Thursday, March 9, 2017

Classic Chicken Soup (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Soup is one of my favorite things about the cool months. I love how simple and nourishing soup can be, and how it can be a complete meal in one pot.  It seems like every year, there is one soup I keep coming back to again and again. This year it's Classic Chicken Soup.

Moist, tender chicken with lots of veggies and just enough salty broth - this is my favorite soup this year. My husband and daughter eat this soup just as it is, while my son and I often like to eat it with a scoop of nutrient-dense white rice added in. Either way, this Classic Chicken Soup is super simple and super yummy.

Classic Chicken Soup

  1. Chop the onion and celery. I always use my favorite Wusthof knife for chopping soup veggies.
  2. In a 4-quart, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter. Add the onions and celery, and a little sprinkle of salt. Saute for 8-10 minutes over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. A bamboo spatula works great for this step.
  3. Meanwhile, peel and chop the carrots. (I love my Rada vegetable peeler!)
  4. Add the carrots, chicken thighs, and broth to the pot.  Season with salt and pepper. I use about 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper and 1&1/2 Tb of salt (but use less salt if your broth is salted; my homemade broth is unsalted). Nestle the chicken thighs down into the broth and bring to a low boil.
  5. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top of the broth.  Then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer.
  6. Simmer for 35 minutes, until the chicken thighs are cooked through.
  7. In the meantime, slice the mushrooms. Cook the (optional) nutrient-dense white rice in a separate pot.
  8. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot and place in a large bowl to cool.
  9. Add the mushrooms to the soup pot. Taste the broth and adjust the salt/pepper as desired.
  10. Once the chicken has cooled long enough to handle easily, remove and discard most of the chicken skin. If you like boiled chicken skin, leave the skin on by all means. But I prefer to get rid of most of the skin at this point. (The dog is happy with my decision since it means he gets to eat chicken skin with his dinner.)
  11. Use a fork or your hands to remove the chicken from the bones.  (I save and freeze the chicken thigh bones until I have accumulated enough of them to make a pot of homemade chicken bone broth.)  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  12. Add the chicken back to the pot and cook just long enough to warm it through.
  13. Serve and enjoy! If desired, add a generous scoop of nutrient-dense white rice to each bowl.


What is your current favorite soup? Does your favorite soup change from year-to-year, like mine, or is it always the same?


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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Daughter's Orthodontics - Three Year Update

I've received a few requests lately to post an update on my daughter's journey with her orthodontic treatment.  

My daughter, Alina, is almost 10 years old, and she's been using an orthodontic appliance for nearly 3 years. We started Alina's orthodontic treatment early so that we could make the most of her growing years. Rather than using braces, which are well known to not work very well in the long-term, we are using an orthodontic appliance designed to stimulate the palate and jaw to grow larger.

Despite a nutrient-dense diet, Alina's palate and jaw did not naturally develop large enough to accommodate her adult teeth. After researching alternatives to braces and talking with an excellent pediatric dentist who specializes in developmental orthodontics, we decided to use a plastic myofunctional appliance made by Ortho-Tain.


How Alina Uses Her Orthodontic Appliance


Alina wears her Ortho-Tain orthodontic appliance every night while she sleeps. Because we started her treatment early, she does not need to wear the appliance during the daytime at all (whereas if we had waited a few more years before starting, she would have needed to wear it at night as well as for a few hours in the daytime).  Alina tries to remember to bite down hard on her appliance a few times whenever she puts it in her mouth, to strengthen the muscles in her mouth and jaw and further encourage her palate to enlarge.

Alina has been very cooperative with this whole process and has done a fantastic job of wearing her appliance. Her orthodontist is very pleased with her progress and gives her all the credit for being the one to do the work of wearing the appliance and following his instructions.

Our Results From Three Years of Treatment


Over the course of her orthodontic treatment, Alina has progressed through three sizes of orthodontic appliance. This means that her palate and jaw have grown significantly so that she was able to progress to increasingly larger appliances. Currently, Alina has lost 8 baby teeth.  Based on the size of her adult teeth, the appliance Alina is currently using may be the last one she needs (but we will know more when she loses more of her baby teeth).


And now for the pictures!

Pre-treatment (April 2014) - Alina's baby teeth have no space between them (minus the one spot where she is missing a tooth)


February 2017 - Her beautiful smile, after almost 3 years of orthodontic treatment

There is more space for her adult teeth on the bottom now compared to in the last update I posted
There is plenty of room for all of her adult teeth thus far

For information about our journey into orthodontic care, check out the rest of the articles in this series:  

 


Have you tried any alternatives to conventional orthodontics? What were your results?

Monday, February 13, 2017

5 Things That Are Making My Life Easier

I wanted to share a list of a few things that are making my day-to-day life easier lately. Most of these aren't dramatically life-changing, but they are things that save me a little time and effort. #3 actually is a life-changer for me, and I'll describe more about that below.

1. Laundry Sorter

I do laundry throughout the week, so that it never turns into a huge, time-consuming job.  Until recently, we used a plain old laundry basket for our dirty laundry. Each time I was ready to start a load of laundry, I would have to spend a few minutes sorting out the laundry for the day. It wasn't a huge hassle, but I felt like there was room for improvement.

A few months ago, we splurged on a 4-section laundry sorter.  This may not seem like much of a splurge to many of you, but for me, spending over $30 on a non-essential laundry sorter seemed like a big deal.

But you know what? This laundry sorter was totally worth the money. It saves me a few minutes each day when I do laundry, and our closet is much tidier, too, without the inevitable piles of sorted laundry. I love the convenience of our new laundry sorter, and the 4 compartments help me in making sure our clothing colors keep looking as they should. (If there is interest, I could also blog about my system for laundry that keeps our colors looking good, spreads the workload throughout the week, and works well for my sensitive-skin family members.)

2. Larger Butter Dish

Nutrient-dense butter is an essential part of my family's healthy diet. In the winter months, especially, I find that KerryGold butter has the richest yellow color (and this color indicates the presence of nutrients, especially carotene and vitamin A).

Since KerryGold comes in a 1/2-pound block, previously, I had to cut the KerryGold butter in half in order to fit it in my butter dish. However, I received a lovely new butter dish for Christmas that is big enough to easily accommodate a full block of KerryGold butter. Now we can keep a 1/2 pound of butter on the counter and ready to easily spread on toast or muffins. This is one small convenience that is making my day-to-day life easier.

3. DoYogaWithMe.com

I've been using DoYogaWithMe.com for several years now. I love that this site has high-quality, free yoga videos with excellent instructors, and I love that there is a great variety of videos available. There are many videos to choose from ranging from Beginner to Advanced, and from just a few minutes long to over an hour long.

I've been doing yoga once or twice a week for awhile now, but recently I was feeling a pull to make yoga a more-frequent part of my life. This year, DoYogaWithMe hosted a "Transform Your Life 30-Day Yoga Challenge". In completing the 30-Day Challenge, I learned that:
  • daily yoga is possible, even with my busy life,
  • it is worth it to make time to occasionally do full-length (60+ minutes) yoga classes, 
  • in addition to being good for my physical health, doing yoga frequently leads me to greater mental and emotional well-being, and
  • starting my day with yoga right after waking is a fantastic way to get me in a good mindset for the day ahead.
Even though the 30-Day Challenge is over, I've been continuing to do yoga every day, and it feels great!  I presume that there will eventually be days that I skip yoga, but for now, this is a habit that is enriching my daily life and making it easier for my life to feel balanced and whole.




4. Uber-Strong, Foldable Grocery-and-Errand Bags

Because I only grocery shop every two weeks, I tend to buy a whole cart full at a time. My reusable bags end up crammed full at the grocery store, or crammed full of library books, and with such heavy usage I tend to go through reusable bags fairly quickly. Many of the bags I have tried wear out and have to be thrown away in about a year.

About a year ago, I was gifted with a couple EnviroSax bags, and they are amazing! EnviroSax bags have a weight capacity of 44 pounds (!!), they easily fold up small enough to fit in my purse, they are beautiful, and they have held up without any signs of wear in the last year. I loved those bags so much that I asked for some more for Christmas, and was so happy to throw away my old bags (which were literally falling apart). My EnviroSax bags are now my go-to bags for groceries, library books, trips to the park, and more.

5. Knife Sharpener

Since I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen, my knives get dull fairly often.  I've never taken the time to learn how to properly use a whetstone or rod knife sharpener, but thankfully I don't have to. We've been using a Wusthof 4-Stage Knife Sharpener for awhile now, and have had great results with it.

This knife sharpener works especially well for us because it has separate knife sharpeners for Asian and Standard knives. My beloved Santoku knife gets sharpened with the Asian sharpener, and the rest of our knives are sharpened with the Standard sharpener. This knife sharpener is very quick and easy to use, and it fits easily into a kitchen drawer.


Do you have any favorite products or websites that are making your life easier lately?




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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Grain-Free, Nut-Free "Cornbread" Muffins (grain-free : nut-free : gluten-free)

My family is exploring the cuisine from different parts of the United States as part of our homeschool unit on the United States.  One common feature of the cuisine in the Southeastern USA is cornbread. Given that two members of my family have grain sensitivities, I decided to develop a new grain-free "cornbread" recipe. This recipe can't truly be called cornbread since it contains no corn, but it is a great grain-free alternative to cornbread that can be served alongside soups, chili, and beans.

In developing this grain-free cornbread recipe, I departed from my usual use of ground nuts for grain-free breads. Indeed, I have already developed a popular recipe for grain-free sandwich bread based around coconut flour and ground nuts, and that recipe has been likened to cornbread by quite a few.

In this new recipe, I was looking to create a lighter version of grain-free bread, so I based this recipe around tapioca flour, coconut flour, and arrowroot starch. I chose to add a little sugar to the recipe, to make this recipe more like my favorite cornbread which has a hint of sweetness. Because of the tapioca flour, this cornbread has a bit of springy texture, just like gluten-based breads, and the muffins hold together very well.

This recipe was an instant success with everyone in my family.  It makes a wonderful bread substitute to serve alongside a main course, and both of my kids have chosen to eat it at other times of day as well (such as for breakfast).  I like to serve this bread slightly warm with a pat of butter on top, just like I would serve cornbread.


Grain-Free, Nut-Free "Cornbread" Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat once melted.
  3. Combine the tapioca flour, coconut flour, arrowroot, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium-large bowl. Whisk to combine and break up any lumps.
  4. Lightly beat the eggs and milk kefir together with a fork. 
  5. Pour the egg/kefir mixture into the dry ingredients and beat well with a mixer. Add in the melted butter and beat until everything is well-incorporated.
  6. Line a muffin tin with paper cups. I like to use If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins don't stick to them.
  7. Scoop the muffin batter into the muffin cups. A 3-Tb scoop works well for this.
  8. Bake the muffins at 350 F for about 23-27 minutes, until the tops are golden-brown.
  9. Allow to cool a few minutes. 
  10. Serve the muffins and enjoy! I like to top each muffin with a small pat of butter, just like real cornbread muffins.
  11. Refrigerate any leftovers and re-warm for a few minutes in a toaster oven before serving.

Do you enjoy cornbread? Do you have any favorite regional foods from the USA?



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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Teaching Life of Fred Math, Including Tips for Teaching Children of Multiple Ages Concurrently

What is Life of Fred?

Life of Fred is an engaging story-based math curriculum spanning from elementary school all the way through university math courses such as calculus and statistics.  For the elementary years, Life of Fred includes ten books in the elementary series for 1st-4th grade and three books in the intermediate series for 4th to 6th grade. The beauty of Life of Fred as a math curriculum is that it is humorous and fun for kids.  Rather than focusing specifically on math concepts and then having the child work through problem after problem like a traditional math curriculum, Life of Fred instead weaves the math concepts into the story of Fred's days.

Fred is a 5-year-old math genius who teaches math at a university in Kansas. He lives with his doll Kingie in his office at the university. Although Fred is obviously precocious in math, he is lacking many other life skills and accordingly he often ends up in strange situations (such as when he adopts 30 dogs to save them from being euthanized, or when he ends up being swindled out of all of his money by a con-artist).  In addition to the math concepts, many other concepts are woven into Life of Fred books as well, such as the differences between carnivores and herbivores, details about the Orion constellation, and basic information about nutrition.

After each chapter of the book, there is a short section titled "Your Turn To Play".  This section generally includes a few math problems as well as other questions related to the content of the chapter. As the books move on from the earliest elementary books, "Your Turn to Play" also often includes a "Row of Practice" that can be used to reinforce the math facts (such as addition and subtraction facts).

a random page from one of the Elementary Series books

 

Our Experience With Life of Fred

We've been using Life of Fred in our homeschool for over 4 years. We are currently working through the 7th book in the elementary series.  My children LOVE Life of Fred.  They ask to read it often, they enjoy the math problems, and they find the bizarre storylines to be very entertaining. I use Life of Fred in addition to games, everyday math, and a few other math read-alouds for teaching elementary math without a traditional math curriculum.

spontaneous answer to the question, "What do you think of Life of Fred?"






















My daughter will be 10 years old in March, and my son will be 7 years old in a couple weeks. Because my children are 3 years apart in age, their math comprehension is not at the same level. Instead of reading two different Life of Fred books to match up with their math skills, I just read one Life of Fred book at a time, continuing to progress through the books even though some of the math concepts have moved beyond my son's level.  That doesn't mean that my son doesn't get to learn math through Life of Fred; rather, I customize their experience with Life of Fred so that it works for both of them at the same time even though they are 3 years apart. 

Tips for Teaching Life of Fred to Children of Multiple Ages

When teaching Life of Fred to kids of multiple ages concurrently, I try to keep in mind three principles:
  • Avoid the Glaze
  • Inspire, Not Require
  • Customize the Math Problems

 

Avoid the Glaze

While my children generally love Life of Fred, sometimes there may be a math concept introduced that my kids are not ready to engage in. I can tell if a concept is a bit too abstract or complicated if I see the "glaze" on my kids' eyes.  For instance, in the early elementary books the author keeps bringing up the idea of cardinal numbers versus ordinal numbers.  This concept is one that I can tell my children are uninterested in or not ready for yet, as they get the "glaze" over their eyes whenever it is mentioned. I don't think this concept is important for them to know at their current ages, so I just skip over those parts and skip over any problems in "Your Turn to Play" that focus on that concept.  There is plenty of time for my children to learn about the cardinality of numbers as they get older (and, indeed, that same concept is introduced later in Life of Fred: Fractions, which is one of the middle school math books).

When reading Life of Fred to kids of multiple ages, sometimes the glaze will only be present in the younger children.  At those times when I note that my son's eyes are glazed over (or he seems otherwise uncomfortable) but his older sister is still engaged, I make sure to reassure him that this particular concept is just for his older sister, and that he'll be ready to learn about it later.  That gives him the confidence to be okay with not understanding the concept, and then I can proceed with teaching it to my daughter.

(As a side note: I think that avoiding the glaze is very important in other subjects in addition to math. Because I am endeavoring to create a Love of Learning in my children, the glaze is a signal for me to know when it is time to back off.  Sometimes the glaze just means that the student is tired and not ready to engage at that particular moment, but other times it means that I need to back off and wait a few months before coming back to that concept.) 

a random page from one of the Intermediate Series books

Inspire, Not Require

"Inspire, Not Require" is one of the 7 Keys of Great Teaching, and applying this principle to our math studies is a crucial part of keeping math enjoyable for my children. I know from previous experience that forcing academics in our homeschool is detrimental to creating a Love of Learning in my children. In applying the principle of "Inspire, Not Require" to our use of Life of Fred:
  • I don't require the children to participate in Life of Fred.  However, they enjoy it so much that they request it often.
  • Both of my children have had periods of time when they did not want to participate in the "Your Turn to Play" section at the end of the chapters. I've given them the freedom to choose whether or not to participate. When they choose not to participate, I just work out the answers to the problems on a dry erase board so they can observe.
  • I am working my way through my own math studies and reading math classics myself. I am working my way through the middle school Life of Fred books as a way to refresh my memory before jumping into the Life of Fred high school and university level math books. In this way, I am leading out by showing my children that math is important enough that I am willing to spend some of my free time brushing up my own math skills. When they see me working on my own math skills, it often inspires them to do the same.

 

Customize the Math Problems

When we get to the "Your Turn to Play" section at the end of each chapter, if both children have chosen to participate, my younger child gets first dibs at answering each question. If he declines a question (usually by saying "too tricky"), then his older sister gets to answer the question. Because I keep things light and fun, with no pressure, my son has no issue with saying that he can't do a particular problem. If there are no questions that I think would be appropriate for my son, I will make up a few so that he has a chance to participate.

Once we've worked through the questions, if there is a "Row of Practice" to do (for practicing math facts), my son will answer any that he can and the rest will go to his sister. In the books we are currently using, none of the problems are appropriate for my son, so I will make up a few problems for him to solve while his sister works through the problems from the book. In this way, both children are able to participate as much as they want to, and I am able to individualize their math lessons even though I am reading from only one math book for both of them.

 

How We Use Life of Fred

In case it is helpful, here is a run-down of how we use Life of Fred in our homeschool.
  • A few times per week, I read Life of Fred out loud while the kids eat breakfast. 
  • Because we do our morning chores right after breakfast, reading Life of Fred during breakfast gives us a nice little interlude of learning in the middle of our morning routine. This also helps to break up our school time into smaller chunks, which works better for keeping my children's attention.
  • Both of my kids like using small dry-erase boards to write out the answers to their math problems.
  • If neither of my kids feels like writing out the answers to their problems, or if their hands are too messy from eating, they will just answer the problems out loud.
  • Often, when they are done with their own problems, the children like to quiz me with math problems they come up with. They can come up with quite tricky problems for me to do, such as one where I had to use the order of operations and eventually ended up dividing 2,187 by 26,500. Sometimes they like to use calculators to check my answers. 
  • When there are periods of time during which my children aren't interested in me reading Life of Fred to them, I don't force it. I know that they will always come back to Life of Fred, and it's okay to take an occasional break.  Nonetheless, we've already made it through three Life of Fred books this school year.

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

26 World Picture Books

When I posted a list of our favorite world fairy and folk tales, I promised to also post a list of our other favorite picture books from our Homeschool World Trip.  These 26 picture books span 6 continents and 14 countries.  I have found picture books to be a wonderful way to engage my children in learning about other countries and cultures.

Kenya

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship is a sweet tale about a friendship between an elderly giant tortoise and an orphaned baby hippopotamus. My children loved reading about this unusual pair.









The Circle of Life: Wildlife on the African Savannah is a large, full color photography book filled with amazing photos. My children pored over this book, soaking in all of the details.






 

South Africa

The Dove is a story of a grandmother and granddaughter who are struggling to get by after a flood. My children loved hearing about the ingenuity of the granddaughter and how it was able to put food on the table.


France



 



Madeline has been an adored character for both of my children since they were toddlers. While we were "visiting" France, they loved re-hearing these classic stories of Madeline's life at a French orphanage ad her escapades in Madeline and the Gypsies. 



The Story of Babar tells of an orphaned elephant who runs away to live in Paris. My children giggled along as Babar decked himself out on clothes and learned how to fit into Paris society.






England

My children enjoyed seeing the sites of London in The Inside-Outside Book of London. It includes many of the popular sites, such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, as well as everyday places such as an umbrella shop and a bus.








Madeline in London continues the tale of Madeline and her friend Pepito, the son of the Spanish ambassador.  My children enjoyed this Madeline book just as much as the others, and it included sites of London that they were able to pick out as we read.








Out and About is one of my favorite children's books to read aloud. It includes short poems about everyday life in England, taking us through the seasons and showing many ways that kids can play outdoors. We especially love the illustrations in this book.


  

The Caribbean

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle is a fascinating book that tells of how a mangrove seed floating in the ocean can create a habitat. This book was an excellent addition to our World Trip that showcased some of the Caribbean flora and fauna.








Brazil

The Great Kapok Tree is a great book for discussing care of the environment with children. Both of my kids liked hearing the perspectives of the different creatures who relied on the kapok tree, and this book was a good addition to our study of Brazil.



Rainforest is a large book of full-color photographs of rain forest flora and fauna.  This photos in this book are breathtaking, and many of them offer up-close details that are amazing to look at. My children and I loved looking at this book.







Guatemala

Corn is Maize is a book that weaves together both science and culture.  This book details how corn grows as well as its uses by native peoples in the Americas.  This book gave my children a better understanding of this important food source while we studied Central America.

 

 

Mexico

My children were fascinated by Family Pictures and In My Family. These two books show snippets of traditional Mexican life, ranging from birthdays to wedding celebrations to everyday family activities. The text is printed in both Spanish and English. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada

Caribou Song is a book with striking illustrations that tells of a family and their experience with a herd of caribou. My children waited with bated breath to see if the children would be injured by the caribou, only to breathe a sigh of relief and joy as the magic unfolded.






Scaredy Squirrel is a germa-phobic, meticulous animal who tries to control all the risks in his world. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and had my kids begging me to read it over and over again. The other books in the series have proven to be just as entertaining.



 

 

 

Australia

Are We There Yet? tells of a family's long road trip around Australia. My children liked learning about the different sites in Australia and had fun watching the family as they adjusted to life on-the-road.

 

 

 

Japan


The Perfect Sword tells of a master swordsmith and his apprentice, and their search for the right owner for the perfect sword they have created. This book served as a good character study for my children.





Kamishibai Man is the story of a man who performed paper theater for children, yet he was slowly made obsolete by up-and-coming technology.  In the end, the Kamishibai Man is once again telling a story, and this time there is a crowd ready to watch. This story was a nice reminder of the simple, beautiful life of the past. The illustrations in this book (as well as others by Allen Say) are gorgeous.





Tea with Milk tells of the author's mother, May, who lived in San Francisco as a young girl but then moved to her parent's native Japan.  Back in Japan, May felt out of place and homesick, caught between two cultures.  This interesting narrative captured the interest of my children as they watched to see what would happen to May and how she would finally find home.


 

 

 

 

Russia

The Littlest Matryoshka tells of a set of nesting dolls, created by a craftsman in Russia and eventually sold in the United States. The littlest nesting doll becomes lost and separated from the others, and my kids were so happy when she was finally reunited with the rest of her doll sisters.

 

 

 

China

The Empty Pot reads like a folktale of ancient China, weaving the story of Ping, a little boy who loves flowers. When the emperor sets a challenge in order to select the next emperor, Ping is not able to make his plant grow, and yet his courage and honesty show the emperor that Ping is the only one worthy of being the next emperor.




Daisy Comes Home is the story of Mei Mei and her six happy hens. The illustrations in Jan Brett's books are always a delight, and her entertaining stories are always a hit with my children. In this book, Daisy the hen is lost, and Mei Mei finally finds her and brings her back home. Both of my children love any books featuring chickens, since we have our own flock, and this book set in China was an interesting twist on the theme.

 

 

India

Same, Same But Different is a cute story, telling of penpals who learn about the many differences between life in India and life in the United States. The penpals find that, although their lives seem very different, they are also similar in many ways.




Finders Keepers? A True Story of India tells of the author's journey in India, wherein his lost wallet was returned to him by a young boy. The boy adamantly refused to accept any reward for returning the wallet, as the idea of accepting a reward for just being honest made no sense to him. I could see the gears turning in my children's heads while I read this book, as they thought about the deep lesson of doing right just because it was the right thing to do.



I hope this list of picture books is helpful in finding good resources to teach children about different places and cultures. Do you have any favorite world picture books?




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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Golden, Buttery Mashed Potatoes

This recipe for mashed potatoes was developed when we were "visiting" Russia during our homeschool world trip last semester. In looking around for Russian mashed potato recipes, I found two things I wanted to incorporate into my own mashed potatoes: spices in the cooking water and sour cream along with the butter and milk. Those two things give these mashed potatoes a nice depth of flavor, and this recipe has become my new "standard" mashed potato recipe.

Golden, Buttery Mashed Potatoes
Serves 8-10
  1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into ~1&1/2 inch chunks.  (I love my Rada vegetable peeler!) Put the potatoes in a 4-quart pot, cover with filtered water, and add a little sprinkle of salt.  
  2. Peel the garlic. Place the garlic and bay leaf into the pot.
  3. Bring the potatoes to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
  4. Simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until they are soft enough that a fork easily pierces and breaks a potato chunk.
  5. Remove and discard the garlic and bay leaves from the cooking water. 
  6. Drain the potatoes. I prefer to just put a lid mostly on the pot and then pour out the water that way, rather than using a colander, since it allows a bit more moisture to stay with the potatoes.
  7. Cut the butter into a few chunks and add it to the potatoes. Allow the butter to melt. 
  8. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes. I like to leave the potatoes just a tad-bit lumpy when I mash them.
  9. Add the sour cream, milk, and salt. Stir well to get everything combined.
  10. Serve and enjoy! These potatoes make a superb side dish for Beef Stroganoff Meatballs.


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Friday, January 6, 2017

What's Working and What's New? Our Homeschool Mid-Year Review for 2016-2017

I plan the bulk of our homeschool curriculum once a year in July, but each January it is time for our mid-year review. The whole process of our mid-year review takes only 1-2 hours.  The intent of our mid-year review is to look at the following with regards to our home school:
  • What has been working well?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What needs to be removed from our curriculum?
  • Is there anything new to focus on? 
  • What specific needs does each child have over the next few months?

 

Pen and Paper

I start the process of our mid-year review by writing out the answers to the above questions.  I think back on the previous semester with an open mind to identify things that need to be changed. Sometimes there may be a particular book or curriculum resource that I was very excited about, but that my children don't engage well with.  I may find that there are some subjects that we never even got off the ground with, and I need to decide whether I will re-commit to working on those or let them drop off the to-do list.

I think about each child and what needs I can identify. Perhaps they are struggling with a certain activity, chore, or skill; perhaps they need extra support in some specific area. I think about each child's current interests and ways that I can direct our schooling to make the most of those interests.

Mentoring Conversations

Once I have written down my own thoughts, the next step is to have a conversation with each of my children to discuss their goals and desires, needs and wants. This year, we are using this free homeschool compass to record what each child wants to focus on in the coming months. 


I write down my children's input, and this shows the children that their input is valued and important.  While I may make gentle suggestions during this process, the children are ultimately allowed to decide whether or not they want to focus on anything in particular. This gives my children a sense of ownership over their own educations. Their own interests are just as important as my own agenda for their learning. Mentoring conversations are a time for me to get a better understanding of what I can do to help my children in reaching their goals and pursuing their own interests. 

 

2016-17 Midyear Review: Things that Are Working Especially Well


World Trip 
From June through November 2016, my kids and I went on a virtual world trip. We "visited" 20 different countries, exploring the culture in each place through books, music, art, and food.  We all thoroughly enjoyed this.

Life of Fred Math Books
Although last school year Bedtime Math was my children's favorite math book, this year they are totally into Life of Fred. We have breezed through two books and are already over halfway through a third book. My kids are asking me to read them Life of Fred so often that I'm going to have to order some more books for the coming semester!
 
Classic Audio Books on USB Sticks
During our daily afternoon quiet time, my children have been enjoying listening to audio versions of classic books.  We invested in a couple USB memory sticks that can hold many audio books (as I was tired of burning audio books to CD's), and I downloaded a bunch of free classic audio books from Librivox. My kids have been listening to books ranging from Tales from Shakespeare to The Adventures of Johnny Chuck to Swiss Family Robinson to Book of Dragons.

2016-17 Midyear Review: New Curriculum for the Coming Semester

United States Trip
I had planned to start studying Ancient History this coming semester, but that is going to slide to the next school year. My children loved our World Trip so much that I decided to do a United States Trip for Spring 2017. Some of the resources we are using for our United States Trip are:

 

2016-17 Midyear Review: Notes from Mentoring Conversations

 9&1/2 year old daughter Alina
In addition to pursuing the interests I already knew of (Native Americans, horses, and animals), Alina set a goal for herself to start learning cursive. She also decided to start working on correct capitalization and lower-case usage in her handwriting. With the help of the Project Inspire - Learning Log Book, she chose a few new books to read, and set a few goals of places for us to visit including White Sands National Monument and Fillmore Canyon.
Nearly-7-year-old son Ian
In addition to learning more about his obvious interests (vehicles of all kinds), Ian wants to learn more tricks on his bike, how car jacks work, and how to whistle. He wants to continue his reading lessons and learn to make more Lego creations.  He selected some more classic audio books to listen to, and set goals for us to hike at Picacho Peak and Dripping Springs this semester.

Not Just for Home Schoolers

Mid-year reviews are not just for home schoolers. Any parents who are fostering a love of learning could benefit from periodic planning and mentoring sessions. These are wonderful tools for focusing our efforts on the things that our children need and desire in order to find their own personal missions.  

Do you have a mid-year educational review? Do you like the idea of being a mentor rather than a teacher to your children?

 

 

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