Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I have been on a big umami kick lately. Umami is the newly discovered fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter). It has been suspected of being a true distinct taste, but it could not considered as such until taste buds specific to umami were discovered.

The taste can best be described as savory, meaty or "mouth filling." MSG activates the umami receptors, but that's like saying refined sugar activates sweet receptors. Natural forms of umami give a more pleasing and complex sensation.

I want to blog some of my favorite umami recipes, but let me start with a list of umami rich foods right now:
Parmesan cheese,
soy sauce,
yeast extracts like marmite,
tomatoes, especially paste.
and fish sauce.

Interestingly, cooking methods can increase umami, particularly anything that promotes the browning (Malliard) reaction.

More later!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One for the Road (Trip)

Blue Streak does not have a DVD player (let alone 6 DVD players), but do we fear road trips? No!

We know one of the secrets of the universe: before there were DVDs, there was... TV.

Does Blue Streak have a TV? No! (And if he did, it wouldn't be digital enabled). Do our hearts falter? No!

Before there was TV, there was... radio! And, since all of these inventions came along, we have... the Internet!! And the Internet is brimming over with... Free Old Time Radio Shows!

We are listening to Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, The Lone ranger, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, The Green Hornet, Superman, Batman, The Fantastic 4, You are There, Family Theater, and (my personal favorite) Adventures in Research.

My favorite sources:






And if that's not enough to keep your ears busy (my goodness, where are you driving?), try Florida's fabulous free Lit to Go. Books, poems and short stories, what's not to like? Our favorites so far have been Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling and The Light Princess by George McDonald.

Monday, June 22, 2009

School is OUT! Kind of...

Hooray! The Emperor is home for the summer!

And I sent in my June portfolio for review!

The question I get asked most frequently (after, "Are they all yours?") is, "Do you home school in the summer?"

It's a bit of a tough question to answer.

On the one hand, it would be hard to go a day in life without learning stuff, let alone a whole season. On the other hand, I'm sure the random stranger asking thinks of school as kids sitting and listening and writing quietly. In that case, I'm not sure they would ever recognize our school as being "in session!"

In practice, summer is special because the Emperor is home. We are more relaxed because we're together. (That's a nice way to say that the problem with being married to the most fascinating person you've ever met, is that you tend to pay more attention to him and less to the kids. They enjoy the relative neglect enormously and use it to get into all kinds of trouble and adventures. They also end up with new interests when left more to their own devices. Not a good plan year round, but a very pleasant way to spend the summer.) We do a lot more road trips and field trips. The Emperor often chooses something special to teach the kids (this year it's Spanish and piano). When it gets too hot to do anything, we do more books and writing and math. When the weather is fine, we go out and play. It's usually "low tide" until the kids get bored, and then we do more stuff!

I have found that keeping a bare bones schedule (we pray a little, work a little, learn a little every day) keeps everybody happy and prevents an unhappy reentry into high tide.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Next Subject to Teach

Ark building.

Fortunately, we've already gathered a lot of animals.

Unfortunately, half of them are fish.

Either way, I'm glad (sort of) that the Zoomlians never seem to get tired of getting wet and muddy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


We finally made it to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens today!

It was a chilly drizzly day, but the sight of acres of waterlilies made it worth it. We loved the flowers, but we were even more interested in the giant lotus leaves.

If you've never seen them, the leaves are shaped like graceful green soup dishes. In wet weather, they collect shimmering drops of silver that can be swirled about and hover and dance in time to your footsteps.

It turns out that the lotus leaves repel water because they are covered with microscopic bumps. The bumps are small enough to support the water without breaking the surface tension. Scientists replicated the bumps to create waterproof surfaces for umbrellas, raincoats and medical scrubs. Evidently, if water won't stick to it, not much else will either.

I must also admit that these are pictures from the web since I wasn't too sure about taking my camera out into the rain while keeping Oob and Choclo out of the ponds!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


My pink lilies are blooming!

The pink currants are ripe!

My red raspberries are pink!

The tomatoes are green! (But at least 4 of the tomato plants have tomatoes already).

My yellow (Anne) raspberries are almost ripe!

We took a leisurely walk (to see the trains, of course) and snacked on mulberries and the first of the black caps (wild blackberries).

The weeds are threatening to over run the garden, but they haven't done it yet.

Ahhhh, it must be early summer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tacticians R Us

So, Fr. Mark was over the other night and entertained the kids by telling them the story of Horatius at the bridge (like in the poem). The older Zoomlians were really into it. Still, Fr. Mark was startled when the Zoomlians started listing other Roman options:

Klenda wanted to know why they didn't have a standing army for the defense of the city.

Zorg thought they should have just burned the bridge.

Mxyl decided they needed a force field.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's Going Through My Head

In case you are wondering, my taste runs more toward medieval polyphony, so having this in my head is like walking around banging my skull with a hammer. On the inside.

I raised my kids on Classical music. That made them much smarter, I'm sure, but this is what they go around singing.

Ah, well, at least they know the 50 states.

I think I'll have that banana now.

Let's Learn the 50 States - music sample - © 2006 Smart Kid Publishing, ASCAP

Let's learn the 50 states
You can learn the 50 states
Let's learn the 50 states
You can learn the 50 states
Let's start the song - with A through D
Are you ready? Are you ready?
1, 2, 3...

Alabama and Alaska,
Arizona, Arkansas‰
California, Colorado
Connecticut and that's not all
Where, Oh where is Delaware?
(It's on the East Coast; it was our first state!)
Now you've got the first eight!

Florida's the next state
Then Georgia and Hawaii
Did you know that the next four all start with "I"?
Idaho, (Idaho)
Illinois, (Illinois)
Indiana, (Indiana)
Iowa. (Iowa)
Add 2 K's with Kansas and Kentucky
But just 1 "L"... that Louisiana's lucky

Let's learn the 50 states
You can learn the 50 states

16 states start with "M" or "N"; Maine
Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan
If you know the next 4 you get a banana
Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana
Half way done and I'm really proud of ya
On to the "N's": Nebraska, Nevada
4 states with "New" forget them you're a dork
New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York
North Carolina, North Dakota, let's sing the chorus, here we go-a

Let's learn the 50 states
(East coast and West coast)
You can learn the 50 states
(Across the Midwest)
Let's learn the 50 states
(Down in the South)
You can learn the 50 states
(and way up North)
3 states all start with "O"
Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon way to go!

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O Pennsylvania,
Q, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota
Are you getting thirsty and wanna drink a soda?
Just 9 states on the list
Let's do in 3/4 time and you'll get the gist
Tennessee, Texas, Utah
Vermont, Virginia, Washington
3 more "W's" for you to sing
West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming

Let's learn the 50 states
(Where do you live?)
You can learn the 50 states
(In the USA)
Let's learn the 50 states
(Who are your neighbors?)
You can learn the 50 states
(In the USA)
Let's learn the 50 states
(Where have you been?)
You can learn the 50 states
(In the USA)
Let's learn the 50 states
(Which state is your favorite?)
You can learn the 50 states
50 states!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quick Takes: the grubby cowboy hat edition...
1. Mxyl (Howdy there!)

2. Klenda (Different fashion senses are allowed.)
3. Zorg (No, I have no idea how does that with his face, but it cracks me up!)
4. Leena (Her other nickname is "Sunshine.")
5. Choclo (Did I mention different fashion senses are allowed?)
6. Oob (Who found the hat to begin with!)
7. Choclo's preferred hat (It's a backwards firehat.)
More at Conversion Diary!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

End of the Year Part 3

I almost forgot about the guppies! We set up a 10 gallon breeding tank for our guppies. We keep our showy males in the community tank and the female(s) here. The males get, er, conjugal visits.

We started with 2 females, but lost one in a tank disaster (filter got disconnected and the ammonia spiked).

We have also lost a number of the males, although we haven't been able to figure out what went wrong. The water readings have been perfect. We dosed the tank with fish antibiotic, so we'll see...

Interestingly, I met a more experienced fishkeeper at our local fish store and when I asked why my males had died, he told me the following: (It helps to picture him, he looks like a senior member of a biker gang) "Ya know, with guppies, they're either gonna make it, or they're not. Don't worry about it. I had a friend who kept guppies in his toilet tank for 8 months. No kidding! He had a small apartment and he put screening over the hole so the fish didn't get flushed, ya know. They had babies and did just fine. How's that for water quality? Didn't worry about filtering or chlorine or nuthin - but he sure did frequent water changes!"

Our dear friend Fr. Mark arrived back for the summer! We had a little party, naturally! He is from New Orleans, and is the epitome of southern manners. I knew we would be great friends when, the first time we had him over (3 or 4 years ago), he patiently listened to Zorg for 20 solid minutes, then apologized for not understanding all of it (Zorg was 5 and had a speech impediment).

This time around, after the kids had taken him on a whirlwind tour of their rooms, art projects and lego creations (and explained the Bionicle universe), he sat down with a bemused expression and said, "It's like I never left except they're all taller!"

In other news, thanks to the kindness of a lovely lady, we got to visit a horse farm, and everyone got to ride!

That's Mxyl on Hawk.

The gentleman leading the horse also showed some fantastic riding - no saddle or bridle, just riding! I've never seen anything like it, it was lovely to watch.

And Klenda, also on Hawk. It was the first time she had ever been on an actual horse instead of a pony!

Zorg and Leena got to ride on Pumpkin Pie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

End of the Year Part 2

We are still (!) going on the astronomy/space exploration unit. We haven't had a lot of clear nights for the telescope, but we keep trying!

Here we have Mxyl's moon base design: The black part is a "solar farm" which leads into batteries below the surface. There is a large silver dish for communications. The dome is oblong and covers plants for oxygen and food as well a s houses and a lab. The water tower is on top of the water recycling unit.

Here is Klenda's: She went with a large silver dome - large enough to support it's own controlled weather (hence the cloud). You can also see generators, a water supply, many storied buildings and plenty of plants for food and oxygen.

This is picture Klenda took of Oob.

If you wondered where Oob and Choclo are in the midst of all this, the answer would be:
A Getting into everything.
B Breaking the refrigerator lock and then getting into everything.
C Potty training.
D Playing in the mud.
E Scattering trash about the house
F Rewriting the password on the one computer connected to the internet.
G All of the above.

Hmmmmm. Tough question.

During one of the many impressive thunderstorms, we turned off all the lights, told "scary" stories, and made shadow puppets while eating watermelon. Zorg carved his into a cat face that you could shine a light through! How cool is that?!

The Emperor also did a stirring reading of William and the Magic Ring - a fantastic shadow casting book!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

End of the Year Part 1

It's all about wrapping up or winding down:

We finished our home school co-op and launched the rockets: everyone got a good launch and a little more than half recovered their rockets (that's our personal average, so it must be OK!).

Mxyl had his Tenderfoot Court of Honor!

Zorg crossed over to Bear Scout!

We are rolling in strawberries and even got a few cherries!

Alas, the near constant rain has been fantastic for the new plants I put in, but encouraged a fungus on the cherries. Also, the strawberries are bit waterlogged, but there sure are a lot of them!

This is the first year the "Stark Gold" tree bore (Thank you Aunt Toni!) and they are as lovely to eat as they are to look at - my all time favorite cherry!