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Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dude!

This was just yesterday wasn't it?  You are growing into such a remarkable young man, and I am so proud of the person you are.  After eight years of homeschooling, I still treasure each day with you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Learning about hurricanes


 Ready, Set...WAIT!, a book about what animals do before a hurricane will be available free in ebook format for the next few days on the publisher's website.  You can flip the interactive pages and read it with your child or listen to the audio version.  The book includes a free educational section in the back and tons of teaching activities, quizzes, and related websites on  the book’s homepage. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Butterfly time!

   Thanks to my son for teaching me how to use a focus setting on my camera, I was able to capture this butterfly taking a drink from a flower on our butterfly bush yesterday.  To celebrate all the butterflies and moths (and skippers) we have been seeing around our garden, how about a giveaway?

   Simply leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite thing about August for a chance to win this field guide to butterflies and moths.  For an extra chance to win, blog or facebook about this giveaway, then come back and tell me you did in a separate comment.  A winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, September 1.

   Giveaway is now closed--thanks for your comments!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Nature Journal: When is a moth not a moth?

Sachem Skipper
(Atalopedes campestris)
Do you know the difference between a butterfly, a moth, and a skipper?  According to our field guide, this is a female Sachem Skipper, characterized by "hindwings that are brown below, with pale band," and wings that are "brownish orange and brown above."  Although there are several differences between butterflies and moths, an interesting thing that we learned is that butterflies' antenna tips are swollen, or clubbed.  Moth antannae are feathery or threadlike, and the antenna tips of skippers are hooked.  If you look closely, you can see the hooked end of the antenna on the right, above.  Skippers seem to "skip" from flower to flower, and this one didn't sit still for long, but she enjoyed the purple flowers and didn't stray far.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Produce basket round-up

What's in the basket?
   We've joined a produce co-op run by a couple of homeschool moms in our area, and this week was our first pick up week--we get a laundry basket full of produce each week straight from the Farmer's Market.  This week we got corn, carrots, cucumbers, red bell peppers, green kale, spinach, jalapenos, a beefy tomato, garlic, squash, potatoes, oranges, limes, and grapes.  (I am facing the reality that our garden will not sustain us for the winter!)

   I cooked kale for the first time by sauteeing it with olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar.  My oldest liked it, I found it to be okay, but not my favorite thing, and the peewees wouldn't even taste it.  My husband likes greens but didn't like the kale.  I made corn on the cob and mashed potatoes to go with some bbq chicken, and the kids have been eating oranges and muching on peeled carrots (these carrots are really big, and the peeling is a bit bitter.) 

    Last night I made veggie pizza with some of the spinach on top (delish! with a little cracked pepper added too.)  This weekend, I'm going to make salsa with some of the jalapenos, cilantro, lime, and the tomato, and I'm going to roast and freeze the rest of the jalapenos.  I'm also making philly cheese steaks this weekend with some of the red bell peppers--the rest of them I'll slice and freeze to use in *fajitas.  The rest of the spinach will be used in a salad topped with some of my garden pear tomatoes and this:

Hidden Valley® Spinach Salad Kit
Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing, cranberry-almond clusters and toasted, salted sunflower seeds.

   One of our favorite side dishes is sauteed veggies, and I'll slice some carrots and squash and sautee it with olive oil and a little parsley from the garden one night.  I am looking forward to incorporating more veggies and variety into our meals, and I love the challenge of trying to use up what we get.

*My San Antonio Fajitas

Slice boneless chicken into thin strips (I use about 3 breasts to serve 5 people)
Slice one bell pepper into strips (any color)
Slice one large tomato
Slice one large sweet onion

Throw everything in a large pan and drizzle generously with olive oil.  Sprinkle all over with fajita seasoning (I use Bolner's Fiesta Brand, salt-free kind.  Since we can't get it locally where we live now, I order it from them.)    Cook over medium-high heat until veggies start to carmelize and meat is thoroughly cooked.  Keep stirring and scraping so veggies don't stick to pan.  Serve with warm flour or corn tortilla, grated cheese, refried beans, and chips & salsa or guacamole.  I learned how to make this when we lived in San Antonio, and the nice thing about it, besides it being delicious and easy, is that you can vary the recipe depending on what you like and what you have on hand.  You can add more veggies, leave out the meat, substitute steak for the chicken...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guitar Shop 101


  The guys' two-year guitar-making project is finally finished!  My husband is a weekend woodworker, and he has made some beautiful things, but the biggest so far has been this guitar which he and the boys worked on together.  It began with a large block of wood (which turned into a second block of wood when the cut piece did not line up exactly.)  Through many weekends of trial-and-error, progress began, and everything came together beautifully.  Not only did the guys have to work out plans and drawings, but beyond the actual cutting and finishing of the wood, they had to do the electronics and soldering.  My oldest is a talented guitar player, and though he loves his Les Paul, he is now using this guitar much of the time.  It has an really nice Blues sound, and because it was so lovingly and painstakingly crafted, he is especially proud to play it.   

"Within every block of wood and stone, there dwells a spirit, waiting to be released."
-Hap Hagood

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whose nest is this?

   The last time I checked, there were two spotted eggs, and now this little guy is quietly waiting for its Mommy to come back.  The nest is in a bush beside the water spigot we use to water the garden.  Every time we get near the hose, the mommy bird flies out, fussing at us to hurry up and leave.  

Garden Breakdown

Week of August 15

   Last weekend, I pulled up most of the remaining plants in the garden.  The beans that were taking over the garden (scarlet runners) must have been purely decorative, because no actual beans ever showed up.  Once the deer found the corn, they spread the word, and cantaloupes and tomatoes disappeared.  Because it has been so hot here, nothing was really thriving, so I decided to clean out and plan for a late Summer/into Fall garden.  I left one tomato (pear,) because it still has some green ones on it, but it looks like it's about over.  There is only one cantaloupe still attached to the vine, but the vine is still stretching and blooming.  I've harvested and dried lots and lots of basil, and they are still going strong.

Lone Cantaloupe

Monster Okra

   The okra is growing like crazy--the plants are about 5 1/2 feet tall, and the okra get huge really fast.  It's finally putting out enough at one time to be able to use. 

Strawberries, the Sequel

   The strawberries seem to have started all over, and we are picking some every day now.  I'm not sure what to plant now, but I want to start some new things to have for Fall. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Easy-peasy Saturday Lunch

Fiesta Pie

  It is always a challenge for me to find something to fix for lunch--especially on the weekends.  It seems like we have the same thing over and over, and we all get tired of sandwiches.  Here is my variation on a recipe that Pampered Chef had in one of their cookbooks several years ago.  It got a thumbs-up from all my guys, and it was really easy to make using just a few ingredients.  I used two packs of crescent roll dough, 1 pound of ground beef, one packet of taco seasoning, one can of pinto beans (you could use black beans instead,) some grated cheddar cheese, and finally some lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa.  I really just used stuff I already had on-hand, so this recipe could vary based on what you have.

First, brown 1 lb. of ground beef (or turkey,) drain, and add in
a packet of taco seasoning, stirring to coat well.  I did
not add any water, because it makes the meat too
juicy and it will drip off the pan in the oven.

Spray a round pan with cooking spray, then lay the crescent rolls
around the pan, overlapping them slightly.  Be sure to place them inside the edge
of the pan enough to allow for filling.

Scoop meat mixture onto the ring of dough, sprinkle on grated cheese, 
fold over dough, and tuck in points.

Drain a can of beans and pour into center of pan, then bake at 375 until
golden brown (about 15 minutes.)

Sprinkle some more cheese on top of beans.

Add lettuce and tomato, and whatever else you like.
Cut into wedges, like you would cut a pie, and serve with salsa, sour cream or
spicy ranch dressing.
If you precook the meat and save it in the fridge, this would make a really quick ballgame- or after-practice-night supper to put together.

I had four triangles of crescent roll dough leftover,
so I rolled up four pigs-in-blankets using
leftover dogs from my freezer.  The dough
freezes just fine, and we'll have these for lunch
during the school week.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011/2012 Schoolroom

   We have the luxury of a bonus room which has been designated as our schoolroom.  After six years of homeschooling in our old house, having to share the kitchen table for school and meals and store everything in the pantry, it is so nice to have a designated room for all of our "school" stuff.  We lined the walls with bookcases from Target, and all our books are somewhat organized by category.  We usually sit at the table for schoolwork, but when the weather is nice, we take it outside, and big brother has his own desk this year as he is doing more independent work.  We have one big window which gives us good natural light, and by positioning the fan in front of the a/c vent, the temperature is comfortable most days.  July is the worst for the heat upstairs, but that is the month we usually take time off from school.  The ceiling is too low for a ceiling fan.  These photos were taken on a good day, but we try to keep the clutter under control. 

Back porch visitor

Whenever our crickets get too big, we toss them out the back door, and it seems that the neighborhood reptiles have discovered that there's good eatin' at our house.  This little guy hung out around the back porch all afternoon, and he was as quick as lightning.  My kids kept seeing a flash of blue tail around the porch steps, and he finally came up on the porch long enough to have his picture taken.  We identified it as a Five-lined Skink (Eumeces fasciatus,) according to our field guide.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nature Journal: Maypops

Passiflora incarnata

The little green pod is a fruit

The vine stretches along the ground and up a
neighboring plant.

The flowers look like they belong in a rain forest,
 but the blooms don't last long.

   Near our garden is a maypop plant growing wild.  My mom told me what it was and said to tell the guys to keep the weedwacker away from it.  We noticed right away that the bees love the maypop flowers, and they were seriously hard at work.  The fruit of the maypop passionflower is edible, resembling the flavor of guava, and  it is similar to the passionfruit used to flavor Hawaiin Punch but is hard to harvest because critters usually snag the fruits as soon as they get ripe enough to eat.  The plant is also a larval plant for Zebra longwing, Julia, and Gulf fritillary butterflies. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Good Morning, Glory

Morning glory

   These pretty "star" flowers appear each morning at the edge of our woods.  They don't show their faces for long, though, before they close up tight for the day.  My grandmama had a four o'clock bush in her yard, and it's flowers opened up late in the afternoon. 

   Why do some flowers do this?

Our morning glory vine has white, purple and bright pink flowers
   This article explains a little bit about flowers that open and close.  I was always told that morning glories open with the sunrise and four o'clocks open so they can see the sunset :)

  It seems that they really do this to preserve energy for the health of the plant and to keep out certain insects 

Closed for the day