panera steel cut oatmeal recipe

Lately I can’t stop thinking about Panera’s steel cut oatmeal.  I discovered it one morning when Youngest and I had cabin fever and needed to take school on the road.

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It is the perfect blend of steel cut oats, fresh strawberries, and oh, that cinnamon topping . . . it nearly slays me every time.

Our nearest Panera is nearly a half hour away, and I have since gone out of my way to have this oatmeal three times.  It’s ridiculous how much I crave it!  At just over 300 calories for a satisfying bowl packed with nutrients, my frequent visits may be justifiable.  It’s the time commitment that is getting me.

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Last weekend I tried Giada’s recipe for Quick Cooked Bulgur Wheat from her newest cookbook, Feel Good Food.  Rather than adding stewed berries as she suggests, it dawned on me that I could create a similar recipe to my beloved Panera oatmeal.  I simply added sliced strawberries and cinnamon sugar as my topping.  It was slightly crunchy and nutty, sweet and savory and very filling.  This recipe makes at least four servings.  I portioned leftovers into small bowls to extend the indulgence throughout the week.

My Panera Strawberry Oatmeal Knock off recipe

2 c. unsweetened almond milk

1 c. quick cooking bulgur wheat

1/2 t. pure vanilla extract

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/8 t. fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Lower to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until bulgur is tender, about 12 minutes.

Spoon into a bowl and drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil before topping with cinnamon sugar and sliced strawberries.

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You can find quick cooking bulgur wheat in the natural foods section of your grocery store.  (I purchased Bob’s Red Mill.)  I love the virtuous feeling I get when I eat foods that I know are benefitting my health!  Don’t let bulgur wheat scare you.  It is high in fiber and protein and carries all the benefits of foods that are 100% whole grain.

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I have yet to figure out just how Panera makes their cinnamon topping.  Raw turbinado sugar rather than granulated?  There’s a bit more substance to it than what I used here, so I’ve been experimenting with this part of my so-called “recipe”.  I’m just excited to have found a healthy alternative to make at home, serve in a pretty bowl with a big mug of coffee and a good book on the side.  It’s my bliss, a simple way to make the everyday special.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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sweet 16 birthday

Yesterday our oldest son turned 16 years old.  This was a much anticipated birthday because, duh, he could get his driver’s license!  I’ll let you in on a little parenting tip that worked very well for us.  On his 15th birthday we told him that his ability to get his license on the day of his 16th birthday depended completely on his behavior.  Any late or missing assignments, sassy attitudes, disrespect and the like, would add a full 7 days on to the 365 he had to wait to drive.  365 days would become 372, which could become 379, and so on…  Let me tell you, our son is not perfect, but he knew we meant business.  He’s a good kid to start with, but every parent knows that our children consider it their job to test boundaries.  We made our boundaries clear, and all we had to do all year was remind him of the 7 day rule if he began to push disrespect a little too far.  The responsibility was his.

When it came time to take the test, we were privileged and honored to do so.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of the young man he is becoming.

So, if you’ve been around the blog for awhile, you know that we have a tradition of giving our kids a small present for every year of their lives each birthday.  You can read about our youngest’s 10th birthday here.  Sixteen presents.  Seriously?  At some point this tradition will have to end, but I will keep it going as long as possible.  I knew I wanted to do something special for Oldest’s Sweet 16, and I was relieved when I didn’t have to look any further than my Pinterest Let’s Party page for a spark of inspiration.  There I came across a pin from Oh Happy Day for a number shaped envelope surprise.

progressoverperfectionI decided to send out emails to a dozen or so family members and adult friends who have had an impact on Oldest’s life and invite them to send a birthday wish…  a memory they had of him, a wish for his future, maybe a picture or even a simple “Happy Birthday!”.  And did they ever deliver!  The notes were sweet and humorous and heart-warming.  I loved watching him as he read each birthday wish and a smile spread across his face.  Perhaps my personal favorites were from a couple of men that we have gotten to know from our church. These guys are fathers who have a heart for youth.  They have reached out to our son and have taken him under their wings.  They come to his basketball and soccer games with their kids, they include him on outings, and they have just gone out of their way to talk to him and pour into his life.  He LOVED those notes.  I think they came as a big surprise to him because they were unexpected.  These men are such a blessing and they make me think hard about the people God has placed in my sphere of influence.  They make me want to do the same for others.  I can’t tell you how much I love the body of Christ!

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We have used this Pottery Barn Kids birthday banner every year for I-don’t-know-how-long.  This year, it suddenly looked silly and juvenile to me.  I posted a picture on Instagram and mentioned that I might have to pass it on, but I was immediately encouraged to keep it because tradition matters to our kids.  I love the Instagram community, too!  It’s so strange and wonderful to me how small our world has become because of social media.  We can advise and encourage and pray for virtual strangers, and receive encouragement as well. Crazy goodness.

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I must admit I approached this project frugally.  Rather than seeking out colorful envelopes, I used paper I had on hand and simply stapled it into a sleeve to hold notes and gift cards.  The effect was similar to what I found on Pinterest, but cost me nothing.  I have set a goal for myself this year to make use of what I have on hand whenever possible.  A penny saved is a penny earned!

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I filled other sleeves with gift cards for gas and food.  What more does a sixteen year old guy need?  Ironically and without planning it, I ended up with exactly 16 items.  The gift cards will be used and gone forever, but the special birthday wishes will last forever.  Thank you to everyone who contributed!  You mean the world to us!

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It was a beautiful day to celebrate our boy young man.  He is such gift to us!

sometimes you just have to dive in

Well, hello!  Long time no talk.  I’ve had a LOT going and it has taken all my time and energy to keep up.  Good stuff.  Change is always brewing.

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I recently came across this image from a parade of homes in Utah and fell in love with this piece of art.  Not only is it a fantastic piece of photography, but I am completely struck by the freedom I see.

Sometimes you just have to dive in.

So often I over-think things.  I hesitate and ponder and get myself stuck in the mud.  Lately I’ve been feeling more of an urge to just jump.  Stop hesitating and dive. in.  I’ve been doing the 40 day prayer challenge that is a continuation of the bestselling book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  (A book I strongly recommend!)  Jumping can feel risky, but it can also be incredibly freeing.  I’m learning to trust God more and more, knowing that He won’t let me crack my head open at the end of my dive or drown in the water I dive into.  I figure that if I dive and I make too much of a splash when I was hoping for a clean slice into the water, I just have to get back up on the board and try again.

Change is good.  It lets you know you are alive.

How about you?  Are you a risk taker?  Or do you prefer to calculate your moves?

 

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I love finding unexpected uses for some of my favorite things.  I purchased the famous Target bar cart that’s been all over the blogosphere (and is currently on sale!) before Christmas and used it as a correspondence station for writing Christmas cards.

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After taking pictures for my last post, I got the bug to do something about some of our homeschool supplies that are out in plain sight. Funny how I can share that something doesn’t bother me one minute, and suddenly it begins to bother me.  I was in Target and spotted some funky graphic wrapping paper that was actually marketed for Valentine’s Day and I quickly tossed a roll into my cart, thinking maybe I’d use it for Christmas instead.  Suddenly, my creative juices began to flow.

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What if I used the wrapping paper to make book covers for my KONOS curriculum books?

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And styled up my bar cart for homeschool?

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I could create a book cart out of my bar cart.  Homeschool style.

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Pretty and stylish from every angle…

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Streamlined and simplified with just the daily necessities.

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My lesson plan binder and two additional binders that contain additional teaching helps, print outs, and a folded map of the world and the great United States of America.  All other workbooks and folders tucked away in a covered basket.  Simplified.

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A small tray to corral the minimum writing necessities.  {If I could, I’d edit it to say “expect much” ;)}

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Homeschool style that fits right in with the rest of our decor.

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There.  Now I feel better.

This little project helped me to edit some of the non-essentials that had been collecting in the fabric basket I showed you in my last post. I spent nothing except the cost of a roll of wrapping paper.  Oh, and my sweet hubby picked out a plant for me to add a tropical flair to our daily homeschooling tasks (perhaps he was subliminally inspired by the idea of tropical libations that you might normally see on a bar cart??).

It feels good to have spent the time to clean up my act a little more in this area.  I’m of the belief that if you like the way a space looks, you’re much more likely to work to keep it looking neat and tidy.  Wonder what project I’ll get inspired to complete next?  I have a few ideas in my mind…

Have a great week, friends!

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homeschool planning :: how I set myself up for success

One of my top priorities for this year is to make a habit of setting myself up for success each day.  Before I started homeschooling, I spent some time searching the Internet for inspiration from seasoned homeschoolers.  I wanted to hear about how these confident Super Moms planned their school day. I picked up a few tidbits, but quickly learned that I needed to back up about ten steps before I could really feel like I had a handle on how to do this schooling thing.

I’ve already talked about how we must take care of ourselves before we can live up to our full potential in any other aspect of our lives here. I’m working on that and I can definitely say it’s a process. I have also learned that preparation is key to having a day that is productive, joyful and soul-satisfying.  Taking the time to prepare is absolutely essential to making life easier and, surprisingly, more flexible and relaxed.  I’ve had to get honest with myself about my lazy habits that were not doing me any good (lingering over coffee in the morning, distracted by Instagram and whatever else caught my attention).  I’m making it a habit to take steps to take control of my day by writing down what I intend to accomplish the night before rather than waiting until the morning and taking things as they come.

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Here’s the practical view of how this prior preparation looks for me:

Every evening I take steps to set myself up for success the next day.  I make sure the kitchen is clear of dishes and the counters are wiped down.  I get my coffee ready to brew.  I choose my outfit for the next day.  I spend 10 minutes or so adding tasks to my planner. All the better if I schedule them into my day, rather than just listing them without a plan for when I am actually going to accomplish them. I’m really trying to watch what I eat, so having healthy choices ready to go has helped me avoid the temptation to grab something unhealthy on a whim.  I’ve even gone so far as to write down a list of choices for breakfast, lunch, and snacks so that the work of choosing well is already done.

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Of course, those things are just background work when it comes to the task of successful homeschool planning.  Every homeschooling parent knows that there are interruptions that come into the day.  Some can be avoided and some cannot. In my case, there has been at least one day of interrupted plans every week since January started.  Snow days, scheduled half days, sick days for my older boys… they all have interrupted my homeschooling plans.  I find that the more specific I am about what needs to get done each week in my lesson plans, the more power I feel over getting everything accomplished.  When interruptions nip at my heels, I can tame them by picking and choosing what I will do based on the limitations that are put on my lesson plan.  I take my teaching job seriously and cannot fall prey to the old mantras that ‘ignorance is bliss’ and ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you’.

My lesson planner is a Simplified binder from Emily Ley, which is no longer available.  If I was looking for something new, I’d buy a pretty binder and download planner pages. Look through the free downloadable planning pages here.  Office supplies that are pleasing to the eye are fun to use and they inspire me to stay organized and top of tasks.  (More on that in a post to come!)

 Here’s how I schedule my week:

Each week, I tear lessons for the week out of workbooks and paperclip them together in manilla folders.  Each night, I gather the worksheets to be done the next day onto a clipboard and leave it out on the table.  (We stopped using our classroom several months ago in favor of more natural sunlight in the kitchen.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any money invested in creating the classroom!)

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As you can see, that clipboard has gotten such a workout that it needs a new label.  It has traveled with us more places than I can count!  No time for perfection now…Pinterest pretty will have to wait for another time.

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Here’s a sneak peak of the KONOS curriculum that I shared about in my last post. I look ahead in the lesson plan provided with the curriculum and circle all the ideas given that I am going to implement.  I then assign each task a day and write the number of the task in my lesson planner.  That way, I can check tasks off as they are completed.  (This 20 Minute Science workbook has been a great accompanying resource!)

I try to check worksheets for errors as we go.  When they are completed, they go back into their appropriate folders behind the clipped sheets.  At the end of the week, I file them away in hanging folders labeled by subject in a file cabinet.

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I still keep many of our books on a bookshelf in our old classroom, but the things I use on a daily basis fit mostly into a basket.  It’s not fancy, but it works to keep clutter at bay.  Yes, there are additional piles of my thicker KONOS books, but I can live with that.  I just try to keep them neatly stacked and out of the way when I’m not using them.  I never thought I could live with schooling in a commonly used area of our home, but it has worked out just fine.  Every afternoon when our work is complete, the table gets cleared and it all gets tucked away until I put together the clipboard before going to bed at night.

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I’ve taken a cue from many other homeschoolers to try to work toward a solid four day week.  When it’s just the two of us, a lot can get done in one day.  Youngest is super motivated by having a light day on Fridays.  This has been to my benefit so far because of all the interruptions that have come from my older sons’ school schedules.  In reality, we often do some school work even when the older boys have off.  This means that we are actually getting more done than the students in traditional settings are (or so it may seem)!  Several of our subjects are scheduled five days a week, so I try to make sure I hit those Monday – Friday.  The subjects that are more free-flow get done as needed in order to cope with interruptions.  Let me tell you, I have a different appreciation for the stress of scheduling that our teachers face!

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Since Friday is planned to be light (we take a Spelling test and wrap up/review KONOS Science and Social Studies), I have left margin to be able to get things done around the house or to run errands that have to be set aside during the school week.  I think that if we ever get a “normal” week of school for our older boys I will see this to be a huge sanity saver.  When you know you are working toward some freedom and margin in your Friday, you work all the harder the other four days.  Knowing that Friday is my day to get those things done allows me to focus on school and school alone Monday through Thursday.  I also sneak in some lesson planning on Fridays.  I write everything down in my lesson plan binder, listen to the KONOS videos for the following week and make notes, and make a list of any library books or supplies I may need for the next two weeks.  I have just recently figured out how to get ahead of the game like that and it feels so good and efficient!

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post, you get an A++!  I hope what I have shared here is an encouragement and sparks something of benefit for someone in need.  Homeschooling or not, there is great freedom in taking steps to set yourself up for success.  Consider this my challenge to give it a try for yourself!

P.S.  As I hit “Publish” on this post, I have come up with a few simple things to do to make my homeschool necessities more pleasing to the eye since they are sitting out in our common living area.  I’ll try to pop back in and share pictures.  For now, I’ll call this post done.

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(via Pinterest)

homeschool planning :: finding balance

I shared in my last post that I finally feel like I’m gaining momentum and confidence in homeschool planning.  The first half of our school year I was in survival mode.  Not necessarily a fun place to be.  Thanks to lots of prayer, journaling through my challenges, and a swift kick in the pants from Lara Casey’s Making Things Happen encouragement (read her free ebook here!), I’ve been able to land on a plan for exactly what I’m going to teach the rest of the school year.  Getting it on paper has really freed me up to work towards finding balance and calm in the everyday.

 

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As freeing as it was to finalize our plan, I know there is a lot of hard work ahead.  This requires daily preparation and thinking ahead.  Up until now, I’ve flown by the seat of my pants more times than I would care to admit.  Things still got done, but at the expense of my confidence and sense of calm.  When I’m not prepared going into my day, I am already living in defeat.  I may get things done and cover the subjects I need to cover, but it doesn’t feel like I have given my best.  I entered 2014 determined to kick those feelings to the curb! Prior preparation prevents poor performance.  When I have done simple things to start my day feeling empowered and not behind the 8 ball, I feel like I can give my best and handle the many interruptions that have been dealt to me on an almost daily basis.  It takes work to be our best selves.

The first thing to note when trying to find balance in the midst of life’s tasks is that we must make it a priority to take care of ourselves. We all know the airplane emergency adage about putting your own oxygen mask on before assisting anyone else.  Same goes for dealing with the pressure changes life hands us.  If you are not taking care of yourself, you are no good for anyone else.  Preaching to myself here, as my husband well knows!

Here are a few essentials for practicing self-care.

1.  Get an appropriate amount of rest.  It’s okay to set your timer for a 20-30 minute nap during the day if necessary.  Be honest with yourself and be good to your body.  You will be so much more productive and focused as a result.  I’d love to settle down with this scent.

 

lafco-bedroom-candle I was first introduced to LAFCO candles at a local flower shop.  Never purchased one for myself as they are rather expensive, but the Chamomile Lavender scent is lovely.  Their description? “LAFCO Master Bedroom (Chamomile Lavender) Candle is the slightest suggestion of fresh washed linens added to the scent of healing chamomile blossoms and lavender buds to inspire a restful nights sleep and sweet dreams.”  Tempting, no?  Could be lovely with a pre-slumber soak in the tub… I’m thinking Valentine’s Day (hint, hint)! ;)  Lots of other intriguing scents here.

2.  Get your heart rate up to keep your stress level down.  I admit to not being the expert on this one as I’m no workout queen, but I recognize the value in getting moving.  One of the things Youngest and I do during the school day is take a 15 minute brain break to play a game of Wii Tennis or other active game.  It has become an essential to getting and staying focused.  In addition, I’ve been working toward being so prepared for our day that I have the freedom to schedule in an actual workout at least twice a week.  For some, this statement might bring about a laugh.  Twice a week??!  Big whoop!  But let me ask you this, do you believe that some is better than none?  Baby steps are nothing to laugh at.  When your baby took their first steps, you celebrated!  Soon, one step became two…and then three or four… you get the idea.  Small steps lead to great success.  Another way to get your heart rate up is to do what I jokingly call Cleaning Calisthenics.  We all have chores to do around the house, right?  Why not add extra speed and movement to those tasks and burn a few extra calories?  Pump up the music and get moving!

3.  Create ceremonious moments of focused calm each day.  I know of people who choose a favorite chair, blanket, and candle and schedule time to just sit and breathe or read.  It’s a well known fact that taking deep, slow breaths through your nose wakes up your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you.  I’m all for making the ordinary special, so I’ve gathered a few images of things I would include at my favorite spot.

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I sometimes like a warm vanilla candle, and the crackling wick of these candles adds a nice fireplace ambiance.  I love the convenience of our gas fireplace and flip it on frequently (especially this year!), but I do miss real wood crackling in the fireplace.

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I came across this proper teacup and saucer recently and haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.  Adore.  I’d fill my cup with my current favorite herbal tea, Tazo Vanilla Rooibos (available at Starbucks).

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I’m a blanket addict.  They have to have a nice weight to them and be super soft, though.  I may not need another one, but if I did, I’d finally purchase this one from Serena and Lily.  It’s a classic.

4.  Food is for fuel.  One of my musts for feeling my best is fueling my body with good food.  There is so much hype out there about what we should and should not eat, but when all the food hysteria is stripped away, I find it’s best to take a simple approach to making good choices.  As Michael Pollan says, “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.”  I’m simply making it a priority to eat more whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and decrease my consumption of gluten, dairy, sweets, and meat.  I’m not giving anything up all together, but purposefully making better choices on a moment-by-moment basis.  I’ve also been reading about the affect caffeine has on our moods and I have started weaning myself off of fully caffeinated coffee.  If you know something is better for you, why wouldn’t you do yourself the favor of making positive changes?  It really is a no-brainer.

It’s so important for us to practice self-care.  When these foundational needs are being met, we are far more capable of living up to our potential.  It took me four months in the trenches of homeschooling to begin to really hit a rhythm and find what works for me.  Mothering myself with good habits is quickly becoming an essential part of bringing my “A game” daily.  Next up:  the steps I am taking to set myself up for success on a daily basis.  See you soon!

homeschooling :: tips for choosing curriculum

Disclaimer:  Today I’ll be sharing at length about my curriculum choices.  Grab a cup of coffee and read along if you are interested.  I’ll be back with part 2 of this post Monday:  How I go about planning our days and attempting balance and a sense of calm.

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I believe the last time I shared anything about our homeschooling journey was in October.  Clearly, it has taken up all kinds of time and energy, which is evidenced in my light blog posts.  I had half-intended to chronicle what it’s like to homeschool for those of you who may be considering taking on the task or are in the same boat as we are.  (We are only homeschooling our youngest son.  This is the first year and he is in 4th grade.)  Obviously, those regular posts have not happened.  ”Life is life and life is life,” is my son’s maxim.  Deep thoughts for your Friday.

For the record, I would have to say the “experts” are right.  They say to plan on one month of de-schooling for every year your child was in a traditional school setting.  De-schooling, in this case, refers to the time period it takes for a child who has been removed from school to adjust to learning in an unstructured environment.  Youngest has always been able to get his work done.  I think the de-schooling period referred to here may have more to do with the adjustments I have had to make as a formerly unemployed stay-at-home-mom.

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I have said all along that one of the hardest parts about taking on the task of homeschooling has been finding a curriculum that we are both suited to and that would allow me to navigate through the year with clarity and confidence.  We have been using Bob Jones for Spelling, Abeka for Language Arts, a Spectrum workbook for reading comprehension, and we breezed through a Spectrum 4th Grade workbook for Math.  Since we are considering sending our guy to the Christian school his older brother goes to next year, I asked for their year-end math test to see what holes I need to fill in or areas we need further review.  There were only a couple, so I’m going to have to make decisions about whether or not I will forge ahead with 5th grade Math in the next month or so.

Science and Social Studies have been a little more hodgepodge…until now.  We did Amanda Bennett’s unit study on Thanksgiving during the month of November.  It was a great resource for the period in history prior to the first Thanksgiving and really kept me accountable to covering the material daily.  If you are struggling to persevere in a subject, I recommend finding an online unit study that has been created with daily things to cover.  Bonus: You can’t beat the price!  As the weeks went on, I used her unit study a bit loosely and covered the same material in my own way so that my son didn’t get bored opening the computer to her links again and again.  We also did Amanda Bennett’s unit study on Benjamin Franklin.  Both studies included some great recommendations for living literature that we enjoyed together.  It may sound like a bit of a cop out, but we have really enjoyed books on CD.  My son is one of those boys who does not enjoy reading, but will read if he must, so listening to books read aloud keeps him engaged in valuable literature.  I’ve learned that he absorbs material best when he hears it and is allowed to picture it in his mind and then retell it (as many of us do).  That is one of the reasons I also love the Story of the World book/CD, read by the engaging and mesmerizing Jim Weiss.  It is such a fantastic resource for a chronological history of the world!  We listen to our CDs most often while driving in the car.  Two birds, one stone.

Currently we are engaged in Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes as we study the Revolutionary War.  Please allow me to back up a bit to that moment when I had a breakthrough and was finally able to narrow my focus and chart a clear course for the second half of our school year.

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By the end of December, I was tired of feeling like I was merely enduring the task of homeschool.  One day, seemingly out of the blue (thank you God!), I made a decisive commitment to follow the KONOS curriculum for Science and Social Studies for the rest of the year.  I had already purchased the curricula and was referring to it on occasion and toying with the idea of just following the KONOS how-to-teach videos.  You can check it out at homeschoolmentor.com.  We are following the Volume 2 videos online, which mainly cover history, but I have made a schedule to include KONOS Science alongside History.  Getting a plan on paper for the rest of the school year has been SUCH a relief!  It was a major breakthrough for me.

I won’t go into a lengthy explanation of what is provided on Homeschool Mentor here.  Visit the site.  If you need a spine to your curriculum plan or need help knowing HOW to teach, I highly recommend digging into this site.  KONOS values discovery learning that is based on training your children up in their character.  It’s a really unique approach to learning that is missing in so many traditional schools.

Since we are studying the Revolutionary War, I thought I would share a few additional sources I have used to assist what I’m following on the online videos put out by the writers of the KONOS curriculum.  I found this fun source for animated maps of the battles.  I have also used the DVD series The Revolution that was put out by the History Channel as a visual aid to the stories of battle and courage and the major players in the Revolutionary War.  (Prescreening first, of course.)  KONOS encourages us to have our kids act out the history in costume, which would nearly kill my son!  Instead, I’m having him use Playmobil guys we invested in long ago to create Smoovies of the battles.  Smoovies are stop motion animation videos created for the computer.  In my mind, these videos are made with elaborate settings full of detail.  I’m learning to let my son do his thing as he creates his own version of these movies.  ;)  The goal is simply to show me he is learning the material well enough to re-enact it.

As for Science, we are currently studying the systems of the body.  I have used the book Blood and Guts by Linda Allison and “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” videos.  I’m following the lesson plans provided in the KONOS curriculum, which take you through one system a week under the guise of talking about the character trait of cooperation.  It’s a relief to be able to cover these topics knowing I am more or less introducing vocabulary and facts about the body without the pressure of teaching a high level anatomy class!  They are also easy things to bring up in conversation here and there, further reinforcing knowledge.  (“What muscular movement is happening as you digest your lunch?  What kind of muscle is doing that work?”  See, easy peasy.)

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I hope this helps anyone who may be struggling in their homeschooling experience or who may be curious about how it all looks.  I’d say we really turned a corner this month and I feel much more settled with what needs to get done to be prepared to do my job with excellency.  I’ll be back Monday with part 2:  How I go about scheduling our days and tips I am determined to follow for finding balance.

images via because you can’t have a lot of words without pretty pictures (and, apparently, a few hokey analogies to go along with!)

it’s all good…cooking with gwyneth paltrow

I’m always trying to clean up our act in the kitchen.  Lately I’ve been cooking a fair amount from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, It’s All Good.  It has been fun to try new things, like baking with gluten free flour. (I used Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour.)  The first thing I made was Banana Date Muffins (page 46) and they went over pretty well.  I was surprised by how moist and flavorful they were and I must say, I felt pretty virtuous eating a baked good that was void of refined flour and sugar!

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This little success gave me the confidence to try gluten free Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt (page 260).  They weren’t my favorite.  I’d rather have Justin’s Maple Almond Butter on brown rice cakes topped with thinly sliced apple or pear.  It’s one of my favorite light and easy lunches when I’m watching what I eat.

I’ve also made Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers with Cucumber and Yogurt Sauce (page 108).  They have chopped baby spinach in them and turn out quite green.  Um, yeah.  I was surprised at how well my kids ate them, actually.  Sadly, it takes some coaxing to get them to eat anything that green.  My trick is to make sure they are extra hungry by the time I get the meal onto the table so they are desperate more willing to give it a try.  Husband and I actually liked the Greek flavor, so I will make them again.  I served them with couscous and cucumber.  Next time I might turn them into meatballs and serve them with baked pita wedges.  Kids always seem to like food in the shape of little round balls.

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Speaking of, Sunday afternoon I made Japanese Chicken Meatballs (page 239) and they were a big hit.  The boys devoured them!  I altered the recipe ever-so-slightly, so I’ll go ahead and share my version here.

Japanese Chicken Mini Meatballs

1 pound ground chicken

1/2 t. freshly ground sea salt

1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 minced garlic clove

1 T. bottled minced ginger (freshly grated would be even better)

1 T. low sodium soy sauce

2 t. agave (you could also use real maple syrup)

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  If you have time, place the mixture in the fridge for a few hours.  Form mini meatballs and cook them in a frying pan that has been sprayed with canola spray over medium high heat, turning to brown all sides and cook through.  You could also bake them in the oven, but I was in the mood for a nice sear.

While you are in the kitchen, roast some cauliflower and chickpeas in the oven.  I had never roasted cauliflower before and I think it was delicious!  The cauliflower gets tender and a little bit sweet and the chickpeas get crunchy, so they are a perfect pairing.  I was inspired by the recipe on page 173, but didn’t have all the ingredients on hand.  This is a loose version of what I made up.

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Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas

Chop cauliflower into bite-sized florets and place on a foil-lined baking sheet with a can of drained, rinsed, and dried chickpeas.  Toss with 3 T. olive oil and a generous pinch of kosher or coarse sea salt.  Roast in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and nicely golden.

Meanwhile, make a little dressing.  I combined approximately

1 T. Dijon mustard

1 T. champagne vinegar (try white wine vinegar)

a sprinkle of mustard powder

a few good grinds of freshly cracked ground black pepper

1-2 t. honey

Penzey Spices Mural of Flavor to taste

Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings before drizzling over the roasted veggies while they are still warm.  I did not use all of the dressing.  Give it a gentle toss and sprinkle with chopped italian parsley.  I am not kidding you, it tastes almost like a glamorous version of french fries.  The kids didn’t go wild over it, but I will make it again because I think they will grow to like it.

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chocolate white chocolate chip cookiesOf course, we finished eating our healthy lunch and Middle son asked me to bake cookies with him.  As a mother, I know it’s important to seize these moments of togetherness with my middle-schooler when they present themselves.  Any opportunity to spend time together, just the two of us, speaks love to my guy.  I put away my healthy cookbook and pulled out Barefoot Contessa Parties!  Page 237 if these are more to your liking.  ;)

I thought about how a healthy lunch can be punctuated with a not-so-healthy treat and called “progress over perfection”.  Up the perfection factor by working side-by-side with your kids in the kitchen.  It may get messy, but making memories and creating good eats together can’t be beat!

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for the win

Well hello, first week of 2014.  I’m so glad you are here!

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking through 2013 and the ways that I want to grow in 2014.  To be candid, 2013 was a year wrought with wrestling.  I’m okay with that, because I know that in the struggles we have the opportunity to learn the most.  Life should not be a constant bed of roses.  After all, what true personal growth happens when everything seems to be going our way?!  No, we need the challenges to keep us focused on the ultimate goal of surrendering to the will of our Father.  If we walk around feeling “blessed and highly favored” all our lives, we may have fallen into a sense that we are our own Queen Bee.  We need a King to save us from ourselves.  It is in our weakness that He is made strong.

As I leave 2013 behind and look cheerfully forward to the goodness waiting in 2014, I have been going through Lara Casey’s goal setting process.  So good.  You can read about it starting here.  I know exactly what I want to prioritize this year.  Evening downloading to prepare for my days, clearing all kinds of physical and mental clutter, and purposefully making memories that are connected to what matters most.  I am love-love-loving my new Simplified planner from Emily Ley to help me record and accomplish these goals on a daily basis.

 

simplified plannerpretty photo by Shay Cochrane Photography

One of the things that I am carrying into the new year as an encouragement is the concept of “winning” small accomplishments in my days.  This came from my Man.  Life can be defeating at times, and we can find ourselves fretting over what isn’t going as we had hoped.  We need to recognize the small wins that happen as we go through the day.  I have often said, if I was half as aggressive with my To-Do list as I feel on the sidelines at our sons’ sporting events, I would be a real go-getter.  (I say that with a smile.)  Yes, I’m a cheerleader at heart, with a competitive spirit that comes from my father and a bit of Irish fire that comes from my mother!  When my husband suggested that I focus on winning little victories throughout the day, I was immediately caught by his analogy.

Super Bowls aren’t won in training camp.

Positive yardage earns first downs.

First downs lead to opportunities for touch downs… and wins.  Wins lead to successful seasons.  And, with enough drive, fire, and ambition, you just might find yourself having a Super Bowl caliber year.

I must be the mother of sons, because my Man’s analogy really hit home with me.  So much so that I have dedicated a section in my planner each day to celebrating Wins.  It has proven to be such a blessing so far this year.  Focusing on those things that are getting accomplished and celebrating them on paper is a great way to stay in a positive state and persevere toward our greater goals.

Try tuning into the small victories you achieve throughout your day.  I bet that as you find success in one area, you will be spurred on to achieve success in another area, which leads to the next area and before you know it … little by little, goodness happens.

Here’s to 2014, for the win!

a birthday epiphany

Youngest turned 10 yesterday.  We have a tradition of giving your age number of small gifts for birthdays.  Tenth birthday, ten gifts.  As the kids get older, the number is getting out of hand, but I’ve tried to make it a point to include some jokes (a box of Lucky Charms, which are taboo in our house) and some sweet sentiments that cost nothing but are priceless (a written birthday wish from each family member).  To be rather honest, this tradition was born of busyness and was a last-minute inspiration that struck me one year.  I’ve become notorious for working best under pressure.  It’s not my favorite part of my personality.  In my mind, I plan to be a “planner,” but more often than not things happen at the last minute.  Good things, as this tradition has become a part of their birthday that they look forward to.  Traditions are so important in creating happy memories.

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Youngest is a bit of a control freak.  He has been asking for weeks for an IPod Touch so that he can go to camp this summer to learn to make games and apps.  You may recall that last summer he went to tech camp, and it was probably his favorite week of the entire year. That IPod touch was ALL he wanted for his birthday AND Christmas combined.  Soon, as his repeated reminders of this wish were casually received by us, he began to change his tune.  If we weren’t going to get the IPod, could he just have money, please?

He knew exactly which color he wanted.  He knew he wanted it engraved.  He had imagined how it was going to feel, cold in his hand. Borderline obsessed ;), excited like a child.  The child that he is.

The day before his birthday, we were at Williams Sonoma and he was excited to see that the ice cream maker he had long since been interested in was on a special sale.  I purchased it, then as we left the mall, I told him it would make a nice birthday present.

He stopped dead in his tracks.  ”Wait, no!  Return it!  I’ve been telling you for months what I REALLY want for my birthday AND Christmas!  Please, I don’t need the ice cream maker!”

Here’s where I felt God tap me on the shoulder.  You know all those prayers for that one thing you pray daily?  Sometimes you plead and fret and get a little desperate in your mind about that thing – that good thing you desire – coming to be.  You know that I gave you that desire, and I will bring it to fruition, you need only to be patient and wait for that gift.  

You see, sometimes God gives us an “ice cream maker,” a blessing that seems like the lesser thing.  We miss out on that blessing while we spend time fretting about the thing we really wanted.  Have you been given an “ice cream maker” that you aren’t enjoying because you were hoping for something more?  I know I have!  True blessing lies in our ability to be fully grateful for each of the gifts that we have been given, even if they weren’t exactly what we were hoping for.

I knew all along that there was an IPod Touch waiting to be wrapped (last minute, remember?) and gifted.  I talked to Youngest about trust, about how I had heard his requests.  I told him that if he trusted that I had heard the requests, and he knows that I love him and desire to bless him, he can rest at peace with whatever comes next.  I’m not sure that my message came through to him, but my job as his mother is to plant seeds that will grow in time.  This concept will come up again and again until it makes its way into his psyche.

The next day was his birthday.  We waited all day to open presents.  I had wrapped 9 boxes and placed random dollar bills in each of them.  He laughed as he opened them, but I know on the inside he was already thinking he would have some more saving to do when his birthday was over.

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The tenth gift was the ice cream maker.

… or was it?

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Imagine his delight when he picked up the box and a glass jar of sand dropped out the bottom (no worries!), along with another wrapped box.  Could it be?

YES!

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Engraved with “Use your gifts to serve others,” a reference to 1 Peter 4:10.

An encouragement to use his gifts – both spiritual and physical – for the glory of God.  Keep an eye on this boy.  God is going to use this gift as part of his life story in some way.  I just know it.

As you are opening gifts this Christmas, would you remember to think on your blessings?  Think about the things that God has gifted to you this year and about how you have received them.  Have you wanted to return them because they weren’t what you thought they would be?

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I’ll be making a list of this year’s gifts as we wrap up 2013 and reflecting on how I have received them.  I want 2014 to be a year marked by joy in the moment, peace in the waiting, and full trust in God’s plan.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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