Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homeschool High School - Forensics

This year for homeschool high school science my 15 year old chose to learn about Forensics, so we have had three other teens join us every other week to do some Forensics lab work.  Thus far, we have worked with hair evidence, fiber evidence, and blood evidence.  Along the way we have worked with a microscope, learned to prepare slides and operate the microscope, performed heat and chemical tests on fibers, learning a bit of chemistry, tested for blood type, and dissected an assortment of mammal organs.

This week and the previous session we were learning about glass evidence.  The previous session involved examining a variety of glass fragments and learning a lot about reflective and refractive properties of glass, as well as about light and optics.

Above is some of the stuff we used the other week to explore reflection and refraction, as well as fluorescence -- homemade light box with slits, mirrors, a card with refraction angles marked, a combo black light/flashlight, and some books we were using.

This week we explored glass fracture patterns -- how a fractured pane can give us information of the sequence of bullets fired, types of bullets or projectiles, the angles of the shots, etc.  We used certificate frames from the dollar store, which were shot with a variety of air soft guns, producing both radial and concentric fracturing typical of gun shots to glass.  We kept the plastic on the frames and that held all the glass together so we could see the fractures.  That was great, because we didn't have to carefully lift and tape up the panes to preserve the fracture patterns for our observations.

The frame above had a really good pattern of 4, possibly 5 shots, and the kids were able to deduce the order the shots were fired in from the patterns.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Excited about a New Garden Project!

I've been working for the past week or two developing a new project that I'm very excited about.  I've been developing a guide, or workbook, to help individuals and families who want to have a garden, to plan a garden that is just right for their individual needs.  Here's a sneak peak:

Hoping to have the whole thing finished and available for download soon!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Paper Towel Dilemma

First, a picture of my daughter and her friend ready to head to an Anime convention held at the Memphis Botanic Garden this weekend.  Cree is a "My Little Pony", and her friend has been "consumed by darkness".  I'm sure you can guess which is which in the picture.  Cree and her friends love to CosPlay (dress up in costume) and the environment at the Botanic Garden was a very nice, safe venue.

Now, on to paper towels.

Oh, the dilemma of Paper Towels!  So handy and convenient, yet wasteful, kind of expensive, and guilt inducing (at least for those of us that worry about waste and recycling and frugality and such -- I have to add that I know many many worthy, considerate, kind people who never give paper towels a single thought).

Years ago when I had cloth diapered babies, and ultimately 4 children, we eliminated paper napkins from our house and began exclusively using cloth napkins.  Since we seemed to be doing laundry all of the time, adding cloth napkins to the mix did not seem burdensome at all -- and so we have continued over the years.  The napkins live in a drawer in the kitchen peninsula between the cooking area and the eating area, facing the table -- so they are very convenient to get to when we need them.

But paper towels remained in our lives.  Until recently.  I figured out a solution that works for our kitchen layout and keeps things handy and convenient.

1.  We do keep one roll of paper towels, because sometimes things come up that you just want to use a paper towel for -- you don't want to put anything in the wash -- you just want it GONE.  I won't elaborate on what those occasions are for me, but I'm sure you might have your own list.

We keep the roll in the utility closet in the kitchen, so it's there when we need it, but not so convenient that we automatically grab it for spills and clean up, microwaving, crumb catching or whatever.

2.  I purchased a pack of 12 smallish white washcloths at Target when they were on sale with all the dorm stuff back in the fall ($4.99) and started out with that, and later augmented that with a purchase of 12 (I think -- or maybe it was 24) very ample white washcloths from Costco for about $16.00.  White, so they can easily be bleached if we want.

3.  Half of these I keep in a plastic bin under the sink on the "cooking" side of the peninsula.  The other half I keep rolled nicely in a wicker basket on TOP of the peninsula, accessible from both sides of the kitchen where we used to keep the paper towels.  This means we can easily get one of these cloths when we need one from both sides of the kitchen, and the basket keeps them looking nice.

4.  We have a bag hanging inside the utility closet where we throw any soiled cloth napkins and washcloths, making it easy to get them out of the way and to tote to our laundry area (which is upstairs).

Since we adopted this approach, one paper towel roll has lasted us for months!

Now, I must be honest -- if I had small children, and most especially boys -- I am pretty sure I would be using paper towels still!

Bonus Frugal Tip:  When I open a can of tomato paste, I use what the recipe calls for (often just one or two tablespoons), and then put the remainder in an ice cube tray and put it in the freezer.  After it's frozen, I pop the tomato paste cubes into a freezer bag and keep handy in the freezer part of the fridge.  One can lasts a good long while that way, before I have to purchase another one.

Sharing with Sunny Simple Sunday; Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Easy Meal: Oven Chicken Stew with Sweet Potato Biscuits

I love a good meal that cooks itself -- just dump all the ingredients together and stick it in the oven.  I had a busy day today catching up on a lot of running around that I didn't do yesterday due to the ice storm here (it ended up not bad as far as ice storms go, and the streets were clear today).

Anyhoo, I chose one of my oven stew recipes for dinner tonight.  This is something you can either make in the crockpot or cook it in a dutch oven in the oven at a low temperature (I do it at 275 degrees) for about 5 hours.  I shared my Easy Oven Beef Stew recipe here.

Today's dinner was Oven Chicken Stew with Autumn Vegetables.  I used 4 legs and 4 thighs (because that's what I had in the freezer).  Other times I have used boneless skinless breasts or even boneless pork -- it's all good.

I take the skin off (because I don't like rubbery stewed chicken skin) and browned the pieces a bit on top of the stove in the dutch oven with a little olive oil.  You can totally skip the browning step, but it does add some extra flavor.  Then I dumped in a cut up onion, a bunch of quartered small red potatoes, some cut up carrots and some cut up celery.  I meant to throw in mushrooms, but I forgot.  Turnips and parsnips are good in this recipe, but I had potatoes and carrots.

Season all of this with some pepper, thyme, and sage, and get the chicken up on top of the veggies.

Pour over it a cup or two of a white sauce or gravy or a can cream of mushroom soup thinned with a bit of water.

Cover with the lid and cook at 275 (or 300 if you feel safer that way) for 4 to 5 hours.  It comes out falling off the bones, with the potatoes and carrots absolutely luscious, with a very "short" sauce.  You can check things and add more liquid if you like more sauce.  My picture does not do the dish justice.

I served it with sweet potato biscuits.  Periodically I mash leftover sweet potatoes and freeze them in ice cube trays (pop out the frozen cubes into ziplock freezer bags), so it's easy for me to pull out the equivalent of a cup to thaw to use in biscuits or soups.

Sweet Potato Biscuits:

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes, mixed with 1/2 cup melted butter
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons sugar
(mix all of the above together)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

mix with the liquid ingredients and knead it in the bowl, turn out on floured board and knead a little more until it holds together nicely.  Roll out about 3/4 inch thick and cut into about 12 biscuits.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

Sharing with Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Monday, January 14, 2013

This sums up the day . . . .

Another "Noteshelf" app journal page created on my iPad today.

Too cold.


Watching birds at the feeder -- a pair of bluebirds have been showing up daily over the past week, along with a downy woodpecker, a cardinal couple, several chickadees (of course!), red breasted nuthatches, and juncos.

And I've had my 5 yr old grandson Aydan here all afternoon (and evening).  So the wooden trains are snaking out into the upstairs hall and the girls' old wooden dollhouse, flower fairies and and gnomes are getting a good workout.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Playing around with "Noteshelf" on the IPad

Above is a page I made with a new app I got for my IPad yesterday that I've been playing with, called "Noteshelf".    You can make pages for "books" using a variety of page backgrounds (this is on what looks like wide ruled notebook paper, although you can't see it well in this picture) with a variety of templates included in the app -- plain, graph paper, ruled paper, list paper, to do type lists, etc.  Then you can create text in a variety of fonts, place the text, move it around, shrink or expand it.  You can also use your finger or a stylus to doodle, write, and scribble in different colors -- either with a line or wash effect, use little graphics, and even take photos without leaving the app and size and stick them on the page, and apply text or doodles directly over the photos.  You can also send the pages you create to email, facebook, twitter, or photo stream (I put this in photo stream, so I could then use it in Blogger).

You can give the books you create names, and choose from different "covers" and they sit "displayed" on a shelf ready to click on to open and read, use, or edit.  What an easy way to do some journaling or document a project and make notes directly on photos or text.

I'm sure there are probably other programs and apps that do similar things, but this was really easy to work and worked seamlessly and cost under $5.00.  Can't beat that!

Sharing with Sunny Simple Sunday

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Calendar Challenge Finale!

December all finished!  (if you ignore the blank squares when I forgot the calendar existed)

Just one more loose end from 2012 to clean up:  Completing Kate Crane's 366 Calendar Challenge for 2012!

Back in January I decided to participate in the 366 Calendar Challenge, where one creates a calendar spread for each month, and then each day writes or doodles something evocative of the day -- a kind of combo journal and art journal endeavor -- resulting in the end an artistic recording of the year.

I seldom had a month ready to go right at the first, but I usually had each month ready within a week of the first.  And my journaling endeavors confirmed what I already knew -- May, June, and December tend to disintegrate into busy days running together, punctuated by stupified fogs that I wake from periodically, leaving days of blank squares when I completely forgot the calendar even existed.  Looking back I also see that I wrote "Aack!" on a lot of dates.  

But that's all ok.  Just part of life.

I tried out lots of different arrangements and techniques with the different months -- cut and glue, doodling, duct tape, stamps, water color pencils, paint, etc.

Below is the completed calendar:










Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas 2012 Retrospect

Oh my goodness.  The holidays -- so long prepared for and anticipated.  Then here and gone in a flash.

I had holiday pictures to post and the best of intentions to craft meaningful, organized, coherent posts about our holiday revels.

Yet, here it is.  January 3.

It didn't help that my mother was in the hospital right before Christmas (was home in time for the holidays) and I spent a lot of the week between Christmas and New Year's helping her catch up on bill paying and other tasks, and then I came down with the flu last weekend and have been sick all week (this is the second time I've ever had the flu, the first time being 8 or so years ago).

But, I've been fever-free so far today -- and how can I ever move on with the new year if I don't get Christmas finished with here?  So here goes:

Christmas Day was a tri-part event this year, beginning with morning gift openings and stockings with Cree and Hannah (home from first semester of college), and our special Christmas breakfast of a breakfast casserole and yogurt parfaits.

some "gifts" I bought myself earlier in the month and wrapped up to open xmas morn

Then around mid-day our oldest daughter came over with the grandkids -- more presents and stockings for them.

Ari and Dora look just alike!
Ayday was thrilled with dinos and a v-tech

Throughout the day I cooked and prepared for the big Christmas Dinner at our house -- this year there were 14 people to sit down at dinner.  I think in the future we may need to re-think how this is all handled, because spending Christmas Day preparing a full sit-down dinner for 14 was not exactly enjoyable or relaxing -- but that is a rant for another day.

We got the dining room (and foyer) set up to seat 14 people somehow -- no easy task!

At dinner time, the foyer annex/overflow/"children's" table, was christened the "Young Professionals' Table".

It held Cree, Hannah, Hannah's boyfriend, my youngest sister's 10 yr old and 3 yr old daughter's, and my other sister's daughter, who lives and works in London when she is not visiting here at Christmas.

Back at the Old Fogeys' Table, I can't find a good picture to include -- there are pictures, but everyone is looking grumpy, stressed, or is otherwise very seriously applying themselves to their meal.

Part way through the meal, my youngest sister remembered that she had actually never remembered to wrap anyone's presents or to bring them over so she jumped up and went to her house fetch the forgotten gifts, and we all forgot to do the Christmas Crackers (supplied by my other sister and her husband).

The final festivities occurred when my sister returned and we convened in the family room to do the Christmas Crackers and exchange gifts.

It was good we didn't do the crackers in the dining room!  The contents (marbles and other hard objects) went flying out around the room with great force -- I think there would have been breakage and injuries if we had done them in the dining room!

And then, the day after Christmas -- we have some snow!

Farewell, 2012!