Family of N

Miscellaneous Homeschool Links

Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting by Laura on January 18, 2010

This has been sitting in my “Drafts” box for months, collecting lots of dust and not so many links. It occurred to me today that I could always post this link list now, and if more miscellaneous links came up, share them later. (Genius!) So, without further ado, here are some un-related homeschooling links that I’ve found most helpful:

Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing a Curriculum
Writing Composition
Composition Project Ideas
Dealing with Homeschool Bullies
How Experts are Made
Effective New School Years

5 Reasons to Keep Chicken Stock Stocked

Posted in Food, Frugality by Laura on January 11, 2010

The Professor and I roast whole chickens regularly, more as an excuse to make mashed potatoes than for the sake of the meat. After one of these meals, no mater how exhausted I am, I always force myself to stick the carcass in our slow cooker to make stock.* This means we always have homemade stock on hand.

Now, I’m not going to spend this post telling you why you should make your own stock. (Although, did you catch that this stock was made from chicken bones I was going to throw away anyway — as in, virtually free? At the grocery store, that much stock would cost you around $7!)

But, ahem, I’m not going to tell you that in this post. This post is an ode to chicken stock in any form, and a reminder to me that our freezer (or pantry, if necessary) should never be lacking this staple.

    1. Together with a frozen package of cooked, shredded chicken, it makes Chicken n’ Dumplings a weeknight meal.
    2. Together with a frozen package of cooked, shredded chicken, makes chicken vegetable soup** as sophisticated a culinary endeavour as a dump cake.
    3. Makes egg-drop soup*** the go-to elixir for anyone in the house who gets sick.
    4. You can have gravy**** with those mashed potatoes.
    5. You can use some of the stock in a yummy dressing to go with the roast chicken. I use Harmony’s recipe.

Below are my recipes from the easy dishes made with chicken stock:

*Overnight Chicken Stock
To a chicken carcass, add 8 cups of water, a couple bay leaves, some peppercorns, and remnants of onion, celery, or carrot if you have any. I like to cut up the bones some and add vinegar if I remember — this helps the bones release all those healthy nutrients. Then set the pot to low and forget about it till morning. (At which point, the overpowering smell of rich chicken stock will remind you again.) Strain and freeze.
**Might-As-Well-Be-Dump-Cake Chicken Vegetable Soup
Combine chicken, 6 cups stock, 6 cups tomato juice, and frozen soup veggies in stockpot or slow cooker. Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Cook for 2-10 hours.
***Egg-Drop Soup
Heat 6 cups chicken stock; season with salt, pepper, soy sauce, ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, and sesame oil if you have it. Beat 4 or 5 eggs in a separate bowl. When the stock reaches a boil, stir in eggs using swift strokes.
****Rich Chicken Gravy
If you scatter onion slices around your roast chicken before putting it in the oven, the roast chicken drippings make it a rich gravy. Remove all but a 2 Tablespoons of drippings from the roasting pan. Over high heat, mix 2 Tablespoons flour into the drippings in the roasting pan. Cook for a few minutes; you want the flour to brown some. Add 1 cup chicken stock, stirring over high heat till smooth and thick. Season to taste and strain.

(more…)

Chicken ‘n Dumplings

Posted in Recipes by Laura on January 4, 2010

This is a lazy-man’s adaptation of a heavenly recipe by Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe (available here) is far better, but on days when I don’t have time to make fresh stock and pick chicken meat off the bones (read: every day since Savannah was born!), I make it this way, and it’s still a rather tasty dish. I always have stock in the freezer and often already have the cooked, shredded chicken in the freezer, too. When those two ingredients are on hand, this dish comes together pretty easily.

Stew Ingredients
3 stalks celery, diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
oil for sauteeing
4-6 cups chicken stock
4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
6 Tbs flour
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken meat
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup milk (or heavy cream for special occasions)
1-2 Tablespoons buttermilk, or to taste
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves, or dried parsley to taste
Dumpling Ingredients
2 cups soft white wheat flour (cake flour or all-purpose flour will work fine)
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk (or milk)
Preparation
1. In a large stockpot, sautee onions, celery, and carrots in oil until soft.
2. Add chicken stock; bring to a simmer.
3. Mix 4 Tbs unsalted butter with 6 Tbs flour. Add to stock/vegetable mixture. Cook until thickened, then add chicken, milk/cream, a splash of buttermilk, thyme, and peas.
4. Meanwhile, make dumplings: mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Heat the butter and buttermilk to a simmer (we use the microwave). Make sure the milk mixture is hot — this makes a big difference in the texture of the dumplings.
5. Add buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until it just comes together. (Do not overmix.)
6. Roll dough into ~ 18 round balls and place on top of the chicken stew. Cover with a lid and simmer until the dumplings are done, about 15 minutes.

Books Read 2009

Posted in Homeschooling, Just for Fun by Laura on December 31, 2009

I’ve not been much of a reader since sometime around middle school, but I’m trying to start back… with children’s books. Please don’t laugh. I think of it like Debt Snowballing. I’m a slow reader, and it’s encouraging to finish a book every now and then.

It’s with a little embarrassment that I share my humble list for this year. I know for many people this would be a month’s worth of reading. I think I actually read all of these in the last six months, but I’m well aware that that’s still not very impressive.

  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Little House in the Big Woods
  • Understood Betsy
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Little House on the Prairie

All I can say is, I’ve had to fight to find the time to read even this many! Savannah is so taken with books that we have had to turn her bookshelf to face the wall, because she used to make a beeline for it any time the door to her room was open, and would proceed to unload the shelves if she got there before one of us did. She loves fanning through the pages of a real paper book, although we rarely give one to her because, um, pages get ripped out.

So needless to say, when I get a book out to read of my own accord, Savannah is soon at my side whining and reaching for the book — pointing at it, running her fingers over the pages, and ultimately gesturing that she wants to hold it. At this point, of course, the book goes away rather than into her hands, and I resign myself to trying another time.

So I’d say six is good progress.

And I continue to thank God that Savannah is our first child, rather than being at this can’t-be-trusted-near-books stage while we’re trying to homeschool another child.

Savannah’s Words

Posted in Family, Just for Fun by Laura on December 28, 2009

Update 12/29: added Sock, Congo, and All Done.

Since most of my regular readers are family members, I’m going to risk boring my other readers to death and list all the words Savannah uses right now.

I figure after a few kids (or even a few months) it’s all going to run together and we’ll never know which child said what when. And since the baby book only runs through 12 months, the Internet is going to have to stand in as the record from now on.

Indisputable, Clear Words:
Hello
Hi
No
Mama

Mommy-Knows-What-I’m-Saying Words:
Ball (“Bah”)
Nose (“Noh”)
Ear (“Eeh”)
Diaper (“…-pah” — first syllable varies, if it’s even present)
Bread (“Beah”)
Potty (“Pahy”)
Sock (“Yah” — she also uses this for shoe)
Congo (“Goh-go” — this is the name of my parents’ bird)

Signs Savannah Does:
Milk
Please (claps her hands rather than rubbing them together)
All done (holds hands out to show they’re empty)

Copywork: Practicalities

Posted in Homeschooling by Laura on December 21, 2009

I’m of the school of thought that handwriting practice should have the added benefit of teaching language and character. A child’s attention is not fully engaged by the repetitive strokes of his pencil, so the remaining attention should be devoted to something worthwhile. Good copywork provides this “something worthwhile” through the words and ideas the child is copying.

I could spend a little money and get good quality copywork workbooks, but if I’m going to spend money, I want something more customized to my family’s needs and values. I want to be able to vary the font size based on my child’s needs, and I want don’t want to have to choose between fonts I like and copywork passages that speak to me.

So what I plan to do is acquire (for purchase or for free) a good font that can be used for teaching handwriting. There are actually a few places where you can get free fonts for teaching handwriting (a few more are listed here, along with some commercial ones), but unfortunately I fell in love with the D’Nealian manuscript, a form of the italics font popular among today’s educators.

Jarman is the closest free font I’ve found, but the up-tick’s are too long for my taste. Especially if a Kindergartener is imitating it. I want a beginner’s handwriting to still be legible, and I think this fancy tail would interfere with that.

I also prefer the fonts that have at least the option to include the lines to write on. This would greatly simplify worksheet creation.

So, unless someone publishes a better free handwriting font, I am planning for our homeschooling budget to include the Fonts 4 Teachers package, which happens to include a beautiful D’Nealian font as well as a cursive script that will be useful later on.

With these fonts, I can create handwriting worksheets as needed to reinforce the Scriptures, poetry, and literature we are reading, or to introduce passages we are not able to cover during reading time. Perfect!

Meanwhile, the writing milestone we’re most interested is putting one’s writing utensil on the page rather than in one’s mouth.

That’s Never Going to Last!

Posted in Family, Homeschooling, Parenting by Laura on December 14, 2009

The Professor and I are used to doing things differently from people around us. We cook our food from scratch from whole food ingredients. Even before we had kids, we spent most of our free time at home rather than out at concerts or movies or whatever “normal” people do on Friday nights. We don’t watch TV (though we do enjoy the occasional movie at home).

Now, as parents, we see the trend continuing. I gave birth to Savannah naturally, at home. We use cloth diapers and exclusively breastfed her until 6 months. Savannah still nurses some even at 14 months. We’ve never put her in daycare. She’s never ridden in a stroller. She started using the potty at 6 months and has been half-trained on the potty for several months now. We made all of Savannah’s baby food and toddler food from scratch, with the lone exception of Cheerio’s. (Recipe? Anyone?) We keep her with us in worship services rather than sending her to a nursery. When she reaches school age, we intend to homeschool her.

Often when we have told people we were doing these things, the response is something like the title of this post: “That will never last!” or “Yeah, you think that way now, but just wait!”

I’ll admit: in the last year, our baking has taken a hit (though it has rebounded some in recent months), we’ve avoided making our hardest meals, and we have used disposable diapers in limited circumstances. But so far there’s no room for an “I told you so” from the nay-sayers.

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately — how can it be that people are so sure that it can’t be done (i.e. that we’ll give up on cloth diapers, or on making healthy home-cooked meals with a little one running around, or on keeping Savannah in church service) when the things we’ve tried have turned out not to be all that bad? I can come up with a few reasons:

  • 1) They don’t know how stubborn (I prefer “determined”) we are.
  • 2) They’ve never tried themselves, but it sounds like so much work!
  • 3) If they’ve tried, they didn’t have the support system we do (I get tons of tips from the Internet)
  • 4) They have more commitments outside the home than we do, so even if they had the support system we have, they would indeed find it hard to carve out the time or the energy required for the “project” in question.
  • 5) They don’t value the outcome as highly as we do, and as a result they don’t think it’s worth the moderate amount of effort that it requires.
  • 6) In some cases, they misunderstand our reasons for doing what we do. [I think this is the case with keeping Savannah with us during church worship services. To many people, it looks like maternal weakness — I’m sure my friends think I have an unhealthy clinginess to my “baby” (who is now more of a toddler) and am unwilling to let her grow up. On the contrary, my husband and I allow Savannah to participate in the adult worship services in order to lead her to a mature faith. And viewed with that lens, my conviction on this issue is not something that is going to fade with time as the hypothetical clinginess would.]

In writing this post, I am reminding myself that this can’t-do attitude is nothing new to my experience. People have been saying “it can’t be done” all my life. Most notably in college — I can’t count on my two hands all the times I was told, “You may have kept a good GPA in high school, but you’ll *never* manage a 3.0 at Georgia Tech.” In a similar situation, my mom’s college counsellor computed her projected GPA in college — and let’s just say my mom proved that dismal prediction wrong by a mile!

I wish I knew more people in real life whose success in these counter-cultural choices I could draw hope from. But I don’t. I have a few homeschooling acquaintances at church, and a few more who are SAHM’s to their young children, and I know one older woman who kept her children in the pew with her many years ago. Other friends of ours cloth diapered for a while until they couldn’t figure out how to get rid of their son’s rash without switching from cloth. We even have some peers with a baby girl 7 months Savannah’s junior who have (or, rather, whose Vietnamese mother/mother-in-law has) toilet trained their infant. (Does that make us slightly less weird? Please?)

But I do have access to many real people who have gone before us and who have written volumes to encourage those of us who are wandering alone in this counter-cultural wilderness — I just don’t happen to know any of them in real life. 🙂 My hat goes off to the families who homeschooled before there was an Internet, because it is so helpful to have a reminder sitting in my Google Reader every day, telling me that, yes, it *can* be done. After all, the Headmistress has done it seven times over. Cindy has done it nine times over. Kim has done it nine times over and is preparing to do it a tenth time.

You can’t fill your void for friendships by reading blogs, and you can’t make a three-dimensional role model from what you read on a blog — there just isn’t a complete enough picture.

But what that blogroll does for me is tell me is that It. Can. Be. Done.

And you’re not going to see me giving up any time soon.

Sweet Dreams

Posted in Photography by Laura on December 7, 2009

No, this is not the happy conclusion to my it-got-depressing-so-I’m-not-going-to-blog-about-it-anymore series on night weaning. It’s an I Heart Faces theme that I actually had the perfect photo for. So, if you would be so kind, pretend with me that Savannah sleeps this well in her crib:

If only.

More good sleep vibes to be had at the I Heart Faces contest page!

Adventures in Night Weaning, Part 2

Posted in Health, Parenting by Laura on October 19, 2009

After getting the dirt from the Professor on how night #2 went, there’s not much more to add. We put Savannah to bed at 10:30 with no trouble at all. She woke at 11:30, 1:30, 2:30, and 4:30 before a 5:00 waking where she got to come to our room. She went back to sleep easily each time, except maybe at 11:30 where it took something like 10 minutes.

Last night was more interesting. I put her to bed at 9:30 — commenting to the Professor that it was too easy! The Professor had to get up early this morning to teach, so I was on duty overnight this time. We hoped the smell of my milk (or my maternal weakness) would not make things harder.

When she whimpered at 1:30, I came to check on her, and she was still asleep. I heard a few more whimpers in the next hour before I finally decided to check again at 2:40. She was awake, and didn’t look too groggy. I wondered how long she’d been awake.

I sang to her; I explained that she needed to sleep in her crib now, and that she could have “milky” when it was morning. I put a reassuring hand on her, but she pushed it away. (This is normal for Savannah… she’s never been much calmed by physical touch.) She made the sign language sign for milk and I even heard her stomach grumble. After some time, she made her potty signal and I assumed she had been awake long enough that she had wet her diaper, or maybe she just needed to go and that was keeping her awake.

After 30 minutes or so, I resigned myself to picking her up to rock her to sleep. She resisted being cradled and didn’t look any sleepier after fifteen minutes of rocking. I put her back in the crib, which prompted fierce crying, but she didn’t seem terribly sleepy still.

An hour after I had entered her room, I gave up and got the Professor. Poor Savannah wailed all the louder, thinking I was leaving her, but calmed down easily when we returned.

I went back to bed at 3:40 and the Professor worked his magic. The bread machine started kneading at 4:00 (doh!* why did we set that thing to go overnight?) and slowed down Savannah’s progress toward sleep, but at 4:07, the Professor returned, triumphant, to catch an hour and a half of sleep before leaving for school.

Savannah slept from this time until 7:00, at which point she was Most. Welcome. to come nurse, as it had been ten hours since I last fed her! She ate hungrily and we slept happily until 8:30.

Last night was good progress. I hope we won’t have many more of the awake-for-an-hour-and-a-half nights, but really I feel like we’re close to the holy grail of baby sleep. Will I get 7 straight hours of sleep tonight? Check back later for that story… I’m as eager to know how that one goes as you are!

*No pun intended. 🙂

Adventures in Nightweaning, Part 1

Posted in Health, Parenting by Laura on October 18, 2009

Savannah is 12 months old and still wakes to nurse every 2-3 hours at night. The Professor and I have been talking about nightweaning “soon” for some time now, and Friday night, we finally decided to give it a whirl.

Ground rules were:

  • The Professor would be the one to go in to her on Friday and Saturday when she wakes so she wouldn’t be tempted by the smell of my milk.
  • We would not leave her to cry alone, and we would comfort her as well as we could, but the intent was for her to sleep in her crib, not in our arms. I don’t know if this is called crying it out (something I’m not a fan of in general), but we agreed to let her cry until she fell asleep in her crib.
  • I would nurse her to sleep around 10pm, and after that I would not nurse her until her first waking after 5 am, when we would bring her back to our room to sleep. She could nurse as often as she wanted once we brought her to our room.

The results after two nights? Well, the first night she cried for 45 minutes after I put her down in her crib at 10pm. Then she just decided to stop crying and, charming girl that she is, started handing the Professor the cuddly bunny that we put in the crib with her (“Daddy, I’ll give you the bunny if you pick me up!”) and babbling to him, evidently saying something about the blankets in her crib, which were nice and snug, keeping her from sitting up and rolling around. After another 30 minutes she finally dozed off.

She woke up again at midnight and 2:30am and went back to sleep pretty easily both times. The first time, she was sitting up when the Professor got to her, so he picked her up and then ended up having a little trouble when he set her back down, as she bolted awake as she always does. The second time, she was still lying down when he got to her, and she stayed asleep pretty well.

She woke up at exactly 5am and was pretty eager to nurse by then! It was much easier than usual to convince her to latch off when she was done.

Last night… well, I can’t give you the full story until the Professor wakes up from the long night. 🙂 But although she went to bed much easier initially, she did wake more frequently. Check back later for the rest of the story!