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February 2010

Playing Catch Up

First of all thank you for all the brownie pan insight! I'm still waffling on the pan purchase ... and in the meantime I have myself half convinced I could really use a pizzelle maker lol ... for the homemade ice cream cones as well as the cookies. Can you tell someone has an Amazon gift certificate burning a hole in her virtual pocket? ;)

Second of all, thank you for all the dinner menu input! I'm printing out the comments left at my last post so I can peruse them at leisure. I appreciate all the ideas very much - please keep them coming! Would it help if I paste them all into a giant separate post or is it easy enough to access the comments section of that post?

And now for a couple of recent questions:

First question from OSG ...

I also love Learning room posts. A question though, where do you store things that don't fit in the baskets? 

There is a small pile of items stacked under the file crate table to the left of the cubbies - these are mostly novels the boys will be reading later in the year - but also, EB's learning games, a Rosetta Stone program we have yet to start, and several DVD's we will be using to supplement our studies (i.e. the PBS National Parks series, etc.). I keep all my teacher manuals are in an extra large tote bag tucked away beneath the worktable. (It's parked right below the chair where I sit and do my planning.) Otherwise, the baskets fit their materials rather nicely. All their textbooks, workbooks and notebooks reside here as well as the book they are currently reading (as assigned, not personal reading - those books are all over the house lol!).

Next question from Shelly ...

perfect!!! love the cubbies :) 
where did you get your baskets?

Shelly, we bought the baskets at the same unfinished furniture store where we purchased the cubbies. I'm not usually fond of the cotton liners (they tend to bunch up and get awfully dusty) but these seem to fit pretty well and of course I can always wash them if they get dingy.

OK, well that's all for this morning ... I hope you all have a nice Thursday (raining and foggy here) and I will back here again just as soon as I can. :)

Question of the Day ~ What's on the Menu?


It being Wednesday, my Kitchen day, I am working on my menu plan for next week ... and I feel ... to be honest ... uninspired. 

I was wondering if I could ask my readers to share a brief (or not!) list of their standard go-to suppers? If you would care to share, please leave a comment below ... 

And for my follow up question ~ how often do you try new recipes? Do you like to shake things up or do you pretty much stick with the tried and true?

Thanks for your help! :)

A Delicious Recipe! And a Bakeware ?

First thing on today's agenda, a recipe to share:

Chicken and Sweet Onion Sandwiches with Mixed Greens Salad



I had to tell you all about the delicious supper we had last night! I found the above recipe in a recent issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray magazine. Now, I'm not a big fan of onions myself, but it sounded like something Bill would really like - so we tried it last night and not only was the dish easy to make, but it was absolutely delicious! I even ate the onions, and that's saying something lol! Bookworm loved it - Crackerjack not so much - and Earlybird stuck to his leftover homemade pizza. It made 5 servings, so Bill has a couple of nice lunches for himself this week.

Isn't it fun when you find a new recipe to add to your regular rotation?

Ok, the next thing to discuss this morning, have any of you tried baking brownies with this?

Perfect Brownie Pan

I've seen the tv ad for this contraption a few times now, and as with most commercials, I tend to tune out the specifics, but Crackerjack brought my attention to it and I had to admit, it sounds pretty neat. My kids do love brownies, but somehow they never come out neatly from the pan. We usually end up with lots of brownie crumbles and/or a pan of stale brownie edges.

Just thought I'd ask before I pop it into my Amazon cart. ;)

Hope you all have a nice Wednesday!

New Learning Room Cubbies!

It's been a busy few days here for the Sun and Candle crew ... I thought I'd never get a chance to sit down and blog! Hope you all had a nice weekend ... one of the really neat things we did this past weekend was to add a new component to our learning room ...


... new set of cubbies (officially known as an entry bench) that Bill picked up at the unfinished furniture store.


I think it's meant to reside in a mud hall - a convenient spot to take off your boots and stash away your hats, gloves, scarves, etc. But for us it works perfectly as a storage system for the boys' learning materials. Each child gets a basket for his books (text books, workbooks, notebooks and current reads) and on top of the bench I set out the in basket, library books and monthly educational magazines.

Some of you might remember we used tote bags at one time for the boys stuff - well, the bags got rather ungainly so we're using them for other things now.

This weekend, February's last, I plan to do some sprucing up in the learning room - changing the nature shelf, bulletin board and window decor to herald the new season. Yes, we are very eager for spring around here. ;)

Hope you all are having a good week so far ... I'll be back here again just as soon as I can. :)

Our Winter Nature Station

It can be hard to get out in nature when the bitter weather and nagging flu season conspire to keep you inside. We rely on our birdfeeder windows quite a bit at this time of year, but this week we decided to set up a "nature station" on our deck. The station will feature different items as seasons and interests change, but for now we've set up a birdbath and some ice crafts.


 Below is the heated birdbath:


And here we have the "ice mobiles" we made (pre-freezing):


I got this idea from an activity described in Nature's Playground (a fabulous book btw!) ...


We took random bits of nature easily found in our yard (and a few things from our fridge) and set them in aluminum cake pans. We used sliced clementines, cranberries, evergreen branches and cones, dried leaves and cracked corn. Then we filled the pans with water and left them out on our table to freeze.

(Note - By the time we got to the last pan I realized that taping the materials to the bottom of the pan would keep things from floating around too much in the water. I did this with the leaves but it would have worked well for the pinecones, branches and citrus slices too).

The end result was to be a collection of pretty ice mobiles to hang in the trees (I could just see them glinting in the winter sun). They'd be lovely to look at *and* provide tasty for the birds and squirrels who frequent our yard.

But we had a few setbacks. First we had a snowstorm ...


And then we had a week of near-40 degree weather! The mobiles have not yet frozen solidly enough to hang in the trees! Ah well ... such is the fickle nature of Nature. :) This activity has really drawn the boys' attention to the rising and falling temperatures this week though ...  

Not that I'm complaining of course, but it looks like we are in for more "mild" weather over the next several days and then possibly some storminess next week. If and when we do get these mobiles ready to hang, you all will be the first to know!

Hope you all had a good week - ours was nice and pretty quiet. Earlybird is still fighting that cough but I think he is at last getting past it. (Last night was the first in over a week he didn't wake from coughing.) Here's to a happy and healthy weekend ... see you all again sometime soon! :)

Our Valentine's Day Brunch

I hope you all had a nice holiday weekend! Did you do anything special on President's Day? Bill had the day off but we just enjoyed a quiet day at home - well, except for Crackerjack's emergency orthodontist appointment that is (he's fine, just needed a slight adjustment). The boys spent some time outside as well, since the temperature actually flirted with 40 yesterday. Not to be underestimated however, Winter is reminding us who's boss - he's sending us 6-9 inches of snow today, starting, well - any minute. 

I thought I'd share a few pictures from our "Valentine's Day" Brunch. We had my mum, dad and brother over late Sunday morning.


Lovely roses I received from Bill on Sunday morning. :)


The boys were so excited for the "big feast" as they called it!


Presents and cards await in the sunny front window.


The brunch spread included scrambled eggs, bacon, cornbread, roasted potato "hash," yogurt and granola, tater tots, roast beef and cheese rolls and jam strudel bites ... OH, and vanilla cupcakes for dessert, and coffee of course.

Lots of food, yes - but it's a day to indulge, after all. ;)


And these are the paperwhites which were planted for me by the boys (with a little help from their Dad). I placed the bowl on the nature table so we can keep an eye on their progress.

And now we've started a new week - still coughing like crazy around here but that seems to be par for the course this winter. Today being Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras as it is also known) we will be having a pancake supper tonight. I think it's safe to say we'll be ready for some abstinence after all this indulgence, but that's the point of these final days before Lent after all ...  

I hope you have a good Tuesday ~ see you all again sometime soon!

Friday's This and That

Heading into the Valentine's Day weekend ...


.. and boy-oh-boy, it's a busy day here! I am well on the mend ... making cookies for the homeschool Valentine's party ... dropping them off at the church on our way to Teen Bowling. Giving a spelling quiz, admiring a food chain poster, correcting a "Giant Panda" report, and a couple of math lessons ... assigning a new chapter of this, reading about rabbits, practicing s-blends, tallying our bird count (and calculating percentages) ... 


Did I mention we were busy today? ;)

Thinking about next week too - Lent is upon us! Guess it's about time I came up with some plans for my family ... In the meantime, Abraham Lincoln's birthday is (was?) TODAY ... I will pick up a jelly roll (aka a "Lincoln Log") for dessert on the way home from bowling. 

(Our "Abe Tea" from 2007.) 

(And here's hoping Bill picks up pizza on his way home from work!)

Going to the Percy Jackson movie tomorrow - and a birthday party too! Hosting a family Valentine's Day brunch on Sunday and SO glad Bill has Monday off. We'll need a day to rest after these super busy few days!

Sorry this post is a bit scattered, but I really just wanted to pop in and say hi. :) I hope this week has been a good one for you, and my best wishes that you have a happy, healthy, holiday weekend. I'll see you all again sometime soon!

Don't worry ... he's ok!

I wanted to follow up on my Wordless Wednesday post since several readers were concerned for our crazy little "stuck squirrel." Rest assured, he wasn't actually "stuck" - he got out of the feeder safely. In fact, this is something he does frequently! 

He just sits on top of the feeder:


Then dives down for seed:


Spends some time finding just the "right" seed:


Then starts wiggling himself back out, furry feet flailing:


And finally sits atop the feeder enjoying his spoils:


It's hilarious to watch, and he's quite adept at it, too! Squirrels are true acrobats when it comes to acquiring seed. 

Now, the red squirrels do this as well - but as they are much smaller and faster we don't worry about them getting stuck. Chipmunks however ... well, they tend to get stuck. I've had to rescue a chipmunk from time to time from the bottom of the feeder. 

So, there's the whole squirrel story lol! And Happy Thursday everyone ~ hope your week is going well. I got hit with that virus thing that had Bill and the boys coughing and aching last week. Fortunately, I spent a day in bed and it seemed to quiet down - now I just have a hoarse voice. Cough drops and gatorade do wonders. ;)

Be back again soon! 

A Trip to the American Textile Museum

Last week we attended a field trip to the American Textile Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. The trip included a guided tour of the museum as well as two excellent classes: "Junk to Jackets" and "Technical Tools." Crackerjack took the former; Bookworm took the latter. 

Here are the class descriptions:

From Junk to Jackets (Grades 3-10): Learn how recycling is used in the textile industry to make cloth, and consider its ecological impacts. As a colorful and educational keepsake, students will fill "ecological containers" with layers of materials showing the steps of the scientific process invented to convert plastic soda bottles into knitted fleece fabric. Students will do experiments revealing material characteristics and illustrating advances from nanotechnology research used to make modern fabrics even better!

Technical Tools (Grades 6-12): In a hands-on lab setting, work in teams to problem-solve how to overcome the technical difficulties experienced by the early US cotton industry, and experience the challenge of inventing that transformed the US during the early Industrial Revolution. Figure out Eli Whitney's inventors' success secrets as you engineer your own solutions. A world events timeline provides an international perspective.

This was our first visit to the museum, but I knew we'd get there one of these days (and I have a feeling we'll be back). Our history focus this year is the Industrial Revolution, and Lowell was one of the most important cities at that time. In fact, I believe it is known as the birthplace of the (American) Industrial Revolution.

I have a ton of pictures to share - no really, a ton - so I've made up a couple of photo albums instead of bogging down this post with jpgs. You can find my pictures in the two new photo albums on the right hand sidebar - one is called "ATM Field Trip" and this has the bulk of the pictures I took on our tour and in the boys' classes. The other album is called "Apron Exhibit" and it holds the pictures I took in the museum's special exhibit, a tribute to the 1950's and the apron phenomenon. Sorry these photos are not of the greatest quality, the lighting was fairly dim throughout most of the museum and we were not allowed to use flash photography. 

I hope you enjoy the pictures and if you are in the New England area - whether you live here or are visiting some day - I highly recommend you pay a visit to the American Textile Museum. The people who led us through the day were friendly, enthusiastic and so helpful. I look forward to another visit this spring!

Focus on the Feeders Weekend

This weekend we participated in a bird-counting project, sponsored by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. It's an annual event called "Focus on the Feeders Weekend" - and I'm not sure how many years we've been doing it, but it's been a while now! According to the M.A.S., 40% of New England residents feed and closely watch wildlife ~ and I am happy to say we are part of that surprisingly high estimate!

The challenge is to record the greatest number and variety of birds that visit your feeders over the assigned weekend. You only need report the highest number of a species seen at one time, so it's not like we're counting each and every bird we spot all day. 

So for example, we saw two juncos under the feeders early Saturday morning ... so we put two tally marks down on our count sheet. A later glance out the windows revealed eight juncos, so we added six more tally marks to our sheet. A bit later on we saw there were three juncos on the ground ... but we didn't mark anything down. Only if there were more than eight juncos would we add to our count. (And as you can see from our report, the juncos were greatest in number this weekend!)

So without further ado, here are the results from our bird counting efforts:

American Crow - 1

American Goldfinch - 3

American Robin - 1


Black-capped Chickadee - 2

Blue Jay - 4

Carolina Wren - 2


Dark-eyed Junco - 24 (!)

Downy Woodpecker - 3

Hairy Woodpecker - 1

House (English) Sparrow - 1

Mourning Dove - 2

Northern Cardinal - 2

Tufted Titmouse - 2

White-Breasted Nuthatch - 2

White-throated Sparrow - 6

(Now, the MAS does not ask for any squirrel reporting, but you know I can't help myself.)

Gray squirrel - 2

Red Squirrel - 1


The Focus on Feeders project also includes a photo contest for amateur photographers. I've never done this before, but I might send a picture in this year. The ones I took today came out a little blurry but I have some on file that I might consider submitting.

The FoF report form also asks for the following information:

How many bird feeders do you have? 12

How many months of the year do you feed birds? 12

What type of feed do you use? Black oil sunflower seed, cracked corn, suet, seed cakes

This was such a fun family project - perfect for a cold winter weekend! How are your birdfeeders doing this winter? Are they active or quieter than usual? Are you seeing mostly familiar faces or have you been surprised by a new or unusual sighting?

Well, whether you were counting birds this weekend or not - I hope it was a good one! And to my friends in the mid-Atlantic region - prayers for you as you dig out from all that snow! 

See you all again sometime soon ... :)

In our Yard this Afternoon ...

... we spotted this magnificent (Cooper's?) hawk! We had just arrived home from a morning field trip when I noticed a large bird swoop through the neighbor's yard and into our own. 


 He's gorgeous of course, but not at all welcome. Just yesterday the boys and I watched 5 (FIVE!) red squirrels playing in the yard, running between our rooftop and the trees out back. I hate to think of them out and about with predators like this hanging around ...

Anyhoo ... we spent the morning at the American Textile Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. I have LOTS of pictures to share from the museum tour and the homeschool classes the boys participated in - but I will have to get those up later this weekend. In a nutshell, it was a fantastic experience - the perfect complement to our current Industrial Revolution study!

Well, that's all for now - just a quick check-in as the week comes to a close. I hope you all have a great weekend - I'll be back here again just as soon as I can. :)

FCS Questions: Where does it all end up?

Good Friday Morning, my friends! I had hoped to have this up earlier in the week, but alas, free time has been scarce these past few days. There are still several questions to address re ~ the file crate system, and today's question comes from Shonda:

O.k., let's see if I've got this. :) File week specific items into the appropriate folder, action items go onto your clip board, items that you want to do next year stay in the file (?) and then at the end of the year do you move those saved items into the brand new file folders for the new year? Do you then purge the things like e-mails re: Haiti and fantasy b-ball picks? I am so very challenged in this area and really need a lot of hand holding! :) Thank you!

Generally speaking, Shonda, things that will be useful to me again next year stay in the folders (or I should say, are moved into the new year's folders). Anything else gets tossed (i.e. recycled).

To clarify, I'm going to cite a few examples ... 

Example 1: Last weekend I received an email with information about a field trip we’re attending this week. We are all registered - in other words, I don’t have to reply or anything - so I filed it in my weekly folder. 

    --> When I go through the files at the end of the year I will remove this paper - noting the experience on our end of year reports - and recycle it.

Example 2: I have a printout of information regarding a science lab I want to sign Bookworm up for. This went on my clipboard as it is an “action item” - I need to place a phone call to register Bookworm. Once I’ve made the call I will file the paper in the folder for the week it's taking place. (I probably will make notes on the sheet regarding the phone call itself.)

    --> When I go through the files at the end of the year I will remove the paper - noting the lab experience on his end of year report - and recycle it.

Example 3: I have an email reminder for this month’s Book Group meeting - it names the title selection and parent leader information. I had originally placed it on the clipboard because I needed to take action - I needed to get a copy of the book for the boys. Once I got the book, I filed the sheet back in the weekly folder. 

    --> When I go through the files at the end of the year I will remove the paper - noting the book title on the boys' annual reading lists - and recycle it.

Example 4: I have a printout of a recipe for a “jello poke cake.” I thought it would be fun to make with the boys for New Year’s Eve/Day (a white cake with multicolor jello swirls). We didn’t end up making it but I left it in that week’s folder anyway. 

    --> When I go through the files at the end of the year I will leave that printout in the New Year’s week folder, hoping to try it next year.

Example 5: I have a printout regarding the Mass Audubon Focus on the Feeders project. It’s actually a copy I made a couple of years ago, but I keep it filed in the January/February hanging folder so when I’m planning ahead I remember this activity and can possibly work a "backyard birds" theme into our plans.

Example 6: I keep my homeschool group's monthly newsletter stored in the current week's folder. At the end of the month, I store it in the front of the January-February hanging folder. At the end of the year it helps me remember things we did, and looking ahead to next year it reminds me of annual activities to look forward to/incorporate into our plans.

I hope this helps you see how various bits of information move around in the file crate system. Basically I hold onto things that will - or could - be useful again, and purge most everything else. 

My "purge and prep" weekend takes place in mid to late June as my crate follows an academic year schedule. In some years I just bundle the files and store them with the calendar from the year (and any work that we save), but in an effort to be less of a pack rat, I am trying to get rid of things once they've been recorded in our annual reports.

As always, thanks for stopping by and please let me know if I can go into further detail - in the meantime, have a great day! :)

Hello February!

I made a few changes in the learning room (and surrounding areas) to reflect the new month upon us ...


First we have Earlybird's bulletin board. I added some red doily hearts to the snowflake border as well as all new February-inspired sight word cards:


Here's an impromptu February book display under the windows. The holiday books were all hidden in the Winter book basket so I decided to put them in the spotlight - or the sunlight I guess you could say. :)


And we turned the page on the homeschool calendar:


This is the boys' calendar to maintain. We're much busier than all those blank spaces suggest lol - we have yet to fill in this month's grid. ;)

By the way, all the boys are feeling better (must have been a 24-hour kind of thing) and the really big news in the Sun-and-Candle household today: Crackerjack got his braces on this morning! He looks so cute!

Hope your February is off to a great start ...