Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count - A Citizen Science Project


This upcoming weekend - Feb. 15-Feb. 18, 2013 marks the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count organized by Home and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Exploring and Conserving Nature

Scientists can't be everywhere and depend on "citizens" of any bird watching ability to count birds in their area and report the data online to give a clear picture of what is happening nationally and world wide to bird populations.  It takes as little as 15 minutes each of the four days, but you are welcome to bird watch longer.  Tally the number of individual birds of each species you see during the count period and then enter them on the GBBC website.  The trick is to count the largest number of the species you see at any one time.  If you see 3 cardinals at your feeder, then 1 cardinal 10 minutes later, you would not tally 4, because you could be counting the same bird again - so your count would be 3 for that 15 minute time period.

Where to participate?

Anywhere!  You could go to a National Wildlife Refuge or National or State Park like we did in 2011 - at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  With over 3,400 acres of wetlands, it is a great spot to count migrating waterfowl.  Our checklist tallies have included thousands of snow geese and dozens of bald eagles.


Or your own backyard - fill your feeders - or make your own!  For the 2010 GBBC, we used cookie cutters to cut shapes out of stale bread - covered in peanut butter and bird food and also made fruit and popcorn garland.  Then we watched and tallied as the birds ate our creations!


Why Participate?
  • Your community will be represented
  • Scientists can study:
    •  year-to-year changes in numbers and distribution
    • Patterns of migration
    • Trends reflecting possible effects of urbanization, climate change, and disease
  • It is a FREE, FUN, way to learn and get outside!
Past bird counts have shown how West Nile virus affected the American Crow - dropping its numbers from a top 2 most tallied bird, down to a low of 9th most reported.  A global climate change could affect the distribution of your states bird.  Milder winter climates are moving many species, such as the Purple Finch, Wild Turkey, Ring-Billed Gull, and Red Breasted Merganser are moving an average of 400 miles to the north.  The count has also shown how the non-native Eurasian Collard-Dove, which was introduced in the Bahamas in 1980, moved into Florida a few years later and has continued to spread since.


How do I Participate?

Check out the Great Backyard Bird Count website to register for free and where you will go to submit your count totals.

Start Here - 2013_OpenSlide_250px.jpg  Check out the PPT with detailed descriptions of how to register, where to locate your specific communities checklist (why have a list of birds you will never see in your zip code!), and how to enter your data.

The website also has good references on how to identify birds, check differences between very similar looking birds, bird feeding tips, resources for educators and games and puzzles for kids.

I had my high school students participate for the past 7 years.  It was a great way to get them to take the time to observe nature, understand global bird trends and learn the meaning of citizen science.  Check out the PPT that was created to show them how to study beaks, legs and feet to determine order characteristics and a quiz with the picture and song of popular Kansas birds.

I would love to hear in the comments section if you used the Bird Watching PPT or participated in the GBBC - happy Bird Watching!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Valentine's Classroom Games - Perfect Match

Looking for a game to use at a child's valentine's party next week?  I created these "perfect match" cards for my son's preschool class.  There are only 10 students in his class, so we needed 5 hearts - but there are endless match possibilities!  Feel free to print and use the document below in your own party.

Perfect Match Rules:
  • Give each student half a heart
  • Encourage them to mingle around the classroom to find their match - either by using the picture - or matching puzzle pieces.
  • Once each student has found their match - shuffle the cards and play again as time or interest allows.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Bee Adventure - Day 1

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
 - Albert Einstein

Although it is unclear if Einstein ever said this quote, there could be some truth to the matter.  A 2000 Cornell University study concluded that the direct value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14.6 billionI have had an interest in bees for quite some time.  Now that we have moved into the country, I can pursue this interest.  However, I know very little about what I am doing - so this journey will be a learning adventure to say the least.  Luckily for us, our closest neighbor raises bees and is willing to help us out.

In May, we purchased some supers at an auction, again, remember we have no idea what we are doing.  There is very little on the internet about how to prepare used bee equipment - so maybe my journey can assist someone else.  A new set-up can range anywhere from $200-$1,000 for one hive.

My first task is to clean out the supers.  My goal is to get two hives up and running this spring.  I plan to use 1 deep chamber and 3 shallow chambers.  It is evident that it has been several years since these have been in use.

I am using a paint scrapper, flat-head screw driver and pocket knife to clean out old wax and propolis.  Propolis is a super-sticky, gooey material gathered by the bees from trees and plants.  The bees use this brown goop to fill drafty cracks in the hive, strengthen comb, and to sterilize their home.  I am also scraping paint chips from the outside as my neighbor recommended repainting all the boxes.

Because we do not know the history of the hives and if they were subject to disease or pests, it is important to clean out all we can from the boxes.  I'll keep an update of my progress and hope to be ready by March so we can get everything in place for our new little pollinators!

My sister in law gave me Beekeeping for Dummies for Christmas.  I am using that as a reference to get started.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Creating a toddler/preschooler schedule

Our youngest, who is 3.5, is exhibiting some challenges we are trying to conquer.  He does not like to sit still, can get very frustrated, whines, throws tantrums and is very stubborn.  He can also be very sweet, loving and compassionate.  We took him to a free screening and they referred us to a pediatrician, who diagnosed him with ADD/ADHD.  Many people and websites agree that 3 is too young to label him as ADD, and we do hope we can work through some of these tendencies and help him learn strategies to be successful in school.  We do not want to medicate a 3 year old, especially one that is not in school yet.  I'll write about some strategies we try, and would love to hear from you as well.  Post a comment if you deal with some of the same issues.  I am hoping that before he is enrolled in preschool in August that he can sit still and listen to directions and participate with the class.

Our first strategy, was to create a schedule for our day.  I had him sit down with me and help develop the schedule.  We make time for "school" so he can learn to sit and listen, plenty of time for play, craft projects (he is left handed and is struggling with scissors), reading, weather permitting outdoor play and the all important nap time!  We printed it off and he refers to it several times a day to see what is coming next.  The pediatrician recommended that if we kept a more structured environment and he was informed what was to happen next we could be on the road to the right track. 

Here is the schedule we developed:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Geocaching - A free way to get outside and explore your own backyard or a new location with a technological twist!

“Adventure Days” have always been our way to make sure we devote at least one full day to our boys each week.  Sometimes we travel and check out new spots, sometimes we stay close to home and make our own fun.  One of our favorite adventures is to go Geocaching. is the best site to visit to get started and learn more.  It is free to join (there is a fee subscription available and some caches are only available to “premium” members – but we have never felt like we missed out with the free option.  They define geocaching as: “a free real-word outdoor treasure hunt.”  Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online.


For us, this has been one of the best ways to explore places we didn’t even know existed.  We have discovered cool parks, wildlife refuges, nature trails, wooded areas, historical points of interest and so much more.  There are over 1,981,183 active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide.  When visiting a new city we will look for geocaches to take us to places we wouldn’t be able to find on our own.  Our kids love it, because they are hunting for real treasure.  Geocaches can range from something as small as a key holder or film canister with just a log book to sign, to as big as a 5 gallon bucket filled with prizes!  The rule is that if you take something you must leave something, so the fun continues.  The variety of treasure is just as neat as the place we might visit.


Geo (meaning earth) and Cache (meaning storage) became a sport in 2000 when the government removed selective availability from the 24 satellites orbiting the earth.  If you want all of the techy lingo on how GPS works, this is a PowerPoint created for my students as they utilized GPS technology (and some geocaching) in the classroom.  Some of the pictures are from Dr. Steve Brown, an extension expert, and GPS guru who has had some pretty amazing experiences, including tracking glacier movement and space shuttle explosion debris using GPS technology.


Geocaching does not require much in the way of specialized equipment.  Of course there are receivers used for surveying and less recreational purposes that cost thousands of dollars, but we started with a very easy to use Garmin eTrex Legend system that you can get at retailers like Walmart for approximately $100.  As technology is ever-changing, we find ourselves using the eTrex less and turning to our smartphones more.
                Garmin eTrex Legend - 2.4 in. Handheld GPS Receiver

Using a free smartphone app, c:geo, we can connect directly to with our wireless data plan.  This has been one of the neatest applications, as we can pull it up anywhere on the planet and instantly see nearby caches.  With our smartphones we can access maps, see where we are, see icons of the cache on a map and go directly to that spot.  If we need to stretch our legs on a drive, we can see what is available on our route, what type of cache it is, and the display converts to a rotating compass that the boys can follow to find their hidden treasure.


Recently, we used c:geo in our hometown and learned a bit of history we would not have learned anywhere else.  The page for the cache, “Emporia Santa Fe Railroad Roundhouse,” did not just explain where the cache was and how to find it, but included a detailed history of the demolished rail house that once stood on this location, along with the history of the railroad as it once existed there.


We have even hidden our own cache on “Our 7 Acres,” (must be logged in as a free user to see the link) in an interesting container we found while "picking" at my husbands parents house.  It went live on January 1, 2013, and 25 days later, 4 people have found it!  We are pleased with this, because we are off the beaten path a bit.   My students hid one within the city limits of our former town, and it has been found 156 times since 2009, from people as far away as Sweden! 


Another fun component involves “travel bugs” where a trackable device has a goal to travel to certain places or collect certain items.  It is fun to check its tracking number on the geocaching website and see where it has been and all it has seen.  We helped move one along in its trek to visit all Big 12 football stadiums, after we took a pic at our alma mater!

Try it out for your own adventure.  If you have any questions on how to get started post a comment – we love this sport and hope you will too!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What Does it Take to Sell a House?

We have dreamed for a house in the country, where the boys would have plenty of room to roam without having to worry about traffic, and we could raise animals, garden and do all sorts of other hobbies.  When we moved due to a job change, we found the house we were looking for and took possession in March 2012.  So we owned two houses.  Flash forward one year – we still own two houses. 
We have lowered our asking price three times, held two open houses, and advertised on the web and locally.  Very few people have stepped into our house to take a look.  We would very much like to sell this house!  A few months back, I was very frustrated by the lack of traffic we have received and turned to the internet to find ways to attract more interest.  Here are the top incentives for sellers to offer buyers.  Let me know in the comments section what you think of these ideas or what ideas you may have!

  1.  Reduce the asking price – if a buyer is stuck between two options of equal houses, surely they will go for the cheaper option.  We have lowered our asking price about $20,000 with still no bites.
  2. Pay closing costs – we decided to offer this as an incentive.  According to Freddie Mac, closing costs can range from 2-7% of the asking price.  Plus tack on taxes, insurance and the title fee, a first time home buyer may be unaware of the additional “fees” associated with buying a new home.  We have offered to pay up to $1,000 of the buyers closing costs, still no luck.
  3. Buy a home warranty – we have decided to also include this as an incentive if the buyer so chooses.  For as little as $450, we can give a buyer piece of mind in their purchase.  If something major occurs in the first year, air conditioner, plumbing or water heater fail, the warranty can cover these costs and convince the buyer they are not walking into a money pit.
  4. Agent Bonus – our agent persuaded us to offer this.  I was wary at first.  Shouldn’t our agent be doing everything in their power to attract buyers and get offers anyway?  Offering the bonus, may provide an incentive to the other realtors in town who are not associated with our agency.
  5. Pay Points or Buy Down Rate – Sellers can offer to pay mortgage points for the buyer.  One point is 1% of the loan.  So the buyer does not have to worry about when to “lock in” their loan, the seller can offer to pay points so that their interest rates are reduced.  The buyer saves money over the life of the loan and the seller can possibly deduct the amount paid for points in their taxes.

Of course there are probably hundreds of other incentives you can offer – leaving appliances, big screen TV’s, washer and dryer and the list goes on.  Share your ideas in the comment section.

Check out pictures of our listing here!  It is a great house – with a lot of new features.  Since purchasing seven years ago, we have replaced all of the windows, built a deck and a shed, installed a new furnace and water heater, turned a shower into a shower/tub, replaced carpet in the kitchen to a wood laminate and painted most of the interior.  Take a look, make an offer!  It would make a great rental property!

Being super-desperate, I tried one other method.  I often have the NBC Today Show on in the morning as I get myself and the children up and ready.  They often have Real Estate Expert Barbara Corcoran on to tackle questions or showcase houses.  With nothing to lose, I emailed my question to the show – and was shocked when I got a call from a producer at the Today Show to skype my question on air.  It was a neat experience – I talked with a producer five times on the phone.   My Saturday morning started out at 5:30am with a skype check and then I had to be ready to go at 6:20am.  We are in central time, an hour behind New York City, so it was an early morning.  As I waited for my cue, I could see the broadcast on my computer screen.  Suddenly it was my turn, I asked my question (it was weird being able to see myself as I talked), I worried about the background sounds I was hearing, and then listened as she talked and showed pictures of my house.  I did not realize they would cut back to me, so I looked as if I was not paying attention.  Joseph thought I should be nodding and smiling, but I looked more aloof!
It has only been a day since the segment aired, but I am still holding out hope that this could lead to something.  Pictures of the house were shown on national television!  I am not sure the advice Ms. Corcoran provided will do much in our circumstance, and I felt it was pretty generic, I am still glad I asked and again – pictures of the house were on national television.  That can’t hurt, right?  She wanted us to invest $5,000 into cleaning, painting and staging the house.  While it is a vacant, empty house, I feel that it is clean, the interior was painted within our time, and the exterior siding is in great condition.  I know that when we purchased our current house, we took down wallpaper, wood paneling and painted walls, things I feel that the buyer would want to make final decisions over.   The carpet could probably stand to be replaced – but again something I think the buyer would want a say over.

Anyway, you can see my Today Show debut here. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Take a look – add a comment on what you think we should do to increase traffic to the house and get offers.  After the segment aired, a friend suggested contacting a furniture store to see if they could stage it for us, providing publicity for them – and a not so vacant house for us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Beard Hat - Crochet Tutorial

Have you seen those crazy crocheted beard hats that are becoming popular on the internets? My brother-in-law asked if I could make him one this Christmas. I am sure that it would keep anyone quite warm, not just on the head and ears, but the all important chin and cheeks!  (Plus he is going through some "Duck Dynasty" phase.)  I searched and searched the web for a free pattern, and while I found a few, none were really what I was looking for. I wanted the beard itself to have some texture, so I went with a puff stitch. Failing to find any results that fit my exact needs, I worked out my own pattern. While I have been crocheting for about 20 years, and have adapted many patterns to fit my needs, this is my first attempt at writing down what I did so others could replicate. If you find any mistakes, feel free to leave a comment! I wish you luck in your own beard hat creation. However, if you would like to purchase a beard hat (both pieces included), message me here and we’ll make arrangements to ship you one, customized with desired colors for $30 paypal (including shipping).

Basic Beanie with Brim Pattern
Using size I hook
Ch. 2
Round 1: 9 sc in 2nd ch from hook, sl st in 1st sc to join (9 sc)

Round 2: ch 2, 2 dc in 1st sc and in each st around, sl st in 1st dc to join (18 dc)
Round 3: ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next dc, *2 dc in next dc, dc in next dc, rep from * around, sl st in 1st dc to join (27 dc)
Round 4: ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next 2 dc, * 2 dc in next dc, dc in next 2 dc, rep from * around, sl st in first dc to join (36 dc)

Round 5: ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next 3 dc, * 2 dc in next dc, dc in next 3 dc, rep from * around, sl st in first dc to join, changing color with sl st (45 dc)

Round 6: with 2nd color ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next 4 dc, *2 dc in next dc, dc in next 4 dc, rep from * around, sl st in first dc to join, changing back to original color with sl st (54 dc)
Round 7: with original color ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next 5 dc, * 2 dc in next dc, dc in next 5 dc, rep from * around, sl st in first dc to join, changing back to second color with sl st (63 dc)
Round 8: with 2nd color ch 2, 2 dc in 1st dc, dc in next 30 dc, 2 dc in next dc, dc in next 31 dc, sl st in next dc to join, changing back to original color with sl st (65 dc)
**Note – for a larger hat,  add an increasing row by doing 6 dc in between 2 dc instead of round 8 as written.**

Round 9: with original color ch 2, dc in each dc around, sl st in 1st dc to join (65 dc)
Round 10-16: rep round 9
Brim Round 17: ch 1, TURN, sc in the BACK LOOPS ONLY in each dc around, sl st in first dc to join

Round 18: ch 1, sc in each sc around, sl st in first sc to join
Round 19-21: rep Rnd 18. (Round 19 should be in 2nd color) Cut yarn, hide any ends.

Stitch Guide
Foundation Chain Stitch
Ch 2, insert hook in 2nd ch from hook, yarn over, pull up a loop, yarn over, pull the yarn through the 1st loop on the hook (base chain made), yarn over and pull through both loops on the hook (first Fsc made). Insert the hook back into the last Fsc base chain, yarn over, pull up a loop, yarn over, pull yarn through first loop on the hook (second base chain made), yarn over and pull the yarn through both loops on the hook (second Fsc made), repeat steps for desired Fsc.

Puff Stitch
Yarn over hook, insert hook into next stitch. Yarn over once, pull through a loop (3 loops on hook), yarn over, insert hook into same stitch, pull through a loop (5 loops on the hook), yarn over hook, pull yarn through just the first loop on hook, yarn over, insert into original stitch, pull through a loop (7 loops on the hook), yarn over once, pull through all 7 loops on the hook. Puff stitch made (1 loop on hook). To finish off puff, yarn over and pull through that 1 loop to secure the stitch.

Beard Pattern
Foundation Chain stitch 41

Round 1: ch 1, sc in 1st st, puff st, repeat to end (20 puff, 21 sc)
Round 2: ch 1, turn, sc in sc, sc in puff st (skip finishing ch of puff st), repeat to end

Round 3-10 : repeat Rd 1-2
Round 11: ch 1, turn, *sc in 1st sc, puff st in next sc, repeat from * 5 more times, sc in next sc, sl st in next 15 sc, sc in next sc, # puff st in next sc, sc in next sc, repeat from # 5 more times.
Round 12: ch 1, turn, sc in sc, sc in puff st, sl st in sl st
Round 13: ch 1, turn, *sc in 1st sc, puff st in next sc, repeat from * 5 more times, sc in next sc, 10 Fsc, sc in next sc, # puff st in next sc, sc in next sc, repeat from # 5 more times.
Round 14: ch 1, turn, sc in sc, sc in puff st, sc in Fsc across. Cut yarn, hide ends.

Mustache Pattern
(Adapted from Witchy Wiche blog, but with longer ends)
With G Hook
Ch 12
Round 1: sc, dc, 2 trc, hdc, slst, hdc, 2 trc, dc, sc
Round 2: ch 5, turn, sl st in 5th ch from hook, sc in next 4 st, sl st in next 3, sc in next 4 st, ch 5, sl st in 5th ch from hook, fasten off

Attach mustache to center of Fsc row on beard. I added 4 self adhesive Velcro circles (the hook side) to each corner of the front of the beard. That way, the beard can easily be removed and adjusted time and time again for a snug fit. (My first attempt I sewed the beard in, but with each removal of the hat, the beard got looser and looser.)

The Beard Hat can be made with any colors, have fun and keep your loved ones (or yourself) warm this winter!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Using Movie Maker to Preserve Memories

As high school teachers, my husband and I knew the first day of school can get really boring for a student listening to the same rules and reading the same syllabus for each of their eight classes.  We tried to make our first day stand out.  I would infuse the rules with leadership initiatives and life and career skills, keeping the students on their feet and moving the entire 85 minute block.  Teaching an elective class to 8-12 graders, I would have many students stay in my courses for five years.  You can build some pretty intense relationships with a person in half a decade, so I knew it was important that I got to know them and they got to know me.  That first day of class each August, we would also show a video highlighting what we did over our summer vacation and an introduction to our adorable family.  My kids came to many school activities and also became close with several students. 

Students would talk about the videos and feel as if they knew my kids when they saw them at football games or FFA activities.  Check out our Summer 2011 video here, Jonas dubbed it “Our Big Bucation”.  This was a huge undertaking for us, and my husband and I took off with a 3 year old and 2 year old traveling 5,344 miles in 17 days, through 11 states, hitting 9 National Parks (that is 115 hours in the car!)  While I will never forget that trip, hopefully this video will help spark the memory of Jonas and Russell as they grow older.

As we both no longer teach high school, I was sad that we did not make our annual summer video for 2012.  With baby #3 on the way I got to thinking about the need to purchase a baby book.  However if it is anything like baby book 1 and 2 it will go unfilled, uncharted and picture-less.  So instead, why not continue the tradition and make the videos anyway?  This time it’s not for students to get to know us, but as a way to document precious memories and childhoods.   Of course, if anybody reads this blog, perhaps I will get some new followers to build relationships with.  As 2012 has just come to an end, it was the perfect opportunity to create a video.  Check out “Our 2012” highlighting a move, new house, country living adventures and a few fun trips!


Want to make your own video?  We use Movie Maker – a free windows download.  Need a tutorial?  A good one can be found here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Apple Fritters - A New Year's Day Tradition!

New Year's Cookies, or Portselkje, are a German Mennonite tradition to help ring in the New Year.  The traditional version includes raisins and are either rolled in sugar or glazed.  Never a fan of raisins, my recipe is without.

In Mennonite Foods and Folkways from South Russia by Norma Jost Voth, tradition states Mennonites gave their Russian neighbors Portselkie when they came and sang for them on New Year's Day.  Not really cookies, the dough puffs up when dropped in hot oil and tumbles over, which is where they get their High German name. 

1/2 cup lukewarm Water
2 Tablespoons Yeast
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon melted Shortening
1 Beaten Egg
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cup Flour
1 Cup Chopped Apples

Soften yeast in water.  Add sugar, salt, shortening, and egg.

Add flour.

Let rise 40 min.

Add coarsely cut apples, stir in.

Drop by rounding into teaspoon and then into hot oil at 370-375 degrees.  Fry to golden brown.

Sprinkle with sugar.

Makes about a dozen!

So here's to a new year, the "cookies" are a symbol of affluence and luxury and carry with them a wish for an abundant year.

My favorite food critics approve!