Grape Nuts, Sugaring, Nature So Local

Homeschool Newsletter No. 9

With some regularity I think about a line from the homeschooling journals Susan Wise Bauer wrote up and published at various stages of her children's lives. She attempted classical education from the beginning for all of them, a vein of homeschooling that has no shortage of subjects to be visited in one’s school day.

When documenting a day with four children under the age of eight she notes:

9:30 Ben is finished with his piano (ten minutes is about all I can keep him interested in). I take Emily to the table to burp her, pour Daniel a bowl of Grape Nuts (it takes him FOREVER to eat Grape Nuts), and start explaining Ben’s spelling rule. 1

The idea of a bowl of Grape Nuts served to briefly content one child while using those five quiet (nearby cereal munching IS its own quiet) moments to explain a principal that the child will then likely be able to immediately apply…it gives me fond shiver of familiarity.

And it rings true. I thought of it today when one child was hurdling over the challenge of a new rule for syllable division, and the two-year-old was joyfully hurdling her body on top of ours on the couch, over and over again. Would I have served her a private bowl of grape nuts in that moment? Yes. I didn’t, but the mental image of it threw our cozy collision on the couch into a perspective for me, and gave my mind a path to wander. In an alt universe, all could be quiet and still. But this universe was fine for the moment.

The two-year-old says “snow” very much like “no”, another word she says frequently. But “snow” is said with frank estimation and a cheerful gaze. The nine-year-old and I had a meeting about the last ten weeks of school that we have ahead of us. There’s still a lot we both want to do, and we wrote it all down with optimism. In about four weeks I’ll start looking at what we actually did do this year, and begin to pull it into a document to submit to the state. I’ll realize I only photographed one child during a science experiment, and that I need to log into my library account to get a list of what we read. One part archivist, one part scrapbooker.

a local nature book 

A nature book about the seasonal plants, animals, bugs, and fungi around you is an invaluable resource. One can go from saying to one’s children, “Look at that pretty flower that’s come back again,” to “The lily of the valley are blossoming!”

You want a readable book with lots of photos, interesting facts, and an organized structure with the times of year one typically sees things outside.

Mary Holland’s book Naturally Curious was a delightful find for our family shortly after we moved to Vermont. Our woods and fields were full of plants I knew nothing about and the girls wanted to know exactly what they were looking at. This book seems to list and describe every last one of them. Mary’s book is officially arranged to cover New England, but many elements of it would apply to greater North America. I think if you are near any kind of particular biome—desert, salt marsh, mountains—you would want to get a supplementary volume for your location.

science: the stages of maple syrup  

Joe and the girls will be tapping five of our maple trees soon, and I will wander out to drink the ice-cold sap straight (2% sweet, and iridescent in an inexplicable way) from the barrel. We keep a jar full of it, filtered through a basic chemex filter, in the fridge for easy drinking.

I’ve grown to love the teddy-bear brown, soft, granulated texture of maple candy. I’m hoping to try making my own this year. This is a handy guide to thinking through the science behind every stage of maple syrup boiling. And here’s a recipe for making your own candies.

Remember, you don’t need a backyard sugaring production to play around with making maple candies. A quart of maple syrup from the store will do just fine and undoubtably be delicious.

Recent blog posts on ErstwhileDear
and, a lovely quote I found just for you 

What are your favorite flavors? Apricots baked into a flaky crust, raw oysters with a squeeze of lemon, lamb or goat braised with anchovies and rosemary, fresh egg pasta, whole grilled fish, bitter greens drenched in grated garlic and olive oil, salted tomatoes in summer, red chile tamales in winter, my mother's blueberry pie, perfectly cooked beans, warm corn tortillas, fennel, maple syrup.

-Majory Sweet