Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Make Breakfast Sausage at Home! Nitrate free!

A friend of mine recently retweeted this recipe, and I was so excited to try it.  With the exception of "real" maple syrup, I had it all in my kitchen already!  My husband has recently decided to avoid ALL nitrates.  We had already cut down on major sources (such as lunchmeat), but due to family history, he felt it best to avoid them all.  This means special bacon, hot dogs and no sausage.

And then I saw this recipe:  So simple, I cut the sausage into little patties and cooked them on my stovetop.  We cooked some unformed sausage to use in omelets with dinner.  And there was a fruit salad, too. The rest of the batch is in my freezer waiting for another day to be eaten.

Savory Maple Breakfast Sausage Recipe

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Homeschool: Different Philosophies of Education

We are about to complete our second year of homeschooling.  We started after my daughter attended Kindergarten and cried  at times because she wanted to learn "hard stuff." Homeschooling allowed her to move at her own pace and accelerate those subjects she loved (for her its reading and math).  But our two years of homeschooling have been completely different, and I'd like to share to give hope to any new homeschooling families. First some frequently asked questions:

But doesn't she miss her friends? (Or, isn't important to be around other kids?)

Alex is in ballet, tap, Awana's, Sunday School, soccer, and weekly homeschool co-ops and field trips. She has play dates.  She sees her friends a lot! She also chooses which friends she wants to schedule playtime with, instead of being with the same kids all day who may or may not give her the kind of socialization we both want.

I think homeschooling would be too hard.  How would I know what to teach?

There are a gazillion different homeschooling options available.  From cyber schools where you work with a teacher, to curriculums such as Sonlight that include everything you need including detailed plans and explanations, to simply deciding on what your child should be learning and crafting your own curriculum (keeping in mind state laws and related state standards).

What if we don't like it?

You can always send your child back to school. Homeschooling isn't for everyone!  But we are glad we tried it the past two years.

Let's Talk Curriculum and my Experience in Homeschooling

Now let me discuss our experience in homeschooling.  My philosophy of education has changed while I've been teaching and I have homeschooling friends with various styles as well.  Some friends have a school room and a set school day.  Other friends don't want to have their homes be set up like a classroom and allow learning opportunities for their children all day.

I started out with Sonlight curriculum for our 1st grade.  We purchased Core B with Grade 2 readers and Singapore 1A and 1B math.  The boxes came with wonderful, beautiful, delicious books bursting full of scrumptious knowledge.  We were so excited to get started. Both my little girls loved it.  We loved reading on the couch, on the porch, at the beach, at Disney World, at our picnic table...get the point? I would absolutely recommend this program.

Around January or so, Alex got really interested in China.  So, we took a break from the curriculum (because we could) and she ventured into some deeper study about China.  Same thing happened at a later time about the Philippines. It was pretty cool that we could just stop and focus on what she loved. Jumping forward a year, her current interest is being an architect, so she is currently designing a home with a free online design program.  I love being able to nurture and feed her interests.

Okay, back to Sonlight.  Like I said, I would absolutely recommend this program.  However, the university-trained teacher and perfectionist in me wanted to do everything in the curriculum.  The material states repeatedly NOT to attempt this as its just not possible.  Sonlight wants to give you options.  I tried it anyway and constantly felt like I was behind. But I wasn't.  Why would I be behind?! If I could go back in time, I would have not attempted to do everything and just enjoyed the time and learning that was occurring.

Forward to Year 2: I had planned to school year-round, but I gave in to the "but all the other kids have off school" whining. Then I discovered what every teacher notices...regression.  Math that she had mastered in June was gone by September.  (We are scaling back, but still continuing this summer to avoid regression).  When school started in the fall, I decided to not purchase the next complete year of Sonlight right away. Instead, I did homeschool the "hard" way. Knowing my child's educational needs and strengths, I crafted our day based on what we wanted to learn. I purchased just a few books. We paused the math curriculum when she needed more time in multiplication facts and telling time. We read books that challenged her for "reading class" and other books for fun reading. (We are currently reading through the Narnia series together). Language Arts focused on parts of speech, journaling and various writing skills.  Imagine how my heart felt when she wrote and illustrated a book on her own for fun. For Mother's Day, she wrote her own poem. History we read more in our Sonlight books and are about to embark on a study of the 50 states. Science is whatever cool non-fiction books we find from the library and apply (like the poisonous black and white caterpillar that turned out to be just Japanese beetle larvae.) I also read through the standards for our state to make sure I'm not missing any areas that she might need should we send her back to school.  And for us this year, it works.

If we continue to homeschool next year, I'm pretty sure we would purchase another complete Sonlight core. Or maybe do something different when fall comes.

The wonderful thing about homeschooling is the ability to change things up and find out what works. Any questions? Leave them in the comments.

The children are making homes with thatched roofs like they were reading about in history.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How to Make a Diaper Cake

I really thought making a diaper cake was one of the hardest yet cutest things someone could make for a baby shower.  I figured my sister-in-law's baby shower was the time to try.  Surprisingly, its very easy!  Takes a little time, but not too much!

The first step is to wrap all the diapers with rubber bands.  I've heard you can skip this step, but it is harder for the diapers to stay rolled.  The color of the bands doesn't matter as they'll be hidden by ribbon.

The next step is is to make the bottom layer around another gift item, such as baby lotion.  Secure your layer in place with a big band.
Repeat this step to make the second layer.

 The top layer is created around a baby bottle for my cake.  My then 7 year old assisted greatly with the process up to this point.

Adding an "It's a Boy" lollipop and cute elephant for the cake topper. And tying ribbons around the layers to hide the rubber bands.
And there you have the result.  Easy, beautiful, and practical!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vacation Idea: Trip to Gaitlinburg and the Smokey Mountains

I never did post about the second half of our Moonbow vacation.  We had visited Kentucky and saw one of the only 2 naturally occurring moonbows in the world, ate some chicken liver at the first KFC, and went horseback riding for the first time.  Then, we hopped back in the minivan and drove to Gaitlinburg.

Our first stop was the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.  I stumbled upon an amazing SAVINGS before our trip.  By showing our homeschool group membership card, our family paid LESS THAN HALF of the regular price for tickets!  This is an amazing deal and a great museum to offer such a substantial discount.

We stayed at a cabin in the woods but a short trip from town. We also saw a very tame black bear while staying there.  No, we didn't try to pet it!

Here we are hiking in the Smokey Mountains after a morning of ziplining with the older daughter.  No photos here either...didn't want to drop a camera from 50 feet in the air!

On our last day we visited Dollywood and rode this ride that reminds me of another park I'm seriously going to have to blog about someday.  Maybe many days as much as we visit it!

 This was my favorite attraction at Dollywood: high ropes course.  I could've stayed on this all day!

The hands-on attractions for the kids were great, too.  I would definitely recommend Gaitlinburg!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Art Project Idea: Eric Carle Style Illustrations

I recently had the task of teaching a single art class at my daughter's homeschool co-op.  Being the avid lesson planner I am (its my favorite part of teaching), I WAY overplanned.  I decided the artist I wanted to teach about was Eric Carle.  He has illustrated childhood favorites such as Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  He completes his work by painting tissue paper and then making a collage with the painted tissue paper.

Step one was to paint the tissue paper.  We used paintbrushes, toys with wheels, rollers to make designs, fingers, anything we could get to put paint on the paper.  Since I knew I would be short on time, we completed some paper at home before bringing it to class so the students would have dry paper to cut.  In the future, I would simply devote an entire class period to the tissue paper decorating.

Once the tissue paper was all painted, we set it aside to dry.  I read the students Brown Bear, Brown Bear to demonstrate a piece of Eric Carle's work.  Then the students decided on an animal to create and made it! I was surprised how little help they needed with this part!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Baby Shower Idea: Diaper Raffle

I attended a baby shower once that included a special prize raffle for those who brought a pack of diapers or wipes to the party.  I thought this was a brilliant idea! (And who doesn't like the chance to win something?!)  When I planned my sister-in-law's shower, I decided to incorporate the surprise diaper blessing at her shower.  You can see the prize sitting behind the starter pack: a beautiful bouquet of live hyacinths! As each guest arrived with their gift, if they also had a pack of diapers or wipes, they filled out a slip to put in the basket.  And the mom-to-be went home with a slew of diapers!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hopscotch and Letter Practice

I really can't take the credit for this one. It was all my 3 year old! She decided to play hopscotch, but wrote letters instead of numbers. The teacher in me started to think of all the learning opportunities here! You can do letter recognition as you hop, or letter sounds, or even throw the bean bags in succession to make words (B-A-G). Be creative!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to Make a Perry the Platypus Cake

Oh there you are, Perry!

My kids are HUGE Phineas and Ferb fans.  Okay, its not just the kids.  We love a funny show that is squeaky clean we can enjoy as a family.  For her birthday, one of our daughter's requested a Perry the Platypus cake.  This required a little creativity as there isn't an already made cake pan for that!

Also, as we decided for some reason to have the kids' party the same day as the family party we'd be eating this cake at, it had to be easy!


Large handful of orange starbursts (or other pliable candy)
2 Large Marshmallows
2 Hershey Kisses
Toaster Waffle (such as Eggo)
Your favorite Cake Mix

If you look at the image, we decided to bake a plain 9x12 sheet as a base to feed more people. Perry's body is a loaf pan.  I also used leftover batter to bake a small cake which was cut into his legs attached at the side.

Toast the waffle, and attach the tail with toothpicks.  The eyes are made with the "pointy" end of the kisses inserted into the marshmallow.  To make the feet, unwrap the starburst and microwave them a few seconds until they are pliable.  Then shape into feet or beak. Not the most aesthetic of cakes we've made but our little girl was thrilled!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quick Breakfast Recipe: Turkey Spinach Egg Cups

Today I impulsively made a breakfast that was blowing up my Facebook feed this week. Our house is very much a "some cereal and fruit because I'm still half asleep" kind of house. Occasionally I might make cheesy eggs if I'm feeling extra motivated.

This recipe originally called for ham, fresh basil, and egg, but I only had turkey and thought the spinach made a nice complement to the dish.

It's simple: take a slice or two of turkey lunchmeat (or ham). We try to buy the nitrate-free varieties. Place them in a muffin pan, letting them go over the edges, making a cup. Add a little spinach if desired, and then crack an egg inside your meat cup. Bake at 400 about 15 minutes or until your egg is done enough.

This was so easy!