Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paleo update

Still sticking with paleo (I suppose you might call it "primal" as I still use a bit of butter on occasion), with auto-immune tweaks. My joints still hurt, but not as much as they did before I started this. Other benefits: I sleep better, waken refreshed, have more energy than I did, and am never hungry. In fact, I'm having trouble getting enough calories in.

I'm tracking my food and exercise at and sometimes I have trouble reaching the "minimum" of 1200 calories -- MFP warns me when I don't, that I might send my body into starvation mode, where weight loss slows because the body is conserving all it can. I can go hours without eating, and without my blood sugar crashing. It's a far cry from not so long ago, when I felt like I had to eat protein at least every three hours, or get the shakes. (Being off all caffeine may be helping, too.)

Anyhow, if you're interested, here are a few websites to explore:
(This is the home of the Whole30, a kind of 30-day healthy-eating challenge)
(check out her info about the autoimmune protocol)

Next time, I'll post some of my favorite paleo/primal recipe websites.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A new (to me) look at exercising

I was a runner at one time. I went from couch potato/non-athlete to runner when I joined the military and had to run a mile and a half in 12 minutes in order to graduate. In addition, there was an award you could earn if you ran an average of three miles a day during the training period, and that was motivating. After I graduated from training, I continued to run three to six miles a day. I was hooked on that runner's high you hear about. It always took a mile of awfulness to reach it, though, no matter how fit I was. At about the three-quarter point I'd always feel like quitting, as if I couldn't put one foot in front of the other to save my life, and yet I did. And then I'd hit the mile point, and all of a sudden it was effortless, I could run forever, I couldn't feel my feet touching the ground -- was I flying?

After the babies started coming I went from running to walking. I did a lot of walking, racking up Volkswalk kilometers every weekend. We had dogs all through the years, and the dogs needed walking.

And then, a few years ago, something happened. My knees went out on me. We completed a three-mile Volkswalk as a family, and by the last mile I was in agony. I haven't Volkswalked since. I did a little walking (still with the dog) since then, anywhere from 1/4 mile to 2 miles a day, but my knees got really bad this spring, even with the water kefir, and now it's a struggle to walk 1/4 mile. I walked half a mile this morning, and I think my knees are done for the day.

I'm still hoping this Paleo thing will help to restore my joints. Hoping. My elbows and fingers seem to be responding well, anyhow. Let's hope the knees get the message.

Anyhow, I had read on some Paleo discussion board about someone my age whose knees had given out -- did Paleo (or maybe it was Primal), eliminated inflammatory foods, and the knees came back (against all orthopedist's predictions). That's what I'm hoping for! I hadn't been thinking about running again -- I'd be happy just to walk, to be able to be on my feet most of the day and not hurt.

After reading this article this morning, I'm even more certain about not taking up running again. Who knew? I always thought I was doing my body a favor by running three to six miles a day...

A funny thing happened on the way to the meat counter...

I promised you earlier that I would tell you a funny thing that happened when I was passing through New Seasons on my way to the meat counter, to pick up more "stuff" to base paleo-style meals on.

A wine representative was offering tastes of his lovingly crafted red and white wines (I forget exactly what they were -- Pinot? Shiraz? Chardonnay? Since I didn't taste any of them I really wasn't paying attention.). Eldest was with me, and stopped to ask for a taste. The man offered me a tasting glass as well, and I said no-but-thank-you, I was trying to follow the Paleo autoimmune protocol.

...upon which he laughed and said he was following Paleo himself, had been since January, and had noticed a huge difference in how well he felt after just five days! He was telling me about this book he'd read, to start off, and in the last chapter "the guy says he knows you're not going to be able to stick to such a strict diet, and so he allows two glasses of wine a night..."

I told him I knew exactly what book he was talking about, as I had just finished reading that book myself. It's Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution (affiliate link, just so you know -- if you click on it and buy the book I get a little pocket money, and thanks! If you don't, no biggie).

Another man was passing us, browsing the smoked salmon and pre-packaged bacon, and turned to ask, "Who allows two glasses of wine a night?"

The wine seller told him, and he excitedly said, "I'm doing Paleo, too!" The two of them immediately began enthusing about the benefits they'd reaped and comparing notes about how to "do" Paleo.

I felt as if I'd joined some sort of secret club or something. Honestly, all I need is a sign and countersign (oh, maybe I already have one) and just add a secret handshake and I'm in business.

If it's a bandwagon, well, I'm glad I've jumped on. Feeling better every day. These Paleo people are on to something.

Make that: We Paleo people are on to something.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Night and Day

I can't believe the difference.

Yesterday I could barely move my left leg. Walking around Costco and Trader Joe's was more of a shuffle than a walk, and worse than that, it was agony to get in and out of the car. The right knee, oddly enough, was working much better than the left. (I say "oddly enough" because it's the right knee that I kept re-injuring over the past two weeks. Every time it would start to get better, I would catch my foot and trip on something and the healing process would have to begin again.)

You might or might not recall that I've been eating Paleo/primal style for the past three weeks in a desperate effort to find relief for my painful knees and joints. For some reason, the water kefir that had been keeping me pain free over the past year wasn't working anymore.

I had a big dose of nightshades (tomato and peppers) in Monday night's dinner -- was that enough to cripple me on Tuesday? Could be. I was very careful yesterday, avoided all semblance of nightshade (tomato, peppers, paprika, eggplant -- which I can take or leave, but the other stuff appears regularly on our table), and woke up this morning in much less pain. Got in and out of the car this morning without a twinge. There's still a little pain there, in both knees, a sort of underlying barely noticeable occasional ache, but nothing like yesterday, and all the other joints seem to be humming along nicely, which they weren't, not exactly, yesterday.


Just in case, I'm going to be avoiding tomatoes, peppers, and paprika today as well, to see if the improvement continues.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Paleo-style breakfast

I am going to have to be more mindful about keeping the camera handy. This morning's breakfast is a case in point.

We picked up some lovely Swiss chard at Bountiful Baskets this morning. I fried up a pound of chicken sage breakfast sausage meat in a bit of coconut oil (the chicken wasn't fatty enough to cook without added oil). When the meat was nicely browned, I removed it from the pan, added a wee bit more coconut oil, then dumped a heap of chopped chard into the pan. Stirring occasionally, we let it cook down, then sprinkled balsamic over it, followed by Trader Joe's 21 Salute Seasoning. On a plate, paired with the meat, it looked (and tasted) scrumptious.

One of the things I appeciate about Paleo is that this kind of meal sticks with me for hours. I don't get hungry, or shaky from low blood sugar.

I want to tell you about the funny thing that happened at New Seasons this afternoon, but it'll have to wait for another post.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Paleo tweaks

Found a great tweak to my go-to coleslaw recipe. Coleslaw is my favorite way to eat cabbage, although the stir-fry cabbage I made last week was pretty amazing. (This, from someone who had a sort of okay-I'll-eat-it-because-it's-a-vegetable-and-vegetables-are-supposed-to-be-good-for-you attitude.) The coleslaw sauce recipe came out of a gluten-free cookbook, and was so simple to remember: equal parts mayonnaise, sugar, and white vinegar, whisked together. I 'd add a pinch of salt and a little white pepper to that. Creamy coleslaw perfection.

Okay, so how to make this Paleo friendly? Homemade mayo, check. Raw apple cider vinegar, check. Sugar?

I thought about stevia, but didn't really want to go there. My past experience experimenting with the stuff didn't seem too promising for this recipe.

Trying to go completely sugar free... but finally broke down (don't want the cabbage in the fridge to go moldy from sitting there) and tried honey in the recipe today, as in (for a wedge of cabbage, shredded)

1 TBS mayo
1 TBS raw apple cider vinegar
1 TBS raw honey

It made for a flavorful dressing -- didn't even need the salt and pepper. The honey was very strong, and can probably be cut down to a teaspoon or a little more. And of course I'm not eating as much honey as is there in the sauce because when the coleslaw is gone, there's still sauce left on the plate. So while it's not exactly cutting out sugar, it is cutting way down, and substituting raw honey (which has its own health benefits).

You can read on, or ignore the rest, which is mainly medical musing and a little background as to why I'm doing this "Paleo" way of eating, or trying to, anyhow.


Feeling my way here... I've been in a lot more pain lately, over and above (don't you love redundancy?) what the water kefir has been suppressing...

(Digression: How do I know what the water kefir is suppressing? Because of what happens when I don't drink it, if I didn't get around to harvesting the latest brew and due to our busy schedule, have to run out the door without my morning cuppa.)

Anyhow, have begun trying to eat according to "Paleo autoimmune" guidelines, more than I was when I was just following Paleo guidelines. Something that I hadn't cut out before were the nightshades (specifically tomatoes and peppers -- I can take or leave eggplant), nuts, and eggs. The earlier stuff involved in transitioning to Paleo-style eating as defined by Robb Wolf  and other people I've been "listening to" (as in, reading books and websites), well, that wasn't so hard, considering that our kitchen has been gluten-free for over a year now, and over the past months I've been experimenting with dairy alternatives as well.

As a matter of fact, I had been eating a lot more eggs lately, especially since cutting out GF oatmeal and other GF grains. Eggs are relatively cheap protein, and since we get free-range eggs from friends with chickens they ought to be fairly healthy. However, the increase in joint pain this past week makes me wonder -- am I reacting to the increase in eggs in my diet?

Need to get a handle on this so I can function again. In case I didn't mention it before, I tried the medical route the last time my joints, especially my knees, were this painful. All the doctor wanted to do was throw -- what are they called? NSAIDs? -- drugs at the problem to mask the pain, and then when the damage had progressed far enough do knee replacement surgeries.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad the medical people are out there and available with some sort of "solution." I'd just like to avoid drugs (I looked up the side effects of what he prescribed. Scary.) and surgery if at all possible. I thought that the water kefir would be enough -- it was enough, for months. But something has changed and so I'm changing my attack plan.

If something in my diet is causing the pain, and it's as simple as changing my diet to eliminate the pain (or cut it way down to manageable levels once more), well then, I'd much rather do that than take pills which significantly increase my possibility of stroke and heart attack and I forget what else.

Have been egg-free for only a day -- oops, no I haven't. Mayo has egg in it. Will have to investigate homemade eggless mayo, if such a thing is possible.

Sigh. And yet, it'll be worth it, if it works.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


According to Wikipedia:

Selah (Hebrew: סֶלָה‎, also transliterated as selāh) is a word used 74 times in the Hebrew Bible that means GOD HAS SPOKEN.  – it used 71 times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk  – and is a difficult concept to translate. (It should not be confused with the Hebrew word sela‘ (Hebrew: סֶלַע‎) which means "rock.") It is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like "stop and listen". Selah can also be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm. The Amplified Bible translates selah as "pause, and think of that". It can also be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.

I used to wince at red lights. Okay, I'd more than wince. I'd complain, usually inwardly, but sometimes aloud. "Oh, no!" you'd hear me say. "Not another red light!" And truthfully, sometimes it seemed (or seems) that I'd hit one red light after another. "These lights are so badly timed," I'd grouse. I'd fret about poor fuel efficiency. I'd worry about being -- not just late, but -- later.

I have a bad habit of being too much of an optimist, not allowing extra time in transit for such things as red lights, construction, traffic jams, and that's the kind of thing that makes you late. I'm getting better...

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. One day, while sitting at a red light, it came to me. Stewing was a poor use of my time. Did it get me anything? (Other than aggravated, that is.) No. Obviously.

What if I were to use red lights profitably? How could I use them profitably?

Give thanks in all things. While it may seem silly to you, it came to me (while sitting at a red light) that I could be using red lights as a time to praise. To meditate on Scripture. To contemplate my blessings. To give thanks. (See 1 Thess. 5:18 and Eph. 5:20)

The idea of "selah" seemed to fit. I'd heard a definition of "selah" in a sermon some time ago; the preacher had called it a time to pause and reflect on what had just been said (in the Psalm we were reading), or the deep breath before the dive into the next section, or both.

Practicing "selah-ness" at red lights has totally changed my driving attitude. Now instead of an "oh, no!" reaction to a yellow light announcing a red soon to follow, I (usually) am reminded that God is there in the midst of my busyness, my hurry. It's a sort of tug on my spirit, a signal to slow down and think about what's really important.

I'm sure it's done my blood pressure some good, too.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Glad it's Friday...

Coming off a nasty cold (as is Middlest -- I think I caught hers). Finally feeling some energy again. So, today will be something of a catchup day. I have to be careful not to overdo and consequently relapse. Add to that the fact that it's so chilly, it's hard to stay warm short of turning the heat on again. (And we did turn the heat on earlier in the week, funny thing to do in May but when you have sick people, you've got to keep them warm!)

The weather all week has been more like March than May. After the summery weather early in the month, we were all ready for summer, but summer, it seems, is not quite ready for us...

Have you been reading the 30 Day organizing series at The Happy Lil Homemaker? I just stumbled across it this morning. Just might be the thing for the month of June. Will let you know.

Monday, May 20, 2013

HM Review: My Home School Grades

Note: Our family received a free subscription to My Home School Grades for this review. Opinions are our own. No other compensation was involved.

To start with, I have to admit that I find transcripts terrifying and the idea of assigning grades, much less keeping track of them, paralyzing. There's something intimidating about writing it all down. My early homeschool record-keeping took place in fits and starts, books read, narrations, things checked off a list. I can't tell you how many times I started with the best of intentions, only to sputter out a few weeks into the process. If you were to look at my records, you'd wonder about our girls' education.

Standardized test scores say they were/are getting some kind of education. The younger two have tested at the top of the scale over the years. (Youngest's final state-mandated test is coming up next year, and she's very happy to see the end in sight.) Eldest is special needs and always struggled with academics. Frankly, I didn't worry too much about a transcript for her. Just learning as much as possible was a good goal.

Transcripts -- the "love language" of colleges (Lee Binz)

I attended an online seminar in creating transcripts, taught by Lee Binz. One of the things she said that struck me is that transcripts are really the way that you communicate with a college that might be considering your student for admission.

Granted, none of ours are interested in college right now. They hear about massive college debt, for one thing, and people having trouble finding jobs even with college degrees. None of them is interested in being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer at this point in their lives. Don't get me wrong, they're not aimless drifters with no plans for the future. It's just that their plans don't necessarily require four more years of academic studies.

Still, they might choose to go to college someday. Add to that, they have been learning an awful lot over the years, of history, geography, literature, science, and yes, even math. I think they could hold their own against their peers. It seems a disservice, not to document their learning somehow, and portfolios and transcripts are the current way to do that.

What I needed was something easy to use, intuitive, that would lead me gently by the hand despite my intimidation.

Enter My Home School Grades...

Okay, more True Confession time here. I did not volunteer to do this review. (Did you know that oftimes reviewers volunteer/beg/plead/submit requests for review products?) I said I'd help out if another reviewer was needed. I really would have preferred, ostrich-like, to have kept my head buried in the sand for another few months of blissful ignorance.

(Do you know how hard it is to put a transcript together from fading memory?)

Of course, the Lord knew what I needed, even though it was not what I wanted. He knew that I had been slipshod in keeping records, and that putting together a transcript for Middlest to graduate in a couple of years would have been even more agonizing than pulling together her records right now.

When I received the link to My Home School Grades with word that I had been picked to review the program, I dutifully signed up for an account -- easy! -- and started to play around a bit. I entered information for all three of the girls, added a few classes, thought about activities, exited the program, and managed to forget about it until the review deadline was looming.

In the meantime, I took Lee Binz' online transcripts class, which helped a lot with some of my confusion. (Like, how do you record high school level work done earlier than 9th grade? How do you record college-level work done in high school? How do you actually assign credits for work? How do you figure out grades?) Which means, when I finally got back to My Home School Grades I was a little more confident. I added in lots more classes, a whole slew of activities -- volunteering, choir, that sort of thing), even... gasp... assigned grades.

User helps -- such as video tutorials

Mind you, I did all this without even checking out the tutorial videos available on the site. I was able to use the site without the tutorials -- the whole thing is pretty intuitive. However, I found (afterward) that the videos are very helpful and gave me a much better idea of the scope of this simple-seeming program. It's amazing how much you can do!

The tutorials currently available show you how to add a student, a class, or activity, and how to generate a transcript from the information you add. You can watch them at the My Home School Grades website to get a better idea of the program.

Powerful features

For such a simple-seeming program, My Homeschool Grades offers a variety of features. You can keep a record of your child's learning from kindergarten through grade 12 (and beyond, with community college dual enrollment). There are several options for adding a class. The lesson plan option allows you to choose a particular curriculum (in which case lessons are automatically added) or a custom curriculum (which allows you to create your own lesson plan).

As you can see from the figure above, the program allows you to use weighted grading, in an easy, visual format.

You can also add classes that receive an overall letter grade or pass-fail mark, and there's an option for indicating dual-enrollment where college and high school credit are earned at the same time.

Adding activities uses the same method as adding classes -- drop down menus, intuitive visual feel. In this way, you can document volunteer work, extracurricular activities, choir, band, sports, 4H, and more. You can choose to include these on a transcript, or leave them off, but in any event, you have a record of activities on file. 

Transcript creation, at the click of a button

 Well, it's just a little more complicated than that. After all, you have to enter all the information that's going to appear on the transcript. What My Home School Grades does is arrange it all in a professional-looking format. It looks something like this on the screen:

Click the "Print" button to print out a copy. You have the option of adding the graduation date and the student's SSN to the transcript before printing; however, this information is not stored. (I really like that the SSN is not stored!)

Ordering details

My Homeschool Grades is offering a 14-day free trial, so I urge you to check it out for yourself. A lifetime membership is $49.99 and covers all the students in your family. No matter where you are in your homeschool journey, convenient, efficient record-keeping is just a few mouse clicks away.


Friday, May 10, 2013

HM Review: Waterproof Bible!

Note: Our family received a copy of the Waterproof Bible like the one pictured here for review. Opinions are our own. No other compensation was involved.

Here is a product that meets a need I didn't even know I had... though I've had thoughts along this line every time we've gone camping. Another thing... I love to read in the bath, but there's no way I'd take my precious, marked-up, Bible into the bathtub, with its leather cover and thin pages. I already know it's not waterproof. When it was fairly new (more than two decades ago now), Eldest was a toddler and took a fancy to the pretty ribbon page marker. She explored everything by putting it in her mouth, and... suffice it to say, the ribbon was not colorfast and left burgundy splotches on the pages.

Compact, but readable

The Waterproof Bible sitting in front of me as I type this doesn't look or feel all that different from other slimline Bibles I've handled. The cover and pages have something of a silky feel. At first glance, the pages seem as thin as the delicate pages in my personal Bible. Granted, what I have here is the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs so it shouldn't be all that bulky anyhow. At 4-1/4" x 7" and a little over half an inch thick, this 342-page softcover is compact enough to fit in my purse. The full Waterproof Bible with all the Old Testament as well is a little larger in all dimensions, and has about twice the number of pages.

The print is small, 7 point, but clear and readable. (The publisher offers a bookmark magnifier in their shop (click on Accessories) if you need one.) The shiny pages might present a little glare if you read in bright sunlight, but we didn't notice a problem with glare when we passed the Bible around during our regular Bible reading times.

Study helps are minimal. There's no concordance, for example, or extensive cross references. I like the footnotes, which include translation notes as well as references when Old Testament passages are quoted, so you can go to the original passage and read it in context while digging deeper.

...but can you write in it?

That was one of my first questions. I mean, if it resists water and mud, surely it's going to resist ink and highlighter? Such a Bible would be handy for camping and reading, but not so easy to interact with.

However, I'm happy to report that you can write on the pages (pencil and ballpoint are recommended) and highlight passages with colored pencil or dry highlighters (you can find dry highlighters in the publisher's shop at the link above). Best of all, the pages don't bleed through! You can highlight or mark on a page without having it affect the text on the other side of the page.


I held my breath and opened the Waterproof Bible flat -- something I avoid with softcover books, unless they have a "lay flat" binding. I pressed it down for good measure as I read, turned over a few pages, read again, turned to another section, and finally closed the book. I felt like a criminal, a maimer of books... until I examined the back of the spine. There were no tell-tale creases to give mute testimony to my careless handling.

You may laugh at me and call me a book fanatic (I prefer the term bibliophile, sounds so much better, doesn't it?) but I actually trained my children in the fine art of reading paperbacks, cracking them open just enough to be able to read the print, and no farther, and never leaving a book on its face, to avoid breaking the spine. If you see creases on the back of a paperback, it means that eventually pages are going to start falling out. I have no such worries with the Waterproof Bible. I have the feeling it will last a long time, just as its publisher promises.

The Waterproof Bible is available from Bardin & Marsee Publishing and Christian bookstores (there's a "find a retailer" feature at the publisher's website). There are ESV, KJV, NKJV, NIV, and NLT versions, in a variety of cover choices. Full Bible versions are $44.95, New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs versions are $24.95. For an additional $7 you can have your Bible imprinted to personalize it with a name or initials.


Thursday, April 4, 2013


Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thess. 5:16-18 ESV

 It's not always the easiest thing to do. Grumbling for some reason is much easier than gratitude. "Counting your curses instead of your blessings" is what we call it around here, or rather, when in the middle of Attitude Adjustment, it's in the form of an admonition to count your blessings, instead of your curses.

I've been pretty grumbly at times today. We need a new roof, and there's water damage in the living room that may or may not come from the old roof. We're hoping that it won't be serious in the end, but we won't know until they tear off the old roof and see what's there to see. I could go on and on, but I won't.

You see, we are so blessed, so very blessed, that we don't even know how blessed we are. How many people are out there with no roof, or dirt floors, or a whole family crammed into a room or two, or not enough to eat? And here we are, grumbling about our not-perfect house, or an annoying sister, or plans that aren't shaping up exactly the way we want them to. Not to mention our own shortcomings, the things that didn't get done today because of our (poor) choices.

No. Not going there. I'm going to concentrate on blessings right now. I can hear the Giant Schnoz enthusiastically gulping her dog food after ignoring it all day. (A little kombucha was all she wanted. Guess she was feeling grumbly, too.) Dinner will be quick and easy tonight -- crepes. Just whip them up in the blender and start frying, one by one, and top with powdered sugar and lemon juice and roll them up. Church meeting tonight to talk about the possibility of a new pastor, after our church has been in limbo for many months.

(Still counting blessings... the interim pastor has been a gift of God, a shepherd who loves the sheep he's been given to guide through a difficult time, who has brought healing with his wise and understanding heart.)

Anyhow, am going to keep on counting those blessings and more, even after I finish up here and post this.

How many blessings can you name today?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The last speech and debate qualifier tournament is now officially behind us. There were five qualifiers over the season, and we went to every one. In case you were wondering, the "qualifier" means that if you have a winning record at a tournament, you get an invitation (or qualify) to compete in the regional competition. Middlest and her debate partner qualified four times over, and learned valuable lessons in the tournament where they did not qualify. A winning record, in case you were wondering, is winning at least four out of six debate rounds. There's also a deal where you can win three and lose three and still qualify if the judges give you high points for your speaking skills, but I don't really know how that works.

We traveled all over the region to these tournaments. Well, not quite "all." There wasn't a tournament in California, but there were tournaments in each of the other states in the region. Our shortest drive was about 40 minutes, the longest took the better part of a day.

We were blessed to have "host housing" when we traveled out of town. This is where people open their homes to far-from-home students and their families. Some of the hosts have students who are competing, but this wasn't the case in three of the four homes where we stayed. Some were church friends, some had been involved in speech and debate but their children had graduated, and the last family we stayed with were homeschool graduates themselves, and had competed in speech and debate in the early days of the NCFCA!

Not only do I find homeschool graduates encouraging, I find a lot of them amazing, and this young family fit into that category.

They apologized for the fancy car parked in front of their house. (I hadn't even noticed the car -- in our neighborhood, other people park in front of our house all the time. Makes it hard to find parking sometimes.) They wanted us to know that they weren't the kind of status-seekers who go into big debt to buy an impressive car; they had won the car in a contest.

I've never known somebody who won a car in a contest before. Amazing.

They showed us the ad with them and the car. Not only did they win a car in a contest, but they won a car in a contest in Rolling Stone magazine, and went to the Grammy awards, and were featured in a full-page ad in the magazine. The photo they submitted for the contest was on their refrigerator, and I can see why it caught editors' attention: The family business is zipline gear, and their Christmas card photo (the one on the fridge) shows the mom dangling upside down from a zipline, calmly kissing her hubby while the little kids hang around in helmets and zipline harnesses (not literally hanging from the zipline, I mean, just casually standing around looking preschool cool).

Now, we were told repeatedly that host families only provide a spot to sleep. You might very likely have to bring your own sleeping bags and be prepared to camp out on the floor, or a sofa, or a blow-up mattress. Host families might provide refrigerator space (we always asked for this as we are gluten free) but they don't, as a rule (this was emphasized to us when we were learning about the host housing option), provide any meals.

These guys had been to tournaments; they knew what we were facing: grueling 14-hour days, a 40 minute drive from their house to the school where the tournament was held, leaving before 7 and getting back late. The mom baked a huge batch of gf muffins the day we arrived, one big bowl of dairy-free and one big bowl with dairy. She used a Pamela's mix as a base for her muffin recipe. I'd never eaten Pamela's products before. Let me tell you, those muffins were delicious. She also set up a French press before she went to bed each night, and a teakettle full of water waited on the stove when I got up, which meant all I had to do was turn on the stove on my way to the bathtub, and pour the boiling water into the French press on my way back to the spare room where we were bunking in. Coffee and muffins and even yogurt for breakfast, perfect for a quick starter.

They also fed us dinner after our long drive to get there, the day before the tournament began. What a treat! It was good, too, roast chicken and cottage potatoes and fresh green beans, pretty similar to the way we cook at our house. They have gluten-free family members as well, so they understood our constraints and concerns.

Oh, and that spare room? No sleeping on the floor, no, the two girls shared a futon and we parents had an inflated mattress, and our host family provided bedding and towels, what luxury!

Probably the best part of our stay were the conversations. The evening we arrived, we talked over chocolate and tea, a wide range of subjects, from ziplines to adventure movies to literature to homeschooling. The talk was lively and interesting -- and so was the early morning conversation I enjoyed with the little ones as I poured out the coffee, peeled hard-boiled eggs and set out muffins on plates. With Youngest being 14, I miss those childish insights in the morning. (Of course, when I was a younger mom, I didn't really appreciate them, being desperate for more sleep and wondering just how a child who'd been up and singing in her bed at midnight could be so bright and chatty at six a.m....)

Anyhow, it was a good trip, and now I'm in full-blown catch-up mode. So I'm going to have to cut this off short today. Hope to see you again in a day or two! Thanks for listening.

Friday, February 22, 2013

HM Review: Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations

Here's my very first review for the Mosaic Reviews Team, from Homeschool Mosaics. Members of the review team were given a list of free blog planners to choose from. It was a difficult choice! I might have chosen a one-page planner that sort of hit the highlights, or a blog planner that had a nice introduction to blogging and a mini-lesson on setting priorities.

But the Free Printable Blog Planner from Homeschool Creations really spoke to me. I almost passed it by, at first glance. I found 63 planner pages to be overwhelming. I barely have enough time to keep up a blog as it is... and yet, as I perused the pages I found so much practical help that I kept reading. I can also reassure you that you don't really get 63 unique pages to agonize over. Much of the planner is made up of the same few pages, 12 copies of each, so that if you print the planner and bind it, it'll be good for a whole year.

Anyone can be a hit-or-miss blogger. I've done it for years, but I'm trying to get more methodical in this endeavor, as in many others. However, with blogging, as with so many other things, a little planning goes a long, long way. Now if I could just get a little ahead on my blog posts, so that they could be automatically scheduled and just, plunk! -- sort of post themselves. That takes time. I've gotten better at planning, but too often lately I've been thrown off my blog plan by an unexpected curve ball, like coming down with a cold, or a too-busy schedule.

With a blog planner, though, I can think through the coming days and weeks, write down themes and ideas, and actually have a target to shoot at. It's so much better than sitting down at the keyboard, looking at that blank page, and thinking in a panic, "I have to blog something!"

So what do you get in this blog planner? There's a pretty cover sheet, a link to a blog post where the author shows how she uses her planner (I always find this kind of thing to be very helpful, as I tend to be seized by paralysis when confronted with a blank form), and a 2013 year-at-a-glance calendar. For each month, there's a blank monthly calendar, with an area to record a focus (or eleven) for the month; a page to document reviews, giveaways, notes, and contact information; and two pages of weekly calendars with room for a to-do list for each week. (I haven't used the weekly calendars yet, but I can see how they would be useful as I ease into regular blogging.)

Additional planning helps include pages that will help you keep track of blog statistics, websites and passwords, affiliate information, Twitter hashtags, linkups, an income and expense sheet, and (for the serious blogger whose blog is her business) even a mileage tracker.

A couple of "Notes in my head" pages round out the planner -- honestly, these two pages are the ones that I've found most useful. Now I'm keeping my notes in one place, rather than stuck on sticky notes that end up who-knows where.

The planner is done in a pretty pastel pink-and-green color scheme. It looks really nice on the screen. Mine is printed out in grayscale for the sake of my budget, but it still works.

You can print the planner and bind it, or punch the pages and put it in a separate section of a planning notebook, or even break out the monthly and weekly pages and incorporate them among your homeschool/home planning pages. It's a versatile format!

You can download your own copy of the planner at the link above. It's free!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gluten free? Be careful...

While perusing magazines in the orthodontist's waiting room yesterday (emergency appointment; Youngest has been miserable with the latest adjustment last week, scarcely able to eat -- doing much better today, am thankful to say!), I picked up the March issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray.

I subscribe to very few magazines, but I'll occasionally pick up an issue of Rachel Ray's cooking magazine at the store, especially if I'm hungry, going through the checkout line, and the recipes look good. (Musical scrap of an old advertisement floats through my distractible brain: Don't shop when you're hungry! No! No! No!)

Back to my train of thought. The March issue looked good, certainly, and I may well seek it out next time I'm grocery shopping, and snap it up. I adapt some of the gluten-containing recipes, and others are naturally gluten-free.

Imagine how pleased I was to see an article for a buffet meal for friends that was gluten free and allergy friendly!

In the old, carefree days, before we discovered severe gluten sensitivities in some of our family members, I might have cooked up this menu and invited gluten free friends to dine, blithely assuring them that the magazine said it was safe for them to eat, as the recipes were gluten free. (Thankfully, our celiac friends are very careful and don't just take people's word for it...)

You might think Chicken Cordon Bleu rolled in a cornflake crust would be gluten free, wouldn't you? After all, a lot of GF people can eat corn products, like corn tortillas or cornstarch. Cornflakes ought to be a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, no. When I cleared out all the gluten-containing foods from the pantry (to keep our GF family members safer, from cross-contamination and accidental self-poisoning) and removed these foods from my shopping list, my beloved cornflakes had to go. (There's nothing better in berry season, than cornflakes with fresh-picked blueberries and some lovely raw honey drizzled over it all...)

On rare occasions, I will still buy cornflakes in boxes that are marked "gluten free," but they cost more than my old standby brand, so it's a rare treat. Usually in blueberry season.

The problem with a lot of cereals seems to be the malt flavoring, which comes from barley, which contains gluten. This has, sadly, reduced the list of cereals we can use. Former favorites like Rice Krispies and Kellogg's Corn Flakes are off our list. (Rice and Corn Chex cereals are a decent substitute, though they don't make very good "Rice Krispie Treats" as far as we're concerned.)

If you decide to make a gluten free meal, and you're new to GF cooking, be very careful. Read the ingredients list. Look at the labels on the ingredients for the words "gluten free." Ask an experienced GF friend for help in maneuvering through the maze of ingredients that are out there. Don't just assume something is safe to eat because a recipe claims it's safe.

For more information on finding gluten free cornflakes, check out this article at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Absence makes the heart grow... colder?

Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD.
(Psalm 127:3, CEV)

I always wince when I hear a mom with children "in school" (as opposed to a homeschooling mom) express relief that vacation time is almost over and pretty soon the kids will be back in school. It's especially heart-wrenching when said kids are within earshot. Sort of a Mom doesn't really want me around moment.

To see the look of hurt on the child's face... or worse, not to see it, because it's no big deal, it's just something Mom says all the time, well, it makes me sad for the child, and for the Mom, who is missing out on something precious.

Been there. (In the immortal words of internet usage) Done that.

Once upon a time, when Eldest was little, I was a working-outside-the-home mom. We had daycare, in the earliest years, but when a slightly larger toddler broke our toddler's thumb, we looked for another arrangement, and found a babysitter who only took in one other child at the time. She turned out to be (at the time) a better mom than I was -- she provided welcome, a scheduled, predictable day, loving arms, and time. Lots of time.

(I didn't know a whole lot about mothering, having grown up last of a fair-sized family and not been around babies and toddlers. I've learned a lot since then, but how I wish I'd known a motherly mentor in those early years.)

To get back to the topic absence and fondness, in my experience as a working mother, absence did not make the heart grow fonder, as in the old saw. I loved my work, I really did, and while it was with reluctance I first left our daughter to go back to the workplace, I soon got used to it, soon grew to love what I did, giving a lot of myself to teaching and as a consequence, having little left over when it was time to pick up our daughter, head home, get dinner on the table, take care of a few chores, read a bedtime story, go to bed myself, and then get up and do it all again.

(I read recently in a Facebook discussion thread that some daycares or babysitters charge $5 a minute for parents who are late to pick up their child. I may be adding 2+2 and getting 5, but that tells me there's a problem, where parents are either too busy to pick up a child on time, or else they're reluctant, or both. I can relate.)

Forget quality time. Eldest was getting the dregs. I was tired, not as patient with a toddler as I later learned to be with our younger two. (But that's another story.) Any quality time Eldest got was with our lovely and loving babysitter. (I'm so sorry to have to admit this.)

I discovered a curious fact: The less I was with our daughter, the less I wanted to be with her. On the other hand, when the work schedule lightened up (I taught when a weeklong or two-week class was scheduled, and sometimes I would have a week off if I wasn't scheduled), I'd spend much more time with our daughter -- days in a row -- and the more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to spend time with her.

Since we began homeschooling, almost 20 years ago now, I've found that I really enjoy our children. The more time we spend together, the more I get to know them, the more I know I'm going to miss them when it's finally time for them to leave the nest. Part of it is that we have quantity time, which makes grasping that elusive "quality time" more likely. Part of it is character development and discipline. Our children have learned how to get along with all kinds of people, of all ages, including (for the most part) their parents. Part of it is that we've had time to teach them what's important, and we're pretty much on the same page, though they are developing their own mindsets, their own apologia for what they believe, not just parroting back what we've tried to live in front of and alongside them.

Do you love your children? Do you really love them? Most parents would answer that question with a thoughtful or maybe indignant, Of course! 

Do you like them?

Do you like being with them?

If you don't, maybe this is a point to ponder further.

This is not to denigrate "working mothers" or make you feel guilty if you are one. I'm just suggesting you examine your attitude, if it's anything like mine was when our eldest was a toddler. The years go by so fast, childhood is just a blink of an eye, and soon they're all grown up and you'll be wondering what happened to the time. Eldest will soon turn 30. I look at young mothers sometimes, and wish I could go back. But I can't.

At the time, I didn't have a choice about working, and so I sympathize with you if you're in the same boat. I'm glad that things changed for us (some of it involving circumstances, some a change of heart, but that's another story). It's been a struggle to stay at home, these past two decades. There are a lot of things we might have done with a second income, a lot of things we might be able to do now, in fact, that we can't. Even some important things, like a new roof. (Insert Han Solo imitation here, peering anxiously at the ceiling: Hear me, baby? Hold together!)

But it's been worth it. Totally.

I wish for you the same joy and delight.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Easy Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas! (GF)

How I love chicken enchiladas. I almost can't tell you how much I love them. It's one of the few dishes where I will take seconds when offered. From my old Weight Watchers days, I guess that would make them a "red light" food, as in foods to avoid, because they trigger excess eating. Not much worry about that -- I never made them, up until last week, I only enjoyed them at potlucks and other people's houses.

You see, all the recipes I've seen for my favorite chicken enchiladas, up to this point, involved cream of chicken soup. With more than half of my family gluten free, and a couple of us very sensitive to MSG, well, you can see the problem.

(Yes, I'm aware that you can make your own gluten-free "cream of" whatever soup approximation. I just never got around to it in the case of this recipe.)

Last week, I was really wanting Mexican food. People in my family really aren't that wild about that flavor profile. None of us likes cilantro, for example. Once in awhile I can get away with homemade tacos, or chips and salsa, or Spanish rice, or chili, and not hear too many complaints. But enchiladas? Nobody (but me) likes them.

I got reckless. I really wanted chicken enchiladas, you know, the kind laced with cheese and sour cream and no tomatoes. (I like tomatoes, but my favorite chicken enchiladas are not tomato-based.) I had leftover chicken I needed to use up. I didn't want to make one of our standbys for using up cooked chicken, like Fried Rice or Chicken Salad or a number of other things. I went looking online for recipes, and found this. Amazing! The first recipe I saw, at least this time around, and doesn't call for canned soup! With very little adapting, I made it gluten free and also hassle free. No need to stuff individual enchiladas and roll them up; this recipe works well as a layered casserole. So here goes:

Leftover cooked chicken, shredded or diced, as much as you want (I used a whole breast)
1 medium onion, chopped (I didn't have any fresh onions so used 1/4 cup dried onions, sprinkled over the chicken-and-cheese layer)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use coconut oil for most cooking, and if I'd had fresh onion, I would have fried it in the oil until translucent, and mixed with the chicken before layering)
12 corn tortillas (we use non-GMO organic corn products)
1 1/2 cups grated monterey jack cheese or 1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese, divided
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour (gluten free flour mix works)
1 (15 ounce) can chicken broth (I used 2 cups homemade chicken stock)
1 cup sour cream (see the Daisy? No thickeners, just cultured cream)
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies


Grease casserole or spray with nonstick spray and lay down a layer of corn tortillas. It doesn't have to be pretty -- it's going to be covered up by other ingredients.

I love my Pampered Chef clay lasagna pan. After much usage, it's practically non-stick even without greasing. I think I wiped it with some olive oil on a paper towel before I added the tortillas, just to make sure.

Spread chicken and 3/4 cup of the cheese over tortilla layer.

(By the way, you can cook a chicken breast, cut it up and use it in this recipe, but I had leftover chicken. If I had an uncooked chicken breast, I might not have made this recipe...)

 If you want to make them richer, you can add a dollop of sour cream on top of each tortilla. Lots more calories, though. Here you can see that I boosted the calorie intake for the family members that actually need more calories, by adding extra sour cream to two of the servings. Can you imagine needing more calories? Seems like a dream to me.

Top with another layer of corn tortillas. Six was the right  number for my baking pan.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan; stir in flour to make a roux; stir and cook until bubbly; gradually whisk in chicken broth then bring to boiling, stirring frequently.

(Easy GF Flour Mix: 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part white rice flour, 1 part starch -- I usually mix two starches, choosing from cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot. We can't use potato starch, but that's an option, too.)

Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and green chiles.

Pour sauce evenly over enchiladas.

Top with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Baking dish may be double-wrapped and frozen at this point, if you're using a foil dish perhaps. I can't spare my Pampered Chef pan; I use it often. If I wanted to make this ahead and freeze it, I'd probably line the pan with parchment paper, assemble the dish, put it in the freezer, lift the whole thing out when frozen, and double wrap it. We avoid using aluminum foil as much as possible.

Bake at 400F for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce near edges of baking dish is bubbly.

Yum. Even those of us who were indifferent to the delights of Mexican food liked this dish. Some (besides myself) even asked for seconds!

My very fussy eater managed to eat most of a portion.

I think this one is a keeper.

Monday, February 4, 2013

28 Days to Hope for your Home (e-Book review and giveaway!)

Keeping a home has always been... what should I call it? impossibility a struggle a challenge for me. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my mom's attitude. Bless the woman, but she had a poor attitude towards staying home, keeping house, taking care of children; she bitterly resented not having a career outside the home. (I know, Mom's not to blame for the mess I'm in -- I take total responsibility. But drawing on my experience, I realize the vital importance of training our daughters to smooth their way in the future.)

I remember hearing her say, more than once, that she was raising her daughters to "have a good career and pay someone else to do the drudge work." While we were off at school, the house magically cleaned itself.  Well, really, I know it didn't, but I saw little of the process. When I went off to college, my roommate had to teach me how to use the washer and dryer in the dorm basement.

My Saturday job was cleaning the bathroom. I grew up knowing how to clean a bathroom!

Since I loved chocolate chip cookies, I tended to hang around when Mom baked them. (She did most of her baking, too, when we were at school, but there were a few times I remember adding ingredients to the mixing bowl under her direction, turning on the mixer, scooping out spoonfuls of cookie dough onto a greased baking sheet...) My cooking skills were pretty limited when I left home. My repertoire included the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies, milkshakes in the blender, sandwiches, and heating up canned soup.

My older sister taught me a few more skills, the year we shared an apartment (some years later). She was quite a good cook, and I learned a lot from her about taking basic ingredients and turning them into good food. I also learned a little about keeping an apartment clean with an intensive weekend cleaning session, but not a whole lot about daily upkeep. I certainly wasn't in charge and didn't give housekeeping any thought; I just did what my sister said to do.

Over the years of having my own home, I've been frustrated by the difference between how I'd like the house to look, and reality. I can't tell you how many how-to-keep-house books I've read over the years. I finally came to the conclusion that I know all the theory, but reading isn't going to get the house clean so much as doing.

I'd try, in spurts, and burn myself out pretty quickly. I tried different systems. Some worked better than others (Sidetracked Home Executives was one, and FlyLady was another), but if I got sick or life got busy I couldn't keep it up. Not to mention my lack of self-discipline (I need a bumper sticker that says I'd Rather Be Reading) or cluelessness about setting up a cleaning schedule and sticking to it. Add to that the clutter (mostly paper and books) that keeps adding up, and you've got a problem. I mean, I have a problem. So does my family. I'm not the only one who didn't learn how to keep a house from my mom -- my daughters are in danger of the same thing, for different reasons!

Then along came A Slob Comes Clean. (Yes, I was still reading about cleaning, more than actually doing it. However, my reading had changed from books to the Internet.) I read the title of Dana White's book with a jaded eye: 28 Days to Hope for your Home. Yeah, right, I said to myself. I've seen this kind of thing before. Only, this was different. It wasn't promising a clean house in 28 days, it wasn't promising a clean house with no effort, nor a house that (practically) cleans itself. This book was promising hope. Believe me, when you're feeling desperate, hope sounds good.

Just reading about the book at the webpage was different. I got the feeling that Dana knew exactly how I felt. (In chatspeak: BTDT.) Moreover, she wasn't offering a spotless house in 28 days. She was offering four habits. Four. Would four habits really make that much difference?

Like I said, I was desperate. I bought it and downloaded it to my Kindle. (I don't have a Kindle, mind -- I would like to, someday, but that's another story -- but I do have a Kindle app on my PC.)

I read the Introduction. Well, okay, Dana calls it something else, but it serves as an introduction of sorts, taking you gently by the hand and leading you into the meat of the book. Which, for meat, is (figuratively speaking) already cut up into small bits, set out on the highchair tray, ready and waiting.

(Let me make this clear: I am not saying that the author's tone is demeaning or that I got the feeling she was talking down. Rather, she was rolling up her sleeves, getting ready to get into the trenches right alongside me, after already having been there at the start of her own battle. I'm mixing my metaphors between battle-hardened soldiers and highchairs, but, as FlyLady so eloquently puts it, Baby Steps...)

I shook my head, reading Day 1. This is too simple, I thought. It's not gonna work. It's just too simple.

Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves -- see, Dana, I'm not just reading but doing and following your example -- and I did the assignment for Day 1. I must admit, I peeked ahead and read through the first half of the book before I could restrain myself and return to trying this program as it was designed, one step at a time.

As I went through the first week, I got the eerie feeling that Dana was right there with me, reading my mind. (Well, in a sense... she really has been there. That's why this book has worked for me as well as it has. She understands my mindset, because her mind appears to run along in a similar fashion. Poor woman.)

By the end of the second week, something was working. I wasn't sure exactly what. Having little-to-no homemakerly instinct made it difficult to realize that, while I was doing so little that was different from the way I'd managed (or rather, not managed) before, new habits were being laid down, and (let's mix in another metaphor for variety, shall we?) dominoes were beginning to cascade. In slow motion, but one domino had knocked against another, and... We're talking hope, here.

So I made the book assigned reading for the girls.

I knew I was on to something when one of them said, "Wow, Mom, this sounds doable."

Let the training begin.

Dana has a new book out, which I haven't read yet, called Drowning in Clutter? (It's on my list. Yes, we've graduated from the 28 Days program, after several re-starts, and we're decluttering, in fits and starts as we work around debate tournament schedules and flu epidemics.) Anyhow (almost distracted myself, but whew, I got back on track), you can get both e-books together for a discounted price.

Right now, Dana is offering a special discount to my readers. Click here to go to the order page for 28 Days to Hope for your Home. Use the special code SWEET to get either e-book for $4 or the pair for $6.  This deal is good until midnight, 2/6/2013, so if you've been looking at one or both of these titles, it's a good time to order.

******************* But I promised a giveaway! ******************* here it is. Leave a comment below, and on Valentine's Day I will draw a name for a free copy of 28 Days to Hope for your Home. If you decide you can't wait and go ahead and buy the book and not wait for the drawing, Dana has promised to refund your purchase price if you win.

If you'd like to enter the drawing, but don't have an account that will allow you to comment here, please hop on over to my Wordpress blog and leave a comment there instead. Comments there are moderated, and you can leave your email address in the comment (so I can contact you if you win) without it being posted publicly.


Disclaimer: In a burst of desperation, I bought 28 Days to Hope for your Home. I did not receive a free copy for review, nor will I receive any compensation for writing this review. However, the links in the review are affiliate links, so if you buy the e-book by clicking on a link in this post, I will receive a portion of the sale, which (if I didn't mention it before) I hope to add to what I'm saving to buy a Kindle. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GF Muffins that'll fool you! in, they don't taste gluten free. This is important for the Debater, who won't eat anything that doesn't taste real. As in, how things used to taste before she went GF.

Anyhow, it's been something of a challenge to come up with food that she'll eat, but through research, trial and error, and a process of refining, we're getting there.

One of the things that works for us is this muffin recipe from I like it because it's quick and easy, lends itself to making up ahead of time as a muffin mix, and is almost endlessly adaptable.

Here is one of our adaptations, which has become a family favorite:

Gluten-Free Lemon Blueberry Muffins

1-1/2 cups gluten free flour mix (I make my own; see below)
¼ cup flax seed meal (I grind my own in the Blendtec from seeds, but you can also buy it)
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (I use an aluminum-free brand)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut oil

Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in coconut oil until it resembles coarse meal. I do this in a Kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment. Sometimes if I'm feeling efficient, I'll make up several batches one at a time (I don't feel confident enough in my GF baking to double/triple/quadruple/multiply the recipe), putting each one in a zip-top plastic bag, which I then label and put in the freezer. The last batch, I go ahead and make into muffins.

Add 1 cup lemon juice (fresh-squeezed is best) and 2 eggs. Stir until mixed and then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Toss 1 cup blueberries with a little flour, and stir in by hand. Spoon into prepared muffin cups. (I use silicone muffin cups, so I don't have to do anything to prepare them. I suppose you can generously grease a muffin tin, or use paper liners, something I haven't done in two years, since I bought the reusable silicone liners.) This recipe makes about 12 large muffins.

The girls like it if I sprinkle the tops of the muffins with raw sugar crystals before baking.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If your oven is anything like mine, that means you'll end up baking the muffins for 35 to 40 minutes before they're done.

Gluten Free Flour Mix

Currently, my homemade gluten free flour mix consists of:
1 part brown rice flour
1 part white rice flour
1 part starch (usually two starches combined, like 1/2 tapioca and 1/2 arrowroot or cornstarch)

What's your favorite muffin flavor?

Wise-Woman-Builds Shared at these linkups:

Time-Warp Wife's Titus 2sday 

Check out all the good info!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Timelines! (newest post in a series)

Just wanted to let you know that the latest in my series on using timelines is up at the Homeschool Mosaics website. Want to know how other home educators put up their timelines? Check it out!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

All-of-a-Kind Family Resource

Awhile back, I published a link to a resource that you could use while reading books from the All-of-a-Kind Family series. This book series is set in New York city in the early 1900s, and paints a picture of Jewish family life and customs at the turn of the century, through the end of World War I.

From the resource website:

This readers guide to Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series was created in celebration of the author’s 100th birthday in 2004. It includes historical context, background information about the author and the people upon whom the characters are based, extension activities, and read-alike suggestions.

Here is the updated link to the All-of-a-Kind Family Companion.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Very glad it's Friday

Still fighting whatever bug is trying to get hold of me. This morning I doused my oatmeal with a dollop of honey and fair amount of cinnamon. I read somewhere on Facebook that cinnamon/honey in a 1-to-4 ratio is a great remedy to knock out a cold.

Eldest is giving me vitamin C every hour, and I've also had kefir and kombucha (not together) already this morning. If remedies can do the trick, I'm pretty remedied-up. (Except for elderberry. I need to remember the elderberry syrup that's in the fridge.)

What's your favorite way to avoid the bugs?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day something-or-other of the plague

The Computer Guy mentioned something this morning about it being Day Four of the Plague, which got me thinking. Let's see, the Debater fell ill Sunday (Saturday night, rather, at the ballot party following the speech and debate tournament awards ceremony -- instead of being the life of the party and wanting to stay until closing time, she and her sister both wilted and asked to leave an hour before the party was planned to end). Technically, it is Day Four for her. She started to perk up a bit last night. There's hope.

The Chef was a little off from Saturday night onward, grumpier than usual, until being laid low yesterday. Her symptoms are a little different. Same miserable fever as her older sister; but rather than a sore, swollen throat, she has a rebellious stomach. At her request, homemade chicken soup is now simmering on the stove, and glad I am to oblige, after the struggle yesterday to get anything at all down. For her, this works out to Day Two (if you don't count the "off" days when she was evidently fighting the bug).

The Computer Guy has actually been sick for more than a week. I think this might be Day Ten for him.

As for Eldest and myself, we are fighting it. Every once in awhile I get really tired, or feel a lump in my throat as if a sore throat is trying to take hold, and I down another dose of vitamin C or elderberry. The elderberry syrup is getting low in the jar; it's almost time to brew another batch. Eldest and I are also drinking fair amounts of homemade kombucha (got the continuous brew system set up and it's working well) and kefir in hopes that the probiotics will help. Something's working. I start feeling under the weather, sit down for a bit and take my C (usually crystal form, dissolved in kefir; seems to work faster that way -- the C in pill form seems to take a day or more to kick in), and without noticing a change, somehow I'm feeling better a little while later. I do hope my body will kick this thing completely, whether it's the dreaded flu, or some anonymous virus. I can't afford to be sick.

Who can?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Review Team!

You may have seen other people announcing the new review team being launched by the people behind the Homeschool Mosaics website. On the other hand, this may be the first you've heard of it.

In any event, I wanted to let you know that I've joined the Mosaics review team. There are more than 100 of us who will be receiving products and posting reviews of how they work for us and our families. These won't be just homeschool curriculum, but household and personal products as well!

Here's a link to the Mosaic Reviews website. If you're interested in joining the team, click here for more information!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Easy Stovetop Custard (GF!)

The Debater is sick on the couch with a swollen, sore throat and fever. This is the kid who has trouble keeping weight on, much less gaining it. One thing I can usually get her to eat, when sick, is custard, but the custard that I baked yesterday just didn't come out smooth -- you know that skin that can form on baked custard? Seemed a little rough for a tender throat.

I went looking for stirred custard recipes online this morning, and came up with this one:

The commenters seemed to agree that this was easy and delicious. I liked the fact that it didn't require a double boiler, and the recipe author's tip that if you add the sugar after you take the pudding off the heat, it won't stick to the pan.

So here's my adaptation:

Gluten Free Stovetop Pudding

4 eggs*
3 cups milk**
3 TBS cornstarch***
3 TBS sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk together eggs, milk, and cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Continue whisking over medium-low heat until it thickens. Remove from heat, stir in sugar and vanilla.

The texture is thin, at first, rather like custard sauce (brings up memories of Anne of Green Gables and the poor mouse that died a romantic death), but thickens on standing. Very smooth and creamy, easy on a sore throat. I believe this might be similar to the "blancmange" that Jo brought to a sick Laurie in Little Women.

You could whisk in cocoa powder or melted chocolate, to make chocolate pudding, I suppose, but I thought vanilla might be a little easier for an invalid. 

* I doubled the eggs to add more protein. The original recipe called for 2 eggs.

** I used a can of Trader Joe's Coconut Cream, plus about a cup of water, to make up three cups. The kid needs calories. If she weren't for the most part dairy free, I might have used heavy cream instead of coconut cream.

*** I used cornstarch, as it's not something that we have trouble with. I assume you could substitute arrowroot or tapioca starch

I shared this post over at Time Warp Wife. There are lots of helpful links there!

Monday, January 21, 2013

We're back!

...back from a grueling, exhilarating, five-day adventure also known as a Speech and Debate Tournament.

It is the best of days, it is the worst of days. (Wait, did someone already say that?)

A load of laundry is started, breakfast is on the stove, with the makings of more good food in the works. The Giant Schnoz, fully convinced that No One Else Will Do when it comes to taking her outside, feeding her, etc., is growling-and-wagging hopefully at my elbow. (Growling-and-wagging is a time-tested Giant Schnauzer technique. The growling is meant to show seriousness, with wagging thrown in to show it's not that kind of seriousness, but a more cheerful -- though urgent -- kind.)

(Pause to feed aforementioned dog)

And now, fed, she has taken the top off the treat jar, and so it must be time to give her the daily pill that resides in a bottle in the treat container. She likes her pills. She really does. That's why they're usually sealed up tight with the rest of the treats. Someone left the lid loose, and so I must go and see to the administration of the pill, and then make sure the treats are sealed in a manner that is safe from opportunistic Schnauzers. Be back in a minute.

(Pause to dose dog and secure future doses, along with various and sundry dog treats.)

Um. Where was I?

Speech and debate note: "Um" is a filler word, a distraction, undesirable in the extreme, along with "ah" and the misuse of "like" and oft-repeated phrases which become distractions when they dominate a speech, such as "Now..." and "Moving on" or "Moving along to my next point" or "All in all," or even "extremely" or "very."

We drove nearly four hours to get there, which makes a three-day event into a four-day (and if you're sane and drive back the day after the tournament ends, a five-day) event. The trip was well worth it.

Imagine a venue packed with suited students, trailing file boxes on wheels, filling the place with energy and excitement.

Speech and debate note: Debaters, as a rule, wear suits, looking like young professionals -- a convention of teen lawyers, perhaps, or youthful business people at a high powered conference. Speech participants who are not debaters, while not wearing suits, are conservatively dressed. They look good. They look sharp. Partners often wear matching outfits that complement each other -- shirts of the same hue, for example, or identical ties, or even more creative combinations like the young man whose tie matched his partner's shirt, while his partner's tie matched his shirt. Subtle, but not without impact.

The gym is the student lounge, in a manner of speaking, a staging area where competitions are announced and posted, where meals are served, a place to hang out in between events, to talk, laugh, practice, even engage in goofiness. (I heard about, but did not see, a mock debate that was described to me as the epitome of silliness.)

Another largish room is devoted to the judges and staff lounge, set up with tables and chairs and a steadily stocked refreshment table. This is where judges can work on their ballots, before (filling in competitors' names, reading over the rules for the event) and after an event.

Speech and debate note: There are two kinds of judges in an NCFCA tournament: Parent judges and community judges. Parent judges are just what they sound like, parents of competitors who fill in where needed -- because an awful lot of judges are needed. Dozens. Hundreds? I wouldn't be surprised. Community judges are recruited from the surrounding area and are essential to the tournament. The whole point is communication. The students have been working for months to polish their skills, and if they can get their point across to a community judge, essentially someone who comes in off the street (though there may be Toastmasters in the mix, as well as lawyers, pastors,  salespeople, and others who speak for a living, there are also mechanics, and waitresses, and dental assistants, and cashiers, and stay-at-home moms, and people from all walks of life), then they have succeeded. So next time someone whose kid is in a speech and/or debate club asks you to be a judge at an event, please do!

The remainder of rooms are smaller, from classrooms down to offices, even closets, anywhere you can squeeze a judge, a timer, and one or two speakers at a time. Ideally, you'll have a table for the judge and timer, and if it's a debate round, two tables, chairs and a lectern at the front of the room, plus a few chairs for spectators. In one of our daughter's debates, everyone (four debaters, a judge, a timer, and a watching parent) sat around one table. Not ideal, but they made it work).

Speech and debate note: There are two types of debate in the NCFCA. One is called Lincoln-Douglas Debate and involves one-on-one debate, two students debating a moral issue that changes each year (This year, the resolution is that a government has a moral obligation to assist other nations in need). The other is called Team Policy Debate where two teams of two partners each debate a policy issue. (This year, the resolution is that the United Nations should be significantly reformed or abolished.)

Speeches include a variety of events, taken from literature or written by the students, dramatic or humorous, informative and/or entertaining, prepared and memorized ahead of time, or made up on the spur of the moment, depending on the requirements of the particular event.

Over the three days, students perform their speeches or debate their resolutions, judges watch and fill out ballots, ranking the competitors. Some competitors are eliminated, some move on, through semi-final and final rounds, culminating in the final event, the awards ceremony where the winners in each category are announced.

Speech and debate note: ...well, not quite the final event. After the awards ceremony came the "ballot party" where many of the competitors went to a nearby Dairy Queen to read the judges' feedback, compare notes, celebrate or commiserate, exchange autographs, eat and talk and generally have a good time to cap off the tournament. It's a way of prolonging the time with friends old and new, a little longer, before everyone gets in their cars and scatters to the far corners of three states.

(See the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association website for more information about the organization behind the tournament.)

This tournament was a lot like others we've attended, popping with energy, inspiring and exhausting. An added complication was the stomach bug that started going around on the second day, and caused some competitors to miss the last day (or even interrupted events, in two cases I heard about). Quick action on the part of the organizers probably kept the bug from derailing the tournament. Competitors were urged to wash their hands frequently, and the usual competitor-judge handshakes were suspended.

What was amazing to me was that this tournament was sponsored by a club that was just formed a few months ago. It was beautifully organized, well run, and I can't say enough about the sponsors and those who came to help make it all happen.

Speech and debate note: Besides the competitors, parents, and judges, there are an awful lot of behind-the-scenes people who make it all possible. Hats off to these, too many to name, and many of whom I either never saw, or only saw in passing as they were hurrying from one task to another.

And now we're home, having spent a fair chunk of yesterday traveling home and then unpacking and settling down. Today is a day to do laundry, to regroup for a new week, to begin to catch up on everything that was set aside during the days we were preparing to go and the days we were away.

Oh, and a time to tend to a needy Schnoz who really, really missed us (she said so, in no uncertain terms), and to tend to a sick kid, who, tournament over, has succumbed to a nasty respiratory bug. You know how you can fight something off when you're in the middle of an important endeavor, and the adrenaline and excitement keep you going, only to crash in the end?

Yeah, that's about the size of it.

However, even with the exhaustion and illness that has her down today, she'd do it all over again. (And will, most likely. There are three more qualifying tournaments in the season, followed by Regionals. Nationals? Still a dream away. But more on all that, later.)