Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Aidan!

Today, Aidan is 9. Here is his life in pictures.
Just a few hours old.
Our first day together.

About 9 months old - first kiss.

3 year old - First Dance Recital
3 years old - Oklahoma Festival of the Arts.

The above pictures were taken shortly after he turned 4. He did not want to eat dinner. It was succotash - sausage, lima beans, corn, and tomatoes. He said he would eat it as a shake. We pureed his meal and put it in the cup. On the left is the excitement about his new treat, on the right is the face as he took his first sip!

5 years old - His first short hair cut since he was born.
He has the most adorable double cowlick on the top of his head,
if his hair is long, it does not stick up.
A short cut is rare on this little man. 

He looks a lot like his dad, at least I think so.

Christmas 2013 - 8 years old, with our new puppy.

9 years old.

I cannot believe how fast these 9 years have flown by. I adore this little boy. He is growing up so fast!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Week 5: It's Not Just the Kids Who Learn Things!

Do you know what a comma spice is? I do, now. I have a Master's Degree. I wrote more research papers during high school, undergrad, and grad school than I can count; but I honestly had no idea what a comma splice was. I remember Dr. J, one of my graduate professors, writing it on many of my papers. I really had no idea what it meant. I did not ask either. Why? I went to a good high school. I studied grammar. I was supposed to know what it was! So, I attempted to fix them by rewriting the whole sentence. Little did I know how easy the fix was if I had just asked!

Last week the lessons in our Rod and Staff English book were about different kinds of sentences and sentence errors - compound sentences, compound subjects/predicates, fragments, run-on, and the dreaded comma spice!

In case you answered "no" to my first question, a comma splice is the joining of two sentences into a compound sentence with only a comma. You need a conjunction to go with that comma. Simple right? Here is an example:

          Comma Spice: Aidan made cookies, Lilly decorated them.
          Correct: Aidan made cookies, and Lilly decorated them.

That is only one of many things I learned last week. I learned some history, some astronomy, and some geography too. Not everything I learn is academic in nature. I learn to be more flexible everyday. I learn how to meet the needs of my kids. I learn better how to meet my needs for rest and recharging while still caring for my children.

I learned that Matthew can be entertained by acing cards!

Homeschool is not School at Home.

Lilly has struggled with reading and writing. She writes letters backwards. She reverses letters as she reads. She tires quickly when we work on reading. Last week she asked for one of Aidan's cursive worksheets. She has been very artistic since she first learned to hold a crayon, so I gave her a cursive work sheet.  I taught her to sign her name as well as a few of her favorite words. She loves to write in cursive! I would not have tried to teach a 6 year old cursive because that is not what I did in school.

I am learning more and more how to step out of the mindset that things must be done the way they are done in schools. Just when I think I have overcome that mindset - my kids prove that it is still deeply ingrained in my thought processes.

I am Easily Distracted

I plan. Our entire school year is planned in an online planner. I plan crock pot or quick meals for our busy days. We have chore charts. We still always seem to be struggling and fighting to get it all done.

I put my phone and the computer away last week. I don't usually answer phone calls during school, but I will answer a text or check Facebook. Last week I did not. I checked first thing in the morning, and I checked after dinner. There were a few other times I checked Facebook when I was stuck in the car, etc. We were so efficient! We had free time. I was not distracted.

We also kept the TV off for most of the day, and I took the kids out of the house so there would be less computer time.

Everyone Needs Rewards, Even Mom...Especially Mom

I take away computer time. I take away toys. I take away TV time. I send them outside. I send them to their rooms. These are my methods for getting school done. Last Monday was a breeze. It was the best and easiest day of homeschooling we have ever had! We were done with EVERYTHING by 11:30. We had not rushed through anything. We started a little early, and the kids worked hard.

I made a spontaneous decision that we should have a picnic and play at the park. Then we went to the library, the kids favorite place to go. Tuesday and Wednesday went just as smoothly. It was a great week. The rewards they earned by being efficient made an impression.

The time outside, sitting in the sun and watching my children play helped me recharge. We were all happy. I hope to give them more rewards that are not things, but time. Time with me and time doing the things they enjoy. That is the best motivator.

Lilly at Marshmallow Madness

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cleaning Out the Pantry!

I collect food. When there is a threat of a bad storm, I go shopping. When canned tomatoes are on sale, I stock up. When I see something new that might be yummy, I buy some. When our staples run low, I refill the canisters - and then some.

The abundance of food in our pantry makes it difficult to keep everything organized and then we don't know what we have, so we buy more. That is how we ended up with 10 cans of tomato soup when only one person in the house eats it!

For the last 2 months I have been attempting to eat down the pantry, fridge, and freezer. I have only made purchases when absolutely necessary. I have made regular purchases of milk, eggs, butter, and frozen veggies. Otherwise, if I lacked something for I recipe, I tried to be creative. It has been a challenge, but it has meant we had some amazing dinners without spending anything!

In July I shopped the Crest meat sale. I spent $150 on meat. I had a ham, a pork roast, and ham hocks left from a pig we purchased a year ago. It has been 8 weeks and we have only eaten half of the meat from that purchase. In the last 3 weeks, I have spent less than $60 a week to feed our family of five! That is how much food I have stashed away in the pantry!

I have had a lot of fun! Here are a few of the amazing dishes we have had.

Pintos and ham hocks was my first experiments. I soaked the beans all night, and then started cooking them early in the morning. They simmered ALL DAY LONG and they were amazing! The homemade wheat bread and corn on the cob made a great dinner. I purchased nothing for this meal. Everything was in the pantry (beans and bread ingredients), freezer (ham hocks), for the garden (corn).

Split pea soup has never been a favorite of mine, but Jonathan loves it. I had a bag of split peas in the pantry, onions from the garden, a few carrots left over, and the last of the ham hocks to use up. I found a recipe online and we experimented. I am happy to say, that I did enjoy the soup.

The biggest win of this adventure was my artichoke chicken, pita, lentil salad, and hummus. I wanted to make a yummy artichoke chicken recipe that we had tried before and loved. I only had half a jar or artichokes (something that usually sends me running to the store), and I needed Parmesan cheese, but only had feta. I used the feta instead, added enough roasted red peppers to make up for the missing artichokes, and threw in a few capers for good measure. It was delicious!
The same thing happened with my lentil salad. I needed mint, shallots, and kalamata olives. I replaced them with basil, onions from the gardens, and fresh tomatoes and bell pepper from the garden.
I decided that I would make some pita and hummus to go with the chicken and salad. I had all of the ingredients in the pantry. I even added some roasted red peppers to the hummus. We also ate some leftover cucumber salad with our meal. It was all delicious and it made for some yummy leftovers too!

I love how creative I have been with our meals! I have also been more mindful in my shopping. Which has lead to healthier meals and a lot of fun in the kitchen. Well, and maybe a few more dishes to wash. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week 4: Discovering Learning Styles

We just wrapped up our fourth week! We are 1/9 of the way through our school year! Getting through the first month is usually the hardest. We are establishing a schedule, learning our routine, and getting used to our new books. We have started all of our subjects at this point and, so far, we are enjoying them all.

This week has been a week of learning about Lilly. I have posted  before about teaching Lilly to read, you can see it here. I have tried so many things with her. It seems like we always take two steps forward and one step back. I have found things that seem to work, but then it's like she forgets everything she learned.; or if she is tired, she just can't focus to do it.

I know she learns well and retains a lot when I read to her, and when we talk through things. Aidan does as well. That has made science, history, geography, Bible, and literature easy to teach. I read and we talk. Both kids retain well. I can use cds for Latin and the kids remember what they hear. Even Matthew has started singing Song School Latin with us! Lilly is also able to memorize math facts and Bible verses if we say them aloud together. She can use manipulatives to show understanding on math concepts.

Our real struggle has been finding a method that works for her for reading. I think I have finally found a combination of programs that works. I won't really know until we have been at it a little longer, but I am hopeful! I needed only one book to teach Aidan to read, but Lilly needs a multi sensory method. She needs to hear, see, touch, and manipulate the letters and words with her hands.

I started the year with Explode the Code and All About Spelling 1. We used the phonogram cards and an app on my phone to memorize all the sounds a letter can make. After 2 weeks she knew them all. She actually knew most of the sounds, but we needed to work on the letters that made 2-4 sounds. (That is Step 1 in the program.)

Now we are working on hearing sounds in words (step 2). She is great with hearing and identifying the first sound, and she can separate the sounds on her own. She is struggling with hearing the last sound in words. So we are working on that.

I decided we needed more drill, more practice. She would not, however, sit for me and drill, and I don't have all day to sit with her. We would both go crazy anyway! So I signed up for a free trial of Reading Eggs. She loves it! She has advanced from Map 2 to Map 5 or 6 in only 5 days. She would play all day if I let her! She is feeling more confident, and she begged to read to me last night. We pulled out a Bob Book and she sounded out the first few pages very easily. She got tired fast, so we stopped. I was so proud of her, and she was excited!

I am thrilled to have found something that seems to be working!

Now for our funny of the week. We were studying the Emancipation Proclamation. We read about Lincoln discussing the proclamation with his cabinet. Lilly looked at me with a look that said, "He was crazy!" And then she said, as she glanced at our kitchen cabinets, "He discussed it with his CABINET?!?!" I love when kids take things so literally. We followed up with a short civics lesson. Now she knows that he did not talk to his kitchen cabinets.

We had a productive and busy week. The only thing we were unable to do was our astronomy lab. It requires going outside on a clear night to look at the stars and draw pictures. If has been cloudy and rainy! If we get a clear night this weekend we will be outside to look at the stars!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Who Wants Pumpkin Pie?

That is the question I may be asking all winter! Some friends gave us a GIANT pumpkin! It weighed more than my 6 year old, and was not much shorter than my 2 year old! It sat in my kitchen floor for a couple of weeks. I finally worked up the willpower to get started on it. I knew it would be an all day process. I cut into it at 10:00 am and finished rinsing the last dish at midnight. Jonathan and I took turns working on it. There was some sit and wait time, but the project took over my kitchen for 14 hours!

How do you prepare that much pumpkin? In pieces. Slowly. With lots of patience.

Step 1: Cut and seed the pumpkin. I did this in stages. We only cut up what we could fit in the oven. It took six batches to get it all roasted.

Step 2: Place in a roasting pan coated with vegetable oil. We had a large and a small pan. So we were able to do quite a bit in each batch.

Step 3: Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 60-90 minutes. A small batch in one roaster takes about 60 minutes. With both pans we needed up to 90 minutes. You want the pumpkin to be soft through to the skin.

Step 4: Remove from pan and cool. (If I was just doing one small pumpkin or a butternut squash, I would let it cool in the pan; but I wanted to get the next batch in the oven!) It took about an hour to be cool enough to pick up.

Step 5: Scrape the flesh from the rind. I used my Pampered Chef Scoop Loop to both seed the pumpkin and scrape the flesh out. It worked much better than anything I have tried before!

Step 6: Place the flesh in the food processor and puree.

Step 7: Place the pureed pumpkin in a strainer lined with flour sack cloth or other similar lint-free cloth.

Step 8: Squeeze as much water as you can from the pumpkin.

Step 9: Measure and bag the pumpkin. We did some 1 cup bags and some 2 cup bags because those are the measurements the recipes I use call for. Package the pumpkin according to the way you think you will use it.

Step 10: Freeze!

What did we end up with? 27 cups of pumpkin puree! My pie recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin. A batch of pumpkin bread (2 loaves) takes two cups. The soup recipe I found takes 2 cups. We still have 4 winter squash in our own garden that we need to process. We will have our fill of pumpkin pies, cakes, breads, cookies, and more!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Week 3 - Staying Flexible!

Last week was week three of 4th and 1st grade. It did not go at all according to plan!

Monday was great, Tuesday was great. Wednesday and Thursday, Lilly slept until 1 and I had some studio work to do. We did history, timeline, geography, and science on their assigned days, but Lilly did not do any of the planned reading or math. I downloaded a flash card app on my phone. She did spend a little while each day doing math drills. She did all of the 1s, 2s, and 3s.

Friday, Lilly had a sleepover. She slept in again and we got a little work done, but she was too excited about her party!

Saturday we picked Lilly up at 9:30, ran a couple of errands, came home for lunch, took Aidan to auditions, picked Aidan up, went to the library, and had leftovers for dinner. We made it to bed a little earlier than normal because we were exhausted!

Today, Sunday, we actually made it to morning church service! Then we had to stop at the library to get something Lilly left, we had lunch, Lilly and Daddy went fishing, then Lilly went to her second birthday party of the weekend! We had to stop at the grocery store for a few things, we had dinner and now we are heading to bed!

It has been a busy crazy week! I have had to adapt our school schedule and push some lessons back. I am so happy I found a planner that will just tell me what to do tomorrow. If we did not get to it last week, it will show up on next week's schedule.

Next week, we will do it all! Maybe. If we don't, it will be okay. It has taken 4 years for me to really get used to that idea. I still struggle sometimes, but I know we will finish what we need to by the end of the school year and if not - we will just finish it next year! Flexibility is great; it takes some getting used to but it yields some amazing results!

She may not have finished all of her school work for the week;

but she did some great artwork!

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Monday Munchies - Yummy Spanish Rice!

I have been trying for years to make a decent Spanish or Mexican rice to serve with our tacos, enchiladas, or fajitas. It never turned out the way I wanted it. I tried other people's recipes. I made up my own. I bought mixes. Nothing has satisfied my taste buds.

Until tonight! I finally got it just right. And it was so easy!

What do you need?

1 cup white rice (or brown)
2 cups water
1 jalepeno
1 medium white onion
2 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
broth from the meat you are serving
1/2 cup-1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes

What to do?

Dice the onion and mince the jalepeno.

Bring your water to a boil.

Add the rice, jalepeno, and onion. Cook UNCOVERED. This is opposite of what your rice instructions probably say. It will ensure that all the water cooks away quickly so you can add the broth at the end.* Be sure to stir the rice a few times.

Let the rice cook.

Quarter your tomatoes.

When your meat is done cooking and the liquid has boiled off of the rice, add 3/4-1 cup of broth to your rice. Cook until the liquid is gone again. Your rice should be the perfect consistency. Mine cooked for a total of 20 minutes.(If the liquid boils off of the rice before the meat is done, turn off the heat and let it sit. You don't want it to burn!)

Toss your tomatoes in just before serving.

The rice was tender and full of flavor. The tomatoes gave it just a little kick!

*Why did I add the broth at the end instead of cooking in the broth the whole time? I wanted the juices from the meat I was serving. This made the rice mesh well with the rest of the meal because the seasoning was the same. Had I waited for the meat to be done before starting the rice, I would have had cold chicken. Another option is to start with chicken, beef, or veggie broth instead of water and cook according to the directions on the package.