Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Camp Lucas birthday party!

This party was a blast to put together. 

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I spent a lot of time contemplating what the best parts of camping were for little kids.  None of them had been away to camp…  they were all 4!  They just got over the section of their lives where their mama’s called them Baby.  But I am sure many of them had been camping… so I focused on the most fun parts of camping.  Tents, lanterns, fire, s’mores, stories, flashlights, and treasure.  And then I threw in some bubbles for good measure.

The invitations were sweet little tents that opened up into the party information. 

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They were gifted with a treat for each of the kids on the receiving end. 

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DISCLAIMER: this party was at night.  It had to be at night, because all of the funnest things about camping happen at night.  Fire, s'mores, flashlights, um… fire.  That means a couple things when it comes to a party.  It means that there are not many very good pictures, for one!  And for two, the pictures that I did get, are somewhat blurry because everything that I couldn’t set up hours early happened in the dark or very near it. 

Ok.  On with the pictures:


Trusty chalk board, lanterns that regularly hang from the front porch, and pine cones from a friends wedding a year ago were the decorations for the porch.  It was simple, free and effective.  Smile

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When the kids walked through the door, they got a wood burned name tag that said “CAMP LUCAS” on one side and their name on the other:

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Inside, his party was all over the house.  The school room had these little tents I made for his birthday and a few fake Christmas trees, given to us by friends.


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I had a chalkboard bunting left over from Valentine’s Day and I just wiped it off and wrote CAMP LUCAS across it then added a pine cone banner I made myself.  I didn’t even change my Spring mantel decorations because they seemed to fit so well!

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The cake table was decorated with a crate and a bunch of stuff that I had or borrowed from friends.  (We’ll talk about the campfire cake later.)

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First we ate dinner:


The fire was already lit in the back yard and I had one of the teens sitting out there watching it.  Earlier in the day I had set up the treasure hunt with candles at each station.  After dinner the kids each got a bag that had acorn and an animal tag on it:

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(Free animal graphic found here)

That tag coordinated with a flashlight in the back yard.  Then I had them go on a treasure hunt with their flashlights! 


(All of this was done after dark, so these pictures were taken way before.)


On the hunt they found a container of bubbles, a cricket clicker, a jar of trail mix, a bug bag filled with gummy butterflies, and a small bundle of twig pencils. 

The rest of the evening was spent making s’mores by the campfire and telling stories. 

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I kept the ghost stories away but told one about an old man who thinks his house is too noisy.  It’s a great story that I used to listen to told by Danny Kay when I was a kid.  The kids all loved it! 

The rest of the time was spent blowing bubbles into the fire.  Have you ever done that?  It makes the bubbles go up up up super fast.  They thought this was the coolest thing ever.  Thanks to my new 8 year old for showing them.  They spent at least 1/2 an hour doing that alone.

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After that part, it was cake and present time! 

Sooooo… for the cake, I was going for campfire, like this:

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I LOVE how it turned out:

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What do you think??

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We had several tutorials on how to do this, but this one was by far and away the easiest.  Didn’t even require a candy thermometer! 

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All in all, it was Luke’s best party yet and I have heard from two mamas of kids who were there and they (and Luke) are STILL playing with their treasure bags the next day!  I call that party success!


Monday, February 23, 2015

On the first day you were four…

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On the first day you were four, you woke me up early.  You snuggled in my bed, saying I was in ‘your spot’ and you took my pillow.

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On the first day you were four, you asked for breakfast before 7am and you wanted to bake muffins.  I said “yes” and you said “yay!” and you flew out of my bed to get the blueberries out of the freezer.

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On the first day you were four, you asked for tea with lots of honey.

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On the first day you were four, you blew bubbles for the dogs in the cool February sunshine.

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On the first day you were four, you took a nap with a gigantic teddy bear and your favorite comfort object: a real stick bug, encased in acrylic.  You woke up with a big smile and bare knees, ready for tickles.

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On the first day you were four, you pointed out the crocus that had hopped across the yard and you yelled “Mama!  Look!  A flower waaaaayy over here!” and you were so proud when I came and saw the treasure you found.

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On the first day you were four, we celebrated you by having a February camp-out in the yard.  We told stories by firelight, ate s’mores, played in tents, and found treasures by flashlight.  You finished the night by giving me three hugs, two kisses, and two snuggle kisses. 

I love you so much!

And you will be four again tomorrow…..


Friday, February 20, 2015

Biology & Nature Study – Grape Hyacinth– “Muscari Armeniacum”

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Newest installment of the Nature Notebook is Grape Hyacinth.  This sweet little flower is a volunteer ALL OVER MY YARD!  They grow wild and happy here.  Tucking into corners and even coming up from underneath my garden beds through 12 inches of soil and weed barrier.  I have seen whole fields of them on our earliest hikes in the mountains.  They are very hardy little plants in this climate!

This was our shortest biology class yet.  It took about 35 minutes from start to finish.  We had a field trip this morning (for a tour of a laser tag facility and then a game of laser tag!) so when we got home, no one was in the mood for a long lesson.  I had looked up the information last night and found nothing in the Handbook of Nature Study.  I had found a few diagrams and a bit of info online and I read that to the kids. 

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Then we set about collecting a sample of pollen from these tiny flowers.  I cut one tiny flower in half to see the ovary, anthers, and stamen.  There are tons of tiny flowers on each stalk, each having 6 simifused petals and sepals.  I decided that my nature notebook would include a magnified picture of the tiny, disected flower so I could label each piece.

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Getting pollen was difficult, but so worth it.  We noticed right away (40x) that this pollen was white and not the green/yellow of the other pollen we have seen so far.

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Under 400x magnification, you can see that these pollen grains are very simple.  It almost seems as though I can see the cell inside the pollen! 

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It was a short, but sweet lesson.  Tomorrow we have co-op, so no more lessons (unless we have a dying need, which we may.  The quince are starting to bloom.) until Tuesday. 

Happy Homeschooling!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Biology and nature study - Narcissus Pseudonarcissus {Daffodil}

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If you are familiar at all with Charlotte Mason Education, she regularly recommends parents to spend time learning things so they can easily pass on that knowledge to their children.  It makes the lessons go smoothly and creates a general flow to the day when the lessons come from a place of knowledge instead of hurried research.  As I study and invest myself in different schools of thought on home education I have noticed that this need for the parent to be competent in the information is a running theme. 

Maria Montessori talked about practicing the lesson many times until you had gotten rid of all the unneeded words in the lesson’s introduction.  The simpler the language, the easier the child would understand.  You go through the motions on your own as many times as you need to eliminate the unneeded dialog to introduce the materials so the child can begin learning each lesson as independently as possible.  Which of course, means you need to know not only the in the information, but the questions to ask and the answers that would be acceptable without stumble or fact-checking.  And so a well versed teacher is required. 

Rudolph Steiner (the father of Waldorf Education) puts a great emphasis on continued education and enlightenment for the parents and teachers in his educational philosophy.  Self work is a requirement of his teachers and the parents of students as well.  This school of thought doesn’t focus as much on the information in the lessons, but on the rhythm in which the lessons and stories are given.  It is already a requirement that they know the information so the focus on the form and rhythm of the delivery is easy and seamless for the students.

Now I can’t say I do this all the time.  In fact, in my personal philosophy of education (brushing off my tie and kempt mustache - ahem) I think it is a good thing for the kids to see this process quite a bit.  The fact that adults do not know everything is a reality.  ‘I don’t know’ should be said often and honestly.   Humbling ourselves in front of our children is the first way we show them that they have as much value as we do and they have the power to solve problems just as much as we do.  However, there is merit to having knowledge of where to find information before presenting a lesson.  And even more merit in having that information at your fingertips when you introduce said lesson so the ‘I don’t knows’ are few and they always are followed by ‘bring me that book and we will find the answer!’.

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That is what happened today with our lesson.  I picked a tiny daffodil from our back yard.  The very first one.  I placed in a tiny jar and put it on the table.  I got out my nature study books, including the Handbook of Nature Study.  We usually start a nature study lesson with the name of the subject and the scientific name.  There was no scientific name to be found for ‘mini daffodil’.  None.  In none of the books.  I looked and looked as my kids waited.  Stumped, I finally consulted my ‘magic phone’ and finally I discovered there IS NO scientific name for a mini daffodil.  They are classified in the same genus as the larger variety with the same attributes.  They don’t even have their own common names.  So if we have a “King Alfred” daffodil it would be called a “Miniature King Alfred”. 

Color me humbled.

Ok.  So moving on through the lesson. 

Day 2:

Yellow Daffodil

Narcissus Pseudonarcissus

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Handbook of Nature Study – pg 551

Daffodils are in the Narcissus family of bulb plants.  They have a crown which holds the pollen and stamen of the flower.  Some varieties have a few flowers to a stalk, but our variety only has one so that is where we focused our research.  They are a true bulb flower, which stores it’s food underground for the flower to feed on all Spring and then the process begins again in Summer when the flower dies back and waits for the next Spring.

The coolest part of this lesson was collecting the pollen.  It took some doing.  The anthers were not ready to give up the pollen from this flower yet.  It is very early in their season.  (In comparison, the crocus is halfway through it’s season and so they are giving up their pollen readily.) 

The first thing we noticed when we got the pollen on the slide was how DIFFERENT it was from the crocus pollen we saw yesterday! 

Same 400x magnification –

Top: pollen of the “Crocus Vernus”

Bottom: “Narcissus Pseudonarcissus”

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Would you have ever thought two plants so similar could have such a different pollen make-up?  We were shocked and thrilled!

Daffodil Pollen at 40x

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Same at 400x

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I truly look forward to waiting until we can see the daffodil pollen in a few weeks to see if it matures and looks more similar or if these plants really are as different as they seem.  It’s always interesting to see the different adaptations for different species although the life cycle and time of bloom are so similar. 

Happy Homeschooling!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Biology and nature study – Crocus Vernus

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I have a confession to make.  I do next to nothing for school in the winter.  I am happy if we just get our Math and English finished and then we move on to things that are warm and completely non-textbook.  But even though this hibernation is a yearly ritual of mine, we hit Spring and I find it doesn’t matter a lick.  My brain is more awake in the sunshine but the slow season of learning very little from me is still filled with the gentle art of learning for them.  They may not be reading textbooks and doing worksheets, but they are making bread, watching educational tv shows, naming the birds we spy in the naked trees, noting that the sun is lower in the sky and having conversations about personal relationships that always seem tight and tender in the colder months when we are all sequestered indoors together.  But Spring.  Glorious Spring!  When Spring comes, my mind wakes up with the dawn (which rises at a reasonable hour) and is ready to teach and learn again.  My children, the sponges that they are, are ready to enjoy lessons again with art, and music, and literature, and experiments, and poetry and all of the things I bring when my mind is out of that cloud of winter. 

And so we find ourselves nose deep in nature study and biology this Spring.  As I wander the backyard with my fur-babies, I find new things to study each day.  And when the microscope came this week it added a whole other level to the already inspired lessons. 

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Day 1:

Purple Crocus

Scientific Name: Crocus Vernus

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Handbook of Nature Study - Page 549

We learned that crocus are not actually bulb plants but have a bulb like tuber that is called a “corm”.  They divide by creating several baby corms in the larger tuber and then storing their food there throughout the season for the new crocus to come up late next Winter. 

Also, if a crocus is not pollenated, instead of falling off, the sepals (interior petals) and outside petals will open and roll down so that the breeze will take the pollen to neighboring crocus and the stamen can pick up pollen from the neighboring flowers on the breeze.  A nice little insurance policy to protect against the late frosts that may take out the earliest pollinators who would normally do the work for the crocus.

It was easy to get some pollen off the anthers of this flower.  We placed some on a slide and added the filiment slide on top so that we could check out what it looked like under magnification.

Crocus Pollen under the microscope at 40X:

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Same at 400x

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My nature notebook gets an entry just like the kids each day, mainly because I think it’s fun but it has been interesting to see what each person remembers in their dictation and how the entries differ from each other and yet are all accurate. 

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It is shaping up to be a great learning season.

Happy Homeschooling!


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Once again, my best friend is having a birthday.  And the day after that, it’s my turn.  It’s been almost a decade now that we have been best friends.  Our children have grown up together.  We have gone on journeys together, had babies together, and at now entering homeschooled high-school together.  I can imagine being little old ladies together… sitting on a porch somewhere (while our husbands play video games inside) sipping on sangria made with fruit I grew and wine she brought…..  talking about the good old days when we had 5 littles and got stuck at a pot-smoking worm farm one day.

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She still challenges me, holds me up, and is my super hero on occasions where there is a chance I would eat my own young.


Happy Birthday, dearest!  So happy to be your friend!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ninja party for my favorite 8 year old

This party was a blast!  It was also the fastest party I have ever planned, ever.  We put the last coat of paint on the kitchen cabinets and ceiling the morning before the party.   At that point, the entire kitchen was boxed up and I had a make shift kitchen on a set of folding tables in the small area between dining room and living room.  Like, we had wet paint Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon we had 12 little boys beating each other up in our house enjoying Asian-style treats!  Needless to say, in 24 hours everything had to be put back into the kitchen, then cleaned, then set up for the party.  It was absolute chaos, but we made it, and it seemed like a really successful party. 
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I could not have made this party without my amazing 13 yr old daughter!  She saved the day by decorating the entire house with bamboo while I unpacked the kitchen so I could make food.   I had been collecting anything that looked remotely in theme while shopping for the kitchen stuff but most of it was in a laundry basket in the garage (true story).   I had one trip just after Christmas to Diaso Japan which added a few on theme things that gave finishing touches, but the biggest thing we used was my daughters paper lanterns and a whole ton of my neighbors bamboo.
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I loved how she tucked the bamboo all over the house.  It made the whole thing look WAY more together than I felt!
Lets start with the invitations:
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I took some dowels and spray painted them black (heck, I was painting everything in sight anyway, right?) and then hot glued a red and black bead on each end.  Then attached it to this page, which I printed on tea-stain colored paper.  They were rolled up to scrolls and handed out tied with a red ribbon.  (The inspiration and template can be found here)
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The doorway to The Palace of the Shadow Ninjas was adorned accordingly:
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The table scape:
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Food was simple:
  • Teriyaki Chicken skewers
  • Seasoned rice (not pictured)
  • PB&J sandwiches (shaped with a Cut&Seal)
  • California Rolls (I show how to make them here)
  • candy sushi
  • fortune cookies
  • cupcakes
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Ninja cupcake toppers were actually suckers from Amazon Prime.  Ordered and shipped overnight the day I realized I wouldn’t have an oven before the party.  Cupcakes, bought from Safeway. 
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Making the candy sushi was so fun!  Cyan helped quite a bit and we got done in record time.  If you have never done it, I highly suggest it.  The kids thought it was pretty much the coolest thing they had ever eaten!
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Party activities were also scaled down a bit for the weight of the project we were in.  I bought a bunch of 2inch wide pipe insulation and 4 rolls of various colored duct tape and let the kids make their own Ninja Swords!
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Never thought watching boys beat each other up would be so much fun… but these guys sure had a great time!  There is something highly amusing about watching people get hit in the stomach with a giant foam sword while laughing hysterically. 
After this, I settled everyone down to watch a movie (3 Ninjas on Netflix for free) while they ate dinner and then we did cake and gifts.
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Favors were a troubled affair.  I couldn't find anything last minute that would fit the budget and the theme at the same time, so with these, I went to another part of Asia entirely… the Chinese New Year isle!  Take out boxes, chop sticks, Chinese finger traps, and Japanese candy (bought at Diaso along with the other Japanese things) were given out with a paper throwing star.
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And that’s it folks!  It wasn’t my best party, but I asked Logan what he thought and he was THRILLED with it.  That is all that counts!
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