Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Poem

Oldest dd wrote this poem tonight (Memorial Day) (AFTER lights were out, btw - and she came out to show it to me :) ).  I thought I would share it with all of you this Memorial Day.  She's been reading Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters book and a book by the same author with poems about moving (relating to his move when he was young) called Moving DayPoetry Matters is written with the children as the audience instead of the teacher and it is about writing poetry.

The lone soldier left for dead on the battlefield lies twisted like a crumpled brown leaf.
Next to his lifeless horse, a tattered canteen, and his sharp shiny saber in its sheath.

Lying face down in the blood-soaked soil he realizes the end is near.
He thinks of the ones he loves the most:  his wife and his children dear.

So many men have died this way.
So fly the flag on Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I like Spelling Power

Do I like Spelling Power because of the flexibility of when to start and that it's not recommended until 3rd grade?  Absolutely.

Do I like Spelling Power because it will take my children through high school?  Yes.

Do I like Spelling Power because of the ease of multi-age use?  Yes.

Do I like Spelling Power because of the rules?  No.  It drives me crazy when there is a word that doesn't quite go with the rule. 

Do I like Spelling Power because of the testing format instead of workbook format?  Mmm, Yes.  But mainly because this program is working better than workbook formats did for my older children.  Otherwise, workbooks are simpler for mom because you just say, "Go do your Spelling." :)  With Spelling Power I sit with them to give the tests and make up inane sentences that make little sense (I guess that's redundant!) while they make faces at me.  My youngest dd does enjoy her Spelling workbook that she uses on the side for fun.  She also sits in with the olders as she chooses for Spelling Power.  She has a Spectrum Spelling book we got at Mardel.  I can't remember why I chose it over Spelling Workout for her, but that was the other choice.

Do I like Spelling Power because it is Montessori-compatible.  No.  The testing is not Montessori-compatible.  However, the task cards ARE Montessori-compatible and we keep them on the shelf.  I was going to sell them this year and got a resounding, "No, don't sell them!" from the dc.  Go figure.  This year we started having an ongoing list by the olders' desks where they could write words they miss in any other regular type of writing such as writing workshop, letters, speeches, etc.  Then they would have a real-life list to use with the task cards during shelf work time.

Do I like Spelling Power because of the Task Cards?  Yes.  I would use the Task Cards even if I was not using Spelling Power.  In fact, we don't use them at the same time, anyway.  They can use them with words they miss on the daily tests or with words they miss in other writing or with any words they want.

Do I like Spelling Power because of the notebooks?  Yes - the dc actually color in a little bit of the design each time they make a 100.  It took me a while to figure out what they were doing, lol.  On the front side of the page they take the daily test and on the back they work with the words they missed.  They have different colored notebooks according to the line size and whether or not it has a dotted line.  Yellow is for gr. 6th and up; green is for gr. 4th-6th; blue is for late 2nd-4th; and red is for K-2 (which is weird 'cuz the program isn't recommended until 3rd but maybe they had requests??).

Do I actually do Spelling Power daily?  Uh, no, let's just leave it at that.

Is it worth the money?  Yes.  Let's pretend that I actually paid the $60 for a new book.  Let's pretend that I would've gotten a $10 Spelling workbook each year for my children (Many Spelling books are closer to $15 per year per child).  That would only cover 2 years of Spelling.  Spelling Power will cover years and years more than that with only replacing the notebooks as we fill them. 

Is it the BEST Spelling program out there?  No.  Personally I like the Spalding Writing Road to Reading - THAT is the BEST regarding phonograms, etc.  However, I tried for years to implement it at home and it's just too cumbersome and teacher intense for home use.  I used it in the classroom one year (or maybe two??) and it's great - but very time/teacher intense to do it right.  Now I just have the cards out and plan on going through them with youngest dd.  Actually, I may ask dd to take her through so she can get the extra input as well.  There are some spin-offs now that are more user-friendly and based on the Rigg's Institute binder for the Writing Road to Reading.  I've looked at one and it was okay - just not quite the same.  Since we were already having success with Spelling Power I didn't switch. 

What do I like the MOST about Spelling Power?  What the dc do after they miss a word (say the word, spell out loud, look at it, repeat saying and spelling out loud, close eyes and spell it, check it, trace and say without looking, check it, write without looking, check it, repeat if necessary).  It helps them to internalize it and they rarely miss the same word twice.

Below are pictures/links to the Spelling products we use and and different notebooks.  They have the line measurements at the link for you to see which notebook best fits your child's handwriting size.

[What's Gardenin'? is below the pictures/links for Spelling]

I'm not necessarily recommending the Spectrum Spelling books below but my youngest dd enjoys them, they're inexpensive compared to other Spelling consumables, and I will probably continue to get them for her.

What's Cookin'?

We were able to get some grass-fed beef and had roast for the first time in MONTHS.  I cooked it overnight on low in the crockpot and didn't even season it.  It was flavorful nonetheless.  I also cooked up a few pounds of ground beef so we had spaghetti.  For sauce I just used organic tomato sauce (tomatoes are one of those no-nos with lots of pesticide residue) with a bunch of home-dried basil, Real Salt, pepper, and a dash of marjoram (don't ask me why, it was there!).  I was regretting not having put some fresh oregano in when it was cooking or not having dried any yet - the oregano looks more like a bush right now and is over-ready to harvest!

What's Gardenin'?

We harvested a bunch (literally) of carrots yesterday with oldest dd.  It was fun to see all of the weird shapes.  Some had gone to seed and the stem was too woody to even cut easily.  Others were young and tender.  These were planted a YEAR ago.  This year I was planning on doing a better job of adding nutrients to the soil (aka fertilizing but with organics) for better growth.  That will have to wait for next year's garden (hopefully).

The potatoes have started to bloom.  Does that mean they're ready to harvest?  I've forgotten but we need to harvest anyway.  I'll do that later this week.

I'll be harvesting and drying the oregano this week or weekend as well.  I'll probably do the sage as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mystery Story Unit ~ Homemade Sour Cream

What's Schoolin'?

Yesterday was our last class day for both the Spanish and the Writing Workshop classes I taught middle schoolers this year (plus 2 highschoolers plus my 3rd grader!) at a local homeschool enrichment program.  We did a Read Around during Wtg Wkshp in which each student read their mystery story aloud to finish up the Mystery Story Unit we've been doing. 

We really could've used just one more week (or two, or three) because we didn't have time for teacher conferences this time around.  Even so, the young writers did an outstanding job and showed great growth throughout the year.  It was a very laid back class with virtually zero homework (to fit the needs of the children/families) which makes their progress even more glowing.  I had to cram a warm-up; writer's craft; mystery story structure; and technical wtg wkshp mini-lessons; oh yeah, and writing time (!) into 1-1/2 hours per week.  The students were awesome and very encouraging with their efforts and outward enthusiasm.

I posted about this Mystery Unit here and here which includes a link to my unit for your personal use.  If I weren't in the middle of a move I would probably offer the Mystery Unit as a class this summer at my house.  Last summer I did a Middle School Reluctant Writers class but wanted something different this time.

I had my doubts about their ability to sit still and really listen to everyone's stories after having had a pinata in Spanish class, lol.  However, I made it a point to get dye-free candy for the pinata with no HFCS, etc - although I gave in with the mini-Snickers and made myself not look at their ingredients!  They were very respectful and encouraging to others.  I also had some cookies set out for the Read Around to make it more special.  They had less goodies in the pinata and Read Around 'cuz I just couldn't make myself get the regular candy and cookies but I felt better about what they were eating (mini-Snickers excluded!) and I think it was plenty for just snacks.

Writing for the next few weeks at home will be writing up their 4-H Record Books and Memory Book.  Talk about overwhelming!!  I have a love/hate relationship with Record Books :).  Sandwich that between moving, catching up with Math, First Communion, a joint birthday party, other school studies we want to finish (like Canada), and moving (it gets double mention) and every second is taken up.  I need to make a point to relax and have fun with the kids and give them outside/free time daily and play dates whenever we can.

What's Cookin'?

Chicken Pot Pie:  I can't believe it's already been a week since I last posted.  Last night I made 2 chicken pot pies but I couldn't even start to tell you how I did it, lol.  I bought an organic package of cream of celery soup because I knew I wouldn't have time in the kitchen and was out of homemade in the freezer.  I mixed that with some pre-cooked chicken, some frozen corn, some frozen broccoli, some spices, and some flour ('cuz I put too much water when I mixed in the soup).  I would've preferred peas instead of broccoli but my hand landed on the broccoli bag first :).  I used a very non-NT white flour pie crust and today I plan on getting some yogurt dough soaking for times such as this.  I got the recipe a long time ago from and basically (in the pie plate) you mix 1/2 C oil; 1/4 C milk; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1-1/2 C flour.  Mix well, then smoosh it up around to cover the plate.  I baked the chicken pot pie at 375F for about 40 minutes.

Last night I also baked 2 bricks masquerading as bread.  Although they were fine imitations at a glance, their brickness was quite apparent upon closer examination.

Sour Cream:  I am sooo excited about my newest discovery.  It is so good I can hardly believe it!  Someone mentioned using milk kefir grains to make sour cream in a kefir forum [thanks, R!].  I experimented with the following and so far it has made 2 excellent batches:  1 cup fresh cream and 1 teaspoon kefir grains.  I fermented it for about 12 hours until it just started to thicken somewhat.  You may want to taste at this point.  Then I put it in the refrigerator where it continued to thicken.  I was either too lazy or in a hurry each time and stuck it in the fridge with the grains still in it.  So, I have to dig around them to scoop out the sour cream.  Next time I really need to spend the whole 1 minute it would take and scoop them out before storing the cream.  If you try it, let me know how it goes!

This sour cream how-to is part of Kelly's Real Food Wednesday at:


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Platanos Fritos (Fried Plantains) and Chips

Platanos Fritos:

Ingredients:  One of the ugliest plantains in the grocery store :).  I've been in a store before when they were pulling out plantains to toss them just when they were getting ready to cook.  Ack!  The thing is, they don't look pretty when they are ready.  They have black on them, spots, or even gnats.  THEN you know they're ready!

Peel.  Lay it longways on your cutting board and slice into 3 long pieces.  Stand each piece on end like a tower and slice it downward into 3 pieces.  This gives you 9 slender pieces per plantain.

Heat oil of your choice.  I use Spectrum palm shortening because it has NO trans fats and cooks well for frying.  I use Spectrum but Tropical Traditions organic palm shortening may be more sustainable if I remember right.  If I had tallow or lard I would use that most likely (I'm hoping to get some fat to render soon for another new adventure in cooking!).

Cook the pieces flat side down, turning frequently until they just barely start to turn brown.  Try cooking one a little crispier to taste the difference and see how you prefer.  I'm weird and like the outside pieces of the plantain cooked lighter and the inside slices nice and crispy.  Don't ask me why - it must be a texture thing.

When I think of fried plantains I think of breakfast in El Salvador with fresh French bread from the little store across the street baked fresh that morning, mashed black beans, and real thick Salvadoran cream with coarse salt on it ("kitchen salt").  Mmmm.  A taste of Heaven on Earth.

So, whether you're studying Central or South America in your continent studies or just want to try something new, go for it!

Plantain Chips:

Slice your ripe but firm (not quite so ripe nor as soft as for the above recipe) in thin slices to make circles.  Fry in the hot oil.  Remove to a paper towel or something to soak up the excess oil and salt with sea salt liberally.  Basically, make them as you would potato chips.

I grew up buying plantain chips (platanitos) just like you would potato chips from the store, etc.  If you would rather buy than make, I found some on Amazon.  I sometimes buy a bag at my local grocery store:
Search for plantain chips

This recipe is part of Kelly's Real Food Wednesday at:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Money: Race for a Quarter

What's Schoolin'?

This game is called Race for a Quarter and it's a take-off from Race for a Flat (which I use to introduce place value regrouping).  Each player has a playing mat.

Roll the die, get that amount of pennies from a "kitty" to place in the penny's place (you always get pennies with your roll). When you get 5 you excahnge it for a nickel. 2 nickels get exchanged for a dime and so on. Whoever gets a quarter first is the winner.  You could extend it to "Race for a Dollar" and have the players get 4 quarters.

How to make the mat:  Section off the top row and each column making sure that the coins will fit in each as shown.  I used stamps to put the pictures of the coins but you could also print/cut/paste from online.  I made mine way before the internet (yes, I'm THAT old!).

What's Cookin'?

Soaked Buttermilk Biscuits:  I'm trying Katie's recipe from her FREE e-book called Is Your Flour Wet? (p. 22).  Sign up for her new e-newsletter and get this 84 page e-book for free.  The informational section in the front is fantastic and succinct (unlike my own rambling which is why I don't ever even try to explain why you should soak, sprout, or use sourdough).  There are many recipes as well in this wonderful free e-book. :)

Cinnamon (Raisin) Biscuits:  Usually when I make cinnamon raisin biscuits I just add a handful of raisins, several big dashes of cinnamon, and a few teaspoons of rapadura to my soaked biscuit recipe. 

This time I tried the following recipe and adjusted it to a white whole wheat soaked recipe.  I mixed everything EXCEPT the baking powder and baking soda the night before.  I used kefir instead of the buttermilk.  [I actually got some buttermilk at the store to try to culture my own but I don't know how to do it yet :).  I need to find out ratios or if that's even a good way to do it.  So, all that to say I just used kefir.]  I used 1/2 the rapadura for the sugar - just enough to make it palatable - and skipped the topping.  This makes it more of a snack than a treat.

I'm finding that it's easier the next morning to spread out the dough and sprinkle the leavening over it when making soaked muffin/cookie recipes.  Then knead and knead it in.

Here is the original recipe:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wild West Lapbook ~ Chocolate Pudding

What's Cookin'?

Chocolate Pudding:  For my birthday youngest dd made me some chocolate pudding.  Mmmm.  My weakness.  This is super easy and beats the taste of Royal or Jello-O brand boxed pudding any day.  The hardest part is being patient while stirring it until it thickens :).

2 C whole milk
2 Tablespoons rapadura (or sweetener of your choice)
4 Tablespoons Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips (this is my secret ingredient!)
4-1/2 Tablespoons white flour
1 Tablespoon real butter
1/2 Teaspoon real vanilla (ever try homemade?)

Grease a saucepan (I use a small 1-qt pot and use palm shortening with NO trans fats but you could use butter or lard).  Mix the milk, rapadura, and flour in a bowl.  Pour into the greased pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Immediately remove from heat and stir in the butter and chocolate chips.  Stir until well blended.  Pour into serving bowls or one big serving bowl.  Refrigerate until cooled and ready to eat.  Note:  Leave a little extra in the pot for 'first licks' to share between you and the child who worked hard stirring the pot. :)

Notes:  The original recipe called for 4 Tablespoon cocoa, 4 Tablespoons sugar and NO chocolate chips.  If using powdered cocoa then mix with the milk/flour in the bowl first.  The original also called for 3 T flour and 1-1/2 T arrowroot or cornstarch.  I just use all flour and it thickens just fine.

This recipe is part of Kelly's Real Food Wednesday found here:

What's Schoolin'?

Here are photos of one older dd's Wild West Lapbook.  I talked about it here (scroll down to What's Schoolin'?) and used the book  The Wild West by Mike Stotter  as the spine for it.  If you have youngers I would recommend editing a couple of paragraphs (where it alludes to cowboys' drinking and brawling) but other than that I would've read the rest aloud to my younger (but we ended up not, after all, since I had some other books for her).  My olders were fine with it... after all they saw The Alamo with John Wayne in their history class (sigh) and even though the teacher fast-forwarded the drunken brawl scene the kids could still see it (another sigh).  By the way, even though that classic is Not Rated I found reviews recommending it for ages 15+.  It's a classic and fine for olders but mine weren't 15 yet and I'm a prude when it comes to what they watch.

Speaking of the Wild West (specifically the late 1800's in our history studies), the olders have really enjoyed a DVD we got at a garage sale (I think) of the original Lone Ranger series.  I love it!  Some are black and white and some are in color.  I'm fairly sure we have this one but if you're a die-hard Lone Ranger fan here is a collection.

Another video series the olders have really enjoyed that I found used is called Legends of the Old West (an old TV series also). I especially like it because it introduces them to historical figures, albeit outlaws, but anyway... It's fictionalized because the main heroes always catch the outlaw but it weaves in facts. 

I should note that my dc actually prefer the white only and plain manila folders.  If you printed on colored paper or used colored folders it would be more colorful.  Sometimes my olders will color in with colored pencils but not usually.  Younger dd still likes to color her mini-books whenever she lapbooks.  Enjoy the pictures of the lapbooks...

What's Gardenin'?

Our house goes on the market tomorrow so there is no more gardening for me this spring;  unless we can actually make it over to the community Children's Garden (which has yet to happen for us this season!).  I have, however, found a new favorite hanging basket plant:  Sun Parasol Pretty Pink Mandevilla.

The onions and garlic are doing great (ready to pick) and the sweet peas don't have powdery mildew for a change (although that may change after all of the rain we've had lately).

As soon as it stops raining I'll get some lady bugs to help keep the aphids under control.  I've found some lady bugs enjoying lunch but I'd like to have more lady bugs around.  It was interesting that the aphids swarmed the Kale and left the other plants around it alone.  I just pulled up the infested plant and got rid of it.  The potato plants are growing and loving this wet weather.  Hopefully since it's a raised bed they won't get too much water.