Saturday, March 30, 2013

Egg Dyeing

We'd already learned a little about pysanky during our Russia Unit (though they are Ukrainian, strictly speaking) so it was fun to try the techniques ourselves (sort of) (not that our "techniques," i.e. drawing on the eggs with white crayon, produce really anything close to those beautiful works of art). You can buy pysanky kits and use actual melted beeswax to create the patterns, but that seemed like something to try when the kids are older. :)  Here are some traditional pysanky symbols/patterns we learned about.

Anyway, we had the most fun dyeing eggs that we've ever had. As an adult, this has been a tradition I don't get too excited about, though I love hard-boiled eggs---just plopping the eggs in egg-dye seems like way too little fun for the bother/mess factor involved. But creating patterns and interesting color combinations made it engaging enough to be worth it. We painted some designs on the eggs with clear nail polish, as well as using the white-crayon method, and those turned out really pretty also. I especially loved watching Sam come up with designs for his eggs.
We also did onion-skin eggs, using this method, which turned out SO pretty. I want to try some of these other natural dyeing techniques too, sometime. 

The finished eggs---lovely rainbows of them. Ahhhh.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Passover Dinner

During college I attended several "Seders" (I put that in quotation marks because I suppose most of them were abbreviated or otherwise altered from the true Jewish Seder) and I always found them interesting and enlightening. Some things I read online seemed to think it was offensive for Christians to celebrate Passover, but I see it as a natural outgrowth of our own Jewish roots, and a respectful way to learn more about the Savior.

There are ideas for "Christian" seders here and here, and an LDS perspective here, but after thinking about it, I decided we didn't really want a Seder dinner as such. I just wanted a special dinner where we could TALK about the Passover symbols, and how they pointed to Christ, and how they were ultimately fulfilled and transformed, and how they fit into our current Easter celebration. So, we cooked some of the traditional Passover foods, which was really fun, and had a nice Easter "feast" along with them, and spent the mealtime talking about what kinds of things Passover Season could mean for us. I thought it was really meaningful and fun, and I think we'll definitely do it again. Maybe someday it will be interesting to show the children more in depth the "scripted" parts of the Seder, but for now, I thought what we did was just right.
We ate baked ham and asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and apple/almond salad, and homemade matzos, and lemon curd cheesecake for dessert. Yum!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Crafts

You hear a lot of back-and-forth about "the True Meaning" of Easter at this time of year (and likewise at Christmas), and it's obviously a subject everyone has to do some thinking about when planning celebrations for their own families. My own philosophy was influenced by one of my favorite teachers at BYU, Wilfred Griggs. He spent a class period discussing so-called "secular" symbols of Christmas; their origins and how they could actually be tied back to Jesus Christ in various ways. I came away with the impression (though I don't know if he said this specifically) that it was much more effective to find ways to link holiday symbols to Christ than to simply discard these symbols or dismiss them as "just pagan imports" or whatever.

In other words, since what a given symbol MEANS is largely of my own mental construction anyway (i.e. a symbol has little meaning for me until I learn/absorb that meaning), why not use cultural symbols, along with religious symbols, to remind our family of Christ? So that, for instance, we learn how the Christmas Tree or the Santa Claus story can be seen as, not a replacement of Christ, but as a reminder/type of Him? Not a unique approach, I realize, but it has helped inform our family's thinking about holidays.

Anyway, as we learned about Easter's history, it was interesting to see how even the "pagan" Easter traditions (the ones tied back to the fertility godess, etc.) can teach us truths about the gospel, and remind us of the resurrection, new life, and renewal that Christ brings.
We did various Easter crafts during the week---these cute little chicks were easy enough, and

also these fwuffball chickies, which we just made up (fwuffballs + beady eyes + paper beaks + pipe cleaners, obviously).

We made these Speckled Easter Egg Truffles to eat, which were quite delicious. I guess I didn't take any pictures. Actually it seems I hardly took pictures of anything we did this week! I kept forgetting.

We made this "Christ ascending" craft (easy and cute)

These curly birds are also cute (we didn't make them though)

These Egg Geodes were pretty fun to make, also. (Not really that "Easter-y," but they used eggshells, so . . . whatever.) We got our alum at the "Kitchen Kneads" store (kind of a food storage specialty place) and it was much cheaper than elsewhere. You need kind of a lot of it, so it's worth searching out a place like that. Alum is used for pickling things, I guess.

This is a video of how to do the same thing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Unit Schedule and Lesson Plan

One of my favorite things---maybe my very favorite thing---about homeschooling is the time and freedom it gives us to have devotional/gospel study time together. Though our schedule for Devotionals is separate from our school schedule (i.e. we are studying different things in each), we often spend one or two devotionals during each school unit highlighting topics that apply to both areas. Anyway, with an Easter Unit, there was obviously a lot more overlap, which was interesting. We spent mornings talking about our own beliefs regarding Easter, and then went into more historical/cultural topics afterwards. So I have two unit schedules for this unit---the School one is above; the Devotional one is below.

I love Easter and have always felt like there are so many more things we could do to celebrate it, but I never get on top of things early enough to do so. I still think next year I may try to start preparations even earlier, but this year I read a really good book that helped me establish a timeline and a context for the religious side of things, so I based our devotionals for the week on that. It's called God So Loved the World by Eric Huntsman. It had some great topics to ponder and discuss with the kids, and I just enjoyed reading the whole thing myself. I recommend it.
The children really love charts, so this was our Holy Week chart---we filled it in each day to help us remember which events happened when. It was nice to have it up as a reminder on our wall all week.

Also, there is a great series of Bible Videos highlighting many of these events. The children really liked watching these.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Russian Tea Party and Russian Feast

One day we were reading a book that had a samovar in it, and the older boys were really interested in that, so we looked up more information about them. And that got us talking about tea-drinking customs and how indispensable a cup of tea is to socializing, etc. in some places. I happen to love warm drinks, herbal tea among them (I drink raspberry-leaf tea a lot during pregnancy, but I like lots of other herbal teas too) so we decided to have our own tea party (minus samovar, unfortunately).

I did have some sugar cubes on hand, which is strange as I can't remember where or why I got them (I don't add sugar to my herbal tea). But it was perfect because we could ask each other, "One lump or two?" :) I wonder if there's a Russian equivalent to that? And I got out the tea things Nana gave me before she died, which may just be the nicest dishes I own. We had a lovely time trying out different teas (I have a lot of loose herbs, so we enjoyed mixing our own as well). The children said they wished we had the custom of always offering tea whenever there were visitors!

Another day, we cooked up a Russian Feast---well, as Russian as we could get with our limited knowledge and resources. I had borrowed a Russian cookbook from Heidi, so we made Blini and two kinds of vereniki (dumplings? But I'm still not quite sure about the difference between vereniki and pierogi. I think pierogi are maybe fried/baked instead of boiled or something?). We also had deviled eggs ("stuffed eggs" as they were called in the cookbook). The blini were really good with jam and sweetened condensed milk on them (something we wouldn't have thought of using, but we'd tried it in Russia and it was good!). They are not as thin as crepes, and they're bubblier because they use a yeast batter. Very interesting and good. And we filled some of the vereniki with a cottage cheese mixture, and some with a mashed potato/chive mixture. We just sort of made those up as we went. They were both really tasty. We had enough to freeze for later as well (they took a long time to make/fill just because there were so many of them, but they were easy enough to do).

Everything was really good. There wasn't anything really adventurous in the mix, like caviar or liver pâté or whatever strange things they eat there---but it was still fun to try some new recipes and learn a little more about these foods. Russian foods reminded me a lot of Danish foods, actually, as I looked through the cookbook---lots of fish, interesting meats, etc.  I guess since the two countries are neighbors, that's understandable.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

St. Basil's Cathedral Models

We learned about Russian architecture, and Sebby (especially) just LOVED the Russian Orthodox churches---especially St. Basil's Cathedral. He devoured every scrap of information we could get about it. So I thought and thought about how we could possibly make our own onion-dome models. The only ideas I could find online were just 2-D or involved modeling clay, which I didn't have on hand (and didn't want to buy). I spent hours trying to think of a solution, because I just felt like we HAD to do this. Finally I found instructions for making these paper ornaments, and I thought the beads and curls on top of them looked sort of like Russian Orthodox crosses:
This type of ornament is pretty easy to make, but it did take much trial and error before we really figured it out. Our biggest problem was trying to use wire and ribbon to lace the strips of paper onto. It was just too slippery and the paper wouldn't stay put. Once we started using pipe cleaners, it became MUCH less frustrating for everyone. Abe and Seb were able to make the "domes" with no help from me (after the first ones). Malachi could help me fan out the paper and choose the beads and slide them on. Daisy just watched and TRIED to do things. :)      

So, we just made a bunch of the round paper ornaments on pipe cleaners with beads on top. (You can slide the papers up and down the pipe cleaners to adjust the curvature of your domes.) We left long tails on the pipe cleaners so we could string them through the toilet paper tubes to form towers. Then we taped the towers on top of boxes to make the cathedrals.

Abe's model

I think these models turned out really awesome, but I should point out that for Sebby, their accuracy was not really sufficient. He first of all really wanted to make his favorite dome, which he calls the "Peppermint Dome" (you see it prominently in the picture below):
One of one-million depictions of the cathedral that Sebby drew

I told him we didn't have a way to make horizontal stripes, only vertical ones, and that would have to be close enough. He tried steadfastly to come up with a way:
but he wasn't satisfied with this, so he reluctantly conceded that point.

Then, he was unhappy with the shape of our (mostly spherical) domes. They did not, as he pointed out several times, have the characteristic of "convex, then concave" that true onion domes exhibit. (Neither do the domes of the Taj Mahal, which makes them less appealing, Sebby opines.) We had another book which showed how onion domes were constructed, with vertical struts inside and overlapping shingles on the outer supports. Seb tried to construct a "true" onion dome using this book as reference, with the result below:
This looked good, but it was very time-consuming, and Seb was unable to come up with a way to cover the outside so it could be decorated.

So, in the end, he settled for the original version. And he did try to stay as faithful to the real colors as possible (though he was forced to adapt them somewhat). He also made a taller support to more accurately depict the middle gold dome. And he was pleased with the results. But he couldn't help saying to me wistfully several times, "I wish we could have made REAL onion domes for our models . . . " Poor guy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fabergé Eggs

Abergé Egg

I loved seeing the Fabergé Eggs in the Armoury Museum, and after reading several books about them, we all became quite fascinated. (Just as I was saying about matryoshka dolls---I love something that opens up to reveal another surprise inside! So delightful.) Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way, as many of the eggs are worth millions. :) There is a great website here that shows each Imperial egg, and the surprise inside. We could have browsed this site all day!

Disappointingly, we couldn't find any videos of the eggs actually working, which we really would have liked to see! But we did watch this video about Fabergé and the eggs (it is just the first half of the episode).

We decided to make our own "Fabergé Eggs." They were very inadequate because they didn't have little surprises inside like we wanted them to! But they were still fun to make. We used cardboard eggs from the craft store, and some plastic eggs too (although nothing stuck to those eggs quite as well). I have a big bucket of these little plastic "gems" which were perfect for making our eggs as ornate as possible. Oh, and glitter glue, of course.
I tried to make a "Lily of the Valley" egg

Sebergé Egg

Monday, March 11, 2013

Matryoshka Dolls and Blocks

One day we talked about folk art in Russia, which of course had to include matryoshka dolls. A great resource was this fascinating book we found at the library, which tells about how these dolls are made, and shows many variations. Of course we also loved The Littlest Matryoshka---such a cute story!

Sam and I wanted to bring some matryoshkas home from Russia for the children, but at first we didn't find any we really liked. Then Sam liked the painting on these dolls pictured above, which were sitting out in one store we went into. There were five of them out, and when the saleslady saw us looking at them she came over and opened the tiniest one to reveal another. And then another and another, and I thought there could not POSSIBLY be any more, but then there were TWO more! The littlest one was so tiny I couldn't even believe it. Of course we had to buy it. I just love tiny things. And things that HOLD tiny things. I think everything should have a tinier version of itself inside it, actually. Wouldn't that be cute?
It was fun to have a real one to look at while we learned about them. (This is Abe's hand, by the way.)

Here are a couple matryoshka crafts we didn't do, but they looked fun:

And this is funny: nesting phones

I also thought that the children should have a few domed blocks to add to their collection. (I wouldn't hesitate to call our blocks the #1-played-with toy around here. This being the case, I'm more willing to spend money on them than on other types of toys!) I love seeing what they build!
St. Basil's Cathedral

The Taj Mahal (not Russian, but onion-domed)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Russian Music and Dance

As I was thinking of Russian composers I wanted to highlight, I realized that many (most?) of my very favorite composers are Russian! I could hardly manage to edit this list of music down to a manageable size. As it was we spent several days listening to these great works and talking about them.

Scriabin is a particularly interesting man. When we were in Moscow our hotel was less than half a mile from a Scriabin museum (a house where he used to live) and I really wanted to go to it, but to my great regret we didn't get to (its hours didn't happen to correspond with our free time). They have one of his "color organs" there which I would really have liked to see. Anyway, briefly, Scriabin had (or thought he had---there is debate about if he had the actual condition) synesthesia, where you experience some of the senses in relation to other senses. He associated distinct colors with specific musical pitches, and he wrote many of his (later, weirder) works based on these color palettes. Most fascinating of all, in his later years he started working on his magnum opus---a work to be performed incorporating all the senses at once. It would have music, choirs, dancing, projected lights, and even scents wafting over the audience---and it was to take place outdoors, at the foothills of the Himalayas---and he believed that with all these specific frequencies (of light, music, etc) vibrating in harmony, all flesh would dissolve in bliss and a New Dispensation would be ushered in. (I think he was a little crazy.) But it was a cool idea! Anyway, he also wrote parts in several of his pieces for a "light organ" (or "color organ"). This had a keyboard like an organ, but pushing each key down produced a projection of light at a specific wavelength/color---rather than producing sound. (I would have loved to see how this worked!)

Scriabin didn't really have the ability/technology to realize his vision while he was alive (and he died before completing that final work he dreamed of)---but when I was telling the children about him, they (especially Sebby) were really, really fascinated with the idea of music + light. So we decided to research whether or not anyone else, later, had tried to perform some of his works incorporating the color/light elements as Scriabin intended. That led us to this really cool video, of a student who organized a performance of "Prometheus: Poem of Fire" for her thesis. (Hey, why didn't I think of that idea?! What a great project!) It's quite amazing to watch---the best part is seeing how complicated it was to set up all the lights and coordinate them, via keyboard, with the music. The music itself is not very tonal, and I don't love it, but the overall effect is so interesting. It would have been an awesome performance to attend live.

We talked about a whole bunch of other music and other composers too, but I'll spare you the details---except to say that the Shostakovich E-minor Piano Trio has a really interesting backstory too. I wondered if it would be too disturbing to tell the children about the Nazi Soldiers making the Jews dance beside their graves before killing them---but you can hear it in the music, and it's so powerful when you know what Shostakovich is trying to depict, so we went ahead and talked about it. Nearly all of the Russian composers had such strange, changeable lives, due to the whims of the government. Fascinating.

We also talked about ballet and folk dancing in Russia, and while we listened to a lot of the music I had the children dance. They loved that. They gathered up "costumes" and hats, and devised intricate "dance steps" that I'm pretty sure bore little or no resemblance to actual dance steps. Very cute. I have lots of blurry action shots of the little dears!

Here are a few videos of Russian dance:
Cossack dancers
More Cossack dancers
And even more; sorry for the super-annoying intro
Clip from Swan Lake
From Coppelia (not a Russian composer, but by a Russian ballet company)
Clip from The Firebird---I love the ballerina's birdlike arm movements in this
I love this clip from Fantasia 2000. It's the story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier, set to Shostakovich's 1st Piano Concerto (which I love).
UPDATE: How could I have forgotten this compilation of "Three Stooges" clips---where one of them drops something on their toe and hops around in pain, and then everyone breaks into Russian dancing? The children HOWLED with laughter watching this. :)

Ky and Daisy dancing together is always cute

I really love this picture
Daisy makes such a lovely Russian girl in my shapka!

Sometimes the children like to do "lifts"
The "Cossack"-style (not sure if that is the most accurate term?) dancing was very inspiring to Junie and Sebby, and they tried valiantly to imitate it.

I just love his stern Cossack face!
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