Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas giveaway from Homeschool Mosaics

The team of homeschooling writers at Homeschool Mosaics would like to wish you a very merry Christmas today. We're giving away our two newest e-books, Sanity Savers and Holiday Blessings, full of ideas and practical tips for combating homeschool (and holiday) burnout. Here's the scoop, from the Homeschool Mosaics webpage:

It’s December!  So, we’ve decided to do things a bit differently for this month’s Giveaway Day!
Instead of teaming up with a  vendor friend to bring you ONE prize, we wanted to give a prize – from us – to each one of our readers! 

So, this month, there’s no Rafflecopter entry widget – and every single one of you can receive the prize(s)!  Yes, plural!

TODAY ONLY you can head over to Amazon and grab BOTH of our books for FREE!  Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can still take advantage of this offer – Amazon has free apps that you can download so you can access Kindle books on your computer, tablet, or smart phone!

Find the download links and lots of helpful homeschool-related articles here.

There's so much I want to say...

Part of the problem of trying to keep a blog (at least for me) is just getting to the keyboard. We have five people sharing one computer at our house at the moment -- that's a lot of competition.

Of course, this situation helps me in my resolution that actually conflicts somewhat with the wish to regularly update my blog. I've cut way back on my computer time since September. I'm getting more done in other areas of my life, but my blog has suffered.

I often think of something to say, write long, thoughtful blog posts in my head, contemplations of real life as I'm going about my business, but then I get to the keyboard and it's all gone. Poof. Vanished into the ether.

And then there's reality. I mean, blogs and homekeeping hints and homeschooling seem so trivial against the backdrop of the terrible events this week. The mall shooting was at a mall I used to visit on occasion. Haven't been there in years, but people I know were there; friends of ours were in the food court at the time the shooting started.

Then in the same week, tragedy in an elementary school. I don't have to say any more about that. You're probably up-to-here with the news reports, and no real answers. At least I am.

Last night we went to a Christmas program at a local church. They've been putting it on for 25 years, a gift to the community, with three choirs, handbells, and an orchestra. It was beautifully done, polished, colorful, and joy-filled -- though there were traces of tears. I wiped away a tear when the children's choir came out with its mix of mischief and sweet song. One of the soloists in the adult choir choked up during his song, but made it through almost to the end. Somehow, leaving off the last few words of the song about the coming of the Christ Child, "When Love Was Born," and having the orchestra finish out the phrase that everyone in the audience was thinking (having heard the refrain throughout the song), was even more poignant and meaningful.

You know, tragedy can make the everyday feel futile, and yet... The everyday tasks, the being faithful in little things, seeking the Lord, praising Him in all circumstances, that is what this life is all about. I'm afraid the bustle of life has caught up with me, and there is a lively conversation now going on just a few feet from me, and the dog is nudging my elbow, and so I can't put down all the lovely ponderings that were going on in my head a little earlier. So all I can recommend is that you meditate on this idea. I'll try to post more, later.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Timeline series

Just finished writing the second in a series on using a timeline to help put historical events and people in context in your history studies. It will appear later this month at Homeschool Mosaics -- I'll post the link when it's available.

In the meantime, the first article can be found here and talks about getting started with using a timeline, and how to make it more interesting and relevant for your students.

You can find a list of my HM articles at this link, including several reading lists, books that we've enjoyed over the past two decades (!) of homeschooling.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This is the day that the LORD hath made!

...you do know what comes after, don't you?

Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

It doesn't matter if you got less sleep than you needed last night. It doesn't matter if you (or someone else in the house) is sick -- either temporarily or chronically -- and having a hard time dealing with it. It doesn't matter if someone just dropped a pitcher of orange juice all over the freshly mopped floor.

Okay, that last bit is not something that happened in our house this morning, but it has happened in the past. More than once.

It doesn't even matter if everything is going right, you got up before the alarm sounded, even, and the baby didn't keep you up all night for the first time ever, and breakfast was all ready, in the crockpot and since the table got set last night before bed and the kids know -- and do -- exactly what they need to do between getting out of bed and breakfast, there's really almost no work needed to get from there to here...

No matter what...

Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

(Yes, it's easy to rejoice when everything goes right. But it's just as easy to forget about the Lord and His benefits, and cruise along thinking how you've got everything together. Been there. Done that.)

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Phil. 4:4)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Long hiatus...

It has been a long time since I've checked in here. You see, I was spending too much time on the computer and not enough time on things that needed doing in "real life." With the approach of the new school year, I knew that something was going to have to give.

Now I know as home educators, we don't have to stick to society's school calendar. We can start our academic year in August or September like everyone else, or we can start in January with the calendar year, or we can just sort of keep on going, year-round, starting new material as we finish the old. However, our outside classes and activities (choir, debate club, speech class, art class, etc.) run on the September - May/June academic schedule, and so we tend to do the same.

Anyhow, as I was saying, I needed to spend much less time online. I cut back on online commitments. I limited my email and web-browsing time. I set aside time for the girls to use the computer for their academics. (They also spend too much time online, and I'm not talking research or academic pursuits, but that's something we're still trying to work on, and if we ever do manage to straighten it out to my satisfaction, I'll let you know.)

The computer situation at our house has also dictated less computer time for me, as one by one our rebuilt bargain-priced laptops meant for academic use (listening to lectures and doing writing assignments) have deteriorated and died, leaving us all competing for computer time on the remaining computer. (How do people manage, on a homeschool family budget, the cost of student computers, anyhow? The cheap rebuilt route has not worked really well for us. We're not going to sign up with a government school-at-home program just in order to get laptops for the girls. I'm open to other suggestions...)

It's been occasionally rough. My email box has burgeoned to unbelievable proportions. I've missed reading emails that I needed to read, if only to be informed of events going on at church or connected to our extracurricular activities. I have not blogged since August. I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month -- where you aim to write a book in 30 days' time) with the girls' encouragement, put in one day of writing, and then my own laptop and the last remaining student laptop got very sick at the same time, meaning that the five of us were now sharing one semi-working desktop computer. As you probably have figured out, that book didn't get written. Yet. (As my mom used to say, "If it's important, it'll come back to you." We'll see. It just wasn't a priority right now.)

I have a phone that can browse the web, which has been handy for web-based research when out and about (doing Language Arts with Youngest in a coffee shop, for example, and needing to look up a grammar rule), and browsing blogs while waiting for the girls at classes or appointments, so it hasn't been a complete break from the internet. I've found encouragement and helpful how-tos on blogs, recipes for gluten-free foods or homemade cleaning products or just plain food for thought. I can read email on my phone, although for some reason I can't send email, so answering emails can still be a problem (depending on when I can get on the desktop at home, and also if I remember that I needed to answer something).

Anyhow, I'm going to try again, if only a little something every day. It's a way of connecting, for one thing, joining an ongoing conversation, as well as organizing information (Now where did I put that recipe...?). I'm just a bit wiser than I was (at least I hope so) when I was blogging earlier. I use a timer these days, for one thing.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

007's newest secret weapon: exploding glass stove

I think I'm going to be picking up/sweeping up glass in my kitchen for days to come.

Yesterday, the glass front of our range's oven exploded. All it took was a little bump, from what I heard. I wasn't in the kitchen; I was hanging out clothes and didn't hear a thing, until Youngest came out of the house, distraught and apologizing and saying the stove was broken and she didn't mean to do it.

We bought the stove used a few years ago, so I don't know if the glass pane replacement part is available anymore. (From what I've been reading online about glass stovefronts exploding or disintegrating, maybe I don't even want that type of stove.)

Although I was rather hoping to replace the ancient and ailing refrigerator first (and we still might have to do that), I am still counting my blessings.

1) The oven wasn't on at the time.

2) I hadn't gotten around to running the self-cleaning cycle, which is a few months overdue. Just imagine that big panel of glass deciding to let go right about the time the oven hits 500 degrees.

3) No pets were in the kitchen at the time. Even though it's "safety glass" and fell apart into little cubes, there were still some sharp little shards. Believe me. I've got three small punctures in my fingers and hand to prove it. Though we cleaned up the glass as thoroughly as we could, I still keep coming across little pieces this morning. Necessary decree: No bare feet in the kitchen for the foreseeable future. (Pets are a bit of a problem, there. We'll have to keep a sharp eye out for glass and keep picking it up.)

4) The stovetop still works, unaffected by the oven's trauma.

5) We're in the middle of a heat wave, so I wasn't planning on using the oven anyway. But when crisp autumn days come, it'll be missed.

6) I got a chance to hug Youngest and explain to her once more that people are more important than things. I haven't always been so good at that.

So, any suggestions on replacing our range? Any brands to steer clear of? Any brands you'd recommend, even as a used appliance?

(Of course this all may be moot. We really need to replace the refrigerator first. Ovens are optional. Refrigerators are not.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Thing Monday Morning: A Day Late, and...

 ...do you remember the rest of that old saying? (a dollar short, in case you were wondering)

It reflects the frustration of missing an important deadline because you forgot to record the date on your calendar, or you forgot to look at the calendar, or (if you're like me) you looked at the calendar but at the wrong week!

Yesterday I was the poster child for people who are calendar challenged. I got a call early, saying that there was no play practice that morning. That was certainly a relief, because I had not gotten word in the first place that an extra play practice was (as it turns out, it was not) scheduled. I glanced at the calendar and went on with my day...

...virtuously staying away from the computer because I was going to get some neglected things done.

(things can get neglected when you struggle with time-related issues, like calendars and schedules, and self-discipline issues, like routines)

Boy, did I feel good.

...right on up to the point (about 5:30 pm) where I realized what day it actually was, and that I'd missed an important annual event put on by our homeschool group, something we'd all been looking forward to for weeks.

I'm still kicking myself. This is after kicking myself all yesterday evening, diving into housework (scrubbing is a great outlet for anger and frustration) and throwing a grown-up sort of tantrum -- which involves, first, badmouthing oneself out loud, and then when the kids protest, taking it private. The problem with this solution is that it doesn't really solve anything or prevent future flakiness.

I have got -- at this late date -- to establish routines, to get my physical surroundings under control, for starters. I'm so distracted and distractable, I'm feeling less and less of use to anyone (including myself).

One of the reasons for First Thing Monday Morning is accountability, a way to stay on track, though of course you have to get on the track before you can have any hope of staying there. Another reason is to share resources that have helped me. This week's planned-but-not-scheduled-ahead-of-time (I'm learning to do this but I got busy last week and my scheduled blogging time on the weekend didn't happen) was to be a book review. There's this mom who's written an e-book about getting on track. I got the eerie feeling while reading, that we were twins separated at birth.

The book is called 28 Days to Hope for Your Home and has a subtitle of (not for the mildly disorganized). If you want a preview, you can go to this link and see what I read when I first stumbled across the book. (FYI, that link is an affiliate link. If you were to decide to buy the book through that link, I'd get a little pocket money. And thank you.) You can read her latest blog post here. (Not an affiliate link. Just in case you were wondering.)

If you're desperate and want to get started now, and not wait for the book review, you can get the e-book. I'm not trying to hold you to a schedule. (Just me.)

I bought and downloaded her book in a moment of desperation, and have been applying it for about ten days now. It's helping. Things are getting better around here. I've even started the girls reading the book; they need it as much as I do. But I don't have time today to give the book justice, so here's the plan: this week I'm going to be working on next week's post (imagine that, thinking ahead) and First Thing next week you'll see a book review. (If the creek don't rise... as my sister-in-law is fond of saying.)

So, since we started talking about calendars and how slippery and difficult to manage they can be... we'll wrap up with talking about calendars. How do you manage yours? What are your favorite tips for keeping your schedule straight? Share them here in a comment, or please feel free to link up!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How does your garden grow?

Yesterday we got some more of the garden planted:

Peas (yes, I know it's late in the season but the weather has continued unseasonably chilly, so we'll see)
Beans
Carrots
Basil (doesn't grow well from seed, so we'll see)

A parsley plant and a rosemary plant (rosemary looks pretty puny, here's hoping it survives)

The seeds were sown according to the Square Foot Gardening method. However, the squares aren't marked off, so we're just kind of remembering where they were sown.

Questions for Square Foot Garden fans:

How do you mark off square feet in your garden?

How do you make paths between squares? (Our garden is just a big rectangle of dirt at the moment)

What kind of trellises or frames do you like best for climbing plants?

...and perhaps the most important question of all, in our Northwest garden:

How do you control slugs and snails?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Works for Me Wednesday: Homemade Coconut Milk

One of these days I'm going to get my act together (that's partly what this blog is about, anyhow, homeschooling while living real life) and take pictures, or better yet, hire Youngest to take pictures for the blog as I'm doing things.

Unfortunately, today is not that day. I made coconut milk this morning. No pictures were taken. Please build mental images of a (Blendtec) blender, unsweetened coconut flakes, and water all working together to create a creamy, frothy result.

We're out of (cow's) milk, and a couple of people in the family have gone dairy free anyhow, so I've been making alternative milks from almonds, cashews, and finally, coconut.

Almond milk has received the best feedback, but it's also the most expensive. Cashew milk works in recipes, but has "an unpleasant bitter aftertaste" in tea or coffee. (I didn't notice bitterness, myself, but my coffee that day did remind me of hazelnut creamer -- and I don't care for hazelnuts.)

Coconut milk has better flavor, but I've noticed that people were consistently leaving the last 1/3 to 1/4 of a cup of beverage. The reason? Residue. (Cashew milk has a similar problem.) For some reason, people around here don't care to chew their coffee or tea.

This morning I hit on the solution of pouring the coconut milk through a tea strainer. Still turns the tea or coffee a lovely milky white, adds body to the beverage, but not so much body that you have to chew the last few sips.

It really tastes good (unfiltered, even) on muesli, too.


Check out more great Works-for-Me-Wednesday ideas at We are THAT family!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5-minute homemade GF bread, simplified

We've been baking bread out of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day for some months now. So far, it's the best-tasting GF bread recipe we've found, with the best texture. Even our fussy eater considers it edible!

 I've mentioned it to friends who were looking for a palatable GF bread that wasn't too complicated, and directed them to an online recipe at the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day website, having looked at the ingredients list and noting that it's similar to one of the recipes we bake out of the cookbook.

Last weekend, I really looked at that webpage, and was dismayed at how complicated the baking process sounded. We get decent bread with a much simpler process. Here's how we do it:

Whisk together dry ingredients in bowl of heavy duty mixer. (We love our KitchenAid!)

Heat liquid to just above lukewarm. (Because the yeast is mixed with the flour, you want it a little warmer than if you were proofing the yeast directly in the warm liquid.) Add oil (we use coconut oil) and sweetener, stir to dissolve. Add beaten eggs to liquid mixture. Pour into mixer bowl with dry ingredients. Begin mixing slowly to start (otherwise you might have clouds of flour flying about), increase speed to medium and beat until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes.

If the dough is loose like batter, I'll beat in more rice flour at this point to stiffen it up. It doesn't have to be stiff but it has to be firm enough to handle.

Scrape into 6-quart storage container, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit on the counter for two hours. Do not let it sit in the mixer bowl, or you might have bread dough creeping over the lip of the bowl, over the counter, and creating a slow-motion cascade down the cabinet face to the floor. (In hindsight I wish I'd gotten a picture of that.) The dough will more than double in size. Trust me on this.

At this point you can either shift the whole container into the refrigerator, where it will keep for 5-7 days, or you can bake some or all of it into bread.

Handle the dough with wet hands to prevent sticking. Take out as much dough as you wish to use, shape gently, and place in pan or on a baking sheet. Either grease your baking pan/sheet really well (GF is synonymous with sticky), or use silicone bakeware.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 208 or more. The bread may look and smell done, but if it hasn't reached that minimum temperature it will likely be gooey inside.

If baking from the refrigerated state, shape your bread as above (wet hands, remember!) and place in baking pans. Let rise 90 minutes to an hour at room temperature, and bake as mentioned.

Disclaimer: I have included a couple of Amazon.com affiliate links in this post. If you click on the links and decide to purchase, I make a little pocket money. At least that's how I hope it works. Thank you!



Monday, June 11, 2012

First thing Monday morning...

I remember when I was rooming with my sister in college. Well, I was in college, and she was in graduate school, but for about a year we shared an apartment off campus.

She has always been a go-getter. Seriously, for years I couldn't understand how she could get so much done. She probably couldn't understand how I could get so little done! We are opposites in many ways... however, living with her had its bonuses. I lived something of an organized life -- the apartment was never a mess, with her in charge. (Did I mention she's my older sister?) Even if it had been a busy week, on Saturday morning she'd get up, make a list of what needed to be done, wake me up and hand me my orders. We'd both work away (I admit, I was not always cheerful about not getting to sleep in on a Saturday, spoiled younger sister that I was) and by lunchtime the place would sparkle and the rest of the weekend was free for fun! ...and, er, studying.

Musical chairs... er, chores

She also put music on while we worked -- maybe something she picked up from our mom, who always had the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcast playing when she did Saturday clean-up. Or maybe she just knew that music can get you moving and keep you moving when you're doing chores that don't require a whole lot of brainpower, just elbow grease. One of the songs I remember was from the Broadway musical Purlie! -- a men's chorus singing a rousing "First Thing Monday Morning!"

Gonna get me straight... 'fore it gets too late...

I can't tell you much else about that Broadway show, because I never saw it, but I do remember that record playing, among others, to spur us in our Saturday cleaning sprees. For some reason, though, "First Thing Monday Morning" sticks in my head. Maybe because it's one of the procrastinator's mottoes.

When the going gets tough, the Tough -- um, what was the rest of that?

When you're surrounded by disorder, when you're living in chaos, you have this desire to get things straight, to do things "decently and in order," and an orderly approach seems to involve the ritual of setting a start date, just the right start date as a matter of fact, whether it's Monday morning (the start of the week) or January 1st (even bigger, the start of a new year). The energy starts to flow as the deadline approaches, you gear up, you look forward to tackling the problem (and maybe there's some dread mixed in with the anticipation, anxiety that it's not going to work), and then the day arrives!

There are several different outcomes, in my experience.

- An interruption comes along, some reason that you can't start on the designated day. You have to wait a whole 'nother week to get started! (This is assuming we're talking about "Monday Morning Syndrome.") What an energy drain. It's the procrastinator's dream, though, because you get to put it off another week.

- You get started on The Day and work along and it's just not fun, but you force yourself anyhow, for awhile. You almost welcome the inevitable interruption that throws you off track.

- You get started on The Day and actually enjoy bringing order out of chaos... but it doesn't last. I've figured out that my college biology professor was right. Everything trends towards disorganization. Without the spark of life, corruption sets in; organic matter breaks down (or is broken down) and falls apart. Without consistent upkeep, order breaks down and slowly -- or not so slowly -- becomes chaos.

First thing Monday morning...

I'm in the digging-out phase yet again, after an over-busy school year. Monday seems like a good day to talk about planning and organizing strategies. You're welcome to join in!

I'm not advocating Monday-Morning thinking (tried it, bought the T-shirt), but rather establishing (gulp) routines, figuring out how to make things work, especially for someone as distractable, overbooked, and happy-go-lucky as I tend to be. A Monday-morning check-in is a good accountability tool.

How about you?

Are you just getting started, re-started, or partway on the journey from the City of Chaos to the Realm of (most-of-the-time) Order?

I've included a Linky at the bottom of this post, if you'd like to come alongside. Today's topic: What's motivating you to do things differently? What's your pet peeve right now, in terms of your home and schedule, something you have the power to change?

Alternatively, just leave a comment to this post, and Happy Monday to you!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book Review: The Secret of N'de

Being an author myself, I hate to write a negative review. However, I think I owe this cautionary note to the parents of voracious readers who don't always have time to pre-read a book before recommending it to their teens.

I've become a little more cautious in approaching our reading. I've been burned a couple of times, regarding book recommendations. I'm learning to consider the source. Not everyone has the same taste. (What a boring world it would be, if they did?)

For example, a friend recommended I read The Time Traveler's Wife.

Now, this friend writes some incredible fiction that she publishes online, and I've greatly enjoyed reading her stories. However, when she recommends books to me, I have to keep in mind that the website we both write for is somewhat censored, in that there are standards and ratings (something like the movie rating system in theaters). There are specific things that are not allowed on that site, which oddly enough allows a certain freedom in reading.

...coming back to my point -- she really enjoyed that book, and I found it was not to my taste. In the reading (and I was not able to finish that book, just could not force myself to keep reading), I remembered that while my friend writes wonderful stories even within constraints, there are times when I've found our conversations about real-life interests disturbing. (Let's face it. There's a lot in real life that can be disturbing.) I still love to read her stories, but I approach book recommendations with some caution.

Lately I've been investigating Christian fantasy, or maybe you'd call it allegory. A lot of teens of my acquaintance have a taste for the genre. Books have been published to feed this appetite, alternatives to secular fantasy that can be disturbingly graphic in depictions of sex and violence. These books are written for the Christian market, many with spiritual themes. Such books include 100 Cupboards, The Light of Eidon, The Bark of the Bog Owl, The King of the Trees, and their sequels. (The books I've named are examples of well-written fiction. I have also read some horrible books that were touted as "the Christian alternative to Harry Potter." I won't dignify them by mentioning their titles here.) The Mirror of N'de was the latest in the Christian fantasy genre to appear on my radar.
 
I just had this niggling need to pre-read it before recommending it to our teens. I'm so glad I did that! Definitely not right for them. They don't need to add those vivid images to their storehouse of nightmares. This morning I am still haunted by some of what I read.

Here is the publisher's description, from Amazon.com:

In the mythical city of N'de lives thirteen-year-old Hadlay and her people, the Ramash. Scorned and abused by the unloving and absent Emperor, the Ramash are poor people, placed second to the ruling class of the Oresed. Young but bold, Hadlay rages against the injustice in her city. When she is chosen for the honor of serving the Prince in the Tower, she hopes to find a way to right the wrong . . . but soon discovers that things are worse than she believed.

And here are some pull-quotes from the back of the book, also from Amazon.com:

"This book is a fine choice for young fantasy readers looking to delve into a creative new allegory with a fascinating storyworld, magic, symbolism, and a few neat surprises."
- Jill Williamson, Christy Award-winning author of the Blood of Kings series.

"Fantasy, by definition, is different. The Mirror of N'de is outside of any labeled box. L.K. Malone has written a surprising book of fun and truth. A must-read for every Christian family."
- Donita K. Paul, author of the DragonKeeper Chronicles.



Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? However, I learned my lesson the last time I gave a book to one of our teens, a book that had been recommended as "well written, and a gripping read." Yes, the book was well-written, and yes, it was a gripping read, so much so that the teen couldn't put it down even as it splashed graphic images across her brain and seared her memory with mental pictures that kept her from sleeping for some time after. I'm so sorry about that. You see, once you read a book, you can't go back to where you were before you read it. It leaves an impression on your heart and your brain.

I stayed up way too late reading this book. I couldn't put it down! It's a book that grabs you, draws you in and keeps you interested, but the evil is so very evil... You know, come to think of it, the Bible has a lot of mention of evil, but not terribly descriptive. For example, Jezebel was thrown down from the window, there's just enough detail to get the gist, but not a whole lot of description. The descriptions in The Mirror of N'de are pretty mild if you're used to watching body-count movies or if you play violent video games, but if you haven't seared your sensibilities and built up mental calluses to depictions of gore, you might find the book disturbing.

(Don't get me wrong. I've been there. In my younger days I enjoyed a "good" body-count movie. Examples I can think of include Speed, the Die Hard series, the Lethal Weapon series, Cliffhanger, Under Siege. I even watched the first in the Alien series, though it scared me spitless. I used to read graphic murder mysteries, too, and books by Stephen King, but it's been a long time since I left those habits and my calluses have worn away.)

I wonder if a book written today has to be graphic in its depiction of evil in order to sell, even to Christians?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Best laid plans...

For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.' 
-- John Greenleaf Whittier

I was planning French toast for breakfast tomorrow, operative word being was.

You might remember that I mentioned we have trouble keeping our GF "white bread" around long enough to make into French toast or breadcrumbs. It really is delicious stuff. However, I had managed to reserve a loaf and a half for tomorrow's breakfast, even if I used a bit for tonight's dinner (which I didn't, as it turned out).

The Giant Schnoz had another idea. While most of us were out doing yardwork, she stole the leftover gluten free bread from the plate on the back of the stove.

It's the sort of thing she would have done the first year or two we had her, and we learned to keep food well out of reach. (Even so, there was the time she climbed on top of the dining room table to reach the chocolate stashed on top of a six-foot bookshelf...) But she slowed down, gradually enough that we didn't really notice the change. She slept more, she stopped stealing food (we congratulated ourselves on how well her training was going), she grew more and more mellow.


She also developed serious health problems, like food allergies -- there were fewer and fewer things she could eat without getting sick. Her toenails were brittle and broke easily, sometimes at the place where the nail emerges from the toe, meaning a fair-sized vet bill to deal with the situation and head off infection. Lately she had two UTIs in a row. On a hunch the vet tested her thyroid and found it low. That number, along with her low white blood-cell count (a low count despite the fact she had a UTI!) made him pronounce her immune system "practically non-existent."

He prescribed thyroid, and with the thyroid her appetite came back, along with her energy. She became bright eyed and playful. She dropped her excess weight. She lifted her leash from its hook and paraded around, demanding a walk. She began to steal food off the table and kitchen counters, something she hadn't done for years. (Maybe our training wasn't so great after all...)

Oddly enough, this dog who had always been a bit klutzy about catching, suddenly developed the ability to catch treats in mid-air. Perhaps she's better able to concentrate? Or maybe her reaction time has improved with her less tired, less sleepy state?

While I rejoice that we have our Schnauzer back, with all her quirks and mischief (thanks to that daily dose of thyroid), I do regret the loss of tomorrow's French toast...   

Graduation, homeschool style

Last night Youngest and I went to a homeschool graduation and dance. Because of a crazy schedule, we arrived late, but it didn't seem to matter.

The church was packed out, standing room only, and a slide show was going on. We stood just outside the sanctuary doors, unnoticed except by the others standing there (most of them had restless small children who obviously just couldn't sit any longer). We watched the rest of the graduation from that vantage, a tribute to each graduate in turn: slideshow with music, parents speaking words of hope and encouragement over their graduate, the graduate responding with love and gratitude. In closing, the pastor called all of the graduating seniors to line up at the front of the church. He then went down the line, praying a blessing over each one, a blessing that reflected their individual personalities, talents and dreams, that each would be used of God in the coming years.

Next came the dance. Youngest held back at first, unsure, but when she saw that the first dance was a familiar one, even though it had an unfamiliar name (the "Scottish Polka"), she began to smile. (It was actually the second dance; we were downstairs going through the receiving line, congratulating each graduate, during the first dance. We found out later it was the Virginia Reel, another familiar dance.)

I wish I had a picture for you. Just imagine people skipping, spinning, sashaying, twirling, running (!), ducking under a human arch, bowing, marching, step-hopping, whirling, and more, flashes of color and movement going by like a whirlpool made up of people.

As far as I could tell, everybody danced who wanted to dance. No wallflowers! (Except for children under ten. In that confined space, with the mad whirl of dancers, it seemed a prudent course.) Even the caller put on a song during a break, came out from behind the microphone, and took a turn about the room with her husband.

I have never seen so much fun, enthusiasm, and energy in one place... Youngest danced up a storm, and was bubbling over with enthusiasm as we drove home.

It turns out that we know the family that was running the dance, and they promised to put us on their email list for the monthly folk dances. Sounds like a plan!

Interrupted baking: line up for success!

I don't know if I added the brown rice flour to my bread dough this time around.

I've been making the triple batches of Gluten-Free Brioche found in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This is a lovely "white bread" reminiscent of the milk-and-honey wheat-based bread I used to make. I leave out the vanilla called for in the recipe, which allows me to use it for pizza dough and breadsticks as well as white bread, hamburger buns, dinner rolls, cinnamon swirl bread, cinnamon rolls, and more. It's slightly sweet due to high honey content, but my family likes it, even in savory recipes. (Makes great French toast when it stales, too, though it's difficult to keep it long enough for it to go stale. The stuff gets eaten within two or three days.)
(See how it rises?)

The way it works, you make a triple batch of dough, let it rise on the counter for two hours, and then keep it in the refrigerator for up to five days. Anytime you want fresh-baked bread, you take some out of the refrigerator, shape it, let it rise, and bake it. Easy-peasy!

(And believe me, does this bread ever rise. If I don't transfer it from the Kitchenaid bowl to my large dough-keeper container, it'll overflow the top of the mixing bowl onto the counter, even cascading down the cabinets to the floor like a slow-moving Niagara Falls. Great motivation not to get sidetracked!)

Speaking of sidetracked... back to this morning's bread dough...

People kept wandering in and out of the kitchen, talking to me, as I was measuring and dumping ingredients in the bowl. I lost track somewhere along the way.

I guess if the dough is not stiff enough after the dry ingredients have absorbed the wet, that'll be a clue... besides, if I decide to add an extra cup of brown rice flour to a triple batch of dough, it should still turn out right. At least, I hope so. Usually if the dough is not stiff enough, I add a little extra cornstarch. (Later: I mixed it up, and it seemed about the same as usual. So, I added no "extra" brown rice flour -- this time.)

I think I'm going to take a page out of Eldest's book. The last time she made brownies, I watched. She read the recipe through, got out all the ingredients (chocolate chips, coconut oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, GF flour mix, cocoa, baking powder, salt) and lined them up on the counter ahead of time, and then put each container away as she added its contents to the recipe. Even though she was interrupted several times in the process, she never lost track. Now why didn't I think of that?

Sounds like a plan!

(p.s. I probably did add the brown rice flour the recipe called for, as today's baking of bread turned out beautifully. Yum. Perfect platform for tonight's tuna salad sandwiches.) 

Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. If you happen to click on the link and end up buying the book, I get a little something, and thank you!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gluten Free Crepes!

It's a holiday weekend! How about something a little special for breakfast on Monday...?

One of our favorite lazy-morning recipes is crepes. When we first went gluten-free, crepes was one of the first recipes I tried to re-create for our wistful eaters. (Wistful because they were mourning the wheat that had made up such a major part of our diet up to that point...)

It took some tweaking. As it turned out, the key to tasty crepes was in the GF flour mix. Anything with bean flour was unacceptable. (Bean flour adds protein and fiber, but also a distinctive taste that my family won't touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole.) However, our go-to flour mix is perfect for crepes and pancakes.

Crepes are not as hard as they sound!

Here's all you do:

Beat four eggs with 1 to 1-1/4 cups of milk. Add a cup of flour and a pinch of salt and beat until smooth. Unlike pancakes, you don't want lumps. Let mixture sit and thicken while you heat your pan.

Now for crepes, I'll use either a curved-sided stainless steel frying pan with a fair amount of melted coconut oil, or my trusty cast-iron skillet, which requires a lot of oil for the first crepe or two and then develops wondrous non-stick capabilities. We do not use "non-stick" pans per se. Not only do they give off toxic fumes when heated at too high a temperature, but they can shed little particles of chemical non-stick substance into your food. Even if they're new and non-shedding, somehow I just don't trust them. Give me the cast iron skillet instead -- I'll give the high calorie first crepe or two to the people in our household how need the extra calories, and I'll eat the later crepes that require little or no addition of oil. But I digress...

Add grease to your pan (before we cut out dairy as well as gluten, I loved to use butter for this) and swirl the pan to spread the fat. Ladle enough batter into the pan to make a good sized crepe. Now wait. If you try to turn the crepe before it's set, you'll have a mess. You'll know it's set when it starts looking dry instead of wet on top.

Some people pride themselves on pale crepes with minimal browning. We're rather hit-or-miss. As long as they're completely cooked in the middle, and not burned on the outside, they'll disappear at our house.

Usually the first crepe or two are hard to flip, for some reason, maybe it just takes a little practice to warm up. Ease your spatula (the pancake turner kind) all around the crepe, under the edges, until it's loosened from the pan. Then push the spatula deep under the crepe, lift it up, and with a flip of the wrist, turn it over. It only takes a minute or two more to cook the other side, and then you can lift it onto a waiting plate.

I usually try to get a small stack of crepes done (and another cooking) before I let people know they can help themselves. Of course, this wonderful smell fills the air, so they're ready just as soon as I give the good word, standing at my elbow, plates in hand.

Our go-to crepe filling is very simple: just powdered sugar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. We shake the powdered sugar onto the crepe through a sieve, and follow up with a good squeeze of a lemon wedge. Roll up the crepe and sprinkle some more powdered sugar on top, and voila! Deliciousness! Our girls can eat three or four crepes each, but then they're growing teens. I usually manage one or two.

Recently, our youngest decided to make chocolate filled crepes. She made a simple chocolate ganache (chocolate chips melted with cream), spread it on the crepes, rolled them, sprinkled them with powdered sugar, and drizzled with melted chocolate.
Doesn't that look yummy?

Here's the flour mix I use for just about everything except yeast bread:


2 parts brown rice flour
2 parts white rice flour
1 part tapioca starch
1 part cornstarch

(I used to use potato starch instead of cornstarch, but one of the girls insists it tastes like bean flour to her. Since we don't have problems with corn, it works for us. I guess if we couldn't use corn I'd have to investigate some other option, like millet flour or arrowroot.)

Enjoy!

TOS Crew: Heritage History


Here it is, my final TOS Crew review for the 2011-12 voyage. I've been on the Crew for four cruises now, and it's time to disembark. It has been an amazing experience, and I have to admit I've been dragging my feet, procrastinating fiercely on this review, not wanting it all to be over. But all things must come to an end...

Speaking of which, we're ending with a "goodie" -- especially if you're a bookaholic, as I am. Heritage History provides resources for a living books approach to history. (What is a living book? Here's an explanation I wrote some time ago.)


Members of this year's Crew were given the opportunity to review one from a selection of history curriculum CD libraries, which range from ancient times to the modern era -- pre-1923. As any lover of vintage books and reading probably knows, 1923 is an important year regarding copyright issues. Editions of books published before that time are considered "public domain" which means they are free to copy and distribute without cost. You can find oodles of free e-books on the web, more every year. I remember combing the Project Gutenberg website for old books in our early days of homeschooling, when we were just discovering the delights of reading living books.

It still amazes me that in our early years of homeschooling, when someone would ask our girls to name their favorite subject, the answer would be "history." You see, I detested history in school.  I chalk it up to the difference between history textbooks, which suck all the life out of the subject, and living books. When we began our homeschool journey, we started with textbooks because it was all I knew. (We burned out pretty quickly, too.) We tried several approaches before stumbling upon Charlotte Mason's philosophies. Combining her methods with a good booklist, we got the feeling we'd hit the jackpot.

(Actually, sometimes I wondered what we were doing wrong, once we'd settled down to reading aloud together from interesting historical fiction and biographies, and having the girls tell back each story in their own words. It didn't seem like "school." It wasn't! It was learning!)

Heritage History has gathered together a large collection of books written before 1923, on three reading levels: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. The elementary books are not picture books, but most are at a fourth grade reading level or above. Advanced books are suited to high school students, and "intermediate" means just that. With books of all three levels on one Heritage Classical Curriculum CD, you have a virtual library for all ages.

 Along with e-books in three formats (view on the computer, read on an e-reader, or print and read), you'll find study helps. Introductory material explains the philosophy behind the collection. A printable Study Guide provides reading suggestions for each reading level, a list of study suggestions arranged chronologically, a map collection (both colorful vintage maps and outline maps suited to student mapwork) to go with the reading, and reproducible forms to keep track of your student's progress. In addition you'll find teaching aids, including suggestions for a course of history study. I printed out the Study Guide and put it in a binder for reference, but you can also read it on your computer.

Our family received the British Empire collection, which covers the time period from 1707 to 1922. (Let me tell you right now that it was hard to choose just one CD out of the collection!) Click here for a description of the materials, plus a book list. The CD contains the complete illustrated texts of 57 vintage books plus a collection of over 50 maps, along with all the study materials mentioned above (and more... I didn't even mention the battle dictionaries, geography terms, short biographies, or historical summaries!).  British Empire CD is available for $24.99.

If you want to get a flavor for the books, you can read them online at the Heritage History website, along with helpful discussions of how to use living books in your history studies. (I can't tell you how many e-books we've read online over the years, or printed out and put in a binder to read on the couch. One of the things I love about the Heritage History collection is that it pulls together books of a similar theme, time, and civilization and puts them in a format I can download to our e-reader.)

This is history the way we love to study.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Heritage History materials at this link.



Disclaimer: Our family received a British Empire CD for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TOS Crew: Judah Bible Curriculum


This is such a big review, it's hard to know where to start! You see, the Judah Bible Curriculum is a product that you can use year after year, with your whole family, from the early years (kindergarten, perhaps) through grade 12.


This is Bible study according to the Principle Approach (click on the link for more detail). This curriculum is based in the values of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the individual (with an emphasis on self-government). This is no surface, shallow, fill-in-the-blank study, nor is it merely reading the Bible together and answering discussion questions. The methodology employed is aimed at getting the students to think about what they've heard or read, to interact with the material, to learn to use study aids and to take Bible learning into themselves, where it becomes such a part of them that they gain a deep understanding of God and His purposes and Providence.

"Building Godly character into your students" is also a stated aim of the curriculum, achieved through study of individuals and events and learning from biblical examples.

This is a teacher-intensive study. Don't expect to be able just to jump in. While there is plenty of helpful material to help the teacher prepare lessons, even examples of the first few lessons. You can get an idea of how a lesson works by viewing a sample. (One of the things I like about the sample is it gives you the opportunity to listen to the first in a set of teacher-training audios that come with the curriculum.)

In the course of study, you go through the Bible in a year, focusing on five themes, the first semester in the Old Testament and the second semester in the New (see this link for more detail). You repeat the themes each year, every year with a slightly different emphasis and more in-depth study. Work for little children is mostly oral, or drawing pictures, while older students learn to organize learning and express their thoughts in writing.

Within each theme there are keys to study: key individuals, key events, key institutions, and key documents (which may not just occur in written form). During your studies, you and your students will create notebooks -- but these are not mere records of study, but valuable tools for future study and teaching. (I found the booklet of sample pages from student notebooks very helpful!)

Together you will read Bible passages, memorize scripture, fill in key worksheets (so much more than mere worksheets), and, perhaps most importantly, begin to apply scripture to your life.

The key worksheets were somewhat familiar to our family, as some of them were similar to Bible and character study we've done in the past. I was impressed by the teacher helps on the website, along with the Judah Bible Curriculum Manual that explains the methodology as well as guides you in lesson planning. The fact taht you are planning the lessons means you have to work harder than if you just had a script to follow, yet it affords flexibility -- and also means that you'll be learning much more than you would just following someone else's plan.

Because you are studying through the same themes (Creation, the Plan of Redemption, worldly kingdom of Israel, God's Kingdom, and the Early Church) for each year, everyone in the family can be on the same page, in a manner of speaking, even while studying at different levels.


This is an amazing study, and I wish I'd had more time to explore it before this review's due date. However, this is one review product that we'll use, even after the review period has ended.

Pricing and availability

This curriculum is available at the Judah Bible Curriculum website.There are two purchasing options, a download for $44 (PDF e-books of the K-12 manual and a booklet of notebooking ideas, plus mp3s of the eight-lecture Teacher Training Seminar to download or listen online), or hard copies of the manual and notebook ideas, and CDs with the lectures, for $74.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of the Judah Bible Curriculum at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a download copy of the Judah Bible Curriculum for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New!

I may be crazy, but I'm going to try to chronicle our adventure with our new Blendtec super-blender. Well, okay, the manufacturer isn't calling it a "super-blender." We are.

Because I'm going to try to post a new recipe every day (except Sunday -- we take Sundays off), I called the blog "365 Days of Blendtec Adventures." Catchy, eh? Maybe not catchy, but descriptive, at least, if not completely accurate. Oh, we'll most likely be using the Blendtec on Sundays as well, just not blogging. In any event, "365 Days" sounds catchier than (what's 365 minus 52?) "313 Days" of something.

If you're curious, hop on over to the new blog. We'll be posting recipes as we make them up, and reviews of recipes provided by Blendtec, and at the very least we'll be having some yummy fun.

Hopefully I'll start remembering to take pictures before we eat the results.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Smoothie!

I don't have a picture, because we've already drunk up the results, but we just christened our new Blendtec with strawberry smoothies. It was a little rough -- rather scary sounding, wanted to turn it off but it was runing an automatic cycle so we didn't dare, but wonderful results.

A's recipe:

8-oz carton strawberry yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 banana

This made three servings, blended twice on "Smoothie" setting because the frozen strawberries didn't break down the first time through.

Amazing stuff. Yum.

Now the kid is experimenting with oranges and crushed ice, with an eye toward sorbet... (2 small oranges, 1 tsp agave, 1-1/2 cups ice)

I'd like her to read the recipe book just for some ideas on how to use the settings, but she's actually doing pretty well on her own, copying what the demo guy at Costco did. (We had already ordered this blender when we saw the demo, but stopped to watch, excited that we'd get to see the new blender, ordered sight-unseen, in action.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

TOS Crew: Write with World




Members of this year's Crew had an exciting opportunity: reviewing the brand-new Write with World middle school writing program, so new that we received a pre-release copy of the first year of the two-year curriculum. This means that what we got was not the final version; there will probably be some improvements made before the Summer 2012 release, though the program is already impressive.

World magazine logo
World Magazine is a bi-weekly, full color news magazine written from a Christian worldview. On its pages you'll find news articles, political cartoons, book and movie reviews, commentary, and more. We've been reading World  for years, and our girls have been reading the student news magazines God's World News during the school year. There are editions for all grades, from preschool through high school, each edition crafted for a specific level of understanding, maturity (meaning that the news stories are presented in a way appropriate to the target age), and reading ability.

We appreciate the thought that goes into World, and the high quality of the publication, and so we expected no less of this writing curriculum.

Even so, Write with World far surpassed my expectations.

The purpose of the curriculum is to develop competent writers who can think and express their thoughts to others. Unlike some of the contrived curricula we've seen (you've heard the cliches, like "How I spent my summer vacation" or "A description of my bedroom), this course is intensely practical, for example, with assignments based on current events, multiple assignments to choose from, and models of writing (both good writing, and models that need improvement) for practice. Critical thinking and reading skills are incorporated, based in a Biblical worldview.

We received two books, the teacher/parent guide and the student workbook. It's hard to tell from the picture of the book cover... but when you open the book you find multi-colored pages with wide margins that invite note-taking. The main text is black-and-white, with accents in red, and the occasional color illustration, which might be a photo or drawing.

The student book is written directly to the student, from the general introduction ("Don't skip this part!") all the way to the end ("Congratulations!" on finishing the final exercise). All along the way there's give-and-take between the student and the authors (World Magazine editors and writers, and fellow students who instruct, ask guiding questions, and provide thoughts about how they approach writing, along with writing samples that show how they approached the same assignments as the student working through the course.)

The teacher/parent guide contains all the pages of the student text, along with teaching helps, including introductory material for each of the four units (content and purpose of each lesson, grading guidelines, suggestions for offering feedback, helping your student succeed and build skills) and specific comments on lesson material in margin notes -- there's no paging back and forth as you are literally on the same page with your student as you're going through the material.

Much more than writing is covered, of course, for writing involves using language effectively, which means that your student will also be learning about grammar (not in isolation, but while actually using and applying concepts) and building vocabulary along with learning and practicing writing and critical thinking.

Lessons follow a standardized format, beginning with a materials list for the lesson. Invariably this includes the student's journal, a record of the student's work as well as a place to brainstorm, to answer prompts, to write down thoughts. Other materials needed, depending on the lesson, might be a dictionary and/or thesaurus, highlighter, personal photographs, a copy of World Magazine or Top Story (the middle school student magazine), notecards, or a glue stick.

An exciting facet of the program is the interactive website, scheduled to launch in September 2012, that will offer updated lessons and additional resources.

Our take? I love this program! It's fresh but not dumbed down. The assignments aim at being relevant to the student. The tone is conversational while also informative.

Some things I'd like to see in the finished version that weren't in the version we saw:
- Table of Contents
- Answer keys, for example, for the vocabulary exercises
- Index
- Glossary of terms

Pricing and availability

Write with World can be ordered at this link. You can order now, and the curriculum is scheduled to ship this summer. The full curriculum (Year One and Year Two) is available for $165, or you can buy the years individually for $95 each. The purchase price includes a set of books (one teacher and one student) plus online access to the Write with World website. Shipping and handling charges are extra.


Read more TOS Crew reviews of Write with World at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a pre-publication copy of Year One of Write with World for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TOS Crew: TruthQuest History



I was excited to have the opportunity to review the new TruthQuest Beginning. I've been happy to recommend TruthQuest to friends and fellow homeschoolers since I first became acquainted with their History Guides in 2005.


I had received the Middle Ages History Guide for review, and I took it over to a friend's house, as she was interested in booklists. We looked the guide over together, taking turns reading aloud from the introductory section where the author explained her approach to history: based on the foundation of Who is God? and Who is man? and why these questions are important.