Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweetie pie.

Baked Penne with Italian Sausage

This recipe is a new favorite. It makes me love Italian sausage. Try it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

We're still on the chapter about the skeletal system in Norah's science book. Norah's most recent science lesson said to tape her first two fingers of each hand together and to try and do everything the same as you would without the tape. This illustrated to Norah how important all the little bones in her hands really are and how perfectly God designed human hands in every detail for all we'd need them to do. There are a little over 200 bones in the whole body, half of those are in our two hands and feet alone! Norah was ready to take the tape off after only a few minutes, but I set a timer and made her wear the tape for ten more minutes, at the least. I think she was much more aware of and thankful for her healthy hands. I know I said a quiet prayer of thanks for my healthy hands and all the things that they can do that I take for granted.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Avril enjoys an omelet and toast her dad made one weekend morning. We all agree. Dad makes the best omelets.

Here's another recent picture for the "family" album. I thought Avril was adorable next to her dad so I took this picture. She ate her whole dinner snuggled right up to him like that. She's a very affectionate child and she constantly blesses us with her sweet kisses, hugs and snuggles.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I dabble in unit studies. I don't dwell there, though, because I can't seem to find a way to teach all that's necessary for Norah to know without using textbooks and worksheets. But I do like to dabble in unit studies. They make home school life worth living, I think.

I build our units around what we will be doing, what we are doing and then once we've done it, I keep building on what we did. We are in the midst of the makings of a unit on New York City's landmarks and the unit study is practically building itself. Here's how.

I knew we were going to NYC for doctor's appointments. Norah has 101 things to see before she's twelve. I knew that there were bound to be some things on her list that were in the city.

I look at her list of 101 things and find out that "a little country" and "an ethnic restaurant" are on there. So we decide to go Chinatown when we are in NYC. That's a little country. We'll eat something there, maybe lots of things. That will be food from ethnic restaurants.

I also see that riding "a subway" is another one of the things on her list. We'll have to park our car near my doctor's office and get over to Chinatown anyway, so riding the subway will be an easy thing to add to our plans.

I read about Chinatown online and find out that there's a big Buddhist temple open to tourists. "A place of worship" is another thing on the list. We'll go there, too! Are you kidding me?! This is awesome! And so, our first day in NYC plans itself, practically.

The next week, we have to go back to the city. I look at the list again to plan some more stuff. I see that "an amazing architectural achievement" is on her list. So I think about seeing the Empire State building, but only tentatively. I'd like Norah to be excited about what she sees and appreciate it. Will she appreciate a tall building she knows nothing about?

A day later, I come across this book at the thrift store, so I buy it for .65 cents, give it to Norah who reads it to herself and then wants to read it with me. She's interested now.

The book led her to the idea of making a scale model of the Empire State building with Legos. Enter her dad because he's better at math. That evening, he figures out that if Norah is as tall as a Lego figure, the model would need to be forty feet tall! Obviously Norah can't build a tower that tall so her dad does some more math with Norah's help. She helps measure the Lego pieces since that's something she can do. Dwayne figures out that if the small, round, black Lego at the bottom of the Lego tower in the photo below is twice as tall as Norah, then this tower is about as tall as the Empire State building. The green block represents our house. Our unit study has included some math and a building project now, too! How fun is that? We're all excited about the Empire State building at this point and the decision is made for me by the rest of the family. We're definitely going to see it.

When we go back to the city, we visit the Empire State building and take a picture and Norah blogs about it. Norah gets to check one more thing off her list.

We also visit Grand Central. "A marvel of engineering" is another thing on Norah's list and Grand Central is still a marvel of human ingenuity after all these years, still shuffling the most trains of any terminal anywhere, serving hundreds of thousands a day, getting them where they go with 98 percent of them on time.

From there, we walk to Times Square. Norah is supposed to see "a people watching place" and as far as people watching goes, you can't get much better than Times Square.

Wait. Don't I have a book about Times Square? Yes, I do. It's called The Cricket in Times Square. It's even a Newberry winner. Oh goodie. I read about the story line online. A cricket from Connecticut (We're from CT!) gets on a commuter train accidentally (We have a commuter train that goes to NYC right here in Waterbury!) and the cricket ends up in Times Square. The cricket also visits Chinatown!

What?! We've seen all those places on our visits to NYC! This book will be a perfect fit for all we've seen! Norah will relate to the story so well. I plan to start reading it in the next day or two, as soon as I finish reading another book I'm reading out loud right now.

We're going to the library again soon. Norah really enjoyed the book about the Empire State Building. She's read it two more times since the first go through. Maybe there are other books about the Empire State Building that are on her reading level. Maybe there are books about NYC or Chinatown, too. I look at the catalog on line and find twenty books that match those topics and they all seem good! We head to the library right away.

I do a Google search on the Empire State building and find this puzzle. I find this one for Times Square. Those might be fun, but they are expensive and too difficult for Norah to do on her own, so probably not. But I keep looking. Next I find a Dover coloring book with NYC landmarks. I love Dover coloring books. And they're affordable. We may order that in the next day or two.

And so, a unit study on NYC has begun. It's building itself, practically. I'm not sure where it will end or even when. But, like I said, unit studies are the most fun way to learn. Studying things we are interested in makes all the other, necessary grammar and arithmetic and handwriting seem so much less dull. Thank goodness for unit studies!

I usually get to enjoy some time with Avril before Norah wakes up. Avril can hear the floor creek as soon as I get out of the bed and she'll yell "Momma! Momma! Momma!" till I go get her. In this picture, she was sitting with me while I worked at the kitchen table really early one morning and she was giggling, as usual.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I force myself to let Norah to take the time to write thank you notes. Sometimes I'll even let her do them in place of handwriting practice. It takes so much time away from her lessons, but it's good for Norah to practice saying thanks and acknowledging when someone has done her a good deed, directly. It forces thoughtfulness, humility and grace, things that the best handwriting program can't teach her and some of the most important things for Norah to learn.

"Em me see! Em me see!" she asks and so I'll take a moment to show her the photo I just took of her. She will giggle so hard at seeing her own picture that she covers her mouth and closes her eyes. I love this kid. She brings me countless moments of pure joy throughout my day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just as Norah seems to be outgrowing dress up, Avril is growing into it. She will often enter a room in a princess dress, expecting us to react to her. And Norah and I both play along, gasping and fussing over how beautiful she looks.

At the beginning of December, I was three years behind on my Christmas scrapbook. Now I am totally up to date and just in time to put this in the box of Christmas decorations and books on its way to the attic till next year. It ain't the prettiest scrapbook, but it does the job. Norah draws the decorations herself. I like that she will see her own art work in here along with the photos as the years go by.
We added two new hermit crabs to our family. We now have a total of four. One new crab, pictured below, is little bigger than a dime, making him pretty adorable, as far as crabs go.

The other crab has already changed from the brown shell he was in at the store into a new green shell and seems to be considering changing again. Here he is checking out some of the empty shells we have around the tank.

Norah has taken on the responsibility of caring for her hermits willingly and spiritedly. Of course, I help when she needs me. I pour the fresh water from the gallon into the spray bottle, a job that requires more coordination than she's got at age seven, that sort of thing. She is learning so much and growing in maturity by taking care of them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Better late than never, right? I gave this gingerbread kit to the girls in their Christmas stocking but we just got around to doing it today (meaning that I just now got around to talking myself into letting the girls make a hug mess while I sit by and just watch and smile through the pain and bite my knuckles till it's all over.) I think this must make me a horrible mom, but this kind of thing is painful for me. I dislike crafts, especially messy, sticky ones. But the girls had fun and they don't seem to resent the fact that I was so slow about making this happen, thankfully.

A friend of mine who is a blog follower purchased me a gift subscription to e-mealz. She wanted to remain anonymous, so I won't include her name. But I wanted to say publicly how her gift has blessed me already and recommend e-mealz to you all.

E-mealz allowed me to tailor the plan my friend purchased for me to the store of my preference, Aldi. E-mealz has a meal plan for just about every grocery store out there, I think. Aldi is my preferred store because it is so, so, so inexpensive compared to other grocers, but it's stock is also more limited than other grocers... so it's hard to find everything you need for every single one of your recipes there... or at least it was.

Dwayne and I had been discussing how nice it would be to find meals that we could make with all-Aldi ingredients, all the time, but it just seemed impossible... That's when I got the email from my friend about the gift subscription and that's when I chose a plan for all Aldi products, all the time! It really was a perfect gift, perfectly timed!

So, now, as long as I follow the meal plan they provide, all of the ingredients in my meals are available at Aldi. So, in turn, I get to take advantage of Aldi prices on all my groceries. This week, for example, I was able to get what I needed for seven dinners for approx. $60 dollars! Unbelievable!

Having a meal plan has also been positive because it encourages me to try new recipes. I had never made bruschetta, for example, but I made it for dinner one night this week and we liked it. It made for a nice, light dinner on a night when we didn't want something heavy.

Also, before this, I usually only used ground beef or chicken breasts, ground beef or chicken, ground beef or chicken, but this week, following their meal suggestions, I am making one meal with chunk roast and another with sausage, too. It's been good because the plan helps me with variety.

I didn't go in order with the meals. I just bought the groceries for the seven meals and then I made whatever dinner I was in the mood for off that list of seven meals. That helps me from feeling too pinned down.

I have already found the need to alter the meal plan to my family's liking, but only in very subtle ways, but only subtle. On the night they said to make seafood jambalaya, for example, I left out the shrimp (since I am allergic) and used only the sausage. It wasn't seafood jambalaya, but it was still jambalaya and it was very, very yummy. And, on the night they suggested making BBQ meatloaf, I made a traditional meatloaf instead because I knew my family would like the ketchup- mustard- brown sugar topping better. So, I am finding it easy, very easy in fact, to follow their suggestions but also tailor the meals to my family's preferences in little ways.

And, there are leftovers! So the sixty dollars I spent was not just for our seven dinners in the end. It covers several lunches of leftovers (and if you are pregnant and jambalaya sounds good in the morning like it does to me, it can even cover your breakfasts, too!)

So look into e-mealz. It's been pretty awesome for me so far.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The girls played in the snow till the sun went down yesterday. Here Avril had just come in from the cold. She drinks her hot (warm) chocolate through a straw.

Here's a small glimpse of the realities of home schooling. Science and reading books sit next to the toys (and more toys) the baby drags into the room, next to my computer and the telephone. Homeschooling isn't always (or ever) glamorous.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yesterday was a snow day. We haven't gotten much snow this winter, so the kids were eager to play outside.

The girls used their hands and then the snow shovels to push snow into a pile and make a tunnel through it.

The girls played outside for several hours! After I sent them out each time, I'd expect them to come in on their own because they were cold, but they never came. They just played and played. Their new snow suits must be thicker than their old ones. But, eventually, it was time to call them in for meals or later for naps or even later for dinner and bedtime. But it's always easier to come in out of the snow when you know Mom has some hot chocolate or a warm meal waiting for you.

I needed to take some time off of doing school work with her to prep dinner and get it in the crock pot. So, instead of letting her leave the room and get engaged with her toys or the computer, making it difficult, if not impossible to pull her back to her school work later on, I just made my dinner prep part of her lessons for the day. She had to help me from start to finish, read the recipe, get the ingredients and tools out, measure, wash the bowls and cutting boards. Once it had cooled, I even taught her how to clean my skillet (without soup), dry it and rub it down with vegetable shortening!

As you can see from the photo, she even proved responsible enough to turn the pieces of beef as they browned in the skillet under my close supervision. She even protected Avril from the hot stove, shooing her little sister away as she toddled into the kitchen to see what big sister was up to.

These little lessons on dinner prep (and child care) are not part of her formal curriculum, as I said, but I think they may serve her just as well or even better than what she learns through her school work. If I have my way and if I train her like I want to, she will capable almost all that I am capable of when she leaves home to start a home of her own.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

We put a piece of black construction paper in the freezer after breakfast. When Norah went out to play in the falling snow, she took the paper and a magnifying glass to look at the snowflakes that fell on her paper. In her words, "One looked like a star. Another looked like a flower. I could see right through them. It was awesome!" Note: The paper didn't seem that cold to me, even after more than an hour in the freezer. So it seems that as long as the snowflakes don't just melt when they hit it, the paper doesn't have to be frozen.

"Children become readers on the laps of their parents." - Emilie Buchwald

Friday, January 20, 2012

This is not the most flattering photo of my pregnant, freezing, wind-blown self, but I am adding it for the purposes of history and honesty. And also because my parents beg to see more pictures of me.

We rode the Ferris wheel inside the Toys R' Us in Times Square on our most recent trip to NYC. Yes. That's right. I said inside the Toys R' Us. The store is huge, big enough for a Ferris wheel inside!

The Ferris wheel had cars of all different varieties: Toy Story, My Little Pony, etc. We just happened to get the Barbie car. The girls were thrilled about this, of course. Avril sat next to her Dad, strapped in, secure in his nook. She's ready to go! Isn't she cute?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

While in NYC yesterday, we saw four more places on Norah's list of 101 places to see before she turns twelve. You can see some pictures and read about the places we visited on her blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

We're headed to NYC again today. I've got another appointment with my thyroid doctor. We're planning to make the most of the fact that we have to be in the city and take in some more of the sites. On today's list is the Empire State building, Grand Central Station and Times Square. Norah should be able to add a few more places to her blog tomorrow.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Avril snuggled up next to me on the couch, got real still and before I knew it, I looked over and saw her sleeping like this!

One of my goals this year was to:

Serve fruit and/or vegetables for a snack and at at least two meals a day.

I know a lot of other moms want to get their more fruits and veggies into their kids, too, so I thought I'd talk about what has helped me make this happen in the last few weeks.

It helps to have the fruit already prepared and just waiting in the fridge.

I try to slice the cantaloupe or wash the strawberries as soon these come home from the grocery store. (I'm exaggerating, of course, because I don't really do this as soon as I get home from the store, but I do try and do it as soon as possible.) I will often spend some time on the weekend and on a weeknight around dinner time getting the fruit ready for the days ahead.

I have found that if I have to wash and prepare the fruit after the kids have come into the kitchen, jumping around my legs, begging for a snack, fruit is way less likely to be what I give them. At that point, vanilla wafers are going to win because they are just so quick. And even with meals, it's too easy just to give the girls bagels without fruit on the side unless the fruit is already ready to put on their plates.

Serve fresh fruit or a veggie platter with dinner.

If the girls haven't had as much fruit as I wanted them to have throughout the day, I will slice up an apple or pear and give to them as I side with their dinner. If it can't go on their plate next to everything else, I will just put it in a little bowl next to their plates. No matter what I am serving, fresh fruit always goes over well with the kids. Earlier this week, I served a platter of fresh veggies with ranch dip with dinner. We had our own plates but we also all ate off the platter in the middle of the table. It was a great way to get fresh veggies into all of us while also enjoying a traditional, hot dinner at the same time.

Keep an peeler, corer, slicer on the counter.
I used to store my peeler, corer, slicer deep under the cabinet with baking sheets and pie pans. Now it just lives next to the toaster. I find I serve twice as much fresh fruit having this "appliance" within reach. It's much easier for me to choose to have fruit this way, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How can I tell that Norah was inspired by our "field trip" to a patisserie in NYC last Wednesday?

Because this is what she did to her yogurt Thursday morning.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I had an appointment with my thyroid doctor in New York City this week, so we took advantage of the fact that we had to be in the city anyway and we planned some fun, educational activities for the kids. Norah checked five things off her list of 101 things to see before she turns twelve. With my help, she blogged about them here. We had an incredible day together as a family. We have to go into the city for another appointment next week. If all goes as we are planning, we'll visit more places on Norah's list then, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Homemade Almond Joys

Follow this recipe to make some coconut macaroons.

When your macaroons have cooled, push a whole, roasted, unsalted almond into the center of each macaroon.

Next, make the chocolate.

In the bottom of a sauce pan over medium heat, melt a stick of butter. Add two cups of sugar, three tablespoons unsweetened coco powder and a cup of milk to the melted butter and stir. Let this heat up and come to a boil, stirring on and off. I like to use a rubber whisk for this part of the recipe.

As soon as this mixture comes to a rolling boil, set a timer for one minute. After exactly one minute, take the chocolate off the heat and add 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir and stir until the coco-peanut butter sauce mixture is consistent. I use a plastic spoon for this part.

Next, dip the macaroons in the chocolate sauce using tongs. Let the excess chocolate sauce fall back into the pan. Lay them on a sheet of wax paper to dry and harden.

You can see the dipped "almond joys" drying above (minus the one I taste-tested). After you've dipped them once and they have cooled a little, you may want to dip them again to get a thicker layer of chocolate coating. It's up to you.

Finally, let them sit for thirty minutes to a few hours, depending on how quickly they are drying. Once they are dry and the chocolate has started to harden, you can gently scoop them off the wax paper using a spoon or spatula and display them on a plate or store them in a Tupperware up to a week.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Norah has finished the manuscript review section of her handwriting book and she has started learning to write in cursive!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We haven't been out to eat since we went to Panera Bread on 12-21-11 in the middle of a busy day of holiday errands, so I think that means it's been eighteen days since we've eaten anything that wasn't made at home.

Eighteen days.

I think that must be a lifetime record for me, even if I include high school when I wasn't driving myself and I had to bum rides to Wendy's (not to mention money to actually pay for Wendy's). All told, I was even going out to eat more then than I am lately.

The first thing I'd like to say about eating at home is we need a lot more groceries, a lot. This should have been obvious. We eat three meals a day here plus snacks. I am still getting used to how quickly we tear through our supplies.

Before this, we ate at restaurants frequently enough to make a trip to the grocery store necessary only once every week and a half to two weeks, maybe. But lately, I have to go out to the grocery store with the kids at least once a week, at least. I can also usually get to Dwayne to go by and pick up a few things at some other time during the week like when he is coming home from work or going out to Home Depot or something. But, if Dwayne didn't do that for me, I'd be going to the grocery store at least twice a week, probably three times, easy.

But, I figure the longer we eat at home like this, the more I will know how to adjust my buying to cover the extra meals. I'll get three bags of corn chips instead of one, that sort of thing, and perhaps I won't need to shop as often as I do now. I am still learning how much I will need in order to eat at home more.

We are spending a lot more on groceries now. That probably should have been an obvious, too. We are surprised at how our grocery budget has gone up.

However, we saving so much on what we aren't spending at restaurants and fast food that we are still well under our monthly budget for food in total, well under. I did not realize the reason we had to skimp on the meals I made at home was because we were eating at restaurants, even cheap restaurants, far, far too often. I've been amazed at how well I have been able to feed my family at home now that we just always stay at home to eat.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

We had a late lunch of black bean tacos so we needed something light for dinner tonight, something that would fill our bellies till we went to bed, but not weigh us down before bed. I made this rustic chicken minestrone to fill the need.

I used baked chicken pieces I had reserved in the fridge. I also needed to use the kale before it spoiled and I wanted to use up what was left in the bottom of a box of pasta shells.

We all liked this soup even though it appears so healthy that you couldn't possibly enjoy it.

But, next time I make this, I'll cut the chicken and kale into much, much smaller pieces so that they won't so dominate the bites they are in and so that they will dispense throughout the soup better. And I will keep an eye out for much smaller pasta shells the next time I go grocery shopping. These were as small as I could find, but they were also a bit too big per bite, in my opinion.

If you make this, don't forget to garnish it with grated Parmesan cheese. I didn't have a rind like the recipe suggests. I didn't want to spend $12 on a lump of deli cheese. But the regular, grated Parmesan adds enough bang to this soup when it is sprinkled on right at the end.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

to me,
was the same as air.
In me,
Surrounding me,
So I thought it was
a basic element,
a fact of life.
I lived in it,
moved in it,
built a home there.

But your perfect love
would not stand it.
You took my hand
and lead me
where peace
and rest
have replaced all of fear.

And you taught me
fear is toxic,
It doesn't come from you.
It can not dwell with you.
So if I smell it,
hold my breath
till you come near
and clear the air.

-Veronica Boulden

Song and Verse for 2012

My song for 2012 is "Show Me Your Glory" by Jesus Culture.

My verse for this year is, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" Luke 11:13

I am convinced that the Lord lead me to this song and verse so that I will know how to pray for what He wants to do in my life.

I find that God's Spirit will do that. He'll lead me to know what to ask for and I'll ask for it and then I'll have to wait and pray some more until He does whatever it is in His time.

The gospel tells us our sins are forgiven through faith in Christ and we can go to heaven when we die, but the good news does not end there. God abolished all that prevented fellowship with Him and He made it so that His Spirit could remain with us.

I want every bit of what I could have with God this side of eternity and perhaps for the first time in my walk with God, I am not in the least bit afraid of what that might look like.

"I see the cloud. I step in."