Homemade Lemonade

As part of our Natural Health and Wellness course, Kyri and I have been reading and discussing healthy drinks. While we usually only have water and almond milk in our fridge, on occasion we have some juice or a sweetened drink like lemonade. Kyri prepared (with a little help from Mom) a pitcher of lemonade that we all enjoyed!

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Vegan Homeschooling and Sea World

A sea turtle we got to meet up close at National Aquarium in Baltimore. She lost her front flipper and has been rehabilitated and now resides at the aquarium. Cases like this are what puts aquariums in the gray area of vegan philosophy for me.

Here in San Antonio we live quite close to Sea World. We can actually see the roller coasters when we drive out of our neighborhood. Many of our friends frequent Sea World or have season passes.

And yet, every time we drive past, my daughter and I talk about how it’s not nice to keep animals in small tanks for entertainment purposes. We talk about riding the roller coasters at Fiesta Texas instead because they don’t have animals there.

Sea World hosts a Homeschool Day each fall. This year it is on October 4th. There are no rides or attractions, just hands on interactions with the marine animals. It sounds like such a wonderful educational opportunity, it really does. And I do understand that Sea World is not just about entertainment but also helping marine animals and educating the public. This is why I think zoos and aquariums are a gray area for so many vegans, because there are educational opportunities and if we expect people to be moved to protect animals, we need to expose them to the animals.

We had a membership to the National Aquarium in Baltimore before relocating to Texas, and enjoyed it the few (two?) times we went. We saw the dolphin show there once as well. I think these facilities train dolphins because they are so smart, and these shows are a wonderful way to showcase their intelligence. At the time, I was unaware of where many of the dolphins used in shows such as this come from (The Cove was enlightening).

Even with the positive work done by facilities such as National Aquarium in Baltimore (they were active in habitat restoration and wildlife rehabilitation), and here at Sea World, I  have an internal debate with myself of whether to support them because they have captive large marine animals such as dolphins. Perhaps if I knew that all the animals were rescued and rehabilitated there, and that is how they came to be there, I might feel different. But this is not usually the case. I admit to putting an aquarium in a somewhat separate category in my mind than a marine park – though we have not joined an aquarium or zoo since relocating.

As for the Sea World Homeschool Day – we will be declining the opportunity to spend the day with the animals at Sea World. I am considering an alternative field trip for the kids that day.

How do other vegans handle these situations? Do you go to zoos or marine parks? Do you consider large reputable aquariums acceptable but not marine parks? I’m curious where vegans fall in this discussion.

 

Vegan Homeschool

We are vegan and we are homeschoolers. These two lifestyles might not appear to overlap, but they do. The vegan philosophy and ethics influence our homeschooling style, what we teach, how we choose to educate, what resources we use.

I recently had a guest post at The Homeschool Classroom where I discussed Vegan Homeschooling. We are not alone in calling ourselves vegan homeschoolers. There are others out there who include the vegan label in describing their homeschooling philosophy. Incorporating humane education into our curriculum, making choices  regarding education opportunities based on a vegan viewpoint (sometimes to do without), going against the mainstream view on diet, animal welfare, conventional medicine – all of these are included in our homeschooling experience. If you haven’t had the chance to read my guest post, I encourage you to check it out.

Educating Vegan Children

When we first decided to homeschool Kyri, I wanted to incorporate vegan ethics into our education plans. At this young age, most if not all of what Kyri has learned about our vegan lifestyle has been informal – we discuss what we do and do not eat (or wear or use) and for what reason. She has learned to ask if something contains animals in it before eating it. We talk about why we don’t eat animals – at a level a five year old gets. She knows what it means for an animal to die, as she was with me when I discovered our 20-year-old cat had died. So she does understand that dead means, well, dead. So explaining to her that meat comes from dead animals is simple enough for her. She understands that animals are killed for food and that there are plenty of other things to eat besides animals, so why would you want to?

In our household, vegan is the norm. While my spouse is omni, he eats mostly vegan at home (we have a grilling agreement in place). However, outside of our home, Kyri is bombarded with non-vegan and non-vegetarian messages. From books and cartoons that promote circus attendance to toy food products that always contain meat products, messages about using animals for entertainment, eating meat and participating in the “standard american diet” are all around us. I try to buffer her and use the exposure as an educational opportunity, but I would love to have vegetarian- and vegan- friendly material so she doesn’t feel like she’s the only one. We are VERY blessed with our homeschool associations – at co-op the moms usually make an effort to ensure that there are vegan options for Kyri. This is so appreciated – I never ask for accomodation for our lifestyle (just a heads up so I can plan for an vegan alternative for Kyri if necessary) but it really helps to not have Kyri singled out over something like food.

I’ve begun compiling a list of childrens books that either have vegan/vegetarian themes or characters, or are geared toward vegan/vegetarian children. I’ve also found cookbooks aimed toward young vegetarians, and since Kyri is my kitchen helper and loves my cookbooks, I think these are worth checking out.

Fiction

That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon

Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale

Friends Forever: The Story of a Budding Friendship between a Vegetarian Spider and a Feisty Fly

The Secret Life Of Mitch Spinach

Mitch Spinach and the Smell of Victory

Big Bob And The Thanksgiving Potato

Vunce Upon a Time

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Growing Vegetable Soup

Non-fiction

I’m a Vegetarian: Amazing facts and ideas for healthy vegetarians

I Love Vegetarian Food: Coloring Book

Cookbooks

Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes Kitchen-Tested by Kids for Kids

The Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook (Jumbo Books)

Easy Vegetarian Foods from Around the World (Easy Cookbooks for Kids)

Cooking With Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon

Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up

For Parents: Childrearing

Raising Vegetarian Children : A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Because I am parenting a younger child I was not looking for ethics books geared toward older children and teens. This list will continue to be updated as I find additonal resources. I am also in the process of finding vegan-friendly resources online that would be helpful in a vegan/vegetarian curriculum. Look for that in a subsequent post.

Baklava

We love baklava around here – its such a decadent dessert. I have been slacking a bit lately however and haven’t made any in quite some time. For our co-op, we have been reading about the ancient Greeks and Persians in Story of the World, and I thought it would be a fitting time to make some baklava. My husband thought that was a fantastic idea! The first time I made baklava I admit I was intimidated – it really does seem like a complicated dessert. But after that first time, I realized while it does take a little time to put together, it really is not so complicated.

Baklava is really just layers of phyllo dough, melted butter, and a nut mixture that is baked until golden brown. A simple syrup is then poured over the baklava after it comes out of the oven. The hardest part, I think, is waiting for it to cool completely – a couple of hours seems like forever, but is really important for allowing the syrup to soak into the phyllo sheets.

Each package of phyllo dough typically has two packs of rolled up dough. For a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, one roll will suffice. Butter the baking dish (I use Earth Balance) and set to the side. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place two sheets of dough in the baking dish (the dough will need to be trimmed a little to fit) and brush on melted Earth Balance (1/2 cup melted should be plenty), making sure to completely cover the sheets. Sprinkle on nut mixture evenly. Two more sheets go on, followed by melted Earth Balance and nut mixture. After the final layer of nuts is spread, a final layer of phyllo dough goes on. Place these individually and butter each sheet. The baking dish goes into the oven for 45 minutes, and immediated after removing, the syrup is poured over the baklava. It should cool for a few hours at room temperature before serving. This allows the syrup to really soak into the layers.

Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tsp vanilla

 

Sugar and water are heated on stovetop until sugar is completely dissolved. Agave syrup and vanilla are then added and mixture is allowed to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Syrup should be cooled completely before pouring over the baklava.

 

Nut mixture

 

3 cups nuts (I like a 1:1:1 mixture of almonds, walnuts and pistachios – I pulse them in the food processor so they are ground coarsely but NOT into powder)

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

 

Nut mixture is combined thoroughly and then sprinkled over each layer of phyllo after its been brushed with melted Earth Balance. Try for even coverage, and don’t forget your corners! As you can see in the picture, the bottom layers ended up with more nuts – my daughter helped with spreading the nut mixture and was a little heavy handed for the bottom layers. Just make sure you have enough for all the layers. If you love baklava, you really should try making it. Its a lot easier than you think and totally worth the effort!

Grandmother’s Famous Vegan Cranberry Bread

We just finished reading Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin for our Five in a Row curriculum. Kyri LOVED this book! This book was about a woman who is well known for her Cranberry Bread, and has turned down multiple offers to sell it to local bakeries. She guards the recipe carefully and suspects Mr. Whiskers of trying to steal the recipe for himself. The book has a lesson in judging others based on outward appearances. This book includes a recipe for Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread, which I modified slightly to be vegan. Since we finished rowing this book last week, yesterday we prepared our own version, which I have called Grandmother’s Famous VEGAN Cranberry Bread. The recipe has a bake time of 1 hour 10 minutes, but honestly I ended up giving the bread almost a full additional hour – I used 3 cups frozen cranberries, and I baked in a stoneware bread pan so this may have contributed to the longer bake time. It was also a VERY moist cake – it almost looked as though it wasn’t cooked all the way through after two hours, but it was just SO moist. Its a sweet bread with a tanginess from the cranberries – YUM! Next time I prepare the bread (and I will soon, because it was just so delicious!) I will thaw my cranberries first (I just forgot this time around) and I may also try the half raisin/half cranberry variation.

Making Playdough

I recently taught at my daughter’s co-op, and one of the activities I had planned for the children involved making a maze using playdough – we were learning about the Minotaur’s Labrynth that particular week. I had never made playdough before – my daughter has received Playdoh on occasion as a gift and does enjoy it but I had not ever attempted to make it homemade. I went in search of a recipe to use, and found this site which contains a large collection of recipes to choose from. I chose the Stay Fresh Playdough recipe, and the results were great! I made four double batches and prepared four colors for the children to choose from. While I do not typically use food coloring, our science kit had a pack for one particular experiment week, and so to use it up, I used the food coloring for the Playdough. THe next batch I prepare I will experiment with natural dyes.

For a single batch you would need:

1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of salt
1 tablespoon of alum
1 tablespoon of oil
1 cup of boiling water

I used my Kitchenaid mixer for this. I combined all the ingredients except the boiling water. While mixing, I slowly added the boiling water. I allowed it to mix until the right consistency was obtained and then I dropped in the food coloring. Continued mixing resulted in the color being mixed throughout. Finally I turned the playdough out onto some waxed paper and kneaded it several times to finish mixing the color. I allowed to cool and dry out just a little, and then stored in the fridge in a ziploc bag. I can honestly say that I will never buy commercially made playdoh again after seeing how easy it is to prepare my own – easier, less expensive and with minimal ingredients!

The final product – the colors and texture really came out great.

Packed up and ready for co-op!

The Great Outdoors

Since natural living is something we strive for here, one thing that I had hoped to become part of our homeschooling core was extended outdoor time. While at Keeber’s age (almost 5) and with a baby in tow, I wasn’t expecting to do hardcore nature hikes, I did want us spending time outside playing, exploring, just “being”. I’ve been kind of upset with myself because of how little time we have spent outside over the summer. There were no daily morning walks around the neighborhood or gardening in the front or back yard. These might have occurred once a week or once every two weeks. We did strive to do Park Day every week but that was just playing on a playground, which is great but not quite what I had in mind. In the past several weeks though, I’ve felt a lot better about things and have come to some realizations. Okay perhaps not realizations as these things were quite obvious, but mommy guilt tends to make us dismiss the obvious and go straight for self-blame. Or maybe that’s just me… In any case, we have been in a severe drought this summer, and its been HOT! We have had weeklong stretches of triple digit temperatures, and many mornings it was uncomfortable before 10 AM. We would often get outside to water our plants first thing in the morning, but had little time for anything else before it got too hot for us.

In the last several weeks, however, we have had much cooler weather around here, and I am finding that we spend A LOT more time outdoors. We will spend most of a Saturday in our backyard doing yard work and other projects. Keeber and I spend much of our mornings watching the birds from our back window – we have set up a bird area with feeders, shallow water baths, and an as yet unoccupied birdhouse that she painted. Often when we are home, she will head out back with the dogs to just explore the yard, dig in the garden beds, make mud and collect acorns or rocks. She loves playing in the dirt! The extended outdoor time we have had recently has really put my mind at ease over whether we were getting the outdoor experience I had desired. I came to realize that with the heat here in south Texas, I might have to accept that summer is not our season for lots of outdoor activities. We can get some things done in the morning, but (especially) with a baby, our window for outdoor pursuits is quite limited in the hottest part of the summer.

I think that I will take advantage of our extended seasons here – it warms up here earlier so our spring really gets a head start, and stays warmer (but not too warm!) longer. Even now in early November the weather is just amazing. Sixties and seventies during the day but still crisp fall weather at night. Today we sat on our front porch and enjoyed some much-needed rain. She drew with chalk on the front porch and picked some of our flowers (!). This is more like what I had envisioned for us. She is my rough and tumble, dirt-loving princess and it’s WONDERFUL!

A girl, her dogs, and her shovel. She LOVES to just go outside and dig! We got her child-sized gardening tools (rather than plastic toy versions) and she loves them!


Keeber and one of our dogs harrassing a beetle. Actually I think it was the dog who was doing the harrassing, she was just enthralled because it was a giant black and white beetle that she had never seen before. She is currently facinated with dung beetles…

Our resident squirrel. We are getting to know our “usual” visitors and this little guy has been around since we first moved here in the spring. He LOVES to taunt our dog from the power lines! We have been watching him over the last week or so kick his food foraging into high gear.

Part of our bird area set up outside our back window. We have a simple feeder with Songbird feed that the birds love. Not pictured are the tube feeder with thistle, which the birds really haven’t taken an interest in yet, and my daughter’s birdhouse. We are feeding A LOT of birds! This area is under our live oaks, and next to our fence, which is right next to our neighbors small trees. This makes this little nook we set up PERFECT for the birds because they congregate in the neighbor’s small trees, the branches of the live oaks (pictured) and on the fence. We usually have twenty or so House Sparrows, ten or more mourning doves, two tufted titmice, and four cardinals at our feeders. We also get a gang of grackles in our yard. We are getting to know our birds! They now love to explore the entire yard. We also have an identical feeder in our frontyard. We will be taking part in Project Feederwatch this year (more about this in another post…).


Keeber doing leaf prints at Growing Up Wild. I attended a workshop on a wonderful curriculum called Growing Up Wild when I first moved here, and several of the moms in our homeschool group did as well. We are getting together monthly and working through the activities in the (very extensive) curriculum guide. This month we did LEAVES! I’ll be doing an in-depth post about Growing Up Wild soon, as we have really had a great time with it!