Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A long story begins

Hi there.....it's me, remember me! Yeah I'm still here. I've been trying to figure out how to write this post for the past week. Finally I decided to just sit here and type until all that I have to say has been said. For your sanity I may split this into separate posts. We'll see how long it goes.

To start with, we are all fine. We had a week of being sick, but otherwise things have been good and busy. We celebrated thanksgiving and had a wonderful time. We also celebrated Esther and Elijah's birthday. Yes, they were born within 15 days of each other. Esther is now 3 and Elijah has finally hit the big number one! Although these happenings is enough to keep a mom busy on top of preparing for Christmas, but it really was what happened between these events that has kept me from writing on this blog.

As some of you who have been reading with me for a while know that I have begun a small quest to live a simpler life, meaning going back to basics in many ways. My inspiration started with Michelle at Steadfast at Home. After reading through her blog for a few weeks I started on the task of growing my own garden, canning and preserving, making bread and granola as well as many other activities.

I was just in the process of researching grain mills and starting the process of grinding our own wheat when I just happened to watch a show on TV called the 100 Mile Challenge. The show was based on the book, the 100 mile diet. Basically the authors went to a small town and challenged the people there to eat only food found within 100 miles of where they live and to do it for 100 days. The TV show chronicled what happened during those 100 days. I REALLY enjoyed the show. It showed the many benefits of doing this like supporting your local farmers, being more in touch with where your food comes from, eating whole foods instead of processed foods, etc, etc. What I didn't know is that while I was watching this show, my husband was watching it as well and was becoming inspired by it.

That same week I read this post from Michelle. (Side note...Michelle you have been such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing all that you do. God has used you and your words not only to influence me and my family, but my friends as well. Just keep sharing all that God puts on your heart to share.)

Ok, back to the story....needless to say, my husband and I stated talking about where our food come from and what is really in the food we eat. We were talking about expanding our garden next summer using heirloom seeds and trying to eat more locally. Then came the week of the last episode of the 100 Mile Challenge (it was a six week mini series) and my husband looked up at me during dinner and told me that he really wanted to do the 100 mile challenge for ourselves, at least for a month. I will say that I was shocked that he really was this interested in it, but very happy because I knew it could be good for our family. It would be challenging, but well worth it. I mean could I really live without salt and olive oil. And how many ways can you cook a turnip. (we live in Michigan, right now the only things local is potatoes and turnips)

That evening after the kids went to bed, my husband sat down to record a movie for his sister. It was called "Food Inc." She said that she was told she needs to watch it and that we may be interested as well. We figured why not.....little did we know it would completely overturn the way we eat forever.

Continued soon.....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mmmm - Bread

For quite a while now I have been aspiring to make my own bread. I have tried a few recipes and had some failures and some success. I have finally come upon a recipe that I really like for now. I am hoping to soon swap out the sugar for honey, but i haven't played with it yet. I'm not sure if I can do an even swap out or not. If anyone has any experience and can answer that for me I would appreciate it. Here is my recipe.

2 Cups warm water
2 Tbs yeast
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
2 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
6-7 cups flour

I mix the yeast, warm water and sugar together and let it sit a bit. I then add everything else together. I now make this in my kitchen aid mixer, so I dump everything together and mix with a dough hook until it is a nice dough. I did mix by hand int eh beginning and I had to slowly incorporate the flour. After it was mixed I placed it into a greased bowl and put it in a slightly warmed oven to rise. After it has doubled in size I punch it down and cut it in half to make two loaves. I let it rise again, then bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Here is the finished product.

Last night I made this recipe and I took half of the dough and rolled it into little balls to make dinner rolls. I baked half of them and froze the other half. The baked ones were good. My plan it to let the frozen ones thaw, rise, then bake them as well. We'll have to see if it works.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tot School - Finally!

Tot School
Esther is almost 3 years old!
Oh, it has been way too long since my last tot school post. There has been much going on in teh way of school, but very little picture taking and obviously no sharing going on. Below is a few pictures from the past month or so of a few things we've been doing.

We tossed bean bags into boxes

We played with this great pattern block toy/tool

We finally got to use this Montessori inspired tool I made for learning to order numbers

Esther learned how to operate the mouse on the computer successfully. She now plays on Starfall whenever she wants.

We learned about the bones in our bodies using this skeleton I got on clearance. Esther is obsessed with learning about her body.

Every week we are really enjoying being a part of the Nature Explorers Club. Here she is being a squirrel.

Sadly that is all I have pictures of, but there has been lots of play dough, painting and Montessori like activities. Hopefully I remember the camera more in the future. To see what other have been doing, click the button below.

Tot School

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Forest Layers

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Welcome to The Nature Explorers Club. I am a mom who loves nature and loves to share it with others. Using my experience as an Outdoor Education Instructor and the basic guidelines of the book "Nature For the Very Young", I will be venturing out to explore the great outdoors every week with my kids. Every week I will share what we did, and every week you are welcome to join us. I will post the topic of the week, then two weeks later I will share what we did and give you a chance to share as well. So get your boots ready, because we're going exploring!

This week's topic....

Forest Layers

A forest has three distinct layers to it. The canopy, shrub and forest floor. The canopy is made up of the leaves and branches directly above your head. The shrub layer is made up of the shrubs and other small plants growing under the canopy. Finally the forest floor, also called the leaf litter, is everything found on the ground and into the top layers of the soil. Some forests are missing the shrub layer due to the conditions of the soil and amount of sunlight in the forest.

The best way to learn about these things is to of course go to a forest. To view the canopy, it is best if you can lie on the ground and look up. Ask what they see and what they hear. The canopy has a very special job in the forest. In the summer it provides shade for the rest of the forest. The branches act as homes and perches for a variety of birds as well as squirrels. Also, the trees provide food for these animals either up in the branches, or when it falls to the ground. The canopy provides protection in the winter as well by stopping harsh winds.

The shrub layer is easily overlooked, and even harder for children to see. To them there may be no difference between the shrubs and the trees. They are both "up" above their heads. The shrub layers also functions similarly to the canopy in that it provides food and shelter to animals as well. The difference is the types of animals it helps. Rabbits will hide beneath bushes, while deer will eat the leaves and fruit from the shrubs as well.

The final layer, and my personal favorite, is the forest floor. At a quick glance, all it may seem like is a pile of leaves and twigs, but the forest floor is alive with activity all year round. As you dig down through the leaves you will quickly notice a change. The leaves seem to be broken down into smaller pieces and it may even be wetter or produce a distinct smell. What you are seeing is the products of decomposition. Decomposition is simply a once living organism breaking down into smaller pieces. On the forest floor, these pieces turn into soil. It is in this rich soil that you will find many living things ranging from fungi, to worms, to a myriad of insects. My best suggestion is to get in there and explore. Don't worry about getting dirty. Look under rotting logs, dig under the leaves, pull up rocks and see what you can find. * I always tell my children that whenever they do something like this, they are disturbing an animals home and that it is important to return their home just the way they found it. *

As you explore and find things, you are sure to be peppered with the question "whats that?" and unless you have done your research or gone to school like me, you may not know the answer. The best thing to do is bring a field guide with you. I personally use Peterson's First Guide to Forests for its simplicity as well as its ability to cover a very broad topic for the entire country. (I use their other guides as well) I also like to use the Fun with Nature Take Along Guides because they are prefect for the little ones, but they only cover a limited number of things.
You can check your library to see if they have field guides to be loaned out, or even your local USDA extension office. Also, Here, is a very simple guide that even the little ones may be able to use.

Activities:
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young".

* to cement the idea of what is up (the canopy) and what is down (the forest floor), you can sing this simple song...

You put your finger up, you put your finger down, You put your finger up and you shake it all around Then you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around And that's what its all about! Continue, with arm, head, leg and finally your whole self.

*choose a small area of the forest floor, maybe a square foot, and examine it in depth making a list of what you find. Taking this further, track how many of each thing you find, and make a simple graph of it.

* if it is too cold to remain outside for a long period of time, bring a bucket and remove a small portion of the forest floor, including the top layer of soil. Bring it home and in the warmth of your house examine the contents laid out on a table or in a large tub.

*collect different items from the forest and make a collage out of them, or recreate what you saw in the forest using the materials.

* make a worm habitat or a rotting log habitat. Click here to learn how to make a worm habitat. To make a rotting log habitat, collect some rotting wood, leaves, soil and different living organisms found on the forest floor. Layer them into an enclosed space. (soda bottle on its side, cleaned out plastic box from produce section or small aquarium) Take a week or two to examine what happens in your created habitat.
Please only attempt this if you know that you will be able to return the contents safely to their home at the end of the week.

*cut yarn into small pieces that look like worms. Glue these into the shape of a W.

* create a picture using hand prints as the canopy of a forest.

Pick and choose which activities best fit with your home. Don't be afraid to try something different if it interests you. Remember to come back in two weeks and share what you did. See you then!

Friday, November 13, 2009

NEC - Habitats Revisited

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Hello all! I hope you had a wonderful two weeks. Ours has been extremely busy and filled to the rim, but we had a great time. The topic this past two weeks has been "habitat". I knew that we had already explored the habitats of the forest, field and pond on other adventures we had taken, so I tried to focus more on some new ones that Esther had never experienced before. Luckily, our backyard is one large wetland which I have been chomping at the bit to explore. We are in the midst of bow hunting season and we don't have any bright orange attire so we didn't explore as much as I wanted, but it was fun.
Examining the mud!



We also visited a river and discussed the difference between a river and a pond. (no picture since camera was left at home) We also took a trip to our local USDA extension office (thanks for the idea Michelle!) And got to talk to a lovely women who explained about the different types of wetlands, and even loaned us some great videos and books.

We played Habitat Bingo and I was surprised at which animals Esther already knew and even which habitat to put them in.

By chance I was in a store in in their clearance aisle I found these great playdogh sets where you create and animal and its surrounding habitat. Esther loved this and it was a lot easier than my plan of using random recycled materials to create our own animals. Here is her rabbit in its forest habitat.

For our final activity I gave Esther some paint and paper, then let her create her own picture. She decided to make a pond with a "big" turtle living in it. (that would be the big purple blob)

By the end of the week, I think she was beginning to grasp the idea that there were different habitats with different animals in them and she is starting to categorize the animals into their different habitats. I had several ideas for other games, but sadly not the time. I may try to work on them still, especially since this topic of Habitat can easily be brought up again on our future explorations.

Thanks for joining us, if you and your little ones did some nature exploration this past week, please feel free to link up below. If you are just joining us, please feel free to try one of the past topics, or our new topic which will be posted in the next 24 hours.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Habitat

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Welcome to The Nature Explorers Club. I am a mom who loves nature and loves to share it with others. Using my experience as an Outdoor Education Instructor and the basic guidelines of the book "
Nature For the Very Young", I will be venturing out to explore the great outdoors every week with my kids. Every week I will share what we did, and every week you are welcome to join us. I will post the topic of the week, then two weeks later I will share what we did and give you a chance to share as well. So get your boots ready, because we're going exploring!

**I just published the post and all my pictures disappeared, sigh....it is almost midnight so I will return again tomorrow and try to fix the pictures - Jen


This week's topic.....
'Glade
Habitats

This weeks topic is very simple, yet complicated at the same time. Most children already have a sense of the differences between habitats, they just have never labeled them with the word "habitat". A habitat is quite simply the place where a plant or animal lives. What makes the habitat so special is that it provides things that are needed for the animals and plants to survive like food, water and shelter.
'Fall
As you begin to talk to your children about habitats it may be easier to use your own home as your first example. Talk about your home and why you live there. It keeps you dry when it rains, it has a refrigerator and running water. You can ask them if they could live in a pond, and maybe why that may not be a good idea. It is ok to interchange the word "home" and "habitat" until your children have a good grasp of what you mean.
'Early
After discussing their own "habitat" you can go outdoors and explore other habitats like a forest, pond, swamp, or field. Wherever you go, make sure to first let them explore and see what they can find. Encourage them to look under and around things, to touch with caution (poison ivy is not your friend), but above all to be gentle with nature.

Take some time to sit and use your other senses. What does this particular habitat smell like. Close you eyes, do you hear anything? While you are sitting there, do you feel anything? Is is hot, cold, is there a breeze?
'Horton
Discuss the different animals that live in the habitat, and why they live there. There are several animals that can live in more than one habitat. An example is snakes. You can find them in a field, the forest, a swamp and on the edge of a pond. Don't forget to mention some of the smallest of creatures including ants, worms, caterpillars and flies. These can be found almost anywhere.


Try to explore more than one habitat so that you children can experience the differences and similarities between different habitats. Have the children collect one thing from each habitat to bring home that most reminds them of what they saw. This can become a very special time where everyone can share why they chose what they chose.

This weeks topic is more about the experience gained than the information retained. Don't be worried if there is lots of exploring and few questions. Children learn so much by looking and touching. If they ask questions, by all means answer, but overall this should be a time of gathering new experiences.
'Forest
Activities:
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young"

*Draw pictures of the different habitats. For the younger ones, have them tell you what they saw as you draw, or have them draw their own version, how ever sqribbly it is.

*Cut pictures out from magazines, or print some from the internet and using the pictures you drew, place them in the appropriate habitat

*Take the time to explore one of the habitats at night. It is amazing how different things are by the moonlight.

*Play a game of charades, where you name a habitat and everyone takes turns acting out an animal found in that habitat while everyone else tries to guess what it is.

*Read book s from the "One Small Square " series of books.

*Make scavenger hunt lists for your local habitats.

*Play "Habitat Bingo" - this is my own version of bingo using different habitats. I attempted all night to attach the files, but was not successful. If you click here, it should take you to a place where you can access the files. If this doesn't work, just e-mail me and I will give them to you. It uses full color images of different animals and plants that can be found in five different habitats, field, forest, swamp, pond and ocean.
To play: each person gets one game board. Place the cut out game tiles in a pile or in a bag. Take one out one at a time. If the plant or animal is found on your game board, cover it up. (you can use anything like beans or pennies to do this) The first person to get five in a row wins.

*Compare two habitats and what was the same and what was different between them.

*Have them create their own animal and make a habitat for it. You can use crayons and paper, magazines and glue or you go 3-dimensional and use clay or things from your recycle bin.


Pick and choose which activities best fit with your home. Don't be afraid to try something different if it interests you. Remeber to come back in two weeks and share what you did. See you then!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Week Update

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This past two weeks we focused on the topic of Squirrels. We had a lot of fun, especially since most of the time we were visiting my family in Connecticut. There is something special about the New England woods.

Isn't it pretty! Here is what we did as we learned about squirrels...

We put out peanuts for the squirrels. Sadly our peanuts disappeared without us ever seeing the squirrels. We are going to continue to try in our own front yard.

We went on a squirrel hunt in the woods.

Elijah wanted to focuss more on looking for leaves.

After our exploring we had a snack of juice and peanuts. This was a great fine motor skill for Esther. She really focussed on opening every single peanut.
Back home, we painted some trees and added some squirrels

Esther dressed like a squirrel and I had hid peanuts around her room that she got to go and collect. She really enjoyed this.

We counted our peanuts

The we ate them. Since we were home, we were able to use this really cool nut cracker I had picked up this summer at a yard sale.

That was what we did. If you and your children also participated this week in the Nature Explorers Club, please feel free to link below. As always you are welcome to link up, even if you didn't focus on squirrels.

The next topic will be posted by the end of the day tomorrow, see you then!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Squirrels

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Calling all Nature Explorers.....we're back!! It has been too long since my children and I have been into the great outdoors and done some good exploring. I thank all of you who have been patiently waiting for me to return, and again I apologize for being away for so long, but it was needed. During my break, I did some thinking, and thanks to many of your suggestions I am going to make a slight change in the schedule. Following this post, I will wait 2 weeks before writing my update where you will be able to link up with your own posts if you would like. This will give both you and me more time to really enjoy the topics with our children and not feel rushed. At the same time I will post the information for the next topic.

If you are new to the Nature Explorers Club, then read this .

This weeks topic:

Squirrels

Yep, those little furry creatures frantically scurrying everywhere in preparation for winter, or in the southern states, just having lots of squirrel fun. Kids and adults alike seems to be fascinated with squirrels. It could be the effortless way they bound from tree branch to tree branch, or just how intriguing they look as they chew through an acorn. Either way, I like squirrels.

The squirrel is part of the mammal family. A mammal is any animal that feeds its young milk. Many mammals also have hair/fur and have live babies (they do not lay eggs). You may want to discuss other examples of mammals that your child is familiar with. Around the world, there are 365 different species of squirrel. Using a field guide or the internet see what types of squirrels you may have in your area. Where we live in Michigan, there are 4 species of squirrel.

The main characteristics of a squirrel are that they have four legs and a tail, although their front paws have the ability to hold objects like acorns so you may want to say they have two legs and two arms. They also have two ears, fur and whiskers on their nose. Their tail is a very important part of their body. It helps them to keep balance while climbing in trees and jumping from branches. They use it to communicate with others. They wrap it around their bodies to keep them warm and raise it above their head like an umbrella when it rains or snows. They can swim in water and will use their tail like a rudder to direct themselves. And if they happen to fall, they puff their tail up, using it like a parachute to help slow their fall. All together it makes me want a tail too!

The squirrel is considered an omnivore (eating both plants and animals). While their diet mostly consists of berries, seeds and nuts, they will also eat beetles, salamanders, bird eggs and nestlings. As winter approaches in the northern states you can see squirrels frantically collecting and hiding food. This is their "cache" or secret storage of food. The reason they do this is because they do not fully hibernate in the winter. They slow down significantly and only leave their nests when needed, but do not go into hibernation (deep sleep). They return to their cache through out the winter and mostly utilize it in the spring when they are active but the food sources are scarce. (I only say northern, because that is where my experience is, I'm not sure if squirrels act the same in the southern states)


One other misconception about squirrels is that there are black squirrels. There is no such thing as a black squirrel. If you see a black squirrel, it is another type of squirrel in a melanistic phase. This simply means that there is an abundance of pigmentation (black coloration) in their fur. Pigment is what creates freckles on our skin.

If you can, go on a squirrel hunt. Bring pictures of the different species from your area and see how many of them you can find. If you have a good viewing spot, sit for a while and watch the squirrels in their activity. Watch the different ways they move. They leap, hop, walk, climb, stand on two legs, stretch and many times can seemingly defy gravity.

If you are unable to venture outdoors, check out Youtube. They have several videos of squirrels doing many different things. You can try here and here.

Activities:
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young"

*Pretend to be a squirrel. Hop, gallop, leap or even try walking on a straight line. (pretend its a branch) Add more depth to this activity by dressing as squirrels. Wrap a scarf around your waist, leaving a "tail" and add construction paper ears to a hat.

*Make acorn beanbags using brown felt and beans or rice as stuffing. You can play toss with them, or squirrel hide and seek. One person is the squirrel and hides the acorn, while the others try to find it. This can be done indoors or out.

*Do an experiment to find out what squirrels will eat. Lay out different foods like nuts, fruit vegetables, etc. in a place where you can observe. See which foods are eaten first.

*Make your own identification cards by looking up pictures of the squirrels from your area and printing them out with interesting facts about them. You can take these when you go out to look for squirrels.

*Do a peanut hunt. This is just like an Easter egg hunt, except you use peanuts in the shell or any other kind of nut in the shell. This is just like the squirrels looking for their food in the winter.

*Make a hand and finger squirrel tree. Here is a great post explaining how to paint a tree with your hand. You can then add in squirrels by using 2 fingerprints as the body and head and several more as a tail. Use a pen or marker to add the finishing touches of eyes nose and mouth.

* Write a poem or story about squirrels. It doesn't have to be long, or rhyme, just let your child describe something they saw.

* This last activity is straight from the book, but too complicated to share, so I thought I would do a quick video. It's not a perfect video, but it gets the point across.
video

I hope there is something here that you and your children will enjoy. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share. Two weeks from now I will post an update with pictures of what me and my children did and you will have a chance to link up with that post if you would like to share how you and you kids explored nature.

Remember whether its squirrels or some other topic, it doesn't matter, as long as you are exploring and enjoying nature. See you in two weeks!

I'm Back!, again...

It seems this is not the first time I have used this title for a blog post. It's interesting how we seem to go through different seasons of life in such a short period of time. Things have changed dramatically here in our home. My sister-in-law has moved in with us and we've been busy changing our living room into a bedroom. She is a blessing to have in our home. The kids love her and I get the added benefit of having more alone time since she is willing to watch the kids for me.

Our house is turning into one large family and I love it. (Little know fact, my husband and I share the house with my father who lives downstairs) Since things seem to be settling down a bit, I feel free enough to come back to the blogging world again. Oh how I have missed you all!! For you Nature Explorers out there, I apologise for the long break, but I have my next post started and should be posting by the end of the night (as long as the kids nap that is (: ) The topic is Squirrels!!

I have also been doing lots of new thigns with Tot School and look forward to sharing them with you all as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Update

Well, my family is finally on the mend and I think I have banished all the nasty germs from our home. Unfortunately a small family crisis has occurred and I hate to do it, but I have to postpone Nature Explorers Club for the next week. I really need to focus on family right now as we try to get through the next few days. Please keep us in your prayers as there are a lot of unknowns that we are going to face in the next few days. I hope to be back next week, I have some great things planned to share with you all, but it will have to wait. If you can, explore someplace new this week instead. Find a park, a field or a bit of forest you have never seen before and go exploring. You never know what you will find. Blessings to you all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Week Update

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Sorry for posting so late, but a nasty virus has hit our house, and only now am I able to put my thoughts together.

This past week we learned all about Oak Trees. I personally am in love with Oak trees (did I mention that I have BA in Foresty?) There is something about the silent beauty of a strong, massive oak with it branches twisting and winding out and upward. They almost have a certain grace about them. But I digress...

This week we were joined by two of Esthers friends for our adventures and we had a great time. We are blessed by having an arboreatum for a back yard (literally). The woods are quite nice and they had a great selection of old oak trees.

We took time to explore them,

feeling their bark and looking into their branches

some a little more into it than others...

We did bark rubbings

And collected as many acorns as we could. Sadly most were gone having already been collected by the squirrels, but we found enough to satisfy all.
We made the letter O (for Oak) using acorn caps


And pretended to be trees in light breezes, strong storms, and even with squirrels tickling our sides

We used leaves collected to make a window hanging by ironing them between two pieces of wax paper.
*picture to arrive soon*

Sadly this is when our sickness struck and the rest of the plans have been on hold until better days. We still had fun, and Esther is still talking about the Oak trees, making me one proud mom.

If you and your children ventured out into nature and did some exploring on your own, please feel free to link up below. I will be posting the next topic later this weekend, when I am feeling better.