Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Poetry by Angel Jackson

Over the past few months I have found myself making up lots of little poems (or parts of poems really) in my head as I have watched nature.  As a kid I spent tons of time in nature and I loved it but I have to say it is as an adult that I have really learned to observe, watch and be enthralled by nature. The whole world that is going on all the time outside.  We can so easily miss it.  It's like a secret garden available to all, I love it.  Today is my birthday and I got an hour to head over to Starbucks (BY MYSELF), to get my free birthday drink and write in my journal.  While there I challenged myself to write down a couple poems that have been percolating.

I have never been a poet but hey, we are always learning!

Spring Run
Old knees, cold knees.
Can I be so bold knees?
Please release that creak and groan.
I would like to run, not moan.

Snow in April
Warm days,
Light abounds.
Water splashes on the ground.

Winter reaches,
Gets a grasp.
Holds on tight, but it won't last.

Fits and starts,
Spring comes slow.
Winter does not want to go.

Gentle hands,
Release his grip.
Time for Winter's southern trip.

Spring slow,
Warm love.
She gets her strength from up above.

Pale colors,
Growing strong.
Her gentle love, her arms are long.

Shadows lengthen,
Days grow long.
She looks to hear Summer's song.

Tulips red,
Hydrangea blue.
Spring, a gift to me and you.

Joy so fresh,
Love advances.
I want to run, my steps are prances.

Pink flower,
Yellow blooms.
The lilac gift to moms who swoon.

Leaves out,
Solid green.
She hands her baton to Summer's queen.

Okay that's it for now just a little poetry for Spring.  We are full of hope for the new growing season and excited to learn what it has in store for us as a family.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Found! By Angel jackson

I have been meaning to follow up on the 'wild yeast' post for a while.  It has been fun making sourdough bread.  I made the starter by mixing water and AP flour and leaving it on the counter and adding equal parts of flour and water each day.  It took 6 days but the mix got bubbly and sour smelling--wild yeast found!

Here are some pictures of the endeavor and the website I used.

Here is the starter:

Here are a couple loaves of sourdough bread from this recipe.

The recipe I have used takes parts of 3 days to make the bread once you have a starter.  That sounds long but I have actually enjoyed it.  There are small parts you do every day and slowly the bread takes shape and mostly it sits there and does it on its own and I just add a couple things here and there.

Making this bread really puts me in touch with what the Israelite's faced in Exodus when they did not have time to make leavened bread.  It takes time, and if you are in a rush this bread will not work.  I kind of like finding those things that take more time this one has really been fun

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finding Wild Yeast

by Angel Jackson

I have recently gotten back into baking bread for my family.  Years ago I made bread all the time but with some health issues of my own causing me to go gluten free 3.5 years ago I gave up bread making and the the bread machine sat in our basement untouched.  A few months ago I remembered that I like making bread whether I eat it or not and I care that my family has good bread so I cleared some space on the counter and brought the old beast up.  Since returning to the kitchen it has refused (out of pure spite from being forced into a dungeon for years) to make a good whole wheat loaf.  Without fail, if I bake a whole wheat loaf in the bread maker it does not rise or wont rise fully, here is today's loaf.

No it's not supposed to be a quick bread!

Fortunately my family is willing to eat dense bread probably since every so often I make it by hand and it rises fine.  I have experimented this year with the 5 minute-no knead bread which has worked beautifully in any combination of white or whole wheat and was a fun new way to make bread, but its not a sandwich loaf. The boys like it most when I forget about the second rise and the dough over-rises all over the counter and drips on the floor.

To try to treat the bread machine as a machine with scientific properties instead of a true beast I started to chip away at the different things that might be going wrong with the loaf.  The boys got involved at this point wanting to know what exactly is yeast and how does it work.  Fortunately YouTube had a nice video for this.  As they watched the video I found the most basic bread recipe I could using boring old white flour and newly purchased yeast from whole foods.  I actually have never purchased yeast there so I thought I would try a new kind.

Now I had changed two factors something I was told never to do in high school science classes but hey new flour and new yeast and ---wait for it, that's right a big puffy all baked in the bread machine white loaf.  Ah well it must have been the yeast.  No, not the yeast, as the loaf you see at the top was the very next loaf.  My 9 year old saw it and said "wait what happened I thought it was the yeast". At which point I decide to abandon all science call the machine a true beast and learn how to make sourdough bread.

Why sourdough, I don't know just something I have always wanted to do and why not at this point.

That is when I come across "wild yeast", this is new to me but as I have now read, and somewhat knew, yeast is everywhere (NOT JUST IN THE GROCERY STORE under the name Fleischmann) and lives on all flour.  This yeast, however, is different than store bought yeast.

Yeast bought in the store will "proof" in a matter of minutes if put in warm water with some sugar. It will stay good in its packets or jars with no attention from us (other than a recommendation to store it in the fridge and don't keep it "too" long).   It doesn't take a lot of work and works well and quick, but you have to go to a store to buy it.

Wild yeast is the opposite.  It's everywhere you don't need to go anywhere to buy it but you do need to find it.  Once you find a place you think will have some you need to spend 5 days feeding it and letting it proof, sometimes this process fails and you need to start again.  Once it has proofed you can then spend a lifetime or many lifetimes caring for it, keeping it alive and vital.  If wild yeast is given the right conditions and time it will come to life and--make sourdough bread:).

I do not come from a family where a live starter was fed and cared for generation after generation and passed down to me.  No, this one I am going to have to start on my own and why not now.

Trying to proof wild yeast (my sourdough starter)

Finding wild yeast is more to me than a bread starter though, as you have probably gathered.  For me, finding wild yeast is the moment with my family where we discover something that has been there all the time, something we did not even know existed but we give it the right time and conditions and we see it come to life.  It is truly my favorite times.  It's the natural places we discover only a few miles from our house that we never knew were there.  It is the mulberry or goldfinch posts I made last year. It is Ian's writing passion. It is my older son's drawing or my younger son's singing.  It is spending enough time together to see things come to life.  It is paying attention to what is actually going on.  I am looking forward to finding wild yeast in 2016!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Montgomery and Montgomery, Chapter One

This is the first story of the Montgomery and Montgomery series I mentioned in a previous post. Read more about how it connects with Family Learning Adventures here.

And I'm looking for feedback! Especially if you're a parent of a 4-10 year-old, or or if you spend time with kids that age. Over the last 15 months I've been telling my kids a series of stories about Montgomery the Moose and Montgomery the Mouse, two characters who get up to many surreal adventures including a whole cast of characters. I've started to type up a few of the hundreds I've told, and would love you to try the first one out on your kids, and give me genuine feedback if you do. Did they like it? If so, what did they like? If not, why do you think that was? Did you enjoy reading it to them? Did they read it themselves? Would this be better with illustrations? As a picture book or just occasional illustrations? Could you imagine reading a whole series of these stories with your kids? Feel free to post your thoughts below, or email them to ian@familylearningadventures.com. And if you do read this to your kids, THANK YOU!


Chapter One

Deep in the woods in Maine, Montgomery the Moose was looking for his favorite food - chocolate.

He often found some small pieces - or even giant candy bars - when humans stayed in the woods in strange fabric houses. They must not like the houses very much, he thought, because they always took them away after a day or two. Sometimes when the humans were away from their houses, he would try to go into one to see what they were like inside, but it never really worked; he tried going through the doors that people went through, but he couldn't seem to open them. He pushed, but the whole house would move. So he pushed again, and it moved some more. So he pushed again, and this time the whole house collapsed. Then it was quite a fun thing to walk on - very soft and made fun popping noises.

But today he couldn't find any small fabric houses, so he just sniffed around where he'd seen houses before. He sniffed the ground and found some nuts and raisins, so he thought he might find some chocolate chips nearby. So he sniffed some more and found some.

He opened his mouth to gobble them up.


What was that? 

"Don't eat me! Please!"

Montgomery panicked. The chocolate chips were talking! He got so scared he jumped up in the air. But since moose don't jump very often, they don't know how to land, so he collapsed in a heap on a nearby bush and smushed it down into a flat cushion.

"I didn't mean to scare you. Sorry," the voice said.

From his new position on the bush cushion, Montgomery focused his eyes and looked over to where the voice was coming from. He saw some chocolate chips, but he also saw something else; a small, white mouse.

"It's just - you were about to eat me," the mouse said. "And I don't really want to be eaten."

"No, neither do I," said Montgomery. "And I wouldn't really want to eat you either -"


"- I was just trying to eat those yummy chocolate chips that people leave for me."

"Ooh, me too!" the mouse said. "Aren't they good? I knew I'd find some here because I smelled some nuts and raisins, and they usually go together."

Montgomery nodded. He could tell he'd found someone like him.

"Would you like me to take you somewhere where there's always chocolate?" offered the mouse.

"Yes, please!" Montgomery replied. "Is it around here?"

"Pretty close. Well, close for you, I suppose - you have much longer legs than me. Maybe, if you wouldn't mind, I could ride on your back to get there?" he asked.

"Yes, of course," said Montgomery, happy to make a new friend.

The small creature climbed up Montgomery's fur and onto his back, eventually settling on his head. He felt comfortable and warm in his fur, and Montgomery was happy to have him there. As the creature told him which direction to go to find chocolate, Montgomery felt glad he had met his new friend, and wanted to learn more about him.

"I've never see a creature like you before; what kind of creature are you?"

"I'm a mouse," replied the mouse. "What kind of creature are you?"

"No, I'm a moose," Montgomery replied. "You're not a moose; you're way too small!"

"No, I'm a mouse," the mouse replied. "You're not a mouse; you're way too big!"

"Wait - what did you say?" they both asked at the same time.

"Moose!" "Mouse!" they spoke over each other again.

"Ohhhhhhh..." they both said.

"Well, my name is Montgomery," said the mouse. "What's yours?"

"Wait, how did you know my name?" Montgomery asked.

"What?" asked the mouse. "I said my name is Montgomery. What's yours?"

"Your name is Montgomery the Mouse?" Montgomery asked, almost unable to believe it.

"Yes," Montgomery the Mouse answered, losing patience. "Now that we've got that figured out, what's your name?"

"My name's Montgomery too," Montgomery the Moose replied.

Montgomery the Mouse didn't say anything for a few seconds.

"What?" he asked finally.

"My name is Montgomery the Moose."

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Mouse laughed. "I don't believe it! That's crazy!"

"Hahahahaha," Montgomery the Moose laughed. "That is crazy..."

As they continued walking, with Montgomery the Mouse pointing the way, they kept laughing at the coincidence; anytime there was silence, one of them would giggle a little, and then before they could stop it they'd both be laughing so much that a few times Montgomery the Mouse fell off Montgomery the Moose's head and tumbled all the way to the ground. After making sure he was OK, they'd both start laughing again, and by the time they got where they were going it was starting to get dark.

"OK, here we are, Montgomery the Moose," said Montgomery the Mouse, emphasizing his name and pointing at a series of wood cabins facing a lake.

"Thank you, Montgomery the Mouse," said Montgomery the Moose, returning the favor. "But I don't understand, where's the chocolate?"

"It's inside these," Montgomery the Mouse replied. And now that it's getting dark, that's the best time to look. We find a place without lights on, and then go inside."

"But how do we get in?"

"Simple - there are always holes somewhere," Montgomery the Mouse said. Look, I'll show you," he said, sensing the doubt in Montgomery the Moose's voice.

He led them both around the side of a cabin without lights on, and climbed down from Montgomery's back, running straight up to the side of the building, and in through a small hole. He came back ten seconds later, saying "Yep, this is a good one. There's lots of chocolate in here."

"But I don't think I'll fit through that hole," Montgomery the Moose said.

"Well, you might be right. What I do when it's a tight squeeze is to just run fast at the hole, and before I know it, I'm through the hole and on the other side," his new friend said. "I'll go back in and get us some chocolate." He ran back through the hole.

As Montgomery the Moose waited, he thought about what his friend said. "Hmm, that hole does look like it would be a tight squeeze," he thought to himself. "And I can run pretty fast..."

He backed up, and squinted his eyes as he focused on the small hole at the bottom of the cabin's wall. Then he closed his eyes and ran right towards it, tipping his head down to make sure his big antlers didn't stop him from squeezing through the hole.


Montgomery the Mouse stood motionless in shock as he looked at the rubble in front of him. The chocolate he'd been holding in his paw dropped, and more fell out of his mouth.

Montgomery the Moose opened his eyes and was thrilled to discover he'd made it through the hole and was standing right in the cabin's kitchen.

"Wow, you were right!" he said to his new friend. "That was easier than I thought!"

Montgomery the Mouse didn't know what to say, and stood still in shock.

"Ooooh, chocolate," Montgomery the Moose said and started munching off the floor. After a minute of eating, he looked around while his friend still couldn't move. "Wow, they left this kitchen a mess, didn't they? And look at that hole! How did I think I wouldn't make it through that? It's much bigger than it looked on the outside!"

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why "learning" adventure?

By Angel Jackson

A few days ago I was grumpy: the boys had made a huge mess of the house for the 945th time that day and we just did not seem to be getting anywhere.  I felt powerless to change the direction of the day and said more than once "you guys really need to learn to clean up".  As afternoon rolled around I had an idea.  I wanted to make a baby wrap for my 7 month old daughter and found some really nice material friends had given us years ago and tried to make it out of that.  It was not long enough so I cut it down the middle asking my 4 year old the hold it as I cut.  I sewed the ends together and, voila a baby wrap.  I watched a video of how to put her onto my back with it and FAILURE, it was still not long enough--it wasn't going to work.

I had wanted to learn to make something and was energized by actually working on it instead of thinking about it.  Instead of stopping there I looked up how to make a pouch sling.  I knew that would take less material and figured with a little help from the internet I could probably make one.  I found a site, followed the directions and about an hour later presto, I had made a sling and the baby even fits in it.  The best part is the grumpy mommy day turned around completely and mommy and children had a great rest of the day.

Why did using some material to make a sling turn my day around?

At first I thought it was because I produced a real thing from my own hands.  I think this is true. Making something with our hands that is a real thing is a big deal and for sure could turn a day around.  Actually, I am a super big proponent of handwork.  I could write a whole post about how important and life giving I think making things with your hands is.  I could show you pictures of knitting, baskets, and food I have made with my hands this year, and tell you how proud, excited and accomplished I feel about them.

But that is not all of what I think was going on with the sling.  I think that it was something even broader.  I learned how to do something I had not done before.  I got out of observing my grumpy day and feeling powerless to change it and instead of making my kids be different to solve the problem I took my focus off them and instead, learned how to do something myself.  As I started learning the boys were immediately engaged and wanted to help.  My 4 year old held the fabric while I cut and pushed the pedal on the sewing machine while I sewed.  My 8 year old helped as I first tried to launch the baby onto my back and looked impressed at the finished sling after he returned from a friend's house.  The baby actually played happily on the floor while I sewed after having a previously super fussy day (not sure whether to attribute that to my learning or not).  Our day turned around. I learned and they learned too.  The atmosphere of our home changed from one of parent and children at odds with each other to one of learning, joy, creativity, freedom and space for each other.

This, is why we call it Family LEARNING Adventure.  We think something magical happens in a family when they learn together.  We think as a culture learning has been given over to the schools, and workplaces and we want to bring that joy back into families.  Whether you work or stay home, send your kids to school or homeschool, there is always time with your family.  We invite you to take a family learning adventure this week.

Learn something together where you lead by learning then tell us about it, we want to hear how it goes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Yes, and..." - Using Improv in Your Family

By Ian Jackson

Last weekend while taking my 8-year-old to one of his closest friend's for a playdate, I chatted with his friends' parents (who I'm glad to say are good friends of ours too) for a while. One of the things we talked about was improvisational comedy classes, which boil down to one simple phrase - "Yes, and...". The idea being that in improv comedy, each person taking part accepts the situation that has been created by the people before - adding to it, rather than negating it. (One reason improv companies are often used for corporate trainings is that the "Yes, and..." phrase is a great tool for brainstorming meetings.)

Then this morning on my way into work, "Yes, and..." came up again. I was listening to part of an episode of This American Life, the NPR magazine show. The story I heard, from the recent episode "Magic Words", was about two actors, Karen Stobbe and her husband Mondy. Karen's mother lives with them and has dementia. Much of the traditional therapy for dementia has focused on redirecting a person's thoughts to facts, and the truth about what's real around them, which often leads to upset and fights between the carer and the loved one. But Karen and Mondy tried using improv skills - when the mother stated she saw monkeys outside the window, Mondy replied "it's pretty early in the season for monkeys; I didn't even know they were here in North Carolina", and tried to concoct a plan with his mother-in-law to catch a monkey to bring it inside, because that would be quite an achievement. They talk about this as "getting in her world." In the show you could hear how much joy these kinds of conversations brought to his mother-in-law. You can listen to the story above, or directly on their website here.

"How to catch a monkey", from http://fertileforest.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-catch-a-monkey

So what does this have to do with a family learning adventure? Well, I'm keen to try it out more and see. My younger son loves it when I spend time sitting on the floor with him and playing with his wooden train set. And my older son craves time with me where all we do is build Lego creations together. But more than that, I know that when my sons start on some incredible flight of imagination and I start to list reasons why it's not possible, they quickly lose interest and feel shut down. But I've had fleeting moments (not as many as I'd like) where I've chosen to "get into their world" and imagine along with them. A kind of "Yes, and..." Then it's like a staring contest to see who will break first - if I leave to go do a 'grown-up' thing like make a meal, they usually stop too and that's that. But if I stay in the improv world with them, it all ends at some point anyway, and we usually all have a fun memory to look back on and talk about with others.

A friend recently posted on Facebook about how fun her husband is, and when pushed for stories, lots of people chimed in with their own stories about him, but one posted by my friend seemed like a kind of "Yes, and...":
So, once when the kids were behaving in such a way that could have injured either or both of them, [her husband] picked up his guitar and made up a song that goes like this: "The last thing I want to do is go to the hospital right now"...and the bridge is "my co-pay is $200 dollars" and he got the boys involved in that- the older one drumming, and the younger one back-up singing.
So does "Yes, and..." always involve joining in with what the kids are doing, even if it's dangerous? No, I don't think so. But it does involve getting in their world instead of shutting it down. And that's something that seems worth doing. Over time, I'd love to correct my kids less, and try to engage more in the "Yes, and...."

Is this something you've tried with your family members (either younger or older than you)? I'd love to know your experiences and get your take on this. And if you have things to add, that's easy - just start with "Yes, and..."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Discovering the Beauty Around Me - How Having Children Changes What We See

By Angel Jackson

If you asked me what those flying things are outside, I'd have said birds for my whole life up until the last 18 months.  A bird is a bird, Some birds are big some are small some are different colors and I know they have names but to me they were all birds.  18 months ago my boys wanted to learn more about specific birds and we started getting books out of the library, paying more attention on nature walks and asking more questions of birders.

As a child I spent lots of time in the woods and summers at girls scout camp in the woods, you'd think in all that time in nature I would notice these beautifully colored birds.  You'd think I would have seen the red of a cardinal, the bright blue and very loud call of a blue jay and the glowing yellow of the small quick goldfinch.  All my childhood and young adulthood I am sure I must of seen these birds, I can now see they are everywhere, but somehow I missed them.

Now I look out my window and daily see a beautiful male and female goldfinch eating the seeds from our sunflowers. They are beautiful! I have had the chance to share these sightings with both family and friends from the brown couch in our living room making it even more beautiful and amazing- a shared experience.  The goldfinch perches on the top of the sunflower ducking its head down and pecking out a seed, eating it, and repeats.  It will sit there at work on its food for many minutes allowing us to watch and enjoy.  On a recent walk with my in-laws we saw one on a thistle doing the same thing, that is the picture you see below.

A few weeks ago the boys and I went for a walk down a bike path near our house.  It was a rainy day and I knew we needed to get out of the house for some exercise.  We donned our raincoats and headed out.  I was distracted and thinking about other things and ignoring the natural world around me until I spotted a bright red cardinal.  At the sight of this bright red beauty I was immediately drawn into his world.  I noticed there were other cardinals around, two females with much duller colored coats on two different trees.  The male was calling to them, chasing them and flying away again.  It was a whole soap opera in the bird world.  It had nothing to do with us they had their own world going on and I could have walked by and missed it all.  They went on and on and eventually the boys pulled me away into something else but the whole interaction struck me--there is so much more going on that I so often miss.

In both of the last two houses we have lived in we have had blue jays that like to perch on the roof of our neighbors house and call (VERY LOUD) for a girl blue jay.  I can't imagine being that girl blue jay and responding to that.  At one point our oldest son decided to name one of the blue jays Ellis after a favorite singer/songwriter of ours Ellis Paul.  Some how, once the bird was named Ellis he became a friend and instead of being annoyed at the sound we would talk to him out the window- his Ellis, it's okay Ellis I am sure she will come soon, there is Ellis again!  He became fun and beautiful in his own right.

If not for my boys and their interest in birds I don't think I ever would have made homemade bird feeders out of milk cartons, filled them and watched birds for hours in our yard.  I don't think I would have noticed the bright red of the cardinal, known the soap opera of their mating rituals or befriended Ellis. I am sure I would not have sat with friends and watched the goldfinch at work.  They would have just been birds but now there is beauty, color, love, excitement and song.

  • Has having children helped you to notice things in the world?
  • What do you enjoy more now that you have children?