Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Winter Beef Stew

We've had some chilly, windy weather for the last several days. Last night, the temperatures fell to freezing, which is a bit unusual for our region this early in the colder-weather season. Tiny Girl and I were going to spend a few hours outside at the barn, so I thought a warming beef stew would be wonderful for supper.

And it was!

To help me prepare, Himself cut the stew beef into much smaller chunks, and I did the rest when I got home. Upon reflection, we both thought he should have also cut the veggies, just to speed things along. When you make this for your family, consider doing the chopping earlier in the day. That will cut your prep time considerably, and you'll be eating sooner!

Winter Beef Stew
Canola oil (you can also use olive oil)
1 pound stew beef, cut into small chunks
All-purpose flour, seasoned salt, and garlic powder
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup red wine (I used merlot)*
2 cups water*
2 T beef Better than Bouillon paste*
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 medium zucchini, cut into chunks OR 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 t dried thyme

Measure about 4 tablespoons of flour into a plate or pie tin and add some seasoned salt and garlic powder. Mix together. Coat the beef chunks with the mixture. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add beef in batches and brown, removing with a slotted spoon or spatula as they brown. Add onions to pan, adding more oil if necessary, and fry til softened. Dump in the dredging flour and stir til mixed in. Add liquids, meat, thyme, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover, cooking 20 to 30 minutes.

Check consistency. The mixture should be soupy. If it's not, add more liquid (I added water). Add the vegetables (EXCEPT peas, if you are using), bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook another 30 to 60 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add garlic and peas (if using), and cook for another five minutes.


My girls are not big eaters, but we had no leftovers. Everyone had seconds. If your family is large, here's a tip: double the recipe.

Since I like to share the joy, I'm linking up with:
Katie's French Language Cafe
No Ordinary Blog Hop

Pop on over for some recipe inspiration!

* You can opt to use water, beef broth, vegetable stock, red wine, or a mixture, as long as you have 3 cups liquid. I used 1 cup red wine and 2 cups water. I also added the two teaspoons of bouillon paste for depth. You could substitute one or two beef bouillon cubes or omit this ingredient entirely, if necessary.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Before They Push Their Boats from the Safe Shore

Photo credit
Earlier today, Miss Priss finished reading Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott, and she quite enjoyed it. At the end, she called me into the family room, where she was curled up under a blanket on the couch, to read aloud to me the last paragraph. We both thought it was lovely and wanted to share it with you. Perhaps you'll be inspired to add this book to your children's reading list.

There are many such boys and girls, full of high hopes, lovely possibilities, and earnest plans, pausing a moment before they push their little boats from the safe shore. Let those who launch them see to it that they have good health to man the oars, good education for ballast, and good principles as pilots to guide them as they voyage down an ever-widening river to the sea.

Words both wise and true, don't you think?

I have been considering today that the second sentence ought to be my mission statement, since I serve as both parent and teacher. As we all know it is far too easy to get turned aside by the minutiae of life. Often, I allow the tricky trivialities to have too much power in the day to day. These little tempests in teacups are tricky because they seem important -- critical, even -- at the time, but are mere and momentary distractions, blips in the big picture.

If I reduce down to the essentials those things I want my children to carry with them when they push their boats into the stream, it comes to this:

  • Your faith is not only the foundation of your life, it is the structural support. Stand firm in its truth.
  • Your education is a lifelong pursuit. Never stop learning.
  • Your principles define your character. Strive to be Christ-like in all you do.

But if I say all this and don't live it myself, then all my words are like chaff in the wind. Do I live like my faith is the structural support in my life? Do I pursue my own education? Do I exemplify Christ in my life? My answers, as always, tend to be, Not as much as I want to. Not as much as I need to.

How much better we'd all be if I focused on the essentials and not the ephemera; if I talked less and lived more; and if I welcomed in grace and ushered out the useless pursuit of perfection.

What a blessing that would be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shakespeare As It's Meant to Be: In Real Life

On Sunday evening, we visited a Shakespeare playhouse in our town to see Macbeth (that is, the Scottish Play). This was a first-time event for all of us in one way or another. Himself and I had never seen this particular play, and the girls had never seen Shakespeare on stage. So we were all excited. Plus, this theatre serves food -- really good food, as we discovered -- so we were extra excited.

I'm of the mind that Shakespeare should be seen and experienced, not read. Reading Shakespeare plays is boring. I know; I've read more than my fair share. And there's a perfectly good reason that the plays are boring to read: they are plays. Shakespeare wrote them to be performed on the stage. That's the whole point.

Shakespeare comes to life on stage. The actors of course give life to a mere character. But in an even greater sense, the words come alive. What looks archaic and foreign and impenetrable on the page becomes clear in real life.

We talked about the story on our drive home, and I was greatly pleased by how much the girls understood. But if I'd read the play aloud to them or, worse yet, handed it to them and said, "Read Act One, Scene One, and get back to me," the results would have been far worse. Never mind the huge resistance I would have faced!

That being said, once you've seen the play, it might interest you to read it. Now you have a "movie in your mind" to go along with the words on the play. When you read "Exeunt," you'll recall that the players thundered off the stage, swords glinting, in that particular scene. Or you may remember Lady Macbeth speaking the phrase "the milk of human kindness," and, since you recognize it as an idiom, you can read her soliloquy and further explore its use.

On the flip side, you might want to read a play to prepare yourself for seeing it. Shakespeare's minor characters are often not named in the play itself. To keep yourself from wondering, "Now who's this guy?" during the play, bone up a bit first. But even in this case, I advise reading a No Fear Shakespeare version (or another modern English translation) or even a story version, such as Edith Nesbit's or the Lambs' adaptations.

We all had a fabulous time. The girls are still talking about their favorite parts. They can't wait to see another Shakespeare play and are already planning which to see. Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest are high on the list.

How great is that?

P.S. Jimmie has written a most wonderful Squidoo lens, Shakespeare for Children, packed with tons of resources and ideas. Don't miss it.

I'm linking up with:
Hip Homeschool Hop
No Ordinary Blog Hop

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Bounty of Apples (And a Recipe)

In my last post, I wrote about our recent field trip to a mountain apple orchard. The whole visit was fun and educational, but my favorite part was the orchard store. Jams, jellies, honey, pies, apple bread, cider doughnuts, cider, fried pork rinds, dried apples, cookbooks, fritters, and apples tempted my eyes and palate. Tiny Girl was most intrigued by the variety of foodstuffs for sale and spent time browsing the riches.

Miss Priss and I lingered over the loose apple crates. We held the apples, felt their heft and the smoothness of their skins, noticed their different shapes. Winesap apples, we found, have a rougher skin than Pink Lady apples. Some varieties are "taller" than others, such as Red Delicious, while others are more rotund, such as Rome Beauty. We smelled their different scents: some were spicy, others light and almost flowery. Some were dark and earthy smelling. And the colors! The bright green of Granny Smith, the yellow-green of Mutsu, the rose-blushed yellow-green of Pink Lady, the scarlet and crimson of Arkansas Black, and the wine-dark red of Winesap. . . all gorgeous.

We selected a 1/2 bushel of a variety of apples, which came to 21 pounds! (And at $1.24 per pound this is a bargain!) We eat apples out of hand quite often (I'm munching a Pink Lady right now), but I wanted to branch out. So I decided to try my hand at applesauce first. I found an online recipe for slow cooker applesauce and then read the reviews. Based on the comments, I opted for a basic, no added sugar, no spices recipe:

Ellen's Slow Cooker Applesauce
Slice and peel six to eight, apples, whatever fits best in your slow cooker. I used my medium cooker (4 quarts? 5? I've forgotten). I used Granny Smith, Winesap, Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Arkansas Black, and Rome Beauty. Fill slow cooker. Add 1/2 cup apple cider. You may need to add more liquid if you use a larger slow cooker. I bought cider at the orchard. It's flash pasteurized and has no added anything. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours. Stir every so often. At the end of the cooking time, stir to desired consistency.

Himself, Miss Priss, and I loved this as is. It was tart, sweet, and intensely delicious. Tiny thought it needed some sugar. But she thinks everything needs sugar. Himself was surprised I served it warm; I found I prefer it warm. A drizzling of cream would be scrumptious.

I made the applesauce on Friday, and it was gone by Saturday night. It's that good.

Himself requested a pie. I've never made a homemade apple pie. In fact, I've never made an apple pie, period. Crisps, yes. I adore apple crisp! Saturday afternoon, however, found me wrestling with the particulars of piecrust dough. I used Martha Stewart's recipe, which seemed straightforward. But I had a time rolling it out and then transferring it to the pie plate. I had to start over, re-chilling the dough, twice.

Again, I used a variety of apples. Here they are in water with lemon juice right before I peeled them. I was pleased at the different hues of the flesh. Granny Smith is bright white, Arkansas Black is gold, and Rome Beauty is ivory.

Again, Himself, Miss Priss, and I thought the pie was tasty. Nothing special, really, but fine. Tiny Girl did not care for it. Miss Priss and I were also of the opinion that the dough for the crust would have been better sweetened a tad. If the spirit ever moves me to make another apple pie, I'll remember that.

It turned out looking a bit rustic. (Did I mention I had a hard time with the dough?) I had to patch together the top crust in several places. And my edge-pinching technique needs some work. Ah, well.

I'm planning to bake an apple crisp for book club this Thursday evening. And I foresee more applesauce in my future. I sliced up a few apples and froze them for culinary delights this winter. Oh, and we adore fried apple pies. Maybe I'll attempt those. Hmmm.

I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Orchard Field Trip

The big highlight of this week was our field trip to an apple orchard in the mountains on a gorgeous autumn day. We tagged along with our friends, who attend an online school that often organizes such outings. We enjoyed a wagon ride through part of the orchards; a tour through a museum of 19th century life; cider samples; a chance to milk Buttercup, a sweet (and long-suffering, if you ask me) Jersey cow; a petting zoo; fun on the playground; and the orchard store.

We bought a 1/2 bushel of a variety of apples: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Winesap, Rome Beauty, Arkansas Black, Mutsu, Pink Lady, and Cameo. We also bought apple cider doughnuts; a gallon of apple cider; a jar each of cherry jelly and cinnamon pear preserves; two hand-held apple pies; a small bag of dried apples; and a bag of pork skins. And while there, Miss Priss and I each enjoyed a cider slushie, while Tiny Girl dived into a caramel-apple-in-a-bowl: a sliced apple covered in caramel sauce. I helped her finish it up. Motherhood has its perks, after all!

One of the online school's teachers had set up a center for apple science. The children each selected an apple. They weighed it with a spring scale, found its volume, tested its buoyancy (thank you, Archimedes!), and measured its mass.

At home we did a bit of apple math. A 1/2-bushel bag of apples cost $17.00. The girls and I weighed the bag when we got home; it was 21 pounds. We did the math and found that these lovely, fresh, tree-ripened apples cost $1.24 per pound.

That's a fabulous price, but now I have 21 pounds of apples. What to do?

Well, Himself has requested a pie. I've never made my own pie crust, but given my new make-things-homemade bent,  I will now have to give it a go. Wish me luck.

I'm also planning slow cooker applesauce. I'm hosting bookclub this coming week, so a nice caramel apple crisp sounds just the thing for dessert. A drizzling of heavy cream wouldn't go amiss. Does it ever?

I could freeze some sliced, for future use. If the pie isn't a disaster, Himself might request another some day.

Then I guess we could just eat a few. You know, plain. There's an idea.

All our other subjects are clicking along. A brief glimpse:

  • fractions for everyone in math
  • noun study in grammar, focusing on finer details, such as mass and count nouns, compound nouns, etc.
  • Psalm 46 in our pre-inductive study of the Psalms
  • World War II in history
  • poetry memorization for recitation
  • a look at the planets in our solar system
  • exploring Israel in geography
  • our readings, two of which, Queen Victoria and Ordinary Genius, required notebook page installments 

I want to spend more time on World War II, so we are spending next week reading more about it via historical fiction and recollections. Next week is also our notebooking week, so I'll be designing more pages between now and then. Check back to see what I come up with!

I'm linking up with:
No Ordinary Blog Hop
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Truly Living Books and Nutella: Some Observations

Miss Priss pranced (there's no other word for it) into the kitchen this morning at breakfast, carrying her notebook of Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott. "Somebody has a crush! Somebody has a cruu-uush!" she sing-songed.

"Who?" asked Tiny Girl.

"Merry and Ralph," Miss Priss answered with satisfaction.

"With each other?" Tiny Girl asked in surprise, as if this is an unusual thing, to have two people like each other. Mutually. In the world of the pre-teen, this isn't always the case. (Frankly, it isn't always the case, period.)

"Well," Miss Priss amended, sitting down to her pumpkin muffin (with chocolate chips) and cafe au lait, "Ralph has a crush on Merry."

When asked if Merry felt the same, Miss Priss said, "Pretty sure."

Only time will tell.

Charlotte Mason, of course, emphasized the use of living books in an educational environment and with good reason. It's easy to tell a living history book, say George Washington's World, from a bland, boring textbook. Genevieve Foster brings to life that period of history in vibrant short stories. The historic figures are not merely historic figures; they are real people with real problems and concerns. We all learn best when we are engaged with a text. King Philip's War came to life for me when I read the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson.

But what about fiction? Are all fictional books living books? Of course not. Most are mere twaddle, Miss Mason's word for dumbed-down, silly, meaningless literature. It's my personal opinion that a little twaddle never killed anyone (maybe a few brain cells), and I've partaken many times over the years. Just like I enjoy a big, whopping spoonful of Nutella for breakfast every now and then.

On the other side of the coin are those literary gems, truly living books that come alive for readers, like Jack and Jill has for my daughter. She's engaged in the plot, she cares about the characters, and she's excited about how the story will unfold. It's like Nutella every day -- with no consequences!

How fabulous is that?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Living with Migraines

I knew it was inevitable that at least one of our children would fall victim to migraine headaches. I suffer from them, as does Himself, both my parents, and Himself's mother. Talk about a stacked-against-you gene pool.

This past year was the year of the migraine for Miss Priss. She's had a few, some with vomiting and some without. Some with weird eye issues, such as flashing light or focus problems, some without. Thankfully, basic Tylenol is effective. But first she had to master swallowing pills. Here's what works for us: I bite them into small pieces for her. Just another thing mamas do.

This morning when she told me her right eye was flashing, we knew what to expect. But the Tylenol didn't take effect quickly enough. Lying down made her head hurt worse, so she propped up on pillows, nauseated. Eventually she came downstairs to sit on the couch. Then she fell asleep. When she awoke, she felt much better but is still taking it easy for the rest of the day.

Oh, that it would always be that way. It's hard enough to see her suffer now, to wring wet, cool cloths for her forehead -- an ultimately useless but still somewhat comforting measure. What breaks my heart is that the headaches are sure to get worse. Mine did. Her dad's did. We just don't know exactly how the headaches will affect her.

Himself has about one BIG classic migraine per year. He has Imitrex injections for those. Mine are (were) different; I lived with daily headaches. A couple of times per month I'd have big headaches, but mostly I just had minor headaches every. Single. Day. I tried several kinds of meds. For the Big Ones, I used Imitrex 100 mg.

Finally, about a year and a half ago, I tried a daily SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) commonly used to treat depression. These have been found to be successful in some headache suppression. It works for me. Now I have only a mild headache a few times a month, treatable with Tylenol, and a breakthrough moderate headache a few times per year. What a difference this has made in my day-to-day living!

I know that my nearest forebears were migraine sufferers, and, since migraines tend to be genetic, I'm sure many of my ancestors suffered, too. I can't imagine how they managed. I am thankful we live in an era where we have medicines readily available.

Which makes me think. Perhaps there will be even more fantastic treatments and cures for migraines in the next few decades. Wouldn't that be something?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Archimedes' Principle Notebooking Page

I just uploaded a one-page notebooking page for Archimedes' Principle. There's room for writing and a box for drawing a picture illustrating the principle (or whatever -- like Archimedes in his bathtub).

Archimedes' Principle Notebooking Page


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So Are Your Lessons As Messy As Your Study?

In a word, no.

I may be a disorganized, I-know-it's-here-somewhere kind of girl, but I am committed to providing a high-caliber education for my children. Such a goal can't be left to chance. So I spend Sunday afternoons planning for the upcoming week.

And since I've figured out Scribd, I thought I'd post a copy of this week's schedule:

Weekly Schedule

I check off each item as it's finished. For some subjects, the children work individually, hence the initials next to the assignment. That way, I can check off as each student completes her work. The gray-shaded subjects are ones that typically require my guidance. Piano is listed in this section because one child practices while I'm working individually with the other.

Next come our daily readings. The only book we read each day is Story of the World, Volume 4. We read from Explore the Holy Land three times per week; all other selections are scheduled once per week.

Our schedule is not a strict timetable. Sometimes we read one or two selections first thing; other times we read before bedtime. It really depends on what else is happening on any given day. And if we get "behind," I move an assignment to Friday -- our catch-up day -- or the next week's schedule.

That's how we stay on top of things!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Johannes Kepler Notebooking Pages

The girls and I have been studying Kepler's three laws of planetary motion (read about that here). I created a two notebooking pages for my girls to use (a PDF document) and uploaded them to Scribd for anyone to use, free. Here's the link and a preview:

Johannes Kepler PDF Notebooking Pages

Hope this is helpful!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Ponies, Planets, Books, Fish, Soup, and Purple Hair

We enjoyed some fabulous fall weather this week: cool evenings and pleasant, breezy days. To the left is a photo taken from my front door. The dark storm clouds brought us rain, and the rising sun from the east lit up the trees in the foreground.

I love this time of year. Spring has long been my favorite season -- a new awakening after the cold and grey of winter -- but autumn is a close second. I enjoy it more now than I did when I was younger. Perhaps it's because I'm no longer in the spring days of youth!

Most afternoons found us at the barn. Tiny Girl still rides Max, but she's also working hard training Tuli, her new "greenie." For the uninitiated (me, just a few years ago), a green pony is a young, little-trained pony requiring lots of work. Tiny Girl and I are learning a lot in these heretofore uncharted waters.

Here are Tiny and Tuli. Tiny Girl holds a longe (pronounced lunge) line, and they are working on Tuli's trot. Tuli tends to take a tiny step with her hind leg before she picks up a trot, a bad habit due to her being unfit (out of shape). To help her, Tiny Girl has Tuli walk several steps until her stride is nice and long; Tiny then raises her right arm and says, "Trot." Tuli trots a few steps and then Tiny has her slow back to a walk. And that's it! Only they repeat the practice for about 15 to 20 minutes.

One day, as I lounged in an Adirondack chair at the barn, I looked up and this (to the left) was my view: the sun shining through the still-green leaves of this magnificent oak tree.

On Monday afternoon, the girls both auditioned for their roles in their drama troupes' productions. Both were very glad when auditions were over!

Wednesday found us at church for the annual community fall festival. Miss Priss and her friends worked hard at the hair painting station (colored spray!); she still sports some purple in her locks. Wish I'd taken a photo....

Today, we are shopping for much-needed shoes and clothes. For some reason, my daughters continue to grow!

In our lessons this week, we are continuing to study Turkey with Explore the Holy Land. Johannes Kepler's three laws of planetary motion made their debut in our science studies, which fit perfectly with our It Couldn't Just Happen reading about the inner planets. I found simple explanations for each of Kepler's laws on the IYA2009 site. (The IYA stands for International Year of Astronomy, which was in -- wait for it -- 2009.) More detailed explanations and background -- but stll very easy to understand -- and drawings of both Kepler and Brahe can be found at NASA's Earth Observatory website.

I am especially fond of Kepler's third law: "The squares of the periods of the planets are proportional to the cubes of their semi-major axes."* Or, put another way: "The square of a planet's orbital period (the time taken to complete one orbit) is proportional to the cube of its average distance from the sun."**

Why am I fond of this particular law? To me, it illustrates both the elegance of mathematics and the orderliness of the universe. Chaos does not breed order (reference the law of entropy). Clearly (for me at least), this is the work of God's hands.

In our literature, Miss Priss is reading and loving Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott, an AO free read for Year 6. I found a wonderful e-text on The Literature Network site, which is very easy to copy and paste in a word processing document. The ads do NOT copy! Miss Priss copied out a particularly lovely passage, which I thought I'd share with you:

So the fairy play woke the sleeping beauty that lies in all of us, and makes us lovely when we rouse it with a kiss of unselfish good-will, for, though the girls did not know it then, they had adorned themselves with pearls more precious than the waxen ones they decked their Princess in.

Tiny Girl is reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, and Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson. Both girls finished The Hobbit.

If you're interested in our complete plans for this school year, I wrote all about it in this post.

Last weekend, we enjoyed a sleepover at the Tennessee Aquarium with our Girl Scout troop (and three other troops in our service unit). It was a blast. We all enjoyed all the activities, especially the behind-the-scenes peeks. Our troop slept with the jellyfish watching over us.

 I'm writing a separate post about our visit to the aquarium. It's a great field trip idea if you live in the southeastern U.S.! I've visited several aquaria (!!) over the years, and this is one of my favorites for interest and diversity.

This week, we hit the jackpot with supper one night in an unexpected way. I'd purchased one of those bagged minestrone soup kits (I think it was Bear Creek?), and, while Tiny Girl and I were still at the barn, Himself threw it together. He thought it looked a bit sparse on the veggies, so he sliced up some carrots and added them in, along with more water than called for. He also added, per my instructions, some smoked pulled pork we had. Friends, it was too delicious for words. I'm so glad that soup weather is once more upon us!

Happy weekend!

I'm linking up with:
Weekly Wrap-Up @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Collage Friday @ HomeGrown Learners
Hammock Tracks
Hip Homeschool Hop
Friday Favorite Things @ Finding Joy
Favorite Resources @ Learning All the Time

* Quoted from the Johannes Kepler website,
** Quoted from the IYA2009 website

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My (Dis)Organization System

My study, where all our school materials are kept, is a living example of the law of entropy in action.

I clean it out and reorganize everything about two times per year, but it's natural state of being is. . . well, messy. This does not mean I don't know where things are, in a general sort of way. In that stack are the books we're reading now. In that stack are ones to list on Amazon or Paperback Swap. And in that stack are books the girls have read but can't part with. Oh, and these books are ones to read later.

There are also craft supplies and art projects in various states of completion. And the girls' other stuff, too.

Why are these stacks all over the floor, you ask? Well, because the shelves are full. Duh.

And my desk. These are bills to pay. These are materials I'm reviewing for a curriculum website. These are two catalogs I must look over. Here are some printouts for the girls. And here's a menu from a restaurant I'm reviewing for TripAdvisor. And these brochures are for a future blog post. Then there are papers to file.

Notice I didn't mention the Oreos.

I can hear (some of) you now. Why doesn't my study (schoolroom, bookshelves, floor, et al) resemble those we see on other home ed bloggers' sites? Surely this is a a hazard to our home education lifestyle? Or perhaps even a character flaw? Believe me, I've wondered the same thing at one time or another.

So why the full disclosure?

Well, my guess is that there are quite a few of you out there who might also have a bit of clutter in your lives. And it might not be your preference, but in this season of your life, it's just the way it is.

I've decided to be okay with that. True, I'd prefer things to be tidier at home, but a rich life is my top priority. We are busy with educational pursuits, outside activities, church events, and other things. We read a lot. I write. As far as household management goes, we stay on top of laundry. Dishes are washed and put away. The family is well nourished. The bills get paid. Everything else gets done when we can do it.

We are blessed.