Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Nature Study: Cayenne Pepper

For 2015, we decided to add something a little different for our nature study. I hadn't had time to pull together any resources myself, but in late December I came across the fantastic Herbal Roots E-Zine and their monthly lessons. I wrote this in January but forgot to publish it, so you're seeing it 7 months late. Oops.

Each month has activities, experiments, stories and lore for the specific herb studied and it seems like something that's good for all the ages in our house, so we're going to look at one herb per month for 2015 and record our findings in our nature journals, on top of our regular nature studies. Since our internet service is always somewhat of a question mark, I'll post them pretty much when I can and not neccessarily in order.

We started out this week with December's herb, Cayenne pepper. This is a really interesting one! It serves as a pain reliever, muscle rub, immune system booster, and fiery cooking addition. The recipes for tea and liniment were clearly explained. I don't have a photo for the liniment but it worked better on my husband's sore back than Tiger Rub!

We tried out a couple of fun experiments: First, we got glasses of milk ready and each of the kids tried a 1/4 tsp of straight powdered cayenne. K, 22 was fine, since like me he enjoys his food at volcano temperatures! D, 7, was gulping milk down after sampling, but only rated cayenne's heat at about 5 on a scale where 10 is the hottest.

 M, 14 really dislikes spicy foods but was a good sport about tasting it. As you can see, she was thrashing back and forth almost immediately as the heat set in and an hour later complained that she was still burping fire. She rated it an 11 for heat! Not a fan.....
Why yes, these are very blurry photos. It may have had something to do with the frantically chugging and panting teenager being photographed. ;)

Experiment #2 was to test the claim that when sprinkled in one's socks, Cayenne can help to keep your feet warm. Since the day we tried this it was -32C with the wind chill, it seemed like the ideal day to test it out while walking the dogs. Each kid put a teaspoon of Cayenne into one sock, and then wore the other sock like normal. They were out for about an hour. When they got back, the conclusion was that it didn't exactly keep their feet warm, but toes didn't go numb the way they do on really cold days usually. The dogs had to be firmly dissuaded from sampling the socks afterwards....can you imagine?!

A few safety tips from Herbal Roots, in case you decide to study Cayenne: start small with quantities. Wear gloves and wash your hands really, really well anyway after touching Cayenne. Keep gloves nearby and never try to cool the herb's effect with water as it will make it much worse. And for goodness' sake don't sniff it unless you enjoy setting your nasal passages on fire!

Have you tried this herb out? How do you use it?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nature study: Rosemary with the Herbal Roots zine (with free recipe)

Besides our usual nature study, this school year we've been enjoying learning about different herbs and spices with Herbal Roots Zine. This study was about Rosemary.

There's a basic format for each month: Herbal lore in story form about the plant, a poem, some activities, and a bunch of recipes for lotions and potions and food......awesomeness! There's a handy calendar with links to the pages you need, journal pages you can print out, book suggestions, crafts and a coloring page to make it something you can use with all of your children, no matter what their ages. I should note that I am not an affiliate, just a very big fan of this company and all the hard work they've put into their products.

Here are some of the things we learned about Rosemary:

First, we looked at its medicinal properties. Did you know it can help bring down a fever? It's true! It is also a commonly known digestive aid and helps ward off colds and flu. All that and it is delicious as well!

We memorized the poem that helped us remember all this, and we got pretty silly. Imagine a table full of people beat boxing, with one bellowing out the poem out as a rap over all the other noise. We also sang it "opera-style" and "underwater-style" (blub your lips with a finger while singing), recited it in the car for imaginary bonus points, and challenged each other to high-speed recitals at random intervals.

We made pages in our nature journals to help us remember, and for drawing practice. Please excuse the terrible photos! It was such a dark and gloomy day that nothing seemed to help get them more viewable.

We tried the recipes. Here D,7, was making a rosemary infusion and adding castille soap to turn it into shampoo that smells incredible!

We did the activity pages that come with each e-zine: Here are a couple of them.
Why yes, they are sideways. I'm too lazy to go and fix it now, though.

Our absolute favourite recipe was the rosemary butter that we used on homemade french bread like we would with regular garlic butter, and we may never go back! The awesome people at Herbal Roots gave us permission to share this one with you to try, so here it is:

ROSEMARY HERB BUTTER, courtesy of Kristine at Herbal Roots Zine & copyright Herbal Roots Zine

2-3 cloves of garlic minced
1 T. fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 t. lemon zest (or orange)
1 T. lemon juice (or orange)
1/4 t. crushed red chili pepper
1 stick butter, softened

Combine all of the ingredients. Make a log by spreading
the mixture across a length of waxed paper. Roll the log
back and forth to make a smooth tube about 1 1/2 inches
thick. Twist the ends and store in the refrigerator or wrap in airtight plastic and store in the freezer.

What I've shown you here is really just the tip of the iceberg - it really is a full month of nature study all put together for you. I have a bunch of photos on my camera for other months that we've done with Herbal Roots and will be posting them every time the internet is strong enough to let me get photos loaded!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sassafras Science: Zoology (Grasslands)

This summer, we've started working our way through Sassafras Science: Zoology. This post is just the first of what will probably be quite a few to show you some of the fun we've been having!

I'm doing this science curriculum with D, aged almost 8, but I think that children 2-3 years on either side of his age would get a lot out of it too. I wanted something that was as open-and-go as possible, so I also ordered the science experiment kit....finding anything on this island is a bit of a crap shoot so I'd rather have everything ready beforehand!

Sassafras Science: Zoology science kit
 There are also two "spine" books to be purchased (affiliate links here) - Janice Van Cleave's Science  Around the World, and the DK Encyclopedia of Animals (for a younger child, or one who struggles with reading, they authors suggest the Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals).

I also asked our amazing librarian to get me the first month of additional reading suggestions through inter-library loan - you don't have to borrow these, but D is an avid reader and was very happy to continue the learning in his spare time. John Lithgow's book "Who's In Your Class?" was a bit hit - is there anything that man can't do?!

Sassafras Science is set up like this: There is a story book that takes you through the entire curriculum, one chapter at a time. The main characters are 12 year old twins who have failed science and are sent to live with their crazy scientist uncle for the summer. The uncle and his sidekick have invented invisible ziplines that, used with a caribeener that they program the coordinates into, zips the twins at the speed of light right to the place they are studying. There is also, of course, a villain trying to stop them from learning.

Along with the story itself, I ordered the teacher's guide and the SCIDAT log book where D can record his "findings" along with the twins. There is a lapbook that you can use in place of the logbook but I had other lapbook plans for this year, and I love the open-and-go format of the TM.

My only complaint (and it's a small and niggling point) is that for a leftie like D, the paperback form of the SCIDAT logbook made it difficult for him to write at times; I would have preferred a ring-bound version of this but worked around it by removing the cover and 3-hole punching these into a binder instead. The binder format also gave us room to add in copywork, coloring pages, and other goodies as we went along. (And yes, the copywork is suggested for each chapter -they truly have thought of everything!)

Here are a few of the things we did in the first couple of chapters.

The story was usually read aloud by either myself or K, 22, because everyone wanted to hear it. Then there was often a section of pages from the encyclopedia to read - D read this to one of us so that he could discuss it with us as he went.
Reading Sassafras Science: Zoology

Next, he filled out the new knowledge in his SCIDAT logbook. D struggles with handwriting - he can read at late elementary/early high school level but I would say that his handwriting is more at K-1 level. Because of this, he filled out the smaller portions and dictated longer pieces of information to a "scribe". (We are working to improve the handwriting problem, a leftover from the month in hospital last summer, but in the meantime this seems like a solution that allows his to share his learning with minimal frustration.)

Using Sassafras Science Zoology logbook
We sat in the shade to read most days, so D had a LOT of "help" with his work.

Sometimes, too much "help". Notice the goat helpfully trying to eat the encyclopedia. And the dog waiting to wrestle with the goat. Not visible in this one are the 20 chickens who love to sit on D's shoulders, lap, or books, also super helpful.

We divided this chapter (#2) by topics, so D's first notebook page on day 1 was about the grasslands in Kenya, second day was about lions, third day looked at cheetahs instead, etcetera. I think that we will probably continue to stretch the chapters out in this manner, at least for the coming school year, and it's still plenty meaty done this way.

We did a super cool science demonstration to show how the eyes of big cats seem to glow in the dark. We all wedged ourselves into the rather small bathroom in the dark to check it out! (And yep, the flashlight was included as part of the science kit for this one.)

Sassafras Science: Zoology science experiment
See the "eye" glowing on the left?

D, who has been  exceedingly difficult of late and throwing fits over pretty much everything, is completely in love with this curriculum! He is happy to get it out, ready to carry it outside, and willing to write in the SCIDAT logbook with only minimal grumbing and attitude. He hasn't even "misplaced" his pencil case for two weeks!

Have you tried any of Elemental Science's curricula? How did you and your children like it? I'm taking notes for future years!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

5 Ways to Prepare For Homesteading (while waiting for your dream property!)

We didn't just fall into this country living thing. In fact, until we moved here a couple of years ago, my husband had lived all his life in the greater Montreal area, and I'd only had minimal exposure to homesteading, mostly through volunteering at friends' farms and through riding horses as a kid.

What we did do was plan like crazy and learn one new skill at a time while we were still living in the city, so that we had some of the prep work nailed (get it?) before we added in goats, chickens, and a big garden (still a work in progress). Here are 5 things we did, that you can do too while you're waiting for your dream property in the boonies to come up for sale.

1. Grow stuff.
It sounds obvious, and it kind of is, but if you're moving from one gardening zone to another it's a good idea to test those conditions ahead of time if you can. To that end, we planted crops earlier than we were supposed to at our last house, to see how they would perform in a colder gardening zone. You could do the same with heat lamps if you're moving from, say, Vermont to Georgia.

Before you get all huffy about this suggestion and tell me that you live in a small apartment, I'd like to point out that almost every home has some kind of windows, and that with grow lamps you can even use a shelf or two on a bookshelf for test runs if you're living in a concrete bunker somewhere -in which case, you're probably already way more skilled than me and should consider sending me your best tips!

2. Start learning to preserve food now.
When the grocery store has their fall sales of 50-lb bags of carrots for $3, it's the perfect opportunity to learn how to can them in mason jars for the winter. The blueberries and strawberries that you U-Picked in the summer can be frozen on cookie sheets and divided into bags for later. The zucchini that your friends arrived on your doorstep with, staggering under the weight, can be shredded, frozen and added to just about anything later on to thicken it up and increase its fiber content. You get the picture. Testing this and sometimes failing now while you're still close to a grocery store is a very, very good idea.

Also, stock up on egg recipes. These were the first of many, many eggs from our hens.

3. Get handy.
I'm not suggesting that you get your woodworking certification (although that would be pretty cool), but if your response to a broken bulb or a leaky faucet is to call the landlord, it's time to get real. You will likely find yourself in a situation where you'll need to actually build or fix something on a Sunday evening in a snowstorm, and it will be a lot less stressful if you can use a saw, hammer a nail, use a screwdriver, and have a basic bit of electrical and plumbing knowledge so you at least know about where the problem might lie. Like when your well's pump, located 150 feet under the ground, dies in the middle of January (guess how we know about this one!)

4. Read and learn.
We're grateful for many terrific books that have helped us in everything from finding the right property, to deciding where to locate what on our property once we got here for maximum benefits, to what animals suited us best.  The Storey's Guide To series are amazing, as is The Encyclopedia of Country Living and many others. If you can find the old Sunset Books handyman books at a used book store, snag them - we borrow my dad's set from the 1970s regularly.

"He's got goats in his garden" - no longer just a euphemism around here.

Besides keeping you excited and motivated about homesteading and all the fantastic stuff that goes with it, you'll be absorbing valuable information that you can apply almost immediately when you start homesteading. Get out as many from the library as you can, read them all, then purchase the ones that really speak to you.  You'll want to refer to them time and time again later on.

5. Build your future community now.
There are many Facebook groups and Yahoo groups dedicated to homesteading and rural living. Join ones for your planned living area and begin "meeting" others who share your interests before you move. A community is what will save you when something goes wrong, or when you have questions that you just can't find the answers to on Google - hey, it does happen sometimes! You'll also have people that you can get together with in real life when the winters feel really long.

What tips do you have for people who are getting ready to homestead? Share in the comments!

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