Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Thing of the Week - Cumin

Yesterday I went north and visited my college roommate, whom I don't get to see often enough. We had nice time catching up, shopping and eating Thai food. One of our stops was at the Penzey's spice mother-ship store. I love Penzey's Spices, and I frequently order from the catalog. Going to the store, was a new experience though, because I could smell and sample the spices and spice mixes.

One of my all time favorite spices is Cumin. I bought a whole bunch of it, and my girlfriend was wondering, what am I going to do with all that cumin? So for her - and my other readers (hello, Mom!) here is the deal on cumin, and why it is my favorite thing of the week.

According to Penzey's Spices, cumin is one of the most popular spices in the world, second to black pepper. It is used in Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Latin American cooking. It has a strong, pungent smell and a distinctive taste which blends wonderfully with a lot of other flavors, because it enhances and draws out the natural sweetness in other foods. It can be used either as whole seeds and in a ground form. (I've used both, but mostly the ground type.)

So what do I use cumin in?
Black Bean Soup
Chicken Curry
Scrambled Eggs
Cornbread Muffins

Here is my Black Bean Soup recipe to get you started with your personal love of cumin. It is low-fat, delicious, and really cheap to make:

Simple Black Bean Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
2 cans chicken broth
2 cans black beans, drained
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. In a soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and add onion and bell pepper. Cook until peppers are wilted and onion is translucent. Add the garlic and the spices. Saute for just a minute more, don't let the garlic brown. Add the chicken broth; bring to a boil.

2. Add the beans, bring back to a boil, salt and pepper to taste.

3. In a blender, puree half the soup. (You can also mash the beans in the pot as they cook). Add the puree back to the pot, reheat and serve.

This is good with corn muffins (add the cumin to the batter) or just some crusty bread and a nice salad. Make it totally vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Here are some other recipes that feature cumin as a starring ingredient:
Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Garbanzo Beans and Cumin
Three Bean Salad with Cumin, Cilantro and Oranges
Muhammara Dip with Cumin and Cayenne
Lentil Soup with Lemon
Good, Basic Chili
Steak Tacos
Whole Enchalada Bake
Indian Style Scrambled Eggs
Potatoes with Cumin - Substitute hot pepper sause for the Harissa.
Spicy Lentil Nachos
Breakfast in a Cup - Make a head and freezable!
Black Bean Breakfast Burrito

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Making Stuff

I've been busy making stuff today. First, I made this for my dear friend who lives in Florida:

Pretty cute, huh? Just the thing for slipping on with a pair of jeans, and a cute top and being warm!

Then, I made these for me.

Which, if you've been to my house would totally make sense, since I have this thing about elephants.

Lastly, but not leastly, I made these yummy things!

They're super easy, and really delish! Plus they look like they took some work (which they so didn't.)

White Chocolate-Pecan Candies

1 1/2 bags white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Some pecan halves (about 30)

Empty the white chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. I used my Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl (love it!). Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave it for another minute. The chips should be melty by now. Mix in the butter and oil. Mix in the chopped pecans.

Use a small scoop (about 1 Tablespoon) and drop by scoops onto a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Press a pecan half into each while it is still soft. Put in the fridge (or cold garage!) until firm.

Makes about 30.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Its beginning to look a lot like.....

Well, it's beginning to look a lot like something, anyway.

We're less than two weeks away from Christmas, and still have no tree. The decorations are all still snug in their boxes yet from last year. I still have the halloween door decoration hanging on our front door. The hubby hung up the lights outside over Thanksgiving, so we aren't completely ignoring the holidays, but it just feels so... unChristmassy.

I suppose part of the problem is I'm doing no holiday baking this year. Now don't get all over me. Look at the ticker at the top of the page. I'm close to losing 25 pounds! I've been walking between 4 to 5 miles at least 3 times a week, and I'm working very hard at regaining my pre-children shape. Baking mountains of cookies runs counter to that goal. Besides, I can't help but eat them. My self-control around them is nil. So no baking.

I've been trying to come up with other holiday traditions that don't center around eating. Like playing and singing music, and the children made and decorated gingerbread houses. I think this year we might go to the "Winter Wonderland" at the Cuneo. Very cool lights!

So if you have any neat ideas to help get into the Christmas spirit, pass them along. I need a little Christmas NOW!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IP Tuesday

It's Independent Project Tuesday again. Three is working on one of her Try-its, the "Stitch it Together" badge. All morning long she's been sewing buttons to a piece of fabric to make a button collage. When she's done, we're going to mount it to cardboard, so she can hang it. Naturally, the button project looked neat to Jack O'Hearts, and so he did his own button collage as well. He actually sewed 4 buttons onto a piece of cloth. Way to go kids!

Ace and Deuce are busy making gingerbread houses. They mixed up the dough this morning, and are now busy cutting out the pieces and getting them ready to bake. You can find the directions they are using here.

I've been doing my own independent project as well. I've completed the first chapter of my book. I finished last night about 11:00 p.m. It seems to go better late at night, maybe because it is a mystery novel. Who knows. Anyway, I've not been to bed before midnight all week. (poor hubby.)

It is a good feeling to finally have some forward progress on the novel. yay!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Creating Jewelry today

I spent the day putting some beads on wires for some special gals in my life.

For Mia, my eldest niece. How old is she? Sheesh! 20 or something like that. I've blocked it out, it makes me feel too old.This necklace is made from a bunch of lovely leftover beads that I had from another project that I made for my sister-in-law. The disk ones are actually in two different colors - you don't really get that from the picture, and the whole thing is tied together with the iridescent fire wash on the beads.

For Ava, Mia's lovely youngest sister. Happy sweet fifteen kiddo!With this one, I used some vintage wooden disk beads, alternating with red jasper. The round beads are also jasper, and then the little ones at the top are khaki glass cubes. The whole thing went together really easily and looks so harmonious. I need to leave out milk and cookies to the beading gods for this one.

For Christie, who has filled a hole in our lives, we love you!These are turquoise dyed howlite nuggets that have a really neat shape and feel to them. They are alternated with Swarovski crystals in a deep blue-black, and with little silver rings with clusters of 4mm glass cubes. The little rings were really a pain in the fingers to make. By about the second little ring I was ready to alter the project significantly, but I stuck to it, and it looks really nice.

and for Sweet Lily who is also celebrating her birthday, happy happy day!This simple strand is made of glass pearls, crystals, some gold filled disks, and some vintage gold cylindar beads. I probably strung and re-strung this one five times trying to get the right balance of gold to glass to pearls. I think its pretty nice, and simple for a little girl. I had Deuce wear it for a while, and it looked so sweet on her, I'm tempted to make another one so that she has one like it. The gold disks are pricey, though, so we'll see...

Friday, December 4, 2009

December is here

I woke up last night to a familiar and very unwelcome sound.

A horrifying sound.

I get chills even now as I think upon it. It is that awful.

It was the low, rumbling, grating sound of a snowplow going down my street.

December is here for real.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Independent Work Tuesday

Time for my kids' favorite day of the week, Tuesday. Independent Project Tuesday has been a smashing success so far.

Today: Ace discovered a re-use of a dog food bag by designing and sewing up a letterbox sit-upon. It has a pocket for a logbook, and a strap, so it is easy to carry. But the main benefit is that it makes a nice, clean place to sit when letterboxing, so you don't get all muddy or dirty.

Deuce created a recipe (and tested it out!) for chocolate-mint cupcakes. Right now they are filling the house with a really yummy aroma, while they wait to cool, and she can frost them with some buttercream frosting.

Three began working on a Brownie Try-it, a sewing badge, by making sewing/lacing cards of animals. She cut them out of a Your Big Backyard magazine, stuck them to cardboard, laminated them, and then punched holes so they could be laced with yarn.

Jack O'Hearts and Little Four have been testing the cupcake batter and the lacing cards. But now they are out side playing in a big puddle.

Additionally, Deuce and I played a game of Wholes: The Game to practice adding fractions. You can find directions to make it here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's Official

The Disney trip has been booked!

The tickets have been ordered, the hotel reservations made (and paid), the airfare has been booked as well. Now I just need a way to curb my excitement til we get there!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Yummy Soup

This is from Weight Watcher's magazine. Okay, so what if it is a weight watchers recipe? It is totally easy and yummy, and not even too expensive. Plus, it's very heartwarming on a day like today.

One thing, the recipe calls for Shirataki noodles. No, I've never heard of them either. But I found them at Sunset foods. They are made of soy, and they really taste like regular noodles. The difference is that Shirataki have almost no carbs, plus 20 calories per serving; while regular noodles have 210 calories per serving, and 42g. of carbs. So, they are worth looking for. I found them in the noodle section of the refrigerated department (with the fresh pasta.)

Chicken Shirataki Soup

1/2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
1 (32-oz) carton low-sodium chicken broth
2 (8-oz) packages spaghetti-shaped shirakaki tofu noodles, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup shredded carrots
2 tsp. Asian dark sesame oil
2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 small bunch watercress, trimmed
1/2 cup bean sprouts

1. Spray a non-stick Dutch oven with nonstick spray and set over medium heat. Add the chicken and the ginger; cook stirring constantly, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute.

2. Add the broth bring to a boil. Stir in the noodles, carrots, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Serve topped with watercress and sprouts.

Eat, yum!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Super Couponing

I've always been a leeetle bit skeptical of the folks who clip coupons, and shop sales, and buy hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for a buck. Lets face it, who can really do that? Well, I tried it this weekend. Look what I got for $19!*

If you want to know more about how to do this, you need to visit my friend Michelle's Bargains Rock! blog, and follow her links and advice.

One thing that I've learned is that it is worth looking and planning before buying. I know that this sounds elementary, and I usually have a list and a plan. But since I usually eschew regular grocery stores for Aldi, and name brand products for store brand, I don't usually even look to see if there are coupons that would be appropriate for me. Sure this is one more step, but I think it took me a total of 20 minutes or so to look at the sale flier, decide what I needed from it, check for coupons and print them out. Doing so saved me $97. That comes to $291 per hour to do this. Okay, so no one is actually paying me $291 an hour to check coupons, but you still get the idea.

The second thing I learned is to take a calulator to the store. I was busy jotting down numbers, and calculator would have made it so much easier to keep a running total.

*This is $19 after I subtract the $15 coupons I have still in my purse. Actually, the out of pocket was $34, which is still really good, considering that the regular price for all this stuff is about $116 bucks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween Fun

Halloween has come and gone at our house. The pumpkins have been carved,

The costumes have been made,

The crafts have been prepared.

Trick-o-treating was a lot of fun too. The kids came home with much candy, and watched movies and ate themselves sick.

Although we love Halloween here, I am thankful that it only comes around once a year.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Three, Jack o'Hearts, and Four went about one month ago (or so) to one of our local forest preserves, for a little letterboxing. (Hey, Drama Mama - about 500 yards from where the JM's Monster party was!) Found the letterbox, and also couldn't help but notice the acorns! They were everywhere!

Now, I've read here: Acorn Harvesting and here that you could eat acorns. So, trying to follow directions, we sorted, dried, sorted, sorted, and sorted the acorns. Today was processing day for the acorns.

Naturally the best part is the kids' reactions when they find the little grubs that have come out of some of the acorns down at the bottom of the bucket or bowl. EEEK! I keep telling them that they are just extra protein, but so far, they haven't warmed up to them. Can't say I blame them. They're creepy.

We soaked them in boiling water once, twice, thrice, four, five and now six times. They're still bitter, but getting better with every wash. I'm hopeful that before I go to bed, we'll have some edible acorns. Then I plan to make: ACORN Cookies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Something Homeschool Related

Not letterboxing for a change, although I've got 3 boxes ready to plant, and plan to get out sometime this weekend with my reluctant boxer, Deuce.

I tried something different today. Following the lead of Gina at Spotty Banana, we're making Tuesdays "IPT" day. (Independent Project Tuesday)

So, you might wonder, what did the kids do today with so much leeway? Ace finished her paper for American Government. (yay!) Deuce learned how to upload her photographs on to SnapFish, so she could have an empty card to film a movie onto. She then made a concept board, scenery, and came up with props and such for a "Polly Pocket" music video. Sadly, there is no good way to hold a Polly and make them dance, so she tied yarn around their necks, and it looks like the gallows dance (to me, anyway.)

Three decided she'd like to work on a Brownie Try-It badge on doll and puppet making. She began with the yarn doll. We worked on one together, and it turned out quite nicely. Then she made one for herself. Ace, Deuce and the others also got in the act, so for about 2 hours they made yarn dolls and talked about them. During the discussion, they decided that they would film a short movie about the yarn dolls, now called the "Its." They created a whole mythology about the Its and their enemy, the evil "Things." I'd relate it here, but as it is lengthy and complicated, and about yarn dolls, I won't. It was very creative, however.

So what did they learn? What skills did they use? How many skeins of yarn did they go through? I'm not sure, but as I was tucking Deuce in tonight, she told me that now she loved Tuesdays. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Boxing with my kids

Yep, another letterboxing post. This time with pictures - no spoilers, though. The day was lovely, sunny but cool. Perfect fall, crunchy leaves. We had a good time looking for a series of 6 boxes that was hidden in a nearby forest preserve.

These two had a nice time exploring off the trail.

Ace stamping in.

Three and Ace sharing a log.

Deuce was more interested in building fairy houses and finding Osage oranges and interesting fungi, but she had fun despite herself.

It's amazing what a mood lifter going out into the woods for a couple of hours is. When we began, it was pick, pick, pick, but by the end of it, even Deuce and Jack O'Hearts were getting along (and that's saying something!)

During the hike, in addition to the Osage oranges, we found black walnuts, acorns of several varieties and hickory nuts. They are all rolling around the back of my car right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

He Blinded Me with Science!!

Jack O'Hearts is learning about osmosis. Here he is getting an experiment together. The science book is a nothing-special book I got in the dollar section of Target, but he is having lots of fun learning, plus, it comes with stickers. Everyone likes stickers!

Pouring the water into the cups

Measuring the baking soda.

Putting the cotton string between the cups

Drawing the results.

After the experiment had set about a week, the water had gone up into the string, and left deposits of baking soda on the string. The string was also hard as a rock, even though there was still water in both cups. I didn't get pictures of that part.

A good experiment!

The boy thought so too!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brace Yourself!

Do you notice anything different about Ace in the side bar?

Maybe you need to see it closer:

How about now?

Okay, See them now??


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Boxy boxy

It was a boxy boxy weekend!

First, my lovely little sister came down from Minneapolis to take some CEC over at O'Hare. She crashed on the futon. Sadly, we didn't get to do as much damage together as we would have liked, but we still managed to have fun and eat an entire cheesecake.

Second, my friend Mo and I went up to Waukesha, WI for Boxacon 2009. We had a fantabulistic time exchanging stamps with our letterboxing friends, asking (and answering) tricky questions for more stamping fun, and then to top it all off, tromping around in the woods for four hours to find a whole bunch more stamps. It was truly paradise!!

Then today my sister and I decided we would find yet more boxes, and travelled north to get about 5 more. Plus it was a nice day for a good walk. I'm hoping the tromping around in the woods is an adequate substitute for a work-out. It is a lot more fun, that's for sure.

Tomorrow it is back to school stuff as usual. Ace is still working on that novel, and will hopefully finish off her chapter in the math book. Deuce has had violin practice challenges. So much so that I have threatened her with missing our friends' halloween mini-golf party if she doesn't get her music down. Ug. I hate having to do that. Three is reading like a champ. She just needs to keep moving along with her stuff. I have more material about Spain that we haven't done yet, but it is time to move on to learn about France. I guess they will just have to play a little catsup.

The King of Hearts is out in Vermont this week. It is going to get pretty lonely around here with out him. I hope he gets some good pictures of leaves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hib Gun, Hib Out Sride

Four is very distressed.

I took the crib out of the bedroom today. She has to sleep in the big girl bed in the same room as Jack O'Hearts. She has been running around calling: "Hib Gun! Hib Gun!" "Hib Out sride." (Which translates to: Crib Gone! Crib Gone! Crib Outside!

The crib is dis-assembled and is put away in pieces in the basement. It is NOT outside; but to her anything that is gone MUST be outside. Therefore the crib is outside.

She's been outside looking for the crib all day, calling "Hib! Hib!" It still is not outside.

We'll see how tonight goes.

An Interesting Conversation

While waiting for Deuce to finish up choir today, I was sitting at the park. I had my book in one hand, and my apple in the other, and was determined to eat the apple. (Visualizing myself NOT going to Culver's for a chocolate malt - which was what I really, really wanted.) The only benches were by the playground, so I sat near a woman who I know from church. She was waiting for her granddaughter to finish choir.

We chatted a bit about traffic and weather and sports and stuff, and the conversation turned, as it always does, to the kids, how old are they, and where do they go to school. I told her they didn't go, that we homeschooled.
"Wow, you are one brave lady." she said.
I told her that I wasn't especially brave, but that we really liked the flexibility of not being tied to a school schedule. To be able to pick up and go and do whatever we wanted, without worrying about missing something.
This she agreed with.
Then I also mentioned that the kids really liked it because it allowed them to study whatever they were interested in.
Horror Ensued.

I guess that the point of school, if this woman's reaction was any indication, is to study a bunch of crap that kids really aren't interested in.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Field Trip today

The kids and I took a field trip out to Hebron, IL to pick apples. It is a bit of a haul, but the place we like to go - Royal Oaks Farm Orchard - is really worth the trip. Little Four just walked from tree to tree, eating apples like crazy. She adores apples. I think her first non-family word was "apple." She even named her favorite teddy bear "Apple." (Of course the other ones are "Blue" and "Swiss Meat.")

We picked Gala apples which are at their best right now. Crispy and sweet. Yum! After that, we wandered over to the little gift store and got some hot-from-the-fryer apple cider donuts. They are so amazing. You could smell them cooking all over the orchard, how could we resist?

While we were leaving, Michelle, from Bargains Rock! arrived with her kids. We chit-chatted for a bit, but we were on a mission for a letterbox that was planted nearby, and we wanted to get on the way. We found the trail head, and began walking. Now, it didn't say how long the journey was going to be, but we didn't really expect it to be quite as long as it was, which was really long.

Deuce found over a dozen different frogs and toads, however, and we found some of the COOLEST mushrooms and fungi that we've ever seen. I wish I would have thought of bringing my camera. The letterbox found, we headed back to the car when I LOST MY CONTACT! I squinted like a pirate the whole way back. Arrr.... matey.

Still, despite the ups and downs of it all, the heat, the mosquitoes, the persistent sound of whining, we did have a really good field trip adventure.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The First Week

The first week back to school has been bumpy. This is because of a few reasons. First, we haven't really done anything much school-wise all summer. It is pretty hard getting back to a schedule after slacking off for three months or so. Second, my expectations for the the kids have gotten higher. Ace is in Junior high now, so her homework has ratcheted up accordingly. Deuce has fifth grade to navigate, and Three has second grade stuff to do. Plus, Jack has just begun kindergarten work. This leads naturally to third, I'm spreading myself a little thinner. Only a little, though. Ace is pretty much doing her own thing. I poke and prod and keep her on schedule, but mostly she does her own thing.

As for Deuce and Three, it is totally hands on. Especially for Deuce. Don't ask why. She just needs more attention than pretty much anyone I know. Jack has been especially helpful with keeping Four busy. They play pretty nearly constantly outside. So long as they can be out there, they are out there, digging holes all over the yard.

This year Deuce and Three are doing a big geography unit. Deuce was really enjoying finding latitude and longitude of cities around the world. I think I'll just keep throwing this in. It seems to be a fun thing for her.

My goal this year is "No Tears." So far, so good. I wonder how long it will last....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tomorrow's big day!

Tomorrow I begin teaching Ace's AP American Government and Politics class.

My outline looks like this -
Intro Lecture
Subject Matter - Purposes and types of Politics
Group Activity
Go over the homework for first class as an in-class activity
Pop Quiz (yeah, I'm bad)
Let em go.

I've got 2 hours or so to fill. I think it will go pretty fast, though.

Deuce will be minding the ranch. I might pay her.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Some Photos from our Vacation

Up in the middle of Wisconsin is a little old farm house. It is owned by my husband's family. Every year we make the trek up there and spend a week or more "roughing it." What I mean by that, is there is no computer, no television, and virtually no cell service. What there is, is a lot of sunshine, fresh air, birds, stars, and playing out in the fields.

Our relative proximity to Oshkosh makes the EAA Museum a must-see. Ace and Deuce flew, this year, in the Young Eagles program. They were very excited and happy about the experience. Both want to make flight a part of their futures.

During our vacation, we also visited a neighboring ostrich farm, an old train, and did a fair amount of letterboxing.

Everyone was relaxed and refreshed and ready to be home for a while after the vacation. And isn't that what vacations are all about anyway?

Too Cute stuff

Two year olds are too cute. I think I've looked at a dozen cute toddler/preschool blogs, with gorgeous photography, terrific crafts and inspired stuff. I feel a little discouraged. Don't get me wrong, I've got the cutest toddler in the world, as well as a really handsome almost 5 year old (did I mention he's got a birthday coming up?) My seven year old is lovely, the 10 year old is adorable, and my nearly grown 12 year old is becoming a breathtaking young woman.

So why the angst? I guess because I am a lazy blogger?

Oh well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So Tired!

Saw Harry Potter last night at the midnight show. So tired today.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Swimming session one is over.
Ace is still in level 5. She has to improve her flip turns. Diving went well. Check out the pictures!

Deuce graduated to level 4!! Yay Deuce!
Three will remain in level 2. She has to improve her front crawl and treading water.
Jack O'Hearts completed his "Beginning Little Swimmer" program
Four and I had a lovely time in Mom and Me swim!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday - Lunch Challenge

Today was a quickie - spaghetti and sauce, with Parmesan cheese over the top. Pretty light on the fruit and vegetables, but I'll fill in later with some fruit for a snack, and salads for dinner.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Homeschooling on the cheap

This post began as a response to a lady who is trying to figure out if homeschooling is going to be expensive, but I decided that it would make a good post to anyone trying to make that decision.

I would first: decide with your son what interests he has that you can work on designing your lesson plans around. Second: check out something like WorldBook or other website to see what subjects 7th graders typically cover.

Next: Free resources. Two very good books are "Homeschooling on a Shoelace" and "Homeschool your Child for Free." You can probably get them at your library.

Online there are scads of free resources. If you have the internet, the world is your oyster. If you are interested in more "classic" type educational products, I highly recommend you look at the resources at An Old Fashioned Education. There's everything there, and its all free. Online you can also get complete math curriculums for grades through college, classic literature, plus an amazing source of online classes from HippoCampus and MIT.

Okay, now cheap resources - not the same as free, but cheap is good, too. If you want to study literature, go to your local St. Vincent, GoodWill, Salvation Army or whatever thrift shop. Peruse the used books. Around here, I am able to find lots of excellent books that cost me all of a quarter a piece. On my last look, I found Frankenstein, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tom Sawyer, and Of Mice and Men. Some looked as if they'd never been opened. Occasionally, they've been someone's for a class, once-upon-a-time, but it doesn't really matter unless they're really written in. I also look for any other things that I can use. Sometimes I find math workbooks, games, puzzlebooks, and other resources.

Another really cheap (and underused) source is the antique shops. I have a row of classics I picked up for a song at an antique shop, and also readers and schoolbooks from the turn of the century. They work well for poetry memorization, etc.

Of course any homeschooler will be drawn to the library book sales as well.

Other cheap online sources can be found online. CurrClick regularly has sales and freebies, and there are a lot of middle school and upper level coursed from which to choose.

I think that the most important thing is to keep an open mind about what your child wants to learn, and how you want to teach it. Homeschool does not need to be just like traditional school, and you don't need to purchase the latest whistles and bells to give your child a really excellent education. It just needs a little creativity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Make it from Scratch Carnival

The Make it from Scratch Carnival is being hosted over at Gotta Little Space to Fill. Go check it out! NOW!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Really Green Bag.

Dog Food Tote Tutorial

We have two dogs, and they eat a LOT of dog food. These bags are really strong, after all, they are designed to hold 50 pounds of dog food. Sadly, they are not marked for recycling, so our recycling co. won't take them. I figured, as long as this bag was destined for the landfill, why not see if I could do a little recycling of my own?

Here is my Dog Food Tote Tutorial. (Oooh, alliteration!)

Step 1. Begin with an empty dog food bag. Be sure you wipe out the inside pretty well, or your bag will smell like kibble.

Step 2: Cut the bag down to a nice, manageable size. You can decide where the best size is. Also, cut off the binding from the bottom of the bag.

Step 3: After you cut off the bottom, sew a double seam along the bottom of the bag. After some trial and error I discovered that the best needle for the task is a vinyl/leather needle. The stuff doesn't seem really tough, but I guess the plastic is enough to make it not work too well with other types. Also, I apologize for the blurriness of this photo, Deuce was my photographer, and the light was not optimal in my sewing area for a good shot. I think she did pretty well, considering. Anyway, because I wanted the bottom of the bag to be squared, after I sewed the bottom seam, I also sewed perpendicularly across the bottom seam on each edge to make square bottom corners. No photo of that, sorry.

Step 4: Now you have a basic bag shape, so turn it inside out (or right side in, if you prefer) so t hat the seams are on the inside, anyway. I didn't want my tote to scream "DOG FOOD!" so I put the label and stuff on the inside of the bag. If you have a really
pretty bag that you are re-using, like some of the bird-seed bags have lovely designs on them, or if you really like the funky look of a dog-food bag, by all means, flip it around before you start to sew, so your design is on the outside. Your bag, your choice. Fold down the top edge, in any event.

Step 5. Now we come to the (sorta) tricky part, the handles. Cut a couple of strips from the leftover dog food bag. I eyeballed them, but I think 4 or 5 inches wide is probably a good guess.

Fold one side in and finger press it, then the other side, then fold the whole thing in half. Note: An iron on this is really NOT a good idea on this sort of plastic. It gets all shrinky and weird. Please learn from my mistakes! Fortunately, I didn't ruin my iron.

Finally, sew along the edges to close up the strap.

Step 6: Now take the folded up strap portion and cut it into straps
that are a nice size. I found that the right size was half of the strap that I had just made. If you need it longer, you might need to sew another piece of strap. To attach the strap, you need to slip the ends of the strap under the folded down edge of the bag, then sew around the top of the bag. That will attach the straps, and finish the edge of the bag. When the top is stitched down, flip the straps up, and sew across the top of the strap, so they go the right way. You can also reinforce this connection with a little square of sewing. Your choice, although I've never had one go on me before, on the other totes I've made, They do look good, though.
Tada! Finished tote!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Science lessons

Science sort of stalled out at our house after finishing the Periodic Table of Elements. For weeks we didn't do any. Sure, we caught frogs, toads and snakes in the backyard, made trips to the pet store to gaze at the different sorts of fish, birds, and small animals they have there, planted and tended a garden, observed the weather, and did the odd cooking "experiment," but nothing really planned out.

So I've been writing a unit that I was going to do with the kids in the fall, but we started it already. In the unit, the student biologist (because it's a biology unit) travels through the 5 kingdoms of life, gathering facts to earn the right to carry the keys to each kingdom.

Today we did our first "real" science. We made a culture medium out of Jello and Slim-Fast. It's red. I hope it doesn't get yucky, we need a bunch of them for our planned unit. Anyway, to make culture medium from Jello and Slim-Fast, you need:

1 package Jello (any flavor)
1 can Slim Fast (any flavor)
paper cups or petri dishes
plastic wrap and rubber bands or lids to the petri dishes
bowl, spoon, measuring cups, saucepan

Make sure you wash everything out really well with hot soapy water, to make sure it is really clean. Otherwise you won't be able to trust your results.

Mix up the Jello as directed, except replace 1/2 cup of the cold water with 1/2 cup of Slim-Fast. Drink the rest of the Slim-Fast, and grimace, because it's gross.

Allow the Jello mixture to cool for 15 minutes or so, stirring every 2 minutes to keep the Slim-Fast from settling. Pour the mixture into paper cups or petri dishes and cover with the plastic wrap and rubber band, or lid to petri dish.

Put them in the fridge until they are set, you can use them now when you need them.

I got my petri dishes from Home Science Tools.

They aren't too expensive, and the company is really nice to deal with.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Congratulations Deuce!

Deuce has finished Singapore 4A today. She took the final test and ACED it!! Woo Hoo!!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tired of the rain

I know that it is a good, natural, necessary and normal thing, but I am getting so very, very tired of rain. The backyard has LONG grass, but it's been too wet to cut (read - standing water in some parts of the yard, mud in the rest!), the garden remains mostly unplanted, although the lettuce, arugula, spinach and radishes that I did manage to get in the mud are coming up now, and the kids are really getting stir crazy, because it is too wet for them to play outside.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Five in a Row Link!

My ds' lessons continue this week, we are reading the book "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel." On a tip, I checked out youtube to see if there was any good steam shovel footage. There is some GREAT steam shovelage!!

Check it out!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Back in the Saddle?

Jack O'Hearts has announced to me that he is "ready" for some school, like the big sisters. He can write his name, knows the alphabet, can count to twenty, and knows all his shapes and colors. So to give him his own thing, I blew the dust off of our Five-in-a-Row manuals, and have begun anew with Five in a Row, starting with Lentil.

My poor Lentil book. I really need to replace it. It has lost the front cover long ago, and the pages are so ancient that they are "crispy." They've cracked down the center of the book and are now held in by packing tape. Nevertheless, the story is still a classic, and JOH has absolutely adored the lessons.

By far the most interesting thing, though, is the reaction of the bigger sisters. Ace love FIAR. We rowed all the books numerous times. Everytime was a delight. Naturally, Deuce couldn't tolerate FIAR. She had no interest in the format, or in the stories, so it went back on the shelf. Three was, and still is, a workbook girl. Go figure. She would rather do pages (and pages) in a workbook, than get involved with a bunch of hands on stuff, or literature studies. FIAR wasn't really a fit with her either. However, pulling out the books, and reading them, discussing the lessons and doing hands on activites has pulled both Deuce and Three out of the woodwork, where they hang on the ends of the couch, and actively participate in the discussions and activities. So much so, that I need to remind them that this is actually JOH's lesson, and to let him talk or do the activity first.

What a dilemma. My girls are so eager to learn that they try to out do my son! Freaky. So, tonight as a bedtime story, we read Lentil and then my son, Three and I drew a giant map of what we though Alto, Ohio would look like. There were houses, and businesses, churches and parks. There were farms, bridges, a train station and all sorts of other things. JOH was so proud, we hung it up on the back of the bedroom door. So they were up 45 minutes past their bedtimes, there was learnin' going on!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I've created a set of Norse god and goddess notebook pages for download. You can find them here.

Enjoy the free-ness!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A small victory

I went to TJ Maxx today to get myself some new exercise pants, and bought a size MEDIUM for the first time since Jack O'Hearts was born! Woot!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Social Studies Units Chosen!

The Social Studies Units have been chosen for next school year:

Tudor England
Tsarist Russia

Now to get stuff together! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The tentative 2009/2010 plan

Well, here it is - so far. The tentative plan for 2009/2010 school year. I can't believe that I've got it even this much thought out so far in advance, but there is just so much going on next year that I've got to get my act together!
Ace - 7th Grade

  • Math: NEM 2
  • Grammar: ILL (continuing)

  • Literature: TBA

  • Writing: One Year Adventure Novel

  • Social Studies: American Government and Politics

  • Science: Unit Studies -

Deuce - 5th Grade

  • Math: Singapore 5A/B

  • Grammar: LLATL Orange

  • Literature: Worked into unit studies (TBA)

  • Writing: Igniting Your Writing Level 1

  • Social Studies: Unit Studies (TBA)

  • Science: Unit Studies (TBA)

Three - 2nd Grade

  • Math: Singapore 2A/B

  • Grammar: LLATL Yellow or PLL?

  • Literature: Worked into unit studies

  • Social Studies: Units Studies (TBA)

  • Science: Unit Studies (TBA)

Jack O'Hearts – Kindergarten

  • Five-in-a-Row

  • Reading: Phonics Pathways

  • Math: Games & Fun Books

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Leftover Rice Muffins

I'm fond of wild rice, and ever since I discovered that I can make it in the rice-maker at the same time as brown rice, brown and wild rice have been a staple at dinner time. I had some leftover rice, though, and a request from my oldest daughter for "muffins for lunch" prompted me to start looking for a muffin recipe where I could use up the rice, and make it sturdy enough to carry around the back yard for a portable lunch.

Here is what I came up with for a
Leftover Rice Muffin

2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups cooked brown and wild rice
1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 400 deg. Stir dry ingredients together. Mix in the seasonings, and cheese. Mix in the rices, egg, oil and milk until just combined. Divide into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.

This made 15 for me.

The kids have pretty much eaten them all up. I got a little nibble off the side of Deuce's but they went like goldfish in a piranha tank. I guess I've got me a winner!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hamburger Freezer session

So we got this coupon for a free one-day membership to Sam's Club. My husband asked me if I'd be interested in going? Sure, why not. So off we went.

It was a bit overwhelming. Luckily for me, I had my calculator with me, along with my mental price book. (If I'd been thinking, I'd have brought my actual price book, but we can't have everything, can we?)

So after breaking down prices into units, then converting the units into the portions that my normal grocery store sells, we discovered some of the things were good deals, and others were simply o.k. DH and I stuck to the things 1. that we knew were good deals, and 2. wouldn't rot or get bugs in them, and 3. we'd use.

We got toilet paper and dog food, laundry detergent and pancake syrup, bananas and a 10 pound tube of hamburger.

Yes, a 10 pound tube of hamburger. It was 90% lean, and a very good price.

Here are some facts about a 10 pound tube of hamburger.
1. It is as big around as the thigh of a 7 year old.
2. It is almost as tall as a 19 mo. old toddler.
3. It is almost impossible to resist slapping it.
4. A 4 1/2 year old will insist on carrying it around the house, before you are allowed to do anything with it.
5. It is also much more meat than I am used to looking at at a time.

This is what I did with my 10 pounds of hamburger:
One pound went into taco meat. (Made by TOH - nearly by herself)
Three pounds went into two meatloaves (BH&G basic recipe)
Three pounds went into 3 packages of meatballs.
Three pounds went into 3 batches of chili con carne. (I also put in 1/2 of one of those gigantic cans of crushed tomatoes in that. - the rest of the tomatoes I froze in 2 cup containers)

That's nine dinners done and in the freezer. Whew!

The upshot to all of this is that DH and I decided we didn't need a membership. Yes, they have some good deals, but mostly the grocery items are about the same price when you shop the sales at the "regular" grocery store, and don't even come close to touching the price you pay at Aldi. The other stuff may or may not be a good deal, but we don't usually buy big screen televisions or trampolines or stuff like that, so a membership for that sort of thing isn't worth it for us. If another one day membership comes along, will we take it? Probably, it was pretty entertaining at least, plus there were lots of samples being handed out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Periodic Table of Elements - Finally!

For the past few (hundred) months, we've been learning about the Periodic Table of Elements. You may recall, we were doing all sort of experiments, including this one. Well, I am extremely please to announce that we've finally finished the unit. Here is our masterpiece:

The kids are pretty proud of it. Ace even told me that when we take it down, we need to put it on a big sheet of cardboard or something to preserve it. Uh huh.

Well, here it is, all preserved for ya.

When Daddy Homeschools

When Daddy homeschools, you get to see what is inside a hard drive. In this lesson, we discover that there are some very powerful magnets inside of a hard drive.

You might even get to keep a little bitty piece of it, if you are lucky! Deuce is lucky!

New Veggie Blog to follow

I think I'm in love with this blog:
A Veggie Venture

My right knee has been really sore lately, so I've decided BEFORE I see an arthropod, I'd lose 20 pounds and see if that helps. So, Sunday I began.

Sunday I walked with Carmen for 1/2 hour, and really watched what I put in my mouth. Did pretty well too.

Monday, I took the kids to the Milwaukee Public Museum, I figure I did my walking for the day there! Pretty good at keeping an eye on my food intake as well.

Tuesday, it RAINED, but I took Astro out for a 1/2 hour walk, and began writing down my food in a diary. Other than the beer I had in the evening, I behaved myself.

So today I weighed myself, and hey! I'm 3 pounds less than I was on Sunday. Now this might be due to lots of things, so I'm not celebrating too much yet, but ... stay tuned.

Oh, and I discovered on i-Tunes a bunch of podcasts with walking music on it, so I put those on my i-Pod, for walking. Today, I need to find Astro's collar, he might have lost it in the backyard, or on our walk. Last night he wasn't wearing it. H mmmm....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Still Using it up!

The nice thing about using up the stuff in my pantry, fridge and deep freeze is that I've been forced to cook more creatively. There's nothing but ingredients in the house at this point, although I'm not out of food, there really isn't any thing ready to eat "out of the box." The package cereal is running out, much to my son's dismay, and we finished up two partial jars of jam that were getting my fridge shelves all sticky.

Today I made some terrific New England Style Baked Beans, using up half a package of Great Northern beans, the last of the molasses, and because I needed to bump up the sweetness, the last of the honey from a honey bear in the cupboard - there's still the big bottle. That, along with some cornbread muffins made a delicious and filling dinner.

Tomorrow, I'm going to tackle the tofu. I've never, ever, cooked with tofu before in my life. I bought a package (never opened it) and its been sitting in my fridge ever since. It hasn't reached the expiration date, so in theory, it is still good. I plan to make Tofu Italiano, using up some of the homemade Italian spaghetti/pizza sauce I've had in the freezer for a while. It calls for flat egg noodles, which I don't have, but I do have some fettuccine, and also a partial package of lasagna noodles, which I can break into pieces. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Make it from scratch Carnival

The Make it from Scratch Carnival is a great place to get ideas for cooking, crafting and other things you can do - from scratch. Today's carnival is over at "I've Got A Little Space To Fill." I particularly liked the Poppy Seed Noodle recipe, I might be able to fit this into Use it up Week! The Better-Than-Cakesters looked really yummy too. My son asked when we could make those. Black Bean Brownies look really interesting.

Oh yeah, and I have a post up too, on my Split Pea Soup! So enjoy the Carnival!

Monday, February 9, 2009

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Using it up!

So, what do you do with 1 lonely chicken leg quarter, half a box of arborio rice, some sprouted onions, and some leftover cooked broccoli? You make Chicken-Broccoli Risotto, of course.

This is adapted from the Weight Watchers New 365 Day Menu Cookbook.

Chicken-Broccoli Risotto

2 cups small broccoli florets (or in my case, the broccoli leftover at the back of the fridge)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I didn't need - more later)
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon reduced calorie tub margerine (butter)
10 ounces chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces (1 slightly freezer burned, lonely chicken leg quarter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped onion (cut the soft parts and the sprouts off, and you're good to go!!)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces Arborio Rice (Look at the back of the cupboard for this one - slightly less than half a box)
4 fluid ounces white wine (just pour part of your glass in there)
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or use Kraft, in the plastic container)
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I didn't even see this when I made it, and it was just fine without.)

1. fill a large saucepan with 1" water, set the steamer rack into saucepan. Place broccoli onto rack. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to low. Steam broccoli over simmering water, covered, 4-5 minutes, until just tender. (Or, rummage around at the back of the fridge. Pull out a container of cooked broccoli from the other night. Chop a little more.)

2. In a small saucepan, combine broth with 1 cup water; bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to low; let simmer while preparing chicken.

3. In a large saucepan, melt 2 teaspoons of margarine, add chicken and salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, 4 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. With a slotted spoon remove cooked chicken from saucepan, set aside.

(Ok, take the poor, lonely leg of chicken and joint it between the thigh and leg. Put it in a pretty big pot with about a quart of water in it, and let it boil for a while. After a bit, the water will have cooked down, and the chicken will be all cooked. Take the chicken out, and let it cool until you can handle it. Pick the skin off, and the meat off the bones. Chop the meat up more, and throw the bones back into the broth. Keep it simmering while you make the rest of the dish.)

4. In the same saucepan, melt the remaining 2 teaspoons of margarine; add onions and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes, and onion is softened. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine; cook, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid is absorbed.

5. Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the rice mixture; cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is absorbed. Continuing to stir, add all but 1/4 cup (or so) of the broth , 1/2 cup at a time; cook, stirring constantly after each addition, about 18 to 20 minutes, until all broth is absorbed, rice is tender and mixture is creamy.

6. Stir cheese, zest (if you remembered it), broccoli, chicken and remaining broth into the rice mixture; cook stirring frequently, 2 minutes, until heated through.

Serves 4

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Use-It-Up Week Update

So far for Use-it-up week, I've used up: A ham end that was in the freezer, half a package of split peas, all the bread, a really old can of pumpkin, a box of couscous, all the Christmas cookies in the deep-freeze (like that was hard!), two partial packages of ground beef, two nearly empty bottles of barbecue sauce, several partial boxes of cereal, various canned tomato products and some odds and ends frozen vegetables.

So, it's not as good as I had thought. I guess then, that next week will be Use-it-up week 2 (or maybe "Return of Use-it-Up week!) Not sure on the title yet. I've got some frozen pie crusts to use, some phyllo dough, and frozen pasta primavera sauce in the freezer that I've got to do something with. Plus, I've got many packages of beans with about 1/3 cup of beans in the pack. I don't really know how this happens. Additionally, I've got some weird black lentils from a gourmet store that are taking up valuable real estate in the pantry. On top of that, there are a few chunks of meat (1 steak, 2 porkchops, 1 chicken leg quarter) that are just... odd.

Let's see how this week goes. There's a lot there, so I should be able to get through the week without a major shopping trip, except for milk and eggs and possibly bread.

On a somewhat related note - my bread maker died. It mixes just fine, but does not bake the bread. So I guess I used that up as well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Use-It-Up Week pt. 2 - Split Pea Soup

I was wondering what I put in the M&M tin at the back of the cupboard. Surely not M&M's?? of course not. It was a package of spit peas! What better for a cold night than Split Pea soup? Here is the recipe I use. It is from an old, very frugal cookbook called "Good Recipes For Hard Times" by Louise Newton. It is out of print, but has some great helps on stretching your food dollar.

This Split Pea Soup is the bare minimum. It is vegan (unless, like me, you throw in ham) and super easy and delish:

Split Pea Soup

1 pound dried split peas
2 qts. boiling water
bay leaf
3-4 cloves garlic
3 whole cloves
2 tsp. salt

Add peas slowly enough to the boiling water to keep it boiling. Add bay leaf, garlic, cloves and salt. Simmer, covered 1 to 2 hours. It is better with longer cooking. This soup is delicious just as it is, but you may add onion, carrots, and celery, first sauteed in margerine, 15 minutes before serving. And like I said, I throw in ham.

I'm serving it with some Foccocia Bread. Yum!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Use-It-Up Week

I'm going to try to NOT go the grocery store this week unless it is for milk or eggs. There's a lot in our pantry and freezer, and who knows how old any of it is??(!)

Well, a while ago, I made the nasty discovery that many of the things in the pantry were infested (ick) with meal bugs. (ick, ick, ick.) I've chucked all the food that I KNOW is infested, but while doing so, I've discovered that there is a lot that I've bought, then just shoved to the back.

So this week is Use-it-up week. For dinner this week we are having left over chili, that I put some other left over chili beans into, and cornmeal muffins. I'm planning split pea and ham for tomorrow, using the end of the ham that I had bought last year and tossed in the freezer. I think Wed. will be meatloaf, with the odds and ends of ground beef that I'm finding in the freezer. Who knows, by the end of the week I may actually NEED to go grocery shopping!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What we do.

Lately you've been seeing a lot of congratulations posts about completions of levels and books. In our homeschool, what we do when someone finishes a level, or meets a goal, or completes a unit or something like that, is that I print out a certificate and then we hang them on the child's bedroom door to celebrate their accomplishment.

There are many websites where you can print out some custom certificates. Here are my favorites:

One of the nice things about doing things this way, is that I can put the certificate of completion in the portfolio of the kid, and so it acts as a record of their progress.

More congratulations

Congratulations to Three of Hearts! She finished Singapore level 1A yesterday with a 100% on her final exam! It looks like we have another mathematician in the family.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Woot! Congratulations Deuce!

Congratulations to Deuce. She has done the final revision in Singapore Math 3B, and passed! This means she is "graduating" to the next level, Singapore 4A. What this means is that she has mastered equivalent fractions, time, money, distance, measurement, charts & graphs, and can now figure out the area and perimeter of a quadrilateral.

Congratulations Deuce!!