Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mama's Successful Winter Break Involves a Crockpot

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Our CC group was on break this week, and it worked out perfectly for us. I seem to do better (as do my kids) on a six/seven weeks on, one week off schedule. Sometimes this lines up with our homeschool tutorial, sometimes not. But I was ready for a week to recharge. Usually these weeks involve lots of cleaning out of closets and tasks around the house, but I didn't do as much this week. All of our regular activities were still on the calendar (music lessons, Awana at church, gymnastics, etc.) so our days were still humming. However, unknowingly, I managed to give myself a bit of a break by putting four brand new crockpot recipes on my menu plan. I know! Totally risky. Crockpots are funny things - the right recipe is gold, but there are plenty of bad ones out there.

In the spirit of mom solidarity, I thought I would share the four that I made with our comments. All of these recipes came from Six Sisters Stuff. I've been following them on Instagram for a while now, and when I see them post a recipe I like, I use Instagram's new little save feature (the flag that is underneath a photo on the right). Then when I'm menu planning, I pull up my saves and go through and see if anything new jumps out at me to try.

Slow Cooker Steak Fajitas - this recipe is actually one that the Six Sisters made from the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook. We had some taco meat left over from the weekend from something at our house, and I found one smallish steak in the freezer. I knew my kids would not be fans of the onions and peppers cooked with the steak, but the grownups were. One smallish steak plus a load of veggies was perfect for me and my husband to have for dinner ... and the kids got taco leftovers. I'll make this again.

Slow Cooker Lasagna - this was another good one. I made this on Valentine's Day. (Nothing says Valentine's like something Italian). It was tasty and just the right size for our crew. FYI - on all these recipes I used my 4 quart crockpot, instead of my bigger 6 quart. If I make a recipe to fill my larger 6 quart size, I generally end up with more leftovers that I want to eat! The 4 quart has been working out perfectly for us, but I know that won't last long. As different children enter different growth spurts we run out of food some nights!

Crockpot Creamy Ranch Pork Chops & Potatoes - this one got RAVE reviews from my kids. I honestly don't know the last time they have gushed about a dinner like this. The six year old boy kept asking for more "chicken" (we corrected him several times that it was pork, but it didn't stick) and said that this meat was "'ah-licious!" multiple times. (I will be so sad when he stops saying delicious that way). My 11 year said that if it wasn't considered rude, she would lick the sauce from this dish off her plate. High praise indeed for this one!

Crockpot Swedish Meatballs - another major hit with my kids (and me!) This is the only recipe I took a picture of and, other than the fact that my meatballs fell apart in the crockpot after cooking all day, it was such a good comfort food dish. I did what Six Sisters suggested, and served it over mashed potatoes and that was pretty fabulous, and I'm not a mashed potatoes person. I think the meatball problem was that they were turkey meatballs made from a Pioneer Woman recipe and in my experience, I have not yet learned the trick to getting my meatballs to stay together well. It didn't affect the taste in the least!

All these recipes are going in my keeper pile and into rotation. I have my favorite recipes and cookbooks that I fall back on time and time again, but it's always nice to find a new recipe / blogger / Instagram account to add into the rotation for some new inspiration!

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Things That Are Saving My Life : February 2017

Our Tennessee winter has been crazy mild this year. We had one brief bit of snow right around Christmas and that is (sadly) all the white stuff that has hit these parts. Lots of 50 degree days (which has been nice) and lots of rain (which has been quite soggy, especially with a puppy that has to go out all. the. time.)

Anne Bogel (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) makes a list in February of things that are "saving her life" right now as she slugs through the second half of winter. While I love cold weather and wish it would get cold enough for me to pull out my big coat, I can relate to the slugging through. By the time you are homeschooling through January, it's not nearly as exciting to crack open the books as it was in September when they were brand new. School supplies have lost their lustre (and usually their lids if we are talking about pens around here) and I'm replacing the first round of dried up dry erase markers. I loved her suggestion of throwing out a few things that bring a smile right now so here are a few of mine, in no particular order:

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1) Making a more concerted effort to read. I have appropriated (with permission) one of my girl's Kindle paperwhites and am toting it around with me so I always have a book at the ready. Never fear, there is a stack of "real" paper books sitting on my desk that I'm planning on giving some attention to.

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2) Reading aloud. Always my favorite part of our homeschool day. Right now, we are reading Peter Pan. I try to remember to write inside the cover when we read books out loud and the last time that we read this was before the boy was born, almost seven years ago when N1 was his age!

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3) Chocolate peanut butter powder. It is not for everyone, but when you need a sweet treat, it sure tastes yummy when you dip banana into it.

She is so much cuter at 6am instead of 3am. #georgiareyshepherd #mamaisnotamused

4) Puppy love. This was my birthday present this year and she is my new baby. Georgia Rey is a little goldendoodle, she's about fourteen weeks now and just as cute as can be. We are deep into puppy nibbling, lots of trips outside, and the occasional barking in the middle of the night, but she is still the most fun.

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5) The Hide Facebook Feed extension on Chrome. I have wanted to take a long, extended break from Facebook for ... forever. However, I have a business page connected to my personal account and deleting my account (and even disabling it) causes wrinkles. The Hide Facebook Feed in Google Chrome fix has been PERFECT. The only reason that I get on FB anymore is to check the occasional group, answer something sent in Messenger, or see what I'm tagged in. Those still reach me through email or I can pull up FB's page and check the left column to see if anything new is posted in the groups I care about. Best use of technology in 2017 by far, in my opinion.

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6) Less screentime for little people in general. Do not hear that I am a "screens are evil person." I love my iPhone, iTunes, Kindles, etc. But, truly, we got in a habit with morning screen time on Christmas break and it was great ... for our break. Not so good for school mornings. With small exceptions for a boy who has the privilege of sitting an hour at sisters' music lessons or gymnastics class, screen time has been greatly reduced during the week. It's been good to see the piles of Transformers on the kitchen table and books laid open where someone sets it down mid-chapter. A certain boy also spent one lunch hour perusing the newest Lego catalog and asking for help in writing things down for his birthday list. (His birthday is in October, but nothing like being prepared). :)

There are always other things that are a must on a list like this - coffee, my morning quiet time before little people awake (now punctuated with a playful pup), a new pack of pens in all the colors, but these are the currents for this year!

Monday, January 30, 2017

January Addendum

As par for the course, since I got our / my January reads up last week in a timely manner, I've now got a couple additions to make! (Truly, though, this is a rarity). However, we did finish another read aloud on Friday and I made time over the weekend to read a short Newbery honor book and I would hate to leave those off my reporting lists. They are worth sharing about!

Since it was Friday, we went for a quick little read aloud that we could finish on one sitting ... The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh. 🐻 Perfect length and subject matter for an animal loving 6 year old boy. #readaloudrevival

On Friday, we decided to pick a (super) short read aloud so that we wouldn't be starting something that would have to sit over the weekend. Sometimes I find that when we start something new, we need several days in a row to dive into it or we lose momentum. The boy picked The Bears of Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh off our shelves, and since it was short we dove in. This is the story of young Jonathan - a boy growing up at the base of the Hemlock Mountains. These mountains are full of all sorts of wonderful animals that Jonathan observes with his favorite uncle, James. Except for bears - of course, there are no bears on Hemlock Mountain! (Or are there?) No one will speak definitively on this matter, but Jonathan is soon sent on an errand over the mountain to collect a large pot from his aunt. Will he find bears or won't he? This was a fantastic read for one sitting and our animal boy LOVED it. The illustrations in the version that I linked are also fantastic. I can see this being something that we will pick up again and that the boy will enjoy reading when he is off and reading independently.

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The other book I finished this weekend is one that I chose for Amy's (@ Hope is the Word) Newbery Challenge. This is her 3rd(?) year of hosting this challenge and I have been a very sporadic participant. I am going to try my best to jump in when I can this year and with that in mind, I decided to read The Windy Hill by Cornelia Meigs this weekend. It was the perfect length. You can find the book in print, however, I read it on Kindle because I already had that version (and it was free). An honor book for the Newbery in 1922, it tells the story of Oliver and Janet who are spending some of their vacation with their cousin Jasper. However, there is a family mystery and of course they need to get to the bottom of it! It is full of stories within a story as the children learn about their family history with a little bit of a puzzle to thrown in for good measure. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this - definitely time well spent this weekend!

I don't foresee finishing any more books before January is over, so I'm feeling pretty confident about pressing publish on this post! Then it is on to February!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January Reads for 2017

Happy New Year!

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I had good intentions of writing sooner than the last week in January. I miss this spot and some times want to peck a few more keys that I am allowed on Instagram. I guess we'll just warm back up to posting with a quick post on what I read in January, and it will be short and very sweet.

Evening reading.

This month, I got through four books - three of them were read alouds with various and sundry children, and I got through ONE book personally. Why only one, you ask? Well, I bought myself a new edition of Little Women for Christmas and my January goal was to reread this beloved favorite. It did not disappoint. It has been several years since I read this ... I want to say that the last read of this book was with the girls and we only read the first half of the book with promises to return and finish the second half. (Ahem, apparently that has never happened!) Reading this book over and over through the years as a teen, then as a young adult, as a mama to littles, and now returning to read as a mama of one little and a handful of (gulp!) middles, it has something for me in every age and stage of parenting and loving my family well. Working through anger and impatience (like Jo); being graceful, patient and willing under affliction (like Beth); running a happy home and loving my husband and children well (like Meg); and using the small talents that God has given me in whatever small way that I am humbly allowed (like Amy) - this book never fails to inspire.

And now I want to read Little Men. :)

The three read alouds that we read this month were so randomly and fantasticly different.

Not the bedtime reading I would have chosen but the boy and I finished this tonight at bedtime.  #readaloudrevival
  • Animal Planet Chapter Book: Sharks - The boy and I had been reading through this at bedtime. (Not my first choice for bedtime reading, but he seemed to suffer no ill affects). This was actually a book sent to me by the Amazon Vine program to read and review and it got two (make that four) thumbs up from us. Lots of facts and pictures for my animal loving boy and we are going to hunt for a few more of these books for him.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - This is the first time that I have read this book aloud and B (age 9 1/2's) first time through the book. I think she has seen this movie once, but with our older two, the general rule was that had to read through the books to get to watch the movies. (And that usually resulted in getting to stay up late after other siblings went to bed for a private showing with Daddy. Super cool privilege). :) I'm pretty sure that B has been grandfathered in to a few viewings as a younger sibling, and honestly she hasn't been as interested in diving into the series as they were. She is my one that has not jumped into reading as fast as the bigger girls. The first time that she expressed interest in the series, I handed her the hardback from the library. The sight of so many pages completely overwhelmed her! We solved that problem by an offer to read it aloud together at bedtime AND we read the book on Kindle. Problem of an overwhelmingly big book solved! We finished it up yesterday and are looking for a night where we can watch the movie together.
  • The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - this is a delightful stand-alone story that was recommended to me by a fellow homeschooler on Instagram. It is a blend of nonsense and wordly wit that reminds me of the great Roald Dahl. There were so many lines that I wanted to go through and flag so that I could read them to my grammar class that I teach in our Classical Conversations community - fantastic uses of alliteration, rhyme, -ly adverbs, etc. The author is a crazy, talented illustrator in her own right AND is the sister in law of Andrew Peterson, author of another of my favorite series, The Wingfeather Saga. So many good signs that pointed to us loving this book. And we did. Highly recommend as a read aloud and for your library.
There were several that I wanted to read in January that I just didn't get to ... Little Women consumed all my time, and I just didn't have as many spare minutes this month. Luckily next month has a week of winter break for us and I always try to spend some down time with a book when we aren't doing as much school. I'm already looking forward to it. :)

Linking up with Amy at Hope is the Word who is bringing back a once-a-month Read Aloud Thursday roundup. Yay!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"Best of" for 2016

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I love reading friends' "best of" lists for 2016 ... especially if it's about books. There's always room for one more book suggestions, am I right? Last week, I finally did a big update on my book lists over to the right. There's a 2016 list for me, and our family read-aloud list is now current. While I was going through my 2016 list, I grabbed a pencil and marked those which stood out the most for me over the past twelve months. I limited myself to ten favorites which is always a hard decision. In no particular order, my (our) favorites of 2016 were:

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1. Rabbits with Swords. I mean Ember Falls. This has turned out to be such a GREAT series. We are not so patiently waiting for the next installment.

We finally finished our first read aloud of our summer and with that we finally finished the Chronicles of Prydian series. Highly recommend! Bonus: if I'm lucky, I'll get to read these again with my boy in 4-5 years. #readaloudrevival

2. The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander. We finished this five volume set this summer by finally getting to books 4 and 5 in the series. I loved these and I think my girls would say that they did as well. I am looking forward 4-5 years when I hand these off to the boy and he dives into them ... or maybe I'll get to read them aloud again with him. I won't mind that one bit.

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3. One of the few new books that I read this year, Stella by Starlight was so good that after I read my library copy, I ordered one for our shelves. We'll be reading this next year as we cycle through American history and my girls are getting old enough that we can delve more deeply into the topics of slavery and freedom.

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4. Not a book per se, but this study on 1 Peter that I did this summer has to make it on the list. It was time well spent.

Current read aloud. We are having a hard time settling into something after finishing Ember Falls. 🐰 ⚔️ We have tried a couple things and I think we're going to stick with Half Magic (for now!) #readaloudrevival

5. We ended our fall semester of school on this read-aloud and it was a great way to wrap up our December school days. As I commented when I posted a photo of the book on Instagram, when your child asks if you have the sequel to book you just finished, and head's off to their room with it, you know you found a winner. We have plans to add the missing books in this seven book series to our library over time.

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A group picture of the rest of this year's favorites.

6. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch was one of the books that N1 had to read for Challenge A this year, and one of the few that we hadn't read before as a family. I LOVED this book. The story of Nathaniel Bowditch who dreamt of a life of academia and the study of mathematics, but was forced to spend nine years of his childhood and early youth in apprenticeship. His determination and love of learning was so inspiring. I foresee that I will need to reread this when daughter #2 enters Challenge A in a few years.

7. Giddy Up, Eunice. Sophie Hudson is just one of my mostest, favoritest writers ever. She gets me. When she writes about topics such as family, friendship, mentoring, and current fashion, she is writing to me about things I am thinking about / working through and her books feel like a good conversation with an old friend that just knows you. 

8. Mere Motherhood is the only homeschooling book that I read this year (I think). It was not flashy or shiny or told me anything new, but just the humble story of a mama trying to do her best while homeschooling her kids. Plain ole encouragement from someone who has been there, and come through to the other side ... and survived.

9. Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson is going to be on my reading list for every January, I believe. A reminder and call to live each day intentionally and a direct word to me to quit whining about some things that bothered me, and make some changes. Ahem. 

10. Lastly, and not least by any stretch, is Wonder by R.J. Polaccio. Like Stella by Starlight, this is another that I read, and then immediately ordered - this time I picked up two copies (one for our house and one for gift). There is a reason why people are still talking about and reading this book even though it came out almost four years ago. It is a book that switches the point of view of who is telling the story, but it is an amazing story of kindness, resilience, and friendship. Just excellent.

There's 2016 in a nutshell. Honorable mentions could go to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I knew I would and did love that series, so that would have been too obvious. : ) What was your favorite read of 2016? Anything I need to put on my list for next year?