Aug 29, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.


* "Boy used skills taught by father to survive night alone in woods." If your children are ever in a wilderness environment, please teach them basic survival skills like shelter and fire!

* 4th graders and their families can get into National parks FREE!

* Another freebie! Seven Critical Thinking Ebooks for kids of all ages.

* And more free stuff! $240 worth of curriculum, free for a limited time.

* Grass fed beef vs. conventional. Consumer Reports says conventional contains more bacteria.

* Oh, and you might be buying horse or beaver meat and not even know it!

* An oil that's much worse for you than sugar. (Some of us have been saying this for a while now!)



Aug 28, 2015

Making (Slow) Progress on Our New Homestead

Do you remember how sloooow time went when you were a kid looking forward to Christmas? That's how I feel, waiting for us to get moved to our new homestead. So I cling to the progress we have made. So far, we've:

* Purchased a shipping container to use first as a storage unit, then (once we have a house and aren't living in our tiny house motor home) as a shop for my hubby. It took forever to find one in our price range. (Don't believe the news stories that say shipping containers are plentiful and cheap! For most of the country, this isn't true. We were happy, however, that our container is one of the few not from China. Ours is from Japan and was used to ship motorcycles here. That made my hubby smile.) So, the shipping container is delivered and placed on top of a moisture barrier and blocks. Yay!

*  Got the shipping container insulated. We looked into buying a shipping container (or maybe a refrigerated truck) that was already insulated, but it was less expensive for us to add the insulation ourselves. We looked at many ways to accomplish insulation, and finally decided it made the most sense to hire a pro to spray foam into it. A bonus: This method uses up less space than other methods of insulation, so there's more room to store things. (Wondering why we bothered to insulate the shipping container? Because without it, changes in
temperature would cause weeping inside the container - which would lead to moldy books, papers, fabrics, photos...and a ruined piano.)

* Started packing and moving things into storage. For years, my husband used a small cargo trailer for storage, so everything he had in there is now in the shipping container. I've also started packing up the one room in our house that needs some repairs...and my husband has transferred those boxes into the container, too. (Incidentally, hubby says we have only two types of boxes: Books and fragile. So funny because it's so true!)

The past couple of weeks, I've paused in packing because it was just too much for me to start homeschool and pack, too. I will get back to it this weekend. Once the room is clear, we'll repair it. Then we can fix up the rest of the house - mostly paint, I hope.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Aug 26, 2015

9 Back to School Lunch Hacks

Whether your kids go away to school or they home school with you, a little planning - and a few tricks! - make giving them healthy lunches a whole lot easier.



1. As much as possible, prep on the weekends. Sandwiches are usually best made the day of, but many other things can be prepared and refrigerated ahead of time, including: chopped veggies, chopped fruit, things like cracker and cheese that need portioning out and bagging.

2. Make a salad more fun by putting it on a kebab! Cherry tomatoes, olives, pieces of cheese, pieces of deli meat, and baby spinach or lettuce are perfect.

3. Portion things out yourself. It's almost always less expensive to buy in bulk and package in inexpensive bags, rather than buying boxes full of portion-sized bags.

4. Add a little air. Bagging up something that might turn into crumbs, like chips, cookies, or pretzels? Take a tip from food packagers and add air to the bag. This works best if you're packing lunch the evening before school or the morning the child will be eating the lunch.

5. Give them last night's leftovers. Not only will it save you time, but it will help prevent waste.

6. Bake lunch items like muffins ahead of time and freeze them. Pop them into your child's lunch the evening or morning before they will be eaten and they'll be thawed by lunch time.

7. No-brown sliced apples are easier than you think. Simply slice up the apple, holding the pieces carefully together, then wrap a rubber band around the apple. (The slices don't brown because they aren't exposed to air.)

8. Consider letting the kids pack their lunch. Let the children pick which items go in their lunch box the night before. (Don't think they'll make healthy choices? Let them only choose from certain foods.) You'll probably have to supervise to make sure it gets done! Kids are more likely to eat their food if they have a hand in preparing/choosing it - and it this encourages independence, too. For more tips on making this work, visit Coffee Cups and Crayons.

9. Notes or jokes are an addition to the lunch box most kids will look forward to. Bible verses are excellent, too!

Aug 24, 2015

Healthy Dinner Strategies for Busy Moms

If you're a mom with kids at home, you're busy. And many of us find ourselves even busier (and more tired!) than usual once the school year starts. That makes feeding our families healthy food a real challenge. And while modern moms have more unhealthy food options than ever - we also have more options when it comes to feeding our families healthy, quick meals.


Crock Pots

I have a love/hate relationship with my crock pot. I love that I can throw some ingredients into it in the morning and have a healthy dinner ready for my family by evening - no matter how busy I am. And if I plan ahead just a little, I can even prep the ingredients ahead of time, toss them into the freezer, and literally spend less than a minute making dinner on weekdays.

What I don't care for is the somewhat bland flavor many crock pot recipes have. Fortunately, there are fixes for that; click here to learn how to pump up the flavor of crock pot foods. Another not so great part of crock pot cooking is that so many recipes you find online are contain processed food (condensed soup, Ranch mixes, and so on). Sometimes you can easily substitute homemade versions of those processed foods, other times not. Happily, though, you can turn your favorite non-crock pot recipes into recipes you can use in a slow cooker. Also, check out this blog for healthy crock pot recipes...and my Pinterest Slow Cooker board, too.


Freezer Cooking

You may have seen blog posts showing ambitious moms cooking and freezing 30 days worth of meals in one weekend. If you can do that, good for you! I can never seem to get my act together to make this many freezer meals. But that doesn't mean freezer cooking isn't for me.

Courtesy of Elin B and Wikipedia Commons.
The easiest way to start freezer cooking is to double meals and freeze the extras. An even easier way is to simply cook up, say, all the ground beef soon after bringing it home from the store. Freeze it and you've just cut at least 10 minutes off each meal you prepare with it later in the month.

Other ideas include starting modestly by cooking and freezing a week's worth of dinners on a Saturday. Premeditated Leftovers also has ideas on spending just 30 minutes each day to fill your freezer with cooked food. For freezer-appropriate recipes and guidelines for beginners, be sure to check out my Freezer Cooking Pinterest board.


Pressure Cookers


For some reason, pressure cookers aren't mainstream in the United States. I really have no idea why, because they are such a quick, easy way to produce a healthy meal. For example, you can cook a moist, delicious whole chicken in just half an hour! Unsoaked black beans? 24 minutes. (If you soak them first, they take just 6 minutes.) Brown rice? 20 minutes. And you can cook whole meals, too, usually for 20-30 minutes. And unlike stove top cooking, pressure cooking takes less work on your part. You just stick in the ingredients, watch for the pressure to reach the right level, and then set the timer. In short, cooking time is cut by 1/3, saves 70 - 90% in energy, and retains 90% of the vitamins in your food! (Source.)

One word of caution, though: Don't confuse pressure cookers with pressure canners. Pressure canners are designed specifically for home canning. Sometimes they are appropriate for cooking, too, but not always. Pressure cookers are designed specifically for cooking. Do NOT use them for canning! I use my Presto canner as a pressure cooker; my only complaint is that because it has such a large capacity, it's difficult to get into the sink for cleaning. On the other hand electronic pressure cookers are favored by many because you don't have to tend to them at all: Just put the food in, turn them on, and walk away.

Not sure where to begin with pressure cooking? Check out my Pinterest Pressure Cooker board!


Which One Is Right For You?

Personally, I don't know what I'd do without all of these strategies! When my family grows tired of crock pot food, I can pop something in the pressure cooker. If I'm too tired for that at the end of the day, I can pull something out of the freezer. You see, having all these options available to me means I don't have to be hyper organized. And that is a very good thing!


Aug 22, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.


* Car seats recalled.

* Onsies recalled because snaps come off and pose a choking hazard.

 * Looking for healthy, whole food or Paleo crock pot recipes to get you through back to school season? Check out my Pinterest crock pot recipe board!

* This week, I threw my kids a school supply scavenger hunt. They LOVED it! I used the clue cards here - slightly modified, since there was no big prize at the end.

* I  had a few picture books, a timer, some paint, and labeler tape I wanted to buy on Amazon for school. Original cost was over $80, even though I bought used books. But once I applied my Swagbucks gift cards...it was just over $30! Score! If you want to learn more about Swagbucks, please click here.

* How to destroy a child's love of learning.

* We vaccinated our kids, but this is disturbing: Maine Can Vaccinate Children Over Mother Wishes 

* Australian doctors are successfully treating peanut allergies with probiotics.




Aug 19, 2015

How to Make an Easy Pinata

What with packing and prepping to move and preparing for homeschool to start, I'm not as organized as usual for my daughter's birthday party. But it's a big one this year: She's a decade old! So last week I worked like a mad woman to pull it together. I'd planned to purchase a pinata for the party - a kitty, to go with her theme. But I didn't order it in time and our local stores didn't have any cat pinatas. I considered buying a generic pinata, but I heard the ones in our local store break too easily. Then I considered making a pinata from a cardboard box - or making a pinata the traditional way, with all those little bits of crepe paper. But finally I decided we'd make a paper mache pinata, but instead of covering it with a gazllion strips of paper, we'd just paint it. Correction: I'd let the birthday girl paint it! And, for that matter, make most of the pinata.

Yes, this process is a bit messy...but my kids had such a good time with it. Making something out of paper mache is a project every kid should try at least once. I recommend making the paper mache part of the pinata outside - somewhere where the flour glue won't hurt anything (because, yes, it will drip all over). I also recommend only making a paper mache pinata when the weather is warm; the hotter it is, the faster the layers of paper mache will dry. If you must try this indoors on a cooler day, add a little salt to your homemade glue; this is supposed to help prevent the mixture from molding if it takes a while for it to dry.

What You Need to Make an Easy Pinata

A balloon. (I used a regular balloon because that's what I had on hand. A punch ball balloon is larger and more circular, and is another option.)

Flour

Water

A whisk or fork for mixing

A large bowl

Scissors

Non-glossy newspaper, preferably black and white

Exacto knife

String

Piece of cardboard

Large washer

Paint (we used Crayola Washable Kids Paint)

Colored paper or felt (optional)


How We Made Our Kitty Cat Pinata

1. Cut the newspaper into pieces about 1 1/2 inches wide.

2. Blow up the balloon and hang it somewhere outside, using string or yarn. Pick a spot where you don't mind the glue dripping on the ground.

3. Mix up the glue: Start by dumping 1 cup of flour into the bowl. Add 2 cups of water and stir well. You want the consistency to be close to Elmer's white glue; don't make it thick, like a paste. If the glue seems too watery, just add another handful and stir some more. Continue until the consistency is right. And yes, the homemade glue will be a bit lumpy.

4. Drip a strip of newspaper into the glue, then, holding the paper over the bowl, wipe it down, so only a small amount of glue remains. Place the paper onto the balloon. Smooth out the paper as much as possible. (Although, trust me, especially if kids are helping, the pinata will be a little lumpy!)

Cover the balloon with strips of newspaper dipped in flour glue.
5. Repeat step 4, overlapping the pieces of paper, until the entire balloon is covered. Let the paper dry completely, then repeat step 4 and 5 until you have at least four layers of newspaper on the balloon. Remember to do only one layer at a time, letting the newspaper dry completely before moving on to the next layer.
This is what our balloon looked like while the first layer of newspaper was drying.

6. Using scissors or a pin, poke a hole in the exposed end of balloon. Remove the deflated balloon from the pinata.

7. Cover the hole where the exposed end of the balloon was with several layers of paper mache. Allow to dry completely.
This is where the end of the balloon was exposed, now covered with a few layers of paper mache.
Here's what the pinata looked like, entirely dry. I put it in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer, to make handling easier.

8. Being very careful, use an Exacto knife to poke a hole in the very top of the pinata. This is where the string for hanging the pinata will go. Now cut a trap door on top of the pinata, over to one side; this is where you will add the candy; the door shouldn't be huge - but it needs to be big enough to pour candy/toys through, and get a piece of cardboard into the pinata. Pry the door open; try not to completely break the door away from the pinata; ideally, the uncut edge of the door will bend a little. (If it breaks off, don't worry; just set the broken piece aside for a moment.)
Carefully cutting the trap door...
Trap door is cut and open.
 9. Cut the piece of cardboard so it's larger than the hole you made for the string, and will fit in through the trap door. Thread the string through the hole you made in the top of the pinata.

Threading the string through the hole.
10. Poke a hole in the center of the cardboard, then pull the end of the string that's inside the pinata through this hole. Thread a large washer onto the same end of string. (We actually used two washers, but I think one is sufficient.) Tie a firm knot. (So the layers are: Cardboard, washer, knot. The washer helps keep the knot from pulling through the cardboard and the top of the pinata.) Carefully insert the cardboard into the pinata. On the outside of the pinata, pull the string tight.
Adding washers.
Getting ready to knot the string.
Putting the cardboard, washer, and knot inside the pinata.
11. Fill the pinata with candy and/or toys. Close the trap door. (If the door accidentally broke off, just set it in back in place on the pinata.) Cover the trap door with a few layers of paper mache. Allow to dry completely.

12. Paint the pinata. Dark colors will cover the newsprint better than light colors. My daughter chose purple for her cat (grin), and she only needed to use two coats.

Painting the pinata.
13. To make our pinata look like a cat's head, we glued on colored paper ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and whiskers.

The finishing touches!


Ta-da! All done.

After the party.


Aug 17, 2015

Our Favorite Kids Educational Programs on Netflix Streaming - UPDATED!

3/26/2014: We save hundreds each year by not buying cable TV. Instead, we pay for Netflix streaming ($7.99/month). Not only is it incredibly cheaper, but we don't have to deal with commercials. And for years, I've been using Netflix's instant streaming programing to help educate my kids. I mean, if I'm going to let them watch anything, why not let it be something they can learn from? With that in mind, here are our favorites.* (All age listings are approximate.)

UPDATE 8/17/2015: Some of our favorite educational shows are no longer on Netflix streaming. (Wah! No more Beakman's World!) I've included the names of these shows at the end of this post, so you can keep an eye out for them if they become available, if you want to try to rent them on DVD, or you want to try to find them from another source. In the meantime, I've completely updated the list. As of 8/17/2015, all the following shows are available on Netflix streaming.

Science:

The Magic School Bus (ages 5 - 9)
Wild Kratts (ages 5 - 10)
David Attenborough: Wildlife Specials (ages 6 and up)

Language/Reading:

Word World (4 - 6)
Amazing Word Explorers (4 - 7)

Preschool Basics:
Sesame Street Classics and Numbers and Letters
Shapeville Park
Phonics Farm
The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park
Sesame Street and Sesame Street Classics
Reading Rainbow

Misc.:
Cat in the Hat (ages 2 - 7)
Veggies Tales (the new series; ages 2 - 7)
Little Einsteins (ages 2 - 6)
Mighty Machines (ages 2 - 5)
Various documentaries (These change rapidly, so I suggest browsing the documentaries section regularly. Note that you can expect all nature related documentaries to mention evolution.)


BONUS: If you use a Roku device for streaming Netflix, there are many other educational channels you can watch for FREE. These channels include:

PBS Kids
PBS
The Smithsonian Channel
The History Channel
National Geographic Kids
NASA
Kids' Food

The list grows monthly. (Note that some stations, like The History Channel and National Geographic Kids, allows Roku users to see only some episodes.)

Currently Unavailable on Netflix Streaming:

Beakman's World (ages 5 - 10)
How Stuff Works (ages 5 - adult)
How Do They Do It (ages 5 - adult)
Reading Rainbow Ocean Life (ages 3 - 5) 
God of Wonders (creation science; ages 5 - adult)
Dragons or Dinosaurs (creation science; ages 6 - adult)
Wonders of God's Creation (creation science; ages 6 - adult)
Dear America (ages 5 - 13)
Storybook Treasures: Amazing America (ages 5 - 9)
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (ages 4 - 12)
WordGirl (ages 5 - 9; look for this on Roku's PBS Kids station)
Busytown Mysteries (ages 2 - 5)
Numberland (preschool)
The All About series (All about Astronauts, All About Cars, etc.; misc.; ages 3 - 6)



* Please note that Nextflix streaming offerings change periodically.


Aug 13, 2015

My Crazy Life...and Back to School

The give away pile.
Has anyone ever told you I'm crazy? They were right, you know. Or at least, that's how I feel this week. You see, I've started packing. We have some repairs to make on our house, and we need to have our stuff out of the way before we can start on them. Our little hauling trailer is empty now (the first load of things is already in our shipping container) and soon the shipping container will be insulated and completely ready to be filled with furniture, family photos, books, and yes, even my piano. But I'm doing the packing alone - in my spare time (ahem). Time is a little critical here (gotta get it done before the rainy season). So I'm feeling a weeeee bit stressed.

Because in addition to packing and working on and off for clients, I'm prepping for school. My daughter is begging to start, but I'm not quite ready yet. This year of homeschool will be my most complicated ever, since my son is starting kindergarten and 1) it will be the first time I've really taught two grades at once (to my way of thinking, preschool is so easy, it doesn't count) and 2) I'm working hard to make kindergarten as interesting as possible for my son, who is an unwilling school kid. So there's that.

Plus, I'm preparing for a birthday party. Every year, my husband and daughter share a party, and most of our local family comes. As it happens, this is also the year my daughter turns a decade old, so it feels like a bigger deal than usual. So as I pack, work, and prep for homeschool, I'm also working up games (like a bean bag toss, pin the tail game, and pinata). The good news is, my daughter wants to help with everything. Finally, her "I want to do it myself" attitude is paying off!

At any rate, you can see that all this doesn't leave much time for blogging. So today, I just want to point you to some archived posts about getting the kids back to school. I hope they help you!

* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.

* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.

* Age Appropriate Chores for Kids - Back to school time is an ideal time to set up or revise chore charts!

* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.

* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time often means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.

* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.

* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?

* Letter of the Week Activities - Easy crafts to help toddlers and preschoolers learn their letters and the sounds they make.

* Activities to go with The Little House on the Prairie Books - This series has been a real blessing in our house. If you're considering reading it to your children, consider some of these easy "go-withs."

* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!

* 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies - In case you missed it.