Friday, June 29, 2012

The Sunshine Award

When I arrived home from camping, I was thrilled to learn that Susie from Earning My Cape has nominated me for The Sunshine Award. This is an award given by bloggers to bloggers who, "positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere".

The award works this way. First, the nominee must thank the blogger that nominated her and link back to their blog. Next she must nominate ten bloggers for the award. Then there is a list of ten questions to answer, and finally the Sunshine Award button must be posted on the blog.

Due to my camping trip, and then houseguests, I am horribly late in fulfilling these obligations, but now I'm finally getting to them.

So thank you, Susie! It's such an honor to be nominated and it's really made my whole week! Susie can be found at Earning My Cape, where she blogs about homeschooling, crafts and recipes. She hosts a wonderful linky party each week that is lots of fun.

The next part, nominating fellow bloggers for the award has been tough for me. There are so many wonderful blogs and really talented bloggers to choose from, I've had a difficult time narrowing it down to just ten. In the end, I tried to narrow it down to fairly new blogs that I'd love for others to discover and enjoy as I have. Here is my list in a random order.

1- Angie at Echoes of Laughter, is a Canadian blogger who posts about her family, projects, and cooking. I'm very envious of her organizational skills!

2- Lisa at Wine & Glue, tells of her life as a mom of small children, as well as posting about crafts and recipes.

3- Meredith at Mom of the Year, is a SAHM who makes me laugh with her parenting stories. She also has some sound advice about living on a single income.

4- Emmy at EmmyMom - One Day at a Time, speaks her mind about parenting issues, and also posts about crafting and recipes. She hosts some great linky parties, where you can actually brag about your kids without anyone minding!

5- Eddie at The Usual Mayhem, is a homeschooling mom who posts about nature, books and projects. She's great at finding learning opportunities everywhere.

6- Miriam and Erika at Be Book Bound, are sisters who share a blog about books and come up with recipes and crafts related to the stories. We seem to share very similar tastes in reading, so I really enjoy checking to see what they've come up with lately!

7- Sue at Journeying Sue, is a homeschooling mom who blogs about living with and educating her large family. She's further along on her homeschool journey than I am, so I find her advice about homeschooling teens very helpful.

8- Mary at One Realistic Mom, posts realistic stories about parenting, and being outnumbered by little people. She manages to tell about the tough side of parenting, while never losing sight of the wonderful aspects of it.

9- Darci at STEM Mom, is a science teacher and a mom, who posts about all kinds of great experiments and projects to do with the kids. Her blog is a wonderful source of educational information for all parents, whether their kids go to public school or homeschool.

10- Cheryl at Prickly Banana, blogs about home decorating and her wonderful DIY projects. I tend to look at the pictures and think, I really should try that. I just love her blog's name too!

Congratulations ladies! You all have wonderful blogs that I hope everyone will stop by to check out. Now it's time for me to answer the ten questions about myself.

1- Favorite Color: Periwinkle. I think it's the perfect combination of lavender and blue.

2- Favorite Animal: Black bear. We used to live in bear country, and as long as we were safely in the house, it was really neat to look out the window when one would wander into the yard.

3- Favorite Number: Whatever ages my kids happen to be at the time. Right now, my favorite numbers are 12, 8, and 6.

4- Favorite Drink: In the mornings, it's coffee with hazlenut creamer. Most of the time, it's plain water, and if I'm celebrating, it's red wine.

5- Facebook or Twitter: I have a confession to make. I'm terrible with technology and I haven't joined either yet (I will be soon though). It's amazing that I blog!

6- Good Book or Good Movie: There's no question...good book! Sometimes I read while watching a movie.

7- My Passion: My family. Everything I do is ultimately for them.

8- Giving or Getting Gifts: Giving, I think. Although I tend to stress about it. You don't want to talk to me right before Christmas or a birthday. I'm a basket case!

9- Favorite Day: Christmas. The whole season is my favorite. Then as soon as the decorations come down, I'm ready for winter to be over.

10- Favorite Flower: That's hard, they're all so pretty! I'll go with an old-fashioned lilac, because they're delicate, beautiful, and smell so good.

So there you have it. If you've been nominated don't forget to grab the button and start thinking about who you will nominate. Be sure to take some time to check out some of these great blogs!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: The Catsitter's Pajamas

Fans of Blaize Clement's Dixie Hemingway series will be happy to learn that there is a new mystery out. The Catsitter's Pajamas, came out in 2011, but I just found it at the library last week.

For those who haven't read any of the series yet, it is about a thirty-something, former sheriff's deputy in Siesta Key, Florida. After the tragic loss of her husband and young daughter, she surrendered her badge and took up pet sitting. Somehow, though she tries to keep to herself, mystery and drama find always find her.

In The Catsitter's Pajamas, Dixie is trying to resolve whether to continue a long distance relationship with the darkly handsome Detective Guidry or begin a new one with the equally appealing attorney Ethan Crane. Naturally, in the midst of her romantic troubles, she stumbles across a dead body at the home of one of her cat sitting clients.

Dixie is drawn into the case against her will when the prime suspect, an international supermodel named Briana, pleads for her help. Unable to resist any creature in need, Dixie agrees to meet with her, knowing that it could land her in trouble with the police. After hearing the model's far-fetched story, Dixie sets up a meeting with the lawyer, Ethan Crane and then washes her hands of the whole affair.

Unfortunately her involvement is not at end, as international smugglers seem to think that she has information that they need. Dixie is attacked in own home and living in fear, before the resolution of the mystery finally brings the bad guys to justice. And yes, her romantic entanglements are finally sorted out too.

If you've read the Dixie Hemingway series before, you'll want to read this one. It's as fast paced, and exciting as the rest. If you haven't yet read the series, get reading. Blaize Clement has created a flawed but lovable character in Dixie, and you'll find yourself cheering her on, rooting for her to find happiness at last. I'll be eagerly looking forward to Dixie's next adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Family That Camps Together...

I must apologize for being bloggy AWOL for the past week. BadDad and I took the kids on our first camping trip of the season. I had plans to set up blog posts ahead of time so no one would miss me. I also planned to be done with the packing and planning by the day before our trip, and not frantically packing clothes and coolers at the last minute, while my hubby struggled with roof racks and bikes. Maybe next trip it will work out that way.

Even though it's a lot of work, I love camping because of the family togetherness it fosters. There's nothing like setting up and sharing a tent to do that.

We went to Sampson State Park, on Seneca Lake in upstate New York's wine region. It was beautiful! It only rained once. Unfortunately that happened as we slept during the wee hours of our first morning there. Even more unfortunately, we belatedly discovered that someone had left a window open in the tent. When questioned, the kids declared it must have happened last year. Oh, and their father must have done it. On the positive side, everything eventually dried out.

The weather was quite hot while we were there, and perfect for being at the lake. We spent our time going for bike rides, hikes, swimming, and just generally enjoying each other's company.

BadDad and I are recovering from our vacation now. I've just about finished with the massive loads of laundry, and he's just about got the tent refolded for storage.

The kids...well, they're asking when we can go camping again.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Tea

Summer is here and once again our garden is yielding beautiful surprises. This will be our third summer in this house, with a garden that is nearly at the half-century mark. I can't boast of being an excellent gardener, but someone who once lived here surely was. Every day, M-girl and I like to stroll around our property, seeing what delights are popping up.

Yesterday, she asked if she could cut a bouquet. Her stems were on the short side for the vases we had. She rummaged through the dining room hutch and decided to create a trio of sweet summer tea cup bouquets.

Now we have refreshing summer tea to enjoy!

linking to:  Weekend Bloggy Reading, Country Momma Cooks, Six Sisters Stuff

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kids Can Cook: Cheese Toast

The other day we were low on supplies around here. Fortunately we had bread and cheese, all that's needed to make one of my kids' favorite lunches...Cheese Toast. This recipe is long and difficult, but after years of mentoring, they can make it themselves. I still stand by in the kitchen while they work, just to make sure that they don't inadvertently burn the house down or something.

My Kids' Recipe for Cheese Toast

1 loaf of your mom's homemade bread* (we used onion)
8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese

*If you don't have homemade bread, you'll just have to use store bought. Try something interesting like marble or pumpernickel.

If the bread is not sliced yet, get your mom to slice it. Then tell her that you can handle things.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, and set aside.

Toast bread in toaster. As each slice is done, place it on the baking sheet.

Meanwhile, shred cheese using a box grater. Be careful not to hurt your fingers. Watch out for cheese thieves!

Sprinkle generous amounts of cheese onto prepared toast.

Put the pan in the oven, and watch carefully. If your mom doesn't think you're old enough, she can help with this step. When the cheese starts bubbling, it's time to take it out. Don't do what our dad did the other night with the cheeseburgers! Enjoy!

Servings vary, but we recommend planning for at least 2 or 3 pieces per person.

linking to: It's A Piece O' Cake

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When is the Schoolyear Done?

It's the middle of June, and here in the Northeast, the schools are winding down in anticipation of summer vacation. My nine-year-old neighbor blithely informed me that they are no longer really doing work, even though they still have two weeks until the last day of school. Brick and mortar schools are like that. The teachers and students know going into the school year the approximate date that they will be done. It doesn't matter if they've completed their books, or if every child has really understood the concepts taught. The calendar declares that it is time for break, and so it it is. Weak skills are left for the parents or next year's teachers to deal with.

People ask me all the time when we will be done with our homeschool year. It's never that simple to answer. I want to be done for the year, and have no responsibilities for the next three months. So do the kids. But I can't just quit teaching them at a random point in their studies. Because I am next year's teacher as well as this year's, I'll just make my own job harder if I stop too soon now.

Like most parents, no matter how they choose to educate their children, my husband and I are working to produce true students, who will be life-long learners in this ever changing world. We are working to raise children who set goals for themselves and don't quit until success is achieved. It's hard to mark that date on a calendar. It's also hard work at times, to motivate a child to keep trying and learning, but that's just part of being a parent.

When we first started to homeschool, we did try to keep to the same schedule as the public schools. We started our school year on the same day as them, and took all of the same holidays. So there we'd be, cruising along with our schedule, when suddenly the schools would have a long weekend, so we would take one too. This made class planning difficult, since many courses are set up with a five day week in mind. Often the rest of the world (including my husband) did not have the day(s) off, because it wasn't a real holiday, just administrative stuff.

I quickly realized that exactly following the school calendar didn't work for us.Now we still follow it roughly, in that we aim for a lighter schedule over the summer (while doing enough work not to lose skills), and we take off for major holidays. Sometimes our activities require days off that the schools don't have. We make our schedule work for us now. That is the built in flexibility of homeschooling.

We start out each school year trying to follow the suggested rate of the lessons in the textbooks. Since each grade level in our homeschool has only one pupil, that suggested schedule soon falls apart. We can and do progress at the rate of the individual child. Some subjects come easily to them, and we're done with the texts early. Others are more difficult, and then we take the time needed to be sure that the concepts are properly learned. We don't skip lessons, and we keep working until the books are completed.

So to sum things up, yes our 'official' school year will soon be done. We're wrapping up the last of the core subjects as I write this. My kids will soon have time to stay up late and sleep in. They'll spend lazy afternoons by the pool, and relaxing with friends. As a family we'll fit in some fun times and go camping. Summer will be everything that it should be.

That doesn't mean our learning stops though. Summer is a time when we can explore less traditional topics that interest us. It's also a time that we can use to improve certain skills in preparation for next school year. As the primary teacher, I've realized that true learning can't stop just because it's summer. We'll all pay dearly for it in September if I do.

linking to:  Pour Your Heart Out

Monday, June 11, 2012

Healthier Strawberry Shortcake

Early summer wouldn't be complete for me without homemade Strawberry Shortcake. The key is to make homemade shortcakes and use real whipped cream, not those store bought cakes and whipped topping! Naturally, being me, I found a way to make the shortcakes a bit healthier by using a whole wheat baking mix and adding oats (I just can't help myself). It's not diet food, but it will help ease the guilt of indulging in such a decadent treat. I promise the results are every bit as scrumptious as the old way.

My kids were anxious to dig in, so I didn't have time to get a great picture. You'll just have to trust that it's good!

Healthier Strawberry Shortcake

4 lbs fresh strawberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 cups whole grain baking mix (I used Hodgson Mill)
3/4 cup oatmeal
6 tbsp brown sugar
1&1/4 cups skim milk
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 pint heavy cream*
3 tbsp granulated sugar*

*Or use ready made whipped cream

Wash, hull, and slice strawberries. Place in large bowl along with 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.

In large mixing bowl combine baking mix, oatmeal, and brown sugar. Add milk and butter all at once.

Drop by 1/4 cupfuls onto greased baking sheet (recipe should yield 12 shortcakes). Bake at 425 degrees for 13-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown, and centers seem set.

If making homemade whipped cream, beat chilled cream in mixing bowl with electric mixer. When cream begins to thicken, slowly add granulated sugar and continue mixing until soft peaks form. Do not over mix, or it will turn into butter.

Assemble in bowls. Split one shortcake in half like a hamburger roll. Top each half with strawberries and juice, and finish with whipped cream.

Makes 12 strawberry shortcakes.

linking to:  My Meatless Mondays  Foodie Fridays  Summer Fun Party  Whimsy Wednesdays
                  It's A Piece O'Cake

Relaxing Cook Outs

My hubby and I each do our fair share of the work around here. He earns the paycheck, I teach the kids. I do the laundry, he does the lawn. I do the majority of the cooking, but I'm just better at it than he is. The one cooking chore that he does take charge of is grilling. Most summer weekend evenings, he'll fire it up, and I don't have to cook. Well, except for all of the side dishes, and prepping or marinating the meat. Not to mention the shopping and planning. It does him good to feel like he's in charge of the meal. I've got to encourage him.

The other night was a typical example of his attitude toward cooking. We'd both been busy with various chores during the day, but I know from my vast experience with meal prep that there comes a point where you have to stop whatever else you're doing and cook. That is if you want to eat dinner before midnight.

We had told the kids that we would be eating at 6pm sharp. Threats were even made to eat without them if they didn't get themselves home on time.

Early in the afternoon, D-boy helped me to bake shortcakes and slice strawberries for dessert. Around 4:30pm, I enlisted M-girl to help shuck the corn. When we were done, I dropped a gentle hint to BadDad.

"Honey," I asked, "What time are you going to start the chicken?"

"I've got time," he replied, "It will be ready before the corn and potatoes." I nodded doubtfully.

He went out to hack at some bushes in the front yard. I put the corn in a giant pot of water and turned on the stove. I moved on to peeling a mountain of potatoes, and getting them ready to roast. I popped them into the oven at 5:25. By this time BadDad was sitting on the couch in the family room, flipping channels on the TV every few minutes. I caught part of a horror flick, a documentary on education, and a game all in the space of 10 minutes.

I decided to try again.

"OK, I just put the potatoes and corn on!" I called down to him. No response.

"I think the chicken is bone in. Won't that take longer?"

"It's not going to take long," he assured me. I wasn't convinced.

I set the table, started some peas, and finally decided to go outside and play with D-boy and M-girl. They were hungry and needed distracting.

"The sides will all be ready by six." I told him on my way out the door.

Around quarter of, K-boy came out into the backyard.

"Dad wants to know where the chicken is." he told me.

Calmly, I informed him that it was in the downstairs fridge, where it had been marinating for hours. At least I noticed that my hubby was now stationed by the grill. I gave him time to get the chicken started and then drifted over to the patio to keep him company.

At about 6:15 he informed me that the chicken was going to take longer than he had thought. Shocker! I pacified the kids with slices of bread and butter.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I gave a sigh of satisfaction. When my hubby asked me why I was sighing, I replied, "It's just so nice when I don't have to worry about the cooking around here."

He nodded in agreement.

Linking to:  Yeah Write  Finding the Funny

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Back in the fall, I happened to be amongst some other moms who had already read, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. They recommended it highly, and I put it on my mental list of books to read.

For months, every time I went to the library, I forgot the name of the book, as it is rather complicated. Finally one day I discovered a slip of paper in my purse with the title written down on it. Success at last!

When I got home and began to read, it was immediately apparent that this was one of those wonderful stories that transports the reader through time and place. It was with the greatest reluctance that I put it down to go about my daily life. While I was cooking dinner, or caring for my children, a part of my mind was wondering what would happen next to the characters, who for 274 pages felt like friends.

The story revolves around the life of  Juliet Ashton, an writer in post WWII England. She is looking for a topic for her next book, and inadvertently begins a correspondence with a man named Dawsey Adams, who lives on the Channel island of Guernsey. Through Dawsey, Juliet is introduced to other islanders, who write to her of their experiences when the island was occupied by the Germans during the war.

Eventually, as their friendships grow through their correspondence, the islanders persuade Juliet to come for a visit. She does, and her life is changed forever.

Those who love a happy ending will not be disappointed. I adored this story, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Make sure you have time to immerse yourself in a novel before opening the cover, because this is most certainly a book to get lost in. My only sorrow is that I'll never again have the experience of reading this for the first time. Sometimes stories really are magical, this is one of those books.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Taco Casserole

If you're anything like me, sometimes you have meat in the fridge that you have to use up or throw away. I'm generally too cheap to throw it away, so sometimes that means being creative with what I cook so that I can use it up. The other night was just such a time, but fortunately for my family, I had the right assortment of ingredients on hand to come up with this taco casserole. The leftovers were great too.

Skillet Taco Casserole

1&1/2 cups long grain brown rice, cooked according to package directions
1lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp garlic
1 cup chopped bell pepper
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 packet taco seasoning
1 24 oz jar salsa
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
low fat sour cream for topping

Set rice to cook according to package directions

Meanwhile, in large skillet brown ground beef, onion, and garlic, until beef is no longer pink. Drain fat.

Add peppers and corn and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add taco seasoning.

When rice is done, add to skillet with beef mixture and stir well.

Add salsa to skillet and mix until combined.

Turn heat to low. Top mixture with shredded cheddar cheese. Cover until cheese is melted.

Serve with sour cream for topping.

Yields about 12 main dish servings.

linking to: Earning My Cape ; Whimsy Wednesday

Monday, June 4, 2012

Moments of Brilliance

When people learn that I homeschool my children, they're bound to have one of two reactions; admiration or obvious thoughts that I'm crazy. Usually they'll try to mask their feelings by asking something along the lines of isn't that hard to do?

I always answer that it is not as hard as one would think, there are so many great resources out there, so much help available, etc. etc.

Well, I'm going to let you all in on a little secret. Sometimes it is hard.

You see, unlike a public school teacher, I don't have the luxury of sick days or personal days. If I'm under the weather, I'm still going to do my darnedest to teach my kids because I don't have the option of paying a substitute.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that these last few months have been mentally tough on me. Long distance worry about my parents combined with children sick with freakish viruses has wreaked havoc on my sleeping ability. Still I thought I was functioning fairly well considering.

Then the other day, K-boy approached me with the worksheets that I had printed out for him clutched in his hands. "Mom", he said, "I think maybe you need to have another cup of coffee."

When I questioned him, he revealed that I had printed out not only his grammar worksheets, but the answer sheets as well. Oops!

Looking on the bright side, at least I know my kid is honest!

linking to:  Finding the Funny

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ballerina Girl

If you were reading my blog last week, you know that a mystery virus hit our family, and it was touch and go whether or not M-girl was going to be well in time for her dance recital. When she was very sick and miserable with a raging fever, she didn't care one way or the other. After a few endless days though, her fever dropped. She was still fighting a lingering, awful cough, but she was determined to make it to the show.

Personally I was exhausted after a solid week of getting up at least once per night to care for a sick child. It reminded me of the exhaustion of being a mother to a newborn, only worse because I have more demands on my time than I did when my children were newborns. I tried persuading M-girl that she was still weak, and the coughing fits were really debilitating. Maybe, I suggested to her, the showcase just wasn't meant to happen for her this year.

One thing about my daughter is that beneath her golden hair and sweet little face, she is one stubborn child. The very act of telling her that she can't do so something that she feels strongly about is tantamount to throwing down a gauntlet for her. She will prove that she can.

Now before you start questioning my and my hubby's judgement, according to the doctor she stopped being contagious as soon as the fever was gone. I would never subject my sick child to the general public. My big concern was that M-girl was just plain worn out after almost a week of being sick, and her resistance was low.

I had already been in touch with the dance school's director, letting him know that M-girl might not be able to perform. He said that if she could make it to the dress rehearsal, she could dance in the show.

On the day of the dress rehearsal, I decided to have her dance for five minutes straight. If she could do it without coughing, she could go to the dress rehearsal. She did it...and then proceeded to have a coughing fit.

BadDad drove her up to the rehearsal, where she did just fine. When the first performance day dawned, she was still determined to go. I helped her to get ready, all the while fighting with my motherly instincts that were telling me to shelter her, and keep her home. I made sure to tell her teacher that she had been ill, and left to find my seat, knowing that she was in good hands, and yet wanting to be holding her myself.

Finally the lights in the theater dimmed, and the music started. Out danced eight, little girls in pink, in two even rows, M-girl among them. Her smile lit up the stage. My heart danced with her, as she executed the steps that her class had practiced so many times. Probably no one else in the audience noticed that she was still looking thin and pale. The sparkle in her eyes made up for it anyway.

When the show was over she was tired, but she immediately began her campaign to be allowed to perform in the second show, the following day. I found myself struggling with my instincts to protect her again, and I wanted to say no. One look at the pride on her face made me realize that she needed to do this. All her life she will have obstacles to overcome. Sometimes they will seem insurmountable. If she realizes at such a young age that sheer determination can make all the difference between success and failure, she will do well in life. She surely will.

linking to:  Yeah Write ; Pour Your Heart Out ; Proud Mommy Moments
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