Thursday, September 29, 2011

La Bandera Mexicana (Mexico)

Who doesn’t love Serendipity? If you remember we had one of these moments when we learned about Greece, with the bedtime book we were reading. Well, this time it wasn’t about a book. I should start by saying, since I’m not sure I have yet, that the order of our “travels” was predetermined by a draw from a hat. We wrote down the names of some countries that we wanted to visit and dropped them into the hat. Then as the kids pulled them out, I wrote them on the calendar. As it turns out, September is a very important month in Mexico and Mexico happened to be our country for September. Serendipity.

It was in September that the Mexicans, at the urging of Father Hidalgo, revolted against the Spanish and embarked on a ten year war, ultimately earning them independence. September is recognized as El Grito de la Indepencia.  So, already we knew we were on the right track with Mexico being in September, even though I had briefly wondered if maybe I should switch it to May, you know Cinco de Mayo and all.

The first order of business as always, was the flag. We got super spoiled when we did the flag for The NetherlandsAustralia came along and was a bit harder, but Mexico was by far the hardest flag attempt so far. I was so nervous about pulling it off, and not offending any Mexicans that I almost skipped this part, but I thought that skipping it seemed even more offensive than trying and not doing well. Besides, it is part of the overall project that we make a flag for each country, so we pulled out our supplies and opened up a picture of The Mexican Flag on the computer.

Then we started measuring and cutting, soon we were on to gluing. Then for the final steps, we decided to fill in smaller parts using fine tipped markers. 
Aiden gluing.
Eliana gluing.
Small details to be glued on to flag.
Aiden gluing the details.
Comparing our flag to the real thing.
Flag complete.
The end result was surprising and while we didn’t replicate the flag exactly, I thought we did alright and was I happy that we didn’t skip it. I think even my Mexican friends would be proud, or at least not shaking their heads at us.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shrimp On The Barbie (Australia)

We had finished our crafts and it was time to think about our end of the adventure celebration. Of course when I mentioned to people that we were “visiting” Australia, the first thing they asked was, “Are you having Shrimp on the Barbie?” To which I responded, “I think we will have to.” 

Through all of my searching for yummy food, all I kept stumbling on was steak, of some sort. I decided that in order to be authentic, my family and our guests, could eat steak. Since I don't eat red meat, I could eat the side dishes. I found some sides that looked delicious and asked the guests, my parents, to bring the shrimp.  

We filled our glasses with Aussie style Homemade Lemonade, and sat down to eat with Australian Aboriginal music playing in the background.
Dinner: Filet Mignon with horseradish sauce, shrimp (yes, it was cooked on the barbie) , Scalloped Cauliflower,  Kidney Bean  Salad.
Scalloped Cauliflower 
(Unfortunately, if you want to find the recipe for this, you'll have to scroll down this page a bit to see it. Fortunately, there are tons of other Australian recipes there to view as well)
Kidney Bean Salad 
(Unfortunately, if you want to find the recipe for this, you'll have to scroll down this page a bit to see it. Fortunately, there are tons of other Australian recipes there to view as well)
Dessert: Pavlova, basically a giant meringue with whipped cream and strawberries.
We had a great time learning about Australia and as always, Aiden knew all of the answers to the Trivia Questions, and those who didn't know the answers learned something new.

We didn't talk with any accents, and I'm pretty sure that my dad was the only one saying, "Mate" which was kind of strange, because he sounded more like a pirate than Australian, but that's my dad for you, people love him and I think that's part of the reason why. All in all I'd say our Australian Journey was a success. We learned about The Outback and The Great Barrier Reef and as always, it cured the wanderlust as much as it made me want to jump on a plane and go there tomorrow. I'm off to spin the globe again. Cheers Mates.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Creating the Outback (Australia)

Pull out your best Aussie impressions because it’s time to head to The Land Down Under. That’s right, we are learning about Australia and couldn’t be more excited!

Since we were on day one of our Australian endeavor it was time to make the flag. This one was a bit harder than any of the others had been, but I knew we could pull it off.

With a straight edge, scissors, a glue stick, red, white and blue paper, we sat down and got started. I measured to get the right proportions and marked out the lines for the stripes. Then I passed Aiden the marked paper and his scissors. He cut along the lines to make white and red stripes of two different thicknesses. While he was cutting I started drawing the stars, I had to free hand them, so they aren’t perfect but they’ll do. This time I had to do most of the cutting because the kids were having trouble with the stars and kept accidentally cutting them in half, or otherwise missing a point or two. When the pieces were all cut, I passed the glue stick to Eliana and she glued the pieces. Together we placed them were they belong.

This flag took longer than any of the others had so far and the kids were a little disappointed that they didn’t get to do ALL of the cutting, but in the end, when the flag was complete, they decided it was pretty close to the real thing and so they were happy.  

After creating the flag it was time to move on to our craft project. Since my kids are pretty young I have to be careful that the projects are not only fun for them, but also doable with minimal help from me (they get mad if I intervene too much). I had been bouncing back and forth about what I wanted to make with the kids. I even decided to skip the sculpey if you can believe it! I finally decided that bouncing back and forth, or forth anyway, was exactly the answer. We needed to do a project that included bouncing kangaroos. We talked about what we could make and Aiden said, "Why can't we just draw pictures of kangaroos?" Since this whole adventure is really about teaching them, I feel like it is important to include them as much as possible when it comes to deciding what we will do. So, I suggested that we make placemats. They both liked the idea. This project is probably the most basic and simple project we have done so far, but it was mostly Aiden's idea, so they were happy with it. Supplies we needed: markers and construction paper. After trying to draw a kangaroo and not being happy with the results, we decided to create a template. I cut out two kangaroos from a cereal box and gave one to each of them. They traced them to the best ability of their little hands and adorned them with faces. 
Aiden, just getting started.
Eliana, aka Wild Haired Child, with two of her creations. You can see that this one was for "Daddy".
Check out the joeys in the pouches!
Aiden made this one for me.
It says "momu" which actually sounds like "Mama"... he's still working that out. 

Now that we had a flag, and placemat to eat off of, the only thing left to do was to eat! Well, that wasn't the *only* thing left. There was still menu planning to be done and food prep, but those are minor details right? 


I heard this gem while learning about Australia.

A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Australian farmer and the two of them get to talking. The Aussie shows off his big wheat field and the Texan says, "Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large".
Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Australian farmer shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, " We have longhorns that are at least twice as large as your cows".
The conversation has, meanwhile, almost died when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. He asked, "And what are those"?
The Aussie replies with an incredulous look, "Don't you have any grasshoppers in Texas"?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eet Smakelijk- Eat Deliciously (The Netherlands)

Next up comes the menu planning. We had learned that pancakes are a staple in The Netherlands. Pancakes very different from the variety that we make here.  Pancakes that are more like a crepe and have meats and veggies in them are very common. Being that I am a non-red meat eater, I migrated toward the white meat options. In The Netherlands the cooked meat and veggies get mixed into the pancake before it is cooked, but we knew that one of our guests is an incredibly picky eater and it was clear that I would have to modify a few things, or else have a hungry dinner guest. Since we were unsure what the picky eater would want, we separated everything and then rolled it all up like a wrap. I realized that we were being less authentic, but in the end I think the flavor was the same and it was good, and as we learned from our Moroccan Dinner, it doesn’t really matter how it looks, it is likely to still taste fantastic.
The beautiful candles came from Rijks Museum in Amsterdam.
We started with Mustard Soup.
The pancakes (and the separated filling).
The less than authentic mode of eating the Dutch Pancakes, as mentioned above.
For drinks we had black currant juice which was the closest I could get to Cassis, which is a popular drink in The Netherlands. Though, I will admit that the adults jumped an ocean and added rum, not Dutch, but yummy.

Our guests did a great job of researching a few Dutch dishes as well and they brought two sides to have with our meal.


As we wrapped up our tour of The Netherlands, we looked back on what we had learned, reviewed another set of Trivia questions and as always took a deep breath. A deep breath like the one that comes out at the end of a holiday, after all of the guests have gone home and the prelude to the big event has passed. Another successful meal done. Another country checked off of our list. With all of our enjoyment of learning about The Netherlands and eating the foods, I am certain that we would thoroughly enjoy a trip there and who knows, maybe I'd even be able to find some Dutch music that won’t take me back to junior high. 
(See my adventures of searching for Dutch music here)
** The tile of this post, Eet Smakelijk is pronounced "ATE Smahk-A-Lick"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Get Out Your Wooden Clogs (The Netherlands)

What? You don't have any wooden clogs? Well, as we turned our calendar I was pretty excited to see that The Netherland’s would be our next “stop”.  My brother, sister in law and nephew currently live in Amsterdam and I have been dying to go there, but airfare is pricey and since I'm not quite ready to sell a kidney, this mode of learning and exploring from home will have to suffice.

The first thing we did was get started on our construction paper flag.  If you aren’t familiar with the flag of The Netherlands then you might think I am exaggerating when I say that it took more time to get the supplies out of the closet than it did to make the flag, but look below and you will see, it is no exaggeration.

So far this was the easiest flag to make. Project #1 done.
The next step was to try to find some music to enjoy throughout the month while we learn more about the area. Since I had really good luck with the last two countries that we visited by just googling, I tried that again. This time, when I found free streaming radio, I pushed play and heard Mr. Big, “To Be With you”. WAIT, WHAT???? Mr. Big is Dutch???? Nope. Then, I tried again and basically, got Rick Rolled (You're welcome). I was learning that I might have to give up on finding any Dutch radio that wasn’t American radio from 20 years ago. 

When project day came, I once again, pulled out the Sculpey, I love this stuff! (See other Sculpey projects we did here and here). We had already invited some friends to this month’s celebration, so we decided to invite them to do the project with us too. Wooden clogs, seemed very cliché and therefore, the perfect thing to do. So, we made mini sculpey clogs.

Aiden and his friend holding their creations.
Eliana holding her clog.
Obviously, when you are making dutch clogs, you must adorn them with tulips and windmills.
With the flag done and the craft project done. Our "trip" to The Netherlands was shaping up nicely, I was already working on the menu planning. 

My Nephew (shown below) currently lives in Amsterdam and has been contemplating joining the football team (soccer as we call it in The U.S.).  I am sure that if they had him on their team last year, The Netherlands would have won The World Cup instead of placing second. 
Whoa! That's a big ball!
I *did* mention that my nephew is a dog didn't I ?????
I hope his PR Manager doesn't mind that I used his picture. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moroccan Caravan Part III

With our crafts completed and our hands decorated for the occasion, we were ready to move on to our big night. The night when we listen to music, eat food, and review what we have learned by playing a casual game of trivia.

On the day of our celebration the guests that we had invited, Preston's parents, were unsure if they’d be able to make it. I started to worry that my kids would be disappointed if we didn’t have any guests, because how can it be a celebration without any guests? At the last minute we heard from my mother in law that she was coming but my father in law was not. Also, that she was bringing two of her other grandchildren, our niece, age 12, and our nephew, age 10. We had to scramble to rearrange our plan a little bit to accommodate two children as opposed to one adult, and sadly we were short one napkin ring, but we weren't going to let that ruin our night, it's only a napkin ring after all.

I had the table set and the food cooking when our guests arrived and... it. was. aromatic. Our niece and nephew immediately started with, “Eeew. That smells gross.” And as annoyed as I was, I also kind of agreed. It smelled sort of... bad. I was worrying about how we were going to plow through a meal that smelled so pungent. I hated the idea of calling for pizza after all of our preparations, so I continued cooking the entire menu as planned. While listening to Arabic radio, I told myself that it was okay if we didn’t like the meal. It was ok because we were still learning, and besides, the music was SO good.  

When we all sat down at the table there was reluctance in the air. No one wanted to be the first to taste the food.  

Here is our dinner table and there's that pashmina that I mentioned here!
We served it up on to the plates and everybody took some of everything. It really didn’t even look that good. I took a bite and it was like a celebration of flavor in my mouth.  It was sweet, it was salty, it was spicy, it was flavorful and juicy. It was absolutely delicious! Then, a beautiful thing happened, I heard my 10 year old nephew say, “Wow, this is actually pretty good!” After that, my niece said, “Yeah, I like it.” My kids, who are far less difficult to please when it comes to food, gobbled theirs up too. 

 Khoubz, Moroccan Flat Bread. 
Romaine Lettuce and Orange Salad.
Seffa Medfouna.
 The white stuff on top is powdered sugar. Clearly I should have used a sifter to get an even coating instead of clumps. The chicken was supposed to be buried in a mountain of this but I wanted to separate it to accommodate picky eaters. I opted for couscous instead of vermicelli because couscous is the "National Dish  of Morocco".
Moroccan Saffron Chicken.
My dinner plate.
Dessert: Ghoriba with coconut.
We all breathed a little easier, since the reluctance was gone, and I started asking the trivia questions.

Beyond learning about the wildlife and transportation of Morocco, we had learned a new lesson. Not everything that smells different is bad and sometimes by staying focused and moving forward you can be greatly rewarded with good conversation, bellies full of yumminess and memories of happy children that were learning while they were playing.

After our guests left and the kids were settled into bed, I took a deep breath of relaxation. Then, I turned the calendar to see which country we were onto next.....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Moroccan Caravan Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, this part of our Moroccan adventure was a super fun one! We were going on an outing, one that required some coordinating with a friend and had Aiden, Eliana and I hitting the road when they should have been heading to bed. Preston was working, so sadly, he had to miss this field trip.

While doing some research about Morocco I learned that, since Morocco is an Arabic country, they practice the Art of Mehndi. Mehndi is the use of henna for temporary skin decoration, or tattoos. Typically henna tattoos are done for special occasions, such as weddings and other big celebrations. Since we were closing in on our end of the month celebration, I thought it would be a great idea to get our own henna tattoos. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is incredibly talented when it comes to the art of mehndi.

When we showed up at my friend’s house I had the kids in their jammies and my friend along with her sister gave us henna tattoos. The kids did a great job sitting still while they were getting theirs and even while they waited for the henna to dry.

Aiden's henna tattoo.
Eliana's henna tattoo (almost done). 
Eliana's henna tattoo, done.
My friend’s sister did a great job on mine. I was so impressed with how beautiful it looked and how effortless it seemed to be for them to create these designs.

Getting my hand decorated with henna.
The palm of my hand complete.
The top of my hand complete.
When we were done and I was getting ready to pack the kiddos up, my friend gave me the rest of the henna that she had mixed up, so that I could give Preston a henna tattoo also. I felt some serious pressure to maintain a certain standard after seeing how wonderful the rest of ours looked, I couldn't possibly do as well as they did, and I didn't want Preston to have go to work the next day with a henna hack job. 

I think my hands were shaking as I tried to channel my inner peace. I thought, "I will mediate and take deep breaths as though I were doing yoga and the designs will come naturally". Well, as it turns out, I am not a yoga master and the designs did not come naturally. After I had finished I was a little disappointed because it was nowhere near as good as the ones Aiden, Eliana and I had gotten, granted, it could have been far worse but it was lacking the beauty and flow that ours had. 
Preston's palm complete.
The top of Preston's hand complete.
We definitely had a lot of fun with this part of our Moroccan adventure. This was our last project before our celebration and we were really enjoying all things Morocco so far, now we just had to taste the food. Monday I will be sharing the details of our Moroccan Feast!
Until then, I'm curious, have you ever had a henna tattoo done for you? Have you ever done one yourself? If you have done it yourself, were you happy with the results, or did you feel like I did, that maybe you should stick to letting the professionals do it? 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Moroccan Caravan Part I

Morocco was the second country on our list. I was feeling a little panicked yet optimistic. I had no Magic Tree House Book to engage the kids and I didn’t know if we even liked Moroccan food. Our Greek month was so fantastic, how on earth was I going to match that? At the same time I was excited to learn about Morocco, I have always loved Moroccan designs and I was eager to learn more about the culture.

The first creation was, once again a flag. Since I still haven't improved my sewing skills, I got out the usual supplies, a straight edge, a pencil, (red and green) construction paper, scissors and a glue stick. We measured, we cut, we glued and then we sat back and admired our work. Not bad.  

The next thing I did was make a trip to A.C. Moore. I had no idea of what kind of project I was going to do with the kids. I had to find something so wandering around a craft store seemed like the best way to find inspiration, and inspiration is what I found. I bought Sculpey (again), a package of small plastic mirrors and a bag of metallic colored seed beads. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with these items yet, but I knew that we could figure it out.  As I was heading for the check out I saw a rack full of pashminas priced $9.99 which inspired a prefect idea. I bought my supplies and my pashmina and headed home.  

The next morning, the kids and I sat down with our new supplies from the craft store and decided on napkin rings. We were so excited to get started we didn't even change out of our pajamas first, we just jumped right in. We made napkin rings by first creating black circular discs out of Sculpey. 

Next, we pressed a small mirror into the middle. Then using whichever metallic beads we desired we created designs by pressing the beads around the mirror. 

We then scored the back of the Sculpey discs with a small knife and attached Sculpey loops to be the ring parts.   

I started to get a little worried about this project, because the next step wasn't something I had considered yet. I wasn’t sure that the mirror and beads would be able to withstand the heat of baking them in the oven, but I decided that since the temperature is so low, it couldn’t be that bad (I know, I’m so wild and crazy taking a risk like that). After I lined my baking sheet with aluminum foil, I realized that in order to keep the loops from getting squished I’d have to put the napkin rings face down in the oven. I put them in the oven and spent the next 15 minutes thinking that the project was probably going to be ruined because I just threw some beads and plastic mirrors into the oven face down. I imagined melted plastic and an ooey mess on the napkin rings and baking sheet, but when I pulled them out and flipped them over I was pleasantly surprised.

With our flag created and our crafty napkin rings done, I was feeling pretty good. Then, I had a brilliant idea (yes, I’m patting myself on the back).  This brilliant idea would be our next Moroccan adventure. I was so excited I had a hard time keeping it a secret from my kids. My next post, this coming Thursday, will be about our outing. I’m eager to share with you what kind of adventure I think is worth having the kids out past bedtime on a school night. Until then, I hope that you are inspired to wander aimlessly around a craft store and create some project that might be a way of opening a door to some far away place that you've always wanted to visit, but just haven't made it to yet.

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