Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strawberry Season!

Today I baked the first strawberry goodie of the season--Strawberry Almond Bread.

The proportions are a little weird because I used a slightly larger pan than I should have, but it came out perfectly.


1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp banking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c sugar
10 oz fresh strawberries, cut into chunks
2 eggs
1/4 c slivered almonds
1/2 c cooking oil

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, and then in a separate bowl, mix the liquid ingredients.  Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, and stir until mixed (don't mix too much, because you don't want to pulverize the strawberries).  Pour it into a greased and floured pan, and bake at 350 F for one hour.  Let it cool in pan for ten minutes, then remove from pan.

Hope you enjoy!

I alway like farm fresh local strawberries SO much more than the ones from the grocery store.  The ones from the store are big, have no flavor to speak of (other than some sourness), and never ripen properly.  They are also more acidic and make my mouth prickle.  Local strawberries are smaller but have real strawberry flavor, are a pretty red color, and don't make my mouth hurt!  If you are in New England, this is peak strawberry season.  Look around for a farm near you.  Often you can pick your own berries, and even if you can't, just the difference in quality of the fruit will make it well worth the trip.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Overcoming obstacles...

For my new readers: This is my blog about home and hearth, where I discuss family, homeschooling, simple living, special needs, and anything else that pertains to my day to day life.

It has been SO long since I've posted on here.  Things have been nuts.  The good news is that maybe things will slowly start to settle down now that I have acknowledged the nuttiness.  But there are no guarantees!

I noticed over a month ago that the Chief has not been himself for a long time.  He so anxious about everything and it affects everything, even things that he should enjoy.  He gets so worked up over things that he gets into a panic.  So if he wants to play with his friends, in his mind ahead of time he starts making a plan so that he can have the optimum amount of fun.  Of course, when he gets together with them, things don't work out the way they played out in his head.  So he panics instead of enjoying things as they happen.  When we go in the car, he gets so worked up over going "somewhere fun" that even when we do go somewhere fun, he can't enjoy it because he's exhausted himself worrying over it.

A moment of Spring
I've been brainstorming these past few weeks to figure out what we can do to help this situation, and I've decided that the word of the summer around our home is going to be Nurturance.  We're going to take a step back, and focus on family, and togetherness, and security.  Rather than pushing rigid academics, we are going to back to doing some work with Five in a Row, revisiting some of the books we've enjoyed over the years.  I've always found that Five in a Row presents information in such a way that it sticks in the mind, yet it doesn't feel like work.  The Chief will be doing the activities in the manual as well as doing some extra work, in order to "beef" things up a bit.  He'll be doing a report every week on something inspired by that week's book.  We'll be reading extra books about the topics presented that week, and do some additional map work, science experiments, and cultural studies.

Another thing we'll be doing: an Adventure Box.  I'm not sure who first came up with this idea, but I heard of it from Heather W over at Blog She Wrote.  The Chief is fascinated with early New England life, especially with industry and mills.  So his adventure box is full of goodies we got from places like Old Sturbridge Village: different crafts and books and projects, a fife, and cut out models to make of early New England buildings.  This will be taken out during "exploration time" (which might be renamed "adventure time") after lunch.  We'll also be doing some more field trips pertaining to this adventure, to places like Lowell, Ma, and Pawtucket, RI to see old mills.  There is so much stuff around here, I'm sure we could do even a field trip every week and still not run out of things to see pertaining to textiles and early America.

Spinning wheel at Old Sturbridge Village

One more thing I am trying: during the day, I will be focusing more on "home" stuff, and less on writing stuff.  Then, at night after the Chief is in bed, I will do my writing.  I'm sure on the weekends, too, when my husband is home, I'll be able to have time as well.  I find that I am not very productive during the day on my stories anyway, and it just leads to frustration.  I can write more in a half hour at night than I can in two hours during the day.  The only sacrifice will be movie time with my husband, but I will figure out a way to have that a couple times a week, too.

Hopefully, I will be updating the blog weekly (I would say twice a week, but we all know how that works...).  Next week we will be "rowing" the book The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer, which has been one of the Chief's favorites since he was a toddler!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fun things

In case you haven't seen it, Monkeys on a Mission is now on its fourth mission. We had a get-together with several kids yesterday, where we decorated and filled bags. This is turning out to be a fun project! I will be adding to the monkey shop soon, hopefully, so poke in now and again to see some new additions.

The Chief has expressed interest in learning more about African American history and culture, so I am hoping to pull together a unit and post about it like I did with our study about India (here and here). I think I have enough material for our study to last about three weeks. Then, I'm thinking we will do a few more cultural studies, which falls into what's outlined in the 4th grade Whole Child, Healthy Planet guide. There are about 8 cultural units in all I'd like to get to this year, as long as the Chief's interest stays piqued.

I'm working on an essay in response to an article I read last week, which I may or may not put up here, depending on where I feel it will do the most benefit. Also, I am in the midst of writing a science fiction story for the Writers of the Future contest, which has a March 31 deadline. Hopefully I haven't bitten off more than I can chew...

Monday, February 27, 2012

It is, for me, one of the hardest times of year. It's that time of years when many people get their tax return checks, and so they use that money to buy next year's curriculum for their home schools.

As people mention what they are using, I go and check it out. Oooh shiny! I love books, so it is very hard for me to resist temptation. In fact, usually there is a week or so when I ask my husband, "Are we doing the right thing? Should we get this curriculum here? Look at this big box of books you get, and everything is all laid out for you, and...."


And that's the problem. It is SO EASY to fall back into that "conveyor belt" mentality that is discussed in "A Thomas Jefferson Education." It's so easy to sit back and let everyone else do the thinking, the planning. It's so easy to ignore that Core Phase that is VITAL to both you and your child's development as a whole person who doesn't need someone else to tell them what to do or how to live. I mean, on the surface, Core Phase looks easy, like you just let your kid play all day, and do whatever he wants. But when you actually do it, when you actually are in the trenches inspiring that "right/wrong, good/evil, true/false," you can see how very hard it is. I see kids every day who did not get a solid core phase. I see adults every day who did not get a solid core phase. I don't want my son growing up like that.

My son is very much transitioning into Love of Learning phase now. He spends a huge portion of the day reading to himself, looking at books, asking questions, experimenting. I did nothing to make him do this, other than showing him through example that learning is a part of life, and a fun part, at that. Now, while any child is in Love of Learning, Core is still there, at the Core, and we have to revisit it often. We do our family work together, and when we see examples of situations, we talk about right vs. wrong, etc. Each level builds on the other, but you are never "finished" with the previous one.

Staying off the conveyor belt is hard. As I said, it is easy to have someone tell you what to do all the time. It's easy to be a sheep, and that's why we have an entire nation full of them. But in order for our nation to remain strong, to be a leader in this new global society of ours, we need people who are NOT sheep, in every discipline. We need scientists, politicians, educators, community leaders, who are not afraid to step out of line and do what they believe is right, and not just follow the rear end in front of them. We need people who have developed self-discipline, we need people not afraid to do the hard things. We need people who are not wrapped up in themselves, who can look around in the world and see the potential in it as a whole.

We won't get that by following a one-size-fits-all mentality. Our children are not products who should go through a system and come out with a stamp of approval at the end that means nothing other than that they jumped through all the hoops, that they achieved the minimum, that they passed the test. All we'll get with that is a society of mediocrity, of complacence.

If you want more than this for your children (and indeed, the world), then take the brave step off of the conveyor belt, and do what is right for YOUR child. Give him a solid start at home, show him where his foundation is. Build a strong family, and then branch out to the community slowly. Expose him to people other than his "peers," let him see that there are many people out there he needs to be able to relate to, not just a group of kids his age. Above all, be an inspiration to that child. Do the things you don't feel like doing but you know are right. Take the hard road.

Isn't your child worth it?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Many Splendored Thing

My son is in the process of making Valentines for everyone he knows. And their mothers. Literally. Every time he finishes one, his face lights up and he says, "Oh, and I can make one for ___!" He even made one for the dog across the street.

We talked about the many different stories there are of "St. Valentine," and how this person may well in fact have been several people lumped into one. Valentinus was said to have helped Christian couples get married in the way of their faith, at a time when Claudius Gothicus, the emperor of Rome, was persecuting Christians and anyone caught helping them was committing a crime. There are also stories that Valentinus was someone who was helping Roman soldiers sneak off and marry their loved ones, which was not allowed. Another possibility was that Valentine's Day was invented solely to distract from the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (a Roman festival celebrated from Feb. 13-15, celebrating the wolf who cared for Romulus and Remus), in much the same way as the dates of many other holidays were chosen.

Whatever the roots of Valentine's Day, it's a day to celebrate love. Not just the love you might have for someone else, but for the love of all people, and the freedom of people to celebrate their love, and not feel like they have to hide it. I would encourage you to help your kids see Valentine's Day not as a day to go out and buy chocolates and $100 roses and candy hearts, not as a day to feel sad they maybe they don't have someone to celebrate with, but as a day to celebrate the love they feel for their friends and family, to appreciate the people they DO have in their lives. And maybe even to think about others around the world, and how we can show our love for all people, not just the ones closest to us.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Now, what about me?

So we have a basic rhythm in place, we've found some peace (though I would like to cut back on the "running around." We've some how gotten into the habit, whenever we are bored, of saying, "Hey, let's go ___." I want to establish more of a home culture for these things). Now, where is this all leading?

For my birthday, I got a little desk and chair (as well as an uber-ergonomic keyboard!). This is where it is all leading. Over the weekend I got my OWN rhythm in order, and so now I have scheduled time for myself, to accomplish my goals. We've found the right amount of balance here where the Chief feels like he gets enough time to to what he needs to do, and I am getting the time I need as well.

Our service project for the homeless veterans in Worcester is coming to a close. If anyone has any last minute hats to donate, you will need to contact me in the next couple days, because I will be heading out to Veteran's Inc. on Tuesday, February 14th (Valentines!) to make our big delivery.

As far as Monkey Missions go, it is wonderful to see the Chief so interested in what I am doing. He is really thinking about others now, people who need things more than we do, and I can't ask for anything better than that. He's going to be helping I think with a Monkey Mission very soon. :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I've been neglecting this blog a lot lately. Mostly, it has been because I've been spending a lot of time trying to find some balance in life. I started by making a daily rhythm for our family's days. It's actually a very simple thing, there's aren't even any times on it, but it just establishes a predictable routine for us.

When we have a routine, it is much easier to get the things done that are a) important to us, and b) that we just want to do, the things that keep us sane, if you will.

Here is our daily rhythm:
In the afternoon, you'll notice that I have alternated the times when the Chief is expected to play or learn or explore independently, and the time when we are working together. It's very important that he knows that in a little while, mom or dad can do something with him. It is equally important that he learn how to do things by himself, to simply BE by himself. With the independent times (and quiet time) scheduled in the afternoon, I find that I have plenty of time for myself, to be able to do some things for myself. Lots of moms forget that they are human beings, too; that they need to take care of themselves and take the time to do the thing they enjoy. Because I have this time in the afternoon, I have time to make things for my charity projects, I have time to do my writing, and I have time to make my sock monkeys. Just having that little bit for myself really makes a big difference. I've had periods of years where I never thought of myself during the day, and things would always explode. I need that decompression time, especially as a homeschooler who is with my child all day.

The main thing to remember about any routine is that it won't happen magically. You can't just write a plan, no matter how wonderful that plan might be, post it, and then have your family magically follow it. It's not going to happen, and everyone will be frustrated. Instead, try focusing on one area of the routine at a time. We started off with the morning mindfulness, music, and learning times. Once those were in place for a few days, we went on to the afternoon, and got those routines established comfortably. We have yet to get into the "work" times, but this will be what we are heading into next.

So now, my son gets to play games, and do science experiments, I get to write (which I really can't live without) and do my creative charity projects, and we get things done that we need to. And because it is a routine, and it is posted, everyone knows what to do when. Everyone knows what is coming up next. It has created a much more relaxed and peaceful environment in our home.