Saturday, May 30, 2009

This Post Has Been a Long Time Coming

How's that for a title?!

I have not blogged about homeschooling per se in a very long time. I've posted Easter, birthday and strawberry pics, talked about our butterfly garden experience (We have two more caterpillars almost ready to pupate as I type this!), shared our homemade bread recipe, our detox and just about everything else other than the nuts and bolts of homeschooling. What's been missing this year are Weekly Reports, any talk about curriculum, thoughts on the 2009-2010 year (Thatcher's 3rd and Haddon's K4) , planning and the like.

Why? To be honest, I am not really sure. This year has felt like the equivalent of a ship at sea whose lost its rudder. Sure there are still sails to catch the wind when it picks up but there are days and even weeks when the wind is just barely blowing.

Those who have been reading for awhile have followed my journey this year. I know there are new readers so I will quickly recap. Last June we found out we were expecting Baby #4 and a pretty good case of morning sickness and exhaustion set in. September saw Hurricane Ike run right over the top of our house. At the end of October we lost the baby; surgery and a long recovery followed. Holidays, a new roof , a million calls to two insurance companies who both messed up our claims (home and health) and an official diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome finished off 2008.

The new year started, and boy was I was ready for a new beginning. I started researching Charlotte Mason's theories in earnest. I read Volume One of Miss Mason's six volume series and Cathy Levison's books by the end of the month. We started changing our school little by little because I loved and agreed with what I was reading: short lessons; we dropped grammar and logic; starting incorporating nature hikes, quality literature and living books; and made an attempt at masterly inactivity. Then I started Volume Six and realized all I had gotten us into. ;) CM is so much deeper than just good books and nature hikes (What most tend to boil it down to in my experience.) I started feeling a little overwhelmed. Can I really implement this? It just seems really hard and classical feels so much more laid out. CMer's need their own version of The Well Trained Mind!

Through all this, we have been struggling with Thatcher's increasing symptoms and two younger brothers who do everything big brother does. We decided to medicate again (We tried stimulants for a year when he was 4 1/2 - 5 1/2) because we just had to gain some control over the chaos. Then I got a call and life took another detour.

I have attended workshops at our local homeschool conference done by a Neurodevelopmentalist for the last three years. She has really great ideas for how to maximize any kid's potential and friends of mine have been successfully using some of her strategies for a few years now with their "typical" kiddos. But what she shares at her workshops is just the tip of the iceberg. You can take your child to her and she puts a plan together to help reduce and/or eliminate symptoms of many neurological conditions including autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and even Down's Syndrome. The catch's expensive...and time consuming. And did I mention expensive?

Well we have friends who knew we wanted to pursue this therapy and offered to pay for our first evaluation. We went not really knowing what all to expect. We have started on a course of therapy that takes us about 3 1/2 hours a day. And this is not a short term fix. If we decide to continue, we will go back to be re-evaluated every four months. Activities will be added/deleted depending on progress. Most kids continue this type of therapy for one to two years, sometimes longer.

What it all boils down to is that this year academics have been on the back burner. I have two shelves full of books we haven't hardly touched. We are at the end of May and the only thing we've finished is our Spanish program - and that's because it's video based! We have 50 lessons to go in math, over half of SOTW 2, almost all of this year's science because we started the year finishing what was left from last year, and on and on. I have these beautiful plans that pretty much got thrown out the window.

In my head I know that it truly is okay. It's a unique season. But somehow it doesn't stop me from feeling frustrated. The reality is that I never would have been able to pursue some of the things I did this year had we stayed on track academically (butterfly garden, baking bread and making jam...). Those things have been a joy.

Yet the steam is gone. I am at burnout and have been there for awhile now. There I said it. I need the wind to pick up and to start blowing - hard! I want to regain that passion and excitement for educating my kids. The hard thing is, if we continue this therapy then academics will need to stay in the background for a year or more. It will all be worth it if it helps Thatcher reach his potential but there are no guarantees. No answers, just sharing my journey. And if you read this far, thanks! :)


Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Lego Cake

If you have a Lego fan at your house, here are directions for how I made this cake for Thatcher's 8th birthday. It was tons of fun and not difficult at all...time-consuming but not difficult! :) When I decided to do this, I began by doing a Google image search of Lego cakes. I found an amazing photo (scroll down a little) but the blog included no directions. Still this photo served as my inspiration so I wanted to be sure to give credit to the guy who first figured this out. Thanks so much, Kevin!!!

Directions for Lego Cake

You will need:
  • these two silicone molds from the Lego store. You can purchase the large mold at but unfortunately they say the yellow one is no longer available on their site. They have a blue one at their online shop but it says it is not sold in the US. Still I am linking that page just in case they decide to start offering it in the States. If you think you want to make this cake sometime, run by the nearest Lego store and pick one up in case they are being discontinued. If there is no Lego store near you call a friend in a different town who can pick one up and mail it to you or eBay it! The cake would still be cute even without the tiny bricks if you can't get your hands on one of these - or just use a few real Legos!
  • Wilton Candy Melts in your preferred colors. I had friends save Michaels coupons from the Sunday paper and I bought all mine 40% off. It depends on how thick you make your bricks but I found that each bag of Candy Melts would make about three large Legos plus four to six small bricks as well. Again, this can really vary.
  • a cake board covered with foil. Wilton sells a Fanci-Foil (great instructions and demo video here) but I just just regular foil. Also, I never buy cake boards. When I go to Michaels to buy the Candy Melts I stop by the framing department. The mats they use for framing come inbetween sheets of thick cardboard and these are perfect for cake boards. They come in all sizes, too. Just cut it to the exact size you want and cover it.
  • your favorite cake prepared according to package directions. The amount of cake you will need will vary depending on how many bricks you make. I had 23 bricks and only needed one 13x9 cake. I'd buy two cakes to be safe if you are planning on making about the same number of bricks. My legos were pretty thick so just a small piece of cake fit inside. If your bricks are thinner, you may need more cake. My favorite mix is Duncan Hines Classic White Cake. I follow the package directions except I add a few teaspoons of almond extract. Yum! I also add almond extract in my icing as well.
  • a double batch of Wilton's buttercream frosting. I make the variation that says "For pure white icing" so I can make it ahead of time (up to a week) and my cake won't require refrigeration due to all the butter. In addition to the butter extract and the vanilla extract I again add a few tsp of almond extract to compliment the flavor in the cake. Remember that you may need more or less depending on how many legos you make.
  • peanut butter filling, if desired, for the small bricks. I did not use a recipe. I just mixed a cup of peanut butter with powdered sugar until it was as sweet as I liked. You can add a tiny bit of vegetable oil if needed to make a little thinner.
  • one package of white fondant. The 24 oz package was perfect for my lego man. Tint part of the icing yellow for his head using Wilton's icing colors. I used Lemon Yellow. Be sure to use gloves when you mix the fondant and the yellow dye or your hands will be extremely stained!

  1. Melt the first color of Candy Melts in microwave (be careful not to scorch!) or in double boiler on the stovetop. "Paint" the bottom of the mold with one layer of candy. Firmly tap all the air bubbles out so the tops of your legos aren't full of tiny holes. Then paint the sides of the mold, too. Allow to set. Living in Houston with our high humidity, the candy would have taken days to harden. Lol! I used the freezer to speed this process along knowing that when the legos were removed from the mold they would condensate a little bit. I made sure not to touch them until the moisture had completely evaporated so my bricks wouldn't have fingerprints all over them. You will need to repeat this process adding layers of candy until the bricks are thick enough to remove them from the mold without breaking them. I did two thick coats and that was sufficient. The insides of my bricks were not smooth and pretty, but noone was going to see that part anyway. ;) Repeat this process until you have as many bricks as you need.
  2. For the small bricks with pb filling, just put a thin layer of candy melts in the bottom of the small bricks and tap out air bubbles. Put in freezer. Add a small amount of pb filling and then fill remaining brick with candy melts. Tap again so the bottom of the brick with be nice and smooth. If you want to make things easier, skip the filling all together and just make solid bricks. I did half with filling and half without because we had one guest with a peanut allergy. The pb ones went fast but for the time this step takes, I may skip it in the future. Repeat with each color of candy melts until you have all the small legos you need.
  3. Put frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large tip (#12 or even 1A or 2A) to make this process super-quick (you can certainly skip this and do it all by hand, too). Cut cake into pieces small enough to fit inside each brick (remember to leave room for a layer of frosting) and cover each piece with frosting. Set a brick mold on top of it and wa-la! Repeat until all molds are filled with cake.
  4. Make the Lego man. I loved that the one Kevin made in his photo was an ode to the classic Legos from my childhood - plus since this was my first time working with fondant I really needed that picture to work from! ;) To make his head I made a ball and then stretched it out a little and flattened it. Add the Lego nub to the top. You can buy food safe markers but I just used a black scrapbooking pen to draw on his face and didn't allow the kids to eat that part. For his body I used a large circle cutter from my set similar to this. I filled the center of the cutter with fondant and smoothed it out. Then I removed the circle mold and cut the bottom part of the circle off so it would sit flat on his legs which are simply two basic rectangles. They hardly show so don't worry much about them. The arms are two rectangles with rounded the edges. The hands are flattened ovals that I curled into that Lego "hook". I attached the arms with water as the "glue" and toothpicks (cut in half) for extra support. Until the fondant completely dried I stacked little Lego bricks under his arms to hold them up and you can see in the photo I arranged the Legos on the final cake so that those arms would still have that support. I attached the hands in the same way. You will need to work a tiny bit to cover the holes the toothpicks leave but this was pretty simple.
  5. Place Lego man on board first and then arrange large bricks all around board. When I got the bricks placed just like I wanted, I secured each to the cake board using more frosting as glue. I had to transport my cake to the mall so I wasn't taking any chances that one of those bricks would fall off! Finish by placing the small legos all over board (I didn't glue these down).
Notes: You can do much of the prep ahead of time for this cake. You can make the frosting a week ahead of time as well as the prepare the cake board. The legos can be made a day or two early and honestly should be to allow the condenstion to evaporate if you are using the freezer like I did. The actual assembly of the individual lego cakes and arrangment on the board went really fast. I did that the morning of the party.

Here are a few more photos of the cake. If you make one, come back to this post and link your pictures. It will be fun to see all the variations people come up with. :)


Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy 8th Birthday!

I am waaaay behind on blogging but before Beckett turns three next week I wanted to be sure I posted pictures of Thatcher's 8th birthday two weeks ago. Can my baby really be eight?

We had his party at the Lego store as Star Wars Legos are our new passion! The store is BRIGHT yellow so the lighting on most of the pictures isn't too great. :( One of the ways that Thatcher's autism affects him is that it is *really* hard to get him to look at a camera. The whole eye contact thing really eats our lunch here. About half the pictures we have of this sweet boy are of him looking off somewhere. But don't you just love the gaps in that grin?! ;)

Getting ready to build the set he picked: The Clone Walker Battle Pack!

I tell him that even though his is a big eight year old, he will always be my baby! :)

Getting ready for everyone to sing "Happy Birthday!" and clutching the Clone Walker he just built. That toy was in his hands for the next week non-stop.

Opening presents!

The Lego cake! This one was really fun to make.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sharing Our Whole Grain Homemade Bread Recipe

Update as of December '09: If you have come to my blog via a search engine go here to see an updated post!

For several months now, I have been saying I wanted to start making our family's bread. I did it when we were on the gluten free diet for eight whole months, but I was very motivated. Store bought gluten free bread tastes like stale cardboard. ICK! Now that we are off gf/cf, each Saturday it has been too easy to just throw a loaf of bread in the basket and think, "I'll start next week."

Two weeks ago I resisted the urge to do that yet again. Instead, I came home and googled "whole wheat bread machine recipes" and started searching. I wanted one that used no white flour whatsoever and no refined sugar. This is the one I liked best; I used it as a springboard for my own variations.

Here is the recipe I am currently using:

100% Whole Grain Bread Machine Bread

1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp canola oil
4 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
2 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp gluten

Put everything into the bread machine in the order given. Chose the "Whole Wheat" setting and start. I put mine in at night and delay the start time so the bread is just finishing its baking cycle as we are rousing. Waking up to the smell of freshly baking bread is heavenly!

The flax and gluten are optional but you may have to make adjustments in other areas if you don't use them. Also, I grind my own oat flour from old fashioned oats because it's so much cheaper that way. Just throw the oatmeal into a coffee grinder or food processor and you'll have oat flour in just a few seconds. :)

And a huge time-saver...

I set out four of these containers at a time, then I grind a big batch of oat flour. Last I start measuring out the ingredients. Both types of flour go in first (You can see the oat flour is the lighter of the two at the bottom.). I then add the salt and flax at the top. Then when it's time to throw all the ingredients into the bread machine at night, it just takes me a few seconds to grab the other ingredients and measure them out.

This makes a really moist all-purpose bread. It's great for sandwiches, toast or fresh out of the bread machine with a little butter and honey or jam on it (my favorite!).

I am thrilled that we are saving money since I was paying $4 a loaf and we use two loaves a week. I can buy a 5 lb bag of King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour for that same price and get many, many loaves! You can even buy cheaper ww flour but King Arthur has worked beautifully for us. Even more than that, I love that I am feeding my family something that I made with no ingredients we cannot pronounce! ;)