Friday, May 28, 2010

More homeschooling ideas for toddlers

Today, for our school time I was going to take them outside to read on a blanket in the sunshine, but spring is pretty fickle and right before we went out the sunny day turned to rain. The girls were pretty upset, so I chose books for us to read about seasons. "I am a Bunny" and "Katy and the Big Snow" for instance (along with a couple other ones)...
We talked about the seasons a bit and then I got this idea for them to have a "snow box"!!! Yes, it is baking soda actually (because flour was too expensive to use and I can pour this stuff back in the box since my husband just uses it to put on his socks.. so.. it doesn't matter if they play in it first!)

They're having fun making tracks in the "snow" and playing with their little animals and dolls and cars. This last picture is a fairy telling the polly pocket doll in the car to "use her imagination to get out of the snow."

They are still playing with their "snow boxes" as I type this. This sort of "snow" does get a bit dusty, but it will be easy to vacuum off of them and they are so happy and content playing and using their imaginations. I love coming up with ideas that go along with our story reading.

Lily is now singing "Oh christmas tree..." So cute. :]

Anyway, hope it inspires some of you other mother's out there as well!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Going gluten free and the amazing Pizzelle maker!

My Mom has known that she couldn't have gluten for a while now and she's said how she feels better now in her fifties than she did in her twenties! Well, I haven't been feeling great on an off more recently and wondered if I'd feel better without gluten. So I tried it. The initial change is a little hard, but I felt SO much better I don't miss any of it! As in, I don't have head-aches now (unless I accidentally have something that I shouldn't) and the most amazing thing for me was how I can now eat food and feel energized. That has NEVER happened to me. There are a few other health benefits that I've noticed as well, but the energy is really the best thing for me. Even when I was a teenager I was just used to eating something and feeling weirdly lethargic afterward (as if I had a big turkey dinner)... recently it was getting so bad that I couldn't keep up with my little girls or the house or my own projects I'd snap at them or at my husband and then feel like a terrible mother and wife. I'd feel stressed because I was too tired to get things done. Now that I've just taken gluten out of my diet I have the energy to do the things that I want and don't have the stress and/or guilt. My girls are also gluten free (since I don't know if it bothers them or not) and what I've noticed is that they are better behaved and seem to be less whiny and tired. It's much easier to train them and to homeschool when all of our moods start out good.

And if you wonder if going gluten free is a crock HERE is an article about "medical superstitions of the 21st century."

Also, if you want to try going gluten free just to see how you feel HERE is a list of ingredients to avoid that are added to meat and condiments and processed foods and so forth.

Another thought about this and then I'll talk about the Amazing Pizzelle maker (echo echo echo) is just that you might hear a lot about how you'll need to take a test to know for sure if you are gluten intolerant. But.. here's how they do that -- they'll have you eat gluten (if you aren't already) for 7 months or so and then take a biopsy (which is invasive and the test isn't even that accurate.) AND if they say that you ARE gluten intolerant, what will they do? They'll tell you not to eat gluten. Yes, that's right. Now if you are like me or my Mom who've figured this intolerance out with some basic trial and error and being aware of our own bodies you can avoid hurting yourself more (by going on gluten when you know it bothers you) and avoid the cost of the test (that is not perfectly accurate and will only tell you to not eat the stuff they told you to eat so they could take the test) Perhaps you are thinking what I thought so aptly expressed by the professor in "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe"? --"Logic. Why don't they teach logic at these schools."

The gluten-free recipes that I've found are fabulous! I like making them more than the old whole wheat bread that I used to make once a week. If anyone who is reading this wants to be directed to a fabulous bread recipe for sandwiches and french toast and the best pizza crust recipe bar NONE, let me know! I also found a good peanut butter cookie recipe made without any flour at all, but I want to figure out how to ditch the peanut butter and use another kind of nut butter (mainly because I don't like peanut butter cookies as much as just nut-something cookies), but that inventing will need to come later when I have more money again for food.

My husband found a fabulous gluten-free recipe on line for making pizzelle cookies (made with anise flavor or it can be made with vanilla which is just as good and tastes like a vanilla cookie.)

When they first come out of the pizzelle maker they are quite soft and as they cool they turn crispy. The great thing about using the pizzelle maker for the recipes is that you don't need the weird ingredients like all other gluten free baking! (Like gelatin, apple cider vinegar, Xanthum gum, and so forth.) Just a couple different kinds of flours and everything else is pretty normal for any kitchen to have.

Here's the cookie recipe--

3/4 cup tapioca starch flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) -- just a note here, if the butter is softened to room temp. you can use half the amount! But if it comes straight out of the fridge you'll probably need the whole stick.
3/4 cup sugar --- I use raw cane sugar, but granulated works just as well. ALSO, I've made this not only with half the butter amount but also with 1/2 cup of sugar instead of the 3/4 of a cup and I couldn't tell a difference. It was still fabulous.
4 eggs
1 tsp anise flavoring (or 1 tsp vanilla flavoring) -- make sure these flavorings are gluten-free of course
2 tsp baking powder

Mix all together with a hand mixer it should be sort of like cake batter and look about like this.
Put a little spoonful on the pizzelle maker as pictured bellow and slowly close the lid. It takes a little practice to know how much of a spoonful to put on there and the sides will overflow if there's too much (I always put my pizzelle maker on paper towels to catch the mess) It also can get pretty steamy so be aware about that too so you don't get burned from the steam. The idea is that the iron cooks it so quickly that the cookies end up fluffy/crispy and are essentially perfect! AND no one can tell they are gluten-free. In fact everyone will be begging for more! Even my picky eater of a little brother loved these.

I laterally only keep the lid closed on these cookies for about 20 seconds, but you can lift the lid after the first 7-10 seconds though to check how tanned you want them (depending on how crispy you personally like your cookies you can just cook them for more or less time, just check them often so they don't get over done.) Also, if they stick a little you can spray some olive oil or pam or something on the pizzelle maker to help with that. I don't often have to worry about that, because they are easy to peal off even if they do stick slightly. When they first come out you can either just cut the excess off from around the pretty design or you can use a cookie cutter as I had pictured earlier (while they are still soft) you can also roll them into waffle cones or into the shape of a bowl or something, but you will have some crumbs left over. Now, we've just eaten all the crumbs before (my husband loves taking over that job), BUT another idea that I thought of was to use the crumbs in a crust (instead of a gram-cracker crust) for a no-bake CHEESE cake!!! Yes, I have a recipe for that if you can't find a good one on line (just make it like a gram cracker crust only use the pizzelle crumbs instead of the gram cracker.) SO easy and FABULOUS (and.. gluten free of course.)
But, I got to thinking... what else could I use this pizzelle maker for? How about breakfast bars?

YES! I dubbed them "Jam Tarts" and tweaked the recipe of the cookies to come up with something a little softer and with a more wholesome flour. Honey rather than sugar and olive oil rather than butter.

3/4 cup tapioca flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup Garbanzo or Fava flour (you could switch out this flour for more brown rice flour if you don't want to use the bean flour or don't have it, the bean flour give is a little heavier feel and a bit of protein as well.)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey -- slips easily out of the measuring cup because of the olive oil that you just used
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (you can leave out the vanilla if you don't want it to taste like a sweet bread.. that is, if you are using this version for fried egg sandwiches or something.)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Again, mix it all up as before with a hand mixer. The batter will be a bit more.. umm.. syrupy? That is, it won't be runny, but it will feel heavier when you dish it onto the pizzelle maker.
The coloring of the finished pizzelles with this recipe are more mottled looking (like whole wheat waffles) and will stay moister longer as you put the jam on them.

Check these after about half a minute because you don't want them to get too dark (pizzelles cook really fast!) And if you find that you've over cooked one slightly (as in, a minute might be too long!) then just remember to check it sooner the next time you cook one.(Notice the flexibility of this version!)
After I put jam on on side and fold it, I cut them in half and then put jam on top of that and put them together so I get some layering like this! Now, you could leave it like that or cut it into thirds as I do so it's easier for my little ones to have a hand held treat or breakfast when I'm on the run. They remind me a lot of a "nutragrain" bar and can be kept in a tupperware in the fridge for easy access. For me, these have stayed pretty moist (which is unusual for a gluten-free product.) If they aren't moist enough for you you can always try adding another egg or something and trying the batch again. It doesn't matter much HOW these batches are made (in a way) because they always "taste" good, but if you are like me and want to invent something specific just try a few different alterations and see what happens. :] Or, cook it for a less amount of time or add more jam and it should stay moister. :]
NOW! My favorite (or at least most used!) Pizzelle recipe invention.

THE CRACKER! Yes, these are the BEST gluten-free crackers ever! And as with all of these recipes-- each batch from scratch to finish takes about a half hour and can make up to 20 or so pizzelles. (The cookie one actually only took me FIFTEEN minutes from scratch to completely finished the last time I did it!)

The basic salted cracker recipe is as follows--

1 cup Tapioca starch flour -- note, Tapioca starch and Tapioca flour are the same thing
1 cup brown rice flour -- note you can make this partly with white rice flour as well, but it's not as healthy so I do more with the brown rice flour.
3 eggs
2 T. olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder

AND if you want rosemary crackers add 3 to 6 tsp rosemary
OR 3 to 6 tsp basil and 2 tsp garlic powder
or try adding your own favorite herbs or Parmesan cheese or whatever! They are very versatile.

Again, cook the same as the others (they will be a little thicker than either of the other recipes) and after about 10 seconds I open the Pizzelle maker while they are still not browned yet and sprinkle a little salt on the tops of them. Then, close the pizzelle maker again and cook for around a minute. I check it often till it's as dark as I want it. They'll taste good on the blonder side, but if you want it more crispy cook it till it's a bit more golden brown. If you cook it on the blonder side and happen to have made the basil/garlic ones you could even make these into little pizza crusts for small lunch size pizzas! Oh, yes.. much tastiness awaits. This version will come out of the pizzelle maker already hardened where as the cookies will be quite flexible at first and you can form them into shapes and as they cool they will harden to the shape you form them into, the "jam tart" version (if not overly cooked) will tend to stay flexible and not crumble as much as the other two.

As with the other recipes-- cool on a wire rack and the crackers will stay fresh for about a week (if they don't get eaten before then!) I love having these crackers with guacamole and salad or dipped in soups and things. Honestly with these and the only three other recipes that I've come across (and the fabulous quinua pasta noodles) I haven't missed "normal" foods at all because these are BETTER.

It was a little dicey at first with my four year old as she couldn't have her "life" cereal or fishy crackers anymore, but with the "Jam Tarts" and the fabulous crackers and cookies and another recipe that I got from my mom (a dark bread that takes a T. of cocoa powder!) she hasn't missed anything either!

You can find Pizzelle makers for about $40 on amazon I've been told (mine is an old one from my husbands childhood.) And this is what you can make (that I've discovered so far) with those three basic recipes--

--Anise Pizzelle cookies
--vanilla wafer cookies
--Chocolate cookies (add a few T. of cocoa powder! I used Hershey's dark chocolate when I did it)
--Lemon cookies
--Any or all flavored cookie crumbs to be made into a pie crust (like a gram-cracker pie crust)
--Salted Crackers (we've used these for communion bread at church as well)
--Rosemary Crackers
--Cheese Crackers
--Herb and garlic crackers
--Herby mini pizza crusts (cooked till just blond to keep them softer and less like the cracker)
--Croutons! --add extra herbs and spices and cook the crackers slightly longer for a crunchier --texture, crumble and there you go!
--Breakfast bars (filled with layers of jam, I used blackberry)
--Waffles (made the same way as the breakfast bars but eaten right away with maple syrup)

Other ideas-- top the cookies with whip-cream and berries or creamcheese frosting and sprinkles
-- put taco seasoning on the crackers (rather than sprinkling with salt) for a tortilla chip taste (McCormick is usually a safe brand for spices)
-- Turn the "waffles" into a fried egg sandwich!

And I'm sure other people can think of more even to do with this! It truly IS an amazing Pizzelle maker, and for a busy mom like me a half hour a batch is just right to do sometime during the day. OR even a working mother with not much time at home can do these easily before dinner or on a weekend.

If anyone needs to ask a question please let me know and I'll be happy to answer any that I can!

I'm only posting my inventions because I really want to help other people who want to go (or are) gluten free to make their lives easier and have some incredibly tasty food that any guest or picky child will ask again and again to eat as well. So feel free to share these recipes and tell other people!

If your family isn't gluten-free and you want these recipes for your friends who can't have gluten please be aware that any molecule of flour gluten can cause some people trouble, so clean the pizzelle maker really well and use jam or other ingredients that have not had a contaminated knife put into them (as in, you buttered gluten bread and transferred the crumbs into the butter from the bread or jam or whatever.)

A big thanks to all of my gluten-free friends who've taste tested these recipes for me and also for paying for the ingredients of some of the batches so I could perfect the recipes!

Now, all you need to specially get is a pizzelle maker and two different kinds of flour to get started going gluten-free in a delicious way!
Happy EASY baking everyone!!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

A morning in the life of pre-school homeschooling kids

I hadn't really started using the teachers manual to "Sonlight" until today (we'd read a few of the stories on our own all last week) and for any of you who'd like to know what it's like to do some homeschooling at this age, I thought I'd share our morning.

First I read about five of the books they already had (board books and other short books I knew both girls liked with just one new one that I hadn't gotten from Sonlight.) Then I went to the teachers guide for Sonlight and for this age (the P3/4) there's not a schedule for each day, but rather a check list to complete. So, there's a lot more flexibility right now (which is nice with a two year old) and on some days (though not today) I'll work more specifically with my four year old to learn her letters and practice writing them (we use a little white board mainly.)

SO! The "first trimester" has a check list that reads

-- Read a story a day from the Bible and/or 101 Favorite Stories from the Bible.

-- Goodnight Moon (Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics)
* Cook and enjoy Cream of Mushroom Soup or Cream of Wheat. (I crossed those out as I didn't want to make them and wrote in one of my husbands favorites that I've never made which is Tapioca Pudding... same idea though.. it's a bowl of mush like in the story.) ;]

-- Baby Says (Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics)
* Build with blocks

-- Noah's Ark
*Ask questions about this book. Count the animals, name the animals, or make animal noises.
* Put a blanket over a table and use the under part for the ark. Bring toys that won't be left behind!

-- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (Harper Collins Treasury of Picture Book Classics)
* Bake cookies and eat them with milk for a snack.

And the list goes on, but you get the idea. Anyway, I didn't have stuff to make Tapioca Pudding and decided to skip down to the Noah's Ark book. (Mainly told in just pictures so I was able to talk to my four year old about what the pictures were showing us.) When we got to the last page we sang a song together! I'd already made up the words a while back for our children's choir at church and it's sung to the tune of "Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had father Abraham..." Yeah, you know it! Then after each time you say "Right Arm" (wave your right arm the whole time you sing through it again) Then "Right Arm, Left Arm" (wave both arms while you sing the song again) Each time adding another limb in this order Right arm, Left arm, Right foot, Left foot, Turn around, and after you've got all your limbs working AND you are turning around at the same time while singing through the song you repeat all the limbs in order and yell "SIT DOWN" as everyone falls to the floor. Here are the words to match Noah's ark.

God gave a promise to me and you.
To me and you He gave a promise.
He made a rainbow. After the flood.
So lets just praise the Lord.

The girls LOVE doing this song as you can imagine and it gives me a pretty good work out too.

Then we put blankets over the dining room table and I crawled under with them and we talked about the ark and how we were the people who were obeying God so he was saving us from the flood (turning the story into an imaginative play time.) I also brought in our little "Fishing" game so that we could eat since the water was rising and it was raining. (Oh, and this was after we'd already found some stuffed animals to "save" as well.) Then I talked about the waters going down and sending out a dove and so forth like the story and after a bit we went outside of the ark and sang the song again!!! My littlest said "Aglen!" and my oldest was to worn out to do it for a third time, but I did and the littlest was so sweet waving her arms around and spinning with me.

Here they are on top of the "ark" (yes, I let them walk across the table, but only when it's a "fort" depending on your kids personality this would be too dangerous, but my girls know how to be careful and I find that saying "no" doesn't always teach them as much as my showing them how to be careful as they do things (touching things gently for instance is a good one... and of course, if they aren't gentle it gets taken away! Great incentive.)

I put some pillows on the floor for them to walk on since the waters were still receding.
After running around a bit while the littlest threw the animals into the water and the oldest "saved" them they lay down on the ark and I turned off the lights so that it would be "night" and they could watch the stars.

I didn't get a picture of the next thing as I started doing this blog post then, but they made it "day" again (asking me to turn the lights back on) and got the fishy game and fished for some breakfast. So cute.

There is is! A typical morning, reading, teaching, reinforcing the lessons and stories with playing or helping Mommy. And now the girls are worn out and I have time to clean up, do my own projects, or make lunch, or whatever while they continue to play (or watch a VegieTales like today... what can I say, Monday's are our rest day... we recover from the weekends on Monday so a quiet show seemed like a good idea.) :]

Incidentally I only spent an hour reading and playing with them and that momentum kept them playing by themselves and with each other for another hour! Before our "school time" I made my own bed and got ready for the day while my daughter made her bed and got ready for the day as well (with my help of course doing her hair and things.) Their day seems better as well when they start it with made beds and a tidy floor in the bedroom. :] I'm going through this
seven week organizing thing that has been SO helpful for me (as I'm really not good at keeping up with the house and so forth, but I'm determined to change so I will! It's been a few weeks and I'm feeling great with it all!)

This blog post has taken longer for me to do than all the school I described and my kids are needing me now, so don't expect many more of these detailed explanations of our school. But.. I hope that's enough to help some people out. :]

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Homeschooling Review

We've been doing approximately a letter a week since Lily turned four in January. The A's above were pictures from quite a while back because she just got to "O"!!! I've had a few little incentives along the way for her. Back and Christmas time I bought this horse (since it was so cheap then) and she got the horse for after she got to the letter "H"... we work on the sounds the letters make and what words start with that sound and also the shape. Recognition and drawing. She can match the letters much easier than she can write them herself, but writing them helps her to really look at the shapes and thus helps her recognize them. Better penmanship will come later when she's older. :]
For some of the "trouble" letters I make up little things to help her remember them. For instance B's are pretty easy because to make a lower case be you just take of the top bump right? Well, D's often throw kids off with the lower case ones... SO I said something like this, "The capital D is the DADDY D and the lower case D is the little dude D and they like to talk together." Putting the smiles on them helps her see that they are supposed to face each other. She loves to turn the letters she makes into pictures and I encourage her as much with that as possible. When she started with her A's she had fun making it into a house and drawing doors for the different floors.

After doing this sort of thing with all her letters. Working on the sounds they make and the shapes and some penmanship we finally got to the "O" that she'd been looking forward to for a while and here is the puzzle! Lily absolutely loves putting puzzles together. She's great at spacial relations and seems to be a auditory and kinetic learner. She follows instructions quite well (even when she was just two years old I could give her instructions for getting something for me and she could follow them.)
I love having the incentive for her to work harder as something that is yet again teaching her or instilling a love of learning. This ocean puzzle has a picture with all the names of the different fish so we can talk about them as we put the puzzle together.

Now to my two year olds "school" she's at the age where she's learning shapes and color names and so forth and in general just learning how to talk. I got the girls this "HiHo Cherry-O" game at Christmas time and Lily doesn't like it that well because it's all luck and no strategy (she's like me in that way I guess!) but Renna just loves to put the fruit on the trees and then into the barrels! Perhaps you are wondering what good that does? But of course, the creative parent can use a time like this to work on counting or colors or just fine motor skills for a two year old. Plus, it's such a special thing for them to get to enjoy the tiny pieces that they normally don't get to touch.While Lily does some more advanced school Renna gets to play with playdough. The picture above is special play dough scissors and is a really great tool to help her learn how to use scissors in general and again.. fine motor skills.
I got this Mighty Mind activity that helps children combine shapes (if I bought this again I'd choose the magnetic Mighty Mind set! Just a heads up if any of you want to look into it and buy one as well.) When Lily and I got it in the mail she kept thanking me over and over and said how much she loved school and so on. This is what homeschooling is to me. Instilling a love of learning and teaching without it feeling "teachy" and doing things as a family! Building the shapes becomes progressively harder and she really enjoyed doing this. It goes right along with the sorts of things she naturally loves to do, hands on, building, puzzles.. all that stuff.

Here's Renna again working on the playdough. The pictures are somewhat out of order, but this is often what school feels like when I'm bouncing from one to the other as they do their projects.

Another part of Renna's "school" is using these Mix and Match Teddy's she and I can talk about what the bears are wearing and the colors and the expressions along with matching them or pretending that they are talking. The teddy's pictures bellow are Renna's favorite. She calls them "Dye's" I think she's trying to say "guys" but for some reason she just adores these little grumpy bears and always searches for them among all the other bears.

The Teddy game and the Mighty Mind were from "Sonlight" homeschooling that uses "real" books rather than work books. I went to their site and got the list of books and bought almost all of them used or cheaper on Amazon. It's been like Christmas each day when we get a bunch of packages of books and school stuff in the mail! Each day we read a few new stories as well and that's such a great time for both girls because they love to be read to and it's great for me because I love to read to them! It's nice to have a few different "project" type things to rotate for them to do for their school and also some new stories to mix in with the old favorites that I have memorized from four years straight of reading.

So far I really like the Sonlight curriculum the best. Especially at this age, but as they get older I want to combine a few other things into the basic stuff of Sonlight. Here's a few other homeschool curriculum's that I really liked and that some friends recommended and used -- "My Father's World" had a great kindergarten curriculum, but I wasn't as impressed with the first grade. I loved some of the project ideas that they had... getting an ant farm or raising butterflies, I also thought these little rods that go with the Alphabet book would be neat teaching tool (also from "My Father's World")

The other school (Camrose Classical Academy) I was really impressed with combines a classical education with a strong literature base of "real" books and especially the reading program that they used was quite impressive. I have to be careful how I teach my eldest daughter because she's never been one to do something if you push too hard. If anyone who she doesn't know tries to do a "quiz" with her (you know how that goes, "what color is this?" and asking them all these teachy questions about everything.) I can ask her questions like that and know what she's learning and what she knows, but I also know HER and when the best times are to ask those questions. Even when she was just over a year old I'd hear her say a word and I'd try to get her to say it again. She's just not one to perform. Anyway, if I choose a reading program that is too pushy or something it wouldn't work for her. This one seemed fun yet advanced at the same time. I'll be getting the program later and just stick with teaching her her letters right now and reading a lot. It's not like she's going to "get behind" at this point while we do more things that work with Renna.

This last picture is Renna asleep. I opened her door so that she could wake up from her nap and then went back to exercising on the Wii step and she comes toddling out all sleepy like and lays down. Well, a few minutes later when I look back at her she'd fallen asleep again! Right on the floor. So so sweet. I let her sleep there until she woke up on her own because I figured she needed it. I am having so much fun teaching the girls and experiencing special moments with them. I might not stay with "Sonlight" through highschool... by then we might want to do a private school or go to a more classical style of homeschooling, but for now I'm really enjoying it and as I get more into it I'll probably be relying more on the library so that I don't have to buy ALL the books (I actually did skip two things that they recommended because I'm not into nursery rhymes and lame songs... no.. I got a few GREAT cd's that I loved as a kid and still do.)
Here's a picture of all the "school" books we are getting. Don't bother getting the "20th century children's book treasury" they ruin the essence of the picture books and it's better to get the originals used or from the library or something. The "HarperCollins of Treasury classics" is fabulous however and I'd buy for people as a gift. The "Flip Flap Body Book" is one of Lily's favorites and is a great "science" type book for this age. She keeps bringing it to me and wanting to do school. Speaking of which. We just got another four or so books in the mail and Lily wants to do more school! I've got to go read "Horten Hatches the Egg" .. LOVE IT! :]