Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bird Calls and Birdsong in Music

One of the first sources you'll find when looking for bird information is probably this site, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It's awesome. Our favorite section was the one on bird calls and birdsongs, where you can look up individual birds and listen to their calls. We usually started here at the bird guide, where once you reach a given bird's page, you can hear its calls and songs as well as see other information about it.

I also have a really good iPad app called iBird Pro, which I got because it was on sale for .99 one time (regular price $19.99 or something)---but I love it because you can search for birds based on only what information you have ("it's brown, it's small, it's in Utah") and it has great photos and information too. And it also has bird calls to listen to. Having used it, I think I'd now pay even the $19.99 for it---it's certainly as useful as a good bird book. We'll definitely have to do another unit on birds sometime in the summer when we have more birds around (and more inclination to go out hunting for them) because it's really fun to see what we can identify.

We had a good book about the language of birds and all the different meanings they can convey through their various sounds. Fascinating!

This site has a little memory game you can play, matching birds to their songs. (It's free, but you have to create an account.)

We also listened to a bunch of classical music that incorporates birdsong (either imitative, or interpretive) and talked about why birdsong has been so inspiring to composers throughout history. I really loved doing this.  I always love it when we get to talk about something I have some background in (I love it when I get to learn something new, too, but it's just so fun to share my interests). I thought maybe I was getting a bit carried away by introducing the children to Messiaen, but they liked his music and were quite interested in his efforts to provide literal transcriptions (though transposed and adapted to the limitations of orchestral instruments) of birdsong. This isn't simple music by any means, but it's so interesting!

This site has clips from several good (and more traditional) bird-related pieces (e.g. Peter and the Wolf, Handel's Cuckoo and the Nightingale organ concerto). I also thought this was an awesome idea for a science project, but for children a bit older than mine. Still, it lists lots more ideas for music about birds!

Then I also played sections for the children from Olivier Messiaen's Réveil des Oiseaux and Oiseaux ExotiquesWhat cool, challenging music. Messiaen is quite fascinating. Did you know he came to Utah and wrote a piece called Des canyons aux étoiles… inspired by Bryce Canyon? That one has birdsongs in it too. Sebby and Abe really liked the parts of it we listened to---it's eerie and modern and very evocative.

And one more thing we did: I read the story of the Emperor and the Nightingale (Hans Christian Andersen, you know) out loud, and then we listened to the Stravinsky tone poem of the same name. (Or I guess it's called "Song of the Nightingale.") It's a great piece---not traditionally tonal, but I don't think it's one of those really strange pieces that's hard to listen to. The children were easily able to identify the "robotic" sound of the sections where the mechanical nightingale sang, and hear the more traditional beauty in the real nightingale's song. In fact, they liked the whole thing and asked to listen to it again the next day.

Oh! and then we also found a few YouTube videos of talking parrots doing amazing things like singing "How Much is that Doggie in the Window," to our great amusement. It was even funnier because most things Junie says these days sound exactly like a parrot talking. We laughed and laughed. Here are two videos we liked.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bird Unit Schedule and Lesson Plan

Birds! This unit was in honor of Malachi, for his birthday, although it didn't actually take place over his birthday. There are SO many resources on birds as a lesson unit, it must be very popular. People like birds, I guess. And who can blame them? So do I! We'll do this again (maybe with more specificity) when the weather is warm sometime. There were lots of activities (like making bird feeders, or birdwatching walks) that just didn't seem fun in the cold. But luckily, there was also plenty of other stuff to do.

I thought the day on how birds fly was really interesting (I learned a lot preparing for it). Feathers are so cool! We looked at some different types under our magnifying glasses, and held them under water and so forth. It was one of our favorite things that we did. Abraham loved to ruffle up his feather and then smooth it back together (connecting up all those little barbicels again) like a preening bird.

This video is a good basic review of feathers. There were several good books from the library too (listed above).

Also (I'm not sure where this fits, exactly), this is a nice free (printable) coloring book with a whole bunch of different kinds of birds in it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa Lucia Day

Lussekatter and hot cocoa. This makes me hungry!

We were lucky because Sam was working from home on Santa Lucia Day, so "Lucia" had someone to serve this breakfast to in bed. Daisy is too young to be much help, but the boys and I had fun making the buns together, and I'd rather eat at the table anyway. But yum! We will certainly make these every year. Recipe here.
We had a Lucia crown, but it was too heavy for this tiny girl.

She wore her paper one instead. And my mom whipped up this little dress for her in about an hour. That's the kind of sewing prowess I fear I'll never have. Luckily my mom is so sweet and generous about doing stuff like this (which I didn't even ask her to do, I just asked if I could borrow an angel costume, but the ones she had were too big for Daisy).

Aaa, she's so cute!

The procession prepares to . . . process? Proceed?
Junie feels that she should be a part of this, and inserts herself into the line.

Lussekatter (Saffron Lucia Buns)

These saffron buns are SO good! They're just slightly sweet---not quite like a cinnamon roll. They're soft and fragrant and the pearl sugar adds a delightful crunch on top. I hadn't ever cooked with saffron before and it gives them such a gorgeous color, and flavor. Saffron is expensive, but I found it at World Market for a pretty good price. And having tasted these buns I would buy it again! I think we'll make these every year.

The Swedes (and the Danes) make these for Santa Lucia Day on December 13th. The oldest girl in the family wears a white dress with a red sash, and crown of candles on her head, and serves these to her family. When I was little I wanted to do this so much!

On to the recipe! I found it on this excellent blog, and there's really no need for me to reproduce it here because he does it so well, except that maybe you wouldn't run across these buns at all otherwise. So I can at least introduce you to the idea of them!
Look at the beautiful yellow of this saffron-infused milk!

(recipe from here)

1 gram saffron threads
16 ounces (2 cups) milk
7 cups (2 lbs. 3 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 c sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
8 ounces sour cream (room temperature)
3.5 ounces (7 tablespoons) soft butter
egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 T. water)
pearl sugar* or coarse sugar

*I got my pearl sugar at IKEA

Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle or in a bowl with the back of a spoon as best you can. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan just to the simmer and add the saffron. Stir it, turn off the heat and let it cool until it’s just warm (about body temperature).

Meanwhile, stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Add the the sour cream and stir to combine. Add the flour steadily and stir until a dough forms. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough about 7 minutes until it’s very elastic and comes away from the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, add the soft butter about a tablespoon at a time until it’s all incorporated.

Turn the dough out into a large bowl, cover it with a cloth and let it rise about 40 minutes or until about doubled in size. Flour a work surface, turn out the dough and cut it into 35 (or so) pieces. Roll them out into snakes about 14 inches long. Flatten the snakes slightly with a pin, then roll the strips inward from each end into an “S” shape. Lay them on parchment lined sheets to proof, about another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set your oven racks in the lower half of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Paint them with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake 8-12 minutes until golden.
These are really fun to roll up, even more fun than cinnamon rolls!
Seb and Abe loved helping
Here they are on the pan. Their name means "Lucia cats," and can't you imagine them as cute little cats sitting up with their tails curled? Adorable.
And ready to serve, with some hot cocoa. Yum!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Paper Lucia Crowns

Santa Lucia Day is really mostly a Swedish tradition, but the Danes have now adopted it too, and I've always loved it. I always wanted to dress up as Lucia in the white dress and red sash and candle crown. My mom says I did one time, but I don't remember it. 

After we learned about the history of Santa Lucia's life, we made paper Lucia crowns. (We left out the tray of eyeballs, a charming detail in some of her portraits! She is patron saint of the blind, among other things.)
To make these, you just cut out a bunch of leaf shapes in different colors, and a few little red berries. Then you cut out a strip of cardstock for a crown, and glue the leaves and berries on, and then put a ring of candles around the top. Easy. Our leaves look more like holly than lingonberry, but oh well. 

On Santa Lucia Day, boys get into the festivities by being "starboys" in the procession, but Seb and Ky were understandably more interested in the candle crowns than the starboy hats, so theirs became "Saint Luke" crowns instead. :)
Ky was a starboy, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finn's Cafe

It was Malachi's birthday during this unit, so our "field trip" was to go out to breakfast at Finn's Cafe. It's a Scandinavian-style diner up near Sugarhouse. We liked the decor---very clean and white and modern, with sweet little lingonberry wreaths on the windows. Their food is more Norwegian than Danish, but they had lots of Danish-type things like rye bread, and salmon with capers, and pancakes with berry jam and sour cream. We tried all the things that looked most Scandinavian (they have typical American breakfast-type food too) and everything was really good---we loved the breakfast salmon (so different! but interesting!) best. Because it was Malachi's birthday, our waitress brought him and all the other children a little dish full of strawberries and whipped cream. Yum!

We love our five-year-old Malachi!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rødgrød med fløde

I loooove rødgrød med fløde---which I translate as "red pudding with cream," but "grød" I think actually means "gruel," so I've seen it sometimes called "red soup" or "cold berry soup" too.  (And you may have seen "Danish dessert" mix sold in stores by the pudding---but this homemade stuff is just as easy and much yummier, I think.) 

Yes, rødgrød med fløde is the phrase Danes love to use to make fun of Americans and how they can't pronounce things the right way. The way Nana and my mom and I say it, it sounds kind of like "hoy [gutteral 'r'] ghoy ma floy-ya." But a video I watched online sounded a lot more grunt-y and slurred, more like "reh-heh-meh-fleh." Lazy. :) I'm sure the Danes would laugh, but the children and I are constantly saying it to each other and then feeling quite pleased with ourselves.

Anyway. It's so good, and SO easy. You can use any kind of berry or currant juice, or a combination of juices. All the recipes I found online tell you how to make it by cooking down the berries and then straining out the solids to get your juice, but for a faster way (and a better way for winter!), just use pre-juiced juice. (?) Even juice from concentrate works okay.

Here's the recipe:

Rødgrød med fløde

2 c. red fruit juice---currant, raspberry, plum, cherry, etc., or a combination of these (I used part pomegranate juice this time because I was trying to use some up)
1 small cinnamon stick
3/8 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
About 1- 1 1/2 c. sugar, or to taste (don't make it too sweet)

Bring juice, sugar, and salt to a boil. Mix cornstarch with small amount of water and stir into the hot juice. Bring to a quick boil and remove from heat as soon as it thickens. Pour into large pudding dish or individual bowls. Serve with unwhipped cream poured on top.

Danish woven heart baskets

I remember seeing these all over Nana's tree (and we had quite a few of them on ours, also) when I was little. They are really fun to make!  I'm linking these instructions because they are really awesome in English ("Do woven the strops inside and on the outside each other [not up, not down]"), but we were actually looking at a book we had for instructions. It's not that complicated once you get the hang of it. It's just like weaving (over, under, over, under) except you are putting the strips through each other as you go, because your strips are doubled. So it's more like "around, through, around, through." I know that doesn't make sense until you're doing it. If you really want to know how to make them, email me and I'll give better instructions! :) Anyway, both older boys were able to make them, Ky did it with lots of help, and even Daisy gave it a valiant effort (she constantly amazes me with her persistence and fine motor skills).

She had the different layers cut out, with strips in them, without any help from me. She just couldn't quite figure out the weaving part.
And she made this, too.

The Danes hang these on their Christmas trees, and then on Christmas Eve the children find them filled with candy and sweets. They eat the treats and then hang the hearts back on the tree! I think they are such cute little baskets. 

On an only sort-of-related note, one of my favorite things about the Danish Christmas is that they have a whole bunch of days of celebration---Juleaften is Christmas Eve, which is the day they open presents etc., but there's also Lille Juleaften (the day before Christmas Eve---a very useful designation which the children and I immediately adopted into our terminology) and then there's Christmas Day and "Second Christmas Day" (Dec 26th). Five days of Christmas! Not to mention Twelfth Night on January 5th. Fun!
Junie is cute

The hearts look so cute on the tree! And the children are greatly looking forward to finding some surprises in them on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Luminarias aren't really a Danish thing as such, but I did see a picture of a Danish house decorated with luminarias in one of our books, and since this was something I'd wanted to do anyway, that was good enough for me. :) Anyway, the Danes do love their candles---I read that they use more candles per capita than any other country in the world! So I'm sure they would approve.

I don't know if I actually remember the luminarias (or are they farolitos?) from when we lived in New Mexico, but I've at least been told about them so often that I think I remember. They line the houses and sidewalks in whole streets and neighboorhoods at Christmastime, and I love their soft light. So beautiful!

I had battery-operated candles, and white bags, so without really knowing what we were doing, we set out to make designs in our luminarias! (I suppose I could have looked up instructions online . . .)
We just stuffed dishcloths into our bags

Then punched holes (with a yarn needle or an awl) along the outlines of the designs we'd drawn lightly in pencil.

On some of the bags, we traced cookie cutters and cut out whole designs (like stars or trees).

They looked very pretty!

And they look even better outside! You can't really see the designs from far away, so the plain bags look about the same as the punched ones. But we love them all!

Hoover Dam

I interrupt our Denmark Unit to bring you this special coverage of the Hoover Dam. Would you believe me if I said the boys were just as excited about going to the Hoover Dam as they were about going to Disneyland? Our trip to Flaming Gorge just whetted their appetites (the Flaming Gorge guide kept giving stats in relation to the Hoover Dam), so they'd been looking forward to it for a long time. Unfortunately, kids under 8 can't do the longer tour at the Hoover Dam, but we did get to see the powerhouse and everyone seemed content with that. Junie was extra heavy and squirmy and we hadn't brought the stroller, so Sam and I were definitely content with that!

Seb loved this huge wall diagram of the path of water through the powerhouse and dam. Probably because he has drawn many a similar diagram, in his day.
Tunnel toward the old diversion tunnel

The enormous penstock---we got to walk right over it

Powerhouse (Nevada side)---7 of the 15 enormous turbines

Intake towers
One of many re-constructions created after we got home (note powerlines coming out of powerhouse toward transformers)

Friday, December 7, 2012


I really love æbleskiver. The only trouble with them is that you have to have the æbleskiver pan (which I still don't---I borrowed my mom's---but someday I'll get one) but they are SO cute and fun to make. Some of the books I read called them little "donut balls," but they are really much more like pancake balls. I love every part of the process---the way you poke and turn them with a knitting needle or skewer, letting the inside batter spill out so they make these cute little pac-man shapes, the way they turn golden brown and spotted on the outside like little tigers, the way you can break them open and fill them with jam or lemon curd or nutella when you eat them, or roll them around in powdered sugar or syrup. Mmmm!

I'm trying to find the recipe I used this time. (I didn't have Nana's recipe handy.)  I think it was maybe this? It was one of the ones where you beat the egg whites separately. But I really like the pictures here.

Some books said these were a Christmas breakfast tradition, but I think they eat them anytime, like pancakes. WE will certainly eat them anytime!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Danish/Scandinavian Christmas traditions, and Ris a l'amande

I've always felt like I had a good connection to my Danish heritage in some ways (saying "Tak fa mad" after meals, cooking fricadeller and æbleskiver, singing little Danish songs to my babies, etc.)---probably because Nana passed on so many of those things to my mom, and she to me. I felt that connection deepen even more when I took a year of Danish at BYU. But I don't consider myself an expert on Danish culture by any means, so I was excited to check out some books and learn more. I felt like it was such an inspired idea to look back and see how our grandparents celebrated Christmas (both sides are Danish, Nelson and Nielson!) and try to incorporate some of those traditions into our own celebrations, so they could be part of my children's lives too. Then I suddenly ran into a bunch of other posts and articles talking about celebrating your heritage at Christmastime, so maybe my idea was more due to zeitgeist, or something, than to inspiration. But it was a good idea however it came, and we really enjoyed this unit. We have a few more things planned for later, and I think some of them will become part of our yearly Christmas celebration. I love that.
This is ris a l'amande. (Almond rice pudding.)  The Danes put out a kind of rice porridge (this, without the cream and sugar) for the elves (nisse) on Christmas Eve. Then they make the rest into this delicious rice pudding and eat it at their Christmas Eve dinner. The cook hides a whole almond inside the pudding, and whoever gets the almond in their portion wins good luck, and the "almond prize"---usually a little treat like a marzipan pig. I was planning to just give a little candy cane or something, but when I found actual marzipan pigs at World Market, I couldn't resist! Marzipan isn't very good (in my opinion)---but the kids liked it and it was fun to taste!
Abe found the almond, so he got the big pig.
Of course we couldn't leave the others out. They got these small pigs.
I tried a different recipe for the ris a l'amande this year, and it was good, but I should have just stuck with Nana's recipe, which is slightly easier, and so yummy. Here it is.

Ris Alamande (this is how it's spelled in my recipe)

2 c. cooked rice
2 c. milk
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. almond extract
1 c. cream, whipped

Heat rice, milk, and sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy. (Quite a while---maybe 20 min to 1/2 hour?)  Remove from heat and add almond extract. Cool and fold in whipped cream.

I love this when it's still a bit warm and very soft. It's even good without the whipped cream!  And it's often served with a cherry or raspberry sauce on top, which is delicious, but I like it best plain.
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