for viewing the actual yeast cells. If Will continues to homeschool through high school, I am going to have to shell out for a more sophisticated microscope, but I will not be surprised if the Brock magiscope can see us completely through the middle school years.

Syd's not always terribly interested in the microscope, so this was one of her first times preparing her own slide. She kept wanting to mistake those same bubbles for the yeast cells, but I kept encouraging her to look past them, to look for the tiny dots in the background.

She found them!

I love watching a kid's absorbed face as she learns something new.

Even though the fact that yeast is a living organism was what blew Syd's mind, she's a baker at heart, and so of course we also had to explore yeast's role in baking. I saved this experiment to try another time, but instead the kids and I watched the Good Eats episode, "Dr. Strangeloaf," and then Syd and I finished our various bread loaves while Will...

Well, Will made lemon bars. There's no yeast in lemon bars, but they ARE delicious!

P.S. Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page! I share most of my homeschooling and crafty resources there.

Friday, June 9, 2017

I Also Made Girl Scout Perler Bead Cake Toppers

Because why pack for Greece when I can spend half the day making something that I won't need until October?

It's for the simple reason that there the kid sat, all companionable and listening to Sherlock Holmes audiobooks with me. How could I pass up the opportunity to blow off all the chores that I *need* to do and instead do something fun with my kid?

Even though I need to make another "4" cake topper before I turn 44 in three years, I decided that it would be ridiculous to make something that wasn't needed until 2020; instead, I made something that isn't needed until October, 2017:

Trefoil cake toppers for all of the girls in my Girl Scout troop!

I'm pretty proud of the design, which I futzed around with teeny Perler beads for a while to figure out. Happily, the design that I figured out also happened to be large enough that I was able to futz around and figure out how to add a monogram for each girl. The "A" and the "M" were the hardest to come up with:

And after all of these cake toppers, I finally got enough practice ironing that they mostly look pretty good. Ironing Perler beads is harder to get right than you'd think!

The plan is to make a cake something like this one for our Bridging ceremony in the fall, and have each girl's own cake topper on the part that represents her new level.

Perhaps I should also put the year on, since I have these lovely number cake toppers, you know...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I Made Perler Bead Cake Toppers For The Next 59 Years

Handicrafts afternoon with Syd went well.

So well, in fact, that we spent this morning in handicrafts, too, back at the playroom table and messing around with Perler beads.

We listened to Homer Price, then the NPR Road Trips CD, then some Sherlock Holmes. Syd made a giant Perler bead dolphin that is one of the annoying things about Perler beads, because where on earth is she going to put a giant Perler bead dolphin, and then a 3D Rubik's Cube that I have no problem finding a place for because it's awesome.

And I? Somehow I got sucked down into the vast rabbit hole of Perler bead cake toppers.

We always use my homemade rolled beeswax birthday candles for our birthday cakes (and so should you!), but I've been kind of wishing that I had something that would show ages, as well, because those big number candles are super cute. I started out trying to recreate the number candle--

--but it looked too on the nose, so I tore off the flame, and then made a whole set of digits 0-9, each number in its own colorway:

I could have gotten by for a couple of years with just the numbers 0-4, but what can I say? I'm a completionist! Anyway, they came together quickly enough, especially while listening to Sherlock Holmes, that it wasn't a chore to make the whole set.

I'm happy that I made each number its own colorway, so that nothing looks mismatched, because everything looks mismatched. Here's what the cake toppers will look like on Will's next birthday:

And then it's my turn--

And then it's Matt's--

--and before we know it, we'll be back around to Syd again!

And if you think that I stopped making cake toppers right there... well, another time I'll show you what I made for my Girl Scout troop!

P.S. Here's what I used for this project:

Pro tip: Do NOT buy the big bin of assorted Perler beads, even though it's cheapish. It is no fun to sort all of those tiny beads, believe me. Buy the small single-color bags, and spend your life doing something you enjoy.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How-to: Make a DIY Honey Stick, If It's Really Important To You

My kids loooooove honey sticks! Whenever we go to the farmer's market, they always ask to buy 1) kettle corn and 2) honey sticks. I sometimes say yes to the kettle corn (it's spendy), but I always say yes to the honey sticks, because they're cheap. The honey stand at the farmer's market is actually the first place that the kids shopped at independently when they were just preschoolers, standing in line with a quarter each in their hot little hands (they've since gone up a bit, but are still less than a buck), picking out a honey stick and paying all by themselves, the woman running the cash box utterly thrilled, I'm sure, to receive damp and sweaty coins from the filthy hands of small children.

The kids just suck their honey sticks right down, of course, but I've long had the idea that a honey stick would also make an excellent single-serving container for the little cartons of Greek yogurt that we sometimes like to take out and about. So I tried my hand at making my own honey stick, and it's actually not hard, just tedious and annoying.

You will need:

  • a clear plastic straw
  • honey. I toyed with the idea of warming raw honey so I could pour it, but instead I simply used our regular container of honey with its little squeezey opening.
  • needle nose pliers and lighter
1. Use the pliers to hold one end of the straw, maybe a centimeter from the end:

My photos are kind of crap, because clear straws are hard to focus on, and also I needed both of my hands for this project.

2. Burn the end of the straw with the lighter, then drop the lighter in the dirt and slide the pliers to the end of the straw, pressing to seal it well. Repeat if you need to, because it just needs to be sealed; it doesn't need to look pretty!

This part took me a few tries, because you do have to move quickly in order to get your hand off of the lighter and onto the straw so you can move the pliers before the melted plastic hardens. I halfway thought about setting up my blowtorch for this, but I probably don't need to burn down my neighborhood just to make a honey straw.

3. Slowly pour honey into the straw. The opening of our bottle was just a smidge larger than the width of the straw, so I just held both steady and poured the honey in at a trickle. When you've got it full to your satisfaction, repeat the sealing process on the other side of the straw.

You can test it by squeezing the bottom end very, very gently--if you see a small bubble of honey come out, then reseal it. Flip it over and test the other side. I had to do this a couple of times for both sides, and it was a huge pain in the butt, but it did work in the end.

Verdict: do-able, in that I now have a honey stick to eat while out and about. It didn't even take *that* long to do. BUT it was super annoying, and hella frustrating, although to be fair that sealing part would surely come much easier with practice. So while I *can* DIY my own honey sticks, and it would probably be worth it if I had my own hive, or to do in smaller containers if I wanted to take little packets of raw honey camping, say, to use as an antibiotic ointment (which I don't, because Neosporin doesn't attract bugs to my cuts), but when I can buy a whole honey straw of local honey from the farmer's market for less than a dollar?

Well, I'll still probably make my own, because I AM that cheap, but I won't insist to the children that we have to make our own instead of letting them buy one each at the farmer's market, how about that?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Work Plans for the Week of June 5, 2017: Homeschooling 1.5 Kids

Our summer homeschool schedule is in full swing! Last week we completed not just a three-day school week, but also a full-day field trip to the zoo and another whole afternoon at the local swimming pool with friends, and we spent part of the weekend showing this suddenly practically grown up kid how to navigate our local university's campus to find her biology class that begins this week.

Even on a Sunday, the campus was crawling with freshmen being oriented with their families, marveling at the sites and doing scavenger hunts on their smartphones and asking us for directions, and taking lots and lots and lots of photos of their soon-to-be freshmen all over campus.

Since we had Luna with us, we decided that Luna, too, was a soon-to-be freshman having her freshman orientation, and so with great excitement, we posed her all over campus and took her photo at all the iconic spots:

Syd was also super busy this weekend--her dream was to run a bake stand near the entrance to the drive-in and before its weekend movies. She baked all day on Friday, and ran her stand both Friday and Saturday evenings:

It was a modest success and a huge learning experience, but enough work that Syd is still debating if she wants to try it again.

This week, thanks to her adventures in biology, Will is really only going to be homeschooling with us for two full days. I'm looking forward to the chance to spend some one-on-one time with Syd, both so that I can give her more encouragement to focus on the book work that she likes to sneak away from when I'm distracted by Will, and so that we can spend more time doing the hands-on projects that she loves so much.

Our memory work for the week is really just measurement conversions--how fun to be on the verge of wrapping up another semester!--and Books of the Day this week are mostly books about Greece (of course!), but also a selection or two on the Celts, whom the kids remain in love with. Of course!

Other daily work includes typing practice with, keyboard lessons and practice with Hoffman Academy, progress on their MENSA reading lists, creative writing for Syd and cursive copywork for Will (next semester I'm going to have to create or buy a rhetoric program for Will, since she refuses to write regularly), and SAT prep through Khan Academy for Will.

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: In Math Mammoth this week, Syd is still doing geometry and Will is still reviewing percents. She'll be finishing pre-algebra this summer so that she can start Algebra 1 in the fall, and that's the main reason why I'm asking her to keep plugging away in her math even on her biology class days. Math, SAT prep, Greek review, and her Book of the Day shouldn't take her more than an hour or so to finish, though, so she should be able to manage it all without feeling overworked, especially if she gets off her butt and does it this morning like I'm asking her to, instead of waiting until she comes home tonight hungry and tired and done with interacting with other humans.

Syd has a full schedule on this day, including the rest of her daily work and a new curriculum of Greek and Latin roots that I'm borrowing from the university library to try out while Will is between Wordly Wise books (she's finished Book 7, and I won't assign Book 8 until next semester). At a glance, I doubt that it's something that we'd use consistently, but it looks like it might be a workable pick-up-and-go solution that I can turn to when we're between semesters, or in gap weeks.

We're still using Greek123 for Greek, although I need to add in much more alphabet recognition and phonics drills in the next few weeks, because my goal is that we should at least be able to sound out Greek words while we're in Greece, and our curriculum is introducing letters so slowly that we won't have covered the full alphabet with it alone before we leave. For alphabet practice, I like these worksheets, and for phonics, we watch these videos over and over again.

In Girl Scouts, Syd will be bridging to Cadette in the fall, and, as always, there are still so many things that she wants to do as a Junior first! We've also recently learned that Girl Scouts can earn retired badges, which brings the possible badges to explore and try up to... oh, infinity? On this day, Syd can plan what activities she wants to complete to earn the retired Outdoor Cook badge. She enjoys cooking enough that she'll likely want to do the actual activities in her free time--hopefully at dinnertime, so that I don't have to cook!

Playing with Perler beads is just a chance for Syd and I to sit down and hang out together. I know that as homeschoolers, we're together more than most eleven-year-olds and their mothers, but I still feel like it's easy to slip into each of us doing our own thing in different parts of the house or yard, coming together mainly when I want her to help me with a chore or do her schoolwork or eat a meal or watch a video with me. So I'm deliberately making time to do stuff that Syd likes when it's just us together.

That is, if she still wants to hang out with me when she knows that I'm also going to make her go through all of her clothes with me today, too!

TUESDAY: Will doesn't have class on this day, so this is my chance to get through the material that I want to cover with both kids this week.

The kids have been working on this Junior Archaeologist badge for a couple of weeks already, but it's a lot more rigorous than most Junior Ranger badges, and calls for several hands-on activities--in particular, an excavating exercise that requires each child to excavate one of our trash bins and make some educated guesses about the society that produced this trash. The kids have been putting off that one, I'm sure you can guess why, so I believe that it's now the only activity left in their book. Guess that they'll have to do it on this day, then!

I LOVE the Greco-Persian Wars, and I'm SUPER excited that we're covering it this week! On our trip, we'll be near Marathon but likely won't go there, but there's a slim chance that we could visit Thermopylae on our driving tour, and anyway, the wars are fascinating and awesome. On this day, the kids will read the account of the wars in Story of the World volume 1, answer the reading comprehension questions, complete the mapwork on our road map of Greece, and add the timeline figures to the timeline that we made last week. I'll show you that timeline another day, but I'll just tell you right now that I love it.

Our extra math on this day isn't really hands-on, but it is an interesting exploration of pi in geo-historical context. The idea is that the kids calculate the ratios that were used for pi by various societies over time, and evaluate them based on their accuracy. It's also related to our Greek and History of Science studies, as we've previously studied--and tried for ourselves!--Archimedes method of finding pi using polygons.

WEDNESDAY: The entire family is planning a remodel of the children's bedroom, the bulk of which Matt and I will do while the kids are at sleepaway camp later this summer, but the kids are helping where they can. We've got some cute things that we'll be hanging in their windows, and I'll be sewing them some new curtains, so on this day Syd can help me wash their filthy windows, so that all of their new window treatments will look nice.

Syd and I have also been wanting to make the original Girl Scout cookie recipe for a while, AND I bought us a trefoil cookie cutter when we were in Savannah, so while Will is studying biology, Syd and I can bake cookies! While they're baking, we can hang out and Syd can finish the weaving that is one of her projects for the prehistory unit of our history of fashion study. I actually forced Will to finish up the UFO on our other peg loom this weekend, because I've been wanting to try my hand at small scale yarn weaving, too!

THURSDAY: I have a lot of books and videos that I want to show the kids to flesh out the Greco-Persian Wars, but this online timeline is the best that I've seen for making sense of a battle. Reading carefully through it and exploring the links should give them an excellent feel for what took place.

Our whole family still loves the working thermometer that the kids made, so I'm looking forward to adding a working barometer to our homemade meteorological tools, now that we've studied and modeled air pressure. And just in case you thought that I might gloss over the Byzantine Empire in our Medieval history study, because the kids are so interested in European history, you should know that 1) of course I'm not and 2) the monastery that we'll be visiting in Greece is an Eastern Orthodox one and so of COURSE I'm not going to gloss over the Byzantine Empire! We'll learn more about it and its religion on this day, and then the kids can try their hands at the most complicated mosaic-making that we've done so far.

Because Byzantine mosaics are complicated, y'all.

FRIDAY: Syd will have her spelling and vocabulary tests today (Will has hers on Thursday), but otherwise I'm hoping that we'll have a leisurely day, with just her daily work to attend to. Last Friday she spent the ENTIRE day working on her bake stand, so much so that she had to do Friday's school on the weekend, so if she wants to run her bake stand again, that will be her Friday again this week. If she doesn't, though, we can just finish up school, and then spend the afternoon however we wish.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Obedience school and Pony Club take up all of Saturday morning, which means that once again I'm not going to make it to the farmer's market, sigh. We could make it to the u-pick strawberry farm, though, and to the huge outdoor experiences festival that the kids look forward to every year. Syd may or may not be running a bake stand. Matt and I may or may not be building shelves for record albums or lofting the kids' bunk beds to make storage space underneath. The wall behind their bed used to be a closet, and so that's also a mess, uneven and mismatched to the rest of the room, and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to even it out so that I can do something with it.

Maybe I'll just sit and stare at it all day on Sunday until something comes to me.

What are YOUR plans for the week?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Yet Another Day at the Zoo

I know that zoo photos are really only interesting to the person who took them, but oh, well--here are a bunch of photos of our recent trip to the Indianapolis Zoo!

On the drive home, the kids sat in the backseat (just a few more weeks of backseat living for my almost teenager!) and discussed their plans for the future. Syd attested that although she really wanted to work with dolphins when she grew up, being a zookeeper would be a good career, too, and Willow agreed that although she really wanted to be a marine biologist, zookeeper would be an acceptable backup career for her, as well.

I'd call that a successful day at the zoo!


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