Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mid-Year Evaluation

It's that time... Friday is the end of our second quarter!  According to the paper-work filed with the city, we are half way done with the school year.  (According to me, we pretty much never stop school!)  But it's time for me to reflect on the past semester, and to put it down in black and white - What worked and what didn't? What will we keep doing and what will we toss out the window?  What have we loved?  What will we change for the remainder of the year?  

Category One: Tossed Out the Window

You want to know the thing that absolutely went out the window the second week in September???  You probably guessed it.  The Schedule.  Oh, how I love order, time slots, and scheduling things!  And, oh how quickly that all fell apart.  It would be super awesome to start Math at 8:15 and finish it at 8:30, but at 8:17 the baby needs a fresh diaper - the UPS man knocks at the door delivering the very diapers of which I speak - the toddler is stuck on the toilet waiting for a wipe and wailing that she wishes she could still wear diapers - the microwave beeps to say, "your coffee is reheated... for the third time" - the distractable Math student has wandered off because something in the workbook prompted him to look for his missing cowboy hat... and flashlight - and the still-at-the-table Math student has just finished sharpening fourteen pencils all the way down to the erasers.  So... you didn't have to pry The Schedule out of my hands, I freely let that one go.

Category Two: Things That Worked

Even though the time-blocked schedule didn't work, I'm happy to report that we still *usually* get all our lessons done every day!  Yay!  It helps that we stick to short lessons but it's also partly due to the Magnet Board System that we started after I gave up on The Schedule.  I made a blue set of magnets for one child, and a green set for the other - one magnet for every possible lesson that they might have to complete. In the mornings, or the night before, I put the lessons for the day on the left, and as they're done, the boys move them to the right.  The Magnet Board System keeps me organized and keeps the boys in-the-know.  They can see what lessons they'll be expected to do on any given day (no danger of Mom springing another lesson on them when they thought they were done.)  And it allows them to physically keep track of what they've accomplished.  It has worked better than expected and I'm definitely keeping this up.  (Incidentally, we use this same method for chores and it works great!)  

The only "hiccup" to this system is that your first grader might think he doesn't have to do a reading lesson if the Reading magnet disappears.  Post-It notes work in a pinch; Mom wins that round! (see a poor-quality photo of our magnet system at the end of this post!)

Category Three:  Things I've Had to Change

Tuesday Tea. We try to have civilized tea time, music, and discussion on Tuesday afternoons.  Every Tuesday the kids would beg me for tea.  Sugar cubes, flavored tea, milk, honey, more sugar cubes. They never drink the tea.  So now we have Tuesday Hot Cider, or Tuesday Hot Cocoa... delicious, but lacking the delightful ring of "Tuesday Tea."  

Art and Music.  I began the year with a plan to introduce a new artist and composer each month for Art and Music appreciation.  But we appreciated Monet and Vivaldi so much that it went on for weeks and weeks.  Finally we were able to snap out of it and move on to another artist and composer just in time to re-calibrate the plan, and now we study a new artist and composer each quarter.  Definitely better that way.

Category Four: Things I (We) Love That Have Taken Me By Surprise

Books to Remember Series from Flyleaf Publishing, the Decodable Literature in particular, by Laura Appleton-Smith.  WOW!!  I highly recommend these books.  They are the absolute opposite of typical make-mom-want-to-gnaw-her-arm-off readers.  They are simply lovely - charming stories with lovely illustrations.  No cartoons, stick figures, or halting language (so prevalent in first grade readers) here.  I could go on and on and gush all over this blog and still not say enough.  I love this series.  These are the books my "I'm not going to read" child will read (even to his siblings!!)  The language and illustrations are truly enjoyable, even for adults; a mother won't feel compelled to bang her head against the wall as she sits by and listens.  But you don't have to take my word for it... you can check out previews of a few books on the site.  (Let me know if you love them!)

Dover Coloring Books,  hearts and flowers... love, love, love!  I practically built the entire first semester of Science around Dover Coloring Books.  And they even encourage you to photocopy them (!!!) so your I-love-Dover-coloring-books child can realistically color a tarantula five six times!  Love, love, love!  

NOT a tarantula, but a wild turkey, part of our "we-spotted-it-on-a-hike local wild life nature study"

Draw, Write, Now

artwork by Dominic, age 5

Copy Work - who knew?

Ok, this next picture is so awkward because the shelf is practically 
in a corner and there's not a lot of natural light there.  There's 
not a lot of artificial light there either.  Sorry.
So, even though it's oddly angled and bad-lighting grainy, here's...
the magnet lessons boards...
  Each boy has his own board to keep track of which lessons are already done
for the day, and which are still to come.  The top board is where I store all the
not-in-use magnets.

Finally, I'm always on the look-out for great new ideas or resources or fun-sources (Yep, it's a word... it covers anything from puzzles to building blocks to museums.  Now you know!)  for school time.  Throw your best suggestions my way!  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Do You Say 'Flashcard' in Greek?

A few weeks ago my oldest son brought home his first assignments to complete for Greek tutoring.  On the first crisp white pages of the workbook I saw it.  It.  The completely totally, utterly, insanely different-from-ours alphabet that you're supposed to learn when your mind is young and supple, not when it's somewhere in between young adult and middle aged and getting rigid.  I broke out in a sweat.  How am I supposed to assist him with his homework???  How will I be able to sound anything out???  Help!  I am entirely un-schooled in anything Greek!!!  (Well, except I really like stuffed grape leaves and tzatziki and souvlaki.  Oh, and baklava.)  

"Pull yourself together, Theresa.  No more complaining."   Well... a little less complaining, at least.

I started combing the Internet with searches like "Greek Alphabet reference chart," "Greek Alphabet flashcards," "Greek for elementary students," and "Greek for the anglophile parents of elementary students studying Greek."   Let me tell you, there's not a lot out there.  At least not what I was looking for.   So I did this the hard way and made my own teaching tools, the way I wanted them and the way I thought they would help my son best.  (Let's be honest though... these are really more for me.)  And for what it's worth, I share them here with you.

Anyone may freely use these pdf files.

** Note: Pronunciations are based on the lessons in Song School Greek, Classical Academic Press (Koine Greek) and may be slightly different than pronunciations used in other Greek language programs.
** Double Note: I am not a Greek scholar.  And I am a notoriously bad speller, typist, and editor.  (Why the heck do you have a blog, then? you may ask. I have no reply.)  I have read, proof read, and re-read again, (don't you just love over-redundancies?)  but it is more than likely that there are some mistakes here.  I will not be upset if you find one (or more) and point it out to me.  I will be embarrassed, but I will fix it.  Thank you.

(1) Greek Alphabet Reference Chart
     a chart with capital and lower case letters, letter names, letter sounds

(2) Greek Alphabet Flashcards, letter names
     Greek Alphabet Flashcards - each card has capital letter, lower case letter, and letter name on the front   Instructions: cut pages into sixths to form flashcards.

(3) Greek Alphabet Flashcards, front and back
     Greek Alphabet Flashcards, front and back - the front of each card has the capital and lower case letter, the back has the letters, letter name, and letter sound.  Designed so a child can self-quiz, or an adult can see the "answer" info on back while quizzing.  Instructions: cut cards along the OUTER lines and in between the cards the width of the paper.  This will leave the front and back of each card attached; fold along the line in the middle.  (If this sounds as confusing to you as it does to me, see the photo below)  I stuck some double-sided tape in the middle of each card and put all the cards on a binder ring... because I. can't. stand. flashcards. flying. everywhere.  KEEP THEM TOGETHER.  ok?

(4) Greek Alphabet to Color - capital and lower case letters to color, letter name underneath.  Instructions: cut sheets in half lengthwise, tape together if desired to form an alphabet banner.  (Idea shamelessly taken from a friend in the same Greek boat, except she complains less than me!)

So, with these handy tools you're ready to take on Greek.  Good luck!  I'm sure you'll do fine.  As for me... Well, if Greek restaurants had been handing me menus in Greek all along, I would have had a little practice and I wouldn't be in this predicament.     Aaron would have brought that workbook home and flipping through it I'd say, "Oh, look!  You're going to learn about grape leaves and baklava. It says so right here!"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Post-It Note Love Story

Quiet rest time is a mandatory afternoon "activity' for children of every age in our home.   Aaron does his rest time in my room because two boys in one room in broad daylight would not provide any persons involved with any rest or quiet.  Yesterday during rest time Aaron obviously got his hands on a pencil and some post-it notes, because here's what I found when I went to bed last night...

a note on my night stand, a note on my mirror, a note under my pillow
Well, needless to say, words could hardly convey my emotion.  Such sweetness and love from my most challenging child!  To think of him tiptoeing around our room peppering it with love notes just melts my heart!

And then I found this note this morning.  It was one I managed to overlook last night...

"we need this laundry down the chute"

Ha ha!  Turns out he's full of sweetness, love, and a no nonsense authority in practical matters.  Honestly, after seeing this, I'm surprised he didn't leave a note that said, "you need to dust!" 

Thanks for keeping me on task, Aaron.  I love you, too, bud!  

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Seven Minute Solution

You're home with the kids all morning.  You're concentrating on lessons and somewhere in the background, someone is making a mess.  Or there is still a mess from breakfast.  Then you make lunch, and low and behold, more mess.  By rest time, there's a whole lot of mess to take care of but you're worn out and are anxious for the "me time" that afternoon naps (or bid kid rest time) afford.  

Ok, I'll quit using "you" like I'm addressing other moms' issues.  I'm absolutely talking about myself here.  While I do try to keep the kids on task with clean-up after a lesson, a game, a Lego-frenzy, and meals, some things fall through the cracks of their toddler and elementary school fingers.  By rest time I'm left with little bits to finish off or pick up here and there.  And I also have to move the laundry along.  And prep for dinner.  And check that the toilets have been flushed.  And call the dentist, doctor, bank, fill in the blank.  What I really want to do when I finally have a little time to myself is eat my lunch, read a book, pray, check my email, read my favorite blogs, call a friend.  It's hard to crash on the couch knowing there's a sink full of dishes or crayons scattered all over (and under) the table.  It's hard to relax looking at the toys lying on the floor in front of you.  But I usually blow nap-time chores out of proportion and say things like, "I can't possibly scrub out the sink, it will take up all my free time."  So sometimes I would do nothing *gasp* in the chore department, and then after nap time was over, it would still have to be done but with kids under foot.  Didn't help my afternoon mood, I'll tell you that much.

A while back, I decided to set the kitchen timer for seven minutes immediately after the kids were settled and just see what I could get done.  Seven because it's more than five but less than ten.  I would work quickly and efficiently and accomplish whatever I could, and then I'd stop when the timer went off and not feel too guilty about turning my attention to a book or the Internet.  

The first time I tried it I was shocked.  The chores that I was so dreading because they would take up all my free time, were finished before the timer went off.  What??  How did that happen?  I don't know, but it happens consistently and it shows how irrational I can be when it comes to judging the extent of my work.  I use this system regularly now, to remind me how much I can get done in a short amount of focused time.    My husband and I sometimes use it together after we get the kiddos in bed for the night.  We want nothing more than to sit down with a beer, chat about our day, check sports scores and stats (him, not me), sew (me, not him), email and watch Netflix.  But if we set the timer for seven minutes and go - we can pick up toys, finish the laundry, start the dishwasher, hand wash the rest, set up the coffee pot for the next morning, and on and on.  

It feels SO much better to sit down to relax after a very productive seven minutes.  Seven minutes is not a lot of time to devote to the home before I devote an hour to myself.  Right?  Try it.  You might be surprised.  Today, in seven minutes, I took out the garbage, switched the loads of laundry, washed the dishes that were in the sink, scrubbed the sink out with Comet, cleaned off the counters, put away some toys, flushed the downstairs toilet (argh, when will they learn??) and made my lunch.  Not bad.  Now I'm sitting at the computer with the satisfaction of knowing I didn't completely waste nap time on R&R.  I spent it in R&R&R - responsibility, rest and recreation.  

Seven minutes is not a lot.  But a lot can be done in seven minutes.  The seven minute solution is this busy moms' go-to time management strategy - you know I'm busy, so there's definitely stuff to be done in those seven minutes, but you know I'm busy, so I'll be giving myself a break when the timer goes, "beeeeeep!"

(The photos used in here were truly un-staged.  You're lucky I didn't get one of the toilet *wink*)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Better Than a Baby Book?

Here's a common tale for you...  I kept a baby book for my first child.  It was an Eric Carle illustrated baby book, very sweet. Sweeter still were the entries I made about his first tooth, first 'solid' food, and his favorite books and bedtime songs.  I don't even know where that book is now.  For my second, third, and fourth children I didn't even get a baby book because I had already been informed by experienced moms that I would never fill them out.  In fact, there is ample historical evidence of this from the baby books of my siblings that came after me.  My youngest sister's book has the date she was born, and then according to the baby book, she fell off the face of the Earth and no one knows what she's been up to since.  

Really, I always knew that I wouldn't seriously keep baby books.  Part of the reason I know this is because of the nearly total lack of interest in my own baby book.  It really doesn't matter to me when I got my first tooth, ate my first hot dog, slept through the night, got new vaccines, or was toilet trained.  (And again, according to the baby book, my baby sister has never been toilet trained, eaten hot dogs, or has any teeth with which to eat hot dogs.)  What I do love are the stories my parents tell about when I tried my first green olive and said with puckered lips, "I can't eat this, it's too tasty," or about my giant musty-smelling teddy bear named Sam Squash, or the time when my sister and I snuck down to the basement after bedtime and, totally eluding my usually-attentive dad, built a canopy over our bed with scraps of wood, duct tape, and a bed sheet.  (every little girl wants a canopy bed, right?)  

Similarly, I'm really not too concerned with the typical baby-book material for my own children.  But I do want to remember the funny things they say, the words they make up, the sweet gestures they do for each other, and the truly momentous "food firsts" like finally being allowed to grill a hot dog.  So at the suggestion of a good friend, we've decided to start a different kind of book - a notebook for each child documenting the things that we'll all want to reminisce over in the future, because I don't see us twenty years from now all sitting around the living room on Christmas Eve and pulling out the blow-by-blow accounts of cutting first teeth.  We will, however, all still get a good laugh twenty years from now remembering stories like this, one of my personal favorites...

Aaron, age 4
After reading the story of David and Goliath at bedtime...
Me: So, Aaron, just like David, we can always count on God to come to our aid in time of trouble.  Can you think of any thing that's tough to do on your own that you could pray about and ask God for help?
Aaron:  Well, like when I have to lift heavy things.
Me:  Oh, sure, of course!  You can thank God for your healthy body and ask Him to give strength to your muscles when you're doing heavy work.
Aaron: Or I could use a pulley.  

Here are the notebooks I made, one for each child.  There are no rules, no limitations, and no pre-determined categories or lists, so I'm not obligated to record her first bath and I won't feel guilty if I don't  write down when he ate his first hot dog.   I hope that some day when I turn these notebooks over to my children they will  think this collection of "information" about themselves is thoughtful, funny, and full of love.  I hope these books will be a glimpse of what it's really like for Russ and me - daily experiencing in the little things, the joy and privilege of raising  these precious and precocious, silly and smart, endearing and difficult, truly amazing children, whose worth and accomplishments are much more than first teeth and vaccinations.

No need for a tutorial here, I didn't make it up!  I followed this tutorial to affix the material to a standard black and white composition notebook.  But, instead of trimming the edges, I folded them in and ironed them onto the inside of the covers.  Then I chose coordinating sheets of scrapbook paper and attached them with spray adhesive.  Be careful, that spray stuff gets everywhere!

(It's so fun to make these, I made tons more!   They're great for gifts!  But don't get any ideas, this is my gift for any future baby showers.)
Add caption

Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing to Tomie DePaola...

...That was one of our projects for school this quarter!  Just before Christmas, we wrote to one of our favorite authors, Tomie DePaola.

I could go on and on about why he ranks among the top for me, and I will - just not in this post.  I intend to fully expound upon the greatness of that author/illustrator in an attempt to convert (possibly the only) two readers of my know who you are... over to Tomie's fan club (not a real thing.)  And soon you will know why our bookshelves are bursting at the seams with Tomie's books.  

But for now, here's simply a little account of our project...

First, everyone wrote a letter to Mr. DePaola.
Since so much of his work is somewhat autobiographical, we all feel like we already know Tomie! It was fun for me to chat with the kids about what they would include in their letters.  I think one of the reasons I wanted to do this project, besides that it was just tons of fun, was to help my kids grasp more concretely that there are real people behind our favorite books.  We already love the stories, and now I hope that by coming to understand a little more about the human effort that goes into a written story and "real artwork" (as opposed to computer-generated illustrations.  blech.) they will appreciate a good book as a little piece of someone.  Good books come from real people.  And sometimes the books are so great, a mom can just tell that this author would be worth getting to know... and when you home school, you can call it a lesson!

(note: the "erasure" marks are mine... I'm still learning how to edit photos,
so it's all a little elementary-looking...)

If Clare could have written a letter she probably would have mentioned that her first words were "Garunge - arunga!"  We're all pretty certain we've heard it come from her lips; after all, everyone else around here says it about a dozen times a day as we wave our imaginary chicken feet at each other.  (from Tom)  
But since she couldn't send a letter, this photo will have to do...

I also wrote a letter, not shown here.  But I'm sure you can guess that it was full of
praise and thanks for Mr. DePaola's work.

Next, my fabulous dad helped the kids bake Irish Soda Bread.  Irish Soda Bread is my dad's specialty, and you may want to consider planning a pilgrimage to the source of this bread - his kitchen - to experience the taste sensation for yourself (it's BYO toaster oven and butter.)  In the meantime, know that real honest-to-goodness Irish people have given Dad's bread a shamrock-shaped stamp of approval.  
Anyways... my children, like their mother before them, have extensive experience in helping Papa make the bread of the fair Emerald Isle, and were excited to bake a loaf for Tomie (who is Irish on his mother's side.)  Because the baking and eating of soda bread is a significant portion of our family's gastronomical history, we love when Oonagh brings slippers, a pipe, a mug of stout, and a gigantic slab of soda bread to 
her dearie, in Fin M'Coul.

- from Fin M'Coul, by Tomie DePaola -

(I hope Tomie tries, and likes, the bread, and doesn't think it's a scary poisoned loaf from psycho fans.  I made the kids wash their hands and stop poking their noses before they made it.  Honest!)

 And, of course, we took a picture to send along with the package...

I sent the kids on a crazy run-around-the-house errand to gather all the DePaola books we have for the picture,  but we realized too late, that we missed a few. 

So, we're hoping to hear back from him!  On his website, Tomie writes that he tries to respond to fan mail but that it may take a while.  We're watching the mail box and I will post an update here if anything exciting shows up!   I'm planning another post soon, in which I will gush as much as I like and will make my case for "Tomie DePaola... An Author Whose Books I Will Buy at Full Price" or "Why Catholic Families With Children Should Have DePaola Books in the Home" or "The Books I'd Send With My Kids to a Deserted Island" or"What You're Missing if You Let Strega Nona's Looks Scare You Off" or
 "Garunge - arunga."  
Haven't decided on a title yet *wink*

If you want to check out Tomie DePaola's website for yourself, it's

Friday, January 11, 2013

12 for 2012

This is my first time linking up to anything.  Am I doing it right?  Is it working?  Hello?  Is this thing on?  

The Year 2012 in 12 Photographs

Ok, I clearly have taken a lot of liberties with the 12 for 2012 idea.  I tried.  I tried so hard to pick just one picture for each month.  Practically everyone else over at Dwija's did it, how come I can't????  Oh right, because I have an indecision problem that runs that gamut from "chocolate or vanilla?" to "regular or LED Christmas lights?" to "which of thousands of names will we bestow upon our child which will  not be a burden to him or her for years to come?"  So, seriously??  Choosing just one picture per month - well nigh impossible for a gal like me.  And it is darn hard to narrow it down when your kids are so cute and life is (mostly) great almost every day of the month... (haha - read here about why I didn't post this earlier...)  It also  didn't help that in January we got a new camera that was... well, better than our old camera, and I experimented a lot.  So I have tons. of. pics.  Photo a month?  Nah, I caved and pretty much did a collage-a-month.  Without further adoo blathering...    



Ahh!  Look what happened in March!  Evened things out - two boys, two girls.

April... can you guess which one was the official family Easter photo???



July... I could have put up a hundred photos of the hot air balloon festival which was the HIGHLIGHT of our year, oh yeah - except for the new baby!  It was all I could do to just pick one.  
Even now, my heart is beating faster thinking about the July II collage 
I could make... hot. air. balloons. galore.  "Don't."  Ok. I won't.



October... yeah, I know All Saint's Day is technically in November, 
but this dress up party was in October, so this is legit.
(St. Francis, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Dominic, St. Zita.)



aaaaaaaand... if you're still really looking at this... here's a bonus... mwhahaha!

Loved you, 2012!  I can only imagine 2013 will be as lovely!  God is good!

a proud mom moment

Confession:  Sometimes I forget that we (my husband and I) home school for the kids' sake.  Sometimes, I think it's all about me.  Isn't that terrible????  Even as I write it, I can't believe how crazy and disordered it is...  But I forget, sometimes.  And I start thinking that homeschooling is about me accomplishing things - all the lessons I've planned and how well I've executed them.  I think it's about the good books I've gotten and activities I've organized and... brace yourselves... sometimes I even attribute the success of my children to... me.  

Then, I fail miserably at something, or everything doesn't go according to plan (for like, a whole month.)  And  my eyes are opened, my heart is softened, and I remember... it's ok, because this is not all about me.  God is the Lord of our home education, and He's doing something with this despite my weaknesses and mistakes.  He forgives my pride and reminds me, "Do this for My glory and for their good.  Be happy and holy in your home school!"

Today, my oldest son, without dawdling or complaining, read an entire book before the kitchen timer went off (a necessity to keep his perfected art of wasting time in check).   He was beaming!  I was practically jumping up and down!  His little sister, who was listening at the doorway, said, "That was a nice story!"  And I thought, he did so well!    He has really worked so hard this past year.  He is getting it.  My  His hard work is paying off.  It's not all about me.

My five-year-old son shocked the heck out of me when he remembered (after the 10-day Christmas break) how to read three-digit numbers.  One high five wasn't even sufficient!  We went for 5 - 10 -15 - 20 - 25, etc... (my trick for teaching skip counting by fives since they were babies facing me in the shopping cart seats!)  And today he completed his third book in his reading program.  THIS from the kid who couldn't identify all 26 letters back in September.  He's trying so hard!  I've He's done an AMAZING job!!  He's a READER!!! 

I am so humbled by their efforts.  I don't think my children comprehend it, but their dedication and perseverance in their studies gives glory to God in our home.  (I don't think they get this because they look at my kind of cross-eyed and say, "huh?" when I try to talk about it...)  They are glorifying God in their phonics and handwriting and art and all of it!  I am so happy and humbled to be a part of it.  

I don't give my children enough credit.  Too often, I pat myself on the back for the good things I see in them.  Too often I congratulate myself when they accomplish something worthwhile - especially where their education is concerned.  Obviously, I direct their school lessons, correct their work, encourage, enthuse and excite.  And obviously, I occasionally have to insist they complete their work, complete it well and complete it, uh... completely.  But I must not forget that they earn their successes.  They have achieved because they have persevered.  They have put in as much effort as, or more than, I have in this home school thing.  They're doing AMAZING.  And I am so proud of them.  

I am so grateful for the opportunity to teach my children at home.  I'm so relieved that we wake every morning with the renewed hope and promise of a happy and holy school day and I truly pray that we will not neglect any opportunity to glorify God through our lessons.  God has shown me a glimpse of His goodness through the strengths and efforts of my children.  So today I decided to take and post a couple pictures of my kiddos to show off how great they are doing in school.  Because I am bursting with pride for them, and today, it's all about them.  

Aaron upon finishing "The Sunset Pond" in a single sitting (I highly recommend the
 Books to Remember series, by Laura Appleton-Smith!) and coloring a
Great Blue Heron (I also LOVE Dover Coloring Books)

Dominic finishing "Dad's Hat" and practicing three-digit numbers!

Ruth working on letters and "math."

Clare enjoys the classics.  She's very advanced.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Freezer Meal Ideas and Tips

I've been working on putting together my collection of photographs to photo-commemorate the year 2012, and was thinking of posting it today.  The pictures, for the most part, are images of very adorable children, smiling parents, and loveliness all around.  However...  given that today was one of the most difficult days of the past six years, it seemed a little hypocritical and ridiculous to put my "awesome family life in 2012" post up today.  (If you live in the Eastern half of the United States, it's very possible that you heard the echos of my immature outburst, the gist of which was, "I can't take this anymore."  Around 10am?  Yeah, that was me.)

So instead of completely misrepresenting the kind of day I had by posting something similar to a Color Me Happy Year in Review, and without actually talking about today because that dirty laundry isn't ready to be aired -----------
I decided to respond to the request of a few friends (hey, gals!) and pass on some ideas and recipes for frozen meals.

Some random thoughts to consider:

* I usually set aside three or four weekends for major cooking.  (usually in Nov.)
* I raid my recipe box and pull out everything that I'd like to make, then divide the recipes up into piles according to the weekend they'll be made.  I try to lump like items together - soups, casseroles with similar ingredients, meals with chicken, meals with ground beef, crock-pot meals... however you want to divide it up.
* I use the recipes to create a shopping list for each round of meals.
* I buy lots of extra gallon-size freezer bags and aluminum casserole trays at the Dollar Store.  I also buy Dollar Store tupperware if they have larger sizes available.  (I usually double bag the bags, just to be safe.)
* For soups especially, or for any meals that require a lot of veggie and onion chopping before you cook, I often have a "chopping night"  and enlist my husband's help.  I'll chop all the veggies and meat the night before and put them in ziploc bags so they're ready to go the next day.  For some soups, all the ingredients go in the pot at the same time, so they all go into one large ziploc.  But if a recipe needs the onions added first, for example, I'll put the rest of the veggies in a big bag, and the onions in a smaller bag within the larger bag.  I just like to keep everything as easy as possible for the cooking day.  Don't forget to label these bags too!
*  Don't make unnecessary dirty dishes for yourself.  Why use two pans when you could use one???   If you're making beef chili and shepherd's pie within a couple days of each other, cook all your ground beef together in one pan.  Then you can divide out what you need to use right away and what needs to go in the fridge for later.  Same with chicken, potatoes, etc...  (easy every-one-already-knows-this tip: if I cook more ground beef than I need - which I usually do - I freeze the extra to add to spaghetti sauce for an easy last-minute meat-sauce night.  Just a little review from Freezer Food 101.)  
* I usually make double of everything, except for recipes I know we all love.  Those I may quadruple.  When I freeze meals, most things I freeze are intended only to feed my family of 6 (wow!  I can't believe I can say 6, because the baby eats table food now!!)  Some casseroles I've made in the past and so I know the recipe leaves me with tons of leftovers, so I will make a double batch but divide it into three aluminum pans.  Perfect size meals for our family.  I do freeze some bigger meals to use if we have company.  I will label those bags/pans accordingly, so that I don't have to wonder which meals are the larger sizes later on.
* Don't forget to label your meals going into the freezer with instructions of how to defrost, cook, serve, etc...  

I can't think of anything else right now.  I have put some of the favorite recipes to freeze on the "Recipe" page up top. I can't wait to hear what you try!  And, if you have any fabulous recipes for freezing and feeding to hungry families, send them this way.  I love trying new ones!

Finally, if you're anxious to see 2012 in photos, check back in a couple days when it won't be so "off the mark" to post it!  I'll be *trying* to link it up with Dwija at House Unseen!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

mason jar bookends

May I offer here a glimpse of an ordinary, lovely solution to an everyday eyesore?  We recently re-arranged some of our school books and supplies and were left with a shelf of tippy books. That drives me CrAzY.  So, here's what I did...

Jars and Dollar Store rocks that I had hanging around the house.  Bam.  That was easy.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

d.i.y.Eggnog Latte

or What I Did Today to Feel Like an Adult in a House Full of Kids

d.i.y. Eggnog Latte in Six Easy Steps

(Sorry.  I cannot offer any taste comparison to specialty coffee shop eggnog lattes because I practically never leave my house.  But this was pretty tasty!)

Step 1: Pour a half mug of strong coffee (what other kind is there???)
Step 2: In a separate mug, mix a half cup of eggnog and 1/4 c. milk.  
Step 3: Heat in the microwave for 45 seconds.  Hit it with your BonJour milk frother  (or a whisk?)
Step 4: Add frothy mixture to the coffee.
Step 5: Add a little whipped cream and sprinkle some nutmeg and cinnamon on top for a delicious scent and 
           to make it look pretty and professional.
Step 6: Ignore the children in your house (or thank your husband for taking most of them out sledding), sit    
          and sip.  (tip: it's easier to pretend you're in a cozy cafe if you sit facing the least cluttered area of 
           your home.  Some furniture re-arranging may be required...)


ps: please don't throw scornful looks my way, or call official authoritative authorities on me because I recommended that you ignore your children.  I really only advocate this type of behavior when you're attempting to cultivate the inner peace and calm that you vaguely recall from your quiet-corner-in-a-cafe days, before you had children.  So, no more frequently than, let's say, before breakfast, after breakfast, before school lessons, after school lessons, mid-afternoon, early evening, and mid-to-late evening, if your kids stay up that late (although you may want to switch to ignoring them with decaf at that point... or maybe by late evening you've switched to spiked eggnog.  Perfectly acceptable, just leave enough eggnog for a new round of lattes tomorrow!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy Handmade Christmas

It is one of my favorite things ever to make handmade gifts for Christmas.  It makes me feel a little like Ma Ingalls.  (More on my longing to be Ma some other time.)  Except she would never lose track of time, and this year I sort of lost track of time and then I ran out of time.  Alas, some projects I had planned for fell by the wayside, but here is my Show-and-Tell post for the gifts I did complete.  (My children are also very adept at handmade gifts - this year's included a variety of popsicle stick creations, loom potholders, and some very lovely crayon-colored letters in the style of Medieval illuminated manuscripts.  But I failed to get any photos, apparently because I was too busy taking pics of my own creations...Hmm... New Year's resolution perhaps?  Project Document Kids' Crafts?  I'm workin' on it.)

felt tea bags and pouch - for my daughter who received a tea set last Christmas
(idea adapted from any one of the play food tea bags listed on etsy... take your pick)

felt envelopes for playing mail and sending secret messages
(idea adapted from here )

felt ornaments given to my sons to commemorate two special events this past year... the hot air balloon festival we FINALLY got to go to and our very fun and very prolonged backyard squirrel study.
I hope this will become a tradition each year, if I can manage it.
(I made up the hot air balloon design and I got the squirrel template here.)

people treats -  hot chocolate stirrers for the kids' stockings 
dog treats -  even though I don't care for pets (ha.  that's putting it mildly), we do try to treat our dog-in-law, Leo, well.   He really likes this recipe here.  I substitute natural apple sauce for the jelly and skip the sugar decoration.  We used a cookie cutter to turn them into "Buffalo Bites" and made a triple batch to fill a pint-and-a-half mason jar.  This has become an annual activity I do with the kids - it's the closest they'll ever come to caring for a pet whilst I'm in charge...

Hmm... I don't exactly have my sister's permission to  put her picture on here, but she kind of
had to be in it so you could see the cozy cowl I crocheted.  
fabulous purse, if I do say so myself!  I've been using this pattern for a couple years now.  It's a good one! 

tulle tutu and matching ballerina doll (the doll is my own pattern and the tutu is the Low Sew Tutu from JoAnns, adjusted for my daughter's height) 
and here are my sweet ballerinas!

I think that was it for Handmade Christmas this year.  But I have a few other things I may try to pull together for the Feast of Epiphany.  We usually try to have a gift for the children on that day as well, but with my lack of planning this year (and the early January-ish problem of we've all been doing way too many Christmas crafts and we better get back to doing some school lessons pretty darn quick), it's questionable whether I'll have anything made in time.   What would Ma do?

I would love to hear what kinds of gifts other folks were creating for Christmas this year!  So, if you're crafty and you're reading this, share your ideas!  Please!  Thank you.

And, oh yeah.  I am none too ashamed to admit that most of the things I create are concepts I've seen elsewhere.  I will always try to give credit where credit is due.  Please feel free to do the same with what I post here (but it would be ever so appreciated if pictures of my children and any other human beings would stay on this blog.)

One more thing - don't get the wrong idea about me hand-making everything.  While I love sewing and crafting and making things that I hope will be family treasures for generations to come (or at least for a couple of months) I'm also a BIG fan of Amazon Prime.  Big.  Fan.  Love my two day free shipping - not too good for developing the virtue of patience, practicing delayed gratification and all that, but very good for distracted-mom holiday planning!  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...