Saturday, December 11, 2010

My Verse for 2011

I am guessing all of you can relate. I have been in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Add that on top of regular life and things are certainly a bit crazy around here. In the first ten days of December alone we have had two end of season soccer parties, three Christmas parties, and two church events. All that on top of trying to finish the semester strong and being sick in the middle of it all. Phew!

Yet in the midst of preparing for the holidays, I am also thinking about starting off 2011 strong. Every ending also means that a beginning is near, right? As I am trying to enjoy the holidays and keep the true meaning of it all in front of my kids I am also thinking about 2011 and a new year.

This morning I read a verse I have read many times. But like it so often happens I saw something I had never seen before:

One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
~ Psalm 27:4-5

This is my heart's cry - I want 2011 to be about my seeking after the beauty of the Lord. I am praying about how to make that ever more a reality in the middle of the busyness of everyday life. How to do center on His beauty in the commonness of dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and teaching my boys? How do I focus on structuring my days so that there is room to, "inquire (meditate) in his temple"?

David wrote these words while Saul was seeking to take his life. He was sleeping in caves and worrying if each day might be his last. His prayer was that he would seek God above all. That is encouraging to me. David's prayer from so many years gone by is mine as well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Five Dollar Friday: How to Make it Happen: Couponing

Sometimes things go all out of order. ;) This Friday I wanted to write a post that backtracks a bit and tells more about how to make $5 meals a more regular occurence for your family. Most of my "Five Dollar Fridays" are meals that you can make for that price only if you are getting some of your items on sale...and often with coupons as well.

One of the first tricks to making $5 meals a reality is having a well-stocked pantry. When you find something on sale for a great price, stock up! I have extra shelves in my laundry room and an extra refrigerator outside to store my surpluses. One of the best ways to get your pantry stocked is often (but not always) through couponing.

The rest of this post will focus on couponing. I have used coupons on and off for about 15 years. Sometimes effectively, sometimes not so much. It wasn't until about four years ago that I really learned that there is an art to using coupons and it is basically this - save your coupon until the item goes on sale (hopefully for its "rock bottom price") and you maximize your savings, especially if you shop at a store that doubles and triple coupons. My store triples coupons that are $.35 or less and doubles coupons that are $.50 or less. This really helps rack up the savings even more quickly.

I wanted to share two things about couponing before beginning... First, you can coupon and keep to healthy items. It is definitely more challenging and you typically won't have the stories that some have of walking out of a store with $100 in merchandise for $6 (or something similar ;) but you can get big benefits from couponing and still feed your family healthfully. Second is that, like with many things, you will get out what you put in. Those women who do have the amazing stories of feeding their family of 6 on $20 a week are typically women who spend many, many hours doing this and often shop multiple stores. I don't have that kind of time. You can still coupon without spending hours and hours a week. I spend about 10 minutes a week cutting out coupons and an extra 30-45 minutes a week at the store looking for my best deals. Now how to get started...

First you need to obtain coupons. If your store accepts computer-printed versions then you won't have to spend a dime to get yours. The coupons that come in the weekly newspapers can be printed right at home and redeemed at your local store. (Smart Source, Red Plum and coupon.com are just a few to get you started. There are literally 100's more!) None of my local stores accept these anymore, so if you are like me you'll have to get coupons somewhere else. I get the Sunday paper delivered to my house for $1 a week; it's $2 at the store. This is well worth the cost for me because if I average just a $1 savings per week then I've broken even. The reality is I save far, far more than that. :)

After cutting my coupons each week I also swap what's left with a friend who coupons but we tend to use very different items. I also used to go by Starbucks each Sunday night and pull coupons out of their newspaper share bin. Many people read the Sunday paper but have no interest in the coupons. They drop the whole stack in the newspaper bin to share with another patron - or for someone like me to get their coupons. ;) I don't do this much anymore just due to time restraints. You can be creative though. Maybe see if you have a neighbor or family member who takes the paper but doesn't coupon. :) Getting multiple copies of the same coupons is not only okay but is desired. I read recently on a site where a mom had 6 copies of the paper delivered to her house each week. Wow!

Next you need a place to organize your coupons. I use a simple file box designed for index cards. I have it divided into these categories: personal (products for mom), personal (shampoo, shaving, soap, deodorant), sweet snacks, savory snacks, cans/boxes, condiments, breakfast, baking isle, meat, dairy/eggs, frozen, medications/vitamins, refrigerated section/produce. You may need to add a section for baby, cleaning, laundry or even more. My box looks just like the one in this post about organizing coupons except I do mine by the categories and not alphabetically like theirs. The linked post shows other ideas for how you can organize your stash. :)

Now it's time to coupon. When I started really getting into coupons I used the Grocery Game website. You pay for their services but at the time it was a great investment. You can get a four week trial for free if, after reading this, you are interested. You pay for each list you want from each store. That list will tell you what is on sale, if there is a coupon to pair with that sale, which flyer it came from (ex: SmartSource, Red Plum, P & G) as well as which week it was in the paper. They will also indicate if this is a regular sale or an item's "rock bottom" price (meaning stock up if you can because it won't be this cheap for awhile again).

GG was invaluable to me and I used it for a solid year. It taught me what those sales trends in my store were (not that they come out and tell you; it's just something you pick up on as you do this) and really helped me master the art of couponing while holding my hand a bit. Now I can do it on my own now that I know my preferred store's sale trends. :) Coupon Mom is another site like GG but it's free. You have to sign up but there is no cost. And her videos are wonderful to help learn how to use her lists and the coupon database. It's not quite as user-friendly in my experience, but the fact that you don't pay can quickly make up for that.

If you choose not to use one of these list sites you can still be an effective "couponer"! Plan on having your grocery trips take you up to twice as long while you are figuring out this coupon thing. Go to an isle (for example the soap/shampoo isle) and peek at what coupons you have. Walk the isle and see if any sale items match a coupon you have. If so, great. If not, keep looking.

Buy some items at a grocery warehouse if possible: I have a membership to a wholesale warehouse through dh's work, and I shop there once a month. The prices I get for first cold pressed olive oil, raw almonds, five pound blocks of cheese and frozen fruit beat even my store's sale prices and there are rarely coupons for those anyway. I also get dh's contact solution, maple syrup, a few healthy snacks and laundry detergent.

Other Tips: Don't worry as much about about brand loyalty. If you typically buy Gillette razors but you can get Shick for a deep discount, go for it! Also don't worry about whether or not you need an item. If it's on sale for 50% or more of its typical price, stock up big. My store only allows you to use three similar coupons per week and they will double/triple only the first one. Be aware of this because it will affect your final cost. Also keep an eye out for "catalinas" - those coupons they print off at the register. And watch for manufacturer's coupons attatched to some of the items you buy that can be redeemed that day at checkout.

A few examples from my recent grocery list: Pillsbury pie crusts are usually $3.09 at my store. Last week they were on sale for $2.49 each. Plus there was a special bonus advertised that if you got any four items from a specific Pillsbury list then you got an additional $4 off your grocery order bringing each pie crust down to $1.49 each. Then, attached to the pie crust boxes were different manufacturer's coupons for assorted Pillsbury products. I made sure to get the boxes that had pie crust coupons that were for $1 off 2 pie crusts. That brought each pie crust to $.99 each. Then at the register a catalina printed for $1 off my next grocery order. That means I basically got each box of pie crust for $.66 each. Pretty good and I can freeze the extras and pop them out each time I want to make a chicken pot pie to take to a new mommy!

Another example is Muir Glen oganic spaghetti sauce. It is normally $5.79 a jar. The past few weeks it has been on sale "2/$6.00". On the jars there were coupons for $1 off two Muir Glen products. That brings the final cost down to $2.50 a jar for organic sauce. I know you can buy other sauces for $1.00 but I really try to stay with organic and/or healthier options still avoiding hfcs, additive, preservatives and dyes (the above pie crust examply being a detour because pie crust is my cooking nemesis!).

I haven't paid more than $.20 for deodorant in years. I prefer Suave but will use any brand. The small size is $1.19. This week it was on sale for $.88 and I had a $.50 off coupon. That coupon was doubled meaning I got the product for free. Similarly I haven't paid for hand soap in years either. I save Dial and Softsoap coupons that are for $.50 off one item. When they go on sale a few times a year for 10/$10 I stock up and don't buy it the rest of the year.

There are tons and tons of websites that do a better job of explaining this than me. Here are helpful links where you can learn more:


How to organize your coupons:

Places to find more inexpensive meals for your family:

$5 Dinners blog and her best-selling cookbook

A funny story about Erin's site ($5 Dinners): When I came up with the idea for Five Dollar Fridays I thought I was so creative! A week or two into this new concept (or so I thought) of mine, a friend emailed to tell me that there was a mom out there who had been doing this for a very long time...and doing it very well I might add. ;)

I hope this post encourages you to try out couponing. I love that I am stretching every penny we have to make the most of every cent God gives us. I choose to see it like a game and see how much I can save each week. It can be really fun and truly addictive.


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Started Homeschooling - Part Two - Deciding Your Philosophy

This is the second post in this series. You can read Part One: Deciding if it's Right for Your Family first if it would be helpful for you.

Once a family has made the decision to homeschool most assume the next step in the journey is deciding what materials they will use to educate their children. This is important to be sure but there is yet something that precedes this. First you need to determine your educational approach - the philosophy/methodology by which you will filter all other decisions. This first step and the next (this is when you choose what materials you will use) are typically the most time consuming of all.

Before you decide the "What?" (curriculum choices) of your school you should decide the "Why?" and that "Why?" will largely determine the "How?" Will you follow a Classical approach? Charlotte Mason? Unschooling? Textbook/Traditional Method? Eclectic? Unit studies? Waldorf? Montessori? Will you use an online school? An umbrella school? There are other options as well.

Skipping this step can be a bit like preparing for a long trip not exactly sure where you are going and no map to guide your way. You probably have a pretty good notion of where you would like to go? Do you like hiking in the mountains or laying on the beach? A busy trip to an historic city or a more peaceful time browsing art museums? And if you are not exactly sure where you want to go, what do you pack? How do you prepare? How do you get the most out of your time if you spend much of each day planning the next? And with no map, you don't know the specifics of HOW you will even get there. You may get to your final destination...or not. And if you do, it won't be because you were efficient in the journey, unless you are insanely lucky. ;) No one would ever plan a trip like that. And no one should start (or get very far) on a homeschool journey without deciding where they want to go and the best vehicle (educational method) to get them there.

What you decide about which educational approach you will adopt is influenced by many factors which can include (but is not limited to):
  • how you feel children best learn
  • how you feel about the education you received
  • your ultimate goals for homeschooling
  • your personality: type A or laid back?
  • your child's learning style and personality
  • what you can commit as a teacher: Will you work while homeschooling? Do you have any health issues that may limit your role? Any mental health concerns?
  • other family factors: large family? small family? special needs child(ren) who will require large amounts of time and/or attention?
  • budget
Now let me pause here and say that I have an education degree and I never, ever learned about different educational methodologies. Kids learn one way in most public schools - textbooks/traditional. There was no need to teach us about other ideologies we wouldn't be able to implement anyway. When I made the decision to homeschool and started hearing all these terms I was completely overwhelmed. It was akin to learning another language. And the more I read, the more words were thrown at me. If you are already feeling like I was, just breathe. Seriously, it will get better soon. :)

So, where do you go from here? It depends on your level of overwhelmedness (*giggle*) at this moment and how much time you have before starting to homeschool. You can read this short article (or just google "homeschool methods" for tons of other links) for a quick overview. Then I would recommend Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles by Paul and Gena Suarez. This book shares about each method by first giving an introduction and then following up with articles from experts in that particular area. Very readable, very informative and very well done.

Next I would offer Cathy Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. This book also gives a brief overview of different methods but is not nearly as in depth as the prior book in this. It also begins to cross over into what the third post in this series will cover dealing with choosing your curriculum but has much that will help you get to that point. Her first five chapters are: (1) How on Earth Do I Figure Out What Curriculum to Use? (2) "Drill and Kill", "Real Books", "Delight-Directed Studies"...What's Best? (3) Putting Together Your Philosophy of Education (4) Learning Styles: How Does My Child Learn Best? (5) Who Should Learn What and When? These two books together I feel compliment each other well. If you only had time/desire to read one, I would go with 100 Top Picks.

I hope you are feeling a bit empowered. You can do this. It is overwhelming for just about everyone in the beginning. Really it is. You will look back on this someday and smile. Really!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Decorating: I'm Trying! ;)

Recently I referred to my old "Confessions" post. Confession #6 was about how I cannot buy my own clothes (now I can organize a closet full of clothes, but the buying of them - ICK!) and I certainly can't accessorize. This applies to my home as well. Decorating is not my cuppa. Yet recently I have been so inspired by different decorating blogs out there.

I think it has something to do with the fact that I no longer have babies in the house. I have a tiny bit more time to devote to actually thinking about what I want my home to look like. I love going to Mt. Hope Chronicles and looking through her "Project Hedi" posts (and lately I want to visit just to see all those adorable pictures of little Lola Collette, too!) And I just adore the Nester. When I grow up I want my house to look just like theirs. ;)

In the meantime I have taken a baby step (and yes, it is truly a baby step) towards decorating. I decided that for one year I would keep a centerpiece on my island that I would change with the seasons. I got the idea of using these candles from Heidi at Mt. Hope years ago. I bought the candles and they sat in a cabinet until a few months ago. Here is what is currently sitting on my island. (I cheated and already changed it out for Christmas since we leave town in the morning and won't come back until the weekend. I wanted to come back and already have the house decorated for Christmas so I was a busy beaver this weekend).


Here is what it looked like before when I had it decorated for Thanksgiving.

I wish I would have taken a picture of what it looked like in October; it was precious. I had Halloween ribbon and candy corn filled the bottom of the plate. Just wanted to share something silly and fun.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Five Dollar Friday: Shredded Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Potatoes

Stuffed baked potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods. Mix that with one of my other favorite comfort foods, barbecue, and you have comfort food heaven! On top of that, this recipe is perfect for a busy school day and, if you watch your toppings, it's healthy to boot. Take five minutes to pop the ingredients in the crock pot at your morning break and you will have the majority of dinner ready in a few short hours.

One tip: There are a few times a year you can be sure to find great sales on barbecue sauces - Memorial Day, Labor Day and Fourth of July. These holidays that revolve around grilling are a great time to stock up on your favorite sauce for cheap!!! I typically make my own sauce using a kid-friendly modified version of this yummy recipe from allrecipes.com, but when a good sauce goes on sale for $1 a bottle I can't pass it up.

Shredded Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Potatoes

Ingredients:
3 lbs bone-in skin-on chicken breast
1 bottle favorite barbecue sauce
4 baking potatoes (about a lb one for Dad & smaller ones for the kids and Mom)
4 T butter
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of corn starch or arrowroot starch (optional)

Directions:
1. Place chicken in crock pot and pour barbecue sauce over the top.
2. Cover and turn crock pot on high for 4 hours.
3. Remove chicken and allow to cool slightly. Remove skin, take chicken off bone and shred.
4. Skim sauce in crock pot to remove any extra grease.
5. This step is totally optional: If your sauce is too thin or you just prefer a thicker one, remove a cup or two and place in a small saucepan. In a separate small bowl, combine 2 T corn/arrowroot starch with equal amount hot barbecue sauce until it's completely dissolved. Pour starch mixture into barbecue sauce and raise temperature until it comes to a very gentle boil and thickens desired amount. Add more corn/arrowroot starch if needed (using the technique of dissolving first in small amount of hot liquid) to get to desired thickness. Add mixture back to crock pot.
6. Return chicken to crock pot. Turn crock pot to low, allowing mixture to simmer and all flavors to meld for 30-60 minutes.
7. In the meantime prepare potatoes (check out howtobakeapotato.com if you need help with this step).
8. When potatoes are ready, sprinkle all generously with salt and pepper. Stuff each with one tablespoon of butter, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/4-1/2 cup chicken mixture with sauce and top with 1/4 cup cheese.
9. Enjoy!

Thoughts on this recipe:

My first attempt at chicken in the crock pot was a similar recipe a friend shared with me that started by using boneless skinless chicken breasts. That time the meat turned out a little dry and had a bit of an odd texture. When I tried it this way, on the bone and with skin, it was juicy and wonderful...and the meat had even been previously frozen for two months.

To thicken or not to thicken...it will depend on your preference, how thick your barbecue sauce is to begin and how much water is retained in your chicken (most chicken has water added, some more than others).

You can add more seasonings to the crock pot when starting if desired. A teaspoon of garlic powder and/or onion powder can be yummy if your sauce is a bit bland. Or a kick of cayenne if you like it hot (just don't forget about the kiddos!), or an extra tablespoon or two of honey or molasses if you want a sweeter sauce.

I skip all toppings and simply use the chicken and barbecue sauce on my potato to keep calories lower. I love all the butter, sour cream and cheese but don't need it. My skinny boys, now that's another story. :)

Cost Breakdown: $6.14 (with plenty left for a mommy lunch later that week :)
$ 3.00 - chicken breast (bought on sale for $.99 per lb)
$ 1.00 - barbecue sauce (see note at top of post)
$ .75 - baking potatoes (from a 5# bag purchased on sale and with coupon for $1.00)
$ . 28 - butter (sale)
$ . 50 - sour cream (sale for $1 for pint)
$ .61 - cheddar cheese (I buy in bulk each month at wholesale club)

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Needful Medicine

Almost three years ago I did a post called Confessions because I never want others to think I have it all together. I didn't then; I certainly don't now. All those confessions I wrote 34 months ago still are true today, but recently God has been showing me I need to grow much in one particular area. And He has revealed this to me through my middle son, Haddon, the one I have nicknamed, "Chocolate Eyes". When you see your own weaknesses showing up in your children it is humbling...and saddening... and a huge kick in the pants. From that old post:
Confession #5: I take myself and life in general waaaaay too seriously. I need to laugh a lot more and chill out. Dh used to tell me that on a scale of one to ten everything for me was a 12 - from the Tupperware drawer to something that really matters. I have come a long way but still have much room for growth
Haddon is taking after me in this area and it grieves my heart. But I am greatly encouraged in this...I know the cure, or at least part of it. Laughter! Yep, laughter. Dh is such a blessing to me in this. When I am in one of my "take myself too seriously" modes he has wisdom enough to know that the salve for my soul in that moment is laughter. And I have seen several times this week that it will be the salve for Haddon, too.

This change needs to first start with me. The adage, "It is better caught than taught" rings true here. My boys will learn to laugh at the little things (and sometimes the big things, too) when they see me doing so. Knowing that Mommy doesn't sweat the small stuff will give them freedom to do the same. How far I have to grow in this. How very, very far.

To inspire myself I have found quotes on laughter. I am printing these off and putting them in my Teacher Notebook and on my fridge. I want my house to be marked more often by the sound of children laughing. For when my boys think back on their childhood to remember that we laughed as a family. Because where there is laughter there is joy. Proverbs 22:17 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
~ ee cummings

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.
~ Lord Byron

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
~ Mark Twain

Laughter is the brush that sweeps away the cobwebs of your heart.
~ Mort Walker

Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
~ Victor Hugo

Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
~ Karl Barth

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
~ Mark Twain


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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Started Homeschooling - Part One - Deciding if it's Right for Your Family

Through my church or this blog, I get lot of calls and emails from moms who are either thinking about or have already made the decision to homeschool. The majority of the calls/emails begin basically the same: "Where do I go from here?" I am beginning a series of posts I can reference that will hopefully be a resource for moms starting out on this journey...or even moms who have already jumped in and are learning as they go.

If you have already decided homeschooling is for you, feel free to skip this post. The second in this series (Deciding Your Philosophy) will be published soon and that one may be more helpful for you.

Last I want to say, borrowing from Lisa Whelchel's So You Are Thinking About Homeschooling, I am not anti-traditional school (be it public or private). I am just pro-homeschool...for our family. This is a very personal decision and I am not one who feels homeschooling is right for every family in all seasons of life. I want to be dogmatic about the things that Scripture is dogmatic about and give freedom in the areas where we have liberty. I think homeschooling is certainly an area of liberty in the Christian life. Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 details the parents' responsibility to teach their children God's truths:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Nowhere in the above passage does it specifically detail HOW we are to make this a reality for our family; homeschooling is one way that this passage can be applied. In my opinion, you can be obedient to the command of this Scripture and have your children in public or private school, too. Furthermore, there are also many reasons not to homeschool that a family need to consider before beginning, too. I think that for any family though, it is a worthy investment of time to thoughtfully consider all educational options for their children before beginning.

And now onto the reason for this post....you are thinking about homeschooling and you ended up here. First, I would love to humbly point you to two posts I have written. The first details our journey into homeschooling (Why We Homeschool - Part One) and the second gives the specific reasons our family has chosen this path (Why We Homeschool - Part Two). I also have thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Greg Sherman's article titled, "Ten Good Reasons to Homeschool."

If you would like to learn even more about the specifics of homeschooling here are two books that can provide much more information. The first is,
So You're Thinking About Homeschooling: Fifteen Families Show How You Can Do It. This was the book a friend put in my hand when I told her I was pretty sure we would give homeschooling a try. Whelchel gives a snapshot of fifteen families who all homeschool for different reasons and in different ways. It is a quick read and I was so encouraged after reading it years ago. I think you will be, too.
The second book is called The Homeschooling Option: How to Decide When It's Right for Your Family by Lisa Rivero. This book goes into greater detail about the specifics of homeschooling. One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 7, "Parent Coffee Break: Frequently Asked Questions". I think both of these books together are an excellent one-two punch for someone wanting to earnestly learn more about what homeschooling really is and if it might be a fit for their family.

This is certainly not an exhaustive study on this topic. If you google "why we homeschool" or "reasons to homeschool" you will find pages and pages and pages of information. I have tried to find just a few of the resources I personally have enjoyed or that others I trust have used with success. Use this as your stepping stone and research more if you need additional information. And many blessings on your journey. My hope and prayer is that you are able to come to a decision that you feel a great peace about and one you feel will bless your entire family, whether that is homeschooling or not.


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Friday, November 12, 2010

Five Dollar Friday: Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Recently Thatcher, Haddon and I had lunch at Panera. Thatch tried this soup and loved it. I immediately came home and started searching for a similar recipe to make for our family. I made a pot and Thatch declared that it was just as good as what he had at the restaurant. :) And you can get it on the table in less than 30 minutes if you cheat like I did and start with a rotisserie chicken and a box of chicken stock.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
(a nod to Panera Bread)

Ingredients:
1 box long grain & wild rice w/seasoning packet (I used Uncle Ben's 6 oz)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup all purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water (optional)
2 cooked chicken breasts off rotisserie chicken chopped in bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk (I used 2 % to get some richness but keep calories and fat lower)

Directions:
1. Prepare rice according to directions; set aside.
2. Heat olive oil on medium heat in stock pot and cook onion until translucent. Add celery and carrot and cook 3 more minutes or until slightly tender.
3. Remove vegetable mixture from pan and save. Add butter to stockpot and melt. Add flour slowly and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
4. Add chicken stock slowly, also stirring constantly. Raise temperature to medium high and cook until slightly thickened.
5. Lower temp to medium low. Add cooked vegetables, rice, chicken and milk to pot. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until heated through and thickened. Add water as needed until soup is desired consistency.

Thoughts about this recipe:

I love soup. When fall arrives in Houston I am always excited about two things: no more mosquitoes (for a few months anyway) and making soup. But soup is more of an art than a science; a recipe is just a starting place in my opinion. ;) This soup is no different. The recipe above is a mixture of four different recipes I found and above is the way I like it. You may want more veggies or less, more chicken, thicker, thinner, whole milk or even heavy cream (yum, but oh the calories!). Use this as a place to start. Just be sure to snag your ingredients on sale to keep price of final meal low. I used several organic ingredients in my soup so your price will be lower if you use non-organic or will balance it all out if you can't get some of the ingredients on sale.

Cost Breakdown: $6.70 (recipe makes enough for dinner and a lunch or two for dh to take to work)

$ .14 -olive oil
$ .25 - 1/2 yellow onion
$. 20 -2 organic carrots
$ . 25 - 2 celery stalks
$1.50 - 4 cups organic chicken stock (one box on sale)
$2.00 - 2 chicken breasts off rotisserie chicken (sale)
$ 1.29 - 1 package long grain and wild rice (sale)
$ .05 - 3/4 cup all purpose flour
$. 40 1/2 cup butter (sale)
$ .62 - 2 cups organic milk (sale)


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Considering Tapestry

November has barely begun and already I am thinking about next fall and beyond. This year will complete our first rotation through the Classical cycle as outlined in The Well Trained Mind: Year One - ancient history & biology, Year Two - medieval history & astronomy/earth science, Year Three - early modern history & chemistry, Year Four - modern history & physics.

I have always assumed I would use Tapestry of Grace as the next step in our homeschool journey. I love what moms have to say about TOG. I hear things time and again like this, "Challenging reading. Thought-provoking questions/answers and activities, and LOTS of great discussions." They operate from a Christian world-view and one of the main goals of Tapestry is to educate kids in a way that they grow in their love for God and His world. Because so much of my own education was lacking, my hope for TOG is that it will support me as I endeavor to provide for my boys the education I never had all within a Christian context.

I spent time this afternoon watching the informational videos on their site. I have also printed off the 3 week Egypt sample and plan to spend time this week looking over it and learning more. I devoted a chunk of time over at the WTM forums seeing what others have had to say about TOG as well as over at the Tapestry forums. So far I love all that I see. No curriculum is, or ever will be, perfect. But TOG aligns with my goals better than any other program/curriculum I have seen so far.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Voting Has Begun!



The nominees are up for the 6th Annual Blog Awards at the Homeschool Post. Voting runs from now through November 18th at midnight so hurry over and vote for your favorite blogs. And wanna know what I'll be doing the next several nights? Checking out many of the nominated blogs! I saw tons of old favorites but oodles and oodles of new blogs to browse as well.

Congratulations to all the nominees and happy voting!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

And we haven't eaten McDonald's since...

Okay so this graphic is tiny here. But check it out full-size and see if it doesn't stop you in your tracks like it did me.
I have never thought I fed my kids much fast food...at all. But we always enjoyed dollar burgers and fries at Burger King on Wednesdays as our "Hump Day" treat. All of us could eat for $6 since we all got dollar burgers, shared an order of fries and drank water. Then this summer I started going through McDonald's drive-thru for dollar breakfast burritos on Sunday mornings on the way to church. I had to be there at 7:30am with all three kids in tow and I could feed the boys for $3.20 ($1 burritos for Thatch and Hadd and $1.19 sausage/biscuit combo for Beck). I know. I know. I should know better. You don't get anything (worthwhile) for free (or even close to it)!

It didn't seem like much because out of 21 meals in a week and 14 snacks only 2 consisted of fast food. That's just barely more than 5%, right? But then when I stop and think that 2 times a week x 52 weeks a year means my kids will eat fast food 104 times a year. And that doesn't count travel, special events, birthday parties and such. It's not crazy to think my kids could be eating fast food 150 times a year. YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was contemplating all this when dh sent me the link to this graphic and we haven't walked in a McDonald's or Burger King since. That's not to say that Chick-Fil-A isn't still on the menu every once and again! ;) Now for our hump day treat we spread out a blanket on our living room floor and have a picnic while we watch an episode of Magic School Bus or Liberty Kids and on Sunday mornings we have breakfast burritos I make the night before. I will choose not to stress if we just have to grab fast food sometime, but at least we will hopefully be eating fast food more like 20 times a year rather than 100 or more!







Monday, November 1, 2010

Our Plan for SOTW 4 (Condensed to 21 Weeks) and Books to Compliment

We are in our fourth year using the Story of the World series by Susan Wise-Bauer. We have thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to history. The stories have captivated Thatcher's imagination even though we never got to most of the fun projects suggested in the Activity Guide...or the mapwork or the color pages. We simply read the chapters, often listening to them on audio-book, and talked about them when time allowed. In addition I've have always tried to have a book or two to go along with most chapters for additional reading and a few history resource books on the shelf if he wanted to learn still more. And that's been enough to for him to develop a passion for history. He loves it!!!

Each summer I pre-read the volume of SOTW we will be using the upcoming year so I can begin to prepare myself as I didn't learn much of this in my own schooling. After I read, I make a booklist using the SOTW Activity Guide, recommendations from the wonderful moms on The Well-Trained Mind Message Board, my own research on Amazon and other curriculum's booklists (Veritas Press, Sonlight, and Tapesty Of Grace {look at this site, Bookshelf Central, where you can view/buy all of TOG's books organized neatly by year}).

This past summer began like the others, with reading and making a booklist. I quickly realized, though, that this year would be different. As I began to read Volume 4 I saw immediately that this period of history is tough. Really tough. The reality is horrible events have happened all throughout history but not with such rapid intensity...or within just a few generations of us either. Also this volume seemed very redundant: new ideas lead to revolution and bloodshed which leads to new leadership only to have that leadership become corrupted. This same sequence happens again and again; the basic storyline stays the same but in each chapter it is played out in a different country. SWB addresses both issues (intense period in history plus the redundancy) in the Foreword of Volume 4:
This volume is less evocative than the precious three. I have always tried to tell history as a story, to bring out the color and narrative thread of events. But with this history, I have found myself veering continually toward a more matter-of-fact and less dramatic tone. The events of the twentieth century - the bombing of Hiroshima, the purges of Stalin, to name only two - are dramatic enough. Turned into story, they would be overwhelming.
and
Revolution (a dominant theme of history in this period) shatters the structures; but the men who build the next set of structures haven't conquered the evil that lives in their own hearts. The history of the twentieth century is, again and again, the story of men who fight against tyrants, wind the battle, and then are overwhelmed by the unconquered tyranny in their own souls. (Parenthetical addition mine)
After contemplating different options, I decided I would cover this period in history but condense it. I didn't want to leave anything out but I there are several chapters I didn't want to dwell on either. A simple reading of the chapter would suffice. The chapters that dealt with America's history, I decided, would be our main focus. Plus in the back of my mind I knew at some point I wanted to cover Texas history and this would be the perfect opportunity to do so! We will cover SOTW in 21 weeks and use the remainder of the year to cover state history. So here is our schedule for SOTW 4 as well as the additional reading selections I chose.

Memory Work for this period in history:
1. Gettysburg Address using this illustrated version of Lincoln's famous speech (also listed in Ch. 5 additional reading list)
2. Order of all 44 US Presidents using Yo, Millard Fillmore (currently out of print but we found a copy at Half-Price books for $2. It ends with President Clinton but we just made up the remainder of the story to cover Bush and Obama.)
3. I Have a Dream speech (selected portions) using this illustrated version (also listed in Chapter 36 additional reading list)

Week 1-
Chapter 1: Britain's Empire
Chapter 2: West Against East

Additional Reading(s) -

Week 2-
Chapter 3: British Invasion
Chapter 4: Resurrection and Rebellion

Additional Reading(s) -

Weeks 3 and 4-
Chapter 5: The American Civil War

Additional Reading(s) -

Week 5-
Chapter 6: Two Tries for Freedom
Chapter 7: Two Empires, Three Republics, and One Kingdom

Week 6-
Chapter 8: Becoming Modern

Additional Reading(s)-

Week 7-
Chapter 9: Two More Empires, Two Rebellions
Chapter 10: A Canal to the East and a Very Dry Desert

Week 8-
Chapter 11: The Far Parts of the World
Chapter 12: Unhappy Unions
Chapter 13: The Old-Fashioned Empire and the Red Sultan
Chapter 14: Two Czars and and Two Emperors

Week 9-
Chapter 15: Small Countries with Large Invaders


Week 10-
Chapter 16: The Expanding United States

Additional Reading(s)-

There is redundancy in this list because I couldn't make up my mind (and I was able to get all four books for a fraction of their new book price through either PaperbackSwap or Half-Price books). Now that I have read them all, if I was to just get one I would get Rachel's Journal. It tells most all that the others do but in an engaging first person narrative.

Week 11-
Chapter 17: China's Troubles
Chapter 18: Europe and the Countries Just East
Chapter 19: China, Vietnam and France
Chapter 20: Revolution in the Americas...War in the World

Week 12-
Chapter 21: A Revolution Begins, and the Great War Ends
Chapter 22: National Uprisings

Additional Reading(s) -

Week 13-
Chapter 23: "Peace" and a Man of War
Chapter 24: The King and Il Duce

Week 14-
Chapter 25: Armies in China
Chapter 26: The Great Crash and What Came of It

Additional Reading(s)-

Week 15-
Chapter 27: Civil War and Invasion
Chapter 28: The Second World War

Additional Reading(s)-
Snow Treasure (Ch. 28)

This chapter for me covers one of the absolute hardest things we will ever learn in history. I picked several books and will gauge carefully Thatcher's responses to determine exactly how much he needs to be exposed to at this point. For me personally, I learned about WWII in fourth grade and I spent the majority of that year learning everything I could, especially seeking out biographies of children who survived concentration camps. Still, different children have different emotional capabilities and I don't want him to learn too much too fast if his little heart isn't ready quite yet.

Week 16-
Chapter 29: The End of World War
Chapter 30: Partitioned Countries
Chapter 31: Western Bullies and American Money

Week 17-
Chapter 32: Africa and China after WWII
Chapter 33: Communism in Asia
Chapter 34: Dictators in South America and Africa

Week 18-
Chapter 35: The Cold War

Additional Reading(s) -

Week 19-
Chapter 36: Struggles and Assassinations

Additional Reading(s)-

Week 20-
Chapter 37: Two Short Wars and One Long One
Chapter 38: Two Ways of Fighting
Chapter 39: The 1980's in the East and Mideast

Week 21-
Chapter 40: The 1980's in the USSR
Chapter 41: Communism Crumbles-but Survives
Chapter 42: The End of the Twentieth Century

Did I miss any of your family's favorites? If there is a must-read that I have left off, I'd love to add it to the list.






Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Hodgepodge of Goodies: Sharing Some of my New Favorites

I loved this post over at Jimmie's Collage about gaps in homeschooling. She has a refreshing take on the subject and it's a quick read.

I have blogged before about A Rhythm of Rest and our family's need for Sabbath. Over at The Beginning of Wisdom, Jen shared about the need to protect our kids' schedules and thus protect not only them but our whole family in her post titled, Guarding Sabbath for our Children.

Moms of boys...do you know about MOB Society? It is a fantastic website for Mothers of Boys whose mission statement says, "Reaching the hearts of boys for the Gospel & preparing a generation of men to love the Lord." Wow! I love Jenn's (different Jen from the one mentioned above) post titled, "What a Boy Needs." After I read it I ran and hugged my boys and we forgot school the rest of the day. We snuggled, read books and played outside. So inspiring.

Dh introduced me to a website called Simply Noise. It is a free site where you can listen to white noise, pink noise or brown noise. Brown is my favorite and what I am listening to as I type this. The sound just kind of fades into the background while blocking out other noises that would typically distract me. They say that different noises can reduce stress, get rid of headaches and improve focus. When Dh originally shared the site with me he was thinking that it would be helpful for Thatcher since he is so distracted by every.little.thing but he doesn't like it and I love it. They even have an iPhone ap!

Don't forget to vote for the Homeschool Blog Awards. Voting ends October 30 so there's not much time left. Rush on over and nominate your favorite bloggers. There are 20 different categories to pick from. Let your favorite bloggers know how much you appreciate all they do. :)

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!
of men to love the Lord
And through Twitter I have found the most precious jewelry over at the Vintage Pearl. With Christmas not too far away, I thought I would share in case someone was looking for unique gift ideas!

I saved the best for last. Grab some tissues and watch Ben Comen's story. It absolutely touched my heart. One of my prayers for my Thatcher is that someday he will have friends who embrace him for all that he is, not worrying about all he is not. I guess that is what a true friend is for any of us. But Ben's story is about much more than that. Don't forget the kleenex!



Monday, October 25, 2010

SOTW I Lapbooks for FREE!!!

My Haddon is a crafty sort of guy. He loves to color, cut, glue, and put it all together. Projects are his thing. He is always making journals and coming up with his own little creations. He cracks me up. Thatcher...not so much. He is a "just give me the facts" kinda kid! I lean more towards Thatcher's style. Poor Haddon. ;)

I have been thinking about how I will approach history with Haddon next year, as we will begin back with the Ancients, and I knew that what worked for Thatcher will not work as well for him. He will really benefit from hands-on projects. I contacted Peace Hill Press (publishers of SOTW) and asked if possibly there might be lapbooks in the works to go along with any volume of SOTW. Right about this same time I saw a post on a message board about this wonderful mom who has created fabulous lapbooks and is sharing them for free!! Yes, for free. They are amazing.

PHP got back to me and said that there were currently no plans for SOTW lapbooks but you know where they pointed me? The same blog! And she has SOTW II lapbooks in progress right now as well. Rush over to her blog, The Chronicle of the Earth, and download her zip file right away for Volume I lapbooks. Thank you so very much, Alia!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Five Dollar Friday: Spinach Cheese Quesadillas with Black Bean Salsa

This has become a stand-by meal at our home because I almost always have the ingredients on hand, it can be prepared in under 30 minutes and it's a great way to get my boys to eat their greens. If I put a pile of spinach on their plates, they wouldn't touch it. But in four-cheese stuffed shells/cannelloni, blueberry smoothies (actually they don't know they are having spinach this way, so we'll just keep it between us ;) or in quesadillas they gobble it up!

A few notes: Even though the spinach comes chopped, I chop it again...and again. I make sure the pieces are tiny so no one will get a stringy piece of spinach. That would be the end of this meal for my boys who are hyper-sensitive to textures (if stringy can be considered a texture!). Also, the first time I introduced these I barely put in any spinach, so little they couldn't even taste it -especially dipped in salsa and sour cream. Each time I added just a bit more spinach to where now I can pretty much do a 50/50 ratio of cheese to spinach.

Also, the total cost of this meal is slightly more than $5.oo but the amount of food I have listed below will feed my family for one dinner (dh eats three and the boys and I each eat one) with enough leftover cheese and spinach to make three more quesadillas for lunch the next day for the boys. And still more extra spinach to put in blueberry smoothies for a snack that afternoon!

Spinach Quesadillas
with Black Bean Salsa

Ingredients:
One package of flour tortillas (10 count)
4 T butter
8 oz shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1 box frozen chopped spinach - thawed, most of liquid squeezed out and finely chopped
1 can black beans
1/2 bag of organic frozen corn (we only do organic corn to avoid GMO's)
2 medium Roma tomatoes
juice of one lime (or less if desired - we like lime around here though!)

Optional:
favorite salsa
sour cream

Directions for preparing black bean salsa:

1. Drain and rinse black beans
2. Cook the corn according to package directions
3. Finely chop tomato(es)
4. Mix all three together and squeeze juice of one lime over it all.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste


Directions for preparing Quesadillas:

1. Heat large skillet over medium heat.
2. On one half of each tortilla add a layer of cheese, a layer of spinach & more cheese on top. Fold each tortilla in half.
3. Add 1 T butter to pan and half of your quesadillas (you may need to adjust amount of butter and number of quesidallas you cook at a time depending on size of your pan)
4. Cook until tortilla is brown and crisp; flip to the other side and cook until second side is done (add one more T of butter if needed when you flip)
5. Cook second batch of quesadillas the same way.
6. Remove and serve with salsa, sour cream and black bean and corn salsa.


Cost Breakdown: $6.29 which for a meal that revolves around cheese is not bad ;) You can get the price even cheaper if you can get MJ cheese for less but in my area I rarely do. Also my butter wasn't on sale ($2 a lb) nor was the frozen spinach or black beans.

$ 1.oo - 10 tortillas (on sale)
$ 1.25 - Monterrey Jack (when it goes on sale for this price I buy in bulk and freeze)
$ .25 - 4T butter
$ .79 - one box frozen chopped spinach (store brand)
$ .25 - sour cream (1/4 of 16 oz store brand container on sale for $1)
$ .50 - half a jar of salsa (on sale with coupon)
$ .60 - can of black beans
$ 1.00 - 1/2 bag of organic frozen corn
$ .40 - 2 medium roma tomatoes
$ .25 - lime

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts on Explode the Code (and How I Taught my Boys to Read)

I am using the Explode the Code series with my third child. Thatcher completed the entire series in the middle of second grade. Haddon is currently working in Book 2 1/2, and Beckett just started Get Set for the Code. I have some thoughts on this series after now working with these books for the past five years.

First, If you are not familiar with this series here is a quick overview. It begins with three primers: Get Ready for the Code, Get Set for the Code and Go for the Code. These books introduce the sounds letters make, letter formation and initial consonants in words. The main series has 14 books - eight main books and six "1/2" books. Each "1/2" books provides additional practice for the book before (meaning 2 1/2 reviews the concepts learned in Book 2). These books systematically teach phonetic skills and provide plenty of review as well.


Here is how I have used these books. I began the primers with my boys as soon as each turned four. All of them already knew their letters and sounds when we started (thank you Leap Frog videos!), so we used them to build confidence and learn how to write each letter. Plus my boys found all the activities fun! Once my kids complete the primers they start in Book 1 and I have them do 4-5 pages daily with the goal being to complete two lessons each week (no phonics on Friday). As soon as they finish ETC Book 1, I have them begin reading a book or two a day from either the Primary Phonics Storybook Sets (not the workbooks), Bob Books and Nora Gaydos sets. I don't worry about matching the book they are reading to me exactly with the lesson they are learning in ETC. I typically just jump back and forth between all three sets (especially in the beginning when they needs lots and lots of practice getting used to sounding out words).

When there are so many other ways to teach reading, why do I like ETC? I can count it as phonics, reading, handwriting and spelling (a real multi-tasker!) It is easy to implement and inexpensive. Most importantly, it works!

Now here are some of my thoughts on this series (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. ETC is not independent work. Honestly, I don't think much is at very young ages when they are learning new material (independent, self-checking games/activities that reinforce already learned material are another story). The stakes are too high. If they learn something wrong in these first few years it is so difficult to relearn it correctly. And Littles can get frustrated so easily. I know that it is easy to send them off to do their phonics (usually so we can work with older siblings) but I really don't recommend it. What is one of the main things you learn how to do in your life? READ!!! The ability to read well affects every other subject in school. Take the time to sit with them. Talk about it. Identify areas where they need extra practice and encourage, encourage, encourage!!!

2. If your dc has weak motor skills and initially can't do all the writing (or even if they just need a bit more practice) offer it in a fun way. I have a jelly roll pan in the schoolroom filled with salt so Beckett can get additional practice by "writing" each letter with his fingers in the salt. We also put shaving cream on the wall in the bathtub to practice our writing, and outside I give him a paintbrush and a cup of water to practice writing/painting letters on the fence (and NO mess ;).

3. Have your dc read every.single.word.on.every.single.page. Refer back to #1 and down to #6 as well. You need to be there with your child as they work through these books so you can correct them the second they make an error. And reading the same words over and over in different activities is one of the strengths of ETC. This is huge! On the left is a photo of one page of ETC in Book 2 1/2. The directions say, "X the same word". It would be simple to have them glance at the words and find the one that matches the first without reading a word on the page. Or you can have them stop and read each word - 28 total. Which will reap greater benefit?

4. Use nickels, jelly beans, screen time or any other means to keep them excited! I keep a bag of organic dye-free jelly beans in the schoolroom for Beckett and dark chocolate chips for Haddon. They get one candy for each page completed. My kids don't get much candy so five jelly beans or chocolate chips are a big deal for them, and it is a great trade off in my mind to keep them motivated. If candy is not a motivator for your kids, just find a reward that will be: each page earns five minutes of educational computer time, or a lego from a set they want, or a nickel...

5. They will pick up on cues from you. If you communicate boredom with the books, even if only non-verbally, they will pick up on it. Make it fun. When it gets challenging, don't say, "Oh this is so hard!" Say, "Wow, they really made it fun for you today. You get to use your brain a lot! Neat!!!" Or if you see them getting frustrated or tiring out say, "Let's get two jelly beans for finishing this page!"

6. You don't have to do all the "1/2" books but I think the repetition is one the strongest aspects of this program. I have my boys do all eight main books and all six of the "1/2" books. I just do. ;) I don't overkill many subjects but strong phonics/decoding skills (typically) lead to strong reading skills and strong spelling skills as well. Taking more time here really will gain you great benefits in future years I have found.

7. You don't need to start a formal spelling program until your dc finish the entire series. If you just must have a spelling program create your own list using the rule(s) they are learning in ETC that week. Have them do a fun activity each day with the words on the list you generated.

There are so many ways to teach children to read: Phonics Pathways, The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, The Phonics Road and on and on and on. They are all good. They all have their merits. For us ETC has been a solid part of our school and has started my boys with an excellent foundation for reading and spelling.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Almost Up to 100 Followers!


Would you consider becoming a follower of Smooth Stones Academy? I currently have 98 followers; it will be fun to have 100...or more!
All you have to do is click on the "Follow" button on my right sidebar.

And for accountability I am sharing a commitment to my readers with my readers: I will post at least one blog weekly for the remainder of 2010, hopefully more. I have more Five Dollar Fridays to come, ideas for saving money, and tons of random tidbits...not to mention our homeschool journey to share. :) Stop by again very soon!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's time! Fall, cooler weather, pumpkins....and the Homeschool Blog Awards!!! Nominations will be accepted through October 30 so hurry over to the Homeschool Post and nominate all your favorite blogs. There are so many wonderful bloggers out there who spend a lot of time and energy to encourage, inspire and share with others. Show your appreciation by nominating your favorites. The categories are as follows:

Best Homeschool Mom Blog
Best Homeschool Dad Blog
Best Blog Design
Best Photos and Artistic Content Blog
Best Crafts, Plans and Projects Blog
Best Family or Group Blog
Best Encourager
Best Current Events, Opinions or Politics Blog
Best Homemaking or Recipes Blog
Best Teen Blog
Funniest Homeschool Blog
Best Special Needs Blog
Best Curriculum or Business Blog
Best Variety
Best Thrifty Homeschooler
Best SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER
Best Nitty-Gritty Homeschool Blog
Best NEW Homeschool Blog
Best Homeschooling Methods Blog
Best Homeschool Nature Blog

Happy Nominating!!!

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