Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cold Weather Learning

This morning there was a layer of snow over the front yard. The cold was biting, but it made for a beautiful scene.

There are so many things to do in snow and cold weather. In the past, we've spent short spurts outside in subzero temperatures to do experiments. We toss hot water into the air to make instant snow. We bring out the soap bubbles and watch them freeze and drop. I couldn't find my bubbles this time, but I did notice some tracks in the snow.

Looks like a raccoon walked by last night. That's my boot print next to it.The smaller prints are from the sparrows that came to the feeders this morning.

White Throated Sparrow
There were also several juncos about.

This one is sitting on our rhododendron. Did you know you can tell how cold it is by looking at rhododendron leaves? The tighter they curl into tubes, the colder it is. It was 1 degree this morning with the wind chill. I'm surprised the bush wasn't shivering. At this point, my fingers were feeling frostbitten, so I moved inside to continue taking pictures through the window. They don't come out as clear, but you need to make some sacrifices for warmth.

Chickadee by the feeder

A Cardinal right before he carried this peanut away

Red-Bellied Woodpecker watching a House Sparrow land on the suet feeder
I hope you spent some time outdoors today!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Card Designs for 2016

Each year I say I'm not going to do this. There are so many other things that need doing -- cleaning, decorating, baking -- designing cards should be a luxury for more relaxed years. It's so easy to buy cards, after all.

And then I get an idea. I can't really help it, it just happens. And I tell myself one is enough, no one will mind if I only send one design. Who would know?

And then I get another idea.

Nurturing my creativity is important. I want my children to see me do this so they nurture their own creative spirits. No matter how old you get, you need to exercise your talents and indulge your imagination.

I hope your celebrations are full of love, hope, happiness, and peace!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Gingerbread Carousel

The girls put this together. My oldest designed it and did most of the building while her little sister did most of the decorating. The actual gingerbread baking was a team effort. They crushed lollipops to get the glass effect in the cut-outs and used Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes and pretzel sticks for the poles and supports. I tried to help at the start, but then realized it would be better if I backed off (emotions were high during the roof raising.) Sometimes you need to let your temperamental artists work through their process.
Click on a photo to enlarge.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Impossible Cake

For my birthday, I attempted an "Impossible Cake". 

I think it came out well.


 The Impossible Cake is a cake with flan that you bake together in one Bundt pan. Seriously, the hardest part about making it was opening the cans of evaporated milk and dulce de leche. My can opener cuts along the side of the can lid. For some reason, it couldn't do anything with these cans. I had to resort to using the can opener on my daughter's Swiss Army knife. Even then, I had to mangle the dulce de leche can to get the caramelized milk out.

The impossible of the cake is that you layer in the ingredients starting with the dulce de leche, then the cake batter, and finally the custard mixture. As it bakes, the cake switches places with the flan and ends up as the top layer. When you turn it out onto the platter, the cake is the base with the flan on top. I squeezed more dulce de leche on top and drizzled some chocolate ganache over it as well.

Luckily, I read the comments for the cake before starting. Many people said that it needed to bake for 90 minutes instead of 60. I timed it for 80 minutes and still ended up giving it another 5 before the wooden skewer came out clean. I also made sure I put my foil nice and tight over the cake pan. I didn't put boiling water in the roasting pan (the cake pan sets in this while baking) and I didn't have any problems with the flan thickening. I did leave it to set on the counter for an hour or so and then refrigerated it overnight before unmolding it. That might have made a difference. I did set it in boiling water for five minutes to soften the caramel before turning it onto the plate. It popped out without much trouble.

This was a pretty simple cake with good results. I would definitely make it again. But I'll need a better can opener next time.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Few Halloween Pumpkin Pictures

It was quite a week. I'm still recovering from being crazy busy between work and volunteering and life in general. I did make a point of making time for carving pumpkins. It's one of the few things I enjoy about Halloween, we get to be creative and we get roasted pumpkin seeds to snack on. Since my daughters decided to share a pumpkin this year, it meant I had my own to play with.

My son decided for a tentacle creature.

My daughter created the character of Koro-Sensei, from Assassination Classroom (I didn't get a shot of him after they gave him a mortarboard to wear. It did complete the look.

My idea for this year was a phoenix. It was rather wide, so I took shots from two angles.

When things get crazy, it's nice to take moments to get messy, be creative and have fun.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Kitten

Back at the end of August, a kitten showed up in our yard.

She was a little ball of feral fluff. Take a step or two toward her and off she ran. But she always came back. We never saw a mother cat nearby, so we figured she was on her own.

My youngest decided to try to tame her. She researched different methods of taming ferals and used her knowledge from watching Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat from Hell" on Animal Planet. Because this was a kitten, we knew we had better chances for success, but that didn't make the experience any less difficult. My daughter spent days just trying to get the kitten familiar with her. She put out food and tried to sit a little closer each time. She talked to the kitten. She tossed acorns to her when the kitten was playful. There were many setbacks. I described the experience like the plot of the movie 50 First Dates, where the main character is dating a woman suffering from short term memory loss. For a while it seemed like every time my daughter went out, she had to reintroduce herself to the kitten.

But each time it was a little easier.

And then...

The power of chicken snacks
Success! The kitten started responding to her and taking food from her hand. She became much more playful. She even started to let my daughter pet her.
This pumpkin stem from last Halloween became a favorite toy
As the weather got cooler and wetter, I led her to the playhouse in the backyard so she would have shelter. She settled in nicely.
Bonus: I got the playhouse cleaned out!

 The next step would be the hardest. I didn't want to take her into our house without having a vet check her first. We didn't want to expose our other cats to anything. We made an appointment and the morning of the check up we tried to get her into the pet carrier. An hour and several scratches later, I made a new appointment for the following week. We had much better luck the second time. I didn't feed her until we were ready to leave and put the food as far back as possible in the carrier. She was difficult with the doctor at first, but once she calmed down she was a model patient. She got vaccinations and had blood tests and was checked for parasites and worms. We took her home and brought her directly indoors, separating her from the other cats.

Suddenly the carrier is not a bad thing.
We brought all of the toys and other "scent soakers" in so she would have everything familiar with her.

She quickly adapted to indoor life. And my daughter got a good lesson in how high maintenance a baby is. After late nights with an energetic kitten, she is done with being a mother. (Health education: Parenting 101 check!)

At this writing, the kitten has been inside for two weeks and shows no sign of wanting to return to the outside. The only issue is that she did test positive for FIV (Feline AIDS), but our vet assured us that as long as she is not a biter, the other cats will be fine. Not that I could abandon her at this point. When you open your heart to an animal, they do a good job of curling up inside and making you wonder how you lived without them.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Storytelling: The Next Generation

Last May, I made the decision to stop running storytelling.

It was a difficult choice for me, but I had led it since my oldest started college, and her siblings had no desire to take it on. Their friends had moved on to other activities, and the children coming had gotten younger. I also didn't seem to have any takers from the next generation of storytellers who were attending the workshops I ran. It's easy to do these things when your own kids are a part of them, but when they are no longer interested, it simply adds to your list. When I started working (at a different library) it became even harder. It was time to reach out.

It's always hard to pass the torch. I had run storytelling for 15 years, led it for four. but I was running out of steam. Last May I asked if anyone wanted to lead for the month and no one did. I tried again in June. Two children stepped up. I came to offer moral support. It was a bit chaotic--no one had any stories to share, so it broke down into a conversation--but it was a start.

This month I talked with the group leader about what she would like to tell or read. I ended up pulling an easy reader of short stories from the shelf called "In a Dark, Dark Room." I had no idea whether it would end up being the only story, but I figured it was a start.

The group did not disappoint. My leader could not find the title story, so she ended up reading the first story in the book. She asked if anyone else would like to read the next story, and the book began passing around. It reminded me why I liked having the children lead in the first place. When you give them choices, they step up. This new group was not ready to move away from the page, as my veteran storytellers did. But with the stories in front of them they were willing to speak and share. It reminded me of the very beginning of our storytelling days.

I'll still come to storytelling to offer support and guidance, but it's nice to be in the background again. I love what kids can come up with when you let them be in charge!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Advice for Homeschoolers who Attend Programs

Letters of intent are filed. Groups are meeting again. Online communities are abuzz. Homeschooling has definitely started for the autumn. As many programs are now being organized and beginning, and as someone who has attended and run many a program, I would like to offer some advice for homeschoolers who attend programs.
  • Don't assume the instructor is being paid. I faced this with my own storytelling group. There were many parents who assumed the library was paying me, so they didn't take it seriously. If an instructor is giving you the benefit of their knowledge and experience, be grateful and supportive. How? Keep reading...
  • Get to the program on time. This seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. If you are late, you are cheating families who arrived on time. You also set a bad precedent if the instructor decides to wait for latecomers. Why come on time if the program is going to start ten minutes late to accommodate late arrivals? Even if the program starts on time, any late arrival is a disruption to the group. It's very easy to lose attention and time is wasted getting everyone refocused. If you are chronically late, perhaps it is best to rethink whether this is an ideal program for your family. 
  • Pay for programs on time. I don't run many paid programs for homeschoolers anymore because I hate dealing with money issues. I have seen programs get cancelled because too many people were late paying for their family. I have also had to make up the difference to pay an instructor when someone in the group didn't pay on time. 
  • Make sure your child is paying attention. Remove them if they are disruptive. 
  • Model good behavior. I understand the need to socialize with other adults, but the instructor is not there to babysit your child. If you need to talk with your friends, take it away from the group (preferably in another room.) If you are asked to prepare your child for the program in any way, do so. I can't express how hard it is to run a class on storytelling when no one has any stories to tell. If you do the extra work the instructor requests, it makes for a much more rewarding and enriching experience.
Have anything to add? Please leave a message in the comments!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Life in the Slow Lane

When I say that life is a journey, I should clarify. One person's journey is different from another. You can see this by watching people drive. Some people live in the fast lane. They are goal-oriented, always focusing on the destination. They need to get from point A to point B and nothing that happens along the road will distract from that goal. 

There are also the cautious drivers. They might enjoy parts of the journey, but they won't deviate from the route. They drive the speed limit. They stay in the center lane until it is time to exit and even though they may enjoy the view, they don't see as much as they might have because they will never look away from the road. Cautious drivers don't risk getting lost or traveling off the established route.

To truly enjoy the journey, you need to be able to experience it. You need to set aside the map from time to time and trust that you'll find your way. Slow down. Let other cars go in front of you. Look up at the clouds. Notice the hawk sitting on the lamppost or the deer grazing along the side of the road. Turn on the radio and sing along. Go off the main road and see what sights there are to explore. Find the back roads. Get lost. Experience the unexpected. Have adventures.

The journey is not a straight path that takes you to a destination. Life is full of twists and turns, dead ends, and forks in the road. You don't even have to drive. The journey is each step you take and how you choose to place your feet. Any blisters will let you know how far you have come.

Author's note: In case it is unclear, I am speaking metaphorically about driving. Please drive safely. Buckle up and watch out for your fellow travelers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Raising Readers with Comic Books

Reading was not easy for me. It isn't that I couldn't do it. I simply wasn't interested in it. I preferred drawing and daydreaming. The first book I remember reading was a mystery involving a talking cat. That was in third or fourth grade. I don't remember any others until sixth grade, when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. Other than that, the only reading I remembered doing was required for school.

    That changed in seventh grade when I noticed one of my brother's X-Men comics. The issue had a picture of a teenage girl named Kitty Pryde. She had a suitcase in hand and was about to enter Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Students. I read the comic with interest. That was the beginning.

    I started noticing that the newsstand I passed on my way home from school sold comics. I started buying X-Men regularly, eager to see how Kitty was doing. When my brother saw my interest, he gave me a pile of back issues of the X-Men, and so I became well-read on the mythology of these mutant superheroes. I must have read thousands of pages of comics!  I learned about the different countries they came from, and a few words in the various languages they spoke. The stories ranged from terrifying multi-issue save-the-world epics to light, funny, day-in-the-life single issues. I couldn't get enough. In hindsight, this doesn't surprise me.  Our family has an artistic background. Reading seemed more accessible when there were pictures to help move the story along.

    I've seen my share of people who turn their noses up at my love of comics, but the stories in the X-Men taught me so much about different cultures, issues of the day like drug abuse and homelessness, responsibility to your community, and civil disobedience, and philosophical and moral issues of right and wrong,and what makes a person good or evil. It also offered some very strong female characters: Ororo, who controlled the elements; Phoenix, whose super-strong telepathic abilities would take her on a hero's journey into darkness and back out into redemption; Moira MacTaggert, who had no super-abilities but was a doctor and scientist; and of course Kitty, who was a teenage girl like me that had very teenage girl problems but could also phase through objects and eventually had her own pet dragon. How cool is that?

    I don't get to read comics as much as I used to, but my love of comics opened up a world of literature to me by showing me that a good story can come in many forms. I was also not afraid to use comics when teaching my own kids because I knew how useful they can be. Reading what interests you is one of the best ways I know to build a confident reader.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...