Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vetro Glass Blowing

Our little home school co-op goes on alot of field trips... but this one takes the cake as BY FAR the coolest one we've been on all year.  We visited the Vetro Glass Blowing Studio ( in downtown Grapevine which is owned by our friends and fellow homeschooling family, the Gappa's.  David and his apprentice's were so great with the kids (and adults too!) explaining what all the equipment was, how it works, what they were doing with the molten glass, and so forth.  We got to learn how the glass comes to them, see the clear glass inside the 2000 degree plus furnace, how they blow it, layer it, add color, shape it, and eventually turn it into a piece of art.  You could hear "oohs" and "ahhs" all around as he and his apprentices blew the glass, turned it, molded it into various shapes, applied some serious fire, and eventually into a beautiful plate that was being mounted above a local homeowners fireplace (that lucky dog!).  Enough with the talking- check it out:

David on the right talking with the apprentice

David explaining the color he just added

David is shaping the piece as the apprentice is carefully blowing it

What started as a small ball of glass is now a beautiful plate-
watching this part was really cool!

That's a massive blow torch!

After the piece was done, the kids got a close up look and feel of the 2000 + degree furnace

A happy audience!

We're excited!

Jake after the presentation

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The Ploughshare

Last week, my friend Wendi and I went to a sourdough bread baking class in Waco at "The Ploughshare" (  It is run by a group of people who about 30 years ago, decided they wanted to learn to live off of the land in a self-sustainable way of life, and as Theresa, one of the first on the Waco land, put it "we didn't know that potatoes grew underground and corn grew above ground" when they started.  This community has created a culture of people (working on the 3rd generation now) who know how to do the crafts of old, including their very own Gritsmill, blacksmithing shop, construction and furniture carpentry using hand tools, manual plowing,  homesteading (dairy, meat, work animals, vegetable production), kitchen skills such as bread and cheese making, canning, and various household skills such as soap making, knitting, weaving, sewing, and so forth.  Basically, these people know how to do everything they need to be completely self-sufficient, and now their community is large enough, they have the man power to do it as well.  Theresa told me they had such a hard time in the beginning, using books and trial and error, learning all of these skills, that they decided holding classes to teach the public these old time-honored skills would be valuable.  Now, they have a whole community, and business, of teaching the old arts... and I for one, and a fan!

The Original Homesteading House

The view from our classroom

The working stone ground, water powered Gritsmill (they mill flour and corn here)

The Blacksmiths Shop

... and the blacksmith... the smell of sulfur was really strong!

The actual stone mill the flour is milled in.  The miller explained that you have to be very careful the flour doesn't catch fire due to the heat and friction, which is where the expression "keep your nose to the grindstone" came from- you can smell it burning before it combusts!

The wheel that powers the mill- very cool, and quiet

Now, you might be saying to yourself "okay, that sounds fine... but you went to WACO to learn to make bread!  Come on!"  You have to understand, this was just as much about the experience as it was about the instruction.  Yes, I could check out a book in the library on "how to make sourdough," but how boring is that!  And besides, I would have missed a great opportunity of being exposed to this different culture, and quite honestly, just a plain old good time and day out!  After all, my friend and I are moms of 4 kids each, 5 and under (okay... that counts the unborn babies... but still!) who are homemakers and homeschoolers... we NEEDED a break!

In the class, we learned the basic chemistry of ssourdough and how to make biscuits, pita bread, artisan loaves, pizza crust, and my favorite, cinnamon swirl bread.  As I reproduce the recipes at home, I will share them here, under "recipes," so keep an eye out :)

Our classroom- there were 8 students and 4 teachers

Yummy sourdough biscuits

My pita's puffing on the 500 degree hot stone

Rolling the cinnamon raisin swirl bread

The cinnamon raisin swirl loaves before they were baked- can't you just smell the goodness!

Me showing off my yummy pizza

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Short's Barber Shop- Unlicensed and dangerous!

You may remember that I am the official Short boy barber.  When Mike was in the Police Academy, and I was in school, we were, how do you say... broke.  So, I bought some clippers, watch the enclosed DVD and gave Mike his first of many bad haircuts :).  As time went on though, I got better, and by the time he was actually on the streets, I was pretty good.  Hey, a hair cut a week adds up when you are pinching pennies!  So now, since I know how to do my one style (military fade), all the boys get the same haircut (just at different lengths).  It's fun for me, and Mike likes his barber to be on call 24 hours a day (he often reminds me around 10 pm that he needs one... sigh...).  Besides, where else can you get a haircut with a kiss?

Well, since Mike is going back to work tomorrow, and he says he's a meaner officer with a fresh hair cut  (Sorry about all you drivers:)  ) , today was hair cut day.  So, Jake, Anthony, and Mike all got their hair cuts, and if I do say so myself, they all look pretty darn handsome!  Mary got a "hair cut" too- really just me making scissor sounds near her so she thinks she is getting one.  Mike likes long hair on girls, so I won't be cutting her hair for quite some time... and by the way, this also accounts for my long hair- I've been growing it our since he told me he likes it best long (after 7 years of marriage I might add!).  We'll see if this long hair survives the last 2 months of pregnancy... in the middle of the HOT part of the year...

Mike and Mary are not pictured... and no, the boys aren't mad, they're intently watching an old school GI Joe cartoon we found at the library.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hundred's Chart- English and Latin

In an effort to make learning Anthony's numbers up to 100 into a kinesthetic activity (I mean, come on, you can only write a hundred's chart so many times!), today we put together a Hundred's chart the size of the kitchen table.  I cut index cards in 1/2 and wrote on each a number, 1-100, mixed them up and told him to sort them.  He loved this activity.  He first sorted all of the "one's", then the "ten's", etc, all the way up to the "nineties".  Then he sorted each category to put them in order- the final product was an impressive hundred's chart he felt good about.  We did this in both english and latin (roman numerals).  The english he breezed through, the latin was a little more tricky, even I had to cheat a bit to make sure I was getting the names correct :)  We'll get there though!

To store these numbers, I punched a hole in the top right of each card and secure them with a ring I got at Office Max.  This makes the cards easy to find, keep them organized, and it's easy for him to flip through when we practice.  I have done the same thing with all of his syllables we've been working on for latin reading.

You can see how proud he is after he finished his english numbers!

A close up of the english numbers all assembled

The roman numerals were a bit more challenging.. not to mention it was nearing lunch time!

A close up of the latin... makes my head spin!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Whoel Grain Bread = Super-stardome

I have been making my own whole grain bread for a couple of years now, and let me tell you something ladies, there is NOTHING like the smell of fresh bread baking to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, excited and calm, and like the world's greatest home-maker/wife/mother/super-lady... ever!  During the easy times, I try to make 4 loaves at a time in the oven and freeze 3 for later in the week, in the less easy times I have a bread machine adapted recipe that turns out wonderful, and in the "this is too hard, I need help!" times, I buy bread at the store... not too proud :)!

So, over the past 2 years, I would say I'm 50/50... 50% homemade and 50% store bought.  But you just try telling my 2-year-ago, new to bread-baking, convicted self that I would be buying bread from the store... gasp!... I would have said you were Crazy and swore I would NEVER do that again.  Well friends, life happens, and I have come to learn that home made bread should be a treat, not ANOTHER weight holding you down.  So, if you are doing good with the rest of your life, make this delicous recipe... if not, the store stuff sure is good, and sometimes if you're really feeling down, plop the bread machine recipe in and make yourself feel like at least you can do something right :).

Although I'm in an "easy" place right now, I have whole-heartidly embraced the bread machine.  I can prepare it in 5 minutes, during one of our schooling breaks, and by dinner, I AM super-mom (imagine how I feel on the days when not only is all the schooling done, but the house is clean, the laundry done, AND homemade bread is on the table!!).  I plan to have Anthony proficient in placing the ingredients in the machine soon, so then HE can be the celebrated super-boy at dinner, and eventually, when the kids are older and I need more for them to do, well be back at the 4... ehhh... maybe 8 loaves a week, hand kneeded and baked in the oven.

Traditional (oven) Whole Grain Bread
Makes 2 loaves  (double for 4 loaves... obviously...)

2 1/4 c water, warmed (or milk or buttermilk)
1 3/4 T yeast (not rapid rise)
1 c whole (not instant) oats
1/2 c + 1 t honey
6 T butter, melted
3/4 T sea salt
1 1/2 T Vital Wheat Gluten (optional)
5 1/2 c whole wheat flour

-Mix 1/2 c warm water, 1 t honey, and yeast, cover and allow to foam about 5 minutes
-In mixer (ONLY if you have a heavy duty one, if not, place in a very large bowl as this recipe will burn up your regular mixer!) add all other ingredients, except flour
-Add yeast mixture to rest of ingredients
-Add flour
-kneed 20 mins if by hand (come on, feel the burn!), 10 mins with a mixer
-place in a buttered bowl, cover with a towel, and place in a warm place, let double in size.
-punch... yep, literally punch... down, re-kneed and divide in 1/2
-shape 2 loaves by rolling the dough out into a rectangle and tightly rolling them into a spiral
-place in a buttered bread pan seam-side down
-set in a warm place and let rise until doubled in size
-place in a COLD oven THEN turn oven on to 350 degrees, bake for 30 mins
-Enjoy the best bread you've ever sunk your ever-livin'-teeth into!

Bread Machine Adaptation
Now, to give credit where credit is due, a lovely momma from the CLAA adapted this from the recipe above... thank you woman for this heavenly, life saving recipe!

-In seperate container, mix 1c + 2T warm water (or warm milk or honey) with 1t honey and 1T yeast, cover and let bubble for 5 mins
-In bread machine pan (with it in the machine, bottom stirrer on) add:

1/2 c oatmeal
3T butter, melted
1/4 c honey
1.5 t salt
1T Vital Wheat Gluten (optional)
2 3/4 c whole wheat flour
water and yeast mixture

Set to "quick whole wheat" setting, feel good about all the extra time you have now, eat a piece of chololate and wait.  In about 2 1/2 hours, guilt-lessly enjoy your homemade bread slatered with REAL butter... mmm... You WILL be a super-star!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dad's New Do

Today, on Mother's Day, my dad surprised me by asking me to cut his hair.  Now, for those of you who haven't talked to him much, you should know this is a BIG leap of trust, him letting me close to his incision sites.  So, Dad, thanks for your trust.  Your hair looks much better... much less "Frankenstein-ish!"

Now, Dad, Mike, and my boys all have identical hair cuts... the one hair cut, besides a burr, that I know how to give (there is a big back story here... should I go on?  Yes?  Ok, here goes...).  When Mike was in the Police Academy and I was in PT school, being newly married, I'm sure you will understand that $15 a week for his hair cuts was just more than our little budget could stretch.  So, I went to Sally's Beauty Supply and bought the cheapest clippers they had.  After watching the 1993-ish video of "How to cut hair," which featured a very outdated woman giving a fade to a little African American boy, there sat poor Mike, terrified and grimmacing in the kitchen chair, while I began a process that would end up being a MAJOR learing curve.  After several months of crooked fades and just plain ol' bad haircuts (about the time he graduated from the Academy), I found my grove and Mike finally looked presentable.  Now, several years, another purchase of better clippers, and 4 kids later, eventhough we could afford for him to go get his hair cut by a professional, we both still really enjoy that time together.  And besides, where else can you get a top-rate hair cut at 10:30 at night, sealed with a kiss ;) ?

So, coming back full circle, here I present to you Dad, with his Mike-Anthony-Jake-Look-Alike hair cut.  Thanks for your trust, Dad!

What you can't see is my huge belly, which is why I'm having to lean...

The Right side of the fade is not perfect, but I blame that on the surgical tech who
shaved his head before surgery... she should have planned better :)

A Short Meditation on Mother's Day

"The Most Important Person..."
...on earth is a mother.  She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.  She need not.  She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral- a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body... The angels have not been blessed with such a grace.  They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven.  Only a human mother can.  Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation... What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother.

by Joseph cardinal Mindszenty

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lap Book

Here is a lap book done in Co-Op about the betrayal, Last Supper, Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus.  A lap book is just made with a file folder, folded in thirds, and can give alot of explanation about a particular subject.  Under each circle picture in the middle of the lap book is another piece of paper that gives a description of what each picture means.  Along with this, the kids did a "Resurrection" Easter Egg hunt where they had to find eggs with the objects shown on the picture (ie. one egg had nails, another had rope, another a cracker to symbolize the Eucharist, etc).

The front


Here is a picture of our wall calender the boys make each month.  I cut out the squares (just cut index cards in half), Anthony writes the numbers, Jake color codes them, Anthony places them in order, and Jakes stick them on.  I just bought a piece of foam board and made my own lines with a paint pen.  We finish it with a picture for the month that goes on top (here is April).  If you are feeling especially brave, you can print out pictures of the Saints for the major Feast Days... I for one, am not that ambitious...

You can see here the purple numbers are for Lent, the Black for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and the Yellow are for the Easter Season.


Well, I do DO NOT keep all of the bugs the boys bring me... at least not for more than a day or so... so the only evidence of our numerous insect explanations is this sheet, which was done in Co-Op, that explains the parts of the insect, and divides them into "good, fun, and bad."  Boy, that bug-sucker Anthony got for his Birthday has REALLY come in handy for this particular subject... ewwww...

Seasons, Plants, Water Cycle

We have done a few lessons on the seasons, on plants (their parts and how they work to get fed) and the water cycle.  Below you can see a paper-plate season craft, a construction paper plant/water cycle explanation that the kids had to construct as the explanation was given, and finally a Noah's ark picture that reinforced the water cycle lesson.  Along with this they made their own flower pots which they modge-podged pictures of the last supper on and planted a flower in... it is on the window sill by the kitchen sink so I don't forget to water it :).


This is a St. Patrick's diorama that we did in Co-Op.  The kids learned what a diorama was and practiced coloring, cutting, and pasting (with the exception of the hot glue used!) all of the elements to make a complete scene.  You will see this popular scene showing him, as Bishop, commanding the serpants into the sea, with a lamb as a symbol of his flock.  Not pictured is the short history of St. Patrick that goes with it, along with his prayer.

Letters, coloring, extra activities

Anthony is really into coloring things "rainbow."  As a matter of fact, he asks me why I don't color "prettier" when I color something just one color :)  First-School, a free website, has these sheets along with mini-books, and several ideas for every letter, including some combinations of letters (such as Ch, etc).  It has really come in handy for us for reinforcement as well as working on fine motor skills, such as coloring, cutting, and pasting.  We use these activities when all of the "meat and potatoes" of a lesson are complete, as a reward.  Find them all here:
We also sometimes "free style" with reinforcement projetcs, as you can see with our igloo, for "I."

Here are some examples:

Virtual Open House Intro.

Well, in an effort to be blatantly unashamed and self-promoting of my super-star kids, I am starting a new label called "Virtual Open House- HS," which is an on-line show-off session of some of the stuff Anthony does for his school projects (and Jake too sometimes).  Actually, it is really just a way for our extended family to see some of the extra's that you normally wouldn't get to see, since a "real" open house for his school work would require WAY to much preparation and cleaning on my part, not to mention storing all of that stuff  :).  As you all know, I SO do not look favorably on hoarding, so alot of his past projects for this year have already found their way into our recycle bin, but here are some that have survived. 

Usually these are extra's, or add-on's to our core curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic.  He is involved in a Kindergarten Co-Op class that focus' on science, art, and a small religion lesson, so some of the projects come from there as well.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Attack of the Killer... I mean... Honey Bees!

On days I work, Mike always find adventure at home.  Today the conversation was as follows:

Mike: "Well, Jake has been throwing up, Anthony is doing his school, and oh yeah, we're bee keepers now"
Me: "What?  Poor Jake, is he okay?  What are you talking about?" (thinking a honey bee colony would be a nice Mothers Day gift, but not in our current house in the suburbs!)
Mike: "Jake is doing okay but we have a swarm of bees under the trampoline.  I called the City Animal Control and they said they don't deal with that, so a Bee Keeper is on his way to get them."
Me: silence... I mean, what do you say to that!?  "OK... a bee keeper, really??"

So, I hurried up to finish my work and I headed home.  As we were loading Anthony in the car for T-ball practice (poor Jake couldn't go due to his illness) a BIG red diesel truck pulled up and out jumped a very busy little Bee man.  After assessing the situation, he donned his white suit and little hat and sucked up the swarm in a carry case.  I was thinking: "come on now, I have a shop vac, I could have done that!"  He said the normal hive he sees is 15-20 thousand, but this one was unique... we had about 50 thousand... and they were aggressive (he got stung 3x despite the bee suit).  OK, OK, maybe I couldn't have done that... the first sting and I would be running around the yard screaming like a crazy lady, arms flailing about like an old-time cartoon character!

After the Bee Man was done, he told me they were honey bees who most likely outgrew their hive.  The queen is very heavy with eggs so she can't fly far.  Most likely she landed on the trampoline to rest and the rest of the bees surrounded her to protect her.  Scouting bees were then probably sent out to find a permanent home and we were lucky they didn't find a crack in the house... or else the whole hive would have moved in and he would have had to remove dry wall to get them out!  Phew... what an adventure of an evening!

So, $189 later, we are, spare 100 or so stragglers, Bee-Free!  The left over bees will move on in 1-5 days he said, once they can't find the scent of the queen anymore.  As I handed the nice little Bee man the check I said "you could charge ANYTHING for this.. people would pay it!"  After all, he did come from across town... Irving I think... 1 1/2 hours of driving to do 15 (maybe!) minutes of work.  Considering the price of diesel and my ooged-out-ness, that price seems pretty fair to me :)

50,000 bees doesn;t look that big!

The little Bee-Man

Sucking it up... he stopped to take a picture