Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Squid!

Continuing my quest to keep you up to date on breaking squid news: the colossal squid they are thawing in New Zealand was found to have the largest eye of the animal kingdom! It would have been 40cm across when the animal was alive - the size of a beach ball!! This knocks the giant squid off it's pedestal, the giant squid's eyes are only the size of a dinner plate.

More details here. But, if I may correct the article, 495 kg is NOT 78 lbs. No lightweight squids here!

495 kilograms = 1 091.2882 pounds! (HT: Google calculator)

And they think other Colossal squid may be up to 700 kg...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Circus!

No, not my usual life, I mean the actual circus!

I must admit, I had never been a big fan of the circus, largely because it seemed too much: too much noise, too much to see, way too far away to really see it, all for too much money. I had only ever seen a circus at an arena.

Surprise! 3 years ago I saw my first "Big Top" (in a tent) circus. It was the Cole Bros. Circus and it was astounding!! Everything felt like it was happening nearly in our laps! Clowns, acrobats, elephants and tigers! It was truly a wonder.

We've been anxiously waiting for them to come round again, and they finally did! Alas, this time around I was home with Oob and Choclo (Oob was still pretty sick) but the rest went and had a marvelous time.

Klenda's favorite was a very funny horse which acted rather like a toddler I know. The boys loved the motorcycles in the giant sphere. Leena liked the human cannonball. All the kids liked riding on the elephant (enough to spend their allowance on it!). The Emperor liked the acrobats and thought the clowns were the funniest he has ever seen.

It really was a fabulous time. The kids spent the whole next day drawing pictures and explaining all the things they had seen. Seeing their delight as they recounted their circus adventures, I might not have gotten more out of the circus if I'd gone!

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Sites

I started this blog partly as a way to share easy fun home school ideas, partly to keep me motivated to come up with easy fun home school ideas, and partly to keep in touch with distant family. Kate (from NJ), I can't thank you enough for the encouragement!

It works for me for all that, but I have also found it works for me as a portal to the sites I visit regularly. So, partly to tell you about my favorite home school sites, and mostly for my own lazi, er, convenience, I have been putting up new lists of sites in the sidebar. I hope to eventually sort the home school sites into categories (many, many more are coming!). And, of course, I hope you have fun with them!

Bird Song

Angel taught this to Choclo and when they do it together it is a marvelous combination of heart-meltingly sweet and hilarious.

Way up in the sky,
The big birdies fly (flap your arms).
While down in the nest,
The little birds rest (circle child with your arms).
With a wing on the left (flap child's left arm),
And a wing on the right (flap right arm).
The little birds sleep (snore)
All through the night (head on folded hands, eyes closed).

The bright sun comes up! (raise arms)
The dew melts away! (lower arms with "raining" fingers)
Good Morning! Good Morning!
The little birds say!

Repeat as often as the child jumps up and down and shouts, "AGAIN!"

The photo is from this enchanting website.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Have You Hugged Your Mummy Today?

Yesterday we brought back the Fun Jar. This is a quart Mason jar (decorated with sticker glue stickers) filled with slips of paper with fun things written on them. At various intervals (like after a particularly tedious chore) we draw a slip and do what it says. We just finished cleaning the family room and drew: toilet paper mummies!

That's Klenda in the top picture, Klenda wrapping Zorg in the middle, and Leena (wrapped by Klenda) at the bottom. Mxyl was off running errands with the Emporer.

Other things in the Fun Jar include: baking soda volcanoes, playdough, board games, watercolor paint, Simon says, singing silly songs, freeze dance, telling knock knock jokes in foreign accents, special things for each person in our family (we all do a special thing for the person whose name we drew), Optimath Prime, Bumblebee spelling bee, Frisbee, superhero body trace, obstacle course, nature walk, random science experiment or art project, etc.

Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, just a long list of all the fun things we can forget to do regularly.

And, no, I do not reuse the toilet paper!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Frugal Not Quite Gourmet

I love to cook and the kids love to cook. It's a good thing since we cook for 9 people 4 times a day (snacks and dessert are considered indispensable around here). Our favorite thing, really, is baking and I do it a lot: cookies once a week, bread twice a week, and various muffins, cakes, quick breads, etc a few more times a week.

One real advantage to all this time in the kitchen is being able to stretch the food budget. This is a high priority for us (9 people /1 income = need to eat frugally). Still, this isn't something I would advise for anyone who doesn't like to cook because I can imagine this being sheer misery if it isn't your thing: it's hard to put a price on your sanity!

One thing I do is buy my baking supplies at a baking warehouse. This isn't like Sam's Club or Costco, and they sell very few things in quantities smaller than 50 lbs. Still, I am picking up 50 lbs of "Sir Lancelot" (the King Arthur Bread Flour) for under $10, about as much as I would pay for 5 lbs from the catalog when you count shipping! I buy bread flour, pastry flour, sugar and oatmeal there, but if you have special food needs (like say a wheat allergy) this would be far and away the cheapest place to get specialty flours (soy, rice, powdered whey, etc.) To find a similar deal, check your yellow pages for bakery supplies and just start calling.

Another big money saver is to buy big what is locally cheap. Here in Maryland there are a lot of poultry farms and, once every 6 to 9 months, chicken goes on sale super cheap. I spent an hour yesterday with 50 lbs of leg quarters. They were 47 cents a pound! When I get meat on sale like this, I do all the prep work at one time.

With the chicken, I removed the skin and cut apart the quarters into drumstick and thigh, seasoned them (rosemary garlic, curry, taco seasoning, Italian dressing, whatever you like) and froze them down in labeled bags. They marinate as they freeze and then can be cooked in any way from crockpot to grill. We got 8 meals for us and 7 meals for other families not counting planned leftovers for lunches- as much as 20 individual lunches depending on how often we have guests for dinner (we take our dinner leftovers and package them as mini meals for The Emperor and Angel to take for lunch).

We'll eat from this chicken stash once a week or so, interspersed with other meat frozen down and our meatless meals. We go meatless two days a week and have soup with fresh bread once a week.

I'd love to hear from you how you stretch your food budget!

The Robins Return!

They are back and have built another nest in the same spot: right on top of the flagpole holder outside the kitchen window, hidden amongst the roses.

We have been having fun watching Mama Robin build her nest. She is sitting in it at this moment (laying eggs!?!).

Naturally, this called for some robin research. Besides a number of websites, we have a book called A Nest Full of Eggs which was as perfect a book as if it had been written for this situation.

Among other things, I was relieved to learn that they build a fresh nest each year (I took down the last nest so we could look at it, but dropped and broke it when the bird mites swarmed onto my hand -ugh!).

This pair hatched out 4 chicks last year and we watched the parents teach them to fly. Turns out all robins are home schooled.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mxyl Has a Plan

He wants us all to stop walking around and start crawling.

This, he figures, will delay Oob learning to walk and keep him a baby longer.

Do you need to ask why?

I tried to explain that all that delicious baby cuteness wouldn't just go away. I tried to sell Mxyl on the idea that Oob would eventually be a fun kid to play with. But, finally, we had to agree to just enjoy Oob's babiness as much as we can, as long as we can.

So that's what we've been doing: kissing the top of his fluffy head, holding him so he can nuzzle our necks, and listening to that lovely baby laugh as much as we can.

What can you do? Love grows.

He's Crossed Over!

Mxyl did it! He was awarded the Arrow of Light and crossed over from Cub Scout into being a Boy Scout!!! Way to go Mxyl! We are so proud of you! You're getting so big! Sniff!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Would You Please Write a Blog About My Cheese Man?

Zorg asked.

Sure, why not! This is Zorg's Cheese Man. You can also see Leena trying for her own Cheese Person, but I think she got distracted and ate it.

I feel like I should say more.

Zorg's Cheese Man shows Zoomlian cheese sculpting at it's finest. Note the Cheese Man's exuberant posture! It is positively bursting with joie de vivre and ... cheesy goodness.

Perhaps I've said too much. Great art speaks for itself.

[Edit: I just remembered, Leena didn't eat her Cheese Person, she carved herself some Cheese Lips. All Cheese Sculptures were responsibly recycled as lunch.]

Important Kitchen Discovery

There is a reason why you never see a recipe for chocolate rice pudding. Tastes great. Looks like, well, this.

Believe me, better focus would not have helped.

Now for the appalling truth: I suffered a nigh irresistible temptation to freeze it and pass it off as a ground beef and rice lunch. Fortunately the temptation was only nigh irresistible.

What I'd really like to do is serve it to my mom (possibly the only person on the planet who would think it was really really funny when it happened to them).

Since I'm sure that you too want to serve this to your mom (Mother's Day is coming), the original recipe is here. I added cocoa powder and a pinch of nutmeg and instant coffee.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Mission and the Mistake

The Elizabeth Foss post discussion has mutated. I talked with Angel and The Emperor about it and we decided our fascination wasn't about our house (or your house) being clean or not. It's really about our understanding of what God is telling us and our specific missions as families and individuals. [Edit: the rest of this post is not actually about Elizabeth Foss! Her post just provided the jumping off point for the discussion. See the comments for more information.]

I think that when God gives us a clear understanding of what He wants us to do, we have a strong inclination to think it is what He wants everyone to do. God often tells us what He wants us to specifically do. God very rarely tells us what He wants everyone else to specifically do.

I'm not talking about general things like "Love each other" or "Thou shalt not kill." He's covered those things already in a nifty little book! Please don't interpret this as a diatribe against all external standards!

I'm talking about, as an example, knowing that God is a God of order, discovering how He wants you to reflect that order in your life (all good so far!), and then applying your discovery of God's plan for you to those around you. It's a bit like this logic: The Church is infallible. I am part of the Church. Therefore, I am infallible. :) That's great (except it's a terrible mistake).

Honestly, I think this error is the basis of the Mommy Wars. God has told me in no uncertain terms to stay home/go to work/home school/public school/whatever, therefore for anyone to do otherwise is wrong. But the gift (of knowing your mission) was to implement it in your own life and possibly to help others with a similar call.

I say possibly because, even if someone has a very similar call to yours, if you impose your call over theirs you are robbing them both of the joy of discovering that call and their natural unique growth in response to that call. But I think we fall into the trap of wanting the reinforcement of everyone doing it our way.

Angel also raised the point that, to avoid the mistake, the focus needs to be on God. Let's say that I have the insight that God is infinitely loving, nurturing, and creative and that my home school needs to reflect that. It is far better for me to write a post examining these attributes in God and then use examples of how I try to integrate that knowledge into my home school than for me to tell you that mine is The Godly Way to Home school. This gives you the gift of the insight and some practical ideas but let's you determine what (if anything) God would like you to do about it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Comment Format Change

I've been having trouble with spam in my comments. I do hope nobody got tricked into clicking on the links they were posting. I didn't try it myself, but I presume they were nasty. At any rate, I am switching to the word verification system. Sorry for the inconvenience!

What to Do on a Spring Afternoon?

Well, you could make 53 paper airplanes before the Prime Minister discovers what you are doing with the new case of copy paper.

If you time it right, you can even get the mailman to show you a new way of folding a plane and how to attach a large rubber band to the nose of your plane in order to sling it much further and faster.

I Saw the Pope!

Zorg jumped up and down, punched the air and yelled, "I saw the Pope! And he blessed me!"

And he did, too!

The Emperor and I took Mxyl, Klenda, and Zorg, and we, along with a few (thousand) of our closest friends, got to see the Holy Father.

We stood on the bottom steps of the Basilica near the Dominican friars (we're Dominicans too!). The friars had a big sign "The Dominicans love the Holy Father" and , when the pope saw it, he smiled, rolled down his window, and blessed us!

You've probably seen the details of his visit on TV, but actually being in his presence, even briefly, was extraordinary. There is such a sense of his gentleness and his delight in the people of God. What a gift!

A huge thank you to my dear friend, Betsy, for the ticket!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oob Discovers the Magic Tissue Box!

You pull one out
and it's still there.
You pull that one out
and it's still there...
(Repeat 248 times)

All Sorts of Things

have been happening here! We got an unexpected visit from our friend, Fr. Joe. We met him when he was here in the states (for a few years) preparing to set up a university in Nigeria, but we haven't seen him since he baptized Choclo (nearly three years ago).

When we first met, Leena was about 7 months old and she positively refused to smile at him. He took this as a challenge! Within 2 months, she cried if we tried to take her away from her best friend, Fr Joe. Still, I was surprised that Choclo and Oob both went immediately crazy for Fr Joe. We had a lovely evening and we hope he visits again soon!

We had the scouts Blue and Gold dinner and the boys won an award for their Olympic stadium cake. I thought I had a picture of it, but I can't find it!

We've been outside gardening and organizing and playing and hiking and digging and just messing around.

We had another lovely visit to the Arboretum, this time to the Asian gardens where we noticed how lovely all the little leaves are when they first emerge. Quite as pretty as flowers and we had fun sketching them.

I've been doing quite a bit of spring cleaning and organizing, kicked off, no doubt, by Elizabeth Foss' post. I've thought a lot about it, and I just disagree with her statement that large families are either very organized or very disorganized. This after walking around for a week thinking, "I plan out my meals a week in advance, I know where all the homeschool materials are: we're very organized." Followed 10 minutes later by, "This closet is messy, there are toys under the bunk beds: we're very disorganized." I ended up siding with Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (speaking to her sister, Elizabeth). "Lizzy, you do not make allowances for differences in situation and temper." I think we're reasonably organized with room for improvement as time and circumstances allow, and I think that's a fine place to be. I also think that the Emperor and I are not temperamentally suited to having every closet hung with herbal scented ironing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

There Are Some Real Wierdos Out There

We were at the grocery store. In fact, it was the same store where I had the perfect shopping trip some months ago.

I was heeding Lissa's advice about enjoying a shopping trip rather than seeing it as a task to endure, and we were having a great time. We practiced estimating the weight of the produce. We wondered about how lobsters keep track of 16 appendages (not counting their tails!) We bought seaweed (and decided to make sushi).

At some point, the kids who were walking (I was backpacking Oob and Choclo was in the cart) organized themselves in size order and followed me in a line while quietly quacking. Of course, 4 kids quietly quacking totals to some not terribly quiet quacking, but I didn't think they were being too loud. Every so often I would stop suddenly, turn on the suddenly silent children and ask, "Do you hear ducks?"

It was a fairly busy time at the store, so we passed a lot of people. Not a single person reacted. Not a smile, not a frown. Bizarre! And sad, really: not a single person quacked up.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April Fools!

Yes! Zoomlians celebrate April Fools day! It's more of a jokes- that- make- everyone- laugh type day than the practical joke kind of thing. For example: the menu stated that we would be having bagels for breakfast. How ordinary. Although, when we went shark tooth hunting 2 weeks ago on the Chesapeake, we did have to bring cream cheese (because of all the bay gulls). But not on April Fools day! Instead, surprise! We had banana splits. And when they peeled open the bananas, they were "magically" pre-sliced!

The picture, incidentally, shows the after breakfast cleanup when all the kids put rubber gloves on their feet and pretended they were ducks (Why not gulls? We had a theme going here!).

Continuing the bird theme, do not miss the rare, newly discovered (on April 1st) colony of flying penguins.