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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everything You NEVER Wanted to Know About...Zombie Fire Ants

Who knew learning about fire ants would be interesting?  Not me.  As newcomers to Georgia, one of the first things we were warned about was the fire ants.  You can see how well I heeded that warning here and here.  Now, I just assumed that the fire ants were a southern thing....being from Minnesota - I am used to our harsh winters killing icky things like this!  But...insert dramatic music here...they weren't supposed to be here in Georgia.

The kids and I just worked through a unit study product from The Old Schoolhouse Store called, The Curiosity Files on Zombie Fire Ants, Explorations by Professor Ana Lyze.  (the professor's name makes me think of you Karen - it is right up your clever alley!)  It is an e-book.  If you aren't familiar with what an e-book is - it is basically a book available on-line, so you have all the information but not an actual book to hold.  I have to admit I am still an "old school" (pun intended) girl that likes to actually hold a book and turn its pages - but I see that I will probably have to bite the bullet and jump aboard - like I have had to with texting - although I refuse to spell words incorrectly while doing so!  But, that is a whole other post.

This particular e-book is 91 pages of info....if it were shorter, I probably would have printed it out so I could more easily flip through the pages and see what they had to offer.  They include a lot of information and project ideas - too much for us to do - but gives you plenty to choose from for all ages.  My 3 oldest kids read through the first section where it told how fire ants first got here....FYI....they were stowaways on a cargo ship from South America that landed in Alabama in the 1930's.  See?  Who knew?

This e-book covers how fire ants got here and what scientists are doing to try to control their population - other than just spraying poison on them.  They are experimenting with the phorid fly who is native to South America and...there is really no delicate way to put this....these flies attack fire ant colonies and insert one of their eggs into the ants forward a bit and this baby fly eats....yes, EATS, the brain of the fire ant thus creating....wait for it.....a Zombie Fire Ant!

I asked D-man to come up with a fun way to teach the littles about Zombie Fire Ants....even though it said this e-book was suitable for 8 to 13 year olds, to me, I thought we could use it for the littles too. 

Now, we had A-man at the word Zombie and S-Girl had heard enough warnings about fire ants that she was interested too.  He ended up showing them pictures of the fire ants on-line and then basically sat down on the couch for "story time" and told them about how they got here and how scientists are trying to get rid of them.  Then he had a little game show quiz for them awarding points for each answer.  A-man paid such close attention to his story that he ended up getting extra credit points for telling D-man information that he hadn't even asked about!

A-man and S-Girl colored pictures of fire ants.

A-man's took a little creative license and had the fire ant spitting venom at the fly so it wouldn't eat its brains. (By the way - the white stuff on his face is his application of sunscreen!)

For A-girl and L-Girl, they took a written quiz on the facts, did a word search, a crossword puzzle, and even worked some math problems relating to scientists from Texas traveling to Brazil, to research the phorid flies in their natural habitat.  They even did some copywork of a Bible verse about the hard working ants.  They had other things like vocabulary word lists, animal classification charts, and spelling quizzes that we decided not to use this time.

D-man and L-Girl led the other kids through something called Fire Ant Fun.  Basically it was a lesson in following directions while you drew a picture, but everyone's picture should turn out differently depending on how you answer questions as you move along.  Here are a few examples:

"If you like insects, draw 2 rocks.  If you do not like insects, draw 3 rocks."

"If you are a boy, draw a lizard on the biggest rock.  If you are a girl, draw a butterfly on the largest rock."

Here is A-girl's drawing.

A-man's drawing.

This is S-girl's drawing. 

If you look closely, you can see her rock with a butterfly and her picture of a fence with a cow behind it - because, the directions said to do this if you had milk today!  Even though S-girl isn't officially in school yet, she loves it when she gets to do school with the big kids!  This project had a lot of options for her to join in.

What I really liked, but didn't end up using because we ran out of time, are the crafts and snack ideas that tied into the theme.  There was the classic, Ants on a Log (Celery with peanut butter and raisins) or the one that had me interested....Edible Clay Ants made with peanut butter, dried milk and honey...mmmmm!  The funny part of that one was in the directions where it said to mold your ant and then eat them....head first...just like the phorid flies do to create Zombie Fire Ants.  And the notation on the page that this dough cannot be re-used because the ants must be eaten or destroyed....just like real Zombie Fire Ants!  Seriously, if we had honey in the house, we would have been making this one!

Honestly, there was so much information in this e-book that I couldn't do it all.  But, they offered so many options for stuff to do, that even if I had a special needs kid or a hearing or vision impaired student, I would have had activities that they could do too.  They provided a lot of links to additional information on fire ants and really, just ants in general. 

What I liked about this e-book and what I didn't like about it are one in the same.  There was so much information.  In "school", I like to do it all because I am afraid that we will miss out on something great....but the reality can't do it all! 

I am sure that this e-book will come out a few times this summer as we are dealing with our own backyard fire ants and the good thing is, we will be able to do new stuff all the time!

If you are interested in doing some stuff like this with your kids...even if you don't homeschool... there is all kinds of stuff available at

If you want to do your own study of Zombie Fire Ants (I feel like there should be dramatic music and one of those microphones that give me a really deep voice - like the monster truck guy - everytime I type that!) is the link to the actual page where you can get this study for $6.95 and a slew of other ones from The Curiosity Files.

I just popped over to the website and figured out that The Curiosity Files are also available on CD, you get 9 of them for $46.00.

P.S.  After leading the lesson for the littles, D-man went out to help Rainman in the back yard and when he was rolling up the hose, he accidentally rolled it over a fire ant mound.  He said they just swarmed up the hose and headed for him.....happily he was only bitten by one of them and was able to throw the rest off the hose and then spray them down.  But he said that he wasn't sure it did much good since to survive flooding they can just form a big old ant ball and float away.  Gross, but true fact that HE learned from The Curiosity Files. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

But, How Did You Know His Name?

Many of you may be surprised to know that Rainman - mild mannered meteorologist by day - is a ....what is the opposite of mild mannered???

Let's just say that he is a somewhat aggressive driver, who has opinions on most of the others traveling on his roads.  He has a tendency to make us late for events when we are traveling together - for a few reasons - one, because he doesn't usually factor in that there are 6 littlish people that need to get ready, use the bathroom, get socks on, and find a pair of matching footwear.  He also does not factor in the fact that others will also be traveling on the roads we will be using to get to our destination.

So, if we can fool him into leaving early, we will - it helps cut down on stress....for me.  When he is late getting somewhere, he pulls out the old "Well, if I wouldn't have gotten stuck behind that slow truck!"  or "Well, I didn't think there would be traffic at X time of day!"

Recently, we took at look at our food budget for the month and we were well under budget - so being the responsible Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover people that we are - we decided to order Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza for take out.  We were in a rush because we had a baseball game that night.  We ordered on-line and Rainman went to get it and brought A-Girl and S-Girl with him.

A-Girl told me a story later than night that I will share with you. 

Here are some of the statements made by Rainman:

"Let's go, Jack, there are other people on the road."

"That little skinny pedal on the right is the accelerator, Jack."

"Quit talking on the phone, Jack."

"Nice blinker, Jack"

I think you get the idea.

It is at this point that S-Girl pipes up from the back seat and asks her dear old dad:

"Daddy, how do you know that man's name is Jack?"

Friday, April 22, 2011

They Finally Won One!

My 2 oldest girls play softball - last year was their first year playing.  Last year, mom did not know that they could, if I wanted them to, play on the same team.  As a result, last year, mom nearly went crazy.  I was driving D-Man to baseball, the A-Girl and L-Girl to separate games and practices all while Rainman was either working on playing on the church softball team.

Needless to say, I was very happy when someone told us that the title 10U, for example, means that the players can be 10 years old and UNDER!!!

Both girls seems to have inherited their natural athletic abilities from their dad, so L-Girl is more than keeping up with the team even though she is one of the youngest on the team.

L-Girl joined what was A-Girl's team last year.  The Warriors went all of last season without winning even one game.  It was a frustrating, sad season.

Enter this year, win a little more experience under their belts and a few new faces....

They won!  A-Girl pitched the whole game and got the game ball from her coach.

We surprised them on the way home with a victory stop at....

Where they got something called Pop Rock Explosion.....

It matched their uniforms!  It was cotton candy flavored ice cream with pop rocks in it that exploded in your mouth!  Cool, huh?  Sorry about the blurry shot - I must have been too excited about my White Turtle Waffle Cone that was ready!!!

Ah, a winning feels good....for  me, I was hard coming up with all those encouraging, uplifting, peptalks last year!  I don't know if I have any good Mom speeches left in me!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Whip My Hair Back and Forth

Have any of you heard the song by Willow Smith, I Whip My Hair Back and Forth?  We have.  We laugh at it.  I am sure it has a super positive message for girls hidden somewhere in its lyrics....but we still laugh because most of the song is about simply whipping your hair back....and, yes, forth.

We do our impersonations of whipping our hair back and forth.  But, poor little V-Girl doesn't have much hair to whip back and L-Girl came up with these extensions for her to try...

It is a pair of tights.  I am sorry I don't have any action shots for you because it was pretty funny when she was whipping her hair back and forth!

It really is fun at our house!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Only 4 Kids!

Recently, my 2 oldest kids went on a confirmation retreat with our church.  So, I only had 4 kids.  It was fun.  It was weird.  It gave me a sad glimpse of the future when they will start leaving me and go off to college and their own lives. 


While they were gone, Nickelodeon had the Kid's Choice Awards....or as they are known in my house, the KCA's.  It was a very big deal as they had voted on-line for their favorites.

Here they are watching Steven Tyler get interviewed.  L-Girl made them all special snacks and set up the pillows and blankets on the floor so it could be an event!

It was a fun weekend for L-Girl who got to be "top dog" all weekend, however she was surprised to find out that privilege comes with some jobs - like helping buckle car seats, sweeping the floor after everyone else goes up to bed, mixing glasses of chocolate milk as mom finished cooking get the picture....nothing too hard, but when you are used to just waltzing away and things getting magically done....not so fun!  There was a little whining and complaining - but hopefully it gave her a greater appreciation for what D-Man and A-Girl help out with around here!  Probably not. 

I found myself counting heads all weekend....something I do all the time....just to make sure I have all 6 of them with me.  I kept coming up 2 short.  After a short lived jolt, I would remember that they were safely away learning all they could about John Wesley.  Everyone was happy when they came home....especially L-Girl!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

S-Girl is 4!!!

My little S-Girl turned 4 this week.   A very big deal for her because it meant she gets to chew gum!

This is her gift from D-man - 2 pieces of gum.  She also got a little gumball machine from A-Girl and a pack of watermelon Trident from L-Girl.  This little rite of passage is a big deal at our house!

When our budget allows, we let the kids pick a special place for lunch or dinner.  We had set aside extra money this month because we have 3 birthdays this month.  So, we told her she could pick anyplace she wanted for dinner....and she chose....

Yup....McDonalds!  I guess it has kind of backfired on us that we use McDonalds for special occasions....usually it is just for road trips because that is the only time we let the kids get Happy Meals.

I just realized as I uploaded this picture that Rainman, D-man, A-man and L-Girl are back at the drink machines!

Anyway, she got to play at the PlayPlacy and get her birthday Happy Meal....

We came home and had our birthday cake...

She wanted chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  She also wanted a pink snake - because she really liked the cake I made for A-man's birthday....which I just realized I never did a post I will show you that later.  But, instead of finding a pink snake,  I made her flowers made out of Starbursts and leaves made out of fruit slices....if you look closely in the center, I made her a tiny little Starburst snake.  She was disappointed because she wanted a "real" snake like A-man got!

I think this is the best picture I have ever gotten of blowing out candles...

She opened the rest of her gifts and cards...always fun to get a little cash from Gramma and Grandpa!

Rainman and I...and by that I her this little pink cash register - because she is constantly playing store or restaurant.

Now that we have it, the little beeping noise it makes as the groceries are purchased is.... a little would think as a mother of six I would know better...but she LOVES I will adjust.

All in all, it was a good day together.  I lost my charger for my video camera so, of course, my video camera was dead, so no video of her birthday which bums me out - but hopefully by our next April birthday I will have found it!!! Wish me luck!

I just had to look at this one again!!!  Love that little wish-making face!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Civil Engineers Rock!

My Dad,  told us when D-man was very young, that he had an "engineering" mind.  Apparently he was right, because D-man entered a contest called "What Do Civil Engineers Do?".  It was a contest for 6, 7, and 8th graders throughout the entire state of Georgia.  He wrote an 800 word essay.  And guess what?  He won Honorable Mention...aka 3rd place in the 7th grade division.  He was invited to attend a banquet to receive his award.

Here he is being presented with his award by the president of the American of Society of Civil Engineers of Georgia (the lady) and the Civil Engineer in charge of the contest.

My wonderful friend, Debbie offered to babysit the 5 other kids so Rainman (who had the day off) and I could attend the banquet with D-man.  It was great.  They even behaved well enough for her to offer to do it again so Rainman and I can have an occasional date!  Woot...woot!!!

Here is the picture of our salad and dessert (really yummy carrot cake)...

I neglected to take a picture of the main course for a few reasons - one is that Rainman and D-man were making fun of me for taking pictures of the food and the next is that by the time the main course arrived we had been joined at our table by other engineers and the program had started - so I was equal parts embarrassed to take a picture of my meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans and I was just use your imagination here - picture a huge portion of meatloaf with mushroom gravy, a cafeteria style scoop of mashed potatoes (they were real though) and green beans.  It was good - just too much of it.

Here are my 2 handsome nerds!

And here I am with my (all of a sudden) almost a man!

The program was actually quite interesting - as is Civil Engineering - itself.  D-man and I learned quite a bit about it through his writing the paper and my proofing it for him.  The presentation was from Engineers Without Borders - similar to the more famous Doctors Without Borders.  They go in and help countries with roads that wash away from monsoon type rains. When the roads wash away, people no longer have access to food or physicians because they can't get there.  They also help with coming up with ways to supply clean, non-parasite infected water for villages.  They are also working on coming up with designs and sanitary "helps" for refugee camps around the world.  It was really interesting.  Really. 

The engineers themselves could not have been nicer.  They seemed geniunely interested in D-man and his paper. They were encouraging him to continue with his interest in Civil Engineering and a few offered to be a type of mentor for him and encouraged him to contact them after the banquet.  The word "nerd" was thrown around numerous a good way.  We even met a retired engineer that worked in the 1960's exclusive with NASA on the moon launch when there was nothing but fruit trees all around.

I sat next to a former president of the ASCE, who was fun, but a little distracting as he had a lot of side comments to share with me - sometimes relating to the subject and sometimes not.  He seemed to have the stereotypical attitude about homeschooling and in some sly and some not so sly ways - encouraged us to stop having our children live in a bubble and let them experience the "real" world.  I think he and I would have had an interesting conversation, if there hadn't been a program to pay attention to. 

I could have told him all the "real" places in the world, including international spots, where our family has been and lived.  I could have told him how we have been able to give our kids an individualized education that speaks to their strengths...but also gives them a safe place to figure out the stuff that doesn't always come easily (I could have used this approach for learning Algebra myself).  I could have told him, for instance, that our approach to education allowed my son to write a paper about Civil Engineering, AND actually win a prize, AND meet actual engineers that will offer to mentor him should he decide to pursue this line of work.  I could have told him that the kids are on sports teams and are very good.  I could have told him that my kids are also learning lifeskills, like laundry, how to prepare meals, how to entertain and take care of little people, in addition to their reading, writing and arithmetic.  

Okay, I will get off my high-horse about homeschooling misconceptions!  Sorry.

D-man was the only winner who wore a shirt and tie.  Something I was proud of because he looked very handsome and grown up.  One of the engineers came up to him and told him he was impressed too.  He said that, even though the culture is getting more casual and laid back, and it is perfectly acceptable to NOT wear a suit and tie, that if you see someone in a shirt and tie next to someone who is not wearing a shirt and tie - the shirt and tie guy still wins.  

One thing I realized that I need to add to our lifeskills homeschooling lists - is what to do with all the silverware at one of these things and table etiquette - just in case there are more awards banquets in our future.  D-man kept leaning over and asking me what fork was for what dish and where to put them when he was done.  I think I gave him the right answers most of the time, but I am a little rusty myself on fancy stuff - so I will have to research it before I teach that class!

So, thank you ASCE for a wonderful lunch and for the award for my boy.  We had a great time.

And really, Civil Engineering is Everywhere!  Check it out!