Friday, December 31, 2010

Ode to the Kindle



I confess, I was a Kindle skeptic. I love reading and I love the idea of one day having my walls lined with bookshelves completely filled with every type of book. I also sometimes find myself stepping just over that line that separates "being prepared" from "being completely paranoid" and I think it would be a very very bad idea for all books, newspapers and magazines to go electronic because it is then WAY too easy for information to be controlled. So, I'm good with books. But we like to take road trips and I don't like trying to choose which books to take with me and then finding room to pack them. So, the Kindle seemed like a good idea for traveling. I could have thousands of books with me and they'd hardly take up any space at all.

Josh surprised me with a Kindle back in November right before Secora was born, and I have to admit, I love it. The book aspect is nice, of course. I can get just about any book I want in less than a minute from just about anywhere. I can "highlight" those books and make notes and then just pull up my list of notes (awfully convenient for book club, or when there's something I want to tell Josh about later). The Kindle saves my place for me (a nice feature when you have kids with a talent for pulling out bookmarks). But there are a whole slew of other neat things it does that I didn't know about before I got it.

Under the "experimental" section, there's a web browser. Now, it's far from perfect, but it does allow me to check my email or facebook. And, you can also get games to go on it. I've been playing quite a bit of Scrabble lately (one player or two player!). I also didn't know about all of the free books available. There are the classics, which are nice to have for homeschooling, but there is also a promotional section on Amazon with some newer books that are free. I just finished one that wasn't quite formatted perfectly (the font randomly changed sizes), but the content was there and it was a GREAT book, for FREE!

I haven't tried it out yet, but they've also just launched their loaning program, where you can let a friend borrow your ebook to read on their Kindle or any Kindle App for 14 days.

It's also very easy to read and the battery seems to last forever. When the battery is getting low, a message pops up suggesting you turn the wireless off and it significantly lengthens the battery life so you can keep reading until you have a chance to charge again.

I'm so glad I finally got a Kindle and it will definitely be a staple on trips from now on!

***I wrote this post simply because the Kindle has greatly exceeded my expectations and I thought someone else out there might feel the same way I did. I have not been compensated in any way other than the affiliate link to the Kindle page***
Tidy Mom I'm Lovin It Fridays

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Homeschool Hints: Planning

I found a cool new (well, new to me, anyway) linky to share homeschool hints.  Now, since I have a whopping 6 months of homeschooling experience under my belt, my hints are probably old news to a lot of homeschooling families, but I'm sure there are other newbies out there trying to find their way just like we are!

So here goes! I recently posted an (exceedingly wordy) update about how I was changing our homeschooling set up a bit. It's been two weeks now and this has been working out really well for us. Here's how it works:

Every weekend, I plan out the next week's lessons in their entirety. I usually split this up and do a little on Saturday and a little on Sunday. Right now, what we're doing isn't too terribly difficult, so I can get this done in a couple of hours. I write the lessons for each day in my planner, then I copy any worksheets we'll be using and put them in a binder that has dividers for each day of the week. I look over the history lessons for the week and see if there are any hands on activities we can do to compliment them and make sure I have materials for that. We are using an Usborne internet-linked book for history, so I also look through the suggested websites and see if anything is age-appropriate/fun for my daughter. Then I read the week's chapters in whatever book she's currently reading and make up questions or activities to go along with them.

A week of planning at a time is not overwhelming to me and I've found I'm much less frustrated (and therefore the kids are more calm) at school time because I already have everything I need right there. The only thing I need now is to plan a few more things for my preschooler. She is starting to ask to trace letters and work on reading, so I want to print out a few sheets of things for her to trace so they're ready to go and maybe a few basic counting worksheets.


Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog home! All the same posts you've already read (you have read them ALL, right? There will be a pop quiz, you know) are still here, so not much has changed except how you get here.  I'm working on design changes, but it'll take me a little while to get that sorted out.  I've got a button made up and I'm working on a whole theme and everything.  We're going fancy shmancy, I tell ya! For now, here are a few pictures of the big girls enjoying their Christmas presents to tide over all the family members


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Goals for 2011

Let's face it, New Years Resolutions never work out too well. But goals...with a measurable objective and a regular progress update, that's another matter entirely. So I'm going to try my hand at planning, and sticking to, a few goals for 2011.

Save at least 10% of our income: This means cold, hard, emergency fund cash. Paying towards student loans or the mortgage doesn't count. Only money that is specifically transferred to a separate account we have that we never touch.

Complete 12 sewing projects throughout the year: It doesn't have to be one every month, but it does have to be 12 different things, no repeats. Right now, I'm planning on making my own Kindle cover, Finishing both quilts (though hand quilting that King quilt might be the end of me!) and sewing some diapers. Bonus points if I come up with, and finish, some Christmas presents months ahead of time.

Exercise: I want to tone up and get over the pregnancy aches and pains without losing weight. Success will be measured by not throwing my lower back out at any point after March 31, comfortably fitting into my favorite skirts by July 31, and the ability to run one mile without stopping at some point before the end of the year (even when I finished a half marathon in 2.5 hours, there was a LOT of walking involved)

Work my Brain: I need to send in my packet to re-certify as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant by February 28, 2012. I need to accumulate 75 continuing education hours for that and I want them all done in 2011 so I can send my packet in as soon as the forms for 2012 are available.

I plan to revisit each goal at least once every 3 months and perhaps add more if they're going really well. There are some more nebulous things like be more organized and drink more water that I want to work on, but I'm going to focus on things I can easily measure over the long term rather than those things that can get discouraging after one off day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 in Review

At the end of 2009, I did a post to wrap up the year. Seeing as how the end of 2010 is upon us, it seemed appropriate to make up a new list:

Josh successfully defended his dissertation in January

I started a quilt and began a quilting 101 series in February (a little thing called "Secora" got in the middle of my grand plans with these, but they are nearing completion)

We found out I was pregnant in March

Hyperemesis hit and hit hard in April (One day I may tell the whole story. My lack of motivation, energy and sometimes consciousness kept the nitty gritty of the experience off the blog)

Josh graduated with his PhD, Sierra graduated Kindergarten and we moved to Montana in May

We spent June exploring Hamilton and enjoying my renewed ability to eat

We branched out in July by traveling to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and a Logging competition in nearby Darby

In August, we traveled even further to visit Seattle, Great Wolf Lodge and Mt. Rainier National Park

September was spent back in Texas preparing to have a baby

Sierra lost her first tooth in October

Secora arrived in November

We were back in Montana and enjoying snow in December

It will be interesting to see what 2011 brings! Between the weather and the new baby, probably less traveling, but we've gotten pretty good at road tripping and at stretching a buck to be able to do it, so who knows!

Quick Lunch Wraps

It's cold here in Montana (surprise, surprise), so we've been doing more hot meals, even for breakfast and lunch. Last week, Josh and I made up a batch of wraps to keep in the freezer. We've been using this recipe for about 7 years now. We go through periods where we eat these for lunch every single day for months at a time. They're tasty, and reasonably healthy and very easy to "grab and go"

Quick Lunch Wraps
2 cups uncooked rice
2 cans pinto beans
2 cans black beans
2 cans kidney beans
1 pound cheese (we use monterrey jack or pepper jack), shredded
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can ro-tel tomatoes (or 1 can petite diced tomatoes and one small can diced chiles)
tortillas (the number depends on the size you get, around 40-50 soft taco size, more if they're fajita sized, less if they're burrito size)

1. Cook the rice according to directions
2. Dump all of the beans into a colander and rinse
3. Pour corn and ro-tel on top of beans (do not rinse)
4. In a LARGE pot or bowl, mix rice, bean mixture and cheese
5. Fill tortillas and wrap each one in plastic wrap, then put in gallon ziplocs and freeze
6. To eat, unwrap and heat on reduced power in the microwave for about 2 minutes if frozen. If you are taking these to work, take them out of the freezer in the morning and take them with you. They'll thaw by lunchtime and just need a quick zap in the microwave to be warm.

**You can use any combination of beans you want, add more chiles if you like your food spicy
**Sometimes when we're craving this, but I don't want to roll all those tortillas, I'll use this as a veggie enchilada stuffing instead. Just layer with corn tortillas, enchilada sauce and more cheese casserole style. I usually get two or three 8x8 pans that freeze well and can be warmed in the oven at 350 for a quick dinner.
Mouthwatering MondaysTempt my Tummy Tuesdays

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"...And To All A Good Night"

I grew up celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, and that's still what we do, so Friday was our big day. Started out by making the big Christmas dinner (which we ate at lunchtime because it just worked out better). I let the girls have real champagne glasses for their sparkling cider and they thought that was pretty cool. After lunch, Sedona took a nap while Sierra made her cookies for Santa. I let each girl make her own batch of cookies and she got to pick what she wanted to make. Sierra insisted on making mint chocolate chocolate chip and she did just about all of it herself. cracking eggslearning a little about fractions while searching for the right measuring cupMelting and mixing in chocolate for the first time

When Sedona woke up, it was her turn to make cookies. She picked pumpkin cookies. I didn't get as many pictures of her because she needed a little more help. I was pretty proud of her--at the end, everything was mixed up and she looked in the bowl, then picked up a bag of chocolate chips and said, "it needs some of this in there. He likes chocolate". I told her never be afraid to change a recipe and we dumped a healthy handful in.Cracking an egg all by herself. Didn't even get any shells in there!Adding the flour

Once cookies were made, it was time for presents. It should've been dinner time, but we completely forgot to feed our children (and no, I'm not joking), yay us!
Plotting their attack
Sedona opened this present and inside, it was wrapped in construction paper that was taped together. She got all excited and yelled, "Tape!!! I got tape!!!!"
Princess Sierra
Secora couldn't wait to open her presents
No, really, she was totally enthralled
Sedona finally got a pillow pet of her own
Sierra was very excited about getting Despicable Me
Sedona opening a new baby doll
Sedona working hard on her new computer
Walking around with her favorite new toys

Leaving milk and cookies for Santa


No pictures of them getting their stockings because I haven't uploaded them yet. We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and spent the day playing with new toys, watching movies and eating leftovers!

Now it's time to get ready for another week! Long Christmas breaks might be the only thing I miss about grad school!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas.....from "sugar and spice"




We had a great day here yesterday, I'll get a post up in a day or two!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Best Christmas Gift

Santa got a little confused and dropped off my Christmas present 6 weeks ago. Still fits in a stocking though ;-)
We always celebrate on Christmas Eve, so we're gearing up for a big day around here tomorrow!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lunar Eclipse

On Monday night, we had clear skies and a good view of the lunar eclipse. It was also 11 degrees though, so I wasn't interested in staying outside to watch. I picked a spot on the sidewalk and every 15 minutes, I ran out, stood in the same place and took a picture. Apparently my photography skills (and/or equipment) leave a lot to be desired because you can't really see the red that showed up in the shadows, but at least you get an idea.

Here are the last two pictures edited to show what you could really see in the shadow:

It just so happened that Sierra was finishing up a unit on the Earth and moon this week. She had learned that we have day and night because the Earth rotates and that the moon travels around the Earth and we see the different phases of the moon because of the shadows. Since it was so cold and required staying up a relatively long time to see the different parts of the eclipse, I decided (at the last minute) not to wake her up for it. Instead, we looked at the pictures and got out the globe the next day and pretended she was the sun and I moved the globe and pretended my fist was the moon to review the information and demonstrate why the lunar eclipse happened. Then, yes, she did a few of those evil worksheets to be sure the information "stuck".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back to Baking

Recently, the big girls helped me do some baking. We made Mini Gingerbread Cakes (which only need half the amount of frosting they tell you to make) and Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Buttercream Frosting (which need the batter doubled to make bigger cupcakes)



I forgot was too busy eating to take a picture of the final product

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Militant Unschoolers

It's been a while since I had an all out rant and I'm feeling a little rant-y.

I've recently come up against a very small group of people I describe as "militant unschoolers". Let me clarify right off the bat, I am NOT talking about people who say, "Hey, have you checked out this book?" or discuss their own homeschooling methods on their blogs. Those things are just contributing to the discussion and I welcome suggestions, whether I end up deciding to take them or not. But when someone goes onto a public forum and out and out berates anyone who dares open a text book or sit their child down with a worksheet, I have a problem.

Here's the thing: we chose homeschooling precisely because we can educate our children in the manner that is best suited for them. We don't have to teach in a certain way, or do things in a certain order just because that's what works best for the rest of the class. The militant unschoolers seem to have COMPLETELY missed the point. We opted out of the school system to get away from the rules and we certainly aren't going to let you stuff us back into a new set of your own making.

Let me describe a typical day around here. We get up, have a fairly lazy morning, then head upstairs to "do school" around 10. For the next 1-2 hours, we do seat work. There are a fair number of worksheets involved (gasp! the horror!), the math is done one on one with manipulatives, the history involves me reading from a book and then a website for her to explore or a project to do. Then we have lunch and the rest of the day is free time. Some days we might cook or write letters or talk to a clerk at a local store or just look out the window and those activities always present the opportunity for further learning. If something really catches Sierra's interest, we'll use this time to learn more about it. Hardly a "school at home" set up (which so many homeschoolers talk about with disdain). But, no joke, these "militant unschoolers" will directly insult such a set up and the parent who dares institute it because there is a semblance of a schedule and the children are expected to do any seat work at all. To make it worse, these people who are supposedly all about following the child's lead never seem to ask what the children think about it. Personally, my child has thrown screaming hissy fits in the past over WANTING to do workbooks. She learns really well from working through a practice sheet and being evaluated. She enjoys it. And frankly, in the early years, I feel like there is a base that needs to be laid anyway. A child needs to know how to read if they are going to learn about the topics that interest them. And while you can certainly practice math skills by having them add up totals in the grocery store, they're going to get awfully frustrated if you haven't at least given them the basic knowledge at home first.

I know plenty of unschoolers that are well educated. Many of them started out in school though and the unschooling part of life came later on, after they had already learned how to read, write and do basic math. I'm also aware that homeschooling is not the norm. While it's very possible for a homeschooler to get into a good college, there is a certain amount of "playing by the rules" required to get there. I'm choosing to leave that option open for my children in the way I teach and document their progress. That doesn't mean that I haven't "seen the light" as someone claimed, it means I'm not dictating my children's course for them while they are too young to have developed the logic and reasoning ability to make their own choices about matters that have such long-term consequences. That's hardly ignorant.

More importantly, our set up is what works for our family at this point in time. I respect that our way is not the best way for everyone, and I expect that same respect from others we associate with. I trust you've made an informed decision about what is best for your family, I welcome dialogue about the choices you've made and why you made them. What I have no room for is arrogant, belittling, close-minded people who assert that what was right for their kids is also right for mine. You have no right to dictate how a child you've never met will best learn, grow, and stay excited to learn about the world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

For a little while now, I've been helping the kids make gingerbread houses each year. I always make and build the house from scratch, and then they decorate. They're nothing fancy, but maybe as the girls get older, they'll choose to do something more elaborate.

Hundreds of years ago, Nuremburg, Germany became the "gingerbread capital" of the world. Master bakers, called Lebkuchler, would create and sell Lebkuchen. It was in Germany that these gingerbread treats began to be used to build houses. When German immigrants settled in America, they brought the gingerbread house tradition with them and seeing as how all things German remind me of the areas of Texas I absolutely adore, my Christmas in Montana is NOT the year to skip the gingerbread houses, even if having a newborn around makes it a little more difficult.

So, Saturday night, I set out to make the houses.

Big fat failure. I couldn't find my regular building gingerbread recipe, so I tried one I found online. Based on reviews, I guess it was baker error that messed it up, but really, I'm no amateur baker, so at the very least, this is no recipe for beginners. I got a mess that I could tell from picking it up would just have me cussing within the hour if I tried rolling it out. Way too cookie-like for a building gingerbread recipe. I was frustrated and hunted more for my regular recipe.

And then I came to my senses. The kids don't care if it's a gingerbread house or not, they just want to stick candy all over something. So I built my very first set of graham cracker houses. My plan was to use 6 whole crackers for each house. I started out by using one cracker as a guide and cutting gables on another cracker I used a steak knife (any serrated blade will do) and a gentle sawing motion (don't press down) to do the cutting. Then I stacked that piece on another cracker to get two matching gable pieces I realized later I made a mistake here...I should have made that line go all the way down to the half way point on the cracker so it would match up with the side of the house. Since I didn't do that, I ended up piecing together a roof.

For my cement, I used a basic royal icing recipe: 2 egg whites, 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/4tsp cream of tarter. Normally I use meringue powder instead of egg whites, but I was out. Since I'm not doing anything fancy, I just put the icing in a sandwich bag and cut the corner off to pipe it on.

I assembled the houses and let them dry overnight.

Sunday afternoon, I laid out various candies and let the girls go to town decorating their houses.



Gingerbread...er...graham cracker success!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let It Snow...

When we first got back to Montana, there was a lot of snow on the ground, but everyone told us that was really unusual for this time of year. Sure enough, it eventually all melted. This morning there was NO snow on the ground. I was really starting to get a little ticked. There wasn't any snow on the ground and there wasn't any snow in the forecast and I just feel like if it's going to be EIGHT stinkin' degrees at night on a regular basis, my kids should at least get a white Christmas.

But if there's one thing I should've figured out by now, it's that the forecast here is never right. The forecast will change drastically throughout the day and still manage to be off. They predicted snow yesterday, but said there would be little to no new accumulation. I'd say there were a good 4 inches of snow piled up out there during the day and it was still snowing hard when we went to bed. The forecast (which, of course, may or may not be accurate) is also calling for another 2-4 inches of accumulation tonight. I'm hoping that the chance of rain and above freezing temperatures predicted for later in the week don't pan out. I'd really like to spend Christmas day building a snowman and sledding.

Just in case it doesn't hang around though, we took the girls out to play after lunch yesterday. This was about an hour or two after the snow started.

And by the time we went to bed, all this had piled up I realize it's not all that much in the big scheme of things, but we're Texans...we're only used to seeing that much of the white fluffy stuff about once every 10 years.

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