Friday, June 28, 2013

Leaping Lemurs

I've got a riddle...

What do you get when you cross a squirrel, a cat, a raccoon, and a monkey?  A lemur.  Ok, that was pretty lame, but I never claimed to be a comedian, just a Mom (and my kids thought it was clever).  Ok, seriously, you can't have a week about Madagascar and not talk about lemurs, right?  So here we go.

Lemurs are primates that are very distant cousins to the primates (monkeys, apes, etc) that live in other places of the world.  They were able to evolve and adapt in relative peace and quiet for thousands (millions?) of years on their isolated island.  There are around 100 different species of lemurs that range from 1oz. to 20lbs.  Before they became extinct, there were some Giant Lemurs that weighed almost 200lbs.!

They have all adapted to fit into the ecological area of the island where they live.  Many eat specialized diets of plants and fruit that only grow in the areas around them, because of this, the deforestation and habitat destruction that has happened over the last 2,000 years on the island has really endangered this animal species.  At least 17 species have become extinct and the remaining species are either on the threatened or endangered lists.  Sad, so sad.  I recommend you visit the library or search the web for some more wonderful facts about these adorable animals- maybe you'll be inspired to help save them in some way.

We really wanted to make a lemur project, but something different that we haven't done before.  So we made beady buddies.  Are you familiar with these?  They are little characters that you make with cord and pony beads that you can attach to a backpack or zipper.  My daughter made some at school last year and really enjoyed them.  So I found a template for a monkey and changed the design a little to make a ....

Ring-Tailed Lemur Beady Buddy
For the project you will need:
  • black, grey and white pony beads.  My black and grey beads looks very similar on the pictures.
  • 1 yd. plastic cord or yarn with the ends stiffened
  • template - this is pretty roughly drawn, sorry.
  • clip so you can attach it to things

1.  Fold your cord in half to find the center.  Slip the folded end through the clip and then bring the loose ends through the folded loop and pull to tighten and attach the cord to the clip.  This is called a half hitch.

2. String the first row of beads (that make the top of the head) on one of the strings.  Pass the other string through the same beads but going in the opposite direction.  Pull to tighten. 

3.  Put the beads on the string following the pattern on the template, bringing the strings through the beads from opposite ends each time.

4.  The ears have a special trick.  When you finish the 4th row (the one with the nose) put the two grey ear beads on one string and pass the cord through the beads in Row 2.  Put the other two ear beads on and pass it through Row 4 again.

5.  Keep going until you have finished the lemur's tail and then tie it off with a knot.

This is a little bit of an advanced art project.  Adult help might be needed but I was surprised by how quickly my daughter caught on.  I think it turned out pretty cute- my brother said it looked like a lemur that got run over.  Brothers can be so mean.

We also made a gecko that was a little easier.  I included that on the template too.  This is a good project for those long summer afternoons when you want a little peace and quiet.  There are hundreds of different templates online! 


Thursday, June 27, 2013


Colorful Characters

Madagascar is known for having very unique animals and plants.  The lemur is possibly the most well known, and we will be doing a project on them, but I also wanted to do a project on another well known inhabitant of the island- the chameleon.

There are over 160 different species of chameleons, ranging in size from 3/4 of an inch to 26 inches, and almost 2/3 of these chameleons live in Madagascar. 

These reptiles are famous for a few traits-
  • They have eyes that move independently of each other, allowing them a 360° view.
  • Their feet are specially formed to live in the trees.  Their five toes are grouped into two pads that grip the branches.
  • They walk with a back and forth motion to mimic the leaves blowing.  This makes them hard to see.
  • They have long sticky tongues that can grab an insect or worm from inches away without the chameleon moving at all.
  • They can change colors!!  This is perhaps their most well-known trait, but I (and I bet you too) thought this was mostly for camouflage.  It's not.  The chameleon changes it's color to show emotions, communicate with potential mates, and defend it's territory.
Chameleons are pretty cool alright.  So we made one to keep as a little pet.....

Pipe cleaner Chameleon
For the project you will need:
  • 3 green pipe cleaners (at least)
  • pink pipe cleaner
  • scissors
  • sharpie or googly eyes
1. Take one green pipe cleaner and make a loop about 1" long on the end.  This will be the head.

2. Cut a piece of the pink pipe cleaner about 2" long and attach one end to the "head".  This is the tongue.  You can curl it up to make it look cuter.

3. Take another green pipe cleaner and wrap the head to make it look more like a solid head.  This should take about 3/4 of the pipe cleaner.  Cut off the rest to use as legs.

4.  Wrap the piece you just cut off around the long piece of pipe cleaner that is extending from the head.  These are one set of legs. 

5. From the third green pipe cleaner cut another piece for another set of legs.  Attach them to the body as well.

6.  Coil the rest of the 3rd pipe cleaner (or use another pipe cleaner) until it looks like a spring.  Bend up the legs and slide the coil over them to make the body.  Pull the legs back out and arrange until it looks right.

7.  You should still have a piece of the 1st pipe cleaner (the body) sticking out of the back.  This is the tail.  Curl it under in a spiral.
The picture shows it curled up but it should curl under- I fixed it later. :)

8.  Draw on some eyes or glue on some googly eyes.  The googly eyes would look cuter but I couldn't find any!

9.  Bend the little guys feet and attach him to some plants (or your finger!)  Too cute :) 

This project was a little tough for my 4 year old.  He lost interest pretty quick.  My 6 year old was able to do it but it was a little challenging for her too. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the Menu: Madagascar's National Dish

Let's Eat!

If this blog has taught me anything it's that I really enjoy trying the foods and recipes from different countries, and that my kids don't share that same passion.  This week we are learning about Madagascar and I didn't really know what to expect, but I was very happy to find that lemur was not a featured ingredient in any dish I saw. 

In Madagascar they raise a type of cattle called Zebu.  They were introduced to the country by Indonesian settlers over 1,000 years ago as a means of meat, milk, and as farm labor.  The people also raise and eat chickens and, because of the surrounding Indian Ocean, seafood of all types.  Many types of vegetables and fresh fruits are also part of the cuisine and rice is the main staple- it is served at every meal! 

Traditionally, meals are served and eaten on mats on the ground, with the food on a plate in the center and everyone eating from the same dish. The food is prepared simply, not usually spicy but they do have a spicy condiment that they use called sakay.

We chose to make the national dish - Romazava.  Romazava is a stew of beef and greens served over rice.  Simple, healthy and sounds pretty good.  There are many versions on the internet- here is my version since I made some variations. 

For the recipe you will need:
  • 2 lbs. cubed beef (zebu if you can find it)
  • 1 lg. onion - chopped
  • 1 can tomatoes- chopped or diced
  • 4 cloves garlic- finely chopped
  • 1 T fresh ginger- finely chopped
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 red bell pepper- chopped
  • 1 jalapeno- diced
  • 4 cups water (broth might be nice too)
  • 1 bunch of spinach (about 3 cups)- coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch watercress- coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch kale- coarsely chopped
1.  Fry the onions in a large pan until they are soft.  Add the meat and cook about 10 minutes until browned.
2.  Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, jalapeno and bell pepper and cook for another 10 minutes.
3.  Add the water and bring to a boil.  When boiling add the greens.  It looks like a lot but they wilt quickly.
4. Reduce heat to low and simmer (covered) for about 45 minutes or until meat is tender.
5. Serve over rice.  I added some sriracha sauce to it at the end too.

This was a simple and pretty tasty dish, although not the most attractive.  Lots of healthy dark green leafy vegetables.  The kids liked the meat and sauce over the rice but I had to pick the greens out.  I imagine that some of the nutrition leeched into the meat and broth, right?  I felt like it needed something though, I don't know what.  The original recipes had all types of different greens that I'd never heard of, the one I mainly based mine on had mustard greens.  Maybe it was my choice of greens that was off?  Who knows?  This was the first time I'd ever eaten watercress.  Kind of peppery and bitter, interesting.  Overall, this wasn't one of my favorite meals but it was good and no lemurs were injured.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Week 48: Madagascar

Week 48!!!!

I cannot believe we are already on week 48!  The journey is almost over, not that we aren't still enjoying the experience, but it is getting a little harder now that most of the major countries are done.  5 more weeks and we can end our journey knowing so much more about the world and it's cultures than we did a year ago!!  But, we've still got to do 5 more countries so let's get to work.  This week we picked...........

About the only thing I knew abut Madagascar was that it was an island somewhere off the coast of Africa and that's where lemurs come from. 

I did NOT know:
The Gondwana supercontinent

  • Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world.  It was once attached to the Gondwana supercontinent but broke away over 80 million years ago and settled off the SE coast of Africa.  Scientists think it was attached near India, that was pretty far to travel!!

  • 90% of the wildlife found on Madagascar is found nowhere else on the planet.  Because it was so isolated the species developed their own unique features.

  • Over 22 million people live on Madagascar.  I had no idea it was that populated.  I think I was confusing it with the Galapagos Islands and thinking it was just animals and jungle!  People have been living on the island for over 2500 years, they were thought to have crossed the Indian Ocean from Indonesia

  • The capital city, Antananarivo, is the most populated city on the island.  It's coordinates are 18.93°S / 47.52° E.

  • Madagascar was once an important trading and refueling port for ships travelling the Indian Ocean.  It was also notorious for harboring pirates!!  Arrgh.

  • In 1895, France fought a war and took control of the island until 1960.  Their influence is seen in many of the recipes of the island and French is one of the official languages.  Malagasy is the other official language.

  • Since the introduction of people, farming, and cattle to the island, 90% of the forests have been cut down and many of the unique species have become extinct or endangered.  Some of them were the Giant Lemur and the Elephant Bird, which stood over 10ft. tall!

Wow, I sure didn't know much about Madagascar!  I guess the movie, Madagascar , wasn't a documentary?!  So are you telling me the national anthem of Madagascar isn't "I Like To Move It"?!?!

Well, it should be.  That song rocks.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Sand, sand and more sand!

If there is one thing that the United Arab Emirates has a lot of it is SAND!!  The country is situated on part of the Arabian Desert, the largest expanse of sand in the world, covering 1 million square miles.  So, we used sand as our art project inspiration! 

There are many ways that sand can be used in the arts.  Sand can come in a myriad of colors and textures and these can be glued to canvas, sculpted into elaborate designs, filled into clear bottles, or used as a medium for light-box drawings!  That last use is very interesting to watch!  Click on this YouTube video to see an very amazing example.

We chose to make the "sand in a bottle" type of project.  This is a super simple project for an amateur, but the amazing artists that sell these sand bottles are going beyond the simple.  Check out the details that they were able to get from simple sand.  We kept it a little more on the simple side for ours :)

The art of Sand
For the project you will need:

  • few different colors of sand (Michaels had this nice little sampler for $4)
  • clear plastic or glass jars or bottles
  • funnel
  • spoon
1.  Put the funnel in the mouth of the bottle and spoon in different colors of sand- one at a time.  You could also pour directly from the bag.

2.  Tilt the bottle a little to one side or the other to make waves or a more intricate design.

3.  Fill all the way to the top so that the sand has no room to shift around.


These turned out really pretty and the little baggies of sand held just enough to fill both the bottles.  The kids had a great time and really that's what it's all about!!   
Have a wonderful weekend!!  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

If you build it...

...they will come!

Why is Dubai the fastest growing city in the world?  Because it has some cool stuff!! Where a few decades ago there were Bedouin camps and villages, there are now luxury hotels, water parks, malls with every store imaginable, and skyscrapers that are literally scraping the sky!  The limits of architecture are being stretched and pulled in some very creative ways.  

The Burj Khalifa-  the tallest of the more than 520 buildings that make up the Dubai skyline.  At 163 stories, and slightly more than 2,716 ft, it is by far the tallest skyscraper.  Construction began in 2004 and was completed in 2010 at a cost of about $1.5 billion.  The building has broken more than just the record for tallest skyscraper, it also boasts-
  • fastest elevator- up to 26 mph
  • highest nightclub- 144th floor
  • highest restaurant- 122nd floor
But, with temps in the 100° regularly, waterfront property is a premium that the rich are willing to pay for.  So why not make more coastline? Right?? 

The Palm Islands- an artificial archipelago (group of islands) that were constructed in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Dubai.  They were constructed out of local rock and sand and now house luxury waterfront mansions, water parks, luxury hotels, marinas, and well, anything else that money can buy.  Amazing.  But check these next ones out...

The World Islands- now you can own your own country!  Well, maybe not the real country but one of the many man-made islands that recreate a world map in the sea.  Such an awesome idea but, unfortunately, the global financial crisis has caused demand to plummet, so, if you've got some cash saved up now might be a great time to buy your own chunk of the world- call your real estate agent!!

The Skyscraper Contest

We were so impressed with the architecture of Dubai that we decided to see how tall we could build a building.  So we dug out our old jenga game and......

Dreams of grandeur!  His was going to
go to Mars!!

Started impressive but couldn't handle the wind!

Another ambitious design with tragic results!  Darn wind!!
Our winner!!  Not the fanciest but the strongest
(and built by the youngest)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Menu: Arabic treats

Arabic/Indian Fusion

Traditional Emirati food is pretty much traditional Arabic/Middle Eastern food, but I did notice that a few of the dishes were very similar to Indian dishes that I have had before.  Maybe that is due to the fact that over 50% of the population is from the Indian subcontinent, maybe it's a coincidence? Doesn't really matter, good food is good food.  So, I picked a recipe that sounded like a fun way to sneak some veggies into dinner in a delicious way.  And it was yummy.

recipe adapted from Emeratican Kitchen
For the recipe you will need:

The batter-
  • 3/4 cup chickpea flour (I found this at both an Indian market and a Mexican food market)
  • 1/4 cup Corn Meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 clove garlic- crushed or 1 tsp garlic powder 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Oil for frying
Combine all the above ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.  Then find some veggies in the fridge.  The link has some tasty ideas.  I used:
  • 1/2 onion- shredded
  • 5 sprigs of lemon thyme (stems removed)
  • 1 small carrot- shredded (forgot it in the pic)
  • 1 small potato- shredded
  • 2 small zucchini- shredded
1.  Add the shredded vegetables to the batter.  It should be pretty thick.  Add more flour/corn meal if necessary.

2. Heat up about an inch and a half of oil in a frying pan on medium heat.

3.  Drop spoonfuls of batter in oil and fry until golden brown- about 2-3 minutes each side.  Drain and sprinkle with a little salt.

These were pretty tasty.  I don't make deep-fried food very often because it's not supposed to be very healthy, but these didn't actually absorb much grease at all.  After I was done frying I had almost the same amount of grease left in the pan.  The batter was very good- no one noticed that they were made with chickpea flour.  Now, I'd have to imagine that regular flour would work just fine, but I love finding unique ingredients.  These would be a great way to get rid of excess or leftover veggies, maybe even with some meat in the batter too.  The combinations are endless- Go crazy! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Week 47: United Arab Emirates

Peace is possible.

Another late start this week, sorry, I've got short-term syndrome.  The end is in sight and I'm getting distracted easily!  But anyway, I've got a rather interesting country this week- the United Arab Emirates.  Never heard of it?  You'll probably recognize the names of 2 of it's main cities- Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Those cities are also the names of 2 of the 7 "emirates", or principalities, that make up the country as a whole. 

In the 60s, as oil started to be found in the Arab nations, a group of Arab sheikhs, or emirs, joined together to support one another.  They decided it worked well and, by 1971, there were 7 emirates that were united.  They also invited neighboring Qatar and Bahrain to join but those countries wanted to be independent countries.  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a nice system going for it. 

 The 7 emirs each rule their own area for life- it is a hereditary throne- but the people elect members to a 40 person national council for the law- making and day to day running of the country.  Since the beginning, the UAE has put much of its oil revenues into healthcare, education and national infrastructure.  The country is growing quickly, Dubai especially.  

Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world.  Their economy has branched out and now gets a large portion of its money from tourism, trade, and real estate.  Impressive real estate too!  The tallest skyscraper in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is one of the now 400 or so that make up the Dubai skyline.  The world's only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, sits on it's own man-made island and looks like a giant white sail against the sky.  Beautiful.  The malls and restaurants are gorgeous and there is virtually no crime in UAE, mostly due to very strict laws.  

Despite many "western" influences this is still a very Muslim country.  5 times a day the Islamic people stop what they are doing for prayers.  But, unlike some other more extreme Islamic countries, other religions are free to practice in UAE.  There are Christian churches, Hindu temples and Jewish synagogues.  They are asked not to try to preach in public but otherwise given no problems. 
The Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai houses the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.  It promotes learning and understanding of Islamic traditions.  Islamic is an often misunderstood religion and they seem to be trying to change that.  They show that it's not always one way or another, they show that it is possible to live in peace instead of war.  

Because of the growth of the country, the native Emirati now only make up about 17% of the population.  Indian and other Asian immigrants make up about 50% of the rest.  The UAE is a pretty diverse nation.  Even in their cuisine.  Sure there is the regular Middle Eastern food, but you can find any type of cuisine you are looking for in UAE.

Traditionally, men in the UAE wear a kandura.  This is an ankle length white tunic.  The women would wear an abaya, a black over-garment that covers almost all the body.  These days they can wear more modern clothes in they wish, but they still dress very modestly and tourists are also encouraged to dress modestly.  Which is hard when you consider that between June and September the average temperature is 106° F, and up to 120°, especially in the desert.  Even in the "winter" it never gets below 50°.  Rainfall is sporadic and sparse but dust storms are pretty common!

Outside the cities are many historical sites that are interesting to visit, such as Hatta, once a resting place for merchants on the road to Oman.  These days it is a heritage village selling souvenirs and showcasing dozens of 18th century houses.  

The United Arab Emirates is an interesting country, a mix of old and new.  Skyscraper and sand.