Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Corpse Flower

The last time Putrella the Corpse Flower blossomed, we missed it by several hours. That was almost three years ago. So when I heard that she was blossoming again - open for only twenty-four hours, we worked our schedule to make sure we had the chance to experience her in all her glory. 

The Corpse Flower is very rare. Most people will never see one in their lifetime. That's why it's so thrilling to have one right here in Edmonton. It flowers every three to seven years and is the largest unbranched fluorescence in the world. What that means is that, even though it looks like one huge flower, it's actually made up of a multitude of smaller ones, out of sight. 

Corpse Flowers are so called because they reek. Their flower gives of the scent of rotting flesh to attract carrion beetles and flies, which pollinate it. The flower even raises its temperature during it's bloom to match the body temperature of a mammal. This increases the strength of the smell but takes a tremendous toll on the plant. It's a huge expenditure of energy; energy it takes three to seven years to build. This is why her bloom time is so short. 

In between blooms she looks more like a small tree. 

After seeing and smelling the Corpse Flower, we enjoyed the rest of the biomes of the muttart. We stopped to smell the flowers (the pretty smelling ones), the big kids challenged themselves with a scavenger hunt of plant species, and Cai ran around in ecstatic delight as only a toddler can. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Musical Theatre: Super Moms

A whole lot of hard work paid off this Sunday as the kids performed with their musical theatre group "Super Moms". 

The show was a blast. I was delighted with how well Aidan and Summer performed. And most of all, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. It brings to an end three months of classes which they much enjoyed. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Tesseract

I love to have my mind blown. Today we attempted to comprehend the structure of the tesseract: a representation of four dimensions in space. 

For instance, zero dimensions can be represented in a dot. One dimension as a line, with the side being a zero dimensional dot. Two dimensions as a square, with the sides being one dimensional lines. Three dimensions as a cube, with the sides being two dimensional squares. And finally four dimensions as a tesseract, with the sides being three dimensional cubes. 

We played around with an app that explained the whole thing in an easily to understand manner. We could move and play around with the tesseract, seeing how our perceptions of it changed based on our three dimensional ability to perceive. Part of it even became a stereogram, so using a bit of ocular gymnastics we could merge the two dimensional representations of four dimensions from the iPad surface into actual 3D structures in our perception. Very cool.

It was a fun foray into a bit of physics with the kids who felt their minds were blown too! 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Maple Taffy on the Snow

Our favorite tradition to welcome in the spring is the maple syrup taffy making on the snow. We usually do our own now, and we have a friend who throws a Sugar Shack Party in the early spring to celebrate. It's a big gathering of many of our friends in the homeschooling community. 

The day included music, good food, and lots of fun and games. 

My favorite was the eggs cooked in maple syrup. 

The most interesting was sampling maple sap. It tasted like a mild sugar water. 

The kids favorite part was playing with friends. 

The maple taffy didn't turn out that well; it can be tricky getting it at just the right temperature. When it's perfect, it perches on top of the snow (which is really amazing, as at 114 degrees Celsius you'd think it'd quickly melt the ice beneath it!). At the party it hadn't quite gotten hot enough, so it did melt in a bit and didn't roll up very well. It was like halfway between syrup and taffy but the kids didn't complain! 

We had tried it a week before at home, only to discover it becomes the crunchy candy when it's cooked even one degree too hot. It was disappointing not to have the taffy.

But it was a thrill to discover how to make my favorite type of maple syrup candy!

A week after the party we tried our own taffy again, just wanting to get it right. At first it was underdone, but I cooked it back up and got it to the perfect temperature! It went too fast into tummy's to grab a picture this time. 

Friday, March 20, 2015


Welcome Spring! We've enjoyed the mildest winter in my brain's recorded databases. The last week we've seen temperatures sore to nearly 20C; balmy summer temperatures. The snow has been quickly fading with only the most persistent reminents of white holding fast in the darkest of shadows. It promised to be the nicest Ostara ever with green grass in profusion. 

But promises are really meant to be broken, apparently, as Ostara Eve saw us an ominous pink sky and an innocent light dusting of snow. 

The morning greeted us with a solid foot of I'm-Going-Nowhere-Anytime-Soon snow. 

It really feels like a cosmic joke. 

In any case, we enjoyed a lovely Ostara morning. Summer woke at 5 am to scope out the Ostara baskets. Cai slept another two hours. On seeing his goodies on the table, he stopped in his tracks and exclaimed "What the heck?" jumping, startled, when I laughed behind him. 

He was quick to scramble up in his chair to investigate further. The kids eagerly taught him the skill of egg hunting - he was a very fast learner - and they were on they're way, filling up their baskets with bird seed filled eggs. 

Cai was very excited about his basket of eggs! 

I was delighted that Summer left presents on the table for me this year! 

A few days earlier it was a riot to enjoy watching Cai figure out painting eggs. Such joy! Such excitement! It's a complete thrill to me, to get to do this age one last time. It is a true gift and I'm happy to be present for it. 

The big kids enjoyed flexing their creativity with their eggs. Cai enjoyed learning the basics. 

As I finish this very long overdue post, it is April 1st. Yesterday we enjoyed 20C temperatures out at the park with friends. Today a good feet of snow covered our world once again. It was a great Mother Nature's April Fools Prank! The kids were devastated but I had to remind them how lucky they are: this is spring break for the school kids. At least we get to try again next week! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Yarrow, Achillea mellifolium, of the Asteraceae family, is a very useful and beautiful plant. In a first aid setting, it's an effective antiseptic for cleaning out wounds and animal bites. Simply make a tea of the leaves and flowering tops and place the wound in a hot water wash or apply it as a compress. Yarrow is also said to be effective at stopping bleeding and particularly helpful for deep wounds. It can be applied topically: bruised fresh leaves or dried or powdered leaves. 

Yarrow is also an anti-inflammatory and anodyne. Topically it can be used for bruises, wounds, musculoskeletal pain and arthritis. Interestingly, it contains salicylic acid (the active component in aspirin). 

It's useful for colds and flus, and for reducing fever and pain. Its ability to promote sweating had made it a sacred herb in sweat lodges. 

It can be helpful for gingivitis or a toothache. 

As a bitter herb, Yarrow can be used in small amounts to promote digestion and help with ulcers. 

As a lukewarm or cold tea, it has diuretic properties, making it a powerful antiseptic for bladder infections. I've read that it's useful for incontinence as well, due to astringent properties. 

My first foray into Yarrow uses had been as a bug repellent. A couple years ago I harvested some from my sister's property and together with catnip essential oil, made a pretty useful mosquito repellent. It worked well but required frequent spraying. It's definitely a better alternative to the commercial options out there! 

Yarrow loves to live in meadows and tough growing conditions. It's pervasive and a spectacular herb to have around.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Little Passports Update

I killed Little Passports this week. Well, our subscription to it anyway. It was right before we opened up our newest installment, Thailand. 

The kids were not happy. I was surprised! I didn't think they were getting much out of them lately or really even cared. 

After some discussion it was decided I'd continue the subscription. It only goes on for another six months and then is complete. I must admit I'd miss it too. Geography was always a weak point in my own education. I survived twelve years of grade school and then seven years of university without knowing much of anything of world geography. I couldn't have told you where India was even!

So I'm happy to get a more thorough, even if basic knowledge of geography with the kids; an education school failed to provide me. Along with the physical exploration of countries too, there's the cultural aspect; looking at different ways people approach the business of living a life. 

That said, I'll backtrack to share our last three little passports explorations. 


We had trouble finding Israel on the map. Sadly, I had only a vague clue in a general sort of way. I had to pull up Google maps on my iPhone to point it out to us. In my defence it is a very small country on the map. 

We also looked for the Dead Sea. What a sight it'd be to visit this shore! We couldn't find it at all on the map (whipping out Google maps again). This time it was because it was simply so small, from the global maps point of view, to not even be visible or labelable.  

The coolest part of Little Passports is when it instills in us a desire to travel and see awesome places. 


We enjoyed some books to look through from the library. 


Ironically enough, we received and opened our Ireland edition on St. Patrick's Day. 

The set came with a small book of pictures to paint, each one describing something about Ireland. Summer had fun painting her pictures, but she quickly tired of the inadequacies of the built in paint pages and pulled out the real deal. 

Which inspired an afternoon of painting with Cai.