Monday, August 13, 2012

My Whole Foods Journey Continues

Lacto-Fermented Apple Chutney
Well, I'm not even sure how long it has been since I've posted. These summer  months have flown by without my accomplishing even half of what I imagined I might, and could have, done. Instead, I became totally engrossed in this quest to improve my family's diet and even now am scrambling for a sense of organization in this area with school fast approaching. If you have not attempted eating only "outside of the box," meaning no processed foods, you cannot imagine the panic and frustration when your toddler repeatedly comes to you asking for cookies and chips (and wandering to the pantry wondering why they are no longer there). Well, that alone is enough to convince me that I am doing the right thing by changing the way we eat. But it is SO hard!

Aside from the bigger picture of learning to eat new things, there are all kinds of smaller goals to accomplish. Learning to bake bread, well, learning to make almost everything! I've always considered myself a homemade kind of person, but you never realize how much you come to depend on convenience foods until they are no longer there.

So far, I've had many successes, but also many failures. I haven't yet made what I would consider a good loaf of sandwich bread, and I can't make sourdough english muffins to save my life (but I do have a living starter on my counter which I feed diligently every day). I have, however, made some lovely light sandwich buns, homemade breakfast cereal, and lacto-fermented pickles (what?). The things I have made and failed to make are too numerous to list.

The challenge of eating whole foods comes in three parts: learning to eat differently, learning to cook differently (and a lot more), and making it work with your budget. The first requires a desire and an openness, the second requires time and lots of patience (and a thick skin), and the third requires diligence.

It's amazing how quickly I went from balking at the $3 expensive eggs in the grocery store to not batting an eye at $4 for local eggs and $7 for raw milk. And don't think you can pop out for a pound of grass-fed beef for anywhere close to a grocery store price. BUT...It is doable. We eat less, but better quality meat, and because we aren't buying all the processed convenience foods, there is a little extra money for all the good stuff!

I started out this mission with a vague idea of what it meant to eat whole foods. I had a set of rules and a lot to go by on the Internet. It wasn't long before I found myself swimming in the Nourishing Traditions pool, which is an even greater challenge than just whole foods. Everything requires forethought and planning. Because grains must be soaked or sprouted, there are no impromptu cookies or brownies, and because unrefined sugars are so much more expensive than refined sugar, cookies and brownies are fewer and far between (which is probably a good thing). I have also discovered the joys of lacto-fermentation. I will not even attempt to explain what that is about because it falls under the realm of "sciency stuff." I read the explanation and say to myself, "That makes sense," and then promptly forget it. I have successfully made pickles by this method and currently have ketchup and 5-spice apple chutney in the works. It's amazing to actually see the bubbling, fermenting going on in those jars!

It has been a crazy couple of months and I have purchased things I never thought I'd own, like a grain mill and a food dehydrator. I have learned that grain-free usually means expensive, and that it is okay to fail now and then. I have also learned from several other bloggers that food is not my god, and that eating a certain way should not become an idol (and it easily can). I have also learned that my family is remarkably flexible (or they just really love me alot) and when I think of the craziness of it all (even done for our own good) I don't see how I could ever be mad at any of them after how well they have stood up under this strange invasion of weird foods.

Today my teenager was following a recipe for raw almond butter truffles and he said, "I've never even heard of half of these ingredients." But he didn't say it in a bad way!

Friday, July 6, 2012

What I need to be perfectly happy in my whole foods lifestyle...

First, I need a grain mill, and I am working on that. They are SO expensive! I was hoping to find a used one, but so far no luck. I found one on Ebay, but so did some other people. It's kind of hard to shop on Ebay when you are non-competitive and on a budget! I also need some canning equipment, and a large freezer, and maybe some bread baking lessons.

Also, and take it with a grain of salt, I need some laying hens, a couple of dairy cows, and a small farm for a garden. Is that too much to ask? If you knew me at all, you would laugh, because surely I am joking, right?

For most of my adult life I have lived sedately suburban. As a child, the wild places were my playground and I romped endlessly and heedless of danger through unknown parts on imaginary adventures. I didn't stomp loudly on dedicated pathways scanning the perimeter for snakes or live in fear of poisonous spiders lurking...well, everywhere.

During four of my elementary years I had the privilege of living in a German village while my father was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. I loved it. We were immersed in the village life, farm life, living in community with others. I spent much time on a particular farm where we watched and helped in the birthing of calves, had warm fresh milk squirted into our mouths, and enjoyed the foods and benefits of farm living. I will say that the chickens scared me to death. Even to this day I would probably rather birth a calf than collect eggs from chickens.

Then we moved back to America and I had to become normal again (I found that my years in Germany had made me peculiar in ways that did not aid me in "fitting in"). For years I secretly held onto the dream of owning a small farm (on and off into my twenties). I thought that one day I would get married, and contrary to military life, we would settle down and live somewhere forever and forever. I did get married, and then life with Corporate America began. It wasn't even ladder-climbing on our part, just being shoved around from place to place because that's what the companies wanted. The Lord had prepared me well for this lifestyle, but this wasn't what I signed up for!

Somewhere along the way, my favorite way to enjoy nature became looking through the window, or at the least, a screened-in porch. In fact, at one point in time, my greatest desire was to have a patio home in a manicured and fenced neighborhood (because no snakes would live there). I think it was having children. Suddenly, everything I loved about the outdoors was a danger to my child. Wild things are everywhere! Snakes, spiders, ticks, leeches, not to mention the bigger things--why we aren't safe unless we're inside! I am still coming to terms with those fears.

But...I find myself more and more enamored with idea of having a big enough piece of land to actually do something with, on which to love and nurture and bring forth fruit, and on which to teach my children to do the same. It is hard for me not to be jealous of some of my favorite bloggers and their picturesque homesteads, or even just friends of mine with the space for a garden. But this is where God has put me. Who is to say that if I did get the desires of my heart (and all the work that goes with it) that I wouldn't go screaming into the house at my first run-in with the wildlife I find so terrifying and give up on it forever? I literally scream when I find a tick on myself!

So I guess I'm back to baby steps. Maybe some day I will have a mini-farm and learn to live at peace with God's scarier creatures. But for now I will concentrate on getting a grain mill and shop at the farmers' market--can't wait until Saturday!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Made Yogurt!

Yes, I did! I made yogurt in my crockpot. My slow cooker has never been a great friend to me because it seems there are so few meals our family enjoys out of the crockpot. For the yogurt I used the method on A Year of Slow Cooking blog. I followed it exactly even though my crockpot is seven quarts (crazy big) and she did hers in a 3-qt. I was checking it at 11:30pm, at the end of the 8 hour final wait, and was pleasantly surprised by a creamy, mild tasting yogurt. I knew I would want it thicker so I strained it through coffee filters in colanders in the fridge overnight. This morning I had a nice thick yogurt, but half the amount. I am going to save some of the whey for some recipes in my Is Your Flour Wet? book. I am excited about this triumph because I actually like this yogurt better than the tangy store-bought yogurt. Today I bought some cheesecloth to properly strain the next batch.

So thick on the back of the spoon!
This morning I mixed a little organic strawberry preserves and some honey into it and it was so delicious! For the boys I even threw in some fresh strawberries. Along with our yogurt we enjoyed Whole Wheat Strawberry Chocolate Chip Scones. The recipe is actually for blueberries, but we had strawberries. I brushed the tops of the scones with a little milk and sprinkled some demerara crystals on for looks. We found the scones to be a little under sweetened, but I don't know if that is because the over sweetness we are used to in almost everything we eat from the store, or because it really needed a little more sugar. I think this recipe looks great and hope to try it another day. Speaking of sugar, this morning I drank my coffee with just half n half and no sugar, and I liked it! That is something for me. I went from those terrible-for-you flavored creamers to half n' half and a bunch of sugar, and now...no sugar! Yay me. Now if I can just make it stick...

My whole wheat bread came out okay yesterday. The risen loaves actually looked better than the baked loaves. They tasted good, but the texture wasn't right for sandwiches. I'm hoping to find a veteran bread maker to mentor me into the perfect loaf of bread.

I also made some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies this week. They were actually really good. I'm trying this recipe next. I went to Whole Foods today and bought some Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and some Spelt--new adventures!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Adapting to Whole Foods Eating

I am trying to spend LESS time on the computer reading about things to do and more time actually doing those things, but it's hard when you come across yet another blog full of great stuff that might disappear any moment if you don't go through all the archives right away! Anyway, my new favorite blog is http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/. Before I discovered it I was already leaning in this direction. While browsing the cookbook shelves at the bookstore I ran across the book Nourishing Traditions. I only had the time to peruse the table of contents and a few interesting bits of the text, and despite the fact that it was all completely foreign to me, the wheels began to turn. Then I began to reflect on the astounding number of potential health issues already evident in both sides of our family. Everyone knows that so many of these things can be prevented by just eating better and taking care of our bodies, but which of the thousands of diet lifestyles is the right one? There has to be a better way than lifelong deprivation of foods that I love, forcefeeding of artifical tasting protein supplements, and consumption of artificial sweeteners to fool myself that I am actually still getting treats. One of my biggest pet peeves is the overflowing grocery store aisles trying to sell me every conceivable product doctored up to meet the latest fad diet or nutritional super food. Obviously it isn't working!

This attitude began years ago when I read the book Thin Within, which isn't what it sounds like. It is a grace based approach to weight loss, wherein it teaches you to listen to your body's own hunger cues to eat to satisfaction and not to fullness/stuffed. The book, In Defense of Food, which I am currently reading also addresses this. One of the first pieces of advice in Thin Within is to throw out all the diet foods--Yay! Since then, my mantra to my children has always been, "All things in moderation." I successfully lost a lot of weight with this method and ate what I wanted. Despite being thin, I didn't always listen to my body's cues about what to eat. My obnoxious sweet tooth wanted a small helping of something that would bring my tastebuds momentary pleasure, when the rest of my body cried out for something more healthful and substantial. Then I got pregnant and hunger cues no longer played any part in my food choices and everything was topsy turvey again!

Long story short, I recently came to realize that while I can listen to my own hunger cues and make good portion choices for myself, the only way to make a positive change for my whole family (one that my children can take away with them), is to change the foods we eat. So while all this is running around in my head, I came across 100 Days of Real Food.

I'm taking things in baby steps. We had already started getting a weekly produce basket, off of which I base all of our meals for the week. This forces me to incorporated vegetables into our diet that normally would never cross our threshold. I am working on incorporating whole wheat a little at a time in my baking. This week I bought my first piece of grass-fed beef at the farmers' market. Eliminating processed foods from my diet is not as difficult as eliminating it from the kids' diets. They like snacks. In fact, I used to think it was a successful grocery trip if I had gotten a good deal on lots of snacks. So today I am sharing one recipe solution for Little Guy, a replacement for animal crackers, and one recipe for any everyday breakfast food, Whole Grain Blender Pancakes.

This cookie recipe comes from The Cilantropist blog and I just tweaked it a little. I didn't have any tiny animal cutters and I wanted them to be small like animal crackers. I had originally thought to make them alphabet cookies, but my alphabet cutters were too big. I settled on tiny stars. I followed the recipe pretty much except I substituted oat flour for the flax seed because I didn't have any, and I think they came out great. It seemed a little tedious with the refrigerating and the freezing, but the result is a nicely flavored crisp cookie, perfect to give to little ones (or bigger ones). I'm thinking I could make this dough a head and freeze it for busy weeks. One batch filled a large chinese takeout container--plenty for a week. Here is my saved version of the recipe with the changes I made and without the specifics on using animal cookie cutters.

Little Guy’s Cookies
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed* (oat flour)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

* If you don't have ground flaxseed, you can grind flax in a spice grinder, or you could substitute finely ground nuts


In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes, then add the egg and vanilla extract and continue to mix. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients (flour mixture) in two additions, and then mix until the flour is just incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball; flatten the dough ball into a 1-inch thick disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner . Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up for a few minutes; then roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. If the dough sticks to the rolling pin or starts to crack, just dust the top of the dough with a little flour.

Cut out cookies using whatever small bite-sized cutters you have. Working quickly and carefully, use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheet. You don't want the dough to get too warm and stick, but the cookies are also delicate and can break easily. (Squeeze together any dough scraps and put them back in the fridge to re-roll for your next cookie batch.)

Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30-40 minutes or in the freezer for 15 minutes; then bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly golden and cookie is slightly puffed. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to allow cookies to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week.
Other flavor ideas: Add cocoa to the dough, cinnamon
This second recipe comes from a free e-book called Is Your Flour Wet? from http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/. I used yogurt and brown rice. I was out of vanilla and used almond extract instead. I also added about 1/8-1/4 cup whole wheat flour to thicken the batter to pancake consistency. These are not your typical thick, suck the moisture out of your mouth, cakey pancakes. These are hearty, flavorful, and moist. We ate them with fresh strawberries and maple syrup.




Whole Grain Pancakes

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 cup cultured dairy (buttermilk, yogurt or kefir)
1/2 cup uncooked oats (rolled or whole)
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice (or try buckwheat, millet, barley, spelt, kamut, or any other whole, raw grain)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Other add ins: pureed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato with warming spices; ripe bananas and cinnamon; applesauce; nuts

Mix oil, dairy, oats and rice or other grain in blender at high speed for three minutes: Keep cover on blender and leave out overnight Just before baking, add remaining ingredients and reblend for 3 more minutes. This will be a thin batter, but you can adjust the consistency as needed by adding flour or liquid.
For a good long while I was in a cooking rut. I was really dreading dinner time and would think of all kinds of excuses to avoid or delay it. More and more I find myself not only excited about being in the kitchen, but not wanted to leave to do other things! So far, none of our whole food experiments have been terrible, and we are adjusting. Like I said, baby steps, we enjoy the occasional soda with pizza night, and I'm not super strict about eating out nights, except almost no fast food (still love Chickfila).

Last night I started a sourdough starter and have discovered that this can be used to make all kinds of baked goods, not just bread! Today I will try a whole wheat sandwhich bread recipe, and I hope to make my own yogurt in a crock pot soon (all my friends are doing it)! At any rate, I'm enjoying this forage into the world of whole foods and can't wait to see where the journey takes me!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sewing Cloth Training Pants-- A Pattern Review (Of Sorts)

I knew as soon as I started sewing cloth diapers that I would be just as excited to sew cloth trainers when the time came--always something new! Normally our boys don't even look at the potty until three, but Little Guy is completely aware of his pee-pee and will tell me immediately afterwards. He tinkles ALOT, so lately I'm changing diapers ALOT! I thought to myself this week, "Why waste a big fat diaper on one wetting?" Aha--He needs trainers!

I did a little research on patterns for cloth trainers. There isn't a whole lot to choose from. I piddled around with a few freebies I found, and then decided I just wanted to buy a pattern. After looking them over, I decided I wanted the style that has a separate center panel like boys undies because I would be more likely to use PUL scraps than if the PUL covered the whole outer. I briefly had my heart set on the Tinkle Time Trainer Pattern , but I kept looking for a few days. I came across the Bella Bum Big Boy Trainers Pattern on Etsy and decided to go for that one. I liked how many options there are for the stages of potty training. They also have a girls' version. You never know until you actually look at and use the pattern how much you'll like it, so I held my breathe while I was waiting for the email with the download (which was only a couple hours). Verdict: I like it. The pattern is nicely organized and nothing is left unexplained (that I noticed). The pattern even explains how to measure for and choose the correct size, which is always helpful.

Let me say this, I would save myself a lot of "OOPS" if I would just read and follow instructions. But I have issues with this! After you've sewn a hundred different diaper patterns you tend to think, "I've got it down." Trouble is, not all patterns work the same, or why would there be different patterns! I made a couple of boo-boos but was able to make it come together nicely in the end. My biggest mistake was not clearly paying attention to the instructions on measuring the Fold-over Elastic. I ended up piecing my elastic after some misinformed cuts, and I never waste FOE! Oh, and I also forgot to prewash the FOE, which I might have ignored anyway because I was so eager to try the pattern. In the end, the back side pieces came out a little wider than the front side pieces and the snapping ends didn't line up exactly. I was later able to determine that this was my error in cutting out the pattern. I had chosen the Stage 1 style but cut out the stage 3 pattern (which basically just includes seam allowances because you don't use snaps on those edges), and this made the widths not line up correctly. When I was trying to figure it out I emailed the pattern maker and got a quick response from them, although I ended up figuring out my mistake as I was getting ready to take photos to send them for analysis. An "AHA" moment.

The assembly is pretty basic. You start with your soaker pad. I didn't make mine exactly like theirs with soaker layers and a booster layer because I was using two edge pieces of a prefold diaper sandwiched between a good diaper flannel and a repurposed white undershirt. I just zig-zagged around the prefold layers to keep them in place in the soaker, and serged around the outer layers' edges. The prefold layer is a little stiffer than I would prefer, but I have a bunch that I want to use up.


For the center outer layer I used some of a PUL remnant I bought at JOANN'S that was really too short for most diapers, but great for this. For the stretchy side wings I used a pique knit polo shirt that Hubby had thrown in the repurpose pile. For the inner layer I used the repurposed white undershirt. And I happened to have a piece of white FOE for binding that had been slightly abused and torn off of another project. The pattern recommends twill tape to stabilize the stretchy wing edges where the snaps go, and all I had was black, but it turns to the inside anyway.

The pattern actually suggests using non-absorbent stretchy knits for the inside and wings to avoid wicking, but I am big into repurposing, so we just make do. Besides, If I'm going to be changing him after every little tinkle, wicking shouldn't be an issue! Most of the time I don't even put a waterproof cover on him at home when it's warm. I love how the soaker is only attached at the front and back for faster drying.

So, aside from a few deviations, which I can't seem to help doing, I followed the pattern and was able to complete a pair in a couple hours (printing pattern, measuring for size, cutting pattern, cutting fabrics, serging soaker, sewing body). Of course I had to put them on him immediately to see how they fit and I was very happy. I did notice when I took them off later that there were some little elastic marks on his thighs, so we will size up the elastic next time!

If you are looking for a trainers pattern, I would definitely recommend this one. If you are new to sewing, some challenges might be working with PUL and FOE--but if I can do it, SEW can you!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Further Notes on Sewing Daddy Flats--Using Velcro

I have been asked before whether or not Daddy Flats could be sewn with Velcro (Touchtape, Aplix), so I decided to try it out and see. I had messed up the wings on a Daddy Flat I was sewing and thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it out. These Daddy Flats were made with one layer of cotton velour Sock Monkey Print and one layer of super thick diaper flannel.

I started by sewing up my Daddy Flat as usual. Then I cut two pieces (1.5x1.5 inches) of touchtape hook, and four pieces (same size) of loop fabric. I also cut a 5 1/4 x 2 inches piece of loop fabric for the tummy panel. I choose loop fabric for the loop side because it is so much softer and more flexible than touchtape. You can only find this fabric through diaper suppliers. Touchtape could also be used. The loop fabric on top of the tab will allow the wing to cross-over if necessary.

First I attached the wing tabs by sandwiching the wing end between a piece of hook (facing the inside of the diaper) and a piece of Loop fabric (facing upwards), with the tabs hanging over slightly. I put one pin into the tabs to keep them from shifting on the first side I sewed, then removed the pin to finish the square. I do a straight stitch because I have never found that I needed more, and for some reason my machine doesn't like to zig-zag the hook tape. You could do a regular or 3-step zigzag around the edges if you preferred.

After experimentation I found that my machine sewed the two layers together more neatly if I sewed with the hook tape facing upwards. I usually stitch 1/8" from the edges. I then sewed the other two 1.5" pieces of loop fabric beside the tabs, on the inside of the diaper, about 1/4" away. The only purpose of these tabs are to fold the wings over onto for washing. They are called laundry tabs and are meant to keep the hook part of the Velcro from grabbing and ruining things in the wash.

Finally, I attached the tummy panel of loop fabric centering it where your snaps would go, 1/2" down from the top edge. It went together quickly.


If you do not have access to snaps/pliers etc, this might be a good option for you to try.

Beware: If you let your little one run around without a cover at home, the Velcro closure is definitely more likely to be undone by your little one!


If you aren't familiar with Daddy Flats, click on the link above for more information about this great pattern and see my other blog posts about sewing Daddy Flats!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Neat Idea---Fertility Tracking Jewelry

Recently a friend of mine gave me a neat little gift, a fertility tracking anklet. If you are at all familiar with the Rhythm Method or Natural Family Planning, the application of this piece of jewelry will be immediately apparent to you.

We first saw these in bracelet form in an Etsy store and thought, "what a great idea." The idea being that you use the bracelet as a reminder and to track your monthly cycle in order to be aware of your time of fertility either for the purpose of getting pregnant or not getting pregnant. Having said that, you must have fairly regular cycles for this concept to work for you, and you must be a careful person. Yesterday I checked my calendar with my anklet (last month was the only month in ages that I had made any notation of this), and I was several days off with my charm, which means I either forgot to move it or I put it in the wrong place to begin with. If you are a scheduled person and attentive to detail, this may be just the thing for you. Since it has been many, many, many years since I have used the Rhythm Method or paid any attention to my cycle for those purposes, I am still in the testing phase of whether or not this will be valuable to me other than being an attractive piece of jewelry.

How to use one: The different color beads represent the changes in your cycle, during your "time", likely to get pregnant, likely ovulating, unlikely to get pregnant. A charm is attached with a lobster claw to move along the anklet each day. See the Etsy link above for a chart that details it.

If you are already into making jewelry, one of these would be a snap to throw together and could be a real reflection of your personality. You could even make more than one to go with different color schemes. I like it as an anklet, but I could also see it somehow transformed into a necklace version. The problem I am now seeing is that mine will be too bulky to wear under socks in the winter. Sometime in the next few months I plan to experiment with creating a very fine anklet that could be worn with winter wear. The one my friend created for me is made of all earth tones and silver. This works well for me because I rarely wear bright colors and I think it goes with most everything. The charm says "laugh often" on one side and "love much" on the other--both of which I need to remember to do.

I just think these are a great idea and wanted to share it! You may be wondering how the anklet looks on, but I am going to spare you the sight of my blocky "Dutch" ankles and let you use your imagination.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lotsa Veggies Mac n' Cheese

Now, I won't claim that hiding veggies in your macaroni and cheese will get your kids to eat them, because I find this to have varying results. Some kids might wolf it down only thinking about the cheesy macaroni. Others only like their food in separate compartments and will immediately see the thinly disguised vegetables (like my little one).

We just got back from a little vacation and I had to pick up my Noisy Rabbit produce basket from a friend who picked it up for me last week while we were away. Needless to say, some of the veggies were looking a little limp by then and I knew I was going to have to throw together a very veggie dinner or I would be throwing them in the trash (I know, I know I should have a compost, but we live in a rental). I was looking at this crazy assortment of veggies and wondering what I could make--not soup because I was making that later in the week--so what? I had been promising homemade mac n' cheese, so I decided to go with a very veggie macaroni and cheese.

If you already have a favorite MAC recipe, basically you just add veggies. However, if your recipe has a cream sauce base (as mine does) you will need to adjust for the veggies by either adding extra sauce or less pasta. Here is what I did to make one 9x13 baking dish of veggie-licious mac n' cheese.

I cooked all of my veggies first. I decided to steam them in batches because they were veggies of differing textures and cooking time. I believe I used: broccoli, spinach, green beans, zucchini, garlic, green onions, mushrooms and parsnips--very GREEN. As I finished steaming each vegetable (I sauteed the shrooms) I just dumped them all in a bowl together. I started the MAC with the basic cream sauce recipe that I learned in Master Recipes. I doubled the recipe for the sauce. Meanwhile I cooked 1lb. elbow macaroni in salted water until just a little undercooked. Once the sauce was ready, I gently folded the sauce, macaroni, and vegetables together and poured it all into a greased 9x13 dish. I then grated some more cheddar over the top and baked until bubbly and hot. You could actually do a butter and bread crumbs topping over this, which would also be delicious. My oven happened to be on 425 for the frozen fish the kids had thrown in the oven, so we went with it, but normally it would be 350. I forgot to add the mustard powder because I was in such a hurry, but it adds a nice flavor to the macaroni. Sorry, no pictures. I wasn't planning on putting this in my blog, but afterwards I thought it was a nice recipe to share.

Here's the plain ole recipe:

Lotsa Veggies Mac N' Cheese

16 ounces elbow noodles, cooked al dente and drained
12 ounces cheddar cheese, or combination of other flavorful cheeses
2-3 cups cooked veggies of your choice

Sauce:
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth or 2 cups water and bouillon
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-2 teaspoons dry mustard

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Warm your four cups of liquid on the stove or in the microwave. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add flour and stir with a whisk until smooth. Stirring constantly, cook on low for 3 minutes. Add warmed liquid to your roux (butter flour mixture) and stir until there are no bits of flour. Add the salt, pepper, and mustard powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce comes to a boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in 8 ounces of shredded cheese and stir until completely melted. Carefully (because it's hot), taste your sauce. Add salt and pepper if needed. Combine the macaroni and veggies in a large bowl and pour sauce over all, gently stir together. Pour into a greased 13x9 dish and top with 8 ounces shredded cheese. Bake in preheated oven until bubbly hot and a little browned on top--maybe 20 minutes.


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Thursday, May 10, 2012

On a Personal Note...Letting Go

For several months I have wondered, "What is wrong with me?" I seem unable to do this things that I want to do. Instead of losing weight I gain weight. Instead of being energetic and fun for my toddler, I have headaches and knee pain. Instead of being organized with homeschooling and household, I am always making excuses to myself for the chaos. My brain seems completely fried to the point that as a former avid reader I can't focus long enough to get through a book. I am cranky and complaining and selfish. "It is just the season of life I am in," I tell myself. Is it really?

After a difficult pregnancy with my last sweet miracle of a baby (even at two he is still a wondrous thing to me), I struggled with depression. I didn't want to be medicated so I tried to do the things I read that were good for helping with that: sunlight, exercise, working on a hobby. I discovered that I loved sewing cloth diapers and it became a huge blessing to me and my family. I discovered I wanted to share that blessing with others. I wanted to cloth diaper the world--or at least all those within arm's reach! It began in me as a hope that this was a way that I could use my God-given talents to glorify God. So I opened my Etsy store. I found that I loved it. I love making things that other people appreciate and use. I love answering people's questions and helping them in their cloth diapering journey. I love having a little extra money to either help out with little family things or to fund my sewing and knitting. My husband loves that I do those things too. And all those are good things, until they are not.

I had a moment of clarity this very morning. As I was lamenting again that I cannot be who I want to be, I realized that it was because I wasn't even working towards that goal anymore. Who am I really? Am I an Etsy store owner, a cloth diapering consultant, a blog writer (certainly not)? I am not any of these things. I am a child of God, a wife, and a mother. All the rest is just the extra stuff I choose to do! I realized that my insane level of stress is due to the fact that I have chosen to make all kinds of other things my identity and I am missing me. I am missing being creative for the fun of it. I am missing having the time to bake cookies with my kids (an also being able to refrain from eating half the bowl of dough if I do). I am missing really being there when they talk to me. I am missing waking up without worrying about getting on the computer first thing. I am missing the blessing of being home with my children each and every day. I am missing an organized household (my would-be spring cleaning has now turned into my would-be summer cleaning). I want to get my toddler out of bed in the morning without thinking about the things that won't get done now that he's awake.

I have been working so hard to be good at the stuff in my life, that I have forgotten to be the creative, passionate child of God that He created me to be--the person who's joy is not in a sale made, or a cloth diaper convert, but in a day well spent to His glory. Can't I have both, all of it, my hopes and dreams? Sometimes. But sometimes we use hopes and dreams, or just everyday stuff, for something else-- a bandaid or a filling of a void. There is a time for everything, a season for everything. Sewing cloth diapers helped me to weather the season of depression I faced. Today I realized it is the season for letting go...letting go of the things that have me running in circles to nowhere and a season for rediscovering the joy I have in being a child of the Creator, in my being the wife of the husband who loves me beyond deserving, and in being the mother to three miracles who's lives I am so blessed to a part of!

Am I giving up on something? No, not me. I am realizing that what I was chasing was no real prize in the end. I want to chase my toddler instead...and after that, well, who's to say but my Creator. Will He use my sewing or knitting talents to fill some great need or will He cultivate in my yet a whole new set of skills? I don't know, and I don't even want to. Today I want to rejoice in remembering who I am and even enjoy packing and preparing for the trip we are about to make to watch my middle son participate in a national archery competition. I want to not fall apart when the day doesn't go the way I planned it. So I am letting go...and grabbing on.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Friday, May 4, 2012

One of My Homeschool Mantras...

What is the root word in "homeschooling"? HOME, of course! Several years ago we were blessed to move into a community chock full of homeschooling opportunities, which was vastly different from the previous place we had lived. I was so starved for some homeschooling connections that I had it in my head to get involved in absolutely everything. Fortunately for me, the Lord had other plans, and I got pregnant which pretty much kept the activities down to a minimum for that year. After we played catch up from the pregancy year we began to get a feel for the things in which we wanted to participate. We tried to keep things reasonable, a weekly co-op and a few once-a-month activites, but it can get out of hand. Add in sports, library programs, misc. clubs, play days, parties...before you know it you are NEVER at home!

Do you ever feel like your family is living out of your minivan? Last year I wanted to join this really great co-op I had heard about that had all kinds of creative classes. I applied and was accepted; the only problem being that it would be a 45 minute drive every week. I pondered the fact that I don't enjoy driving, the cost, and that I had a 1-year-old that would have to function without a nap on those days and eventually decided that no matter how bad I wanted it, it just wouldn't be a good thing.

I've already blogged about co-ops, should you or shouldn't you join one--but this isn't about that. How can you make the most of your homeschooling day? Be at home.

Despite the fact that we disliked where we lived prior to moving here, those four years were some of our best years of learning because we were home so much. Not many things were pushed to the back burner for lack of time and no rushing out the door with intentions of finishing things later.

Now I am not advocating seclusion--on the contrary, that can make you a little crazy. So here is one of my homeschool mantras: KEEP IT CLOSE TO HOME. I'll go ahead and say for those of you who live out in the boonies, this won't apply. But for the rest of you...be choosy about your activities. Don't just do activities to be doing something. And if you are wanting to participate in things in order to make friends, the best place to do that is close to home. If the friends you make all live far away, chances are you will only see them on days you are meeting for activites. If you are doing things close to home, you will still be able to get school work accomplished before or after activities, you will still be able to cook dinner, let your kids have their naps, all the things that suffer when we choose to be involved in activities that take us out of our "neighborhoods".

Because our family is already far too extended with high school sports, my goal is to keep all other activities close to home. Co-ops, clubs, whatever...keep it on the "east side". What if there aren't any activities on your side of town? That's a good questions. All it takes is a couple of like-minded families and before you know it you have a group gathered for whatever it is you want to do. What do you want to do? Book Club, Chess Club, Scouting, Music Lessons, Nature Walks...other people either are doing it or want to do it (unless you live in the boonies, of course), you just have to reach out. Is that not in your personality pool--reaching out? Me neither! But when the choices were hauling my kids all over kingdom come or getting outside of my comfort zone, I decided to try to be a grown up. I can't say that for all my stepping outside my comfort zone that it has gotten any easier, but I am glad for myself and my kids. Not everything you try will work, and that's okay.

To summarize the benefits of keeping close to home:
1-- More time at home to get things accomplished
2-- Greater likelihood of keeping a normal schedule for you and your children
3-- Easier to meet friends on an impromptu basis
4-- Less money spent on gas and food
5-- More sanity!

Okay, so maybe you've tried and just can't find activities in your own backyard. Then my suggestion is that you try to cram everything into a day. Choose a day to be away from home and try to schedule all of you activites for that day. Music, ballet, clubs...see what you can find to do all in one day. If it's in the middle of the week, great, an opportunity to break up the monotony. If it's at the end of the week, it's like celebrating all your hard work for the week. It will take organization and planning, but what doesn't?

I am speaking from my own experiences, of course. If your family thrives on being on the road all week and still manages to get schoolwork, housework and everything else done, then this need not apply. But if you find yourself overwhelmed week by week, evaluate your activity choices. Maybe a few changes to bring things closer to home will bring your household life closer to what you want it to be.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Coffee Buddy

Coffee tastes better with a friend, even if it's powdered Cafe Au Lait or roasted barley coffee substitute. Do you have a coffee buddy or a tea buddy, or maybe a diet coke (heaven forbid) buddy? I've mentioned before that I have moved and moved and moved (if only that applied to my exercise routine)... will we ever stop moving? Yesterday I received just a blip of an email from one of my true heart friends. I haven't lived near her in almost eight years, but I still get sad sometimes that we no longer get to have our coffee together. True, good, crying on your shoulder, sitting comfortably in silence, baring all your sins and shortcomings, honest with you, not afraid to challenge you, friends can be hard to come by, especially if you move every three years! In Alabama I had a true friend. Our kids played together beautifully, and at the end of a long day I would often go over to her house, we would sip our coffee in the kitchen (or her favorite spot, the back porch), and we would unload our woes, and then I could go home refreshed and ready to tackle dinner and not have to unload on sweet hubby.

After we moved from there, I felt her loss immediately. There was no unloading of woes and no friendly commiseration. For many years after, when things were really bad, I would think of her and cry because I missed her. She was also a great spiritual mentor to me and always reminded me to turn back to Him and stop looking at myself. Before moving there, I had left a good friend in North Carolina who's loss was not as keenly felt because of the immediate friendship I had found when moving to Alabama. She too was an end of the day coffee buddy.

After I moved here, I was bemoaning the fact that God had not sent me a mentoring friend (to another friend), and she said, "Maybe it's your turn to be the mentor." Well, I'm still hoping for a mentoring friend, but I'm mulling the whole maybe-it's-my-turn thing over!

At any rate, I was just thinking about how important it is to be in touch with people who have affected our lives and that when we think of them we ought to let them know, because maybe our words today will be just the words of encouragement they need for the day. Shoot them an email or send them a hand-written card (another lost art--the hand-written letter). And if you are remembering all the ways you were blessed by that far-off friend, maybe you can bless someone else in one of those ways today!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Teaching the Next Generation...

I have a terrible memory. I really think that the part of my brain that controls memory is either very tiny or broken. My husband can remember all kinds of crazy details from when he was very small. He can remember the names of his elementary school teachers and what he received for various childhood birthdays. He can remember what he ate for snacks at the daycare he attended before school! I, on the other hand, can remember very little of my childhood. Snippets of places I lived, but no memories of friends until at least Jr. high, some slightly traumatic events, and some adventurous and happy events. Why is this? I don't know, vitamin deficiency? As a a child I moved all over with the Air Force, and as a married adult I have moved all over with corporate America. Each time we move we leave behind familiar places and acquaintances. After a couple of years my husband will ask, "Do you remember so and so from..." And I will say, "Not really." He will look at me, astonished at my lack of memory. And I will look at him, astonished that after this many years of marriage he should expect my memory to improve! Of course I remember those with whom I stay in touch, my heart friends. And now my point: I also remember those who have taken the time to teach me something.

I love to teach girly things to girls, because I have all boys of course! Over the years I have had the pleasure of teaching girls all kinds of things: cake baking and decorating, paper quilling, quilting, sewing, knitting, and now dyeing yarn. In reference to the previous paragraph, I don't teach to be remembered, I teach because I hope that others will find joy in their knowledge of the things I teach them. Think about how wonderful it is to know how to do something yourself that before you only wondered about or maybe paid someone else to do for you!

As I was hand-painting a hank of yarn a while back I realized how much fun I was having and that it was just the kind of artsy-craftsy thing girls would enjoy. Since I knew there were girls in the local homeschooling community who were interested in knitting and crocheting, I thought this might be right up their alley. I was right. I had a great response to the ad for my class and actually ended up scheduling two classes (and now I have requests for more).

Our Supplies
I decided to teach them hand-painting wool yarn. It is sort of fool-proof because you can paint it however you want. I used food-safe dyes, Wilton colors and Kool-aid, because I wanted to be able to use our household microwave to steam their yarn during class (which you shouldn't do with acid dyes). I was worried that I wouldn't have enough glass jars for all the colors, but then I remembered the big stack of #5 plastic containers (which we can't recycle in our county) cluttering the corner of one cabinet. In each container I put a tablespoon of vinegar, 1 cup of water and the coloring.

I prepped our workspace by covering my dining table as well as a long folding table with plastic drop cloths (to protect the tables), and then a layer of newspaper (to absorb drips), and then sheets of plastic wrap on which to lay the yarn.

I prepped the yarn before my students arrived by winding the wool into 50g hanks on my niddy noddy. I did 50g hanks because I knew from experience that the students would be able to paint the yarn more easily with less bulk to deal with. Then I presoaked the hanks in the usual vinegar and warm water bath.

When the students arrived I told them what we were going to be doing and how we ought to treat our wool yarn to prevent felting. Because I only work with wool, sometimes I forget that the properties and pitfalls of wool are not common knowledge. I allowed the students to squeeze out the water and spin their wool in the salad spinner. My salad spinner is a $1 Goodwill version that sometimes goes a little crazy and gives a little comic relief.

Then the students laid their yarn out on the prepped surfaces. I had purchased a bag of 25 1-inch sponge brushes at Joann's with my 40% off coupon (around $3).  These work pretty well for this project, although they want to grab the yarn. I personally like to use a natural hair pastry brush to do my yarn painting.

I told them they could lay their yarn out in any way they liked and paint it in any way they chose. I explained how longer sections and shorter sections of color would affect the way their knitted item would look. And then I told them just to have fun. For the first class my OS had mixed the dyes for me and I had not tested some of the Wilton colors for yarn-dyeing, so we had some weird unpleasant colors. What was supposed to be purple went on the yarn as denim blue and came out from steaming as purple! This was a surprise to us. For the second class, I left out the unpleasant colors and tried another food dye for purple, but got the same blue to purple color change effect. In my experience with both cake decorating and yarn dyeing is that purple is a difficult color!


After painting their yarn, we rolled them up in the plastic wrap jelly roll style and steamed them in the microwave. Everyone's yarn looked different and it was so much fun! When the yarn was cool we gave them a little soapy bath and rinse and spun them damp dry in the salad spinner again. They took them home in bags. Before they left I showed them how to wind a centerpull ball on a wooden spoon and also demonstrated my homemade yarn swift.

All in all, I think everyone had fun, including me. Here is a link to blog of one family who attended, and I'm pretty sure they enjoyed themselves!

Do you know how to do something that others don't? You wouldn't believe how many grown-ups tell me they want to learn to knit or crochet or some of the many other things we know how to do that we might take for granted. The rewards for sharing your knowledge, whether with children or adults, are many. I do not consider myself a gifted teacher. I get nervous, flustered, overheated, and sometimes even stressed, but I keep doing it because I am compelled to share the knowledge of so many wonderful things others have taught me. In today's computer age, so much knowledge is available with the click of a mouse, but there really is no substitute for a real person beside you showing you the ropes. What can you teach someone today?

After my students left yesterday's class I had any extra hank of yarn prepped and Middle Son had been asking to try it out, so he had his chance. Then little guy woke up and saw colored water and sponge brushes and was so excited. I repressed my usual tendency to say, "No, too messy," and let him go to town on the newspaper covered table. He got a little rambunctious at one point and still has a green stain on his forehead!

A Project Made with Finished Yarn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just a Thought...

Tonight I was thinking how we people really are unique. We are not born with a great number of instincts like our animal friends (and I use the term friends loosely because our choice of household pets has never been what you would call successful). Why, we don't even know when to come in out of the rain!

I was thinking about this because I was realizing that the number of things we teach our children in the short time they are under our care and guidance must be beyond counting. Everything must be taught and learned. A current lesson in our household is that there are certain things that can and cannot be thrown.

As sane adults, we know that the only things that ought to be thrown are balls, Frisbees, javelins...and the occasional hissy fit--oh wait, I said sane. At any rate, we never have to wonder if we ought to throw the sharp jagged, or heavy, or precious object in our hands. We know that we should not because we have been taught by our parents that we should not.

In the hands of my sweet, precious, miracle of a boy 2-year-old, anything is a projectile! He will be sitting quietly and contentedly and then, whizz--an object flies across the room! So we teach him, "The only toys we throw are balls, not people toys, not expensive electronic toys, not heavy wooden toys, not coins, not food, not...well you get it.

Sometimes we laugh behind our hands right before we tell him, "No, we only throw balls," in our most serious voice. I realized we laugh because this is the easy stuff. The millions of things we teach them in early childhood by example, and by the natural course of conversation, and by play, and by a look or a touch, these things are easy (but only because our parents taught us first). It's later on when we have to teach the hard, thought-provoking, grown-up things that our skills as parents are really put to work.

So my thought was just this, I am SO thankful for the early childhood times of teaching and learning. God gives us all those years of practice to get prepared for the hard stuff of adolescence and beyond. I really am thankful for that blessing.

So my last little thought is this, if the early stuff is so easy, why do I still fail at being the perfect parent to my toddler? For now I will just keep being thankful for my first thought!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homeschool Co-ops--To Do or Not to Do?


While I am on a roll of writing about homeschool stuff I was thinking I should bring up co-ops. You may be wondering what a co-op is, if it's necessary, or if it's something you even want to try to tackle if you are just beginning your homeschool journey.

A homeschool co-op is basically a place you take your children one day a week to attend classes with other homeschool students, and they usually have homework to complete over the week.

Sometimes co-ops can be located with an Internet search, and other times co-ops are only by word of mouth. Ask other homeschoolers if they are aware of local co-ops.

There are different kinds of co-ops.

Parent-led co-ops are exactly what they sound like. The parents do the teaching, planning, and organizing. These co-ops are generally less expensive to participate it because you are not paying anyone to do anything. Parents are usually required to stay for the duration of the co-op day.

There are also co-ops with professional paid instructors. These co-ops offer the flexibility of dropping off your children and having a little less teaching to worry about for the week. These co-ops can be quite expensive.

Some co-ops offer core classes and science labs. Some only offer arts programs, and some offer a little of both. A co-op might be a good place for your child to get P.E. or a high school science lab.

How do you decide if you should join one?

Well, first you have to find out if there are any in your area. It is much better to find one closer to home than to drive a long way because you are more likely to spend time with friends made who live closer to you, plus it's just easier on co-op day not to have to trek across the state!

Find out what classes they are offering. Do they match up with what you have planned for the school year? In other words, is there any benefit to being a part or are you just adding to your students' work load?

Do the co-op fees fit into your homeschool budget?

What are the benefits?

--Forming good friendships (for you and your children)
--Opportunities for classes you might not teach at home
--Opportunities for your child to be taught by someone who is passionate about a subject you don't like
--A chance to get out of the house and have a change from the normal school day once a week
--An opportunity to bless others with skills you may have to share

When we first heard about co-ops we were frightened off by the descriptions of sign-up day and the frenzy to get your students in the classes you wanted. I'm not up to that kind of competition. Not all co-ops are like that.

When my OS started high school I knew we needed to join one so that I could avoid science labs at all cost! We were in a new place and we just took the plunge with most advertised co-op around. It was big, a little expensive, and overwhelming, but they were offering classes we could use so we took the plunge. We made it through the year, despite a horrible pregnancy for most of it, and came out blessed.

The following year we heard about a smaller co-op which met very close to where we live. Having mingled with area homeschoolers, we knew some of the families already. It turned out to be a good fit for us as well as providing classes we needed. As I mentioned in a previous post, if it weren't for co-op we would never have had the opportunity to use the IEW writing course which has made a big difference in my boys' writing. We have been blessed with friendships, opportunities to serve and be served, connections that got us involved in other things we may have missed out on otherwise.

Maybe a co-op isn't what you need. Maybe you just need a support network of moms or a group that meets for field trips. My advice to new homeschoolers is to get connected with other homeschoolers. Even if you want to spend your first year focused on getting things in order and getting into a routine, making homeschool friends is beneficial in so many ways--play days for the little ones, a comfort zone for older ones, a time for you to receive encouragement to help you continue on your homeschool journey.

I hope this and my other homeschooling posts will help you in thinking about what should and shouldn't be a part of your homeschooling plans for the coming years.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Homeschool Curriculum Discovery Path

This is a continuation of another post in which I discussed my path of curriculum choices (and how I became a curriculum junkie). For some people, starting out in homeschooling is overwhelming by the sheer number of curriculum choices available, never mind the matter of taking on your children's education! For me the thrill of the hunt made it a little less so, and I was young and enthusiastic. Today I want to give some of you who may be thinking about or just starting out with homeschooling some ideas for finding a good curriculum fit.

These are some questions to ask about yourself:
--Are you energetic or more low key?
--Are you self-driven and motivated to stay on task, or do you require accountability?
--Do you like to have things orderly and scheduled or do you enjoy spontaneity?
--What is your curriculum budget?
--How many children and at what stages will you be homeschooling?
--Is your focus the type of education they will receive or the lifestyle of learning in the home?
--How will your family dynamic affect your homeschool experience, schedules, activities, etc?
--Do you have a lot of time and the desire for planning?
--Does your religious affiliation play a part in what you will choose?

Some questions to ask about your children:
--Are they high energy or content to be still for long periods of time?
--Do they remember things better by hearing or seeing?
--Do they welcome the chance to do arts and crafts or would they rather skip the glue and scissors?
--Are they self-driven and focused or do they require continuous reminders to complete tasks?

Some of these questions you will be able to answer about yourself and your children before you look for curriculum, and others you may not be able to answer until you have begun your homeschooling journey. But it's a place to start.

If you like things be to organized and scheduled, but do not have the time or desire to do planning yourself, then you will want to look for a curricula or companies that do the planning for you with laid out weekly schedules for the entire year. This certainly makes life easier for the homeschooling mom, but does not offer as much flexibility. These curricula can also be cost prohibitive because of their all-inclusiveness. They are good at keeping you on task, especially if you choose a computer-based or on-line curriculum. These planned out curricula might be by individual grade level and they might be for multi-age teaching.

Do you like the idea of traditional workbooks and textbooks, or do you want to use the whole book approach where learning is done by discovering the world through well written pieces of literature on the subjects at hand? There are many companies that sell complete curricula based on their textbooks, and others who plan entire year's studies based on novels and non-fiction works of science and nature.

Do you want to spend time discovering and learning with your child or do you prefer to walk along side as a support as he learns? If you are into learning and discovering, you may enjoy the Charlotte Mason style of learning or the unit study approach. These are very laid back, hand-on, and discovery oriented. I think this is a wonderful style of learning to try out when they are young because you will quickly see the things that they enjoy because they are exposed to such a wide variety of subjects. You may find that you son dislikes coloring but loves to learn about the things found in nature. You may discover that your daughter is not interested in knowing how something works, but she would paint all day if you let her. There are many preplanned curricula available in these styles of learning, but they can also be accomplished by your own creative planning.

Begin your hunt by asking yourself these questions, and giving yourself realistic answers.The first year is not the year to be overly ambitious, whether you are starting in Kindergarten or 5th Grade. Make a list of must-haves, wants, and maybes.

Example:

Must Haves
Biblical Worldview
Preplanned Lessons
Multi-Age Teaching
Affordable

Wants
Printable Worksheets
Chronological History Study
Hand-on Science

Maybe
Includes Art and Music
Computer Based

You see where I am going. So start with your list. Go on-line or to a curriculum store or convention, or raid another homeschool family's book library. You can quickly eliminate some by your must-haves list. Remember to make your list as realistic as possible, considering your personality (and your children's), your lifestyle, and your budget. This list may change after your first year of homeschooling. You may discover that you are more or less organized than you thought, or maybe your child's learning style does not mesh with what you chose. And there are several books out there on discovering your child's learning style.

After your initial eliminations, make a list of the curricula that appeal to you. Make pros and cons charts based on your other lists. Which of the ones you like meets the most number of your criteria?Being systematic about this may save you a great deal of frustration and money. If you dive into it with nothing but passion and the recommendations of a few friends, you may find yourself quickly worn out and doubting yourself.

Now you have scoured the Internet for the best deals on the curriculum you think you want and the last criteria will be the budget test. Maybe you have gone a little crazy and forgotten about the budget. Prepare your list in Excel or with a pen and paper or calculator. Make it neat if you are submitting it to the Principal! You may have to trim the fat, so to speak, and let go of a few maybe and wants. You may decide to start over and maybe find something better!


Now I will tell you about some of the curricula we have used and how they worked for our family.

Unit Studies:

Weaver: Very teacher intensive, I did not like the grammar or spelling part of this program.

KONOS Wonderful! Great for large families and mulit-age teaching. Utilizes whole books and timelines. Includes a whole lot of project ideas. History is not taught chronologically, but really the sequence is up to you. Using this does require access to a library and some amount of discipline to get your planning done and follow through on projects.

Lapbooks: Lapbooks can be utilized for any subject studied and are great for students who love to cut and paste. For students who do not, it is a time-waster and a drudgery! Free and For purchase lapbooking materials can be found all over the Internet!

History:

Veritas Press: Classical, Chronological, Too labor intensive for us, and not interesting enough for younger ages, expensive.

Story of the World: Classical, Chronological, Casual reading together learning style with worksheet activities available and audio available (great for audible learners). We enjoyed this for many years, but eventually decided to look for a history with more of a Biblical worldview.

Mystery of History: Chronological, Conversational style learning, built-in activities, audio lessons available, nice recommendations for altering lesson plans for your school week, Biblical worldview.
This is what I continue to use with my middle son and he loves it.

Ray Notgrass Exploring World History: High school, a combination of history, literature, and Bible. Well-written, easy to follow self study. I like it as a parent, my son would have liked a deeper study into subjects (but you can only go so deep when covering world history in one year).

Starting Points Cornerstone Curriculum: An excellent curriculum for Jr./Sr. high includes history, literature and worldview, very pricey unless you can find the books used. This is a deep thinking curriculum.

Math:

Modern Curriculum Press: Standard workbook graded curriculum, just plain ole math, works fine!

Saxon: Very thorough, repetitious, many people swear by it. We used Saxon successfully, but not happily for about 5 years with my OS. Then we began hunting for other math curricula and it was a battle. MS's learning style did not mesh with Saxon, and we eventually abandoned it altogether.

Mastering Mathematics: A systematic approach covering math subjects one at a time rather than bits and pieces over the years. I enjoyed using this with MS because the daily lessons are short and good for short attention spans. Hands-on manipulatives are included. Some teacher prep and organization is required to include extra learning not taught in the main worksheets, like time, money, etc.

Life of Fred: Another systematic subject approach, inexpensive textbook style, written as a story, all life application of learning concepts. We have enjoyed these books for the past few years for both ages. They are a little better suited to self-learners (in the upper levels), but very much worth looking at!

Science: All from a Christian Worldview

Christian Kids Explore Series An easy to utilize curriculum that includes memory reinforcement and easy to do activities, also written in a conversational tone, black and white paper bound.

Apologia Elementary Series: We really enjoy these and are still using them. Well-written in a conversational tone with hands-on experiments to do with mostly household items, full color, hardcover textbooks. Also available are lapbooking kits and spiral-bound notebook journals to go along with them.

Apologia High School Series: Advanced Science courses including experiments for lab (but lab supplies must be purchased separately), well-written, will prepare your students for college, CD and CD-Rom companions are available.

Language Arts:
Language arts is a big subject because it include spelling, reading and writing, which can all be taught separately or together. I will only list a few we have use here, because we have tried ALOT!

Reading:
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons: It either works or it doesn't, it worked for my OS but not for MS.

Veritas Phonics: We used this expensive phonics program because we were able to buy it used from a friend. MS did learn to read, but I wouldn't choose it again. It utilizes, songs, games, readers that are included, flashcards, the whole shebang. Some people love it--as with all curricula.

Complete Programs:

LLATL:We only did this for one year, but enjoyed it. Literature based study which included spelling, grammar, writing, and lesson plans to go with several works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry as well as studies in journalism.

Total Language Plus:Similar to LLATL but done in a workbook style for one book at a time. An advantage of these is that you can choose the individual books at your student's levels, and I really prefer the format of these over LLATL. We still use these to cover 3-4 novels per year. One disadvantage, not a lot of grammar. You may want to do a formal grammar study before (or during) utilizing these.

I've used too many spelling programs to mention, and I discovered that I prefer spelling to be integrated into the language arts. We tried all of these and never saw a marked improvement in a subject that continues to be difficult for my boys.

Spelling Workout
Sequential Spelling
The Natural Speller
Spelling Power

Shurley Grammar: The only grammar program I enjoyed using, utilizes jingles to learn rules, and works! Very structured.

Writing has always been a sore subject for my boys and I. It wasn't until we joined a co-op and experience IEW that writing became less burdensome. It is very structured and expensive. We are thankful to have the opportunity to experience this class in a co-op setting.

Handwriting:
Zaner Bloser: An adequate, classic hand-writing workbook approach.

Teaching Cursive: An effective program that is completed in 50 or so days, worked well with my MS.