Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Stone Walls

Photo taken 17 January 2012

Photo taken 17 January 2012

Photo taken 20 January 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Consider the Health of Our Planet

Today, a little food for thought,

No matter where you are in the world, what will you be doing on March 31st from 8:30-9:30? How about this?

Let's create change together. Will you join me? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Be a Traveler in Your Hometown or State

With the arrival of school vacation week here in Massachusetts, many families are off traveling. Since we'll be traveling to Italy this summer, this school vacation will be spent close to home.  Yesterday, we decided to go hiking.

We have hiking trails that literally start at our driveway, so we tend to fall into the habit of hiking what we already know. Instead of doing the same old thing, my husband suggested we explore some new nature trails about 3 miles from our house.

We know how dramatically the environment can change in just a few miles, but we were still pleasantly surprised by how different this trail looked compared to the ones outside our door. The most noticeable difference is how wet the Black Brook Wildlife Management Area is compared to our usual trail.
Parts of the trail have an ancient feel. Mossy, bright green patches brighten the forest floor and dappled sunlight illuminates lime green patches of moss on fallen trees.
Some ferns are still thriving, despite the (relative) cold, and holly trees abound. Our usual trail has a few hollies, but we know right were to find them. This area has fifty or more. We also noticed an abundance of two species of Princess Pine.

We also noticed lots of scat (animal droppings) along the way. This bright white scat stood out from the forest floor.
When I looked closely to the right of the scat, I also noticed an owl pellet just inches away. (An owl pellet is the indigestible bits of an owl's diet that get regurgitated). I've never found an owl pellet in the wild before, so I have to say, I was pretty excited! I used a couple of sticks as tools to break it open.
Inside, I found what looks like the skin of a snake. Can you see the scales? (Double click the photo to make it bigger). We could also see some small bones that looked like vertebrae.

All in all, we had a pretty good hike. We spent time as a family, explored outside, and made an exciting discovery. Not every hike reveals an amazing discovery such as an owl pellet, but there's always something wonderful to be observed in nature. 

Here in Massachusetts, every region has some kind of nature trail, conservation land, or parks. How about in your state? What can you find to explore? (I found these links by searching on "hiking trails Massachusetts").

What local hiking trail might you explore this week? 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feeding Winter Birds

When we took our Christmas tree down this year, we propped it up in the front yard intending to decorate it for the birds. Well, we finally managed to decorate it last weekend.

These bird feeder ornaments are easy to make. You can hang them from any tree in your yard or neighborhood.


Supplies needed:
  • cotton or wool thread (Birds will use the thread in nests later in the spring. Synthetics are bad for the environment. Do NOT use plastics such as gimp).
  • any pinecones you can collect on a nature hike. Species does not matter. These happen to be from pitch pines. (Be careful not to collect in restricted areas such as state parks or national forests).
  • peanut butter, suet, or vegetable shortening. (NOTE: If working with children other than your own, NEVER use peanut butter without checking for peanut allergies. In schools and libraries, I advise never using peanut butter).
  • bird seed
  • small bowl
  • butter knife
  1. Cut a small length of thread. Make a large loop and knot it.
  2. Work the loop into the pinecone so you can hang it. 
  3. Spread vegetable shortening, peanut butter, or suet on the pinecones.
  4. Roll them in birdseed.
  5. Hang them on a tree outside your window.
  6. Watch for birds to arrive over the next week or so, if all goes well. If you haven't been feeding birds, it may take a while for them to find your feeders.
Added 21 February 2012:
Hey...look... we had our first visitors to our bird feeder ornaments!
Not quite the guests we were hoping for (and they cleaned everything out in no time flat) but they were still fun to watch.

Have you been feeding the birds this winter? Have they been active?

You Might Also Like:
Signs of Spring-Bird Sightings
Nature Observations With Young Children

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Ice Ornaments II

I feel a bit like Monet returning to the same subject over and over again trying to capture what I see...

Photos taken 12 February 2012

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Pushing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Yesterday, Alexis Grant over at The Traveling Writer blogged about how fear popped up in her current trip.  Lexi previously backpacked solo through Africa, but that experience didn't prevent her from feeling apprehensive during her current solo trip to Nicaragua. Sure, travelers have adventurous spirits, but it doesn't mean they never get scared. As Lexi pointed out, "It's natural to be scared of the unknown." The key is to push through the fear and see where it takes you.

Lexi ended her post by asking, "When was the last time you did something that scared you? I searched my brain for an answer. Do you know what I came up with? When I flew alone, cross-country to meet my new niece and help my sister and brother-n-law with the transition. I know, it seems crazy, right? The girl who flew to the Philippines for a year when she was 16 was afraid of a little trip to California? Is this the same woman who participated in rain forest research in Ecuador, who rode camels in the Sahara, who took her young children to India?

The truth is, what we're afraid of may change over time. When I boarded a plane for the first time and flew to the Philippines, sure, I was scared. BUT, I was also a teenager. I didn't know fear the way I would if I had made that trip at age 30. And, I would have been afraid of different things. My trip to Ecuador revealed new fears that can creep in as you get older. By then I was married and my fear of leaving centered around the fact that I was leaving my husband behind (Oh and there was also that pesky fear of poisonous snakes to manage...). Each trip reveals a new insecurity, a new fear.

So why was I afraid of flying to California alone? It's simple- I'm a mom now. My fear was that my plane would crash and my children would be motherless. There. I said it. The thing probably every mother fears.

My departure was nothing short of gut-wrenching. I was an absolute mess, but I pushed through my fear and went. And guess what happened? I never enjoyed a plane ride as much as that one. I was kid-free with no responsibilities for 6 hours. I read. I wrote. I listened to a podcast. It was lovely.

What was even more lovely was meeting my beautiful new niece and her glowing mom at the airport. Then, when I called my kids later, they basically rushed me off the phone. They were with Daddy and busy with one thing or another. They were fine. I was more than fine.

Sure, travel can be scary. But most of our travel fears are irrational. We've all heard it before... the risk of dying in a car crash is far greater than the risk dying in a plane crash. But we get in cars every day. Sure, you might get robbed while traveling, but that risk is likely no greater overseas than in your own city if you are a savvy traveler. And here's the fact that Lexi pointed out in her post- most people are willing to help a foreigner who needs it. Think about it. If you saw a foreigner struggling, you'd do your best to help, wouldn't you? I know I have. Most recently, I helped a German family navigate the "T" (subway system in Boston) . The same is true for people all over the world- they'll try to help, even if you have a language barrier.

So readers, when did you last do something that scared you?

Related Posts
Travel Tuesdays: Take the City Bus, Not the Tour Bus
Travel Tuesdays: Travel Broadens Perspectives
Travel Tuesdays: Exchange Students

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cub Scout Nature Hike

Last weekend, I put my naturalist and teacher skills to work leading an energetic group of 4th grade scouts on a hike to complete some of their Forester and Naturalist requirements. I had planned to blog some thoughts about the day and tips for facilitating your own hike. When my friend Alison Noyce sent me the photos, I decided to post a photo essay instead. I think they speak for themselves.

So here we go...

Want to slide down a hill, anyone?

Many thanks to Alison Noyce for taking and sharing these photos with me. 

Have you spent time in nature lately? What did you do?

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Double click the photo to see the details in the right wing.
Photo taken 29 January 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Awakening in a Strange Place

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown..."
                                                   ~Frey Stark, Baghdad Sketches

This has happened to me many times during travel- awakening in a strange town (or place)- but the place that always comes to mind when I read this quotation is Marrakesh, Morocco. My husband, our two friends, and I had been in Morocco for roughly a week on the day in question. We had been suffering from a bout of "Traveler's D" and were all a bit wrung out. We turned in early.

We were awoken at dawn the next morning by the Muezzin's call to prayer, "Allahu Akbar." This wasn't the first time I'd heard the call to prayer- we had been in Niger before our trip to Morocco and had already heard it in country. The difference was the fact that I was in a dead sleep when the call came loud and clear from a speaker in the Mosque across the street.

It was loud.
It was disorienting.
Then, as I processed my surroundings and realized where I was, it was pleasant. I'm not Muslim, so I wasn't called to pray, but I felt the significance of that call- the ceremony of that call. I felt peaceful there in my bed listening to the city coming alive.

This day turned out to be an important travel day for me- the day we met Mokhtar- the man I blogged about in Travel Tuesdays: Morocco.
The man I shared stories and laughs with in the back of a Land rover.
The man who guided us on our camel trek.
The man who gave me the Muslim name we later gave to our daughter. 

So it's true... you have no idea what's in store for you, but if you let yourself go on the stream of the unknown, wonderful things can happen.

Have you ever had the experience of awakening in a strange town? What unexpected events happened that day?

Related Posts
Travel Tuesdays
Travel Tuesdays: Morocco

Monday, February 6, 2012

Liebster Award

On Saturday morning, I received a lovely email from Polliwog reader Heather Newman, telling me how much she enjoys my blog and that she chose "Polliwog on Safari" for a Liebster Award.  Thanks so much Heather!

Taken from Heather Newman Illustrations: "The origins of the Liebster Blog Award are unclear, but the word translates from German as "darling" or "beloved." It's given to bloggers who have less than 200 followers in order to generate some traffic for them." (I tried to confirm the origins of this award, but alas, my quick search was unsuccessful. I don't have the time to scour the interwebs searching. Plus, the origin is less important to me than the purpose).

The rules seem to have morphed over time, but the first three are pretty consistent:
  1. Choose FIVE up and coming blogs to award the Liebster to. Blogs must have less than 200 followers. (It's hard to confirm the number of followers sometimes, so I've used my best judgement when that info is not visible on a site).
  2. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  3. Post the award on your blog. List the bloggers you gave the award to with links to their sites. Leave comments on their blogs so they know about the award.
  4. Share 5 random facts about yourself. (Not all Liebster blogs did this, but it was a fun part of Heather's post, so I'm including it). 
5 Random Facts About Me:
  1. I played violin/fiddle for 7 years. I was never very good at it. Listening to me play must have been torture for my family.
  2. Once I discovered that my voice was my instrument, I was much happier. I competed in state-wide singing competitions in high school. I played Bloody Mary in the musical South Pacific (an alto part) even though I'm a high soprano.
  3. I hate raw tomatoes but I'll eat them any other way- sauce, sun dried, roasted, ketchup.
  4. I love to dance. My current favorite dance music is Bhangra.
  5. I'm super sensitive to sounds. My friend Christina teases me because she can be sitting talking to me while our kids drag a squeaky wagon around. She blocks it out but I can't- I get twitchy. The same goes for music. I can be in a loud restaurant (with music in the background) and announce the name of  a song playing. Others may not even be able to hear the music. This can be terribly annoying, especially when I'm unable to screen out a song when I'm trying to write in a coffee shop.
Choosing only 5 blogs was difficult. I tried to choose a variety that I thought would appeal to my readers.

My 5 Blog Picks:
  1. They're All My Own- Long time readers won't be surprised by this pick. Yes, Alison is my friend, but I really do think her blog is pretty awesome. Those of you who read my post about Adoption Insensitivity probably hopped over there last week. Alison blogs about life as an adopted person and as the parent of two biological children and two adopted children. 
  2. Coloring Between the Lines- Children's author/illustrator Anne Sibley O'Brien blogs about her work as a children's author/illustrator. Her blog tagline sums it up well: "Reflections on race, culture, and children's books." Her blogging schedule isn't consistent, but when she does post she always has important things to say.
  3. Sprout's Bookshelf- This blog is new to me. I discovered it during the KidLit Comment Challenge and boy am I gad I did. Librarian in training,  Mary Kinser, shares reviews of great books she's reading with her son. From her blog:  "This blog grew out of my continual efforts to surround my son with books that support him, as part of a transracial family formed through international adoption. Sprout's Bookshelf contains titles that feature diversity of all sorts, and books that address various aspects of adoption as well." 
  4. Growing with Science- The blog of Roberta Gibson, an entomologist and writer. Blog tagline:  "Putting the fun back into scientific exploration." A great resource for parents, educators, homeschoolers and unschoolers.
  5. I.N.K. Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids- This group blog highlights the work of some of my favorite non-fiction children's authors: Melissa Stewart, April Pulley Sayre, and Steve Jenkins, to name a few. Taken from their blog: "Discover books that show how nonfiction writers are some of the best storytellers around. Learn how these writers practice their craft: research techniques, fact gathering and detective work. Check out how they find unusual tidbits..." 
Thanks to all of these great bloggers for their work.

Do you have a favorite blog with less than 200 followers? Please share it in a comment.*

*Kid friendly blogs, only, please.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Timman Queemah: Ground Meat With Chickpeas and Rice

My son came home with a writing assignment this week that also required cooking. He was to plan and cook a meal for his family and use that experience to write an expository text. We started at the beginning: What did he want to cook? We ran though some of our family favorites and old stand-byes until we came to Timman Queemah- Ground meat with chickpeas and rice. He didn't even hesitate before choosing it.

I've written about food often here on Polliwog, so long-time readers will not be surprised that my American kid chose an Iraqi dish. We tend to cook and eat a variety of foods from a variety of cultures as a matter of course in our house. We found this one several years ago in The Iraqi Cookbook by Lamees Ibrahim.  It became an instant favorite  that's eaten often, especially in the winter months.

Our family has taken to calling this dish “Iraqi Chop Suey,” because, like American Chop Suey, it is a one pot family meal that seems to be bottomless. It's also made with ground meat and tomatoes, just like American Chop Suey. The main difference is the inclusion of chick peas and the use of different seasonings. To us, it also feels like comfort food, just like American Chop Suey. We hope no Iraqi's will be insulted by our term of endearment for this well-loved meal.

My son brought the recipe to school, as directed, and we gathered the needed ingredients. He cooked the meal on Wednesday night with my assistance. While he cooked, he paused occasionally to record his observations and sensory details.

"This is a popular dish in Iraq, cooked for religious Islamic celebrations and shared by the whole neighborhood. A few families (usually Shi’ite) will cook very large quantities and distribute individual dishes to every house on the street.

Sometimes, two large cauldrons are set up in the front garden of a wealthy house, one for sauce and one for rice. Men from the family, their friends, and neighbors will cook. The meal is then shared. Any person who brings an empty plate or two will be served. Sharing the cooking and eating is of great enjoyment to everyone."

Serves 6-8
Preparation:  10 minutes          Cooking time: about 2 hours (45 min. if you used canned chick peas)

1 lb ground lamb (or other ground meat such as beef or turkey)
1 lb dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans  (or one 29 oz can chick peas)
1-2 onions, chopped (I use 2)
1 small can tomato paste
1 lb chopped tomatoes (in the winter we use one 15 1/2 oz can chopped tomotoes)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp mixed spices (garam masala- find it in the international/Asian aisle of your grocery store)
Salt and black pepper to taste
(Cooked rice. We use 1 1/2 cups brown basmati cooked in 3 cups water)

  • Soak the chick peas overnight in plenty of cold water.  (If using canned chickpeas, skip to step 3).
  • Change the water and boil in a saucepan for about one hour. 
  • Brown the ground lamb in a large skillet over medium heat.*
  • Add salt, spices, and black pepper, stirring frequently. (Don’t skip the salt- it really intensifies the flavors.)
  • Add chopped onion and cook until onion is soft.
  • Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Season with salt and black pepper. Add meat mixture to boiling chick peas, cover the pan, turn the heat down, and simmer for about 1 hour, until chickpeas are soft. (If using canned chickpeas, drain them and add them directly to the meat mixture).
  • Add more water if needed. The sauce should be thick enough to eat with rice. Cook with the lid off to reduce water if needed.

 *Prepare the rice to be done around the same time.

As we all sat down to eat, we helped brainstorm sensory details about the food. Now he'll use his notes to compose a piece while at school. I never gave an assignment like this to my students, so I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

Have you combined cooking and writing with your kids or students? How did it go?

We hope you'll try the recipe and let us know your thoughts. The Iraqi Cookbook also has lots of other great recipes, so check it out!

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