Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Green Ember Book Club

I have been really wanting to do a book club for my kids and friends, and with our great love for The Green Ember and the sequel coming soon, it seemed the perfect place to start!

I'll share a few of the things we did and used for our celebration.
Preparations included trying to cut a bunch of cardboard swords and wrap the "blades" with foil, as well as drawing the Jupiter's Crossing scene from Lighthall on wax paper to try to imitate a stained glass window.
I had some eager helpers for the preparations.

I made a little patch for each kid of the symbol worn by all in Lord Rake's order--white background with green and red diamonds side by side--and pinned them on each kid's shoulder as everyone arrived.

Here's our finished attempt at the "stained glass window."

As the kids were arriving, I had colored tapes and markers out for them to each decorate the hilts of their swords.

Once the kids had arrived and finished swords, we began our scavenger hunt.  I had taped up these clue stations around our little gated neighborhood.  To make them, I just copied some photos from the book (or sketched a quick image for a few) and wrote the names of the places.  I divided the kids into three teams and gave them a color.  (I had thought it would be fun to give them each a citadel name and symbol, but I ended up going a simpler route with just marking colors.)  Each station had a clue for each team, indicated by their team color.  I did put the clues in different orders for different teams so that they weren't just following each other.  They all ended at Jupiter's Crossing where there was a small plastic jewel (Green Ember!) and some black paper birds hanging from the trees.  The kids were supposed to "fight" the birds and recover the Green Ember!  
Of course before we set off on our quest, we all stood together, and when I put my hand over my heart and said, "I think we should say something together before we go," they all jumped in right away without any other prompt and said, "My place beside you, my blood for yours, 'til the Green Ember rises or the end of the world!"  Seriously, I almost cried.

The clues were not as clever as I had hoped I would come up with, but I have linked to the document for anyone who wants to use them.  The answers are included on one page, and another page just has the clues to print.

Retrieving a clue

Studying the clue and thinking

Fighting the birds of prey to retrieve the Green Ember

After the scavenger hunt, the kids all made their own "stained glass windows."  We adapted a few versions we found to use the supplies I had available here.  The kids drew their design or scene and then traced the lines with black marker and colored the picture (crayon or oil pastels work best).  When they finished coloring, we put the pictures face down onto clear contact paper and rubbed the back of the picture with a paper towel dipped in cooking oil until the picture appeared translucent.  Then they let them dry, and the finished product looks quite nice to see the design on the window.  One tip for a future attempt is that I would go ahead and cut the contact paper to intend to have about an inch extra on each side of the design, which would make it easier to stick to the window.  They did, by the way, take a long time to dry and were a bit oily for carrying home!  Here are is the sample I made and the one my sons made:

Morbin Blackhawk made by my younger son

We also happened to have a pack of gummy RABBITS that my mom had sent us for the kids to enjoy while they worked on their art!

I really wanted to try to include a good discussion of the book in our book club time, and I've been so inspired by Greta Eskridge and her sharing about book clubs and having rich discussions in those times (definitely the inspiration behind me going ahead and jumping in on doing the club), but I still felt a little unsure of how it would all go.  This was the first time we've tried to do something quite like that, and we had kids from 1 to 12 years old (though the littlest were realistically little sibs of kids who were more like 4 and up).  
It was wonderful!  The kids really jumped in and shared and had some great thoughts, and it turned into a really rich discussion.  The moms and older ones jumped in with some good thoughts but without taking over the conversation in any way, and our younger ones shared some surprising insights as well!  I used Sarah Mackenzie's Quickstart Guide to Great Conversations with Kids about Books (included in RAR membership) as a jumping off point.  I allowed time for kids to share some favorite parts or quotes, and then we started by discussing things like "How are Picket and Heather the same (and then how are they different)?"
The richest portion of our discussion started from the question of which character they thought was the bravest and then other characters they thought were brave, and some really interesting things came out of that.  It was just really fun having a room full of 20 kids (not including the toddlers) engaged in discussing a wonderful book!  

Of course we had to have lunch after our discussion!

This is not the greatest picture of our food!  :)  I made some Savory Den soup (basically vegetable soup but making sure it definitely had potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms) and bread.  Then, to remember the sweet bread dipped in peaches (and maple syrup, which we can't get here), I made peach cobbler.
While the kids ate lunch, we did turn on the replay of the Read-aloud Revival author event with S.D.Smith, and that was fun to hear him talk about the book!

We also made Star Seek, but between having a lot of kids, plenty to fill the time, and super muddy ground from monsoon season, we didn't end up playing.
Just a little extra Green Ember art my son drew when we were rereading the book!

It was a really fun time and a great start to our book club!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wingfeather Saga Poetry Tea

We have loved doing poetry tea time in our family.  I wasn't sure how much my boys would enjoy it, but they really do!
Since we were obsessed with all things Wingfeather and having a great time with poetry tea time, I decided to combine them.  I went through and marked with sticky notes all of the songs or poems I could think of in the books.  Isaiah decorated a cereal box to be The First Book, and we painted a big rock gold and put glow-in-the-dark glitter on it to be an ancient stone.

Instead of tea we decided to have "bibes," of course!  We got several varieties of juices and just mixed them with either ginger ale or cream soda to make what we imagined to be things like grape bibes or berry bibes.  Some flavors were a better combo than others with the sodas. :)
Also, in honor of The Orchard Inn and Cookery, we made pumpkin bread.  I use the recipe from the link without the frosting.  And, given that we were still a bit short on cooking gas, I made it in the rice cooker like I've done throughout the winter!

The boys' favorite was definitely the troll poetry, and they decided to "write" their own, which shifted the tone of the tea time just a bit, but who can resist uncontrollable little boy laughter? ;)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cheesy Chowder and Butter Bread

Cheesy Chowder
I used the WingfeatherSaga.com recipe, which I understand is actually Andrew's mom's recipe.
This one is one my son has been asking for since we read about it in the first book.  Ironically, he isn't much of a soup eater.  On top of that, while Nepal has tons of delicious food here, cheese is not a strength!  So, when I imagine a bowl of thick cream chowder with melted cheddar, it was hard for me to let go of that and just embrace the general "cow cheese," which is not great.  Because of that, I did also add a few processed cheese slices to the mix.  Not classy, but it helped it be a bit smoother and make for a more familiar cheese taste.
I also used chicken broth instead of water.

Butter Bread
I used this recipe, but I doubled the butter (both for in and on the bread) because, well, in this Midwestern American girl's mind, if you have something called BUTTER bread, I want to TASTE the butter!  :)
I did then only do 1/4 c water at the end and probably could have skipped it altogether.  It makes a very wet dough, so I kneaded it in the bowl and let it rise there.  It is a different texture than a sandwich bread this way (almost more like a biscuit), and it was falling apart (I might try to play around with that a bit), but we loved it!
One note:  This makes one very large loaf!  I couldn't see anywhere in the recipe where it said what SIZE of pan to use.  I used my larger loaf pan (9x5, I think), and it still filled it to nearly overflowing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Legos and Drawings from Wingfeather

(I should note that these drawings and Lego scenes might kind of be spoilers, so wait if you haven't yet read the books!)
When my son is enthusiastic about something, he often kicks into long stretches of drawing or building Legos related to it.  He asked me if there are any Wingfeather Lego sets, and when I told him there were not, he opted to make his own.  He was sure that Andrew Peterson needed to see these, and that these sets should definitely be manufactured!  :)

First, when we were doing book reports for our homeschool co-op, he made a promotional poster for the first book.  He doesn't always take a lot of risks and usually asks for a coloring page of a subject before he'll start drawing it.  We ended up printing out a couple of the illustrations from the Wingfeather Saga site (Pete on Nugget, the toothy cow, and the Fang).  Once he had those, he actually sat for a long stretch of time looking at the drawing in book 2 of Pete's tree house and drew it on his own.

One of the first things he wanted to make was giant Nugget.  Since he wanted it to be much bigger than the usual minifigures, he built it and tried to make a head.

Here is his drawing of Artham and the sea dragons fighting off Fangs on the Enremere.

These are the minifigures he put together.  From left to right:  Leeli, Durgan guildling, Janner, Bat Fang, Bat Fang, and Green Fang.

He spent quite a lot of time on this scene.  It is the Glipwood jail (with Janner) and the Black Carriage with a Green Fang driving.

Just a few things he's been creating as he gets engrossed in the stories.  He also is building Chimney Hill but doesn't want me to take a photo with it not finished. :)

Oh, and I'm adding his Gnag-Dragon that he just finished.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Appreciators of the Neat, Strange, and/or Yummy

If you know the reference from that title, then you are our people!  And, if not, JOIN US!  :)
We have been reading the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson and have been absolutely and completely captured by it!  My son and I have bonded so much over it, and we are just wrapping up the last book (don't write any spoilers!).
My son and I are "go big or go home" kind of people, so when we love something, we tend to submerge ourselves (and those around us) in it!  So, we'll post a few things here on the blog in case there are other crazy fans who just can't help themselves from pretending to live in Aerwiar for a time.
And, why not start with food?!
So, a few recipes for you to kick this off:

Henmeat Biscuit Pie (adapted from Alton Brown)
Janner says in The Monster in the Hollows that it is his favorite when he has come home from a very rough day.  His mother simply says, "I know."  Comfort food at its best.

8 T (1/2 c) butter
2 pounds henmeat, cut into pieces
1/2 c flour
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup cream
2 cups chicken broth
1 t salt
1/2 t ground sage
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

4 1/4 c flour, plus more for rolling out
3 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t ground sage
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 1/2 c grated cheese (We don't really have options here; it's just "cow cheese." But, I would go with cheddar, if given the option. I did find some "aged" cheese here that I used.)
170 g (3/4 cup) cold butter, cut into small pieces
(Alton has a trick that I have heard is really good, which is to freeze the butter and then grate it...but, really, I never remember to freeze it ahead of time, so I've never tried it.)
1 1/4 c buttermilk (I didn't have any, so I soured plain milk with about 1 T of vinegar.)

In a deep skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and brown the chicken pieces in it.
Add the flour and mix it in, cooking for about a minute.
Slowly add the liquids (milk, cream, and broth).  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cooking for another 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.  Season with the sage, salt, and pepper, and then set aside.

For the biscuits, combine all the dry ingredients and grated cheese.  Then cut in the butter (I just use a fork) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Pour in the buttermilk and stir to combine.  Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and start folding the dough over on itself, gently kneading for 30 seconds, or until the dough is soft and smooth. Press the dough into a 1/2-inch thick round. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out the biscuits, being sure to push the cutter straight down through the dough to the work surface. Make your cuts as close together as possible to limit waste. Gather together any remaining dough, pat out again, and cut out as many biscuits as you can. 

Pour the henmeat filling into a large (mine was 9x13) casserole dish and then lay the biscuits on top.  (I ended up with more biscuits than fit on top, using these quantities, so you could adjust the quantities for the biscuits, or we just baked the extra biscuits on a tray and enjoyed them.)  
Bake at 400 degrees F until the biscuits have risen and are starting to get golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Jellymuffins (adapted from Simply Delicious)
Mentioned in the first book, at least, when they go to the Dragon Day Festival
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup soured milk (mix about a teaspoon of vinegar into the milk and let set for a few minutes before using)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g butter, melted (2/3 cup)
12 tsp sweetberry preserves
for the coating3/4 cup granulated sugar

  1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  2. Put the sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl and mix to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the sour milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients and melted butter into the dry ingredients and fold until mixed well.
  4. Place 2 tbsp of the mixture into each muffin hole. Add 1 tsp of the jam into the center of each and then cover with the rest of the batter.
  5. Place the muffins into the oven and allow to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin before removing and rolling in the granulated sugar.
  7. Serve warm.
My eager helper

And, just a little glimpse of what the "idea man" was actually doing while little brother and I did the cooking...

I guess we all have our roles!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Vehicles in Nepal

We moved here to Nepal when my youngest son was only 18 months old.  This is his home, his normal.  In typical little boy fashion, I suppose, he loves vehicles.  Anything with wheels holds his attention and affection.  While my older son struggled with the transition to not having the predictability of just walking out to our parking space and getting in our own car, my younger one took great delight in the experience of getting to ride many different forms of transportation.  Just a few weeks ago, when he and I went to a farmer's market in another part of the city, he requested that we not take the one direct option of getting in a taxi and going straight to our destination.  He wanted, as he often does, to ride in a bus to one spot, take a tuk tuk to another, and then finally get in a taxi.  Certainly not a time-saving route, but he tends to get that things are not in a hurry here better than I often do! :)
So, to continue to share a bit about our home here, I wanted to share some glimpses of Zeke's favorite things here--the vehicles.

Vehicles here are not, in many ways, that unique from other countries in the region but are quite different from those we are used to in the West.

There are many large vans like this one that are part of the public transportation here.  They call one a "microbus" or just "micro" for short.  They travel along specific routes, and you get on one and find a space (or just cram in where a Westerner would never imagine there to be an actual space) and then exit and pay when you have reached the point on the route where you wanted to go.

This is a tuk tuk.  It is a three-wheeled little vehicle with a seat in the front for the driver and a passenger (or a few) and then two benches line the walls of the back compartment.  You enter through a small door in the back.  Again, they travel regular routes, and you pay when you get off at your stop.  Usually, and this is Zeke's favorite part, you tap the roof twice to let the driver know you want to stop and get out.

While this it itself just a regular car, it is decorated for a wedding procession.  It is commonly part of a marriage celebration to have a car decorated elaborately with flowers.  It is usually accompanied by a procession of family and friends and the wedding band.  It is a delightful procession!

This is an ambulance.  Not a lot to say about that, but ambulance service to private homes is not as common.  Often people take it to transfer from hospital to hospital.  Traffic does not yield to them as it does in the States, but they do have a light on top (or sometimes in front) and a siren.

Bicycles are certainly not unique to Nepal, but the number of people that ride them as a primary means of transportation is quite high.  

Similarly, motorcycles are perhaps the most common mode of motor vehicles here.  They are much more common for individuals or families to own than a car.  I wish I had a photo of someone carrying a load they need to transport on a bicycle or motorcycle.  It is truly impressive to see what they can manage to transport (grills, beds, major appliances, goats...seriously, it's amazing)!

One of Ezekiel's favorites is the bus.  He really likes to ride the bus.  He used to climb up the bars of our window and then hang off to pretend he was what he affectionately calls the "bus banger."  Every bus has a guy (usually pretty young) standing in the doorway--often hanging out of it--who is calling out the destinations and trying to attract passengers to get on.  He bangs on the side of the bus one time to tell the driver to stop and two times to go--thus, the name "bus banger."  :)
This is also the person who collects the money (between 10 and 20 rupees, depending on the distance, which is roughly 10-20 cents in the US).  Ezekiel was very disappointed, when preparing for our visit to the States this past summer, to find out that there are no "bus bangers" in America--only a machine to collect your money!  What fun is that?!  ;)

There are times, including now with the fuel shortage, that the buses get quite crowded.  People (men only really) pile on top to ride or hang from the back ladder or the side door while the bus goes.

We often take taxis, especially if we have things to carry from errands or need to go to a specific location that isn't along a main bus route.  We live in an area up a hill, and the tuk tuks and microbuses don't come up to our part.  Taxis are much more expensive than taking a bus, but they are still quite inexpensive in comparison to what a taxi ride in the States costs!  Usually, the price is negotiated before the ride.  
This is perhaps our record number of passengers we have achieved in one taxi!  There are three of us adults and eight kids!  Seatbelts and car seats are not required!  Technically, I believe the drivers are required to wear seatbelts, but they usually just drape it over themselves if they are approaching a checkpoint. 

Not a mode of transportation for people, but water trucks are vehicles that are a common part of life here.  Water is not just available at all times from municipal plumbing.  At our home, we have a tank in the ground.  For one hour per day, a line from the city supplies water to that tank.  We then have a pump that pumps it to a tank on our roof.  That tank is connected to the plumbing in our home.  The supply from the city is often not sufficient, so we call a water tanker like this one, and they come and fill the tank with a big thick hose that looks like a fire hose.  Ezekiel still likes to watch when they come and enjoys being the one to pay them, but it used to be an even bigger highlight for him.  He would get SO excited to hear one coming into the neighborhood and would sit and watch the entire 20 minutes or so that it took to fill the tank.
He was a little overwhelmed here because the guys actually let him sit up in the water truck.  It doesn't appear he's enjoying it, but it was a BIG deal for him!

When we still had a double stroller in our driveway, the boys would take a snack and sit in it and just watch the water truck.  Big event for the day! :)

These tractors are also a common sight here, as they are often used to haul things.

Often several guys will ride along with the load, perhaps to help load and unload but sometimes just along for the ride.

These days with the fuel shortage, we see a lot less vehicles around than normal!  We're hoping that things will soon return to normal functioning.  In the meantime, good old-fashioned walking has been getting loads of us where we need to go.