Friday, March 30, 2012

Teacher Mom

I was chatting with another parent last night, while M-girl was at ballet. His daughter is currently in a small, private school, but next year will be attending the large, local, public school. From the sounds of it, he and his wife are agonizing a bit about the decision. Knowing that I homeschool, he declared that he could never manage to do it. Then he asked me,"How do you maintain discipline in your home? Are you more the teacher or the mother?"

It's a valid question, but I had to laugh. As any parent knows, life with kids is a balancing act sometimes. Each of us has multiple roles to play, nutritionist, nurse, coach, chauffeur, etc. Homeschooling parents are just taking on another role that society recognizes as one of great importance. I'm always the mom around here, and yet my kids respect me as their teacher too.

I told him that the fourth bedroom in our home functions as our schoolroom. For us it works to have a designated area to go and do our schoolwork. It also helps somewhat to have a room to store all of our school supplies (not that they don't tend to migrate to other rooms in the house anyway).

A couple of weeks ago, K-boy did well on a concept that we'd been struggling a bit with. As a joke I placed a star sticker on his paper, something that I usually reserve for the younger kids. He broke out into a big grin and said, "You're in teacher mode right now. I'm going to hang this on the fridge so you can see it when you're in Mom mode!"

It was funny, but true. Downstairs I'm more relaxed and in mom mode. Up in the schoolroom, I'm in my teaching zone. That's the balance that I've found. I may switch personas a dozen times a day (with each trip downstairs to throw in laundry) but it's what works for me.

By the way, when I got downstairs I gave K-boy a big hug for doing well in school. I'd had a good report from his teacher.

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alphabet Scrapbook

When M-girl was younger, she wanted to do schoolwork of her own. She enjoyed sitting on my lap and working on her workbooks, but sometimes I needed her occupied independently so that I could teach her older brother. That's when I came up with the idea of making her an alphabet scrapbook.

First I wrote each letter of the alphabet on a separate sheet of colored paper. Each day, I would explain the sounds of one or two letters. Together we would think of various words that started with that letter.

Then I'd set her loose with old magazines, child scissors and glue sticks. She enjoyed finding pictures of things that started with her daily letter. It was a great way to keep a pre-schooler occupied while I taught her older brother!

I recently dug her old scrapbook out again. Sometimes D-boy needs a project to work on while the older two are still working. Never underestimate the power of a cutting and pasting project to keep a homeschool running smoothly!

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Easter Basket Cupcakes

Easter is almost upon us. In my house that means that it's time to make a batch of these cute cupcakes. My mother used to make them every year, when I was little, and we all looked forward to helping her. Now my kids are the ones begging for them.

Easter Basket Cupcakes

24 cupcakes, baked and cooled
1 batch of vanilla frosting (or 1 can)
1 or 2 cups of coconut
green food coloring
chocolate eggs or jelly beans
colored pipe cleaners, cut in half

Tint the frosting green with a few drops of food coloring. Place the coconut in a plastic sandwich bag, add a few drops of green food coloring, and seal shut. Shake until the coconut turns green.

Frost the cupcakes generously. Sprinkle on a layer of coconut.

Place several chocolate eggs or jelly beans in the center of each cupcake.

Bend the pipe cleaners into curved handles. Gently slide into cupcakes.

Serve and enjoy.

Country Momma Cooks

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This Mom Runs on Hugs

It all began with the word pink. M-girl was supposed to write a sentence in her grammar book, describing a cake. Ever one to look for a short-cut she asked,"Do I have to write that the sprinkles are pink?" I replied, "Only if you want to get 100% correct." They don't call me the worst mom ever for nothing!

M-girl started whining to express her annoyance at having to write those four extra letters. This began to bother D-boy who had been busily working with his math box. He approached M-girl (who was still in mid-whine) and told her, "You are starting to make me angry, so you'd better stop!"

She didn't. Next thing I knew, D-boy conked M-girl on the head. She did kind of deserve it, but I can't condone violence, so I calmly said, "We don't hit," before I went on to give K-boy his next spelling word.

Alas, my soothing words were to no avail. M-girl leaped from her seat and tackled her little brother. He squirmed out of her hold and grabbed a pillow from the futon to clobber her with. She grabbed another and....well need I go on?

It was evident to me that we needed an early lunch break. Tired, hungry kids aren't at their best for learning. We finished the lessons they'd been working on and prepared to go downstairs to the kitchen. First though, I called everyone in for a group hug. I had to force the issue a bit so I told them, "This mom runs on hugs. My cookie baking powers don't work without hugs."

We all felt better afterward. M-girl and D-boy went on to play together after lunch, the best of friends again. Hugs are amazing. So are cookies.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of Life of Fred Math

K-boy has always been a reluctant student when it comes to math. Math facts were the bane of his existence when he attended public school. Once we started homeschooling, math was still the one subject that he would always drag his feet on. Up until two months ago we pleaded and prodded him through a very traditional math program. That was when we made the switch to the Life of Fred math series.

I first heard of this series from a homeschooling friend, who called to rave about it late last summer. Unfortunately, her recommendation came after I had already placed my orders for new textbooks, and the curriculum purchasing coffers were bare.

We're typically people that stick to a program once we invest money in it. Homeschooling carries enough expenses, without adding to them the cost of flip-flopping on textbook choices! This year however, K-boy just didn't seem to be progressing in his math studies. Sixth grade is a crucial year academically, so we made the decision in January to give Fred a try.

Wow! One look at the author's website (see link below) was enough to convince us that this could be the answer to our math woes. Stanley Schmidt is a former college professor, who has a problem with the way that math has traditionally been taught. First of all he puts the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student, not the parent. His textbooks look more like novels, but boy is there a lot of math packed into each chapter.

K-boy is a reader, we all are around here. Instead of dreary math drills, and very dry lessons, Schmidt presents math as it applies to everyday life, well the everyday life of his charming main character, Fred. Five-year-old Fred happens to be a math professor, so in reading about his adventures students are actually exposed to math. It's just presented in a unique and appealing way.

At K-boy's level, he's supposed to handle the daily lessons on his own. No more struggle. I check his bridges (tests) for him, and if he's too confused we go back and review. The tests are frequent enough that the student can't move too far ahead if they still need more work on a concept.

M-girl and D-boy are working on the elementary series. The author recommends sitting cozily with young children while doing Fred together. That's what we do, and I'm amazed how fast they're picking up concepts. My only problem is they don't want to stop!

As parents, BadDad and I will continue to monitor progress and assure that everyone is learning. We're still using flashcards, and the occasional math fact worksheet. As far as learning new concepts though, we're all in love with Fred. He's in our home to stay!

I was not compensated for this review. My opinions are based on my own family's experience. Please visit the author's website for more information regarding this program.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mom Guilt

The other day I had a choice to make, go see K-boy and M-girl's play again, or stay home and attend to some much needed chores while spending time with D-boy. Granted I was exhausted so the choice seemed harder than usual. To me though, it just illustrated what I and most other moms struggle with on a daily basis - mom guilt.

My hubby doesn't understand this, or necessarily believe that it is a problem so rampant among mothers. A quick survey of my friends however, revealed him to be wrong. Moms, rightly or wrongly, suffer from frequent feelings that they're letting their children or family down in some way. Our homes are never clean enough, our children never given enough, we never contribute enough....the list goes on endlessly.

Now I'm a reasonable woman. I know full well that it's a ridiculous waste of time to lament things over which I have no control. I can't be in two places at one time, no one can. Every day I try my best to balance the many tasks involved in being who I am: a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and teacher. There's too much, and yet there is nothing that I could or would give up. I love my life and the people that share it with me.

Come to think of it, maybe that's part of the problem. We moms care so much. Our biggest job whether we work outside the home or in it, is raising the generation of the future. It can be hard to let go and accept that if we ourselves don't do everything, our world won't come crashing down.

For some reason, fathers don't seem to suffer from the same feelings of unwarranted guilt. They can love their families wholeheartedly, and still go off to the office (or gym, or ballgame) without a second thought. In my unscientific opinion that must be a legacy from our ancient ancestors. The men went hunting to provide for their families, and the women stayed behind to care for the home and children. Life in this modern world of ours is not nearly so simple.

I ended up staying home the other day. I got a few necessary tasks done (all benefiting my family in some way), and spent some time playing with D-boy. It was a lovely time really. A part of me was still yearning to be sitting in the audience of K-boy and M-girl's play. Later when I arrived to pick them up, I apologized again for not being there. Their response? "Well Mom, we were scarred for life." I know they were, I know.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Audio Books

I feel like I've spent half my time in the car this week, shuttling K-boy and M-girl back and forth to drama. Their performance venue is over a half hour drive from our home, so the car hours have added up quickly.

Last week while I was at the library I thought to stock up on some audio books to listen to on these drives. We're a family of bookworms, and we follow a more or less classical curriculum. The recommended reading lists for classical education are so long that even we would be hard pressed to actually read every book on them. I find long drives are a perfect time to check off some of them.

My kids are ready for a story anytime, and they love listening to audio books. We even take them camping with us, and listen to stories around the campfire! Until we run out of batteries for the CD player, that is.

In the past couple of days we've gotten through, The Great Brain, and most of The Sign of the Beaver. So even though we've missed a few days of textbooks this week, we've more than covered literature. We love to read together in any manner and discuss the book and characters. The kids like having something to occupy their time in the car. I'm happy knowing that their brains are engaged, even during the downtime of a long drive.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Dramatic Pause

During our first year of homeschooling I made sure to stick exactly to the schedule ordained by the local school district. We started our homeschool year on the same day that the public schoolers returned to class. If they had a day off, so did we. If it snowed and the buses couldn't safely navigate the roads, we had a snow day. When their school year ended, so did ours.

Time and experience have taught me that what makes sense for the public schools often makes none for us. Our schedule today is designed to fit our own needs. We don't stop learning during the summer months, although our course load is much lighter than during the school year. We take breaks for major holidays, and the occasional long weekend. However we've eliminated many of the nonsense days off. There's no need for us to take off for teacher in-service days, snow days, and any holiday so minor that the general population doesn't a day off for it.

Recently the kids and I worked through winter break for the schools. This wasn't a big sacrifice on our part as every time we did venture out during that week, we were confronted by long lines. Our precious library time was marred by noisy kids on school vacation. My kids were puzzled by exactly why the school kids were on break again so soon after their week long vacation at Christmas.

Well now we're reaping the rewards of our hard work, and benefiting from the flexibility of homeschooling. It's performance week for K-boy and M-girl's drama group. They have five performances, resulting in three days this week that are entirely taken up with drama, instead of school work.

I'm not sweating it. They're on track to wrap up most of their work before the summer, and they love spending extra time with their drama buddies. They'll fully enjoy these three days, and be exhausted at the end of them. As for me, aside from the extra driving to their performance venue, I'll enjoy this mini-break from our routine also. I'll have more one on one time with D-boy and some extra time to get things done around the house. Maybe, just maybe, I'll even get a moment or two to do nothing. Nah, that's crazy talk.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homemade Yogurt Troubleshooting

I feel like somewhat of an expert when it comes to making homemade yogurt by now. At least with my own method of doing it. In the past year and a half I must have made nearly 200 batches of it.

So it was a bit of a surprise the other morning when I opened my crock pot to discover not creamy yogurt, but watery, barely thickened milk.

I know that I did all of the steps properly, I'm very meticulous about it. I considered the other variables and I think that the yogurt that I used as a starter (a well-known national brand) simply failed me. I hadn't really been happy with any of my recent batches using that particular brand, but it hadn't occurred to me that it could be making a difference in my final product.

I'm going to experiment by going back to another brand that I had been using. It's organic and I always got good results, then I'll know for sure that this was my problem.

Meanwhile, I'm not one to waste an entire batch of yogurt. The thought of it sends chills down my frugal spine!

An easy fix it to use this thickened milk/yogurt as a drink. My kids love smoothies, and this is great for making them. Just put the desired amount into a blender along with fruit and ice and enjoy. I've saved this liquid stuff for a couple of days and had no problems with it.

What I did this time though, was to heat the crock-pot on low again until it was hot to the touch. Then I re-wrapped the whole thing and let it incubate for a few more hours. When I unwrapped again, it was thicker. I strained it through extra layers of cheesecloth for about eight hours. Finally it was creamy yogurt, if not quite as thick as Greek yogurt.

So if your yogurt recipe fails you for some reason, don't despair. It may be possible to save the batch. Think carefully about any variables in the process, and try to remedy them with the next attempt. I promise, it's well worth the effort!

*For an easy and delicious Greek yogurt recipe, see the link below

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Alarm Didn't Wake Me

Most mornings of my married life, my husband has been the first to awaken. I hear him puttering around and usually manage to catch a bit more sleep. Somehow my brain knows to really wake up either when I hear him in the shower, or smell the coffee brewing. Then I get up, fix his lunch, see him off, and have some time to myself before I need to start waking the kids up.

Most mornings. BadDad had to go away overnight on business last week. We missed him, but I handled things fine on my own. I got dinner, spent time with the kids, got them to bed, and everything locked up for the night.

The morning did me in. I awoke to sunlight streaming in my windows. I looked at the bedside clock (on my hubby's side of course). 7:54! I couldn't believe it. I never sleep past 7:00. As if to confirm the time, D-boy waltzed into my room and snuggled in beside me. He was followed quickly by two very hungry cats, looking for their breakfast. My sweet hubby called five minutes later to be sure I was up. He knows me well.

I had suffer with my own coffee that morning too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Scones

With St. Patrick's Day fast approaching, it's time to bake something authentically Irish. My parents acquired this scone recipe years ago while visiting distant cousins in Ireland. They come out tender and flaky - perfect with butter and jam!

Nanny's Irish Scones

2 cups flour (I substitute half white whole wheat flour)
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup raisins (I leave them out)
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl. Work the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the raisins if desired. Mix in egg and buttermilk just until dough can shape like a ball. Cut the dough in half. Roll each half into a ball. Flatten balls slightly with floured hands. Cut each into 6 wedges. Place wedges on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when inserted into a scone. If desired, rub with additional butter while warm.

12 servings

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chicken Pesto Pasta

My sister and brother-in-law made this chicken pasta dish for me once. It's quick and easy, but tastes delicious! I've substituted whole-grain pasta, and added in some veggies, but the basic pesto and parmesan flavor is the same. Serve with some warm bread and it's a great weeknight meal.

Chicken Pesto Pasta

1 13.5 oz box Whole Wheat Rotini
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into cubes*
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup pesto
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
1 cup frozen corn

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in large skillet heat olive oil. Add garlic and chicken and heat until chicken is cooked through.
When pasta is cooked, drain and add to skillet. Add pesto, spinach and corn and heat until vegetables are warm. Before serving mix in the parmesan cheese.

8-10 servings

*Chopped up, leftover chicken can also be used

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review of the Explode the Code Series

For the beginner, one of the most intimidating aspects of homeschooling can be which materials to use. Buying textbooks, especially for multiple children, adds up fast. Making the wrong choices costs not only money, but valuable teaching time as well.

In the past few years of homeschooling, our family has had some hits and some misses when it comes to curriculum. One of the best programs we've stumbled across has been the Explode the Code series by Nancy Hall. It's put out by School Specialty Inc. Last school year we tried the Go for the Code preschool series for D-boy, and liked it so much that we purchased multiple books in the elementary series for both D-boy and M-girl this year.

One of the most crucial subjects to master in the elementary years is reading. To become a true learner, a child must get beyond that early reader stage, and begin to decipher bigger texts and more difficult words. Explode the Code assists the child in this process. It is a phonics based program, that gradually takes the learner from the simplest one syllable words to reading longer passages with multi-syllable words. The format is very child-friendly, with text accompanied by simple line drawings.

It is designed to be easy to do at the child's pace. The available teacher's manuals lay out easy lessons and review to do with the child at the beginning of each chapter. The optional flash cards are well worth the cost, as they are called for in most lessons. After the lesson comes multiple pages that review each specific concept. Each book also contains both a pre and a post test, helping both parent and child see how much progress has been made.

For M-girl, in second grade, I usually schedule her daily Explode the Code time right before we read aloud together. I've been amazed at how much her reading level has improved this year. She's become increasingly more fluent, and thanks to her phonics skills, is able to figure out many unfamiliar words on her own. She's developed greater confidence as a reader, and enjoys challenging herself. I've even noticed an improvement in her writing and spelling skills since we've been using this phonics series.

Our family will definitely be using Explode the Code for years to come.

Please note that this review is based on my own opinion and my family's experience. I have not been paid for this post.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review of The Indian in the Cupboard

No list of my children's favorite books would be complete without Lynn Reid Banks's, The Indian in the Cupboard. The series originally came out in the 80's, but somehow I missed it as a child. Fortunately K-boy and I found it at the library when he was five. We loved it immediately and read the entire series during the summer before he started kindergarten.

Now D-boy is five and M-girl is eight and we've just begun reading the series aloud together. They were hooked by the first chapter, and even K-boy is drawn to listen again. Banks wove a magical tale that is as appealing for kids of today as it was for children thirty years ago.

The story begins in the first book, The Indian in the Cupboard. A young, English boy, Omri, receives both a second-hand bathroom cupboard and a plastic Indian figure for his birthday. After finding an antique key that fits in the cupboard, he stumbles on an amazing secret. The cabinet somehow brings plastic toys to life. He soon realizes that his little Indian, Little Bear, is actually a real person magically transported through time and space.

Omri, at first overjoyed at the thought of a living toy, quickly feels the burden of responsibility for another person. He and Little Bear form an unlikely but solid friendship. In the end Omri is compelled to suffer the pain of loss for the sake of his friend.

The Indian in the Cupboard offers a satisfyingly deep plot in a children's book. There is joy, love, pain, heartache, and even death. Any parent that wants to expose their child to great literature should get them this book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Lost Hour

This weekend was way too short. I foolishly assumed that the time change wouldn't be a big deal this year. I prefer having more daylight at the end of the day anyway, and with no babies in the house to be thrown off a sleeping schedule, it should have been a breeze.

It just happened to be the weekend that I had to start my volunteer job of teaching M-girl's First Communion class. It took up the morning, but we were done by lunchtime on Saturday, so I still had plenty of weekend left. I had time for some chores, and then we all headed back to the church for 4 o'clock mass. Once home we had dinner, and then found a movie on Netflix. I stayed up a little too late with my hubby, but it's such a luxury to sit and talk after the kids are in bed. Besides, I knew I could sleep in on Sunday and then have the whole day stretching out before me.

Wrong. First BadDad, and then D-boy decided to come and talk to me at the uncivilized hour of...well 7:30 to be honest. It felt like 6:30 though, we did lose an hour.

The rest of Sunday was filled with more everyday chores around the house and ferrying K-boy to his youth group. Then waiting for him to be done. After that shopping and cooking dinner. Relaxing -  not so much. I miss my lost hour of weekend!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Principal Dad

BadDad took a day off from work yesterday to get to some lingering projects around the house. M-girl will be making her First Communion in May and that means out-of -town relatives will be seeing our house, some for the first time.

Our day always runs a bit differently when BadDad is home. I was up earlier than usual for one thing. We had an electrician scheduled to come at 10 am, and so I was scrubbing bathrooms while my hubby was running the vacuum cleaner. At 7 am.

By 7:30, BadDad was banging on bedroom doors, trying to wake up the kids. I was yawning.

The kids managed to sleep until 8:00 as usual. M-girl even snuck in an extra twenty minute snooze. Finally though, everyone was up in the school room by 9:00. We were interrupted briefly by the electrician's arrival, but most of the morning was just normal.

It was nice to have 'Principal Dad' around to quickly quell whining about assignments. Men have such an unfair advantage by having deeper voices than women. What takes me five minutes and a fake call to Santa Claus to accomplish, takes him five words. Not fair.

So our day was cleaner and quieter than normal. Well, back to our normal messy, noisy routine today.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hot Dog Soup

My grandmother introduced me to Hot Dog Soup years ago. Her original version was delicious, easy and very kid friendly. Since I can never resist tweaking recipes to make them healthier, I changed this one a bit. My kids love it, and it's still extremely quick and simple to throw together.

Hot Dog Soup

1 package turkey hot dogs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 28 oz can baked beans
1 26 oz can cream of mushroom soup
1 16 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 cups beef broth
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp chopped garlic
4 tbsp butter

Melt butter in large soup pot. Add onion and garlic and saute until golden. Add sliced hot dogs and brown slightly. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to low boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Makes about 10-12 main dish servings

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Frugal Kitchen Tips

In keeping with yesterday's post I wanted to share some small ways that I've learned to get the most out of my food dollar. Some of these are ideas that I never would have thought of, but I've tried them all and they really work. I'm always on the look out for new ideas, so feel free to pass any along.

1-When a recipe calls for only half an onion, chop the remaining half. Store it in a zipper bag in the freezer, and the next time you need an onion the chopping is already done.

2-The above tip also works great for peppers.

3-Save any leftover, cooked vegetables. They still taste fine in soups and casseroles.

4-Freeze leftover tomato paste in ice-cube trays, then place into freezer bags when frozen. Each cube is about 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste, perfect for adding a dash of flavor to recipes.

5-Yogurt and wine cubes also work. I haven't tried it yet, but I suspect beef and chicken broth could also be frozen this way.

6-If you're not going to finish a loaf of bread before it goes stale, freeze it. It can be defrosted and used for a strata recipe. With a few eggs and some cheese, it makes a very economical meal.

7-If a recipe calls for buttermilk, an easy substitute is 1 cup of milk mixed with 1 tbsp of white vinegar. Let the mixture sit for several minutes, until it curdles.

8-Even small amounts of leftover meat can be saved for use in soups or stir fries.

9-Leftover rice makes great fried rice. Heat in an oiled skillet with onion, veggies and some strips of scrambled egg. Sprinkle liberally with soy sauce and serve.

10-In bread recipes that call for honey, molasses, or maple syrup, any of the three can be used interchangeably in a pinch.

11-Perhaps the most important frugal tip is to schedule a regular leftover night. It's amazing how much perfectly good food just gets forgotten about in the back of the fridge!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's Still Good!

The other night after dinner I was loading the dishwasher when I heard K-boy shout, "Oh gross! Abbey get down!" Apparently the evil kitties had planned a sneak attack and jumped onto the dining room table the moment we had all left the room. There were still a few items that hadn't been cleared yet. Abbey had been sniffing at the tub of soft butter. The brand new, just opened tub of soft butter.

I saw K-boy grab said tub and hold it over the trash can. It was my turn to scream, "Noooo!", as I grabbed it out of his hand. The kids lined up to stare at me in disbelief as I took a spoon and scraped the top inch of butter out of the tub, and put the remainder back in the fridge. Seriously, have you looked at the price of butter lately?

I didn't think much about it until the next morning when I was eating my reheated, store-brand, Cream of Wheat substitute. Suddenly it dawned on me. I'm turning into my parents.

As a kid, I remember watching in horror as my dad would drink milk that had that funny, almost turned smell to it, and eat the anemic looking tomatoes that we discarded from our burgers in restaurants. Instead of buying us snow boots, my mom would save bread bags to put on our feet under our rain boots when it snowed. They were known to re-use tea bags.

Hmmm. Is this something that occurs naturally as one ages, or are parents more prone to develop this extreme frugality? I'd guess it to be the latter. Kids waste a lot! Crusts on bread, large portions of their meals, soap, shampoo, toothpaste. There's no end to what they thoughtlessly discard. It's painful to watch all that hard-earned money thrown away. I feel a need to stem the flow of waste somehow.

So I'll probably continue to cut the bruises off of apples and eat the brown bananas. They're sweeter anyway. Someday, it may take several decades, but someday my kids will understand. Now if you'll excuse me I've got some coffee to reheat.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review of Fablehaven

K-boy became an avid reader when he discovered the Harry Potter series back in 3rd grade. Fantasy is still his favorite genre by far. When he finishes a series, or if the next book is not due out for a while, he goes into book withdrawal mode. I know the symptoms well, as it's a condition I've experienced many times in my book-wormish life.

Consequently I'm kept busy trying to make sure to tempt his literary appetite with new (to him), unread authors to try. I scored big one day on a hurried trip to the library. In between helping M-girl (who was with me) with her selections, and grabbing stacks of bedtime books for D-boy, I stumbled across the Fablehaven series in the young teen section. They were written by Brandon Mull and the first book in the series dates back to 2006. The plot sounded like it would appeal to K-boy, so I grabbed it.

It was an instant hit with him, and he devoured it in a couple of days. He begged me for weeks to read book one, while he read on in the series. We love to discuss books together, as it just makes the characters come alive for us. For some reason I procrastinated though. Sometimes my taste in reading is not an exact match with that of my adolescent son.

Finally one day when I was out of books of my own to read, I picked up Fablehaven. Then I couldn't seem to put it down.

The story centers around two young siblings, Kendra and Seth, who stumble on a well-kept family secret...their grandfather is the caretaker of a haven for magical creatures. Their excitement at discovering that fairies really exist quickly turns to terror as they encounter some far more ferocious mythological figures. Danger threatens not only the kids, but ultimately their grandparents too. Kendra and Seth must call upon hidden reserves of courage to save everyone and ensure that Fablehaven remains a safe refuge for the rare and endangered beings that live there.

K-boy loves studying mythology and greatly enjoyed how Brandon Mull incorporated legendary beings from various cultures. Creatures from far distant times and places mingle freely on the grounds of Fablehaven.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fablehaven. K-boy has already put book two on my nightstand, and I can't wait to immerse myself in the magic again.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homemade Cocoa Mix

Cold, snowy, winter days at our house mean one cocoa. Sometimes it's the only way I can get the kids to back in the house before frostbite sets in. I love the rich, creamy kind that my mom always makes. The kind with fresh milk. Sometimes though, I find myself with three freezing children and not enough milk in the house.

I was thrilled to discover how quick and easy it is to make homemade cocoa mix. It offers the ease and convenience of the store bought packets, but tastes much better. After much trial and error, here is the recipe that I came up with. Enjoy!

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups nonfat dry milk
1&1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
marshmallows or whipped cream for serving optional

Mix all of the ingredients together in a canister with a securely locking lid. Shake well to mix.
For cocoa, use 1/2 cup mix per 1 cup water. Put desired amount in a large saucepan and stir over medium heat until hot.  Store remaining mix in tightly sealed container.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hello Winter My Old Friend

I was less than thrilled when I realized that we were in for what is possibly going to be the season's biggest snowstorm on a drama day. The teacher let everyone know that class would go on, if people were willing to show up. With two kids involved and the play mere weeks away, I didn't want to be the mom that ruined rehearsal by not showing up with my kids.

Yesterday after lunch, I gritted my teeth and loaded everyone into the car. With snow already accumulating on the ground, and flakes swirling through the air, we headed out. Fog hung over the highway, but twenty minutes later we pulled up to the church where drama is held and saw....a practically empty parking lot.

Apparently not all parents were afraid of being labeled a wimp for not wanting to drive in the snow. I located the teacher and told her to call me if class ended early, before D-boy and I headed off to do our weekly grocery trip. As we were leaving a few more kids began arriving for drama practice.

D-boy and I hurried through our shopping and headed back to drama. The weather was getting worse by the minute, and I wanted to be on hand if the kids were done early. I peeked into the classroom and saw them working away, so D-boy and I headed down to the lounge to wait. Luckily I had packed some schoolbooks and legos to pass the time with. There we joined the other hearty moms and younger sibs all waiting anxiously to go home.

Finally after three and a half hours, the kids were done at their normal time. Hooray, rush hour traffic in the snow! Good times!

As we drove though, K-boy and M-girl told me excitedly about their afternoon. Somehow they had gotten a lot done, even with a reduced cast. They really love going to drama. I think I get mom points for getting them there. At least in my mind I do.

We made it home around 5:00 and the kids immediately got ready to go play in the snow. They've really missed it this year as it's been an unusually mild winter around here. Soon I was throwing together a pot of soup for dinner, and they were out back on their sleds. I watched them out the window, so I could time when to start making some cocoa. It felt wonderfully cozy.

Our storm is hanging around for much of today. I'm kind of glad we're getting at least one decent round of snow before spring comes. Especially because I don't have to go anywhere today.