Saturday, September 25, 2010

POIIs...Points of Internet Interest

A few things that I have discovered recently on the web...

Read Kiddo Read - a booklist of of great children's books by age and type
Dance Mat Typing - typing game for kids to learn proper hand position typing
25 Websites to Download Free Stock Photos for Your Projects - a good resource for anyone who designs anything.
Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Watching TV - This goes along with my Best Decision post

Enjoy exploring!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Outside Activities

It has been a busy week.  You can probably tell because I have been pretty quiet here.  Even homeschoolers are affected by Fall back-to-school time because that's when many of our outside activities start back up.  I sometimes struggle with outside activities.  There is a big part of me that is just a homebody and loves having long days at home.  Because of this, I have always been pretty selective about what we choose to do away from home.  I have always made an effort to choose outside activities that benefit as many family members as possible.  With six children, if each chose an activity that just they were involved in, I would soon be carting everyone everywhere all the time and we would never be home at all. 

This year we have been blessed with several opportunities that many in the family can participate in at once.  Our first one is Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  I began in this program back in 1996 when I had one preschooler and another on the way.  I went to a daytime class that had a preschool program.  BSF is an amazing tool for studying the bible.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.  I went through 7 years of study completing all the studies that they offered at that time.  I stepped away from this to allow me to get involved at other bible studies at my church, but my MIL and SIL were attending an evening BSF class and my MIL took my older two girls to the school-aged program offered.  They loved it and benefited a lot from this.  But several years ago, my MIL felt that it was time to move on to something else.  Last year I felt a nudge to return to BSF.  Although I was craving it for myself, I also knew that my older daughters who had done it before were desiring to study like that again, as well.  So, this is our second year back.  I am fortunate that I am able to take my oldest 4 children with me and we are all studying the book of Isaiah together this year.  What a blessing!  The cost for this program is nothing, although there is an offering plate there if you want to donate something. 

This is also our second year to participate in a homeschool gym class coop. Three of my children are the right ages to take advantage of this (the 8, 6, & 4 year olds).  This meets one afternoon a week and gives them an opportunity to burn some energy, learn some group sports and meet new friends. The requirements are that I need to help teach and the cost is minimal.

We have also joined another homeschool coop this year that meets one afternoon a week.  This is an academic coop with classes offered for all ages from preschool though high school.  We have never participated in anything like this, so it is a new experience.  I think it will be a good for the kids to experience a taste of learning in a more school-like setting.  I love the fact that they all have class at one place at the same time.  Again, I will have some teaching requirements and the cost is minimal. 

We also signed up for a homeschool, Christian drama group.  My older two girls have really been wanting to get involved in something like this.  This, too, is an activity that most of the children (the oldest 4) can participate in.  It also will meet one afternoon a week once it starts up.  I don't have to teach for this one (which is a good thing because I don't think I would be horrible in this area).  There is one cost per family, so with 4 participating, it works out to be very reasonable for us. 

Another thing we do as a family is 4-H.  We are involved in a club that meets monthly and all the kids can take part.  Well, the baby comes with us to the meetings, but doesn't really have much part in things. 4-H has lots of great projects that are a great resource from a homeschooling standpoint.  Cost for this is pretty minimal, too.

Do you see a recurring theme here?  Reasonable time requirements, minimal cost, many in family can benefit from it.  We don't have each child involved in a different sport or activity that would have us running most evenings.  We still have a few other things like youth group and a church dance group that fall into the evenings, but it is not too much.  So, although we have many things we are doing this year, it is my hope that it is very doable because we are doing most of them as a family and the schedule is not too crazy.  Because we already have a good number of activities planned, it is easier to say no to other worthwhile things that come along that maybe only one child may be involved with.

So, that's how we handle outside activities in our family.  How do you all do it?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Recipe Cache

I have talked about menu planning before.  I have to be honest, I think it is a marvelous idea, but struggle to be disciplined to do it all of the time.  (I think there is a part of me that enjoys the creative process of making something out of the odds and ends in my pantry each day.)  One of the things I mentioned that is a good tool for me to aid in meal planning is having a list of tried and true recipes to refer to.  I have made lists, changed lists, and often misplaced lists.  Yes, organization is not one of my natural-born gifts. [wink] 

I decided to go at this recipe list thing a little differently.  I have set up for myself another blog site dedicated to my recipes. Every recipe I post is one that is tried and true in our household, meaning we have made once or twice and LOVED it or have made it dozens of times and it is an old standby. Most recipes are scaled to the quantity that I prefer to make which means they are probably more suited to a larger family. Each recipe is also categorized.  The category labels are linked on the right side of the site for quick reference. 

Although I made this selfishly for myself, I thought that it might be something that others would enjoy.  Right now, there are only about 20 recipes posted, but I plan to continue to add them on a regular basis.

So, the site is   The Recipe Cache

Saturday, September 18, 2010

POIs...Points of Interest

Points of interest discovered that I thought I'd share...

Homeschool/Educational Printables:

Freeology.com
Site full of tins of useful printables and more.  Some things I discovered were list of journal topics to use as writing prompts, and interesting graphic organizers for taking notes.

Amazing Preschool Activities
I found them while on a search for coloring pages for my little preschooler who keeps begging for MORE schoolwork like her older siblings.  There are coloring pages by topic which is nice when you are looking for something specific like Princesses, in our case.  There are other printables on the site, as well.

DonnaYoung.org
No list of printables sites would be complete without including this one.  Donna Young has created TONS of forms, calendars, planner pages, worksheets in most subjects and more.  She has it all on her site available for download.  I think this is such an amazing resource that I have added a link to her on the right side of the blog here. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chicken Feta Pizza

Yesterday, I talked about making your own crust for pizza.  Today I thought I would share a non-traditional pizza that I have been making and loving.  Normally I make this along with a traditional cheese pizza because that is what the younger set prefers. 

  • Pizza crust of choice (I make homemade)
  • Canned tomato sauce
  • Garlic salt
  • Cooked chicken, diced or shredded (leftover, canned, etc.)
  • Feta cheese
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Herbs of choice (Herbs de Provence, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme...)
Form pizza crust.
Spread very thin layer of tomato sauce on crust.
Sprinkle with garlic salt.
Top with chicken, feta and red onion.
Sprinkle with herbs.
Bake at 450 F for about 12 minutes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pizza!

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about my favorite bread dough that I love to keep on hand in my fridge, the Olive Oil dough.  Not only does it make great bread, but it works fantastic for pizza crusts.  Now, I love making homemade pizza.  If you already have the dough on hand, it is a very quick meal to make.  The trickiest part, though, is making a decent crust.  There is definitely a trick to getting a nice crust.  You don't want it too thick or too thin.  Round is preferable and holes kind of ruin it.  I have to admit that I have struggled a bit with this.  I have made my share of no-so-pretty pizzas.  Fortunately, it is pizza and my kids don't really care what it looks like.

My usual method to make my crust is to whack off a hunk of dough, put it down on a floured counter, flour the top liberally and roll it out.  This usually results in a misshapen crust.  Then I saw somewhere how you can stretch the dough with your fists.  That definitely helps.  I also decide that I would try tossing it.  This is very entertaining for the kids, but you must make sure you don't accidentally drop it on the floor when you have witnesses [wink].  I found a great video that demonstrates how to make a pizza crust that I found very helpful.  Unfortunately, I can't find it now, but when in the process of searching online for it, I found quite a few other good ones.

Stretching the dough:


Here is a great instructional video on how to actually TOSS a pizza crust:


And here is what it looks like when you get fast:


Hopefully this has inspired your to make your own pizza. It is a fast, fun, and it can definitely be a cheap eat.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Making Time

It sure has been quiet on the blog front here hasn't it?  I am trying very hard to be more disciplined with my time and follow a particular routine/schedule for my days.  The time in my day that I have allotted for blogging is in the early morning before my children rise.  During that time I also get completely dressed and ready for the day, make hubby's lunch, and have my quiet time with God.  These things take priority over blogging so if I don't get up as early as I would like, guess what falls by the wayside?  Yup, the blog.  And guess how is having difficulty getting up early?  Yup, that would be me!  I am working on this.  I am determined to do better. 

On a positive note, the new routine has been working pretty well for us.  (That is, when I actually stick to it.  Oh Discipline, I pray for you daily!)

DAILY SCHEDULE
  • 5:00-6:00am:  Get up.
  • Until 8:00am:  Get completely dressed and ready for the day, make coffee, make hubby's lunch, bible study, prayer, e-mail, facebook, blogging.
  • 8:00-8:30am:  Wake kids (if necessary), help them complete their upstairs tasks, laundry.
  • 8:30-9:00am:  Breakfast, family devotion, memory verses
  • 9:00-:9:30am:  Mom's office time, Kids chore time
  • 9:30am-12:00pm:  Academics
  • 12:00-12:30pm:  Lunch
  • 12:30-3:00pm:  Project time
  • 3:00-3:30pm:  Tea time
  • 3:30-4:30pm:  Quiet reading hour, Mom's office time
  • 4:30-5:30pm:  Pick up house and make dinner
  • 5:30-6:00pm:  Dinner
  • 6:00-8:30pm:  Family time/Outside activities
  • 8:30-9:00pm:  Younger kids bedtime
  • 9:00-10:30ish pm:  Free time with older kids
  • 10:30pm (approx.):  Bedtime!
Of course, this varies depending on outside activities for the day, but this is the basic framework that I am trying to maintain. Theere are several new things on this schedule that are working out very well:
  1. Earlier mealtimes than we had before.
  2. "office times" both early and late in the day for me to officially make/return non-personal phone calls, do paperwork, pay bills, etc.
  3. Tea time which acts as a benchmark in the day and a little snack time for the kids.  We have been reading poetry during this time.
  4. Quiet reading hour for my younger children.  This gives me a quiet hour to be productive AND I have seen a big boost in reading interest and skills since we started this, especially with my 8 year old son.
That all being said...I gotta go.  It's time for me to go motivate my kiddos!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Monday, September 06, 2010

(One of the ) Best Decisions We Ever Made: Chucking Cable

We chucked cable TV and it has proven to be a wonderful decision. The choice was born out of budget cutting. Cable TV is a ridiculously large monthly expense and, let's face it, it is a want and not a need.

Throughout most of our married life, we lived with cable-less TV, watching whatever came over the air. At times, we felt like we were the ONLY people who did this and felt rather out of the loop in many conversations.

When we built our new house, hubby got the bug to have cable and found us a sweet deal. You know that's how they suck you in, right? We got a great price that included a DVR. We were soon fairly hooked on the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Food Network, Nickelodeon, and The Disney Channel. What we got REALLY addicted to is the DVR. It changed the entire way we watched TV. We became selective about what we watched, choosing to record our favorite shows. Then when we would decide to sit down in front of the television, they were there waiting for us. No longer were we ever tied to the TV schedule.

Of course, our introductory price went away and the cost went up considerably, but by then we were hooked. As we would review our budget, trying to find areas to cut, the cable TV would often come up. We wrestled long and hard about giving that up for nearly a year, but finally the finances (or lack of them) won out and we pulled the plug. It was not easy. Sadly, television had become a real part of our family time. What eased the blow was our Netflix subscription and the fact that so many shows are available online on sites like www.hulu.com.

So, as I write this, we have been without the cable TV for just over 6 months. There have been some significant changes in our household. We watch WAY less TV now. My husband used to come home from work and just flip it on to relax his brain after work. He no longer has his recorded shows to watch and we don't get reception for our local stations so his choices are pretty limited. So now, he has gotten in the habit of coming home and reading. What a bonus. His reading is a great example for the kids, too. My children also watch way less TV and it is mostly DVDs or Netflix streaming stuff which means they see virtually NO commercials. It is amazing how much this eliminates the “I wants” and the “gimmes.”

My hubby and I were just having a conversation about this and we both have to agree that ditching the cable has been one of the best decisions we have ever made. Even if our financial situation changed, I cannot see us going back to this. The TV is such a time robber and it doesn't really give much, if any, value back in return. As I get away from the habit of vegging in front of the television, my desire for it is less and less. I am discovering that I would much rather sit and read a book or do a project. I didn't consider myself a heavy TV watcher, but I have gained so many hours back into my day. Selfishly, I do not want to give them back up. I am not too far off from feeling like I could give up the boob tube entirely. I definitely could for myself. I do however use it as a bribe tool for my children. “If you get all your chores and schoolwork done promptly, there will be time for a movie later.”

If you have been considering chucking the cable, I would highly recommend it. Not only will it save you tons of money, but you will reap even greater benefits in your life.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

My Favorite Dough

Focaccia bread with rosemary, thyme, olive oil & sea salt.
I really love the green kind of dough that you keep in your wallet, but that is kinda hard to keep around and when I run out of it, I can't just make more.  So, my most favorite dough is a bread dough. It is yummy, useful, and I can make as much as I want without getting arrested.

Yesterday in my post, I included a link to a recipe for bread using the "5 Minutes a Day" technique.  That is a basic dough for making a crusty European style bread like a French baguette.  It is wonderful!  When it is fresh, the loaves from this have an amazing crispy crust with a neat texture on the inside.  However, if you are planning on keeping this for a day, it definitely loses something.  Also, it is not as ideal to make sandwiches, especially for little ones.  They struggle with that tougher crust. 

After feeling confident with the basic dough technique, I began experimenting with various other dough in the book.  We discovered that everyone LOVES challah bread which is enriched with eggs, butter, and honey.  When we are feeling rather decadent, we will make up some brioche which is enriched with LOTS of eggs, butter and honey.  I was still however searching for a simple everyday dough that my family loved.  That's when I discovered olive oil dough.  It is categorized as a dough for making flatbread and focaccia bread or pizzas.  There are several recipes in the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" book that it can be used in, but it is never discussed as a stand-alone bread.

For our first experiments with this dough, we made focaccia bread (like in the photo).  I rolled it out like a pizza crust, drizzled olive on it and added rosemary, thyme and a bit of French grey sea salt.  It was love at first bite!  We started making this more frequently because not only is it yummy, but it is super fast to make because it is thin and doesn't require much time to rise.

One day I decided to try to use the dough to make a regular loaf of bread.  It turned out beautifully.  It has a finer texture than the basic European style bread and a nice soft crust.  It works wonderfully for sandwiches.  Over time I have also used this dough for, pizza, calzones, rolls, dinner braids with various fillings, and breadsticks, along with countless numbers of basic loaves that got devoured right out of the oven by my family.  (It is hard to tell a group of hungry folks to wait until the bread cools after they have just been smelling it baking.)

Here's how I make it:

OLIVE OIL Bread Dough

3 cups warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 T. yeast
1 1/2 T. kosher (course) salt
1 T. sugar
6 1/2 cups bread flour

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large container.  My favorite type is a commercial cold food storage container like this one.  It is just the right size, fits nicely in my fridge and has a lid that just sits on top without snapping tight which is what you need to avoid a messy explosion of yeasty gasses.  Let this rise on the counter 2 or 3 hours.  Then it is ready to use, but will be less sticky if placed in the refrigerator for a while first.  This makes 4 pounds of dough and will keep 10-14 days this way.  Because we can go through a lot of bread, I usually will divide the dough in half and form 2 large loaves.  I let these rise 1 1/2 - 2 hours and then I bake them at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. 

Another recipe for using this wonderful dough can be found here:  Sweet Proven├žal Flatbread with Anise Seeds.  I haven't tried this, but it looks delish.

Let me know if you give this a whirl and what you do with it.  Next, I will share with a favorite pizza that I use this dough to make.  It's a fun, fancy gourmet type, but simple to throw together.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Our Daily Bread

Various snapshots of bread that I have made over the past couple of years. 
I have a confession to make...I am one of those women.  I homeschool my kids and I bake my own bread.  I know.  You all want to roll your eyes in disgust.  But I wasn't always like this.  I have been married for over 22 years and it has only been the last two or three during which this strange bread-baking phenomenon has occurred.  Before that, through the years, I had made several attempts to bake bread which had resulted in doorstops.  I affectionately had called them "brick-bread."  Imagine a loaf no more than an inch and a half high and dense enough to break a toe if dropped.  I had decided that baking bread was an impossibility for me.  My parents thoughtfully gave me a bread machine one year.  That was wonderful!  For the first time ever, I was able to produce an edible loaf of bread in my kitchen.  Sheepishly, I have to admit, I had my share of failures even with the machine, but with practice, I prevailed and could consistently churn out yummy loaves.

A few years ago, I got the bug to start baking all of our bread.  It was healthier and saved money.  Every morning I would diligently measure ingredients into my bread maker and we would have fresh bread.  Then, just as we were totally hooked on this, tragedy struck. My bread maker quit working!  I didn't have money in my budget to replace it either.  Faced with the option of returning to store bought bread, I decided that this was the time to master the art of bread making from scratch.  With determination, I began to read about bread making techniques and actually figured it out. I made bread!  (Imagine me yelling this just like Tom Hanks yelled "I made fire!" in Castaway when he finally succeeded.)

So, I began a new ritual.  I would get up early, measure out my ingredients, mix them, and knead them (and knead them....and knead them....) and set the dough to rise.  A couple hours later I would punch the dough down, form loaves and let this rise again.  Then I could bake it.  It took at least half a day of babysitting the dough and working with it.  It took longer if I was busy and didn't get back to it right away.  But when you smell that bread baking to perfection in the oven, it is all worth it.  Oh that smell!  I was a lot of work, though, and my family can devour a 2 pound loaf of bread at one meal.

This process continued for quite some time.  Then I discovered the the best technique EVER for making bread.  Seriously, it is revolutionary.  I was reading a blog that referred to the book, "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day."  I was intrigued and decided to see if my local library had it.  It did so I checked it out.  The book spells out a process of mixing up ingredients for 4 pounds of bread dough all at once in a big container, letting it sit on the counter to rise, and placing it in the refrigerator.  When you want bread, you whack off a hunk, form a loaf, let it rise and bake it.  Do you notice what is missing from this process.  Think about it; I'll give you a minute...NO KNEADING.  None!  It also saves time because you make a lot of dough at once and then can use it to make a fresh loaf each day. And the bread is flipping fantastic.  I can tell you, once I tried this technique, I won't ever go back to the long, tiring process that I was doing before.

Are you intrigued?  The recipe and process for making the basic bread dough in the book is available online here:  Back to Basics ~ tips and techniques to create a great loaf in 5 minutes a day.  It may look a bit long and daunting at first, but I assure you, once you understand the process it is SO simple. 

I now own the book and the newest version, "Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day."  I bake 2 large 2 pound loaves of bread at least every other day, sometimes even daily.  I can manage this even when we are at our busiest.  My point is, that if baking bread is something you desire to do, you can, too.  I highly recommend giving this a try.


I will have to do a post on what has become my "go-to" bread dough from this book.  I try to keep some on hand at all times and use it in a variety of ways.  Stay tuned for that.