Thursday, December 26, 2013

IEW's 12 Days of Christmas Giving

If you're interested in learning more about the Institute for Excellence in Writing, sign up for their 12 Days of Christmas Giving! From December 26th - January 6th, you will receive an email with a special link to download a free gift.

Click here to register, and see today's gift!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Comfort Food for the Holidays

When I was growing up, I was blessed to live next door to both sets of my grandparents. I am not sure my parents always felt that way, as it did present some unique family challenges, but I loved it. My Grandma Shauver passed away almost 5 years ago, and I miss her terribly. The holidays can be hard when you're missing loved ones, as many of us know.

However, as I set my heart on remembering all the things I loved about her, I can't help but remembering how she loved to cook. She was a particularly excellent baker, and even made my wedding cake. One thing I especially loved was her macaroni and cheese. I collect mac & cheese recipes, but hers remains one of my favorites.

When I was a newlywed, I asked her for her recipe. I was just learning to cook on my own and wasn't very confident in my skills. I will never forget the phone conversation we had:
Grandma: First, cook your macaroni.
Me: How much?
Grandma: It depends on the number of people you want to feed.
Me: Um... all right. What's next?
Grandma: After it's cooked and drained, add some milk until it sloshes.
Me: What? How much is that?
Grandma: It depends on how much macaroni you have.
Me: (confused, but willing to continue) Ok, what's next?
Grandma: Then you add an egg or two.
Me: How many?
Grandma: It depends on how much macaroni you cooked.
Do you sense a theme in our conversation? I will never forget "milk until it sloshes." I seem to recall measuring and writing down a recipe back then, because I just couldn't wrap my brain around listening for milk to slosh. However, it really did work that way, just like she said, and that's how I make it now.

Recently, I made it to take to a church potluck. My dish was emptied quickly, and our pastor said at the end of the meal that several people had asked for the recipe. I was shocked! This is not what anyone would call "gourmet." It's quick to prepare and requires no planning, as long as you have the basic ingredients on hand, which I usually do. I made it because I learned of the dinner on the day it was happening and didn't have time to come up with anything more creative. However, it went over so well, this just might be my "signature" pot luck dish. I couldn't find the recipe I wrote down years ago, but I figured it out again for my church friends, and thought I'd share it with you as well. Click the link below for a printable version. I do hope you enjoy it!

I would love to hear of any favorite family recipes you'd like to share. I enjoy hearing about different family traditions and memories.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What's Your Blood Type?

Do you know what your blood type is? I know mine, because it was written on the little cards on the bassinets at the hospital when my babies were born. Actually, I wasn't sure if it was my blood type or theirs, but it turns out to have been mine: AB+. I asked my husband, and said he's pretty sure his blood type is O-.

At our last co-op meeting for 2013, my friend Sara, had us all test our blood types for nature study. She got some kits, which included cards, anti-A serum, anti-B serum, and anti-Rh serum, along with color-coded toothpick stirrers and needles to poke our fingers. The needles were pretty big, so she very kindly allowed us to use the finger-poker they use with their diabetic son.

First, we watched this helpful video explaining about blood types:

After poking my finger, I put a drop of blood in each of three spots on my card, then added the appropriate serum and mixed them. After a few minutes, I could see where my blood was beginning to clot and where it was not. My blood clotted with both the anti-A serum and the anti-B serum, but not the anti-Rh serum, so I knew I had both the A protein and the B protein, and my Rh was positive.

It was fascinating to see how the kids' blood types turned out! Of course, none of them was going to be the same as mine, as they got half their DNA from their dad and he's O-. Turns out we have 5 separate blood types in our family:

Beth: AB+
Todd: O-
Emma: AO-
Abbie: AO+
Isaac: BO+

When Sara's boys were tested, they were surprised by some of the results. Sara and her husband both testsed Rh negative, but a couple of the boys tested Rh positive. A bit of quick research showed that you can have one positive Rh allele and on negative. Genetics are never as simple as they seem, are they?

I learned that while Todd is a "universal donor," meaning his blood type can be donated to anyone as long as they are Rh-. I, on the other hand, am a "universal recipient," meaning I can receive blood from anyone, but I can't donate to anyone unless they have my specific blood type.

This was a neat experiment! It goes along with biology and anatomy/physiology studies, and it's just fun to do even if you're not specifically studying those subjects, too. Of course, if we need to know our blood types for an official reason, we'll ask the doctor or donate blood. :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nothing says Christmas like...

A praying mantis! Am I right? Okay, I'm just kidding.

My children found a praying mantis on our front porch in early-mid November. At least, I think that's when it was. Emma and I tag-teamed and caught it, and put it in our little critter carrier - one of those plastic boxes with a vented lid which we keep handy for just such an occasion. We had a fish tank sitting empty with no fish, so the girls got busy and cleaned that out while Isaac and I zipped over to purchase crickets, a mesh and coconut bedding. We found some nice climbing sticks, and with a small plastic dish for water we got our new friend settled into her home. I don't normally keep living creatures we find outside as permanent residents, but I knew this mantid was nearing the end of her life if left outside, and thought in this case it would be all right.

I haven't found any good living books about mantids, so if you know of one, I'd love for you to share it with me. I went to my trusty Handbook of Nature Study for information, only to learn that Miss Comstock didn't cover them in her volume. I was able to learn a bit from our nature guides, and beyond that, I'm just going to share what we've observed about her while she's been with us.

We named her Scipio Alfred Manty, a name which seemed to fit this elegant insect. It happens to be a boy's name, because we assumed she was a boy and had no idea how to figure out whether she was or not when she first came to us. However, after some searching on the internet, I learned that females have five abdominal sections, while males have more. We counted - a task made simpler because she spends most of her time hanging upside down on the lid of her cage - and found five sections. At least, we were pretty sure. It's hard to tell through the mesh and I wasn't keen to try to flip her over when we had her out of the cage. Our suspicions of her being female were confirmed last week when she laid a large egg case. I'm in the process of procuring something that will hold the little mantids when they hatch, because otherwise I think we'll have at least a hundred of the little beasties running around the house, and that would fun for no one except the cats.

So, what have we observed about this beautiful creature? First, she has become quite used to me and my family, and can distinguish between us. She seems to trust me most, and is fairly comfortable with the girls holding her, but she is not as keen to hang out with Isaac, although you can see from the picture that she has been amenable to hanging out with him occasionally. It did take her a few days before she determined she could trust us not to hurt her, but once she decided to like us, she would come right over and climb out on a proffered hand when we lifted the lid of her cage.

She doesn't seem to be able to see underneath herself at all. Her eyes are
positioned on top of her head, and when she climbs on us, she feels carefully with each foot to make sure she has solid footing before proceeding. Her eyes themselves are fascinating. Sometimes they appear to be clear with small black pupils, while at other times they are completely black. I read that because they are diurnal, or prefer the day, their daytime eyesight is better than their night vision, and her eyes do seem to darken at night, so perhaps that has something to do with it.

She is an amazing predator. The first time we put a cricket in her cage, we watched her head turn quickly as she locked her gaze on her unfortunate prey. We weren't able to see her capture it, but a short while later we found her happily munching away, hanging from the top of her cage. Her jaws are incredible. Perhaps all insects have mandibles like this, or at least the carnivorous ones, but this is the first time I've been able to observe them in action up close. They have several parts and seem to operate from side to side, rather than up and down as people's do. We were able to feed her a cricket from a pair of tweezers and observe her eating up close. I tried to post a video, but I'm having an issue with it, so I'll try to fix it when my in-house tech support gets home.

Let's see, what else? She has wings, but prefers to walk. She's never tried to fly, and we've had her out all over the house, climbing on us and the furniture. Her front legs have some wicked spikes on them, and it hurts when she stabs with them! She got Emma's hand while we were trying to catch her, and once I made the mistake of trying to pick her up and she got my finger. I didn't make that mistake again! She can climb just about anything, although last night she did slip off a  plastic spray bottle on our side table (kept for squirting naughty kittens away from the Christmas tree).

When she's observing something, she sways back and forth. She reminds me of a snake charmer when she does that. I read that it might help her distinguish something moving (such as prey) from the rest of her surroundings. In the wild it also seems to help with camouflage.

She is quite fastidious and often cleans her feet. She is very cat-like in that way.

Since she laid her eggs, she's slowed down quite a bit and seems less agile. I'm afraid her time with us might be nearing its end, and indeed, if she had remained outside she would have laid her eggs and perished with the first frost. I'm delighted to have had a few weeks observing and getting to know her. I never thought I'd welcome an insect into the house like this, but we've had a great time and learned lots.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fun Living Math!

Someone just shared a link on Facebook to the Arithmetic Village website. The author, Kimberly Moore, wrote some fun little books to introduce arithmetic concepts to children, and she is now offering them as a free download! She also has some cool printables to go along with them.  Here's how you get the download:

  1. Go to her online store. Click on the "Free for download" link. You will be asked to sign up for her newsletter.
  2. You will get two emails - a "welcome" and a "confirm your subscription" message. Confirm your subscription; you'll get a "subscription confirmed" email.
  3. In a little while, you will receive another email with the link to download your files. 
I know this seems a little silly, but all the emails you receive are titled "Arithmetic Village Free Downloads," and it can be a little confusing.

I wasn't asked to review the books, just thought they looked like a nice way to "play math." Check them out!