Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Thanksgiving Day Parade Breakfast and Bingo

Fruit cornucopia

Fruit cornucopias, vanilla yogurt and chocolate chip coffee cake

Breakfast and parade bingo with the family.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Munchies: Pumpkin Pie

It seems like I just can't stop the pumpkin.  This weekend I made a pumpkin coffee cake and a pumpkin pie.  Here is the recipe for the pie.  I'll be using this recipe from now on. It's simple and delicious.

Perfect Pumpkin Pie
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, fresh
3/4 cup sugar
2 t pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked pastry shell (9-inch)

Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt, spices, and flour in a mixing bowl. Add eggs; mix well. Add evaporated milk and vanilla; mix well. Pour into pastry-lined pie pan. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350° and bake about 35 minutes longer, or until center is set.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A New Tradition? The Thanksgiving Tree

I have a tree in my family room.  A Thanksgiving Tree.  I love it.  I think it's amazing.  It's got white lights on it.  Messages of thankfulness hang from the branches.   It has a huge wow factor when you enter the family room. 

I got the idea from Pinterest.  There were paper trees, table top trees, individual trees but no statement trees.  No tree size trees.  No trees that called to me.  As I looked at the selection of Thanksgiving trees on Pinterest, it occurred to me that I had the perfect opportunity to create my own Thanksgiving tree.  Earlier this week we had eight of the trees in our yard trimmed.  The potential selection of any size or shape of Thanksgiving tree was easily available in my yard.  So, I went Thanksgiving tree shopping.  After having Rob hold and rotate a wide selection of trees I settled on a branch from the cherry tree in the front yard.

H13 helped me haul the tree stand and the white lights down from the attic.  Both H13 and Rob helped string the lights.  We hung the thankful notes from last year that I saved for something.  Turns out that something was my tree.  For the next week we will be adding "leaves" of thankfulness to the tree.  We are punching a hole in the leaves and hanging them with Christmas hooks. 

I am so excited about this project.  I hope this becomes something we all enjoy over the next week.  I hope it becomes a tradition.  Whatever the Thanksgiving tree turns into, right now it is fun and festive and lovely.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Weekly Recap: November 12-16, 2012

This week we made our way through.  It's funny how we stay so busy yet I can't put my finger on exactly what we accomplished.  Yes, we completed the appropriate number of math and grammar lessons.  We are still struggling to catch up with history, physics, and Latin.  It might be because of the time of year or because this is our fourth year of homeschooling, but making a list of what we've done this week is just not happening.  

Instead, I'd rather take a longer view.  Right now it's easier for me to get a true and positive perspective if I take a step back.

M8 is getting to be a great reader.  She doesn't love to read on her own yet.  She's getting there though.  She moves fast and often.  Sitting still to read takes the utmost effort.  She does enjoy an audience and reading aloud while I listen is a treat for us both.

S10 is turning into a real boy.  I'm having a difficult time putting what I mean into words.  He has gotten so tall.  His sense of humor is that of a ten year old boy, a really smart ten year old boy.  He is writing a book.  He has such huge feelings: joy, anger, frustration, contentment.  It's all just below the surface and he struggles to deal with the things he feels that seem bigger than he is.  He loves to play with his younger sister.  He tries hard to impress his older sisters.  I watch him grow and I can't imagine how to help him become a man.  My strategy so far has been to love the boy that he is and pray.  So I love and pray.

H13 is starting to think that public high school might not be for her.  She is confident that she could be successful at a public high school.  I agree.  She has the skills if she chooses to use them.  We spent time this week discussing her future and how she might move in that direction.  Home schooling might be the best choice for her.  We'll be talking more about the right course as we continue this year.  Whatever her path, she has big plans. 

I received several compliments from my children this week that I really appreciated.  I was told that what I do matters.  It's funny how often I forget that simple truth.  I was told that what I do is having an impact and a recognizable benefit.  I was told that I am preparing my children for life.  I was told that I set an example that is inspiring.  Hearing my children express their thankfulness for my efforts, or for just showing up day after day, really gave me a boost.  It's good to know my work is meaningful to others.  I am so thankful for this time in our lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Peace Like a River

This weekend we experienced one crazy mishap after another.  It began on Friday with dismantling the dishwashers to clean them and ended on Sunday with water, from those same dishwashers, leaking all over the kitchen floor.  In between the dishwasher events, K16 drove Rob's truck into a tree, Rob set the battery of his 1964 GTO on fire, and Rob's sister Sandy set my oven on fire. 

It's funny how sometimes the littlest thing sends me into a tail spin and other times a whole series of unfortunate events becomes the stuff that makes a good story.  I pretty sure the presence of Sandy and her daughter Amy helped us manage our circumstances without melting down.  I know that the grace and mercy of God enabled K16 to walk away from that tree without even a bruise.  I suspect that the same grace and mercy allowed us to see beyond the frustration and move forward.

One thing I know is that when circumstances come on one after another, much like the water flowing in a river, I can fight the current or I can go with the flow.  Fighting the current means that I spend a lot of time and energy trying to move backward.  Since I am much weaker than the flow, I'm not likely to get far nor am I likely to be happy as I fight.  It also means that I'm facing away from what comes next.  That could be a pretty costly error when the next event comes around the bend.  Going with the flow means that I pay attention to what's happening and use it to my advantage, finding good footing and a friendly shore as I move with the circumstances.  Going with the flow means I don't spend time complaining or worrying.  It means I give thanks for the good and consider how to move forward with the challenges. 

The events of the weekend were pretty horrendous.  It would be very easy to call it a terrible weekend but I can't.  We had a lovely visit with Sandy and Amy.  The weather was perfect.  Our busy weekend of activities, shooting sports, football banquet, and church, was fun and rewarding. We have a new battery and wiring for the GTO.  A dishwasher repair guy will be here on November 20.  The insurance company is picking the truck up today.  We are all healthy and whole. 

Sometimes when circumstances flow like a river it's best to cling to the peace that's flowing right along with them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Munchies: Homemade Granola Bars

As I was searching for granola I discovered that I could also make my own granola bars.  The recipe I started with was an adaptation of a King Arthur Flour recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen

Since I'm unable to follow a recipe I didn't follow the one from Smitten Kitchen but it gave me a good start.  Below I'm going to share my adaptation of the recipe and make a few suggestions for giving it another try.  While these granola bars were good, I think they could be even better.

Homemade Granola Bars - First Try

2 cups rolled oats 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts - I used 2 cups of dried mixed berries and 1/2 cup of flax seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides.

Stir together the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk the vanilla, oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until completely mixed. Press evenly into prepared pan.
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes.  The top and edges should be brown.  The bars will still be soft but will set as they cool. 

Cool the bars in their pan then lift parchment paper out of pan and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Once cool, cut the bars into squares and store in an airtight container.

Now for the suggestions for the second try.  This was a little too sweet and sticky for us.  Next time I'm going to drop the corn syrup and put in chocolate chips.  I also plan to make these with banana and peanut butter.  I'll be adding 1/3 c of peanut butter, 1/2 cup of dried bananas and 1/4 cup of mashed banana in place of 1/4 cup of oil.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Weekly Recap: November 5-9, 2012

This week the big cheers belong to H13.  She was sick for the first two days and still managed to finish up the week on time.  This week for the first time she was able to complete all her assignments (well, almost all) and we checked them before 4p.m. on Firday.  Three cheers for H13!

S10 completed his first book of mind benders and began a new one. Here he is with a logic puzzle that he is very proud of completing.

Between co-op, orthodontist visits and book club we had a busy, productive week.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Halloween 2012

After a rainy week, we are ready for trick or treat.

But is the neighborhood ready for us?
My costume this year, an Iron Chef.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Falling Back

I spent this weekend falling back.  The time changed and we met my sister and her family for the weekend.  Falling back in time required less effort than falling back into my family of origin.  I enjoyed the benefits of both, the extra hour of sleep and the comfort of being with someone who is connected by blood. 

We met at a state park where we rented two cabins next to each other and arrived with cars full of excited children and lots of plans.  I spend time before this kind of activity planning, prepping for meals, making sure everyone has everything they need packed, and keeping the family moving together toward our destination.  I rarely had time to think about what the actual visit would be like.  In some ways that was a good thing but I have to be careful not to fall back on old expectations and behaviors as I face new situations. 

Before we moved to our farm we lived an easy afternoon drive from this sister and her family.  We spent regular time with them.  We built relationships and enjoyed each other's company.  Over the course of several years, we forged a new way of dealing with each other, when it was just us and our families, that didn't rely on our parents or siblings.  Our relationship became as much about genuine caring as it was about family ties.

Meeting them at a park was a new idea for our two family groups.  First, it was neutral territory.  No one would have their stuff.  There would be fewer toys, fewer distractions, less space.  Thankfully, my sister came prepared with a "Boredom Box".  We were all happy to spend time outdoors.  The cousins clung and stuck and played happily.  The rough spots were smoothed fairly easily and quickly.  The pictures my sister took of the activities this weekend show what a wonderful weekend we had. 

We were so blessed that everyone was relatively healthy all weekend.  We had plenty of room and privacy so that most of us received adequate rest.  Much of the weekend was about meeting the needs of children.  That's to be expected with the age ranges of our children.  As time passes, the needs will change and so will our focus.  The blessing is that the relationships between our families will continue to grow as our families grow.  I pray that falling back together will always be so simple.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Munchies: Homemade Granola

With our heart healthy lifestyle changes were required in all our meal habits.  Breakfast was a biggie.  Rob ate what he called the breakfast of champions, a six pack of chocolate mini donuts and a Mt. Dew from his favorite convenience store.  The good thing about this breakfast choice was that improvement was a given.  It's hard to come up with a less nutritious breakfast choice.  The kids and I usually did better for breakfast, mostly because we had more time.  Pancakes, eggs, muffins, scones, cereal, yogurt, fruit. 

As Rob changed his diet and started looking for easy before work breakfast food he discovered he enjoyed Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal and granola.  The challenge was keeping granola around that everyone enjoyed and at $4+ per box that can get pricey pretty quickly.  This child didn't like coconut.  That one hated raisins.  You get the idea.

Imagine my surprise when it occurred to me that I could make granola.  My sister made granola for years so I asked for her recipe and promptly misplaced it.  Instead of asking her to send it again I went on a search.  After seeing her recipe, I knew I was looking for several things in my granola recipe.  The first was to minimize the stirring.  The second to maximize the amount of granola so I could make it less often.

I found "my" granola recipe at The Finer Things in Life.  Of course, I'm unable to follow a recipe and granola is perfect for ad-libbing.  I'll give you my recipe at the end of the post.

The first thing you need for this granola recipe is a really large bowl.  There is some stove top cooking involved in making the granola sweet  My smallest sauce pan was perfect for that. After you toss the sweet with the oats and mix your add-ins you'll need three large pans on which to bake your granola.  I recommend sides on your baking pans because stirring, even though you only do it once, can be messy.

I made two varieties of granola.  Two large pans were made with flax seeds, coconut, and crushed slivered almonds.  I added dried cranberries to these after they were done baking.  The other pan was plain.  Raisins went into this batch after baking.

Here is one of three large pans of granola on the morning after.

I chose to store my granola in gallon size ziploc bags.  I will probably invest in different, reusable containers since the granola was given two thumbs up.

Homemade Granola

1 c oil  I used vegetable but you could use what you like.  Coconut was recommended in the original recipe but that's pricey and impossible challenging to find in my area.1 c honey
½ c brown sugar
1 T vanilla
2 t cinnamon
15 cups (one 42 ounce box) old fashioned oats

Mix oil, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil.

Remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla.  I had an iffy moment here because my vanilla caused everything to boil up and almost out of the pan.  I make my own vanilla so I'm guessing that the lower boiling point of the vodka caused the ruckus.  My recommendation is that if you make your own vanilla you might want to let your sweet stuff cool a bit before you add the vanilla.

Mix oats and any dry add ins in a large bowl. You don't want to dried fruit or meltable things like chocolate chips in until after you bake. 

Pour the sweet stuff over the oat mixture and stir to coat.

Spread oats in three 9×13 pans.

Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.  Stir granola carefully with a spatula so that none is sticking and everything has a change to brown. Return pans to oven. Turn oven off.

The granola will be ready when your oven is cool.  This is easiest if you put the granola in the oven at night and then get it out in the morning.  It's not enough to wait for the oven temp to go down.  The oven needs to be completely back to room temperature cool inside.

I found my favorite instructions for adding variety to granola at The Daily Muse.  The basic gist is that you can add in whatever you like 1/2 c at a time for a recipe that uses 3 c of oats.  Since my recipe uses 15 c of oats I adjusted accordingly.  I chose to add a 1 1/2 c  flax seeds for the Omega 3 oils, almonds for the good protein, coconut and cranberries because I think they are so tasty.

I am getting ready to mix my second large batch of granola.  It took about two weeks for us to eat the last batch.  Our granola consumption may decrease as it becomes a staple but for right now everyone is really benefiting from our nutrition choices and our own personal versions of granola.

This week I'm going to try making my own granola bars.  Check back soon to see how those turn out.  In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite granola recipes or add-ins.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Weekly Recap: October 29-November 2, 2012

This is the start to a typical school morning at our house.  You notice that there is a student missing.  H13 is almost always the last down the stairs.  This is the first stop before fixing breakfast.

Overall our week was a good one.  The weather was awful but we were thankful to only receive rain.  We didn't get the snow or the power outages that were predicted.  We finished reading Anne of Green Gables and began reading Twenty-One Balloons.  We have really enjoyed our read-alouds this year.  Beginning our day with reading aloud allows us to ease in and get our brains going gently.

Session two began for co-op. H13 isn't thrilled with the topic, starting a
small business, but she liked spending time with friends.  S10 is learning new games and making crafts with found objects.  He seems happy with the activities so far.  M8 is learning about weather and mass destruction.  That seemed pretty appropriate for the week with Superstorm Sandy being all over the news.  My class of two year olds is learning about folk tales.  I am teaching a class on Aesop's Fables next week.

High:  Latin.  She loves Latin.  It has been especially nice because our grammar this week has been on pronouns.  It works nicely with Latin.
Low: She says it's grammar
I say it's math. I'm not sure what's wrong. She says she hates her new math book but we are continuing with Singapore that she's always enjoyed.

High:  Reading.  I've enjoyed reading Call of the Wild and White Fang.  They were intersting, fun to read and I couldn't put down the books.
Low:  Math.  I got confused a little and that made me really irritated.  I learned to keep a cool head and double check my work.

High: Algebra.  It made sense this week.
Low:  Red Badge of Courage because I hate it.

High: Getting as much done as we did inspite of appointments, obligations and preparing for a weekend trip.
Low: Physics is still hanging over my head.  I'm going to make a plan for catching up in November.  We may dedicate the week before Thanksgiving to physics.