22 December 2014

Recipe - Kielbasa Tortellini Soup

I came across this recipe last week for Alton Brown's Christmas Soup. It sounded delicious! I made something similar on Saturday for a family gathering, and everyone loved it. Here's my version:

Smoked Sausage Soup

1 pound Kielbasa (also known as Polish Sausage; smoked sausage will also work)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 Tbs. minced garlic)
8 cups chicken broth (4 cans, 14.5 oz. each)
2 cans white beans (I used chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans)
1 pound potatoes, washed and cut into cubes
7 oz. box parmesan tortellini (I used this tortellini, but about 6-8 oz. of any small dry pasta would be fine)
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. pepper

Cut the sausage in half lengthwise and slice thinly. Brown the sausage in a 7-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the kielbasa from the pan and set aside.

Add the oil and garlic to the pot with the sausage drippings and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the garlic from burning. Add the broth, beans, and potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Note: I let the soup simmer for over an hour, so I needed to add about 4 cups of water to make up for what had boiled off.

Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, until pasta is tender.

Add the sausage back to the pot. Add the red wine vinegar and black pepper and stir to combine.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot. My family added sriracha hot sauce to their bowls to make it spicy!

10 November 2014

Homeschool update

We have been homeschooling for almost 3 months now. While each day has its ups and downs, I would definitely call it a successful adventure! I want to go over what we are doing in each subject:

Dino has memorized the books of the New Testament and is working on the Old Testament now. Each day, we discuss a book of the Bible and point out the highlights of that book - the author, the theme of the book, and the key characters and stories. Dino creates a flash card for each book, which he uses to practice putting the books in order. I would like to start memorizing scripture as a family. We are going to start with what Dino's Sunday School class is studying - Hebrews 11:1 and 11:6.

We started the year using a book called The Life of Fred, which appealed to me because of the incorporation of other topics into each lesson. While this curriculum appeals to children who love to read but aren't too fond of math. Unfortunately, Dino is just the opposite, and it was immediately frustrating for him to read so much and have so little math to work on. Dino does much better just learning one math concept at a time, so we abandoned Fred in favor of worksheets printed out from a couple of different websites. He worked up to 3-line addition, 6-or-more-digit addition and subtraction, carrying and borrowing, time telling, word problems, basic fractions, and measuring using a ruler. We are now starting to introduce multiplication. Dino understands the concept of multiplication as iterative addition, so next I want him to memorize the multiplication tables.

Dino has started learning about the United States of America. He is learning to identify each state's location on the map, and he is memorizing the 2-character postal code for each state. We work on 3 or 4 states at a time, 2 days for each group.

We are not using any particular lesson plan for science, but rather grabbing opportunities as they come along. The local homeschoolers organized a field trip to the Department of Public Works, where they discussed water conservation. We read a book together about the life cycle of frogs. We read a book about fire safety and used a candle to demonstrate what elements fire needs to burn. He read an articles on push and pull forces, how things move, and the pitch and volume of sound. He has also read an article in a National Geographic book on wolves and another on dogs vs. cats.

Dino read an article on land use (rural/urban/suburban), and we discussed the election last week and how individuals are voted into local and state government.

We are using and loving Sonlight's Sequential Spelling curriculum. Instead of memorizing lists of spelling words, Dino is learning the logic behind how words are formed and is seeing the patterns in lists of words. The curriculum is set up so that he has a list of 25 words each day. I say the word, use it in a sentence if needed, and he does his best to write down how he thinks it is spelled. I tell him the correct spelling, and he corrects his paper if needed. We also discuss the homophones of words as they come up (when words have different meanings but sound the same, like thrown and throne). Each day's word list builds on the day before in an 8-day cycle. For example, day 1 might have the word bat, then day 2 will have bats, then batted, then batting, and so on.

Dino is reinforcing some things he learned in first grade - ABC order, homophones, synonyms, antonyms, nouns, proper nouns, etc. We are using worksheets from a book I found at Sam's Club called Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills. I expect us to get through the Grade 2 book by the end of the calendar year and go through the Grade 3 book next semester.

Dino loves the Magic Tree House books and has gone through 4 of them this school year, reading about 1 chapter a day. He took a break from them recently to read a few short story books. I try to read a chapter a day to him from another book. We finished The Jungle Book and are working our way through a young reader's adapted version of Alice in Wonderland.

We are also using the Comprehensive Curriculum worksheets for Reading Comprehension. Dino *hates* these because he actually has to think to get his work done! He has been doing sequencing (putting steps in order), identifying same/different details about 2 characters in a story, reading for details, and following directions. Like English, I hope to be able to go through Grade 2 and 3 concepts this school year.

We started cursive handwriting 2 weeks ago, and Dino loves it! We do about 2 letters a day, following the order prescribed on this website:
So far, Dino has learned 13 lowercase letters, so he is halfway through the alphabet! He is very detailed, so he tries hard to keep his writing neat and slanted.

Dino has a few hours almost every afternoon to run around with his friends when they're done with their school, so he is well-exercised! We go for walks together around the block to get our dogs some exercise, too.

We follow the local school's schedule for breaks and holidays, so that Dino gets the same days off as his friends. We did make an exception for fall break, however. We took a week-long vacation with family that didn't line up with the local school's fall break. We gave Dino the option of doing school on vacation so that he would have the same days off as the neighbors, or taking our break on vacation then just push through and try to get school done a little early on the friend's day off at home. He wisely chose the latter.

We don't have any particular art plan, but do things as they come up - some English/Reading assignments involve drawing pictures or coloring, he cuts and glues his Bible flash card every day, we make geography flash cards, and we recently made salt dough Christmas ornaments using a recipe on a Reading Comprehension assignment for following directions!

In first grade, Dino's goal in reading was to find a book in the library each week with the fewest words as possible. He has made a huge turnaround in the past 3 months, finding books that he actually enjoys reading, and declaring that he *loves* to read! That, if nothing else, is a huge success in my book!

08 November 2014

Recipe - Potato Cakes

I used leftover mashed potatoes to make these fried potato patties.

Potato Cakes

1/4 cup Canola Oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) Butter
2 cups Cold Mashed Potatoes
1 egg
Optional add-ins: see note
1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
Salt and pepper

Heat oil and butter in a wide skillet on Medium heat.

Put the flour in a bowl or pie pan.

Combine mashed potatoes with the egg and any add-ins. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the mixture, shape into a patty, and dredge both sides in flour.

Fry for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack to drain and season immediately with salt and pepper.

NOTE: Optional add-ins could include any combination of the following: 1/4 cup corn, 2 Tbs. diced onion, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, 2 tsp. dried chives, 2 Tbs. bacon bits, etc.
I added in leftovers that I had on hand - corn and diced onion.

07 November 2014

Recipe - Meatloaf

This meatloaf was a hit with both Tim and Dino!

for the meatloaf:
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef (I used 80/20)
1 egg
1/2 cup Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
7 oz. Italian Seasoned Canned Diced Tomatoes (half of a 14-oz. can)
1/2 Onion, Finely Diced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

for the topping:
1/4 cup Ketchup
1 Tbs Prepared Mustard

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Combine all the meatloaf ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Do not over-work the mixture. Transfer to a greased loaf pan and smooth out the top. Place in preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Combine the topping ingredients and spread on top of the half-baked meatloaf. Bake for another 30 minutes. (I like to add the topping half-way so that it doesn't burn)

Remove from the oven after a total of 1 hour of baking. Cool slightly, slice, and serve!

We ate our meatloaf with green beans, potatoes, and rolls.

06 November 2014

Recipe - S'mores Cookies

S'mores Cookies
These cookies are loaded with Graham Cracker crumbs, chocolate, and marshmallows!

Note: To make graham cracker crumbs, place graham crackers into a large zip-top plastic bag, and use a rolling pin to crush crackers into fine crumbs. 

1-1/2 cups finely crushed Honey Graham Crackers
1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter, melted
1 can (14 oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 cups chopped Chocolate Candy Bars or Semisweet Chocolate Chips
Mini Marshmallows (or full-size marshmallows, cut into 4 pieces each)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.

In another mixing bowl, beat butter and sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Add crumb mixture and stir until smooth. Fold in chocolate chunks/chips.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, and lightly press a marshmallow piece on top of each.

Bake 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and the marshmallow is puffy and toasted.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

12 August 2014

What Students Remember

Today I read this article by Lori Gard on Pursuit of a Joyful Life:
What Students Remember Most About Teachers

I have very few memories of elementary school. I remember sitting at round tables in Kindergarten, with gigantic tri-fold cardboard dividers around our tests at the end of the year. I remember my Kindergarten teacher making green eggs and ham on a hot plate in our classroom. And I remember running in the field outside for recess, with the boys labeling every hole in the grass a "booby trap" and being appalled that the teachers let them say a bad word! Ha!

In 1st grade, I remember getting gigantic pink plastic-frame glasses, and I remember sitting on carpet squares in the front of my classroom to listen to Mrs. Duvall read James and the Giant Peach.

I don't remember 2nd grade at all. My mom said we did a lot of worksheets that year, and not much else, so it's no wonder.

My 3rd grade teacher was amazing. Mrs. Goodwin had class pets - a hamster that we could pass around in a container to pet, and an aquarium with a sea anemone! She would roll in the tall TV cart for us to watch episodes of Fat Albert and let us draw on long strips of paper. I remember doing Sweatin' to the Oldies videos in the gym for PE. Before winter break, we did a class play in which I was one of 3 kittens who had lost our mittens. We wore footie pajamas (blue, pink, and yellow - I probably picked pink) and my mom made cat ears out of matching colored felt and plastic headbands.

I started private school in 4th grade, and I have a lot of school memories from then on out.

Not one of those early memories has anything to do with the theme or decorations in the teacher's classroom, or homework assignments, or grades. I am sure they were there, and I am sure they enhanced the experience, but they were not the focus.

Dino is 7 years old now, old enough to remember just about anything he sees or does. He is entering the 2nd grade. I don't know what exactly he will remember, but I want him to remember being, as the article I mentioned at the top says:

Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.

11 August 2014

Almost Show Time!

School starts this week!!! We intend to keep to the same school year calendar as the local public school, so that Dino will have the same days off as his friends. That way, he is not stuck "doing school" when the neighborhood kids are on break and want to play.

Unfortunately for Dino, the first day of school is going to start with a 9am dentist appointment to get some cavities filled.... But that means we will give him a very light schedule for the first day of school: The Magic School Bus videos and maybe a couple of easy worksheets once he comes out of the Nitrous Oxide fog!

I have read about some homeschooling families who have an annual celebration of their first day each year. A "not going back to school" party could include ice cream for lunch, staying in pajamas all day, or a movie day! It sounds like Dino's first day this year might set up a first-day tradition like these!

Day 2 of school will start the real daily schedule.

I sat down last evening and planned out the first couple of weeks. Dino was so excited to see all of the newly organized school supplies! He was so excited to get started that he put together a puzzle of the U.S. and started labeling a blank map with the states. Learning happens all the time, not just during school hours!

Last week, we mailed our Letter of Intent to Homeschool to the local school board Director of Pupil Personnel, as required by our state. I sent it Certified Mail so that they would have to sign for it, and I got a receipt back confirming that they received it. As a courtesy, I also sent a copy of the letter to Dino's former public elementary school so that they could remove him from his teacher assignment before school starts.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

04 August 2014

School Options

I have already shared how we reached our decision to Homeschool. I am so thankful that we Americans have options for educating our children as we choose.

There are three options for educating children in the U.S. - public school, private school, and home school. All have their pros and cons.
*Public school is paid for by taxes and is free for the most part, though there could be some fees, especially in high school.
+Private school is varying degrees of expensive, and you also have to pay for the consumable workbooks and possibly text purchase or rental fees.
=Home school costs as much as you want it to. There is usually a large start-up costs for textbooks, workbooks, and supplies that would normally be provided by the school, but you may be able to recoup some of the money by reselling your textbooks.
Extracurricular cost:
*+Public and private school will have fees for extracurriculars (band, sports, field trips), though there may be funding from the school or fundraisers to help offset that cost.
=Homeschool extracurriculars are paid for entirely out-of-pocket. Homeschool groups may qualify for group discount rates for field trips.
*Public schools have requirements set by the country, state, county, and local school board.
+Private schools each set their own education requirements, though there may be some state or local influence.
=Each state has its own laws for homeschool requirements, but it is an option for any family in any state. Some states require certain concepts be taught in certain grades, and some states require that you disclose your chosen curriculum.

Class size:
*Public school classrooms are typically quite large, with one teacher trying to meet the needs of 20 or more students. Our county has an ideal maximum of 22 students per class, but there are often more than that.
+Private schools typically have a smaller ideal class size, giving each student more personalized attention. They accomplish this by capping enrollment or hiring more teachers to lower the student-to-teacher ratio.
=Homeschool class size is only dependent on the number of children you choose to educate at home. You already know your own child's needs intimately, so you are able to challenge them and focus on things with them as they personally need.

*Public schools are required to take whomever they get and provide each child an equal education. (This is hard to do, no matter what school option you choose!) Children learn to play and work with other children from varying backgrounds, religions, and races.
+Private schools are allowed to be choosy about whom they accept as students, so children may not be exposed to as much diversity, but you know that they are around other families whose beliefs are similar to your own while they are young and impressionable.
=Homeschoolers obviously get the "short end of the stick" when it comes to socializing with a group of like-aged children, but in my experience, homeschooled children often have a much more diverse group of friends because their families make a point to socialize with many other families.

One thing to note is that there are also cottage schools or homeschool co-op groups in many places, which provide an option in between private and home schooling. Students meet together at least one day a week for group classes, which may be core classes (Reading, Writing, Science) or elective classes (Karate, Astronomy, Cooking, Music). These provide the students with an opportunity to learn together with other children in a classroom setting and expose the students to teaching methods other than your own, which will benefit them in the long run. Most of these utilize the parents as teachers, assistant teachers, and administrators, to keep costs down. Some of the higher grades may bring in professionals for things like advanced math classes, at a higher cost.

We may consider a one-day-a-week parent-led co-op for the Spring 2015 semester, but registration is already full for Fall 2014.

We chose to home school this school year because it is the best fit for our family right now. It will be the best way to meet Dino's needs today. We will see how it goes, and decide next year whether to continue homeschooling or make a change.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

28 July 2014

The Cost of Homeschooling

Our first official homeschooling purchase was a pair of $1.99 writing tablets from Walmart, one for printing and one for cursive. Dino has been begging since last Christmas to learn cursive. Tim told him to practice printing neatly, and when he had that down, we would teach him how to write in cursive.

Next I bought two Complete Curriculum workbooks (2nd and 3rd grade) and two in-between-grade "summer" workbooks from Sam's Club for math, spelling, reading, and reading comprehension worksheets.

Tim and I picked up 30 classic chapter books from a flea market. Most were "Great Illustrated Classics" like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Three Musketeers. I'm not counting these in our school cost, since we would have bought those anyway for our home bookshelf.

We bought notebooks, pencils, and erasers, pencil boxes, and all of the other regular school supplies from Walmart. These don't really count either, since we would have gotten those for public school anyway.

Tim picked up several math games and flash cards from some neighborhood yard sales.

And I bought puzzles, math games, states-and-capitals flash cards, and a few other school supplies from Dollar Tree, where everything is $1. I was surprised by the variety of school supplies stocked in Dollar Tree in June!

My biggest purchase was the Life of Fred elementary math book series. The 10 books are used for several grades. Since they are textbooks (not write-in workbooks), I will be able to resell them for the full price. Initial investment cost was $140, but I will get that full cost back when we are finished with them.

I also purchased the 7-book series of Sonlight Sequential Spelling books. I bought the set for about $90 on eBay, and like the Life of Fred books, I should be able to resell them around that cost.

I still want to get a book for music class, either piano or recorder, I think.

I splurged and ordered the Well Planned Day Family Homeschool Planner, July 2014 - June 2015.

I'm sure I will think of something else between now and then that I just have to have. We will definitely utilize the public library, and take advantage of local museums' homeschool days for discounted field trip rates. It looks like it will cost us right about $100 for this year's disposable homeschooling supplies, not counting textbooks which we will get our money back on resale.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

21 July 2014

2014-2015 2nd Grade Homeschool Daily Schedule

Below is what I came up with as a beginning schedule. This is just a starting point, and I'm sure we will end up moving some things around as we get going and see what really works best for us.

I don't know yet whether Dino will respond better to a strict schedule or a flexible one. Since everything is broken up into 30-minute blocks, I may print them out and let Dino rearrange them from week to week, if sticking to my schedule is difficult for him. Giving him some control over the schedule may make him more eager to follow it.

8:00 - Breakfast
8:30 - Morning Chores
9:00 - Worksheets
9:30 - Bible
10:00 - Handwriting
10:30 - Snack; Mom Read Aloud
11:00 - Dino Read Aloud (M-Th) or Cooking (F)
11:30 - Computer (M/W) or Music (Tu/Th) or Cooking (F)
12:00 - Lunch Prep
12:30 - Lunch
1:00 - Gym Day (M) or Reading Alone (Tu-F)
1:30 - Gym Day (M) or Math and Spelling (Tu-F)
2:00 - Gym Day (M) or Science/Geography (Tu/Th) or Art (W) or PE (F)

Morning chores will consist of making the beds, getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc. I won't make him get dressed if he does ok in his PJs, as long as he gets dressed by lunch time. I've heard some kids do fine in their jammies, but some people really need to get dressed in order to feel like their day has really started and to get focused.

I tried to separate hand-intensive subjects from each other (worksheets, handwriting, computer/music) so he doesn't get physically fatigued. I also separated reading aloud from reading alone to give him a mental break.

I put reading alone right after lunch so that I can use that time to clean up from lunch.

Science, PE, and Art are at the end of the day so that we can take longer with them if we want to, like if we go somewhere for a hike together for PE. Monday's PE will be in a church gym with other local homeschoolers. He already plays with our neighbor kids almost every day after school, so he has several hours of recess time, and I'll make sure he gets up and moving during the day whenever he is restless!

He can help me make lunch (he's really been into that lately), and I want to do some baking with him on Fridays. We'll make cookies, bake bread, or cook something for lunch. This will teach him life skills as well as science and math.
We will make time for other life skills around the house also, like laundry and cleaning. He is quite old enough to do a fair amount of chores now, which will help teach him how to take care of his own house when he is grown. I cannot tell you how many young men graduate from high school and have no clue how to make themselves a meal or do laundry, because their mom or sisters always did it for them! Boys need to know how to run a house, just like girls need to know how to change a tire. Wait, didn't I already rant about this once before on the blog? Hang on......

Yep! Here you go: Geek Girls

Back to the topic at hand.

There is a lot that I have crammed into this year's goals. We may or may not accomplish everything, and that is ok. All we really want is for Dino to learn and grow, and I have no doubt that will happen. He is a great kid who is self-motivated, driven to investigate, and loves to learn!
Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

14 July 2014

2014-2015 2nd Grade Homeschool Weekly Plan

The long-awaited plan! This is what we have come up with so far. I purchased 2nd and 3rd grade "Complete Curriculum" workbooks at Sam's Club. They have worksheets for spelling, reading, reading comprehension, and math skills. We will use these as a jumping-off point. Dino can breeze through the easy ones, and we can focus more on the skills he isn't as familiar with. These should give him some "easy" work to start each day with.

I have also purchase the Life of Fred elementary curriculum. It is primarily a math curriculum, but it includes reading comprehension, history, and life skills as part of each lesson.

For science and geography, we will do a lot of hands-on activities: go on nature hunts, study anatomy diagrams online, and flip through a good ol' paper atlas for geography.

I have writing tablets, notebooks, and lap-sized chalkboards and whiteboards to use for handwriting.

All of this is extremely flexible, and will likely change and evolve as we go through the year, so that we can focus on his education gaps and on things that he expresses more interest in.

Five Days a Week:

o Bible - Scripture memorization, Memorize the books of the New Testament, Daily Bible story to read and discuss
o Reading - Alone (silently by himself)
o Breakfast & Lunch - Obviously
o Chores - Make beds, Get dressed, Brush teeth, Do laundry, Clean house, etc

Four Days a Week:
o Math, Spelling, Reading Comprehension - worksheets; math focus: multiplication, fractions, and telling time; Life of Fred
o Reading - Aloud (Dino to Mom, Mom to Dino)
o Handwriting - Cursive writing tablet, Journal

Twice a Week:
o Science - Anatomy (Human, Bugs, Animals), Biology (Plants)
§ Alternate in a unit of Geography
o Computer - PBS Kids website and other educational web games, Typing practice
o PE - Exercise videos (aerobics, yoga, etc), Walk, Hike, Bike ride, Gym Day on Mondays
o Music - Piano and/or recorder (his choice)

Once a Week:
o Arts and Crafts - Color wheel, Shading, Shapes, Make gifts (Christmas, etc)
o Cooking - Bake bread and treats on Fridays to learn measuring, fractions, and chemical reactions!
o Cub Scouts - Monday evenings

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

07 July 2014

Homeschooling FAQs, Part 5 of 4

What follows is the fifth weekly post with questions that we frequently hear when we say we are going to homeschool. You gave me your questions and comments, so now there is fifth post!

You asked me:

Do you have to take training, or get any kind of certification?

No. My state does not require any particular training or certification for parents to teach their own children.

Do they provide all the materials?

No. Who is "they"? No, we must select all of our own teaching materials. We have selected our books and supplies to teach from. My state does not mandate the use of any particular books, and does not have any approval authority over our chosen curriculum. My state legislature concluded that that would go against the very intent behind homeschooling.

Will you be in a Homeschool Co-op?

No. We will participate in a weekly gym time with other homeschoolers, and may join in field trips, but all of our educational time will be at home. I would consider a co-op if our child was older and in classes harder than what I am comfortable teaching, or if Dino needed to be in a group setting to learn best.

Will Dino have to take tests to make sure he is being taught the right stuff?

No. There are standardized tests with various companies that we can choose to order, and some schools offer to include homeschoolers when they test their students at the end of the school year, but there are no requirements by my state to do so.

Next week, I will be discussing our chosen curriculum and daily schedule.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

30 June 2014

Homeschooling FAQs, Part 4 of 4

What follows is the fourth weekly post with questions that we frequently hear when we say we are going to homeschool. Please leave your questions in the comments section, and there may even be a fifth post!

What curriculum are you going to use?

We are going to use a variety of resources instead of just one curriculum.

I grew up on the A Beka Book curriculum, which is great in English Language Arts. The Spelling, vocabulary, Reading, Poetry, and Grammar are all related - for example, one week's spelling and vocabulary words are reinforced in that week's reading selection. But A Beka is weak in the areas of Math and Science. Because of that, many private schools are switching to the Bob Jones curriculum, which is much stronger in those areas.

We are going to encourage Dino's math and reading, which he is already advanced in, but put an emphasis on areas that we feel have been lacking, like science and handwriting and geography. He is very interested in human and animal anatomy, so we will start with that in science. He very much wants to learn how to write in cursive, so we will teach him that. And he is totally confused by geographical concepts (how can two cities have one state?), so we will do some map studies.

Dino has graduated from picture books to chapter books, so we are working on building up our own bookshelves, and we will be spending a lot of time at the local public library for a variety of resources.

What will your day-to-day schedule look like?


I have written up a proposed schedule that we will start from, but I am sure we will deviate from that strict schedule quite often. Right now, I have everything divided into 30-minute blocks, with breaks for morning snack/reading and lunch. I plan to start around 9:00 am and be finished by 2:00 pm. The core classes will be Monday through Thursday, with more fun stuff on Friday. We will follow the same schedule of days as the local public school, so that he will be out of school on the same days as his friends. It would be terrible for him to be cooped up doing school while his friends are outside playing!

I may even give Dino the option to create his own schedule at some point. He can spread out subjects through the week, as I have it now. Or he may choose to do all of the week's reading on one day of the week, all of the math on another, etc.

What about socialization?

I read something a while ago that really spoke to me: "Forced association is not socialization." When you send a child to a school, he is forced to associate with the children in his assigned classroom. Dino was not socializing with any of his school classmates outside of school. We did not know any of those families! We are active in our church, Dino is in Cub Scouts, and our neighborhood has lots of great families with kids (he is playing outside or at their houses at every opportunity)! Dino has *plenty* of opportunities to socialize with other children and families that we are close to as a family.

It is important to me that Dino is growing as a person and learning how to grow up to be a good adult. This is one of the things that is attractive to me about Tim - he teaches Dino how to be a good man.

"It's not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings." -Ann Landers

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

23 June 2014

Homeschooling FAQs, Part 3 of 4

What follows is the third weekly post with questions that we frequently hear when we say we are going to homeschool. Please leave your questions in the comments section, and there may even be a fifth post! 

What does Dino think about it?

He is really excited! Dino is looking forward to Mom's new job as his own personal school teacher. He seems to think he won't get in trouble for talking any more.... He won't get in trouble for talking to other students, but he still might get scolded for just talking too much in general! :-p

We haven't talked with him yet about the specific details of the daily schedule, but we have told him that he won't have to get up so early, and a homeschool day is shorter than a regular school day. There are no transitions (stand up, push in your chair, line up, walk to another room, find a chair, sit down, everyone get settled...), and it's all about one student all day instead of trying to fit in time for everyone in the classroom.

Is it legal?

Yes. Kentucky is very homeschool-friendly. In our state, it is the parents' responsibility to educate their children, and it is completely the parents' decision how to best accomplish that - whether public school, private school, homeschool, or some combination (like part-time cottage school). Kentucky requires that we notify the local board of education of our intent to homeschool during the first two weeks of school. The legislature does not require approval of the textual materials chosen by the private or home school, nor does it have any certification requirements of those teachers.

Are you qualified?

Kentucky does not require a teaching certificate or college degree in order to teach (that is a requirement put in place by individual local school boards). But if you are reading this post, you want to know... I have a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Speed Scientific School of the University of Louisville. I have seven years of experience working as an Electronics Engineer and three years of experience working as an Information Technology Specialist. This is not a teaching degree or experience, and certainly would not qualify me for elementary education in a school. But I am qualified to teach my own child simply because he is my child. My husband and I know how he thinks and learns. We know that he will thrive homeschooling this year, and perhaps longer.

Are you going to homeschool every year?

We plan to homeschool this year. We will pray about it and see what we think is best for our family each year.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

16 June 2014

Homeschooling FAQs, Part 2 of 4

What follows is the second weekly post with questions that we frequently hear when we say we are going to homeschool. Please leave your questions in the comments section, and there may even be a fifth post! 

What made you choose homeschooling over private school?

We think homeschooling will be best for Dino this year for a number of reasons. The primary reason is so that we can do both second and third grade materials this school year. His birthday is only 4 days after the kindergarten cutoff, so he has been the oldest in his grade. He is advanced above his grade - testing at the end of first grade showed him at the end of third grade level in reading and math. So we think it will be best for him to fill in a few second and third grade skills that he needs, and move him on up to where he is academically, rather than keeping him in a specific grade schedule decided by his birthday.

We did consider the local private Christian school, but they would not be able to tailor his education like we are planning to this year. Also, I am planning to resign from my job at the end of summer anyway to be a stay-at-home mom/wife, so we would not be able to afford private education without my additional income.

Why are you quitting your job?

For several reasons. Once we got married, I moved in with my husband. His house is over an hour away from my workplace, putting me on the road for 2.5 hours each day. That is 2.5 hours, plus work time, that I don't get to spend with my family. I am exhausted and frustrated. I only get to see Dino for about 2 hours each day, which is taken up with dinner and getting him ready for bed. We don't get any fun time to enjoy together.

My husband wants to be the breadwinner for our family. I want to contribute in some way to the household income, but not be the primary earner.

In my current job, I am away from home for 11 hours a day (1 hour 15 minutes driving there, 8 hours work with 30 minute lunch break, 1 hour 15 minutes driving back). There is no time or energy left at the end of the day for me to take care of household chores, to make our house a home, to take care of our child's needs, and also to spend time with my husband.

We did not decide for me to resign from my job for the purpose of homeschooling; the opportunity to homeschool is just a bonus to my choosing to be at home.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

09 June 2014

Homeschooling FAQs, Part 1 of 4

Dino is finished with First Grade! Yay! 
We have decided to educate him at home next school year. 

What follows is the first weekly post with questions that we frequently hear when we say we are going to homeschool. Please leave your questions in the comments section, and there may even be a fifth post!


Because Dino is not thriving in school. He is bored. He has hardly learned anything in his first grade classroom that he did not already learn in kindergarten. Because he is way ahead of the class in reading and math. Because he is OCD wants to do things correctly, but his first grade teacher refused to correct his handwriting/grammar/spelling/punctuation, because she was so focused on getting their thoughts on paper, even when he would ask her. He would come to us with his writing after school and ask us to correct it so he could do it better the next time.

What made you decide to pull him out of the school he's in?

His school puts such an emphasis on reading and math that they are neglecting other areas of study. He had spelling words each week, but the teacher would not spellcheck his writing assignments even when he asked her. He was put in a "special" math group, but it was only once a week, all they did was play games to reinforce what the first grade class was doing (so... wouldn't that have helped everyone? he wasn't learning anything additional...), and it was during the class's science time so he had to miss science to go. Later in the school year, their schedule was reworked so that there was no science for the class at all, to make more time for more reading and math. There was no history, social studies, or current events. His handwriting declined instead of improved, because the teacher was not doing any correction or instruction in that area.

Let me clarify that his teacher is very sweet. She cared very much about the children in her classroom. But this was her very first year of teaching (fresh out of college!), and she was teaching the minimum requirements of the county. She did everything "by the book." And while she recognized that Dino was ahead of the rest of the class (she even kept a portfolio of his work), she just didn't know what opportunities were available for an advanced child.

Had we known before first grade that he would be so far ahead, we would have pushed for him to skip to a second grade classroom. At this point, we feel that he has missed a year of learning opportunity, and keeping him in that school will just continue to hold him back.

Check out all of my homeschooling posts!

05 June 2014

Medical Records

Several of my friends have posted this article on Facebook this week:
I. Am. The. Mom.

Have you read it yet? Go ahead. I'll be here when you get back.

Did you read it? Ok, let's proceed.

Most of my friends skim over the article and nod along with this mom, fighting for her rights as a parent, accusing the doctor's office of talking to her child about all sorts of horrible things like government propaganda, feminism, and reproductive health (a.k.a. sex). Ohmygosh, not sex! Anything but sex! Wait, she's a mom. There is a good chance she knows what sex is. And her 17-year-old daughter probably knows about it too. And there is also a good chance that her daughter has heard about it and discussed it with people other than her parents. And if she's going to discuss it with someone other than her parents, wouldn't a medical professional whom she trusts be a good person?

Please read the author's two follow-up articles:
Who's in charge?
That escalated quickly

First of all, as the author points out, the state law does not actually mandate a private conversation. What it mandates is the teenage patient's access to his own medical records and the right to internet privacy of those records. That state also gives doctors the right to provide reproductive care to a minor without parental consent, but that has been the case for years.

Second of all, so what if the doctor or nurse wants to speak with your teen about, well, *any* medical topic? So what if your teen wants to talk to a medical professional about his own medical health without you there? I saw it well-phrased in someone else's comment (I don't recall whom): What is that nurse going to say to your child in 5 minutes that would undo a lifetime of being brought up under your guidance?

I remember going to the doctor when I was a teenager myself, and my parents gave me a right to privacy. I always wanted them to go back with me when I first went into the room (so I wouldn't be alone and bored, and they would remember the conversation with my doctor better...), but if there had to be an exam or a gown change, they would wait in the waiting room if I asked. I was, and am, a private and modest person. My parents respected that, which made me respect them more.

It is absurd to deny a 17-year-old basically-an-adult the right to a private conversation with her doctor. Your child is her own person. She is going to grow up and have some beliefs that are the same as yours, and some beliefs that are different. That is ok! Love her. Respect her. Teach her how to grow up, how to be responsible and independent. Don't spend your last days with her as a minor trying to push her back down into the little girl that she used to be, totally dependent on you for everything. Trust her to make her own decisions, the right decisions for herself.

02 June 2014

Bread with Butter and Jelly

Dino asked me for a snack the other day.

"Sure! What would you like?"

"Bread. With butter and jelly."

This kid loves bread! Doesn't even need it toasted - just soft, fresh bread. It would have taken me maybe 20 seconds to get up from the couch where I was reading to fix it for him, but it was a good opportunity to teach instead.

I replied, "Ok, go for it!"

After an awkward pause, Dino thought maybe he just hadn't asked politely yet. "Would you please get me bread with butter and jelly?"

"Actually, you can reach all of those things. You can get it yourself," I said with a smile.

Dino was excited at the opportunity. I gave him pointers about butter knives vs. teaspoons, and to put the bread on a napkin instead of straight on the table, but I mostly kept quiet while he figured out how to do it himself.


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

30 May 2014

How Moms Feed Their Babies

Dino said to us over dinner last night that he'd like for us to have a baby, so that he could have a little brother or sister. I assured him that if God chose to give us a baby, we'd let him know, but He hasn't yet. Dino replied that he would already know, because my belly would be big! Tim told him that it doesn't actually show for a few months after pregnancy starts.

That led to a series of questions that made us practice our belief in answering those questions when they are asked, with no more and no less information than exactly what was asked. When he asked how babies eat, we told him how mothers make milk for them. He has seen puppies and piglets nurse from their mothers, so he was already familiar with the concept of nursing in the animal kingdom. We spoke briefly of breasts and nipples.

I showed him a clip from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood about how animal and people moms feed their babies. I love this video because it shows real human anatomy, the way it is supposed to function, in a manner that is respectful and appropriate. (skip to 2:43 to pass the ventriloquist dummy lead-in)

Then he asked how you know whether a baby is a boy or girl when it is born, and we answered his question using real anatomical terms, without joking or giggling. "You look between the baby's legs. If it has a penis, it is a boy. If it has a vagina, it is a girl." Dino was perfectly satisfied with this brief explanation, and we went on about the rest of our evening.

I remember my mom always being open with me about human nature, anatomy, and even sex. So many of my friends' parents would get embarrassed when their children raised questions like that, and wouldn't answer them ("ask me again when you're older") or would answer them with wrong or dumbed-down information (storks, wee-wees, baby fairies...). I appreciated being able to ask a straight question and getting a straight answer, and I intend to do that with my child as well.

I am ashamed to admit that he did ask a couple of months ago about how babies are born, and I was caught off guard and didn't give a very good answer. If we do get pregnant, though, the question will come up again and I will be more prepared to give him the straight answer that he needs!

20 May 2014

Cold Camping: Update, Part 2

When we woke up early Saturday morning after a chilly 42-degree night in tents, Tim headed out to the Farmers' Market while Dino and I warmed up around the campfire. The Scout leaders made biscuits in Dutch ovens in the campfire, and sausage and sausage gravy on the grill.

Dino and I left for a while to go do a soundcheck at our church. He was going to be in the Children's Worship Choir during the church service on Sunday morning. Apparently some critter (or family of critters) had crawled up into the attic over the sanctuary last week, so we were going to have the church service in the gym. Which meant a total overhaul of the audio-visual system. So instead of quickly going over the 4 songs they were planning, the kids had to sing their songs over and over for over an hour, to get all of the microphones and speakers balanced. Before heading back to the park, I treated Alex to the local frozen yogurt bar!

Back at camp, I was getting very sleepy, so I laid down in the tent for a while. I got up when sandwiches and chips were served for lunch. After lunch, Tim and I started taking down the tents and packing the cars back up. Granddad drove up to spend some time with Dino and see him get his Scouting awards after dinner. The 4 of us learned how to play Bocce Ball. We want to get a set for home!

Dinner was grilled BBQ chicken thighs and legs, hot dogs for the picky kids (like Dino), campfire-baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and salad. Yummy! After dinner, the Cub Scout leaders each got up front and presented each Scout's end-of-the-year awards. Dino crossed over from a Tiger Cub to a Wolf Cub Scout!

Dino was starting to feel weary of all the weekly meetings and such, but once he saw the schedule of activities planned for next year, he was totally on board! He will get to start participating in the next den as soon as school is out, so he will be in the Wolf den in summer day camp! Time for new uniform gear!!

19 May 2014

Cold Camping: Update

We made it! We survived 42-degree tent camping. Brrrr.... Dino slept in his very own tent, all by himself, all night long! Of course I forgot to take a picture of the tents.... Bad Blogger Mom!

Dino and I got to the park about 7pm on Friday. Tim was at a church softball game, so I started setting up the big tent while Dino ran to the playground with the other Scouts. I was just about finished when one of the dads walked up and said, "Well, I was going to offer to lend you a hand with that, but it looks like you've got it under control yourself...." There wasn't much he could do at that point. I have put up a tent or two in my day, thank ya very much!

After our tent was up, Dino got his tent out, laid it flat, put the poles together, and threaded them through. He helped stabilize the tent while I seated the poles in the corners. I made sure both tents were staked well, and Tim got there just in time to help carry all of the gear to the tents.

Tim had gotten 40-to-60 degree sleeping bags for each of us. They were only $16 each, and worth every penny. I put a quilt on the bottom of Dino's tent, layered a foam mattress topper between the quilt and the sleeping bag for comfort, and lined his sleeping bag with a soft blanket.

As the sun was starting to go down, the temperature also started to drop, and everyone huddled around the campfire for s'mores. It didn't take long for the sugar to wear off, and the boys started to get very tired. Dino put on his pajamas, dry socks, and a toboggan cap (to keep his head warm, since that's the only body part not inside the sleeping bag). He snuggled down into his sleeping bag and was out like a light. I had told him he could come into our tent during the night if he got too cold, but he slept soundly in the crisp air all night!

I, on the other hand, had to get up twice during the night.... At least the park had nice restrooms with real plumbing!

As the sun came up on Saturday morning, everyone began to wake up. Dino got up with a big smile on his face, proud of his new accomplishment and eager to do it again soon! :)

16 May 2014

Woodworking Maniak

~Woodworking Maniak~

I proudly announce the start of Tim's woodworking business! He has so far made a couple dozen cutting boards, several square cedar planter boxes, and wine bottle display holders! He is also starting to make game boards! You can find him in person every Saturday morning (May through October) at the Shelby County, Kentucky, Farmers' Market, and be sure to check out Tim's photos on his Facebook page!

Cutting Boards, Wine Displays, and Book Helpers - by Woodworking Maniak
Cutting Boards, Wine Displays, and Book Helpers - by Woodworking Maniak

18-inch square Cedar Planter Box - by Woodworking Maniak
18-inch square Cedar Planter Box - by Woodworking Maniak

Website coming soon!

15 May 2014

Chest Hair, Shutterfly Snafu, and Cold Camping

~Chest Hair~

A couple of weeks ago, Tim washed the dogs and dried them with an old bath towel. He hung the towel up to dry on the shower bar. Dino took a shower that night and accidentally used that towel to dry off instead of his own. He got his pajamas on and ran into the kitchen where I was loading the dishwasher.

"Mom! Mom!! Look! I have chest hair!"

I smiled and said, "Oh really?" and kept working on the dishes.

But he was insistent.... "No, really! I'm growing chest hair! Looook!!"

So I looked. Right in the center of his chest was a tangled mass of dark gray hair, just like our dogs' coats. "Bud, that's a clump of dog hair.... What towel did you use?"

He touched the hair and got a smirk on his face when he realized what had just happened. His face turned to disappointment as he brushed it away. Did he really think that he had just sprouted inch-long man hair in one day??

~Shutterfly Snafu~

I got a strange email from Shutterfly. Apparently I wasn't the only one. I wondered if Shutterfly knew something that I didn't....

Shutterfly apologized for their snafu congratulating thousands of recipients on their new bundles of joy! My email advised me to order thank-you notes to match the birth announcements that I bought did not buy.

~Cold Camping~

This weekend is the Crossover Campout for Dino's Cub Scout Pack. It had been in the 80s here until a cold front came through this week. It is supposed to be 41 degrees overnight. Brrrrrr! Dino is so excited to sleep in his very own tent by himself for the first time, but I don't know if he will make it through the cold night! Tim picked up 3 new 40-degree sleeping bags. They are the kind that zip together, so we might all end up snuggling up. We'll also have foam pads, pillows, and lots of blankets. Pray for warmth and sanity!

02 May 2014

Linkage, Volume 203

Internet is coming to NPR!
a memo from 1994 - my favorite part is the mandatory one-hour training session to get access to EMAIL

It's the Little Things
"My neighbor Dylon is a teen with autism. He is also obsessed with telephone poles."
via Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

Illusion Rings (video)
Lindzee - Amelymeloptical illusion
via The Bloggess

23 April 2014

Linkage, Volume 202

The Food Allergy Lifestyle
No, It's Not a Preference

Scratch or Sniff
The writer of NeonFresh (formerly NiceGirlNotes) now also has "a website for parents of kids with allergies, asthma, and eczema"!

The Kindergarten Tribes
"The story he weaves is about two tiny neighboring kingdoms known as Room 2 and
Room 3. Each kingdom houses about 25 citizens. Twice a day these kingdoms merge
on the playground. From this melding 5 main tribes with 5 distinct leaders have
arisen:  The Diggers, The Minecrafters, The Ballers, and The Superheroes and
The Girls."
via NeatoBambino

Squirrel Song (video)
Springer Spaniel Sees a Squirrel and Goes Nuts!
via Lambert and Lindsey

17 April 2014

Linkage, Volume 201

I haven't posted Linkage in almost a year!
Hope you enjoy the return, for as long as I can keep it up this time :)

TL;DR Wikipedia
Are Wikipedia articles way too long for you? Here are some "Too Long; Didn't Read" summaries.
via Neatorama

Glamping in the Beermoth
A Vintage Fire Truck That Has Been Converted Into A Hotel Room
via Neatorama
Read the reviews!

Spectacular Salsa - Paddy & Nico (video)
Well that was unexpected! Make sure you give it until the music speeds up.
via Sunny Skyz

17 March 2014


Inspired by Jono+Laynie

Gratefuls for this weekend:

1. I am grateful for the beautiful warm weather we had on Saturday, and the resulting
2. dinner outside on the back deck,
3. sight of hot air balloons flying over our city, and
4. backyard bonfire and marshmallows with neighbors.
5. I am grateful for wonderful neighbors with lots of kids for Dino to play with (and fight with, and make up again and play with some more!).
6. I am grateful for Touched Twice United and the amazing way they met the physical and spiritual needs of our community this past weekend,
7. and I am grateful to have been a part of it.
8. I am grateful for The Gideons International, and their mission to make the Bible available to anyone who wants it (They brought Spanish-English bilingual Bibles to give away at the Touched Twice clinic, in response to all of last year's guests' requests for Spanish-language Bibles!)
9. I am grateful for a church that jumps at the opportunity to help others, that strives to get everyone involved, and where my family feels at home every week.
10. I am grateful for Upward basketball, which gives our church kids a chance to socialize with each other, and brings the community together.
11. I am grateful for my incredibly generous and kind husband, who gives above and beyond for those who need.
12. I am grateful for an amazing little boy who has called me "Mom" consistently for the past week, making me beam with pride and tear up with joy every time I hear it.

25 February 2014

Orange Chicken

A month or so ago, I prepped a bunch of "freezer meals" - ingredients all chopped and marinated so that we could just pop them into the oven or slow cooker for easy weekday meals. One that I tried was Orange Chicken. The recipe sounded great, it smelled great while it was cooking a few weeks later, and it tasted pretty good that first night! It was chicken thighs, assorted veggies, and a sauce made from bottled bbq sauce, orange marmalade, and soy sauce. I am not going to give you the exact recipe, because it wasn't so great after all...

Dino disagreed about its greatness. As soon as he heard the name Orange Chicken, he wasn't too sure about it. He kept saying while it was cooking that he liked oranges, and he liked chicken, but he didn't like them together. We countered back - have you ever had them together? No... Then how do you know you don't like it?

When we served it up in bowls with rice for dinner, he was perturbed that it wasn't orange in color - the sauce was mostly brown, and it was tangy, not just sweet. He stared down that bowl, knowing that he wouldn't get dessert until he had eaten the prescribed amount (2 bites of chicken, and 1 bite of each kind of veggie - a little of everything, so you can really know whether you like it). He ended up not eating it but rather choosing to just go to bed instead! He needed the sleep, so we agreed.

The next day, he asked with a dejected sigh whether I would ever make Orange Chicken again. I told him maybe, but not for quite a while, since I like making different things at different times. Almost every day he asked me the same question until, after a few days of taking it for my lunch at work and getting very tired of it, I finally told him no, I would probably never make it again because I wasn't that crazy about it. He was so relieved!

Cut to last week. He's been very inquisitive about jail lately. He got a police station LEGO building set, complete with a 2-bunk jail cell. He has been asking about why a person would go to jail, and what it is like in jail. While we were trying to convey to him that jail is not a pleasant place, not a place that anyone would want to go, we said that there is nothing to do but chores (cook, clean, pick up trash...), and the food is boring and doesn't taste good. He perked up and asked with a grimace, "Do they serve Orange Chicken??"

10 February 2014

Recipe - Lasagna Soup

I am copying this slow-cooker recipe to my blog here, since pages on news sites tend to be archived after a while and I want to make sure I can get to it when I'm ready to make it!

I will probably use regular pasta sauce instead of the spicy "Arrabiatta" (though Wikipedia says it is supposed to be spelled Arrabbiata), so I left "spicy" out of my post heading.

Also, this was from a spot on the morning news featuring a grocery chain representative, hence all the references to Kroger and thier Private Selection brand.

Spicy Lasagna Soup
Makes 10 to 12 servings.

1-18 oz. pkg. Kroger Sweet Italian Sausage Links (sliced)
1 Green Bell Pepper (small diced)
1 Yellow Onion (small diced)
1-14.5 oz. can Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic
2 cups Private Selection Arrabiatta Tomato Sauce
1-32 oz. pkg.Kroger Simple Truth Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper (optional)
½ tsp.Kosher Salt
½ -16 oz. bag Private Selection Cavatappi

1-16 oz. pkg.Kroger Ricotta
¼ cup Kroger Deli Wholesome @Home Basil Pesto Sauce
Kroger Shredded Mozzarella

In the bottom of a large crock pot, add in Italian sausage.

Add in bell pepper & onion.

Over top, pour in fire roasted tomatoes, Arrabiatta sauce, & chicken broth.

Season mixture with crushed red pepper & salt. Lightly stir everything together, leaving the sausage at the bottom.

Cover and cook on low setting for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

For the last ½ hour, add in the pasta & cook on high until pasta is tender OR you can cook the pasta separately & add into your soup.

In a small bowl, mix together ricotta & basil pesto.

Serve soup piping hot with a dollop of the ricotta mixture on top & a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese.

Have some of our awesome Kroger Deli Hot French Bread & you have a perfect meal to beat the cold!

26 January 2014

Recipe - Chili Stew

I entered this recipe into my church's Chili Cook-Off tonight! It was the first time I have used chunks of beef instead of ground beef, which I wanted to try after the success of last week's Braised Beef with Rigatoni recipe, and this recipe starts out by searing the beef the same way. Since it uses "stew beef" I am calling this recipe Chili Stew. It is flavorful and colorful, and it has a Mexican flavor with cumin and black beans.

Inspired by this recipe on The Kitchn.

Amy's Chili Stew in the slow cooker, before simmering
Amy's Chili Stew

1 tsp canola or vegetable oil
1.5-2 lb stew beef (trimmed cubes from less expensive cuts, suitable for long/slow cooking)
1 Tbs canola or vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (red pepper)
1 cup hard apple cider (or amber ale)
1 can (14 oz) beef broth or stock
2 cans (14 oz each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 cans (16 oz each) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
2 cans (4 oz each) diced mild green chiles
Toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, crackers, cornbread, chopped green onions, hot sauce, diced avocado, etc...

Warm 1 tsp oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat (or you can use a skillet if you will be simmering the chili in a slow cooker). Sear beef cubes, in batches so that the pan is not crowded. Turn each cube at least once, and set aside in a bowl or deep plate when done. You will know that the beef has a nice brown crust and is ready to be turned when it releases easily from the pan. Don't worry about those brown bits sticking to the bottom - they'll be yummy soon!

In the same pot, add 1 Tbs oil and raise the temperature to medium-high. Add the onions and salt, and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook until softened, about 5 more minutes. Push the vegetables to the side and cook the garlic in the middle of the pan until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir into the vegetables. It is normal for a dark sticky crust to form on the bottom of the pan.

Add all of the seasonings to the vegetables and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the cider/beer into the pan, scraping up all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue stirring and scraping until the liquid has almost evaporated.
**If using a slow cooker, transfer the veggies there now.

Add the beef (and juices that may have seeped out) back into the pot, as well as the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook on low for several hours, until the beef is tender (slow cooker: Low for 6-8 hours). Use the back of the spoon to gently break up the meat toward the end of the cooking time.

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, crackers, cornbread, chopped green onions, hot sauce, diced avocado, etc...

Chili is often best the day after it has been cooked. It will also keep for up to a week and freezes well for up to three months. I like to freeze leftovers in individual portions for quick meals later!

22 January 2014

Recipe: Garlic-Parmesan Crescent Rolls

Garlic-Parmesan Crescent Rolls

1 can (8 oz) refrigerated crescent rolls
Garlic salt
Grated Parmesan cheese

Unroll crescents and separate into triangles. Sprinkle with garlic salt and parmesan. Roll up and top with a bit more garlic salt and parmesan. Bake according to package directions.

Recipe: Braised Beef with Rigatoni

Inspired by this recipe from Today, I made a freezer-to-slow cooker meal that was a big hit with my guys!

Braised Beef with Rigatoni

1.5 lb stew beef (trimmed cubes from less expensive cuts, suitable for long/slow cooking)
2 cans (14 oz each) beef broth
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
8-10 cloves garlic
2 Tbs dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped kale or arugula
1 lb rigatoni or your favorite pasta
grated parmesan

Sear beef cubes in a skillet over medium heat, in batches so that the pan is not crowded. Turn each cube once, and set aside when done. You will know when the beef has a nice brown crust and is ready to be turned when it releases easily from the pan. Once all the beef is seared, add one can of beef broth to the hot skillet, scraping up all the yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the tomato paste and tomato sauce. Add the beef (and juices that may have seeped out) back into the pan. If freezing for later, skip to footnote**

Transfer to a slow cooker or large lidded pot. Add the second can of beef broth, along with the garlic and sage. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Use the back of the spoon to gently break up the meat and garlic toward the end of the cooking time. Season with a little salt, plenty of pepper, and additional dried sage if desired.

To serve, cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and mix into the sauce with the chopped greens. Plate and top with grated parmesan. I served this with green beans and Garlic-Parmesan Crescent Rolls.

**Let the beef mixture cool completely. Add to a zip-top freezer bag with the garlic and sage. Seal, flatten, and label: "Add 1 can beef broth. Cook on Low 8 hours. Serve with Rigatoni and Parmesan."