Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Valentine's Day Cookie Party

This time last week, we were wrapping up our Valentine's Day Cookie Decorating Party.

Since beginning our homeschool journey, it has been really important to me that we meet up with friends as often as possible (for both fun and learning), and also make sure we take the opportunity to celebrate and have parties so the kids don't feel like they are missing out on these elements of school.

I guess it's my way of making sure we have the best of both worlds.

Back in December, we hosted a similar Christmas party with a group of our friends, and we had such a good time that Jack wanted to know when we would be having friends over to make cookies again.

Luckily for him, he made the suggestion right before Valentine's!

So I sent out an informal invitation to bring some of our friends together on Valentine's Day.

I followed pretty much the same plan as before, but this time around, the boys and I made all of the cookies before everyone arrived. This freed up more time for play for the kids. And let's be honest, most of them just wanted to decorate the cookies, make a mess, and eat icing!

Since it was Valentine's Day, we also wanted to exchange cards. Everyone came with boxes decorated and cards made, and had a lot of fun distributing their cards.

When they weren't eating or decorating cookies, the kids could be found running amuck, trying on various costumes and acting out all kinds of imaginative play. Kids would come running through with capes and swords, then police and fire fighters or various super heroes.

The kids all had a blast and the mamas had a chance to visit. We had 16 kids ranging in age from infants to first grade, along with 7 mamas.

I look forward to sharing more celebrations together. Jack is already dreaming up the next party we can host... maybe we will celebrate the end of the Olympics with a little field day.


On the note of Valentine's, Daniel was out of town for work the entire week of Valentine's, so he took the boys to buy me flowers on the Saturday before, and they hid a vase in the storage room in the garage. After the Valentine's party was over, Jack told me he had a surprise for me in the garage. I was definitely surprised.

Later Jack couldn't find the card he had picked out for me. Daniel talked to him on the phone and let him know where he could find it. The next thing I knew Jack brought me a sweet card that he had written in. I couldn't help but laugh when I opened it, because the card was actually the one I had bought to give to Daniel that I had not had a chance to write in yet! We still have not solved the case of the missing Valentine card...

Isaac also celebrated Valentine's Day at his preschool on Thursday. He had fun with his classmates. Coming home he told me that they had juice and cupcakes and loved looking at all the cards and candy that he received from his school friends.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Hidden Hills Farm: Maple Syrup Day

Two generations ago, most of our grandparents were growing up on farms. Our parents probably had some connection to a farm when they were children, and perhaps we had relatives who owned farms that we visited when we were young.

Daniel has fond memories of helping his grandfather herd cows down a road between pastures and I remember visiting my Great Aunt and Uncle's dairy farm when I was a kid.

Our children? They don't have that same connection to the land that previous generations did. We don't even have a small garden at our house, though when we visit my parents, our boys enjoy picking raspberries and other things from my parent's garden

I am so thankful that there are local farms that open their grounds to children. You have to pay, but it is a wonderful way to expose our kids to where food comes from.

Hidden Hills Farm and Saddle Club in Ooltewah, TN is one of our favorite places. Throughout the year they host special days where you can visit and learn about a particular part of their farm. By far, our favorite day to visit is Tractor Day, and our very first visit was on a Cow Milking Day.

Other days occur throughout the year, you can check out their events on their Facebook page.

Most recently, we had the privilege of visiting on their Maple Syrup Day. Another homeschool family joined us for some fun on the farm and a hands-on lesson in how Hidden Hills makes their own Maple Syrup right here in East Tennessee.

It was a lovely day to be outside. The sun was shining and the ground wasn't too muddy.

Jack immediately wanted to take a ride on a horse, and Isaac rode his very first pony. Once he was on, he wasn't thrilled and insisted I hold his hand for the whole ride. I'm sure by our next visit, he will be riding without any trepidation. Of course, Jack wanted to ride the biggest horse they had out.

After they each took a turn, we laughed as a baby calf escaped the coral and children gleefully chased it back to its mama.

Isaac was beside himself watching the chickens run amuck everywhere and was happy to pet the goats. Jack was bitten by a duck at a petting zoo a few years ago and isn't a big fan of petting the animals.

To learn about the maple syrup, the farm had a hayride that collected a group of parents and children. We tried three times to get on the hayride and it was packed each time.

So we ate our picnic lunch and the kids played. Thankfully, the farmer promised to do one last run, even though the play day was over at 12:30.

While we waited for the last wagon, Jack was able to take one last pony ride. This time he ended up on the littlest pony. I can't believe how big he is!

We finally made it onto the hayride. The kids enjoyed riding around different parts of the farm. I loved hearing how the syrup is made.

It was really quite fascinating. I plan to start reading the Little House on the Prairie books to the boys next year and we may have to find some trees to tap on our property.

The entire experience was quite educational – much more than what you would learn just reading about maple syrup in a book.

I think the opportunity to see the trees being tapped, touching and licking the sap straight from the tree, and then tasting and comparing the syrup to other kinds of syrup, is the best way to learn. And the lessons stick!

As we left the farm, Jack was eagerly counting all of the white buckets with tubes attached to the trees.

A few facts that I didn't know:
  • You can tap trees besides Maple – like Sycamore and Walnut.
  • Birds, like woodpeckers, are good indicators of where the good sap is. Just watch for dripping holes on the side of trees in your yard.
  • You need frost at night followed by days that warm up above 40º  for ideal sap flow.

We left with a bottle of local Maple Syrup and new found knowledge. The next morning I made pancakes and we devoured half of the bottle!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Nature Day: Green Gorge

We had a lot that we wanted to accomplish on this particular Thursday (we had plans to swim at the Y after our hike), so I decided that Jack and I should go to Green Gorge even though we had hiked here just two weeks ago (with plenty of trail options, we try to rotate where we hike as much as possible).

On this particular morning Jack and I were on the hunt for the first signs of spring. Our nature study told us to be on the look out for the first shoots of daffodils and worms making their way through the mud.

The water in the creek seemed higher than usual and was happily babbling away as we followed its meandering path through the woods.

The songs of birds greeted us, but they stayed mostly hidden, high in the trees.

The moss on the trees seemed an unusually bright color of green. We always review the fact that moss typically grows on the north side of things.

The ground was still frozen, as it was only 30 degrees when we hit the trail, so no worms on this early spring day.

We also did not see any signs of daffodils.

There was a lot of mud as the frost melted, and Jack declared that his favorite part of today’s hike was the "obstacle course" on the trail, i.e. hopping over puddles and mud to keep his feet dry. 

No attempts to cross the creek today due to the colder temps and the higher water. Jack observed that the rocks at his usual crossing spot were mostly submerged.

My favorite part of our hike was walking next to the brook. I love listening to it babble and the birds sing while we walk along in relative silence. 

Jack’s hiking legs get stronger every week. We did this hike in half the time we usually do it... though to be fair, it was too cold and the water was too high to attempt to cross the creek.

We are watching the seasons change with each passing week. Green Gorge is one of the places we are watching this change occur on our mountain. Check out our previous hikes in Green Gorge during the 2017-2018 school year here:
Five Senses Nature Hike  ⎮  First Hike of New Year 2018

Valentine's Day Cookie Party

This time last week, we were wrapping up our Valentine's Day Cookie Decorating Party. Since beginning our homeschool journey, ...