October 8, 2014

Yesterday we went to the Minnesota Science Museum to check out the Monarch exhibit.  If it wasn't for a time constraint I could have stayed in the butterfly house all day, as it was we had to bribe Aiyana with better things to come just to get her to leave.  

Who knew insects could be so fascinating but I'm finding myself more and more interested in learning about them, and not just the pretty ones either.

Mating pair.

Apparently I am the only one who thought this was fascinating. Mating butterflies. Maya kept telling me to stop taking pictures but I thought it was cool to see.

Monarch (male) - the swollen pouches (circles/balls) along the veins near the ends of it wings tells you it is a male.

Painted Lady Butterfly hitching a ride on Aiyana's head.

Maya and Monarch posing for the camera.

Painted Lady Butterfly

Monarch (female) having a conversation with my husband.  I think she had a crush on him :P

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October 2, 2014

My daughter and I are into our 2nd year of homeschooling.  This year we are finding that we both need to spend less time sitting at a table and more time learning outside or at the very least learning through crafts or other activities.  Thankfully I have two books that have made getting away from the "sit down" work much easier.

R.E.A.L Science Odyssey Curriculum

Both my daughter and I are loving the lessons in this book.  We are working on Level One Life Science and the hands-on work in the book is quite fun.  Here is a pic of the day Aiyana was learning about cells.  We used a raw egg (on right) to learn about a single cell and (on left) we were using jello and fruit to learn the difference between plant and animal cells. Can you tell which one is the plant cell? :D

We've also figured if we are going to run away from sit-down work and head outside that it would have to be for more than just playing so I pulled out the Nature Seeker Workbook, turned to the section titled "autumn" and started with the first lesson which is studying leaves.  

We took a 2 mile walk around the lake and examined practically every tree along the way.  We found over a dozen different types of trees and something we'd never seen before (pictured in lower right corner of bottom photo).  I thought it was some kind of nut when Aiyana first picked it off an oak tree but after looking it up online I found that it is called an Oak Apple Gall and inside is the home of a wasp (click HERE for more information).  The wasp in this one is already gone (See the tiny hole? That is a sign they've moved on).  Pretty cool! 

So stay tuned for the next post about ways we found to get away from the "study table" because we are going to be running away to learn a lot now that we've discovered how much more fun it is than sitting at a table for 3 hours :D
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October 1, 2014

For a simple elderberry tincture recipe click HERE. Unfortunately here in Minnesota the elderberry season is over.  I was lucky to find a bush that hadn't been picked over by the birds but not lucky enough to have my tincture ready before my youngest caught a respiratory infection :( 

Elderberries, when taken orally,  are best for treating both influenza A and B.  A lot of "anti-natural" medicine people point to the lack of research when it comes to using herbs to treat certain ailments but elderberry has been well researched and its potency proven.  The research conducted by Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu used elderberry syrup and results showed it cut the duration of the flu by half and invitro tests also showed it was 99% effective at fighting the Avian and H1N1 flu viruses. Our family uses elderberry tincture as a preventative.

If you want to make an elderberry tincture but can't find the berries you can always order them from HERE and HERE.

NOTE: for anyone questioning whether all elderberries are created equal. There is more than one variety of elderberry and the research that was done was on the Sambucus Nigra.  Back in 2009 I was told not to use anything but Sambucus Nigra in my tinctures when trying to prevent the flu but herbalist have now changed their opinion on that.  What I've been told by several herbalists in 2014 is that you can use the berries from any variety of elderberry for a tincture to prevent the flu. 

This is the elderberry we grabbed this year. Notice they are still a little light.

These are elderberries we've picked in the past, this is the color you really want your elderberries
to be when you pick them.

So for the simple details on tinctures let's start with the best book I have found on making herbal medicines.  The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook has all the little details someone interested in herbal healing likes.  In this book you get the who, what, and why of herbal medicine and not just a bunch of recipes.  Tinctures are not the only thing James Green covers in his book, he also covers lotions & creams, oil infusion, syrups, etc...

Don't know what a tincture is? A tincture is an herbal extract that is taken orally; under the tongue or swallowed (< children often do this instead of holding under the tongue). 

Why under the tongue? Because it is the fastest way into your bloodstream. 

Example for those that may not understand why we put tinctures under the tongue: my sister has a seizure disorder and anytime she has a seizure that lasts longer than a minute we can give her a drug called Ativan.  It is liquid form and the drops go under the tongue, Morphine is often given this way also and the reason is because it's fast acting, faster than if you swallowed it. Swallowing medication requires it go through the gut but a tincture immediately goes into the bloodstream.  The best explanation I could find to share with my blog readers (for when you have time to read) is HERE.  The gist of it is just this:
"When you swallow a pill, it must go through your entire gastrointestinal tract. This means the stomach (with acid and bile), the intestines (where most absorption takes place) and then off to the liver, for some more filtering. And THEN it's delivered to where it's needed. 
Truthfully, it's the long way, when you think about it. Going under the tongue bypasses this entire route, and delivers the medication right to the bloodstream. No waiting, no roadblocks -- just right into the blood and off to do its job."
So tinctures are drops you place under the tongue so their beneficial properties can be delivered into your bloodstream quickly to do their job.  You usually take a specified amount of a tincture (ex. 2-5 drops) and then hold it there for about 10-20 seconds.  There isn't usually any swallowing because the tincture will absorb quickly. 

How do you know how much to take?  Dosing of any med, whether natural or created in a lab, depends on several factors and those usually are your weight, age and ailment.  To better understand dosing and contraindications of herbal medicine I suggest this book HERE.  Herbalist Matthew Alfs explains proper dosing, what herbs conflict with others, when it is and isn't safe for someone to ingest a particular herb, etc... Since natural meds can be just as dangerous as some modern medications it is best to get a book like 300 Herbs to make sure you are being as safe as possible when ingesting herbs. (warning: don't follow info you find on the web, most of the sites online will tell you take 2-3 drops of pretty much any tincture and that isn't accurate information).  

If in doubt about the efficacy of herbal meds do a little research, what you'll learn is that most of the time when someone says they've tried an herbal remedy and it didn't work was because they just crushed up a bunch of leaves and made a tea or they grabbed something off the shelf at the local co-op without understanding the ingredients, how much to take and whether it was truly best for them.  Remember, once upon a time the use of herbal remedies was much more formal. 
way back when the eople paid a lot more attention to dosage and contraindications of plants until modern medicine took over, made everyone believe that plant medicine was quackery and now when people dabble in natural health modalities they do it without a lot of understanding of how it works and then they walk away with a negative opinion of it.  Herbs work, some are overhyped and some under appreciated but the more you learn about them the easier for you to pick and choose what is best for you.

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September 7, 2014

Maya and I attended the yearly Herb Festival in Cannon Falls this weekend.  It was great to see Lise Wolff again (I have taken classes from her in the past) and it was fun to learn new things. I only had one negative experience, a single instructor that clearly didn't belong there (had her group drinking essential oils, putting several undiluted eos on the skin, referred to Robert Tisserand as Robert Tisserude and revealed she was a practitioner of raindrop therapy - among other things), aside from that though the rest of the festival was awesome.  Can never get bored learning and talking about medicinal plants :-)  (note: anyone that knows anything about the use of essential oils will know why I count that one instructor as a negative).

The day was beautiful, sun shining and temp was perfect.  Here is some pix from the day:

Farm in Cannon Falls

Maya: Farm in Cannon Falls



Stinging Nettle (or burn weed)

Lise Wolff educating the group

Wild Cucumber

Creeping Charlie
Mothers Wort

Wild Violet

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August 23, 2014

Back in 2007 my friend Carrie over at Under the Willow presented me with a digital Mud Puddle Girl award (see original post about that HERE).

Carrie had her own line of Mud Puddle Girl products and the idea, I believe, came from having her own little Mud Puddle Girls (granddaughters). So... I was very honored when she presented me with the above award, so much that I still haven't forgotten about it. The other day I was standing at the screen door watching the rain pour down when it popped into my head.  I thought... when did I stop being a mud puddle girl and how can I be that girl again? I told my 7 year old to get her rain coat on and we headed outside to play in the rain. I had no idea how much she would love it. I told her how when I was a kid we'd always play in the rain and I didn't know why when we reached a certain age we stopped. As we played in the ankle deep water we sang and danced to the rain Gods, Walayka and Thul we named them (Aiyana said we had to combine water + lake and thunder + lightening), and we got soaked. I, being the old one, gave up before Aiyana did but it felt good to play outside and teach my daughter how great it is to be a Mud Puddle Girl.  Thank you Carrie!!

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August 16, 2014

The garden is doing pretty good this year... in some areas.  Not sure what is up with the shallots and onions, I'm thinking it is poor soil quality, but everything else is doing great.  Since the backyard was regraded we've been spreading wildflower seed and planting a few things here and there and things are starting to really grow.  This is what it looks like right now:

The Joe Pye Weed is taking over and as much as I like JPW I need to get that sucker under control.

The great part about our backyard, with all the beautiful things growing, is that wildlife is loving it. Every day I can go outside and not only see deer like we usually do but daily we have rabbits, birds, squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, frogs, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies, bees, wasps, and a whole host of other things. The rabbits like hiding in the growth so each day we run into about 4 or 5 back there.  

So onto what else I am having success with.

German Chamomile

One of my favorite herbs. In the past I'd always keep a pot of chamomile inside but last year I planted some and forgot about it.  I was delighted to see it return this year so I planted some more. It is a zone 4 herb but our last harsh winter killed off things I thought were meant for this zone so I was pleasantly surprised when the chamomile popped up. 


Dill is hardier than I thought. Not only does it appear in odd random places around the garden, after planting a whole new bunch this year we let the Black Swallowtail caterpillar devour it all and yet from the nubs that were left it regrew.  Great, because I need it for canning :-)


Someone please explain to me what is up with the tomatoes?  I purchased two heirloom tomato plants at the Friends Plant Sale this year and they've grown into these monstrous things (5 feet tall) but the fruits are all still green.  I've never had that experience with tomatoes before.  I'm not surprised about the growth as much as the fact they aren't red or turning red yet.  I am worried with the way the weather has been that the frost is going to appear before the tomatoes ripen :( 

Sweet Potato

Omgosh! Last years sweet potatoes didn't grow but this year they are doing great.  I am more of a "learn by trial and error" and not so much by reading so I have no idea when to harvest the potatoes or how long they take to grow but I have learned one thing and that is not to plant them in a garden box again.  They want to spread far and wide and the box is just too small for them.


Now this I don't want to do the trial and error thing with.  I am going to have to watch a few YouTube videos and read up on this delicious plant. I have been trying to grow asparagus for a few years and each time I'd plant the root something would come along and take it or eat it. I was at the Farmer's Market this spring and a vendor was selling itty bitty plants so I put 3 in the ground and they are growing great! Not sure what the next step is but I'll be staying on top of this one since this yummy plant is a perennial  :-)

That's it.  Anyone else have success or failures in the garden this year? Luckily we've not had any pests but the onions and shallots aren't coming along like expected, they are both itty bitty and so I think I need to do some type of crop rotation next year and amend the soil much better than I did this year.  If you have any thoughts on why the shallots are the size of marbles, please let me know.
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May 5, 2014

Ok, I've survived nearly 9 months of homeschooling and although I've doubted myself A LOT throughout the experience and needed the reassurance from good friends like Teresa to keep me from throwing in the towel, I have found I really enjoy it. There is this immense satisfaction knowing that when my child learned to read, tell time, do fractions and tell me all about Egypt, etc... that I am the one who taught her all of that and not someone else.  I know what she's learning, when she is learning it, how well she's doing in each subject and in what areas I need to teach more. 

I want to use this blog post to talk about curriculum since that is the one thing that gives me the most headaches but also happens to be the most fun.  Odd right? To give me a headache and be fun? 
Well... I'll explain.

Finding the right curriculum is difficult since there seems to be plenty of a particular subject and almost nothing at all on another. Searching for curriculums on history or language arts you'll find more than you'll want so how do you choose? Searching for a curriculum on Spanish and art, infuriatingly impossible to find so you are reduced to putting it together yourself. 

Everyone's experience on finding a curriculum is different. In my opinion, it all depends on four things:

1. Your state requirements. 
2. What you want as a parent
3. How best your child learns
4. Cost! If you don't have a lot of money to work with, some curriculums, although perfect for your child, are just not in your price range. 

When I began homeschooling in September I started using the Oak Meadow curriculum for first grade.  I love Oak Meadow! I like the way the curriculum is laid out, the amount of hands on projects brought into every subject, how it all flows nicely and keeps my daughter interested but... I had to supplement quite a bit and around mid December I stopped using it altogether.  Not using it has been a huge mistake because it kept me focussed and on track and with that came a lot less anxiety.  Since I started jumping all over the place is when all of the doubt crept in. I'm getting a handle on it now and feeling more confident as I find other curriculums to supplement with but for a while there I didn't think I was going to continue teaching my daughter.  Now, I'm finding my footing and feeling I've made the absolute right decision by homeschooling my child.

What has helped me stick with it and where are we now?

#1  A friend. If I didn't have Teresa  I would have given up. I've met people in the homeschool co-op we attended this spring but no one has been as open, honest and helpful as my friend Teresa. 


#2  Seeing my daughter share what she learns.  Twice now we've been out and about and someone has asked my daughter why she wasn't in school and she'd tell them she is home-schooled. Immediately they'd start in with a list of questions about some random subject. Once we were having lunch with a friend and the waiter started quizzing my daughter on panda bears and the other time my daughter was getting her hair cut and the beautician wanted to know if she knew anything about Johnny Appleseed.  Ironically, we had studied pandas and learned all about Johnny Appleseed. 

Where are we now?

Well... I still haven't gone back to using Oak Meadow but I will. I also intend on purchasing their 2nd grade curriculum this summer.  I realized the problem with their curriculum (for us) is it just doesn't fit my daughter 100%. It was weak in some areas (for her).  When we started, my daughter already knew how to read well and she had already been exposed to many of the science topics so she became easily bored when I'd repeat things.  I'm also not a fan of jumping all over the place when studying history, I like order and there wasn't much for order on that subject.

To make sure my daughter was learning the same, if not more, than her sisters are learning in public school I purchased the book Home Learning Year by Year:

Home Learning Year by Year has been the most valuable book I've picked up.  Each chapter is divided into years. Chapter 1 - preschool, Chapter 2 - kindergarten, etc... and under each year is a complete list of what your child should know in every subject for that particular grade level.

After looking at dozens of different curriculums I settled on the following to supplement some of what is in Oak Meadow...

Write Shop. I haven't used this yet, it just arrived today.  Based on what I've read about it I think it will be good for my daughter but I'll have to update readers on that later.  I chose this writing curriculum when I started having difficulty explaining sentence structure and helping my daughter understand the meaning of complete sentences. 

Money Bags. The most awesome game ever for teaching money. I ordered this when my daughter had a difficult time remembering the names and amount of coins. I think we played the game 3x's and she had it all down perfectly. Now she is mastering making change, exchanging coins for dollars, etc...  My daughter learns much faster when we do things "hands-on" so educational games are a must in our household. 

Monarchs and More. I picked this up at the University of Minnesota.  They have a great entomology department over there and everyone is extremely helpful and excited when you want to learn about insects.  I just happened to come across this when doing a search on "ordering" monarchs. We'll be using this over the summer to learn more about butterflies. 

Nature Seeker Workbook. I am giving you the Amazon link for the workbook but I actually found this at the local bird supply store.  It was written by someone from my state. It contains a wealth of information on wildlife from midwest. We'll be using it to learn about nature this summer.

The Story of the World.  I wanted a history that took more of a timeline approach than just skipping all over the place and someone at the homeschool co-op we attended this spring told me about this curriculum.  I really like it.  Each chapter is very short, between 2-4 pages and there is a map to go with every chapter.  In addition to the stories and maps there is an activity guide that ties in with every chapter and it makes history fun and interesting to study. 

Real Science Odyssey. I just found this a few weeks ago and haven't started using it yet. I was waiting for the weather so we could start doing some of the projects outside. I searched high and low for a science curriculum and I think I'm really going to enjoy this one. I like that it has everything written out step-by-step.  When it comes to science I like to do as little thinking as possible. This book tells me exactly what to do and how to teach it.  It is nice to have the option of a less expensive ebook to download instantly over just purchasing the books (which are always more costly). 

I also downloaded this cute art history lessons booklet put together by someone on Teachers Pay Teachers. I've found so many useful projects and ideas on the TPT website.  Most of their downloads are reasonably priced and once you've downloaded anything you can use it again and again. Our favorite things to download are math games.

I am still on the hunt for a good Spanish and art curriculum.  I am thinking I may write my own for Spanish and post it on TPT but when it comes to art I need all the help I can get :D

Homeschool won't end for us in May or June like a traditional year, we'll keep going throughout the summer but spend most of June, July and August on science and just studying nature.  If you have any tips for this new homeschooling mom, please share.  The more I know the better :-) 
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