Monday, May 31, 2010

Idea for Father's Day

I was trying to think of something fun and unique for Father's Day this year. This is one thing I came up with. Along the same lines, we used 8 of these photos to make a set of stationary that says "From the desk of David" in the center. We also made a card from each kid with their four photos on it and a 16 x 20 wall sized poster. Yes, we went a little crazy, but I know they'll love it just as much as him. If you remember my post earlier when we made masks of the kids, they have been asking me to make more of everyone we know. It was funny to see how quickly they each chose a shirt of his that was their favorite to wear in the shot. Addison was quick to shout out his description, he didn't even have to walk in the closet. I hope this inspires someone else to do something fun for a dad in their life and I hope that my husband does not read this before Father's Day (but I guess it'd be okay since his gift won't be here before we leave for our trip, so he will be opening it without us this year :(

Click here to view this photo book larger

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Space activities

Here's a view of our shelving unit we use to display the books/projects that have to do with the topic we are studying. I liked the shelves in the case, which is why I got it because they are slanted, and easy to display the books.

On the top shelf we have two space puzzles, a game, Sputnik (I found this about four years ago at a toy store going out of business and the kids LOVE it!), a folder of real life photos of the moon (all taken by my dad-see here for his actual site of astropictures), a folder of work Nathaniel has completed about space, and there was a space shuttle casting kit, but he decided to make it Saturday- photos of that will show up this week when the paint dries.

Here is a game I found online at Itty Bitty Love, it really is a great idea- you take a calendar, put the big pictures up from each month, cut out and laminate the thumbnail sized ones from the back, and then have the kids match them. I numbered the big pictures and hung them up all over our downstairs at night while the kids were in bed. The laminated cards were placed in a basket and put in our shelf in the "classroom". I numbered the pictures so they have some type of order to follow to find them, and so that Nathaniel can find them and write their names down for me to check. The goal is that he does this many times enough that he remembers the names of the stars and galaxies. The kids had the basket out and were hunting around for the pictures before breakfast was even on the table, it's great for all ages. This is also a great activity because you can reuse old calendars or get them really cheap onsale after Christmas.

Here are the cards and pencil in the basket, and you can see the paper under his arm with his list of names- he fills them in as he goes along:

And a match:

Another thing we've been doing is working on a guided reading project that goes along with If You Decide To Go To The Moon (If you go to the site, you click on enrichment units, and then scroll down until you get to Enrichment Units and you will see the pages to print for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, this book, and Chicken Sunday. I found this website while searching for first grade curriculum information. We completed the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs one, and I thought it was quite helpful for comprehension and thinking skills, so we did this one too. I printed out all the pages and stapled them together. First, we read the book, then each day, we did one page, it really helped my son analyze the books and think about things more deeply. I am going to use this type of model for one story for each unit that we study next year.

We have also been going to NASA's website to play online space games. We have printed a black hole game, I will post pics in our next space acitivities post later this week.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ice cream cone cupcakes

Sorry, I know I've had a lot of cupcake posts lately, but I got a cupcake book for my birthday, and the recipes are just too tempting. I also recently volunteered to make all the cupcakes for Addison's class' last day of school (I really wanted the excuse to make the cupcakes but not feel guilty eating them). I thought these would be perfect for a group of 40+ preschool/kindergarteners, but I wanted to test out the ease of the recipe and see if my kids would actually follow through and finish the cake and cone.

Since this was a test, I just used a yellow cake mix (I am trying to stay away from anything in a box now).

Preheat oven to 350'. I covered over my loaf pans with aluminum foil and used a bamboo skewer to poke holes in the top, then gently placed cones in so the bottom barely touched the bottom of the pan. I was able to get 10 cones in each pan. I baked for exactly 18 minutes and they came out perfectly. Here are the cones before baking and in the front, you can see the hole I poked for the last cone:

For the icing, I started with 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), and added about 1 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. I mixed this really well with my paddle attachment. Then, I removed about 1/3 of the mixture - I wanted to make strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla icing. I put another 1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar in the mixer and about 3 TBSP milk, and let it mix again. Meanwhile, I pureed 5 strawberries and added them to the bowl of icing I removed. I mixed and added about 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar. It was too runny, which is why you don't see it in the photos, tasted great, but could not swirl it on- probably should have just used 2.5 strawberries.

Back to the icing in the mixer, I removed half the vanilla icing, added 1/4 cup cocoa powder (Hershey's) to it, mixed, and added enough milk for the desired consistency.

Using my Pampered chef decorator, I started with the vanilla icing, then added about 2 TBSP chocolate and scraped it to the side of the inside of the decorator, and then added 2 TBSP vanilla to the other side and when I pushed it out, it swirled beautifully. I finished the remaining chocolate on the rest of the cones.



Results: All cones, cake, and icing EATEN! Now, to figure out how to transport them to the school....

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


It was raining again yesterday, in fact so badly that Addison's school got cancelled. The kids were very energetic, and we had been house bound for several days, so I decided to take them bowling (normally that's what Dave does with them on the weekends to give me some free time).

When we moved here, we weren't sure whether or not we'd be able to find a bowling alley, until one day, we saw this:

Yes, you may have even seen this in the Katamari video game. It does exist and they're everywhere standing proud over all the bowling alleys of Japan, our kids love screaming out loud when they see them from afar.

Our bowling alley is called Grandbowl and check it out, it even has a Grandslot outside:

When you walk in, you have to fill out a form (it is of course all in Japanese), with your names and what age category you are in- for pricing. I always write their names in katakana (Japanese) and English. You hand in the form, and they type your names in for you so they show up on the screen above your assigned lane. Here's how well they read my writing- guess who's was the best:

It's neat, you even get a reading of how fast you rolled your ball, sometimes in Km/hour, sometimes in mph.

Here is where the adults get the shoes, this might be THE highlight of the bowling alley, I love that this place actually has a name. Today, we didn't get to use it because only the kids bowled.

Here the kids are in action.

Look at this, why don't they have these in the US, to help the little ones bowl a good game?

Check it out, they have the weirdest videos playing the whole time your bowling, some very seedy, and of course loud rock music to go along with it. I only got the shot of this weirdo that appeared on the screen (MJ wanna be??):

And check this out, this is pretty funny, this booth was right between the Shoester and the bowling gear for sale- a nail salon! Seriously, the ladies can get their nails done with some bling if they have one break while bowling.

Look at these happy little fellas in the drink machine, they'll put a smile on any bowler's face:

After bowling my kids disappeared, and look where I found the two littlest ones, I guess they start them early here, watch out Foxwoods!:

Monday, May 24, 2010

May owl apparel (# 7)

Since last month's outfit was done last, I figured this month I'd finish early. This dress has to be one of the easiest dressed I have ever made. It was made from the Isabel pattern by ModKid.

This is something I'll be making over and over again, it didn't require a lot of fabric and it can be worn in the winter over pants and a long sleeve, very versatile.

Here's the front:

And the side:

In case you were wondering why the owl apparel?

1) I love owls, they are so cute!
2) I found this blog myowlbarn, and I kept seeing cute stuff that was pricey and I knew I could make it cheaper. If you like owls, you should check out the blog, it is unbelievable how much owl stuff the lady finds- in fact she's even giving some of it away this month.
3) It's a motivation to make something new each month, without having to stress too much for an idea.

Now, I'm trying to figure out what next year's theme will be- maybe cupcakes ;)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Homemade doughnuts

Since we couldn't get a dozen at the real Krispy Kreme, we tried our hand at making our own at home. I did not search online for the Krispy Kreme recipe, just a doughnut recipe. I found one on allrecipes that looked good and had been reviewed by a lot of people. It turns out, upon searching for Krispy Kreme's recipe today, it is the same one. I changed the glaze recipe though.

For the doughnuts:

1 pack yeast (1 TBSP)
1/8 cup warm water
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/6 cup shortening
2 1/2 cup flour

For the glaze (my recipes):

2 TBSP butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-4 TBSP milk (however much you want to reach the desired consistency)

2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP cocoa powder (I like Hershey's)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-4 TBSP milk

2 TBSP strawberry quik
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 TBSP milk

Put the yeast in bowl of mixer with warm water and sugar, let sit 5 minutes to activiate. Add in milk, salt, shortening, egg, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Mix together, then slowly add remaining flour until mixture forms a nice soft ball and is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. Add more flour if needed. Knead for about 5 minutes. Grease a bowl and put the dough in it and set in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 1-1.5 hours). Punch the dough down, roll out onto a floured suface to about 1/2 inch thickness. Use a cutter to cut out the doughnuts.

Heat oil in a pan to 170' over medium heat. Place the cut out doughnuts in the pan to cook, approximately 45-90 seconds, you will see the bottom browning and they will start to float. Flip them and cook the same time. Remove from pan, place on a paper towel to soak off oil. Add glaze as desired.

Here's the glaze we made:

The kids enjoyed choosing the colors and flavors to decorate their doughnuts. Even Dave was impressed at how good looking they were. We used our ABC cookie cutters, and they had fun spelling out words and choosing which letter they wanted to eat.

Note: the recipe I used was double what I made, but I think doughnuts don't taste that great leftover, so I didn't want to have too many leftover. We made about 20 with this batch.

You can put the cooking oil in a jar once cooled to use again, or dispose of in an old can (DO NOT POUR THE OIL DOWN THE DRAIN!!!!!!!!!!)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Food for thought

I can't do the post I wanted to do today because my laptop is acting up and that's where all my pictures are (of course)- so I thought I'd write about something that I was reminded of this week that I thought was kind of funny (you might think it's gross).

Last week I received a notification on facebook that a friend of mine, that also lives here as an expat in Kobe, updated her blog and the title was Expiration Dates. I immediately started to chuckle and got excited that someone else, like myself gave expiration dates on food and medicine a whole new meaning while living abroad. However, upon reading it, it was about people with expiration dates (friends that we meet here from other countries, who like ourselves will eventually move home and we may never see them again). At any rate, it made me realize how much my regard for expiration dates on packaged items had really changed.

The two times my mother has visited, she has noticed and commented on the items I was using that were past their expiration dates. Now, before I provide you with further information, be aware that nothing is rotten or moldy, I would not jeopardize my kids' health. When we moved here, I loaded that moving truck full of food and non-perishables that I knew we consumed regularly, that I thought would be heavy to ship, hard to find in Japan, or expensive to order online. Do you know, that three and a half years later, I still have some of that stuff!!!!! As I am preparing to go on my home leave this summer, I am taking inventory and deciding what to get rid of to clear out space and what we need to buy more of. The thing is, I just can't bring myself to throw anything out. I am devising new ways to incorporate the stuff into our diet so we don't waste it, or just plain leaving it on the shelf because in a way it has become like gold to us because it is so hard to get to Japan or expensive to buy.

In the US, if my milk was expired, it was tossed, whether or not it was rotten-it was the expiration date, and it had to go. Here, we drink milk about a week after the expiration date (we have smelled it and it never smelled bad)- but at almost $8 a gallon, we are not going to waste a drop. If fruit starts to go bad, I look for recipes to use it in, I have never made so many banana muffins in my life and I have at least three bags of frozen blueberries in my freezer (yes, my son snuck the $12 a quart blueberries in my cart at COSTCO). Most recently, we got back from our week long vacation and I wanted to make a smoothie, so I used our already open yogurt that expired over a month ago to make a smoothie, even Dave gawked at that.

In my pantry, I think all my cereal is expired, but hey, my kids have no idea what the difference between stale and crunchy cereal is, they are just happy to have cereal, another thing that is very difficult to find in a grocery store here. I think the worst thing I have going is my croutons, which expired in 2007- yes, I will throw them away.

Since moving here, we have a new appreciation for the things we enjoy eating. We especially covet our candy and cookies, we actually seem to bring back a lot, but then eat less because we want to ration them. I brought back girl scout cookies after Christmas, we ate one sleeve, but now it's five months later, and haven't touched the other one because we know once we eat it, it will be unknown when we will get to eat some again.

Recently I realized how bad this ignorance of expiration dates for expats could be when we went to a garage sale for a neighbor that is leaving and they were selling jelly that had expired in 2005- yes that smuckers would be heavenly, but in that case, I'll pay the $10 I'd have to pay to order it online. Sometimes the higher cost for newer non-perishables can outweigh the medical bill for getting your stomach pumped (no we haven't had that happen- it just made realize that just because we live in Japan, it doesn't mean we can't throw stuff out).

What did the site of that dusty jelly jar and completely separated jar of fluff teach me???- I am going to get rid of all that salad dressing that expired in early 2008, throw away the mayo that we're still using that expired in November 2009 (hey, it's Hellmann's), and get rid of those croutons.

Watch out grocery stores in America, here we come!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cake batter ice cream

For the past three years, we have been making our own ice cream. When we moved to Japan, the lack of ice cream flavor availability in the grocery store became evident to us. There are lots of novelty cones and such, but if you want a scoop, you can pay almost 500 yen for a scoop sized container of HagenDaas. The first Christmas we lived here, the only thing I knew I wanted was an ice cream maker attachment for my kitchen aid, which by the way, I love! We have pretty much been using the same vanilla recipe that I used to use when I taught chemistry, easy to make and good to eat.

Recently, I've been looking around for ideas online and came across one for cake batter ice cream. Today is the second day in a row that I have made this ice cream. Last night, I made the recipe I found on Annie's Eats. Today, I changed it around to see if I could add more cake flavor and use less eggs (I'm still not sure the point of the eggs in the recipe).

Here's the recipe I used tonight, and I liked it a bit better than the one on Annie's, it's only a slight variation.

2 cup heavy cream (divided)
1 egg yolk
pinch salt
3/4 cup vanilla cake mix
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla

In a saucepan over medium low stir together cake mix, sugar, salt, and 1 cup cream. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolk. When the cake mix/cream mixture is warmed up, slowly pour it into the bowl with the egg yolk and whisk while you add, this is to help incorporate the yolk into the mixture without it cooking and forming chunks first. Add the rest of the warm cream mixture, stir, then return everything to the pot and continue heating until it reaches a temperature of 170'. I noticed the mine would turn yellowish and clumpy almost right before it reached that temperature.

Put the remaining 1 cup cream in a bowl with the vanilla and milk. Mix together. When the mixture on the stove reaches 170', slowly pour this into the cream/milk bowl and stir until mixed. Cover this bowl and refrigerate until chilled, I left it in the fridge about 1-2 hours.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and start it up until it forms ice cream, then store in the freezer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Peanut butter cup cupcakes

I have had the idea in my head for a while to make peanut butter cup cupcakes. I saw an article online recently about candy bar cakes and it made me want to make them even more. I was afraid to make them because if they were good, we would be tempted to eat them all, so when my neighbors invited us over for a cookout, it was the perfect excuse to offer to bring dessert, especially since my neighbor's husband and daughter both love peanut butter cups.

WARNING- this makes A LOT of cupcakes, you might want to consider a half batch if you aren't going to a party, mine made 19 big ones and 23 minis).

For the filling: (recipe from Annie's Eats)

3/4 cup peanut butter (creamy)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 TBSP butter (at room temp)
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the cupcakes: (recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes)

OVEN: 350'

3 cups flour (I only had all purpose- she called for 1 1/2 all purpose, 1 1/2 cake)
1 TBSP baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks butter softened)
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk
12 peanut butter cups (chopped up)

Frosting (my own recipe):

8 TBSP softened butter
3 cups confectioner's sugar
2/3 cup Hersey's cocoa powder
6 TBSP milk
2 tsp vanilla

First, blend the filling ingredients together, it is recommended to roll into balls to push into cupcake batter later. I found this messy and tedious, so I scooped the batter up with a small appetizer spoon (kid's size) and pushed it off with a small knife into the cupcake batter, worked great and it was not messy.

Set filling aside, now make cupcake batter. Cream the butter and sugar, I mixed at medium with my kitchenaid until it was nice and creamy. Then, I scraped down the sides of the bowl and started adding the eggs one at a time and kept mixing so that the batter was nice and fluffy. Next, I added the vanilla and scraped the sides again.

In a separate bowl, I mixed together the flour, baking powder, and salt. This is the first time I ever really mixed the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, but I've been reading online about mixing the cake batter and that mixing too long at the end can make the cupcakes dense, so I wanted to do this to see if I noticed a difference. I added 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, let it mix, then added 1/2 the milk, then another 1/3 flour mixture, the rest of the milk, then finally the rest of the flour mixture and I only let it mix on low long enough for everything to be incorporated. Then I added the chopped up peanut butter cups and let them mix in for about 30 seconds.

Fill the cupcake liners about 1/2 way (be sure to save some of the batter for covering the tops). Add the peanut butter filling to the top of the batter and press it down gently with the knife. I was using about a 3/4" ball of peanut butter for the big ones, I was just eyeballing it. Then, put a small scoop of batter over the top of the peanut butter to cover it before baking.

Bake approximately 14 minutes for mini cupcakes and 20-22 minutes for large cupcakes.
Let cool, then frost.

To make the frosting, cream the cocoa powder and butter until blended. Slowly add some of the confectioner's sugar and then about 1 TBSP milk, keep alternating between milk and confectioner's sugar until you reach the desired consistency. I like my frosting to be more fluffy than thick and dense, so I add a touch more milk (seriously only like 1 tsp).

These were WICKED good, the peanut butter in the center is totally essential to the goodness. We are going on homeleave soon, which means all I keep thinking about is all the cupcake recipes I want to try while in America with the grocery store full of endless ingredient choices. The other thing it means is a 70lb suitcase full of cupcake making supplies, luckily my husband enjoys the cupcakes too much to bother being annoyed by hauling the suitcase half way around the world.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Owl apparel April (#6)

Here it is, I finally finished the dress for April. This is a pattern called Feliz by Studio Tantrum or Farbenmix. It's a European pattern, it was the hardest pattern I've worked with. The pattern pieces did not include a seam allowance, so I had to trace them out first and include the seam allowance, and the sizes were in European sizes, I ended up making it one size too big, so she tried it on for the photos, but she won't be wearing it until next year. I got nervous when I looked at the directions, because they weren't very clear at all. I typed in google for a tutorial for Feliz, and I found an AWESOME one. This lady did a 5 part tutorial with photos of the whole process. I followed it, and it made the dress so easy to make. Here is the website, Trillium Designs, with the tutorial that I followed, this link takes you to the first part, where she goes over how much fabric you need, and if you look on the left side bar, you can see the other four parts of her sew along- it was a life saver, I don't think I could have made the dress without it.

The front:

The back:

Check out the spin you get, see those little owls peeping out the back:

I LOVE this dress and can't wait to make more (in the right size).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday is Homemade Pizza Night

It has become a tradition in our family to have homemade pizza for dinner EVERY Friday night. It gives us all something to look forward to at the end of the week and even motivates Dave to try to get home from work before 7 pm! Some of our visitors have liked the pizza so much, they have asked me for the recipe, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a post with photos (and I'm trying out my new flash, so bear with the photos- I'm no expert here).

For the crust:

2 cups flour (if you want to use part whole wheat flour, use 1/2 c whole wheat, 1 1/2 c white)
1 TBSP yeast (1 packet)
2/3 cup warm water (90-110')
pinch sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 TBSP oil

To make the dough for the crust, put the yeast in your mixing bowl with the pinch of sugar, the sugar helps activate the yeast. I run the tap water at its hottest setting until it reaches the highest temp, then I measure out my 2/3 cup, the hottest setting here usually comes out around 100'. Add the water to the bowl with the yeast and let it sit about 5 min. (NOTE: IF you are using wheat flour, add the wheat flour to the bowl first, then the yeast, then the sugar, then the water. I read that the wheat flour is less stiff if you let it soak in water for a while). See my photo below of the yeast/flour - you can see it bubbling up, the yeast is activated:

Add in the rest of the flour, the oil, and the salt, mix on low until the flour is mixed in, then turn it to medium and let it knead for about 5-6 min, I once read that is the optimal kneading time. You can tell it's done, it will peel itself off the side of the bowl in a nice ball- see photo below. If it's still sticky, add a touch more flour, or if it's crumbly, a splash of water- but honestly, with this recipe, I've always had it come out perfect everytime.

While the dough is kneading, I cut up one onion and saute it in about 1 TBSP olive oil. I add a pinch of salt and pepper to this, and then I use my Garlic slicer and add about 6 cloves of garlic. I saute it over medium until the onions are translucent, when they are done, we add them to our sauce. Here is what they should look like when finished cooking:

When they are done, you can add them to the sauce, we use Contadina tomato sauce, it's thin and plain, so it's easy to customize it with seasonings to your own taste. I sometimes saute them in the morning while the kids are playing and refrigerate them for later.

Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a cloth and let it rise about 1.5 hours. I usually sit it on the stove top with the oven at 200', the heat helps the dough rise. There is a new yeast by Fleischmann's, especially for pizza crust, where you don't need to let the dough rise, it is very nice, but hard to find in the Northeast of the USA.
This is the dough when it is doubled in size:

Punch down the dough and pick off balls to roll out for your crust, this recipe can make 1 medium and 1 small thin crust or 1 large thick crust pizza. We are used to Massachusetts thin crust, so we opt for the 2 pizzas. Lately, I've been doubling the recipe, making 1 large, and 4 small, so that we have extras for lunch the next day. Also, I got the kids these individual pans so they can make their own pizzas, they love it and it keeps them busy while I'm cooking. Before rolling out the dough, I use a paper towel to rub olive oil around the pizza stone. Roll out the dough, then pinch the edges of the crust for a small crisp crust.

Roll sauce around the dough, leave about 1 inch around the crust.

For cheese, we use some shredded kind that I can't read what type it is, too much kanji for me and we also use shredded mozzerella. Sometimes we add pizza seasoning from Penzey's or salt and pepper. For toppings, we either use cooked crumbled bacon or pepperoni:

Cook the pizza at 400' for about 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Mine's a bit burnt below, but I like it crispy.

Here are the little chefs enjoying their creations.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Homeschooling resources

About this time last year, I sent papers to my son's school disenrolling him (is that a word?). For my own personal reasons, I no longer wanted him to continue at his current school, and with not a lot of other foreign schools in the area, the choice was obvious to homeschool him. I was a bit nervous, what if I screwed up, where would I find all the things he needed to know, etc etc. HELLO, he was only going to be in first grade and coming out of kindergarten, he could read fluently, spell great, and add and subtract, he was already beyond first grade, so I stopped worrying so much about the "things he needed to know" part of it. I was always searching online for first grade montessori information and came up with very little. If I narrowed my search to Montessori, I got a lot of the preschool stuff, but over time and with some help from his prior montessori teacher, I was able to find a wealth of information. It took me until about November or December to really figure it out. Anyways, the first year is always a learning experience, so going into my second year, I have already picked out all my topics and almost ordered all my supplies, we are ready to roll!

Here are some montessori sites that I like to look at for ideas, you can adapt preschool/kindergarten ideas, by adding more challenges to the work.

My Montessori Journey- this woman provides in depth detail and pictures about the work she presents to her class, I love her ideas!

Itty Bitty Love- great pics and ideas here too, although it's not been updated in a while, still a great resource

Montessori for Everyone- she has LOADS of downloadable (some free, some cost money) montessori cards, activities, and if you read her blog, especially in the archives, she has tons of info and articles on how to set up your classroom, montessori folders that are available, training etc.

Montessori materials- this has tons of free downloadable montessori activities and ways to make the materials on your own.

Snails Trail- this mom's blog has some terrific ideas and pictures of activities that she does with her two kids at home

Think- they post weekly challenges of using household objects to complete a building task

Playing by the book- this mom uses topics from books she reads to do activities with her kids, she does some great reviews and comparisons of books on the same topic, I used this to choose some opera books for us for next year.

Teach kids art- she has some great art project ideas

Enchanted Learning- A TON of printable activities on a HUGE amount of topics! It has a $20 annual fee, but it's worth it, I used it a lot.

Okay, so how did I come up with my topics???

First, I had subscribed to weekly reader. I LOVE weekly reader, it's a small 4 page "magazine" for kids, each month you get four issues and at the beginning of the year, they give you a calendar with the topics for each week of the school year, a lot of times, I would try to coordinate what he was reading with some activities (ex: poetry month, apple picking, presidents day). In fact, we like it so much, we're getting subscriptions for preschool, kindergarten, and grade 3 (because N reads so good, we got grade 2 this year).

Second, I found this great site with all the holidays in the year, some are wacky, but we tried to celebrate them all, it was fun, and made each day more interesting, but if you look ahead, it can help you plan what books to read (like we read about Johnny Appleseed on Jonny Appleseed's birthday), and/or to have a fun party. Under each month, there is a link for more holidays for that month, click there, there's almost one for everyday of every month!

Third, I just knew things my son liked, so I knew learning would be easier and more fun studying things he enjoyed.

Here are the topics we chose for next year:

Cars and things that move
Natural Disasters
Human Body
Animal Kingdom
Ocean Life
Space (again)

Once we choose a topic, we buy a LOT of books on it, mainly non-fiction and find a few hands-on activities to go with it. In the next few days, I'll put a post up showing how we display our topic stuff, we have one shelf for all the books and the top is where we put all the hands-on activities pertaining to it.

For our materials, I mainly use one set of Montessori Manuals that I love that I bought from North American Montessori Center.

This year, I used Math I, Math II, Language Arts, Matter and Astronomy, and Physical Geography. For next year, I ordered Botany, Zoology, Cultural Geography, and the Classroom Guide. These are all from the Lower Elementary selection. I also have the blackline CD, the main thing I like is the mastery checklists because they show you what you should cover in year 1, year 2, year 3. The manuals are designed for age 6-9.

I will put a separate link on the side to the sites I bought our supplies from. I hope this helps anyone if you are ever searching to homeschool or just to have fun educational stuff to do with your kids at your house.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Malaysia trip

With Dave's crazy work hours and me busy at home with the four kids, we decided this spring, a vacation was definately in order. I called United airlines and just kept checking dates and destinations for us to use our frequent flier miles for six tickets. We were lucky to get the tickets to Malaysia because we decided to go during Golden week, which is a week long holiday here in Japan, and one of the only times Japanese people vacation, so flights can be tricky.

I had been interested in Malaysia because a neighbor of ours used to live there for four years and said it was all English speaking. She also had some nice photos and colorful artwork, so I was intrigued. Another co-worker of Dave's went there for Christmas and we took their recommendation on where to stay. It's hard to find a big room in Asia, let alone one that will allow us to stay in a room with four kids. What I envisioned of our stay at the Sheraton resort was a big tall hotel on the beach, what we got were small "villas" with four bedrooms each, spread out over a resort village. There were golf carts driving around continuously taking people to the lobby, the pool, the spa, etc. It was quite remote. While we were looking for remote, we also are used to living in a large city with lots of stuff at our fingertips.

Here we go, the kids dream, riding the Rapit train to the airport:

Here's a picture of our "villa", our room was in the front by the ocean.

Here, if you were in the jacuzzi tub, and opened the porch doors, you would see the ocean.

A picture of the workout center, treadmills overlooking the beach:

Monkeys are like the deer or squirrel of Malaysia, one of our taxi drivers told us that they put about 10,000 to 20,000 to sleep every year. It was a treat for the kids to see them running about so freely, but I was still leary.

Here are some photos of the resort grounds:

This boardwalk took us from our room to the pool/beach:

Here is the pool, complete with swim up bar:

Another view from the pool, looking out to the ocean. The back end of the pool, kind of waterfalled down into a drain, from here, it looks like it flows into the ocean:

This rock had pads you could lay on under these umbrellas for even more seclusion, the kids loved this spot:

We didn't really leave the resort because the point of the trip was to just relax, but we are always on the go, so relaxing wasn't easy. So, we ventured out a few times, once to go to Kuah town, the biggest city on the island (of course to get Starbucks)- but to go shopping and see what interesting things they sell. It was supposed to be a large modern mall and to us, it was a bit disappointing because it was a lot of run down shops, and many duty free shops, the whole island is duty free. There were cigarettes, make-up, and a lot of chocolates. It didn't inspire us enough to go back a second time. In the 7-11, we did find some funny food items:

I remember eating Cottage fries as a kid, do they even still sell them in America:

They changed the name of the japanese snack pocky to rocky, and it's even made by the same company:

Our donuts for breakfast, more like "cupcakes":

Malaysia is just north of the equator, so it's quite tropical. I have never felt such warm inviting ocean water. We chose not to go snorkeling this trip because I got nervous since the area they take you has lots of sharks, and I know they're not great white, but I knew the kids might never want to go in the ocean again if they saw sharks. We saw plenty of little fish and crabs on the tiny beach by the hotel. Here's one of the crabs, they were green, kind of strange:

Enjoying the beach:

We decided to leave the resort again to do some sight seeing and went to the Oriental Village, where there is a cable car that takes you over 700 m up. Now, I already don't really like heights or being on a ski lift, but after seeing my friend's pictures of her trip on the cable car (and her panic attack), I decided not to go on the cable car with Dave and the three boys. On the way up, a woman in the car with them panicked and she had to get out at the halfway point to go back down. Here are some photos from their trip:

In the cable car:

The cable car system:

A suspension bridge at the top to get more views, (NO THANKS!):

The view looking down from the bridge:

For our final adventure, we went to a Wildlife reserve, where we saw lots of tropical birds and some monkeys that we could feed. Here, Addison got bit by this ostrich:

And Nathaniel got attacked by this peacock, so the day was quite thrilling for the kids.

When we got in the taxi at the hotel, the driver informed us it was cheaper to pay him for four hours than to get him to drop us off and then get another taxi back, so we hired him and he essentially gave us a tour of the island and provided us with lots of information about the island. It ended up being a nice day and then he took us to another area of the island called Cenang. We had read about it and the abundance of bars and restaurants that were supposed to be on its main strip, but after our Kuah town disappointment, we were reluctant to go. He assured us it was nice, we went there and it was great!! So many restaurants to choose from, we ate at an italian one, and it was sooo good. Unfortunately, my camera was in the trunk of the cab, so I have no photos of this. All in all, that cab driver really enhanced our experience, and for the five hours he drove us around and talked to us, it only cost us a mere $45.00!!!! He told us in a year, he only sees a handful of people from the US, which I guess makes sense, since the Caribbean is much closer to get to from US. So, I thought that was neat, if we weren't living in Japan, we probably never would have vacationed in Malaysia.

On the last night of our stay, Addison touched this caterpillar on the porch and ended up with two huge welts on his arms. They are gone now, but it made me realize that next time, we should bring benadryl and bug repellent.

And yes, I did manage to get one family picture. Here we are happy and relaxed from our nice vacation: