Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Best Apple Cake in the Whole World - Really!

We've had a lot of fun watching the ladybugs on our apple trees, this summer. So much fun, in fact, we almost missed the apples ripening in the background.

There's no denying fall is in the air. And, you'd really think so, if you could smell the wonderful, apple and cinnamon aroma wafting from my kitchen, right now, thanks to an old Martha Stewart recipe, I found on a 2009 post from The Cookie Shop, entitled, "The Best Apple Cake of the Whole World".

With a title like that, and the promise of a melt in your mouth taste of autumnal goodness, who could resist?

I had barely pulled the bread, and overflow muffins, from the oven, when the Man of the House, was drawn to the kitchen to try one. I was on the phone at the time, and only half paying attention as he asked if it was okay to eat one of the muffins. By the time I was off the phone, he'd eaten two, and was slicing into the bread.

"I don't know what this is," he said. "But, it's going to take all my will power to leave any for the children. I know what we're having for dinner tonight!"

I don't want to keep you waiting, while I ask for permission to reprint the recipe, so I'll just send you by link to Martha Stewart's. Even for a summer lover like myself, this cake is enough to make me happy to say - welcome fall!

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ladybugs in Bozeman

We made it home from Butte and Bozeman, and we had a terrific time. But, I did have to laugh. Surrounded by city sights, and sounds - hotel pools, more museums than we had time to visit, and a veritable retail heaven, at least by Montana standards, and what did the children find to look at?


...and their larvae.

We found these while visiting the Tinsley Homestead, the living history farm connected with the Museum of the Rockies. There was a row of sunflowers planted amongst beans, and squash, in a traditional Native American style, and absolutely loaded with ladybugs.

I slipped inside the farmhouse, and asked whether they had been purposely released around the "farm", or if they had just showed up. Apparently, they came on their own, and local to the area.

The children noticed right away, that both the ladybugs, and the larvae were different than what we've been seeing around our yard.

So, for a fall challenge, I've asked the older children to look online, and in printed field guides, to see if they can identify the various ladybugs we've photographed this summer, and match them with the correct larvae. Of the almost 5000 species of ladybugs, nearly 400 can be found in North America. It ought to prove quite challenging to identify the 5 or 6 varieties we've bumped into, this summer.

I've already identified a couple, like the Seven Spotted Ladybug (looked for by the folks at Cornell University's Lost Ladybug Project)...

...and the Asian Ladybug, pictured to the right, and distinguished by its oval shape, orangy color, multiple spots, and "M" on its head, but I've really been stumped by some of the others. I'm curious to see how the children do.

It ought to keep our entomology up, well into the fall.

For more science themed fun and ideas for children, check out the Science Sunday link-up, hosted by Adventure's in Mommydom.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cookie Road Map

We have a chance to tag along on an overnight business trip with the Man of the House, this week, and explore the big cities of Butte and Bozeman, while he works.

Before a road trip, it's always wise to consult the map - or eat it, if it happens to be a cookie.

To make our edible road map, the children patted out a batch of sugar cookie dough (click here, for the recipe) into the shape of Montana. Actually, they used slightly more than 3/4 of a batch of dough to form the state, setting the rest aside, to use for decoration.

When they had it roughly in the shape of Montana, they added chocolate chips to mark the "large" cities and major towns, with a tiny blob of the extra dough, mixed with a drop of yellow food coloring, as a star, under Helena, the state capital.

The rest of the dough was mixed with a few melted chocolate chips, and turned into mountain ranges.

Blue sugar (sugar + a drop of blue food coloring), was sprinkled on for Flathead Lake (rumored to be the home of a cousin of the Loch Ness Monster), and the Fort Peck Reservoir (where the T-Rex are being found).

They decided the state looked too plain, and added some green sugar for color.

After correcting the placement of the Missoula chocolate chip, I baked the cookie for about 20 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

When it had cooled, we piped on butter cream frosting, in blue, for rivers. We didn't get too involved with the rivers, because we hope to study those, later. But, we did briefly discuss the continental divide, which we hope to cross on our trip, and its effect on the direction the rivers flow.

Then, because it was supposed to be a road map, we piped on roads - green for interstates, and pink for highways.

It ended up being a messy cookie - but a lesson we could sink our teeth into.

You can find more fun with history and geography, at this week's History and Geography link-up, hosted by All Things Beautiful.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Larva to Pupa, Pupa to Ladybug

All this week, we've been watching as ladybug larvae morphed into pupae (you can click the photos to make them bigger).

And, after a good deal of waiting, and watching, we were finally rewarded, yesterday, with the sight of a ladybug struggling to emerge from the pupa stage.

We watched for quite a while, as it struggled around on the leaf, working in a circular pattern, from where the tail end of the shell was secured down.

By bedtime, it seemed to be resting, too.

This morning, all that remained, on the leaf, was an empty shell. The ladybug was nowhere to be seen, but it was chilly out, and most of the ladybugs, on the tree, were snuggled down under leaves, so it's possible it was nearby, but out of sight.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Time4Learning - Review offers bloggers a free month long trial, of their educational supplement website, in exchange for an honest review. As a homeschooling mother, free use an educational website is too good to turn down, so I happily signed up, this summer, while we didn't have much else going on.

The trial was limited to four children. I registered C (age 5), E (age 6), D (age 8), and G (age 12), so we could check out the Kindergarten through Junior High levels of the site. The sign-up, and log in process was easy, and the lesson instructions were simple enough, even my youngest could follow them on her own. Which was good, because I found the "cartoony" voices of the instructors, a bit grating.

To begin with, C and E were quite excited to have new "school" work, and spent several hours a day working through lessons, and playing games (parents set the amount of lesson time, that must be completed, before games can be played). While we working through our space theme, D was happy enough to work on a few, space themed, lessons in the 3rd grade science section, as long as I let him stay up from nap, to do them. G spent one afternoon, at my request, exploring, and working through lessons. Her opinion was that it was "okay", but she was not willing to try it out more than once.

After a week, in fact, all the children had lost interest, and even the younger girls had stopped asking if they could log in. In fairness, I should say, I don't think this was necessarily the fault of the website, but rather a testimony to how many excellent, educational, websites and software there are available for children.

While the children, the younger children especially, found Time4Learning educational, fun, and easy to use, they did not find it superior to their JumpStart, PBSkids, or BrainPop experiences.

I could go on, giving a breakdown of all of the features of the program, but you can find that on the Time4Learning website. In my opinion, they present their program accurately.

But, my advice, before jumping into a subscription service, is to check out what you can find for less, or for free. This is one case where paying less, does not necessarily mean getting less.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Very Simple, Garter Stitch, Children's Knit Crown

With US size 3 needles, and worsted weight yarn, cast on seven stitches (gauge doesn't matter so much for this project).

Knit four rows.

*On the last row cast on two extra stitches at the end of the row.

Knit down the nine stitches, and back up again (making two rows).

At the end of the second row, cast on an extra stitch.

Knit down the ten stitches, and back up again (making two rows).

At the end of the second row, cast on an extra stitch.

Knit down the eleven stitches, and back up again (making two rows).

Knit two stitches together, then the knit the additional nine stitches.

Knit back up the ten stitches.

Knit two stitches together, then knit the additional eight stitches.

Knit back up the nine stitches.

Knit two stitches together twice, then knit the remaining five stitches.

Knit seven rows.*

Repeat the rows between the *s, until you have a long enough piece to wrap around the crown of a child's head (10 times made a crowns to fit my children - remember, garter stitch is stretchy).

Cast off, leaving a long enough tail to stitch the two ends together.

Bring the two ends together, making sure not to twist the crown, and stitch back and forth, from underneath, to sew the crown together, into a circle. If you are making a crown for a very young child, you might want to sew on Velcro, to close the crown with, so the ends will come apart easily, if it ends up around the child's neck.

Weave in the loose yarn.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

3D Sidewalk Chalk - Review

I picked up a "Disney Princess, 3D Chalk Set", on one of those super, end of summer, clearance sales, this weekend. I didn't really expect it to work, but thought the girls might enjoy the stencils, that came with the set. And, since it was practically free - why not?

The set comes with one pair of 3D glasses, 10 pieces of standard, sidewalk chalk, a couple of sheets of princess-like stencils, and some very simple instructions.

Things colored in cool colors will recede, while things colored in warm colors will pop forward when viewed through the 3D glasses. You can almost see it, even without the glasses. But, to my great surprise, the effect is really stunning, when you put the glasses on.

The girls played with the stencils for a while...

...but discovered it was easier to just scribble out a cool colored background, and then draw in yellow, or red, on top of it. With the 3D glasses, yellow things seem to float well above a blue background.

The set turned out to be a lot of fun, and a great way to review cool, and warm colors, as well.

It's great to be a homeschooler.