A big part of our “curriculum” this time of year is nature. We spend as much time as possible outside and much of our life in general is dictated by nature. We are harvesting in the garden, “putting up” produce like non-GMO corn from a nearby farm and homemade pickles with farmers’ market cukes, cooking like crazy with extra zucchini gifted by others, watching wildlife, spending days at the lake, foraging, climbing trees, playing and eating nearly every dinner outside in the back yard at our new farmhouse table.
(Daryl and Victoria built it for me. Isn’t it marvelous?!)
This week was a pretty great week for nature studies. Here’s some of what we did….
- We watched a cicada emerge from his alien-like skin with his new green wings.
- We watched a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis right by our back door, pump its new wings until they were dry, and fly away.
- We swam at the lake many times and played with sand, water, driftwood and water bugs.
- Victoria found some neat rocks and an arrowhead artifact at the lake, and was with Daryl when he found another fossilized shark tooth.
- Alex and Jack helped Daryl forage for acorns, walnuts, apples and crab apples. The boys always excitedly gather any acorns or walnuts they come across to bring home to process, which tickles me since 99.9% of the world considers them nuisances for the lawnmower.
- Daryl and the kids “foraged” for apples and crab apples by getting permission from various owners who said they would not be harvesting them and who gave us permission to pick them. These were all organic apples since the owners didn’t plan to harvest them and therefore didn’t spray them.
- Alex helped Daryl made applesauce from the apples and crab apples and we canned many pints and quarts of it for the winter. We talked about why our new pressure canner can safely preserve low-acid foods.
- Victoria helped Daryl process the acorns and turn them into acorn flour. (Here’s how our family does that.)
- I made gluten-free apple cake with acorn flour (and other gluten free flours) we made from acorns Daryl and Alex gathered at our UU church, then we brought the flour for everyone to see and smell (it smells divine). We’ll be bringing them baked good samples and printed instructions on how to do it themselves, too. (Here’s the recipe I used for the apple cake, substituting acorn flour for the soy flour.) The apples were also foraged ones, and the eggs were from a homeschooling family down the highway (we buy 5-10 dozen eggs from them at a time from their free-roaming chickens at $1 a dozen), so a lot of the ingredients were locally sourced.
- Jack and Alex helped Daryl husk walnuts and put them in big mesh onion bags in the garage to dry.
- The kids helped husk non-GMO corn from a nearby farm to blanch and freeze it for winter. We buy enormous boxes of ears for $6 each and spend a day at a time putting it up. It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth it for many reasons! (Here’s how Daryl and the kids process it.)
- We watered and tended our gardens. I use wine bottles for drip irrigation, and Jack helped me fill the bottles.
- We made gluten-free zucchini breads and cakes like crazy, and froze extra shredded zucchini for use in recipes later in the year. (These are our favorite recipe so far to use extra zucchini — Easy triple chocolate zucchini mini donuts and Chocolate zucchini bread, which tastes like chocolate cake to us.) We also made lots of grilled zucchini and zucchini everything else!
- We saw hundreds of dead carp by Talcot Dam, littering the shore. We believe the combination of hot weather and low water just killed them off. It led to more talk about weather and climate change.
- We saw great blue herons, vultures, sandpipers, cranes, pelicans and other beautiful birds at the lake and in the wetlands that we pass when we head out of town for groceries.
- Toria, Alex and Fiona found a frog after church and played with him before letting him go.
- We talked about our funny sunflowers that don’t usually turn to face the sun at all the way they’re supposed to, but rather stick their faces in all directions. Incidentally, if you want to know why they turn to follow the sun, ask.com says, “Sunflowers face the sun due to their ability of ‘heliotropism’ or sun-tracking. Sunflowers have a hydraulic system in the stem which enables them to turn in the direction of the sun. Water builds up on the shady side of the stem, leading to pressure which causes the head to arc toward the light.”
- We read from One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! and the kids used their biology knowledge to try to solve the mysteries in the life science section.
- I made the mistake of wandering into the Nature Bats Last blog and following rabbit trails there until I was left an utter basket case in the middle of the night and had to email a friend whose wife is an environmental science professor to talk me off the ledge. If you want to feel despondent pretty quickly, google “near term extinction” sometime and take a look at the amazingly short number of years some scientists are giving humanity and pretty much all life on earth. (Note: I had Nature Bats Last hyperlinked for you but I really consider it a public service announcement not to send any poor unsuspecting souls there. I prefer hope. Yes, climate change and climate chaos is real and getting really bad really fast, but paralyzing us with fear isn’t going to inspire the kind of change that’s needed to save ourselves and our world. For goodness sake, we all need to get serious about making real changes, though.)
- We are starting an in-depth family study of ways to convert our house to more sustainable energy, along with various tools we use (for instance, we bought a push reel mower a couple of years ago to use instead of the gas powered one). We are also going to see how far we can lower our utility bill from September of last year and talk to our minister about starting a community garden at our UU church next year (the church is already wind powered, which is pretty awesome and shows their commitment to sustainable living).
- I made up a batch of elderberry honey syrup to beat a bad summer cold.
- Jack, Alex and Fiona took part in the Think! challenge to make mandalas from natural objects. The boys made fantastic ones (Fiona just played) and they were posted on the Think! blog. Unfortunately, the blog owner posted Alex’s twice and didn’t post Jack’s at all and she apparently doesn’t read her comments, so you can’t see Jack’s! It was awesome and I’m going to try to contact her again to see if she’ll put his up because I know he’ll be proud to see it online.
- We have been taking walks, climbing trees, visiting with friends in the back yard, eating outside, grilling out (mostly produce and veggies… stuffed portabello mushrooms are our all-time favorite but they’re about 1000 calories apiece!), making refrigerator pickles and scrap apple juice and peach pie and a hundred other things to use up excess fruits and veggies, trimming trees and bushes, loving on pets, talking about the jet stream and weather, photographing bugs, pulling weeds, checking on wild edibles (grapes, elderberries and plums are ripening soon, among others… here’s what’s in season in September in the midwest)…
And that’s why we don’t start “doing school” in late August just because the local schools have started up again. Not that we ever do school anyway, but this is just not a sit-down and study kind of season for us. We do homeschooling through the seasons and I love this season.
In other news…
Here’s some free science notebooking pages you can download.
Here’s some articles I’ve published lately…
Daryl read somewhere years ago that September is the month of winds and magic. Since it is the month of his birthday and our anniversary, it is a special month for us. Happy September!