Our recent projects and a trip to Monterey

The kids have been enjoying our geography studies. I think one of their favorite activities (besides watching movies at Discovery Streaming) are the cooking “assignments”. Here are a few pictures of our creations.

Spätzle, rotkraut and roast with gravy for our Germany study:


Growing up, this was one of my very favorite meals as a child that my Oma and sometimes my mom would make. When it was time to study Germany, I just couldn’t pass this meal up, even though it wasn’t listed in our instructor’s guide. It was fairly easy to make and the kids loved it so much that they made a 2nd batch for our lunch.

Spätzle recipe :

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (or water)
  • 3 tbsp butter

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the butter. The “dough” should be fairly smooth and not too thick. Push the dough through the holes of a colander or put it through a spätzle press into approx. 3 quarts of salted boiling water. You will want to make a few batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook for 4 minutes or until the spätzle rises to the surface. You can gently stir it so that they don’t stick. Once they are done boiling, rinse them in cold water.

Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and then add the rinsed spätzle. Fry them up until they get a little bit of color. We like ours to have a hint of brown crispiness on some of them.

We ate our spätzle with a roast I made in the crockpot. I just threw the meat in with a little bit of water and a package of dry onion soup mix. We topped both the meat and the spätzle with a package of gravy that I added some of the meat “drippings” to.

Here is the recipe for rotkraut (red cabbage):

  • 1-2 green apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 to 1 head of red cabbage (shredded)
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Simmer all ingredients in a covered pot for approx. 1 hour or until the cabbage and apples are tender.
Here is another recipe that is a little bit different. There are lots of other variations of the recipe online as well.

The kids also made some other yummy treats when were studying France:

Here’s a blurry picture of our French cheese canapes from WinterPromise’s Fun & Traditions in Many Lands book which made a very delicious lunch!

Here is a piece of the French apple tart that Otter made all by himself!

French apple tart

The kids also made some “quick” Spanish flan, Spanish banana chips (with plantains), a Black Forest cake (for Germany), beef stroganoff (Russia), Italian salad & pasta and more.

We aren’t just doing cooking projects – the kids have also made some crafts. Here are their paper cutting projects for the week we studied Poland:

Otter’s cut paper flower (click the link for the PDF instructions):

paper cutting craft

Emily’s paper cutting project:

paper cutting

Bear’s paper cutting:

paper cutting

The kids have also been having a great time with science! Otter’s Science has been working out great. There are just enough activities and a good balance of reading, movies and projects. I do need to tweak the schedule some and add some comments about some of the books – but that will come later when I get the new website up and running.

Otter’s brain hat:

Brain hat

Otter’s model vertebrae and nerves from The Body Book:

model vertebrae

Dissecting a brain:

Dissecting a brain

Both boys do most of the projects together with the exception of the Body Book models (which are too easy for Bear). They had a ton of fun doing the dissections and learned quite a bit. What a difference it was compared to the days when Emily had to do dissections! Let’s just say she wasn’t very fond of the whole process…

We also took the kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for one of the free homeschool days. It’s an amazing place! I guess we were pretty lucky to get tickets because of the overwhelming response by the local homeschoolers. The free days are really a blessing because otherwise the admission prices for all of us would be prohibitive. I’m really thankful to whomever dreamed that up. Here are a few pics of our visit:

Feeding time at the kelp tank:

diver and fish

Studying some fish:


The aviary at the aquarium was awesome! The birds are literally within arms reach in some places. They are all rescues (I believe) and very “tame” / tolerant of people. We were all amazed at how close we were to all of them. It was a photographer’s paradise! By the way, my husband took all of the aquarium pictures. 🙂

Another one of our favorite sections of the aquarium is the jelly fish area. I could stay there for hours, if we had the time. The jellyfish are just mesmerizing and beautiful.

A seal napping outside in the bay:

The otters were fun to watch:


Mission to the Deep interactive area
Emily said it looks like they are sitting in a Star Trek set!

And finally to wrap up today’s entry, here is a picture of one of our local wildlife refuges. The sandhill cranes are here this time of year and lots of ducks have come down from colder regions for the winter. We try to take the kids to the refuges frequently and are always amazed at how there is something different each time we visit. We are really fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of nature that is easily accessible. I think it’s good for all of us and really helps us to better connect to the seasons and rhythms of natural life.

Not only are the kids studying different countries around the world this year, they are also getting to get in touch with what is local and learning about the area where they live. I hope that someday they will all look back on these things I’ve been sharing with you as precious childhood memories and that they will have learned a lot about our wonderful world, both far and near.

Children Around the World Projects & Piano Software

Otter's Scones

Just what is this blurry picture of….well…biscuit looking things that seem to have exploded? This is Otter’s attempt at photography and plate presentation.

You see, Bear handed me a wonderful looking scone, perfectly proportioned with just the right amount of strawberry jam and whipped cream oozing out of the sides. It looked so beautiful, I was determined to get a photograph of another JUST like it, to post here on our blog. However, we all demolished the scones before I could do that. BUT… Otter saved the day because he told me he took a picture of HIS scone. So here it is. In all of it’s gloppy glory.

Aren’t you glad I could share that with you?

The scones were the last recipe the kids made from our week spent learning about the British Isles. Honestly, they tasted a lot better than the one above looks. Wink

This week we learned about Ireland. We watched step-dancing videos, read plenty of books and are going to wrap up this week with some Irish stew (made from lamb), soda bread and an apple cinnamon cake for dessert. Everyone is enjoying the food aspect of our studies.

In other news, Otter is really enjoying taking pictures with his digital camera. A lot of pictures… of…just about anything and everything like: dad’s desk, the dog’s nose, clutter on dad’s desk (because you see, my desk is perfect and NEVER has clutter on it), our library books, fur balls on the carpet, etc. etc. However, out of all the hundreds of photos he’s taken, he actually did get a few nice ones from our local nature preserve. Maybe there is some hidden photographic talent in the boy? At least we aren’t paying for 40 rolls of film to be developed of blurry dog noses and so on. You’ve gotta love digital for that.

Our piano software from Soft Mozart came in the other day. I have wanted Otter to be able to take piano lessons for a long time. He may not be a talented photographer (yet), but he picks up piano pretty fast (at least I think so). Just by self teaching and Emily helping him out a little, he was reading music and playing some songs.
Lessons are expensive though. So… I went online and looked for some sort of piano program you can learn on the computer. My thinking is that we’ll get him started with something like that until he outgrows it and really needs a teacher. I found the Soft Mozart site and watched a boat load of videos they had posted on YouTube and also read articles about their philosophy, etc. I decided to give it a try. After only a couple of days, even *I* am playing music with it! I’m so glad I ordered it. It’s actually working out for us very well.

Soft Mozart

You hook up your keyboard to your computer via a special cord that plugs into the midi port in the back and the USB port on your computer. That way your keyboard can communicate with the software. The software comes with several different games that teach the notes, etc. and there is also a mode that teaches you songs. There are several different “modes” for working on a song. There is the easiest way which shows the music lines vertically instead of horizontally. This way the notes correspond with your fingers on the keyboard. In the picture above, Otter is working on a 2nd mode where the lines are horizontal, but the notes contain special colors and letters to help you. As you progress you can choose other modes. Finally, you end up with traditional sheet style music. In the earlier modes there are some very nifty animations to help you with your playing. As you play through a song it keeps track of your errors and you get points at the end for accuracy both with the notes AND the timing. Otter keeps trying to up his score until it’s perfect. It’s like a game to him.

You can also work on sight reading and memorization. You can hide notes so that they will only appear as you play them and give gentle hints for things you’ve forgotten. You can also just work on either the right or left hand parts while the computer plays the other part for you at the same time.
One of the things I like is that it gets you looking at the music and not at your hands right away. It’s just natural to do so with the way the program is set up.

It’s hard to explain it all…you’ve got to take a look at some of the videos from the site itself to understand what I’m trying to communicate.


You can see the stickers on the keyboard that help you learn how to play. After you become proficient, the stickers come of easily. They are nice – kind of like training wheels. I know they made *me* feel more confident at any rate.

My point for sharing all of this is that it’s successful! It works! After just a couple of days Otter is playing Ode to Joy (a simplified version), Hot Cross Buns, Jingle Bells, “The Small Fir Tree” and some other songs. All of the songs he is playing require both hands with up to 3 keys pressed at one time. He has also started a few songs that are similar level wise to this one. All of the “hype” on the site is true, at least for our family. It’s a very easy thing to learn and you progress pretty quickly and without feeling stressed. The song library includes songs from the Bastien piano library and tons of other songs that go from the simplest level to more advanced pieces. We ordered the version that comes with ALL of the songs. The less expensive version comes with 52 songs (probably plenty to get you started).

Otter is on cloud 9. He’s finally got a structured program and he is having very early successes with it. He loves it that he gets to choose which song(s) he wants to work on. He sat at practice for 2 hours today just because he wanted to. He also likes the games. They help you get more familiar with note duration, note names for lines and spaces on the treble and bass staves and other important skills.

The creator of the program sent us a free year’s lesson plan. Otter is going too fast to use it though.

Emily loves the program too. She was all excited over her decent progress in just the last couple of days. I even got Bear to sit down and after a few tries he was playing a simple song with 2 hands too. (Shh don’t tell anyone. Bear doesn’t play music. That’s for girls or little brothers or something roll eyes).

My only gripe is, that without a teacher, it’s difficult to know hand and finger placement for some of the songs. One of the songs Otter is working on requires you to move your hand from its first position and move your fingers over other fingers. There is no instruction on how to accomplish this – no ghost hands or video or anything. Because I have a little piano knowledge, I was able to demonstrate to Otter how he was probably supposed to do his fingers…but I’m no expert. I might be ruining him with bad piano habits or something. Wink

I did notice the Soft Mozart addresses this issue:

Soft Mozart doesn’t have special finger tutoring in order to not divert the student’s attention from the task of music reading and finding of correct keys, and to spare a student from the fear of pressing a piano key with the “wrong” finger. The position of fingers is the naturally most comfortable and effective position while playing a song, rather than a rigid artificial scheme, and the management of the fingers should advance with piano playing. While playing, try to use all your fingers, without unnecessary motion of your hands. We use the Bastien Piano Library at the very beginning level, where the songs are carefully picked by their hand positions. When learning very advanced songs, we would suggest consulting a teacher or a pianist to help you with the difficult places. With the development of coordination and experience, any player can find the most comfortable order of fingering naturally, without being distracted from music score reading by special fingering instructions.

Another thing we ran into was that we needed to set our screen resolution on 800 x 600 with 16 bit color to get things to look properly.

Anyway, if you are looking for a computer program to teach piano, or to reinforce what your children are learning in their lessons, you might want to take a look. I think it was worth every $.


Now that we are back into the school year, I’ll be blogging on a regular basis and sharing free goodies I create for the kids throughout the year as well as what we’re doing.

So far we are loving WP’s Children Around the World program (with our own additions). Last week we studied the British Isles. The kids made us all a delicious lunch of tea sandwiches and other assorted goodies:

Tuna and egg salad (no crusts), crackers w/cheese and grapes:

Tea sandwiches

Gotta have some fancy cookies too:

Cookies and stuff!

Bear and Emily also treated us to a wonderful dinner of shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding! I love having kids old enough to cook!

These are the recipes they used: Shepherd’s pie (except that we used real mashed potatoes) and Yorkshire Pudding (gotta love the Internet for an on the fly British themed dinner).
Both the items were so easy to make and pretty good. I don’t think the shepherd’s pie was totally authentic, but it was good “comfort” food and I’m sure we’ll be making it again. I also really liked the Yorkshire pudding. It had a kind of spongy, soft texture and a very gentle / subtle flavor.

This weekend they are going to treat us all to scones and tea. Bear is really our “resident cook”. He LOVES to cook and experiment with food and he’s pretty darn good at it too. Otter is following in big brother’s footsteps, at least with the interest, if not the skill (YET). Wink I’m so glad our core program schedules in so many fun recipes. I’m glad too that Bear and Emily want to stretch themselves and add in more. I think this year is going to be a culinary adventure.

Some other highlights from what we are doing:

Google Earth – If you don’t have this FREE program…go and get it. Our kids LOVE it. Otter begs to use it EVERY DAY. I’m not kidding.
We turned on real time weather (or whatever it’s called) and can even see the current cloud cover and temperatures all over the world. Last week we combed over England and also spent quite a bit of time over at the Shetland Islands. You can click on wikipedia articles, click on pictures and even videos that are linked to certain locations. It really has helped make us so much more familiar with many different places. You can really get a feel for the land, buildings and even culture. Is it green and lush? Dry? Are there hills? How are things the same or different from where we live. What are the buildings like? Do they have cars? Swimming pools? Schools? Museums? It’s very open ended and a lot of fun.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eat – We all love this book. You can see what other people eat all over the world. See a preview of what the book contains here. The big kids are reading it themselves, but Otter and I comb over the pictures of the different types of food and compare them to what we eat.

We are using Otter’s Science this year. I’m so glad I decided to create this so the boys can learn the same topics together. Here’s a pic of last week’s project they worked on together – edible DNA! Out of all the models of DNA we’ve made over the years, this one is the hands-down-winner. I’m not going to admit that I took a handful of those wonderful, fruity little colored marshmallows and used them for my own experiment: “how fast can mom cram her mouth full of puffy sugary goodness?” See, I like science too. And this one: can you get air through a licorice with the ends bit off? Verdict: you can. It’s all in the name of science folks.


I wanted to keep my kids together in as many things as I could this year (which honestly isn’t too much because of the age differences) and already it’s paying off. The kids are working together during their “shared” subjects and projects really well. Don’t ask me how they are the rest of the time. *roll eyes*
Anyway, I’ve noticed a heightened level of cooperation and helpfulness that is fostered by this type of sharing. Some of our best years homeschooling were when I had Bear and Emily combined in almost every subject (with allowances for their abilities / different levels). I like having us all on the same page for some of our school day.

With our geography program, I will read some things out loud to everyone and we do some activities together (like culture movies, practicing map skills, or exploring Google Earth) and then we break it down to just Otter and Bear (for the sticker atlases or some lower level items) and then break it off totally to their individual work: Emily reads one book, Bear another and Otter works on a travel diary page, etc.

With science I usually read a book out loud to both Bear and Otter, we all work together out of the Blood and Guts book and maybe do an activity or lab and then Bear does the high school portion while Otter might do a dictation with me or one of the cut & paste books (that are just too easy for Bear). They both watch most of the Brain Pop movies but Otter usually answers the questions on the quizzes unless there is a question that is “too hard”.

Besides the shared subjects, Emily is also teaching Bear German. He was going to take a 2nd year of Latin but then we found out that the military academies would really like you to take a modern language. He may not apply to any of the academies, but doesn’t want this door closed. We already have all the materials on hand for German as well as family who lives in Germany, so we decided to go with it. This is not only a great review for Emily, but it also gives both siblings some positive time together.

On a last note, I want to thank everyone for the complimentary emails about the different materials from our site you’ve all been using. I’m really excited to see how many of you will be sharing our journey this year with Otter’s science and others of you who are using our history or geography curriculum. I wish you all a wonderful year and thank you for the blessings of your encouragement.

I also want to thank everyone for the multitude of Amazon orders that have been made recently. We had a list of Bible related books lined up that we wanted to order. As of last week, in one month, there was almost EXACTLY the amount of $ we needed to purchase these items made through Amazon commissions. I thank you all and above all I thank God for knowing our needs and desires.