mama scout lab e-course

Friday, July 29, 2011

book stack

Do you ever go to the library and find so many things that are on your wishlist? How am I going to read all these in 2 weeks? What is in your stack? Share in the comments!

{this moment}

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.

movie night:: Microcosmos

Microcosmos (1996) is a French documentary illuminating the complex, elegant and mysterious lives of insects. Filmed using specially developed equipment and extreme close ups, as well as time lapse photography, Microcosmos is a visual feast for viewers. The minimal narration by Kristen Scott Thomas pulls the viewer in, and encourages concentrated looking: "To observe this world, you must fall silent now and listen to it's murmurs."

From a young age my kids sat spellbound by this magical film. The variety of insect activity captured is staggering; bees collecting nectar (while their backs are perfectly dusted with pollen), ants drinking aphid secretions, spiders catching prey and snails mating to opera. My favorite scene is of a water spider repeatedly going to the surface and pulling down air to create an oxygen chamber where he can eat his catch. Simply amazing!

I would recommend this movie for any age, unless your child would get upset watching one insect catch and eat another insect. My kids are fairly sensitive, but those types of scenes are handled in a matter-of-fact way so it does not upset them.

Have you seen this movie already? Did your family like it?
discussion questions
1. What part of the film was your favorite?
2. Which insect did you learn something new or surprising about?
3. How do you think the film makers captured this footage?
4. If you could be an insect which would you be? Why?

extension projects
-take a walk to look at real bugs up close (bring your magnifying glass and journal)
-draw insects and label their body parts
-tend an ant farm
-order praying mantis egg cases and hatch them
-order live lady bugs to release in your garden
-research and plant a butterfly habitat (observe the life cycle)
-visit a real insectarium (search for them here)
-call your local extension office for additional local resources
-check out the art of Jennifer Angus
-for fun, make this bug cake
-read Jean Henri Fabre, 19th century, self taught entomologist whose popular writing about the lives of insects is still highly readable today
-if you are in France, visit Micropolis, an interesting insect museum that was involved with Microcosmos.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

grow your own butterflies

One of the things I appreciate the very most about parenting (and homeschooling) is learning alongside my children. Our family has raised butterflies each year for the past five and it never ceases to stun me. One New Year's morning, I watched a butterfly emerge from it's cocoon on my kitchen window sill. She flapped her wings for a while, I opened the window and off she flew. THAT was a great start to a new year.

Raising your own caterpillars can be so easy and truly riveting for even the youngest of children. Instead of buying a kit and ordering caterpillars that might be nonnative to your area, you can start with monarch butterflies which are native to the continental US and much of South America.

To create an outdoor butterfly habit you need to grow a host plant and a nectar plant. The host plant is where the butterfly lays her eggs and will feed the very hungry caterpillars. We have noticed that if you plant the host plants near nectar plants, the caterpillar will climb down the host plant and make his chrysalis near the nectar plant. He will be ready to drink when he emerges.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, which is widely available. In fact, many times when you buy milkweed it is already full of eggs. A great nectar plant for monarchs is pentas. If you combine these two you should have the whole life cycle in your yard within a season.

We used to watch the caterpillars in the garden daily and could tell when they were about the turn into a chrysalis by their very slow movement, and eventual upside down position. But, if you skipped checking on them for just a few hours, you might miss the whole thing. And finding the completed chrysalis is nearly impossible. So, now we bring stalks of milkweed in a water jar into our indoor hamper habitat. I found this amazing pop up hamper at the dollar store and it works great. When we get closer to show time, I will use clothes pins to clip the top closed. Right now, we have five hungry caterpillars and watch them eat complete leaves very quickly. Within a week or so they will be very fat and then a few weeks later we will release our butterlies back to their garden, so the process to repeat itself.

You can get more information about butterfly gardening from the North American Butterfly Association iincluding which other butterflies are native to your area and how to attract them.

If you liked this post, you will love Friday's Movie Night post!

Have you raised caterpillars? Which type?

gazpacho by the gallon

It is hot here. The air is as thick as pudding. Now, through August, we kick our gazpacho habit into high gear - making it by the gallon. It is the only thing that fills us up and cools us down at the same time. Do you have a summer must have food?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

vacant portrait #4

Vacant portraits are a project of mine. Feel free to link to similar images of the vacated spaces in your domestic life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

new york, new york

I am going to New York next month! In celebration of this (and to earn money for food trucks) I am offering a one week, 20% off coupon off of anything in my etsy shop! The code is newyorknewyork. Feel free to share and pass along.

real fast food:: chicken strips

It is 5 o'clock, the banshees are hungry, you have limited time to make dinner and you want it to be healthy but fun so they will actually eat it.  Sound familiar? Before you stop at a fast food drive through, or even pop frozen chicken nuggets into the oven,  how about making your own chicken strips? Think it is too hard/messy/complicated? Think again! I make a version of these a few times a month and they are one of my kids' favorite meals. And they take about 15 minutes prep and 30 minutes to cook. If you prep your things in the morning, they would be even quicker. 

First, a big disclaimer. I never use a recipe to make these. They are different each time. I measured out what I used last time to write this post, but please, please improvise. As long as the basic proportions are there - you can really play around with this.

What you need
1/4 c whole wheat flour (or rye, or a ground up Wassa cracker, or some old bread)
1/2 c old fashioned oatmeal
handful of walnuts (or pecans or almonds)
scoop of chia seeds (or sesame, or poppy or none at all)
1t garlic powder (or more if you like)
1/2 t old bay seasoning (more if you like, it is a little spicy so I have to hold back for my youngest)
any other seasoning or herbs you think you would like
salt/pepper to taste

1 egg
2 chicken breasts

What you do

Pop all the crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is mealy (what makes this easy is that we just keep the food processor on the counter and toss it in the dishwasher after we use it - which is pretty much daily).

Crack an egg in a bowl and whisk it up with a fork.

Cut the chicken into strips. Cut against the grain for more tender strips. 

Throw the chicken in with the eggs and mix around to make sure it is all covered. 

Using one hand, take the chicken strips from the egg and coat it heavily with the crust mixture.

Place on a parchment covered cookie sheet.

Mist or drizzle with a little olive oil if you would like. 

Cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. I usually flip them over at some point during the last 10 minutes because I like them extra crispy and brown. 

 That is it! Healthy, yummy, do-able chicken strips for dinner. 

*A note about portions. This is what I cook for my family of five. Each person gets 2-3 strips, depending on how I cut it and how big the breast is. We usually eat it with a crazy big Caesar-like salad (and on occasion homemade fries). I want my kids to primarily fill up on greens and live vegetables; we treat animal protein like a side instead of the focus of most meals.  If you eat more meat, just multiply the recipe. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

merit badge tales - Ivey

Ivey at Durango Mom definitely earned a merit badge for her recent momventure. Just wait until you read about her following her kids lead after they had to kill a rattlesnake that was trying to get into their home. It includes garlic and butter. You can read the tale here. I am not sure that I would be such a daring mom - Durango mom, we salute you!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

pimp your paper

Even if you do not make your own wrapping paper, you can jazz up store bought goods. This is a remade gift bag from Target. I like it so much better like this, don't you?

Friday, July 22, 2011

{this moment}

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.

movie night:: Paddle to the Sea

Friday night is movie night around here. We bathe, pj it up, make cozy nests on the floor, pop corn and snuggle in. While we are not immune from mainstream movies at all, we try to include lots of independent, foreign, and classic films. We also try to discuss both the content and formal aspects of the film - as much as the kids are able and interested. While enjoyable, I also see it as a big part of their education. 

So, here, on most Fridays, I aim to share a film we watched and loved. I will also suggest some extension activities as our films certainly inspire our play, crafting and discussions. 

Paddle to the Sea (1966)

This delightful short film (28 minutes) is based on the book of the same name by Holling C. Holling. It is essentially the quest tale of a Native American boy who can not leave his home for adventure. Instead, he carefully carves a boat, fills the bottom with lead, and paints it. On the bottom he carves, "I Am Paddle To The Sea - Please Put Me Back In The Water."

Following the boat through the water from Canada to the Atlantic Ocean, the viewer joins the adventure, encountering many dangers, from big ships, curious animals, humans and even Niagra Falls. We find ourselves rooting for Paddle To The Sea and so do the people he encounters along the way who without fail return him to the water. 

This film, as most brillant films for kids do, can be experienced on many levels. At it's simplest, it is a boat adventure even a small child will enjoy. But the older kid and adult will recognize themes of yearning, dreaming big and outside yourself, and hope; a deep hope for something you can not see. 

In so many cases, books render the best tale, but in this case the film is both a moving tribute to the book and its own strong piece of art that takes viewers on an emotional journey. I highly reccomend this film for all ages. 

(a copy of this movie along with some balsa wood and simple carving tools would make a GREAT gift for an adventurous kid)

discussion questions

1. How did Paddle to the Sea get from Canada to the Atlantic Ocean?
2. What was the journey like?
3. List the dangers Paddle to the Sea encountered. Can you make a table showing the natural dangers and the human dangers?
4. Why do you think the people who found Paddle to the Sea put him back in the water? Would that be hard for you to do?

extension projects
-trace the journey on a map
-learn about locks and canal history (even visit one if you can)
-make a model of a canal lock using recyclables (this is a challenge!)
-listen to the Great Lakes song
-make paper boats and dip them in beeswax, sail them
-carve boat from wood
-visit a lighthouse
-send something into the world (a message in a bottle, a book or toy with a good message on it).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Children's Zoo::Central Park

Growing up, I loved this book. It is the very simple story of a brother and sister, Susie and Ned, who spend the day at the Children's Zoo in Central Park, NYC. While the zoo seems more like a petting zoo than the mega zoos we have today, it is sweet as they go from animal to animal holding their helium balloons. 

 I think my real attraction was the fact that the children visited on their own. In this big city of tall buildings and crowds, there was a place just for kids, where they could spend the afternoon on their own and be safe. Their mother picks them up at the end and says she will return another day to visit the zoo with them.

We are headed to NYC this fall with our kids. It will be their first time to Manhattan and when booking our trip, I immediately thought of this book and zoo. I want to see the whale itself with my children. I want to see the big, blue sappy whale with the fish tank in its mouth that was so great, people would queue for it. 

Well,  this story does not have a happy ending for the 5 year old me. Jonah the Whale was moved to Roackaway Beach in Queens when the zoo had a major overhaul in the mid 1990's. He now sits, mosaic-ed with his mouth close up, in a traffic triangle, an eyesore to many.

At least he still exists in his glory in books, photographs and the collective memory of the many adults who grew up visiting him or just reading about him and dreaming of the big city.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


W.H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies late at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

merit badge tales- Jennifer

Jennifer from the wonderful Baby by the Sea blog, wrote this funny, funny tale about how she earned her merit badge - a combo birthday/tantrum one at that! You can read it here. Be warned, it includes blood, teeth, paint and tears. Never a good combination.

science is real (5 picks)

We love science around here. It was possibly my kids' early love of science and figuring things out that helped us make the decision to homeschool. Their ideas were so deep and conceptual at an early age. I think most kids really see science as a way to understand the world. Unfortunately, most of the best science instruction seems to come later in school, when much of that misty eyed wonder is gone (at least in my experience).

Here are a few of our very favorite science-y things. This is not exhaustive in any way, but includes some unique resources. Any of these would make a great gift for a science kid (or grownup).

Matchbox theatres with insect haiku's and The Poetic Cell. From the brilliant Leafcutter Designs. $7 each.

These sent my kids over the moon. They loved them! And then went on to make many matchbox theatres of their own. 

Science Embroidery patterns from The Floss Box. $2 and up for digital downloads. I will never look at viruses and bacteria and cells in the same way. A quilt with these could be kinda crazy, amazing.

Necklace kit of the solar system (to proportion!) by Chain of Being. $24.50. This kit has exactly what you need along with easy directions to complete this fabulous necklace. Some of the moms in my homeschool co-op made these during our group's space study. This was useful for kids and grownups to memorize the planets and their relative size and distance. Awesome!

Born With a Bang by Jennifer Morgan. $10. My kids (and I) loved this series of books. The rich, colorful images combined with the gentle voice of the "universe" explaining it's beginnings captured my childrens' imagination from the beginning. We reread them at least once a year as bedtime stories. 

They Might be Giants science songs. You can buy the cd/dvd set from Amazon for about $10. These are fun, engaging and super educational. Check out the Here Come the ABC's and Here Come the 1, 2, 3's.too kids. A set of all 3 would be an amazing gift for a lucky kid.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

eat local

When we hear the buzz about local food we usually think about food that is grown on a farm nearby. But maybe we should broaden the discussion to include locally owned restaurants too. When you spend money in a locally owned shop or restaurant, 68% of that money STAYS in your community (as opposed to only 43% from a national chain). You can read more about this kind of community support here.

One of our favorite restaurants is Palace Pizza. This pizzeria is ran by a local Italian family and is located downtown in the building that used to be the historic Palace Theatre (hence the name). It was the first pizza place like this in our revitalized downtown. Before that, all we had was chain pizza with thick, oily crust.

We have eaten here from the beginning. I remember waiting patiently for it to open when I was working downtown in a nonprofit art gallery, walking down daily to check on the progress. It became a favorite place for us to eat with small children; first starting with pizza cut up into small pieces and finally graduating to each kid being able to hold their own slice, folded up New York style.

We go to Palace for any minor, kid-related celebration. End of swim class? Go to Palace. Hard doctor's appointment? Go to Palace. Birthday kid wants pizza for his party? It will come from Palace.

What makes it even more special to my husband and me, is that for a short while, he rented the space and ran an underground live music venue out of it. It is where we first met and became friends. It was all pretty illegal but lots of fun. My babydoll dress, Doc Martin wearing self had no idea she would still be hanging out in that space 20 years later with her three kids.

When I was growing up in Ohio, we frequently went to a local pizzeria that my parents had gone to as young adults. When we go back, we always eat there and have pizza, garlic bread and split a big antipasto salad with creamy Italian dressing and little pinwheels of provolone and processed meat. So vivid are these food memories that they transport me right back to my hopeful and innocent childhood.  I am sure Palace Pizza will be one of those taste memories that my kids carry with them as they grow up, and search for when they return home.

And I don't really think these sort of memories could be made at Pizza Hut.

Do you have a local eatery that holds a special place for your family? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

make a soap boat

My kids are gearing up to do some real wood carving soon. But first, we are honing our skills with soap. Soap carving is a classic craft, and it still captures the imagination of kids today. Ivory soap is recommended because it is so soft and easy to carve, but I am sure if your kids are older you could easily try other brands.

We used wood, plastic and metal knives, as well as a pocket knife and wooden skewers. Each kid carved over a plate so we could save the scraps. You can add a bit of hot water to the scraps and gather them into a ball to use later in the tub. I saved my scraps to make my own clothes detergent, which I will share soon.

We started with the idea of making boats, but as we got into the project new ideas emerged.

We made people, cash registers and birds.

We cut, scraped, scored, poked, added soap back on and burnished. Each child sharing their their discoveries of the medium with the others.

This was engaging and enjoyable(and smelled so fresh!) My kids have already asked me to get more soap to work with. The ideas for new projects are flowing!

At the end, we tested which designs floated the best, and made some hypotheses for what changes to make next time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

book review:: Life Among the Savages

If you are sick (or just tired) of the many shrill, perfect mama voices out there in the digital landscape, you can retreat back in time with Shirley Jackson and her frank, unsentimental and pretty hilarious memoir of raising her 3 (and then 4) children in a huge, old house in Connecticut.

She perfectly captures the complexity of day to day life with small children in a relaxed and pragmatic way. Helicopter parenting was not the primary mode of parenting in the 1950's. Her kids ran and roamed and lived lives of their own. Whether she is describing a raucous trip to the department store downtown, learning how to drive, or when her child was hit by a car (not by her), her matter of fact storytelling is comforting and true. She seems like the sort mama friend that could come over and have a drink with you in the afternoon and never mention the Himalayan piles of laundry laying at the foot of the stairs.

She opens the book with:

"Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lamps and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks. This is the way my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we have fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay there and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark. I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and - as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life, but then I have had to make a good many compromises, all told."

Jackson offers a great snapshot of mothering in a different era. She does all the housework as well as writes, without complaining about having more time or how hard it all is. Certain things might seem a bit strange to modern ears; like how she drinks and smokes (maybe instead of the afore mentioned complaining) while pregnant and takes a cab to the hospital to have her fourth child. But much of her book ring true. Her description of  the lively family discussion about when it would be convenient for her to leave and have the newest sibling is priceless and a good representation to how everything becomes a negotiation in a house with more than a few kids.

I read this book quickly, and was sad when I was finished. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Jackson each evening when my kids had gone to bed. Whether she writes about a mother's brain scramble and reliance on lists or the bittersweet moment that you see, for the first time, yourself in your own child, she nails it, with compassion and humor.

Monday, July 11, 2011

sunday hike

Our hike this Sunday was in our neighborhood, which is near two really amazing lakes. Some of our best hikes are near home, wandering through alleys, around the lakes, stopping in at the library to read and running into neighbors.

How was your weekend?

guerrilla art mama

I have been wanting to do some serious guerrilla art with my kids lately. Leaving quotes and words in public places is sorta a classic, and one that they love. We have done this several times over the past few years with my daughter really getting into it. She likes to leave messages at restaurants mixed in with the sugar packets.

So, today we left messages all around Target. These shots are from the bathroom. The Ram Das quote can be read a few different ways :)

In the cell phones section, we left this message:

Talk to strangers, often.

And in with the agendas:

There are years that ask questions, and years that answer them.
-Zora Neale Hurston.

This is so simple, but kids love it! The excitement and adrenalin mixed with the idea that they are leaving messages for others to find is infectious. My daughter likes to leave messages like, "you are great!" and "your shoes are really nice." The boys are more into being lookouts and practicing their ninja skills.

I would like to do something bigger with them, but what? It should be something that puts us out of our comfort zone or maybe something really secret and generous.

My biggest inspiration for projects like this is Keri Smith and 52 Projects.

And be sure to check out poetry bombing.

Have you ever done anything like this? Would you?


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