Friday, September 4, 2015

Edible Pine Cone Owl Snacktivity

The girls came in from playing in the rain last night, bedraggled but invigorated, and ready for a snack.

I decided it would be good time to try making edible pine cone owls.  We've made plane old pine cone owls before, of course, but now that the girls (ages 9 and 10) are getting older, they are ready for greater challenges.

First I showed them how to make edible pine cones following instructions from Handmade Charlotte, using pretzel sticks, Chocolate Toast Crunch cereal (our substitution for the Chocolate Fiber One cereal from the original recipe), and Nutella and peanut butter dough (click the link for the recipe and instructions).

Once we had our pine cones constructed, we let them firm up a little in the fridge (the dough gets soft when handled), while we prepared our owl making supplies - using... Oreo and Reese's Pieces for eyes...

...chocolate Tootsie Rolls squished and trimmed, with kitchen scissors, for wings...

...and orange and lemon Tootsie Rolls, also flattened and trimmed, for the beak and feet.

All of which...

...we carefully stuck to our pine cones...

...with small blobs of the left over dough.

Naturally, by the time the girls had finished crafting their owls, and a few extra pine cones (they are so much fun to make), they (along with their older sibs) had consumed enough pretzels, cereal, candy, and dough, that we decided to save their snacks for later.

We have a stormy weekend forecast, so there should be plenty of opportunity for working up appetites, and burning off all that sugar, while playing in the rain.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Taming of the Shrew - By the Seat of our Pants

We were fortunate to be able to end off our summer, and start into a new school year by attending a free "in the park" performance of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew - one of my personal favorites of Shakespeare's plays.

As you can see from the costumes, the Montana Shakespeare in the Parks troupe gave the play a Wild West setting.   They stuck to the original Elizabethan English (for the most part) though, and Kate was still delightfully shrewish...

...and, best of all, they left in the usually discarded bit, at the beginning, with Christopher Sly.

I was actually extremely happy to see the play set in the old American West, because it went right along with the impromptu Taming of the Shrew study we (the teens and I) had done in preparation for the play.

I wanted them to enjoy the experience of going to the play (you know - "the plays the thing" and all that), so I didn't dump them into a lot of heavy studies before we went.  At the same time though, I wanted them to be familiar enough with the story, and comfortable enough with the language, that they would be able to understand the comedy, and maybe even love it as much as I do. 

Up until this summer we've only touched on Shakespeare.  Last fall we read some out of William Shakespeare's Star Wars by Ian Doescher, reader's theater style, and learned about iambic pentameter, and some theatrical devices, such as asides, that Shakespeare liked to use (a huge hit).

And, the teens, at various times have checked out and read some of the abridged versions of the plays in the Manga Shakespeare series.  But, beyond that we haven't really done much with Shakespeare's plays or poetry.  I've tried to get the children interested a few different times, but they were turned off by the language (tragic, I know), and the age of the plays.

This time though, I gave it a good running, by the seat of my pants type start.

First off I handed them my grandmother's old copy of the Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (part of the  What Every Child Should Know Library).  Ours is an old volume (I read it myself in junior high), but newer printings can still be purchased.

Lamb's Tales are a fantastic introduction to Shakespeare for children (or reluctant teens).  The plays are all summarized into easily read, short story form, but still capture the themes and much of the feel of the original plays.

Once my teens had a grasp of the general story we moved onto the actual play, first reading a summary of the entire play, and of each act, and then reviewing the character map, and glossary of the more difficult vocabulary from CliffsNotes...

...and then the play in Elizabethan and modern English (side by side on opposite pages) from No Fear Shakespeare.  Honestly, I'm not crazy about the modern English version, but there are all kinds of little notes in the margins filling in background, and explaining customs, and details that you might normally just skim over without looking up.

As they became familiar with the play we watched the BBC performance of Taming of the Shrew, featuring John Cleese, on Amazon instant view (because who doesn't love John Cleese?).

And then, to gain a better understanding of the intricacies, and difficulties of the play for modern audiences, we watched "The Taming of the Shrew" episode of Shakespeare Uncovered,  narrated by by Morgan Freeman, and interspersed with his own personal experience of playing the lead (opposite Tracey Ullman, no less) in a Shakespeare in the Park production set in - the old American West.

This particular episode focuses in on the abusive chauvinist vs. empowering feminist fires of the play, and does an excellent job exploring them.
Finally, we checked out the modern remake, 10 things I hate about you, based loosely on The Taming of the Shrew.  Or, at least, we watched part of it.  The girls enjoyed seeing the characters, and some of their favorite lines, translated into a modern high school setting, but were turned off by the level of crassness in the movie, and turned it off before the end.

By this point all three of my teens (T joined in part of reading, even though he is in college now, and no longer studying with us - not to let the girls have all the fun) were familiar with The Taming Shrew

It was a quick (about one week) study, nothing like the fantastic "summer of Shakespeare" Claire has been posting about over at angelicscalliwags (you'll want to check out her posts if you haven't yet), but really built up an excitement in the house for going to see the play - which I am happy say, the teens enjoyed every bit as much as I did, despite a downright cold, gale force windy, forest fire smoke filled evening.

Waiting for the play to start.
There's nothing like homeschooling in Montana!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Leaf and Twig Fall Mobiles

We finally got around to turning our windfall of twigs into something artistic for autumn.

I placed them out on the table today, with yarn, and a pile of silk leaves.  At least I'm guessing they were silk.  They were fake, and from the craft store, anyway.

I explained the concept of a mobile to the younger girls (ages 9 and 10) who were too young to remember the last time we made mobiles, and demonstrated for them a how to piece together a pattern before they started assembling their projects.

I mixed the twigs and leaves back together (so as not to influence them too strongly with my own pattern selection), and let the girls go to work.  The last time we did a similar project was a few years ago (inspired at the time by Alexander Calder) when the older girls were just about the age the younger girls are now.  It was fun for me to see the younger girls (ages 9 and 10) expressing their own creative vision of a project their sisters had tackled previously.

E surprised me, and started off right away by tying two of the twigs into an X to hang leaves from...

...while C stuck with the simpler single twig starting point I had showed them.  C also went straight to taping her leaves to the yarn, while E gave a valiant try at sewing them on, so they would look better.

Sewing the leaves onto the yarn proved to be slightly more difficult than she was ready for though (you have to work hard to get them to hang right, and balancing a mobile is already a complicated feat in and of itself).  In the end, she relented, and taped her leaves to the yarn, as well.

It is possible to see the tape, but the completed projects are still striking.

Naturally though, I hung them in front of a sunny window, so you'll just have to take my word (and a few back-lit pictures) for it.

They really do look nice, and appropriately autumnal, hanging and twirling, ever so slowly in afternoon light.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fall Leaf To-Do List 2015

It's a little earlier than normal for us to put up our fall leaf tree - listing all the things we'd like to do before the leaves fall.  We've already spotted several trees along our street with leaves changing colors though, so we decided to get a jump on fall, and have our tree all ready for the first day of September.

Per our normal tradition, we printed one item from our fall to-do list on each of the construction paper leaves on the tree. As we complete each item, we hope to mark it off by removing the leaf from the tree and sticking it to the wall around the base of the tree

Then, in November, as the tree is growing bare, we will have room to put up our "thankful turkeys", so by Thanksgiving we should be all set with a Peanuts-inspired turkey tree decorating the dining room.

Our list (below) morphed a bit this year, from early-elementary crafts and sensory experiments to be filled more heavily with art projects, family fun, and even a few handy-man type tasks around the house.

Movies to Watch on DVD or Amazon (that we think have fall release dates):
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Inside Out 
San Andreas 
Shaun the Sheep

Must Watch Fall Flicks:
It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Movies Coming Out in the Theater (that might like to see):
Mockingjay Part 2
The Peanuts Movie

Donuts on a String
Tree identification walk
Fall leaf art project
Make the first fire of the season in the fireplace
Attend a fall festival
Go to the last farmer's market of the season
Taste the first snow
Rake leaves
Jump in a leaf pile
Do a puzzle on a stormy day
Grandma's visit
Create a pine cone (snacktivity)
Go to the homecoming parade
Kick a football
Host a game night
Gut a pumpkin
Decorate the porch for fall.

Taste a Zucchini
Roast pumpkin seeds
Drink a pumpkin latte
Sample a pumpkin milkshake
Make a pumpkin pie from scratch
Bake pumpkin muffins
Bake apple muffins
Have pumpkin pie for breakfast
Make gingerbread men (for first snow)
Make owl cookies (first day of fall)
Make homemade candy corn (on National Candy Corn Day)
Eat a pear
Make caramel apples
Have an apple tasting

Mom's birthday
Dad's birthday
Grandma's birthday
Grandma and Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary!!!
Columbus Day
Canadian Thanksgiving (with a Peanuts' feast)
National Candy Corn Day

We have a few other personal milestones and around the house, honey-do type things, and plenty of room left on the tree for all the things we forgot, but will think of later.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Building Pinecone Pyramids - Practicing Patience and Perseverance

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” ― Dale Carnegie

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.” ― Helen Keller

“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.” ― John Quincy Adams

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” ― Margaret Thatcher

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” --- Albert Einstein

 “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” ― Babe Ruth

“Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ― Thomas A. Edison

All quotes are from Good Reads "Quotes about Perseverance" except for the Albert Einstein quote.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Skeletal System Sewing Cards

Science is one of those subjects, that we're on the fence when it comes to unschool or not to unschool.  I generally like to follow the children's (or my own) interests into explorations and experiments, but I also like to keep an undercurrent of structured study going at the same time.

To that end, last winter and spring, I had the children reading a science page a day from Dorling Kindersley's Knowledge Encyclopedia (known in our house as "The Great Big Book of Everything"), and then following up their reading with a BrainPop video to match, capped off by the accompanying BrainPop quiz (more to hone their study skills than to actually test their knowledge).

Picking up this fall where they left off last spring, they've been reading about the human body, and yesterday read about the skeletal system.

As a quick go-along activity for my younger girls (ages 9 and 10) I decided to put together sewing cards, by printing a couple of labeled diagrams of the human skeleton...

...gluing them to cereal cardboard, and punching holes through, here and there (clearly taking some liberties where bones form circles, or are very tiny)...

...for the girls to sew through with some of the glow-in-the dark yarn we picked up earlier in the summer (a double strand works best).

So they can see their finished work, with labels, when the lights are on...

...or without labels, when the lights are off.

They glow so much better than the picture shows, too.  I'm completely geeking out over them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

House Cleaning Solutions - Cleaning Windows With Ease

I don't know about you, but I really like living in a clean house.  I just don't happen to enjoy the actual cleaning of the house.

So, just like looking for foods or products to take the stress out of lunches, I'm always on watch for little tricks to make cleaning faster or easier, especially now that we're back to school, and time is at a premium.

Usually you can't beat good old hard work, but every once and a while I come across a product that really works the way the packaging promises.  Windex's Outdoor All-In-One Glass Cleaning Tool (non-affiliate, for information only, link) is one of those products.  I've tried a number of window cleaning hacks and shortcuts, both homemade and professionally manufactured, but this is the first one I've really been pleased with.

I cleaned the outsides of all, 20 or so, of my windows (including having time to rinse off the screens) in less than a half an hour, the other day.  It was just a matter of spraying the window with the hose, wiping it down with the soapy, Swifter-like pad, and then rinsing the window back off (we are in a single story house over a basement, so no ladders).

The job wasn't completely perfect (there were little streaks here and there if I looked close), but considering the time it took - it was amazingly good, and sparkling clean.  The starter pack comes with one cleaning pad, so refills have to be purchased for each cleaning.  So far, I haven't found them in our local stores, but Amazon carries them. 

I wasn't paid for this opinion. I'm happy to share what time savers I find.  How about you?  Any go to household products you like to recommend to all your friends?  Believe me, I'd love to hear about them.