Thursday, November 24, 2005

Nov. 24, 2005: Daddy T's Cheese

Thanksgiving Day my brothers and I reminisced about Uncle Henry's cheese. Uncle Henry was a novelty to us. He smelled of wealth and culture and came bearing all kinds of exotic cheeses from the Pauly Cheese Co., of which he was president or CEO or something important. He couldn't have visited more than three or four times during my childhood, but it was always an occasion. Those cheeses coated in red wax, soft and sharp and smelly!
But our mother interrupts, saying that nothing could ever beat Daddy T's cheese. Daddy T's cheese was fresh and heavy. Mom would go to Aunt Mabel and Daddy T's store and he'd sneak her slivers of cheese while she sat up on the counter. He'd give her and her friends handfuls of peppermint drops and lemon drops, shooing away their pennies. In the midst of the Depression, Aunt Mabel and Daddy T offered simple gifts that were more precious than pearls.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

November 23, 2005: Lazy Sausage Chili

Here's a really fast and easy recipe for this weekend when you are way over turkey.
1 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. ground mild Italian sausage
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I used marinara)
1 can beef broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups fiori or bow ties (uncooked)
basil, dried or fresh, to taste

1. Cook sausage, onion, and garlic 8-10 minutes or until done. Crumble sausage and drain.
2. Add spaghetti sauce, broth and water. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 7 minutes. Add zucchini and basil. Cook 3-5 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with grated mozzerella. Serve with baguettes. Makes enough for 6 people.

Mystery Folders: Encouraging Independent Work

One of our best devices for encouraging independent work for our kids has been our "mystery folders." Each child has a colored file folder of his/her own, decorated in his/her own style. Each night I put a "mystery" assignment in each folder (usually different according to age level of child). These are almost always sheets I have downloaded from the internet and have been quite varied. One important aspect is to keep the material fresh and enticing; I rarely use regular math or grammar worksheets, for example, unless there is something exciting and unusual about them. While I consider this folder as learning time, I also strive to keep it disguised as pure fun!

A normal week will include brain teasers, coloring pages, directions and supplies for simple crafts, crossword puzzles, mazes, and connect-the-dots. We have covered many of the 50 states by coloring state flags ( and have become familiar with many artists by coloring famous paintings. The children are not allowed to look at their mystery folders until it is time for independent work. At that time, one child will do his/her mystery folder while I spend 15-20 minutes working with another child. It is amazing how much I can get done with this one child while the other is occupied with the mystery folder! And at the same time, the "mystery folder child" is learning to work independently.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nov. 22, 2005: Precious Parents

I was struck tonight once more by the preciousness of my parents. Right after supper, while the kids played with friends, we played a few hands of cards with my parents. Dad and I were eating Hershey's kisses, and we joked about saving the foil wrappers until we had enough for a sheet of foil. Mom said: "You know I used to do that." I'm thinking that nothing surprises me about my mother's Depression-era frugality. So she goes on to explain that, as a girl, she used to save bits of lead foil until she had enough to sell. This was just one way to earn a little extra money to help out. (First we had to comprehend that the foil was actually made of LEAD!)
Then Dad goes on to tell about how once, while out hunting foil along the road, he found an absolutely unheard of treasure: a $5 bill. His mind was spinning with all the possibilities of what he could do with $5, maybe even buy a BB gun! When he got home, his parents were obviously in a heated, worrisome discussion. Turns out his Dad had lost a $5 bill somewhere that day, and they were absolutely distressed about what to do. He was making $50/month, so that $5 represented a tenth of his income--and their mortgage was $22/month.
I cherish these card-game moments. It seems the best stories always come out around the table. My grandfather used to always say, "Are we gonna talk, or are we gonna play cards?" A little of both, Pa, a little of both....

Saturday, November 19, 2005

November 19, 2005: Do These Things Happen in Your Homes?

OK, so rarely do I manage to blog twice in a day, but here is what happened this afternoon. Laurel (8), Duncan and I are in the living room and smell poop quite strongly. I smell Duncan's heinie. A little smelly, but not much. We go into the bathroom and I wipe him. Not much there. Certainly not enough to merit the odor, which reminded me of pig farms in Iowa. So Laurel goes upstairs and says the fateful words: "You'd better come upstairs and see this!" So I go up, and the sink is smeared with poop. I mean, GLOBS of poop. Also an alien action figure and a giant dinosaur egg half. Poop is also in the toilet and dribbled on the seat.

WHY??? You ask? I have no idea. What would possess a child to SCOOP his SISTER's POOP (that's right, it wasn't even HIS) out of the toilet and into the sink with a giant dinosaur egg half? What would possess a child to smush it around in the sink and then ADD WATER?

Oh, I should mention that my little treasure will be 5 on Christmas Day---I know you were imagining that he was 18 months old, but NO, this is an almost 5 year old! Serenity. Serenity. Breathe deeply.....

Friday, November 18, 2005

Nov. 18, 2005: The Best Bruschetta

November 18, 2005
The Best Bruschetta
I love having Thanksgiving at my brother's house. They make all the big stuff, and I get to bring fun extras, like pies and appetizers. I made this bruschetta for our annual Soup and Pumpkin Party, and it was a huge hit. I am bringing this to our Thanksgiving get-together for an evening snack.


3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced
salt to taste
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 TBS chopped pitted black and/or green olives
3 TBS finely slivered fresh basil or 1 tsp. Dried
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pepper to taste
one baguette or other bread, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1. In colander, season tomatoes with salt, stir, and let drain for about 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine oil, olives, basil, and garlic until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Add to tomatoes to mixture and stir to combine.
3. Broil or grill slices of bread. Put tomato mixture on bread slices and serve.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

November 17, 2005: Australia Unit Study

Australia Unit Study (younger elementary)
Below is a unit study we did on Australia several years ago. We repeated much of it again last year when we studied Australia in Sonlight 5. My kids LOVED this study. Enjoy!
Unit Study on Australia
(Resource list at end of study)

Day 1
We started our unit by reading Australia: One the Other Side of the World. We then read Wombat Stew and decided to concoct our own Wombat Stew outside!! We read the book again as we created our stew. adding such ingredients as leaves, acorns, sticks, insects, etc..

Day 2
We started by reading Koala Lou and Possum Magic, both by Mem Fox. We watched an excellent PBS video, Hidden Worlds: Down by the Billabong. Later we made the Australian flag and read chapter one of Australia. After lunch we sang Waltzing Matilda, read the history of the song and its meaning, and talked about Banjo Patterson.

Day 3
We read an aboriginal folk tale, Whale’s Canoe, a couple of times and read the next couple of chapters of Australia. Later we began watching our next video.

Jesse spent some time on the Enchanted Learning website, looking at animals, flags, etc. He took a quiz on Australia and got all but one answer correct! For a couple of hours Jesse created aboriginal type art, making various lizards and an echidna costume. We reread several of our favorite Mem Fox books.

Day 4
Read Snap! by Marcia Vaughan.
This was our day to study Aborigines. We read The Peopling of Australia and Down Under: Vanishing Cultures.
We recorded the sections of Australia on our mark-it map and started the major cities. Day 5
Today we concentrated on the map of Australia. First Jesse outlined and filled in a map of the territories and major cities. Then he took a quiz (listed as for 6-9th graders) about the locations of cities and got all but one right, without looking at the map!
Our next project was to make an edible map of Australia. We made peanut butter cookie dough (Jesse was in charge of finding the right measuring cups and spoons) and shaped it into the continent. Later in the day we decorated the giant cookie with star sprinkles for the major cities, chocolate chips for the mountain ranges, and fish along the coastline. We divided it into territories with icing. When Daddy came home, Jesse told him the names of all the cities and then we ate it!
Jesse spent some time on the National Geographic Down Under website. He didn’t get enough time to explore it fully, so we’ll look at that again tomorrow.

Day 6
We read most of our picture books again before returning them to the library. Jesse made out an at-a-glance sheet of Australia facts.
Jesse perused Australian websites in the morning. At the Aboriginal bark art site, he got ideas for his own bark art and went outside to collect bark. We will also make bark out from the directions below.
Jesse read The Rainbow Serpent and we perused James Cook together.

To make Aboriginal Bark Art
1. First thing in the morning soak a pre-cut piece of brown paper with water.
2. Crinkle the wet paper into a tight ball, unroll it and set it out to dry.
3. Later, take the dry, crinkled brown paper and create artwork using red, black, yellow, and white tempera paints and a paintbrush.
4. The drawings should represent a story that the student is interested in.
8. The drawings should be in the same style as and use the same techniques as authentic Aboriginal drawings.
Day 7
Today we did our bark art paintings. They look awesome. We watched Wonders Down Under and then took a field trip to the zoo! We saw kookaburras and blue-tongued skinks. At home we read “My Grandma lived in Gooligulch.”

Australia: One the Other Side of the World by Penny Stanley-Baker. 1986. ***** Emilie U. Lepthien (Children’s Press, 1982)
The Peopling of Australia by Percy Trezise
Speculates on how the Aboriginals came to live in Australia.
Down Under: Vanishing Cultures. By Jan Reynolds.
A day in the life of an Aboriginal girl. ****
Toad Overload: A True Tale of Nature Knocked Off Balance in Australia by Patricia Seibert *****
Excellent story of the cane toads in Australia.
James Cook: Across the Pacific to Australia by Clint Twist.
Details Captain Cook’s famous journeys.

Koala Lou by Mem Fox.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox.
Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan*****
This is our absolute favorite!! Wombat Divine by Mem Fox (great for Christmas, too)
Snap by Marcia Vaughan
Whale’s Canoe by Joanna Troughton
The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey. An Aboriginal myth.
My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch by Graeme Base. Hilarious!*****

Hidden Worlds: Down by the Billabong
Nature of Australia: A Portrait of the Island Continent (There are at least 3 videos in this series)
Great Cultures, Great nations: Aborigine: Triumph of the Nomads
National Geographic’s Really Wild Animals: Wonders Down Under


Zoom School on Enchanted Learning: Australia
Includes music, stories, history and more.
Tales from the Billabong: Stories and Games
History of the Aborigines
Great information, lots of photos!
Australian lingo:
Australian Woolshed: Activities
Australia’s Unusual Animals
Australian A-Z Animal Archive
Aboriginal Bark Paintings
Animal Myths and Legends: Kangaroo Gets a Pouch

Parent Resources
Good lesson plans here.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Nov. 11, 2005: Tracy

I was struck Wednesday night once again by just how amazing it is to have a best friend. (I am talking here about a best girl friend. My husband is in an entirely different and wonderful category.) Tracy called me the other night right in the middle of a commercial break during "Lost." If it had been "Survivor" night, she never would have called; unfortunately, she missed out on the first season of "Lost" and we all know how that goes. Anyway, I love that I can say to her, "I love you, but I'm watching 'Lost' and I just can't talk to you right now." I love that she understands that and doesn't even put on a show like, "Hey, what's more important--talking to me or watching TV"--because she knows.

Tracy's mother died over 2 months ago now. It is hard to imagine Tracy without Joan. Even before I knew Tracy, I knew Joan. Tracy's older sister Lauren had all sorts of Joan and Big Ed stories. Joan and Big Ed were such a part of their lives that they couldn't even have a conversation without some mention of them.

Tracy is a gifted storyteller. Sometimes I think I have more vivid memories of her childhood than I do of mine, even though we didn't meet until college. The dining room table that Tracy and her friends refinished before Joan got home after a wild party one night....the evening glass of wine that she and her mom shared on the back stoop after supper....the baked chicken and rice that always gave her a headache....Aunt Nina....Sharon, Laura Bedoon and Mena....

I love that I can hear Tracy's voice so clearly. I hope she can hear her mother's voice so clearly.