Wednesday, July 30

Once Bitten Twice Shy (Great White)

 duunnn dunnn... duuuunnnn duun... duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn   -(Jaws theme song)

July has turned into Ocean Month at Gypsy Road.  We're not travelling this month, and being in the middle of Oklahoma, the ocean seemed the logical topic of study.....  (best of luck finding the logic)
We have focused on history (primarily pirates) for the past two weeks, and are switching to a science focus this week, with the emphasis on sharks and the marine food chain.  Next week, we wrap it up with shipwrecks and marine biology.
As part of our study on ocean currents, we are sending out a Message in a Bottle.  It will travel from Oklahoma to the Gulf Stream, where an active duty Coast Guard family member will drop it straight into the current.  We promise to share its journey as we receive updates!

Shark unit study :

How to make a clothespin shark           

You will need:
  • 1 clothespin
  • blue paint
  • paint brush
  • 1 blue googly eye
  • silver glitter glue
  • blue glitter adhesive foam
  • glue
  • scissors
Cover an entire wooden clothespin with blue paint, make sure to get all the little nooks and crannies. When dry glue a blue googly eye on the top edge of the clothespin. Below the eye, use the silver glitter glue to make three pointy shark teeth. For the shark fins cut two triangles from the corner of an adhesive blue glitter foam sheet. Attach one fin at the top and one on the bottom.

Monday, July 28

Canned Heat (Jamiroquai)

 "Home canning puts the pleasure of eating natural,
delicious produce at your fingertips year-round."

When the harvest comes in, we switch to a full week of Home Economics and learn about food preservation.  What the kids don't know is that they're also doing math, handwriting, science, and nutrition while helping to put up the harvest.  Yes, it would be considerably easier for me to tackle the whole shebang by myself, but that wouldn't help them very much, would it?
Take your children to gather, or buy, the food you want to preserve. You want to preserve the freshest fruits and vegetables. That means using what is in season and, when possible, using local produce. A good u-pick farm or farmer's market should offer the local and fresh produce you want.
Patiently prep your produce for preservation.  (I feel like that girl in Mr. Popper's Penguins !)  Snap the beat, pit the cherries, slice the fruits & veggies...  The children can do some of these things, but follow behind them (eg, be sure all the cherries got pitted).  Make sure that they have clear instructions and budget extra time.  We usually do these tasks the afternoon / evening before our big canning day.
You need to look at what you've got to preserve and then create a game plan.  Not everything is meant for canning.  The cute little watermelons we've been growing are perfect for a single-serving, but not preserving.  Whenever possible, though, we can, dehydrate, and freeze.  Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each...
  • Advantages: Dried fruits take up considerably less space and are ideal for hiking / camping since they are a fraction of the weight. Dried vegetables can also be added to soups and casseroles in the wintertime when fresh produce is not in peak season.
  • Disadvantages:  Nutritionally speaking vitamins A and C will be destroyed by the heat and air during this processing.  Water is necessary for making most items usable in future recipes.
  • Advantages: Freezing is one of the top preservation methods to protect nutritional value. Using frozen produce can be huge time saver in a crunch. Just add frozen veggies to a casserole or stir-fry for a quick dinner, or use defrost frozen fruit for a quick dessert.  Nutritious and quick!
  • Disadvantages: Freezing expands the food's natural water, and can result is ruptured cell walls and a softer texture when thawed. Additionally, there is some research that thawing will also degrade vitamin C, so go ahead a cook your veggies frozen or toss some frozen fruit into a smoothie for a healthy treat.
  • Advantages: Fruits and vegetables can make tasty gifts, provide year round decoration and may be the main ingredient in your pizza or pasta sauce. Almost all fruits and vegetables can be canned, but for low-acid vegetables, pressure canning is the safest method to reduce the risk of botulism, a type of food poisoning associated with canned foods.
  • Disadvantages: The process of pressure canning usually involves first heating the food product to destroy bacteria and then placing food in a sterilized container. The contents are then sealed by using high heat to generate pressure that causes steam to push the remaining air out of the cans. Unfortunately, these are steps that cannot be skipped and both heating and boiling result in loss of water-soluble nutrients. Commercial canning usually involves even more processing and can lead to further nutrient loss.
We did the easy stuff first - freezing is super easy.  The fruit was cut into small slices and frozen on a pan, then transferred into a large freezer bag.  This helps prevent the fruit from sticking together and turning into one large lump.  The vegetables took a bit longer, since they needed to be blanched (dropped in boiling water for a couple of minutes) first and then frozen the same way.  The kids can help with freezing and drying, but I only let them watch the canning process.
Next, we tackled the hardest task, canning.  Today, we were making pickles and jam.  We did the pickles first (don't cook them - they'll be mushy).  We 'cheated,' using a mixed spice pack in our brine.  While they were soaking in the water bath, we cleaned up the pans and started boiling and mashing the fruit for jams.  Once the strawberry jam was in the water bath, it was on to peaches!
I highly recommend using the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for directions on how long to put the jars in the water bath.  A pressure canner would work well, also, but we use the bath.  Make sure that there is space under the jars, and at least an inch of water above the jars, for circulation.
It's already hot in the house in August, and canning makes it that much hotter.  Yes, I'm wearing a sport bra and an apron!  Look - the apron matches these cute little jar rings and lids that we picked up for pennies on the dollar last winter.  I like to switch jar lid patterns each year so that we make sure all the old stuff is used up first.
After removing the jars from the water bath, place them on a cooling rack and wait for the joyous POP POP POP of the lids sealing.  (If you don't hear the pop, they still might be sealed, but check each one before storing.)
On to the drying!  A few years ago, I picked up a dehydrator for a song at an estate sale, and then found several additional trays and accessories the following week at Salvation Army.  God really wanted me to have a food dryer!  We have used it excessively, preserving anything and everything.  My husband even makes jerky with it every winter!  
After trying three or four different brands of dehydrator, this one is definitely my favorite.  It works very quickly and effectively, puts out minimal heat and noise, and has various accessories, such as the fruit roll-up trays and mesh inserts for smaller foods. 
Twenty-four hours later, we had dried apples, bell peppers, cherries, blueberries (and we tried some raspberries, but they didn't turn out as hoped), salad topper mix (all sorts of veggies mixed with chickpeas and nuts), and mango chips.  Most will be used in future recipes, but the apple & mango are just for snacking.
Home Canning unit study (covers Home Economics, Math, Science....)

Thursday, July 17

Tupelo Honey (Van Morrison)

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...
Today we celebrate our 12th anniversary...that's 120 years in married-years.  We like to joke that, twelve years ago, we gathered our nearest and dearest, and tried to take them all out with one swoop! 

The reason I chose 'Tupelo Honey' for this post is not because either of us is from Mississippi, or that we have a particular affinity for the song, but rather because it was our first dance together.  How did that happen?  Let me take you back........
July 18, rural Oklahoma :
The temperatures have been steadily rising in one of the biggest heat waves ever to hit the area.  (Our beautiful, cool, fall wedding was pushed forward to summer at the insistence of my soon-to-be-boss.)  Each day, we pray for a cooling rain that never comes.
The wedding is scheduled for 3pm, outside, and the heat index is 120.  The bridal party is dressed for a fall wedding, and (unknown to the bride) the groom has been in the hospital until two hours prior with an unfortunate medical attack.  Father-of-the-bride (FOB) walks in to find the groom sleeping off the Percocet....and thinks it must have been a helluva bachelor party!
With everyone attending to the groom, the bride and her girls are crawling around on the dirt putting up tables and getting the grounds ready.  They have made the unfortunate mistake of writing "Johnson Estate" on the signs leading to the area, and soon several random trucks with trailers start showing up for the supposed estate sale!
Mother-of-the-bride breaks her ankle during pictures (though we don't know it's broken until that night when she goes to the ER) and FOB trips and very-nearly falls into the cake -- but it really doesn't matter, because the icing has melted and the cake is sliding apart anyway.
Finally the ceremony starts.  The groom, still slightly drowsy, cannot figure out his cue to say "I Do," and so keeps repeating it until the pastor says "OK, say it now."  We will always joke that this could be grounds for an annulment...
The photographer gets heat stroke and someone has to drive her home, limiting all photos taken to those from family and friends.  One of the groomsmen is very close to heat illness, and everyone begins to peal off clothing quickly.  Mother-of-the-groom is very overheated, but her loved ones solve that problem quickly by throwing her into the pool!
The DJ has taken the money and split town, leaving us with no music, and a neighbor steps in with his personal cd collection.  We have never met him, and he knows nothing about us, but he does an admirable job!  He thinks the bride might be from Mississippi, and picks out Tupelo Honey for the first dance.
When the cake is cut, and the sun set, we leave for the evening...but the honeymoon is cancelled because the groom goes back to the hospital with the same medical issues.  We keep putting it off because life keeps getting in the way.
Fast forward two years................FINALLY, we get to take a honeymoon!!!!  We spent four nights in Cozumel, Mexico.  And since we had a one-year old at the time, I'm pretty sure we slept and enjoyed the quiet relaxation even more than your average honeymooners.
We had a blast on the snorkeling tour, and spent most of a day just lying around in a hammock.  Since Hurricane Emily had decimated most of the island, those of us that remained had the run of the place.  It was very relaxing! 
We rented a love bug to tour the island, did some shopping, and created our own pottery.  Incidentally, we still have that ceramic holds sponges by the sink.

......and lived happily ever after! 

 I couldn't make this kind of stuff up...........everything here is true, and some of the craziness has probably been forgotten!  But it's not the party itself that's the marriage and the life that you lead after the last guest has gone.  Our wedding day was truly memorable - we love to laugh about it - and it was a great prelude to our life together, which has been anything but ordinary!

Friday, July 11

Dancing With Myself (Billy Idol)

After spending a few weeks touring New England and studying the Revolutionary War, the boys were psyched to design their own costumes.  They began back at the hotel, meticulously drawing each piece of costume and musket on individual slips of the notepad.  We ended up with four notepads full of drawings.  Some of them were even viable exploded mechanical drawings!
They began with the muskets.  We raided Grandpa's shop for unused 2x4s and Dad helped them with the shop tools.  They learned wood shop safety, and used both mechanical and manual methods.
After getting everything cut and sanded, they stained the wood, then added the metal pieces.  Our older son came up with the idea of using old spoons for the trigger and other embellishments.  And while their original designs were for a real, working gun, we nixed that.
Muskets drying, we began on the costumes.  Mom's forte is with the sewing machine, and the boys have done simple sewing projects before, but this was going to take some doing!  We began by gathering as many pieces as possible from garage sales and thrift stores.  (Baseball & football pants make great breeches!)  This just left us to make the jackets.
We found two ladies jackets that looked similar to their vision, and they learned how to take tucks.  This fitted the jackets, with the added benefit of creating pleats in the back.  The 'patriot' jacket was also slit up the back to create triangular sides.  They added a multitude of buttons, which really "made" the designs, and found a set of US/UK patches that further emphasized their roles. 

Paired with the tricorns from Boston and the powder horns from Fort Ticonderoga, these were some pretty snazzy costumes!
Taking the roles a bit further, they created parchment paper from scrap paper and some old tea bags.  Then they transformed a simple nightstand into a colonial desk, with quill and ink, to write a treaty.
On the Fourth of July, they dressed up, performed a flag ceremony, and headed to town to participate in the annual festival and costume contest.  I'm not sure what the criteria were, but the Brit placed 3rd in his age group, and the Patriot placed 2nd.  We were VERY proud of our boys for their efforts!!  I know that they learned quite a bit, about a great number of topics, through making these costumes.

Some people find believability difficult when children succeed so well.  This led us to discussions about character and how to react when people question our efforts and results.      

They are already making plans and drawings for Civil War can only imagine that they will revolve around the blue & grey caps purchased in Gettysburg.  I look forward to seeing them bring their visions to fruition!!