Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some Summer!

I cannot believe that we're already into our second eighth week of structured schooling (obviously, it took me a while to complete this post).  The past three months have crawled by for me (more on that in a moment), but summer simply flew!  Here's a photo fly-by of some of our warm weather activities we enjoyed:

To celebrate our last day of the 2011-2012 school year, we made "healthy" cookies.  They flopped, but we had fun experimenting!

We tried coconut sugar, coconut oil, coconut flour, and shredded coconut in various ways.  Results:  coconut sugar, while a little less sweet than sucrose, works well in nearly every recipe.  Coconut oil that is not expeller-pressed (meaning that it retains its coconutty flavor) is best used in non-edible recipes, such as homemade deodorant, sunblock, and toothpaste.  We have yet to find a satisfactory recipe for coconut flour; I won't say how many batches of bread, muffins, and pizza crust we ended up throwing away!

However, these Flourless Peanut Butter muffins made for many a fabulous, easy, gluten-free, high-protein breakfast.  Best flourless recipe we've tried to date!

One of our biggest experiments of the summer was a worm compost bin (please note that some photos below may not be suitable for those with squeamish tummies - you have been warned!).

We drilled holes all over a Rubbermaid tub I purchased for $2.88...

...added shredded newspaper (and jammed up our little shredder three times in the process)...

...tossed in some decomposing veggies (please note that onions do NOT make good compost material!  We learned this the hard way.)...

...and added $7.50 worth of earthworms.

Which we killed.

Along with two subsequent batches of worms.


Thankfully, after moving the bin to a cooler location, taking care not to overwater, and starting with a new batch of healthier worms from the nursery instead of the bait store, we now have a happy, active worm bin with big, fat worms.  (Jon says they make the best fishing bait.)

In keeping with Jon's fishing theme from above, here is a photo of the bait tank he helped the boys set up.  It consists of a 27-gallon bucket they bought for $13 and a Penguin filter we ordered on discount.  Can't beat the price of this setup, since most tank equipment runs hundreds of dollars! 

Since the leopard sharks that Jon loves to catch have an affinity for live bait, he and the boys keep this tank stocked with Bullhead, long-jaw mudsuckers, and gobies, all of which they catch from a local river.  Jon taught T and K all about each species of fish:  its habitat; its scientific and common names; and its food source.  They even attempted making their own bait.  While it didn't seem to work, they put a lot of thought and energy into it and all enjoyed the project.  Everyone is learning more about the salinity of fresh and salt water, the nitrate cycle, and fish health through this project.

Our next summer project was making a solar oven.  Who knew there were so many designs available?  We decided to go with the double-insulated box method, since we had all the materials on hand.  The kids had great fun assembling it!

Phoenix thought she'd get in on the fun as well.  After we placed a piece of glass on top and set the whole thing outside, we discovered that this particular setup, even when faced directly in the sun, would only heat up to 140 degrees F.  While it was never hot enough to cook or bake in, the fact that we did get it to more than double the outside temperature was good enough for our purposes.  (Now, I just need to go get it from the back yard where it's been languishing ever since.  I can't imagine what our neighbors think of all our junk lying around from these various projects!)

We planted herbs, some of which actually grew and survived, as well as a tray of tomatoes we bought from Costco.

I'd meant to grab a tray of Beefsteak, but when we got home, I realized I'd accidentally picked up a tray of Romas.  Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, Cherry tomatoes grew!  I've since heard from other people that they experienced the same thing after purchasing Costco Romas.  Quite comical, really!

I canned seven jars of Apricot jam and thirteen jars of Nectarine jam after my sister-in-law's parents graciously let us glean their fruit trees.

We came up with an amazing recipe for gluten-free, soaked oatmeal, blender waffles.

But, of course, I forgot to write down the recipe.  Am I the only one who does this???

Imagine our surprise to find this possum living under our porch one night.  He may look cute (or not) in this photo, but he was NOT happy to have been routed out of his home.

My brother Stephen came to stay with us for a weekend so that the kids could spend time with him and so that he and Jon could get in some good fishing.  Kyle is Stevie's buddy!

Before curiosity runs rampant at the above photo, let me explain:  we tried our hand at home-made vanilla extract.  Having no experience with Vodka types or prices, I asked my brother-in-law (who prides himself on his vast knowledge of such beverages) for some guidance.  Every online tutorial said to get the cheapest Vodka available, but Andrew recommended Kirland Vodka since it is actually Grey Goose Vodka in a Kirkland bottle.  Apparently, Grey Goose is the premium Vodka of choice.  Andrew got me this intimidatingly-large one.  (I'll admit that I was thankful not to have to go through the checkout line with this in my basket, especially with three spark plugs in tow!)

We added vanilla beans, cut down the center, to the Vodka.

A certain Spark Plug in a green shirt looks just a bit too eager about this project!!  The vanilla extract hasn't been curing long enough to taste it yet, but it already smells amazing, and I have high hopes that it will meet or exceed all expectations.

One of our final summer activities was swimming lessons for the boys.  We had them take two weeks of instruction through Sparkle Swim School, run by a friend of ours, and we were thrilled that Tyler learned to swim quite well and Kyle became much more water safe.  Looking forward to having all three take lessons next summer!

And just before the start of the new school year came the best surprise of all:  A new baby on the way!  While this pregnancy has not been very conducive to my being the best wife, mom, or teacher ever (and is why I said at the start of this post that the past few weeks have gone by very slowly), we managed to muddle through the first tough weeks together and are now trying to catch up on a few things that fell by the wayside.  I was very grateful to have gotten done as much this summer as we did, since we now have a more flexible school schedule as a result.

Eventually, I'll get back to blogging about more home school endeavors, but for now, I think this monster post will do!


  1. I love all these homemade projects you do! The compost is such a good thing (thanks for the tip about onions, although I guess we never have any here). If we had a backyard with soil, I'd do it. I do also sometimes forget to write down how I made something that was a hit. That is really funny about the Vodka in the checkout line. I remember someone saying they used it as hand sanitizer and it was awkward pulling this big bottle out of their purse to pour on her kids' hands.

  2. Hi Julie,

    What a fun post. I would love the recipe for the peanut butter muffins....
    I think I will pass on the worms though :)


  3. If only you could have a pet rabbit. The earthworms would love that soil! Quite a few people raise rabbits and have the earthworm beds underneath the cages. I've never done it but rabbits do make really good fertilizer.
    You've done so many fun projects with your kids, I'm sure they've learned a bunch in the process!

  4. Amy, if you ever want to try composting, I actually used non-fertilized bagged soil to start it, and I'm sure others would be willing to take the finished product off your hands. It did take some adjustments to get it running, though! Jeanne, glad you found the recipe! We really like it. The texture isn't vastly different from floured recipes, which is my family's biggest complaint on most flour-free recipes. Julie, I've heard lots of good things about rabbit compost! We can't have outdoor pets, though, or I might consider it. Hope Lucy Bunny is doing well!

  5. My favorite part about the post was the tomatoes! That's funny. (that the the new baby on the way--baby's are always a favorite) :)

  6. Looks like you and the spark plugs had a fun, educational, and nutritious summer! Sandra has a story about a dead worm co post attempt, too! I'm glad your third attempt was successful.