Mesquite Gathering, Mesquite Eating!

Anyone who has known me for long, knows that I talk big about gardening and even make attempts every few years with sub-par to abysmal results.  I’m at it again, trying to get the soil prepared for a fall garden because hope springs eternal that I’ll banish the black thumb someday.

In the meantime, I finally decided to pursue something else that has piqued my curiosity for several years – foraging.  For years I’ve had this itch to make something with the abundance of mesquite seed pods that we find each summer…

This week I finally stopped daydreaming about it and decided to give it a whirl.

The boys helped me collect mesquite pods.  We carefully inspected them for signs of insect holes and brought them home, washed them up and then set them in a still warm oven to sit overnight.

We remembered back to our adventures 2.5 years ago when we learned about the Tohono O’Odham indians here in Arizona and how they would grind mesquite pods.  We knew we weren’t that ambitious, so I pulled up the internet to search for a better way to make mesquite flour.  I came across this insightful post written by Frugally Sustainable, a fellow Arizona blogger! 

This morning we set to work breaking up pieces and placing them in our Blendtec!  The kids were so intrigued at the thought of having mesquite pancakes!  It put them all in a goofy mood.  I’ve had an off-kilter day or two and their silly antics worked wonders in helping me to lighten up!  How can you not smile at faces like this?

Mesquite pancakes were our first order of business.  Cooking time was much higher than regular pancakes, but they were well worth the wait.  Even my hubby, who is {understandably} leary of some of my experiments declared them tasty!

Inspired by my brunch success, we tackled mesquite flour tortillas for dinner!!! The unique flavor of the mesquite and the zip from the cayenne I added to the dough were well, A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!!!!!!
We inhaled our southwest meal and all of us looked around longingly for more.   Which meant quickly departing for our nightly walk to forage some more! 
UPDATE:
* The mesquite pods ended up chipping the walls of my blender a bit.  So I’m not sure if we’ll be pursuing that avenue of getting mesquite flour again.
* This site provides a lot of info and they even have community events in Phoenix and Tucson every October and November where you can grind your mesquite pods into flour with their heavy-duty mill.
*These recipes for pancakes and tortillas inspired me.  I replaced the dairy and eggs in the pancakes and upped the mesquite flour and switched in 1/2 c mazo (corn flour).
*Greta had a rough weekend and it turns out that her poor little tummy can’t handle the mesquite, so we are on a definite break from this yummy flour for a while.

From Trash to Treasure

(Xander at 3yo enjoying a homemade shield that he asked us to fashion from an egg carton and his lance from an old packing tube.)

As we’ve been talking about, encouraging our kids in open-ended play is a great way for them to learn at their own pace as well as develop important creative and critical thinking skills that will benefit them in so many academic areas later on. Another way that I’ve worked on modeling this creative thinking process to my kids is in encouraging them to use “trash” and convert it into toys. Depending on the nature of the item and how it is being used will determine how long it stays in my house, but needless to say, it has been fun to see what our family comes up with.

A simple google search on common items that end up in our trash cans such as cardboard tubes, packing material, egg cartons, etc will provide a rich source of inspiration for you. Need ideas? Check out this, this or this.  I’ve also enjoyed this blog that posts ideas on things to do with old tp rolls!!! 
To get started with free play, go on a house hunt for open-ended materials, including plastic caps, fabric, wire, cardboard boxes, blocks, paints, and clay. Try a nature walk where you can gather twigs, leaves, and feathers. The list is endless.
We love to go out for a nature walks and collect nature’s trash (leaves, flowers, sand) that is on the ground and made a wreath! The boys had so much fun doing this and now inspect what they find around them so much closer. They love to try and identify what tree or bush their little ‘treasure’ came from.
I’ve kept packages from food we’ve eaten and taped them shut so the boys could play store. They also ended up using the cardboard boxes as blocks. We had a week or so of fun with it and then it was placed in the trash for good!
A friend of mine noticed that her son was into cars and mechanic type stuff, so her hubby “created” this garage for him. It provided hours of entertainment not only for him, but for every friend that visited him for the next month or two.

What do you have lying around your home? Give it a second chance and turn it into something fun! The sky’s the limit!  I’d love to hear any creative ways you or your children have re-used ‘trash’ for creative play!!!

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 9]

PART 1     PART 2     PART 3    PART 4    PART 5   PART  6   PART 7  PART 8

Coming this weekend: Our PLAYSILK giveaway!!!!!  Stay tuned!

Why Nature Walks?

What is a nature walk and why are they so beneficial?  When a friend posed this question and asked me ‘How to do it?’, I was surprised by how difficult it was to give a concise answer.  Perhaps that is why there is some confusion on the what, why and how’s of nature walking…
So today, I want to demystify this wonderful learning tool and life-long enjoyable practice!  Really, it isn’t complicated.
In a nutshell, it is getting outside, observing and enjoying nature.
While simple to define, the possibilities are endless which can make it hard to pin down sometimes.  I’m sure you’ll find that most of you already do nature walks and just don’t even realize it! 
One of the beauties of nature walking is that it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Sometimes we get out to enjoy nature by leaving ‘civilization’ to go for a wilderness hike or walk in a nature preserve.  But oftentimes (especially if you have young children), it can easily be accomplished by walking in your own neighborhood.
So we know what it is (in a nutshell), but why do it?
  1. To Enjoy Nature and Its Creator!  As a believer, I think the biggest benefit of getting outside in nature is to enjoy the variety and creativity found in the natural world.  As an adult, I marvel and pause to worship the Creator of such diversity and beauty.  As a parent, I’ve found it a wonderful opportunity to share about God with my children in an easy, concrete way and draw their hearts towards worship and thankfulness for the beautiful world in which we live. 
  2. Develops Observation Skills – Cultivating curiosity and acute observation skills in our children will lay a strong foundation for the rest of their learning journey (which is a life-long pursuit).  Using our 5 senses – smell, sight, hearing, touching, tasting (ok that one is a stretch, unless you have toddlers), your children can discover a lot about the world around them.   Often times when we are out walking, I’ll ask them what they see, smell, hear, etc.  Other times, I’ll model this observation process by telling them something I see or how much I love the smell of the creosote after it rains here in the desert.  Being outdoors creates ‘the observer.’ ‘the wanderer.’ ‘the scientist,’ ‘the inspired,’ ‘the creator,’ ‘the playful one,’ and ‘the seriously curious’ – roles that will stick with your children for the rest of their lives! 
  3. Concrete-Relatable Learning – Especially with the younger crowd, learning really should start out with things in their immediate environment.  It is far easier to relate to something a child can observe themselves.  It is also immensely enjoyable to understand your immediate environment.  They experience satisfaction at spotting fruit at the top of a saguaro or identifying a poisonous plant to avoid.
  4. Promotes Multi-Level/Family Learning – Every person benefits from getting out into their natural environment from the newest baby to mom and dad!  As a new mother, I knew that a sure-fire way to calm my baby was to take him for a walk.  He became wide-eyed, taking everything in and came back exhausted and slept, giving me a much needed break from the fussies.  As I walk with my children, we all start asking questions and making observations.  This began with me modeling to them the process of making observations and asking questions.  Now it comes naturally for everyone.  Sometimes they will ask something I don’t know the answer too.  I love it when this happens because then we all get to discover something new!!!  Since they are too young to be sent searching for the answer themselves, I will go look and report my findings on our next walk.  We now know the difference between a Mesquite and Acacia tree.  I know that they bloom at different times of the year, drop different colored pods and that the Acacia isn’t actually native to Arizona.  Our walks are richer and the kids enjoy pointing out and identifying the various trees in our neighborhood.  I enjoy learning right along with them!
  5. A Stress Reducer – I mentioned the fussy baby earlier, but I’ve experience the benefits of getting outside both for my own stress levels and those of my kids.  Even though everyone experiences reduction in stress levels, some of us need that precious outdoor time more than others.  My middle son and I fall into that latter category…
  6. Improves Concentration – Getting outside and walking helps unwind bodies and minds alike.  Oftentimes, it will allow the mind to sort through a problem it was working on and tackle it with fresh perspective at the end of a walk.  I used to take a quick walks while studying for exams in college or when faced with difficult decisions.  It was a great way to clear my head, pray and then later to return to the task at hand.  Kids are no different in this need to unwind and then refocus…
Of course these benefits just being to scratch the surface!  Time outside in the natural world has so many benefits.  (I’d love to hear of any you can think of!)

Exploring Creation

Aren’t these simply beautiful?  I’ve never seen cactus quite like them…
Our desert home is alive with the colors of spring.  It is greener (for those in a more moist climate, it would probably still seem pretty muted), with lots of yellow and punctuated by some pinks, reds and the occasional purple.
It is the perfect time to explore the natural world around us!  My sister has just finished her first ‘desert unit’ with my 3 year old niece (more on that in a later post) and asked if we would be up for a visit to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Our mom joined us for this lovely trip.

Getting out in nature provides so many learning opportunities.  The kids are inspecting an elaborate spider web here.

And enjoying the sight of an organ-pipe cactus…
Breathing fresh air and an escape from the city was very much in order…

We are wrapping up a unit on gardening/plants/pollinators.  The boys were quite excited to find so many flowers and eagerly inspected the anatomy!

It was amazing to find a yucca in full bloom and marvel that there is only one moth that will sip the nectar and pollinate this beauty.  Examples like this just make me stand in awe at the intricacies of this world God created.

These beautiful flowers had an intoxicating scent to match their eye-appeal.

I find the outdoors to be so relaxing and the kids had a similar reaction.  I couldn’t help but think of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder as I watched my kids stop and explore this beautiful glen near the creek.

I found myself counting, counting, counting the many gifts that He’s given us through his Creation!

Varieties of flowers.  Each one unique and beautiful.

Boys applying what they’ve learned about flowers and pollinators.

A niece reveling in her new understanding of our desert home and getting to see so much of its beauty.

Time to explore with my boys, mom, sister and her kids!

Cousins that adore each other.

Discovering a fuzzy bright red caterpillar!

Exploring the ribs of a giant saguaro.

Boys that love this time of year as much as I do.

Lunch at this quaint cafe.

Hearing my mom recollect life in Arizona small mining towns.
Laughter over a shared meal.

Old buildings that make me wonder about its glory days…

Weather that cooled down.  A welcome break from our April 1st 100+ degrees.
The prospect of another week in the dry, balmy 80’s.  I sense a lot of nature walking in our immediate future!
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