Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Before she started first grade, Sarah was reading "Swiss Family Robinson". She's been engrossed in the story and delights in reading a 'real' chapter book (as compared to 'elementary' chapter books that are only 100 pages long). It's been so fun watching her read every day. She particularly enjoys using bookmarks cut out of pretty scrap booking paper (I finally found something useful for that darn paper! Who needs scrap booking?) She wanted bookmarks cut out of several pretty papers, but didn't want to 'waste' the bookmarks by having them lie in a pile. She wanted to use them all simultaneously, so she read the first chapters of 5 different books, then carefully placed the bookmark in and lined the books in a row.
She made a 'reading station' for herself downstairs on our school-table. First she found a wooden box to hold a variety of her favorite books (American Girls, Pony Pals, Heidi, and current interests mixed together). She also gathered a notebook and pen for writing down the words she needs a defining. Her page from last night's reading had these words: Vesuvius, Medusa, Pompeii, tunics, unison. Fun! She has been reading in much of her spare time, which absolutely delights me. I love taking pictures of her reading.
I'm very pleased that she shares one my deepest joys. I'm an unabashed bibliomaniac. That new toy, the Kindle, has so many rave reviews about how great it is to have so many books at your fingertips. I'm really honestly not even interested in it. It lacks the fundamental ingredient in enjoying a good book: the book itself. The sensory pleasures from holding the book, turning the pages, and smelling paper (especially the old-paper smell found in good used-book stores....oh YUM!) are irreplaceable. I've read books online before, and it's just not the same. I can't get the deep feeling of satisfaction from a story without having a physical interaction with the book. I suppose it could be compared to love....you can't REALLY grow to love someone if you only see pictures of them and never really spend time with them. Perhaps I am wrong, but that's my view. Give me a good book (especially nice hard-back ones), whet my mental appetite, and I'm happy for the rest of the day. It's so difficult to tear myself away from good writing so I can deal with life's necessary responsibilities. My only consolation in this is the knowledge that we will be able to learn for eternity....what bliss!
For Math we discovered some real *gems* in literature: Sir Cumference and the Round Table. There is an entire series about Sir Cumference and each book teaches the principle of geometry as part of a wonderful story. We found them in our library and REALLY enjoy them! I highly recommend them to anyone doing home school. The books are clever (there are twin brothers named Geo of Metry and Sym of Metry, a lady named Di of Ameter, and a small boy named Radius) and they present the facts in a way that's easy to remember. There is a riddle to solve, and the answer is only found after applying mathematical truths. It's so fun! These are definitely on our family wish-list now!
Taking our kids to school each morning is like running the gauntlet. The school is only one mile away, but merely dropping our kids off at school takes 45 minutes! The traffic jam to gain access to the school parking lot is ridiculous. We've started listening to audio books while we wait each morning. This week we've been listening to Greek legends. The narrator recently introduced the story of Prometheus. Delighted with the cool name, Matthew giggled, rubbed his hands together in excitement, and said in a voice shivering with pleasure: Proooomeeeeeeeeeeeeetheus!!! What a funny guy!
Friday, August 21, 2009
Each day she's been hurriedly doing her chores so she can have more time to play chess. She runs up to me with excitement, begging to set up a game. Nathan collected chess sets as a hobby before we had children, so we have a closet full of beautiful chess sets carved in stone, onyx, wood, ivory, metal, and fossil. Matthew LOVES to open the wooden cases and lovingly stroke the Turkish set carved with elephants. He'll close the box- almost reverently- and resign himself to play with the less-exotic carved ivory set with normal pieces. I really need to get them a cheap plastic set...just as a precaution.
They wanted to play chess several times a day each day this week and yesterday there was a breakthrough...Sarah was beating me when I wasn't trying to let her win. In the beginning games I would intentionally bait her with easy captures. Last night I played my best (which admittedly never was very good...I know less than a handful of strategies....all of which were learned this week from a book as I tried to educate myself on the game so I could teach them) and she captured my most valuable pieces before long. She's catching on quickly to strategy and she analyzes the board pretty well. Matthew also loves to point out possible dangers for each move. He's usually quite good at seeing when his piece could be captured, although he does like to play with more gusto than I prefer. He loves to capture pieces with the same vigor as the animated character from 'Geri's Game'...it's pretty funny to watch. As for Daniel, he desperately wants to play, so I set up a game with only pawns for him to start learning the moves.
I've been reading books on chess and they've learned stuff that I never knew my entire life (until now). I also found a great website for teaching kids everything about chess. The website makes it a game to learn all the names of the squares, the pieces, rules of movement, etc. It's a great resource.
We found out about a chess club that meets monthly in a public library here. Wanting to expose Sarah and Matthew to the game more, I inquired about the group. There's no members as young as her on the roster; it's mostly ages 10 and up. I'm trying to learn more techniques to teach her, so we'll see what happens. I realize she most likely will not become a master player of chess anytime in her life; I think she'll eventually lose interest and move onto something else. HOWEVER, as long as she is so interested in it, I want to nurture her ability as much as possible. She has a surprising knack for it. It's surprising to me because I assumed if she didn't love math, she wouldn't love chess. I'm happy to be wrong.
In my research about chess, I found a lot of surprising things. Evidently, chess promotes cognitive development so well that it has become a required class in some school districts. Frequently playing chess even has been proven to increase reading ability. It affects critical thinking, spatial intelligence, analyzing facts, calculating risk, planning for the future, etc. Test scores improved in ALL subjects when students played chess. I never had heard that before I started looking into it.
At Back to School night we asked the teachers whether there is a chess club at the school. There is, but they don't allow kindergarteners to play. I'm emailing the teacher in charge of the club and arguing a case for Sarah and Matthew. I hope they are allowed in.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Disclaimer- this recipe and the pictures are taken from this website:
This is one of my very favorite recipes. I make it monthly and have a few bags in the freezer at all times.
2 T. Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lb. chicken (boneless or not, whatever you have on hand)
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 lb. fully cooked black beans
1 bag frozen corn
1 large jars salsa (or 2 regular sized jars)
1/2 c. water
2 t. cumin
1 t. chili powder
1 t. salt
1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Season chicken with 1 t. cumin, 1/2 t. salt & 1/4 t. pepper. Add chicken to skillet. Cook for 5-8 minutes, flip, cover skillet and continue cooking until chicken is fully cooked.
2. Remove chicken from skillet. Shred meat and return to pan. Add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
*This should make enough for 3 meals, depending on how much you use. It freezes perfectly in a freezer bag and thaws overnight in the refrigerator.
This is great as a taco filling, but there are so many other ways to use it too.
Served over rice with shredded cheese on top
Mexican pizza topping
Mexican French bread pizzas (So good!!)
With scrambled eggs for breakfast burritos
Thinned with 1 can tomato sauce and 1 1/2 c. chicken stock, plus some extra spices and tortilla strips for a chicken tortilla soup
Oh yeah, we are definitely Hooked On this stuff!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I prefer to freeze mine in gallon ziploc freezer bags. Label the bags with the cooking instructions and date BEFORE you fill the bag, and fine-tip permanent markers work best for labeling things. Liquid foods like soups I double-bag. The easy way to fill the bags is to line up several tall containers that you can slide the bag over. When the meal is prepared (and COOLED!) all I do is go down the line filling each bag, removing air, and sealing them shut. You can also do the disposable foil pans for the lasagna, enchiladas, casseroles, etc. I prefer the plastic bags because I can lay them flat and freeze them, then stack them in tight rows when they are solidly frozen.
On cooking day, take the meal out of the freezer first thing in the morning so it can begin to thaw. Use safe methods for thawing (don't thaw on the countertop all day!). Check your label directions so you know that you have all the additional ingrediants on hand (cheese for toppings, rice to cook for the sweet and sour chicken, etc)
Let me know if you have questions, I can explain things in more detail if you would like to know more.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes. As a disclaimer, I didn't create most of these recipes, these are all available online in various places.
Chicken Pot Pie
12 lasagna noodles
2 cups cottage cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 T dried chopped parsley
2 T Parmesan cheese
1 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
3 - 4 cups Spaghetti sauce or Marinara sauce
Do not cook the lasagna noodles. Combine the cottage cheese, slightly beaten egg, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Grease foil baking pan(s). Cover bottom with thin layer of sauce. Layer noodles (do not cook them, break them to fit), sauce, half the Mozzarella and half the Jack cheeses. Top with another layer of noodles, then the cottage cheese mixture. Top with another layer of noodles, then the rest of the Mozzarella and Jack cheeses and cover with a thick layer of spaghetti sauce. Cover with extra heavy foil. Label and freeze. Makes 1 9x13 or 2 8x8 pans.
To serve: Thaw. Bake covered for 45 to 60 minutes at 375°. Uncover, top with more Mozzarella cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
|Sweet and Sour Chicken Bowls|
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
3 Tbl canola oil
1/2 cup onion, chunked
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chunked
1 1/3 cups cold water
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes. Brown chicken in hot oil until cooked through. Add onion and green bell pepper. Cook and stir for about 1 minute. In a saucepan, combine water and cornstarch. Stir in sugar, brown sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Heat to boiling. Cook and stir until thick and glossy. Pour sauce over chicken and stir to coat. Allow to cool completely. Place chicken and sauce in freezer bag or container. For individual servings, place cooked rice in single serving-sized freezer containers. Top with chicken and sauce. Cover, label and freeze.
To serve: Thaw and heat. Serve in bowls over rice.
It's chili by George! (You can really just do your favorite chili recipe and freeze it- they all work well for freezing. I also like to make cornbread in a triple-batch and freeze some for later- it's VERY good!)
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 (46 fluid ounce) can tomato juice
- 1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup chili powder
Amazing Chicken (serves 4-6)
-2 lbs. chicken (boneless, skinless breasts or cubes)
-1 pkg. onion soup mix
-1 tsp. paprika
-1/4 cup cider vinegar
-1/2 cup ketchup
-1/4 cup honey (or other natural sweetner)
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
-1/4 cup oil
-1/4 cup onion (minced)
-1/2 cup apricot jam
-large ziploc bag
-Place chicken equally into ziploc bags.
-Combine remaining ingredients and pour an even amount into each bag of chicken. Remove excess air, seal bags and freeze.
Oven: Bake covered at 350F for 1 hr.
Slow Cooker: High for 4-6 hours or Low for 6-8 hours.
Bombay Chicken (serves 4-6)
-2 lbs. chicken (boneless, skinless breasts)
-1 tbsp. oil (for cooking)
-1/4 cup mustard (prepared)
-1/4 cup honey (melted)
-2 tsp. seasoned salt
-1/2 tbsp. chili sauce
-1/2 tsp. onion powder
-1/2 tsp. curry powder (or tandori spice)
-1/4 tsp. black pepper
-large ziploc bags
-Place chicken equally into ziploc bags.
-Combine remaining ingredients and pour an even amount into each bag of chicken. Remove excess air, seal bags and freeze.
Oven: 375F covered for 1 hour.
Quebecois Chicken (serves 4-6):
-2 lbs. chicken pieces
-1/2 cup maple syrup
-3 tbsp. cider vinegar
-2 garlic cloves (minced)
-3 tbsp. soy sauce
-1 tbsp. ground ginger
-1 tsp. black pepper
-large ziploc bags
-Place chicken equally into ziploc bags.
-Combine remainder of ingredients and pour an even amount of sauce into each bag of chicken. Toss to coat. Remove excess air, seal bags and freeze.
Oven: 350F covered for 1 hour, uncover last 15 mins.
Slow Cooker: 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.
These recipes are great because you don’t need to pre-cook your meat. You just need to ziploc them in their sauce to marinate in the freezer, and then thaw, and cook when needed. Most go well with typical side dishes like cooked vegetables, and rice or potatoes.
(This one is our own recipe, I don't mess with other recipes because this version is Nathan's 'comfort food'. It's very simple and easy)1 pound ground beef
1 cup chopped onion (or rehydrate a 1/2 cup of the church dehydrated onions-it's super fast and easy.)
1 cup cooked beans (we prefer black or small red--pull a pre-cooked bag of beans from your freezer for this!)
2 cups frozen corn (or 2 cans of corn)
2 cans green beans
1 can Campbells tomato soup(don't mess with this one, no generics for this!)
In medium pan brown the beef and cook the onions until the onions are translucent. In a large mixing bowl (or straight in the casserole dish) combine the cooked beef, onion, beans, corn, green beans, and soup. You may add another can of soup if you prefer more of the tomato flavor. I usually do a can and a half- not a problem if you're making a double batch and freezing them. stir until well combined, pour into labeled bags and freeze. Place shredded cheese for cooking day in another freezer bag (quart size) and staple the tops of the bags together.
On cooking day- thaw the casserole filling. Pour into large casserole pan. Make mashed potatoes (I usally do the church potato flakes- it takes 5 minutes) and place potatoes on top of soup mix. Top with cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Some of our other favorite recipes won't copy and paste from online so here's the website to go to:
Most of their recipes are very good, it's my favorite source for new freezer recipes, but I haven't had time to test them all personally. We've liked all of them so far.
Scroll through the recipes and check out the following:
Santa Fe Chicken Tortilla wraps- super easy!
Roasted Red Pepper BBQ Beef sandwiches
Porcupine Meatballs with Cranberry sauce
For another freezer dinner resource:
Things that do NOT freeze well- pastas, rice, POTATOES, milk-based sauces
I cook those things on the day we'll eat the meal. It doesn't really add much time, especially since the majority of the dinenr work has already been done! Just boil up some pasta or rice and viola! Your dinner is complete! I hope you enjoy these recipes, I'll add some of our other favorite after I can hunt them done. I didn't bookmark the pages for most of the recipes I found online, so I need to do some detective work to find our very favorite one. It's the recipe that can be used for breakfast burritos, enchiladas, nachos, Mexican pizza, lasagna, and taco soup. It's REALLY good and SUPER fast to throw together in large batches. I'll post it as soon as I find it.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
We have a group of women that all swap freezer dinners each month. For example, if there are 10 women in the group I would make 10 complete meals of my choice (like sweet and sour chicken). I'd bring 9 of the meals (keeping one for myself) to our meeting site and we'd all give everyone one meal to take home. So I would come home with 9 different meals to use anytime during the month. I really loved it! It's such a great way to change up our regular food routine and it saves so much time. It's much easier to make 10 meals of the same thing than it is to cook 10 different meals. Make sense?
After getting hooked on the freezer meal concept, we started doing it more frequently in our family. One of the best results of the freezer exchange group is the wide exposure to recipes. Over the course of the year we've found some GREAT recipes that are now regular meals. The best ones are fast to put together and absolutely delicious to eat. If you care for some of our top recipes, please let me know, I'd love to share! It's really blessed my life and I'd love to get other people started on it.
I stocked our chest freezer entirely full of meals. I have felt much like a squirrel getting ready for winter. I've made 4-6 complete meals of each recipe so we can use one each month from each recipe. I also love the versatility of making wholesome, nutritious meals that we enjoy. Store-bought freezer meals are usually full of preservatives and fat. We really enjoy eating simple staples- like beans. You just can't find commercially-produced freezer meals just full of legumes. We try to eat those several times each week, so we have lots of bags just full of cooked beans.
Here are some of our current meal menuchoices-
Chicken Pot Pie (Our very favorite freezer meal EVER!!! It's SO flavorful and easy!)
Sweet and Sour Chicken
BBQ casserole with cornbread
Turkey Peanut Soup
Meatballs for pasta
Turkish Lentil Soup
Split Pea Soup and ham
Cooked Turkey breasts
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken/Black Bean Magic Mix (Our other favorite! It's SO cool! The same recipe can be used to make nachos, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, taco soup, mexican pizza, mexican lasagna or breakfast burritos! I LOVE this recipe! It's SO versatile and SO yummy!)
Santa Fe Chicken Tortilla Wraps
Herbed Roast whole chicken
Cooked black beans (we love to pour salsa over them and eat it with chips. Yum!)
Dozens of muffins (to throw in school lunches for the children):
10 loaves of zucchini bread (a ready dessert for Sundays)
gallons of cooked wheat berries (great for breakfast or adding nutrition to dinner)
gallons of wheat flour (I ground it in advance so we can just add it to our homemade bread each week...we don't own our own electric wheat grinder, so we borrowed the stake grinder for a week and went through 100 pounds of wheat. We froze it so it won't lose nutrition or go rancid before we use it.)
Usually we pull our a freezer meal, make a few sides to go with it (like a big green salad) and have half of the main dish left over at the end of the meal. It's perfect for sending with Nate for lunch the next day, or perhaps even having for dinner again the next night (especially with our favorite recipes, like the chicken pot pie. No matter how much we make, it's always a SAD thing when the last morsels are eaten). Theoretically, I can pull out 2 freezer meals each week and count on eating them 3 nights of the week. The in-between nights I have planned relatively easy meals, like spaghetti or baked potatoes with chili or omelets, etc.
I really think it will help ease the stress with school demands. I have more homework than usual this semester because Pharmacology and Microbiology both presume that I have background knowledge prior to the class. I have never taken chemistry - even in high school- and it's been 6 years since I had a college math course. I'm already trying to catch up on the curriculum and school hasn't even started!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I started collecting high-quality frames at the local thrift stores...it's one of the BEST secrets. The prints in the frames are always ugly, and no one wants to buy them, so the price is marked down very low, usually less than $7 per frame. When I go browsing there, I don't even look at the prints, I just inspect all the frames. A good solid-wood frame with tight corners and wiring, without any nicks is a great find. I used to buy the frames for my own art at Hobby Lobby when they had a sale, but even with the %50 off sale, it would still cost $40-$60 for the frame, glass, backing, mat, and wires. Just the mat is $7! I LOVE it when I find good frames for cheap! It's a growing hobby for me.
Anyway, I collected various frames and was intimidated beyond all reason to actually put them up on the wall. I knew i wanted a gallery, but I wasn't sure how to do it without making it look like a mess. I knew there had to be some element that tied things together, such as matching frames, similar theme, similar colors, etc. My random collection of art doesn't have ANY matching theme, and all my frames were mismatched in a variety of colors. I kept putting git off since I wasn't sure how to pull it off nicely. I finally stumbled across a Martha Stewart idea: Have the frames make one coherent shape as the common element. In other words, have all the frames fit within a square of space and make it obvious, so the entire arrangement looks like a large square piece. I finally found it!
Next job was to wire every frame and get it ready for hanging. I actually enjoy this part and find it strangely satisfying. However, by the end of wiring over a dozen frames, my fingers were admittedly bruised. Not satisfying.
Hanging the pieces were another story...all the advice I found online for hanging a gallery really didn't help. I tried several approaches and finally gave up on them all. My answer was to just start hanging them from the bottom left corner and work my way straight up and over, hanging each piece by eye-balling the distance. The top pieces were too high to comfortably reach, and I'm stoo lazy to go wrestle the ladder out of the garage, so I climbed on the backs of chairs and the tops of various unsteady furniture. I was so eager to finish it before Nathan arrived home from work. All told, it took 3 hours to wire and hang it all, and he came home when I had 2 frames left to hang. Not bad.
My goal is to fill every frame with my own artwork. BUT, my rate of completion is currently quite low (I just never seem to have a whole day to devote to painting...or even a hour hour....hmmm, I wonder why?) so they won't all be filled for some time. Until that point is reached, I'm filling the frames with a collection of prints from the great classical art masters like da Vinci, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. I'm also trying to go for a religious blend of pieces, trying to keep it centered on Christ for now. I also am trying to finish the few paintings I've started and left unfinished so I can put them up.
I was impatient with one of the empty frames and didn't want to wait for mail-order prints to arrive, so I made my own rendition of a da Vinci sketch. I changed the mouth so she's just barely smiling; in the original da Vinci version she isn't smiling at all. It's not a piece I'm particularly fond of, but it will do for now as a place-keeper until I get something better.
Then big news is...today I started AND finished one of my projects! Ta-DA! I made Sarah a couple dozen hair bows for school. I realized that Sarah's femininity hasn't been as encouraged as I'd wished. In college we were very poor, so we never bought ribbons or cute hair things or anything really girly. The following years I was either pregnant and sick or dealing with post-partum depression (which lasts a calendar year for me) so I didn't care about helping her feel beautiful. This month I pondered the situation and realized a few things. 1- What if Sarah is the only daughter I'll have? It would be a shame to never have played with ribbons and lace and all the fun little-girl things like that. 2- She won't like ribbons and bows forever, so the window of time is shrinking fast. I need to seize the moment now and not put it off. 3- If I keep putting it off for another day, I still won't have made anything for her 2 years from now (I know, because I thought 2 years ago that I would make something for her and never did....don't procrastinate the day of your creativity!)
We found a REALLY neat website for step-by-step directions for doing girls' hair. You should check it out if you have a girl, are planning on having a girl, babysit girls, or are a girl. It's full of a plethora of awesome ideas, including hairstyles that take less than 5 minutes, but they look like a million bucks just by adding a flower or bow.Check it out here:
Sarah and I researched basic skills for making bows of various kinds and scanned several online catalogs for bows, quickly deciding that most of them looked outrageously dumb and over-the-top. It honestly looked like some girls were being worn by the bow, not the other way around. People take this accessorizing to the extreme in some cases.
I spent this morning and part of the afternoon churning out a variety of bows for her and it was surprisingly more fun than I expected. She made a couple of them herself. As I caught on to the basic techniques, the bows at the end of the day became progressively more elaborate. They are my favorite.