10 Fun Ways We've Learned and Played Recently

Oh my goodness, we’ve been busy!  Summer is just a blur around here, even with the pageant finally over.  It’s been nice, though, and it was cool and rainy for part of the week and I really liked that.  It makes it nicer for our nightly badminton games.  🙂

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to….

1.  Went to De Smet, SD, to check out Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home after Walnut Grove.

This is what’s left of the big, beautiful Silver Lake from Laura’s books.  It’s marsh land now, drained for agriculture by area farmers and further dried up by drought.

They are trying to protect/restore it now in order to have a habitat for water birds (hunting is a big part of the tourist industry in South Dakota) and because draining the lakes led to the land being vulnerable to floods and they’ve realized they need wetlands to protect the towns and farms.

2.  Watched another Wilder Pageant, the De Smet version.

The kids got to take a wagon ride before the show and got to meet the cast.  They also liked being in the audience for once!

It was so small compared to ours!

And it was a bit surprising to me that they had Santa in the cast!  🙂

We went there and back the same day and got home very late that night.  We didn’t think we could afford the trip if we stayed at a motel and it seemed like a waste if we were only going to be sleeping there anyway!  It was kind of fun having a road trip into the wee hours!

3.  Anna went to the library, the pool and her friend’s house today. Her friend called and said, “You’re finally home!  You’ve been busy for like three years!”.  It does seem like it!

4.  Jack has been having a blast with these giant Tinker Toys. My aunt gave them to me when the girls were tiny and they were buried in the garage.  I’ve been cleaning out the garage this week and I knew the pefect boy to show them to!  Here’s the robot we built together.

5.  The girls have been reading and reciting poetry. They are both on a poetry kick and have been arguing over who gets to read aloud at night before bed!  Yes, my girls will even argue about reading poetry.  🙂  It doesn’t hurt that we have some beautiful little poetry books covered in velvet and embossed leather, plus picture books of classic poems that are wonderfully illustrated.  Current favorites– The Highwayman, Annabelle Lee, The Raven, Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Shakespeare.

6.  Anna and I made a million squash blossom dishes. She was such a great sous chef!  She hand washed and cleaned every blossom to remove the bitter stamens and then we stuffed some with a ricotta mixture, battered them and fried them.  You can read our results in the comments of the squash post a few days ago.  We weren’t that impressed.  🙂  Next time we’re just going to use them as pretty toppings!

Filling the flowers!

Filled, twisted and ready to be battered…

Topping our pesto veggie crazy-crust pizza…

The pizza was a big hit!  Victoria wants me to make it every night, but she’s easy to please.  Here’s what it looks like when you eat flowers for dinner.

It was still a fun experiment and we learned a lot about plant fertilization, male and female blossoms, etc.!

7.  We played Snail Pace (or Snail Race or something like that!). My grandma sent this game today and the kids liked it a bit but I am really not impressed.  It says that it’s non-competitive and I really do like that sort of game but egads, I just thought it was the dullest game ever.  You line up 6 colored snails and roll colored dice to see which snail you move forward.  Everybody takes turns rolling, moving snails and guessing who’s going to win.  That’s it.  It’s supposed to be for kids ages 3 to 7 but I’m not sure what 7 year old would really get excited about this.  I think we might pass it on to the local Head Start or another family.

8.  We made homemade butter. Jack and Daddy did the first batch after learning how at the Walnut Grove family festival.  Then the girls each made a batch of their own.

Straining the buttermilk out…

Make sure you rinse your finished butter lots under fresh cold water and press it all out.   It will mold if any buttermilk remains!


9.  Cooking, cooking, cooking! Yesterday we made a giant batch of the most delicious walnut basil pesto from the farmers’ market basil haul.  We get it from the man we call The Purple Bean Guy because he sells purple beans that we love.  We did a taste test of his purple, green and yellow beans one week.  He’s a really fun guy with a wonderful spirit and he sells enormous bags of gorgeous herbs for 75 cents each.  We also made zucchini muffins, zucchini cake, deviled eggs (from farm fresh eggs from “Those Crazy Goat Ladies” at the FM — and yes, that’s their business name!), refrigerator cukes,…. tons of wonderful foods!

10.  Inviting in some guests! Victoria found a miniscule little monarch caterpillar egg on a milkweed leaf in the yard the other day.  She’s been on the lookout for them!  She brought it in, leaf and all, and put it in a jar with a cloth cover (air can get in, caterpillars can’t get out!).  Today we had an itty bitty caterpillar in there, so tiny you had to squint to see him!  Victoria went out to get him a fresh leaf and accidentally brought in another little egg.  Let the butterfly season begin.  🙂

(Looks like I need to dust!)  🙂

It is now 11:30 and every single one of my children is awake!  Ack!  Alex took a very late nap and woke up when he ought to be going to bed.  Anna is sick and unfathomably cranky.  Jack is just being trouble, trouble, trouble.  Victoria is halfway in my good graces (she’s helping keep a fussy Alex entertained) and half on my bad side (she keeps taunting her already cranky sister).  It is probably going to be a long night.

It’s all good though.  It may be bedlam, but I still love summer… and this loud, crazy bunch!

Pageant Pics!

At long last, here’s a billion or so pictures of the Wilder Pageant from last weekend.  I think the average attendance was around 1,100 people and I don’t think there were any nights with less than a thousand people in the audience!

All of us back stage before the show, with Daryl’s mom

Victoria with two friends from the cast before the show

A crowd starting to form!

Grandma and Grandpa with the boys (Jack made friends with the lady in the orange shirt and talked her ear off!)

Two fisted snacking!  This is Alex’s favorite part of the pageant — lots of cheap goodies from the concession stand!  The lollipop was his.  The push-up pop he stole from Grandma!

The opening scene, as “Old Laura” starts to tell us her tale, we meet the townspeople and the Ingalls Family arrives on the banks of Plum Creek

The Ingalls meet their neighbors (my “sweet” Anna Nelson is in the foreground to the right and has Laura’s beloved doll Charlotte)

Anna plays with Charlotte while the neighbors talk

When Laura takes Charlotte back, Anna wails loudly and Ma makes Laura give her beloved doll to her.  When the grownups aren’t looking, she gleefully jumps up and down on Charlotte!  That’s my girl!  😉

The Nelson kids at the Kennedy house (Anna is in the middle) as they prepare for Reverend Alden’s arrival

We meet the Reverend (Daryl) as he makes a joke and leads a prayer

In one of the more impressive scenes, the town builds a church!  It’s constructed as we watch, with some narration and music in the background during this very quick process.

More walls go up, as Mrs. Oleson strolls by

(gratuitous horse and wagon scene!)

Finally done, with the cross on top!

Later, the church is turned around and used as the schoolhouse

Reverend Alden drops by the school and Willie forgets his bible verses (Victoria is in the purple/burgandy in the front row.. I miss getting pictures of her big scenes while toddler wrangling)

The exciting fire scene (there is a gas pipe along the ground on the set and there is a line of real flames that Ma, the girls and Mr. Nelson beat at to save the house and land!)

The kids dancing at the social

Curtain call, where we find out what happened to the characters afterwards (including the accident that claimed Willie’s eyesight!)

The audience meets the cast and mulls around the set afterwards

Alex finds Daddy

Jack explores “Plum Creek” with some other small audience members (the real Plum Creek is much larger but nearby)

Grandma presenting flowers to Annalee

Grandpa presenting flowers to Victoria

Victoria signing an autograph

Annalee with one of her best pageant friends

Victoria with one of her best pageant friends (who played Laura)

Boys being boys  🙂

We’ve all survived another pageant year!

Celebrating at home, our tradition of running through the streets on the final night with the girls still in costume

Looking up at the sky at the end of the night, looking for more shooting stars (we spotted two!) with my own shining stars  🙂



Zeus on the Loose!

I try to get educational games for my kids for gifts because it makes such a neat way to have quality one-on-one time and sneak in some learning too.  There are so many great educational games out there but they can get spendy.

Zeus on the Loose is one that I got Victoria for her birthday that was definitely worth the price.  I got it for about $10 at Barnes & Noble, but you may be able to get it cheaper online.

While it does use the names of some Greek gods and goddesses, it’s not really educational in that sense.  You don’t really learn any mythology other than being exposed to the names.  It is educational in both math and logic, though.

The idea of the game is to be the player who’s holding Zeus when your collective point tally reaches 100.  Each player is dealt a hand of cards and many have numbers on them.  You take turns discarding and you keep track of your collective running total.  For instance, I put down a 9 and say 9, then you put down a 4 and say 13.  If the total is a multiple of 10, you get to steal the Zeus figurine.

Along the way, you can use god and goddess cards to change the total and/or steal Zeus.  For instance, you might get Hera and the instructions say “reset the total to 50 and steal Zeus” or you might get Athena and it might say “Add 20 and steal Zeus.”

With all of the special cards and ways to suddenly change the tally to as much as 99 or all the way back down to 10, there’s a lot of math and a lot of strategy involved.   The player that wins a round gets a letter to spell out ZEUS, and the first player to get all 4 letters wins.

I think it’s recommended for ages 8 and up, but younger kids may enjoy it too.  We really like it!

Squash Blossoms: Science and Recipes!

(photo plus intriguing recipe from Dish-Trict)

I mentioned getting squash blossoms at the Farmers’ Market yesterday and Gerky asked what I did with them.  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure yet!  They are being carefully stored in my fridge for tonight (they are very perishable!) and I have big plans for them.

I can’t decide between Homesick Texan’s Squash Blossom Quesadillas, using them on homemade pesto pizzas (coincidentally already planned for the week’s menu sometime) like those on Former Chef, stuffing and frying or making a soup like on Seasonal Chef, or just frying them like Sassy Radish.

In the meantime, here’s a little squash blossom science courtesy of Alexandra Cooks:

Squash flowers are either male or female: male flowers are equipped with a stamen, females with a stigma. Males, more plentiful in number, stand on long, thin stems, while the females, sitting on a small, fuzzy green ball, blossom closer to the vine.

Only when a grain of pollen from the stamen lands on the stigma, will this ball turn into a squash. Pollination occurs when bees or other insects travel from flower to flower, or when the wind blows. Using a brush, humans can fertilize the plant as well by collecting pollen from the stamen and painting it onto the stigma.

But here’s the miracle: Pollination can occur on only one day in a blossom’s entire lifetime. Just before dawn, the flowers uncurl; by midday, they begin to close; and by dusk, they close, precluding pollination forever. Few flowers actually ever bear fruit. I know, I know, home gardeners can’t give away enough zucchini during the growing season. I still think it’s amazing.

Me too.  And hopefully tasty.  I’ll let you know!

MTV is Looking for Homeschooled Teens

We don’t get MTV or watch this show but I thought I would pass on the message….

“MTV Real Life” is looking for homeschoolers between the ages of 13 and 18.

They say:

“Are you a homeschooler with a story to tell? If so, MTV would like to hear from you.

Over a million American young people are home learners. But for those who aren’t, homeschooled kids can seem mysterious, and often what’s unknown about homeschoolers gets filled in with myths and stereotypes. On this episode of “True Life” we’ll show what it’s really like to be homeschooled and we’ll help break some of those misconceptions.

Are you an athlete who has to do twice the work to get recognized? Or maybe it’s a challenge to get into the college of your dreams because your class rank is “1 out of 1”? Are you about to start or stop homeschooling? Whatever your situation or story is, if you or someone you know might be interested, we’d like to hear from you. Please include your name, age, location and phone number and email us at:


Our goal — as with all episodes of “True Life” — is to help MTV’s young audience understand why many young people, and their parents, choose to homeschool. We will treat the people who participate in this documentary — and whatever educational, philosophical or religious beliefs they possess — with respect.

“True Life” is a documentary series that’s been on MTV for more than 10 years. It chronicles the stories of young people in all kinds of situations, from global and political issues like conflict and natural disasters to personal achievements and family matters.

“True Life” is not a reality show. Our producers follow strict ethical guidelines and carefully avoid influencing our subjects’ stories. It is also not a news show – there is no host or reporter.

You can learn more about the show and see clips from previous episodes here.

Farmers' Market Haul

I’ll post pics from the Wilder Pageant and updates and all of that ASAP but I had to jump on first and say just how happy I am to have our Farmers’ Market again!

Today’s haul for the grand total of $19.75…

  • One bag of purple beans
  • Two pounds of broccoli florets
  • 4 sweet onions
  • 5 beets
  • one basket of banana peppers
  • one giant bag of basil
  • one bunch of carrots
  • one giant head of napa cabbage
  • 3 dozen eggs from free range chickens
  • one green pepper
  • one purple pepper
  • one bundle of lemon grass
  • one grocery bag of green apples
  • one eggplant

Daryl also picked up 10 cucumbers, one zucchini and two bundles of zucchini blossoms for me to make deep fried zucchini blossoms.  Oh, and one maple frosted scone.


I love summer.

Betsy and Tacy's Lemonade Stand

The Betsy-Tacy Society had a conference last week and asked if the girls would be willing to run a lemonade stand for their attendees.  The girls said yes, and happily donned some old fashioned outfits to play the part.

I even joined in, looking very silly in a dress my mother made (for herself) years and years ago and a completely unmatching hat!  🙂  I felt foolish, but the girls loved it.  Sometimes it’s worth it to look a bit silly!

Here’s pics….

(that’s me and the boys in the background)

(the girls & I played charades for a while & they loved it!)

(this pic perfectly captures the girls!)

(free T-shirts as a thank-you gift for helping!)

It was a fun day!

Back Stage with Victoria and Annalee

Last Saturday I sent my camera to the pageant with Victoria and Annalee and asked them to take some pics for me.  It has been such a busy week that I haven’t posted them yet but I thought I’d offer their glimpse of pageant life…

Mulling around back stage beforehand

Daddy practicing his dulcimer

A bovine castmate

Crowds starting to gather out front

Victoria and a friend

Victoria with the director (also the local school principal!)

Makeup time for Annalee

Self portrait


Jack has been playing math games on the computer.  There are so many wonderful free sites with neat stuff.   (I just clicked on the games tag here to find a couple of good sites this morning, plus he did CyberChase games at PBS kids.)

Anna woke up at 6 a.m. ready to take on the day.  Alex woke up at 6 a.m. ready to take on the day.  Anna took Alex outside for an hour so Daddy and I could sleep in.  Sweet!

Victoria and I played Factor Captor (see yesterday’s entry) and she beat me.  Anna and I played yesterday and Victoria and I also played last night.  This is a really fun way to memorize math facts and practice mental addition!

Daddy took Alex and Anna to Windom for supplies, since I took the girls Tuesday and broke down when we were nearly there.  I promised Anna that Daddy would get her an ice cream cone as a thanks for all the times she watched Alex today.

Daddy and Jack made refrigerator pickles last night from farmstand cukes we got down the road.  Alex gobbled half of them up and Jack has been madly munching the raw cucumbers we had leftover.  He made me promise to get more cukes ASAP.  It turns out he loves them.  I can handle that!

We all have been harvesting our first garden tomatoes this week (mostly cherry tomatoes), along with lots of raspberries.  I love it when my kids can snack from the back yard.

Victoria and I did a math exam today from some school site.  It was partly fun, partly nervewracking (very creative questions!) and partly depressing.  I am supposed to be up here googling how to find the prime factorization of 240 using exponents, but I forgot and I think I’m going to go down and invite Victoria and Jack to go play badminton.

It’s a beautiful summer day.  Math can wait.  🙂