Three Cheers for SPRING!!!

The Inspiration Called Spring.

After painting my thoughts from a grey pallet with a cold winter brush, I pick up the same brush and find it changes color like a chameleon. The words coming from its tip are filled with sensory images that wake up the dormant muse. There is no doubt that spring has entered into the picture to spread its influence on my thoughts. How can I stay grey when yellow and purple crocuses wave their tongues as I pass by? How can I be cold when the earth feels warm in my hands? How can I take a breath of air without bringing the scent of grass and hyacinth to my nostrils? Spring is the season of poetry; it is the feast promised after the famine passed. It is the reason birds sing, and the sun shines. It is the reason I pick up a fresh piece of paper and a newly sharpened pencil and bare my soul in words.                    crocus

Get your children outside on a SPRING SCAVENGER HUNT. Make a list of things to look for as you take a walk through the neighborhood or park. Some possible things to include on your list are: flowers of various colors, different kinds of birds, different kinds of trees/leaves, insects, things popping out of the ground, nests, etc. Or, make it a sensory hunt and try to identify various bird songs, nature sounds, smells from blossoming trees and flowers, taste of newly sprouted asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries.


Celebrate all things spring!

Irish Soda Bread…AGAIN…Because it’s Delicious!

I first ran this recipe in 2014 but everywhere I go, people comment on the moistness and light sweetness of this bread, so here it is…in time for ST. PATRICK’S DAY.

This recipe for Soda Bread is more moist than many thanks to the buttermilk.  If you can’t find buttermilk, use regular plain yogurt (NOT Greek).

Irish Soda Bread

4 C flour (I use 1C whole wheat)       ½ C sugar       1 T baking powder

1 t salt               1 t baking soda         1 C. raisins plumped (see note)

 4 T melted butter        1 ½ C buttermilk      1 lg. egg

  1. Preheat oven to 375.  Grease and flour a round pan or cookie sheet.
  2. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, powder and salt.
  3. Pour melted butter into dry ingredients and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in raisins.
  4. In a separate bowl beat buttermilk, egg and baking soda.  Add to flour mix until blended.
  5. Turn dough onto floured surface, and knead until smooth – about 1 minute.  If dough is sticky, flour your hands as you knead.  Shape dough into two round loaves.  soda bread 1
  6. Place dough in prepared pan. With a sharp knife, make 2 crisscross slits in dough.
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Let rest for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.
  8. Serve sliced with butter or jam.  Bet you can’t eat just one piece!

soda bread 2

NOTE: Pour boiling water over the raisins and let them stand for 5 minutes to soften.  Drain and pat dry.

 

Spring Sprouts

If you can’t wait for the weather to get warm enough for planting and digging in the garden, try SPROUTING SEEDS. Seed packets are in grocery stores and it’s easy to try sprouting them with the kids All you need is a package of bean seeds and paper towels.

1. Wet paper towels.  Place 3 or 4 seeds onto the wet towel, fold it to cover the seeds.

2. Place the folded towels in a warm area and keep them moist by sprinkling them with water every few hours.

3. Check the seeds every couple of days.  You should see them sprout before a week is through.  Don’t give up if it takes a little longer.  The warmer the area, and the moister the towels remain, the faster the seed will sprout.

What to do with them once they’ve sprouted?  While it might be tempting to eat your own sprouts, I wouldn’t.  Some seeds are treated with certain chemicals and can cause illness. YOU CAN, however, plant them in dirt and have a “mini” garden on a windowsill.  They can also be put directly into your garden outdoors when the soil is ready.

Try different kinds of beans to see how long each takes and compare their different characteristics.  Take a photo and send it to me. I’ll post some of them here.

Ever See a Crab in the Forest?

  NATURE MAKES US NICER.

A study done by the U. of Rochester, 370 people were shown either images of man-made or natural objects and worked in space with or without indoor plants. Images of nature and indoor plants made people feel more connected, more caring and charitable toward others. Man-made images made people place more value on wealth and fame. Other research tells us that exposure to nature reduces stress.
So, if you’re looking for a gift that keeps on giving, try plants and photos of natural settings to help you through the dreary days of winter. Visit parks and natural areas as often as you can.
To view beautiful photos of nature click on Travel + Nature at:   http://www.treehugger.com
Spring is just around the corner!

To get children interested in nature, take them            

Boston Arboretum

Boston Arboretum

outdoors. It doesn’t have to be a park or forest. A playground, back yard or grassy field will do nicely. Get down on your knees and look for things hiding in the grass and under leaves and rocks. Most children have a natural curiosity when it comes to bugs, birds, and wild creatures. If you’re a bit squeamish regarding members of the insect population, try not to project those feelings onto your child.  Most bugs and insects are harmless and fascinating to watch as they go about their business. A magnifying glass will add a level of “scientific authority” to the activity. It’s also fun to take along a camera or some paper and pencil to record what you discover. Have a contest for whoever can find the most different species.

Buds are springing up from the ground and on trees thanks to our mild winter.  How many can you and your child identify?  There are lots of field guides available to help you identify plants and insects.                             Triple oaks spiderWhat are some of your favorite natural spaces?

Remember: “Take only photos, leave only footprints

Shake Off the Winter Blahs.

 I recently visited the Art Museum on the Princeton University campus. It was great for three reasons. First of all, it’s free. There aren’t many places of culture and enlightenment nowadays that can boast that. And, the collection has something for everyone.  There are sculptures and pottery over 4,000 years old, paintings done by ANDY WARHOL, and everything in between.

The third reason it was a great visit is because where else but an art museum provides peace, quiet, and contemplation along with some magnificent objects of beauty? Being in such an environment frees the mind and allows all sorts of creative energy to enter. Writers who are struggling with writer’s block might find inspiration looking at any painting or sculpture, and stories begin to spring into mind. WHY did the artist choose such a subject? WHAT IF the subject were alive today? WHAT would she/he have to say?  The possibilities for story are endless.

Let the kids go on a SCAVENGER HUNT, searching for specific art pieces throughout the day.  Many museums have programs geared specifically for children.

So, if you feel as if you’re in a rut and need some CHANGE to jump start the muse, visit the Princeton University Art Museum – or ANY art museum and let your imagination run wild. Take notes, snap photos and just doodle in a notebook. You never know, it may be the start of something wonderful. artmuseum.princeton.edu

Didn’t someone say “a picture is worth a thousand words?”

Heated Political Battle Led to Frosty Dessert: by Marilyn Ostermiller

Looking for a romantic treat for special someone? You might want to consider whipping up a Baked Alaska, the classic dessert that’s fiery hot on the outside with a melting heart and richly delicious all over.

In it’s traditional form, Baked Alaska is concocted with hard ice cream on a base of sponge cake and covered in a shell of toasted meringue. Plan ahead because the cake must be baked and cooled before topping it with layers of firmly frozen ice cream. Just before it’s time to serve dessert, whip several egg whites into a stiff meringue, spread it completely over the ice cream and cake and place it in a very hot oven for a couple of minutes, until the meringue begins to brown. The trick to making sure the ice cream doesn’t melt is to seal the cake and ice cream with the meringue. Here’s a recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/baked-alaska-recipe.html

photos-library

If the classic form is daunting, consider a small version made with brownies that children with some experience in the kitchen can help assemble. This version with easy-to-follow directions comes from Baking Bites, a food blog written by Nicole Weston, a pastry chef, food writer and recipe developer based in Los Angeles, CA http://bakingbites.com/2015/07/brownie-baked-alaska/

Baked Alaska Day is commemorated nationally in February.

According to the National Day Calendar organization, Baked Alaska was created by a celebrity Victorian chef, Charles Ranhofer. The Frenchman was the chef at the swanky Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City in the mid 1860s, where he became notorious for naming new and renaming old dishes after famous people and events.

In 1867, a political debate was raging over the potential purchase of Alaska from Russia. Secretary of State William Seward agreed to a purchase price of $7 million and Alaska became a United States territory. Those who were of the opinion the purchase was a giant mistake referred to the purchase as “Seward’s Folly”.

Capitalizing on the heated controversy surrounding the purchase in the frozen north, Ranhofer’s Baked Alaska fit the bill. It was cold, nearly frozen and quickly toasted in a hot oven prior to serving.

Who knew!?       Marilyn Ostermiller

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

Anyone out there “daring” enough to try making your own BAKED ALASKA? If you do, send me the photo and I’ll post it here on the blog!

 

Home Schooling Ins and Outs: Things to Consider by Maureen Lasher Morris

Last week Maureen talked about how she came to be a home school-er with her children and grandchildren.  Today she will share her tips for what to think about if you decide Home Schooling might be for you and your family.  Here’s Maureen with part 2 of her series.

  • There is a plethora of information and support available for homeschooling families. It has become commonplace within many groups. Some home school for religious reasons, while others do not want their child going to the local school for any of a variety of reasons. Some schools offer a duel enrollment where your child attends school for certain classes and is home for others. Many districts provide enrollment in the community college paid for by the district. Some school districts are more supportive of homeschooling than others. The district I live in provides many resources for home schoolers. I would suggest that you check with your local district to see what they offer. The requirements vary from district to district also so it is a good idea to check and see what they are for your area.
  • With homeschooling, the program can be tailored to fit each individual child’s needs, abilities and interests.
  • There are many curriculum choices out there. Online schools are one way to start if you are nervous and unsure of how to begin (K-12 is a very well put together program that works within local school districts, just for an example). These programs provide ongoing support from an actual teacher. They provide the required testing for each state and also offer special education services if needed. They follow the school year and are considered a part of the school district not home school even though all the work is completed at home.
  • Many religious affiliations offer curriculum that corresponds to their specific beliefs and teachings. Some programs have a specific emphasis on science or math. The choices are many.
  • Some prefer to put their own program together. I would not recommend this but it does work for some. It is a lot of work and one thing to be aware of is the requirements that colleges and universities have regarding homeschooling. The program I used was an accredited one that was very rigorous in its materials. The accreditation is important because those schools provide a school number used in ACT and SAT testing and college applications. Without the accredited school number, the homeschooling provider needs to account for each class by giving the text used, date of text, author, etc. for high school. Hours of schooling needs to be regulated as well and documentation is important to show proof of what was taught. As a teacher, I felt that I did not need to reinvent the wheel and picked a curriculum that fit with my beliefs and standards.
  • I would recommend joining a support group both for your own help, and also for socialization for your child. These groups often provide classes, field trips, and fun activities. Colorado Springs has a very large home school presence. One of the support programs offered provided classes for specific higher level subjects such as chemistry and calculus. I took advantage of these since there were several areas of content that I was not comfortable in teaching. It so happened that Colorado Springs is home to the Air Force Academy and my son’s chemistry teacher was a retired chemistry teacher from the academy. My children also took classes in dance, puppet-making, acting, rock climbing, among others.
  • I also hired a private tutor for some of the higher-level math classes. She was very reasonable and worth every penny. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Another thing that I was able to do was trade for services. I taught sign language in return for help with physics for my son.
  • One of the most important things for me with homeschooling is keeping a schedule. We start the same time every day. The routine is helpful to both my children and myself. It gives a sense of importance to what we are doing. Another thing I feel strongly about is that my child get dressed and ready for school as if he/she were going to an actual brick and mortar school.  If they stayed in pajamas, with uncombed hair, etc.… then their schoolwork was not taken seriously.  
  • It is also good to have a designated area for school. I use my dining room which contains several bookcases, a chalkboard, a whiteboard, work table and 3 computer stations. On the rare occasion that I actually use the room for dining, the table is adjustable and works fine. Any space works fine, but try to make sure that the distractions are minimal.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
  • I also have what I called non-negotiables. These were what we did regardless of what was happening or going on that day. My non-negotiables were reading, writing and math. School is the priority but occasionally things come up at home the same way they come up at school. Many days while a teacher there were events that occurred and prevented a normal day of teaching.
  • There are many resources available online. There are also several places where you can get extra materials. Teacher stores are an excellent resource. Colorado Springs has two teacher supply stores which are filled with a variety of materials that are helpful to the home schooled family. I enjoy browsing through these and picking up colorful charts, flashcards, etc. even though the program I use sends me everything I need: books, workbooks, answer keys, science kits, even handwriting paper. Some of the online programs provide computers and a stipend for internet access.
  • Another resource that I use regularly is the library. Our library has a special program specifically for home schooled students. They offer something different each month.
  • Home schooled students are also eligible to participate in sports from the school that they would be attending if they were at school. My daughter swam for all fours years in high school and received a scholarship to swim at college. My son played baseball at the high school.
  • One of the criticisms that I often hear is the lack of socialization. This always makes me laugh because my children who home schooled were much more sociable and equally comfortable with adults as their peers than my children who attended school. They have become well-rounded adults, articulate, poised and confident in their abilities.
  • Do not be afraid to take on this challenge if you feel that this is right for your family. There is so much support available and it will be worth the hard word and challenges. It is a great way to develop close bonds with your child that will last a lifetime.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The following are some resources for homeschooling families:

A resource from PBS – http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/homeschooling/homeschooling-resource-list/

This site has resources available state by state – http://www.homeschool.com/resources/

This one is from Parents Magazine with many resources listed _ http://www.parents.com/kids/education/home-schooling/best-homeschooling-resources-online/

This site from The Pioneer Woman has links to printable materials such as flash cards and worksheets – http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeschooling/free-online-educational-resources/