Homeschooling in the New Year

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I’d read it in almost every book and website and advice column there was about homeschooling.

Make your own schedule.  Take off the whole month of December if you need to, but don’t, trust us, do not take off a whole month of math.

So, I took off a month of school.  I had Math Fact Cafe email me a page of practice problems everyday.  But somewhere in the hustle and bustle of holidays, I quit printing out those practice pages.  This was a break after all, why was I making her do math over the break?

I forgot all that wisdom I’d heard from every resource until we resumed our studies.  Reading?  Great!  Spelling?  Great!  History?  Took a few minutes to review then we were right back on track.

Then came Math.  I set her up with 18 counters, a ten-form chart, and the simple problem of 18-6.  She quickly remembered that the chart represented that 18 was 10 and 8. 

“So,” I prompted her, “all we have to do is find 8-6.  What’s 8-6?” 

She stared at the page. . .and stared. . .and stared. . .  “10!”

“No. . .”

“7?”

“Hmm, if only there were eight counters and we could take six of them away,” I hinted.

She stared some more.  She did not remove any counters.

“15?”

Oh dear.

I decided to come back to this later.  We’re obviously going to need to re-teach the whole unit.  Let’s just move on to the next unit for now. 

Shapes!

She laughed, “Ha, it looks like they’re trying to teach people shapes.”

I’m so glad I get to be a part of this.

Small Things Make The Most Difference

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Well, how are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions?  I have been keeping mine.  If you remember, I resolved to read my Bible everyday. 

It’s a sad fact, but I’d gotten away from reading it in the business of motherhood.  Of course, I re-tell my children many of the well-known stories.  We read their little children’s Bible and even practice memory verses.  Many times, words of Scripture I’d memorized (intentionally or just through hearing it often enough) would come to mind.  And occasionally I would open up the old text at home to read or re-read something that came to mind. 

But I’ve never committed to daily bible reading. I’ve read devotional books daily and usually get tired of them pretty quickly.  At first, I thought this experience would be the same.  I’m reading the Daily Bible, an interesting book that breaks down the scriptures into chronological daily readings.  So far, I’m still in the Genesis narratives and it fits nicely into that format, but I’m curious as to how the laws of Leviticus and the wise sayings of Proverbs are going to work into that. 

I had expected to feel like I was doing something out of discipline, commitment, but so far, it just seems very natural and easy.  I’m glad of that.  So much better than other things I’ve resolved. Like exercising and accomplishing the maximum possible in each day. 

Speaking of resolutions,  I heard of a lady who, together with her husband, made an interesting New Year’s Resolution.  They resolved to give each other a real hug and a kiss everyday this year.  How cool is that!  Y’know, not just a have-a-good-day kinda peck, but a real honest to goodness kiss.  Every day.

Though they have a good marriage, there’s no doubt this commitment will lead to an improvement.  I think it’s wonderful they’ve decided to make that one small change to put their marriage first in their priorities. 

I guess that’s really what makes a good resolution.  A small change.  Not a huge overhaul of your life, but a slight adjustment, a minor activity that, when repeated over and over, makes a significant improvement in your life.

So, how are you doing?

 

“Great things are doneby a series of small things brought together.”
–Vincent Van Gogh
“Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I’ll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things.”
— Lawrence Bell
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
— Mother Teresa
 
“Whatever you’re working on, take small bites. The task will not be overwhelming if you can reduce it to its smallest component.”
— Richard Russo, author

Apple Tart

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When you think of a warm and comforting dessert for a cold and gloomy evening, what comes to mind?  For me, it’s apple pie.  There’s not much that can beat the smell of cinnamon and apples warming in the oven.

But who has time to make apple pie on a weeknight? Oh, sure, you could heat up one of those store-bought versions, but that just doesn’t compare with homemade goodness.

Never fear, I have a quick and easy alternative that is just right for such an occasion.  A simple and delicious apple tart.

Begin by thawing out some frozen pie crust.  If you’re super chef-y, you’ll have made your own pie pastry ahead of time and frozen it.  If you’re just a regular like-to-cook kinda girl, you’ll have some Pillsbury on hand in the freezer.  And if you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon baker, you’ll have to run to the store.

While you’re out, pick up a few Golden Delicious apples.  Santa Claus brought us each a giant Red Delicious apple, and they were just crying out to be baked, having passed their prime for out-of-hand eating, so that’s what I used, but Golden Delicious would really be best.  You’ll need about 3 or 4 apples.

Give your apples a quick peel and cut out the cores.

Then slice them into very thin slices.

If you have one of those fancy mandolin slicers, that would be sweet.  If not, a knife works fine–they don’t have to be perfect.

Roll your dough out into a circle and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  (I guess you could just put it straight on the baking sheet. It probably wouldn’t stick, but the parchment gives you insurance against scrubbing your pan later.  It’s a safe bet.)

Leaving some room on the edges, begin laying out the apple o’s in a ring overlapping one another.

Next, some plain white sugar. 

Sprinkle it around on top of the apples.  It doesn’t take much.  That’s a 1/4 cup measure I scooped with.  I probably used most of it, but not a full 1/4 C. 

A recipe book would say one scant quarter cup.  I’ve always like that word scant.  It seems like a secret code among bakers.  Like pinch and dash.  I particularly like heaping.  Heaping is good.  Especially when it pertains to cocoa powder.

Now we’re ready for a dash of cinnamon.

Here’s what a dash looks like, in my definition.

Eww, sorry.  I should have fixed the white balance on that photo.  Apple Tart is not that yellow.

Okay, now, this next part is so easy, you won’t believe that’s all there is to it.  Moving around the edges, fold the dough in about every four inches or so.  Just however it naturally folds.  You should have something like this when you’re done.

Now, pop it into the oven, preheated to 400 degrees, and bake until the dough gets to the intersection of Golden Brown and Delicious.   Should be about 13-15 minutes.

While that’s baking, there’s one more thing you could do to make this monumentally delicious.

Caramel sauce.

Take three tablespoons each of white sugar, brown sugar, butter and cream.

Heat them together, stirring occasionally, until boiling.  Boil for one minute.

Simple as pie.

No, simpler.

Slice up the tart and drizzle the caramel sauce all over the plate. 

Enjoy!

Man, writing these posts always makes me thankful for leftovers.

A Word and A Story

I’m working on an apple tart recipe to share with you later, but today’s word of the day reminded me of a bit of trivia I thought I’d share with you.  So here’s the word:

flibbertigibbet: Dictionary.com Word of the Day

flibbertigibbet: a silly, flighty, or excessively talkative person.
Have you ever used that word?  I tend to think of it as a hyphenated mess Flibber-ty-Jibbit or something.  And though I’ve heard the word plenty of times, I can’t think where and I hardly ever use it.
Once upon a time, a little girl and her mother decided to dress up the little girls plastic shoes.  They took some hot glue and some buttons, and created little thingies to stick into the holes in the tops of her Crocs. 
But what would they call them?  Thinking of nonsensical words, they hit upon flibertigibbet and shortened it to jibbet.
After selling them in local boutiques, and eventually online, they sold their invention to Crocs for a million dollars or something like that. 
Stories like that always make me wonder:  How do you go from a cute little idea to a million dollar company? 
I have cute little ideas.  Most people do.  Short of pouring your life into every little idea you have, how do you know when you’ve got a winner?
Food for thought. 
I think I’m gonna go make some real food now.

It’s Time to Make a Menu

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I don’t know if this is belongs under the heading Ditching Debt, What to Eat or just ‘Round Here. It’s a handy little thing I’m working on that really helps in both areas.

One of the easiest ways to save money is by planning what you eat and shopping accordingly. No one would argue that groceries are cheaper than restaurants, but when you don’t have the proper groceries, what do you do? You go to a restaurant.

Consider this my restaurant insurance.

I’ve shown you how I use my calendar to create a weekly menu. Working that out only weekly helps me to account for food in my pantry that’s nearing it’s expiration date, what’s on sale at the store, and what we’re in the mood for. And of course, if I was unable to make that chicken casserole last Thursday, I still have the ingredients and I’ll pencil it in for Monday instead.

But sometimes, occasionally, every once in a while. . .

I don’t wanna.

I don’t have the concentration or creativity to think of what to cook that week. I think “Tacos on Monday, Chicken nuggets on Tuesday, and for Wednesday. . .um . . . tacos?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a comprehensive list of all the meals my family enjoys that I could reference in times like that?

I’ve tried. It’s nearly impossible to think of everything in one sitting to make a list.

What’s a girl to do? If only I made a list each week and wrote it down, then maybe at the end of the year I could look back over those weekly lists and. . .wait a second. I think I did something like that!

Before tossing my 2009 calendar into the trash, I thumbed through the pages while joyfully cataloging each meal into my computer.

Ooooh, maybe I could even make a ratings system! That would be cool. Just think, with a table in Word. . .

If you’re interested in seeing the comprehensive list, I’ll have a link here later today.

Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup

When the weather turns cold and it’s time for supper, I think soup.

Not the brothy chicken soup you want when your sick.  Winter calls for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kinda soup.

But sometimes, those soups can be heavy and make you lethargic.  Y’know the feeling, too much chili in your belly.  Or potatoes.  Or cream.   You’re warm and relaxed on the couch  after that hearty soup but the children need to go to bed and all you can do is say, “hey, kids, time for bed,” and pull the blanket up around your chin.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Well, my friend shared with me a soup that will fill your winter cravings and not lead you into a food-induced coma.

Begin with beans. Just two cans of Great Northern beans.

Drain them and dump them into your crock pot along with 1/2 a can of water.  Now, some beef stock.

You’ll need 1 and 3/4 cups of beef broth or stock.  Pour that into the crock too.

Now, the recipe calls for 12 ounces fresh Italian Sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices.  That would be lovely.

But I couldn’t find it at my store.  So, I improvised.

I bought a pound of sage sausage, cut it into quarters, and cut those sticks into 1/2 inch slices.   

Whether you’ve got the links or the improvisation, brown your sausage in a skillet.

As it was cooking, I decided it did not smell Italian enough to pass for Italian sausage.  So I added some spices, the ones I usually use in Italian cooking: parsley, oregano, garlic, pepper. 

Of course, the main spice in Italian sausage is fennel seed.  If you really want Italian sausage, mix in 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed by hand before breaking up the sausage. 

I don’ t like fennel seed.  I don’t really like Italian sausage, on pizza and stuff.  I used to think, this sausage is nice except for the occasional licorice-y taste.  Man, what is that weird taste.  I think it’s these seeds. . .

Fennel seed. Some people love it, others not so much.

Back to the soup.

Once your sausage is browned, drain off all the grease.  You don’t need that in your soup.  But, please, do not, under any circumstances, pour it down your drain.  Why? See here.

You’re also going to need some sliced zucchini or yellow squash.  About 2 Cups.  (Note: I had already dumped most of the zuke in when I took the pic.)  Add it to the pot.

Also, 1/2 cup of chopped onion. First, slice this way, not cutting all the way to the onion stem.  

Then slice this way and watch as the onion magically dices!

You’ll also need to add one mince garlic clove.

And 1/2 teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning.  If you don’t have it, just shake in a bit of the ones I mentioned earlier. 

Some basil would be good too.

Finally, one can of Italian-style tomatoes, or stewed tomatoes,

cut up.  Here’s how I do it:

And finally, 1/3 cup of red wine or water.

Cook on low for about 6-8 hours. 

When you get home, or ready to eat, add about 1/3 cup of lemon juice from a bottle or the juice of one fresh lemon.  And half a ten ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained.

Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy.

TUSCAN SAUSAGE AND BEAN SOUP RECIPE

Grease Goes in the Garbage

Often when cooking, you will brown some meat and drain off the grease before using the meat in some other application. 

This is an important service announcement.

Grease belongs in the garbage!  If you absolutely MUST pour it down the drain, run very cold water with it. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Shouldn’t I pour hot water to keep it liquid? 

Well, are your pipes hot all the way to the sewer?  No.  Running hot water will keep the grease liquid and allow it to collect together until BAM the pipes get cold.  The grease, all nicely collected now, will solidify exactly where you do not want it to.  In a clump, in your pipes.

On the other hand, by pouring the grease slowly and running cold water, you make little tiny grease droplets solidify.  Not much worse than running other solids down the sink.

But, please, just put the grease in the trash.  

Yes, my pipes are clogged right now, why do you ask? 

Apparently I needed to emphasize this rule in my own house a little more forcefully.