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Sunday
Mar262017

Spring in the air

Tuesday
Mar212017

Field studies

Science! Unlike art, science is a subject I feel almost completely at home with, especially when it comes to the life sciences thread. I think one of my favorite times of year, or favorite annual school studies, is the time for spring science, for getting outside again and witnessing nature come back to life. We always start our weekly hikes just before the earth really starts to warm up so that we can watch weekly changes happening in the spaces around us. Later we look for signs that the bird migration will come through and we go in search of as many migrating species as we can find, a "collect them all" that is pock-book and earth friendly. 

And we also use this time to look at life on a microscopic scale, an activity which makes us feel very, very large all of a sudden.

Tuesday
Mar142017

10 of our favorite spring recipes 

We like to try and eat pseudo-seasonally. When fall rolls around I crave warm, savory things, the winter brings a longing for the richest foods I can get, and in the summer it's all grilling, all the time. The spring, for us, tends to be about lightening things up—fresh citrus flavors and bright spring colors. All within reason, of course. We actually use our grill year round, and the crockpot, too, because it is possible to make a good, summery meal that will be ready for you when you get home from the lake, or the zoo, or wherever, and I rely on my crockpot at least once a week year-round also.

I am not the world's most inventive cook. I know my way around a kitchen well, both with the tools and the ingredients, and when pressed I can assemble an edible meal from whatever's on hand, but coming up with unique recipes is not my thing. We are adventurous eaters, though, and I love to scour the web for interesting recipes and add them to my collection. But we also have several favorites to fall back on and as we cycle through the year I find that recipes correspond to specific seasons, meaning they are requested, or I make them, more often in "their" season. These, then, are some of our favorite go-to spring meals gathered from some of go-to recipe sites.

Artichoke Heart Frittata (NYT Cooking)
Frittatas can be made into just about anything, but I love making this one when the artichokes start arriving in spring. I've made it into a crustless quiche before, too, by adding spinach, a few more eggs, feta cheese, and baking it.

Grilled salmon and asparagus with garden dressing (from Better Homes and Gardens)
Delicious on the grill, or if you suddenly find it raining, can also be done in the oven, this recipe is exactly what it says. It's the asparagus that makes it springy, but also the green garden version of tartar sauce you make too go with it. This recipe can be made a lot lighter by using Greek yogurt instead of mayo, and I've often substituted dill for the tarragon. Delicious with a side of lemon pearled couscous.

French potato and green bean salad (From NYT Cooking)
This is a beautiful salad that really has nothing to do with spring except that it feels like spring to me, and sometimes I've made it with asparagus instead of green beans. It can be eating as a side dish or as a vegetarian meal (it makes an especially good picnic lunch), or even add bacon if you'd like. Yum.

Cabbage and kale slaw (side salad from allrecipes.com)
This colorful salad combines winter veggies (kale and cabbage) with a citrus dressing. I have made this recipe without the Maple syrup and balsamic vinegar before. I have also substituted lemon juice for the lime juice, or left out the carrots, or added sliced almonds. There are lots of fun things to be done with this recipe.

5 Ingredient Lemon Chicken with Asparagus skillet (from Pinch of Yum)
They had me at 5 ingredients, and again at skillet, which usually means only one pot to clean. The title ingredients speak for this dish. It's bright like spring should, and warm like you want it to be. I have paired this with oven roasted redskin potatoes.

Asparagus, egg, and bacon salad (from Skinny Taste)
More asparagus, I know. It's a spring staple here and Jon and I love it. Calvin doesn't, however, and I have made all of these recipes subbing beans for asparagus when necessary...still pretty delicious! This one makes a good side dish or a wonderful small dinner or lunch.

Crockpot corned beef (from Skinny Taste)
Because it wouldn't be St. Patrick's Day without corned beef, and because I love my crockpot. I often make this recipe without the parsnips. Even better, I'll make it as a soup, still in the crockpot.

Crockpot Caribbean pot-roast (Taste of Home)
There's nothing particularly springy about this recipe, but it's a great crockpot meal with a slightly lighter taste while still being warm and filling on a slightly colder spring day.

Spiralized Mediterranean beat and feta bake (side dish from Skinny Taste)
Beautiful spring colors make this warm, juicy, baked side dish the perfect accompaniment for a festive spring party. It's a thick, hearty dish, too, and really fills a plate with spring joy.

Summer vegetables with sausage skillet (me!)
This is pushing the boundaries of spring a bit, but the reason I include it here is that it's all the summer goodness we usually grill (bratwurst, sweet pepper, onion, or fill in the blank with your own favorites), sliced into bite sizes and sauteed inside on a rainy late-spring day. Perfect.

Sunday
Mar122017

Artistic Pursuits

When people tell me that they are afraid to homeschool, especially in the later years, because they don't think they have enough knowledge to do so, I always cringe a little inside. I figure as long as you graduated from high school you have the knowledge you need to at least go back and review the subjects enough to help your child along the way. even more importantly, our goal in homeschooling has always been to make learning a joint effort, one in which we gently guide Calvin's learning through reading and research, but not through lecturing. I'm helping, not teaching. 

Learning is a lifelong process, and if we reach a subject I can't help him with, I figure we'll just learn it together.

Take art, for example. I am not artistic or creative by nature. I can follow directions (Pinterest is grand) and think with ingenuity, and I can copy art fairly well, but ask me to sit down and sketch something on my own, or paint a scene, or tackle pretty much any artistic endeavor and you're out of luck. So while some parents fear teaching math or chemistry, my biggest fear has always been art.

Over the past few years I have tried several times to use Drawing with Children as a backbone for our work in the subject, and I loved the book—I really did—but the lack of clear lesson plans or directions left the non-artistic part of me floundering. So this semester we tried something new: ARTistic Pursuits, grades 4-5. With it's very clearly delineated and detailed lessons, this was a very big change, and not one that I'm entirely pleased with. While Drawing with Children always expected a lot of its readers, it did so with a level of trust that is lacking in ARTistic Pursuits, which suffers a bit from lessons that seem rather abbreviated and sometimes not very cohesive. So while I do appreciate the clear assignments and expectations, I think next fall we will return to Drawing with Children

Tuesday
Mar072017

10 books I loved in 2016

I love to read. It's a lifelong love that I've always held close to me (except when we were taking a little break in my post-college years and I spent a little more time with video games instead. Shhh, don't tell) and it grows stronger every year. I don't have a particular favorite genre. I love esoteric works and the occasional historical fiction, I'm discovering the graphic novel, and I have a growing respect for non-fiction. As a homeschool mom I find myself reading a lot of younger books as well, young readers or YA, either to revisit them in school studies, or to check them out as my son does. I also read galley fiction sent to me by the ALA so I can write suck-up reviews for their magazine Booklist, and I don't always get my choice genres from them, which has been surprisingly freeing and eye-opening.

I read 80 books last year, and not all of them were great. Some of them were books I as much conquered as read, like Ulysses and Moby Dick. Others were assigned titles that I'd just as happily have left to collect dust on the shelf and wouldn't recommend to anyone. In fact, I'm not a good one to provide recommendations anyhow, since my reading is all over the map for a variety of reasons. But take it as you will, the full list of all 80 books is on Goodreads, and the following ten are books I'd recommend...to the right readers.


Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
I swore off reading this series simply because of the hype surrounding it. I pretty much assumed it couldn't possibly be that great. Then around the new year, when we were taking a break from school and I had not assigned reading of my own, I was looking for something—anything—to read, and there it was, the whole series, neatly stacked on our coffee table where Calvin had left it after his most recent re-read. I was hooked after the first book—the first chapter, maybe—and poured through the entire series that week. I couldn't put it down. It won't be for everyone, of course, but I was taken not only by the story itself, but by the genius of the writing: the way each book is written to be specific to the age of its characters, not only in complexity of grammar and vocabulary, but in allegory and topic, as well. Genius.

The Scarlet Pimpernell, by the Baronness Orczy
Set during the French Revolution, this book is the original Batman. A seemingly innocuous British man of inherited wealth and not much use otherwise is the shame of his wife, who longs to see her family, nobels in danger back in France, rescued by the mysterious and heroic Scarlet Pimpernell. How long before she realizes that they are one and the same? Not before she puts them all in imminent danger. Intrigue and romanticism abound in this amazing century-old novel. Calvin and I read this aloud together and had a great time with the accents (which is this character, French or British???) and humor.

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
You've probably seen, or at least heard of, the recent movie adaptation of this classic novel, but I think few people realize that it was originally an adventure/war story romanticizing the wilds of new American land, which is how and why Calvin and I tackled this book together as a companion to our history studies. Written in the early 1800s, this is a primary source novel, and Cooper writes with a great love for the land and its native people in a way that has memorialized it and the era, for better or worse. Much better than the movie.

The Swan Book, by Alexis Wright
Here, finally, is a new release. Published in June, 2016, this was one of the rare occasions that I really enjoyed a galley from the ALA. Set in Australia, it is a mystical story of native cultures. An Aboriginal girl is taken in by a climate war refugee and raised in near isolation in the traditional ways, while her counterpart, a boy, is raised instead on a modern set of stories and principles. When the two come together to honor a pre-arranged marriage, they will find out if there is room for traditional culture in the modern world after all. Rich with allegory and symbolism, this wild, explosive story blends the myths and legends of numerous cultures in a dystopian near future to ask this very question. Significant and contemporary, in the style of Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day.

Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel
Historical fiction, this is the romanticised (not romantic, mind you) story of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII in early sixteenth century England. Mantel's writing makes the topic accessible, but this isn't as informative of the time as it is a fictionalized character study of the people involved. I found it near impossible to put down at times.

Transit, by Rachel Cusk
This is the second book in a trilogy still in the making. In the first book, Outline, an author in the early stages after a painful divorce comes to terms with her own perceived invisibility. Cusk deftly portrays the plight of her character through her actual lack of voice—the story is told almost entirely through conversation with others. In the second book, Transit, the same woman goes further down the path to recovery, recapturing herself as she goes. Again, Cusk manages to exude her plight in the actual writing style, and our main character not only becomes increasingly present, but eventually even has a name for us to hold onto. Amazing writing and a story that women, especially wives and mothers, may relate to.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
This was a purely fun read. Two magicians duel through the actions of the youngsters they train, but while the two students don't know the destinies that have been set for them, they will still face the consequences. A fast, easy read, full of color and magic, with a little romance stuff on the side. Lovely imagery. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
This is a little bit of a cheat, since I read this first when it came out a few years ago, but I did read it last year, and it was one of my ten favorites. A man returns to his home town for a funeral and falls into the memories of his youth, complete with a boogie-type man, a good witch, and a lake like an ocean. Gaiman has always been one of my favorite writers, and he does not disappoint here, embracing mythology and folklore with his usual gusto. 

One Wild Bird at a Time, by Bernd Heinrich
Bernd Heinrich is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. He is a life-long naturalist and scientist, but his short stories capture perfectly the meeting of science and heart. This is a collection recounting several times in which he spent quality one-on-one time with some of his favorite birds. With the same layman's science that embodies all his other story collections he relates what he learned from these birds and how he learned it. Touching, and also informative.

Persepolis (books 1 and 2), by Marjane Satrapi
Graphic novel, nonfiction. This is a memoir of a childhood in revolutionary Iran. Satrapi captures the emotions and the reality of a time period that has been largely misunderstood, or under-appreciated, by many Americans. The graphic novel format, with pleasing illustrations and easy dialogue, make the subject accessible without taking too much away.