Our Farmers’ Market Homeschool Project

Alex and I will be selling gluten free baked goods, herbs and several other items at the local farmers’ market this year.

He asked if we could do it and I thought it could be a great homeschooling project, so I (with just a tiny bit of terror) said yes.

I love baking, but I am not the sort of person who would ever take it upon myself to sell at the farmers’ market myself.  I tend to be quite shy at first in real life, and honestly prefer to just give my treats away to friends and family!  But my children are really good at getting me to do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, and I think this will be a fantastic learning experience for Alex (and me!).

We’re planning on selling lots of gluten free items.  We’ve been GF since we decided to try cutting out gluten as an experiment when Alex was about to turn 4 (he’s now 10).  By the end of the month it was clear that gluten was a real issue for him (it was immediately noticeable in his skin and hair, and my tiny boy grew two sizes in the next three months!), and we also found out that most of the family was also sensitive to gluten and had just never known it.  My migraines went away.  Toria’s migraines went away and her skin cleared up.  Daryl’s eczema cleared up.  And on and on.

So gluten free items are going to be a big part of what we sell, especially treats that GF folks often have to do without.  Alex loves the idea of providing really delicious treats for allergic kids, since he knows what it’s like to have to pass by all kinds of wonderful stuff because it has gluten in it.

We’ve been testing cupcake recipes all week, and it’s been awfully fun!  🙂

Cupcake development day is going well. #glutenfreecupcakes #fromscratch #farmersmarket

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We’ll also probably sell some things having to do with foraged goodies.  I made a really wonderful ramp sale with wild ramps recently and it’s insanely tasty.

Ramp salt is my new favorite seasoning. #foraging #ramps #springforaging #wildedibles #wildfood

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We are lucky enough to have access to a huge supply of ramps (they’re over-harvested in many places so you have to be very careful not to take too many), so we dried lots to make ramp salt with, enough that I can sell some.

We’ll probably sell some fresh herbs, too, since we have a copious amount of some of them in our gardens, such as spearmint, chocolate mint, catmint and chives.

We may do GF bread too, though it is more expensive and more work than some other goodies so I’m not doing it the first week at least.

Alex and I have spent a lot of time going over possible sale items, projected cost, projected profits, marketing ideas and other business plans.

We’ve cuddled on the couch discussing which items to sell which weeks, what the most profitable goodies are likely to be, whether we should offer samples and more.

We’ve shopped for supplies, played with packaging and learned our laws.

He wants to be sure we give something away for free to anybody who’d like it, such as information teaching people how to forage.  I think that’s a very sweet idea so we’re working on that, too.

We’ll be selling on Tuesday afternoons, starting in June.  Wish us luck!  I’ll keep you updated!

 

A Little Jack Update

 

 

It’s only a matter of time before Jack asks me to quit writing about him online, so I’d better talk about him now while I can.  😉

Here’s a glimpse of our oldest baby boy, who turned 14 a little over a week ago.

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That’s Jack at his birthday pool party, with a good friend, along with Fiona and Alex, and here with some other friends.

Jack had such a good birthday 🎈🎈🎈

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And lest he looks like he’s all grown up and not a kid anymore, here’s another shot from his birthday party.

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Jack is finishing 8th grade, though we don’t pay much attention to the numbers.

He is much taller than I am — though that’s not hard since I’m just under 5 feet tall!  🙂  He’s nearly as tall as his dad, though, and Daryl is just over 6 feet tall.

He’s a huge help to me around the house.  He is probably the biggest help of all of the kids, and I thank him for it often.  He helps with laundry, cooking, taking care of Fiona, garbage, yard work, you name it.

He even took care of my artichoke seedlings while I was in Nebraska for nearly two weeks.

He loves gaming (video, board and role play), music, nature, animals and puns.  He also still loves doing crafts, particularly if he can invent them himself.  He collects and alters bottle caps, and loves all things weapon-related (from swords to nerf guns).  He’s rather introverted and very goofy when he feels comfortable enough to show his goofy side.  He is also the ultimate peace-maker, an important role for a kid in a family of 5 kids!  He would be well suited for any table at the UN with his skills at un-ruffling feathers and calming folks down!

He is still quite left-leaning.  This is a kid who happily pounded one of only two signs in our town that supported marriage equality into our front yard as a little boy, and he remains fiercely caring about the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks and other oppressed groups.

He is not sure what he wants to do with his life when he crosses that imaginary line into “grown up” but I suspect it might have to do with nature or science.  I could also see him as a writer, even though he still balks at any formal writing assignments.  He is so creative that I think he would do well as a writer or game designer.  I am guessing that he’ll come up with his own path that I’d never have seen coming, though.

He can be moody at times (what 14 year old isn’t?) but in general, he is my “easiest” teenager yet.  I have told him and Alex — often! — that they were so exhausting as young boys that they owe me easy teen years, and he seems to be keeping his end of the bargain!  😉

I could not be more proud of him than I am, especially of his soul.  He is so caring, so smart, so giving.  He is a wonderful brother, son and human being.

Jack and Elli at the Civil War ball. #reenacting #firstball #mylittleboyisgrowingup

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The Daily List is a Fun Way to Get Kids Writing

I’ve been working on getting Jack and Alex to do more writing lately.  Victoria and Rhiannon always loved writing and it was one way they quite naturally improved their handwriting, spelling and composition skills over the years.  Since the boys aren’t as keen to do it on their own, I’ve been finding fun ways to get them writing.

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As long-time readers know, I’ve never been a fan of forced activities.  I want my kids to love to write (and read and learn in general), not to put up with it because they have to.  After all, I want them to be lifelong readers, writers and learners, and this only happens if they learn to love reading, writing and learning.  This has always worked for us, in part because we come up with ways to show them the joy of these things.

Daily lists are a fun and easy way to get this going with writing.

I gave Jack a notebook and asked him to make a list of any 20 things each day.  The list could be of things he wants for his birthday, jobs he might like to do when he grows up, birds he can ID, characters who annoy him on TV, things he likes about Minnesota… Anything.  I help brainstorm list ideas if he comes up blank, but he chooses what he wants to list.  Alex will be starting his own notebook this week, too.

They don’t have to list 20 things in one list if there aren’t that many things that apply.  They can do a couple of shorter lists, such as who their best friends are and who they’d like to get to know better, or states they’ve visited and states they’d like to visit.

 I shared this idea with a friend and she used it quite successfully with her son yesterday.  He has Downs Syndrome and tends to balk at writing.  She asked him to write a list of 10 things he likes on pizza (which he loves).  After he wrote his list, she sat and helped him correct the spelling and they talked about sounding out words and spelling rules.

One of the great things about this is that it works with any age and it can become a journal of sorts.  Keep all the lists in one notebook and have kids date them, and they can look back to see what their favorite books or songs were, what they considered their best qualities, and so on.  It also just helps get you into a creative mindset, and get thinking about those bigger topics like possible careers and things you’d like to get better at.

As always, it helps to have fun notebooks and pens to use, too.  Everything is more fun when you have cool materials to use.  😉

I’m thinking of making up a big list of lists now, and printing it up as books for the boys.  This is working really well for now, though, and I’m excited to get Alex started.

I kind of want to start my own list journal too!

 

 

Hunting for Fossilized Shark Teeth and Arrowheads: What to Look for

Long-time followers know that our family spends a lot of time looking for fossilized shark teeth, arrowheads and all kinds of artifacts, fossils and rocks.

(Scroll through this Instagram slideshow to see some of Toria’s finds from the other day.)

We have taken many friends to our local lakes over the years to introduce them to the hobby and teach them what to look for.

Today, we met some friends at a nearby lake to try to find something noteworthy.  Our friend Rebecca is very interested in history and that includes this sort of thing, so we promised to do our best to teach her how to spot the many fossils and artifacts that are generally all around us.

It is very hard to find things like petrified wood, fossilized shark teeth and arrowheads, but they are definitely still all around us and it’s surprisingly easy to find them once you know what you’re looking for.  Daryl and the kids have often found fossils and small pieces of petrified wood in parking lots.

Like four leaf clovers, part of the trick is learning to really look at the ground and pay attention to what’s around us.

If your kids want to improve their luck finding these sorts of geologic and archeological treasures, I recommend finding examples (in photos, books and real life) and really looking at them.  Look at examples of arrowheads and learn to notice what the rock itself looks like (typically flint) and how it is “worked” on most sides (notched from being struck with a tool to shape it).  Notice how there is usually a groove on both sides of the bottom to hold the arrowhead on to the arrow.

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You’ll notice that the point is broken off this one, which is not uncommon.  This is many hundreds of years old, after all, and could also have broken off on impact during hunting.

Notice the very definite shape of the bottom though.  Arrowheads will almost always have the notched sides on the bottom and that distinctive shape.

This is an exception, an arrowhead that Daryl found today (alongside a fossilized shark tooth).

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Notice how it has no notches to hold it onto the shaft of the arrow?  This is a Madison point arrowhead and it was used for war.  When hunting animals, you would want to retrieve your arrow and arrowhead to use again.  When battling in war, you would want the arrowhead to come off of the arrow and be lost in the flesh of the enemy.  Smart, huh?

You will generally find the first type of arrowheads (used for hunting), but if you find this type and you can clearly see where it was worked on the bottom and that it wasn’t simply broken off, you know that arrowhead was made for battle.

When looking for fossilized shark teeth (for those of us who live in inland states like Minnesota that were once under the Great Inland Sea), you also will learn to look for the characteristic colors and sheen of fossilized shark teeth.

This is a shark tooth that our friend found today.

sharktooth

Notice the classic shark tooth shape and the glossy, dark material.  You’ll see that it differs in a lot of ways from the shark tooth above (which was also found today), which is from a different type of shark and a different era.  Still, they both have similar shapes, size and color.

This particular shark is probably from a Crow Shark, and the shark probably lived over 65 million years ago.  (See this page Daryl wrote up here a few years ago for more about identifying various fossilized shark teeth you find and how to date them.)

Pretty astounding way to study history and science, and help them come to life, huh?   🙂

If anybody is interested in learning more about how to help their kids ID these kinds of things, leave a note and I’ll try to talk more about how to do it in the future.

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An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Swapping Homeschools

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We’re at Tiffany’s again (me, Toria, Fiona and Alex), but this time we’re at their house without their family.  We’re house sitting for the week while they’re on vacation — at the condo where we usually stay when we’re on vacation.

We’ve been here so many times over the years, but this is the first time that none of their family has been here with us!  Even when we came to watch the kids while Tiffany was having Milllie, we had the older kids here with us.  It’s quite a different experience!

To make matters even more unusual for us, I’m taking care of one of the little dogs that Tiffany tends to during the days, so twice a day I walk over with one or all of the kids and we take a very enthusiastic little Yorkie (I think!) on a very long, very enthusiastic walk as she makes little rhino noises (I swear!) and tries to pull us as 70 mph despite her tiny little legs and old age.  Then we make sure that all of her needs are met in her house and tuck her in her little bed on the couch and make sure her music is on until the next time we check on her.  It’s quite fun, especially since we’ve never had a little dog and we miss our wonderful collie rescue, Layla, who died last fall.

During the days, the kids jump on the trampoline and play Mario Cart, play educational games online and just play.  Toria and I read and surf the internet.  At night, I cook dinner and we watch our favorite shows on Hulu (Nashville for me and Toria, Smallville for all of us) and then read books before bed.

We all also do a LOT of yoga every day.  Tiffany and Co. do a lot of yoga and have mats and recommended apps for us, and we are big on the whole “when in Rome” thing!

Of course, we don’t do yoga quite as gracefully or peacefully as they do.

Don’t even try to tell me in all seriousness to yearn my sternum forward!  Yearn my sternum forward????  This is not a legitimate instruction.  🙂

Toria told me I was very difficult to do yoga with because I make her laugh too much.  Laughter is healthy, right?

We also drink proper English tea all day (since Tiffany is both proper and English) — though we add copious amounts of sugar that proper English people disapprove of!).

Tiffany’s house is the opposite of mine in most ways.  Mine is crowded and noisy.  Hers is minimalistic and quiet.  Mine is full of color.  Hers is almost entirely white (even the painted wood floors and full-wall fireplace).  Mine is chaos, hers is calm.  Mine is filled with oddities (brain coral, replica dinosaur teeth, jars of sand from all different colors of beaches around the world, musical instruments, historic costume pieces….).  Hers is filled with just a few well chosen items.

So it’s fun to be here, and good for us to live this other life.  We rise early and keep things tidy.  We do yoga and drink tea.  We eat smaller portions and walk miles every day.  But then we also play games and watch shows and act silly, because we’re still us, too.  🙂

We have a million things to get back to as soon as we’re back in Minnesota.  I have to finish my elderberry book.  We have to finish our portion of the renovations on our house.  There are tryouts soon for the Wilder Pageant and all sorts of opportunities and obligations for all of us.

But this week, we’re in Nebraska, living this life.  And it’s pretty wonderful too.

 

 

Our Favorite Educational Apps (Part One)

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I have to admit, it is so much easier to homeschool today than ever before.  Not only do we have literally millions of pages of free resources, information and support online thanks to the internet, but we have educational apps that we can get for next to nothing (or nothing at all) so kids can learn while playing — anywhere they are.

Our kids got Kindles for Christmas a couple of years ago when they went on sale for $35 each on Black Friday.  We also have an iPad that I bought used for a great price and some of the kids have iPods they bought with saved up allowances.  So they have a plethora of ways to use apps and things to use them on.

I figured I would start compiling lists of our family’s favorites, with about 5 each time.  I think most of them are available for either Apple or Android devices, but some may be for one or the other. Some are free, and those that aren’t generally have a free trial version.

Here are some of our favorite educational apps.

  • Dragonbox:  We’ve loved this algebra-based game since it was first released, and now they’ve added to their arsenal with a more advanced game and a science version.  This is the priciest app we’ve purchased (around $5 to $8 for different games) but I consider it worth it since the kids enjoy it so much and honestly understand the concepts related to algebra and such through using it. (Elementary and Middle School)
  • Rocket Math:  Alex loved this game since he was a preschooler and now Fiona loves it, too.  Kids design their own rockets but must do math to earn the money to get the parts to fly it.  There are different kinds of math and it’s fun to play. I believe there’s a short, free version but we paid .99 for the full version.  (Preschool, Elementary)
  • PBS Kids:  Fiona likes to watch her favorite PBS children’s shows on my iPad using the app.  She likes to come into my room while I’m working online and bring the iPad so she can lie on the bed and keep me company while watching it.  I believe it comes with games, too, but she mainly uses it to view programs.  Honestly, I don’t consider it terribly educational but she enjoys it and it does teach some basic concepts and character traits. It is free.  (Preschool, Early Elementary)
  • Stack the States:  All of our kids love this little geography game, even the teenagers.  They learn U.S. geography and go back to play again and again.  We also have Stack the Countries, which got Rhia on a kick to memorize all of the capitols of the world a couple of years ago.  There are free versions but it’s well worth the dollar or so for the full version. (Elementary, Middle School)
  • Kindle:  We have the Kindle app on all of our devices and it is such a help for homeschooling.  All of the kids have downloaded free e-books — everything from educational picture books to chapter books to Shakespeare and more.  Daryl is now subscribed to the Kindle Unlimited reading program (affiliate link) so the kids are, too (they’re connected to his Amazon account), so now they can read over a million books and magazines for free on their devices.  (Speaking of which, I created a Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited Facebook page for other homeschoolers who use KU, where I post books that are free to read in the program.)

There’s a start, and I’ll try to add more lists in the next couple of weeks!  I know there are so many that the kids really enjoy.

Now I have to cuddle a little girl who’s fighting off the flu, make up another batch of elderberry syrup, and get ready for the daily construction stampede.

What are your family’s favorite apps, if you use them?  Please add them in the comments!