Thursday, June 5, 2014

Learning is Fun

     Summer semester has started, and I've hit the ground running.  This semester I'm doing Adult Health I, or Medical-Surgical Nursing, and Pathophysiology, or Fluid and Electrolytes, which are two rather hefty subjects, so I'm going to be pretty busy for the next couple of months.  Since I knew what I was getting into, I decided to start a few long-term activities with Monkey.  I already showed off the Human Body that will be something we can add to as we go.  Another thing we started was an ecosystem.  I found the idea for this project here, and I loved it!

Here's what you'll need:
3 empty and clear 2-liter bottles

clear packing tape

aquarium gravel (or fine, rinsed pea gravel)

de-chlorinator (optional)

rubber band

4-inch square piece of netting


mustard, rye or alfalfa seeds

fish, snails or other aquatic life

elodea or other aquarium plants

duck weed

crickets, pill bugs or earthworms

a couple dead leaves or small sticks

Step 1:
  Cut the top off of the first clear bottle (make sure the labels are removed, you'll need the bottles clear so the sunlight can get through).

Don't cut it too short, just chop off the spout so you have enough of a bowl left over to fill with lots of water. This will be your "bottom floor."

Step 2:  
Cut the top and the bottom off of the second clear bottle, making a clear coupler that will eventually link the two other sections together.

Step 3:  
Cut the bottom off of the third clear bottle but save it, you'll reattach the bottom with tape after you fill it with good stuff and it will be your "top floor."

Step 4:  
In the bottom floor (the one you cut up in Step 1) put an inch of aquarium gravel and fill it nearly full with water. Make sure it's treated with de-chlorinator to take out the chlorine or, if you don't have any on hand, you can set out the water in a shallow pan for 24 hours and the chlorine will evaporate.

Step 5:
  Choose your guests!  We used two little guppies, male and female. We also chose a couple of different plants from Petsmart's fish section.  The guppies live quite happily by eating the plants and algae that accumulates in the bottle, keeping the system in balance.  The plants help keep oxygen in the water and filter the water.

Step 6:  
Now fill your top floor. Place the piece of netting over the neck of the bottle and secure it with the rubber band. With the bottle upside-down and the bottom off fill with about an inch of gravel then with a couple inches of soil and plant your choice of seeds (alfalfa, rye or mustard work well and are easily found in health food stores).

Step 7:
  Choose your top floor guests. You can use pill bugs or an earthworm or crickets.  We chose two earthworms and three crickets. Let them loose among the grass seeds and throw in a few dead leaves and a stick or two for decomposition.

Step 8:
  Replace the bottom to your top floor bottle and secure it with packing tape. You might want to have the top edge fit slightly down inside of the bottom edge (and that's when the bottle is upside down and the soil is in the spout) because as moisture collects in the top part it will trickle down the walls and if the seal isn't tight you'll get water on your counter. Fix this problem by putting the edges down inside of the edge they're to join up with.

Step 9:
  Slip the taped up bottle down into the coupler, secure it with packing tape and then slip the bottom edge of the coupler down into the top edge of the water-filled bottom floor. Secure it with packing tape.

Step 10:  
Place in a well-lit spot where sunlight can get through the clear plastic to do its work. Sunlight will allow photosynthesis which will keep the cycle in motion. Keep an eye on your guests, we lost our original pair of fish, and had to replace them.  Thankfully Petsmart has a exchange policy if the fish die within a certain amount of time.  We lost a cricket, but the other two seem to be doing great.  The whole thing is really quite cool to watch.

      This is our ecosystem after about a week and a half.  There's grass growing up top, and more algae is growing in the bottom.  You can even see condensation at the top of the bottle.  I used that to help Monkey understand how rain works.  That and another Magic School Bus episode, Wet All Over really brought it all home for her.  

     I've been doing a lot of hands-on, scientific-type projects with her mainly because I want her to grow up thinking of learning as something fun and enjoyable.  I don't want her to drag her feet about school or learning.  I want her to be excited about new ideas and new concepts.  I think that's the biggest problem kids have in school, but if they're excited about what they're learning, they may actually want to learn more.  

   Well that's my soap box for the evening.  Now how about I get off of it, and leave y'all with a recipe?  This one comes from The Wholesome Dish, but I made a few adjustments.

Very Berry Chicken Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
serves 4

1 TBS cooking oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp Tony's (or your version of a season-all)
4 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 cup strawberries, diced
1 1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
1 TBS poppy seeds
2 TBS white vinegar
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
3 TBS honey
1/2 tsp salt

Heat cooking oil in a skillet.  Season chicken breasts with Tony's, and add to skillet.  Cook about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through.  Remove from skillet, and let rest 5 minutes.  Cut into chunks.

While chicken is cooking, assemble salad in a large bowl by adding spinach, strawberries, blueberries, and walnuts.

Also, prepare salad dressing my mixing together Greek yogurt, poppy seeds, white vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, honey, and salt in a small bowl.  Top salad with chicken chunks.  Serve with dressing.

   This is seriously the best salad I've ever had!  The dressing was the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.  I loved it!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Little Artsy Scientist

     I'm hanging out here on my blog instead of Facebook because my fellow Nursing students may vote me off the island if I mention wanting to go back to school again.  I'm currently wrapping up week 2 of my 3-week break from school, and I'm getting a little stir crazy.  I think it's because J is deployed.  If he were home, I'd be busier, and so time would fly by, and I'd be whining for more break, not more school.  As it is, I've been trying to keep busy by scrubbing down my house, purging my closets, and doing a few fun crafts with Monkey.
     Yesterday while cleaning out one of my closets, I came across a painting from the first paint party I ever attended.  It's a rather vibrant flamingo that I never really had a place for, see:

So I decided to paint over it and make it into something fun for just us girls to do.  

     I painted the entire canvas in a few coats of white paint before letting it dry.  Then I used some tape that wouldn't peel the paint to spell out the word "Love".  (Original, right?)

     I then dropped small amounts of brightly colored paints all around the canvas, and I instructed Monkey to help me spread them around.  The rules were you could mix one or two, but no yuck brown color, and no leaving any white spots.  I started at the top, and she started at the bottom, and we met in the middle.

     Once the entire canvas was covered in paint, we called it a day, and let it dry while we went out for Mexican food with a couple of friends.  When we came back, the paint was all dry, so I began to remove the tape.

     And voila!  Our own little work of art:

     I love that my child can go from an artist to a scientist like a sports car can go from 0 to 60.  Her variety of interests make it easy for me to come up with something to entertain her.  Lately she's been interested in the Magic School Bus.  She has the Inside the Human Body book, and it's her latest favorite.  She's also been begging me to let her watch the shows, which I was happy to oblige her once I discovered them all on Youtube.  Yesterday when she got home from daycare, I had a surprise waiting for her.  We put together our own map of the human body.  

     I went to Office Depot and found a roll of white poster board paper in the teacher's section.  I laid that out on the floor and had Monkey lay down on top of it so I could trace her.   We then taped the outline to the door in the kitchen and Monkey colored a few different organs.  We mainly focused on the digestive tract, because that's what the Magic School Bus: For Lunch episode focuses on, but the Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body book goes into the heart, lungs, and brain as well, so we added those in for good measure.  (For printables, just click on each organ listed: stomach, intestines, brain,  heart and lungs)  Some of the printables were too big to fit in her little body, so I just freehanded them.  As she colored each organ we talked about what their functions are. 

Drawing the cereal she had for breakfast.
   After assembling the entire body, we went to Youtube to watch The Magic School Bus: For Lunch one more time.  I also like the idea that we can come back to this project and add other systems later, like the skeletal system, the muscles, the nervous system, and more!  Plus, it's a good review for me  :-)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Things I've Learned from my Cat

     My cat has quite the personality.  He's my bratty diva, and he knows it.  I know not everyone is a cat person, but they should be.  After all, there's lots to be learned from cats.  I've compiled of list of life lessons my own little fur ball has taught me.

1.  If someone dangles something in front of your face, walk away.  That's right, you're too good for that "carrot before the horse" mentality.  Walk away with your head up, and once you've put some space between yourself and that arrogant asshole dangling the thing, turn around and attack their hand with all your strength.  That'll teach 'em.

2.  Don't let anything stand in your way. No, really.  If something is standing in your way, maul that sucker until it's an unrecognizable heap of shame…then play with it.

3.  If you want something, go for it.  I suggest by taking a running leap.

4.  If someone has the audacity to try to cage you, put up the world's biggest fight.  You're too full of life and potential to be held back by four walls.

5.  Let your feelings show.  That's right: happy, sad, manic, it's all good.  If you get urge to sing the song of your people at 3 am, go for it, and the neighbors be damned!

6.  You're not fat.  You have extra protection from disembowelment.  (Seriously, it's a thing.)

7.  If you claim something, that makes it yours.  Just make sure you hide it really well to make sure it remains yours.

8.  Take naps.  How else will you be able to party all night long?  Concerned about the neighbors?  See #5.

9.  If someone's not giving you the attention you deserve, demand it!  That's right, go full-diva.  Strut your stuff right in their face, and if that fails, lay down on their laptop.  That'll teach 'em!

10.  It's good to have a dog for a best friend.  Who else would you pin your bad gas on if not for the lovable mutt laying next to you?

     And since you sat through my randomness, regardless of your affiliation with cats, you deserve a banana split.  For breakfast.

Breakfast Banana Split (Greek Yogurt version)
Inspired by Pinterest

1 banana, split lengthwise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 TBS honey, plus extra for drizzling  
Fruit of choice, diced (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pineapples, etc)
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats

Mix yogurt and honey together.  In a separate bowl prop up two halves of the banana; dollop the yogurt mixture between them.  Top with fruit and oats.  Drizzle with extra honey as desired.  Enjoy!

Calories: 351
Fat:  1.5 grams
Carbs: 76.1 grams
Protein: 15 grams

Vitamin A: 2%
Vitamin C: 39%
Calcium: 18.9%
Iron: 7%

*These numbers are based off of the types of fruit I used, so if you decide to go with a different combination of toppings, your numbers will be a bit different.

Breakfast Banana Split (Cottage Cheese version)

1 banana, split lengthwise
1/2 cup cottage cheese
Fruit of choice, diced

Prop up two halves of banana in a bowl.  Dollop cottage cheese between the halves, and top with fruit(s) of choice.  Enjoy!

Calories: 229
Fat:  2.6 grams
Carbs: 42.3 grams
Protein: 11.3 grams

Vitamin A: 8.4%
Vitamin C: 44.9%
Calcium: 15.2%
Iron: 2.6%

*Same disclaimer as above.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Smooth Operator

     I've been on break from school for almost a week now, so you'd think I would have posted a new blog by now, but what can I say?  I've been busy catching up on all that nothing I wasn't doing while I was in school ;-)  I did get a few thing accomplished this week but nothing too noteworthy.  The biggest event was when my little Monkey "graduated" from her daycare on Friday!  She'll be starting Kindergarten this fall, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that.  She sure looked cute in her cap and gown, though.

        Here's hoping the transition from daycare to "big kid school" is a smooth one.  Speaking of "smooth", I have been on a huge smoothie kick lately, and of course I want to share a few of my favorites.

How's that for a smooth transition?  I guess I'm just a "smooth" operator.  ;-) 

     Last time I shared the Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie.  When a friend of mine saw it, she shared that she loves to put something green in hers, and that's when I decided to give this guy a try:

Green Smoothie
1/2 Avocado
1 cup spinach
1/2 cup pineapple chunks
1 banana, frozen and sliced
1/4 cup pineapple juice (I simply used the juice from when I sliced up the pineapple)

Mix all the ingredients together in a blender, and enjoy!

Calories:  322
Carbs:      55.9 grams
Fat:          12.2 grams
Protein:    3.3 grams
Sodium:    29.5 mg
Sugar:      34.1 grams

     I was a little weirded out by the idea of a liquified avocado, but it was really creamy and good.  However, I figured that was enough green to last me a while, not to mention my spinach crop shriveled up, and I ran out of avocados.  So for the next smoothie I nixed the green to make this:

 Tropical Blackberry Smoothie
1 cup pineapple chunks, frozen
1 cup blackberries, frozen
2 small tangerines (I stole a couple of my daughter's Halo's)
1/4 cup walnuts
2 tsp sugar

Mix everything in the blender, and enjoy :-)

Calories:  446 
Carbs:      65.4 grams
Fat:          20.9 grams
Protein:    8.8 grams
Sodium:    3 mg
Sugar:      43.4 grams

     This one has been my favorite so far.  I've made it several times, which is no problem this time of year when blackberries can be found in abundance around the base.  Monkey and I pick at least 2 cups every time we go for a run or a bike ride together.

     Now this next smoothie requires a little explaining.  What had happened was, I was craving a milkshake, but we had no ice cream in the house (mainly because J is deployed).  No biggie.  I simply turned to Google to find a makeshift recipe, and I found this:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake
from Yummly

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1/4 cup milk
12 ice cubes

Mix everything in a blender, and serve.  This actually makes 4 servings instead of 1.

Calories:  442
Carbs:      30 grams  
Fat:           33 grams
Protein:    15 grams
Sodium:    300 mg
Sugar:       15 grams

      My only caution with this recipe is that you should start off with 1/2 cup of peanut butter and work your way up.  I did the full one cup, and it was way too much, even though I love peanut butter.

     Since that didn't really satisfy my chocolate craving, I tried again today to get my fix with this next recipe.  Oh, and I added something green :-)

Chocolate Avocado Smoothie
1/2 avocado
1 1/2 banana, frozen and sliced
1/4 cup walnuts
2 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's)
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani's)
2 tsp sugar *optional*  (I have a big sweet tooth)
1/4 cup milk

Blend and serve.  Serves 2.

Calories:  311
Carbs:      38.3 grams
Fat:          17.9 grams
Protein:    7.9 grams
Sodium:   25.6 mg 
Sugar:      21.4 grams

     That got the chocolate monkey off my back for a while (I hope anyway).  The next smoothie doesn't have a picture, but it was another top ranking one.  The only thing stopping me from making it again is the lack of grapes.  Monkey ate them all :-(

Grape Smoothie with Oats
I'm sorry to the original poster, I found your recipe on my phone, and now I can't find the link!

1/2 cup black seedless grapes
1/2 cup-1 cup oats (1 cup was a bit much in my opinion)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (Again, I used Chobani)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 banana, frozen and sliced
1 TBS honey

Blend and enjoy.  Makes 1 serving :-)

Calories:  601 
Carbs:      122.1 grams
Fat:          6 grams
Protein:    22 grams
Sodium:   63.7 mg
Sugar:      53.6 grams

       So there you have it.  An arsenal of quick, but yummy smoothies for breakfast or snack time.  I will probably be posting more soon considering I now have a freezer packed with pineapples, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.  I love spring time!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Spring-time Recipes

     I love this time of year!  The weather is beautiful.  The birds can be heard chirping away outside my window.  The blackberries are beginning to ripen.  Everything just screams, "Spring!"  I come alive during this time of year.  One of my favorite things to do it take Monkey for a run and then walk home, picking blackberries along the way.  Pretty soon, my favorite you-pick farm will be opening, which means even more fresh produce.  There's just no down-side to this time of year.  Well, except snakes, but we're not going there this time.

     With the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies at the store and in my own garden, it's so much easier to eat healthily this time of year.  Which is helpful, considering it's about time to drag out that bathing suit again.  In honor of bathing suit season I'm going to share a couple of healthy, yet simple meals.  The first one, Grilled Chicken with Strawberry and Pineapple Salsa, comes form the American Heart Association, and it was different, but in a good way.  You'll have to click the link to get the recipe.  It's copyrighted, and I'm not that big of a rebel (You hear that, Mom?).

     In addition to attempting to eat healthier, I've also been pressed for time in the mornings.  Thankfully I don't have to sacrifice nutrition (or taste) for simplicity or speediness.  Lately I've been throwing a few things in the blender, and drinking my breakfast.  This time of year is perfect for smoothies, thanks to all the fresh produce that's available.  Here's one of my latest concoctions:

Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
Makes 2 servings

1 banana sliced
1/2 cup chopped pineapple
1/2 cup diced strawberries
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 TBS honey

Put all ingredients into a blender, and blend on high until nice and smooth!  Enjoy :-)

     Now I'm off to study for my final exams, one more week, and then I'll have a three week break!  I'm not going to know what to do with myself!!!