Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Hummingbirds

I've noticed many bloggers posting only photos on Wednesdays. I enjoy them, so I decided to start 'Wordless Wednesdays' here on Polliwog.

I may occasionally place a caption, if necessary, but I intend to keep these posts wordless to highlight photos I've taken. (That may be a hard task for this writer...) I may decide to crop a photo occasionally but I will not alter them in any other way. I hope you enjoy them.

(Double click to make photos larger).

Related Post:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Otha Day: Drumming Circle

The theme of this summer's reading program here in Massachusetts was 'One World, Many Stories.' In addition to the usual logging of hours read, weekly drawings, and crafts at our library, there were also enrichment programs for enrolled participants and a culminating celebration. Our librarian, Miss Lisa, did and wonderful job of planning the many, many events and activities for the readers in our town from children to senior citizens.

I'm sure the library in your town had some great programs, too. Did you participate?

Our program culminated with a drumming circle lead by Otha Day. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn this wasn't my first drumming circle and West African poly rhythms are a particular interest of mine. I own an authentic kelengu (talking drum) from Niger, West Africa and attended dancing and drumming sessions in Niger. (My sister studied traditional West African Dance in Niger). I even tried my hand at teaching poly rhythms to my grade four students. The thing is, I wasn't very good at teaching poly rhythms. If only I had met Otha sooner! Thank you Miss Lisa for bringing him to Plumb Library.

From the beginning, I could tell we were in the hands of a master drummer and master teacher. Otha provided drums so he could get everyone involved. He was kind and patient. He helped everyone find success and made sure we had fun.

His unique approach to helping us remember the rhythms stood out to me the most. He would teach us to sing a song or a phrase, then sing and drum the phrase, then sing the phrase in our heads but continue drumming the rhythm. I was amazed by how quickly we found success. (Let's face it, I'm not a very good drummer!) There were lots of smiles in the room, that's for sure. We learned rhythms from many places, including Japan, Brazil, and West Africa (Liberia, and if my memory is correct, Mali).

So my point is two-fold:
  1. If you live relatively nearby, please consider hiring Otha to come to your school, library, or homeschooling group. (He also works with corporations and wellness groups). Full disclosure: I never met Otha before our library event. He did not ask me to post this nor do I receive any compensation for doing so.
  2. Find out what your local library has to offer. This program was a win-win for my family: it connected learning about other cultures, music, and reading. Furthermore, it was FREE. Public libraries and librarians are some of the best resources our towns have to offer.  Our librarians know everyone in my family by name. They also know our taste in books and will recommend books they encounter that might appeal to us. Make use of public libraries. Support them.
Have you participated in a drumming circle with Otha? What programs have you attended at your library?

Monday, August 8, 2011

From the Archives: A Passion for Pesto

This post, which orginally appeared last September, will be my final re-post while on vacation. From now until mid-September is the perfect time to make pesto because basil is readily available this time of year.

As summer winds down, my family typically harvests the bulk of the basil from our garden and makes pesto. What does this have to do with "mucking about" you might ask. Well, it starts with my kids and I cutting nearly all of the basil in our garden. They get right into the beds and use their own scissors to cut the stems. Then we work together to make the pesto, a delicious green sauce that tastes great on pasta and pizza, among other uses.

Even if you think your kids won't like pesto, give it a try. It may take a few attempts, but many kids come around. Exposing your kids to a variety of flavors while they are young will open their palates to a variety of foods and may even help them be healthier eaters. Exposing them to different flavors also fits into my other passion- and one of the goals of this blog- learning about other cultures. Food is central to culture and to people's daily lives.

We started this tradition when my son was just 3 years old and have continued every year since.

Making pesto from scratch serves several wonderful purposes for my kids.
  1. They help grow the basil, so they learn about life cycles of plants.
  2. They harvest the basil, so they see the fruits of their labors. And, as with all gardening, they know where their food came from.
  3. They work in the kitchen with me, so they learn about cooking. They also they learn some math as we work with fractions and measurement.
  4. They eat healthy, homemade meals that are not too difficult to prepare.
Even if you do not have basil in your own garden, you can buy it at a farmers' market or grocery store and still accomplish numbers 3 and 4.

Here's what to do:
  1. Pick or purchase a bunch of basil. For my recipe, you'll need two generous handfuls of leaves.
  2. Remove the leaves from the stems. Discard any damaged or brown leaves. My kids always do this job. They each learned how at about the age of three.
  3. Wash the leaves in plenty of cold water. Spin them dry in a salad spinner or pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towels. This is another job for the kids!
  4. Follow the recipe below.
2 generous handfuls of basil leaves
2-3 plump cloves of fresh garlic
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts *
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
about 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Start with 1/3 and add more as needed).
About 1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
Generous pinch of salt (I prefer coarse sea salt).

  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process/blend until smooth.
  2. Mix with cooked whole wheat pasta and sprinkle with grated cheese for a delicious meal.
* To toast the pine nuts, heat them in a dry skillet over low to medium heat until they turn a golden brown. Keep the nuts moving around by shaking the pan or stirring with a spoon. You must watch them carefully because they go from raw to burned very quickly if the heat is too high or they are in the pan for too long. In the case of allergies, simply omit the pine nuts.

If you make a big/double batch, you can freeze it for use in the winter. Pour the pesto into ice cube trays, cover the trays with plastic wrap and place them in the freezer. Once they're frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. I tend to leave the pine nuts and cheese out if I plan to freeze the pesto because it takes less space. When you use the pesto you can add those ingredients.

During the winter, you can drop a cube or two into soup, make pesto pizza, or pesto pasta. I've found 7 cubes is about right for one pound of pasta.

Do you have any end of summer traditions with your family? What are they? Do they involve "mucking about" or "meeting the locals?" Tell us about them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From the Archives: Cora Cooks Pancit

While I'm on vacation, I'm re-posting some favorites from last year. This was originally published in May of 2010. I made pancit again yesterday, which inspired me to repost.

We live in a rural town in Southeastern Massachusetts. One drawback to living here is that it isn't particularly diverse. That is, most residents are caucasian, middle class, Christians. For a parent who is dedicated to raising children who are comfortable with people of different races, religions, and cultures, this is a challenge. We have a variety of friends, but the reality is that in our day-to-day lives of work, school, and home, our world can be very white. For many of you, this may be the case, too. Or maybe you are a person of color and nearly everyone in your neighborhood looks like you.

So, what is a parent to do? There are many ways to introduce different cultures and religions to your children. Of course, nothing is better than interacting with real live people (as I promote in this blog), but there are other steps you can take. Today, I'll give an example of how I used a particular book for that purpose.
While reading Shen's blog, I learned about Cora Cooks Pancit, a picture book about a young girl who "longs to be a cook" like the big kids in her family and cook pancit (a Filipino noodle dish) with her mom. After I picked it up from my library, I left it laying on the coffee table as I often do to spark my kid's interest in a book. As usual, my four year old daughter saw it and asked me to read it to her.

My daughter enjoyed reading a story about a girl who is like her- the youngest in the family who wants to be like the big kids. The great thing about this book is that the last page includes a recipe for pancit with clear instructions for how to cook it. So, what do you think my daughter asked to do upon finishing the book? You guessed it- she wanted to make pancit. So we did. She had to wait a couple of weeks until we were able to get the correct noodles from Kam Man in Quincy, MA, but it was worth the wait. We planned the meal for a leisurely Friday night and the whole family got involved. My son opened the cans of bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and baby corn while my daughter soaked the noodles like Cora did in the book. Then both kids and Daddy shredded the chicken, just like Cora, while I chopped the vegetables. It was time consuming, but we worked as a family to get the job done, and enjoyed each other's company. The results...delicious!

The strange thing is, I lived in the Philippines as a teenager and loved pancit. Yet, I have never cooked it until now. What was I waiting for? What are you waiting for? Get this book and have a go! I hope you enjoy the opportunity for family bonding, learning about another culture, and good eating.

If you want to know more about Filipino cuisine, check out Burnt Lumpia. To learn more about Filipino culture and to learn some Tagalog words with your child, read Filipino Friends.

What do you think? Would you try this with your family or students? Do you have a favorite book about another culture that includes a recipe? Please tell us about it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

From the Archives: Barnacle Investigation

While I'm on vacation, I'm reposting some popular posts from last year.

Today's post was originally published August 1, 2010.

Here in Massachusetts, our library system runs a summer reading program meant to promote reading during the summer months. Students log the hours they spend reading, receive prizes, and attend various programs at their town libraries (each town puts their own particular spin on the programming). This year's theme is "Go Green," so Miss Lisa at Rochester's Joseph H. Plumb Memorial Library invited me to facilitate a program last Wednesday. I was happy to share my love of the ocean, particularly the Rocky Intertidal Zone with kids from our town.

The investigation is one you can do with your children or students if you live near the ocean. On the East Coast of North America we have a kind of barnacle called an acorn barnacle. When we were in the UK, I did some tide pool exploration with my son and they had the same barnacles, so my British readers can participate, too! On the Pacific Coast and as far away as Malaysia, there's a kind of barnacle called Goose barnacles (or stalked barnacles). I'm told these will work, as well, though I have never tried it myself.

You can do this right on the beach or bring the barnacle rock home to complete the investigation. PLEASE remember to return the rock to the ocean as soon as possible. DO NOT kill them by keeping them at home. If I keep them at home more than overnight, I place a small aerator in the water to provide oxygen. I've kept them this way for a weekend, but always return them after a weekend.

Here's what you need:
Access to a Rocky Beach during low tide
A small rock with barnacles on it
A container large enough to hold the rock with barnacles, plus enough room to cover it with water
Ocean water
A hand lens (magnifying glass) is useful but not necessary
blank paper and pencils (if you plan to record observations)
Resources to consult after the investigation (see suggestions that follow)
  1. Take the barnacle rock out of water for 2-3 hours. (This simulates low tide). If you've just collected it during low tide, it has likely been out of water for some amount of time already.
  2. Ask your kids/students to examine the barnacles closely.  Provide hand lenses for this purpose. Have them choose one individual barnacle to draw large and in as much detail as possible. They can label these drawings "Barnacle Out of Water." Older students (third grade and up) can draw a top view of the barnacle and a side view of the barnacle. (Think of the barnacle as a little volcano- a top view would be if you flew over the volcano and looked down, a side view would be if you stood at a distance and drew it). They can also use words to describe what they see.  Note: All of this could be done orally, but I strongly encourage you to ask kids to at least draw what they see. Drawing forces them to look more closely and notice more details.
  3. Ask the kids to write down (or share) any questions they have. Here are some of the kids working a the library:
  4. Place the barnacle rock in the container and cover it with ocean water. Wait patiently for something to happen. This can take as long as 15 minutes, but may only take a few minutes. Here's one of ours:
  5. At some point, the kids will see something come out of the barnacle. Many may call it a "tongue." Encourage them to look even more closely to notice the details and draw them on a new drawing (or drawings) titled "Barnacle in Water." Have kids talk to each other and suggest ideas about what is happening. For kids younger than 8, this may take as little as 5 minutes. Kids 8 and up will probably need 15 or 20 minutes to complete their drawings. 
  6. Once they've looked closely and noticed as much detail as possible, share some scientific renditions of what they've been observing.
  7. My two favorite sources for these line drawings are:

This one is quite complex and is best for older students
(sophisticated/ motivated 4th graders or older)

SPOILER ALERT: What follows is a brief explanation of what you will observe. Even though grown-ups may think they're too old for this kind of investigation, I encourage you to participate right along with your kids/students. That is, don't read about what you will see before you actually see it. Try to make some inferences of your own before reading any further. I have done this investigation with hundreds of adults in my science workshops for teachers and graduate courses for teachers in training and the adults are always wowed and impressed. Quite frankly, it's fun! If you're a classroom teacher and like to be well prepared, go ahead and try it out before you do it in a classroom, but don't read the scientific explanation before you see it  for yourself. Enough said!

*            *               *              *              *

Barnacles are Arthropods, that is, animals with jointed legs and a hard exoskeleton. They are related to crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Unlike other arthropods, barnacles are cemented down to one place, typically a rock or piling, but also on the bottoms of boats and even whales. Inside that hard limestone exoskeleton, they are on their heads, upside down. The feathery appendages you see coming out of the shell are their legs "kicking" food into their mouths (they filter the water to catch microscopic plants and animals called plankton). When you took the rock out of the water, it simulated low tide- a time when the barnacles are exposed to sun and air and therefore sealed up tight. When the tide comes back in, bringing a fresh batch of plankton, the barnacles begin feeding.

I encourage you to use one of the resources mentioned above to get a sense of what the animal is like inside the exoskeleton. Barnacles have a mouth, stomach, intestine, and anus, so kids can compare barnacle anatomy with their own anatomy to make a further connection. Who knew those tiny white barnacles that cut your feet at the beach could have something in common with you?

Here's a video :

In case your older kids' interests take you further...
Most barnacles are hermaphrodites (they have both male and female sex organs). One reason they crowd so close together on rocks is so they can procreate- a barnacle can not reproduce by itself. One barnacle sends a long tube-like penis over to fertilize a nearby barnacle.
You can see that in this video (they are also feeding):

Goose Barnacles sticking their legs out (video from Malaysia)

If you're really interested, there are lots more videos on the internet and specifically at YouTube. I chose the ones that seemed the best to me. To find more, google "barnacles feeding."

Ok, time for truth telling everyone... Did you read past the spoiler alert before trying this out? What do you think of this investigation? Did anyone do it as written? How did it go? Are the directions clear? If you didn't do it, will you? If not, why not? Your responses will help me decide what kind of activities to post in the future.