Sunday, May 25

Intruder (Janis Joplin)

At the birth of our first child, my husband and I happened to be living with his parents.  Neither of us had the slightest idea what to do with this tiny little bundle that we were now responsible for, and we were incredibly lucky to have them around to teach us.
 He grew.  He grew and he grew and he grew.  (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)  And we started to feel more confident, but the game kept changing.  We no longer lived with his parents, but they were close enough to provide guidance.  Though far away, my parents were available daily, via phone, and we put that speaker phone and unlimited long distance to good use!  
Soon, he grew to be a happy, healthy three year old!  Through minor surgery, a bout of RSV and rotovirus requiring ER trips, and getting his head glued back together (he's very proud of his Harry Potter scar today), we managed to protect and nurture this little boy.  We were so confident in our abilities that we created another one!  (Learned our lesson on that one....they're all different!) 
Nearly ten years in, we still look to our parents for guidance and welcome the advice freely offered.  We know that we are good parents, but we are better parents because we seek out and listen to the wisdom of our elders.  We're far from perfect (so far, that we can't even see the road sign from here), but continually strive to better ourselves.

Years later, I watched my sister struggle as a new mom, without the benefit of a hands-on teacher at her side, and it reinforced just how fortunate we were in those early years.  She has the phone-connectedness, but there's nothing like a hands-on teacher, by your side, to boost your confidence.

Why am I telling you this?  It's because, if you are a new homeschooler, ASK for help, ACCEPT help, and AVOID self-judgment.  You don't have to take everyone's advice to heart, but you never know what sorts of ideas might be tossed out there, or lifelines thrown, if you'll just ask.

The first year is a steep learning curve, like the first year with your new infant (because even babysitting doesn't prepare you for the full weight of parenthood).  It will get easier, as you build up confidence in your abilities.  They're your children.  Just as you know what's best for their health, and how to soothe their ouchies, you are going to know how they learn best....and you're going to be invested enough to tailor that teaching specifically for them.

Thursday, May 15

Hey Good Lookin' (Jimmy Buffett)

When you're away from home the majority of the time, home-cooked dinners become very important!  We do a freezer cooking day two or three times each year, stocking the freezer with essentials for quick and easy dinners. 
It's relatively easy to whip up a loaf of bread if you already have a ready supply of filling soup in the freezer.  Make a quick loaf using this recipe, or just pull out a box of Jiffy cornbread.  (To make the Jiffy extra-rich, substitute sour cream for the milk on the box recipe.)

Chicken Tortilla Soup (6 gallons)
  • 6 lb. chicken, chopped       
  • 6 cloves garlic, diced         
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 12 c. diced tomatoes          
  • 6 tsp salt                             
  • 4 cans enchilada sauce
  • 6 cans corn, drained            
  • 1 ½ tsp pepper                  
  • 6 tsp cumin
Mix all ingredients together and store in six separate gallon bags.
Reheat : Place in pot with 2 c water and 2 c chicken broth.  Bring to boil, then simmer 30 min to an hour.  Serve with rice, quinoa, tortilla strips, or cheese.

Chicken Noodle Soup (3 gallons – we reuse ice cream tubs)
  • 12 c chicken broth             
  • 1 onion, chopped                  
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 6 cups water                      
  • 2 bags carrots, chopped        
  • 6 tbsp parsley
  • 3 lb chicken, chopped        
  • 6 tsp pepper                          
  • 3 tsp sage
Heat broth and water to a boil.  Add chicken and cook.  Reduce to simmer.  Add veggies and herbs.  Simmer one hour.  Place into three containers.
Reheat : Place in pot with one bag egg noodles and bring to boil.  Simmer 30 minutes to an hour.

Having pre-cooked taco meat can halve the time of almost any beef recipe.  We use this recipe in casseroles, soups, spaghetti, and for taco night.

Spiced Taco Meat
  • 10 lbs grass-fed beef         
  • 1 pkg taco seasoning
Brown beef.  Add seasoning.  Finish cooking beef.  Package in quart-sized bags. 

It's also nice to have quick lunches on-hand for those days when everything is happening at once.  The kids are old enough to reach into the freezer and make their own hot lunches.  They are also able to prepare the following two recipes on freezer cooking day. 

Burritos (makes 48)
  • 8 cans organic refried black beans                 
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 16 oz shredded cheese                                     
  • 48 tortillas
  • 16 oz salsa
Mix beans, salsa & seasoning.  Spread onto tortilla and sprinkle with cheese.  Roll up.  Either place in plastic bags or wrap in tin foil.
Reheat : Microwave at 50% for 2-3 minutes.

Pizza Pockets (20 pockets)
  • 4 tbsp active dry yeast   
  • 4tsp salt                           
  • 4 c warm water                
  • 8 tbsp oil                         
  • 4 tsp sugar                      
  • 10 c flour                           
  • 3 c pizza sauce (tomato sauce & spices)
  • 6 c cheese, shredded
  • 3 c diced turkey pepperoni (optional)
Mix yeast & warm water.  Add sugar, salt, oil and flour.  Mix well and dump onto floured surface.  Knead.  Divide dough into pieces.  Roll into balls and flatten.  Add sauce, cheese & topping.  Fold over and seal.  Bake 10-15 minutes at 300.

Since we've already got the kitchen good and dirty, we typically make a few batches of cookies, or these candies.  If you have extra chocolate at the end, dip some bananas or strawberries in for instant need to waste perfectly good chocolate!

Momma’s Peppermint Patties  (makes 30…a 3 day supply)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp half & half
2 tbsp softened butter
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 tsp peppermint extract

Mix everything together until it’s creamy.  Chill in the freezer until it’s firm enough to roll, and then form into 1” balls.  Flatten on a lined baking sheet and re-chill (the colder the better).
Melt 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips in double boiler.  Dip each patty completely, then re-place on lined baking sheet and chill until firm.  Store in the refrigerator.

Are you ready to try freezer cooking for your family?  It seems daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's quite easy!  I had the good fortune to have a cooking-oriented friend assist me with that first day.  Her knowledge, patience, and ability to teach to my kindergarten-level cooking gave me the confidence that I needed to continue. 
I would love to tell you that we always use coupons to maximize our savings, but the truth is that we purchase ingredients when we need them.  If we're home, and see a good sale on shelf-stable ingredients that we'll use for the next batch, we snag them.  That doesn't always happen, and fresh ingredients must be purchased when it's time to cook. 
Let your children help with food prep (chopping / grating / dicing) the day prior to freezer cooking.  This will make the day go more smoothly and quickly.  It will also give them some responsibility and lessons in home economics.  Let the younger ones measure ingredients and the older ones multiply measurements to make larger batches.  There you go - math class!

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. - Anne Isabella Ritchie (19th century Britain)

Wednesday, May 14

Turning Japanese (Vapors)

Ninja-GO!!!!!!  If you have boys, you've probably heard of this phenomenon.  The great thing about Ninjago is that it gets them interested in studying world cultures - specifically Japan and China.  (The downside is that those Lego sets are expensive!)

Ninjago-Themed Unit Study - 65 pages of cross-curricular fun!

China resources:
Japan resources:
Thus began our Ancient Asia unit study...complete with daily morning meditations and Japanese calligraphy at art time.  Physical education was spent learning basic Karate For Kids, and we used some of that leftover gingerbread mix to make Ninja-bread cookies.
When the boys got rowdy, I dressed them in bathrobes, strapped pillows to their stomachs, made a tape circle on the floor, and had them fight it out like sumo wrestlers.  The bickering quickly gave way to giggles.  Don't you just wish that you could bottle up that innocent laughter?
We hosted the Lego club meeting this month, and they wanted to do a Japanese tea, so we made rice balls and peach tea.  We finally used up all of those leftover chopstick packets that make their way home from the chinese restaurant, and all of the kids seemed to enjoy the party.

Our last art lesson was to create terra cotta sculptures, like the Chinese terra cotta soldiers found in the Yellow Emperor's tomb.  They made snakes and soldiers...I made a flower vase. 
During our Florida trip, we visited the Lego Store at Downtown Disney, and the kids were enraptured at the Ninjago displays.  Naturally, they felt like they needed them all...and proceeded to request them as Christmas and birthday gifts.  Their grandparents / aunts / uncles were so quick to acquiesce...!
 At the end of our unit, we created a storyboard to be used at the co-op History Fair in spring.  Since mom isn't that much for cooking, we offered up rice cakes as a local food.  If you have any tasty (and easily transportable) Asian recipes, please drop me a line to the right at "Send Us Your Thoughts."

Tuesday, May 13

Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin)

The 'Polar Vortex' brought a whole new level of cold to so many this year, and it came just as we were knee-deep into a month-long study of Scandinavia & the Arctic Circle.  (Perfect Timing!)  In between sledding sessions and hot chocolate, we did several crafts, wrote home-spun plays, and read together on the couch. 
The kids took particularly to the Vikings and Norse Mythology, and thoroughly enjoyed making Viking costumes for re-enacting the Norse Myths.  (In Kansas, they would use this enthusiasm to convince me of their need for real Viking helmets...)
Craft ideas :
The unit culminated in the creation of a Scandinavian project board for the co-op History Fair.  Cooking is not mom's strength, so we offered up Dansk cookies as a regional food.  If you have a good Scandinavian recipe, please send it through the "Send Us Your Thoughts" link to the right.

Scandinavia & the Arctic Circle unit study: 

Monday, May 12

You Ain't Going Nowhere (Bob Dylan)

We held the Blue & Gold Ceremony for Cub Scouts last week, which is like Awards Night.  The boys each moved up a rank, to Wolf & Webelo, and were very excited to start working on their next set of requirements.  As Mother's Day was approaching, my wonderful husband decided to take them camping for the weekend!! 
Summer Stay-cation :
They were responsible for building their own fire and snagging their own dinner (not to worry - he had hot dogs for back up!). 
During the afternoons, they learned about solar energy, battery power, and volcanoes.  I think that it must be instinctual for boys to want to know how things work...or to blow something up.

Wild Thing (Troggs)

The children would visit every zoo we passed, if we let them.  In fact, for Awards Night, one of them received a Zoology Award!  We are annual passholders to the Oklahoma City Zoo, and usually stop by to see the animals that relate whatever unit we happen to be studying.  They have a fantastic exhibit on the animals & ecology of our area, called the Oklahoma Trail.  Also, much to mom's chagrin, we always have to stop by the herpetarium...
Zoo & Snakes unit study :
Beside the zoo is the Science Museum Oklahoma, another one of those ASTC membership museums (see Grand Rapids post for more information) included with our annual pass.  They have dinosaurs, natural science, futuristic technology, space & airplanes, a huge discovery center, Live Science shows, an IMAX theater, an indoor playground, and a plethora of rotating exhibits.  Everything is hands-on for interactive learning.

As it is coming up on summertime, here is a little bit of snake information to keep handy...