Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tilapia and Sheep

How do those two go together?  Usually they don’t – unless of course you are doing some sort of kooky fusion dish, but even then, it might be bit odd....

Our Group with Ms. Smith.
They do go together if you do a field trip to UVI to learn about aquaponics, tilapia rearing, and meat sheep raising.  That is exactly what we did with a bunch of other home schooled children.  I didn’t do a head count but I bet we had about 20 kids from C who is 2.5 to some older kids of about 14.  Yes, that was a big age difference but they all seemed to absorb information, and the presenters were FANTASTIC (Thank you Sarah Smith and Sue Lakos)!

Aislin took what she learned and did a photo journal where she glued down pictures and then journaled about what she learned.  She also added some graphics about interesting things such as a fish life cycle, a map of where Tilapia and Dorper sheep come from (Africa), how fish reproduce, and how sheep mate.  I didn’t pick the topics – she did and I am more than comfortable enough to let her research them.  I am also going to let her tell you, in her own words about what she learned.

So, without further ado, here is Aislin’s story:

I think the field trip was interesting because I learned about the Tilapia and Sheep. The  way Tilapia reproduce is interesting because the Mother Tilapia  carries the frys in her mouth.

Journal pics:

She has written and written on this field trip so I think she is a little burned out and just didn’t want to write anymore.  Plus hunting and pecking just doesn’t make typing fun, does it?  I have included pics of her journal.  She did a really good job with it, and I can’t wait to do another field trip so she can add to her journal. It was fun to create.
The younger boys looking at St. Croix Sheep.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Monk’s Baths, St. Croix

One of my earliest memories of growing up here is going to see the Monk’s Baths in Frederiksted. I clearly remember going down the incline of death, and stepping into this HUGE pool of clear, warm water that I was going to drown in. I also remember the GIGANTIC waves that splashed over the baths and soaked my Dad and Mom.  I remember the feeling of being somewhere magical, somewhere where no one else was around, and somewhere that just had discovered. 
In reality, was that how the day went?  Probably not - I was younger than 5 and older than 3.  Somewhere in my childhood mind, this memory stuck. It actually faded into the background quietly for a LOONNGG time, but recently it has been popping up and nagging me. I think it was telling me that I needed to do it again and I needed to do it 1. soon and 2. with my kids.  So, since there is no day like today, I called/texted a bunch of my friends, my kid’s friends, and even some distant acquaintances to see if I could get a group to go with us. 

What are the Monk’s Baths you ask? Good question. They are not on any tour of the island, no reference is made to them in any literature that is given to visitors, they are not talked about, and there are only obscure reference made online to them. 

Aislin and her friends clowning around.
Here is what I remember my parents telling me.  WAY back in the 1600s, the Knights of Malta (click on the link for an interesting look at the Knights of Malta – a group still in existence today), a group of French monks who were commissioned by the King of France, lived on St. Croix and they had two “outposts”. One in Judith’s Fancy; and one in Frederiksted.  These monks, being cleanlier than regular people (cleanliness is next to godliness, maybe) decided that rather than bathing with fresh water – which was hard to get here - they would carve out some “Roman” types baths in the hard coral outcroppings along the beach in front of their monastery.  So with much hard work, and I am sure “praises” to God, they carved two rectangular baths into the hardened coral outcroppings, carved stone steps into the sides of the baths and “Viola! Zey had a baz for warshing!”(say it with a French accent, it’s quite amusing).

A few interesting side notes that I stumbled across when looking up the Knights of Malta: 1. They still exist as an organization and were created in 1085 to protect hospitals, not for fighting in the Crusades, 2. They made St. Croix profitable and used mainly Catholic indentured servants as slaves and then used enslaved Africans, and 3. It is thought by one historian, that they brought the Ark of the Covenant to St. Croix and hid it here. My Dad would have liked that last factoid.

Pretty cool, n’est pas? I mean, this stuff should be mentioned to tourists, it should be on some sort of guided island tour on cruise ship days, and it should at least be marked so that the intrepid tourist or newbie islander could stop and say: “oh, what’s this?” This is history that is accessible to everyone, the location is free for everyone to use and admire as it is on the beach, and all our beaches are public property, and it is really super neato (if for nothing less than the history alone)

We meet outside Rainbow Beach in F’sted at 9 and caravanned out to where I thought the Monk’s Baths were, we only had to stop once before I found the right spot. Went down the incline of death (JUST as I remembered!): 

After walking about 5 minutes north, this is what we found:


So, if you live here and haven’t been or are visiting, or planning a visit, the trip is well worth it.  To get to the Monk’s Baths you go out of Frederiksted going North, pass Spratt Hall, pass Butler Bay plantation, go around the curve (look out for the random pillars on the right hand side on the curve), go a bit further, and look for the sign on your right that says “Northside Valley”. Stop there just after the orange house on your left.  If you look carefully, you will see a 4X4 with ropes leading down the incline of death. 

Here is a video of the Baths both outside and in, as well as a review of what the girls thought of the Monk’s Baths. Listen to them, they are after all the experts on what is cool.  Excuse the choppiness of the video, I was trying to keep my balance. There is also some weird banging noise going on, no idea what that is from, but you will get a general idea of what the Baths are like.

Have a great week!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Attempting Unschooling.....

UnSchooling?!  WWHHAAT???  

I know, that was my first thought, when I heard about unschooling.  I will admit, I thought, “Oh those parents are too lazy to try to teach their children. They just let them sit around, watch TV, and do nothing." and "How are they ever going to be able to do anything with their lives?”  Yes, I was biased, and too immature of a homeschooling parent to even consider the benefits.

Let’s back up a second here.  

Homeschooling is teaching your child at home what they might learn while at a public or private school. IE: Reading, writing, math, science, social studies, etc.  It is taking their education in hand and teaching them yourself instead of having someone else do it.  It has its benefits and its drawbacks. It allows you as a parent to see exactly what your kid is learning and help them to learn in a way that works best for them.  That said, there is the potential to abuse homeschooling, and not teach your children what they need to know, or to do such a bad job at it, that they are way behind because you just didn’t care enough to do it right.  Of course, the flip side is that you are the most awesome teacher in the whole world and  your child turns out to be a genius and grows up to be a mad scientist who speaks 10 languages, reads, writes, and dreams in dead languages, and discovers that the origin of man was truly as it is written in the Bible because he got to interview God.  I like to think that I am an awesome teacher, but that my child is normal and that she will just be smart and happy enough to be comfortable in her own skin and will know how to help herself learn new material in order to be able to pursue her own dreams to the best of her ability.

Aislin has been prospering as a homeschooled student. Her reading and comprehension levels are WAY up, her math is up, her knowledge of science (chemistry and biology) are up, etc.  So why change a good thing?

Well, we decided a while ago, that if we ever got to opportunity to put Aislin in school again, we would make her the eldest in her class rather than the youngest, as she had been.  So, going with that thought we made the decision that since she has completed all the second grade work from last year, and is halfway through her third grade work, we would give workbooks, and 3rd grade "lessons" a break and do real life experiences.  Some of the experiences she wants to learn from are pretty interesting, and all her own choices.  She wants to see how Jan Mitchell makes her glass plates, volunteer at the animal shelter, figure out how to classify corals, understand our local history and why chaney is what it is, "do" marine biology as it pertains to our marine environment, learn more about sushi and cooking in general, learn about rocks, crystals, and minerals, learn about farming, etc. 

I figure that unschooling is about letting kids learn about what interests them, and providing them with as many primary sources as possible to make that learning successful. So, with that in mind, I am going to set up interviews with key people, field trips, find books on those topics, and really get down and dirty with Aislin and what interests her.  Of course, since I am slightly A type, when I want to be, it will be planned, and it will be in an orderly manner.  She WILL keep reading and doing math; and she will learn about stuff that many kids her age do not get to explore in an in depth manner at such a young age.  Hopefully this will serve her well later in life, and give her some good memories of the fun side of learning.

I will have to keep you all posted as to how it goes, but if you are reading this, and you have any skills that can help us in any of her topics of interest, email me :).  If I know you have those skills, never fear, I will be calling you!  It could be as simple as lending us a book, or talking to Aislin after she reads some books on the topic, or hosting a field trip, or even putting her to work to give her hands on experiences.

Let the Unschooling begin!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Cheesy Quinoa Bites - a recipe

I have discovered Pinterest….. not sure yet if it is a blessing or a curse, but I have found some interesting items there that I either want to make – crafty ways or food that I want to make.  My latest find was Cheesy Quinoa Bites.  They looked simple, healthy, and like something that at least one of my children (Aislin the adventurous) would eat.

Here is the recipe – which of course has my altered version:

4 cups cooked Quinoa
1.5 large carrots
½  a bunch of cilantro
2 green onions
1 clove of garlic
smidgen of salt
2 eggs
2 – 3 tbsp flour
black pepper
4 oz shredded cheese – extra sharp cheddar in our case

Chop/shred/blend all veggie ingredients. I just roughly chopped everything and threw it in my Ninja. I LOVE that thing!

Next add all the rest to a bowl and mix.  Fill sprayed mini muffin pans until heaping. Cook for about 25 min at 350 and enjoy! When they are done, they will pop right out.

They were really yummy. Although, I might add pepper jack cheese next time to give it some more kick. 

As expected, Aislin loved them, and Christopher feed his to the dog.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Weekend Bliss(iness)

What a weekend!  It was filled with Crucian Christmas finales, weekend warrior events, and reconnecting with friends and family. On Friday it looked as if nothing good was going to happen this weekend as my sciatic nerve as acting up and I could barely walk.  My Mom came over to watch the kids and take me to a massage appointment at Tropical Therapy in Gallows Bay.  Can I just say that Debbie is a miracle worker?  Then my Mom made me lie down on the couch for the rest of the day – Thanks Mom!  I don’t know which it was, whether it was a combination or what, but Saturday morning I was feeling 98% better!  Since the kids were driving Stephen nuts – specifically The Little Monster, I decided to brave the Three Kings Day Parade with my Mom’s help.

C and friend R playing with street dirt.
After limping down the street to join up with some of our very best friends on the island that always camp out across the street from the Lost Dog in Frederiksted, we proceeded to make merry. We talked, laughed, danced – surprisingly the whining movement didn’t hurt the sciatic nerve – go figure! It was a slow starting parade, and we almost left, but then it got MUCH MUCH better. Aislin jumped the barricades time and time again to go across the street to say hello to some of our friends. The barricades are new as of last year, and I personally HATE them. They make it so much harder to cross the street and say hello to other people; you can’t easily join in on the tramp, and if you have a stroller, forget about making it through the crowds.  I KNEW I was feeling better when the Trini floup came by because I jumped the barricades with my Mom and Aislin – leaving the Little Monster in the care of my friends, and danced down the street with the rest of the revelers.  I also got to blow some random guys conch shell – it felt good, I hadn’t done that in years – need to find my old conch shell and start blowing it again J
Dolphins Swim Team members before the swim.

Sunday, we hauled ourselves off to Frederiksted AGAIN – boy is the car getting some mileage!  This time, we were there for the Dolphins Swim Team annual Sea Swim.   The Sea Swim is in its 7th year – I believe – and is a one mile swim from the pier in Frederiksted to Rainbow Beach. People of all ages and abilities come out to “race”.  I started swimming it with Aislin about 4 years ago when she was the tender age of 5.  At first, my Mom, my Dad, and I took Aislin – along with a boogie board, or other flotation device, but this year I told the fish like child, that she had to do it on her own. No emergency floatation device was going with us.  At first she balked, but then, figured I wasn’t going to relent, so she had better do it.   I KNEW she would be able to do, the question was, would I be able to keep up this year or not?

Top three finishers in the under 11 age group with fins. 

So, we get to F’sted bright and early, get our numbers, our timing chips, our beautiful BRIGHT yellow caps, and set out to wait. We saw a few turtles, enjoyed chatting with friends, enjoyed keeping the Little Monster from diving off the pier, and waited for the start.  I somehow ended up in charge of 2 other girls from the team, so I figured I would have my work cut out for me in keeping up…. As soon as the Conch shell blew, away we went!  One of the girls I was watching took off and I never saw her again – good wrangling skills on my part huh? Another girl I was watching had mask problems and ended up having to haul out, and Aislin swam off with another friend and her Mom.  So, there I was all alone……. I did what any non-competitive person would do in that situation – I hauled @SS and swam like a ray out of hell in order to “catch up” with Aislin. Needless to say I never found her. I did end up beating my own personal best, and getting out of the water WAY before Aislin!  You should have seen Stephen’s face when I asked him where Aislin was.  (Sorry, no picture.) It was priceless! As if I would leave our first born out there all alone – husbands!  Anyway, Aislin ended up coming in within the top 3 of her age group – way to go Aislin!  After she came in, we learned that she had developed MAJOR blisters that had popped while swimming. I am SUPER impressed that not only did she swim the mile with no help, but also she swam it while nursing blisters.  What a champ!
digging to China - again!
Fun in the sun.

The rest of the afternoon was passed in idyllic fashion, imbibing on the beach while playing with the kiddos, talking with friends, eating the best onion rings I have had, and just relaxing.  The whole weekend was a blast, and I would love to do it again sometimes soon, but just not this weekend….

Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Super Yummy Frozen Fruit Pops

 “Hello, my Name is Alex, and I am addicted to kitchen gadgets.”   I will admit it, I am a kitchen gadget freak.  I love cookie cutters, my Kitchen aid stand mixer, and baking forms. Recently I have been drooling over the Zoku Frozen Pop maker.  I mean, come on, ice pops in 7minutes?! How awesome is that.  Of course being the cheapo – umm frugal – person that I am, I refuse to buy it, and since the kids have been asking me for ice pops, I went ahead and puled out my old ice pop form and bought a new one at Plaza too.  I mean, really, how far can 4 ice pops go? We need 8 at least.
It has been ice pop central here at Casa McStay.  Since little Monster is a super picky eater – only now does he eat the crowns off broccoli despite being served it every 3 days or so for the last year of his life… sigh.  I decided that I would make super yummy frozen fruit pops.  They are terribly easy to make and both kids ADORE them and they are GOOD for you!

Basically you need, fruit, a juice base, and patience.  Today I made virgin mango strawberry pina colada pops.  Super easy.  Here’s how you do it:

Fruit and juice base:
Pina Colada juice mix – in our case it was a left over pitcher of the base from this weekend when Stephen got a hankering for Painkillers, and made the wrong mix…..

Pop molds:

Cut up your fruit, stick it in the molds, place popsicle sticks in mold, pour in juice, freeze, and REPEAT.  I got tired of constantly making them and decided to batch them, so as soon as these guys are ready, I will make up a new batch and stick them in a ziplock baggie in the freezer, that way there are always some around.


Monday, 2 January 2012

Homeschool 2012 Outlook

It has been almost 1 year since we started homeschooling Aislin and we are loving it. I noticed that during December we were having issues staying on track and the whole schooling thing was just not fun anymore. I also started having my own issues with staying on track and getting anything done.  Part of it was that it was getting close to Christmas and the other part was that I just didn’t seem to have a schedule and it was really easy to goof off.  In order to rise above the rut, meet our schooling goals, and have fun again I am revamping our homeschool routine.  We are going to do more fun games more breaks where outdoor fun is on the menu, and we are going to use a schedule book.

I could have gone out and bought a premade schedule book, but it was much more fun to make one.  I got to use some of my scrapbooking paper stash, made cute cards to stick on each page, and was able to be crafty.  There is a page for everyday of the school week, mini cards that have the activities or lessons we are going to do, and it spiral bound.  I set it up in a weekly format so that I could set it up each Sunday and not have to worry about redoing it every night. I think it looks pretty cool, and it seems like it should help keeping us on track as long as we use it! Aislin also seems very motivated to use it, so that should be half the battle taken care of.

In order to incorporate more fun into our homeschooling lives I decided we are going to do more learning through play. Does that mean that we are not going to do our worksheets, required readings, or curriculum? Nope. It means that we are going to do those, but when I can I will add a game that teaches the lesson in a fun and innovative way.  For example, I prepped the other night for our weekly science lesson, and I noticed that the first week we were going to work on classifying as it relates to Biology.  So, yesterday, I packed up Stephen, the Little Monster and Aislin and we went off to the beach to pick up flotsam and jetsam so that we can classify what we found our beach instead of boring household objects. Aislin had a great time, we examined sea urchins in various stages of decay, found loads of stuff to classify, AND spent quality time together – BONUS!!

Flotsam and Jetsam we found at the beach.
I also found some great paint chip word games for spelling online, floating math addition games, construction projects that will give Aislin a better sense of measurement, creative ways to experience history, and some great cooking experiments to help all of us have more fun and keep the learning going on.   Above all, since I have to keep the schedule book in order every week, I need to prep for school the week before – sort of like my past life as a teacher – that way I can figure out where to stick games, and fun in so school becomes FUN again.  With all these changes, schooling should be fun again without loosing productivity, and I should be able to keep us on track. 

Our basic academic challenges this first half of 2012 is to have Aislin master her spelling rules, and master multiplication facts up to 6.  Stephen’s goal in math for Aislin is to not have her counting on her fingers at all, which means rote memorization but I will make it fun – I hope.  As for the other subjects, her reading and her comprehension are great so I am not worried about that at all.  Social studies and history are fun for her, and she LOVES science.  I do want Aislin reading and writing in Spanish by June so that might take a little work, but we are starting a new program called PowerSpeak and it seems like between me and PowerSpeak, that goal should be easily met.

Here’s to a fun filled 2012!