Monday, August 31, 2009

Crabapple Disaster

Our new interest in frugal living, has led us to view our surroundings a little differently. We hate to see things go to waste. That's not to say, we've become the most frugal people in the country, far from it, but we're definitely reusing more, and buying less than we were a year ago.

So, when we noticed a friend's crabapple tree loaded with fruit, that was not being used, we inquired about it. When it turned out, they had lost interest in using crabapples, and had let the entire tree's worth of fruit fall, unused, for several years, we asked if we could pick some of the sour little guys. I've never cooked with crabapples before. In fact, my only memory of ever tasting one, is as a child lured in by their cuteness. Needless to say, I only tasted one.

Still, I've heard of crabapple jelly, and I was pretty confident the Internet would be able to provide quite a few more recipes for using the tiny fruit. Best of all, my husband was willing to do the picking. By late Sunday afternoon, I had a sink full of crabapples, and a handful of recipes.

My mother advised me to cook the apples on the stove, cores and all, and then run them through a food mill (then she reminded me that she had given me one of her food mills, for making apple sauce), before turning them into jam or jelly. That sounded a lot simpler than cutting the little cores out, so I figured that would be my method. However, when I filled the sink with water, to wash the apples, I realized many of them contained worms - of course, no one would spray a tree, they weren't going to pick from.

While I appreciated the lack of pesticide on the apples, I wasn't sure I fancied cooking up the worms with the apples (I'm sure my mother would have, and now I'm looking with suspicion at the homemade apple sauce she brought on her last visit). I decided I would have to cut the apples up, to be sure, I didn't include any worms in the batch.

On a bright note, the children got quite a thrill out of watching the little creatures squirm out of the apples, as the sink filled with water. However, after a few minutes of watching them struggle to stay on the surface, I found myself obligated to ferry them outside, rather than watch them drown (much to the children's relief). We are definitely not country folk.

At any rate, since I was cutting the fruit anyway, I decided to try out the recipe for crabapple pie that I had found, before trying the jam or jelly. The pie recipe, called for six cups of quartered, crab apples, with the cores cut out. After an hour I had two cups, and was ready to quit. Luckily, I had also found several copies of a recipe for crabapple cake, that only needed two cups of the chopped up apple.

The recipe called for:

  • 2 cups of chopped crabapple

  • 1 cup of sugar

  • 1/2 cup of shortening

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 Tbs. mil

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 2 tsp. salt

  • 2 cups of flour

Mix all the ingredients together, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, in your favorite cake pan. I chose a large muffin tin.

If you have a sharp eye, you might have noticed the large amount of salt. I noticed it too, but I had three recipes from different sites, all calling for the same amount. So, I thought maybe it had something to do with the sourness of the crabapples. It didn't. I'm pretty sure it's a mistake, and it should read 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

I will be spending some time today tracking down the recipe sites, to leave a comment about the salt. In the meantime though, the little bits of crabapple, baked up beautifully. They actually taste good enough in the salty muffins, that I'm going to be compelled to finish cutting up the rest of apples. I'm pretty sure there's a batch of jelly in my future...worms not included.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Really Big Crocheted Ball of Plarn

As a follow up to our really big crocheted ball, I made one out of plarn for the kids to play with outside.

If your new to plarn, it stands for plastic yarn, and is made from used grocery bags. Click here, to go back a few posts, and see how we make it.

Like our first ball, this one is about five feet in circumference. It weighs around eight pounds. And, although I didn't count each and every one of them, it took somewhere around 500 bags to make - 200 for the crocheting, and around 300 for stuffing. I probably could have stuffed in another 100, or so bags, just to make it really firm, but I ran out of bags, and decided to stop at good enough.

For a pattern, I expanded on a generic (meaning one I've seen several different places, so I don't think I'm breaking any copyrights to share it with you), ball pattern.

Using a 9mm, or N sized crochet hook, chain 2. Make 6 single crochets into the second chain from the hook, then start the rounds by crocheting 2 single crochets into each of the 6 single crochets, for a total of twelve stitches. Do not join the rounds.

Round two - crochet a single crochet into the first single crochet of round 1, then two single crochets in the next single crochet (sc). Repeat this around the round (six times total), for a total of 18 stitches.

Round three - crochet a sc in the first two sc's of round 2, and then two sc's in the next sc, repeating around the round, for a total of 24 stitches.

Round four - crochet a sc in the first three sc's of round 3, and then two sc's in the next sc, repeating around the round, for a total of 30 stitches.

Continue in this manner, increasing 6 stitches per round, until you reach the round where you crochet 22 sc's, and then the two sc's. The total stitches should be 138 around. Continue for three rounds of 138 sc's, without any increasing. Then, start decreasing by skipping over six stitches in each round where you doubled while inceasing (so in the first decreasing round make a sc in every sc, but skip stitches 22, 45, 68, 91, 114, and 137).

Continue decreasing six stitches per round, until you reach 12 stitches. Then, stuff the ball.

Finish decreasing by skipping every other stitch, until you are down to a single stitch, and tie off.

Decreasing this way, makes for a looser mesh on one side of the ball, than the other. This could be avoided by crocheting the two sides of the ball separately, and then sewing them together, but I didn't worry too much about it, because I stuffed the ball with whole bags, which stay put inside a looser mesh anyway.

Tips: When crocheting with plarn, it's best to keep things loose, it's not the most giving of materials. Also, I found that wearing thin gloves (a pair of the kid's winter ones), saved my hands a few callouses. If your bags are dirty, you might consider washing them before turning them into plarn, or stuffing. And, since plarn is plastic, take care to supervise young children, when they are playing with whatever you make out of it.

The kids kicked the ball around the yard for while, and since it wasn't stuffed completely full, it squished down into a nice bean bag type cushion, when they were done playing, and ready for a rest - one them had a seat anyway.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Milk Cap Yo-Yo

I was going to make a button yo-yo for the kids last night, but I didn't have any matching buttons that were big enough. I decided to try milk caps instead. We have an abundant supply of milk caps, and they ended up working out pretty well.

I started out by measuring, marking, and punching matching holes in the caps with a nail. I measured out a half a centimeter, from each side of the center, of the caps.

Then, with the flat sides of the caps together, I laced a piece of cotton yarn through the holes, and tied it on the outside of one of the caps, to secure them together.

I pushed a little clay into the outsides of the caps to add some weight. It's important to keep the weight even on each side, which is a little tricky without weighing the clay. I think gluing on a couple of washers might be a better option, but I was looking for something quick and adjustable, for testing the weight, and the clay worked nicely for that.

Finally, I cut a piece of embroidery floss (I also tried cotton yarn, kite string, and polyester thread, but found the embroidery floss worked best), about two feet long. I tied a finger loop in one end, and wrapped the other end a few times around the yarn, between the caps, and then tied it.

It's not exactly perfect, but it's close. A little more fiddling, and a little more practice, and we'll be ready for the "how to yo-yo" book, I put on hold at the library. Or, at least my daughter will be - I still have 3o, or so, other on hold books to go through.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Neuron Cookies - Neuroscience for Children

We spent a little time this morning decorating cookies to represent neurons, an idea we found here, at the BrainsRule!
Sugar cookies represent the cell bodies.
Frosting stands in for the cytoplasm.
Each cookie gets:
  • 1 green Runt candy - for a nucleus

  • 3 banana Runt candies - for Gogli apparatus

  • 5 mini M&M's - representing mitochondria

  • 5 Rice Krispies pieces - for rough endoplasmic reticulum

  • 4 short pieces of a pull apart Air Heads candy - for dendrites (licorice could be used instead)

  • 1 long piece of the Air Heads candy - for an axon

  • 3 mini marshmallows for myelin

For less sugary neuron model suggestions, as well as for a great description of what neurons are, and how they function, click here, to go to the Neuroscience for Kids site.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

30 Second Science For Kids - Tricking the Brain

You can trick the brain into thinking your finger has fallen asleep.

Hold out the index finger from your right hand, and rub it a few times with the index finger, and thumb of your left hand.

Then, hold a pencil in the right hand, so that it extends under your index finger. Rub your finger again, but this time, touch the pencil, instead of to the bottom of your finger. Your finger should begin to tingle.

The first time you touch your finger, nerves from the top, and the bottom of the right hand index finger, and nerves from the thumb, and index finger of the left hand, send messages to the brain that they are touching. The second time, the thumb, and index finger, of the left hand, send the signals, but one set of signals will be missing from the right hand, tricking the brain into reacting as if the finger is asleep.

Bite Sized Brain Cupcakes

I'm planning a quick neuroscience unit for the kids this week, so we kicked it off last night with some Martha Stewart inspired brain food.

The older kids had a great time creating the little brains, with gray frosting, on top of mini cupcakes.

The little ones watched the delicate surgery with great anticipation.

In fact, the feeding frenzy that ensued as soon as the last brain was complete, was so quick and thorough, that I didn't even get a chance to snap a picture of the bite sized creations, so this one blurry blowup will have to do.

Of course, if you want to see a crisp, professionally snapped photo, visit the Martha Stewart site. Hers, apparently, lasted a little longer than ours.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Freya Jaffke Inspired Knit Kittens

I picked up a copy of Toymaking with Children by Freya Jaffke, at our library this week. It was one of 40 books I put on hold, after perusing the children's craft and hobby section at While I'm not finding any of them as totally packed with great ideas as a certain Worldbook volume, that I just can't stop mentioning, I've picked up one or two fun ideas per book for either the children, or sometimes just for me. If you do the math, that adds up to a busy Fall for us.

Anyway, Toymaking with Children, was one of the first to arrive in. At initial glance, I wasn't overly impressed. It's a lot of Waldorf philosophy, playing with bits of bark and logs, and that sort of thing. But, a little deeper into the book, are some ingenious primitive doll patterns, including some very cute gnomes, and marionettes. Not to mention about half a dozen, must make, knit animal patterns, including these little kittens.

The book is directed at parents, not children, and so the patterns are brief, and a bit obscure. However, even with a newly acquired, and somewhat limited knowledge of knitting, I managed to make three of the little cats last night. An experienced knitter would have no trouble, but I stumbled a bit over instructions such as, "With a few stitches, form little ears."

Really, the kittens, are just a couple of knit rectangles, folded, stuffed (I used cotton balls, because some insane person used up all my poly-fil to stuff a giant ball), and sewn together.





I found a really similar, but somewhat larger, version of the pattern, here, that skips the whole ear problem entirely. But, just so you know, I found casting on, and knitting two, then knitting the two together, and tying off, worked just fine.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crepe Paper Clay Beads

The idea for this project came, loosely, from Mudworks Creative Clay, Dough, and Modeling Experiences by Mary Ann F. Kohl. Her entry on crepe paper clay, while giving easy to follow directions, was not accompanied by any photographs. After reading the instructions, I had in mind, that this clay would turn out something like moldable recycled paper. Rather, it is more like color flecked bread dough.

Making these beads (intended as lacing beads for the little ones), has been an interesting project. There were several times when I was just about to chuck the entire mess. However, as the beads have dried, I find the children, and I, liking them more and more. They have a really interesting texture, and color combination.

To make the clay, we tore crepe paper into small pieces. Since I thought the colors might blend, we separated out different color combinations. The colors did not mix though, and in the end, we combined most of the paper back together.

We added enough warm water, to completely cover the paper, and left our bowls to sit for several hours.

Then, we drained the water off, and added about 1/2 cup of wheat flour to each cup of paper mush. We kneaded the dough a bit, and then let it sit, covered by a damp cloth for about 1/2 hour.

When the dough was workable, we rolled it into large beads, which we poked holes through, with a wooden skewer.

As the beads dried, we continued working with the skewer, to keep the holes large enough for passing a shoe lace through.

Once dried, these beads can be sanded, and then sealed with a glue and water mixture.

We've made play dough beads before, but these are different. They are heavy, and have an almost have a wooden feel to them, that will make them a unique addition to the little ones lacing bead collection.

It's great to be a homeschooler.