Monday, August 31

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica)

When we visited Pennsylvania last year, we didn't make it out to Philadelphia, so it was high on our to-do list for this trip!  With one afternoon to spend, we hit Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the US Mint before heading back to home base.  But what a fun-filled day!

Resources used for this trip :
It’s free to see the Liberty Bell, and you don’t need tickets – just show up and get in line!  Tickets to tour Independence Hall are required but are also free, and for $1.50you can reserve them in advance online.  It was worth it to us to not drive all the way there and get turned away.  As a side note, parking is available in an underground garage that opens directly into the Independence Visitor Center in the historic area, and I highly recommend it. It’s worth the cost to be central to all the historic sites!

If you have the time, the Franklin's Footsteps Walking Tour looked like a good one! But you'll want to budget the better part of a day for that.  In two and a half hours, we toured the US Mint, grabbed a city slice (even my pre-teen couldn't finish the big thing!), and headed for Independence Hall.

The tour of Independence Hall is short, but informative.  And how inspiring to be standing where the founding fathers set our country into motion!!







We even got to see Benjamin Franklin's specs (from National Treasure)!
As they usually do at National Parks, the kids completed the Junior Ranger Program : Independence Hall booklet, and they earned their badge and Junior Ranger Trading Cards.
With a little more time, we would have visited the Betsy Ross house and museum to learn about the history of the American flag.  Maybe after going on your own trip, you can tell us about it!

Monday, August 17

Canning 101 : Pickles

Pickles are one my favorite, and one of the easiest, things to preserve from the garden.  If you're wanting to get started with canning, but a little intimidated by pressure canners and acidity concerns, then pickles are a fantastic first step for you!
You can use this recipe as a template for pickling other vegetables. Okra, green beans, garlic, and even carrots all make delicious pickles if you're feeling like branching out into other parts of the garden!
No matter what cucumber or vegetable you use, make sure they are ripe and feel firm — avoid limp or wrinkly vegetables. Wash the vegetables before pickling and cut away any bruises or blemishes.
These pickles can be processed in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, which makes them shelf stable for around a year. The downside is that the hot water processing will cook the cucumbers a bit and can sometimes give the pickles a softer texture. If super-crunchy pickles are your aim, skip the processing step and just keep the jars in the fridge — they'll keep refrigerated for several weeks.

How to Make Dill Pickles

Makes 4 pint jars  (though we usually go big and make several quarts at once!)

What You Need

Ingredients
  • 3 pounds cucumbers
  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • pickling spices  (by and large, a mix is the easiest way to start)

Equipment

Instructions


  1. Prepare the jars: If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids. If you are planning to make refrigerator pickles, simply washing the jars and lids is fine.
  2. Prepare the cucumbers: Wash and dry the cucumbers. Trim away the blossom end of the cucumber, which contains enzymes that can lead to limp pickles. Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.
  3. Pack the pickles into the jars: Pack the pickles into the jars. Trim the ends if they stand more than 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Pack them in as tightly as you can without smashing the cucumbers.
  4. Bring the pickling brine to a boil: Combine the vinegar, water, pickling spices in a sauce pan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil. Pour the brine over the pickles, filling each jar to within 1/2-inch of the top. You might not use all the brine.
  5. Remove air bubbles: Gently tap the jars against the counter a few times to remove all the air bubbles. Top off with more pickling brine if necessary.
  6. Tighten the lids: Place the lids over the jars and screw on the rings until tight.
  7. Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage: For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 10 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first.
  8. Cool and refrigerate: Let the jars cool to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If unprocessed, store the pickles in the fridge. The pickles will improve with flavor as they age — try to wait at least 48 hours before cracking them open.
  9. Storing canned pickles: Canned pickles will keep for at least a year on the shelf and for several weeks in the refrigerator once opened; refrigerator pickles will keep for several weeks.

Wednesday, August 12

Join Together (Who)

Homeschool conventions can be a great way to rejuvenate...get some fresh ideas, meet like-minded people, and further your commitment to homeschooling.  We went to one in Dallas last year, and really enjoyed it, but didn't sign up for one this year.  As convention season rolled around, I began to be a little bummed about that.  Then, at the eleventh hour, we were asked to drive down and fill in for someone at the very same convention in Dallas!
Being an unexpected trip, we quickly finished up the canning, stacking jars two and three deep until we could organize the pantry later.  Just before leaving, we discovered a leak in the bathroom (happy day!) and quickly made a TP pyramid and left a note for dad.  After all, he'd be coming home to a quiet house....he surely needed a 'honey-do' list to keep him occupied!
We made tracks to Dallas and found ourselves in a swanky hotel....up on the 28th floor, no less!  The view was stunning; though the sight of the ocean out that window would have been preferred, we found ourselves mesmerized by the sheer number of people and cars.  That's country kids for ya!
Next up was getting the Lego Mindstorms EV3 system set up.    After taking a week-long summer camp on how to program the robot, he was excited to give it a shot!  He must have played EV3 with every little boy at the convention.  The moms would stop to talk, the kids would play with the robot, and everyone had a good time!  Also, it gave the kids something to do while their moms were perusing our booth...
After several hours of EV3, the boys went off in search of new adventures!  They discovered a plasma ball, purchased dissection kits, and built a double helix DNA structure at the CurrClick booth.
They found some history treasures, too!  A quill & ink set, gladiator swords, and viking shields.  Hal & Melanie (of Raising Real Men) had these super-fly semi-automatic guns and targets, but the boys had already spent all of their money by the time they discovered them.  So...maybe next time!  We all have to learn to budget wisely.
The best moment of the whole convention, for me, came in the evening.  Our booth neighbors were from Landmark Tours, and they were having a drawing for a sword.  A real sword!!  The boys won.  They had been enamored with this sword all weekend and just drooling over it.  After making sure it was fine with me for them to receive the sword, the representative called the boys over.  They had been chatting all weekend, and become friends, so the boys didn't think anything about it.  I so WISH that I'd been able to capture the moment when they understood that they had won the sword, and were taking it home.  Priceless....just priceless!
After dinner, they finally wound down.  The little one took a nap under the table, and the big one was forced to quit roaming and making friends when he blew out both of his flip flops (....but stepped on no pop tops).  A little duct tape got him back on his feet, literally, the next day.  He rocked the 'trashy' style!  After two and a half days of talking to people and making new friends, we were ready to head back home.  We hit the club lounge for a quick afternoon snack before breaking down the booth.  Ta-ta, Dallas, we'll see you next year!
View from the 27th Floor Club Lounge.

Wednesday, August 5

Born on the Bayou (John Fogerty)

The more I educate myself about DEET and other chemicals, the more I’m convinced I have to be proactive about finding better alternatives.  I try to treat my skin with the respect it deserves as it performs the difficult job of protecting my insides.  By the same token, mosquitoes by night, ticks by day...the insects seem to work 24/7 in the summer!!
Before you get desperate and spray on commercial bug sprays (that may contain some nasty chemicals), take some time to consider the better alternative; a natural bug repellent that smells wonderful, is effective, and takes only minutes to whip up!

Eau de Bayou
Ingredients:
  • 1 32 ounce bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 TBSP each of dried Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme and Mint
  • At least quart size glass jar with airtight lid
Directions:
  1. Put the vinegar and dried herbs into large glass jar.
  2. Seal tightly and store on counter or place you will see it daily. Shake well each day for 2-3 weeks.
  3. After 2-3 weeks, strain the herbs out and store in spray bottles or tincture bottles, preferably in fridge.
  4. To use on skin, dilute to half with water in a spray bottle and use as needed.
  5. Use whenever you need serious bug control!
  6. Fair warning: this stuff stinks when it is wet, though the smell disappears as it dries!