Cooking, Homemaking

Promises kept

It is the 8th of October!  Wow.  I am finally back at the keyboard.  It has taken four weeks for me to get to where I can get my head above water from harvest season (and family emergencies).  Yeah!  We are almost there!  November is in sight.

Our family, including the grandchildren, has bottled, dried, cooked, frozen fruits and vegetables, and stocked the food room.  We have corn, peppers (in various forms), salsa, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, herbs, and other various and sundry foods prepared and ready for the coming cold weather.  Pears are next.  (I have three bushels in my kitchen calling my name.)  Then more salsa, peppers, and beans.  Apples can wait a week or two- thank heaven!   I may even put up some grape juice.

Seemingly unrelated, but not really, I was in my scriptures and came across these verses.

  • Psalms 23:5-Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…my cup runneth over.
  • Malachi 3:10-Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there my be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

My kitchen currently “runneth over”, and we are needing to reorganize in the pantry because there is not currently “room enough to receive it” without some focused planning.

I love this time of year.  The feeling of coming together.  Planning for the Holidays.  And the end of canning season.  It always served as a great reminder to me that the Lord keeps His promises to those who are faithful, and will bless us as quickly as we can accept what He sends!

Now, back to the kitchen…


Cooking, Home and Family, Uncategorized

Easy meals

The wedding is over!  Yeah!  We all got through it, and are so glad to have had a day where the entire family was together.  The bride and groom were happy with how things went, so I am considering the entire affair a huge success!  (I realize I have said that before, but I just have to crow.  It really took over our life, and will be in my thoughts for days to come!)

Back to real life.  I noticed the day after the wedding (Saturday) that I have tomatoes turning red in bulk.  The first planting of dried beans is ready to be harvested and shelled.  And there are three rows of corn that are ready.  The peaches should be ripe on the tree any day now.  And the beets are becoming rather colossal.  Time to take on a different aspect of “keeper of the hearth”.  Canning/freezing will continue for the next eight weeks or so.  Time to fill the food shelves, and prepare for the coming cold weather.  (I love autumn and the feeling of “circling the wagons” that comes with it.  And the food is yummy in January!)

Now to the title of this post.  What do you feed your family when you have all been in the kitchen all day, and everyone is tired of food prep?

Here are some of my favorite ideas:

  • Tacos- bottled black beans, spiced bottled chicken or hamburger, grated cheese, warm tortillas (from the store.  This is no time to make your own.), and whatever produce is ready from the garden.  Try them with tomato, cucumber, corn, and thinly-sliced pepper.
  • Grilled cheese and garden veg.  Easy comfort food that uses minimal dishes and allows for easy clean-up.
  • Mac-n-cheese and spam.  Slice the spam thinly on a mandoline, or cut into chunks, brown and then add to the mac-and-cheese.  Add applesauce and whatever veg you have to your plate, and chow down!
  • Stuffed tomatoes.  If I serve them for dinner, I don’t have to bottle them later.  Use tuna, egg, ham, or chicken salad.  Add cucs for crunch.  Yum!
  • Quesadillas.  A different take on grilled cheese.  Add meat or refried beans before you cook, and they can be filling and yummy.  Dip in sour cream, or salsa.
  • Now is the time to pull the chicken patties out of the freezer.  Serve on a sandwich, or with pasta and sauce for a quick chicken parmesan.
  • Turn bottled beef chunks into stroganoff or just a quick gravy, and serve over noodles, rice, or tater tots.  Add veg or fruit and it cooks up in a jiffy and feeds a hungry crew.

There are so many wonderful things to eat!  What are your favorite quick meals?


Home and Family

Take care Mom!

Wow.  It has been weeks since I have written anything.  And what a party those weeks have been!  The bridal shower for our new daughter-in-law is over.  The wedding was wonderful.  Having family and friends join us in the preparations and celebration of the main event created so many memorable moments!  It is time to hit the books for the new school year, and the garden is producing like crazy; the canner will be a fixture in my kitchen for the next six weeks or so.  Life is so full!


Photo by Emily Pearl Photography

On the down-side, I have over-extended just about everywhere.  The last few weeks have given me a completely new understanding of why Mom needs to take care of Mom.  I have batttled multiple infections, migraines, and other body challenges, my sleep schedule and naps became a distant memory, and I am just beginning to return to anything resembling competency.

What did I learn from all this?  A lot.

  • Take care of yourself.  Eat right.  Sleep.  Take a quiet walk or two.  Allow for time to pray, read, and ponder.  Although I am unsure what I could have changed during the craziest parts of the last month, I have surely come to appreciate the importance of taking time to recharge my batteries.
  • Ask for help.  We did, and it was amazing how many hearts opened.  We solidified old friendships, created new ones, and saw the Lord’s Hand in so many ways…large and small!
  • Have a budget for your time, money, and energy.  Know your limits and work within them.  There are so many things we wanted to do that ultimately didn’t matter.  And so many others that we were able to do because we worked to be aware, careful, and blessed.  While things will be a bit tighter for a bit, I am so grateful for the miracles we experienced through this!
  • Communicate.  Talk with those around you about limitations, plans, and needs.  Listen to what they have to say.  You may find some suggestions are worth their weight in gold.  And sometimes others just need to know what you need from them.
  • Attitude is everything!  While I felt lousy physically, I determined that I was not going to let my body get the better of me.  The shower was fun.  We laughed, shared, and visited.  The day of baking and cooking for the buffet table at the reception allowed for more visiting and great memories.  And the wedding day was marvelous.  Playing mom to both the bride and groom was exhausting, but I would do it again in a minute!
  • People are more important than things.  Focus on them.  While the hall was lovely, the food was yummy, and the gifts were greatly appreciated, the real memories involve the people who were there.  The bride and groom were radiant.  Our son and daughter-in-law were able to fly in from CA so that the entire family was all together.  So many of our family, and friends came and supported us.  There were a few glitches on the big day (The bride left her shoes at my house.  The hairclip we hunted and hunted to find so that my hair would stay out of my face disappeared until the day after the wedding.  Not everyone who wanted to be there could be due to car trouble, illness, etc.), but in the end, it was full of people, love, and peace.
  • Let go of what really doesn’t matter right now; some things will need to matter a bit more later.  My garden, canning, blog, and curriculum planning took a back seat to the other things happening.  As I get back into real life, they are still there, waiting for me to jump back in and get on with things.  And I will.  If I had tried to keep up with all of it as well as the planning, nothing would have been done properly and I would have ended up in bed or the hospital for way too long!
  • God is good.  The blessings and miracles we witnessed were myriad and memorable.

I am so grateful the wedding happened and is now in the rear-view mirror!  This autumn promises to be full of a flurry of activity.  My job is to take time for me, so that I can then take time for everyone else!  Take time for you too!


Treasure hunting

While I taught a workshop last Saturday, I was asked a question that has had me thinking ever since.  We were discussing curriculum, and they were looking over a few books I had pulled off my shelves, and writing down titles.  Then they asked if I preferred to order books online or purchase at second-hand stores.  Really made me think!  The answer: second-hand stores.  Why?  While they are generally cheaper, that is not the main reason.  I often find such treasures I didn’t know existed that it is worth my time to sort through the piles.  It is easy to order titles with which you are familiar from an online source (and I do from time to time), but there are books I have found while looking for something else which I now love and yet would never have known to purchase before I held them in my hand!

Here are a few of my discoveries:

  • Exploring Your World: the Adventure of Geography published by National Geographic Society.  This encyclopedic volume of geographical terms and pictures is beautiful and easy-to-use.  A must for geography study.
  • Mommy, It’s a Renoir published by Parent Child Press.  This paperback is full of ideas and activities to enhance your family’s art study- ways to study the Masters, and activities to help you appreciate what they accomplished.
  • If You’re Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank.  While this book was definitely written for use by a traditional classroom teacher, the hints, ideas, and other great information helped me approach the writing process from an entirely different angle!  Need help thinking outside the box?  This book does that!
  • We Had Everything But Money published by Reminisce Books.  This collection of stories and pictures from the Great Depression in America speaks to the greatness and resiliency of the American spirit.  While the Depression was a difficult and trying time, it allowed people to come together, work with what they had, and still manage to often build a happy life.
  • Milestones to American Liberty: the Foundations of the Republic by Milton Meltzer.  This volume contains beautiful artwork, copies of original documents, and the stories behind some of the most important writings in our nation’s history dealing with equality and freedom.
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.  I love the study of grammar and syntax; words are captivating for me, so this little book makes me smile every time I see the title on my shelf!  Truss picks apart the history and usage of punctuation for the English language.  While published initially in Britain, she has added information that applies to American punctuation as well. (Yes, they differ.)  Quite tongue-in-cheek, quoting classic and more contemporary pieces of the written word, and with obvious affection for the nuances of punctuation, this book is fun to read and always makes me think!

I am sure there are dozens more titles on my shelf that could be added to my list.  Maybe I will later!  But this sampling helps me recognize how much I gain when I take the time to explore the possibilities around me.

Happy hunting!

Home and Family, Homeschooling, Parenting

20 Years Later: Things I Would Do Again and Things I Wouldn’t

Things I would do again (and often wish I could)-

  • Read about home schooling, home schoolers, and education theory in general.  Talk to people who have been successful.  Get involved.  Learn enough to have a wide overview of my options- and then choose wisely.
  • Laugh.  A lot.  Find the humor in the hard days, the struggle, and the joy.
  • Find families that have great teens and ask how they got there.  I am so grateful to those willing to share with me.  (Great teenagers do not just fall from the sky that way.)
  • Have absolutes.  No double standards.  Your children will spot hypocrisy a mile away.  It is confusing and frustrating for them.  Help them learn what you value before the world has a chance to rewrite their value system.  Live what you preach.
  • Apologize to your children when you are wrong.  We all make mistakes.  Create learning experiences out of them so that your family can be comfortable knowing that it is okay to mess up.  The problem is being unwilling to work it out.
  • Limit screen time.  For years, our television lived in the closet.  It came out for special occasions, surgical convalescence, and holidays.  The computer was for academics.  It is easier to focus when the distractions are limited.
  • Put a stop sign on the front door.  Ignore the phone during academic hours.  Take the time you have with your children seriously and those around you will learn to as well.
  • Limit the junk.  Life is full of time-wasters, distractions, and wasteful options.  There are not enough hours in the day to waste them on things that do not build, feed, encourage, or edify.  Mere entertainment in not enough.
  • Remember – you are the model your children will follow.  You are the adult with whom they have the most contact.  You must choose to handle stress, the unexpected, the wonderful, the negative, and the shocking, with grace and control.  If you don’t, how will they learn to do so?  (I learned this a number of years into our family life by watching my children be “me”.  Not pretty!)
  • Identify the learning styles and personality types of your children.  We used the information we learned to not only “school” more effectively, but to help communication within our family.  Not everyone sees the world in the same way; recognizing the way others see it is a tremendous tool.  We learned to relate to each other better and be more patient with each other.
  • Have a schedule.  Success is much more likely if you are flexible within a framework than if you have no guidelines or expectations.  People are inherently lazy- adults and children alike.  Self-mastery comes from meeting expectations, having discipline, and consistency.  That applies to the parents as much as the children.
  • Have annual goals: Academic goals, spiritual goals, service-oriented goals, life and skill-related goals for each member of the family.
  • Begin the day with group time.  In our pjs.  With hot chocolate.  (Okay, get dressed if you must.)  But seriously, starting the academic part of the day together with an opening devotional, reading literature and history together, doing drill and memorization work as a group was such a great experience.  Sometimes it lasted for an hour; sometimes much more than that.  Having time with my children every day to discuss things, hear their thoughts and ideas, and just enjoy each other was brilliant.
  • Find a phone buddy.  Having a calm, supportive, and friendly adult to talk to on hard days helped me laugh at myself, see the humor in the struggle, and be a better mom to my kids.
  • Have my teenager’s friends in my home.  Do units in the summer with public school and home school kids.  (We did a few of these and they were SO fun.)  Bake cookies.  Host group date activities.  Feed them.  Even more fun, teach them to cook.
  • Take time for your marriage.  When the children leave home, and they eventually will, it is important to know how to spend time together as adults and communicate.  Nurture each other.

Things I would Not do again-

  • Get caught up in worrying so much.  You are the parent.  Be one.  Take the best from each idea or method you come across.  Leave the rest.  It’s your decision.
  • Spend so much on “stuff”.  I am a home school junkie.  I admit it.  If I had only found companies like Timberdoodle and books like The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (great resource lists) I could have saved a bundle!
  • Begin without any organization.  I overspent and duplicated too much by not knowing what I already owned.  You don’t need things to be perfect, just have a framework, a few ideas, and somewhere to put things!
  • Avoid things I disliked in school.  As I stopped feeling intimidated or disinterested in things, I found I love history, and really enjoyed art.  I can think scientifically.  And my children were more willing to try as they watched me learn with them.  Home schooling has given me a second-chance at my own education.
  • Tell another parent they should be home schooling.  I love to teach people how to do what we have been able to do, but I have learned to wait until asked.  Home schooling takes commitment, time, money, and patience.  It is not for everyone!  As we support others and the choices they make, our children will learn to appreciate and celebrate the differences in people.  What a great lesson to learn!
Finances, Homeschooling

Differences in curriculum

Confession: I am homeschool catalog junkie.  As a mom, I created our curriculum each year.  With very limited funds, we used what I could find second-hand or on major markdown, create myself, borrow from the library, and request from Grandma and Grandpa as gifts.  No apologies for what we did.  It worked well.  All my children went to college.  They were offered multiple scholarships, and both daughters graduated with honors.  (My sons have not completed their university educations, but are both at the top of their class and thriving!)  Each of them are contributing adults in the communities in which they live.  I wouldn’t change them for the world!

Now they are beginning their own families, and I am the Grandma.  More catalogs come in the mail than when my children were younger; there are so many more choices now.  I love it!  The games, curriculum options, and diversity of ideas is exciting!  As I watch my grandchildren grow, and work with other moms on curriculum planning, I am discovering these things all over again!  One reality I find most interesting and fascinating to explore is each child needs different things, and any budget can be effective with proper planning and focus.  There is no single perfect curriculum which is ideal for everyone.

Here is a sample of what I have learned.  In our home, we have spelling curriculum from Christian Liberty Press, Rod and Staff Publishers, and a copy of McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.  While all three are not strictly necessary, there are strengths for each one.  I used the McGuffey…Speller for my children.  It covered K-12, cost me $10, and was effective.  The other two series we have acquired for my grandsons.  Some copies were found second-hand; some we purchased new. I love the Christian Liberty Press books for J, my second grandson who is 5.  He is a dually-exceptional learner and does extremely well with consistent formats and review in logical steps.  Rod and Staff is what the 7 year-old is using.  He is highly gifted and loves that handwriting practice (currently cursive), critical thinking, and spelling are combined in one lesson.  We skip the minimal review sections, test orally, and move on to the next lesson as soon as he is ready.  He is currently in book 3, but will be moving into book 4 shortly.  If we were simply testing his spelling ability he would be in book 5, but because each lesson requires he understand and be able to use each word properly, and encourages a bit of thought, we backed up a bit.

As I expand the companies with which I am familiar, the need to understand how your children learn, and to have a budget seems more and more crucial.  If you have the need and/or desire, you can create your own plan for minimal expense and give your children the chance to soar.  If you are not comfortable creating your own plan, you can look into the myriad of options out there to meet the needs of your child.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and biases in each written curriculum.  World-views differ.  Some focus on traditional learners, while others are better suited for advanced and gifted learners who tend to require less practice, more information, and are able to infer connections differently than their peers.  Many are book and seat-work based, or you can find one which leans heavily on computer-use, or is focused on tactile learning.  If you hunt, the selections are seemingly endless.

The method of education you choose does not need to be dictated by your pocketbook.  Classical education supplies can be purchased in curriculum sets for hundreds of dollars or you can gather your own for much less.   Whether you lean towards child-led learning, Charlotte Mason, or some other method, you can teach for pennies or spend a ton on curriculum and fun stuff.  It is more important that you understand how your children learn, what their gifts are, and purchase (or create) from there.  Teaching your own just gets more and more exciting as time goes by!

My favorite catalogs are Timberdoodle, Veritas Press, Dover Publishing, and Critical Thinking Company.  What are yours?

Cooking, Finances, Homemaking

What’s for dinner?

One of the hardest tasks in any given week for me is meal planning.  Most of our meals require scratch cooking and so thought is required.  This would be easier if cost were no object.  Steak, salmon, etc. are quick, simple, and yummy, but the budget calls for more time thinking and a bit more creativity.  So we plan.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Pinto beans cooked in ham stock (home-bottled), rice (with a bit of the same stock), corn bread, apple slices, veggie strips, and, if I can locate it in the freezer, a bit of ham.  Cost?  Pennies.  But it is one of our families favorite meals.

What else is on tap in the coming days?

Leftover turkey (the freezer again) with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes (an easy way to use up the final bit of last autumn’s harvest),  garden corn and peas (love that freezer!), and some kind of bread with apple butter (home bottled).

Homemade fish sticks for fish tacos.  Served with tortillas, shredded lettuce and cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, taco sauce, sour cream, and just a bit of grated cheese.

Baked ziti (using home bottled tomatoes), salad, and bread.  Another favorite!

Sandwiches with crock-pot beef (save the broth when the meat is done, add a bit of soup base, and you have au jus for dipping), and fresh veg.

One night will be a “fend for yourself” dinner.  That’s the night we pull all the leftovers out of the fridge, and each assemble a plate from whatever is there.  Sometime lots of one or two things; sometimes just bits of this and that.  This meal often happens the night before I do the big monthly shop.  It is a great way to use up some left-overs, make room in the refrigerator, and it reminds me what I need to use creatively in the next day or so.

We generally plan our meals a week-ish in advance.  Planning any further ahead doesn’t seem to work at our house.  Food is something that connects with our emotions as well as feeds our bodies, so often we adjust to accommodate what we “feel like eating.”  I work off of the Pantry Principle, so the cupboards are stocked with most of what I need at any given time.  I shop for sales and mark-downs in order to replenish what we use.  (My favorite books for learning about the Pantry Principle are Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn.)

Other favorite meals include spaghetti and meatballs (with homemade sauce), enchilladas, salads, grilled cheese or quesadillas with fruit (and soup if it is cold), tuna casserole, chili, bbq chicken sandwiches, alfredo pasta with chicken, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and meal-in-ones (bread dough rolled as if for cinnamon rolls and filled with meat and a bunch of cheese.  YUM!).  Whatever meal we are serving includes lots of fruit and/or vegetables-sometimes fresh, sometimes bottled- so that out entire family develops the habit of eating more than just a protein and a starch.

The menus change with the seasons.  Spring is the time for strawberry shortcake, and clearing the cellar to make room for the up-coming growing season’s harvest.  In a few months, we’ll eat more things utilizing fresh garden produce and less meat.  In the middle of winter, we eat more meat and/or homemade soups with less fresh veg.  It is the most economical way to feed the family, and ensures that we are eating things when they are at the peak of the season for the best flavor.  The best of both worlds!

What’s for dinner at your house?