Friday, May 27, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: Finish Line! (And a Book Recommendation)

This week was the last of our official school year. Yay! I say "official" because we are continuing some AO readings through the summer since we are behind on those. It doesn't make sense to stop in the middle of a book simply because it's a "school" book. Good books are good books, period.

Activities have wound down, too, just in time for the swim team season to gear up. Those practices are every day, but it's at our neighborhood pool, and the girls can ride their bikes with friends. Yay again! Also, the piano recital is next Tuesday evening, and that will wrap up music lessons until September. Ongoing will be Miss Priss's middle school choir at church until mid June, when they go on a choir trip, and Tiny Girl's riding, with two shows slated for June.

I wanted to let you know about a wonderful book both girls have been reading as part of their history studies: The Reb and the Redcoats, by Constance Savery. First published in 1961 and now part of the Living History Library collection of Bethlehem Books, this work of historical fiction offers a British viewpoint of the American Revolution. From the back cover:

Charlotte Darrington and her brothers and sisters can't understand Uncle Lawrence's bad mood. What could be more interesting than having their own American prisoner of war? The children are determined to make friends with the young rebel -- but they find themselves thwarted by Uncle Lawrence and the prisoner himself. It is only after a near-disastrous attempt to reach France that the Reb allows himself to be drawn into the life at White Priory in southern England. The children are happy to become his "redcoats" -- but they know that as long as the rebellion in the Colonies is going on, the Reb is likely to escape at the first honorable opportunity.
Both my girls have enjoyed this book tremendously. Tiny Girl practically devoured it, and Miss Priss told me, "I like that it shows what English people thought (about the war)." So do I.

I found this selection on the fabulous website, A Book in Time, which I use frequently to locate living history books for my girls. I love the way the site is organized, and I also appreciate the age guidelines (ex. JH or UE for junior high level or upper elementary level) and annotations. When you visit the site, don't overlook the World History tab; that's where The Reb and The Redcoats is listed, since the story takes place in England.

So what educational pursuits are you planning to continue through the summer (if any)? I'm interested to hear!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Adventures in Frugality: Crock Pot Beans and Tasty Recipes

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to my dear friend, Jennifer at Half-Baked Homeschool, that I passed up the canned black beans at Publix because I knew I could get them cheaper at Aldi. She said, "You know, the cheapest thing to to do is buy dried black beans, cook them yourself, and store them in the freezer."

I'm always amazed by how some extremely obvious facts fail to make an impression on my feeble mind.


I love to use my slow cooker as much as possible so I don't have to think about what's on the stove while I'm attempting to educate my children. I did a bit of research to discover the best way to cook dried beans in a Crock Pot. Kalyn's Kitchen has a clear and helpful article. As I type, black beans are simmering away in my slow cooker, and I'm feeling both productive and frugal.

In case you're wondering, we don't eat black beans by themselves. I use them in recipes, such as Impossibly Easy Taco Pie. But I make changes to the original recipe. I don't ever use packets of taco seasoning; I use a homemade blend (see below). And I typically don't use green chiles, since I don't keep them on hand. Third, I use a mixture of half ground beef (or ground turkey) AND -- you guessed it -- black beans.

Homemade Taco Seasoning
After browning and draining about a pound of ground beef or ground turkey, mix in:

1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. each: ground cumin, onion powder, and garlic powder
2 T. ketchup
1/4 cup water

Stir all together and cook over medium heat about five minutes. This recipe comes from Desperation Dinners! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross.

For the taco pie, I use half the seasoned meat and half black beans. I freeze the other half of the meat for later use.

Another recipe that features black beans is Santa Fe Chicken Casserole. I alter this one, too. I usually omit the green onions. And I don't buy the cooking creme; I just mix softened cream cheese and salsa. Medium salsa, which is usually too fiery for the girls, is good here, since the cream cheese cools in down. I typically use shredded Cheddar instead of the Mexican blend cheese.

Black beans are also good in chili and Chicken Tortilla Soup. The link is the basic recipe; when I made it for book club, I used my slow cooker and made a few changes. I can't recall now what those changes were, exactly. Be creative (within reason, of course)!

I'm on a roll with this frugality stuff!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventures in Frugality: Coming Clean

How's this for coming clean: I aspire to be more frugal, and sometimes I succeed.

Here's one of my successes. Inspired by Tricia at Hodgepodge, I made my own laundry detergent today. (My camera was AWOL, so I have no fab photos; but Tricia does, so visit her blog to see what I did. Ha ha!) I opted to make the powdered version from the Duggar Family website, the same recipe Tricia used.

After some research, I discovered that the liquid/gel recipe is the best value, but I don't have a five-gallon bucket with a lid hanging around my house. Maybe one day....

I bought all three ingredients at my local grocery store in the laundry detergent section. If you can't find them, check online.

Here's the recipe:

1 bar Fels Naphtha laundry soap, finely grated
1 cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)
1/2 cup borax

The girls and I used my crank cheese grater to grate the soap. Then we mixed everything together and stored it in a clean and empty OxyClean bucket-style container, along with an extra plastic tablespoon measure I had. Voila! One tablespoon per load is all that's needed. Use two tablespoons for really soiled clothing.

I've already washed a load of clothes with this concoction, and everything came out clean. Which I sort of expected, since hundreds of other people have had success with this recipe. It's not like I'm cutting-edge or anything.

The best news is that it's so easy to make that I might actually stick with it. Thanks, Tricia!

Monday, May 16, 2011

First Sighting! Indigo Bunting

First it was a northern flicker, and now it's an indigo bunting, another bird I've never seen before.

Yesterday, as we were leaving Tiny Girl's horse show (after about eight hours, but that's another story), Himself pointed to a bird on the ground beside the barn and said, "Hey, look at that really blue bird!" So we did.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

I said it wasn't a bluebird, and Tiny Girl commented, "It looks more teal than blue." I wondered aloud if it might be an indigo bunting, which I've read about but never seen.

We looked it up in our bird book when we got home. Lo and behold, it was a male indigo bunting. After a bit more research, we learned that males sport bright blue plumage only during breeding season, after which they fade to a brown more like females. Also, their feathers have no blue pigment, but are actually black. According to, "the diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue. This explains why males can appear many shades from turquoise to black."

Other interesting facts about indigo buntings (thanks,!):
- A group of buntings are collectively known as a "decoration," "mural," or "sacrifice" of buntings
- These migratory birds migrate at night, using the pattern of stars nearest the North Star to guide them

For a birdwatcher like me, it was exciting to see another new-to-me bird. I hope I see another soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The F-Word for Christians

My women's small group (there are five of us) met yesterday at church. We've been together for several years and know each other very well. As one of us related a story involving a particularly frustrating and disappointing event, another one piped up, "Here it comes. The Christian f-word."

I cocked an eyebrow at her. (Lifting one eyebrow is a useful skill; that one action conveys so much meaning.)

She grinned back at me. "You know," she said. "Fine."

Sure enough, the story-relater ended with: "Everything will work out. It'll all be fine."

And we all laughed. Because she said it. The f-word.


Don't we all say it?

How are you? You seemed sad yesterday.
Oh, I'm fine.

How's your brother? (The one who's divorcing.)
Pretty good. He'll be fine.

And one of my favorite examples comes from a woman I know who called a friend's husband to check on the friend after one of her many ultimately useless chemotherapy treatments:

"So how's she doing?"

Husband replied, "She's good. She's fine."

The woman I know thought to herself, "She's dying, but she's totally fine."

No matter what's falling apart, we're all just fine.

I suppose one reason we automatically reach for the f-word when people ask about our lives is the whole "keep a stiff upper lip" philosophy. After all, everyone has problems, right? And whining is so unattractive.

Also, fine functions supremely well as a self-imposed gag. It's one thing to keep our bad stuff inside our own minds; but to give voice to them is to make them more real, to acknowledge that something is not okay. And once we've spoken, can we ever take it back?

And the f-word has another seductive quality: it keeps other people at arm's length and ourselves under control. Perhaps it was easier for the husband in the story above to tell people his wife was fine than it was to admit that his world was turning to ashes and there was nothing he could do about it.

Of course, sometimes fine means just that: everything is wonderful. For me, however, that word has taken on new significance. It's now a red flag, albeit a small one, alerting me to the possibility of a knee-jerk response, that there might be more to the story. I pray for wisdom to discern when that might be the case.

And I pray for grace enough to take the time, when someone answers me breezily "Oh, I'm fine," to respond gently, "Honestly? Because if not, I want to do what I can to help."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Vacation Homes: The Agony and the Ecstasy

If you've been with me for a while, you may recall that our family is blessed to have a small, rustic cabin on a lake in Maine. Emphasis on small and rustic, which means it will never grace the pages of a glossy "lake living" magazine. However, I am well aware that the phrase "on a lake in Maine" nullifies any mention of the showering-with-weird-insects characteristic we also enjoy. I suppose that's part of its charm.

Yet another trade-off is the way our cabin siphons funds that should be going into the girls' college savings accounts. Himself points out that, until this year, we've never done anything "major" to the place. A water heater here; a new circuit board there, et cetera. Emphasis on et cetera.

Until this year.

The front part of our cabin is quite old and was built on wood pilings as a foundation. The back part was added about 20 years ago and had a concrete slab foundation. Since the yard can be wet, we had to run a dehumidifier in the back part of the cabin to keep the floor (indoor/outdoor carpet) dry. Otherwise, if I kicked off a blanket during the night, it'd be damp by morning. Two years ago, we noticed that the floor was bowing, an indication that something was wrong with the wood pilings. Turned out to be rot. So this fall, we hired a contractor and put in a crawl space.

A couple of weekends ago, Himself and I made a whirlwind trip up there to check on the status of the work. Our contractor, who was stuck in Florida with car issues, couldn't meet us as we'd planned, which was a bummer. But we did meet with the mason to make plans about repositioning the chimney and wood stove. Here's what the place looks like now:

Looking from the sliding glass door in the family room to the kitchen. Note the sub-floor in the kitchen.

Looking into the girls' bedroom, which is crammed with stuff: the wood stove, the TV, books, and various furniture. 

The family room. Yes, that's the back of the fridge and our brass headboard, which needs a good polish.

Clearly, there's still lots to do. And we're due to arrive in eight weeks, with our packed-within-an-inch-of-its-life minivan, two children, and a corgi. It will be a nail-biter!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up: On the Homestretch

The finish line is in sight! We've already wrapped up a few things: spelling, our Friday homeschool classes, and poetry. There are only two units remaining in our grammar curriculum and only two more logic puzzles from Mind Benders. Miss Priss will finish her math curriculum in about three weeks. As far as activities go, there are only two more weeks of piano lessons, which culminate in the recital, and three more weeks of tumbling. The children's program at church ended this past Wednesday; the musical is on Mother's Day.
In other news:

We spent a few hours Monday attempting to ascertain whether or not Tiny Girl's elbow was fractured. She and Miss Priss spent the weekend with my parents while Himself and I were out of town. On Sunday night, Tiny Girl slipped on a throw rug, fell, and slammed her elbow onto the hardwood floor. Thankfully, it was just bruised, and she's back to normal now.

We are having a wonderful time studying history just prior to (and leading up to) the American Revolution. One of the best things about the Ambleside Online curriculum, in my opinion, is the time allowed to really immerse oneself into a particular time period, culture, and mood. Moreover, the excellent book selections provide much more than a cursory survey of events. The girls are really gleaning a deep understanding of the young American colonies and their struggles; in fact, it wasn't until college that I learned and/or appreciated much of this material.

Due to my dithering earlier this year, we are now "behind" schedule for the Year 4 readings. After asking for feedback on the AO Yahoo groups and giving it some thought, I've decided to simply continue our readings into the summer. I don't want to take a long break now, just when we're really getting into the story; nor do I want to put the pedal to the metal and zoom through just to finish up. That would sort of defeat the purpose of immersing ourselves into the early American zeitgeist, wouldn't it?!

We continued our Work pocket for the Colonial America history pockets. We also continued our study of the human body, reading more about the muscular system. Keys for Kids for Bible, Rosetta Stone for French, copywork, math, grammar, and piano practice are part of our daily lessons.

That's our week in a nutshell! To read more wrap-ups, visit Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Happy Mother's Day!