Thursday, April 29, 2010

The aliens have invaded...well, sort of!

We have had some very fun stuff going on around here in spite of all the rain we've had lately.

My husband is an avid aquarium keeper. Well really we both are, we've had tanks in our homes from the time we were children. We've had both fresh and salt water tanks. Starting out with those poor goldfish won at some carnival ball toss booth as little kids, to now having elaborate reef systems set up with living corals and other denizens of the deep.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, one of the things I really love about my husband is his great sense of adventure. He is just the most fun guy I know! So of course, that translates into a very exciting life! Even when it comes to aquarium keeping! We've been fish and coral collecting in the Caribbean Sea, we've trekked to jungle streams and pools in search of rare specimens. We've spent days floating in a dinghy, hanging over the edge with our rear ends stuck up in the air (makes for a painful sunburn!) searching through clumps of sargassum (floating seaweed) for seahorses and other really intersting sea life.

*Side note* I grew up reading Gerald Durrell's many books. In fact I still have most of my original copies acquired as a girl, which have travelled with me all over the world. He was my hero! I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He was a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, and author among other things. (Plus he was homeschooled! How cool is that!!!) He was one of the most influential people ever with regard to collecting animals for captive breeding programs so that endangered species would not be lost forever. I think I'll read his books with my kids this summer! Oh the thought of reading them again makes me almost giddy... silly, probably. But it's like visiting your childhood best friend who you haven't talked to in years! I can't wait to get started now! How exciting! If you have a budding naturalist/zookeeper/animal lover/conservationist in your house, I'd encourage you to check a few of his books out from the library. As a teen my favorite non-fiction book (well one of them ;-)) was a book by Durrell called A Practical Guide for the Amateur Naturalist. It covers activities and things to look for in just about every environment on earth, from deserts, to arctic tundra, jungles, deciduous forests, rocky seashores, to urban backyards and more. I now own two copies of it and use it regularly myself and with my kids. Check it out if you have a chance, and like that sort of thing.

Whew! I said all that to say that I was really gung-ho about all of the adventures my hubby had "dragged" me out on! Sorry, I tend to get rather verbose when excited!

Here is a shot of the beginning of our latest aquarium venture…

Know what that is??? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not funny looking brown grapes. If you look closely at the one on the far right you can see the little guy floating around in there. (Looks like a ghostly white shadow inside)

Here is what came out of one… he’s only about 1 cm or a little over 1/3 of an inch long!

Another one hiding behind the eggs:

Aren’t they just the cutest little things? They are Sepia bandensis or Dwarf Cuttlefish. Cuttlefish aren’t “fish” at all. They are in the family of cephalopods, which means they are related to octopuses, squid and nautilus. They navigate through the water like aquatic hummingbirds hovering gracefully in front of anything that strikes their fancy. My kiddos think they look like little space aliens! Dwarf Cuttlefish grow to an overall length of 2-4 inches (5 to 10 cm). Personally one of my favorite aspects of watching cuttlefish is their ability to rapidly change their skin color. They can flash moving patterns across their skin and can camouflage with their surroundings. So fun to watch!

Cuttlefish are very, very hard to acquire (at least in this half of the world!) But somehow hubby managed to have 6 captive bred eggs sent to him. (Apparently they don’t ship well as already hatched little cuttlefish, but eggs do.) So 3 weeks ago we became proud step-parents to a set of 6 brown squishy grape looking eggs. They started hatching 3 days ago, so far we have 5 babies. I wasn’t able to take any pictures of them hatching. Sneaky little things never hatched while I was watching. The whole family is enjoying them greatly. And the amount of spontaneous studying going on about cuttlefish and the whole cephalopod family makes me very happy! There is nothing like curiosity, to inspire hours of voracious reading! This is homeschooling at it's greatest!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sparrow's Nest

This afternoon Logan found a little nest near the edge of our garden. It is such a sweet little thing, carefully woven from grasses and hidden under the tall weeds :-P (Which should have been pulled long ago, but this time it seems, even procrastination has it's rewards!)  Inside are 5 pretty pale blue eggs covered in brown spots. We came in and looked them up and are pretty sure it is the nest of either a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) or a White Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) nest. Both birds nest on the ground and have similar nests and eggs. So we will be observing the nest from a distance trying to discover who it belongs to! Hopefully we'll be able to update soon.

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young--a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Psalm 84:3

Monday, April 19, 2010

Homemade Violet Jelly *Springtime in a jar!*

Today we made violet jelly. The kids went to visit Grandma a few days ago and I asked them to please pick a bunch of violets while they were there. Her house is situated at the edge of the woods and her yard is covered in Violet (Viola sororia) plants that are blooming profusely right now. They did a great job with Grandma's help and brought home more than enough violets to make a nice batch of Violet Jelly.

Rachel's Homemade Violet Jelly ( Springtime in a jar!)
  • 4 cups lightly packed violet blossoms
  • 4 cups boiling water to cover
  • juice of 1 whole lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 3 cups sugar
Rinse the violets in cool water, removing the stems. Place the flowers in a heat proof container. Cover with 4 cups boiling water. Cover container and steep for at least one hour (up to 24 hours). Strain through fine sieve. The liquid will be greenish at this point but don't worry it'll turn pretty violet colored before your done! Combine strained liquid with lemon juice in a saucepan. Now it'll develop that beautiful violet color! Then add the pectin and the sugar ans whisk well to combine. Cook over medium high heat until a rolling boil has been reached then cook for 5 minutes longer stirring occasionally. Skim off any foam from the top of your jelly and ladle into clean, hot sterile jars. Put on your lids and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and allow to cool for 24 hours on the counter. It is ever so much nicer if you an cool them in a convenient patch of spring sunshine so you can enjoy your springtime in a jar before you've even tasted it! 

It is so lovely tasting.  Just like violets, light, delicate and flowery.  We love it paired with mascarpone cheese and shortbread.  Yum!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amongst the flowers

We were driving home from baseball practice on Saturday afternoon when we saw this gorgeous field of mustard flowers. It was just too pretty to pass by, so we stopped to take in the beauty and take a few pictures.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Needle felting with kids

Yesterday on our way home from the park I picked up a few craft supplies. One of the things I got was a few needles for felting wool. This is something I've always wanted to try, but for some reason until today I never have. I sat at our table in the evening and played a bit with roving and one of the needles just trying to get a feel for what I was doing and how it worked.  (Wool roving is a piece of wool which has been combed, drawn into a clump, and then twisted slightly to hold the fibers together and to prepare them for spinning or in our case felting!)

Matthew stood there watching me transfixed. He wanted to know what types of things could be created by doing needlefelting, so I looked up a few pictues on the internet to show him the endless possibilities. (a beautiful blog full of lovely original art works is Softearths World) He asked me if he could try needle felting something.

I gave him his choice of roving colors and a needle (with warnings about extreme sharpness!) And let him felt to his hearts content. The first thing he made was a heart with a little arrow in it.

This morning as soon as we had eaten our breakfast he asked if he could make a Little Red Riding Hood.
Ummm... sure! I haven't even attempted anything this ambitious yet! But I wasn't about to stifle his creative urges! I adore how confident and innocent he is. No-one has ever told him he can't draw well, or that he can't paint well, or sculpt well or given him any sort of negative critisism so he is utterly confident that he can do whatever he sets out to do! So off he went to make Little Red Riding Hood.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Troll Houses, Creek Jumping, and a Picnic

Today we went to the park. We are so blessed in this area of the world to have fabulous parks to play in and explore. We had the park practically to ourselves all afternoon, it was great! The boys packed us a picnic lunch, and off we went with everyone's conveyance of choice.

While there they decided to explore the wetland areas. They saw frogs and ducks and lots of spring blooming wild flowers.

It was there that Matthew found many charming little burrows made out of mud. He asked me what built them and I explained how crayfish dig burrows from the walls of the creek beds underwater and move inland. They are quite the little earthmovers. They have little homes with a front door and a back door just like people. He told me that he thought it would make a perfect troll house! He then spent a while telling me all about how the trolls would move in when the crayfish were done, and why they needed houses just like those.
They even found a little water snake! Logan held it for a few minutes so I could get a good shot of him then he let it go again, right by where it came from.

We found a nice shady spot and stopped to have our picnic. Everything tases better outdoors!

After that they were off to climb rocks and explore for a bit, while Claire and I relaxed and watched them play.
Suddenly someone had a great idea! "Mom, take pictures of us jumping the creek!"
So I did! Such fun to be a kid and jump just because you can! *note to self... jumping creeks is fun! I must do it more often!*

Claire had lots of fun too. Snuggling with mommy in the warm sunshine and watching brothers run and play and yell. She even made an exciting new discovery of her own! TOES! She has toes! And she can even reach them! If she tries really hard sometimes she can even get them all the way to her mouth to suck on! What great things toes are!!

We had a wonderful day! I hope you did too!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Watercolors al fresco

This morning the boys decided to take their watercolors and papers outside to enjoy the dappled sunshine on our back porch.

Popcorn and milk

Last week I was reading a book to the boys titled Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (It's one of the Little House On The Praire books) In the book the littel boy Almonzo, talks about how popcorn and milk are the only two things that can occupy the exact same place. He stated that if you filled up a glass with milk and filled another glass with an equal amount of popcorn, you coud then add the popcorn piece by piece and the glass of milk would not overflow. The same could not be done with bread and milk he said. Of course, as soon as we where done reading for the morning, the boys asked if we could repeat the experiment. We pulled out the popper and the bag of popcorn kernals and got busy! Ethan really didn't grasp the whole concept at first and was busily dunking his popcorn in the milk and eating it just like that!   

The experiment was a resounding success! The milk did not overflow at all. (We didn't have enough glasses all the same size so we just measured the milk and popcorn in and added it to 6 glassses for the boys.)
After we finished they wanted to drink the popcorn and milk concoction.
 Everyone decided that it was pretty darn yummy! Better that most breakfast cereals the've tried!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet Easter Memories

Ethan hunting for eggs.

Matthew with his basket.

Logan in the trees.

Claire's gorgeous Easter Dress that her Grandma made for her. She was almost too little for it still, such a petite little thing! But it sure was a pretty dress! I will treasure it.

My sweet children in their Easter finery.
(Somehow we managed to keep them clean right up until this picture, then they promptly took off their shoes and half their clothes and ran around that way the rest of the day! They are never this clean and neat looking at home... But they are happy!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On our table on Easter morning.

I hope you all have a blessed day today! We are off to church, and then for lunch at Grandma and Grandpa's house, where we will hunt eggs and play in the sunshine all afternoon!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dyeing Easter Eggs

We dyed eggs this morning. We decided to do it the "old fashioned way" and just go with the food coloring dyes. I know, I know, it's not as "cool" or "green" as natural homemade dyes, or as interesting as the beautiful silk dyed eggs I've seen on some blogs lately. But the boys had fun doing it and I didn't have to stress about anything, that meant more fun for me too!

Between the baby wanting to nurse all the time and my husband's grandmother visiting for a couple of weeks from Guatemala, things have been very busy around here lately. Thus the choice to pick up food coloring from the store and add the drops to vinegar and water!

Didn't our eggs turn out pretty?
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