Friday, December 11, 2009

Five Dollar Friday: Lentil Soup

Here is my first "Five Dollar Friday"

We came across this recipe when we were studying about the monks who lived in Medieval Europe. Making this soup was a suggested activity and has now become a family favorite. It was my first time to ever cook or even eat lentils. I hope someone else enjoys it!

Lentil Soup
(adapted from Story of the World, Activity Book 2: The Middle Ages)

1 large onion chopped
3 carrots diced
3 stalks celery chopped
2-4 garlic cloves minced (approx. 2 tsp of garlic but adjust to your taste)
1 bay leaf
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
6 cups of water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup dried lentils (My store only carries one type, brown with a greenish tint, so that's what I use)
1 cup fresh spinach finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook until tender. Stir in garlic, bay leaf, oregano and basil. Cook for 1-2 minutes being sure not to burn garlic.
2. Add water and tomatoes then stir in lentils. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half until lentils are tender. When ready to serve stir in spinach and add seasonings to taste.

Serve with a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread if you wish!

* This soup is wonderful as is but if you have a little extra in your grocery budget you can jazz it up in several different ways. You can add shredded Parmesan cheese on top. Or, if mild Italian Sausage links (pork or turkey are both great) are on sale they can be grilled, cut up and added in the last 30 minutes of cooking. If you want to keep it vegetarian the original recipe said to serve it with wedges of cheese and sharp cheddar is wonderful with the flavor of the soup. Any of these will raise your overall price but if you catch some good sales, they are yummy additions.

Cost breakdown: $4.65

$ .50 lentils - 1/2 of a 1 lb bag bought for $1.
$ .50 onion - sweet yellow onion on sale for $.77 per lb
$ .66 carrots - 3 carrots out from a 2lb bag I bought for $2.00
$ .33 celery - 3 ribs out of a $1 bundle
$ .10 garlic - a few cloves from a head that cost $.33
$ 1.06 28 oz can tomatoes - I actually bought 2-14.5 oz cans because it was cheaper that way!
$1.50 spinach - 1/2 of a 10 oz bag that cost $3 spinach


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Idea from my Student Teaching Days

I student taught in a PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) setting for 12 weeks during my senior year of college. And just because I've never shared this on my blog and they are going to the Rose Bowl to try and win another National Championship - I am a proud Texas Longhorn! :) Back on topic: the lead teacher in that room was an amazing woman named Melanie. During one of my first days in her class she took me out to the playground and had me pick up 20 little rocks and place them in my right pocket. She explained that it is simple human nature to see the bad and miss the good. Of our 15 students we could have 14 doing the right thing and one the wrong but it's the one that you see, not the fourteen. Sad but true.

Melanie wanted her classroom to always have an uplifting and encouraging atmosphere and for that to happen her student teachers and aides had to learn to elicit desired behaviors in positive ways. If little Suzy wasn't listening during circle time she said to compliment Johnny sitting right next to her. Once she saw that Johnny was getting attention for doing the right thing and she was getting none doing the wrong, nine times out of ten Suzy would sit up and listen. Or she encouraged me to simply say, "I'm looking for friends who are following directions so I can tell them, 'Way to go!" The amazing thing was, it worked!!! I could usually get the behavior I needed to run the classroom without nagging or fussing.

Now where did the rocks come in? Well, anytime I wanted to get a child to do X then I had to phrase it in a positive way. I could say, "I love how Sammy and Jan are keeping their hands to themselves as we walk to the cafeteria. Great job!" when I was really trying to get Mike to quit poking the kid in front of him. If I was successful then I could move a rock to the other pocket. I could also move a rock to the other pocket for catching a child being good at anytime and praised them for it. Sometimes the reality is that all the positive hints in the world won't work and you have to say, "Ted, sit up and listen please," but then I had to take a pebble out of the left pocket and move it back to the right. Or there were times when physical well being was a concern so you intervened immediately with a stern, "No!". But the goal was to have all rocks in the left pocket by end of the day. When that got easy, I had to have all 20 in my left pocket before lunch and start all over in the afternoon. :)

She was training me to be positive, to see the good in the kids and to verbally praise, praise and praise some more. And to effectively and creatively get the behaviors I needed from my students using as little negativity as possible. And remember we were working with special needs preschoolers and they could be a tough little group at times! ;)

Fast forward to my teaching days. I was teaching first grade in an at-risk school with 22 kiddos. Melanie's training served me well as I worked with a very demanding bunch. But by the holidays my steam was running out. I found myself crabby and snappy way too often. The holidays were always a rough time for me in public school. Kids were more tired than usual because of late nights out shopping and holiday parties. All they could think and talk about were presents and Santa; the last place they wanted to be was in a classroom sitting behind a desk. Actually, I was a little distracted by the same things. :) And Melanie's rocks came back to me.

I went out to the playground and got a handful of rocks to stick in my pocket. Have you ever had 20 rocks in your pocket? You can feel them each time you move. They are a constant physical reminder of the thing I was trying to accomplish. Be Positive! It made such a difference in not only how the kids received the message but in how I felt at the end of the day. If I was working hard to constantly be positive, it was hard to be in a crummy mood at 4:00. On the flip side if I just nagged and fussed at kids all day long, I was a complete bear at the end of the day. The kids' behavior was often the same either way; it was just my mental state that changed! What a valuable lesson and wonderful gift Melanie gave me.

For the next seven years of my public school teaching you would often see a bulge in my pockets. If I needed a serious reminder, I would stuff my pockets with marbles. Talk about uncomfortable. You can't forget about 20 marbles in your pocket. Each time they moved around it was like they were saying, "Praise someone! Find someone to uplift! Say something kind to that kid who just melts into the background because they are always doing the right thing!" Really that is what those marbles were saying. ;)

And now as a parent-teacher you can still find rocks in my pockets. Or most days now it's pennies. On days when one or all of my children is being especially trying. Or days when I got two hours of sleep (lovely insomnia) or on Friday when we are all tired and would just rather not do school. I put pennies in my pocket and hug my boys tight and we trudge on. And in the month of December when we just want to forget school, play, wrap presents and bake cookies they are in my pockets almost every day.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Introducing Five Dollar Friday

I want to start something new and I am hoping others will join me. I'm calling it "Five Dollar Fridays". In an attempt to be healthful as well as frugal I have challenged myself to try and feed our family of five for as close to $5 as I possibly can for our main meals. For us that means seven dinners a week as well as lunches on Friday (Dh's day off), Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast and other lunches should be even less. I will use Five Dollar Fridays to share one recipe each week that we are using to accomplish this goal. I have been pleasantly surprised how many I have found and we have not felt like we were missing out at all...well maybe a little bit, but not much!

I am still avoiding additives, preservatives, dyes, other chemicals and pre-packaged foods. I could use Hamburger Helper and stay under my five dollar goal, but white flour pasta, MSG, dye, and sugar (maltodextrin in the Hamburger Helper ingredient list is a form of sugar; see this list for many of the other ways manufacturers can hide the sweet stuff in your food) are not in our meal plan. ;)

I am not counting seasonings or oil/butter into the cost but everything else I will include in the final price. And some of the meals I include may be $5 meals one week but not another because I snagged items at great sale. For example I bought a pork shoulder roast a few weeks ago at $.88 a pound, so I was able to get a roast that fed our family twice for $4! The first time we had pulled pork sandwiches and a few nights later we had barbeque stuffed potatoes with the leftovers. Normally a roast that size would have been almost triple that price. We don't often eat pork but for that price I couldn't pass it up.

Many of the meals I'll share have meat as the accompaniment rather than the star of the meal and several are vegetarian. There was a time when dh would have looked at a plate of food that didn't include at least 8 ounces of meat and said it wasn't a "real meal" but times change. ;) He lost 30 pounds by learning to eat following a modified Mediterranean diet (see the Mediterranean food guide pyramid) and has kept it off for six months now. One of the keys was learning to eat meat in moderation.

Why am I doing this? Well it started out that in an attempt to pay off some bills we decided to cut our grocery budget in half to free up extra money. I appealed to some ladies for help in brainstorming how to do this and found that many of them were routinely feeding their families (some larger than mine) healthful meals on what was now my weekly grocery budget. They shared great ideas and advice to teach me how to get started and one even said that I shouldn't be surprised if never went back to shopping the way I used to. Well I have learned so much in the past months. It has been challenging and even...(should I admit it?) Now don't get me wrong I am looking forward to a time when I will regain my old food budget so that all our meals don't have to be $5 meals but I am confident that many will!

I would love to have many bloggers start their own version of Five Dollar Fridays so that we can learn from each other. You can make your own rules; you certainly aren't obligated to follow mine. Adapt Five Dollar Fridays to fit your needs any way you wish. And leave a comment so we'll all know where to look!


Thursday, December 3, 2009


Well my last post was really just setting up this one. About the time I was pondering these schedule/time-management issues, I read a comment from a mom I've come to respect on the Well Trained Mind Message Board who said (and this is my paraphrase) that is a red flag to her when a mom spends a lot of time researching the perfect curriculum (as if there really was such a thing ;) instead of self-educating to fill in the gaps of her own schooling and becoming an expert in certain areas. Choosing the right curriculum for your child will then be much simpler because you know exactly what you are looking for after having done your due diligence.

As I really looked at my schedule I realized that so much of my time is/was spent researching each tiny step along the way and then looking back and examining every tiny bit of progression - or lack thereof. Now before I start getting cyber tomatoes thrown at me, what I am not saying is that research and evaluation have no value. Not at all. It's just that I have come to believe that what we are doing in the elementary years is small potatoes compared to what's coming in the higher grades. Do I want to spend the limited time I have researching every minute what we are doing now or spend the time filling in the gaps of my own education to be better prepared for those years that are fast approaching? Years when I won't be able to spend 30 minutes each evening to prepare for the next day but will need hours. Years when I will be teaching subject areas where my own schooling barely even scratched the surface of what I want for my own children. Literature analysis, advanced grammar, languages, higher level math, science and more are all areas where my own public schooling did not adequately prepare me to teach my children.

Here is a (modified) post I put on the Well Trained Mind Board as I struggled through these issues:

For quite some time now I have known that I needed to embark on a journey of self-education. I even posted about it a few times and received great encouragement, ideas and support. I purchased The Well Educated Mind, read the first section and bought Don Quixote (the first book recommended by Susan Wise-Bauer, the author of TWEM) and then haven't done much else other than wait for a good time.

I have come to realize that there will never be a "good time". Life will always be busy and there will always be things to compete for my time. For me it has got to be a choice of my choosing between good and better. The things that are occupying my time are good (for the most part) but often not the best.

To be honest, I think it's partly fear that has held me back, too. I am fearful of taking a risk and failing. I have come to realize that while I always made great grades in school I am one of those who validated the system. And the system I was in wasn't great. I, to this day, don't know how to really read a book and engage it well. I am not a good thinker; I am a good doer. College wasn't really that much better - except for one philosophy class my sophomore year. I was never challenged to think and still graduated with high honors.

As far as homeschool is concerned I searched "self education" on the boards and read a post by one of the board members I really respect saying that self education is a much more important endeavor than constantly worrying about making future plans that may or may work, researching curriculum and such. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I am a planner and researcher to the max - sometimes to the exclusion of doing because I am so busy researching! The best thing I can do in preparing for the future of our homeschool is grow myself in the areas where I am weakest. This is not a condemnation of how anyone else is doing things. I just knew there was truth in her post that really hit me just where I am.

Okay, therapy session over...

Here is where I think I am going to start:

I am going to start Don Quixote and work through the other recommendations in TWEM.

I am going to learn how to play chess because it's not just books that I need to work on. I have always shied away from strategy games because of the thinking factor, too. Dh loves chess and I know he'll be happy to teach me. It will be something fun we can do together.

I also am going to work on geography. This is not a thinking thing but honestly I am tired of reading news stories and wondering, "Now where is that country again?" Ds8 has a puzzle map and I am going to work on one continent at a time until I can fill in an empty map with all the country names.

I know that there is much more I will need to do in the coming years but this seems doable for now. I don't want to start too big and then feel frustrated that I am trying to do too much. I know that in the not so distant future I need to study an advanced grammar program and start my own in depth study of history as well.

So where am I now? I am 270 pages into Don Quixote and enjoying it. I feel like I am taking part of the "Great Conversation" that has been going on for centuries between writers and their readers. And Cervantes was a great place to start since it is considered the first novel having been written in 1604!

Has anyone else had these thoughts about self-educating or started on their own journey?